(Jeung Xhou’s Story)

Re-composed and interpreted from fragments (stat data – end text), heuristic recognition (AI enhanced). Output – personal record (interestingly stylised…), Zhou, Jeung (LT PCorp). MIA - Pres. Dec.

You wake up with the subliminal hum of engines in your head. Shifts are changing. Hot-bunking. Space is at a premium, the notion of which loses its humorous appeal after a few days and nights on the ship. Not that you can tell day from night here. There are no windows in the pressure hull. There is nothing to see beyond the infinitely shaded greys of bulkhead and console, beyond the mnemonics, codes and glyphs that shine upon screens and control pads. Star shine seen with the naked eye burns retinas to a crisp. And then alarm bells ring. A weary looking head appears poking through the curtains that screen your bunk bed from this grey-green world beyond. Rough hands nudge you awake. You pull the curtain fully back and see a gaunt face covered in stubble and grime.

We live in world where regular time is measured by eight hours on and eight hours off, an endless rotation of bodies filling spaces too small to be anything other than a brief and fitful respite from the grind of the watch. Life on board is about orientation. You learn quickly not to sit up. The bulkhead above the top bunk dents your skull. After a couple of days nursing a headache basic instinct cuts in. One man rolls onto his front, swings his legs out of the bunk and another man climbs into the stinking warmth of the bed. Eventually you become so tired that you’re asleep before your head hits the saliva stained pillow. This is daily life on K-47, a Hunter-Killer, Dirigiste Seventh Fleet, on convoy duty right out at the edge of the Kuiper Belt, a lone wolf hunting amid the ice worlds. We are all at sea in a silent storm, on the very edge of our slowly revolving, ecliptic star-ocean, where our still intrinsically flat earth civilisation meets the terrible, mechanistic reality of the Outworlds.

Get a profession, my parents said, something safe, a way to earn a living without venturing off Gaia. It’s a cultural thing, I guess. A desire for solidity and stability. A direct attempt to head me off from that fly-by-night military jingoism. Journalism is my bag. After college, I spent two years as a cub reporter on independent network news and then came the inevitable conscription. I have a profession, a track record. I spent those heady two years as a civilian reporter drinking and screwing my way around navy ports, two years of reporting on ship movements, tragic losses and heroic returns. I loved the dirty bustle of the space ports, where life is black and white. You learn or you burn. When the call up came, the recruiters smiled sweetly and told me to join one of the Dirigiste Navy Three-D crews. My first assignment? Embedded on a glory ship. My name is Jeung Zhou. This is shit.


You have an image in your head as a kid; shiny surfaces, flashing lights, metallic voices and red-shift, of something clean and bright and deadly. That’s just science fiction. Sure, the big guns, the capital ships, they look impressive on the surface, and complex systems do have a beauty all their own, especially when they ride across the skies in vast tonnage, but the reality of war is never like those old films. This is the cutting edge, the exposed blade, serrated and notched, unsheathed and inimically bloody. There’s a smell about the place, a rotting drift that you would think impossible to live with, but it only takes a day or two to get used to the stink.

I am, technically, a junior officer, one of thirty-one souls on board the K-47, which makes the mess a little cramped. A K-Ship runs double-banked shifts of fifteen officers and engineers at most; the officers comprising the Captain, First and Second Watch Officers, and the Chief engineer. Only the Captain gets a cabin. The rest of us make do with bunks slotted in around machinery that never sleeps in its effort to keep us alive. The designers of this bucket made some allowance for the necessities of life, though, and the heads are clean and sufficient, although showers are rationed to one per crew member every four days. Grey water. Nothing beats the simple luxuries. In truth, we can keep clean in other ways, but there’s something incredibly humanising about a hot shower, so long as you don’t dwell on the fact that everything on board is recycled.

The officers’ ready room, which doubles as our mess, is in the central section of the ship, just to the rear of the main control room, and what passes for breakfast is already underway when I swing myself through the pressure door bulkhead. Silence. The Chief is concentrating on spooning soup into her mouth, and the Captain is scanning through daily orders. Lewis, the Second Watch Officer has already eaten and hit the sack. Dewey, our good ‘ole Louisiana homeboy First Officer, is on the bridge. You have to be thankful for small mercies in a place like this and elbowroom is definitely one of those mercies. As I slide into the space recently vacated by Second Officer Lewis, the replicator panel is already rising at the far end of the table. The soup is hot, but that’s about all you can say in its favour. Food is basic out here, full of the necessary proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins needed to sustain a body, but hardly a highlight of the day.

The Captain, who is generally referred to as the Boss, looks at me and grins. “So, Newbie, sick and tired of all these drills?” Standard Dirigiste inflected Anglo. Germanic undertones.

We’ve been on patrol, wandering across and around the ecliptic for six weeks without a sniff. To keep the crew on their toes the Boss has had us on crash drills, attack drills and emergency manoeuvres almost every shift. You can tell when he’s planning something. There’s a look that passes between him, the Officer of the Watch and the Chief, a wry little smile that marks the moment when the alarm is sounded, orders are coded and the core AI broadcasts messages across the ship’s communications system;

“Cloak! Run Silent! Brace for impact!”

These sequences and call-outs are a throwback, an accommodation for frail bodies, a means of galvanising and reassuring a hairless ape who has the audacity to travel the heavens. We are, this skeleton crew, insurance, a maverick thought amid the Artificial Intelligences that run the ship. We can do the unexpected and it’s precisely those random variations that will bring us home alive and kicking. At least, that’s the theory.

It’s also a commentary on the comparative norms out here. The Apparat, or as we generally call them, the ‘Iceheads’, have been our enemy of some three hundred years now, and have chosen to go down the route of augmentation and adaptation. They are, allegedly, one organism, some sort of hybrid organo-tech bent on some weird evolutionary Jihad. To be honest, no one I’ve spoken to on the ship really believes these extremes of Dirigiste propaganda, and I’ll probably benefit from some re-orientation for saying it, but out here, right now, no one cares. The Iceheads are just people, like us, trying to survive the best way they can. We’ve kept the human element essential and fragile and unaugmented because we outnumber the Iceheads by sixty-to-one. We can afford the luxury of our apparent mutability.

The Boss makes a couple of audio notes to the daily orders, folds and tucks the tablet into his jacket pocket and slides out from the table, heading for the bridge at the prow of the ship. Before he disappears forwards through the next pressure hatch he turns and says, “We’ll see whether you’ve got the stomach for the navy eh, Kinder?”

The Chief wipes the last of the soup out of her bowl with a hunk of shroom bread and sucks it dry before putting it into her mouth. She wipes her chin with the back of her sleeve and she too slides out from the table. She raises an eyebrow as she leaves the mess, muttering ‘Poor sod’ to herself as she goes aft to check on her beloved field generator. I don’t know if she means the enemy or me.

That’s it, the sum total of the morning’s conversation, so I finish my soup alone, feeling the heat of the liquid settling in my stomach as the daily butterflies start to rise. The excitement of the chase. God alone knows what the kill will feel like. There is no God, of course, not in Sol Dirigisme. I guess I’m really praying to my inner demon…


By the time I’ve finished my breakfast the hum from the engines has risen in volume, and so has the general buzz in the atmosphere. The sound of boots on the raised metal gangways is more urgent than at any time since I came aboard. You can hear an edge in every conversation. Faces that have been showing signs of fatigue and boredom are harder and more focussed today. I can hear the Chief up in the control room running through systems checks. A couple of ratings from the previous shift have taken up station by one of the heads to make sure they don’t get left out of the action. Like a choirboy at his first Sunday morning service, I straighten my uniform jacket before seeking permission to enter the bridge.

“Permission to come for’ard?”

A look. Dewey grins. “Granted”. New Orleans. That unmistakably lilting southern drawl.

I have adopted a small space by the navigation workstation, somewhere that I can perch and watch the bridge crew in action without getting in the way. The bridge is wider than the main concourse, filling nearly the whole width of the ship’s cobra-cowled forward deck. The Boss sits in the command chair amidships, surrounded by consoles and touch screens showing tactical and status data for key operational systems. To his rear the Chief will take up station at the main engineering control. To his left and right are the navigation and weapons systems supervisors and in front of him is the main helm. Behind us and along the ship’s length the remainder of the crew attend to sub-controls and workstations dedicated to the art of concealment and death.

Dewey takes a couple of paces towards me and leans into my cubbyhole. “Convoy. Five hours dead ahead. Fat and slow.”

The Boss sits impassively in the command chair watching figures and tactical displays spin and fall. “Port one-four-seven, Vertical two-zero. Vectored”.

Dewey breaks off from our brief conversation and repeats the order to the helmsman. “Port one-four-seven, Vertical two-zero. Vectored”.

From the helm comes a direct reply as the new coordinates are entered onto the touch screen console. “Port one-four-seven, Vertical two-zero. Aye Sir”.

The cycle repeats, “All ahead, mark one-five - All ahead, mark one-five - All ahead, mark one-five. Aye Sir”.

This bit is like some of those old, flat films and early Three-D’s, except that this far out from our target the commands are actually plotted by the ship’s AI and merely confirmed by a human voice. It’s a fail-safe, another throwback designed to keep the human element relevant. The skill of the helmsman only ever really matters when we’re about to die.

The hum from the field generator bursts through the sound proofing under our feet and we can feel the ship being hauled through space by the energy field that encases us, providing motive power, defensive shielding and, if invoked, our cloaking device.

The Chief enters the bridge and reports. “All systems A-One, Captain, ready for deployment.”

The Boss turns in his chair, looks at Dewey and nods. “Cloak!”

The Chief sounds an alarm and we hear computerised communications bounce off the thick metal walls of the hull. The lighting code shifts to pre-attack blue. While I try to adjust to the subtle change in the ambient lighting, First Officer Dewey relaxes and leans against the bulkhead from behind which I am recording the activity on the bridge and marking up my verbal anecdotes. “D-E-W-E-Y. Make sure you get that right, Newbie, I want the girls to know what a hero I am, get my drift?”

The chief snorts audibly in the background. There is a new sense of urgency about everyone’s movements and I ask Dewey about the attack.

“You’ve got to remember this baby is built for speed. Basically, it’s one fucking big engine and we’re riding piggyback. Right up until we attack it’s all pretty much machine code. The convoy is making mark zero-one, for the record that’s 1% of light. Anything else in our fleet would take twenty, maybe twenty-four hours to make contact from where we are. We, on the other hand, will be sitting right up their pretty little ass in under five. That’s why we’re cloaking now. At this speed we’d light up on their far-scans way before we get in range. So, what we do is pull the skies around us nice and tight, then we go hell for leather until we’re about two-hundred thousand clicks out, tucked up in our own little world. Then, Newbie, we slow it all down and ease in underneath their exhaust signatures. They’re freighters, old tech, atomics and fusion-ion drives. Perfect cover if the cloak is working properly. There’ll be a bit of cat and mouse with the escorts, but we’ll get right in and, depending on the landscape, we’ll do them one way or another. Then, Newbie, then you’ll see just how good the old man is. When their escorts get over the shock they’ll be pretty mad. Getting all of us in this very expensive cigar tube out of there, that’s what the Old Man gets paid for.”

I nod and blow out my cheeks. It’s all recorded and filed.

“And if I were you I’d get your stories bedded down snugly in that little black box of yours. If the Boss fucks up, your wee, indestructible bag of tricks is about all that’ll be left of this old girl.” He pats the bulkhead above my head, grins and returns to his station next to the Captain, who has been listening in on our conversation and is grinning at me too.

I check my screens. Everything that I see and hear is recorded by my eyewear, which also provides a limited set of command and control mechanisms for the devices secreted about my body. I get data readouts from ship systems too so that I can flesh out the story. I check that the recording icon is active and that the connection to my Q-Spin storage is still coherent. The Q-Spin is the little black box that Dewey was referring to. Systems in the green.

The peace of the bridge, the peace that wraps itself around me with the hum of the engines disintegrates slowly as my sense of true fear rises, and the cool blue light turns ice cold. I feel sick and make my excuses, saying something about the report, gulping in stale air as I stumble back to the officer’s mess. On the way to the mess a couple of time-served ratings wink at each other as I pass. I hear something about sorting the men from the boys and I try to smile, but I can feel that facial expression only as a child-like grimace, as a juvenile death mask. As the Captain said over breakfast, we’ll find out if I have the stomach for a life in the navy, and given the cold sweat pooling under my armpits, I pray once again to that singular and largely forgotten God to make sure that these infernal bloody machines break down long before we get anywhere near the killing zone.

The Chief, damn her soul, makes sure that the machines work perfectly.


I spend thirty restless minutes in the officers’ mess with my eyes shut, and then try to shock my body back into some sort of shape with two thick, black espressos. I have no idea if there is actually any real agrarian link back to the coffee bean aboard the K-47, but the machine delivered synth does the trick anyway. I start to feel stupid and ashamed of myself. I spend another half hour re-running recordings, editing and splicing, adding my own notes and thoughts to the media collected so far.

I’m in two minds about whether I should report back to the bridge when Lewis pokes his head through the doorway fresh from his bunk. He tuts loudly. He joins me over a third coffee, complaining that he can’t sleep with all this bloody noise. His body odour mingles with the bitter smell of the strong and supposedly Colombian brew.

I unburden my soul to a fellow comrade in arms. “What’s happening to me? It’s all so bloody confusing. I feel like I’m suffocating under a blanket of white noise… like snow… that or it’s the sound of the blood pumping in my temples and I’m about to have a stroke.”

Lewis stirs sweetener into his coffee slowly. “Too much caffeine. Don’t worry. It gets to us all. My first time out in one of these, K-94, a Type One, I had to change my trousers after my first counter attack. Bloody awful. Pissed myself. It’s okay, though. You get through it. You won’t believe the punishment these old girls can take. Mind you, the type one was pretty basic. No cloaking. Pure, raw speed. In, kill and get the frig out. It was okay in the early days, but the Icehead tech-heads worked out how to deal with us. This little baby, though, she’s tough. This is our third patrol.” He runs a loving hand over the alu-mix wall. “Type Three. As fast as you get and you can’t beat the field generator. State of the fucking art.”

My left eye blinks instinctively as I reactivate the main recording device and download this last conversation from the incidental buffer. This is history. I want to make sure I’ve got it all. “What I don’t understand is why it’s so cramped, so basic?” I ask.

Lewis sips hot coffee and mulls it over for a few seconds. “The exigencies of war, my friend... or, to put it another way, we’re losing. We haven’t got any more time. K-Ships might make the difference if we can build enough of them quickly, I suppose, but it’s going to be touch and go. So, what’s important? Crew comfort or tonnage destroyed? The equation is simple. Make the machines as quickly as you can and strap the fewest number of men into them to get the maximum bang for your buck. You do know, don’t you, that sixty percent of crews don’t make it through a five-year tour.” From his jacket pocket he pulls out a hip flask. ”Take a shot and get back up there. And remember…this is the old man’s fifth excursion in a third-gen K…”

I taste brandy. Aromatic and soft. I’ve drunk enough port-side synth to know excellent, real-world quality when I get the chance. I feel the warmth of the VSOP coating my throat and gullet before settling in my stomach. The pounding in my temples sparks once, twice, and then starts to recede as basic alcoholic biochemistry gets to work. I smile at Lewis, take another quick nip, and make my way to the heads.


A while later the Boss spots me on the threshold of the bridge before I have time to request permission to enter and he waves me into the room. As he does so I am met be a sea of faces, most of them leering at me. Initiation. The Boss nods a couple of times.

“Our new boy has balls, ladies and gentlemen!”

He laughs dryly and resumes his watchful surveillance of the tactical displays. I settle into my cubby hole, feeling a wave of embarrassingly warm camaraderie wash through me, although that might, of course, also be the lingering effects of Lewis’s shot of brandy in the mess.

The ship burns with expectancy. The engines purr as we hurtle through black space, cocooned within our field, a field that, to anyone on the outside, looks just like any other patch of emptiness. In moments and circumstances like these, when the ghosts in the machine are nowhere to be seen, you really start to believe.

It takes three massive Q-Luminal multi-processor arrays controlling a series of field generation blisters on the outer hull to mimic the full expanse and density of empty space. Nearly one third of the ship is dedicated to the field control system. The rest of the ship comprises the field generator itself, the weapons systems and one long, thin deck on which the crew exist for months at a time.

Over the next three hours we close in on our prey, and as more thick black coffee does the rounds, I begin to see why the crew draws so many parallels with those old stories of the wolf packs operating in the Atlantic at the beginning of the Anthropocene. Names and designations. Terminology. The whole kit and caboodle. We have become quantum-electro-mechanical wolves.

A succession of manoeuvres, of course plots and subtle shifts in our field engagement, lead us to a point where the AI begins the attack run. The Boss grows visibly paler as we approach the twenty thousand click marker, as though he is replacing the blood in his veins with iced water. Behind him the Chief is scanning the field status monitors and barking orders back to the midships field control room,. She works directly with the AI, and occasionally she trims the ship manually to achieve subtleties of balance across every system. The Chief will give us the best advantage that she can.

The ship has become a single entity, a calm and efficient little universe, a universe of command and order. The Boss finally assumes manual combat control.

“Ahead, zero-six - Ahead, zero-six - Ahead, zero-six. Aye, Sir”.

The ship decelerates rapidly and I can feel basic Newtonian force acting on the contents of my stomach despite the corrective action of the inertial G-dampers. The Boss lines us up. “Chief, have you got a handle on the exhaust signature. The big beast, third left of the main group, dead ahead.”

“Calculating...Got it. Aligning phase-in for shields, give me a second...ready on your mark.”

“Number One, get us to the edge and feed us in nice and slow”.

It begins. AI and human at the cutting edge. We have become a symbiotic dealer in death. We tag onto the wake of the convoy and gently merge our cloak with the exhaust signature of the heavy metal in front of us, mimicking all the while every subtle shift in our immediate environment. We use near-scan to keep a weather eye on the escorts, which number three destroyers and two fast pickets on flanking duty. Twenty thousand clicks become fifteen, then ten, seven, six. At five thousand clicks we are in absolute, nightmarish range and the Boss calls up the tactical weapons display, relaying orders to the weapons operator, who enters tactical options into the command system so that the AI can run plot simulations and make ever more refined tactical recommendations.

Four thousand clicks. The walls start to close in on me as the bridge crew work silently and efficiently, every one of them focussed, running on pure adrenaline and the certainty drilled into them by hundreds of attack drills. I can feel the heat rising and looking down I can see wet patches blossoming on the shirt underneath my open jacket. Running my finger around my collar simply distributes the sweat more evenly. The liquid on my body has drained my mouth dry. My tongue feels like old shoe leather. Looking around the bridge I am comforted by the fact that everyone else in shirt-sleeves is as damp as I am. Still no firing plot. Three thousand clicks.


The Boss leans forward. AI Tactical scan data flashes brightly to his left-hand side.

“Run Silent!”

Lights shift to red. Computer minds grind in fantastic whirls of hard light and shaded subtlety. Unlike ancient submariners, silent running means that all external scans and countermeasures are killed. Sound is immaterial. We exist within our all-encompassing cloak, blind but with our ears cocked for the sound of heavy footfalls over our shoulder.

“Destroyer peeling off and dropping in behind us”, Dewey explains. “Thing is we don’t know if it’s seen us or if it’s routine. They drop back in rotation every couple of hours to see if anyone is following. Standard defensive tactics.”

I struggle to make my mouth work, swallowing hard to force the glands in my mouth to produce saliva. My heart is thumping in my chest. “How do we know...”

“If you see a very bright, white light…” Bastard Dewey pauses. I nod my head involuntarily before he deigns to complete the sentence. “…then you’re dead.”

He laughs out loud. “Only way to know for sure. If you’re still looking at my perfectly chiseled features in ten minutes, then chances are they’re none the wiser. Tick-tock, tick-tock.” The bastard is grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.


A kilometre is an arbitrary measure of distance out here. The destroyer remains on station at the rear of the convoy for twenty minutes before swinging back out into a standard defensive flanking position, during which time we drift underneath the boardwalk, crawling ever closer to the tight little knot of ships bobbing around at the edge of the inner Sol planetary system. I can’t take my eyes off the ship’s chronometer. With every minute watched I feel a weight lifting from my shoulders. I yawn. Nerves. I feel embarrassed again.

Warfare at this distance is a strangely quiet affair. Commands are almost whispered on the bridge. We manoeuvre slowly to protect our cloak of invisibility, careful not to distort the empty view of the universe that our enemy is watching so intently. One false move, one sudden jerk or jolt and the reflective patterns woven by our cloaking shield will fluctuate for a microsecond, breaking us out of the galactic weave in that minimal time lag between the generation of our computerised simulation and our physical reality.

The Boss strokes his stubbled chin and checks the tactical displays for the thousandth time this morning. He knows the game inside out but he wants reassurance. “Weapons, give me firing patterns”.

“Range five-forty clicks. AI reports too close for energy field burst. Torpedoes armed and ready. We’ll have five seconds from reveal, two full patterns of eight, then, this close, we’ll have to crash.”

At the answer the Boss lets his head fall so that his chin rests on his chest. He rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands. He turns to look at Dewey. “What do you think?”

Dewey is tense and watchful. “We could drop back, manoeuvre around them and burst from a safer distance.”

“We could. Nav, what do you think?”

The navigation officer checks readouts on his screens. “Too close to the Belt. Field echo would be too strong.” He points at a series of markers on the near-scan monitor. “And the escorts are on permanent defensive rotation. Too many negative variables.”

“Damn bloody escorts. They’re getting too good, yah? I don’t fancy torpedoes from this position. Five seconds is enough for a fix. We’re too exposed back here. Scheiẞe!”

The bridge is silent save for the hum of air-conditioning fans and the quiet ticking sound effect of the digital chronometer on the wall above the firing position. The boss fixes me with a cold look through tired eyes and speaks softly. “Is the cloak good, Chief?”

She mumbles an affirmative.

“Make bloody sure it is. Inch us in Dewey, right into the middle of the hen house. Nice and slow, I don’t want any unexpected interference with the field.”

This attacking option means weaving in and out of the shadows. We manoeuvre slowly, oh so slowly, with every course correction timed with AI precision to ensure that our cloak remains undetectable. The convoy occupies approximately five hundred cubic kilometres of space, with the freighters running in fixed but staggered positions as we glide into their midst like a fingersmith. The Boss is going to pick their pockets clean. With nothing but passive near-scan, stealth, and a mixture of intuition and long years of experience it takes half an hour for the ship to reach our ideal firing point, a position right at the heart of the convoy, a position that makes the destroyer’s response to our attack all the more difficult because of the freighters all around us. The air on the bridge is stifling now that the pressure doors in the bulkheads have been sealed for the attack. I have a splitting headache.

First Officer Dewey has to wipe sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve as he reports that we are ready to commence the offensive.

“Right”, says the Boss, “Torpedoes. Lock targets. Two patterns of eight. On my mark. Ready Chief?”

The Chief is standing by her console, her hand poised over the controls at the engineering station. AI readouts confirm the optimum kill patterns.

“Display code red!”

“Code red, aye, Sir”

The Boss is hunched forward over the tactical display.


The pattern of sound coming from under the floor panels lowers in tone.

“Pattern one, away!”

The ship shudders

“Pattern two, away!”

It’s like being at sea in a small dinghy in a heavy swell


A pulse of sound bounces off the outer field.


The background hum rises half an octave

“Damn you, Dewey, get us out of here!”

The G-dampers are on full, but we are all slammed to port as the ship starts to corkscrew, picking up speed as the field generator engine screams and creates extreme measures of field energy, hauling us down into the vortex on multiple AI deduced evasives.


Disorientation. The world around me becomes a riot of red lights, flashing crystal displays, alarms and shouts. It takes a few seconds for me to realise that I’m holding my breath, staring at the hive of activity on the bridge with my mouth open, catching flies. In the moment that it took to fire our torpedoes, the crews on the destroyers stared at their displays in disbelief, then hauled themselves back into the well-worn groove of military procedure as their own AI’s begin automated defensive responses. Our deep-scan, which confirms the kills, triggered automatic return firing patterns, which, with our own torpedoes, are ripping the convoy to shreds. Even though we have energy shields and cloaking, even though we’re bending the carcass of our dear old girl in two in an attempt to magic ourselves away from the slaughter, we can feel shock waves breaking over our hull as ships explode, as lives cease, and our cocoon is compressed to hell and back again and again. It feels like the heavens have split apart, and I grab hold of Dewey, unable to speak, looking wildly up into his eyes, but he shrugs me off.

“Evasive seven! Counter measures! Where are the fucking countermeasures?”

The Boss is sitting in the command chair, gripping its arms so tightly that the blood has drained from his knuckles. He looks as though he is straining to hear the destroyers through layers of bucking metal and squalling energy.

The Chief is hitting one of the control consoles on the engineering panel and yelling over the communications link to the control room. “Get a diagnostic on countermeasures right now!”

The Boss whistles sharply, cutting through the noise, and holding up his pale left hand, he whispers, “Quiet, people, quiet. How’s the cloak, Chief?”

She slams her hand onto the countermeasures console. “Cloak is A-one. Fucking shite countermeasures. Offline completely.”

“Okay, Dewey, evasive three and bring us to port two-nine-zero, relative level, ahead slow mark zero-zero-one.”

There is a momentary sparkle on the main AI tactical display as the ship’s computers assess and then confirm the validity of this unexpected change in evasive approach. Dewey repeats the order and instructs the helm. I can feel the ship gliding, softening, slowing under my feet. A moment of calm after the storm. How far out are we? I begin to relax, and turn to Dewey to ask if it’s always this easy and then all Hell breaks loose once again.

Broad pattern energy bursts. The enemy can’t see us, can’t scan us directly, but they can employ broad sweeps of high intensity energy fields using any one of multiple, coordinated offensive programs, programs designed to give them an optimum chance of finding us. The destroyers work as a team, creating vast cubes of space within which they basically irradiate everything. The energy bursts are modulated so that we have little or no time to tune our cloak to their diffusion patterns as they wash over our position. The net effect is that if the energy burst interacts with our cloak we get lit up like a fairy light on Christmas tree. For good measure, each and every energy burst is accompanied by a sweep of proximity warheads.

Dewey, that good-looking arsehole with the permanent Louisiana grin plastered across his face is suddenly looking like death. He is holding onto the bulkhead by the navigation station and asks me whether I have been recording everything.

“Yeah, never stopped”, I reply. “Pictures, sound, you name it, it’s all down.”

He nods once, smiles and says, “Hold on tight. The Boss is going to fool them. They’re expecting us to run, so we’ll hold here, let them blast at nothing and then sneak out.”

The air seems to fizz and crackle. I hear what seems like someone knocking on a pipe in another room, except the knocking is getting louder.

The Boss is standing now. “Sheiẞe! Brace for impact!”

The knocking sound is starting to echo, then to boom, and the ship starts to rock. My bowels are suddenly full to bursting and burning me with violent cramps. A dull thud. A second later and the shock wave hits. The shield absorbs the impact but the ship is pushed back, throwing bodies across the floor. My feet slip out from under me and I grab at the wall, catching hold of a power conduit to prevent myself flying into the Captain’s chair. Sirens wail. My eyewear slips and falls from my face. As I grope forward to try and retrieve the device, the ship’s lights flicker on and off repeatedly. The Boss crabs forward to the helm and crouches down by the helmsman. There are groans coming from the weapons operator. I can just hear the Boss as he gives orders.

“Ahead three, vertical seven, evasive nine. On my mark…”

I swear that he can hear the bastards, that he can read their minds. The evasive pattern is designed to slide us underneath the sweep of energy bursts with a sudden burst of maximum velocity thrown in. Another thud and the ship keels to port violently. Sparks and smoke fill our red shadowed world. People are crashing around the room. Strobe effects. You want to run but there’s nowhere to go. You want to pray. You want proof that bastard God exists. You suddenly and desperately search for the miracle, but all you get is a mouthful of acidic smoke and smarting eyes. I think of my mother and try to force my thoughts all the way back to her in New Shanghai, but nothing escapes the thin metal walls of our glory ship.

The Chief is calling for damage reports from the aft sections. Another alarm starts to sound. The Boss looks around and the Chief shakes her head.

The Boss turns back to the helm and speaks calmly to the helmsman. “Starboard two-twenty, negative vertical one-thirty. Hold it...hold it, ahead three. Remember, on my mark give it all she’s...”

Transcript: Class. Secret – Command Level 2 – Hive.Archive.

FleetCom Ref: K47 / Zhou (Lt) M. 33848-223PC-43

Tag: 2712-03-17 Standard: 13:45 Gaia Command.

Vector: 14456-23879

General Note: Salvaged Recorder – Vis. Imp., Snd. Deg, P.File.

Status: All Hands - M.I.A - N.F.A.

Media: Gen Release – Audio only.

Authent.: 35% Device. 12% Redacted. 53% Creative

Next Chapter: Arkland