Starkiller Jake (pt3) - The Serpent's Watch by Lee Kershaw

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‘Mondays,' John Harrison had decided, were a universal constant. He had been in the Station Master's office for less than ten minutes and already he was swamped by his work load. He had relieved Colin, his eldest son, from the third cycle shift and had commented at the time on the worn out expression that had greeted him. His answer had come with a fleeting yet tired smile and the simple comment, "It's all yours now dad."

Reclining back in his chair, a hot cup of coffee in one hand, the senior Station Master took a moment to review the streaming data feeds in front of him. His office was not large but comfortable and tastefully and expensively decorated to remind visitors of the importance of his position. Various View-Cell display screens were strategically placed around the room with one wall covered entirely with a high angled view of the docking control room. A limited A.I. controlled various sub-windows within this master screen, providing key updates on traffic flow and the movements within the major routing lanes into the Station. Deep-Scan and Gate flow analysis were also handled by the main display but these were minimised in case something out of the ordinary required urgent review.

It was this latter function that was now unfortunately highlighted in the centre of the main View-Cell. A large blip with telemetry data unfolding beside it occupied the highlighted window, indication of a large vessel moving in-system at considerable speed. This information was a sure indication that the incoming craft was most likely to be a military ship, either a carrier or a command cruiser. Neither would be good news for the station.

Tension had been running high due to recent events. On the one hand, news from the Crypt worlds out on the rim was sending the rumour mill into overdrive. Tales of new discoveries and a possible break through into the dead alien language were rife even if unlikely to be true. Another recent event was the overdue return of the military carrier, the ‘Dominica' from her patrol duties out at the Goralling Hive asteroids in the system's Ort cloud. Speculation was rife, suggesting that she had been destroyed by a yet undiscovered alien war fleet of immense proportions which were now intent on the utter destruction of the human race! Sheer protocol had forced the Station's large array of sensor equipment to be pointed in the direction of the Ort cloud in an attempt to discover the missing Carrier's location. However, the asteroid belt in that area caused a communication dead spot with the sheer number of twisting and turning rocks filing the void, making the tracking of any ship simply impossible.

Harrison was not too bothered about the Carrier's late return (the military after all could look after their own ships). For a moment he pondered the Deep-Scan data again and the emerging information re the nature of the incoming vessel. It would still be a day or so before communications could overcome the distance between them and finally establish the identity of the incoming vessel.

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