Let the Gods Sort Them Out…

The_Space_Pirate_Ship

By: Darryl Kupsch

Tohil System

Escort Mission

07 February 2939

The call came through comms within minutes of transitioning from hyperspace to normal space in the Tohil System.

SOS… This is the trader Marseille out of Castra, en route to Tohil. We are under attack from pirates! There is one vessel but we have no armament and they have disabled our jump engines. Someone please help us.”

The message repeated on a loop and appeared to be only a couple hours old judging by the time stamp, so in accordance with Imperial Law, Jaeger set an intercept course. The armed freighter Dionysius, his current client, followed cautiously. As they closed on the coordinates and heading attached to the SOS recording, there was no response via sub-space radio. Eventually the screens showed the freighter maintaining a steady course, but with no changes in acceleration or direction. For all intents and purpose, the freighter was a hulk tracking across the outer reaches of the Tohil system. Jaeger pulled up the manifest for the vessel and noted ship personnel numbers registered at eight.

His lips curled in a humorless smirk. It must have been a long voyage indeed as a life support scan now showed 28 humanoids on board.

Lothbrok to Dionysius. Keep your shields up and weapons primed. Our scans are showing multiple survivors but no one is responding to hails. Do not attempt any rescue or accept any landing parties unless I give the all clear.” In other words stay the hell out of my way while I check this fucking mess out.

“AI, keep hailing the Marseille and try to ascertain status.” He then glanced at his screens. ” Scheisse. “That’s two different engine signatures, from the ion trails. AI, initiate defense mode alpha delta mike three. Activate all shields and weapon systems. Lothar! Buckle in: we might have to blow some space trash out of existence.”

There was the sound of fabric on leather and then the clicking of harness buckles as Lothar, his co-pilot, valet and all round henchman slid into the second officer’s seat. “Orders, sir?” His deep voice carried just a trace of an accent to hint at his Turkish origins.

“Let the AI handle the guns. Bring up the nav-routines and start looking for origin points for pirate activity out here, and the best way to avoid a potential ambush. Scans are showing two vessels, so the second must be docked with the freighter.”

“As you wish sir.”

“Time to call an end to the bullshit,” he muttered, toggling the hailing frequencies.

Marseille, this is the Lothbrok, escorting the armed freighter Dionysius. We received and responded to your SOS signal and are closing on your position. We see that you have an additional vessel alongside and we are reading multiple life signs. Please respond.”

After a short delay, a signal responded.

Lothbrok, this is the Marseille. The SOS was not authentic, it was a computer glitch from a shipboard drill we were running. We sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or alarms that we have raised but thanks for responding just the same.” There was a pause then another voice spoke across the comm line. “Uhm…Lothbrok, please standby. We might have a problem you can help us with, over.”

Lothar spoke quietly from the XO’s consol. “Sir, the scans are showing the drives on Marseille are crippled. And they didn’t address the fact that the second ship is there with them.” He frowned suddenly then glanced at Jaeger. “I am picking up incoming traffic to the coordinates of the Marseille…no registration signatures and flying with signal scramblers wide open but they look like fighters. Their ETA is 30 minutes to the site…”

Jaeger stared at the crippled ship, his jaw clenching. The combined firepower of the incoming ships and the as yet hidden predator would outgun him. These scavengers always took courage from superior numbers. “Any UEE patrols or commercial traffic in the vicinity?”

Lothar shuffled screen overlays and searched, finally shaking his head. “Closest patrol is 23 hours out.”

“AI, time until we are within weapons range?”

“We will be within missile range in 40 minutes, Captain. Beam weapon range in 2 hrs, 30 minutes.”

Jaeger eyed the ship’s manifest, registering the largely female crew. His lips pressed into a thin line- slavery, torture, and worse awaited these people at the hands of the pirates if they were taken. But the raiders had been clumsy bringing so many crew to a single target. He had an opportunity to cripple this particular band of bottom feeders and possibly knock them out of service permanently, making this sector relatively safe for future voyagers. He made his decision.

“AI, once we are within missile range, we will open with both batteries, full spread. Now open a channel to Dionysius, encryption echo echo charlie seven.”

Lothbrok to Dionysius:  Freighter Marseilles is crippled and has been taken by pirates. Make all haste to Tohil and inform port authorities. We are going to engage and neutralize the pirates. We will be less than a day behind you.”

* * *

The Lothbrok docked at Tohil 15 hours after the Dionysius’ arrival, to collect their escort fee and to report to the port guard that one salvo of missiles was fired at the pirate entity. Both vessels were reported as destroyed after what appeared to be a direct hit on the Marseille‘s main drive reactor. The Lothbrok had then ambushed and destroyed two fighters at the scene. Several days after the encounter, salvage crews (who had to purchase the location of the wreckage from Jaeger) recovered partial logs from both the Marseille and the pirate vessel, which was later tentatively identified as the Concordia, an armed freighter that had been missing for approximately 5 years, last known to be on a run from Terra to Stanton. The last recorded crew manifests for both vessels totaled 28 crew. No life boats were recovered by either the salvage vessels or the Lothbrok. Of the two fighters, little remained to identify, though DNA residue identified individuals wanted by the UEE for piracy, murder, extortion, smuggling and a string of petty crimes. Jaeger was awarded a sizeable bounty.

* * *

 the_outskirts_by_whatzitoya-d5hirpd

3 Years Later…

Stanton Station

The Last Resort Bar and Restaurant

21 June 2942

Ursula LeBlanc was late.

This wasn’t like her.  She knew him well enough that she would never keep him waiting if she thought a situation important enough to ask for him.

He hated waiting.

He had no idea what the eccentric waif wanted with him.  It could be some sort of strange favor for his services she coaxed out of his boss Mr. Morgan, or it could be a paying job though he didn’t think it likely.  She had picked the time and place, though at this point the time did not seem not seem to be this place.

So he waited.  In public.  In a place he would usually avoid entirely. He just didn’t do social venues well- unless of course he was on security detail for Mr. Morgan.

The problem with waiting was that sooner or later, someone would recognize him, and either that someone would start talking about the stories, or worse, confront him if they were feeling brave. The most irritating part was that they almost always got the facts wrong… like the tall blonde chick about five meters away by the bar, trying to be “discreet” with her male friend who looked slightly less intelligent than the furniture in the joint.

“Yeah! That’s Von Blucher!  The one they call Jaeger,” she squeaked, trying to keep it as a whisper, but Jaeger heard every word with the amplifiers connected to his dark glasses.  “He’s the guy that blew up that freighter in the Tohil system dusting eight crew! I don’t know how he hasn’t been arrested or spaced or somethin’.”

Her male companion mumbled something (thankfully) unintelligible over the noise of the bar that his amplifiers couldn’t parse.  However the gist of it was pretty clear as she reacted in alarm and grabbed her companion’s arm as he turned to move in Jaeger’s direction.

“Don’t be stupid!”  She held onto him as tight as she could. “He’s probably got something stashed under that jacket! If you want to do something, let’s go to Station Security an’ let them grab him. Maybe we’ll get a reward or somethin’.”

Jaeger shook his head slightly and slowly exhaled, betraying his annoyance as the couple made a quick exit. Station Security knew all about him…he was an Enforcer and worked for the Advocacy after all. He idly pondered arresting the idiots for the crime of public stupidity if they returned…perhaps it wasn’t against the law to be stupid but it certainly should be.

“I wouldn’t worry about them,” came a familiar voice that brought him out of his thoughts, “They’ll just get a shrug and a ‘move along’ from the authorities or you can just flash your badge.  After all I can’t have half my team locked up before we begin,” Marcus said, trying not to laugh at his own joke in front of Jaeger.

Jaeger just stared at Marcus through his glasses without a word.  The big German’s annoyance was palpable as Marcus quickly got to the point.  “If you are waiting for Ursula, she won’t be coming. There’s been a slight change of plan, so I’ve come here to escort you to the new location.  Here, have a look at the mission specs on the way- this is gonna be a sweet haul.”  He handed Jaeger the glas detailing the objectives.

Though Marcus couldn’t see them, Jaeger closed his eyes and summoned reserves of patience to ease his irritation with the garrulous team leader.  He gave a slight sigh and motioned Marcus to lead the way.  He typically kept his distance from this man.  Marcus was a laid back family oriented type, always wanting to play nice with every godamn person he came in contact with. His cheerful easy-going manner just rubbed Richard the wrong way.  Jaeger typically tuned him out every time he tried to strike up a friendly conversation, and did his best to do so now as well.  In a perfect universe Richard mused he’d be able to reach his massive hands around the guy’s neck and squeeze until he was unable to talk or laugh ever again. Ah, the things he endured for the boss…

Despite his misgivings about his cheerful companion, Richard followed Marcus to wherever the hell they were going.  Not because the suggestion of profit had been made, but because Mr. Morgan had told him to go along on this one.  Richard resigned himself that this would mean tolerating Marcus’ talkative tendencies and shit eating grin with no questions asked.

But he didn’t have to like it.

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The Crucible

sci_fi2_by_0800

By: Dawniel Kupsch

Tiber System

Tiber Orbital Space

March 7, 2937

Fall of Tiber

They harried the enemy in lightning quick sorties that would draw Vanduul fighters out of the pack, then pick off those too eager or too slow to return to the larger group. They sewed confusion into the large congregation of alien craft, breaking their concerted attacks on the troop carriers and battlecruisers of the Empire.

They worked together like a perfectly engineered machine- one always knowing what the other would do, the accompanying groups of volunteers from the Squadron brutally efficient at culling targets of opportunity.

Gunslinger and Capm worked together in what seemed explosive acts of god- the human gods of Old Earth; violent and staggering in reprisal and power. Nothing could touch them as they dove and strafed and spun in the clusters of enemy ships hovering like gnats over the blue-green planet. It was beautiful and breathtaking and deadly, and soon the enemy squadrons fell back to their own destroyers to regroup and gain the protection of the primary swarm. Many soldiers that would have otherwise perished won free of the falling warzone and made the jump to safer space.

Spirits that had fallen as comrades had died rallied in fierce joy as fighter pilots attached to the remaining Empire fleets recognized the legendary presence of the famous ‘Gunslinger’ amongst them, and their own efforts redoubled.

Xander bared his teeth at his partner on the comms display in a fierce grin. Another troop carrier shielding a Hospital ship won free as the Midnight Squadron flight and UEEAF wing closed behind them to fend off any thoughts of pursuit.  Frank spoke up on the personal frequency.

How about we take a break and let these boys and girls catch their breath, Capm?

Xander looked over his screens, studying the activity surrounding the planet. He registered that despite their heroic effort, the UEE was still taking a pounding, and their small corner of the battlefield was the only place to be seen where a relative calm was evident. He noticed a cluster of engagement several minutes away where a limping Corvette and a couple desperate fighters were struggling to break free of a pursuing group of Vanduul. He considered only for few seconds before responding.

“Negative Gunslinger- once more into the breach dear friend…then we head home. First round on you, of course,”Xander grinned.

He watched as his friend gave him a one finger salute, laughing as he switched to team comms and directed his wing to fall in for a final run.

 

* * *

Tiber System

Fringe of Tiber Orbital Space

Midnight Squadron Mercenary Group Command Carrier ‘MSS Parallax Descent

March 7, 2937

Fall of Tiber

She pulled herself slowly along the exterior of the vessel, the mottled grey space excursion suit molded tightly to her body, the face shield dark and obscuring her features. Arriving at her shrouded vehicle, she slipped into the pod where it clung to the outside of the Midnight Squadron command ship. Even a discerning eye would have written the rounded lump off as a sensor modification- one of the advantages of targeting a group like Midnight Enterprises, where no ship profile resembled the factory specs, and most of the personnel would not have access to the particulars of how a ship was modded out. Hundreds of eyes had likely scanned over her pod, and none had seen anything amiss. The ship itself had simply accepted the pod as yet another specialized accessory thanks to a certain little program she had access to.

She paused for a moment after she was secured. Enforcer Richard von Blucher was more brutal and efficient than she had expected even for an individual trained by the Advocacy. He had forced her to alter her timeline considerably by apprehending her dupe so quickly. Of course it had worked out beautifully when Xander Morgan and Frank LeBlanc opted for an unscheduled excursion to the battlefront.  She smiled at the perfection of it as she entered the code to activate both packages, then disengaged after setting her nav computer to the rendezvous  point. She was confident her small pod would simply register as debris floating off into space from the warzone. Once far enough away from the ship sensors, the pod’s dampened propulsion system would set her course. She relaxed into her seat, a smile curving her lips.

***

On the flight deck, the security scanning crew was coming up empty. The signatures from the various types of armament made it impossible to identify any alien residue that would indicate sabotage to the ships within an immediate timeframe. Sifting through the billions of chemical particle layers would take time he just didn’t have right now. Of course he had no proof that anything further was amiss, yet his instincts were screaming at him that there was something to that brief flash of expression he had seen on the spy’s face.

There was no help for it. He was going to issue the priority mission cancellation code and have all fighters return from wherever Xander had taken them. It was better to be safe and arouse Xander’s ire than the alternative. As he turned to relay the order to Lothar, he found the Turk frowning slightly as he stared at his glas.

“What is it?”

Lothar glanced at his boss and stroked his beard. “Maybe nothing.  It’s just…well, there was a signal burst- it was tiny…barely detectable. In fact without your security protocols it would not have been detectable. At the same moment AI logged a sensor array went dead on the exterior of the ship with diagnostics stating it no longer existed- that it had never actually been there. It could be a glitch…coincidence…,” he conceded dubiously.

Jaeger scowled and snapped out an order. “Override executive orders via security prioritization and bring all fighters back NOW!” He was already running for his ship, bellowing for a security team to mount up. Lothar cursed as the recall failed to ping any Midnight Squadron command craft on the battlefield, and turned to sprint after his boss.

***

gabriel_loves_to_crash_by_tituslunter-d5yvx9x

Tiber System

Tiber Orbital Space

March 7, 2937

Fall of Tiber

Pain.

He didn’t know how it was possible to continue breathing with this much pain stabbing into him. Yet he fought the oblivion of unconsciousness, as merciful as it would have been. He clung to the rage as waves of anguish and agony washed over him, clawing at the darkness that had become his world as he drifted in the cold, debris strewn space. He focused on one thought: Whoever had done this would pay.

He could hear his men dying as they threw themselves valiantly against the Vanduul while trying to save him, but all other communications chatter had gone dead the moment the small explosion had gone off. By some miracle, there had been no breach, but his controls had been reduced to slag and his fighter was floating space junk.

He cursed and wept at the brave sons of bitches shielding him from the Vanduul fighters, begging them to leave him, ordering them to fall back to the command ship. But no sound could reach them with his outgoing comms melted into slag. In some distant corner of his brain, he registered that it was a small mercy that he did not have to watch.  In a desperate measure, he had even attempted to eject in order to save his people the need to protect him. But even that mechanism had failed, leaving him entirely helpless in the prison of his fighter cockpit.

And so he sat and raged and wept and yelled in turn, his pain secondary to the images blasted into his memory as his best friend had died before his eyes.  Gunslinger had died the way he had lived; fighting to the last, the most heroic bastard he had ever known. Whatever insidious damage had been done to the ships of both flight leaders, Gunslinger had seen the effects first. He had been intentionally crippled though, where Xander’s ship seemed to have been rigged to explode. Whoever had concocted this death sentence had seemed intent on killing Gunslinger’s legend by simply handicapping him enough to be taken out by random, unremarkable contact; a move calculated to kill morale on the UEE armed forces side. He filed all of this away in his head even as he mentally watched it happen over and over.

The final look Frank had given him. The wistful smile. His gloved hand pressed to his cockpit window towards his friend as he directed his ship in front of Xander’s after his final words.

“Take care of my little girl.”

And then he was gone, his fighter taking the hit and knocked aside like a toy; a fiery comet descending to the roiling, war torn surface of the planet below. A heartbeat later the detonation took his sight and destroyed the interior of his fighter. A clinical part of his mind wondered at the delay, and considered the faulty result of the tampering done to his fighter. Intentional or accidental?

The smoke made it hard to breathe as the scrubbers in the fighter limped along attempting to recycle oxygen. He wondered if he would simply suffocate. He coughed, the spasm awakening a fresh onslaught of agony from his burns and acid seared face.

He was losing the struggle to remain aware, and then dimly he registered a shout on the short wave and a ragged chorus of cheers from far too few remaining voices. Cries of “Jaeger!” overrode the sounds of engagement and he was confused further; men cheering Jaeger? Was he delusional?

He felt a vibration and faintly heard the grate of metal. There was a terrible static on his comms and then the deep, intense voice of the Enforcer came through as if from a vast distance.

“Damn it Lothar, I’m right on top of him, get those comms open!”

The signal was lost then swung wide again, this time clear as a bell. “Lothbrok to Capm, can you hear me? Sir…. I have you… Xander…hang in there.

Vaguely Xander decided he was hallucinating…his Enforcer had never called him by his first name. He was far too regimented for such familiarity. And that gruffness in his voice sounded like concern. The sounds of fighting had died away and there was silence. He sighed and slipped into a deeper darkness that blessedly made the pain go away.