Aftermath (Part 1)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     Overhead point lights illuminated a semi-circular table and the five people sat around it. They were sitting around the curve, dressed in the stark military uniforms of Her Majesty's Space Navy, bearing no indication of their true position in the service, that of agents of Naval Intelligence. The chair at the flat side of the table was placed upon a slight platform, and was currently unoccupied.
     The man who entered to take the chair was older and was dressed in a richer uniform with admiral's stripes around the cuffs. The five stood to greet him.
     "Please, sit." He sat and continued "I'll be brief, because that's all I can be with our present knowledge. The Constrictor dilemma has reared its ugly head again. It was a remarkably well-built ship, not only in its shielding but also in its hull, and it appears that its destruction wasn't total. Various pieces of unusual duralium recently appeared in a scrap sale. GalCop always keep an eye on the trader in question and fortunately they recognised that there was something odd here. They passed on the metal to us and it as been positively identified as coming from the Constrictor. The scrap merchant confessed to having obtained it from a known pirate who was then traced by GalCop. It turns out that the pirate was killed a month ago. And with him went the last known link to the debris. We don't know if there was any more of it and where it might have gone, although judging from the state of the pieces we recovered it is quite possible that someone somewhere has some."
     The admiral stood and walked to the wall behind him. Pressing a pad on it caused a portion to illuminate. "This is the TS-ComDirect footage from the Cobra that destroyed the Constrictor." The screen showed the mysterious vessel swerving around trying to avoid the incessant military laser from the pursuing vessel. Its screens having nearly failed the stolen craft's only hope was to try and outrun the slower but more manoeuvrable Cobra. The laser fire caught the Constrictor again, penetrating the now-failed shields. The explosion of the doomed ship lit the screen but the victor had rolled his ship out of the line of sight before the aftermath of the Constrictor's destruction had died away.
     The admiral continued, "The Cobra did not stay to investigate any further. Image analysis was indeterminate as to whether or not significant solid debris was left behind but the likelihood was considered low and the matter was not pursued. Upon its return to a station we had the Cobra's logs of the event wiped as a precaution. The commander of that vessel is believed to be trustworthy but unfortunately we dare not risk interviewing him at the moment since he is involved in the current Thargoid campaign and drawing attention to him at this moment in time would most definitely not be a good idea."
     "I guess we're to track down whatever may be left of the Constrictor, then?" asked one of the five.
     "Correct. Its technology must remain secret. It was impressive enough on a ship that size. If it were to end up on a full-sized warship the results could be catastrophic for the Co-Operative. A transport will leave here at 1600 to transport you to Orarra. Vessels have been made available for you there. Good luck."
     There must be some genuine concern that some critical aspects of the Constrictor had found their way into the wrong hands to warrant this treatment. The Navy was usually too busy caught up in engagements with the Thargoids to spend much effort on slender-seeming risks such as this. The five agents thought so too and were pondering events as they waited for the transport vessel to leave the naval base at Xeer. The uniforms had been put away and they were now dressed casually. Four of them were human, the other an alien with a slight feline appearance, a native of the world Diso, unusual in an organisation dominated by the Old Earth species.
     A slight movement in their ship signalled the start of its flight. The giant gantries and arms of the Xeer New Devonport Naval Docks were seen drifting by as the the craft was slowly manoeuvred towards clear space. Xeer was a major naval base and shipyard and was bustling with more activity than would usually be seen outside the busiest civilian space station. To the left the skeletons of three half-completed Asp MkIIs lay enclosed by a web of metal. Small points of light showed where robotic construction equipment worked on the ships. On the opposite side was a squadron of new Sidewinder Scout craft that had just arrived from Onrira Orbital. Alongside them was one of the Sidewinder's heavier squadron leader ships, the Bushmaster (an oversight in its naming resulted in it being given the identical designation to the common mining vessel).
     The transport cleared the structure of the central shipyard station, bringing into view the planet of Xeer itself, a huge crescent below. On the visible slice grey cloud covered the plains from which most of the planet's agricultural wealth was obtained. A few concentrations of light could be seen in the dark area, mostly cities but two of the odder-appearing ones were the result of huge numbers of luminescent marine creatures that accumulated at two nights of every year making one of the more impressive natural sights in the galaxy. Up in space a Coriolis station span near to the main yard. This was where some of the more secret construction projects took place. It was rumoured that the Navy were developing their remote- controlled fighter in there, and the Constrictor had certainly been built within it, hidden from prying eyes. Until it was stolen.
     The theft of the Constrictor was still something of a mystery, even to Naval Intelligence. The thieves had never been identified. The project had been top secret but all those who were supposed to know of it had been accounted for. Despite much looking no evidence had ever been found of a leak. Since the theft to the time of destruction the thieves had remained as much out of contact as possible, destroying most of those they encountered. The only contact had been the delivery of a galactic hyperdrive and even then it was only seen fleetingly. The crew who went in to install it never came out again and the vessel departed before anyone came looking for them.
     Two of the team looking for its remains had been involved with trying to sort out the original fiasco. After a couple of months of futile searching it had become apparent that more help was needed, and with most of the Navy's resources directed against the Thargoids they were forced to turn to the public for assistance. It had been conceded that a hard-bitten trader who had survived numerous pirate attacks and knew all the tricks in the book, and a few more besides, might have better luck when it came to fighting the thing anyway. Angus Williams was one of the two agents trying to locate the missing ship. He had eventually traced the Constrictor to Colesque and managed to contact the last surviving independent trader on its tail. Williams had caught up with it too soon, flying the wrong craft, and was lucky to have escaped with his life. After that the somewhat embittered man was reduced to pointing the pursuing trader in the right direction, until he eventually managed to catch up with and destroy the Constrictor.
     The Disian was the other member of the group involved with the original chase. His task had been to try to find out who had stolen it in the first place, and his failure to do so had preyed on his mind ever since. The number of criminal organisations who might have liked such booty was high, but the death rate amongst them was also high in their high-risk business. GalCop had lost track of a number of them at the time of the Constrictor's destruction. Besides, the theft of a top-secret Naval ship from a heavily-guarded base was too daring for most of them. A number of planets throughout the galaxy were engaged in on-going wars. Those within the Galactic Co-operative were confined to fighting themselves but there were a large number of planets outside its jurisdiction fighting interstellar battles. Most of them had too few resources to attempt such a mission as the theft. The most deadly enemies of all, the Thargoids, were not known for their subtlety and when they wanted something they were more inclined to wade in with guns blazing to seize it by force.
     Then there was the even more puzzling question of how anyone knew about the ship. Security was tight at the shipyard and there was no indication of where it might have been breached. Grudgingly the case had been closed unless someone discovered new information.
     Of the remaining three one of them had lived in the region of the galaxy of Colesque, the area in which Orarra was located and had extensive contacts there. The two others had no particular knowledge or involvement with the Constrictor, and had been selected simply for being people good for the job who were available at the right time.
     They had now left the dockyard complex and were headed towards the co-ordinates for Witchspace entry. Numerous craft, both civilian and military, thronged the area. Police patrols, freighter convoys, private lone- wolf traders, and probably a number of pirates and a few bounty hunters masquerading as tradecraft were all present, and for the time being obeying the rules. Until they were as out of sight as could be managed and where everyone had to live on their wits.
     As a priority military mission SysCon had granted them immediate departure into the Faraway jump. The transport slowed, awaiting final hyperspace permission. When it came the ship moved forwards again, slowly, angling for the theoretically perfect position to make hyperspace as risk-free an event as could be possible. There was nothing else to indicate that the single-use galactic hyperdrive motor was powering up, that could send them hundreds of times further than the standard drives, into a completely different area of the galaxy. As a military model it had far greater precision than those available to civilians (which could only lock onto a random system when the craft was almost in the area) and had been targeted on Orarra, the last known location of the Constrictor. And in an instant it engaged, and the ship vanished.


The reason you, dear reader, are not involved is because you are busy doing BBC B version Mission 2 at the time (the clue being the reference to the destroyer of the Constrictor being involved in the current Thargoid campaign).
Story index
Part 2