Ghost Star Snippet Two

If you haven’t read snippet one, you can find it here.  Ghost Star goes live on September 1st.  Here’s snippet two of Ghost Star:

“I can’t believe you stole a ship!” Rory shook his head, looking between Lieutenant Medica and Forrest Perkins. “There should be a law against that, right?”

“Several,” Feliks nodded, “especially for interrupting our work.”

“Explain to me again, why exactly you’re aboard?” Forrest asked rubbing his face tiredly.

“I already told your jack-booted accomplices!” Rory protested. “We’re calibrating some sensitive equipment…”

What equipment?!” Forrest demanded.

“Uh,” Rory looked at Feliks, “I don’t think we’re authorized to tell you.” Yet the expression of the short, overweight man was one of worry. He looked as if he were afraid that they might find something out.

“Your schedule didn’t show you here,” Forrest mused aloud. “You were aboard the ship at two in the morning, standard time. You had no assistants, nothing was scheduled…” His eyes went narrow, “You were doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing, weren’t you?”

“How does he know that?” Rory waved at Feliks, “He’s not supposed to be smart enough to know that!”

“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Feliks muttered.

“Right!” Rory nodded and raised a fist, “We don’t have to tell you anything! You’re the criminals, here! We won’t be bullied!”

“Setting aside some issues with that,” Forrest said. “If you assume that we are criminals…. what is to stop us from venting you out an airlock if you don’t tell us what we want to know?”

“You wouldn’t,” Rory’s eyes went big. He looked over at Lieutenant Medica for support, but the engineering officer folded his arms and scowled. From what Forrest had heard, the Lieutenant had plenty of pent up irritation with the two men.

“Corporal Wicklund,” Forrest pressed a button on the arm of the command chair, “Please ready your ship’s suit and come up to the bridge. There’s a little detail I have for you to take care of.”

“Okay, okay!” Rory sputtered. “It’s not really that big of a secret. It’s just that, well, Feliks and I got a message from one of our friends, working for General Shaden.”

“She’s not really a friend,” Feliks commented. “Rory thinks she’s cute.”

“She is cute,” Rory snapped. “And she was bragging about how they’ve made adjustments to their ship’s drives that lets psychics screen the vessel’s signatures, sort of a psionic screen that makes it harder for the Balor to target them…”

“And?” Forrest asked.

“Well, it got Feliks and I to wondering if this ship’s active stealth system might do something similar, if those mystery aliens we’ve encountered might have telepathic abilities, which was why they weren’t able to see this ship at all.”

“Yes,” Feliks nodded, and blinked, his eyes big behind his thick glasses. “After you fired on the enemy ship, it should have been able to track your weapons fire back and engage you, but it didn’t.”

“I know that,” Forrest said, “I assumed their active sensors just weren’t good enough to pick us up, even at that range.”

“No, see that doesn’t make any sense, not after what we’ve seen of their other capabilities!” Rory protested. “Look, their weapons fire is extremely accurate, their systems, despite being made with human components, are at least a generation ahead of anything we can make. We’ve gone under the assumption that their radar systems, based off the emissions we’ve seen, are just very sophisticated, which aids their accuracy. But what if that’s not the case at all? What if their radar emissions are just a spoof, so that we don’t realize they’re psionic?”

Forrest frowned, “Why would they do that?”

Feliks and Rory looked at one another, “Seriously, he’s this dense? No wonder he got captured…” Forrest felt a spike of rage as they made light of the ambush that had killed his last command and over a hundred of his crew.

“Explain,” Forrest snapped, “now.”

Fine,” Rory rolled his eyes. “Look, we’ve assumed until now that any kind of ansible interception must be done through some technological means. But that’s impossible.”

“Highly improbable,” Feliks interrupted.

“Yes, well, it would be like intercepting a single photon in a star system and determining its energy state without preventing it from reaching its destination, only far, far harder,” Rory said. “These are transmissions beamed through shadow space. To intercept them, either you’d need machinery that senses things through shadow space and can detect, intercept, and re-transmit communications faster than real-time or…”

“Or you would need someone capable of sensing things in shadow space without altering the state of whatever they’re sensing,” Feliks finished. “Which would imply a psychic ability, as yet never-before-seen. Which these aliens might be capable of… and if they can do that, then they could also possess other psionic abilities, such as senses powerful enough to use to target enemy ships.”

Forrest sat back in his command chair. “That’s… that’s an interesting assumption.”

“Yes. It would suggest that the active emissions we’ve picked up from their vessels are a further byproduct of their low-shielded reactors rather than being active sensors. So we were studying the ship’s stealth systems and comparing it to the stealth systems aboard one of the modified combat shuttles the Dreyfus Mutineers possessed, to see if we could detect the modification and what frequencies it might operate upon.”

That explains the combat shuttle docked in our internal launch bay. There hadn’t been any such craft aboard when Forrest had stolen the vessel from Marius Giovanni. “Well?” Forrest asked.

Rory looked at Feliks. Neither spoke for a long moment, “Well, our results are as yet inconclusive, however, we estimate a thirty percent–”

“Ten percent at most,” Feliks muttered.

“Really, that low?” Rory asked. He pursed his lips, “Well, a twenty percent possibility that the modifications performed on this vessel by the people you hijacked it from the first time, were designed to screen it from psionic senses… and that they were done by the people who captured you… the people who planned to use the ship against these unknown aliens before you stole it.”

“What’s the other eighty percent chance?” Lieutenant Medica asked.

“Oh, uh,” Rory looked at Feliks, who shrugged, “That’s the likelihood that they didn’t understand the systems well enough and that their modifications didn’t work as intended. Either way, it has the same result. We think this ship would be completely invisible to any psychic senses. It would be like it didn’t exist!”

“It isn’t perfect,” Feliks interjected. “There will be ways that a psychic could locate it if they knew it was present, but it is still an unprecedented achievement.”

“Okay,” Forrest mused, “so they modified this ship and now those mystery aliens can’t see it and it is still very hard to detect to almost everyone else…” He looked at Lieutenant Medica. This didn’t really change much, if anything.   “Can we dump them at Formosa Station?”

The engineering officer scowled at the two scientists. “I’m not sure they’d survive.”

Rory’s back went straight, “I’ll have you know that I can take care of myself–”

“Formosa Station,” Forrest interrupted, “is an independent station sometimes frequented by pirates and slavers. I’m assuming you have no hard currency on you?”

As Rory and Feliks shook their heads, Forrest sighed, “We have some, but probably not enough to buy you passage back to the United Colonies. Certainly not enough to pay for passage on a trustworthy vessel. An untrustworthy captain might sell you into slavery… or just steal everything you own and dump you out an airlock.”

“Uh, maybe we should stay aboard the ship,” Rory looked over at Feliks.

“That seems to be the better option,” Feliks nodded.

“We don’t have enough people aboard to babysit you,” Lieutenant Medica growled. Forrest winced at the reminder. They had ten people to operate the destroyer. Normally that would have made the task impossible. However, the Widowmaker was heavily automated, so the skeleton crew could manage, if only barely. At least, until serious maintenance issues came due, anyway. Lieutenant Medica went on after a moment, “We can’t afford to have you getting in the way at the last minute and getting us all killed.”

“We can be helpful!” Rory protested. “We’ve been studying the ship’s systems, we know far more about the stealth systems and how they interact with the rest of the vessel’s systems than you could have learned in your time aboard.”

Forrest pursed his lips, “Fine, it isn’t as if we have many options. You stay aboard… but if you get in the way, or if Lieutenant Medica says you’re a nuisance or risk, we’ll drop you at the first port.” In reality, he knew the two men were too valuable to risk them, but he didn’t have many options. Hopefully they’d stay out of the way and be somewhat useful. Forrest almost wanted to turn around and drop them off in United Colonies territory, but there was too much risk that word would have gone out about the theft of the ship.

“Of course,” Rory nodded, “We’ll be very helpful, not a worry at all… uh, by the way, why are we going to this pirate station?”

“There’s a rumor that some of Marius Giovanni’s people might resupply at the station,” Forrest said. “And we’re trying to track them down.”

“Wait,” Rory looked at Feliks, “isn’t that the guy…”

“Yes,” Feliks nodded, “he’s related to the new Nova Roman Emperor, correct?”

“He’s Emperor Lucius Giovanni’s father… or a clone of his father, anyway,” Forrest shrugged. “More importantly to our business, he’s the father of Alannis Giovanni, and for that reason I’m hoping that she’s still alive.”

“I’m confused,” Rory said. “We saw the footage, the shuttle she was aboard was destroyed at Kapteyn’s Star. I don’t see how it would be possible for her to have survived.”

“There’s a chance,” Lieutenant Medica said, “that she’s still alive. The Skipper thinks it wasn’t really her aboard the shuttle.”

“Why on Earth…” Rory shook his head, “What logical reason would you have to think that? I mean, Reese Leone wanted to take control of the Enforcer Platform. We have transmissions from him as he tried to dock with the station. We searched the planet below. All his people said he was aboard the shuttle along with Princess Giovanni. What evidence do you have to prove otherwise?”

“Little things,” Forrest snapped. It felt good to speak about it to someone who wasn’t inclined to believe him. The intelligence branch people he’d briefed had looked at him like he was crazy. The nine members of his former crew who he’d talked into helping him were already loyal to him, they trusted his judgment. Rory and Feliks were about as impartial as he could expect anyone to be. “She didn’t address me by my first name, she and Reese didn’t bring up my relationship with her, just… little things.”

“Wait, you were in a relationship with the princess?” Rory demanded. He shook his head, “Great… this is about a girl. He stole a unique, irreplaceable, and priceless, warship because of a girl.”

“Women,” Feliks nodded somberly.   “Women ruin everything.”

***

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