Fiction Friday! Escape pod here!
Blue Flame of Revenge - Part 3
Captain Sosa took his seat. He and Riku had rendezvoused with the Kasu Maru in the Teimo system after their meeting with Thanan Industries back in the OMS system. The fast two-man shuttle had only taken a short whilst to cover the six jumps.
"XO report. I see we have found our wayward Nestor."
"Yes sir. We scan it down to this belt. When we arrived we found some local Guristas trying to crack her open. We scared them off but the Nestor has been unresponsive. Ingvar took a team over in a shuttle but one they latched on the computer showed the atmosphere inside was only 5% O2 and cold. They've been breaking out the cold-gear and breathing masks. They entered only a minute ago."
"Ignvar? You there?" the Captain asked aloud.
"Right here Captain. Welcome back, you missed all the fun. There's a Rattler pilot in a pirate bar somewhere being mocked from running from a Mammoth!"
"So I hear, what's the situation over there?"
"Colder than a winters night on Caldari Prime Cap. Ships on emergency power mode. Aki is trying to get power back online so at least we can piggy back a vid-signal. Interference from the ships hull makes it voice comms only until we do."
"Roger that. Any signs of what happened?"
"That's a negative sir. No evidence of a disaster, accident or weapons fire. Looks like a mothballed ship. Wait, powers on!"
The viewscreen on the Katsu Maru flickered and the feed showing the Nestor was replaced by the camera mounted on Ingvar's shoulder. The corridor was bright white with the ship builders logo, the Sisters of Eve, emblazoned next to Thanan Industries logo. The team went room by room; labs, rec rooms, offices. No sign of anything untoward other than it was deserted. Ingvar ordered his team to the hab-deck. The deck where the crew lived, reasoning if anyone was onboard they might be there. The first room they came to was the mess hall. Unfinished meals littered the tables but no signs of the crew. They continued to the quarters section. The first door they came to was locked.
"Aki?" Ingvar said over comms.
"On it. It's been sealed by the computer and I'm having trouble getting into the system. Can you run a local bypass?"
The camera view shook as one of Ingvars team moved to the door panel and unscrewed the access panel. He clipped some wires to the exposed circuitry and tapped on his datapad. A second later the door opened.
"We got bodies." Ingvar said quietly.
The video screen showed a man laying on the floor in uniform. Ingvar checked him. He slipped off a glove and placed two fingers on the man's neck.
"Long dead, stone cold."
"OK Ingvar, skip the other rooms. We've not got time for this. Head to the Captain's or XO's quarters, should be at the far end. They should have files on their datapads stored locally in case of network failure. You should be able to find Doctor Gian's room unless Aki can get into the computer quicker."
"Sorry Captain." Aki spoke over comms "I'm in finally, but there is nothing here. The entire computer system has been wiped clean including the AI."
The Captain watched as Ingvar led his team to the far end of the hab-dec. As expected the door spacing grew as the rooms became larger. At the far end the Captain's and XO's quarters were labeled. They hacked the door of the XO first as he was more likely to have the crew manifest being responsible for day-to-day operations. They found the XO in bed with the covers pulled up tightly to fight the cold. It hadn't saved him. Ingvar located his datapad and used the dead man's thumb to unlock it.
"Got it Captain. Room 42-341." there was a pause. "Some interesting stuff here Captain, we'll check the Doctor's room and return."
Thanan Fiert returned to his suite sweating and his hands shaking. He loosened the formal dress shirt and removed the jacket. He walked to the small bar and grabbed the decanter from the top pouring a healthy measure of the amber liquid into a crystal glass. His shaking hands meant he spilt some as he poured. Downing the drink he sighed as the liquid burnt his throat. He could have sent an assistant but that would be a loose end he'd need to sort out later. No, he needed to do that himself. The reception for the auction was horrible, he'd not been to a social event like that since before... that time. However it had been worth it. The book was the original and came with a certificate guaranteeing that it was the only copy and had never been digitised. A true collector's item, something only a handful of people had read. Of which one was already dead. The one that had led him to the book and the story. He poured another glass and downed that too.
He picked up his datapad. Two urgent messages were waiting for him. The first was from his assistant back at HQ. Apparently two Douvolle Labs employees had been to visit keen to contact Dr Gian. Surely it couldn't be a coincidence. He had been warned that the ion weapon needed time to lock and fire. There was a few seconds opportunity for anyone onboard to transmit a message. Unlikely, but possible. He needed to assume Douvalle Labs was suspicious. The second message was worse. The outpost in Teimo said they still had the Nestor on scan and there was a Mammoth class industrial there too. He tapped a reply into his datapad and placed it on the table. He poured a third drink with shaking hands. Whilst an unfortunate turn of events it didn't matter at this stage. The worst that could happen is that they would know who was behind the ultimate catastrophe he had planned. He didn't care. Once it was done, he wouldn't care about anything anymore.
He downed the drink and walked over to the bedroom. He opened the door and looked in. The two girls lounging on his bed looked up. They were exactly how he'd specified. The Gallente woman was in white lingerie. Delicate lace and silks. The stockings were glossy and topped with white lace and suspenders. The Caldari woman was the opposite. Black and a mix of leather and PVC. The heels on her stocking clad legs looked like they could double up as a weapon. The women looked at him with hunger in their eyes. He entered the room but kept his distance, leaning against the wall. He gave a slight nod and the women came together, kissing hungrily. We watched them for a while switching the focus of his attention between the two. He watched lips and tongues meet. Hands explore. Finally he walked towards the bed, unbuttoning his shirt. For this night he'd be able to forget for a short time. To silence the screams if only for a few hours.
Detective Aleira looked at the files. Six universities or corporate research facilities hit over the same two nights. Six dead professors, nine dead security guards and a dozen of the guards families. Each MO was the same. One team would enter the home of the night guard or guards, they'd get a family member to call via their personal datapad and force the guard to let a second team into the facility. They'd steal the equipment and then kill everyone they'd involved.
She rose from her chair and walked over the kitchenette were a pot of strong coffee was keeping warm. It was late and the office was deserted. She had warned the remaining facilities still holding the same equipment. However she didn't expect a third night of attacks. It had already been a risky operation for the perps. If they'd made the connection on the first raids they could have been waiting for them the second night. The enquires she'd made today had revealed that the molecular lasers that had been stolen were very rare. It was a precision instrument that could break the molecular bonds of compounds. Generally only used in research, they were made by Carthum Conglomerate and sold cluster wide. Due to their power they were restricted and only sold to universities and research establishments that met strict security requirements. Around the clock armed guards, biometric security, class 1A blast doors and walls to prevent explosive breeches. Of course all this security meant nothing if you had the guards families and parts of the authorised professor's body.
Whilst she was worried about the brutality of the gang, they had not hesitated to hurt the guards families to get them to cooperate, the most worrying fact was their professionalism. They work in an almost militaristic fashion. This was no backstreet criminal gang. These were professionals.
She took the coffee back to her desk. Why would anyone want to steal six molecular lasers? The only people who would want to buy such devices, even on the black market, are the ones that they stole them from. She suddenly had an idea and placed the coffee down quickly and sent off a message to her contact at Carthum Conglomerate.
The senior officers were sat around the conference table as Ingvar started his report.
"As you saw from the video, the crew appeared to have been confined to quarters and the doors sealed. At some point after the jump back the main computer was wiped. That put the ship into emergency power mode taking everything offline including life support. If we hadn't arrived when we did those Guristas would have destroyed the ship for sure. No shields, amour hardeners and DC offline. We have two important clues onboard. First was when we visited Dr Gian's quarters. It was empty. We looked at the other scientists quarters and they were the same. All the crew, from the Captain down to the Technicians 3rd Class were left to die, but the science team were not there. Then we have this note on the XO's datapad. It appears it was left after the computer was wiped. As we know, the XO's datapad is usually running on local in case of disaster."
To whoever finds this. The ships AI has taken over and has jumped us back. We did not return to OMS but a beacon deeper into low-sec. The computer ordered us to our quarters, threatening to depressurise the ship. Some of the engineering team tried to take it offline but it used the fire suppression system to suffocate them. A short while later something large came near us, I felt the change in gravity. Nothing too big, I'm not talking titan, but something very big. The ship bucked at one point, I assume de docked with the ship. A short while after the power went into emergency mode and it seems life-support is down. The ship bucked again and the gravity shifted I assume as the unknown ship left. Whether it was a Bowhead, freighter or capital I do not know. I fear this is where we will all die never knowing what happened. The AI was deliberately programmed to do this. Someone betrayed us.
There was silence around the table as the crew took the message in. Such a death was a real threat when in space, and nobody wanted to go out like that.
"OK. Opinions?" the Captain asked finally.
"We were never meant to find this message or the ship. Assuming that the AI didn't go rogue and decide to kill everyone on a whim, it was working off a subroutine. That is supported by the fact it jumped to another beacon or cyno than the one at Thanan Industries. Once back here the third party disabled comms, used a large ship, perhaps a Bowhead as the XO suggested, to board and take the scientists and left the ship knowing that the Guristas pirates around here don't bother boarding. They take the low-risk approach and blow up the ship and then loot and salvage the wreckage. Here in the asteroid belt any evidence left after that would have been erased pretty quickly." Riku stated.
"OK, I concur." the Captain added "Anyone else?"
"Sir, looking at the electronic systems I'm seeing some EM damage and not from the Guristas. I believe some sort of ionic weapon was used to disable the systems, especially all comms systems. Even personal datapads would have been taken offline by the hit and subsequent ionisation of the hull." Aki added.
"Good work. I want a scan of the system and have a word with Duvolle Labs and see if they can get us the logs for the stargate. They must have some political pull at Federal level. If the Bowhead or whatever that intercepted the Nestor is in system I want to find it. If it left, I want to know who they were. Dismissed."
As the crew rose an alarm sounded. Red strobes in the corners flashed. The senior offices sprinted out of the conference room. They burst into the command centre sixty seconds later.
"Report" the Captain called as he jumped into his seat.
"Thanatos class carrier just warped in sir. They are launching fighters and locking us up!"
The viewscreen showed the massive ship, three wings of fighters streaking from its launch tubes. The Captain didn't need to make an assessment. The Katsu Maru was one of the most advanced ships in the cluster, but it stood no chance against a carrier.
"Fighters lining up for an attack run Captain!"
"Align to the Kedama gate, get us out of here."
"Yes sir, but they'll be on us before we can warp! One of those fighter wings have warp disruptors."
The crew watched as their ship turned towards the distant stargate as the tactical readout showed the fighters as red blips approaching at high speed.
To be continued.....