"One must learn to see what is to be seen.
And to see through what others wish you to see."
"What do you mean it's gone?" Jac pushed past the martian into the cockpit.
Ahead of him John Icarus was strapped into the flight chair, his armored suit reflecting the glare from the seven screens arranged around him in the vaguely triangular room. He gestured at the main view screen that shifted to show the outside of their ship with an info overlay of trajectories from the logs. Saturn and her rings shone at them, all alone. There was no signs of anything else in their vicinity.
"As you can see the Nova terra is not where we left it." the image in front of them was rapidly zooming in.
"John, Saturn seems to be approaching fast, what's our speed?" Jac started feeling a bit nervous, John had a tendency to become more reckless when he was annoyed, and from his calculations their trajectory was more than what a safe approach demanded.
"The nav was set to decelerate at the first sign of our destination." John grumbled, he flipped several switches and his chair reclined into drive mode as four of the screen readjusted themselves around him. "You might want to grab hold of something , I'm going to do an EAR" He grabbed the controls.
"A whatnow?" Jac looked over his shoulder, Red was buckling himself in rapidly while shouting through the doorway to Liam "LIAM, grab something, John is going to FLIP and BURN!"
Jac recognized that term, and barely had time to grab hold of the nearest seat before they began.
The Angelica begun a slow sideways roll toward Saturn that increased in speed with each turn as John started angling the nose of the ship away from the planet. For a moment the engines went out and the sounds of warning sounds sang a dirge through the ship as several icons flashed red in sync with them. Jac eyed a loose cable as it slowly started to rise from the floor lazily, weightless.
Then John pushed the accelerator and they all got glued to their seats for a second before the internal gravity systems managed to kick in and save them from whiplash.
Glancing at the sensors Jac could read their approximately distance from the planet, the numbers were red. Next to that he could see the main view screen show them almost touching the outer boundaries of the gas giant, skimming along the the horizon before adjusting trajectory and rising away from it.
The blue starship reduced speed and set out on course around the planet, surfing over it's glittering rings.
"Right, that went almost smoothly" John frowned as his chair rose back into a more upright position. His long limbs almost touched the floor, but someone had made adjustment to the floor and the chair. Jac assumed their last mechanic was the one responsible for that custom job. The one they barely talked about, that he was certain had died on mars.
"That's an understatement" Jac mumbled, he glanced at the warning messages, three of them were still blinking.
"I'll go see how much damage you did to the engine with that stunt" he got out of the chair and stalked out of the cockpit.
"Angie can handle it" John called after the disappearing technician "Isn't that right baby? You know I'll take care of you. " He slowly removed his hands from the controls and flexed his fingers, the levity of his voice was not one his gut shared. He took a deep breath before getting back to the joystick. "What do you think Red?"
The martian unbuckled his harness and came up behind the pilot, leaning over the chair he studied the screens before them.
"I dunno John, could it have drifted?" He seemed skeptical of the idea.
"Hrm, let's check – if it has, it should be alongside the same orbit as we are cruising now." John pointed at the second screen, showing a small moving glyph representing them, on top of a slightly curved line, next to it was a translucent green line showing the imagined path their quarry could have taken, something about it seemed incorrect to Red.
"Let me give you a hand with the nav and sensors." The martian buckled into the chair next to the belter and together the two of them started searching for signs of the lost ship.
After some minutes John broke the silence "You know what the other, more likely possibility is right?" Red glanced away from his calculations "Somebody took it, you mean?" he got back to readjusting their path "Yeah, I know."
John sighed " Only question is if it's just scavengers, military, or worse of all: corporate…"
a couple of seconds ticked by as they both thought about that potential scenario.
John turned and shouted down the hallway of the ship "LIAM, gear up! – we need you in here!"
The sound of someone jogging preceded the terran as he came into the cockpit "What's happening?" he was still in his training gear, sweat was darkening his shirt and shining on his forehead.
"Nothing yet, but I want you in full battle gear and manning the guns if it does, fair?" John asked.
The marine looked at his two friends and the intent stares they leveled at the sensors before nodding "Sure, better safe than spaced, give me ten." He ran out.
John adjusted their speed and looked out at the vastness of space, lit up by the sparkling rings under them, he could feel some resistance in the steering as he made another minute adjustment to their course.
How do you lose a ship that size out here?
When Doc returned to the cockpit Liam was already strapped in and looking bored.
"It's time to call it, we've traveled along the projected orbit of a drifting ship that size, it can't have gotten any further John." Red pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed his eyes "we lost it." The pale large man next to him looked like a statue as he sat there almost immobile, only movement was the slow rhythmic tap of a single finger on the controls.
"The engine is fine, but some of the minor systems took a beating, nothing serious but you might notice something off with the steering." Doc sat down in the last seat and looked around, the screens all showed nothing of interest, only Saturn, the rings and the space.
"It can't have disappeared simply" John's voice was cold and far away.
"And can't have gotten far."
"And there is nothing to hide a ship …"
"SONOVA!" John grabbed the controls suddenly and increased their acceleration, the view screen showed them plummeting downward.
"John! What the?" Red searched the screens, none of them showed anything new.
Turning to the martian, John spoke quickly, anger fueling his words " They're under us, UNDER THE FUCKING RINGS, they're using them to mask the ship!" He returned to the controls and flipped a switch "Hold on."
The chair sunk into pilot mode as several screens readjusted along it, the light in the cockpit dimmed, on the screens Red could see the glittering flat rings turn into a sea of rocks as they sped toward it.
Dear ancestors, save me from the cold dark and the rage of a thwarted Void Ranger.
He tightened the straps on his chair and brought the sensor screens closer, quickly mapping out obstacles and tracing a path that would bring them through it without turning them into grated cheese.
Smaller rocks struck their shields and sent small sparks and high pitched vibrations through their ship, the larger ones they tried their best to go around, making constant micro adjustments to avoid catastrophe.
Shadows circled them as they entered the center of the debris field, the rocks filtering the reflected light in weird patterns around them, some places were almost black and Angelica skimmed along them like a deep sea diver trying to find his way out of an underwater tunnel before his air ran out.
When the light returned they started breathing again.
Emerging under the rings of Saturn, Angelica increased speed again, it's thrusters burning a bright blue. Red set the sensors for long range and went about making calculations on the navigation computer. "You sure about this John? It still might be to late."
John was looking from screen to screen "I'm certain, I can almost feel them … Just out of sight, sneaky motherfuckers!"
All four of them sat there in the silence as the blue bulk of the Angelica cruised under the rings of Saturn, minutes went by.
Red pointed at the central Screen as it shifted to show a set of lines and numbers over a dark background "That's someone's trace emissions, someone big."
"Can you find them?" John stared at the projection as it overlayed the outside view.
"Working on it, start on this heading and I'll narrow us in as we get closer" A bright line appeared on the screen, The screen next to John lit up with extra information.
"Got scanner range on them" Red looked up from his controls, on the main screen they could see the rear of something large and long speeding away from them. "Their trajectory doesn't make sense though: if they keep this path long enough they will end up away from the solar system, there is nothing in that direction."
John switched the autopilot on and turned his head so he could see all of them "Ok guys, decision time: do we continue or do we call it quits and stay safe? that ship is large and we don't know what's going on here, it could be an ice hauler repurposed for scavenging, but it might just as easily be a black ops corporate ship or a military juggernaut. " he looked at his three friends, "If it is, we might end up as stardust and debris before we know it if we go any closer. but we're going to loose them if we stay at this speed … thoughts?"
"That's the only proof we got, if it disappears we're back to square one." Doc said.
Liam shrugged "This is the job, if we wanted safe we'd be farmers John, remember?"
John nodded and looked at Red. "Red, you sure?"
The martian looked away from the computer screen and locked his eyes on the pale belter "I'm with you, you know that."
John returned to the joystick and resumed control "Ok, let's go hunting."
In the darkness of space the two ships were barely visible from a distance, apart from their drives that lit them up with a cold blue light. Angelica was slowly gaining on the unknown ship.
"They've fired rockets." Reds tone was calm. "Can you do something about that Doc?"
"Starting electronic countermeasures." The tapping of fingers over the keyboard intensified as the technician tried to lock onto the guidance controls of the incoming warhead. "it's not responding to standard attempts, I'm not sure if I can get it in time, Liam you ready with the guns in case we need to shoot it down before it reaches us?"
"Awaiting lock" the marine mumbled as he stared at the gunnery controls "why didn't we get a proper unship instead of this thing? I have no rockets, no turrets, no flak or countermeasures to drop – all I have is one single cannon, sheesh" He shook his head sadly. "What a way to go."
The ship lurched as they decreased speed "I'll try to shake it off" John hissed as they sped toward unknown armament.
Angelica begun moving in a spiraling pattern toward the missile, who was mirroring it's target, as the two of them got closer John shouted "Hold on!" and punched the engines to max while he reversed his spin. The ship rumbled as the sudden course change threatened to tear it in two, behind it the missile detonated soundlessly and orange fire and gas lit the Angelica up as it tore towards the ship.
Doc broke the tense silence of the cockpit as they got within visual range "I've never seen anything with that design in the solar system."
"Maybe they're not from this one?" Red wondered half jokingly.
"Either way we have to get close and board before they fire ay us again, eventually we might get unlucky or they might get lucky. Missiles are off the table as soon as we get next to them, that's our best chance."
"Look at that" Liam said and pointed out the incoming visuals.
Hanging under the sinister sleek spacecraft they were chasing they identified the shape of the Nova Terra.