When Guppy came in the gunnery deck, she looked like she had scrawled the words “I’m serious” on her forehead. And she looked like that all the way when she was helping out and did not speak one word to me.
“Loosen up, kiddo, you need your concentration for the shots.” I told her. She nodded and furrowed her brow in concentration.
The actual shot was not worth that much seriousness from her, no. It hit the reactor and then the ship just blew apart.
“That’s one less problem for the universe to deal with.” Estella said.
“Now to find that torpedo.” Aurora reminded us.
“Nothing too useful here, unless one of you can slice these files?” Aurora asked us. “Without them erasing themselves in the process.”
“Not really my area. If no one else on board can we can always hunt down a specialist planetside.” Estella replied.
“Looks like the only option to me.” I said.
“It’s headed for a small asteroid field, we should be able to find it, and if need be blast the asteroids to rubble to make sure it doesn’t cause any trouble, and give Guppy some more gunnery practice.” Estella informed us of the missing torp.
“Sounds like a plan, set us on course?” Aurora said.
“We should also sow quarantine buoys around that asteroid with the plants on it in the first place, keep other people from making similar mistakes.” Aurora suggested.
“We can drop a note to the planetary governor, let them make it all nice and official and not come out of our funds.” Estella suggested as she walked into the lounge.
“Good plan, also keeps us from being responsible if the buoys fail or whatnot.”
Jessica came wandering in. “Well, that was interesting”
“Oh?” Aurora looked at her while Estella poured a drink into an empty glass. I assume that was for Jessica.
“I wasn’t sure what I was looking at at first. Some kind of plant extract maybe. But the closer I looked, I think it’s a blood sample. But, you know, not a normal one. I don’t think I’ve seen turquoise blood before. Maybe it’s been processed? I don’t know. I’ll need better equipment to look deeper. But it’s not like anything I’ve seen before.”
“Turquoise? Fascinating.” Estella slid the drink across the bar to Jessica. “Whatever’s going on with that planet’s plant life, it’s a lot more dangerous than we first suspected.”
“It’s quite possibly what wiped out that underground place’s original owners.” Aurora said.
Jessica took a deep drink and sighed appreciatively.
I wasn’t trying to whitewash us but I thought it would be good to be clear on things. “This may be conspiracy theory but do you think this blood sample could be the cause for what happens to that crew? Or at least one of the causes? Maybe our bio mines speeded things up?”
Jessica looked into her glass in contemplation. “That’s a really good question. I don’t know for sure, but it’s entirely possible.”
“So they were already ill with something?” Aurora nodded thoughtfully.
“Any kind of fungal infection might of mutated horribly from the bio mines, or whatever mold was lurking in their trash compactors and under the bathroom tiles?” Estella suggested.
Jessica tapped her chin as she answered. “What Sam said is getting me thinking. What if there was already some kind of mutation going on over there and then the mine hit and blew it way out of all sanity? The samples are old enough that they were taken well before the mines hit.”
“So then the pirates might have been hunting us because they were crazy and not hired by someone?” Aurora went off on another train of thought.
“Looks like our hire for a hacker is really on. That encrypted file seems our only lead now.” I concluded.
“That would explain why they never answered anything over the comlink.” Estella nodded to what I said, “We need to make sure we’re there while they do the hacking too, so they don’t keep any of the data for themselves.”
“I thought some of them wanted to surrender but were killed off by those that didn’t. But it could equally be that some of them were still sane and then killed by those whose minds went to pieces.” I said.
It’s horrifying to think about” Jessica said with a pale face. She hurriedly took another sip to steady herself.
“It makes me wonder how they got infected with whatever it is in the first place.” Aurora said with a glance out of the window, fidgeting slightly as she did so.
“Well, it was in that case… What did you say that company did again Sam?” Jessica asked me.
“Data mining, you know, looking at data and getting to spot trends. Something like that.”
“Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would lead to them being infected by something.” Estella said doubtfully.
“Well, depends on the kind of data they’re looking for…” An alarm went off.
“We’re close, I’ll be on the bridge!” Estella told us excitedly and hurried back towards the bridge.
“Time to hone your gunnery girl.” Aurora winked at Guppy, who grabbed my hand and ran us all the way to the gunnery station. We were apparently in an asteroid although nothing near enough to present a danger. The torp was just ahead, not far from crashing into one of the asteroids. “Port side five hundred yards!” Estella yelled over the com.
“I’m on it! Sam, does this look right?” I eyeballed it and directed her to make some tiny adjustments.Guppy fired. The shot skimmed the edge of the torpedo, breaking it apart.
“Nice shot, now finish off the pieces.” Aurora encouraged her with a smile.
“Ok, Aurora.” Guppy took a few shots. “I’m messing it up!” She yelled as she hit one of the asteroids instead. At the same time some of the torp pieces crashed into the asteroid as well.
“Load up some plasma torps, let her practice on the debris field with those, that’ll clean up the infection and give her some practice with the heavy stuff.” Estella suggests, pulling around to torpedo range.
“You’re learning” Aurora spoke to Guppy gently. “This is how you learn, by practicing, and learning how to get it right.”
Guppy kept at it, ended up blowing up half the asteroid along with the other pieces. But she got the hang of it.
“Now that’s a spicy meatball!” Aurora said, at which Guppy burst up laughing. Aurora told her she was getting the hang of it, proud mother style.
“Guppy guts the torpedo!” Guppy shouted in typical child enthusiasm.
“You’ve certainly cleaned up this asteroid field.” Estella told her over the com with a chuckle. “Unless anyone objects I’ll set us on course for the planet so we can buy the buggy and follow our previous plans?”
“And maybe get my sick bay set up. And a nice lab if you can swing it…”
“We’ll make that a priority, I’ll rest easier knowing we have some treatments on hand for… Whatever this is?” Aurora said.
“Agreed.” From Estella.
“I must say, I’m really curious to find out.” Jessica said.
“We’ll set up your lab with some quarantine doors and an emergency jettison bolts.Things get out of hand, we can blast it loose and torpedo it from a safe distance, safer than risking our ship being over run.” Aurora was thinking ahead.
“Umm, just hopefully not with me in it…”
“Again.” Estella reminded us. “Overrun again, we already got overrun once by plants, but those ones were… Gentle by comparison to what happened over there.”
“We’ll put in an airlock at the quarantine seal, then you can evac if it jettisons with you inside and we just pick you back up.” Aurora said.
“As exciting as things get here, it seemed like a reasonable worry” Jessica smiled.
“Things are usually much more tame, I assure you,” Aurora said with a grin. “Just lately… Well we’ve found the fringe of colonized space is a lot more exciting than the core worlds.”
“Oh, it’s definitely better than being blackmailed.”
“I’m still a bit shocked Scorsby would stoop to such a level, but if he thinks it’s some form of justice it makes sense.” Estella said.
“That reminds me, we still have to get Old Scorby drunk.” I reminded her.
“I just know it’ll feel a lot better once that’s cleared up.” Jessica said.
“Lets hope you can drink him under the table.” Aurora chimed in.
“I have every confidence in Sam’s ability to trade shots with the guy,” Estella said confidently. “Besides, she doesn’t have to out drink him, just get him drunk enough I can use my talent to tell the truth of the questions we ask him while you and Guppy and Jessica case his office.”
“Leave it to me.” I winked.