Captain Montgomery Abbott floated down the center of the funnel that coupled together the two rotating cylinders of Elbridge Station. Lieutenant Commander Laramore waited on the landing platform, standing stationary but appearing to slide sideways down the wall due to their differing inertial reference frames. Abbott was coming up on 30 years of service, but he was born on Earth, and dammit if a lack of a constant up and down didn’t still make his stomach lurch. He grabbed onto the railing and swung around next to Laramore, his smart boots recognizing the need to stand and magnetically gripping the floor as natural as could be.
“Do you know what time it is?” Abbott asked, his voice gravelly with sleep as much as annoyance. He was getting crotchety—maybe it was getting to be time to retire.
“Yes, Captain. I do apologize for the late hour, but Admiral Rahman was insistent you were to be briefed immediately.” Laramore was clean cut and energetic, even at this unusual hour. He’d make admiral himself one day. But for the moment, Abbott outranked him, so he took the opportunity to push his buttons, just a little.
“Then why isn’t she the one standing in front of me right now?”
“I can only speak for my orders, Captain, not the admiral herself. If you’ll please follow me this way?”
Abbott nodded with a slight roll of his eyes. Yeah, Laramore would make a fine admiral, no doubt about it. The two officers maneuvered down a long empty corridor until they reached a private briefing room. The digital display on the hatch read: Reserved 01:45-02:15 LCDR Laramore. They entered, and Laramore pulled the hatch shut.
“Really?” Abbott jabbed. “You need a reservation in the middle of the night? Everyone is fucking sleeping.”
“It’s protocol, sir.”
“Well what is it that’s so urgent, then? You need help getting the stick out of your ass?”
Laramore didn’t miss a beat. “Perhaps you could relocate it up yours, Captain. Respectfully.”
Abbott’s mouth fell open and he stared wide-eyed for several seconds before bursting out in uproarious laughter. “You’re alright, Laramore. That’s funny shit.” He ran his fingers through his short white hair. “Alright, give it to me straight.”
“You’re familiar with our settlement on the Builder’s world, sir?”
“Ah, the Builder’s world, yes. Fascinating place.” The Builder’s world was an outlying settlement discovered some 60 years ago. It had once been inhabited by advanced, seemingly humanlike lifeforms. They had set their automatons to the task of covering the entire planet in buildings and structures, and then apparently died out. The automatons, though, had kept right on building. Every continent was three layers deep in uninhabited cityscapes. It was ripe for settlement; a fully furnished planet. It would have been irresponsible to waste it. “What about it?”
“Captain, new intelligence suggests the Builder’s did not, in fact, die out, but instead set the automatons to work in preparation for their future return.”
Rahman woke him up for theory? It seemed out of character, even with her eccentricities. “And what new intelligence might that be?”
“They just returned, Captain, and they don’t appear to be content with our squatting. You’ve been tasked with organizing our response.”