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  • Writer's pictureMark Meier

Of Nanites and Spies 4

“One questionuh.” Huerla’s suspicion dripped from his words. “Why do you nevah object to being called ‘Captain Lannyuh?’ Wouldn’t ‘Captain Tae’ be more correctuh?”

Lannetay smiled, but it felt tight and artificial since her mind couldn’t think past the invading nanites. They might be infiltrating her body, getting ready to kill her – or Marc. “I’m not stuck on formality. I have friends who call me ‘Captain Lanny’ all the time. That doesn’t annoy me, so I never bother correcting people.”

Carnifor managed to stifle a laugh so it merely sounded like a grunt.

“I bid you good day.” Vensi gave a broad smile, nodded, and made his way back to his own ship. Qi and Huerla followed without another word.

When the airlock hatches closed, Lannetay sent to Bill, What are the nanites doing?

They’ve scattered throughout the ship.

Carnifor picked up the conversation. Can we do anything about them?

We might, Bill sent. We’ll have to wait until after the Jenbur Sho is out of their communication range.

Is that why we’re conversing via implants? Carnifor asked.

Lannetay rolled her eyes. Yes. Not even nanites can tap our implants.

Bill’s response was deadpan. Not that we know of.

The warning sent a chill down Lannetay’s spine. “Let’s continue on course. Inglep, here we come.” To Bill she sent, Warn the others to watch their words. We don’t want to give Vensi a reason to stop us again.

Bill guided the ship back above light speed. A half-hour later he messaged Lannetay, and apparently Carnifor, too.Uh, guys? Jenbur Sho is pacing us. There’s no way we can evade them, and trying would only tip them off we’re hiding something.

Then we still can’t talk to you aloud, Lannetay replied. We can only act as if everything is normal. A cargo ship’s sensors wouldn’t detect them, I’d guess.

Acting normal it is, Carnifor sent. “Are you going to change out of your costume now? There’s nobody here but us, so showing off is a waste.”

“I don’t show off.”

Carnifor simply shook his head and reclined in the right-hand seat. Would an EMP take out the nanites, Bill? You’re hardened against that.

Maybe, Bill replied. They might be hardened, too.

Lannetay squinted in thought. We have our own nanites, Bill. Can’t you hunt them down and destroy them?

I’ve been doing that on a limited basis, but any wide-spread attack wouldn’t look like a typical cargo ship. At the rate I’m killing them, it’ll take a year to finish.

How long if you go all out? Carnifor asked.

Ten seconds.

Lannetay sat bolt upright. Can we be sure we’ll get them all?

I’ll have a hunting routine programmed into ours, Bill sent. Any strays won’t stand a chance.

Carnifor looked to his left. What do you think?

I think we have to do it, Lannetay replied. The risk of not taking steps is too high.

We could wait for an opportune moment. Jenbur Sho isn’t going to follow us forever.

Bill alerted Lannetay to a situation ahead. Weapons fire. Lots of it.

Lannetay said aloud, “There’s a battle along our course line.”

Carnifor shouted through the open hatchway, “Trouble ahead, everyone.”

In an instant a thousand ships appeared around the William Placard. Bill’s reflexes took the ship below light speed. He dodged and wove through the chaotic formations of strike craft and made his way out of the scrum to where larger ships clashed. Weapons fire flew past the ship, narrowly missing.

Bill, calm as ever, said, “If they wanted to hit us, they would.”

The crew flocked into command center. Lannetay and Carnifor gripped armrests as the rest babbled questions over the top of each other.

Lannetay shouted over the noise, “Get us out of here, Bill!” She ordered a holo of the battle, which appeared above the control panel.

“Working on it.”

A Wanti heavy cruiser flew past with only a hundred meters to spare. Bill dropped toward nadir, but was cut off by a flight of frigates. He turned to port-apex for a few seconds, then port-nadir. “Hang on. This is going to be tough.”

A Terran fleet carrier, escorted by a dozen destroyers and a hundred fighters, forced the William Placard to veer off again. Artificial gravity couldn’t totally keep up and everyone was nearly unseated. Olthan, who had been standing, slammed into the starboard bulkhead. “Sorry,” Bill said.

After another course change Lannetay could see they were approaching the edge of the battle. “I wonder why they weren’t shooting at us.”

Carnifor snorted. “I wonder how this happened right where we happened to be flying.”

The ship burst free of the scrum and sped away. Bill said, “Full speed away from the mess.”

“Wait,” Carnifor said. “Let’s wait to see how this turns out. Something like this could be pivotal.”

Lannetay nodded. “Okay. Keep us a light month away. Olthan, you okay back there?”

“Good to go, s-” The Marine rubbed his shoulder.

Sensor readings resolved the holo image of the fight. Thirty escort carriers spat squadron after squadron of fighters. Frigates and destroyers sprayed deadly bolts of disrupter and blaster fire, shown in miniature on Bill’s display. Cruisers released clouds of missiles which flashed to and fro, smashing the smallest of space craft out of existence. Each loss was replaced by a seemingly endless supply provided by the carriers.

Marc gasped. “How did we get out of that alive?”

“Another task force coming in from nadir.” Bill rotated the display to include another set of ships streaking toward the battle.

Carnifor said, “Bill, highlight that carrier on the upper edge. It looks like it’s in trouble.” A moment later a short-lived gout of flame erupted from its flank. Repeated missile strikes followed the conflagration to its source, and the ship shattered.

Battleships on each side of the conflict traded broadsides. Most of the destruction glanced off, though enough energy seeped through to carve armor from the target’s hull. Occasionally a gnat of a fighter intersected a reflected bit of annihilation and vaporized.

If you're wondering more about these characters, their origins are detailed in Ebony Sea: Origins. If you appreciate this story, please share on social media, and consider supporting the author's ability to continue writing by purchasing the Origins story and leaving a review at the link above.

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