I pulled out the Holographic Communicator chair and sat in it, motioning for JJ to sit on the bed behind me. I turned it on and paged Vermillion, the holographic frame projecting in front of me. Vermillion’s face appeared in a moment.
“Good, you got my message,” he said. “Obviously we had to leave for a while.”
“JJ’s in here.”
“I see her behind you. You’re both feeling better now, I take it?”
“Not a hundred percent, but improving,” I said. “What’s happening? Did we get discovered?”
“No. Worse, actually.”
“One of the manufacturing bases?” I asked, my heart stuck in my throat.
“One of the Overlords operatives was at the main plant. He got off the planet.”
“Dammit,” I said. “How?”
“Shuttle. Unauthorized take off. Got on the far side of a moon there before we could shoot him down.”
“He’s still at large?” I asked.
“No, he’s dead. We sent fighters up after him, blew him away. We don’t know if he was able to get any transmissions off before we nailed him. Thought we’d better have the New Jersey on hand just in case.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I’ve been briefed about the situation on Boroclize. Pick up a couple month’s worth of raw Boron from that old earth-mover and put it on the Zephyrus. We’ve already transferred JJ’s refining system there. It’s in the shielded compartment right now, but Deacon is working on a more permanent setup. As soon as that’s done, contact me for further instructions.”
“You want us coming to where you are.”
Vermillion chuckled. “This ship needs it’s Captain. Oh, one other thing. The Tristar and the fighters are finished up on Inoa. They’ve got the mines set, and helped with some terrestrial rail-guns to add another layer of defense. They’re on the way to us as we speak.”
“Got it, Mr. Chairman. We’ll get busy right away. Take care.”
“You too. We’ll chat soon. Run cloaked.”
Vermillion’s image disappeared. I turned to JJ, her face white as a sheet.
“You’re going to be sick.”
She nodded, covering her mouth and heading for the bathroom.
<Butch> Yes, Trey.
<Me> What can you tell me about this situation?
<Butch> Not enough. It happened while you and the rest of your landing team were still sleeping off the virus.
JJ came out, looking better. “Sorry. I have a rough time with the flu, generally.”
“Checked with Emerald yet?”
<Butch> She won’t know any more than I do.
<Emerald> I will about the refinery system, you blow-hard.
JJ smirked. “We don’t have time for this, you two. Pretend you like to work together.”
<Butch> Must we?
<Emerald> No wonder Butch has such a bad attitude.
“Zip it,” I said. “Emerald, I’m sure you know the current state of the refinery, and what Deacon has done so far. Work with JJ on that. Butch, you and I will work out the logistics for getting the raw Boron from the back of that old truck to the Zephyrus.”
<Butch> Yes sir. Let’s go to the bridge. We need to use the sensors there, among other things. Izzy and Tim will be able to help as well.
<Me> Nolan’s not back yet?
<Butch> He’s just waking up. I’m afraid he doesn’t have the pull with that doctor that you do.
<Me> We can give him a little time.
“I’ll get dressed and go join Deacon,” JJ said, standing up. “If you go back outside, be careful.”
“I will.” I stood and put on a fresh uniform, finishing after JJ had left the stateroom.
<Butch> We aren’t using mining experts to transfer the Boron, are we?”
<Me> Nope. Put me in touch with the person who has the radiation suits. The landing party will handle this. Except JJ, of course.
<Butch> As you wish, Captain. Request made. Shall I invite him to the bridge for you?
I left the stateroom, getting to the bridge in a few minutes. Andrea was on duty there.
“How did you get out of sick-bay so fast?” I asked her.
“The powers of persuasion, Captain. The New Jersey is no longer in orbit.”
I sat in the seat next to the Science Officer’s station.
“Take the Captain’s seat,” Andrea said.
“Not a chance, you’re gonna command this ship for now. I’m working the Boron detail.”
“Are you going to tell us what’s going on?” Tim asked. Izzy shot him a glance, then looked down at her lap.
“The Chairman found out that one of the Overlord operatives escaped from the main manufacturing base. He didn’t get transmissions off from the surface of the planet the base is on, but they don’t know what he did before they blew up his shuttle.”
“Dammit, there are probably Razor ships on the way there right now,” Izzy said.
“If they are, they won’t like what they find when they get there,” I said.
“The New Jersey will be in place before they arrive?” Andrea asked.
“I’m betting yes,” I said. “Maybe I should say I’m hoping yes. Cyrus and his team are headed there too. They got the mines placed on Inoa.”
Nolan walked in, looking under the weather. “Heard that. We don’t have enough fighters there, if the New Jersey doesn’t make it in time.”
“The Tristar is formidable itself, and it’s had the latest tuning,” I said. “It might be able to hold off a Razor ship by itself. Might be able to destroy it with the fighters working with them.”
<Butch> They have more fighters on the planet. Remember? Only about a quarter of our fighters were on the New Jersey. The rest were spread out to protect the manufacturing sites.
<Me> True, but they aren’t Mark V fighters. They’re older. Mark IVs, and maybe even some Mark IIIs.
<Butch> Private. The second Zephyrus Class ship is completed, too. If we’re lucky it’s at that base.
<Me> That thought crossed my mind. Thanks. It’s not through trials, though.
<Butch> With the state of our designs and our manufacturing processes today, the trials have become much less important.
<Me> Never scrimp on testing.
My PA buzzed. It was Deacon.
“Hi, Cappy. Heard you were needing radiation suits.”
I laughed. “Oh, you’re in charge of those?”
“I am today, as soon as I can break away from JJ for a few minutes.”
“Running you ragged, is she?”
Deacon chuckled. “Not at all, but I love they way she wrinkles her nose when I say stuff like that.”
<JJ> Oh brother.
“How are we set for shielded containers?”
“Finished them days ago, Cappy. We rigged up some of the larger tool sleds to carry them. Shouldn’t be too difficult. If you guys put your minds to it, you can load enough raw Boron for JJ in less than a day. I suspect we’re on a schedule, and need to take off for wherever the New Jersey went.”
“You got it. Talk to you soon. I need to go check on the rest of my team. Can’t let them relax in sick bay for too much longer.”
Deacon laughed. “Cappy, you’re a cruel task master. Talk to you later.”
<JJ> You sure you’re up for that so soon?
<Me> You sure you want to wait around while our people are in danger?
<JJ> Always so serious. You’re right, of course. Good luck, honey. I’ll be ready for the Boron when you guys deliver it.
Commander Klemperer buzzed my PA before I got to sick bay, telling me that all his men were ready to go. We chatted briefly, and agreed to meet with Deacon to get the radiation suits, containers, and altered tool sleds. They got there about a minute before I did.
“Not used to a ship this small,” Klemperer said.
“Says the fighter pilot,” one of his men quipped. We all cracked up, JJ hearing us from the next room and coming out.
“Good, you’re here. Deacon left to fetch the equipment with some of his guys. Ought to be here any second.”
“This is the first time I’ve seen the shielded cargo bay,” I said, looking around. “Impressive.”
“Yeah, looks like a Deacon job,” Klemperer said. Nolan arrived with Andrea.
“Andrea, you don’t have to go. Stay on the bridge and run the ship. You’re the Captain, remember?”
Andrea smiled. “Are you sure? I’d be glad to help.”
“I can go, though, can’t I?” Nolan asked.
“Sure, Nolan, I was counting on you, in case we have any technical difficulties.”
Deacon arrived with the suits, containers, and tool sleds, more than a dozen of his men helping. We got into the radiation suits quickly, and Deacon gave us a quick demo on how to work with the tool sleds and the shielded containers. The wind outside was picking up enough to get a warning released through our PAs.
“You’d better wait this out,” Deacon said. “Don’t want to lose control of this stuff in the wind.”
“It’ll be okay,” I said. “They blow up in five minutes, but they’re done in five to ten minutes.”
“The stretch in-between isn’t long, though,” Nolan said. “This is the third one since I’ve been here and conscious.”
I laughed. “That’s right, there’s about twelve hours we lost.”
“Hell, it’s already dying down,” Klemperer said. “Let’s get out there. Captain, you’re going into the mine while my guys load the containers, right?”
“How’d you guess?” I asked.
“Hopefully you’re taking me on that one,” Nolan said.
I nodded affirmative to him, and we walked towards the ramp with the others, the tool sleds moving along on their own power, several of Klemperer’s pilots steering them via their PAs. We got down the ramp and watched the wind outside of the shield. It was dying down quickly, some of the sky already turning back to a vivid blue.
“You know what you need to do?” I asked Klemperer.
“Yeah, my AI and I worked it out before. Don’t worry, Captain. We’ll handle it.”
I nodded, then looked over at Nolan. “Ready?”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have worn these radiation suits,” Nolan said. “Since we aren’t loading.”
“We don’t know what we’ll find in the mine. Best to leave them on for now.”
We headed back for the door of the mine, the tool sled still just inside as we left it, covered with some dust due to the storms that rolled through while we were out.
“Should’ve closed the door,” I said.
“We had a panic situation going on, Captain. What I remember of it, anyway.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, that was some crazy stuff. You connected to this tool sled?” I looked down at the oblong box with the cover shut.
“Yeah,” Nolan said, dictating to his PA. The lights around the edges of the tool sled lit up, and it lifted about a foot off the ground, following us as we walked down the hallway, the lights on the sled getting brighter as we walked away from the light of the open door.
I looked around as we walked towards the double doors of the Computer center. “Strange how the hallway is so clean.”
“I suspect things happened fast,” Nolan said. “Look how fast we were knocked out by that flu.”
“They had people here long enough to build all of this and fill that huge mover with Boron ore.”
“Good point. Maybe the booby trap was set after the attack happened and the pirates were dead.”
“There’s the doors,” I said, pushing one side open. There were rows of desks right inside, and three hallways in the back of the room, too dark to see down more than a few feet. There were mummified bodies around throughout the room.
“Glad they don’t smell anymore,” I quipped, looking at one who was not wearing a uniform. “Yep, I’d say these guys were pirates all right.”
“Let’s get the generator hooked up,” Nolan said. We removed the cover, each of us picking up a two-meter square generator, the power coming from a tiny Boron fuel cell inside.
“Wonder what kind of plug-in we’ve got?”
Nolan glanced at me as he walked towards a wall panel to the left. “This is the standard for about eighty years ago. Saw adapters in the sled. This should be easy.” He set down his power pack and turned back to the sled, grabbing two bundles of wire, handing one to me.
“Think it’ll take both?” I asked.
“Once we get it set up, they’ll be used as needed,” Nolan said.
He connected the cable to the first generator, then lifted the cover on the wall panel and plugged it in. I handed him the other and he connected it as well, both generators sitting on the counter below the panel. Nolan dictated the command to start the generators, and they both gave off a blue glow as they started. After a moment there was clicking as solenoid switches set themselves for the incoming power. The lights above us came on, and fans started around the room.
“We won’t be able to link these old systems to our PAs,” Nolan said.
<Dojo> Don’t be so sure, old man. Let me take a look at it.
“And I thought it was only Butch.”
<Butch> I always treat you with respect, except when I don’t.
Nolan and I shot grins at each other.
<Dojo> Connected. You give up too easily. Use the standard commands. Shall we start them up?
<Me> Should we be running any system checks?
<Butch> I’ve already done that. Nothing out of the ordinary. These were shut down correctly the last time.
“That was probably long before these pirates arrived,” Nolan said. “Chances are we won’t be able to see what happened when they got here.”
“Wonder if that transport was attacked before the pirates got here or during?” I asked.
<Butch> Permission to look for surveillance systems. They might not be tied to the main reactor or the computer systems in this room.
<Me> Permission granted.
“I’m in,” Nolan said, glancing over at me. “Downloading logs onto my PA. It’s asking me if I want to start the reactor.”
“No,” I said.
He chuckled. “Oh, I had no intention of trying that.”
I looked around as he continued working, using an antique keyboard and his PA, largely ignoring the dim display that was now showing the interface.
“Something bothering you, Captain?”
I nodded. “This installation looks like it was built by the Central Authority.”
“The computer system definitely was,” Nolan said. “Some commands haven’t changed even after all this time. It’s easy to navigate. Just a little clunky, and no mind-dictation.”
<Butch> I found the surveillance systems. Downloading files to PA net.
<Me> How much have you reviewed so far?
<Butch> Enough to see what hit that transport.
<Butch> Central Authority battle cruiser, and it was more than fifty years before the pirates arrived.
<Nolan> Knew it.
“Are there more bodies around? Living quarters, perhaps?” I asked.
<Butch> There wasn’t surveillance of living quarters, from what I’ve found so far. Release Nanos to check it out. You’ve got plenty and we can create more.
<Nolan> Good idea.
I nodded, walking out to the double doors, and sending three salvos of Nanos out into the hall, most of them heading into the darkness of the long corridor. One batch was designated to explore the big bay behind the main doors. I returned to Nolan.
Nolan looked up at me. “This might have been considered a research facility at first, which would’ve made it legal. It wasn’t secret. I’m seeing orders, signed by Central Authority figures of the time. Bet it wasn’t the Central Authority who filled that mover out there. It was somebody who showed up after the Central Authority was finished here.
<Dojo> Uh oh.
<Me> Oh, crap, what?”
<Nolan> I see it. There’s several layers of security on this system. It’s gotten the idea that we’re intruders, and the site is being locked down.
<Butch> You guys need to get out of here now. Bulkhead doors are being sealed, from way back in the mine to out here. They might be able to hold you. You have less than five minutes.
Nolan and I glanced at each other, then got up and ran, dictating speed enhancement on the fly, getting through the access door just as the hallway behind us locked down it’s bulkhead doors.
<Butch> Transmissions to the Central Authority attempted. Stopped by the Zephyrus.
To be continued…
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The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
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