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Somehow, again, the ship behind them had come even closer. It wasn’t an equipment malfunction, or paranoid trick of the mind. They approached at an inconceivable rate – not within ten years of development, possibly not humanly allowable. Might someone be hacking their system to deceive them, and why? A thought that made more sense to Wendel, in context, was that someone might be trying to kill them with never-before-seen weapons and equipment. That wasn’t the first thing she’d never seen before, today, signifying different waters; a new ocean of possibility. The leaps forward defied velocity, killing the rear longview pathing. The ship never fell back or changed track. Ship database info wasn’t available yet at this distance, but Wendel was guessing it wouldn’t be helpful.

What could be bigger than the trouble that’s after me? Maybe the trouble that’s after her.

Wendel Harper freed her chair to swing around, and engaged Princess Soleil in a staring contest. She had to try not to ask about Zero-Clearance particulars, though it was hard to wrangle a question away from that topic. She tried her best with a little readiness testing, a good idea in situations involving untried adults. “Without inquiring into your situation, can you tell me if this might probably be something that involves you? I ask for the sake of decision making with regards to our welfare.”

Wearing the same face as when she’d first noticed the pursuant craft’s maneuvers, the Princess replied, “Perhaps. Without inquiring into your situation, do you think that this might have something to do with your affairs?”

“Possibly,” replied the captain. “How dangerous is your situation?”

Princess Soleil cleared her throat and indicated the rear longview screen. “How dangerous does that look? At the current moment, this is our situation.”

Even if splitting up would make a difference, Wendel wasn’t sure that she would want to. The captain didn’t necessarily think of herself as an authoritarian or one of great fealty, but there was something inspiring about this young woman. Wendel felt honored to have her aboard; she wanted to help her, somehow. “Yes, as of now we are in this together.” She was unaware that the Princess felt the same way.

They both turned their heads back to the screen in time to observe another disturbing leap in pursuit. “Do you think I should say something?” Toller asked, looking at the screen but pointing to the CD band unit. Oh – he did already understand that they were in danger. That saved Wendel an awkward pep talk. Now they were a team.

“No, don’t bother,” Captain Harper replied. “Do not extend the situation. You can keep talking, in case we can catch anything pertinent – and that way someone might remember when you stopped.” Toller handled the morbid suggestion of that statement very well.

“Lowercase T, the lightweight terror, with another shot to the gut – and by that I mean a morsel of wisdom that feels real inside when it lands. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but your best. Try to hide it, try to deny it, and forces might drive you all the way to the edge till that best comes right out of you, by golly it will. So do your best, or they’ll make you. Another square hit from Lowercase T, fightin for ya till the knockout.”

Seeing another positional jump in the rear longview, Wendel and Soleil groaned. The readings would lose their senses for a moment, then regain them with a shrug as though there were nothing strange about the ship simply being much, much closer. Wendel abruptly left her seat to put her own hands on the peripheral device and check it herself. Toller’s hands darted up towards the copilot control yoke, but stopped, hovering innocently two inches from it. Princess Soleil, having put the pieces of that particular puzzle together, looked directly at the boy and said, “It’s fine, you can go ahead.”

Speaking out of her side awareness, Wendel backed them up. “She says it’s fine, Toller. Special case right now.” Wendel resignedly patted the peripheral screen, still faithfully transmitting. “This thing is fine, too. But that -“ she jabbed her finger toward the icon now resolving into parts of an image, “- is not fine.”

Toller let his hands rest lightly on the controller for just a moment before peacefully withdrawing them to his lap as the captain took her seat again. Harper rambled as she reported her moment-to-moment cogitation. “I’ll run this last time period through the onboard path analyst, see if it sees what we see.” Nobody asked her to elaborate as she made commands and read output. “So, it reads correctly – that is, the unusual data translates between machines, visual and formula.” She flashed the chart onto the central screen, if anyone should so desire to corroborate her assessment. “The ship is approaching. They’re not entirely close enough to bounce off of, but they soon could be. It’s like they scoot up with a sort of cloaked leap. The period appears to decreasing.”

“You have very good longview devices equipped,” remarked Princess Soleil. “Standard anticipation measures?”

“A kind of professional’s insurance,” Wendel stated calmly, “cuts down likelihood of avoidable accidents. And hey, there it goes again. Yeah, both the time between leaps is decreasing, and the amount of space covered. By the rate of decrease, we could determine their target along this road, but I don’t think we need to bother. There’s nothing else out here. It’s probably us. What do you think, Princess?”

“Infinite approach. They’re utilizing an infinite approach formula.” Aside from this bit of insight, Soleil just gave a serious affirmative nod.

“Did you say Princess? Princess of what?” This time it was Toller’s turn to rotate his seat to face her. “THE Princess? Like, all the Princesses ever?”

“A bit like all of the Princesses in my line, that of the Magus Dynasty.” She nodded kindly. “Do you not take in the news very often?”

“Almost never,” he said, looking down at his clothes as though they should tell her something; though, this was a fairly new set. The Princess just smiled, and he smoothly rotated his seat back around to the controls.

“Okay, that was another slide forward just now,” announced Wendel. “Now they’re in bounce range for visual. Gripes, but that’s a fast ship. Littler than us, but definitely faster. From there, they could catch up with us the old-fashioned way in about twenty minutes. Also I apologize, I truly thought I had mentioned your grace – I probably had a hard time registering that someone could not know. Then again, you introduced yourself to him as Soleil, and maybe I just didn’t want to give any more information than you gave… even though I thought your grace was obvious and easily known. Zero-Clearance is weird and scary.”

“Darnit, the CD bands are going wonky. They’re still there, it’s just wonkytown.” The boy’s twiddling took on the dire focus of last-minute testing.

“Right now our pathway is full forward, nothing blocking…” The captain swiveled to face the others. “There’s a defense system on this ship, and currently I’m the only one who can engage it. Are you prepared for the possibilities of me using it?” This last question was directed mainly toward the Princess.

Soleil felt concern for Moonshadow. “Do I need to move my vehicle?”

“No, it’s not in the way,” replied Wendel.

“Yes, I’m prepared,” stated Soleil convincingly. Then, an unusual sensation returned in her thoughts. A funny feeling she’d almost forgotten but which had a name: Raev Sturlusson. Wasn’t he imprisoned? It didn’t feel like he was in prison. He felt nearly as close as during her approach to the hospice room in the Spear where she’d snuck a word with him before his sentencing. With the same approaching feeling. “Someone very dangerous could be on board that ship,” she warned.

Captain Harper spoke as she rose up. “We already have some idea. We’ll do what we need to do. Toller, take the chair and maintain full forward along the speedway line.”

He finally pushed something through his broadcasting struggle. “Good night, and good luck. Lowercase T wishes you peace, out.” Then he let go, making it clear there was nothing more worth trying with it. He then transferred chairs immediately. Toller wiped and patted his palms on his lap, then turned to give Princess Soleil a bravado wink as the captain disappeared. “Want to sit co-chair?” he asked. “Maybe you’ll get to push a button.”

Giving the lad her best huntress smile, Soleil dashed up and strapped in. “I’m not familiar with these controls,” she admitted, “but I’ll take commands.”

“Okay!” announced Toller with convicted readiness.

Wendel’s voice chimed in over the com. “No point trying to contact them when we’re cut off. Skyfather warming up, ready in 3. I hope you are, too.”

“Okay!” Toller repeated his confidence back to the captain.

Soleil reported in, using the current operating term. “Okay!” She then addressed Toller. “What’s the Skyfather?”

“It’s a giant, excuse me, gigantic beam cannon.”

Soleil had only seen diagram documents, but she was aware of their capabilities. “Well, then. I suppose we’ll see what they’ve got, and what they want.”

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