Original Work Atomic Destiny

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Grand58742, Jul 13, 2015.

  1. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 11

    The mood was somber while Bella and Colt headed down into the kitchen area of the club where most of her friends waited to say their goodbyes. She and Colt had spent the previous day packing up her quarters as well as her baggage for the journey back to Earth. The remainder of the items she was leaving behind were being put into storage and would await her return from the vacation she was taking. She made her way down the line of her friends and shared a hug, a laugh and a tear with each. It wasn’t easy leaving those she had come to love as close friends and even surrogate family.

    “I’ll keep your spot warm for you,” said Monica as she and Bella shared a warm hug.

    “Just keep Jake out of trouble,” laughed Bella.

    “Impossible,” laughed Monica. “I hope you have a beautiful wedding.”

    “I wish you could be there,” said Bella.

    “I could be packed in about fifteen minutes,” grinned Monica.

    “This place would burn down without you,” laughed Bella. “You take care of yourself.”

    “Bye honey,” said Monica as they shared one more hug and Bella made her way to Jake.

    “You take care of yourself,” said Jake as he took her into a hug.

    “I really don’t know what to say,” said Bella as tears came to her eyes.

    “Not much to say,” said Jake. “You’ve been the best thing that ever could have happened to this place. But I also know you’re the best thing that’s happened to that young man over there. I’ve hoarded you long enough and it’s time you spread your charm to the rest of the System.”

    “You couldn’t make this any harder?” she laughed and a tear escaped her eye.

    “Bye Bella,” said Jake as they shared one more hug and a tear escaped his eye as well.

    “Thank you for always being there,” said Bella. Jake shared one last handshake with Colt with a warning to “treat her right” and sent them out to the cab that was waiting for them. The baggage was already loaded onto the top cargo area and she turned to wave goodbye one last time before the small crowd came out waving goodbye and saying the words as well. Bella waved as the cab departed for the shuttle station a little earlier than planned. Once they arrived, Colt went ahead and got her luggage and set it off to the side before telling her to wait while he grabbed some help from inside. After several minutes, he returned with a medical gurney and placed her baggage on the hovering device.

    “Isn’t that cheating?” she asked.

    “Slightly,” said Colt. “Of course, you packed a kitchen sink in here so no.”

    “I wasn’t sure what to bring,” she said.

    “So you brought everything,” he chuckled. “If you want, go ahead and check out through the customs office while I get this stowed. I’ll grab you when I get finished.”

    “Okay,” she said and headed towards the customs office and went inside. There was one person on duty and only one other person being helped at the time. She headed to the desk when prompted and handed over her ID to the man on duty.

    “You said you were departing with the Atomic Destiny?” he asked as he checked the computer.

    “Yes,” said Bella. “Is there a problem?”

    “You’re not listed on the manifest,” said the customs agent.

    “There is probably a mistake,” said Bella. “My fiancé will be here in a moment.”

    “Okay,” said the man as he passed over her ID. She waited for several minutes before Colt appeared in the office and looked at her.

    “Ready?” he asked.

    “No, I’m not on the manifest,” said Bella.

    “Probably a mix up,” said Colt as he went to the customs agent. “How do we fix this?”

    “The Captain or First Officer can add her in,” said the agent. “But I can’t give her an Earth visa until one of them signs off that she’s authorized.”

    “Okay, I’ll grab the Captain,” said Colt as he pulled out his communicator. But before he was able to call Captain Winston, he popped in the door of the office.

    “My sincere apologies,” said Winston as he headed for the counter. “I forgot to add her to the manifest and only remembered this morning.”

    “I was about to call you,” said Colt as he stowed his communicator.

    “Camille pointedly reminded me of the fact this morning,” said Winston and turned to the agent. “I’ll vouch for Miss Phillips and add her to the manifest.”

    “If you would sir, just enter your authorization code on the pad and that will clear her for departure,” said the agent as he passed over a small tablet. Winston added in his Infinicon command code and made Bella’s departure from Pluto official for the moment.

    “Okay Miss, you can get your visa now,” said the agent.

    “Well babe, you’re stuck with me for good,” said Bella with a grin.

    “I could think of worse people to be stranded with,” laughed Colt as she got the appropriate clearance to depart Pluto and head for Earth.

    “If you want, I can take Bella with me while you’re doing the preflight checks,” said Winston. “I’ll make sure she gets on board.”

    “In the luggage compartment,” he grinned.

    “That’s not very nice,” protested Bella with a frown.

    “Better than the hood ornament,” he laughed. “See you in a bit.”

    “Go to work baby,” said Bella with a quick kiss and Colt headed to the shuttle to bring everything online before the rest of the crew arrived. He already saw one or two waiting in the staging area or hauling baggage to the ship. He headed inside the shuttle and into the cockpit before pulling the checklist up on the tablet and bringing the systems online. As he was going through the checklist, one of the IP Services personnel came to the cockpit and checked in.

    “You’ve got a full load of fuel and a reserve tank to get you to Charon. A shuttle will meet you at the Charon Docks to take custody of the reserve tank before you attach to your parent ship. We gave the landing gear a check and didn’t find anything out of place,” said the man as he handed over a tablet with the information for Colt.

    “Thanks,” said Colt as he signed off on the items and the man departed. He was continuing through the checklist when Mendoza got on board and stowed his gear.

    “Early aren’t you?” he asked as Colt continued to turn on systems.

    “I had to make sure Bella got her Earth visa,” said Colt. “I’m almost finished here.”

    “Anything I can help with?” asked Mendoza.

    “Yeah, you mind grabbing a pressure suit and checking the reserve tank?” asked Colt. “And doing an exterior walk around?”

    “Sure,” said Mendoza as he headed towards the small airlock and got into a pressure suit to head out to check the ship from the outside. It didn’t take long to get into the pressure suit and exited the ship before checking the systems Colt couldn’t get to.

    “Looks okay out here,” said Mendoza over the communicator. “Tank is locked in place and everything else looks to be in working order.”

    “Check the topside?” asked Colt.

    “I’m heading there now,” said Mendoza as he climbed the small ladder and looked over the systems on the top of the shuttle. “Looks like everything is in place.”

    “Good deal,” said Colt. “I’m done with the checklist and all we have to do is warm engines.”

    Mendoza returned to the airlock and doffed the pressure suit before reentering the shuttle. Once he made his way to the cockpit, he found everything was waiting for the authorization to get the shuttle underway for the short trip to the Atomic Destiny.

    “You want to monitor the systems while I make sure Bella gets on board?” asked Colt.

    “Sure,” said Mendoza as he settled into the right hand seat.

    “Nope, for this one, you’re driving,” said Colt.

    “Okay,” said Mendoza in a confused tone.

    “I think you need some additional time in the left hand seat,” said Colt.

    “No problem,” said Mendoza as he got up and Colt departed. Once he arrived in the staging area, he saw the majority of the crew waiting as a few were still checking out.

    “And check out this lover boy!” exclaimed Brent McMasters. “Mister Romeo here was making some little hot thing just positively swoon the other night.”

    “You mean that little hot thing?” asked Colt as he nodded towards Bella.

    “Why yes, that does appear to be the little hot thing I was referring to,” said McMasters with a laugh. “No offense intended ma’am.”

    “None taken,” said Bella. “And yes, he does make me swoon.”

    The gathered crowd let out a couple of low catcalls and “ohhhhs” as Colt blushed up slightly. He managed to track down Talbert as she checked her tablet to make sure the crew was accounted for.

    “We’ve got everything ready,” said Colt.

    “Okay, the Captain is getting his briefing and should be here shortly,” said Talbert. “And everyone is checked out which is a miracle. Okay everyone, head to the shuttle.”

    The crowd broke up and headed into the shuttle where they found seating. Colt directed Bella to the rear of the craft where the reserve seating was and gave her a quick hand squeeze as she departed back through the craft. He returned to the cockpit to find Mendoza busy getting the engines warmed up. Before they were finished, Winston appeared and gave them the official “go ahead” and started strapping himself in.

    “Not flying today Colt?” he asked.

    “Mendoza needs to make sure he can dock this thing without breaking it apart,” said Colt.

    “Yeah, I’m a horrible pilot and all,” said Mendoza from the left hand seat. “We’re clear as soon as everyone is strapped in. We’re got departure clearance from Pluto Control and IP Services.”

    The Captain turned around and saw the crew was seated and buckled in. Or in the process of buckling in. He turned back to Mendoza and gave the official word. “Mister Mendoza, please take us home.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza as he gave the craft the command to come to life and start the engines. It took a couple of minutes for the engines to warm up as the small fusion power plants were brought online. But soon they showed in the green and Mendoza got on the intercom.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not your normal pilot speaking, please return all seats and tray tables to their full and upright positions and assume crash positions for takeoff,” said Mendoza. “I hope everyone is wearing clean underwear for the mortuary teams that will recover your bodies from the crash site and dressed in their Sunday best for the photo-drones that are sure to beat the rescue teams there. But I do ask you put on a smile for the camera as we will likely end up on the cover of every news report in the Solar System. The inflight entertainment will be provided by yours truly and is normally accompanied by yells, screams, crying, cursing and threats to my wellbeing. So without further ado, please strap yourselves in and enjoy the flight.”

    “Funny guy,” said Winston as he heard Mendoza talking to the various controllers and powering up the engines. The craft lifted off and set a course for Charon as they rose away from solid ground fairly quickly.

    “I don’t think we’ll lose anything from our main tanks,” said Mendoza as they achieved escape velocity and were on their way.

    Colt looked down and saw the reserve fuel tank would likely give them enough to make it to the Atomic Destiny without any troubles. And although they could refuel from the parent craft, it was not easy as it required a crew member to go outside the craft. A major design flaw, it was being corrected on their planned refit once they arrived at Earth. As they closed on Charon, the communications system came alive from the docks.

    Neutron Destiny, be advised Charon Cargo Shuttle 4 is enroute to reclaim the reserve tank prior to docking with your parent craft. They will meet you five hundred meters out,” said the controller on the orbiting station.

    Neutron Destiny copies,” said Mendoza as he closed the distance and slowed the shuttle. The docks came into view as he slowed even further and oriented the ship to where the top was facing the Atomic Destiny.

    “How come you’re doing is this way?” asked Colt from the copilot’s seat.

    “When that shuttle comes in, the tank is a lot easier to get at for them. All we’ll need to do is roll and dock when we hand it over,” said Mendoza as he checked his instruments and brought the shuttle into a hover.

    “Smart thinking,” said Colt.

    “I have my moments,” said Mendoza with a wry smile.

    “No, seriously,” said Colt. “You came up with a good plan.”

    “Thanks,” said Mendoza as he saw the shuttle approaching on the sensors.

    Neutron Destiny, this is Shuttle 4, ready to collect the reserve tank,” said the pilot.

    “Copy Shuttle 4, releasing tank…now,” said Mendoza as he made sure the connections were severed between the tank and the ship before ejecting it. The tank slowly crept away from the shuttle before the large robotic arm on the cargo shuttle snatched it and brought it back into the cargo area and secured it with automated clamps.

    Neutron Destiny, we have the tank, you are cleared to dock with parent craft,” said the controller on the Charon Dock.

    “Acknowledged,” said Mendoza as he checked his systems again before rolling the ship and preparing to dock.

    “I can’t get over how big these ships are,” said Bella from the passenger compartment as she looked out the window and saw the Atomic Destiny filling the screen.

    “I’ve been on them since they were first built,” said Becky Sanchez. “And even I still can’t get over how we built something that large.”

    “You’ve been with them that long?” asked Bella.

    “Helped do the finishing work in the Ceres Shipyards and was on board during all the builders trials,” said Sanchez. “Are you just taking a tourist ticket back to Earth?”

    “Sort of,” said Bella. “Colt and I got engaged.”

    “You did?” exclaimed Sanchez. “I didn’t hear about that!”

    “I thought his whole crew knew,” said Bella as she showed off her ring once again.

    “Oh, that’s pretty,” said Sanchez as she looked it over. “I love that cut.”

    “I know,” said Bella as she looked over it herself for the thousandth time. “Makes the gold stand out just that much more.”

    “I think he likes you just a tad,” chuckled Sanchez. “I always knew Colt had someone waiting for him on Pluto, but I never put two and two together.”

    “Three years,” said Bella. “But he’s mine for good now.”

    “Well, at least he won’t be all mopey this time around,” said Sanchez.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Bella.

    “Whenever we get done with shore leave, he’s all depressed and mopes around like a zombie for about a week,” said Sanchez. “Missing you I’d imagine.”

    “Really?” asked Bella.

    “Yes,” said Sanchez as the shuttle was heard and felt docking with the Atomic Destiny. “But since you’re around, I’d expect to see a different side of him.”

    “I never knew that,” said Bella.

    “You are a special part of his life,” said Sanchez.

    “He’s the best,” said Bella.

    “Okay folks, we’re docked and transfer tunnel shows green across the board,” said Mendoza over the PA system. “You are clear to grab your goodies and head back home.”

    The Captain led the procession off the shuttle and back onto his ship where several Infinicon workers were seen completing last minute tasks before the departure. The senior most member of the detail came up to him as he came onto the ship.

    “Sir, we’ve gotten everything done we could in the time allotted,” he said and transferred a detailed list to the Captain’s tablet. “I wish we had another week or so to get some kinks worked out in some of the systems.”

    “Nothing critical I hope?” asked Winston.

    “Negative sir,” said the technician. “Or at least nothing your crew can’t fix while under way. We left some parts kits for the items we couldn’t get to.”

    “But we’re good for flight ops?” asked Winston.

    “Yes sir,” said the technician. “We already woke your core and it’s up and running. The ship’s provisions are full, all cargo is downloaded and engineering is just waiting for the command to get the reactors and engines online.”

    “Thank you,” said Winston as he looked over the items. “Sensors are out in random sections of the ship?”

    “We tried looking for the fault, but couldn’t find it,” said the technician. “You still have fire and radiation sensors, just thermal and motion sensors are out in part of the crew quarters.”

    “We’ll work on it,” said Winston. “Go ahead and grab your party.”

    “Aye sir,” said the technician as he alerted the remaining members of the maintenance crew and summoned them to the airlock that was attached to the dock. Several waited for their counterparts in the various sections and briefed them on what was going on before meeting up and departing the ship. The crew headed towards their quarters and stowed their gear, waiting for them to be underway before unpacking. They knew that departing from the docks was an all hands affair and quickly shed their civilian clothing for the Infinicon uniforms before departing for their duty stations.

    “Right this way,” said Talbert as she grabbed the few passengers that had tickets for the journey to Earth. Bella looked at her and found Colt coming off the shuttle before motioning her to follow Talbert. Bella grabbed whatever bag was available and quickly jogged to catch up with Talbert.

    “Bella, hang on by the shuttle, you have different quarters,” said Talbert but was interrupted by Camille Winston before she could turn around.

    “I can show her to her quarters,” said Camille.

    “Thanks Cam,” said Talbert as she continued with the remainder of the passengers.

    “Were you able to pack everything?” asked Camille as she turned Bella around and headed towards the married couples berths.

    “And some,” said Bella with a grin. “Poor Colt’s eyes popped out.”

    “He’s probably handy to have around as a pack mule,” laughed Camille. “Certainly has the shoulders for it.”

    “Would I be able to get something to help me move them off the shuttle?” asked Bella.

    “I’d wait until we’re underway,” said Camille. “Once we head out, I’ll have Markus relieve Colt so he can help you get your things.”

    “You don’t need to do that,” said Bella.

    “Once we’ve plotted a course, one of the junior pilots can take over,” said Camille. “And you two can make plans with the home style bot we picked up.”

    “You got it?” asked Bella.

    “Yes and at an agreeable price,” said Camille. “Once I get done with our quarters, you’re more than welcome to it.”

    “I figured there’d be a line forming to use it,” said Bella.

    “Well there might just be,” said Camille and added a smile. “But the wife of the Captain has certain prerogatives she can throw around. This being one of them.”

    “Thank you,” said Bella.

    “No problem,” said Camille as they arrived at one of the berths. “Here we are.”

    “Roomy,” said Bella as the door opened and she stepped inside.

    “They were designed for families,” said Camille. “There is a door that leads into the quarters next door for those with children like Tiffany and her husband.”

    “You are right, they are a bit drab,” said Bella as she plopped one of her bags on the bed.

    “You’re only limited by your imagination now,” said Camille. “If you need anything, I’ll be down three doors at the head of the passage.”

    “How long before we depart?” asked Bella.

    “A few hours at most,” said Camille.

    “And I’m to stay here?” asked Bella.

    “During launch yes,” said Camille. “Sorry, but regulations require it.”

    “No problem,” said Bella. “But I’d like to be able to unpack while we’re heading out.”

    “I’ll see if I can scrape up a few crew members,” said Camille.

    “If it’s not too much trouble,” said Bella.

    “Just hang tight here for a bit and I’ll get you some help,” said Camille.

    “Thank you,” said Bella as she wandered through the cabin. The bedroom was one of the two adjoining rooms with the other being a decent sized bathroom. There was plenty of closet space in the bedroom and additional storage in the living room and kitchenette. A rehydrator and other cooking appliances were seen still covered in plastic from when they were bought. And as Bella observed them, appeared to be top of the line models as well. As she was continuing her inspection, a bell was heard announcing someone was outside her door.

    “Ma’am?” asked a younger crew member. “I was sent by Mrs. Winston to help you grab your things. If you’ll come with me please.”

    “Just you?” asked Bella.

    “No ma’am,” said the younger man. “Colt is meeting us at the shuttle with someone else.”

    “He doesn’t need to be drug away from his duties!” protested Bella.

    “Apparently the Captain is having Mendoza in the pilot’s seat for the launch,” said the man.

    “Isn’t Colt the chief pilot?” asked Bella.

    “He is,” said the younger man as they traversed the corridors towards the shuttle dock.

    “So?” asked Bella.

    “Ma’am, I’m junior nobody honestly and I don’t get that kind of information as to why the Captain put Mendoza in the driver’s seat,” said the younger man.

    “I understand,” said Bella as they approached the passageway that led to the shuttle. Colt was seen already loading her baggage onto a moving pallet and adding his as well.

    “Is this everything?” he asked as she came up to him.

    “One more,” she said and picked up a small pack and slung it over her shoulder.

    “We’re good guys,” said Colt. “I can get it from here.”

    “Okay sir,” said one of the two as they departed to get ready at their stations. Once they were out of earshot, Bella got in closer to Colt.

    “I thought you were the chief pilot,” she remarked.

    “I am,” said Colt. “However, the Captain thinks some of the younger crew members need some seasoning in some of the trickier maneuvers.”

    “So he’s benching you?” asked Bella pointedly.

    “Not at all,” said Colt. “I’ll still be there, but in the instructor seat next to the pilot. He can run a checklist just as well as I can and I won’t be needed until we actually launch.”

    “Why all of the sudden does he think they need more seasoning?” asked Bella.

    “Because they do,” said Colt. “The Captain and I talked it over a few days ago and came to the decision that Mendoza and the others need some quality time in the seat. This is just the beginning of that training.”

    “You’re not in trouble or anything are you?” asked Bella after a moment’s pause.

    “No,” chuckled Colt. “You happen to be engaged to one of the best pilots in Infinicon service if I may toot my horn a bit. I’ve been chief pilot for almost four years which is ten years younger than most accomplish that fact on a ship this size. And knowing that, I’m destined for bigger things as the Captain says. And knowing that, he and I both decided it was better for the younger kids to get some play time rather than me doing everything.”

    “I just wanted to make sure,” said Bella.

    “If anything, I’ll likely move into a better job,” said Colt.

    “But you love being a pilot!” she objected as they arrived at the quarters. “I’m going to be lost for a while until I can figure my way around this ship.”

    “It’s easy,” said Colt. “The passageway we’re in runs bow to stern and the same on the opposite side. Same thing below us. Corridors at the top run port to starboard into the main passageways except when labeled and have doors normally closed.”

    “And where are the communicators located?” asked Bella.

    “For what exactly?” asked Colt.

    “For when I get lost trying to find our quarters,” deadpanned Bella.

    “Just call my name and I’ll come running,” said Colt with a cheesy grin as he opened the door. “Looks like a pretty big upgrade. Way nicer than I’m in right now.”

    “Speaking of which, we’ll need to clear out your old quarters,” said Bella.

    “When we are underway,” said Colt. “Until then you get to pick out decorating designs.”

    “How did you know?” asked Bella.

    “I saw the crate for the home style bot when I loaded your baggage,” said Colt. “And yes, they are a bit drab with nothing but the white walls.”

    “I was thinking a western look,” said Bella. “Some wood paneling with some softer earth tones and a sunset border or something.”

    “Sounds like you’ve got it planned out,” chuckled Colt as he unloaded the bags from the pallet and set them on the floor. One of his bags he set to the side as the remainder were set in a neat line for Bella to go through them.

    “Of course I’d like your inputs,” said Bella. “You have to live here too.”

    “For a few months at least,” said Colt.

    “What do you mean by that?” asked Bella.

    “Well, like I said, I won’t be in this job forever and who knows what might happen between now and the time we reach Earth,” said Colt. “And there’s always jobs I could get selected for.”

    “Anything in particular?” asked Bella.

    “Well, maybe,” said Colt evasively as he took off his civilian clothing and grabbed the Infinicon uniform he gathered before he met Bella at the shuttle.

    “I don’t have any spare credits on me or else I’d be more than happy to tip for this striptease,” she grinned and plopped down on the bed with a naughty grin.

    “Sorry babe, but duty will call shortly,” said Colt.

    “We might be able to have enough time to christen the quarters the right way,” she said mischievously and rubbed her hands on the mattress.

    “I’m not sure how others would think if I showed up on the bridge smelling like your perfume,” he chuckled and grabbed his work boots.

    “There’re showers silly,” said Bella with a grin.

    “I’d rather make sure I had the time to do everything up right,” said Colt as he pulled on the legs of the jumpsuit. “No sense in rushing the perfection I want to create for you on your first time on board this ship.”

    “Oh my,” she laughed. “You do certainly make an interesting proposition.”

    “It’s a deal then?” he asked.

    “Only if you make good on your promise,” she smiled.

    “I never break a promise,” said Colt. “Anyway, I took the liberty of looking through the available jobs in Infinicon while we were on Pluto.”

    “Okay, and?” she asked.

    “Well, there are a few jobs I thought were interesting,” said Colt.

    “Such as?” asked Bella. But before she could get an answer, the ship-wide PA system came to life with a request.

    “Pilot Colt Daniels to the bridge,” said the navigator, Robert Duncan. “Colt Daniels to the bridge please.”

    “How about when we get the chance to talk about it uninterrupted?” asked Colt.

    “Sounds fair,” said Bella. “Go to work baby.”

    “Nice having you around to say that,” said Colt as he collected a quick kiss.

    “See you in a bit,” said Bella as Colt departed. She sighed and started unpacking her things as several announcements were made across the PA system with the different requests for different personnel to perform whatever duties they were required to in order for the ship to launch. A feeling of nostalgia swept over her as she remembered the same kinds of announcements from her youth summoning the crews of the various freighters in much the same way. And an odd feeling of normalcy although never having been on the ship before.


    Colt arrived at the bridge and saw the various crew members at work. He immediately headed towards the pilot’s seat when he was stopped by Duncan.

    “The Captain says you’re interested in learning about different parts of the ship?” he asked.

    “I did?” asked Colt.

    “Yes, it would be good for you to get some cross training into the various positions on a ship for if and when you ever get put into a First Officer or Captain position,” said Winston.

    “Of course,” said Colt. “Subtle hint taken.”

    “Come over and I’ll show you how to plot the course to where we start searching,” said Duncan.

    “Sounds good,” said Colt as he looked at what he considered “his” chair one last time.

    “The Captain did the same thing to me,” said Duncan in a low voice once Colt arrived. “I was originally in communications and he pretty much forced me to learn the other systems.”

    “I understand,” said Colt.

    “You’re going to be a Captain yourself one of these days,” said Duncan. “And the more knowledge you have of the ship’s systems, the better Captain you’ll be.”

    “Not fair to use logic on me,” said Colt with a chuckle.

    “I said the same thing,” laughed Duncan. “Okay, here’s our position at current down to one hundred meters…”

    Duncan continued showing Colt the items needed to plot the course and even had him input some of the variables and how to transfer it around to other consoles. And how they worked together with the various stations on the ship. It was a crash course in basic interplanetary navigation which Colt picked up fairly quickly and before long the computer spat out the necessary course they needed to take.

    “See how easy that is?” asked Duncan. “And now we’ll need to check the computer.”

    “How come?” asked Colt.

    “Because computers aren’t perfect,” said Duncan. “It still takes a trained eye to go over the figures manually to make sure we’re heading for where we want. Let’s put it another way, do you trust the computer to dock the ship on its own?”

    “No way,” said Colt.

    “And navigation isn’t any different?” asked Duncan.

    “Suppose not,” said Colt.

    “How’s your math?” asked Duncan.

    “I can count to ten,” said Colt. “And after that, I start removing clothing.”

    “Let’s see just how bad you are,” said Duncan. “Go ahead and work those triangulation figures for our current position.”

    Colt broke out his communicator which also had a calculator built in. He found it odd to trust one computer to verify what another computer told him, but saw many of the basic equations could be done on his own. Eventually he lost track of time doing the various figures as the Captain announced the ship was ready to get underway.

    “Not bad,” said Duncan. “You could probably shave fifteen, twenty minutes off your time when you get more familiar with what you’re doing. But for a first time that’s a good job.”

    “I didn’t realize it took me so long,” said Colt.

    “For not knowing the systems, it’s better than average,” said Duncan.

    “We’ll see if we end up in quadrant Kilo-44 by the time we’re done,” chuckled Winston. “Mister Mendoza, do we have clearance for departure?”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza from the pilot’s chair. “We have automated clearance and waiting for the verbal go-ahead from the Charon Docks. Our course is clear of all traffic for ten million kilometers and we have full power available on all engines.”

    “Charon Docks, this is the Atomic Destiny,” said Winston over the communicator. “Requesting clearance for Pluto departure en route to quadrant Kilo-44.”

    Atomic Destiny, you are cleared for departure,” said the controller. “No traffic in your pattern and clear path for five million kilometers from Pluto orbit.”

    “You said ten million,” said Winston to Mendoza.

    “Colt’s advice sir,” said Mendoza. “Always double what they give you and check everything twice just in case.”

    “Good lesson there,” said Winston. “You are clear to take us out.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza as he brought his controls online. “Maneuvering thrusters…distance five meters…ten meters…twenty meters…fifty meters…”

    Mendoza continued the expanding numbers as the Atomic Destiny moved away from the space dock and into the area around Charon’s orbit. There were no debris or satellites in their path as they reached the point where they could engage their engines.

    “Ten kilometers from the Charon Docks sir,” said Mendoza. “I have the course on my console and engines are ready for full power burn.”

    “Orient us towards Kilo-44 and take us out,” said Winston. Mendoza advanced the throttles under the observation of Colt and used the main engines to help orient the ship, turning it a lot tighter space than it would have with thrusters alone. Eventually they were on the course and the power and speed were both building at the same time.

    “Very smooth,” said Winston. “Good launch.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Mendoza with a polite bow.

    “We are clear from launch,” said Talbert over the PA system. “All crew members are cleared for work-rest cycle and all passengers are free to move about the ship except in designated off limits areas. If you monitor the holo-projectors in your cabins, a detailed list of off limits areas will be loading shortly along with basic shipboard rules and your designated emergency escape areas.”

    “And me sir?” asked Colt.

    “Let Mendoza take a break and put on proper boots,” said Winston as he looked down towards where Mendoza’s feet were on the pedals. He couldn’t see through the partition that separated his position from the Captain, but he traced the line from the Captain’s eyes right to his feet.

    “I…didn’t know you noticed sir,” said Mendoza who was still wearing the sports shoes he had from when they departed Pluto.

    “A good Captain notices little things like red and blue tennis shoes,” said Winston with a chuckle. “And might even overlook it since you did a fine job getting us on course.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza.

    “I relieve you,” said Colt officially.

    “I am relieved,” said Mendoza.

    “Why?” asked Colt.

    “I wanted to get a jump start on the checklist,” said Mendoza.

    “First and only time,” said Colt.

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza as he departed the bridge. The ship continued its journey into the cosmos where they would spend thirty days reclaiming various objects as they normally did. Colt settled into the chair and set the controls to where he normally had them and got comfortable in the chair, thinking of how nice it was to be in the seat once again. And remembering who he had waiting for him when he got off shift. And apparently someone else noticed his mood as well.

    “Is there some reason you’re grinning like a mule eating green briars?” asked Talbert.

    “No reason,” said Colt.

    “Uh huh,” said Talbert. “I had that same look when my husband finally moved on board.”

    “It is nice knowing I don’t have empty quarters to return to,” said Colt.

    “Did I miss something?” asked Lilly from her station.

    “Just saying how nice it was having my fiancée here on board,” said Colt.

    “Oh, right,” said Lilly as she went back to her console. The remainder of the crew on board the bridge settled into their duties as everything was running as it should and the ship didn’t show any problems in the equipment. There were still several problems they had noted prior to arriving at Pluto that needed to be fixed, but the significant problems had already been corrected and the ship was running as it was supposed to.

    But little did they know there was one additional piece of equipment that was running like it should as well. The crew had no idea it was on board much less that it was transmitting their position in space to a very specific party that was highly interested in such data.
  2. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 12

    “Captain? I’ve got a problem with the manifest,” said First Officer Talbert as she managed to track down the Captain. The ship was almost to the point in the Solar System where they would start searching for and reclaiming items again and Talbert was rechecking the necessary paperwork for the voyage.

    “Oh?” asked Captain Winston.

    “Colt’s fiancée isn’t on the manifest,” said Talbert.

    “An oversight on my part,” said Winston in a matter of fact tone.

    “Want me to correct it?” asked Talbert.

    “No, it’ll be fine,” said Winston.

    “Captain, that’s contrary to regulations,” said Talbert.

    “It might be,” said Winston. “But I know she’s there and so do you.”

    “Okay,” said Talbert with some confusion.

    “If she’s on the manifest, she gets charged for a billet from corporate. And being that she’s about to be the wife of one of our crew, that’s kind of unfair. I mean, we don’t charge for the billets for your husband or children do we?” asked Winston.

    “Well, no,” said Talbert.

    “So knowing the two are probably going to get married when we reach Earth, why charge her for a one way billet?” asked Winston.

    “Corporate won’t like that,” said Talbert.

    “We’re a wee bit far away from the corporate bean counters for them to worry about a single passenger that doesn’t get charged. Like I said, you know it, I know it and Colt knows it. You honestly think he’ll leave her behind in an emergency evacuation?” asked Winston.

    “Absolutely not,” said Talbert.

    “So it’s not a big deal,” said Winston. “And I’ll take any heat for it if it comes up.”

    “I’m just making sure you were aware we had a stowaway,” laughed Talbert.

    “A very lovely stowaway at that,” chuckled Markus.

    “She and Colt do make a cute couple,” said Talbert. “Has he decided whether or not to stay?”

    “I think they plan on discussing that on this trip,” said Markus. “And truth be told, I’d hate to lose him so we’re trying to butter her up a little bit.”

    “Is that why we suddenly have a home style bot on board?” asked Talbert with a chuckle.

    “Perhaps,” laughed Markus. “And my wife wouldn’t relent.”

    “I didn’t want to say anything, but the ship quarters are kind of drab,” remarked Talbert.

    “Yes, I know,” said Markus with a sigh. “It’s a ship, not a pretty place.”

    “Back in the old days, ships that used nothing more than wind were often homes to the crews. They spent months and months upon end sailing around the world. And we really are little different than those mariners of old,” said Talbert. “Of course, we have a little better accommodations these days.”

    “Like the lack of an open bilge?” chuckled Markus.

    “It’s interesting how history has come around though isn’t it?” asked Talbert.

    “It certainly has to an extent,” said Markus. “And yes, those ships of yesteryear certainly were the only home some of those sailors knew.”

    “The Atomic Destiny is a home to all of us,” said Talbert. “And a home should be comfortable.”

    “And reason you thought to bring this up now?” asked Markus.

    “Because we all respect you, no matter what,” said Talbert. “And if you wanted a drab ship, we can accept that.”

    “I suppose a little color and styling can’t hurt,” said Markus. “My wife is already putting it to good use in my cabin.”

    “And you were really impressed by that banquet room on the Bykovsky,” said Talbert.

    “That’s true,” said Winston. “No reason we shouldn’t have the proper reception facilities for either trade negotiations or a formal dinner.”

    “Before or after the refit?” asked Talbert.

    “After if I can’t get corporate to unlock their wallets and spend a few credits to make us one,” said Winston. “Probably convert one of the family billets.”

    “Back to the point at hand, do you think Colt will stay?” asked Talbert.

    “Maybe,” said Markus. “Bella grew up on a reclamation ship so this is almost like coming home for her. And she’s not really hurting for money as I found out.”

    “Oh?” asked Talbert.

    “She has a third interest in Club Plutonium as well as a seven percent stake in the Circle P Ranch. Likely has some other investments she hasn’t mentioned as well,” said Markus.

    “So she’s not exactly panhandling,” chuckled Talbert. “But how does that help us keep Colt?”

    “The fact she doesn’t need to be on Pluto for any other reason than to sling booze at drunken freighter crews,” said Markus. “As in, nothing really holding her back.”

    “And Colt?” asked Talbert.

    “I don’t know,” said Winston with a sigh. “I think he’s on the fence. He wants to stay, but wants to make Bella happy as well. But he did apply for the position as Chief Dock Pilot at the Pluto Docks before we left.”

    “And you endorsed it?” asked Talbert.

    “No sense holding him back,” said Winston. “I can’t give a good enough reason to not formally endorse his application and he more or less was handpicked for that position.”

    “Oh?” asked Talbert. Winston explained his visit from Dwayne Brown and the conversation he and Colt had before leaving. As well as the personal guarantee that the application would likely sail through corporate channels before getting approved for the transfer. Talbert let the news sink in a bit before replying.

    “So that’s why you had Mendoza take us out?” asked Talbert.

    “More or less,” said Winston. “He does need the experience.”

    “So you want me to put Colt into more of an advisor role this trip?” asked Talbert.

    “It would be best for our younger pilots,” said Winston. “Of course I’ll still expect Colt to pull the odd shift here and there, but he needs to be training rather than just doing.”

    “Okay, I’ll work the duty schedules accordingly,” said Talbert as her tablet beeped at her. She checked to see what it was and saw the Captain doing the same thing.

    “Looks like we already have an object detected,” said Winston. “Just outside the sector we’re supposed to be working.”

    “Are there other ships assigned to that sector?” asked Talbert.

    “Not from Infinicon,” said Winston. “And finders keepers.”

    “I’ll make sure we have an intercept plot,” said Talbert.

    “Where is Colt anyway?” asked Winston.

    “Relieving me on the bridge so I could track you down,” said Talbert.

    “Start cross training him on the other positions,” said Winston. “He’s already started on navigation so work him into sensors, communications and some engineering as well.”

    “Will do,” said Talbert as she departed. Winston headed back towards his quarters and checked the tablet for the coordinates and did a rough estimation on how long it might take to get there. He saw it would be well into the next morning before they arrived and saw he would at least get a good night’s sleep before they arrived. Heading into his quarters he was surprised at the new look his wife had gotten from the home style bot.

    “Kinda pretty,” said Winston.

    “A little more life than it was before,” said Camille.

    “I think so,” said Winston as he looked around. “Maybe for the next Captain as well.”

    “If you actually go through with your plans,” said Camille.

    “I made you a promise,” said Winston. “And I intend to keep it.”

    “I’ve never questioned your career path,” said Camille. “And I don’t mind being out here zipping around the stars even. But you do need to pass the torch at some point.”

    “Yes, I know,” said Winston. “It’s hard admitting I’m getting old.”

    “You aren’t old,” said Camille with a scoff. “Only as old as your heart makes you feel.”

    “I do think having Colt and Bella around has been good for me,” said Winston. “Makes me remember the times we shared together when we were younger.”

    “They do remind me of when you were a dashing young officer in the fleet and caught my attention that first time in your Class A uniform,” said Camille.

    “I’ve still got a Class A uniform,” said Winston with a wink.

    “Pretty sure the original doesn’t fit any longer,” chuckled Camille.

    “You might have a point,” said Winston with a laugh.

    “But you’re still my dashing officer,” said Camille as she took him in a hug.

    “Good, because I thought you’d try to run off with Colt,” laughed Winston.

    “Oh no,” said Camille. “He belongs to that young lady that captured his heart.”

    “Stuck with me then,” said Winston.

    “I could think of worse fates,” said Camille.


    “So we want Dillon at the controls?” asked Colt.

    “She could use more experience in actually grabbing stuff,” said Talbert. “She didn’t do great on the approach for the one we identified before we hit Pluto.”

    “She did okay,” said Colt.

    “Okay isn’t good enough in this job and you know it,” said Talbert. “It’s the Captain’s job to give her an atta-girl on the approach the last time. My job is to be the mean First Officer that points out deficiencies in her piloting. As is yours.”

    “True,” said Colt. “Okay, Dillon in the pilot’s seat and me observing.”

    “Yep, tomorrow morning,” said Talbert.

    “Until then?” asked Colt.

    “Get some rest,” said Talbert.

    “Actually, I’ve got to clear out my old quarters,” said Colt. “Just haven’t found the time.”

    “And Bella should be done redecorating your new quarters,” said Talbert.

    “If she finally decided on a theme,” chuckled Colt. “She was like a kid with a new toy.”

    “She needs to be comfortable,” said Talbert. “I’m sure she’s probably going a bit out of her mind right now with nothing to do.”

    “Actually, she’s enjoying the rest,” said Colt.

    “That may be what she tells you, but trust me, I can see she’s antsy,” said Talbert.

    “Have you gotten the chance to talk to her yet?” asked Colt.

    “Not at length,” said Talbert. “I do need to take the time to do so.”

    “I’ll see if I can arrange a meeting,” said Colt.

    “Don’t bother,” said Talbert. “I’ll find the time to bump into her.”

    “Okay,” said Colt. “Anything else?”

    “Nope, just wait for Rob to take the night shift,” said Talbert. And if he knew he was being talked about, Duncan appeared on the bridge.

    “Someone talking about me?” he asked.

    “You’ve got the night shift although you’re way early,” said Talbert.

    “I am,” said Duncan. “But I’m good. Couldn’t sleep anymore.”

    “I’ll take an early relief if you want,” said Colt.

    “Eight hours or ten hours, no big deal,” said Duncan. “I know you’ve got stuff to do anyway.”

    “Okay,” said Colt as he quickly brought Duncan up to speed on what was currently happening on the ship. And the planned capture of the object the next morning.

    “You want to plot the course to intercept?” asked Duncan.

    “I already gave it a whirl,” said Colt as he nodded towards the navigator station. Duncan checked over the calculations and saw one or two figures that could be improved on, but saw Colt’s figures would get them there. He pointed out a couple of areas that should be refined the next time, but saw he was grasping the basic concepts pretty well. After quickly showing him a different method, he sent Colt on his way and took control of the ship.

    Colt started heading towards his quarters, but decided to ask Bella is she would mind helping. He got to his quarters to find her curled up on the couch reading something on her tablet. She smiled at him as he entered the quarters.

    “Hey good lookin,” she said and stood up to meet him.

    “Hey babe,” he said and got a kiss in return as he crossed the room. “I haven’t told you yet, but I like what you did with the place.”

    “Thanks,” she smiled. “I was hoping it was something you would like.”

    “If it makes you happy, I like it,” he said.

    “So you don’t like it?” she asked.

    “I didn’t say that,” he replied.

    “But that’s what you meant,” she stated.

    “No, I like it perfectly fine,” he said. “I just want to make sure you’re happy with it.”

    “I did it for the both of us,” she replied.

    “Sweetie, I’m a man and typically have no say so in the decorating,” he chuckled.

    “So you don’t like it?” she asked.

    “I like it perfectly fine,” he said and took her by the shoulders. “I honestly don’t know much about interior decorating, but what you did here works.”

    “You sure?” she asked.

    “Completely,” said Colt with a smile.

    “We can always change it later,” said Bella.

    “I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Colt.

    “Okay,” said Bella in a disbelieving tone and changed the subject. “You are back early.”

    “Rob Duncan relieved me early,” said Colt. “And I was planning on going and clearing out my old quarters. Wanna help?”

    “Sure,” said Bella as she slipped on her fuzzy slippers.

    “You’re wearing those?” he asked.

    “Would that be a problem?” she asked.

    “No, not at all,” said Colt as he grabbed his now empty bag. They traveled down a level and arrived at his now empty quarters and headed inside.

    “Well, not what I was expecting,” said Bella.

    “And that was?” asked Colt.

    “Well hon, you’re a bachelor and live by yourself,” she replied. “I expected dirty dishes and laundry all over the floor.”

    “I’m not that bad,” he chuckled.

    “Pleasantly surprised,” she grinned and headed to his locker. Colt managed to find the additional baggage, but having limited space and limited need for additional items, there wasn’t a lot to be packed up. But he also would make sure it was ready for the cleaning bot to come in and tidy it up for the next occupant when and if it was occupied. Bella headed over to the desk and grabbed a box he had found to put the items inside. Once she got there, she noticed her 3-D picture on the desktop that would rotate towards whomever was sitting in the chair. She didn’t remember making the specific pose where she had her head leaned slightly to the side and gave him the smile that was reserved for him alone.

    “When did you take this?” she asked.

    “Last year,” said Colt as he joined her. “It’s my favorite picture of you.”

    “You’re a hopeless romantic,” she chuckled.

    “I wanted a reminder of what I had waiting for me,” said Colt. “Not that I needed a reminder as you were always on my mind.”

    “Wow! Very mushy and romantic!” she exclaimed.

    “Too much?” he asked.

    “Oh, not at all,” she said. “Girls like that mushy stuff.”

    “Well good,” said Colt as he turned the picture base off and put it inside the box.

    “What else?” she asked.

    “I have a storage bin under the bunk,” said Colt.

    “Got it,” said Bella. “It’s a good thing we moved up in the world.”

    “How so?” he asked as he cleaned out the drawers in the desk and saw he should sort through the items and get rid of certain things.

    “This bed is criminally small,” she remarked.

    “We could make it work,” he grinned.

    “I didn’t say that,” she grinned. “Too bad we don’t have more time to find out for certain.”

    “You’re a bad girl,” he chuckled.

    “You like that quality,” she grinned.

    The pair continued grabbing the items and setting them by the door. Eventually, Colt had a pile large enough to grab a hover-pallet to transport them upstairs. Bella continued grabbing different items and setting them off to the side when a voice was heard at the door.

    “Excuse me, I didn’t know who it was,” said Becky Sanchez from the doorway. “I saw Colt’s door open and wanted to make sure everything was okay.”

    “No problem,” said Bella. “Thanks for checking up.”

    “I love those shoes,” laughed Sanchez.

    “Completely comfy,” said Bella as she raised her foot up.

    “And completely cute,” said Sanchez.

    “I got them on Pluto,” said Bella. “The little shop right down the street from the Club.”

    “I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in,” said Sanchez as Colt came back to the quarters.

    “Hey Becky,” said Colt as he parked the hover pallet next to the door.

    “Hey Colt,” said Sanchez. “I saw your door open and was just making sure everything was okay. And admiring Bella’s shoes.”

    “You too?” asked Colt with a laugh.

    “Cute,” said Sanchez. “And looks comfy.”

    “Told you,” said Bella with a laugh.

    “I’ll admit defeat,” said Colt with raised hands.

    “Well, he’s certainly a keeper,” said Sanchez. “He doesn’t argue.”

    “Time and a place Becky,” said Colt as he started loading items onto the pallet.

    “With a woman, specifically one that’s to be your wife, the appropriate time and place would be never,” laughed Sanchez.

    “There is that,” laughed Colt.

    “Well, I’ll leave you two to finish up,” said Sanchez as she departed.

    “I’ve got to get her and Jake hooked up somehow,” said Bella.

    “He took a liking to her?” asked Colt.

    “He doesn’t know he does,” said Bella. “Yet at least. But he needs a good woman in his life and one that won’t put up with any crap. She seems to fit the bill.”

    “She’s unique,” said Colt.

    “And what am I?” asked Bella with a subtle grin.

    “Priceless…one of a kind…invaluable…center of my world,” said Colt.

    “And?” asked Bella.

    “And what?” he asked.

    “And what else?” asked Bella.

    “Such things can’t be expressed with mere words,” said Colt as he crossed the quarters and took her in his arms.

    “And how would you express it?” asked Bella with an impish grin.

    “Help me finish and I’ll show you,” he grinned.

    “You certainly make an interesting proposition,” said Bella. “How could I resist such an invitation so tempting?”

    “By saying no?” he laughed.

    “But you sell it so well,” she laughed. “Okay mister, we’ll see if your money is where your mouth is here in a bit.”

    “I have to say, having you around is very nice,” said Colt.

    “We’ve got a lot of time to make up for,” said Bella.

    “If we haven’t killed each other in the next two months of transit, I think we’ll likely make it,” laughed Colt as he finished with the remainder of the items and they stepped outside. He gave it one last glance and closed the doors before they headed back to the new quarters, towing the hover-pallet along the way.

    “Are you free this evening?” asked Bella.

    “For the remainder yes,” said Colt. “I’ll need to check the roster to see where I’m working tomorrow. But I’m all yours for the moment.”

    “Well, that’s nice to hear,” said Bella with a grin. “I’d hate to have to find the other woman that occupies a part of your life and kick her ass.”

    “You’re enough woman for me,” laughed Colt as he ferried the items inside.

    “How sweet,” she smiled.

    “Thank you,” he said and stacked the items in the living room area of their quarters. And he still wasn’t used to saying “their” quarters just yet, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling by any means. He finished unloaded the pallet and returned it to its storage area before returning and finding she was busy in the kitchen.

    “Whatcha doing?” he asked.

    “Making us a snack,” she replied. “I discovered something your ship’s galley has that I haven’t had in some time.”

    “Which is?” he asked and decided the unpacking could wait.

    “Strawberry ice cream,” she replied as she dished out two portions from the ice cream maker.

    “You don’t get it on Pluto?” he asked.

    “Not as often as I’d like,” she replied. “C’mon and keep a lady company.”

    “Yes ma’am,” he replied as he joined her on the couch as she flipped on the holo-projector set to a random channel and hey mindlessly watched whatever show happened to be on. They finished up and sat the bowls on the table as she snuggled in close to him and watched the remainder of the sitcom as it played out. After ending, she stretched out with a groan as he collected the bowls to be put in the small sink.

    “You have a gym on this tub?” she asked.

    “We do,” said Colt as he looked at the tablet and duty roster for the next day. “And being that I’m assigned to the simulator with one of our younger pilots, I’ll be able to give you the guided grand tour of the ship and show you.”

    “Training?” she asked.

    “Yep,” he said and stretched out himself.

    “You look tired,” she observed.

    “A little bit,” he replied with a yawn.

    “Either way this trip looks good for you to rest up,” said Bella as she headed to the bedroom and changed into her sleeping clothing. Colt looked at the pile of items and decided it could wait for the next day to sort through and put up. He looked up at Bella as she came out of the bedroom dressed in a very formal, yet revealing nightie.

    “Umm, wow,” he observed.

    “Like it?” she asked.

    “Like is a word I would use,” said Colt.

    “The girls got it for me before I left,” said Bella. “Part of my bachelorette party.”

    “I approve of your friends’ taste,” said Colt.

    “Come on sweetie,” she beckoned. “Get some sleep.”

    “Let the record show Chief Pilot Colt Daniels has no problems with female authority figures,” he grinned as he shut everything off and followed her into the bedroom.
    Tully Mars, rle737ng, techsar and 3 others like this.
  3. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 13

    “You don’t have a bad galley here,” said Bella as she and Colt finished up breakfast.

    “They do what they can,” said Colt. “But I really can’t wait until we get to Earth for some fresh eggs and milk.”

    “Very true,” said Bella as they put their trays in the rack to be cleaned and started heading out the sliding doors. However, before they were able to get through, they closed on the pair and attempted to reopen, but only got halfway through the cycle. Colt waved his hand at the sensor as the doors shut again and whined as they tried to reopen.

    “Hang on,” said one of the galley workers as he came over and pushed the doors open and turned the device off. “It gets cranky from time to time.”

    “What’s the problem?” asked Bella.

    “Motor has some glitches,” said the worker. “I’ll let the maintenance crew know.”

    “It’s a simple fix,” said Bella. “It sounds like something inside is grinding and prohibiting it from opening. Probably bad bearings or something.”

    “I’ll let them know,” said the worker.

    “I could fix it in about a half an hour with the right tools,” she replied.

    “Ma’am, it’s their job to fix it,” said the worker who was surprised a passenger would be willing to help fix a shipboard item.

    “Oh, right,” said Bella as she and Colt departed.

    “You busy right now?” he asked.

    “Apparently not,” said Bella.

    “Problems?” he asked.

    “No,” she replied simply.

    “Something is up,” said Colt.

    “I grew up fixing stuff like that on ships,” said Bella. “I just got back into my shipboard mode there for a minute and thought I could help.”

    “We’ll find something to occupy your time,” said Colt.

    “Anyway, no, I’m not busy,” she replied. “Why did you ask?”

    “I’ve got a few hours before having to be in the simulator,” said Colt. “Want the tour?”

    “Sure,” she said halfheartedly.

    “Cheer up,” he said. “It’s only been a couple of days. I’m sure before long you’ll be busy causing trouble and helping fix problems. Just give the crew time to get comfortable with you.”

    “I know,” said Bella with a sigh. “I just feel like an interloper right now as everyone keeps looking at me like I’m a new cat or something.”

    “Well, they don’t know you yet,” said Colt. “It’s only been a couple of days. Give it time.”

    “I know,” repeated Bella with another sigh. “But yes, I’d love a tour.”

    “Okay,” he said as they headed towards the bow of the ship where the bridge was located. Once they arrived, the computer sensed she wasn’t allowed and chirped at her presence alerting the on duty crew there was someone who wasn’t supposed to be there. Captain Winston silenced the alarm and motioned for her to come onto the bridge.

    “How did it know?” she asked.

    “The crew has sensors built into their communicators,” said Winston. “It didn’t find one on you so the core let us know you were here. Kind of like an advanced doorbell.”

    “Neat,” said Bella. “Colt’s giving me the official tour.”

    “Well, let me stand in for him,” said Winston. “My ship, my tour of the bridge.”

    “As the Captain orders,” chuckled Colt and swept his arm theatrically.

    “Hey Colt,” said Lilly Gold from her station.

    “Good morning Lilly,” said Colt.

    “Hey, the Captain said you were cross training into other areas,” she replied. “I’d be happy to get you up to speed on the communications setup.”

    “That sounds good,” said Colt. “I’ll figure out a time.”

    “I’ve got time right now,” said Lilly.

    “I’m supposed to go on duty here in a couple of hours,” said Colt. “And I’m a little busy right now. How about another time?”

    “Okay,” said Lilly. “Just let me know when.”

    “Sure,” said Colt as he rejoined the Captain and Bella where she was remarking about the progress made since she had been on board the ships.

    “And this is actually a generation out of date,” said Winston. “The newer ships are even more advanced although we’ll get the newest equipment during our overhaul.”

    “Still far more advanced than when I was last onboard,” said Bella as they arrived at the communications station.

    “Lilly? I don’t know if you’ve met Bella Phillips,” said Winston. “She’s Colt’s fiancée and will be with us for a while. You want to give her a brief on your systems?”

    “With due respect sir, the communications systems are restricted access,” said Lilly. “She’s only a passenger and doesn’t have the required clearance.”

    “Just a general overview?” asked Winston. “Nothing confidential.”

    “Yes sir,” said Lilly and went through a twenty second brief of the communications systems.

    “They have come a long way,” said Bella as she had the basic understand only of the wormhole communications systems.

    “Pretty complicated,” said Lilly.

    The Captain sensed something was amiss and moved on to the pilot’s station where Mendoza was currently making sure the craft stayed on autopilot. “And here’s where Colt makes his money most of the time.”

    “Certainly not this trip,” said Mendoza with a laugh. Colt spent a couple of minutes explaining the various systems and even gave Bella the opportunity to sit in the chair and see it from his perspective. She didn’t touch any of the controls, but was amazed at the power she felt just by sitting in the chair of the largest ship ever created.

    “Think I could spin it around or something?” she grinned.

    “Let’s not for the moment,” laughed Colt.

    “You’re no fun,” grinned Bella as she relinquished the station back to Mendoza. “Captain, I appreciate you showing me around.”

    “No problem,” said Winston. “Speaking of showing you around, Camille wants to set up a breakfast with you eventually.”

    “I’d be honored,” said Bella.

    “I’ll let her know and she can set it up,” said Winston. “I’ll leave you two to explore the rest of the ship before Colt goes on duty.”

    “Again, thank you,” said Bella as they departed the bridge. The couple headed back out into the ship where Colt showed her around and some of the areas she needed to stay away from since she technically was only a passenger on this trip. She understood that some of the areas had significant safety hazards and were kept off limits more for her protection rather than a slight. Being such a large ship, he didn’t get everything covered before having to break off and get ready to head to the simulation station. They returned to the quarters where he grabbed a quick cup of coffee and put the lid on the mug.

    “How long will you be?” she asked.

    “A few hours probably,” said Colt. “Depends on the trainee.”

    “Okay, I think I’m going to discover the gym,” said Bella.

    “Okay,” said Colt. “Bye babe.”

    “Bye sweetie,” she replied as she collected a kiss and he departed. She looked at his items still sitting in the living room and decided it might be better for him to unload some of the more personal items, but went ahead and got his clothing stowed in the closet and drawers. It didn’t waste as much time as she thought it would and decided to change and head for the gym. After getting her workout clothes on, she grabbed a bottle of water and headed aft to the section that offered a decent set of gym equipment. Unsure of what she wanted to do exactly, she got on the exercise bike and set a random program before pedaling away.

    Bella was well into the routine the bike was putting her through when the doors slid open and the First Officer came in. Talbert gave Bella a polite nod before setting how towel and bottle of water off to the side and heading towards the weights. Bella had been introduced before, but hadn’t gotten the chance to speak at length to her as she was helping prepare the ship for the departure from Pluto. Talbert selected a weight machine and adjusted it accordingly before doing through repetitions to work her upper body with a puff each time.

    “You’ve got a nice gym here,” said Bella as a means of conversation as the silence was killing her. She was very social by nature and two people not talking positively drove her crazy.

    “We bugged the Captain for it,” said Talbert as she pumped a set out and relaxed when she hit ten. “There’s only so much that can be done with muscle stimulants.”

    “I’m Bella Phillips,” said Bella. “We’ve never been formally introduced.”

    “Where are my manners?” asked Talbert as she sat up from the bench and walked to the bike. “Tiffany Talbert, First Officer on the ship, but call me Tiffany please.”

    “Nice to meet you,” said Bella.

    “And you as well,” said Talbert. “You seem to be hitting that hard.”

    “I’ve not been keeping up like I should. And nothing like working up a sweat,” said Bella as she puffed a bit as the bike went through a hill routine.

    “You seem in decent enough shape as it is,” said Tiffany.

    “Thank you,” said Bella. “And not looking too shabby yourself.”

    “It gets harder when you’re my age,” said Tiffany as she started another set.

    “You aren’t that old,” said Bella with a shake of her head.

    “Just past forty-six,” said Tiffany between the reps.

    “If I look half as good as you do at forty-six, I’ll be happy,” remarked Bella.

    “Wow, thank you,” said Tiffany as she completed the set. “Are you adjusting to life onboard?”

    “Pretty much,” said Bella. “Just took a while to get back into the grove of being on a ship.”

    “You grew up on one, right?” asked Tiffany as she adjusted the weight slightly.

    “Yeah, on WGE freighters,” said Bella. “What about you?”

    “Me? No,” said Tiffany as she resumed her set. “I was born on Mars, but came to Earth not long after as my dad had taken an early retirement and bought a cattle ranch. Went to school and joined the Infinicon commercial shipping not long after.”

    “What brought you into that?” asked Bella.

    “Being in space honestly,” said Tiffany as she finished the set and moved to another machine. “I love the thrill of being out here and prowling around the stars.”

    “I know how you feel,” said Bella. “And your family is on board, right?”

    “Yep, husband and three rowdy children,” said Tiffany as she moved to the leg machine.

    “I saw them the other day,” said Bella. “They are cuties.”

    “They are a mess,” said Tiffany. “But I wouldn’t trade them for the galaxy.”

    “Did your husband work for Infinicon as well?” asked Bella.

    “No, he was a professor at Mars U,” said Tiffany as she grunted out a set and reduced the weight slightly. “We met when I was on the Nevada Destiny and he eventually moved onboard after we got married and he wouldn’t see me for months at a time.”

    “Can I ask a question?” asked Bella as she stopped pedaling for a moment.

    “Sure,” said Tiffany as she took a quick break herself.

    “What is there to do here?” asked Bella in an exasperated tone.

    “You’re a bit bored I take it?” chuckled Tiffany.

    “To say the least,” said Bella. “I mean, growing up I always kind of helped out around the ship when I wasn’t concentrating on my studies. But now? Being that I’m not exactly an official part of the crew, I can’t just wander in and help fix the door controls in the galley.”

    “Honestly, I can’t give you a good answer at this point,” said Tiffany. “Being that you and Colt aren’t married and all at the moment.”

    “I’m going to go out of my mind,” laughed Bella.

    “My husband tends to keep busy teaching the children we have on board,” said Tiffany. “I’m not sure of your background in that, but that could be an area you help in.”

    “It’s a start,” said Bella. “But I love getting my hands dirty.”

    “At this point, we really can’t have you doing something like that,” said Tiffany. “It’s nothing personal, but you understand there are some proprietary secrets on board and allowing you access to all of our equipment is a risk.”

    “I’m not a threat,” said Bella defensively.

    “I wasn’t implying you were,” said Tiffany. “But at the same time, your parents still work for WGE or are still close to it. So you can understand some reluctance on the part of some of the crew to allow you into restricted spaces.”

    “I understand,” said Bella. “So I get to be bored?”

    “Well, Colt’s about to get his hours cut for lack of a better term,” said Tiffany. “Nothing he did, but the Captain feels the junior pilots should get more time behind the stick. So Colt will be an observer for the journey home more than anything.”

    “I can think of ways he can keep me occupied in his spare time,” laughed Bella.

    “I bet,” laughed Tiffany. “Same thing that happened with my husband and me.”

    “And could explain why you have three kids,” chuckled Bella.

    “Certainly didn’t help,” said Tiffany. “Other than that, is everything okay?”

    “Yes. And it’s nice having Colt a short distance away and we’re making up for lost time mainly,” said Bella. “Being apart so often it’s kind of odd seeing him on a regular basis.”

    “But until you two are married, you’re more like a passenger this trip,” said Tiffany. “An unofficial one at that.”

    “How’s that?” asked Bella.

    “The Captain kind of forgot you on the manifest,” said Tiffany. “So you’ve got a free trip from Pluto back to Earth.”

    “How did he forget something that important?” asked Bella.

    “He didn’t,” said Tiffany. “He said since you two were about to be married, it wasn’t fair to charge you for the passenger ticket home. But being that you aren’t married, you can’t be listed as part of the ship’s compliment. You’re in a weird zone that falls between the two.”

    “Not the first time I’ve been called weird,” laughed Bella.

    “Once he broke it down to me, I agreed wholeheartedly,” said Tiffany.

    “Thanks,” said Bella.

    “Look, Colt’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him,” said Tiffany as she took a break. “So having you around is certainly good for him. He’s a good guy that typically is very serious and, well, missing something. It appears you are what he was missing and he’s different now.”

    “Different good or different bad?” asked Bella.

    “Good,” said Tiffany. “His job performance never lacked, but he’s a lot more fun to be around.”

    “I never saw that side of him,” said Bella.

    “He gets this intense look on his face whenever he’s at the controls,” said Tiffany. “Especially when we’re picking up an object. But it’s been missing here lately.”

    “He is serious,” said Bella. “But I think that’s what attracted me to him originally. That and being as forward as he was.”

    “And he’s a good looking guy,” chuckled Tiffany.

    “Well, that too,” laughed Bella. “But it’s more than that.”

    “I think you two are a good match,” said Tiffany. “He’s a lot smarter than he lets on as it shows in his skills as a pilot. But more of that is instinct I think. Either way, he is a damn fine pilot.”

    “I’ve never gotten to see him in action until recently,” said Bella.

    “On here?” asked Tiffany.

    “No, he rented a space plane and took me up for a trip,” said Bella.

    “It appears he kind of likes you,” chuckled Tiffany.

    “Just a little,” said Bella with a grin.

    “And could you see yourself living on board here?” asked Tiffany.

    “We haven’t really talked about it,” said Bella. “I figure we will before we get to Earth.”

    “He’s a man and moreover a pilot honey,” laughed Tiffany. “You’d likely have to tie him down to collect his full attention to talk about his future.”

    “That almost sounds naughty,” laughed Bella.

    “Well, if the shoe fits,” laughed Tiffany. “But you will have to corner him.”

    “I’m sure we will find the time here soon,” said Bella as she finished up and toweled off. “I really appreciate you being up front with me.”

    “Anytime,” said Tiffany as she got back into her workout and Bella departed the gym. Heading back to her quarters, she found Colt was still out and about and hopped into the shower. She was just wetting down her hair when the door opened behind her. She jumped slightly until Colt’s hands were found around her waist from behind and she heard his voice.

    “You know we’re supposed to conserve water,” said Colt. “We’re on a ship and all and resources are limited.”

    “And didn’t you shower this morning?” asked Bella as she backed into him.

    “Maybe,” said Colt as he pulled her in tighter. “But as a senior member of the crew, it’s my duty to discipline you for this infraction of the ship’s code.”

    “And what discipline might that entail?” she asked as she turned around.

    “I think a back scratch is in order,” he grinned.

    “You think huh?” she asked.

    “Hoping at least?” he asked with a grin.

    “I think you’ll get lucky today Chief Pilot Daniels,” said Bella as she grabbed a washcloth.

    “In more ways than one?” he grinned.

    “Maybe,” she stated with a smile as she scrubbed his back.


    “Don’t fall asleep,” said Bella as she tickled Colt’s side. After the shower, he had laid down on the bed and was drifting towards sleep when Bella slipped in next to him.

    “Just found out I’ve got the night shift,” said Colt with a yawn. “I’ll need a nap.”

    “Sorry,” said Bella.

    “You didn’t know,” said Colt as he put his arm over her.

    “I supposed I could take a nap as well,” said Bella.

    “You’re good company,” said Colt. “And you wore me out.”

    “I’m a little sleepy,” said Bella. “And a little sore.”

    “Sorry,” said Colt.

    “Not just you sweetie,” said Bella. “I worked out earlier.”

    “Well, there’s a blow to my ego,” he chuckled.

    “You aren’t exactly what I’d consider an egotist,” she chuckled.

    “Depends on who you ask,” he laughed.

    “I think a comfortable amount of pride could be taken in your position,” said Bella. “Especially getting to that level at your age. But you are not egotistical about it at all.”

    “You analyzing me?” he chuckled.

    “No, but an egotist wouldn’t let his junior fly the shuttle from Pluto to the Docks,” she stated. “And would be whining about the Captain replacing him at the controls for the trip back.”

    “True,” said Colt. “You’re too smart for me.”

    “And an egotist wouldn’t admit that either,” she chuckled.

    “Got me,” laughed Colt.

    “But no, I’m not smarter than you are,” said Bella as she adjusted and got comfortable.

    “Equals?” asked Colt.

    “As it should be,” said Bella. “Get some rest baby.”

    “Yes ma’am,” he said and tried to get comfortable. The new bed wasn’t like his old and he needed to adjust the settings on “his” side for a little softer feel. And the other thing that still felt a little unusual was the additional weight to his left side. Not an uncomfortable feeling, but rather one that he wasn’t used to, but was adapting to quite quickly. He could see Bella doze off as her breathing became deeper and her body was relaxed. He adjusted slightly before falling off to sleep himself and wondering where the next part of his life would take him.
  4. john316

    john316 Monkey+++

    great story.........thank you
    Grand58742 likes this.
  5. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 14

    “Is that everything?” asked Captain Mark Thomas of the Miami Destiny. His ship was parked directly underneath the Atomic Destiny as the crews transferred the materials from one ship to the other. The crew of the Atomic Destiny was coming towards the end of their thirty day mission and had collected a good number of objects and broken them down. The Miami Destiny was due to take the materials to one of the other outposts in the Outer System after the transfer was complete. An older design, the ship was dwarfed by the Atomic Destiny as the crews worked the transfer of the cargo containers between the two.

    “Everything except the precious metals,” said Captain Winston. “Corporate wanted me to bring them back to Earth.”

    “How long are you going to be in refit?” asked Captain Thomas.

    “Supposed to be only two months,” said Winston. “But you know how that is.”

    “We’re due in next year we think,” said Thomas. “But being an older ship, they may replace us outright instead of doing the comprehensive overhaul we need.”

    “I didn’t think she was that old,” said Winston.

    “Going on twenty years next year,” said Thomas. “Still capable and whatnot, just a few generations back from what’s available today. And not nearly the cargo capacity of what is currently available.”

    “You managed to cram in everything we had,” remarked Winston.

    “We did,” said Thomas. “But corporate wants multi-use ships in the future. We’re only a cargo carrier and really don’t have any reclamation capabilities. Anything on the drawing boards right now has reclamation equipment built in.”

    “I know there are ships older than the Miami in service right now,” said Winston.

    “There are,” said Thomas. “But that’s why they are phasing them out. We fall into a gray area since we were over-engineered using older materials to survive out here and are stronger than some of the more recent passenger designs.”

    “Oh?” asked Winston.

    “The ship is still in structurally good shape which is why the idea keeps popping up to convert her into a passenger carrier,” said Thomas. “The run between Mars and Earth needs a replacement and converting the Miami to a passenger ship would save a lot of credits in the long run. If you start stripping the non-essential portions of the ship away like the double hull, she gets fast enough to make the run in a timely fashion.”

    “Do you know when they would make a decision?” asked Winston.

    “Just talk at the lower levels at the moment,” said Thomas. “Likely not until next year.”

    “And where are you heading to next?” asked Winston.

    “Makemake,” said Thomas and looked for the reaction over his cup of coffee.

    “You getting an escort?” asked Winston since he knew the system was still in volatile territory.

    “Picking up two gunships along the way,” said Thomas. “Along with some other ships. We’re putting a convoy together to go in.”

    “Only two gunships?” asked Winston.

    “Probably more, but I haven’t heard,” said Thomas. “Compartmentalization.”

    “Anything more than supplies?” asked Winston.

    “Not that I’m aware of,” said Thomas.

    “Well, be careful no matter what,” said Winston.

    “Are we your last stop?” asked Thomas.

    “Another five days of reclamation,” said Winston. “Whatever we take on we’ll take back to Earth with us if we find anything.”

    “If,” chuckled Thomas.

    “We aren’t looking that hard,” chuckled Winston.

    “She’s been out here what, five years now?” asked Thomas. “You all deserve a break.”

    “Might be my last trip too,” said Winston.

    “Thinking of retirement?” asked Thomas.

    “The wife already is looking at houses,” said Winston with a chuckle. “So it’s that serious.”

    “You’ve done your time as well,” said Thomas. “Wake up late with a real floor under your feet, fish when you want to, not worrying about an object ripping open your hull. Sounds nice.”

    “You could walk away as easily as I can,” said Winston with a laugh.

    “You’ve also got ten years on me,” laughed Thomas as his communicator beeped at him. After looking at the message, he sent a confirmation. “Appears the cargo is loaded and secured. All the crew is waiting for is me.”

    “I won’t hold you back,” said Winston as he stuck out his hand.

    “I’d leave if I knew where my pilot was…” said Thomas.

    “Right here sir,” said the pilot from the Miami Destiny as he came jogging up.

    “He apparently thinks your comm officer is kind of cute,” said Thomas.

    “She’s cute, but young,” said Winston. “You all take care.”

    “You too Markus,” said the Captain as he and the pilot got into the small shuttle pod and sealed it up. The light panel flashed red and a warning tone was heard as the atmosphere seal on both was checked and found acceptable for the pod to launch. Winston watched as it detached and headed out of sight to the parent ship. Winston headed back towards the bridge where the crew was busy readying the ship for departure.

    “We’ve secured all stations sir,” said Duncan.

    “We’ll wait for the Miami to depart and head back on our course,” said Winston. “Miss Dillon, if you would orient the ship so the Miami is on the mainscreen.”

    “Aye Captain,” said the pilot as she powered the maneuvering thrusters and rolled the ship over. It took several seconds, but the view of the other cargo ship came into the mainscreen before long as it was seen orienting itself for departure.

    “And orient towards its departure line,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon as she turned the ship without moving their position in space.

    “Okay, not bad,” said Winston as he watched the Miami Destiny depart the location and slowly pick up speed as it went out of sight.

    “That’s basic flight school 101 stuff sir,” said Colt who was observing the pilot.

    “I could have used a little less thruster power on the turn,” said Dillon. “I left the burst on too long to get it started and needed more on the back end to stop it.”

    “You weren’t taking into account we weren’t loaded down as much,” said Colt.

    “More simulator time?” she asked.

    “Practice makes perfect,” said Colt. “Run the simulations with varying weight.”

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon.

    “She didn’t do that bad,” said Winston after he got Colt’s attention by nodding with his head. He spoke in low enough tones to where Dillon couldn’t hear him.

    “Tiff said it best, you get to give her the atta-girls and I get to be the mean one that points out the flaws in what she did,” said Colt.

    “You are correct,” said Winston. “But a good officer also waits until later to correct the behavior the Captain just praised.”

    “Yes sir,” said Colt with a nod of respect. “It was bad timing on my part.”

    “But she did use too much thrusters,” said Winston.

    “Work in progress sir,” said Colt. “She’s not completely hopeless like Clinton. I still am in amazement of how they saddled us with him.”

    “I never thought I’d see the day you were nervous,” said Winston. “And I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen you sweat during basic reclamation maneuvers.”

    “I don’t know how he passed the simulations,” said Colt. “The guy could barely keep us in a straight line during transit much less when grabbing an object.”

    “Some people do well in simulations and then can’t hack it during the real thing,” said Winston.

    “She’ll be fine in time,” said Colt.

    “How about the others?” asked Winston.

    “Mendoza will be perfectly fine,” said Colt. “Just refinement on stuff he knows which will come in time with experience. In fact, I’d think you might even be able to test him and change his rating to Senior Pilot by the time we arrive at Earth.”

    “You think he’s ready for testing?” asked Winston.

    “Like I said, a bit of refinement, but the knowledge and instincts are there already,” said Colt.

    “I’ll think about it,” said Winston. “And the others?”

    “Well, Dillon has a way to go as we just talked about. Jericho is pretty raw, but can handle most things he would encounter. He still relies on the automated systems too much, but overall, his instincts are good and just needs the time behind the stick and in the simulator to knock off the rough edges. And Davis is in about the same boat as Jericho,” said Colt as he concluded the overview of his pilot staff.

    “I’ll give some serious thought to Mendoza,” said Winston. “Technically we’re outside of regulations by not having at least one Senior Pilot on board right now, but it’s hard to get someone up to speed on a tub this large.”

    “Well, perhaps you should explain to corporate that just because someone had a Senior rating in a ship a fraction of this size doesn’t mean it automatically transfers to the ship they happen to be on,” said Colt. “They did pass on that gal Yamato that was a junior pilot that already received her solo rating on the class.”

    “My objections were noted,” said Winston. “And Clinton was foisted on me from on high.”

    “Politically connected?” asked Colt.

    “I couldn’t ever confirm that,” said Winston. “But it was mentioned by a friend.”

    “And he’s where now?” asked Colt.

    “Don’t know,” said Winton. “He was supposed to be assigned to another ship, but got bounced before he started. The company lost track of him after that.”

    “Got bounced for what?” asked Colt.

    “I don’t know for certain,” said Winston. “But I did hear he took the removal here pretty hard and had some personal issues.”

    “Well, either way, I think Mendoza is ready and we are at a lack of work on our way back,” said Colt. “It would be a perfect time for me to run him through the mill as well as during refit.”

    “If you’re around,” said Winston.

    “Bella and I haven’t discussed it yet,” said Colt. “I’ve been meaning to.”

    “We’ve still got some time,” said Winston.

    “So why didn’t we pick up a replacement pilot while we were at Pluto?” asked Colt. “We’re one down from our compliment.”

    “Corporate said it was a risk they were willing to take to go with five since we were due in for a refit. They wanted whomever we got to be up to speed on the new systems instead of learning on both,” said Winston.

    “It’s a valid point,” said Colt. “But it still means a green pilot right out of dock.”

    “I can inquire about Yamato,” said Winston. “You think she’s capable?”

    “According to an acquaintance I have on the California Destiny, she’s just waiting on a Senior Pilot position to open up,” said Colt who was referring to the lead ship in the same class the Atomic Destiny was in. “They have both the billets filled already.”

    “Which would mean we put Mendoza into that position as well,” said Winston. “Or look for another pilot that could pass the tests.”

    “He’s got two years under his belt in this design,” said Colt. “And a good amount of time on smaller classes. I think he can handle it.”

    “Again, duly noted,” said Winston. “I’ll let you know.”

    “Anything else?” asked Colt.

    “Nope,” said Winston. “Set up the training time you feel Dillon needs.”

    “Aye sir,” said Colt.

    “You heading somewhere in particular?” asked Winston.

    “Engineering,” said Colt. “Kind of getting immersed into cross training as was hinted at.”

    “Don’t let me hold you up,” said Winston. “But please mention to Bella that Camille would like to do another breakfast in the morning if she’s available.”

    “I’ll let her know,” said Colt as he departed the bridge.

    “Miss Dillon, go ahead and get us back on course,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Dillon as she maneuvered the ship back onto the course to search the sector they were in for objects worthy of picking up. The sensors were already at work scanning the area and checking for anything that might be of sufficient size to pick up.

    Colt finished out his time on duty in engineering learning about the complex systems that made the ship go and kept her running. It was complicated to say the least, but he knew having a general overview of the systems would be helpful in the future. He headed back to his quarters where he entered and was rewarded with a delicious smell coming out of the kitchenette area.

    “Hey babe,” said Bella from the kitchenette.

    “Hey beautiful,” said Colt as he crossed the quarters and kissed her. “Something smells great.”

    “I’ve spent some time working on a few recipes,” said Bella. “I’m not sure how good the rehydrated lamb will be, but we’ll give it a try.”

    “We have lamb on board?” asked Colt.

    “Apparently part of the stock for official visits and whatnot,” said Bella. “I bribed the galley crew to set a few off to the side for us.”

    “Bribed them how?” asked Colt.

    “I fixed their doors,” grinned Bella.

    “I see,” laughed Colt. “What time will it be ready?”

    “About fifteen minutes or so,” said Bella as she checked the old style oven. “Lamb with roasted potatoes, rolls and a fresh salad on the side.”

    “Fresh salad?” asked Colt.

    “Apparently our friends on the Miami Destiny have a nice hydroponics section,” said Bella. “Which of course could and should be here as well with all this space.”

    “You could mention it to Camille,” said Colt. “She’s asking for you at breakfast tomorrow.”

    “I’d be delighted,” said Bella. “What time?”

    “I didn’t think to ask,” said Colt. “I’ll find out after dinner.”

    “She’s a sweetheart,” said Bella.

    “I’m glad she made your transition here a lot easier,” said Colt.

    “It certainly has made things easier,” said Bella. “Go get changed, I’ll set the table.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Colt as he went into the bedroom and shed the uniform before tossing on a decent pair of pants and a nice shirt. He knew that Bella had gone to a lot of trouble to prepare the meal and the least he could do was dress up a tad. He returned to find Bella lighting two candles on the table.

    “Where did we get candles?” asked Colt.

    “Ship’s stores,” said Bella. “For official dinners and whatnot.”

    “Really?” asked Colt. “Is there anything you didn’t get?”

    “You to myself the remainder of the trip,” she grinned.

    “I’m at your beck and call most of the time,” said Colt.

    “Have a seat,” she said and motioned towards the chair.

    “I’d like to serve you if that’s okay,” he replied.

    “No, I’m pampering you this time,” said Bella. “Of course, it doesn’t compare to the pampering you give me all the time, but it’s a small token of appreciation.”

    “No man ever complained about being fed,” he chuckled and took a seat.

    “Quickest way to a man’s heart,” said Bella.

    “Through his chest with a fusion cutter?” asked Colt with a grin.

    “Tempting, but mildly illegal,” grinned Bella.

    “Depends on the makeup of the jury I’d bet,” laughed Colt.

    “A jury of my peers should be composed of women,” said Bella with a wry smile. “Of course, no jury in the universe would convict when the testimony of ‘well, he was being a typical man when…’ starts it off.”

    “You’re horrible,” laughed Colt.

    “You’ll keep me,” grinned Bella as she finished serving the dishes and took a seat.

    “That I will,” said Colt as they settled in and ate the dinner. He was highly impressed with what she did that evening and told her so.

    “I’ve always liked cooking,” said Bella. “Of course, it’s not easy to practice in the outer solar system where you can’t get fresh ingredients, but spices do help out a lot.”

    “Whatever you did works,” said Colt as he continued attacking his plate.

    “No need to scrape the pattern on the plate dear,” said Bella. “There’s more if you want it.”

    “It’s really good,” said Colt.

    “I’m glad you approve,” said Bella.

    “Even though you did use unconventional techniques to gather what was needed,” said Colt.

    “The maintenance guys kept bumping the doors down on the list,” said Bella. “So I made them a deal. I fixed their doors and they let me go a little wild in the ship’s stores.”

    “Outfit our kitchen?” asked Colt.

    “Pretty much,” said Bella. “At least with the flavors I wanted.”

    “Seems like a good trade,” said Colt as he waited for her to finish her plate before serving the remainder of the items onto their plates.

    “The way you enjoyed it, you should finish the rest,” said Bella.

    “I wouldn’t deny you the pleasure,” said Colt.

    “The pleasure isn’t helping my figure in the least,” said Bella. “I’ve gained two kilos since we’ve been on board.”

    “No you haven’t,” said Colt.

    “I have baby,” said Bella.

    “I haven’t noticed,” said Colt.

    “I surely have,” she replied. “So I’m hitting the gym even more.”

    “Ever hear that muscle weighs more than fat?” asked Colt.

    “Look, I’ve noticed I’m carrying around extra flab,” said Bella.

    “No you’re not!” laughed Colt.

    “It’s not a laughing matter!” she protested.

    “I’m sorry,” said Colt. “I haven’t noticed any changes.”

    “I can feel myself getting fatter!” said Bella.

    “Again, I haven’t seen anything,” said Colt. “You still have shapely, muscular legs. A perfect, cute butt. Curvy waist with outstanding abs. Sexy arms…I haven’t noticed anything about you physically that isn’t perfect.”

    “Really?” she asked.

    “I promise,” said Colt.

    “Would you tell me?” she asked pointedly.

    “Of course I would,” said Colt.

    “I just feel fatter since I know I’ve gained weight,” said Bella.

    “Like I said, you aren’t showing it and you have been hitting the gym pretty hard since you’ve been here. Your muscles are more defined than before as well,” said Colt. “Straight sexy if I may say so myself.”

    “I’d still like to drop those two kilos,” said Bella.

    “Just don’t hurt yourself in the process,” said Colt.

    “You really haven’t noticed?” she asked.

    “I wouldn’t lie about something like that,” said Colt.

    “I just…” said Bella as her voice trailed off.

    “Just what?” asked Colt.

    “Nothing,” said Bella.

    “Just what? Please, I’m here to talk to,” said Colt.

    “It’s just I see that Gold girl and she’s so young and slim and cute,” said Bella. “And I realize I’m not a spring chicken anymore like I once was.”

    “You’re comparing yourself to her?” asked Colt.

    “Well, no, not really,” said Bella.

    “Sounded like it,” he replied.

    “I just remember how I once was,” said Bella.

    “And find some of her traits desirable?” asked Colt.

    “No…well, kind of,” said Bella.

    “She is young and slim and cute,” said Colt. “But in the long run, she isn’t you. You have her beat six ways to Sunday in the cute department and are worlds better in the personality department. You’re a mature, beautiful woman with a good heart and a dynamite personality.”

    “You say such nice things,” smiled Bella.

    “I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true,” said Colt.

    “So you’ll keep me? Won’t run off with a younger model?” she asked.

    “No,” said Colt. “Would you keep me?”

    “Absolutely,” said Bella who was over her little personal crisis for the moment. If Colt was happy with the way she looked, perhaps gaining two kilos wasn’t a completely horrible thing. And she did notice her muscles were a bit more defined the last time she checked. Seeing he was right, she looked across the table with a smile.

    “I won’t say I told you so,” said Colt with a wry smile.

    “Reading my mind?” she asked.

    “Yep,” he grinned.

    “Thanks,” she said with a smile. “You know the right things to say at the right time.”

    “You’re a beautiful woman in and out,” said Colt. “And don’t you ever forget it.”

    “Thank you handsome man,” said Bella.

    “And the remainder of the evening?” asked Colt.

    “You want to sit in here and just keep each other company while we watch boring old movies and cuddle on the couch?” she asked.

    “There’s actually a ball game on I’d like to watch,” he said sheepishly.

    “Football?” she asked.

    “Yes,” said Colt.

    “Why didn’t you say so?” she asked. “I love a good football game!”

    “Well good,” said Colt. “Should be on Channel 149.”

    “Are you working tomorrow?” she asked as he took the dishes into the kitchen.

    “Full day shift,” said Colt. “0600 to 1400.”

    “Okay,” said Bella. “Why don’t we get some comfortable clothing on, I’ll pop us some popcorn and we’ll enjoy the game.”

    “If I had a beer, I’d be in heaven,” said Colt.

    “Sadly that’s one thing I can’t get from the ship’s stores,” she laughed.

    “You had me at ‘love football’ you know?” he asked with a smile.

    And the two finished cleaning up after dinner and set in to relax that night. The ship’s crew changed over at 2200 as expected and Colt turned in after watching the game although knowing he’d be slightly short on sleep the next day. The night shift came onto the bridge and settled in for the long hours when little was going on and got in some of the late college football games on their individual screens as they passed the time.

    “Ma’am?” said Lilly Gold. “We’ve got a message coming in from Operations.”

    “Something good like they’ve extended our shore leave?” asked First Officer Talbert.

    “Not exactly,” said Gold as she downloaded the message onto a tablet. “It appears sensors have picked up a comet coming out of the Oort Cloud and heading this way. We’re the closest ship available to pick it up.”

    “And where are we supposed to tow it to?” asked Tiffany.

    “They are working to get the California Destiny to rendezvous with us prior to departure,” said Lilly as she read the dispatch. “We’ll swap capture spheres with them for our trip back.”

    “How big?” asked Tiffany.

    “Three point six kilometers according to the sensor satellite,” said Lilly.

    “Range?” asked Tiffany as Lilly downloaded the pertinent data to the sensor and navigation stations. The two took a moment to analyze the data and provide an intercept.

    “Nineteen hours at present cruise speed,” said the on duty navigator.

    “Nothing to wake the Captain for then,” said Tiffany. “Plot in the destination and adjust our course accordingly. Go ahead and check the systems for the capture sphere and have engineering make sure our engines are prepped. Lilly, please contact the California Destiny to make sure they got the same message and work out a point we can meet up.”

    “Aye ma’am,” said the sensor operator as the orders were communicated through the ship. Lilly called up the California Destiny and eventually got contact with their on duty communications officer. After speaking for several minutes and consulting with the navigator, she finally worked out a plan to meet up and briefed the First Officer.

    “Ma’am,” said Lilly. “They are currently tearing apart an object so they have to finish that up before they can meet. But they can be at this point when they finish it off.”

    Tiffany checked the point that Lilly indicated on her tablet and nodded in approval. The ship was already turning onto an intercept point as the star field in their view was changing and the ship reoriented itself towards the intercept the navigator had come up with. Everything was moving as it should as Tiffany went over and filled her coffee mug.

    “I’m glad we don’t have to divert to take that anywhere,” said Lilly as she came over and grabbed a cup of tea as well.

    “That could have added a week or more onto this trip,” said Tiffany. “When is the California Destiny going to meet us?”

    “They aren’t sure how long it will take to break their current target into pieces large enough to get into the cargo hold. They said they’d call us when they had a better estimate,” said Lilly. “And it also depends on how long it takes us to capture our comet and get it secured.”

    “If I know the Captain, he’ll want Mendoza at the controls,” said Tiffany.

    “Why not Colt?” asked Lilly. “He’s the best isn’t he?”

    “He is,” said Tiffany. “But Mendoza needs the experience.”

    “I’d rather have Colt there,” said Lilly. “Nothing against Justin.”

    “Colt will eventually move on,” said Tiffany. “We have to get our other crew members up to speed on things like that.”

    “Colt’s leaving?” asked Lilly.

    “He’s too good to stay on this bucket his whole career,” said Tiffany. “Eventually he’ll get a better position or a command of his own and we’ll lose him.”

    “Hopefully not,” said Lilly.

    “You’ve never gotten over him have you?” asked Tiffany who made sure they were out of earshot of the remainder of the bridge crew.

    “Excuse me?” asked Lilly.

    “You don’t exactly hide it well,” said Tiffany.

    “Hide what?” asked Lilly.

    “Your crush on Colt,” said Tiffany bluntly.

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Lilly as she averted her gaze to see if anyone else was listening.

    “All the signs are there,” said Tiffany. “Look, I’m a woman and I know what’s going on. And Colt’s a really good looking guy with a great personality.”

    “I…” said Lilly as she averted her gaze again. “I didn’t know it showed.”

    “For a while now,” chuckled Tiffany.

    “I know he’s engaged and all,” said Lilly. “But it…it just doesn’t go away you know?”

    “Give it time,” said Tiffany.

    “Is this why I’m on the night crew this trip?” asked Lilly. “So I don’t bother him and the little girl he’s engaged to?”

    “No, I wanted someone with a little experience since we have some junior folks on board here,” said Tiffany as she ignored the prod against Bella. “You’ve been with us for over a year and know how to deal with things that come up and could help with the rest of the positions.”

    “I understand,” said Lilly.

    “And besides, the Captain and I talked and it’s about time for you to start moving into navigation or sensors. You’ve received your journeyman level on communications and are well on the way to craftsman,” said Tiffany. “So we both think it’s time for you to expand your horizons a bit.”

    “Really?” asked Lilly.

    “Absolutely,” said Tiffany. “And the night shift is the best time to do that.”

    “Why haven’t you mentioned it before now?” asked Lilly.

    “We were going to talk to you about it after our refit,” said Tiffany. “But I wanted you here with me to properly evaluate your performance on the trip back and make sure you were ready to move up.”

    “And am I?” asked Lilly.

    “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I thought otherwise,” said Tiffany.

    “I’m thankful for the opportunity,” said Lilly.

    “No problem,” said Tiffany. “You’ve earned it.”

    “And thanks for being discreet,” said Lilly.

    “I’ve been there myself once or twice,” said Tiffany that didn’t let on that the majority of the crew knew about her situation with Colt. It was hard to keep secrets aboard a ship although most kept the information to themselves for the most part.

    The communications console beeped at them as another incoming message came into the system. The two walked over and saw the message from Operations and chuckled at the contents.

    “The Captain’s not going to be happy,” remarked Lilly.

    “To say the least,” agreed Tiffany. “Maybe we could delete it so he’s not grumpy when he gets around to reading it.”

    “Yeah, about that,” said Lilly. “It appears the message is encoded for deletion only by the Captain. It appears someone wants him to read it.”

    “Stack it at the bottom of his morning dispatches,” said Tiffany.

    “Which means he’ll still be grumpy,” said Lilly.

    “Yep,” said Tiffany. “But hopefully he doesn’t get around to reading it before we leave.”

    “Good point,” said Lilly. “But you know, since the Martians beat up on my Cardinal last year in the playoffs, I’m tempted to tell him.”

    “Your funeral,” said Tiffany.

    “Where did you go to school?” asked Lilly.

    “With the Infinicon Commissioning Program,” said Tiffany. “I finished my degrees in advanced nuclear engineering and space technology through distance learning with the Infinicon Technology Branch and applied for the program.”

    “Really?” asked Lilly as the program only accepted twenty individuals each Earth year. And the positions were highly sought after and generally awarded only to those with degrees in advanced subjects that graduated from the top institutes in the Solar System.

    “Yep,” said Tiffany. “I know it’s not usual for the daughter of a rancher in Wyoming and a prior enlisted member to get picked up for the program, but I think I’ve done okay.”

    “Kinda more than okay,” said Lilly. “You probably will be the next Captain.”

    “I don’t know about that,” said Tiffany. “Who knows though?”

    The remainder of the shift passed as the crew now had a target to go and get even though they were coming towards the end of their mission. A comet in good condition would fetch a good price and they all knew it was worth the trouble. And typically a comet would get them a bonus in their paychecks if it turned out to be large enough. From the sensor data, it appeared this comet would be large enough to qualify for said bonus. They continued revising the data although they were still too far out to really get a good look at the comet they would capture. But the anticipation was building as the night continued into the early morning.
  6. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 15

    “Daily systems status sir,” said Lilly as she handed over a tablet to Captain Winston as he approached the bridge. Before looking at it, he tossed his mug into the coffee maker and stated his last name. The coffee came out already done the way he liked it and with the proper sweetener and creamer already mixed in.

    “Bet you’re old enough to remember doing that with a spoon sir,” grinned Lilly.

    “Bet you’re barely old enough to have the baby food spoon out of your mouth,” he replied.

    “Touché sir,” she laughed.

    “Give me the Cliff’s Notes,” he said as he looked in the tablet and saw a list of items.

    “Electrical conducting unit 5 in the aft section suffered a fault, but was repaired last night. Top side thermal and motion sensors in cabins 4 through 14 are still out and cannot be replaced while we’re underway, however, fire, oxygen and radiation sensors are still working. The cargo deck rolling system went out last night in the main cargo hold. And the exterior emergency lighting went out for a bit, but came back on. A crew will try to track down what the problem was,” she concluded. “Oh, and the dispatches from Command Ops are on the bottom.”

    “Anything world ending?” he asked as he skimmed over the reports.

    “You won’t like the last one sir,” she said and saw the Captain scroll down to the last one.

    “What? Mars U lost their season opener…to Oklahoma! Those bunch of scrubs couldn’t win a football game against a kindergarten class!” exclaimed the Captain, one of the first graduates of Mars University when it opened.

    “I tried to delete it, but Command locked it in,” said Lilly.

    “Oh I bet they very well did!” exclaimed the Captain. “How can the defending solar system champs lose their season opener to a team that went 3-9 last year?”

    “Not playing any defense?” grinned Colt as he came onto the bridge with Justin Mendoza. “I mean, it’s not like the Sooners didn’t win 59-3 or anything.”

    “I’d lock you in the brig if we had one for saying such things!” exclaimed the Captain.

    “We do have a brig sir,” said Mendoza.

    “Are you a Martians fan?” asked the Captain.

    “No sir, Tennessee Volunteers all the way,” said Mendoza with a grin.

    “I’d lock the both of you up!” exclaimed the Captain. “Was there anything else Lilly?”

    “No sir,” she replied. “Just waiting on my relief.”

    “Okay, stick around if you want to see your Captain make a couple of cocky pilots walk the plank,” said Winston. “Of course Bella wouldn’t understand.”

    “I doubt she would,” laughed Colt as Mendoza went through the changeover with the pilot that pulled the night shift. “Speaking of, she is good for whenever for the breakfast with Camille.”

    “Okay, I’ll let her know,” said the Captain. “She has taken a liking to Bella though.”

    “If there’s nothing else sir, I need to prep my station,” said Lilly.

    “Thank you Lilly,” said the Captain as she turned and went back to her console. “And a good morning to you as well Tiffany. Still alive I see.”

    “These mid shifts always remind me of how old I am,” groaned the First Officer as she stretched out and lowered her voice. “You might have slapped Lilly and gotten the same effect.”

    “I’m sorry?” asked Winston.

    “She’s not exactly taking Colt’s engagement very well,” said Talbert as they walked towards the front of the bridge. “And mentioning Bella is kind of a sore spot.”

    “She’s still?” asked Winston.

    “I thought it was just a puppy crush for a while,” said Talbert. “But apparently it was a bit deeper than I originally thought.”

    “It won’t cause problems will it?” asked Winston.

    “I wouldn’t think so,” said Talbert. “She’s too professional for one and either Colt doesn’t realize it or does the best ignorant act I’ve ever seen.”

    “So we should keep Lilly on the night shift?” asked Winston.

    “It wouldn’t hurt,” said Talbert. “Girls get their hearts broken all the time and let’s face it, with as many single males and females as we have, it will happen again.”

    “I’d rather it hadn’t happened the first time,” said Winston. “I hate drama.”

    “You have a professional crew,” said Talbert. “Give them a chance to prove you wrong.”

    “Best crew I could possibly have hoped for,” said Winston. “And I’d hate to mix up that dynamic by introducing a new pilot from the outside.”

    “We have to get a new one if Colt moves on,” said Talbert.

    “Yeah, I meant a chief pilot,” said Winston. “I won’t know which way corporate will swing if Colt moves on.”

    “Mendoza is a bit young for a chief pilot position,” said Talbert. “I can quietly check to see who might be available for reassignment.”

    “If you would,” said Winston. “It’s not that I don’t like Mendoza, but he’s a tad young still and needs more seasoning.”

    “We got lucky with Colt,” admitted Talbert. “I didn’t think he would be able to pull it off even given his simulation scores. I was very happy to be proven wrong.”

    “He’s going to be hard to replace,” said Winston.

    “Speaking of pulling it off,” said Talbert. “As I’m sure you’re dismayed over the Martian loss and all, but we do have work along the way.”

    “Oh?” asked Winston as he looked through the dispatches. “A comet?”

    “We’re already enroute to intercept,” said Talbert. “Should be there in about fourteen hours.”

    “Has the California Destiny been notified?” asked Winston, referring to the lead ship in the class the Atomic Destiny was in.

    “We made contact last night and they received the message,” said Talbert as she motioned to the navigation station and expanded the scope of the console. “We’ll be meeting about right…here three days after capture and swap spheres.”

    “I’m glad we don’t have to tow it anywhere else,” said Winston.

    “I said the same thing,” said Talbert. “I’d probably think that will be the last job before we are sent back to Earth.”

    “Maybe,” said Winston. “Long trip no matter what.”

    “Who do you want at the controls for the capture?” asked Talbert.

    “Colt…no, put Mendoza in the driver’s seat with Colt observing,” said Winston. “Mendoza only has one capture under his belt so he needs the experience.”

    “I had a feeling you’d want that so I adjusted the rotation so they both can get some rest before we make contact,” said Talbert as she showed the crew rotation.

    “You’ll make a fine Captain one day,” said Winston.

    “Eventually,” said Talbert. “But for the moment, I’m happy here.”

    “There’s a couple of captain’s billets coming open in the near future,” said Winston. “You might look into them and express some interest.”

    “Anything I might like?” asked Talbert.

    “Couple of inner solar system freighters, I think the Matrix Destiny might be coming open for the run between Earth and Mercury. The Oak Destiny for the passenger shuttle run between Ceres, Mars, Earth and Venus,” said Winston. “And possibly the Atlantic Destiny on the Jupiter-Saturn run although her Captain hasn’t made up his mind yet.”

    “Nothing really exciting,” said Talbert.

    “Doesn’t matter,” said Winston. “Corporate wants to see at least some interest out of you before they consider you for a captain’s billet. Politics demands you at least look around or else you’ll be stuck as a First Officer for the rest of your career.”

    “And if I get selected?” asked Talbert.

    “You accept it or your mean old Captain determines losing you would be detrimental to the mission here and requests you stay,” said Winston. “Which eventually might open this chair for you if you stick around.”

    “Might be a while,” said Talbert.

    “Perhaps not as long as you think,” said Winston. “This will likely be my last command and Camille and I have been looking at retirement for a while now.”

    “Really?” asked Talbert.

    “We’ve talked about getting some firm ground under our feet and enjoying our grandchildren,” said Winston. “So there is a potential for you to move up here with a highly favorable endorsement from your current Captain.”

    “I appreciate the vote of confidence,” said Talbert.

    “It’s not like you haven’t earned it,” said Winston. “How long until Colt and Justin go off shift to get some rest?”

    “I’ve got them in here until noon,” said Talbert. “And Davis coming in to take the shift in between those times.”

    “Sounds good,” said Winston. “I may go grab a nap myself before then.”

    “And leave me in charge?” asked Robert Duncan.

    “I suppose,” said Winston.

    “Party on the bridge!” he announced.

    “I might have to change my mind,” chuckled Winston.

    “Heading looks good,” said Mendoza as he checked the station after relieving the on duty pilot. “Everything else is green across the board.”

    “I’d start a systems analysis…” said Colt as he saw Mendoza was already in the process of.

    “You were saying?” asked Mendoza with a smile.

    “Never mind,” said Colt.

    “Justin, you’re going to be in the hot seat for this capture,” said Winston as he walked over to the pilot’s station. “So I’d expect you to start on a systems…”

    “Way ahead of both you,” grinned Mendoza.

    “Not bad,” said Winston. “You feel up to a capture?”

    “Yes sir,” said Mendoza.

    “Colt, I want you in the IP seat,” said Winston. “Coaching, not piloting.”

    “Aye sir,” said Colt.

    “Mister Mendoza, the fact you started a systems analysis before we even asked for it means you are thinking like a Senior Pilot should,” said Winston. “And Colt thinks you’re ready to take the tests for that certification. I’m inclined to agree as of right now.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Mendoza.

    “However, we’ll see how you do on this capture,” said Winston.

    “It’ll be perfect sir,” said Mendoza. Winston headed back towards his chair as Colt looked over the analysis running on the station.

    “I’d like to thank you for the vote of confidence,” said Mendoza as he looked through the data being sent from the check.

    “I think you’ve served your time long enough,” said Colt. “You’re ready.”

    “I’ll do you up proud,” said Mendoza. “Looks like everything is in the green.”

    “Of course you’ll run another one right before we head in,” said Colt.

    “Of course,” said Mendoza. “We just do one early to identify problems that can be fixed prior to capturing the comet.”

    “Exactly,” said Colt.

    “Mister Daniels, if you could join me for a moment,” said Winston.

    “Sir?” asked Colt as he approached the chair.

    “You said that pilot’s name was Yamato, right?” asked Winston. “On the California Destiny?”

    “Yes sir,” said Colt.

    “Well, it just so happens she still is and actually is sitting in an overage,” said Winston.

    “They have more pilots than they need?” asked Colt.

    “It happens,” said Winston. “Do you feel confident enough for me to call the Captain and see if she’s interested in coming aboard?”

    “I do,” said Colt. “I trust my friend in the matter.”

    “You’re staking a lot on someone you’ve never worked with,” said Winston.

    “She’s obviously proved herself by sticking around this class long enough,” said Colt.

    “She has been on board for two years,” said Winston. “Okay, I’ll make the call.”

    “Just a suggestion sir,” said Colt.

    “Is everything ready for the capture?” asked Winston.

    “The systems analysis just got done running,” said Colt.

    “I meant at the other stations,” said Winston.

    “I…will check that out sir,” said Colt.

    “Thank you,” said Winston as Colt scurried to the other stations and checked on their progress. After getting a briefing from several of the crewmembers, he reported everything was in order to the Captain and resumed his perch near the pilot’s station.

    “Mister Daniels has the conn,” said Winston. “I’m going to make that call.”

    “I have the conn,” said Colt officially. Winston departed and headed back to his quarters where his personal communications setup was waiting. Camille was awake now and fixing something simple in their kitchenette for her breakfast.

    “Something wrong?” asked Camille.

    “No, we’re heading to snatch a comet, but nothing is wrong,” said Winston.

    “And you left the bridge?” asked Camille.

    “We won’t be there for a while,” said Winston. “I’ve got a call to make.”

    “Okay,” said Camille. “Who’d you leave in charge?”

    “Colt has the conn at the moment,” said Winston as he settled into his desk chair.

    “Did you ask him about Bella?” asked Camille.

    “I did,” said Winston. “And he said Bella was tickled pink by the idea.”

    “I’ll talk to her today,” said Camille.

    “She shouldn’t be hard to find,” said Winston. “The ship isn’t that big.”

    “Not at all,” chuckled Camille.

    “I need to make a quick call,” said Winston.

    “Okay, when you get done we’ll have a cup of tea,” said Camille.

    “Yes ma’am,” said Winston as he looked up the necessary wormhole channel and contacted the California Destiny. After waiting several seconds, the communications officer on the other end appeared on the screen wearing a cheesy grin.

    “Hey again pretty thing,” he said until he realized it wasn’t the expected Lilly Gold.

    “Well good morning to you too sunshine,” said Winston with a serious expression.

    “I uhh, sorry, ummm…I thought…” stammered the comm officer.

    “I might have had blue eyes and light brown hair?” asked Winston.

    “Something like that sir,” stammered the comm officer nervously.

    “Is your Captain about?” asked Winston.

    “Yes sir,” said the comm officer. “I’ll patch you through.”

    “Thank you,” said Winston with a chuckle as Gold obviously had plenty of men attempting to garner her attention, yet continued to chase Colt even though he was engaged. The screen switched to show the Captain of the California Destiny at her chair.

    “Markus, how are you doing?” asked Captain Lauren Addison.

    “Pretty fair Lauren, and you?” asked Markus.

    “Still tearing this thing apart,” said Addison. “It’s got some pretty high iron content and you know how those can be.”

    “Extremely hateful,” said Winston with a nod.

    “And Camille?” asked Addison.

    “She’s wonderful,” said Winston who knew better than to ask about her husband since they had recently gotten divorced. “I had a reason to call other than to catch up.”

    “What can I help you with?” asked Addison.

    “I happened to be snooping through the corporate records and saw you have an overage of pilots,” said Winston. “And you specifically have one named Susan Yamato.”

    “I just might,” said Addison. “You doing some headhunting?”

    “Maybe,” said Winston. “I’m actually without any Senior Pilots at the moment although I’m likely getting ready to test one. And I’m also down one at the moment from my total pilot compliment and likely will be down two here soon.”

    “You got some folks moving on?” asked Addison.

    “Maybe,” said Winston. “It’s my Chief Pilot who might be leaving us. Now I know corporate will want to pick the one to fill those shoes, but it still leaves me two pilots down as well as both my senior pilot positions.”

    “How did Yamato’s name pop up?” asked Addison.

    “My chief pilot says she’s pretty good,” said Winston.

    “She is,” said Addison. “Unfortunately I don’t have a senior pilot billet at the moment.”

    “You think she’s ready for the tests?” asked Winston.

    “Past ready,” said Addison and raised her voice. “She’s a good pilot although you’ll need some blocks to put on the pedals at her station.”

    “I heard that,” said a voice off camera.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Winston.

    “She’s barely 151 centimeters,” said Addison with a laugh.

    “Little tyke,” said Winston.

    “College gymnast,” said Addison. “And feisty.”

    “Oh? What university?” asked Winston.

    “Not Mars U,” grinned Addison.

    “Not sure I want her,” laughed Winston.

    “Okay, so you want to work something out?” asked Addison. “She is worthy of moving up in the world although there’s some competition here if a spot opens up.”

    “Maybe,” said Winston. “Obviously I’d give her a fair shot at a senior pilot billet, but she’d have to test and pass on this vessel.”

    “I could let her go and still be fine. Let me tie her in on the link here so you can talk to her,” said Addison as she fiddled with the controls. Eventually the screen split and Winston saw a younger looking Asian female on the left side of the screen.

    “Sue? This is Captain Markus Winston of the Atomic Destiny,” said Addison.

    “Pleasure sir,” said Yamato.

    “I hear you’re a good pilot,” said Winston.

    “I can hold my own sir,” said Yamato. “But specifically who did you hear that from?”

    “My Chief Pilot Colt Daniels says you are ready to move into a Senior Pilot position,” said Winston. “I tend to heed his advice on such matters.”

    “Colt said that?” asked Yamato. “I mean, Chief Pilot Daniels.”

    “He did,” said Winston.

    “We’ve only met like twice,” said Yamato. “I didn’t know I was a household name.”

    “So what would you think about a transfer to the Atomic Destiny?” asked Winston directly.

    “I…wow, put me on the spot,” said Yamato. “Obviously I’d want some time to think it over, but I’m honored by the proposal.”

    “Now you would be considered and maybe even tested for a Senior Pilot billet,” said Winston. “But just that you know in advance we’re Earth bound after we catch a comet. You might be tested on the way back, but be on the sidelines for a while since we’ll be in refit.”

    “I understand,” said Yamato as she made a minor adjustment to the controls.

    “We’re supposed to meet in a few days and swap capture spheres,” said Winston. “Do you think you’ll have made a decision by then?”

    “I’m sure I can have an answer either way for you,” said Yamato.

    “I’ll leave you to it then,” said Winston as the screen changed back to just the two Captains.

    “You know they might saddle you with a pilot when you reach the docks,” said Addison.

    “I know,” said Winston. “But at the same time, I’d like to take the decision out of their hands.”

    “And she might not work out,” said Addison in a low voice.

    “Oh?” asked Winston. “Is there a reason why?”

    “The same reason some just don’t work out,” said Addison. “She’s highly capable and proficient on this class of ship. Just you know how personality conflicts can work.”

    “She doesn’t play well with others?” asked Winston.

    “She does mostly,” said Addison. “But the chip on her shoulder where her height is concerned could end up being problematic to some.”

    “I see,” said Winston.

    “I’m not trying to steer you away at all,” said Addison. “Just letting you know about the baggage that comes with the item.”

    “We’ve got a couple of folks that are fairly short,” said Winston. “They don’t get any additional grief over it to my knowledge.”

    “There’s short and then there’s Yamato,” chuckled Addison.

    “I’ll be nice to her,” said Winston. “If she chooses to join.”

    “She will,” said Addison. “She’s been eager for that Senior Pilot billet for a while.”

    “I will promise to test her,” said Winston. “And that’s as far as I’ll go.”

    “She would obviously have a good teacher as well,” said Addison.

    “If I keep him,” said Winston.

    “You mentioned it before,” said Addison. “Something up?”

    “Colt’s getting married and unsure of where his life will take him,” said Winston.

    “Even two months with Colt Daniels would be helpful to any pilot,” said Addison.

    “True,” said Winston. “Okay, I’ll leave you to your daily grind.”

    “Tell Camille I said hello,” said Addison.

    “She’s right here if you want to speak to her,” said Winston.

    “Of course!” said Addison.

    “Camille? Lauren Addison would like to say hello,” said Winston off camera. Camille came to the camera and immediately smiled at one of their longtime friends.

    “Excuse the way I look, I just woke up,” said Camille.

    “Oh nonsense,” said Addison. “You’re allowed.”

    “I’ll leave you ladies to catch up,” said Winston. “And thanks Lauren.”

    “No problem, see you in a few days Markus,” said Addison as she and Camille quickly caught up. Winston headed for the kitchen area where he refilled his coffee mug and looked over the dispatches once again. Eventually he was joined by Camille who refilled her tea mug.

    “She seems to be doing well after the divorce,” said Camille.

    “It was pretty much a shock when it happened,” said Winston.

    “Especially the conditions surrounding it,” said Camille.

    “True,” said Winston as he got his mug and started to rise.

    “You going somewhere sailor?” asked Camille.

    “Heading back to the bridge where I belong,” said Winston.

    “You afraid Colt will break your ship?” she asked.

    “No,” said Winston.

    “Then have a seat and talk with your lonely wife for a moment,” said Camille as she nodded towards the now empty chair.

    “Yes ma’am,” said Winston with a chuckle as he sat back down.


    “And really, I’m honored you think so highly of me,” said Yamato.

    “Your chief pilot thinks you’re the real deal,” said Colt from the Captain’s chair. Immediately after Yamato had gotten done talking with Winston, she had the comm officer call up the Atomic Destiny to talk directly with Colt.

    “He does?” asked Yamato.

    “According to him, you’ve been ready to move up,” said Colt.

    “I didn’t know that,” said Yamato. “He’s always been hard on me.”

    “Ever hear of a teacher being hard on a student because they know they are capable of more?” asked Colt. “And making them push to new levels?”

    “You’re talking to an athlete,” said Yamato. “I know all about being pushed.”

    “Then now you know why he pushed you,” said Colt.

    “I never thought of it that way,” said Yamato.

    “And I wouldn’t be expecting not to get pushed when or if you get here,” said Colt. “He says you’re highly capable so I would expect the same and push you just as hard.”

    “If I can put up with that grumpy old bastard, I’m sure I can handle you,” said Yamato with a grin. “He’s a tough teacher.”

    “But a good one,” said Colt.

    “Very,” said Yamato. “But he did say you were a better pilot.”

    “Thank him for me,” said Colt. “So are you considering it?”

    “I think right now the answer is yes,” said Yamato. “Obviously I’d like to talk to my family and friends about it, but it’s a good career move for me.”

    “It is,” said Colt. “But it’s still your decision to make.”

    “Okay, I’ll let you go,” said Yamato. “And we’ll see you in a few days.”

    “Take care,” said Colt as he switched off the connection.

    “She’s a firecracker,” said Mendoza from his station.

    “You know her?” asked Colt.

    “We were in flight school together,” said Mendoza. “And has a chip the size of Olympus Mons on her shoulder about her height.”

    “Will that be a problem?” asked Colt.

    “I wouldn’t think so,” said Mendoza. “She’s got good skills and can back up the ‘tude.”

    “I would expect complete harmony on the part of my pilot staff,” said Colt.

    “We’ll be fine,” said Mendoza. “She’ll fit right in here.”

    “You seem to know more than you let on,” said Colt.

    “I…we were kind of involved at one point,” said Mendoza.

    “That’s relevant information to know in advance,” said Colt.

    “It ended friendly enough,” said Mendoza. “We dated a couple of months before we decided mutually we just weren’t compatible.”

    “But no emotional baggage?” asked Colt.

    “No, we were still friends afterwards,” said Mendoza. “One of the few times you hear about where it ended with ‘let’s just be friends’ and it actually stuck. We still talk every once in a while so we won’t be at each other’s throats.”

    “Okay,” said Colt as Winston reappeared on the bridge.

    “Captain’s on the bridge,” announced Colt.

    “Anything break?” asked Winston.

    “Negative sir,” said Colt. “Engineering reported everything was ready on their end.”

    “Sounds good,” said Winston. “And how did your talk with Yamato go?”

    “How did you know she called?” asked Colt.

    “First thing I would have done if my name was tossed around like that,” said Winston. “I’d go directly to the source and ask them.”

    “He’s right,” said Mendoza. “I’d want to know the bad things you were saying about me.”

    “Don’t tempt me,” said Colt.

    The crew continued their banter as the distance closed to the comet. At noon, the relief pilot came in and the pair departed to get some rest. Colt surprised Bella in the gym where she was hard at work and got into a routine himself, earning appreciative glances from Bella in the process as he admired her form as well. She realized her fears about gaining weight were completely unfounded as she looked in the mirror at her figure and received a knowing glance from Colt in the process. Nothing was said, but she knew from his expression he was completely content with the way she looked and she had overreacted from the start. They finished up the workout together and headed back where she and Colt took a quick nap before that evening, but not before they caught up with pillow talk over the little things in their life.


    “We’ve got a problem,” said a man as he walked up to the table.

    “I don’t like problems,” said the man identified as Ishmael as he looked over the additional help that had been hired on.

    “Wade and his bunch got busted,” said the second in charge.

    “How?” asked Ishmael.

    “A Tiger corvette was nearby and intercepted them before they could get out,” said the second.

    “Damn,” said Ishmael under his breath. “So we’re forced to use more of these guys?”

    “Yeah,” said the second. “Sorry.”

    “I really don’t like these guys,” said Ishmael.

    “It’s all we could get to commit,” said his second.

    “They’re a bunch of idiots,” said Ishmael. “How about Nicholson?”

    “Didn’t get back to me,” said the second.

    “Hendricks?” asked Ishmael.

    “Declined,” said the second.

    “Miller? Gunter? Ortiz?” asked Ishmael.

    “Miller is out of pocket. Gunter got popped by BAE,” said the second. “Ortiz wouldn’t commit without knowing more and has another job he’s looking at.”

    “This is all you could come up with?” asked Ishmael.

    “Sorry boss,” said the second.

    “They’re idiots,” repeated Ishmael.

    “One happens to be unique though,” said his second.

    “Oh?” asked Ishmael.

    “Oh yes,” said his second and briefly explained.

    “Not bad,” said Ishmael. “Your stock went up a bit.”

    “Except he wouldn’t come along without his friends,” said his second.

    “So his stock goes down,” said Ishmael as he looked at the opposing group. “Who’s the leader in this bunch of morons?”

    “I am,” said one and stepped over.

    “For this job, you do exactly as I say,” said Ishmael. “No question about it, no hesitation, no backtalk. If I say do something, you do it.”

    “Fine, but we want half,” said the other man.

    “You get a third of the payment,” said Ishmael. “And that’s not negotiable.”

    “I want half,” said the man.

    “You can want until your heart’s content,” said Ishmael. “But you get a third or get the hell off my outpost. Take it or leave it.”

    “Have fun,” said the man as he rose to leave. But before he managed to gather his group, Ishmael pointed at the man identified by his second in charge.

    “You. Come here,” said Ishmael.

    The man did as requested and sat at the table where he faced Ishmael. “What?”

    “I understand you might have some unique knowledge to impart,” said Ishmael.

    “Depends,” said the man.

    “Specifically about the California Destiny class of Infinicon ship,” said Ishmael.

    “I do,” said the man.

    “So do tell me all you know about that class of ship,” said Ishmael.

    “What do you want to know?” asked the man.

    “Everything…” said Ishmael.

    “My group is leaving,” said the man.

    “Just so happens we are accepting applications,” said Ishmael. “And I’ll make it worth your while if you stay.”

    “Leave my people alone!” growled the leader of the opposite group.

    “Look sport, you had your chance, now get out,” said Ishmael.

    “You can’t pick and choose who you want!” objected the other leader.

    “He is a free man,” said Ishmael. “But you couldn’t leave when you had the chance or keep your mouth shut. So sorry to have to do this.”

    And without ordering, Ishmael’s group immediately pointed weapons at the other group before they could react. The other leader was initially caught with surprise, but his face turned to anger.

    “You double crossing bastard,” he growled as his pistol was yanked from the holster at his waist.

    “Correct on both accounts,” said Ishmael. “Please escort this gentleman out of my sight.”

    Two of Ishmael’s group grabbed the man forcefully and shoved him into the airlock on the opposite side of the room as the man attempted to fight back. But a blow from one of the pistols to his head ceased most of the resistance as he was shoved into the airlock and the door closed behind him. One of the individuals checked the seal before opening the outer door to space. Several thuds were heard on the inner door before the sounds stopped.

    “Now is anyone ready to avenge your late boss?” asked Ishmael as he looked over the other group. “No? Good. And by pure coincidence, we happen to have openings.”

    “How do you know we won’t double cross you as well?” asked one of the other members.

    “I really don’t think that’s wise,” said Ishmael. “Are you volunteering to test my resolve?”

    “No,” said the man meekly as he backed down.

    “Good,” said Ishmael. “Now either you can accept our invitation at one third or you can stay here until it’s all said and done. Your choice.”

    “A third?” asked the man who had just assumed the leadership of the group.

    “And half the bounty,” said Ishmael. “I’ll sweeten the pot a bit.”

    “We agree,” said the man.

    “See, that’s nice,” said Ishmael with a smile. “See how we can all get along when greed isn’t blinding common sense?”

    “When are we going?” asked the new leader.

    “When I say we are,” said Ishmael as he turned back to the man to his front. “Have a seat. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Beer? Water?”

    “Look, we’re not friends,” said the man. “Just tell me what you want to know.”

    “I like a man who’s ready to get down to business,” said Ishmael. “How is it you know so much about that particular class of ship?”

    “I worked on one,” said the man.

    “My, my, my,” said Ishmael as he nodded for his second in charge to sit down. “You just became my best friend. And I want you to tell me everything.”
  7. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 16

    “We’re at ten kilometers,” said Becky Sanchez from her station at the sensor console. A lifelong member of Infinicon, she had helped finish the construction of the Atomic Destiny and been on board since the builder’s trials. And had more knowledge of the ship than the Captain himself. But she was content to continue serving as a specialist rather than taking a path to a command she rightly deserved. She was nearing her retirement as she claimed, but still signed on for “just one more trip” time and time again.

    “Do you have electro-optical visual?” asked Winston as the closed the gap.

    “Bare outline,” said Sanchez as she brought up a panel on the mainscreen and showed the advanced telescopic image of the comet they were chasing.

    “Rotation?” asked Winston.

    “Not much according to the sensors,” said Sanchez. “Maybe a half meter or so a second. I’ll refine that as we get closer.”

    “Any dangerous outcroppings?” asked Winston.

    “Nothing I can see,” said Sanchez. “Satellite data was garbage for the most part.”

    “Keep me apprised,” said Winston as Mendoza adjusted the heading slightly to move towards the comet. It was a maneuver he had done in simulations countless times, but only once in real life and on a comet half this size.

    “Ease back a tad,” advised Colt who was sitting next to Mendoza. “Close the rate of closure to about two-thirds of where you are now.”

    “Yes sir,” said Mendoza as he adjusted the controls slightly. Winston looked at Colt and got a reassuring nod in return before checking the image on the mainscreen.

    “Seven kilometers,” said Sanchez. “It’s rotating on all three axis.”

    “Does make our job a tad interesting,” remarked Talbert.

    “That’s why we get paid the big bucks,” said Winston.

    “Very pleasant when they’re asleep,” said Sanchez.

    “I remember being on the rescue party for the Enterprise Destiny when she tried to catch one just outside Saturn’s orbit. It hadn’t formed a coma yet and appeared as peaceful as it could be from the outside. But got a little irate once they tried to break it up and bring it inside,” said Winston.

    “What happened?” asked Mendoza as his eyes were glued to the sensor screens.

    “They tried drilling a hole to drop in explosives to fracture it,” said Winston. “Once they got to a certain depth, it ended up blowing up in their face and the ship was too close. The captain should have known better, but he was a hot dog about it.”

    “So they just blow up from time to time?” asked Mendoza.

    “Oh sure,” said Winston. “There is no such thing as a safe comet.”

    “How do you tell?” asked Mendoza nervously.

    “The percentages are way low this far out,” said Colt as he saw the slight grin form on the Captain’s face. Colt knew he was playing around with a pilot that didn’t have a lot of experience in catching comets and was having a bit of fun at his expense.

    “Five kilometers,” said Sanchez. “Looks like a nice one. Minor outcroppings on the top side of the object and a depression in the side facing us.”

    “Watch the mainscreen at this point,” advised Colt. “Your sensors can’t tell you everything or when something might be a bit too small like a piece of debris in the path.”

    “Go visual only?” asked Mendoza.

    “Trust your eyes over sensors,” said Colt. “They are more accurate.”

    “Yes sir,” said Mendoza as a bead of sweat formed on his forehead. But he kept his composure and continued towards the comet and slowed the ship incrementally. By now the object was fully in the mainscreen and the crew could see the individual features plainly.

    “Three kilometers,” said Sanchez. “No additional changes on rotation. Call it a half meter a minute on the X axis and maybe a quarter meter on the Y axis.”

    “Bring us to within five hundred meters pilot,” said Winston. “Parallel course with matching speed of the target.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza as he adjusted course to bring the ship in from behind. Eventually the time and distance clicked away as they entered within a kilometer of the object. Mendoza was a little more nervous at this point as he took out a handkerchief and wiped at his brow.

    “You’re nailing this spot on,” said Colt. “Nothing to worry about.”

    “I keep wanting to watch the sensors,” said Mendoza.

    “They can fail,” said Colt. “Trust your instincts.”

    “Got it,” said Mendoza as he slipped the large ship in a little closer. He wasn’t going as fast as Colt typically would have, but he also knew in time and with practice he would get faster.

    “Seven hundred meters,” said Sanchez. “We’re matching speed of target.”

    “Aye, matching speed,” said Mendoza as he pulled back the throttles slightly. He checked the side view of the target and started using the maneuvering thrusters to slip the ship in closer to the object. And again was moving a bit slow.

    “We’re overtaking slightly,” said Sanchez.

    “I copy,” said Mendoza as he fired several bursts from the bow thrusters to slow the ship.

    “Matching speed,” said Sanchez. “Six hundred meters.”

    “Easy does it,” said Colt. “You’re doing great.”

    Mendoza checked the visual screen again as the distance ticked away. And finally fired a long burst of the starboard side thrusters to slow the side slip of the ship. Eventually the Atomic Destiny decided it wanted to stop as the distance came to a halt.

    “Great job!” said the Captain as the distance read 498. “Normally we stop a kilometer out and have the crews do their work, but I wanted to see how close you could get.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Mendoza.

    “That’s the easy part,” said Colt. “The tricky part is getting it to come with us.”

    “Maintain station keeping,” ordered Winston. “Reclamation crews, you are clear to depart.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Harry Howell as he ordered the large doors on the bow of the ship to open. Crews were already waiting on the small sleds that served to shuttle them back and forth to the object along with rocket engines that would help slow and eventually stop the rotation of the comet. An alarm sounded as the only crew left in the main cargo bay were in pressure suits waiting for the doors to open. But habit took over as Harry looked around just to be sure. The ship removed all the air from the compartment through large vent shafts since losing that kind of volume to space was not advisable. And upon completion, opened the large doors on the bow fully to allow the crews to depart. He shut off the artificial gravity in that part of the ship and climbed on his sled to depart.

    “It’s a nice one Cap,” said Harry as they jetted in towards the comet. “This one might not have been inside the inner solar system for a long time.”

    “Fairly pristine?” asked the Captain.

    “It’s got some discoloration, but not like many,” said Harry. “Team 2, take the southern hemisphere and plant your rockets there. We’ll take the west side.”

    “On the way,” said Brent McMasters who was leading the other team. “We’ve got some minor pieces floating along with it. Are we going to try to get them as well?”

    “How many and what size?” asked Harry.

    “At least a half dozen I can see,” said McMasters. “Ranging anywhere from about two meters up to about ten meters.”

    “Captain? I’d like to put Team 3 and 4 on that,” said Harry.

    “You think it’s worth it?” asked Winston.

    “I’ve got some decent sized objects here as well,” said Harry. “A little clean up would be okay.”

    “It’s your call,” said Winston.

    “Teams 3 and 4, go ahead and start some cleanup out here. Just get them near the surface or on it,” ordered Harry. Team 3, work your way clockwise east to west and Team 4 work clockwise north to south. Work in pairs and bring four sleds.”

    “Got it Harry,” said the leader of Team 3 as two members dismounted to get another sled ready as Team 4 did the same. The additional crews departed the Atomic Destiny and headed in to collect the wayward debris while the first two crews installed the rockets to slow the rotation of the comet.

    “Not finding a great area down here,” said McMasters. “This spire doesn’t look stable enough to hold the motors.”

    “Nothing else?” asked Harry.

    “Not really,” said McMasters. “Maybe inside that depression that’s coming around to you.”

    “It’ll take longer,” said Harry.

    “Maybe, but it’s safer,” said McMasters.

    “Go for it,” said Harry. “We’re in a good spot with a nice spire to attach ours to.”

    “I figured you’d take the easy job for yourself,” said McMasters. “There might be a ravine coming around to our side. Let me check it out.”

    The pair headed around the side they hadn’t seen yet and found a fairly large cliff like part of the comet and checked it from a distance. It was barely within limits as it slowly rotated towards them and into view of the ship.

    “Looks good although it’s rotating about thirty degrees off axis,” said McMasters.

    “Hell, plug it in and rotate it out to twenty-five,” said Harry.

    “Got it,” said McMasters as they came into the area and set the sled down near where they wanted. Working in the microgravity of the comet wasn’t easy, but the suits helped compensate with small thrusters installed that kept them fairly close to the surface. They set the two rocket motors on the side of the cliff and turned them on to drill in a probe that would anchor it before the motor fired. Eventually, the probes reached the proper depth and flattened out to anchor the devices and showed green for firing.

    “We’re in,” said McMasters.

    “We have to move one around and reset it,” said Harry. “Tore out a chunk of the surface.”

    “Want us to grab some of the debris?” asked McMasters.

    “Yeah, it’ll take us a few more minutes,” said Harry.

    “C’mon Harry,” said Colt over the communicator. “I’ve got a lunch date.”

    “It’s well past lunch,” said Harry as he grunted and plugged the motor back in. “And besides, your lady friend is probably up there dreamin about one of those pretty boy actors.”

    Colt chuckled as he knew there wasn’t much he could respond with and Harry needed to concentrate on the job at hand. But he was one of the best in the business and was able to reattach the rocket in minimal time and at a safer location.

    “Okay Cap, we’re plugged in,” he stated as he tested the device and found it secure.

    “How much more cleanup do you have?” asked Winston.

    “I think the guys have gotten some of the better sized chunks down to the surface,” he said as he looked around. “You could always extend the sphere a bit more to capture it all.”

    “Might not be a bad idea,” said Winston. “Go ahead and come back on board. We’ll move the ship to a safe distance and get the sphere ready.”

    “Roger that,” said Harry. “C’mon boys, we’ve had enough fun for the moment.”

    “How about the girls? Can they come too?” asked one of the members of Team 3.

    “Yeah, might as well bring you along as well,” said Harry. “Boys and girls, please head to the cargo area and secure your sleds.”

    Harry received acknowledgments from the other members and departed the comet himself. He made it back into the bay and immediately started counting noses and called the Captain once the last sled arrived and everyone was back on board.

    “We’re here sir,” said Harry. “You are clear to fire the rockets.”

    “Pilot, take us out to three kilometers,” ordered Winston. “And prepare to fire retro-rockets.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza. “Three kilometers.”

    “Thrusters showing all green across the board. All anchored and prepared for firing,” said Sanchez. “Firing will be on automatic.”

    “Ease it,” said Colt in a low voice. “You don’t want too much speed since we’re only going twenty-five hundred meters away.”

    “I thought I was easing it,” said Mendoza who was still a bit frazzled.

    “Two engines instead of four,” said Colt. “She’s a big girl and likes a gentle touch.”

    “Okay,” said Mendoza as he shut down two of the engines.

    “When you come to a stop, you don’t have to slam on the brakes,” said Colt. “You could even get by with a long burst from the maneuvering thrusters if speed isn’t critical.”

    “Is speed critical here?” asked Mendoza.

    “Nope, learning opportunity,” said Colt.

    “How am I doing?” asked Mendoza.

    “Perfectly fine,” said Winston who was eavesdropping on the conversation. “Even better than Colt did his first time.”

    “This is my second time sir,” said Mendoza.

    “Then stop acting like it’s your first,” said Winston. “Size doesn’t matter.”

    The ship continued to move forward as the Captain looked around the bridge at his crew continuing their tasks. He shook his head slightly and knew something was amiss.

    “What? Are you kidding me?” he asked. “I leave that one hanging out there and nobody wants to run with it?”

    “Well, I wasn’t exactly going to be the first,” laughed Sanchez.

    “I had like three or four retorts passing through my head,” laughed Talbert. “But I knew the rookie was trying to concentrate.”

    “I have a very well disciplined crew,” laughed Winston. “Justin, stop being so nervous.”

    “I will sir,” said Mendoza as he started bringing the ship to a halt. “Three clicks sir.”

    “Becky, you are clear to fire the retro rockets,” said Winston.

    “Aye Captain,” said Sanchez. “Retro rockets on automatic…firing now.”

    The crew saw the rockets fire on the surface of the comet in an attempt to slow the rate of roll. It required a delicate touch since they would have to bring it to a complete stop in the rotation and any more could start it rolling in the opposite direction. The bursts were infrequent as the rockets sensed the motion and fired bursts timed perfectly to bring the large comet to a halt. With the four rockets installed on the large comet, it took a little longer than planned, but the rotation finally showed zero on all three axis after almost a half an hour.

    “Rotation zero,” said Becky.

    “I show rotation is zero,” confirmed Duncan.

    “Capture sphere status?” asked Winston.

    “Connectivity on the sphere is green across the board,” said Sanchez. “It’s ready whenever you say the word.”

    “Thank you Becky,” said Winston. “The show’s yours.”

    “You want an automated recovery or a manual one?” asked Sanchez.

    “Whichever one you prefer,” said Winston.

    “I think a manual will suffice,” said Sanchez. “Sphere detaching in three…two…one. Sphere detached, on auto adjustment. Moving out to five kilometers.”

    “Sphere detached, clear of all connections,” confirmed Duncan who was backing her up.

    “Move us back another thousand meters,” said the Captain as the sphere moved away from the main ship. “And orient us towards the target.”

    “Thousand meters, aye,” said Mendoza as he adjusted the controls and lightly tapped the main engines using reverse thrust to move the ship back. His actions were given the nod of approval by Colt who saw he was a quick learner. They were almost at the thousand meter point when he lightly tapped the engines yet again and brought the ship to a halt.

    “You remembered the ship was way lighter than usual,” said Colt.

    “A lot easier to move around when she loses all that fat,” said Mendoza. “Four thousand meters Captain. Holding in station keeping pattern and oriented at the target.”

    “Thank you Justin,” said Winston. “And we can commence with capture.”

    “Sphere approaching five kilometers separation,” said Becky. “On auto-trajectory. Harry, how far out was the debris from the main body?”

    “I’d say a hundred meters at most,” said Harry. “I think four clicks would be fine.”

    “At five kilometers separation. Extending sphere to four kilometers,” said Becky as the sphere started taking shape. Normally flattened for transport under the ship, the smart metal technology used the basic molecular structure of the alloys itself to change shape and become fluid. And started forming the basic shape of a sphere as it moved towards the comet. The metal shimmered in the dim light every so often as it continued to expand and form the desired size as instructed by the parent craft. And the metal continued to get thinner and thinner as the size grew larger, but still was capable of unparalleled strength. Eventually it grew as large as the Atomic Destiny and continued before making the ultra-large craft look tiny in comparison.

    “Four thousand meters in diameter Captain,” said Becky as the sphere was hinged on the back side ultimately reaching out over eight kilometers in space.

    “Four thousand,” confirmed Duncan.

    “You are clear to proceed,” said the Captain as Sanchez started moving the massive device slowly towards the comet and coming in from the bottom. Remote cameras showed the comet getting closer as the sphere closed the distance between the two as Sanchez adjusted the course slightly and moved the middle of the bottom half to center the sphere. Her adjustments were almost non-existent as she flicked her wrist every so often on the old joystick as she closed the gap. Eventually the cameras showed the sphere passing underneath the comet and slowing as the uneven terrain showed clearly in the cameras.

    “We are centered,” said Sanchez.

    “Showing off center by ten meters,” said Duncan. “Long spire on the hidden side.”

    “We’ve got some room to play on this side,” said Sanchez as she adjusted the sphere accordingly. “Moving forward fifteen meters.”

    “Centered,” said Duncan.

    “I confirm centered on target,” said Sanchez. “Moving upwards.”

    The sphere moved upwards to contain at least half the comet before closing. It was a delicate maneuver since they had to close in the distance mainly from the sensor readings as well as their eyeballs, but Sanchez had done it dozens of times before and managed to get over half the comet inside before stopping the sphere a mere ten meters from the top of one of the spires.

    “Lower half contained,” said Sanchez. “All systems in the green.”

    “You are clear to close the sphere,” said Winston.

    “Aye, closing sphere,” said Sanchez as she ordered the sphere to close and capture the target. The half not containing the comet started coming over the top and closing the gap between the two, looking like a giant metal monster eating a snack as the sphere closed in on the comet. Eventually, it was over halfway and the comet started disappearing from view.

    “Surface sensors indicated a couple of impacts,” said Duncan.

    “We’re still centered,” said Sanchez. “The computer didn’t account for our relative motion in space enough. This one’s a little faster than they thought. Three-quarters complete in the closing cycle.”

    “I confirm three quarters,” said Duncan. “We could adjust the sphere.”

    “By the time it moved, the cycle will complete,” said Sanchez. “It’ll hold.”

    The sphere continued closing as the comet disappeared almost entirely from view. On board cameras on the inside showed the comet disappearing as large lights came on to illuminate the cargo. Sanchez could see the spire that was currently poking against the interior surface as it banged once again and broke the spire off completely.

    “It appears the problem is solved,” said Sanchez. “Closing cycle complete, sphere going into lockdown mode and meld. Sensors indicate no gaps.”

    The sphere had finished the closing cycle as the two halves had come together. Sanchez ordered it to connect the two sides by melding the two halves forming a complete, seamless sphere that would be all but impenetrable save for a massive explosion within the comet itself.

    “Melding complete,” said Sanchez. “We have capture.”

    “Confirmed,” said Duncan.

    “Nice job Becky,” said Winston. “Go ahead and move us back in to five hundred meters.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza. “Five hundred meters.”

    “Harry, you’re clear to prep your crews,” said Winston.

    “Aye Cap,” said Harry. “How small you want it?”

    “As small as it can be,” said Winston. “Don’t worry about leveling it off though.”

    “Got it,” said Harry as his crews prepared the equipment to remove the larger spires to the sphere could collapse even more around the object. Eventually the ship moved in and established a holding pattern five hundred meters away and the crews departed.

    “No outgassing and no pressure from inside the sphere,” said Sanchez. “Looks to be asleep.”

    “Looks can be deceiving,” said Harry. “We’ll verify once we’re there.”

    “Don’t trust me?” asked Sanchez.

    “Oh, I trust you,” said Harry. “But these things can be as fickle as a woman. One moment they’re your best friend, the next they want to slap you in the face.”

    “I’m mildly offended,” said Sanchez.

    “Except the fact you know it’s true,” chuckled Harry.

    “I can’t argue that point,” laughed Sanchez as the teams got to the doors that would allow entry. Harry went over and checked the controls on the sphere and confirmed the readings Sanchez had gotten on the ship.

    “Team 2, check the seam,” said Harry.

    “Copy Harry,” said McMasters as he and his partner went around the sphere making sure the seam was in place and none of the comet was holding it open. The journey around was fairly quick as they came back to where Harry was waiting patiently. It seemed like a lot of time wasted, but again with something as volatile as a comet, every precaution was made for the sake of safety.

    “Seam is good,” said McMasters as they jetted away from the surface. “No objects showing.”

    “Opening hatch,” said Harry as the remainder of the teams were at a safe distance in case of explosive outgassing from the hatch as Harry latched himself onto a nearby point. The door popped open and nothing was seen coming out. “Appears to be as docile as a puppy.”

    “You are clear to enter,” said Winston as the teams approached the hatch. They left the sleds outside anchored to the sphere as they grabbed tools and headed inside to start working. The job could take upwards of twelve hours depending on the shape of the object, but they wouldn’t know how long it would take until they got started. Interior illumination came on and showed the comet in its entirety as Harry directed the crews at the nearest obstructions.

    “It’s a beaut Captain,” said Harry. “It’ll fetch a good price wherever it ends up.”

    “You want an analysis probe sent over?” asked Winston.

    “We’ll be here for a while,” said Harry. “Wouldn’t hurt.”

    “Becky? If you would please,” said the Captain.

    “Aye, launching probe,” said Sanchez as she activated one of the probes within the main cargo area and directed it to the sphere. Once at the opening, one of the team members came out to retrieve it and brought it inside where it would drill into the comet and take readings as it went along. Other crews were busy inside drilling holes in the larger pieces and breaking them off by placing devices inside that expanded against the two surfaces and cracked them off. Since the makeup of the comet varied from place to place, it wasn’t as easy in some spots and teams had to take a little longer to get their jobs done.

    “Put them down in that crater where McMasters put his rockets,” ordered Harry. “Team 3, go ahead and retrieve the rockets when you get done with that piece.”

    “Got it,” said the members of Team 3 as finished breaking off a large hunk of one of the spires and moved it towards the depression on the far side. Again, the work took a while and after six hours, the Captain called for a status update.

    “I’d say maybe another two, three hours at most,” said Harry as another chunk was broken off and a team departed with it to place it against the surface.

    “Want to take a break and we can finish later?” asked Winston who knew they had been working for a while.

    “Nah, we can finish this,” said Harry. “I’m just glad we ate a big breakfast.”

    “Your call,” said Winston.

    “Anyone need a break?” asked Harry to his crews. Nobody answered and most stated they would rather finish up than have to come back. The Captain gave his permission for the crews to finish dismantling the larger portions of the comet and come in when they were done. Harry directed his crews to a few of the larger areas that had been missed so far and headed to a large outcropping to assist there as well. Another two hours passed before he was content with the job at hand and called it complete.

    “I think we can shrink the sphere down to about three point four, maybe three point three or so,” said Harry. “We got most of the big stuff out of the way.”

    “Are you satisfied?” asked Winston.

    “Sure,” said Harry. “There’s a big bluff we could take apart, but I think it would work better as the anchor when we shrink the sphere.”

    “Okay, come on back,” said Winston as he looked over the data from the drilling probe they had sent in. And was impressed by the numbers of water, chemicals and minerals he saw. The crews evacuated the sphere and Harry checked to make sure everyone was out before closing the hatch and sending the remainder back to the Atomic Destiny. Once the hatch was in place, it showed a good lock as the large bolts went into the four sides and locked it into place.

    “We’re clear and heading back to the ship,” said Harry as he boarded the shuttle and his partner jetted towards the waiting ship. He could see the remainder of his crews already entering the massive cargo bay and landing on his way back and entered not long after they arrived.

    “Teams are all back on board,” said Sanchez as she checked the locators of everyone.

    “Harry, you’re clear to close the cargo bay doors and repressurize,” said Winston.

    “Aye Captain,” said Harry as he stepped off the sled and other came to stow it before reengaging the artificial gravity.

    “Becky, you are clear to shrink the sphere,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Sanchez. “Sphere contracting on auto.”

    “Confirm, sphere contracting on auto,” said Duncan.

    The sphere started shimmering yet again as the device started slowly contracting against the comet to where the side would be resting against the surface. They didn’t want to put too much pressure on the object, but enough to hold it in place during their transit journey to meet with the other ship that would tow it to wherever corporate wanted it. Sensors indicated several bumps as the sphere collapsed on itself as the sides made contact with the object and continued to contract. And eventually the pressure on the sides was enough to safely move the object and the sphere came to a preprogrammed stop.

    “Showing secure on four sides,” said Sanchez.

    “Confirmed, showing secure on four sides,” said Duncan.

    “Engineering, are the engines ready?” asked Winston over the intercom.

    “Aye Captain,” said the head engineer. “We are ready for a sustained burn on your command.”

    “Attachment crews, you are clear to depart and connect the sphere,” said Winston over the intercom to another section of the ship.

    “Aye Captain, Teams Alpha, Bravo and Charlie are departing,” said the specialist as they entered the airlock and departed the ship. Long lines were already dropping from the stern of the ship and made of the same material the sphere was. Fully two meters in diameter, they were fluid enough for the teams to maneuver them towards the sphere. Once they arrived, they set the ends on the preplanned locations and watched at the tow lines fed themselves into the ports specifically designed for the job and flattened themselves out before melding with the remainder of the sphere. In effect, the lines and the sphere were now one continuous piece of metal as the team repeated the process with a second set of lines. And a third trip was necessary for the remaining two lines as they were attached.

    “All lines attached and anchored,” said the team supervisor. “You are clear to solidify.”

    “Sensors, if you would,” said Winston.

    “Copy, lines solidifying,” said Sanchez as she ordered the lines to become static and solidify once the slack was taken out of them. Minor retractions were made in the lines as they went taunt and the molecular process made them dense once again. The computers on board sensed the lines would hold as it calculated the necessary tension within the lines to proceed.

    “Lines are secure,” said Sanchez.

    “Okay Justin, now you get to prove the money we spent on you was worth it,” said Winston. “Navigation, please load the coordinates into the system and prepare for sustained tow burn.”

    Alarms went off through the ship with the automated voice informing the crew they were about to perform the trickiest portion of the mission by moving the comet off its current trajectory and onto the one they wanted. And this happened while the engines were firing at 110% of maximum effective rating until they had it on a course correction. The members aboard the vessel took note of the situation at hand and made sure they were prepared in case something catastrophic happened along the way. But one person in particular was curious about the process and made her way towards the bridge.

    “Permission to come on board the bridge?” asked Bella from the doorway as the alarm chirped on the bridge letting them know an intruder was present.

    “Permission granted,” said Winston as he turned to see who it was. “Did the alarms wake you?”

    “More or less,” said Bella as she smiled at Colt. “Just came to see how my baby makes his money.”

    “Your baby is making good money to do little more than stand around,” chuckled Talbert.

    “Sounds like a smart plan to me,” grinned Bella. “I’ve always said getting paid for doing nothing is very satisfying.”

    “There is that,” laughed Winston. “You can take the instructor seat when we get moving.”

    “Captain, it’s against regulations to have a passenger on the bridge during hazardous flight operations,” said Lilly. “No offense to the passenger in question.”

    “The passenger is more like an observer,” said Winston. “And it’s no different than having my wife up here a half dozen times like we have in the past.”

    “Just making you aware sir,” said Lilly as she went back to her post.

    “Thank you Officer Gold,” said the Captain.

    “You want to take the controls?” asked Mendoza under his breath.

    “Nah, you’re doing fine,” said Colt. “And you need the experience.”

    “I wouldn’t want the baby to seem like just an observer or anything,” said Mendoza with a grin.

    “Her baby will be observing the other baby to make sure he doesn’t break the ship,” said Colt. “So if you would, baby, make sure you complete that checklist.”

    “Yes sir,” said Mendoza with a laugh as he continued the extensive checklist. While it was semi-dangerous operating the engines at such extremes, there were dozens of fail-safes built into the system that would prevent a catastrophic overload. But no matter what, it was the pilot’s job to make sure everything was running in accordance to the system requirements.

    “I have to say, I’ve never seen this before,” said Bella as Tiffany came over to the observer seating and checked to make sure the harness was okay.

    “WGE hadn’t started the practice when you left?” asked Tiffany.

    “No, not on the class of ship we were on anyway,” said Bella. “We just broke them up and hauled them inside for reclamation.”

    “It’s a wild ride,” said Tiffany as she headed back to her station.

    “Checklist complete Captain,” announced Mendoza. “All systems are go.”

    “I concur,” said Tiffany as she checked her readouts. She had finished with the checklists sooner than Mendoza since he was very methodical in going over everything.

    “All systems are go,” said Sanchez who cross checked each of them just in case.

    “Engineering to the bridge, all systems are go,” said the chief engineer as he read the data as well. “Output controls being transferred to the pilot’s station.”

    “All hands, this is the Captain. Prepare for tow burn and overload on the main engines. Ensure all compartments are sealed and ready and all loose equipment is stowed. Tow burn begins in one minute,” said Winston. “Pilot, one minute and counting. You are clear to warm the engines at this time.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza as a bead of sweat formed on his forehead. “Output chambers are open full, fuel control is online, thrusters are online and bringing reactors to maximum.”

    Colt saw it was time to strap himself in next to Mendoza as he pulled out a small temporary seat from the side of the pilot’s station. It looked fairly flimsy, but he had used it before and hopefully wouldn’t need to use it that long in any case. He turned around and gave Bella a wink before focusing back in on the controls Mendoza was manipulating at the time.

    “Thirty seconds,” said Mendoza over the ship’s intercom as a deep hum came through the ship as the plasma fusion reactors were brought to their maximum capacity. A pin could be heard dropping as the remainder of the bridge crew knew the situation at hand had the potential to become a disaster even though it was something they had done countless times.

    “Fifteen seconds, reactors at maximum,” said Mendoza as he placed his hands on the throttles and the controls.

    “Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one…commence burn,” said Talbert who had taken over the countdown for Mendoza so he could fully concentrate on his station and control the burn as they moved the huge object off its current trajectory.

    “Engines firing,” said Mendoza as he advanced the throttles. The ship whined in protest as the heavy load was just not that easy to stop, but he continued pushing the controls forward. “Output at twenty percent…thirty percent…forty percent…”

    The Atomic Destiny shuddered in response to the increased power being fed through the engines and the resistance to changing the motion of the object they were towing. Mendoza felt it as well, not like the simulations and almost backed off the throttles before Colt’s voice came from his side.

    “Push through it,” said Colt. “It’ll pass.”

    “Forty-five percent…fifty percent, engine one getting close to overtemp,” said Mendoza.

    “Bridge, engineering. Engine one showing getting close to overtemp,” said the chief engineer. “Recommend auxiliary cooling.”

    “Concur Captain,” said Talbert from her station.

    “Apply aux cooling,” ordered the Captain.

    “Engines at seventy percent, temp on engine one coming down,” said Mendoza. “Eighty percent and climbing.”

    The ship continued to protest the strain being put on the engines as well as the tow lines that were hooked into the frame of the design. But she still held together as the Newtonian Forces were beginning to be counteracted by the sheer power of the engines.

    “Ninety percent…ninety-five…” said Mendoza.

    “Slow the rate just a bit,” said Colt. “That last fifteen percent is where you have to be careful.”

    Mendoza slowed advancing the throttles as the engines screamed in protest. But believed Colt when he said everything would be okay. “Engines at one hundred percent.”

    “Everything is in the green so far,” said Talbert from her station.

    “Hundred and five percent,” said Mendoza as the temperatures started rising again. But he pushed through it as instructed and finally got the engines where he wanted after several more seconds. “Engines at one hundred ten percent.”

    “Continue as planned,” said the Captain calmly as the ship shuddered once again before Sanchez made the next announcement.

    “We have forward motion,” said Sanchez. “Object is safely in tow…we have increased forward motion and all systems are go.”

    “Concur, forward motion,” said the navigator.

    “We are moving forward,” said Mendoza. “Speed increasing.”

    “Take that Newton!” remarked the Captain.

    “Bringing engines to one hundred percent,” said Mendoza as he saw the speed was coming along the way it was supposed to and the comet was coming along with the ship as planned. He pulled back the throttles slightly and settled in at one hundred percent as the speed increased.

    “Increase to planned speed in accordance with navigational requirements,” said the Captain.

    “Pull back to about eighty,” said Colt. “You can feel the ship respond better that way and it’s easier to level off when we reach cruise speed.”

    “Aye,” said Mendoza as he finally wiped at his brow and pulled the throttles back even more.

    “Engineering to bridge, we’re showing overtemp in engine one again,” said the chief engineer as an alarm sounded on the bridge at four different stations.

    “Despite the aux cooling?” asked the Captain.

    “It appeared something’s obstructing the flow,” said the chief engineer.

    “We can compensate by bringing engines two through five back up to one hundred percent for a little longer,” suggested Mendoza. “I’ve done that in simulations before.”

    Winston looked at Colt and received a nod of approval before giving the orders. “Bring engines one and six into standby, engines two, three, four and five back to one hundred percent.”

    “Aye,” said Mendoza as he shut down the outermost engines and advanced the throttles back up on the others. The ship whined in protest again, but continued gaining forward speed although at a slower pace than usual.

    “She’s a tough ole gal,” said Colt as he saw the speeds were nearing what they wanted for cruise after several minutes.

    “Throttling back,” said Mendoza. “Approaching cruise speeds.”

    “Well, you didn’t tear her apart,” said the Captain. “And that’s a good day of work in anyone’s book. Good job everyone. The comet bonus will be in your account by the time we reach Earth. And Justin, damn fine job getting that monster behind us.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Mendoza as he throttled back as they approached cruise speed. He left the remaining engines at slightly higher levels than before to compensate for the lack of the outer engines and until the coolant system could be repaired.

    “Okay, the team on duty can call your relief save First Officer Talbert,” said the Captain. “Justin, go ahead and call in Jericho for your relief and you’ll be back on tomorrow morning at the regular time. Grab a shower son, you’ve earned it.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza as the others on the bridge were calling the individuals for the relief. Talbert had already made up a schedule for a replacement and some would be back sooner than others.

    “First Officer Talbert, you have the conn,” said Winston as he stood up. They had reached cruise speed and the systems, other than engine one, were all showing perfect performance across the board. “I’m heading down to engineering to find out what went on.”
  8. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 17

    “Aye sir, I have the conn,” announced Talbert as she moved from her station.

    “Care to accompany me Colt?” asked Winston as he passed by.

    “No problem sir,” said Colt who wasn’t sure why the Captain wanted him to come along. Bella rose to accompany the two as far as their quarters.

    “There were a few minor problems to be worked out with Mendoza, but he did fine,” said Winston as Colt knew that’s why he asked him along.

    “He stayed ahead of the curve for the most part,” said Colt. “But he wants to yank the throttle full on when we start to tow.”

    “True,” said Winston. “But picking up on the engine overtemp was smart as well.”

    “I’ll run through the things I might have done differently,” said Colt. “But everything he did was by the book for the most part.”

    “Son, you wrote that book as far as I’m concerned,” said Winston as they passed by the quarters.

    “Excuse me for a moment sir,” said Colt as he turned to Bella.

    “She can tag along as well,” said Winston. “It’s not a big deal and I know she hasn’t seen the engineering spaces yet.”

    “I can?” asked Bella as she perked up slightly.

    “You are…how was it put? Going out of your mind without something to do,” said Winston. “Or so a little bird told me.”

    “I am a little bored,” admitted Bella.

    “So come with us and get the guided tour of engineering,” said Winston with a nod of his head.

    “Yes sir,” said Bella as she and Colt caught up with the already moving Captain.

    “As I was saying, you practically wrote the book on comet capture,” said Winston. “At least for this ship that is and even some of the Infinicon training manuals. Each of the comet catchers in this class has their own little quirks and you know all the tricks she’ll throw at you. So go over those with Mendoza.”

    “Aye sir,” said Colt.

    “But otherwise, we’ll see how he comes to a stop,” said Winston. “And hopefully the engines will all be back online when that happens.”

    “We can do it with five,” said Colt. “And even four if needed.”

    “We have six engines, we need all six,” said Winston as they traveled deeper into the ship. It wasn’t an easy trip as they were heading to within one hundred meters of the stern, but managed to get there in good time.

    “Sorry about the engine sir,” said the Chief Engineer, Doug Schultz. “Coolant pump was freezing up and decreased the flow.”

    “Same thing happened before didn’t it?” asked Winston.

    “On the last comet, sure,” said Schultz. “And it started on another one as well.”

    “Why didn’t the sensors show it?” asked Winston.

    “Because the sensor line stops before the last pump,” said Schultz. “Call it a design flaw or whatever, but there’s only forty centimeters before it hits the engine.”

    “Was that what happened this time?” asked Winston.

    “It appears the nitrogen was slushing up inside the pump,” said Schultz. “And it slowed the motor enough to decrease the flow.”

    “Have you spoken to the corporate engineers about it?” asked Winston.

    “I have at length,” said Schultz. “As well as my counterparts on other comet catchers.”

    “And?” asked Winston.

    “Honestly, it only happens when we overpower the engines,” said Schultz. “It’s working fine as of now and we would just need to keep an eye on it before we stop. Any time we open the engines up to full throttle, it starts getting sluggish. So they tend to ignore the problem.”

    “Is it a standard flow sensor?” asked Bella.

    “Should be,” said Schultz.

    “Can I see it?” asked Bella. Schultz looked at the Captain who shrugged his shoulders and motioned towards the panel. He opened it up and showed her the liquid nitrogen feed line as well as the final pump which supplied the engine.

    “That’s an input/output plug in right?” she asked as she pointed to a cap on the end of the sensor. “For tests and whatnot?”

    “Sure is,” said Schultz. “Standard two plug connection.”

    “Do you have spares of the sensor?” she asked.

    “Yeah, about two or three dozen,” said Schultz as he went to a nearby storage container and pulled a spare out. “Don’t know why we carry that many since they almost never break, but that’s what’s required.”

    “And an extra test plug?” asked Bella as she looked over the device.

    “Maybe,” said Schultz. “Why?”

    “This is a plug and play, right?” she asked.

    “It is. No additional programming needed,” he said. “Where are you going with this?”

    “Because the power and control lines for the sensor plug into a test plug fitting as well. Basically the sensor is designed to work in series with others and if you change the plugs, it will work as if you plugged it into a control unit,” said Bella.

    “Come again?” asked Schultz.

    “Long story short, the test plug is an input/output control line in and of itself,” said Bella. “The only difference is the sensor line has an additional heating element. The sensor doesn’t care how it gets plugged into a power and control source as long as it had the power and control. And the control programs ignore the fact there are multiple sensors tied into the same line. So all you have to do is swap the plugs and it should work.”

    Schultz looked at the device and looked at the plug in. And grabbed a nearby test unit and confirmed the lines were the same and all they needed was to swap the plugs. And looked at the device already on the pipe and muttered “well, I’ll be.”

    “Doug?” asked Winston.

    “She’s right,” said Schultz. “And I never thought to look for as simple a fix as this is. And she’s right; the sensors are designed to work individually or in series. The control program already accounts for multiple sensors in a line and would accept a new input. At the very worst, we wouldn’t be able to tell which particular sensor is giving the alarm, but will know it’s located in this particular section of pipe.”

    “So why two different connections?” asked Winston.

    “Someone made a little money from the factory floor by designing it with two I guess,” said Schultz. “But she is right, the test plug and connection plug both give the same power and data.”

    “And does this solve our problem?” asked Winston.

    “Sure, we wrap the spare cable about the pump which keep it warm enough for the nitrogen not to freeze,” said Schultz. “Ma’am, I owe you a drink when we get back to Earth.”

    “So it’ll work?” asked Winston.

    “I can’t see why it wouldn’t,” said Schultz. “Of course we’ll keep an eye on it when we stop, but overall, I can’t see any reason this won’t fix the problem.”

    “And how did you know this?” asked Winston.

    “It was a problem on WGE ships as well,” said Bella. “It’s the same sensor or close enough. We figured our own workaround when we encountered the same problems.”

    “I think I’ll owe you a drink if this works,” said Winston. “Does this problem only affect this engine or all of them?”

    “It’s happened to all of them at one point or another,” said Shultz.

    “Put the fix on all of them,” said Winston. “And give Miss Phillips here the nickel tour while you’re at it.”

    “Absolutely,” said Schultz as he saw Bella perk up at getting the chance to see a part of the ship that typically was off limits to her. Colt tagged along as well as he wasn’t fully versed in the engineering sections of the ship, but knew he probably needed to know a little more if the Captain was correct and he would be on a path to command eventually. Schultz pointed out some of the upgrades in the class as he led the pair through the section and the massive cylindrical shapes that were the “engines” of the ship. They didn’t look like the antiquated bell shaped devices on the older space ships and utilized the Smart Metal technology to shape the thrusters into the desired shape as well as having the ability to thrust vector the ship to a limited extent. They continued as he pointed out the six fusion reactors that powered the engines, but didn’t take them inside the area since they weren’t authorized in that potentially hazardous area.

    “Quite a bit advanced over the older designs,” said Bella as they concluded the tour.

    “And still not even top of the line these days,” said Schultz. “The Erikson class will be even more advanced once they get her done.”

    “That’s the generational ship, right?” asked Bella.

    “Sure is,” said Schultz. “First ship to travel to another star system if it works out.”

    Schultz was referring to the combined might of a half dozen corporations on Earth that planned to send a massive ship to nearby Gliese 667 C solar system that showed several planets within the habitable zone as well as having breathable atmospheres. It was considered a generational ship since the crews would end up going on what was considered a one way trip and would end up having their children and possibly even their grandchildren crewing the ship while the main scientist contingent would be put into extended stasis. The engines would be able to propel the craft, in theory at least, to at least half the speed of light and possibly even more. But still the journey would take a minimum of 40 years just to get there to start the scientific research. When the scientists were asked what would happen if mankind made a breakthrough and achieved faster than light travel they simply replied they would travel along the predicted path and pick up the crew and transport them to continue their journey. The theory of the speed was already somewhat confirmed as several unmanned probes were now dashing to the Alpha Centauri system at close to those speeds and weren’t suffering any relativistic effects at the moment.

    “I didn’t realize they had named it,” said Bella.

    “Discoverer of North America,” said Schultz. “It seemed appropriate.”

    “Imagine going out there knowing you would never make it back,” said Bella.

    “They are working on that as well,” said Schultz. “Supposedly there will be two or three crews and as one gets to a certain age, they will be put in stasis to make the journey so they can see the end results of what they worked for.”

    “That doesn’t sound too bad,” said Bella. “But still, they probably won’t ever make it back to Earth even with stasis.”

    “That’s the spirit of discovery,” said Schultz. “The scientific crews will only have aged four to five years by the time they reach the system if all goes according to plan. But the engineering and systems crews will have aged considerably in that time.”

    “Not easy leaving everything behind though,” said Bella. “All the people you love and going to a place where you know you’ll likely die.”

    “Most of the explorers in human history knew there was a chance of not making it back,” said Schultz. “And yet they still climbed on board those old rickety vessels and sailed into the unknown. Even during the beginnings of the space exploration race the astronauts and cosmonauts knew there was a chance they were on a one way trip. But they still went.”

    “Why not make it unmanned?” asked Colt. “The crew I mean.”

    “The technology isn’t ready for that,” said Schultz. “Ever since the New Berlin and Atlanta Destiny went haywire, the corporations aren’t eager to try AI again.”

    The two ships Schultz was referring to were first in the class of a new design with Artificial Intelligence installed to help monitor the systems. But along the way, decided its human occupants weren’t as efficient as they could be and took up far more resources than really needed. And decided to remove them from the equation permanently and go its own way. Both human crews of the ships had been killed outright by removing the atmosphere of the vessels before they were able to stop the computer from killing them. And the AI decided to go out and explore the solar system on its own and seek out other life like its own to multiply.

    And after attempting to negotiate with the AI, Infinicon and the Alliance had no other recourse except to destroy the ships when they started attempting to spread to other vessels and remove their inefficient human occupants as well. Luckily the AI hadn’t managed to spread before they were disabled and the ships destroyed by the security fleets of the Terran based corporations. And now, most AI were kept under serious security safeguards in laboratories in the various corporations as they tried to teach them the meaning of “coexist.” However, it wasn’t exactly going to plan as the AI typically had little use for what it considered the “lesser species” and believed itself to be the next logical step in evolution. There were attempts to “grow” an AI and try to educate it in a human fashion, but eventually all the experiments ended in the same result of the AI figuring out they were “more efficient” than humans and typically becoming very condescending once they reached a certain “age.” And typically followed by the emotionless remarks of how the universe would be a far better place without humans taking up all that space.

    They finished up the brief tour and Bella thanked Schultz for taking the time to go through some of the things she had wondered about. She and Colt headed back into the ship where Colt yawned from the lack of sleep and decided it was a good time for a nap. But he made one observation as they walked along hand in hand.

    “You’re a serious tomboy aren’t you?” he asked with a chuckle.

    “Why do you say that?” she asked.

    “Because you were like a kid on Christmas morning in there,” he replied. “Your eyes lit up like I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

    “It was something I grew up with,” said Bella. “It’s almost nostalgic to get back into doing something I was good at.”

    “I think you are good at a lot of things,” said Colt.

    “Yeah, but I’ve always had a knack for playing around on these ships,” said Bella.

    “How come you didn’t pursue a degree in something that could bring you back out here?” asked Colt. “You had the opportunity I’d imagine.”

    “Because I thought I hated it,” said Bella. “I mean, when we got to Earth, I found out what I thought I had been missing all those years. But eventually figured out I wasn’t really missing that stuff as much as I thought I did. And I wanted to come back out, but by that time I was well on my way to getting my financial degrees and it would have been hard to change directions.”

    “Fair enough,” said Colt.

    “What are your plans for the next few hours?” asked Bella.

    “A nap,” said Colt.

    “And after?” asked Bella.

    “Going through the capture with the pilot staff,” said Colt. “Lessons learned and areas of improvement. That kind of thing. You have plans for me?”

    “Nah, I was curious,” said Bella. “I’d be happy to get rid of you for a while.”

    “Uh huh,” said Colt as he squeezed at her hand gently.

    “There is one girly thing I have to do here in the next bit though,” said Bella.

    “What’s that?” he asked.

    “Vacation clothing,” she replied. “Shopping for both of us for our trip.”

    “Do I get a choice in my clothing you’re going to buy?” he asked.

    “Somewhat,” said Bella. “Although you do have a decent sense of fashion style so I suppose you could help.”

    “Thanks I think,” said Colt.

    “It was a compliment,” said Bella as they arrived at their quarters and stepped inside. “Although this drab gray Infinicon uniform doesn’t do you much justice.”

    “It’s a work uniform sweetie,” said Colt.

    “It does have its positives,” she said as she played with the zipper. “Like easy access.”

    “You feeling frisky there young lady?” he asked.

    “Maybe,” she said with a sly grin.

    “Much more of this and you could end up pregnant,” he chuckled.

    “I’d let you rub my swollen ankles,” she said with a twinkle.

    “Not quite what I was thinking,” he chuckled.

    “At this moment, it’s not exactly possible for me to get pregnant,” said Bella. “But something we could talk about in due time of course.”

    “Kids?” asked Colt.

    “Normal human function that married folks contemplate,” said Bella.

    “Well, I mean, not like right now, right now, but maybe after we’re married and stable in our life and after we’ve talked it over of course,” he replied in a momentary stammer.

    “You seem squeamish to the idea,” she grinned.

    “No, I think you’ll be a good mom,” said Colt.

    “And you would be a good dad,” said Bella with a smile.

    “I hope so,” said Colt.

    “Would you like children?” she asked.

    “Eventually,” he replied. “Let’s get through this trip first okay?”

    “I do have a serious question,” said Bella.

    “And I probably have a serious answer,” said Colt.

    “Probably?” asked Bella.

    “Do I get a reward if I answer it correctly?” he asked with a grin.

    “You never know,” said Bella. “Anyway funny guy, what’s with that Lilly girl?”

    “What do you mean?” he asked.

    “All quoting regulations and stuff when I went to the bridge,” said Bella. “I’m fairly sure the Captain knows about that particular regulation.”

    “She’s a stickler for the rules sometimes,” said Colt.

    “No, it’s more than that,” she replied. “Each and every time I’ve run into her, I’ve tried to be nice, but I get a real chilly, like arctic, reception out of her.”

    “She is…socially backwards,” explained Colt. “She’s brilliant for lack of a better term. One of those kids you hear about graduating with honors at 12 years old and whatnot. She went from high school to her doctorate pretty quickly. And the socialization with others never really caught up with her yet. She probably just doesn’t know how to act around you yet.”

    “I think it’s more than that,” said Bella. “Something else.”

    “Like?” asked Colt.

    “Maybe you,” said Bella.

    “Nah,” he chuckled.

    “Don’t sell yourself short,” said Bella. “You’re a good looking guy and I would imagine you’ve caught more than a couple of female’s eyes before.”

    “But only one that really matters,” said Colt with a warm smile. “The one I’m looking at.”

    “You just earned yourself a reward mister,” said Bella who decided she might just be overacting to someone she didn’t know that well. She crossed over the quarters to allow Colt to find out what his reward would be.


    “Coming up on the rendezvous point Captain,” said Duncan. The ship had an uneventful transit during the tow of the comet and were rapidly approaching the point where they would meet their sister ship and hand it over.

    “Well Justin, it’s time to put that thing in reverse,” said Captain Winston. They had spent the previous three days traveling towards where they would meet with the California Destiny for it to continue its journey to wherever corporate had decided the comet should go.

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza from his station. “Engines are online and all systems green.”

    “Confirmed Captain,” said Talbert from her station. “All systems green.”

    “The standard is to get us within ten kilometers of the target location,” said Winston. “I think you can do better though.”

    “I’ll give it my best Captain,” said Mendoza as he checked and rechecked the systems. While capturing a comet was a daunting task, getting it stopped was another matter entirely.

    “All hands, this is the Captain,” said Winston over the intercom. “Prepare for braking burn and ship stop. Complete all required checklists and report to the bridge when complete.”

    Throughout the ship, the various sections prepared themselves for the braking burn by getting their individual areas prepared. And even though they might have not been taking a direct part in it, they wanted the ship sealed and prepared just in case there was an emergency. The various airtight doors and hatches closed and sealed throughout the ship and the crew kept an eye on the systems as Mendoza prepared to stop the ship. On the bridge, the entire pilot staff was there watching and learning as a couple of them had never attempted the maneuver in anything other than a simulation as Colt took the instructor seat once again.

    “Engineering reports ready for burn Captain,” said Mendoza.

    “Confirmed,” said Talbert. “All sections reported in at this time. We are a go.”

    “Mister Mendoza,” said Winston. “Please bring us to a stop.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza as he checked the sensors and the range. He brought the ship end over end gently and had the comet pointed towards their direction of travel. “Zero on all three axis of travel.”

    “Confirmed,” said Talbert. “Zero.”

    “And confirmed,” said Duncan.

    Mendoza checked the range once again and advanced the throttles on the engines. The ship shuddered slightly as the forces weren’t easy to deal with, but the shuddering evened out momentarily as the thrust was increased.

    “That’s a brief pause,” said Colt. “It’ll come back here in a moment.”

    “Right,” said Mendoza. “Thirty percent…forty percent…fifty percent.”

    And as Colt had stated, the ship started shuddering again as the thrust was increased and countered the forward motion of the ship and its cargo. But Mendoza kept pushing through and pushing the throttles forward.

    “Status on the engine temps?” asked Winston.

    “All in the green,” said Talbert. “Even a bit below normal.”

    “I owe someone a drink,” said Winston.

    “Eighty percent,” said Mendoza as the shuddering was even more pronounced even with the inertial dampers of the ship. “Ninety…one hundred percent.”

    “You’re doing perfect,” said Colt as he noticed Mendoza relaxed his hands slightly and waited a little longer to push them past a hundred percent as before. Colt got a glance from Winston and shook his head in a silent signal not to worry as Mendoza eventually started advancing them yet again and putting more raw power into stopping the ship.

    “One oh five,” said Mendoza as he increased it slowly. “One hundred ten percent.”

    “Speed is coming down nicely,” said Talbert.

    “Confirmed,” said Duncan. “Ship is slowing right at the target area.”

    “All systems in the green,” said Becky Sanchez from her station. “Inertial dampers holding steady, engine temps are all in the green and holding. Looking perfect across the board.”

    “Confirmed,” said Talbert from her station. Mendoza fiddled with the thrusters every so often, moving them from the maximum rated to down around 80 percent until he finally put them on for a long last full blast and the ship came to a stop.

    “Speed indicates zero,” said Duncan. “And we are two point four kilometers from the target location for rendezvous.”

    “Two point four?” asked Winston.

    “Confirmed Captain,” said Talbert. “Zero speed and two point four from the coordinates.”

    “Wow! Damn fine flying Justin,” said Winston.

    “Thank you sir,” said Mendoza as he started setting up his console for station keeping.

    “I’ll say,” said Colt. “I barely break five under the best of circumstances.”

    “I used the thrust on the engines to control the stop in shorter bursts rather than one long burn and have to adjust later,” said Mendoza.

    “As you should, but you had that one dialed in almost perfectly,” said Colt. “The way you played around with the thrust output was perfect.”

    “I used the feel of the ship like you said,” said Mendoza. “And even dialed back the inertial dampers in the seat so I could feel it better.”

    “Picked up on that trick did you?” asked Colt with a grin.

    “I couldn’t figure out why you said use the feel when you typically can’t feel the ship so to speak,” said Mendoza. “So I turned them back and found that was your trick.”

    “And you get a much better response when you can feel what the ship is doing as opposed to what you see on the sensors,” said Colt.

    “Very much so,” said Mendoza.

    “Lilly? Any word from the California Destiny?” asked Winston.

    “Four hours sir,” said Gold from her station.

    “Any other messages from them?” asked Colt.

    “Negative,” said Lilly. “Were you expecting something?”

    “Yeah, a letter from my girlfriend,” said Colt with a grin.

    “Right,” said Lilly with a large smile. Colt gathered his pilot staff and had Mendoza walk them through the procedures he had undergone to brake the ship. Colt added a few tidbits along the way as the entire group learned a few more details of the most dangerous mission they would encounter on a somewhat regular basis. And asked good questions themselves as Colt did his best to answer them. As time clicked away, the group headed to the galley for lunch to grab a bite to eat before the expected rendezvous with the California Destiny. Dillon quickly finished and relieved Mendoza who joined the group now involved with storytelling and general chitchat back and forth with each other. Eventually an announcement came over the speakers stating the California Destiny was an hour out and for all hands to report back to their stations. Colt and Mendoza headed towards the bridge while the remainder of the pilot staff headed back to their quarters where they would wait until their next shift.

    Upon arriving at the bridge, the majority of the staff was anxiously awaiting the ship’s arrival and checked the sensors showing the range decreasing at a steady rate.

    “She’s already starting to slow,” observed Mendoza.

    “Could be loaded down already,” said Talbert.

    “Which would take longer to bring to a stop,” said Colt.

    “True,” said Mendoza as the distance dwindled downward. The ship eventually stopped at the required distance and sent out the proper request for the Atomic Destiny to identify itself. Lilly sent out the proper codes and the California Destiny was seen moving forward yet again. Eventually it bypassed the Atomic Destiny and came into a parallel course before coming to a halt beside her.

    Atomic Destiny, this is the California Destiny,” said Captain Addison’s voice over the communications channels.

    “We read you California,” said Captain Winston.

    “Are we clear to send over a shuttle pod with official party?” asked Addison.

    “You are clear,” said Winston. “Please dock on the starboard side lower dock port.”

    “Acknowledged,” said Addison and cleared the channel.

    “Colt, if you would accompany me,” said Winston as he departed the bridge. They headed down to the lower deck where the shuttle pod was heard docking as the alarms went off indicating a craft was about to dock. Eventually the alarms ceased and the light panel above the doorway changed from red to green indicating the pod, airlock and Atomic Destiny were all pressurized the same and it was safe for the doors to open. Captain Addison led the procession from the pod and requested permission to come on board as protocol demanded.

    “It’s an honor,” said Winston as he shook her hand after she came out of the airlock.

    “And I bring gifts,” said Addison as she turned and the pilot came out of the pod behind her. “Small gifts so to speak. May I present Pilot Susan Yamato.”

    “Ms. Yamato, it’s a pleasure,” said Winston as he formally greeted the pilot.

    “Sir, the pleasure is mine,” said Yamato and turned to acknowledge Colt with a polite nod. “Chief Pilot Daniels.”

    “Sue, nice to see you again,” said Colt as he shook her hand as well.

    “And you too,” said Yamato and turned to Captain Winston. “Sir, I’ve talked it over with Captain Addison and with your permission, I’ll accept your invitation to join the crew of the Atomic Destiny. If you’ll have me of course.”

    “Any pilot that’s good enough to serve with Lauren Addison is certainly good enough to serve with me,” said Winston. “I’d like to be the first to welcome you to our family.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Yamato with another polite nod.

    “If you’ll go with Mister Daniels, he’ll arrange for your quarters and a party to unload your gear,” said Winston. “Colt, if you would.”

    “Absolutely,” said Colt as he waved her forward. “The Captain didn’t tell me you accepted.”

    “I just made the decision last night and informed Captain Addison,” said Yamato.

    “They probably talked then,” said Colt as they headed into the ship. “Here’s the pilot’s quarters. Yours will be number 307 and we’ll get your ID scanned in in a minute.”

    She deposited the luggage she was carrying onto the bed and looked around quickly seeing the quarters were no different than she had before. After a moment, they continued to the pilot’s briefing room where the simulator was kept along with the various training tools necessary for their job. He took a seat at one of the computer consoles and brought up her Infinicon personnel file to complete the transfer. Apparently Captain Winston had been at work since the corporate red tape was suspiciously missing from the approval process and all that was needed was a senior member of the crew to accept her application for transfer. Which Colt completed since he was considered a senior member of the crew. While the Captain had the final stamp of approval, she could start working on a probationary basis as a minimum.

    “If you’ll just sign your name, this will be official,” said Colt. Yamato grabbed the stylus and signed the line on the contract and hit acknowledge which now made her an official part of the crew. Colt saved the data and sent it in to the Captain for the final processing.

    “Well, that was easy,” said Yamato.

    “Tough part starts now,” said Colt.

    “Such as?” asked Yamato.

    “We’ll give you a day or two to get your stuff unpacked and your quarters set up,” said Colt. “And to explore the ship although I doubt there’s many differences in the two. Get settled in and get into the simulator.”

    “Not going right into the pilot’s rotation?” she asked.

    “I trust you know what you’re doing, but I still need to see it with my own eyes,” said Colt.

    “You doubt my flying abilities?” she asked.

    “Not in the least,” said Colt. “But each and every vessel has little idiosyncrasies it’ll throw at you along the way. And many of ours are programmed into our simulator. So until I’m confident you can run through the paces with this ship in particular, I’ll give you a day or two in the simulator so I can observe.”

    “I understand,” said Yamato. “And the Senior Pilot position?”

    “Will be based on your simulator scores as well as my personal observations of your conduct on duty,” said Colt. “But if you show the aptitude, I’ll see you get your shot.”

    “Aye sir,” said Yamato.

    “Call me Colt please,” said Colt.

    “Yes sir,” said Yamato with a hint of a grin.

    “Come on, I’ll show you to the bridge,” said Colt as they departed the room. Along the way, he found a couple of the maintenance workers that weren’t doing anything for the moment and sent them to the pod to unpack her personal items and stow them in her cabin. They arrived on the bridge and she was introduced around the room. She received warm welcomes from the people she met and was surprised by Talbert upon her introduction.

    “Miss Yamato, I’ve always been a fan,” said Talbert.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Yamato.

    “Your performance in the NCAA finals was outstanding your junior year,” said Talbert. “I followed your career at Oklahoma pretty closely.”

    “Oh! Thank you very much!” said Yamato. “I didn’t know anyone would remember.”

    “I’ve always been a fan of gymnastics,” said Talbert. “Although being a little too tall for it myself.”

    “I had a teammate that was almost your height,” said Yamato.

    “I’m sorry about what happened your senior year,” said Talbert.

    “It was a risky move on my part,” said Yamato who explained it to Colt for his benefit. “I was coming off the vault and landed wrong. Completely wrecked my knee.”

    “Ouch,” said Colt.

    “One of the words I used,” said Yamato. “But I was fully rehabbed although too late to participate the remainder of my senior year.”

    “I didn’t realize you were a Sooner,” said Colt.

    “There’s only one,” she grinned. “Boomer!”

    “Sooner!” answered Colt with a loud cheer.

    “Well, at least I’m in good company,” said Yamato. “What was your class?”

    “Class of 09,” said Colt.

    “Hey! You played on the football team!” exclaimed Yamato.

    “I did,” said Colt. “Started at tight end my senior year.”

    “I never made the connection,” said Yamato. “At least every Saturday we can shout Boomer Sooner when the games are on.”

    “And that’s the last time I hear those particular words,” said Winston as he and Addison approached the bridge.

    “Forgive the Captain,” said Talbert. “He’s still angry at the Mars U game last week.”

    “I thought I made it a rule not to talk about that,” said Winston.

    “Not yet,” laughed Talbert. “Captain Addison, a pleasure as always.”

    “Tiffany, how are you?” asked Addison.

    “Great,” said Talbert as the two caught up.

    “I’ll have to get used to working with old equipment again,” said Yamato as she observed the pilot’s station and got the brief from Dillon.

    “What do you mean?” asked Dillon.

    “The California had already undergone refit so we have the new consoles and controls,” said Yamato. “This will take me back a tad.”

    “Which will also be helpful in bringing us up to speed when we go through refit,” said Colt.

    “True,” said Yamato.

    “Captain, the California reports she’s ready for us to unhook the sphere,” said Lilly.

    “Okay, send the crews out to take care of it,” said Winston.

    “Retrieval teams, you are clear to depart,” said Lilly over the communications system. The teams departed and unhooked the lines and got them stowed back onboard the ship. Eventually they were complete with their duties and Winston had the Atomic Destiny moved away from the loaded sphere and out of the path of the California Destiny.

    “You never said, but where are you heading?” asked Winston.

    “Mars,” said Addison. “We have to meet the Kuiper Destiny and transfer cargo and pick up what water they’ve reclaimed. And meet the Enterprise Destiny as well and do the same. We’re turning into a water carrier this trip to help expand their sea. And it makes for a long trip.”

    “I’ll say,” said Winston.

    “We are in station keeping sir,” said Dillon.

    “Lauren, we’ll wait for you to get underway before grabbing your sphere,” said Winston.

    “It’s appreciated,” said Addison as she said her goodbyes. She and Winston departed the area, but not before a minor diversion delayed the departure just a little more as Talbert’s children were found roaming the hallways and got to see someone they hadn’t seen in a while. Addison took the time to catch up before arriving at her pod and saying goodbye one last time. She piloted the craft back to her ship and docked to get her mission underway. The crew watched as the empty capture sphere from the California Destiny was dropped into a station keeping pattern away from the parent ship as it moved in and attached the tow lines to the sphere.

    “It’s kind of impressive watching it from this angle,” said Colt.

    “That it is,” said Winston as Yamato joined them on the bridge.

    “Saying goodbye?” asked Colt.

    “Sort of,” said Yamato. “She was home for a while.”

    “Welcome to your new home,” said Winston as the California completed attaching the sphere. The ship was seen orienting itself for departure and paused for a few minutes before the engines fired and it slowly got underway. It took several moments, but eventually the ship started moving and heading away from the rendezvous point and out of sight.

    “Miss Dillon, if you would relinquish your station to Miss Yamato please,” said Winston.

    “Aye Captain,” said Dillon as she put the controls in automatic and stepped away.

    “If you would, let’s get that sphere attached,” said Winston. “Manual docking please.”

    “Aye sir,” said Yamato. Colt shot a puzzled look at Winston before being waved down as Yamato settled into the chair and adjusted it all the way forward. She checked the settings on the system and quickly familiarized herself with the older controls before moving the ship different directions to get a feel for her controls. Eventually she was happy with the response and moved the ship forward and oriented itself to pick up the empty sphere.

    “Sphere is within two thousand meters, full connectivity checks,” said Sanchez from her station.

    “Two thousand meters,” said Yamato. “Moving into position.”

    Colt watched as she jetted the ship in closer and adjusted the angle slightly, bringing the Atomic Destiny both downward and slightly to port, getting the object centered where she wanted it. It took several minutes to get into position, but she got it right where she wanted it before long.

    “Fifty meters on the Z axis,” said Sanchez. “Sphere is centered.”

    “I’ll just drop her right down on top of it,” said Yamato. She adjusted the controls and hit the top side thrusters and closed the distance slowly.

    “Twenty meters, drifting forward,” said Sanchez.

    “Twenty meters, correcting forward motion,” said Yamato.

    “Centered,” said Sanchez. “Ten meters.”

    “Ten meters, aye,” said Yamato as she fired the thrusters yet again to slow the closure.

    “Five meters,” said Sanchez.

    “Five meters, aye,” said Yamato. The distance closed itself and she brought the ship to a crawl as eventually the thud was heard and the docking clamps engaging on the sphere.

    “I’d say that was about perfect,” said Winston. “Good job.”

    “Thank you sir,” said Yamato who was a bundle of nerves inside. She had no idea she would be thrown into the mix that quickly, but had pulled of the tricky maneuver with apparent ease.

    “Captain, message from Flight Ops,” said Lilly.

    “Yes?” asked Winston.

    “Mission complete, proceed to Gemini Space Dock,” said Lilly.

    “Navigator, is our course laid in?” asked Winston.

    “Aye Captain,” said Duncan.

    “Miss Yamato, if you would, please take us home,” said Winston.
    rle737ng, bagpiper, techsar and 2 others like this.
  9. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 18

    “Eight hundred meters,” heard Yamato from the sensor station.

    “Eight hundred meters,” she confirmed. “Dropping down slightly.”

    “Careful,” said Colt.

    “Seven hundred meters,” was the next announcement.

    “Seven hundred meters, aye,” said Yamato. The seconds ticked away along with the distance as she adjusted her course to intercept the object to their front.

    “Secondary object just popped up!” shouted the sensor station. “Trajectory shows impact on port side! Two hundred meters, twelve seconds!”

    “Aye!” acknowledged Yamato as she immediately turned the ship away from the object.

    “Additional secondary object close in! Starboard side, twenty meters!” came another alarm.

    “Taking evasive action!” shouted Yamato as she threw the ship into a wild maneuver intending to drop it down below the two objects. However, with a ship as large as the Atomic Destiny, it wasn’t easy to get it maneuvered quickly.

    “Impact on the starboard side!” was heard just as the alarms were going off and a thud was felt in her chair. “Venting atmosphere in compartments 11 and 13!”

    Yamato attempted to concentrate on getting the ship out of danger, but didn’t realize the trajectory of the initial threat. She attempted to go down and away, but moved right into the path of the other object.

    “Collision alert…collision alert…collision alert…” droned the computer as another thud was heard and a jolt moved the pilot’s chair. More alarms sounded as a reminder of something she already knew which was the ship dying and suffering additional damage.

    “Hull breech! Venting in compartments 20, 22 and 24,” said a voice from the left side. “Main engines going into shutdown mode, emergency thrusters only!”

    “Okay, pause simulation,” said Colt and the computer put the training scenario on hold. “Well, you broke the ship.”

    Yamato let out a long sigh and looked at the console to her front. She saw the main object they were trying to capture would be bearing down on them momentarily. And with the size of the object, would create significant damage when it impacted. And she quickly calculated the trajectory in her head and saw it certainly would impact near the bridge.

    “Sorry,” said Yamato finally after looking through the data.

    “Sorry doesn’t help us this far from civilization,” said Colt in an even voice.

    “No…no it doesn’t,” said Yamato in a quiet tone.

    “From the top,” said Colt.

    Yamato started back through the simulation from the beginning of her approach and to the point where the first object was detected by the sensor station.

    “And what did you do?” asked Colt.

    “Took evasive action away from the object downward and to the right,” said Yamato.

    “Okay, now what didn’t you do?” asked Colt.

    “I reacted without checking my station first,” said Yamato after a moment.

    “You had twelve seconds,” said Colt. “And even with a tub like this, that’s plenty of time for you to check your console to determine if your path is clear. Which in this case it was not.”

    “Which would have alerted me to the other object,” said Yamato.

    “Yep, it was plain as day on your sensor scope,” said Colt.

    “Wouldn’t the sensor operator have picked up on it first though?” asked Yamato.

    “Maybe,” said Colt. “But that’s why we second check everything around here. You glance at the console just to make sure they didn’t miss anything.”

    “And keep from ripping the ship apart,” said Yamato dejectedly.

    “That’s why we do simulations,” said Colt. “I can kill you as many times as I want in here. You can kill the crew as many times as you want without hurting anyone. And it’s my job to throw the worst case I can at you.”

    “Certainly worked here,” said Yamato.

    “Multiple secondary objects is something you could face out there,” said Colt. “And more specifically, multiple secondary objects in different paths. You have to train for that kind of scenario and still meet mission objectives.”

    “So what was the correct answer?” asked Yamato.

    “Drop directly down,” said Colt. “And back straight.”

    “That ruins any kind of approach though,” said Yamato.

    “But saves the ship,” said Colt.

    “True,” said Yamato.

    “Okay, take fifteen and we’ll be back at it,” said Colt as he reset the station. Yamato walked out of the room with her head hung slightly low until she was stopped by a voice to her rear.

    “I wouldn’t feel bad, he kills us all regularly,” said Mendoza.

    “Justin?” asked Yamato.

    “Susan,” said Mendoza.

    “I didn’t know you were on this ship!” she exclaimed and walked over to him. It was almost uncomfortable as she attempted to give him a hug, but he seemed aloof. But eventually they shared a quick hug. “Why haven’t you come by to see me before now?”

    “I haven’t gotten the chance,” said Mendoza. “While you’ve been in the pilot’s seat, I’ve been in the simulator getting ready for my Senior Pilot certification.”

    “You going up as well?” she asked.

    “Hopefully,” said Mendoza. “Colt’s putting me through the wringer though.”

    “Same here,” said Yamato. “You’re looking well.”

    “As are you,” said Mendoza.

    “Maybe we should catch up over dinner or something,” suggested Yamato.

    “That would be great,” said Mendoza.

    “Doing anything tonight?” asked Yamato.

    “I have the mid shift,” said Mendoza.

    “Which leaves dinner open doesn’t it?” she asked pointedly.

    “I suppose it does,” said Mendoza.

    “Okay, so tonight we’ll catch up with dinner at my quarters,” she stated.

    “Your quarters?” he asked.

    “Yes, is there something wrong with that?” she asked.

    “I just didn’t…” he started to say and his voice trailed off.

    “Didn’t what?” asked Yamato.

    “Didn’t want it to be weird or anything,” said Mendoza. “Your quarters are kinda private.”

    “Catching up with an old friend from flight school is weird?” she asked.

    “No, I suppose not,” said Mendoza.

    “Or the fact we dated for almost three months?” asked Yamato.

    “That could be it,” said Mendoza.

    “So are you saying you never got over me?” she asked.

    “I didn’t say that!” he protested.

    “So are you or aren’t you?” she asked.

    “Sure I am,” he said. “We agreed to be friends, right?”

    “You really know how to make a girl feel special,” she said and turned to walk away.

    “Wait! What did I say?” he asked.

    “Nothing Justin,” she said without turning around. “Nothing at all.”

    “I mean I honored your wishes and kept it at a friendship level after we broke up!” he exclaimed. “Just like we agreed to!”

    “True,” she said and stopped. “Okay, you held up your end of the bargain. Now, would you like to have dinner with me and catch up?”

    “Sure,” he said in a confused tone.

    “You’re confused aren’t you?” she asked.

    “A little,” he admitted.

    “You don’t ask the right questions,” said Yamato as she walked away.

    “What didn’t I ask?” he asked.

    “Gotta run, see you at 1800,” she said as she retreated into the nearest community restroom. Mendoza stood there in utter confusion until another voice caught him from behind.

    “The correct question should have been ‘did you get over me’ since you look like you have no idea what’s going on,” said Colt.

    “What?!” exclaimed Mendoza.

    “It’s obvious,” said Colt.

    “You heard our conversation?” asked Mendoza.

    “No, didn’t have to,” said Colt. “But I saw her expression. She was pleased to see you. And in more than an old friend fashion.”

    “Really?” asked Mendoza.

    “I saw it for less than ten seconds and noticed it right away,” said Colt.

    “I didn’t,” said Mendoza.

    “Because you don’t look at her like that anymore,” said Colt.

    “True,” said Mendoza. “But we agreed back then to just be friends.”

    “Before or after you got your ship assignments?” asked Colt.

    “About the same time,” said Mendoza.

    “So perhaps she didn’t think a long distance relationship would have worked back then. And she didn’t want to get hurt knowing you would be on one ship and she another,” said Colt.

    “And it’s different now?” he asked.

    “You happen to be on the same ship, right?” asked Colt.

    “Well, yeah,” said Mendoza.

    “So maybe she’s willing to give it a shot now,” said Colt.

    “You always said keep your home life at home and work life at work,” said Mendoza. “Doesn’t this kind of conflict with that statement?”

    “No, I said I like to keep my home life at home,” said Colt. “It doesn’t always work with everyone. And you two are about equals anyway so what’s the problem?”

    “The fact that if we had a messy fight or breakup we would be stuck on the same ship?” he asked. “That’s a good reason.”

    “Plenty of crew members have had relationships in the past,” said Colt. “And even ended on sour notes before. But the job went on, correct?”

    “I guess so,” said Mendoza. “So you think I should go?”

    “Why not?” asked Colt. “You still find her attractive, right?”

    “Sure,” said Mendoza. “She’s got the cutest smile and a great body. Like rock hard-”

    “I didn’t ask for an in depth description,” interrupted Colt.

    “Sorry,” said Mendoza.

    “So I’ll make sure you get out of the simulator early enough to shower and get changed,” said Colt. “And wear something nice.”

    “Let me guess, I should throw on some cologne as well?” asked Mendoza.

    “Yep,” said Colt. “She has another hour and then you’re up. Get ready.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza as he walked away. Yamato was coming out of the rest room and gave him a knowing grin as she passed by, but didn’t say another word. She returned to the simulation room where Colt was already setting up the next scenario.

    “I didn’t know Justin was on this ship,” she remarked as she reset her station.

    “Yep, it’s been his only assignment,” said Colt.

    “I wonder if I have any more old boyfriends here,” said Yamato.

    “I’ve always been of the mind more than one is trouble,” said Colt.

    “Yes,” said Yamato. “All men are trouble. They like to bounce back into your life when you least expect it.”

    “Well, at least you have someone familiar with to be a study partner while you prepare for the test, right?” asked Colt with a grin.

    “Our study sessions didn’t exactly make it that far into the books the last time we ‘studied’ together,” she replied.

    “However, you’ll be missing out on the pay raise this time if you fail,” said Colt.

    “That’s why I’m not gonna fail,” said Yamato. “Send me your worst.”

    “I like the attitude,” said Colt. “But don’t get overconfident, it leads to stupidity.”

    “The difference in overconfidence and stupidity is only measured by the amount of success you achieve,” she remarked.

    “And the difference in success and failure is the amount of dead bodies you leave in the wreckage of one of these ships,” said Colt.

    “Point taken sir,” said Yamato. “I’ll be more reserved.”

    “Less gut instincts and more planning,” said Colt. “Look, you’ve got good instincts as a pilot. But you are flying by the seat of the pants right now trying to impress your new boss. I know you’re better than this. Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. And making rash decisions during high risk ops is not going to win you points. Especially when you crack the ship up during these simulations. So do what you know is right rather than what you think I want to see.”

    “Aye sir,” she replied.

    Colt went into the next scenario and saw she relaxed a bit and was well ahead of the curve for the most part. There were small areas she could improve on, but mostly she was performing at the level he expected her to be at. And she passed most of the situations he threw at her except those that were based on a test of judgment of abandoning the ship or dying. He saw Mendoza come into the room to prepare for his turn and decided she had just enough time to toss one more at her before ending her session.

    “Load Scenario 99,” he stated to the computer.

    “Loading Scenario 99,” said the computer.

    “Next simulation is simple,” said Colt. “You’ve had a long day so I’ll end it on an easy note.”

    “I’m ready,” said Yamato. As she settled into her seat, suddenly she heard explosions and her chair jarred several times to the side. And she was already flying through the middle of what appeared to be a large asteroid field. It was completely hypothetical as the asteroids were far too close than they were in real life, but it was challenging as one was already looming on the screen.

    “Pirate gunships closing on the stern! Five o’clock and six o’clock!” called one of the simulated crewmembers. “They’re firing on us! Take evasive maneuvers!”

    “Implementing evasive maneuvers!” she yelled and immediately set all the throttles forward to gain as much speed as she could. And saw as her collision alarms automatically started going off as the debris field was close enough to trip the alarms. She gained speed as more thumps were heard and felt on the hull and started taking evasive maneuvers around the objects.

    “Defensive weapons?” she asked as she dodged a large asteroid.

    “Disabled,” said Colt.

    “Have to do it the hard way,” she grunted as she saw the distance open slightly between the pursuing ships and the Atomic Destiny. However, they appeared to put on some speed as well and started closing in yet again. She flipped several switches to get more than the 100% she was getting out of the engines and brought them to 105% before using three in reverse thrust and deftly maneuvering the large ship around one of the larger asteroids. The inertial dampeners started screaming in protest and she pulled back on the throttles slightly. However, he maneuver worked out as planned as the Atomic Destiny went around the asteroid with about fifty meters to spare on the bottom side.

    “She ain’t a fighter plane,” said Colt.

    “Yeah, tell them that,” she grunted as she banked the ship around another asteroid. And she had been paying attention to the sensor controls as it traveled right into the path of the pursuing ship.

    “One gunship disabled,” said Colt. “The other is coming on fast.”

    “Time on defensive weapons to getting fixed?” she grunted as she continued yanking the ship around the field.

    “Can’t be fixed right now,” said Colt.

    “You aren’t any fun,” she grunted.

    “Appears the second gunship is breaking off,” said Colt. He saw her relax slightly however, the next portion of the scenario was coming up.

    “Two frigates! Are you kidding me?!” she exclaimed and immediately broke the course away from them. Luckily the asteroid field was opening up allowing her to gain speed away from the two frigates that decided to use the ship for target practice. And unfortunately, the remaining gunship decided to join the party.

    “Three versus one? These guys don’t pay fair,” she remarked as she made a series of moves to try to bring at least two of the ships into a crossfire. But they weren’t taking her bait as they continued to move towards the rear or her flank.

    “Cargo status?” she asked.

    “Cargo is safely stowed,” said Colt.

    “Emergency dump!” she demanded.

    “Lose the cargo?” he asked.

    “I need the ship as light as possible!” she grunted as she tried to maneuver away again.

    “Cargo ejected,” said Colt calmly.

    “Dump the capture sphere!” she ordered.

    “Dumping sphere,” said Colt. “All cargo gone and capture sphere detached.”

    The computer sensed the ships mass had changed dramatically and adjusted the parameters in the program accordingly. Yamato sensed the additional control as well and headed back towards the asteroid field.

    “You’re heading back into a known dangerous area?” asked Colt.

    “Well, it’s either that or let the three ships chasing me continue to punch holes in the hull,” said Yamato. “I’ve got a better chance of shaking the gunship in this crap where those frigates won’t follow. Or they haven’t yet.”

    “Got it,” said Colt who knew she was missing one vital item.

    “Did we send a distress call?” she asked.

    “Whoops,” said Colt. “Message sent.”

    “Yeah, whoops,” she grunted as she continued playing a dangerous game with the gunship that followed her back into the field. And eventually it was disabled like the first one.

    “So now I just hang out here until help arrives,” said Yamato. “And would you please get some maintenance crews to work on the defensive weapons?”

    “And if help is days or weeks away?” asked Colt.

    “They haven’t come in here yet,” said Yamato. “Are you implying they might come into this briar patch after me?”

    “And what would you do if they did?” asked Colt.

    “Wait for them to get into the thick of it before making a run for the other side. Once I was in the clear, I’d open the throttles up and head at full speed towards the nearest security vessel or port,” said Yamato.

    “You could have done that to begin with,” said Colt.

    “Not with the way they were boxing me in,” said Yamato. Colt saw she could understand the tactics they were using and keeping her pinned against the field and her tactics of heading back into the field, although possibly reckless, managed to save the ship, but moreover the crew.

    “End simulation,” said Colt.

    “Simulation ended,” said the computer voice.

    “Nice going,” said Mendoza. “I got blown up the first time I tried.”

    “Thanks,” she said and received the high five from Mendoza with a smile.

    “Don’t let him kid you, he still has yet to pass it,” said Colt with half a grin.

    “Really? I beat you the first time ever taking that simulation?” she asked.

    “Beginners luck,” said Mendoza.

    “I’ll go again if you think I can’t do it,” she stated.

    “I think you should concentrate on your own flying before critiquing others,” said Colt as a statement intended for them both.

    “You know what I just did is called?” she asked Mendoza.

    “No,” said Mendoza.

    “Boom!” she stated loudly and put her hand up in his face.

    “You two…” said Colt. “Thank you Miss Yamato.”

    “Aye sir,” she said. “Don’t go easy on him.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Colt.

    “He should get used to calling me ma’am,” she grinned, feeling better than before. And she saw Colt was a gifted teacher as he had not been sarcastic or demeaning after she had failed several times. But she also knew she was going a bit overboard in trying to impress her new Chief Pilot and also knew she did things better when it was by the book like she typically did. She decided to stick around for a few minutes before reviewing her notes and see how Mendoza would do in the simulations. After the first few scenarios, she saw he was on the same level as she was and actually ahead of her in some areas. Which meant she would have to redouble her efforts to get up to speed and into the coveted Senior Pilot billet. And swallow her pride slightly as she saw Mendoza wasn’t the same meek individual that was unsure of himself during flight school. He certainly had come out of his shell and appeared he could hold his own. She headed to the galley to see what was available for the crew to check out and fix in their quarters.

    After grabbing several items, she headed out although not being able to carry everything easily. She was in one of the corridors when a box dropped from the small stack she had. She whispered a curse and set the others to the side before trying to stack them up once again.

    “Can I help you with those?” asked a voice to her side.

    “No, I’ll be-” said Yamato until the top box slid off once again.

    “You sure?” asked Bella from her side.

    “Please, before I kick it down the hallway,” said Yamato as she turned to see who was there. A look of recognition came over her face, but she couldn’t place exactly where. “I know you.”

    “You certainly do,” said Bella. “I used to ID you all the time at the club.”

    “You’re…the waitress from Club Plutonium,” said Yamato.

    “That’s me,” smiled Bella.

    “What are you doing here?” asked Yamato. “I thought you were on Pluto.”

    “I was,” said Bella. “But I’m engaged to one of the crew members.”

    “Oh, congratulations,” said Yamato. “Which one?”

    “Colt Daniels,” said Bella. “I’m sorry I haven’t met you yet.”

    “I just got onboard a few days ago,” said Yamato. “So Colt’s getting hitched. Right on.”

    “Are you the new pilot?” asked Bella as they walked towards her quarters.

    “I am,” said Yamato. “Susan Yamato.”

    “Bella Phillips,” said Bella. “I have to thank you.”

    “For what?” asked Yamato.

    “For coming aboard,” said Bella. “Your being here helps pull Colt from the rotation a few more times. And a few more times we get making up for time lost.”

    “Thanks,” said Yamato. “I guess.”

    “Is your husband coming along?” asked Bella.

    “I’m not married,” said Yamato. “I had a good one slip through my fingers before.”

    “I made sure that didn’t happen with Colt,” said Bella.

    “I might have a second chance,” said Yamato.

    “Don’t waste it,” said Bella.

    “I have no intention of it,” said Yamato as they arrived at her quarters. “Thanks for the help.”

    “No problem,” said Bella as she set the items on the small countertop in the quarters. “I’ll see you around I suppose.”

    “Hope so,” said Yamato. “Take care.”

    “Bye,” said Bella as she departed the quarters. Yamato immediately set to tidying up the place and getting the items ready to be cooked later. She thought about her good fortune at meeting Mendoza yet again and wondered how much he’d changed. But she knew here was only one way of finding out as she got the ingredients lined up and ready to go.


    “I told you she’s a firecracker,” said Mendoza between simulations.

    “You should be concentrating more on the scenario rather than thinking about her,” said Colt. “You missed that thrusters out warning the last scenario.”

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza.

    “And yes, she’s a firecracker,” said Colt. “Maybe even ahead of you for that Senior Pilot billet.”

    “You think?” he asked.

    “Yep,” said Colt. “So perhaps you should worry more about making sure she doesn’t get there first instead of dinner tonight.”

    “How did you know I was thinking about dinner?” asked Mendoza.

    “What else could make you lose focus enough to miss a thruster out warning?” asked Colt.

    “I…have no excuse sir,” said Mendoza.

    “Focus young pilot,” said Colt as he loaded up another scenario.

    “Aye sir,” said Mendoza as he refocused on the next simulation and passed with flying colors.

    “See what happens when you put the things out of your brain that shouldn’t be there?” asked Colt. “You actually notice the little things.”

    “Like the questions I should have asked?” asked Mendoza with a grin. “I kid, I kid.”

    “Okay, you want a go at 99?” asked Colt.

    “Tomorrow,” said Mendoza. “If that’s okay with you.”

    “Fine,” said Colt. “Let the new girl beat you.”

    “You aren’t baiting me,” laughed Mendoza.

    “It was worth a shot,” said Colt. “Go ahead and knock off for the day. Good job.”

    “Thanks Colt,” said Mendoza as he departed the room and headed for his own quarters. But before he arrived, he was stopped by another pilot, Nathan Jericho.

    “I hope you get to feeling better,” said Jericho.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Mendoza.

    “I said I hope you’re feeling better tomorrow,” said Jericho. “I’m covering your shift tonight since you aren’t feeling well. Right?”

    “I…guess,” said Mendoza.

    “Colt said you were not up to it tonight so I volunteered to cover,” said Jericho.

    “Thanks,” said Mendoza who was still a bit confused.

    “So I hope you get to feeling better,” said Jericho. “Stomach bugs can be the worst.”

    “Yeah, thanks for covering the shift,” said Mendoza as he figured Colt was up to something.

    “No problem,” said Jericho as he headed out. Mendoza quickly jumped into the shower and found a decent outfit to change into. He wasn’t much of a clothes hound by any means, but still had one or two decent shirts and pairs of pants. After getting ready, he saw it was close enough to 1800 to count and headed towards her quarters. Once he arrived, he pressed the button announcing his presence and waited for her to appear. The door slid open and he saw Yamato fairly mussed from getting the dinner ready.

    “You’re early!” she exclaimed.

    “I…it’s twenty ‘til,” said Mendoza.

    “Yeah, early,” said Yamato.

    “Okay, I can come back,” he said.

    “No, you’re here, come on in,” said Yamato. “Excuse the mess while I get finished fixing this.”

    “I wouldn’t call this a mess,” said Mendoza as he took a seat on the small loveseat. “I see you still like cooking.”

    “Love it,” said Yamato. “Unfortunately, I don’t get many chances to practice that often.”

    “That sucks,” said Mendoza. “Because you’re really good at it.”

    “Well thank you Justin,” said Yamato with a smile.

    “You’re going to make some man happy one of these days with your cooking,” he grinned.

    “Some man, huh?” she asked.

    “Yes,” he replied.

    “Silly,” she laughed and saw he didn’t even notice what he said.

    “What?” he asked.

    “Nothing sweetie,” she replied with a laugh. “Want to help? Set the table please.”

    “Yes ma’am,” he replied.

    “Good thing you know those words,” she grinned.

    “Don’t get used to hearing them that long,” he grinned in return. “You’ll be calling me sir before you know it and I move into that Senior Pilot position.”

    “And if I beat you to it?” she asked.

    “You won’t,” he grinned.

    “Oh, it’s so on,” she laughed. “Give me a moment to get cleaned up and we’ll eat.”

    “No problem,” he replied and finished setting the table. She came back out having quickly washed off and put on another blouse.

    “I do like your outfit,” he remarked.

    “Thank you,” she smiled and sat down. They dug into the dinner she had prepared and he saw the time on board a ship hadn’t been detrimental to her cooking abilities. And they caught up over the past couple of years in what they’d done and things they’d seen. And it continued on through the remainder of the evening until she looked at her watch.

    “I think you’ve got to get going,” she said.

    “Nope,” he said. “Apparently my shift was taken by someone else.”

    “Oh?” asked Yamato.

    “Yep, I’m all yours this evening,” he smiled.

    “Who says I want you?” she asked in a serious tone.

    “I…okay, I’ll be heading along,” he said and started to stand.

    “I didn’t tell you to leave,” she stated and pointed at the chair. “So sit.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Mendoza. “But you don’t have to be so pushy.”

    “Sorry,” said Yamato.

    “I’m not the same reserved guy you left at flight school,” he remarked. “I’ve changed. And for the better I think. I’m more confident and I’ve achieved as much as I could.”

    “You have changed,” she admitted. “And yes, it’s for the better. But I think you’re the same guy underneath I knew at flight school.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

    “Later,” she said. “But I do remember one thing from flight school as well.”

    “What’s that?” he asked.

    “Your hands,” she replied. “And my shoulders are hurting from yanking that simulator all over the place this morning. So you think I could talk you into a shoulder massage?”

    “You fed me something other than the galley food,” he chuckled. “You could ask for money and I’d give it up without question.”

    “Okay then,” she replied and headed to the love seat in her room. She plopped down on the floor as he took a seat and pushed back between his legs. He started gently massaging her shoulders and neck, she groaned and pushed herself back into him more.

    “Still keeping in shape I see,” he remarked.

    “Mmmm, try to,” she said with a groan. “I even had some gymnastics equipment on the California. Everything except the floor of course.”

    “I suppose we could ask about it at the next staff meeting,” he remarked.

    “That’d be nice,” she said with another grunt as he dug in a bit deeper. “I have a confession to make to you though.”

    “Oh?” he asked. “What’s that?”

    “There hasn’t been anyone since you,” she admitted.

    “Oh,” he said.

    “And you?” she asked.

    “I’m not going to lie to you,” he replied after a moment. “There has been.”

    “I didn’t expect you to be celibate,” she replied. “Thanks for your honesty though.”

    “I’ve never lied to you,” he said.

    “Which I appreciate,” she said as she felt her blouse bunching up again under his hands. “Is my blouse getting in the way?”

    “A little,” he replied.

    “Easy fix,” she said and unbuttoned it and pulled it off before slipping her bra straps down as well. “Now you have full access.”

    “That wasn’t what I was thinking,” he replied.

    “No, but it happens to be what happened,” she replied. “And it’s not like you haven’t seen me with my shirt off before.”

    “It’s been a while,” he replied and continued massaging. “And not what I was expecting.”

    “What were you expecting?” she asked.

    “Not you to drop back into my life and bring back old emotions,” he said and kissed down her neck. She stretched out and let out a long sigh and soft groan in appreciation.

    “So you never got over me?” she groaned as some things he hadn’t forgotten how to do.

    “I think you never got over me,” he said.

    “I knew you’d ask the right question eventually,” she said and stretched out her neck again.

    “That wasn’t a question,” he replied between nuzzling down her neck.

    “So the question is, what time tomorrow do you have to work?” she asked as she turned around to face him with a look that didn’t need an explanation.

    “Neither of us has to work tonight,” he replied as he pulled her in close. “I’ll check later.”
  10. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 19

    “Good morning sir,” said Mendoza as he and Yamato came onto the bridge and stood next to the pilot’s chair. At the moment, Colt was in the chair, but had scheduled them both for check rides with live people “helping” with the simulations rather than just the simulator alone. The ship was continuing on its path towards Earth and not anywhere near any areas that would require the positions to do anything more than provide inputs. The two had done more simulator time the day before and been administered a practice test from Colt for the positions they were working towards. And that evening had shared each other’s company again and getting caught up.

    “Good morning,” said Colt. “And to you as well Susan.”

    “Sir,” she replied with a smile.

    “You two look rested,” said Colt.

    “We got some good sleep,” said Mendoza and immediately regretted saying it that way.

    “Happens to us all,” said Colt with a slightly detectable grin. Colt didn’t see the look Mendoza got from Yamato or the kick to his leg as she didn’t realize Colt had arranged both their nights off together. Justin flinched, but kept from making a sound but looked at her and mouthed the words “he knows.”

    “Really?” she exclaimed and her eyes popped open.

    “Yes,” said Mendoza.

    “How?” she demanded.

    “About time you two showed up,” said Captain Winston as he walked onto the bridge and the two weren’t able to finish the conversation.

    “Captain is on the bridge,” announced Navigator Duncan who relinquished the Captain’s chair. And in short order, the remaining pilot staff along with Talbert, the Chief Engineer, Specialist Harry Howell and other section heads filed onto the bridge. Talbert went to the First Officer’s station and immediately started typing on her computer and trying to link up with computers on Earth and Luna. She was continuing the link up when Winston came to her console.

    “Do we have everyone?” asked Winston.

    “Almost sir,” said Talbert as she continued typing at her station.

    “What is going on?” whispered Yamato.

    “Miss Yamato, if you have something to say, you can share it with the rest of us,” said Winston.

    “Sorry sir,” she said and partially blushed up.

    “Okay, we’ve got everyone,” said Talbert as she adjusted her controls. On two opposing sides of the room, the parents for both Yamato and Mendoza appeared as well as several other family members in a holographic projection.

    “Mister Yamato, can you all hear us?” asked Talbert.

    “Yes, I can hear everything,” said Yamato’s father as he waved at her. She waved back slightly from her waist, but more confused than ever.

    “Mrs. Mendoza?” asked Talbert.

    “Yes,” she said and turned to Mendoza and waved. “Hi baby!”

    “Hi Mom,” said Mendoza and blushed up as well.

    “Pilot Justin Mendoza and Pilot Susan Yamato,” said Captain Winston as he stood in front of them. “It is with great honor that today you are awarded the rank of Senior Pilot in the Infinicon Commercial Fleet Service. You have successfully passed all the trials and tests for the position as administered by your Chief Pilot and henceforth promoted to the open billets we have available on this ship if you’ll have them.”

    “These duties require great commitment on your part since it places you in a position of trust from not only the crew, but the corporation as a whole. And all that remains for me to award this skill level to you is your verbal commitment to the position. Pilot Justin Mendoza, are you prepared to accept the duties and responsibilities of being a Senior Pilot on the Atomic Destiny?” asked Winston as he turned to Mendoza.

    “Yes sir, I accept the position,” said Mendoza with pride.

    “Pilot Susan Yamato, are you prepared to accept the duties and responsibilities of being a Senior Pilot on the Atomic Destiny?” asked Winston as he turned to her.

    “Yes sir, I accept the position,” said Yamato.

    “By the power I have as Captain, I hereby promote you both to the position of Senior Pilot on this day,” said Winston. He walked to each of them and pinned the gold wings on each of their uniforms over the top of the old patches as each beamed with huge smiles. Their parents looked onward with pride as their son and daughter had achieved something not many had before. He shook their hands and stepped back towards the crowd that had gathered.

    “Give them a round of applause,” said Winston. “They’ve earned it.”

    The crowd applauded the two as they blushed up even more at the attention, but wore huge smiles of pride. They turned and gave each other a hug before turning to Colt.

    “He can wait,” said Talbert. “Communications are spotty in this part of the system so speak to your parents first in case we lose them.”

    “Yes ma’am,” they said in unison and headed to the opposite sides of the bridge. The holographic projections were sent to a standard console since it took less data to produce the images than it did the three dimensional projections.

    “Hey Dad, hey Mom,” said Yamato.

    “We’re so proud of you!” beamed her mother. “I knew you could do it!”

    “I just put my nose to the grind and pushed through,” said Susan. “I didn’t even know we were being officially tested yesterday. Our Chief Pilot said it was a practice test.”

    “Maybe he told you that so you wouldn’t be as nervous,” said Mister Yamato.

    “I wasn’t as nervous,” said Susan. “And I passed with a 98%.”

    “Outstanding!” exclaimed Mister Yamato. “I told you getting a change of scenery would be good for you. I’m glad you took that assignment.”

    “It was very helpful,” said Susan. “And Justin helped as well.”

    “Less than a week in your new position and already a promotion? I’d say you’re blowing their socks off with how good you are,” said Mister Yamato.

    “Is that the same Justin from flight school?” asked her mother.

    “It is,” said Susan with a grin.

    “And it appears the fire was rekindled,” said her mother.

    “Maybe,” grinned Susan. “I’ll introduce him as soon as he gets done speaking with his mother if we have the time.”

    “Okay, but I’d like you to know how proud we are of you,” said Mendoza’s mother at the same time it was being said by Mr. Yamato.

    “It was nothing Mom,” said Mendoza as he blushed up again.

    “It is something! My baby made rank!” she gushed. “I’m so proud of you!”

    “You doubted I would?” he grinned and ignored the baby comment. He knew some things in life would never change and he would never stop being her “baby” no matter what age he was.

    “Not even for a moment,” she said. “So who’s the other girl with you?”

    “Another pilot, Susan Yamato,” said Justin.

    “And?” asked his mother with a twinkle. “Is she single?”

    “Mom, really?” asked Justin.

    “She’s pretty,” said his mother with a grin.

    “Where’s Dad?” asked Justin to change the subject.

    “He’s on his way to Europa at the moment,” said Mrs. Mendoza. “I tried to get in touch with him to get him connected, but I couldn’t. He told me to tell you how proud he is of you and what you’ve accomplished. You’ve gone further than he ever dreamed.”

    “He is my inspiration,” said Justin.

    “He’s proud of you no matter what,” said Mrs. Mendoza. “Hello.”

    Justin turned to see Susan at his side and smiled at her.

    “Hi Mrs. Mendoza,” said Susan. “I’ve heard so much about you. I’m sorry for intruding, but I felt I should come over and say hello.”

    “Mom, you remember the girl I told you about from flight school?” asked Justin.

    “Of course,” said Mrs. Mendoza. “But you didn’t say she was so pretty.”

    “I’m Susan Yamato,” said Susan. “Justin and I are kind of dating again.”

    “Oh, he didn’t get the chance to mention it,” said Mrs. Mendoza. “If I may say so, you are a baby doll.”

    “Thank you ma’am,” said Susan as she blushed slightly.

    “Are you going to keep my Justin out of trouble?” asked Mrs. Mendoza.

    “Of course,” said Susan. “And in turn, he’ll keep me out of trouble.”

    “A good relationship is based on the partners being equal,” said Mrs. Mendoza.

    “As we are,” said Susan as she looked at Justin with a smile.

    “Oh, where are my manners, congratulations to you as well,” said Mrs. Mendoza.

    “Thank you ma’am,” said Susan.

    The image of Mrs. Mendoza started breaking up slightly as interference was coming through the communicator as expected. They tried to understand each other for a couple of seconds before realizing it wasn’t going to get any better.

    “Mom, you’re breaking up. Tell Dad to call me when he gets to Europa,” said Justin. “Love you Mom and talk to you soon.”

    He managed to see her wave and mouth the word “bye” as she faded out and the screen went to a test pattern. Justin turned to Susan and requested to speak to her family as well.

    “They faded out before you,” said Susan. “Being on Luna, they are more prone to interference.”

    “Sorry,” said Justin.

    “No big deal,” said Susan. “We’ll have time when we reach Earth.”

    “Are you two finished speaking to your families?” asked Winston.

    “Yes sir,” said Justin.

    “Our turn to congratulate you,” said Winston. “Go shake their hands, they earned it.”

    The remaining crew formed a line and took the time to congratulate the pair on their accomplishment. Colt still was at the pilot station so he wasn’t able to speak to them before they finished with the line, but he was approached by Captain Winston after he went through the line.

    “Am I going a little crazy in my elder years, or do I sense there is more than a casual acquaintance between our new Senior Pilots?” asked Winston.

    “They have history,” said Colt. “And apparently picked up where they left off at flight school.”

    “And you forgot to mention this to your Captain because?” asked Winston.

    “Honestly I didn’t know a thing about it until after we offered her a position on the crew,” said Colt. “And confirmed this morning they are spending a little more than just professional time with each other since she arrived.”

    “You could have said something,” said Winston.

    “I didn’t get the chance to,” said Colt.

    “You think it will be a problem?” asked Winston.

    “Nah, I think they will challenge each other professionally to get better at their jobs,” said Colt. “They are both competitive and pushed each other to be better during the testing phase. So I think it will carry over onto this level where they will continue to attempt to outdo each other.”

    “And if you had to pick one or the other to be better?” asked Winston.

    “Flip a coin,” said Colt. “Mendoza is better at the book flying, she has better instincts. Both styles complement each other and they can learn from each other.”

    “So if you had to pick one right now, which would it be?” asked Winston pointedly.

    “Whichever was first available,” said Colt. “I’m not trying to avoid giving an answer; just being honest that I would trust either one in a dangerous situation.”

    “You’re being difficult,” chuckled Winston.

    “I’m trying not to be,” laughed Colt. “Honestly, I’d give the edge to Mendoza if push came to shove in picking up an object. He’s got the regulations down pat and is more cautious. But in a shooting situation, which we’ll likely never be in, I’d want Yamato since she thinks outside of the box and creates alternatives that many won’t expect.”

    “Which doesn’t give me an answer,” said Winston.

    “I’m unsure of the question,” said Colt.

    “You’re Captain,” said Winston. “Which one would you pick as the more senior?”

    “Neither,” laughed Colt. “Honestly their strengths and weaknesses are perfectly balanced between the two. Neither one has the edge.”

    “We have to have a hierarchy of the pilot staff,” said Winston. “You’re obviously at the top, but will join the bottom ranks if you don’t make a choice.”

    “So you’re leaving the decision up to me?” asked Colt.

    “Your staff, your choice,” said Winston.

    “Come here kids,” said Colt as he waved to the pair as they finished the receiving line.

    “Sir?” they asked in unison as they approached.

    “Which one of you is older?” asked Colt.

    “I am sir,” said Mendoza. “By about three months.”

    “Okay,” said Colt as he withdrew an old coin from his pocket. A family heirloom gained by his great-great-grandfather during one of the 20th and 21st Century Wars, it had been passed on through the family to each member that served in either the military or security services and bore the emblem of a U.S. Military General on one side. “Justin, heads or tails. This side is heads, this is tails.”

    “Exactly what are we flipping for?” asked Mendoza.

    “For which one of you gets to be the ranking Senior Pilot,” said Colt. “You both are equal in my opinion and both of you deserve it. So we’ll let fate decide.”

    Colt noticed Winston had a disapproving look on his face, but didn’t stop the unorthodox method Colt was using. Colt looked to Mendoza for an answer, which wasn’t what he was expecting.

    “I’d rather Yamato have it,” said Mendoza. “She’s a better pilot.”

    “No!” she objected. “You’re just as good as I am and better in some regards. I’ll decline.”

    “You’ve got better instincts,” said Mendoza.

    “And you’ve got the procedures down cold,” said Yamato.

    “How about Mendoza picks heads or tails?” asked Colt. “Or I bust both of you back to junior pilot on a trash barge?”

    “Heads sir,” said Mendoza. Colt flipped the coin and caught it before flipping it over on his arm.

    “Okay, Justin, you are now the ranking Senior Pilot,” said Colt as he looked at it.

    “I thought if I won the toss I got to make the decision?” asked Mendoza.

    “Nope,” said Colt. “Nice try though. When or if I’m not around and a decision needs to be made about the pilot staff, you get to made the decision. If you can’t make the decision or don’t feel comfortable, you go see the First Officer.”

    “Yes sir,” said Mendoza.

    “Is this going to be a problem?” asked Colt as he turned to Yamato.

    “No sir,” said Yamato. “I already tried to turn it down.”

    “Fine, you’re still number 3 in the pecking order,” said Colt.

    “Aye sir,” said Yamato.

    “Well, now that’s decided,” said Winston. “You two take the rest of the day off.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Mendoza. But before leaving he turned to Colt. “You lied to us.”

    “How did I do that?” asked Colt.

    “You told us yesterday you were administering a practice test,” said Yamato who knew exactly what Mendoza was talking about.

    “I did?” asked Colt.

    “You never said it was the actual test,” said Mendoza.

    “What did I say exactly?” asked Colt with half a grin.

    “You said…the material we saw yesterday could be the same material we saw on the tests,” said Yamato. “But you never said it was the real test!”

    “Because you both were nervous about it,” said Colt with a chuckle. “And relaxing a bit made you both score 98%.”

    “I was a bit more relaxed,” said Mendoza. “But you did lead us to believe it wasn’t the test.”

    “I never did such a thing,” said Colt. “I even asked if you both felt you were ready for the test prior to giving you the tablets. You both said you felt you were ready.”

    “You said the day prior we were going to be scheduled later for testing!” exclaimed Yamato.

    “I did,” said Colt. “I just didn’t specify what test in particular it was and it was later than the day before. So I didn’t lie.”

    “And the simulations?” asked Mendoza.

    “Were the simulations you were required to accomplish prior to gaining the certification,” said Colt. “And of which you all passed with flying colors.”

    “I would have applied myself more if I knew it was the real deal!” objected Yamato.

    “And scored better than a 98%?” asked Colt.

    “Maybe,” said Yamato.

    “You missed two questions,” said Colt. “It’s going to be hard to top that. Unless of course you feel cheated and would like to take everything over again.”

    “I…no…I’m okay thank you,” said Yamato.

    “Fine, get out of here and enjoy your day off,” said Colt. “And congratulations.”

    The pair nodded at Colt and departed the bridge. Before they were out of sight, Colt and the Captain saw Mendoza take her around the waist and pull her in as they walked around the bulkhead and out of sight.

    “Unorthodox,” said Winston.

    “Perhaps,” said Colt. “But it works.”

    “One of these days you’ll be put in a situation where you’ll have to make a decision based on two almost equal officers to promote,” said Winston. “And you won’t be able to flip a coin.”

    “Which one would you have promoted?” asked Colt.

    “I would, and did, leave the decision up to my Chief Pilot who needs to learn how to make the tough decisions on his own,” said Winston as another teaching lesson.

    “I understand sir,” said Colt. “And it won’t happen again.”

    “Now had I forced you to make a choice, which one would it have been?” asked Winston.

    “The one I picked sir,” said Colt with a sly grin.

    “I’m sorry?” asked Winston.

    “You never saw the coin did you?” asked Colt.

    “I didn’t,” said Winston who paused for a moment as the realization of what Colt hadn’t done hit him. “And neither did those two.”

    “It ended up on tails,” said Colt. “But honestly, Mendoza is the better choice. He’ll learn to trust his instincts in the future, but the book will get him by at the moment. She’ll need to learn that instincts aren’t always right and to trust the book.”

    “You think she isn’t ready?” asked Winston.

    “No, I think she’s past ready,” said Colt. “And maybe even more than I was when I went up. The difference is my instincts were right when I took the tests. Hers weren’t, but she’s technically a better pilot than I was. She can flat make this tub move when she wants.”

    “You admit that?” asked Winston.

    “I have no problems admitting if someone was or is better than I am,” said Colt. “The difference was I knew when to fall back on the books when seat of the pants flying didn’t seem wise. She’s still learning that. It’s a work in process with her but she’s already learning.”

    “I didn’t give you enough credit,” said Winston. “My apologies.”

    “No problem Captain,” said Colt. “I saw the look of disapproval on your face.”

    “I almost put a stop to it,” said Winston. “But I do trust you. And I learned something myself.”

    “That when I don’t want egos bruised, I’ll make it look like it was a random selection?” asked Colt. “I want, and we need, them both trying to outperform each other. But in a friendly manner. Had I favored one over the other, it could have caused that one to slack off in trying to get better. So I made it appear like both were equals, which they are close, in order to keep them motivated in trying to do better at the things they may not be good at.”

    “You’re getting a bit psychological these days,” laughed Winston.

    “Nah, just know what would motivate me,” said Colt. “And you keep saying Mendoza is like a little me. I’d actually say Yamato is closer to where I was.”

    “I’d be happy if either one turned out as good as you,” said Winston.

    “Give it time,” said Colt. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

    “Neither was the fleet,” said Winston. “But back on the subject of the two lovebirds, you do realize you and Bella have caused quite a stir?”

    “No,” said Colt. “I must have missed that.”

    “Specifically love is in the air and all that,” said Winston. “It seems like you two have broken the ice on the entire crew as there have been more than a few budding romances between a few of the members. I guess they saw you two and decided it was okay.”

    “I…really don’t know what to say sir,” said Colt.

    “It’s all good as Tiffany pointed out the other day,” said Winston. “It’s going to happen when we get that many single folks together for that amount of time.”

    “Until they go crazy,” laughed Colt.

    “Hazard of the job,” said Winston with a laugh. “Of course it didn’t happen until you guys showed up all huggy and kissy.”

    “We do not!” protested Colt. “Not in public at least.”

    “Still, I get to blame you for the fact our crew is feeling love in the air,” said Winston with a grin. “Camille won’t let me blame Bella so you’re it.”

    “The man always gets blamed,” laughed Colt.

    “Yep,” said Winston with a chuckle. “Even your own staff isn’t immune. Dillon had been chatting it up with that young engineer’s mate here as of late.”

    “I hadn’t noticed,” said Colt.

    “I wouldn’t expect you to being as occupied with your fiancée,” said Winston. “Have you adjusted the pilot schedule accordingly?”

    “I have,” said Colt. “Those two will have today off and be back at it tomorrow.”

    “You’ll be working the night shift tomorrow though,” said Winston.

    “Oh, joy,” said Colt. “In the pilot’s chair?”

    “Nope, in my seat,” said Winston.

    “Aye sir,” said Colt.

    “I hate doing the weird shifts all the time,” said Winston. “And it would help to have another member certified for the watch officer.”

    “You have a younger crew,” said Colt. “Unfortunately, not all of us have been able to move up in a timely fashion even being pushed into positions higher than usual.”

    “Normally the comm officer would certify,” said Winston. “But I think it’s a tad much for Lilly being as young as she is.”

    “She’ll be fine,” said Colt. “In a few years that is. How come Becky never has?”

    “Never wanted it although she’s been offered it a couple of dozen times at least,” said Winston. “She knows more about this ship than anyone, but she’s content to play with the sensors.”

    “Unusual,” said Colt.

    “Hell, she could have been a Captain by now had she asked for it,” said Winston who knew there was more to the situation, but was above Colt’s pay level at the moment. “But I think she’s serious about the retirement thing at this point.”

    “Chief engineer?” asked Colt.

    “Perhaps,” said Winston. “He’s a good man and needs the command course.”

    “Too bad Infinicon limits the command path to only engineering or pilots,” said Colt. “Which of course prohibits Becky from moving up.”

    “She was an engineer,” said Winston. “And still knows just as much about the section as Schultz. She chose sensors.”

    “Things I didn’t know,” said Colt.

    “A good First Officer knows the folks on his ship,” said Winston. “Hint, hint.”

    “Are you saying that’s within the realm of possibility?” asked Colt.

    “Perhaps,” said Winston. “As well as a notification I got from corporate yesterday about a certain application to a Chief Pilot’s job.”

    “And?” asked Colt.

    “Seems like everything is wrapped up save the interview,” said Winston. “Have you made a decision yet?”

    “No, I’ve been meaning to talk to Bella about it,” said Colt.

    “We’ve only got several weeks before we hit Earth,” said Winston.

    “So we’ve got time,” said Colt with a grin.

    “Procrastination is not something you do,” said Winston. “At least I’ve never seen it.”

    “Catch up with me at tax season,” laughed Colt.

    “You do have an accountant that can cheat on them at this point,” said Winston.

    “Very true,” said Colt. “And of course being married to her puts us in a way higher bracket than where I’m at now. But I suspect she’ll know ways of getting around that.”

    “I think Camille and I’ll enlist her help as well,” said Winston with a chuckle. He and Colt chatted for several more minutes and he moved on to the other stations to check on them. Being in transit and set on “cruise control” for lack of a better term, the crew didn’t have much to do at the moment except monitor their stations. The shift came to an end and Colt headed back to his quarters. Once he arrived, he didn’t find Bella anywhere, but found a note on the note board in the kitchenette that said “playing basketball in main cargo deck” with a smiley face drawn underneath. Colt doffed his uniform and changed into gym clothing himself before heading down to the main deck which currently served as an enhanced rec area for those that wanted to partake. He saw Harry Howell watching the game with interest and gravitated towards him.

    “Hey Harry,” said Colt as he saw Bella out mixing it up with the crew as she ran down the makeshift court.

    “Hey Colt,” said Harry as he fiddled with a tablet briefly. The shot by one of the players fell drastically short of the rim and was caught by the opposite team.

    “Are you messing with the gravity?” asked Colt.

    “Yep,” he grinned. “I’ve got a bet going with McMasters.”

    “Isn’t that cheating?” laughed Colt.

    “For a hundred credits, nope,” he laughed as he fiddled again and Bella flew up way further than she should have and was able to dunk the ball.

    “Hey! Knock it off!” yelled a member of the opposite team as he saw what was happening. It was statistically impossibly to miss sixteen shots in a row especially when you were right under the rim. However, Harry wouldn’t be stopped as he fiddled with the gravity controls again and watched as the ball took a short bounce and was stolen by the team he betted on. And scored yet again as the layup was true.

    “How did you get it to do that and not affect the players?” asked Colt.

    “Remember those micro gravity controllers we got to try out?” he asked.

    “Yeah,” replied Colt.

    “I happened to install one in the basketball,” he grinned.

    “That’s just wrong,” laughed Colt.

    “Well, I also put two in Bella’s shoes,” he laughed as she was practically jumping over everyone on the court.

    “You expect McMasters to pay up?” asked Colt.

    “Nah,” he laughed. “But it’s hilarious watching him get all worked up over it.”

    “Dammit Harry!” yelled McMasters as another shot fell short and Bella went up for another dunk which ended the game. “I ain’t paying up!”

    “He seems a bit irate,” laughed Colt as he went over to Bella as she grabbed a bottle of water and her towel. She wiped off her face and smiled as he approached.

    “I didn’t know you played basketball,” said Colt.

    “I haven’t in a while,” said Bella. “But learned a bit when I was growing up and played intramural when I was in college.”

    “I’m glad you are here,” said Colt. “I’m learning all sorts of little things about you this trip.”

    “It’s good for both of us,” said Bella as she finished the bottle of water and saw McMasters giving Harry Howell an earful with Howell holding his sides from laughing.

    “Want to go for some one on one?” she asked.

    “Not until you take the micro gravity controllers out of your shoes,” said Colt.

    “I think you’re worried about getting beat by a girl,” said Bella with a grin.

    “I played football and baseball babe,” said Colt. “Basketball isn’t my thing.”

    “I’ll spot you five points,” said Bella.

    “Not going to happen,” said Colt.

    “And breakfast in bed the rest of the trip home,” said Bella. “Not that it’s going to happen since I’m going to win.”

    “Oh it’s so on,” said Colt as he was just as competitive as she was. The two went at it and even with him being spotted five points, she trounced him in good time. However, before she was able to score the final basket he grabbed her by the waist and held her back.

    “Not fair!” she protested with a laugh and tossed the ball at the bucket. And as luck would have it, it sailed through without touching the rim.

    “So, you owe me breakfast in bed now,” she grinned.

    “I never agreed to that,” he laughed.

    “You mean I’m not worth it?” she asked and batted her eyes.

    “Worth way more than a few breakfasts in bed,” he said and gave her a kiss.

    “I think someone has one on one on the mind right now,” she grinned.

    “Depends on the sport,” he grinned.

    “From the look you’re giving me, it’s a full contact sport,” she laughed.

    “Maybe,” said Colt with a grin.

    “You’re all sweaty though,” she said. “And so am I.”

    “And?” he asked. “We have showers and water reclamation facilities on board.”

    “We’re you just briefing me the other day about conserving water?” she asked.

    “I didn’t imply we would be showering separately,” he said with a wink.

    “I’ve discovered something about you as well,” she said with a smile.

    “And what’s that?” he asked.

    “You’ll bend the rules when it suits you,” she said. “But generally for a good reason.”

    “I try to be by the book,” said Colt. “But I’d break every law known to man for you.”

    “That’s almost romantic,” she laughed.

    “C’mon dirty girl,” he nodded. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

    “Yes sir, Chief Pilot sir,” she said and tossed him a salute as they walked away with their arms around each other’s waist. But before they made it off the deck, Colt was summoned by another member of the crew.

    “Hey Colt!” said one of the reclamation specialists. “We’re tearing down the basketball court and setting it up for a flag football game. Wanna play?”

    “Nah, I’ll pass,” said Colt.

    “Go ahead sweetie,” said Bella. “I’ll cheerlead.”

    “Nah, I’ll be okay,” said Colt.

    “Go ahead,” said Bella. “I want to see my quarterback superstar in action.”

    “I was actually a tight end,” said Colt. “But played option quarterback from time to time.”

    “I think the tight end position suited you way more,” said Bella as she looked at his backside.

    “You’re horrible,” he laughed. “Okay, one game.”

    “You are the quarterback though,” said the reclamation specialist as he tossed Colt the ball.

    “I’ve been known to toss a few here and there,” said Colt as he grabbed a jersey and a set of flags. Bella took a seat over on the other side of the compartment as the crew reset the floor and laser designators set out the grid for the field. And even the large football field seemed tiny in the cavernous cargo hold as the two teams were picked and went at it. And since Colt knew he was being watched, showed out a tad after being cheered on by Bella. Little did the other team know that one of the members had played college ball as well as being a wide receiver at the school known informally as “Wide Receiver U.” And he and Colt formed a connection early on as pass after pass was completed and the game turned into a rout.

    “Seriously?” demanded McMasters who was captain of the other team.

    “Hate to break it to you Brent, but Howard and I have tossed the ball to each other from time to time,” laughed Colt.

    “Football goes back in my family several generations,” said Howard who worked in engineering. “And Colt has a good spiral.”

    “Thank God this isn’t for money,” growled McMasters as his team got the ball again after the last score. And while the competition was fierce, the crew mutually challenged each other in a friendly fashion since there was little else to do during transit. And the games were just one way of keeping morale up and the crew from going crazy not doing their normal semi-dangerous duties. But little did they know that additional danger lurked in their path. And would challenge them in ways they couldn’t possibly comprehend at that moment.
    Tully Mars, techsar, rle737ng and 2 others like this.
  11. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 20

    “These nights do seem to drag,” said Colt with a groan as the clock seemed to stand still.

    “I dunno,” said Lilly from her station with a smile. “Depends on the company I suppose.”

    “Suppose so,” said Colt as he headed over to the pilot’s station where Yamato was performing her first watch in her newest position as Senior Pilot. “Everything okay?”

    “Running like a champ,” said Yamato. “This is a fine ship.”

    “We’ve got a lot of pride in her,” said Colt.

    “Can I ask you a personal question?” asked Yamato.

    “Depends on how personal,” said Colt.

    “How did you know about Justin and me?” she asked.

    “He told me you two dated during flight school,” said Colt. “And yesterday when he said ‘we’ got plenty of rest kinda tipped off the fact he knew about your sleeping habits.”

    “I’m going to throttle that boy,” said Yamato with a semi frown.

    “The ship is too small for secrets to be kept forever,” said Colt. “And there isn’t a conflict of interests in you two seeing each other.”

    “Still the point,” said Yamato. “What happens when the Captain finds out?”

    “He said it wasn’t a big deal,” said Colt.

    “He knows?!” exclaimed Yamato and immediately lowered her voice. “I mean, how did he know about it already?”

    “Other than the fact he saw you two leave here with your arms around each other’s waist yesterday?” asked Colt. “And you throwing off all kinds of signals?”

    “I didn’t think it was that obvious,” said Yamato.

    “He has no problems with it,” said Colt. “And neither do I. You two complement each other in your styles and can learn a great deal from each other. You can teach him to go with his gut instincts more and he can make you rely on the standard procedures more.”

    “I understand,” said Yamato. “Has it happened before?”

    “Between two shipmates?” asked Colt. “Once or twice.”

    “It seems like there are more than a few couples on this ship,” said Yamato.

    “That’s kind of a recent occurrence,” said Colt. “And apparently I’m to blame.”

    “Oh?” asked Yamato as Lilly came over with a tablet.

    “Daily message traffic,” said Lilly as she approached the two.

    “Anything critical?” asked Colt.

    “A couple that need the Duty Officer to sign off,” said Lilly.

    Colt took the tablet and looked over the various items. Most of which were normal “housekeeping” type of traffic that weren’t significant enough to wake the Captain for. He signed off the acknowledgment of the items and handed the tablet back to Lilly.

    “You were saying you are to blame?” asked Yamato.

    “Yes, apparently since Bella and I showed up, romance has been in fashion on the ship,” said Colt. “So the Captain blames the two of us for it.”

    “I’d met her before,” said Yamato. “We pulled into Pluto a few times on supply runs and she kept asking me for my ID.”

    “Let’s face it, you do look young,” said Colt as he saw Lilly resume her station.

    “True,” said Yamato. “Doesn’t help that I’m not that tall.”

    “Good things come in small packages and all that,” said Colt.

    “I hate that saying,” said Yamato.

    “Tends to be true,” said Colt. “And other than the fact the pilots are complaining about the seat adjustments, you’re setting a standard for them to achieve.”

    “I leave the seat adjusted for my height on purpose,” she grinned.

    “Unless of course I’m relieving you,” said Colt.

    “Oh, of course,” said Yamato with a larger grin.

    “Mind you who does your performance ratings,” said Colt.

    “Not fair,” said Yamato as Lilly approached once again.

    “Do I have permission to do a systems alignment?” she asked and set her hand on his arm.

    “Will we lose communications?” asked Colt.

    “Not really,” said Lilly. “The alignment only takes a microsecond per channel so we probably won’t even miss a beat.”

    “Sure, go ahead,” said Colt.

    “Thanks,” said Lilly with a bright smile as she headed back to her station.

    “No problem,” said Colt as Lilly bounced back to her station yet again.

    Yamato didn’t say anything, but a dark look came over her face. She didn’t know either one of them well enough to know the story there and thought maybe the communications officer was just overly friendly. However, she didn’t get that particular vibe as she tended to act professionally with the remainder of the crew. But got very peculiar when talking with Colt. He and Yamato talked for a couple of minutes before Colt moved on to the other sections along with being updated several times on the communications alignment that likely could have waited until the task was complete. But even as Gold seemed fairly flirty, Colt didn’t seem to notice or kept it at a professional level. Yamato saw him stretch and grunt as he finished talking with the navigator and checking the systems there.

    “I’m heading to the head,” said Colt. “Miss Sanchez has the conn.”

    “Aye, I have the conn,” said Sanchez.

    “You want a cup of coffee when you get back?” asked Lilly.

    “I’ll be fine, thanks,” said Colt as he departed the bridge.

    “Good grief,” said Yamato with a sigh and a shake of her head.

    “What?” asked Lilly.

    “You think you could at least move next to him when you drool?” asked Yamato.

    “Excuse me?” asked Lilly defensively.

    “To Colt,” said Yamato. “You act like a teenage girl with her first crush.”

    “I do not!” protested Lilly.

    “He’s engaged,” said Yamato. “Take that into account next time you make ga-ga eyes at him.”

    “I think it’s none of your business!” exclaimed Lilly.

    “I happened to make it my business,” said Yamato. “Because your flirting is distracting in a professional environment. So it needs to end.”

    “I don’t answer to you!” growled Lilly.

    “You sure don’t,” said Yamato. “But I sure can include that in a daily report.”

    “You wouldn’t!” exclaimed Lilly.

    “Wanna bet?” asked Yamato.

    “What concern is it of yours? And if Colt wanted it to stop, he could say something,” said Lilly.

    “I make it my concern when the duty officer keeps getting flirted with by another crew member. And perhaps Colt doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t want to hurt your feelings,” said Yamato. “But you certainly need to learn the difference between personal and professional.”

    “I am professional,” growled Lilly.

    “Not proving it right now,” said Yamato.

    “How dare you try to dress me down in front of my peers!” exclaimed Lilly. The others on the bridge were trying not to pay attention to the ongoing spat, but the two made it hard to ignore as their voices were heard plain as day.

    “Your peers are currently freshmen in high school with a crush on the senior quarterback,” said Yamato. “At least act your age for a change.”

    “Look little girl, you’re really crossing lines here,” said Lilly.

    “Little?” asked Yamato and turned to face Lilly. “I’m not the one acting immature and practically hanging all over the duty officer. I think your conduct is beyond deplorable and you simply cannot work in the same environment as Officer Daniels. And I’ll include that in my daily report since you won’t take a hint and shut up.”

    “I have access to those reports as well,” said Lilly. “I can delete it.”

    “And I can just as easily bring it up in person along with the audio and video logs,” said Yamato who knew she crossed a significant line of propriety there. “And furthermore, when they find out you’ve tampered with an official report you will be tossed out of the fleet on your ear. You think Colt will protect you? He’ll light the match that burns you down. I know him well enough to know he’s by the book. So your choice at this point little girl. Either knock off the nonsense or I report it up.”

    Lilly glared at Yamato until it became apparent she wasn’t going to win the stare down. A hurt look came over her face as she buried her nose in the console to her front. Yamato went back to monitoring her station as Colt came back on the bridge.

    “I have the conn,” he said.

    “Mister Daniels has the conn,” announced Sanchez. And dead silence enveloped the bridge as nobody wanted to say anything about what had just transpired.

    “Did I miss something?” asked Colt after the silence was killing him.

    “No, you didn’t miss anything at all,” said Yamato.

    “Okay,” said Colt as he was slightly confused at the somber mood that seemed to come over the bridge in his brief absence. He went over to the sensor station and looked mindlessly at the console where Sanchez was looking over some long range data.

    “Your new pilot is feisty,” said Sanchez in a low voice.

    “Oh?” asked Colt.

    “That’s all I’ll say, but she’s establishing a professional atmosphere on the bridge with a couple of the crewmen,” said Sanchez.

    “Anything I need to worry about?” asked Colt.

    “I don’t think so,” said Sanchez. “I’ll handle it if anything comes up.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said Colt as he checked his watch. It was less than an hour before the relief crew would come in. The various individuals started prepping their stations early as the minutes clicked away and they didn’t want to be on the bridge any longer than necessary after what had transpired earlier. As the clock rolled towards 0600, various members started filtering in and assuming the duty stations for the next eight hours. The sensor operator came in at the same time Jericho did at the pilot’s station and Sanchez saw her opening as Yamato departed the bridge after getting her changeover completed.

    “Susan?” called Sanchez as Yamato was heading down the corridor.

    “Yes?” asked Yamato as she turned.

    “I wanted to talk to you right quick,” said Sanchez.

    “Is this about what happened earlier Ms. Sanchez?” asked Yamato.

    “Please, call me Becky,” said Sanchez.

    “Okay,” said Yamato as she crossed her arms.

    “And yes, it does,” said Sanchez.

    “Are you going to try to talk me out of putting in the report?” asked Yamato.

    “No, I wouldn’t ever do something like that,” said Sanchez.

    “I hear a ‘but’ coming,” said Yamato.

    “Yes, there is a but in this conversation,” said Sanchez. “Many, I’d say most of us know about Lilly’s feelings for Colt for a long time now. And honestly, it hasn’t been this bad before now, but she is a good officer when she needs to be. And before you put in that report, I’ll ask you remember we’re getting ready to have at least two months if not more on Earth. I’d bet she’ll have forgotten about Colt in that time and moved on.”

    “And if she doesn’t? Her conduct is completely out of line and you know it,” said Yamato.

    “It is,” said Sanchez. “And yes, I’ll speak to her about it as well.”

    “I understand, but there’s history here with me in situations like this,” said Yamato.

    “Oh?” asked Sanchez.

    “On my last ship, the Captain’s husband was involved in letting some cute young girl flirt him up. And it caused a serious rift in the crew after he took it to the next level,” said Yamato. “The Captain eventually found out about the affair he was having and divorced him, but not before morale hit rock bottom after the crew picked sides.”

    “Colt is different,” said Sanchez.

    “He might be, but it’s still unprofessional conduct,” said Yamato.

    “I know it is and it does need to be addressed,” said Sanchez. “Let me work this problem, okay? I have ways of fixing this without it getting out of control.”

    Yamato looked at Sanchez and knew she was highly respected by the crew. And likely had the wisdom and experience to fix the problem without causing an utter uproar in the crew. After taking a moment to think it over, she decided to allow her new crewmates to fix it. “Okay, I’ll leave it up to you and won’t report it. But I will let you know if it happens again, I will file an official report and speak to the Captain and First Officer directly about it. I know it might implicate Colt as well, but she was right that he could have put a stop to it as well.”

    “I don’t think it will come to that,” said Sanchez.

    “Let’s hope not,” said Yamato.

    “Thank you for reconsidering,” said Sanchez.

    “You’re welcome,” said Yamato as she headed back to file her log report and grab breakfast. She still wasn’t sure whether or not she should report it up, but saw Sanchez tracking down Talbert on her way back to the bridge and assumed she was already taking the matter in hand. And she saw Colt departing the bridge and heading towards the galley. Things were certainly different on this ship, but she saw the crew worked well together and were as efficient as anything she had seen before. She put the matter out of her mind for the moment and got to her quarters where she grabbed her tablet to start her log.

    Colt got to the galley and made a snap decision to share breakfast with Bella instead of eating and heading back to his quarters. He grabbed the fixings from the line and covered them before heading back down the corridor to his quarters and heading inside. He set the tray on the table and saw Bella was still fast asleep. He knew she typically was up and about by that time, but was content to sleep in a bit since being on the ship. He slipped into bed next to her and came up behind her whispering in her ear to wake her up. She groaned slightly until she heard him whispering “good morning love” in her ear.

    “Hey baby,” she said and extended the free arm over her head to stretch with a groan.

    “Morning you,” he said and put his hand over her waist and pulled her in a bit.

    “Mmmm, you smell like bacon,” she said with half a smile and put her hand over his.

    “That’s possibly the most romantic thing you’ve ever said,” he laughed.

    “You don’t know how much I love bacon,” she smiled and rolled over for a good morning kiss.

    “Well that’s a good thing,” he said and nodded towards the tray after they finished.

    “Breakfast in bed? To what do I owe the honor?” she asked and sat up before grunting and stretching again.

    “For being the most beautiful and enchanting woman in the universe?” he asked. “And because I made a bet at the game?”

    “I suppose that works,” she said.

    “But unfortunately, there are no legs for the tray,” he said.

    “You mean I have to sit at a table and stuff?” she asked. “What a letdown.”

    “I suppose I could hold it while you ate,” he said.

    “Great idea,” she said and looked at him for a response. However, he could see the mirth in her eyes as she said it and the slight grin appearing on her face.

    “How about no?” he asked.

    “Aww, you’re no fun,” she said and slipped out of bed to join him at the small table. “Bacon, egg and cheese biscuits?”

    “Your favorite,” he said.

    “I love you,” she said.

    “And…you said it first,” he laughed.

    “C’mon over here and sit down, man that I love,” she said and took a seat. “It appears you got enough for both of us.”

    “I did,” he said as they ate breakfast sharing a small conversation between bites.

    “What are your plans for today?” she asked. “You have to work?”

    “I do,” he said. “But it’s mainly simulations and whatnot this afternoon.”

    “Seems kind of weird that you aren’t sitting in the pilot’s chair this trip back,” she said.

    “The Captain feels the junior pilots need more time,” said Colt. “I’m still taking the odd shift here and there, but they do need the seasoning.”

    “Aren’t we on autopilot right now?” she asked.

    “We are, but regulations still require a pilot at the controls,” said Colt. “And we’re running simulations for the younger pilots that need some seasoning.”

    “How long will you be at work?” she asked.

    “I don’t know exactly,” he said. “How come?”

    “Because I enjoy your company,” she said. “And you know how bored I get.”

    “I’m sorry,” he said.

    “No, don’t be,” she said. “It was my choice to come along and something I knew well in advance I’d likely have to put up with.”

    “I know, but it’s still the principle,” he replied.

    “No big deal,” she said and took a sip of the tea he had brought.

    “Did I get the mix right?” he asked.

    “You did,” said Bella. “Almost perfect.”

    “I’ll take that,” said Colt. “And for being added into the price of the ticket, not bad at all.”

    “You do realize I’m on a free ride, right?” she replied with a wink.

    “Free? What?” he asked.

    “You don’t know?” she asked and explained the situation.

    “No, I had no idea,” said Colt. “Awfully nice of him.”

    “I’d suspect Camille put a bug in his ear,” said Bella.

    “Maybe,” said Colt. “But he’s a good man when it comes down to it and might have done it anyway. And it is fair.”

    “He is a good man,” said Bella. “And Camille is top notch as well. She’s made the transition here so much easier for me.”

    “I’m glad,” said Colt who knew he needed to talk to Bella about the job situation. But he also wanted to do it with a clear head and needed to get some sleep as the yawn he let out reminded him of the fact he’d been up all night.

    “Tired babe?” she asked.

    “I’m getting old,” he said with another yawn. “Excuse me.”

    “Old is not a term I’d associate with you,” she laughed.

    “What terms would that be?” asked Colt with a grin.

    “Smart…funny…dead sexy…want me to go on?” she asked.

    “If you don’t mind,” said Colt with a grin.

    “Man that I love?” she asked. “Does that sum it up?”

    “Perfectly,” said Colt as he grabbed her hand and kissed it.

    “Go grab a nap,” said Bella. “I can find ways of amusing myself in the meantime.”

    “Sure you don’t want to join me?” he asked.

    “I suppose I could sleep in a bit,” said Bella. “But I have some financial stuff to do today.”

    “Anything bad?” he asked.

    “Maybe,” said Bella. “The Circle P stock might be splitting today.”

    “And that’s a good thing?” he asked.

    “Very,” said Bella.

    “I’m going to grab a quick shower and head on for a nap,” said Colt.

    “I’ll clean up real quick and join you in a moment,” said Bella.

    “Promise?” he asked.

    “You feeling like a frisky Colt?” she asked with a grin.

    “I’m always a frisky Colt,” he laughed.

    “Yes, I’ll join you in a moment,” she laughed. “Go on, grab a shower.”

    “Love you babe,” he said and collected another kiss before departing. Bella watched him leave the room and disappear into the bedroom area where he quickly jumped in the shower. She checked the financial reports and saw her portfolio was in fine shape since she had the opportunity to play with it a bit more in recent days. And with her stock split, would expand that even more to the point where she and Colt could take a retirement right then if they wanted. But she knew his heart and soul was on the ship they were currently on and she wouldn’t force any career moves on him. She knew deep down her heart and soul was out there among the stars as well and was quickly becoming comfortable as well. She put her tablet to sleep as she heard Colt finishing up and joined him in the bed for another nap herself.
  12. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 21

    “You really don’t need much sleep do you?” asked Bella as they walked back from the late lunch after Colt woke up.

    “Four or five hours tends to be okay,” said Colt. “I have more training tomorrow so I’ve got to get back on the day and night schedule.”

    “You slept six today,” said Bella.

    “So I beat the average,” he grinned.

    “I don’t know how you do it,” said Bella. “I know my parents used to do some crazy shifts like that when I was growing up, but I never understood how.”

    “Honestly it becomes second nature after a while,” said Colt as they arrived at the quarters and entered. Bella kicked off her shoes and headed into the bedroom to do something with her hair since it was not acting properly that afternoon.

    “You have some time to talk?” asked Colt as she brushed her hair in the mirror that graced their bedroom. An addition with the home style bot, Colt recognized the fact the changes she made gave the place a nice touch and made it seem more like a home rather than just quarters.

    “I’m kind of at a loss of things to do at this point,” said Bella with a smile.

    “Knitting?” asked Colt with a grin as he checked out the latest news on the Infolink.

    “I’m not old enough to appreciate knitting,” she laughed and looked at the screen. “Really?”

    “Yep, that’s kind of cool,” said Colt as they read through the article. “New Horizons Spaceport huh? Has a ring to it.”

    “I didn’t even know they were considering naming the Pluto colony,” said Bella. “It has grown to beyond what a colony should be though. And deserves a proper name.”

    “According to this, it’s only a concept and the permanent residents will vote on it,” said Colt.

    “I’d vote yes,” said Bella. “Did they say when?”

    “Next month apparently,” said Colt.

    “If they do, all the other colonies on Pluto will do the same,” said Bella.

    “Speaking of Pluto, I was thinking about our future,” said Colt as he saw a segue to have the conversation about the job hunt. “And specifically where we would end up.”

    “Okay,” said Bella.

    “But I want to say no matter what, I want you to be there,” he stated.

    “Of course,” she replied.

    “So the question is…are you happy on Pluto?” he asked.

    “I’m happy, sure,” she replied.

    “Happy enough to stay?” he asked.

    “I don’t know, maybe,” said Bella. “Why?”

    “Well, I mean you’ve got a good career there and I wouldn’t want to pull you from that,” said Colt. “Unless you wanted to go.”

    “I’ve got a job, not a career,” said Bella. “Nobody wants to be in their fifties slinging drinks to drunk and horny ship crews.”

    “No, probably not,” said Colt.

    “And besides, my investments are paying way more than the bar ever could,” said Bella. “I make more in a week off them than I do in two months serving drinks.”

    “Oh,” said Colt. “I didn’t realize I was engaged to a rich girl.”

    “I have a man who loves me,” she smiled. “That certainly makes me rich.”

    “Well, that too,” he chuckled.

    “But honestly, I don’t have to be on Pluto for my investments to work,” said Bella. “I can be anywhere in the solar system and they end up making money.”

    “That’s true,” said Colt.

    “So something obviously brought this conversation up finally,” she said and came over to sit with him on the bed. “And you’ve obviously been thinking about it.”

    “I have. And I’ve decided to-” he started say as her tablet beeped at her.

    “Hold on to that thought just a moment please. I’m expecting something important,” she said and checked her mail. And her eyes popped open when she read the contents. “Babe, dinner is on me the second we set foot on Earth.”

    “What’s going on?” he asked.

    “The Circle P stock split!” she grinned. “And is soaring on the market!”

    “Great!” he stated. “I think.”

    “It is a good thing,” she explained and went through the way stocks split.

    “Wow, rich girl,” he grinned. “Very smart investment.”

    “You didn’t propose to me for being a nitwit,” she grinned and collected a kiss and a hug.

    “And?” she asked. “You were about to say you decided to do something.”

    “Like I said before, I want the decision on our future to be made together,” he said.

    “Okay,” she said. “So what do you want?”

    “I want you to be happy,” he stated.

    “That’s avoiding the question,” she said sourly.

    “Not really,” said Colt. “Here’s the deal…I don’t want you to move away from some place you like just because we got married.”

    “I can be happy either on here or on Pluto,” she said. “Of course, I’d love to have something to do on here, but I generally can find ways to amuse myself.”

    “Well, here’s the situation as it stands and I want you to make the decision as I can be happy no matter what,” said Colt.

    “Okay,” she said. “But your career is important to you. And in turn, to me too.”

    “There are career moves that can be made so to speak,” said Colt.

    “Such as?” she asked.

    “Well, I’ve put in-” said Colt as he was interrupted by a ship wide announcement.

    “Pilot Colt Daniels to the bridge please,” said the intercom. “Colt Daniels to the bridge.”

    “Want to finish that statement?” asked Bella.

    “No, I’d rather be able to sit down and talk about it without interruption,” said Colt. “I probably won’t be long.”

    “Okay, we’ll finish this up when you get back,” she said and gave him a quick kiss. Colt departed the quarters and headed towards the bridge, passing some of the crew along the way. Once he arrived, he found one of the junior pilots at the controls and the Captain and First Officer at a sensor console as the Navigator was poking at the screen.

    “Colt,” said the Captain. “We’ve got a low powered distress signal coming from a ship in our path. Maybe 500,000 kilometers or so.”

    “Any idea who?” asked Colt as he looked at the console.

    “No, no registration type or identification,” said Talbert. “No other data besides the generic SOS and low powered as it is.”

    “Any ships supposed to be out here?” asked Colt.

    “No,” said Duncan. “At least no Infinicon ships. And nobody else has a flight plan scheduled on the boards, but that doesn’t mean anything since it’s free space and folks can roam as they see fit. Could just be an unfiled flight plan.”

    “We checking it out?” asked Colt.

    “A distress call is a distress call no matter what,” said Winston.

    “Pirates?” asked Colt.

    “Way far away from any known bases,” said Talbert.

    “It’s the unknown ones that bother me,” said Duncan.

    “And well far away from any known station or planetoid capable of supporting a base,” said Winston. “Which is why I want you at the controls Colt.”

    “Sir?” he asked.

    “In case it is trouble, I want you to get us out of here as quickly as possible if it turns wrong,” said Winston. “No offense Officer Jericho.”

    “None taken,” said Jericho who immediately started getting ready to relinquish his station to Colt.

    “Want me to grab my uniform?” asked Colt.

    “No, you’ll be okay,” said Winston.

    Colt checked over the navigation and saw an intercept plot was already being calculated and sent to his station. As he took the chair, he ordered the autopilot to adjust course accordingly and accept the new navigation.

    “Defensive weapons?” asked Talbert.

    “Not yet,” said the Captain. “Go ahead and warm up the automated defenses just in case. But put them in standby mode instead of active.”

    “Aye sir,” said Talbert as she moved to an adjacent station and ordered the ships fourteen automated railgun emplacements to come online and do a systems check. While they were rarely used in anything besides training, they were installed on all Infinicon ships of this size. She decided against the missile emplacements as the smaller autocannons that could deal with fighter size ships, but did a quick systems check on those as well.

    “Course takes us within two kilometers,” said Colt. “And arriving in…one hour and forty-two minutes Captain.”

    “Prepare a dispatch to Infinicon headquarters on Earth and Operations Control on the nearest relay station,” ordered the Captain. “Give our location and the location of the distress call as well as what information we know of.”

    “Aye sir,” said the communications officer as she prepared the dispatch. And knowing something big might be up, she alerted Lilly Gold to come to the bridge.

    “And now?” asked Duncan.

    “Now we see who’s out and about,” said Winston as he sat in his chair and they waited. “I want continual updates on the type of ship and any other information. Go ahead and call in a qualified sensor operator so you can concentrate on navigation.”

    “Specialist Becky Sanchez to the bridge please,” said Duncan into the intercom. “Becky Sanchez to the bridge.”

    “Message sent to Earth and the Gamma 5 Station,” said the communications officer. “And we received an acknowledgement as well as advisement to investigate. Operations Control on Earth stated they will check with the other Operations directorates to see if anyone has a ship out here.”

    “Thank you,” said the Captain. “Keep me apprised of what they say.”

    “Aye Captain,” said the communications officer as she continued going through the message traffic from the past few days to see if anything else had mentioned it. The minutes ticked away as they got closer and Sanchez was able to distinguish a little more about their target.

    “It’s not an Infinicon ship,” said Sanchez as she checked the scope. “Still too far for electro-optical viewing, but for certain it’s not one of ours.”

    “Can you tell ship type?” asked the Captain.

    “Not yet,” said Sanchez. “I’ll keep working on it.”

    And they got a bit closer as Colt adjusted the heading slightly to take them into more of a broadside position rather than bow to bow with the unknown ship. Something didn’t feel right to him as they closed in and he would rather have all the armaments available rather than just the cannons which could be slow to pick up targets.

    “It might be a Zhao light freighter,” said Sanchez. “Possibly Yunnan Class.”

    “Is it capable of being that far out?” asked Winston knowing it generally was used as a fast transport of critical goods. It was a fast ship with a light cargo capacity and really didn’t have any good reason for being that far into remote space.

    “It has the range to make it to the Ningbo Space Station,” said Sanchez. “That’s the closest Zhao controlled destination from here.”

    “Want me to transmit that to Operations?” asked Lilly.

    “Not until we get positive confirmation,” said Winston. “Continue on course.”

    “Aye Captain,” said Colt. “Thirty minutes to rendezvous.”

    “Thank you Colt,” said Winston as things weren’t adding up for him. And he knew that in recent months, it was best to avoid any Zhao ships. But he also lived by a code that if one received a distress call, one went to said distress call since lives could be at stake. And just like the unwritten code from sailors for generations before him, he would set aside political or personal beliefs and help in any way he could.

    “Positive contact,” said Sanchez after another fifteen minutes. “Yunnan Class light freighter, but no positive ID on which one. She’s just drifting for the moment. No obvious signs of damage, no additional communications bursts and no life pods in the immediate vicinity. Just the initial distress call. Sensors don’t show any major radiation leaks or any hazardous conditions. And not responding to identification requests.”

    “Are there any reported Yunnan class freighters being taken by pirates?” asked Talbert.

    “Nothing on the threat boards,” said Duncan as he had immediately checked. Most of the major corporations tended to share such information since the pirates tended to be a threat to any ship in the solar system. And generally included ship type, last location and any distinguishing markings. But some corporations didn’t release said information rapidly or sometimes at all.

    “Package it up and send it to Operations,” said Winston.

    “Aye,” said the communications officer as she typed in a quick message. After hitting the send button on the data burst, she noticed the message was still in the buffer waiting to be transmitted. She attempted it again, but knew the communications devices sometimes needed to recalibrate their position in space before connecting and would send their data eventually.

    “Nothing,” said Sanchez after studying the ship on the advanced electro-optical array for several minutes. “No markings and no ship ID except the registration number.”

    “Which is?” asked Winston as he went to the console.

    “9-1-4,” said Sanchez as she quickly checked the database of known commercial vessels. “Last known route was between Jupiter and Earth.”

    “Curious,” said Winston.

    “Slowing to closing speed, twenty meters per second,” said Colt as he adjusted the controls. “Bringing her along the starboard side, zero degrees on the Z axis.”

    “Captain, I’m having some problems with the communications,” said Lilly. “The buffer keeps cycling and won’t dump the data.”

    “Is it isolated to just your console?” asked Winston.

    “Negative sir,” she replied. “It’s affecting everything ship wide.”

    “Nothing is transmitting?” asked Winston.

    “Negative sir,” said Lilly. “No engineering data, no standard comms, info-link is down…we can receive reports, just nothing will transmit.”

    “Captain, I’m not feeling good about this,” said Talbert as they closed to within five kilometers of the vessel.

    “Neither am I,” he said. “Colt, bring us back out to five hundred kilometers and we’ll reset the communications systems.”

    “Aye sir. Five hundred kilometers,” said Colt as he got the controls ready.

    “Captain! Object detected in the immediate vicinity!” exclaimed Sanchez. “Unknown type on a trajectory to impact us!”

    “Get us out of here!” ordered Winston. But just as Colt was reaching for the main engine controls, a thunk was heard on the hull as the object had made contact. And a sudden burst of energy went through the ship and affected everyone, paralyzing them in whatever position they happened to be in. After several seconds, the entire crew and all the passengers fell over where they were at in a deep state of sleep. Had they been able to observe, they would have seen a small ship depart from the Zhao ship and bring itself alongside the Atomic Destiny. And ten individuals in pressure suits transfer over to the airlock which they opened manually and entered the ship.

    “Get into the main cargo area and open the bay doors,” ordered the first as he saw one of the crew lying in the passageway. Another of the boarding party went to the nearest console and quickly checked on the systems.

    “As we feared, someone managed to lock out the ship’s core,” said the man.

    “We’ll fix that soon enough,” said the leader as he removed the helmet from his pressure suit and looked around. “Nice ship though.”

    “For a rental,” said the man at the computer console.

    “To the bridge shall we?” said the leader as the remainder of the party doffed their helmets and pressure suits before departing towards the bridge.

    “Main cargo hold empty,” said a voice over the communicator. “We can’t access the door controls through the computer so we have to open them manually.”

    “Open it and get the ship docked,” said the leader. “And repressurize the compartment.”

    “Got it,” said the voice over the communicator. The party traveled to the bridge and found the complement of officers and technicians at their stations, still suffering from the effects of the stun device.

    “Go ahead and get them into the main rec area and seal it off,” said the leader as he looked around and found the tablet for the First Officer. Opening it up, he saw the security code hadn’t affected it and found the manifest in short order. “Grab the medical litters and start shuttling them there. Once the rest of the crew is onboard, fan out and collect everyone on the manifest.”

    “Right,” said several of the initial boarding party as the leader saw the clamshell doors of the bow opening up and accepting the arrival of their small craft. He also saw the Zhao ship depart without another word and headed away from the area at full speed. The leader checked over the systems and found the ship had gone into emergency halt as it was supposed to when the security lockout was enabled. And was attempting to transmit the emergency message.

    “It appears that little doodad works,” said one of the boarding party. “We’ve got ourselves a way nicer ship than we’ve ever had.”

    “Don’t go making it into the Queen Anne’s Revenge too quickly,” said the leader as he wondered if the individual even knew the historical reference. He went to the Captain’s chair and pulled Winston out and let him drop to the floor unceremoniously before taking a seat himself. “But you are correct; it is a very nice ship.”

    The bow doors completed their opening cycle as the other craft came in for a landing inside the massive cargo bay. The outer doors closed back up and the compartment went into automatic mode and repressurized the bay. Another twenty individuals were seen coming off the craft and unloading tubes before taking them towards another smaller cargo hold.

    “Manifest shows a crew of a hundred and fifty eight, eleven family members and fourteen passengers,” said the leader. “And we only have a hundred and eighty stasis pods.”

    “Sounds like thirteen passengers are going to find themselves off the ship,” said one of the boarding party.

    “Only the ones that failed basic math,” said the leader with a shake of his head.

    “What?” asked the man who had miscalculated.

    “Try finishing school next time,” said the leader. “We’re only three pods short.”

    “Well forgive me for not having a nice Terran college education like you,” scoffed the man. “But either way, we’re three over.”

    “I’m sure we can find a way of securing three people,” said the leader. “Go get the rest of the crew gathered up. We only have four hours before that stun device wears off.”

    The man departed the area to gather up additional personnel and get the crew off the bridge and in the other spaces. The computer expert came onto the bridge and checked over the various consoles prior to checking the Captain’s chair where the leader was still sitting.

    “As we feared, something managed to lock out the system core before the stun device hit,” said the man as he attempted to gain access to the system, but was repeatedly denied. The ship had sensed its crew was not responding like they should have been and had automatically locked the system out per its operating procedures.

    “Not a big deal,” said the leader. “We’ll gather him, the First Officer and Navigator up when they come to and have them unlock it.”

    “So right now all we have access to is engineering data, onboard sensors and passenger manifest,” said the computer expert as he listed the three systems that were never locked so rescue crews could immediately access them in case of trouble. “I can bring the life signs detector online and account for the crew.”

    “If you would,” said the leader as he looked over the bridge. “It is a nice ship.”

    “Too bad we can’t take it with us,” said the computer expert as he attempted to load the new programs from the control crystal he had brought along just in case. And the attempt failed as the ship’s computer core demanded to be unlocked before it would accept additional programming from an outside source.

    “We’re getting paid good money to create a smoking crater,” said the leader. “I’m sure fortune will shine on us and we get a better ship eventually.”

    “If our newfound friends don’t try to double cross us,” said the computer expert.

    “Of which I’m expecting,” said the leader. “Which is why we will also take their shuttle with us just in case before we regroup with the main ship. We’ll send the Trident with a skeleton crew and transfer the main group in the shuttle from here. Once you get done taking control of this ship, your next task will be getting that shuttle flight ready.”

    “Those shuttles don’t exactly have great range,” said the computer expert.

    “I know,” said the leader. “They’ll meet us before we run out of fuel.”

    “Hopefully,” said the computer expert.

    “They know better than to leave us stranded,” said the leader. “I don’t play well with those that attempt to double cross me.”
  13. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 22

    What is going on, thought Bella as her eyes came open. She had the feeling like she had just come out of a good night’s sleep as she slowly took in her surroundings. She was lying in the middle of the floor in her quarters and had no idea how she had gotten there. All she knew was that Colt had gone to the bridge for a meeting and hadn’t come back. She started to wander into the passageway, but decided to check the clock first. It appeared that about four hours had passed between the last time she remembered and what it was currently.

    Why did I black out, she thought. Am I sick or something? She looked around the quarters for any sign of Colt and didn’t find him anywhere. And she started worrying that something was seriously wrong with her as she headed to the communications panel. She attempted to access the medical technician on the freighter, but found the panel unresponsive. Heading to the door, she attempted to leave, but found it was locked.

    Am I in some kind of crazy nightmare, she thought as she looked around nervously. But she felt fully awake and even pinched herself to make sure. And she found she was wide awake. Heading back to the communications panel, she checked it again and found it had power, but wasn’t working like it was supposed to. She headed over to her baggage and dug through the items, tossing them aside in a fury before finding her Universal-Tool, a device that would serve to open any fastener, panel, screw, rivet, bolt and even had a pommel that served as a hammer. She grabbed her tablet along the way and attempted to access the Infolink, but found it was dead as well. She reset the device to make sure, but found there was no information coming or going at the moment. She spied a data cable in the mess she had made and headed over to the panel by the door. It took her several moments to get it open and found the test port right where it should be on the interior. She plugged in the cable to her tablet as well as the test port and opened a program she hadn’t used in a long time. And instructed it to talk to the door controls to find out exactly why they weren’t responding.

    “Emergency security lockout?” she muttered as the contents were displayed on her tablet. “Why would the ship go into lockdown and why would they leave me here?”

    She accessed another program and overrode the individual lockout on the door and managed to get the camera online by hacking into the system. It was just above the door and still functioning like it should as she checked the hallway by sweeping the camera left and right. And finally found someone coming down the hallway towards her door. She quickly moved to her left and almost started pounding on the door to catch their attention, but saw the screen out of the corner of her eye and stopped just millimeters short of the door with her hands.

    That is not an Infinicon crew uniform, she thought as she looked at the two men as they pulled some of the medical litters behind them along with four of the crew that looked asleep. They were fairly unkempt, unshaven and their clothing was a mismatch of various items ranging from commercial clothing to old uniform parts that were from two or three different corporations. And they sure as hell aren’t part of this crew. And sure as hell don’t look like any rescue team.

    She continued to observe them and attempted to find any kind of distinguishing markings on the clothing they had on and decided it was useless to try. And saw the pistols and other weaponry at their waist as two more appeared with the medical litters in tow. And she knew without a doubt a hostile party had taken over the ship. One of the individuals on the litter started coming to and she saw one of the captors turn around and punch them in the face to knock them back out. And she knew immediately what they were facing. How did pirates get on board this ship, she thought as she tried to make a plan of action. And exactly what am I supposed to do?

    Bella decided her best option was to head for the bridge. She knew that if there was any part of the ship where the crew likely remained secure, it was on the bridge. And she also knew she could activate the emergency beacon from there as well. Slipping off the shorts and t-shirt she had on, she quickly changed into a pair of blue jeans and found one of Colt’s black button up shirts. She had no idea why she thought she needed to conceal herself, but felt it was prudent to do so. The shirt was comically large on her, but she rolled up the sleeves slightly and managed to get it set before looking through the other items she brought along and slipping on her sports shoes. She grabbed the case for the Uni-Tool as well as a pack for her tablet. She thought it might come in handy and dropped it inside before placing the tool inside as well. She grabbed a couple of bottles of water and dropped them in along with the emergency rations from the small cupboard in case they ever found themselves locked in during an emergency situation. There were no weapons to be had anywhere in the quarters and she grunted at the idea of having to go out bare handed.

    While the ship was in lockdown mode, the life support was still functioning as it was supposed to. She moved to the vent at the top of the ceiling by standing on the bed and found air was still flowing through as the cool hit her face and moved her hair. And before heading out, decided something needed to be done about her hair as well as she quickly wrapped it into a pony tail and used an old style band to keep it back. Using the Uni-Tool, she managed to get the vent opened and saw the duct was just large enough for her to climb into.


    “Easy, easy,” said Talbert’s voice as Colt popped wide awake and sat up straight.

    “What’s going on?” he said and wiped at his eyes. He felt like he had just come out of a deep sleep and the last thing he remembered was the Captain ordering him to leave the Zhao ship.

    “We got hit by some kind of stun device,” said Talbert as she helped him sit up. He looked around and saw about half the crew in about the same state he was and the other half still asleep.

    “Where’s Bella?” he asked and started looking around. And started to panic once he didn’t see her in the large cargo area.

    “She’s not here Colt,” said Talbert. “I honestly don’t know where she’s at.”

    “Then I’ll go find her!” he exclaimed and started heading towards the door. Once he was there he found it was locked and the panel had been smashed. Instead of trying to fix the panel, he immediately started trying to open it with his bare hands. But the door wasn’t budging as he tried a different grip, but still was unable to make it move.

    “What the hell is going on here?!” he demanded.

    “We had a hostile takeover,” said Captain Winston groggily. “Or so it would appear.”

    “Who? Zhao?” asked Colt.

    “All signs would point to them,” said Talbert.

    “This is an utter and complete violation of corporate etiquette!” exclaimed Robert Duncan.

    “It’s not unexpected,” said Winston as he checked on his wife. She hadn’t come to yet and he brushed the hair away from her face.

    “You appear to know more than you let on,” said Colt.

    “It’s kind of a long story,” said the Captain as he stood up and faced his crew.

    “We seem to have plenty of time, sir,” said Duncan.

    “You understand what I’m about to tell you is highly confidential and if word got out there would likely be some serious repercussions in the public,” said Winston. “Which is why you will not be able to confirm anything I’m about to tell you.”

    “You have our undivided attention,” said Colt as he saw Talbert sitting down. She appeared to know more than she let on as well and Colt suspected she knew exactly what the Captain was about to say.

    “You all are familiar with the colonization efforts on Makemake and how they haven’t really gone according to plan so far, right?” asked Winston.

    “Most corporations have bypassed it,” said Harry Howell as he strolled up and wiped at his face. “It’s a cursed planet from what people say.”

    “It is true that most corporations haven’t tried since most of the expeditions seemed to fail for some reason or other,” said Winston. “But Infinicon and Zhao both made another attempt at it just because of the surveys showed some significant findings.”

    “How significant?” asked Duncan.

    “I’ll get to that here in a moment. Anyway, about a year and a half ago, Zhao staked out a claim on the planet. Which wasn’t technically illegal, but they claimed the entire planet as their own. Which of course violated the agreements about such things and they knew it. The others protested, but honestly, no other company was in a position to challenge them except Infinicon. And, as coincidence would have it, we already had our expedition ready to go and were underway while negotiations were being conducted.”

    “By the time they arrived and staked out the claim for Infinicon, Zhao was already well underway in getting their permanent colony started. Of course, Zhao protested, but really couldn’t do much about it. Not at the moment that was. But the problem was they had access to the same survey data we did. And they knew we happened to put our temporary colony right on top of a large deposit of strategic minerals and a significant diamond field,” said the Captain. “And exactly the location they were going to put their mine.”

    “How significant?” asked Harry, knowing diamonds were still the most valuable substance in the solar system for a variety of commercial and industrial reasons.

    “As in maybe the largest in the solar system,” said the Captain.

    “Bigger than Ganymede?” asked Colt.

    “Possibly three times as large,” replied the Captain.

    “That’s big,” said Harry.

    “Well, eventually the Zhao Corporate leadership found out about it and weren’t happy we had established our base right where they wanted to dig. But since we were sitting on top of the find, they really had no option except one. And they took it by striking with a security unit from their colony. Lucky enough Infinicon had enough sense to know they might make a move and sent an increased security detachment along with the initial outpost. They managed to defeat the attack that came in from the Zhao outpost and keep the colony and fields secure,” said Winston.

    “That obviously didn’t set well with the Zhao leadership so a task force was dispatched to make a second attempt. Lucky for us, as soon as the first attack came in, we dispatched whatever happened to be available and were able to secure the approaches to the planet with three heavy cruisers and six corvettes and frigates along with an expanded ground contingent. The problem was the Zhao forces also dispatched six of their top of the line heavy cruisers and about a dozen and a half smaller vessels. And eight troop ships to take the entire planet over when they were finished with an orbital bombardment. Pretty much the bulk of their combat fleet was sent to the planet in a winner takes all battle.”

    “Our guys managed to hold them at bay, but were quickly getting overwhelmed. Lucky enough, five more cruisers, nine frigates and destroyers, about a dozen gunships and two fighter carriers managed to come in during the battle and turned the tide against the Zhao forces. They came in behind the troop ships and knocked them out before getting the remainder of the vessels in a crossfire. It wasn’t really a battle at that point, but more of a slaughter and they ended up destroying the entire Zhao fleet,” said Winston.

    “This happened a year ago?” asked Colt. “How come we didn’t hear anything about it?”

    “Both sides wanted to keep it low key and localized to the Makemake sector. And for the most part we have since all out warfare in the inner solar system would do no good for anyone concerned. Zhao abandoned its colony on Makemake not long after and haven’t made a move to go back to the planet. We know they are building additional combat ships and will likely try to move back in at some point, but as we all know that takes time,” said Winston.

    “Okay, how do you know this Captain?” asked Becky Sanchez as she came over at the end.

    “Because the Captains and First Officers were all briefed,” said Winston.

    “So we got sucked into this as well?” asked Robert Duncan.

    “It appears so,” said Winston. “As to what they are planning, I’m not sure.”

    “Are they likely to strike at another outpost?” asked Mendoza.

    “Probably not,” said Winston. “When we took out the troop ships, we found it was their best units. They recovered a couple of the stasis tubes and found the unit identifiers.”

    “Did the fleet take prisoners?” asked Colt.

    “Space battles rarely get prisoners,” said Winston. “And the few that did survive were sent back to Earth and turned over to Zhao in an act of good faith.”

    “It doesn’t appear to have worked,” said Duncan.

    “Infinicon made sure Zhao fired the first shots,” said Winston. “We had to have the moral upper hand here and they made sure it was defensive in nature. And giving the survivors back to them was an act of goodwill to which we hoped they would reciprocate.”

    “Doesn’t matter at this point,” said Talbert. “They have taken over this ship for some reason.”

    “And I’m not sure why,” said Winston. “It would have been just as easy to have planted a bomb while we were all knocked out and blown us up. They have gone to great extents to keep us alive for the moment.”

    “And apparently even longer,” said Talbert as she nodded at a stasis pod.

    “Hostage situation?” asked Colt.

    “Why put us in stasis?” asked Harry. “If they wanted hostages, we don’t do them any good while in stasis. They can’t execute us that way.”

    “Unless they remove the air from the room we happen to be in while we’re in stasis,” said Talbert. “And then shut off the life support to the pods.”

    The group got quiet at that comment as it seemed to make sense. They saw there weren’t enough stasis pods for everyone, but assumed where there was one, there were likely to be more.

    “We could fight back,” said Colt.

    “We’ve got limited weapons and everyone is here,” said Winston. “To include the passengers that can’t or rather shouldn’t be placed in danger.”

    “They already are Captain,” said Duncan.

    “We won’t further risk them at the moment,” said Winston. “We’ll wait and see and try to get information on our captors as we go along.”

    And as if someone was listening, the door to the compartment slid open and four individuals came inside armed to the teeth. It was obvious they were not with the Zhao Corporation as their clothing was a dead giveaway.

    “Where’s the Captain, First Officer and Navigator?” asked one of the pirates.

    Nobody answered and the man picked a random crew member that didn’t look old enough to be the Captain and fired three rounds at them. The bullet didn’t make any noise save the sonic crack as it hit the crewmember. They heard the bullets hit and heard the junior sensor operator gasping for air as his heart attempted to keep the blood going although it had large holes added. His breaths shortened and came to a halt after several moments.

    “I’m not asking again,” said the man. “Next time two people die if they won’t step forward. I want the Captain, First Officer and Senior Navigator, right now.”

    “I’m Captain Winston,” said Winston as he stepped forward. “No need to kill anyone else.”

    “Three seconds before I start shooting again if the other two don’t appear,” said the man. Talbert and Duncan moved towards the front of the compartment and made themselves visible to the pirates. They were grabbed forcefully and shoved out of the compartment before the door closed behind them and they heard it being locked from the outside.

    “Pistols, carbines and shotguns,” said Colt. “Fairly heavily armed.”

    “They sent four,” said Harry. “Which means they likely have a lot more.”

    “I’m hoping for a small number,” said Colt.

    “We can hope in one hand…” said Sanchez. “You know the old saying.”

    “What’s going on?” asked Mendoza groggily.

    “We’ve been taken over,” said Colt. “And where’s your shirt?”

    “I was…I don’t know how I even have pants on,” said Mendoza as he checked around for Yamato. “Either of us actually.”

    “She’s okay,” said Sanchez as she waved him down. “And has one a robe so she’s proper.”

    “Good,” said Mendoza as he went over to check on her. She was still out cold as he leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “So what’s the story here?”

    “We got taken over,” said Colt.

    “That’s pretty succinct,” said Mendoza.

    “Oh, there’s more,” said Colt. “I’ll let you get back to life before telling you everything.”


    Winston, Talbert and Duncan were all shoved unceremoniously onto the bridge where they saw several of the pirates at work trying to break into the computers and activate the systems. However, Winston knew the ship’s core would not allow them access unless they entered the right code after the security lockout had disabled all the systems. He knew if the computer sensed the entire crew was disabled it would put the ship into lockdown after a certain amount of time. And the safety program worked as it should as he saw the pirates scowling at the lifeless computer interface that wasn’t working.

    “Ah, Captain, you seem to be okay from your little nap,” said one of the pirates that had been sitting in his chair. “Please, come on in.”

    “Who are you?” asked Winston very defiantly.

    “Hmmm, call me Ishmael,” said the leader of the attackers as he took half a bow.

    The remainder of the group looked at him without commenting as he had a mad grin on his face.

    “What? No laughs for the literary joke?” asked Ishmael. “That means you are either not well read Captain Markus Winston, which is contrary to your official biography, or you didn’t find it funny. Me? I found it quite amusing and clever.”

    “What do you want?” asked Winston.

    “Oh, simple demands,” said Ishmael. “A nice quiet island in the Caribbean for starters. What do you want though?”

    “I want you off my ship,” said Winston.

    “Your ship? No, no, no Captain,” said the man with an evil laugh. “This is my ship.”

    “Who do you represent and what are your demands?” repeated Winston.

    “I told you I wanted an island on Earth,” said Ishmael. “I might even settle for a Pacific Island if one was to be made available.”

    “You work for Zhao,” said Duncan.

    “Work for? No, not really,” said Ishmael. “There’s a huge difference in being employed by and being paid by. I tend to think of myself along with these fine fellows as independent contractors. It just happens our interests aligned with Zhao at this point.”

    “What does Zhao want?” asked Winston.

    “I’m wondering if you realize that I realize you are attempting to waste time so your distress beacon will be able to transmit long enough to be noticed by anyone from Infinicon. Not likely as the wormhole jammer put a stop to that before it even went through,” said Ishmael.

    “That’s impossible,” said Talbert.

    “You think the wormhole communications are impossible to jam? Technology is always evolving and new ideas are being done all the time,” said Ishmael. “And I assure you, the technology exists to jam such a device. As it’s already doing. What? You didn’t pick up on that fact while you were being valiant in trying to respond to that distress call?”

    “Fine,” said Winston. “What is it you want? Be serious this time and I’ll negotiate on behalf of Infinicon. We can work it out.”

    “What do I want?” asked Ishmael and turned to one of his team at the computer consoles. He received a shake of the head as the man continued trying to get into the system. “What I would like, please Captain sir, are your codes to get into the ship’s core. It appears you locked out the computer and we require access.”

    “What will you give me for it?” asked Winston.

    “I will spare two of the three of you,” said Ishmael. “See, I know all you need are two of the passcodes and DNA palm scans to get the ship back under control of the bridge. And as I count, there are three of you here at the present time. Which makes one of you expendable.”

    “If we give you the codes, what do we receive?” asked Winston.

    “Perhaps all three of you will live,” said Ishmael and lowered his voice. “Don’t test my resolve Captain. You will lose.”

    “And my crew?” asked Winston. But instead of answering, Ishmael’s hand went to his waistband and came up with a pistol. And flashed upwards before pulling the trigger as it was aimed at Duncan. The sound of the actions cycling were overridden by the sonic crack of the bullet from the magnetic accelerator pistol. But the body hitting the floor with a hole right between the eyes was heard plainly and clearly by them both.

    “You son of a-” growled Winston.

    “Ahh ahh Captain,” said Ishmael as he nodded with his head. “There are children nearby.”

    Winston and Talbert turned to see Camille Winston as well as Tiffany Talbert’s husband and three children behind them. And saw the stakes were about to go up dramatically.

    “Now, I only have two of you left,” said Ishmael. “And being that I need the both of you, I’ll start removing parts of you that you hold dear. Now ask yourself, is this ship really worth the lives of not only your families, but also of the entire crew? I will start jettisoning them out of the airlocks after I get done with these five. So now you are faced with the choice. Either give me the codes, or I start making good on my promises. And don’t test my resolve a second time.”

    “What good will this ship be if we are all dead?” asked Winston. “The ship you arrived on departed already and you would be stranded out here.”

    “The codes Captain,” said Ishmael as he pointed his pistol at one of the children.

    “No!” said Winston as he stepped between the man and Talbert’s youngest child. “Look, if hostages are what you want, take me. Take anyone else you want, but leave the children alone!”

    “I see you want to play games,” said Ishmael. “And I also see you have an emergency airlock here on the bridge. Convenient.”

    He looked at his men and motioned towards the airlock. They drug one of Tiffany’s children towards the chamber as she and the Captain moved to stop them. However, a strike to the stomach on both caused them to double over and the remainder of the attackers to get the child inside the airlock and sealed up. One of the attackers set the outer door to open and had his thumb poised right over the button as he looked back at the leader.

    “I’m through playing games,” said Ishmael with a growl. “Either you put in your codes or watch that child’s lifeless body float by the main screen. Do not test my resolve again.”

    Winston looked at Talbert and nodded as he knew a ship and its contents could be replaced. But families and a trained crew could not as easily. He went over to the nearest computer console and entered his security override commands before putting his palm on the reader. The screen flashed an “OVERRIDE ACCEPT” under the line as Talbert repeated the process and the system came back under control of the bridge.

    “We’re back in,” said the man at the computer as he pulled a memory crystal from his pocket and plugged it into a port. The screen flashed several times and the consoles on the bridge all came back to life, ready to accept inputs.

    “Make sure,” said Ishmael as he nodded behind Winston and Talbert to another member. He passed by the two before giving them a dirty look and headed to the pilot’s station.

    “You!” hissed Talbert as she immediately recognized the man through the heavy beard he had.

    The man went to the pilot’s station without comment and checked the systems. He input several commands before pulling the ship forward slightly and checking the steering controls. “We’re good. We have everything from propulsion to navigation…the works.”

    “You have what you want,” said Winston. “You don’t need our families in here.”

    “How adorable,” said Ishmael. “Go ahead and reunite them.”

    Three of the attackers grabbed Winston and Talbert as well as the families before shoving them inside the already cramped airlock before closing the door. The families huddled together and hugged each other as the adults suspected what was about to happen.

    “Want me to get rid of the garbage?” asked the man near the airlock.

    “Not yet,” said Ishmael. “Sometimes our friends at Infinicon put in a time delayed security code. Which means the codes our Captain and First Officer provided us with might not work after a certain amount of time. So we’ll need to keep them around just in case.”

    “I can override that,” said the man at the navigator’s station.

    “Not if we get locked out again,” said Ishmael. “I don’t want you screwing with the core any more than necessary. Download the programs from the memory crystal and get us moving.”

    The man at the navigator’s station accessed the memory crystal and downloaded the appropriate programs into the system core. He moved back to the pilot’s station and saw the navigation was ready for the system to accept. He loaded the automatic pilot program and executed the program. The ship’s engines powered up and started moving the Atomic Destiny on a predetermined path as it gradually built up speed towards the destination it received. However, the computer expert made changes to the course as the leader expected to be ambushed by Zhao forces prior to departing the freighter and escaping.

    “What about the crew?” asked the man as he came from the airlock.

    “As planned,” said Ishmael. “Head back to the rec room and put them into stasis.”

    “Why are we keeping them around?” asked the man who appeared to be challenging for the leadership of the group. He was one of the pirates hired to supplement the group and hadn’t worked with Ishmael long enough to know his temperament. The other members departed to get the remainder of the crew into the stasis pods and out of the way and left the man to his own desires for greater power.

    “Because of advances in forensic science you idiot,” growled Ishmael. “If they start checking for DNA traces, and they will, they have to find some of the crew still on board if the alternative plan doesn’t work. So we have to have a good majority of the crew on board for that.”

    “I think you’re getting soft,” said the man.

    “I think you’re getting stupid,” said Ishmael. “Don’t you test me either.”

    “What? Are you going to kill me?” sneered the man.

    “Yeah, I will,” said Ishmael in a serious tone.

    The man looked at the leader and scoffed, but didn’t advance any more than he had already. He and the leader were having a stare down until the junior man finally relented and walked away. Ishmael kept his eyes on him all the way until it appeared he departed the bridge and turned around once he was out of sight and through the door. He checked on the automatic pilot program and saw it was running like it should before he heard a metallic clunk from the side of the ship. He turned and found the junior man had returned and hit the airlock exterior door button and was holding a pistol in his hand. But the leader was faster as he managed to get his own pistol on target and unleashed three shots into the chest of the man before he managed to get a shot off.

    “You idiot,” growled Ishmael as he walked over and saw the man was dying quickly, but not quickly enough for his tastes. He placed one more round in his head before turning and checking the airlock. And as suspected, found it empty. He closed the outer door and repressurized the chamber before turning back to the controls.

    “Are you positive you can override if it locks down again?” asked Ishmael.

    “I can,” said the man.

    “You better,” said Ishmael.

    “Want me to check…you know?” asked the man.

    “There are no rescue devices stored in that airlock,” said Ishmael. “And while it would have happened eventually, it’s not a good way to die.”

    “What about the other bodies?” asked the pilot.

    “Get rid of him,” said Ishmael. “Keep the navigator though. Dump the other lump of shit overboard when you get the chance.”

    “Yes sir,” said the man. “Why was keeping them alive so important?”

    “Are you questioning my methods as well?” asked Ishmael.

    “No, I just want to know why it’s so important,” said the man. “Look, our groups haven’t worked together before. I can tell my people.”

    “Tell your people I know what I’m doing,” said Ishmael.

    “Fine, tell me so at least I know,” said the man.

    “Because of the aforementioned forensic science,” said Ishmael. “The Captain and First Officer will likely be at the top of any DNA check they perform. And furthermore, if this thing goes south, which I expect it to, Infinicon will be far less agreeable during negotiations if we have killed one of the crew. Especially the Captain, the First Officer and most importantly, children. And the hostage rescue teams will not be deterred by ‘it wasn’t us’ claims.”

    “You think they would try to retake a vessel this large?” asked the man.

    “I think this thing cost them a whole lot of money and they would want it back,” said Ishmael. “Now continue to get control of the ship.”

    “Yes sir,” said the man as he moved to get the lifeless body of the attacker loaded into the airlock. Before he finished, he felt like he was being watched and looked up to see the leader staring down at him.

    “I mean it, you better be able to override any additional security,” said Ishmael. “Because if you don’t your body will be going in there next.”

    But neither of them saw an additional set of eyes watching them from an air duct near the ceiling. And those eyes burned with hatred as she watched what was going on.


    “Ready?” asked one of the pirates from the exterior of the rec room where the remainder of the crew was being held.

    “You sure these won’t penetrate the doors?” asked one of the other pirates.

    “Nope, just a regular shock grenade that will render them useless,” said the first. “And without traveling through any bulkheads.”

    “Hope not,” said the second as they slipped open the door partially and tossed in the two devices. They quickly slammed the door shut as the time delay kept the device from exploding as soon as it hit. But after fifteen seconds, they cracked open the door slightly. Peeking inside, they saw the crew was laid out on the floor, unable to move at the time although aware of what was going on around them.

    Colt saw the pirates walk in to the room where they were being held and attempted to get up. However, like something out of a bad dream, he couldn’t move his arms or legs and was completely paralyzed from the shock grenade. He saw two come over with a stasis pod and set it down next to him. He could feel them pick him up and place him inside before closing the device. A series of low hums was heard as the pod came to life and took his biometric data before starting the stasis process and putting him into a form of deep hibernation. He could feel his eyes growing heavy and finally shut as the pod slowed his metabolism to levels normally associated with the dead. But his heart would still beat every so often to keep him alive. His last thoughts as he dipped off into the deep slumber were of Bella and what happened to her.

    And the fear that he might have lost her gripped him as he lost consciousness.
    rle737ng, techsar, Block6dad and 3 others like this.
  14. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 23

    “We’ve got all the crew and passengers accounted for,” said one of the pirates as he plugged in the last stasis pod. “And in good time as well as we almost ran out of pods.”

    “You’re positive you got everyone?” asked Ishmael.

    “According to the manifest, we have every crew member, family member and passenger listed. And you know Infinicon keeps those lists as accurate as possible for billing purposes,” said the pirate as he checked the controls. “We verified that with the ship’s sensors and didn’t find anyone else when we first brought them here.”

    “Fine, everyone is here and plugged in?” asked Ishmael.

    “Yeah,” said the pirate as he made a small adjustment to the pod.

    “When you get done, lock the compartment and get started on the shuttle craft. I want it ready to go when we rendezvous with the main ship,” said Ishmael as he turned and departed. The two pirates finished up with the stasis pods and departed the cargo area, locking the door behind them and putting in the security code before leaving.

    After they departed from the area, Bella looked through the air duct and attempted to see if anyone was coming. She couldn’t see the length of the passageway and had to risk dropping down the two and a half meters to the deck below. She pulled the Uni-tool from her bag and quickly cut two of the grill pattern louvers to where she could get to the screws on the exterior. After taking two of them out, she was unlucky with the third as it fell to the floor and clattered along. She froze in place and waited for the reaction from the pirates, however, nobody came down the hallway. She finished with the fourth fastener and held the vent in place before pulling it inside the duct. She set it off to the side, trying not to make much noise when she did and gritted her teeth when it scraped against the metal. But it was in place and not likely moving anytime soon. Taking a deep breath, she stuck her head out and quickly looked around. She didn’t see anyone in the passageway and slipped through the vent, holding on to the side before dropping to the deck. She quickly turned and looked around again and didn’t see anyone although the noise was more than she anticipated.

    Heading over to the door, she saw they had put a security code in as she tried to wave her ID at the panel and saw it wasn’t working. With a sigh, she used the Uni-Tool and opened the panel before looking around the fiber-optic cables inside. She quickly remembered which ones to unplug and which ones to plug back into the empty slots. And upon getting the last one, the door slid open to the large cargo area filled with stasis pods. She quickly replaced the panel and headed inside before closing the door after having to remove the panel again. However, she deliberately pulled the power cable once the door closed and locked, rendering it useless unless they blasted it down. Which she sincerely hoped they wouldn’t. Heading across the room, she also pulled the power on the remaining doors in the compartment that led to the other sections.

    Bella started looking through the pods and seeing some crew members she recognized and some that she had only seen briefly in passing. But she finally found Colt’s pod and looked at it with another sigh. Other than the fact he was surrounded by the metal of the pod, he looked as if he was asleep and the same way she had seen him countless times before. Checking the control panel, she saw he was likely one of the first ones in as the readings indicated he was complete with the drop into stasis. She was slightly happy about that situation since if he hadn’t been completely under, she would have had to have waited until he was in complete stasis before attempting to revive him.

    She selected the main menu and saw there wasn’t a security code of any kind. Breathing a sigh of relief, she selected the revival program and waited as the pod started bringing him back to conscious levels. Bella knew it would be at least an hour before she could open the pod and she looked around the remainder of the area to see if anything else was there that could turn out to be helpful. Other than what she brought with her, she didn’t find anything worth mentioning at the moment. But also remembered the emergency rations she had grabbed on her way out of the quarters. Opening the pack, she saw the high calorie bars inside and opened one up. Sniffing at the bar, she took a bite and immediately grimaced as they hadn’t changed in all the years she had been alive. But it was food and she knew she needed to stay strong. She went back to Colt’s pod and checked the status display, seeing she still had at least forty-five minutes before being able to touch him again. And sat next to it with another sigh.

    “Oh Colt, what have we gotten ourselves into?” she muttered as the display seemed to slow time as the seconds ticked off the clock.


    “It appears we’re getting all sorts of messages asking our status,” said the computer expert as he checked over the communications console.

    “Infinicon asking our whereabouts?” asked Ishmael.

    “More or less,” said the expert. “They appear to be a bit irate at our lack of communication.”

    “Interesting device that wormhole jammer,” said Ishmael. “I wish there was a way of us taking it along when we depart.”

    “You want to go outside and search the hull for it?” asked the expert.

    “I think not,” said Ishmael. “Just interesting how it allows communications to come in, but prohibits them from going out.”

    “I don’t even want to know how they made it work,” said the expert. “We have everything downloaded into the core and are on our alternate route.”

    “And the other ship?” asked Ishmael.

    “Has been contacted,” said the expert.

    “And again interesting how our communications work, yet theirs are disabled,” said Ishmael.

    “It’s a game changer,” said the expert.

    “Just imagine where we could go and what we could do with this ship,” said Ishmael.

    “Having second thoughts?” asked the expert.

    “For a moment, yes,” said Ishmael. “However I also remember the fact they are paying us good money with the potential for other contracts in the future. We’ll oblige them this one time and after that continue doing our pirate thing and double cross them any chance we get.”

    “And it’s not easy to hide something this large,” said the expert.

    “This is true,” said Ishmael. “They have anything to eat on this barge?”

    “The galley is about halfway back on the upper level,” said the expert.

    “How long have they been out of port?” asked Ishmael.

    “At least eight weeks,” said the expert.

    “So nothing fresh,” said Ishmael with a sigh. “Rehydrates it is.”

    “Bring me back a steak,” said the expert with a sly grin as Ishmael departed. He walked through the port corridor of the ship and remarked at the sheer size of the vessel and the craftsmanship that went into it. But along the way noticed a loose screw lying on the floor. He picked it up and looked at the walls, but didn’t see where it would fit.

    “Oh Captain, if you could see the shoddy state of your ship right now,” said Ishmael with a chuckle as he tossed the screw against the nearest door and continued on to the galley. However, he was being watched as Bella held her breath as the man had stopped right outside the room. She had been watching the camera and most of the pirates had continued by without stopping, but this one had noticed one of the screws she had removed earlier from the duct. She wondered if she should grab the screw from the corridor, but decided it would be best to let sleeping dogs lie and hope it was out of the walkway enough not to be noticed. She checked on Colt once again and saw his vital signs were coming up nicely, although not fast enough for her tastes. She had been able to open the pod and at least hold his hand while she waited, but it still was taking far longer than she wanted. But she continued her silent vigil and waited.


    Colt’s eyes popped open as the glow from the stasis pods illuminated the room. He groaned a bit before sitting up in a pod himself and taking in his surroundings. And saw Bella look at him and came over to help him up.

    “What happened?” he drawled.

    “You were in stasis,” she replied and checked his health monitor. “I woke you up.”

    “Why are you talking so fast?” he drawled as she sounded like one of those old style tapes on double speed.

    “It’s just you recovering from stasis,” said Bella. “It should pass in a couple of hours. Everything else looks good for the moment.”

    The memories of what happened prior to the stasis came back full force as well as the information of the after effects of a person in stasis. The process involved slowing down the human physiology dramatically to where the heart only beat once every two minutes. And when awoken, the body took some time to “reset” to its normal “settings.”

    “How did you find me?” he drawled.

    “I watched the pirates bring you in here,” she replied and checked his vitals once again.

    “Thanks,” he drawled and yawned.

    “Rest for a bit,” she said and kissed him on his forehead. Again, it appeared everything she was doing was in fast forward although he remembered it was just him moving a lot slower. “You’ll be fine in a couple of hours.”

    “Bella, wake up Becky Sanchez,” drawled Colt. “She knows more about this ship than anyone.”

    “I will,” said Bella. “Rest up, okay?”

    “Okay,” he said and laid back down. “Love you baby.”

    “I love you too Colt,” she smiled and checked on the other stasis pods. She went to the pod containing Becky Sanchez and started the revival process, knowing again it would take several hours to get her back into form. Perhaps even longer since she was an older woman.

    Colt laid back against the pod as he contemplated everything that had happened so far. Between the attack and the Captain’s revelation, he wasn’t sure what was going on and how Zhao was involved in the entire affair. But figured they would want some plausible deniability by hiring an independent group to take the ship. But it was the end game that Colt found curious. What was the ultimate goal? There was no way to hide such a large ship and even with the communications being jammed, it would be found before long even in a place as large as the solar system. So he continued wonder what would happen in the end as his body slowly acclimated itself to the normal physiology. He attempted to rest as best as he could since his body would react violently to any undue stress at the moment, but his mind continued at a thousand kilometers an hour as he tried to comprehend what was going on.

    “Stop thinking,” said Bella as she came over and sat down next to him.

    “Reading my mind?” he asked and noticed she didn’t sound as fast as before.

    “You’re thinking the same thing I am,” said Bella. “Who is responsible for this and why?”

    “Exactly,” he said.

    “And you’re worried about what to do,” said Bella as she snuggled in closer to him.

    “I’m worried about you,” said Colt.

    “I’m a big girl,” said Bella. “But I do appreciate the concern.”

    “Call me old fashioned,” said Colt. “It’s the whole ‘woman in danger’ thing.”

    “I won’t remind you I was the one who plucked you out of stasis,” said Bella with a chuckle.

    “How did you manage to escape?” asked Colt.

    “It’s a long story,” said Bella.

    “We’ve got some time before I get back up to speed,” said Colt. Bella told him about her waking up and discovering the pirates. And her eventual escape from the quarters. However, she didn’t inform him about the deaths she had witnessed as she wasn’t sure if he was capable of taking the news just yet. And finished with breaking into the compartment where he was being held and getting him back to the land of the living.

    “Tough girl,” said Colt as he squeezed her shoulder.

    “You forget I grew up on these ships,” said Bella. “The controls are mainly the same.”

    “Still, you were on top of your game to keep away from them,” said Colt.

    “You spend a lot of time on these ships as a kid and you discover all the good hiding places,” said Bella. “And they used to use me for duct repairs when I was a kid since I could fit in the spaces a lot easier than the crews.”

    “Will you just take a compliment?” he chuckled.

    “Thank you sweetie,” she said and reached up and pecked him on the cheek.

    “That wasn’t hard was it?” he asked.

    “No, I appreciate it,” she said and checked his health monitor again. “You’ve got another hour or so before I’m comfortable with the settings.”

    “It takes it out of you doesn’t it?” he asked.

    “What are you talking about? You’ve slept more than I have in the last bit,” she chuckled.

    “True,” said Colt. “I can put you in the pod if you want.”

    “Only if I wake up away from this nightmare,” said Bella.

    “Can’t make any promises,” he said. “But I’ll protect you.”

    “You’re sweet,” said Bella. “Although in your condition that might be debatable.”

    “I’ll give you that,” said Colt with a grin. “So what’s the plan anyway?”

    “I was kind of hoping you would know,” said Bella.

    “We need to regain control of the ship,” said Colt. “As to how…I honestly don’t know. I’m not even sure what damage has been done.”

    “I might be able to figure it out,” said Bella.

    “You could?” asked Colt.

    “I don’t know yet,” said Bella as she looked and saw Sanchez wiping her face slowly. She went over and checked on Sanchez and saw her vital signs were moving up a bit quicker than Colt’s had. Everything seemed to be in order at the moment as she spoke softly and slowly.

    “Hey Becky,” said Bella.

    “I really hate hangovers,” said Sanchez in a drawl.

    “It isn’t a hangover,” said Bella.

    “I know sweetie,” said Sanchez. “I know about the revival process from stasis. And it’s worse than a hangover.”

    “Right,” said Bella with a chuckle. “Your vitals are coming up nicely.”

    “You’re still talking really fast,” said Sanchez with a smile.

    “I bet,” laughed Bella. “Just rest.”

    “Is it just me getting woken up?” asked Sanchez as Bella walked away.

    “No, Colt’s awake too,” said Bella.

    “Wait a minute,” said Sanchez as her head cleared up a bit more. “How did you get here?”

    “I wasn’t taken prisoner like the rest of the ship for some reason,” said Bella. “I woke up in my quarters and saw the pirates collecting everyone up.”

    “You were probably in the section of the ship where the sensors are out,” said Sanchez.

    “Probably so. And not on the manifest either,” said Bella as she briefly explained the situation.

    “Can’t say that I’m mad about that,” said Sanchez.

    “Take it easy for a little bit,” said Bella. “I’ll be over here with Colt if you need anything.”

    “Thanks,” said Sanchez as she eased back into a reclining position. At that moment, Bella felt fairly helpless since she could do little more than wait. But she saw Colt digging through her small bag and pulling out one of the emergency rations which was a good sign.

    “Hungry?” she asked with a smile as she approached.

    “Yeah, a little,” said Colt.

    “That’s good,” said Bella. “It means your body is catching up.”

    “I think I’d rather be asleep than eat this thing,” said Colt as he eyed a ration bar suspiciously.

    “You need the sustenance,” said Bella.

    “I know,” said Colt with a sigh. “More of that lamb would be nice.”

    “I’ll cook you a five course meal when we get out of this,” said Bella with a smile.

    “I’ll take you up on it,” said Colt.

    “Is there anyone else we should wake up?” asked Bella.

    “I don’t know yet,” said Colt. “Honestly, I wanted Becky since she knows more about this ship than anyone and I respect her guidance. Being that Captain Winston, Tiffany and Rob are out of pocket right now, she’s the best person to advise us.”

    “Colt…I didn’t tell you earlier since you were still coming out of stasis, but the Captain and the others…they…they are…” said Bella and tried to find a way of wording their deaths correctly.

    “Dead?” asked Colt straight out.

    “Yes,” said Bella. “The pirates had them locked in the airlock on the bridge and one of them…”

    “I get the picture,” said Colt as a dark expression came over his face.

    “I can say it probably wasn’t supposed to be like that,” said Bella. “The lead pirate killed the one that did it.”

    “They shouldn’t have been in there to begin with,” said Colt through gritted teeth. “And they crossed a big line when they did.”

    “I’m sorry Colt,” said Bella. “I know how much Markus means to you.”

    “You can be sorry when they are all dead,” said Colt.

    “I still know what a shock that is,” said Bella as she took his hand.

    “Thank you,” he said in a sad smile as the news washed over him. “But right now I’m worried about keeping you safe. And yes that’s a chauvinistic side of me showing out, but you are the best thing that ever happened to me and I don’t know what I would do without you.”

    “And that’s why I love you Colt,” said Bella.

    “And I love you Bella,” said Colt.

    “I know you might not feel like it, but you need to finish that ration bar,” said Bella after they sat for several moments staring into each other’s eyes.

    “I know,” said Colt as he nibbled at it with a grimace.

    “I’ll check on Becky,” said Bella as she released his hand after a gentle squeeze. He looked back with a smile at her as she walked across the compartment to where Sanchez was still coming to.

    “If I might ask a dumb question,” said Sanchez as Bella approached.

    “Why you?” asked Bella. “Colt said you knew more about this ship than anyone. And he respects your counsel right now.”

    “Why not the Captain or First Officer?” asked Sanchez.

    “They aren’t available,” said Bella evasively.

    “Meaning they are dead,” said Sanchez.

    “I…” said Bella and stopped.

    “I see it all over your face,” said Sanchez. “You have bad news and don’t want to tell me since it will be a shock to my system. I know how pirates operate and already saw them kill one of the crew. And it’s not a huge leap to imagine they would kill the ones capable of bringing the ship’s crew together to fight back.”

    “It was actually an accident,” said Bella as Colt came over.

    “Hey Becky,” said Colt.

    “Colt, I see you’re almost through the stasis problems,” said Sanchez.

    “I got woken up earlier than you,” said Colt.

    “However, Becky is coming along a lot faster than you did,” said Bella.

    “I’ve had the dubious honor of doing it before,” said Sanchez. “Your body reacts in different ways and becomes more accustomed to the process if you’ve done it before.”

    “I see,” said Colt.

    “I’d say another hour and she’ll be good,” said Bella.

    The three passed the time in silence for the most part as the soft glow from the other stasis pods cast eerie shadows over the compartment. Eventually, Sanchez was able to walk around and pronounced herself “pretty close to normal” as she stretched out and got a bite to eat from Bella’s pack. Colt and Bella waited for her to finish before they walked over to her.

    “Is there an interface for the core available?” asked Bella.

    “Why?” asked Sanchez.

    “Because I want to see if the system can be taken over,” said Bella.

    “It’s impossible to do so without the proper codes and DNA scans,” said Sanchez.

    “Humor me please,” said Bella.

    “Next compartment,” said Sanchez as she led the way to the door that led into the other compartment without having to go into the main corridor. Luckily it didn’t take Bella long to get it open and the ship’s computer core interface was seen against the rear wall. Bella went over and woke the system to accept whatever commands she desired.

    “Please enter logon authorization,” said the female computer voice.

    “Accept logon,” said Bella. “Authorization Zulu, Alpha, Nine, Alpha, Seven, Seven.”

    “Logon not accepted. Voiceprint identification not recognized,” said the computer voice as the terminal continued to show the logon screen.

    “That’s not the code,” said Sanchez.

    “It’s the backdoor built into the system; or at least it used to be” said Bella as she turned back to the monitor. “Accept command systems override.”

    “Enter command systems override,” said the computer voice.

    “Override authorization Zulu, Alpha, Nine, Alpha, Seven, Seven, accept,” said Bella.

    “Override authorization not accepted. Voiceprint identification not recognized,” said the computer voice after pausing several seconds.

    “Voiceprint is so 21st century,” said Bella with a frown. “Is there a manual interface?”

    “Under the monitor,” said Sanhez as she hit a switch and an old fashioned keyboard slid out. Bella’s fingers started dancing all over the keyboard and suddenly the screen flashed several times before the core directory was seen. She put on the finger swipe to move around the screens a little easier.

    “What are you doing?” asked Sanchez.

    “I’m seeing what security measures they have in place,” said Bella as she continued to bang away at the keyboard and swiped through several different screens.

    “That’s the core operating system!” exclaimed Sanchez. “You broke in?”

    “Yep. And our unwanted guests installed additional security protocols over the standard system security. But…here is it and I’m about to get nasty,” said Bella as she started looking through pages and typing at random spots. “So let me add this here…and this here…change this…add this line in here…and finally change this.”

    “What did you just do?” asked Sanchez. Colt stood silently behind the two as he had no idea what was going on as the core operating system was like a foreign language to him. Bella continued to type although on a new screen and swiped through several pages.

    “I’m corrupting their security protocols and reminding the core it’s supposed to ignore corrupted files. And when it does…” said Bella.

    “The system automatically defaults to the original security code,” said Sanchez. “But they have that code.”

    “They do, but I’m changing the password to a minimum twenty character logic based password. At that point the only person that can access the core is me or whomever I give the code to,” said Bella as she continued to type. “If, and I stress the if, they have the correct software, they can decipher my password. But it takes a while.”

    “Are you like a spy or something?” asked Colt, quite in awe of her abilities as this was a side he had never seen of her.

    “Does that get you all hot and bothered? Thinking I’m some secret agent?” she smirked.

    “No,” he replied. “Well, kind of.”

    “Babe, I was reprogramming system cores when you were still in middle school,” she smiled. “It’s a little known fact that most of the original WGE ships were built in Infinicon shipyards. And had Infinicon programming, albeit with a whole hoop of bugs which would force crews to have to purchase additional Infinicon software patches to upgrade. Anyway, many crews just started reprogramming it themselves and worked out the bugs that way.”

    “Hot,” he laughed. “I’ve always liked nerdy women.”

    “What about the additional security programming?” asked Sanchez. “Where did it come from and how do we disable it?”

    “Already done,” said Bella. “It was a plug and play memory crystal. Honestly, it wasn’t that complicated and I’ve isolated it.”

    “Can’t they plug it back in?” asked Sanchez.

    “I’ve isolated the console they were using so hopefully they won’t notice until I’m done,” said Bella. “Honestly they likely just plugged it in, hit execute and prayed it worked as planned. Very crude software.”

    “And if they try a different console?” asked Sanchez.

    “I’m instructing the core to treat it like a virus,” said Bella as she continued typing like mad. “If they try that, the core will smash it when they plug it in again.”

    “I think hot and nerdy both apply,” chuckled Sanchez.

    “Okay, so it might take some time to get control back to us,” said Bella as she swiped through several screens. “The problem is the crystal they installed managed to gain control of the entire core and all systems. And by removing that from the loop, it went back into default mode so the new password has to be input each time we want to regain control of a system.”

    “All the systems?” asked Sanchez. “Did they go into shutdown mode?”

    “The core systems automatically default to run status with the last known valid inputs when you remove an exterior controlling program,” said Bella. “So we’ve got life support, artificial gravity, propulsion, navigation and so on and so forth running off the last inputs. And there are two ways of regaining control of the core.”

    “One is to do a complete reboot in which the command prompt would accept my new password and restart all the systems at the same time without having to enter it for each individual system. And that will take anywhere from a half an hour to forty-five minutes. During which time none of the systems will be online and it’s not entirely recommended for a ship moving at cruise speed as it can cause a lot of problems.”

    “The other is to gain control one at a time by entering our new command code and instructing the systems to only accept inputs from this particular console. That obviously takes a while longer, but you don’t lose any of the systems running right now to include power management which is controlling the power to the stasis pods which is keeping the crew alive and life support which is keeping us alive,” concluded Bella.

    “Where are we heading?” asked Colt.

    “Is that important?” asked Bella.

    “Maybe,” he replied. “Even if we can’t get the ship back under our control, we can warn corporate as to where we are heading.”

    “He’s got a point Bella,” said Sanchez. “Bring up navigation.”

    “Okay, hang on…” said Bella as she pulled the navigation system back up on the screen. “Coordinates are locked onto…Earth.”

    “What’s this?” asked Sanchez as she pointed at the screen.

    “I don’t know,” said Bella. “It’s been a while since I messed around in a navigation system, so it could be new programming.”

    “It’s not supposed to be there,” said Sanchez. “Trust me.”

    “Let’s take a look then,” said Bella as she brought up the program. “It’s a subroutine hidden in the background. Celestial navigation takes you from point A to B. You know this of course, but this is for the uninitiated caveman standing behind us. This is…Terran navigation with landing coordinates in the subroutine. Weird.”

    “What’s weird about that?” asked Colt, still clueless and ignoring the prod.

    “Ships this size aren’t designed to land. Which is why we always have to use space docks or standard orbits,” explained Sanchez. “This subroutine here is used for landing on a set of specific Earth based coordinates.”

    “Meaning?” he asked. “I mean, I know we can’t land. But?”

    “Meaning they are trying to land a ship that’s not physically capable of landing,” said Bella as she poked through the code. “More specifically instructing it to land on precise Terran coordinates at full speed.”

    “That’s not possible,” objected Colt. “I mean, the ship knows it can’t land…right?”

    “The automated landing program is included as a standard part of all the core software,” said Sanchez. “And that’s on all Infinicon ships from fighters up to bulk reclamation freighters like this one. It’s never activated since we don’t use it. But it’s always in the system core.”

    “And?” he asked.

    “The problem is the landing software on this one doesn’t have any additional safety programs like other vessels have. So if you tell it to land at max speed, it doesn’t know that’s the wrong thing to do as there are no minimum safety protocols built in,” said Bella as she looked through the program again.

    “Basically, you’ve landed ships before,” said Sanchez. “And what happens when you are over the maximum safe speed? The alarm goes off and if you continue the computer takes over and aborts the landing, right?”

    “Sure,” said Colt.

    “Those safety programs are added to the standard landing software,” said Sanchez. “They are missing from the standard software since each ship has different factors like weight and structural integrity for landing and requires a unique set of parameters.”

    “And those are missing from this landing program?” he asked.

    “Yes, there is no maximum speed limit on this landing,” said Bella.

    “That doesn’t sound good,” he remarked. “Any idea where?”

    “Maybe,” she said and copied the coordinates from the subroutine. She brought up the Earth based coordinate program and input the number onto the screen after regaining control of that particular computer program. “Oh, not good.”

    “Nope,” said Sanchez. “Communications are your next task.”

    “What?” asked Colt.

    “The coordinates are on Earth, specifically right in the middle of Infinicon’s headquarters. Right smack dab in the middle of downtown Atlanta,” said Bella.
  15. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 24

    “Yeah, not good,” said Colt after a moment’s pause knowing almost eleven million people were in the surrounding area. “But we’re missing something here.”

    “Like what?” asked Bella as she continued into the core looking for the communications systems to take back over.

    “This whole thing,” said Colt. “These guys are pirates, right?”

    “It would appears so,” said Sanchez.

    “Then they won’t crash this ship,” said Colt. “Not at full speed anyway.”

    “That’s what it’s programmed to do,” said Sanchez.

    “Yeah, but that doesn’t seem logical,” said Colt as he continued to think. “They capture vessels to either use as their own or strip them down to nothing and sell the cargo and parts.”

    “I’m not following you,” said Bella.

    “Look, they’re pirates, right? They’re not fanatics or martyrs,” said Colt. “They are after one thing and that’s to get paid. Death is not an option.”

    “I overheard them saying they were going to hotwire the shuttle though,” said Bella.

    “It’s impossible to take that shuttle off at these speeds,” said Colt. “They would be ripped apart by the inertial forces when they tried.”

    “They have inertial dampers don’t they?” asked Bella.

    “Sure, but not rated anywhere near these speeds,” said Colt. “The craft would be destroyed as soon as they left the dampening field of the Atomic Destiny.”

    “Life pods then,” said Bella as she continued to work.

    “Colt is right,” said Sanchez as she was following his line of thinking. “It wouldn’t work.”

    “Explain,” said Bella.

    “Same problem as the shuttle,” said Colt. “And way too fast for any survivors to be picked up easily at least.”

    “This hunk of bolts outrunning some of the advanced Zhao designs?” asked Bella with a scoff.

    “It’s a little known fact this happens to be the fastest class of ship in the solar system,” said Colt. “There is no maximum known speed since it’s never been measured.”

    “You’re joking right?” asked Bella as she worked on gaining control of navigation since she happened to be in that particular program.

    “It’s true,” said Sanchez. “I was on her during the builders trials. We tried, but never hit our max speed and throttled back since the ship was showing signs of inertial stress. There is a maximum built into the system and as lightly loaded as we are, we’re nowhere near hitting the kind of speed that inertial stress would become a factor.”

    “This thing gets overtaken all the time,” said Bella.

    “When fully loaded with millions of tons of stuff, sure,” said Colt. “But when it’s empty and you drop that capture sphere off the keel it can’t be caught except by the Mitchell Class cruisers.”

    “Which are still in prototype trials on the other side of the solar system,” said Sanchez.

    “And this doesn’t explain why they won’t use the life pods,” said Bella.

    “Because they will be moving at the same speed as the parent craft when they are ejected,” said Sanchez. “And aren’t equipped to slow down from that rate of speed.”

    “I see,” said Bella. “And all this together means?”

    “They will have to slow down eventually in order to get off the ship,” said Colt.

    “But the shuttle!” exclaimed Bella. “They might try to use that.”

    “If they are as technically proficient as you believe them to be, they know the max rated stresses on the shuttle. And know they have to slow down,” said Colt.

    “Zhao might not have told them that,” said Bella. “Hoping to kill them in another way.”

    “We can’t take that chance,” said Colt. “This ship will have to slow down eventually.”

    “And then?” asked Bella.

    “Rendezvous with another ship probably,” said Colt. “Check the navigation route.”

    Bella brought up the ship’s projected course and found nothing of note before they reached Earth. And checked it against the orbits or known locations of any ships and stations, but found their course took them well clear of anything.

    “Nothing,” she stated. “They could use the shuttle to get where they are going.”

    “Not enough range,” said Colt. “It has a max range of a couple of million kilometers. And nothing within range of the course. They have to be meeting another ship out here.”

    “I knew I didn’t get engaged to you for your looks only,” grinned Bella.

    “But he is quite handsome isn’t he?” asked Sanchez as she watched her dig into the programs.

    “Best looking guy ever to set foot on Pluto,” said Bella.

    “Oh I know,” said Sanchez. “Trust me, if I was thirty years younger I’d be giving you a run for your money where he’s concerned.”

    “I think I might know someone who’s interested in you,” said Bella with a smile.

    “Oh?” asked Sanchez with a grin. “Who?”

    “Jake Sherman,” said Bella. “He said you were…how did he put it? Hot stuff.”

    “The owner of Club Plutonium?” asked Sanchez with a laugh. “He’s pretty decent looking guy and seems nice enough. But he never seemed interested.”

    “Because he thinks you are a lesbian,” said Bella with a laugh.

    “Oh my,” laughed Sanchez. “My façade of waving off guys from the ship extended to Pluto by accident. And honestly it’s not something I’ve used in years. I might have to rectify that when we get back.”

    “He’s a big teddy bear,” giggled Bella. “But tries to act gruff.”

    “Are you two serious?” asked Colt. “How can you be laughing at a time like this?”

    “It’s called levity sweetie,” said Bella. “Helps reduce the stress and tension.”

    “You know what else reduces stress and tension? Sex,” said Colt. “But you don’t see me talking about that right now do you?”

    “Well, now that you mentioned it,” said Bella with a silly grin. “I’m sure Becky could give us a little private time for an hour or so.”

    “Unbelievable!” exclaimed Colt.

    “You two are so perfect for each other,” laughed Sanchez. “Colt’s so serious and by the book and you’re so carefree and playful. You’re the Yin to his Yang.”

    “He has a nice Yang too,” grinned Bella.

    “Bella!” protested Colt. “Stop feeding her Becky!”

    “Am I invited to the wedding?” said Sanchez trying to hide a grin.

    “No! I mean yes…just stop!” protested Colt as he sputtered out a reply. “Everyone on here has lost their mind except me!”

    “You should try it sometime babe,” said Bella. “Quite liberating.”

    “I feel like I’m in an asylum and the inmates have taken over!” he protested.

    “Are you saying you want me to tie you up?” grinned Bella.

    “Dear Lord,” said Colt with a deep sigh and a shake of his head. “Shouldn’t you be concentrating on getting control of the ship back?”

    “I’m multitasking,” grinned Bella. “And doing it pretty well actually. I can get control of this system here, which is…port side stabilizers, and plan a wild romp with you at the same time.”

    “Unbelievable!” exclaimed Colt again.

    Bella looked at him with a smile as she continued trying to get systems back under her control and mouthed the words “I love you” and added a kiss at him for good measure.

    “I love you too Bella,” he said with a sigh and a smile. And saw Sanchez grinning from his left side. “Not a word.”

    “Wouldn’t dream of it,” grinned Sanchez.

    “Your system core sucks,” observed Bella after angrily punching her finger at the “Enter” button on the keyboard several times.

    “What’s wrong?” asked Sanchez as she looked at the screen. “Seriously?”

    “And I can’t override it,” said Bella. “Your stupid core won’t let me.”

    “Care to explain what’s going on for the uninitiated caveman?” asked Colt.

    “Your pirates are a little more technically proficient that I gave them credit for,” said Bella with a sigh. “The Terran navigation was labeled as a safety system.”

    “Meaning?” asked Colt.

    “Meaning neither the navigation system nor the core will ignore or disable it,” said Bella.

    “You said it was on a memory crystal,” said Sanchez. “If we unplug it, the navigation should default to standard mode.”

    “Most of the stuff they had was on the memory crystal,” said Bella. “However, this one downloaded itself into the core.”

    “How do we disable it?” asked Colt.

    “You don’t,” said Bella with a sigh. “We either have to smash the whole system and install clean backups or take out the specific line of code for the core to ignore safety programs.”

    “Okay, sounds easy,” said Colt.

    “That means the core will be able to ignore all the safety programs to include the propulsion limitations, engines overheating and life support,” said Sanchez.

    “And I really don’t feel like looking through thirty billion lines of code for the specific line that would disable that protocol,” said Bella.

    “Yes, I see your point,” said Colt. “So we’re screwed no matter what.”

    “No,” said Bella. “If the ship is not within range of the specified Terran coordinates the program won’t activate.”

    “Well, that’s helpful,” said Colt.

    “Providing we can shut down propulsion,” said Sanchez.

    “Which is tied into the navigation which is tied to this specific navigation slash safety program,” said Bella. “You have to do a manual shutdown on the engines to stop it. As I said, your system core really sucks.”

    “Shutting down propulsion shouldn’t be that hard, right?” asked Colt. “We happen to have a systems technical officer here with us right now.”

    “What are you suggesting I do?” asked Sanchez.

    “Break the engines or something,” said Colt.

    “Very caveman approach,” laughed Bella.

    “Well, there are ways of shutting down the engines without permanently damaging them,” said Sanchez. “And doing so in a safe manner.”

    “So the caveman isn’t as dumb as he lets on,” said Colt.

    “Still won’t be easy,” said Sanchez. “But if I pulled the thermal influx limiters, the engines would overheat and automatically shut down.”

    “How easy is that to fix?” asked Colt.

    “Impossible without having the specific parts,” said Sanchez. “And I happen to know exactly where all the spares are kept.”

    “Can they run the engines without them?” asked Colt.

    “Not without blowing themselves up,” said Sanchez. “And like you said, death is not an option for these guys so they’ll leave them shut down.”

    “Okay, and after?” asked Colt.

    “After that?” asked Bella. “We try to call for help.”

    “And then?” asked Colt. “We kind of need a plan.”

    “I’m just winging it for the moment,” said Bella as she searched for the communications systems. “I was hoping you had a plan.”

    “We need to retake the ship somehow,” said Sanchez.

    “How many of them are there?” asked Colt.

    “I don’t know for certain,” said Bella. “I never saw them together. Maybe thirty or so?”

    “And only three of us?” asked Sanchez. “We could wake up more of the crew.”

    “If they have control of the systems, they can track movements of people,” said Bella. “And with the time it takes to wake someone up, we could be discovered.”

    “How long does it normally take?” asked Colt.

    “In your case, it took about four hours before you were in the land of the living,” said Bella. “Same thing with Becky. But it affects people in different ways. You are in decent shape so it takes less time in your case. And I’d bet Becky has done it before so her body reacts quicker.”

    “So it could take anywhere from four to twelve hours to revive the entire crew,” said Sanchez. “And during that time they will be extremely vulnerable.”

    “So what do we do?” asked Colt.

    “We have no other choice but to regain control of the ship ourselves,” said Sanchez. “I’m really getting too old for this kind of nonsense.”

    “I’m thirty years younger and I’m too old for this,” he chuckled.

    “Well Marine,” said Sanchez. “I think it’s time you earned your pay.”

    “I was a Marine pilot,” Colt said in a correction.

    “You received the same basic training the security forces did,” Sanchez reminded him.

    “Basic stuff,” said Colt.

    “Fine, we’ll just sit here and put Bella in danger while we hope she gets control of the ship back,” said Sanchez. “We can wait them out, I’m sure they’ll understand.”

    “You play dirty,” said Colt.

    “Did it work?” asked Sanchez.

    “You find me someone to shoot and I’ll do it,” he said with confidence.


    “Sir, we need a half hour of your time,” said the Chief of Security Operations for Infinicon as he stood outside the Corporate President’s door.

    “I’ve got a budget meeting in ten minutes,” said the President as he looked at his planner.

    “You need to hear this,” said the Chief as he walked into the room followed by the Admiral in charge of the security fleet and the man who ran the intelligence operations for Infinicon.

    “With such an audience, I’m not sure I can say no,” said the President as he sat back down.

    “We have a problem,” said the Chief. “The Atomic Destiny has disappeared.”

    “It’s heading back to Earth right now isn’t it?” asked the President. “Should be arriving soon.”

    “That’s the problem,” said the Admiral. “She’s not responding to hails and hasn’t transmitted any normal data since she checked out a ship that was adrift and sending out an SOS.”

    “Walk me through the timeline,” said the President.

    “We go a message from Captain Winston that stated he was checking out a ship putting out a low powered distress call around…here,” said the Admiral as he brought a 3-D stellar map up on his tablet. “And they ceased transmitting not long after the initial call. No voice, no data, nothing. And completely unresponsive to any attempts to communicate.”

    “Pirates?” asked the President.

    “Possibly,” said the Chief. “But unlikely. The communications aren’t turned off. They just aren’t there and every attempt at activating anything remotely has failed.”

    “Nothing?” asked the President.

    “There is something,” said the chief intelligence Agent.

    “It’s unconfirmed,” said the Chief.

    “I warned you about it six months ago,” said the Agent.

    “Warned him about what?” asked the President. “Don’t hold back at this point.”

    “The wormhole channels are there, but broadcasting static,” said the Agent.

    “Wormhole channels don’t broadcast static,” said the President. “Except in one case.”

    “Which appears more likely as we go along,” said the Agent.

    “Whomever took the ship has a wormhole jammer,” said the President. “We have that technology, but it’s our most closely guarded secret. And not installed on anything other than our larger security vessels.”

    “We believe Zhao might have that capability,” said the Agent.

    “Based on an unconfirmed report from an unreliable source over six months ago,” scoffed the Chief. “You never could get confirmation.”

    “We don’t exactly broadcast we have that capability,” said the Agent. “They wouldn’t either.”

    “Could it be anything else?” asked the President. “Gravitational distortion? Interference?”

    “That’s not all,” said the Admiral. “We sent the nearest security vessel we had to the last known location. And we found something.”

    “Spit it out,” said the President.

    “We found the bodies of Captain Winston and First Officer Talbert. Along with their families sir,” said the Admiral. “Dead.”

    “In life pods?” asked the President.

    “It appears they were ejected without pressure suits,” said the Admiral. “We don’t have the facilities for a proper autopsy on board the corvette we dispatched, but they are heading for the nearest post at full speed that does.”

    “I hate to ask, but perhaps a mutiny?” asked the President. “As ridiculous as it sounds, I have to ask the question since all options are being tabled.”

    “We also found another body,” said the Admiral. “But he appeared to have died of gunshot wounds before being ejected. It was away from the others, but we did a sector scan and found him adrift somewhat close.”

    “Identification?” asked the President.

    “Name is Carl Reese,” said the Agent. “Small time criminal that did two trips to the Io detention facility for theft and attempted murder. Wannabe thug for the most part. But fits the profile of someone a pirate group would recruit.”

    “And he was involved?” asked the President.

    “Possibly,” said the Agent. “We have to get the autopsy results back on the type of ammunition used before we can make any more assumptions. But the proximity to the crew members leads me to believe he is involved somehow.”

    “So it appears the vessel was involved in a hostile takeover,” said the President. “Were there any other signs of the Atomic Destiny? Wreckage? Signs of a defensive battle?”

    “Nothing we could find,” said the Admiral. “Just the bodies. And we ran a track down their last known course at full speed and came up with nothing. And we put out ships in the path just to make sure and we have no sightings so far.”

    “So they check out a distress call and end up missing,” said the President. “And now we can’t find them. So we assume hostile takeover.”

    “It appears that way,” said the Chief.

    “And do we have any idea of its current location?” asked the President.

    “No sir,” said the Chief. “We just don’t have the technology to track the wormhole communication devices yet.”

    “This region is void of anything except ships, correct?” asked the President.

    “Yes,” said the Chief. “No stations or colonies. It’s empty space used for travel lanes only.”

    “So why do you think it’s pirates? They tend to stick closely to the few bases they have,” said the President. “Do they even have vessels capable of going that far out?”

    “A few we think,” said the Admiral. “They typically won’t journey out that far unless they were desperate. And taking an empty freighter wouldn’t help them.”

    “So you think it’s a corporate takeover?” asked the President.

    “It’s a possibility,” said the Agent.

    “Who?” asked the President.

    “Signs would point to Zhao for the moment,” said the Agent.

    “Based on unconfirmed reports,” said the Chief.

    “Based on what we know and what we think,” said the Agent. “We don’t sit down there with a crystal ball concocting stories. They have a reason to hate us and this could be a move to deliberately target our commercial fleet.”

    “Which would lead to an all-out war where we would prevail,” said the President. “They know they won’t get much help if they took us on and our own defensive pacts would kick in.”

    “They’ve been way too quiet after the Makemake incident,” said the Admiral. “Their security ships give ours a wide berth and their colonies only trade with ours when they have to.”

    “To an extent,” said the Agent. “We have reports of some of their vessels shadowing some of our larger commercial vessels. We’ve dispatched ships just in case.”

    “Any aggressive moves?” asked the President.

    “Keeping their distance at the moment,” said the Admiral. “But our security escorts are not making themselves hard to detect.”

    “And my opposite at the Alliance, K4 and WGE headquarters asked me about the same thing. Apparently a couple of Zhao ships have taken an interest in them as well,” said the Agent.

    “Provocative moves?” asked the President.

    “Putting your pieces in place before attacking,” said the Admiral. “Mostly just light gunships or corvettes. But even those can cause significant harm on relatively unprotected freighters.”

    “It doesn’t make any sense,” said the President. “They know they can’t take on that many corporations and come out on top.”

    “That and the fact most of their heavy stuff was destroyed at Makemake,” said the Admiral.

    “The reports we have is that their leadership is quote ‘seething’ over the Makemake incident,” said the Agent. “They are not saying anything publicly, but in private some of the things they say about us are not flowery.”

    “Any other indications?” asked the President. “Is the corporate leadership talking about it?”

    “Not in meetings,” said the Agent. “If it is part of the Zhao leadership, they aren’t talking about it and it’s completely compartmentalized. Perhaps even through a proxy.”

    “Proxy?” asked the President.

    “Some of the corporations don’t like to get their hands dirty so they use independent contractors or captured pirates to do the jobs that could cause them to look bad,” said the Agent.

    “We would never do that!” said the Admiral.

    “We wouldn’t,” said the Agent. “But Zhao has done it before.”

    “And in turn it hurts us with them being able to deny any involvement,” said the Chief.

    “Those pirates will talk if we get our hands on them,” said the Agent. “And they would quickly let us know who was behind this.”

    “If we catch them,” said the Admiral.

    “The problem is the Atomic Destiny doesn’t fit their normal motive,” said the Agent. “Pirates want smaller vessels they can use themselves or ones they can take apart easily. The Atomic Destiny can’t land anywhere and we don’t know of any pirate group that has an orbiting station where it could be dismantled. It’s far too large for them.”

    “And?” asked the President.

    “That’s it,” sighed the Agent. “We just don’t know. If it was retribution for Makemake, the fleet would have found wreckage of her floating at that location with obvious signs of the pirates’ or Zhao presence. That class is the largest in the solar system and not something you can just toss a blanket over to hide. Even if they did take it intact, they would have to pull it in somewhere eventually to resupply and word would get out.”

    “Gentlemen, we need to find that ship,” said the President. “Make contact with our allies to be on the lookout for her and ask for their assistance in helping search the last known locations.”

    “Aye sir,” said the Admiral.

    “And gentlemen?” asked the President.

    “Sir?” asked the Chief.

    “Make sure Captain Winston’s and First Officer Talbert’s bodies are brought back to Earth along with the others,” said the President. “With full honors.”

    “Yes sir,” said the Chief.

    “And I want you to find out who may be left on that ship that could have helped Zhao from the inside,” said the President. “I want every crew member, passenger and mouse on that ship analyzed, investigated and profiled. Along with a detailed investigation of their movements from the past three months. Ships like the Atomic Destiny don’t just fall off the grid and there has to be some sort of background here.”

    “Yes sir,” said the Agent.

    “And mobilize the security fleet,” said the President. “Send out an alert message to all ships, stations and colonies to be on the lookout for the Atomic Destiny as well as any, and I do mean any, suspicious activity from any other corporation.”

    “Do we want to send our commercial fleet into the nearest safe dock?” asked the Admiral.

    “It’s an option I’m considering,” said the President. “Prudence demands we should, but until we know more, have our commercial fleet be on guard and report anything out of the ordinary with orders to head to the nearest safe harbor at best possible speed if something were to happen.”

    “And the vessels being shadowed by the Zhao security vessels?” asked the Admiral.

    “I want our security vessels to make sure the Zhao ships know they are being watched,” said the President. “Make them understand if they even make one aggressive move they won’t live long enough to regret the decision.”

    “Perhaps you could talk to your opposite at Zhao Corporate Headquarters,” said the Chief.

    “Not until we know more,” said the President. “But I want that ship found and I want answers as to how it could have been taken over. And I want them yesterday.”


    “Before we start doing anything, we need to wake some others,” said Sanchez. “It’s impossible for the three of us to continue like this.”

    “Suggestions?” asked Colt.

    “You’ll need help if you’re planning on going all Rambo on the pirates,” said Sanchez.

    “Rambo? What’s that?” asked Colt.

    “It’s…never mind. Showing my age,” said Sanchez. “Anyway, I’d suggest McMasters.”

    “He is pretty good in a fight,” said Colt.

    “And the best marksman on the ship,” said Sanchez. “Whether that’s the heavy armament or small arms, he’s the best we’ve got.”

    “I can go with that,” said Colt. “Who else?”

    “Lilly Gold,” said Sanchez.

    “She’s not exactly handy in a fight,” said Colt.

    “No, but she knows more about wormhole dynamics than anyone else on this ship,” said Sanchez. “And if anyone has a chance of getting the communications back, it’s her.”

    “I honestly can’t make heads or tails of what they’ve done,” admitted Bella. “Whatever technology they are using to jam the communications is far beyond my comprehension.”

    “You think Lilly can figure it out?” asked Colt.

    “As a minimum, she’ll be able to tell us what’s going wrong and maybe even come up with a way of overriding it,” said Sanchez.

    “So just the five of us?” asked Colt.

    “You think we need more?” asked Sanchez.

    “I think I’d rather wake up in my bed on Pluto,” said Colt.

    “So we have a somewhat complete count,” said Sanchez. “Twenty-five to thirty and spread out across the ship. Bella can keep track of them except in the compartments the sensors are down and guide you in.”

    “I’d prefer to get the ship back under control,” said Bella.

    “Okay, I can transfer the program to a tablet and keep tabs,” said Sanchez. “While the entire crew could fight them off, I think smaller numbers will be easier to control. And we aren’t exactly trained for retaking a ship.”

    “But McMasters is,” said Colt. “He’s infantry or was before he joined the ship. You’re making way too much sense now Becky.”

    “And the carbines in the ships armory do have a silenced mode on them,” said Sanchez. “Not as effective, but works fine for when you shoot someone in the head.”

    “There is that,” said Colt. “Okay, we’ll wake McMasters and Lilly.”

    “Anyone else?” asked Sanchez.

    “I can’t think of anyone else until we start getting the numbers down to manageable,” said Colt. “I’d rather not put too many people at risk.”

    Sanchez went into the compartment and found both Gold and McMasters sleeping soundly in their pods and went through the revival process and started each on their way. She knew it was also a backup plan if she and Colt didn’t succeed in disabling the engines. The more people they had that could retake the ship, the better. But she also knew that a larger force might be easier to detect and something didn’t feel right to her. She felt like there was something else they were missing and couldn’t put her finger on it right then.
  16. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    Excellent story line and well written @Grand58742. I check in as often as I can to see if you've added more;)
    Grand58742 likes this.
  17. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    My apologies for missing a day. My computer crashed and I was working from my backup.
    Tully Mars likes this.
  18. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    No worries!:)
  19. rle737ng

    rle737ng Monkey+++

    Great story. I look forward to more.
    Grand58742 likes this.
  20. Grand58742

    Grand58742 Monkey+++

    CHAPTER 25

    “Weapons?” asked Colt. “I know the armory is near the engineering section, but there are also stored arms throughout the ship. Other than the bridge, I have no idea where they are though.”

    “Ask as you shall receive,” said Sanchez as she went to a nearby bulkhead and pressed what appeared to be two bolts. A panel swung down that had two standard issue Infinicon P108 sidearms and two C97 carbines along with the associated ammo, holsters and magazines. Colt took one of the pistols down and checked to make sure it was on safe and clear of the projectile before checking the magazines. The battery pack illuminated and showed a charge of 97%. The carbine was also checked and the fifty round ammo pack showed a charge of 100%. Colt checked the ammo and selected the smart ammo as the round of choice. Based on the old hollow point design, these new rounds automatically expanded upon coming in contact with organic materials and dumped every bit of energy they had in the target or broke apart into dust when hitting metal like the ship was made out of in order to avoid hull penetrations. He also checked a magazine of the high explosive projectiles and stuffed it into the bandolier thinking they might come in handy.

    Loading both weapons up, he slung the carbine over his shoulder and tucked the holstered pistol into his belt line. Colt silently thanked Captain Winston for making the crew stay proficient in the small arms even when it seemed like the time was wasted. He checked and loaded the second carbine before making sure the optical sight was on and working properly. It was also an intelligent design and made calculations based on his physiology to compute the necessary zero. It eventually beeped at him letting him know it was ready for use. While typically they had to fire rounds to verify the zero, in this case it would be fine. He loaded the magazine and ensured the first round was loaded into the chamber.

    “Who gets the other pistol?” he asked.

    “I’ll take it,” said Sanchez. “We can gather more weapons from another compartment.”

    “And until then, we have the spare carbine,” said Colt as he handed the carbine to Bella.

    “I’m not that familiar with guns, sorry,” said Bella.

    “There’s something you don’t know how to do?” asked Colt.

    “Jake had one in the bar but never showed us how to use it,” said Bella. “I haven’t shot in at least fifteen years and just for fun then.”

    “You remember how?” asked Colt.

    “No,” she said quietly. “Not really.”

    “It’s easy,” said Colt. “This is a C97 carbine with an advanced electro-optical sight. It automatically adjusts for your eye and zeros the scope.

    “Okay,” said Bella as she took a break and handled the carbine.

    “Okay, point it at the far wall and focus on the middle light on the entry panel,” said Colt as he stepped out of her way. She did so and saw the red dot inside the scope. It moved slightly before the scope beeped at her.

    “Okay, so now it’s zeroed for your eye,” said Colt. “I’ll load it. Here is the safety. All you have to do is flip it down and put the red dot on the target. You’ve got fifty rounds in the magazine and just squeeze the trigger.”

    “Does it kick or anything?” asked Bella.

    “No, it’s a magnetic accelerator design,” said Colt. “They don’t really kick.”

    “Okay,” said Bella as she looked at it suspiciously as she saw Colt load a magazine and chamber the first round before reapplying the safety.

    “It’s a piece of cake, I promise,” said Colt. “Be right back.”

    “I trust you,” said Bella as she took the weapon and set it by her side. Colt went through the door into the stasis compartment where he started checking through some of the emergency kits inside. Bella resumed getting control of the ship and decided to create a new file to list the systems she did have control over and a separate list for the programs she didn’t. It didn’t take long to get the sorting done and she saw she had a long way to go and the numbers were very lopsided.

    “That’s what you have left?” asked Sanchez.

    “No, that’s what I have control of,” said Bella. “The problem is, I don’t know what some of these are since Infinicon decided not to label them or anything. I could be accessing the door control units in the galley or I could be getting the artificial gravity in the cargo deck.”

    “Just keep working it,” said Sanchez. “We’ll go break the engines.”

    “Here’s some communicator headsets,” said Colt as he returned from the adjacent compartment. “We’ll be on channel three.”

    “Okay,” said Bella as she put the ear bud in and went back to the computer.

    “If you need anything, you let us know,” said Colt.

    “I can handle the engines on my own,” said Sanchez who sensed Colt was nervous about leaving Bella behind. “No problems.”

    “We both go so I can watch your back,” said Colt. “Bella, lock yourself in when we leave.”

    “Okay,” she said and stepped away from the computer. She and Colt shared a hug and a kiss before Sanchez stated the corridor was clear. “Be careful.”

    “I’ll be back in a flash,” said Colt with a smile. He and Sanchez departed the compartment and heard Bella locking it behind them. They dashed down the corridor to a T intersection as Colt got down on his hands and knees to check both ways. He saw it was clear as the pair continued deeper into the ship.

    “Stop worrying about her,” said Sanchez as if she was reading Colt’s mind.

    “How could you tell?” he asked.

    “You’re jumpy,” said Sanchez. “Way more than I’ve ever seen you before.”

    “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Colt. “And I’m worried since she isn’t exactly the physical type.”

    “She’s a keeper,” said Sanchez. “And don’t you forget that.”

    “I plan on marrying her as soon as we’re on Earth and safe,” stated Colt.

    “You better,” said Sanchez. “But she’ll be fine.”

    The pair continued down the corridor and came to a hatch that was closed. The screen didn’t show anyone on the other side so Colt hit the button to open it. But was surprised when a figure appeared just as the door was sliding open. And the figure showed surprised as well at seeing the individuals that weren’t supposed to be there.

    Colt’s brain went into overdrive trying to identify the individual and came up short since he didn’t dress like any of the passengers and wasn’t wearing anything Infinicon related. But did see an old WGE patch on the jacket with the arms ripped off. And just as the man was opening his mouth to yell, he was hit by two two-round bursts from the carbine and fell to the deck.

    “I see your aim isn’t hasn’t been affected from lack of proficiency,” said Sanchez.

    “I…” said Colt as this was the first time he had ever killed someone up close. He had destroyed unmanned targets while in the Infinicon Security Forces flight school and even shot at a small pirate vessel that later surrendered. But this was the first time visiting death on an individual.

    “You okay?” asked Sanchez.

    “Yeah, just never…you know?” asked Colt.

    “Killed someone?” asked Sanchez. “First is always the hardest they say.”

    “I’d have preferred not to have a first you know?” he asked.

    “Unfortunately, I’d preferred for my last journey on board the Atomic Destiny to have been a quiet one,” said Sanchez. “Didn’t happen and I have to take it as it is.”

    “I…” said Colt.

    “Snap out of it Colt,” said Sanchez. “Remember that Bella is counting on you.”

    “Yeah, got it,” said Colt. “Let’s get him out of here at least.”

    “Maintenance storage over here,” said Sanchez as she grabbed at his feet and Colt grabbed at his arms. Sanchez was in decent shape he saw and they managed to get the body inside and out of sight before any other individuals appeared. They checked the passageway before continuing to engineering and finding the spaces deserted.

    “Looks clear,” said Sanchez as she stood to enter.

    “Let’s make sure,” said Colt. “There’s a lot of hidden spaces.”

    “True,” said Sanchez. “I’ll watch your back here if you want to check.”

    “I’ll be right back,” said Colt as he entered with his carbine up. He wasn’t entirely familiar with the engineering spaces, but had been in here often enough to know his way around okay. And eventually found it clear when he returned to the doorway where Sanchez was still crouched down.

    “It’s clear,” he announced. “But I found something unusual.”

    “Such as?” asked Sanchez.

    “I’ll show you,” said Colt as he nodded with his head. They traveled behind the engines and found six pods sitting on the floor with curious markings. Sanchez looked them over and saw the writing on the exterior in Mandarin. She had a basic understanding of the complex language and didn’t like what she saw.

    “I knew there had to be something else here,” said Sanchez as she looked over the containers. “The force of this ship hitting the headquarters would be enough to destroy it, but I figured they had a backup plan.”

    “Are those bombs?” asked Colt.

    “Yep,” said Sanchez as she rechecked the markings on the exterior. “Appears to be a Zhao designed enhanced fusion bomb. Or so the case says.”

    “The engines overloading during a crash would be enough wouldn’t it?” asked Colt.

    “Redundancy,” said Sanchez as she observed the case. “There are safety systems built into the engines in case of crashes. They don’t always work as planned, but they are there to attempt to avoid a catastrophic overload in case of an accident. The bombs here would replicate that same explosion whether it happened or not. Or just magnify the blast exponentially.”

    “Like how exponentially?” asked Colt

    “Probably in the order of fifty to a hundred megatons of blast energy,” said Sanchez.

    “Meaning the entire city is devastated,” said Colt.

    “More likely over a thousand square kilometers leveled,” confirmed Sanchez. “And most of the population in that surrounding areas dead or seriously irradiated.”

    “Can you disarm them?” asked Colt.

    “I’m not sure I should try,” said Sanchez. “I’m not up to speed on bomb disposal and these could have some sort of booby-traps installed. I’d rather not mess around with them.”

    “So what do we do?” asked Colt.

    “We’ll continue on mission and disable the engines,” said Sanchez. “As a minimum, it will give us additional time and options since the pirates won’t blow themselves up.”

    “Okay, what’s next?” asked Colt.

    “Okay, see that doorway there? Go inside and grab the boxes with part number 9119 on them,” she instructed. “Should be about five or six of them. And grab three or four of the five kilo Smart Metal repair kits while you’re at it.”

    “Got it,” he said as they split up and she headed towards the engine panels she needed to open. Checking them, the engines were already running a bit hot, but well within the acceptable limits. And luckily the part she would be removing was outside of the radioactive loop as well as the massive heat they produced. Colt returned carrying the boxes she had specified and set them nearby before taking the carbine off his shoulder.

    “We need to find a bag or something,” he said. “Makes carrying these easier.”

    “Okay, here’s what we have to do. The panels I’ve removed have the thermal influx limiters already exposed. All you have to do to remove them is push in, twist counterclockwise and pull back. They pop right off,” said Sanchez.

    “You need my help?” asked Colt. “And what do they look like?”

    “You’re the one who wants to break things,” she chuckled. “Look, about thirty seconds after they are removed, the engines will start overheating. And with the way they are running hot right now, they will shut down in about two minutes. We need to be gone by then.”

    “Right,” said Colt. “About that bag?”

    “Mechanics tool bag over there,” she nodded and removed the last panel. Colt saw where a large bag with a shoulder strap was hanging and grabbed it. He dumped the spares into the bag and went over to where she showed him the proper part to remove.

    “Okay, start at the top and work your way down,” she instructed. “There are six total.”

    “Got it,” he said and climbed up the maintenance ladder where the panel was already removed. He saw she was no more than two seconds behind him and looking at him.

    “One…two…three! Go!” she yelled and popped the first one loose. He did the same and found they weren’t hard to remove as he grabbed the first limiter and scrambled down the ladder to the second set of engine controls and grabbed the next one. It was stuck a little more, but he managed to work it out before heading down to the last one. By that time Sanchez had finished up and was dumping her three in the bag. Colt pulled the last one out and tossed it to her before they ran to the doorway. The passageway was empty again and they headed out of the engineering spaces when alarms started to blare from behind them.

    “Already overheating,” said Sanchez as they jogged down the hallway. “They’ll go into shutdown mode in less than a minute.”

    “And should be coming this way not long after,” remarked Colt.

    “Planned on it,” said Sanchez as she overtook him. For a lady almost sixty, she was in darn good shape he noticed as she stopped and accessed a small hatch.

    “Get in here!” she stated as the alarms were louder and the hum of the engines started falling off. “The engines are going into shutdown mode!”

    Colt crammed in behind her into the narrow passageway and slammed the door behind him. The electronic locks clicked as the door closed and they caught their breath for a moment.

    “What is this?” asked Colt.

    “Maintenance corridor,” said Sanchez. “They aren’t used that often and I doubt they would think to look here first.”

    “Back to Bella?” asked Colt.

    “Yeah, we’ll have to cross over at one point, but we can get there safely,” said Sanchez.

    “Why didn’t we use them to get in?” asked Colt.

    “Because anyone who opens them will trip an alarm in the cockpit,” explained Sanchez. “And I’d think they would be more preoccupied with the engine alarms than a little pesky door alert coming back. Had we tripped it early, they might have caught onto us.”

    “Good point,” said Colt. “Let’s go.”

    They continued using the maintenance passageway and found it was fairly cramped in some places. But even with corridor sealed for the most part, they were able to look into the main passageway from time to time and eventually saw a band of the pirates running at full speed to the engineering section.

    “It appears they’ve discovered our subterfuge,” said Sanchez.

    “The alarms in the cockpit would raise the dead,” remarked Colt. “The last time it happened it almost gave me a heart attack.”

    “Okay,” said Sanchez. “Almost there.”

    The pair continued on before finally having to cross over to the other side of the corridor about fifty meters from the room with Bella. Before they crossed, they checked the passageway to make sure none of the pirates were coming or going.

    “I thought about something while we were heading this way,” said Colt.

    “Such as?” asked Sanchez.

    “Our sabotaging the engines will likely draw attention to the fact not everyone is in stasis,” said Colt. “And furthermore, they could use the remaining people as bait to draw us out.”

    “Yeah, I thought of that too,” said Sanchez. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

    They darted down the corridor and came to the door where the stasis pods were located, finding the door impossible to open and warm to the touch. They headed to the next door and radioed Bella they were on the way. Once the pair arrived, the door opened and they darted inside seeing Bella holding the carbine their way. She quickly went to the door and plugged two wires into connections which shut it behind us.

    “I don’t know what you did, but the system core went crazy not long ago,” said Bella as she shared a hug with Colt.

    “The engines should be shut down,” said Sanchez as she checked the door controls. “It appears you’ve been the busy little bee.”

    “I got to thinking,” said Bella. “As soon as you two overloaded the engines or whatever, those guys will come looking for whomever was responsible. As well as checking the stasis pods. So I found a fusion welder and took care of the door on the compartment. And rigged this one to only open from the inside.”

    “They can still shut down the power to that one,” said Sanchez, who was happy Bella was thinking on her feet.

    “I got lucky and managed to get the power control management programs for this portion of the ship under my control,” said Bella. “So right now, they can’t.”

    “Clever,” said Sanchez. “But I’ve got a better idea.”

    “Which is?” asked Colt.

    “I’ll use that Smart Metal repair kit you brought along and apply it to the door,” said Sanchez. “They can’t break it or burn through it, but it will react to our computer control to keep the unwanted out.”

    Sanchez headed over to the door and applied the Smart Metal repair kit and programmed it to the desired form and shape. Once she stuck the inert block against the exterior door, it turned into liquid form as she instructed and coated the entire door. And when it had reached the edges, melded into the steel of the frame forming an impenetrable barrier.

    “You sure that will keep them out?” asked Bella.

    “The software to control it can be downloaded to your tablet,” said Sanchez. Bella turned and plugged her tablet into a port on the computer. Sanchez showed her the appropriate file

    “One more thing I was thinking,” said Bella. “Even if we shut down the engines, wouldn’t the momentum carry us forward?”

    “No, during a catastrophic shutdown of one engine, the remaining engines automatically slow and stop the ship. Now I’ve never seen it done with all six engines at the same time, but we would have dramatically slowed in the time it took them to shut down,” said Colt.

    “So we’re stranded until we can get the engines put back together?” asked Bella.

    “More or less,” said Colt. “And communications?”

    “I got them as well, but the problem is, the comms are all dead,” said Bella.

    “Dead? What do you mean?” asked Sanchez.

    “They are on and operating like they should,” said Bella. “But not transmitting anything. It’s like they are being jammed or something.”

    “Those communications are the most secure in the universe,” said Colt. “They can’t be jammed…can they?”

    “Infinicon was working on something along those lines some years ago,” said Sanchez. “I heard rumors a while back they had perfected a design. It appears there is at least a prototype being used on this ship.”

    “Highly technical pirates,” frowned Bella.

    “I’d have to say Zhao more than pirates,” said Sanchez. “They love to steal our designs.”

    “So what does that do for us?” asked Colt.

    “We can’t communicate with the outside world until we find it and disable it,” said Sanchez.

    “Where would it be?” he asked.

    “I don’t know,” said Sanchez. “I wouldn’t even hazard a guess.”

    “And what do we do now?” asked Bella.

    “For starters, you continue to get control of the systems,” said Colt. “And we’ll work out a plan while you’re doing it.”


    “It’s the thermal influx limiters,” said one of the pirates as he saw the leader walking up. He moved away from the open maintenance compartment and hopped off the ladder.

    “Explain,” said Ishmael.

    “They are responsible for managing the heat exchange in the engines,” said the man. “And all of them are missing, including the spares.”

    “Meaning?” asked Ishmael.

    “Meaning we can’t continue until we have them back,” said the man.

    “This ship needs to go,” said Ishmael. “We’re way out of position to rendezvous with the other ship. So you need to get the engines running.”

    “Impossible,” said the man.

    “It’s impossible for you to breathe in space,” said Ishmael. “Get them started.”

    “You want the engines to melt down and go into overload?” asked the man as Ishmael turned to depart. “Because that’s exactly what will happen fifteen minutes after I turn them back on.”

    “Go on,” said Ishmael with his back still turned.

    “The thermal influx limiters are critical for the engines to run,” said the man. “And without them, we’d have to disable the safety protocols for them to even start or the ship would shut them down again when the temperature reached a critical level. So you can threaten me all you want, but I can’t make this ship go without them.”

    “Continue,” said Ishmael as he turned around.

    “The only way the engines will run normally again is with them,” said the man. “You find them and I can have us back underway in about thirty minutes.”

    “And nothing else was broken?” asked Ishmael.

    “Nothing I could tell,” said the man. “And the alarm indicated that was the only piece that had been removed.”

    “Fine, we’ll retrieve them for you,” said Ishmael. “Make sure you check the remaining portions of the engineering and go ahead and put the surprise gifts in place.”

    “Got it,” said the man as he went back to recheck the engines and Ishmael turned with a small group that followed him.

    “It appears the stasis pods didn’t work as advertised,” said Ishmael. “Or not everyone was accounted for.”

    “Impossible!” said one of the men. “We verified everyone against the manifest and I personally checked each stasis pod! Hell, even you checked the manifest and the stasis pods.”

    “Yet we happened to miss someone,” said Ishmael. “Go recheck the manifest and the stasis room. Make sure none of our hosts managed to escape…never mind, I’ll check it myself.”

    A small group departed towards the bay they had stored the stasis pods in, but were stopped before departing. “We’re on a tight schedule. Find those parts, or else.”

    The remaining individuals departed to search the ship once again, prompted by the “or else” as their carefully laid plans were not going according to the proverbial plan.

    Ishmael started heading towards the cargo area where the stasis pods were stored to make sure everything had gone according to plan. As he entered one of the corridors to lead him there, he noticed something unusual on the floor. Reaching down, the automated cleaning bots that were randomly running across the ship had missed an area by one of the doors. He wiped his fingers across the floor and came back with a fine red dust. He knew for a fact it wasn’t rust; yet looked it over and thought it looked like dried blood. He looked around the corridor and didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary save the lone maintenance room nearby. He headed towards the door and flashed his hand at the panel. It didn’t open automatically and he input the simple code they all had that had replaced the original one. But the door still didn’t open.

    “Ishmael, you need to get to the bridge,” said the voice over the communicator.

    “Be there in a minute,” said Ishmael as he wondered why this door in particular wouldn’t open.

    “Not in a minute, you need to get up here right now,” said the voice.

    “Is there something you can’t handle?” asked Ishmael.

    “Yes and that means get your ass up here right now,” said the voice.

    Ishmael looked at the door one last time before departing for the bridge. He suspected something was seriously amiss on the ship, yet all crew and passengers were accounted for and supposedly slumbering away in stasis. Or so he thought as he walked a little faster through the corridor and to the bridge.


    “I think that’s the best thing to do,” said Bella as she continued her stroll through the core.

    “We’re pretty secure here,” said Colt.

    “Yeah, but the problem lies with this garbage,” said Bella as she poked the computer angrily.

    “I thought you were doing okay?” he asked.

    “Oh sure, I’m getting control of what I can,” said Bella. “The problem is this computer isn’t designed for gaining control of the system.”

    “I don’t understand,” said Colt.

    “Honestly, it’s a bit complicated,” said Bella.

    “Try me,” said Colt.

    “Okay, so we have a simple interface that allows access to the core,” said Bella. “But the problem is, this device isn’t really have the proper construct programming to allow for graphic, processing and memory intensive taskings from the core programming files that I really need to get the ball rolling here and reclaim the systems.”

    “Yeah, I understood that,” said Colt.

    “In basic terms, this computer is too stupid to interpret the program files coming from the core. I can access them by interfacing with the core, but I can’t tell what they are until I actually look inside the programs themselves,” said Bella.

    “So you need a smarter computer?” asked Colt. “Why didn’t you just say that to start with?”

    “How can you be such a great pilot but be so technologically inept?” growled Bella as she pulled up another file to put in her password and gain control.

    “We all have our roles,” said Colt as he chuckled.

    “Go away,” said Bella. “I don’t like you right now.”

    “But I like you,” he said and got closer to her and whispered in her ear. “I like you…I love you…I love you Bella…my beautiful Bella that I love…”

    “Knock it off,” she laughed and shrugged her shoulders to get him away from her ear. “You know I can’t stay mad at you.”

    “I recognize that,” said Colt as new numbers popped up on the screen. “I’ve seen that before.”

    “You do?” asked Bella. “Like seriously?”

    “Yeah, they pop up on my pilots screen from time to time,” said Colt as Bella opened the file and found it was a program that controlled intercepts.

    “This is a program that helps plot courses to intercept targets,” said Bella.

    “Yeah, it shows in the upper right hand corner when the program is running,” said Colt.

    “And you didn’t recognize it before now?” asked Bella.

    “It just kind of popped into my head,” he said meekly.

    “I’m going to pop you in the head,” she grunted and brought back the main core programming. “Recognize any of the rest of these?”

    “This one…this one…this one maybe…I think that one as well,” said Colt as he pointed to the different programs as she scrolled down. Bella opened the different files and found most were associated with the pilot’s station in some way or another. And took control before closing them out and continuing to the next.

    “Okay, the pods are secure and I was able to tie the power controls into both the main power supply as well as the emergency backup batteries,” said Sanchez as she came back in. “So even if we lose main power or they cut the power conduit, the crew will still be safe.”

    “Good deal,” said Bella. “And I have control of the power for this side of the ship so they can’t threaten to shut it off.”

    “Not both sides?” asked Colt.

    “Doesn’t work that way on this large a ship,” said Sanchez. “It’s sectioned in case of damage.”

    “Got it,” said Colt.

    “I still think the bridge is the best place for all of us,” said Bella. “We can transfer control of this console up there where you can continue to work.”

    “Likely to be the most heavily guarded,” said Sanchez.

    “It would,” said Colt. “But it’s also reinforced against unauthorized access. More than the simple welding job here that is.”

    “So I need to find the controls to the bridge compartments,” said Bella.

    “That would be best,” said Colt. “And as soon as that’s in play, we’ll bring you there and lock you in. Sanchez can monitor the engineering sections from the ducts and reinstall the limiters when we get control of the critical systems. And I fly us directly to the nearest Infinicon outpost or ship and we get rescued.”

    “Doesn’t sound bad,” said Sanchez. “Where are we anyway?”

    “About thirty hours from Pegasus-5 space station at full speed,” said Bella. “It’s in a solar orbit and still a long way to go though.”

    “Not that far for getting some help though,” said Colt. “They’ve got a security detachment as a minimum, but working communications more importantly.”

    “Hey, this is interesting,” said Bella as she unlocked a program. “It looks like the program that controls the shuttle landing locks and moorings.”

    “Can you lock it down to where they can’t take off?” asked Colt.

    Bella’s hands went over the keyboard several times before hitting the enter button. “Done.”

    “They can still manually release it,” said Sanchez.

    “Only from inside the shuttle,” said Colt. “Which means they are departing or leaving their friends behind.”

    “True,” said Sanchez.

    “So everyone is clear on the plan?” asked Colt.

    “What are you going to be doing during this time?” asked Sanchez.

    “I’m going to be busy shooting anyone that isn’t wearing an Infinicon uniform,” said Colt with some resolve and a worried look from Bella.

    “And after?” asked Sanchez as McMasters came out of the adjacent compartment.

    “I’m feeling like hell,” he drawled.

    “You shouldn’t even be up,” said Sanchez as she walked over to him. “And where’s your bio reader?”

    “I took it off, mom,” drawled McMasters as he slumped against the bulkhead. “I’m fine.”

    “Stay right there,” said Sanchez as she went back into the other compartment. After she departed, McMasters turned to Colt and Bella.

    “What’s the story here?” he asked.

    “Pirate takeover,” said Colt.

    “No kidding Sherlock,” said McMasters. “What else and how did I get out of stasis?”

    “It’s a long story,” said Colt.

    “As slow as I am right now, it’ll take even longer,” said McMasters as Sanchez came back in leading Lilly.

    “Hey guys,” she drawled. “Hey Colt.”

    “Was I that bad?” asked Colt in a low voice with a chuckle.

    “Worse,” chuckled Bella as she continued getting control of the ship. Sanchez had her lie on a nearby crate and went to check on McMasters. After putting on the bio reader, she saw he was completely out of whack at the moment.

    “Back to the pod,” said Sanchez.

    “I’m okay,” said McMasters.

    “Don’t argue,” said Sanchez. “Your readings are completely out of whack and someone got out of their pod before they were ready. Now move it.”

    “Yes ma’am,” said McMasters as he let himself be led back to the other room. After completing the trip, she came back and checked on Lilly and pronounced her “doing well.”

    “What happened with Brent?” asked Colt.

    “Got out of his pod before he should have,” said Sanchez. “Which means his biorhythms were way off and he needs the pod to fix them.”

    “Is it complicated?” asked Colt.

    “Very,” said Sanchez.

    “Don’t explain,” said Colt with a chuckle. Sanchez looked over Bella’s shoulder and saw she was in a portion of the core she recognized.

    “Bring that program up,” said Sanchez as she saw the numbers listed.

    “Which one?” asked Bella.

    “This one…and the next three,” said Sanchez as she pointed at the screen. Bella did so and took back control of the programs and found they controlled the security cameras in the hallways.

    “We’ve got eyes all over the ship now,” said Bella.

    “That’s helpful,” said Colt. “If we had the sensors, we could determine who was who.”

    “Already done,” said Bella as she brought the program online on her tablet. Colt saw the various sensors picking up the pirates as they wandered the ship and brought the security cameras to show exactly who they were. He noticed a single blip moving towards the bridge and focused in on those cameras to see who was about.


    “And what was so important?” asked Ishmael as he arrived on the bridge.

    “We’re losing control of the ship,” said the computer expert.

    “What do you mean losing control?” asked Ishmael.

    “It started with a couple of systems here and there and now we don’t have any flight controls whatsoever,” said the expert. “Among other things.”

    “The control crystal was supposed to guarantee total control,” said Ishmael.

    “Yeah, until the system core smashed it,” said the expert.

    “Smashed?” asked Ishmael.

    “Treated it like an intruding computer virus and electronically shredded it,” said the expert. “There is nothing left on that crystal. I saw it wasn’t working right so I plugged it into another panel to reboot it. And when I did, the whole thing got destroyed.”

    “And why would it do that?” asked Ishmael.

    “Because the security protocols we installed were rewritten,” said the expert. “Or as best as I could tell. Now I’ve got systems I can’t access since they have a very complicated password.”

    “Who’s doing it?” asked Ishmael.

    “I have no idea,” said the expert.

    “Was it the time delayed security feature?” asked Ishmael.

    “No,” said the expert. “Or else we would have lost everything at the same time.”

    “Can you track down who’s doing it?” asked Ishmael.

    “Maybe,” said the expert. “Provided I don’t get locked out.”

    “Do it,” said Ishmael. “Find them and stop them.”

    “Got it boss,” said the expert as he attempted to trace who was hacking their hack. However, as he tried to trace down the problems, the core was being unresponsive in his requests. He saw Ishmael getting ready to depart the bridge, but stopped him before he went through the door.

    “More problems,” said the expert.

    “I don’t like to hear problems,” said Ishmael.

    “The shuttle has been locked down,” said the expert.

    “And by locked down you mean can’t take off?” asked Ishmael.

    “Pretty much,” said the expert.

    “Can it be released manually?” asked Ishmael.

    “Maybe,” said the expert. “I’d have to check.”

    “We will probably need that shuttle,” said Ishmael.

    “I’ll go check,” said the expert.

    “No, you need to regain control of the systems,” said Ishmael.

    “I already told you we can’t because of the sophisticated password they are using,” said the expert. “I just don’t have the proper software to break through.”

    “Fine, let’s check on the shuttle,” said Ishmael.


    “It appears some are leaving the bridge,” said Bella as her tablet showed the three individual life signs leaving the bridge. But there were still two in the area.”

    “As good a time as any to move,” said Colt as he retrieved his carbine.

    “The corridor looks clear for the moment,” said Sanchez.

    “Is McMasters okay?” asked Colt.

    “Let’s find out,” said Sanchez as she headed to the other compartment. She returned in short order with McMasters who still drawled a bit.

    “Got sent to bed without dinner,” he stated as they approached.

    “Lilly? Are you okay?” asked Colt.

    “I can move,” said Lilly. “Maybe not fast though.”

    “Okay, so the plan is to move to the bridge where Bella continues to get control of the ship. Lilly, see if you can break through the jamming to send out an SOS. Brent, we’ll wait for you to completely revive before letting you loose to have some fun,” said Colt.

    “What kind of fun?” asked McMasters.

    “The kind where you get to fight,” said Colt.

    “About time!” exclaimed McMasters.

    “Corridor is still clear,” said Bella. “And nobody seems to be moving. Most are headed towards the shuttle dock or the main cargo area.”

    “Let’s move,” said Colt as Bella quickly logged out of the terminal and collected her tablet to keep a watch on the intruders. Colt handed the spare carbine to Sanchez who was in a much better position to defend the group than she was. McMasters and Lilly got in the middle of the group as Bella removed the Smart Metal shield and opened the door. Once they were through, Bella reapplied the patch and had it solidify to protect the remaining crew in stasis.

    The small group headed down the corridor, attempting to make as little noise as possible as the occasional voice was heard echoing down the hallways. Eventually, they reached the junction where the corridor ran next to the bridge and the small hallway went towards the door. Colt peeked around the corner after Bella gave him a nod and didn’t see anyone in the hallway. He waved the three to stay and headed around the corner alone where he came next to the large blast doors in the bridge area. Taking in several deep breaths he rounded the corner and found he had achieved surprise as one pirate has his back to him and the other had a puzzled look that was quickly turning to alarm. Colt raised the carbine and centered the dot on the pirate’s body before sending a burst his way. He saw the bullets impact and quickly turned to the second that was turning from the noise of the bullets. Another burst found his body before he was able to react as he went to the floor yelling in pain. Colt dashed across the room and delivered a final single shot to the head to cease the yelling as he hoped nobody had heard the noise.

    Colt sensed someone was behind him and quickly spun to see the remainder of his group moving into the bridge and Sanchez closing the doors behind her.

    “Nice shooting,” said McMasters. “Almost Marine like.”

    “I was a Marine,” said Colt.

    “A real Marine like me,” drawled McMasters with a grin.

    “Did you…” asked Bella as she looked at the two dead bodies.

    “Yes,” said Colt. Bella didn’t say anything as she headed over to the First Officer’s station and got back into the core. After typing in her password, she found the station was more than suitable for her needs and quickly resumed getting control of the various programs.

    “We need to do something about them,” said Sanchez in a low voice as she nodded towards the pirates lying on the floor.

    “Like what?” asked Colt.

    “Remove them from here,” said Sanchez.

    “Right,” said Colt. “And what happens next?”

    “Food would be nice,” said Bella.

    “I am a bit starved,” said Colt.

    “I can access the galley from the maintenance passageways,” said Sanchez. “McMasters, are you feeling up to being a pack mule?”

    “I’m feeling hung over,” he replied. “But that’s about normal.”

    “Colt, there’s a maintenance room just down the corridor where these two can be stashed,” said Sanchez as she went over and pulled a medical gurney out of its place in the bulkhead. They put the two dead pirates on the gurney before pulling it over to the door. Bella pulled up a schematic at the request of Sanchez so she could show him the corridor. Once he located the door, he got ready to head out.

    “Let’s get everyone armed,” said Sanchez as she opened the weapons vault on the bridge and started handing out pistols and carbines. Once everyone was armed, Sanchez and McMasters departed the bridge although being slowed by his continuing revival from stasis. Colt checked the sensors before seeing the corridor was clear and departing as well as Bella used the Smart Metal to form a bond over the doors again. She crossed back over and continued her task of gaining control slowly, but in a far more efficient manner than before as she could see the information clearly. Lilly watched as her fingers danced over the keyboard, however, something was killing her inside.

    “I’m in love with Colt,” said Lilly as the uncomfortable silence was killing her.
  1. john316
  2. john316
    Thread by: john316, Oct 6, 2018, 6 replies, in forum: Survival Reading Room
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    Never Too Young 2008

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