Echoes of Deception
by Jannette Johnson
part 1 of 2
Master Corporal Floorg stood on the small landing that extended from the large communication column in the centre of the ship. He scanned his new crew for signs of anyone who did not belong. Nervous black eyes greeted his movement as he stepped onto a small shimmering disk, which lowered him down to a walkway encircling the interior of the ship. By the time he reached the cobalt-blue floor of the deck, the crew had resumed their duties of scanning the black void for any transmissions.
Floorg glanced up to a group of recruits, manipulating his antennae toward the ceiling to gain a better angle from which to hear. The recruits’ posts were stationary and covered the entire inside surface of the spherical ship, with two recruits responsible for monitoring a specific quadrant of space.
“Anything, Ensign Kell?” he questioned a young female. Her stature, even from this distance, was noticeably smaller than his, and her dorsal hair was not as vibrant.
“No, Master Corporal,” she said, as one tendril appendage lay across a large black pad attached to a support on her chair. Symbols scrolled underneath, accompanied by various clicking noises. Small suction pads quivered at the end of her appendage each time symbols passed underneath. “RAD Distribution levels reveal nothing.”
Floorg’s antennae turned toward a young male next to her. This one’s body mass was bulkier than the female’s, but he was still undersized compared to Floorg. The beginnings of colourful dorsal fur were barely visible in the dim lighting of the ship’s interior. “And what about your quadrant, Ensign Frep?”
The young male twisted an antenna down at Floorg while keeping one appendage near his monitor and the other on his pad. “Intermittent Osmotion signals are at normal levels, Master Corporal.”
Moulding raw recruits was an honour, a task well worth the time and he would have them working as one mind in very short order. They would work together as a team, or not at all. Floorg fussed over his sash, stroking the material. He illuminated a symbol that caused a series of clicking sounds to emanate from the metal insignia tied at one end of the sash.
His vessel, one of the larger scout ships that served under the Galactic Preservation Council, was patrolling neutral space between territorial borders. Scout ships were well known for their firepower and manoeuvrability, and could easily defeat any Hostile. And power was needed. The Council’s objective was clear: to defend primitive cultures from the more aggressive species in the universe, especially those who would exploit or enslave weaker races.
Floorg contracted the muscles on his back, causing his multi-coloured dorsal hair to stand straight out in response. The sound given off by the moving hair emitted a signal of personal control. His slender hearing antennae stood tall and proud at the crown of his slanted head, taking in all the sounds of the ship. His eyes, large and black, saw very little beyond features and low spectrum light waves, yet his race had managed very well in adapting technology to receive information outside their natural sensory scope.
“Keep a close eye on your stations,” Floorg said, and he continued his stroll. “Hostile races can be devious as well as deadly. Your Data Retrieval scope holds information from the Archives and is updated on rotation from every Scout ship. Should there be a problem with your unit, your Communication Signal light will flash.”
The attention shifted away from Floorg as multiple sets of antennae scanned the millions of stars around them. They would scan their area over and over for any possible sign of the enemy, expanding each pinpoint of light and waiting for the vibration that would signal a whisper from the dark.
And their enemies were everywhere, although Floorg couldn’t understand why. His people were a peaceful race, not taken lightly to acts of war. Perhaps this was the reason the Galactic Liaison had chosen his race for this assignment. Someone had to protect the weak; Floorg wished only that there were more on his side.
Floorg strolled along the walkway, appendages behind his back, and found his thoughts shifting to his next encounter with a young female named Leegla. She was a fine and sensible female, just what he needed to round out his new life. Although she could do with a bit more restraint. In his opinion, females tended to become too emotional at times. Especially on their home world, when the moons aligned themselves with their sun.
“Master Corporal!” Ensign Frep’s excited voice rang out. “Osmotion signals have spiked beyond normal levels.”
“RAD Distribution levels coincide with known distress signals,” Ensign Kell said, a slight nervousness in her voice.
Immediately the ship filled with nervous chatter.
“Can you pinpoint the location?’
The male touched a small point of light in front of him. “It appears to be coming from Neutral space, sir, along the border of...” The young recruit jerked back slightly, his dorsal hair ruffled. “Grobian Territory.”
The ship became still. Floorg’s dorsal hair lay flat on his back, rigid at the mere mention of the name. A young spacefaring race, Grobians had come to the attention of the Council only recently and had managed to garner themselves a spot on the Hostile list in a very short period of time.
“Who is sending out the signal?” Floorg asked, as he stepped onto a disk and rose toward Frep. “There are several borders that align with Grobian territory. We may not need to interfere if their adversary is strong enough to defend itself.”
Frep repeatedly tapped his console. “It is a universal distress signal, sir, and there is too much interference generated by the nearby star to establish any more than that.”
“Sir,” Ensign Kell continued, “Archives indicates there are three sentient races that border Grobian Territory. Only one is not spacefaring.”
Floorg rippled his dorsal hair. The sound it made always helped him to concentrate. It was possible they would have to go into battle against the Grobians. He didn’t like the idea, but it was his duty. “Enter co-ordinates into the ship’s engines, Ensign Frep, we need to answer this distress call and stop this attack before any harm is done.”
Frep tapped a set of symbols on his monitor. “Entering co-ordinates now, sir.”
The centre column illuminated softly as the ship’s engines whined and came to life. Frep expanded his grid view to focus on a small dot of yellow light, and the two smaller red dots whose flight path took them dangerously close to the star.
The sound of Kell’s dorsal hair rippling caught Floorg’s attention. “Something wrong, Ensign?”
She hesitated for a moment. “Grobians do not campaign far from their borders,” she said, as the symbols and clicking continued. “Even though they are on the Hostile list, they are somewhat less aggressive than most.”
“Perhaps we are seeing a new assertiveness within the species,” Floorg said, lowering toward the walkway. “An arrogance that has grown from the numerous attacks on passing ships.”
Kell turned and faced the black pad. “But that would not be consistent with the information the Archive has on them.”
Floor stepped off the disc, appendages clasped behind his back, and began strolling the walkway. “Species evolve, Ensign, and not always for the better. That is why it is so important for us to be out here, defending those who cannot protect themselves.”
The gentle whine of the engine became a low hum as the ship reached the specified co-ordinates and a more detailed scan emerged.
“Two Grobian warships in pursuit of a small vessel,” Ensign Frep said, tapping his monitor over two large red dots. He laid one appendage across his black pad, and concentrated on the clicking. “The fleeing ship is almost a quarter of the size of the warships, and is surrounded within a repulsor shield.” He paused for a moment. “The shield is keeping most of the weapon fire from causing damage, sir, but the larger ships are quickly gaining, and will overpower their quarry in a short time.”
Floorg knew what would happen after that.
He held his chin high. “You see, Ensign, two large warships attacking what is most likely an escape craft.” He turned his antenna toward her. “Two against one. You will note from the Archive, a very Grobian way of doing things. And look here.” He stepped onto the nearest disc and floated up to her. “The trajectory of the warships suggests they were hiding in the corona of the star. That would make them almost invisible to passing ships.”
The young recruit moved uneasily within her seat. “But the Archive states the Grobians are not patient enough to undertake this particular manoeuvre.” Kell’s right antenna flipped quickly back and forth, as the thin layer of dorsal hair rippled slightly. “Lying in wait for their victims denotes cunning.” She sat straight in her seat. “And the Grobians do not have the mental capacity to be cunning.”
Floorg was annoyed. His dorsal hair rose to an almost upright position. “Are you saying this is not a Grobian ship attacking?” He reached over her shoulder and tapped the advancing red dot. Immediately her monitor held a close range view of the attacking warship. “Are they not Grobian Warships?” he asked, his disapproving tone very noticeable. “Are they not pursuing a smaller vessel? Firing upon that vessel?”
Ensign Kell shifted again in her seat. “Yes, sir, but all the Archive information states this is not a typical attack formation for this species.”
Floorg straightened his stance, calming the frustration within him and allowing his dorsal muscles to relax. “Then we will update the Archive at the end of rotation.” His tone was softer, more understanding. “The Grobians are a Hostile race, Ensign Kell, attacking an unknown vessel, one that must not be able to defend itself, otherwise they would not have sent out the distress signal.” He turned to Frep. “What is the design of the smaller ship?”
Ensign Frep tapped his monitor over the position of the fleeing red dot. “Still unknown, sir. Too much interference from the star.”
Floorg again clasped his appendages behind his back as he stepped on the disk and returned to the upper landing above the walkway. He strolled to his command chair and activated the attached monitor before sitting down.
“This is Master Corporal Floorg of the Galactic Preservation Council, to Grobian warships,” he began, putting an emphasis on the Council. “You are in strict violation of Preservation Code 41168-2; hostility toward a smaller and more vulnerable craft. Please discontinue firing upon the smaller vessel and return to your territory.”
“If you do not comply, we will be forced to stop you in any way necessary, including the destruction of your ships.” There was a hint of malevolence in his words. The Grobians were new to the Galactic Liaison. Perhaps a few choice words were all it would take to make them back down.
Kell moved her head slightly to one side, allowing her antenna to completely rotate and face the landing.
“Something wrong, Ensign?” Floorg said.
“You’re threatening them with deadly force, sir?” There was a meekness in her voice. “Regulations state we are to —”
“I know the regulations, Ensign.” Floorg stood, focusing solely on her.
A large portion of the view screen began flickering, and the gnarled face of a Grobian warrior appeared in full view. It was injured and some of the systems behind it were spewing smoke and sparks. A series of low growls and snarls passed for a language, but the transmission was patchy, and soon faded from view.
Floorg looked down at his personal console, and placed his appendage on the black pad. “It would appear they consider themselves the victim,” he said, listening to the limited text translation that scrolled across the screen. “But it is hard to believe their claims when there are two of them against one lone ship.”
He removed his appendage and stood. “Ensign Frep, manoeuvre us into the path of the oncoming ships. We will attempt to block the warships once the smaller craft has passed.”
Frep straightened up. “Sir?”
Floorg took a few steps away from his chair. “I doubt the shields on the pod will last much longer. If we can slow down the Grobians, it may give their adversaries enough time to escape safely.” He turned toward Ensign Kell. “Then there would be no need for deadly force.”
Again, the young Ensign tapped his monitor, and the whine of the engines filled the interior of the ship. All monitors melded into one large display of the sector. Grid lines criss-crossed the walls of the interior, allowing multiple-ship movement to be tracked.
Soon the engines were drowned out by the clicking of information from the different stations as recruits prepared themselves for a possible battle. It wasn’t something Floorg wished to put them through; they were still too fresh, but their duty was clear, and maybe it would do them some good to get a taste of this aspect of their duty.
The grid screen repositioned the blips as the ship moved to a parallel position within the flight path, and into the firefight. The smaller of the red dots became white, a sign of a non-hostile, while the other two remained red and began to flash. Floorg sensed an uneasy tide sweep across his crew as waves of dorsal hair shimmered and hummed.
“Grobian warship, this is your final warning.” Floorg spoke with more conviction this time. “Please refrain and back down from your pursuit, or I will use deadly force against you.”
Still the warships continued their assault. The frequency of their attack increasing to an almost steady stream of ammunition fire.
“Ensign Kell, arm forward weapons.”
Copyright © 2010 by Jannette Johnson