Carmen heard the final report from her headset. The racing federation needed no more data at this time. She, along with Vince Flashman and Xorn’Tal, could head back to Veskid.
“Perfect,” she said, opening a private channel to the other two racers. “No more delaying. Do you think it would be suspicious to just stay here until everyone leaves?”
“Definitely,” said Flashman.
“Investigators: time: taking.”
“I figured. I’ll juice back to the dock, and come back out for ‘practice’ again in a few hours.”
“Hope your friend doesn’t mind waiting a little longer.”
“He’ll be fine. I programmed a perfectly safe clearing for him, no trees for anything dangerous to hide in or detectable toxins in the environment, and non-poisonous wildlife as long as he doesn’t actually go into the jungles. He knows that plans have to change, so he’s prepared to camp out a bit.”
“Good,” said Vince.
Suddenly, warning alarms sounded over their headsets, overriding the standard channels. Carmen tried switching to private networks, but nothing came through. She switched to the public racing channel and heard a distressed Mark Matthews.
“-ill unsure of just what’s causing the scenario, but system border security is calling for an immediate hazard declaration. All non-emergency transports are being instructed to head to the nearest dock, and that includes our investigations team. I guess the mystery of the Phantom Matador won’t quite be wrapped up during this broadcast day. To those just tuning in, it appears the previously scanned objects lying outside the system were-”
Another burst of static silenced Matthews’ spiel. Carmen closed her eyes and felt the asteroid at her feet, reminding herself that she was the only one aboard. A chime indicated that a private channel had reopened, and she rejoined the frequency.
“Still there, Carmen?”
“You know it, Flashman. What was that all about?”
“I’m not sure. I checked the other channels and heard Matthews saying it was time to ship home, though.”
“Signal: lost,” said Xorn’Tal. “Probability: low.”
“Why’s it low?” asked Carmen.
“Signal: fail-safes: multiple. Relay stations: multiple. Loss: system-wide communications: unlikely accident. More likely: sabotage.”
“Why would someone sabotage the communications channels?” asked Flashman.
“Goal: communication cessation?”
“Obviously,” said Carmen.
“Looks like I’m still getting local communications,” said Vince. “There’s some chatter on the racing federation’s local network. The police sound confused, but-”
Three ships blasted through the cluster of racing federation and law enforcement vessels. Carmen spun around, watching them as they emerged from the empty void in front of her, blasted overhead, and zipped off in the direction of Veskid behind them.
“Woah!” she shouted. “Not cool. That could’ve-”
A burst of light behind her prompted her to turn around again. Two more of the ships, fighter vessels now that they were moving slow enough for her to get a good look, had arrived, and were firing on the law enforcement ships while the racing federation was beginning to scatter.
“Danger: Danger: Happenstance Query: Urgent!” said Xorn’Tal, his panic coming through despite the translator’s preference for monotonous droning.
The law enforcement vessels were finally returning fire after their initial shock, but faring poorly with mostly depleted energy shielding and early damage taken to their weapons arrays and engines.
“That’s bad,” said Vince. “That’s… the federation suits are getting out safely, at least.”
“Cutting off communications and attacking police,” said Carmen. “This isn’t cool. This is a preemptive strike for pirates or an invasion or something.”
With a shower of sparks, two of the three law enforcement ships went dark. The two enemy vessels turned on the remaining police vessel as it began taking evasive maneuvers.
“Inaction: poor strategy,” said Xorn’Tal.
“Right,” said Vince. “We’ve gotta get out of here.”
Carmen looked at the two drifting police vessels. She clenched her fist and willed her asteroid to soar toward the two attackers.
“Woah, Carmen, wrong way,” shouted Vince. “No one’s questioning that we’re the toughest civilians out here, so we should let the cops handle this.”
“They’ve just taken out two of those ships,” said Carmen. “Ships that have data from investigating the Phantom Matador’s latest disappearance. I doubt they found anything, but I’m not gonna risk gatecrashers from beyond erasing anything we might need. Go if you want, but I’m making sure these guys get wrecked.”
Carmen’s headset crackled as dead air filled the channel. Soon, Vince groaned.
“Saving cops. I think this is how I officially sell out.”
“Great,” said Carmen. “Let’s rock.”