27. After the Party, a Little Nervous Laughter
Date: 177-993 to 178-993 Imperial.
Location: 069-526 system (0721), various locations.
Luan cleaned Fish up. Sir David and Maelcum finished up on Cochrane's Burden, grabbing a few photos for the log. They set gravity in the hold to zero with a mild centring component and evacuated the atmosphere, leaving the bodies to float in a central clump.
Silea cast off, and put Avarice Rewarded on course to match Fonnein Orbital. Sir David slouched onto the bridge a few minutes later, looking tired. He crumpled into the co-pilot seat. "Do you want to go and see Iain? I'll take the bridge until oh-six-hundred." She gave him a grateful nod and headed aft. Sir David familiarised himself with the flight plan then started putting reports together.
One went to Fonnein Orbital Starport Authority and Lieutenant Kharassiss of the Imperial Navy, advising that they were inbound with 19 casualties from the freighter Cochrane's Burden, destroyed in an anti-piracy action. It appeared that four were hijackers and the remainder passengers and crew. Doctor Derhayenne's notes were attached. Did they have facilities for the bodies on the orbital, or would they prefer them taken to a planetside spaceport?
He sent a separate note to Kharassiss, stating that they had recovered the computer core as contracted.
Well, that should raise hell.
Silea found Fish in the sickbay, towelling off the residue from Luan's water/alcohol wipes. He was staring at the bed, in no hurry to meet her eye. He looked miserable. Something clicked in Silea, and suddenly she knew the answer to a question she'd been asking herself for the last year.
She came to a halt with a slight stamp to get his attention, put her hands on her hips and gave him a pouty smile. "Oh, my poor boy. Come on, you." Holding out a hand, she switched to Luriani: "Ehlahté, o erastairs mou. Thar'soh eh-ahn eiste pragmat'amu."
Fish sat bolt upright, eyes wide open, jaw dropped.1
Silea gave him a wicked smile, grabbed his wrist, and yanked him off the bed. The towel hit the floor, leaving him naked. She dragged him out of sickbay and towards their cabin, past a grinning Maelcum.
Maelcum wandered onto the bridge to find Sir David. "Um, just to let you know, we probably shouldn't disturb Silea and Fish for a bit."
"Is he OK?"
"Oh, I think he'll be fine."
It was five-thirty in the morning, ship's time, when Silea stepped out of the shower. She leaned over her sleeping lover for a while, listening to him breath, then kissed him on the temple and turned to take a slim box from the desk behind her. Kneeling beside the bed, she took her flute from its box and played silently for a few minutes, working the keys without blowing and listening to the music in her head. She looked at Fish all the while.
Then she dried her hair, towelled off the remaining water from the shower and put some clothes on. Leaving the cabin, she turned away from the bridge and headed towards the cargo hold. She dimmed the lights along the way, leaving a few emergency signs to cast shadows as she passed. After a look through the glass panel at the bodies, she sat with her back against the door to the hold. This time she played the flute audibly but very quietly, whispering out a long sad song.
At a few minutes before six she turned the lights back up and went to relieve Sir David on the bridge.
The Starport authority didn't have storage for the bodies on Fonnein Orbital, so they were directed to one of the spaceports down on the planet to hand them over to morgue vehicles. Lieutenant Kharassiss informed them that he'd visit their ship to collect the computer core when they made it back to the starport.
"How long do we have before we're back on the orbital?" asked Fish.
"Two or three hours, depending on traffic control and the unload time. Something on your mind?" Sir David raised an eyebrow.
"I thought I might get a look in that computer core before we hand it over. What do you think?
Sir David chewed his lower lip for a second and replied "Alright, I'd be interested to know."
"I'll be in engineering" said Fish.
Twenty minutes later he was back. "There's no specific entries by sophs, but the diagnostic log agrees with what the second officer said in his message. They jumped, command entries from the Captain and First Officer stopped, four new users gained command access and the crew lost it. Then after another day the crew got command access back and overrode security on a few doors around the brig. Days later, they come out of jump and there's ten minutes of sitting still and trying to route around a radio fault before the massive damage reports flood in. And then the power went out."
"They made no effort to manoeuvre, fire or evade?"
"They were about finished putting the jump drive to sleep when the beam hit the engine room. Turrets were powered but they didn't use active sensor fire control or anything."
"Yes" said Luan, angrier than they'd ever heard her.
The reporters were a shock.
After Silea flew the ship through a thunderstorm at 1200 kilometres per hour and landed it on the spaceport gantry in howling winds laden with spray, it didn't seem like there would be people about. But when the spaceport extended a tube to their airlock for the morgue crew, it plugged them into the phone system.
Within minutes two reporters had put in calls to the ship, asking to come aboard, asking for interviews, asking the crew to come out to the camera and light setup, asking what had happened on Cochrane's Burden.
Sir David told them that he didn't have time for an interview because they had a schedule to keep, and he didn't want to discuss events on the destroyed ship in case there were local passengers aboard whose families should hear the story first. He was apologetic but insistent.
Meanwhile, Luan followed the departing morgue crew out and made a concise statement to a camera team across a boundary rope. She told them that the ship had been hijacked, the hijackers had destroyed its communications, and the crew had then retaken the ship. When they came out of jump the Imperial Navy had fired on the stationary, silent ship killing all aboard. She said that three-quarters of the dead appeared to be crew and passengers. And she turned on her heel and walked back onto the ship, as the reporter shouted questions behind her.
Sir David got the call asking for his comment on her statement just as she walked onto the bridge and said "I told them".
He cut the comm and swivelled to face her. She was shaking. "Well", he said "good for you". He eyed her with considerable respect. "Alright, let's get out of here. Whenever you like, Silea."
Luan shuffled up to Sir David, seeming to shrink as everyone looked at her. "What are we going to... I mean we have to... About the navy."
"Kharassiss is the navy around here. He can do what he likes around here, but he can only escalate this to command at Sentry. We'll be at Sentry in a few weeks. That'll give him plenty of time to do the right thing and the navy time to do something about it. If they don't, I know lots of people on Sentry and it's a planet with free press. It's not like Shanape."
Luan gave a halting nod and shuffled off the bridge. Sir David half rose to go after her, but decided to leave it a while.
They don't mind sonic booms on planets where everyone lives in ocean floor arcologies. They were happy to give Avarice Rewarded a priority transit to the orbital starport on request, since she had a scheduled jump to make later in the day. Silea put the pedal to the metal, and tore the clouds apart.
Lieutenant Kharassiss looked shell-shocked. As Sir David dismantled him with a stare, he took the data core and paid their fee. On his way out, he said "Sir David, I want you to know that I will do the right thing about this. It's... terrible."
That evening, Sir David took Luan to dinner in a restaurant ship floating between icebergs, with a big dome over the dining area, and floodlights to create a little extra sunset. Silea, Fish and Maelcum took care of fuel, cargo and passengers.
When the diners came back, Maelcum went out to hit the late bars. He came back early next morning with a spring in his step and a big grin on his face. Luan eyed the bite marks on his neck and asked him, mock-stern, "Now are you just going to show those off Major Rivers, or do you want an anti-inflammatory?"
They cleared dock, and headed out to jump for Kerin's Tyr.
1 Silea used a ritual snippet of erotic poetry from traditional Luriani courtships which might be politely translated as "OK, sure, I've thought about it and yes I'll marry you. So let's get started on the kids right now."
The Luriani are a fiery race, on the whole.
Of course, amphibious Luriani like Silea cannot normally have children with the genetically-standard humans integrated into their society. Not without complex and expensive gene therapy. So the phrase has a double meaning between these two.