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The Cleon Memorial Library For discussion of Traveller fiction, both official and fan-written. Fan-written drafts are explicitly welcome.

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  #51  
Old January 6th, 2018, 02:11 AM
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“If we could only release that third trailer.” Aston shouted.

“I wish we had only taken the passenger trailer. The weight of those other two isn’t doing us any favors.”

The villager’s eyes fluttered, and through sheer will pointed at the series of lever controls on the dash just to the right of the wheel and above the gear shift.

“He’s alive!” Aston exclaimed. Aston could see him trying to say something, but couldn’t hear what. He lowered his head and ear to the man’s mouth. “What? The third lever?”

The villagers voice was weak, and his words were nearly imperceptible, but Aston was able to understand the man’s broken Galanglic amidst the wind and his voice and body on the verge of eternal bliss.

“Can we make it back to the tarmac with the fuel we got?”

“Yeah, and then some! We don’t need that thing weighing us down, if that’s what you mean.” Vash gave him a double take, “You’re not going to climb out there again, are ya?!”

“’Don’t think I’ll need to.” Aston again glanced back and saw the bandits matching the tractor trailer’s speed to chance a boarding action. Bandits armed with hand weapons and bows began crawling on the tanker like vermin, making their way forward.

Aston reached for the number three lever, then looked at the villager once more, “This one, right?!” Aston shouted at the man to make sure. The villager gave a weak half nod and tried pointing with an index finger that was nearly all drained of life.

Aston yanked hard on the lever, and saw the large silver tank cut loose from the passenger car, scrape the pavement sending up a terrific shower of sparks that reached three feet high. Then a combination of stress and weight fractured the forward section of the tanker. Aeriated fuel connected with the sparks, and the contents of the tanker erupted; the detonation blew off the tanker's end caps that clanged against the road and desert floor in a black smoke and fireball torrent that rose thirty meters. Whoever had been on the tanker or near it, was gone, or soon would be. But the bandits, whether caught in the blast or no, were no longer a factor. All that was left was a geyser of thick jet black smoke rising off at a sharp angle engulfing the fuel fed firestorm.

Aston wasn’t prone to fist pumping nor touting victory, but he couldn’t help but let out a brief stifled laugh as his mouth curled to one side in a slight smile thinking of the efforts that had been made to kill him. He then regained his composure, and found himself breathing hard for no reason whatsoever, and then calmed himself as he went to work on the villager, seeing if he couldn’t stop the bleeding and perhaps save his life.

The rest of the trip to the ruins of the city and starport was uneventful, but both IISS members were on edge as they drove through the blasted gate and onto the vast stretch of debris covered tarmac, and to the familiar sight of the Marava class merchant. Vash wheeled the vehicle parallel to the ship and brought the rig to a halt.

There were protests among the passengers, but the crew and a few armed IISS personnel both allayed and swayed fears and hopes. The villagers would not be taking their belongings which, like everything else were probably irradiated and tainted with numerous local bugs and chemicals.

More protests about the loss of the tanker, but the cots and food in the cargo area, along with warm blankets and fresh water eased more fears and anger. Another wave of fear struck the rescued when the merchants front loading ramp sealed up, sealing off sunlight with only the fluorescents overhead.

For a brief few seconds, when the engines fired up and the vessel first hefted itself off the ground, the deck shifted and swayed as if there were a mild earthquake. Again, screams and protests, but the deck settled, and the villagers settled once more.

And the one villager who had been mortally wounded had been placed in a cold berth. Instructing the passengers how to use the facilities was a job for the social workers. Aston, unlike Vash, kept himself locked up in his cabin for most of the trip back to Imperial space.

Again, it hadn’t been like the holovids or the comics and other books Aston used to read. And again it wasn’t what he had signed on for. The assignment mentioned a rescue. It mentioned a world that had bombed itself back to the stone age. Fine. Aston figured refugees would be a heart breaking assignment, but the combat had caught him and Vash off guard.

It was an assignment the navy nor the army with its lift fleet would not touch. The marshal’s service said it was out of their jurisdiction, and private non-profits didn’t have the resources to go outside the Imperium. That left the scouts.

Back on Earth, back in the recruiter’s office in the Imperial government center, Aston remembered telling the agent his dreams of leaving the world and doing science. He remembered saying how he wanted to visit other worlds and meet people and exotic beings from places distant. He remembered the sales points of exploration and discovery, with a mild mention of rescue ops, and an even smaller emphasis on being absorbed into the navy during times of crisis.

Was he bitter? Aston himself wasn’t sure. Had it been bad luck that he had drawn a large number of dangerous assignments? Or was there something else at work? The galaxy and universe were still wondrous, but the sheen of wonderment had been tempered by the reality that it was impersonal and fraught with danger.
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Last edited by Blue Ghost; January 8th, 2018 at 01:23 AM.. Reason: minor tweakage
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  #52  
Old January 11th, 2018, 08:54 PM
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A repost from the great COTI purge/update a few weeks back. I was about to curse the internet gods (and sundry other personae dramatica) when I found the first installment a few minutes ago

Bullets plinked off the hull and hydraulic struts as Second Lieutenant Aston dove onto the Ice-Star’s ramp just as medical officer Peter Ray slapped the button to raise it and seal the ship. Several more full-automatic reports rang out and a hail of bullets stitched across both hull and ramp.

The Ice-Star was a Florian class scout, noted for high performance and luxury compared to other vessels in her range, she was also a capable miniature fortress and haven like most scout-vessels, keeping both bullets and radiation at bay when needed.

“Are you hit?!” Peter called out, the ship’s medic for this hop. In ancient times would be described as Amer-Asian with a thick shock of black hair and golden-brown skin was of mixed parentage, not very tall, but highly intelligent and caring, and right now he saw blood trickling from his friend’s shirt and coat.

Aston figured he might have been, but hadn’t felt anything. “Scan me if you want, but we’ve got to get out of here!” Aston scrambled to his feet and equally scrambled up the ladder leading from the Ice-Star’s cargo area to the main deck.

Peter tore after him up the ladder, reaching for his medical scanner tucked in his inner coat pocket.

Upstairs Aston caught site of Vash running aft from the bridge to the ship’s single double-barreled turret, brushing by Aston, “Engines are fired up! Karen’s at the controls.” Vash then quickly clamored into the ball and socket seat.

That’s when Aston started to feel a little light headed and noted that his shirt and sleeves were wet, but the sheer adrenaline pumping through his system kept him on his feet for the moment as he sprinted into the two seat bridge and strapped himself into the port-side pilot’s seat.

“It’s about time you showed up.” Karen glanced at him and noted his pale color.

Aston ignored her, and throttled up the engines regardless of the red warning lights telling him the ship wasn’t entirely sealed. He felt the twin massive thrusters thunder outside as the ship’s anti-grav plates gently hefted the Ice-Star off the ground, making the ship feel as if it were gently gliding on a calm sea.

That’s when the loud sharp rapid-fire snap of the ship’s twin lasers lanced out. Aston wasn’t sure what Vash was firing at, but if it kept anymore gunmen at bay, then so much the better. Even now amidst the ship’s engines thrumming at high volume and Vash unleashing the ship’s firepower, bullets striking the hull could be heard. At first it was small caliber stuff, but the plinking turned into a distinctive drumming. High velocity support weapons, probably fifty-cals were stitching a line of holes and indentations along the ship’s hull as she slowly moved mere meters above the crowd.

Aston felt himself getting tired, more light-headedness, almost as if he wanted to sleep. And about that time that’s when the adrenaline wore off and he felt the massive dull pain of bodily damage. “Why… why aren’t we … why aren’t going … any … faster…” His words trailed off, but he fought to stay conscious as he felt himself starting to black out.

“Richard?” Karen loudly asked. “Richard?!”

Aston felt a sharp pricking in his arm, and the sleepy drain as suddenly replaced with a new source of energy. Aston looked down at his forearm to see Peter furiously working on his arm and body, tearing at his clothing and stabbing his body with portable field surgery packs filled with all kinds of medical reagents.

His heart beat had been fading, his breathing slowing and growing shallow, permanently sleep beckoning, but now he felt as if he had been shot full of vitamins, which is essentially what had happened.

Aston instinctively shook his head, as if to fight off sleep, then smacked the ship’s intercom, “Vash! Why aren’t we taking off?! I can’t get anymore thrust!”

“Hang on.” Was the Vargr’s reply.

The Ice-Star rocked and violently careened to port, her deck angles a lean twenty degrees in the same direction, while outside her wingtip scraped up both parched soil and the occasional Vargr mob-member who was unfortunate to get in the wounded ship’s way, briefly scooped up and then thrown to the side as the Ice-Star continued on its violent motion.

Aft Vash climbed out of the turret and leapt into the Ice-Star’s relatively tiny engineering section, furiously working the controls and checking readouts.

Somone had hacked into the ship’s engineering section.

Vash growled in both anger and bewilderment of what to do.
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Old January 11th, 2018, 08:55 PM
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Vash worked dial, knob, switch and toggle, then felt the ship jolt and shudder. Struck by what he didn’t know, but the engineering station lit up like a Christmas panel, flashing all kinds of colors that his wolf-heritage would allow him to see, as well as cacophony of warnings and alarms.

Vash swore under his breath, gritted his teeth and snarled as he cross circuited one control and then another hoping beyond hope that he could outsmart both the ship and whoever had hacked into her to regain control. Right now the ship’s gravity hadn’t kicked in, and he was fighting a sloping deck as he heard his tools spill out of the cabinet and careen across the deck to the far side of the section.

Back in the cockpit Aston worked with his spirit re-invigorated, trying several times to restart the engines and ram the throttles forward, but all the Ice-star could do was carve a violent-lazy dust clouded circle across the terrain as hundreds if not thousands of Vargr tried to lasoo her still extended gear to bring her down or keep her from taking off, all the while other kept taking shots at her with whatever they could muster.

In the holo-vids they always showed the young hero mouthing off overconfident dialogue, as if no matter how bad the situation got he was always on top of it one way or another, and always had help from his boom companion, a hot looking female or cuddly alien. Well, Vash wasn’t cuddly and Karen was just your ordinary average plane-Jane female, neither of whom would pass muster at a casting agencies office, but he was sure that both had infinitely more knowledge and wisdom of how to deal with a city population of corsairs suddenly turned on them.

Aston hauled back on the stick again after trying to tap power from the weapons. Something worked because the Ice-Star suddenly nosed up with the added energy , but it was a temporary victory as several of those small nearly barrel sized grav weapon platforms that Vargr in the Extents were so fond of suddenly glided into view.

One had a large caliber pintel mounted weapon of some kind with a grey furred and angry face manning the thing. Aston saw right down the black of the barrel, enough to make out the rifling detail just before it flashed to life with an angry stream of fifty-cal rounds that stitched across the Ice-Star’s front windscreen.

Aston smacked the intercom with his right hand, “Vash, what the heck is going on back there?!”

His tiny miniaturized voice came back over the speaker, “Someone hacked into the ship! I’m trying to hot-wire the controls right now!”

Aston looked up again to see several cables wrap over the Ice-Star’s nose, and just over the tip of her nose he could see large teams of Vargr hauling on the cables, as if they had caught a beast that refused to die.

“Karen, get on the turret.” Aston fought the controls to keep the nose up.

“Would you hold still!” Peter berated as he continued to work on Aston’s lower body and arm, all the while Karen got up and ran aft.

Another drumming of fire from all angles, and another loud impact. So far there were only overloads or warnings that wires and controls were too close to the hull, which probably meant that whatever the thugs were using outside as heavy artillery were putting some massive dents in the Ice-Stars fuselage. But so far no fuel loss, and no real damage that would keep her from flying if she could ever get off the ground.

The Florian Leagues engineers were geniuses at making a small one-hundred ton flyer a luxury accommodation, but Aston cursed them because they, like their Terran and Vilani counterparts, continued to put a large reinforcement dividing strut right smack down dab in the middle of the windscreen. Couldn’t anyone design a ship that had a full clear one-hundred-eighty degree of the front?

Whatever, it was probably keeping the ship space worthy, as for all the warning indicators the ship was still showing as air tight.

Back in engineering Vash cursed some more, then finally out of rage smacked the control panel with his hard curled fur covered fist.

The ship got new life as everything powered up properly. The gravity came back, the lights were at full power, and the engines roared with new found power.

All Vash could do was step back wide eyed, his mouth slightly agape at what had just happened.

In the cockpit the Ice-Star pulled her bulldozer like wing out of the hard arid earth and righted herself just as Karen started to return fire with the ship’s turret.

Aston didn’t care who was hanging onto the ship of the cables, it could have been a girl scout troop straight from terra, he didn’t care. He rammed the throttles up to the stops once more and the Ice-Star surged forward like a thing unleashed, leaving a wake of swirling dust, heat and bewildered natives.

The desert floor rushed by mere meters from the Ice-Star’s belly, and at mach-one the shockwave shook every living creature for miles around as Aston nose her up and clawed for space.

The Ice-Star speared upwards on twin blue flames at high mach, all the while corsair interceptors were just getting the word to go after her, along with any full fledged corsair ship’s that happened to be in the vicinity.

Minutes later the light sun drenched teal of the horizon and sky melted away to a starry black. The sensor suite was damaged, and screen flickered and was a jumble with a hundred false echoes and static. But the threat warning indicator was still active.

“They’re tracking us.” Aston announced to no one in particular, especially since Peter was the only other person in the cockpit. “I guess Vash managed to patch her up, but she’s far from tip top condition, I’ll say that right now.”

Peter chagrinned as he got up, putting the last of his medical tools into his kit, “I could say the same thing about you. You don’t know how lucky you are.” And he help up three bullets coated in a semi transparent red fluid.

“Bill me later, doctor. I got my own patient to worry about right now.” Aston winced at the line. It wasn’t exactly Hollywood dialogue, and he had just given Peter the big brush off after his friend had saved his life, but Peter knew that Aston had to finish pulling their bacon out of the fire, or he was right, there would be no medical bill to pay.

That was when the first crimson beam lashed out at the Ice Star. Peter finished closing his kit and saw the laser. He and Aston had both been in their share of combat missions, but he was still no expert.

“Is that close?”

Aston didn’t reply immediately. He gave a half shake of his head as he glanced at the tactical display. It was just like every other monitor; a massive jumble of static and characters. “I can’t tell, but one laser is one laser too many.”

Peter let Aston collect his wits before saying anything else. “Look, I’m no expert, but their interceptors and patrol ships … aren’t they faster than we are?”

“They can out accelerate us, and eventually catch us, if that’s what you mean.” Aston didn’t feel like trying to play the Hollywood hero just now. “We got enough of a lead on them, but it’s going to be close.”

And it was close, but not close enough for pirate forces to catch up Aston and his crew. After leaving the planet it was an uneventful escape, just nerve wracking as the ship continued to accelerate to her jump point all the while a flight of fighters and two full corsairs were in hot pursuit. But again, other than the chase, the transition to jump was routine.



Flight Captain George Weber sat under an umbrella in dome covered outdoor café overlooking the scout aquatic landing facilties and hard pads off in the distance. The Ice-Star had been his baby. Florian scout ships were rare and prized among IISS personnel. Sleek, fast, comfortable, and unlike the venerable type-S, they had windows in the cabin that you could actually see out of. He had loaned his to Richard Aston for a recon-op to collect more data on Vargr corsair bases, just after giving her a minor overhaul and splurging on a paint touchup and protective coat. Weber was up for some time off, didn’t need the ship, and wanted to put it to good use while he took in the exotic undersea tours on Dentus.

Dentus, were it not for trace elements in her atmosphere that made it hard to breathe, was like being on an island paradise year round. Even so the tainted atmosphere kept tourism at a minimum, but it was still a thriving trade for people like Weber who were willing to shell out the cash for trip into the exotic underwater biosphere of Dentus’ oceans.

Sun, a good book, a tall sweet ice-old drink set on a transparent glass table, his feet kicked up on a foot rest as he leaned back in the chair and donned his sunglasses. That’s when he heard the sound of twin engines off In the distance. He recognized the arrowhead shaped form as is spiraled down in the distance, gently touched down on the water, kicking up a white wake as the gentle ocean waters slowed her to a crawl.

Weber squinted. Was that his ship? He wondered and grinned. He watched with anticipation as the Florian scout arced her way across the surf and up onto a ramp leading her to a proper berth. Weber thought that it might be Aston returned. That’s when he noticed black and white smoke trickling up from various places, but she was too distant for him see why.

He grabbed his binoculars, grin still on his face, and put them up to his eyes.

His expression soured.
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Old January 15th, 2018, 04:23 AM
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Post 7000! Well, I did my homage to George Miller and his vision of the Aussie outback after a holocaust, so here's my next offering, or the opening chapter at least.

Commander Richard Aston sat in the large plush circular area of the Astral Zephyr, a stock class private liner with the usual disk lounge crew area forward hull and bulky passenger section aft, that had been doing the grand tour of the Indy Triad—that region of space nested between the Imperium, the Hive Federation and the Terran Confederation (otherwise known as the Solomani Sphere of influence, or what was left of it). The holo-vid playing in the middle of the lounge was some mid range budget actioner that had bad acting, lots of money dumped into sets, props, costumes, but little in the way of actual direction or vision, and an even weaker story regarding some rare gems and family owned companies fighting over them. All the while outside the windows was the familiar ethereal silver streaks and stretched stars that constituted the world outside the ship’s jump bubble as she raced at faster than lights speeds, leaving a trail of light in her wake. Aston scrunched his lips and grunted as he watched romance, intrigue, and gunplay. The holo-vid had all the superficial factors of what should have made a night’s entertainment, but it simply wasn’t that good, and Aston found his eyes wandering towards the wraithlike shroud of jump space outside the lounges windows.

Aston let his body sink further into the extra plush sofa that seemed to warp comfortable around his body, pushed back the brim of his IISS ball cap with the sunburst logo, and took another sip of sweet liquid before lazily reaching for the complimentary tray of miniature pastry and popping another into his mouth. The inflight media selection was subpar, but at least the food was free.

Aston sighed as another chase sequence with more gunfire exchanged between the hero and villain played out. At this point Aston had lost track of what the actual story was about, but gave the holovid as much attention as possible, but the deep cushioned velvet soft sectional seemed to beckon slumber.

Coming out this far from the Imperium was nothing new. He had ventured deep into Zhodani space when the war was raging, and had been part of anti-piracy sweeps around Darrien space and the Sword Worlds, obviously as well as the Extents. Of course, there was a certain familiarity with the “north west” sector of the Imperium, as it was sometimes unofficially referred to by space charts hobbyists—otherwise spinward and coreward from where he and his team currently were. Yet this region was somehow different. Aston couldn’t put his finger on it, and it was perhaps something as intangible as the very emotion itself, but it felt different.

The Marches were full of confrontation, power plays, rogues of all stripes, and of course the two super powers with opposing philosophies clashing in space and on a hundred different worlds, with uncounted millions locked in mortal combat over systems and planets both rich and barren. But that was over two years ago. It was a conflict that Aston would just as soon forget.

The holovid’s fire fight scene was replaced by tender music and a couple exchanging solemn romantic moments amidst a field of flowers and other greenery. Aston smirked at the whole thing, then blew a disappointed sigh from pursed lips before popping another snack into his mouth.

“Who writes this junk.” Aston muttered.

“Are you still watching that thing?”

Aston stretched his body and neck over the brim of the couch and saw his medic Peter casually stride into the lounge with his usual light hearted and welcoming grin—somehwat unusual for a ship’s surgeon, or so Aston mused. Only on this op Peter was a passenger, someone to be pampered like the rest of the paying customers on this flight. The service was paying the freight via Imperial vouchers, which thankfully were recognized as currency and accepted in a region of space that, where military tensions weren’t as high as in the marches, racial animosities were just as deep.

Aston reclined again and shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, it was on the playlist. I’m too lazy to ask it to find something else.”

Peter’s expression then sobered, “Hey, is that guy around here?”

Aston knew who he was talking about, but didn’t feel the need to quiet his tone, “Oh, you mean that nut case? Nooo, I haven’t seen him. I think he’s talking to himself and his fifty personalities inside his cabin.”

Peter chagrined. “You shouldn’t make light of people like him. He needs help.”

Aston scrunched his lips. Their primary mission was to track down a rogue weapons’ designer who had setup shop on some island way out in the Sontra subsector. They found him, apprehended, him, turned him over to an interstellar law-enforcement consortium and the guise that it was a survey mission for his majesty, then went on their way without much more word than that. The Imperium was curious as to his fate, they had no real interest in holding him, ergo, job done. Anything beyond that, including raving passengers, was not in Aston’s job description. He had been the knight in shining armor enough times, and no amount of his emotional investment was going to change some paranoid’s mind on what was what, what was real and what was part of his self-made fantasy world.

Aston began to open his mouth in response to Peter, and dish out some verbal jujitsu, but begged off. Instead he dismissed Peter’s comment with a wave of his hand.

Peter shook his head, “I wish you would take public health more seriously.”

Aston turned on his side to make himself even more comfortable, “No amount of lithium or other placebo is going to change that guy’s thinking, nor what anybody thinks about him.”

Peter cautiously looked over his shoulder as if someone might be there, “I hope he doesn’t hear you. You never know how somebody like that is going to react to your off-handed comments.”

“Ahhh…” Aston’s protesting tone said it all, “…aren’t you supposed to be doing your writeup?”

There was a voice. Male, raised, then quieted, calm, rational, then exuberant boarding on hysteria.

Aston sighed heavily, “Ah, geeze.” He glanced up at Peter, “Don’t you have like a pill or a shot for that guy?” At onetime Aston might have been more forgiving and even frightened at dealing with someone who appeared to be suffering from some malady of the mind, but he had dealt with enough people in all strata of life, and no amount of his playing nice would change that man’s disposition.

“Shhh!” Peter admonished. Aston outranked Peter and also had seniority, but the two had known one another since before Aston had joined the service, and it was by pure chance the two had reconnected in Aslan space, separated by assignments, then reunited in the Marches. Whether it was fate or some higher-up recognized their comradery, Aston didn’t know, but the relationship was both professional and casual all at once, which seemed to work best for both personnel and the service.

“I swear, if that guy doesn’t shut up…” Aston began.

Peter noticed the bridge door slide open and two of the ship’s three stewards round the observation deck rimming the lounge area to head aft.

“There they go.” Peter replied with a certain resignation—he knew he could help, but company policy forbade it, lest someone decide to bring a lawsuit for king’s ransom in settlement and legal fees.

Aston merely grunted as he scrunched his lips in an expression that was half smirk and half chagrin. The service wouldn’t let him take a ship out this far, even his own (for whatever reason), and having developed a dislike for public transportation because of a variety of emotionally unstable persons that utilized city services, he was sure that riding first class or high passage would situate him with reasonably normal clientele. But, as usual, his luck (or some IISS assignment specialist) had thrown together with what Aston was sure was “another person of interest.” A curveball, he mused.

Ah, baseball. One of the few things he missed from Terra. What he wouldn’t give to see a game, even a recorded one that was years old, on the holoprojector instead of some B-grade action-romance fiasco, highlighted with the ravings of an ill-tempered (and ill-mannered) passenger.

“I swear, when I get my hands on the scum bag that booked me on this flight…” Aston managed, just audible enough for Peter to hear.

“I wish I could go back there.” Peter half replied, acknowledging Aston but not really responding to him all at once.

Aston’s expression intensified, “I think I suggested the such a moment ago.”

“You wanted me to go back there and give him a sedative.”

Aston was silent for heartbeat, letting Peter have a chance to reconsider what he said, “I never mentioned anything about sedatives.”

It was Peter’s turn to chagrin. “You were thinking it.”

For whatever reason that brought a smile to Aston’s face, then in a playful tone, “I didn’t know you were a Zho. I ought to make a note on your dossier.” Aston kept his laughter internal, and waited for the fireworks.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t become a doctor.” Peter replied, lacking for any wit to toss back at Aston. “Your bedside manner would kill a flu patient.”

Aston couldn’t help himself, “Is that your professional opinion?” More smiles.

Peter merely shook his head.

Both heard the stewards knocking on the cabin door, and the voice quieted down. In the background both Aston and Peter could hear the stewards calmly talking with the passenger in question. The man had shut up, that much was certain, or at least quieted down. How long it would last was anyone’s guess.
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Old January 16th, 2018, 04:29 AM
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“Talking to people helps keep them in good spirits.” Peter informed, unsure if Aston was interested or not, but hoping somehow that his friend and CO would absorb the factoid and by sympathetic.

“Like I care.”

Peter sighed. So much instilling empathy for the mentally ill.

“Someone ought to just go back there and beat the sh—”

“Is that guy still yammering his head off?” Vash strode into the lounge with a towel around his shoulders.

Peter looked at him, “Vash, do they have mental hospitals in the Extents?”

“What, you mean looney bins?”

Peter sighed again, “Psychiatric wards.” He half admonished.

“Not a real need for them.” Vash replied. “If a guy’s crazy enough, he usually signs on for a one way trip to the stars. They never come back.”

“That’s barbaric!” Peter’s shock underscored his doctor’s outrage.

Aston on the other hand, “That’s how I’d do it if I had my way.”—all smiles.

Aston caught the scent of sugar—human confectionary. “Any chocolate in those?” He pointed at the complimentary tray.

“Nope. None.” Aston replied, wondering if he should reach for the remote and scan the rest of the ship’s media banks. It was either that or go to his cabin and try to sleep or, a thought occurred to him as he looked at Vash. “You smell like wet dog.”

Vash eyed Aston as he grabbed a handful of appetizers, “And you smell like a pile of…”

“Gentlemen!” Peter cut in, “I’m thinking we should approach the captain and offer our services.”

Again, Aston shrugged, “You’re the doctor. You go offer your services. I’m staying here.” And with that Aston reached for the remote and started scanning the menu libraries as the movie continued to play. Maybe there was a pay channel that had a good A-grade historic epic. Pirates? No, it reminded him of his time with an over-sexed and starved sea serpent. Knights and castles? No, well, maybe…it reminded him of the dragon and its young offspring that befriended him after an attempt on his life. Killer robots? Again, too close to home.

Aston continued to flip through the menu, “Geeze, isn’t there anything on?”

“Can I try?”

Aston tossed the remote to Vash, then recalled his comment, “Why are you so wet anyway?”

Vash reclined on the sofa, the moisture from his grey fur staining the upholstery with a wet spot the size of his back, and running the length of his tail pushed off to the side. “There’s a sauna just before engineering, or did you forget?”

“It’s why the tickets were so expsnive, Richard.” Peter put in.

Aston shrugged for what seemed the umpteenth time, “How would I know? This trip’s courtesy of the service.”

“Well,” Vash replied with satisfaction, “I sure worked out a lot of kinks in my joints.”

Aston looked at his friend, whom each year seemed to get more and more grey hairs over his body, and whose pelt seemed thinner in contrast to the soft furry friend he had known years back in the Heirate. Aston knew canines and wolves alike aged faster than humans, he hoped it would be different with Vargr. Aston put away a grim notions of Vash’s mortality. But Vash’s physiological comment stuck with Aston. Vash was still a very lively crewmember, and extremely capable, but Aston wondered for how many more years he had left. Hopefully it would be decades. Hopefully.

“Okay, I’ll tell the captain.” The could hear the stewards’ voices grow in strength as they came back forward. Aston looked over his shoulder to see the stewards enter the lounge as Vash played with the remote scanning the menus. Aston frowned as he saw Peter approach the two.

“Hi, just an F Y I,” Peter began, “I’m a trained surgeon who interned at a psych ward. If there’s anything I can do… maybe talk to the captain…”

The head steward gave the usual company line about unruly passengers. Aston heard it, and had heard it before a few dozen times. Whether it was drunks or obnoxious alpha-males or alpha-male “wannabes”, the steward’s role and line was typically the same.

“Can’t you find anything?” Aston was getting impatient with Vash’s channel surfing.

The light’s flickered, dimmed, then blacked out briefly for a second before fluttering back to life.

All looked up, as if scanning the lights would offer an explanation.

“Bad cable?” Vash guessed, putting down the remote to towel off his head and snout.

“Gentlemen,” the head steward addressed, “we’ll be coming out of jump within the next hour. I suggest you make ready for debarkation.”

Aston blew air from his cheeks in resignation. And the noise he didn’t want to hear was coming towards the lounge.

“It’s happening! It’s happening!” Male, late thirties, possibly older. Aston didn’t care to guess the man’s age, all he wanted to do was to tell the idiot to shut up. “Where’s the captain? Where’s the captain?!” Then nearly shouting; “Where’s the captain?!”

Aston clenched his jaw, “You know, I’ve about had it with this moron.”

“Richard.” Peter’s cautionary tone spoke volumes.

“Ah! Don’t Richard me, that guy’s getting under my skin.” Aston squirmed to free himself from the sofa’s comforting clutches.

Vash rolled his eyes, picked up the remote once more and on his first selection found a concert of an old music group he listened to in his youth. He wagged his tail and smiled as he spread his arms out over the sofa to watch and listen.

The ship’s lights blinked out again, and the holo projector shut off as the ship listed to port.

“What the?” Aston managed to free himself from comfort, swung his legs down to sit on the sofa proper. He was about to push himself off when the ship’s gravity went back to normal, then lazily listed to starboard. He turned to Vash, “What the heck is going on?”

Vash seemed to look around with an engineer’s calm, burning thoughts to asses what might be wrong with the ship. “Feel’s like a vector problem with the ship’s AG.”

AG was spacer-speak for Artificial Gravity. The grid network that generated the envelope typically didn’t have many working parts.

Aston felt uneasy. Had there ever been a misjump during jump? The early jump capable vessels disappeared during experimentation with hyperspace, but that was, quite literally, millennia ago.

“I’m no expert.” Aston replied, “but isn’t the vector thing a factory preset?” Essentially Aston was asking how in the world could something so basic and fundamental go wrong.

Vash shrugged and shoot his head as he pushed off from the couch, “It usually happens on Vargr ships every so often, but …”

“But what?” Aston pushed him.

“But on a human ship?” Vash continued, the puzzlement in his tone didn’t help Aston any.

Aston gave Vash a pointed look, “Don’t you have any racial pride in your people’s ability to build starships?”

“None. Why do you think I signed on for the scouts?” Vash continued to look around, his gaze still focused on the lights, but occasionally he looked out the windows or at the deck beneath his feet.

“Can’t you feel it?” the crazy man continued, his tone hushed, panicked and full of fret for what Aston surmised was something that would probably cause a few cases of queasy stomachs, but, hopefully, not much else. “They’re here.” He waited another few seconds before calling out, “They’re here!”

Aston smiled and took deliberate steps with intent towards the man, “Hi, I’m Richard.” Aston’s introduction had an undercurrent of hostility in spite of his all-smiles attitude as he extended his hand.

“Roy. Roy Paquette.” The man responded extending a nervous coated with a sheen of sweat that made it feel like Aston was shaking hands with algae.

“Well Roy….”

“Richard.” Peter tried to intervene.

But Aston would have his say as he merrily and angrily confronted Roy, “I’ve had enough of you mouthing off this entire flight. You got me? Because if I hear you one more psychotic rant I’m going to…”

The ship’s lights winked out one more time and the deck keeled violently to port, sending everyone stumbling or sprawling across the lounge into either the sofas on the opposite side of the lounge, or into the ship’s bulkhead.

“Vash, get back to engineering!” Aston pushed himself away from Roy.

“Are you nuts?” Vash growled, then more clearly but still perturbed by the ship’s violent motion, “They’ll think I’m trying to hijack this tub!”

“My god! They’re trying to tear us apart!”

Aston got in Roy’s face, “Shut up!”

The ship convulsed, sending everyone up in the air by two feet, only to suffer another AG shift, which sent everyone sprawling in the opposite direction.

“Vash…” Aston began, but caught himself before he spouted off at the mouth again.

One of the stewards emerged from the bridge as the ship’s AG slowly went back to normal. “Folks, if you could please return to your cabins, and if you have a safety seat, then strap yourself in it until we’re through this hyperspace turbulence.”

Hyperspace-turbulence? That was a new one for Aston, and for everyone else for that matter.

“That’s not going to save us!” Roy shouted. “We’ve got to exit jump now!”

Vash and Peter both rushed inbetween Aston and Roy seeing Aston’s body movement as a pretext for a right cross.

“Look,” Peter looked directly at Aston, “maybe we better just do as he says.”

Aston looked at both, then returned Peter’s smiling stare, “I swear, if part of our assignment was to deal with this idiot, and I find your name at the bottom of the dispatch…”

“It’s not my doing.” Peter protested.

“The fact that you’re protesting tells me otherwise.” Aston then saw Vash trying to stifle a smirk. “You too, huh?”

Vash could only smile, “Simian behavior isn’t my specialty.”
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Old January 16th, 2018, 05:56 AM
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Aston pulled himself free from the dogpile, and pulled himself up against the starboard bulkhead to peer out the windows. He couldn’t see anything wrong with the ship, which meant that everything had to be focused in engineering. If the ship’s power was fluctuating this badly, then it meant the power plant was going bad. Vash was the engineer, Aston could fly a ship, even get the basics of ship’s engineering section going, but he couldn’t repair anything with any assured degree of professional competence. And this kind of malfunction was beyond his paygrade.

Aston looked at the steward who was also pulling himself up against the ship’s bulkhead. “Steward, can you let my man here go back and have a look at your ship’s drives?”

“Sir, we have a fully manned engineering crew that are the finest in their field. Now, if you would please go back to your cabin.”

The ship hefted again, this time accompanied by a banging sound on the outer hull. The ship’s lights flickered again creating a strobe effect that was akin to a discotheque, only there was no music, even Vash’s concert had winked out when the holovid projector shut down.

Peter looked up wide eyed, “What the heck is that?”

Aston grimaced, “Sounds like some junk got caught in the jump bubble and is hitting the hull.”

But Roy had lost it. Rolling on the deck with a tearful face, “No, no, no, no!”—each time he pounded the carpet. “The bridge. I’ve got to get to the bridge!” Roy pushed himself up and ran aft to the bridge, barreling through the steward before reaching the secure iris doorway. He frantically worked the controls, trying any combination of numbers to crack the lock, finally pounding his fist against the control panel.

Aston ran and tackled the man before he bloodied his fist and sealed the ship’s crew in the crew only section permanently.

“No!” Roy cried, struggling against Aston’s grip.

“Peter!” Aston fought to get his voice above Roy’s raving, “Get your kit! Give him a shot or something!”

Vash came to help Aston, but the vessel powered down again and careened to starboard. Vash’s nimbleness kept his balance as he grabbed a wall, all the while Peter held onto the sofa before heading aft when the ship righted itself again.

The lights flickered back on, but the powerplant struggled as it spun up with power only to thrum back down. The variations in tone echoed through the hull. The power plant’s output would increase in pitch and it found renewed strength, only to groan back into lower and lower tones as she was deprived energy or fuel for her inner workings.

Aston surmised that the ship hadn’t been serviced in a long time, and being outside in free-booting unregulated space this liner and millions other like her could operate without inspection or regular maintenance, and, Aston guessed, charge whatever they wanted and make a killing in profits. The downshot being that events like this would happen.

There was more clanging on the hull. Aston knew that the deprivation in energy would shift the bubble and suck in whatever junk was in normal space through a weakened transitional high energy layer—the very thing that allowed ships throughout known space to join worlds like islands in an ocean.

But there was another noise. A grinding. A twisting of metal.

Vash came to help Aston grapple with Roy as Roy shouted protests to let him go, calling out that they were all dead if they didn’t exit jump.

“Peter, get that kit now! I don’t care about a lawsuit, I’ll take the blame, just give this guy a shot of something!”

Peter struggled aft with the ship’s gravity now in full haywire mode, but still predominantly vectoring perpendicular to the ship’s deck.

The power seemed to cut one more time followed by more clanging on the hull.

“Someone, fire a laser! Get in the ship’s launch! Do something!”

“You’re right.” Vash grinned at Aston.

“About what?” It was Aston’s turn to growl.

“He won’t shut up.” Vash seemed to delight in the struggle. Aston guessed it was wolf genome fueling his behavior—reveling in the capture after a pack chase that never took place.

Then another noise, only Aston and Vash felt it more than heard it. The ship was under tremendous pressure, as if a giant’s hand were trying to wrench or twist the ship like a damn rag. Both and the Steward as well could see the deck subtly twist, then go back to normal as the hull fought the forces exerted on it by a weakened jump bubble.

What a time for a malfunction, Aston grimly thought. So near the end of this leg of the journey only to die because of lax maintenance and a total lack of oversight of the local shipping industry.

Again the ship’s power plant fought to stay alive, and Aston and Vash both found themselves fighting harder and harder to keep Roy under control.

Then a warble, like that of some massive energy flux, that fluctuated in pictch, tone and volume reverberated throughout the ship. Aston and Vash instantly recognized the failure of a jump drive, but also knew that the drive had backup systems to maintain a ship’s jump field. The collision of a secondary jump field trying to integrate with the original bubble was playing havoc with the hull.

Aston didn’t see the first object fly at him, but saw it impact with the section of bulkhead just above his brow. “What now?”

Moments later more objects were flying in the lounge, some finding their way aft and struck the iris, other merely collided with the bulkhead, collapsed to the deck, only to be flung on their own.

Vash instinctively snarled, baring his canine incisors at something that was clearly not the result of a ship’s AG malfunction, while Aston just continued his grip on Roy as all three lay on the deck.

“Let. Me. Go!”

Aston was tempted to belt Roy, but to do so would mean to let him go and subject himself to not only Roy’s continued struggle to get free, but also the ship’s continued convulsion.

Aston looked at Vash, “There’s nothing to growl at. When Peter knocks this guy out we’re going to the engineering section. I don’t care what the consequences.”

Vash, ears folded back, hair on the back of his neck erect, “What if they’re armed?”

Aston shook his head, “We’re dead anyway if we don’t get whatever low wage scum bag they have running the show. This moron’s right about one thing, we’ve got to drop from jumpspace or we’ll never back home.”

The steward stepped over the three men, punched a code into the control panel and disappeared through the iris door which sealed shut. The words “Emergency Lockdown” flashed in bright LED red on the display.

It was Aston’s turn to growl, “That sonofa—” The deck hefted again with another power down and re-powerup.

Peter staggered against the fluctuating gravity with a white fat oversized briefcase displaying the medical emblem of two blue serpents twisted around a blue scepter and facing one with fanged mouths.

Peter got to his knees and opened the kit to pull out a long silver injector with a bulbous head that had a thousand or more miniature needles capable of injecting molecular solutions with little pain. “I’ll give him a mild sedative. It’ll make him drowsy, but it won’t knock him out.”

Aston’s face contorted with anger, “We need this guy out like a light! Vash and I need to get aft to engineering, or we’ve all had it.”

Peter shook his head and kept his surgeon’s calm despite Aston’s tone, “I don’t have anything stronger. Just pain killers, and all those do is block his pain receptors. They won’t put him under.”

Peter tapped the dosage with the back of his index finger trying to settle the drug’s meniscus to get a proper read on how much he was using. He flipped the thing around once more just as the ship convulsed once more. Peter was thrown forward and somehow through sheer fate stabbed himself with his own medicine.

“Oh cripes.” Peter half shouted, then quickly prepared another dose and stabbed Roy in the arm.

Within minutes Peter relaxed and rolled against the inner wall separating the crew section from the rest of the ship, and fought off a drug induced smile. Most of the object in the lounge dropped as Roy’s eyes rolled back, his mouth open in a kind of conscious snore.

“No…” he protested. “I … got … to … save us … warn … the cap..tain… no…” Aston watched Roy descend into a drug stupor, and noticed the rest of the objects flying about in the lounge hit the deck, some rolling with the continued flux in the ship’s artificial gravity.

Both Aston and Vash looked at one another with a sudden realization.

“Simian studies, huh?” Aston blurted at Vash for lack of anything that made the remotest of sense.
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  #57  
Old January 16th, 2018, 08:34 AM
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Vash looked back at Aston, “This man … he’s got my hair standing on end.”

Aston nodded but didn’t comment any further, “Do you remember the layout of this thing? Is there another way aft without having to cut through a bulkhead or scale the hull in a vaccsuit?”

“We can go through the hold. I think it’s divided into two or three sections. But we’ll have to work our way through the freight.”

“I don’t mind squirming through cargo containers, as long as we can get away from this guy and bring this ship back to norm.”

The decks violently shuddered as the ship was suddenly jostled left and right.

“But what about, Pete?” Vash reminded.

Aston scrunched his lips, “We’ll bring this idiot down with us, then seal the hatch once we’re down below.”

Roy pushed Aston off, then shoved Vash into a bulkhead, rose to his feet and stood there defiantly. “This ship, is, in, peril! Why don’t you understand this?!”

Vash pushed himself off the bulkhead, ears perked, he bared his fangs again. Aston, still on the carpet, rolled himself upright and stared at Roy’s assertion of power. All the objects that had flown around and fallen, slowly rose again.

Roy continued, “There is salvation.” He looked up at the ceiling, as if divining a power from beyond, and continued, somehow as if clear thought and unbridled bravery had infused his being. “I have fought them before many times.” His tone was calm and commanding. “Today, this night, this place, it shall be their last.”

Aston was amazed. He saw Peter pump the man full of drugs, and yet he fought off both himself and Vash and was now in some kind of theatrical soliloquy.

Roy strode the lounge windows with purpose, “Begone, foul demons! I command thee!”

But the ship only rolled in protest as the power plant once again fought to keep electricity flowing through the liner’s life giving circuitry.

“Begone!” Aston listened, and could swear that Roy’s voice had an echo to it as he watched him point his finger out the window at something that simply wasn’t there. Ash trays, remotes, various knick knacks scattered throughout the lounge raised as one, then were turned into high velocity projectiles and impacted with the multilayered reinforced glass, putting a crack in the inner most layer.

Vash’s hairs were now fully perpendicular to his skin, and his canines fully bared as were the rest of his teeth.

“Vash, no! Get below and go aft! I’ll take care of this guy.”

Vash growled at Aston, “Alone? Are you out of your mind?” Then nodding towards Roy, “He’s pumped up on psi-drug! He’ll tear you apart!”

“It won’t matter if my guts are scattered all over the place, because if this ship breaks apart we’ll be floating in a jump bubble for the rest of our lives, which’ll be a total of few seconds!”

But Vash, this one time, didn’t pay Aston any attention and charged Roy. But Roy saw the Vargr’s blinding sprint, and was able to throw up some kind of force barrier, stopping and deflecting Vash’s momentum while also concussing him and sending his unconcious form to the carpet.

Roy and Aston briefly locked eyes, but Aston held his position on the carpet, and waited for Roy to look away before moving, and doing so with a cautious crawl towards Vash to make sure Vash wasn’t seriously hurt.

Outside the jump bubble took on a blue glow, a different appearance than its usual silver gray shimmer. The bubble had transformed into a swirl of blue streaks of light. Some seemed to come at the hull, and hug the windows in a blinding brilliance, enough to force Aston to shield his eyes.

“Begone!” Roy hollered, his voice booming as if it were in a canyon. The response from the light show outside was unearthly, like the howl of banshees.

Aston had seen holovids of individuals on drugs of all sorts, but this was out of his experience. The amount of psychokinetic energy being commanded was staggering, and if he wasn’t more than just cautious, potentially lethal as per Vash’s near death experience.

Aston pulled his friend out of sight behind the sofa, then cautiously rose and softly stepped towards Roy, who was still focused on the swirl of lights outside the lounge windows.

Only a few steps left, and Aston turned on the speed, once again barreling into Roy’s relatively thin form and knocking him over. The blow threw Roy’s concentration, and whatever was being hurled about by his concentrated and amped up psi-power dropped like a stone. Law suits or no Aston had had enough of this man.

The two briefly grappled with Aston working laterally against Roy’s intended motion, and with several micro-gyrations of his wrist using his fingers as moments of torque, put Roy’s right arm in a “chicken wing” sending a sharp pain up and down Roy’s right side and through his arm. Roy cried out in pain and pulled his arm back, giving Aston an opportunity to mount Roy’s chest and deliver a blow or two until the man refused to fight anymore.

Aston did not feel good in the least recalling the time he had been setup up by both the service and the local PD of some far off world to bring a gang leader to book who had been menacing the local borough and a prized songstress.

Roy seemed to collapse once more with his eyes rolled back, and again trying to utter something, but this time not even half uttered words came out, just a steady groan. His breathing grew shallow and rapid, and Aston get off of his chest to give the man a chance to breath. Roy’s breathing continued like that for several seconds, then calmed. He closed his eyes and rolled his head to the side as consciousness left him.

The ship continued to shake and fight with power and lights as the light storm raged outside. But suddenly the calliope of blue strobing hues vanished and was replaced with familiar star studded black. The lights dimmed, then slowly grew in strength, then resumed their normal level illumination as the deck steadied for the last time. And Aston was left standing there with a disheveled starship lounge and three unconscious or semi-conscious forms, two of them friends, the other a prisoner of his own fantasy and addiction.

Neither captain nor crew would come out for the final legs of the journey all the way to the downport. Upon landing the authorities stormed in and took custody of the tetched passenger.

Outside Aston stood next to Vash and Peter waiting for the hold to open up to claim their freight, the liner having kicked them off the flight. Aston, as he expected, saw a few asteroid impacts complete with light gray dust rays splaying out from relatively cleaner and circular impact zones.

“What are you thinking?” Peter asked.

Aston wasn’t sure how to reply. “Nothing really. Just how someone gets caught up on drugs that skew their thinking and actions to the point of ... I don’t know. Risking everyone’s lives.”

Aston couldn’t help but stare at the otherwise clean lines of the liner, the forward hull and lounge area looming over them by a complete story.

The chief steward, flanked by starport security—two humanoids dressed in some sort of light armor—approached Aston and his party. He pointed at several cases. “That’s all we have of your’s. Here are your stamped vouchers. The captain asks that you not fly with us again, and will refuse your vouchers if you attempt to books with us one more time.”

Aston politely grinned, and didn’t mention that it was their ship’s own lack of maintenance and willingness to book a passenger with known issues that caused the chaos during the flight’s final moments in jumpspace. Aston took the stamped vouchers, and motioned to Vash and Peter to grab their gear without a word.

The sun was high, the air was warm, and starship engines thundered in the background. They were still a couple of month’s travel back to Imperial space, but would make it back somehow. Aston blew air from his cheeks once more. Free pastry didn’t make up for a complete lack of good holovids and a lunatic on drugs for a passenger.

Aston saw Peter and Vash grab their baggage, “Let’s go.”, and the trio walked away from the liner for the last time.
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  #58  
Old January 18th, 2018, 12:52 PM
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System 876-574
Five Sisters Subsector
Spinward Marches
Oort cloud
0500 ship time
Banshee 225

Commander George Ebersole panned his head left and right searching with his naval issued mark-1 wetware scanner, otherwise known as eyeballs in civ-doctor speak, hoping beyond hope that he would see whatever it was that the carrier had picked up on the sensors a half hour ago.

The twin pod thrusters mounted aft and nested amidst a foreshortened tri-wing assembly pushed the FA-Banshee (hull number two-two-five) faster and faster by kicking out in excess of forty-thousand joules of force with each passing sliver-thin fraction of measured time. What her relative speed was to the carrier Ebersole didn’t bother to check. If all else failed, if he and his flight burnt out their engines, the carrier could always jump ahead of them and do a reverse intercept.

Right now his job was to track down and intercept that contact that had been menacing shipping out on the Imperium’s frontier, beyond any Zhodani naval base, far beyond the reach of any Sword Worlder, beyond the marauding clutches of Vargr corsairs, and even the more knowledgeable, friendly, yet insatiably curious Darriens—it would be just the kind of thing they would cook up. But all the way out here?

Ebersole glanced at his scanner suite, then resumed his hawk like scan of the black broken up by a dust like band of stars parsecs distant running horizontally across his field of view. As beautiful as the sheen of faint sparkling light was it wasn’t doing him nor his flight any favors in terms of trying to pick out a pin prick amongst a field of illuminated dust that was the Milky Way.

“Contact, three-six-three, z-minus zero-one-eight. Twelve-gee closure!” Sal Brand said, the young Weapon’s Intercept Officer’s tone was filled with excitement. Most of their deployments had been intercepting space junk, the odd derelict or wayward scout ship crewed by some rich man’s son taking his friends for a joyride, and the occasional pirate. But an actual bad guy ship? Well, this is what they trained for, still a rarity all the same.

Ebersole repeated the vector over the tactical channel, locked in the target, and nosed his Banshee towards the graphic bracket the contact on his HUD. He eased off on the throttle and the micro-thrusters that controlled yaw, pitch and roll did their thing to re-orient the fighter towards its intended target.

“Contact, zero angle.” Ebersole heard Second Lieutenant’s Edward Zanowsky affirm that he and his wingman had picked up the target and were following Ebersole’s lead.

“I can’t get a mass on her.” Brand stated anticipating Ebersole’s next question. Mass was the all important signifier that could hint at a target’s size and indicate its class and all the data that it implied. Correlated with its speed and any change in vector and a pilot didn’t need an IFF squawking on all frequencies to tell both sides in a conflict who the good guys and bad guys were.

“It’s moving away! It picked us up!” Brand did his best to stifle his tone, but the targets change in vector was radical, like a bulk wale in an ocean moving like a dancer in a studio with the speed of a race car. “I think it’s going to jump. I’m picking up a spike on all bands. A build up….like she’s going to …”

A white column of light sliced across the space off Two-Two-Five’s starboard, pulsated for several heart beats, then winked out.

“Geeze, what the heck was that?” Ebersole’s pilot’s engineering calm leapt aside to pure bewilderment. The column of light reappeared off to port, slicing through the middle of Ebersole’s formation, vaporizing Zanowsky’s ship and his three crewmen. “Break!”

Lieutenant Samuel Herzog pulled right on his stick and saw ship two-two-five diminish into the black still pointing in the relative same direction, his heart pounding several times faster than normal.

“Saber flight, saber two’s not squawking.” Ebersole heard CAG’s voice, but didn’t respond immediately.

“Pirate, engage!” Ebersole called out, Pirate was Herzog’s calsign, a name that was shorter and more economical than a pilot’s rank and actual last name which took up precious fractions of seconds of time.

Ebersole flipped back the trigger guard, saw and heard the Banshee lock onto the target, and pulled the trigger. The deep thump reverberated through the hull as two-two-five unleashed its hyper-velocity tactical nuke. Ebersole let the second weapon lock on, and triggered it as well.

Both missiles shot away at incredible speeds that verged on relativistic, riding trails of blurred white light into infinity. Moments passed as both Ebersole and Herzog threw their Banshees into evasive patterns as more massive white beams lanced out, attempting to track both fighters, but ultimately missing until three distinct fireballs flared up in the black, jettisoning huge amounts of radiation by human standards, and engulfing the target.

“I think got him, sir.” Brand’s voice was still excited, yet hopeful instilled with the fact that Imperial military engineering had done its job.

“Pirate, you got him?” Ebersole’s voice was calm but edges with the possibility that the fight might not be over.

“Too much snow on my end.” Herzog replied, his voice as tense as Brand’s.

Moments passed before the sensor cleared, only to reveal the contact was still moving.

“It’s… its’ still there!” Brand’s incredulity echoed over the tactical channel. “Geeze it’s moving hard! It’s accelerating!”

“Acelerating?” Ebersole couldn’t help but be puzzled. Being awed would have to wait and take back seat to more level headed assessment.

“Vector’s changing value. It’s changing course! At that speed?!”

“Save the commentary. Pirate, loose the rest of your payload. We’ll close and see if can’t bag him with lasers.”

“No offense skipper, but if we can’t nail him with nukes…”

“Understood, just do as I say.”

Moments later Ebersole’s last two high-tech lances sped away with deathly silence to chase down the mysterious contact, as well as Herzog’s three for a total of five high energy explosives capable of levelling a city, but designed for anti-shipping all the same.

“Picking up a jump signature, skipper! He’s trying to make a break for it!”

But Ebersole was silent. Herzog was right, if the missiles didn’t stop him, them, or whatever it was, then getting close to guns’ range would be useless, but it might give the carrier group valuable intel.

“Definite jump-sig, skipper! He’s going to jump!”

Five brilliant flashes strobed in series across space leaving the image of five orange balls of fire etched in Banshee flight’s mind and eyes. The static fuzzed up both fighters’ sensors, then cleared up leaving absolutely nothing to lock onto.

“Did we get him, sir? Do you think?”

Again, Ebersole didn’t immediately reply, but merely stared out at the Milky Way wondering what it was they had encountered. “I don’t know.” He finally uttered, then squawking over the tactical channel, “CAG, we’ve lost contact. We’re RTB.”





Second Lieutenant Richard Aston Stood on the tarmac overseeing the loading of the Albatross, a Pukharra class alleged fast scout. He called it alleged because he only ever heard bad things about the class, and nothing about its speed. It stood three stories tall, was by starship standards razor thin with a bulbous foreshortened horizontal wing assembly with huge vertical stabilizers mounted on each wing’s end. If nothing else she had huge engines which, again, boasted many times the amount of thrust of a Sulieman—boasted at least. Aston had no experience with the class, but heard Captain Edleman talk about the class with a mix of severe disdain and admiration, like a child out of wedlock that had succeeded in life.

A young Vargr, silver, black, and white with deep hazel eyes that were full of life, wearing an IISS jumpsuit no less, came up to Aston with an extended hand. “Engineer’s Mate, second class, Vash Gosh’agh reporting for duty, sir.”

Aston looked up from his manifest unsure of how to respond. He had seen Vargr from a distance back on Earth, none in Aslan space (or very few), but had never actually met nor interacted with one on any level.

Nevertheless Aston pulled his right hand from his clipboard and met the Vargr’s hand, “Second Lieutenant Richard Aston. I’m not the team leader, though. That would be Captain Ulysses Edleman. You’ll report to him.” Aston checked his clipboard again and looked for a Vargr sounding name. “Vash? You’ll be bunking in cabin four, and according to this you’re not an engineer’s mate, but chief.”

Vash’s eyes brightened and his bushy gray and silver-white tail wagged. “Chief?” A Vargr smile looked much like a human’s same expression, save for the dagger like wolf teeth, a holdover from hundreds of thousands of years evolution and uplift by a mysterious high-tech race that had vanished uncounted centuries ago. “No one told me.”

Aston gave an all-service professional grin as he re-shook Vash’s hand, “Welcome aboard, chief. And congratulations.”

“Uh, thank you, lientenant. Uh, do I need permission to come aboard?” Vash was genuinely concerned. Humans could be fickle about things like protocol.

Aston remembered Patterson’s admonition, “We’re not the navy, Engineer. Just call me Richard. You can pack your bundle away in your cabin, hang out, or give us a hand as you see fit.”

Vash wagged his tail some more, the corners of his mouth upturned as he picked up his duffle bag from the tarmac before saying, “I’ll be down in a few to help out, … uh.”

“Richard.” Aston reminded him.

“Richard. Sorry, sir.”

“We’re not the navy.” Aston laughed.
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Last edited by Blue Ghost; January 19th, 2018 at 03:08 PM..
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  #59  
Old January 22nd, 2018, 11:09 AM
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just a little quick something before I return to clearing off my office desk ...

Vash nodded, his mouth opened to unleash his tongue as he wagged his tail some more. “Okay.” Vash gave a half salute before scampering up the ramp past the cargo droids hefting containers filled with food and equipment into the hold.

The next gate over a sleek looking custom yacht with battle scars and missing a good third of her forward hull wound down her engines and came to a halt. The ship had “Glamorous Gennie” painted in big bright cursive letters on her bow. Just aft was a charred mass of twisted pipes, burnt wires, and fused hull plates. As if the yacht were a stick of butter, and a hot knife had sliced a diagonal section off her mid forward upper decks.

Moments later a flight of three type-Ts thundered overhead with wing tips in the down position. Aston signed off on the provisions and fuel, then couldn’t help but keep himself turned to look at the starship carnage the next bay over.

Several minutes went by before the owner and other occupants stepped from her gantry down onto the tarmac as a fleet of starport security vehicles and local PD came racing up to the ship’s underside. Moments later EMTa arrived in ambulances, and though the people looked none the worse for wear, several were placed in gurneys and flown away post haste amidst the traffic of starship’s landing and taxiing to berths.

A pirate attack?—Aston wondered, but had never seen a laser do that kind of damage. Had she been grazed by a spinal weapon? From what Aston understood about the behemoths, even being graced by the massive amounts of radiation from a spinal weapon spelled certain death.

“Something bothering you, lieutenant?” Tim Edleman’s voice was a mixture of veteran and concerned father.

Aston jolted himself out of his rubber-necking stupor and turned to face the ships CO. “Oh, ah, nothing, sir, it’s just that …” Aston searched for the right words, but figured to get back to business, “…I signed off on the fuel and provisions. I’m not sure the maintenance bots are done scanning the ship.”

Aston handed Edleman the clipboard with his signiature on several forms. Edleman stood just over six feet, peppered hair, clean shaven, unlike Aston he didn’t wear a ball cap with the sunburst. He took Aston’s clipboard, looked it over briefly then gestured with his chin towards the yacht, “What do you think happened to her?”

Aston had been given permission to gawk, but held off for a half second giving the yacht a double and triple take before turning back to stare at the destructive cleft left by some intense and precise heat.

“I don’t know.” Aston offered, nearly stammering his answer. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Nor has anyone else.” Replied Edleman, “But that’s what we’re here to find out.”

Carefully and quietly another presence made itself known by standing off to the side at the edge of human peripheral vision. Aston and Edleman both turned to see Vash standing there.

“And you are?” Edleman made a friendly demand.

“Oh, captain, this is our new chief engineer.”

Vash smiled briefly and gave a slight wag. His smile vanished as he extended his fur covered hand to Edleman. “Vash Gosh’agh, reporting for duty, captain.”

Edleman gave an all scout professional grin, much like Aston had earlier, “Welcome aboard, chief. Much experience with the Pukharra class?”

“Only by reputation, captain.” Vash replied.

“Just call me Grant. We’re not the navy.” Edleman replied offering another encouraging human smile. Vash grinned in return. “And if you’ve heard half of what I’ve heard, then none of it’s good.”

Vash wasn’t sure how to reply, “The Pukharra is supposed to be rated for top-g performance.” Vash hoped the statement would show his knowledge and faith in the engineers who designed her.

“As long as you can handle her, chief.” Edleman then gestured for Vash to have a look at the yacht. “Tell me chief, what do you make of that?”

But all Vash could do was imitate Aston in gawking at the damage to the yacht. “Some kind of high energy construction accident? Like maybe a welder for a naval hull caught her? I’m not sure, … uh, Grant.”

“Well,” Edleman resumed, “Like I was telling Richard, here. That’s our assignment.” Edleman noted both crewman staring at the scene. “I’ll let you guys soak that up.” Edleman quietly walked away letting the two continue to soak up the image.
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Old January 23rd, 2018, 07:35 AM
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The last droid loaded the last crate, and Vash sealed up the hold. The op didn’t require an air raft, technically anyway, allowing more provisions so the ship could stay on station longer if necessary. Nearly all of it was food with a percentage being dedicated to incidentals. A few containers held some gear, but nothing for work dirt-side. One even had a space cache of vaccsuits and support equipment.

Aston wasn’t sure what to make of it. He guessed they were either headed for a moon with low gravity or off to survey asteroids. Aston dismissed the idea. Whatever it was he would find out soon enough.

The Pukharra itself was highly responsive—like a sport’s car, she surged forward with a mere nudge of her throttle. Aston felt himself pushed back in his seat with each acceleration and was tempted to glance at Edleman sitting in the captain’s-navigator’s chair a meter directly behind him. The one advantage the ship had was a commanding view of the immediate area and for miles around of tarmac landing pads and runways.

Designed with wings, her engines were powerful enough to push her aloft through sheer vectored thrust and antigrav or repulssor assist, rendering gravity into icy-slick ethereal medium. The combination allowed starship’s to soar into the heavens and beyond.

Hours later in jump Aston was pushing himself passed the interior bow section to sit in the chair nearest the storage area, starring at gun camera footage from months ago projected by the portable holovid situated in the middle of the table. There were multiple shots, the dominant three were the pilots’ POV from the cockpit, then ancillary windows showing the dorsal gunner’s view and the view from the missiles as they closed with the contact. Aston watched intently—it was like seeing phantoms from an era long gone as the tactical chatter narrated the images.

“Contact, three-six-three, z-minus zero-one-eight. Twelve-gee closure!”
“Three-six-three, minus zero-one eight.”
“Contact, zero angle.”
The black and white image of the Milky Way rolled slowly from mid horizontal almost imperceptible ten degrees as the Banshee attack craft closed on target as a target blip flashed on the screen.
“I can’t get a mass on her.” Several beats passed, then. “It’s moving away! It picked us up!”
The dim luminescence of the Milky Way horizon continued its gradual roll when the Weapons Intercept Officer nearly shouted.
“I think it’s going to jump. I’m picking up a spike on all bands. A build up … like she’s going to …”
A column of blurred white nearly drowned out the images.
“Geeze, what the heck was that?”

Aston leaned forward, bighting his lower lip in fascination as another blinding column of light lanced out at the flight, with the result that one set of gun camera footage winked out, replaced by nothing but video black.

“Break!”
“’Flight, saber two’s not squawking.”
“Pirate, engage!”
Both remaining cameras showed the Milky Way horizon violently rotating in opposite directions with a flurry of numbers representing speed, vector, attitude and distance racing away from their previous values. The first missile closed with a ovular ball of white that was blurred at the edges, then winked out.

Edleman stopped the feed. “There’s more, but that’s pretty much all we have on it.” He looked around the table at Aston, Vash, and Charles Carlson, the medic for this op. “Opinions?”

Aston was hesitant, but spoke first, “I’m unclear, though. If the navy couldn’t take them on, then what are we supposed to do?”

“Our job is to go out there and look around. The navy’s scoured the place, but the service thinks there may be something left over. What I don’t know.” Edleman’s final statement was one of resignation. Edleman scrolled the footage back to just before the missile impacted.

And that’s what caught everyone’s attention. The contact in question was a ball of light—or seemingly. After several millennia of development, cameras had reached a “definition peak” as how much image they could accurate convey to a viewer, but even so there was no mistaking that the target was indiscernible.

“Is that a shot of their drives?” Aston put the question out there, though it was more aimed at Edleman he phrased it so that anyone could respond.

“That doesn’t look like an active exhaust.” Vash suggested.

“You have an opinion, chief?” Edleman’s tone was challenging, but also encouraging, as if testing the Vargr.

“I’m not sure, captain.” Vash shook his head ever so gently in disbelief, “Unless …” his voice trailed off as he scrunched his canine lips.

“Unless what?” Edleman wanted answers.

“Unless, it was a ship with ports wide open in overdrive. I’m not sure.”

Edleman looked at Charles, “Opinion, doctor?”

The ship’s medical officer gave a miserable muted half laugh, “It looks like a big ball of white light to me.”

“Uh, captain?” Aston ventured, “Might this be why we were assigned this ship and not a Sulieman?”

Edleman smiled grimly, “I’ll let you figure that one out. A Sulieman can’t outrun a fighter.”

“Nor can this ship.” Vash reminded.

“Nor can we.” Edleman confirmed. “But if we do run into something, the added kick this beast has in its drives, might save us in a pinch.” Edleman let that sink in, noting the worried looks on his three crewman.

Aston had an uneasy feeling in his stomach. His muscles in various parts of his body tensed, notably his gut, as if he were expected to get punched at any moment. “What are the odds of us running into something?”

Edleman looked at Aston, then glanced at the table. “I don’t know. But probably low. If that yacht we saw back in port is of any indication, then whatever it was has probably moved far from here. Off to find greener pastures.”

Aston felt compelled to ask the obvious, “Grant, there’s only four of us. We’re not hot-bunking with a survey team.” Aston let his observation convey his message.

“One other thing.” It was Vash’s turn, “My section’s got a lot added hoses and conduit. I’m guessing, without giving my engines a once over, that four-gees is an official rating.” Vash’s tone was borderline wry.

“She felt a little jumpy taxing away from the pad.” Aston confirmed.

Edleman held back an inner expression, or so Aston surmised. “Gentlemen, we’re just here to survey the Oort cloud. Maybe grab some junk floating out here. In the meantime, I think it’s the good doctor’s turn to make pizza.” Edleman looked around at the astonished crew, then to the ship’s surgeon, “That’s an order doctor.”
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