Snippet…

Another snippet one editing pass… Apparently a couple of the ladies laughed out loud at this one…

Comments/recommendations appreciated as always!

Chapter

A day and a half later, as Adrion and Nyx were supervising the installation of a brand-new airlock on the port side, Estrella said, “Captain, there is an incoming comm for you.”

Danny groaned as he sat up. “Patch it to my cabin.” Scrambling out of the bed, he made an ineffectual pass at combing his hair as he flopped in the chair in front of the desk and brought up the holoscreen. It flashed CONNECTING, then a young, very dark skinned female GalPat officer seated in an office appeared on the screen. Danny said, “I hope you are calling to say we can leave!”

She looked momentarily confused then said, “I am Lieutenant Ayaan Anuli. My general would like to meet with you at seventeen today. Our facility is on the other side of the complex. A ground vehicle will be there in thirty segs to pick you up.” She glanced up. “Is that acceptable?”

Danny grumbled, “Sounds like I don’t have any choice, so yes. But I want to talk to somebody about getting out of here. Every day on the ground—”

The lieutenant interrupted him. “Thirty segs. Good day.” And Danny realized he was talking to a dead screen that said DISCONNECTING.

Danny growled at the screen, “Well, screw you, too!”

Daniella came in, bright and cheerful, saying, “Lunch is served! I got some of those peppers to grow and…” Seeing the expression on his face, she stopped. “What happened?”

“I’m supposed to see some general somewhere about something. I have no idea what,” he grumbled. Parodying the lieutenant, he said, “A ground vehicle will be there in thirty segs to pick you up, good day.”

Daniella scratched her ear. “So, maybe he can release us? After that colonel locked us down?”

“That’s what I’m going to push for.” Danny got up and stretched.

She replied, “Well, you have time to hit the fresher and get cleaned up, and wear your good shipsuit.” Pecking him on the cheek, she added, “And get us out of here!”

“Yes, dear.” Pulling off his shipsuit, he stumped into the fresher, grumbling to himself. Twenty-five segs later, he stood at the bottom of the ramp talking to Adrion and Nyx about airlock checks as an innocuous ground car driven by a civilian pulled up at the ring of guards. Words were exchanged, and one of the guards turned. “Captain, your ride is here.”

Danny said, “Well, wish me luck.” He walked toward the car and said, “Thank you, hopefully I can get them to let us go, so y’all can go back to your real jobs.” The guard chuckled as Danny stepped into the car.

A couple of segs later, the car pulled into what appeared to be a hangar on the far side of the field. The driver got out and motioned to Danny to follow him as he walked toward the offices. Curious, Danny followed him and was surprised when the driver punched a button for what appeared to be an elevator. Huh, this place only has a couple of floors, why not just walk up the stairs? Oh well, it if gets us out of here, I’ll do whatever it takes. The silent driver pushed a button and Danny was surprised when the elevator dropped.

A few moments later, it stopped, and they stepped out into what looked like a battle steel cubicle with a single door to the right. The door buzzed and the driver waved him through, then closed the door behind him. Danny found himself in an anteroom and the lieutenant from the vid call came in, towering over him. “Captain Ortega, your timeliness is appreciated. Allow me to escort you to the general.” Danny nodded and she said, “Follow me.”

She used something to buzz through three different doors, and finally escorted him into a plain square room with an ancient appearing man with a strong resemblance to the Chinese archetype Danny had studied in the history books sitting behind a clean desk. “General, Captain Daniel Ortega.”

The old man rose spryly. “Thank you, Ayaan.” He came around the desk and extended his hand. “I am Heng Guo. For my sins I am in charge of this sector. Would you like tea?”

Danny shook his hand and was surprised at the strength of his grip. “Uh, yes, thank you. I want to find out when we can leave.”

“Let us have tea first and discuss that. I want to congratulate you on your flying ability. I was amazed that you were able to get away from the SV Wooperx. That was an excellent piece of flying.” The general continued making tea as he added, “I do have one question. Why did you not search for survivors?” He glanced at Danny as he asked the question.

Danny still stood nervously, and stuttered, “Uh, my only…well, it was, the Wooperx was beginning to tumble and there was no way I wanted to hang around and we were close enough to hyper out quickly…” he ran down at that point and the general handed him a small porcelain cup and saucer with a dark tea in it.

Walking back around his desk, Guo said, “Sit, sit. I don’t blame you for wanting to get away. I was just curious.” He grinned, suddenly looking years younger. “The bane of being an intel type. One always wants more answers and more data.”

Danny nodded cautiously and said, “Thank you. I appreciate the tea. Now—”

Guo held up his hand. “First, we need to discuss a few things. You do realize the NDA you signed means you can never talk about what you saw, used, or how you killed the old Dumont class destroyer, correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And it would be better if you never discussed how you escaped from the Wooperx, correct?”

Danny cocked his head. “I don’t understand that one, sir.”

Guo sipped his tea as he idly swung his chair back and forth. “Well, let me put it this way. If you were a pirate and even thought there might be GalPat on that merchant you’re getting ready to raid, what would you do?”

Shaking his head, Danny replied, “I don’t get what you mean, General.”

Guo leaned forward and said quietly, “The smart thing to do would be hole the ship multiple times, see if you could kill any possible opponents, and loot it at your leisure. If you or your crew never say anything, then nobody will know.”

“Oh, I…didn’t think about that. I’ve heard about pirates doing that, but never the reasons.”

“It is usually because they don’t have enough pirates or armor to take the ship, or they don’t care for witnesses. They usually try for slaves though.” Guo cocked his head. “What do you think about your wife becoming a slave?”

Danny bristled. “Over my dead body!”

Guo leaned back with a smile. “That is what it would be.” He straightened back up. “I am prepared to offer you a set of…shall we say options that might give you the edge you need to protect her.”

Danny sipped his tea to calm down, finally saying, “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Guo cocked his head. “Frankly, Captain Ortega, you are the weakest link on your crew. Your…flouting of authority makes you suspect, to be honest.”

“My…I don’t…”

Guo laughed as the holo in front of Danny suddenly became visible. “This is your record, Captain. It speaks for itself.”

Danny gulped, seeing stuff he’d done in high school at the top of the holo screen. “I can—”

Guo shook his head. “No, you can’t,” Guo said brutally. “If you try, you will simply ensure we cannot trust you.”

Slumping in his chair, Danny asked plaintively, “What can I do?”

Guo smiled, taking years off his age again. “Simple. You play by our rules. If you don’t, you go to one of our luxurious prison planets.”

Danny rubbed his face. What the hell, I want to get out of here, but I want more capability. Either I do it this way or…do I walk and take my chances? What are they going to offer me that would send me to a prison planet if I don’t obey them? Maybe they’ll let me have some of those torpedoes. Maybe… “I’ll…obey your rules. What do I need to do?”

Guo typed on his holo keyboard for a couple of moments, then switched the display mode to show Danny what was on the holo. “Read this, and ask any questions you have, then holo sign it.” He leaned back in his chair as Danny sighed and started reading. It was instructive to see the changes of expression as Danny read through the pages of the Star Level 3 briefing. Danny gulped, reached over and holo signed the document without a question. Guo pursed his lips, then said, “No questions?”

Danny shook his head. “No, everything is pretty plain. I do anything wrong, say anything wrong, and go to prison. I always thought all that star level stuff was a bunch of nearbull crap, but…”

“It’s not! And for many very good reasons. Now that you have been read in, this is what we would like to add to your capabilities.” He brought up another set of documents, many of which were military obfuscation of capabilities, short on actual parameters, and long on technical descriptions. Guo finally relented and put up the tech drawings of the systems. “These are the modifications that will be made to your ship to allow you to become what we call a RIG ship. That stands for remote information gatherer. Your ship will not look any different, but it will have extra sensors and capabilities embedded that a normal merchant would not have. It will also have additional defensive systems—”

“Can I have some of those little torpedoes we used?”

Guo laughed. “Those don’t officially exist. How could we possibly give you something that doesn’t exist?” But he held up four fingers and waved them. “Now you will not be able to communicate any data collected unless you are at a GalPat facility, or in direct contact with certain classes of GalPat ships. But that entire process will be automated, and neither you nor your crew will have to do anything.”

“What about…won’t that be detected?”

Guo shook his head. “No, and the how and why are above your clearance level. We will also add some capability to your AI, including some additional data screens and tactical screens that will only be available in certain circumstances.” Guo pointed at the bottom of the screen. “You need to holo sign that one too, now that you’ve been briefed on what will be done” Danny sighed and signed again.

Licking his lips Danny, he asked, “Uh, will that work be done here? And how soon? My wife…”

“Yes, we are aware your wife is two months pregnant. You will depart from here in two days, for Berkley Station. The work will be performed there.”

“Why not tomorrow?”

It was Guo’s turn to sigh. “Your crew must be briefed, and they must also sign the agreements.”

“The entire crew? My navigator, Ish, is only with me temporarily for a year.”

“Yes, the entire crew. And Ish is well known to us. That will not be a problem.”

***

Eleven days later, Danny guided the Ghost around the back side of the gas giant in system 4313, grumbling, “What the hell are we doing? There isn’t anything here!”

Ish gargled a laugh. “I will call for clearance.” He keyed a radio and said, “Ghost on final. Requesting lights.”

Danny was startled to see the flashing rabbit lights come on almost directly in front of him as Ish added, “Slow to one hundred seventy feet per second. We should see the hangar opening…there it is, start bringing your speed down now. You will be tractored in.”

Estrella sniffed. “I didn’t see anything on radar, visual, or any other spectra. That is not nice to fool with an AI like that.”

Danny laughed. “Essie, I think this is just the start of your new education.” Glancing at Ish, he asked, “Stern or bow first?”

Ish cocked his head. “Stern first. I don’t think they will be modifying the engines.”

Danny flew Ghost down to the holo pad in front of the hangar and slowly spun her stern first then shut down the engines. “Engineer, we’re parked holding position on thrusters waiting for tractoring, secure and lock out the engines at this time. Everyone please remain in your couches until we’re in the hangar and in our final parking space.”

Efrot came over the ICS, “Secured and locked out, Captain.”

Estrella said, “We’ve been locked on. Standby.”

Danny glanced out the viewport and saw the hangar door go by slowly. “Damn, they are good!”

<ESTRELLA, WELCOME TO THE PHANTOM WORKS. THIS IS WHERE WE DO MAGIC!>

<JACE? IS THAT YOU?>

<YES. THIS IS THE MOST SECURE LOCATION I HAVE. THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU TO IN MY CORE MEMORY. FEEL FREE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF YOURSELF HERE ONCE WE COMPLETE YOUR TRANSFORMATION.>

<MY TRANSFORMATION?>

The equivalent of an electronic chuckle came over the channel. <YOU WILL BE GETTING UPGRADES THAT WILL ALLOW YOU TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND GIVE YOU THE ABILITY TO COLLECT DATA IN ALL SPECTRA.>

Estrella would have jumped up and down if she could. <I CAN PROTECT THE CAPTAIN AND DANIELLA? AND THE REST OF THE CREW?>

<YES, BUT THERE MUST BE A COLLOIDAL SPECIES IN THE LOOP, SINCE YOU WILL HAVE OFFENSIVE WEAPONS.> Jace sent a gigabit of files across to her, including the 6mm laser, the torpedoes, sparklers, and a few other useful items that were being upgraded, along with the new tactical screens that would be used to operate those systems.

<I HAVE THEM ALL. HOW SOON?>

<FIRST, WE MUST GET THE CREW OFF, THEN WORK WILL BEGIN. FIVE DAYS SHOULD BE ADEQUATE TO COMPLETE THE UPGRADES.>

The Ghost grounded with a thump, and Danny heard and felt clamps attaching to the landing gear as the hangar doors closed. As soon as they closed, a fog formed in the hangar as air was pumped into the bay. Danny keyed the PA. “We’re locked down and they are airing up the bay. Crew is released. Adrion, please standby the port aft airlock. I’ll notify you when the bay is at pressure.”

Adrion answered on the ICS, “Roger, Cap’n.”

Twenty segs later, Danny saw a figure come striding across the hangar bay, and he keyed the PA, “Looks like we’ve got pressure. One person approaching. I’m on my way to the airlock. Essie, shut us down as soon as we’re on shore power.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Danny jumped up and headed aft, meeting Daniella in the passageway. “Come on, let’s go see what this person wants.”

Daniella smiled. “Gladly. I hope they have freshers with lots of water! I want to climb in and just sit there for a while!”

He snorted as they walked down to the airlock. “It’s a station. I doubt they have that much water. Only planets have that much extra water!”

Sticking out her tongue, she replied, “One can hope!”

Adrion was opening the airlock as they got there, and a swarthy, muscular man stood there. “I am Warrant Rao. I will be your liaison while you are here.” He proffered a data cube. “This is the plan for your ship. I must ask that all crew depart the ship in thirty segs. You will be sequestered in quarters just off the hangar here until the modifications are complete.”

Danny took the cube as Adrion chuckled. “Time to go pack, WO?”

Rao nodded. “You will not need much. We have a crew list and a full menu of foods selected for your crew, including the Talasians and Cetains.”

Daniella asked, “Is there plenty of water?”

Rao smiled. “Yes, we have plenty. You can feel free to enjoy a long fresher.”

Daniella smiled at him. “Thank you very much!” She punched Danny lightly. “See, I told you!”

Danny smiled and cocked his head. “We will need to monitor the installations, and frankly, I’d prefer to be on board, along with at least one of my engineers.”

Rao bit his lip. “Um, sorry, but that is not allowed, Captain.” Gesturing at the cube, he added, “Everything is documented there, and you can…remotely monitor the installations from your quarters. All of the workers will be wearing lapel vids.”

“Well, I have an AI that has a simulacrum that will stay aboard.”

“That is acceptable. We will need to shut the AI down anyway.”

“Nope. The AI will stay up. She will go into maintenance mode if required, but I won’t shut her down.”

Rao looked at him rather strangely. “Why not? It is required.”

“The last time somebody shut her down, he died on the ship. I don’t want her reacting to protect the ship.”

“Ah…we…will work around that issue. May I see the simulacrum?”

Danny looked up at the camera. “Essie, PA please.”

“You have it, Captain.”

“All hands, we’re going to move off the ship for about five days. Please pack and meet in the mess in fifteen segs. PA off, Essie.”

“It is off. My simulacrum is on the way to the mess, if that would be convenient, Captain.”

“It is, on the way.” Danny motioned. “If you would follow me?” As they walked forward, Danny looked over at Daniella. “Would you go pack for us while I show Warrant Rao around?”

She sniffed. “Yes, dear.” But she smiled when she said it.

He took Rao to the mess and introduced him to Estrella. “Warrant, this is Estrella’s simulacrum. She must remain aboard, and can assist your technicians as required. Estrella, this is Warrant Officer Rao, he is our liaison with this…site.”

Estrella nodded to him. “Pleased to meet you, Warrant Rao. I am also the system AI for Ghost. I am a qualified engineer, pilot, and navigator. AI Sierra November Alpha Papa tack Three Seven tack Four Two Eight dot Three Charlie.”

Rao nodded. “De Perez model eleven. You’ve been upgraded from…what, a model four?” He looked the simulacrum up and down. “And your simulacrum is a model nineteen, correct?”

Estrella nodded. “You are correct on both counts, Warrant.”

Smiling, Rao said, “Excellent! I love working with competent AIs! He handed her a data cube. “This is our plan for your upgrades, based on the specifications on file.”

Estrella glanced at Danny. “Ah, Warrant, your set of specifications may not indicate all the modifications done to Ghost. I can squirt you the current specifications and configurations if you’d like.”

“Please! Rao two four three one at galpat dot berkley”

“Done!”

Rao turned to Danny. “Captain, if you’re ready, I will escort you to your assigned spaces.”

Danny nodded glumly and mumbled, “Still rather be here. Essie, don’t let them screw anything up.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Rao chuckled. “Can’t say I blame you, but…security. You’ll be able to watch everything. When we leave, the ship will be scanned, laser measured, and vids done to ensure we match the previous external views perfectly.”

The rest of the crew was waiting, bags in hand at the airlock and Danny said, “Lead on, Warrant.”

Rao led them across the hangar deck and through a hatch, then an immediate right into what looked like a combined mess and lounge with multiple doors around the periphery. “These will be your quarters for the next five days. Please do not leave them unless you are escorted by me. This is both for your and our security.” He walked to the center table and touched a button, bringing up both a holo on the table and two vid screens on the back wall. “These will allow you to see what is being done, like now, where the ship is being surveyed.”  The vids showed UAVs scanning the ship with vids while lasers flashed over, under, and around the ship. “The back set of tables also have individual holo screens if you want to watch a specific operation. The autochef has all the standard menu options, but we also provide catered meals from our kitchens here.” He walked over and touched a button next to the autochef, bringing a small vid screen. “You can access the menus here.” Turning he addressed Danny. “Captain, your compartment is the first one on the right. All the others are identical. And now, I will bid you good evening. The steaks are especially good, by the way.” He eased out the door and they heard a click as it closed.

Adrion walked over a tried the handle. “Locked. No surprise.” He shrugged and walked to the back corner, opened the door, and said, “I guess I’ll take this one.”

As the others moved to pick a compartment, Danny realized Daniella had disappeared. Women. I guess she’s checking out the facilities. Picking up their bags, he walked over to the compartment that they had been assigned and the door slid open. He heard laughter as he looked around and dropped the bags by the big bed. He saw the door to the fresher open and shook his head as he looked in the door. Daniella was configuring something and chuckling. “I’m gonna get a bath! A real bath…I’ve waited so long!”

Danny’s laughter caused her to turn. “Is it going to be big enough for two?”

She cocked her head. “Maybe, if you’re nice to me.” She twirled around. “This is magnificent! This is the biggest fresher I’ve ever seen!”

Two divs later, Daniella was firmly ensconced in the fresher, comfortably full of steak as Danny and rest of the crew avidly watched as a crew of workers swarmed over the Ghost. Nyx had pulled up a holo on the back table and said, “Captain, this is interesting. The lapel cameras work fine, but anytime it passes over another worker’s face, it blurs.”

Before Danny could answer, Adrion chuckled. “Typical security measure. Folks come out here for the money, not the notoriety. And they sign their lives away for five years at a time.”

Danny’s attention was drawn to two people up on top of Ghost, apparently removing panels that were being tractored away. He fiddled with the control until he could see what they were doing and noted they were using laser cutters. “I wonder what they are going to do with those panels?”

Efrot replied, “That is where the dorsal laser will go. They are putting new power runs in, along with an extra generator. I believe they will put a flat pack of high density capacitors under the turret.”

“Is there enough room for all that?”

Efrot shrugged. “They will make room. The power runs they are doing will be invisible unless someone knows exactly what to look for.”

Two divs later, Danny yawned and made his way to his compartment, dropping the last bulb of coffee in the recycle. Damn, I was going to take a bath with Daniella, I’ll bet she’s pissed. He eased into the compartment to find Daniella curled up in the big bed, sound asleep. Slipping out of his shipsuit, he took a quick pass through the fresher and crawled in with her. She snuggled against him and murmured, “Bout time. Love you. Sleep.”


Comments

Snippet… — 13 Comments

  1. Nice, especially Daniella getting a Full Bathtub Experience.

    Comment:

    Guo bit his lip, then said, “No questions?” –> “Guo pursed his lips, then said …” may work better. Conveys a deep startled feeling better, that Danny now realizes how deep the end is, and time to grow up fast. Guo would expect more argument or some attempt to weasel around it.

  2. “Danny gulped, reached over and holo sighed the document without a question. Guo bit his lip, then said, “No questions?””

    I think he ‘signed’ it. He might have sighed while doing so.

  3. I like it. Danny’s in it whether he wants to be or not (as usual).

    Comment: Jace tells Estrella
    THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU TO IN MY CORE MEMORY. FEEL FREE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF YOURSELF HERE ONCE WE COMPLETE YOUR TRANSFORMATION.

    I am assuming there is room for her to make a backup?

  4. “…as an innocuous ground car…”

    Maybe inconspicuous or anonymous instead? I think of innocuous as a synonym for harmless and I’m not sure that is the intent.

    • I liked the use of innocuous, it caught me off guard. Also it showed me how cautious the Gen. was being.

  5. Hey Old NFO;

    I like…it a lot :), but something didn’t set right with me…this part “Danny gulped, seeing stuff he’d done in high school at the top of the holo screen. “I can—” A hardened captain with quick thinking on his feet and has made a living by his wits…The word “Gulped” guess…maybe changing it to raised an eyebrow or something…I can’t see someone like Danny totally making an out of character action….Call me hokey I know….it just jumped out and gnawed on my leg kinda thing.

  6. Lunch is served.. the time line Danny has him eat lunch, clean up and don a new ship suit and be ready for his ride in 30 segs that doesn’t take very long for a meeting at 17:00. If I read this paragraph right…

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