Springingtiger's Blog


Chapter 23: The Scourge of Space
November 24, 2016, 00:17
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: ,

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Soon I was back in space heading towards the Debris field, I hoped to get there before my passengers had to switch to their suit oxygen. As it was I got to the fugitives just after they had switched to their suit oxygen. They helped me manhandle the pods on board and I immediately replaced the tanks with the new ones we had bought. It was while I was explaining my delay to Arup, Bulgaram and Canut that I was called to the cockpit to take a call. The confidentiality light was on and so I donned headphones and closed the door. As I expected it was the General.

“Cain?” The comms delays were as irritating as ever.

“Yes General.”

“You will be glad to know that Miss Jog has been rescued by a group of desperados, again conveniently caught on film. They will jettison her in an escape pod at reference S42.37 in the field. I shall be grateful if you will collect her by 22:00 Silas time, preferably before.”

“Will do, General”

“Thank you. Sikorsky Out.”

I opened the door and laid in a course for S42.37. Canut stuck her head round the door and asked if everything was okay. I explained that an associate had just called and we had a pick up to make before we left the Silas field. I was relieved that I didn’t have to leave Anya behind, I was getting used to her being around and she spoke better ‘Cat’ than I did. Little Fluffy and Muffet would be glad to have her back.

As we reached S42.37 I could see several large pink creatures surrounding something which I guessed was Anya’s pod. I turned on the Bug’s searchlights an readied the external charge generator. If there was one thing centuries of space travel had shown it was that an electric shock was as effective a way of deterring Shoggoths as an electric fence, cows. The light startled the beasts. One approached the ship and recoiled as it hit the charge the others withdrew some distance. The problem now was to get Anya back into the Bug before the Shoggoths plucked up the resolve to return. The quickest was to suit up, seal off the hold, leave through it and manhandle her and the pod back in.

I told the fugitives what I was going to do and Arup suggested that he and Canut would fetch the pod while I kept an eye on the Shoggoths. I didn’t have time for discussion so I agreed. As they left the hold I interposed the Bug between the Shoggoths and the Pod so that I could still deploy the charge if I needed to I also charged up the disrupter cannon. The Bug’wasn’t heavily armed, but the forward facing disrupter was a useful bit of kit. It wasn’t designed for this sort of use, but it was what I had available.

The Shuggoths suddenly started waving their tentacles furiously and started to advance rapidly. I fired the disrupter which caused one to explode into fragments. I could only risk using the forward part of the charge and then only if absolutely necessary as it still might affect anyone outside the ship if too close to it. Arup’s voice came over the comm.

“We’re in, close up!”

I shut the outer door and when the console confirmed the seal, I allowed air back into the hold. A few minutes later Anya came into the cockpit and hugged me from behind.

“That was interesting.” She said, but the smile on her face was belied by the tremor on her voice.

“Was it very bad?” I asked.

“The cell was okay and the rescue went well, without casualties. I suppose you organised that?”

“The General.” I responded.

“You shouldn’t have called him it could have compromised us!”

“I felt it important to report in as I had to get back to the Debris field.”

As Anya went to change with the cats doing all they could to trip her up I called Fluffy back to help me. While I considered the safest route to New Texas Little Fluffy monitored the airways for the position of the Imperial fleet. The good thing about the Bug being set up by DST was its ability to access the encoded Imperial Comms.

To save time Fluffy used the translator as he he informed me that the fleet had already reached New Plymouth. They had found no trace of the Fugitives. However they had discovered that Anya and I had been there. Now they were on their way to Silas because of the the news of Anya’s escape.

I laid in the most direct course to New Texas. It would take us through two more debris fields and an asteroid belt and only a fool would choose it. However as I explained to Fluffy if I took any safer route it could allow the Empire to intercept us. He objected that the Fleet had no way of knowing we were going to New Texas.

“True, but if I were in command of the fleet I’d consider it a strong possibility and send a couple of fast ships to intercept. In fact about now I’d be deploying the whole fleet over the widest possible area just in case.”

As I’ve mentioned before the small size of the Bug was an advantage in the debris fields. Everything was going well and although we had to slow down to negotiate the debris fields by going through them we had cut days off the journey. As we were nearly through the asteroids there was a terrible crash and the Bug started spinning wildly. When I managed to stop the spin I checked everyone was safe and then Anya suited up to inspect the Bug for damage. When she came back her face was grim.

“We’ve lost most of the tail, we wont have any control when we hit the atmosphere.” She reported

“We could put into the Texas Orbital Station and make repairs.” I suggested, but Fluffy vetoed that idea,

“Signals say there’s an Imperial Fast Destroyer berthed there.”

Bulgaram spoke, “Even if you didn’t have a rudder, you could control your direction in the atmosphere with the thrusters as long as you had a tail.”

“But we don’t have a tail!” I objected.

“I can rig one that’ll get us to the surface…as long as it survives entry.” Bulgaram said and added, “Even on a Bug there’s spare metal. I’ll have to borrow the cabin doors though.”

“Will we get them back?”

“Not as doors!” He laughed.

For the next day Bulgaram worked in the hold we were about half a day off new Texas when he was ready to rig the tail. I came to help as I walked into the hold my first question was,

“Where’s the buggy?”

“I used it, but it will give you some degree of rudder control in the atmosphere.”

It took several hours to weld the tail to the wreckage of the old, but at the end it looked quite serviceable.

Fluffy confirmed that the Imperial Destroyer ‘Scourge of Deep Space’ was still docked at the station so we approached new Texas from the opposite side. There was a degree of shaking as we entered the atmosphere, but when we levelled off the tail was still in place. We flew low and slow across the surface to attract the least possible attention from space. I landed in the hills near Los Alamos. I disliked leaving the Bug in the open, but Tweed had warned me not to wander around in the woods, because not all the trees were friendly. I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew him well enough to trust him. I passed his warning to the others and started to walk to town.

I called Sam Sung on my personal communicator. He asked where I was.

“I’m on foot coming down Old Bush valley.”

“I’ll come and get you.”

“There are five of us.”

“That’s okay, I’ll swing by Calhoun’s ranch and borrow some horses. You’ll stand out like a sore thumb if you walk into town.”

“Okay, I’ll wait at the Bug. See you soon.”

Sam arrived about an hour later driving a buckboard with three horses in tow.

“No one will assume you’re from off planet if you come into town on a buckboard…” he saw Anya and stopped. After a moment he said to her, “Even in Los Alamos you’d be in danger, your face is all over everywhere. If you weren’t travelling with Cain, I’d arrest you myself. I expect there’s a story behind all this and I expect Cain will tell me what it is. I’d suggest you either stay here or you could wait at the Calhoun place.”

Anya seemed to give it some thought before replying, “I’ll wait here. If I’m so famous no one who shelters me can say they didn’t know who I was. Besides it’s probably a good idea for someone to stay with the ship.”

As we rode I explained as much as I could. It was difficulty to convince Sam that I could have a good reason for working with an Imperial officer. However his dislike of the New Alabama Militants swung him to an extent when I told him we were trying to rescue prisoners.

When we got into town we took Arup, Bulgaram and Canut straight to the Boarding House. As we reached it I saw some familiar faces leave the Cantina.

##

As we entered the Boarding House I asked Sam whether he knew the McGuinness twins were in town.

“Of course I do. They’re here for your passengers.”

“I won’t let them take them.”

“They’re not taking them for the Empire.” Said Sam.

Just then the door opened and Brianna and Brian walked in to find my gun already drawn. They raised their hands and laughed,

“Nice to see you too, Cain!” Grinned Brianna and added “Did you know that Coelocanths are not extinct?”

“What the…?” I began, but Arup interrupted,

“I think you can lower your gun Mr. Cain” He asked Brianna, “Have you got it?”

Brianna nodded, “In my pants’ pocket.”

“May I see?” Asked Arup, I’m not sure whether he was speaking to Brianna or me, but I nodded and lowered my gun slightly. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a shiny gold disc. I took it from her, it was warm. After I examined it I passed it to Arup who also looked at it and then pulled a pair of spectacles from his jacket and examined it again through them.

“We will come with you.” Arup stated to the twins.

I was about to object, but he continued. “It’s okay Cain these are the agents the Coelix revolution have sent to meet us.”

Bulgaram said, “I’d rather not leave until Cain’s Bug is fixed.”

Brian asked what the problem was and Bulgaram explained. Soon after Bulgaram and Jackson Cody were working on the Bug driving the Buckboard to and from the forge in Los Alamos as they rebuilt the Bug’s tail. I was just amazed that they could do the job on a hillside in the back of beyond, it reminded me of watching the owner of a village cycle shop in the Punjab repairing a crashed Ambassador by the roadside. By the next afternoon the tail was as good as new.

Cody pointed out that not only was the tail new, but it was probably better than new as it incorporated some of Bulgaram’s innovations.

“You’ll find the Bug’s a lot more manoeuvrable in the atmosphere than ever before.” Said Cody.

“You could be glad of that on Alabama,” said Sam, “the rednecks might not be much for space travel but they love racing.”

“Racing, guns, hunting…well just shooting stuff in general!” Said Brian with a smile, but the smile didn’t reach his anxious eyes.

##

As we left New Texas still keeping the planet between us and the destroyer Anya asked me if I thought our fugitives would be okay with the McGuinness. I replied that I didn’t think the twins would consider shooting an Emperor sufficient reason for handing someone over to the law.

“But they are marshals!” Objected Anya.

“And you are an officer in Deep Space Tactical,” I countered. “I have learned that there is very little in the human universe that is ever what it seems. The McGuinness twins fought for the Independents in the Rebellion and I don’t think they like the Empire any more than they did the Alliance.”

“Then why work as Imperial marshals?”

“Freedom of movement with minimum scrutiny from the authorities. Being a marshal can be a useful cover for all sorts of activities as long as they continue to provide sufficient value to the Empire.”

“Don’t the Empire realise what’s going on?” Asked Anya.

“Of course, but as long as they don’t have evidence of treason and the twins are rounding up scum the police can’t reach, they don’t interfere.” I added, “God help them when they slip up…if they slip up.!”

A voice came over the comms,

“Unidentified shuttle! This is ‘Scourge of Deep Space’ Launch one. Please heave to and prepare for boarding?”

I looked at the screen and sure enough an armed launch had emerged from the shadow of the planet. It was at least three times our size and armed for combat and ground assault.

“Well we can’t fight” I said, “Even if I could take it out with the Disrupter Cannon the ‘Scourge of Deep Space’ would have its fighters on us before we could escape.”

Anya said, “I’m going outside. If I can get out of the rear I can crawl into the tail structure until they’ve searched.”

“Okay, it’s worth a try in five minutes I will turn the Bug to face them. That’s when you move.”

Anya rushed out and I advised the launch that I was going to come about and open the forward airlock. Exactly five minutes after Anya had left the cockpit the Bug was facing the launch. I must admit I was impressed. Because she was designed for use on the surface as well as space the launch was aerodynamically beautiful, sleek, elegant. A group of spacesuited soldiers approached from the launch, they were all armed.

After they had boarded I and the cats met them at the airlock. As is usual their leader was a Lieutenant and before he could speak I addressed him,

“Welcome aboard Lieutenant, How can I help you?”

“You are flying an unregistered craft in Imperial space, I am afraid the law requires us to investigate.”

“Never apologise for doing your job.” I smiled is as friendly a manner as I could. “Perhaps you should introduce yourself”

“Oh, sorry. I am Lieutenant Mark Cray of the Imperial Destroyer ‘Scourge of Space’commanding Launch One.”

“She’s a beautiful craft, Mark. How does she handle?”

He smiled with enthusiasm, “She’s a dream. I’ve never flown anything so responsive and she’s fast even in the atmosphere!”

I made a few comments about how space travel had moved on from the early Star Ships which seemed to remind him of why he was on board.

“May I ask who you are Sir, and why you’re unregistered.” The Lieutenant inquired.

“Of course you may ask.” I replied.

The lieutenant looked as awkward as the silence that ensued. At last I thought I’d better put him out of his misery, “I am Cain, I don’t really do paperwork.” The squad looked somewhat uncertain, so I added, “Perhaps you’d like to search the ship.”

“Search the ship? Oh, yes. Of course Sir.” The Lieutenant turned to his squad and ordered, “Search the ship, and don’t break anything this time!”

“Oh dear. I’m not sure I like the sound of ‘this time’.”

“Occasionally their enthusiasm causes accidents.” Lieutenant Cray looked apologetic again,

“I smiled at the soldiers and said, “I would have to advise against an accident on my ship.”

They seemed quite subdued as they went about their work. I went into the galley, brewed a pot of tea and got out six cups. The Bug’s a small ship and only took minutes to search. To my relief the only thing they found that shouldn’t have been there was a small case of platinum ingots.

“You do have time for a cup of tea?” I asked. “I have real milk fresh from New Texas yesterday.” The Lieutenant saw the expression on his squad’s faces and said,

“Real milk? We shouldn’t…”

“Oh go on!” I stopped realising that a Father Ted reference would be totally lost on them.

“Yes please.” He said and the soldiers looked delighted,

A pretty girl sipped her tea and her eyes opened wide, “Is this Dur Jeelong”

I nodded. “Single Estate Taleep, the finest in the far Jeelong hills.”

Her eyes glistened with tears, “I was born in Jeelong.”

“A taste of home, then?” I passed her a tissue. “I can understand why you’d miss it!”

By the time the squad had got through half a tin of New Plymouth Nut Biscuits. I think we were friends for life.

Lieutenant Cray said “I’m sorry Sir, but I will have to log the platinum. However I don’t think I need to impound it as it’s your travelling fund.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.”

As the squad suited up ready to leave I handed the girl from Jeelong a small tin. “A little taste of home for when you get homesick.”

After the launch left Anya returned via the hold airlock. I told her about the platinum she smiled and said,

“I thought I should leave them something to report, it would be suspicious if we were too clean! Now we’d better get well clear before the Scourge of Space manages to get into position to scan us for life forms.”

We were on our way to Hospital Station Seacole. Where Sikorsky’s agents would provide the cargo that was our passport for Alabama.

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