EXT – night – space, Capella system, many AUs from the star
The darkness and star-field are as far as the eye can see. The Capella sun is simply the largest star. In the distance, a planet, a large gas giant with a whole flock of moons, hangs, seemingly motionless in the vastness. In the nearer distance, a pock-marked moon covered with small circles slowly spins. Then, a patch of space shimmers, as the few molecules of dust and gas in the near vacuum of space get REALLY pissed off by an emerging starship, and glow a bit as their universe shares it’s space with a bunch of others, and don’t quite know which book of physics to follow. The transition field collapses, and in it’s center, Tajemnica.
INT – DAY – bridge of Tajemnica
Helton is at command, Cooper is piloting, Allonia is at comm, Bipasha at sensors, Kaushik at Nav.
Cooper: Welcome to Capella!
Helton: well done! Made good time, and nothing major broken. Very good! Let’s see how the field training went on the flight over: a quick scan, lay in a course for Emirate II, and beam over the custom orders to Capella Prime for Stenson. Anything interesting around here?
Bipasha: Nothing big around here but that moon for a good hundred kilometers. Beautiful!
Allonia: We are being hailed by someone on that moon, but it doesn’t make sense. “Challenge acton tax trust ambition”? (into mike) Please repeat, I don’t understand.
Cooper: (urgently) On speaker!
Moonlet: (OC, on cabin speaker) Challenge galt actinide charlie turtle
Helton and cooper, simultaneously: Oh, shit!
Moonlet: (OC, on cabin speaker) Send Cladistic Profiler
Allonia: (into mike) What? Please say again.
Sirens suddenly start blaring.
Ship AI: (OC, loud, male, military/brisk, urgent) Targeting lock detected!
Moonlet: (OC, on cabin speaker) Exclusion zone breached. Violation.
Helton: Cooper – Transition ANYWHERE NOW!
Coopers hands are already flying.
EXT – night – space, viewing Tajemnica and the moon
The glowing sphere of annoyed atoms appear around Tajemnica, then intensify. A streak of light from a missile fired from the moonlet heads toward them, accelerating. It gets closer. The shimmer of glowing atoms grows brighter. Brighter. Missile closer, closer. Tajemnica disappears, the glow fades almost instantly, the missile arrives on target and detonates in a spherical ball of light, right where it was.
INT – Day – Bridge of Tajemnica
Everyone looks a bit shaken
Bipasha: What was THAT?
Helton: A gazillion cubic kilometers of empty space, and we pop out less than twenty from a Corp-War robo-moon.
Cooper: Good thing I didn’t try to get us any closer.
Helton: New rule: first entry in a new system at least a a half-million klicks from anything big enough to be trans-space detectable.
Cooper: Good idea. Just trying to get an impressive first view.
Allonia: It WAS impressive, but what WAS it?
Bipasha: And WHY did they SHOOT at us!?
Kaushik: Robo-mil-moon. Know anything about the Corporation-Nation war?
Both of them shake their heads.
Bipasha: I’ve hear of it, but…
Cooper: Wait – lets drop out and take a fast look-see.
He moves the controls, and the lights flash their transition warning.
EXT – Night – empty space
The void glows a bit, and Tajemnica pops back into THIS reality, looking small and lonely out there in the blackness.
INT – Day – Tajemnica Bridge
Helton: Fast-scan the whole ball, first.
Kaushik: Looks clear here.
Bipasha: Nothing inside a millisecond. Five milliseconds… Nothing of note within a hundred light-milliseconds.
Everyone starts to relax a bit
Kaushik: I’ll take sensors, Bipasha – I know about ‘em.
Helton: OK, once we are clear to two light seconds, start getting a fix on things, plot a course for Emirate II AROUND the moonlet. Cooper, run through the fast list and cross-check with Stenson to make sure nothing broke with our sudden transition. (into mike on a spiral cord he takes from the ceiling above his position) All hands, sorry for the extra bounce. Had a small problem, taken care of now. Check your stations, gear, and people. Report any problems to the AI, or me if it can’t help.
Allonia: You were saying?
Helton: When planets were starting to be terraformed, it was initially funded by governments, and it was figured that the sponsoring government owned the newly terraformed planets. Then, some corporations started to terraform them on their own, and claimed their own, private, ownership, essentially starting their own nation. Existing governments didn’t like it, of course, because the corp sponsored planets were better organized and happening faster. But most government buy their weapons from private contractors, so things got ugly and confused VERY fast, and things festered for a while. The corporate heads wanted to cover their asses, so they used some of their terraforming tech and sent out totally automated weapons factories to go to new systems, land on a suitable moon or asteroid, and start building weapons and tunneling out space for growing crops and living quarters as fall-back positions. Basically, a bunch of little robot “Arks” being built in case they had to flee. Dozens of them, maybe hundreds, not really sure just how many. The governments decided to fight them by making genetically engineered and cloned super-soldiers. Some real geniuses involved in the whole mess.
Allonia: (suddenly looking extra alert) Genetically engineered soldiers?
Helton: Yup. Spliced in a lot of extra copies of genes for strength and endurance and such, searched for existing mutations for useful things, cleaned out bad genes, put in experimental stuff. Some died young, some were total aggressive bad-asses that were absolutely GREAT psychotic killers, but not so mentally well connected on more ordinary activities. Some seemed pretty normal until they got “triggered” in battle, then it was a totally different beast. Lots of conspiracies and rumors, not a lot of hard data.
Allonia: So, they looked normal, but might… suddenly go nuts for no obvious reason?
Helton: Dunno. Before my time. Gone now. Lots of experiments done, likely all sorts, from very nice, to wildly crazy and unpredictable. Anyway, both sides started copying the others ideas and designs. Just when it was about to start getting REALLY ugly, a series of nuke strikes took out a bunch of the key leadership on BOTH sides, and security codes and command-and-control was mostly lost on BOTH sides. No-one could shut the little robo-factories down, but as long as you don’t get too close to their exclusion zone, they ignore you, so we ignore them, mostly. The engineered soldiers, figuring they were the new bad-asses on the block, just like everyone in history that thinks they are God’s special chosen ones, tried to take over a few places, but they seem to have got themselves killed off and future creations were outlawed. Then Eta Carinea blew, and the robo-moons had centuries to twiddle their electrons and build defenses and missiles and whatever else their programming directed.
Allonia: (looking a little sad and distressed) Oh. So, the genetically engineered soldiers are all gone, and these robot moons just sit there, making weapons and stuff? No way to shut them down?
Kaushik: (turning from sensors) Nothing inside two light seconds.
Helton: Good. OK, start working out a fix and course. (then, back to Allonia) Not that -I- know of.
Ship AI: (OC) One malfunction and failure has been reported.
Helton: Really? Where?
Ship AI: (OC) 18 years ago, on an asteroid in the Baen system.
Bipasha: What happened?
Ship AI: (OC) A careless prospector found a disabled one on accident, went in, and was able to take partial control. In the ensuing control struggle between interested governments, corporations, and free-lancers it was entirely destroyed, along with its 2.2 billion tons of food, 3.7 trillion rounds of ammunition, 2.7 million offensive and 15 million defensive missile batteries.
Kaushik: Holy- that’s a LOT of weaponry.
Helton: Yeah, it WOULD be kind of hard to take them out now, if they are all like that. Are they?
Ship AI: (OC) There is much speculation, but few hard data-points.
Helton: I’d have thought they might have built in some sort of recognition system, so that they would “know” their guys in case the password got lost.
Ship AO: (OC) That would be difficult.
Allonia: Well, if they were ALSO making clones and genetically engineered soldiers, couldn’t they do something with that?
Ship AI: (OC) Guessing the right genetic code would be somewhere on the order of one in four to the billionth power.
Helton: And if they shoot before you get a chance to get scanned, you’d have to know the code before you got there. Right, a tough problem indeed.
Allonia: So that was the “challenge” they asked about? Looking for a code? But how would you tell them your genetic code by voice? You couldn’t tell them the whole thing – it’d take years! Maybe they are looking for just a little-bitty part of it? Coded somehow?
Ship AI: (OC, normal male voice, gradually becoming more mechanical) That is an interesting guess… galt actinide charlie turtle adenine thymine thymine adenine guanine adenine cytosine thymine. Match. Cladistic Profiler. Match.
Helton: uh, what was that?
Ship AI: (OC, normal male voice) Minor subroutine glitch. A recently found pattern was matched unexpectedly. Internal data possibly affecting optimal path selection protocols. Further testing will be needed at another location. No significance at the moment.
Helton nods in acknowledgment of the explanation.
Cooper: OK, everything seems to check out. We can make a small jump to cut about half the normal-space flight time, then take an easy path in, slightly more than a day conventional.
Helton: Good, good. Anywhere close to the robo-moon?
Cooper: No, well clear of it. Far side, actually.
Helton: All righty, then. Let’s make another little hop, unless someone has a problem. (into the mike) Any problems to report, now’s the time.
They wait, and are rewarded by silence for a few moments.
Helton: Can you use the pair of Sokolovs here? We can test them a bit, too.
Cooper: Should work… Yes, adds about… sixteen seconds on this jump. About an hour conventional.
Helton: Double-check with Stenson, and spin ‘em up.