Neil Faulkner

Twenty seven days now, and still no let up.

"Are you sure you're all right, Cally?"

I nod. Eyes pricking. Time to force down another popper of narcocide. No time to dwell on it, keep concentrating, watch the panels, keep track of the output, it all means something. Thing is, I can't seem to make too much sense of it all right now. There's a hiss of cross-band static blasting through my head, like my brain's being dug out by a pick-axe. No signals though, nothing out there, nothing and nobody. No excuse to stop looking.

Then I see it, dancing right before my eyes, an echo on the passives. There's something out there after all, not too far. Can't have just crept on screen. Could have been there for...

"Blake, I've got something."

He stops pacing the flight deck, tenses like a worn out spring. Which might be what he is.

"Three three zero by zero two nine. Range..." Pause to unblur. "Twenty two thousand."

"WHAT?" Jenna snaps out of a half awake state and turns to her own readouts. "That's damn near right on top of us!" If she sounds accusing I can't say I blame her. Blake swings himself up to Avon's position, cursing, bringing to bear all the detectors we can afford to keep up. With Zen still offline he has to tune them in manually and it takes time. Precious time. We draw parallel in less than two hundred seconds.

We're all eyes on him as he works. Stupid. We've each of us got enough to keep ourselves occupied. I force myself back to my own panels, the unknown's signature winking back, range diminishing by the second. We don't normally go this fast. Four weeks should have given us time to adjust, but it hasn't.

Blake swings round on me, bloodshot eyes overshadowed as he slaps his hand down on the console. "This time we're lucky," he snarls, in the way only Blake can. "But we wouldn't have needed any luck if you'd been doing your **ing job properly."

I bridle. I would at the best of times and this is not the best of times. "Oh yes? Well why don't you come up here and see if you can't do a better **ing job than me?" Shouldn't do that. It hurts to scream.

There's something feral in Blake's eyes. That near-fatal wound he took from Travis on Star One is still hurting him and that can't help. He's really spoiling for it. Then Jenna breaks in.

"What is it, Blake?" It takes his eyes off me for a second but they come straight back.

She persists. "Blake, if I've got to deviate to intercept then I've got to do it now." She's trying so hard to stay collected, and compared to the rest of us she's doing very well. But there's a crack in her voice. She's ready to break.

Blake is gripping the back of Avon's empty position, the fingertips pressing hard into the headrest, each vein on the back of his hand standing out like a mountain range. Then he lets go and punches it. "It's a Type 49c," he tells Jenna. Tells her, not me.

"Oh, thank God!"

"That's good is it?" Vila's been keeping quiet the past minute, as he always does when tensions run high. He's hardly spoken at all for days.

Blake shoots him a withering look. "It means they're on our side," he says, each word dripping contempt. "They're Federation."

Continued in Star One

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