This is the next chapter in the MilSF novel… Still no idea where I’m going with this one. At this point, I’m just along for the ride.
Comments/recommendations appreciated, as always.
Once everyone was gathered in the mess, LT Christou looked around, “Okay, the four of you are security, right?” As she pointed to Moe and the team. Moe nodded, and she pointed to Efrot, “Crew?”
“Second engineer,” his GalTrans spit out.
Pointing to Gronk she asked, “Guard? Or Cargo?”
“Navigator.” Christou looked at it sharply, shook her head and pointed at Zuckie.
“Zuckie Krasnov, Chief engineer.”
Adrian Hinz stuck his hand up, “Cargomaster.”
“And you are?” She pointed to Daniella, then looked back and forth between her and Danny.
“Passenger. I’m a hydro engineer Station Alpha, Solace Cluster here for a sector conference on hydroponics.”
“NO! I’m not related to him.”
Christou smiled, “Okay.” Turning to Danny she continued, “Second pilot?”
Estrella answered, “That would be me, LT. I’m a qualified engineer, pilot, and navigator. AI Sierra November Alpha Papa tack Three Seven tack Four Two Eight dot Three Charl…”
“Okay. I’m sure you’re on file. Now what the hell is…” She remembered some papers, the civilian had carried in his hand. “Obregon, that civilian, you got his papers?”
“Have Senior bring them here, please.”
Five segs later, Senior Sergeant Pagonis stumped into the mess, now wrinkled papers in hand, “Sorry LT, I had to stun that asshole again. He tried to grab the papers back…”
“No problem, Senior.” She spread the papers out, flipping through with the occasional, “Huh… What the?” She flipped back and forth a couple of times, checking pages against each other, then looked up at Danny, “So, this says you soloed the ship here, is that correct?”
“No, ma’am. I have a minimum crew, as you can see. We’re right here.”
Estrella said, “Any questions ma’am? I have the crew contracts in queue, if you tell me where you want them.”
“Christou dot P dot three eight six alpha hotel eighteen at GalPat.”
LT Christou took a seg to review the contracts, then looked around saying quietly, “Interesting… not a single augmentee,” almost to herself.
Christou smiled, “Okay. That checks, and the manifest checks.” She turned back to Danny, now it says here this ship killed a Gal inspector less than a month ago…”
“LT, I was in medical, and the inspector shut the AI down, according to the report done…”
“And you supposedly stole this ship?” Folding the papers, she slapped them on her leg, “I’m going to have to bump this one up the food chain.” She held up her hand, “Go Halston.” She listened for a seg then said, “Okay, send him forward. Nobody else, and nothing gets offloaded.”
Five segs later, a burly, scarred man in the uniform of a senior manager for the mining consortium walked into the mess, “LT, I have data and the manifest for the cargo this ship is carrying. My people were here to pick it up when they were blocked by station security.” He extended a data chip to her, and she took it, plugging it into her comp.
“Okay Captain, let’s see your manifest.”
Essie said, “Squirted.”
Christou smiled, “I like her.” She flipped back and forth between documents on her comp, then said, “Um, your data matches. But I’m going to have to get you to wait.” She stepped out into the passageway for about ten segs, then came back with a grimace, “Here’s what is going to happen next. This ship will move to dock alpha two. The ship will be in protective custody until Major Psaras can review the documentation and get this straightened out…”
The mining consortium manager started to say something, and she held up her hand, “You can get the cargo there. I would suggest you leave now. We will be there in twenty segs.”
He scowled, but stomped out, muttering to himself. She half smiled as she continued, “Senior, armor plus four onboard with you and I. Everybody else back to the office.”
Danny asked, “Can I go prep for the move?”
Christou nodded, “Senior, go with him. Anything that doesn’t look right, stun his ass, since we have a backup pilot if we need one. She turned to Daniella, “You will be allowed to debark at alpha two. I assume you’re going down to the dome for the meeting?”
Daniella nodded, “It starts tomorrow, I have reservations…”
Essie interrupted, “GalPat troops aboard, airlock sealed, umbilical disconnect in process. Alpha two dock approach plotted.”
Danny shook his head resignedly and headed for the bridge, Senior Sergeant Pagonis in tow, as another trooper slid through the hatch and assumed a watch position against the bulkhead, rifle at the low ready.
Three days later, Danny sat in the conference room of the chief justicer for Ganymede, nervously awaiting her decision. He’d been ‘given a ride’ down to the dome in one of the GalPat shuttles, along with Major Psaras and LT Christou, neither of whom spoke to him, but at least he wasn’t in cuffs. Maybe this is a good sign. Got the cargo off, got paid, and Moe and his crew are hanging around. Guess they need passage back, assuming I still have a ship after this… Guess I owe Mapper too. But how the hell…
Chief Justicer O’Brien came in, followed by a GalPat colonel then the major and LT, behind them was a mousy little man in the livery of Planets United. The chief justicer sat down, called up a holo that only she could see, then looked around the table, “You are Captain Daniel Ortega, correct?”
She looked at him curiously, scrubbing a hand over her short white hair, “You don’t look old enough to have caused this much trouble.”
She glanced at the holo again, cleared her throat and said, “In the matter of the DSRV Rover, now named Ghost, per the investigation conducted by Major Psaras,” she nodded to him. “I find that former Vice-President Echols did, by word and action, attempt the illegal theft of the DSRV under color of law, by subverting Ganymede station security to act as Planets United’s agent. Data provided from Station Alpha and data from Ghost’s AI conclusively prove that Inspector Ohlmec did die as a result of misadventure through his own actions. Captain Ortega’s salvage of Rover/Ghost was carried out in accordance with all applicable GalPat regulations and certified by a master at the time. Ghost is fully certified, licensed and bonded, all of the crew personnel are fully certified and current in their positional licenses.”
She glared at the mousy man in the Planets United livery, “Mr. Schumer, I find it rather interesting that your former vice-president’s wife was the sister of Inspector Ohlmec, and that was not on either of their disclosure forms that they had a tie to a senior level Gal employee. That makes me wonder what kind of shop you’re running over there.”
Schumer paled, and looked like he was literally trying to slide under the table as she continued, “Echols has been remanded for trial on multiple counts, and I’m quite certain he will enjoy a little vacation on one of the prison asteroids. She tapped the virtual keyboard and nodded to herself, “Now, since he was acting for Planets United, you will have to pay for his actions. First, Planets United’s fine is ten million credits, due immediately. Deferred, unless Captain Ortega wants to pursue it through the court, is one hundred thirty billion credits, the current value of a brand new DSRV from your company. If there is another attempt in any way, shape, form, or fashion by Planets United or any of its personnel to interfere with, hijack, prevent the ship Ghost or captain from getting supplies or contracts anywhere in the settled universe, that fine will be immediately levied.”
She smiled grimly, “This notification will go out to all GalPat fifteen minutes after I finish here. And they will be watching…”
She turned to Danny, “Captain, you are an interesting individual. You’re apparently rather brilliant, an engineer that went wrong, a troublemaker, a loner, and, depending on whom Major Psaras talked to, crazier than a Jovian bed bug.” She chuckled as Danny’s face reddened, “But you are also apparently a pretty good captain if the Cartographer’s Guild and mining consortium hired you for more than one contract. Major Psaras found out you’ve done most of the upgrades to the Ghost yourself, and everyone has passed inspection the first time, which is something of a miracle, or so I’m told.”
She leaned forward, “I don’t want to see any of your antics here. Or anywhere within my jurisdiction. Do you understand me?”
Danny nodded slowly and very distinctly, “Yes, ma’am. I will… er… won’t do anything.”
Looking meaningfully at Schumer, she added, “As soon as Planets United pays their fine, it was be deposited in your account, less the GalPat handling fee.”
“Thank you,” Danny decided to finish up and get the hell out of Gany as soon as possible, She’s not somebody I want pissed off at me, and it’s pretty obvious at this point that I’m going to have GalPat looking over my shoulder from this point forward. The question is, how is… Ah crap… I’ll just deal with it.
Schumer was waved out of the room, then LT Christou escorted Danny into the hallway, “I assume you’d like a ride back to the station?”
Danny nodded, “Please. I never expected…”
Christou laughed, “The major got pissed the more he found, which just made him dig deeper. And he’s a good digger.”
Danny pressed the access button on the hatch labeled Cartographer’s Guild in the business section of the dome, and a robo voice responded, “State your business.”
“Uh, Captain Ortega with a delivery for Abraham Rabin.”
“Director Rabin is no longer here. Is the delivery personal or CG business?”
“It’s business. I need to get a signed receipt from the director.”
“Someone will be there momentarily.”
Huh, not real friendly… Wonder where this Rabin guy went? Oh well, I still have time to get over to GanyTech if this doesn’t take long.
The hatch finally dilated, and a young man said, “You have a package for the Guild?”
Danny took the wrapped journal out of his satchel, proffering it with the data chip, “It is, for the director, and I need it signed for.”
The young man looked at it distastefully, “What is it?”
Danny snapped, “Something for the director. Not for you. Now sign or give it back.”
After the data chip was signed, the hatch closed immediately and Danny shook his head, Assholes… Now, where’s the nearest walkway? It should be…
A div later, he sat in Professor Eddlestone’s cluttered office across the desk from the tiny old professor. Damn, he’s gotten old. And that hair… Professor Eddlestone had always been known for his ‘halo’ of hair, and it was still there, if much thinner than when Danny had been in class. Eddlestone asked, “So… Young Mr. Ortega is no longer young, and looking at you, are now a captain. Is this a courtesy call to thank me for teaching you, or is this another one of your finds, he asked with a smile.
Danny laughed, “Both, sir.” He took out one of the rectangles, “You’re about the only person I could think of that might be able to do something with this.” He handed it across the desk and the professor put on a pair of white gloves, glaring at Danny, before he took it.
“Gloves? What did I teach you about handling artifacts? It’s old. Three, maybe four hundred years.” He rotated it carefully in his hands, “Might have the right plug… maybe,” He took out a penlight and shined it on all sides, “Run light? Tricolor, or just red,” he mumbled. He jumped up, “Come on, young man. Let’s go see what we have.”
As they went out the door, the professor said, “Off to the lab Harriett, don’t wait for me to return.” His long suffering secretary merely nodded as she typed furiously on the virtual keyboard in front of her.
At the lab, Eddlestone called a couple of other people, then set the rectangle on a raised form while he searched through drawers of plugs, connectors, and loose wiring. One older man shuffled in slowly, and Eddlestone turned to him, “Ivan, look at what young Ortega has brought us! But I can’t seem to locate the right cable.”
Professor Rogov shuffled over, “Dammit Joseph, two drawers over to the left.” Rogov spun the rectangle around peering closely at it then continued, “It’s the blue optical cable. Dark blue. I’ll start the emulator program.” He shuffled over to a terminal, punched it on, and sank slowly into a chair in front of it, quickly typing on the virtual keyboard in front of him.
Eddlestone finally found the right cable, peered at the plug on the rectangle and asked Danny, “Um, can you plug this in? My eyes… they aren’t what they were twenty years ago.”
Danny had just bent over to plug the cable in, when a strident female voice said, “What the hell are you doing? And who let you into the lab? Joseph? Ivan? What are you two old farts doing in my lab?”
Eddlestone tried to placate her, “Martina, we’re simply looking at an artifact…”
“What artifact? Is it logged in? Is it in our custody? Has it been checked safe?” She rounded on Danny, barely coming up to his shoulder, as she snatched the cable out of his hand, “And who are you?”
Danny smiled down at her, “Why Professor Hagland, I’m surprised you don’t remem…”
Hagland did everything but spit, “Ortega? I thought you were banned…”
Danny grinned, “In spite of your best efforts, I’m not. And I’m no longer a student anyway. I’m a ship captain, with my own ship, and under contract to the Cartographer’s Guild, which gives me all the access I need. And Professor Eddlestone is supported by a grant from the guild, for which he provides services for artifacts recovered, isn’t that correct professor?”
Eddlestone nodded and took the cable from Hagland, handing it back to Danny, “Plug that in please. Martina, you need to remember that you may be the dean, but this lab is funded by a grant to myself and Ivan to do just what we were in the process of before you interrupted.”
Danny plugged the cable in, and the light flashed red, then green intermittently for almost a seg. Then it went yellow and stayed that way. “Ivan, are you seeing?”
Rogov shook his head, “There is data, but it’s encrypted, and the system can’t break it. I… I think there is more than… a petabyte of data. The ID that came up was from…”
Hagland interrupted, “Where did you get this, Ortega?”
Danny smiled again, “It was recovered on a guild contract, and I am not at liberty to disclose that location. If the guild…” Hagland threw up her hands, stomped out, and slammed the hatch. Danny laughed, “Well, I see the Hag is still alive and well.”
Eddlestone shook his head, “That was never polite young man.”
“I know, but that was what she was known as. You know that as well as I do, sir.”
Eddlestone smiled sadly as Rogov chuckled, “Joseph, this data module is from twenty-four thirty-eight. This predates anything we have by almost fifty years. We might crack it, given enough time. Or if we could find the original device these were attached to…”
Danny thought back, I wonder. There was one of these floating over the nav table. I think it was attached to something. Need to look at that video again. His wrist comp beeped with a message- SHUTTLE DEPARTING IN 25 SEGS. LT CHRISTOU SENDS.
“Sorry Prof, I need to go, my ride is leaving.” He reached up and unplugged the rectangle and dropped it back in his satchel. “Thank you both for trying. If I find anything else, I’ll get it here as soon as I can.”
Eddlestone smiled sadly, “You know you’re always welcome, Ortega. Hag or not.”
Danny chuckled as he walked out the door, relieved that Hagland hadn’t come back and tried to take the rectangle from him.
Three divs later, Danny stepped out of the airlock and heard a rumbling noise he couldn’t identify. He finally isolated it as he heard noises coming from the mess, and walked curiously in that direction. Then he smelled the odor of steak, and picked up his pace. As he walked in, he realized the entire crew, plus the guards were all there, with everyone standing in line except Efrot.
Moe was in the front of the line and dancing from foot to foot almost drooling, as Daniella asked, “How do you want your steak?”
His GalTrans squeaked, “Seared only. For all of us,” pointing to the other four guards.
“Anybody want medium rare,” she asked, as she flipped four steaks already on the grill and dropped four more on the end of the grill.
Daniella dished up one, then looked up at it, and added a second steak. “Baked potato and salad over there,” pointing to the line adjacent to the grill.
She pressed down on the next two steaks, “Medium?”
Zuckie raised his hand meekly, “Please?”
She dished it up and pointed to the line as she flipped the four steaks and added four more to the grill. “Moe, your steaks are ready.” She dished up the four as the little Albaderians nodded their thanks, growling among themselves. She noticed they only took potatoes and said, “Moe, there is salad!”
Moe’s GalTrans squeaked as the rest of them howled in laughter, “We don’t eat grass.”
She looked around then said, “Efrot, would you like a steak?”
Efrot’s GalTrans rumbled, “I have never had. Will try. Can season?”
“Ah, can you season it after I cook it?”
Efrot nodded, “Can.”
“Medium well, please.”
“What kind of steak?”
“It’s real, not vat. It’s what I think they call a Yawk cut.”
Danny dropped his satchel and rushed over, “Say what?”
She held up a steak, “That’s not vat!”
“Estrella! How much did we pay for that food pack?”
“Ten thousand credits, two thousand the snack packs, Captain.”
Danny mumbled, “He added a zero on that one.” Looking up he said, “Oh hell, medium. Pepper and garlic.”
She dropped one more steak on the grill, and plated another one, “Adrian, yours is up.”
“You’re welcome. Efrot?”
Efrot came timidly forward, “Here are two for you. I know you’re small, but also heavy world. I think you can eat them easily.”
Efrot nodded, took the plate, added a potato, and retreated to the furthest table in the mess. She watched him take a bottle out of his pocket, and spread something on the meat and the potato. Danny saw her look and said, “Manganese. Don’t know that he’ll even taste the steak, but it is protein.”
She flipped Danny’s steak and said, “To each their own.”
Danny watched her cooking, and was intrigued that she seemed to know her way around the grill and the kitchen, “Where did you learn how to do that?”
“My family owns a restaurant in the Colony. I worked there until I left for school.” She plated his steak and pointed, “Baked potato and salad. Simple meal.”
She finished her steak and served herself, ate quickly, then started cleaning before Danny interrupted, “The mech will get that.”
She shook her head, “No. I don’t trust a mech to do the grill correctly. I’ll do that myself.”
He shrugged, “Okay. Oh, and thanks for the steak. Good night.”
As he walked toward the door, she stuck her tongue out at him, prompting a laugh from Zuckie and Adrian.