Weston was leaned back in his desk chair in his quarters, his fingers steepled in front of a big grin. He just got off encrypted comms with Fleet Admiral Kowalski at high command, his direct superior and commander of the intelligence branch. He only got one thing he wanted out of the talk but it was enough to piss in cornflakes. If he couldn’t enjoy the party he was going to crash it.
“Gunny Hanks meet me on the bridge please, MP gear,” he said into his wrist comm as he stood.
“Aye aye,” she replied swiftly.
It took him the walk to the bridge to clear his expression back to the cold stoicism the crew was used to. It was about two hours to the end of shift now. People were moving quickly and standing at post as they were being kept on alert one. When McArthur arrived at the bridge he paused at the door to be sure of what he was seeing.
“Where’s Cap’n Finn?” Weston asked loudly to make a statement.
“Commander Davis volunteered to take her shift,” Weir said as he left the captain’s chair.
“That’s unacceptable,” Weston said in a grumble as he took his chair. “Commander Davis does not have required clearance to be on the bridge. Weir, take the comm.”
Weir smiled and stood over Davis.
Davis spun his chair around and glared with a raised eyebrow. “What the fuck are you talking about, McArthur?”
“My bridge requires a minimum of top secret, per orders of high command. You don’t rate.” McArthur shifted in his chair. “That’s sad. Cap’n Finn has higher clearance than you.”
“This is bullshit, I’m not going anywhere.”
“That’s fine,” McArthur said as he turned his attention to his console. “You’re only committing an offense of espionage.”
Jennifer arrived, breathing hard from double timing it from the armory. “Reporting, cap’n.”
“Marine, take this commander to the pilot’s ready room until his flight home arrives. He doesn’t rate clearance to play with my toys.”
“You won’t last long with that insubordination, mister,” Davis said in an attempt to regain control.
“What are they going to do?” McArthur asked sarcastically. “Send me on a suicide mission to the galactic core?”
“This way, sir,” Hanks said with a hand on her holster. “I only ask once.”
Davis brushed past Hanks wordlessly.
Weston brought up the comms on a central holo display. “Weir, Canniff on my screen now. Thanks.”
Weir sent the hail. It wasn’t answered. Weir sent it again. It almost timed out when the comms officer finally picked up. He was reluctant to put on the captain but did so.
“What is it McArthur? I’m busy over here.”
“I have orders for you from headquarters, F.A. Kowalski. You should be receiving the official wire shortly if you haven’t already. You are to transfer Lieutenant Raymond Heermann to my ship, and pick up your commander for return to your ship.”
“Heermann? Yeah…” Canniff’s voice trailed off sarcastically. “That’s not happening.”
Weston crossed his arms. “I can have Kowalski on the horn and you can tell him that.”
Canniff let out a long breath from his nose. “I heard you were a bit of a cunt,” Canniff said.
Weston smiled. “Give me my pilot and find another comm hub and this cunt will be out of your face.”
“Can’t let you go yet, and that’s not me but some other admiral.” Canniff leaned forward to read something off his console. “I’ll send Heermann over when the orders check out.”
“While you’re at it you can pick up your gay lover and bring him back to your boat.”
Canniffs face twitched at the insult of his warship being called a boat, then made a mean smirk. “Alright, why are you kicking him off?”
“My bridge requires top secret.”
“Are you fucking serious?” Canniff said with an exasperated sigh and leaned back.
“I can send the documents-”
“Fuck no. Leave the uplink on and we’ll do everything on this end. Any other crap I need to know?”
“Great. Like I said I’m busy.” The comm link died at that.
The bridge remained quiet in the tension of the exchange between captains.
McArthur stood waiting on the flight deck as the transport from the Edison landed and the loading ramp dropped. Lieutenant Raymond Heermann was not a man of vanity. If he had undergone rejuvenation therapy, it was just enough to keep him combat rated. His hair was salt-and-pepper high-and-tight. He had the wrinkles on his face of a man in his late 40’s, the squinted eyes of a man used to being stuck in a shitstorm, and the stoic frown of a man that didn’t want to talk about it. He had the Marine emblem tattooed on his right arm and kill tallies on his left.
He walked down the ramp with his duffel packed to the swelling point over his shoulder. He gave Weston’s hand a single firm shake with a sharp “Sir.”
“Welcome aboard Lieutenant Heermann,” Weston said.
“Iceman. Just Iceman.”
“You’ll have private quarters,” Weston said. “But they still have the personal effects of our recently deceased pilot so you’ll have to make yourself space.”
“Not the first time.”
Iceman looked over his shoulder at the sound of the ramp closing. Commander Davis quickly flipped McArthur off as it closed. “Asskisser,” Iceman commented.
“I’ll take you to your quarters,” Hanks said now that she was done babysitting Davis.
“No thanks. Tell me the number I’ll find it myself.”
“04A-17,” McArthur said.
Iceman snapped a salute, which McArthur returned, and left. Hanks watched him leave and crossed her arms. “I don’t think he’s going to fit our mission.”
“I spoke to him before calling the admiral,” McArthur said. “He specifically wanted this posting. He applied during initial crew selection, actually, but they didn’t want to waste his talents on our mission. He just got a lucky second chance.”
“He wanted the Yutomaky?” Hanks gave McArthur a side glance. “Are you fucking kidding?”
“Nope. Word of warning, we’re going to get stuck with that transport.”
“Yup,” Weston said with a nod. “Command is reposting ships to high value targets. They’re expecting something. When that ship gets put back on us I’m cutting it loose, but I’ll need your team to do one last sweep and interviews before I can sign off on that.”
Hanks let out a sigh. “Right. I wish I told you to blow it out of the sky now.”
Weston smiled and patted Hanks on the shoulder. “You love paperwork.”
Weston left the flight bay. Hanks stood there, and turned to stare out the flight bay into space. The local star was just out of the side of view, casting light on the nearby asteroid belt they were mining before. “The fuck I do!” she shouted as she grabbed some useless thing off her belt and threw it hard enough to cross the bay, pass through the forcefield, and spin off into the void.
The OFS Lillard docked directly with the Barrow and started clearing out the ship and preparing it for tow. Sparkles and shadows floated out of the other airlock as the boarding party unceremoniously disposed of the accumulated refuse and corpses. Complete disregard for respectful burial or property was one of the few areas where veteran spaceforcers and pirates had everything it common. In one night the crew of the Lillard had the Barrow to military regs, its command and control locked down for impound and ready to be slaved to a fleet navcon.
The orders came in a few minutes after the Lillard undocked, and before 1st shift was awake. With mining in Sol being taxed, companies and colonies were going to other areas that were marked off-limits. The three destroyers were being dispatched singly to patrol other asteroid belts. By the time McArthur got to the breakfast line the destroyers had already entered FTL outbound. When he sat down at his desk in his quarters the computer was flashing with fresh orders from headquarters. Weston covered the light with a sock and ate in peace.
He finally read the orders on the bridge, and then called the senior officers to the conference room for a briefing. Weir, Shannon, Jessica, Matt, David Bowman, Jennifer and Jaime were all ready and chatting when Weston arrived. He put up a holographic schematic of the Barrow.
“We’re officially stuck with this scow,” he said as he walked down the table to the end seat and plopped down. “Fleet is commandeering it and we’re leading a convoy from Zhirnyy Point to Starbase 77.”
“A fucking convoy?” Jennifer blurted out.
“Fatty point?” David said quietly.
“Yes,” Weston said. “Fatty Fat Fat Fat McFat Dick Tip.”
There were a few stifled laughs at the table.
Weston continued. “The last Russian mob owned port which also happens to be an antimatter refinery which also happens to be willing to sell to the fleet at a huge discount. There’s a cruiser squadron at 77 with dry tanks and we’re doing a fuel run.”
“You know why the Russians sell it that cheap,” David said.
“Yes because they sell the outbound manifests on the black market. I’m also well aware of the bogus transmissions sent from the Barrow before it was captured. It’s all an obvious set up. Command doesn’t want to hear it. Fat Cock Tip Station has the fuel and they need those cruisers now, not next week or whenever logistics can get around to it.”
Weston tapped the control panel and a new ship hologram replaced the Barrow. It looked like a giant soda can with engines and guns strapped on. “We’ll be meeting the ATF Jackhammer at Flaccid Dick Station. They’re a combat tanker transport from Advanced Tactical Freight. They’re an anti-piracy PMC with a 92% delivery rate, and the fleet already has a retainer contract with them.”
Jessica, the chief doctor of the ship, cleared her throat. “What about the other 8%?”
Weston pushed his lips out and nodded his head. “If this crew can’t pick up the 8% slack I will kick off the survivors at Starbase 77 and complete the mission with robots. Now, you’re all war veterans so I want to hear your plans.”
Chief Engineer Shannon was the first to raise her hand, which was no wonder as androids could compile strategy faster than most humans. “Our missile batteries are mixed load of probes and utility with only a few warheads. We should swap for a half-and-half load of shield breakers and hull breakers. Assuming the Barrow has a pirate mole.”
Weston held up his hand. “Assume the entire crew of the Barrow is pirates. Assume that as soon as we have the antimatter and hit FTL, they will break formation for a rogue port to sell fleet gas on the black market. Assume that.”
“Yes,” Shannon said resuming from the interruption. “Running silent is not an option. We keep shields at full, the railguns hot, and the plasma projectors charged. FTL core online even for sublight to augment our maneuvering. Sensors at maximum, active sweep. We’ll glow like a white giant on everyone’s scanners but it’ll take a fleet cruiser to get the drop on us.”
“Good, do it,” Weston said.
“Fuck,” Jennifer sighed. “I don’t want to do an EVA missile battery reload.”
Shannon smiled at Jennifer. “Want me to do it for you?”
“Fuck you,” Jennifer said. “My battery, my work, my kills.”
“I’ll keep the pilots on a 12 hour ready rotation,” Jaime said.
“I’ll twiddle my thumbs in the labs,” Chief Researcher David said.
“Actually,” Weston said as he took a folded data sheet out of his pocket and tossed it at David. “I need a defense or countermeasure to that.”
David unfolded the paper and started reading. His eyes widened from the first paragraph of the design summary. “This is real?”
“Yes,” Weston answered. “And it was developed in a spaceforce lab, possession of one is a war crime, and it’s codeword secret so keep a lid on it.”
David quickly stuffed the data sheet in his pocket, leaned back and crossed his arms.
“If there aren’t any more ideas, you’re dismissed. Weir I need you in private.”
The senior staff filtered out until Weir and Weston were alone. Weir sat on the table and tossed a stress ball in the air.
“I suppose you want me to go back on the Barrow.”
“Mhm,” Weston hummed.
“Do I get to take anyone with me?”
“Any marine or non-essential crew that you can fit on the assault transport is yours until we get to 77.”
“How about a det-pack with a dead man’s trigger linked to my body’s transponder and a tamper-proof casing, so I can place it on the power core of the Barrow?”
“You can take all six det-packs from the armory, we only have one tamper-proof casing, and you need to find someone with demolitions experience to help you with the dead man.”
Weir squeezed the ball and dropped his head onto his chest. “I don’t want to go.”
“You can space the entire crew when you get aboard.”
“Then I’d be the pirate,” Weir said.
Weston put his boots on the table and crossed his legs. “Yarr.” Weir looked up and stared at Weston. Weston shrugged. “This is an errand to run on our way outbound. Both stops take us further from Earth. The fuel required to top off those cruisers and whatever else they are pulling out of mothballs will require the full cargo load of the Yutomaky, the Barrow, and the Jackhammer.”
“Starbase 77 is a junkyard?” Weir asked rhetorically. “Why are they pulling decommissioned ships back in?”
“Five colonies seceded last night,” Weston said.
“Only five?” Weir said dismissively. There were about 300 colonized worlds by then.
“Olympia was one of them,” Weston said. “You know, the one with near exact mass to Earth’s, with all the genetically repopulated extinct plants and animals. The one… with the shipyards that build our fleet carriers, the shipyards that depend on tax-free metals from Sol mining. The one with the spoiled, immortal, ultra-rich of the galaxy.”
“Yes I know Olympia. So they have a shipyard, big deal, they have no ships. The spaceforce will go back to using Mars for ship production. The spoiled, immortal ultra-rich on Earth and Mars are just as big of douchebags as the ones on Olympia.”
“Right.” Weston switched crossed legs. “But see, the thing is, Olympia has enough money to buy the mercenaries and pirates to threaten the Systems Alliance. And that’s not even mentioning if anyone else serious leaves over the USTA violation. It’s a house of cards at this point.”
“They’re really starting another war,” Weir said in amazement as he tossed his ball.
“And thanks to your SAAD array we get to be a part of it.” Weston stood up. “Get whatever you need and get on the Barrow. We have a convoy to run.” Weston left the room quickly.