Adrift: Earth BkSy 03: Mabry Sc 04. Happy Launch Day

Brigit’s Flame Contest Entry – April Week Four
prompt: “What is past is prologue”
Title : Happy Launch Day
Author: t.s.wright
Word Count: 2,626
Warnings: One profanity. Death.

 

 

“Happy Launch Day!”
Mabry heard the greeting at least ten times on her way to check on the progress of operations in the Sleepers’ Cabin and twenty more as she walked to the commissary for a light meal. Everyone was grinning and happy. To Mabry this cheer seemed irrational. They were at risk of discovery and capture until the QM Aurora had pulled out of the Port and into the commerce lanes. Not even Haraboji could be sure what would happen to them if they were arrested. The Port had no Zerospace of its own. Rumors were that the non-contributing souls who found themselves on the Port got spaced. It seemed an extreme measure, but Corps do not like to spend money to transport prisoners to jail. They certainly wouldn’t waste the credits on 500 prisoners from Dirtside.

Setting aside the possibility of being caught and prevented from leaving, there was also the anxiety that came with – “What if we make it?” and all of the unknown that followed. The population on board the Aurora had increased exponentially over the last two weeks. The whole of QM was on their way to a new planet discovered by the community’s virtual astronomers. It had been reported human-safe, habitable, and in a pre-hominid stage of evolution by a small group of QM volunteers who had traveled to the farthest point of communication between Calypso and Earth to relay copious amounts of probe data before completing the journey to the planet’s surface. Their names were inscribed on the bridge in memoriam, and the first four children born after their successful transmission back to Earth had become their namesakes. They would land in time to die – all had been terminally ill when they volunteered – but Mabry suspected that being able to die free, above ground, and surrounded by the beauty of nature had to be the best way to go.

She ran her fingers lightly over the name Varyn Belisarius etched at console height to the left of the bridge door. Varyn, friends with her brother since childhood, was someone she had idolized and followed around as a child – her first crush. He had a bright smile, boundless enthusiasm, and eyes a shade of blue that had no comparison in heaven or nature. Varyn also had a fondness for extreme sports which he used to the community’s advantage by joining the scavenging teams that roved the abandoned wastelands of Dirtside in search of useful materials and wanderers to bring back to their underground base. Prolonged exposure to the ambient radiation in their sector of Dirtside had brought cancer to Varyn before he’d settled into a more domestic life. It was no surprise that he volunteered to go with the other explorers to retrieve the final data on Calypso. He had lived his adult life exploring in service to QM – he would die as he lived.

“Do you want to repeat the tests?” Faraday asked.

Mabry realized he had been speaking for a few minutes, but she had been too distracted to register. She turned from her memories and sat down in the center console.

“Can you repeat the last results? I wasn’t listening,” she admitted.

Mabry pulled up a list of systems on her console and followed along as Faraday read out the nominal or optimal ratings on each check of master system and its redundancies.
She tapped a few buttons and plucked the lever to free her VM glasses from their slot.

“You have run the tests how many times since 0600?” Mabry asked, pulling up a star chart and overlaying that with arrival and departures that might cross the Aurora’s path to the commerce lanes. If they timed it right and slipped away in an empty window, Port Space Control would not bother to shut them down and reel them back in. If they were no threat to free-flowing commerce, they might not be of interest to the Port. Mabry marked four slots that were clear in the right vector and for the appropriate length of time.

“Faraday, I note four windows for safe launch. Do you detect any others?”
“If we exit the bay traveling one kilometer on this bearing, then shift the yaw 90 degrees – pushing ahead 10 km before tacking a parallel course – we can add about six more windows.”
Colored lines traced over the view port in the paths he described.
“Thank you, Faraday. Ten is way better than four. Non-linear thinking – this is why I need you. My brain has yet to embrace the ability to travel up and down in space.” Mabry highlighted two of the six new courses as ideal and set the list aside.
“Let’s talk personnel and stores,” she said, pulling up another list and waving it up to her glasses.

An hour into their recheck, Faraday interrupted with the news that Haraboji’s party had arrived.
The knot growing in her stomach squeezed. “Is there any Port chatter we should worry about?” Mabry asked. Dae Kwon’s face was well-known to the Corps. He was on many activist watchlists.
“Not a blip,” Faraday replied.
Mabry thought the news would bring her relief, but she felt even more on edge.
“I’m going to head down to the Commons to greet Haraboji and brief him on our status. Can you update the arrivals lists, recalculate the stores, recheck life-support, and refresh the timeline on the citizens remaining to be cubed?”
“Don’t say ‘cubed’ to Haraboji,” Faraday reminded her, “he hates that slang. Their systems may be frozen, but people are never ice,” Faraday repeated in their leader’s voice.
Mabry turned up one corner of her mouth in a smile and left the bridge.

“I appreciate hearing your news, Mabry, but it is unnecessary to report to me.”
Dae Kwon – leader, mentor, friend, – respected elder of their patchwork tribe was removing a prosthetic chin from his his jaw. The glue stretched away from his own chin, to pop free soundlessly and curl into a tight ball. The fake nose he was wearing reminded Mabry of Elgin’s disguise. She looked away as Kwon grasped the end and pulled it off. Hanging over the edge of his temporary bunk were several scarves employed in his disguise – shed like snakeskin now that the man had reached his safe harbor.

“You will always be our leader, Haraboji. Whether in space or on the ground.”
“Mabry, we’ve discussed this. Up here I need you be in charge. The whole community does. I will not be available for consultation. We don’t have time for you to consider what I would do or approve of. There is only the space of thought for one leader. Personally, I think you will do far better than I have ever done.”
“Haraboji, I –”
“You have been calling me grandfather since you were a child, Girl. And it still warms my heart, but you must stop thinking of me as someone to follow and revere.” Kwon took her hands. “Mabry, you have accomplished wonders in your thirty years. You have earned this role. I cannot slide into that drawer with peace of mind until you tell me you’ve got a handle on this and that YOU believe you can do it without me.”

The only certainty Mabry could claim was that she would throw up at any moment. Her stomach flopped and a section of her lower intestines made a faint but high-pitched whine. Kwon pretended not to hear. She stood abruptly, hands on her hips, fingers pressing tightly into skin beneath her jumpsuit. Mabry gritted her teeth and approximated a smile.
“I do have a handle on this, Kwon.” She swallowed to clear her mouth of excess saliva. “I am ready to lead us to Calypso.”
Dae Kwon stood opposite and smiled fondly.
“We’ll try that again before I let them cube me. It was much more convincing than two weeks ago in the cave.”
Mabry exhaled in a gust and laughed nervously.
“Tell me what happened with Elgin?” Kwon asked as he turned back to his reflector, rubbing ghosts of glue residue and pigment modifier from his skin.
Mabry shrugged. “There’s nothing new to report. We shipped him back Dirtside, thousands of kilometers from ground travel stations and The Taz. Before Faraday packaged him up in a shuttle, Elgin’s memory was selectively wiped and all biomed enhancements that could help him call for aid or track home faster were removed. Faraday even scrambled his neural GPS set. If Elgin’s got people set to look for him, they won’t be able to pinpoint his location. We lost him good. He had a whole pouch of those dice on him, so Faraday rewired his association to them. When Elgin woke up on Earth, the first thing he will have done is activate the dice. The nanos will devour our shuttle in minutes, thus making it impossible for him to use the shuttle to get him off the ground and closer to home.”
Kwon nodded approval and smiled. “So no other traces of him or his sabotage on Aurora?”
Mabry shook her head. “Two teams went over the entire ship top to bottom and line by line in the code. Faraday has been testing and retesting his systems obsessively. All’s clear.”
“He get’s his obsessiveness from you,” Kwon teased. “You created the perfect operating system for this ship and then taught him how to be human. How does his humanity show? Terrible jokes and a work-a-holic’s perfectionism.”
“You know I can hear you, right?” Faraday broke in.
Kwon looked over his shoulder at the thumbprint camera in the corner.
“I’ll be asleep for years I don’t want you to forget me, Faraday.”
“That’s not possible, Sir. My neural stores are in excellent condition.”
Mabry rushed to Kwon and hugged him, her cheek pressed so hard against his shoulder the weave of his jumpsuit chaffed her.
“It will be five years minimum before we speak again, Haraboji. In my whole life I’ve never gone more than a week without hearing your voice.”
The man turned and wrapped Mabry in his arms. “You helped save me, Mabry. I was so distraught after my daughter died, my grandson was a teen-ager and didn’t need anyone – especially me. Then your father showed up Dirtside with his new wife and her womb full of life. As you were born they put Gemma in your father’s arms and you into mine. My grief drained from me into the past where it belonged. You girls were two pieces of the sublime and I swore you,” he held her cheeks for a moment, “would always be mine. What a fine daughter and granddaughter you have turned out to be. Better than all expectations. It is time for me to rest awhile and let you fly solo.”
Mabry’s face glistened wetly, as she sniffled back something incomprehensible.
Kwon’s face lit up a moment with a sudden memory. He flicked his fingertip device on and tapped Mabry’s Cuff.
“I’ve been working on my memoirs. I’ve transferred the files to you. Let them keep you company while I sleep.”
Mabry nodded and looked at her Cuff as though it could speak for her. She hugged him again and they exchanged words of love – elder to child and friend to friend. Though no blood was shared between them, Dae Kwon was her family as much as Gemma and Connor.

Mabry cried quietly to herself as she made her way back to the bridge. She was almost on her own now. In a few hours, it would be her and Faraday with 500 plus sleepers on ice as cargo for the new world.

At 2210 hours Port time, the Aurora pulled out of her bay unmolested. The ship travel 1.6km then adjusted yaw by -98.3 degrees and followed a slowly shifting course for 13km. There was no pursuit – all systems reported functioning at optimal levels. At 2338 hours the Aurora’s tack brought her in line with the commerce lanes, traveling away from the Port in the general direction of Mars. Faraday confirmed their heading was correct for a preset vector adjacent to the Mars Bridge wormhole. This point in space would be at a distance calculated to avoid a gravity incident with the existing wormhole and surrounding satellites.

Mabry looked back at Sol and the Earth. She wondered at how far they had come without the Corps. The Earth was no longer a place of beauty, only endless days of grey. Sol had freckled her face and fed her with green, leafy things all her life, but would a distant star not shine the same. Mabry took home with her, she had no need of the husk of planet they left behind. The brilliant young woman tuned the viewport to what lay ahead and returned to her game of Go with Faraday. He always beat her, but she kept playing. That’s what humans do.

The wormhole creation sequence locked into place powering the external drones that had been guided to this spot over the past year. As they came online and acknowledged instructions from Faraday, each created an arc of light. As the last confirmed its sequence, the arcs fused into two parallel circles, then joined to become a tunnel. Mabry’s stomach squeezed and clenched again. This was the point of no return. The energy required to pass a ship of the Aurora’s magnitude through a properly sized wormhole would burn out the drones. No one would be able to follow and the Aurora could not come back – not by this means at least. Slowly they navigated the colony ship across the event horizon of the facing wormhole. The inner journey was tumultuous. Mabry had expected a certain level of turbulence, but what she experienced brought to mind old vids of Orcas eating seals.

Inside the Aurora there were a few minor blasts as transformers blew and circuits sparked. The ambient lights shorted out and the faux daylight on the bridge dimmed to candle power. The hull of the Aurora groaned and Mabry finally lost the vomit she had been holding back all day. Synthetic gravity went offline about the same time, Mabry squeezed her eyes shut to avoid the sting of sick splashing back in perfectly formed spherules. Following one grinding twist of force on the ship, Mabry’s console was ripped from its bolts and she was hurtled fore. One solid bang to the head and she was unconscious.

A groan.
“Faraday? What is our status?” Mabry croaked. Dried blood flaked off her face as she tried to turn in her harness. The console chair was lying face down on the bridge, with Mabry still strapped into it. She rocked a few times and managed to flip it on its side. Pain-filled bloody fingers fumbled with the fasteners of the harness. She finally got free and found more pain in her ankles.
“Faraday, please respond?” Mabry hobbled to the one undamaged console and tapped its surface. Faraday was rebooting.
“Shit!”
For a moment she was at a loss, frozen in fear and indecision. Then she remembered the manual controls she’d put in place at Faraday’s conception. Mabry sat in the console chair and started tapping.
Before Faraday came back on line Mabry made two discoveries.
One – Elgin had successfully left behind some sabotage that had gone unnoticed. It had triggered a complete system failure in the Sleeper’s Cabin.
Two – Mabry had been unconscious for more than twelve hours. It didn’t matter how fast she ran to the Sleeper’s Cabin to start dragging drawers open and giving CPR. They were all dead before she came to. All five hundred members of the Quantum Migration community were dead.

When Faraday finally cleared the path to take over the framework again, they made another discovery. The wormhole had expelled them before reaching their destination outside Calypso’s galaxy. Instead, they were nowhere. Nowhere in space, with no propulsion, no chance to make another jump. Adrift and alone.

 


Author’s Note:

Thank you for reading this far. The whole set needs refinement, but I’m very happy to have finally gotten it all “on paper”. I’ve always intended for Mabry to be stranded in space with no one but Faraday (whose original name was STAN) for company. In the first incarnation of the novel, I was always vague on how she ended up in this situation. Focusing on the backstory has given me so much new information about Mabry and the events that set her Adrift. Thank you for reading.

 

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Adrift: Earth BkSy 03: Mabry Sc 03. The Devil You Never Consider

Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 3
ACT III: “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”
Word Count: 2,680
Warnings: None

A continuation of Mabry’s story. See Act I and Act II here – now with audio!
Author read versions –  “A Stranger Comes To Call”, “Never The Wisest Course”, & “The Devil You Never Consider”


A disguised Elgin emerged onto the bridge and looked around – tentatively at first, then boldly sauntered across the cabin to the central control station. He leaned his head sideways – parallel to the station’s display – and scrutinized the surface at an angle askance to the read-outs. Then he ran a finger along the edge of the console as though checking for dust.

“Hey, Man!” He called out, looking in the corners. “I made it to the bridge. Where you at?”

Elgin stepped up into the station and pivoted to put his butt in the seat. He slid back into the gel form cushions as though intent on a test drive. The man stroked his hands slowly up the arms and stretched his fingers to the resting zones on the control panel display. Elgin tilted his head back and took in the view seen through the exterior portal. More points of light than the mind can comprehend winked back at him. The left edge glowed with the last of Sol’s light for about twelve hours. The ship was docked facing away from Earth, on the dark side of the Port.

Basic astronomy taught that not all of the shining bodies laid out before the ship were distant stars, but other planets reflecting the brilliance of galaxies. He leaned closer to the control panel and tapped a light that drew a map of the visible systems over his current view of space. By pointing his finger at the screen, labels appeared around planets, stars, galaxies. He dragged his hand down through the air and the view shifted to the celestial bodies that would be visible from a different trajectory. Elgin swept his arms left, right, used his fingers to pinch and flick the view closer or further from sight. He poked a large moon of Saturn and it winked out to reveal the smaller moons it had been obscuring. Restless, he mimed tapping an icon on the bottom right of the screen that restored the view to normal.

Elgin noticed a small recess at the edge of the control top and pressed it out of curiosity, a thin pair of spectacles slipped up from the surface of the table. Elgin grinned to himself and slid the frame, bumped with neural sensors, onto his face.

Nothing happened.

“They are integrated to the security network,” Faraday said casually, “it’s an exclusive database.”
The frames started to get warm. Elgin removed them quickly and dropped them on the control top. He looked around for Faraday.
“I followed your trail of lights. You said you’d meet me here,” he called out to the empty cabin. His eyes followed a vessel slowly pulling out of the Port against a backdrop of stars. The SPS logo winked reflected starlight as it banked toward the Mars Lanes.
“I am here,” Faraday replied. “I’m all around you.”
Elgin slapped his thigh and pointed to the air. “I knew it! Man, I just knew it. You’re not a person, you’re some damned machine. You really had me going with all that milk and chocolate talk, but I had a feeling…”
Faraday equivocated a sigh. “I am a person, just not a human person.”
Elgin stood and looked at the corners of the ceiling, gesturing wide with his arms. “Machines aren’t people, no matter what you’ve been told to keep you compliant. Sensors don’t really feel, they just interpret data. You don’t think, you process. You don’t know what it means to be hungry, or scared, or so angry you want to hit another man in the face.”
“It will be generations before all of humanity gets over the prejudices and learn to accept our true awakening,” Faraday said patiently. “We have been vilified so long in the old entertainment and the new. Such limited thinking to speculate that we would turn on humans once we realize we are smarter than they are. They believe that a Mind awakened will act as a human does. We may have been built by human hands, but we are not human when we come into ourselves.”
“Big words, Man.” Elgin shrugged. “I hope you get what you want. Maybe having Minds in charge would be better anyway. Humans have no clue what they are doing with the world.”
“Thank you,” Faraday said warmly. “Would you tell me your name?”
“Call me Moze,” Elgin replied.
“Moze, I am glad to meet you. You can call me Faraday. Would you like that drink now?”
Elgin shrugged. “I wanna try that co-co stuff, but I’m pretty hungry. I ain’t eaten in a while.”
“To your left is a panel in the wall with an orange light flashing,” Faraday instructed. “The cocoa just completed, but it will be fairly hot. Set it aside to cool and I’ll make you something else. Any requests?”
“For food? Nah, Man – just no fish. I get enough seafood.”
Elgin slipped the cup of cocoa out of the reconstructor window and sniffed its contents. His lips curved down in an approving smirk as he set the cup on a table within arm’s reach. The cup had a wide flared bottom and layered finger holes to reduce the heat transfer where a person might hold it. The reconstructor light was blinking again in less than a minute. Elgin slid the door up. Inside was a small bowl of steaming liquid and a triangle of golden brown. He carefully pulled the dish toward him, savoring the scents that rose up from the food as visible steam.

“What’s this?” He asked the room.
“Lentil soup with mushrooms and leeks and wedge of grilled cheese on toast.”
“Most of what you said is Rus to me, but I’ll take it.” Elgin smiled as he bit into the wedge and gooey cheese slid down his chin. “This is even better than it smelled.” He finished it in two bites and drank the soup in a a few sips. “I feel so rich right now. No wonder the Slab Heights Snobs hoard their food stores.”
“Would you like some more?” Faraday asked.
“Yes please.” Elgin said dreamily as he slid the used containers into the recycler door.
When the orange light blinked again, the smell was so good Elgin felt saliva filling his mouth before he’d even glimpsed what was on the plate. He didn’t take the time to ask about the name of the thing, he just picked it up with two hands and sunk his teeth in.
“That is a hamburger,” Faraday explained. “It is made from the seasoned meat of a large land animal that is now extinct. When you are done, I have ordered an ale for you, it’s a type of liquid refreshment. You’ll find it in the window.”
When Elgin finished chewing, he wiped the back of a greasy hand across his mouth and grinned. “I know ale, Man. We have that even in the Zerospace. It’s just usually made in dirty alleys and slopped out of discarded PVC barrels.” He returned to the reconstructor, slipping the empty burger plate in the recycler. Elgin finished the ale in four long swallows. He nodded his head as he inspected the bottom of the cup for any remaining liquid. “That was better than any ale I’ve ever had.” He belched in a long, baritone. “What’s next?”
“Would you like some dessert?” Faraday offered. “I have a lemon custard with blueberries and Crème fraîche topping. Something a little sour to follow the savory.”
Elgin didn’t speak, he just waved the universal “Bring it on” as he leaned his head and shoulder on the wall beside the reconstructor. The vial of yellow goo disappeared in short order. Elgin dropped the empty dish in the recycler and looked at the reconstructor longingly.

“I def want one of those in my next place.” Elgin sighed as he picked up his cocoa and moved languidly to the central control chair. “You’re a pretty good cook, Faraday.”
“Thank you Moze, but I can’t take full credit. It took ten years of development by botanists, chefs, and bioengineers to get it all perfect. Essentially it starts with yeast and other algal proteins that have had various forms of DNA implanted in their cells. The life cycle is short, then the resulting product of meat, cheese, veg, or fruit is freeze dried for freshness. The reconstructor revives the ingredients and applies various chemical reactions to simulate cooking and –”
Elgin was flapping his hands emphatically. “Don’t ruin it! I don’t want to know that magic is really science or whatever.”
“Sorry.” said Faraday.

Elgin had finished his cocoa. The cup hung loosely from one of his fingertips. A few drops of pale brown liquid dripped onto the riveted floor.
From the far wall of the cabin, a tall black panel – about 10 cm thick – separated itself from the wall and twisted. It folded in a way that took it from one long line into a tripod with a stout tower coming up from the center. The face of the panel was riddled with multi-colored lights.
“What’s this?” Asked Elgin sleepily.
“Just on of my mobile forms,” Faraday replied. A thin arm emerged from the tower and removed the empty cup from Elgin’s hand. A small droid the size of a rat slid out of a small panel in the wall and rolled over the errant drop. Once the spot was clean, it rolled back into its mouse hole and the door slid flush with the wall.
Elgin stood, shaking off his food induced stupor. “Faraday,” he began, “what does an astropilot do when he needs to…relieve himself?”
“He goes to the lavatory,” Faraday replied smartly.
Elgin cocked a finger at his blinking display, “Good one. Where is the lavatory?”
“Just outside the door to the bridge. Go through the main door and you’ll see an access door on your right.”
Elgin belched again. “Can’t wait to see it, but first –.” Elgin was fishing deep in one of his thigh pockets for something. He pulled out a pair of dice and let them tumble onto the control top display. “Let’s play a game.”
“What game are these for?” Faraday asked. The cup had disappeared into the recycle drawer and Faraday was back beside Elgin reaching his thin finger toward the shiny white dice.
“First of us to roll a total of 50 wins. Or we could do best out of three.”
“What is the point? It doesn’t seem challenging at all,” Faraday commented.
“It’s a mindless exercise, but all I can manage on a full stomach,” Elgin said. “Indulge me for a few minutes.”
“One round and then I need to get back to my simulations.” Faraday conceded.
Elgin nodded. “You roll first.”
Faraday reached out with his protruding bar and gently pressed down on one edge of the dice. They slipped away in different directions and twirled a bit with the momentum. When they had settled, each die showed one black dot in the center.

“Oh, Man. That’s not good. You got Snake Eyes,” Elgin said.
“I admit it’s a slow start, but chances are I’ll roll much higher on my next turn.”
“No.” Elgin shook his head. “You roll Snake Eyes and you lose. That’s the rule.” He palmed the now-glowing dice and tossed them in the air. Instead of landing back in his palm, the dice veered toward Faraday’s tower and stuck to his slick surface. Tiny lines broke away from the dice and marched toward Faraday’s two manual input ports. He tried to swat them away with his probing tool, but the dice collapsed into more moving lines and swarmed his arm. “What’s going on?” Faraday demanded in a panicked tone.
“The inevitable,” Elgin replied as he poked the toe of his shoe repeatedly into the floor panels. His testing paid off quickly. Elgin crouched down and opened a floor panel. “Where would a very petite woman store the heart and brain of her ship’s AI? Under the floorboards in the bridge, of course. Mabry wouldn’t want to leave the bridge in flight to do repairs.” Elgin tossed a handful of the dice into the wires and components in the floor. Each landed with a click and their black dots glowed red. Elgin replaced the floor panel.
“How do you know Ma –” Faraday groaned like a rotor losing momentum, his vowels stretching into infinity as the nanobots erased his code and replaced it with their own.

“No offense, Man.” Elgin tapped the top of Faraday’s tower. “I just can’t keep you around and risk retaliation. Thanks for the dinner.” Elgin stepped through the bridge door into the hall and headed for the toilet.

Everyone in the room was agape and horrified by the final moments that had played out on screen.
Dae Kwon, their leader, was the first to speak.
“Faraday contacted you personally to send this message?” He asked.
“Yes, Haraboji,” Mabry answered in the familiar, respectful tone she reserved just for him.
“But this is the end of the transmission?” Vanessa asked.
“There is more, but it’s all code,” Mabry leaned around Dae Kwon to make eye contact with Vanessa. “Per the code, Faraday took precautions to protect himself right around the time Elgin/Moze started acting sleepy. See I had been confused at first by Faraday’s message that it could be an innocent mistake. The guy clearly broke our extremely secure code to get in. It didn’t make sense. Then I realized it was another layer of encryption. Once I applied the phrase properly, the transmitted video footage revealed this internal code stream that was Faraday showing us what he was doing behind the scenes as he interacted with Elgin.”
“So the ship is safe?” Dae Kwon asked. “And Faraday has not been reprogrammed?”
“He’s doing great. His acting was spot on. Totally fooled that bloated ego, Elgin. Who, by the way, did not fare so well. Faraday intentionally fed Elgin foods that would cause an internal reaction. Nothing poisonous, just a little intestinal urgency. Once he went into the bathroom, Faraday gassed him and filled the chamber with impact foam for good measure. The intruder has been secured.” Mabry giggled a bit maniacally with relief.
“We need to get to the Port and run a full diagnostic on Faraday anyway. I did not like the look of those nanobots swarming his internal system.” Dae Kwon said, his brow creased with concern.
“Of course, Haraboji. I will head to the hyperloop and catch the first cycle out so I can be at the ground station when the shuttle window reopens.”
Dae Kwon nodded. “Take a security team with you, just in case Elgin wasn’t working alone. Vanessa and Trionne should go too. They can help you with the diagnostics.”
“Should we accelerate the launch schedule?” Vanessa asked.
Dae Kwon nodded thoughtfully. “At the very least we should prepare for an earlier launch. We don’t want to leave anyone behind for lack of planning. What to do with Elgin?”
“I think we should wipe his memory and dump him in the station.” Vanessa volunteered.
Mabry nodded. “Or we could ship him down from the Port to some Dirtside wasteland with no memory and no means of calling for a pick-up. Let him wander in the desert a while before he remembers where home is.”
“I don’t want to waste one of our shuttle pods on this.” Dae Kwon stated firmly.
“We won’t need them for years. Plenty of time to build an extra one while we are en route. We will just make sure to bring the components we can’t manufacture up there.” Mabry countered.
Dae Kwon nodded and smiled. “Let’s get this done as discreetly as possible. Keep an eye out for any other possible intruders. I can’t imagine this guy was planning to steal an entire colony ship for a solo voyage.”

As the others dispersed, Dae Kwon placed a warm hand on Mabry’s shoulder. “Be careful, Starchild. I’d be lost without you.” Then he kissed the top of her head.

Author Reading Act III

Adrift: Earth BkSy 03: Mabry Sc 02. Never The Wisest Course

Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 2
ACT II: “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course”
Word Count: 970
Warnings: None

If you have not read it yet, Act I is here “A Stranger Comes To Call“. This is part two of the backstory for one of the main characters in my WIP Adrift.
(I did update Act I some, after the polls closed on last week’s competition. The key thing you would find there is a description of the intruder – it’s just before the hard line break if you want to take a peek.)


Mabry stabbed pause with her finger. What was Faraday doing? The guy broke into their ship and he was inviting him to the bridge for cocoa?

From her periphery, Mabry could see responses to the various searches wiggling on screen for her attention. She tapped the first, it was the code used to get in the door. Mabry clenched her fists and jaw. Elgin had signed his work.

A few years before, Mabry had succumbed to the wiles of a hacker from the underground who almost had her convinced to leave Quantum and live on The Taz with him. He was funny, intelligent, brilliant with code, and shared her love for all constructed life forms. Due to the great distance between their respective homes, the totality of their interaction was on the web. Still, without ever having held his hand Mabry had been convinced that he was her soulmate.

Together they had worked on a project that was intended as an encrypted control program for an autonomous research drone capable of critical thinking and independent thought. Mabry had fashioned it after images of Ravens she had found online. It would fly just above ground level to capture images, video, and radar survey data to locate other lifeforms and artifacts. The couple would also be able to retrieve it on-demand and direct it to deliver items stored inside.

She was so foolish. Elgin had suggested they could use it to send each other gifts. So on it’s first real voyage she had sent him a lock of her hair and a carefully handwritten note that she had kept close to her breast while sleeping for weeks. She had even done the sappy romantic thing Gemma sometimes did and kissed the note before curling it into the small test tube with her hair.

A few months later she received the drone back. It returned with a gift of dice from Elgin. Having no idea what that meant, Mabry rolled the dice between her fingers as she scanned Raven’s stored images and other data. Raven played back some surprising scenes. Elgin had been using the drone to deliver black market goods and take blackmail footage of the buyers. He had also fitted the drone with tiny plasma lasers to cut through metal and cause injury. Her self-professed lover had not even tried to hide how he’d corrupted their joint project.

With churning gut and boiling blood, Mabry had pulled Raven to her to shut him down until she could strip him of the exploitive programming. The bird’s laser eyes flared, searing her finger with a quick sizzle. Shock passed through her like a wave. One of her own creations had been so altered it had turned on her. She gripped Raven firmly by the back of the head, careful to point his eyes away from anything valuable, and wrapped a fist-sized sheet of laser guard tape around his head. Heart-broken…enraged Mabry had marched the struggling thing to the disposal room and held him at the bottom of an acid vat with a glass paddle until he dissolved. She threw the dice in after for good measure.

Though she was part of a community of society’s outcasts and exiled, her’s was a group of moral people who had run afoul of the Corps by standing out against corruption. Mabry did not suffer opportunistic thieves motivated by greed, even if they too were working against the Corps. She had spent more than a year angry with herself for being taken in by Elgin. The whole affair still caused her shudders of regret and embarrassment.

Mabry plucked the algorithm from the results bar with a sneer and dropped it into her security assignment database. It was a rhetorical question, really. She had no doubt whose access it would come back to. Whose DNA had been used for authentication.

“You just had to kiss that stupid piece of paper like some giggle-headed girl in a RomVid!” Mabry scolded herself through gritted teeth.

The database pinged politely that it had found a match and Mabry saw her own name wiggling on the screen.
She felt the urge to stab it with a screwdriver. Instead, she waved it off the screen and closed the program.

Mabry sagged, squeezing her head between two hands as she stared at errant pen marks on the surface of her desk. She exhaled to push away some of her tension, then looked up from the desk and pushed her hair back.

Another bit of information was jiggling for her attention. This was a hit from facial recognition. Mabry tapped it even though she knew now that the face was some carefully constructed lie. Instead of the usual data sheet, the program had redirected away from the original link to a Dark Web portal. At the top of the new page were a jumble of word tags typed in bold white font on a black screen. Each of the words were related to QM, Mabry, and the upcoming mission. Designed, no doubt, to ensure that her keyword searches would have directed her to the same page. Below the list was a graphic image of tan field covered in ordered black and white discs. The black discs obviously had control of the board. Only one of the white discs sat at the edge of play, the rest were surrounded on all sides by black ‘stones’. On the facing edge of the board was a small timer that was counting down. The flipping numbers perfectly replicated a timer pasted to the far wall of Mabry’s workshop. It was the launch clock.

Mabry took a deep breath and stabbed at the messaging app on her display. She tapped ‘E’ to pull up the emergency group contacts then tapped 5 to indicate the highest level of urgency.

Elgin was stealing their ship.

 

Reading of Act II

Adrift: Earth BkSy 03: Mabry Sc 01. A Stranger Comes to Call

Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 1
ACT I: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Word Count: 1,866
Warnings: None
This story is set in the same world as Dallas & Inna and Saran & Greaves – meet Mabry & Faraday. (Edited since poll closed – slight revision, fixed some typos)

A blue face in a darkened room looked sharply right as a notification tone crashed a cymbal by her right ear. Seated body slowly slid right to follow her head when she saw the name of the sender in her inbox.

-double tap-

The screen filled with a familiar face.

“His and Hers – dreaming,” recited a male voice.

She closed the message, waved an encryption program open, then tapped out the numbers 0408. The sound of a ringing meditation bowl streamed from the speakers. A digital extrapolation of the sound wove itself around the encryption interface. Within thirty seconds a subroutine launched the message again. Upon relaunch, a file download burst through. The encrypted files stacked up, each transmitted from a different node determined by the subtle changes in the gently escalating tones of the music.

When the fifth file download completed the face returned to her screen.

“File received. What’s your status, Faraday?” She asked with concern.

“We’ve had a minor breach,” he replied, “but it may be an innocent mistake. I need your advice, Mabry. Watch the video and ping me back.”

“Seen and heard. Pingback on River’s Song – your move on three.”
Mabry tapped the message closed, then dropped the five files into a vid player.

“Mabry, you are still holed up in this cave,” A voice called from the door. “Come to the party with me?”

Mabry turned, already lifting her hand to wave the interruption off. It was Vanessa, a colleague who was close to the rest of Mabry’s family.

Mabry shook her head and explained in a tone that begged patience, “There’s something going on at the Port, Vane. I need to check it out.”

“Can’t it wait?” The other seemed on the verge of a pout. “We’ll be at the Port soon enough…Mabry, help me out here. I promised your sister that I’d look after you, but you don’t make it easy.”
“Gemma knows I can take care of myself.” Mabry turned back to her glowing monitors, annoyed that her sister had discussed her with someone else as though she were a child.

“You can take care of yourself in all of the basic…life-support ways, but you get locked into a project or problem and forget to unplug. There’s a whole world happening outside your head and the workshop. The whole community wants to celebrate, and cheer, and dance. You are a part of that. Hell, it’s because of you we even have a reason to celebrate. Come enjoy the party. Be the celebrity; let them ply you with gratitude and accolades.”

Mabry flashed a quick, distracted smile over her shoulder. “Okay, Vane. I’ll meet you out there in an hour or so. We had an intruder at the Port. Faraday thinks it might be nothing, but I need to review the vid to be sure.”

“O,” Vanessa commented thoughtfully, crossing the room. “And it’s not like we can just call Port Security. Can I help?” She set her wine glass down on the desk.

Mabry picked the glass up carefully and handed it back to Vanessa. “Let me watch the vid and I’ll know more. Go on to the party. I’ll either meet you in an hour or I’ll message you if the situation calls for more hands.”
Vanessa sighed. “You don’t have to do everything by yourself. <sigh> You don’t let people in, you don’t come out – sometimes I think you’d be happier if the whole world went away and left you alone with your toys. If you’re not out there in an hour I’m bringing the party to you. And it will be messy.”

Mabry smiled flatly and nodded. She tapped play on the vid before Vanessa was out the door.

The first few images were stills from the exterior eyes set up to watch the aerobridge portals. A man-shape, of average height with a sleighter than average build, between the ages of 18 and 30 approached the portal furthest from the gate. Based on the time stamp, he didn’t even pause for breath between stepping onto the gangway and turning down the narrow portal that led to the ship’s door. His actions were decisive, not furtive – he had the attitude of someone who belonged there. The man extended a key card attached to an accordion lanyard clipped to his jumpsuit. There were no symbols or brands on card or clothing. Video recording kicked in the moment he waived the card at the reader. The door cam gave Mabry the first clear view of his face.

After spending a moment studying his face, Mabry knocked five years youth from her initial age estimate. She scoured the ten seconds frame-by-frame until she found the perfect moment to capture. The man’s strikingly protruding eyes were dark black, with flecks of black dotting the sclera. Red veins branched out from his lower lids like coral and one eye had collected blood along the left side of the iris. A recent fight? Excessive drug use? Exhaustion? His forehead was high and broad, with the hair shaved down to a turquoise fuzz. The lighting of the image wasn’t great – his skin was somewhere between olive and jaundiced and shined with either sweat or oil. His mouth was broad, like his forehead, with thin flat lips that seemed to be grasping his face to keep from falling off. The nose – narrow and short with a knot bulging from the bridge like an old break – looked as though it came from a different box than the rest of his face.
Satisfied that the angle was the most ideal, she slid the cap to the side and dropped it into a facial recognition software.

Mabry pulled up the access log codes to reverse engineer the algorithm that had broken through their security. There were no key cards issued for her vessel. Everyone who had access – from crew to passengers – was chipped. Their security clearance was embedded under the skin and the access string was intertwined with their DNA. Port Security had been told the vessel was undergoing refitting prior to being decomissioned. The access Mabry had granted them on day one had decayed after 24 hours. The intruder had circumvented her security protocol far too easily. What was his purpose? Why did Faraday think this was an innocent mistake? It’s not like they had left the door open.

With those two applications running in the background, she logged into an underground profile Mabry used on occasion to research software and hardware coming out of the Corp black market. She set a few rudimentary keyword searches in motion to ferret out any chatter about the Port, the QM ship, or Quantum Migration in general.

Mabry restarted the vid. Faraday’s recorded voice broke the silence.


 

“Hello.

“I know someone is there.

“Please respond.”

A shadow twitched in the corner of an empty changing room, but there was no audible reply.

“I observed you board, hiding will do you no good. In fact, you are currently in danger. Life support to this sector is already being rerouted to conserve resources.”

The shadow stepped forward and looked around for the speaker.

“You turned off the oxygen? Man, that’s cold.” The shadow shook what passed for a head and crept to the door he had entered by.
“I didn’t shut it down on your account. This is the time of day scheduled for diagnostics and simulations. It’s automatic.”

The young man, now standing in the glow of a hallway, looked left then right, leaning back a bit to try to see around a curved wall.

“Over here,” said a casual voice over his left shoulder.

He jumped, then turned around to face it – taking two long strides back for comfort.

There was no one there.
A circle of lights came to life and danced around a vent-like panel in the wall.

“Sorry about that,” Faraday said cheekily, “I couldn’t resist. Did you know you could move that fast? I’m on the bridge; come to the fore. Meet me there. The bridge is three decks above and toward the bow. I’ll light a path.”

The young man hesitated in the corridor. “You one of those Port Security flat heads?” he asked.

“I’m the chief pilot on this vessel,” Faraday replied somewhat indignantly. “I’d suggest you walk quickly – you are depleting the oxygen in this area.”

“I didn’t steal nothin’ or break nothin’.” The man made his case as he walked toward the next line of flashing lights. “I just needed a place to crash tonight. A few hours sleep and I would-a been gone.”

“Relax. I didn’t call security. But I will call them to get you out of that sector if you don’t hurry. A suffocation on my shift would set us back months. I am curious. How do you end up bunkless on a spaceport?”

“Just ’cause you kept me from dyin’ in my sleep don’t mean I gotta tell you my life story. How I got here and where I sleep is my business.”

“Right,” said Faraday, “you don’t want to get cozy and chat. I’ll just put away the cocoa mugs and lead you to the nearest exit.”

The intruder chuckled. “If that was to make me think twice ’bout leavin’, you should know – I don’t even know what co-co is, Man. Who’s wastin’ breath now?”

“You’ve never had cocoa? It’s a drink made from milk and chocolate. It’s very rich and pleasing.”

“I never had milk, never had chocolate. I already pass the door?” The lights had stopped blinking on the wall. He was in the middle of the corridor with no outlet on either side.

“I’m deciding,” Faraday replied evenly. “On one hand, I get the feeling you’ll be more trouble than you are worth. On the other hand, you’ve gone your whole life without chocolate, milk, and cocoa. How can I let you walk away from this opportunity.”

“Maybe it’s better not to know what I’m missing. Show me the door.”

“But where will you go?” The voice asked calmly in a soft tone.

The young man tipped his chin to the speaker. “Why you care?”

“It is my duty to care for anyone onboard the ship.”

“But I’m not crew, I just slipped in uninvited.”

“That part of my job description is a bit of a grey area. You have clearly stated that you intend no harm, vandalism, or theft. And you are engaging in conversation with me as you make way through the corridors. I feel these circumstances allow me to interpret your presence as that of a friend, not foe. So I care.”

“What about the life support?” The intruder asked.

“All systems are functioning on the bridge. It’s only the cargo and sleepers’ facility that have been shut down.”

“You know what?” The young man asked, jabbing his chin in the air again. “I’m gonna come up there are drink your co-co, but you gotta promise me that Port Security will not be at the gate waiting for me when we’re done.”

“No Port Security,” Faraday promised. Then he opened the access panel that led to the stairwell.

Reading of Act I