And when we are done soul searching. And we carried the weight and died for a cause. Is misery made beautiful right before our eyes? Will mercy be revealed or blind us where we stand? Will we burn in heaven? Like we do down here. Will a change come while we are waiting? Everyone is waiting. – Sarah Mclachlan, "Witness"
Margaret Morgan’s words hadn’t been spoken loudly, but they were heard easy across the quiet bridge. For all the facts that said life in space should have freed them from a fixed solar cycle, being awake past midnight felt the same.
Sitting on one of the observation benches before the bridge viewports, Kim shook her head negatively. It was a question that didn’t really need answering. For most of the day she’d intermittently scanned local space for some sign of the White Star 24. What she’d sensed was no more enlightening than what the pilots got on their mundane equipment. A whole lot of nothing, when you got down to it. Kim knew without a doubt she wasn’t the only one thinking the worst of the missing ship and crew.
“All quiet,” Kim said finally, turning from the void. Her voice was a poor effort at filling the space. “It’s been over a day…”
“Ie. I suppose we should be grateful, but….” Margaret trailed off.
“For one problem but not the other. We still have to find the White Star.”
“Ie,” Margaret repeated grimly.
Kim rose from her seat and paced the bridge until she came to lean on the tactical station next to Margaret. The tactical officer glanced at her curiously but her silent question was answered when she tracked where Kim’s focus turned. The captain’s office.
“An odd thing, yes?” Margaret voiced.
“Ah… well, yes,” Kim admitted. “All of it.”
“Just this place would be enough.”
Kim laughed shortly, a humorless sound. “Yes. Little hard to believe. I–” Even as she glanced toward the viewports, the channel between the bridge and the fighter ships came alive. Brooding and quiet as she’d sensed of him out in the void, Roland De Vries voice broke into the conversation.
“Whuh-hoa, I think we’ve got something. Picking up a mass. Moving in for a visual… Scanners aren’t getting much. Practically fell over it as it is.”
Kim moved quickly to the viewports, opening up her shielding to add to the search. Silently she prayed it wasn’t the ship. For nothing to have come up on the sensors, they’d have to be…
Kim’s hopes were dashed a moment later.
“We’ve found her. Repeat. Found White Star 24,” De Vries reported somberly.
“And?” Margaret prompted, eyes on her friend.
“Nothing. I’m not reading anything alive. Not even the ship.”
Kim looked back, her face bleak. Margaret cursed softly and stared down at her console, wishing she were as insensitive as she usually appeared to be.
The usual crew complement of a White Star was fifty people.
The waiting was over. Terry Hale closed the channel and scrubbed a hand over her face, rising wearily from her seat. She couldn’t hope that anyone was alive, but there were the motions to follow in her duty. She stepped out on to the bridge, the Captain’s office falling dark behind her.
“Helm, bring us in on Storm One’s coordinates,” she commanded as she stepped around to her place on the bridge. Sinking into the chair, she glanced back at Morgan. The Tactical officer was plainly checking her weapons’ status.
“Give us the viewscreen and magnify. And I want all our fighter ships out there. If anything was going to drop in on us, it would happen now,” Hale ordered.
“Aye,” Morgan said.
The honeycomb grid of the viewscreen shimmered down and focused.
“Oh damn….” Hale swore low and intense.
The searchlights of the Starfuries played over the dark ship that had been the White Star 24. Gone were the shifting tones of color from its hull, taken by death, transformed to a dull grey. No scientist was needed to confirm that the ship was dead. Hale shivered with a sudden chill. Easily she remembered the damage to her own ship. How close they’d come to that end….
Hale tore her gaze away from the ship and then squinted through the viewscreen’s fringes to see the speaker. It was Matsumoto, the Chief of Science, and as Hale was privately informed, a telepath. The woman was standing before the viewports where the WS24 was now coming within normal visual range.
Morgan cursed quietly and Hale grimaced, swallowing her feelings for now. “Helm, grapple the White Star.” Tapping an all-call, Hale straightened, wrapping herself in the cloak of training and authority. “Your attention, please. White Star 24 has been found.” She hesitated, then left out the worst of the news… for now. “Darquin, Yoshino, Santiago and Trassano, report immediately to the shuttle bay with teams from your respective departments. Everyone else, to your posts. Until I say otherwise, we are on full alert.”
She closed the line, and began to dispense with some private calls. Dr. Trassano first. She would at least need to know what she was walking into.
“Dr. Trassano? Some further information. Sensors are not reading any life aboard the ship, though we will of course make certain in a deck by deck search, should the sensors be fooled. See that every body is identified and that– ah, don’t let me tell you your job. Just… if you would bring one or two aboard for an autopsy. I want to know what or who killed them, ASAP. See you down in the bay.”
Hale closed the line before she could get any return comments, immediately opening another to her XO. “Shaver? I need you down at the shuttles immediately. We got our worst case scenario. I’ll let you know more down there.”
Another closed line and Hale looked up at the faces around her. Her glance stopped on Matsumoto. “Doctor, you and your department are needed as well. Come with me. Morgan, you have the bridge until I come back up. Let me know if anything changes.”
“Aye, Captain,” Morgan said. Kim said nothing at all, moving slowly toward the lift. Morgan paused, glancing between Hale and Matsumoto before bending her head to run another scan on the dead ship.
Be careful, Cyfeilles.
Kim’s gaze darted back to the bridge as she stepped into the lift. She’d caught Margaret’s thought easily with her lowered shields. What was harder to grasp was how someone with so much reason to hate telepaths could bring herself to intentionally let her thoughts be picked up. As clearly as the three words were ‘heard’, Kim knew she was meant to hear them. ‘Cyfeilles’ meant ‘friend’ in Margaret’s birth-tongue, but the trust said it even more surely.
Kim nodded back across the space, but failed to find a smile before the lift doors closed.
The lift ride was interminable with the Captain. Neither spoke; one absorbed in her thoughts and the other trying to keep them and everyone else’s at arms’ reach. When the moment was suddenly shattered by words spoken aloud, Kim didn’t quite comprehend them at first.
“You had the EVA prepped?” Hale repeated.
Kim thought quickly. “Yoshino’s already on it.”
The lift doors slid open and Kim trailed a step behind Hale out into the docking bay. Along with a few others, Darquin was already there and Kim glanced bleakly at the PPG rifle that came with him.
“It’s not what I usually take with me on a trip, but….” He shrugged, nodding at his rifle.
“All right, everyone suit up! The White Star is completely shut down,” Hale called over the murmur of talk.
The cavernous space filled with the clatter and hiss of EVA suits being pulled on and their systems checked. Hale wasn’t among them, instead walking through the growing crowd, explaining the situation in clipped tones. Darquin was pulling EVA gear out of a locker, piling them onto the deck beside him. “Doesn’t sound good,” he said half to himself.
Hale heard it and the corners of her mouth twitched at the understatement. “As I was saying, the White Star 24 isn’t showing any lifesigns — not even from the ship itself. Whatever it was… it managed to kill thousands of tons of organic matter without a scratch. I can’t stress enough that this must be investigated carefully, with full quarantine protocol followed. That is why we will not be coupling the ships. It’s going to be the hard way, with shuttles.
“The first shuttle will be manned by Commander Shaver, Darquin, Matsumoto and a full security team. Look for any possible survivors that might have been shielded against our scans and get me a report on the bridge. And watch your backs. With the ship completely shut down, you’re going to be hauling through the maintenance tunnels.”
Hale took a deep breath and then turned to the second team. “Santiago, Yoshino, Trassano. Once the first team has reported it clear, you will be going in with two objectives. The first and most obvious is dealing with our dead. You call in as many hands as you need for this, Doctor. Contained, bring two or three of the dead aboard for autopsy.
“Secondly, that ship has still got a fair portion if it that’s inorganic. See if you can get it powered up. Focus on getting the computer banks online. I want to know what happened. Forget the engines for now… this ship is never going to see service again.”
Hale looked to all of them then, measuring. “Well, you know your duties. Any questions?”
Copyright (c) 1998 Leslie McBride, Joe R. Medina, and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.