“Are you sure?” asked Director Maxwell as he looked up from his desk, the project schedule and other reports displayed on the desk screen. As he opened his palms and swiped his hands apart, the screen went black.
The man wearing the twin silver eagles on his collar, and the only person on the ship allowed to be called Captain, nodded.
Ben Benavides towered over the desk the Project Director smuggled on his ship. The computer system had not been cleared by him and he only allowed approved systems on his ship. He did not smile when the Maxwell grinned up at him.
“So, what’s the problem?” Maxwell asked shrugging his shoulders. “We still have a job to do and you will not get paid unless we complete it.”
Ben wanted to slam his fists down on the company’s man table and shatter it, but he would be forced to pay for it. The only thing worth anything to his name was the ship and his kids, and he needed one to help care for the other. The company had to know this would happen.
“As standard procedure, my first officer scanned the system when we awoke from N-space. Let’s just say his findings are little more than peculiar.” Ben look back at his best friend, Carl Morrison and nodded.
“Director Maxwell,” Carl said as he stepped forward, I’ve uploaded the scans and the rescans to your computer for review, but you cannot deny that our target planet is not a barren wasteland or even inhabited by lower lifeforms, there are people on that world, human beings.”
“You have no idea what the lifeforms on the planet could be, gentlemen, we are far too far for a confirmation,” Maxwell countered.
“Alice,” said Ben looking up, “pick a random signal in the VHF band and display it on Director Maxwell’s console, please.”
“Of course, Captain Benavides,” replied the artificial intelligence.
A grainy black and white image appeared on the desk as Maxwell stared at Ben.
The constable has indicated that Rikishi, who was speaking at a primary school, and from the testimony of several witness started the riot, is still in custody and will remain so until he can be arranged to see the Magistrate…
Ben leaned forward. “That’s old English you pompous ass. The accent is strange and not all the words are pronounced like Terran Standard, but those people are definitely from Earth and they are broadcasting all over the electromagnetic spectrum. What the hell is going on and you better not lie or I will toss you out the airlock personally?”
Director Maxwell sat back in his chair and sighed.
“Before I answer, how many others know about the transmissions?” Maxwell asked.
“No one, but my First Officer and me,” Ben replied, “for now.”
Maxwell smiled. “Good. This is top-secret straight from the company Board of Directors. A decade ago, we received a NAV transmission from a Starfarer class transport, The Blessed, at our furthest N-space beacon. It reported a planet, this planet, had an abundance of resources that could supply Earth for years, maybe even decades with raw resources to finally rebuild everything we lost.”
“A Starfarer?” Ben asked with disbelief, “that is not possible. There hasn’t been a Starfarer in space for several hundred years. Those things are ancient…”
“But still far more advanced than anything on this ship,” Maxwell answered. That is the second part of the mission, to find that ship and bring it home. Can you imagine the technology of a still-active Starfarer?”
“That still doesn’t answer the question, Director,” Carl said jumping in, “Who are those people and why did you bring a prep crew to this world?”
“We don’t know who they are,” Maxwell admitted, “The Blessed and anything known about her were lost in The Great Purge.”
“And the drones?” Ben said.
“Gentlemen, the company has contingency plans for everything. We are here to begin the extraction process from the most resource rich planet anyone has ever visited. When we are done here, we will all be very wealthy men.”
“And those people on the planet?” Ben asked. “They may not appreciate our efforts to remove what belongs to them. And the last time I checked, the Terran Space Charter specifically forbids mining planets with human settlers on them.”
Maxwell leaned forward and smiled. “Exactly. There is no known record of any settlement in the Cygnus star system. As far as anyone outside the board of directors know, and you two fine gentlemen, we are the first ship to this region of space from Earth.”
“No,” Ben said firmly, “I will not allow the mission to continue when there are human lives at-risk here, even if they are descendants of Terrans. I will not take part in genocide and neither will my ship.”
Tsk tsk tsk. “Mister Benavides, might I remind you that the company spent considerable amounts of resources, limited resources, on upgrading your ship for this mission? Should I remind you that you and your crew will lose millions of credits if you terminate this mission? No one will be paid and everyone will have made that trip through Null space twice for no reason other than to satisfy your sorry desire to protect a bunch of people that abandoned our homeworld centuries ago!”
Ben Benavides stood up straight. No, he would not kill the little company man like he wanted, he would imprison him for the voyage home where he would face a courtroom along with the company Board of Directors, for planning genocide. Then maybe he would return to establish contact with their long-forgotten cousins.”
“Silence,” Ben said as Maxwell tried to speak. “Mister Morrison, will you escort Project Director Maxwell to the brig as I inform the crew we are returning to Earth.”
When Ben did not hear an aye-aye, Captain, he turned around to face the muzzle of Carl’s sidearm, the weapon shaking in his best friend’s hand.
“Carl, what are you doing?” Ben asked pleadingly.
“I’m sorry, Captain, but we can’t return empty-handed. I have debts to repay and with the money the company is paying me, will allow me to finally purchase my own ship. Tell the Director we will proceed as planned.”
“No!” shouted Ben, his last words. Carl pulled the trigger of his sidearm, the bullet blasting out of the muzzle and impacting Ben’s skull, spraying brain matter and bone fragments all over the room. Director Maxwell remained motionless as Ben’s lifeless body collapsed to the floor.
“I’m sorry, Mister Morrison,” Maxwell said looking at Carl as he slowly holstered his weapon. “But Captain Benavides’s suffered a traumatic brain injury from hypersleep resulting in death.”
“Yes, yes,” Carl said still shaking.
“And that obviously makes you the new Captain of this ship. The company will gladly compensate you with former Captain Benavides’s contract for your loyalty to our goals.”
“Thank you, Director Maxwell,” Carl said still focused on Ben’s corpse.
“Why don’t you go get some rest, Captain. I will take care of the arrangements,” Maxwell said as he typed on his console. Like a robot himself, Carl Morrison, the new Captain of the ship, left the room.
“Alice,” Maxwell said, “Company Override Red, Maxwell, voice authentication.”
“Voice authentication confirmed,” Alice replied.
“All electromagnetic data from the planet will be masked using subroutine alpha. Confirm new protocols.”
“Inform my security team that they are needed in here, on once.”
“As you wish, Director Maxwell.”