The Raid On Zeta Station

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Part 7

Zeta Station

21 October 2326

Chief Sergeant Monika Lorenz felt unwell.

After reporting last night’s discovery to Lieutenant Olchevski, who had dragged her along to see his superior after hours, the three of them had spent most of the night going over the entirety of the accumulated data.

Around midnight, the Lieutenant had collected even more data from the MAD and had run a full systems check on the device, to make sure that the recorded magnetic intensities were accurate.

They were.

Olchevski had initially been sceptical regarding the Sergeant’s claims, but had rapidly changed his mind and his tone once he had begun to analyse the data himself. Even Major Demir, who had been visibly upset after being ambushed while returning to his cabin from the showers, had been overcome by the hint of panic that was in the air.

The Major had ordered extra rations of coffee to be brought to his office, where they had gathered to work on the MAD’s data. The caffeine had helped them through the cumbersome task.

Lorenz had finally returned to her cabin just after four in the morning, and had not been able to find much sleep.

She was now standing in the central corridor of the outermost deck of Zeta Station’s Ring One, waiting to be let into the office from which Colonel Zhou, the station’s Commanding Officer, ran the entire place.

The nervousness of being about to report to the station’s CO, combined with her lack of sleep, made Chief Sergeant Lorenz feel like she was about to throw up and pass out, not necessarily in that order.

Lorenz tried to discretely wipe her sweaty palms against her jumpsuit, leaving stains on the grey fabric. She tried to calm down, willing her pulse that was throbbing in her throat to ease up.

Time seemed to stretch as they kept waiting. She suppressed the urge to tap her foot, exhaled silently, then thought about her newly discovered happy place. The Sergeant had found out that she quite enjoyed working in microgravity, something she had not experienced since her basic training, until she had been transferred from a state-of-the-art battlecruiser to this relic of a space station.

She had therefore been surprised by the lack of artificial gravity in the central cylinder, which housed most of Zeta Station’s engineering levels. During some down time while on an assignment there, Chief Sergeant Lorenz had realised that, when staying absolutely still along the cylinder’s axis, she could float in place indefinitely.

This had quickly become her place of retreat, whenever she needed to clear her mind, or when the station’s atmosphere was getting to her.

A small smile adorned her lips as she felt her heartbeat calm down.

She was just about to close her eyes for a moment, when the door across the corridor hissed open, and out stepped a rather short man with a freshly shaven head, wearing the same plain grey-and-gold jumpsuit as everyone else aboard. The only noticeable feature was the circled single gold star on his collar badge, identifying him as the station’s Commanding Officer.

The three of them stood to attention.

“Colonel. Major Demir with Lieutenant Olchevski and Chief Sergeant Lorenz, reporting in urgent matter, Sir!”

“What’s going on?” the Colonel asked, “Couldn’t this wait until the morning briefing?”

He looked from one face to the next, and wrinkled his brow at the stern expressions he saw.

“I’m afraid not, Sir. This matter is quite urgent. We may have a breach in security.”

Colonel Zhou pressed his lips together before saying, “You’d better come in then.”

He stepped back into his office and ordered Chief Sergeant Lorenz, who had come in last, to close the door. She obliged with a nod, still too intimidated to speak.

After sitting down behind his desk, the station’s CO called out to his orderly via intercom.

“Simons, make sure everyone knows that the morning briefing is delayed until further notice. Also, no disturbance unless the station is literally on fire.”

After Sergeant Simons confirmed the order, Zhou swiped over the display that was embedded in his desk and activated the room’s advanced security functions. A soft hum filled the air as magnetic and electrostatic shielding was activated, making eavesdropping all but impossible.

The Colonel then asked Major Demir to explain, at which point the Major deferred to Chief Sergeant Lorenz.

After a short moment of stunned silence, during which Monika Lorenz gathered all her strength to overcome her mental block, she began to explain what had happened, beginning with Major-Professor Everton’s complaint, not leaving out any detail, right up to the moment when she had gone to Lieutenant Olchevski with the preliminary data from the MAD.

Olchevski then took over, confirming that the device had indeed been calibrated properly, and that no manipulation from Lorenz could have had an impact on the recorded data.

“I fail to see how this constitutes a security breach,” the Colonel asked, “sounds more like a technical issue to me.”

“We are getting to the point, Sir,” Major Demir said, “apologies for the long-winded explanation, but I felt that you should know the entire story.”

“Very well. Continue.”

The Major nodded, then continued to speak, “Despite the Lieutenant’s and Sergeant’s insistence, I also first believed it to be a technical issue, so we gathered the rest of the data, dissected it over night, and also went through the station’s maintenance and activity logs for habitat rings three and four.”

He took a deep breath then went on, “As it turns out, overall activity was minimal. There was no spike in the electrical system, no incoming supply ship, no messages being sent through any system linked to the main or secondary array. Nothing that could explain these readings, which as you can see, are clearly not of natural origin.”

Major Demir handed a data cube to the Colonel, which he promptly placed on his desk next to the embedded display. He browsed through the data quickly, both hands flat on the cold metal surface of the desk, his back arched as if ready to jump out of his chair at any moment.

“You are right,” Zhou finally said, “there’s clearly a pattern there. Any idea what might be causing this?”

“To my knowledge, there is no way to transmit any sort of information using unmodulated magnetic fields, and we would have detected any type of message, either via hypercom or other means,” Demir paused briefly to scratch his nose, “I therefore assume that it must be some kind of beacon.”

The Colonel’s eyes widened and his face paled. He slowly said, “A beacon? That would be a disaster.”

Colonel Zhou Shen activated his intercom once again.

“Simons! Get Captain Barnaby in here now!”

He then turned back to the three in front of him, “We need to keep this quiet for now. I don’t want anyone to worry, especially not the Cadets, they have enough on their minds as is. Is anyone else aware of this?”

“Only Major-Professor Everton, but we haven’t told him the results yet, and he hasn’t been back to his cabin.”

“Good. Let’s keep it that way. This information does not leave this room. We’ll just wait for Barnaby, who needs to be made aware of this, and then we will figure out how to handle the situation.”

Captain Jane Barnaby, Zeta Station’s Chief of Security, did not leave the Colonel waiting for long. She had been on the way to the showers after his morning run around the habitat ring when the message had reached her. Sensing the urgency of the matter, she immediately changed course and headed to the Colonel’s office.

She stepped into the room still wearing her tight-fitting, sweat-stained training jumpsuit, while a headband held back her silvery white hair.

Barnaby stood to attention facing the Colonel, saluted, then spoke, “Captain Barnaby, reporting as ordered, Sir! Apologies for my appearance, but it seemed urgent.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Zhou said, eyeing her from head to toe, “I’ll get straight to the point. This is a sensitive matter, so none of what is said here leaves this room. We have a security breach, and we need to figure out how this came to be, and who is behind it.”

Captain Barnaby raised an eyebrow, while her entire body stiffened.

“What can I do to help, Sir?” she asked.

“From what we know, thanks to those three here,” he gestured at Demir, Olchevski, and Lorenz, “there must be some sort of beacon installed in or around the main mast, either operating on its own, or piggybacked onto one of the station’s systems. We must find it without arousing suspicion. Any ideas on how to proceed?”

“I’m assuming that a large search party is out of the question?” Barnaby wanted to know, and Zhou nodded briefly as only response.

“in that case,” she continued, “we have little choice but to go through the concerned parts of the station, section by section, and clear them one at a time, while staying in contact to coordinate.”

“That’s what I feared,” Colonel Zhou said, “unless anyone has a better suggestion?”

His question was greeted by silence, so he spoke again, “Alright, this is what we will do. Sergeant Lorenz, you’re most comfortable in the technical levels, so you’ll have to inspect the main array, top to bottom. Lieutenant Olchevski, you will handle the central sections linking the mast, Ring Three, and Ring Four.”

Zhou paused for a moment and thought about the remaining two, “Captain Barnaby, you’ll go through the relevant sections of Ring Three, and Major Demir, you will do the same with Ring Four.”

Finally, the Colonel added, “We can assume that the beacon, whatever form it will take, will not be in an exposed or public area, so you should start with the less accessible sections of your respective search zones.”

Once back out in the corridor, Chief Sergeant Lorenz inhaled deeply. She had not realised that she had been holding her breath intermittently. Her mind was still catching up with what had been said during the meeting.

Between all these high-ranking officers, she had felt horribly out of place. Of course, she firmly believed, as most Sergeants did, that a good Sergeant was worth a handful of officers, but in this situation, she could not help but tremble under the weight of the task that she had been assigned.

“Are you alright there, Sergeant?”

It was Captain Barnaby, who had caught up with Lorenz after speaking with the Colonel some more.

“Yes Sir... Ma’am,” Lorenz mumbled.

“Your first covert operation, I guess?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Lorenz looked at her feet and took another deep breath, “Permission to speak freely, Ma’am?”

“Of course, Sergeant.”

“I feel completely out of place. I’m a technical specialist, I haven’t trained for all this secrecy,” she wiped her forehead before continuing, “ask me to take apart and reassemble any type of electrical equipment, and I’m all over it, but this feels beyond my level of expertise.”

“I see where you’re coming from, Sarge. May I suggest that you don’t look at it as a covert op at all? Instead, consider the technical aspects by themselves.”


“You don’t have to deal with much secrecy, beyond keeping your mouth shut in public. Focus on your expertise and how to apply it to the task at hand.”

Sergeant Lorenz blinked twice and mentally slapped herself on the forehead.

“Of course, Ma’am. I had not considered that.”

“It’s alright, Sergeant. I was nervous too my first couple of times,” Captain Barnaby laughed, “if afterwards you feel like more covert stuff, just come see me in my office.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Lorenz replied, joining in the Captain’s laughter.

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