“Ten minutes!” Rachel announced, furiously working on her terminal. Even though she was the only human on The Golden Meridian—or ‘Goldie’, as we liked to call her—she possessed the quiet confidence of a seasoned pilot, and the skills to back it up. I didn’t know of any other Vaznik crew with a human pilot, but I was damn glad we had her with us.
“Ten minutes,” I repeated, thumbing a switch that turned on the shipwide comms. “Everyone, report to the bridge. We’re about to leave Diana’s Arrow.”
It wasn’t long before the rest of the crew filtered onto the bridge, Captain Timcur leading the group. Thelkor, our gunner, was right on his tail. He waggled his eyebrows at Rachel before taking his seat. Before those two had become a thing, I hadn’t known the meaning of ‘innuendo’, but now…
“I’ve just come from the engine room,” Storgin announced. Hands clasped behind his back, he strolled onto the bridge. “All systems are functional and ready to go. Unless I’ve overlooked something, I don’t think we’ll need a maintenance stop for at least a couple of months.”
“Perfect,” I said, watching as he transferred all the information on his tablet to the ship’s system. My screen lit up and I skimmed the system’s diagnostics and Storgin’s report. “Good job, Storgin, as always.”
“I’d feel more comfortable if we had a real engineer with us.” As our ship’s scientific slash medical officer, Storgin’s role aboard Goldie was as vast as it was important. We depended on him to patch us up after a brawl, to fix whatever was broken in the ship, and to do a scientific assessment of…well, of whatever we needed assessed.
“Duly noted,” I told him. We left it at that. We both knew that, with the mission we had been assigned, there’d be no time to recruit anyone else for the crew. The universe had already blessed us once—when we needed a pilot the most, Rachel was literally teleported here. I didn’t believe we’d be so lucky twice.
I pulled the information on Rachel’s screen to my own, confirmed there were still a few minutes before we uncoupled from Diana’s Arrow, the star-ferry we’d spent the last few days on, and decided to make a quick overview of our status.
Much like Storgin had said, the ship’s systems were pristine. There were no leaks, no spots on the hull that needed soldering, nor parts obviously requiring replacement or maintenance. We’d also stocked up on essentials, and we had everything we needed to be self-reliant for quite a while.
“How are things?” I heard Captain Timcur ask.
As Goldie’s Executive Officer, I sat right in front of him. Since the captain’s seat was on a slightly elevated platform behind me and overlooking the rest of the bridge, he could look straight onto my screen and see its contents.
“I think we’re good,” I said. “Now it’s only a matter of finding the right person for the job.”
“You don’t think we’ll find the right person for it on Tehglaish?”
“Who knows, really?” I shrugged, unsure how to respond. “I would’ve preferred to have a reliable technician working with us, instead of having to find some random hacker in the seedy markets of Tehglaish, but we don’t have much choice.”
Our orders were to stop and capture Zarklac, the leader of a Suhlik terrorist cell. We nearly caught the bastard recently. We had tracked him to Diana’s Arrow a couple of weeks ago, but the bastard slipped through our fingers.
We chased the sneaky fucker into a hidden Suhlik base, but…he got away again. Thankfully, we didn’t walk out of that Suhlik base empty-handed. We’d captured a treasure-trove of data packets containing some of Zarklack’s plans for new attacks. We had only been able to access a few files so far.
A portion of those plans were heavily encrypted. No matter which method we used, we just couldn’t crack its key. We needed a hacker to crack the data’s encryption.
Tehglaish, a seedy planet known for its black markets, was our best hope. Home to many of the galaxy’s hacktivists, Tehglaish was a hub of clandestine operations in this sector. With some luck, we hoped to find someone capable of—and willing to—decrypting Zarklac’s information for us.
It didn’t help that we needed to move fast. We all knew what Zarklac was capable of. The monster had tried to blow up Shackleton’s Crater Lunar Base a few weeks ago. Goldie had docked there for a shore leave, and we’d all witnessed his evil and cruel methods.
“It’ll be alright,” Captain Timcur said, his voice that of a leader with a steady hand. “We have a good crew, and I’m sure that—”
He was cut short by a chiming sound that came straight from my terminal. I narrowed my eyes and looked at the screen. There, a short message detailed that some of our ancillary systems had engaged autonomously.
“What’s going on back there?” Rachel cried out, looking back at me over her shoulder. “I’ve just received the green light from Diana’s Arrow Control, guys. We’re ready to uncouple in three minutes. Can I start the uncoupling procedure, or what?”
“Well, let me just…” I reread the message again, just to make sure I hadn’t misinterpreted any of it. “I’m not sure. Power is being diverted from the engine to power up the axial nodes on—”
“Fucking hell,” Thelkor cried out. “Can you translate that for us? Or do I need to pull a dictionary out of my ass?”
“What Olath is trying to say,” Storgin cut in, sounding cool and collected, “is that our teleporter pad has just powered up.”
Damn right, I thought. And if the teleporter pad has been activated, that can only mean one thing….
“Holy shit,” Thelkor muttered, speaking what was on everyone’s mind.
“What?” the captain stared at Thelkor.
Ever the gunner, Thelkor didn’t mince his words, and he hit the proverbial nail right on its head.
“They’re sending us another woman.”