IMS Sukórya’s Joy, Cerulean Ocean, 1340 Gradakhmath 3
It began with a signal.
We were three days out of the White Silver Gates when the signal came in. It was late, but while I would have usually been manning the wireless office alone, my junior, Shioi Morotai, was working with me that evening. We had a full load of moguls aboard on the Sybarite Deck keeping in touch with their offices, and a fever for the novelty of a wirelessgraph had swept the rest of the ship, keeping us working at the message backlog.
The hour was rising into Candleglass when the alerter rang. I glanced by instinct over at the dedicated set tuned to the distress frequency, but it was cold, with nothing but a soft hiss coming from the monitor. Next to it, though, the company set was lit up and blatting out our callsign.
I gestured Shioi to take over the message I was transmitting, and she slipped into my place in a moment, picking up in mid-word without hesitation, while I grabbed a message pad and shifted my headset’s plug to the company set, just in time for the callsign to break into a high-speed spatter of dits and dahs.
Looking back on it, that should have been suspicious. I knew the hand of all the company operators, and this was none of them. More than that, Shioi had the finest and fastest hand of them all, and even she couldn’t have produced a signal so perfectly regular, or transmitted the meaningless cipher-groups as quickly and cleanly as a message in clear.
The message repeated twice, then came to an end. I checked my transcription against itself, then ran it through the cipherwheel, and gaped at the result:
EX ILDATHACH / FARCANTER LINES / COMMODORE — IN SUKÓRYA’S JOY / MASTER — PRIORITY — BE ADVISED WE HAVE RECEIVED THREAT TO VESSEL — MEASURES UNDERWAY TO NEUTRALIZE — PROCEED TO POSITION 077.4 DEGREES 2,320 MILES FOR RENDEZVOUS WITH SUPPORT — MARIATIS — ESSENTIAL ONLY NECESSARY CREW INVOLVED AND PASSENGERS NOT INFORMED OF THIS — MAKE NO FURTHER COMMUNICATIONS REGARDING THIS MATTER — THESE INSTRUCTIONS HIGHEST MANDATORY PRIORITY — ENDS.
The message made no sense on its face. I looked again at the nonsense word in the middle, though, spun the locks on the safe by my knee, and pulled out the envelope inside, the code words shared only between Farcanter Line ships and the fleet commodore. The red card within bore a single word.
– Olivét Cendriane, wireless second, eighteen hours before the event