SUNSWEPT

Prelude

A recently given dissertation on the unique characteristics of the Dajellan primate E-364 Outbreak lay atop a pile of datapads where she had finished it. Various other articles and datapads are strewn about the apartment while yesterday's dishes lay unwashed, the bed unmade, and an empty pint of KipWa's Veg Delight with hashi still splayed within germinating on the table. Only the small partitioned corner of the studio shows signs of life. On an immaculately cleaned table, over a well lit MicroSlide a microscopic pipet drips once with an audible 'click-it'. Two eyes swiftly move to the display screen and wait. A brownish greenish blob makes contact with, then begins to surround is single human epithelial cell.

There is a moment and then slowly, gently the blob is absorbed. Time seems to suspend as only the soft breathing of a recently graduated Med. Student defies the stillness. With a sudden breath of air she leaps to her feet and lets loose a deafening cheer. Within the narrow confines of the cleanzone she dances about as the view begins to pull back to a standard 10x magnification and very faintly, small green organelles begin to show in one half of a mitotic cell.

*******

Jallif could feel the alien vibrations of the event horizon and the 'wub-wub-wub' reminded him that he was now a very, very long way from home. Perspiration came to his skin as each step down the corridor accompanied yet another thought of how his first (and decidedly last) adventure as a starship crewman was doomed to end in horrible pain. The local fleet might mistake the delivery crew as hostile and blow every one of them out of space; quick way to die at least. Clerical errors were made. Or would the delivery go fine, and the new owner might just decide to space the superfluous crew. What would a capsuleer care for extra bodies? Floating in space... Jallif shuddered reflexively, having to pause before regaining composure and checking both ways to ensure that no one was around.

Another crewmate entered the hall behind him and he cursed inwardly. Regaining his pace, he stepped right past his destination and continued down the hall until he came to a data processing junction board attached to the corridor wall. The crewmate, moving far too slow for Jallif's like, continued past him as he set down his case and extracted an unassuming diagnostic device. Running a lame reading on the junction his mind retreated to his previous speculation. He would make it to the station, but only to be killed; all wormhole people were crazy, everyone knew that. Or, no wormhole would ever open to Gallente space again and he'd be stuck here forever. Or they might never let him leave? The crewmate turned the corner and Jallif tossed the useless device into his case as he quickly retraced his steps to a small access panel set low in the corridor plating. Wasn't it true that some wormholers were cannibalistic? His uniform was slowly saturating as he bent to remove the fasteners and retract the panel. With the skills of one used to hiding and motivated by mounting terror, Jallif slipped into the narrow channel with just enough room to squeeze around and use a magnet to refasten the plate behind him. The ship which had begun moving after making transit of the wormhole was now starting to decelerate and he could feel his time evaporating. He squirmed to the end of the channel and found his target. He would have only one shot at this.

Less than 10 meters away a typical cargo container sat pre-positioned in an egress port ready to be jettisoned. Atypically, this canister was set to fail its containment and release its contents only moments after jettison. The ship came to a full stop and Jallif's clock started. Tick, tick, tick... He quickly inserted a small metal pick directly into the correct wire flowing along a bundle of wires. It looked exactly as he had been told it would. Something went right? Tick... The strange tool in his other hand, linked via its own wire to the pick vibrated momentarily then began to disintegrate in his very hands. Fedoshit! He dropped the entire device which never actually hit the floor of the crawlspace and he began scrambling back to the access panel. Nobody ever said anything about my tool ghosting on me, what else? He listened for only a second, trying to hear if anyone was coming in the corridor. He'd just have to risk it, he deactivated the magnet as one more horror filled his mind. They'll know, they'll find out what I did.

With a sudden 'cachunk-hiss' the cargo container which had been lodged into the port by yet another very freighted dock worker back in Jita spat out into space. It tumbled once and as programmed opened its hatch.

Ninavask's pod slipped the last few meters into the shiny new Rattlesnake. 100 kilotons of raw power surged through the capsuleer connection and Nina felt every meter, every hum of the beast.

"Nina, heya, I got a cargo container on scan... looks like your fancy new toy just pooped itself!"

"Oh cut it Posh, what's this about a cargo container?" The subcoordinator's voice on the network ended Aaron's base teasing as Nina instantly accessed a starboard egress port.

"Yeah, I'm reading that I just launched it... that's strange... there's no crew within 20 meters and... yeah, the Pilot XO is reporting no jettison order detected."

Aaron was clearly back to business after the chastising. "I'm reading nothing onboard, and a malfunctioning containment on it. Think it could have malfunctioned?"

Nina re-ran any checks he could but there was no record other than what seemed to be a jammed egress port that malfunctioned upon exiting warp. "I'll check the manifest..." He reached back into the database and found the service record for the component. Odd; "No mention of a jammed port in Jita."

"You know they would never say even if there was." Aaron really had no faith in any empire's adherence to their craft and it dripped in tone. "Yeah, I got nothing, blowin' it"

"Sure.." Ninavask took his mind from the strange detail and set course for Icarus.

In the stark vastness of nowhere two light missiles streaked out and consumed the faulty container as nearby a massive battleship and its Kestrel escort who had fired the missiles turned home. With a quick burst of the frigate's web, both vessels leapt home in succession just as Subordinator Xepharious's cloaked Stratios slipped out of warp meters from the floating dust that was once a cargo container. There was sure to be a good party back at Icarus for Nina but Xeph was just going to have to miss this one. Something wasn't right about this malfunctioning container. He 'settled' into his pod, silent to all, and waited.