Saturday, October 28, 2017

On Patrol, Part II

064-1120Peraspera/Sol High Port

            MM1 Brand was casually walking back from the Imperial Courier Service office in the highport’s commercial area, having dropped a message back to Saagii/Madoc (Diaspora 1739). She had received a message earlier this week from her mother. Father’s health was not doing as well, and one of her older brothers was involved in something at Muan Gwi where he is a member of Archduke Adair’s staff. Her reply was more of a generic one stating she was alive and well, and it was too bad she couldn’t be closer. The last part was dishonest; Juliana was quite happy on the Boxing Kangaroo, and in the Navy.
Former Third Secretary Thrupp, 1
            A middle-aged woman dressed in professional attire approached her, “Excuse me, Petty Officer? I’m Third Secretary Thrupp, formerly of the Diplomatic Corps. I think you may need my help here.”
            “Madam, I’m quite sure that anything like that- “
            “Can go through your Captain, and the Station Officer. I know the channels. I also know somebody in the Station Office has been compromised. If I can talk to your Captain, you can help me make a big bust here.”
            “What?”
            “People are listening. Aboard ship, it’ll be clear.”
            “Of course. We’ll get over to the Navy dock.” Brand lead Secretary Thrupp to the Kangaroo’s berth in the small military section of the High Port. Thrupp’s credentials were accepted by the no-neck Marine standing guard on that section. The two women went to the portal where an obviously bored BM3 Zabiyah was standing entry watch.
            “MM1, who’s this you’re bringing aboard?” he asked.
            “She’s MoJ and wants to see the Skipper.” Brand replied.
            “Her ID? I mean, it should be good, but…”
            “Here it is. This isn’t the first one of these ship’s I’ve been on.” Thrupp interrupted, handing him her credentials. “Permission to come aboard, Petty Officer?”
            “Wait one, ma’am,” Zabiyah replied. “Your info checks out, but I’d like to call the CO first.”
            “Captain, this is BM3 on the quaterdeck. I know I’m skipping past the XO, but MM1 came back with someone with MoJ credentials, and wants to talk with you,” he said into the headset as it was keyed to a specific channel. In response came a muffled reply.
            “Yes sir, I’ll let her aboard with MM1 as a guide. And thank you, sir, for not holding this against me.” Zabiyah said into the headset. He looked up from the bridge box, and told the two standing there, “Secretary Thrupp, he’s agreed to see you, with MM1 Brand here and the XO in his office. You may come aboard, but please wait for Petty Officer Brand once aboard”
            “I’m not used to waiting on junior officers like this, but I’ve got a job to do,” Thrupp grumbled in reply as she entered the ship through the belly airlock.
            “Permission to come aboard?” Brand asked, holding her ID card up to Zabiyah and saluting.
            “Come aboard, MM1,” as the salute was retuned.
            Brand lead Thrupp up through the ship, and passed Fireman Maurer who tried to engage in brief conversation with her department head, but Brand pushed her aside with typical military courtesy, on a mission to see Lieutenant Brickley. Stepping through the bridge to the captain’s office, she met with him and Sublieutenant Hassan already seated in the small space.
            “Take a seat both of you,” Brickley directed them to sit.
            “Thank you Lieutenant Brickley. I understand it’s not normal for officers to meet with strangers with Ministry of Justice credentials at the request of their spacers, but this time it’s worth it.” Thrupp replied.
            “I’m afraid you’ve got me at a disadvantage here, Ms,-“
            “Thrupp. Adelaide Thrupp. Formerly a third secretary with the Diplomatic Corps, now an agent for the Ministry of Justice.”
            “Alright then, what do you have? And why can’t you pass it to the normal chain?” Hassan broke in.
Ground Car prepped for use as SVBIED 2
            “My contacts have a Rule of Terra cell that’s been operating here in the Outback that keeps getting lost here at Peraspera. We think there’s someone they’re blackmailing in the Navy Station to let their free trader get through. They’ve been pretty small fry, only a logistics cell, so we’ve got them red handed here bringing in equipment to make a sizable bomb at Prometheus.”
            “Go on,” Brickley notes approvingly. “What’s the route they fly?”
            “Thank you for your interest. This group handles it from Midway to Prometheus, and they regularly just stop here for a quick refuel, before jumping to Prometheus. The reason the Ministry of Justice thinks there’s a mole here is because the Navy was warned twice as to their intention, and the name of the ship, and both times, she got away.”
            “Cargo?” Hassan asks, looking up from notes he had been taking.
            “Ground cars ready for conversion to vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, for use against Imperial forces on world. They look like they’re cut off from SolSec support, but are still dangerous.”
            “Prior runs?” Brand chimes in.
            “Looks like they were doing dry runs to test their supply route as a way to see if they got in, and exfiltrating a couple of Sollie agents. Nothing too big…” Thrupp trailed off.
            Thinking briefly, Brickley breaks the silence with, “Got it, ma’am. We’ll take it from here. ID on the trader?”
            “Well, named the Dentus Delights on the Peraspan registry, actually.” Reaching for a concealed pocket, Thrupp hands a data crystal to Brickley. “Captain, this should have the info you need for this operation.”
            “Thank you for giving us this chance,” he says shaking her hand, turning, “Brand, escort her off the ship, please. Nothing personal, just getting you out of here while I make the plans.”
            As Brand left with Thrupp, Brickley and Hassan reviewed the material. The Rule of Terra cell had bought a legitimate free trader named the Dentus Delights last year, and hand been operating it in the Outback on speculative cargo runs. The tracing of the purchaser had taken long enough the Ministry of Justice had only recently identified them as a terrorist group. The proof was pretty damming on the whole thing. It looked like their plan was to bring in 4 ATVs under cover as a larger expedition seeking preservation information about various carnivorous megafauna introduced on Prometheus. Six terrorists to ensure proper wiring of the explosives and serve as security were under cover as the ‘expedition’. The low berth rooms were modified as well, the capsules replaced by stores for explosives during the last visit to Midway/Sol at the beginning of the year. Since the purchase, the crew’s been a courier and small-scale money maker for the terrorist group as an above board Free Trader.
            The kicker though, was proof that Navy personnel had been complicit in letting them through. Last month, the Dentus Delights had come through Peraspera and the Navy was alerted. Somehow, she got away with a couple of known SolSec agents. Now they were lost on world. A mole in the Navy Station was suspected. Commander Lord Wood was not to be informed, but it was easily obvious the Station Commander was an upper-class twit placed here to keep him from killing people. But in this case, his inaction and poor staff control would lead to that happening. The suspects were Chief Moreau, who ran the boat docks, Petty Officer Brown who worked the parts shop, Petty Officer Gwindhir at the Admin Office, Petty Officer Bullard assigned to Security, and Spacehand Smith working in the Admin Office as well. One of them would be hiding something. The whole thing had to be planned without Station’s interference.


065-1120

            Early the next morning, the Boxing Kangaroo boosted from the High Port to a patrol sector congruent with a jump in from Junction. Nine hours in their patrol, a jump signature came in. BM3 Zabiyah examined the scope, and called Spacehand Hall.
            “Look, we’ve got jump signature right now. Looks like it’s about 20-25 thousand km from us, and we’ve got it as a, wait a sec, yeah, 200 dTon ship. Get the Captain now. By the time he gets here, I’ll be able to tell him if it’s our quarry,” he orders her. Zabiyah gets to work getting the info and transmitting the challenge.
            By the time Spacehand Hall returns with Lieutenant Brickley, Zabiyah has a good identification on the intruder.
            “Captain, we have a positive ID this is the Free Trader Dentus Delights. Transponder is consistent with the files we have on them, as is displacement and performance. Current range is
23,000 kilometers. I recommend we bring the ship to general quarters and prepare to engage if they won’t heave to.”
            “Very well, officer of the deck. Sound general quarters for a suspected hostile,” Brickley gave the order in a surpsringly relaxed tone. Glancing around, he studied the various instruments.
            Turning to his console, Zabiyah keyed up the general announcing system. “General Quarters, General Quarters, all hands man battle stations for suspected hostile,” then keyed the alarm, and repeated it.
            In the berthing spaces, the Marines were headed down to the Ship’s Boat, with the crew practically on station in the Boat. Chishan and Owen hurried down to the missile turrets, as Hall ran down the corridor getting rousing the resting members of the crew. Hassan and Castillo followed her back to the bridge, getting to their stations. The engineers raced back aft to the plant.
From my collection. Found in my copy of TTB
            Brickey announced, “This is the captain, I have the deck and the conn,” effectively relieving Zabiyah as OOD, and taking direct control of the ship. Hassan took over reports, and noted them on a screen
            “Captain, all stations report manned and ready,” Hassan reported.
            “Very well. Transmit order to heave to.”
            “Transmit order to heave to, aye,” came the response. Hassan spoke with a low voice into the ship to ship laser communicator, “Attention Free Trader Dentus Delights, this is Imperial Patrol Cruiser Boxing Kangaroo. Heave to for inspection. Attempts to evade will be met with deadly force.” Turning, “Order sent, sir.”
            “Very well.”
            “Sir, they just fired at us! A complete miss with a beam laser, but they’re shooting back!” Zabiyah notes with alacrity.
            Keeping his cool, Brickley announces, “Hostile intent confirmed. Away boat!” as they prepare for action
            The long minutes of combat start with both ships firing at long range. First the missiles are released. The Dentus Delights manage to hit the Kangaroo with a single hit, causing them to react with both laser turrets. As the range closed, the superior skill and maneuvering of the Navy crew quickly showed. Once the M-drive was hit and the main hull obliterated, the terrorist crew surrendered.
            Once the Boxing Kangaroo and its ship’s Boat were alongside, the Marines began a search. All eleven aboard were taken, with the trader’s pilot in serious condition. Yap managed to get her stabilized. The near scrap nature of their ship having taken any desire to fight out of them, including one particularly psychotic one who dropped a cutlass at the point of a FGMP. The ATVs were wrecked by the destruction of a cargo bay door, but still recognizable, and the drive section slagged. Somehow, the engineer survived the postmodern metal sculpture garden the engine room had become. An inspection of various documents produced proof this group of cutthroats was in fact two cells of Rule of Terra. A five-member logistics cell manning the free trader, and a six-member direct action cell to explode things. A tug came out from the high port to bring the wrecked trader in, taking most of the day to get both ships back to the high port. Shockingly, one of the gunners was believed dead, a former Sub-Lieutenant in the Navy whose cutter was listed as lost with all hands at Kidashi/Albadawi a few years back. She was in tears next to the pilot.
            Looking at the group secured in the bunk room forward, the Lieutenant examines them in turn. Sergeant Valdez stood next to him, waiting for orders. The former leader looked defiant, like he could get his way out of this very easily, his pilot lying on a rack, with the former officer monitoring the pilot’s vitals. The engineer was morose, like he had lost his only friend. The other two were on racks, one lost in thought, the other rubbing his chest absent mindedly. Of the direct-action cell, they were all rather dejected. The Marines had humiliatingly searched each one aboard the ship’s boat. Brickley looked at Valdez, and nodded. “Take our traitor up to my office. I want the name of her contact.”
            “Aye aye, sir!” Valdez replied and saluted, before taking one of his Marines with him. They pulled the sobbing woman away, and frog-marched her to the small office where Brand was waiting.
            “It’s nice to see someone from that cutter again.” Brand spoke as the renegade settled in her seat. “I remember seeing you all leave, and there was that service for everyone afterwards. What’s it like hearing about your own memorial service?”
            “What!? My girlfriend…” Bailey responded.
            “So that’s how they kept you!” Brand retorted, interrupting. What we need from you is who you’ve been speaking to here to get away from it all.”
            “Why, so you can send them to Newcomb as well? Or is there another prison for us to get disappeared to?” the prisoner retorted, snapping out of it.
            “Now, we can play nice, or I can have the Sergeant come back,” Brand tried to intimidate the prisoner.
            “Not likely. Besides, you’d ruin be before your boss,” Bailey came back, not impressed with Brand’s attempt.
            “Sergeant,” Brand keyed the comms, “Please return to the office and return our friend, slowly.”
            “No, no, I’ll talk.” Bailey returned to her. “It’s someone in the Admin section. We meet, and he keeps me listed as dead, but I use a fake ID. I had met him before, he’s from Thorwald, you know, with the leyden trees.”
            “Thank you, ma’am. That wasn’t so hard.” Brand replied. “We’ll be sure to note this in our logs.” Valdez returned, and took the again crying woman back to the bunkroom, as Brand returned to Brickley, who was waiting in the common area.
            “Sir, she’s keyed a man from Thorwald in Admin at the station. Can you get into their personnel files?” Brand asked.
            Brickley replied, “Give me a sec. It should be possible, but I’ll need Hassan do it. He’s the right man for that job.” Switching gears, he asked, “Repairs to how they dinged the armor?”
            “Should be no more than a few hours once we get back. It’s pretty common hull damage, so even a backwater like this can get it done in an hour or two.” She replied.
            “Thanks, Eng. You did really well there. Did you really work on that cutter?”
            “I’m not sure, but I do remember the massive dress uniform memorial service afterwards.”
            “Get some rest, I’ll speak with the XO here about that info,” Brickley spoke as he turned to the Hassan’s state room. Tapping the door chime, Brickley waited a second, and the door opened.
            “Evening sir, what do you have for me?” Hassan spoke as Brickley stepped through, half standing.
            “Well, we’ve got some ideas as to the guy whose responsible.” Brickley spoke as he waved Hassan back to a chair. “From Thorwald, and in Admin. Can you get a name from the listing of station personnel by the time we get back?”
            “Certainly sir! I’ll get it for you by the time we get back to the High Port,” Hassan replied. “Now if you’ll let me take a look at it all, it won’t be a problem.”
            “Of course. Take your time,” was the reply as Brickley left the stateroom.
            An hour later, as the Boxing Kangaroo was preparing for its final maneuver to the High Port, with clearance for the repair yard and a security force standing by, Hassan reported to Brickley with the information.
            “It’s all here, Skipper. It sounds like YN2 Gwindhir is our culprit. From Thorwald, and in Admin. Good kid before this, but there’s something up here. There’s portions of his record that just don’t exist.” Hassan said as he handed the information to Brickley.
            “Huh. We’ll take this in, and give it to Justice, but now we’ve got to get our battered ship to repairs.”
            Commander Lord Wood awaited them at air lock as they docked, with a mixed group of Marines, Navy Security, and Ministry of Justice personnel standing by. “Lieutenant, it’s great to see you back. And that you managed to capture the entire terrorist group and their information is of great value to the Imperium.”
            “Thank you, sir, but I believe your Station has been compromised,” Brickley responded, “One of the crew was one of ours, but a Yeoman in your offices managed to keep her fake ID acceptable, and their ship from running in to trouble.”
            “What, how?!” came a look of shock and surprise from the Commander.
            “Check your records for the last six months. There’s been a few alerts out on this free trader, and every time, it’s managed to get through without being caught, or the contraband she’s been suspected of carrying has been lost in this system,” Brickley explained. “We got them, and there’s no way that you can’t deny it’s a dirty ship.”
            “I see, I see,” came the cultured voice. “Who, how did you know?”
            “I met with a MOJ freelancer yesterday. She should still be on world, but they were pissed at you and the Navy. Middle aged type, and pushy.”
            “Well, thank you Lieutenant, and we will get these prisoners to jail, and Imperial justice will be done,” the Commander replied with some petulance in his voice. Returning to command, “Force Commander, take them to the jail.”


Image credits:

1.  Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/22007612@N05/17611787485/">Gage Skidmore</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>
2. http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2017/09/why-should-warship-worry-about-chevy-suv.html