There are bad days, and then there are… worse days…
Comments/recommendations appreciated as always. This is the last snippet on the book.
Fargo looked around in frustration as NasTess lumbered up the ramp. “What are you doing?”
Her GalTrans chittered, “We are going. Ton’Skel has requested us to come with him to explain to his…father what happened to his brother. He believes that my…sharing directly with his father will be better than Ton’Skel trying to explain it.”
“I thought OneSvel…” OneSvel came up the ramp as he asked the question. OneSvel reached out with a pseudopod and gently touched Fargo.
“We are not going. We are carrying our embryo. NasTess is the right being to do this. Even the Dragoons will believe a Taurasian in direct link.”
“Embryo? I thought…”
Fargo felt the humor bleeding through the link. “You know little about us, do you? Yes, I am what you would call the male of the relationship, and normally we do not mate off Taurasia. It was not our intent, but as you say, things happen. We, as a male, provided the sac and we each provide haploid cells that conjoin. Once that happened, the sac was withdrawn, and we will incubate the conjoined cells for eleven of your months.”
“You…but what about the symbiote?”
“We will each contribute cells from our symbiotes at the appropriate time to provide the guidance needed by the embryo.”
Fargo shook his head in wonder. “I don’t even know what to say.”
“Say nothing, but bring NasTess back to us.” OneSvel withdrew the pseudopod and stepped over to NasTess, intertwining pseudopods with them.
Fargo rubbed his face as Nicole walked up the ramp. She hugged Fargo and said worriedly, “Come back to me, okay?”
He hugged her back, inhaling the scent of her hair as he bent to kiss her. “It’s just a long run. We’ve got diplomatic immunity, it’s not like we’re going into combat.”
“I…know. But you’ve served and so have everyone that is going with you, except NasTess and Ton’Skel. That, in and of itself, is enough to make you a juicy target for the Goons or the Traders. And taking the Hyderabad? You and I both know she’s not…just a freighter. Why couldn’t you just put Ton’Skel on the Star Lines and let them handle this?”
Fargo said patiently, “We talked about this last night. They’ve tried to kill Ton more than once. This is the best chance or way to get him home safely. I didn’t want the Ghorkas to go, but they say they must deliver the child to his parents.”
Nicole snorted. “Child. Right. And exactly eight Ghorka. And Yash just happens to be a piper…”
“I’m going to do my damnest to talk them out of doing the side boy gig, but—”
She put her fingers on his lips. “I don’t want us to part angry. I want us to part happy.” She moved to press against him. “You made me happy last night,” she said throatily with a malicious grin.
Fargo laughed. “I’m glad that you’re happy. That is…important to me.”
They stepped apart until they were just holding hands. “As soon as the weather breaks, I’ll go up and check on the cabin, and check on the animals. I also want to check on the honey tree. Luann wants more of that honey.”
A gaggle of Ghorka and Ton’Skel interrupted them coming up the ramp, followed by Lal and Chirashee. Lal stopped in front of him. “I know you don’t want us along, but you must understand we have adopted Tyag, and we feel the responsibility as a tribe to see him safely home.”
Fargo threw up his arms. “I know, I know. I just…if this goes to shit, it will be a huge loss to your folks.”
Nicole said softly, “And to me.” She hugged him again, kissed him on the cheek and ran down the ramp into the darkness and cold.
Evie came on the PA. “We need to lift in ten segs to make our rendezvous with Hyderabad and make our departure window for the DipClear. Please stow your bags and all ashore that are going ashore. If you’re still on board when I bring up the ramp, you’re going with us, planned or not.”
Fargo looked up at the PA and snorted. “I think Evie’s fuse is a little short tonight.” Turning to Lal, he added, “Keep up with the meetings with Colonel Keads if you will and check on Nicole occasionally.” He stuck out his hand, and Lal shook it.
“I will, Ekavir. We will keep things together. We will also check with Mikhail and Luann.”
Five segs later, Fargo, Ton’Skel, NasTess, and eight Ghorka strapped in as the aft ramp came up and Evie came over the PA. “Lifting. ETA to Hyderabad one point five divs.”
Two divs later, Captain Jace stood in the front of the crew’s mess addressing the passengers. “I know you have all flown on here before, but we’re going to go through the safety brief. We will have thirty-two days enroute based on the diplomatic clearance, which requires us to go through the hyper point in sector seven to cross the DMZ. Once we cross the DMZ, we will be in Dragoon territory. All indications are that they are honoring DipClears, so I do not expect to have any problems. But, we will be hemstitching the DMZ, and I want everyone to be on the alert. Since all of you are former military, we will use military terminology if things go sideways. That will be your cue to weapon up and standby. Now, let’s get through the standard briefing…”
Fargo wandered up to the bridge a half div later, to find Jace looking at the holo and vidscreens. He grumbled to Fargo, “If I didn’t have to follow the fucking clearance routing, we could be there in less than twenty days. And the ‘dip package’ we are technically carrying from the embassy in Star Center is thin cover, even with the tools and exportable tech that we are delivering. This one has my molycircs screaming already.”
Fargo shivered. “Is there anything you can do?”
Jace projected, “Not yet. If we have to do something, that will probably cause us more problems than just killing whatever we come across. Do I have your permission to defend us as necessary?”
“You do. You know you don’t need—”
The mental sigh came through the link. “I have certain limitations that I cannot get around. Roberto de Perez was not willing to give me full rein for life and death without having a sentient being in the loop when he built me.”
Fargo bit his lip. “Understood. As long as I’m aboard you have permission.”
A week later, Fargo wandered down to the VR trainer, figuring he would get in a little target practice, only to find Ton’Skel using it. He watched the vidscreen and was surprised to see him using a kukri against Dragoon armed with a sword, What in the hell is he…oh shit…he said he would challenge those who killed his matriarch and uncle. Where did he get a kukri? And who taught him how to use it? Hearing footsteps, he turned to see Daman come into the trainer. He glanced at the screen and smiled. “He’s getting better, Ekavir. We’ve been working with him in the two G gym too.”
“Where did he get the kukri and who taught him how to use one? Nirvik?” Of course, it had to be Nirvik!
“Nirvik. He helped make it under Nirvik’s tutelage. And Nirvik taught him how to use it,” Daman chuckled. “For an old man, he’s still the best knife fighter in the Enclave.”
“Wait a seg! You all keep referring to Ton as a child, yet Nirvik lets him make a knife and teaches him how to use it?”
Daman shrugged. “There are children, and then there are children. Tyag is not exactly a child, at least to us. To the women, yes. We know what even a young Goon can do. We’ve seen it, so he was taught a number of things that our children won’t learn for another four to five years. When they turn ten is when they start training.”
A roar startled both of them and they looked back at the vidscreen to see Ton’Skel die at the hand of the Dragoon he was fighting. Turning, he stomped out of the trainer, gently pulled the VR helmet off, and set it on the mannequin. He nodded to both. “I must get better. Daman, can you work more with me in the gym?”
“Tomorrow, Tyag. Two divs a day is enough in high G, especially when you are maneuvering and fighting. You are still growing, and we don’t want to overstress your muscles and bone structure. In addition, you are less than three months from major surgery.”
Ton’Skel growled. “I know. But I need to build my strength quickly! We are less than a month from…home.” Shaking his head, he added, “I will go work with the weights.”
“I will meet you at the gym at eight tomorrow, Tyag,” Daman replied.
“At eight.” Ton’Skel nodded and stalked out of the trainer, leaving Fargo and Daman staring at each other.
Fargo asked, “You want to use the trainer?”
“No, we…take turns keeping track of Tyag. We do not want him to…have too much time to think. NasTess is working with him. He…still has problems dealing with what has happened to members of his family and believes his still being alive is the fact that he has been chosen to be the one to avenge them.” Daman shrugged and walked away, following Ton’Skel.
Fargo blew out a breath, scooped up a helmet, and stepped into the trainer. “Fargo. Opponent Dragoon. Weapon, knife.” He drew his kukri and thought, And this is one of my stupider ideas. There is not a way in the ninth circle for me to win this. A div and a half later, panting, he stepped out of the trainer, took off his helmet and racked it on a mannequin.
He was startled to see Garun, Yash, Horse, and Shan standing there. Horse said, “You have good moves. Not as good as us, but good moves. You won one bout, which is more than most people, and you fought two more basically to a draw. You were trained by the Marines, weren’t you?”
“Yes, many years ago.” He rolled his neck and heard a pop. “Many years ago. I don’t know why I even try. If it comes down to a knife fight with them, I’m dead already.” He slipped the kukri back in its sheath. “And now I need the fresher and to lie down.” That brought laughter as he trudged out of the trainer.
NasTess, Ton’Skel, and Fargo sat in the crew’s mess, desultorily talking about history and perceptions as they transited toward the hyper point in Sector 7. Ton’Skel had become more and more fidgety as the days blended together and he got closer to home.
NasTess’ GalTrans chittered, “To feel disconnected is not unusual. You have…been through quite a bit in the last year that is outside your normal environment. Ton’Skel, you have seen many things that few of your species have seen and had interactions that are directly contradictory to the way you should have been raised. You sit here among those that should, by your lights, be your mortal enemies, yet they have saved your life, given you free access to their knowledge, and adopted you into their culture.”
Ton’Skel rubbed his nose and growled in frustration. “I know. And…” he glanced at Fargo. “That is what scares me. What else do we not know? You talk of perceptions, yet what I saw in your history…is so different from what I have been…was being taught. Which is right?” He asked, plaintively.
Fargo toyed with his bulb of coffee. “That is up to you. While you are not fully grown, you have the intelligence to make your own decisions. That is why you were allowed to pick for yourself what you wanted to watch on the e-tainment system. And I know you talked to many of the Ghorka at the Enclave. They did not all speak with one voice, did they?”
Ton’Skel cocked his head. “No, they didn’t. They…all have and respect honor and… in…inte…”
“Honor, principles, and morals,” Ton’Skel said in a singsong. “Even the children learn that. To tell the truth. To honor the family. And there is no forcing of anyone. People are free to leave if they choose. And they follow you, even though you are not one of them, because you earned their respect. I hear that time after time.”
Fargo chuckled. “Only reason they follow me is to see what stupid thing I’m going to do next.”
NasTess started to say something when the PA clicked on and Evie said, “Mr. Fargo, to the bridge please. Mr. Fargo, to the bridge please.”
Fargo gulped the last of the coffee and got up. “I wonder what this is all about.” He dropped the bulb in the recycle and added, “I’ll be back.”
Once he got to the bridge, Jace shut the bridge hatch. “We have a possible issue.” He pointed to the holo and up at the vidscreen. “A large part of Seventh Fleet is sitting in blockade here. There is an open broadcast that all ships will be searched, and we are to stop a tenth of a light second from the hyper point to be boarded. We are also required to provide a manifest and complete list of all crew and pax.”
Fargo bit his lip. “We have diplomatic immunity. Surely this doesn’t apply, right?”
Jace shrugged. “I don’t know. It should not apply to us, but…this doesn’t sound right. I’ve never seen anything like this, and my queries of the net don’t show this as a normal procedure.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Keep going and when we get direct comms, I’ll provide them with the DipIm paperwork and the carnet for the cargo. The question is what do we do about the pax manifest? I can list Ton’Skel as Tyag, but if they search us, that could be a problem.”
“That is an adopted name. And Ton’Skel’s name is on a BOLO. All the Ton familial line is on a permanent BOLO.”
“Be on the lookout? Why?”
“It’s a two-edged sword. One is to track their movements, the other is…depending on their status, to hold them in protective custody.”
Fargo slumped in the captain’s chair. “Protective custody, in other words, as hostages. And Ton was reported dead, wasn’t he?”
Jace held up a hand. “Actually, no. There is no record of him after the initial boarding of the Star Line. We never reported his name. Remember, we just smuggled him off the ship at Star Center to his people.”
Fargo leaned forward and put his head in his hands. “Deity! Can’t we hide him?”
“Oh sure, I could hide him any number of places on here and he would never be found, but our DipIm is based on a personnel transfer from the Star Center embassy. And there is a list of those personnel, along with scans of them. He can’t pass in either case.”
“Dammit!” Fargo blew out a breath. “Then let’s hope that his name slips by them. Or hope that this doesn’t apply to us.”
“Well, we have a few hours yet. I’ll let you know when we talk to them,” Jace replied. “Don’t say anything to anyone else.”
“I won’t.” He got up and left the bridge, Nobody but me needs to know about this. Hopefully, it blows over and we keep on moving. Might as well try to get some sleep until we know more.
Five divs later, something brought Fargo up out of his bunk with a quickness. He looked around and listened but didn’t hear any alarms or hear anything out of the ordinary, until Jace pinged him, “We are going to be boarded. Something is not right here. They are sending three assault craft to block us. We have been directed to shut down our drive, otherwise we will be taken under fire. Oh, and we are being jammed.”
“What the hell?”
“I sent that we were on a DipIm clearance and referenced that number. They came back and specifically queried whether you were aboard. When I said you were is when all this happened.”
“Is there…anything you can do?”
Jace chuckled in his head. “Oh yes. I am working on the issue. I’m riding their jamming signal. It appears the carrier Nimitz is their flagship, and that is where the orders and jamming are originating from, along with the three assault craft. The boarding order came from the admiral himself.”
“From the admiral? Why would an admiral know about me?”
“His name is Nelson.”
“Nelson? That doesn’t ring any bells.”
A moment later, Jace sent, “What about Gann? Jill Gann? That is his sister.”
“Oh shit. This might be personal.”
“So it seems. I think it is time to send a message or two. Please come to the bridge.”
Five segs later, Fargo slumped in the captain’s chair. “What do you want me to do?”
Jace turned to him. “I have already sent a message to higher concerning this illegal action. General Cronin is in his office right now. I want you to draft a message to him about this, and I will get it to him immediately via FTL.”
“How did you…never mind. What should I say?”
“That is up to you, but do it quickly. The shuttle that will be boarding us in fifteen segs out.”
Three segs later, Fargo finished the recording and sighed. “Send it.”
“It is gone,” Jace replied. “Star level three.”
“What? That is reserved for—”
Jace turned to him with a predatory smile on his face. “You forget what we are. We have that authority. I was ambivalent about your telling the general who we actually have on board, but I left the choice up to you.” Jace chuckled, “And now, that becomes star level access information.”
Ten segs later, as the assault shuttle attached itself to the Hyderabad, Fargo looked at the Ghorka, NasTess, and Ton’Skel sitting in the crew’s mess. “I don’t know how this is going to go, but I have to tell you this may be a personal vendetta against me by the admiral out here. If they take me, do not do anything, let them take me. I am not willing to put any of you in danger if I can possibly avoid it.”
Jace came into the mess. “They went to the aft airlock. We can meet them at the aft bay. Are you coming?”
Fargo nodded. “The rest of you stay here. I’ll go with the captain and see if we can get this resolved.” The two of them walked out of the mess and back toward the aft bay.
Fargo did not hear Ton’Skel ask, “Why is Fargo doing this? I do not understand. I am the one they would want.”
Horse grinned, “Oh, no. This is…about what the captain did when he took down the government. The admiral is the brother of the woman now in custody on Earth for bribery and ethical violations of the Hunter covenant, along with her husband, the other couple, and the former president, Klynton.”
Daman snorted, “And, they lost all the money they stole, it was confiscated and returned to the Hunter general fund.”
Jace and Fargo joined the other crew in the aft bay as Khalil opened the inner hatch on the airlock. Four GalPat troops in armor charged through, spreading out and covering them with their pulse rifles as five more troops came through much more slowly. The last one through stepped between the troops and they heard, “Ethan?” over the suit’s PA. The suit kneeled, and the clamshell popped open as the other suits lowered their weapons.
Fargo cocked his head as a female in an undersuit stepped out of the armor. When she stood up, he said, “Nan? Colonel Randall?”
She stepped around the armor and walked over to him. “What in the hell is going on?”
He held up his hands. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Growling, she said, “Well, according to our brief, you’re a known smuggler, flying under an illegal DipIm per the admiral. We’ve been ordered to seize the ship and—” She stopped short and turned back to her suit. “What in the hell? We just got here!”
Fargo cocked his head. “What appears to be the impetus for this is personal animosity. I…got the admiral’s sister…in trouble back on Hunter for some shit she did, and she ran back to Earth with the money she stole.”
“Well, he just told us to evac off here and get clear. They are going to nuke your ship with you in it!” She shook her head. “This is so much bullshit!”
Jace projected, “The carrier will go offline in three, two, now. Do not react!”
Randall looked up sharply. “Lost comms. Anybody have comms?” She looked around at the troops who had raised their weapons. “Stand down!” The weapons were slowly lowered again. Turning to Fargo, she asked plaintively, “Ethan, do you have any idea what is going on? We’ve…lost comms with the carrier, but our last order…” She bit her lip and subvocalized something, then shook her head. “No, last actual order was to search the ship. That is what we are going to do!” She spit orders in one stream, “Hartman, Dalzell, go with the cargomaster. Start checking the manifest. Sun, Ghadir, check the billeting areas and pax mess. Armida, Lubov, engineering and drives.” She cocked her head and looked closely at Jace. “Paulino, Abbot, remain here in armor. Everyone else, you can unass the suits.”
Hartman was the first out of the armor and he asked, “Where are you going to be, Colonel?”
Randall turned to him. “I will be interrogating the captain and Mr. Fargo.”
“Who do you want to escort you?”
She grimaced. “No escort needed. You have your assignments. Go!” She walked over to Fargo and Jace and said quietly, “We need to talk.”
Jace replied, “The bridge, Ma’am? That way you can see and examine our documentation.”
“Fine. Lead on Captain.”
Five segs later, the three of them sat on the bridge and Jace said, “Colonel, do you remember our prior conversation?”
Randall looked at him, then at Fargo and said cautiously, “I do.” She motioned her head to Fargo, “But…”
“He is fully read into Star Level Three and knows our capability. He is also a reserve colonel.”
She nodded and said, “Ethan, is what you said down in the bay true?”
“It is. And there is something else you need to know. We have…this is Star Level, a special passenger on here.”
She sat back, stunned. “A Star Level passenger? Do I want to know?”
He smiled. “Nan, I know I can trust you. And if anything happens, certain people will need to know about it.” He got up and held out his hand. “Come with me.”
She took it as she got up. “Do I really want to do this?”
Chuckling, Fargo replied, “Probably not, but you were always a nosy one.” She laughed as he led her down to the crew’s mess.
They stepped into the mess, and she stopped with a hiss. “That’s…a Dragoon!” She looked around. “And Ghorkas, and they haven’t killed him?”
“Ton, come meet Colonel Nan Randall. Colonel Randall is the senior GalPat officer in the battle group. Colonel, meet Ton’Skel, the son of Ton’Mose, the head of the Dragoons.”
Ton’Skel stood and walked to the front of the mess. Bowing, he said, “Colonel, I have given my parole.”
Looking back and forth between Fargo and Ton’Skel, she finally said, “This is your DipIm, isn’t it?” She held out her hand. “Nice to meet you Ton’Skel. I—”
The PA clicked on. “Colonel Randall, Mr. Fargo, please report to the bridge immediately! Colonel Randall, Mr. Fargo, report to the bridge.”
Randall said, “Please excuse us. We will be back.” They hurried back to the bridge, and she asked, “What is going on, Captain Jace?”
Jace pointed to the main vidscreen. “Incoming message. Star Level. I don’t know what it says, but I wanted you to see it.” He inputted his codes on the holoconsole and the message scrolled up as the hash turned into readable text.
F- GALPAT HQ, 00
T- ALLSHIPS C7F
S- RELIEF OF COMMAND
R- GALPAT OPORD 28211316
- ADM NELSON, JEROME, RELIEVED OF CMD EFF IMMEDIATELY. ARREST AND CONFINE IN BRIG. LOSS OF CONFIDENCE IN COMMAND ABILITY.
- COLONEL RANDALL, NAN, GALPAT TEMP PROMOTE BGEN, ASSUME COMMAND C7F.
- C7F CEASE BLOCKADE SEC SEVEN (7). RESUME TASKING FOR DMZ PATROL.
- S/V HYDERABAD TO BE RELEASED TO CONTINUE DIPIM TASKING.
Randall sank into the nearest chair, turning pale. “Holy…deity!”
He felt her total disbelief and a wave of fear through his empath sense. Fargo smiled. “Let me be the first to congratulate you, General. It’s well deserved!” Get it together, Nan. Get it together!
She looked up at him, tears rolling down her face. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here or even alive. Oh deity! I have to go arrest the admiral and the carrier is…not communicating! How…”
“Go get on the shuttle and go back. I’m sure they will get power back quickly. And let me echo Fargo’s congratulations,” Jace said.
Randall got up slowly, shook her head, then impulsively hugged Fargo hard. “Thank you, Ethan. For everything.” She sniffed, wiped her eyes, and took a deep breath. “As soon as we debark, you are cleared to the hyper point. I’ll broadcast that from the shuttle.” She shook her head in amazement and mumbled, “General. I never thought…”
Ten segs later, they heard a general broadcast, “This is col…General Randall. I have assumed command of Seventh Fleet, effective immediately. S/V Hyderabad is cleared to proceed to the hyper point as track planned. We are returning to the carrier, and will utilize a shuttle to maintain comms until further notice. The flag will not shift.”
Jace looked at the holo plot. “Well, there they go. I think it is time for us to depart the area. I guess I better get Evie back up here to drive.”
Fargo looked at him. “What did you…how did you make the carrier drop offline?”
Jace smiled. “Simple. Three circuits tripped in a specific sequence and specific timeframe will dump both power plants. The first circuit is comms, the second is main engineering circuit three, and the third is missile control, because it bypasses the main breakers on power plant two and shunts directly to power plant one, overloading it. And poof…” He laughed. “And this was pointed out a long time ago, but the yards didn’t want to put in new runs to fix it. They should have power back in a div or so if their techs are any good.”
(C) JL CURTIS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED