UMC orbital station, system [classified]
The station resembled a bristled hedgehog, the radar needles of which should prevent the enemy from getting to the residential compartments. The guards kept their eyes on the data of the devices, not always trusting the automatics. They were ready to perform their duty immediately.
Suddenly, a weak signature flashed on the radar and then immediately faded.
— This is sentry duty. Calling the station commandant.
The headphones thundered: “Conversation recording disabled”.
— What happened?
— A signature appeared on the radar for a second.
— What kind of ship?
— I don’t know, sir. But thermal sensors detect a weak heat emission in the flash area.
— And that’s why you bother me?
— YES! It’s definitely a ship! And it’s not in our database! You may not believe me, but this is the signature that the Jericho barrier ships create. And, damn it, it’s the Jericho barrier ship! What should we do? Should we raise the alarm?
— Stop panicking, otherwise someone too smart will get into trouble!
“Conversation recording enabled”.
— Requesting permission to further investigate the site for suspicious activity.
— No further actions required, continue to monitor radar readings.
A few minutes later, the “Singularity” emerged from invisibility near the station hangar. The mechanical voice of the Watcher contacted the dispatcher:
— This is MS-101-S speaking. Requesting permission to dock.
— Permission granted, proceed to platform 18.
“Singularity”, that was sparkling with the new paint, perfectly descended on the platform. Immediately after this, a strange electromagnetic flash occurred, shutting down all the cameras of the platform. Ten seconds later, the surveillance systems were restored. The image from cameras showed three Jericho soldiers who were heading for the platform’s exit. The first soldier was easily recognized by the hangar technicians easily as Victor de Toro, the invariably stern guardian of the Mendez Family. The second one was Orlando Hector: the look in his orange eyes seemed to pierce through, up to the very soul. They were followed by a young man with colorless eyes and an unnaturally pale face, expressing no emotions at all. The technicians who had arrived too late to check on the malfunctions of the platform walked back wit ha sense of relief, and several people escorted the Jericho men to the rendezvous point.
The hall with a large table was illuminated by a red light — it was supposed to cheer up the guests. Arthur Gage, Selena Galo and Kyle Carran were sitting on the opposite side.
— Welcome to our station. I hope your journey was successful, — Selena began her speech, smiling at the guests. Victor’s vocal cords malfunctioned and clapped loudly. Selena looked him in the face thoughtfully, but a second later she was completely focused and continued to speak: — Let’s get down to business. You’re offering our mercenaries to test the new ship.
— We need field testing, — said the unidentified Jericho man, as he stood up and took a tablet from his chair. — Not all mercenaries will be up to the task. Before entrusting them with the new ship, we must check their loyalty and skills in handling the modern technology.
— Nevertheless, — Arthur grumbled and interrupted Jericho’s speech, — the UMC will give access to contracts to all mercenaries without exception.
Kyle coughed, attracting attention, and said:
— These contracts can be dangerous. First you need to check whether the mercenary can handle this kind of objective, and only then give him a task.
— Let them prove their loyalty first! — Victor agreed. — And then send them to me, I’ll see who’s worth what, but if the mercenary has any thoughts of betrayal in his head, I will personally…
Orlando asked Victor to calm down. Selena sipped coffee from the mug, and, waiting for the Keeper to calm down, turned the conversation to its original course:
— Mr. Markos Liu, tell us more about what the mercenaries will be testing.
A smile flashed on the face of the Jericho soldier. At this moment, Selena realized that he seemed very young for his position. The professor began his speech:
— So, a mercenary must be able to survive in dangerous situations, to act according to the circumstances. Your candidate must be able to keep fighting even if his ship is on the verge of being destroyed. We need people who can fight in unfavorable conditions, including fighting with several enemies at once. And don’t forget the ships’ ability to capture the beacons. We need those will not allow the enemies to escape and who will destroy them with a missile or a mine. Mercenaries must be able to protect their allies, to think tactically — at some point one of them may have to sacrifice himself to achieve the goal.
When Markos stopped talking, Kyle asked the counter question:
— And how exactly are you going to test a mercenary’s loyalty?
— It’s simple, — Orlando decided to answer for the scientist, — let them complete the contracts we will offer. The contracts are going to be offered every 22 hours. Those who can do it will be allowed to test the ship.
The conversation has ended. But there was no limit to Kyle’s curiosity and he took advantage of the moment to finally ask his question:
— How did you even manage to get into “Singularity”?
— MS-101-S voluntarily gave up one of its sections to turn it into a passenger compartment, — the professor answered quickly.
After his words, a silence hung over the hall: everything had already been decided, now it was time to implement the plan. Soon the fleet of people will be replenished with new weapons. But whom will those weapons be used against?