“Sir,” Geordida called, “I think you should see this.”
Iko followed her slender finger’s aim to a vidscreen adjacent to the main viewport. The status display indicated the feed was a replay from the inoperable FleetCom satellite. The timestamp showed the recorded events had occurred not more than fifteen minutes ago. The feed’s perspective appeared to be the cam on the moonward side, displaying a tranquil swath of black space broken only by the Kavil moon’s mass of deep cobalt swirled with aquamarine accents where the continental shelves rose out of the ocean’s depths. Other than a growing low pressure system churning lazily in the southern hemisphere at the line where the dawn horizon divided day and night, there were only faint wisps of cirrus clouds. Antilla, one of thirteen charted islands, was visible from space, a small, almost perfectly formed crescent of peridot-green outlined by the ruddy browns of the volcanic shores. The image was picturesque, worthy of a professional viscap like the ones soldiers attached to correspondence transmitted home to loved ones. When a violet-white flash of sparks fragmented outward and ended in a grayish wash of dying embers cloaking the view of the moon, the whole bridge flinched.
“Play that again,” the admiral ordered. “One-tenth speed.”
The vidfeed reversed, the outward spray curling back in an implosion until the Kavil moon once again hung in the darkness of space, peacefully slumbering. Static distorted the screen momentarily before the replay began to mark slowly through time. Fractions of a second ticked off one heartbeat after another. The entire bridge held its breath, waiting. Even protracted, the explosion played out with vicious speed.
“Where are all the other meteors?” Iko wondered aloud, turning to assess the admiral’s demeanor.
The gray-haired veteran’s gaze never wavered from the vidscreen, but he did blink twice as if his eyes might be deceiving him. His mouth was set in a thin line that for one brief moment seemed steeled against speech. Then the admiral turned. “I fear we cannot afford to deliberate on the answer to Commander N’kenis’ astute question. Captain Chancery, mobilize the fleet.”
The captain began barking orders. During operations, Chancery’s priority was the entire fleet. Iko’s role was maneuvering the admiral’s flagship. Punching the quick key, he reopened the line to the central navigation hub.
“Pilot, initiate undocking.”
“Initiating undocking.” Ransom was all business. Iko watched a string of control lights on his station cycle through yellow and green, as docking clamps released from bow to stern.
“Abandon mooring floats.” That order broke a few hundred protocols from the Ecological Protection Manual, but Iko ordered it anyway. He looked forward to the opportunity for a stern reprimand and a stint fishing the floats out of the bottom of the bay.
“Mooring floats jettisoned.” The positioning board on Iko’s navstation showed Ransom was managing a steady acceleration away from the dock, but had not yet made a move on the z-plane.
His gut reaction was to grab the controls and do it himself, but Iko had picked his men specifically because they were right far more than they were wrong. “Make it fast.”
“Worst case assumptions?”
“Then where would a hostile force expect us to be?”
“Either docked or shoving off and…” Iko only had to think about the logic for a split second. “Well done, Pilot. Maintain z-plane status, moving us away from the docks.”
“Are you buying the first round of ale at my promotion party?”
A blaring of the warning system interrupted Iko’s intended response. Flashing to the various status screens at the front of the bridge, his eyes skimmed the tactical displays. Immediately he focused on the long-range scanner, which shimmered with the unquantifiable indicators of a large blob. The data field on the scanner’s left side marked the blob as a formation of unidentified blade-sized craft approaching from the south at roughly 500 kips.
Captain Chancery rounded out of the command pulpit, stepping toward the long-range scanner. His arm traced the blob’s probable vector across the center of the island, directly over where the Selkoo was drifting away from its berth. “They won’t be to make it across the Current.”
The admiral shifted uneasily in his chair, all eyes suddenly upon him. “Let’s not assume anything. Today’s already proven rife with impossibilities. Starting now, consider everything we know amounts to nothing. My orders stand.”
Iko tapped the long-range scanner icon on his armrest, bringing that information to his personal datastation. Simultaneously, it would be appearing on Ransom’s datagrid.
“That’s uglier than a Pictel painting,” the pilot noted.
“Take a viscap. It may be worth more than one some day,” Iko shot back. Reflexively his brain switched to smart-mouthing, a pilot’s natural relief valve.
“About that ale, sir?”
“Get us out of here in one piece, pilot, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”