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Full Version: Science fiction novel. Saturn Situation Book One. Completed.
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Chapter 3: Surprise surprise.

Turn the grav plating down to twenty five percent through the ship where it's still active. That will make getting the wounded to the med bay easier." "Yes sir." "All right then Steve, let's do the pressure tests so that we can get environmental controls, hydroponics, the science labs and a corridor of officers quarters converted into recovery rooms and bunks for the crew done now that the med bay is set.” “Pressure check completed captain. Repair crews are patching the holes now. Rigging airlocks at both ends because the rest of the ship is trashed will be a little trickier.” “Steve, it looks like outside of that narrow area where patching is easy, the blown out walls, huge cracks and structural damage to the ship make patching almost impossible.” “Well captain, with the structural damage I'm seeing it looks like this hull is going to be scrapped when we get rescued.”

All right Steve. On to the power issue. Let's see if that rebuild you did on reactor two holds this time. We need more power for the thrusters and for what is left of the sensor suite." "Copy that boss. Turning it on in three, two, one. It's holding. Steady output and no surging.” “Good. See what can be salvaged from the computer room and rig it up so that it works.” “Copy that boss.” “Ming. I have sensors wired. Sort of. Do a sensor sweep. We are almost into the Encke divide. Let's see what is out there so Cheryl can avoid it." "Running sensor sweep now. We really need more computer power Eric. This is very low def." "Steve is working on that so do your best Ming.” “Yes sir.” “I'll be down in engineering to see if I can rewire those thrusters so Cheryl can have more directional control.”

A startled gasp stops me at the door. "Pan. It's right there. We're going to drift right into its path." "Best estimates Ming." "No avoiding it captain. I don't think we'll hit hard but we will hit." "Cheryl. The ships pretty banged up and won't take a hard crash landing. Let's see how soft of a landing you can make." "On it Eric. Deploying landing gear. A little more down on the nose. A bit to the left to avoid that crevasse." Ming calls out "What crevasse?" "That one right there that we are heading right towards. Is that thing bigger or are we just that much closer that quick?"

Tapping all suits communications I yell "Brace for impact." Ming reports "Hitting in five, four." Her countdown stops and she squawks “What the hell? That's not right.” I get on coms and add “Hang on. We are entering that crevasse. It looks like a landing bay from the windows.” Ming reports “I'm getting echoes from the sensor. The readings are showing it is a large room with regular protrusions. It can easily hold a dozen destroyer class ships. I have energy readings. We are in a tractor beam and it's pulling us in. The doors are closing behind us.” Cheryl reports “We have landed. Soft as a feather and I didn't do a damned thing.” Ming reports “We have gravity. Point five G. It's not ours.”

All right folks. Keep calm. Keep doing your jobs. We'll figure this out soon enough. Focus on fixing what we can fix. We'll go exploring in a little bit. Shut off our grav plating and reroute that energy to other places like the med bay and environmental controls.” Steve jumps in “On it captain. Rerouting power now.”

Terry reports "You won't have many people to go exploring with Eric. The bridge crew and the med bay got off light but most of the rest of the crew are either seriously or walking wounded." "Yeah, I copy Terry. Officers meeting in three hours. We'll go over what we know and what we need then. In the mean time keep going over those repair requirements. Let's see if we can add the storage rooms and enlisted berthing below the med bay to our air tight zones."

Having done that with some time to spare before the officer's meeting I'm half way in an access panel outside of the sick bay trying to rewire a power conduit when I feel someone drop hard onto my lap. Banging my head as I sit up hard I bite my lip to keep from cussing. A voice from the other side of the bulkhead sounding suspiciously like Terry asks “So are you ready to talk about your love life now?” “Don't you have patients to check?” “Already done. Everyone is stable and Tina is entering the info into the computer.” “Well then go find something else to do.”

An evil snicker comes through the wall. “I think we need to talk about your issues Eric.” “That's funny because I don't think we do.” Some evil giggling and then “So if we cross off brunette, redhead and asian does that leave us with blondes?” comes through the wall. “I'm serious Terry. Go find something to do.” More evil snickering. “I got it now. You're looking for a couple of lesbians to play around with.” The wiggle she gives seriously disturbs my zen and causes me to bang my head again. “Damnit!” More evil giggles flow through the bulkhead.

The weight vanishes from my lap and Terry pokes her face into the access panel. The evil smirk on her face makes me want to program the ship to self destruct. Sadly I don't have that option because we don't do that in the Fleet. Giving her a dirty look I ask “What?” “So am I right?” “About what?” “Couple's therapy. That was quite a reaction to a simple little wiggle.” “Go find some bandages to change Terry. I have work to do.”

More nasty snickering from that evil redhead as she pulls her face out of the access panel opening. A light slap on a very sensitive portion of my anatomy makes me bang my head once again. "Damnit, Terry. If you keep doing that I'll end up with brain damage.” Her laughing voice fades into the distance as she says “No worries there Eric. You are a true marine. That head is solid bone from ear to ear. It's the other bone you should worry about. It may die of loneliness.” I can feel my eyes rolling. It's almost painful.

Sheesh. With friends like these. I'd be safer back in the Canal zone fighting the Muslim Brotherhood. You would think she'd treat her best man at her wedding with Tina better than this. Finishing up with the power conduit and connections I check in with Steve to find he's almost finished his section of the line. Moving down the line I start working on another connector. Finishing his up Steve jumps on the last section and a half hour later we are done. “All right then. Let's run some juice through and see if anything throws sparks." "Turning the power on now Eric. And we are good. No sparks and no surges. We can heat this section better now and it lines us up for power on the next section we can secure. That should help cut down on problems across the board. The water purifier is on this line too. We'll have fresh water in a couple of hours. Enough for showers late today." "Good. Now let's get to that meeting."

She's not wrong you know." "About what?" "Your so called love life." Giving him a wounded look "Et Tu Steve?" Damned his hearing and giggling. "Focus on the repairs Steve." "Copy that Eric. I just think it's funny." The snickering moron. "Yeah, you and the rest of the crew." "Well you are considered one of the top one hundred bachelors in the fleet and you would be a hell of a catch considering your rising star." This is the first I'm hearing about that. "Not so rising right now. My ship is shredded. I have six dead and forty wounded, some seriously."

"In your defence, most of that happened during battle as a result of faulty engine power connectors. That can actually be blamed on Mars Manufacturing." "Still doesn't look good on my record." "Oh, I don't know. That whole not your fault thing doesn't hurt and the fact that it's only six dead and not sixty does help." "Yeah, maybe Steve. We'll see what the board of inquiry has to say though before popping champagne and toasting a promotion that may not happen."

Entering the conference room for the meeting Steve and I are the first ones there. Pulling a data pad out and going over schematics we start plotting the next bit of mechanical wizardry so that we can get the enlisted quarters air tight and powered. I think it'll be the last bit of the ship we can do. While we were busy with that Scott, Ming, Ann, Tina, Terry, Cheryl and Jerry have come in.

"Ok folks. Let's hear some reports on the shape of things." Ann starts off "No coms at all. No chance of repairing any of it. The laser is gone completely and the electronics for the main dish is completely fried. All the components are slag and no spare parts are available.”

Cheryl jumps in “No chance of main engines. Those are toast. Our altitude jets are functional at fifty to sixty percent but that's not going to get us out of here. I tried moving the ship but those tractor beams just slide us back where they want us.” Huh. Interesting. “Who's next with some good news?”

Terry adds “We have forty wounded, mostly walking wounded. Six serious injuries requiring bed rest. That includes our chief mechanic Dan who was the worst off. I still have him sedated. It was touch and go for a bit but he's stabilised and he won't lose that leg." Tina jumps in "We're fine on our medical supplies for now but not for longer than a month. Three weeks would be a better guess at current consumption levels." Terry adds on "That goes for food supplies as well. Three to four weeks worth."

Ming decides to go next with “I can not get any scans outside of this room even with the enhanced computer system. That means I don't know if anyone is hearing our emergency beacon.” “What can you get with the scans Ming?” “Nothing. They stop where the walls start. I can't even tell what the walls are made of.” “All right then. We'll have to go check the outside of the ship soon to see if there is anything we can do out there to help in here or get out of here. I'll get a team together and we'll see what we can see.”

Terry jumps in with "Not too many I can clear for that Eric. Out of sixty people, we've lost six, have six on complete bed rest and another thirty on extremely light duty. Another four of those are classed as not well, including Ann. I wouldn't push them hard. That leaves fourteen you could tap." "Well, you and Tina are out. We need you on the ship taking care of us. Steve is out too." At his dirty look I add "You're too valuable in keeping us alive in here and making what repairs you can. See if you can re-purpose the printer for the rail gun. Maybe you can get some parts made. That would bring us to Ming and Ann. You can help him with that.” Nods from them.

I'll tap some of the enlisted to go with me. A couple of them are fresh off the Canal Zone and I think we have a sergeant in there that did a couple tours in Antarctica." "I'm going." "Yes, you probably are Cheryl. I need a duty roster of the people left so that I can figure out who to take." Cheryl hands that over. "Ok, standard fire team. Myself, Sergeant Tony Salvatore, Cheryl and Corporal Sean McDonald." A smile from Cheryl "I'll go get them and do a check on the suits." "Make sure you crack open the armory as well. I want some long guns to go with our side arms." "Got it boss." as she rushes out of the room. "Ok then. Carry on with repairs. Ann, I'll be in constant radio contact so keep a log going. I want another fire team set up in case we run into trouble and need to be bailed out. You can lead that one Jerry. Here is my recommendations for that but you can choose your own people for the backup team.”

Getting over to the room we've designated as a closet for our space suits and helmets I'm met by Cheryl who is followed by Tony and Sean. Tony and Sean have their arms full of modified weaponry. A pair of Europa Arms battle rifles. Helium cooled and completely sealed for use in a vacuum. It takes thirty round magazines of 7.62 caseless rounds. He also has a pair of Europa Arms ten gauge lever action helium cooled vacuum compatible shotguns with twelve round magazines. Two magazines for each of those and two more nineteen caseless ammo capacity magazines for each of our Europa Arms semi automatic 7.62 side arms round out the load. Bless that company. A merger of a half dozen of the US and Russia's best manufacturers including Smith and Wesson, Winchester and Armalite have produced some very fine weapons. Cheryl and I each take a shotgun leaving the battle rifles for Sean and Tony.

Suited up and appropriately armed we exit the airlock and make our way through the ship to an exit hatch. Getting outside we power up our suit lights and start with what I said we would do and begin a detailed examination of the exterior of the ship giving a running account to Ann who is recording everything. The ship is in even worse shape than I thought it was. I'm actually surprised that it hasn't folded in on itself like a house of cards in a hurricane.

Are you getting everything Ann? Visual, audio and the different scan readings?” “Loud and clear captain. Everything is coming through five by five.” “Copy that. We are going to start examining the room now.” “Affirmative. I'll be taking notes.” A snicker over the line. “Keep your eyes open people. We don't know what this is and I don't like surprise parties.” Tony and Sean both drop yes sirs on me and Cheryl mumbles 'bossy' but she's looking much more alert to her surroundings so I figure I can let that one slide.

Laser measurements puts the room at fifteen hundred feet long by fifteen hundred feet wide and one hundred feet high. Small dome protrusions on the ceiling every fifty feet starting twenty five feet from the walls. Grid pattern. Everything looks metallic. The floor is smooth but looks patterned. As if there were retractable compartments under it. No dust. No debris. Going for a closer look at the walls. Blank but smooth. No patterns or anything else here in this corner. I'm going to put the nose of the craft as north and the starboard side as east. That makes our engines south and the port or left side of the craft as west for directions and mapping.” Ann responds “Copy that. Making a note of that in the log.”

Our options are south or west so we will be heading west along the wall.” “Copy that captain. Be careful.” “Thanks Ann. We will. Sing out if any of you see anything.” Starting down the wall we get about five hundred feet from the corner and Tony says “In my light beam on the wall. Does that look like a palm scanner to you?" "It does. Let's go get a closer look." Getting over there we also notice a door shaped line in the wall. "We still have that odd patterning on the floor but this is the first thing we've seen on the wall. That hand scanner has to be what two feet high and wide? It's set at about five feet from the floor to the base of that square. And that door shape. That's ten feet high by ten wide.” Sean adds “They must use that to move freight or something. That's bigger than the old barn doors on my family's farm on Mars.”

Good guess Sean. We'll see if you are right. Let's keep going down the wall. If there is nothing else we can come back to this.” “Copy that captain.” Another five hundred feet down the wall and we have another door. “There is another one. Same size as the first door. Continuing to the corner.” “Copy that Eric.” “Still nothing on the walls besides those doors but the floor continues to show that patterning.”

At the corner now and heading south along the far wall from where our ship is." "Marking that on the map." "Seven hundred twenty five feet down the west wall is another door. This one measures fifty feet wide by twenty five feet high. The same square by the side but this one has one on both sides. Well, Sean, I would hazard a guess that this is the barn door and the other two we have found on the north wall are for the kitchen and living room." "Copy that. It sure seems likely captain." "Continuing to the south corner of the west wall."

The south wall seems to be a huge entryway. The door starts right at the corner and seems to extend the entire length of the bay. I can not see the top of it in the lights from the suit. My guess is at about fifty feet high. Maybe more.” “Copy that Eric. Marking it as fifty.” “We are going to follow the wall to the east corner.”

Getting to the east corner of the southern wall “The doorway here does extend the length of the room. We still can not see the top. Heading up the west wall toward the ship now.” “Marked. I'll bet you find another big barn door on the wall half way up.” “I'm not taking that bet Ann but we'll see if you are right.” She is.

Coming up on the ship now.” “We see you. Are you going to try one of the doors?” “Yes. The first small door on the north wall.” “I have Ming in the control room now running more scans.” “Copy that Ann. We'll keep you informed. Make sure her scans are logged as well.” “They are. Everything is being logged right now.”

Cheryl steps to the other side of the door and both Tony and Sean take a knee twenty feet back and ten feet from each other aiming their battle rifles at the door.“All right. We are at the door. It does not move to simple pressure from a hand. Let's try that plate that looks like a hand scanner.” Pushing that plate produces a lighting of the square but nothing else. “I'm going to try pushing it again.” Pushing it a second time results in a chime sound and the door slides into the wall.

We have an open door. It looks like an air lock with a door on the far side with another of those palm devices on the wall five feet from the floor. Thirty feet deep and twenty feet wide. The ceiling is level with the top of the door. Interior seems to be smooth metal with a rectangular marking three inches thick along the walls that do not contain a door. Those are about thirty inches from the floor and run across the length of the walls.”

Ming comes on the line and asks “Are you going to try the second door Eric?” “Yes I am Ming. What are you picking up on scanners?” “Just the additional space Eric. I'm still not getting anything resembling a reading but I have noticed something else.” “What's that?” “It seems we are developing an atmosphere in the bay. Compatible with earth norms if a bit oxygen rich if it keeps building in the same quantities as far as composition. It's not dense enough to go without suits but if it keeps building it could be breathable in twelve hours. Temperatures are rising as well. I wouldn't go without a suit right now but if that continues as well then it should be bearable if cold at about the same time as the oxygen levels reach breathable.”

All right then. Keep me informed. I'm going to step into the room now for a closer look.” “Copy that Eric. Stay safe.” Sliding into the room with me Cheryl turns and says “There is another of those panels on the inside.” “I thought there would be. It's seeming more likely that this is an airlock of some sort. Tony, Sean, come on in here. I don't want to be separated if what I think will happen does when I press that far plate.”

With both of them covering the new door and Cheryl keeping an eye out the way we came I push the plate. Nothing happens. "Cheryl. Can you push that other plate?" A quipped "Won't she need a step ladder to reach it?" comes over the line but not knowing who it was that said it I decide not to pursue it. Cheryl's giggles add further incentive to not be annoyed by that. She reaches up and pushes the plate. It lights up so she pushes it again and the door closes. "All right Cheryl. One more time. We are cut off on communications with the ship so I want to let them know that we'll do this exploration on a timetable and record dump when we get back."

Getting that taken care of we close ourselves into the airlock again. With the door covered by Cheryl on the far side now I push the plate. It lights up so I push it a second time. Nothing happens. Cheryl pipes up "My suit scanners are detecting an oxygen build up and warming." "Yup. Airlock. I'm guessing that the room will let us know somehow when it's safe to continue.” A few minutes later the plate starts flashing. “Here we go.” Pushing the plate opens the door this time.

It's a cross corridor. I measure ten feet from the door to the far wall and the ceiling is flush with the door at ten feet high. Are those doors further down on the opposite wall?” “That's what it looks like captain.” About fifty feet to either side of the airlock are more doors with panels like the ones we've been using so far. "Anyone up for pushing some random buttons?" A snorted laugh and a bit of giggling. Good enough. "All right. Let's check out the door to the west." "Yes sir."

With Tony and Sean keeping a careful watch in both directions of the corridor Cheryl and I examine the interior door. “No difference between this one and the ones we came in.” “No, there doesn't seem to be Cheryl. Try the panel.” Taking a guard position and aiming at the door with my shotgun I'm not surprised when it opens exactly like the others do. The light on the panel comes on and tapping it a second time opens the door. From what I can see it looks like a science lab. The table that is in my lights is about five feet tall.

"Ever get the feeling like you're a kid playing in your parent's house?" Cheryl snorts "I'm five foot one inch. What do you think?" That snorts a laugh out of Sean and some subdued snickering from Tony. "All right. Let's check the room out quick before moving on." Stepping inside and looking at the walls near the door I see on the opposite side of the opening panel another marking in the metal wall. This one is rectangular in shape. Six inches wide and two feet high but still set at about five feet off the ground. Putting a finger on it near the bottom I slide that up and the lights come on and get brighter the higher I go. "There must be something like this for the hallway. Either that or those are on all the time and the bulbs or whatever they use have burned out."

Looking through the room real quick the guess about science lab is confirmed. There are a lot of gadgets in this room but some are recognisable as scientific devices despite their size. Pipettes and beakers are still the same even though these are larger. A microscope is still a microscope and a centrifuge is still a centrifuge. "Consensus that this is a lab of some sort?" "Yes." "Yup." "Looks that way." "Ok. Let's continue down the hall."

Shutting the light off and exiting the room the darkness seems almost oppressive now in comparison to that well lit room. A muttered 'gloomy' over coms and I feel a touch better knowing I'm not alone in that assessment. "Let's head further west." Fifty feet down there is another door. Same style. Same placement of the entry panel. "Tony. Can you move about twenty five feet down the corridor? I want to see if there is another door at the same distance down there."

Tony glides down twenty five feet and sure enough, another door becomes visible to our lights. "Good enough Tony. Come on back." Looking over this door and it's exactly the same as the others we've found. "Let's give this one a try. After this one, we head back to the ship for a lunch break and to discuss things with the rest. We can explore more afterwards." "Copy that captain. I wouldn't mind getting out of the suit for a bit."

Popping open this door leads to another lab. Except for the placement of some of the equipment, it's identical to the previous room. "All right then. Asking your opinions now. Do you want to head back or do you want to check out where the hallway leads?" "Hallway." "Hallway." "Hallway." "Unanimous decision then. To the end of the hallway and we'll see what we can do from there."

A few hundred feet down we pass the other door into the bay along with a door every fifty feet on the opposite wall. Towards the end of the corridor, we realise that we are heading to a T junction. At that junction, we split up and head down each side. Our suit radios work well in here so at about seven hundred feet north I hear "We found the big door in the west wall of the bay. This one will not open to the touch panel. I do not think it's an air lock if my measurements of what we are seeing are right. I think it's just a door. Opposite it is another door that is the same size." "Hold there. So far all Cheryl and I have found are the smaller doors. We'll try one and then come back and see what you're new big door hides." "Copy that captain. Holding for your return."

Any one in particular you want to try Cheryl?” “Nope. No markings so one is as good as another.” Setting up with the shotgun to cover the door I prompt “Whenever you are ready.” She nods at me and does the opening sequence. This one opens into a different sort of room. It looks like the entry room for a hotel suite. “Cheryl. Are you seeing the size of that furniture?” “Let me get the light.” She does and when the light comes on we are even more astounded.

Tony. Sean. Come on up here. You have to see this." "Where are you. North about sixteen hundred feet from you I would guess. Just look for the light in the open door." "Copy that. On our way." "Couch, chairs, tables. Is that a mini kitchen area to the side there?" "Yes, it is Eric. A microwave oven is still a microwave oven despite being twice the size that we are used to." "Open that little door on the side there." "Huh. It's a refrigerator. Nothing in it but the shelves though."

"All right then. Let's try the door at the back of the room." Opening that one leads to a bedroom. "That bed must be ten feet long." "Attached to the floor just like the other pieces in the living room. It almost looks extruded from the floor.” “Eric. I found drawers.” “Open one.” “Empty.” “Look in the rest. I think I found a closet.” All empty. Tony and Sean join us and are looking around in amazement. Tony whispers “Look at the size of that bed. The people must be what? Nine feet tall?” Cheryl and I exchange a look.

Let's go check out that other big door you found and then we'll head back." "Copy that boss. Come on Sean. You're on point this time." Shutting the lights off and closing the outside door takes just a few seconds and Cheryl and I fall into line behind them. A few minutes later we are at the door that they found. Identical looking to the one across the hall from it. "Same drill as before. Cheryl, you are on opening this time." We set up and Cheryl taps the panel which lights and taps it again and the door splits in the middle. Each half retracts into the wall showing what look like warehouse racks.

"Storage room?" "That's what it looks like Tony. I'll see if there are any light switches on my side." Finding four of them I do the sequence to turn the lights on on the first and lights come on along one row of racks at the far side of the room. "Huh. I'll get them all and then we can look at what we found." "Copy that boss." Doing so makes the room extremely well lit.

jess

It's a very good story, so far. I would love to read more. The conversation flows and the characterizations work.
(04-21-2017, 10:48 PM)jess Wrote: [ -> ]It's a very good story, so far. I would love to read more. The conversation flows and the characterizations work.

Thanks.

It's a work in progress. I post chapters as I finish them.
Chapter 4: Deciphering the deserts.

Shelving units. Storage containers. Barrels. I think we found a supply room of some sort. Let's clear the room and then we can try opening a box." "Yes sir. Sean, come left with me." "Cheryl and I will clear right and we'll meet up after." "Got it captain." Clearing the aisles reveals just more boxes but on the furthest aisle, there is an arch about two hundred feet down instead of more racks. "Found an arch. I think we are on the outside wall of this room. I hope this lead to a warehouse manager's office." Tony reports "Copy that. Nothing like it on this side." "Okay Tony. Come on over and we'll check it out." "Affirmative. We'll be there in a minute."

While I was talking to Tony Cheryl was examining the door. “It's the same sort of door in the rest of the place so far." "Let's set up and we'll get this opened. Cheryl, you're on the pad." "Yes sir." The door opens and reveals about what we expected. Three desks with what looks like a slim computer monitor built into each one. Tony and Sean arrive just as Cheryl and I start into the room. "Integrated?" "Maybe Sean. It looks more organic than that though. Almost as if the monitor grew out of the desk." That gets me some startled looks. "Nothing but those desks and chairs in here. I'm going to look over one of them." Tony nods and says "Copy that captain. We'll play gate guard while you earn those big bucks they pay you."

Getting behind one of the desks I poke at the monitor, the desk, the chair, the desk sides and front and nothing at all happens. “Try resting your hand on the surface of the desk Eric.” “Sure. Why not.” Setting my hand down does nothing. “Maybe you need to be sitting for it to turn on.” “We can try that Cheryl. Do you want to sit or should I?” “I'll try it. You rescue me if the chair decides to eat me.” “Deal.” Climbing up on the chair and scooting it near the desk produces a whole lot of nothing. “Try poking around on the desk.” “Eric, from this angle I can see what looks like lines corresponding to desk drawers. I'm going to try the long flat one in the middle.”

After a bit of experimentation and she manages to pull what resembles a keyboard from the desk and the monitor lights up. “I do not recognise that script." Looking past her I think I may. "That looks almost like Norse Runes. There are more of them than what I am remembering though." "What?" "Norse Runes. Vikings? Norsemen? Not ringing a bell? They used them as letters, ideas and as a divination tool. I don't remember exactly which is which but I do recognise some of the characters as being in that language set. If memory serves, and it may not considering it was only a few days worth of class time in middle school, there were something like twenty four runes. There's a few more than that here." "Thirty two on the main section of the keyboard and something resembling a numbering system on the other. Some other tabs with things that don't quite look like the letters as well Eric. Maybe the enter key and things like that?” “Could very well be Cheryl. I think we need to get some experts in here to verify though so don't touch anything. I'd hate to be accidentally spaced into Saturn’s rings.”

"Let's try some of the drawers to see what a Viking in Space would find handy." A few snorts at that and Cheryl reaches over and starts opening the drawers. Bottom left in an arch over to the bottom right. Nothing in them at all. "Well, that's disappointing. I'm going to check the other desks." Nothing in either of the other desks.

All right. Let's go check a few boxes and then we'll head back to the ship." Tony asks "Sounds like a plan. Any box, in particular, you want to look at?" "Take your pick Tony. One seems as good as another at this point." Tony looks back and forth down the aisle. Picks the last box in the last row from the big door and asks "All right. Now how to get them out of the rack?" Pointing out the obvious "Try that little square next to the bay. There are four of them and four levels to the rack. Tap the bottom one." Sean asks "Bottom one? Why?" Cheryl pipes up with "You would want to keep material you use frequently near at hand. The closer shelves usually mean renewable materials. That's the way my mom set up her kitchen. Items used most often were closest to hand." I add in "I did a stint in a military supply warehouse when I was a squab. That's the way the Master Sergeant liked it. Items used frequently on the bottom. Long term storage at the top. If these people are in any way logical the bottom button will pull the bottom box. I know I'm reading into things a bit but that's how I'd set it up if I were doing things."

Giving a shrug Tony pokes at the bottom square. Nothing happens. “Try holding it.” Looking back at the squares he holds the bottom one down. A couple of seconds of pressure and it lights up and the box slides out of the bay. When it stops moving Tony releases the button. “Huh. Not a bad system. Anything on the front of the box so we can open it?” Sean points “A square here.” “Go ahead Sean. Hold it down.” “Copy that captain.” Holding the square for a couple of seconds gets the square to light up and the lid open. Tony remarks “I can't see any actual hinge mechanism. It's like the lid is grafted back here. Like you said in the office, an organic look. Grown.”

Interesting. Does that look like freeze dried and vacuum sealed food to anyone else?” “Sure does captain.” Cheryl picks one up. “Same markings on here as there are on the computer keyboard.” Sean sifts through them and says “It looks like it's all one kind of meal. Were they buying in bulk at Costco?” Funny. “Could be Sean. Let's close this one and look at another. Grab three to take back with us.” Putting it back we start checking and each container has a differently marked package in it. Grabbing three of each we work our way down the line until we hit the end of the aisle near the entry door. "I think we have enough now. We have representatives of each of the characters on the keyboard and enough in the way of word groups to start trying to translate it. And as a plus, we can open a package to see what is in it. That may give us a clue as to what they called a potato and what they called a carrot."

Cheryl asks “Do you want to try some of the upper shelves to see if your guess about the storage is right?" "We can. I'd like to see how they get those down. I don't see a forklift or anything like that." "No tracks either captain. Ok. East rack of row one, bay one, second level." "Just don't stand underneath it." Holding the button for a few seconds lights it up and the box in the second level bay slides forward and then down along the front of the rack. Asking Tony who's closest "Magnetic?" "I don't think so. I'm not really sure how it's doing that, to be honest." "Neither am I. All right Tony. Let's open it up and see what's in it."

This box contains a lot of smaller boxes. Picking one out of the crate “I'm going to take one out and see if we can open it.” “Copy that captain.” Removing a little box I look around and it has more of those markings on it. About two feet to a side and a perfect square. On one of those sides is a little engraved square like we have been pushing to open everything else. Setting it on the corner of the crate to stabilise it I hold the button down and it rewards me by lighting up and the top hinges open. Frowning at me Tony asks "Any idea what that is?" "Yeah, I think so. It looks kind of like the goop we feed the three D printer that makes our rail gun rounds." Holding down the button again closes the box. Putting it back in the crate I take out another and repeat the procedure showing another box full of that goop. "Grab a couple of boxes of this stuff. We can give it a run in the mass spectrometer to see what it's made of."

Cheryl looks around. Stares at the goop for a second. Says “If your guess is right about the organic nature of the tech here then it's possible that the box just plugs in and either an opening flows open in the right place or the entire box is absorbed when it's dropped where it needs to go to feed a printer.” Huh. “Good thinking Cheryl. That makes sense. Time to close this one and see what's next on the shelves.” Doing just that I step back and wait for Tony to return the crate and to bring down the next one.

East rack, row one, third level." That one comes down and it's more goop. A couple of boxes get removed and that one goes back up. Tony stares up at the fourth level for a minute before pushing the button. As the crate slides down the rack he mumbles "I wonder how they load and unload these. It seems a waste of labor to do it by hand." "Interesting thought Tony. Something to check on with this one. When it gets down here let's see if we can pull it away from the shelves."

The crate arrives but no amount of pushing or pulling shifts it away from the shelf. "So much for that. They must use a special tool or have some sort of code they punch into the light squares to move one." "Well, it was worth a try captain. At least we know something new about these things." "True enough Tony. Ok, let's check the contents of this one and then we'll head back to the ship." "Copy that boss. Opening the crate now."

More little boxes. Three inches by three inches by twelve long. Opening one of those by pressing the three by three side opens one of the long sides. “Crystals?” Tony looks it over “Yeah. They look like the ones used in the Antarctica pyramid. The ones that have data on them.” “Cheryl, do we have one of those new readers the Antarctica people use on the ship?” “We do not Eric. Those things are still bulky and expensive so they decided to keep it for bases and colonies. Maybe some of the bigger ships like the Johnnie Wilson or the James Mattis might have one.”

No joy there then. I don't see a need to take any with us. If it's in here then it's probably a blank anyways. Stored and waiting to be used. It's either that or it's a backup in case of computer problems." Sean pipes up “Could be old tax returns too.” “That's funny Sean. Leave the jokes to me.” Snickering over the suit coms. Cheryl adds “I did see several markings on the desk where you would put one of those. I don't know if it just reads it as is or brings it inside the desk to read it but those outlines are there.” Thinking things through I decide not to test it just yet.

All right. Put it back and we'll head to the ship. We'll try that another day. I could use some time out of the suit.” Tony nods and puts the crate back up. Sean mumbles “Yeah I know. I have point.” which gets a smirk from Tony and Sean leads the way out of the room. Shutting the lights off we are back in the dark hallway requiring us to turn on our suit lights again. Snapping around quickly to the southern direction of the corridor and bringing the shotgun to a shooting position firmly nestled into my shoulder startles everyone. Panning my light down the hall reveals nothing.

Hold. I thought I saw movement to the south.” Tony jumps into action “Copy that. Sean, rear guard.” With Tony and I leapfrogging south in the lead and ready for trouble all we find is a dead end. No doors. No openings of any sort. "Huh. Must be my mind playing tricks on me."

Using a horror movie narrator voice I continue “With the creepy dark hallway lit only by our suit lights throwing shadows ahead of the intrepid team they spot motion. It's a good set up for a horror movie where something climbs out of a hidden door to grab you and drag you off to its lair for nefarious purposes. Will our brave adventurers survive the perils of the day? Only the shadows know.” Cheryl turns and faces me. “Eric. Do me a favor. Shut the hell up." Subdued chuckles quickly cut off from Tony and Sean. "Yes Ma'am." More chuckles. This time including Cheryl. "Let's get back to the ship before we develop the dreaded Space Dementia. I'm crotchety and paranoid enough.”

Back at the ship, out of the suit and after a shower I'm in the room designated as the mess hall eating a bowl of something the chef claims is chicken noodle soup but looks more like clam chowder and tastes more like stewed wood chips. I'm soon joined by the rest of the command staff this time including Tony. Pushing that bowl of muck away I start the meeting. "Ok folks. Let's do some reports on the ship condition considering you already know what we've found and have been playing with some of it while I got cleaned up.”

Steve starts with "We have the next level down secure and air tight. We've also cut a hole in the deck and assembled a staircase to get to it. The elevator and our normal staircase are outside of the habitable zone.” “That works. Not like we have to worry too much about structural integrity anymore.” Steve snorts at that one. “I also rigged a lid for it in case of decompression. It drops automatically and seals the two floors off from each other. There is a manual override but if the pressure gets too low in one section that won't do you much good. I'm working on a way of making it an air lock.”

Got it. What's next?” “The power plants I managed to get up are holding steady but that's all that I can give you. The other three are toast.” Oh well. “Go ahead and raid them for parts if you need them to keep the two we have online.” “Yes sir.” Terry reports "No real changes on the crew status. No real changes in the food or medical supplies either. We think it'll be safe to bring Dan out of his medically induced coma tomorrow.” Good news there.

Ming reports “I still can't scan through those walls. Everything I have is blocked right at the wall. I still don't even know what it's made of. That goes for those boxes that you brought back. I can't scan inside of them. If it's open I can get a reading on the contents but once it's closed it's just a box that I can't read through again.” “What is that goop?” “What you thought it was. The base material for a three D printer. Two different kinds though. One is metallic and the other organic.”

That reminds me. How is the project of repurposing the rail gun printer going?" Steve frowns at Ming "Slow. We have to actually write the code to get something new." Ming adds "The template for the different rail gun rounds are there so we have a basis for what we need in the way of programming but anything more complicated than a stick with explosive tips is proving to be a whole lot more in the way of lines of code.” “Well keep on it when you can. Don't forget that that stick with an explosive tip can be scaled down for ammo for our firearms if needed.” Ming and Steve share a look. “We thought of that. So far the results are promising but we don't have a shooting range to try it out.”

Ok then. Anything else I need to know?” Tina adds “Those packages of food? It is food. I'd compare it to our MREs. Premade meals ready to eat. Push a little tab on the top and it heats and opens. When you are finished push the tab again and it closes and folds into a little square for disposal.” “Edible?” “Still running it through scans. Terry and I want to be sure it's not going to cause problems before giving it a taste test.” “That works. Better safe than sorry.”

Terry jumps in “It's interesting though. The meals don't look that different than what we would expect from our ready made meals. One of the ones that we have opened was sausage, eggs and toast with a little packet that is either tea or coffee. We're going to dump one in a cup of hot water after this meeting to test. We'll run it through the mass spectrometer and such when some of the other things clear.” “Interesting. So whoever they are they eat something resembling what we do then.” Tina and Terry look at each other and shrug. “That's a reasonable guess captain.” “Any idea on how long the stuff has been here?” “Sorry captain. No carbon dating or other tools like that on board.”

All right then. How about deciphering the language?” Ann pipes up “It would go easier if we had someone who actually spoke some of those northern Celtic type languages. We have all the packages you brought back scanned into the computer and it's working out word groups and sentence structure but it's trying to do that in English and not whatever language that is so it's failing. I don't even think it has that particular language or even a close cousin in the data banks. It keeps defaulting to English no matter what I try.”

"Why isn't a complete language database in the computer? I mean we have more than enough room on the hard drives for it, don't we?" "We do Eric. I'm not sure why not but this ship was fresh out of the shipyards when we got it and we were still on the test cruise when that thing came roaring out of deep space. That could have something to do with it." "Good point Ann. Well, keep working on it. Do another inventory of the crew and see if anyone can help out. Show them the symbols. We know one of the packs contains a sausage and egg breakfast. Open a few more and plug that data into the comp and see if that helps the thing figure it out faster." "Yes sir. Good idea."

Anything else?” Ming jumps back in “So far the air pressure and temperature out in the hanger bay is rising consistently. It's lower on the trace gases and higher in oxygen than what we are used to. I'm not sure where the pressure and temperature will top out but if it keeps rising we'll be able to go outside of the ship without spacesuits soon. It will be very cold and you'll still need a hazmat mask with oxy tank but you'll be able to take a few breaths here and there without decompressing or freezing to death. I give that about an hour. Comfortable breathing if chilly in four."

"Interesting. I want you and Jerry to take the second fire team and go test the air in the airlock to see if it's the same. If you are feeling particularly adventurous you can dip into the hallway and do the same but my guess is that it'll read as identical." "Yes captain. I doubt that I'll have to go in the hall though. If the airlock is reading identical to out here then it's pretty certain it'll read the same in the hall. We probably should test just to be sure but it seems like a waste of airlock usage if the air is different for all three or even two."

Good points Ming. I still want the ship, or what's left of it, kept Earth norm just in case. Use the airlocks and don't skimp on the safety protocols. Suits on with helmets nearby when outside of the ship itself. We know that the bay depressurizes when in use. I don't want anyone caught without protection if those doors open again.” A variety of agreement meets that.

"Ok. With that out of the way, let's talk Antarctica. Tony. You were stationed there. Anything you can add to the discussion? Resemblances and differences between there and here?" "I'm not sure. I wasn't stationed inside the pyramids but I did get to go in a few times. What struck me was the ceiling heights. Here it's about ten feet and down there it was about thirty. Hallways and rooms. I don't know if that's the palace effect or not though.” Ming asks “Palace effect?” Tony nods and says “Designed to impress visiting dignitaries and subjects. Inspire in them a sense awe about your power and wealth.” “Ah. Got it. Thanks.”

Thinking for a minute I ask “You said the crystals are similar to the ones used in they pyramids. How similar?” “Well, pretty close to the same if I'm remembering them right. Two inches across the base, four straight sides up and then a one inch pyramid on the top. About what we saw in the storage room except for the Antarctica ones had a little bit of smokey color to them instead of completely clear like the ones in the room.” Huh. I didn't know that. “Data showing as a color on the crystal?" "Maybe captain. There were different colors of smoke. It's possible it was color coded."

Steve looking a little disturbed asks “Can this be some of the Area Fifty One shit that the One Percent traitors took when they bailed out on Earth in twenty nineteen? After the financial crash of eighteen that forced the President into really getting his head on straight and cracking down on them and their mega corporations, the banking Ponzi schemes as well as their sick cult shit?" "I doubt it Steve. For starters, that stuff would probably be labelled in recognisable languages like English or Chinese, not some ancient Viking chicken scratchings."

Ann pipes up “Even with those super wealthy assholes spending on perks and privileges they wouldn't be as wasteful as to make spaceships with corridors and rooms three feet higher than they needed them. Who are they trying to impress? Themselves? Each other? They already have it all and their slaves and minions know who's boss so there is no need for that.”

I jump back in with “Besides, from we could decipher of their notes recovered from different places they were well ahead of us on the gravity manipulation but not so far as to make organic seeming tech like the computer monitor growing out of a desk and the boxes.” Steve's face clears into relief. “Makes sense.” “Go take a look at the boxes of goop Terry has in the lab. We did not make that.” “Will do boss. Just wanted to make sure.”

"Now that we've settled that, has anyone seen the Mars ruins?" Shaking heads but Tony perks up "Sean is from there. His parents have a farm near the Face mountain." "See if he's still up and if he can answer a few questions." "On it captain." Tony pulls his com device out and talks into it for a minute. “He's on the way. He's just out of the showers.” “All right. Anything else while we wait?”

Cheryl pipes up “The lack of markings is odd. How do they know which room is which when everything looks the same?” Ming and Terry both start at that and Tony pipes up “The Pyramid has markings all over the place. That bugged me about this place too.” Thinking hard for a minute I respond “From what I remember some of the other pyramids in the northern hemisphere did not have markings either. Some did though. I think the ones in China did but the Egyptian ones didn't.”

Scott finally chimes in "The pyramids in Indonesia that they first thought were mountains were very well marked. Same with the Bosnia ones. The underground city they found in Scotland off of the tunnels they knew about in twenty thirty wasn't though. No markings of any kind at all. I'm not sure about any of the others but I remember that much from school. I think those ceilings were about ten feet too. It seemed wasteful for an underground building." "Thanks Scott. I didn't know that about Inchindown."

Sean comes in and Jerry asks him “So you grew up on Mars on the family farm. Did you get to see any of the sights? D&M Pyramid, the Inca City or any of that stuff?” “No sir. Not that first one. They had the D&M closed off after the collapse a few years back that trapped that group of kids on a field trip. The news is they are trying to repair it but it's been a few years now. I've been in a few of the other pyramids though. Mom was sort of an amateur archaeologist. She loved that sort of thing. She was a member of all the forums and newsletters. Always pitching in when a new dig was announced and going for her degrees and all.”

"So how does the Mars stuff stack up to what we have here?" "Well captain. For starters, the stuff back there was built in stone like I hear other monuments on Earth were. Lower ceilings too. Six or seven feet on Mars compared to the ten feet high ones here. A lot of markings showing what was where and what it was for if you knew how to read them. Mom did and she showed me. Nothing like that stuff on the computer here. Proto Ancient Malay, I think is what she said.

Tony pipes up “I'm pretty sure the Antarctica Pyramid stuff is a proto Egyptian.” Interesting. Three different ceiling heights so far. Maybe three different languages too. “Anything else?” “Sorry sir. Nothing that really stands out in my mind.” “Thanks Sean. If you think of something bring it to one of us. Every bit of data is needed at this point.” “Will do sir.”

We'll have to talk to the rest of the crew to see what they know. Start pumping them for anything and everything they remember about any of this. Has anyone taken trips to some of the South American pyramids, the Mars stuff, the far side of the moon ruins. Anything and everything that they remember could come in handy.”

Terry pipes up “Tina and I can take care of that. People just open up to us.” Tina nods and says “It's weird. Everyone seems to want to tell us their life story. It doesn't even matter if we are together or separate. People just come up and start talking.” “Is it a med crew thing?” “I don't think so Eric. I think it's more like we are seen as mother figures by the crew. Sympathetic and nurturing ears and all that.” Snorts come from some of the others and Ann mumbles "They obviously don't know you two like we do." Cheryl and Ming smirk and snicker at that. Tina and Terry shoot them fake outraged looks. Everyone else has a little laugh. At least morale is good even if not much else can be said to be good at this point.

"Anything else? No? Good. I'm going to grab some down time. I've been running for about fifty hours now. I do want someone on the scanners as a look out. Remember folks. We may feel somewhat safe at the moment but we are in something that obviously was not made by us and I do sincerely hate surprise parties." Terry pipes up "I think we all need some rest. I'll look over the duty roster and see who hasn't been up for a marathon and set up a rotation schedule for lookouts." "Thanks Terry. I appreciate that."

Getting down a deck into our new sleeping area I see tape on the doors with names on them. Assigned sleeping quarters. Four to a room it seems. Funny people. Four rooms with officers quarters added to the tape and a line of tape on the floor, walls, and ceiling separating those four rooms from the rest. Finding the correct room I go in and see my duffel on one of the bunks in there. I guess that's my bed for the time being. Stripping down to boxers I shut the light off, fall into the bed and drag the blanket up.

I'm just starting to drift off when the door opens and closes. Someone fumbles around in the dark for a minute so I ask “Am I need for a problem?” Cheryl says “Terry says that I'm off duty and needed some sleep.” “Aren't you in the wrong room?” “Nope. I'm scared like I've never been before and need to be held." With that, she slides under the covers and slides back into me and drags my arm over her. All right then. Spooning her in a bit tighter I drift off to sleep to the sound of her soft regular breathing.
Chapter 5:

Waking up with a start I try and figure out what woke me. Noticing I'm alone I fumble around for my watch. Six hours of sleep. Not bad. Weird dreams though. Someone crying and my trying to comfort them. A shadow made of long silky black strands trying to stuff itself into my mouth and up my nose. A five foot tall cockroach with glittering red eyes staring at me while I was sleeping. Well, I'm not getting back to sleep anytime soon so I may as well get to work. Clicking on the flashlight function I search around a bit and get some fresh clothes out of the duffel. Dressed now I pan the light around a bit and see that I'm still alone in the room.

Getting into the galley for breakfast and some coffee to shake the last of the webs from my head I'm greeted by a full room of people drinking coffee but not eating. All of them look angry too. Getting over to the buffet line I think I see what the problem is. The odor coming off the table is repulsive and I wouldn't feed anything I see to the giant cockroach from my dreams.

Staring hard at the crewman behind the table who looks very nervous I ask “What is this?” Gulping audibly he responds “Breakfast sir.” Giving a bit of a head shake I start “That is not breakfast. That is punishment. What's in this pan?” “Scrambled eggs sir.” “Eggs are not supposed to be grey nor are they supposed to look like greasy porridge. What's in this pan?” “Bacon sir.” “That's not bacon. That's charcoal waiting for a forge in order to be useful. At least the rolls look like they are supposed to. Too bad they are dry as dust on the top and burnt on the bottom. Frozen in the middle? That takes some true talent. Who taught you how to cook?” “No one sir.” “Then why are you in the galley?” “I was the first one into the galley this morning and wanted to do something for the crew sir.”

Pinching the bridge of my nose for a second I think hard about spacing people and why we don't do that in the Fleet. “What's your rank?” “Engine room trainee first class.” Deep sigh. “You're a squab?” How old are you?” “Eighteen sir.” “Shit.” Noticing the silent and wide eyed trio seated nearby I stare at them for a minute. “More squabs?” The three nod. “Can any of you actually cook?” One of them stands up “My parents own a bakery sir. I made the coffee sir. That at least is safe.” “Good. You are now in charge of the galley. This one does nothing without you watching over him. Try to teach him how not to burn water.” Pointing at the other two. ”The pair of you young ladies are now her helpers. Breakfast and supper outside of your regular duties. Lunch can be fend for yourself and set a few things up to heat for the night shift watches. Get in there and get something decent on the trays.” All three snap to and start bossing around the harried looking guy I just reamed.

Looking around the room I spot most of my officers. “How come none of you handled this?” Ann smirks, licks her lips suggestively and says “Some things just need the captain's touch.” The table starts snickering and giggling. I can feel my eyes wanting to roll. Expending a huge effort of will I prevent them and mumble “I'm in charge of a pack of crazy giggling pirates.” Are her eyes a little bloodshot and puffy? Getting myself some coffee I go and sit with those idiots. At least the coffee is decent even if my officers aren't.

All right. Anything come up while I was sleeping?” Smirking from Ann and Cheryl but Steve reports “Nothing major. We have the airlock between the floors set. I think I can build a third generator out of the parts of the three burnouts but we won't have those spare parts if I do.” “Do we really need a third generator at this point? We have enviro and some shields. It's not like we actually have engines or need our weapons.” “True enough captain. We still do have some power available. The two generators are only drawing at about sixty percent right now. I'll part the rest out then.” “Ok, anything else?”

Ming reports “I did the air quality tests on the bay, the airlock and the hallway. It's all identical. Lower on trace gases and higher on oxygen than earth norm but not so far out that we would have problems breathing it. The temperature is a balmy thirty three degrees Fahrenheit in the bay and the pressure is almost earth normal right now as well. The hallway is warmer. Sixty five degrees but the pressure is the same.” Thinking that over I say “Orders still stand. The ship stays pressurized and anyone leaving needs a suit on and a helmet in hand.” Ann pipes up “I'll make sure everyone knows.”

Terry jumps in “We started dropping the medication dosages on Dan earlier. He should wake sometime this evening.” “Keep me informed on that.” Tina and Terry both nod. Tony and Scott exchange a look and shrug. Scott reports “We had a couple of guys on the bridge keeping an eye on the scopes and one of them swears he saw a shadow scurry along the wall from the starboard side porthole. He says it went from the corner of the bay to the south past the ship. Nothing showed on the sensor logs but he swears it scuttled along the edge of the room heading for the deeper shadows.” Tony adds on “We're only mentioning it because of what happened in the hallway earlier when we were out. Two sightings now of a shadow moving on the edge of a steady light source.”

Huh. “All right then. Alien ground and all that. Everyone with a sidearm and combat knife. No one leaves the ship without battle rifles or shotguns. Buddy system as well. Pairs or even numbered groups that can be broken down to pairs only both inside and out.” Both nod at that and Scott replies “Makes sense captain.” Thinking it over I add “I'd prefer actual fire teams outside of the ship. We've all been trained on that four person group tactic even if most of us haven't had to use it except for drill weekends. The memories are still in there. It should come back fairly quick.”

Terry, how's the staffing situation going? How many teams can you throw into doing a methodical search of this place?" Looking over a data pad and consulting with Tina she finally says "I can give you three fireteams now. Add one tomorrow and another the day after." "That works. Next, we will need some mapping equipment and data pads to accurately detail what we are finding. I'd also like a crew to check out the warehouse and do a complete inventory in there. Maybe check the other side to see if there is another warehouse there.” Ann pipes up “I'll get the data pads out and check and load the programs for them.”

Any progress on breaking down that language?” Ming reports "Not really. We're entering data as we find it and have almost all the meal packs opened, identified and entered. I don't know if that's going to do any good though." "Well keep at it." Terry adds in "The food is safe for human consumption. Nutritionally sound and nothing in it harmful to us." "Well that's good news. We'll hold off on that option for the time being. It sat there long enough and our food stocks won't last as long so I think so we'll use ours first." The crew exchanges a look.

Looking worried, Cheryl asks what is on everyone's minds “Do you think we are stuck here?” Shaking my head once I reassure her “No. Just planning contingencies. We may be here a few days or a few months at most but we are not stuck here. We'll figure this out and find a way back home. I'm also sure that Fleet is looking for us. A rescue possibly but if not than salvaging of the metal and parts from the ship. Either way, they find us and we go home.” That seems to reassure the crew.

Anything else?” Head shaking all around. “Ok, let's put a few fireteams together and go exploring. If possible I want an officer or senior NCO and someone with recent canal zone experience on each team.” Tony, Terry and Cheryl put their heads together while I go and get some more coffee. The smells from the front of the room have turned from foul to fantastic but I'm not quite ready to eat yet.

Sitting back down I'm surprised by the young lady I put in charge delivering plates to the officers. Omelets with biscuits. Cutting into it I see ham, cheese and green peppers wrapped in fluffy egg. Taking a bite I'm very relieved to be tasting a pretty good ham and cheese omelet. “Much better. Very tasty. Thank you.” A huge smile on a flushed face and she finishes her deliveries and heads back to the front of the room.

Jerry snorts and in a deeply disgusted tone with a dirty look to the side at Ann and Cheryl “Did you see her making those moon eyes at him. She's still making them. Another one falls. Charmed the brains right out of her head just by being him. And he didn't even notice.” Looking over at the cooking area he makes a hideous face and grunts “All three of them? Crap.”

That earns him some dirty looks from Cheryl and Ann but Terry, Tina and Ming start laughing hard. Scott just puts his head down in his hand and Tony looks confused. Steve rolls his eyes and starts eating. Jerry still looking a little disgruntled takes pity on Tony and explains "It's been that way since we were kids. All he'd have to do is talk to or smile at a woman and she'd swoon all over the place over it. Even our esteemed married couple here had a crush on him for a while in high school." Both Tina and Terry nod their confirmation. Terry muses "That was before we figured out what we felt for each other." Giving us an evil smirk Terry continues. "We'd still hop on that if he gave us a go sign." Tina just giggles and nods.

Tony looks a little startled “You've all known each other since your school days?” Jerry nods “For the most part. Eric, Scott and I grew up next door to each other. We also served in the Canal Zone together for a year. Cheryl, Tina and Terry were chums from middle school. We added Ming, Steve and Dan the first year of high school. Ming being another one that had a huge crush on him. Ann was a squab with us on our first ship deployment. Once again the fairer sex was drawn in by mister oblivious over here. Despite that sure sign of insanity, we liked her so much we just kept her for a mascot. Sort of like a very scrawny dyspeptic mangy ginger kitten mascot.” I can't say he did not deserve that whack on the back of his head. Giving Ann and Cheryl a sly look Jerry quips “Most of them smarten up some but others are lost to the insanity.” Jerry ducks as Ann mimes another swing.

So how did you all end up on the same ship?” I smile at that one. “Captain's prerogative. When you get assigned a new ship out of the yards you get to pick your crew. I placed my recommendations with SysCom and they approved most of my transfers. I didn't get some of the people from the canal and a couple of others that I've served on other ships with that I would have liked to have here but I did get most of my picks. I also took some recommendations from this pack of pirates and we ended up with a few of them but not all of our requests were granted. SysCom filled out the rest of the roster with people they thought I should have based on availability."

Frowning at me Tony asks “And you really are that oblivious?” A chorus of affirmatives greets that but I shake my head. “More like extremely dedicated to my chosen line of work. Extremely focused on education and training.” Cheryl snorts and in unison with Ann says “Oblivious” then share a look.

Ok, enough of that. Let's get back to work. I want two teams to start at either side of the bay. See if there is a warehouse opposite the one we found. Don't worry about inventory in there. I just want people opening doors and making notes of what they find.” Scott looks up finally and asks “What about you?” “I want to head deeper into the complex to see if we can figure out what we have here.” Scott nods at that and says “I'm going too.” Tony pipes up “I can get Sean and that rounds out the fire team. Four combat vets for a deep penetration mission.” Looking over at Terry I say “That works. Set up the other two teams and get them going. We'll start with the west hallway we already were in and go further back from there.”

Ming staring intently at a datapad says "We've got some exploring to do if the whole thing is like this. This particular moon of Saturn is twenty one and three quarters miles across at it's widest, nineteen miles across at the narrowest and fourteen and a quarter miles from top to bottom. All in a walnut sort of shape. Until it opened up for us everyone thought it was just a funny shaped rock captured in Saturn's orbit clearing a path in the rings.” Turning her pad this way and that she muses “It looks more like a ravioli to me than a walnut.”

Looking over at Steve “Can we reach the combat suits?” Steve looking startled says “Yes. But what do you want with those? So far nothing we've seen indicates any sort of habitation.” “They are better for deep scouting. I'd rather have the powered armor around me if I trigger something I shouldn't have triggered.” Tony and Scott nodding along seems to make up his mind because Steve reports “I had them moved over and set up the charging stations for them while we were securing the lower level. They're in storage room two. It's pressurized and connected to its own airlock system now. Airlock three to be specific.” Huh. “Really? Now that some fine grade A paranoia showing there. Expecting trouble?” Looking a little sheepish Steve nods.

Ok, let's get this going. We have a lot of ground to cover. Ann, could you remind everyone else that they need to have suits on and helmets to hand while out of the ship?” “Absolutely can Eric.” Cheryl looking a little disgruntled asks “How long are you planning on being out?” “I don't know Cheryl. The combat suits have a seven day power and supplies load. I doubt I'll be gone that long but maybe a couple of days.” Her expression and Ann's gets very disgruntled looking. Jerry looks outright constipated. “Jerry, you're in charge while I'm out. Tony, call Sean and have him meet us at the suits so we can gear up and go exploring.” Tony does.

Another thought occurs to me. "Any chance of setting up a communications crew in one of those labs to test the range of our suit and watch communicators?" Ann thinks that one over and eventually says "It's possible. We could also use one of the suites of bedrooms and test signal strength in a variety of nearby locations just to see if it's something with the hanger bay or if it's all over this place." "Good idea Ann. See if you and Ming can get that done. Time to go guys. We have some random buttons to push."

Down at the storage room and finally suiting up after doing the checks needed I get a call on the coms from Ann. “Eric, when you are done can you stop in the hallway to the west at the next door down from the labs that you looked over yesterday?” “Sure can Ann. What's up?” “You have to see this to believe it Eric.” Finished with our powering up sequences and gathering our weapons we march into the airlock and cycle out to the bay. From there we cycle from the bay into the hallway. Spotting the open door and the light we head in that direction.

Just as we get there Ming pokes her head out and waves. “We found an elevator up to another hallway. Our teams checking the warehouses have found elevators in the next doors north from those storage rooms too.” “Ok, that sounds interesting. Have you checked out any of what's up there?" Shaking her head "Not yet. We wanted a few more people before we went wandering. It's just Ann and me in here setting up a communications room." "What about the other crews?" "They are continuing down the hallways checking doors. So far it looks like another warehouse on the opposite sides of the elevators and then living quarters. Labs along this wall on either side of this elevator but we haven't been checking too many doors." "Why aren't you in a fireteam?" "Terry wanted a couple people to stay with the ship in case of emergency." "Makes sense. All right, let's go look at what you found."

In the elevator the trip up is not that long but it's long enough for Ann to shudder and say “I hate those things. You look like an animated medieval suit of armor with a serious hate for everything going on.” It's a good thing she can't see the smirk on my face. “It's supposed to look terrifying. That's why they are all black with no markings and the viewscreen is blacked out. I can see you fine but you can't find anything but death walking when you look.” Another shudder. “Yeah. That's what I mean.”

Tony pipes up “They finally figured out the assembly lines for mass production. The first of the Canal troops are going to be getting suited up in about three months. They claim that a million of them will be powered in about a year. All of them in three. One that's done then we'll go on the offensive again. These things can take a fifty caliber round and you won't even notice it." Sean adds "Radiation and biological weapon proof. Bulletproof up to repeated hits with a fifty. You can stand in front of a Ma Deuce for hours before it has an effect. It's even resistant against the tank lasers that the Muslims back engineered. I doubt it would stop an armor piercing round from a tank or a big laser but you'd probably survive one much better than without. At least you'd have a chance.”

The elevator has been stopped for a few minutes now but the doors haven't opened. “Something the matter?” Ming shakes her head. “Nope. Just waiting until you boys quit gossiping before opening up. We want you at your peak in case something decides to do a jump scare.” Ann snickers at that. I hear a grunt over the line. Probably Scott planning a comeback line that will fall flat because it's delivered way too late to be funny.

All right then. Sean. SAW up front. Tony and I will flank right and left and Scott is rear guard.” Shuffling around a bit we are set. “Suit lights on. Open the doors.” Ann does and Tony and I swing out to cover the hallway and Scott moves up to support Sean in case they are needed. Not needed. It's just more dark hallway. There is a door right across from us and just barely visible in the lights are more doors on the same side as the elevator.

"Hallway clear. Move on out. Ann get ready to open that door across the hall. Sean, you take the center with Scott. Tony and I will keep covering the hall." "Copy that boss. When you are ready Ann." "Opening now." The door opens but nothing is really visible in the darkened room. Ann says "I'm going to see if they have light switches in here. Hang on." She shines her flashlight around the door frame and then runs the slider panel up turning on the lights.

Eric. It looks like we have a control room of some sort.” “Ok. Let's check it out.” The outer wall of the room is one long desk with a dozen chairs. Lights flashing on the desk at varied locations. Screens light up as the room lights go on. A voice is heard saying “Teòthachd riaghladh mhearachd” over and over. Ann is staring at the ceiling with a frown “Why does that sound familiar to me?”

For the most part, the controls on the desks seem to be touch screen panels with a keyboard like in the warehouse office desks along with a monitor. The monitors show what appear to be the landing bay, our ship and schematics with a flashing section. Scott is looking intently at that and says “That schematic on the far left screen resembles an electrical system. I think there may be a disconnect someplace and that is what that voice is talking about.” “What sort of electrical schematic?” “Dunno captain. I just shoot things. I picked up a few things here and there, mostly from listening to Steve and Dan.”

"Ann. Can you reach anyone besides us on coms?" A brief check through our frequencies results in "Yes sir. I can get the other two teams downstairs but not the ship. But if I'm any judge of control boards, this looks like a communications set up. I can't read it but it looks almost like one of the fancy setups on the bigger ships. The three people communications array controls." "Well, at least we can use coms on this side of the bay. Our signals can reach each other inside this place. I'll lay odds that distance changes that. Suit coms usually are only five miles in open ground."

Ming meanwhile found a console that intrigues her. "This looks almost like my scan station Eric. Look at the monitor. It shows the ship, energy readings, life forms, weapons both ship and personal and pretty much everything there is to know about us and the ship. I can probably pull up genetic profiles if this icon on the touch screen that looks like a DNA spiral is any indication." "Interesting."

Scott meanwhile seems disappointed. “I don't see anything that looks like a weapons station.” Giving him a clap on the shoulder I say “I don't see anything resembling flight controls either. This probably is not the main control room. Just a control room for the bay and arriving ships.”

Giving the room another looking over I ask “Ming, do you think that elevator goes higher?” “It doesn't. We tried that. Ann and I wanted to see how high up we could go. It's just the two floors.” “All right then. I guess we can explore this level instead of heading deeper into the other. You ladies going to be fine here or do you want an escort back down?” Ann responds “We'll be fine. I'm going to see if I can get Steve up here to look at that diagram that resembles an electrical circuit. It'll add to the language database.” “Make sure you add a fourth. Pairs and fireteams only. I don't want anyone wandering around by themselves.” “Yes sir. C'mon Ming. Let's go get Steve.”

All right gentlemen. Time to take a walk.” The elevator doors close on the ladies and Tony asks “Which way.” “One way is as good as any other at this point. Let's go east this time.” “Copy that captain. Sean, I'll take point. You're next up.” “I'll take rear guard. Sing out if any of you want to try a door.” “Copy that captain.”

Walking for a few minutes Tony reports “Cross corridor. Left, right, straight?” “Left. I want to check a couple of doors to see if a hunch is right. I know how deep the labs are. I want to see if the rooms here take up the rest of the depth in this block. “Copy that captain. Middle of the block?” “Sure. Why not Tony.” We'll check one there, the one across the hall and then a side room on the next block and then one opposite the room we checked and finish up on the last main corridor on the opposite block.”

The first door we check is a workshop of some sort. "What do you make of this captain?" "Well, it looks like a Dremel tool to me. See the case near it with assorted bits?" "Yup. Sandpaper, stone grinders, drills, metal grinders." Sean is looking at a weird contraption. "Any clue what this is because I don't have one." Scott looks over and says "Lathe. Programmable computer included. You can set it up and crank out unlimited parts to the exact same specs.”

Ok guys. Let's check out across the hall.” That turns out to be another elevator. Still two floors. “Let's see about the doors to either side.” Living quarters. “Ok. Let's go around the block and get some measurements.” Living quarters on the east wall. Another workshop on the north wall and living quarters on the west wall. Directly across from the workshop is another elevator.

Ok, check my math here. These rooms do not reach all the way to the center. If I'm right then there is a fifty by fifty column in the middle. Either solid or hollow but so far there is no access so I'm going to go with solid." Scott and Tony both look at each other and shrug. Tony says "Sounds about right. It is a support structure and solid would be my guess." Scott adds "They probably hollowed out a big rock and coated the walls to make it air tight. From the outside, this place reads as stone." "Ok, let's take a walk to the back of the place. See what is at the far end." Tony asks "Are we on the narrow axis or the deep axis?" "We'll find out Tony. Let's get going to the back. Again, sing out if you feel like opening up a room."

Heading back to the east corridor we start down again. Passing numerous cross corridors as we do Scott mumbles “I wish the lights were on. I never was comfortable with the room cleaning drills in training. Particularly the night ones.” Smirking a bit I quip “Not scared of the dark are you?” Snorting a laugh Scott replies “Only when going down a creepy hallway on an alien ship.”

A few minutes later Sean says “Lost coms with the Lieutenant and Sergeant.” “Ok. Stop here for a minute. Distance check?” Scott runs through his data pad and says “Half a mile. Give or take a few yards.” “Ok. Sean were they on the top floor or bottom?" "Top sir. They are set up in the control room right now with Steve and Jerry while they look over the electrical schematic thing." "You and Tony backtrack a little and let them know the range." "Copy that sir."

All right Scott. Opinion please. Do you want to continue at a walk or take a jog? We can get to the back end and see if we are on the long axis or short quicker or we can do it safer.” Thinking that over Scott finally says “I like the safer option. It's not like we need to be back to the ship in seventy two hours as if we were in the regular suits.” “Safer it is then Scott.” Tony and Sean jog back up and report “We let them know. They are going to test ranges with the groups downstairs too but appreciate the report.”

Getting back to marching we start telling each other jokes and stories to relieve the monotony. Ten foot by ten foot hallway regularly intersected by ten foot by ten foot hallways. All right angles. Straight as a laser. No markings anywhere to be seen. Despite the jokes, tall tales and funny stories being told it's starting to get very boring just walking down the corridor.

Ten miles in and I finally have had enough. “All right, break time. Smoke them if you have them.” Some snickering over the line. It's a pain to remove the helmets in the field and the entire thing is self contained which is the point of battle armor. “I think I want to relieve my boredom with this by checking a few doors.” Tony mumbles “Hell yes.” Scott says “Good idea. I think we're about at the half way point if we are on the long axis. Maybe we can find an elevator that goes up to the top.”

Turning to the west to do that I hear a crash behind me. Someone fell over. As I'm turning back to see who tripped over their own feet I'm very startled when Sean opens up with the SAW down the north hallway. Tony is on the side of him with his battle rifle on full auto firing and reloading like a fiend and Scott is down. His suit lights are out but he's cussing up a storm so I know he's ok. What the hell? I yell out “Cease fire and report.”
Chapter 6:

Tony, cover the south hall. Sean, stay where you are. Scott, talk to me. What happened?” Tony shifts to cover the south hall and I back up to where Scott is still cussing up a streak. Rapping him on the helmet I repeat “Talk to me Scott.” “Damned it. Suit radio is out. Heads up is showing an error message.” He can send but can't receive. Helping him to his feet I mime removing the helmet and help him do so. “All right Scott. Talk to me. What happened?”

Something ploughed into me Eric. Came from the east hallway. Knocked me over and tried to wrestle the rifle from me. Shit. My side arm is missing." "Did you get a look at it?" "Sorry Eric. The lights went out and all I saw was a bit of moving shadow before it vanished again." "Tony, Sean, did either of you see anything?" "Negative captain." Sean reports "I think so sir. It was just on the edge of my light as I was turning to see what the crash sound was. I couldn't make out what it was but it was low to the ground. I'm thinking it was whatever knocked the master sergeant down but it was kind of blended with him on the floor."

Eric, I think I can reboot the communications but the suit lights are out. I can hear tinkling inside it and we do not have the tools or parts to replace the LEDs.” “All right. Do that. Then we'll try some of the features on the new helmets.” “Copy that captain.” A few minutes later Scott has his helmet back on and a coms check shows that he's good to go. Shame about the lights though. The designer assumed you would have a full armory with all the tools handy when that part was designed.

Ok gents. Lights out. Let's try some of the enhanced vision features." "Copy." "Try low light first." Tony reports "Need some light for that. Even minimal and we do not have it. I can't see anything." "Same captain." "Ditto." "Tony and Sean try the ultraviolet function. Scott can try the thermal imaging. I'll try the comp assist battle blend." Tony mumbles "Damn. I wanted to try that one." "Reports?"

Tony reports "I can see. It's a pain but I can make out shapes but not far." Sean reports the same. Scott reports "Ditto that boss. I can see the heat signatures for what that's worth." Meanwhile, the comp assisted blend mode lets me see well enough that I could be walking in a moderately dense forest in the early morning. "Switch to the blend mode. I can see fairly well with this. It's not high noon on a parade ground with no clouds but it's better than the lights."

Sean mumbles “Would you look at that.” “Look at what Sean?” “The walls sir. There's more of those runes on the walls.” “Scott, cycle through and see what spectrum that is.” “I can't see them on any but the blended Eric.” Well now. Isn't that interesting. “Hang on.” Cycling through the varied modes as well I confirm Scott and Sean's findings. “What the hell are we dealing with here?” Scott holds his hands out in front of him and says “I don't want to say aliens but...” Tony snorts a laugh and Sean mumbles “I don't get it.” “Don't worry Sean. Old media program joke. You'd have to watch the documentaries the guy produced to understand." "Copy that captain. If you would be kind enough to point them out I'll take a peek. I love documentaries." "Remind me when we get back to the ship. It's actually kind of funny considering what we know now. A lot of those shows got more right than the people making them realised at the time."

All right then. So you and Tony were firing north. Not that I think we'll find anything that way considering all the blocks loop around and it could be behind or to the sides or even long gone by now but let's continue that way. If nothing else we can run out the hallway and see what's at the end of it before heading back.” “Copy that captain. I'm on point. Sean second and then the master sergeant and captain can sort themselves out.” Fair enough. “I have rear guard Scott.” “Copy that Eric.” “Move out.”

Picking up the pace a little we notice something else strange. Scott says “Anyone else not seeing any bullet holes or even markings on the walls or floors? There should be something by now shouldn't there?” Tony responds “Yes there should. These walls must be made of some pretty sturdy stuff if they aren't even showing a mark from a 7.62x51 175 grain armor piercing round. Even if it's a glancing hit.”

About a thousand yards later we see something spark off the ceiling and then ricochet off Sean's helmet. Tony yells “Incoming fire.” and lets loose with a three round burst. Taking a knee against the wall opposite Scott we watch the south as Tony and Sean copy us to the north. “Well Scott, I think we found your missing side arm. Whatever knocked you over has it.” “Seems that way Eric. I wonder how the suits tested out against our own armor piercing rounds?” Tony pipes up “They can handle our fifty cal armor piercing rounds. This should be no problem.” Scott responds “That is reassuring to know.”

"Considering our own ammo isn't really an issue against us how about we get this show on the road?" Tony responds "Copy that captain. Moving out." Scott quips "Yeah, he's already in the dog house with the ladies for taking this stroll. If we keep him out past curfew he's liable to be sleeping in that armor in the engine room." Tony snorts a laugh and Sean asks "Ladies? As in plural?" This gets Scott cracking up and Tony snickering. "Technically speaking Sean, I don't have any ladies. I do have friends that worry though." For some reason, Tony and Scott start laughing even harder at that.

Continuing down the hallway we are getting sniped at every fifteen minutes. The only time anyone had been hit was the ricochet that pinged off Sean. We don't even bother firing back. We can't see the target at that distance but we eventually start finding the bullets Sean and Tony fired off earlier. Tony stumbles to a halt and asks "Weren't we supposed to be looking for an elevator to the top floor?" "Damn. Forgot all about that in the excitement. We can check on the way back once we know which axis we are headed down. That'll give us an idea of where the center line is." "Copy that captain. Moving out again."

A few hours later Tony calls out "Running out of hallway." "Copy that Tony. Let's take a break before we reach it. Halt someplace in the middle of the block. Standard guard with two facing each direction. Let's do some mileage checks. What do your suits have to say?" A few hundred yards over twenty one miles seems to be the consensus for all of us. "Twenty one it is then. It looks like we are on the long axis. We can check that wall for doors in a few."

Scott asks “So what do you think Eric, engine room or really big landing bay?” “Dunno Scott. We'll see I suppose.” “I'm putting up a ten cred note on it being landing bay.” Tony responds with “I'll see that action with it as an engine room. What do you think Sean?” Sean replies “I'm not a gambler sarg. I'm just happy to be off my feet for a few minutes.” Scott goes on with “You taking any of this action Eric?” “Nope. I'm with Sean. Too much time in the chair and not enough in the gym I think. I'm getting soft.” That seems to be funny because all three of the idiots I'm with are laughing.

A ricochet pings off the wall above our heads from the south cleanly missing everyone. "That's twenty. Whatever has your sidearm is now officially out of ammo for it. I wonder what they'll try next?" Scott snickers "I hope they try jumping me again. I really do want to throw a bit of payback at them for that." "There's that Scott but I'll be happier knowing what it is and putting a stop to it." "Yeah Eric, I hear that. I just want to be the one putting the boots to it so we can get a good look at it.”

All right then. Break time is over. Let's` go check out the great big mystery wall." Getting to the end of the hallway we are faced with a choice. East or west. Putting that to the guys we end up going west. A few hundred yards of monotonous wall on one side and additional corridors to the other all with those runes marking each eventually yields a door. Scott looking excited says "That looks like the doors for the warehouses. Are you ready to pay up yet Tony?" Tony snorts. "We are not inside yet. It could still be engine rooms." Sean adds "It could be the power plant for this place too. Just because there is a generator that does not mean it's connected to an engine." Just to tweak their noses I add "It could be a botanical garden too. The thing is that this is a long wall. It's a possibility that there are other doors leading to other things as well.”

Scott snorts over the coms and says “Only one way to find out. Shall I open it up Eric?” “Go for it. Standard breach protocols. Tony and Sean across and to the sides and Scott and I will wheel in.” Set up for that Scott touches the panel and nothing happens. “What the hell?” “Let me try my side Scott. Who knows how long this thing has been here. It may be something along the lines of what's happening with the lights.” “Copy that captain. Ready on this side.” Touching the panel it lights up and the doors retract from the middle and a light comes on in the other room as Scott and I wheel in.

More desks along the wall force us to move in a bit further than we had hoped to wheel and Scott trips on a chair but catches himself. Across from us about fifteen feet away is another long desk with varied stations and monitors. Some already lit and others starting to flicker to life. The desk behind us and in front of us extends about fifty feet to each side. In front of the desk opposite the hallway wall is what appears to be a glass wall. Tony and Sean join us in the very long room and the doors close behind them. All of us are staring at the three large metallic looking boxes on the other side of the glass. Thirty feet to a side and about five feet apart from each other. Shifting positions a little I realise it's not three boxes but nine. All the same and placed about the same distance from each other.

I do not know what this is.” Tony looks at Scott and says “Neither do I.” Sean asks “Battery bank?” I look at Sean and say “I don't know. It's just nine large square boxes. They obviously have some purpose considering the size of this room and all the separate stations but I have no clue what that purpose is.” Tony quips “Well it's not a storage depot. Looks like I win.” Scott sputters for a minute and says “Well we don't know if it's an engine yet so you haven't won anything.” Freaking children. “The bet is on hold until we figure out what it is. It could still be a botanical garden in DNA form.” That threw a good stir in that debate if I'm a judge of the angry tones directed at me.

I ignore them and look over the varied monitors. Not that I can make heads or tails of what they say but my suit recorder can be uploaded to our computer to add to the database on the language and that may just be what tips the equation in figuring it out. I notice Sean doing the same thing headed in the other direction. Good kid. He'll earn his third stripe soon. Tony and Scott are still arguing in the middle of the room though.

Finishing my circling and recording of the stations on the west side of the room I'm joined by Sean who looks over at Tony and Scott and then back at me. “Good work Sean. I'm glad someone is paying attention to the mission besides me.” Instant silence. Then the sputtered apologies start flooding the airwaves. "Zero the noise. Saddle up. Let's follow the wall down a bit more and see if there is anything else or if this is it."

The next two doors reveal the same setup. Control room and those big metal looking boxes behind glass. The next door reveals something different. A long U shaped control room around what looks like our own engines scaled up a few hundred times. "Well, there's your engines gentleman. I'm going to call the other rooms power generation." Scott is staring at them and looks at me and asks "So that means this is a ship?" The other two turn to me for an answer to that question. "I'm thinking so. Let's see what's behind the next door." Another engine room.

Ok. Two engine rooms on this side and I'm guessing two on the other with three power stations in the middle. That makes sense to me.” The others agree with that. “Let's see if we can find that elevator. Time to head back to our starting corridor.” Tony near the door holds up a fist and we all still. “Something is outside.” Sean slides over so that he's directly opposite the door. Scott moves to support him and I move to the opposite side of the door from Tony. “On three, open the door.” “Copy that captain.” “One, two, three.” The door opens and neither Tony or I see anything at our angles so we wheel around the door frame into the corridor. Nothing. "I could have sworn I heard a scraping sound at the door." "You probably did. Whatever it was is gone now though."

Time to get moving. As comfortable as they made these suits I do want to eventually be out of it." Getting to the middle generator room we turn down that hallway under the assumption that it's the center line of the ship. Scott walking with Tony up front asks "So if this is a ship and we can figure out the language, does that mean we can fly the thing back?" Tony snorts and says "That would open some eyes over at SysCom." Sean gives an evil little giggle at that and says "More like wet some pants over at SysCom." "I'm sure there's a communications array somewhere and Ann does know the frequencies we use. She can give the heads up so we are not shot at." Someone mumbles "Killjoy."

Ten and a half miles later we slow to a stop at an intersection. Scott asks "East or west?" "East. About halfway down the block on the north should be an elevator. From what we've seen the elevators are always on the north side." "Copy that boss. East it is." Making the left we are actually surprised by the difference in this corridor. "Eric. Doors every ten feet." "It must be multiple elevators. I think we are on the right track here. Find the one in the middle. We'll take that one up." "Copy that captain." Tony and Scott start counting doors and I ask Sean "Feel like opening a door on the other side?" "Up to you captain but I'm game if you are."

Picking a door we open it to what looks like a conference room. A big table in the middle with chairs all around. At each chair is what looks like a built in monitor flush with the table. "I'm going to look to see if these have keyboards like the office and control rooms do." Sean continues guarding the door and I discover that it does have a keyboard that pulls out. Pulling one out activates the monitor. More of those runes flashing on the screen so I close the keyboard and the monitor shuts off.

From his watch at the door, Sean says "The master sergeant and sergeant are waving for us sir." "All right Sean. I'm coming." He starts down the hall as I shut the lights off in the room and as the door is closing I'm hit in the back by what feels like a freight train. I can hear weapons fire so I just stay down and out of the way. A few minutes later the firing tapers off.

"Report. What's happening?" Scott comes online and says "Something just hit and ran. I didn't get a good look at it but I think I winged it. If not me then either Tony or Sean did. We poured enough ammo down range to stop a battalion of the Brotherhood in its tracks." Doing a quick check I realise my knife is gone but my sidearm is still holstered. "It got my knife this time instead of your pistol.” “Are you ok captain?” “Yeah. Just feel like I got tackled by a pro. Thank all that is holy for the armor. Give me a minute and I'll get back up. Meanwhile you guys can check the hall for blood splatter or other evidence of a hit.”

Tony and Scott leapfrog down the hall and Sean plays bodyguard while I slowly sort my wits out. Finally, back on my feet, I do a more thorough check of my pockets. It's just the k-bar missing. "Anything down range?” “Affirmative captain. We have some sort of greenish yellow goop on the floor and something strange. We're bringing it back now.” “Copy that.”

A few minutes later they show back up and Scott hands me a piece of jagged black dull looking material about the size of my hand. “What the hell is this? Bone?” “I don't know captain. I thought it was plastic at first but I'm not sure.” Tony shows me a sample of the goop they talked about that he scraped up with his knife. “It's biological sir. I'm pretty sure that bit of whatever it is you are holding is biological too. You can see the impact point of the round and how it cracked off and is cracked." "Good points Tony. Store it. It'll wait until we get back to the ship and Terry can run some tests on it." Tony continues "The trail of goop didn't last long. Either it was a limited supply such as a canteen or if it was a what passes for blood for the creature and we did wound it then it clotted pretty quick. Maybe a total of twenty feet and it petered out."

Ok Tony. Good work by the both of you. We'll just have to be a little more on guard than before. Whatever that thing was, it hits like a pro football player. I'm pretty sure I'm going to bruise across the kidneys." Scott quips "Tell me about it. I'm pretty sure I'm bruising too." Sean says "Gotta be pretty strong. I mean you are about two twenty and adding the suit to that you weigh over five hundred pounds and you are mechanised with auto balancing. It has to have some heft to it too to move you the way it did." "Good thinking Sean. It's that or it got one heck of a running start. Even a light weight will take you off your feet if it's moving fast enough. Mass isn't everything. Take our rail gun rounds for example. One hundred pounds accelerated to one hundred miles per second does incredible damage." "Yes sir. Copy that for sure."

Ok. Let's see if we can go up a level or three now that this drama is done.” “Checking the center elevator now sir. We have light up.” “This one is taking a while. Typical elevator. Push the button and wait forever for it to show up.” Some snickering over the line at that but Tony and Scott are keeping an eye down the hallway and Sean is primed to unload if the elevator has anything in it.

A few minutes later the elevator opens and instead of a simple bar like the other, this one has numerous buttons on it. All of them about four inches square. With our blended vision provided by the suits, we can actually see the varied characters on each one. There are a lot of buttons there and one in the middle of those rows of buttons is lit. Probably the floor we are on. "There's what? Close to fifteen hundred buttons on that panel? At fourteen and a quarter miles from top to bottom that would mean each level is about fifty feet minus the ten for the actual level. Forty feet of rock and metal between each?" Tony confirms "That sounds about right captain." Scott adds "They don't think small do they captain?" Sean muses "I wonder how many people this place held if the floor plans remain the same for each block and level?" Huh. "Good question Sean. We'll crunch those numbers when we get back to the ship."

Consensus opinion? The light that is lit is this floor?" Scott says "Sounds right to me captain." The other two agree. "So this button here should be the top floor and this button the bottom?" More agreement. "Ok then. Memorise the lit button gentlemen. Let's try bottom first. Then we'll head up. After that, we may poke our heads into a few other floors to see what there is to see." Scott pipes up "Sounds like a plan. That must be why they pay you the big bucks." Tony and Sean snort. You do not get rich at any level in the service.

After pressing the button we assume is the bottom floor the doors close and a barely perceptible feeling of motion takes over. Tony quips “No muzak? How disappointing.” Sean snorts a laugh and I roll my eyes. Scott adds on “I wonder what the music is like. I mean we already have a difference in visual acuity. They see across the band from UV to IR at the same time.” I add “The voice in the control room near the bay didn't sound that much different to what we normally hear but that's a good thought. They might be able to hear in ranges we can't. Remind me to have Ming and Ann check on that when we get back to the ship.”

Watching the buttons light and then go dim as we travel further down I realise we are actually moving at a fairly rapid pace. What is taking so long is the fact that we have about seven miles to descend. A few minutes later the elevator noticeably slows to a stop. Setting up with Tony and me to either side and Sean and Scott in the back corners to cover us I push the button again and the doors open.

Swinging out to either side to cover the hallway with Scott and Sean moving up we are greeted by quite a sight. An overgrown garden paradise. The ceiling is over one hundred feet up and as far as the eye can see is vegetation. Trees, shrubs, assorted flowers and plants. It looks extremely earth normal. In a shocked voice, Tony says "This could be the middle of Montana."

"Tony, Scott, go around that side of the block and Sean and I will head around this side. Count doors and keep your eyes open." "Copy that captain." Easing around the corner is more wilderness as far as the eye can see. Trees easily a hundred feet high. Thickly overgrown underbrush. Sean stops with a gasp and points “What kind of bird is that? That's no parrot.” “Bluejay from the look of it Sean. It's not quite right from the pictures I remember of them. They can't seem to breed viable populations on the Mars or Moon bases but I think they have some on the Titan base. It's a much longer tail and wing feathers. If you look over that way you can see a robin about half way up that pine and I can hear a woodpecker out there somewhere. Let's keep moving.” Going down the other side we spot another block with more doors. Two sets of elevators going down here then.

"Check that door halfway down the next block Sean." I set up and he opens it. Another elevator. "Next one down." Another elevator. "Next one." Another elevator. "Ok, so it looks like these two columns are completely set up with elevators. This must be the center line for the up down axis." "Sounds reasonable to me captain. There must be something out in the woods if these are all elevators. Gardener sheds and the like or maybe even vacation cabins." "Possibly Sean. I can hear running water too but I can't see a stream. It must be just out of sight."

Coming around the last corner we see Tony and Scott standing there staring at the wood line. Scott reports “I see birds and something that looked like a pure white squirrel. Nothing dangerous yet.” Tony reports “The doors we tried are all elevators. Half a dozen in all.” “Copy that. The ones Sean and I tried were elevators as well. I suggest we try them all. If they are all elevators then that means that there should be other buildings out there someplace as Sean suggested.”

Let's check the doors and then we can take a ride to the top to see what is there.” “Affirm that captain. C'mon Tony. Let's go open some doors. See you two around the other side.” Going back down the blocks all we find are elevators and soon we've checked them all. Meeting back up in between the blocks I say “Well Sean. That seems like good evidence of outbuildings in the woods. They'd have to have someplace to keep their gardening tools and such.”

Scott asks “Are we going to go walkabout? Check out the scenery?” “I don't think we'll do that today Scott. I'd like to see what is at the top of that elevator. It's definitely on the schedule for further exploration. I may even have you lead the team considering you need the time in and experience for your next review so I can put you up for a gold bar.” “Oh god. Not the officer promotion thing again. I wouldn't mind going from Master Sergeant to Master Gunnery Sergeant but I am not cut out to be an officer. I'm happy as an NCO.” “You still need the time in for that as well.” “Yeah, well, there is that. You call it and I'll do it. Just don't make me an officer. I like working for a living.” Jerk. And the other jerk sergeant is laughing his ass off. Just before I can call him on crack that we get distracted.

Still looking at the woods Sean asks “Captain. What are we looking at here? I know we have plants on board our ships to help the scrubbers provide clean oxygen but that's a modified hardy hemp and this is just incredible.” “I don't know Sean. I think this is the same concept but just on a larger scale. It looks like an entire biosystem, animals and everything. It could be just like what we do on our planetary bases and the bigger stations. Maybe like what they are trying to do on Mars. The plants, animals and insects that have been transported over. The ice comets that get broken up to rain down and add to the water levels.” Sean glances back at me then goes back to staring at the woods. “Yeah. That makes sense. A big place like this would need a lot of plant life to refresh the oxygen from all the people living on it.” “I'm glad you agree corporal.” “Sorry sir. Didn't mean it like that.” Snorting a laugh and clapping him on the shoulder I respond “No worries Sean. Let's take another elevator ride.” “Yes sir. I'll get the button.” “Good man.”

Deciding on the center elevator on the south wall of the north pylon Sean pushes the button and we wait for the elevator to descend. A few minutes later the doors open and we pile on in and set up for the ride up. Pressing the button we assume is the top level the doors close and we spend the next few minutes traveling fourteen miles up. The elevator slows to a stop and I nod my ok and Sean pushes the button again to open the door.

It's definitely a control room of some sort. Five sections with multiple rows of desks and work stations set up almost like a flower around a central hub. We all freeze with weapons leveled at what we see in the middle of that setup. It's what looks like a throne facing us and seated in it is a giant who would top us by several feet and a hundred pounds wearing extremely fancy if archaic armor that despite its appearance of being old fashioned looks organic. His gauntlets are mismatched. One gold that matches his armor and one silver. Giant bushy blonde beard hanging down to his waist and long blonde hair pulled into a braid and hanging over his shoulder with an ornate spear and golden helmet resting against the throne.
I couldn't really tell a 100% from your notes alone but... Are you wanting to go serious science fiction with this? Or far out?

For example, is there room for aliens in your book or are staying away from that sort of thing?

I will look closer at your notes either way. The answers to my question may already be there.

From one writer to another I wish you the best of luck. Even though there is no such thing as luck in writing.
(05-04-2017, 05:26 PM)Folks. Wrote: [ -> ]I couldn't really tell a 100% from your notes alone but... Are you wanting to go serious science fiction with this? Or far out?

For example, is there room for aliens in your book or are staying away from that sort of thing?

I will look closer at your notes either way. The answers to my question may already be there.

From one writer to another I wish you the best of luck. Even though there is no such thing as luck in writing.

I'm just trying to find words for the movie in my head.

It started with the Zombie Apocalypse Preppers Club thread. I info dumped my usual prepper links and info that have been collected over the past decade and thought to myself "Why hasn't a zombie apocalypse novel or movie been made from this angle?" Giving that question a good thinking over the whole book(s) just sort of sprung up in my head.

I ended up cranking out the first book in just over 3 weeks. I started the second book but ran into some, call it technical issues, when I tried writing from multiple points of view at the same time. I'm revisiting that and have actually figured out the problem but I had already started this book. I'll probably get back to that project when this one is done.

A creative writing project gone crazy.  Chuckle  

This is another one of those movies in my head. I gave it a good thinking over and asked: "What would I like to see in a sci fi novel?" The movie started creating itself and now I just have to find the words to describe it all.

I'm trying for somewhat 'hard' sci fi using actual tech that is conceivable. Everyone knows what a laser is. A phaser is one that phases through a spectrum of energy instead of just one like a laser does. Rail guns are rail guns. Gravity manipulation is findable on the web and youtube videos exist of basic applications of it. Most of what I'm using is driven by my own research and reading. I haven't seen a thing in any technical papers for an "Omega Drive" that taps into mythical particles and allows instant transport across the universe so I'm not going to use such a gimmick.

I'm not shying away from aliens. There is enough in the way of legend, stories, evidence and etc to suggest that aliens exist. 

This is the first draft version. Just trying to get things down. Very basic editing is being done at the end of each chapter. Whether or not it actually works as a book is up to fate but I'm having fun with the process.
Chapter 7:

I can hear whispered prayers from someone on the coms. After a minute with no one moving, I realize that the imposing figure in front of us is no longer alive. Looking closely I can see signs of mummification. "Whoever or whatever that is he's not alive anymore. Teams of two. Spread out and search the place." Peeling left with Sean behind me I start working my way around the work stations looking for anyone hiding.

Tony calls out “We have bodies on the floor. Two. Same condition as the guy on the throne.” I report “One here. Possibly a second. Definitely a second. Same condition.” Scott comes on the line “One more. Zero life.” “Clear.” “Clear.” Meeting up in the middle after our sweep I look back at the body on the throne and walk over to it. He is even more impressive up close. The others join me.

What do you guys think. Nine feet tall if he was standing?” Tony mumbles “The three we found were between seven and eight feet tall. This guy looks bigger. Bulkier too.” Sean adds “The two we found were about the same as yours. Not as big as this one and I think one was female but we were moving quick and not really paying much attention to anything but signs of life.” Scott adds “Yeah. We had one that looked female too. Well female if you consider the others had impressive beards and that one didn't. Kind of hard to tell with the condition they are in.” Giving him a nod I say “I remember that one. We'll call it a she. She was not as broad across the shoulders or as bulky as the guy next to her but just about as tall.”

What do you think of him captain? Some sort of boss?” “I would guess so. His armor and helmet seem more ornate. That spear is a work of art too. I wonder what's up with the different colored gauntlets though. You'd think anyone sporting this level of fancy gear would want to match. Heck, even his boots look like they belong to the outfit he's wearing.” Tony adds “They are all armed too captain. The ones on the floor had swords and knives and what looks like a really fancy sidearm in a holster.” “Yeah Tony. I saw that.”

Scott had gotten a little closer then steps back and says "He has a double row of teeth. Why does that sound familiar? I know I heard of that before.” Getting a closer look I see he's right. “I have no clue Scott but there's something else about these people that I noticed.” “What's that Eric.” “Look at their heads and tell me if you think something is off.” Tony looks close and says “Well I'd expect them to be bigger because they are bigger people but not by that much. The top and back of his head are large enough to double the brain capacity.”

Sean mumbles something. “What did you say Sean?" "Coneheads sir. An old comedy program on a late night TV show from a long time ago. One of my squad mates in the canal zone thought it was funny. The original cast of that show did a skit where they came from outer space and their heads were cone shaped. They were trying to fit in with humans on earth despite that and their talking almost mechanically but no one really noticed it." Huh. "Interesting. Not quite what I was thinking though. Something about a few documentaries from explorers to South America and a graveyard down there. I'm almost tempted to say Egypt was involved too but these guys do not look like they come from those regions. It's not coming to me now."

Looking around the room I head over to the bodies that Scott and Tony found. Two men with bushy beards and a woman. Obviously a woman despite her current condition. Smaller across the shoulders than the other two with more pronounced hips and a narrower waist. Then there is the way the breastplate of her armor is anatomically contoured that gives away her feminine nature. All three of them with dark reddish auburn hair. Wandering over to the ones Sean and I found the woman there is slimmer than the other woman but obviously female now that there is a chance to look. Smaller in the hips, waist and bust if the breastplate is an indicator but still obviously female. She has long silvery hair on her but the man on this side has that dark auburn colored hair. All five of them have that double row of teeth and the huge head. Larger eyes than you would guess for a head that big but not abnormally so.

Moving back over to the throne and giving it another looking over I spot what looks like a rectangle etched in one of the arms. Probably for one of their keyboards. Some slider panels and buttons on the tops of the arms as well. “This looks like a command chair. He can probably check on everyone else's stations or even take control from here.” I notice some of their engraved squares and a slider rectangle on the spear as well. That's interesting. I wonder what the spear does besides just being a spear.

Picking the helmet up from the floor I look inside and am not very startled to see that it looks almost like the interior of our battle armor helmets but higher tech. “Hey guys. I think he may be wearing powered armor of some sort. The inside of this thing has all the same features and gizmos as the insides of our helmets.” Tony nearby looks over my shoulder and says “I'm not surprised. They look like they know how to fight and they do have some advanced technology. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that it's more advanced than we guess at right now.”

Heading back over to the bodies on the floor I pull a knife from one of the belts and look it over. “Solid workmanship. I don't think it's steel though. Maybe a blend of metals but I think it's forged in a Japanese style. Look at the lines indicating multiple folds." Tucking that back into its sheath I draw one of the side arms. "Half again as large as ours. I think this may actually be a rail gun." Tony is at my side in an instant. “Damn. We've been trying to scale those up for our ships and they went the other way with it.” Sean curious as well comes over and asks “I wonder what that thing is like on a range. I don't suppose we'd get to try it?” Putting it back where I found it I say “No range here at this time. Maybe if we are stuck here for a bit we'll set one up going down a hall so that we can check these things out and stay in practice.”

Looking around at the varied consoles I see some of them are lit. “Scott. Do these stations look like a coms array to you?” “Yeah Eric. It does. I can't make out what is what on it but it's set up almost like Ann's station but bigger and more detailed.” Heading over that way I look it over very carefully and decide not to touch anything. To get my two silver bars I have to be familiar with all aspects of ship duty as well as have leadership time with ground troops but familiar is not an expert. This is beyond even what our capital ships have in the way of a coms panel.

Taking another look around the room I come to a decision. "Let's go back to the ship. We'll get the suits off, take a breather and then bring some of the others back here to do a little investigating. I particularly want Terry to check over the bodies.” Scott and Sean both say “Copy that captain.” Tony asks “Are we bringing back souvenirs?” Thinking that one over I say “No. Leave them for now. I want others to see things exactly as we have even though we have the vid from our suit recorders. Let's take one more sweep around the room to make sure every station is recorded to add to the language database and meet back at the elevator so that we can go.”

Getting to a station that I assume is internal security based on the map on the monitor with different colored dots on it I hear an ear piece laying on that desk saying “Seachranach Rabhadh” repeatedly. The majority of the dots are a light green color but one is a very brilliant red, flashing and highlighted. “Hey guys. Come check this out.” Looking over my shoulder Tony asks “Our mystery attacker?” “Yeah, that's my guess but look at the rest of the dots on that screen. Most of them are at the top. That square is probably the bay and clustered there is our people in what must be the ship. They seem to be mostly in the ship or the bay. I'm only seeing one group of four in the hallways and another group of two further out.” Scott notes “The system doesn't seem to think we are intruders if I'm reading that right.”

Grimly Tony says “We are eventually going to have to do something about that thing. Whatever it is.” Heaving a deep sigh I respond “I know Tony. It's already attacked us and this place seems to think it's an intruder. If it hits us on the way back to the ship we'll keep at it until it's finished. If it doesn't then we can let it be until we've gotten some rest.” “Fair enough captain.” Scott mumbles “I still want to put boots to that thing.” I can almost hear Tony's eyes rolling. “Yeah, we know Scott. You'll probably get that chance. It's pretty far off to the western side of this place if I'm reading this correctly.” Sean pipes up “Two of those light green dots near it too.” “Yeah. I see that. Change of plans guys. We're going to check that out. I don't like the looks of that.”

As I finish saying that one of the pair of lights goes out and turns into a blinking orange dot. "Well, that can't be good." I don't know which one mumbled that but I'm in complete agreement. "Saddle up. We'll run when the elevator hits the floor that this is on. I want to be on it quick. Weapons free. If you have a shot, take a shot." "Copy that captain." "It looks like three miles west and one south. We'll quick step up close and then leapfrog in and try to surprise it."

Getting to the elevator I have another thought. “Keep your suit coms open. See if you can make contact with that other team coming north. We have an idea where it is while it looks like they were running a search grid.” Sean says “Copy that captain. I'll keep an ear on our frequencies for them.”

Out of the elevator and jogging down the hallway Sean says “I have team two on coms captain. The lieutenant commander is leading and wants to talk to you on channel twelve.” “Thanks Sean. Everyone to twelve. Switching over now. What's happening Jerry?” “Eric? We have two missing. Ann received a barely audible but panicked sounding message over coms about them being herded by something fast moving.” “Yeah. Our mystery assailant. It's hit us twice now. Are you suited up in the battle armor?” “Affirm that. The fire team is armored and the remaining two are in the bay keeping watch. I've pulled everyone back to the ship until this is dealt with.”

Ok, good call. Here is what we'll do, split to two man groups and go to battle meld vision on your helmets. Lights out, you'll actually see better. Then pick a pair of hallways and leapfrog up them. We'll do the same from the north.” “Copy that captain. Splitting now. Coming north on main and west of main corridors.” “That works. We'll be coming south down those corridors. I think it may actually be a couple of corridors over but we'll figure that out when we get there.”

About a mile later we make contact with the other team. “Ok Jerry. Two corridors down and head west. Next team down one corridor and head west. Tony and Scott down this corridor heading west. Sean and I will take the one to the north and head west. See anything and call out.” A variety of affirmative noises later and we are headed west, leapfrogging and keeping alert for whatever this thing is.”

Leapfrogging forward and on alert, we pass two cross corridors when Sean sticks a fist up in the air calling for a halt. "Light coming from the north." "Copy that. All teams pivot north. Sean and I will check the light." Clicks come over the coms in acknowledgement. Sean and I leapfrog north to the next cross corridor. "Captain. Flashlight on the floor." "Copy. Let's move in. Everyone else move up to the cross corridors and hold unless you see something." More clicks and Sean and I move up.

Blood on the floor Sean.” “Blood on the walls captain. A lot of blood.” We can see the next team moving into position at the next cross corridor. “I'm seeing tracks going back the way we came.” “Affirm that captain.” “The track turns to the north. Leap up one more cross corridor.” Heading up the blood trail remains somewhat steady if thin.

One of the other teams calls “Light ahead. One cross corridor coming from the east.” “Copy.” Getting to that cross corridor we see one of the crew huddled in the middle of the block flashing her light down one hall and then around and down the other hall tracking that light with her side arm. Getting on the external mic I call out "It's friendlies. We have both sides covered. You're safe now. Stand down." With a huge shudder, she collapses. Shit.

"Cover the cross aisles and hold your position." An assortment of affirmatives comes over the air and I move down to the middle of the hall to see who this is and what's going on. Sean pulls in so that he's ten feet down the hallway and covering the intersection. Smart man. Only one direction that the thing can come at him from now. I'm definitely going to recommend he makes sergeant. For what that is worth at this point in my career, all things considered. I can see the next team over back to back in the middle of the cross corridor and just barely the next team doing the same. I'm assuming Tony and Scott have backed into a hall so that they only have one direction to cover as well instead of three.

Getting to the sobbing lump on the floor I take a knee and rest a hand on her back. I recognize her now. She's one of the squabs that was at the table during the breakfast disaster. I tossed her and her friend in as assistants to Bakery Girl to teach the other squab how to cook. As gently but firmly as I can I ask “What's your name?” “Diane.” “Can you give me a report?” Another half a minute and she pulls herself together. “It came out of the dark captain. I don't know what it is but it stabbed Dean in the leg and vanished again. I tried keeping him covered but it stabbed me too. Then I lost Dean. I think it dragged him off.” “How bad are you hurt?” “It's not that bad captain. I have a pressure patch on it so I'm not bleeding much anymore. I can sort of walk if I lean against a wall.” Damn.

What are you doing out here?” “This far out? Getting chased by a shadow sir. We volunteered to help with the mapping. Dean thought it would be more exciting than being ordered around in the galley. He was hoping we'd find something extraordinary to make up for the disaster in the galley." "Was it just the two of you? What happened next?" "It was just the two of us sir. We were mapping for a few hours and that thing came up behind us and slashed Dean. We never did get a look at it. Every time we tried heading back it did something to herd us out further and then it slashed me. I tried calling it in but I don't think they heard me. We were pretty far out. After that, it came up behind us and grabbed Dean before I could get a shot off."

All right. You did your best considering you are not wearing combat armor. Time for you to go see the doc and get some actual medical care." Grabbing her knife from the sheath I say "I'm borrowing this. That thing needs a good sticking and it's only fitting it's with the knife of someone it hurt." Turning to the pair of marines near me I say "I need two to take her back to the ship for medical attention. Scoop and run. The rest of us will keep tracking this thing to find our other crewman. Once you have her back there rejoin us." The two marines in the next corridor come over and one scoops up Diane and starts back at a quick trot with the other leading the way with his rifle. She'll shape up fine as a marine. Her light is pointing back the way she came and her sidearm is ready to use covering the rear.

That leaves six of us to try and find this creature and our missing crewman. Myself, Jerry, Scott, Tony, Sean and a new corporal named Paul are left. “Paul? Combat experience in the canal zone?” “One year sir. Twentieth Marine Division. The Bad Bears.” “Good group. Old Iron Nose still in charge?” “Yes sir but he'd probably bite you if he heard you call him that. Major General Noseron does not have a sense of humor.” “I do not know a Major General that does have one Paul. It gets hammered out by the Corp by the time they make rank. I'm not even as funny as I used to be when I was your rank.” Dead silence. Tough room. "Ok, let's get back to business. Paul, you stick close to Jerry. Scott and Tony seem to work well together and that leaves me with Sean. Let's get back to tracking this thing.”

Leapfrogging down the corridors I comment “It's either a very cunning animal or it has intelligence. Tool using considering it stole a sidearm and knife and figured out how to use the gun but a variety of monkeys use tools too. I'm leaning towards intelligent. Keep on your toes. I don't want anyone else hurt. If you see it do not hesitate to put a round in it." With that, we go back to seriously focusing on the other blood trail and start following it again.

A mile later Scott reports “Blood trail is getting extremely thin. Either the kid has bled out or he's clotting. I'm not liking this boss.” “Yeah. Me neither Scott. Keep going.” Jerry comes over the line "Sidearm on the floor. Empty of rounds. That means it probably has Dean's. Two knives too." "Copy that. Keep going. I want this thing run down."

Hearing a flat crack and someone cursing I say "Report." Tony comes back with "Its aim is improving. It actually hit Scott this time. He's fine. The armor stopped it but a shot will take you off your feet  if it catches you right.” Scott comes online and reports “It feels like a solid hit from a bokken on your breastplate in the dojo. It's painful but not life threatening. The armor isn't even chipped.” “Good to know. Keep moving. Don't forget, we are weapons free. If you have anything at all resembling a shot then take it.”

Moving up a couple more cross corridors I hear firing to the south. Jerry yells into the coms “Action south.” “Scott head down the east corridor and I'll take the west. We'll try a pincer.” “Copy.” Scooting down the hall and getting ready to turn in Jerry reports “It's retreating south and already past the cross. Following.” “Copy Jerry. Keep the pressure on it. Scott keep moving down, block the next cross hall and we'll do the same on the other side.” “Copy.”

Chasing it down and keeping it from escaping to the sides Jerry and Paul keep taking shots while Sean and me on one side and Tony and Scott on the other keep up and take the occasional shot of opportunity. So far so good. We have it somewhat contained and if we can keep it up we'll eventually have the thing and Scott can put the boots to it all he wants.

Three cross corridors down I finally get a shot and take it. “Hit. It shrugged it off. What the hell are we dealing with?” Scott who took a shot just after I did mumbles “I don't want to say it's aliens but.” A snort of laughter but we keep on it with Jerry and Paul taking most of the shots. It keeps taking shots too. Jerry and Paul aren't moving quite as fast as they were. Its aim has definitely improved. “Tony, switch out with Paul at the next cross. The cross after that and I'll switch with Jerry.” “Copy that.” “Affirmative. We could use a break from getting shot.”

With Paul switched out with Tony and running with Scott now and it's time for me to jump in so I race ahead to the next cross and actually get a shot. A nice three round burst on target and the thing squeals in a high pitched tone and fires back missing. Getting to the intersection with Tony I see Jerry do a double take. In an extremely startled voice, he asks "What in the ever living hell is that?" On the floor is what looks like a large insect leg. "Move out Jerry. Fall in with Sean and we'll keep on it. If we keep this up we can back it against one of the outside walls and finish it." Jerry jerks and runs to join Sean while Tony and I keep taking shots at the thing.

A couple of more intersections later and I'm really getting tired of being shot. The thing's aim has improved considerably with this weapon. Tony getting knocked back by a shot to the helmet and me face planting thanks to a shot to the knee along with a few chest shots that slow us down are annoying and hurt but not really dangerous to us considering our armor. I lost track of how many times that thing has shot at us but I'm pretty sure it's figured out how to reload our side arms and all of us carry an extra pair of magazines.

Two more cross corridors down and it's taken a few more shots at us and we have hit it a few more times. “Hard armor on that thing.” Tony replies “We're doing damage. It's lost a leg and it's leaking that yellow green goop along with a clear syrup. Probably blood and guts.” “Yeah. The big question is how much does it take to put one of these things down?” Tony takes another shot and says “A lot more than I am comfortable with.” Taking a shot and getting a glancing hit I say “Same. This is taking too much time, effort and ammo.”

I'm about to call for another change up when the west team gets a good series of three round shots at it and it makes that high pitched squeal again. Turning towards them it starts rapid firing the pistol until it clicks empty and then throws it at Tony and I. Meanwhile the east team moves in and starts really unloading on it just like Tony and I are doing. Three round bursts with us emptying magazines as we fire with most of our shots hitting. Huge chunks of armor are being blasted off of it and it starts turning to try to run and falls. Still pumping rounds into it as we advance I finally call “Cease fire.” The firing tapers off and we are at the thing when the team we sent back with the wounded crewman shows back up from the south. We'd have had the thing boxed in even without running it all the way to the wall.

Son of a monkey's uncle. That's the thing I dreamed of a few days ago. A five foot tall cockroach with red eyes and flat black coloring." Everyone is looking at me now. "That first night we were here and I needed some rack time. I had some weird dreams and that was one of them. It was this thing standing there on its hind legs just staring at me. I thought that was just a dream." Sean clears his throat and says "It was obviously not a dream. Do you think it was on the ship for long?" "No clue Sean. Shit. I'm glad we have the shields back up now."

One of the new corporals asks "Do you think it's alone?" Scott responds "Probably. Up in the control room for this place, we only saw the one red blip." The other asks "How did it get here or was it always here?" Jerry responds "No clue. I doubt we'll ever know but I have a feeling we picked up a hitchhiker on our way here from Jupiter. We were doing some significant damage to their fleet and there were plenty of explosive decompression events on the big ship that could have shot one of these things out even after the mother ship started the slingshot move around Saturn. We were without shields for a while too. It could have hit us at that point and found a way in through some of the damage.” Paul mumbles “That means it can probably survive in a vacuum without suits for a while. We really do need to find out how long they can do that.”

Shaking myself out of the horror of the situation and realizing we still have some horror to go I say “We are still missing a crewman." Pointing at Jerry and Scott I say "You two stay here and guard this thing. If it moves shoot it. The rest of us will start back tracking to see if we can find Dean. Each of us takes a hallway. Externals on and shout his name." Sean asks "You think he's alive?" "Until I see a body I'm cautiously hopeful." "Copy that captain."

After four hours of searching, we haven't found Dean but we have found both of the knives that were stolen and the other leg that was shot off of the bug. “All right. Back to the bug. We'll get some of the others out here looking. We'll set up a grid and keep at it until we find out what happened to our crewmate. Fresh corridors on the way back.” An assortment of affirmatives comes through. Turning back towards our starting point but taking corridors we hadn't searched yet we get down a few intersections and I hear a muffled “Fuck.” over the externals. “Give me a report.” A horrified voice comes on over the coms and says “I think I found him captain. Four corridors over from where you are to the east.” “Copy. On my way.”

Getting there and seeing what I see I almost hurl in my suit. I see a couple of the guys with their helmets off and losing it up the hall already. Well damnation. “I need one of you guys to run back to the ship and get a couple of body bags. One for what's left of Dean and one for the bug that did this to him.” One of the guys that was hurling mumbles something, puts his helmet back on and takes off at a dead run maxing out the capacity of the suit.

One of the others whispers “What the hell. That thing didn't have him for more than a couple of hours, tops. Probably a whole lot less than that. How the hell can he end up like that?" Sighing deeply I say "The thing is strong. It's fast too. It knocked both Scott and I down while wearing our suits. And it seems that apparently, we are on the menu." The corporal gags again and turns to start heaving again. Yeah. I can't blame him. Tony is saying some sort of prayer over Dean and I'm keeping watch just in case that thing isn't alone. Sean is on the other side of the hall doing the same.

A short time later we load what is left of Dean into a body bag and return to where Scott and Jerry are. Seeing the very serious expressions on our faces they give each other a look and Jerry says “Later. Galley. Bottle of scotch. All of you are invited.” “Affirmative to that Jerry. Let's get the bug loaded and back to the ship. I want Terry to do an autopsy or whatever it is called when you gut a bug to see what's it's made of. We'll freeze Dean in one of the unused freezers and give him a proper send off when we get out of this place.” “Copy that boss. Give me the bag. We'll get it done.” Packing the bug and all its parts in they can barely close the body bag and we start the trek back to the ship. Bearers of very bad news.
Chapter 8:

Sitting in the mess hall staring at the sandwich and chips on my plate and sipping coffee I'm joined by Tina. "You should be getting rack time captain. Tony, Sean, and Scott are already down. Too much scotch I think but they are out.” “Can't sleep.” “Well at least eat something. Terry and I are going to be starting the dissection on that bug soon. She said about six to eight hours before we are done. You really should try and get some sleep so when she throws the technical terms at you, we won't have to dumb it down that much."

Funny. I'll finish the sandwich and then head for some sleep.” “Good. Ann says she's almost finished downloading the suit telemetry and some of the pictures of the giants are already making the rounds. Are we going to be heading up to see that soon?” “Six hours of rack time and I'll get the crew suited back up and we'll lead necessary personnel up there when you are done the dissection.” “That works Eric. Just make sure you get some sleep. If you don't Terry will dope you and we'll head up without you.”

Finishing up my sandwich and coffee I drop it off my tray at the front of the room and head over to Ann's work area. Ann, Cheryl, and Ming are very busy entering data into the language database and comparing it to what we already have. Ming mumbles “The lettering and numbering system on the walls is very helpful Eric. Now go away and get some sleep.” “Yes mom.” Cheryl makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a snorted laugh but she has a laser focus on her terminal and an intense look on her face.

Ann takes a quick look at her watch and says “I'm off duty in two minutes according to the schedule that Terry made. I hope you don't mind company.” I give a shrug at that. Ann continues “Just sleeping. You've been up for twenty four and need the down time and I need someone else in the room with me or I can't sleep.” “Gotcha. Just sleep.” “I hope you took a shower. I can't stand that suit smell. No matter how you clean it those things just stink.” Funny little noises from Ming and Cheryl. Almost like a choked off laugh. While I'm giving them a puzzled look Ann finishes closing down her terminal and gets up cracking her back.

Giving me a sly look she asks “Your place or mine?” A shrug from me and I respond “Don't care. Tired. All the bunks are the same. You choose.” Smiling at me she takes me by the hand and drags me to her room where she pushes me onto a bed. Helping me with my boots she looks up and says “Wow. You really are tired aren't you? You're falling asleep sitting there.” A nod from me. Giving me another odd look she pushes me over and then helps me get comfortable so I can spoon her.

Drifting off to sleep hear Ann say “Tony really has it bad for Ming doesn't he? I've seen him making worshipful puppy eyes at her. Ming's got it bad for him too. Do you think I should play matchmaker?" A vaguely positive grunt is all I can manage. "Good. I thought so too. They'll make a cute couple." Not sure I'm actually hearing what I heard next but it sounded like she mumbled a snide comment along the lines of one less cow in the field to compete with.

Waking up in mid air and not sure how I got there I'm startled by the fact that gravity actually grabs a hold of me and starts me on my way back down. Landing back on the bunk with Ann on top of me knocks what little wind I had left out of me and makes the ringing in my ears just that much more noticeable. It's also much too warm in the room. It's normally kept at sixty five degrees on the ship but it feels much warmer than that. Then there is the light. It is not our normal LED lights but a flickering reddish glow.

I can see Ann's lips moving but I can't hear anything over the ringing. Sitting up and moving her off me I realise that the other back corner of the room is on fire and part of the walls and floor are missing. A check of my watch shows three hours and a bit so I look for and find my boots. One on the floor, the other on the bed. Wondering how that boot got on the bed I pull them on. No idea where Ann's boots are but she can't walk across the floor barefoot. It's much too hot for that.

Time to go. Standing up I motion for Ann to get on my back and she does. Wrapping her legs around my waist and arms around my neck I start heading for the door. Grabbing duffel bags and throwing them ahead of me as I do. Ann's was at the foot of the bunk and already on fire along with what was left of the other bunk so that one is out but I get the two that are remaining in the room tossed out through the door. At least someone will have clothes to share. Out in the hall, the floor gives a sharp lurch that almost tosses Ann and I back into the room leaving the floor at an angle. Only a quick grab of the door frame keeps us from tumbling back into the room. Pulling us back into the hall I close the door to keep from getting thrown back if anything else happens.

One of the landing gear must have given way. What the hell is going on? Belatedly the red alert lights come on but I still can't hear the klaxon sounding. Are we under attack? What happened to the shields? Kicking the two duffels up a little further in the hall I get Ann down and see her lips move. Shrugging at her I think I say "I can't hear anything over the ringing." She gets a puzzled look so I point at my ears, at the red alarm light and shake my head. She seems to get that little pantomime because she nods and points at her ears and shrugs.

Waving for her to follow I start forward to the stairs up and hopefully to run into someone who has an idea of what's going on. The doors on the opposite side of the hall are cool but the next two doors on the same side as Ann's room are hot to the touch. Whatever it is, it did some damage. The third door down is cool though so it's not a total disaster. At the stairs we are met by Terry, Jerry, Paul and Tina all carrying fire extinguishers and medical kits. Tony, Sean and Scott finally come out of their room to help. More lips moving and more charades and they pass us to start checking rooms while Ann starts up the stairs.

I head down. The thorium reactors are down there. I'm starting to get a hunch that one of them blew. Meeting Steve down there with a fire extinguisher I grab one and start helping put fires out. Emptying those and grabbing more we continue as more crew come down with more extinguishers to help. An hour later we finally have the last of the fires out and only a single extinguisher left unused on the whole ship.

On the plus side, the ringing went away. I can hear again. Steve and I start checking to see what happened. Reactor three exploded. It took out a big chunk of its reactor room and surged reactors two and one into shut off. It seems we are running on battery for now. More structural damage and a big section of the hull is simply gone. Blown across the landing bay. All three levels of the ship are now open to space on this side of the ship and one of the landing gears is crumpled.

Eric, I think reactor two is toast. It looks like it shorted hard on that system overload and some of the components are fried. I may be able to hot wire reactor one and get it back online but it'll be a temporary fix and it could go at any moment." "Do what you can with it. Any idea on why three went off?" "None. It takes an overload of at least one hundred ten percent to put us in the danger zone and they are safetied at seventy. It shouldn't have been anywhere near red lining much less exploding like it did. Across the three we were only pulling about forty percent. There is not much of it left to sift through either.”

Well do what you can with reactor one. The batteries won't last forever. I'm going up to see if any of the computers survived the power surge and if they picked up anything. Hopefully, someone was running some scans. These things don't just explode for no reason." "Copy that boss. I'll be here if you need me."

Before I even get to ask any questions Ming reports "Terry had me running scans on that bug. I think I have the reactor explosion on a scan and maybe what caused it. We need to rewire the computer network to dig it out though. The core is fine but the externals are offline." "Get who you need for that. Anything else?" Shaking her head she says "Most of the ship is offline. Everything was hit by that surge including medical. They have priority and that's fine but we are on battery backup so we need to get a reactor going if we can." "Steve is working on that now. Reactor one is the only one left and he's calling it a long shot that it'll be up for long.”

Tina comes over and says “Two dead. They were sleeping in the room directly above the reactor.” “The room next to the one I was in?” “Yeah.” “Wounded?” “A couple of people with broken bones, wrist and ribs. A lot of bruising, a few minor burns, nothing we can't and haven't handled. We do have two crew missing though. Private Alan Smith and Private Doreen Bordeaux.” “Do another head check and see if you can figure out where they are. If memory serves Smith was general maintenance and Bordeaux was gunnery?” “That's right.” “Canvas the rest of the crew to see if anyone saw them.” “I can do that. By the way, Terry wants to talk to you about the bug when you get a minute.” “Can do. It'll be a while though.”

Digging through a pile of data pads I find the one I want and look over the ship schematics. Heading back to the reactor rooms I start tracing components and quickly come to the realization that even with a generator working we are not going to have shields or even anything resembling an air tight seal on the ship. Steve and Jerry come over and look at me for a minute. Steve finally asks "Are we going to have to abandon ship?" I give him a nod. "If that bay opens up we'll all end up decompressing unless we are suited up constantly. Even then the supply on those suits is only rated at three days. Seven for the battle armor. With the new hole and the structural warping, there's no way we can get this thing secured."

They give each other a look and Jerry says “That's about what we figured.” Looking at the data pad I ask “Did Tina talk to you guys about the two missing crew members?” Jerry nods and says “Yup. We have not seen them. Last time I saw one of them was before you went walkabout. I talked with Doreen about helping the repair crews.” Steve says “I had Smith working on power conduits before that but have not seen him since. He was suited up and in the aft section so he should have been far enough from this to survive if he was still at it when things blew but that was yesterday and I haven't seen him since assigning that duty.” “So at least thirty hours since they've been seen by you two?” “That's what Tina is coming up with. Even the galley crew haven't seen them.”

Thinking things over for a minute I finally say “I think we need to hold a meeting. Everyone that is not on life support which means everyone we have left on the ship. Wheel Dan in a chair if you need to. Start rounding up people and get them to the galley. We'll discuss what's happening and options there in half an hour.” “Copy that boss. C'mon Steve. Let's start herding cats for the captain.” Steve snorts but follows along.

Heading back upstairs I grab a few more data pads and head for the galley. Miracle of miracles the coffee machine survived. Pouring myself a cup I take a seat near the front of the room and go over material while everyone assembles.

As soon as everyone is there I stand and call everyone's attention to the matters at hand. "All right. First off. Has anyone seen Smith and Bordeaux in the past twenty four hours?" No one responds to that. "They can't have gone far. As far as I know they both had shipboard duties. Neither were on the mapping teams. Someone had to have seen them." Still no answer even though everyone is looking around at each other trying to come up with something.

When we are done here we are going to do a bow to stern search of the ship. No cubby or corner left unexamined. I don't care how ridiculous it may seem but I want every crevasse and nook of this ship searched.” Everyone nods along with that. “Next on the agenda is what happened with the reactors. Steve, you're up.”

Standing up Steve startles us by saying “I think it was deliberate sabotage. I can not be certain considering the state of the reactor rooms but it looks like that generator was programmed past the safety limits to go critical and explode.” Ming from her seat says “That's what my data concludes as well. I was doing a complete scan through all our methods for Terry on her bug when it happened. The data shows a severe spike in power generation shortly before it shows the explosion.” Steve nods and says “Ming and I put our heads together for a few minutes and that explains everything we've seen with this situation including the power surge that fried reactor two and severely damaged reactor one. I have that one back online but I have no idea how long it will last. It's jury rigged three ways to Sunday.”

"Anything else?" "Yeah. No weapons systems. No shields. Minimal computer and life support. If it's electrical then you can pretty much write it off at this point. I'm only getting about twenty percent power out of that generator and I've disconnected anything and everything to keep from drawing higher than thirty. Push past that and that one is likely to explode as well." Well, that's not good.

Jerry stands as Steve sits and says “Structurally, we are scrap metal waiting to be recycled. There is no way we can get anything in here space worthy anymore so if those bay doors open you had better hope you have a suit on.” About what we figured out down in the reactor room. “We figured that. Anything else?” “Yeah. I hate to be an alarmist but this is not a very good situation. I recommend we abandon ship and move into the whatever this thing is.” “Noted Jerry. We'll get back to that.” “Affirmative captain.”

All right. Let's hear about things from medical.” Terry stands as Jerry sits back down and reports “Dan is the worst off right now. We have another with a pair of broken ribs and one with a broken wrist. A few mild burns. Some still under light duty from when we first landed here. Nothing we can't and haven't dealt with. Even Dan is doing much better. I do not want him doing anything but sitting there but you can tap that noodle for how to get things done if you need his experience as a mechanic. When you get a minute I want to talk to you about that bug.”

Giving Terry a nod I ask “Anything else?” No one says anything. “I'm in agreement with Jerry about abandoning ship. Can I have some recommendations on where to move? This floor near the warehouses, one floor up near the control room for the bay, top floor near the control room for this place, bottom floor near the biozone for this place or someplace else?” While they are talking that one over I start putting together a plan to actually move us out of the ship and into the planetoid. I think we're going to have to dismantle and move the remaining generator and the battery bank so that we can power our tech. I make a note of that for Steve to consider and pass that over to him so that he can mull it over while they weigh the pros and cons of each possible relocation site.

Grabbing another data pad that has miscellaneous gear listed in our inventory I start marking priorities when the chatter goes silent. The crew manning the bridge is shouting something about lights flashing in the landing bay. “Suit up. Everyone. Helmets on. Now people.” Jumping up and heading down to the cargo room that has the battle suits I'm the first one there but not for long as I'm followed by others with the same idea.

A minute later we are all suited up and armed. Heading to the rear of the ship so that we can look out of our new picture window to see what's happening I can see the lights strobe in the landing bay. Calling on suit coms I say “Someone get a scan of what's happening out there. Are we actually depressurizing?” Ming comes on the line and says “Negative captain. All readings that I can get are showing that pressure is staying stable. Atmo is not being vented.” Snapping a “Well what the hell is going on with the lights then?” gets me a snapped return volley of “I don't know captain. I didn't build the place.” “Sorry Ming. Still tired and I woke up kind of rough.” “Don't worry about it Eric. I'll keep watch and let you know if anything changes.” “Thanks Ming.”

Very well then, orders stand. Suits and helmets remain on. Start unloading the ship and moving everything into the hallway behind the east warehouse door. We can figure out where we set up a base camp from there." "Copy that captain. Ann is passing orders on now." Turning to the armored figures with me “Tony, come with me to the armory. Sean and Paul too. We unload that into one of the living area type rooms and then come back to help with the rest. The rest of you start humping loads as they are packed. You're powered and they aren't. You can carry more and do it faster.” “Copy that captain.”

In the armory, Tony calls for everyone to hold still. "What's the problem Tony?" "Well captain, someone seems to have rigged the shotguns and rifles with grenades. We pull any of them out of their storage clips and the grenades explode." Well now. Isn't that something. "Do you see the pins anywhere? Anyone?" A brief search reveals no pins. "Sean, go see Jerry and ask him if he can find something to improvise grenade pins. We'll pin and remove them one by one. I think we'll have to leave those grenades behind unless it's a very solid alternative.” “Affirmative captain.” “Everyone else can start looking for other traps.”

A few minutes later Paul reports “It looks like the ammo is trapped sir. If we just grab and run we touch off a series of claymore mines.” “Can you disarm it?” “Sure can but I'll need some pins for the claymores to safety them again. Hopefully the ones Sean brings back will work but push comes to shove we can still get the ammo even if the claymores are still primed. That trap is easy to get around.” “Yeah. Let's hope those pins work there too. If not we leave them behind too. I do not feel like walking around with a live claymore in my hands.” “Copy that sir. That would certainly not be the regulation way to handle them.” “No, it certainly wouldn't be."

One more thing I noticed captain.” “What's that Paul.” “We are missing a battle rifle, eight magazines for it, four magazines for our pistols and a box of ammo. Five hundred rounds missing with just that box. I can't be sure unless I count them but possibly a dozen grenades and a half dozen claymores are missing too.”

Getting distracted from that issue by Dan on coms he says “We can pull the reactor and batteries. I saw the issue with what Steve did and have it fixed. It'll run at peak and we can set up a charging room for all our gear with no problems. No more spare parts though so if anything goes wrong with the reactor then that's it and we have to figure out a way of tapping into this place for power.” “That's on the agenda for you guys Dan. Not right now but as soon as we have a base camp set up and our situation stabilized.” “Affirm that Eric. If Steve, Ming and I can't figure it out then it can't be done.” “I also want you guys to start working on a translation program so we can actually read the writing on the walls.” A snort comes over the line and Dan replies “Funny. Yeah, we'll be working on that. Ann already has a few ideas. We may even be able to read their crystals with our tech when we are done.”

Ok Dan. I'll get back to you later with that. Sean is back with some improvised pins for hand grenades and claymore mines so that we can un-boobie trap our weapons.” A startled “What did you just say?” “Later Dan. Busy now.” I think I see Tony and Paul shaking with laughter but their coms are off. Shrugging I turn to Sean and we start putting the pins back into varied implements of destruction.

An hour later we have all the pins back in. Good quality for quick work. I'll have to thank Jerry for his quick thinking. Picking a room a half dozen doors up from the warehouse we open it to find a typical personal quarters style room in this place. Living room with a mini kitchen, restroom, and bedroom. Setting things down I have a thought "Sean and Paul, you two are on guard duty. Position yourself in the hall at the intersection just to the north and don't let anyone or anything past to where we are working." "Copy that captain."

Heading back to the ship with Tony he asks “Expecting trouble?” “Not really but we do have two crew missing along with weapons and ammo stolen from the armory. It doesn't hurt to be safe considering we do not have battle armor for everyone and our regular suits are not bullet proof.” Grabbing one side of a storage crate while I grab the other Tony asks “So considering the booby trap in the armory and the sabotage to the reactors do you think we're dealing with infiltrators or just plain out deserters?” “Don't know Tony. It's all very suspicious and I definitely have some ideas on it but I'm just going to focus on the current emergency first and then worry about that later.”

A few crates later Dan calls to say that the reactor is ready to move. Four of us on suits on each corner of an improvised pallet get to carry it to the room next to the warehouse where we set it down and go back for the batteries and other parts that Dan and Steve will need to get a charging station set up. The next couple of doors will be our medical bay. Then a command center. After that our suit room for regular suits and then a combined armory and battle suit room. Much of our other supplies and equipment is going to the warehouse itself.

Tony and I help Steve and Dan rearrange their toys and run the wiring for the recharge stations and then we all head over to help with organizing the miscellaneous gear in the warehouse. After that Tony and I work on our new armory for a while. "We'll have to set up a charging schedule for these battle suits so that when they are not in use they get charged and once charged moved back here. We'll need a use rotation too." "Seems like a lot of work. Why don't we leave them in the charging room?" "If something happens to the reactor then we lose the suits too. I'd rather have the reactor alone in its own room and we would if we could but we can't seem to drill through these walls to run wiring." "Copy that boss. Figured it was something like that. I just wanted to be sure."

I'd like to keep people busy too. Idle hands and all that.” “Copy that captain. We can keep the rank and file busy enough to wish for regular deployment in the Canal Zone if you want.” “Not quite that busy Tony but busy enough that they don't get too much time to think about how we are trapped here.” “Speaking of?” “Yeah Tony. It's temporary but it's a fact. Until we figure out what the hell we have here and how to use at least the coms then we are trapped." "Well someone else could be let in the door to captain. This thing could pick up some more strays." "Yeah, that bothers me too Tony. What if it picks up more of those bugs?" "If I may sir, you do have a nasty mind when you put it towards scaring people." That gets a snort out of me. "Thanks Tony." "Ugh. Keep that one to officers please. No need to scare the enlisted ranks with those sorts of nightmares." "Affirmative Tony. Can do."

Four hours later our ship is emptied out and I'm standing in the bay looking at what's left of the Saturn Fleet Delta One. Two months with my double bars as captain of my own ship. One month with this ship. Two weeks of active duty testing the new rail gun and phasers. My first real mission comes up and now my ship is scrap metal and parts. I have crew dead in that engagement. I have crew dead from an alien life form. I have crew missing here on this planetoid base. I'll be lucky to get a demotion to private and an assignment in the canal zone. That's if I don't get cashiered out of the Corp completely for sheer and utter incompetence.

Terry and Tina come over and Terry firmly says “You need to come check out the bug now. What we found out is pretty startling and you need to know it.” Giving them a startled look I ask “What do you mean startling?” Shaking her head she says “Not where people can hear us. You get paid the big bucks so you can figure out who else needs to know what Tina and I found out.” “Who else should be in on this?” “Jerry at least. You can buddy up with him for a while so that we can go over this.” Getting on coms I say “Jerry, grab your emergency buddy so you can switch out with Tony. Tina and Terry have something to show us.” An evil laugh comes over the line and Terry jumps in with “Yeah, it'll blow your mind big boy. Hurry it up. I can't wait all day to show you what I have.”

Cutting off my com so that he can't hear me laugh I see Tina doing the same with Tony just shaking his head. I can almost hear his eyes rolling. I'm pretty sure he thinks the officers on this ship are mentally deranged if not actually brain damaged. If he would have been with us in school he'd know for sure that we were all squirrel bait.

One by one the rest of the crew assembles in parade formation in front of me. With a barked "Atenhut" from Jerry, the crew comes to attention. Jerry asks "Your orders captain?" With a lingering look at my ship, I turn to face my crew and ask "Are you sure?" In unison the entire crew performs a textbook salute and Jerry asks a bit more firmly “Your orders captain?” Well hell. They must have planned this. I'm still not sure it's deserved but I'll play along at least until the review board. “All right then. Let's go get things set up so that we all have some living space. Close the bay doors as soon as the last of us are out. Two person teams or fire teams at all times. No odd numbers. Buddy up and stay that way even in the bathroom.” Jerry barks “You heard the captain's orders. Now hop to you bloody space pirates or I'll find a yardarm to flog you with.”

With a lot of laughter, the crew does.
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