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The Signal – Chapter 3: Addie

“I have a visual on the landing pad,” Rachelle reported. “Two o’clock low, just on the other side of the LLS tower.”

“Copy. Two o’clock low. Changing heading zero-four-zero mark three-three-zero,” Alexy responded from the seat to her right. 

Addie was seated in the seat directly behind him in the cockpit of her CS-109 Albatross multi-rule spacecraft. The ship itself was a wide, wing-bodied craft with a large, open ventral section where any number of form-fitting payload modules could seamlessly attach to the craft, each designed for a unique mission. As a payload officer, Addie had been trained to manage every aspect of these compartments—everything from how they connected to the Albatross’s power and environmental systems, to how they affected its weight and balance.

Her job was to manage installation of the payloads, inspect them routinely, and manage their operation during flight. There were twenty-five total standard mission payloads, everything from comfortable VIP transport modules to water bombers for wildfires on forested worlds. In this current mission they were carrying a RM-4A4 rescue and medevac module. It was designed for the rescue of potentially injured individuals from damaged spacecraft and space stations.

It had a pressurized front section with two treatment beds for seriously injured casualties. The main section was a compartment that could be either pressurized or in vacuum, with ten seats that could be reconfigured into casualty beds and a large floor hatch that could allow the rescue crew a wide area of access to a damaged spacecraft. At the aft of the payload was a standard airlock that could dock with the small craft ports on just about any Fleet ship or space station. Many such modules included extra crew members that were technically under her command, in this case three rescue specialists and two medical technicians. 

“Addie, you locked in?” Rachelle asked. 

On her display, Addie could see that the rescue crew were belted into their seats in the main section and appeared ready to go. 

“Rescue crew, ready for landing,” Addie ordered the crew.

“Aye L-T. Bucked and secure,” responded Senior Chief Rescue Specialist Edan Eckman. 

“Secure for landing,” Addie responded to Rachelle.

The Albatross creaked and groaned as it slowed to a hover over the landing pad and its ventral landing thrusters fired. The pad was made for up to four similarly-sized craft to land and park. There was a large hangar building with docking ports for crews to exit without needing a space suit, but there had been no response from the spaceport’s control tower, meaning no one to open the hangar door. That wasn’t too much of an issue as this was an emergency mission, and the crew would have their space-suits on for the duration of the mission anyway.

The surface of Arsenal’s moon was not too dissimilar to what Addie remembered of Earth’s own moon, a place she had trained frequently. Grey-white dust and rocks dotted the surface, making it difficult to gauge the scale of distances along the surface. The walls of the crater the spaceport was built into rose up around the landing pad, with the hangar facade cut into the closest side of the wall. Also like Earth’s moon, Arsenal’s intercepted most of the meteors pulled into the planet’s gravity, a feature which made Arsenal much easier to inhabit and terraform. 

On the opposite side of the platform, an Albatross carrying an ExFor fireteam had already landed, it’s crew of combat-ready personnel scrambling out of their ship onto the platform. She could see that they were armed to the teeth and wondered if they knew something she didn’t about what they would find inside. 

“Down safe, Acon,” Alexy reported over the radio back to the Aconcagua

“Addie, if you can break away from the rescue team for a minute, see if you can get comms back online,” Rachelle said, turning around to Addie. “I’ll work out of your station and see if I can get remote systems access. 

“Aye, Lieutenant,” Addie responded, climbing out of her seat to move towards the aft airlock. 

“And Addie, be safe out there,” Alexy added. 

“Will do,” she responded, closing the cockpit door behind her. 

Among the many skills of the rescue specialists was gaining access into places that didn’t want them getting inside. The spaceport’s personnel airlock was on emergency power, and didn’t recognize their access codes. One of the junior rescue specs, Specialist First Class Josh Nguyen pulled the bus cable from his suit’s computer pack and attached it to the port on the side of the door controller. Wireless interface tech didn’t work well in non-atmospheric space. Ionizing radiation wreaked havoc. A physical cable could transfer hundreds of terrabits of data per second over fiber optic connections, which was the kind of throughput that was needed for something like a door decoder program.

Several seconds after he had attached the cable and typed a few things on his tablet, the outside door of the airlock slid open. The six ExFors shuffled in ahead of him, their weapons drawn. Addie and the rescue crew slid in behind them. Expeditionary Forces (aka “ExFors”) personnel were the well-armed, combat-trained offensive and security personnel of the Fleet. They were tasked with protecting ships, stations, and some planetary installations, as well as boarding enemy ships and stations, and even making an assault against a planetary enemy. 

She hadn’t met any of the ExFor personnel on this team before. They were attached to squadron Alpha 1, who worked an different duty shift from her. They were—like any ExFors she’d met—generally serious and stern people. They operated with very tight and coordinated movements, which made enough sense considering their mission.

The same rescue spec had attached his computer pack to a port inside the airlock, tapping buttons on his tablet again to close the outside door and cycle the pressure. As the inside door slid open, the ExFors raised their weapons and formed a breaching line against the door, with Addie and the rescue team falling in behind them to the sides of the doors. 

They scuttled in to find the lobby of the spaceport control center empty. No people, but no bodies either. There were a few bullet holes along the walls and some of the chairs were knocked over. Whatever had happened seemed almost like it had been partially cleaned up before their arrival. But if the spaceport’s personnel had regained control they would have met the crew in the lobby or tried to establish contact before they landed. 

“Atmosphere is green,” Eckman reported as they began to move through the lobby, looking for any signs of what happened.

“Sergeant, I’d like to take one of your squads and two of my people upstairs to look for survivors in the control center. Can you take the other squad and the rest of my people to get into the tram hub?” Addie asked, directing her question to the leader of the ExFors, First Sergeant Leah Voorsma. 

“Aye, L-T,” she responded, acknowledging her order before turning to her fireteam, making a single hand gesture. Four of the eight ExFors fell in behind Addie quickly and quietly.

Addie had worried that leading a team and giving orders would be difficult, that maybe people wouldn’t fall behind the leadership of a 24-year-old lieutenant fresh out of the academy. She had been surprised to see how unfounded her concern was on this first serious mission. It was coming naturally to her.

The control center door had been sealed shut. It was an armored pressure door similar to the ones on the airlock, designed such that even if some kind of catastrophe had happened, the crew inside could continue to operate the spaceport, and maintain communications with spacecraft traffic in the area. 

“Can you get that open, Nguyen?” Addie asked the rescue specialist who had accompanied her along with one of the med techs, and the four-person ExFor squad. 

“Aye, Lieutenant,” he responded, pulling the cable out of his pack again and connecting to a port on a small box to the side of the hatch.

The pressure difference hissed as the hatch slid open. Inside at the control consoles, six people were hunched down in defensive positions, five of them pointing handguns at the door. The sixth was holding a long piece of conduit pipe. 

“Weapons down!” the leader of the ExFor squad commanded. 

“Guns down! They’re ours! Put your guns down!” the older man holding the pipe commanded to everyone else in the room. With four ExFors’ rifles pointed at them, they complied quickly, dropping their handguns on the desks. The older man set the pipe down on the ground in front of him and raised his hands slightly into the air in a gesture of surrender. 

“Stand down, squad,” Addie ordered the ExFors, and they lowered the muzzles of their weapons toward the floor, giving themselves the option to quickly raise them back up to their targets again. 

“You’re with the fleet right?” the man asked. 

“That’s right. We’re with the Aconcagua. Do you have any inj…” Addie began, before being interrupted by the older man.

“Did you kill them? All of them? Please god tell me you got them all.” His expression ran cold and his hands dropped slightly. 

“Kill who? We didn’t find anybody,” the ExFor squad leader asked.

“Oh god. Oh no. They’re still here. We have to get out of here!” the old man responded, not answering the question directly, but certainly indicating that something serious was happening. 

“Just wait a second, friend. I don’t know what you’re talking about yet, but we have a whole fireteam of ExFors here and more on the way,” Addie started, “and I need to know if you have any injured that we need to evacuate.”

“Maybe they left, Paul” a woman next to the older man said. 

“We didn’t see them leave, Ell. We just heard them outside an hour ago,” he responded quickly and sternly.

“We didn’t see them show up either! They could be gone,” the woman said.

“Okay, who and/or what are you talking about? What happened here?” Addie asked frustratedly. 

“They were the size of large humans, wearing all black space suits. They weren’t carrying weapons like we have. They had energy weapons on their arms and shoulders. They took out our entire security team,” the older man answered, his face becoming more pale with every part of his description. 

“They didn’t kill all of them!” the woman interjected. “They turned them into… something. That’s what attacked us, not the black suits. Our own security team!”

“Taking fire! Lieutenant, we’re taking fire in the tram hub! Unknown number of enemies. Energy weapons! Two of our people are down!” Sergeant Voorsma’s distorted voice screamed through the radio over the sounds of their weapon fire. 

“Do your people have evacuation suits?” Addie asked the older man. “Get them on now!”

“Bravo one three, Bravo one three, this is Lieutenant Forrester. Squad two is taking fire from unknown enemy inside the spaceport. We’re evacuating with zero-five spaceport personnel, no injuries,” Addie’s voice came over the radio of the Albatross.

“Clear, Addie. We’re firing the engines now. Get out here, we’ll lift off, and get more ExFor en route to clear the place out,” Alexy responded. 

“Lieutenant, get your people out of here. It’s just me and one of my people left. We do not have an egress. We’ll hold them off so you can get out,” Sergeant Voorsma’s exasperated voice commanded over more inconsistent gunfire.

“Sergeant, we can get down to you and clear an exit for you if you…” Addie’s voice began. 

“Negative L-T! Get out of here!”

A flash of light in his aft view screen stole his attention briefly from the radio conversation between his people inside of the spaceport. 

“Rachelle, what in the actual fuck was that?” he asked his copilot, who was waiting outside the rear of the craft to open the hatch for the returning crew. 

“HOLY SHIT!” was her only reply, as he heard her slam the aft hatch shut and scramble through the payload module toward the cockpit. 

“Bravo one three, Charlie one niner! We’re hit!” was the only radio communication he received from the other Albatross on the pad, the one that had carried the ExFor fireteam. 

A second, brighter flash of light in his screen was followed by a loud, low rumble in the cockpit. His screen automatically adjusted it’s brightness just in time to see a cloud of dust and quickly dissipating plasma where the other Albatross had been. 

“Get us off the pad!” Rachelle yelled as she climbed into her seat and strapped in. 

Alexy didn’t hesitate. He pulled back on the controls to lift the craft off of the landing pad, angling the front towards the direction of the spaceport just in time to see Addie and eleven other people bounding across the pad’s surface in the moon’s low gravity. 

“Opening rear hatch,” Rachelle reported. “Keep us low.”

“Hugging the deck,” Alexy responded. 

Another bright flash of light flew across the front of the cockpit, narrowly missing the craft. Alexy swung the craft around 180 degrees and brought it to a near-dead-stop just in front of Addie and her people. They were stopped just long enough to allow the eleven people to jump and scramble through the airlock. It was just long enough to be an easy target. Another bright flash of light was met by a thunderous crash of sound and energy through the craft. 

“Lost controls!” Rachelle reported, a shiver of terror in her voice. 

“Mayday! Mayday! May…” Alexy began as the nose of the craft hit the surface of the pad, it flipped over diagonally onto it’s roof, and it skidded twenty meters to a rest, a trail of plasma venting from the engine and dissipating into the near vacuum. 

The Signal is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents in this book are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Signal © 2024 by Taylor Sloan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

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