EXT – DAY – Space, a hundred thousand kilometers from the planet
Tajemnica and Borealis drift apart, the glow around Borealis intensifies and it starts veering away, leaving just Tajemnica alone, heading in for the planet. The glow around the Tajemnica is weak.
INT – DAY – Tajemnica bridge
On the screen display showing enemy activity, ships are moving around the planet, becoming much more concentrated on the dark side, away from the sun, in the direction of the inbound ship. The brown-colored no-combat “independent” ships are starting to clear away from the expected scene of action, the two carrier fleets are closing ranks, and the line between them is getting filled with non-carrier cruisers. The sunny side of the planet has almost no ships left, just a pair of cruisers and a handful of interceptors. Lag stands, looking relaxed in partial armor, in the doorway, and the CM stands in the other doorway, looking uneasy.
Helton: So far, as expected.
Allonia: Hail from the Capella Fleet
Helton: Talking is better than firing. On screen.
On the screen appears a mature woman in uniform (Admiral JAN FLICKER), a blank, professional expression on her face.
Helton: (pleasantly) Hello, Admiral. What can I do for you on a propitious day like today?
Flicker pauses, as though this is not quite what she was expecting.
Adm Flicker: What are your intentions here?
Helton: Land some soldiers, verified as being in tech compliance with the challenge. You?
Adm Flicker: I can’t let you do that, I’m afraid.
Helton: Sure you can. All you have to do is nothing. Couldn’t be easier.
Adm Flicker: I have orders to not let this thing happen.
Helton: Really? Not that I don’t believe you do have orders, but why? This guy must have been a pain in your ass for years.
Adm Flicker: I know, but there are too many civilians down there that don’t know what they are getting into.
Lag steps over next to Helton so he shows up on camera.
Lag: Long time, Jan; hope you’re well… The people down there knew what they were getting into; hoping to grab a piece of the afterlife by killing unbelievers. They know what being here means.
A look of surprise and recognition shows on the Admiral’s face, and then she gets an almost apologetic look.
Adm Flicker: I’d heard you were involved, but didn’t give it credence – you are not the suicidal type. There are over a hundred and fifty thousand people down there now, and you CAN’T have many men on a ship that small.
Lag: Sorry to hear that many came here to die. But we said we’d fight him, not just that we’d fight him if it was easy or convenient.
Adm Flicker: You are not a butcher. Don’t do this. You CAN’T get past us.
Lag: I have to go down there, Jan, you know that. This madman has to be stopped here… You don’t want to nuke us to stop us. We have something I know you would really like to have.
Adm Flicker: What I really want is for you to turn around. Please. I’ve known you for too long. You’re an honorable man – don’t let your men die like this…
Lag just looks at her, his face inscrutable. There is an awkward silence.
Adm Flicker: OK, I give. What do you have that you think will make me ignore orders?
Lag gets a big grin, and has an almost cheerful tone.
Lag: HA! Knew you’d ask. Always the curious one. Captain Strom here found a book.
Adm Flicker: (skeptical) A book?
Lag: Planet Mover translation guide.
The admiral eyebrows rise in surprise, and the compliance monitor stares at them in shock, mouth open, speechless.
Helton: It’s damaged, but we have about two thirds of it. Got a pretty good idea what the carved message is. You nuke us, it’s gone. Forever.
Adm Flicker: Are you playing games?
Lag: Word of honor. It’s here on board. Interesting stuff. Pretty sure you’d like to take a look at it before you turn it into a cloud of plasma. Hate to put you in a bind like this, Jan, but that guy down there needs to be stopped, here and now. He finally believed his own bullshit, thinks he’s invincible, and put himself in a spot where we can nail him on HIS terms. If he’s not stopped here, it will end up costing millions of lives. Mostly civilian lives. I can’t let that happen. We can’t.
The admiral’s face looks conflicted.
Adm Flicker: What about the reports of an engineered person and a fully aware AI?
Lag: True on both accounts. Fine folks. Saved my ass, and Harbin’s too, more than once. You’d like ‘em, I think. More trustworthy than most of your chain of command, from what I recall, and certainly more honest. Much rather have them on MY side than fight ‘em. And you know my record. I don’t want YOU to die, either.
The Admiral looks at him hard, trying to decide what to do.
Adm Flicker: Are you certain the book is genuine?
Lag: Sure as I can be of anything in this universe.
There is a long pause, Flicker thinking things over. She comes to a decision, and speaks crisply, as though wanting it be over before she changes her mind.
Adm Flicker: Still gotta get past the other fleet, though. Good luck.
Helton: Dodging one fleet is easier than two. Thank you very much, Admiral. When we are done with this whole sorry mess, I’d be happy to show you the book, and the translation, at a quieter place. And introduce you to Taj and Allonia. I think they’d like you, too.
Admiral Flicker’s grim image disappears from the screen, replaced by the Capella Fleet logo.
INT – DAY – Bridge of the HMS Hussein
The sensor tech is talking excitedly to the Watch Captain.
Sensor Tech: I’m SURE of it, Sir! Almost an exact match with the Tajemnica from when they destroyed the interceptors. Coming straight in!
Watch Captain: No doubt?
Sensor tech: None. It’s them.
Watch captain: The Captain will want to know.
There is an awkward silence on the bridge. One of the crew glances toward a side door to the captains private ready-room. The Watch Captain’s eyes flicker that direction, and a grimace appears on his face.
Watch Captain: How long until they are in range?
Sensor tech: They are coming slowly – only the two mismatched Sokolovs working. Hours. Interceptors could cut that time in half.
Watch captain: Do not sound general quarters until he finishes. Scramble and launch them with direct orders. Plot to intercept. Leave the Darius here on station here.
The others on the bridge nod understanding, and start issuing orders via voice or direct messages.
INT – Day – Tajemnica Bridge
Bipasha: Someone is getting antsy. Launching interceptors and pulling high Gs to intercept. Everyone else is holding steady or moving slowly.
Ship AI: Ah. Our old friend, the Hussein.
Helton: How are things clearing out around lunar L1?
Bipasha: Almost all gone. One of the remaining cruisers is starting to move out and pick up its interceptors. A bunch of the independents are starting to shuffle, too. Don’t want to get left out.
EXT – DAY – Space, low orbit above the planet
LOTS of ships, three huge carriers, dozens of cruisers, hundreds of smaller ships, are scattered about, mostly fairly motionless. One cruiser, the Hussein, is heading rapidly away from the planet, with a dozen of its interceptors leading the way ahead of it.
INT – DAY – Tajemnica Bridge
Compliance Monitor: You have an ancient artifact, a translation guide, and you are risking it on THIS old… old… thing? And an L1 event? You cannot be serious. Are you CRAZY?
Helton: Of course. What were you expecting on an assignment like this?
Ship AI: (powerfully built soldier avatar) Watch how you talk about my crew, bub. I’m kind’a partial to these residents ‘a meat-space.
CM: (staring at avatar) Is that-?
Ship AI: Yup, in the flesh… er, metal, as it were. Scared, yet?
The ship avatar flashes a grin, then briefly juggles three various knives, then catches them blade-first in one hand and holds them out in a fan, hilts outward.
Ship AI: Pick a blade, any blade.
Allonia: Told you it sometimes got exciting ‘round here. In case you missed it, I’m the other illegal one.
The CM recoils from her a little bit on the realization, then stares at her a moment.
CM: I MUST report this immediately! It is almost certainly a breach!
Helton: Report away – as long as we don’t fire on the morons on the ground with prohibited weapons, the ship’s cool. Want to talk from here so we can watch, or you want privacy?
CM: Privately, of course!
Helton: Too bad – no can do. Not with nearly twenty eight hundred people jammed aboard.
CM: I MUST protest! I DEMAND privacy to call and-
Allonia: Hail from the Compliance Monitor from the other fleet.
Bipasha: Diplomats keep such busy schedules.
Helton: Only when talking keeps them from shooting at us. (turning to the CM standing next to him) You want to take this?
The CM gets a brief conflicted look, then nods. Allonia nods back.
Allonia: Both of you on screen, now.
On one of the screens a face appears – a rotund, professor-ish looking middle-aged man, balding, high collar, nasally voice, prone to squinting.
Fleet compliance Monitor: You can’t land.
Helton: Sure we can. Drives work fine. Landing gear is A-OK. Got a flat spot all picked out. Even have an invitation.
FCM: No. Your SHIP is illegal, and you have an illegal person aboard. You are NOT allowed to land. The challenge was only for certain tech on the ground. You are illegal NOW.
Helton: Not illegal where we call home, and space isn’t your jurisdiction in this little get-together. We’re not leaving them there, so-
FCM: You cannot land there.
Bipasha: Some interceptors are firing railguns on vector denial trajectories. From the Hussein.
Helton: I’m getting tired of people telling me what I can’t do.
FCM: You are NOT allowed to land. You must be boarded and inspected.
CM: I’ve BEEN inspecting, but it’s so crowded right now I can barely MOVE.
FCM: Why have you not informed us of these things earlier!?
CM: I just found out myself!
FCM: No excuse – your JOB is to discover things like this earlier. MUCH earlier!
Helton: Hate to break up the love-fest here, but we have incoming. If we can’t land, can we crash?
FCM: (acerbically) You may crash anywhere you like, Mr. Strom. But you may NOT land.
Quiritis: Thanks. We’re getting good at crashing.
Helton: Among the best.
Bipasha: Uncle Harbin will be thrilled.
Helton: Always knew my flight-sim training would pay off. (to CM) It’s just your lucky day!
The CM blanches, and looks around him like they are all crazy.
Helton: And I think we should crash right… there.
He points to the screen map where the the battlefield is marked out.
CM: He just said you CAN’T land!
Helton: Trust me, by the time we are done, you’ll certify it’s a crash. Now, then, how long until we get to make people wonder what the hell happened?