Aidan Doyle

Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. His short stories have been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and Fantasy. Aidan lived in Japan for 4 years and worked as an English teacher.

Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. His short stories have been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and Fantasy. Aidan lived in Japan for 4 years and worked as an English teacher.

Space Rat Black

I peered through the coffin window at the dead alien. “Are we at war with them?”

Yuko shrugged. “I’ll have to check the database.” Nothing the universe threw at Yuko – from exposed biological hazards to escaped flesh eating cargo – fazed her.

The Ithpek vessel had no crew and no declared cargo other than the blue-scaled humanoid stored in the hold. The inspection station’s scanners had verified the ship as clean. No trace of biological, nuclear, or chemical weapons or toxic nanobots.

“We were at war with the Ithpeks for about six years,” Yuko said. “The conflict ended forty-four years ago.”

“Who won?” I asked. Endless political tangles meant whole species were sometimes annihilated before outlying worlds even learned there was a war going on.

“Their colonies surrendered after we nuked their home world.”

“Go us.” The dead alien’s final destination was listed as Tokyo’s Museum of Defense. It must be a trophy.

I double-checked the ship’s flight logs. The ship had left an Ithpek colony world forty-three years ago, just after the war ended, but something just didn’t feel right. “I’m going to run a more detailed background check.”

Requesting information from the station’s byzantine computer system was a painful process. If I’d been on duty with anyone but Yuko, I would’ve had to justify the delay.

I joined Yuko by the ship’s viewport and we waited for the computer’s report. The viewport showed a dozen ships waiting to dock at the station. A deep space cruiser bypassed the line and proceeded to a private hangar.

Yuko zoomed the view in on the cruiser. A Kurohoshi Nisshoku, the fastest human ship ever built. “Captain Wonder got himself a new toy,” she said, using her nickname for Hashimoto, the station’s chief administrator.

The closest I would ever come to owning a spaceship was playing a space sim. At least there were some advantages to working at Earth’s most important space station. Any cargo bound for Earth had to clear our inspection teams, which meant every day I got to board a dozen different alien spaceships.

The station computer confirmed the accuracy of the ship’s logs. The Ithpek vessel had left the colony after the war ended. The delivery code for the Museum of Defense was authentic.

I looked over the ship’s stopping points. The logs said the vessel had taken four years to travel from the Ithpek colony world to the first world in human space. That didn’t sound right. I checked my calculations three times. A vessel of this class couldn’t have made the trip in less than six years. What if the vessel had left earlier than claimed, when the Ithpek were still at war with humanity?