The Prime Empire - Part 11&12

Both officers dropped their salute and came out of attention. Commander Val Springborn walked around the table, taking her seat at the right hand of the Captain. Junior Lieutenant Ava Springborn followed close behind, taking her seat next to Fallborn. As always, Val had her silky black hair tied neatly into a practical looking bun, while Ava's blonde hair cascaded down her back. Winterborn was always struck by the contrast between Val and Ava—where Val was short at 1.72 meters, Ava was towering at about 2 meters. Where Val was delicate and compact, Ava was robust and expansive. Most of all, their personalities couldn't be more different.

As the officers sat down, Winterborn broke her reverie. Nodding to Ava, she began, “Give them the situation update, Lieutenant.”

Ava nodded, “Yes, Sir.” She stood and walked to the front of the room while activating her ocular implant, sharing a display of the situation overview with everyone in the assembled group. She waited a moment before proceeding, “Obviously, you are all aware of the general situation—our systems were compromised, and we were forced to make our jump to this system rather than to Alpha Centauri. You have also been made aware that the codes used to accomplish this were codes from the Icarus,” she paused for a moment, weighing her words, “We have discovered information which makes treachery vastly more likely…the subroutines were added after we set out to the test site.”

Commander Val leaned back in her chair, rubbing her temples, “Do we have any idea who had the opportunity for sabotage? For that matter, who would have motive to carry out such an action?”

Ava shook her head, “Unfortunately, we can’t make that determination—most senior officers had the opportunity, capability, and access. Honestly, we can’t even be sure about many of the crew. They may not officially have the specializations required to have committed the act, but we are obviously dealing with someone who is working undercover. So far, I haven’t been able to establish the innocence of anyone on board.”

Winterborn leaned forward and laced her fingers together, “For now, it looks like we’ll have to operate on the assumption that anyone here could be guilty. This is strictly on a need-to-know basis, and no one outside this room needs to know.”

Commander Val looked like she was going to be sick. “Captain, I suggest that we all independently investigate one another. To better do this, we should make each of our personal logs available to our fellow crew mates.”

Fallborn sat up in her chair, flicking an eye towards Winterborn, “I really don’t think disclosing our personal logs to each other is necessary. We should just be able to grant total access to the Captain. She would be more than capable of vetting each of us.”

Winterborn shot an empathetic look towards Fallborn, “I disagree. At this moment we can’t be sure about anyone—not me, you, or anyone on board. We may find things out about one another which make us uncomfortable; that is a risk I am more than willing to take. We need to find out who is responsible for the events occurring now. Honestly, I’m not sure if they deserve an execution or a medal. I suppose time will tell.”

Winterborn walked to look out over the view of the planet which dominated below. “We have the opportunity to benefit the Human race in more ways than we could possibly imagine…whoever did this gave us that opportunity.”

Fallborn coughed and piped up, “There is something else we need to discuss, Sir,” she stood and walked beside the Captain, “What exactly are we going to do with Ren’brus and the others? We may not know who the traitor is on our vessel, but we do know for sure that those three were involved.”

Winterborn turned and smiled slyly, “We’ll be exploring that avenue in depth at a later point, Lieutenant,” she walked towards the large table, “For now, they are too important as aides. I have a feeling I’ll need their willing participation to navigate the political situation on their home planet. In the meantime, we’ll try to drag any information we can out of them. After the coronation, I’m sure they’ll find themselves willing to talk.”

The Commander smiled, her perfect white grin was almost predatory, “Whoever engineered this, they underestimated us. They think they’ll be able to control us, guide us, lead us like puppets by the strings…”

Winterborn laughed softly, patting the Commander on the shoulder, “If they think we’ll be marionettes dancing on their stage, they definitely have another thing coming.”

A chiming at the door silenced the group, signaling that refreshments had arrived. The officers sat back down at the table, picking food from the breakfast spread. They sat in satisfied silence for a few brief moments, reveling in their first meal of the day.

Finally, the silence was broken by Winterborn as she distributed three lists of names, all officers attached to the security division. “You will find several officers listed in the documents I just sent you. Each is a member of the security division; we’ll be working to clear them as a priority. I’d like any cleared officers working on this investigation as soon as possible. I have also included a coded order which will restrict you from speaking about this case with anyone I haven’t cleared personally. Understood?”

The assembled officers looked surprised, and for good reason—encoding an order into the neural matrix of an officer was usually reserved for top-secret information. Ava spoke up out of surprise, “Sir?! This is highly out of the ordinary. Do you really think a provision like this is necessary?”

The other officers seemed to agree with Ava. Winterborn sighed heavily, “This is top priority. If we have an agent working against us, we need to root them out. I know whoever did this must have bypassed the Oath, but they could have done that by convincing themselves that their actions were for the good of Humanity. By giving this directive, I can ensure that the flow of information is restricted. I apologize for the necessity of this directive, as much as I'd like to trust you all, we just don't have that luxury."

Part 12

Commander Val nodded, her stern features hardening into what resembled a stone facade. “Captain, I respect your decision. Prudence would dictate that we move forward with the utmost care and caution. This may not hinder the traitor, but we can’t be too cautious.” She turned to look at Ava, “Lieutenant, I’d like you to go over the crew profiles with me after the meeting.”

Ava nodded, “Right, Sir. We should try to rank officers and crew by likelihood of having perpetrated the sabotage.”

Val smiled, her mouth a thin line, “Once we establish communication with Command, we’ll see about cross referencing our gathered information with their intelligence. Maybe we can pin down this rat quickly.”

Winterborn turned to Val, “On that note, our first priority should still be establishing communication with Earth—where are we on that front?”

Val sighed and stood, “Well, traditional communication methods are out for obvious reasons. Ordinarily, a message could be carried in a matter of days, or weeks. A communication from here would take a century. What we’re working on right now should cut that time down to hours. By attaching a jump-drive to a probe, we could send a message directly to Earth without the problems faced by more traditional methods.”

Captain Winterborn reached out and picked up her cup of tea, taking a long, slow drink, “That sounds like it will work. Get the designs finished and get a working model online. Of course, if we could trust our own navigation systems, we could just as easily make the jump ourselves…still, there’s no way we can do something like that until our system is purged of all foreign commands. How are we doing on that front, Lieutenant Springborn?”

Ava flicked her eye to the side and called up her ocular implant, sending a file to all present. “As you can see, the Security A.I. is about 45% done with the diagnostic. We expect to have the scan completed within the day. The actual cleaning of our system could take longer depending upon both the depth of their skill, and the depth of their infiltration.”

A soft chime rang at the door. Winterborn frowned at it, “Enter!” she called out.

The door slid open to reveal Ren’brus, with Bre’brus and Val’brus at his heels. They bowed their heads reverently, “Prime, would you permit this loathsome creature to interrupt?”

Winterborn’s frown deepened, “Yes, of course Ren’brus.”

“Excellence, we have received word of a possible attempt on your life from a faction of loyalists to the old Prime. We don’t know exactly when they will strike, but our sources claim that the attack is imminent.”

An urgent alert sounded over the ship’s intercom, warning icons flashed in the corner of each of their eyes.

The officers leapt to their feet, Winterborn sent a message across all intercoms and implants, “Battle stations!”

Each of the officers ran towards the center of the ship, passing hurried-looking crewman and officers. Finally, they made their way to the central command. The room was more like a bunker than one might expect compared to the traditional depiction of a star-ship bridge; it was essentially a box designed from the most durable material Humanity had been able to throw together. Effectively, it served as a bomb shelter. Absent too were screens and consoles; in their place were bio-pods designed to support life and maintain a livable environment through the harshest conditions. Actual control of the ship and orders could be delivered over neural communication networks.

The Quin'tel were extremely displeased at the idea that they'd have to wait in their quarters.

Winterborn stepped into her bio-pod, slipping into a molded form designed just for her. As the hatch closed, a 360-degree view of the ship lit up as if being projected from within in her head. She could feel the presence of her officers brushing against the edges of her mind. She ordered the ship to break orbit of Tre'brus, turning to face the incoming combatant. What she saw staggered her...

A very familiar ship loomed in the distance, a ship which looked very much like the one they were currently occupying.

The Icarus was flying on a direct intercept course, and they were gaining speed.

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