Procurator’s Journal

In-character Subject: Errands (Chapter 3)
Submitted: 2007-3-9 20.02

The harsh terrain flew past under the Aggregator’s prow, the former dimpled and pitted by innumerable explosions from innumerable battles that had taken place on its surface before the Machines saw fit to shut humanity up for a bit. Besides ruined cities and dark oceans, there was very little of interest in the Desert of the Real, yet the Aggregator flew with a purpose. It was not immediately bound for Stalingrad, as Procurator had explained to his crew as soon as they were all aboard and ready for the off, but rather a small outpost a while distant from Zero-One. Rarely did any ship in the Glitch Society’s modest fleet have to visit such a place – save for the occasional pickup of a new recruit – but this was not an ordinary trip.

After the initial announcement of the ship’s ultimate destination, the crew had expressed not a little concern.

‘Holy crap!’

‘What the hell are we going there for?’

‘The squiddies will tear us to shreds!’

On the last point Procurator had tried his best to be reassuring.

‘Don’t worry, we’re gonna be all set before we reach Stalingrad. You think I’d fly us into the enemy’s hands without so much as an EMP?’

He then proceeded to clarify that, as EMPs were banned from Zero-One, they would have to pick one up (‘Or several,’ he’d said to himself quietly). Hovercrafts were intercepted before they reached Zero-One by fleets of Sentinels, which had been outfitted to scan for potential EMP weapons. Upon detecting one, this would be removed from the ship. Unless, of course, the ship was hostile or the inspection fleet had been destroyed by an EMP, in which case the Machine City’s gargantuan defences would kick into action and obliterate the ship. This hadn’t happened too often, as people were warned against trying anything that stupid by the first instance, which had transpired soon after Zion had begun manufacturing new – albeit ramshackle – hovercrafts.

The outpost they were now approaching was, in essence, an all-purpose repairshop for hovercrafts. It not only provided EMPs for those particularly adamant in their request for them, but gun part replacements, gun ammunition, replacement hoverpads and refuelling services. Strictly speaking it was a Machinist outpost, and whenever Procurator was there he’d only met crews loyal to Zero-One, but it was well known that the occasional Merovingian follower or wayward Zionite would make an appearance, more often than not to meet contacts and trade information outside the Matrix.

Gookin had taken over the flight controls for this trip. He’d repeatedly asked his captain for the job – especially considering the rather impersonal manner in which the robot JE-R3 went about its duties – but was denied the satisfaction of guiding the Aggregator’s graceful flight. There was enough to be doing as the ship’s first mate, Procurator had said. Today, however, the captain explained that this was a special trip and thus required the full participation of the crew, and only the crew. A couple of hours after leaving their dock on the outskirts of Zero-One Gookin landed the Aggregator on one of the open spaces outside the outpost’s only building.

Procurator was the first to descend from the ramp. Two men came up to meet him before he’d even stepped on the cold ground outside. One of them embraced Procurator in greeting and introduced him to the other man, who shook his hand. Procurator grinned at them both, and said a few things in hushed tones. Pausing only to signal the rest of the crew to follow him, he strode off with his two friends and entered the building.

This outpost was about as different as you could get from the cleanliness of the Zero-One dock. It was closer to Zion than anything else: dirty, dusty, with an overwhelming smell of oil and the sounds of large machinery. Most people who’ve spent any time in Zion learn to ignore these offending sensations, but Procurator, having long since left the underground city, was not a little irked by it. The passageway they’d entered soon opened out into the main chamber, a gathering place of sorts and a place for the crews of passing ships to relax and get something to eat. The food was reasonable – better than Zion standards, naturally – but hardly a decent reason for anyone to visit the place. This was not why the Aggregator was here.

The crew followed their captain in and most of them slumped into the nearest available seats.

‘Okay kids, we’ve got some things to cover. Gookers, I want you to toddle off with Ide here’ (he pointed to one of the two men who’d met him) ‘and go get us as many EMPs as he can spare and help him install them. Fray, you can grab whatever food you think we need. Let’s go for a bit of variation in our diets, eh? Six and Sel, scout about for upholstering. After Fray and Jedi somehow managed to burn their pillows last week the Machines have refused to give us any new ones.’

FrayJack and Jedi pulled silly faces and started giggling. After a stern look from Procurator, Fray headed for what looked to be the canteen area.

Procurator continued: ‘Camp and Flare, can you mingle and ask around for the latest gossip? Find out where the major factions are hanging out. We’ve got enough to worry about without the threat of bumping into Cypherite, Merovingian or goddamned EPN ships. Jedi, you can come along with us. We have an upgrade to install!’

***

A few hours later and the Aggregator was on its way again. EMPs were installed, food was well stocked and the crew quarters once again had the correct number of pillows. Selena, the ship’s navigator, pored over her console on the bridge. Gookin and Procurator were sat by the front windows – one carefully guiding the ship across the wastes of the Real, the other humming quietly to himself. He stopped and turned his attention to Selena.

‘How long d’you reckon it’ll take, Sel?’ he asked.

Selena didn’t look up from the maps and charts that covered the large screen of the navigation console. ‘Assuming we can keep going non-stop, maybe thirty-six hours at best.’

‘Good grief!’ exclaimed Procurator. ‘We can go faster than that! The planet’s not that big, and we’re a bloody fast ship.’

‘Yeah, but we’re crossing through some hostile zones. You know the engagement protocols as well as any of us, Proc.’

The captain gave an incomprehensible grunt and folded his arms. He did know the protocols: when in a hostile area not relevant to the mission, avoid all contact with enemy ships. However fast their ship might be, they couldn’t just plow through these territories. They had to go just slow enough to perform regular scans of their surroundings, locate targets, determine their intentions and do their best to avoid them. Flying across land was generally faster but sewers were better for navigating hostile zones. However, they weren’t quite as ever-present as some people thought.

‘Seriously Proc,’ said Gookin, without taking his eyes off the ground before them, ‘why’re we doing this? Why’s Gray sending us on ahead?’

‘Intelligence gathering.’

‘Yeah, so you said. But they could have got Sentinels to do that. And why are they taking ages to get to Stalingrad anyway?’

Procurator wasn’t convinced he’d got a good enough answer to that question. The fact that the Sentinels despatched after his virus had run its course were spending days en route to the General’s base had mystified him, but he wasn’t too concerned why. All he was interested in was the opportunity their slow progress had offered him.

‘They’re waiting for us, I guess. It’s no good guessing how big the General’s army is and sending a few Sentinels along to take them out. They want to know exactly what they’re up against, and we stand a very good chance of getting all the info they need without the enemy even spotting us.’

This last bit, at least, was true. The HvCFT Aggregator was a stealth ship, designed for reconnaissance work. When it was being rebuilt in Zero-One one and a half years ago, the Glitch Society had requested it be equipped with stealth technology. Such equipment naturally precluded the ship’s ability to carry heavy weapons, and so it was redesigned with speed in mind, lest it be caught by an enemy fortunate enough to spot it. Truthfully, very little of the HvCFT Mainframe had survived the rebuilding – it was practically a new ship. When prompted on the subject, however, Procurator would insist that it was the same ship as the Mainframe, just to impress upon everyone the significance of the whole terrifying incident and the reason behind his – and the crew’s – hatred for Cypherites.

Selena got up from her seat and stretched.

‘I’m gonna get a drink. You two want anything?’

Having taken their orders, she left for the galley. A few moments passed by in silence, then Gookin spoke.

‘Are we gonna get to push this button then?’

Gookin motioned towards a large red button sitting between the two frontmost seats in the cockpit. It was covered by a safety catch. Procurator looked over.

‘Eh? Oh, the big red one?’

‘Yeah. Jedi said you got him to hook it up to the hoverpad power regulators, but…’

‘Well, uh, if we’re unlucky we’ll get to use it, yeah.’

‘But what the hell is it? Some sort of jump-start?’

‘Oh-no, not in the slightest!’ said Procurator, grinning. ‘It’s a discharge weapon.’

‘You what?’

The Captain chuckled. ‘Hoverpads, by way of necessity, are ringed by an unstable energy vortex, right? Anyone or anything that gets too close gets zapped.’

‘I think most of us get that.’

‘Ah, but have you ever considered using that property for a purpose? The right amount of power in the right pad at the right time…’

‘Bollocks. That’d take ages to calculate.’

‘Well, we did it! Pressing that button uses the hoverpads to create a small electrical storm around the Aggregator. Any rogue Sentinels get a bit too friendly with the ship’s hull… BAM! Fried calamari!’

Procurator grinned malevolently and smashed his fist into his palm as if to demonstrate the Sentinel’s fate.

‘Heh, you seem to like the idea,’ remarked Gookin. ‘So, you reckon we’ll need it?’

‘I hope not. The Aggregator’s a stealth ship, so as long as we – sorry, you – fly it properly, the Sentinels won’t even see us. And we’re not exactly equipped to shoot the buggers if it comes down to it.’

‘True. I’m getting someone to double check the guns just in case.’

Procurator nodded, and patted Gookin’s shoulder before looking over his own.

‘’Ere Sel! Those drinks coming?’

Errors

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