It’s been almost three months since I posted anything on my little science fiction story. But I haven’t given it up.
Here are the previous chapters:
Here is Chapter Six:
“This is, ah, mission control. You are clear to go. Just follow the beacons. Flashing red means directional thrusters only. Solid red is impulse power at ten percent. That holds till you clear lunar orbit. Then you’re good for full impulse till you clear Earth control. You’ll get an audible signal when that happens. Then you’re clear for light speed. Have a nice trip.”
“Thank you”. Sam took a firm grip on the joy stick as he slid the throttle controls forward. The ship separated itself from it’s docking position and headed for the first beacon. They watched the screen as the beacons slid by. Sam shifted in his chair to relieve the tension. Amy said, “Coming up on first solid beacon.”
Sam let go of the joystick and flexed his hand. “Going to impulse at ten percent”. He tapped a button and wrapped his fingers around the joystick. The ship leaped forward as the impulse engines kicked in. Solid red beacons zipped by. The last beacon was green.
Amy said, “Clearing lunar orbit.”
“Going to thirty percent. You got the courses laid in?”
Amy sent her display to the screen before them. “First one is our stated destination. Second one is the one we gave Bill.”
“That vector’s us toward the center of the galaxy. Background clutter may confuse them.”
A pleasant chiming sound emanated from the console. Sam checked the first course then grabbed a large handle and pushed it forward. “We’re on our way.”
The ship slowed almost imperceptibly as the impulse engines shut down. The antimatter reactor kicked in and they felt a faint sense of vertigo from the sudden shift to light speed. Then the inertial dampers took over and restored equilibrium.
Amy reached for a control. “Scanners?”
“Not yet. They’ll take their time about following.”
“They’ve gone light speed. Their original published course”. Lieutenant Groce kept his eyes on the display.
“Do we follow?” Lieutenant Camreday looked over his shoulder from his pilot console.
“No. Not yet. Let them get a lead on us. Let’em think they got away clean”. Captain Rice leaned back in the command chair and smiled. Nobody was convinced. He glanced sideways to gauge the reaction of the brooding presence beside him.
He was tall and thin, six four, maybe one ninety, gawky looking. A large hook nose. Somebody had called him ‘the scarecrow’ and it had stuck. They didn’t call him that to his face. They didn’t call him anything because he hadn’t been introduced. They treated him like he wasn’t there.
He was a civilian. The captain was still the captain but everybody knew who was calling the shots.
Captain Rice leaned forward and rubbed his chin. He gave a sidelong glance in the direction of their visitor. “Okay. Lay in a course that’s not directly on their vector but roughly parallel. We don’t need to match their speed. Hang back a little. Try to act nonchalant.”
Camreday smiled. Captain still had his sense of humor. A few deft taps on his control panel. “Ready Captain.”
“Right. Got’em on scanners?”
Groce checked his panel, looked up at the view screen. “Got’em loud and clear. Using wide area. We see them but we’re not looking.”
“All right. This should be fun. Go to light speed.”
“There they are. They’re not directly on our vector but that’s got to be our shadow.” A star map displayed on the view screen with their pursuer highlighted.
Sam leaned back and considered. “How long does it take to change course?”
“Three minutes. Takes that long to dissipate the inertia.”
“Okay, let’s see what they do. Go to new course.”
Amy tapped a key and the ship dropped out of light speed and slowed to a stop.
“Okay. Hold your water. Stay at course and speed. We know their next move but keep an eye on them.”
A tense silence filled the room as they waited for the next move.
“There they go. New course is what we expected.”
“Give it five minutes and then go parallel.”
A timer appeared on the lower right corner of the view screen at the front of the room. The tension grew as they watched the counter and wondered what the scarecrow was thinking.
As the timer hit zero Camreday went to his controls. “Going to new course.” The ship slowed to a stop.
“They’re changing course.” Amy waited and watched.
“Here they come. They’ve got us.”
“All right. We need to go to the next one before they’ve settled in.”
Groce was focused on his panel. “Another change coming up.”
Captain Rice smiled. “I didn’t think that would be the last change. You got ‘em?”
“Yes sir. Heading for the center of the galaxy. Trying to get lost in the clutter.”
“But you’ve got them.” Half statement and half question.
“I’ve got their signature. Still got them on wide scan.”
“Let’s follow them but keep it casual. Don’t let them know they’re being followed.”
“They’re on us.”
“Could be just a coincidence. But every time we change they change to a course roughly parallel to ours. They look like they’re following but they’re trying hard to not look like they’re following.”
“Okay. Keep tabs on them till we think up our next move.”
“Yeah, I’ve got them on focused scan.”
Grose swiveled in his chair to face the Captain. “They’re on to us.”
“How do you know?”
“They’ve got us on focused scan.”
“Their first mistake.”
Camreday turned to join the conversation. “Do they know that we know they know we’re following them?”
Rice and Groce looked quizzically at each other. Groce looked at Camreday. “No way of knowing. Why does it matter?”
Camreday shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s something we could use.”
The captain leaned back in his chair. “We’ll have to think about that. But regardless it looks like the shadow game didn’t work. It looks like this has become a chase.”
In spite of the lurking presence of the Scarecrow, the three of them couldn’t suppress a grin.