From a project currently in edits toward release:
Starships do not run on Helium three, Li Zhang, owner and captain of the free trader Jin Long, thought, but on paper, or rather its electronic analog. At least the three hours he’d spent in his office had allowed him to finish the various forms he would need on arrival at Chiktaka, including fuel usage reports, a note on the wormhole trap flutter and the effect it had on fuel use, pingback readings from various navigational beacons along their route, all to show that they had not deviated from their flight plan.
The Eres did not want outsiders wandering. The headaches were why most small traders preferred not to deal in Eres space. That, of course, was what made runs into Eres space so profitable for traders like Li who would brave the shoals of bureaucracy.
The comm on his desk pinged.
“Li,” he said.
“Coll, Skipper,” Brenda Coll, Li’s engineering chief said. “We still haven’t heard anything from Chiktaka since the recorded message. I’m getting a bit concerned.”
Li glanced up at the chrono. “I can see why. Any explanations?”
“I kind of pointed our sensors insystem.”
“Uh, Brenda, Eres policy? You want to bring a Lesser Claw down on our heads?”
“Passives only, I swear. The system primary shows signs of recent flare activity which could have affected insystem comms but…look, could you switch on your office holo and let me slave it.”
Li tapped a few keys on the computer console built into his desk and the front half of his office filled with a holographic display.
That’s a lot of traffic,” Li said as he read the various icons. “More than I’d expect from what I know about Chiktaka.”
“More than that,” Coll said. “Let me put up the extracted course data.”
Coll had served as an engineer in the Terran fleet during the last war but had experience as a Tac officer as well. She knew how to squeeze information out of a ship’s sensors.
Lines extruded from the icons representing ships. More than half of those ships were headed outsystem, not just outsystem, but….
“They’re heading our way.”
“Close enough” Coll said, “contra-parallel to our course. Now look as I project forward….”
The icons moved; the seemingly random positions and speeds coalesced into a clear formation by the time they reached….
“They’ll have us surrounded.”
“Yes, sir.” Coll paused. “Skipper, maybe I’m overreacting, but may I suggest we get the hell out of Dodge?”
“Thank you, Brenda. I think you’re right.”