Chuck‘s back, although seemingly exhausted! Our challenge this week is a piece of space opera… nominally in honour of a new Star Wars film. 1000 words. Well, I could have an ‘incident’ with the Federation and the Imperium… set post-Perihelix. purists will complain this doesn’t have a proper ending. It’s a cliffhanger, in fact 🙂
Surviving the Sleeve
“Shields up! Silent running.”
The order was accompanied by a rippling light effect through all the side lights surrounding the bridge. The same effect ran though all the public quarters on the ship. Silent running required no further indication of their status; all crewmembers were expected to stay at their stations, alert and ready to carry out their emergency actions.
Tension showed itself in different ways. On the bridge, the backs of those seated were straight, focus intent on screens or other sensory input devices. In the drive room, two engineers sat, drumming their fingertips on the dashboard, reaching out to adjust a setting an imperceptible amount while the ready lights twinkled their normal status. In the commissary, those few without active duties sat still, barely touching the refreshments in front of them.
The science officer watched the input devices for any sense of enemy proximity. A shimmer, a tachion trace, a signal echo, an occultation of a background star, an instinct. The comms officer pattered through the range of frequencies, concentrating on deviations from normal space chatter, or unusual directions, or new signals within reach of their position.
The captain looked relaxed, but she wasn’t fooling anyone. The delicate salmon pink of the Padrogian’s skin was just a little redder than usual, the artlessly draped arm just a shade too casual.
They were in the Sleeve, and they were in enemy territory.
“It is totally unacceptable! The honourable delegate must withdraw!”
The honourable delegate in question raised an eyebrow. On a Maturian, this enabled the white of the eye to flash directly into the speaker’s face, with the intent of dazzling him. Kaa Birith, the speaker, was far too wise to fall for the trick.
“Order, order!” called the Chair. “Both honourable delegates have had time to set their cases. It is time to vote.”
Rumbling and rustling followed the announcement. Several species rose from their settling positions to congregate at the doorway, where an argument started over whether they could leave before the proceedings were formally ended.
The Chair directed them to return, and read the short-form of the voting procedure, since this was the second day of the session, and everyone knew the routine. “The question is: the Federation must withdraw from the Sleeve and allow free passage as set down in article M^3;XXIV. Vote for or against in your usual way.”
A series of lights rippled round the chamber as delegates voted. All were yellow save three. Kaa Birith’s stayed dark. The Maturian’s glowed red, along with his neighbour’s.
“The question is approved. Take the decision back to your government and make arrangements to comply.” The Chair directed his second sentence to the Maturian, who stood up, ducking his head so he fitted in the twelve foot high chamber level. He whispered to his neighbour, who rose also, and followed the Maturian out of the chamber, and thence to their shuttles.
Kaa Birith watched them go, nodded to the Chair, who was introducing the next item on the agenda, and left the parliament building, exiting on the south side, so as not to encounter the Federation sympathisers. Politics in the Imperium were complex, and none more so than dealing with the Federation, the second most powerful organisation in the galaxy. He was angry with the delegates. Passing a weak statement was tantamount to inviting the Federation to attack them. It would have no impact on the access to the Sleeve, the most important passage between the Alpha and Gamma sectors. The Federation would continue to harry honest trading vessels, and probably increase their theft of Imperium goods. Theft described as tolls. This was not an item for discussion in Chamber. This required stealth, dirty tricks, and anything that could destroy the Federation’s position bar all-out war. The Imperium could not afford open warfare with the Federation. The Federation probably could. It would be heralded as confirmation of their superiority, confirmation of the Imperium’s essential weakness. And on this point, mused Birith, it might be right.
The Maturian transmitted his account of the Imperium Senate’s deliberations and voting to his planetary government at the Alpha quadrant end of the Sleeve. Jai Polnrogi read it out to his triad and joined them in raucous laughter.
“So, they do nothing but wipe their arses in cotton wool. Good. We can move on unhindered. Advise the partners on Viola that we have a free hand and will deliver their next package within five days.”
“Polnrogi confirms that we have the Sleeve; the Imperium will not defend it. They are running scared.”
“They have given up too easily. Watch for a veiled hand.”
The Federation’s Intel Captain bowed and left the room in which the Deputy Head of Strategic Alliances and Bonding sat, accompanied by her secretary.
“What think you, Myrtle?”
“Their spies will doubtless start some action to promote a more political negotiation than the Chamber want to admit.”
“Reap the benefit of the traffic through the Sleeve while they organise themselves, and move on Maturia while we can. They should be ready to switch openly when the Imperium shows its hand.”
“Agreed. Take a warship midway through the Sleeve and use your initiative.”
Myrtle Castroianni inclined her head. “I thank you for your confidence.”
“Deserve it.” was all the Deputy Head said, knowing that Castroianni was well able to wreak havoc on the Sleeve from the safety of Delta space at its midpoint. There were no organisations active in the Delta quadrant bar the Federation. The Sleeve was theirs!
The science officer left his desk and strode to his Padrogi commander’s chair. “A Federation ship appears to be stationed outside the Sleeve, controlling passage though sectors nine and ten,” he murmured for her ears only.
“Maintain silent running,” she whispered to the crew, repeating herself in three languages to avoid the autotranslator. She flicked a signal to the comms officer, who changed the frequency of the rippling lights, so the message was relayed throughout the vessel. No noise, no detectable movement, just in case.
They needed to ghost through the Federation net to survive.
(c) 2015 J M Pett