- 1 -
“Report?” Nathan asked as he entered the bridge from his ready room. He was feeling a bit anxious despite the fact that he was pretty sure what to expect. The hours had been long over the last few days, but they had still been a welcome break from the chaos that had preceded them.
“Short-range just picked up a contact,” Jessica reported. “He’s still a ways out, but he’s headed straight for us, and fast.”
“Is it our guest?” The question was directed at Jalea, who had just stepped onto the bridge and came to stand beside Nathan and Jessica. She looked at the tactical display in front of Jessica, trying to determine the identity of the ship. She was still unfamiliar with the way the Aurora’s systems displayed information.
“It is most likely him,” Jalea told them. “But I cannot be sure without making voice contact.”
“Suggest we go to battle stations, sir,” Jessica urged. “With our limited crew and weapons, better safe than sorry.”
“Captain,” Jalea protested. “It is important that you take no actions that might provoke him. If he changes his mind about helping us, I cannot promise that anyone else will.”
“He’s still coming in awfully fast,” Jessica warned.
Nathan could sense the tension in Jessica’s voice. She was usually quite calm in such situations, and if there was a hint of concern, Nathan felt it best to follow her advice.
“Sound general quarters,” he ordered. “But do
deploy the rail guns yet.”
They weren’t exactly the orders she had hoped for, but Jessica understood his reasons. The incoming vessel was relatively small, and as of yet had shown no signs of aggression other than its rapid approach.
“General quarters, no weapons deployment. Aye, sir.” Jessica activated the ship-wide alert system. Status light panels located on overhead beams, above hatchways, and embedded in walls and bulkheads throughout the ship all suddenly changed from green to red, as the communications officer announced, “General quarters, general quarters. All hands assume combat stations.”
“Time to intercept?” Nathan asked.
“One minute,” Jessica answered. “He’s still not slowing down.”
“Is that him?” Cameron asked as she entered the bridge.
“We don’t know yet,” Nathan said.
“How can you not know?” Cameron wondered aloud as she took her station at the helm.
“All stations manned and ready,” Jessica updated. “Thirty seconds to intercept.”
All eyes were on the main view screen that wrapped around the front half of the bridge. The approaching ship started as nothing more than a tiny speck, hidden amongst all the other tiny specks against the starry background of space. It grew rapidly until its shape finally formed into something resembling a spacecraft, as it streaked past barely missing them.
“Jesus!” Nathan exclaimed. The bridge was located deep within the ship, but every time something streaked past them in such a manner, it made him want to duck.
“He’s coming back around,” Jessica reported. “He’s making another pass.”
Jessica grimaced, clenching her teeth. Nathan could see that it was taking every ounce of willpower on her part to refrain from blasting the cocky little ship into a million pieces. “Steady, Ensign,” Nathan mumbled as he leaned over the tactical console next to her, watching the display. Jessica just sneered at him.
“Message coming in,” the communications officer announced.
“Put it on,” Nathan ordered as he straightened back up.
“Aurora, this is Tobin Marsh. I will land on your flight deck.”
The signal immediately clicked off.
“Channel closed, sir,” the comm officer reported.
“Arrogant little shit, isn’t he?” Jessica muttered. After spending the last two years amongst the testosterone-filled special operations cadre, she had yet to become accustomed to the more well-mannered atmosphere of the bridge.
“He merely seeks to establish a position of strength before sitting down to negotiate the terms of his assistance,” Jalea explained. “It is to be expected.”
“He’s coming around again, more slowly this time,” Jessica reported. “Looks like he’s doing just what he said. He’s going to land.”
“Get down there and meet him, Jess,” Nathan ordered. “Then bring him to the briefing room.”
“Yes, sir,” she acknowledged as she departed.
Nathan turned to Jalea. “You’re sure about this guy?”
“As I said before, this is not the first time we have utilized his services.”
“Well he sure likes to make an entrance,” Cameron added.
* * *
Jessica came to the bottom of the ramp to find her partner from special operations, Enrique Mendez, waiting for her. He carried a standard issue close-quarters automatic weapon slung over his shoulder and a hand gun holstered on his belt.
“Miss me?” Enrique held out a weapon for Jessica, smiling at her as she approached. It was the standard
smile that he always tried on the ladies. She had always told him that it didn’t work, but he never listened.
“Medical already cleared you for duty?” She looked at his hip, noticing the abnormal bulge from the bandage under his trousers.
“I didn’t ask,” he admitted. Jessica shot him a disapproving glance as she took the weapon from him. “Hey, I’m good to go, baby.”
“Is that right?” Jessica patted the bulge on his thigh where he had been wounded a few days ago as she passed by, causing him to wince slightly.
“Damn, Jess. Play nice, now,” he scolded as he fell in behind her.
They continued down the corridor, entering the main hatch to the hangar bay. Inside there were two marines, Sergeants Weatherly and Holmes. Thus far, other than Enrique, Weatherly and Holmes were the only other people on board she was sure could shoot straight.
“Should only be one guy on this thing,” she announced as she entered. “But he appears to be a bit on the arrogant side. Either way, let’s play it safe. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” they both agreed.
“Enrique, you and Holmes take starboard. We’ll go port side. Forty-five degree attack angles. If it gets ugly, try to maim, not kill.” She didn’t wait for a response, instead immediately trotting off to her right and making her way down the sides of the hangar bay until she reached a good position behind some large containers on the port side of the bay, facing aft. Across the bay from her, Enrique and Holmes were taking up similar positions.
“We’re in position,” she announced to the bridge over her comm-set.
“Copy, the airlock is nearly cycled. The doors should be opening momentarily,”
Nathan reported over the comms.
A few moments later, the massive door on the center transfer airlock began sliding up into the ceiling, along with the sound of the gears and motors driving it. Beyond the door was the same spacecraft that only minutes ago was buzzing about their ship like an annoying insect. They watched as the ship began to slowly roll forward from the transfer airlock into the hangar bay. Once clear of the airlock, the door automatically closed again, ready for another recovery. Even though they had left Earth without any of their auxiliary spacecraft, the airlocks were automated so as to enable the launch and recovery of spacecraft even during complete control failures.
Unlike the time she had lain in wait for the arrival of Marak’s ship a few days ago, this time the hangar was fully lit, and she made no attempt to conceal her position from their guest. As a counter to his arrogance, she wished him to be fully aware that his presence did not intimidate them. It was simply another angle of the psychological side of warfare that she had been taught in spec-ops.
The small ship rolled to a stop, its engines winding down as its systems vented unknown vapors. The ship had a long, cylindrical fuselage resembling a flattened cigar, with short stubby wings and a pair of tail-mounted engines. She had numerous maneuvering ports located all about her fuselage, but from what Jessica could see, the ship was unarmed.
A small boarding hatch about a meter aft of the cockpit windows suddenly swung downward, becoming a boarding ramp complete with small steps that folded out automatically as the hatch fully deployed. A slender man in his mid-thirties, with jet-black hair and a melodramatic goatee, stepped out through the hatch and looked about. He immediately saw the four weapons pointed at him from either side of the bay and assumed a submissive posture, his hands forward and held up, for all to observe their emptiness. “I carry no arms,” he announced. “I pose no threat to you.”
“Keep your hands up where I can see them, and we’ll have no problems,” Jessica instructed confidently.
The man looked at her for a moment, finally deciding that she was not the type that would have a problem pulling the trigger of her weapon if necessary. “As you wish,” he agreed, holding his hands up even higher and farther away from his body as he continued down the step ladder. “Please do not harm me. I am here at the request of Jalea Torren. She is with you. Is she not?”
“She is,” Jessica replied. The man continued toward her. “That’s far enough,” she added with more urgency. “Hands up on your head, please. Stay perfectly still, and everything will be fine.” Jessica rose from her cover and headed toward him, gesturing to Enrique to do the same. Weatherly and Holmes both stayed back, ready to cover the two ensigns should things turn bad.
Suddenly, the hatch to the man’s ship closed of its own accord, causing Jessica to stop in her tracks. “I told you not to move!” she warned.
“I did not. I assure you!” the man assured her. “It was automatic.”
“Is anything else going to move… automatically?” she asked, her weapon trained on his face.
“No, nothing. My ship was only securing itself.”
Enrique approached cautiously and began patting him down, searching for hidden weapons.
The man looked surprised by the pat-down. “I assure you I am unarmed, as promised.”
“A girl can never be too careful,” she mused. The man returned her smile, recognizing her sarcasm.
“Indeed,” he answered. “I suppose you will now take me to see your captain?”
“Right this way,” Jessica instructed, gesturing for him to follow her partner.
* * *
Tobin Marsh strode confidently into the briefing room. Upon spotting Jalea, he extended his arms, taking her by the shoulders and giving her a polite kiss on each cheek as he spoke words that in their language were surely a charming and polite greeting. Their initial pleasantries concluded, she turned to face Nathan and Cameron, both of whom were standing on the opposite side of the table from them.
“Tobin Marsh,” Jalea began in English, “may I introduce Captain Nathan Scott and Commander Cameron Taylor of the Aurora.”
“It is my distinct pleasure to meet you both,” Tobin greeted in proper, although considerably accented English. His accent, although similar to Jalea’s, was somehow different. There was something a little less proper about his syntax, despite the fact that he was obviously trying very hard to speak perfect
, as they called it. “I trust my unorthodox arrival did not give you too much cause for alarm,” he added, casting a side-long glance at Jessica, who stood against the wall on the same side of the table as Nathan and Cameron. Tobin reached out his hand in greeting, shaking first Cameron’s and then Nathan’s.
“Yes, your style seemed a bit aggressive,” Nathan admitted politely. “But as we are new to this region of space, we tried not to attach undue significance.”
“You are? Of this I was not aware.” Tobin’s curiosity was evident. “From what region do you hail?”
Nathan could see the look of warning coming from Jessica’s eyes as he spoke. “Let’s just say,
, that we come from quite far away.”
“Really? Now you do have my interest, Captain. Is your origin really such a secret?”
“We’ve only just met, sir. And for the time being, where we are
is not related to the services we seek. Unless, of course, knowledge of our origin is a condition of your service. If this
the case, we will not waste any more of your time.” Nathan was surprised at how easily both the statement and the appropriate body language he used to indicate his intent to depart the room had come to him. After all those years of watching his father in the political arena, apparently some of those skills had rubbed off on him.
“It is not a condition, Captain,” Tobin explained. He too was comfortable at such negotiations, showing no undue reaction to Nathan’s statements or posturing. “It was merely a curiosity, for which I apologize.” Tobin bowed his head in a polite gesture of concession to Nathan, indicating that he would yield to Nathan’s requirement for secrecy as to their point of origin. “Now, tell me, Captain. What services might you seek?”