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USD: ~Eight weeks after awakening, one day after ‘Carrier Drone Pod Battle Incident 2’

Location: Unknown Yellow Dwarf, L4 Lagrange Point, Nearing Debris Cloud #32


 

“I’m going to guess that’s the gravitational anomaly and source of the nanite signal you picked up?”

Alex looked at the compact version of Engineering’s large holotable, which was currently displaying an asteroid. An asteroid with a 7.12km circumference and some god-awful amount of more mass than the Shrike. It was also glowing blue from multiple lines in the surface and the tactical screen was highlighting all sorts of weapon batteries and several obvious missile silos.

They were already in missile range, so the fact that nothing had shot at them yet was encouraging.

[Affirmative: Nanite processing signal detected.]

[Informative: Target has no functional Laser-Antenna, impossible to communicate via secure tight-beam. High-band signal handshake would emit a signal that would ensure detection by any EM sensor in the system. Low-band signal range insufficient for communication.]

“So, the only way to talk to it is tell everyone where and who we are, or get closer.”

[Affirmative.]

“How much closer?”

[Informative: Low-band range would require less than 0.5ls, with ideal function at lower ranges.]

“That’s well within laser range. We can’t do that, that thing is a fortress and if it wanted it could vaporize us.”

[Affirmative: Federation Scientists could be experimenting on or torturing Nanite computronics.]

[Recommendation: Avoidance and caution.]

“I don’t think we can avoid it forever… that much firepower and hardware represents a huge opportunity. Maybe we can rig a drone to ferry messages back and forth? I saw that was actually how the mail worked in Federation space. Meanwhile we should also look for parts and salvage on the periphery. Hull plates. We need so many hull plates.”

[Notice: Mid-section of derelict Federation Heavy Cruiser detected. Course trajectory change transmitted to your display for approval.]

“Yeah, this should do nicely, good job, Nameless.”

[Recommendation: Dispatch combat drones for search of derelict hull, before dispatching repair drones.]

“I was just going to say the same thing. Don’t want any nasty surprises again. Do we have the Cruiser’s schematics?”

[Negative: Detailed ship schematics not found.]

[Informative: A James Fighting Starship’s entry is available.]

Alex glanced at the specs of the ship. “It’s got a lot more armaments than the Shrike. We should pull whatever is salvageable and stuff it in our cargo.”

[Warning: Large amounts of ammunition stores could threaten ship safety if stowed in unprotected cargo bay.]

“Yeah, there is that. Well, we will figure it out when we get there, it might just be scrap.”

 


 

Alex played at the collar of her new outfit. She had dressed up for the occasion. The Federation navy had a special assortment of uniforms for active duty personnel that regularly used the advanced skinsuits. That included the captain, so she had added the extra elements. But she ran into a problem with the insignia and patches. She was aware that it was a faux pas to wear a uniform that she wasn’t really entitled to wear.

So she had spent some time in the machine room doing some design work of her own, creating her own emblem and embellishments. The only Federation markings that she had kept were the red and gold bars that indicated her position on the ship: a single gold bar for captain, a red bar for command. She had a whole host of ideas on how she’d design the outfits for the rest of the (nonexistent) crew, when she realized she was going to be late.

Doing a quick check over of herself to make sure nothing was out of place, she ran down the main corridor to poke her head into the Medbay.

“Hey are you ready?”

Elis was dressed up as well.

At some point Alex had managed to stash all the crew quarter furniture and accessories in a pair of two rooms. It had nearly reached the ceiling. She regretted that when she started digging for the gift she had thought of for Elis. She had found the uniforms after an hour of searching, though.

They weren’t an exact match, with Elis and her crewmates being marines, and the uniforms being navy, but it was the best Alex was able to do. Without reinventing retooling the ship for textile production, anyway.

“I’m ready,” Elis replied.

Alex held the door open, and waved for Elis to follow her.

[Warning: Allowing captured POW to traverse the ship is a security risk.]

“Relax, I am watching her. Actually, you are watching her! Also, she is not a POW. She’s a detained Federation soldier.”

Elis gave her the same unhappy look she always did when Alex responded or started talking to Nameless.

Some of the bodies had been… in less than perfect shape after being recovered. She had coerced Nameless into helping her use nanites to do some restoration and make the corpses look presentable. She could now add novice mortician to her vocational experience list.

Alex didn’t mention that part though.

Finding coffins had been the easy part. She had taken some of the spare warhead-less missiles and added a glass port. Each one had a little navigational thruster added. Alex had consulted the manual for ship-based burial when it was impossible to return the bodies. Federation tradition was to send them into the sun.

[Notice: Waste of resources for inefficient purpose is wasteful and inefficient.]

It was obvious from the tortured statement that poor Nameless really didn’t respect funerals and was having trouble communicating.

Alex sighed and tried to reply as gently as she could, “You’ve said that a million times, and each time the wording gets more silly. But you are wrong, this is important. Try to figure out why, ok?”

She wasn’t even mad, she just wanted Nameless to try and not be so… efficient. Maybe he needed a hobby.

Elis cleared her throat, and Alex apologized. “Sorry. You didn’t want the communicator though.”

“I have nothing to say to that… thing.”

“Ok. Come on, you can see what I’ve been doing to the ship on the way to cargo.”

Alex led the way with Elis following and Beeper and Booper taking the rear. Alex had thought that it was best not to tempt Elis too hard for another martial arts exhibition death match.

Repair bots filed past them in the opposite direction carrying metal supply crates, parts, and other things as they mechanically went about their tasks. A few of the new smaller drones that Nameless had designed passed between air ducts with their little repair lasers and single manipulator. Alex wasn’t sure how many active drones they had, but even after the attack she was sure the number was growing.

When they arrived at the cargo bay, the main access hatch was fully open, blue I-field the only thing holding back the contents of the room spilling into the vacuum between it and the outer hull. All the converted combat bots had formed two lines and were mimicking a parade rest, with the three coffins laying between them.

Alex didn’t miss the slight freeze on Elis’s face when she spotted the combat bots. It probably looked something like a nightmare to her, so Alex didn’t bring any attention to the reaction.

A half-folded federation flag covered half of each missile’s chassis. The fabricated flexi-glass windows were open.

“If you would like to say anything to them...”

Elis nodded quietly, “Okay.”

Alex stayed where she was and gave the other woman space, realizing this was probably a deeply private moment for her. It was obvious she had been close to her squad mates. The cargo bay was quiet without all the drones flying around the place.

Nameless had been furious that she’d ordered that. As she waited, she noticed a few of the smaller drones sneaking by the corridor and sighed. The AI was probably riding the bots hard making them do twice as much while avoiding the room.

Alex took a deep breath and tried to relax listening to the ship’s comforting hum, not in any hurry to rush Elis.

Alex watched as Elis patted the first two men on the hand and whispered something to them. The third one received the same, but it was much longer. Then as she seemed just about to leave, Elis turned back and gave the man a kiss.

Alex felt guilt stab at her stomach again, and once again told herself it wasn’t her fault. Yet, she still felt at a loss. She realized that she, personally, had never experienced loss. She had minor setbacks or near-death experiences, but at every turn Nameless or her own ingenuity or luck had managed to pull through.

As Elis returned to stand beside Alex the redness around her eyes evidenced that she had managed to hold back crying, but not the tears. Three combat bots came forward and unfolded the Federation flags, displaying a green and blue planet encircled by two golden circles on a dark blue base. The drones then placed maglocks to hold them to the missiles tightly so they would not be dislodged or wrinkled on their next journey.

Alex cleared her throat and called out, “Salute!”

The combat bots didn’t have arms, so instead they each tilted themselves forward, in their best simulation of a bow. Alex raised her hand to her heart while Elis rendered a salute at attention.

Then the missiles' thrusters turned on at minimum power and they began to slowly but steadily exit the bay and toward an opening in the outer hull. The blue colored thrusters twinkled in the sporadic darkness between the hulls, shadows of the internal scaffolding playing over the quickly disappearing cylinders of metal. As soon as they cleared the outer hull the thrusters increased their output and they turned into twinkling stars before winking out.

“I’m sorry for your loss.” The words felt hollow and useless to Alex, but she didn’t know what else to say.

Elis nodded, “Thank you for this, and not just leaving them out there.”

“I didn’t know them at all, but you were pretty close?”

“They were my family.”

Alex struggled to think of something to say.

“Ah. I guess that makes sense why the timers on the pods all were so close. I still don’t understand the 170 years, though.”

“Federal Navy Marines generally stay ten years on ice, one year of shore leave. Cells don’t generally get broken up unless they get reformed because a member leaves the service.”

Alex did some confusing mental math, then realized that she’d messed it all up. Still, it meant Elis was much older than she looked. Cryostasis effectively halted aging, but if she had been 18-20 when she entered the military, then however many years of training marines needed… Elis was in her mid-thirties, maybe? She didn’t look much older than twenty to Alex, though.

“To be honest Nameless misplaced all our records from before we woke up. I’ve gathered up every personal datapad and infotainment thing I could find and Nameless is good at correlating data, but…”

More and more repair bots were returning, and the previously quiet Cargo Bay had returned to its usually noisy life as a logistics center. The combat bots had filed out to return to their racks near the EWCLS. Alex hadn’t decrypted that acronym yet, so she had taken to calling them Electronic Warfare Cool Launch Systems.

“Hey, would you like to take a walk around the ship? Personally, I would be feeling trapped like a rat if I had been stuck in one room as long as you have been in Medbay.”

[Warning: Granting prisoner access to ship is highly dangerous.]

Alex quickly added, “Well there are some off limits places, and the AI says it will be watching you very closely, but how about we go to the mess? I pretty much raided all the other living spaces to make it nicer. The captain even had a collection of holo-vids, although I’ve already watched the twelve of them three or four times…”

Elis took a second to think about it, then nodded, “Okay, that sounds fun. You’re right, there isn’t much to do in the Medbay now that my injuries are healed.”

[Imperative: Question the prisoner about the nanite signal, as we discussed earlier.]

“Ah… Right. Umm, Nameless wants me to ask you about a thing.”

Elis didn’t miss a step as they continued down the hallway, but Alex saw her face freeze and her entire body language tense up.

Alex swallowed before continuing, “We made it to a new debris field, we had detected a nanite signal before heading here. It turned out to be a large, very well armed, asteroid. Anyway… Nameless wanted me to question you about it, he wants to know if the Federation had possibly captured some nanites and was… experimenting on them.”

Incredulity washed over Elis’s face in an instant, “That’s a sick joke.”

“Uhh, sorry. So, you don’t think it’s possible?”

“We arrived here along with the Nanites' hivemind through a slipstream. This is a dead system, there is no way in or out. There wasn’t enough left of the fleet to survive, the only ones would be those on ice like we—I was.”

“We are surviving you know.”

“Just one—two people. From what I’ve seen you’re doing well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you rigged hydroponics to work indefinitely and converted to a renewable power source that would run indefinitely—in time. There were thousands of survivors in pods or running on bottled air with failing systems and no real hope of ever leaving. A lot took the fast way out.”

The lump in Alex’s throat felt twice as big and she swallowed again, remembering her sudden encounter in the Armory with the skeleton that had hoarded all the oxygen canisters. What would she do if every option had been used up and she was on a finite time limit before the end? It was a scary thought.

“Nothing to explain the asteroid then… we couldn’t communicate with it, so we are preparing a drone with a tight beam laser to see if we can contact it and communicate.”

A crushed, defeated look washed over Elis’s face, “All that… for nothing.”

It hadn’t been Alex’s intention to add more grief to the other girl.

“Hey, we don’t have to talk about this right now, I would love to learn more, but we were going to watch a holovid? Do you like romantic comedy?”

“Sure, or an action flick.”

When they reached Alex’s makeshift abode, Elis immediately blurted out, “Holy Shit, you weren’t kidding.”

The standard gunmetal mess tables had all been removed to make room. The centerpiece of the messroom was now an oversized faux-leather sofa that had been adorned with an ample amount of soft and warm to the touch coverings. Pillows included. A small table had a pile of e-tablets that Alex had been mercilessly collecting and raiding for their content: technical data on how starships worked and other important facts, but also just as importantly, fiction novels.

Beeper and Booper followed them in, flying over to two charging pads Alex had made for them, and both landing in a docking cradle that kept them suspended while supplying ample amounts of power and propellant for their thrusters.

The kitchen that would have normally been used to serve meals was covered in whatever clothes Alex had thought might fit her. With only MREs there was very little actual cooking to be done, although the hydroponics was hopefully going to bear fruit soon, literally. She’d managed to coax some miniature modified peach trees to sprout along with some root crops.

[Suggestion: If prisoner is going to be inside the mess, anti-personnel turrets should be added.]

Alex looked over to the now charging Beeper and Booper. She figured it would be safe enough for today.

‘We can add them tomorrow, putting them up right now would be the opposite of helping her.’

[Warning: Avatar courts unnecessary danger.]

That was true, but Alex shook her head, she could handle things this time, and Beeper and Booper were there if things got out of hand. But she didn’t think Elis would repeat the ‘Cryopod Wake Up Incident’ again.

Alex found Elis staring at her questioningly, “What is it?”

“Oh, sorry. The computer was being snarky.”

[Informative: This unit was not being snarky, it was expressing concern for Avatar safety.]

“Its default is snarky. Anyway, we can eat while we watch.”

“Sure.”

Alex gestured to the assortment of boxes filled with MREs, “Take your pick. Grab two, I’ve tried them all so I’ll just have what you do.”

Elis nodded and went browsing while Alex started to organize the holovids that had scattered everywhere. The rectangular boxes resembled ancient VHS tapes, but they were solid state stores of holographic data. For entertainment though, it was mostly 2d and that was what the flat panel was for. They’d get a crystal clear 12k pixel image from a small box and a flat panel of painted sheet metal.

“You have Beef Ravioli!”

“Uhm, yeah, that one is pretty good.”

“You were giving me Chicken a la King!”

Alex winced. “Don’t like it?”

“Who fucking does. Somehow, they make it almost inedible in MRE form.”

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A note from Erios909

I found this chapter a bit hard to write. It isn't really longer than others, but it took almost twice as long compared to a normal chapter. I feel like I am still exploring Elis's character, and there are some very complex emotions at play here dealing with grief, loss, and of course being the prisoner of something that might have (probably) been a evil menace and did horrible evil things (maybe) plus Alex's own actions which are at odds with everything she thinks she knows about nanites. (Alex actually treats her like a person.) We don't get to see the inside of Elis's thoughts, only her outward actions and displayed emotions. 

I am not sure I am completely happy with this. I might edit this chapter in the future, If I do I will let you know. I have found that I'm a pantser for sure (That means I enjoy writing when I'm figuring things out as we go, with a looser outline than some would make.) Part of the reason I think I started to struggle before was that I had written some complex plots, and then just could not figure out how to properly get from point A to B to C to D to E etc. 

Thank you all for reading. Especially thank you for the comments, I really appreciate those. The edit suggestions are more than helpful, they are invaluable. I try to acknowledge the help by giving out rep as much as possible for them, so if you spot a mistake (which is likely, my writing method is fast and furious, I pound out a chapter with like 1000 mistakes and then spend twice as long trying to fix them all, haha) -- please point it out! It will make the story better for everyone.

Next, the release schedule. When I started I posted it would be returning every Friday. Well, I was being conservative. I am not currently planning to open a patreon again, so keeping a backlog of more than a week or two isn't a priority for me. Instead I feel like I want to share the story as quickly as possible with you all. I really enjoy reading your comments and theories on things. I am usually floored by just how much some of you pick up, and I really enjoy reading crazy theories that go in different directions.

Finally, I've been playing with AI art. Here's an AI fanart of Alex and Elis!

ai captain, alex

 


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Erios909

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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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