Tomoe Gozen – February 7th, WY602 – Laurel, Grove
You walk down the boulevard in one of Laurel’s swankier neighborhoods. It is late, and the row of restaurants on one side of the wide thoroughfare are closing as the clubs on the other are just starting to warm up. Grove’s thick but cool summer air washes over you, bringing with it the flowery scent from the great Enkyr trees that still dot the city. Julian keeps pace beside you, just a half-step behind, like he has for the last several years. It’s strange. You don’t feel like a spy, yet that’s what you’re doing isn’t it? Spy things? A daring undercover rescue? You pat the passes in your pocket, confirming that they are both real, and still there.
You both reach the end of the footpath and wait at the curb of a street for ground vehicles. Every few minutes an autocab pulls up and picks up or disgorges members of Laurel’s nightlife, but besides that the road is fairly quiet. You look up to the sky, past the hundreds-meter-high Enkyr trees that encircle the city, and see a massive meteor shower – hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny streaks of fire in the sky.
“Is that…,” you ask breathlessly, “is that what I think it is?”
Julian looks up and grunts in the affirmative. “Yup. Grove Orbital. Cheyenne Drive Yards. The last Lakota-class Dreadnought. A not-insignificant chunk of the WDF Indomitable. And about forty thousand souls.”
“But it’s been over fifteen years!”
Julian scratches his chin and nods, not taking his eye off the oncoming traffic. “They broke up the really big parts, but there was tens of millions of tons of debris. It’ll be falling for a hundred years or more.” You’re both silent for a moment, then Julian chuckles to himself.
“What is it?”
“You’re not going to believe me, but I didn’t remember this until this very moment. Do you know what he said? What he said right before he gave the order?”
“What who said? Jack?”
“Yeah. They were ordering us back to the picket, they were just going to lock Grove up like they did Demeter back in the old days. Build a wall, start an endless siege. We were beaten to hell, but we could’ve made it. Would’ve left the Marines on the ground hanging.” He trails off and doesn’t speak for far too long.
“What did he say?”
He meets your eyes finally, and smirks, “‘A war by any other name.’ He muttered it to himself, but I was close enough to hear.”
You feel a cold knot in your gut. “He didn’t…”
“He did, I swear it. Didn’t even occur to me till just now that they weren’t his words.”
You open your mouth to respond when a small passenger car rolls to a stop in front of you and opens its doors, revealing Angelica in the driver’s seat. You compose yourself and climb in, followed by Julian.
“Did you get it?” she asks, setting the ground car in motion again.
“We did. We’re the proud, if temporary, operators of an orbital catering and resupply shuttle with papers to restock Tomoe Gozen’s ship for two weeks of partying.”
Angelica grins. “Excellent, good work.”
You drive in silence for a few minutes, but she doesn’t offer up anything more. Finally, Julian asks, “And you? Did you find them?”
Angelica grins again. “The lead with the archivists panned out. They’ve got to be there, or if not, this fellow Keegan is delivering supplies to them. That’s where we’re headed now.”
“Just us?” you ask, not sure that your newfound spycraft can stand up to a confrontation.
“They’re there, don’t worry.”
The car takes you to a much older part of the city, residences and light industrial workshops, all in simple, low, early colonial structures printed from local materials back when it was a nearly twenty-year round trip from Whistler. Back then, the Enkyr were not worth clearing (and provided cover from Grove’s intense autumn storms), so the streets are winding, the placement of the buildings seemingly haphazard, hugging the ghosts of massive trees that had been cut down decades before.
Eventually, the car comes to a stop in front of one of hundreds of veritably ancient but well-maintained row-houses. Without a word, Angelica hops out of the car and strides up to the door with you and Julian scrambling to follow. She rings the buzzer, then folds her hands in front of her and waits, glancing about at the trim of the door like she’s inspecting the craftsmanship.
After several long and intensely-uncomfortable moments, the door opens a crack revealing an older man in a bathrobe.
“It’s late,” he barks, “what do you want?”
Angelica glances at something over the old man’s shoulder and cocks her head slightly. “Jack sent me,” she says, loud enough to be heard by anyone in the room beyond.
From just inside the door, off to the side and out of sight, you hear a woman make a sound that is part laugh, part sob, and part sigh, all huffed out in a single breath.
“Well of course he did,” says the voice,”You can let them in, Keegan.”
Angelica Triggs – February 8th, WY602 – Old Laurel, Grove
Keegan grudgingly lets the three of you in under cover of Colonel Burton and three other Marines armed to the teeth. The house is essentially a one-room studio, almost entirely taken up by the single living space and kitchenette. It looks like the Marines have been living in the cramped space a while. Colonel Burton doesn’t lower her sidearm until she sees Julian enter, then she shows a genuine smile and holsters her pistol, the other Marines following suit. She grasps Julian’s hand and gives it a firm shake.
“Mr. Felix. It’s good to see you.”
“It was a near thing, ma’am. You’re pretty good at hiding.”
Cara Burton grimaces somewhat at that. “Not good enough it seems.”
A fifth man enters through the back door of the house and laughs when he sees Julian. “Well holy shit, is this a rescue?” the man exclaims.
Julian grins broadly and strides across the small room and embraces the newcomer.
“Roland! Are you kidding?” he laughs, “We’re only here for Marines, you’re not invited.”
“Nonsense,” the other man quips back, “I have my official Marine Merit Badge and everything.”
Since Tomoe and yourself weren’t being invited to the reunion, you cough into your hand to get the room’s attention. “Excuse me, Colonel,” you ask, “How many are we evacuating?”
“Twenty-seven,” she replies, already starting to pack up evidence of their stay in Keegan’s modest home. “All within two blocks of here.”
You nod and call in to the team channel. “We have them,” you say, “Twenty-seven in all.”
“It’ll be a tight squeeze in the truck, but we can do it,” replies Din. “I’m on my way to you, give me ten minutes.”
A few seconds of light-delay later, Dirk responds as well. “Okay sure. I hope you can get them here in a single trip. I’ve got both the Grove harbormaster and the WDF picket yelling at me now about Aiden’s cagey orbit and my ass is running dry of administrative rabbits to extract. We don’t have much more time before they put actual eyeballs on us and see we’re not a pleasure yacht.” There’s a brief pause. “Oh, and El Capitan says most of them are going to have to ride cold cuz’ we don’t have enough acceleration couches. Or air and food.”
You send Dirk a text acknowledgement and help Colonel Burton hide the rest of the evidence while the others head out into the night to prepare the rest of the surviving Marines. A short while later there’s a knock at the door and Keegan lets in Din, dressed in a blue restaurant supply jumpsuit. He tosses you a small duffel, which you take to the “bedroom” part of the studio and pull out a matching jumpsuit, wig, and small makeup kit. You turn your back on the room and hurriedly change out of your street clothes into the disguise.
“Why the wig?” asks Cara.
“Been on too many cameras the last few weeks,” you reply, dabbing on some subtle makeup to foil casual observers or simple expert systems. “I’d sure hate to have all this fall apart at the eleventh hour because some go-getter accidentally puts two and two together.” Cara grunts softly in response.
The three of you are left alone in the studio for several minutes as the Marines in the other residences cover their tracks and head to the small cargo truck Din parked outside. The Colonel projects the lazy calm of a lifelong soldier but it’s betrayed by the intensity in her eyes as she unabashedly studies you and Din as the minutes drag on.
Finally, she looks at Din. “Soldier?” she asks.
“Cop then. You’re too practiced at holding up walls.”
She nods to herself then turns her attention to you. “Weren’t you the Bureau spook sniffing around here a few years ago? Something about people smuggling weapons to Grove insurgents?”
You stifle a grumble and nod. Cara looks around at the hovel she’s been hiding in for months and shrugs. “Guess you were right,” she says somewhat morbidly.
“Yeah,” you reply, “that report got me sent literally scrubbing toilets for three years.”
The Colonel nods sagely. “Being right sucks sometimes.”
“Not completely right. I thought it was Cartwright,” you sigh.
She chuckles at that. “I bet he loves you.”
“Well, I was the one who ended up scrubbing toilets.”
“That’s where he found you?” she says, a smile in her eyes, “Convinced you to do all this?”
You nod. “The Bureau was a dead-end. I was surprised when his people called me.”
“It’s his way,” she says cryptically, then falls into silence.
The silence stretches for another few minutes. You slowly become aware of the muffled sound of metal against metal. Colonel Burton is wearing a civilian version of an old military-style jacket with large, deep pockets in the front, and she has a hand in one of them, worrying against the contents.
Dog tags. Her pockets are full of dog tags.
“So,” she says finally, startling both you and Din, “how’d you find us?”
You and Din share a glance. “Well,” he starts,”it wasn’t any one thing. A lot of pounding the pavement, so to speak. We weren’t even sure you were in Laurel until a few days ago. The farmhouse where you had the firefight led us to the cave.”
You pick up from Din. “Which led us to the facility in New Haven, which led here. After that it was all about…well…”
Cara raises an eyebrow. “Well?”
“Groceries, ma’am,” Din answers.
“Groceries,” you affirm. “We got access to the marketing system of the Dandy Market Company.” Din chuckles at this, remembering the poor analyst the two of you got drunk. “Keegan wasn’t in the system but his behaviors were, especially the change in behaviors. After that it was just some public records and profiling.”
Colonel Burton whistles, impressed. “Fucking groceries,” she mutters in disbelief.
A few minutes later, Keegan ducks back in and lets you know all the Marines are in the truck and you’re ready to leave. You and Din wait in the truck as she says her goodbyes in private to the man who’d been sheltering her people for months. She comes out of the building, hops into the back of the small cargo truck, and bangs on the wall between the cab and the cargo box to let you know they’re good to go.
You and Din make the half-hour drive across the city in silence. He pulls the truck over in a vacant lot a block from the gates to the commercial cargo transfer area of the Laurel Spaceport. You both spend a few minutes checking your stunners in case anything goes wrong, and your handguns in case anything goes truly pear-shaped. Din finally breaks the silence.
“Are Burton’s pockets full of dog-”
“Yes,” you interrupt.
“Sheesh.” He sighs. “Well, if this doesn’t work out, it’s been an awful lot of fun hunting people down with you again.”
You chuckle. “Are you kidding? This plan is so absurd, it has to work. Nothing this ballsy and stupid can fail.”
You stare at each other for a moment, and then both break out into a brief fit of nearly-hysterical laughter. You’ve been chasing these Marines’ trail across the planet for three weeks, and it’s almost over. You finally snap out of it when Tomoe’s voice comes over the radio asking if you’re alright.
“Okay, okay,” says Din, wiping away tears, “let’s go do this.”
He pulls the truck out and around the corner. The keycard Tomoe got from her contact works on the first try at the security gate. It rolls open and you roll through and the guard in the gatehouse doesn’t look up once from whatever he’s watching. Din drives the truck down a row of warehouses and container yards, then through another security gate, entering a long row of orbital cargo shuttles, little more than barely-aerodynamic boxes atop launch thrusters. Each shuttle rests in a pit designed to protect its neighbors from the worst of the lift-off thrust as well as provide trucks like yours easy access to cargo loading doors.
You pull up to shuttle S74-TR1, as ugly as the others and painted the gaudy electric blue of Speedy Provisions, ltd.. There’s a young man in a matching vac suit sitting cross-legged just inside the ship’s cargo door. He stands and waves sheepishly at you as you get out of the truck. You key your comms to the team.
“Julian, can you fly a Phoenix C-234 orbital shuttle?”
“Yeah, sure,” he responds. “And Roland can fly just about anything.”
The two of you walk up to the kid. “Hey there,” he says in a sort of excitedly-conspiratorial tone, “my name’s Kev, Marie said you needed a pilot!” He reaches out to shake Din’s hand and you press your stunner into his side. He collapses into Din’s arms, who lowers him gently to the ground.
“Plausible deniability, Kev,” he quips.
You and Din go around the back of the truck and open up the doors. Your crew and the Marines have already suited up in vac suits. Julian has yours and Din’s ready for you and you quickly pull it on over your jumpsuit and start checking the seals. The Marines start filing out of the truck and boarding the shuttle. You grab one fellow on his way by.
“Hey, could you find that kid’s helmet and strap him to something so he doesn’t hurt himself when we lift off?”
The Marine grins and tosses you a salute, “Sure thing ma’am.”
Once everyone boards the ship, Din pulls the truck around behind a safety barrier and joins you at the cargo door. Julian and this guy Roland have already taken the lift up to the cockpit and are running through pre-flight checks. The cargo bay is literally a big empty box. Tomoe and the Marines are trying to secure themselves the best they can with cargo tie-downs.
“Going to be a rough ride up.” Din says.
“They’ve had worse.” You slap the switch to close the doors.
Daniel Eckhart – February 8th, WY602 – Grove Close Orbit
“YEEEEEEEHAWWW!” screams Private Franklin into the helmets of the squad and crew. You can’t help but share his elation. After months on the run, barely staying ahead of the tacitly-sanctioned vigilantes and the absolutely-sanctioned secret police of what was left of Grove’s independent government. Still, the ride is rough. You’ve taken a lot more Gs than this 3G ascent, but you’ve never done it on a hard floor strapped to a wall. You feel like your teeth are being rattled out, and the shitty surgery on your leg hurts.
You hold the helmeted head of the kid from Speedy Provisions in your lap. You couldn’t figure out a way to strap him in without his neck getting broken, so you just decided to hang on to him. Someone asked this kid to risk his job, freedom, and maybe even his life to help get you and the squad off of Grove and he said “yes”. You weren’t about to let him wake up with so much as a hangnail.
You hear Julian – apparently an old Navy buddy of Lieutenant Denhardt’s – on the line, calm and certainly not strained by three Gs in his crash couch up on the flight deck.
“Hamster, we’re in the sky, 45 minutes frorm intercept.”
“Hey good,” comes a voice in response, piped into the communal channel, “I’ve actually got the Harbormaster and the picket commander yelling at each other now, but that’s not going to last. Either I just re-ignited the Unification War or they’re both going to try to arrest us pretty soon.”
Without warning there is a loud thunk as the launch engine cuts out and you are suddenly on the float. The Colonel unstraps herself from her spot near the cargo door and pushes out to the center of the cargo hold to address all of you. It’s hard to tell with her helmet on, but she may look even more stressed-out than during the months on Grove.
“Alright, listen up,” she says, “here’s what’s going to happen in the next few hours. We’re going to rendezvous with the ship that’s getting us out of here. They don’t have the recyclers or supplies to feed you lot for the next few weeks, so most of you are going under for the trip home.” There’s an audible groan from the men. “Good news is, you’ll be taken care of by a no-shit-Sagan-Prize-winning physician, and a very good friend. Sergeant Major Stackhouse will stay with me. Lieutenant Denhardt is going to supplement the flight crew, and Corporal Eckhart is finally getting surgery on that leg. The rest of you get a nap.”
There’s a grumble of “Yes ma’am”s from the men. You’re just hoping this sawbones is able to fix you up, you haven’t been right since the firefight at the old farmhouse. You spent a ton on a physician who was willing to keep a secret, but he just didn’t have the time or the facilities to treat the wounds properly, and things had healed badly.
“So let’s have some real talk,” Colonel Burton continues, a little quieter this time, a little softer. “We need to talk about home. You’re not stupid. You know if the Council wanted us rescued we would’ve been rescued. Something’s going on and we got caught in the middle of it. It sucks, and it ain’t right, but it is. My friends are going to make sure you all have a place to lay low. They’ll get you to your families. But don’t expect a parade. I’m hoping it’s not as bad as I fear, but we may have escaped the frying pan just to land in the cook fire. You’ll be as safe as I can make you, I promise you that.”
There is some mute shuffling as twenty-five grunts all look around to gauge each other’s reactions, and, in the absence of a mutiny, everyone shrugs. At least you’re off Grove.
A half hour later, you’re startled out of a doze by the ship’s docking clamps engaging. Everyone starts floating about the hold fidgeting in anticipation. After a few minutes, the large cargo door opens up into a short transfer tunnel into the cargo hold of your rescue ship. An older man in a vac suit is standing at the door, boots mag-locked to the deck, helmet drifting behind him on a short tether attached to his belt.
“Good morning, Marines!” He says, loud enough to be heard by those of you still wearing your helmets. “My name is Dr. Aiden Harlan, commanding Your Mother Was A Hamster, operated by Indomitable Bastards, Incorporated. We don’t have much time, and we may have to burn hard out of here, so please proceed to the freezer deck one level up. We’ve got some superb coffee and warm pastries waiting for you along with your prep meds. I’ll be joining you shortly.”
As the Marines start filing out, Roland and Julian come and grab the kid and help you take him back up to the flight deck to slowly regain consciousness as his ship tootles back to the anchorage on autopilot. When you return to the empty hold, you see Colonel Burton grabbing Dr. Harlan in a bear hug. They cling to each other for a moment like old friends who’d never expected to see each other again, and you’re close enough to hear her mutter, “Took you long enough,” to which he responds, “Sorry…you know we got here as fast as we could.”
Colonel Burton steps away and shoots a glance at the three of you. “Is our young friend squared away?”
Roland nods. “Yes ma’am. He’ll probably be waking up by the time the ship gets to a holding orbit.”
“Alright then, let’s go.” You file into the Hamster, button up the airlock and retract the bridge.
As far as you can tell from the inside, the Hamster is a repurposed Phoenix Labs long-range patrol boat. Six decks, sparse but comfortable accommodations for a crew of around fifteen, and a light armament by military standards but pretty formidable for a civilian ship. You can’t help but notice that some of the cargo bins in the Hamster appear to be coated with anti-radiation stealth composites, which would make them essentially invisible in space.
You follow Aiden up to the freeze deck where the rest of the squad has stripped to their skivvies and are jabbering amicably with each other over coffee and some sort of donuts, which smell amazing. You grab yourself some as the doc starts the rounds checking vitals and injecting people with a pre-freeze cocktail. You note that the ship’s 25 CryoPods are also coated in the stealth materials, which is a little alarming because it means they wouldn’t be able to be found by rescue craft in the event they were ejected from the ship. The whole thing screams “smuggler”. Which, you suppose, is exactly what it’s doing right now.
With no particular orders you head up another level to a crew deck, composed of several bunk rooms and heads surrounding a galley and common area. Most of the rescue crew is here getting settled, as well as another man floating out of the way in the kitchenette reading something on his slate and sipping idly on a bulb full of an amber liquid. Sergeant Major Stackhouse, Lieutenant Denhardt and yourself claim three empty bunks in a four-bunk room that looks like a bachelor pad exploded in it. The fellow from the kitchen floats in, not bothering with his mag boots, and a cloud of bourbon comes with him. He looks with distaste at the newly-occupied bunks and grunts.
“Hey guys,” he says with just a hint of a slur, “I’m Dirk. Welcome to my palace.” He points to one of the bunks slightly more crumpled than the other three. “I wouldn’t sleep on that one.” Then he twists in the air and pushes himself back out into the common room.
Julian’s voice comes over the ship’s loudspeaker, “All hands, prep for acceleration.” You take a quick look around for anything that isn’t tied down, but find nothing to do but wait as the Hamster gently accelerates up to a mildly uncomfortable 1.25 Gs, the same as Grove. You hear Dirk groan loudly from the common room. You go out to look in on him and find him sitting at the common room table with his head in his hands.
“How long’ve you been on the float?” You ask.
He groans again. “Most of two months at this point,” he mutters abjectly. You wince, he can’t be comfortable. Sergeant Major Stackhouse comes into the common area, pulls the kitchen manifest over to his slate and starts scrolling through the ship’s provisions.
“Well,” he says, his loud, gravelly voice like a slow avalanche, “I for one am going to take advantage of it.” He selects a number of items from the list then gestures to your slate. “Corporal, go grab that stuff out of the hold and we’ll see what we can do with this skiff’s kitchen.”
Stackhouse’s cooking is legendary, so you spend the next few hours being a runner and sous chef, and he fills the ship with the sound of terrible, but enthusiastic singing of Marine jodys and the scent of fresh baked bread and sausage jambalaya.
After several hours, during which Stackhouse guards the simmering pot with a threatening glower, Dr. Harlan finishes putting the rest of the squad in cryo and the crew squeezes in around the common room table to enjoy the meal and get introduced to each other properly.
There’s Colonel Burton of course, who everyone knew or knew of. Lieutenant Roland Denhardt, who had built his rep during the invasion of Grove bringing supplies to you grunts on the ground under withering fire, even after being told to stand down. Sergeant Major Cedric Stackhouse, who’d been Burton’s right hand since before the invasion fifteen years ago. And yourself, but apart from a story about failing to fill out the paperwork properly to enlist in the Marines, you didn’t have much to say for yourself. Your rescuers, however, turned out to be a fascinating collection.
Dr. Aiden Harlan was working on his Most Interesting Man in the Colonies award. He’d been everywhere, from private medical practice, to the scout service exploring forbidden stars, to a secret SAR research lab. Din Strata, who’d been a cop on Eriksson and was part of the group that flushed out the terrorist plot back in ‘87. And Angelica Triggs – a Bureau spook who helped him. The woman seemed to be able to tell you what you had for breakfast based on your footprint, and knew a few people in very high places. She’d also predicted the Grove uprising that you’d ended up caught up in, an analysis that ended her career. Julian Felix was a Navy man and had been on the bridge of the Indomitable when they crashed it into Grove Orbital at the end of the war. Somehow Tomoe-freaking-Gozen got mixed up in the crew; she was a hugely popular singer/songwriter during the war but had faded into obscurity the last few years. And finally Dirk Yang – a no-shit direct descendant of the original Colony ship’s XO – who, apart from being drunk all the time, is apparently one of the Colony’s preeminent legal minds.
And even though he isn’t on the ship, the shadow of its owner, Jack Cartwright is in the room. The man who became a household name after destroying Grove Orbital and ending the war – the first time in the Colony’s history anyone had deliberately destroyed a manufacturing center. He’d touched everyone’s lives in one way or another, and had put together this crew to rescue his friend when no one else would.
You all chat for several hours until you reach safe jump distance from Grove, then Dr. Harlan and Julian head up to the flight deck to conduct the dive. The rest of you clean up from dinner and sweep the ship to secure it for being on the float again. Dr. Harlan calls the dive, the Korolev shuts down, and you shake off the nausea as you and the rest of the ship fall out of the universe.
Din Strata – February 15th, WY602 – Jump Space, Roberts
The seven days on the float in jump space is like a vacation after weeks undercover in Grove’s high gravity. You read, catch up on your shows, eat a bunch of Stackhouse’s astounding cooking. Aiden does surgery on Corporal Eckhart the first day, and after a few days convalescing and therapy he says his leg is like new. You help catch up on maintenance tasks around the ship, but there isn’t a heck of a lot to be done. It’s a good jump.
When the computer starts warning that it’s nearing time to surface the ship, you take a spot on the ops deck between Angelica and an open seat for Stackhouse, Roland having taken the second g-couch on the flight deck. You strap in with a bulb of hot tea and begin waiting out the clock. A few minutes later you hear some heavy steps and a creak of vac suit material behind you and you turn around. Colonel Burton is there in her vac suit, helmet in hand, shadowed by Stackhouse similarly kitted. Aiden spins in his chair and raises a questioning eyebrow at her.
She looks at each of you somewhat severely. “I don’t know much,” she says calmly, “but one thing I do know is that the people who really, truly want us killed aren’t behind us.”
Aiden holds her gaze for a long moment, then nods. “Right then,” he says with a slow calm, “secure the ship for action.”
Everyone pulls down to the bay in a quiet float-of-shame and gets their suit on in silence. Except Dirk. He doesn’t get his suit on quietly, he bitches about it up to the moment he puts his helmet on. Ten minutes later, everyone is strapped back into their g-couches watching the timer tick down to zero.
You lurch back into the universe and the ship jolts as multiple staccato strikes hit the hull. The screens around the room all start flashing red. Either the pilots are on the ball or a pre-programmed evasion routine kicks off and your couch jerks backwards a tenth of a second before you’re slammed into the seat at what feels like eight or nine Gs. Roland and Julian and Aiden are all yelling but you can’t get your bearings enough to make it out. The pressure lets off your chest for half a second as the ship twists on its axis and then rockets off again, this time even faster.
You glance to the right and see that Angelica’s got the tac map up in front of her. “Remote sentries,” she shouts above the claxons and roar of the drive, “a whole field of them! Twenty…no…thirty!”
“We’re not where we should be,” groans Dirk from his seat behind you,”we surfaced near Crichton.”
“Get us out of this!” shouts Aiden as the ship makes another stomach-twisting turn and accelerates again.
“We’re working on it,” responds Roland, deadpan calm, “not a lot of good options, brace for incoming!”
The ship rattles again and streaks of seventy millimeter cannon rounds fly through the cabin. The sounds of the room fade away as the air evacuates. You feel the ship immediately start fighting a roll to port and the acceleration falls back to something in the four G range – neither of which can be good.
“We’re free and out of range of the guns,” comes Julian’s voice
To your right, Angelica is running a scan of local space, and to your left…Stackhouse is slumped in his restraints, arms floating. You trace a hole from the hull, through his console, into his helmet, out the back of his seat, and into the deck. Small rivulets of blood are running out the back of his chair and spreading across the deck under the acceleration pressure.
“Stackhouse is hit,” you announce, trying to keep your voice calm as you pull up the engineering screen and take in the extent of the damage. “Looks like the drive cone took a few hits and we’ve lost RCS seven, eight, and nine on the port side.”
Colonel Burton lets out a barely-constrained, shuddering sound of dismay.
“Contact,” says Angelica working the sensors, “big sucker and right on top of us, fifty thousand kilometers and started burning for us the moment we jumped in. She’s not broadcasting an IFF. Computer’s working on an ID.”
“How could they possibly have predicted where we’d come up?” asks Dirk.
“They can’t,” grumbles Aiden, “at least they shouldn’t be able to. Julian, I need the pressure off that drive cone for a minute. Dirk, get that thing on the tightbeam.”
“You got it,” says Julian from the flight deck. The drive kicks off and you’re all on the float and able to breathe again.
Angelica reports in. “Silhouette says it’s an Athena-class destroyer. Drive plume is in the database as WDF Dauntless.”
“Tightbeam’s connected but not acknowledged,” says Dirk.
“Alright then,” breathes Aiden, ”Unidentified vessel, this is Your Mother Was A Hamster, operated out of Trinity Station by Indomitable Bastards Incorporated, please state your intentions.” He lets a few moments pass. “Okay, Julian, don’t push more than 4 Gs through that cone or it’ll blow, get us moving away from that thing.”
The acceleration kicks in again, pressing you back into your seat. “He’s accelerating and maintaining an intercept course,” says Angelica. “No way we can lose him at this speed. He’ll be able to fire his ordinance in twenty minutes, guns in about forty.”
“Why is a Navy ship chasing us?” asks Tomoe.
“Because their sentry gun trap didn’t kill us,” growls Colonel Burton.
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” comes the muttered response.
“So what’s the situation?” Burton asks.
Aiden sighs loud enough for his helmet mic to pick up. “We’re stitched full of holes all the way down the port beam. Three of the five RCS thrusters are dead, the PDC on that side isn’t responding, the dive capacitor hasn’t cycled into recharge mode for some reason, and I’m not sure how much longer before the drive cone tears itself apart. M² drive is green, reactors are green, air, fuel, and water are green.”
A pause. “Lost two.”
There’s silence on the channel for a few moments. You bring up the tac display and watch the distance to that destroyer closing.
Finally, Burton speaks up. “You said we’re close to Crichton, can we make it to Myrr?”
A few seconds go by, then the tac plot updates as Roland or Julian plot the route. Angelica responds. “They’ll be taking potshots at us, but we’ll get there around the same time their torpedoes get to us.”
“Do it,” Aiden says, “keep her at 4Gs and I’ll keep an eye on the cone. What’re you thinking, Cara?”
“Can’t out-run them, can’t out-gun them. We need to go where they can’t.”
Roland chimes in from the flight deck. “I’m not sure we can balance this bottle-rocket on a busted cone and thrusters that only spin one direction. We definitely won’t be crawling out of that well if we go down it.”
There are a few moments of silence. You’re not sure what’s happening. Maybe Aiden is running some numbers, or he and Cara are talking in a side channel. The acceleration is really starting to make it hard to breathe.
“Alright,” comes Aiden finally. “Julian, figure out the last possible moment to flip and burn to let us drop into Myrr without burning up. We’ll set down-”
“Crash,” mutters Dirk.
“-and hold the fort till the rescuers can be rescued. We’ll eject the pods during decel and let them go into orbit. They’re damn near invisible and will be safer than wherever we’re going. Any questions?”
“Can I opt for a pod?” quips Dirk.
“Only if you can get yourself into it under four Gs.”
The channel falls quiet for several minutes as Aiden puts together a distress call for the boss. The acceleration continues to be an elephant on your chest.
“Coming up on turnover in five, four…” says Julian. A few seconds later your stomach lurches and you take a deep breath as the ship takes a second to flip over, and then the elephant is back.
Roland’s voice comes over the channel. “If our friend has Mark 7 torpedoes, we’ll be in range in two minutes.”
“Want me to try something?” asks Angelica.
“Can it make things worse than them trying to kill us?” asks Aiden.
“Nope. Dirk, can you get a tightbeam?”
“Connected, they’re still ignoring it.”
“Dauntless, be advised this ship is carrying undercover Bureau personnel. Transmitting credentials now.”
Another minute passes in silence.
“Think that’ll work?” you ask. Then your tac display starts flashing again.
“Torpedo! Torpedo!” shouts Aiden, “Bearing 130 mark 15, CBDR. Two minutes to contact.”
“We’re committed to this track,” responds Julian, “everyone think good thoughts for the PDCs.”
You spend two minutes watching the torpedoes close on the tac display, your hind-brain going mad that the ship wasn’t maneuvering to avoid them. Finally, PDC one and two open up, spraying thousands of rounds of ammunition into the void. The torpedoes twitch and roll on the tac display, and the pilots roll the ship to keep the two functioning guns bearing on them. They get a few kilometers closer before both disappear from the display.
“Two down,” says Julian. “The next five minutes are going to be tricky. Three minutes till we’re in range of their missile batteries, four till pod eject, and five till atmospheric interface.”
“They’re matching our deceleration,” says Angelica, “but our plot assumes hitting the atmosphere, they’re going to overshoot the moon.”
“I’ll take any good news,” responds Aiden.
Right on cue, the screen goes red again. “Eight missiles inbound!” says Aiden.
Almost immediately, the PDCs start firing again, you can feel the rattle in the deckplates under your g-couch. You call out the hits since everyone else has other parts of this dance to focus on. “One down…two…three…”
“Pods away,” calls out Cara. “Godspeed dear friends.”
“Five…six….” The two remaining missiles are just a few thousand meters away, you can’t even see them on the tac display. “Seven! … BRACE!”
At the very last instant, one of the PDCs gets a hit on the final missile, but its debris smashes into the ship at whatever ridiculous speed it’s moving. Even more of your damage control display starts flashing red. Yet another RCS thruster is destroyed and one of the remaining PDCs is severed from its magazine.
The ship starts shaking wildly as the atmosphere of the small moon Myrr continues your deceleration. The good news is that you’re no longer smashed into your seat, but it’s been replaced by being thrown about against your restraints violently.
“Well,” says Angelica through the shaking,”doesn’t look like they expected that. They’re going to overshoot us.”
Julian and Roland are calling out to each other on the flight deck as they desperately try to bring the ship down on its cone. They spin the ship wildly back and forth as the remaining thrusters will allow them to try to keep the ship upright. “Okay, twenty degree spin.” “Twenty degrees.” “Another five.” “Five.” “Thruster 1 at 5%.” “Okay…I got it…got it…” “Twenty thousand.” “I’m losing main thrust.” “Fifteen thousand.”
The sound of the cabin comes back with Myrr’s thick atmosphere. The ship is rattling and groaning like a wounded animal.
“Ten thousand.” “Ten degrees spin…no…twenty…” “Twenty degrees, watch your pitch.” “We’ve got wind, fire jets one and two, then spin us 180 and fire them again.”
The ship lurches under you. You nearly black out.
“Five thousand. Four.” “Nose thruster isn’t responding.” “Three thousand.”
The ship begins to tilt sickeningly to the side, you feel yourself hanging against your restraints as the gravity of the moon overtakes your momentum.
“Can’t hold it anymore! Cutting the mains!”
The roar of the main thruster goes quiet. You’re in free-fall. You hear wind whistling past the holes in the hull. Your suit creaks as you hang against the restraints of your g-couch. The ship is falling, sideways.
Then everything goes black.