The Prime Empire - Part 9&10

Fallborn took in the familiar cabin—as always, there was an ordered chaos about the room. Stacks of paper lay strewn across nearly any surface which could hold them. She was always struck by the archaic habit of the Captain, always burying her nose in books and printed paper when she could easily just use a data-pad.

Captain Winterborn leaned languidly into her broad leather chair, nursing a cup of steaming tea. "So," she reiterated, "what exactly did you find out, Lieutenant?"

Fallborn looked away from the mess of papers and books, returning her attention to Winterborn. "Sorry Captain, I was distracted by your uh...collection," coming to attention, she continued, "Sir, it appears that the Quin'tel not only planned our 'discovery' of their species—they also seem to have planned for Humanity to be the one to discover them."

Winterborn looked surprised, "Really now? Of course, I expected that the Quin'tel engineered the discovery of their species...What makes you think they designed for us specifically to find them?"

Fallborn mentally summoned her visual overlay, sending a file to the Captain, "The file I've attached goes over the details in more depth, but I'll give you an overview. First, the Security Chief has finished her report on the initial meeting with the Quin'tel-"

"Their infiltration of our U.T.A.I. database?" Winterborn interjected.

"Exactly. The Chief noted something extremely odd. It looks like they used Exploration command codes to access the database. Specifically, the codes came from a ship which went missing about a year ago..."

Winterborn hissed in a breath, "The Icarus?"

Fallborn nodded, "Precisely. The first ship to test the prototype jump drive. As you recall from the mission dossier, the ship was assumed to be lost."

"Right," she nodded and placed her steaming cup on the end table, "Pieces of the ship were found strewn across half the system..."

"Yes, Sir. However, if the Quin'tel discovered them, it's likely that they were captured, interrogated, and destroyed."

Winterborn stood and began to pace, "When I was talking with the Prime, the former Prime that is, he siad that it was standard procedure to destroy an uncontacted ship if they discovered the Quin'tel first...what if, when the Icarus jumped, it appeared in this system? Or one of the twenty that Ren'brus and the others control?"

"Yes, Sir. It seems we're of one mind. The ship could have been found, secured, information stolen, and sent back to our space."

Winterborn stopped pacing, "Why would they destroy the ship if they decided they would want us to lead them? It doesn't make sense."

"What if they only solidified their plan after following standard procedure? It has been a year after all."

"You have a point, the arrival of the Icarus might have just been the catalyst to set the stage for their future actions. Do we have any ideas how they could have brought us here? We were meant to arrive in Alpha Centauri, not the other end of the galaxy."

Fallborn nodded, "That moves us on to our second point. We have discovered buried sub-routines in the navigation system. It appears our location was pre-determined..."

Winterborn looked sharply at Fallborn, "Are you saying we have a traitor aboard, Lieutenant?"

"Sir, I think it's too early in the investigation to make that call. Remember, these Quin'tel had access to high-level command codes. It's possible they could have planted the routines in our systems after the fact."

"Wait," Winterborn paused, "that doesn't make sense. The command codes would have been changed shortly after the ship was lost. There's no way the old command codes should have worked to download our A.I. data-banks, let alone our navigation systems. Something here doesn't make sense. Do we have any idea how or when the routines were planted?"

Fallborn shook her head, "No, Sir. Whoever planted the sub-routines covered their tracks well. In fact, it's a miracle we found them at all. We're not sure, but it seems that the Icarus command codes were embedded in the trusted platform module. We think they used those command codes as they were recorded in our core systems as obsolete codes. The security system wouldn't react to receiving them in the same manner it would if they were entirely foreign. Honestly, whoever did this was extremely competent."

Winterborn cursed under her breath, rubbing her temples, her eyes closed. "We'll need to up the security situation level. We'll restrict access to core systems to senior officers only, I'll also want the security team conducting interviews with all crew. We need to ensure the loyalty of our people."

They stood in silence for a moment, Winterborn sat down heavily in the cracked leather chair she always favored. She sighed, "Well, Lieutenant, this situation isn't going to un-fuck itself before tomorrow. I'll go over your report tomorrow morning. I know you're off duty, want to stay for a drink or three?"

Fallborn laughed and sat down in the chair across from her, "Sure, I'd like that."

Part 10

A quiet, but insistent alarm gradually pulled Winterborn out of sleep. She stretched against the smooth silky fabric of her sheets, luxuriating in the clean feeling of the fabric against her skin. Reaching out an arm, she rested her hand lightly on her guest's hip. Fallborn moaned huskily and stretched out, rolling over to look Winterborn in the eyes.

"Good morning, Captain," she purred.

"Call me Willow when we're off duty, you know that," she smiled and sat up in the bed, speaking on a mock serious tone, "That, Lieutenant, is an order." Winterborn leaned over kissing Fallborn lightly on the lips.

"Aye aye, Captain-I mean Willow. Or do I call you Prime now?" she asked playfully.

Willow took her hand away from Fallborn, and said, "Dammit Rosa, you just had to bring that back up." She draped her legs over the side of the bed, "Well, I suppose it's time to get back to work," she sighed and stood. "You coming to the shower?"

"I'll be there in a moment, I have to run through the night's reports."

"Don't be long missy, I expect you to be in the shower by 0605," Winterborn giggled and walked away from the bed, stretching as she walked.

Rosa sat up, calling up her visual overlay, displayed in orderly columns were five overnight reports. Thankfully they were all run of the mill duty reports. She quickly read the documents and forwarded them to the first officer.

Hopping out of bed, she nearly tripped on a stack of paper, she shook her head and laughed softly. Stepping carefully through the mess, she managed to navigate her way to the bathroom. She looked through the misty room and saw the slim, fit silhouette of Willow through the fogged glass. "Why exactly do you spend every credit you earn on books and paper? If you keep these spending habits up, you'll die a beggar," she laughed softly, pulling the glass door open slowly.

Willow turned and looked at Rosa, smile side on her face. "There isn't anything wrong with spending a bit now and then, it's not like I don't earn enough to indulge in my....personal interests." Winterborn reached out with one wet hand, pulling her into the shower, "I indulge in you after all."

Fifteen minutes later, they were both dressed and ready for duty.

Winterborn checked her reflection one last time before nodding to herself, "Alright Lieutenant, let's get this day started. I'm sending a message to Commander Val Springborn to meet us in the conference room. I think we all need to go over the events of the last day. Per our report, we should have a few hours before the Quin'tel wake up."

"Yes, Sir. I recommend calling the entire Senior Staff, we'll need to make sure they're briefed on the upcoming investigations, we don't need our officers out of the loop."

Winterborn looked at Fallborn, her mouth drawn into a tight line, "I don't think so, Lieutenant. We're not sure who we can trust at this point. In fact, I'd say that if we are facing a traitor, it's more likely to be one of the Senior Officers. We can apprise each officer of the situation as they are cleared of suspicion. For now it's between us, the First Officer, and the Security Chief," she paused, troubled, "I fear too many know of the situation as it stands."

Winterborn called up her visual overlay, sending a message to the Commander and Chief Security Officer to meet them in the conference chamber at 0640.

Fallborn nodded her understanding. Smoothing out her uniform, she followed the Captain out into the hall.

They walked through the clean metal hallway, nodding to crewmen and staff who stood at attention, saluting as they passed. "Lieutenant, please send a message to the mess, I'd like coffee and pastries sent up to the conference chamber."

Fallborn smiled, "Any way I can get you to amend that order to include a few grilled cheese sandwiches, Sir? I'm starved."

Winterborn shook her head fondly, "I'll approved the request, Lieutenant. Just this once."

They walked through the automatic door, entering into the well-appointed conference room. Fallborn was struck by the sight of the vast green expanse of the planet which dominated the window-scape. She was still amazed by the idea that an entire civilization lived down below—an entire alien civilization. Somehow it was still difficult for her to really understand, to really grasp that billions of lifeforms lived just below.

Winterborn noticed her staring, "Incredible isn't it? Now that I've slept on the situation, I can finally start to wrap my head around the idea that we've discovered alien life! Humanity isn't alone in the universe. Looking down on this planet, it really begins to sink in doesn't it?"

"Yes, Captain," Fallborn replied, walking over to her chair to sit down, "I'm not sure it will ever sink in how not alone we really are. According to the Quin'tel, we are a drop in the bucket. We are a grain of sand adrift on the ocean."

Winterborn took her seat at the head of the table, "You're right, we're Insignificant when it comes to population. Something the Quin'tel said has stuck with me though—we're extremely recent newcomers on the universal stage. We've essentially just stepped out of diapers compared to some of these civilizations. From what I understand, we're technologically advanced enough that the Quin'tel thought we were an Elder species. I don't think Humanity will be outclassed for very long."

The conversation slowed as the door slid open and two officers stepped into the chamber.

Both officers came to sharp attention, snapping off a crisp salute, "Sir," said Commander Val Springborn.

"At ease, Commander, Lieutenant. Please, sit down, we need to discuss something of grave importance," she looked at each officer in turn, "We may be dealing with a traitor."

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