POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS – Act IV
“War is a continuation of politics by other means.”
-- Karl von Clauswitz, On War
He shot me, Hex thought, trailing his way through the back streets of Maine City. I don’t believe it… he shot me! Thanks to the somjijok shot he had taken earlier, he didn’t feel any pain, but the sensation of having a small crater in one’s shoulder was something completely new. In the Center, one never got as much as scratched before a dermal regenerator was put over the wound. Now, his arm would barely move, and as much as he tried to make his movement natural, there was a certain uneasiness about it.
What was worse was something he couldn’t control. There was something about that woman, that brunette in the dark dress, that bothered him. The more he reviewed the battle in his mind, the more his thoughts gravitated back to her. She must have seen me, the boy thought, but she couldn’t have. No matter how many times he replayed the image in his mind, the doubt still lingered.
Hex shoved it out of his mind; he couldn’t let that distract him now. Finally, he reached the safety of his shuttle in the woods and shut the door. The illegal medicine was starting to wear off and he’d pay a hefty price for its painkilling abilities. The boy checked the computer’s comm channels. The police bands and local netvids were talking about the attack, but it was apparent there were no leads, and they were fishing around in the dark. Typical suburban effectiveness, he thought, and smiled. Setting the computer to monitor all comm traffic (and to wake him if any of it comes his way), he settled down into the medical couch, felt the automatic systems stab him with needles, and started to feel the tingling sensation of all the thousands of nanobytes starting to repair his injury. It wasn’t long before his world faded into unconsciousness.
He awoke to the sound of a plasma revolver charging. Whatever it was pointed at, Hex thought, it wasn’t good for him. The boy opened his eyes a crack, then saw the beautiful brunette again, gun pointed at his head. “Get up, damn it!” she managed to say, her voice choked with tears. Hex pretended he was still asleep, but the girl was having none of that, as he kicked the bed with more force than he thought possible. His eyes flew open into her beautiful radiance; pity she was ready to kill him.
“All right, before I kill you… like you killed my friends,” her tears became less and her aim sharper, “I want to know why.”
--- “Damn it! They’re coming at us from everywhere!”
--- “Check your fire! Corporal, get your squad over!”
--- “Who are they?! What the fuck is going on?!?!”
--- “Keep firing! Jesus, they’re almost… AAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!”
Sergeant Dimiye bolted back into consciousness. Thoughts, images… memories? still played with his head. As his muddled brain soon sorted out where he was, Alastar figured out where he was. The shuttle window showed clouds outside and several hands were holding onto his armored suit. As his head cleared some more, the sergeant finally managed, “I’m all right. Okay. You can let go.”
At first, the hands remained where they were. Then, arm by arm, they let go. He checked his suit’s chronometer. Five minutes had passed since they left the destroyer behind. Even now, the thoughts of madness still danced around his thoughts. He wanted to take the shuttle he was in and throw it at the enemy ship. For a second, he intently thought about jumping over to the enemy ship and rending it with his armored claws. He knew he could have at least crippled the vessel before they killed him; he also knew it was impractical.
Under his instruction, the shuttles landed twenty clicks outside of the main settlement on Hadley. The large facilities looked intact from their descending orbit, and since they hadn’t seen any Bloc transports (or the place wasn’t glassed over), they could safely assume that the enemy hadn’t taken over. By landing a good distance away from the colony, Alastar thought, they could avoid bringing trouble to a bunch of mining colonists. With a heavy cruiser on their tail, that was some trouble devoutly to be missed.
We've inconvenienced enough innocent people already. As much as he blamed himself, he couldn't use the word “killed”.
Once all the personnel were out of the shuttles, all eyes turned to him. In the end, he was the only thing one could look at. Hadley was, just as Ezri Bantu had told him, a rock in space. Gale-force winds wracked around him, kicking up bits of sand and dirt, and huge rocks in many shapes and sizes surrounded them. How could anyone live here?
"Camouflage the shuttles," he said, Dimiye’s voice betraying his weariness. He walked away to go sit on a rock and think. Hiding the shuttles seemed almost a mute point; in this storm, who would find them? However, there was always the chance that someone noticed their decent, and in survival, you made sure you did everything.
Just when he had a nice rock all picked out to sit on, something from the corner of his eye made him spin around. Bloc power armor! He started to raise his plasma rifle when something made him stop short. Why was an EB Trooper helping to camo the shuttles?
The NCO in his blood made him charge over to the offending private. Of all the things I’ve gotta worry about now, his mind screamed, contraband! He spun the trooper around by the shoulder and looked into his dark faceplate. He knocked on his helmet. "Lift your visor!"
The face that greeted him was one of his own, Pvt. Yeager. The expression on his face belonged to that of an eight year old boy who took great pride in the hair cut he's just given to the family dog. "Yeager,” Dimiye growled, “what in God's name…"
"I didn't think you'd mind sarge."
He was about to respond to that when he noticed a few more of his men in captured suits. He pushed the button to make his suit sound reveille. "Platoon, fall IN!"
Within seconds, his troops were there at attention, six of them in Eastern Bloc attire.
"Would someone mind telling me what in Great Jupiter's Beard is going on!?"
One of the troopers in captured armor walked forward, lifting his visor. Et Tu, Benjamin? "Sir, if you'll just give me a chance to explain." His voice trailed off briefly under Dimiye's stare. "A lot of us couldn't repair our armor back to full, and these suits are so much better than the ones we had. So, since you told use to make use of the gauss rifles, we just figured…"
The sergeant broke in "You figured wrong, private!" The kid had a point, a good one. These suits were a lot better equipped and packed more firepower. Plus looking just like the hunter when you were the prey was always a good idea. But discipline had to be maintained.
Standing right next to him, Pvt. Yeager broke in. "And that's not the half of it, Sarge!" He lowered his faceplate and a moment later, Chinese gibberish came out of his loud speaker.
"Sammy rigged these things with our suit's translator programs sir." Benjamin said.
One thing the Federation had thought of when they issued the consulate's sentries older, lighter power armor was a Chinese to English translating program. It translated incoming and outgoing audio, plus written characters. Since nobody ever left the consulate in power armor, they never used and had all forgotten about that first feature. That is, everyone except Sam Yeager.
Dimiye smiled slyly. "Boys, you just gave me a great idea."
Twenty Bloc Marines walked in a skirmish line towards a weak signal their sensors were reporting. When they closed in on it, they heard Gauss and Plasma Rifle fire, and frantic cries on their comm sets. Then they saw six marines firing their weapons from cover. The twenty marines rushed to the crescent rock outcropping to aid their brethren.
"What's going on?" Their commander said in Chinese.
"Gaijans!" Came the reply also in Chinese. "On that hill."
The twenty marines took over firing positions on the rock. "Where are they? I don't see anything. Are they…" the commander stopped as he heard the mixed sounds of weapons charging and chameleon circuits disengaging. Eight Fed Troopers and the six marines had his squads covered.
"Surrender or be slaughtered!" one of them announced.
Fourteen marines approached the four Eastern Bloc shuttles that served as a temporary camp for the marine company the cruiser had sent down. Some were carrying the limp bodies of Fed soldiers in light power armor. Marching in front of them, hands on his head, was Sgt. Dimiye. The group marched into the center of camp, to an officer not wearing an armored suit. It would be obvious to anyone that he was running the show, and that he was an intelligence officer.
One of them approached him while others dumped the Federation corpses nearby. He pointed to the bodies, "The round-eyes ran like dogs! They left their commander to die!" He said mirthfully. Dimiye's body stiffened; don't talk too much, Yeager, he thought.
The officer inspected the bodies of the Federation soldiers. He saw the bullet holes in the helmets and smiled. "Look's like they tried to surrender," he replied in Chinese. Then he focused his attention on Dimiye and took out a computer pad.
"Ah, Master Sergeant Al-a-stare So-dot-ei Dem-e-yeh," he said in English. "It has come to my attention that you have been responsible for many crimes committed against the people of the Eastern Bloc." He eyed the sergeant up like a T-bone steak. "Are you aware of this?" Dimiye said nothing.
He motioned to a group of marines that were showing no respect to the fallen Fed troopers. "Take one of those back to the ship immediately. The rest…have fun with." He turned back to Dimiye with an evil glint in his eye. "Where is the consulate staff?"
Alastar tried not to smile as the marines loaded one of the corpses into a shuttle, but he couldn't. He looked at the suddenly confused face of the Major in front of him. That’s right, buddy, he thought, keep your career-oriented eye on the prize. I'll make you a Lt. Colonel by this time tomorrow; all ya gotta do is squeeze me.
"You will talk, sergeant," he leaned in and whispered, "I promise you."
The sergeant lowered his arms to his sides. "I don't think so."
Many things happened at once after that. The shuttle that was heading back to the EB cruiser exploded in mid air. A large group of marines that were busy looting the bodies of the Bloc Marines in Fed power armor were engulfed in an explosion. The Fed troopers in Eastern Bloc power armor circled their sergeant, and fired at everything that moved. The sergeant grabbed hold of the stunned major's arms and broke them. In less than thirty seconds, it was all over. Dimiye loomed over the broken body of the Intel officer, rifle in hand.
"What…what happened to my men?" The major asked in a frightened voice.
"I sent them to their ancestors," Dimiye answered pointing his rifle, "on their knees."
A second later, the major's world went black.
Alastar made his way around to the lead shuttle and got in. The rest of his command had managed to pack themselves in to the others. Damn, he thought, we have an entire fucking caravan here! Fifteen TI (including himself), seven more from the Vera Cruz, and then 49 others comprising the diplomatic staff and their families. Seventy-one people? Which god did he piss off to be responsible for all this? It was a miracle that only seven of his own had died so far to protect it. Still, it was a miracle that he didn’t like to reflect on.
The six captured Bloc shuttles lifted up, threading their way through the rocky maze, as the winds buffeted the fragile craft. Dimiye made his way up to the cockpit. “Have you raised the colony yet?”
Private Auerbach looked up at him, “Not yet, sir. All I’m getting is static.”
“Keep trying. The last thing I want is the colonists to start shooting at us.”
It didn’t take long, even in this miserable weather, to reach the colony. The place was HUGE! One didn’t know man could make buildings that big, especially those that withstand this constant storm. He looked back at Auerbach, but he just shook his head. They still couldn’t get through over the comm set.
Dimiye clicked his dent com active and hit the command channel. Normally, only his squad leaders and himself could receive this. Hopefully, if there were some Fed troopers over there, maybe they might read them. “This is Sergeant Dimiye to anyone over in the colony. Respond please.”
There was no response. Alastar was going to try again when a loud message burst back at him. “Fuck you, slant-eyes! We’re not buying it!”
“Hell with you! You come within sneezing distance, we’ll fry you to kingdom come!”
“If I was Bloc, I wouldn’t bother calling you! I’d flatten your damn gate. Who is this?”
“Who the hell is this?!”
“Master Sergeant Alastar Dimiye, Earth Federation Technical Infantry, Service Number 1-3-oh-9-4-2-7-5-8-dash-6. Acting commanding officer of 1-3-dash-2-3-1 Special Service, 2nd Platoon. Check it against the net relay, damn it!”
There was a longer pause and finally the voice on the other end cooled. “Oh, thank God! We were afraid that…well, we had thought…”
“Whoever this is, I’m freezing over here. Do you mind if we continue this conversation inside?”
“Oh, um… sure!”
Dimiye cut off the circuit and went over to Johannes. “Corporal, if I don’t comm you in five minutes, take the shuttles and try and reach another settlement.”
There was something of worry in her voice. “But, what about…”
“Stacy, if I don’t call, I’m dead. All right?”
She nodded her head. “Yes, sir.”
Alastar opened the shuttle hatch and went out. Without the chameleon circuit activated, Dimiye felt naked as he crossed the wide open area between the edge of the rock (where the shuttles were) and the colony. There was a sign up ahead. Through the dust and wind he managed to make out, “Hope, Population 152,738” Over a hundred thousand people?! Even if they weren’t caught in the middle of a war zone, there was no way he could get his people AND the colonists off planet. Something told him that getting off this planet was going to be a hard sell.
Somehow he made it across the dead zone to reach the main gate. It was open a crack, just enough that he could see a man in light power armor, even weaker than his own, standing before him. “You Dimiye?”
“Yeah, who are you?”
“Captain Jennings, Light Infantry. I’m the military commander on planet.”
Light Infantry was the police force of the Federation, creating peace and order on a hundred worlds. It was the Tech Infantry’s shadow, consisting of unawakened humans; the rank structure was identical, so if Jennings was a captain, that meant there had to be at least a battalion of them here. Of course, according to standard operating procedures, in time of war they were subordinate to active combat troops. That meant TI, but he wasn’t about to “pull rank” right now, not with several plasma rifles pointed at him. “Captain, I’ve got six captured shuttles over there with my unit and some refugees. Mind if we bring them in?”
“Um, ah… sure. Okay.”
Clicking his dentcom, he called over to them, “Dimiye to all shuttles. Bring ‘em in.”
“Confirmed,” echoed back from the shuttle drivers, and they lifted and floated towards the main gate.
"We're being followed," he whispered.
"Who?" Mark answered quietly.
"Two guys. Moving towards us."
Mark's hand twitched as he reached inside his jacket.
"Shit, we have been here one day and they are already onto us. Real discrete. Real fucking discrete."
"What did we do to tip them off?"
"Lose them… quick!"
As they walked toward the lift, the duo shifted, rushing out the outside door. The footsteps followed faster as they tried to reach the safety of anonymity. However, they couldn’t just get lost in the crowd; their tails were too good. Finally, the assassins darted down into a side alley, then once there, took another quick turn.
"When they reach us, hold them off. I need some time."
"Time for what?"
“Just trust me, okay?”
"Yeah... all right."
Mark disappeared, leaving Steve alone behind a small dumpster, as the two goons came running into the alley after them, pistols drawn. "Stop where you are! Place your gun on the ground!"
"Who do you think you are?!" Steve yelled back.
One of them raised his plasma revolver to fire. Jupedus was quickly looking for exit points, but there really was no need. Smith simply appeared, jamming his sword into the gunman’s back, then raising the blade through the spine and taking out his lungs. Steve wasted no time; like a crazed maniac, he fired his gun. The other man fired, but it was too late; Jupedus heard the plasma bolt sizzle past his ear. Both men dropped, looking like they had just passed through the business end of a slaughterhouse.
"We have a real problem." Mark muttered, wiping the blood off his sword.
"What’s that?" Steve asked.
"InSec thinks something is up and they were pretty sure we were behind it.”
“Yeah, but they don't know what."
Smith sheathed his weapon and stared at the werewolf. "How’s that, Jup?"
"They only sent two men. Both of them were brand new, inexperienced; they didn’t know what to do.”
“So we can assume that they didn’t report us yet.”
“Right, so we can either make InSec think that they got the two people they were after or we do the gig now."
Mark put his foot on one of the bloody corpses. "How the hell are we going to fool InSec into thinking we’re are dead?"
"They didn’t know who we were, not really. So we get some street punks, use their weapons, and kill them. Bring the fresh corpses over here and make it look like it was a gun fight."
"What about the cut on this guy over here?"
"What cut? I don't see a cut?” Jupedus smiled. “They won’t be looking for much. They sent these two to get killed. If they really wanted us dead, we’d be dead. With the amount of experience and money in that building… face it, Mark, we’re not a threat.”
It didn’t take long to find some appropriate “substitutes” for their death, frame the scene, and make the convenient call to the police. After a busy day like this, it was time to catch some food, some tickets home, and some down time. Although they had thrown off the trail, if anyone decided to make a detailed search, it wouldn’t be long until they were on to them again.
The next day, Mark found a… dump. Because of the coup, several places that used to be apartment buildings had been gutted out. Now there were a lot of fire-eaten, barely-standing wrecks; terrible places to live, but they had a great view of Internal Security headquarters. It didn’t take long for them to get established and start watching the watchers. The first day went quickly. Both of them watched and wrote down everything. If one was eating, the other made sure to take his place. Despite even InSec’s paranoid precautions, all people fell into a pattern, especially guards. It didn't take long to figure it out. After a while, they had it down on paper, and they knew what they were up to.
The second day, it was time for them to see how they “critter killer” was doing. "Hello, doctor,” Mark asked once he entered the lab, “how’s the stuff coming along?"
"It’s all ready…"
"Excellent!" roared Steve.
"…but now, you have to pay me the rest. You promised me five thousand on delivery."
"Very well, doc. Jupe, pay the man."
The second Jupiter pulled something out of his vest, the man become uneasy. When he saw all the money, the doctor almost passed out. "That’s a lot of money for a critter."
"We will see you later, doctor...” Steve replied, “or not." He swiveled around and then shot him right between the eyes. "There goes any shred of evidence against us."
"Good,” Mark said, taking the container in hand, “Too bad. He really thought everything was fine. In the end, he was too scared to notice what was happening."
“We better go.” Steve answered, and they headed out the door.
Their plan was smooth. Mark had to go into InSec headquarters, by taking the tour again, then mark their target with a radioactive beam, located in his pen. Steve was waiting outside with his dart “crossbow.” Once Lt. Colonel Pax was marked, Jupedus could find him wherever, and shoot him. It was simply a matter of waiting after that.
The tour was just as boring as the first, except that he had a cute brunette guiding him instead of the blonde they had before. Beyond the pictures, the tour got a little more interesting, showing the records rooms, test facilities, and some of the special equipment that they had available. Smith mentally tried to remember some of the items for his own work. However, none of this was getting him any closer to Pax… or King.
Finally, he saw him. As the oriental walked past, he got out his pen, then fired a quick burst of his pen at his side. There was no light, no sound, and it did its job perfectly. It was relaxing to look at the rest of the building with his job out of the way.
At the end, they were back in the lobby. Just as he followed the other tourists out the door, one of the black and silver blurs walked toward him, “Excuse me, sir?”
“Yes?” Mark felt his heart racing. What went wrong? What gave him away?
“Could you come with me, please? Colonel Pax would like to see you.”
The EFS Schaumburg flew through the swirls and ravages of hyperspace, over a day out from the Rios System, and lucky to be in one piece. As Lieutenant Commander Xinjao O’Reilly sat there at the status meeting, he almost cringed as he read off the damage report. “…is going to be off-line until we get to a repair dock. Which means, in the end…”
“… we’re blind, toothless, and moving as fast as an asthmatic turtle.” the captain finished for him. Captain Erich Von Shrakenberg resisted the urge to hold his head in his hands. After all, he had to be a leader; the leader couldn’t look worried. He managed to shrug off the negative feeling that had been brewing in the room and concentrate on the work. “What can be operational before we reach Fieras?”
Erich might as well have said, “Before we reach the gates of hell, can we at least wear some fire suits?” The mood in the room could have pummeled them. Xinjao coughed and scrolled down his datapad. “I can guarantee that the power systems and the engines will be operational, sir. Some of the sensors can be replaced from stores, but weapons, like I said before, are going to remain off-line.”
The captain smiled. “But we’re not dead, ja?”
“No, sir. Environmental controls and food supplies are unaffected.”
“Good. Commander Ingolfsson, what’s the final casualty list?”
Johanna pushed a lock of her blonde hair aside and activated her datapad. “Um, according to last count; eighteen dead, seven severely wounded, and fifteen in various states of minor injury.”
Damn, Erich thought, I guess we didn’t get out of there as safe as we thought. As he looked around the room, everyone else was thinking the same thing. “Is there anything else?” When no one replied, he stood up and said, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, that will be all.” The officers all followed suit and walked out the door… all of them, except for O’Reilly and Gergenstein. Von Shrakenberg raised his eyebrows as they came over.
“Captain,” Xinjao spoke first, “we have something that we want to bring to your attention.”
Malachi Spyder’s hands flew over the keyboard, running through the standard requisition form that the Tech Infantry with the ease of a master. He never would have dreamed, after going through boot camp and their intense training, that life in the military could be so dull. Here he was, first of his class in the Officer Candidate School, stuck on board a stupid light cruiser, inspecting freighters. What the hell happened, he asked himself. Somehow, in the back of his mind, Max Thames was responsible for this. Sorry, he corrected himself, Major Thames had been on him ever since he had… well, that wasn’t important. One of these days, he thought, it was going to come down to either him or me. Malachi was certain that he would be the last man standing.
Meanwhile, wading through the legalese of the electonic paperwork, he emphasized the need for bigger guns. How the hell were they supposed to fight a war in old Mark 35’s? Besides, they’re chameleon circuits were almost fried, their guns had design flaws, and the magnetic grapples… hmph, don’t get him started. As much information as he entered, he kept trying to get through Procurement’s beady little eyes that Mark 35’s were never meant to last more than thirty years. A suit was like a planetary shuttle. It required a lot of maintenance and it became unsafe after a while.
However, the Technical Infantry Corps never thought in those terms. It seldom considered the changing needs of the service. The TI preferred to stretch everything to its limit, keeping its hard-earned credits for more drop ships or R&D. Of course, Malachi thought, they won’t have anyone left to drop if they don’t give out some new suits! Allowing himself a sigh, he pounded away at the keyboard. He needed to get off this ship; out of babysitting these trooper rejects. Spyder needed to go where he could make a difference.
Andrea Treschi was bored out of his mind. Weaver had gone off to “help” the repair crews; in truth, his computer expertise would help a lot. Andrea, on the other hand, really couldn’t help. He had spent his service with the Raptors and had even gotten to work with the legendary Arthur Clarke! However, his experience in catching and detaining renegade mages and werewolves wouldn’t help him weld a pressure hatch. Nor would it help reroute fried wiring; face it, he thought, your talents are wasted here.
So, sitting in his small bunk, his mind wandered back and forth over the events that had happened back in Rios. Jumping in from New Madrid, running into the thrice-damned Schaumburg, that InSec corvette trying to kill them, then losing…
The reinstated lieutenant’s head went up so fast that he banged his head on the bulkhead above him. WHAM! Andrea dropped right back down, clutching his forehead in pain. Finally, he managed to calm his thoughts, pouring his quintessence through him, the instant headache faded away. Once the pain had disappeared, he moved (more cautiously this time) and got out of bed.
There was something not quite right about the whole affair. He hadn’t had time to think it out before; everything was happening by so quickly. The unanswered question finally appeared in his mind. How did Internal Security know where to find him?
Standard Fleet procedure did not include the reporting of unauthorized vessels to the net relay. He had been around enough ships to know how the Earth Fleet worked. They preferred finished reports, not current updates. Von Shrakenberg, no matter how much of an anal bean-counter he thought he was, would never bother the high command with something as trivial as a contraband inspection. So there had to be another way; an InSec spy? On board the Schaumburg? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that happened, would it?
Those peeping toms were never satisfied with just knowing the general operations of the ship. No, he thought, he had run into too many of those paranoid sons-of-bitches to think that. If there was a spy on board, he… or she would want to know everything.
Andrea’s eyes swept over the room. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and that was disturbing him. Finally, he got his comm unit off the chair where he’d left it and opened the back casing. Inside were tuning knobs, and very carefully, he began to adjust the frequency modulator. Sweeping the comm unit around the room, he listened; bugs had to transmit in order to be effective. By a simple sweep of all known frequencies, it wouldn’t be hard to…
The comm squelched suddenly and Treschi froze. He aimed the unit toward the corner of the room and got the same sound. Closing in, he got the chair closer, and stood up towards the ceiling. With enough patience, he finally located what he was looking for. With his fingernail, he pried the little black smudge away from the wall and looked at it more closely. The mage had known; they were spying on him. There was only one place to take it.
The room computer’s holoproj quickly activated to show a Vietnamese man standing before him. “Where is Commander O’Reilly?”
“Sir, he’s not here.”
“I can see that! Where is he?”
“Last I knew, he was with the captain.”
“Thanks,” Treschi shot back, closing the connection.
“As you can see, sir, the bug has a hologrammatic lens, allowing it transmit for full clarity.” The engineer explained, as they focused the screen closer, watching the device under the electron scanner.
“But that has to have a limited range,” Captain Von Shrakenberg nodded, “unless InSec’s found a way to modify it. Lieutenant,” he nodded toward Gergenstein, “does this have any magical adaptions?”
Herbert placed his hands over the scanner, his eyes closed but flickering through the lids. Once he finally released himself from the trance, he looked over at the captain. “No, sir. It’s purely electronic.”
“All right,” the captain replied, “that means it has to end up somewhere on the ship.”
“Yes, sir,” O’Reilly smiled, punching a few buttons on the scanner, “watch.”
A holoproj appeared in the middle of the dining room table… showing nothing but static. “Funny, it was working before.”
“Probably self-destruct,” Erich offered. “I bet our little spy is onto us. That means we don’t have much…”
Suddenly, the door opened, and a very angry Treschi stormed through the door. “What’s the big idea tapping my room!”
All eyes snapped towards the TI lieutenant. After a long silence, Gergenstein was the first to speak, “Looks like this is bigger than we thought.”
“Bigger than what? Damn it, I deserve some answers!”
Erich smiled. “Welcome to the club.”
“Lieutenant Treschi,” Xinjao interrupted, “could I see your… bug?”
Andrea managed to calm down. His little ruse to see if one of them was the spy had failed; they all looked surprised when they presented the bug. Of course, they had been working on the bug in front of them. What the hell is going on here, he thought.
When the mage held out his hand, O’Reilly took out a metal wire probe from his pocket (he always had a metal wire probe), and scraped the bugs from his fingers. Placing it carefully in the scanner, the holoproj went from static to a clear picture, showing all four of them in the room. “This one works. Okay, we know what file this goes to,” Xinjao clicked over another holoproj which showed the same thing, except this time with a file registry listing at the bottom, “but we’re not sure who’s picking up the information.
“They still had to find a way to tell InSec.” Andrea responded. “In which case, they had to transmit off the ship somehow.”
The captain turned to Gergenstein. “Run through the communications log. If something’s amiss, I want to know about it.” As Herbert nodded, Treschi was hoping that Weaver had covered his tracks. “Meanwhile, I want all of you to keep this under your hats. The less people who know about this, the better chance we’ll have of catching that traitor.”
“Sir,” O’Reilly asked, “with your permission, I’d like to scan the ship for more devices. Since we know the transmission frequency, it shouldn’t be too tough.”
“Certainly, commander, but keep it low-key. Try not to tell your team too much while you’re doing it. Like I said, the traitor could be anywhere.”
“Yes, sir.” Xinjao answered.
“All right, dismissed.”
The officers filed out of the dining room and Treschi had no where to go. Somewhere in the confusion of battle, he managed to get himself a khaki-and-black TI jumpsuit, and it itched him something terrible. The freighter captain smiled to himself; he had gotten used to civilian clothes too soon. However, the ability not to look conspicuous was better than being ostracized.
Still, he managed to keep that stigma stuck on him, despite whatever uniform he wore. He had to make amends with those he should be closest to. Making his way down toward the TI area of the ship, the man he wanted to see appeared. “Lieutenant Spyder!”
The man swiveled to face the fellow mind mage, and instantly, his face cringed. “What do you want… sir?”
“Listen, I know we got off on the wrong foot…”
“I’d say,” Malachi interrupted, his scowl getting darker.
“Anyway, I want to apologize with the way I treated you, and buy you a drink.”
His eyes flashed. “Buy me a drink?”
“Yes, as a way for saying ‘sorry.’ I know I haven’t been the model trooper,” Malachi snorted a laugh, but Andrea ignored it, “but I was a bit resentful of being pressed back into service. These mortals don’t understand what citizenship means to us.”
Spyder’s glare weakened. Yes, he thought, the captain never got drafted into the military, he volunteered. He never had to endure the shame of awakening. He never lost all his friends when his dad moved to the next town. Von Shrakenberg never had to block out the sounds of his crew’s chattering minds, blasting at full volume every perverse thought in their narrow little minds. Against all better judgement, Malachi managed a simple, “Yeah. Okay, I’ll join you.”
Luckily, as his team was working on the scan (he told them some story about detecting microfractures), Xinjao made his way to the showers. With the water recyclers working at full capacity already, the need to preserve water was necessary. Therefore, no one but the captain enjoyed his own private shower. The rest of the crew had to make do with officer’s and enlisted showers, a large, moisture-sealed room, where those who had to clean up had to go.
O’Reilly made sure he was between shift change, then tip-toed into the female officer’s showers. The captain never made him give back Treschi’s bug so someone had to make use of it. The place was empty (thank God) and he made his way to the far corner of the room. Microwelding the bug into the corner (he always had a microwelder), he then remotely set the bug to a different frequency (so that the techies wouldn’t catch this one), the commander smuggly walked back out the lock.
“There’s no action!” Malachi screeched, downing his fourth Deseret Delight.
“Tell me about it.” Andrea answered, relaxing in the Officer’s Club, trying to get to the man who had been on his ass for this cruise.
“The Federation is tearing itself apart, right?” Spyder replied, signaling the steward to give him another drink. “That means we’re killing the rebels, the rebels are killing the Bloc, the Resistance is killing us… and where am I? On a stinking ship in the middle of nowhere!”
“What about Rios? There was a battle.”
“A battle? Yeah, for the vac-suckers, sure!” He spat on the ground, right on the steward’s pants, as the man came to give him his drink. “Oh, sorry, man. Anyway, what were my boys doing? Sitting around handing tools to the repair teams! That’s not the way to fight a war! I want…” Malachi lost himself in another gulp of the fruity concoction. “I want…”
“Want what?” Treschi asked, trying to be helpful.
“I want a piece of power armor that isn’t going
to fall apart within thirty minutes of wearing it! I want to smash bug’s heads
together with my bare hands! I want to do… something!”
“Well,” Andrea licked the salt off his lips, putting down his margarita, “I might be able to help you.”
“Hmmm?” Spyder managed, sucking down another Delight.
“I have connections… high-ranking connections, in the TI. I might be able to get you a transfer.”
“For my platoon as well?” he gulped.
“Well, maybe your sergeant, but they still need some troopers on this ship.”
“Yeah… I guess.”
“If you’re really serious about a transfer…”
“Hell, yes!” the platoon leader yelled back.
“Well, then, I…” as Andrea spoke, the GQ alarm wailed, “…we can talk later. We better get to our stations.”
“Whatever,” Malachi belched, as the mind mage helped his fellow to his feet.
On the bridge, Erich could see the hyperspace beacon flash on his console. “Commander, are we secured for jump?”
Johanna smiled back at him. “All stations report readiness, sir.”
“All right, M. Shijumi, take us through the gate.”
The helmsman typed in the code sequence and suddenly hyperspace seemed to explode. The orange haze was sucked into a starry hole and the Schaumburg settled back into normal space.
“Lieutenant Jerez, please signal the local patrol of our identification and then send a battle report to the net relay.”
“Helm, bring us about. Set course for the digital gate.”
They were going home, Von Shrakenberg smiled as he thought about it. He only hoped that there would be a warm reception.
It didn’t take long to clear the Fieras system. The farther away from that monstrosity of a planet they were, Erich thought, the better he felt. The war on the ground there had gone on for over a hundred years. The captain knew about the impossibilities of fighting there and why they couldn’t glass the whole Jupiter-sized planet. However, with a hell-hole like that, let the Bugs have it.
Soon the EFS Schaumberg was slowing down for the gate. This was the one part Erich never liked about space travel. Hyperspace was a cranky, wild mistress and normal space had its dangers, but at least, they were predictable. He had heard the dangers of too many bug ships ramming through the digital gate at once, crushing into each other, making globs of barely moving space debris. The captain didn’t like getting his molecules scrambled nor being digitized and sent on a faster-than-light beam back to Avalon. He knew the technology better than most of his crew. Although they might have been comfortable with it, it scared the living shit out of him.
“Approaching the digital gate in five seconds, captain.” Shijumi announced.
“Confirmed. Ready for jump.”
The helmsman counted off the time. “Five, four, three…”
Erich willed himself not to blink as the ship seemed to go inside the giant ring of the gate and… the stars changed. Without even a short pause in-between, there they were, right in the middle of the Avalon System.
The holoproj automatically came to life. “This is Avalon System Traffic Control. Please state your identification.”
Staring at the schoolmarm-ish woman before him, he smiled as he said, “This is Captain Erich Von Shrakenberg of the EFS Schaumburg. We request to dock at the Von Eisenstein Military Spaceport."
“Confirmed, captain. You’ve already been cleared. You have a message from Fleet Command. It says that you are to report to Admiral Vorheis’ office as soon as you dock. That is all.”
As the holoproj faded, Erich wondered, why did the CNC of Earth Fleet want to see him?
END OF EPISODE ONE
Frank (Dimiye): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 early turn-in + 5 good orders + 5 story + 5 personality = 40 pts.
Matt (Smith): 5 pts per act orders x 2 = 10 pts + 2.5 early turn-in + 2.5 good orders + 2 story = 17 pts. (The partial points are only because you didn’t start at the beginning of the episode.)
Martin (Von Shrakenberg): 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 early turn-in + 5 good orders + 5 story = 35 pts. (You’ll get experience points for your web page at a later time.)
Chris (Treschi) 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 good orders + 5 personality = 30 pts.
Andy (Hex) 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 good orders + 5 personality = 30 pts.
Josh (Spyder) 5 pts per act orders x 2 = 10 pts
Ed (O’Reilly) 5 pts per act orders x 4 = 20 pts + 5 good orders = 25 pts.
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved. Do not try ANY of this at home, even if you DO find a suit of battle armor that can speak Chinese.