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/ ˈ æŋk ə l ɛ g/
The final stage of a relay race. Typically, the anchor leg is undertaken
by the quickest or most experienced member of a team.
· SPACER informal
The most outlying sector of the Relay Between Planets. ‘The
Anchor Leg’ refers to all flight paths, space stations and outposts
between Ceres and Saturn.
‘She’s spending more and more time sealed in there,’ Yoshida says
darkly, ‘and none of us have any idea what the hell she’s doing.’
‘Speculate,’ Bakalar insists.
Yoshida turns his head towards me. I’m sitting at the opposite end
of Bakalar’s desk, listening intently.
‘Temples is part of my team,’ Bakalar assures Yoshida, ‘she knows
anything you say in here is confidential.’
I give Yoshida my best encouraging nod. He stares at me with his
wary brown eyes for a second longer, then shifts his gaze back to my
lean superior. ‘It’s impossible to even begin to guess what Flesch is
doing inside Lab 9 because she makes sure she’s always alone, locks
the door and then cuts the cameras. She waltzes right up to each
camera in turn and pulls the plug. I know because I’ve seen it.’
‘Are you trying to tell me that you’ve accessed the ship’s security
archives?’ Bakalar queries.
Yoshida shuffles in his seat. ‘Me and a couple of the others. We had
to, to see if we could work out what she was doing before we came to
Bakalar says nothing.
‘I – you have to go in there and find out,’ Yoshida says, before the
silence becomes unbearable. ‘You’re Head of Security, the only person
aboard with open access.’
‘The only person aside from Captain Zuma,’ Bakalar qualifies. From
her seat she looks to the window, the starry view in motion. ‘You must
realise,’ she says, ‘if I barge into Lab 9 and Maria Flesch is cleaning
test tubes, at best I’m going to look like an idiot, at worst I’m going to
undermine any authority I have aboard this ship.’
‘So you’re going to do nothing?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘What then? You’re just going to talk to her? Don’t you think we’ve
already tried that? She outright refuses to explain herself.’
‘Leave it with me,’ Bakalar says, turning back to Yoshida. ‘If Flesch
is doing anything untoward, I’ll know soon enough.’ She gestures
towards the hatch.
Yoshida raises himself from his chair. ‘Just make sure you find out
quickly,’ he demands, heading for the hatchway, ‘there’s a lot of
complex and dangerous equipment in Lab 9.’
‘I thought Labs 1 and 2 housed the bulk of your little toys?’ Bakalar
Yoshida shakes his head, ducks out and then slams the hatch door
Bakalar exhales slowly. ‘Thoughts, Seren?’
Bakalar often asks me what I think when we’re alone, but even after
a month of being her apprentice I’m still far from confident in the
worth of my opinions. ‘Yoshida seems on edge,’ I say, making sure to
speak assertively anyway. ‘He looks like he needs more sleep.’
Bakalar nods. ‘He didn’t tell me everything he knows either. He’s
keeping something significant to himself.’
‘About Maria Flesch?’ I ask.
‘I’m not sure. But when a crewmember comes to me instead of the
captain to report something amiss, there’s usually more going on than
they tell you.’
I form a follow up question but Bakalar carries on before I can ask
it. ‘Me, you, the boys, we’re relative strangers. Most of these people,
they’ve known and worked together for years, sometimes their whole
adult lives. We’re outsiders, hired hands. In my experience, if
something is clear-cut, say a crewmember is stealing from the hold, a
suspicious party will go straight to their captain. Then, if the captain
believes their subordinate, that’s when we’re drafted in to root out and
deal with the guilty party.’ She picks up her hand tablet from the desk
and starts to type something.
‘Maybe Yoshida doesn’t want to bother the captain?’
Bakalar smiles. ‘Does Yoshida seem like the type of person who
cares about who he bothers?’
‘I suppose not.’
Bakalar finishes typing and says, ‘Go and get some sleep, Seren.
We’ll get started on this in the morning.’ I get up and make for the
hatch without another word.
The hatchway leads me into our makeshift
equipment/locker/briefing room, far too cramped for its multiple
designations. Artis and Hindle are talking next to the blank holo
board, Phyleon sits near the door, staring into space.
‘Bakalar sending you to bed again, Terrestrial?’ Artis says as I slip
past his brawny frame. ‘Why not let me come with, give you that
special workout I promised?’
‘Leave her alone,’ groans Hindle.
I make it to Phyleon – still staring at a distant nothing – before
Artis calls out again. ‘You still haven’t told us if you’re a virgin,
Terrestrial. I think you are. I could be your first, you could be my one
hundred and first. There’s symmetry there. How about it?’
I spin around, too riled to stay quiet. ‘You clearly don’t even know
what symmetry is, Artis. You’re the worst kind of moron and you
repulse me.’ I turn back to find Phyleon utterly impassive, but I hear
Hindle laughing as I leave.
Out in the corridor I take a right and head towards the Fourth
Quarter. It’s been a long day and the faded greys and dirty whites of
the Charybdis do little to ease the slog back to my cabin. I pass a
handful of crewmembers on the way, most of them looking as weary as
I feel. Two men stop their conversation as I walk by a water dispenser,
something I’ve had to get used to since signing up to a Relay security
team. It turns out that basic crew don’t trust Security, not even the
As depressing as the walk is, my stomach still erupts into butterflies
as I near my cabin door. It only gets worse after I touch a finger to my
Inside my room I see there’s another letter waiting. The fourth since
we left Gunnell . I step over to my bed and retrieve it from my pillow.
As I turn the envelope over I see that it’s unmarked, just like the last
three. I tear it open and pull out the single piece of paper inside.
I know what you’re planning, a rolling stone gathers no moss.
More cryptic crap, but it’s not the words that make me shudder. The
bottom of the note is signed with a single drop of dried blood. That’s
I head to shift feeling tired, my sleep disrupted by another night of
trying to figure out who’s responsible for the letters. This restless,
uneasy feeling, I’d hoped I was done with it, finished with it when I left
As I enter the briefing room I see Phyleon stowing something in a
storage locker. Artis is standing beside him in full, disgusting
animation. ‘She was a screamer, filthy mouth too. I was – Terrestrial!’
He turns as he notices me, Phyleon carries on with whatever he’s
doing. ‘I was just telling Phyleon what I did last night instead of you,
want me to start over?’
‘Where’s Hindle?’ I ask, deciding it’s too early to rise to anything
Artis has to say.
‘In there,’ he answers, gesturing towards the hatchway. ‘Bakalar’s
giving him our schedule for the next few days, not that we’ll be doing
anything interesting. I’ve heard she’s got something decent planned
for you though. I’m jealous, this run has been far too comfortable for
As a strangely deflated Artis ambles off towards his personal locker,
the hatch door opens and Hindle appears. ‘Temples, Bakalar’s ready
Nodding, I cross the briefing room.
‘Oh, and our next session is at 1530 today. Don’t forget.’
‘I won’t,’ I call back, ducking through the hatch.
On the other side Bakalar is sitting at her desk, typing. ‘Morning,
Seren,’ she says, without looking up at me, ‘how did you sleep?’
‘Well,’ I lie automatically, closing the hatchway and making for the
chair Yoshida occupied last night. Once I’m sitting I consider taking
back what I just said, informing Bakalar about my letters. I don’t
though. Instead I force myself to conclude that it’s probably just some
maintenance apprentice messing around – nothing worth worrying
my superior with.
Bakalar types for a few seconds longer and then waves a hand
through her holo screen. As her fingers break the light the screen
disintegrates and reforms, this time facing me. ‘Maria Flesch,’ Bakalar
I’m looking at a dark-haired woman, early-thirties, tight-lipped and
clearly unhappy to be having her photo taken. ‘What do we know
Bakalar leans back in her chair, undoes her long red hair and lets it
fall down her back. ‘Flesch is a geologist,’ she says, as she starts to retie
it, ‘trained in mineral exploration. Apparently her dissertation
considered all the problems associated with searching for industrial-
grade Martian ore.’
‘Martian ore? Then why’s she running the Anchor Leg?’
‘It’s not unusual,’ Bakalar answers, finishing with her hair, ‘skills are
transferable. The Charybdis flies mining personal and equipment to
stations and outposts all around Ceres, Jupiter and Saturn. Once we
dock, the geologists set up their automated mining operations and
then the ship moves on to the next destination. All sorts of skillsets
and personnel are required to deal with the Charybdis ’s remit. You’ll
understand once we reach the end of the Anchor Leg and dock with
‘What is unusual,’ Bakalar continues, ‘is Flesch’s behaviour in Lab
‘Yoshida was telling the truth?’
‘In so much as Flesch goes into Lab 9 a few times a week and cuts
the cameras. It isn’t clear what she’s doing and I can’t see anything
amiss when she turns them back on and leaves.’
‘Are we going to bring her in?’
Bakalar shakes her head. ‘Because Flesch is fairly senior and Lab 9
is a free space, what she’s doing isn’t, strictly speaking, against
regulation. It’s Labs 1 and 2 that operate under stringent protocols.’
‘It is strange though, so I’ve decided I want you to do some
surveillance. See if we can learn what she’s up to that way.’
I hesitate. ‘I’ve only been here two months, I’ve had no training for
‘It has to be you, Temples. Most people aboard this ship know who I
am, and if I put one of the boys on her, skyscraper tall and stocky as a
mining mech, it’ll be obvious what’s going on in about three seconds.
Flesch works up in the First Quarter. It’s unlikely she’ll know who you
are, or see an apprentice as a threat even if she does.’
‘So you want me to follow her around?’
‘No,’ Bakalar says with a chuckle, ‘like you said, you’ve had no
training. Following someone without them realising takes a lot of skill.
To be precise, what you’ll be doing for me is performing audio
surveillance. I want you to go and listen to Flesch at lunchtimes, to sit
near her and her associates whilst you eat. I want you to find out what
they talk about, who they talk about. Think you can handle that?’
I feel a flutter in my chest, this is the first real assignment Bakalar
has given to me since I got here. ‘I can.’
‘Good. Flesch eats in Mess 1 around 1230 every working day, so that
gives us nearly four hours to prep you for your first excursion, to stop
you from giving yourself away the moment you sit down.’
I take a deep breath. ‘I’m ready when you are.’
As Bakalar says, the next four hours are a crash course in audio
surveillance. We discuss distance from subject, maintaining focus and
working in complex environments. We practice listening attentively
whilst appearing to be lost in benign tasks, and we watch security
footage (the sound a muddle of lunchtime chatter, unfortunately) of
Flesch and her associates in Mess 1.
By the time midday rolls around I’m feeling confident I’ve learned
enough to get by and I’m anxious to get started.
‘Remember,’ Bakalar says, as I open the hatchway, ‘don’t sit on the
nearest available table, not on the first day.’ It’s the point she’s
stressed most since we started so I give her my most confident ‘Got it.’
as I leave.
The walk to Mess 1 takes me right to the other end of the ship, well
away from the Third and Fourth Quarters. I make my way through the
flurry of engineers and tech specialists who inhabit the Second
Quarter, and into the fringes of the First Quarter. First is home to the
Bridge, Med Wing and Science Laboratories. The people who work
here earn much more than basic crew. But even with bigger
paycheques, smarter clothes and more R and R, I still see plenty of
Mess 1 looks no different to Mess 3 (the place I usually choose to
eat) and, as I enter, I realise the food smells no better either. I start
with a casual look over to Flesch’s usual corner of the hall, but neither
she nor any of her friends are there. The wall clock only reads 12:23
though, so I join the group of people helping themselves to food from
I get my first view of Flesch as I’m scooping a spoonful of
rehydrated mashed potato onto my plate. She comes in with two other
people, an older man and a woman about the same age as her. I
recognise the man from some of the footage I watched in Bakalar’s
office, but not the woman.
As the three of them approach the buffet I turn and head for an
empty table three along from where Flesch habitually sits. I snatch my
first bit of conversation as I go.
‘I hope Horticulture have pulled their finger out and we finally have
some fresh tomatoes in the salad,’ the man says.
‘Unlikely,’ the woman who isn’t Flesch answers.
Hardly an inspired start but at least I managed to get through initial
contact without letting Bakalar down.
I’m almost halfway through my lunch by the time Flesch, the older
man and the other woman sit at their table. A couple of men are eating
between me and my subjects but they’re not talking much, I can hear
most of what Flesch and her companions are saying.
‘Possibly the most inedible lunch yet,’ the man complains.
‘They’re only going to get worse until we reach Göhr ,’ the woman
who isn’t Flesch answers.
The man mumbles something I can’t quite hear and then, as I stare
at my plate (never gaze openly at your subjects), Flesch finally speaks.
‘What’s your progress on Dione, Saltman?’
‘Only got another two percent of my designation done,’ the older
man answers. ‘Surveying ice for ancient geyser deposits is a ball ache
at the best of times, but it’s near impossible when the inbred lackeys
aboard Göhr are putting together your data packets.’ The other woman
laughs but I note that Flesch stays silent.
As Saltman and the other woman begin discussing all the ways in
which Göhr could be turned into ‘less of a celestial dung heap’, I see
Yoshida come into the mess. Suddenly I’m panicking. What if he
notices me? What if he comes over and somehow reveals what I’m
doing? Luckily, he just walks up to another crewmember, whispers
something in his ear and then they leave together. Close call.
I pick at my sausage and mash as Saltman and the other woman
move on to discussing some of the other space stations and outposts
they’ve spent time on. Flesch doesn’t get involved in the conversation
A minute into Stecher ’s turn to take a slating, I stand (on the first
day of surveillance leave before your subjects and not during a lull in
their conversation). I deposit my tray and dirty plate in the designated
area and then I go.
I head back to Bakalar’s office disappointed I don’t really have
anything significant to report, but then she did say it might be a while
before Flesch let anything slip.
The briefing room is empty so I knock on the hatch door and go in
when Bakalar gives me a shout.
‘How did it go?’ Bakalar asks as I enter.
‘Okay. I’m pretty sure Flesch didn’t notice me, but I don’t think I
overheard anything particularly useful.’
‘I see,’ Bakalar says. ‘You certainly carried yourself well, anyway.’
I waver. ‘You – you were watching me?’
‘I was. I won’t monitor the feed every day of course, but I wanted to
see how you handled yourself during your first excursion. I couldn’t
tell you were working which, in this context, is a very good thing. I’m
I don’t know how to respond to that so I just nod.
‘I couldn’t hear anything though – Mess 1 is far too busy – so tell me
everything you overheard.’
I do as I’m instructed, making sure not to miss anything out (even
tiny, seemingly irrelevant details may turn out to be important). I
make sure to say what I saw Yoshida do too.
Bakalar listens without interrupting, only speaking when I’m
finished. ‘This is all good stuff, Seren. I want you keep going to Mess 1
for lunch every day, report back to me afterwards. As for Yoshida, I
noticed him as well. You didn’t catch any of what he said to the other
‘No. Yoshida whispered something in his ear and I was way across
‘Understandable.’ Bakalar breaks to make a note on her hand tablet
and then says, ‘Security footage suggests Yoshida doesn’t usually eat in
Mess 1, he seems to prefer 2. I was quite surprised when he turned up.’
‘You’ve been looking into Yoshida then?’
Bakalar gives me a narrow look and for a moment I’m worried I’ve
overstepped the mark by asking my superior what she’s been doing
with her time. She answers me eventually though. ‘I’ve been trying to
work out how Yoshida accessed the ship’s security archives without
the proper clearance.’
I can’t help myself. ‘Have you found out yet?’
‘I have. It seems Yoshida’s been sneaking into the Observatory after
hours with a couple of buddies, hacking in using a terminal in there.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Nothing,’ Bakalar says, smiling, ‘yet.’
I’m not due to start my self-defence session with Hindle for another
couple of hours, so Bakalar tasks me to run the weekly diagnostic on
the skinsuits stowed in the briefing room. I assemble and link each
suit to the holo board and, as always, every seal reads perfectly, the air
tanks are full and material integrity is well within safe parameters.
Each of the internal computers is functioning at one hundred percent
I’m disassembling the last suit when Bakalar appears through the
hatchway. ‘Suit status?’
‘No problems,’ I say, trying hard to keep the boredom from my
‘Good, but hurry up, Hindle will be setting up for you by now.’
I look at the clock and see that Bakalar is right. ‘I will. I’m almost
Bakalar nods and then heads for the door. I’m curious to know
where she’s going but I’ve already risked appearing insubordinate once
today, so I don’t ask.
Exercise Node 5 is just off of the ship’s communal gym in the
Fourth Quarter, not far from my cabin. I slip back in to my quarters to
change into my training wear (no more anonymous letters, thankfully)
and then I dash to my session.
The nodes are usually drab, empty spaces but, as I enter 5, I see
Hindle standing next to a carpet of red crash mats, a small army of
punch bags tethered to the roof behind him. A pile of boxing gloves on
the floor doesn’t escape my notice either. ‘You’re late, Temples.’
‘Bakalar had me check the suits,’ I say, jogging over to my
instructor, ‘took longer than expected.’
Hindle seems content with my excuse because he launches straight
into his pre-session stretches, telling me to do the same.
‘So what – what are we working on today?’ I ask, as we extend our
respective left hands over our right shoulders.
‘We’re going to practice engaging multiple opponents – a big step
up from our previous session together.’
I follow Hindle into another stretch and remember what happened
last week. Hindle had me striking his focus mitts repeatedly, working
until my arms felt like jelly. Apparently I needed to build more
stamina and learn to ‘stop punching like an anaemic flea’.
We stretch for a good fifteen minutes before Hindle breaks and
hands me a bottle. ‘Best stay hydrated, Temples, you’re gonna find
I take a swig and then toss the bottle aside. ‘Do your worst.’
Hindle smiles. ‘That’s the spirit. Now, engaging multiple attackers is
extremely dangerous and exceptionally difficult. First lesson, if you
feel an assault from multiple targets is imminent, strike first and strike
That takes me aback somewhat. ‘But before you said—’
‘ Always try and talk your way out of a fist fight first , yes, I know.
But that’s if you find yourself in a one on one situation. Against
multiple targets you need to take any advantage you can.’ He picks up
a pair of worn gloves and passes them to me.
‘We’re mainly going to work on movement today,’ he says, as I slip
my hand into the left glove, ‘we won’t be sparring quite as much as last
I wonder if fear of another difficult session was registering on my
face, I really hope it wasn’t.
Hindle points at the punch bags. ‘These are your opponents today,
as well as myself of course.’ He bows theatrically, drawing a grin from
me. Hindle may be brawny to the point of intimidation but his humour
has a playfulness I find agreeable.
‘So,’ he says, standing straight, ‘second lesson. Once a fight has
started, movement is king. In an open space it’s possible to manoeuvre
your opponents into a straight line. That’s your aim. If they’re in a
straight line, they can’t all attack you at once. They might even get in
each other’s way and afford you an opening.’
I count the punch bags. Six. And apart from swinging on their
tethers a bit they can’t really move. ‘But the bags are stationary, how
do I get them in line?’
Hindle reaches for his focus mitts. ‘You’re going to try and force the
group’s leader, me, in line with one of them. Look for the angles I
might use to hurt you and cut them off. Sheppard me into the position
you think is least dangerous.’
As soon as we’re both wearing our gloves Hindle barks, ‘Now raise
your fists and dance.’ I raise my gloves and strafe to my left, all the
time facing Hindle. He goes right like we’re tracing out an imaginary
‘Good, that’s good, Temples. Now move forwards when I pass in
front of another attacker.’
I do as Hindle says and he takes a step back, bumping into the
nearest punch bag. He tries to move off but I block his escape and he
falters. ‘Now strike!’
I fire a single punch into his mitts and the connection is good,
‘Excellent,’ Hindle says lowering his mitts, ‘excellent. That was
brilliant for a first attempt.’
‘For a first attempt?’ I say, a little defiantly.
‘That’s right. An attacker will rarely follow an obvious lead so
graciously. Now let’s try again.’
We move back to our initial positions and start the ‘dance’ anew. I
strafe left and, to begin with, Hindle complies and moves in the
opposite direction. As he moves in front of the nearest bag I step
forwards, but this time he comes at me. Before I know it I’m face down
on the crash mat wondering what happened.
‘You didn’t keep your guard up when you made your move,’ Hindle
says, pulling me up, ‘you gave me an easy opening. Now try again.’
We spend almost an hour working on my movement, all the time
making sure my guard stays strong. By what feels like our one
hundredth dance I’m hitting the crash mat less and I’ve even got a few
punches in I’m sure Hindle didn’t see coming.
‘Stop!’ Hindle suddenly yells mid-strafe. ‘Eyes on me. The two bags
behind you, how far away are they?’ We’re in amongst the punch bags,
simulating a situation in which I’m surrounded. ‘Four feet to my six
o’clock and six feet to my four o’clock.’
‘I’d call it five o’clock but close enough.’ Hindle tears off one of his
mitts and lets it drop to the floor. The session is over. I pull off my
gloves and follow him into a warm down.
‘Have you got anything else on today?’ Hindle asks, a few minutes
into our stretches.
‘Bakalar didn’t say I had to go back to her office, I guess I’m off-shift
Hindle rolls his head, stretching his neck. ‘You should come to the
bar in Fourth this evening.’
‘Bars aren’t really my thing,’ I reply. ‘I’m not eighteen, either.’
‘You only have to be eighteen to order a drink,’ Hindle says, ‘no age
restrictions on just being there.’
I pause, searching for an excuse. ‘I have to—’
‘I’m meeting Artis and Phyleon there at 1900. Come along. If you
don’t, I’ll ask Artis to come and help out during our next session.’
That seals it.
I make sure I’m ten minutes late for the bar. I really don’t want to get
there before the boys, find myself alone, no one to talk to.
As I walk in I see it’s bustling, nearly every table taken. It’s a lot
different to the only other time I was here, shadowing Bakalar when
she interviewed a doorman about an incident involving a crewmember
who’d had one too many.
Back then it was a gloomy, grey place, no different to anywhere else
aboard the Charybdis . It’s alive now though, filled with talk, colour
and the smell of flowing drink.
‘Terrestrial, get your skinny ass over here!’ Artis is shouting at me
from the bar, head and shoulders above the people standing around
I start to push through the throng. As I go, I notice that one of the
larger tables is occupied by other apprentices. I can tell they’re
apprentices by the little ‘A’ badges on the shoulders of their uniforms.
They’re all drinking, and a pretty girl smiles at me as I pass. I have the
sudden urge to go over and introduce myself but I quell it. After all,
any one of them could be responsible for my letters.
‘I bet Hindle fifty tender you wouldn’t come,’ Artis says, once I get
to him. ‘That means this round’s on you. What are you drinking?’
‘I’m not eight—’
Artis groans and leans across the bar, pushing a couple of people
out of the way in the process. ‘Four beers, stat.’
His arrogance is infuriating but it does seem to get us served
The fourth pint glass nearly filled from the tap, I feel a hand on my
shoulder. ‘Temples, you came.’ It’s Hindle.
‘You didn’t leave me much choice,’ I say.
He laughs. ‘That’s right, I didn’t.’
‘Thirty tender, Terrestrial,’ Artis demands, handing Hindle two
‘You’re making her pay? It’s the lady’s first time here!’
Now Artis laughs. ‘Are you trying to appeal to my inner gentleman,
Hindle? Good luck there, buddy.’
Hindle passes me the two beers and slips a hand into his pocket. I
protest as he squeezes past Artis to pay, but he doesn’t listen.
Once the bill is settled, we walk over to a table in the middle of the
bar where Phyleon is waiting quietly.
‘Look who turned up,’ Artis says to Phyleon, the three of us taking a
seat, ‘it’s Terrestrial and her first ever beer.’
I pass Phyleon one of the two glasses I’m carrying and he nods
‘So, what do think of the bar?’ Hindle asks me, as I take a sip of
what is definitely not my first ever beer.
‘It’s a dive. I like it.’
That makes everyone laugh, even Phyleon.
With the ice nicely broken, we talk about work, the ship and how
bad the food has been recently. Hindle seems keen to include me in
the conversation, asking for my opinion on everything we discuss.
Artis seems keen to offend, periodically making the kind of disgusting
comments I’ve come to expect from him.
Phyleon remains silent the whole time, except to laugh, so when
Hindle goes back to the bar and Artis leaves to talk to some woman he
knows, I’m slightly anxious at being left alone with him.
‘I understand you’re excelling in your self-defence sessions,’
Phyleon says gently, once Artis and Hindle are long gone. It’s probably
the most he’s ever said to me.
‘I hope so. Hindle’s a good teacher.’ I take a sip of my beer. I haven’t
quite kept up with the boys but I’m nearly down to the dregs, feeling a
bit tipsy too.
‘Would you say that you’ve settled in with us now?’
‘I’m getting to know the team at least,’ I answer, ‘Artis included,
sadly.’ I draw a sharp intake of breath. This beer must be strong, it’s
making me forget myself. Speaking ill of a colleague is never a good
idea, even when that colleague is as obnoxious as Artis.
Phyleon seems unperturbed. ‘Yes, Artis has his own way. If you like,
I could speak to him, ask him to stop calling you “Terrestrial”. I see
that the designation upsets you.’
I’m looking at Phyleon in a new light. I had no idea that he even
noticed what was happening around him, let alone read it so well. ‘No,
it’s okay, I don’t mind a stupid nickname.’
Phyleon nods. There’s silence for a few moments and then he says,
‘I’ve been wanting to ask, why did you decide to leave Earth? And so
young. There’s scarcely a person aboard this ship who wouldn’t trade
places with an earthling given the chance. I know a lot of spacers talk
earthlings down, but it’s only because they’re jealous of all Earth has.’
Normally I would change the subject here, or make an excuse and
leave. I’ve done it before. But something about Phyleon’s warm voice,
his mild manner, it makes me act otherwise. Or maybe it’s just the
beer. ‘Earth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,’ I say, ‘it’s suffocating. When
you’re a little kid you don’t quite understand, but as soon as you’re old
enough you see the wickedness. I’m here because the Anchor Leg is as
far away as it’s possible to get from Earth. At least until they set up
Phyleon goes quiet for a moment, maybe he’s deciding whether he
should press me further. In the end he doesn’t. ‘Do you know why I’m
here?’ he asks.
‘You’re part of our security team,’ I answer, a little confused.
Slowly, Phyleon leans across the table. ‘You understand that, as
Head of Security, Bakalar leads our team. You know that you’re her
apprentice. Artis is adept with weapons and Hindle is a master of
unarmed combat. But do you know what I do?’
‘No,’ I say, realising for the first time that I have absolutely no idea.
‘I’m an expert in manoeuvres. Avoiding wickedness, if you will.’
‘Manoeuvres? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
‘Piracy. I know everything there is to know about Relay pirates. I
know because I used to be one.’
The next morning, I wake up with a hangover. I shower, swallow a
couple of paracetamol and head to the briefing room. I never eat
breakfast, but today I’m half-tempted. It might help me recover.
My feet don’t divert me to Mess 3 though, probably because I’m
reliving my short conversation with Phyleon. After his piracy
admission Hindle came back with more beer and a round of shots. I
never had a chance to ask Phyleon anything else about his past, at least
I don’t think I did. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur.
The briefing room is empty, maybe the boys are suffering too. Then
again Bakalar’s schedule might have them working somewhere else
today. Or maybe they’re just at the gym.
The hatchway is closed as usual, so I knock and let myself in when I
hear a shout.
‘How are you feeling?’ Bakalar says from behind her desk. ‘I hear
you had a big night with the boys.’
‘I wasn’t late to bed,’ I say with a fluster, ‘and I only drank—’
Bakalar cuts me off with a laugh. ‘You’re not in any trouble, Seren.
I’m glad you had a good time. Take a seat and stop worrying.’
I do as she says, trying to hide the flush in my cheeks by looking at
‘A busy morning I’m afraid, lots to do before you head to Mess 1 for
‘That’s fine,’ I say, forcing myself to look Bakalar in the eye, ‘I’m
good to go.’
Bakalar is scarcely concealing a grin. Why didn’t I take the time to
make myself look more presentable? ‘Firstly,’ she says, through her
smile, ‘the cellblock needs a clean.’
I can’t help but slump in my seat. Along the corridor from the
briefing room is a doorway that leads to three holding cells. None of
them are occupied but, if Bakalar arrests anyone, that’s where the
offending party ends up. Maintenance aren’t allowed in there in case
they sabotage the bars or plant a weapon (just protocol, they’re no
more suspect than anyone else on board) so it falls to the lowest
ranking member of the security team, me, to keep them clean.
‘I know it’s not the most glamorous work,’ Bakalar says, ‘but I’ll
come and find you in a couple of hours and, if you’ve done a good job,
we’ll go and do something more interesting, I promise.’
Ten minutes later and I’m in the cellblock with a mop, wondering
how so much grime could amass in a place so rarely used. The cells are
cramped and lined up one against the other. They contain nothing
more than a toilet, a water dispenser and a kind of metallic bed/bench.
It’s the most uncomfortable looking sleeping space I’ve ever seen.
The only other notable feature in the block is a thin walkway which
leads past the cells to a single door; a tiny interview room on the other
side. I know Bakalar likes to use the interview room occasionally (I
imagine a walk past these cells loosens even the most stubborn
tongue) so I make sure to give that place a once over too.
All in all, the most tenacious dirt seems to have made its home
behind the cell toilets and I’m giving one of them a scrub when Bakalar
makes her entrance. ‘That’ll do, Seren, we don’t want anyone to be too
comfortable in here.’
I get up from my knees and toss my cloth onto the cleaning trolley.
‘I’ll just put this lot away.’
‘Leave it all outside,’ Bakalar instructs, ‘someone from Maintenance
will notice and sort it out, we’re in a rush.’
Bakalar leads me out of the cellblock and, once I’ve abandoned the
trolley, takes off towards the front of the ship. She moves at a pace I
struggle to keep up with, even with my hangover fading. ‘Where are we
going?’ I ask, as we pass from the Second Quarter to the First.
‘Observatory,’ Bakalar answers. ‘We’re going to talk to a scientist
about Yoshida’s extracurricular activities.’
A smile forms in the corner of my mouth, this really does sound
more interesting than scrubbing the cells.
When we get to the Observatory a man in a lab coat is waiting for
us, leaning against the wall by the door.
‘Edavane,’ Bakalar says, reaching out a hand, ‘sorry I’m late.’
Edavane shakes it. ‘Not a problem. I’ve not got much on today and,
like you said in your internal, this situation requires attention.’
‘I’m glad you agree,’ says Bakalar. Then she adds, ‘This is my
apprentice, Seren Temples.’
Edavane looks somewhat confused, maybe Bakalar didn’t mention
she’d be bringing me. ‘Hello,’ I say.
Suddenly he’s smiling. ‘Good to meet you, Temples. I’m Martin
Edavane.’ He shakes my hand.
Edavane is a tall, sprightly man with an enthusiastic handshake.
However, I suspect a flat stomach and a full head of curly hair makes
him seem a little younger than he really is. He turns back to Bakalar.
Bakalar nods so Edavane touches a finger to the ad-pad.
I’ve never been inside the Observatory before, I wasn’t entirely sure
what to expect. But as I enter behind Edavane and Bakalar I see that
it’s one of the most remarkable places aboard the ship. Everything in
the room is aimed at a giant dome-shaped window taking up nearly
the entire far wall. An infinite wash of twinkling stars are splashed
across the vast black canvas outside, the view so encompassing I feel
like I’m spacewalking without a suit.
‘Most of the terminals in here simply control the scopes or the holo
glass,’ Edavane says, leading us to a waist-high terminal on the left-
hand side of the room, ‘but this one is patched into the ship’s network.
It must be the one your suspects were using.’
‘Yes,’ Bakalar agrees, ‘from the footage I’ve watched it certainly
seems to be. Why is this one alone linked to the network?’
‘It’s just the terminal anyone working here would use to contact
another part of the ship, say the Bridge if they saw something of note.
It’s also the Observatory’s connection to the ship’s database. Look …’
Edavane touches the screen, bringing up an interface menu, the same
one I see on the holo board in the briefing room. ‘It’s essentially just a
standard access point.’
‘I see,’ Bakalar says thoughtfully. ‘And what about the admission
pad outside? Who has access?’
‘Well, anyone working in any of the labs, Engineering,
Maintenance, probably half the ship if we start counting.’
‘But it’s empty now,’ Bakalar says, ‘is it usually like this?’
‘I think so. No one’s posted here full-time so it’s really only used if a
scientist wants to view a moonscape, or weather conditions, or
sometimes just for leisure.’
‘Yes, let me show you.’ Edavane scampers over to the next terminal
along, touches the screen and starts navigating through a series of
A few moments later the dome flickers, flashes white and suddenly
it’s filled with a giant image of Saturn. I’m awestruck. The planet’s
surface is stained by sandy browns and pale yellows, each colour
bleeding into the next like the globe is some colossal glass bauble filled
with cloudy liquid. There are shadows too. The rings cast thick bands
across the surface, plunging all they touch into night. And the rings
themselves, they shimmer as one, their collective colour so strange it’s
impossible to name.
‘First time you’ve seen her?’ I realise Edavane is staring at me,
‘I’ve seen it from a distance,’ I murmur, ‘through the ship’s windows.
And I saw Earth when I left my home there. I saw Mars from Bolt ,
Ceres from Gunnell , but this, this is different.’
Edavane nods. ‘There are scopes all over the ship, the computer can
take information from all of them and project the richest image of
Saturn possible onto the holo glass. It compensates for the carousel’s
spin too, so we get a static image. It’s all very clever.’
‘It’s amazing …’ I mutter.
‘It is indeed,’ Bakalar says, smiling. ‘But we’ve taken up enough of
Dr Edavane’s time. We must be leaving.’
The rest of the morning is spent helping Bakalar with report writing,
but my heart isn’t in it. I don’t even bother to ask her if she learned
anything useful from Edavane, all I do is think about Saturn. It’s been
more than a year since I left Earth and Saturn is what I came for, what
I’ve been running towards. But as beautiful as the planet is, my
admiration has morphed into a kind of grief. Once I reach Göhr , the
space station orbiting Saturn’s moon, Dione, I’ll have to stop running.
There’s nowhere I can go after that. And running is all I have, the only
reason I can put Earth out of my mind. Sometimes I feel as though
Earth’s gravity still has me in its foul grasp, like it might yank me back
if I stop moving forwards. And that scares me.
Once it’s time for me to head for Mess 1 I force myself to forget my
emotional state and focus. I’m keen to carry on with my assignment,
and I want to come through for Bakalar.
I’m only a minute into the First Quarter when I’m surprised to see
Edavane chatting with another man and heading towards me. I’m
hoping that I can get away with simply smiling and passing by but, as
soon as Edavane notices me, ‘What are the odds?’ he says to the man
he’s with. ‘It’s Seren Temples, the young lady I was telling you about.’
I start to mutter something about being in a rush but the second
man introduces himself over me. ‘Hello, Temples. I’m Loic, Loic
I shake Buhari’s hand, urgently trying to think of some excuse to
leave. It’s too late though, I’m just going to have to hope that the
conversation is a short one. ‘Good to meet you,’ I say, somewhat
‘Buhari is my lab tech,’ Edavane says. ‘After our little consultation
this morning I told him that I met a girl from Earth.’
‘Yes,’ Buhari says, ‘I was hoping I’d get a chance to meet you as well.
My family have a place reserved in one of the Martian colonies.
Further into the terraforming process, I’m told the climate and flora
will mirror temperate Eurasia. Have you ever been there?’
I have to admit my interest is peeked. Martian terraforming is
apparently going very well but, even so, places for future colonists are
limited. Getting a residency is said to be extremely difficult, I’ve never
met anyone who has a place lined up.
‘I’m actually from Eurasia,’ I answer, ‘Britain specifically. I used to
live in a township subsector.’
Buhari’s face lights up. ‘Really? I have so many questions. I’ve never
even set foot on Earth, I have no idea what to expect.’
I see an opportunity to end the conversation quickly and I take it.
‘Well, I’m running an errand for my boss at the moment, but if I give
you my internal messenger handle maybe you could send over some of
your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.’
This seems to satisfy Buhari because he produces a shred of paper
and a pen from his lab coat at lightning speed. I give him my handle,
exchange goodbyes with the two men and then I’m off again.
I arrive at Mess 1 later than I’d like, but I’m just in time to see
Flesch and Saltman – no third party today – sit down at their usual
Trying hard not to hurry, I make my way over to the buffet and
scoop a few spoonfuls of this and that onto my plate before heading in
my subjects’ direction.
The tables around Flesch and Saltman are all empty, but I don’t sit
on the closest one to them, I choose the nearest but one.
‘You see, it’s just more crap,’ Saltman complains, as I start
munching on some salad. ‘You enjoying yours, Maria?’
‘Chicken isn’t bad,’ she answers.
‘You know what you’re eating isn’t chicken, they just call it chicken.’
Out of the corner of my eye I see Saltman lean back in his chair,
away from his food. ‘I forgot to ask, any more thoughts on Yoshida?’
I almost choke on a crouton, this might be what I’ve been waiting
‘He’s actually left me alone during the last couple of days,’ Flesch
answers, ‘maybe he’s finally decided to behave himself.’
‘I doubt it,’ Saltman says, ‘once an asshole, always an asshole. Have
you thought any more about taking a harassment complaint to Zuma?
If you do, I’ll back you up.’
‘I think I’ll wait a little longer before I decide,’ Flesch answers.
There’s a moment’s silence and then she adds, ‘Anyway, I need to get
back. So much to do and we’re really not all that far from Göhr .’
‘Same here,’ Saltman agrees.
I wait for the two of them to get up, stow their trays and leave. Then
I’m up too. I cross the mess, shove my tray into the rack and I’m gone.
If Flesch is considering bringing a harassment complaint against
Yoshida, that’s something Bakalar will definitely want to know.
I head for the Third Quarter at breakneck speed. Not only is the
information I’m carrying likely to be of importance, it will prove to
Bakalar that I can be a useful member of the team.
I’m within sight of the briefing room door when the ship’s alarm
blares through the intercom, stopping me dead.
A few siren blasts and then an automated voice. Warning, radiation
detected. All crew make their way to the First or Fourth Quarter.
Proceed Immediately. Warning, radiation detected. All crew …
Suddenly, there are people running past me. Basic crew, engineers,
none of them bothering to avoid knocking into me as they go.
‘Seren!’ Bakalar shouts as she emerges from the briefing room.
‘What are you doing? Get to Fourth, the shields won’t protect you
I stand firm as Bakalar storms towards me. I know the
superconducting shields only safeguard the front and back of the ship
from severe radiation, but I also know that Bakalar will be going to
First, despite Fourth being a lot closer. ‘I want to come to the Bridge,’ I
say, ‘I want to help.’
A woman in maintenance overalls sprinting past us, Bakalar gives
me a fierce look. ‘Fine, move.’
We run back the way I came, Bakalar yelling at a few dawdling crew
to get to Fourth as we go. I find myself wondering how much radiation
my body is absorbing thanks to my stubbornness, but the thought is so
scary I push it out of my head and just run harder.
‘Faster,’ Bakalar calls as we cross into Second, the people thinning,
the alarm and automated voice still blaring.
We make it to First in record time. The corridors are filled with
huddled crew and scientists, the odd worried face recognising Bakalar
and asking her what’s happening. She ignores everyone who asks
though, procedure says she report straight to the Bridge in times of
emergency and I know that’s exactly what she intends to do.
The Bridge doors are the biggest and most daunting on the ship. A
hundred high power rifles wouldn’t put a dent in them, but in truth
they’re just as simple to open as any other door aboard the Charybdis .
The ad-pad flashing green, Bakalar pulls her finger away. The doors
slide open and she marches inside, me right on her heels. ‘What
happened?’ she asks. ‘Solar flare?’
The Bridge is a lot smaller than the mighty blast doors guarding it
would suggest, it’s really not much bigger than our briefing room. One
side is taken up by a holo table, a man and a small window, the other
with workstations, a couple of flight crew and numerous holo screens.
‘We’re just about too far out for flare radiation,’ the man by the
table says, as the doors close behind us and silence the alarm. ‘Besides,
there was no warning through the Relay before we lost comms.’ I’ve
only ever heard Captain Zuma’s voice through the intercom, but the
man standing by the holo table is instantly identifiable by it. In person
he’s a little shorter than I’d somehow expected, and he’s dressed in a
generic green jumpsuit which seems unbefitting of his position.
‘We’ve lost comms?’ Bakalar asks, as we stop in front of him.
‘Yes. When external sensors detected lethal radiation and auto-pilot
took over, comms died. Who the hell is this?’
‘My apprentice, Seren Temples. Have we escaped the radiation?’
‘The computer took control of the EN Drive and changed our course
‘I didn’t feel anything.’
‘The change was pretty small, no bumps or fluctuations in our
pseudo-gravity. Frankly, emergency auto-pilot did not behave in the
way I’d expect. Internal sensors in Second and Third are showing no
spikes in radiation either.’ Captain Zuma turns towards the flight crew.
‘That still the case, Clyne?’
A lean apprentice, maybe even younger than me, turns away from
his station. ‘Radiation still well within safe norms across all Quarters,
‘Cut the “Captain” bullshit, Clyne.’ Zuma turns back to us. ‘Kid still
thinks this is fuckin’ Star Trek .’
I’m lost, completely confused about what’s going on but Bakalar
seems to have a handle on matters. ‘So the external sensors somehow
detected radiation which probably doesn’t exist, and the computer put
us on a new, slightly different course to get away from it?’
‘That’s about right, yeah.’
‘Have you regained manual control of the ship?’
‘Not long before you got here.’
‘What are you thinking? Malfunction?’
‘All these systems glitching out at once? Seems like a stretch.’
‘You think someone orchestrated this?’
‘I don’t know what to think,’ Zuma concedes. ‘What’s it like out
‘People in First are scared, scared but fine. I don’t know what
Fourth is like first-hand but the rest of my team were there when the
alarm sounded. They’ll be keeping everyone calm.’
‘Good.’ Zuma turns towards the only other flight crewmember
present besides Clyne; a blonde-haired woman typing something at
one of the other workstations. ‘Petrova, have external sensors reset
A brief pause as Petrova works her interface and then, ‘They have.’
‘Reading expected background levels of radiation only.’
Zuma exhales. ‘Okay.’
Bakalar speaks next. ‘You should kill the alarm.’
Zuma grunts in agreement. ‘Petrova, wipe the intercom clean and
patch me through.’
Petrova moves to another workstation as Zuma retrieves a headset
from the holo table.
‘Go for intercom,’ she says, a second later.
‘This is Zuma. The previous broadcast was a false alarm, repeat, a
false alarm. A single sensor malfunctioned and the computer took
emergency action. It sounded the alarm and altered our course as a
safety measure. No one has been exposed to anything, return to your
stations. Repeat, all Quarters are safe, return to your stations. Zuma
out.’ Looking at Petrova, he swipes a flat hand across his neck.
Petrova touches something on her screen, Zuma pulls his headset off
and tosses it back onto the table. ‘Now we know we’re safe we should
turn the ship back towards Göhr . Petrova, plot—’
‘Sir,’ Clyne interrupts, ‘comms are back online.’
Zuma sighs. ‘Fine. Prepare a trajectory report to send to Göhr , but
wait until Petrova has—’
‘No, er, sorry to interrupt again, Sir. But what I meant to say was
that Comms are back online and I’m receiving a distress signal.’
‘What the …’ Zuma marches towards Clyne’s workstation, Bakalar
gives me a dark look.
‘It’s weak,’ Clyne says, ‘nothing more than a few pings. We’re only
just within range, but the signal appears to be coming from
somewhere in Saturn’s orbit.’
‘Dione? A mining ship?’
‘No, I think it’s closer than that. It’s so frail though …’ Clyne begins
to work through the menus in front of him. ‘I need to try and boost the
signal, one second. I think … there.’ He points at some kind of graph as
it appears on his screen.
‘Audio,’ Zuma demands. Clyne touches something on the graph and
a sequence of fuzzy beeps plays through the Bridge. In all honesty,
they sound less urgent than the wake up alarm on my personal tablet.
‘The signal is coming from Skoll,’ Clyne says.
‘What or where is Skoll?’ Bakalar asks from my side.
‘It’s a retrograde moon in Saturn’s orbit,’ Petrova answers. She’s
staring at Clyne’s station, just as we are.
‘The signal is coming from one of Saturn’s moons?’
‘No,’ Zuma answers, looking closely at the graph, ‘a ship in orbit
around it. Cut the audio. Petrova, aim every damn scope we have at
Skoll, bypass the Observatory and send the picture to the holo table
Zuma heads back across the Bridge as the beeps disappear and a
projection of an irregularly-shaped rock, Skoll, forms in the air above
the holo table.
‘There,’ Bakalar says, pointing at a ship the size of a fly.
‘I see it,’ Petrova answers, ‘locking scopes.’
The image flickers, disintegrates and then reforms with the ship,
magnified maybe a hundred times, at its centre.’
‘Gods …’ Zuma mutters, his hands flat against the table’s rim.
The ship isn’t in a good way. I see an EN Drive at the rear, a kind of
bulky engine, but there’s a huge crack running through it and floating
debris all around it. The ship’s slender axis is encircled by a carousel
which no doubt houses the crew, just like our ship, but it’s not turning.
Whoever’s inside will be experiencing zero-G, no pseudo-gravity
created by rotation of the carousel to anchor feet to floor. And there’s
something else too …
‘I know that ship,’ I say to the room.
Suddenly, everyone is staring at me.
‘What the hell are you talkin’ about, kid?’ Zuma demands.
I look to Bakalar. She nods, I talk. ‘When I left Earth to get to
Gunnell , to meet with this ship and join Bakalar’s team, I spent some
time aboard Bolt . I was there for two weeks whilst I waited for my
connection. I had nothing to do so I used to sit by a window
overlooking the dock and watch the ships come and go. A man from
the station’s maintenance crew, he liked watching ships too. He used
to tell me their names, what they were equipped to do. That’s the Scylla
. I recognise the shape, the elongated nose, the circular window at the
front. It’s an envoy ship, it carries VIPs from Earth.’
Still staring at me, Zuma says, ‘Clyne, database search; “the Scylla ” .
A moment later Clyne responds. ‘Partial match, Sir. But at this
distance and with all the damage to the ship, it’s impossible to get a
‘I’ve never heard of a ship full of terrestrials this far out,’ Zuma says.
‘That’s the Scylla ,’ I repeat, ‘I’m sure of it.’
‘ Scylla or not,’ Bakalar cuts in, ‘Relay law dictates we come to the aid
of any ship in distress. The crew might be in desperate need of
Zuma crosses his arms and retreats into his own thoughts for a
moment. ‘Could be pirates,’ he says eventually. ‘What if they’ve laid
some sort of trap? I’d be endangering my crew by wading in.’
‘Hostiles running the Anchor Leg are few and far between,’ Bakalar
answers, ‘you know that. But even if it is pirates, my team will handle
Zuma runs a hand through his hair. ‘Fine. Petrova, send a data
packet, a simple message asking the Scylla for her status. I want to
know what the hell happened to damage her so badly.’ Then he turns
back to me. ‘Kid, this friend of yours on Bolt , he tell you exactly who
was aboard the Scylla ?’
‘No, he was Maintenance, he wouldn’t have known . All he told me
was that it was an envoy ship, high-spec and used to move earthling
VIPs safely through the Relay.’
‘Do you know where the Scylla came from?’ Bakalar asks me. ‘Or
where it was going next?’
‘Sorry,’ I answer, ‘I don’t know anything like that. Just how it looks.’
‘I don’t like this,’ Zuma says to no one in particular. ‘An unnecessary
auto-pilot manoeuvre putting us just within range of some mystery
distress signal. And Göhr . I know they’re not the savviest spacers
afloat, but, with all their tech, why haven’t they spotted this? Why
haven’t they sent their own rescue mission and reported the situation
through the Relay?’
‘I could send a query to Göhr ,’ Petrova says, ‘report the signal and
ask them to advise.’
‘No,’ Zuma says, ‘no, don’t do that. I don’t want them involved until
we know exactly what’s going on here. How close are we to Skoll?’
‘We could be there in twenty-one hours,’ Petrova answers.
‘Then we will be.’ Zuma turns to Bakalar. ‘Drop everything you’re
doing, look into what happened with the sensors and the auto-pilot.
Comb through the computer’s log code if you have to, report to me as
soon as you know something. And put together a team in case we have
to board the Scylla and rescue survivors.’ He dismisses us with a
simple, ‘Get to it.’
Bakalar paces the briefing room, relaying everything we’ve just learned
on the Bridge. I’m sitting between Artis and Hindle, dwarfed by their
collective bulk. Apparently things weren’t as calm in Fourth as Bakalar
had hoped. The boys had to work pretty hard to contain the panic,
Hindle has a black eye to prove it.
‘There’s a lot to get done in the next twenty hours,’ Bakalar says, ‘so
I’m going to have to delegate heavily. Each task I hand out will take
precedence over all other non-essential duties and current
assignments. Artis, I want you to prep the op gear. Captain Zuma
wants us ready and equipped to board the Scylla if required.’
‘Live ammunition?’ Artis asks, not even bothering to conceal his
‘Pinch weapons only. Pistols and a pair of rifles.’
I wonder if I’ll be sent aboard the Scylla , if I’ll be given a gun. If I do
go and we’re taking pinch weapons (low power firearms that shoot
bullets designed to penetrate flesh and not metal) then I might be
responsible for one. The thought is daunting, I hate all guns no matter
‘Phyleon,’ Bakalar says, turning to where he sits quietly, ‘I want you
to plan a prospective board. The Scylla is in the ship’s database so you
should be able to retrieve a set of schematics and load them up on the
holo board. Work out the best way to sweep the ship quickly and
decide exactly how many people we’ll need to do so.’
Phyleon nods but Artis interjects. ‘Shouldn’t Phyleon hold off on
planning until we’re sure it’s the Scylla we’re dealing with? There are
thousands of ships running the Relay, realistically the hunk o’ junk out
there could be any one of them.’
‘Temples says it’s the Scylla ,’ Bakalar answers, ‘that’s clarification
enough for me.’ Her faith makes me feel ten feet tall. Artis lets out a
quiet scoff which more than suggests he doesn’t share it.
‘Hindle, Temples and I,’ Bakalar continues, ‘will investigate the
Charybdis’ s malfunctions. Hindle, I want you to start going through
the computer’s log code. See if you can find any evidence of an
inherent auto-pilot problem, or a change in any of the auto-pilot
‘No problem,’ Hindle says dutifully, ‘where do you want me to
‘You can use my office for the time being.’
‘Temples, you and I are going to go and talk to a contact of mine,
see what he has to say about the external sensor malfunction. Any
Artis speaks up. ‘When will we know whether there’s gonna be a
board or not?’
‘The captain will decide in due course, we’ll have to wait for his
word. Anything else?’
No one asks anything more.
‘Good. Temples, with me.’
I trail Bakalar out of the briefing room. She’s moving quickly but as
soon as we reach the cellblock door, I stop her and ask, ‘May I have a
Bakalar studies me for an instant and then, just as I’d hoped, says,
‘I know you said that the Scylla is our top priority,’ I begin, once
we’re inside the cellblock, ‘but, before the alarm, I was on my way back
to your office to tell you something important. I still think you might
want to hear it.’
‘When I was in Mess 1 at lunchtime I heard Flesch say that she was
considering bringing a harassment complaint against Yoshida.’
‘I see,’ Bakalar says. ‘Who was she talking to?’
‘That scientist friend of hers, Saltman. He wanted her to do it, said
he’d “back her up” if she did.’
‘That is interesting, Seren,’ Bakalar says, ‘very interesting. But the
Scylla is indeed our current priority. For now, investigating Flesch and
Yoshida will have to wait.’ With that, she heads back out of the
cellblock door and I follow.
We scarcely make it five feet down the corridor before the intercom
sounds. This is Zuma. We’ve received a distress signal from a ship in
orbit around the retrograde moon, Skoll. As law dictates, we’ve
altered our course to offer assistance. We’re hoping that this won’t
add more than thirty hours to our arrival time at Göhr. Continue with
your schedules as normal. Repeat, continue as normal. Zuma out.
‘Was that wise?’ I ask Bakalar, the second the intercom goes silent.
‘Wouldn’t it have been better to keep the signal secret? What if the
crew panic about –’ I lower my voice – ‘ pirates ?’
‘It was the right move,’ Bakalar says. ‘This ship is full of scientists
and engineers. If you’re smart enough to pre-program a fleet of mining
mechs or to operate an ice bore in near zero-G, then you’re smart
enough to work out that the big rock outside the window isn’t a space
station. It wouldn’t have been long until the crew realised we were on
an altered course, and if they thought their captain was keeping
something from them, that’s when there’d be real panic.’
Despite Bakalar’s assertion I can’t help but notice all of the fraught
faces and whispered conversations as we traverse Third. More than
once I’m sure I hear the P-word, at one point from a brawny
crewmember who falls silent the second he notices Bakalar.
We spend a long time walking through Second, eventually coming to
a stop at a door labelled, Workshop 19 . Bakalar knocks on the door,
something I find odd considering there’s an ad-pad right next to it.
The door opens and reveals a man dressed head to toe in greasy
overalls. His hair is combed back and he’s grinning like he’s just heard
some hilarious joke. ‘Bakalar,’ he says, ‘I was wondering how long it
would take for you to turn up.’
‘I just can’t stay away, can I?’ Bakalar says, with what I could swear
is a flirt in her voice. ‘Oh, and I bought my apprentice, Seren Temples.
I hope that’s all right?’
‘Of course it is. Hi, Temples,’ the man says, aiming his smile at me,
‘I’m George Trou. Won’t shake your hand cos I’m covered in gunk, but
it’s nice to meet you all the same. Come on in.’
I follow Bakalar into a white and surprisingly clean space, a bank of
holo screens on one side, a work table complete with robotic arm and
tools on the other. We’re the only three people in the room.
‘So,’ Trou says, leaning against the table, ‘where do you want to
Bakalar smiles. ‘The external sensors. I take it you’ve worked out it
was more than a single sensor that malfunctioned?’
‘Pretty obvious. For the computer to initiate its emergency protocols
it would require a severe radiation confirmation from at least one
other sensor. System’s built like that so we don’t pull an emergency
manoeuvre with every little fluctuation or error.’
I’m not entirely sure what all of that means but I know better than
to ask for clarification. Bakalar is interviewing Trou in a very
considered manner, she wouldn’t appreciate the interruption.
‘It was an oversight on Captain Zuma’s part to announce otherwise,’
Bakalar says. ‘How many people will realise, do you think?’
‘Not many. Most of the engineers aboard are rock harvesters, they
have no idea how the ship works. All in all, maybe me and a handful of
other craft engineers.’
‘Think it will get out?’
‘Any chance you could have a word with your colleagues, try and
‘For you,’ Trou answers with a wink, ‘anything.’
‘I appreciate it. With the course deviation Zuma just announced
tempers will be frayed enough as it is. Now, how likely is it that more
than one external sensor would glitch out at the same time?’
Trou looks upwards in thought. ‘Not impossible, but I’ve never seen
it happen without some sort of collision damage.’ He looks Bakalar in
the eye. ‘So your next question: could someone have manipulated the
external sensors and, if so, how would they do it? Am I right?’
‘Well, if it was me, I’d intercept the signals travelling from the
sensors to the computer rather than attempt to fool the sensors
themselves. Try and set up some sort of intermediary step, a break in
the code where I could add a bunch of radiation signatures.’
‘Is that possible without tripping a security lock?’
‘Just about,’ Trou answers. ‘If you know what you’re doing, of
Bakalar nods. ‘Thank you, George, you’ve been a gentleman as
always. I owe you a beer.’
‘Not a problem,’ he says. ‘I’ll look forward to it.’ And with that, we’re
back out the door.
Bakalar doesn’t say much on our way back to Third. I guess quietly
absorbing everything that Trou said is vital to her process. I don’t try
and force a conversation.
When we get to the briefing room Phyleon is standing next to a large
hologram of an undamaged Scylla , typing something on a tablet. Artis
is assembling a pinch rifle on the bench by the storage lockers.
‘What’s your progress, Phyleon?’ Bakalar asks as we enter.
I noticed in the bar that it’s sometimes a good few seconds before
Phyleon answers a question, almost as if he practices the words in his
head first. ‘The Scylla is relatively small,’ he says, after his token pause,
‘two teams of two could conduct a basic sweep in roughly one hour.’
Two teams of two. There are five members of the security team, that
means I might get left behind whilst the others conduct a board. I feel
a surge of disappointment. I didn’t realise how much I wanted to be
part of this mission, but apparently I do.
‘However,’ Phyleon continues, ‘there is a problem. With the Scylla
being a high-spec envoy ship some of the security systems are intricate
. I’m confident that with the right equipment I can defeat them in situ,
but I can only be part of one team.’
‘You think we’ll require extra personnel and specialist gear?’
‘Yes. I’ve compiled a list of the Tech personnel most qualified to
offer the help we need, as well as a list of the additional equipment we
will require to access every part of the ship.’ He hands Bakalar his
Bakalar flicks through his list, grimacing. ‘I’ll have to talk to Captain
Zuma about this.’
She carries on reading and I sense my chance. ‘I want to volunteer
for the board,’ I say, standing as straight as I can.
Artis laughs from the corner of the room. ‘Looks like Terrestrial
wants her some action after all.’
Bakalar shuts Artis up with a fiery look and then turns back to me. ‘I
appreciate that, Temples. And if we are ordered to board the Scylla
your presence might be required. But until I’ve talked to the captain,
nothing is decided.’
It’s all I can do not to sigh in defeat.
‘I need to go and talk to Hindle,’ Bakalar says. ‘Phyleon, if you’re
finished, assist Artis with the gear.’
‘What shall I do?’ I ask.
‘Go get an early night,’ Bakalar answers, already walking towards
the hatchway, ‘but report back here nice and early. 0700 at the latest.’
Artis sniggers as I leave. I’m not sure if I made a mistake by
volunteering in front of Artis and Phyleon, if I somehow put Bakalar in
an awkward position, but I really do feel like a naughty child being
sent to bed early.
The walk back to my quarters puts me even more on edge. So many
whispered conversations, so many accusing looks from crewmembers.
Are they really so stupid that they think I might have had something to
do with the radiation alarm or the distress signal? Or maybe with all
that’s gone on they just think that Security are doing a bad job. I hope
Bakalar doesn’t come under any unfair pressure because of what’s
I feel a palpable sense of relief as I slip into my cabin, as I escape
the loaded atmosphere outside. The respite doesn’t last long though,
there’s another envelope resting on my pillow.
More annoyed than startled, I cross my room and grab it, just
wanting to get reading the damn thing out of the way.
I tear the envelope open but there’s no note inside, just a
photograph. I see the back of a woman with peroxide-blonde hair tied
in a ponytail. She’s sitting at a desk in an office not dissimilar to
Bakalar’s. I don’t recognise her though. I turn the photograph over,
nothing on the back.
Letting out a groan I drop the photo to the floor and collapse onto
my bed. It’s still early, but with the bar last night and everything that’s
happened today, I’m exhausted. I close my eyes and sleep takes me
Morning comes and I wake still wearing my clothes. I shower, change,
and head to shift well before 0700.
The briefing room is full of clutter when I arrive. Artis and Hindle
are placing weapons, cables and other electrical equipment into dark
cases, Phyleon stands beside five skinsuits hanging against the wall. I
notice he’s busy assembling a sixth.
‘Temples,’ Hindle says, once he notices me, ‘Bakalar wanted to run
a brief as soon as you arrived. Stay here whilst I get her.’ He leaves
Artis fiddling with a case and ducks through the hatchway without
‘What’s going on?’ I ask Artis. ‘Has a board been ordered?’
‘Damned if I know, apparently Zuma keeps going back and forth.
Bakalar’s been on the horn with him non-stop trying to convince him
to follow Relay regulations, but he’s terrified of pirates. Pussy.’
I notice deep bags under Artis’s eyes. I wonder how much sleep the
guy in charge of our firearms has had. ‘And what about the
investigation into the malfunctions?’
Artis shakes his head. ‘Hindle didn’t find anything in yesterday’s log
code, Bakalar’s got no potential suspects. I guess the investigation is
A moment later the hatch swings open and Hindle appears,
promptly followed by Bakalar. Phyleon stops what he’s doing and
heads for the bench. I do the same.
‘Here’s where we’re at,’ Bakalar says, once I’m sandwiched between
Phyleon and Hindle. ‘There has been no reply from the Scylla despite
repeated requests for her status. There are numerous reasons why she
might not respond; maybe her comm system is malfunctioning, maybe
the crew are incapacitated in some way.’
‘Maybe they’re all dead,’ Artis interrupts, from beside his case.
‘It’s a possibility,’ Bakalar concedes, ‘as is the notion that the Scylla is
part of a pirate trap, a kind of bait to lure other ships in. Personally, I
doubt this is the case. Most of the mining transports and cargo ships
running the Anchor Leg are significantly less valuable than a high-spec
Earth envoy ship, so wrecking one to act as bait makes little sense. On
top of that pirate activity of any kind is rare in this sector of the Relay.’
‘So will there be a board or not?’ Artis demands.
‘Captain Zuma has been reluctant to order a board but, with the
addition of some special stipulations, he has just this minute
Bakalar lets the notion settle on the room for a moment. I can’t help
but fidget in my seat.
‘The reason I pushed so hard for a board,’ Bakalar continues, ‘is
simple. There could be injured, sick or dying crew aboard the Scylla .
It’s our duty as law-abiding spacers to come to their aid. If anyone
disagrees with me, if anyone wants no part in this mission, speak now.’
‘In that case, let me take you through Captain Zuma’s stipulations.
Firstly, we will not be docking directly with the Scylla . The Charybdis
will remain stationary at a safe distance, we will pilot a shuttle from
the Charybdis over to the Scylla . Captain Zuma feels that this is the
safest way to approach the situation.
‘Secondly, with the status of the Scylla still in question, Captain
Zuma will not order anyone from Technologies to join us. He is,
however, sending out a request to Tech for mission volunteers.’
‘Volunteers from Tech?’ Artis says with a sneer. ‘Sounds like
Phyleon’s been prepping that sixth suit for nothing.’
‘You never know,’ Hindle replies, ‘there are some good people
aboard this ship.’
‘We should find out if anyone’s volunteered within the hour,’
Bakalar continues, ‘but until then we’ll proceed under the notion that
no one will. That means, as it stands, the five of us will be shuttling
over to the Scylla in around four hours’ time.’
My heart skips a beat, it looks like I’ll be going on the mission after
‘Phyleon suggested two teams of two in his mission plan, but that
was for a basic sweep conducted over the course of one hour. I want to
perform a thorough sweep in the same timeframe. However, if no one
from Tech volunteers, the team without Phyleon will have to do their
best to access and search as much of their designated route as they can
without any sort of admissions specialist.’
I don’t say what I’m thinking, but I’ve never heard a pirate
described as an ‘admissions specialist’ before.
‘May I ask about the extra gear I listed?’ Phyleon says, so politely
that I feel a pang of guilt at what just went through my head.
‘Captain Zuma has authorised us to take whatever equipment we
need from Engineering and Tech, so long as it’s not operating as a part
of any vital system.
‘Now, orders. Hindle, Artis, Temples, I want you to finish packing
the gear and transport it to Shuttle Port 1. Phyleon, get to Second and
commandeer the specialist equipment you require, drop it off at the
shuttle. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my office. I’ll run a full mission
brief at 1000, we need to be in the shuttle and ready to launch at
Captain Zuma’s command by 1100. You have your orders. Dismissed.’
Shuttle Port 1 is in the First Quarter, so lugging all of the equipment
to the shuttle takes a while, even with the help of a couple of borrowed
maintenance trolleys. The first time I climb through the airlock and
into the back of the shuttle I’m surprised by how big it is, by just how
much room there is inside. It doesn’t take long for that space to be
filled though. Most of the seats are folded away and replaced by cases,
weapons, medical kits, stretchers, air refuelling tanks and a whole host
of other gear I couldn’t even name, let alone use. Only four seats are
left alone, and the two in the cockpit at the head of the shuttle makes
‘How fast can this thing go?’ I ask Hindle, as we secure a box of
oxygen canisters to a handrail with cable ties.
‘Why are you asking?’ Artis replies on Hindle’s behalf. ‘You thinking
we might have to ditch the Scylla in a hurry?’
Before I can reply Phyleon appears through the rear hatch, a small
blue case in each hand.
‘Get what you needed, Phyleon?’ Hindle asks.
Phyleon nods and then slides the cases neatly into the compartment
beneath what I suppose will be his seat.
Once everything is secured (anything not tied down will float away
once we detach from the Charybdis and plunge into zero-G) we head
back through the Charybdis to make Bakalar’s 1000 mission brief.
I enter the briefing room to find Bakalar speaking with two people,
a man I don’t recognise and a girl I do; an apprentice. She’s taller than
me and her brown hair is tied in a neat bun at the back of her head. It
takes me a moment but eventually I remember where I know her from.
The bar. She’s the pretty girl that smiled at me when I walked past her
‘Who do we have here?’ Hindle asks, coming in behind me. ‘A
couple of volunteers?’
‘A single volunteer,’ the man spits back.
‘This is Adam Idyllwild,’ Bakalar announces, ‘and this is Abril
Antonio. Antonio has kindly volunteered to help with the mission.
Temples, come and say hello.’
I cross the briefing room as the boys saunter over to their personal
lockers, apparently unneeded.
‘Hello,’ I say to Idyllwild and then to Antonio, ‘I’m Seren Temples.’
As I shake hands with each of them Bakalar says, ‘Temples is our
apprentice, she’ll look after you, Antonio.’
‘Another apprentice,’ Antonio says cheerfully, ‘it’s good to meet
you.’ She looks at me with wide green eyes, I see recollection in them. I
think she remembers me from the bar too.
‘I like your necklace,’ I say, gesturing towards the unzipped collar of
her jumpsuit, ‘an ammonite fossil, right? I haven’t seen one of those
since I left Earth.’
‘Terrestrials?’ Idyllwild snaps before Antonio can reply. ‘That makes
sense, Terrestrials wasting our time and resources rescuing other
‘Actually,’ I respond with all the gusto I can muster, ‘I’m the only
earthling on the security team. Everyone else is a spacer.’
Idyllwild only grunts in reply.
‘Temples,’ Bakalar cuts in, her voice calm and silky smooth, ‘why
don’t you go and help Antonio prep her suit. Idyllwild, would you
please join me in my office. I need you to sign Antonio’s release forms.’
Another grunt from Idyllwild and he trails after Bakalar. I lead
Antonio over to where the suits still hang against the wall.
‘I think it’s cool that you’re from Earth,’ Antonio says as we go. I
don’t really know what to say to that so I just point at the suit Phyleon
has half-assembled. ‘This will be your suit. We have no idea what
condition the Scylla is in so we need to proceed under the assumption
that we won’t be able to breathe inside.’ I realise as I speak that I’m
doing my best Bakalar impression.
‘Looks a bit snug,’ Antonio says, ‘and there’s no way my oversized
flippers are fitting into those boots.’
‘We can alter the suit size,’ I say, ‘and there are spare boots we can
use too. They’re bigger.’
We spend the next few minutes assembling a suit that fits Antonio’s
tall, shapely frame. The boys don’t offer any assistance, but they do
look away politely when Antonio removes her jumpsuit and stands
briefly exposed in a vest top and underwear.
‘Idyllwild looks less than happy about you volunteering,’ I say to
Antonio, as I make sure the suit’s biometric pads can touch her skin. ‘I
hope you won’t get into any trouble on our behalf?’
‘Idyllwild’s just grumpy he’ll have to do a proper shift’s worth of
work with me gone,’ Antonio says with a laugh, ‘and that he had to
drag his sorry ass all the way down here to sign my release forms. I’m
not in any trouble.’
The holo board flashes green as she finishes her sentence and a
dialogue box appears: Reading Biometrics, and then, Team Member
Six, A. Antonio. Amazing how the computer can recognise any crew
member when they don a skinsuit, scary how it has all of our DNA on
As Antonio wiggles her gloved fingers in front of her face, the hatch
opens and Idyllwild emerges, followed by Bakalar.
‘You look ridiculous in that suit,’ Idyllwild says, eyeing his
subordinate. ‘Last chance to opt out before I head back to Second.’
‘I’m good,’ Antonio replies, ‘and I think I look rather fetching, thank
you very much.’ She does a theatrical twirl which draws a chuckle from
the boys and sends Idyllwild storming towards the briefing room door.
‘Okay,’ Bakalar says, once Idyllwild is gone, ‘mission brief.’
I lead Antonio over to the bench, Bakalar waits for us to sit before
she starts. ‘Still no reply from the Scylla ,’ she begins, ‘so the six of us
will be conducting a board and most likely a full sweep of the ship very
shortly. If we aren’t met by crew as soon as we dock, we’ll split in to
two teams of three. Each team will contain an admission specialist,
tasked with breaking down any security protocols we may encounter, a
guard, armed with pinch weapons and tasked with keeping their
respective team safe, and a navigator. The navigator’s job will be to
lead their respective team through the ship, to identify any injured or
sick crew which require assistance, and to record any deceased we may
encounter using a hand tablet fitted with a biometric reader.
‘Alpha Team will consist of Phyleon, Hindle, and myself. Beta Team
will consist of Antonio, Artis and Temples. We will be docking with the
Scylla at Port 2, just off the centre of the ship’s carousel. Assuming
we’re not met by crew upon boarding, Alpha Team will head straight
to the Bridge before searching the rest of the First Half. Beta Team will
systematically search the Second Half, including the hold. Our primary
objective is to assist any crew in distress and, at Captain Zuma’s
command, our secondary objective is to ascertain what happened to
the Scylla . If we can, the captain wants us to find out how the ship
came to be so badly damaged and what exactly an Earth envoy ship
was doing this far out in the first place. Are there any questions? No?
The shuttle lets out only the slightest rumble as we detach from the
Charybdis . I’m strapped into my seat but my arms are free. A few
moments after Bakalar takes manual control they start to float
upwards on their own. Zero-G.
– Breakaway good, – I hear Bakalar say through the headset in my
helmet, – proceeding towards the Scylla. –
I turn to my left. Antonio sits in the chair beside me, craning her
helmet to look into the open cockpit at the front of the shuttle. I want
to know what she’s looking at so I do the same. Beyond the back of
Bakalar and Hindle’s helmets and above the control panel is the
shuttle’s forward-facing window. The Scylla occupies the centre, Saturn
a giant onlooker from the corner. Below the Scylla is Skoll, a jagged
lump of cratered rock.
– The Scylla is so battered, – Antonio sends, – she must have taken a
hit from something. –
But I’m looking at Saturn, turning over the miserable revelation the
planet gave me yesterday. Running away. Running out of places to run
to. No, I need to focus on the mission. I force myself to look at the
Scylla . She hangs limp, beaten and lifeless, so different to when I was
watching her on Bolt . I see that she’s surrounded by much more debris
than the holo projection I saw on the Bridge let on, too. I’m put in
mind of bees swarming around a hive.
– Will getting through that mess be a problem? – I send.
– Might have to do a bit of fancy manoeuvring, – Bakalar answers,
– but we should be okay. –
As Bakalar says, our route to Port 2 is anything but direct. More
than once we have to take a sharp turn to avoid something big, it’s a
good job Bakalar and Hindle are such experienced pilots.
– Visual on Port 2, – Hindle sends, once the window is filled with
the Scylla’ s carrousel.
– About time, – Artis complains, – you guys take the scenic route or
During transit I’ve noticed that Artis hasn’t looked out of the
window once. Maybe he’s a queasy flyer.
– Thirty seconds to docking procedure, – Bakalar sends, gently
rolling the shuttle and aiming the hull at our access point.
I look at the small circular hatch on the shuttle floor. Not long until
we’ll be floating through, meeting our fate.
– Slowing to approach speed, – Bakalar sends.
My hands grip the side of my seat as I hear the thrusters fizz.
Phyleon gives me a reassuring smile through his visor, I try my best to
– Approach good, – Hindle sends, flicking some switch in front of
– Brace for contact, – Bakalar warns. But the bump that follows is
even softer than the one we felt when we detached from the Charybdis
A moment of quiet and then Bakalar sends, – Attachment good.
Copy that, Charybdis ? –
I hear Captain Zuma’s voice for the first time since our pre-flight
checks. – Copy that. Proceed as planned. – I know the Bridge is
monitoring all communications, watching through our helmet-
mounted cameras too.
The click of belts and then Bakalar and Hindle are floating down
from the cockpit like a superhero and sidekick. – Prepare to board. –
Bakalar’s order is followed by a flurry of activity; belts released,
equipment passed around, gear clipped to suits (no firearms for me or
Antonio), all as Bakalar goes over the mission plan one last time. Being
an earthling I’m not as adept as the others in zero-G. I have to do
everything with either a hand or foot anchoring me to one of the
shuttle’s handrails so I don’t float away. Everyone else can manoeuvre
themselves freely about every axis, apparently without risk of
launching their bodies into someone else’s personal space. I’m still
fiddling with my hand tablet once the others are good to go.
– I’ll go through first, – Bakalar says, as I finally slide my tablet into
its holster, – followed by the rest of Alpha and then Beta Team. If
there’s no welcoming party on the other side of the airlock we’ll split
immediately. Are we all clear on the procedure? –
Surprisingly, it’s Phyleon that speaks up. – I need to share one last
thing with my opposite number. – He raises one of his mystery blue
cases. – Do you know what this is, Antonio? –
– I do, – she replies.
Phyleon sends the case gliding through the shuttle. Antonio catches
it by the handle with a grace I certainly didn’t display when I grabbed
the med kit Hindle fired towards me a minute ago.
– Okay, – Bakalar says, – let’s get on with it. –
The hatch is opened manually, via a lever that breaks our seal. A
blast of air and then Bakalar activates the torch on her helmet and
pushes herself through. The rest of Alpha Team follows once she gives
the all clear.
As Beta Team’s designated navigator, I know it’s my job to lead our
charge (just as it’s Bakalar’s job to lead Alpha Team’s) so I head for the
hatch next. I push off from my handrail and, using my arms to guide
myself, traverse the shuttle and scramble through the little hole in the
The airlock on the other side is gloomy, all of Alpha Team’s torches
are aimed away from me. I still manage to stop gently against the floor
though, a decent landing for a novice.
– No party hats and smiling faces to greet us, – Hindle sends,
staring through the airlock door’s tiny window and into the Scylla .
I tap the button on my right wrist to activate my light, then turn
back to look at the hatch. Antonio comes through next, bouncing off
the floor and halting herself against a rail on the wall beside me.
Artis comes through last, his pinch rifle strapped to his back. –
We’re through, want me to seal the shuttle? –
– Affirmative, – Bakalar sends in response.
I watch Artis close the hatch and punch in the code Bakalar drilled
into our heads during pre-flight (one-nine-seven-seven), and then I
turn back to the door as he confirms the seal. Phyleon already has a
box tablet plugged into the ad-pad by the side of our entrance, he’s
trying to force the lock electronically.
– Hydraulics solved, – he sends, after a loud mechanical jolt and a
green flash from the ad-pad.
– Prepare for pressurisation, – Bakalar warns, reaching for the
door’s lever. – Three, two, one … –
The rush of air is much stronger than the one Bakalar unleashed a
minute ago. With no traction under my feet I bash straight into
Antonio. My shoulder complains angrily as I remember that zero-G
doesn’t mean zero inertia, big bumps still mean big pain. – Sorry,
Antonio, – I send, silently cursing my error, – didn’t brace properly. –
– No problem, – she replies, as though we’d just brushed past each
other in a busy corridor.
I float away from Antonio and watch Bakalar pull out her hand
tablet. – Bad air, – she sends, – not much heat and no lights. Stay in
your suits at all times. Do you copy Scylla ’s status, C harybdis ? –
A crackly Zuma, – Copy that. Proceed at will, you have one hour. –
As Bakalar leads Alpha Team out of the airlock and into the Scylla I
consider what Zuma might do if we’re not out within the hour. Send
another shuttle after us? Ask Göhr for assistance? Abandon us?
– All clear, – Bakalar sends, snapping me away from my thoughts.
– We’re going to head towards the Bridge. Temples, get your team in
here and start searching Second. –
I realise that Artis and Antonio are waiting for me to move, to lead.
Bakalar made a big decision in picking an apprentice as a navigator, I
want to prove to everybody that I was the right choice. – Proceeding
now, – I send, lining myself up to push off the wall and fly through the
– Copy that, – Bakalar answers, – switching to closed comms. –
There’s just enough time to tap the closed button on my wrist
comms panel before I reach the airlock door. Now only Beta Team and
the Charybdis will hear my transmissions unless I switch back. I
straighten my arms and glide inside.
My first impression of the Scylla is not a comforting one. I’m in a
long white corridor, giant stains and deep scars along much of its
length. I bring myself to a stop on the far wall and run my light along
the nearest smear. It looks like soot, was there a fire in here?
As Antonio and Artis appear in a flood of extra light, I realise that
the air is full of dust particles too. It’s flowing in the direction Alpha
Team went up the corridor, away from where we’ll be searching.
– Almost looks worse inside than it does outside, – Antonio sends,
stopping by my side. I nod.
– Not afraid of a little dust are we, ladies? – Artis mocks, closing the
airlock and then pulling his pinch rifle from behind his back.
In response I grab my hand tablet from its holster. Using it
effectively is one of the first things Bakalar taught me to do when I
joined Security, along with basic first aid training of course. I tap a
gloved finger against its screen and it lights up, showing me our
position aboard the Scylla via a 2D map. The route we need to take
through Second is laid out in blue.
– Let’s get going, – I send, pushing off, – an hour isn’t a long time.
It takes about a minute to get through the corridor, and by the time
we reach the door at the end my tablet is already telling me we’re
behind schedule. I halt myself on the wall by the door and realise it’s
closed. I pull it all the way open, wait for Artis to peek through and
give the all clear, then I climb through.
On the other side is another dark corridor, but this one’s different.
The gashes against the walls are deeper and there’s a jumble of objects
floating in the air. Corrugated piping, power tools, a suit helmet stares
back at me through a vacant visor.
– I said it was clear, not pretty, – Artis sends, once he comes
through and finds me stationary.
I don’t send a reply. My hand tablet says there are two rooms we
need to search somewhere along the corridor so I kick off and glide.
As I ride through I have to use my one free hand to turn clothes,
clumps of wiring and plastic cups out of my way. On my shoulder,
Artis flicks things out of his path with the tip of his rifle.
– There, – I say, as a hatchway is illuminated by my helmet light. I
reach out and grab the handle, bringing my flight to an awkward end.
Artis latches onto a panel that’s half-peeled away from the wall and
extends a hand. Coming from behind us, Antonio grabs it and stops by
Artis’s side. Nice moves. I really am the zero-G amateur here.
– Open it up and I’ll check it’s clear, – Artis sends, raising his rifle.
I position myself on the hinge-side of the door and pull it open,
exposing Artis and Antonio to whatever’s inside.
– Holy crap! – Antonio yells, as Artis points his rifle. I’m about to
send, What do you see ? When out it floats, answering my question. A
corpse. Its pale face is twisted into a kind of desiccated grimace and, as
its empty eyes stare back at me, I realise it’s a man, or it was a man.
I’ve prepared myself for this. I take a deep breath and reach out as
the body’s booted feet drift clear of the doorway. I pull the whole thing
Once it’s stationary I swipe the screen on my hand tablet, activating
reader mode. It works just like the biometric pads in our suits. I press
the top of the tablet to the body’s forehead and the screen flashes red.
Deceased. DNA Recorded.
Next I turn the body over, looking for any clue as to how the person
who owned it died.
– There are bullet wounds along the spine, – I report.
– Someone shot the poor bastard in the back, – Artis replies.
As I send the body back out into the corridor (we have no orders to
retrieve deceased bodies) Artis slips through the door. I look at
Antonio, still floating beside the loose panel. – Are you okay? – I send,
looking through her visor. She looks slightly pale.
– Fine. That just took me by surprise is all. –
I nod, then I tap the open button on my comms panel, broadening
my transmission. – Be advised Alpha Team, we’ve located a
crewmember likely killed by weapons fire. –
It’s Bakalar who answers. – Copy that. We’ve just found our first
body too. Any sign of life yet? –
– No, not yet. –
– Understood. Proceed as planned, contact me if you find anyone
alive. Switching back to closed comms. –
I switch to closed comms as well, then I look back to Antonio. Her
face has already regained some colour, maybe that wasn’t her first
dead body. I know it wasn’t mine.
– We’ve got another one in here, – Artis sends.
I manoeuvre myself through the hatchway, pleased to sense
Antonio following after me. I find myself in a space not dissimilar to
the one in which Bakalar interviewed George Trou. A workshop. It’s a
lot bigger than Trou’s though, full of blank holo screens and floating
silver machinery. Some of the equipment in here looks incredibly
high-spec. Compared to this stuff Trou was messing around with kid’s
– Where are you? – I send.
– Round the corner, – Artis answers.
I realise that the room culminates in a ninety degree bend partially
hidden by all the flotsam. Being careful to avoid anything with sharp
edges I push onwards and turn the corner. Artis hangs in mid-air, his