An hour later and with a flicker of light, the Azure Dream appeared in the Veil system. The engine section looked battered, with a void where one of the primary drive nozzles used to be.
‘Jump successfully. All hands are on stand by.’ Mark reported.
‘Helm set a course for the third planet from the sun. Make a high orbital insertion. Half power to the engines, take it easy and don’t tax them.’
‘Aye, sir, engines to half power.’
‘Mr Jona, what’s the status of all department heads?’
‘James has some last minute equipment requests. He says he had an idea for repairing the damaged array.’
Mark handed Howard a data pad, and Howard looked at it briefly.
‘I authorise the requisition. Send some crew to transfer the equipment as fast as possible. We need to get his bay ready for separation as soon as we hit orbit.’
He handed the pad back.
‘Aye Captain. I’ve already prepped the connectors for separation. The bay should be ready to separate on schedule.’
‘What’s the report from Medical on the wounded.’
‘Most are stable at this point. There’s at least three that won’t see planet fall. The doctors are trying to place them into a medical stasis until we can get them to proper medical facilities, but given the condition of the ship, that may be unlikely.’
‘Did the physical ever get performed for Ayla?’
‘No sir. Doctor Singh hasn’t had time to do the exam.’
‘Carry on Mr Jona.’
Howard sat back in his chair. Some time passed and the ship’s navigator got up from his station and walked over to the captain’s chair.
Howard looked up at him, ‘What can I do for you, Fritz?’
‘I’ve got the results of the analysis you asked for. I realise it’s a bit late, but it took longer than I thought and I had work to do prior to the last jump here.’
‘It’s okay Fritz. Why don’t we go meet in my quarters and you can tell me what you found.’
‘I can tell you now. I’m sure you’re going to be busy.’
‘I insist. Let’s go.’
Howard got up from his seat and turned to Mark.
‘Mr. Jona, you have the bridge. I have some last-minute business to attend to.’
‘Aye, sir. I’ll keep you informed of any developments.’
‘Good. You have the bridge.’
Howard was halfway to the door when Mark called after him, ‘Sir, incoming call from Commander Hough.’
‘Can it wait?’
‘He says it’s urgent.’
‘Alright, patch it through to the back station. I’ll take it in private.’
Howard detoured to a computer station near the back of the bridge. He saw the face of the security chief waiting for him but took the time to put on a headset before replying.
‘Yes, Commander Hough?’
‘Captain, did you even look over Mr Bennet’s equipment requisition before you approved it?’ said the commander tersely.
‘Yes Commander, I did. James and I went over it in great detail prior to now. We’ve deemed it necessary given the difficult situation we find ourselves in.’ Howard said evenly.
‘Look, I’m no expert on power generation satellites, but I took an engineering course in the academy. Some of these parts are quite irregular. I fear they could be used to make a-’
‘Stop!’ Howard snapped suddenly.
Howard felt the sensation of eyes watching him.
‘Commander, if you must know why I approved those parts, then come to my quarters.’
‘I’m on my way to talk to someone else, you’ll have to wait your turn, but yes right now. I need that equipment in that bay before it separates.’
‘Fine. I’ll be there shortly, Hough out.’
Captain requesting secret meetings.
Captain authorised additional equipment requests for James Bennet.
Additional information required.
Deploying assets accordingly.
Fritz was already waiting by the door when Captain Fredrick arrived. Fritz seemed tense. Howard opened the door and ushered him in.
Fritz walked towards a seat and sat down, Howard did the same.
‘Let’s cut right to business, what did you find Fritz?’
‘I wasn’t sure at first, I checked and rechecked my results, which is part of the reason I took so long. As near as I can tell, none of the stars in this sector could be responsible for our energy wave.’
’There were a few late-stage stars in the scout report you gave me, but something didn’t seem right. Not one of the stars were in quite the right position to do what we saw.
‘Because of this, I broke out my own personal charts and double checked the results I had. The star that was most likely to have caused the wave doesn’t exist. It’s as if it came out of thin air sir. None of the other stars are close enough or if they are, they aren’t in the right cycle of life to give off that kind of a burst. Either we witnessed a completely new stellar phenomenon, or someone rewrote the scout report.’
Howard was silent. He mulled over this revelation for some time.
‘Have you written up a formal report?’ Howard asked.
‘Yes, Captain. I even tried to send it back to Axion for verification. But the message queue was full, it was at that point I found out about the communication array going offline.’
‘Is there a copy of the report in the computer?’
‘Yes sir, and I have a copy here for you on a memory chip.’
Howard held out his hand, Fritz placed the small chip in his open palm, ‘Thank you, Fritz. You’re dismissed.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Fritz turned to leave and then stopped when he reached the door. He hesitated and turned back to Howard, ‘Sir... Is everything alright? A lot of things are going wrong on this voyage. Are we going to be alright?’
‘We are in the last stretch now. Once we’re on the ground, we can figure things out.’
‘I know that sir... But how long will it be before Axion sends a ship to check on us?’
‘We’re supposed to check in every week. Our array went offline a few days ago. A smaller ship will have a much easier time of getting out here than we did, but it could still be a few months before we see any meaningful help.’
Fritz looked disappointed by the answer, ‘I see... I guess we’re stuck with it.’
Howard smiled, ‘Not to worry, we’ll pull through.’
‘Of course.’ Fritz turned and left.
Howard looked down at the data chip and wondered just what was contained in Fritz’s report.
Hopefully, it won’t be something that would tip Exo off, he thought.
Howard looked up as a rather impatient looking Commander Hough burst into his quarters.
Howard pursed his lips, ‘Commander Hough, please, take a seat.’
The commander remained standing.
‘If the communications array wasn’t down, I’d have sent a message to the International Space Agency demanding you have your command revoked. You are breaking so many laws and procedures I don’t even know where to start!’ Danny started angrily.
Howard sighed, ‘How about motive?’
Danny looked shocked, but quickly regained his composure, ‘Okay then, how about motive? Why are you doing all this Captain?’
‘Samuel Jennings was murdered.’
‘Yes... and our prime suspect just requested several very irregular and potentially dangerous items,’ Danny said levelly.
’The evidence does point to James yes, but he is not the only one who could have done it. The reason why I’ve not been completely open with you is because the other suspect has it within his power to do considerable damage to the ship if he finds out I suspect him.
‘James is moving those parts on my direct orders. It deals with a plan we have to... immobilise the other suspect.’
Danny’s face was getting progressively more emotionless, ‘Do you have a plan to protect the ship?’
‘The ship... could be a problem. But it’s imperative the colonists get down to the planet before I act.’
‘What’s to stop the suspect from going down to the planet with the colonists?’ Danny asked carefully.
‘He has certain restrictions on his movements. Nevertheless, I’m afraid James could be in danger. His part is key in this. I need him alive.’
‘I’ve got guards stationed in his bay at all hours. No one’s getting in or out without our knowing. It would help if you told me who to look out for.’
‘I can’t. He’s very good a hearing things he’s not supposed to.’
The commander looked around the room, ‘We’re alone, aren’t we? And the captain’s quarters are one of the few places without any listening systems.’
Howard was silent for a moment. Commander Hough placed his hands behind his back and started to walk around slowly. He was calm, but he was wringing his hands, betraying his tenseness.
‘We are alone... could you check the hall please?’
‘Sure. Why not...’ Hough said impatiently. He walked quickly to the door and hit the open key. The door slid open. He looked down the hall and saw it was clear, save for a cleaning robot moving down the hall away from them, ‘Nothing but a cleaner bot.’
Howard looked up suddenly, ‘What did you say?’
‘Nothing but a cleaner robot?’
‘Hell,’ he said bitterly.
Cleaning Drone 13... Recalling.
Analysing audio files.
James Bennet; Colonial Power Grid Overseer
Alternate Suspect of murder
Suspect not mentioned.
Hypothesis; Suspect is Exo.
James Bennet is important to Howard Fredrick’s plan to immobilise suspect.
James Bennet must be incapacitated.
Generate a plan to incapacitate James Bennet with minimal damage to ship...