Sunday, 8 July 2018

Zoology, Part Two ~ Episode One

One

'As I said, 'twas some drub sellin' what she'd mistook for quartz but I know a hefty lump of Zenithenium when I see it. So I stuffed her some scads an' sent her on her way. Her name? Calling herself by... now wait a minute I jotted it to remind me 'cos it ain't her real name that much was obs., here we are... Leema Bollet. I scanned the necklace after she left, the resonance scan showed up its provenance code. A rare lump of that purity would be worth more scads than a drub could afford. More scads than I could afford. I did a trace, it was mined by Brace Technologies on the moon Frigida and sold to you, Sir, almost twelve years ago and then... well, in case it was stolen. I thought you might want to have it returned, you know, help you out a bit. Shame if it had been sold on by me without you even knowing...' The voice on the end of the line drops the mock outrage and softens with the thought of closing a deal.

Tourmaline Joyce the Thirtieth blinks to himself in the cool gloom of his conditioning tank, rolling over over in the sweet scented balm oil and hydrating aphid milks. The only Zenithenium quartz he had ever purchased was as a birthday present for Juno, years ago. He had forgotten about it. Perhaps Juno had sold it or gifted it to one of her many charity galas, even so, a rock of that quality shouldn't have ended up in a scad brokers in the Third Galaxy mining quadrant. So how did this Leema Bollet get hold of it? Tourmaline can sense that the scad broker is waiting for an answer and so he runs through his options. If Juno had needed to sell it quickly, for a bribe or to smooth over some illegality maybe it could have fallen into the wrong hands...
'You still there Sir? This line ain't too peachy...hello?'
'Yes, yes, I'm just trying digest what you are saying.'
'Obviously if it was stolen, I can't ask for nothing I'd just like to see it get back to it's rightful, grateful owner and you, Mr. Joyce are registered as that.'
This scad broker wasn't going to give up easily. Tourmaline can sense the inevitable and so decides to buy himself a little time and, more importantly, silence. The gem was worth a small fortune and he didn't want this broker prying any further into his and Juno's private affairs.
'I think I know the gem you are talking about and you are right, it was stolen just not reported yet. It's a bit... well, how can I put it, indelicate... you see I bought it for a secret liaison and....'
Tourmaline can hear a chuckle at the other end of the line. ' Love eh? Never mind Sir, I'm the height of discretion. I won't breathe a word.'
'Good, then one hundred and fifty thousand scads should be enough for the safe return of the gem.'
The sharp intake of breath at the other end signalled all Tourmaline needed to know, this man's silence could be easily bought and thirty stacks would do it. 'I shall send it from a Pay-Direct. Tell me your company details. I don't want to leave a digital trail leading back to any of my bank accounts. Send the gem back via courier to the address I use on the Pay-Direct. I shall include a courier credit in the transfer.'
'Thank you Sir, I am so happy you'll get your lovely necklace back.'
The DEMISE call cuts abruptly and Tourmaline is left in silence but his conditioning spa has lost its appeal. Why had Juno not mentioned getting rid of the necklace to him? He stares at his toes at the other end of the tank, aware how his skin is beginning to stretch and wrinkle. The call has made him spend too long in the oil and milk and it is turning sour. He sighs and carefully steps out of the conditioning tank in his bathroom, feeling the balm oil and milk slide from his skin. He steps into the air-cleaner and alights at the other end, into his dressing room, clean, dry and sweetly scented. He shrugs on a nearby robe and wonders what to do first. Call Juno or find a Pay-Direct.

Pia stares at the quint stack of scads in front of her on the cheap bar. Twenty five thousand scads would not take her far but it was a start. It would pay for a new identity. Piatina Rabette and Leema Bollet would only lead as far as the scad broker and the quartz. From now on, Pia could be whoever she wanted to be, as long as it cost no more than than a quint stack.
The bar keep pours another quart of Miner's Mead into her empty glass and nods at the scads. 'Keep 'em outta sight, lady, don't want no thievin' ere.'
Pia nods and sweeps the stacks into a small body rucksack, tightening it flat to her stomach. The mead is sickly sweet and weakly alcoholic, the standard drink of the mining quadrant. You could always tell an old miner from the Third Galaxy by their black teeth.
Since yesterday Pia had put as much distance as possible between Mistress Ban's Fighting House and herself, after emptying her account and selling her shoes, leaving Sayonara Spaceport for the Mining Quadrant, a mineral rich system deep in the Third Galaxy. Currently she was on Brace One, with its metallic moons, home to the biggest of the mining corporations in the five galaxies, Brace Technologies. Here she could pick up a ride out to one of the mineral frontiers discovered in new galaxies far beyond the old five. Here, she would start her new life. All she needed now was a new face and a new name to go with it.

New chapter soon


Thursday, 28 June 2018

Zoology ~ Part Two (recap, so far...)

Well, after a bit of a break it is fun to come back to this story. I am busy thinking up what will happen in what now feels like part two...

In a quick recap, The Scintilla, with Kainya, Scint Bourbon, Edwear Linnet and Mentor on board has jumped through a wormhole to escape voracious space gnats (biters) in the first solar system visited in the Wentletrap Galaxy. Attached to them is the stealth trawler from The Saturn Anne II on a rescue mission to save Scint (believed kidnapped by Alimentorum spies) with Grove Jones, Cme, Truro and Cressida Blythe on board and the news isn't good. They've jumped straight inside something big...

The NewTrishia Corporation ship, Saturn Anne II (SAT AN) has managed to follow them, using a mysterious signal sent from Cme leaving the first solar system they have visited, Momento Sol, far behind. The pilot in charge of the mission, Daniel Delacroix had just enough time to send the MOGZ claim back to Mission Control before they jump to find themselves in the middle of a herd of gargantuan space life-forms, covered in a shell-like armour. With him on board SAT AN is Yume Moto, Harp Engelthrop and Aliya Garcia, all now trying to work out how to save their crew on the trawler and the Scintilla...

Back on Yum Yum City, the two Corporations are trying to work out what has happened, now that Kainya, an Alimentorum assassin class espionage operative, has gone rogue. The NewTrishia Corporation is also faced with a problem, one of their most trusted Senior Consignors, Pia Rabette has lost control of one of their missions, Alpha Q7,  and now is nowhere to be found...

Piatina Rabette has a plan to get Edwear's troublesome AlphaQ7 mission closed down. She will use her wealthy benefactress, Juno, to alert the Food Ethics Tribunal to Daniel Delacroix's unsuitability for the mission. Using Mistress Ban's Fighting House for their meeting, she has trapped Juno with a dart, fired straight into her heart...

Super rich Tourmaline Joyce the Thirtieth, one of the original shareholders of Alimentorum has lost his two closest friends, first Scint Bourbon is kidnapped by  one of their own spies and now Juno, his lover, has not returned home...

(MOGZ ~ Minerals, Oils, Gas and Zoology claim)

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Zoology ~ Episode Thirty Three

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)

Thirty Three

Daniel Delacroix stands in front of the 3d printed map of the Wentletrap galaxy and runs a hand, distractedly, through his hair. A stress reflex he barely notices anymore but Yumi, standing by his side, immediately picks up on it.
'Beyond this solar system but where in the galaxy?' Daniel muses, almost to himself. 'How long since the jump?'
'Six minutes, Pilot.' Aliya answers.
'I have identified swarms of space gnats, the probable reason for the jump...' Yumi pauses, hoping for a plan of action from Daniel. 'Among the debris field around the two planets.' He adds, trying to fill the silence.
'And the trawler was attached?'
''We think so... we're not sure...did you feel that?' Yumi can feel a vibration. 'Are the lasers firing up?'
'Um, yes... and I didn't touch anything! Harp yells, backs away from his console as Aliya runs to the navcom. 'Pilot, the ship's computers are plotting a course, from... from some signal they are receiving... I can patch it through to the viewscreen.'
Daniel swivels round to watch the viewscreen as a sine wave appears across it, a long, repeating ribbon travelling the screen.
'A signal from the trawler?' Daniel asks, suddenly spurred into action, he throws himself into the pilot's seat. 'I can't override the lasers!'
'Possibly, it looks like a positional wave travelling through space and time...' Harp stares at it, something familiar about the wave.
'Yes, of course!' Yume interrupts him. 'Positional, but not the trawler! Remember the symbiotic nature of Cme and this ship, this is a connection between them, a bit like songs between deep sea creatures, Cme is sending a signal and the Saturn Anne II is going to follow it! What hertz?'
Harp nods at Yumi, I'm reading it at about 57 hertz... gamma wave, it is possible, do we have any info on the symbiotic nature of Cme and the Saturn Anne?'
Yumi snorts at Harps question. 'The Corporation tell us their top secret patents? No but I'm certain that's what this is. Cme is calling to the ship.'
For a moment Yumi, Harp and Aliya all stare at Daniel, wondering what he is going to do next as he wrestles with the navcom, trying to get control. 'The ignition key is overridden, this must be a Corporation Operational Protocol, above my paygrade, clearly! OK, suit up, I can't stop the lasers, we have seven minutes before we jump, time to get strapped in.' Daniel strides to the suit room, aware that if they leave this solar system, Memento Sol, without having sent the MOGZ claim, there is a very real possibility it will be claimed, either by the ship they are chasing or an Alimentorum raider. He has less than seven minutes to decide. Either send the MOGZ against orders and secure Memento Sol, or leave it and loose it. The change of consignor, the kidnapping, now this, it goes against his gut instincts to loose a whole solar system, especially one so rich in helium. As the sirens sound across the ship, Daniel straps himself into the pilot's seat, calls up the MOGZ claim and presses send without hesitation. Whatever the new consignor is up to is not his problem, he is paid by the Corporation to discover resources and safeguard them with MOGZ claims. Press send, job done.
Aliya, Harp and Yumi scramble to their seats as the sirens flash. On the viewscreen the sine wave plays over and over and outside the three lasers fire three streams of dark energy to form a quantum point, the wormhole envelope streaming out over Satan's hull. The ship lurches forward into the wormole and is gone, leaping into the unknown.

If the first jump from Sayonara Spaceport was bad, this leap is truly gut-wrenchling dire. Grove can feel every muscle in his body trying to rip itself from his frame, his eyes pounding. He passes out at some point, only to immediately come round as the wormhole spews them out and deposits the trawler, still attached to The Scintilla, in a new system far from Memento Sol. Grove somehow manages not to pass out again, his heading spinning, as he tries to work out which way is up from his fetal position in his chair.
'Grove, are you with us?' Cressida asks over the suit intercom.
'Yeah.. yeah, still here. Rough trip.'
'We have a problem. This is turning into a rescue mission.' Cressida points to the viewscreen where a large section of The Scintilla's hull is visible. Across the surface a million bubbles are rising.
'What in the...?' For a moment Grove can't work out what he is seeing.
'Air leak. Looks like the biters got through. We haven't any choice but to go in, secure whoever is still in there and then work out how to get back to the Satan Anne. Grove, you stay here and hold the ship, Truro, Cme and I will...'
'Wait! We are seeing bubbles, what are they suspended in? Where are we?' Grove sits up suddenly aware that the ship would be simply venting gas, almost undetectable to the naked eye if it was still in space. 'We are in an atmosphere of some kind, very thick, almost like water... come on...' Grove types furiously into the small navcon computer on the trawler. 'I can't get a large enough perimeter scan...'
'We need to secure the trawler to the Scintilla!' Cressida snaps, feeling her annoyance rising at Grove's dismissal of her order, bad enough he didn't free the trawler when she asked and got them dragged through the wormhole.
'The wormhole, without any proper co-ordinates, could have deposited us into anything, an ocean, the middle of a planet... you can't leave the trawler till you know what we are in.' Grove stares at Cressida, not in defiance but with a look of determination. 'Wherever we are, it is not in open space.'
Cressida is about to reply when Cme suddenly whimpers behind them.
'What's wrong?' Truro reaches over and lays a hand on Cme but Cme shrugs it off, whispering repeatedly 'Bigger than us. Need Annie.'
'What?' Truro can barely make out what Cme is saying. 'I think she's in some kind of trance. Who's Annie?'
'No idea, leave her strapped in, she can come to no harm there. I'm going to navigate the trawler to the main docking point on the hull, the time for stealth is over. If we really are suspended in something, I want to know what it is and if our suits and the trawler can withstand it, asap, Grove.'
'Working on it but this bathtub wasn't designed for science.'
'Just do your job, that's all I ask!'

The Saturn Anne II's lasers power down and the wormhole envelope disintegrates, pushing the ship back into time and space in a solar system close to the centre of the Wentletrap Galaxy. Harp forces the bile rising in his gullet back down and tries to focus on the telemetry readings the ship's hull sensors are sending back.
'OK, I have the navcom again, let's see where we are.' With the operational protocol released, Daniel manoeuvres the ship to a stop, external perimeter alarms sounding along the hull. 'What is going on out there? Do we have any external views, Aliya?'
'Yes, I'm just routing the cameras to the viewscreen now, some are not functioning. The perimeter alarms are sounding but there are no impacts...what in the five galaxies!' Aliya's sharp intake of breath punctuates her exclamation as the view screen unfolds above the mapping desks, revealing a panorama of the local space they are in. Stretching out in all directions are the gargantuan carapaces of a space life-form, travelling in what looks like a migratory herd. One of the creatures glides close nearby, fully the length of the Saturn Anne.
'The trawler should be right here, we are on the signal, the co-ordinates...' Harp looks up from his console and stares at the giant creature on the screen. 'Puts them inside that.... thing.'


On board the trawler, Cme seems to revive from her trance and utters one word. 'Here.'


New chapters soon...

Previous chapter


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Zoology ~ Episode Thirty Two

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)



Thirty Two

'We jump!' Kainya strides to the navcom.
'Wait! That's madness! We aren't even strapped in!' Edwear runs to Kainya's side and grabs her arm as she reaches for the controls.
'Look at the screen Edwear, space gnats, we have no choice. The lasers will burn them from the hull! Let go of me!' Kainya bats Edwear from her arm and he sprawls across the floor and she straps herself into the pilot's seat and fires up the lasers. 'Hold on tight, here we go!'
'Go where?' Scint shouts in frustration, strapping herself into a nearby seat, knowing her rescue plan hangs on the information.
'That sound you can hear Scint, is the hull of your ship being eaten away, it doesn't matter where!'
Mentor, still feeling light-headed, struggles to get himself strapped in as outside, along the hull of the ship, the lasers pour a sleeve of dark energy. The biters, sensing the imminent danger, lift clear of the pock-marked hull in one sinuous swarm and recede back into their orbit around the planets.

On the trawler all the sensors are flashing. 'What in the five galaxies? They're firing up their lasers... they're going to jump?' Grove asks incredulously. 'Why?'
'The biters, look!' Truro points at the rising swarm on the viewscreen.
'The grapnels!' Cressida yells at Grove. 'Detach them now or we'll be dragged through the wormhole with them.'
Grove tries to release the grapnels but one refuses to detach. 'It's stuck! The biters must have cut through the electronics, I can't get it to auto-release...'
'Detonate the grapnel, it has a explo-charge on it!' Cressida yells, 'We all need to strap ourselves in, now!'
'What? But we might rupture their hull!' Grove stares at Cressida in shock.

The wormhole envelope forms fully around the Scintilla and partly over the trawler, precariously suspended under the ship from one grapnel.
'Blast it Grove, or prepare to be ripped into a new galaxy!' Cressida grimly replies but she is too late, the wormhole is complete and the Scintilla winks from view, dragging the trawler with it.

'What the!.. where did they go?' Harp sits up in his chair in front of the monitors. 'Um, Aliya, the trawler's signals have just....gone!'
'More likely you've pressed something while you were sleeping..' Aliya shakes her head at him.
'I was not asleep!'
'Snoring!' Yume adds. 'Try hitting refresh.'
'I'm not a complete idiot.. look for yourself!' Harp grabs his monitor's virtual screen and throws it into the space above the mapping tables. The virtual screen expands out to reveal an empty stretch of space where the trawler and the Scintilla should be.
'Ok, not good!' Aliya's tone changes completely. 'Can you wind back to the last reference point?'
Harp tries reversing the feed but all there is, is interference, as though the feed has been wiped.

Juno pauses momentarily outside Mistress Ban's Fighting House. Tucked under one arm she has what she hopes will be a farewell gift for Pia Rabette. Tourmaline had been kind but firm with his advice after the vidlink call. It is not appropriate for her to be held to ransom by a journey worker when she has already paid for the accident to the full letter of the law. Time to tell Pia their acquaintance is over. The present inside the box she is carrying are more than enough of a farewell.
Juno steps through the airlock door into the cool, dark interior and she can already feel a weight being lifted off her mind. She sees Pia sitting, cross-legged on the floor in front of her and she walks toward her, her leaving speech thoroughly rehearsed in her mind on the journey over.
'Piatina Rabette, I can no longer afford the time you are demanding from me. I have paid for your accident and did the courtesy of helping you out of a sense of charity. But I now no longer want you in my life. It is time to move on. Please accept this gift as a final goodbye.'
'No one ever calls me by my full name, Juno. Only the judge and now you.'
'Goodbye Piatina.'
Pia watches as Juno takes one more step forward and somewhere, in the walls of the fighting house, a catch is released and a dart fires straight into her heart. Juno staggers forward and sprawls across the floor, the package she was holding rolling to a stop at Pia's feet.
Pia reaches over and opens it to find a small box inside. It is a jewel case and she opens it to finds a silver chain necklace with a large piece of carved crystal suspended from it. The crystal catches what dim light there is inside the house and for a moment Pia wonders what type of crystal it is, then notices a slip of paper in the case. It has only one word on it 'Tourmaline'. Juno couldn't even afford her a rare gem, just a bit of semi-precious stone. Pia sighs and then she slips the pendant over her neck and tucks it inside her jacket. Time indeed, to move on.






Monday, 29 January 2018

Zoology ~ Episode Thirty-One

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)


Thirty One

'More clouds are changing direction...Cressida, I think we need to speed up.' Grove studies the viewscreen footage, watching as wave after wave of space gnats follow after the first, heading between the two planets. 'If these are biters, at this pace, there won't be much ship left by the time we get there.' Cressida glances across at Grove but can see he is serious and she nods and sets a more direct course, straight for The Scintilla.
'You're gonna fly into the biters?' Truro can feel a flicker of fear run through her.
'It's fine Truro, we are well shielded.' Grove answers, throwing the viewscreen up into the cockpit so it expands out in front of them.
Cme, responding to the course correction wakes and stretches. 'Why faster?'
'Biters!' Truro mutters grimly.
Cme sits up, all sleep vanished by the word. She watches the swirling clouds turn and nods. 'Need speed.'
Cressida runs through in her mind how events might play out. The reccy is now a possible rescue mission. Should she contact The Saturn Anne? Would the crew of the Scintilla want to be rescued or put up a fight? What if Grove is wrong about the biters? Would it be easier to just leave them to the biters, solve the problem...
The trawler weaves through the meteor field, slicing a neat path through a cloud of gnats. For a moment Grove, Cressida, Truro and Cme all hold their breath, expecting at any second to hear them landing on the hull but the clouds simply swirl around them, avoiding contact with what appears to be another meteor.


'Fast Fondue, fondue yourself a flavour.
Choose Dip: Cheeseytastic, FatfromaVat, Lactoseless, Mayo&HerbLite,                                  OriginalStretchy
Choose Protien Chunks: Three, Five, Seven, Ten
Choose Chicken Feet: Crispy, Baked, Freeze Dried
Choose Water: Sweet&Hot, IceCold, Original
Order now...
Fast Fondue, fondue yourself a flavour.'

Pia stares at the Fast Fondue ad menu on the DEMI, barely reading it. Who was that with Juno? For a moment she feels a slight twinge of envy at Juno's life. The luxury of time she inhabited, free from work. Pia stares at her shoes, a gift from Juno. She first met her a couple of years ago. Pia missed a stopwalk light and walked out in front of Juno's limo. It wasn't on autopilot and Juno failed to brake on time, leaving Pia with concussion and a fractured foot. The judgement was difficult, Pia walked on a red light, Juno should have been on autopilot in a walking zone. The city streets are crowded and accidents are rife on the maglev lanes and there are scads to be made squeezing the traffic for a crash payout.
The judgement went in Pia's favour and Juno paid for medical on her foot and donated a compassion payment, the shoes. Pia had since found her to be useful for accessing a layer of bureaucracy above her pay grade. Remorse is a useful tool and Pia is confident she will meet Juno as usual, at six, at Mistress Ban's Fighting House, an hour before the museum closes.

Mistress Ban's Fighting House had been relocated to the museum quarter on Yum Yum City. Moved there many years ago from some spacedrub dive in the Five Galaxies that Pia isn't in the slightest interested in, the only good thing about the place is it is almost always deserted. Very few people bothered now with the quarter anymore. Most of it existed as virtual reality walk-throughs downloadable on the DEMI so why make the trip out to see a collection of old pioneer greystones on the wrong side of the city? Pia's wristnav is docked a few scads at a main museum toll gate but apart from that, her whereabouts within the quarter would be unmonitored. It was too just old and too unfashionable to bother with. Her meeting is still a couple of hours away, plenty of time to get organised in.
The Fighting House is located off a small plaza, tucked behind a replica of an early space dock. The outside of the building itself is unremarkable, a double story block of grey with a few small porthole windows and an old airlock for a door. Nothing to distinguish it from any other greystone apart from a small carving of a tiger, barely noticeable on the mid cornerstone. It is only when you step inside, the house reveals its true nature.
Pia pauses by the tiger and smiles briefly, looking around quickly to make sure no one is near then rubs the tiger's tongue through its snarling jaws as though for luck. The tiger remains unmoved by her touch but from somewhere inside the building walls, a monitor triggers and the Fight Codes are unlocked.

Pia steps through the airlock, noticing how the air temperature drops a few degrees and waits a moment or two for her eyes to adjust to the gloom inside. The interior of the ground floor is a single large room with a balcony running around all four walls. From the centre rises a ladder up to a gangplank walkway, suspended between the four balconies in a cross. The kind of walkway found on every intergalactic freighter. It is the only way to reach the balconies, which house rows of small rooms each designed to mimic tanks, airlocks, travel-stasis pods, gravlock berths, shuttle booths and terra-mining tunnels. Any place you may need to hide or fight in. The whole space is dedicated to self-preservation, at any cost, the whole house a place to hone your fighting skills in. But the real beauty of the house only becomes apparent once you have woken the tiger. Now, in the gloom, Pia can see a small tiger paw print, faintly illuminated in the fabric of the floor. She taps it briefly with her foot and a thin beam of sticky light opens out into a flexi-portal, a trapdoor to escape through. Now all she needs to do is make sure she has the right fight code for this particular paw print. She sits on the floor, wrapping her arms around her knees and starts to walk through in her mind all the positions she has seen the paw print in. She has estimated there are over a hundred different combinations and Pia carefully walks through them all in her mind, remembering which doors are unlocked, which concealed weapon will reveal itself, which lethal trap will spring shut from within the bland interior walls. The fighting house is a puzzle box of death, still armed and still dangerous, like a tiger pretending to sleep.

The trawler skims through the biters, gouging a path through to the hull as it scrapes the underside of The Scintilla. 'Have we contact?' Cressida asks.
'Yes, deploying grapnels. We are locked onto the hull.' Grove slams a button on the console and the whole trawler stops dead, locked onto the The Scintilla. On the viewscreen all they can see is a swirling cloud of gnats.
'Truro, you're up, how are we getting into this tug?' Cressida turns to Truro who, for a moment, is mesmerised by the swirling biters. 'Truro! Anytime now is fine.. let's go!'
'Um.. yes...glugtug.' Truro drags her eyes away from the viewscreen. 'We need to access the bilge-pump. All these ships have waste disposal bio-compactors in the en-suites. Drains out through the bilge pump, costs less to dump off-world. It's a valve gate, bit like the pressure curtains. Never locked, who wants access to a sewer into space?'
'OK, start a scan Cme, we are looking for a bilge-pump outlet.'







Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Wishing you all Happy Holidays...

Hi, thank you for reading this far...
I shall be taking a break from writing for a few weeks over the festive season. So I shall wish you all happy holidays, a wonderful winter solstice, a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year. 

Back in 2018! xx

2018 New eposode...

Back to previous episode 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Zoology ~ Episode Thirty

(All rights reserved. All characters and events are fictitious, any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.)

Thirty

Scint quietly moves from her cabin to below decks where she finds Mentor slumped on the floor of the galley. She rushes over to him and carefully props him into a sitting position against a cabinet.
'Scint? Whad happened?' Mentor's voice is slightly blurry.
'Sit still, I think you've just passed out... probably the effects of alcohol and wormhole travel...do you feel sick?'
Mentor shakes his head, he can feel a nagging pain in his gut and it occurs to him what the problem might be. 'Hungry.'
Scint nods and gets up.'Well, this is the right place for finding some food but we left my chef and all the fresh supplies in Sayonara. There might be some dry stores somewhere in here. Don't get up. I'll see what I can find.'
Mentor gets to his feet slowly and takes a deep breath, he still feels light headed and slightly dizzy.
'Water..'
'Yes, looking for that too.' Scint rummages around the small galley and finds a crate of bottled water and a box of reconstitute pouches.
'Here you are.' She hands him a bottle of water, then opens one herself, tips half of it into a pouch and takes a deep swig of the water herself. As she drinks she shakes the pouch triggering an exothermic reaction, cooking the contents within a double layer of insulate. 'You're in luck, EggsalaBread in a bag.' She hands him the pouch and Mentor sniffs the lumpy mixture inside. Hunger kicks in despite the smell of eggs and he eats the contents it in a couple of mouthfuls, rounding it off with the rest of the bottled water.
That good, huh?' Scint smiles at his haste and makes a bag for herself, trying not to gag on the sulphurous lumpy gel as she eats.
The eggs start to work and Mentor can feel the fogginess in his brain begin to clear. 'So what do we do now?'
'We wait.'
'Wait? For what?'
'I have a rescue plan in place.'
'A rescue?' Mentor tries to work out what in the Five Galaxies Scint could mean. 'How are we going to be rescued out here?'
'You'll see. We ought to go and see what Kainya is up to. Let's keep that bit of information between the two of us, yes? I'm sure you know how to be discreet. Grab a few of these.' She throws a couple of the pouches to him and takes an armful of water bottles from the crate.

Grove stares at the mesmerising patterns in the dust clouds caught in the meteor field around the planets they are approaching. The dust moves in a synchronous velocity with the meteors, orbiting in a slow decay which will eventually see them shower over the surface. As the light catches them they glitter, a halo of light around the shadowy planet. As he watches, something makes him start. He could have sworn a cloud of dust changed direction.
'Cressida, can we replay the footage from this viewscreen?'
'Yes, just scroll left.' Cressida replies, without looking up from her controls. 'Why?'
'Something's not quite right with that dust....look.' Grove replays the footage but all Cressida can see is dust and rocks. 'Not really seeing what you're trying to get at.'
'There. It changes direction. Dust does not change direction in geosynchronous orbits. Can I speak to Yumi and Harp?'
'No, radio silence from now on. Going to have to figure it out for yourself.'
From her seat behind Grove and Cressida, Truro leans forward to look. 'Looks like a sea of bees.' She had seen a vid on a shuttle once, all about bees.
'Swarm.' Grove corrects her. '..and not bees. More like a cloud... can we run a bio-scan?'
'No, no surveillance, no radio, no radar, no scans...silence means silence!' Cressida is beginning to feel the effects of three very long hours in cramped conditions.
'Cressida I think we are about to fly into some kind of nest, or breeding ground for what look like space gnats.'
'Biters?' Truro's voice registers alarm. 'Out here?'
'One of the few truly universal creatures, Diptera Nematocera Ubiquitae, without scans I can't be sure. Not my field. Yumi could identify them properly. There are hundreds of space gnat subspecies, this could be a benign form but there are flesh-eaters and drilling flies...'
Truro shudders slightly. 'I seen a ship eaten by biters in at dock once. All pock marked where the biters had mined into the hull. Salvaged from space with the crew eaten raw and maggoty they said.'
Cressida snorts in annoyance. 'That is not helpful Truro. I'll adjust our path to keep us out of the meteor field for now, just to be on the safe side. The trawler doesn't vent any exhaust plumes and the heat shielding makes our heat signature the same as the space we are in. We shouldn't disturb them, whatever type of biter they are.'

Daniel stares at his face in the small mirror above the water syphon in his cabin. His eyes are beginning to be shadowed with tiredness and his face looks drawn, older. The trawler would take three hours to reach The Scintilla and he could do with a few hours sleep. He drops onto his bunk and yawns, sleep almost upon him. As he lies there his mind returns to the message from Newtrisia Headquarters sent by Senior Consignor Pia Rabette. He had come across her before, on his last mission for the company, Alpha Q6 and he wonders whether she is aware of the tracker, The Scintilla and Scint Bourbon. Perhaps the kidnapping explains her taking over from Consignor Edwear, Scint Bourbon is big news and this mission is meant to be secret. But without the MOGZ being registered, Newtrishia has no claim to the Wentletrap Galaxy. Radio silence seems a bad call on Rabette's behalf now there is another ship in the galaxy but it is a direct order and there is nothing he can do about it.
Daniel rubs a hand over his eyes, releasing the tension. Whatever is going on, whatever game is being played out around him, he could only play with the hand he has been dealt. Right now, what he needs is sleep, maybe Rabette's reason for radio silence would become clear once they rescued Scint Bourbon. As he closes his eyes, Daniel wonders how many more missions like this he'll pilot. Maybe this will be his last one. Maybe he would retire, ask Cressie to... The thought remains unresolved as he falls deep into dreamless sleep.

Juno wakes with a jump, as though falling and landing at the same time. She rolls over from the edge of the bed to find Tourmaline, sprawled out over her silk sheets, hogging the space. For a second or two she watches him sleep, the slow rise of his chest, then the DEMI messenger pings again and she pulls on a robe and finds the remote for the screen positioned above the bed.
'Hello... Juno, is that you?' Pia Rabette stares at the image on the vidlink. As far as she can tell it looks like a naked man on Juno's bed. Juno swears under her breath as she recognises Pia's face and clicks to voice only. 'Pia, so sorry, I didn't realise it was you.'
'I'm not interrupting anything am I?'
'No, no that's just.. nothing, just a one night thing, from a hack chat! Don't judge... no one you know.'
'I wondered if we could meet up and talk.'
'What.. now? It's not very convenient now.'
'Juno, I need to ask a favour.'
'Pia... I can't keep doing this. I'm sorry that...'
'No, no this isn't about that. Look, I can't talk over the DEMI. Can I meet you tonight?'
'Just this once, the last time...'
'Good. Same place, same time.' Pia cuts the link and the call ends with an advert for Fast Fondue.
'Hack chat? Who was that?' Tourmaline's voice makes Juno jump for the second time.
'No one. Just some unfinished business. Nothing you need worry about.' Juno throws the remote on the floor and climbs over the bed to sit on Tourmaline's legs, running her hands up over his thighs, 'Now, lets see how awake you really are.'

Edwear tucks in hungrily to the reconstituted eggs in the pouch Mentor has given to him. 'So hungry! So what normally happens next, Kainya?' While Scint and Mentor had gone looking for food, he had navigated The Scintilla to a point between two neighbouring planets, hidden for now, from the Saturn Anne II.
'What do you mean, what happens next?' Kainya sips on a bottle of water watching Edwear eat.
'Well, there must be some kind of protocol after you've tracked down a ship in a new galaxy, some espionage protocol. What normally happens.' There is a sharp edge in Edwear's voice, a tone he has never used with her before and Kainya is alarmed by it.
'I would pass the information on to my contact and get paid.'
'So you have stepped well beyond the boundaries of your normal spying remit?'
'What are you getting at?'
'Who are you going to negotiate these fabulous new deals you think we are all going to get super rich with? Do you even know how it works out here?'
Kainya stares at him. Is he using his knowledge as a consignor to undermine her?
'Do you even know what a MOGZ is?' Edwear swigs back the last of the eggs and raises his eyebrows at Kainya, waiting for her to answer but she remains silent.
'If you want to take this galaxy, if you want to milk it for all the scadillions you can, you need to register a MOGZ claim before anyone else. Did you remember to bring a MOGZ claim form while you were busy kidnapping us?'
Kainya suddenly realises something, Edwear is not hers anymore. Something has changed. Perhaps it was the kidnapping, or the thing with the screaming and the tranquillator earlier or the subterfuge... whatever it was, she had lost him. 'Why did you think I bought you here Edwear. You know all this stuff. Didn't think I did it because I cared about you did you? You do know I don't care, don't you?'
Edwear tries to brace himself mentally from her words, harsh as physical blows.
'Well, whatever the reason we are here, perhaps we should just concentrate on..' But before Mentor can finish his placations, the flight deck starts to echo to the sound of drumming.
'Does anyone know what in the Five Galaxies that is?' Scint asks, running to a console and calling up an exterior camera. The viewscreen expands in front of them revealing the external hull of The Scintilla, now barely visible, lost in a swirling cloud of space gnats.


Each gnat in the cloud is a perfectly formed flying machine with an exoskeleton of a pressurised carapace, covered in a fine down of hairs, trapping a layer of oxygen around it, protecting its soft body parts. Its wings, antennae, legs and mandibles are pumped full of an antifreeze mixture of alcohols and glycols and its small brain is part of the larger 'cloud brain' of the colony, searching for heat signatures indicating possible food sources. Their serrated mandibles are capable of biting through rock, metal and biological material with ease, like the hull of a space ship. Like the hull of The Scintilla. On the viewscreen the cloud is slowly landing on the hull and setting to, the sound of the gnats chewing in unison reverberating around the flight deck.

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