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Full Version: Science fiction novel. Saturn Situation Book One. Completed.
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Popcorn_nommer
Chapter 9:

Waving Ann and Cheryl over to where Jerry, Tina and Terry and I are standing I start giving Ann and Cheryl orders to set up a grid search pattern for our two missing crew considering they were not on the ship. “The priority right now is on finding Private Alan Smith and Private Doreen Bordeaux. I'll be here with Jerry in our suits to guard our base just in case. So far we only have two intersections to cover but that will change soon enough. I want actual fire teams out there. A full combat load out with each team carrying a medkit. We have ten suits and thirty crew capable of wandering the halls. Start with the warehouses and work your way out. I want the already mapped rooms searched again. If they are not in any of the rooms on this level then they may have just bailed out on us. Everyone else left here needs to be carrying sidearms and knives.”

A variety of shocked looks on the faces around me. Cheryl asks "You don't think they went AWOL do you?" "Well, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the bug. It didn't seem capable of opening the doors and once we had the shields back up it wasn't able to get back on the ship. It had to grab someone in the halls. Smith and Bordeaux were never off the ship after we had shields again so it stands to reason that they left of their own accord.”

Terry says “Yeah but..” I cut her off. “Then there is the fact that the reactor was set to overload and the ammo and weapons were trapped. I'm actually thinking a little worse than just AWOL right now but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now. I'm hoping it's just a simple romantic getaway after being confined to the ship with little privacy but I'm not putting money on that possibility.” That pops some eyes wide open.

Ok Cheryl. Ann. Get busy. Jerry and I are going to go see what Terry and Tina have found out about the bug. Meet us there when you have everyone moving. Make sure you post a couple of people at each intersection. Full combat load out for guard duty. Jerry and I will relieve them when we are done in the med bay.” “Yes sir.” “Lead the way ladies. Let's go see what is so important about a bug.”

Getting to the med bay Jerry and I remove our helmets and Terry and Tina ditch their spacesuits. “You're going to love this Eric. It's absolutely fascinating.” “So you say Terry but you didn't have to chase that thing down the hallways wasting ammo trying to stop it.” Giving me a disgruntled look for raining on her parade she says “Yes. There is that. But I may be able to help with that issue.”

A few minutes later we are joined by Ann and Cheryl. Tina leads us into the next room where they moved the creature after we had to abandon ship. Their equipment is still a mess but they have obviously been working on squaring that away. “All right. If you have any questions feel free to ask. I doubt I'll have to get too complicated to get the point across and I'll try to limit the technical terms for you people lacking in medical degrees.”

The DNA sequencer is working overtime and I should have results in about forty eight hours but what we are looking at here is a very scaled up version of Genus Periplaneta Species Americana. Also known as the cockroach. It has a head, thorax and abdomen, the proper legs, the wings and everything inside mostly conforms to what you would expect if you scaled a cockroach up to five a half feet from head to ovipositor valve. The surprising part of this shows in a few minor differences between this specimen and it's smaller cousins.”

Lifting one of the front legs Terry continues "For example, on its front legs it has retractable fingers. When it's scuttling along on all six these digits are pulled back into the tarsus region of its leg. If it's balanced on the rearmost pair of legs or when it's upright on it's rearmost legs they can come out and are capable of some very fine manipulation. From what we can figure it's almost as capable of fine manipulation to the point where we'd have to match it with robotics."

Lifting one of the middle legs “Now these are the same except for the level of finesse. I would compare these with our hands. The fingers are retractable but thicker and more likely used for bulk lifting while in the upright position. The rear set of legs holds an extra joint that allows the bottom third of its tarsus on that leg to form a foot for stability when it's standing upright on its hind legs." Looking over at Ann who has a hand up Terry quips "And no Ann, the wings are not decorative. They are functional. This thing can actually fly."

So how does that help us beat it if we have to face another one?” “It doesn't. I'm just saying that it's obviously a tool user and it could easily have weapons if we have to face off against more.” Pinching the bridge of my nose I say “Well that's helpful. We kind of figured that out already when it was shooting at us with our own guns. Is there any other good news?” Terry smirks and says “Well if you'd quit gloom and dooming I'd get to the more interesting parts of this little show and tell.”

"All right then Terry. It's your show. Wow us." Smirking again she continues "Well it has compound eyes and can see better in low light situations than we can but it's effectively blind if there is no light source. It'll use instinct to keep from running into walls. Now it's not really intelligent as we understand it which was a factor that Tina and I were having a hard time with until we got a little further down the body. Its brain was larger than you would expect for a specimen this size but not so dramatically larger to suggest that it created all of what we saw out there unless it was part of a hive mind. It still may be but we did find another explanation for that discontinuity between apparent brain size and tech level. There were a few other oddities with the body that we figured out quick enough.”

Looking as curious as we all are Cheryl bites and asks “What sort of oddities?” Tina picks up the narration "Well for starters the body is, let's call it fatter than it should be. The thing is thicker than a scaled up insect would suggest it should be. We found out why. There were also a couple of other internal things that we figured out fairly quick once we had the thing completely opened."

Lifting the top part of the carapace off and moving it to the side Tina points and says “What does that look like to you?” I think I see what she's getting at. “Crash pod cushioning?” “To the head of the class. Both sides are like that and there is enough room inside for a passenger.” Startled Jerry asks “What do you mean passenger?” Tina smirks and says “Just what I said. A passenger. See this tube here? It's a life support system that feeds food, oxygen and liquids to a passenger. We think that this roach that you see is a living space suit for another being.”

The rest of us just look at each other in silence for a few minutes. “A living what?” Not sure who croaked that one out but I agree with that. Terry points out “This material that makes up the so called crash couch is very absorbent. It can pull anything through it and recycle it for use by the bug. The bug takes in nutrients, and it's strong enough to eat any organic material and convert it to energy. Then it processes it and feeds it to the passenger who then takes what it needs and passes the remains back to the host. Theoretically, the passenger would be able to live quite comfortably for decades this way provided the host has enough resources to survive. Air, food, water, and an environment around it. It's probably good for about three days in a vacuum before oxygen starvation would start to effect it."

Clearing my throat I ask “Is this all speculation?” Smiling at me Terry says “No. It had a passenger. We think it's also the brains of the duo considering the bug's brain is barely larger than the scaled up size would suggest it should be. It's certainly not large enough to create a technically advanced civilization.” Whipping a sheet off of another table Tina and Terry swing their arms to present what is revealed.

Absolute silence. Except for the two idiots snickering at the stunned looks on everyone else's faces. Done with their giggle fit Terry finally announces “May I present our esteemed passenger, Bug Doe number two." Tina cracks up laughing again which sets Terry off. The rest of us are just stuck there staring in shock at what is on the table. A few minutes later the dynamic duo gets control of themselves again and Terry picks back up on lecturing us.

It's what you think it is. A classic Grey Alien of folklore and literature. Heart shaped oversized head with extremely pointy chin and small mouth. No ears and slits for a nose. Four feet tall. Sixty pounds. Compound eyes that are hidden by contacts that are actually highly specialized tech that allows them to see far past the range they should just like our suit helmets do. The one thing missing from all those folk tales? An extra set of arms." Moving the visible arms out she pulls a smaller one that had been folded up inside the armpit and withdrawn into a sac. "Capable of the same level of fine touch and manipulation as that on the bug suit. We think that when this guy is inside the bug his bigger brain takes over and can manipulate the cockroach as if it were an armored suit. Think biological robot or cyborg and you are not far off. There are some nerve endings we are tracing that seem to go straight from the mouth connectors all the way up to the roach's brain. Once we crack this guy's head open I bet we'll find a portion of his brain and nerve lines that link to the receptors we have already found inside his mouth.”

Tina jumps in "Now here's the final touch. Its digestive system is minimal. It would have to be fed pre-digested foods. It also excretes the waste through its skin. The waste is then absorbed by the roach and it's either recycled or passed. Its musculature is barely enough for it to operate outside of the suit and it's lung and heart capacity would also require assistance for any length of time outside of the suit. It can do it but anything past twenty four hours would be a strain. Terry and I are starting to think that the roach was actually genetically designed to be a self repairing, self renewing life support system for the Greys.”

Shaking myself out of my shock I ask "So how does any of this help if we have to face more of these things?" Terry points at the thorax and says "An armor piercing round in this area or a head shot on the bug will stop things cold. We're guessing that if they are connected then the shock may be enough to disrupt the rudimentary brain functions of the bug. Of course, the head shot on the bug takes the bug out of the equation and leaves you dealing with just the Grey and a five year old could probably beat that thing bloody without trying. We'll know more after we finish the autopsy on the Grey."

Tina adds on “One thing we should warn you about. The bug is strong. If you are not in combat armor then you do not want to be caught by that thing. It's strong enough to rip your limbs off and chew through our old bullet proof vests. We think the battle armor will hold up but I wouldn't test it for long. Even with a suit of the battle armor on, this thing is strong enough to throw you thirty or forty feet in one full gravity.”

Huh. Good to know. Keep me informed on what you find out with the Grey.” Giving me a serious look Terry says “We already figured out that it likes a high protein diet and it's not fussy about what and where that protein comes from.” Ugh. The looks on the faces of the others in the room all mirror my disgust. Jerry finally finds his voice and says “Animal and human mutilation cases from the nineteen seventies and eighties. Then there was the rash of missing people going on through the time when the traitors and their black projects took off.” Cheryl adds “They kidnapped a lot of people when they bugged out too.” Jerry nods at that and it looks like he's about to go into lecture mode on the subject and everyone is starting to look very angry.

Thinking that this way leads to madness, it's time to divert my officers onto something they can actually handle instead of a century old trauma. "Yes, they did. All of that and more. Eventually, we'll figure out what they developed in the way of tech and find those people but right now we have to focus on what's happening here. Here we are stuck on this station or ship or whatever it is and need to figure a way out." That got everyone's attention. "Ann, you and Cheryl head up to the bay control room and see if you can help Dan and Ming up there. Tina, Terry, you two continue with the autopsy and let me know what you find. Jerry, you go relieve the people in the east intersection and I'll take the west one."

After escorting Ann and Cheryl up to the control booth where Ming and Dan are working with a reminder to wait for people in battle suits to come get them when they are done, Jerry and I head back downstairs to relieve the people guarding our little corner of paradise. By suit coms or by buddy teams I keep getting people asking questions about things they should be able to figure out. How to set up living quarters. What to make for supper. Routine things that should be handled automatically and without an officer telling them what to do. I can understand the need for this though so I keep patient and give advice when and where it's needed and orders where that is needed. Based on the coms chatter I'm hearing it sounds like Jerry is getting his share of questions as well.

Twelve hours later the crew starts coming back all reporting no sighting of our missing people. I didn't think they would. Based on the maps they are collating they only covered less than one twentieth of this floor. An interesting side note to that is that there was no sign of our fight with the bug. One team ran the main line to the far wall and did not find any of the spent rounds we left behind and another team crossed over where we found Dean and found no trace of the blood on the floor and walls that we had reported. The place apparently cleans itself.

Setting up a pair of guards for each intersection from the people that stayed behind and were off duty I finally call it and Jerry and I head upstairs to get the others. As we enter the room Ming looks up and says “I was just about to call you. Come look at this.” Heading over that way as the crowd moves back so Jerry and I can get in there I see she managed to get one of the smaller monitors showing the landing bay and what's inside it. “Look here Eric. Those lines on the floor? That apparently is some sort of storage locker for automated equipment that either repairs or breaks down for scrap ships that land there. It seems that this place does not know what to do with our ship so the machines take things apart and then put them back and then takes it apart again. It's been happening for half an hour now.”

Well, that's interesting." Watching the show for another half an hour I start seeing a pattern. "It's learning about what it has on the floor. It seems to be going piece by piece and plotting how and where they go together.” Dan nods and says “Yeah, that's what I was thinking. I'm glad someone else spotted that.” Resting a hand on Dan's shoulder I ask “Do you think it's going to call it scrap or try to repair it?" Snorting in disbelief Dan says "Too early to tell I think. I doubt it has the plug and play parts that we standardized our fleet with so I have doubts about repair." Jerry quips "Yeah, that and the ship was shot to hell and blown up afterwards. Kind of hard to fix all that even with our standardization."

Well as fascinating as all this is, there isn't anything we can do about it and we don't pay you people overtime so let's head back down, get something to eat and grab some rack time. I'm also pretty sure Terry needs to poke Dan with a pointy thing by now." Grimacing up at me Dan says "I hate needles. I'd rather take a pill but Terry keeps using me as a pin cushion." Putting my helmet back on I respond with "That's what you get for letting yourself get all busted up the way you did Dan. Now come on folks. Saddle up so we can get out of here."

Back in the recharging room I plug up my suit and swing around to the room that Jerry and I are sharing taking both of our rifles with me while he goes and gets food. Jerry walks in with a couple of the MRE like meals from the warehouse and pops them in the heater while I figure out the shower controls. Having done that we settle down and discuss the day's events while eating a remarkably good meal. Much better than our own MRE style meals turn out.

Well Jerry. I have a suspicion that we won't be seeing those two AWOL crew unless something goes boom again.” Jerry swallows his bite and remarks “We can pick up searching this level again tomorrow but I have the feeling you're right. At the rate we are going it's going to be a couple of weeks just to search every room on this level.” “And no guarantee that they didn't sneak on back behind our search lines to set up when we stop for the night. We could pick up where we left off and they could be back here doing whatever.” “Yeah. That crossed my mind Eric. We don't have enough people to do this right if they are saboteurs.”

Thinking it through I finally say “Change of plans tomorrow. Four teams out mapping. Four suits to escort some people up to the bridge so that a few others can see it. The remaining four suits to remain on guard in four hour rotations two at a time to detain or keep Smith and Bordeaux out of our section depending on the circumstances. If it was a romantic getaway then detained. If they come in guns blazing then it's weapons free and stop them at all costs. They either surrender unconditionally or get shot." Jerry grimaces at that. "And if it wasn't them that rigged things to blow?" "Well Jerry. We'll cross that minefield when we get to it." "I hate this shit Eric. Not knowing who you can trust? I thought we left all that subversive crap back on Earth. Aren't we supposed to be screened better than this in the fleet?” “We are Jerry. Even with all that it's still possible to slide people in. Nothing is ever perfect and you know that.”

Well on that cheerful note, I'm turning in. Who are you planning on bringing to that bridge?” “I'll figure that one out in the morning. Probably most of the command staff and a few of the more technically inclined people. I eventually want them to look over those control rooms on this level too.” “Yeah. All right. Sounds like a plan. You have the couch. Shut the light off before you crash.” “You get the couch tomorrow Jerry.” “Fine.” “Fine”

A heavy pounding of an armored fist on the door wakes me up and a quick glance at my watch tells me it's only been an hour since Jerry and I grabbed some rack time. Now what the heck is going on? Yelling "Come in" at the door, I start pulling myself together and strapping my weapons on. A battle suit walks through the door and the visor clears to show Tony standing there. "Captain. We had someone take a shot at our guards. I figured you'd like to know." "Thanks Tony. Are they still shooting?" "Negative sir. No wounded but whoever it was, they took a half dozen shots at us and the guards returned fire. No signs that anyone was hit. We did check down the hall." "Well then. How long until the next guard rotation?" "Three hours sir." No getting back to sleep for me at this point. I may as well get some work done.

I'll be in the galley drinking coffee and going over paperwork. In the mean time I want two people in each intersection and one in a battle suit nearby as a quick reaction force. If they start shooting again I want an armored presence stomping on them faster than they can blink.” “Copy that captain. I'll set up the watch rotations.” “Thanks Tony. Oh and make sure you aren't on all the watch rotations yourself. I need you fresh for when we take some of the others up to the bridge to see the giants.” “Copy that captain. I'm going to go off duty and grab some rack time as soon as I get things set up.”

A few hours later and a pot of coffee gone I'm almost caught up on the paperwork. Reports signed off on. My own filled out. Double checking manifests and inventories. Tweaking schedules. I'm working on figuring out who I'm going to be taking up to the bridge when I'm interrupted by the pair of Squabs left on galley duty after the death and injury of the other two.

The first one asks “Good morning captain. Sorry to bother you while you are working but would you like some breakfast?” “No thank you. Some more coffee would be appreciated though.” While the first one is getting a fresh pot of coffee going the second one fidgets a bit and finally blurts out “Thank you for saving Diane. It's bad enough what happened with Dean but it would have killed us if we lost her too.” Stifling a sigh I say “Get yourselves some coffee and sit down for a minute ladies. We can start by you telling me your names so I have it straight in my head who is who.” The first one says “Penny.” and the second says “Ellen.”

Got it. Now I'm making an educated guess here but neither of you have any time in the Zone?" Both shake their heads. "Didn't think so. What's the Marine Corp motto?" In unison, they say "Semper Fidelis". "Correct. Always Faithful. That applies to our fellow service members as well as the Corp itself and the government we serve. As long as they hold faith with us we hold faith with them. That means that we go above and beyond to protect those we consider our own. Diane is a Marine even if she fresh out of training and at her first assignment. All three of you had to go through training just to get on a ship. Once you enter that training you are one of ours. When you are done your training you are one of ours. Throughout your time in the corp, you are one of ours. Once you are out either through death, medical or retirement you are still one of ours. That's what being in the Marines means. You may have left your relatives behind on whatever base or station you grew up on but you gained a family several million strong. I could no more leave those two out there than I could leave my own mother out there."

Ellen asks “What about the two that are missing?” “We will eventually figure that mystery out. It may be that they are holed up someplace having a romantic interlude. They both could be dead. One could be dead and the other a saboteur. We just do not have all the facts yet. When we do we will let everyone know what is happening.” Ellen says "Ok. Thank you for taking the time to explain that captain." "That's what I'm here for. To make sure that the people under my command get trained and sometimes that means explanations of this sort. I had my moment like this when I was a squab and eventually, if you decide to go career you'll return the favor to some newbie just like I'm doing for you."

Penny says “Ok Ellen. We've wasted enough of the captain's time. Top off his coffee and we can start getting breakfast ready for the crew. Tomorrow we'll have Diane on light duty as long as she doesn't stand or walk much.” Ellen nods and says “Again. Thanks for the explanation captain.” I give them a nod and get back to my work as they head into the kitchen area and start banging pots and pans.

Two suits recharging. Two suits on guard duty. Four suits on mapping detail and that leaves four suits to escort the crew I want looking over the bridge. Myself, Tony, Paul and Sean in suits. Jerry, Cheryl, Ann, Ming, Dan, Steve and either Terry or Tina. I'll probably have to take both but I can try leaving one of our medically trained people here. Forget that. I choose life. I'll take both with us. A half dozen others round out the list and just as I'm done people start wandering in for breakfast or whatever meal of the day it is for their shift.

In battle suits and with all of us heavily armed we make the hike to the central elevator and take two of them up with a pair of battle suits in each. Getting to the top floor the doors open and everything is exactly as we had left it previously. Bodies on the floor. Consoles quiet or showing a variety of information. Something doesn't seem right though so I call on coms to the other elevator to hold position.

Paul asks “What's wrong captain?” “I don't know Paul. Something seems off.” Sean adds “Everything looks the same as we saw it last but there is something.” Tony finally spots it. “Tripwire across the elevator doors. Someone set up a trap up here.” Finally spotting the nearly invisible line I ask “Can you see what it is connected to?” “Copy that captain. It seems to be hooked up to a half dozen claymore mines all pointed at the elevators. One for each of the doors.” “Can you clear it?” “Sure can captain. Give me a minute and I'll safe them.”

A few minutes later Tony calls the all clear and we exit the elevators and people start wandering around checking everything out. Tony and I end up back at the command chair looking over the spear that is more than a spear. "What do you think it is captain?" "Some sort of energy weapon I would guess. They have rail gun pistols so why not laser spears?" A snort comes over the line from Sean but he doesn't add anything. Picking the spear up I place my hands on it the way you would use it as an actual spear and with just a little shifting end up with the slider and button right near my back hand.

Seriously considering holding the button down with a finger and using that thumb to slide on the rectangle I hear a very excited Ann and Cheryl calling for our attention. “Ann has this board figured out. We think we can contact whoever is out there searching for us. The numbering system is easy to figure now that we have so many examples like what is on the walls in the corridors and they used a decimal system like we did so we can tune their coms equipment to our frequencies.”

"Well, what are you waiting for? An engraved invitation?” Smirking at me Ann and Cheryl start working the keyboard and assorted other components and in a very short amount of time I've talked to several people from the Johnnie Wilson and we hear “It's extremely good to hear your voice again Delta One Actual. We thought you were lost for good in the Rings.” from Major General Anita Washington. [b]“It's good to hear you as well Major General Washington. We are sort of lost in the Rings if you count being hauled aboard what seems to be an alien ship disguised as Pan one of the moons of Saturn.”[/b]
Chapter 10:

Could you repeat that captain? I don't think I heard you correctly.” Smirking a bit because I know she can't see me I say "Yes Ma'am. The moon of Saturn that we know as Pan is not a moon at all but a space station or ship of some sort. After taking that laser hit while chasing the intruder into its slingshot maneuver we drifted into the Enke Gap and right into its path. The station opened up and took us in. We do not have much in the way of control over the facility and we only recently figured out the communications system." A brief silence over the air. "Interesting. Now we know where you are we call off the search and can figure out how to retrieve you. I look forward to reading your reports.” “Yes Ma'am.”

A few more minutes of silence and then “The closest ships we have to Pan is the troop ship Mississippi Thunder and a couple of corvettes. Saturn Station Three Gold three and four. Arapaho and Redneck? Who thinks up these call signs?” A moment of silence and then “How large is the hanger bay that you were pulled into? Could you park a troop carrier in it?” Calculating the sizes quickly I respond “Possibly General. Our destroyer rattled in there.” “Ok then. We'll park the Mississippi Thunder in Pan's path and see if it takes the bait. It will take twelve hours to get it into position.” “Copy that General. We'll be here waiting.”

"Affirmative Captain. Brief the Brigadier General after they land and then you and your crew can board the corvettes and come home. Laser the information and reports gathered to the Johnnie Wilson as soon as you launch. The corvettes will bring you here to Saturn Star Base Three and you can report in person.” “Yes, Ma'am. Understood." "Johnnie Wilson out."

Leaning back and looking at the smiling faces around me I'm glad that I could at least keep that promise to them. “Well, it looks like we have a ride home people. Ann, do you think you can work the coms panel in the bay control room?” Giving me a look that people usually reserve for the terminally stupid she says “Absolutely. It's simpler than this one and primarily for communication to incoming ships and to here. This one seems to have the internal communications as well as coordinating other bays and possibly the engine and power generation rooms. The one in the landing bay is a snap compared to this now that we at least have figured out the numbering system.”

Giving that a nod I ask “Anything I'm missing?” Terry pipes up “Tina and I have gathered biological samples of our hosts. We can run a few dozen tests on them when we have a chance and I already have samples of the bug and passenger saved even though we have some tests running. I don't think we can take the equipment on a corvette but I can bring my samples.” “Good enough Terry. Good work everyone. Let's get whatever pictures and samples you think you need and head back to our base to pass around the good news.”

Leaning the spear back against the control room chair where I found it I watch as the crew takes a few more pictures of the stations and a few more samples of the bodies and the items on them. Tony waves one of their rail gun pistols at me in a manner that seems to be asking permission to secure a trophy and I frown and shake my head at him. Looking a little crestfallen he puts it back.

Heading over to the monitor that shows the internal layout I see it's still on the main floor. Four teams of four mapping. The rest in the area we set up in. No strays or couples running around. Bummer. On the plus side, that means that they probably won't be able to get in position to try anything when we head back to the bay area. That is a serious plus considering we are pushing Dan in a wheelchair.

Back on the main floor, I detail Paul and Sean to go round up our mapping parties and to meet us in the big room we are using as a galley. Back in our zone, I have everyone else gathered up and post a couple of guards in battle suits with coms open so they can hear us as we have this meeting. An open line so that whoever it is out there playing games can realize that the equation is about to change for them. Hopefully, this leads to a surrender.

Starting off the meeting a few minutes later "All right folks. Good news. We made contact with the Johnnie Wilson. They are going to be putting the Mississippi Thunder troop transport and a couple of corvettes in the path of this place to see if they can repeat what happened to us. That will occur in about six hours. After we fully brief the incoming crews on what we've found and turned over copies of our notes we suit up and board the corvettes for the trip to Saturn Star Base Three. Once there we will be debriefed and we'll see what happens after that."

A few minutes later when the cheering subsides I go on with “Personal belongings only. Leave the equipment and supplies for the incoming troops. Make sure your reports and logs are up to date because we'll be lasering the whole lot to the star base as soon as we launch on the corvettes. The brass wants to have a heads up before we start talking to them about this place.” More cheering. “All right folks, that's about all I have to tell you. Time to get busy. Pack it up and make sure your suits are charged and reports written. Once we are done packing I'm going to need Ming and Ann in the control booth upstairs. You too Tony. We'll play guard while we let them work.”

Half an hour later in the control room, Ming points out "Our ship is gone. It looks like it was scrap after all." Tony quips "Took the place long enough to figure that one out.” Ann reports “I have this com panel tuned to our channels. Mississippi Thunder Actual on the line for you captain.” “Copy that Ann.”

The Brigadier General Clive Anderson starts out with "Call me Clive. I came up through the ranks and titles sit uneasily upon my head." "Thank you Clive. I'm Eric." "Yes. We know your name. It's good to finally hear from you. We've been looking for you and your people since the alien ship skipped out without paying its bill." "Copy that Clive. Good to know that it's gone and we were missed." "Down to business Eric. We have Arapaho and Redneck sitting on our hull in mag lock and are drifting into the Enke Gap and into Pan's path. It's five more hours and a few minutes until we estimate intercept. Is there anything you can tell me about this procedure that I should know?"

Yes sir. Just keep the engines off. The hangar bay will open and you will be tractor beamed in. The ship will adjust your ship to where it wants it sitting and the bay doors will close. The air recycler does not seem to be working at peak efficiency and it will take the better part of a day, twenty two hours to be precise, for the air pressure and temperature to peak. Even then it's going to be cold. I have the feeling that this place is very old sir. The hallway lights are not on. Room lights will come on but either the hall lights are toast or this is an energy saving move by the station. Once you have landed and the bay doors have closed there are two doors opposite the bay doors that work as air locks. We can meet you inside the bay and show you and your people how to work them.”

Ming gets my attention and points to another monitor. "Captain, I'm pretty sure this graphic is showing atmo being vented in the bay. It looks like it's preparing to take in visitors." "Thank you, Sergeant. Did you receive that Clive?" "Yes, we did. Information relayed to Saturn star base three. Anything else you can tell me while we wait?"

Thinking over what I can say over an open line and what I can't I come up with “The language used in this place seems to be an advanced proto Gaelic sir. Maybe what it was to start with before it devolved due to a crisis or disaster. We do not have people in my crew that have any familiarity with it so we are not very sure of that conclusion. Examples of what we believe to be the original occupants of this place seem to confirm that conclusion. They appear to be very northern European pre dark ages. A few notable differences stand out though. They have a much larger head that is almost cone shaped, twice the cranial capacity that their size would suggest. A double row of teeth and standing between seven and nine feet tall with very robust builds. Based on discoveries in the ship they seem to see across a wider range than we can without tech assistance. The writing on the wall is visible only in the battle meld function of our combat armor. The technology is more advanced than ours as well.”

A brief silence and then Clive says “Paracas.” “Sir?” “Paracas. A place in South America that had a graveyard with a couple hundred examples of elongated skulls. They were also found in China and Egypt with the most recent being near Stonehenge in the British Isles. If you count about a hundred or so years ago as recent anyways. They were not much taller than average humans and did not have double rows of teeth. I think you are going to have to show them to me while you brief me.” “Copy that Clive. It'd be my pleasure.”

Anything else to report Eric?” “Yes sir. We did manage to acquire a specimen of our intruders. Insect carrying a passenger.” “Copy that. SysCom has a few examples of that already including a few live specimens. Some very disturbing information coming over the net about them.” “Yes sir. We came to a few very disturbing conclusions during our autopsy of the specimen we acquired.” “You will probably be briefed in greater detail on that when you get to Saturn starbase.” “Copy that sir.” “Anything else?” “Nothing I would be comfortable sharing over an open line.” “Copy that. You can finish the reporting when we arrive.” “Yes sir.” “I'm handing over the coms to my techs now. I'll talk to you again very soon.” “Yes sir. Looking forward to it.”

Ann starts talking to the Mississippi Thunder coms crew and Ming spins her chair around and says “Why don't you try taking a nap Eric. It's going to be about five hours before he gets here and I know you have not been sleeping well.” “Time for that on the trip out Ming. I still have some reports to write and sign off on. Too much to do right now.” Ann shoots a dirty look over her shoulder at me so I turn to Tony and ask “Can you keep this covered by yourself while I head down and finish what I have to do? I'll send someone up to help in a few minutes.” “Got it covered boss. It's only one door and if anything wants in it's gotta go through it.”

Waking up in restraints in the med bay I'm wondering what the hell happened and how I got here. I can see a clock and it seems I've lost about twelve hours. I'm hooked up to a variety of machines and tubes and apparently, they notified someone that I was awake because Terry comes in with a lady I do not know. Holding a data pad in front of me so that I can read it she points emphatically at it.

It reads “You have hearing damage. Your suit did not cancel out the noise of the explosion fast enough. You need some minor surgery to correct that issue that I can not do here but they can do on a starbase. Your suit was also breached in several places by the shrapnel of a claymore that was set up with a motion detector just outside of the elevator on this floor. Steve and Scott are investigating along with the crew of the Mississippi Thunder. Everyone wants to know who put that mine there and how they got past our security in the halls. We now have six thousand marines doing a room by room search for our two missing crew and they have enough people to actually do that search correctly. As for your injuries besides your ears, your suit was breached in the right hip, right elbow and right wrist. The hip and elbow were minor injuries. The shrapnel just barely penetrated. You'll be fine but we encountered a problem with your right wrist and hand. There is a lot of damage there that we can't correct here and Dr. Shilo thinks you may need a replacement. That will be determined and taken care of at the starbase as well.”

Giving her a nod I think over what's happened and say “I think it was someone inside the perimeter. I doubt those two missing crew could get through our lines unless they found secret corridors to travel.” Wincing a little at the volume but nodding at that Terry types a little more on the data pad and holds it up for me to read again.

That has been thought of. Everyone has been questioned thoroughly. So far everyone's movements have been accounted for. The buddy system you set up when we first arrived made that easy.” Rubbing my aching forehead with my left hand "Unless the buddy pair were accomplices. Then they would verify each other and escape detection." Some more typing. "You have a very paranoid mind Eric. That's been taken into account. We do have a pair that is suspected of just that sort of occurrence. The only people vouching for them is each other. They are being watched but that isn't enough for them to be held." I give a nod at that as Terry starts typing. Holding the pad up again it reads "I'm going to give you a bit of sleepy juice to make your trip to the starbase easier."

Has the brigadier general been briefed?” Some more typing. “Jerry took care of it.” “Are all the reports collated and ready for laser squirt when we launch?” “Ming and Ann took care of that.” Well all right then. “I can't think of anything else that needs doing.” Terry types some more. “Good night Eric. I'll see you on Saturn Star Base Three.” Did she already dose me? Things are getting really fuzzy around the edges and closing the eyes that now have fighters landed on the lids seems like a very good idea.

Waking up this time, the first thing I notice is I'm not restrained. Based on the clock it's also been three days. I can also hear the machinery beeping and the only part of me that feels odd is my wrist and hand. It's in a soft cast and it's producing an almost electrical buzzing sensation. Not exactly painful but not exactly comfortable either. The next thing I notice is Cheryl leaning over me with a drink. That is very much appreciated and while I'm happily sipping away Terry and the same woman from before, who I assume is Dr. Shilo, come in chattering away over some charts.

Terry starts with "This is Dr. Marie Shilo. She helped with the surgeries. You can thank her for the new hand." "Thank you for the new what?" "I'm sorry Eric. The shrapnel damage was too severe. At best we could have saved the thumb and maybe the middle finger but Dr. Shilo pulled a few strings to get you a fully cybernetic replacement considering you are active duty and considered worth keeping that way.” That's a bit startling. "Well then. Thank you, Dr. Shilo." "You're welcome, Eric. And call me Marie." Cheryl quips "I told you had manners for a marine." That gets them all giggling while I'm staring at the cast. Marie shoots me an amused look and says “I actually didn't have to pull as many strings as I thought I would. You seem to have a guardian angel or two in the upper ranks.”

Getting their composure back Terry asks “How is it feeling?” “Electrical. It's not painful but it's not fun.” Marie adds “That's the cybernetic nerves in the hand integrating with the nerves in your arm. It'll fade over the next couple of days and we'll take the cast off then. Then you'll have a week or two of physical therapy to get full control over it. After that, it's back to duty with no restrictions." Terry jumps in with "It'll be a bit stronger than you are used to so that's why the therapy. To make sure your fine motor skills are there and you know how much pressure you're using." Huh. "How much stronger?" "You have strong hands so I'm guessing half again what you are used to. I've seen you cracking Brazil nuts with your fingers. This will make that easier.” Well all right then. That sounds useful. It's a good thing I'm a southpaw.

Consulting their data pads the two decide that it's time for me to get up and walk around a bit. Doing so is shaky at first but things gradually improve until I can actually walk over to the cafeteria for something resembling food. While all that is happening I'm also told that I start getting debriefed tomorrow morning. Three days later is my review board hearing for the loss of the ship and crew members. I'm assured by everyone that it's only a formality. Trying to take their words to heart I can at least pretend not to be worried about it. A new captain losing his first command in under two months with attending loss of lives. That has to be some sort of record but no one but me seems worried about it.

The next morning at zero seven hundred starts the most thorough debrief that I've ever had. From the very first orders from the first message from Rear Admiral Roger Thompson commanding the heavy carrier James Mattis to our eventual rescue from the space ship disguised as a moon of Saturn with a lunch and supper break in between. Every single aspect was picked over with a fine tooth comb and not a single stone was left unturned in the debriefing. Finally wrapping up at twenty one hundred I wobble my way back to my room and fall right to sleep. Then we did it again the next day.

The following day is my review board hearing and I seriously doubt I'm going to sleep despite having been put through a wringer for two days. Just as I'm getting back to my room I feel a pinch in my rear end. Smirking up at me as I turn is Terry holding up a needle. "I figured you'd need some sleep but would worry yourself into a cardiac arrest so I just gave you a little bit of help to settle down. Now get in bed. You're too big to carry." Giving her the dirtiest look I can manage “Damn it Terry. Warn a guy first?” Still smirking up at me she responds “What and miss the priceless expressions you make?” Is the station swaying like a chandelier in rough seas? “Not funny Terry.” Still with that annoying smirk on her face “Well there were other options but I promised Tina not to do any of that sort of thing unless she was here and helping me get you all sweaty.” Rolling my eyes makes getting into bed harder but I eventually manage and drift off listening to the evil chuckle of that crazy redhead.

The next morning dawns bright and early in the military and I'm up at zero six hundred and ready in full dress uniform by zero six thirty. Wandering down to the cafeteria to get some breakfast I'm met by my officers and sergeants who are there to wish me well at my hearing. None of them seem particularly worried and the mood is festive as if this is just a formality instead of a pre trial hearing for the idiot that blew up his ship and lost a half dozen crew doing it.

At zero nine hundred, I'm escorted into a conference room by an aide and astonished to see six admirals and generals there. A usual hearing is five people ranked captain or better that are not on duty. Snapping to attention and saluting I hold that pose as a seventh admiral comes in the door. That one returns the salute and says "At ease marine." Sliding to a parade rest stance I try very hard not to visibly tremble or sweat as I notice a coms panel.

An aide starts the meeting by saying "Gathered here at zero nine hundred hours on the seventeenth of October in the year twenty one nineteen conducting the hearing of Captain Eric Vila are Vice Admiral Albert Shriner commander of a new battle group being assembled with his flag on the John Allen, Rear Admiral Rebecca Starling of the super carrier John Allen, Rear Admiral Roger Thompson of the heavy carrier James Mattis, Major General Anita Washington of the dreadnought Johnnie Wilson, Major General Thomas Beaker of the dreadnought Diana Holland, Major General Sven Archibald of the dreadnought Robert Wagner, and Major General Doris Beauchamp of the dreadnought Walter Gaskin. On laser communication is Fleet Admiral Gregory Thompson still aboard his flag ship James Mattis and Base Admiral Micheal Walker in his command post on this station Saturn Station Three.”

How many Admirals does it take to condemn someone to be spaced without a suit? I'm not familiar with those regulations but apparently, it takes nine of them. Including the Fleet Admiral himself. I wonder if actually takes a unanimous vote or if it's majority rules? And what the hell is a super carrier? The biggest thing that we have that can move on its own is the heavy carrier at six thousand feet long and fifteen thousand tons displacement so it has to be bigger than that. It doesn't matter now. I'm going to be breathing vacuum soon enough. The big birds are talking amongst themselves. Drawing out the agony is fun for them I guess.

Fifteen minutes later and a piping whistle comes through the speaker of the coms equipment and Fleet Admiral Gregory Thompson says "Get on with it ladies and gentlemen. If you don't then it looks like Captain Vila will have a stroke and we do not want that." Snorting a laugh when he looks at me Rear Admiral Roger Thompson says “Sorry about that son. It's not often we all get together and we grab these moments to catch up.” Snapping to attention again I say “Sir Yes Sir. At your convenience Sir.”

Snapping me a dirty look Major General Doris Beauchamp growls “Oh for crying out loud. At ease you moron. What those idiot girls see in you is beyond my comprehension. You are not in trouble. The reason so many of the admiralty and generals are here is to congratulate you on finding that alien station. We have half the scientists on staff climbing each other trying to find room on a ship out there. The other half are already talking our ears off about how they should get to go instead of someone else.”

Giving her a puzzled look I say in my most certain and stable tone “What?” Shaking her head in disappointment she continues “You are not in trouble you idiot. Saturn Station Three and the Johnnie Wilson both saw your engines blow out. They had scans on you from your first call about engine problems and saw the sabotage as it happened. There was nothing you could have done about it unless you knew you had a mole on board and there was no way that should have happened to begin with. You are not at fault for the loss of your ship or crew.”

An aide pulls up the scans and points out when and where the disconnect happened and runs the analysis showing it was small explosive charges on the couplers set to explode with a trigger such as a coms device. Base Admiral Micheal Walker from the coms device informs me “This would also explain what you felt earlier when you requested the scans. It was probably the saboteur planting the explosives and getting a little careless. Going over the schematics he could have done that in under a minute with no one seeing him place his bomb. Absolutely nothing that happened was your fault. We went through everything you did on that base in the Enke belt as well and it's unanimous that you did well and performed above and beyond.”

I feel something nudge the back of my knees and drop heavily into a chair and give a nod to the very thoughtful aide who provided me a seat before I fell on mine. Major General Thomas Beaker continues “You'll be happy to know that we caught those Muslim Brotherhood plants. Private Alan Smith and Private Doreen Bordeaux both wearing traditional Islamic garb by that time. The Marines of the Mississippi Thunder ran them down in the biozone. It was a little bit of a firefight and they ran out with suicide vests on. A claymore front and back with a dead man switch and guns blazing. Good thing those marines were in combat armor. A few minor wounds but nothing as serious as yours. How's the hand by the way? I hear you needed a cybernetic replacement?” In complete shock now I manage to say “Yes sir. It still feels a bit tingly sir. I'm assured that this will fade and then I have some therapy. A week or two and I'll be back to full duty.” Nods of approval all around at that.

Major General Thomas Beaker picks up with "We saw the after action footage. It looks like you followed orders when you had them and made some pretty smart decisions when you didn't. Even within your orders, you showed a level headedness combined with a boldness to engage the enemy that we look for with our captains. Sadly you are too new to your rank to promote at this time but you are very much on our short list for future consideration. We'll be giving you and most of your crew a new destroyer." Well now. Not bad considering I was thinking firing squad. Or worse.

Rear Admiral Rebecca Starling picks up the narrative "Between that crazy Warrant Officer on the Jupiter shipyards and your willingness to experiment with his crazy ideas we'll also be upgrading the fleet with the faster engines, better shielding and a combination of phaser and gravity cannons. We still are not sure about the torpedoes and rail guns. What is your opinion?" Thinking carefully I say "With the increased ship speed I think we need to redesign the torpedoes but the rail guns are still useful even if they are direct fire. The larger bug ships don't bounce much so they make fair targets for the rails. The torpedoes were a little less than impressive against them though excluding the EMP rounds. Those knocked down shields fairly well and allowed us to do more damage with the other weapons. I really do like the gravity beams though. Much better than the phasers and lasers though I'd mix them. At least one phaser and one gravity on each ship that can carry two or more beam weapons." Nods all around at that and some thoughtful looks at each other. The silence lasts a few minutes.

Major General Thomas Beaker breaks the silence with "The other six powers out here are going to be upgrading as well. All things considered. Deep scans show something heading this way. We can't tell if it's a rogue planet or a tightly grouped fleet but we are sending a battle group out to check it out. We only spotted it when it turned in our direction. To be honest we weren't really looking in that direction considering the Earth side issues we are still having. You'll be assigned to that new battle group with your new destroyer and under the command of Vice Admiral Albert Shriner.” “I understand sir. Thank you sir.”

Vice Admiral Albert Shriner says "I requested you and your crew. All of you have shown some remarkable abilities to improvise. It will be a week before your new destroyer is out of the Saturn shipyards. All of you have that time as paid leave. Report back to the Saturn shipyard at zero nine hundred on the twenty fourth. Dismissed captain." "Yes sir. Thank you sir.” As I'm heading out the door Major General Doris Beauchamp says “Tell my daughter and daughter in law that I'm going to meet them for supper at the Chinese diner on level three at twenty hundred on the mark. They had better not be late.” “Yes Ma'am.”

I'm escorted back into the hallway by the aide and as soon as the door closes I wobble on my feet. With one hand on the wall and my other arm held by the aide I just breathe for a minute. "If you would take some advice captain?" Giving him a nod to continue he offers "Go take a shower. Grab a bite to eat and then relax for a couple of hours. I saw your face when you came in the room. You looked like you were expecting a gallows and were determined to go there with head high and a jaunty song on your lips. Such a turnaround in expectations versus reality can be disorienting and you need time to adjust. Not only that but you've sweated through your dress blues and that is no condition for them to be in." "Sound advice. Thank you."
Chapter 11:

Before I do anything else I find Terry and pass along her mother's message. That done, I'm almost back to my quarters when Tony, Steve, and Scott intercept me. Scott slaps me on the back and says "We told you there was nothing to worry about didn't we you paranoid shit?” “Yeah, so you said but you aren't the Admiralty.” Tony barks a laugh and says “We're better. We are tied into the Sergeant network.” Scott teases “You remember those days. When you actually knew what was going on because you had a buddy in such and such an office?”

"Yeah, yeah, funny guys. What's up?" Scott smirks "Workouts. According to these two, we are both getting soft." Waving the cast in front of them I ask "What sort of workouts? I start PT for this later today." "Core body. Go change and we can drop the dress blues at the cleaners on the way.” “Sounds like a plan. Give me a minute and I'll be out.” “Pack some decent clothes too. We'll be going out for lunch.” A short time later we are at the gym working ourselves hard.

An hour in and Tony comes and says “Sparring practice stumpy.” “Not quite a stump here Tony. I still have a hand.” “Yeah but it's in a cast and you can't use it the way you normally would. Perfect time for some training so that if you're ever in this situation again you won't be helpless.” Giving a shrug at that logic I head over to the mats with him and proceed to practice what to do with one injured hand and a hostile opponent. An hour later and Steve and Scott come get us. “Shower time. We're meeting a few people for lunch.”

A half hour later at the restaurant, we are joined by Cheryl, Ann, and Ming. "Have a good workout Eric?" "Just what I needed. Now I'm hungry." Ann nods and says "That's because you played bulldozer with your breakfast instead of eating it." "Nerves." Cheryl snorts and says "You shouldn't have been nervous. I think the only one that actually turned in a negative note on everything that happened was you and that was on yourself. A friend of mine who's an aide to one of those Admirals says that every other report that crossed her desk was glowing about you and your actions.” Deciding to get a dig in she adds “She had to call me after she read a report from a squab named Diane describing exactly how heroic you looked when you found her in the hallway after the bug attack and precisely how she felt about that. In graphic terms.”

Giving her a disturbed look I say “What do you mean graphic terms?” Grinding that glass into the open wound she continues “My friend got a hold of her and helped her scale it down to official sounding terminology and completely erased about two thirds of the thirty page report for having” Coughing into her hand for emphasis “lusty parts.” I don't get why everyone is laughing. Giving Cheryl a very concerned look now “What the hell? Lusty parts? I found her in a hall and asked for a situation report and detailed a couple of troopers to take her back to the ship. How the hell do you get lusty parts from that?”

A snickering Cheryl continues the torment “The other two squabs, Penny and Ellen, had similar reports but were not as graphically inclined. Those two actually managed to keep from turning their reports into a panty wetting bodice ripper like Diane did. Barely.” Pinching the bridge of my nose while these idiots giggle at my expense I finally get my own composure back at about the same time as they do.

I'm about to bring up staffing for our new destroyer when Ann figures she can't let Cheryl have all the fun and decides to stick a knife in. “You know, those reports are making the rounds on the Lieutenant Lines?” Ming jumping into the scrum snorts and with a big smirk at me says “They are being passed around the Sargent Network as well. Very interesting reading. With a little bit of work, Diane could have a career as a novelist. There's a pretty big demand for that sort of thing.

Cheryl pans a hand wide and proclaims “The Continuing Erotic Adventures of Captain Eric Longsword, the Dread Pirate of Saturn Station.” Well, there is my hand, pinching the bridge of my nose again while everyone gets in a good chuckle. Maybe I can put in for a transfer to the Canal Zone? As a munitions round to be fired at the enemy. That sounds very good right about now.

All right. Enough of that. I know you people are on vacation but I do need you to do some thinking while you're lounging around trying to find ways to make me uncomfortable. Jerry is finally getting his own ship. Dan is going back to Pan to help figure things out while he recovers. We're probably losing a few more people to Jerry. I need to know who's going where, who's staying put and recommendations for staffing to replace those heading for Jerry's ship. I also want you thinking of recommendations for Jerry. He's going to need the help.” Syncing their data pads with the crew roster and needs I finally break them out of tease Eric mode and get them putting their devious minds to better use.

Ming, Cheryl, and Ann all say they are staying. Tony and Scott say the same and Steve says he's thinking about jumping to Jerry's ship. "That's fine Steve. Your choice and no hard feelings if you do. I'd actually like Jerry to have a few familiar faces on his crew." Nodding at that Steve says "Well I'll think it over. He's not as fun to pick on as you are and that's a factor I have to consider." "Yeah. Amusing. If you're going then you're going. Make sure if you stay it's for the right reasons.” “Affirm that Eric. I'll probably go to Jerry then. If he asks.” “He'd be an idiot to not ask.” “Yeah. Thanks for that vote of confidence then. I'll think it over.”

Deciding to get a little teasing of my own in I say “Cheryl. I want you.” and pause to take a breath. Seeing all the extremely startled wide open eyes and shocked expressions around me is almost enough to make up for their teasing earlier. Giving it another few seconds and timing the shock factor just right I finish the thought “As my new executive officer. I'll put you in for the promotion to Lieutenant Commander when I get back to my quarters.” Laughter all around even though some of it is coming from faces still holding shocked or dirty looks.

With a glance at his watch, Tony says "Time to get you to medical so they can remove the cast and start you on your physical therapy. You weren't half bad with just one hand but I'd be more comfortable about your safety if you had both in working order." "Yeah, copy that Tony. Me too. I need the rest of you giving some serious thought about that staffing situation. Just email me suggestions or we can get together on the last day of vacation before heading out for our new ship." A chorus of affirmative noises and nods and the party breaks up.

Walking toward medical with Tony I comment "You don't have to escort me everywhere you know. We are at a star base with security personnel, not the Canal Zone." Giving me a look he replies "Yeah. And we thought our ship was safe too." A valid point. "Point for you. Still, it's not necessary." "I'm your security chief. That means I'm responsible for your safety. You are injured and less capable than you were of defending yourself so that means it falls on me to keep you safe." Shrugging a bit at that I just keep walking.

After a couple of grueling hours at medical learning how to work the new hand and being shown some exercises to do on my own Tony and I head back to my quarters for a bit of rest. Watching a new report from the scientific sorts about the things they are learning from the Antarctica pyramid and squeezing the gadget the medical technician gave me until it beeps at the rotating grip strength so that muscle memory starts to build Tony and I spend a quiet couple of hours relaxing.

Getting startled a little by Tony jumping up and saying "Let's go get some supper. I know a place." He does? "All right." Trooping through the station and finding an elevator takes a little while and we end up on level three. Giving him a dirty look that he ignores as we exit the elevator we head down the corridor towards a Chinese restaurant. "I didn't want to deal with Terry's mother and that's where Terry and Tina are meeting her." Glancing at my watch I realize this is a setup. "About now." Smirking at me Tony holds the door open and waves me in.

Rolling my eyes and giving him another dirty look I do so and realize that the only people in the restaurant are members of the military. At a few tables near a fountain are the crew along with the Major Generals Doris Beauchamp and Anita Washington. Standing next to those two and smirking are Tina and Terry and there are four open seats at that table. Getting a little push from behind from Cheryl who enters after Tony and I do I start heading for the table of doom. Two Major Generals and the Terrible Two. We are joined there by Jerry and Ann.

Major General Doris Beauchamp starts things off by saying “If you snap to attention, salute or call me anything but Doris I'll have your bars and you working hard labor at a penal colony on an asteroid belt rock.” Blinking at that I respond with “Is Ma'am all right because I never could call you by your given name. Even when we were still in school it just seemed disrespectful.” “Never stopped your hooligan friends from calling me Doris.” “They weren't raised by my mother and her wooden spoon of doom.” Some laughter around the table at that.

Anita has a raised eyebrow so Doris opines “If she had stayed in the service she would have made Fleet Admiral instead of Greg. A very formidable woman.” Nodding in understanding Anita goes back to watching us very carefully. A few seconds later she says “No titles but I'll accept Mrs. Washington if you can't bring yourself to use Anita.” Smiling gratefully at that our conversation is interrupted by the waiter. Putting our orders in takes a minute and drinks are on the table in a flash. Mostly alcoholic beverages but both Cheryl and I went with coffee.

Turning a bit I say "Congratulations on getting your own ship, Jerry. You'll do great as a captain." Nodding at that he mumbles something that sounds like "I hope so." while the others congratulate him on his promotion. Doris pushes a box across the table and says "Pin your new XO's tabs on her collar for her Eric. I approved the promotion as soon as it hit the net." "Thank you Ma'am." Doing this for Cheryl seems to affect her as she blushes a brilliant red.

Anita pushes three boxes over, waves at the people in question to get them over to our table and says "For Ming, Paul, and Sean. Their promotions went through as well. You can pin them on them now while we wait for the food to come out." "Thank you Mrs. Washington." So I start attaching rank tabs to their collars. "Ming, promotion from Sergeant to Master Sergeant. Well deserved. Paul, congratulations on making Sergeant. You too Sean. Both of you have done excellent work and all five of you make the service proud to list you as members.”

Well, that snaps everyone to attention with textbook salutes. Including me and the two Major Generals. After holding that for a minute Anita says “At ease. Enjoy your meal people. This one is on Doris and me.” That starts up a round of applause for the two ladies in question. Looking a little uncomfortable they wave us all back to our starting spots and start talking to each other.

Sitting back down between Cheryl and Tina I'm a little startled when she grabs and holds my hand under the table. Shooting Cheryl an inquisitive look she just nods at me and starts talking to Jerry on the other side of her. Shooting Tina a quizzical look has her snorting in amusement and nudging Terry. Rolling my eyes at the antics of my friends I ask Tina if she's heard anything new about the people on Pan. “Nothing yet Eric but Terry and I are going to start doing our own tests on our own samples tomorrow. Now make sure you eat with your right hand so that you can build the neural control in it." This, of course, leaves my left hand trapped in Cheryl's hand if she decides to eat off hand as well.

A commotion at the door has us all turning to see Rear Admiral Rebecca Sterling coming in. “Sorry I'm late Doris, Anita. That jackass just would not shut the hell up.” Snorting a laugh as she waves Rebecca over we are suddenly presented with a problem. Eight seats and nine people. Just as I'm about to offer to move to another table Ann jumps up and salutes saying “Have my seat Admiral. I'll go sit with the others. I need to talk to Ming about something personal.” Giving her a nod Rebecca says “Flimsy excuse but thank you lieutenant. That's appreciated.” and takes the vacated seat with a groan.

The waiter is in and out in a flash with her order and she settles down to stare speculatively at Jerry and me while sipping her drink. She starts things off by saying “Doris and Anita invited me along to this party because the pair of you are going to be assigned to a new battle group being formed around my carrier. A few new things are happening thanks to the R and D boys and girls and a few inventive sergeants and warrant officers who like to tinker. You'll get the briefings along with everyone else in two weeks but I wanted to meet you two personally. I'm going to be meeting a few others that I haven't worked with yet aside from you two. Just taking your measure to see if Doris and Anita's recommendations suit me.”

Giving Jerry a side eyed look I say “We'll try not to let you down Ma'am but we are both pretty new to our bars.” Giving a sharp nod at that Rebecca continues “That's why I asked around for new captains. We'll be doing things slightly differently and I don't want people stuck in the groove having to try learning new things when we don't really have time to break their old ingrained habits. You two and the others I'm gathering don't have those habits carved into you yet. We have the new tech and need some new tactics to go with them. The ships are faster, better protected and hit harder with different weapons from when the three of us were coming up the ranks." With that, she gives a short wave at Doris and Anita who nod.

I think I understand Admiral.” Snorting a bit she says “I saw the footage from when that bug came in. With the phaser canons and our improved rail guns, you were one heck of a serious pest to that Grey alien ship. Once you had the gravity cannons you were even more dangerous to it. I think you could have probably stopped it yourself if you had enough time and an equally good second and third shift to swap out with on your destroyer. That's just the sort of attitude we need now." "Yes Ma'am." "Don't ask me about my new ship. You do not have the clearance to know about it for another week.” “No Ma'am.”

Thankfully the servers start coming out with our meals at this point and Doris says "Eric. Let go of that girl's hand and eat your supper." "Yes Ma'am." Giving her hand a little squeeze before letting go I get my hand back up and start trying to figure out the chopsticks with a hand that doesn't really want to cooperate just yet. Snorts of amusement and the focus of the three ranking ladies on Cheryl gets me looking at her and her blushing. I don't know why she's blushing. I'm the one that was called out on the hand holding not her. At least I can actually take a sip of coffee without fumbling now. That's an improvement.

By the end of the meal, I'm using the chopsticks with something resembling competency if not any actual grace and the conversation while we are eating is light and pleasant. Catching my ear is Doris and Rebecca telling Anita stories about a very formidable woman who could have taken the Fleet Admiral spot if she had stayed in the service instead of starting her own shipping company. It seems the three of them were squabs together and my mother was always the ring leader on whatever trouble they managed to find themselves in. I don't need to know this. Abort. Abort. Thankfully a distraction occurs.

Desserts are offered and either ordered or passed on and knowing this place everyone has ordered some at our table. Drinks are refilled and while we are waiting for desert to come out Terry gets up and squats between Tina and I and starts walking me through the finger scales and hand movements that I got from the therapy people. Nodding in satisfaction she comments "Not bad. It's integrating nicely and quickly. Just what we like to see when it comes to this. It looks like you are well on your way to one hundred percent integration." Giving her a slightly worried look I ask "There was some doubt about it?" Tina adds in "Not really. Rejection rates are one in fifty thousand and one in twenty five thousand can't fully integrate the new cybernetics into their own neurological network. The odds were very much in your favor.” Nice to let a body know about that.

Done with all that I lean around Cheryl and get Jerry's attention. “When we are done here let's head back to your quarters and go over the personnel files to see who we can grab for the ships. The squad came up with a few recommendations and I want to split the talent if we can.” “Sounds like a plan Eric. Frankly speaking, I wouldn't mind the help. We did this recently but it was your ship not mine that we were making lists for.” “Same concept Jerry.”

Yeah, maybe Eric. But I have to think about people I can get along with as a commander instead of thinking about people you can get along with as a commander." "Same groupings Jerry. People I can get along with are going to be people you can get along with." "Fair point brother. We'll see how it goes though. I know Steve is jumping ships and I think Ann will follow him. I caught the pair cozied up watching a movie not long ago." News to me. "Good for them. If she wants to jump over then I'm fine with it." "I knew you would be but I didn't want you blindsided by that."

At that point, the station gives a huge lurch accompanied by a thunderous roar that throws everyone. Pushing Cheryl and her chair off me I check to see if she's hurt. Unconscious but not bleeding. Nice lump coming up on the back of her head already. The main lights are out and there is a whistling sound. The hull is breached someplace. I'm not hearing too many voices. Either they are unconscious, dead or busy. Giving a loud "Sound off." has people shouting their names. While that is happening the emergency lights come on.

First order of business, find that air leak or leaks. I hear at least one and possibly five distinct whistles. I need someone to see if you can get a hold of base command and find out what's going on. Then we need to take care of the wounded.” Tina and Terry are starting to come around. Anita is sitting there blinking owlishly and Doris and Rebecca are out cold. Grabbing some napkins off of a cart I press them to Anita's leg and say “Hold this here. You are bleeding but it's not that bad.” Still blinking and not really seeming to be in the here and now she does.

Jerry calls out "Found one." "Tip a table on it. That will at least slow things until we can get a patch kit." "Copy that boss." Jerry flips a table over and centers it on the hole in the floor that he found. "I'm still hearing whistles, Jerry. C'mon people. Let's plug those holes." A mad scramble starts and within a few minutes the whistling noises are stopped and people are tending the wounded and knocked out.

Ann reports “No contact with base command. Channels are down. I can get ship traffic and they are reporting an explosion on level five section three. Two floors directly below us. Level four is venting atmo at an alarming rate and level six is as well.” “What's on level five?” “I don't know. Schematics are not available but I think it's just more shopping and restaurants.” “Keep trying Ann. We need more info. Ming see who you can get a hold of too.” “Yes sir.”

Sean over by the door reports “Safety doors are down and locked. It looks like part of the hallway vented atmo. We are not getting out until it's fixed.” “Copy that Sean. Go see if they have repair kits in the kitchen. They should have several based on the standard leases for these spaces.” “Copy that Eric. On it.” He's met at the door to the kitchen by some of the staff who explain that they were patching holes in there and are now coming out here to help. They have one dead and three wounded in the kitchen staff. They rapidly start moving furniture and patching holes and suspected weak spots.

Meanwhile, Terry and Tina have checked the admiral and generals and has moved on to others. Most of us out here are reasonably fine so it's into the kitchen to help with the restaurant staff now. Cheryl is starting to come around so I lean over and say “Hold still. You cracked your head a good one and possibly have a concussion.” Bringing her hand up to her head she just groans but lays still. All right. On to other things. A voice from the kitchen calls my name so I head in that direction. At the door I see Terry and Tina doing combat medic work on a waiter with a massive cut across his thigh. “What do you need?” “Another medical kit. Failing that some way to sterilize this.”

The owner of the restaurant Mr. Wong points at a cabinet and when it's opened shows more hull patch kits and a couple of large medical kits. Giving him a smile of approval and thanks at his preparedness I grab a med kit and bring it over to where they are working hard to try and save this man's life and leg. Diving right in I hear a mumbled "Hold his leg straight." from Tina. Getting a good grip at knee and ankle I straighten the leg out. "Pull just half an inch." Following directions, I see the end of the femur that had torn through his skin slide back into the leg and Tina and Terry hurriedly start working.

A few minutes later Ming comes in and says "I have base command. They are going to pull a ship along the side of the hull and use an emergency airlock to get us out. Mr. Wong will be compensated for the damages but we need to be in the kitchen when this happens in case the quick grip does not seal correctly." "Copy that Ming. Start pulling people in here then. The sooner they can do that the better off we'll be. Able bodies help the wounded." "Yes sir. On it sir. Let them know we have wounded here as well. I think this fellow is the most serious but we have burns and shrapnel wounds too." "Yes sir. On it."

People start filing in and finding room in the kitchen. “Mr. Wong. Can you please make sure all of your stoves and ovens are off?” “Yes. I had my staff do that but it would best to check again to make sure. None of us were thinking very clearly at first.” “Good deal. Thank you.” “If I may ask before I go do this. Are you feeling well? You look very pale.” “I'm fine Mr. Wong. I was just bounced and had someone and their chair land on me. Let's make sure there are no more injuries because someone with a concussion forgot to shut off a burner.” “If you insist. I will return in a moment.”

Coming up behind me as she comes in the room Ann asks "What are you standing in?" "Dunno Ann. Everything sort of was flung about in here. Soup maybe. Focus on getting the others in here." "Eric. That's not soup." "Whatever it is isn't important right now. Just get everyone in here so the rescue ship can make a lock on the room and get us out." "Eric. That is not soup and you are too pale right now. Terry. I need help here. Mister stubborn is bleeding out." Terry looks over and frowns. "Eric. Sit down and let me look at that leg." "What about this guy?" "He's stabilized. I can't do more without a surgical suite now sit down before I knock you down." Fine. Be that way.

Sitting down I realize just how freaking tired and sore I am. "I could use a nap." "Mr. Wong. Can you get some juice and make sure he's drinking it. He has a through and through in his calf and he's bleeding like a stuck pig." Looking down at my leg in shock I finally realize how damp it feels inside my boot. "Well, would you look at that. I am bleeding." "Shut up idiot. Let me work. Tony, Sean, grab his leg and hold it still."

Tony grabs me at the ankle and Sean wraps around the knee and they hold me very tight as Terry gets the boot off and cuts through my pants leg. “The best I have right now is ibuprofen. Sorry Eric.” “That's fine. Just get it done.” She nods and Terry and Tina proceed to pack the wound with a disinfectant and clotting agent and bandages it tightly. As I start breathing again a minute later and wait for the stars to fade from my eyes I decided that my teeth do not need to be clenched to the point of breaking and manage to pry them from each other. Sean is looking up at me in horror. "I never realized you could actually hear teeth grinding like that. It sounded like a dozen pepper mills working at the same time."

All of this seems to have drawn a crowd because I can see a whole lot of people staring at me. A voice from over my shoulder that sounds like Anita mumbles “Tough. He didn't even pass out or scream.” A voice that sounds like Doris mumbles “He has always been that.” Rebecca mumbles “He did a good job organizing things while the three of us were napping though.” Anita mumbles “I can't wait to read these reports just so I know what I missed.” Some soft laughter from all three of them and I just roll my eyes.

Ann, Ming. Do you have anything to report?" Ann does and says "A couple of more minutes Eric. They are stabilizing the emergency lock and making sure the seals are not going to pop. Once they do that they'll bang on our door and we can make a hasty run for the ship that's waiting." Ming mumbles "Well as hasty as we can considering we have wounded." Thinking it over real quick I poke Sean in the shoulder. "You can let go of my leg now." Starting and blushing he does so I order "Figure out something we can use as a stretcher for that guy on the table. Even if it's a table cloth carried by a half dozen of you. I'd like something a little more sturdy but if that's what we have then that's what we'll use.” Nodding at me he goes and confers with the others and they soon break up a shelving unit and strap the guy to it using strips of table cloth. Good enough.

Terry is looking at me oddly. So quirking an eyebrow at her she gives a sneaky look around to see who could hear and finally leans in very close and whispers "That wasn't shrapnel. You were shot. The angle and shape is all wrong. There were no hull breaches near you or in your direction but if you line it up while we were all thrown then it's possible the one on the wall near the fountain where there shouldn't be one is an exit hole from a pistol shot. I think it came from the doorway just as things were exploding. I think the actual target was one of the Generals or the Admiral and the shot was thrown off by the rocking of the station. Your calf, the admiral's thigh and the waist high hole in the wall line up if the shooter was knocked to the floor before taking his shot.
Chapter 12

Sitting in the medical bay of the rescue ship with a saline IV drip of medication and a transfusion for blood loss and thinking over what Terry whispered to me I'm startled when Major General Doris Beauchamp comes into the room. Waving me back down as I try to get up and salute she gives me an extremely dirty look. “None of that you idiot. Keep off that leg.” “Yes Ma'am.”

I talked with Rebecca and Anita and we are going to start transferring crew to the new ships early. I have your crew requests but I do not think you will get very many of those approved. Some are already assigned and others are either not otherwise available or can not clear the security check requirements in time.” Frowning at that I ask “So who am I getting?” She smirks and says “You'll probably have to wait and see.” Frowning even harder I quip “Great. I do so love surprises.”

Snorting a laugh at that Doris goes on to say “Terry told me about her theory. We are looking into it.” “I don't think she's wrong Ma'am. I was just thinking through that and the shooter would probably have been in the hallway shooting through the door. It would have been easy to get away at that point considering the other doors and elevators available.” Doris adds to the thought “Whoever it was. They were probably as surprised by the explosion as we were and fell. The shot probably was not aimed well at that point but the shooter had their finger on the trigger. It was probably accidental and done when they hit the floor.” Thinking that through I think out loud “Then the target could really have been anyone in the room including the restaurant staff not just someone in the military.” Doris nods thoughtfully at that.

Any clue on the cause of the explosion?” “Not yet Eric. They are still investigating. I'll keep you and Jerry in the loop with what I find out.” “Thank you Ma'am. That would be appreciated.” Giving me a nod and just standing there thinking I wait Doris out. She has something on her mind and I'll find out if she decides to tell me. Giving me a speculative look that turns into a sly smile she nods once to herself and says “Get better quick. You will be transferred out to the Neptune shipyard tomorrow with the others.” “Yes Ma'am.”

A nurse salutes the Major General as she leaves and then changes out my transfusion bag. Another unit of blood. I wonder how much I lost. This is my second one plus the saline bag dripping in. The nurse says “Time for some medicine for the pain. This may make you sleepy.” “Thank you.” Giving me a nod he injects the medication. Makes a note on my chart and makes sure I'm comfortable and leaves. He was right. I'm very sleepy now so a nap seems to be in order.

Waking up to Tina changing the dressing on my leg and Terry making some notes on my chart I say "Good morning." causing both to jump a little. Giving me a dirty look Tina says "We're getting ready to move to another ship for the transfer to Neptune. Do you want to do this laying down or sitting up?" "Sitting, please. I can get up quicker if I need to." Terry gives me a dirty look but disconnects all the tubes and monitor pads and they help me over to a wheelchair and start moving me out of the room and down the hall.

As we are heading down the hall a corporal with staff tabs connecting him to Major General Anita Washington comes up and hands me a data pad, salutes and walks away. Huh. Interesting. Turning it on and starting to read I see that the explosion was caused by a bomb and that the remains of the person setting it were found. Additional unexploded bombs were found at two other locations. Apparently when they were arming the one that blew they set it off instead of setting the timer or the remote detonator. Possibly as a distraction for the shooter two floors up but that's not confirmed. The more likely scenario was that they were trying to cut the station in half at the narrowest portion where the civilian and military decks connect.

By the time I am done reading we have transferred to a new ship and I'm not sure which one. Giving a quizzical look at Terry because this ship seems to be brand new and still has that fresh paint smell she just shrugs. Apparently, she doesn't know what ship this is either because she's giving me the same look. Tina pipes up "Don't ask me. I wasn't told the name of the ship either." We're lead to a galley where we find others of our crew along with several dozen other people.

Cheryl asks “Any clue as to what is going on Eric?” “We are getting shipped to the Neptune shipyards early. I would guess that they are rounding up everyone being assigned there as we speak whether or not their ship is actually ready.” Scott reports “No markings anywhere that I've seen so far and the crew is missing the usual ship tabs and patches.” Tina agrees “I noticed that too Scott.” Most of the others are nodding along and we are attracting people that are not part of our crew with our conversation.

A tall bald fireplug shaped man edges in and asks “Are one of you Captain Gerald Stevens?” Jerry stands up and offers his hand “Call me Jerry.” Taking Jerry's hand for a shake he reports “Thank you Jerry. I'm Master Sergeant Alan Rickman. Your new security chief. I'm supposed to stick to you like glue.” Nodding at that Jerry starts introducing the crews and Alan smirks and says “I already know most of you by reputation. You lot are the ones that found out that Pan wasn't really a rock. Your names are being spread around in quite a few quarters at this point.”

Jerry and I look at each other and shrug. Not much we can do about that so Jerry says “It was pure blind luck that the thing decided to open up for us instead of just allowing us to crash land on the surface.” Nodding at that Alan says “That's one of the reasons I volunteered when I heard you were getting your own ship and positions were opening up. The other is the way you chased down that bug mother ship and kept at it even after taking a good solid hit but knew when to pack it in. That's the sort of people that I want to serve with. Gung ho but smart about it.”

Giving an uncomfortable shrug I ask “So do you know what ship this is?” “No sir. No markings anywhere that I've seen but the bar is open and the restaurant is serving supper.” Snorting a laugh Cheryl says “You stay sitting Eric. I'll get you something to eat and some coffee.” “Thanks.”

A couple of hours later we feel the ship uncouple from the station and start moving. A tall rawboned man wearing Colonel tabs comes in and immediately has everyone's attention. "Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am Colonel Theodore Palmer but you can call me Ted. You are aboard a new class of ship called a pocket battleship. It is essentially a battleship without the hangar bays. We have no corvettes or fighters on board. Other than that and it's shorter length and weight we have essentially the same combat capabilities of a battleship. Or we will once they upgrade our current battleships. On the old scale, we would compare to a dreadnought for combat capabilities. Schematics and performance reviews are available to those who wish to know more about the PB Arkansas Alpha.”

He looks around the room for a moment and then continues "I know you have questions but maybe I have some answers so hear me out first." Funny guy. No one has even blinked so far. "We have three more stops to make to pick up some more crew for the ships being worked on at Vice Admiral Albert Shriner's orders. All crews being assigned to the new battle group are being moved to that location regardless of if their ship is actually ready. The three other ships in this class are on the same mission as I am. Unfortunately, there is not enough cabin space for solitary confinement but if you can be patient for another 48 hours we will have you at our final stop and you can get comfortable there. In the meantime, sleeping bags will be provided for a rotating sleep cycle which does include my own crew sharing their quarters with you passengers.”

Still not a word from this crowd so he continues on “Our ship net password is 'Max the cat is a bad dog!' with only the first letter of the name capitalized and an exclamation point at the end for a punctuation mark.” Amusing. I think I like this guy. Pulling at his collar a little he complains “Yeesh. Tough room.” That actually gets the expected reactions and he smiles a bit at the soft laughter but everyone is still hanging on his every word.

You will find information on there under your own names. Transfer orders and mission briefings and such. There is no classified information on there that any of you are not cleared for so feel free to share and speculate. The really juicy information comes when we get to where we are eventually going. That is when your security clearances will be upgraded so that you can officially know what you will soon be finding out.”

Interesting but not unheard of. "Now with that, I need to get back to running my ship. I'm sorry I can't tell you more but I am under orders." Piping up I say "We all understand military protocols Colonel. I just want to say thank you for coming down yourself and telling us this much." Giving me a curious stare he asks "Are you Captain Vila?" "Yes sir I am." "The gent next to you is Captain Stevens?” “Yes sir he is.” “Could you both follow me please? I have some additional information from Admiral Sterling to give to both of you that you can decide for yourselves if you want to share with your crews.” Jerry and I share a quick look and he gets up and starts pushing my chair over to the Colonel as he coms his XO.

Considering I'm not driving I pull up my data pad and log into the ship net. Pulling up the schematics for the pocket battleship class they have on file has me giving a soft whistle of appreciation. Getting a snarked "If you're going to be scanning military porn at least narrate what you are seeing so I can get hot and bothered too." from Jerry. Ted and I snort a laugh and I start doing so. "The Pocket Battle Ship class is fifteen hundred feet long and displaces five thousand tons. The engine capacity is capable of moving it at twenty percent faster than the bug ships we fought and the shields are comparable to a dreadnought with the oversized emitters. It also has the new hemp steel armor with a new glazing that is supposed to help against beam weapons.” “Interesting so far. Keep going.”

It has the new rail gun system but it has four printers for the ammo. One thousand pound rounds shot at point three five light speed. The printer is also capable of making those rounds a limited seeker round by taking one hundred pounds of that round and printing engines and a control panel for it that is quickly programmed as it's printed. It can track in a thirty degree forward arc in addition to the typical five degree arc that the weapon system allows.” “Holy shit! Are you serious?” Ted just laughs and nods.

To top that off it has six of the new plasma torpedo tubes. Those are capable of firing a torpedo that tracks the same arc as the rail gun system and is the blast equivalent to a fifty megaton nuclear warhead from the old atomic days but without the radiation outputs. Just pure heat and damage. Two printers each.” “Wow. This thing really packs a punch already. What does it have for direct fire weapons and how is it powered?”

You're going to love this. It doesn't have to land. Ships over heavy cruiser do not make planet fall so they went and doubled the weaponry on board. It has six gravity beam turrets and two phaser turrets forward set up four up and four down. Four gravity beam turrets and four phaser turrets aft set the same way. On a broadside, it can fire all sixteen turrets at the same time. All sixteen are on bands so they can fire full broadsides up as well as down. Forty eight pulse phaser point defense mounts on ball swivel for missile and torpedo defense as well."

Like I mentioned before it has the oversized shield emitters and the whole thing is powered by twenty four thorium reactors. It has enough power for everything to be happening at once without sacrificing anything like the grav plates or a combat engine burn while turning sharp.” A few seconds of silence and Jerry asks “Anything on there about the new destroyers?” “Sorry buddy. Not that I can see.” Ted gives us a sly look and says “Look under the file name Asp.”

Snorting a laugh because I get the reference. Jerry is looking at Ted like he lost a marble someplace as I pull up the file. "All right then Jerry. Here we go. Two gravity cannons on a band fore and aft, top and bottom, so they can rotate to the sides for landing. Two phaser cannons with the same setup. A total of eight cannon turrets. Sixteen point defense pulse phasers. We have the oversized shield emitters and hemp steel armor with the new energy beam resistant glazing. The improved rail gun with the same characteristics as the pocket battleship but only capable of one hundred pound rounds and it has only two printers. Ours can get up to point four C. We have the plasma torpedoes. Four of them capable of five megaton yields with two printers each. Eight thorium reactors. Not as large as on the PB but big enough to keep us running everything while we maneuver hard.” A slow whistle comes from Jerry and he lapses into silence.

Jerry finally says “I can see why they code named it the Asp. It sounds very dangerous." Jerry has to stop the wheelchair because Ted is leaning against the wall laughing and I'm too busy cackling hard to try to explain the hilarity of that comment to him. A few minutes later and somewhat recovered Ted starts walking again. He can't stop chuckling to himself yet so it's up to me. "I'll have to have you watch that movie sometime Jerry. Then you'll understand why what you said was so funny." Giving us both dirty looks he wisely keeps quiet.

After an elevator up two decks and down a little more corridor Ted opens a room just before a conference room on one side, a small galley on the other and the bridge just ahead. Waving us into the room he offers us some coffee and in a minute he's back from the galley with three mugs on a tray. After sipping a very excellent blend for a minute he finally clears his throat and says “All right. Big secret times.” Turning to a computer, he enters a few commands and turns back to us. “The two of you are now upgraded high enough where you can actually hear what I'm going to be telling you.” Both of us nod at that. Standard operating procedure. Holding out a data pad we both put our thumbs on it for biometric scanning to seal the deal. It's a fairly standard NDA but the clearance is higher than any I've ever held and I've never heard of these classifications before.

We are not heading for the Neptune shipyards once we have gathered everyone on our list from our next three stops. We are heading a bit further out." Jerry and I exchange a look and I say "I didn't think we had anything around Pluto yet." Ted smirks and says "We don't. Furthest out that people know about is Neptune but that's not where we are heading. Think further." Jerry asks "Kuiper Belt?" A negative from Ted. Jerry whispers "Oort Cloud?" Ted nods so I ask "What's out there besides a whole lot of comet fodder?"

You'll have the info on your data pads now but I can summarize if you want." Both of us nod so he continues. "They found a very dark brown dwarf sun with a half dozen planets circling it. This system is analogous to Jupiter in that it's technically a system within a system. There is just enough attraction between our sun and the dwarf to keep it where it is. Very low albedo in the whole system so it remained undiscovered until about ninety years ago when the heavy cruiser Mars Base Nebraska Papa now retired had a very odd series of malfunctions that put it on a full burn with no navigation or pilot controls. It eventually ended up within visual range of our subsystem in what turns out to be a very odd binary system. Sol two as it is now called is energetic enough to heat three of the planets in the system enough that they are habitable. The second, third and fourth planets. The first is like our Venus and five and six are more like Europa. If one were a little further out and five and six a little closer they would all be habitable. All six planets have between point seven and one point one earth gravity."

Jerry and I are just staring at him in shock so he gives us a minute. Slowly sliding out of it I ask "You said that three are habitable?" Nodding he continues "Two is a desert world. Much like Mars will be once the terraforming is finished and with a little more gravity. Three is very earth like and four could be a duplicate. They've been moving people out there for fifty years. Mostly scientists and support staff right now but the pace will pick up once we finish another new class of ship called the colony transport ship. That class will be capable of taking ten thousand people in some comfort to the new planets but is very slow so it'll take them six months compared to our three weeks of travel time. They have a dozen nearing completion in the Sol Two shipyard.”

How come we've never heard of this before?” Ted shakes his head and says “I never heard of it until I was tapped for this command. I know what sort of shock this is because I was sitting there making fish faces just like you two not that long ago. I still have to stop and breathe every now and then at the sheer scale of this.” Jerry and I just stare at him trying to take in all this new information.

Confirming in my mind at least that Ted is a practical joker at heart despite the Eagles on his collar. “That's not the best part though. The best part is that at one point there was intelligent life on those planets. We've found buildings that match and exceed the pyramid in Antarctica for splendor. We've also found a variety of remains. Giants thirty feet tall. Giants fifteen feet tall. Little people two feet tall. Large humans with double rows of teeth averaging eight feet tall. Normal sized human people with elongated skulls like at Paracas. Winged humans about seven feet tall. Humans that seem very comfortable in aquatic zones. I think the Dogon tribe in Africa called them the Nommos. There are about a dozen other shapes and sizes as well including a one foot tall winged human type. Each with their own little city and space on the three planets with a huge capital capable of housing representatives on planet four.”

I start up and squeak “You're talking about Nibiru? The Nephilim? Angels? I thought that was all myth?" Jerry jumps looks at me in shock and then at Ted and just starts shaking his head. Ted pulls out a bottle of fifty year old whiskey made on Jupiter Two Starbase and pours a shot into each of our coffee cups and then mimes taking a sip. Jerry and I do. Settling down a little bit after a few sips we just sit there and stare as Ted continues.

They found a very large amount of technology but no actual ships that survived just the plans in the databases. What you found was in actuality an incredibly huge find and it is a ship by the way. Just so you two and your crews don't feel left out of things. But there was much more info in the databases on those planets than in the pyramid in Antarctica. Those guys are actually pissed about that. Like it's a competition or something. We do know the language that is used on that ship by the way. It's a very advanced proto-Gaelic. The actual Gaelic devolved into what we know today because the original speakers were no longer around to keep it up.

Holy Ghosts. He's still talking. “According to the records there, it was once a much larger system when it crossed paths with our system. After a few dozen passes through causing a bit of havoc it eventually started settling down to its current orbit around our sun. It's managed to come to a nearly circular orbit but it goes over the solar poles instead of on the elliptic like the rest of the planets. The orbits of the planets around the dwarf are still a little erratic but they seem to be smoothing out. That's one of the other reasons it was so hard to find. It wasn't where we expected planets to be based on the planets we know and have seen through things like the Hubble Telescope. All of this happened about six hundred thousand years ago give or take an era or two. It lost a few planets along the way. We think Neptune and its moons was part of this system but we are not exactly sure. The records there indicate it once had a planet with moons that match its description. Venus was actually a planet in this system in a balanced orbit on the far side of planet three when this occurred and was knocked inwards to become our second planet. The two were always on opposite sides of their sun. Oddly enough, it was habitable at that time and actually did have life on it.

We just keep staring at him. “That's a lot to take in Ted. I'm not sure how long this is going to take to digest but I'm feeling very much full at the moment.” Jerry mumbles “A little more and I'm going to pass out.” I nod at that. Ted smiles sympathetically. “Not much more to tell except for details. They lost a war against a race of creatures that looked like large praying mantises that had an assortment of insect allies or minions. They had the better technology but were too few in numbers to hold off the insect hordes. All told according to the databases there were only twenty or so million people on all of those planets. Some escaped to our system ahead of their system merging with ours. Those were the lucky ones. They managed to hang on for a few hundred thousand more years but their home worlds were trashed from the wars and then the environmental problems from the merging kept them from going back home. Then they just devolved and lost their technology. The last of them died on earth.”

Jerry and I stare at each other for a minute and a thought occurs to me. "The praying mantis things? What are you talking about?" Ted makes a horrible face and takes a slug right from the bottle before answering. "Those things that came in the system? They are part of that collective. The fighting arm of that little empire if you will. They are the much smaller and much more numerous cousins of the praying mantis overlords. All of them are omnivorous but prefer protein if you get my meaning." We get his meaning so we nod.

They basically go from system to system and 'cull' the herds they find. A change of plan happened a couple hundred years ago though. In exchange for technology improvements and to keep from being culled our former governments made a deal with them to send them tribute in the form of one hundred thousand people every year. A ship would come and collect the tribute and leave the next bit of technology. That's why people were going missing so often back then. They were being fed to the insects. All those wars creating refugees. That was all part of the plan to round up people with less scrutiny. Kind of hard to keep track of people when everyone is fleeing an invading army or bombing.” Jerry and I nod because it makes sense and we sort of figured something like that was happening even if no one told us directly. It was all there in the history records on the net that are now wide open for everyone to read and view. Not much is hidden from anyone anymore.

Ted continues "So the tribute ships have been getting scared off by the rapid build up in our system and not getting any recognition codes from the collaborators. Five years ago we actually caught and destroyed one of them on its way in. It was lurking in the Kiuper belt but we didn't know who or what it was, just that it fired on the ship that went to check it out. Not much survived the reactor explosion so we didn't have much to go on. This recent visit seemed more like a punitive action to discipline its uppity subjects and get the tribute flowing again."

A few moments of silence and Ted drops the last bit of boom on us. “We're tracking what is either a large spaceship or fleet. It turned towards us about a hundred years ago based on images from the Hubble Telescope. You can see it traveling in a straight line and then the curve as it changes direction and now it's heading almost directly at us. That's one of the reasons for the new task force. At its current estimated speed it will reach our system in five years but if it's what we think it is we'll see invasion fleets long before then. The fleet is being put together to go scout this out. We're going to slingshot around the sun to build up speed and do a constant burn out for three months and then drop a better telescope with better sensors that has a quantum pairing effect communicator in its path so we have real time updates. That will have it's own engines to build off the speed we impart and then we'll turn and head back and aerobraking around something. Probably Jupiter if our calculations are right. If not then we go for an aerobraking around the sun. We'll be out there for a little less than a year."

I have a question Ted. Why is an actual fleet doing this instead of a purpose built ship?" "Very good question Eric. The fleet itself is a purpose built ship." Pulling up a schematic on the monitor of his computer he points out something Jerry and I missed. "This is a physical and magnetic coupler that will hold your destroyer to the supercarrier. It has thirty six of those. It also has four larger couplers for the pocket battleships. Those couplers also allow all the ships to share energy from the reactors, life support, shielding power and we can feed power into the carrier's oversized forward line gravity beam tripling the output and range. It also allows the carrier to boost using our engines as well as theirs. We move as a single ship utilizing all the power and thrust available to basically push everyone else along."

Jerry and I stare at this for a minute. “It's been tested?” Ted nods “Small scale but yes. All the math works out and the physical clamps and magnetics are twice as strong as tests suggest are needed. We are not sure about the grav beam yet. It may fry the capacitors but they built those sturdy so maybe we'll get lucky. We'll be testing a few other things along the way but if this works out it changes the nature of our deep space game." Thank you, Colonel Obvious.

Thinking out loud I say “I'll say it changes things. If we build a big colony ship capable of say fifty thousand or a hundred thousand people and attach a fleet to it we can cross to other stars much faster and have protection along the way and once we get there. A few dozen destroyers to act as shuttles and it's a game changer.” That gets a nod and Ted says “That would still take years to do but for now I have to get to the bridge. You guys can either head back down to the main galley or sit and talk. You'll be spending the trip sharing my quarters and we get another pair of captains joining the conga line at the second [b]stop.”[/b]
Finally :)

Guest

OOOOH, you have a zombie novel? Link?

Moms journal of the zombie years is one of my favoritest ever, and I'm forever reading over at zombie squad forum.
ZAP Club novel. Book 1 complete. Book 2 starts page 10.

https://the-fringe.com/thread-zap_club_n...ts_page_10

Not the book but the prepper thread that helped with the title and concept for the book.

Welcome to the ZAP Club. Zombie Apocalypse Preppers Club.

https://the-fringe.com/thread-welcome_to...ppers_club

Could I get that link for the zombie squad forum?

Guest

Sorry for the delay! I don't forum hop as much as I should. Chuckle

https://www.zombiehunters.org/forum/viewforum.php?f=113

Some people have published their work and taken their chapters down, but most are still there and free. I'm trying to remember which story had the Zombnado. MJOTZY is a great read, but left open ended. You should add yours there! People are always dying (heh) for story time. ;)
Chapter 13:

A few hours later while sitting in the galley across from the Colonel's room we feel the ship make dock with another station. More people being picked up for the trip out to Sol 2 and the planets around it. Jerry and I are absorbed in our reading and trying to play catch up with the details so when a pair of arms comes around my neck and I get kissed on the top of the head I'm a little bit surprised. The voice that accompanies all that is very familiar though. "Hey Eric. How're things treating you now that you have your own ship and why are you in a wheelchair?"

“Well if it isn't my favorite cousin. How are things back home Juliet?” Feeling her shrug a bit she says “Well you know how the family is. When it was found out that you were the one that discovered Pan was a ship, Aunt Helen managed to convey that into a fifty percent bigger contract with SysCom. You know your mom's attitude on that. What's good for the company is good for the family and vice versa.” That sounds like Mom all right. “Is Uncle Pete still trying to play at politics or has he settled back into the company like a good younger brother?” “You'd be shocked Eric. Aunt Helen and Aunt Gina are both now supporting dad's Senate run.” That gets me to crank my head as much as I can to give her a side eyed look.

“Get us some coffee and sit down so I can see your face. I can't tell if you are joking or not.” A chuckle and the arms vanish. About that time I notice Jerry talking to his sister Doreen and the fact that both Juliet and Doreen are wearing Captain tabs on their collars. Juliet gets back with coffee for everyone and notices the therapy device on the table and that touches off a round of questions tossed at each other that eventually are answered in their entirety. Some well deserved promotions for the pair of them and Jerry but a bit of surprise at the injuries and severity of what I went through. It seems word did not get to them or back home before they left for their new commands. Both of them are very shocked to hear about the new tinker toy at the end of my arm.

At about that time Ted comes back in and gives Jerry and I a serious look. “Bad news guys. We've lost five of the new captains in three days. All to different circumstances but considering the frequency and who they are, all are being treated as foul play. Any recommendations for promotions to their own ships?” Jerry says “Ann O’Connor” at the same time I say “Cheryl Thomas”. Juliet and Doreen both nod and Doreen muses “Good choices. Cheryl is steady and reliable and Ann is a bit wild but knows the material and is ready for the responsibility.” Ted nods at that and says “I'll be right back.” before heading back to the bridge.

After a half an hour of catching up with the pair Ted shows back up with Cheryl and Ann in tow. Both with new captain bars on their collars and stunned looks on their faces. That was a fast approval of a promotion. Very fast. He waves for Doreen and Juliet to join him. They both cross the hall to join the others and go into Ted's quarters for the big briefing. They'll soon be back out here with shocked looks and a lot of questions so Jerry and I hit the books again just as we feel the ship break from the station and start accelerating. One more stop I think and we are on the three week journey for Sol two and our new ships.

A half an hour later the four ladies file out of Ted's room and Ted heads back to the bridge. Jerry and I give each other a look and wait while the ladies grab some beverages and sit around the table with us. Smirking at Jerry because all the ladies seem able to do is give each other disbelieving stares I just go back to my reading. Jerry shrugs and goes back to his data pads as well.

Juliet starts with “Are you buying that?” I nod and point at the data pad. “All here in black and white with plenty of photographic and video evidence. Signed off on by recognized names in whatever field is being presented.” They nod at that and Cheryl asks “What about those giants?” Jerry picks up with “Well the ceilings in Antarctica are twenty feet and the ship we were on were ten. I just found a reference to a pyramid that is buried in Alaska that has thirty five foot ceilings with a small section they had to use robots to explore because the ceilings were only eighteen inches high. That section had living quarters, meeting rooms, control rooms and everything else that the main pyramid had but in miniature.”

Ann quirks an eyebrow and says "Wings and amphibious." Jerry and I both nod at that and pull up the pictures from the archeological digs on the third planet to show them. Except for the wings and gills with webbed extremities respectively they could be humans. Doreen shakes her head. Not in disbelief but just because it's a whole lot to take in and she's having problems. Jerry and I share a look and I coax "Pull out some data pads and start going through the databases. Once you actually start looking into this info you'll get over your shock and skip right to fascinated and obsessed." Jerry thinking with his stomach first says "But first we dine. The smells coming from that kitchen are divine. That sauce smells almost as good as Aunt Gina's." I nod and say "I can smell fresh garlic bread being baked."

After a hearty supper that seems to ground the ladies and a whole lot of reading and conversations that start with “Have you seen?” or “How about this?” We all startle from our focus when Ted comes in and says “Any preference for a sleep shift? First, second or third?” I shrug and say “I can get used to any of the above. Put me down for whenever is best for the others.”

Going back to reading on the varied species of humans and the very slight genetic differences between them despite being between one and thirty feet tall I half way pay attention to the conversation. After a whole lot of debate, I end up sleeping the first shift and up for second and third with Cheryl. Jerry and Ann are on second shift and Ted, Juliet and Doreen get the third shift." While they are deciding that I make a note to ask Ted about upgrading Tina and Terry to our security clearances. They'd be fascinated with this stuff and maybe they can dumb it down for the rest.

Nodding at that request Ted says “I'll do that when I get up. I'll give them the full briefing afterward too. You have the bridge Captains Vila and Thomas. Third shift is upon us.” Well all right then. With a nod at that Cheryl and I head for the bridge, Jerry and Ann continue poring over the new information and Ted, Juliet and Doreen vanish into Ted's quarters. I'm not very surprised to learn that the ladies will be sharing the bed and Ted has to sleep on his own couch. He shouldn't be too put out though. That was a very comfortable looking couch and I'll get to test it soon enough.

6 hours into our shift we are coming up to our next stop at the Titania station to pick up another half dozen people coming up on a corvette so we slow to a stop. Giving it a quick talking over and losing at rock paper scissors I wheel down to meet the new people while Cheryl steps the ship through the connection process. Reaching the galley at the same time as the new people I start in with the same speech that Ted gave me when I first arrived on board but something seems off.

Just as it's occurring to me that these are not the people that we are supposed to be picking up they start pulling a variety of weapons out. Drawing my side arm I'm prepared for a hell of a fight. I'm seeing others in the mess hall ducking for cover or drawing side arms as well. I'm just about to dive off the wheelchair when a contingent of Marines from the ship security team stomp in wearing battle suits and start disarming the newcomers. I can hear another squad racing to the corvette trying to get there and possibly prevent a forced uncoupling that would damage both ships.

Wheeling on over to the closest person I ask “So who are you and what did you hope to accomplish?” I get an evil grin at that but no answer. About what I expected. Someone wants to be a tough guy. I'm not seeing very many cooperative faces in this lineup. Some angry and some terrified. "No one wants to cooperate? Maybe earn them self a light sentence instead of hard labor on a penal asteroid?" I'm still getting that assortment of looks so it's time to take it up a notch.

Looking over at the nearest battle suit I say “Ok then. No one wants to cooperate it seems. We'll see if any of the people still on the ship will. You can space them.” A startled squawk of “What? You can't do that! We got rights.” comes from the third person down of the eight lined up before me. Bingo. Looking back at the battle suit I order “Take the rest to the brig. Make sure they are searched for weapons and explosives before you lock them up. I'm going to have a talk with this guy here.” The armored Marines start marching their captives off and I'm left with two Marines and a captive who is thoroughly searched before being forced into a seat in front of me. He's a miserable looking excuse for a person. No personal hygiene has been utilized for what smells like a week. He's teary eyed and shaking hard.

“Get his fingerprints, retinal pattern and a DNA swab. I want to know who this really is." A Marine comes into the room a few minutes later and performs the tests and vanishes again. "I'm going to get some coffee. Do you want some?" A hesitant nod so I wheel over and pour a couple of cups and wheel back, handing one to him. Sipping the hot beverage seems to stabilize him because after a minute his shaking slows and he's able to hold the cup with just one hand instead of spilling with both.

“Now let's start with something simple. Names. Mine is Captain Eric Vila. What's yours?" The guy takes a sip of his coffee, glances at the very alert battle suits waiting for him to do something stupid and gulps audibly before wilting. In a shaky voice, he mumbles "Gus. Gus  Morgan." I give him a smile and say "I'm not going to say it's good to meet you Gus all things considered but now here is where you can actually help yourself out of a very serious issue. I'm pretty certain you are not Fleet or in the armed services at all. I'm also pretty sure you commandeered that corvette to get up here. I'm also reasonably certain that a life sentence on a penal colony working the asteroid belt mines is not going to be very amusing for any of you. All you have to do is cooperate with me and I can put a recommendation in for a lighter sentence someplace where the work details are light."

Staring at me for a moment he gives a nod and says "I'll answer whatever questions you have. I'll cooperate." Making sure the suit recorders of my bodyguard's armor is on and turning the record function on my data pad on I start grilling him about him, his associates, the plan, what happened to the corvette crew and the personnel that we are missing who were supposed to be shipped up here.

“So Gus. Can you tell me what the plan was?” Giving me a nod Gus says “We were going to capture another larger ship using the corvette and some troops. Once we had the second ship we were supposed to go and start shooting down satellites so that the Muslim Brotherhood could launch a ship without getting blown away in the atmosphere. They seemed really desperate about getting a ship out. So desperate they didn't care who knew that they were trying to leave Earth and our solar system completely.”

A tech comes in with a data pad that confirms his identity and mulling over this and what he's told me for a minute I ask “How sure are you about this?” “Not terribly sure. It is what they were talking about constantly though. They have a ship ready. There are people on it. They wanted to break it out of Earth's zone by disabling a section of our satellite network and leave the system with that ship. That would be one heck of a colony they were planning. One of my neighbors heard something about five hundred thousand people ready to launch.”

"Ok Gus. Now let's talk about the people in charge down there. How many of them are there?" Thinking hard and doing some obvious math in his head he finally says "About three hundred of them. Around two hundred of them came in over the past year as regular transfers in a variety of tech fields. The other hundred just showed up on a cargo ship a couple of weeks ago and they had the weapons. I'm pretty sure the crew on that cargo ship is not the crew that actually started out on it.”

“Tell me about what happened when that cargo ship showed up.” Looking a little queasy Gus relates “The ones that were there already started showing up at the spaceport and the ones on the ship came out shooting. They took out most of the security people in the first half hour after landing. Police and military were getting stabbed on the streets by some of the others. People trying to interfere were killed outright. Others were taken as hostages for good behavior from the others. Mostly women and children in that group. Between the police, the military, and the civilians about eight hundred people have already died. Maybe more now. They were still doing the convert or die routine when we launched. What was left of the security and government pulled back into the Providence residential area on the north side of the base. They've been keeping a good number of the Muslims busy keeping them penned up but they don't have the numbers to take the station back.”

Shaking visibly as he talks he finally winds down with "You gotta understand Captain. I'm not really with them. It was either convert to Islam or get the neck chop for me, my wife and my son. That was the only reason I was on that ship. So that my wife and kid wouldn't get stoned to death or beheaded. They are still being held captive at the high school with the other women and children. I know which ones you captured are not actually religious nutters and only doing it to save their families too. I can point those out for you and name the names on the real religious nuts.” Nodding at that I pass a data pad over and say “Start writing those names down. Start with the religious nuts. I'll be right back.”

Getting back up to the bridge I pull Cheryl and Ted over and say “We have a serious problem. It's a Muslim infiltration of Titania Research Station. There are three hundred of them holding the five thousand people left there hostage. They've already killed most of the security force and leadership and the remains are holed up in one of the residential domes with enough weapons and ammo to hold off an attack but not enough people to take the station back and no way to contact anyone to let them know what happened.”

Ted looks at me and asks “You believe him?” I nod. “His ID checks. The names he gave for the others check. So far it is verifiable information.” Cheryl looking as upset as the rest of the bridge crew asks “How long has this been going on?” “According to Gus, about two weeks for the actual take over. The infiltration took about a year to accomplish.” Ted asks “And the corvette crew and the people we were supposed to be picking up?” “My guess is that they are either dead or in hiding with the rest of the survivors of the military and civilian government.”

Ted mumbles “Shit.” and Cheryl nods at his sentiment. After a minute Ted says “I don't think we have enough people on board to take the station back even with the armored suits spearheading things. Not without a lot of casualties. We do not have our full contingent of security personnel right now.” I nod and wheel over to the scanning station. Giving it a very thorough looking over I finally spot what I'm looking for. Pointing out one of the dots I ask “Is that a troop carrier?” The lieutenant nods and says “It's a troop ship called the Ron Paul carrying the 217th Regiment. The Militia Men are out of Jupiter and on their way for training on Neptune's moon Galatea and they are commanded by Brigadier General Oliver Hamill. The ship is currently an hour out from our location.” Turning to Ted I say “My advice is to pass the buck. Let the people making the big coins call the ball.”

Giving me an odd look, snorting a laugh, looking at the scan display Ted eventually nods and turns to his coms chief and starts the process of lining up a direct laser transmission to the Ron Paul to enlist the help of General Hamill and troops. Cheryl winks at me but keeps quiet so I get her attention and ask “Who tipped off security that things were not right down there?” She nods over at the pilot and says “Mickey did. According to him they were way too sloppy to be legit in their approach to the ship and took too long lining up for a connection. Too much fidgeting around. It wasn't a big thing but it was noticeable to the rest of us once he spotted it and pointed it out.” “Good catch Mickey. I started getting that tingle something was off just before the cavalry came running in. None of them actually had a military bearing. The posture was wrong.” Mickey gives me a wave in acknowledgment and goes back to listening in to what Ted is doing.

Ted starts giving orders to pull out of Titania orbit and head for one of the space stations to deliver our captives. Turning to us he grins and says “Let's see how those fools down there deal with sixty five hundred armored Marines fresh off the Canal Zone. We'll stick around until it's resolved but then we have to meet up with the other ships in Earth orbit. It'll take a slingshot to get us up to speed to make the rendezvous.” Cheryl and I smile and nod. Getting over to Uranus Two Station we connect and pass along our captives with all the documentation and evidence we've collected so far and they send a salvage crew for the corvette.

Sitting back and watching the fireworks of a full combat drop insertion of a Marine Regiment via the helmet cams of the troops we don't have much of a show. There may have been three hundred insurgents but it's obvious that it wasn't three hundred battle hardened troops and they either die or surrender fairly quickly. Ted finally shuts the show down when the remaining government and security forces are rescued. Glancing at his watch he turns to us and says “You two are officially relieved.” Giving him a quick salute that he returns Cheryl and I make our way to the quarters and start getting ready to sleep.

Getting comfortable on the couch I hear a long suffering sigh come from the area of the bed. I wonder what that's about. Just as I'm drifting off to sleep I start upright and shake my head. Cheryl hearing me bounce off the couch is up in a flash looking worried. Giving her a very shocked look I ask “Where could they possibly have built a ship that is large enough to move five hundred thousand people?”

Cheryl not seeming to catch on just gives me a puzzled look. Trying to get my point across I explain “Gus said they had a ship ready to go with five hundred thousand people on it. Mars station three is our largest starbase and it only holds half that in crowded conditions. It's five million tons of displacement without boost engines. We have planetary bases with much less than that and we can spot them from hundreds of miles away. Where the heck could they have built a ship that large where we could not see it with the hundreds of satellites in Earth orbit looking for things like that?” Starting to catch on Cheryl whispers “And why so many people? All you need is five to ten thousand to make a viable colony.”

“C'mon Eric. We have to go tell Ted this so he can pass it along.” Catching the smirk on my face as she's turning to the door she turns back and asks “What?” Giving her a look up and down I say “You are not currently wearing a regulation uniform for running around the hallways. If you really want to create a stir by running around in your panties I would actually suggest against that. Too many guys would be trying too hard to compete for your favors if you did that and fights would surely break out about the pretty lady running around with next to nothing on." Looking down she realizes she's still in her sleepwear and blushes furiously. Smirking at her I offer an alternate method of passing the info along. “Just call him and let him know about the questions we've come up with. We are off duty after all.” Giving me a nod she does so and I lay back down on the couch.

Starting to drift off again I'm interrupted by Cheryl who asks “Are you asleep yet?” Not really feeling like talking I mumble “Yes.” Some giggling and then in a serious tone she asks “Do you think we'll ever be done with this war?” “Not to bust any bubbles Cheryl but I don't think the war will end until that so called religion of peace ends or they win against the rest of us who prefer freedom.” A sad “Yeah. That's what I thought.” come from the bed area. “Try to get some sleep Cheryl. Zero six hundred comes real quick and we have a few dozen things to do tomorrow that need us at our best.” A snort sounds off and she retorts “Copy that captain.” Quipping “Good night captain.” gets a smothered laugh but things get quiet so I finally close my eyes and allow myself to slide away.

Waking up to the alarm on my watch I realize I can't shut it off because my arm is trapped and asleep. Sometime during the night Cheryl crawled onto the couch with me and is now cutting off the circulation in my arm. Giving her a nudge with my other hand I say "C'mon Cheryl. Time to get up." "Five more minutes." "Five more minutes when I get my arm back so I can shut off the alarm." A disgusted snort and she moves freeing me. Getting up and shutting off the alarm I get ready for the day and then go shake Cheryl to get her moving. With great reluctance and a whole lot of dirty looks she gets up and starts getting ready. "I'll meet you in the mess hall for breakfast.” A grunt greets this so I head on my way.

Meeting up with Juliet and Doreen in the corridor I get briefed on how their shift went while getting and sipping my morning coffee. Cheryl shows up a few minutes later and eating together we all discuss what's happening and how the Brotherhood could have infiltrated the Titania base the way they did. A lot of speculation but no real answers come out of that conversation so we are glad when Ted comes in and changes the subject.

“We'll be in Earth orbit in a couple of hours. We make dock at Earth Star Base Two and prepare for our trip out to Sol Two about an hour after that. We are still waiting on the PB Georgia Alpha to come in. They are running late and won't be here until about this time tomorrow. It seems that SysCom did not send the transfer notices to the people being moved out so they have to wait for the bean counters to get off their rumps and actually take care of things before those people can board. I've managed to wrangle day passes for everyone except a skeleton crew and some security to have a little shore leave.”

“Well, that's good news." Cheryl and the others smile at that and I'm contemplating just sitting back and reading. I have a few more days before my next check up and final integration testing for the new hand and I still have a bullet hole in my leg. Cheryl and Juliet glance at me and it looks like they are about to say something when Terry and Tina come into the mess hall and order me over to medical to check on the leg.

At medical with Tina changing out the bandages on my leg and Terry walking me through the physical therapy exercises for my hand I hear Tina commenting “He was starting to get that look in the mess hall.” Terry quips “Which look. He has so many to choose from.” Tina giggles and says “The one where he's going to run and hide for a while so that he can allegedly think things over.” Terry snorts “Oh. That look. The politely anti social one.” Tina nods and says “Yup. That would be the look.” Terry gives Tina a serious look and says “Well we can't let that one stay on his face now can we?” Tina gets a serious look on her face and says “No. We absolutely can not let that look stay on his face. It would do no one any good for him to play hermit crab games.” I just roll my eyes and continue with the therapy device for my hand.

Making an effort to change the subject I ask "Did Ted upgrade your security clearances and read you in on the new data?" Terry gives me a look but decides to play along for now. "Yes, he did. Fascinating stuff and it matches with the lab work Tina and I have been doing with the samples from the eight foot giants we found on Pan. The DNA is strikingly similar and if a few genes expressed themselves instead of being dormant we may even have looked like them." Huh. "I can't picture you being three feet taller with a double row of teeth." Tina and Terry just give me a look so Tina decides to continue. "From the genetics, we are seeing ours have a lot that has been rendered dormant. They just will not express without gene therapy or cross breeding." I give that a shocked look. "That's possible?" Both nod.

Terry picks up on the narrative “Our brains are denser with more folds as well. We would probably stack up well intellectually with them even though we have less volume of brain than they do. From the reading I'm doing they are discovering some new parts that we don't have but we have some parts that they don't have such as the Pineal Gland. That seems to have taken the place for us of what a third of their brains do for them.” “Refresh my memory. What does the Pineal do again?” “It creates Melatonin and helps regulate sleep patterns. There is a whole lot of esoteric woo on the subject but that's the basics of what that gland does.”

Before I can keep the conversation sidetracked Tina asks "So what were you planning on doing with your shore leave?" Rolling my eyes again I say "Volunteering to be part of the skeleton crew staying on board." Terry gives me a dirty look and asks "Why?" Shrugging at that I say "Well for starters I'm in a wheelchair with a hole in my leg. I still have a few more days of physical therapy for the hand which squeaks by the way. And to top it off I just don't feel like taking in the sights on another space station that has the exact same floor plan and most of the exact same sights as every other station we've been on. I'd rather dig into the new data we've been handed." Tina and Terry nod at that and both say "Well at least come out for supper with us in a couple of hours. There is a Thai place here that is incredible." I can do that so I nod at that and they send me on my way.
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