Free Fiction: “The Watchers” – Part 8


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8: The Journey Home

‘The Watchers’ is a short story set in the universe of ‘Shallow Space’, exploring the worlds and people of this upcoming computer game. The story is available in ‘Factions’ available on Amazon now. For more information on Shallow Space, visit our website.

For previous chapters, click on the links below:
Part 7: The Illicit Route
Part 6: The Big Rock
Part 5: The Sanctuary
Part 4: The Limp Home.
Part 3: The Flight.
Part 2: The Investigation.
Part 1: The Find

They blasted through each stellar system like criminals on the run. Not slowing down, violating all known traffic lanes, and spending as little time in one place as possible.

On approach to each Map they sailed straight and fast, waiting for the ambush to materialise, the curtain to be drawn back, confirmation that the two of them were simply mice on a wheel, spinning around in some laboratory while black-clad men watched and laughed.

But with shot nerves, stubbled faces and questionable hygiene, they entered the Terran system unmolested. Their Map was out in the Oort cloud, a popular location due to its distance and sheer invisibility. It left them a long journey through the Terran system itself, but that was part of the plan. They could have chosen the Map by the Neptunian world of Shield, ended up less than an astronomical unit from Terra, but that would’ve been the obvious move of the scared and desperate. And while Digger admitted he was scared, he wasn’t desperate. Not totally. Well, maybe scared and desperate, but also smart.

Maybe.

Time would tell.

They hadn’t seen a shadow on their six since Lucifer. Digger knew that was either really good news or really bad news. Regardless, they had played their hand. Now all they could do was sail the darkest sea to Terra, to either safety or their doom. Had they lost their tail? Or was the tail waiting for them ahead?

The Terran system was relatively empty. There was no place to hide. Digger received the odd ping from TCN patrols, but otherwise there was little activity. Where was the commerce? The tourism? Was something wrong? The uncertainty, and the Oberon coffee, stretched his nerves to violin strings.

Bones, however, was snoring in the co-pilots seat. The blithe son of a bitch.

Digger couldn’t take it. He needed to do something. He sent a priority one signal to HQ. “MFS Asteria incoming. Situation Hot.”

He waited for the speed of light to do its thing. Two hours there, two hours back at this distance. But that gave time for doubt to creep in. Would they take him seriously? Would they disavow knowledge of him? Turn him over? No, MFC were loyal and Digger was an employee in (reasonably) good steed.

Would that be enough?

Had he handed himself over to another enemy?

It was a touch under four hours later when the comm pinged. His supervisor Martissa had messaged. The Asteria had pre-approved landing at landing bay number 1.

Digger smiled, a little warmth spreading through his chest. The strings loosened a little. The crazy shakes settled with his calming heart.

Maybe they’d be ok.

The Asteria continued on its journey, crossing over the orbit of the twin planets Amulius and Numitor. The MFC refinery in orbit pinged a hello. Digger pinged back. As they passed the orbit of Brother, the pilot assist signalled and Digger spun the ship around for a fast deceleration. He didn’t want to come all this way and burn up in Terra’s atmosphere like a meteorite.

Once reduced to orbit speed, Digger flipped back around. Terra was a stratified orb of blue, brown and white. Brush strokes of wispy cloud flittered across the continent ‘Capitol’, itself striped with white tundra, brown mountains and green lowlands.

Capitol tapered down to a giant peninsula that stretched out toward the smaller continent, ‘Underwood’. Where Capitol ended with rocky cliffs, Underwood started with a golden beach and green, luscious rainforest.

The Asteria dropped lower, bisecting the continent. To the north, Callaghan’s Anchorage. To the south, in the shadow of Mt Maunganui, lay the headquarters of The Mining and Fusion Corporation.

Digger had enjoyed his previous visits to Underwood. His initial training, a second for a disciplinary hearing (whoops) and a third for a promotion and recognition of his good work (disciplinary action notwithstanding). Now he was back for a fourth time.

How would this time work out?

The headquarters was a sprawling complex. There was still an active mine at the foot of the Mount, chasing an increasingly dwindling vein of Nickel. A refinery, a pair of cooling towers, a row of landing pads and then the main office. Smaller buildings connected radially to the main office: Accounts, engineering, sales, unions and law, human resources. All spokes in the wheel of MFC commerce.

And sitting by itself a few kilometres away was the R&D facility.

Legend had it the first one burned down and took half the office with it. So, they built the new one a bit further away. Digger didn’t know much about fusion, but thought that if you got that wrong, a few kilometres weren’t going to make much of a difference.

He slowed as he passed over the R&D facility and settled into vertical descent above landing bay number 1, the closest to the main office.

Martissa was waiting under the eve of the building when Digger and Bones descended. She was tall, dark skinned with pale green eyes. She wore a striped v-neck dress with long sleeves.
Her bleached hair danced in the wind. She was striking. She made you stand up watch. Watch the way her mouth moved as she talked, the way her hips swayed as she walked, the way her chest rose as she laughed.

Bit of a bitch though. Sometimes. Today her eyes were narrowed and her mouth was thin in worry.

Digger raced forward and shook her outstretched hand. “Supervisor.”

She shook and nodded at both of them. “Jeremy, Bones.” She waved them inside. Martissa had an office in the main building on the third floor. All four walls were glass. Outside, leafy fronds danced in the wind. The office to the right was empty. To the left, a man working at a terminal. Another supervisor perhaps.

Martissa settled behind her square steel desk and gestured at the two seats opposite. Laminated wood with a thin cushion. Digger felt it flex as he settled into it. It probably cost more than the pilot’s chair on the Asteria.

Martissa leant forward, elbows clanging on the steel, her fingers steepled together. “So what the hell is this all about?”

Digger opened his mouth but his tongue went dry, a seized motor without oil. He closed his mouth again, trying to find the words.

Martissa leant back and shook her head. The canopy behind her shifted in the wind and a beam of light illuminated her from behind. Digger thought he heard Bones sigh.

“Look Jeremy,” she said. “I know you aren’t one to fuck around. You’re a business man and you do it well, so if you’re sending me panic, I know it’s real. I’m not pissed. Just give it to me.”

Digger did. The breakdown, the Constitution, the men in black, the shadow, the attacks, the asteroid, their long dark run home.

Martissa nodded throughout it, taking notes with her old-gen pen and paper. “I heard about the asteroid,” she said when he had finished. “The Navy is trying to recreate what happened. They don’t like it any more than you did.”

Digger and Bones glanced at each other. There had been a few details they’d missed out. “We’re not sure whether the Confederation Navy are the good guys in this or not.”

Bones told her about the Maps, the wealth of knowledge on the Asteria that made Martissa literally lick her lips. Good to know what turned her on.

The conversation ran out of steam. All that was left was conjecture and guessing. And the possible, maybe, bad guys coming to find them.

“You boys stay here,” she said finally, rising from her seat. “I’m going to see the CEO.”

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