Screaming Metal (Part 005)
©2017, Made in DNA
Priyanka's GUI abruptly panicked, cascading in warning windows until the overload bled onto the screen with dozens of red error messages.
Growling in frustration, she swiped the console away, knowing she was going to have to localboot.
She slid her couch back, and reached for the bootswitch just as the overhead speakers exploded in an aural assault.
Priyanka hastily stood, hitting her head on an overhead compartment in the cramped space. Suen, too, was on her feet, hand over her ears.
The deafening noise had the young woman hunched over in near pain as she made her way to a hardwired terminal.
Looking over to Priyanka, Suen acknowledged her boss with a nod. In return, Priyanka mouthed a command.
Quick, practiced strokes into the built-in, physical terminal there brought the cacophony to an end. Suen let out an explosive breath.
Priyanka cursed. And then barked, "Report!"
It came out harsher than she intended, but her crew knew it was frazzled shock, and not their performance that had provoked it.
Deshel, the only one who remained seated, tapped commands, but remained silent as he pored over the information displayed before him.
Priyanka awaited an answer. In the interim, she took a deep breath as she watched Suen return to her own console.
Calmly, and somewhat humorously to ease any tension she may have inadvertently created, Priyanka spoke to no one in particular.
"Remind me to have system mute buttons installed at every terminal next time we put into port."
Grimacing as her ears rang, she pressed her fingers to her tragi and pushed them inward to relieve it. Not that it really helped.
"Deshel, I want you to scan the systems for hack–"
"Pree, I have a reading!" Suen jumped back in her couch; the urgency in her voice rekindled the tension.
"Incoming bogeys?" A frequent question in their line of work, but one avoided trouble with perpetual caution.
"I've got it, too." Deshel chimed in, dismissing several open programs with a swipe of his hand before his fingers danced over his keyboard.
"Doesn't match any corresponding broadcast I've recorded on-planet to-date. Live and directed straight at us," he replied.
"This is…" Suen jumped in. She turned to Priyanka, "It's a beacon, followed by a short-burst transmission. Both constantly pinging us."
"Are you trying to tell me that someone's calling us?" Priyanka asked.
Deshel joined his boss to look to at Suen, but the other woman remained focused on her screen.
The glow of the screen played over Suen's conflicted features. "I… I'm not sure, but…"
Priyanka took a deep breath. If they were being approached, they needed to skedaddle post-haste. What was Suen conflicted about?
"Spit it out, Suen."
"I've got a reading on the Metal." Suen returned, finally looking back over her shoulder.
"It just pinged its coordinates to us."
"Pinged its coordinates..." Priyanka parroted in disbelief.
Pinged its coordinates? The junk huntress' mind was blanks for several moments, unsure of what action she should take.
The Metal was functional? As in, it wanted them to find it? A cold shiver ran up Priyanka's spine. Why would it do that?
"Are you sure?" She crowded in behind the woman's couch, stooping to get a look at the screens.
"I think so… I mean… the signal is coming from here in the junk." Suen stumbled over her words. "Beneath us…"
Deshel was as stunned as Priyanka. "It knows we're looking for it?"
The junk merc thought hard about the implications.
Was it a trap? Would it lead them to the alien machine whereupon... what, would happen?
"What is the possibility that this is a bogus signal, Deshel?" Priyanka asked.
Deshel's eyes remained glued to his screen, "I can't be one-hundred without more time to analyze it."
"Suen, you are absolutely sure that the signal is not originating from elsewhere?"
The woman shook her head. "If you mean a retransmission beacon, no. The source itself is located within the junk around us."
Priyanka pressed. "Deshel, could it be a recording? Something we've tripped?"
Deshel answered, "I-I don't have any information. It... It could be."
So a trap was possible. But set by whom? Locals? Pirates? Other junk hunters? The Metal itself?
Only the other possibilities made sense. What reason would a functioning Metal have for calling attention to itself?
"A functioning Metal?" Priyanka asked aloud without expecting an answer.
Suen jumped up, "I don't like the way you're talking, Pree!"
Priyanka was taken aback. Where had that come from? Did the idea of a functioning Metal frighten Suen that much?
The junk huntress couldn't say she blamed the other woman. She wasn't even sure how she felt.
"Relax, Suen." Priyanka's answer was a barely controlled exhalation. "Let me think."
The two stared at each other for several moments before Suen's stance softened and she peevishly slumped back in her couch.
Priyanka clenched her jaw. If her crew was this upset by the prospect of a functioning Metal, what exactly would the salvage of one mean?
She felt her chest tighten. This was not good. Not at all.
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