Two Worlds – Chapter 126

Lieutenant Heather Briggs

Location: CWS Argo, Cobalt Station, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 LT Briggs stifled a yawn as she reviewed the holo-bubble in front of the captain’s chair. You could view it from anywhere on the gunboat’s small bridge, but there was something purely awesome about sitting in that specific chair.

<One day,> she thought wistfully as she took a sip of coffee.

It was the middle of the night-watch on the ship’s schedule, and after the pulse-pounding battle a number of the crew were in their quarters sleeping. The exceptions were the captain and his small boarding party that had gone onto the station. Chief Yates was still up running diagnostics on his gunnery systems and reviewing the sensor data from the fight. Like any good athlete he was critiquing his performance. In his case, it was throwing megaton antimatter missiles instead of a pig’s skin. Spacer Gilbert was also on watch at the helm where he looked on the verge of falling asleep.

She had to be there as the OIC when the captain was off the ship. Chief Yates was there by choice. It was just Gilbert’s bad luck that he pulled watch after a fight. Other than the pair of marines standing guard at the entrance hatch to the gunboat the rest of the crew was out like a light.

They thought they were secure, but they were at their most vulnerable since they’d entered the system.

Argo, this is O’Neil, contact! We’ve got…”

Chief Yates sprang up in his seat. The LT looked at the comm’s station with a perplexed look, and Gilbert’s head snapped up from where it had momentarily rested on his chest.

“Say again, Sergeant?” Briggs keyed the transmit button.

“Contact! Multiple casualties. Send QRF.”

Training took over and the LT’s hand smashed into a big red button on the captain’s chair. Red light started to flash and a blaring siren wailed as the battlestations alarm went out throughout the small ship.

“Geoffrey, isolate their location.” The ship’s intelligence system was tapped into the station’s databanks already, and from there it was child’s play.

“Sergeant O’Neil and the captain are pinned on C-level, corridor twelve. Twenty-one hostiles are assaulting their fragile position with a variety of weaponry.” The emotionless tone kind of creeped the LT out.

“Corporal, ETA?”  She radioed the marine in charge in SGT O’Neil’s absence.

“We’re haulin’ ass, Ma’am. My boys will be suited up in under a minute. I’m pushing the hatch guards forward. To make a path for us.”

She was amazed that the marines could go from sleeping to combat in under a minute, but this was the stuff they trained for.

“Contact…fuck!” It was a new voice on the comms that TACCOM identified as one of the hatch guards. “We’ve got hostile pushing…” The line went dead.

The LT pulled up STRATNET data and the Private’s icon was showing an ominous black.

“Shit! Bobby is dead. He’s fucking dead!” A second, young and frantic voice screamed over TACCOM.

Suddenly, the sound of gunfire filled the gunboat before being abruptly cut off.

<What the hell?>

“Biez, what the fuck are you doing in here?” The LT heard the CPL’s voice through TACCOM and as it echoed through the ship.

She didn’t hear the PVT’s reply, but there was a lot of cursing coming from the CPL. “Ma’am,” we’ve lost the docking tube, one KIA.”

She knew what KIA meant, but as for the other stuff. “What’s the plan, Corporal?” she projected confidence even though this was marine territory not hers.

“We take it back and kill these fuckers, Ma’am.”

The LT believed he would have done it if it wasn’t for the violent shaking that rocked the ship. Red icons nearly overwhelmed Gilbert’s station as he fought for control of the ship. Stabilizing thrusters fired everywhere as the ship wobbled out into space.

“Geoffrey, what the fuck!” Gilbert cursed at the ship itself.

“Apologies, Spacer Gilbert, but…”

The ship’s explanation was cut short as a second larger shockwave spread through the ship. The LT threw her arm out to grasp the side of the chair and succeeded in not falling flat on her face. She couldn’t see the ship spiraling out of control, but she could tell Gilbert was fighting inertia by the way his fingers danced across his control panel.

“I observed the hostile planting direction mines at our end of the docking tube, Lieutenant Briggs.” Geoffrey explained as they fought to control the ship. “With our ES systems in standby mode there was an eighteen percent chance of a hull breech. That was more than my core programming would allow for.”

The LT found it hard to yell at the AI when it had saved them from a possible death-by-mine, but that still didn’t fix the problem. The range indicator showed Argo was three kilometers away from the station and the distance was growing by the second. Gilbert was regaining control, but that didn’t matter when the captain was still onboard the station. No matter how bad the LT wanted her own command, no XO wanted to get it this way.

“O’Neil. We’ve been forced away from the station. Provide rendezvous location for alternative pickup.”

There was a tense minute where there was no response, and the LT feared the worst. They’d already lost one marine to a surprise attack, and O’Neil said he’d had casualties. The gunboat couldn’t take too many before it became combat ineffective.

Argo… we have a problem.” The SGT’s voice was strained and grave when he finally replied. “The god-forsaken security guard grabbed the captain. He’s gone. I don’t know his location or if he’s still alive. I’ve got the security guard’s body. He’s dead, God rest his soul, but I still can’t get a lock on the captain.

The LT double-checked STRATNET but it showed the captain was offline. His tag was integrated into his smartcloth uniform, so it was likely that whoever had grabbed him had made him change. If he was dead, and in uniform, it would show black.

“He’s still on the station.” Chief Yates spoke up. The LT saw him reviewing all sensor data for the last half an hour. “Nothing has left.”

“Lock it down.” The LT immediately ordered. “Chief, no one leaves that station. Comms,” the LT looked over and saw Olvera at her station, “broadcast to everyone within shouting distance that the space around the station is a no-go zone until further notice. Gilbert, give me a patrol course around the station; minimal distance.

“Aye, Ma’am.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Roget that, Ma’am. Plotting course, distance fifty kilometers.”

While the bridge crew went to work, the LT pulled up the command functions on the command chair. First, she activated the ES shielding. The nanites hardened at a molecular level and gave the gunboat much better protection. Active sensors started to sweep the station every few seconds. Nothing was going to get out of there without them knowing. That coupled with the targeting radar that Chief was pinging all over the place definitely had people on the station shitting their pants.

Whether or not Argo would actually fire on that station was another question. A question that was far above her paygrade.

“Comms, send the following message back to the fleet. Enemy force of unknown size had taken control of Cobalt Station and kidnapped CWS Argo’s commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Gold. Activities and goals of enemy force are unknown. We are trying to establish communications. Assumption is that enemy force is pirates, considering we just engaged and destroyed a pirate vessel. Enemy weaponry is unknown. Get it out now.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” SP3 Olvera finished comprising the report, stowed it into a drone, and shot it out of the Argo. It would take nearly twelve hours to get the message delivered, but within a day they could have enough marines here to storm the station and rescue the captain.

All attempts to communicate with the captors failed. All attempts to communicate with the station at all failed. Their sensors picked up plenty of activity, but it seemed like the mutineers were busy reveling in their conquest. After a few hours they were smart enough to shut down the databanks to cut Geoffrey out of the system. Up until then they gathered as much information as they could about the captors. At least that’s who the LT thought they were. There was still no sign of the captain anywhere.

All Argo could do was circle the station like a hungry shark and wait for reinforcements. It wasn’t what anyone on the gunboat wanted to do, but they really didn’t have any other choice.

 

***

 

Benjamin Gold

Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Ben’s head rocked back as the big pirate’s fist slammed into his jaw. Whoever the guy was, he was enhanced enough to rattle Ben’s reinforced musculoskeletal structure. That either meant he was military or rich enough to afford the best in the Commonwealth. If Ben was going to judge a book by his cover, he’d guess military.

“What do you want?” Ben asked, and got another fist to the jaw in response.

He felt something in the back of his mouth pop and tasted iron. He gathered his saliva and spit out a glob of fresh, red blood. “I can’t help if I don’t know what you want.”

The man reared his fist back again…

“That’s enough.” The smaller man, the mining ship’s captain spoke and the bigger man listened. “We don’t want to harm the merchandise.”

“I have kidnapping insurance.” Ben informed.

It was common for anyone in his family’s position. The risk of a rival company or small nation grabbing one of the Gold clan because they were pissed about something was fairly high. Ben’s father had many enemies, so it helped to have a couple million ready to go if someone was able to get their hands on one of the Gold children. Of course, no one had anticipated Ben getting grabbed while on active duty serving in one of the most remotely explored systems in the galaxy.

“That’s pennies compared to what we’re getting.” The small man waved off Ben’s statement. “So here is what we are going to do. You are going to sit here, shut the fuck up, do exactly what me or my big friend says, and maybe you’ll make to out of this with all of your fingers and toes attached.” The small man smiled like he really wanted to cut on some toes. “If you fail to do any of these things then…”

The fist came out of nowhere and rocked Ben’s world. His vision dimmed around the edges a bit from the hit, but he focused enough to not pass out.

“Do we have an understanding?”

Ben nodded. He hadn’t been told to speak, and knew it would only get him punched in the face again.

“Good. Now stay.” The pirate sounded like he was commanding a dog before walking out of the room.

The big guy backed up to lean against the far wall, but consistently swiveled his eyes back to Ben. His occasionally distraction gave Ben the opportunity to check out his surroundings. It was hard to hear over all of the machinery running around them. They were somewhere in the bowels of the station. Most likely around where the initially began the refinement process of the asteroid shards.

<And out of sensor range. There is no way they’ll spot me through all of this.> They’d also made him strip out of his uniform, so right now there was no way to find him.

The book called for an assault in force of the station to retake it and kill or arrest the culprits. If Commonwealth marines did that then this was the last place they’d get to. <And I’ll be missing ten digits by then.>

Ben returned his attention to the far wall when the big pirate’s eyes scanned back to him. He needed to figure out a way out of this place soon, or this was going to be very unpleasant.

There were some things that were worse than dying.

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