Ghosts

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Chapter 13 – “Linking play”.

Deep down underneath the Lillypad station an all-glass private laboratory busily worked on projects. The laboratory was circular in shape and its glass windows gave a full view of the deep waters and sea life underneath the station. In the centre of the one hundred foot room nestled a row of lifts up into the main Halcyon Research station. Productively beavering away, those in lab coats and suits never looked up as one of the bronzed doors opened.

Having shown ID and retina scans to enter the lift, the journey down under the waters was a swift, yet slightly unsettling one in a see-through lift enclosure, as it blurred past languid fish swimming outside.

Angelo da Silva stepped out of the lift and approached an empty terminal resting on a nearby wall following the instructions given to him by Commander Zylinski.

The only place that core military staff could check out the Military Police database on the Lillypad, the terminal was connected to a secure, private database used only by senior staff and those with access to the laboratory.

Keying in a code, the terminal unlocked a menu system allowing access to the files of those who were currently renting properties on the base.

With swift fingers Angelo da Silva typed in one of Zylinski’s pre-arranged access codes and searched the records for Alison Wessex.

The information on the Government files showed up nothing different to the files that were publicly available on his flight down from the Faith Space Station.

Angelo da Silva sent over an email that would advise Zylinski of the meeting with the agent and in doing so he confirmed that he had agreed to do the mission for her and her unnamed clients. Whatever Zylinski thought of the decision did not interest Angelo da Silva, the decision had already been made.

Securely logging off the terminal Angelo da Silva slipped back the way he came as anonymous on his exit as he was upon entering the lab. Moving casually to the station’s restaurant he ordered himself a meal washed down simply with several glasses of water, and analysed the mission agenda given to him by Alison Wessex.

A list of required ship components and weaponry was mentally noted as the pilot ate and read the report at the same time.

Forty minutes later the pilot went back to the hotel. With little provisions there to pack away, he spent several minutes praying, kneeling down on the hotel balcony overlooking the great wide Halcyon Ocean, before checking out of the hotel.

The pilot walked lazily back across the bridge over to the engineering section of the ship, and picked up several supplies which he knew would benefit any ship, no matter what it was, but only when fitted by expert hands. Boarding the shuttle back to the Faith Space Station, he settled down before he sent two emails over on their way, one to Commander Zylinski, and one to Peter Lund. Neither contact replied, but a read-receipt confirmed that they had been read. Both men had previously worked with him and both knew the protocol. No response was needed.

By the time the shuttle landed aboard Faith, an impatient da Silva marched off through the corridors back to his own ship, safely secure in a private docking bay garage, paid for at great expense out of da Silva’s own pocket. He collected the usual clothing, toiletries, and food supplies.

Unclipping an electronic circuit board from a panel next to the main cockpit control mainframe, Angelo da Silva moved to the back of his ship into the engine room, picked up a wrench and began yanking on several bolts to unlock a square generator, four by four foot that nestled heavily on the floor.

Sinewy muscles bulged as he lifted the panel off its mounting, hauling the box out of the engine room and along a tight, ten foot long, unlit corridor until he reached the ship’s exit in the middle of the ship’s hull.

With hands full, struggling to keep the object in the air, he roared as he lifted the object above his head and kicked his left foot waist high into a square, heavily-scratched door control panel. The Ship door slowly opened, no pressure seals needed aboard the station and the object was hauled then yanked down onto the station floor. Blood dripped slightly from a forearm cut off the sharp, unbevelled metal. Ignoring that, the pilot stared down at the object as he caught his breath.

‘You should have let me do that, Angelo.’ Lund walked up with a trolley, dragged the object onto it and lazily wheeled it around in a circle.

‘Yer, shame I didn’t.’

‘At least you can lift it, Angelo; I couldn’t. Where are we off? The ship you advised me of?’

‘Sure, why not. I can get my breath back as you wheel that thing.’

‘What is it?’

Angelo locked the ship up, the door closing with sluggish yet efficient movements.

‘A smartie.’

‘A what?’

‘It’s a smartbomb.’ Seeing the engineer’s face look blank he decided to clarify.

‘It goes boom. It makes nasty things go bang.’

‘A gun?’

‘An energy charge that when released sends an explosion outwards for a half a mile or so. Like an EMP except electro-magnetic pulses don’t make ships explode. It’s a lethal weapon. For my mission I might need it. I can take out any and all in-range orbiting ships in a circular sweep of boom-boom.’

‘Boom-boom?’

‘Yes, boom-boom, it’s in the soldier’s technical dictionary,’ joked Angelo da Silva, allowing himself a rare smile.

‘If it’s more than two ships would it be boom-boom-boom?’

‘Nope, just boom-boom.’

‘How so?’

‘Peter Lund, I should not give away secrets to you.’ Angelo da Silva smirked. ‘The first boom is the device issuing force its devastation. The second is all the other ships going boom at the same time. It’s not exactly the same time...’

‘So… Theoretically it could be boom-boom-boom.’

‘I, Angelo da Silva, give up with you, Peter Lund. You mustn’t have any work to do if you can wind me up like this.’

‘Loads of work to do, but some of us know how to laugh.’

‘Yer? Laughter is so over-rated, unlike the boom-boom.’

‘Can I call you the boom-boom boy?’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Never, it’d be rude of me to be.’ Lund kept a straight face despite his jest. ‘The ship’s that way,’ he added politely.

‘Can we assume that your team have done the physical inspection of it?’

‘Yes. It’ll fly.’

‘Is that it? I was hoping for, “it’s a mean machine of hatred?” at least.’

‘It’s rigged with guns, missiles that are heavily armed and dangerous, twelve of them though, not too many that you can chuck them behind you as you flee. Oh, and fleeing... it’s too slow to flee.’

‘Good. I don’t flee. Never flee. Never have, never will. I’ll die trying to take them all down.’ Angelo’s serious look showed little remorse nor fear. Lund decided to change the conversation back to the ship.

‘It isn’t your ship?’

‘I couldn’t use my ship. My own craft isn’t a mining ship.’

‘Well, good news, this one is! I think. It’s well modified. Too heavily armoured - hull strength could take out a lot of fighters before it gives in. It’s like a heavyweight boxer, slow, tight turning circle, but has a chin of steel and arms that pack a haymaker.’

‘It’ll do. The tie-breaker is the boom-boom box. Not many out there. It’s old, old Devil’s Militia technology. Long forgotten. Some saw them as unnecessary in a fight as one on one it makes little difference. Against superior numbers, my specialty, well…. I use an enhanced version that I worked on in the monastery. I had plenty of peace and quiet to prepare it. The monks would have frowned upon it, yet I call it the “Halo”. I haven’t heard of many more out there. Randomly, I hear myths that some similar weapons are still in use. Truth maybe or just drunken bold tales to keep drunks busy.’

‘Do the military have it?’

‘Nope, I never told them I had the blueprints. The Devil’s Militia only made fifty or so. Most were lost in the war with the scumbags. Any that survived would struggle to take out a single fighter nowadays. Hull strength keeps improving, speed keeps improving, for guys like me, dog-fighting tactics keep improving.’

Angelo paused for a second. ‘Ordinary pilots however, don’t. They are lazy. Luckily, I fight old-school, instinct-kills and not technological-misses. Twitch muscle shots and not just button-clicks. People rely on the ship computer but it’s not the best shot. It can’t read the mind of the enemy. It can only assume the enemy flies in the same pattern.’ Lund nodded his agreement to da Silva’s comments.

‘Fighting the Dead, people die without instinct. They are too screwed up to have any pattern of attack. They zigzag, weave, roll and swerve so much you can’t get a lock on them and the computer’s tracking and prediction systems, forget it. Even now the Devil’s Militia training is still alive.’

‘And when the Dead fight you?’

‘I have boom-boom. Patterns matter shit against the boom-boom. If they are in range they can barrel-roll but they’re still in range. I digress. So, are there any mods that you can see on that ship?’

‘A few, no idea where from though. No branding, no distinct modules or circuit boards. Nothing, it’s a ghost ship. A good one though. It has a few elegant touches too. You’ll see them once you’re aboard. It looks like a heap built from scrap but inside the dashboard is pretty sweet, new tech, old shell. Really old shell,’ advised Lund confidently.

‘New tech? Any way of knowing who built it?’

‘Some parts are standard, some CEOL, some arbitrary parts from various manufacturers. Doesn’t look wholly CEOL so I doubt it is CEOL’s ship but you never know - CEOL like CEOL. It’s their favourite brand. It’s also everyone else’s favourite brand by default as it’s easy to pick up.’

‘Tell me about it, Peter.’

Docked up, Marco Koivu walked out of Cursed’s exit and moved to a fuel supply computer station. He set the equipment up to auto-fuel the Cursed and sauntered off down a dimly lit hallway into the main area of the ship. Split into two parts, the ship the pilot had nicknamed Heart of Oak, housed the docking bay and the main cockpit, divided into a private chamber with a bed and shower and the main cockpit.

A solitary black leather chair faced the windscreen of the ship, the dashboard offering a control of the ship whenever the pilot wanted to manually pilot the craft.

Motion sensors alert, Heart of Oak’s heating slowly kicked back in as the pilot stood in the middle of the control room. Clicking a button on his belt, a transparent holo-screen opened up in from of him connected directly to the ship.

Accessible from anywhere on the ship the holo-screen terminal made the cockpit unnecessary. A list of ships pinged up on the left side of the screen; the right side slightly later introduced an array of stock exchanges and share price fluctuations. Keying in figures and clicking buttons the pilot updated his portfolio, lazily moving his fingers against the touch sensitive holo-screen.

Sliding back and forth he checked the status of the ships that showed up on the list, two of which were Heart of Oak and Cursed. The status for the Cursed showed that re-fuelling had been done. The pilot ignored this fact, conscious that it would be. He clicked a video screen connect button, further clicking on a picture of a woman. Several minutes later the call was connected, a network of systems-wide satellite relays connecting the call.

‘Have you spoken to him?’

The woman spoke back calmly.

‘Yes. It is done. He’s quite good looking in a sort of brooding bad boy way,’ Alison Wessex spoke patiently.

‘I wouldn’t know. Remember he’s just briefly yours. How much have you told him?’

‘I have told him nothing, yet.’

‘Yet?’

‘Assuming we are to tell him anything.’

‘It will be on a need to know basis. I will let you know. Tell them to expect him.’

‘Are you that confident he will survive the attack?’

‘He will. It’s been seen before. Follow the project to the letter. Say nothing more than he needs, for now. If he forces you into a corner, delay and contact me.’

‘Is the Cursed fixed?’

‘Other than the scarring, yes, it is fixed.’

‘Is it safe to fly?’

‘Of course, I just did. I might need it repairing completely. I’ll arrange for Copperhead to deliver some steel and crew, as per usual. Heart of Oak will be my base of operations until further notice. I have to go. Goodbye for now.’

The connection was terminated and the screen was flicked over to a list of files, all beginning with the word “Project”. At the right edge of each heading on the list a percentage value sat, bold and red in colour all bar one that was green.

The pilot clicked on the file with the green percentage, Project Orb. He read the progress report that nestled next to a slideshow of pictures of the project result and progress. At the bottom was a video showing the end product in action. Clicking the video the pilot let it play.
The project video ran for thirty-two minutes, time spent sitting down on the leather pilot’s chair. The video and the holo-screen were closed before Marco lounged off to get a shower and some sleep. The ship computer busily pulsated away as he slept.

Three hours into the man’s deep sleep, he was suddenly awoken by the ship’s threat alarm. Smart-dust microchips, deposited by Heart of Oak as an early warning system of incoming ships, asteroids, and any astronomical concern, had scanned the area acting as sensors and communicating their findings back home. These wireless networks allowed super-fast feedback of regions or areas surrounding bases, and were mostly used by the Military Police for precognition of threats.

Analysing the incoming ships that tore through the net of chips, closer and closer to their target, the smart-dust had magnetised towards the ships, analysed the strength of the ships that touched them, pinging back off the ships’ shields. Heart of Oak stored the information waiting for pilot input.

The man slowly got out of bed, strolled lethargically over to his pants, pressed a button on his belt and brought up his ship’s command control screen. The ship’s computer automatically took him to the battle command system’s menu, declaring all known information from the approaching ships, shields, and weaponry including a detailed scan of the drone, missile and freight bays.
As he analysed the attackers a rocket smashed against Heart of Oak’s freight bay. The shield strength dropped a tenth but was quickly restored.

‘We are the Hunger. We are going to make it rain!’ a communication came through.
Before replying, Heart of Oak’s pilot searched for information on any known organisations named the Hunger. Very basic information came back. The group was unknown until the last four months and seemed to be new and deemed barely a threat. “Those wannabe’s just want to be the Dead,” the pilot thought with a sigh.

‘We are the Hunger. We are going to make it rain!’ the communication was repeated.

‘You make it rain and I’ll set fire to it,’ the pilot issued back sarcastically before he switched over to his own combat menu system. He activated the ship’s turrets and waited for the right moment to use a device known only to the pilot and his associates as “the Ripper”. As the hunting ships got closer the pilot watched as his own weapons tore through the attackers’ shields.

Several rockets bounced off his ship, at one point the shields dropping completely as sheer rocketry numbers overloaded his shields, before slowly reactivating to full before any further rockets hit. The small electron laser pulses fired by the light fighter ships proved what the pilot already knew; the ships were weakly armed in comparison to other rogue groups in the system, built mainly for speed, something which they did incredibly well.

As the attackers orbited him, attempting to hit him from his blind spots, the areas where the larger Heart of Oak had no turrets, the pilot knew he had to adapt. He sent out several guided missiles, which had proximity triggers.

He slowed his ship down, knowing it was essential for his next wave of attacks despite this making him a sitting duck. Using a target-painter command on his ship, he preset several targets on the rogue ships, creating a polka-dot pattern on a digital visual copy of each one of the attackers.
This was not for the sake of the missiles however. His ship’s battle command system monitored and tracked the highlighted targets and attempted to predict the location of the marking every point one second, at a rate the human eye and mind would struggle to do, something the pilot grudgingly admitted.

As the light fighters got close to the missile, the ammo detonated, hitting deep onto their targets’ shields. All the attackers’ shields had now gone, unlikely to reactivate too quickly.

‘Now!’ Marco Koivu ordered himself as a rocket hit his ship once more, barely doing any damage to his shields.

He pressed the Ripper’s activation button, issuing out of the side of his own ship thirty steel harpoons aimed at the orbiting ships. With the targets painted, the system predicted where the most efficient destination would be for the projectiles to go.

Out of the thirty harpoons only seven slashed into the enemies, piercing then digging into the metal of the ships. The damage was lethal. As the razor-sharp steel points hit the ships’ sides, it pierced through the shield-less metal. As the harpoons dug themselves into the frameworks, the light fighter ships’ momentum moved the vehicles onwards.

The harpoons stopped moving, their uncompromising chains pulled back by Heart of Oak’s stronger structure. The harpoons ripped straight through the sides of the ships as the light fighters raced along their path.

From front to rear the damage was done. With their composition ripped, two of the ships exploded within minutes of the harpoons’ damage, pilots just able to escape the implosions with their lives.

Heart of Oak’s missile bay erupted just once more powering forth a solitary light missile, spinning, rotating at the last enemy, lucky to have survived the harpoon assault. Its impact was devastating, leaving the ship with only four percent of its hull strength left. Destined to explode imminently, red warning lights and sirens active, the pilot bailed the craft in his own escape pod with seconds to spare before his craft was ripped asunder by the detonation.

Within minutes of the explosion, and once all rockets fired by the now destroyed foe ships had hit Heart of Oak, with limited success, a tractor beam pulled the doomed huntsmen into Heart of Oak’s freight bay.

Unable to open the pods from the inside they could only stay in a deep-sleep coma until Marco Koivu released them to a station; something not normally likely to happen for up to six months.

‘Computer, I’m, going back to bed. Next time you wake me up, make sure it’s for a black coffee, ok?’ the pilot demanded turning the command controls off, stumbling bleary eyed back to his bed.

As he slept, the husk of a fighter, ill-fated debris, banged weakly into Heart of Oak. The large ship’s shields fluctuated briefly as the derelict pirate ship slowly drifted away, a ghost ship on its journey through space.

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