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Drop Out

Editor’s Note: This part originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Part 7

Leaning forward in the Big Chair, Captain Fyyg rubbed his chin, thinking. Punching a switch on the armrest warranted an immediate response from crewmen stationed in the Waffles’ remaining turret. “Gentlemen.” was all the Captain had to say. “Aye.” was the response, amidst whistles and cheers from the turret’s crew.

Within less than a minute the turret rose on rocker arms from recesses in the ship’s hull, rotating its double load of multiple launchers to face the pirate. With the order to fire, the business ends of the launchers popped briefly to life, sending a swarm of deadly homing missiles tearing toward their pigeon at more than 20Gs acceleration.

“Take that you bastards!” the Captain muttered nervously as the missiles streaked away.

The pirate, already traveling at full thrust attempted to jink the missiles; turning to port and trying to dive to put some more distance between themselves and the oncoming load of persistent bees. As the missiles closed, the pirate’s rail guns flashed and sputtered, sending its own swarm out to meet the missiles.

Several minutes later the blackness between the combatants erupted in a succession of bright globes of destruction as a good half-dozen missiles were destroyed.

The remaining missiles, having altered course at the approaching cloud of magnetically-propelled slugs, closed, intent on completing programmed mission parameters.

Splitting into two groups, a handful of the missiles slammed into the pirate’s stern, wreaking havoc on its drives and Engineering spaces, while the second group impacted in a line along the vessel’s belly; blowing open cargo spaces and quarters, and sending cargo, wreckage and bodies into cold, black space.

“Ye Gods!” Brodie muttered as he watched the destruction. “Those poor bastards!”

“Don’t cry overmuch for them Mr. LeBoucherre,” the Captain said, clapping Brodie on the shoulder. “That could just as easily be us out there, crippled and out-gassing…”

As the pirate tumbled like a dead thing, Mr. Hertzog disconnected from the computer and asked “Do we close and pick up survivors, Captain?”

“No, Mr. Hertzog, we do not. They’d have shown us no mercy.” Turning to the console on his armrest, the Captain contacted the crew in turret number two once more. “Gentlemen, send them to Hell,” the Captain said, and within a few minutes, the dual missile launchers, now reloaded, fired on the dying hulk. The flight of missiles struck the ruined pirate, and the remains of the vessel were consumed in a series of large explosions; the largest one occurring when the pirate’s reactors blew.

As the ball of fire that was the pirate ebbed away to nothingness, the Captain flipped a switch; his voice echoing throughout the crew spaces of the ship.

“Excellent job, people!”

In the cargo hold, Thom Vasquez didn’t hear the praise there in the atmosphere-less space. Even if he were to somehow hear it, it might not have registered with him, so intent was he on muttering over every cursed aspect of his job.

He had finally cut through enough of the outer wrapping to get to the cargo stacked beneath. The boxes didn’t look as if they’d be all that hard to maneuver; each being only about a meter by one half by one half. The problem was when he attempted to lift one of crates, only to discover they seemed to weigh about eighty kilos each.

Thom grunted with the hard effort of the lift; the box resting awkwardly on his right shoulder and pushing against the side of his bubble helmet.

He took three of four steps away from the pallets to an empty spot on the cargo deck and half lowered, half dropped the heavy box.

Thom went back to the stack and wrestled a second box in the same fashion as the first. Then a third, and a fourth.

By the eighth crate, the wiry Vasquez needed a break and sat down on the small, throne-like stack he’d managed to build for himself. Exhausted, Thom sat there, stoop-shouldered and panting; taking the occasional sip from the hydration unit’s straw built into his helmet.

“Oy,” Thom huffed, “I could really use a cold beer.”

Thom wished he could communicate with someone, the old vacc suit he happened to put on was an ancient Willoby Made, and the suit’s radio had, unfortunately, shorted out.

“Well,” Thom thought, getting back to work “At least the hydration kit is a bonus.”

Down in Engineering, the Captain and Chief watched the feed from one of the cameras in the cargo bay. Watching movement, the Captain said, “Thank God someone is still alive in there!“ At first they puzzled as to just what the Rooster was doing, then Wyeth came to the realization “He’s trying to get to the hull patches, Captain. That’s what it is. They’re in a locker right there behind that cargo!” the big Engineer said, poking a finger at the screen.

“Mr. Vasquez, is it? We just saw by playback that he has been working like a madman for the last hour, and has almost cleared a single pallet. Clearing the other pallet will take at least another hour.”

“At least.” Gibby agreed.

“Round up a few of your black gang, Gibraltar. You’re taking patches outside with you. We’re giving Mr. Vasquez some help, yes?”

“Aye.” the Engineer answered, not happy at the prospect of sealing himself up in a pressure suit.

Within some 20 minutes the repair crew was ready for EVA. Assembling on the bridge and exiting the starboard bridge airlock two at a time until all seven were standing on the outer hull, magnetic boots keeping them firmly rooted. Slowly traveling along the ship’s back, the gang stopped first at the jagged socket where the Forward Turret had been located, and, using a Weimher heavy industrial laser welder, quickly sealed the hole over with sheets of hull plating.

When that was done, the group headed down the curve of the ship to the large expanse that was the cargo bay. Finding the dual holes blown through the port side, plates were quickly welded in place, and the life support system began pumping atmosphere into the emptied cargo bay.

Taking another break after cutting away the packaging on the second pallet, Thom sipped at the hydration pack. He absently looked at the atmospheric meter on the arm of his suit, to find it registering again and slowly rising. Looking to the holes in the port bulkhead, he no longer saw black beyond, but the lighter gray that was hull plating.

Thom checked Number Two’s vital signs on her suit display, then sat down and waited.

Once the ship determined the pressure was the same on both sides of the door, the blast shield went about its automated task and raised itself. Standing on the other side of the door to meet them was former IN Pharmacist’s Mate Fahad with a stretcher team. He sent the team ahead with the still unconscious Officer Freilander and stayed to talk to Thom.

“A most unfortunate turn of events.” Fahad decided, looking at all the gore.

“You said it.” agreed the gore splattered Vasquez; kind of drifting as he took in the blood and all.

Fahd said “You did a good job back there–treating Ilsa’s leg, Thom.”

Focusing on the conversation now, Thom told the dark medic, “Can’t really take any credit for that, Doc.” Adjusting his stance slightly, Thom continued, hands clasped behind his back, “Something I learned back when I was in the army on Dahl.”

Fahd had heard how Dahl’s Ground Forces operated in conjunction with Imperial Marines at the bloody Siege of Whitehall, but, not batting an eye, he decided not to mention Whitehall to Vasquez.

“Tell you what, Thom. Let’s get you up to medbay. Give you the once-over. Make sure you’re alright.” Fahd suggested, putting a hand on Thom’s shoulder and guiding the battered crewman toward the elevator.

As they left, Fahd took a quick look over his shoulder at the bodies lying on the cargo deck, deciding he and another orderly would be coming back as soon as possible to gather up the remains. They’d need that damned Doctor Billings too, wherever in hell he was, to fill out the paperwork and make it all official.