Location: CWS Argo, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The battle was the easy part. Cleaning up after it was much more difficult. Ben had heard it described like this before. A few moments of sheer terror filled with hours of tedious boredom. He’d been prepared for the terror. That was what his training was geared towards, and being in command gave him a million other things to do in those precarious moments. Right now, he was very much not liking his job.
“Section 166, normal. No physical damage and only light irradiation. Only a few ppm, well below regulation levels.” LT Briggs was leading the damage control teams on a thorough and exhausting inspection of the ship. They were looking for any type of damage to Argo and compiling a damage report that he would have to sign off on and turn into the fleet when they returned.
Ben noted the assessment on the master report and the LT moved onto section 167. <Only a couple of hundred sections to go.> It hardly mattered that the pirates hadn’t scored a single hit on Argo. They still had to do this.
“Sergeant O’Neil on TACCOM for you, Sir.” SP2 Olvera reported dutifully.
“Patch him through.”
After securing Full Moon, Ben had ordered the marines to use their shuttle to make contact with and assess the damage to New Day. Since they were the likely target of the pirate’s attack, he wanted a thorough report on the damage they’d taken and whether or not it was natural or sabotage. He hoped it was natural. If it was sabotage then him and Cobalt Station had a lot of work to do. Pirates were making more and more inroads into this sector and it was Ben’s job to stop it. Not only did Cobalt Station pay the Fleet to do just that, but Ben felt a responsibility toward the small mining station. After all, he did kind of own it.
“Go ahead, Sergeant.”
“Sir, we’ve completed a preliminary scan of the vessel. It only has two crew members, the captain and a mechanic. Both were unharmed in the firefight, and only one is freaking out a little. As for the explosion that called for the original distress call it does look a little fishy. I’m no engineer, but I don’t think when something explodes for real it’s supposed to leave the stuff surrounding it relatively unharmed.”
<Damn.> Argo’s port call to the mining station just got a lot longer.
“Please sent my greeting to the captain and politely request that he accompanies you back to the Argo. I want to have a chat with him. Please tell him to forward his ship’s logs to me before you depart. I want to look it over before you arrive. Good work, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, Sir.” The link was cut.
Ben was left scratching his chin. He liked the SGT. All the marines had done a fantastic job of eliminating the threats with minimal injuries. Only a single marine required a short stay in their sick bay to recover from wounds obtained in the battle. Everyone was giving that marine a hard time about getting hurt, but as far as Ben knew it was all in good fun.
“Yes, Commander Gold.”
“I want you to take a look at the ship’s logs when they are downloaded to us. Please review for anything suspicious or altered.”
Ben received the logs thirty minutes later and got word that the shuttle would be arriving back at the gunboat in forty-five minutes. That gave him just enough time to prepare. There was no special room for questioning people on a gunboat. There just wasn’t enough space, so the question became where to talk. He wasn’t going to take the other captain anywhere near the bridge or any other sensitive area, which left infantry country. They had an open space for basic exercises and hand-to-hand training, so Ben had one of the maintenance spacers get a pair of chairs and a folding table set up. That would have to do.
“Shuttle arriving. Docking procedures initiating.” Geoffrey’s voice announced over the ship intercom.
Ben waited patiently next to the hatch until the light turned green and it slid open.
“Sir,” SGT O’Neil was still in his armor and looked massive next to the small man next to him. “May I introduce Captain Pickard of CMS New Day. Captain Pickard, this is Lieutenant Commander Gold, the commander of Argo.”
“It is such an honor to meet you, Sir. The small captain took Ben’s large hand in both of his and shook. “Thank you, thank you so much for what you did for us.”
“No need, Captain. I was just doing my duty.” Ben couldn’t help but feel sorry for the smaller captain. The man looked pale, sickly, and in need of several good meals. “Can I get you something to eat or drink, Sir. Our mess is small, but our cook does what he can.”
“No thank you, Sir.” Pickard bowed his head. “You’ve done more than enough for me today.”
“That is what I wanted to talk to you about,” Ben ushered the other captain toward the table. “We are investigating the incident, and I wanted to get your take on it. You were right in the middle of it after all.”
“Yes, of course.” Pickard flushed as he took a seat. “I will do my best to answer your questions.”
“Thank you.” Ben set his PAD to record and made the proper legal statements required by Commonwealth maritime law. “How long have you been working for Cobalt?”
“Only a short time, Sir. I just got New Day outfitted and registered. This was going to be my first job in sector with her. I spent everything I had to get her up and running.” The captain’s voice cracked a bit.
“When did you first encounter the pirate vessel Full Moon?”
“On our way here. We stopped for fuel and supplies in System 1773.” They were in orbit with us and we teamed up for the trip here. I thought safety in numbers would be a good thing.”
“Did they ever come onboard?” Ben checked the data on the ship’s logs to see if the answers matched the ship’s history. So far so good, and he’d double check that data with records from System 1773.
“I don’t think so, but my mechanic and I did leave the ship to go down to the planet quickly. We weren’t gone more than an hour, but I guess they could have gotten on board.” The man looked troubled as he tried to remember events from a few days ago.
A message popped up in his PAD addressed from Geoffrey. It stated that there was some corrupted data from around the time New Day was in System 1773. It supported Pickard’s story.
“What occurred once you left System 1773?”
“It was business as usual.” Pickard shrugged. “We arrived at Cobalt Station, signed in, reviewed our contract, and set out for the asteroid field.”
“It says here you stayed on station for six hours. Why so long? A standard contract review can’t have taken that long with the administrators.” Ben had seen whole companies get bought out in a shorter timeframe.
“Well…um…” Pickard stammered and blushed. “My mechanic has needs, Sir.” He finally revealed. “Needs of the flesh and of the bottle. It’s not my place to judge, but I don’t hold the same tastes as he does. But he’s a great mechanic,” Pickard added hastily. “It’s tough to find good workers for the low wages the mining companies pay. If he needs to take a few hours to blow off steam then who am I to judge? As long as he comes to work sober I let him do what he wants.”
Geoffrey couldn’t confirm that story without connecting to Cobalt’s network, and they needed to be closer to do that reliably.
<We are going there anyway.> Ben sighed and gave the nervous-looking captain a smile.
“You’ve been through a lot today, Captain. I don’t want to take up any more of your time. We will return you to your vessel. You are welcome to follow us back to Cobalt Station, and I am sure the company has paperwork that you need to fill out.”
“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir. But if I may,” Pickard looked hesitant, but Ben was beginning to think that was the man’s natural state, “could you give us a tow back to the station. With our damage I’d rather not push the old girl.”
“I am sorry, Captain.” Ben shook his head. “Regulation dictates that I cannot assist in that manner.” Ben felt sorry at the dejected look on Pickard’s face. “But,” he added, “I will send a message ahead for the station to send a tug your way.”
“Thank you, Sir. That will help a lot.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Captain. I wish it was under better circumstances. Sergeant.” Ben motioned for SGT O’Neil to transport the Captain back to his ship and retrieve the marines there.
That would take another hour and a half, which gave them time to finish up the inventory.
“Sir, sections 167 through 221 are all normal. Moving to section 222.” LT Briggs brought him back up to date on her progress.
“Continue,” he replied, and got to work on the paperwork.
Location: CWS Argo, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Noah had to work very hard to conceal the disdain that threatened to leak onto his face at any moment. His mark, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold was sitting right in front of him and there wasn’t a single thing he could do. On top of that, the LCDR was like every other pompous asshole the pirate captain had ever met. He had blue specks in his eyes, golden hair, an enhanced physique, and everything else in this universe that the rich could afford while people like Noah had to squabble for scraps.
Benjamin Gold was half the reason Noah did what he did. He took from the rich, but he didn’t give to the poor. He kept that shit for himself. The worst part about all of this was that he could feel millions of dollars slipping through his fingers. Full Moon hadn’t even dented the gunboat’s hull.
<If that fucking moron had waited a few more minutes I would be the person on the other side of the table right now, and I wouldn’t be so kind.> Benjamin seemed to be under the impression that Noah and Able were victims in this whole incident. A point of view he had no problem in supporting.
The problem was that too much digging into the story would unravel it. New Day and Full Moon hadn’t only met in System 1773. They’d arrived together. That was going to create more questions. Questions that pointed in a bad direction.
<I’ve got to fix this and fix it fast.>
The one good thing about the chat was that Noah was able to get a decent layout of this part of the ship. It looked like the place where the marines hung out, which made sense if someone was going to board through the airlock then it was smart to have them funnel right into the heart of the ship’s defenders. Noah also confirmed they had between five and ten marines, and since he wasn’t a moron like the Full Moon’s now deceased captain, he was betting on the higher number.
<If I can get enough people together then we can take this tin can.>
The problem was getting enough people out here without being detected, getting them armed and coordinated, and then having them storm the gunboat when it was weakest.
<I’ve got to hit it when it’s docked at the station.> There was no other way unless he hired a flotilla of pirates to try and take down the gunboat in action.
That would just lead to the same problem. Pirates didn’t play well together. They’d fight among themselves before, after, and maybe even during the attempt to kidnap Commander Gold. There was no way Noah could trust them to get the task done, and there was no way to get it done with just him and Able.
<That’s why this is a fifty-million-dollar job.>
Gold dismissed him after their short conversation and exiled him back to his ship with the watchful marine. He couldn’t do anything now. He needed to bide his time and make some calls. Able had made a few less than reputable contacts on the station. They might be able to help.