Content Warning: This section includes description of a terror attack against a large population, depicting destruction of structures and persons.
Everyone’s smarts chimed and the report from the latest scheduled sweep showed Shiner had made yet another change in course. This latest change added an additional forty-five minutes to their route. Leo checked the still holo he’d captured and saw that, now, Shiner would arrive only fifteen minutes in advance of what Leo was gaining confidence in being the second pre-InterStel ship.
“Lastin?” Leo called, lifting the handheld off his lap and setting it aside. “I can’t find anything similar to what you’re thinking are errors. I guess keep making note of it and we’ll see what comes up,” he said. The tone of his voice almost convinced himself he didn’t have a still vid on his smart right now that showed NavCom routing of the ‘error’ following exactly along Dockland’s pre-programmed route here.
The control room population quieted as the minutes dragged on into the extra time Shiner had added before their arrival. Mollin revised his list with more evil genius ideas, again saving it to both Leo and Captain. Leo was impressed, both with the creativity of the list and with Captain’s reply threatening to have Mollin detained if he attempted returning to regular Analyst duties before she could have Lissa upgrade all Dockland’s security programming on bridge accessible systems. Around the rest of the below decks control room, the lead crew murmured through quiet vids to friends and family at home and on the no-fault lifeboat, filling the spaces between ticks and tones with subdued chuckles and warm words. The population of off-shift people in the hallway was slowly and steadily increasing and Leo heard murmurs of similar conversations out there, as well.
The quiet was broken when Captain announced through Dockland’s public intercom that Shiner was decelerating from over distance travel speeds in Daion Central World’s solar system. She ordered Dockland’s crew to be ready for anything and informed them she was now sending her pre-recorded, Public Face approved message to Shiner’s Captain. The message invoked the threat of immediate consequences if any of Shiner’s crew acted in non-compliance to the standing orders from Public Face, or committed any actions outside of or in opposition to the signed Agreement between Coalition and Daion leaders.
Leo hadn’t bothered to listen to the specific wording of Captain’s message to Shiner when she’d saved it to Dockland’s crew earlier, but he easily guessed the main points because she’d also saved to every crew member the summarized notes of which sections of the Agreement of One Cause were applicable in the current situation Dockland was facing. Reading those notes was keeping his breakfast close enough to his throat without needing to twist his stomach further by listening to the full message.
Before a reply from Shiner could be received, everyone’s smarts – and the ship systems dedicated to emergency communications – screamed out a single tone in unison. The forced news, delivered in standard four-second delayed real time, showed only the Central Tower structure housing Senior Coalition. Windows at the topmost floors burst out in showers of flame and smoke, the starting point of a cascade of explosions dropping methodically down the structure. The explosions were midway down when the top began collapsing.
People visible in the image-only holovid screamed silently. Debris from the multiple buildings comprising the Tower structure flew or crumbled into the recorders and vidding devices. The forced news images flickered through uncounted, disappearing live feeds until settling on a stable aerial view. The orbital device magnified at uncontrolled entry speeds to a point ensuring the Tower’s final collapse filled the holovid, and then zoomed out as secondary explosions blurred the image.
The orbital view was rendered useless and the holovid snapped to a distant landside source. Rising plumes of flames dominated the skyline where the graceful Central Tower buildings had spired moments ago, the sky itself lost to sight behind clouds of rolling, black smoke. Emergency measures hadn’t even begun to react. A flow of people from buildings nearest the Central Tower appeared as a slow-moving wave of darker hues racing away from the billowing explosions pounding closer to them until they, and their buildings, were engulfed.
Dockland’s InterStel toned over and interrupted the silent holovid. All the emergency feeds blanked as the ship’s internal system overrode and cut off the external transmission. Leo blinked at the blank screen of his smart and choked on breathing as his usual icons popped back into place as if Coalition’s Central Tower hadn’t just fallen.
“–twin stars to believe Coalition is defined by one Central World building complex!” Captain’s familiar voice roared over Dockland’s intercom, the argument apparently already in progress. Leo cringed at the rage in her voice. His gaze, and everyone else’s in the below decks control room, snapped up to lock onto the intercom speaker.
“Daion resources are Coalition resources! If your Public Face had seen the coming war with Radicals as the very real threat it is, these steps wouldn’t have been necessary!” an unfamiliar voice responded. The sentences spoken sounded chopped, something Leo knew from working on the bridge meant they were being received in short sections from multiple channels, which required constant InterStel Officer inputs to keep up with the shifting frequencies.
“Murdering millions of people isn’t a step,” Captain growled, her voice free of chops.
Leo looked around the below decks control room. He wasn’t the only one close to vomiting as he tried to force his brain to hear what Captain was saying. Someone on the bridge interrupted the forced news source and this argument is on intercom now for a reason, he thought. Senior Coalition structures on a Coalition Central World being destroyed had been interrupted for this argument. Leo had to figure out why. People he could see in the hall outside the control room were staring this way, moving closer with their heads cocked to listen, which meant the bridge conversation was only shared with the below decks control room.
“There isn’t anything Dockland can do. By presence, as Captain of Shiner and New Alliance Emissary, I claim this sector as New Alliance territory under the control of Supreme Shaverrim!” the unfamiliar voice declared.
“The standing Agreement of One Cause, upheld by Public Face, clearly states –”
“That antique Agreement has no authority in New Alliance territory,” Shiner’s Captain interrupted, openly gloating. Leo’s thoughts raced around the images of the final Central Tower explosions seared into his thoughts… Captain was engaged in yelling at Shiner’s Captain and Lissa’s hands were busy keeping up with the multi frequency communications with Shiner. But Lissa was the only one at a control console with the authority commands to override a forced news frequency. Trevor’s grandfather was the only one who could have activated the intercom to here. Why to the below decks control room? Why to where Leo would hear?
“What is this?” Lastin asked loud enough to include everyone in the control room. He was pointing at the readings around Shiner in the rotating, close-range display. Almost everyone only turned to stare at him, eyes empty from shock, as Leo stumbled to his feet and jogged the short distance to stand between Lastin and Mollin.
The readings Dockland was taking from Shiner were altering with every rotation shown on the screen display. But not only the readings for positioning relative to Dockland. Leo forced the thoughts he could control to focus on the numbers right there in front of him. To analyze the pattern he knew was there but the whole Senior Coalition complex vaporizing screamed on a silent replay over and over in his mind…
All their readings are decreasing. He locked that fact into his focus and stared harder at the numbers. Everything for Shiner but the horizontal and vertical sizes are getting smaller.
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!