Authors: T S Paul
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Military, #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction, #Space Opera, #Space station, #Engineer, #Lesbian, #Marines, #Space, #special forces
Staring out the observation port, Captain Hugh Pigot tried to work through his problems. He was worried. His ship, the EOM Paney had been on patrol for over a week with no communications from either the fleet or the sector government. While that was not unusual for fleet, not hearing anything from the governor’s office was very strange. In the past, there was always some crazy request or demand for information or something coming down the pipe. To top that off his new XO, Commander McCoy, was acting a little strange. Crew changes are always hard, especially when it involved more than half the ship. Hugh was still unsatisfied with the explanation he'd received for stripping out half his crew and replacing them with these poorly trained ones. His orders said it was a training “experiment” but Hugh wasn’t sure of that. Several of the ‘replacements’ have what look like mercenary or pirate tattoos. They barely know how to take orders and have zero military habits. If he didn’t know better he would almost swear that they had just hired a merc company and dumped them on his ship. Fleet didn’t do things like that. He had sent a ‘back channel’ communication to a friend he had at Fleet HQ. But his friend should have gotten back to him by now. The current orders for the ship were to patrol the outer edges of the sector eventually looping back to the station.
The captain looked down at his console display. Navigation’s current estimated time of arrival was almost exactly three more days until they reached the planet Hong Kong and the government station. Hugh decided he would send another request for clarification to fleet again. The next navigational course correction took them in range of a Communication satellite. He would use one of the priority codes and contact his superior directly.
“Captain on the bridge”
“As you were” Captain Pigot walked on the bridge. He turned to the XO and ordered “Go ahead and get some lunch, Commander I’ll take over here.” The XO started to say something, but when Commander Glatkowski on weapons shook his head, he changed his mind.
“Thank you, Captain I will.” The XO turned and left the bridge.
Seeing this exchange the captain made a personal note to keep an eye on this other new officer, Commander Alvin Glatkowski.
“Lieutenant Allendale, plot a course to the nearest Communications satellite, there should be one close to the next navigational point.” This Allendale was yet another of the new crew.
“Uh, yes sir, Captain Sir. I will get right on that.” The stuttering lieutenant rather inadequately acknowledged the captain.
Sitting in his chair, Captain Pigot stared off into ‘space’ as he thought about the crew he was surrounded with. His Chief Engineer was an old friend, as was the head of medical Lt Commander Smith. All three of them had been on the old Jupiter together in the last war. He could trust them implicitly. Only the crews in engineering, food preparation, and the marine force had remained unchanged. And he only had five marines on board. This was a destroyer, not a cruiser. Hugh shook his head as if to clear it. He was just over thinking things, but he made a note to have his friends meet him for dinner. Seeing plots and problems before they happened was not a healthy preoccupation. Hugh began putting his message to the Admiral together. As a side note, he would mention his fears and observations of the new crew. They could laugh about it later.
A soft ding roused the captain from his musings. On his console was a notification that the ship was in range of the nearest satellite. Carefully inputting the override code, the captain accessed a little known emergency fleet channel. This was a direct line to Fleet HQ, only to be used in case of dire emergency or invasion. Even the Sector Governors did not know of its existence. If he was wrong about the situation he would be reprimanded and could possibly lose his stripes. Knowing this he sent the message anyway better to be fired than dead. Shutting down his system and wiping the message code Captain Pigot left his cabin and returned to the bridge.
The bridge was quiet when Captain Pigot stepped through the door. The XO was bent over the navigation station deep in conversation with Lieutenant Humphrey. Neither noticed his arrival until Ensign Carson announced “Captain on the bridge.”
Captain Pigot waved everyone back to stations and sat in his chair. The XO approached him asking about the course change. Hugh made sure he sounded dismissive as he answered. “It’s is just routine commander. We were asked by the scientific division to check the orbits of some of the satellites if possible. A minor course correction to make the wonks happy is always a plus, especially if we have upgrades. I have a light dinner with some of the department heads this evening. I’m not to be disturbed unless it is an emergency. Wake me at the next way point. You have the bridge, Commander McCoy.”
“Aye Captain, I have the bridge. Have a peaceful evening, sir.” The XO turned without further thought and walked back to the navigation station.
The eyes of the new weapons commander Alvin Glatkowski followed the captain as he left the deck.
The three old friend and shipmates met for dinner in the Captains private dinning room. Commander Tadeusz Kościuszko the Chief Engineer, was the first to arrive. Know as Tad to his friends, the commander was a large strapping man in his mid 50’s. He was a proud graduate of the Kraków school on planet Warsaw. He and the Captain had been on the old Jupiter. The Medical Officer Zack Smith was a curmudgeonly older man with short thinning hair. He gave as good as he got and was the one that you wanted with you when the fire was the hottest. On the Jupiter, the three of them had all been just starting out their careers. The Jupiter was an old Gemini class cruiser. The twelfth to be built. The three officers had participated in many adventures before the war. Fate had put them together on this ship. Well that and a case of scotch to the personnel clerk at HQ.
“This dinner is a bit out of the blue, Hugh,” remarked Commander Kościuszko.
“I agree, not that I’m complaining. But just why did you bring us here tonight?” The Dr. turned and looked at his old friend.
The Captain stroked his mustache and looked to his old friends. “Have either of you noticed anything funny or unusual about out new crew replacements?”
“Funny ha ha or funny strange? Is that what you mean?” The old engineer was now acutely focused on the Captain. “If you mean funny strange I agree with you. Something is not right about the crew that we picked up. They know how to do their jobs but something is off with…”
The Dr looked at his old friends. “Fine. Yes, there’s something off about them. I have run a few physicals and treated a few for minor injuries. I have noticed some oddities. Tattoos. They seem to all have quite a few. While that's not remarkable, they try to hide them. That alone makes this group unusual. The other thing would be scars. They have lots of them, too. Far too many for some of their ages and ranks. One crewman, a member of the hanger crew I believe, had a colony prison implant. He explained it away saying it was from a juvenile offense. Since I saw him though, none of the new crew has been to see me.”
“Just between the three of us and the walls — and by the way I scanned the room for bugs.” He had their attention now. “I sent a covert message to fleet during the recent course change. While the orders for the crew change-out appeared to come from the fleet, I am starting to question it.” He watched the faces of his oldest friends. “Other than you two, I really only trust Lieutenant Mutai our marine commander. He and his men were with us before all of the changes.”
“Hugh, let’s get that marine up here then. Why waste time?”
The Captain thought about it, then stepped out of the room and whispered to his lone security guard. “Can you have your lieutenant come up here to a private meeting? Is there a way to arrange it without going out on the radio?”
The marine guard looked at the captain sharply and then nodded. He held up one finger in acknowledgment. Tapping the radio communicator at his collar the marine muttered a few word and letters on his security net, “Duty NCO to lima tango RFI zoomie charlie delta romeo possible QRF.” The marine cocked his head to one side as if listening. He replied “Wilco.” Turning to the captain he held up two fingers. Two minutes. The Captain went back into the dining room.
Almost exactly two minutes had passed when after a faint knock the door reopened. The marine Lieutenant Kinno Mutai entered the room. “Captain, Sir.” He said coming to attention.
“At easy lieutenant. Thank you for your prompt response.”
“How could I not with that canny message you had sent. I take it this meeting is about the mercenary company that we have on board?” The marine lieutenant looked at the officers speculatively.
“Damn. I never thought of that. Mercs, are you sure Kinno?”
“Yes sir. One of my guys spotted a tattoo on one of the replacements and brought it to my attention. It was a round disc with a man’s profile on it and the letters BP on the bottom.”
The captain slumped his shoulders and sighed. “Really? Someone doesn’t like us. That’s the symbol of the Bad Penny Clan.”
“Who are the bad pennies?” The Dr asked, bemused by the name.
The engineer mouthed to the lieutenant, “What’s a penny?”
“The Bad Pennies are a pirate gang.” The captain nodded his head slowly/ “That explains how they know how to operate ships but don’t know navy procedure or terminology. I can’t believe that fleet put them on board us.”
“Could the orders have been faked?” asked the lieutenant.
“No they had the authentication that proves they were genuine.” Thinking for a moment. “All of our orders go through the Sector Government first. I must be someone in those offices that changed the orders.”
“Sir, I think they intend to take the ship.”
“Yes lieutenant. We think that too. That’s the reason we called you in. I’m pretty sure that our new weapons officer is the leader of this bunch.”
“What is our small arms status, Lieutenant?” Captain Pigot was starting to think about the future.
Catching his drift, the lieutenant pulled out his tablet from inside his pocket, but didn't really seem to need to check it. “Sir, we have five sets of marine power armor, twenty sets of un-powered armor, thirty assault rifles, thirty handguns, and one crew mounted machine gun. That does not include ammo and the survival gear.”
“Lieutenant, how hard would it be for your men to start moving that equipment?”
“It depends on where you want to move it to? For defensive purposes I think we should concentrate on the aft section of the ship. Make our stand in the engine room, life support, and the medical bay. Those three sections have the most armor. We need to booby trap the access tubes as well.” The marine officer head tilted his had skyward in thought.
Chuckling with dark humor the captain looked at the young officer. “Thought about this have we, son?”
“Yes, well, it’s something that they teach us, sir. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. When I first came aboard I ran several training scenarios with the men: hostages, pirates, and boarding. Those are what we deal with the most. This will be hard sir. Who else are we sure we can trust in the crew?”
“Hugh I have the solution for that I think.” The Dr thought he had the answer.
“What do you have Zack?” the captain prompted.
“Let’s start with those crew members that we had before coming to this sector. Any that came after could be moles or mercs.”
The captain pulled up the information on his console. Checking his numbers he smiled. “OK so we have the kitchen staff, some of laundry, and your whole engineering department, Tad. It looks like we may have a few stragglers from all the departments but they are embedded pretty deeply.” Checking the time the captain looked at the marine officer. “Third watch is about to come on. Have your men start moving their equipment. Use the access tubes if possible, Tad here can get his boys to help. Get the powered armor and as much of the rest as you can. If you can’t take a weapon, take the firing pin, that is the hardest to replace. If anyone asks tell them it’s for the scheduled marine exercise next week. Send any messages to my link or by code to my security. Don’t put anything on the main net. I’m pretty sure they’re monitoring it. When I changed course I think I scared them. Let’s not do that too much. OK get moving.”