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

By: Paul J. Fleming

‘As you can deduce Captain,’ she responded extremely calmly to the situation at hand. ‘The Martians in pursuit were quite aggrieved at my lack of response to their repeated requests and when they correctly predicted our course of action to enact your escape from under their noses they became even more insistent that we submit. I notice we are adopting strays now also by the presence of the person you were meant to be dealing with on the surface.’

Maia shot Ezri a withering look. It had taken less than an hour for all her plans of a life amongst the stars to crumble and now she was on the run in a rather distressed looking ship under a barrage of fire from a more superior vessel. Insulting her just added to the myriad of disquiet in her mind at present.

‘Now Ezri, be nice,’ Maddox chided in quick response. ‘It was either leave her at the mercy of the Martians which her business partner seems to be in league with by the way, or bring her with us to continue enjoying a life of freedom amongst the stars…’

His voiced tailed off as a cluster of explosions erupted in the path of the Erstwhile and Ezri rapidly adjusted their course to weave about them, causing further physical unpleasantness within her two companions.

‘I was a little worried when we lost contact,’ muttered Maddox as he stared into the readout on the screen before him, trying to work out a quick destination for their flight. ‘I take it that was to do with our friends back there making themselves known?’

‘Our communications relay overloaded along with a few minor subsystems after the ship took a direct hit as I was lining up on approach. There was nothing I could do to avoid it, else I would have risked either missing you entirely or impacting with you and causing your unfortunate demise across the hull,’ Ezri replied as she made a few more course adjustments.

‘Glad you chose to take the hit in that case,’ Maia interjected before Maddox could reply.

Yet another burst of energy dissipated across the hull of the ship and the lighting on the flight deck fluctuated momentarily before returning to normal.

‘Speaking of taking hits, I’m not enjoying this much’ Maia said as her gaze cast about the lighting in the ceiling and then came to rest upon Maddox sat in his chair scrutinising the displays. ‘I’m assuming you have a well-conceived plan, just as you did before in that stock room?’

Maddox simply nodded with an accompanying grunt as he scoured the data-banks of the navigation computer for local features they may be able to use to their advantage. The only issue he was having problems with was that the erratic nature of the asteroids in the belt and their location on the outer fringes of colonised space made such records sparse at best.

Unlike the core worlds where there were detailed astrometric charts detailing potential hazards and space lane routes between colonies which updated frequently based on the orbits of the inner planets, the only people who frequented the belt with regularity were its inhabitants and quite a few of them did not want to be found easily. There were a few key outposts and installations marked, but the computer on the Erstwhile had their own annotated layer to overlay, of small holdings and minor operations scattered throughout the area which had to be updated for known orbital rotation. Normally it took only a short while to return the results, but with everything else the ship’s computer was being inundated with, the task seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time.

‘There!’ Maddox exclaimed stabbing a finger at the screen before him, before the layer had updated. There were some features he simply knew from experience, and one of those had just presented itself quite usefully. ‘Ezri bring up this local chart and look for the debris cloud surrounding a trio of small asteroids over to our starboard side and a short run from our present position. I do believe we have come upon the graveyard and that gives us our possible way out of this mess.’

‘Confirmed, Captain,’ Ezri replied as she examined the local chart on her own screen. ‘Adjusting course now.’

‘Graveyard? We’re going into a graveyard?’ Maia asked with a nervous lilt to her tone.

Ezri seemed to ignore her comment as she made a few erratic swerves before diving the ship around in a loop to avoid another volley of explosions sent into their path, and then brought the ship about to a heading directly towards the debris field.

Maddox unstrapped his belt and turned his chair away from the controls to face Ezri and Maia.

‘It’s just a name for that zone between the three asteroids which houses the region’s biggest scrap yard run by the McCarthy brothers. They bring old derelict hulks here, which are then stripped of any useful parts for vessels still in service. There are three stations established, one on each asteroid which pulse electromagnetic waves through the debris cloud to mess with a ship’s control systems and sensor array. The brothers don’t really like uninvited guests you see,’ he explained for Maia’s benefit, but the last few words did not inspire much confidence in her.

‘So when we fly in with a patrol cruiser on our tail, won’t that get their back up? I mean, that electromagnetic wave will screw with our systems as well as those on the patrol ship won’t it?’ she asked quite genuinely concerned.