Aloin doubled-checked his reference points and then the star system master plot. This late into Seconday, the bridge of the Iridium Queen was quiet except for the susurration of life support, the regular pulse of Scan, and an occasional gentle snore from the pilot’s chair. “Uh, Miska,” he said hesitantly, his voice sounding suddenly loud. Miska made a half-snuffle, half-cough sound and then abruptly sat bolt upright in her chair. Reflected in the bridge main screen, Aloin could see her quickly checking her boards.
“I’ve just noticed this,” he said, switching a feed of Scan across to the main board. Miska stared blankly at the system schematic. “We got the master system plot off the Jump Zone buoy about five hours ago,” Aloin said. “Nav Comp runs the plot in real time, based on logged vectors.”
“Know this,” Miska replied, tapping her chest.
“I’ve logged master system updates off the JZ buoys, and Miazan Highport, on the hour for the last four hours.” Aloin brought up the Scan plot. “And here’s our Scan returns,” he continued, “ mapped onto the master plot and with vector probabilities computed.”
Miska stared at the second plot. “That one,” she said suddenly, indicating an icon, “’s out of place.”
Aloin nodded. “Yes,” he said. “It dropped down into Real Space about an hour before us, which is why its position and vector were in the original master system plot we received off the buoy.”
“In-bound on Exxilon track,” Miska said thoughtfully. “Approach vector logged by Miazan T.C.”
“It starts to diverge from track about two hours ago,” Aloin said. “About when their scan would’ve picked us up.”
“Scan return on them?”
Aloin quickly tapped a command into his board. “Data stream coming up now,” he said, switching the new plot to the main screen. He glanced down the scrolling column of numbers on the left of the screen. “She’s a free trader. Harran Class, just like us. Imperial registry. Out of Celephais ...”
“Emission sig,” Miska interrupted. “Clean up ‘mission sig’ture.”
Aloin concentrated on the spectrum display at the bottom of the screen, activating filters to reduce the signal noise on the other ship’s drive emission signature. “I think that’s as good as I can get it,” he said at last.
“Good ‘nough, lad,” Miska said and punched the comm key on the arm of her chair. “Captain to bridge, trouble.”
Aloin stared at her. “Miska? What’s going on? They’re from your homeworld.”
Miska glanced back at him as she brought her board to life. “Thieves and villains and will cut our throats!” she said. She pointed at the scar on her neck. “Didn’t get this shavin’. “ Gesturing at the ship’s icon on the main screen, she said, “That’s the Guard Amethyst. That’s Venhrait and her thugs. That’s trouble, dockside.”
Glossary: Jump Zone – A controlled area of space specifically assigned for starships to transit to and from Jump Space. By convention, in-bound starships transit through the system zenith while out-bound starships transit through the system nadir, thus reducing the possibility of encountering hazards orbiting the parent star along the plane of the ecliptic.
Seconday – Second shift. Work time on starships is usually measured in two shifts; Primeday or main shift; and Seconday or secondary shift. The bulk of a starship’s crew are off duty during Seconday.
T.C. – Traffic Control. Usually refers to the control hub for tracking and routing interplanetary and interstellar traffic through a star system. Ships enter and leave a star system in a Jump Zone – an area of space at least 100 planetary diameters out from the system’s main world. Jump Zones, depending upon the amount of in-bound and out-bound traffic in the system, can be millions of kilometres across.