Brandished Destinies Chapter 2 part 2

He stared at me for a long moment. His eyes locked on mine and I don’t think he ever blinked. He sat and stared, as if trying to find a way to broach a subject. Finally he sighed, then reached up a sleeve on his robe. He took a few moments to locate something by touch, then removed his closed hand and placed on my desk in front of me. He opened his hand and withdrew it, leaving behind a small metallic-like blue glass bottle. The same kind of bottle that cost my friend Zhirk his life and Hervald Thensome his soul.

I’m not sure if I shrieked and scrambled back or just teleported to where I was, mashed back against the wall next to the window that had been replaced during that first hellish case. The Judge, thoroughly alarmed at my reaction quickly grabbed my coffee mug and placed it over the bottle, covering it and hiding it from sight.

I struggled for breath for a few moments before the adrenalin shakes hit. I was scared to death. I had smashed that thing! At PEI Anolyn had deliberately targeted the box with glass bottles and burned it to ash, along with the huge oak tree that Cobb had used as a torture chamber to make them from the agony and despair of his victims.

I could hear Kent Nix and Kevin Love scream their lives out all over again. More than anything at that moment, I wanted to grab the bottle of scotch and drown my fear in the bitter alcohol and forget that cursed thing under my upended coffee cup. It’d taken the better part of a year of twice-weekly therapy to finally get a control on all the trauma that went with the previous jobs. My head was more or less back on straight, and I didn’t wake up screaming or paralyzed by nightmares.

Now, that thing shows up on my desk out of the blue. Well, blue robes anyway. Snark and sarcasm has always been a way I handle stress. It just isn’t the best choice because giving someone attitude when they’ve got the upper hand is just begging for bad things to happen. It had more than once and somehow I managed to avoid most of the bad intentions sent my way. I rubbed the nub of my little finger while Judge Caddus attempted to apologize by bowing his head almost to the desk top in contrition. Now was the time to use that diplomatic moment.

Judge Ca-ddus. I apologize for alarming you.” I took a shaky breath and walked back to my chair, turned it deliberately slowly back to the desk and sat down. “That item you thoughtfully brought me has many bad memories and experiences tied to it. I, uh, did not realize that any still existed.” Another shaky but calmer breath helped focus me. I closed my eyes and pictured my room mentally, using its familiarity as a calming influence for my body. I could feel the wire-tight tension ease as I mentally pictured each item in the room.

I humbly accept your generosity and would have you know I meant no disrespect nor harmful intent. You are one of the few that know the nature of that creation and I am very desirous of temporarily procuring your abilities and expertise to determine the reason for its reappearance.” He gestured at my cup. “This was found in the hands of an Elf that had used it to overwhelm a Troll. The Elf has been judged and executed in accordance and balance to the crime committed. I have brought this to you to request your expert assistance.”

In truth, I never had a job I wanted to turn down so badly as this one. But one thing had changed my mind. The Troll. I saw Zhirk, who Zhira was named after in my head. His face dissolving in the shotgun blast. I shut my eyes again and went through my office again mentally, remembering where each item of my office was. It helped divert my mind from the horror of those vivid memories and let me release them instead of replaying each one again and again in my head.

Judge Caddus, I must admit I would rather never to have anything to do with that object you brought.” I held up a hand as his face screwed up in stricken despair, which was a shock to see on his normally serene and stoic features. “I will help you. One thing I am sure we both have learned is that if you do nothing, evil like that flourishes.”

There was a faint ‘snap’ like a static shock. I, for better AND worse now, had a binding fae contract with the Judge. Gods and powers, I sounded like a freaking superhero or something. How much more pompous could I sound? I guess it was the right bit of bombast, because the Judge’s features smoothed out and I think I detected relief emanating from him.

I thank you for your reminder that no one being need stand alone. We have to trust, and reach out to confront imbalance and chaos.” That was one way to put it. I’m certain I don’t mind imbalance and chaos, we humans live with that all the time. Perhaps they look at Imbalance as Injustice. I don’t know for certain. What I was absolutely sure of however, was that bottle was made to make misery and death. Ahiah had drunk from it and become immensely powerful.

That was burned into my memories. What I wasn’t sure of was the ‘why’. Why did it show up? Why did and Elf have it? I could somewhat understand his coming here. I was mixed up in that horror before. Both I and Fawn.

I’m certain he came to me because of our prior meeting, rather than go to Fawn. She represents human law, and Elvish law is not close at all to it. What we judge by is intent and morals of our society. What Elves judgment are certainly not on those qualities. I’m not certain what they are based upon, but one thing we are certain of is Elves despise Magick used for ill. They rightly hate and fear those powers that have free will to meddle in the physical world, especially those of malevolent nature.

Be it human, fae, or other, it was a monster that needed be caught and put away. I’d prefer it gone and buried and the bottles broken and tossed in the ocean. The problem would be to hunt it down. Which meant locating the source of the one the Judge had brought.

I looked over at the cup resting over the cursed bottle. “Judge Caddus, where did you acquire that particular item?” Diplomacy. Yep. No vicious names for things. No strong emotions. Nope, not a thing to unbalance the calm, or whatever passed for it currently.

The bottle was procured from the remains of a burned oak on what you name Prince Edward Island.”

I went cold with memories again. Cobb. The tree. Kent and Kevin. Anolyn. Being possessed by him, and his rage at Cobb for making those abominations. I’d thought the dragon fire would have burnt them all. I looked up at the Judge, who seemed anything but calm now that we were discussing the main reason for our meeting. He appeared suddenly careworn. Deep lines were etched on his face that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Fae magic or just normal human inattention. Neither he or I reached for the cup to expose the bottle underneath.

In the reopening of the way to PEI, we found the devastation that had been wrought upon the tree, and the abominations that were warped into its heart. We found the remains, and the tools to create.” He paused, as if to add a more colorful term, but refrained and continued. “We found a crate made of bespelled wood which had been destoryed by dragon fire. The Bottles inside broken and rendered inert.” He paused for a moment, like he was a movie actor about to dispense an ominous statement to make the audience gasp.

There were four empty locations in the crate. We procured this one from an Elf that had used it on his own.”

My stomach churned at the thought of three of those things loose. But why Halifax? Wouldn’t Europe be a more fertile hunting ground for the users? Why here?

I have found myself wondering why we are the recipient of such a menace. It would much simpler to go where the population is greatest. There one could hunt and use the bottle to their heart’s content. Disappearances would be lost in the myriad of other disappearances that occur daily in large populations. Your Nova Scotia is far from being a huge metropolis such as London. What would bring something so dangerous here?”

We were on the same wavelength, which made me wonder at the apparent coincidence. With Elves, never expect coincidence. I learned that already. Never ever trust in coincidence. It will trip you up at the worst possible time. So using the ‘there are no coincidences’ rule, the Judge was reading my mind or following my intent and using that to reinforce the idea in hopes of something breaking loose. I suppose it’s his method of helping, but, soooo not helpful.

If you’re observing my thoughts, I recommend against it. Agreements of that nature do not help discovering new paths. Right now I’d love to talk to the person who had this bottle in their possession. Asking the right questions could get us answers where the others are.”

He bowed contritely. “I do apologize. This is a very dangerous investigation. I had hoped to assist in creating active thoughts that would find a method of advancing along this perilous conundrum. Please forgive my earnest error. I meant no insult nor harm.” Take note. He did apologize for his enthusiasm, not for trying to manipulate my thoughts. Always pay attention to what Elves say, and more to what they DON’T. I decided to let it go. In his own way, the Judge was doing his best to be helpful and cooperative. My job, as I saw it, was to track down the rest of the bottles. Just how was the real question.

Brandished Destinies Chapter 2 part 1

Larry waved us over to their pine picnic table. He had thoughtfully set out corn on the cob, American style french fries, water, and a salad bowl for a snack. He and Fawn had learned how much work went into marriage, and that no one family ever had it like the fairy tales. They had more good days than bad now, and Zhira was one reason why. I’d just sat down to grab an ear of corn, when my cellphone buzzed. An instant later, a shrill ringing came from an open window in their house.

Fawn grumbled and stalked toward the back screen door while I stayed outside with my cellphone so I could have a bit more peace and quiet since Larry and Zhira had followed her inside. Sinera, my secretary, didn’t waste any time with greetings.

Fern, you have a potential client waiting for you here. What time shall I tell them you’ll be into the office?” I blinked.

Umm, today’s Sunday. I’ll be in the office tomorrow morning.” I held the cellphone in front of me and checked the date. It agreed with me that it indeed was Sunday, and that at twenty-one Celsius, with clear skies, a hint of a north wind, and no threat of rain, it was a good day to be outside.

I was contacted directly, and informed I must call you. I do not believe this is one client who will appreciate sitting in your office until tomorrow morning.”

The identity of the client was not my first thought. My first thought was how did she contact Sinera directly? Sinera’s an elf. She doesn’t have an official number. All of my calls get routed to an answering service when no one’s in the office, which is how weekends are, or are supposed to be. The immediate thought was that she’d been contacted magickally. If that was the case, it was someone we already knew because they knew of Sinera. Thinking about it, beyond my previous clients, who mostly preferred Magick stay away from them, had no idea how to get hold of Sinera. All I remember them using was the advertised phone number. That this person knew about Sinera well enough to contact her directly meant it was someone who knew her. That meant Elves. My client had to be an Elf. I have an aversion bordering on an allergy to Elves. Sinera is the notable exception. Elves live in Underhill. They do come to our world and trade goods, a number of them Magickal, for things they consider of value. Your guess is as good as mine what each one wants.

Elves are scrupulously truthful, but that does not mean they’re honest. An Elf will always look for the best way to present the truth and in such a manner so you want to believe it. They tell you what you want to hear using the truth as the lever and it’s a bit like the old joke about ‘proper diplomacy’ which is telling someone to go to hell in such a manner they look forward to the trip.

The most classic example of Elves I can think of is trading something for a service. That the service could span generations of humans doesn’t make the service any less legitimate, and it’s not slavery. It’s payment for a good or a service. Yes, it’s indentured servitude, but not slavery. Slavery is forcing servitude on another, indenture is someone agreeing to it.

Should I be concerned that we might be dealing with a fae?”

I would say yes to the might.”

I stayed quiet for a few moments, thinking. Sinera politely gave me time to gather my thoughts.

Is it someone that you and I are familiar with?”

Yes, you have had some unfortunate dealings in a legal decision some time ago.”

Legal decision. Only one person fit that description. Judge Caddus. He was forced to declare me beholden to the Elf Lord Cobb when I falsely accused him of deliberately bespelling me. His daughter did it, but the hard fact was he wasn’t the caster. No one except Cobb was happy with that, especially the Judge.

Has he indicated what the reason for this emergency?”

He has said he will only speak with you face to face, in your office.”

So not helpful.

I’ll be there within the hour. If he offers anything in the way of a hint or explanation, give me a call. I’d like not to go in cold.”

Understood. I will inform you if more information is revealed before you arrive.”

I ended the call and grabbed a second ear of corn. The Judge could wait a few more minutes. After nibbling my lunch, I stepped on inside to tell Fawn and Larry that I had to go over to my office. As I pulled the screen door open I spotted Fawn rummaging in the closet by the front door. She pulled out her police jacket she’d gotten as a new officer. She still wore it in preference to anything else. She settled it on her shoulders and flipped her blonde hair back, then bent down to give Zhira a hug.

I have to go to work sweetie. I’ll be home soon.” She straightened up and shared a hug with Larry. They held onto each other for a moment more, looking into each others eyes until they noticed me watching.

He shortstuff. I have to go in. There’s a crime that doesn’t appear standard. So the special unit will be covering it.”

I nodded. “It’s a day for it. I just got a call from Sinera that there’s a client who wants to see me now of all times. I have to go too.”

Larry reached down and picked up Zhira. She giggled and leaned over to Fawn to give her a kiss on the cheek. She then wiggled in Larry’s arm to give me one on the cheek and a pat of her hand.

We keep corn” she said smiling.

Yeah you will ‘cause it’s your favorite. I know you” I said laughing. There’s something about laughing innocence that lightens any mood. Here I was going to talk with a Elven Judge, and all I could think of was how nice a day it was. Children are magic.

The good mood stayed with me on my drive over to the office. I pulled into the near empty parking lot and parked the dull black PT cruiser under the lone light post in the lot. It was still missing the rear seats, but I hardly used them. The large back without the seats allowed me to carry a whole lot of things. I felt a stab of melancholy as I got out, closed and locked the door. There not so many around now which made it stand out more. TO do my job I was likely going to have to get a newer old car so it would fit in more when I had to stake out an area. The bright blue sky gave the red brick a more vivid color as I walked to the front door. Reality intruded on my happy mood as I began considering more the reasons an Elf Judge would need to see me so desperately.

I couldn’t think of a reason why and that bothered me more the closer I got to my office. When I pushed the door open of my classic nineteen thirties noir style office, enjoying the gritty ambiance with the four drawer file cabinets bolted to the bottom of the Murphy bed. The four-blade fan turned silently on its refurbished bearings over my large Oak desk with candlestick phone and new Rolodex that sat in gleaming black on the polished wood. The new bricks on the repaired section of wall stood out against the older faded ones. The only bit of ambiance missing was the neon glow of the building’s sign because it was too light outside for it’s orange color to be seen. This was home, moreso than any other place I’d lived.

Judge Caddus was in the guest chair next to my desk, in full formal dress. His dark blue robe covered him from shoulder to ankle and his boots were of bright blue laquered leather with some silver highlights. His pale hair was in a long tail between his shoulders. He stood up and bowed politely as I moved to my desk and sat down. He sat after me, the action telling me that he was requesting my help rather than standing and demanding it. Sinera had schooled me on some of the Elvish eitquette.

Whoever bows lower is the one requesting the meeting, and who stands last is the one who is petitioning the other for assistance. If they remain standing, they will be negotiating from a position of power and making demands. If they sit last, then it will be as a potential ally or looking for assistance. When both stand and sit at the same time with the other party, it is an armed truce to negotiate a settlement between them.

That he sat with me and stood until I began sitting meant he was not trying to pull rank. He was genuinely concerned about something, and that something was extremely upsetting, if I understood Sinera’s lessons properly. I smiled and did what I always did, start with small talk. It gets people, most of them, to be more at ease.

Hello, Judge. It’s been a while since the last time we saw each other. I’m hoping you have been doing well for yourself.” He looked at me like I’d grown horns and hissed at him. Too late. Whatever gaffe I’d done I did accidentally. Judge Caddus calmed himself and realized the mistake. He actually smiled, if the faint raising of the lips was an Elvish smile.

I am also unfamiliar with proper human reaction and form. Let us both understand our differences and allow each the room for unintentional error.”

I smiled. He’d spotted the problem and offered a complete solution that blamed neither and focused on understanding. I am nowhere near so diplomatic. I much preferred not fighting, but I had little tolerance for errors that could be avoided with a little effort such as study or practice.

I nodded to indicate I noticed his layered solution.

Yes, let’s not get in a fight because of a misinterpretation of someone’s intent.” I paused a moment to let him consider the words. “If I am not being overbearing, may I ask what had you contact my partner Sinera directly and request this meeting on a day that is almost never an office work day?”

Brandished Destinies – Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1

The blast of power blotted out the cloudless blue sky with a rippling distortion that turned everything grey. It smashed into me like a runaway truck. I held my ground and diverted the power upwards by imagining a curved surface in front of me. The surface did its job and the power flashed upwards to break apart in blots of grey surrounded by flecks of blue. Imagination is a great weapon when you don’t need a circle to cast, but you pay for it with headaches and lethargy. I had both in spades.

We’d finally gotten a handle on what we experienced facing off against a huge entity that a weird cult had put their compound over. Both Fawn and I suddenly could do major magic without needing any kind of practice or particular item to focus. It was just there. Believe me, we were very happy it was just there back then. We’d have died along with a lot of naked senseless people trapped in cabins that were going to be used for some kind of sacrificial ritual that would have wakened said enormous entity. That we’re still alive is a testament to sheer wild luck, and perhaps magic’s own agenda.

Larry has never heard of this kind of thing ever happening before. If Larry doesn’t know, it’s a good bet that it’s something potentially unprecedented. Which ratcheted up our own paranoia about becoming lab rat test subjects for the powers-that-be in Canadian government. We’ve kept what happened secret for our own peace of mind. Neither of us wants to give up our life as it is.

Fawn and Larry, through a lot of counseling and a lot of work, stuck together. Zhira, their daughter was born healthy and Fawn was pulled back from death’s embrace via shocking her heart back into action. I helped out for the first five months until Fawn told me to get lost and take care of myself. She’d recovered totally, and was the picture of Amazonian health. If anything, she looked more together than she had since high school.

She was back on her job and had been promoted again to precinct captain and still managed to hang on to the leadership of Dayning/Halifax police department’s magickal response team. That organization went through three incarnations before settling on the current the current ‘Special Response Unit’ moniker. The SRU was her special baby. Larry had given up on trying to get her to drop that position, but had at least gotten a compromise with her being the precinct captain which meant her forays into the field were now more limited.

Fawn relaxed and glanced over to her left, where Zhira was making sand castles with daddy Larry. She turned her gaze back to me.

One more time?”

No, I’m wore out. Spend some of that extra energy on those two” I laughed, then winced. I’ve said in the past that Magick is a pain, and now it was a literal pain in the head, and the metaphorical neck. It’d be a few minutes before the headache went away, but at least it’d go. I hadn’t been terribly interested in practicing Magick, especially since it was something that just came natural after being dragon possessed. What changed I don’t know, but after it happened the cases I got hooked into suddenly were a lot more weird and unsettling. The giant entity was the first and the most disturbing to me. The others were just plain weird.

The latest example of Weirdness was Klaus’s liquor store down the block from my office. He called me to solve a problem with missing stock. The security system he had showed no one in the place, and no one leaving. Bottles and kegs were full one moment, and empty the next. Not gone. Empty. How someone empties a full bottle of alcohol without removing the cap would have been beyond me before Prince Edward Island, now it would be simple. I’d have to do it one bottle at a time, but I could do it. Whoever had played this trick was way more practiced than I.

I looked everything over and couldn’t find anything – physically or Magickally – that even hinted at who, what, how, or why. I promised Klaus to come by later and bring Rynun along. I’d just gotten to my office when Klaus called me saying he’d found the missing booze.

One thing you should remember about Klaus is that he’s a bookie. He’s not big-time, and he deliberately keeps his client list small, which makes more like a hobby than a business. Anyways, he found the booze when he opened the door to the small back room where he has the booking operation. All of the booze had been transported into the room and nearly drowned him when he opened the door.

As it was his equipment was shot, and I think the critters in the sewers had a grand old time with that much booze flowing into the system all at once. I never did find out why or how that happened. Rynun wasn’t hanging around the alley any more so I couldn’t ask him. He’d returned to the area around my folk’s old cabin since the spell conjuring up Ahiah was finally broken. I rubbed the nub of my little finger. Ahiah had bitten it off during that fight. He’d been banished back to the ground.

I’d tried to forget that particular nightmare for two years without any luck. It seems more than just my Magickal abilities were improved. My memory was nearly eidetic now. Maybe that was a reason why I could do spells so easy and without a circle. I could remember every sense and feeling, for lack of a better description, of each spell.

It made my head swim thinking about it and I turned my attention to my niece. Zhira was two. Her birthday was last week, and she’d gotten a genie costume. Yes, she wanted one. How did we know? She told us. Yes, at twenty months she was forming sentences. Not great ones, but definite, distinct, sentences. She saw the costume on sale for Halloween. Yes, that’s still a holiday, only one with more meaning than before. Regardless, she saw it and wanted it. And ‘Auntie’ Fern just couldn’t say no.

She hadn’t taken it off since she’d opened her present, with exceptions to wash it. I could only wonder what she’d be like by four if this was two. Maybe she’d be casting spells though gods I hoped not. Which brought my thoughts over to Fawn and I.

I find it amazing how Magick fitted itself to us in such disparate forms and yet so appropriately. Fawn’s Magick works internally. Basically she can harden her skin, increase her strength, speed, vision, hearing, etc. Anything dealing with physical attributes, she can do it. Me, mine’s all external. Fire, water, earth, air. The four classical alchemical elements. I could lift and toss rocks up to the size of a bulldozer over two kilometers, create heat that could melt brick and cause the earth to glaze. I could form shapes from my imagination, just like the earlier ramp to divert Fawn’s attack away from me.

That brings me to the most interesting part. We’re both huge Magick batteries. Whatever happened to us at the circle, created a result that Fawn and I constantly drew Magick into us. Plus if we’re within a few meters of each other, our skills blend. Each of us is the power source for the other.

We can do those Magickal things each other can do. Fawn can punch power at me; I can harden Magick around me. They’re not quite the same, but it is close in form. If we hold hands, we become one source that can do everything. We think the same, hear the same. Our powers become one all encompassing cauldron of power that is anything we deem it to be. It’s intoxicating, and scares the both of us all the way to our toenails.

Something that feels that good without any apparent limits is something to avoid using. Magick is seductive enough on regular days. It’s why a number of potential wizards don’t live long enough to become wizards. They play with power and want more to play with because it’s like a heavy shot of your favorite method of getting high.

Drunk on power is not just a metaphor. Knowing when you’re getting into that kind of power is what keeps you alive and sane. It made us paranoid. We did some research and had Larry help us out. We found nothing describing what was going on with us.

Larry is still hunting through whatever’s on the ‘net. And we live as quietly as we can with this power and try not to go too crazy with it all. Thankfully Zhira seems unaffected by it. She’s a normal active little girl with curly Ash blonde hair and the most intense violet eyes. Eyes like that usually presages Magickal ability, and with her parents, it’s kind of a given she’d be some kind of Magick wielder. Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing it and dreading it at the same time.

Magick is has been the one big constant in my life since the craziness started happening with Hervald Thensome. I could definitely do without more crazy Magick. Which was why Fawn and I were practicing. You know the old saying of ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’? We knew it was going to happen. Magick’s got its own agenda, and like it or not anyone that practices Magick is part of that ongoing agenda. Anyways, reminiscing can get you really lost in your own head. However, sometimes the past comes knocking at your door. When it does, you really should avoid answering. I’d left the door wide open and the past came waltzing through in full party mode. What’s a girl going to do? Well, in this case, throw a party.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 12 – Aggressive Negotiations

Elizabeth walked slowly past navigation and listened to the animated chatter at the stations.  They’re all excited.  It’s not every day we find a new species.  She’d noted that while nearing the end of the shift, all crew on deck were awake and talking animatedly with each other. She smiled at the speculation about the alien on board.

She pulled up the EVA list again, checking it before sending it to the captain.  Ratko, Rusty, Gogo, Lenz, Martine, Singh.  All have their certificates for EVA.   She allowed herself a smile.  We’re treasure hunters!  To think I had to go to a lottery for spots on the first EVA.  Most everyone would avoid that kind of duty.  Not this time.  They were all over each other to be first out the door.

This is going to be the big topic at mess tonight.  Everyone will have something they’re sure to have heard from someone, somewhere, that they’ll swear is the truth.  Always plenty of scuttlebutt to go around.  I wonder what will be the truth.  She..it..has wings.  Rusty called it an angel.  It’s like a fantasy novel!

A tremor vibrated the deck, like a heavy wheeled truck going by a house.  Elizabeth turned a puzzled look to navigation.  “Microgravity?” she asked Pyrafox.

His reply was drowned by the blare of the emergency sirens.  Elizabeth rushed to her post and saw that the infirmary sensors reported an explosion before going offline. “I have no visuals of the explosion site, Commander”,  Hawkes reported.   “Damage Control, deck two, infirmary, explosion, possible fire”, she shouted into the comm. As she finished, there was a second vibration through the ship. What is going on down there?, Elizabeth wondered.  Hope!,  She was in the med bay.  Was she caught in the blast?  Is there anyone else?  She checked the patient list.  A cold lump settled in her stomach.  Right at the top of the list, scheduled for a follow up exam, was Russell Rayna.  Rusty!  She swallowed her fear and focused on the job, tapping the infirmary channel open.

“Infirmary, report!” Elizabeth said firmly, then waited a few moments.  “Infirmary?”  She tapped a second channel. ‘`Damage Control, what’s your status?”, she demanded.  “Ratko here, we’re enroute.  Our board said the quarantine room got slagged”, Ratko said between breaths.  Elizabeth could hear his footsteps as he ran towards the infirmary.  “Singh, send the Commander an update and hotfoot it once you’re done.  Sensors just went down,  we’re blind until we get on-site”, she heard Ratko say. 

“Understood, use caution when you get close”, she told him.  “Ya think, Lizzy?”, Ratko replied.  “I sure do”, Elizabeth answered, then asked, “What’s your ETA?”  Ratko was quiet for a few moments.  She heard his feet shuffle along the deck and the sound of metal scraping on metal.   “Two minutes, we’ve got jaws and jacks for beams and heavy stuff if we need them, and two trauma kits.  We can’t get there any faster, unless we had a way of teleporting there.”   “Hey you three, grab those breaker bars, we may need them”, Ratko said.

Elizabeth’s board blinked and beeped as The captain called in.  “What just happened, and what information have you got, Commander?”, Captain Devereux asked her as the hologram cube enlarged to hand size. Elizabeth noted her hair was wet and had soaked her collar.  Caught you in the shower, she thought at Devereux.    “Minimal information. An explosion’s been reported at the infirmary, some kind of accident’s taken down sensors, and damage control’s enroute.  Hawkes is working on getting his security team online so he can get an assessment.”  

“Is..”, Devereux started to ask, then Hawkes announced, “  The hull is intact. No decrease in atmospheric pressure.”  “That’s fine, now find out what the situation is”, Devereux said.  “On it,” Gho replied quickly.  Her fingers flew across her board as she checked every sensor feed near the damaged ones.  “No direct picture, or sound, Captain’, Lieutenant Gho said, frowning in concentration.    “Find me something, anything.  I want to know what’s going on by the time I get to the bridge”, the captain said tersely.

#

Rusty instinctively grabbed Hope, half rolling to put his back to the danger just as the first explosion hit.  He felt himself lifted like a toy and hurled away.  Another half rotation and he slammed into the storage shelves.  His head smashed into a bottle, crushing it and leaking cool liquid all over him.  He fell to  the floor, dazed, still gripping Hope tight against his chest, and blind from blood coursing into his eyes.  Through the fog that threatened to drag him into unconsciousness,  he kept trying to put himself between Hope and whatever had happened.  Morris, that … kick …what happened? My head … like wool.  What … was … I try … run over?  He flexed his arms, finding he had them around something.  

What is, he felt the thing shift when he squeezed, and a thin moan of pain came from the figure in his arms.  Who is this.  I … know her…can’t … think.  He started to shake the cobwebs out when he suddenly had an urge to tighten his grip and roll. He started to roll away from the wall, then reversed, throwing the person between him and the wall.  The sense, the absolute need, to protect the thing in his arms had him hugging the person tight against his chest as he was hammered by a chunk of wall.  Rusty screamed in agony.  

I’m gonna die here, I want to live!  I have to run! He thought desperately.  He tried to make his body respond, but found himself  rolling on top of Hope, and taking another shock to his body when the diagnostic table collapsed.  He braced just before the table slammed into him, keeping himself and the table from crushing the helpless Hope.  He could hear voices yelling, but his head was throbbing too much to make sense of the words.  He collapsed next to Hope, the table laying on him at an angle, covering him and Hope.

Focus … focus on the words, Rayna.  Clear your head.  A shadow of motion flowed past him in liquid desperation.  “Sykes! Roll man, roll!”, screamed a voice towards the direction his head pointed..  He felt warmth and a light passed his head as a concussive blast made the floor jump.  Loose medical supplies and equipment cascaded down on him.

“Holy jumped up Jeebus!  Tug!  You okay?!”, yelled a voice past his feet.  I know that voice, why can’t I remember?

“I’m freaking wonderful!”, came from his head direction in reply. “Where did it get that energy weapon?!”  Who are they?  If I could think. 

There was an odd, raspy growl-like hiss from somewhere to his back.  A sudden, heavy blast of wind knocked the last of the medical supplies from the shelves down onto him and Hope.  How much stuff is up on those shelves?  Rusty moved, and the table shifted.  Small bottles and packages dribbled off with small thunks onto the deck. 

“It can fly?!”, said the Sykes voice.  

“I see the Chief!  He’s moving.  Stay down, sir.  Stay down until it’s safe.”, the Sykes voice said with an urgent calm.  Stay down?  Just how safe is it here?  The Doc, I can’t leave her here.  He winced as he shifted again, a sharp pain in his wrist that made his eyes water.  An involuntary hiss of pain brought a growl from his back, and the whine of laser fire from his feet and head directions.  The rasping, growing hiss repeated, with a series of liquid-sounding words that Rusty could almost recognize.

“Back up!  Back up!”, Tuggle said suddenly.  “Don’t move…oh Jeebus”.   There was another whine of laser fire, and another flash of heat and light.  A shock wave bounced Rusty off the floor.  He didn’t have the balance to catch himself.  The snapping bone sounded like a small explosion as his full weight came down on the damaged wrist.  Shock and pain enveloped him, and dragged him down into darkness.

#

“What in all of dark space is going on?!”, Captain Devereux said as she stepped onto the bridge.  Her glare seemed like, if it were possible, she would use it to burn a way to the Infirmary.   “Still trying to get an alternate feed for the sensors captain”, Hawkes replied.  She took deep breaths.  If it was just me, I’d jump in and run hard and fast, and let the chips fall.  As captain of a ship, I make a mistake, it’s magnified.  Anyone under my command would have to live with the fallout. The mantra focused and calmed her, letting her make sense of the activity.

She watched Hawkes’ hands fly across the tactical board.  He didn’t seem to be having any luck in getting a feed, any more than his previous efforts at establishing a visual link to his team.  Blind, or might as well be for all the good the system is doing us.  It’s time for a decision.   “Hawkes, go to the Infirmary and take charge of the situation.  Pryafox, borrow Martine and see if you can find a way to get the feeds around the infirmary up.  Commander, set up an emergency infirmary.  Assign four with EMT training to it in case it’s needed.”

“On it, Captain”, Elizabeth replied, and began tapping her tablet.  Hawkes stood up, and went for the door, murmuring orders to his headset and tapping his tablet, getting reinforcements to join him enroute.  Pryafox stepped from his science console to tactical and was joined by Ensign Martine as they tried to figure out if there was a re-routing solution.  As they were working, there was another vibration in the deck. 

“Commander, how is air pressure?”, she asked Elizabeth.  “No loss of pressure anywhere in the ship.  Damage Control is still being held back by security.”, Elizabeth told her. Devereux ran her hand through her hair.  Blind, I hate this.  Pryafox spoke up.  “Security says the alien is up and active, and armed with some kind of energy weapon.”  

“What did it do, take one off of security?”, Devereux asked.  “I don’t know captain, let me turn on the audio feed”, Gho replied.  The sound of an odd hissing rasp, and a liquid sounding series of syllables leapt into life as Gho switched the security feed to the speakers. 

“What’s she saying, Tug?”, came Sykes voice. 

“You ask her, I don’t speak alien.”

“Where’s the weapon?  You got eyes on the weapon?”, Sykes queried again. 

“I don’t see one, maybe it got dropped”, Tuggle replied tensely. 

“Stay down!  Jeebus, she just ripped the table off the floor anchors”, Sykes said.  There was another liquid series of sounds, then a heavy crash. 

“Sykes?!”, Tuggle yelled. 

“It missed, she’s got lousy aim”,  Sykes replied. 

“Security, can you subdue the alien?” Devereux broke in.   

There was a momentary pause before both Sykes and Tuggle said “no!”, almost in unison.  “We need sonics  or a tranq.  We got neither”, Tuggle said ill-temperedly.   “Any stuff we might have used is on the floor on top of the Chief and the Doc”, he finished.

“Captain, there’s no way to get a feed.  The paths have been either fried or severed somehow”, Gho said, then cursed under her breath.  Her fingers flew over the tactical board.  “Dumb, dumb, dumb!  We’re trying to get the feeds in the room!  We can access the security team’s personal views from their badges.”  She finished then thumped the console.  Images of a table leg filled the screen, along with slivers of bright light around the left edge.   The name on the view was ‘Tuggle, B. C., Sgt’.

“Good job Lieutenant”, Devereux told Gho.  “We can at least see something, and that will help.”  Gho nodded, and split the screen, showing the layout of the Infirmary, then superimposing both Tuggle, Sykes, and the alien in the room.  “The alien is a best guess, it doesn’t have a comm unit”, Gho said in a tense calm.

“Sergeant Tuggle, Sergeant Sykes,  hold your positions.”, Hawkes’ voice broke in over the chatter.  “Identify where the alien is in the room”, he said tersely.  “Uh, by the medical tables and beds.  Three steps from the quarantine room”,  Sykes replied.  He then added, “I’m just inside the door to the left behind a wrecked table, and Tug is back behind the Doc’s desk.”  Two other dots lit up on the screen.  Both were huddled close to a wall, roughly halfway between Sykes and Tuggle’s positions.  The dot closest to the wall identified as the Medical Officer, the other showed as the Chief Engineer.

Devereux looked at the dots.  Hawkes would have a clear line of sight from the door to the alien.  “Lieutenant Hawkes, the situation is a stalemate at the moment.  The alien isn’t shooting, so see if you can get to the Chief and Hope without starting a firefight, and pull them clear.”  

“Yes, Captain”, replied Hawkes.  “I will attempt the rescue.”   Now if no one starts shooting, we might be able to talk it down and defuse this, Devereux told herself.

#

Hawkes stopped when he spotted the winged alien.  It was, as located, approximately two meters from the quarantine door.  He leaned against the corner, protected by the hallway wall, four meters from the Infirmary doorway.   It’s on the ground, wings partly open…is that a part of a diagnostic screen in its hand?   

He looked to his left and saw a portion of a medical table poking from the wall. The main lighting was off, and the emergency lighting had activated.  Their dim, harsh colors of the light pods created the sense of a combat zone to the scene.  A large chunk of the door frame of the infirmary was missing.  Hawkes noted that it appeared singed and melted. A hole similar in size to the damaged hatchway was a quarter-meter above his head.  The blast had continued through the metal, exiting slightly behind him and expended itself against the ceiling.  

Small bits of plastic and metal littered the deck from the corner down the hall.  There is some kind of weapon, I don’t see where it is being carried.  The creature seems improvising weaponry. Is that deliberate thought, or merely a reaction to being cornered?.  I need more information.  What kind of weapon threw the table into the wall?  Or was it a weapon, Perhaps the creature?.  He tapped his wrist comm, then keyed the security channel.  “Sergeant Sykes, Sergeant Tuggle, can you confirm an energy weapon in the alien’s possession?”

“It’s got one, guaranteed.”, Sykes responded.  “It blew a huge chunk of the door out by me.” 

“It wasn’t a weapon, L T, it was her”, Tuggle said quietly.  “I saw the last shot, it came from her hands.”    From her hands.  Embedded weaponry is not unheard of.  That usually means special combatants.  If so, this isn’t a Star Blood derivative.  None have internal weapons.  Which means it is likely not Aerian, either, despite the vague external similarity.

“Sergeant Tuggle, can you see either the Chief Engineer or the Medical Officer from your location?”

“I can see both of them.  They’re half covered by medical supplies”, Tuggle responded.  A fluting hiss came from the alien as Tuggle spoke, it’s attention focusing on the noise.  It raised the chunk of table as if readying to throw. Hawkes immediately brought the sonic emitter to eye level, aiming it at the alien.  The creature noticed the movement, and Hawkes felt the intensity of its gaze.  He ignored the feeling of impending mayhem, concentrating on his target.

This feels like a mistake, but I cannot lower my weapon while it is armed.  Too much chance of casualties if it is fast as a Star Blood.  The standoff continued, Hawkes maintaining his aim, and the alien watching Hawkes.  “L T, I can’t…”, Sykes began, and the noise caught the alien’s attention.  It screamed and threw the table, it’s arm a whitish blur.  The impromptu missile bulleted through the infirmary hatchway, blowing itself to shrapnel against the metal bulkhead  next to Hawkes.  

The impact made a near torso-sized dent in the bulkhead, and Hawkes instinctively pulled back around the corner.  Small bits of metal and plastic bounced across the deck while the alien made another fluting hiss,  and crouched, it’s wings mantling about it like a bird of prey.  “Sykes, are you injured?”, Hawkes said quietly, drawing the alien’s immediate attention.  “Shh”, Sykes whispered.   The alien’s head snapped to gaze down and to her right.   Is it blind?  It’s orienting immediately with any sound.  If that is the case, the sonic emitter may be more effective than the simulations projected.

Hawkes slowly slid back to the corner, and braced against the bulkhead, sonic emitter aimed at the alien.  He had a perfect shot.  The alien was fully framed by the hatchway, still three meters from the quarantine door.  If I take it and the emitter does work, then we have the standoff controlled.  Why is it so hard to take the shot?  I don’t know if the emitter will work.  It’s not a Star Blood.  If the emitter doesn’t work, the creature could well attack my men, and the Chief Engineer and the Medical Officer.  Prudence says it is better to wait, until I can gather more information, or until there is no other option.

#

Hope regained consciousness, feeling sick and disoriented.  As her head cleared, she remembered the explosion.  The quarantine room exploded. I must have been thrown away from the blast. She felt the cold, wet liquid,  soaking her right sleeve near the wrist, and a heavy weight across her waist.  Liquid is cold, so not bleeding. She focused on the things she could feel, noting size, shape, and hardness. Bandage boxes, vials, and bottles. I must be against the storage shelves.   She next concentrated on her extremities.  Hands and fingers flexed, sore but thankfully unbroken.

She extended her focus to her arms, moving and flexing the right, which moved easily, and the left, which ground bone on bone oddly, making Hope stop after a brief motion..  Dislocation, likely due to impact. Numb. Bones unbroken, indicating impact against a softer surface than the shelving.  This weight must be what cushioned the impact against the shelves.  I can smell the calcium and protein powders for the tissue builder.  

The containers must be spilled.  Nothing toxic other than the alcohol.  She focused on the arrangement of the shelves, remembering the location of material on each.  I am midway between the doorway and the desk.  Nothing on the shelves that would explain the large weight.  What is it?  She  thought back to just before the explosion.  One of security?  No,  the Chief Engineer, he followed me back into the Infirmary. His body must have taken the impact against the shelving wall.  

She returned to her self-inspection.  I need to determine my injuries before I can be of any benefit to the Chief Engineer.  She flexed her left foot, feeling a sharp pain as broken bones ground together.  She stopped moving the foot, and tried the other.  It flexed stiffly, and without pain.  Broken foot, bones in arch broken, arch collapsed, causing the pain,  she told herself.   She focused on the pain, forcing it into a small portion of her mind, walling the sensation off.

“Don’t move”, came a strained whisper towards her feet.  “It’s watching you.”   She recognized the security guard’s voice.  Sergeant Tuggle.    The tenseness in his voice stopped her self-inspection.  The creature awoke, and destroyed the quarantine room.  It must be near.  A fluting hiss from past her head confirmed her guess.  It has us trapped here.  A metallic rending sound caught Hope’s attention. 

“Jeebus, it just tore the table off the mounts”, Tuggle said tensely.

“Sergeant Tuggle, can you reach the Chief Engineer, or the Medical Officer?”  “The Doc’s awake, Tuggle whispered then “OH SH…!”  She heard him roll across the floor as the floor seemed to jump.  Hope’s head smacked against the floor, stunning  her.  She heard vaguely the impact of the desk against the back wall.

The creature’s shrieks of rage filled Hope’s tortured senses with images of explosions, and a painful knowledge that home was gone.  She felt, actually shared, the loss, and the despair. Hope wondered if the mind behind that voice was even sane.

It, she, Hope amended, screeched again, the sound battering at her ears.  She thought she heard words. Indistinct, and horribly mangled, but words nonetheless.

<< You dare attack a Star Wing?!  You will not live to regret your action! >>

Light started to build, and the smell of ozone.

Hope tried to shout, but all she managed was a croaking voice, a ragged whisper,

< Stop >.

The light winked out. Silence descended on the infirmary.  The only sound was the hyperventilating of the two guards.   Hope felt vibrations in the deck.  Boxes and bandages were blown away by a blast of wind, and the Chief Engineer was lifted and thrown away from her, landing heavily on the deck.  She shifted uncomfortably as circulation pulsed down into starved tissues. There is no pain.  She felt hands lift her up amidst screamed orders by the guards to put her down. Laser fire struck the winged creature, and was ignored.  Hope turned her head away from the blistering heat.

She felt herself lowered to the deck with incredible gentleness.  She balanced on her good foot, one hand on the wall to keep the weight off the broken foot.  Once she was upright, the winged being knelt low before her, bowing her head. In mangled Aerian, it whispered  <<Reverence>>

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 11 – Rude Awakenings

Elizabeth watched Captain Devereux wait impatiently at the shuttle bay airlock as the atmosphere slowly equalized.  Rusty’s statement that the shuttle had an alien survivor aboard surprised everyone on the bridge.  Now all those that could be at the bay, were there, waiting to glimpse this ‘survivor’.   A new species?  What do we call it?  Heck, what does it call itself?  She’d decided on calling the survivor an ‘it’ since she had no idea of gender, or even if there was one in the classical sense.  How does something survive in a vacuum?  What kind of tech makes up the suit?  How long was it out there?  Was it pirates?  Smugglers?   

Elizabeth checked her tablet, enlarging the box that held an alert from Petty Officer Ratko.  She tapped it open and read.  Got it done, now you owe me one, Lizzy.  Ratko.  P.S.  Let the ball come to you next time.  Manuel is still limping after you ran him over.  He’s looking forward to a rematch.  Call him on it, his backhand’s lousy.  R.

Elizabeth smiled and saved the message.  She wondered if she could actually beat Manuel the next time they played. Could he handle it if I did? Probably,  he’s got a nice… Her reminiscence was cut off by Captain Devereux.  “Commander,  there are two things I want done immediately”, she told Elizabeth.  Elizabeth couldn’t remember hearing the captain sound so excited in a long while.  She listened intently as Devereux continued.  “First, re-plot the field now that the interference is gone.  Make certain we have direction and drift.  Once you’re certain you can find it blindfolded,  I want you to assign someone to image and catalog the pieces brought back.  Then make a roster for an extended EVA mission.  Use your judgment on numbers and equipment.  We’ve got enough time to get a couple larger pieces for study.”

“Yes, Captain. I’ll get right on it,” she answered. A grin that matched Devereux’s grew on her lips.  Image and catalog.  I’ll get to see them first! I am so glad I’m here and not on the Washington.  Captain Dresden would have never bothered to alter course to check a lowly debris field.  She tapped the tablet again, saving the captain’s orders in a box, and highlighting it.  

She moved towards the hatchway, tapping Gogorsky on the shoulder as she moved past him.  “Gogo, you’re with me,” she said.  “We’ve got artifacts to catalog”.  She smiled when ‘Gogo’ said “yesss!”  after a short moment, and she could see that signature fist pump he did when he got excited.  She continued through the hatch and headed to cargo hold D.  She heard his long stride on the deck behind her as he hurried to catch up.  At exactly two meters tall, Gogo reminded her of the old 2-D animated tale of Ichabod Crane. With his large ears and prominent Adam’s Apple, he resembled the fictional schoolteacher to a great degree.

Chop was waiting for them as Elizabeth and Gogorski entered the bay.  Ratko gave Elizabeth a very ill-tempered glare as she approached.  “Gonna need four hundred cubic meters, huh?”, he growled, sounding a lot like the pirate he resembled.  “I got you six hundred, and the shuttle says it has barely twelve.”   he folded his arms and turned his glare on Gogorski, who looked over to Elizabeth.  

“Chop”, she said, “You’re checked out on EVA?”  Ratko’s glare returned to Elizabeth.  She noted there was a glint of interest in it now.  “Yes, I’m checked out, and you know it.”    “I know.  Want to put it to use?”, she said.  “I’m putting a salvage team together, you’re in since you’ve got experience.”  She arched an eyebrow and said, “That is, if you want to.  This is all volunteer.”  “I’m in!”, Gogorski said excitedly, “I..”, Elizabeth silenced him with a look, then turned back to Ratko, who had a very large grin on his face.  “A chance to go floating?  In a heartbeat, Lizzy, err, Commander”, he said, rubbing his hands together.  “I volunteer.”

Smiling, Elizabeth looked over, and up, to Ensign Gogorski.  “I’m checked out for EVA”, he said quickly. “Chief  insisted everyone in Engineering get certified for EVAs and repair.”  He looked down at her, excitement showing in his eyes, and his eager grin.  “You’re in, Gogo”, she said, and turned to Ratko.  She took a moment to think about the situation.  Am I going to have to go EVA?  Thank god no, the captain asked me to put the team together.  That means to oversee and choose a field leader.  The Chief? No.  He’s due time down.    Who else has been out there?  Okay, Ratko’s team leader.  I’ll have hmm, Singh as his second.  She closed her eyes and winced a little at the idea.  Won’t that just please the Chief.  He’ll be chewing my ear off why he should be in charge and out there.  

“You’re in charge, so you’ll be reporting to me, Chop”, she said and fixed what she hoped was a steely gaze on him.  “That won’t be a problem will it?”  Ratko scowled visibly at Elizabeth, then sighed and gave her a piratical grin.  “There’ll be no problem, Commander.  My word on that.”  Elizabeth nodded, then tapped an icon on her tablet, pulling up names with EVA experience, and began selecting the team.  “Singh is going to be your second.  Beyond you, and the others already logging space time, Singh has the most hours EVA.”   the Petty Officer’s grin faded slightly, not quite disappearing from his face.  “Can do, I’ll pick the rest if you’re fine with that”, he said.  “You can send your requests and I’ll approve them.”  Ratko smiled again.  “You got it, Commander, I’ll make certain they’re the right ones for the job.”

#

Rusty watched as Hope maneuvered the winged body onto the diagnostic table.  The lack of gravity made Hope’s efforts easier, as the body would go any direction with just a push.  It was also harder, as the woman’s limbs and wings would tend to splay out, making it difficult to position her on the table.  

“Let me help you, Doc”, Rusty said with a smile. “She’s putting up quite a fight, isn’t she?”  Both he and Jefferies moved at the same time to assist her.  Rusty moved deliberately in front of the older man, cutting off his movement. He grinned and moved opposite of Hope.

Hope looked up at him, then said, “Turgidity.”

“Tur-whatty?”, Rusty queried.  “Doc, I know all sorts of technical jargon, but I don’t know that.”

“Fluid pressure”, Jeffries replied.  “In space with no gravity, fluid sets up pressure in the body so arms and legs tend to…”  “All right, prof, I get it”, Rusty said.  The guy looks for a reason to irritate me, I swear.   He turned his attention to Hope and the being on the table.  Jeffries moved away to help Tsu-tao record images of the salvage.  Lieutenant Ferahim wandered around the two men, occasionally helping Jeffries roll a larger piece over to get a full view of it.

Hope gathered in the wing first, pressing it slowly back against the body. Then, using her other hand to push the arm in, folding gently over the wing to hold it in place.  Rusty mirrored her movements, getting the limbs against the body.  Hope quickly released the arm and drew a restraining strap over the upper chest of the creature’s body to hold it down, then  ran a second strap at the waist, and a third above the knees.   As he gazed at Hope’s actions, his attention was caught by a faint flash of light.   

The diagnostic table flickered as the red heartbeat icon pulsed, with a green line that Rusty remembered was blood pressure. Another showed a white, wildly flickering motion that was brainwave patterns, while a fourth showed a broken blue line that he didn’t recognize.  Ferahim stood next to the table for a moment, peering at the numbers.

There was a flash of light just to his left.  He turned his head, and watched Jefferies and Tao-tsu working on the salvage pieces.  Jefferies would carefully turn the irregular piece over for Tao-tsu image capture.  The two men seemed to be in their own world, talking back and forth as they worked.  I wonder if they’re comparing notes  

He looked over at the statuesque woman admiringly.  She seemed to take no notice of him, but he could feel her gaze.  She’s sneaky, I didn’t even know she was there.  I like that in a woman.  “Why isn’t there a radiation value?”, she asked Hope.  “I do not know”, was all the reply Hope gave her as she continued to adjust straps and slowly move the wings to wrap around the entity.

Jefferies and Tao-tsu walked over to the small crowd around the table.  Tsu-tao stopped a few feet away, content to gaze from a distance.  Ferahim smiled at Tsu-tao, then moved to stand next to him.  He returned her smile with a warm one of his own, and turned his gaze back to the debris.  Oh, I never saw that coming!  Tsu-tao, you devious wrench monkey.  He chuckled then returned his gaze to the unconscious winged girl.  No suit. No protection we understand, and she’s alive after, Morris knows how long, in space.  

“How, by the Morris, does something…”, he was cut off as the shuttle bay doors finished closing and Pryafox began to pressurize the bay.  “How does something, well, live like that?”, he finished.  Jeffries reply was a grunt and a mumbled, “Who knows?”  Hope looked over to him, and said, “I don’t know”, and returned to checking the straps and the readouts. 

Sykes and Tuggle started to gather the portable radiation detector.  The suits made maneuvering difficult, and slow.  Their magnetic boots made faint clunks against the metal deck in the now-thin atmosphere of the hold as they muscled the detector onto the carrier.    “We’ve got adequate pressure, so you all can unbuckle your fishbowls”, Pryafox’s voice came over the speakers.  “Our ETA back to Emerald Flight is about five minutes, so you all can relax and please enjoy the ride.”

Rusty chuckled as he watched Hope focus on the readings.  “I’d almost think you know her, Doc”, he said 

“I do not”, Hope returned, still intent on the readings.  Rusty had seen Hope focused before, but never to this intensity.  She seemed mesmerized by the readings in front of her.   He watched the Aerian turn the diagnostic table to standby and ready it for transfer back to the Emerald Flight

He looked over to the radiation detector.  “I got it”, he said, knowing full well that no one else wanted to touch the delicate looking instrument.  He grinned, and disassembled the detector down into component parts.  He strapped the pieces down securely onto a rolling pallet.  The magnetic wheels kept it firmly anchored to the floor.  Rusty turned on the motor and guided it next to the airlock door.    

He watched Hope wheel the diagnostic table to the door, lock it, and wait.  Leaning against the wall, he waited as Pryafox slowly drifted the shuttle to a precise landing back in its own bay.    The airlock floor vibrated as the doors closed and locked.  Rusty could begin to hear faint noises outside his helmet as pressure equalized.  “When are visiting hours, Doc?”, Rusty said as the shuttle loading door slowly swung open.  Hope, looked up, a puzzled look on her features.  Sykes and Tuggle moved through the airlock, breaking Rusty’s concentration.  He looked up to see Tuggle grab the pallet holding the detector and wheel it through the hatchway.  Hope was close on his heels with the diagnostic table.

Rusty watched Hope for a moment, a worried frown on his face that quickly disappeared. I am going to have to see what’s going on with Hope.  She’s totally fixated on that winged girl.  There’s something about her that the Doc just won’t let go of, and that’s not like her.  The worried look shifted to one of purpose. I think I’ll go see what all this is about.  What does she see in that girl anyways?    His devil-may-care demeanor returned, and he grinned to himself.  Whatever it is, I’m going to find out.  He stepped over to the medical equipment, and began Pryafox load it onto the carrier pallet.

#

Devereux looked down at her wrist display, then spread her fingers to enlarge the data display.   The holographic image enlarged to a full three-dimensional picture of Emerald Flight, the shuttle, and the near edge of the debris field.   “Tactical, get me a display of the full field”, she said.  Her display swerved then pulled back, showing the slightly elongated sphere of material. 

She used her hand to turn the display to a mostly overhead view that showed the location of Emerald flight next to the field.  She murmured quietly at the screen, “Show anything with a organic signature in yellow.”  A number of yellow dots appeared on the screen, most just the near side of center.  She considered the hologram for a moment longer, then collapsed it back down, the hologram shrinking to a small sphere on the upper edge of the wrist display.

“Update the field and send me the data”, she said to Hawkes, who nodded and replied, “Yes, Captain.”  He tapped at his console,  then said, “Mapping and analysis should be finished in two hours, Captain.”  Devereux nodded, and turned to the communications station.

“Lieutenant Martine, contact the Paragon colony.  Tell them, we’re going to be staying here to research this field.  We’ll be here for two standard days before resuming course.  Verify this delay with the colony to make certain we’re not needed sooner.”  “Yes, sir.  I’ll take care of it”, the Martine replied.  Christine watched as the Lieutenant pulled Paragon up to inform them of the delay in their estimated arrival.   Her thoughts drifted as she pulled up the field again.  Scott would have been jumping at the chance to explore that field.  And Thad,  he would be out there already, and we’d be yelling at him to slow down and wait.

She blinked, and felt the familiar ache form around her heart.  Scott, I wish so much you were here. Christine’s gaze unfocused, as if looking back in time to another place, then her eyes blinked, and she looked to the tactical station.   “Lieutenant Hawkes, you have the bridge until I return.”  Hawkes looked up at her, and adjusted his spectacles.  His steady gaze stayed on Christine for a moment before he answered,“Yes, Captain”.  He returned to his board, tapping at it as Devereux stepped through the hatchway, and followed the corridor towards her cabin.  Funny, I was just thinking it didn’t hurt any more, and here I am, walking it off all over again. 

Her footsteps carried her past her quarters, along the slanting corridor down to Engineering, and past the huge, synchronized slipstream engines.  Her pace slowed as she looked over at them.  Scott and Thad both had a hand in every drive that was made.  Everything we’ve got is possible because of them.  Space, and the chance to explore.  

She made an abrupt about-face, and, her jaw set, returned the way she came.  It’s not going to rule my life.  We both made the choice.  It’s done.  Christine Devereux, accept what you can’t change, and wait for the things you can.  Scott, you always had an answer for everything.  

Her wrist comm hummed. Christine raised her arm to chest level, looking down at it.  A small, green dot of light enlarged to a small hologram of Hawke’s face.  “Captain, the shuttle has docked.”   “Thank you, Lieutenant”, she replied, then told Hawkes, “Have a security team with our ‘guest’ to keep the gawkers away, and give Hope an extra pair of hands in case there’s a need for them.”  She knew Hawkes would take the last statement as an ‘in case’ the survivor woke up.  If it did, Hope might need and extra person or two to help calm  or control the situation.

 She tapped at the base of the hologram, which shrunk to a small light on the surface of the comm.  It’s not like I’m not curious.  Something like that wreckage will have a lot of the off-duty personnel down there to get a look at whatever it.  I’m already partway there.  She reversed her direction again, and strode towards the shuttle bay.   

#

Hawkes checked his simulations.  Most of them had progressed adequately, showing that the distribution of security throughout the ship should be adequate to corner and recapture an angry, hostile Star Blood.  Hawkes reflected on his experience.  

Star Bloods are the shock troops of the Aerian military, deployed when extreme military measures are requiredThey use symbiotic organic armor. The armor protects its wearer, and augments strength and endurance. The symbiote also can protect a Star Blood for up to seventy hours in space by burning its own tissue to create oxygen and nutrients for the host. Strength is on the order of three to four times human standard.  

He looked down at his board, then pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.  He copied all the medical information to the simulation and then watched the scenario unfold.  After fifteen simulations, he concluded the best method was a two step trap.  First, lure the Star Blood into a section of the ship with no immediate cover.  Second, use portable sonic emitters to disorient and push it into the open for tranquilizers or energy weaponry.

With the Star Blood carapaces, Hawkes preferred the sonics, as the weapon required a less precise aim.  The sonics would not knock the Star Blood unconscious, but would severely disorient and weaken it.  Tranquilizers were still the most effective method of control, if used as an aerosol or misted spray. Darts would be effective only if skin and not the carapace was struck.  He made a few personal notes on his tablet, then set them aside, minimized, along the left edge of the screen.  He set the tablet down and returned his attention to the station board.

“Sergeants Sykes, Tuggle.  Please send me a visual feed, along with any biological data the Ship’s Physician has acquired”, he said firmly.  “Yes, sir”, Tuggle replied with a soft rasp to his voice.  “The Doc heard you and is uploading to your board now.”  A small icon appeared on Hawkes’ flatscreen, glowing blue and pulsing.  He tapped it open, reading the data.  The live feed from Tuggle’s camera allowed him a close view of the being.  The wings are reminiscent of Aerian physiology.  He continued to make notes of the being’s immediate features.

No visible armor, no visible weaponry, wings, no spines.  It doesn’t appear to be of the same race, despite similarities.  “Sergeant Sykes, please press one of the being’s fingers just below the tip?”, Hawkes ordered.  He watched Sykes’ camera close in, then an extended finger pressed against the beings.  Nothing happened.  “Did you note any unusual stiffness in the finger or perhaps a bony protrusion?”, he asked the sergeant.  “Nothing sir”, Sykes said.  “No venom sacks or claws”, Hawkes said dispassionately. There was a long silence, then Sykes and Tuggle said in unison, “Say what?”.    

“Do not touch the body”, Hope said firmly.  “Yes ma’am”, Sykes and Tuggle replied together.  Hawkes watched the view turn, then one person, Tuggle, raised his hand and grabbed the edge of the diagnostic table, and pushed it, following the medical specialist.   Sykes showed a step behind Tuggle in the hallway.  Hawkes noted that if upright, the being would be rather similar physically to the medical specialist, and perhaps a half head taller.

“Sergeants, have you seen a similar being before in your experiences?”, Hawkes queried them as the men followed Hope to the Infirmary.  “You mean, other than Star Bloods? You know more than me or Tug, Lieutenant.  You fought them.”, Sykes replied.  He shifted the carrier left to avoid some personnel in the hallway before moving back to the center of the deck, following the short, slim form of Hope. “I’ve never seen wings on anything other than bugs.”

“Understood”, Hawkes replied, then lapsed into silence.  Am I missing something?  Could this be a Star Blood of some form?  Hawkes brought his tablet from its holster, then tapped open a series of boxes, looking up what was known of Star Bloods. After scanning the physiological information briefly, he was certain this creature had no relation to them in any manner.  It is too small, too light for a Star Blood. There is no symbiote.  And there are no physical markers to any other race in the database either. What is it?  He ran a hand through his hair then pushed his glasses up his nose again.  No matter, once the Doctor runs a complete suite of tests, there will be much more data to compare.

“Move the table there”, Hope told the men.  Once the table was maneuvered into place, Hope addressed the two men once more. “Leave”, she said in a way that had both men almost scurrying for the entry.  Hawkes snapped out of his musings, and returned his attention to the Medical Officer’s preparations.  Monitoring equipment. Diagnostic sensors. Data gathering. More data gathering, and no thought to security or defense, Hawkes thought with a slight flash of irritation.  The infirmary needs security on that creature until we know it’s not needed.  Hawkes keyed the comm channel.  

“Sergeants, you will stay at the medical facilities and maintain security overwatch on the unknown.”  Hawkes paused, then added, “Four hour shifts.  Remain alert.”  “Aye, sir”, Tuggle replied. “We’ll make sure sleeping beauty’s not disturbed.” He heard a chuckle from Sykes.  “Make certain the automatic quarantine security is active. Hawkes out”, he said, then turned to his other duties, designing and running another capture and containment simulation.  

#

Hope stared impassively at the two security personnel.  “Out. By the door.”, she said in a level tone.  “Aye, Doc”, Tuggle said with a smile.  “ You won’t know we’re here.”  

“Yes. I will.” Hope replied with the faintest trace of irritation.

Tuggle suddenly looked like he bit into something sour, and a small grin grew on Sykes’ face as Hope waited for them to leave.  “Never argue, Tug”,  Sykes chuckled, “She’s literal.”  “I noticed”, Tuggle replied.  Hope ignored their chatter; there were other things on her mind at the moment.  Foremost was the patient in quarantine.  The readings have to be confirmed.  I can’t make a mistake.  If the initial values are true, then I may have a sequence I can use.  “No visitors”, she told the security team,  then turned and strode to the quarantine room.  Hope unlocked the sliding door, raising it open, and stepped in.  The winged creature was still unconscious, and still strapped to the table.   The diagnostic table was recording information as it had been left.  Hope switched the computer to voice activation.  “Reset.  Zero all readings.  Turn off all sensors.  Come active”, she said slowly in her raspy, stilted English.

She ran the entire suite of diagnostic scans again. Doing every step by hand, one at a time, in complete detail. Hope made certain there was no result due to genetic drift within known species.  She laboriously tabulated each result and ran comparisons against every genome in the medical database.  She double-checked correlations between every one of them, regardless of how different the values appeared.

The initial data finished in fifteen minutes, and confirmed her first impression.  There was no doubt in her mind, and with that, more questions than she had anticipated.  She set the data aside, then looked over at the quarantine room door, as if trying to peer through it.  

She is my species, one that has never been even hinted at in the historical archives.  How do I begin to explain something that has no history, yet exists?  Is this an enemy, or an ally, or perhaps an experiment by the Creators? I do not know the answer yet.  I will find it.  First, I must know the age of the wreckage.  That will at least be an indicator of when she was trapped.  Hope left the quarantine room, closing the heavy glass door.  She turned to go to the culturing lab, then paused.  What am I feeling?  There’s something I can sense. I can almost know it.

Hope looked over to the desk with the data on it, then back at the shadowy figure behind the translucent quarantine glass, and then over to the diagnostic readouts.  She switched through the screens:  physiology, chemical analysis, brainwave patterns, radiation, energy, nervous system.  She was excited, and frustrated, by the winged Aerian.  What is she?  Somewhat like the Star Blood, and not.  Wings longer than tall yet too small to be functional.  No symbiotic armor.  No evidence of any symbiote whatsoever.  No protection from vacuum, yet, no damage from vacuum. No damage from radiation.  No damage from her, she groped for the proper description. Semi-solid state?  What kind of conditions created that state?

She adjusted the controls, setting a deeper constant scan.  There must be something in the cellular structure.  Could she be old enough? Hope focused, inhaled, and using a calming exercise, quietly counted twelve heartbeats while exhaling slowly.  As she pondered the information streaming across the readouts, she heard the distinctive cadence of the Chief Engineer’s thudding footsteps as he reached the infirmary. 

“Uh, Chief, Doc said no visitors”, Sykes told him. Rusty chuckled and replied, “I’m not visiting.  I’m here for follow-up testing.  Doc still wants to look inside my noggin, and convince herself the empty space is supposed to be there.”   He tapped the side of his head with his knuckles as the two men shared a soft chuckle.  “Go on in Chief”, Tuggle told him.  Hope set the scan to record, then turned to face him.  I will reschedule his scans for later.  She looked at Rusty with a hint of impatience as he toured the infirmary like a tourist gawking at something he’d never seen before.

“Anything new, Doc?” Rusty said with a grin.  “Is our space angel awake? Or is she still gettin’ her beauty sleep?”  He sauntered over to the quarantine chamber where the winged woman lay, then tapped theatrically on the translucent glass.  Hope stared at him, then at the motionless shape just beyond.  An involuntary ‘chrrr‘ of anger slipped past her lips.

“Stop.”  

Rusty held his hands up, palms to Hope, and stepped back from the glass.  She advanced slowly, menacingly towards the Chief, her  arms spreading, as if mantling wings over something precious.  Her angry ‘chrrr‘ repeated as she backed him towards the entry.  Rusty’s smile faltered as he took a step back from her, sensing he had stepped over an unspoken line.  

“Leave.”

She continued to steer Rusty out of the room, her sheer force of personality driving him one step through the hatchway just as a series of warning beeps sounded from the readout panel.  The sound stopped both Hope and Rusty in mid-step.  Ignoring the Chief Engineer completely, she quickly moved to the display.  Rusty blinked at Hope’s sudden shift of attention, then followed her back in.  Hope scanned the readouts, which showed a dramatic spike in brainwave activity.  She turned to look at the quarantine cell, and the world blew apart.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 10 – Delicate Handling

( Here’s chapter 10  As I said earlier, there was a small easter egg in the writing.  Here it is:  Sykes and Tuggle – James Caan and Roger Aaron Brown of ‘Alien Nation’)

Chapter 10

“This is Shuttle One, we have Jefferies and Tao-tsu aboard, with their souvenirs”, Pryafox said with a chuckle. 

“Understood, Shuttle One.  Send scans and dimensions, we’ll make sure there’s room in cargo”, Elizabeth replied.  This is exciting!  Wreckage!  Not just a bunch of rocks, but actual material and tech that might not have been seen before!, she thought.  

“Commander, where are we at for ‘go point’ on the EVA team?”, Devereux said.  Elizabeth turned to look back at the captain, who in turn had her attention on the view screens.  

Elizabeth pulled up the estimated time left on the Chief and Ferahim’s air supply.  “Based on the Chief using his reserve faster,  they’ve got another two hours before the meter’s at fifty percent”, she said confidently.

Devereux continued to look at the screens as she spoke to Elizabeth.  “Tell Sykes and Tuggle they’re on for search and rescue in two hours if we don’t hear from the Chief or Lieutenant Ferahim.”

“See about arranging space in the cargo hold in case the Chief comes back with something too big to tuck under an arm”, Devereux finished.

“Yes, Captain.  I’ll get Chop on the job”, Elizabeth said.   She tapped the tablet in her hand, opening a direct channel to the chief supply officer. 

“Supply”, came a gruff voice.  Elizabeth smiled.  Petty Officer ‘Chopper’  Ratko was a built like he sounded.  Short, barrel-chested and bald, with a neat black beard under a pug nose and eyes, one blue, the other brown, that gave him a slightly piratical cast.  ‘

“Chop, this is the XO,  the captain wants cargo moved to make room for some samples that might come back with the Chief.”  

“Hah!  Chief gone a little salvaging hey?  Lemme seeeee…”  he said.  Elizabeth could hear him over the channel walking towards the cargo bay, the hard soles of his shoes tapping on the floor.  The walking ceased, and she could almost see him in her mind looking around in the hold.  

“How big is this souvenir he’s bringing home?”

“I’m not sure, Chop.  I’m gonna estimate twenty meters square”, Elizabeth said.   There was a low whistle on the other end of the channel.

“Four hundred cubic meters, that’s a lot of space to clear.  I can do it.  Lucky for you I’m aboard.  You’re gonna owe me one, XO.”  The channel went silent again for a few seconds.  “Give me three hours and we’ll have you the space.”

Elizabeth smiled at the tablet.  “Sure thing, Chop.”

“Supply out.”

Elizabeth turned off the channel, then took her own look at the viewscreen.  I am so glad I’m here and not out there.  I wonder what the Chief is doing right now.  There was no trouble going in, so, this isn’t a time to borrow trouble.  She pulled up the chief’s estimated air supply and set it in a corner box on her tablet for ease of locating when the captain asked for the information again.  

“Chop says he’ll have four hundred cubic meters available in three hours, captain”, she said to Devereux.  

“Very good”, Devereux said, then looked over to Elizabeth.  “By the way, what made you choose that volume?”

“I checked how full we were before I chatted with Chop …err… Petty Officer Ratko.  We’re at three quarters capacity,  so one eighth is six hundred cubic meters.  And knowing the lieutenant, he’ll give us a full six hundred and be done in sixty minutes.  He always knows we never ask for enough room, and finishing early makes him look like a miracle worker.”

Captain Devereux smiled.  “Good job, Commander.  Pass my thanks on.”   Elizabeth looked down to her tablet and smiled, basking in the praise.  “Thank you, captain.  I’ll do that.”  Elizabeth said.

#

“What do you think, Yvonne, cut that sliver and take her back, or cut around the base and see if we can take the whole thing?”, Rusty said as he used his thrusters to lower himself for a better look at the hologram, and the material penetrating through it. For all his grace in maneuvering, he still resembled a bulky four-limbed spider desperately trying to find a purchase.  

He didn’t wait for an answer, continuing to talk as his mind worked furiously trying to determine the origin of the projection.  “What if the sliver’s supposed to be in the middle, that it’s projecting the hologram from a central point?  No, that’s just wreckage,I can see broken edges and tubing.  There’s got to be an origin point for this holo.”

He looked up at Ferahim.  “Well, what do you think?”  

“I think, the best sample would be the largest we can handle without a cargo sled”, Ferahim replied.  She was silent for a moment, then said, “We should be finding a way to communicate, or return towards the ship.  My reserves are at eight-point-four hours.  We’re almost four hours in spacewalk with no contact with the Emerald Flight.”

Rusty stopped searching the sliver, stood, and faced Ferahim.  “What?  Go back early, and miss all this romantic ambiance?  Spoilsport.”  He blipped his thrusters and returned to trying to determine the source of the hologram.   He coughed suddenly, firing the thruster hard when his hand clenched involuntarily.  grabbing at the surface to keep himself from spinning like a Catherine wheel away from the wreckage. 

Ferahim reached out and timed her grab expertly, snagging his ankle and suspending him in front of the sharp metallic sliver. Rusty bounced once against the wreckage, then floated up.  Ferahim held on, and slowly resisted the momentum. Rusty slowed firing his jets in short blips. Once they both stabilized, she released him and resumed her overwatch.

“Was it as good for you as it was me?”, Rusty said with a chuckle. 

“Only that it gave me something to do while I was bored and waiting for something to happen”, she replied dryly.

“Well I’m…hey, move over here with that cutter, I think I see a seam or something”, Rusty said excitedly.  He pointed down at the base of the sliver, a few inches from it.  “Cut here, go clockwise, and try to keep the same distance.”  He pointed again at the location.  “Right here.  I think it’s hollow underneath.”    

Ferahim looked where he pointed, then asked, “Are you certain?”  

“Pretty sure”, Rusty answered.  “When I bumped it, it gave a little, solid doesn’t give, hollow does.”

Ferahim hesitated a moment, then turned on the cutter, slowly bringing up the power until the target started peeling back from the heat.  She then slowly began to work a circle counter-clockwise around the sliver, keeping a meter away from the structure and the impaled hologram.

“Just why are we cutting it now?”, she asked him.

“In a few hours, when we reach the halfway point in our air supply.  I’m guessing they may send people out to check on us, since we’ve heard a big nothing because of the Morris cursed jamming”, Rusty said nonchalantly.  “I’d like to have something dramatic to show Cap, so I can have more time digging through all this treasure out here.”

“So, this is all for drama’s sake?”,  Ferahim said.

“It’s for having the ‘wow’ factor maxed out. Hasn’t anyone told you about a sales pitch before?  You want to sell ice water to eskimos, make it BIG.”  He gestured to the hologram, “That is ‘wow’ dialed to eleven.” 

Rusty said with a smirk “Drama, it isn’t just drama any more.”

“I’m sure it will be quite dramatic”, Ferahim said drily, as she  continued to burn a cut in the material with the laser.

“Angel on a stick”, Rusty said with a chuckle.   “Hard to find something more dramatic.”

“Indeed”, Ferahim said drily, sounding exactly like security chief Hawkes.

Really gonna have to find a way to get that old fossil to loosen up.  All these security people have no sense of humor…

#

Devereux ran her hand through her hair.   It’s not like we’re running out of time.  Even at half-supply they’re good for another four hours minimum.  The part I hate is not knowing for certain.

She moved over next to Elizabeth.  The First Officer was looking at her tablet and quickly pulling up data on drift, distance, and relative velocity of the shuttle and Emerald Flight.  Devereux noticed a box on the tablet that showed engine output and alignment between the tandem slipstream drives.  She misses getting her hands dirty, She mused. God knows I do.

“How are we on cargo space, Commander?”, Christine asked.

“Chop’s got twenty minutes left and he’ll have us six hundred cubic meters, sir”, Elizabeth replied crisply. 

Devereux suppressed a small smile.  The First had called it almost to the minute.  “Inform me when the shuttle’s docked, I want to take a look at what they brought back.”

“Yes, Captain.  I’ll do that”, Elizabeth said.  Devereux thought she could hear a faint bit of pride in the Commander’s voice.  She’s doing well,  all that cross-training has really helped her settle into being the First Officer.

She watched Elizabeth tap her tablet and the box opened to show Lt. Aruna.   “Commander?  If we’re staying in place for another hour, I’d like to cycle and filter the coolant for the slipstream cores.  It’s not critical, but cycling and filtering would give the new hands in engineering some experience.”  Elizabeth looked up towards her, and Devereux gave her a smile and nod.  Good idea, it’s not difficult and with nothing else to do, it keeps them from worrying.

“Go ahead, Commander,  Bridge okays the cycle and filter.  Make sure you’re done in one hour”, Elizabeth said.

“Yes, Commander, we’re on it”, Aruna replied, then cut the channel.

She looked over to Gho, who’d put on a pair of over the ear headphones, cutting out the ambient noise.  Her face showed concentration, and frustration in equal measure.  Devereux moved over towards Gho, noting that she seemed very absorbed in her work.  

She stopped by the communications board, then watched Gho’s fingers tap commands out like a concert pianist doing Beethoven.  She recognized a few of the algorithms as basic sound filters.  Everything else was a mass of numbers and figures she had no notion of.  

Continuing on, she walked past Hawkes’ security board, noting the simulations running.   Hawkes appeared deep in thought as he watched the displays flicker their information at the iron-haired lieutenant.  Where Gho had been a fiery frustration, Hawkes was ice and control.  His focus was intense, and devoid of any feeling.   When he gets like this, I’d swear an ice cube would have more emotion.  I wonder what in his life made him like this?

She ran her hand through her hair, giving a frustrated sigh.  Everyone was doing their job, it was up to her to stay out of the way and let them.  Time to be the square-jawed, heroic captain, instead of a nosy one.   She walked back to command deck with deliberate, unhurried strides that proclaimed her to be completely unruffled by the situation.

Give them a show and..  her musings were cut short by the communication officer’s sudden movement, tearing her headphones off then slamming them onto her cradle.  Gho looked up sheepishly at the captain.  Elizabeth arched an eyebrow, then waited for the Ensign to explain herself.

“Captain, the interference is getting stronger.  It’s beginning to impinge on the shuttle’s communications with us, and they’re only a couple hundred meters from the ship.  The power is pegging the filters,  I doubt anyone could hear us any more.”

“Understood ensign.  Keep trying to get through it.  I’m sure you’ll find an answer”, Devereux said.

“Shuttle one has Jefferies and Tao-tsu aboard, with about two hundred forty eight cubic meters of debris for study”, Elizabeth informed her.

“Good.  Have the shuttle return and secure the samples in the hold, and make sure the rescue team is ready to go”, Devereux said to Elizabeth.  

#

Hawkes finished the fifteenth hostile boarding simulation, saving off three for future practice.  He looked over to Captain Devereux, who was making a circuit of the stations.  Starting another simulation, and leaving it to run, he strode over to Gho’s board, and looked at the data boxes.  They showed a steady increase in strength over the last ten minutes, going from controllable with filtering to now interfering with all transmissions, and the level was still recorded as rising.

Hawkes tried to extrapolate the effects of the interference,  then realized his experience was inadequate to the task.  “Lieutenant, If the magnitude of the interference continues to rise, what are possible effects?”,  he asked her. 

Gho looked up at Hawkes, her frustration sliding away as she turned the idea over in her head.   After a long moment, she finally said, “I’m not certain, let me do some checking on that and I’ll get back with you, sir.”

Hawkes nodded, then returned to his own simulations once more.  His mind was spinning with the new information, trying to fit it to what he already knew.  It stayed a vague sense of foreboding.  It’s like trying to find my way in a thick fog.   

“This is like trying to see in a pea-soup fog”, Gho exclaimed in frustration.  Hawkes blinked in surprise.

Gho looked over at Hawkes, seemingly puzzled for a moment by his odd look, but she recovered herself and reported, “I’ve got a few simulations done, Lieutenant.  I don’t see any problems other than we’re going to be really deaf to traffic as long as we’re in the field, which is continuing to strengthen”, the ensign finished.

“Do you have any theories as to why the field has changed from stable to this?”, Hawkes asked her.  “Maybe it doesn’t like us?”, Gho said irritably.   She then looked up at Hawkes.  Perhaps I have been too insistent on this problem. 

“Sorry, sir”, Gho said with a frustrated sigh.   Hawkes nodded to her.  “This is a unique problem”, he said.  

Gho straightened her shoulders, then focused on her board again.  “Forget conventional, I’m going to find..”, she trailed off, then punched up the fleet quantum effect channel.  The resulting squeal of interference had Gho snapping the speakers off with an angry stab of her finger against the comm board.  “That’s impossible!”, she said disbelievingly.  “Quantum entanglement isn’t something you can jam with interference, there’s nothing to jam”, She said, and took a deep breath.  

“Explain”, Hawkes said.

“Quantum Entanglement doesn’t work typically at faster than light speeds, it’s limited by the collapse of the quantum state over distance”, Gho said, warming to the subject.

She looked up at Hawkes, who nodded.  She returned the nod, and continued.  “Our communications takes advantage of stepping out of phase with this dimension, like stepping through a door to hand a note to someone.  We shouldn’t have any interference unless there’s something out of phase nearby, then it’s like two people trying to fit through door at the same time and getting jammed tight.”

The jamming indicates another source is close enough to create this?”, Hawkes asked, his whole being focused on her.

“That’s the only way we’d get this kind of interference”, Gho replied, “But where it is I have no clue. Theoretically, it could even be out of phase and still affect communications.”

“How would you identify such a source, within the jamming it produces?” , Hawkes asked her.  

“That I don’t know for certain.  There’s theories, but I haven’t read of anyone figuring out how to make one in the first place.  I don’t know even if near means, well, near.  It’s beyond anything I know.”  She chuckled bitterly as she turned back to the comm board and began trying new sequences of filters.  “Just when you think the universe is figured out”, she  said and put her hands together, then splayed her fingers out.  “Pffft!  It blows everything crazy.”

#

Hope watched the samples ushered in through the overhead doors into the hold.   Can this be evidence of a new race?  I must see these organic parts.  There may be something I can use in my own research.  Fortunately though, the medical bay did have enough equipment to study and test the supposed organic components.  I will request a piece for study.  The captain will approve it, she told herself.  Her jaw twitched slightly.  She turned her head left to observe sthe  Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle.  

Both men were sitting in their seats, strapped in and,, to her eyes, to her eyes, sleeping soundly.  Humans are confusing. There is potential danger, yet they sleep.  She glanced away and out a port side window as she pondered how sleep seemed so easy for humans, when she sat upright, her attention focused.  Both men sat up simultaneously, instantly awake and looking about.  

“I perceive movement”,.  Hope said as she continued to look out the window.  

“I don’t see anything, Doc”, Sykes said, “Where are you looking?”  The two men crowded next to Hope, trying to see what had caught her attention. 

“That rock”, she said, pointing with her hand,  “See?”

“Ma’am, no I don’t see anything”, said Sykes, an awkward tone in his voice. She continued to indicate a point out in the field.

“There. Movement.”

Pryafox was looking back, and Hope thought she heard some kind of whimpering noise.  She thought it might be more laughter from him.  He is uncomfortable close to me.  No matter, not my concern.  Her focus was on the small dot of lighter black moving against the deep black background of deep space.  “Have you got any binoculars in this crate, ‘Fox?”, Tuggle said.

“Look in that wall locker behind your seat, Tug.  I think there’s one in there, or one of the other lockers.”   Hope didn’t turn, and kept her eyes  focused on the moving speck.  “It is approaching”, she said, as she heard Tuggle rummage in the locker.  “Found ’em.  Now let’s see what the Doc thinks she’s seeing”, he said as he moved back to the window and raised the magnifiers. 

Hope raised her arm, hand aimed at the moving speck.

“It is there.”, she said.   

“I see some movement,”, Pryafox said over the comm.  “Telemetry’s still blind as a bat.  It isn’t picking up anything out there.”

“I don’t…wait yeah, it’s something moving all right.  I’m going to dial this up bit and see…. it’s suits… the Chief and the Lieutenant.  I’m betting money on it,”, Sergeant Tuggle said. 

“Looks like we don’t have to go searching for them after all”, Sergeant Sykes said, then sighed in irritation, “I can hardly wait to get out of this suit, damn thing makes me itch.”

“Lose weight”, Hope said absently without looking back.  What is that third object?  It’s nothing like the other two.  Is it leading them?  “Hey Doc, what’s the big idea saying I’m fat?”, Sykes said in a shocked voice.  Pryafox and Tuggle chuckled.  Hope ignored them, and the background noise faded away as she focused on the moving specks.

 “There are three”, she said finally.   “Yeah, a light one leading the other two”, Tuggle said.  Hope shifted to make herself more comfortable looking out the window.  

Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the bright lights, and noticed the figures had altered course directly towards them now.  “Opening overhead doors”, shePryafox said, andas Hope unbuckled from her seat. HopeShe put her helmet back on and sealed it, then headed for the airlock.  

“I think that front one has … wings?”, Tuggle said.

  “The Chief did said say something about an angel, before everything went buggy”, Pryafox said over the hissing comm,. ”You think he’s bringing it back? Is it even them?  This static is messing all my telemetry up.”

  “I don’t know”, Tuggle replied, over a faint crackling static.  “But whatever it is, we are going to find out soon enough.” 

Once the airlock cycled, she moved to the center of the bay, and waited as the overhead doors opened.  Her eyes searched, and spotted the movement immediately against the dark background.  The specks moved closer and gradually enlarged enough to be recognized by Hope as the Chief and Lieutenant Ferahim.  As the figures moved closer, the third figure did look vaguely like an angel, impaled like some sacrifice on a jagged piece of material. Unease began to fill her as the figures made their way to the shuttle. Why do I feel…tense?  There is …anticipation?  Fear?  I don’t understand this sensation.  

The interference flooded everything with its hissing, crackling presence.  Radio communications in their suits had slowly degraded over the last fifteen minutes until communications were only possible over about twenty meters or less.  Beyond that range, all comm channels drowned in static.  

Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle joined Hope in the bay, waiting for the Chief and Lieutenant Ferahim to arrive.  Both men had anchored their rescue equipment back to the bay walls, ready for use if needed.  Lt. Ferahim entered the bay just ahead of Rusty, both of them blipping their thrusters to bleed off velocity.   The Lieutenant landed awkwardly, her momentum off-balance from the large chunk of interlocking tubes and wires.  The Chief Engineer was much slower, firing his thrusters in rapid spurts to bleed off velocity.  He deftly maneuvered the meters long jagged spike with the hologram at the end to a gentle landing on the deck.

The hologram pulsed, becoming opaque, then nearly transparent in rapid flashes.  Hope walked forward, seemingly mesmerized by the flickering picture.  I…feel this one…I feel her.  She is…in pain.  Hope reached her hand out towards the hologram, feeling as if she was under some compulsion greater than herself.   I want this..and I am afraid.  Her hand trembled as it curled to grasp the wrist of the hologram.  “What in the name of Morris are you doing, Doc?”, Rusty said.  Hope only registered his words as a soft buzzing in the background of her perceptions, so intense was her focus on the image in front of her.

Her hand brushed the image, and her mind was flooded with a white hot blast of sensation and received a blast of pain that staggered her..  Against her will, her hand gripped a now-solid wrist, and pulled. Her hand closed, and, on instinct, she pulled, trying to get away from the source.  Her entire being was on fire, She felt a tearing sensation, as if her body was being torn open.  She pulled harder, desperate to escape the sensation.  She screamed, or thought she did, as raw agony tore through her,  only to wash over her again, like the heated breath of a volcano.  Her hand was locked on the wrist now, and she began to pull.   I must do this!  I must … The  pain roared back into her, and she felt her blood boil, then snuff out, only to burst to steam in her veins, then go cold as space.  Oddly, her heart slowed, its beat flowing through her, stifling the pain  .  It must be done. This is written, and there is no failure.  She pulled with her whole being.  There was a tearing sensation, muffled by her heartbeat.  She felt it as if through a soft haze,  aware of the pain, but only as a slight pressure on her mind.

The pain suddenly quit, like a light being turned off.  She collapsed backwards, falling to the ground,.  She took making her take Taking deep gasping breaths, as she tried to remember/focus on the rapidly fading memories and sensations.  A sharp cramp in her hand made Hope realize that it the sense of holding something in her hand still  was curled around something, solid, and warm.  Hope opened her eyes to find she had hold of a wrist.  She traced from her hand along the arm, to the body.  A limp figure in white, with white wings and flame red hair lay on the deck at her feet.  She’d dragged the hologram/creature off the spike.  

“By the Morris!  What just happened?”, Rusty said disbelievingly.  

“Shuttle One, come in. The interference is gone at our end., Can you receive?”, came came Ensign Gho’s voice over the suit  comms.

“Yes, we hear you”, Pryafox said.  “Never mind that, Emerald Flight!” Rusty shouted.  “We’ve got a, Morris take me …, we have a survivor! , she’s here!”

 

Radecki/Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 9 – Fancy Footwork

( From what I remember we were cycling though these chapters about every three days for about two weeks, then reality and other priorities caught up with us.  There is a small easter egg in this chapter.  See if you can find it.  I’ll put up what it is in the next posting.  Happy Hunting!  😉  )

 

An Angel?  What is he talking about?  “..ridge…..opy?”  Elizabeth shifted her feet, and snuck a quick glance back at the captain.  Devereux was working to hide an amused smile as she listened to the Chief.   She turned back to the viewscreens and said, “Chief, what’s your status?”  A strong burst of static drowned any reply.  

If the Chief’s cracking jokes, Elizabeth thought, then they must be all right. 

She moved her shoulder tenderly, then caught herself and rolled her arm like it wasn’t hurting.  When I need to be at one hundred percent, I’m not.  Her attention was brought back to the situation at hand as the captain spoke.  “Chief, if you are hearing this, get yourself and Lieutenant Ferahim back here.”   

Devereux looked over to Elizabeth.  “Keep working at getting through the static.  I’ll feel better when they are out of that interference.”  Elizabeth caught the very faint French accent that crept into the captain’s voice.  

I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am.  

Elizabeth broke from her musings as the Science specialist spoke.  “I think there’s a pattern to the interference.”  She looked over to the lieutenant.  “Show me, screen one display.” She waited as the display shifted, then showed a chart of the interference intensity. 

The graph showed rapid fluctuations that appeared to Elizabeth to have no pattern.  “Don’t look at the little spikes, look at the overall … wait, let me fill it in.   The lieutenant tapped at his station, then the spikes were overlain with a solid color, and the pattern showed itself as a long undulating wave.  “What is your opinion to the cause?”, Elizabeth asked him.  Captain Devereux looked over to the science station as she waited for his reply.  

Elizabeth was thinking furiously.  A regular pattern isn’t seen unless it’s something like a pulsar spinning, then it appears to pulse.  The only regular patterns are in living things or a  She blinked as the realization came to her.  “I think it’s a beacon”, she blurted out.  

She saw  Gho’s face shift as the implication of the pattern became clear to her as well.  Devereux looked over to Hawkes.  “Have the crew stand to stations.  Prep the shuttle for launch.  I want to be ready if we get visitors”, Devereux said. 

“This is Shuttle one, voice check”, came lieutenant Pyrafox’s voice. 

“Check confirmed, Elizabeth replied immediately.  Start launch preparations.”  

“Starting launch prep, aye”, came the lieutenant’s voice.  

Devereux said tersely, “Tsu-tao, are you and the Jefferies receiving the Chief any better than we are?”  

“We hear you, the Chief’s signal is very distorted.  He’s hard to make out”, replied the Ensign. 

“Are you receiving any telemetry from their suits?” asked Elizabeth.  

“Some, reception is very erratic”, replied Tsu-tao.  

“Acknowledged, stand by”, said Devereux.

“Sir, Jefferies and I could move further into the field and see if we can receive the Chief’s transmissions more clearly.”  

Elizabeth looked over to the captain.  Devereux looked to Elizabeth, then shook her head, then turned to talk with Hope again.  

Elizabeth tapped the ‘transmit’ key. “Hold your position for now.  We’re considering options”, She said.  

What did he mean by an angel?, Elizabeth wondered.  In spite of the tension on the bridge, her curiosity had her returning to what the chief said, and turning it over in her head.  Knowing the Chief, it might be anything.

#

How did this get here, and , how in the name of Morris do I find what is projecting this image in all this floating junk?  The debris field had been difficult to navigate.  Pieces of rock, scrap, and unidentifiable debris floated in a loose cloud throughout the central area.  Both he and Ferahim had to take it slow, making a number of small corrections to avoid some of the larger, and more dangerous looking pieces or wreckage.  The large chunk of rock at the center drew at him. The white light  that flickered against the dark, lightless background, struck him with images of a candle in a window, lighting the way home.

The flickering image floated close to the surface of the asteroid, with a large piece of what looked like a thick, irregular sliver piercing the image and embedded in the rock.  The hologram was huddled, arms crossed in front of its face, as if it was trying to protect itself from something. The wings were feathered, white, and  partly furled around the body, protectively, like the crossed arms.  Rusty guessed the wingspan was somewhere around four meters tip to tip. The ‘hair’, or something like hair, shown with a bright copper sheen as his suit lights illuminated it, creating a halo of color around the head of the creature.  

   She. It, must have been caught in the blast and…he shook his head then snarled to himself. Snap out of it Rayna, it’s a Holo, not anything else.  This looks like someone’s idea of an old rock music-slash-video vixen, or a kinky alien date.  Maybe something a guy would dream up after a few too many.

Lieutenant Ferahim landed just ‘uphill’ from Rusty and the hologram.  With her feet against the rock, she hovered at a near right angle to the chief, some five meters away.  His feeling of unease at the tableaux in front of him was echoed by Ferahim through the comm.  “Chief, wha …ou doing?”  The interference was intense.  The suit speakers were constantly crackling in his ears.  His suit camera had   “Just hold on, lieutenant.  I want to look this over, I think we can take it back with us.  We can use it for holo- night.”  

He shook his head and chuckled, then began to look carefully around the image.  If it’s a hologram vid, that means the projector’s here somewhere.  The hand held scanner was useless due to the intense interference, so he turned a slow circle, scanning the cloud of small debris for something, anything that might be projecting the image.  “Lieutenant, do you see any projector near here?  I want to know what’s making this hologram.”  “No …ief”, she said, “Noth …t all.”

Rusty sighed dramatically, then looked down at the image.  “Don’t go away hun, I’ll be right back”, Rusty said to the flickering image.  The two carefully searched the rock around the hologram for any activity.  The scanners were useless due to the high interference, so the search was slowed appreciatively.  After ten minutes of careful searching, they were no closer to finding the origin of the hologram.  “Take a break, darling, while I think about this”, Rusty said with a roguish smile, trying to break the lieutenant’s ice-like demeanor.  Ferahim didn’t react, turning and blipping her thrusters to move her up to the top edge of the rock.

“Chief…up here, now.”  came the static-filled hum of the lieutenant’s voice. Her voice had him suddenly scanning the field for movement.  He suddenly felt exposed, and alone.  To cover his discomfort, he fired his thrusters to floating swiftly up next to the lieutenant, brushing against the sliver impaling the hologram.  Once next to her, she pointed down the backside of the asteroid.  

His eyes followed her finger down  the rock, and to the unmistakable shape of a burn nozzle poking out of  a cloud hanging debris.  His mind whirred as he looked around him mentally noting pieces and striving to fit them like a giant puzzle together.  “This isn’t a debris field”, he said excitedly, “it’s wreckage.”     Ferahim was on full alert, scanning the area, her weapon unlimbered and ready for use.  “Come on lieutenant, don’t tell me that old fossil has you ready to shoot then ask questions”, Rusty said disparagingly as he watched Ferahim study the field.

“Seeing trouble coming first saves more trouble finding you”, she replied, as her helmet turned to face him.  “Hey, was that a dig?”, he chuckled.  “It’s been a while, oh like about two hours, since anyone called me trouble.”  The attempt at a roguish shrug of the shoulders was stymied by the zero-g suit and thruster nozzles.  “You get to know me better and you’ll find I’m not near the mild-mannered engineer I appear to be”

#

Captain Devereux grimaced at the continuing lack of information.   She shook her head, then looked over to her First Officer who was conversing with Gho at the science station.  Elizabeth chose that moment to look up, and her cheeks reddened at the apparent scrutiny.  She shifted the datapad from one hand to the other and rolled her shoulder.  Devereux caught the slight hitch and wince Elizabeth tried to hide.

Toughing it out.

She turned to Hope once more.  “Any ideas that come to mind, Hope?”  Hope stared impassively at her for a long moment before answering.  “It is extensive”, she finally said quietly.    Devereux nodded.   She turned to the communication station, where Hawkes and the science officer had resumed efforts to find a working frequency.  He looked up at her, then shook his head very slightly before looking down again.

“Shuttle One, what’s your status?”, Devereux said, tersely.

“Shuttle One is one minute from launch-ready, Captain”, came Pryafox’s reply.  His Cajun accent garbled by interference and the shape of his jaw and throat.  “Cycling through the last check routines now.  Downloading the latest updated maps of the field, such as we can get.  That interference is going to make this interesting.”

“Keep it as uninteresting as you can, lieutenant.  The Fleet would frown on me if I have to requisition another shuttle and Navigator”, Devereux replied.

“Can do and will do, Captain. Careful is my middle name.”

Everyone is a comedian,  Devereux thought to herself, a small smile forming on her lips.  The Chief’s rubbing off on the crew.

Hawkes stepped away from the communication station, and approached her.  He straightened, then stated, “Captain, the interference is too much for communications.  With its full spectrum of interference, we can only maintain contact for a few seconds on any given frequency.  Cycling frequencies does not solve the problem either.  The interference is continuously making random pattern changes.”

Devereux sighed, running her hand through her short, blonde hair.  “Were you able to get any kind of information back when you did get a signal?   “No, captain”, Hawkes said. She then turned to Hope.  “Send a medic to the shuttle to join Pryafox, he should be ready for launch.” She shifted to face Hawkes again.  “Lieutenant, keep trying to make contact, we may get lucky.”   Hawkes’ carefully neutral face told her he didn’t expect to get lucky at all.  

Hope nodded, and said, “I will go”.  She headed to the shuttle bay, while Hawkes returned to the communications station.  Devereux looked over to navigation, and then to the science, hoping that one might give her an insight to the situation.  All she saw were earnest young faces, doing what they were trained to do.

She listened to the snippets of conversation,  “Trying suite thirty-one to thirty-six megaherz” …”Keep the drift constant, we’re building a slow yaw” … “Try forty-one to fifty” … “mapping complete to twenty percent of centroid.”

“Shuttle One reporting. The Doc’s aboard, We’re just waiting for the extra medical supplies”,  Pryafox said over the comm.

“Acknowledged, report ready when the equipment’s secured”, she replied.

Elizabeth looked up, then to the Captain.  Devereux shook her head.   I hate making them wait, but there’s no proof they’re in trouble yet.  The Chief’s as resourceful as he is a pain-in-the-butt.  I’ll give them a little more time.

She then looked over to Hawkes, who was still in conversation with Gho.  “Anything new to report, lieutenant Hawkes?” she queried.  “No captain, nothing successful as yet”, replied Hawkes.  Christine nodded, then turned to the screens again.

#

Hawkes looked back to  Gho. She looked up, then back to her board, and said,  “I’m going to military channel-skipping, that’s my last gasp at finding a hole in all that noise.  It’s just too strong and it’s too pervasive through the range we’re set up for.  Theoretically, if we could transmit in the nano-wave range, or very long-wave, we might find something.  Gho lifted her hands off the surface and placed her fists together, then pulled them apart, fingers splayed out.  “Pfft, we’re deaf until they get back in range or the jammer, if there is one, is shut down.

Hawkes watched Gho’s frustration.  He understood it, and didn’t remark on her dramatic gesture.  He looked up to the screens,  and closed his eyes as he took a calming breath. There is no standard response to a non-standard situation.  What is needed is a non-standard answer.

In spite of the stress, he maintained the same impassive controlled demeanor he always did.  There IS a method to defeat this.  He reached his hand up to the side of his head, then stopped.  His deliberate steps slowed as he turned over every method so far attempted, trying to find a flaw or a derivation that might give a way to communicate with Lieutenant Ferahim and the Chief Rayna.  Every situation he could remember was considered for anything that might apply.  

His focus had been on security, not rescue.  He had cross-training implemented, and all of his tactical and security teams were able to fill in where needed in engineering, maintenance, emergency medical, damage control, and communications.  Experience is only gained on the job, training works only for being trained. Hawkes’ pacing slowed until it looked like he was moving in slow motion, each step taking seconds to complete.  His cheek muscles clenched, his head snapped up.  Hawkes stood completely still, eyes locked forward as if peering at some distant scene.

After a few seconds of absolute stillness, he resumed a brisker pace, his tense muscles visibly relaxing as he returned to Gho’s side at the Communication console.  The Captain and First Officer watched him as he moved to the Science officer’s side. When in doubt, ask the expert.

“What have we not considered as communications, Ensign?”, Hawkes asked her.

Gho looked at her console, clenched her fists, and then opened them.  “What about pitching a rock with a note attached to it?”, she said.

Hawkes paused, then looked down at Gho.  “That kind of accuracy would need a targeting assist”

Gho looked up into his impassive face, and seemed completely at a loss to how she should reply.  The pause stretched out for a few moments, until Hawkes raised his eyebrows, and queried,  “Ensign?”  

She fidgeted uncomfortably, then answered, “I…I don’t know.”    

“Try cycling the series with the apparent modulation cycle of the interference,” he suggested.  Hawkes looked at the screen then down again.  “If we match our signal to the intensity variation, we may be able to…”   The speakers squealed with ear splitting feedback.  Everyone on the bridge clapped their hands, filled or not, to their ears, trying to shut out the painful squeal.  Gho quickly cut the speakers and fed the transmission through her console.  The interference peaked then dropped back to a quieter hiss.

Gho shook her head and waited a moment to let her ears quit ringing.  “Cycling attenuates it, sir,” she said in frustration.

He nodded, his mind focused on trying to correlate this latest failure with the other attempts.  “Noted.  Continue your study of the phenomena.”

Hawkes returned to Tactical.  He began running a number of potential security exercises through the computer as he worked at breaking his obsession with finding a communications solution.   He focused on his board as it returned potential scenario results.

He could hear the captain’s measured stride as she approached and stopped just behind him.  “Lieutenant, who besides Lieutenant Ferahim has EVA experience in security?”, Devereux asked.   Hawkes stopped, focusing on the request, then brought up a list of security personnel.  There were six others with EVA experience, though two had more than the rest.  Sergeants Sykes and Tuggle.  “Sykes and Tuggle have a number of EVA missions,  I recommend them as first choice for another EVA team”, Hawkes said as he turned his head to address the captain.

“Have them report to the shuttle, and kitted out for rescue.  If the Chief’s and Ferahim’s  estimated air supplies drop past a third remaining, I want them to be ready to go collect the two of them,” Devereux said.  Hawkes noticed her face was pinched slightly.  She’s worried.  He straightened and turned fully to face Captain Devereux.  “I will make certain they’re ready on time, Captain.”  Devereux looked at Hawkes, then ran her hand through her hair, saying,  “I’m sure they will be.”

#

Hope supervised the installation of the portable diagnostic table and the walk-through scanner in the cargo hold.   Once secured, she used security officers Sykes and Tuggle to test the scanner, using them to check its functions and see if it needed calibration after the move.  The tests showed no deviation from it’s baseline settings, so Hope set it to standby and checked the diagnostic table.   Satisfied that both pieces of equipment were ready, she assisted the loading of the extra medical supplies: anti-radiation drugs, hydration packs, and tissue repair nanites for vacuum damage.  She had also brought bone knitters, though chances of their use were low.

Once the supplies were secured, she walked from the cargo bay to the pilot deck, where Pryafox was sitting back with old-style over the ear headphones on.  Sykes and Tuggle were at the back sitting in two of the crew seats, listening to the music.  To Hope, the noise was a cacophonous mix of sound in a scale that was jarring and at odds with her senses.  “That’s one amazing piece of music”, Tuggle said,  a large smile on his face.  “Something raw, and honest.  Where’d you get it, Fox?”   Pryafox gave Tuggle a openmouthed grin and tapped the headphones off, then lowered them to hang around his neck. “Tha saom good ol’ blooz rahk muzak.  Got that fum a 2005 rad-eee-oh broadcast.  Love det stuff”, he said, playing up his cajun accent, getting laughs from both Sykes and Tuggle.

“Is that tribal music?,  Hope remarked.  All three men blinked as one, and turned to Hope.  She noted that their glances seemed to register astonishment at her observation.  “Well, ah, y’see”, Pyrafox seemed at a total loss to answer her question.  He finally gave up and chuckled.  “Y’all maht be raht onna dat”, he said in his exaggerated Cajun accent, as both Sykes and Tuggle listened, chuckling.

She stood absolutely still for a number of seconds, then moved to sit down in the co-pilot’s seat. She buckled into the safety harness.   “I am ready”, she said tersely.  Pryafox shut the music off, and waited for Sykes and Tuggle to strap themselves in.  He half-turned to Hope and saluted crisply.  “Certainement!  Shuttle one taxi is ready to go.”  he grinned and checked his safety harness.  He slipped the headphones back over his ears, and Hope could hear another dissonant mix of sound emit faintly from them.  She wondered if it had any religious significance, and why a devil would go to someplace called Georgia.

Hope listened with detached interest to Jefferies excited discourse over the comm.  “We need to go deeper into the field, get more core samples”, he said over the comm.  “This really should be marked and studied.   A full quarter of this debris field appears to be non-natural!  I’m seeing what look like parts of a ship, or a number of ships.  This is a treasure trove of data.  This has to be a research priority.  I’ve never gotten results like these before.  There’s organics mixed with the metals, and silicon.  It’s like … like nothing I’ve ever seen!”

As she waited for the shuttle to launch, she brought up Jefferies vitals on her portable screen.  Her misgivings in allowing him to go EVA prompted her close scrutiny of his vitals.   The baseline readings had not changed appreciably.  Oxygen intake was half-again what a standard rate should be, along with elevated blood pressure, and slightly labored breathing. Nothing of immediate concern.  She noted a new regimen for a dietary restriction on carbohydrates and extra time at physical conditioning, attaching the notes to his profile for the colony medical staff. 

“Is there any way to identify who made it?”, Captain Devereux said.  

“I’m a xeno-geologist, Captain.  I wouldn’t know a Arctican ship from a Heftaur one.  Rocks I know, and most of this field is not rock”, Jefferies replied.  “Besides, most of this wreckage reads as organic.   I don’t know anyone who builds a ship like that outside of old science fiction books”

“Understood,  Devereux said. She stopped, for a moment, then said, “See if you can find samples of the wreckage small enough to handle, and bring it on board the shuttle”,

“Aye aye, captain”, Tao-tsu replied.

“Hope, make certain everything goes through decon procedures.”

“Yes”, Hope replied.  Organics. Proteins.  Some of these are artificial designs.  This trace is a protein of a viral transfer coat.  This is chitin, and myelin, and pure carbon traces. What race uses material like that for ships?  Could there be something applicable to my experiments?  I have to get some samples to study in detail. There was an odd familiarity to the material that disturbed her.

The shuttle was given the green light to launch.  Pryafox deftly maneuvered the shuttle from its bay, using short, delicate pulses of the maneuvering thrusters.  He let the shuttle drift about two hundred meters away from the ship, then fired a braking sequence so that the shuttle was rock-steady off the port side of Emerald Flight. Pryafox looked over to Hope.  “Any closer, Doc, an’ we’ll be in the field, an’ that makes maneuvers a little tricky.”   Hope and Pryafox unbuckled.  Hope donned the zero-g suit, with Pryafox assisting her.  While the suits could be worked by just one person, loading extra equipment on them was slow without help.  “Thank you”, she said to Pryafox when they finished.

Pryafox gave the seals a second check, then grinned, showing Hope a thumbs up.  He moved back into the cockpit, closed the airlock door, then began to depressurize the cargo area.  The hiss of air escaping faded rapidly.  Once the bay read zero atmosphere,  the large overhead doors opened.  Hope moved to the main bay, and switched the portable med table and walk-through scanner from ‘stand-by’ to ‘active’.  

“Hey, how you all doing with the collecting out there?”, Pryafox said over the comm.  “The Doc’s ready and waiting.”

“We’ve got the first piece,” Tao-tsu answered. “It looks like some melted stuff.  Pretty light compared to some of the rocks mixed in.  This looks like it’s pretty representative.  What do you think, sir?”

Jeffries took a moment to reply.  “It looks pretty much like most of them, burned and melted.  I’m going to poke around a bit.”

“Check your tether first, sir.”  

“Oh, yes, right.  My tether.”  Jefferies was silent for a moment.  “How’s my tether?”

“You’re fine, though fifty meters isn’t going to let you near any of that other stuff,  this is one spread out bunch of junk.  Emerald Flight,  just how big is this field, again?”, Tao-tsu asked.

“Our telemetry had it at five kilometers at its short axis, and eight on the long axis”, Eleizbeth replied.

“I wonder if all of this is one ship or more.”, Tao-tsu, said.

Hope tuned the chatter out and reviewed the sensor data.  Tao-tsu and Jefferies were tethered a half-kilometer into the field. The radiation counter detected only the slight background radiation of deep space.  Neither Jefferies or Tao-tsu were in any danger from radioactivity.  The concern was the organics that were there. Among the traces were proteins that were found in viruses. The suits were proof against any disease or parasites, but only so long as they didn’t remove them.  Full decontamination would be required as a safety precaution.

“Tao-tsu, how do I work this tether? Oh, got it.  Let’s go to that big piece over there.  I think we can push it back to the shuttle”, Jefferies said eagerly.

“You bring a big piece back, you take care gettin’ it in my shuttle.  Don’t scratch the paint”, Pryafox said with a yipping chuckle.

“Everyone’s a comedian”, Jefferies said in reply, though Hope heard a small laugh in his voice in spite of the gruff sound.

“Shuttle overhead doors open,  you can bring your souvenirs to the doc.  She’s waiting”, said Pryafox.

“On our way.  See you soon, Shuttle One”,  Tao-tsu finished.

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight : Star Wing – Chapter 8 – Objects in Motion

Elizabeth stared at the augmented image on the screen, trying to make sense of it. Although the object remained indistinct, it was clearly not a fragment of an obliterated asteroid. What it was, though, she had no idea.

“What do you make of that?” Devereux asked, directly her question primarily toward Hawkes.

“I’ve seen nothing like it before,” Hawkes replied. He studied his console, but made no further comments.

Devereux turned toward the Science station. “Anything?”

Gho consulted her console and then shook her head. “We’re still not reading it, Captain.”

“Is that what’s causing the interference?”

The Science officer tapped several controls on her station before lifting her hands away from it in frustrated surrender.

“I don’t know, Captain,” she sounding apologetic. “I can’t tell.” She gestured toward the main bridge displays. “It’s almost at the center of the interference field, so it might be.”

“Chief,” Devereux called over the open comm channel. “Can you zoom in any further?”

“All you like, Cap’n,” the Chief replied. “But I don’t think it’ll help you much.”

“Humor me,” Devereux said without rancor. “Give us another ten.”

A moment later, the screen was filled with the hazy image. As the Chief had warned them, it provided very little in the way of new information. Devereux turned toward the Science again, but Gho interrupted her before the Captain could speak.

“That’s the best the computer can do, Captain,” she stated. “There just isn’t enough data for it to extrapolate from.”

Devereux frowned, looking toward Hawkes and then at Elizabeth.

“Your assessment, Commander?”

Elizabeth fought not to let her surprise show.

“I think,” she said, hesitantly, trying to gather her thoughts into some organized fashion. “The Chief should go take a closer look.”

Devereux nodded slowly, giving her a faint smile. “I agree.” She tilted her head toward the main screens. “See to it.”

Elizabeth smiled back even as she swallowed hard.

“Chief,” she called out, trying to ignore the slight waver in her voice.

“Yep,” the Chief replied. “We’re still here. No one remembered to pack stuff for a coffee break.”

Elizabeth let the quip go unnoticed.

“Chief,” she repeated. “We need you to take a closer look at the object.”

“‘You’, meaning me, personally?” Even through the slight flattening effect of the comm channel, Elizabeth could tell that the Chief was toying with her.

She looked over at Devereux. The Captain waited patiently for Elizabeth to respond, giving her absolutely no indication of what she thought. Turning to face the main screens, Elizabeth studied the image, using those few moments to decide.

“You,” she answered aloud. “And a member of your team.”

In her mind’s eye, she could see the Chief’s smirk for having placed her in that spot fade as he considered his choices.

“All right then,” he agreed. There was a pause while he considered the situation. “Lieutenant,” he said, “we’re going for a nice romantic walk under the stars.” If Ferahim responded, it was obscured as the Chief continued. “Tsu,” he said. “Stay here with the professor and make sure he doesn’t hurt himself.”

“Yes, sir,” the engineer responded. Elizabeth could not tell solely by his tone over the comm channel whether he was disappointed or relieved.

#

Rusty stared out into the debris field. He could make out the object in the distance, although without any of the detail that the telescope had revealed.

Oh joy.

Still, he had to admit to being intrigued by the mystery of the object. It was scrambling their sensors, which probably meant that it was hiding something. That was the part that worried him. When someone went to that kind of effort, it almost always meant they had something to hide. Sometimes  it was only an effort to conceal pirated cargo behind a curtain of sensor static, but it always led to trouble.

“Check your tanks,” Rusty told Ferahim.

He verified the readings on his own. With a full charge, each suit should have enough air for at least twelve hours. They had been out for less than two.

“Air at eighty-six percent,” the attractive young Security officer replied. “All power systems are nominal.”

His own showed eighty-two percent, slightly less than he had hoped, but still within the expected range.

Must have been all that heavy lifting . . .

He moved over to inspect the safety lines for Tsu-Tao and Jeffries. He checked the fastenings, making doubly sure that Jefferies’ was secure.

Last thing we need is him floating off . . .

Tsu-tao, he knew, could handle himself. The ensign was a veteran of several EVA repair missions. He had not, Rusty recalled, enjoyed any of them, but he had done them. If Ferahim was having any issues, she was doing a superb job of hiding it.

“I’m thinking just our cameras and our portable sensors,” he said aloud. “That okay with you, Cap’n?”

There was a moment’s pause before the captain’s voice sounded in his helmet.

“Confirmed,” Devereux said. “Activate the data feeds before you head out.”

“Acknowledged,” Rusty replied.

He looked toward Ferahim and saw that she already had her sensor unit out. Rusty activated his own, waited until it was fully powered on, and then switched on its transmitter. A stream of data appeared along the lower edge of his helmet visor.

“Are you getting that, Bridge?”

“Affirmative,” Elizabeth replied. “Lieutenant, your . . . there it is.” There was a murmured conversation in the background before her voice returned. “We’re receiving data from both of you now, Chief.”

He looked up into the debris field again, peering at the position of their target.

“I don’t suppose anyone thought to bring a map?”

“‘X’ marks the spot, Chief,” Devereux remarked.

Rusty rolled his eyes.

Everyone’s a comedian . . .

“We’re sending you updated telemetry now, Chief,” Elizabeth reported. “Are you receiving it?”

Rusty checked his helmet display. The trio of location coordinates for the object changed slightly, just by a decimal place or two. Still, he knew it did not take much more than that to miss a target in deep space.

“I’ve got it,” he confirmed. “What about you, pretty lady?” she asked Ferahim.

“Updated coordinates received,” she replied, sounding disappointingly professional.

That old fossil really needs to lay off his poor people, Rusty observed silently, while trying to think of a snide remark to offer aloud to Hawkes.

Rusty checked the coordinates again, noting the distance and position of the mysterious object in their “sky”.

“I’m thinking a six-second initial thrust,” he mused aloud, not really caring if anyone agreed with him or not. “That should at least get us closer for some better readings.”

“Just keep it to a straight line,” Pryafox said. “We’re picking up some microgravity pockets along the periphery.”

“Just like bumper pool,” Rusty remarked.

In his mind, he could see both Devereux and Elizabeth reacting to that one: Devereux shaking her head and Elizabeth with wide-eyed dismay.

He turned to Ferahim. “Ready, Lieutenant?”

“Ready, Chief.”

“Okay then,” Rusty said, taking a deep breath. “Six seconds. On my mark . . .”

#

The image being broadcast from the Chief’s helmet camera changed. The objects ahead of him, particularly the oddly shaped construction, increased in size as he moved closer.

“. . . six! Disengage thrusters.”

“Thrusters off,” Ferahim acknowledged. “Confirmed.”

The speed at which images grew larger steadied, now that he was traveling at a constant velocity.

“Are you seeing this, Bridge?”

“Affirmative, Chief,” Elizabeth replied.

Devereux glanced over at her with a quick smile. The young Commander glowed under the silent praise.

“It doesn’t look any prettier from out here,” the Chief reported. “I think I saw something like it in a museum once. I don’t remember which one.”

Devereux’s interest was piqued. The object, what they could make of it, did not look familiar to her at all. Although there was a remote chance of any connection, it might still reveal a clue to its origin.

“The Boston Museum of Science? The NASA museum? The Sagan Observatory?”

“No,” the Chief answered abruptly. “I remember now. It was the Toyota-Ford World Wrestling Arena.”

“What was it doing there?”

“A piece of their ceiling caved in.”

Devereux was certain that she heard Pyrafox snicker. She stared hard at the back of his red-furred head, but he did not turn around.

Rolling her eyes, she sighed and looked over at Elizabeth. To her credit, her First Officer’s expression displayed a very straight face. The tension of that corners of Elizabeth’s jaws, though, told Devereux how hard she was working to maintain it.

“I suppose we should start taking some readings now or something. Huh, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir,” Ferahim answered promptly.

Devereux’s eyed turned toward the main Science station. They were already receiving automatic telemetry from the suit, but not the detailed readings there were looking for. The Chief and Ferahim were still too far away to see anything that the telescope back on the large fragment had not already shown them.

Muffled sounds came over the comm channel as the pair detached and readied their portable scanners. Few of the words were clear, but Devereux was certain that at least a half dozen of the ones coming from the Chief’s suit radio would be considered profane in at least three cultures.

“Okay,” the Chief finally reported. “We’re ready. Transmitting now.”

 “Bring them up on Screen Three, split screen,” Devereux instructed Gho.

The image flickered and then two almost identical computer-rendered images formed at the top and bottom of the bridge display. Each seemed filled with a thin haze, preventing any real details from being seen.

Devereux looked toward Gho, but the Science officer just shook her head.

“Can you adjust your resolution?” Elizabeth asked.

“You seem to think I know how to work this blasted thing . . .”

Devereux suppressed a slight smile. The Chief was determined to keep up the appearance of being just a overranked deckhand—despite the fact that he knew how to repair and operate nearly every piece of equipment aboard their ship.

“There,” he said, his voice crackling slightly. “I think I’ve got it.” His voice dropped and Devereux assumed that he was conferring with Ferahim. “Is that any better?”

Devereux studied the images on the screen. To her eyes, it looked about the same as before, perhaps even less defined. She turned her head to get Elizabeth’s and Gho’s opinion. Their expressions told her that they shared her appraisal.

“It actually looks worse, Chief,” she told him.

She Devereux had held no doubts about the profane content of his the Chief’s next words.

“Bridge,” Ferahim’s soft, lyrical tones sounded over the comm channel through a thin haze of static. “I have adjusted my scanner. Has the image improved?”

Devereux looked toward the far right bridge display, seeing that the ensign’s readings appeared on the lower half of the screen. It looked no different from the images being created from the Chief’s scanner.

“It’s not any better, Ensign,” Devereux replied. “Sorry.”

There was a short burst of sound that might have been profanity from the Chief again, but it was too garbled to tell for certain.

“Bridge,” the Chief said, a little more clearly, “we might . . . need you to . . .”

Muted hisses of noise swallowed the rest of his words.

#

“Chief,” Devereux said. “Repeat your message. We lost your transmission at the end there.”

“Bridge,” the Chief’s voice burst from the speakers, but it was awash in interference.

He is either shouting, or has boosted his signal gain. Perhaps both.

The Captain turned to Hawkes. “I want to see their positions.”

Hawkes tapped the necessary controls on his console. The locator grid on Screen One reappeared, showing the Chief’s and Ferahim’s positions.

“Their suits are still transmitting,” the Captain reported. Her relief was apparent.

“They function on a much higher wavelength,” Hawkes reminded her. “Due to the likelihood of just such a phenomenon.”

Devereux flashed him a tight-lipped look of irritation and then gestured for him to take over communications.

“Chief Rayna . . . Ensign Ferahim, please respond,” Hawkes called out calmly. “We are not receiving your signal clearly.”

Several spurts of static answered him, but nothing that sounded intelligible. Hawkes replayed the message through the communication filters, designed for such situations, but they produced only one or two barely understandable words.

Hawkes’ lifted his head to look at the main bridge displays. The images being transmitted from the helmet cameras, while not clear to begin with, now showed ragged flashes of false color from across the spectrum. His eyes turned toward the locator grid. It still showed bright dots that represented the Chief Engineer’s and Lieutenant Ferahim’s positions. As he watched, though, even those began to flicker in intensity.

“Chief Rayna, Ensign Ferahim, please respond on this frequency,” Hawkes called out calmly. “We are not receiving your audio signal.”

He was answered only by a steady hiss.

“Are you still getting medical telemetry?” Devereux asked, turning toward Hope.

Hawkes turned to look as well. He could see that her readings were now as erratic as the other signals.

“Inconclusive.”

“But they’re alive?” Devereux asked. Hawkes heard the urgent need for confirmation in her voice.

“They were,” Hope replied. “Readings are now unreliable.”

Devereux frowned, concern evident on all of her features. She stared at the trio of main screens, assessing the situation. Hawkes saw her make her decision. She turned calmly toward Elizabeth.

“Recall them,” she told her First Officer. “Send as much power through the comm grid as it can handle. See if you can punch a signal through.”

“Yes, Captain,” Elizabeth acknowledged, and began issuing the necessary orders to Engineering.

“Lieutenant,” the Captain turned back to Hawkes now. “Work with Lieutenant Gho to see if there are any communications frequencies that can penetrate that interference.”

“Yes, Captain,” Hawkes acknowledged the order swiftly.

He looked toward the main Science station. Everything in Gho’s body language betrayed her mounting anxiety.

She is young. Reassure her, he told himself. And then get to work.

He loaded a tablet with the data he needed and walked over to her.

“Lieutenant,” he approached her with detached calm, offering her the tablet. “Can you please verify these readings of the interference patterns of the field? I believe it would be more efficient for you to do so. It is not my area of expertise.”

Gho looked at Hawkes with unconcealed undisguised surprise, and then eyed the tablet warily caution. She accepted it, studying Hawkes’ expression. It, of course, revealed nothing more.

“I’ll get right on it, sir,” Gho answered diffidently.

“Please do so,” Hawkes said. “The Captain expects a prompt response.”

Gho swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.”

#

Hope manipulated the controls of the secondary Science console. Nothing she did, however, improved the integrity of the biostatistical data coming from the Chief Engineer’s and Security Lieutenant’s suits. Despite her efforts, the signals continued to degrade until the data they produced was meaningless. She had told the Captain the truth: the Chief Engineer and Security Lieutenant had been alive, and in nominal health, before the readings became distorted. She had no reason to believe that they did not still remain so. Still, she would have preferred intelligible readings that proved this to be true.

She looked at the Science station to see the Tactical Officer and Science Officer conferring, as the Captain had ordered them to. Turning toward the Captain, Hope saw in her solemn discussion with the First Officer. The Navigator’s attention, she noted, alternated between the images being displayed on the main screens and readings on his console. He remained tasked with keeping the vessel at its present coordinates. Of them all, Hope found that, with the remote life sign readings unavailable to her, she was only the one with no immediate function.

“Hope?” the Captain called to her, interrupting her silent assessment. Although mildly startling, she was relieved that her presence still appeared necessary.

“Captain.”

She approached the Captain and First Officer.

The Captain looked at her thoughtfully. “How long can the Chief and Lieutenant Ferahim survive in the middle of that field?”

Hope glanced back toward the life sign monitors to see whether they might now be functioning. They were not: gGarbled data still filled their screens. She turned back to face the Captain.

“While their suits function.”

Devereux frowned in surprise. “So they shouldn’t be affected by the interference fields or gravity pockets?”

“Simulations report no significant effects.”

“What about their suits?”

Hope stared at the Captain in surprise.

Her simulations had revealed no serious detrimental effects on human physiology as a result of exposure to the microgravity fields. As the proper functioning of the space suits fell neither in her area of responsibility or knowledge, she had not included their integrity as a factor in the simulations.

“That was not simulated,” she admitted.

The Captain’s frown deepened. “But their suits should protect them?”

“If they function, yes.”

The Captain turned to the First Officer. “Get me someone from Engineering,” she ordered, the urgency clear in her tone. urgently “I want to know whether that interference field can scramble more than the communications systems of those suits.”

“Right away, Captain,” the First Officer replied. Her expression revealed her growing anxiety.

“Lieutenant Hawkes,” the Captain said, turning to addressing the Tactical Officer. “Any progress on finding us a workable frequency?”

“Not yet, Captain,” the Tactical Officer reported. “We have, however, started are testing athe first set of possible frequencies.” He paused a moment before continuing. “However, the interference spans a large range of the electromagnetic spectrum and is not stable within that range.”

The Captain’s bright green eyes darkened with frustration. “Send some of your people out onto the hull with handheld lasers, if you need to. We need to regain contact with our people.”

The Tactical Officer faced the Captain evenly. His expression revealed almost nothing of his surprise at her uncharacteristic outburst.

“We will consider that option, Captain.” He waited until the Captain turned away to confer once more with the Science Officer.

The Captain stalked the deck of the bridge like a caged animal. Hope waited, observing her carefully when she stopped at the Navigation station.

“Lieutenant,” the Captain said, speaking to the Navigator now. “Get a relief down here. I want you in the shuttle in case we need to go in after them.”

“Aye, Captain,” the Navigator responded swiftly. His excitement was clearly evident. ”I’ll—“.

“Emerald Flight, we are receiving your transmission.” The Security Lieutenant’s voice was barely audible above the background wash of interference. Her statement was clear, though.

Relief was evident in the expression of every member on the bridge crew.

“We’ve established contact, Captain,” the Tactical Officer reported. “Although I cannot guarantee how long it can be maintained.”

 “Chief, Lieutenant,” Devereux called out, probably louder than was necessary, as if she hoped to penetrate the communications interference through the sheer strength of her voice alone. “What’s your status?”

Their first words were lost in a muted burst of static. It was unclear who had spoken them.

“. . . few meters from the . . .”

The rest of the response was washed away by a new wave of interference, Hope was certain that she heard distinct intonations indicating the Security Lieutenant’s voice. For several moments, nothing more was heard except for the irregularly pulsing hiss of the interference field.

“Bridge,” the Chief Engineer’s voice suddenly broke through. It sounded unusually subdued even through the muting effects of the interference. “I think we’ve gone and found ourselves an angel.”

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight: Star Wing – Chapter 7 – Coming Attractions

Elizabeth’s surprise mirrored what she saw reflected on the Captain’s face. It took only a moment for the implications of Gho’s announcement to sink in.

There’s been other ships out here before.

“Can you tell what type?” Devereux asked.

Gho’s uncertainty was evident when she shook her head again. “Not yet,” she said. “At least not for sure.”

The Captain looked toward the Tactical station with concern. Lieutenant Hawkes met get her glance squarely. Neither said a word, but Elizabeth was certain that some kind of communication had passed between them. She felt a twinge of jealousy at being left out.

Devereux turned to look at the main bridge displays.

“It will be difficult to detect slipstream events within the field,” Hawkes said aloud.

“I know,” Devereux replied, just barely loud enough to be heard. “Let’s hope it’s too dangerous for them to transition there.”

“That might explain the alloys,” Elizabeth offered.

Devereux looked at her thoughtfully.

“Do you want me to consult with Engineering?” Hawkes asked.

Elizabeth opened her mouth to answer, but Devereux cut her off.

“No,” she turned to Elizabeth. “I want you to,” she said. “Have them provide us with their best guess as soon as possible.” Her eyes held firmly onto Elizabeth’s. “Have them do the work. Keep it internal. We’ll inform the Chief, but he has enough to worry about at the moment without having manage that effort from a distance.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Devereux looked away.

Elizabeth took a slow breath and then headed for the main Science station to ask Gho for her latest readings. Her mind was already working on the problem, thinking through which sensor readings to focus on and how to set up the simulations.

Stop, she told herself. That’s not your job any more.

She felt a muted sense of loss at no longer being in the middle of tasks like that. Stealing a quick glance at Devereux, she wondered how the Captain managed it. She had seen the Captain on the deck, smeared with grime and lubricants, trying to repair a damaged console.

But that had been under battle conditions, with everyone else trying to keep the ship in one piece.

Sure, Elizabeth knew, the Captain got to make all of the important decisions. That was her job. Except when that kind of direct action was needed, though, it was starting to look like Captain’s job consisted of a lot of mindless paperwork—at least that which she did not foist off on her First Officer. Elizabeth began to wonder in earnest whether someday having a command of her own was what she really wanted.

Maybe having your own command isn’t everything it’s hyped up to be . . .

Elizabeth checked the Engineering duty roster and saw that the Chief had left Sanderson in charge. He was coming off duty, though, so she sent the orders to Aruna, who would be taking over the shift in less than thirty minutes. She included a copy of the sensor data, and then had to stop herself from annotating it with her own recommendations.

How does the Captain do it?

Devereux was thorough when she needed to be, Elizabeth recognized, but she never micro-managed her crew. She depended on them each to do their jobs, and assumed that they knew how do them. Elizabeth wondered if she could ever achieve that level of confidence and comfort with her colleagues.

You’d better, she warned herself. Or you’ll have the next crew in the fleet to mutiny.

As serious as the thought was, the relative absurdity of it brought a small smile to her face. It made her feel a little better about the entire situation. Looking down at her tablet, she studied the next set of requests coming in from various departments throughout the ship.

#

Rusty checked and double-checked that everyone’s safety lines were secure, including those attached to the equipment.

No one’s floating off into space on my watch . . .

With the slow speed that they would be traveling, along with redundant locator beacons built into their suits, there was little risk of losing anyone for more than a short time. Still, he was not taking any chances with the microgravity pockets. The last thing he needed was a member of his team smashing against one of the asteroids, becoming a new organic puddle on its surface. Remembering the spectrochemical analysis he had skimmed, and its reports of detecting organic matter, Rusty wondered whether his was the first team to explore this debris field.

“Great,” he murmured. “I finally get to make first contact and it’s probably alien road kill.”

“What was that, Chief?” Tsu-tao asked.

“Check,” Rusty called aloud into the suit radio.

“Check,” came Ferahim crisp response.

Tsu-tao’s sounded an instant later. “Check, Chief.”

Rusty smirked, knowing the young engineer was disappointed at missing his remark. He started to reach for Jeffries when the older man’s voice sounded in his helmet.

“Um . . . check.”

Rusty rolled his eyes, even knowing no one else could see it, wondering if it was too late to leave the old geologist back on the ship.

“Directional sensors on,” he said instead, keeping his opinions to himself for the moment. “Triangulate on that large fragment at zero-zero-four. Mark.”

“Mark,” Ferahim and Tsu-tao reported, almost in unison.

Rusty opened his mouth to prompt the geologist, but Jeffries responded an instant later.

“Mark.”

“Okay then,” Rusty announced. “Four-second thruster burst, and then let’s find a nice little spot for our picnic.” He paused, checking to make certain that his fingers were poised over the correct controls. He knew the suit by touch, but also knew that one does not take chances in open space.

“On my mark,” he told the others. “Three . . . two . . . one. Mark.”

He felt more than heard the tiny suit thrusters fire. Their surroundings moved past them just a little bit faster, gaining speed with each second of thrust.

“. . . two . . . one. Disengage!”

For a moment, Rusty felt as though he was drifting as the acceleration provided by the thrusters ceased. He checked the directional sensor on his wrist and saw that his vector was correct. It also showed four points in close alignment. He turned his head to verify that, and was encouraged to see that both Ferahim and Jeffries were right there with him.

Okay, he considered with some relief. This just might work.

“Okay,” he said peering ahead and then verifying what his eyes told him with the scanner. “Let’s head for that large fragment. It’s as good a place as any to set up camp.”

“Yes, sir,” Ferahim acknowledged promptly.

“Okay,” Jeffries responded in something twhat almost sounded like an unenthusiastic mumble.

Damned scientist types . . .

“Which side, sir?” Tsu-tao asked.

Rusty peered ahead, trying to make out some detail on the fragment’s surface despite the distance.

“Aim for that dark spot,” Rusty replied. “Toward the port side. See it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Rusty responded with grin. “If we’re lucky, it’s a pool with deck-side bar service.”

Someone snickered. Rusty was pretty sure that it was not Jeffries.

#

“One second burst,” the Chief Engineer’s voice came over the speaker. “Adjust your heading starboard three degrees. Confirm.”

Three confirmations overlapped, creating an odd-sounding echo over the communications channel.

“On my mark.” There was a momentary pause before the Chief Engineer spoke again. “Mark.”

A burst of noise like static washed across the speakers as the four team members fired their thrusters, followed by silence.

“Perfect,” the Chief Engineer said. “Stand by for surface contact in twelve seconds.”

Devereux’s eyes turned toward the locator grid, seeing a tight quartet of signals moving toward an outline that represented the large fragment that was the team’s target. Her gaze moved toward the center bridge display. Sharp-edged shadows revealed the raw ridges of the shattered rock as the spotlights from the team member’s helmets shone on it.

“. . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . .”

The granular surface of the fragment became more visible as four beams converged on it.

“. . . five . . . four . . . three . . .”

The image was a wash of light, now too bright to make out the details.

“. . . two . . . one . . . contact!”

A series of Ddiscordant sounds issued from the speakers. Devereux guessed that it came from loose pieces of the asteroid’s surface shifting beneath the team’s boots.

Emerald Flight,” the Chief Engineer said. “I don’t know if the Eagle has landed, but we have. All team members accounted for.” 

Devereux chuckled at the Chief’s announcement, allowing herself a small smile as she joined in the scattered applause that sounded from around the bridge. Neither Hawkes nor Hope, she noticed, participated. She did not find that unsurprising.

“Nice work, Chief,” she called out. “Now be careful out there.”

“Yes, Mom,” Rusty muttered.

Devereux was tempted to roll her eyes, but settled for the mental equivalent. The Chief knew perfectly well that the comm channel remained open.  She saw Elizabeth shake her head, amused but trying to hide it as well, as she moved toward the primary Science station.

“Anything new on the sensors?” Her First Officer asked Gho.

The oriental Science officer shook her head, causing her dark, chin-length hair to brush against her cheeks. “Nothing yet,” she reported. “They’re just setting up the equipment now.”

“How soon?”

Gho frowned thoughtfully for a moment. “Maybe eight or nine minutes.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth responded, noddeding slowly in acknowledgment. as Sshe made a notation on her tablet.

Devereux glanced toward the Tactical console and saw Hawkes busy at his station. There was nothing currently threatening about this situation, at least from a tactical standpoint. She wondered just what it was that he found to do. It was not something she worried over, though.

He’s always doing something, she mused. But then he’s never been one to waste energy on pointless tasks. She fought back most of a smile. Probably torturing the weapons teams with timed readiness drills again.

“I guess we should take some samples or something,” Rusty’s said over the speakers. “How ‘bout over here, Doctor?”

Devereux automatically glanced toward Hope, stopping herself as she realized that the Chief was addressing the geologist, not her Medical Officer.

An unintelligible noise came over the comm channel. Devereux guessed it was Jeffries thinking over the Chief’s question.

“About two meters behind you and to the right, I think,” the geologist finally answered.

“Whatever you say, Doc.” There was a short burst of muffled sound. “You heard the man,” Rusty called out. “Time to unpack our toys.”

#

The communications of the EVA team settled into routine conversation as they unpacked and assembled the sampling equipment. Hawkes continued to monitor it as he resumed his other tasks. At the First Officer’s request, he assigned a member of his team to assist with the preparation of the shuttle. The security risk was low, but he silently commended the First Officer for electing to have one of his officers present. 

The shuttle normally carried only basic emergency supplies. They might be sufficient to stabilize a badly injured crewmember until they could return to the ship, but it was not intended to deal with major or traumatic injuries. Although almost all mission teams included a qualified medic, there were simply some medical situations that required the skills of a fully-trained physician and a well-stocked infirmary. 

“That should do it,” the Chief Engineer’s voice sounded clearly through the speakers. “Right, Doc of the Rocks?”

There was garbled noise before Jeffries responded. Hawkes guessed that it was the geology specialist expressing his disapproval of the Chief Engineer’s sobriquet.

“One second,” Jeffries said. “Let me check something.” Several seconds passed before he spoke again. “Yes,” he announced finally. “That should do it now.”

“Ready whenever you are, Doc.”

“Engaging the core drill now,” Jeffries said. “We should start getting readings in a few moments.”

Several moments of relative quiet passed before Tsu-tao reported, “It’s transmitting the data now, Chief.”

“Bridge?” the Chief Engineer queried them. “Are you receiving this?”

Devereux looked toward Lieutenant Gho. The Lieutenant tapped several controls on her console and then nodded in confirmation.

“Yes, Captain,” she reported. “We’re receiving data telemetry from drill sensors.”

“Anything unusual?”

The young Science officer studied the displays on her console for several seconds before answering. “Nothing particularly strange that I can make out,” she finally replied. “The few unusual elements we detected seem to be only at the surface layer. The rest of the core seems to be pretty much you’d expect from a fragment like this.”

Devereux appeared mildly disappointed by the news. Hawkes found the results hardly surprising. Despite their anomalous location in space, there was been no indications so far that there was anything extraordinary about the asteroid fragments. Rather than feeling disappointment, Hawkes experienced relief that nothing dangerously unusual, and therefore potentially hostile, had been discovered.

“Have you managed to get any new readings past the interference in the field?” Devereux was asking Gho.

Gho shook her head. “No, Captain,” she replied. “There haven’t been any more weakening of the field interference.”

Devereux nodded her understanding, but looked unhappy about the report.

“Chief,” she said. “You brought along the short-range telescope, right?”

The telescope was small and lightweight, approximately the length of an average person’s arm and about twice that diameter. It was designed to be easily carried and operated by personnel while outside their ship. The trade-off in mass meant that it carried almost no automated systems and had to be adjusted manually. What it saw through its lenses would actually be transmitted using the comm system built into the suit of the person operating it, connected via a physical cable.

“Sure thing, Cap’n,” the Chief Engineer replied. “They’re just finished setting it up now. What do you need?”

“Can you aim it toward the center of the interference field and then give us a live feed?”

“Tsu?” the Chief asked. “Can we?”

“No problem, Chief,” the ensign replied. “We’ll need another three or four minutes.”

“You have two,” the Chief told him.

Hawkes was surprised and impressed by the Chief Engineer’s attempt to drive his team to higher levels of performance. It was atypical behavior for the Chief. Considering the Chief’s recent spell of unusual behavior, even given the Chief Engineer’s history of questionable conduct, Hawkes considered questioned whether the Captain and Medical Officer had been prudent in allowing him to lead this mission.

“We’re set here, Bridge,” the Chief announced a few minutes later. “Ready for some pretty pictures?”

“We’re ready here, Chief,” Devereux replied. “Lieutenant,” she said, addressing Pyrafox, “bring the feed up on Screen One.”

“Aye, Captain,” the helmsman acknowledged.

The locator grid faded from the screen, replaced by a slowly resolving image of an arc of the debris field. Its resolution was not as high as that that could be provided by the ship’s sensors could produce.

But at the moment, Hawkes considered, the ship’s sensors are providing nothing except for occasional fluctuations in the interference field.

There appeared to be nothing extraordinary in the images being transmitted from the telescope. Additional fragments, in a variety of sizes, were visible within the debris field. For the most part, they did not appear to be significantly different from those in other asteroid fields that Hawkes had visited in his lifetime. Although nothing they showed was remarkable, the fact that they could see anything at all was.

#

All eyes on the bridge turned toward the main bridge screens. The ship’s sensors had provided them with little but garbled data for the past several hours. Using a low-powered portable telescope, they now had an unobscured view of the phenomenon.

Perhaps now we will know, Hope thought.

“How’s that, Bridge?” the Chief Engineer asked.

The Captain quickly surveyed the expressions of the others on the bridge.

“Keep going,” the Captain instructed him. “Give us a full sweep of the area. We’ll let you know if we want you to go back.”

“Copy that,” the Chief Engineer replied. “You want a full souvenir album to commemorate your fun-filled journey through The Mysterious Asteroid Field of Doom.”

It took Hope a moment to reconcile the Chief Engineer’s statement with the cheery tone with which he delivered it. The name he had assigned to the phenomenon denoted serious danger; his recitation the manner in which he stated of it did not.

The image on the center screen moved very slowly, but noticeably, as the telescope tracked through the region of space that the Captain had indicated. There was nothing visible that hinted at the source of the interference field. It appeared, essentially, to be just another section of the asteroid debris field.

The Tactical Officer studied his own displays intently. His expression revealed puzzlement and a growing concern. Others members of the crew might not have noticed it, Hope suspected, except for perhaps the Captain.

“What is, Lieutenant?” the Captain asked, confirming Hope’s assessment of her abilities to understand her crew.

“I’m not certain, Captain,” the Tactical Officer said. His answer surprised Hope. The Tactical Officer rarely admitted to a lack of knowledge. “May I?” he requested, gesturing toward the main bridge displays.

The Captain nodded her approval.

“Chief,” the Tactical Officer called out. “Please redirect the telescope back to these coordinates.” His fingers moved across his console as he transmitted the data back to the team. “I believe there may be something of interest there.”

“Got it, Lieutenant,” Tsu-tao reported. “Adjusting the angle now.”

The image on the center screen moved more quickly, giving the illusion that the vessel was spinning to starboard. After several moments, the scene steadied. Positioned almost directly in its center was an irregularly-shaped object, probably smaller than the asteroid fragment on which the EVA team was now standing.

“Congratulations, Lieutenant,” the Chief Engineer said. “You’re discovered another rock. Do you want us to name it after you?”

“That will not be necessary,” the Tactical Officer replied icily. There was a momentary pause while he reinforced his composure. “Enhance by a factor of ten, please.”

The image on the center screen grew larger, but revealed nothing of obvious interest. It still appeared to be a rock fragment, although perhaps a more oddly shaped one than most.

“By another factor of ten, please.”

The screen shimmered and then displayed the  even closer view of the fragment. Its details remained indistinct, looking more like an oversized dust mote than a chunk of rock.

“Can you augment the image?” the Tactical Officer asked.

“I might be able to at this end,” the Science Officer replied. “Let me see what the computer can do with it?” She tapped a few controls. “Chief?” she called over the comm channel. “Are you transmitting at maximum resolution?”

There was a momentary delay before the Chief Engineer answered. “Tsu says we are.”

“Okay,” the Science Officer acknowledged. “Stand by.”

For several moments, the image on the screen remained the same. Then, slowly, the computer extrapolated more information from the sensor data and updated the image. Edges gained definition. A collective hush fell over the bridge as details became more apparent.

“Chief,” the First Officer asked. “Are you seeing this?”

“Yeah . . .” the Chief Engineer answered in a hushed tone. “What in the name of Morris is it?”

Radecki / Dark : Emerald Flight: Star Wing – Chapter 6 – Outside Opinions

– 6 –

Elizabeth checked the seals of the Chief’s space suit. He was not making it easy on her as he shifted and turned as she tried to adjust the fittings.

“Hold still!” she scolded him, laughing.

Rusty grumbled something unintelligible in response. Elizabeth was certain the remark was uncomplimentary to her in some way. She just smiled. Regardless, he stopped fidgeting for the most part. Elizabeth fastened the straps that ran over his left shoulder, checked to make certain they were tight, and then worked to fasten the ones on his right side.

They were in the corridor alcove outside the interior hatchway to Airlock Three. The team member assigned from Engineering, Tsu-tao, assisted Ensign Ferahim, while Lieutenant Hawkes performed a final check on the Ferahim’s weapons. Elizabeth was struck once again by the ensign’s exotic beauty, understanding why she had no problem capturing the attention of male crew members. From what Elizabeth had heard, Ferahim had her share of female admirers as well. Those same stories also implied that one or two of those had also successfully shared the ensign’s bed.

She glanced across the alcove, trying to understand why Jeffries looked so incredibly awkward. At first, Elizabeth thought the stocky geologist might have brought a suit that was too small. She then realized that it was simply because he was trying to reach all of the straps and fastenings by himself.

That’s why we have the buddy system, Elizabeth chided him silently, trying to recall who he had been paired with.

A wave of embarrassment washed over her. It was her duty, as First Officer, to see that those kinds of details were dealt with.

Damn it, I wonder if I’m ever going to get this right . . .

Elizabeth tried to remember the last time she had been directly involved in an extra-vehicular mission . EVA missions were not uncommon among the Engineering teams. It was often a necessary part of dealing with ship-wide maintenance and repairs, but they were generally managed by the Engineering shift officer in charge.

That’s no excuse, she admonished herself. The next time, she promised herself solemnly, I won’t forget.

She looked guiltily in the Captain’s direction, but the Devereux did not seem to notice.. The Captain’s attention remained focused on her conversation with Hope.

Hawkes finished his inspection of Ferahim’s weaponry and returned it to her.

“Thank you, sir” she said quietly and saluted.

Hawkes gave no response other than for a small dip of his head as Ferahim slipped her weapons back into their places on her belt. She snapped Hawkes a quick second salute, then glided over to aid Jeffries with his suit. With a slight nod of approval, Hawkes walked over to offer his assistance to Tsu-tao

“All right,” she told f. “Let me check your boots.”

Elizabeth stole another quick glance in the Devereux’s direction, but the Captain remained deep in discussion with Hope. She turned her attention back to the Chief’s boot seals.

“It’s amazing your feet fit in these things,” Elizabeth murmured, just loud enough for Rusty alone to hear.

He impishly  grinned down at her. “Just be glad I washed them first.”

Elizabeth fought back most of a giggle and bent down to check the calf bindings.

#

Rusty waited grunted with only mild impatience while Elizabeth tightened and locked the fastenings on his left boot. He grunted his approval. She smiled, and started work on the right one. While he probably had logged more hours in a suit than almost anyone else on the crew, that did not necessarily make him happy about it. The suit itself did not make him feel particularly claustrophobic. It was more that only a few millimeters of airtight fabric and polyglass separated him from the life-sucking vacuum of space.

He felt a tag around his middle.

“Going for seconds on dessert again?” Elizabeth asked him, teasing him quietly. Rusty sucked in a deep breath and held while she fastened the waist straps. The belt fastenings were snug, but not uncomfortably so. “That’s better.”

Elizabeth stepped back and visually inspected the suit. She frowned for a moment before nodding, apparently satisfied.

“Not very stylish,” she admitted.

“Hey!” Rusty protested, a little too loudly. “This suit was designed by the best designers on, well, Taipei Luna, or some place.”

Elizabeth snickered, handing Rusty his helmet. “In case you forgot, the transparent part goes on the front.”

Rusty studied the helmet for a moment. “So much for them seeing my new haircut.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and stepped aside.

Rusty joined Jeffries and Ferahim at the hatch. He had never met the older geologist personally. His immediate take was that the man might be competent at his job, but probably about as interesting as the rocks that he studied. Ferahim he remembered. He had never worked directly with her, but she was hard to miss when they passed in the corridor. Seeing that her head was turned in his general direction, he gave her a quick wink. She looked away, giving him no other indication that she had noticed him.

He smiled to himself, pleased. Love it when they play hard to get.

Jeffries was struggling with his helmet now. Ferahim strode over to assist him with a grace Rusty would have thought impossible in a space suit. The Security officer fitted the helmet over Jeffries’ head and checked the seal. She turned closed the fastenings and stepped back, gesturing for Hawkes to double-check her work. The older man held completely still the entire time.

Probably in shock from the attentions of a pretty girl, Rusty guessed with a smirk.

Rusty lifted his own helmet and dropped it into place with practiced ease. He had begun to close the fastenings when he felt a pair of hands assisting him through his gloves. Turning his head, his caught a glimpse of Elizabeth’s chestnut hair flash past his faceplate. A moment later, he heard a knock echo from the top of his helmet.

“You’re good to go, Chief,” Elizabeth told him.

He gave her the traditional thumbs-up sign. Walking over to the hatch, he stopped to stand beside Hawkes at the airlock control panel. Ferahim joined him a moment later. Jefferies stumbled over next.

Looks ready to trip over his own boots, Rusty observed. He is a space geologist, right?

For a moment, he considered asking Elizabeth aloud. For a change, he opted for discretion, and waited while Ferahim and Tsu-tao brought the last of the equipment closer to the hatchway. Elizabeth stepped out of their way. She flashed him a quick smile before moving out of his line of sight. For no reason he could explain, he found her small gesture reassuring.

#

Devereux gestured Hope aside, moving them toward a corner of the airlock corridor alcove.

“Have you determined anything new on the Chief’s . . . condition?”

Hope’s eyes moved for an instant toward the Rusty before turning back to Devereux.

“No.”

Devereux nodded slightly, breathing a quick sigh. She had hoped for more, but Hope’s report was pretty much what she had expected.

“Do you believe there’s any danger to him or the team?” She persisted. “He’s the best choice for this mission, but I’ll yank him right here and now if you think there might be an issue.”

Hope hesitated for a moment before answering. Devereux found that troubling. She turned toward Rusty, but Hope’s voice stopped her.

“No.”

Devereux turned back to face Hope. “You’re certain?”

There was less hesitation from her Medical Officer this time.

“No.”

Devereux frowned.

She’s really rattled—for her. Not knowing the answer’s really gotten to her.

Devereux studied the Aerian’s dark eyes, but found nothing there that worried her.

“Okay,” she told Hope. “He’s going.” Her eyes turned toward the four spacesuit-clad figures as they made final preparations to enter the airlock. “But check the remote med systems on the suits,” she instructed Hope. “Double-check them. Make sure they’re working.”

Hope nodded almost imperceptibly. “Yes, Captain.”

“Ready, Captain,” Hawkes reported, poised ready at the airlock hatch controls.

“One moment, Lieutenant,” she told him. “Hope wants to check the med systems.”

“Of course, Captain.” Hawkes moved aside and waited patiently while Hope approached the four members of the team.

Devereux watched as Hope began with Ferahim. After completing her inspection of his suit, she moved to Tsu-tao, then to Jeffries, finishing with Rusty. She spent longer with him, Devereux noticed, than she had with the others.

I hope that’s because she’s really double-checking and not because she found something else.

During the few minutes that Hope worked, there was no conversation among the group. Some of them watched her inspection for a few moments before turning their attention somewhere else. It was not a particularly interesting procedure to observe.

Hope stepped away and addressed the Captain.

“Verified.”

Devereux nodded, feeling a small ripple of relief.

“You may proceed, Lieutenant,” she told Hawkes.

“Yes, Captain,” her Tactical Officer acknowledged.

Hawkes tapped the controls on the bulkhead panel. Several status lights glowed red now. The distinctive thunk of the locking mechanism disengaging could be heard. A number of the indicator lights changed color again and then the inner hatch slowly swung open into the alcove.

Ferahim and Tsu-Tao moved the equipment cases into the airlock and secured them with magnetic bands. That would prevent them from being blown from the airlock when the outer hatch was opened and the pressure equalized between the airlock’s interior and the absolute vacuum of space beyond.

There’s nothing worse than having to chase after your luggage, Devereux mused lightly. She knew this from personal experience early in her career.

Ferahim and Tsu-Tao remained in the airlock. Rusty and Jeffries joined them inside. All four of them moved deeper into it, well clear of the hatch. Hawkes looked at Devereux, who nodded her assent to continue. The Tactical Officer worked the controls again and the hatch slid closed. Most of the status lights glowed green now.

“Depressuriziing,” Hawkes announced.

A faint alarm could be heard coming from inside the airlock. Yellow warning lights strobed, changing to red as the pressure dropped below survivable levels.

“We’re ready, Captain,” Hawkes reported.

Devereux walked over to the control panel and tapped the intercom. It was keyed to the general frequency of the suit radios.

“All set here, Chief,” she told him. “Ready when you are.”

“Leave it unlocked,” Rusty quipped. “I think I forgot my keys.” There was a long moment of silence as he positioned himself at the control panel inside. “Opening outer hatch.”

The lights flashed brighter as the outer hatch unlocked and swung slowly inward.

“Here we go . . .”

“Good hunting, Chief,” Devereux offered.

A faint hum of electronic static sounded over the speaker, and then they heard Rusty reply.

“I’ll bring you back something nice,” he said. “You too, Lizzie.”

Elizabeth’s cheeks brightened slightly. Devereux could not recall a time recently when Rusty had referred to her First Officer by that nickname. She chose to take it as a positive sign.

“I’ll settle for you and your team back here in one piece,” Devereux responded seriously, but she could not help but smile just a little.

“You betcha,” Rusty replied. He bent and began to unfasten the equipment.

#

“They’re clear,” Hawkes reported.

Devereux nodded in acknowledgment. “Close the outer hatch.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Hawkes worked the airlock controls again. Red and yellow lights strobed, shifting finally to green. Hawkes’ eyes never left the status display until they all indicated that the airlock hatch was closed and locked. With that confirmation, he deactivated the airlock’s interior lights, plunging the chamber into darkness. He turned, ready to follow the Captain back to the bridge.

Devereux turned and began to head down the corridor.

“Hope,” she addressed the Medical Officer without pausing. “You’re with us. I want you to monitor their readings from the bridge.”

The Medical Officer hesitated for only the briefest moment, seemingly surprised by the order.

“Yes, Captain.”

She fell into line between the Captain and Hawkes. They were nearly back in the main corridor when the Captain paused, turning back toward the airlock.

“Commander?” she asked, seeming both bemused and concerned. “Are you joining us?”

Hawkes turned to see a slightly startled Elizabeth. From what he could tell, she had been staring out the adjacent view port. She looked away from them with awkward embarrassment.

“Sorry, Captain.”

She approached them quickly. Devereux waited until Elizabeth stood beside her, and then moved out into the quarter.

“Have a team prep the shuttle,” the Captain directed her First Officer. “I want us seconds away from launch, if needednecessary, in case we need to attempt a rescue. Understood?”

Elizabeth hesitated for an instant, surprised at the request, and then nodded her acknowledgment. lifted her tablet and began logging the orders.

“Yes, Captain.”

She lifted her tablet and began logging the orders.

“Hope,” Devereux continued, addressing the Medical Officer without turning. “Make sure they add any emergency equipment or supplies you might need.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Are you expecting trouble, Captain?” Elizabeth asked, also taking note of the Captain’s order to Hope.

“No,” Devereux replied confidently. “But I’m sure our Tactical Officer will agree that we should be prepared anyway.” Her eyes darted toward Hawkes. A faint smile played along her lips. “Don’t you agree, Lieutenant?”

Hawkes studied the Captain for the length of a heartbeat before answering.

“Completely, Captain.”

Devereux’s smile was thin, but genuine. “I’m glad you approve.”

The four officers had reached the main hatch to the bridge. Hawkes moved forward and keyed in his access code. He then opened the hatch and held it open for the others to enter.

Devereux did not slow as she entered the bridge, moving to stand behind the helm station.

“Lieutenant,” she said, addressing Pyrafox. “Switch the external view to Screen Three. Put the locator grid on Screen One and the feed from the Chief’s camera on Screen Two.”

“Aye, Captain.”

The field of stars vanished from the first screen, appearing seconds later on the one to the far right. It was replaced by a three-dimensional representation of the EVA team’s progress across space. The center screen showed a scene similar to the one on the third screen. Its vantage point was far less steady as the Chief moved his head.

Devereux tilted her head toward the Tactical station, where Hawkes had resumed his customary post.

“I want an open comm channel with them at all times.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Hawkes tapped the necessary controls on his console and a faint electronic hum filled the air around them. The only discernible sound was that of a team member’s heavy respiration. Hawkes quickly concluded that it came from Lieutenant Jeffries.

The Captain nodded with approval.

“All right then,” she called out. “Let’s get back to work.”

#

Although surprised by the Captain’s order that she monitor the team from the bridge, Hope had, of course obeyed. She would have preferred to do it from the private sanctuary of the infirmary, but as she had no patients there right now, she could raise no justifiable objections.

Hope took a position at one of the secondary Science stations. Activating the console, she reconfigured it to display the medical telemetry being recorded and transmitted from the mission team’s spacesuits. The console surface cleared and then displayed four distinct sets of medical data, one for each member of the team.

All within expected ranges.

Lieutenant Jeffries’ respiration was on the higher side of normal, but still within the acceptable range. The readings for everyone else caused her no concern.

“How are we doing, Lieutenant?” the Captain asked Navigator Pyrafox.

“Holding position, Captain,” the Navigator replied. “No more problems.”

“Glad to hear it,” the Captain responded. Hope heard the laughter and relief in her voice. It faded as she continued. “I want you to plot a course from here to the center of the field that the shuttle can take without too bumpy a ride.”

The Navigator frowned, showing the top points of his teeth. “Are we taking the shuttle in?”

“I hope not,” the Captain replied, patting the Navigator lightly on the shoulder.

The Navigator glanced at the scene slowly playing out on the center bridge display. “Understood, Captain,” he acknowledged quietly. “I’ll get right on it.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

The Captain glanced toward the main bridge displays once more, turned away, and headed for the command deck.

Hope continued to monitor the medical telemetry, but saw no noticeable change in the readings. Lieutenant Jeffries’ respiration had stabilized. It remained high, but had not risen any further.

Accessing another set of controls, Hope verified that she had remote access to the medical systems incorporated into each of the team members’ space suits. They all reported as functional, including the overrides. That task completed, Hope turned from the console to observe the other members of the bridge crew.

The Navigator remained busy at the task assigned to him by the Captain. Occasionally, he emitted small noises that Hope was not certain that the others on the bridge could hear. She had no idea what the sounds indicated, and found them quite distracting. During her time with humans, she had learned that they often made such sounds for a variety of reasons. Often, they were used as a means to indicate that they were thinking or, more commonly, delaying while they considered a less candid response than the one in their thoughts. This was not an Aerian shortcoming.

“Captain,” the Science Lieutenant called out from her station. “I’m getting some new readings from the debris field.”

The Captain looked up with interest. “What do you have?”

“There was a small break in the interference,” the Science Lieutenant reported. “We’ve picked up another source of those organic components, and some additional metals.”

“Anything interesting?”

The Science Lieutenant shook her head. “It’s hard to tell,” she said. “We’re still too far away. But they look to be some unusually complex ores.”

“Why do say that?”

The Science Lieutenant looked uncomfortable. “Because if they’re not,” she finally said, “then the debris field contains manufactured alloys.”