Wilson stood in front of the open cargo door and tapped his clipboard against the handrail of the gangway. The clipboard was a fake, a prop, an affectation that was as unnecessary as the clear glass spectacles that perched on the end of Wilson’s angular nose.
A drone emerged from the gangplank with a whirr of sudden braking. Its low level body flittered across the raised threshold and banged onto the gangway, stopping at Wilson’s feet. A camera head scanned Wilson’s knees and beeped.
‘What did you find?’ Wilson asked. He made an effort to ensure that his speech was clear and simple (not his usual style at all). These drones were basic models and very little effort had been spent on their cognitive abilities.
The drone flashed its data through to Wilson’s implanted receiver and he frowned. ‘Nothing?’
The drone flashed an identical data package and Wilson kicked it off of the gangplank and down into the far distance of the floor of the hanger deck. There was a brief clang and a frustrated whirr as the drone righted itself and set off on its next mission.
‘There’s no point taking it out on him. It’s not his fault.’
Wilson started, he hadn’t heard the man creeping up on him but he recognised the voice all too well.
‘It must be faulty.’ He started, trying to justify his pique. ‘It reported nothing at all but there must be something. A ship can’t just turn up empty and not have any data on board to explain why.’
‘Can’t it? This ship seems to be telling you that it can.’
The other man was shorter than Wilson but carried more authority in the relaxed set of his shoulders and the way his hands nonchalantly rested in the pockets of his regulation jumpsuit. His face was kind and his eyes were alive with joy and a twinkle of good humour. The man’s genial demeanour only made Wilson seem more pathetically sour and Wilson was not ignorant of this effect.
‘Then something is wrong with the system. The data must be there but we’re just not getting to it yet.’ Wilson paused. ‘Unless you know different?’
Wilson had remembered the rumours about Mack and his set. The experiments and missing equipment. The personnel who also disappeared.
Mack smiled with the still-mobile left side of his face. ‘I don’t know anything that you don’t.’ He said, walking stiffly past Wilson and up into the ship.
‘Hang on. What do you think you are doing?’
‘I’m going to have a look around. Are you coming?’
‘But we don’t know that it’s safe…’ Wilson protested weakly. The empty ship made him feel scared and he couldn’t explain why. Since the moment he had spotted the dark green blip of the incoming signal he had experienced an odd feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach. ‘We don’t know why it’s empty.’
Mack paused and turned back to Wilson, making no attempt to hide his contempt. ‘You’re right. You don’t know anything.’
Wilson felt the focus of his fear shifting. ‘We… we should wait for the inspectors to… to arrive.’
‘Yes. Yes we should.’ Mack raised his left hand and starting wagging an accusatory finger at his bureaucratic adversary, his face turning red and ugly with anger. ‘And that is what you would do because you are a coward. A yellow-bellied hollow shell of a man with a misplaced ego large enough to smother your pathetic weaknesses in red tape and excuses. Pah! Arguing with you is a waste of my time. Do what you want, I’m going to look around.’
Wilson watched as Mack disappeared into the shadow of the ship, drenched in nervous sweat, his heart racing wildly and erratically with the effort of enforced confrontation. He looked around the vast expanse of the otherwise empty hanger. There was no-one watching. He felt his trepidation being transformed to rage. How dare he! How dare Mack talk to him like that! As if he was nothing.
I’ll show him, Wilson thought, I’ll show all of the engineers and pilots and, yes, even those darned drones. Dropping the clipboard to the floor of the gangway and clenching both hands into determined fists, Wilson followed Mack into the darkness…