48K words in so far… It’s turning into a real story! 🙂
Back to work
About a month after the set to with the Silverback, Drogan messaged Fargo about working a site during the installation of a new subfeeder. Picking him up early one morning in the small shuttle that TBT owned, they’d travelled four hours to a site near the White Sands terraformer, chatting about family and what had been going on in Rushing River.
As they started their descent to the site, Drogan turned businesslike, “You’re going to be the new guy, and also in charge of site security. Any problem with that?”
“Nope, I think I’m pretty much up to speed on the operations, and I’ve read your previous reports on installations. Fargo stretched and parroted, “Basically we have to provide twenty-four hour security until the sonic fence is up and operating, which is the last thing done. Four security people, four installation technicians, one combo work/hab module, and two RCAs for equipment and one tower, right?”
Drogan nodded, “That’s it. Site prep is already done, Sonic saw and laser have leveled the site. Module is dropping in this morning, along with the crew. Heavy lift shuttle will bring the RCAs tomorrow, and the tower in three days. I’ve got to attend a meeting in White Sands tomorrow, so you basically get sixteen hours to get up to speed.”
Fargo chuckled, “Nothing like a little pressure.”
Drogan handed him an actual file, “Here’s the people on site. It’s not for public consumption. Read it and give it back before we land.”
Fargo scanned quickly through the folder, noting that there were four Ghorkas, three men and one woman, for security. One Arcturian technician, one from Earth four, and a Kepleran from 62E. As usual the Kepleran’s name was unpronounceable, and Fargo idly wondered if he went by Pop. “I thought there were normally four techs?”
Drogan sighed, “There are, but I’ve got one on the far side of Hunter, so I’m the fourth for this install. I needed to get back in the field anyway. And after the meeting tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll be needing to work off some frustrations!”
“That bad, huh?”
“It’s Klinton and her crowd, always demands, never requests, and always the highest priority…”
Drogan brought the shuttle in for a smooth landing at the subfeeder site as Fargo took in the area and the site itself. Stepping off the shuttle, Fargo extended his empathetic senses as far as he could, but other than the TBT team, didn’t detect anything but a few lower level species, most of which were cowering in fear after the shuttle landing.
Drogan came down the ramp saying, “We make the site bigger than is actually required, that way if we ever have to come do maintenance, we can drop the shuttle and parts right next to the installation. This is the shuttle pad,” swinging his arm to the right, “That area over there will be the RCAs and over there.” Pointing straight ahead, “The antenna will be up on that little rise back there. We do that at all of the sites.”
Fargo nodded, “About three acres then. What’s the height on this one?”
“Four hundred thirty-one actual, total with ground rise is eleven sixty-six. That will yield about forty-two mile direct path, which covers the existing and all of the planned additional habs in this area for the next ten years,” Drogan replied.
The hab module was placed and the sensor sticks elevated as Drogan finished the introductions, “Mankajiri is the lead, goes by Jiri.”
Fargo shook his hand, “Nice to meet you Jiri. Former CSM for Third ID? How the hell did you put up with those dirtballs?”
Jiri laughed, “I hear the Marine in that tone, and they were my dirtballs. They did pretty good.” Turning to the lone female of the group, he said, “Kamala is our sensors expert. She can also go combat if required.”
Fargo could only stare for a moment, Kamala was a beautiful woman, dark shining hair, green eyes and sparkling teeth sat atop a body even the bulky fieldsuit couldn’t hide. Fargo nodded, “Kamala.”
A tinkling laugh answered him, “My name means Goddess, but these guys say it should be she devil. I didn’t see as much combat as they did, but I can handle myself.”
Jiri chuckled, “This is Adhit, he and Daman are the outside guys, so to speak.”
Fargo shook hands with them both, and got nothing but calmness and curiosity from their minds. Noting the necklace of large claws Daman wore around his neck, “Uh, Daman, I’ve got to ask, what the hell are those claws from?”
Daman smiled, sending chills up Fargo’s back, “Oh, these? Slashgator.”
Fargo thought back to the tapes he’d reviewed, Slashgator. Water and dry land predator. Fourteen to eighteen feet in length fully grown, double set of teeth, claws on all four legs. Runs at twenty MPH for short distances. Armored body with overlapping scales, upper and lower body both. Double lungs, double hearts. Native to Hunter. No known predators. Located in tropical/semi-tropical environments surrounding equator. “Okay, I’ve got to ask, how did you put it down?”
Daman’s smile deepened, “Oh, we had a slight disagreement over my campsite. I stuck the stove in its mouth and got behind it. I used this,” patting his kukri at his belt. “And it lost, once I figured out the overlap pattern on the scales.” Flicking the necklace, This is just one claw. The others are at home, along with his shell.”
Fargo shook his head in wonder, “Just another day in the field, eh?”
All the Ghorkas laughed as Daman said, “Pretty much. We’re not real good at backing up, or backing away from trouble.”
Fargo flashed back to his dead team, Shit, I swore I wasn’t going to lead anybody again, and I get Ghorkas. I’ve never worked with them, but there are plenty of stories. Smiling he replied, “So I’ve heard. Well, I’m a former Terran Marine, retired GalScout. I’m the newbie, so y’all tell me what I need to know and how I can fit in.”
Glancing up, he saw Drogan smiling and guessed he’d taken the right approach. “Kamala, can you give me an overview brief on the sensor package?”
She smiled, “More than happy to. What should we call you?”
“Ethan or Fargo,” I’ll answer to both.
Fargo eased out of the hab module and met Jiri at the far end of the module as he climbed down from the overwatch chair on top of the module, “All’s quiet Fargo. Nothing moving that I could see. NVGs are giving about three hundred yards of vis. You sure you’re good for the entire twelve hours?”
Fargo took the goggles as he replied, “Yep, good to go. I want to get a full night to try to get an empathetic baseline of area, and doing the overnight should give me any night animals that might be in the area but outside the NVGs range.”
Climbing to the top of the module, he sat in the chair mounted under the sensor head and was surprised at how comfortable it was. Checking his fields of fire, he snapped the rifle to his shoulder and spun the chair 360 degrees. Satisfied that he had plenty of clearance, he dropped the rifle back to his lap and slowly scanned the full 360 degrees, taking his time to register features that he knew would look different at night. Sniffing the air, he was disappointed to find no scent of pines, only the scent of dusty grass, sand, and the residual burned smell from the laser use.
Near the middle of the watch, his radio buzzed at Kamala said, “Something large at eight thirty from the hab. Acoustics only, no visual.”
Fargo clicked his mic twice and spun to look in that direction. Scanning back and forth to prevent a blind spot, he spent fifteen minutes staring down the bearing and extending his empathetic sense, but nothing showed or popped into his mind.
With an hour to go, he saw movement, and swiveled to honor the threat. It was low to the ground, moving in a jerky manner, and almost seemed to be running an evasive approach for like of a better word. Fargo pulled the rifle to his shoulder, got a good sight picture and waited.
Tense minutes later, Fargo dropped the rifle back in his lap, fucking trash Panda… Geez… I wonder if that is why Kamala never said anything? Programmed to ignore? He heard rattling at the end of the Hab and hopped up, walked to the ladder, and sure enough, the trash Panda was trying to get a grip on the next rung of the ladder. Fargo tried shooing it off by waving his arms, but that didn’t work.
He hissed, “Go away you little mooch!” but that didn’t work either. The Panda finally got a grip on the next rung and started scrambling up the ladder. Fargo debated whether to try to poke it off the ladder with his rifle, take out the pistol and shoot it, or take the knife to it.
Deciding not to shoot it, Can’t wake the sleepers needlessly he pulled out the vibro knife and flicked it on. The trash Panda froze, then dropped quickly to the ground and scuttled away from the Hab as fast as it could go. Fargo smiled in relief as he safed the knife and returned it to its holster.
Two days later, the antenna was up, the RCAs in, and the techs were making their final connections. The power feed from the terraformer was online and one tech was in the process of balancing the power and e-tainment rider as the support shuttle landed.
Drogan returned in a foul mood, grumbling about Klinton and Cameron’s demands for more power and more control over the e-tainment that rode the power beam. He’d disappeared into the RCA as soon as he grabbed a bulb of coffee and check with Fargo, mumbling something about getting done and getting home.
The security team were doing the final checks on the sonic fence modules, pending putting power on them and Fargo had volunteered to take the last watch, so he could see how the modules were connected and worked.
Fargo felt the sonic fence come up, that tingling feeling that said ‘something’ was running, but not in a hearing range that the human ear was capable of. Figuring he was done, he headed for the ladder but Drogan climbed on top and stood next to him, “Now it gets interesting. This is the first firing of the subfeeder, so we should be able to see it go out as a heat beam as it burns through the air. And I want to make sure nothing goes up in smoke up here either.”
Fargo looked up at the multi-headed subfeeder and hoped they’d actually gotten the alignments all correct. As he glanced back, he saw something flash out of the corner of his eye, “Did you see that?”
As he brought his rifle up Fargo said, “I thought I saw a flash down where that band of green is.”
He felt the first sizzle in the air as he dimly heard Drogan yelling, “Abort, abort, abort!”
Commanding the holosight to max, he quickly scanned the area where he saw the flash, then saw another flash. It was a lightflyer, swooping and diving in and out of one of the canyons. “It’s a lightflyer, I can barely make it out,” Fargo yelled, as Drogan scrambled down the ladder. Keeping the lightflyer in his sights, he saw a sudden flare and it disappeared into a stand of trees.
Fargo scrambled down the ladder as he felt the sizzling buzz stop moments later. He met Drogan at the base of the ladder, “The flyer is down. I’ve got a mark…”
Drogan grabbed him, “Let’s go. We can take the shuttle.” As the Ghorka boiled out of the hab, he continued, “Jiri, Adhit with us. Kamala, check the sensors! See if you got anything on a lightflyer down the hill. I think we just burned one down.”
Drogan cursed long and loud when he couldn’t find a place to land the shuttle, and Fargo finally said, “Dammit, just stop. We’ll rope down and see if anyone is alive. Get the authorities on the way as soon as you can. We’ll make sure we document everything so that any evidence isn’t compromised.”
Fargo went off the aft ramp first, and as soon as he hit the ground and cleared the downdraft, smelt a smell he’d hoped to never encounter again, that of a burned body. Jiri and Adhit came down moments later and the shuttle peeled off an accelerated away, rope still dangling. They cautiously made their way down the side of the canyon, guided by the smell. Adhit finally said, “Ah, long pig for dinner again.”
Jiri and Fargo both laughed, knowing it was Adhit’s way of handling what he was pretty sure they were going to find. They finally saw the crashed lightflyer about forty feet ahead, and Fargo said, “Adhit, can you bring up the rear and put your datacomp on record? We’re going to need documentation for all of this. Jiri, if you’ll provide cover if we get any predators…”
Jiri and Adhit both agreed, and they moved slowly forward, Fargo using his vibro knife to cut away the vines. The smell grew stronger, and Fargo wished for a cigar or nose plugs, when he felt a tap on the shoulder. Turning he saw Jiri offering a small twisted smokestick. Taking it, he struck it on his pant leg, and inhaled then coughed.
“Oh my God Jiri, what the hell is this? Dried yak turds?”
Everyone laughed as Jiri said, “Only the finest Yeti turds straight from the Himalayas!”
Fargo took another drag, coughed and said, “Okay, lets do this.” They carefully approached the remnants of the flyer, noting the wings sheared off and stuck higher in the trees, but the main fuselage was pancaked into the floor of the canyon.
There were two cooked bodies in the cockpit, one apparently female in the pilot’s seat and one apparent male in the passenger’s seat. Fargo reached in to confirm there was no pulse, knowing there wouldn’t be, but following procedure for the data comp. He said, “No pulse, no respiration on either person. Reaching in and shutting the power switch off for safety purposes. No sound from the anti-grav at this time.”
As he started to step away, he saw a small pack in the back seat. Picking it up, he opened it and found the female’s ID chip. Flashing it to the data comp he read, “Jill Gann, age twenty three, White Beach. We will hold for the authorities.”
As always unedited, yada, yada…