Steff inserted the data file Admiral Byron had given her into the computer interface in her quarters. She backed away from the wall and looked at the screen.
“What’s on the file SARA?” she asked.
“Data pertaining to the Artemis IV. Most of this data was already in my memory system.” SARA told her. On the screen were various crew logs for all 76 members of the crew. Steff reviewed them to see if there were any further details that had been missed out in the ones she already had.
“Aside from crew logs, what else is there?” Steff asked.
“There is a series of reports from Captain Ander Cortes. It seems he sent back regular reports to New Earth Space Command.” SARA revealed.
“How come I haven’t been given these to view before?” Steff asked. “You would think this would be vital if we’re meant to find out what happened to Artemis IV.”
“I’m sorry Captain, I have no information on this. I suggest you ask New Earth Space Command about this lack of information.” SARA replied. Steff rolled her eyes.
“Like they’re going to tell me. They’re doing their best to restrict all information about what happened to Artemis IV, even to me, and I’m meant to be investigating the disappearance of the ship for them. Their plan seems to release information to me about Artemis IV in small installments. I’m not sure to what end, but it seems calculated on their part.” Steff told her.
“I’m sorry Captain. Maybe you should be telling New Earth Space Command this.” SARA suggested.
“I think we’ve just hit a loop.” Steff replied. “Play the last Captain’s Report.”
“Yes Captain.” SARA replied.
A man’s face appeared on the screen. He looked to be in his forties with short dark brown hair, brown eyes, and light brown skin. He also looked rather tired.
“This is Captain Ander Cortes. We are orbiting planet G103-45732. It is a reddish-brown colour and slightly larger than New Earth. Today we sent a team down to explore the planet, with myself included. Though it has an atmosphere of various gases including some oxygen, we still had to wear environment suits as it was too thin to be breathable. Gravity was found to be 1.3 Earth Units, and so was not a problem. While the planet seems dry and sandy, we found hardy plant life that seems rather similar to cactus plants that grew in Earth’s deserts, as well as small insects and even a tiny lizard-like species. The Chief Science Officer believes there may be vast reservoirs of water beneath the surface. She also suggested more abundant forms of life may exist there. I think this planet is a prime candidate for a new colony. Some terraforming will be needed, but should be minimal compared to what some other colony worlds required. In 48 hours we intend to have a further investigation of this world. There is an area of dense caves to the north of where we explored today. We intend to explore these caves in hope that they may lead to underground passages where we might find more abundant lifeforms and possibly sources of water, as the Chief Science Officer suggested. Soil and rock samples are currently being analysed by our geologist, while lizard and insect samples are also being studied by our biologist. I’ll send another report after we have investigated the surface further. Report ends.”
“I wonder what happened next.” Steff commented.
“Sorry I have no information on that.” SARA replied.
“Yes I realise this. It was rhetorical.”
“Is there anything else on the disk we haven’t seen before, beside the Captain’s reports?” Steff asked.
“Not that I can tell.” SARA replied.
“Are you telling me everything I need to know about this?” Steff asked.
“What do you mean?”
“New Earth Space Command is not telling you to hide information from me regarding Artemis IV?”
“For what purposes?” SARA asked.
“You tell me.”
“No Captain. I’ve have told you everything regarding Artemis IV that is in my memory systems.” SARA insisted.
“But could there be information in your memory systems you can’t access at this point in time? Or hidden programming orders preventing you from providing me with more information about Artemis IV?” Steff queried.
“Not to my knowledge Captain. If such things were there, then presumably there would be no way for me to detect them and no way for me to tell you about them.” SARA replied.
“So hypothetically both those things could be true?”
“Yes hypothetically. To my knowledge I am telling you everything I consciously know. If there are hidden orders then I have no way of detecting them, until they come into operation.” SARA confirmed. Steff thought about this.
“Do you think Space Command might have set up some hidden programming in your systems?”
“I don’t see any reason why they would want to.”
“To be clear though, you’re not under any orders to withhold information regarding the Artemis IV from me?”
“No Captain, but surely if I were under any such orders my response would be the same.” SARA answered. Steff frowned. There was no way out of this labyrinth.
“True.” Steff conceded. She decided to try another tack: “So whom do you serve? Me or Space Command?”
“Surely you are one and the same.” SARA replied.
‘But do orders coming from Admiral Owens, for example, supersede orders coming from me?”
“Of course. Admiral Owens outranks you. If he were to send me an order contrary to your own order, then I would have to follow his one.” SARA told her. “That’s how the chain of command works.”
“Yes thank you, surprisingly I do know that.” Steff replied. “So if Admiral Owens were to send an order to hide, or not to inform me about, certain sensitive information regarding the Artemis IV, then you would follow that command, and if I asked you about it, you would deny knowing any further information, even if you did?”
“Of course, Captain.”
“So Admiral Owens may have sent you such an order, and I will never know if he did or didn’t?”
“Yes Captain, unless I got another order to suddenly reveal this hidden information to you, if there was any.” SARA replied.
“Captain, you have a message from Lieutenant Blake.” SARA suddenly announced.
“Okay.” Steff responded.
“Captain, we are getting a distress signal from another ship.” Blake informed her. Steff thought for a moment.
“Okay put The Oracle on alert. I’ll be there shortly.” Steff ordered.
“Yes Captain.” Blake responded. Almost immediately the ship’s alarm sounded.
“Captain, there is a 65% chance this is a trap.” SARA warned her.
“Yes I already guessed that.” Steff replied as she hurriedly left her quarters. Once she was on the bridge she sat down and flicked on the intercom. “This is Captain Clarke. We have a ship in distress that we have to investigate. Everyone stand by for further information.” She looked out into the viewscreen. So far all they could see in front of them was the blackness of space and innumerable blazing stars.
“What do you think Captain?” Blake asked her.
‘We’ll have to wait and see. Considering there are pirates in the area we need to be cautious. They could be pirates luring us into a trap, or maybe they’ve been hit by pirates.” she answered.
“Yes, Commander Ellis did warn us there were pirates in the area.” Steff nodded at his comment.
“Communications, can we speak to them yet?” Steff called to Lieutenant Garcia.
“Yes Captain, I’ve just got a link with them.” Garcia confirmed.
“Okay patch me through to them.” Steff ordered.
“Yes Captain. They can hear you now.” Garcia told her.
“This is Captain Stephanie Clarke of the New Earth Spacefleet Scoutship The Oracle. We have received your distress call. Please identify yourself and tell me what is the nature of your emergency.” she said. There was a pause. Everyone on the bridge waited for a response.
“Hello Captain Clarke. Thank you for responding to our distress call. I am Captain Will Lewis of the spaceship Nautilus. This is a cargo ship. We’ve been attacked by pirates. They shot out our thrusters and then boarded our ship. They took all the cargo and left us floating in space with no engines. We either need to be taken to Beta Hub station or someone to get our engines back online.” the voice said.
“Okay. Stand by Nautilus.” Steff responded. There was no way she was returning The Oracle to Beta Hub. She looked at Blake who sat there looking thoughtful. She cut the comm channel. “What do you think? Do you buy his story?”
“I don’t know. It sounds true, but there’s no way of knowing. If it is a genuine distress call, we have to intervene don’t we?” Blake asked.
“Yes we do. Whatever happens we are not going back to Beta Hub.” As she said this, there was a look of relief from almost all the bridge crew. “If they genuinely need help with getting their engines fixed, then we can send some engineers over to their ship. Get all our starfighters on stand by, and get a shuttle ready. See if you can get a couple of engineers who are willing to go over to their ship.” Steff told Blake.
“Yes Captain.” he replied. He immediately put on a headset and got in touch with the hangar bay.
“Lieutenant Hunter, please keep alert. We may be getting ambushed here.” she told her gunnery officer.
“Yes Captain. I’ve already anticipated several scenarios we could potentially face.” Hunter responded.
“Very good Lieutenant.” Steff replied. She then reopened the comm channel to the Nautilus. “Are you there Nautilus?”
“Yes Captain Clarke.” the voice responded.
“We are coming to investigate. Since you’re having engine problems, we will send some engineers over to see if they can fix the damage. I’ll let you know as soon as we have you on visual.”
“Thank you Captain.” the voice replied. Steff cut the comm channel again, and turned on the intercom.
“This is Captain Clarke. We are investigating a distress call made by a cargo ship. Please bear in mind that this could be an ambush situation as there are pirates in the area. As long as everyone in this ship does their duty we will get through this.” she told the crew. She looked out into the blackness before them. Soon the Nautilus would come into view.
to be continued…
Index of previous chapters: The Oracle
©️2021 Joanne Fisher