Authors: Ryk Brown
The Frontiers Saga Episode #10: Liberation
Copyright © 2014 by Ryk Brown All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
For the first time in weeks, Nathan was actually excited about something. He had seen Luis, one of his closest friends, on the view screen. He had even heard his voice, brief as it had been. In moments, his friend would step onto the Aurora’s main hangar deck, having been rescued from the stranded Celestia only a few minutes ago.
Nathan entered the forward end of the Aurora’s main hangar bay and eagerly made his way aft. Just ahead of him, about halfway down the bay, Vladimir and a group of Corinairan technicians and security personnel were preparing to board another shuttle, one fitted with a Corinari breach box.
“I thought their flight deck had a functioning transfer airlock,” Nathan said as he approached.
“The entire forward section is depressurized,” Vladimir answered, “except for the bridge.”
“Are you sure that thing is going to work?”
“We will be using the port side aft emergency hatch. The breach box is too small to fit around the regular personnel boarding hatches.”
“Will you be able to get the data cores out through there?”
“It will be tight, I expect. We will see; we will know.”
“Two more of my friends from the Academy are in the Celestia’s aft section,” Nathan told him, “Kyle and Tilly.”
“Sounds like a comedy team,” Vladimir said. “I will say hello for you.”
“Tilly is a pretty good engineer,” Nathan said. “I’m sure he’ll have quite a bit to tell you about the Celestia’s status.”
“I will be sure to speak with him, but if you do not mind, some things I must see for myself,” Vladimir warned.
“Of course,” Nathan said. “Just give me an update as soon as you can. We’re in enemy territory, you know.”
“I know, Nathan. I know. That is why we are bringing our friends,” Vladimir said, pointing at the Corinari troops boarding the shuttle.
“Yes. She is afraid there are Jung saboteurs in the aft section of the Celestia waiting to come aboard and steal our beautiful ship from us.” Vladimir leaned into Nathan. “I think she is paranoid.”
“It’s her job to be paranoid.”
Vladimir turned to board the shuttle, holding one hand in the air. “She is overqualified, my friend.”
Nathan watched as Vladimir jogged up the rear ramp of the shuttle. Its engines began to spin up as her aft boarding ramp swung into its closed position. He took several steps backward to get out of the way so the deck hands could guide the shuttle as it turned around and headed toward the airlock.
As Vladimir’s shuttle rolled into the port airlock, the starboard airlock door began to rise, revealing another of the Aurora’s shuttles on her way in. Nathan stayed back against the side while the shuttle rolled past him, its own aft cargo ramp slowly lowering as the shuttle rolled to a stop.
Jessica came walking down the ramp as it lowered, jumping off the end as it neared the deck. She was still wearing her Corinari EVA suit, her helmet in her hand. Behind her was Major Waddell and his four Corinari soldiers.
“You didn’t have to come all the way down to meet us,” Jessica said jokingly.
“Lieutenant Commander, Major, nice work,” Nathan congratulated.
“Thank you, sir,” Major Waddell said as he stepped off the ramp. “It was interesting.”
“Shouldn’t you be on the bridge, Skipper?” Jessica teased. “We are in hostile space, after all.”
“XO has the conn, and we’ve got Talons Five and Six sitting on the horizon to keep an eye out for unexpected guests,” Nathan explained.
“Did the Cheng take some muscle with him?” Jessica asked.
“As ordered,” Nathan assured her. “Was it really necessary?”
“Better safe than sorry,” Jessica said.
“In this scenario, I would tend to agree with the lieutenant commander’s precautions,” Major Waddell said.
“We should properly verify the identities of everyone on that ship before they come over,” Jessica insisted.
Nathan looked at the top of the shuttle’s cargo ramp. There were two smiling faces, one male and one female, both wearing standard EDF EVA suits, their helmets in their hands. “What about those two shady looking characters?” Nathan asked, pointing at Luis and Devyn.
Jessica looked back over her shoulder at them. “They said they knew you, so I figured I’d let you check them out.” Jessica smiled as she turned to leave.
Nathan smiled at Luis and Devyn as they started down the ramp. He turned back to Jessica and Major Waddell. “Lieutenant Commander.”
Jessica and the major both stopped, turning back toward Nathan.
“Once you get changed, Lieutenant Telles wants to meet you.”
“Lieutenant who?” Jessica wondered.
“The leader of the Ghatazhak platoon,” Nathan added. A puzzled look came over his face. “Did I forget to tell you about them?”
Jessica looked at Major Waddell.
“I thought the captain told you,” Major Waddell defended.
Jessica looked back at Nathan. “Where the fuck did you guys go while I was on Earth?”
“Oops,” Nathan said, a guilty expression on his face. “Major, would you?”
Major Waddell gently tugged at Jessica’s shoulder. “Come, Lieutenant Commander. I will explain everything while we remove our gear.”
Nathan turned back toward Luis and Devyn as they stepped onto the deck.
“Permission to come aboard, sir?” Luis asked. He could barely contain the smile on his face as he saluted. Devyn made no effort to conceal her happiness at seeing their friend alive and well.
“Permission granted,” Nathan answered. He did not bother to return the salute, instead stepping forward to embrace one of his closest friends. “Damn, it’s good to see you,” Nathan mumbled as he hugged his friend. “You look like shit,” he added as he pulled away and looked at Luis, “but it’s good to see you.” Nathan turned to Devyn who looked like she was about to cry. He wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair.
“We thought you were dead,” she said, fighting to hold back her tears.
“I almost was,” Nathan said. He laughed as he pulled back from her. “Several times, in fact.”
“What the hell is going on, Nathan?” Luis asked. “How the hell did you, of all people, end up in command…” Luis looked around briefly, his arms rising to his sides. “…of all this?”
“It’s a long story,” Nathan said.
“Where have you been for the last three months?” Devyn wondered.
“That’s an even longer story,” Nathan added, rolling his eyes. “I’ll fill you in later. For now, we need to get you two to medical and get you cleaned up. Doc Chen wants to check you out before you debrief.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to show us the way,” Luis said. “We didn’t have a medical section on our ship—at least, not one that was pressurized.”
“Follow me,” Nathan said. He stepped between them and put his arms around both their shoulders. “It really is great to see you guys.” As they started walking forward, Nathan reached up and tugged at Luis’s scraggly beard. “What’s all this?” he asked. “No razors on that barge?”
* * *
Vladimir held himself steady, floating inside the breach box as he activated the controls on the side of the Celestia’s hull. The outer airlock door hissed slightly as it cracked open, sending a fine dust floating away from the door seal. The door retracted slightly inward, then slid to one side to reveal an empty airlock chamber on the other side. Vladimir grabbed the overhead rail on the inside wall of the breach box and swung his feet into the airlock, letting the Celestia’s artificial gravity pull him downward as his body followed. Once his feet were firmly on the floor, he turned around to face the men in the breach box. “The security detail and I will enter first,” he announced, “per the lieutenant commander’s instructions.”
“Beg your pardon, sir,” the sergeant in charge of the Corinari security detail said. “I believe Lieutenant Commander Nash’s instructions were that
were to enter first and secure the entrance.”
“With your strange guns and uniforms, you will scare the hell out of them,” Vladimir said. “No offense, Sergeant, but you and your men are not the friendliest looking bunch. I will enter first; you will follow.” Vladimir looked at the sergeant. “Or you can wait here if you like.”
The sergeant shrugged, rolled his eyes, grabbed the overhead rail, and swung into the airlock in similar fashion to Vladimir, landing on the deck of the airlock as he gracefully transitioned from the zero-gravity environment of the breach box into the Celestia’s artificial gravity. “It feels a little light,” the sergeant commented as he jumped up and down a bit to test the gravity.
“They are probably running at half G to save power,” Vladimir explained. Vladimir waited until all four of the Corinari troops were in the airlock and the outer door was closed again. “Are we ready?”
The sergeant stepped forward, pulling Vladimir away from the inner door and toward the back of the airlock. He stepped in front of him and raised his weapon. The other three Corinari troops raised their weapons as well. The sergeant and the other man in front knelt down on one knee with their weapons up and ready. “Now we’re ready.”
Vladimir rolled his eyes. “Press the intercom button, Sergeant.”
The sergeant did as instructed.
“This is Lieutenant Commander Kamenetskiy of the Aurora,” Vladimir called out. “We are ready to enter. Please do not make any sudden, aggressive moves when the door opens. I have security forces with me as a precaution. They will not use force unless challenged.”
The sergeant turned off the intercom and resumed his ready position. The door began to slide open, revealing an empty room with an opening into a corridor on the far side of the room.
“Show yourselves!” the sergeant barked, his heavy Corinairan brogue tinting his words.
Lieutenant Commander Kovacic peeked around the hatchway on the far side of the room, his hands waving freely. “We’re not armed!” He looked to either side of the airlock. “Come out, guys,” he said, gesturing.
The sergeant shifted his weapon to the right side of the room as one of the Celestia’s crewman backed slowly away from the side of the airlock’s inner door, his hands high. The Corinari soldier to the sergeant’s right shifted his weapon to the left side of the room as another crewman also backed away with his hands in the air.
“Moving,” the sergeant announced as he started through the inner airlock hatch. The Corinari trooper to his right raised his weapon upward momentarily, lowering it back down and taking aim at the second crewman once more as the trooper from behind the sergeant stepped forward to take his place.
“Moving,” the second soldier said as he rose from his knee, stepped through the airlock hatch, and moved to the left.
“Turn around,” the sergeant instructed sternly, “and get down on your knees.”
“What the…” the first crewman started to say.
“Do it now!” the sergeant instructed.
“I would do as they ask,” Vladimir instructed from inside the airlock. “They take their jobs very seriously.”
“What’s the meaning of this?” Lieutenant Commander Kovacic demanded from the other side of the corridor hatch.
“You too, sir!” the sergeant insisted, his weapon now trained on the lieutenant commander.
“Please, Lieutenant Commander,” Vladimir begged. “They are only following the instructions of our security chief… in case there are Jung saboteurs aboard your vessel.”
“You’re kidding, right?” the lieutenant commander said.
“No, sir, I am not. There is a war going on, and the Aurora is the only armed ship left to defend the Earth. I’m afraid that makes such precautions necessary. So if you would please do as the man says for now, it would be greatly appreciated.”
Lieutenant Commander Kovacic turned around and got down on his knees. “Does your captain know about this?”
“Yes, he does,” Vladimir answered as the other two Corinari troops stepped through the airlock to help secure the room. The two soldiers continued forward through the other hatch and passed Lieutenant Commander Kovacic, checking the corridor as far down as the next intersection where they took up defensive positions.
“Is this really necessary?” the lieutenant commander asked.
“Immediate area is secure, sir,” the sergeant reported.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, gentlemen,” Vladimir said as he entered the room. “Please, get up.”
The other two crewmen slowly rose to their feet, turning to face Vladimir.
“I am Lieutenant Commander Kamenetskiy,” Vladimir said, reaching out to shake Kyle’s hand. “I am the Aurora’s chief engineer. I will need to speak to your Cheng. You are…?”
“Ensign Marcus Kyle,” the second crewman answered as he shook Vladimir’s hand.
“Kyle?” Vladimir said. “Nathan says hello.”
“Then it’s true?” the first crewman said from the other side of the room. “Nathan’s alive?”
Vladimir turned to Tilly, moving over to shake his hand as well. “You must be Tilly.”
“Ensign Jonathon Tillardi.”
“Yes, it is true,” Vladimir assured Tilly as he shook his hand. “Nathan instructed me to say hello to you as well. He said you are a good engineer. Are you the Cheng for this ship?”
“I guess,” Tilly answered. “I’m as close as you’re going to get, anyway.”
“Who are these men?” Lieutenant Commander Kovacic asked as he stepped into the room. “I recognize your accent, but not theirs. I don’t recognize their weapons or their uniforms, either.”
“Forgive me, Lieutenant Commander…”
“Kovacic. I’m in command of this ship.”
“A pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Who are these people?”
“They are from the planet Corinair. They are our allies.”
“Never heard of it. Is that where the Aurora has been all these months, digging up allies?”
“It is a very long and complex story, I’m afraid. One that I am sure Captain Scott will tell you very soon. For now, my orders are to transfer the data cores to the Aurora and to determine the condition of your ship.”
“Well, Tilly can help you with the condition of the ship,” Lieutenant Commander Kovacic said, “but you may have a little trouble getting the spec-ops guarding the cores to give them up.”
“They may speak to our security chief directly if they wish,” Vladimir instructed. “She, too, is spec-ops, and I’m sure she has the proper authentication codes.” Vladimir stepped up to the lieutenant commander and shook his hand. “Now, would you please take us to the cores while the rest of my team comes aboard?”
* * *
“You’re coming along nicely, Josh,” Doctor Chen said as she stepped up alongside Josh’s bed.
“Does that mean I can go back to work?”
“How have you been doing in the simulator?” she asked.
“It was a little strange at first, but only for the first day. I haven’t had any vertigo problems in there for more than a week now.”
“How much time have you been spending in there?”