Relief flowed through the control room. Leo glanced over his shoulder when relieved comments came from what should have been the empty space and hall behind him. He hadn’t realized there were people gathering outside the control room in the hall now that Shiner’s arrival time was approaching. A grin pulled at his lips as he turned back after noting a few heads bowed low over smarts. People were looking up the records to make their own comparisons between Shiner and Dockland. The relief ran thicker as those doing the immediate comparisons shared the quick results of their searches with anyone close to them.
Mollin stood and walked over to pick up the old handheld, then leaned over NavCom as if sharing looking up something to show Leo. “Why did you say you were still scared if you know Shiner isn’t a threat? Or are you just pretending so all of us who didn’t know would feel better?” Mollin asked in a whisper only Leo could hear.
“Not being pre-InterStel doesn’t stop Shiner from being a threat,” Leo replied at the same volume. He didn’t move from staring at the antique screen. This wasn’t a conversation he wanted to draw attention to by looking like he and Mollin were talking about more than a system question.
When Leo glanced up at him, Mollin was staring hard at the words he was randomly scrolling through. His holocinema star looking face was pinched and his mouth dropped in a worried frown at the corners. Leo could only guess that Mollin’s mind was now racing along multiple anxiety paths of exactly how many standard Coalition systems on a scanner ship could be weaponized if properly corrupted.
Mollin eventually nodded and set down the handheld. “Thanks, Leo,” he said, voice distracted, before going back to his assigned station.
The scheduled sweep report confirmed Shiner was an hour away, and that Buccaneer and Oscareous were still arriving a full cycle after Shiner per their original courses. Trying not to stare at the control room counter as it ticked away the seconds, Leo felt like the next cycle was eons away from now.
“Hey, Leo?” Lastin called. He was pulling at the cuffs of his uniform’s sleeves when Leo shook out of his thoughts and focused on looking at Lastin. “Can you… is there something in that old handheld about errors in readouts from this panel? Or something like that?” Lastin asked.
“What kind of errors?” Leo asked, quickly standing up and walking over to the P.O.R.A. screens Lastin was beside because any distraction from staring at the counter scrolling through seconds and minutes was a welcome distraction. Except maybe the distraction provided by the array clearly stating long distance targeting ranges, Leo thought as he stopped to see what Lastin was asking him about.
“This error,” Lastin said, pointing at one of the result readings from the most recent sweep.
Leo read the line and then the lines above and below it. He swiped up the most recent scheduled report from his smart to compare the previous odd reading to the latest one. Honestly, the only readings making clear sense to Leo were for the other three ships they were actively tracking, a couple large asteroids Dockland had already been avoiding in this sector, and a few ships in their exploration group which he’d known the locations of well enough to assume which readings belonged to them. The rest he’d guessed were other ships in their exploration group, privately owned ships passing by the sector, and the usual lumps of matter found in space in the forms of stars, planets, moons, rocks, Coalition and Daion satellites, clouds… the usual.
“I don’t understand enough from these readings to know why you’d think this was an error,” Leo admitted. “I’ll go back six sweep reports, though, and try searching in the handheld for anything similar.”
Lastin fidgeted with his sleeve cuffs again. “It’s a gut feeling more than anything. But I really think there’s an error or something might be reading wrong,” he admitted.
“I’ll do some searching,” Leo said.
“Thanks.” Lastin actually looked relieved, so Leo decided on his walk back to the handheld that he would search based on the last twelve sweep reports. He was entrenched in digging through the information in the handheld when his smart chimed for a new file in his shared folder. The file had been saved to him from Mollin, and was a list of possibilities for weaponizing corruptions Mollin had thought up. The list was longer than expected and reading it made Leo grin.
“Save that to Captain,” Leo said, swiping out of the list and going back to the handheld without looking up.
“You think I should?” Mollin asked.
“I’d preface it with what the list is about, but yeah, I think you should. There might be something your malicious mind thought up that hers hasn’t.”
“True. I am a better evil genius than she is,” Mollin said. He brushed some imaginary dust off his uniform, posing and preening under the self-provided compliment.
Mollin quickly typed up a sentence explaining what the list was about, modified a few of the notes so they would make sense to someone who wasn’t an Analyst, and saved the updated list to Captain’s and to Leo’s shared files. A few minutes later Mollin’s smart chimed and he smiled at the display on his wrist.
“She thanked you?” Leo asked.
“She did. And she complimented me because she hadn’t thought of four of the things on my list.”
“I think this is a compliment?” Mollin said, his tone turning it into a question. He saved a still vid of Captain’s message to Leo’s file: Good Work. I hadn’t thought of 4, 7, 8, or 11. Remind me next cycle to impose a security lock on your system user code.
“That’s some high praise considering the context,” Leo said. He and Mollin shared a grin across the control room before they both turned back to what they’d been doing.
Leo couldn’t find an error aligning with the readings Lastin had asked him to look up. What he did see, though, now that he’d isolated the line for review across twelve reports which gave him twelve progressive points… he set the handheld down and turned back to NavCom. He’d learned to run scenarios two cycles ago and, since three cycles ago, knew how to bring up navigational information without the information becoming a programmed request. As the pit forming in his stomach expected, and his brain hoped against with every cell, it looked to Leo like Lastin’s noted error wasn’t an error at all.
Rather than waste time forming a report, Leo used his smart and captured a still vid of the console screens through his smart’s holoscreen image of Lastin’s most recent sweep report. The twelve ‘error’ points made a line of brighter NavCom dots on the map he’d displayed on the backlit screen. Leo made sure the reading on his smart’s holoscreen was highlighted for easier reference. He saved the still vid into Captain’s shared file and then exited out of the route plan so it wasn’t on the screen in plain sight.
Captain’s reply was a single, written word: Understood.
Leo didn’t know what it was Captain understood, but the sickened look printed to his face was easier to explain with another glance at the counter than it was by telling anyone in the below decks control room about his suspicion that the second pre-InterStel ship would be arriving about an hour after Shiner.
A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!