INT- DAY – Starship liner dining room
Helton sits at a table with a half-dozen other passengers. Dinner is being served. A couple of tables over near the door, Bipasha is also being served, studiously ignoring him. At her table seem to be a collection of dignitaries, with fancy clothes and a couple in some sort of uniform. Light Bollywood-bluegrass music plays in the background, and there is chatter filling the air as well. A uniformed ships officer comes into the room, looks about, walks by Bipasha and goes up to Helton, and leans forward to whisper into his ear.
Purser: Helton Strom?
Purser: If you could please come with me – the Captain would like an urgent word with you.
Helton stands up and follows him out of the room. As they pass Bipasha’s seat, Helton leans over to whisper to her
Helton: (dead-pan) Captain wants me. Very important.
Bipasha glares at him for a moment, then turns back to her meal and studiously ignores him as he walks away.
Walking down a star-liner passageway, small, faded, and worn looking.
The Purser and Helton walk side by side. The purser looks frightened, or at least nervous.
Purser: You are a Plataean diplomatic military attache, yes?
Helton: Sort of, technically, yes.
Purser: Attached to the Plataean military advisory on Newoz?
Helton: Only temporarily, in a manner of speaking.
Purser: We have a situation, and you are the only active military or diplomatic representative on board, so the Captain would like to consult with you before doing anything final.
Helton: I’m not sure if I’m really qualified to-
Purser: I’m sure he’d value ANY ideas you might have. And PLEASE don’t tell any of the passengers about this.
Helton: About WHAT?
Purser: I’d best let the captain explain, sir.
INT – day – star-liner bridge
A spacious command center, with a half dozen seated personnel, and a couple more standing. The captain sits in the large central command chair. A large, bearded man that looks like he could be imposing if he wanted to, but now looks worried. He rises and shakes Helton’s hand as he approaches.
Liner Capt: Mr Strom, glad you came.
Helton: Please explain what’s going on.
Liner Capt: Yes. A short while ago, one of our sensor techs picked up an odd signal. Our thermals and some others sensors are down, and on the wave-lengths we CAN get it’s very faint, and it looks like it might be a ship running silent.
Liner Capt: It looks to be on an intercept course.
Helton:… I see. So what do you want me to do about it?
Liner Capt: You know about military matters, and the Plataeans are notorious in their fighting effectiveness, so I though I should consult with you before I did anything…
Helton: I’m not sure if you have the right person, but…. How long to intercept?
Scanner Tech: It looks like about an hour and a half.
Helton: Can you put a trajectory diagram on-screen?
Scanner Tech: Yes, sir. There.
A position diagram with a pair of converging arcs pop up on the main screen.
Helton: How long until we can transition FTL?
Captain: About two hours.
Helton: So anything that even delays them well should help… Hmmmm… Looks like they are coming in from outside, so if we veer away, we go down that gas giant grav-well, so then they have more time to catch us. Relative acceleration?
Scanner Tech: They look to have about twice our legs.
Helton: Looks like they are working a good plan. Do you have anything specific on-board that they might be after?
Liner captain: Ahem… uh…
Purser: A shipment of Plataean goods in sealed containers, which is why we thought of you. We though YOU might know about it.
Helton: OK, that might complicate things. Any ship-to-ship weapons?
Liner Capt: Oh, NO, of course not! That would void our insurance policy!
Helton: Based on my experience, I’d say that a good defense is worth more than a paper policy.
Liner Capt: But we cannot violate the terms of our insurance contract!
Helton: Leaving you stuck with asking me for help. Great. Just great.
Helton looks around the bridge. Everyone seems to be studiously watching screens or going about their work, except one guy watching him nervously out of the corner of his eye. Helton bites his lip and looks at everyone closely. They all have perfectly fitting uniforms, except the nervous guy, tugging at his a bit to adjust it.
Helton: Any other cargo of note, or crew changes recently?
Liner Capt: All pretty ordinary, and we always have a few newer crew members, it seems.
Helton: Any new techs or bridge crew?
Purser: Just him. (points to nervous guy)
Helton: Who’s the comm tech?
A middle-aged lady off to the side raises her hand.
Helton: How tight a beam, and what kind of power can you put on him?
CommTech: Narrowest beam is bit more than one arc-second. We could pump that up to about four kilowatts.
Helton: THAT ought’a warm their coffee. Good… can you aim well enough to nail him center-beam?
CommTech: Maybe, sir. No problem if we widen to two or three arc-seconds.
Helton: Do that. But no missiles or beam weapons?
Liner Capt: Nothing but anti-debris micro-lasers.
Helton: Well, then, I guess we’ll have to go with plan A. Which is a long shot, but it’s the only plan that comes to mind. Watch him (nods to the Nervous Guy), make sure he doesn’t touch ANYTHING until I get back. And get security in here. If you can quietly post security at any point that has access to the air system, that would be a good idea, too.
Helton turns and walks off the bridge.
INT – DAY – Starship liner dining room
Helton walk in, and heads for the table where Bipasha sits, with the purser right behind him. He goes and stands right behind/between two well dressed people, a man and woman, with fancy clothes. The man wears a sash with several medals on it. She has a very nice flashy star/cross broach. The next man over has a high-peaked cap with a fancy insignia on it, and a decorative aiguillette. Bipasha looks up and glares at him.
Helton: I’m really terribly sorry to bother you, but a situation has come up and I really need your help for just a few minutes. Could you three come with us, please?
Rich Lady: Is there a problem?
Helton: No, not really, but – it’s complicated. It’ll just take a few minutes of your time.
Purser: If you could help us out, I’m sure the Captain would be ever so grateful.
Sash Man: A favor for the captain? Certainly!
They get up, and walk out with Helton and the Purser
Cut to the bridge
Helton walks in, now dressed with the sash, dress jacket, aiguillette, fancy broach like it’s a medal, and peaked cap, looking for all the world like a serious military man. The captain looks at him in surprise.
Helton: Still have a fix on them?
CommTech: Yes, sir.
Helton: OK. I want you to put the beam on them, start at low power and ramp up fast to full. Then, put me on the beam, so they can see me and only me on their screens.
CommTech: Yes, sir. Ramping up now.
Helton sits down in the captains chair, looking at the main screen.
CommTech: Full power now. If they didn’t fry everything, they’ll see you… NOW.
Helton: (serious bad-ass voice and attitude) This is Space Colonel Strom, of the Plataean 3rd Expeditionary Force, to the unidentified ship. We can see you are on an intercept course. Either change course, NOW, or I’ll be forced to have the space marines on board break out the hardware that you are after, load them into the message drone launch tubes, and give you an up-close and personal view of what a ten kiloton detonation looks like. It’s not JUST expensive food down there, as you well know.
Nothing appears on the screen but the image of blank space. The nervous guy starts looking REALLY nervous.
Helton: Your inside guy here on the bridge gave up where you are, and I’m sure he’ll soon be giving us enough details to make sure we don’t have to launch many at you before we score a hit.
Nervous Guy: NO! I didn’t SAY ANYTHING! I never told THEM anything!
Liner Capt: Security! Take him.
Helton: (to nervous guy) I’ve dealt with pirates before. The ONLY way you live is to keep talking fast, and NOW.
Nervous guy: No, I mean YES, I don’t-
Helton: (to liner captain) Either they change course, or we burn ‘em.
Helton makes a throat-cutting sign to the comm tech for her to end the transmission.
The com tech signals that she has cut it.
Liner Capt: You are shipping weapons without TELLING us?!
Helton: I have absolutely NO idea what’s in the hold, captain. But it’s something they wanted, unless they are after the ship and passengers, which they now think they can’t take without a fight.
Liner Capt: So you really don’t have weapons, and we are defenseless?
Helton: I. DON’T. KNOW. What’s in the hold. I was bluffing, hoping they veer off. If they don’t, at least we don’t have this guy to trigger gas and knock us all out. Tell every crew member on board to get paranoid, and report ANYTHING. If they DO latch on, we’ll have to fight them with whatever you DO have, but at least we now have an hour warning.
Scanner Tech: Looks like they are altering course. Yes, they are definitely pulling G’s away.
There is much general celebration on the bridge, and two security guys haul Nervous Guy away.
Liner Capt: Thank you, THANK you, Mr Strom! But PLEASE don’t say anything to the passengers. I don’t want them to get scared and panic, or drive up our insurance rates.
Helton looks at the captain, a blank look on his face. He shakes his head, turns, and walks out.
INT – DAY – Starship liner dining room
Helton walks in with the other three people from Bipasha’s table, and they are chatting and seemingly in good spirits. Helton looks a bit brighter as well.
Sash Guy: (cheerful) Not at all, not at all, happy to help out!
Helton: Thanks again for everything. I hope the rest of your trip is enjoyable, too!
As he goes past her, he leans over and whispers into Bipasha’s ear.
Helton: (with mock seriousness) Don’t worry, I told the pirates I was a Plataean Colonel, and they should leave or I’d nuke ‘em, so they pulled high G’s away. We’re all safe now- you can thank me later.
Bipasha stares at him with a confused, angry look as he smiles, stands up, and walks back to his table, whistling happily to himself, hands in his pockets, as if the universe was just a dandy place.
Fade to black.