Samantha Mcleod slouched in the co-pilot’s chair of the Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear, her feet up on the console. It had been a long day, and although she loved her work she didn’t particularly enjoy spending all of what was supposed to be her free time working on someone else’s ship, even if that someone was her some-time boyfriend, currently abroad exploring and ‘road-testing’ his new Diamondback Explorer, the Slippery When Wet.
Commander Calvert’s Cobra lay hidden in maintenance hangar 00, an unlisted dock that on occasion did double-duty as Sammy’s unofficial personal workspace. The diagnostic terminal in her hand was linked to the ship’s computer, which was resolutely refusing to provide the expected results from her routine power-management test.
“Alright, baby. Let’s try this one more time,” she said, as she activated the power-up sequence of the Cobra.
“Reactor power – nominal. Power Distro – check. Life Support – check. Shields – charging. Frame Shift Drive – check. Sensors – check….” Sammy carried on through the list, at each stage confirming the readings on her terminal as the Cobra hummed into life around her. ”Thrusters…”
“Power capacity exceeded,” The computer announced.
“Damn it!” Sammy cursed. “Again with the power overload.” This had been the pattern the last nine times she’d tried booting up the ship, each different sequence she tried resulting in the same outcome.
“Alright. Let’s work this through,” said Sammy, thinking aloud. “The only logical explanation is that one of these modules is pulling way more power than it should be on start-up, and yet it’s not showing on the diagnostics. So either my software calibration is out of whack, or….” She paused, struck by an idea, “…or there has to be something else on this ship that’s pulling the power.”
Inspired by her insight, she powered down each module in reverse order, this time checking the power readings after each step. At every stage, around 5% more power was being consumed than could be accounted for by the ratings of the ship’s modules. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Sammy’s expert eye to notice. As she finally switched the reactor offline, the power readings on her terminal dropped to around 6%, then slowly faded to zero.
“Now that’s just weird”, she mused, idly tapping her thumbnail against her front teeth, a habit she exhibited when deep in thought. Pondering over the anomalous readings, it took her a little while to realise that, although every possible module on the ship was powered down, there was still a faint vibration from the co-pilot’s chair that she sat in.
“Hmmm. I wonder..?”
Having stripped apart a good many ships down to their core frames and put them back together, Sammy knew that some pilots had special ‘modifications’ made to the basic structure. One of the most popular mods amongst Cobra pilots who had occasion to do a little smuggling here and there was to install some hidden compartments where small but highly valuable items could be stashed, safe from the prying eyes of station customs inspectors. Getting down on her knees and groping around on the cockpit floor underneath the co-pilot’s seat, it didn’t take her very long to find the expected concealed latches in the floor panel.
“Well, well. What have we here?” She chuckled, releasing the floor clamps and moving the chair back on its mountings so she could get at the catches. They were covered in grime and paint and didn’t seem to have been used for quite some time, but with judicious application of a screwdriver she soon had them open and lifted the panel.
“What the..?” She gasped.
Inside, the compartment wasn’t very big; perhaps enough for a child to curl up in at a squeeze. But most of the space was filled with a large black ovoid, its surface reflective with a strange purple-blue iridescence that reminded her of a beetle’s carapace. It hummed quietly, and when she moved to touch it, was startled to feel it pull her hand towards the surface, as though it was a magnet and she was made of ferrous metal. Yet strangely, there was no sensation of touching anything – her hand simply stopped and couldn’t go any farther, and then it took some small effort to pull it away again. Bending to get a closer look, she could see her distorted image reflected in the surface, and then a strange tugging sensation as though her eyeballs were trying to pop out of her head. Suddenly, an irrational fear washed over her and she backed up against the control console, breathing heavily and hugging her knees to her chest, every nerve in her body screaming run away!
“Oh Marcus. What have you gotten yourself into?”