The message was all that mattered. I told myself that, over and over: the message. Deliver thє message. Just deliver the message. That’s all that matters. Deliver the message.
‘Help,’ crackled a voice. I looked up at the comm-screen: with stealth practices in effect it was impossible to be entirely accurate, but even with my passive sensors I could tell which debris-cloud the signal was coming from. ‘We have a crack in our Mbato drive – there’s coolant everywhere. If anyone’s out there – we’ve one deck left – if there’s anyone there, please, please help—’
And on, and on. It was a trick, maybe – that would be a war crime, but then so was using a stealth field. I looked through the telescope: I couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t mean that nothing was there. Space is mostly dark, after all.
‘Oh. Oh, God.’ There was a creaking sound from the speaker. I didn’t move a single muscle. ‘The blast door won’t hold for much longer. Please, if there’s anyone there – there’s four of us left, out of twenty. This is Captain Cruz of the Bellerophon, requesting aid from anyone who can hear this. Please. Help.’
Four people. I could save them, but it would mean dropping the stealth. Space is mostly empty, so I’d probably be safe – unless I was spotted. Unless that distress call was a trap.
I checked the database. The Bellerophon was a light cruiser, on the Earth’s side. The cryptographic fingerprint running under the distress signal matched up with what was on file – but, still, if the ship had been captured at some point, and the Pacemites had managed to break into the computer core…
It was a small risk. But. But, it was a risk. I looked at the carbon-fibre message-tube strapped to my waist. That was all that mattered.
‘Oh my God. Oh— please— anyone!’