Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act III

This entry is part 3 of 12 in the series Imago
‘Naked’ wasn’t the best way to describe the hologram’s appearance. It wore no clothes, yes, but there really wasn’t anything to cover up. In shape, it resembled a female of any one of the few dozen bipedal mammalian species that populated the galaxy, the product of an ancient seeding program of long-forgotten origin, and the stock from which Nictus Trio were originally created. Shape was where those similarities ended, as aside from a very basic face with a mouth, nose and eyes, the image ha no other anatomy.
Gable flinched at its appearance.
“I suppose not then.” the AI said. “While we’re waiting for the safety checks, would you like to take a moment to customize me?”
“What.” said Gable flatly.
If the I noticed his incredulity, it didn’t react to it. “Saadis Vinto never completed my introductory installation to customize me. What you see and hear are my factory standard settings, but I offer over two million combinations of voice-prints, personality, species and body templates, not including various tweaks that can be done to my appearance. For a reasonable price, extra appearance, clothing and personality packs at also available from the Mushan Corporation’s data trunk node.”
Gable fell his jaw clench as a thousand thousand obscenities tried to claw their way up his throat. Getting angry and yelling at the computer—no matter how satisfying—wasn’t going to get him out of Saadis Mor’s clutches. He fought down his annoyance and bit out, “Bring the manual piloting controls online at the primary console.”
“Yes, Commander.” The AI said eagerly. Behind it (her?), the primary console powered on, the screens lighting up with the piloting interface while a holographic view screen appeared in the air above it, showing the forward view of the ship.
Giving the hologram a wide berth even though he could have simply walked through it, Gable went to the console and took his place in the seat there.
The last time he’d been aboard, it had been Trenling’s chair. He’d only been on two tours of duty with the Supreme Eye when word reached them that the core worlds had fallen, that the Zact had won and the Empire was crumbling.
Even as an experienced pilot and soldier, when Trenling attended the command staff meeting that day, he’d been scared. They all were. The Empire’s history of brutality and conquest meant that there would be little to no mercy for its servants, especially not the crew of the most enduring symbol of that history.
Some of them wanted to fight back, or at least try to use the Supreme Eye as a sword to carve out their own piece of the fallen Empire. Some, including Trenling, wanted to cut their losses and bloom out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and hide.
Gable knew better than both groups. They would never survive if they stayed together and certainly not on the Supreme Eye. The ship had to be abandoned and the crew scattered—no matter how many friends had to be left behind.
“Commander?” the AI’s voice shocked him out of his wallowing and he snapped his head around to acknowledge it.”What?”
“Maintenance skiffs have attached themselves to the outer hull at egress hatches Alpha-5, Alpha-20, Gamma-15, and Gamma-25. The crews are attempting to force entry.”
He felt the obscenities trying to get out again. “Why haven’t the point defenses taken care of them”
The AI somehow managed to look pensive even with its limited facial expression. “The point defenses targeted and destroyed eight skiffs before the remainder moved into my… the point defense system’s blind spots.”
Running his fingers thought his hair, Gable groaned out, “Why are there blind spots in the point defenses?”
“Saadis Vinto saw no need for weapons on his pleasure yacht. He’s been selling the armaments over the last thirty ship-days in exchange for the illicit intoxicants he’s been stockpiling in the cargo hold.”
Gable busied himself manually clearing safety checks to speed up the ships departure. “So you’re telling me that I’m saddled with a half-armed warship, an over-achieving AI, and a hold full of contraband? This on top of Saadis’s people knocking on four of my doors.”
“Actually, Commander, the ships primary armaments were stripped y scavengers at some point while it was dormant. At the moment, the Supreme Eye’s weapons complement is at fifteen percent hardpoint capacity.”
Ny-ja!” Gable finally let loose. “This was supposed to be simple. This was supposed to be my victory—my homecoming. It’s all gone to shoonga.” Just like old times, an insidious little voice said in the back of his head. The legend of Adrian Gable painted the image of an unstoppable armada commander who had Luck as a handmaiden. The real man had spent his life with luck’s boot up his ass, winning through with his own life and those of his crew through guile, expertise and the thinnest of margins.
“Deploy maintenance drones to the hatches under attack. Have them weld the hatches shut, then kill power to those airlocks. That should buy time while they’re forced to hotwire them.”
The AI made a ‘hmm’ sound. “Already done, Commander.”
Gable had to do a double-take at the hologram. “What do you mean ‘already done’?”
The AI tilted its head. “I predicted your course of action based on your actions in the past,Commander. I’ve reviewed all of the Supreme Eye’s logs and security footage and I’m quite familiar with your command style. I especially admire your ingenuity in pioneering the use of bloom physics in tactical combat.” It sounded… happy. Gable gave it a sidelong look. AIs emotions had been available even as far back as the end of the war, but never in charge of important systems. Never in charge of his ship.
Still, if it was making itself useful, that would be the first thing to go in his favor since Saadis’s engineers forgot about the descender’s fire system.
A blank look crossed over the AI’s indistinct features before shifting into one of concern. “New enemy contacts detected. Two Haummer-Rymer Model Eleven ‘Voidhopper’ aerospace fighters have powered up in the bay. They will be ready to launch in eight minutes.”
“Voidhopper?” asked Gable, trying to focus on circumventing the safety checks without resorting to communing with the ship directly. “Why’ve I never heard of that? Are they new?”
“Antiques.” replied the AI. “But Saadis Mor has kept them in pristine condition. They wouldn’t be able to penetrate a modern point defense… but in the Supreme Eye’s condition, they wouldn’t have to. Their weapons could easily disrupt our engines with sustained fire.”
Gable muttered a curse. “Can we outrun them? Assuming I can disable all of these ny-jani safety protocols before they launch?”
“There’s a twenty percent chance of that.” replied the construct, its face going blank again.
“We can’t run then.” Gable said. His eyes roamed over the piloting console, looking for a solution to his problems. “Maybe we can still fight. What weapons do we have left?”
“Three ventral and three dorsal close-in defense turrets, the integrated forward ram, and the bloom core’s plasma vent network, which your records show you’ve weaponized on five occasions to repel forcible docking attempts. Nothing, I regret to say, designed to defend against mid-range fighters like the Voidhoppers.”
By the end of the AI’s analysis, Gable wasn’t listening. “Plasma vents… the bloom core! If the plasma vents are functional, that means the bloom core is active, right?”
When he turned to look at it, the hologram once again looked happy. Seeing such emotion in something linked to his ship’s systems made phantom fingers start running up and down his spine. That feeling was quickly dispersed by what it actually had to say:
“Yes, Commander. And in anticipation of the famed ‘Gable bloom tinkering’ cited in so many of your reprimand notices, I’ve already initiated the opening of the bloom core. The core will be exposed in two minutes, fifteen seconds. Telemetry is standing by for coordinates.”
Gable smiled at the hologram. “Maybe you do make a good crew after all.” He placed his hand over the console and made contact with the navigation system. “I’m giving you the coordinates now.”
Concern—clear concern now—flickered over the hologram’s face. “Commander, if we’re blooming to the Grauss System, I suggest we boom directly to a planet or station so that we can refuel and rearm.”
“No, we’re not doing that. Saadis is going to be able to trace the direction of the bloom and know we’re in Grauss. If we go directly to our destination for refits, he’ll find us instantly. But if we bloom to the edge of the system and slingshot around the gas giant, Hotor, we’ll show up a week and a half late, long after Saadis’s people get tired of searching.”
“But Commander—”
“Captain.” Gable corrected. “No fleet, no rank. But this is my boat and that makes me captain, and that puts me in charge. And as the man in charge, I’m telling you to lay in those coordinates right now! Those fighters coming online aren’t going to give us time to argue.”
In an oddly lifelike manner, the hologram worked its jaw as if to say something before dropping its it’s head between its shoulders. “Yes, Captain, Gable. Laying in coordinates.”
In the heart of the ship, in a chamber below the power plant, the Rossin-Kilmeer-Baaks Bloom Core was already in motion. The three-story tall cylindrical outer housing split open into eight sections to expose a maelstrom of purple-red plasma locked between an electromagnetic field and a helix of filaments that held rotating machinery in place.
A rack of metallic rings, trailing bundles of cable, was lowered into the space between the open housing and the magnetic field before each ring fired arrays of precisely targeted lasers into the roiling plasma, forcing it into lines of force. Once the plasma was stabilized, the magnetic field dropped and the directed arcs of plasma lanced out into hundreds of conduits around the room, like brilliant, dancing lightning.
All along the outer hull, ports for the plasma vents opened and rotated into their proscribed orientations, preparing to receive the high-energy matter.
“The Voidhoppers are launching early.” warned the ship’s AI.
Glancing up at the holographic monitors showing the surrounding dock, Gable spotted the fighters disengaging from their docking bays. They were sleek affairs, shaped like ancient broadswords with bulky yet streamlined ‘hilts’. Each also had two pairs of wings, one set folded along the length of the ‘blade’ and another, stubbier set of stabilizers retraced into the main body for atmospheric flight.
“Give me fire control to the defensive turrets. It doesn’t matter if we can’t shoot them down as long as I can harry them until the bloom.” No sooner than the words were out of his mouth than the console switched to fire control and the holographic display became multiple targeting screens. Gable nodded to the hologram as he began turning the turrets to lay down covering fire.
The Voidhoppers fire retrorockets to get clear of their bays, then again to maneuver out of the fire coming from the Supreme Eye. Wheeling away from one another, they each oriented on the former capital ship, pulse cannons blazing.
“Shielding?” Gable asked, as superficial damage reports stating coming in. “Do we have shielding?”
“If the shield arrays were connected, I would have brought them online, Captain. Saadis Vinto was in the middle of installing a cloaking system.” said the AI.
“Ny-ja, on a ship this size? Too much money, not enough brain.”
The hologram nodded. “Agreed, Captain. The power it requires means it can only run for a very short time without endangering other systems.”
Gable turned the turrets to try and herd the Voidhoppers away from the engines, managing to score a few minor hits in the process. However, one of the fighters dropped down into the blind spot between the two turret banks and began firing at will on the plasma vents.
“Smart.” said Gable. “He figured out we might be trying to bloom out of here.” He risked a look back to the hologram. “How long until bloom?”
“Conduits are hot in fifteen seconds, Captain, but I really think you should reconsider the destination.”
The brighter of the two Voidhopper pilots broke off its attack on the too-small-to-hit vents to fly up and over the ‘top’ of the Supreme Eye to launch a pair of missiles into the center-most ventral defense turret, blowing it apart.
“This never would have happened back when I was Commander. First thing I’m going to do when we hit Linka Station is buy, trade or steal for some point defense guns. Bloom the second we’re able!”
“I…” the AI hesitated, then once again dropped its head. “Yes, Captain. Initiating Rossin-Kilmeer-Baaks Bloom at zero relative velocity and zero relative acceleration. Mark: three… two… one. Initialize.”
The vent ports opened, belching ribbons of plasma into space to form a web of energized arcs around the Supreme Eye. One of the Voidhoppers was in the wrong place at the wrong time and a flare of energized matter tore through its engine banks, disintegrating the rear of the craft. A ripple of force issued forth from the bloom core, following the plasma conduits that were the only transmission lines capable of containing it, washing over the whole of the Supreme Eye in a cloud of scintillating energy.
A bright like, like a piece of a star’s heart, filled the dock briefing, and then with a thunderclap that impossible managed to propagate through the vacuum, the Supreme Eye of the Eternal Empire was gone.
At that exact moment, in the high orbit of the gas giant Hotor, a ball of what looked like purple fire exploded into space in an expanding, dissipating sphere. At that sphere’s heart was the Supreme Eye and its crew of two.
Gable watched through the targeting reticules of the five remaining turrets as the dock dissolved, only to be replaced by the void above and Hotor below.
A mad laugh bubbled up in the former Commander’s throat and he roared out, “Yes! Kulta, you Mor. Kulta you, your mother and all three of your ny-jani fathers!” He looked back at the hologram, who seemed taken aback at his outburst. “Looks like you made yourself worthwhile after all. I think I’ll let you stay around.”
This did not seem to placate the AI. “Forgive me, Captain, but I don’t recall you acting like this in the records.”
Gable laughed again, making the hologram flinch. “Losing the world changes a man, what can I say? You’ll have plenty of time to reconcile that on the way to Linka Station.”
The hologram’s lips formed a thin line. “About that, Captain… I attempted to warn you…”
Much like the image of the docking bay had dissolved before Gable’s eyes, Gable’s good mood disappeared before the AI’s. “What?” He asked flatly.
“I suggested we bloom directly to an inhabited planet or station because the fuel situation is dire. Xenon gas reserves are at five percent of capacity. That is not enough to hard burn to the nearest station and while having enough fuel to brake before life support through the ship begins to fail.”
The hologram managed to look apologetic as it added. “I did my best to warn you, but we were in a crisis situation and in the event of a crisis, my programming will not allow me to countermand you. My recommendation is to settle into orbit around Hotor and activate a distress ansible—however it is highly likely that this course of action will result in your apprehension by Saadis Mor.
End Episode 1 ‘Pilot’
Series Navigation<< Imago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act IIImago – S01E02 “Pilot Part 2” – Act I >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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