My apologies about how long this took! I hit some major writer's block as I finished up the New Year, New Character challenge, and on how to ensure there was action in this. I also added Sharrukin's Palace to the blogroll. It's the blog of Jon F. Ziegler, author of Rim of Fire.
093-1120Hassan starts, as usual, at the Astrogation plot, and prepares it for a standard two parsec jump to Dismal. A normal task, he does it quickly and passes it up to Lieutenant Brickley who verifies that it is done correctly. As they prepare for the jump at the 100d limit, MM1 Brand prepares her engineering team with the regular task of diverting power to the Jump Drive. They set up the controls and the ship enters jump space flawlessly.
Seven days and four hours after they jump out from Loki/Sol to Dismal, the Boxing Kangaroo reemerges from jump space after an uneventful week. Somehow, the combination of in-ship drills, training features, and entertainment nights, kept the crew from becoming unhappy. Even the junior personnel, barely out of their training weren't that unhappy.
When sensor cleared, it became clear the system name of “Dismal” was appropriate. A few hundred thousand people running after small petrochemical and mineral deposits, on a world with little water and a thin atmosphere. The resources were there, but not in amounts that made sense for a major colonization effort. The local government didn’t even have local orbital police, just a few hundred officers to enforce what law there was on this small world. At three parsecs from the nearest Solomani world, there was no reason to even try and defend it, the thinking went. Beaming some messages down to the port, the Kangaroo flew in to low orbit, approximately 400 km from the surface of the world. Entering in to brief communications, including their mission, they fell into the routine of patrol duty.
At about 2000, well into the evening watch, GM2 Chishan was watching the primary radar scope, when an unknown ship entered the system, jumping it at 60,000 km out. He sends the standard challenge, “Unknown ship, this is Imperial Patrol 234. State your name and intention. 234 out,” before calling for the Captain.
The response is almost instantly, “234, this is Corporate Yacht Lustrous Ambition, inbound from Inferno. Corporate mission from LSP. Sending over our papers now. Ambition out,” as Brickley stepped into the Bridge.
“Captain on deck!” Spacehand Apprentice Owen shouted.
“Carry on. So, a corporate yacht. Anything yet?” Brickley replied.
“Just getting it now, sir,” Chishan replied. “Lustrous Ambition, we have received your transmission. You are cleared to enter orbit, once there, await permission for landing. 234 out.”
“We copy all, 234. Just not expecting any Navy boys around here. Ambition over.”
Brickley starts by examining the papers. The registration checked out for an LSP owned Safari Ship, and it seemed they were here to make a sales call on a minor customer. Unusual, but it happens. He forwarded it to the downport, and recommended they approve the landing. The Lustrous Ambition took orbit, and stayed in orbit until the Starport Warden was ready to deal with them.
The following watch, with Hassan and his section on watch and the Lustrous Ambition still in orbit, another ship jumps in. At 100,000 km, it’s even farther out, almost half a light-second. Nodding at Castillo to get Brickley again, Hassan starts with the challenge, “Unknown ship, this is Imperial Patrol 234. State your name and intention. 234 out.”The pause comes, and it takes a few seconds, for the intruder to reply, “Imperial Patrol 234, this is Solomani Courier Heartbreak Hill. We have misjumped and require assistance under the MAYDAY provision of Conf-er, Imperial Navigation Act, Heartbreak Hill out.”
“Heartbreak Hill, this is Imperial Patrol 234. Can you maneuver? Stand by for further instructions. 234 out.”
“234, Heartbreak Hill, we can maneuver, but not well. We suffered a computer failure while in jump from Lyoness to Tlaoc. The only thing we’ve got is about half a gee of maneuver from the ship, life support, and I’m talking to you on the launch’s radio. Heartbreak Hill out.”
Brickely arrives on the bridge, his suit barely even on, and he’s still fastening it. “OOD, report,” he flatly commands, still waking up.
“Wait one,” Hassan acknowledges the command, and then returns to talking to the wrecked courier. “Heartbreak Hill, we copy your last message. You are to maintain present course and we will meet you in your current orbit and get you into a high orbit for investigation. Maintain a guard on this frequency. 234 out.” He then turned to Brickley to report, “Sir, we’ve got an assumed Sollie Fleet Courier, and that’s what they’re squawking as well. So far, they’re story holds up…”
“Heartbreak Hill copies, 234. Out.”
“As I was saying sir, I’m planning to bring us out of our low orbit, and help them get in to a high orbit. They’re claiming a misjump and computer damage. We can take them to Hades with us when we get there in a few weeks, or drop them off here.”
“The rendezvous makes sense. Get everyone to general quarters, and we’ll go from there.” Brickley said as he finished getting his suit on and sat in his chair. Keying his internal announcing microphone and alarm controls, “All hands to stations to provide assistance to a distressed ship,” and the crew piled out of their berthing, ready to go.
Afari leads the Marines in reconfiguring the bunkroom to take personnel, from the current arrangement as a recreation room, as the ships moved to rendezvous, as the Boxing Kangaroo to tow the damaged Heartbreak Hill. As the ships moved closer, BM3 Zabiyah made sure the Kangaroo would be positioned to moved the damaged courier into a very high orbit. Lt. Brickley was making decisions for how to prepare for the personnel. Calling up what information available for Solomani Couriers, he thought around seven personnel would be expected. Maybe a few more, maybe less.
Marine 1st Class Franke
SA Owen, SR Castillo
Ship Security Lead
He called the people named to the bridge, and turned to face aft for briefing. “Corporal, your fire team is running the boat. Get them onboard, separated, offer treatment, and don’t let them touch anything. ANY OF THEM could be SolSec,” broken by a pause to take a drink, “Brand, take Hall and go onboard to rig for a tow. Ensure any drives are shut down, and complete the rig. If you can, take a look for anything interesting. Sergeant, run our guests to the bunk room, and make sure they’re comfortable. Once they’re aboard, treat them as guests, but limited to the bunk room. Any questions?”
The group looks at him, and shake their heads no. “In that case, stand by to drop the Joey and provide aid.”
“Aye, sir!” was the group response. Brickley turned his next task, where to put the guests while they waited. He started by directing a call to the port, and with chance they’d heard the prior conversation. The only resident ship was an old Type A2 where the J-drive had been shot years ago, and was now fuel barge. Dismal was one of those worlds that was in the Imperium mostly by astrography, rather than economy. Just as well, the ship had to stay in orbit, as he wasn’t sure if there was anything on world worthwhile for them.
“Heartbreak Hill¸ this is Navy Patrol 234. Cut your thrust, and prepare to take on tow. We’re sending our boat over to take off personnel and send over a salvage team. Report number of survivors. Over,” Hassan radioed the crippled courier.
A different voice answered, “Navy 234, we copy boat is coming over and your instruction to cut thrust. I have six, correction, seven survivors onboard. I say again, I have seven survivors. Heartbreak Hill, over.”
“Hill, this is Navy 234. Seven survivors. State assistance needed and injured personnel, over,” and Hassan turned to Brickley, “We’ve got their skipper on. We’ll need to prep space for seven personnel, sir.”
“Understood, OOD. Continue on the recovery operation. We’ll limit power in this case to 1 g, get them into a permanent orbit,” Brickley replied.
“Navy 234, this is Heartbreak Hill, I require removal of all personnel, have no injured personnel. My damage is a destroyed computer, and failure of clamps on the launch. I request your boat take us on at the forward end of our hold deck, over,” was the reply from the wrecked ship
“We copy boat at forward end of the hold deck for launch, Navy 234, over.” Hassan replied, and turned to Brickley, “Can we send the Joey over to them now?”
“Release the boat, and away the salvage party,” Brickley commanded.
Switching to a different, encrypted channel, as well as the direct link to the Joey, Hassan spoke “Joey, Boxing Kangaroo, you are go for mission. Mate your airlock to your cargo hatch. On open channel, we are Navy 234. Kangaroo over.”
“Boxing Kangaroo, boat away! Will mate airlock on their cargo hatch. Joey out.” The boat fell away from the Patrol Cruiser, and maintained a safe distance before Afari lit off his drive. The Joey mated to the forward cargo hatch with its portside airlock, and Marine Binici stood by to cycle the airlock, and allow Brand to enter, with the two junior ratings. As this went on, the Boxing Kangaroo took position 100 kilometers to the stern of the Heartbreak Hill, ready to push the stricken vessel into the appropriate orbit.
Brand examined the hatch, and noted that it showed the normal gravity direction, which was aligned, and that it still held atmosphere on the far side. This was a good sign, at least initially. She gave a thumbs-up to Marine Binici, who relayed it to the flight deck. Brand started by connecting the equalizer, and plugged into an intercom. Afari keyed his radio, “Heartbreak Hill, this is Joey. I am docked to your cargo hatch, and awaiting personnel. Our salvage team is standing by to check on your ship status, for our message outbound.”
“Joey, Heartbreak Hill. I read you loud and clear. We will transfer over our crew except for our pilot and engineer, over. Do you have anyone at the hatch? Over”
“Heartbreak Hill, my salvage team lead is there. She’s ready to open the hatch, and bring your atmosphere to normal. What are you running on? Joey over.”
“Joey, Hill, we’re running T-norm, over.”
Of course, they’re running Terran Normal atmosphere, they’re Sollies! Afari thought, and shook his head before replying. “Hill, we are as well. Stand by to open your hatch when we hit it three times. Joey over.” He passed the word back to Brand, who removed a 46 cm adjustable wrench from her vacc suit tool harness, and CLANG CLANG CLANG on the hull plating that made up the cargo hatch.
The internal dogs on the man passage on the hatch opened, and the scent of poorly recycled atmosphere came in, and then a middle aged Solomani man. “Permission to come aboard?” he asked as he stumbled to his feet, feeling the artificial gravity.
“Name and identification?” was Marine Binici’s response, gauss rifle slung to his strong side.
“Cebrail Strnad, here’s my Confederation Passport,” drawn from a shirt pocket, “I’m a member of the Solomani Party on a fact-finding tour before next year’s Congress. My crew was provided from the Solomani Navy Reserve, and all well trained.”
“Right. One at a time, come into the cabin, and take a couch,” Binici spoke, in the fashion of a man who is very afraid of making a mistake. “Marine Yap will assist in you have any problems in here,” as he returned to the airlock.
Brand had gone into the zero-g section, and was meeting with the master of the Heartbreak Hill. A professional woman, slightly shorter, but more solidly built, she introduced herself as Riika Manz, and retired from the Confederation Navy, but an old friend of Mr. Strnad’s. She and her engineer would help Brand, Owen, and Castillo rigging a push into a graveyard. While this conference went on, the navigator, each gunner, and the medic came aboard the ship’s boat, and was seated in separate couches. This surprising mixed crew managed to rig cables on the damaged courier in a reasonable amount of time.
“Petty Officer, thank you for helping salvage this ship. It’s not much compared to the old Stalingrad class cruiser I commanded, but the Hill’s a nice ship,” Manz spoke with Brand, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to ride her in. Captain’s prerogative, and all that.” The two Imperial Spacers had gone back to the Joey, as well as the Solomani engineer.
“Ma’am, I think the skipper would agree. Out here in the black, we’re all together. Give me a few, and I’ll ask,” Brand replied as she shifted her radio to contact the Boxing Kangaroo. “Captain, this is the Cheng. I’ve got a question from their Captain.”
“Cheng, go ahead,” was Brickley’s curt reply.
“She wants to ride this in to the parking orbit, and leave from there.”
“Cheng, let her do it, but take some pictures first, and you’ll go with. Old tradition but I’m still not trusting them.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” turning her suit radio to communicate with the Manz, “Ma’am, we’ll let you ride her in to orbit, but I’m coming with. For legal reasons, I need to take pictures for the Admiralty Court.”
“What, yes, that makes sense, and thank you,” was Manz’s response. They spoke with the boat crew, and shut the hatch at the cargo bay, allowing the Joey to return to the Boxing Kangaroo. The two of them went through, and it did look like something had caused the ship’s computer to explode, as well as feedback into a regulator in the jump drive, inducing a misjump.
Afari was sitting on his flight deck in the boat, comfortably flying the return course. The party left on the wrecked ship would help rig the tow. The salvage team and ship’s crew were aboard, and they were ready to get back to the Boxing Kangaroo. The rest of his fireteam was ensuring the passengers were settled, and there were no ill effects from the week in microgravity. The steward/medic had brough over some information regarding the health status of all members of the team, and Marine Yap reviewed it, finding no problems. The Joey returned to the Boxing Kangaroo, and docked without incident. Sergeant Valdez began processing the survivors aboard the patrol cruiser. The Marines aboard were keeping them under guard, and with strict orders not to let the survivors speak unless answering questions about health and information about their incident. Sublieutenant Hassan came down to start preliminary inquiries about what happened aboard the ill-fated Heartbreak Hill. Brickely returned to the bridge to plan for him and the Boatswain to push the ships together.
Brand and Manz went through the wreckage, and the Imperial Petty Officer took pictures of the damaged computer, and entered the engine room with the Solomani officer. The cursory examination of the drives revealed they were in fairly good shape, but the interface modules to the computer on the jump, maneuver, and powerplant were slagged. Whatever destroyed the computer, it was quite powerful, in providing enough feedback to take out those lines. Brand’s investigation revealed nothing more about the destruction of the computer, only that it was enough to hide it from the anyone short of a trained investigator. A common tech, not as much. That concluded, the two women suited up for the required EVA. Going into space, they noted the Kangaroo having shifted to the stern, and taking up position to nudge the damaged courier into the right orbit.
Brickley and Zabiyah were sitting on the bridge, preparing to use the Kangroo’s drives to nudge the damaged courier into a graveyard orbit, and then to drop the survivors off. Working together, they plot the course, and come up with the exact piloting needed, in a matter of minutes. “Won’t even have to eyeball it sir, this’ll get it moving to the right orbit, and we can get back down in to low system orbit,” Zabiyah commented on the completed plot.
Down in the bunk room, Hassan found himself in an argument with an irritated Solomani dignitary. “I DON’T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS, I WANT TO GET BACK TO THE CONFEDERATION!” Strnad bellowed at the experienced officer.
“ALL SHIPWRECKS MUST BE THROUGHLY INVESTIGATED, AND THIS INCLUDES THE CREW AND PASSENGERS!” Hassan counted, just as loudly. “I don’t know what the regulations are in your so-called Confederation, but here, I will take statements, and they will be forwarded to the Admiralty Court. Your transportation back to your port of origin will be arranged as well.”
“You half-breed occupier,” Strnad speaks in reply, noting Hassan’s obvious Core accent, compared to the Rim Anglic the rest of the crew spoke with. “I will give you nothing, more than what’s in my passport, as will my crew.”
“In that case, I’ll be recommending that we treat you as prisoners, and hold you until the diplomats come up with a solution. You can’t be preparing to break the truce, but are you giving information to a deep cover agent?”
“And what of your engineer and my captain? Will your captain believe you when we get their information?” Strnad’s response was calm and collected, obviously used to ignoring crude threats.
“Fine, fine, we’ll just have some basic testimony, so the insurers can hash it out. You know, credits make the galaxy go round.”
“Of course, Sublieutenant. As we said initially, we were jumping from Lyoness to Tlaloc with plans for Smade’s Planet, to refuel, and then to New Greenpernt. I was there to speak with various Party organizations and support candidates for the Congress…” Strand trailed off, giving a long story, short on details relevant to the incident, but providing background information.
Seeing their leader give answers, the rest of the survivors, under the watchful eyes of the Marines, asked him for material to write a statement and then explain it.
to his chair on the bridge, and got Brand on the radio, a private channel,
using. “Are you read for us to play tug?”
“We are. The skipper of this little boat gave me the full tour. It looks like something went off in the computer, and slagged the controllers for the drives. I can’t say much else, but they’ll need a full survey team,” Brand replied.
“So, they’re telling the truth?” Brickley asked, considering his options.
“Yessir. Standing by to shift orbit. Then we’ll MMU over to the Kangaroo.”
“Copy.” Shifting his attention, Brickley picked up the 1MC microphone, and announced to the ship. “Set general quarters, as we move the wreck into a graveyard orbit. All survivors to stay in the bunkroom, and prepare to don escape bubbles.” Sergeant Valdez’s team stayed behind in the bunkroom, and insured the escape bubbles were passed out to the six in there. The two junior engineers went to the engineering space, and the gunners stood by. GM2 Chishan had them ready, if any damage control was required. BM3 Zabiyah stayed in his right-hand pilot seat, ready to make the precision controls required. Cutting his thrust down to micro-gravities, he got the Boxing Kangaroo’s aircraft like prow up against the tall aerofin of the Heartbreak Hill, well clear of the cruiser’s wings. The two figures on the hull of the stricken courier went boarded the cruiser. Manz found herself sitting in the bunk room, and giving a written statement under Valdez’s watchful eye, as Brand went to the engine room, and prepared for the precision adjustments required.
A steady hand, eyes on the display, and two throttle taps. The damaged Heartbreak Hill began on her trip to a graveyard orbit, as the Boxing Kangaroo separated. The secured from General Quarters, to land the next morning. Unhappily, the Solomani were confined to the bunkroom the entire time.