Friday, February 13, 2015

The Starburst Coders – Part 1

Fiction Friday. Escape pod here. This is another three part story. Sorry. I start with the intention of doing it as a single piece then the damn thing runs away from me and I’m close to ten thousand words before I know it.

The Starburst Coders – Part 1

The blue-grey shuttle craft dropped out of warp close to the station. A flash of light marking its return to sub-light speeds. The pilot established the comm-link with the immense starbase and transmitted his docking request and his clearance codes. A few seconds later permission was granted. The ship shuddered as a tractor beam locked onto the small craft and Chigas shut down the engines. The shuttle was pulled into a small private hanger away from the main hanger.

Chigas stepped from the shuttle into the small hanger. He saw the twin 25mm railguns tracking him from their mount in the corner. He approached the security post. A heavily armored trooper sat behind a shimmering forcefield. The man indicated to the draw sticking out from the armoured desk. Chigas took his blaster pistol from his shoulder holster and placed it in the draw. Next he reached around to the small of his back retrieving the small composite Matari autopistol. Finally he bend down and removed the small knife from his ankle. He dropped the weapons into the draw which retracted back into the security station. Chigas stepped into the small room adjacent and two scanning drones hover over to him from their alcoves set into the wall. Thin lasers emitted from the drones scanned over him, covering from head to foot. Finally the other door opened and he stepped into the lift.

It stopped and the doors opened into a small reception. A lady at a desk smiled as he entered.

"Welcome back Chigas. He's expecting you, go right in." she said with a smile.

Chigas smiled at her and nodded, pushing through the large swinging door and entering his bosses office. The balding, overweight man behind the large desk rose as he entered.

"Welcome back and good job Chigas." he said shaking his hand and then motioning him to sit.

"Thank you sir."

“You think those frog bastards will have any clue what happened to their listening post?” he chuckled.

“I think we’ll find Tibus Heth before they find that listening post.” Chigas replied.

His boss opened a draw in the desk and pulled out a bottle of whisky and two glasses. He poured a healthy measure of the strong Minmatar drink and handed one to Chigas.

"I've got your request for a transfer here." his boss said after taking a drink. "You'd like something a bit closer to home?"

"Yes sir. Uunse is pregnant and working away is going to be a strain. After over twenty years in the field, I think I need to let some of our rising stars take over." he said with a chuckle.

His boss picked up his datapad and swiped a finger across it.

"State Navy at 18. Intelligence office at 23. Field agent at 26. Field ops-manager at 35. Now something closer to home?" his boss mulled. "Your last mission as a field operative. Tell me about it."

Chigas went quiet for a moment. Recalling that last mission. The last time he'd personally taken a life. That operation had led to him requesting a transfer. The counter-intelligence command wasn't prepared to lose him. He became the operations manager in the field. Assisting the field agents from nearby but not getting his hands dirty.

"Doesn't the file tell you everything?" Chigas asked.

"I'd like to hear it from you." his boss replied.

"It was five years ago. The Empyrean War had been raging and the system of Old Man Star had changed hands a few times. Each time the State or the Federation conquered the solar system they tried to move colonists and business in to stake their claim. It was a mess. Both sides agreed to set up official Embassies on the station to cater for our own citizens no matter who held the system at the time. It was a rare moment of co-operation between us. Anyway, intelligence got a sniff something was up. One of our junior staff at the OMS embassy had started an affair with someone at the Gallente Embassy. Apparently they had met at some official function held by the Quafe Corporation which was trying to build bridges between us. Anyway they'd fallen in love, or more likely lust and Command decided it was too much of a risk to let them continue. I was sent in to deal with the situation to ensure we were not compromised."

"What happened?"

"I dealt with the situation." Chigas replied curtly.

His boss sighed. "Sorry Chigas, but I need you give the details. This is pertinent to your transfer."

Chigas took a sip of the Matari whisky.

"My orders were clear. I followed the targets to a hotel they used. I slipped a view-bug under the door and watched until they were asleep. Ops hacked the door remotely. Taking a Gallente issue pistol I shot the Gallente officer in the temple at point-blank range. As our girl woke from the sound of the shot I already had the belt from his trousers. I wrapped it around her neck and strangled her. The local police report was that it was a kinky game in bed between lovers gone very wrong. He'd accidentally killed her during the act and then taken his own life in remorse. A clean job. Well, the Gallente suspected it was us, but were likely to have intervened themselves in the near future, although they may have handled it differently. May be. I don’t know. Those Black Eagles might have done it the same way as us. In the end the problem just went away."

"Then you requested a transfer out of the field?"

"I was 35 and my knee hurt." Chigas said somewhat sarcastically.

"You didn't agree with your orders that night did you?"

"No. It was the wrong call. She could have been recalled back to New Caldari. There were options. If she needed to be permanently retired then it would have been easy to slip her a sedative and push her unconscious body from an airlock. She was a young woman, a Caldari citizen, who had done nothing wrong but fall in love. She died slowly and in terror as a stranger strangled her on a bed next to her boyfriend whose brains were leaking over the pillow next to her."

"Would you do it again?"

"If I was ordered to. Yes." Chigas admitted.

"Excellent. What do you know about the Starburst Communications System?"

"FTL short message communications system. Uses a subspace field to cover the entire Cluster in a matter of seconds. Cannot be traced to the origin or destination making it ideal for clandestine operations. It radiates from a central point so any empire monitoring it has no idea if it is meant for their space or not. Short coded messages only. Usually sent to deep cover operatives and field agents who do not have access to communications or are in danger of being traced."

"Thats what most agents know. What isn't known is that the transmitter is here in New Caldari. Obviously this system needs to be secure. Anyone could give orders to our agents and they would carry them out without question including against us. We have two coders. Citizens who are fitted with a unique brain implant. Only they can jack into the system, take the order from Command over the secure line, code it and sent it as a Starburst to agents scattered light-years away. These are some of the most valuable assets in the State. They are also completely unknown to all but a few. However we cannot take a chance. Each Coder is assigned an individual protector."

"24/7 protection? I was looking for something a bit more nine to five?"

"It is not 24/7. These assets are worthless when not in the facility. They work 12 hour shifts. You meet one here in the secure hanger, escort them to the facility, watch them as they work and return them to the secure hanger here. Shift done. It is not 9 to 5 but it's the closest you are going to get here."

Chigas nodded in agreement.


Eight months later.......

Chigas glanced at his watch. She was late. He saw a figure approaching.

"I know Mr Grumpy, but I'm here now!" she said with a smile.

He grimaced and walked up the ramp to the shuttle.

"Look I'm sorry. I overslept a bit." she apologized as they strapped themselves into their seats.

"Have a baby. They are excellent barriers to over sleeping." he replied. He’d not been getting anywhere near enough sleep since his wife had given birth.

Sawara smiled at him knowing the grumpy exterior was just an act. They had actually become friends over the last eight months. The shuttle swung out of the station and burnt away. The planet of New Caldari shining bright on their starboard side. The flight to the facility was just under forty minutes. The tiny two-person shuttle didn't have a warp drive and was designed for station-to-ship and station-to-surface transport. Soon they came upon the facility. It was smaller than an outpost but bigger than a satellite. The logos of Channel 47 were plastered all over it. The news channel was a small broadcaster on New Caldari with a feed to Caldari Prime, it was also a front for the Caldari Intelligence service. This facility was registered as a backup transmitter for the western hemisphere of the planet. In reality it was home of the Starburst Transmitter.

Chigas swung the shuttle around and slowly approached the docking arm. The facility was too small to have a proper hanger so the shuttles docked against a hammer-head style arm that held the craft and allowed access to the airlock. Chigas saw the other shuttle was still docked, the other Coder and her babysitter hadn't left yet.

Skillfully Chigas docked the shuttle against the arm and they both unbuckled their belts. After exiting the shuttle they proceeded down the docking arm towards the entry bay. A large room with a pair of heavy blast doors. They could see Ranta and Aibi approaching.

"Hi you two, fancy meeting you here." Aibi laughed as she did every time they passed, twice a day. The two girls broke off to talk as did the men.

"All OK." Chigas asked.

"All is well other than the supplies haven't been delivered yet. We're running a bit low so take it easy. I'll have a word when I dock up and see what's happening. With my luck they'll be here for my damn shift." Ranta grumbled.

The facility needed basic supplies for the round the clock shifts. Food, water, towels and the like. These were delivered to the entry room but not beyond. It was the responsibility of the agent to move them inside the secure facility. It was a standing joke as Chigas tended to find them waiting for him when he arrived. The unwritten rule being if you find the crates stacked by the blast door when you arrive then you need to carry them inside and restock.

Chigas turned his attention back to the two women.

"Oh thank you. I owe you one." Sawara said as they said their goodbyes.

As Chigas and Sawara walked towards the blast doors Chigas raised a questioning eyebrow at her last statement.

"There is a concert I want to see to tomorrow but the timings are bad. Aibi said I could start an hour early tomorrow so I'd be back in time for the concert."

Chigas narrowed his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah Mr Grumpy. Breaking the schedule I know. You just will have to get out of bed an hour early." she smiled.

Chigas shook his head slowly as he held his hand under the DNA scanner and then tapped a code into the door. With a rumble the blast doors parted and they entered the facility. The doors slowly closed behind them, sealing them in.


23 hours later.....

Chigas and Sawara walked down the docking arm towards the blast doors after docking the shuttle with the facility. Chigas noted the supply crates stacked by the door with two four gallon water butts. Typical, it was his turn again.

Suddenly a man walked past the end of the corridor in the entry bay. He was dressed completely in black and was wearing a mask and combat boots. Instinctively Chigas grabbed Sawara pulling her behind him and going for his gun. Sawara let out a sharp yelp in surprise as he grabbed her causing the intruder to turn quickly. The two men locked eyes. The intruder had an Ishukone carbine hung over his chest. There was a seconds pause as both men froze before they both went for their weapons. Chigas was quicker as he was already reaching for his pistol. In one fluid motion he drew and put a bullet in the intruders forehead. He turned back intending to get back to the shuttle to escape as a shot rang out. Another man had exited the other shuttle and was firing down at them. They were trapped. Chigas spun Sawara behind him again to protect her and returned fire whilst backing up into the entry room of the facility. The constant stream of shots kept the other intruder from getting a clear shot. Chigas scooped the carbine from the man he'd killed and continued to steadily fire at the entry to the other shuttle keeping the other pinned down as they reached the blast door. He scanned his free hand and punched the code whilst still firing. The LED read-out on the gun showed he had eight shots left as he pushed Sawara through the opening blast doors. He backed up into the secure area of the facility with 2 shots left. When he stopped firing the other intruder came out gun blazing. The blast door was closing, but too slowly. Chigas then noticed the strange black boxes with antennae on the back of both the four-gallon water butts. He made an assumption and fired the last two bullets into the water barrels. A fireball erupted blocking the approaching intruder. As the door was almost closed as the fireball dissipated and Chigas saw two more men exit the shuttle.

"What was that!" Sawara screamed.

"A bomb. Your concert saved us. Those water butts were filled with an explosive chemical. We arrived early and they weren't ready. If we'd come an hour later I assume they'd have detonated as we got to the door and torched us both."

"Why? Why would they want to kill us?" Sawara still hysterical shouted.

"At a guess. To stop you undoing what they have done." Chigas said pulling his back-up gun from the back of his pants.

"What have they done?" asked Sawara calming down.

"I don't know, but they have already been inside here to do it and were waiting to kill us before leaving." Chigas replied. “Only you can send Starbursts if something has happened to Aibi.”

"How do you know they got in? The doors were closed!"

Chigas looked down. Sawara followed his gaze. On the white deck plates there were bloodied footprints exiting the facility through the blast door. He looked behind her and she turned around. At the next door there was a large pool of blood on the floor and bloodied handprints on the handle.

"Come on. We need to find out what happened to Ranta and Aibi." he said solemnly. Sawara didn't press it but she could tell by the tone of his voice he didn't expect to like what he found.

To be continued...


  1. Dog gone it! And now it's one week until the next episode...

  2. My sentiment exactly!

    Nitpick: when you were writing about the "draw" at the security station, I needed the context to figure out that you meant a "drawer". Britishism?