Date: 16th December 2355
Time: 10:15 UTC
Location: Beta Sector, 183.56 by –222.87 Mark –55.
I have just received order number 55627 on a Beta 2 priority to travel to the Hell’s Gateway Asteroid belt. Somewhere along the way a freighter with supplies for the mining colony located in the belt had problems with the navigation software and flew off the standard lane.
Attempts at communicating with the PCC Dorian Gray have failed and it is assumed the communication loss is related to the navigational system crashing.
We have been assigned the responsibility to investigate the disappearance of the freighter and recover any or all of the crew and cargo.
At this point in time, my chief navigator – Mr. Gorsky - is currently studying the charts for some clue to their whereabouts, also the Science & Technology Officer Mr. Samuels is creating theories for their lack of response to all attempts at hailing.
The First Officer almost strutted along the walkway that surrounded the Bridge. He watched the crew below carry on with their appointed tasks and imagined HE was Captain. Everything would be different, he thought, I wouldn’t be going at half speed that’s for sure. First Officer Jackson joined the fleet toward the end of the war and entered directly into the Academy, he was made First Officer upon graduating, but by the time he was assigned to a ship the war had ended. He felt like he missed his opportunity to fight. Afterwards military cutbacks caused him to be re-deployed to the Colonisation & Exploration Division. He took his assignment like a sour pill, and every year since has unsuccessfully tried to transfer into the Guards.
A series of high-pitched whistles indicated a meeting for the Department Heads had been called. Jackson switched on the intercom, “Michaels, you have the bridge” and walked away before any response was given.
The conference room was designed for ergonomic comfort. The table made of a plastic that imitated an English Oak, and each chair had the look of leather though also made of an artificial material. The seven chairs that surrounded the round table were the same size and shape signifying no superior position. The display was made to look like a window with a view of space.
Quietly and efficiently the Captain, the First Officer and the five Department Heads walked in and were seated. The departments of Security – headed by Josef Krakow; Medicine – by Mallory Stevens; Navigation – by Inga Gorsky; Science & Technology – by Louise Samuels; and Engineering – by Justin Wu; were all represented.
“Morning crew” Indira Naidu – the Captain of the exploration vessel SAS Marco Polo – greeted her crew as she brought the log on line, “I’ve assembled the Department Heads to discuss the search for the Dorian Gray. Do you have anything new to report Mr. Gorsky?”
Inga Gorsky, studied her notes for a split second before responding, “Computer. Open Gorsky311” within moments a holographic display of the system floated and rotated for all to see. A pair of thin blue lines represented the ‘Safe lane’; since most commercial shipping lacked the advanced navigational software found in military and exploration vessels, they relied heavily on lanes created by exploration craft like the Marco Polo to find the safest and shortest routes between colonies. Within the lane a yellow line tracked the path of the Dorian Gray’s last course.
“This is what we know” Inga said as she studied the holo-map, “I’ve calculated the Dorian Gray’s last known position as being here.” She pointed to where the yellow line stopped, “The vessel is a Gammon class freighter with a maximum speed of Warp 3, and carries the Nelson-T3 Navigation System so its applications are pretty limited. The most logical solutions are, that someone managed to remotely log on and download a new course for it; or someone on board altered the course and tampered with the systems.”
Indira sat back and her chair moved to adjust looking like the picture of serenity, Her Security Chief was the polar opposite “Hijacked is what your saying isn’t it?” Josef clenched his fists in rage as he spoke; he turned to the Captain, “I think we should…”
With a wave of her hand, Indira stopped her Security Officer from continuing, “Josef, we have to analyze the situation. IF the Dorian Gray has been hijacked then the hostiles are still out there.” Her voice had a calming effect on the officer and she gave him time to compose himself before continuing, “Anything else Inga?”
“Computer. Link with Gorsky312. The red circle represents where they could be now, and you see that in the next 30 minutes we should be beginning to enter within sensor range of the projected flight path. Computer. Link with SysNav” Suddenly a white line appeared and slowly moved toward the outline of the red circle – which also began to slowly enlarge, “That’s all Captain.”
“How long before we intersect with their last known position?” The Captain asked.
“Current speed and conditions, less than 5 hours sir.”
Indira nodded in appreciation, “Thank you Inga. Mr. Samuels do you have anything to add?”
Louise Samuels remained seated as she read her report, “I came to the same conclusion as Mr. Gorsky, I believe the Dorian Gray has been interfered with. Traffic control had them as being on line right up until the final message. Then suddenly nothing” she retrieved some information from her data pad before continuing, “There is no reason why communication should have stopped. Even if the craft lost all power, a data feed would have been sent to report it. The in flight server has a pack to last up to thirty hours”
“Could you explain that for me?”
“Certainly Doctor” Samuels continued, “Traffic control can see every ship. Normally every hour 1,048,576 bytes of data is sent to Traffic Control, but under the Shipping Privacy Act of 2214 the controllers can only see who is on line but not where they are. Of course all one has to do is disable the server and no data is sent.”
“And those servers aren’t an easy thing to just switch off either” Justin Wu added, “Normally it takes a couple of passwords and such just to access it”
Indira pointed to Justin and Louise, “Could either of you do it? Break into an in flight server, I mean?”
Both remained silent as they thought about the question, Samuels remained motionless as she mentally calculated the procedures whereas Wu immediately began to make notes on his data pad.
“Josef, while these two are competing; would you be able to find out the crew size and compliment of the Dorian Gray and calculate the best way to board and seize control. Which means Doctor that we might need to make sure our supplies are up to scratch in case there is some action” Indira faced Jackson, “And I want you to assemble an away team, also just in case it’s needed.”
Indira was the first to stand and began to walk out of the room, “The sooner we get organised people the more chance we’ll be prepared for whatever happens next.”
Captain’s Log: Supplemental
Date: 16th December 2355
Time: 12:03 UTC
Location: Beta Sector, 151.4 by –210.87 Mark –23.
I have allocated the tasks to the crew and awaiting the results. With the few hours remaining, I have my suspicions what we are getting into and I hope that in this case I am wrong.
Indira sat in the confines of her office with a restful expression on her face, her eyes were closed and hands folded in her lap. The breathing was paced and regular, she could feel her mind slowly overcome her body and felt her heart slow down. Her concentration was broken by the sound of the door indicator.
“Enter.” Her voice was strong enough to carry even if the intercom hadn’t been on.
Samuels and Wu walked in together. Wu spoke first, “We did it, but it took the two of us to do it.”
“Fancy that.” The comment dripped with sarcasm even if the tone wasn’t there.
“I calculated the time needed to override the system at nearly four and a half hours,” Samuels added ignoring the Captain’s comment.
“And that’s if they have the tools we have.” Wu included.
“So I take it your conclusions are that it would have to be an inside job?” Indira asked.
“Yes.” Samuels stated, “There could be no other way for it to be done.”
“I was afraid of that.” After a moment’s pause, Indira continued “You’re both dismissed, and please send me a copy of the data?”
Once the two were out of the office, the Captain closed her eyes and began her breathing. Her eyes shot open as the door indicator beeped.
Josef walked into the room, his huge frame almost filled the doorway, “I have the results of one hundred simulations for your perusal sir.”
“My dear Josef, how long have we known each other?” a smile crept on Indira’s face betraying emotion.
“For many years sir.” Josef remained at attention.
“Then I think it’s time to relax. I order you to be familiar. Do you hear me?” A visible slump occurred in Josef once the order had been given, “There, that’s better. Now let me guess, there had to be an insider to help.”
“Only in eighty seven of the results sir. The remaining thirteen used overwhelming numbers” Josef placed his data pad next to the other.
Indira closed her eyes as she thought, “Thank you Josef that will be all.” Indira remained still until the sound of her office door closed. “Computer. Locate Gorsky.”
From speakers within the room, a calm voice responded, “Lieutenant Gorsky.. is located in the.. Cartography Room”
With the flick of a switch on the table Indira activated the intercom, “Captain to Cartography Room. Gorsky are you there?”
“Can you search the target area for anything that will hold a ship the size of the Dorian Gray?”
“I am currently doing that sir. But the area is relatively unexplored”
“I don’t believe that for a second Lieutenant. Download maps of the area during the war and match them against some of the earlier ones, say ten years before”
“What’s our ETA?”
“We should reach the location of the Dorian Gray’s last transmission in two and a half hours Sir”
“Delay that by another hour and I’ll be happy Gorsky.”
“I don’t want to fly into a combat zone unprepared. Do you read me?”
“Uh… Yes Sir”
“If you find anything out of the ordinary, let me know. Naidu out” Indira sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. After a few moments she opened them at stared at the door. Damn, she thought, I can’t get focused. A frown shot across her face as the door indicator beeped. “Enter!” her voice displayed the frustration she felt.
The door opened and Doctor Mallory Stevens walked in casually, “Afternoon Indira” He carried with him a small suitcase.
“Afternoon Doc, what can I do for you” the frustration left her voice. The Doctor always pleased Indira with his visits, the two had known each other for years though this was the first ship they served on together.
Stevens placed the case on the tabletop and opened it slowly revealing an array of alcoholic beverages, several glasses and a mixer, “Just thought I’d pop ‘round for a chat. Often people tell their bartenders things they don’t mention to their doctors”
Indira smiled, “You know I don’t drink alcohol”
Stevens began mixing several vials together, “Don’t you worry, I found a very nice non-alcoholic punch that’ll knock you over” he handed the glass to Indira and waited for her response as she drank the warm draught. The glass was the size of a whiskey shot glass, and Indira trusted her friend to the point that she gulped the green fluid in one quick action.
“My tongues gone numb” A wave of euphoria quickly attacked her senses, “What is this stuff?” she could barely stop herself from giggling.
“It comes from a group of islands in the South Pacific back on Sol” Mallory mixed a drink for himself as he spoke, “Its extracted from the root of a native plant and managed to pass through the Banned Narcotics Act of 2161 unnoticed”
“I see you keep your eye on the loopholes” she stated with a giggle.
“Just one of my many hobbies” he said with a smile, “Now why are you getting all worked up over this mission?”
“It’s not the mission; it’s the circumstances surrounding it.” She replied.
“It sounds like you know more than you’re letting on.” The statement danced around the topic fluently.
“I don’t know any more than anyone else, I just have suspicions. Unfounded suspicions at that” The room became clearer as the effects of the drink wore off, “I better not have any more of that!”
“Suit yourself. It’s always the waiting that gets me. Being on standby and not knowing.” Stevens sat on the couch with his Scotch and Coke comfortably, “Will it get messy?”
With a smile, Indira waved her hand, “I don’t think so.” The intercom light flashed once.
“Captain are you there?” It was Gorsky’s voice.
“I’m here Gorsky, what do you have?”
“The maps from during the war have the site as a restricted zone. I’ve cross-checked that with one from ten years previous - as you suggested - and found a habitable system. It’s not a large one but it is there”
“Does that confirm or deny your suspicion Indira?” The Doctor asked carefully.
“Thank you Gorsky. I take it you’ve collated all data regarding the system?”
“Send it to me. I want a course laid out for the system and I want to get within scanning distance ASAP; Also I want you to send a communiqué to Admiral Bailey’s office informing him of our destination, attach with it document Naidu9114.”
“Naidu out.” She sat back and looked at the Doctor, “I think when we get there, we’ll find it’s a re-fit station”
“What’s a re-fit station?”
“In the latter years of the war, materials were getting low and so were the quality of the craft being produced. The military created small outposts with one purpose: To quickly re-supply vessels and if need be take old junkers and turn them into something that resembles a fighting ship”
“And I take it, the Gammon class freighter is an example of an old junker?”
“Yes.” Indira quickly downloaded the two data pads on her desk into the computer, “When Bailey receives this he’s not going to be happy.”
“Do you have a thought who could be behind this?”
“No, but I’m hoping the Admiral will. He might even let us know if we’re lucky” Indira quickly typed her message for Gorsky.
The desktop beeped, informing Indira of an incoming message, “Jackson’s delivered the Away Team lineup. Impressive.”
“Who’s on medical?” Stevens asked as he concentrated on his almost empty glass.
“Good combat surgeon” The doctor smiled, “Not much in the way of a good bedside manner though”
“Well if I don’t approve this, he’ll think I’m picking on him again.” Indira approved the request: Away Team confirmed Commander, I’m placing you and your team on Yellow Alert. Indira sent the message and once she was confident the message had been successfully delivered, stood up from behind the desk. “It’s time to go to work Doctor”.
Captain’s Log: Supplemental
Date: 16th December 2355
Time: 17:13 UTC
Location: Beta Sector, 101.18 by –205.06 Mark 16.
After some research we are now in the Popis System, and looking for sites most suitable for the Dorian Gray to be stowed. Using aged data and some historical sources, we have 3 stars in the Popis System to search. As yet, still No word from Command.
Indira sat majestically in the Captain’s chair. The crew around her started to show signs of stress. Word had got out that the standard search and rescue may have been escalated into a ‘Search and Destroy’ mission.
“Eureka!” Samuels said with a wolfish grin, “A satellite of Popis Beta 4 appears to be the only habitable planet in the system”.
“Move us in. Slowly” Indira ordered.
The Marco Polo stopped once the planet was within scanner range.
Gorsky swiveled from her console, “I can get a visual Sir.”
“Put it on the screen Gorsky.” Indira commanded. Indira stared at the planet’s image for a moment, “Samuels. What’s your diagnosis?”
Samuels studied her viewfinder, “Popis 4c. Corrosive atmosphere; a variation on Nitric Acid; Breathable, until the acid eats your lungs away that is; No life present; Two satellites, one natural the other man-made; Ninety percent land and the axial tilt lies three degrees off the equator. I am still receiving information, and it seems the planet has been stripped of all materials.”
“Do you have anything on the man-made satellite?”
“Yes sir. The satellite seems to be a space station. There are three ships in dock and I believe the Dorian Gray is present. I can detect large bursts of Alpha waves emanating from the Dorian”
Indira closed her eyes, “They’re refitting the Dorian Gray with torpedoes” She turned and faced Jackson, “You’re now at Red Commander, go assemble your team”
Date: 16th December 2355
Time: 17:32 UTC
Location: Beta Sector, 101.22 by –205.12 Mark 18 degrees.
First Officer Jackson and his away team departed at 14:07 UTC. No word has been received as of yet. Mr. Jackson’s plan is to reconnoiter the base. The pirate band known as The Crimson Sons have not yet detected us, so we are continuing to remain scanning for any further details. The orbiting space station is dated from the war and I have Mr. Wilson investigating the specifications – Mr. Wilson is the acting Science and Technology Officer while Mr. Samuels is with the Away Team.
The Away Team consists of ten members and includes three Departmental Heads: Mr. Jackson, Mr. Samuels and Mr. Krakow. The remaining seven members were hand picked by First Officer Jackson with my approval.
The nine figures appeared to be toys against the large freighter. The vacuum suits had been fitted with gyros and stabilisers for the wearers to remain orientated. Jack Williams remained in the shuttlecraft as pilot and had strict orders to return to the Marco Polo if anything out of the ordinary occurred. Louise Samuels hovered near the airlock of the Dorian Gray, the others formed a protective circle. The space station had no windows and most had no motion detectors as space was filled with debris of some kind. The age of the space station gave the team their advantage with the out dated sensor equipment and security limitations, the team seemed to have little problem entering.
After disabling the alarms, Samuels opened the ‘lock. The nine members entered the small cubicle. With the last member, the door closed and atmosphere began to creep into the room. The artificial gravity made the suits suddenly heavier. Samuels opened the door and all walked into another antechamber. With the older space stations, one airlock often wasn’t enough, and the designers created a second for those ‘Just in case’ moments.
Once a friendly atmosphere was identified, the team deactivated the vac-suits, the suits compactly retracted to a backpack restoring full mobility.
Krakow silently ordered the team to mobilise and began to scout the corridor alone. The laser pistol looked like a wand, the weapon had two settings – laser and pulse; the pulse setting fired several short bursts whereas the laser fired one continuous beam. For a man of his size, he moved with all the stealth of a jungle cat stalking its prey. Keeping in step behind him, Jackson carefully followed.
Jackson and Krakow moved ahead and periodically signaled for the team to hold or move forward.
The corridor was long probably around one hundred meters; doors lined both walls and were spaced apart evenly. At the nearest end, the corridor ended in a T junction.
From the safety of the corner, Krakow studied the corridors carefully and paused. Right opposite his position was an air vent, and through the corner of his eye he noticed the glint of a lens.
“Ark up people, we’re walking into a trap” he stated clearly and carefully so all could hear.
The team moved in unison as they formed a defensive circle.
Samuels looked confused, “How do you know it’s a trap Krakow?”
“I’m paid to know these things” He pointed his wand at the vent and released a stream of ruby energy. The vent was quickly reduced to slag and revealed a sensor array.
From five or six doors down, two pirates sprinted across the corridor. Beams of energy missed their targets.
“I can’t contact the Marco Polo sir”
Krakow frowned silently. He looked at the faces of his men, all were young and eager, and if he commanded them to fight and die, they would. “We’re going to surrender”
Though most were shocked with his statement, Krakow saw the relief in some.
“Are you crazy” Jackson was livid “These are pirates, they will kill us anyway. We might as well fight.”
Krakow stared at the First Officer, “I have assessed the situation. We will surrender. When we get back you can start the Court Martial proceedings. But until then, I am in command here”
“WE SURRENDER. WE’RE PUTTING OUR WEAPONS DOWN. DON’T SHOOT” Krakow yelled. His booming voice echoed through the halls.
Reluctantly, Jackson dropped his weapon, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Jackson studied his cell. The room was three meters by three meters. The door was pneumatically sealed, so the air could be sucked out within moments. With a flick of the switch his bed rolled out from the wall. A camera sat in the top corner of the room, the lens constantly clicking and whirring as it followed his movements.
Jackson imagined all the cells would be similar. After they were captured, the team was quickly separated and placed in the hold. His personal items had been removed and he kept time by counting to himself mentally. His captors had never asked any questions or made any demands.
Almost three hours had passed before the panel opened revealing a grim faced man. He looked some years younger than Jackson did, but his eyes described the hard life he had experienced, “Mr. Jackson, I have some terrible news” He nodded to an unseen accomplice who opened the door.
The man before him wore a well polished uniform of a disciplined soldier; behind the man stood Samuels. Bruises around her face brought fire in his eyes and he felt a surge, his eyes narrowed with anger, and with pure rage gazed at the man before him.
The man raised his hand to preemptively silence Jackson, “I am sorry, we have certain elements lacking in discipline. I caught them before any real injury occurred. I have since taken care of the situation.”
“Why have you brought her here?” Jackson looked at Samuels. Her eyes were now almost swollen shut. She clung to the thermal blanket like a child.
“After the incident I suggested, she bunk with someone she trusts, and she chose you Mr. Jackson.” He stood to one side and let Samuels enter the room, “I shall make accommodation for the two of you elsewhere.” With a solid click of the heels and a bow, the door closed and left Jackson alone with Samuels.
Samuels made no sound or motion for most of the night; she sat in the corner and held onto her blanket with determination.
Jackson sat on his bunk and simply watched.
The ‘General’ – as the pirates referred to him – looked over the docks. Three men in dress uniform led Krakow into the room. “Please take a seat Mr. Krakow” he turned and smiled, “Or should I call you Josef?”
“Call me whatever you like, I shall enjoy watching you burn for this”
“Please, I have started negotiations with your Captain, I simply need you to do something for me”
Krakow spat on the floor, “I would sooner die before doing anything for you”
The General shook his head, “That’s the problem with Russians, they’re so emotional. I need you to deliver a message for me” Slowly, he walked over to Krakow, “I am not a member of the Crimson Sons. Though our motives are similar, I have a specific mission in mind.”
His forehead slightly creased, “I said sit down Mr. Krakow” Slowly, Krakow seated himself, “My name is General Julian Hannibal. After the war, my home was given away as part of the ‘Peace Settlement’, so as you can see, I am preparing to take it back”
Date: 17th December 2355
Time: 4:12 UTC
Location: Beta Sector, 101.22 by –205.12 Mark 18 degrees
We have received a message from General Julian Hannibal – the leader of this group of brigands. He has captured our away team; he has assured us that he means no harm and wishes a peaceful resolution. Apparently, his goal is to retake Sohei 3 and two neighboring systems. This man who is named after two Roman Emperors looks familiar and he may even be from the Academy. I have forwarded all information to GalCom and am awaiting further orders.
Captain’s Log- Supplemental
Date:17th December 2355
Location:Beta Sector, 101.22 by –205.12 Mark 18 Degrees
A shuttlecraft has been launched from the space station; Josef Krakow is the sole occupant. According to Mr. Krakow, the members of his team are alive and well, though he hasn’t seen them directly. Once on board, I will debrief Mr. Krakow personally.
The shuttle docked with the Marco Polo without incident, Krakow could not wait to leave the Pirate’s ship. “I think I need a shower!” he growled, “This stench is making me angry.”
The door opened and Indira walked up to her security officer, “What happened!”
“They were waiting for us.”
“How did they know we were coming, we didn’t even know where we were going”
Krakow continued down the corridor, Indira followed, "I don't know" Krakow boomed.
"I think this Julian Hannibal is no ordinary bandit."
"He seems to know our operations manual, I watched some of the brigands and they were very efficient."
Indira stopped, "Once you've cleaned yourself up, I want you in my office."
Krakow stood at attention with remarkable discipline. Indira sat in her chair with her eyes closed attempting to center herself.
“Computer locate Doctor Stevens.”
“Doctor Stevens… is located in the… Sick Bay.”
“Captain to Sick Bay. Mallory could you please come to my office?”
“Certainly Captain, I’ll be right there.”
“Captain, I am not injured…”
“Calm down Josef. Please sit down. We need to think this through.”
After seating the Doctor, the Captain walked around her office while holding a datapad, She began to explain “Our situation has been made very clear, according to GalCom ‘The Marco Polo is NOT to engage with the freedom fighters, the primary mission is the recovery of the crew and cargo. The Dorian Gray has no strategic or economic value. As this is not a military mission, the priority is to resolve this peacefully.’ So there you have it gentlemen.”
Naidu sat down at her desk and placed the pad rather roughly onto the table.
“Do they want to start another war?” Mallory said.
Indira studied her orders carefully, “Retrieve the cargo and crew.”
Josef made a sound like a gruff bear, “Really? Are we going to leave and let them start a war with the Lyrans?”
“Intelligence reports state that the Lyrans have fragmented into their clans, two are little more than pirates, I would suspect that our good General over there has already been given permission to retake Sohei.”
Mallory scratched his head as if in pain, “I don’t understand. We’re letting him do what now…?”
“Doctor, the Lyrans are not a unified nation, since The Breakaway and the end of the war, the Clans have had no common foe, and therefore they have split into their groups.”
“So, if GalComm goes in there, we fire it up and start a war, re-unifying the Lyrans and probably lose. I’m guessing then that Sohei belongs to an unpopular Clan?”
“I presume so.” Indira leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, “We’ve been set up.”
“We’re being tested.” Josef stated, “To see where our loyalties lie.”
Mallory’s face started to go red, “What? Our people Indira, our people are over there. This is madness!”
“One thing’s for certain, none of this can go in our logs. Not until I’m one hundred per cent that we are not being bugged.”
The three talked for over an hour discussing possibilities and determining actions that didn’t contravene orders or start a war.
Josef ticked off the points with his fingers for emphasis, “We’re leaving the freighter, collecting the cargo and crew, getting our people back and leaving them to start a fight.”
“Correct” Naidu agreed, nodding with each point.
Josef smiled and ticked the last finger, “Let’s leave them a present.”