Hired Guns

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"We're approaching long distance scanner range." Zahra calmly relayed the info to the rest of the crew.

"Alright -shut the sims down," Wojtek ordered. "Time for the real thing."

Razz hit a button on his console, switching from the combat simulation program over to a real-time data stream. He grinned in anticipation as a series of blips showed up on the screen -unsuspecting enemy ships. The fingers of his giant, rock-like hands clutched at the arms of his chair, where customized combat controls had been installed. Nearly motionless in concentration, with reddish and rock-like fractured skin, Razz looked like a fearsome gargoyle, seated in a metal throne. Even his pitch black eyes were frozen in place.

Lujain stood at her station, robotic body locked solidly in place. Anwar and Zahra had both leaned in towards their consoles, their eyes scanning over the incoming data. Dozens of red blips popped on screen as they approached the sector.

From the captain's chair, Wojtek stared straight ahead, as if in a trance. His brain was inundated by sensory data, streaming directly from the ship's systems through the tangle of wires plugged into his head. "They can't see us this far out -which gives us a chance to be smart about this."

Wojtek turned to face towards Anwar. "Let's see what you've learned."

Anwar's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"

"Give us a tactical assessment," Wojtek said, returning to his trance-like position seated position.

"That's not really my strong suit." Anwar shifted awkwardly in his chair. He felt the eyes from other crew members on him.

"Good reason to practice." Wojtek kept his eyes ahead. "We're a small crew -we all gotta know how to pick up slack in case something goes wrong -so let's hear it. No pressure."

"Okay," Anwar straightened his posture and focussed on the console. "Scanners show forty-six swarmers. And there's prob'ly three times that many in the area."

"-At least," Wojtek interrupted.

"-Right." Anwar continued. "So there's at least a hundred and thirty-two. No." he shook his head. "Thirty-eight."

Zahra laughed. "Calm down, Annie. Take your time. If you can't do basic math, we're in some trouble."

"Okay." Anwar took a deep breath. "These ones look like they're in a defensive formation." He pointed to a rotating sphere of ships on his readout. "But there's nothing there." Anwar paused and Zahra stared over at him, raising an eyebrow. "Right!" Anwar lightly smacked his temple with the palm of his hand. "The wormhole."

"It checks out," Zahra said, "-according to the map she sent us."

"Okay." Wojtek acknowledged Zahra, "so they know where it is too."He turned back to Anwar. "Go on."

"These guys just came in from a shift change," he pointed to a small cluster of red blips, "from the asteroid belt. They're probably using that as a base of operations. A lot of these other ships seem to be moving randomly."

"They are." Zahra said.

"What? Why?"

"It's a random-walkdefensivepattern. It adds unpredictability to their movement. Instead of having obvious holes in a predictable formation, they pepper the defensive area with random walkers."

"Okay. That makes sense."

"Yea -when you've got lots of small ships covering a large area."

"So what else can you tell me?" Wojtek asked. "How long have they been here?"

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