Children Of Earth (Tales from the 23rd Century Book 1)

By: Paul J. Fleming

Maddox stood and made his way across to Ezri’s station, having to fight to retain his balance as Ezri pulled the ship into a lurching swoop around another explosion and then back to their original heading for the cloud. Maia had a tight hold on a pillar which jutted slightly out from the bulkhead at the rear of the flight deck which prevented her from stumbling to and fro, but Maddox was caught unawares and still had to lunge a little to grab the back of Ezri’s station to steady himself.

‘They definitely do not want us to go in there,’ Maia muttered as the deck plates juddered beneath her feet and she gripped the pillar even harder.

‘No, I’m sure they don’t which is why I want to go in there all the more. And yes, the brothers may get a bit hot under their collars, but we have an understanding which goes a way back before they became the success they are today,’ Maddox muttered as he moved around the end of Ezri’s control station and positioned himself behind her as he leaned over and brought up their current cargo hold manifest, scrolling the list before flicking the screen off and standing straight once more with a look of triumph on his face.

‘Right ladies, we have five navigational beacons stowed away below from some job or other, some time in the past. Anyway, point is all we need to do is get inside and then fire them out in different directions, making it look like the Erstwhile is leaving in five different directions. We just adjust the signal for the beacon to emulate the transponder on the Erstwhile and we have the patrol ship running all over the place trying to find us. In the meantime, we slip out and run for Sanctuary whilst they’re diverted.’

‘I had better go below and make the adjustments Captain, the systems on those beacons require fine tuning to make an exact duplicate of our transponder and I believe I am more capable in that area than you,’ Ezri said quite openly and not intending her statement as an insult but rather a simple factual point.

‘No problem,’ Maddox replied with a grin.

‘I’ll come along too if you don’t mind,’ Maia interjected.

As the two crew-mates both turned in unison and looked at her quizzically, she found herself quantifying her presence in the beacon adjustment team.

‘I spent two whole seasons repairing shot navigational systems on tramp freighters back on Venus, so I’d rather be lending a hand doing something than just standing around here watching it all happen about me.’

Maddox turned and looked at Ezri who raised her head slightly to meet his gaze.

‘Sure thing,’ he replied to Maia as he winked at his crew-mate. ‘Got to earn your meals somehow on this boat of mine.’ He paused momentarily as a thought strayed across his mind and then in a slightly lower tone whispered to Ezri. ‘Now be nice, you know how sometimes you can put people in an uneasy way of feeling.’

Ezri nodded slightly in reply and turned her gaze to fall on Maia, furnishing her with a very practised smile.

‘Of course. We shall both go and adjust the beacons. That will be fun.’

Maddox could only shake his head despairingly as he returned to his seat and assumed flight control from Ezri, leaving her to depart with Maia tagging along behind, still a great deal unsure as how to relate to the priggish crew-member.

Ezri had many fine qualities, but diplomacy was not her strongest suit. Ever since she had started flying with him, her digital personality program had adapted and utilised the unique learning and growth algorithms imbued within her core matrix to better her understanding of the world away from the Martian Corporate headquarters where she had begun her existence. Sometimes Maddox felt she had learnt a great deal more than she let on, and was being awkward on purpose in some twisted digital sense of humour.

Twitching the yoke to avoid yet another volley from their pursuers who were now starting to stream energy bolts after the fleeing trading vessel as well as send projectiles to explode in their path, Maddox checked his scope to gauge their proximity to the graveyard.

Not too long to go before they entered the debris cloud and he hoped like hell the brothers had not updated their frequency modulation cycle of the EM wave. Maddox could charge their hull and deflect the majority of the waves disruptive effect on their own systems, but only if the data he had was current on their system rotation frequency.

Gritting his teeth, he pushed the throttle wide open and the Erstwhile lurched forwards with eagerness to plough into the debris clouds.

4 The Graveyard

As Ezri slid down ladders and made haste along the corridors on her route to the aft section and cargo hold where the beacons were secured for transit, Maia did her best to match her new companion’s sure-footed pace whilst the ship about her lurched and dived. Quite obviously the patrol ship was upping its efforts to snare their quarry before they entered the debris cloud.

‘Whoa!’ she exclaimed as the floor lurched downward away from her momentarily leaving her flailing in mid air before landing awkwardly and stumbling slightly before continuing on with her momentum. ‘How much punishment can this old tub take before we’re all sucking vacuum?’

It was more of a rhetorical question, but although Ezri was almost a full corridor length ahead, she seemed to hear and shouted back in response.