Nomads is my first experimental serial. The setting is futuristic with elements of armoured suits, diaspora fleets, and bugs. The experimental part is me trying to write cohesively and coherently in first person, with as little editing and preparation as possible.
“What the fuck are we going to do Raven?” said Shrike, her voice soft and despairing. Someone wanted us dead. Smart bets were on Otumo, or one of his flunkies. An intact, occupied Cryopod from another diaspora fleet or a lost colony would make an ambitious picket captain’s career. I could see him betraying us, but I wasn’t sure about a bomb — stabbing us in the back in his reports or leaving us stranded for a few weeks would be his style, but outright murder seemed extreme.
“We need to think this through,” I said. “Everyone gather up over here.”
I did not want to speak near the ship for fear that the bomb would go off. While bomb had operations grade stealth features, the actual explosive was garden variety, nothing exotic. It would be lethal in space, of course, but the danger zone was limited against a nomad suit on the ground. I called the remains of squad Bright Sword over to me, out of danger. I left my seekers running, checking for additional explosives, as well as listening and monitoring devices. Nomad dropships are swept regularly — all teams must be ready in case they are called in for black ops.
I created a new secure channel, silent and local. for us to speak on. It could be hacked, of course, but it would require some time and more attention from our mystery foes.
“What’s the situation Raven?” asked Scorch, sounding angry and irritable. The mission had gotten to him. Scorch does not like to lose and most Nomads consider losing a squad-mate a serious failure. I tried not to think about Leopard, Quake, and Nova. Faces I would never see again, voices lost for a cycle, at least.
“Someone planted a bomb on our dropship,” I said. “I expect if we’d taken off, we would have had a little accident leaving the atmosphere. We don’t know who planted the device, but we can be fairly sure it has something to do with this mission, the pod we found.”
“Gotta be Otumo,” said Scorch. “That prick would sell his own mama if he thought it would get him in fleet’s good books. Man wants to be a poli.”
“I thought so too,” I said. “But, it doesn’t add up.”
“He had access,” said Malificent. “He has motive.”
“Think about it, Mal,” said Sphinx. “He has better ways of screwing us — besides, I think whoever set us up here had to know about it beforehand.”
I stood silently for a moment, mind working. Sphinx is smart: she might not be the most experience pilot on the team, but she had priors in both field science, military psychology and fleet intelligence operations. It took me a while to grasp what she was implying; I’m not sure I ever would have arrived without the hint.
“They had to know about the pod beforehand,” I said. “Because someone was planning sabotage.”
“Bombs, even this type, aren’t that easy to requisition or fabricate,” said Shrike.
“Exactly,” said Sphinx. “Believe me, intel tracks everything like this. Every round of ordinance fire by a Nomad, if they can. It is one of the best ways to prevent subversives from blowing a hole in the side of a hab-ship, after all.”
“Not to mention smuggling the damned thing onto the Falcon would be tough,” said Sunspear. “Dock authority is bloody thorough about that sort of thing. Even a captain would have trouble.”
“What if the sabotage is merely opportunistic?” asked Scorch, sounding unconvinced. “It could be that we just have an asshole on the ship who wants to cause trouble.”
“Unlikely,” said Sphinx. “This has to be a carefully thought out act. Picket ships have a relatively high failure rate. It isn’t worth the time and effort to get a bomb and then smuggle in on board, just to destroy a small ship that fleet won’t really miss. But that cryopod? who knows how valuable the occupant is. Picket ships often run into valuable cargo, and we know that scouting this part of the grid is high priority — after all we are are here and so are the Scourge.”
Realization hit me like a hammerblow. “I’m sorry, Raven, I’m so sorry.” Jessup’s voice echoing in my head. He was in charge of putting the drones on the ship. he had known where to find the pod.
“Nomad Leopard knew,” I said.
“He didn’t load the drones so we would be suspicious,” said Triumph. “Something must have tipped him off.”
“Well, I happen to know Nomad Leopard was in on some very classified ops,” said Sphinx. “Ghost stuff. I’m not sure what though.”
“I know he went undercover once,” I said. “Told me he helped break up a cell of subversives who were trying to recruit nomads. Didn’t think much of it — maybe he recognized someone.”
“Why didn’t he say something?” asked Malificent.
“I can think of a few reasons,” said Sphinx. “None of them are verifiable yet. However, I he must have known that we had more than one enemy — after all, if it isn’t Otumo then we are dealing with at least a squad of men.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Well I figure they wanted us out of the way so that they could take the ship,” said Sphinx. “We are the best defence against any incursion, especially if they can bypass lockdown. If they can smuggle a bomb on, small arms aren’t that much of a problem, right?”
“Should I warn Otumo?” I asked.
“No,” said Sphinx. “They could easily hide among the crew of the Falcon and strike later. We need to flush them out.”
“Fuck,” said Shrike. “How do we get them to show themselves?”
“We make them think we are dead,” said Sphinx.