Another piece of the puzzle… As always, unedited…
Fargo groaned as they spit out the far side of the hyper gate, Deity, I truly hate transitions. I can’t understand how people put up with this time after time. It’s like being torn apart and put back together every time… I wonder where we are, this time.
The IC came on with a pop, “Translation successful. We have a six div transit to the next gate. Passengers are free to move around for the next five divs. Clean up crew to compartment C-23-4 starboard, again.”
Fargo winced in sympathy, apparently Devi had even more problems with hyper translations that he did. He puked every time, and apparently missed the sick sack every time too. Fargo got up, stretched, popped his shoulder, and rotated it slowly. Not forty-one anymore. I know the surgery was successful, but dammit, it still hurts when the weather changes, or I do shit like this. He dilated the hatch and headed for the mess, glancing at his wrist comp to see if it was lunch yet.
Nicole pushed him in the back, and he jumped. “Hurry up. I need coffee.” He stopped and turned, pulling her into his arms. He kissed her, and she pushed him away. “Coffee, not kisses. Cofffeeee,” she caroled.
Fargo laughed, “Okay, okay, coffee.”
Evie chuckled, “I saw that PDA, Captain,” as she stalked down the passageway. “The captain would like to see you at your convenience.”
“Okay, let me get some coffee in me first.”
Evie nodded, “I will pass that along.”
After getting their coffee bulbs, Fargo and Nicole sat at one of the tables, “So, how’s the AAR coming,” Fargo asked.
“Almost completed. We’ve documented the actions, both at feeder three and feeder four, including videos, interviews, and diaries from the duty folks. We’re still working on the ambush of Lev and Shanni. The videos from GalPat’s surveillance cameras aren’t the best, and it was a block from the nearest one. At least they took out most of the attackers before that one asshole shot them in the back.”
Fargo’s face darkened, “And Jiri is still mad that I wouldn’t let them go hunting. I know their culture is pretty strict on retribution, but I had to bow to GalPat on that one. At least GalPat caught him, but they keep postponing the trial.”
“Shouldn’t have been a trial. He should have been shot. He admitted, hell, even bragged about it, when they arrested him!”
“I agree…” Suddenly the IC popped on, the lights flashed red then back to white. A two toned siren sounded, “General Quarters. Prepare for maneuvering. All passengers return to your cabins. Captain Fargo to the bridge, please.” It repeated twice more, but Fargo was already running for the bridge, as Nicole sprinted for her cabin, the two coffee bulbs left on the table in their haste.
As Fargo slid through the hatch, Captain Jace turned to him, “Seat please, Captain. We have a situation.”
Fargo slipped into the captain’s chair as the hatch closed and he felt his ears pop as the positive pressure system came on, “What kind of situation?”
“There is a beacon from a shuttle, pinging in free space and drifting toward the jump point. There is also a target attempting to hide behind the fourth planet. Analysis shows it to be the Ex-Ganymede, which was sent to the breakers in 2816. There is also a distant track, heading for the local sun, that appears to be a dead ship.”
“What is here? Wherever here is. Didn’t we go through this before with a phantom ship?”
“Nothing here, and yes, we did. It’s simply an intersection between two jump points. There was a habitable planet here many years ago, but was destroyed during a battle between GalPat and the Dragoons in the first war, by a planet buster. We are on a ballistic approach to the shuttle and see if there is anyone alive.”
“Simply, we are coasting for about another thirty segs. We have not powered up since we dropped into the system.”
“What do you intend to do with the shuttle?”
“Depends on what we find. If there is anyone alive, rescue them. If not, salvage if possible. If not, vector to the sun for destruction.”
“Vector to the sun?”
“The shuttle is a hazard to navigation. It’s not noted on any star charts, and it could merge with a ship at the hyper point, which would not be good. Therefore, we toss it to the sun. That way it’s out of the way.”
“So why the GQ? And why Fleet tones?”
Jace grinned, “Why not. It’s something everyone on here is familiar with. As far as why GQ, we don’t know what the destroyer is going to do, if anything. But if people are strapped in, I can maneuver up to the human limits without risking killing someone for being out of position.”
“We can pull thirty Gs, but humans can only stand twelve to fifteen. The IGPs can offset all G forces up to fifteen, but beyond that, it’s a one for one. In other words, at twenty Gs, you would feel five Gs. Link with the ship, please.”
Fargo pulled his hands out of his lap and placed them on the armrests, and felt the tingle and ping as the ship interfaced with his neural lace. Data started flowing faster than he could functionally review it, and he had to remember the technique Jace had taught him to allow his mind to catch up. He also realized he was seeing all the inputs from the various sensors, including tracks, merge points, and the ranges to the shuttle, the destroyer, its estimated pop-up position, and a countdown clock until that pop up point was reached. All of the planets in the system, their tracks and the jump points were also displaying.
Fargo glanced at the screens and realized that they had flipped and were now showing the combat screens, as he thought of them. “Are you going to hail the shuttle?”
“Once we put it on the starboard side. With a tight beam, that points away from where the destroyer is. No need to let them have any warning.”
Fargo wondered where they could put the shuttle, if they brought it aboard, and he called up the ship’s schematic while they waited to close. There was another entire shuttle bay that he hadn’t known existed, aft of the forward bay. Nosing around the schematic, he saw another set of bays on the port side, with the aft one a much smaller bay. Just as he started to ask, the ship’s radio came on, “Unknown shuttle. Unknown shuttle. Ship Hyderabad hailing on Galactic distress. Is there…”
A female voice answered, “Oh my God. Yes, yes!” She screamed, “We’re alive! We need rescue.”
“How many souls and origin?”
“Four. Three human, one Dragoon. And one Dragoon casualty.”
Jace looked at Fargo, who shrugged. Jace nodded, “Per Galactic law, we are required to save them, regardless of origin. Will this be a problem?”
Fargo shook his head, as the relevant portion of the law popped up on the screen, “No. Touchy, but we’ll do it.”
“Shuttle, are you able to transfer?”
The female voice, much more calm replied, “Negative. Only one suit. We are the only survivors of Star Lines ship that was blown up by unknown parties when we transitioned.”
A male voice broke in, “Hyderabad, Spacer two Lherson, I have twenty segs of fuel left. I flew scooters in GalPat, but not shuttles. Also, I blew emergency disconnects to get us out of the ship.”
Captain Jace arched an eyebrow, and Fargo saw the starboard aft bay door cycle open. “Standby, we will tractor you into the bay. Please strap into couches at this time. We are one thousand yards aft and closing.”
“Now,” the female voice asked.
“Yes, now. We will pick you up as quickly as possible.”
Fargo glanced at the destroyer track and timer, noting it was at 30 seconds and counting. “What about…”
Jace’s grin was feral, “We’re hot. Both lasers are deployed, counter battery missiles are tracking, and we have good ranging to the target exposure point. If they fire, they will die. We may, or may not.”
Fargo shook his head as he watched the screens. So fucking glad I went troop. At least I wouldn’t have to wait to die, and see it coming. Spacers are bat crazy…
A disembodied voice that he thought of as voice one said, “Missiles away. Destroyer is max accel.”
Fargo suddenly felt like the weight of the world was pressing on his chest as the ship went from coasting to maximum acceleration and the rumbling growl he’d heard before increased in pitch.
A scream was heard over the radio before it was choked off.
Voice three said, “Counter battery away. Only two missiles inbound. Firing dorsal lasers in three, two, one.” The groaning sound increase in pitch, rising to nearly a scream, as the mechanical voice continued, “9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Cease fire.” There was a ‘ting’ and the loud noises stopped almost immediately, as the destroyer was blown to pieces when the containment failed on the power plant in an actinic blast.
Fargo turned to Jace and grunted, “Why. Accel. Like. This?” He gasped out.
“Just in case there is something else out there, like a stealthed missile. At this short a range, the missiles can’t turn, so anything would be a proximity explosion, not directly on us.”
“Oh…” Fargo slumped unconscious. Five segs later, the acceleration came off, and Fargo looked around wildly. “What… What happened?”
“Nothing. We’re proceeding to the jump point. You might want to go check on the people in the shuttle. I fear they are still unconscious.”
Fargo wobbled to his feet, mumbling, “I’m not much better.”
“I will send Klang and Khalil to assist. If you could provide guards?”
“Okay. Page Jiri and tell him to meet me at the shuttle bay with two.”
Walking slowly down to toward the shuttle bay, he knocked on Nicole’s hatch, “You moving?”
A mumbled, “Barely,” was heard.
Might need you. We apparently rescued a marooned shuttle in the middle of killing a destroyer.”
The hatch dilated and Nicole stared at him, “Say that again?”
“Com’on. There is apparently a human female on this shuttle, along with a Dragoon.”
“What in the hell? And how do you know… Never mind. Not asking.”
The IC came on with a ping, “This is the captain. We had a minor issue with what appears to be a rogue destroyer. We are sorry for the acceleration, but it was necessary to clear the area. If anyone needs medical assistance, please speak up and a medic will respond. We have four divs to the next jump.
Three segs later, they stood at the hatch to the shuttle bay with Jiri, Devi, Klang, and Khalil. Khalil had a med kit slung over his shoulder as Klang asked, “Desired is the hatch open first, Captain?”
“My preference would be that they crack the hatch, we get an air sample, then we go in. Can you plug an IC cable into the port by the hatch?”
“Plug the cable, I will. Dedicated circuit, do you wish?”
“Comply I will.” Klang went through the hatch, pulling a headset and cables from one of the storage bins adjacent to the hatch. Striding to the shuttle, he plugged the cable in, plugged a second cable into the first one, then plugged it into a jack next to the hatch. Stepping back through, he plugged another cable into a jack, handing it to Fargo. “Live, it is. Dedicated it is.”
Fargo put the headset on, and keyed the mic. Hearing a pop, he said, “Shuttle, this is Hyderabad. Can you hear me?”
He heard a groan, but no answer. “Shuttle, this is Hyderabad. Can you hear me?”
A cough followed by a weak voice answered, “Hyd… Shuttle. Lherson. I hear you.”
Glancing a Klang, he said, “The bay is pressurized. If you’re equalized, can you go ahead and pop the hatch? We want to get an air sample before we come in.”
Another cough was heard, then, “K, give me a seg… Been in zero for… for a lot of days. Bridget and Cedar are unconscious, and Ton is really bad off.”
A little more than a seg later, they saw the aft hatch swing open, a disheveled bearded figure leaning against the door frame. Fargo turned to Khalil, “Air quality?”
Khalil looked at his data comp, “Appears to be good. Possibly some fecal matter, and… Vomit?” He cocked his head, “Yes. Vomit. I would recommend breathing masks.” He opened a compartment and pulled out six breathing masks, “Please gear up, and we will secure the hatch as soon as we go through. I will have the bridge run the scrubbers on the bay.”
Everyone took the masks, put them on, and checked the seals. When that was done, Klang opened the hatch and they filed quickly through, with Fargo in the lead. Lherson was now sitting in the hatch, and looked at them curiously as they approached.
“Fecal matter and vomit. We’re scrubbing the air,” Fargo said. “Ethan Fargo. Supercargo. Klang and Khalil are crew, Nicole is here for the women. Jiri and Devi to guard the Dragoon.”
Lherson coughed again, “Ton doesn’t need guarding, he needs a med comp. We’ve basically been out of water for two days. Apparently his hydration requirements are much higher than ours. He’s young too, which might have something to do with it. His mother is… well Matriarch, died after we escaped, and is in the offside airlock. She’s in a soft suit. We kept that depressurized the entire time.”
Nicole asked, “Where are the females?”
“Bridget is in the cockpit, Cedar is in the forward compartment.” Nicole was up and in the shuttle before he could finish the sentence, Khalil following closely behind. He said, “Ton… Ton, if he’s still alive, is in the aft compartment. He… he gave his parole.”
Fargo said, “We’ll get you some water. Klang, can you get the Dragoon?”
Klang nodded slowly, “Get him, I will. Place him where?”
Klang stepped lightly into the shuttle, and Fargo turned to Jiri, “Can y’all go with him?”
Jiri nodded, “No problem. The med comp is automatic, right?”
“Yes. See if you can find a shipsuit that might fit him while you’re at it. Ask one of the crew.”
Klang stepped out, the young Dragoon lolling loosely in his arms, “Good shape, he is not.”
Jiri and Devi headed for the hatch and had it open before Klang got there, as Nicole yelled, “Fargo, need a little help here!”
Lherson was mumbling, “We made it, can’t believe we fucking made it.” Tears rolled down his face, and Fargo patted him awkwardly on the shoulder, “I’ll be back, and get you some water, and a fresher, along with a clean shipsuit.”
Hopping into the shuttle, he made his way forward in the dim lighting, and saw Nicole and Khalil bent over a young girl. “Can you carry her? She’s, hell, both of them are still unconscious.”
Khalil picked up the older female, “I have this one. She needs hydration. The young one… may need more.”
Fargo scooped her up, “I had Klang put the Goon in the med comp. Do we need to pull him out?”
Khalil shook his head, “Not right now. He’s the worst of them.” I need these two to medical and I’ll get IVs and nannites going.”
Three divs later, Fargo, Captain Jace, Jiri, and Solly sat in the crew’s mess. Solly had just finished the story of their escape, since Lherson was still sedated in the med bay while the nannites and rehydration did their work, alongsidej Cedar. Solly twirled the bulb of liquid, “I still cannot believe we’ve survived. We were to the point that we were talking about dumping atmo, and just ending it all. I don’t think Ton would have lasted another two days, and Cedar was failing rapidly too. Dean was just amazing. He did all that with at least one or two broken ribs. And managed to set Cedar’s arm, and get Ton to not try to kill us.”
Captain Jace leaned back, “Amazing story. In many ways, simply amazing. I can’t help but wonder if that was an accidental attack, or on purpose, to kill Ton’Skel. We won’t know until somebody examines what the matriarch has in her craw. We might do an x-ray, but somebody is going to have to…”
Solly saw nods around the table, “Her craw?”
Jace replied, “If Ton’Skel really is heir to Ton’Mose, she would be carrying something that proves both her and his patrimony.”
“Is he important? I mean…”
That generated laughter around the table, and she blushed, as Jace continued, “Ton’Mose is… literally the head Dragoon. He is their equivalent of the president.” Turning to Fargo, he said, “The only thing we can do is go to Star Center, now. Effectively, we’ve just become a Diplo mission. But we’re going to have to go in quiet, in case there are others that might want to finish the job. Don’t know what, or who the destroyer was working for.”
“Oh, I had no… I mean, maybe the Captain knew who he was, but the crew didn’t.”
Khalil came in, dialed up a bulb from the autochef and leaned against the next table, “Captain, I am happy to report the Dragoon will live. I estimate another eight divs of treatment and we can pull him out and put the young girl in. I have them both sedated right now, and she is in a new plascast for her broken arm, with an IV of hydration running. Whomever set it, they did a good job.”
Bridget colored, “We both did it.”
Khalil smiled, “Well, you did good! She will only need about four divs of treatment.”
The IC popped on, “Hyper in fifteen segs. All crew report to stations, all pax report to your cabins.”
Captain Jace stood, “Well, back to work. Another nine days to Star Center. I’ll put a note on the transit file for your folks Captain, to ensure they get paid for the extra days. It’s not like they have any choice. And I’m not going to declare us as a diplo. We will only use that if we have to.”