Episode 10 – Star Hunters, part 8

Sorry for the lack of new art, I’ve been running non-stop and haven’t had time to make anything.

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“The computer system was not a complete loss,” Urle said.  “My deeper scans found some data that was salvageable in some of the backups, though I have to admit the damage here was bad.”

“Does the equipment show signs of tenkionic disruption?” Brooks asked.

“Negative.  We don’t see any signs of that sort of corruption, Captain,” Urle replied.

The image was still somewhat grainy from bad data rate, but stronger than the earlier one, Brooks could see.  Urle seemed distracted at times, and in the background behind him Brooks could see people moving by.

“Honestly, this looks more like a software attack than anything else.  I checked very carefully for signs of alteration in the hardware, which we’d expect if there was some kind of tenkionic attack.  But I didn’t find any.”

“A software attack,” Jaya repeated.  “Did the pirates upload some sort of virus to get the system to delete itself?”

“That would be my guess,” Urle said.  He paused a second, his head tilting as if he was looking at something beyond him.  “But I haven’t looked over the entire system.  It’s possible a deeper scan will find something novel – tenkionic matter is often unpredictable.”

“Still, it’s rather good to not see those signs,” Brooks said.  Jaya glanced at him but said nothing.

“What data were you able to retrieve?” he continued.

“A few more scans of the pirate ships as they came in, nothing too amazing.  It might help add to our understanding of their capabilities, though.  The juiciest thing I found was this, though it’s still not very exciting.”

A brief, damaged piece of video played.  It was a shaky view, as if recorded by an individual’s system as he hid and peered between buildings.

Two bulky humanoids were walking, heavy drones swarming above and around them.

The two walked slowly, their suits dark, appearing armored, and fully enclosing their bodies.

It was only seven seconds long before the view abruptly turned and fled.

“Someone was unlucky enough to be caught outside and got a look at some of the attackers.  It seems a few did come down to the surface, after all.”

“Maybe not unlucky,” Jaya said.  “Perhaps brave.”

“Perhaps so,” Urle replied.  “But the person who recorded it dumped their recent data to a server and hasn’t been seen since.  The colonists are fearing the worst.”

A person’s life for a few seconds of grainy footage, Brooks thought.

“We’ll get to analyzing this data, see if we can find something that cracks this open in there,” Brooks said.

“I sure hope so, Captain,” Urle replied.  “With your permission, I’d like to stay down here a few more hours and see what else I can do for the colony.”

“Granted,” Brooks said.  “Do what good you can.  I’ll get Sulp on preparing a few more drops of supplies in the meantime.”

As the call ended, Urle could see the group behind him preparing to move in.

The colonists had been eyeing him for several minutes, and it hadn’t taken complex behavioral analysis algorithms to see that they were both angry and prepared to take that anger out on him.

Taking a deep breath, he turned to face them.

“Can I help you?” he asked cordially to the group.

There were six of them, two women and four men.  A few looked less certain than others, but the stress signals poured off them.

“Now you ask,” one man spat.  Urle decided he was one of the leaders and turned slightly to face him better.

“I was on a call.  I’m ready to go help more, though,” Urle told the man.

“Where the hell were you when we were getting attacked?” one of the women said.  She was tall, her dark hair short like a spacer, her voice quavering slightly.

“You left us here to get massacred!” a man said, his emotions clearly roiled by the woman’s outburst.

Urle knew it was not, truly, an indictment against him, but against the policies the Union had put in place about these colonies.

Ever since Terris, colonization of new systems had been stopped and the newer colonies restricted in supplies.

No one had known what had caused the Leviathan to attack Terris.  But it had been a fast-growing colony near the fringe of settled space, and many found it easy to think that reckless expansionism had awoken a sleeping giant.

“I’m sorry you were left vulnerable,” Urle said calmly.  “It never should have happened.  But we’re here now, and-“

“You being here won’t bring back our families!” the woman said again, tears bursting from her eyes.

“Jeciza . . .” the other woman said, trying to comfort her.

“Why did it have to take an attack before you people would listen to us, huh?  We’ve been out here for seven years just asking for the assistance we were promised, stuck and helpless!”

Urle bit his lip against pointing out that they had been offered transport back into Union space; but that was almost certainly another sore point, given that many had taken that up and stripped these fringe colonies of population they desperately needed.

“We don’t know what the pirates have done with the captives,” Urle said, still calm but now with some firmness.  “Most likely they want to ransom them back.  And I promise you, we will do everything we can to help return them unharmed.”

But his words only seemed to raise more ire.

“Fuck you!” a man cried, flinging something at him.

Ducking it easily, Urle took a step back, adopting a defensive stance.  The last thing he wanted to do was fight these people, and yet-

“What can a fucking machine know about what we’re going through?” another man said.  “You traded in your fucking soul when you-“

Urle saw Addo step out, saw the weapon in her arms – but when she raised it, she only fired into the ground.

The sound made the mob jump.  Urle looked to her calmly.

“That’s enough,” the Chairwoman said.  “Gen, Hiyo – what the hell are you doing?  This man is here to help us and you’re blaming him for a policy beyond his control.”

“He’s one of them!” the leading man spat.  “We all know why they keep us weak, so we’re easy to control!  And with these attacks they’re only going to use it as an excuse to press down harder!”

Another man yelled.  “They probably did the attacks themselves to-“

“Quiet!” Addo yelled.  “Gen, Hiyo – that’s enough of your conspiracies.  Disperse, now!  I won’t listen to any more of this garbage, and I do not want to hear you’ve been harassing the other Union officers!”

One of the women, the one who had seemed unsure about this whole thing, took Hiyo’s arm, pulling him.  “Come on,” she hissed.  “Let’s go!”

The man glared at Urle a moment, then turned sharply, taking the woman’s hand as she left.

The rest of the group began to disperse, but Gen lingered the longest, looking between Urle and Addo.

“I can see whose side you’re on now,” he spat, finally turning and walking away.

“I’m very sorry that happened,” Addo said, approaching Urle and holstering her sidearm.

While she had broken up the situation, Urle thought, he did not really think she had solved it; her words and actions would only be fuel to the fire.

“Is that view widespread?” he asked.

“Somewhat.  I would not say it’s a majority of people, but just a few loudmouths,” Addo replied.

Despite her actions, Urle could tell she was wary of him still, but he did not know if it was because of her seeming distrust of transhumans or because she agreed on some level with that group.

“And where do you stand on it?” he asked.  It was very straightforward, but he was prepared to study her reaction more than her words.

She surprised him, though; “I am outspoken in being against those people,” she said.  “It’s why I was quick to take control after the previous leadership of the colony were taken by the pirates.”

“Wait,” Urle said.  “The kidnapped people were the rest of the leadership?”

“Yes,” she said.  “They were having a session when the pirates showed, so naturally they went into the same bunker.  There wasn’t time for anything else.”

The fact that they hadn’t mentioned this yet . . .  Urle found himself with a bad taste in his mouth.  “And you weren’t there?”

“No, I was not an elected official at that time,” she said.  “Yet I knew if I waited, people like Gen would take this as a chance to take control – and I have no idea what they would do.  They see traitors and spies everywhere.”

“Spies for the pirates?” Urle asked.

“No,” she replied.  “For the Union.”

Urle was quiet a moment, rocked.  “I had no idea things were this bad . . .”

“Like I said before,” Addo said.  “It was only a few people.  They’re just loud, and I fear potentially violent.  To be honest, since the Union has restricted shipments out here, we’ve been trading with independent merchants quite often.  They often bring their own mass culture and news.  Quite a few people listen – and take it seriously.”

So it was outside sources spreading these ideas, Urle thought.

He’d known there was resentment, but honestly – this was worse than he expected.

“I’d like to ask,” Addo continued.  “That you keep this off the record.”

He could detect a note of nervousness in her voice as she spoke.

“I don’t want these men getting detained or . . . harassed or anything like that,” she added, seeming to have steeled herself to say the words.

“I have to tell my Captain that the situation is getting serious here,” he said, speaking carefully.  “But I will not reveal anyone’s identities.  Is that all right?”

Addo did not look happy, but nodded.  “So long as it doesn’t come back on them, I suppose.”

“You still seem unhappy with me,” Urle added.

“Honestly?” she asked.  “When we saw your ship arrive . . . we were hoping for a full relief.  Dozens of pods of supplies and hundreds of engineers.”

She gestured towards the door and beyond.  “The help that you and Commander Cutter are giving is appreciated.  But in the face of what has become of our lives, it feels so, so small, Commander Urle.  I know you are doing what you can, but we feel more alone than ever.”

< Ep 10 Part 7 | Ep 10 Part 9 >

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