Opsfleet Chapter Seven

“We have about thirty people aboard.” Jenny Hanks was firmly seated at the sensors console and had a 3D model of the ship up. “Looks like half of them are hostages, probably the original crew. Lucky for them. Usually these fucks sell everyone into slavery and they die off in some asteroid strip mine. Aaaand they’re moving to the drive core. Probably hoping for a standoff and hostage negotiation.”

Weir tapped the comm button. “Yutomaky?”

“Actual, go.”

“We have hostages.”

“Your ship, your command. Advise primary is termination of hostiles and security of prize. Hostages are extra credit. Consult your ExO Hanks. Out.”

“Woah you’re ExO now?” Morley said sarcastically.

“I will PT your ass into a new plane of existence, motherfucker.” She stood up from the console station. “I have a plan.”

“Tell me,” Weir said.

“We don’t know what they have, but I know we have nightvision, thermal, sonic, LIDAR, a metric fuckton of ammo and 24 hours of oxygen. I can cold dump the reactor and unless they have what we have, it’ll be a fucking urban shooting range all over again. Work as a single fire team, no splitting up.”

Weir smiled. “I like that. Let’s do that.”

Hanks popped her helmet back on. She entered the command to shutdown the reactor and disable all power and the inside of the ship went absolutely black except for the tiny bit of light coming in from the window from space. She unplugged the hacker box and slung it over her back.

“Ready, sir. ROE? First objective?”

Weir grabbed the rifle that was handed to him and looked it over. His expression tightened as his eyes narrowed on the gun. He looked to Jennifer and was for a change, completely unamused.

“What did you think we were going to do, Commander?” She looked back at him with anger. “We can’t brig these guys. They’ve comitted piracy and we’re at the ass end of space.”

“It’s up to me to decide,” Weir corrected her. “But in this instance, you’re correct. But only because those were Opsfleet’s orders carried down by the Captain.” Weir’s human expressions were still apparent as he sighed and walked toward the entrance to the bridge. “Come on, let’s take this ship. Take that box with you. We’re locking everything down and clearing from the top down.”

“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” Jennifer commanded. “We’re going from the bottom up because we’re not going to do what a bunch of stupid pirates would expect us to do. Order us to do something but don’t tell us how to do it.”

“We’re clearing the stairwell first. Come on.” Jenn said as she pushed Weir aside.

It didn’t take long for Weir to get lost. Two rights, and a left and the android; a computer, got lost Weir felt like the most inept Android in the history of the universe. He figured he could hear. Weir laughed to himself as he got his rifle at the ready and continued forward.

“I think it doesn’t matter if I get lost anyway,” Weir said. “I’m the captain of the damned ship so technically, I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

 

***

 

The autopilot landed perfectly and popped the canopy for Sean. He climbed out of the fighter to see a waiting McArthur by the SAR ship talking with one of the ground crew and the SAR pilot. When they heard the two-seater come into the bay and land they both looked at the fighter confused, and walked over.

“How was your first flight?” Weston asked dryly.

Sean smiled. “It was a lot of fun.”

“It’s good you already have top secret and wizzo on your docket,” Weston said. “I doubt Weir checked if you were cleared for that flight. Tin Man already has command all over us.”

“Gotta be a man of many talents to make pay grade,” Sean said with a smile. “How’s Moore?”

“Dead.”

“Moore was fine,” Sean said confused.

“Debris from the fight. He bled out. It happens.” McArthur stared at Sean for a moment. He gave Sean a smack on the arm. “Don’t worry about it. I assumed you’d be on the Barrow with Weir, but this is good. Get your bird fitted with a scanner pod, take a break and get some food. You’re going wizzo with Whitmore. I want the vector of that ship that warped away. If we can get a vector, with some actionable intel off the Barrow we’ll go hunting.”

“Sounds good. ETA?”

“When you and Whitmore are good and ready,” Weston said. “You can discuss flight hours with her during the sortie. I think I’ll need backup pilots.”

Sean looked at the deck officer. “We better get to it.”

 

***

The interior of the Barrow was pure black with the power out. The marines’ power-assisted, armored combat EVA suits had a full suite of microsensors. Active infrared, LIDAR, SONAR, and thermal readings were all fed into a computer in their backpacks. This computer converted all of that data into a holographic overlay on their visor that gave each marine a real-time view that was like the ship was fully lit. Only it was better because it could also detect people through doors and walls by picking up their heartbeat, their breathing, and their thermal emission. Conversely the combat suit blocked all these readings so that if a marine stood perfectly still, another person would have a hard time knowing if the suit was occupied or an empty EVA sitting on a rack. Hanks had used that fact to perform many ambushes that she found hilarious.

 

The suit was wirelessly linked to her weapon. She didn’t need to shoulder it to aim. The suit’s computer projected a line that showed exactly where her shot would land, and even probable ricochets. A sensor scope on her weapon also displayed in a smaller picture to the side, which could be made to fill the view with the tap of a thumb button. This was handy for shooting around corners or over cover without exposing one’s self. Every combat suit was wirelessly linked together as well, acting like a hive network to create even more accurate overlays from all the combined perspectives.

“Reminds me of the time I got banned from a Enemy Down server,” Penn said.

“You say that every fucking time,” Loud grumbled.

“Yeah you need new material,” Hanks said.

They cleared each section by the books, and quickly. When they cleared a section they closed the bulkhead hatch behind them and jammed it shut with a rod or pipe left laying around, which the pirates seemed to have in abundance.

“Where’s the commander?” Morley asked.

“Fuck if I care,” Hanks grumbled. She tapped a thumb button on her left index finger. “You lost, Weir?”

“I know where I am,” he replied with the utmost confidence. “I just can’t see where to go next.”

“Are you fucking kidding?” Hanks shouted. “You’re an android. You have all the shit our suits have built into your motherfucking face!”

“I do?” Weir sounded clearly surprised. “How do I… how’s it turn on?”

“Oh my fucking fuckity fuck god,” Hanks said. “Read the fucking manual for fuck’s sake you god damned easy bake oven. I’m going to clear the ship while you’re fucking around trying to figure out how to use your GOD DAMNED FACE!”

Hanks swapped back to local voice comms before Weir could reply. “Jesus fucking H Christ in a bleeding vagina. These fleet fuckers. I need to kill someone stat.”

 

The other marines made knowing laughs. They cleared and locked down the bottom deck, and were at the rear of the ship near the main engines going up to the next deck. Engineering and some cargo holds were there. There were a lot of blips on their map.

There was someone in the storage room to the left. Jenny pulled her monomolecular knife out of its sheath with her left hand, keeping her weapon in her right. The person was a man, and they were holding a pistol. That’s all Jenny’s brain processed and needed to know before she had crossed the room and nearly decapitated him with her blade.

“Fucker,” she said as she put her knife back.

Her team had cleared and locked 3 more rooms before she caught up. She watched Loud bounce a shot off a door and into someone’s chest. The man reflexively twitched his trigger as he fell to the deck dead.

“Way to go Loud, you fucking idiot,” Morley said. “They know we’re here.”

“Eat dicks,” Loud replied.

Hanks pushed past them. The bulk of them were in main engineering, which was through the next bulkhead hatch. A couple were moving quickly to get to them. Jenny waited with her left hand on her underbarrel grenade launcher. Using the buttons on the side, she quickly tagged the hatch with the rangefinder, added a meter and set it for the airburst range, then set the burst pattern to sides only.

The pirates expertly took cover and pushed the hatch open from behind the bulkhead. Jenny fired her grenade, and whoever was gathered there was turned into steaming hamburger. “Suck it down, bitches!” Jenny shouted.

“You know they can’t hear you,” Loud said.

“Don’t ruin my fucking immersion,” she said back.

They moved through the hatchway and quickly split off. Loud and Penn covered the lower deck of main engineering while Hanks and Morley took the main deck. The overlay computer automatically tagged everyone holding a weapon with a red tint. Everyone else was highlighted white. The sound of their rifle bursts overrode whatever the pirates and hostages were shouting. Jenny particularly enjoyed using 5 round bursts, aiming for the belly button and letting recoil paint a line upward. Rarely were the remains suitable for open-casket.

In less than a whole minute they had engineering cleared of all but one armed woman, who was holding a hostage at gunpoint. Jenny tapped a button to turn on her vox speaker. She saw the arc lines of her entire squad aiming at his head. The way the woman was looking around frantically, she had no idea where any of the marines were standing, certainly not that Hanks was 5 feet in front of her.

“What good do you think that’s going to do you?” Jenny said. “I’m a marine, not a fucking negotiator. Now, the fuck do you think you’re gonna demand?”

“I want off this ship,” she said.

“I can see about a fair trial,” Jenny said. “If you can tell us who your friends are and where we can find them maybe they’ll let you off.”

“Fuck that!” she shouted. “I’m not a snitch and you’re not arresting me! Let me off this ship or I’ma kill this bitch!”

“K,” Jenny said.

What happened happened in little over a second. First Loud fired a shot that sliced right through the pirate’s weapon, cutting through the length of the barrel, and hitting the chambered shot, which exploded, turning the pirate’s hand into pulled pork and shaving the hostage’s face with shrapnel. A hundred pieces of shrapnel that go only muscle deep is far preferable to a high-caliber hollow-point bullet rattling around inside the skull. That has always been the logic of Jenny’s hostage tactics. Next came two shots that burst the pirates head open like a water balloon, covering the hostage in gore.

With that exchange concluded, Hanks dropped a sleeping gas grenade on the deck. The idea was to put all the hostages to sleep while the marines finished clearing the ship. Then they could come back and verify the hostage’s identity and weed out any sleeper pirates hiding among them.

“All yours Morley,” Hanks said.

“Hope she can afford reconstructive,” Morley said as he started by spraying disinfecting foam on the hostage’s face. “Because Loud really blew a load on it.”

Hanks, Penn and Loud finished locking down engineering and continued through the ship. There were only 3 left, most likely all pirates. Two had found flashlights and were headed to engineering. The last one was stumbling his way toward the bridge.

“Penn, Loud, you have the twins,” Jenny ordered as she sprinted for the front end of the ship. She had no idea why she was running to kill the pirate before he got to Weir. She knew even if Weir got fragged he’d wake up fine in a new blank android body. It must’ve been professional pride. As she ran up the stairs she could hear the pirate opening the hatch, and Weir on comms with Shannon asking how to use his enhanced sensors. Shannon was clearly already frustrated by the problem, as androids came with the programming to just do it naturally, while Weir was a human shoved into a body he didn’t know how to use.

But there was still the issue of the pirate, who was wearing night-vision goggles and trying to sneak up on Weir. Jenny was still on vox. “Weir fucking ten o’clock pirate!” Jenny ducked behind the bulkhead as Weir raised his rifle and went full auto into the darkness, followed by a very wet, greasy thud. Jenny stepped through the hatch and over the dripping mess that was once a human.

 

“Targets down,” Loud said over comms.

“Ship secure, captain,” Jenny said.

“That was fast,” Weir said. “Can you turn the lights back on?”

Jenny slung her weapon and pulled the hacker box from her backpack. “Right away Stevie Wonder.” Jenny went into the bridge, plugged in the box, and turned on the emergency lights and started the reboot of the ship’s reactor.

 

***

 

Weir finished talking with the 3rd Officer of the Barrow. Opsfleet’s patrol would be by within six hours to pick the crew up and two the ship to the nearest fleet controlled star base while the old crew that was taken hostage by the pirates contemplated what sort of chargers they’d be facing when they got there. There were some members of the crew that would be immune to those charges, however, the Engineers daughter, who wouldn’t be able to survive on the starbase, would have to stay aboard where it was safe for her. The 3rd Officer told Weir the tale of how their engineer was tied up and used as an experiment for a new weapon the Pirates devised.

The Morale Killer, they called. Or the TMK. Weir made a note to check the weapon out amongst the dead. If anyone knew where the pirate weapons were stored, it would be the Marines. They say that, when they shot the man, he began undergoing a process where every atom in his body chain reacted and turned to dark energy. They said it seemed to be a relatively painless death, but it left him with enough time to realize he was going to die.

A short time to live, a long time to wait.

Thus, The Morale Killer was born.

Apparently they used weponized exotic materials. The man that created the weapon was still alive and well on the other pirate ship that got away, as was the captain, and his first mate who did the shooting. Weir realized that this gun was possibly the one gun that could actually kill him. He kept the thought to himself. Nobody else needed to be more worried about it because after all, it’d kill them just like any other gun. Weir just didn’t want to think about it. He just couldn’t go around acting like bullets bounced off of him on anymore ship raids. If he ducked from the bullets like everyone else, nobody would be the wiser to use the TMK weapon more often than they already were.

If someone asks why I’m more careful, I’ll just tell them at that moment. Weir nodded to himself as he stayed deep in thought. He had someone to talk to in the hold. He knew that she was already aware of her fathers death so it wasn’t his burden to make such a sad announcement at least, but he still had to talk to her. He looked down at the screen while Jane Finn ran the final request for extended family for the girl and the system came up blank. Weir printed out a fresh digital sheet from a wall mounted, encased digital printer because he didn’t want to have a conversation with McArthur on the big screen. He tapped on Jane’s shoulder to let her know he would be away; for once, she was silent.

Weir made it to a set of crews quarters that obviously belonged to the captain of the Barrow. The man had interesting things in his cabin. Weir even found a base model pleasure droid stuffed in the closet; they looked like real human beings but the AI is so basic it barely passes for sentient and it couldn’t pass as anything else. He despised machines with an off switch. He also learned more about the ships captain than he ever wanted to know about anyone.

He thought about sitting in the bed but after learning what the man did for a pass time, he chose the desk chair instead.

He tapped into the ships on-board communications and kicked his right foot onto the desk so he can lean the back of the plastic sheet against his knee, using a small fold in his flightsuit pants as the rest. The screen activated to McArthur’s face. He was obviously not on the bridge, probably with his sheet of paper leaned up on a towel rack while he shaved using an actual razor.

“Sorry sir,” Weir said. “I thought you were up already.”

“I am up,” McArthur said while running a razor up his chin. “Just shaving… You remember what that’s like.”

“Thankfully I don’t have to worry about it for now.” Weir talked toward the plastic sheet and watched him while rolling his eyes.

“Okay,” McArthur said. “Obviously you didn’t call me to talk about shaving. What’s up?”

“The whole crew is to be confined upon boarding by system personnel later today but, we have a crew member that doesn’t need to be a part of the process. She’s a thirteen year old girl, and she has no extended family. Her father was used as a test subject for some kind of weapon.”

“The TMK,” McArthur said.

“You know about it.” Weir tilted his head to the side and eyed him.

“Don’t look so shocked. I heard about its development months ago. Apparently they made it. Sucks to be you, Commander.”

“I was thinking the same thing. Back to what I was saying though, this girl, Andrea Ruke… She could be transferred aboard your ship and you can do a quick run to Earth, drop her off and meet back up with us using your navlogs and it’d be like you never left.”

 

“Yeah…” McArthur shook his head. “We already have the SAAD array. Now all we need is to show the brass that it’s a proven concept that we can just come home whenever shit gets tough. Do you need me to spell the answer out for you or are you seeing where I’m going with this?” McArthur sighed while washing his straight razor. “I understand your concern. The outer rim is no place for a girl, but she has nowhere to go either.”

Weir watched as McArthur continued shaving one side of his face.

“She could go home,” Weir said.

“I’m not in a habit of repeating myself, commander. Think of a solution and I’ll back it up; just not that one.” Weir raised his brow and observed as McArthur reached forward with his straight razor and inserted it into his data-sheet. The image bent, distorted, shook,and Weir watched as a bright, white line started ripping through the screen until…

 

TRANSMISSION LOST

 

Weir chuckled and his eyes rolled up to the ceiling of the other captain’s cabin as he sat there with a grin. McArthur knew how to make him smile even when disagreeing, or denying his suggestions.

His captain was right though. If using the jump drive to return to their starting point ever became a routine stunt, people back home would want to restock the mission with new crew whenever micromanaging was ignored. At least with the way things were, they’d stick to the normal mindset that once a ship is out past the rim, it’s not coming back; no other ship ever has.

They’d be sacrificing a fourteen year old girl’s life of normalcy for political aversion. Weir sighed but reminded himself that, the Yutomaky could technically be a child’s ultimate playground. Who would act as her parental figure though?

 

He thought of a few people…

Jane Finn… Hell no..

One of the androids?

Weir tightened his lips and nodded quietly to himself.

That would be a first.

He looked over to the closet at the sex droid and decided to leave the cabin. He threw the plastic sheet onto the desk and sighed. No androids… It would have to be a human, teaching a human. If a droid taught her how to live, she’d end up being mistaken for a droid as she grew older. Or at least, that was Weirs fear.

She was old enough to have her own cabin if she wanted. That would be a first for a child her age probably and it would give her a sense of ownership. Someone could simply check in on her from time to time and give her parental advice. Who would accept parental advice from someone who they didn’t know though? Weir didn’t know what kind of a girl this person was and he decided to change that. Maybe there was a way to solve the problem that he didn’t see. He stepped across the bridge and headed to the elevator to deck five where she was staying.

He stepped off and walked past the posted guards that looked down the hallway to ensure that none of the original crew got out of their quarters. He walked into Andrea’s room. The girl was in her bed putting parts together from the 3D Printer. Weir recognized what she was making right away. She had perfect replica of a striker fired projectile pistol almost ready to go.

Andrea wore a big baggy flight suit with the arms and legs cut off to fit. She had wavy dark black hair, brilliant blue eyes, and was a bit too slender; Weir knew he’d have to give her more food.

“Andrea.. I’m Commander Weir of the OFS Yutomaky.”

The girl looked up at him after assembling the gun. Weir just looked at it and then back to her.

“You know,” Weir said. “It’s still going to need a lubricant, and some bullets.

“I wasn’t going to use it. I just wanted to do something while I waited around. I kept looking through the book section and there’s nothing good;  mostly just adult books with boring romantic characters that do nasty things. Then I saw this one book on mechanics and electronic stuff and I was all, yeahhh,” she said while swinging her gun in the air. “Was this what dad was shot with?” Andrea asked while holding the gun close to her to inspect the finished product.

Weir shook his head.

“Something like that.”

The girl sniffed and wiped her eyes as she laid back on the bed and pulled her knees up to her forehead and hid. Weir leaned against the wall and sighed.

“You know,” Weir said. “Thinking about it all the time isn’t going to help you feel better but I can tell you that he did everything he could to save you, and the rest of the crew. He wouldn’t want you to be sad. And these printers can print all sorts of things besides guns that won’t work.”

“Like what?” She asked.

“Ice cream?” Weir suggested.

“I’m thirteen, not nine…”

“Just four years difference,” Weir said dismissively.

“Are you saying I’m no different from a nine year old?”

“Oh yeah…” Weir trailed off while walking past the bed to mess with the printer. He could feel Andrea’s eyes staring daggers into him from across the room. “I mean, it’s just four years.” He watched as the printer began weaving an ice cream cone. As it worked on the object, he felt an empty gun hit his head.

“Even temper tantrums…” Weir added.

Andrea stepped out of the bed and pushed at him.

“You’re mean!”

“No I’m not… Look, you’re feeling better already. Would you like to do something other than hang out here?” Weir asked.

“You’re still mean!” Andrea demanded.

“No, I’m not…” Weir pulled the ice cream cone with vanilla ice cream out of the printer and handed it to her. “I just don’t want you thinking about revenge so soon. You need time to actually grieve and mixing grief and revenge together will only make you bitter when I can tell you were raised to be sweet.” Weir flicked the ice cream cone while it was in her hand. Andrea turned the cone around to see the small crater in the side-wall.

“What if I like, totally freaked out by what you said.”

“I’d just go to the next room I guess, having failed.” Weir feigned sadness. “But since I didn’t… Let’s have fun first, and then let’s talk about your dad — the good things!”

Andrea fought the urge to smile but Weir could see her lips moving upward. Weir smiled back and patted her on the back. They stepped out the door and walked down the hallway toward the lower decks together.

“Where are we going?” Andrea asked.

“Ever play in VR?”

“Yeah, I just hate playing by myself.”

“You aren’t going to have that problem anymore.”

Weir stepped into a special room with the girl and handed her a few small metallic objects. Andrea already knew what to do. She stepped into the room and placed the plates on different parts of her forehead. They stuck to her. Meanwhile, Weir simply activated his link to the computer since he was an android.

“We don’t have to do it in this room.”

“Yeah, but you need the exercise in the real universe, too.”

In an instant, the world around them changed. They were in a bar; people were fighting, the air smelled like smoke and illegal drugs. The little girl stood next to Weir and screamed as she saw various things around her she was never meant to see at that age. She brought her hands to her eyes while Weir shut the program into creative mode. The bar, the topless dancers, and the seedy atmosphere went away and they were in a void of white.

“That wasn’t fun!” Andrea yelled.

“Yeah, it was whatever the last guy was playing. Don’t worry,” Weir said. “I’m pretty sure I shot the guy that was playing this program.” He assured her while still holding the shotgun in his hand that the game started him out with — it was the same shotgun that was in the hands of the man he shot on the bridge. The game mapped that mans gear and replicated the devices on the game.

“I hope you shot him bunches…”

“A lot,” Weir said.

“Do you have the footage?” Andrea asked.

“Not on me,” Weir lied. He was pretty sure he could link that right into the virtual reality and show her the scene in all of it’s gruesome detail, but he wouldn’t show a child that.

“Well — footage or it didn’t happen.”

“Right…” Weir said while pulling up another program creation tool.

“Out of all the places in the world, where would you like to be right now?”

“Please…” Andrea grabbed the creation tool from Weir’s hand. “I’ve been on this ship longer than you.” She said as she loaded up a program she had already been playing. “Go be useful and do something… I got this.”

Weir found himself on a space-race course. Andrea was suddenly in a form fitting flight suit, complete with a helmet, and emergency life support pack. She was on her way to the races and she didn’t even give the commander a second glance as she stepped into the cockpit.

Satisfied that Andrea would be busy, he disconnected from the game to attend to his duties.

 

It wasn’t long before Weir found himself transferred back aboard the Yutomaky with the rest of his crew. There were more people aboard the Yutomaky than usual. Captain Dallas from the OFS Maribel, Commander Watson from the OFS Lillard, and Commander Davis from the OFS Edison. Davis was already talking with his commanding officer, Captain Canniff when the man on the screen noticed Weir walk past the screen. Immediately, their conversation turned to low laughs and whispers. Weir was under their command once before he became a test pilot and he didn’t care too much for them. If anything though, perhaps he could see about getting Andrea a ride with one of the other Opsfleet ships while en-route to Earth, if any of them were heading that direction. Weir walked into the bridge of the Yutomaky and tapped on Commander Davis’s shoulder.

“Commander, I’m on com with the Captain, it’s going to have to wait.” Davis said.

“Just had a question.”

“Yeah? It can just —,” Davis shook his head and smiled at him before shooting the last word at him “… wait.”

He heard the snicker of Captain Canniff.

“What the fuck, man…” Jane Finn complained as she saw the way Weir was being treated. Davis turned to regard her. He then looked to Weir and gave him a knife-edge point.

“Square her away, commander.”

Weir took Jane aside out of ear shot while the two talked. He looked up and noticed Captain McArthur sitting uncomfortably on the bridge. Weir then looked over at Jane.

“Just let it be.”

“He’s treating you like a dick, sir.”

“So do you…” Weir said. “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is, you’re my commander.”

“What?” Weir squinted at her.

“We have the privilege of being honest to you, he does not.”

“Honest about what?”

“You’re full of yourself, you’re fearless to get into any kind of a situation without thinking of the consequences, and you’re an asshole sometimes.” Jane said. “But you’re on this crew. He has no respect, disrespecting you the way we do.”

Weir just looked at her a moment.

“Thanks?”

Jane smiled at him a little.

Weir turned to McArthur and walked over to him.

“Welcome to the party… What were you going to ask him?”

“Trying to find a way for the girl to get to Earth.” Weir said.

“Check the rosters…” McArthur sighed and tapped on the brand new digi-sheet he printed since cutting the mornings sheet in half. He pulled a schematic of flight plans.

“Both ships are heading to Starbase 239 near the outer rim trade sector. Do you like the prospect of that girl being a working girl in a station where age is a number? Or do you want her to at least stick with a crew of highly trained military professionals?” McArthur leaned back in his seat. “I fucking hate the SAAD array. Why not ask Davis if he can take it so that they can have their love letters from home whenever they cant?”

“It’s the usual security concerns,” Weir said. “We’re going well beyond pirate land so we can have all the good technology knowing it won’t fall into the hands of pirates.”

“Rhetorical question,” McArthur stated. “But instead of speeding out of here, we’re acting as communications hub for Earth.”

“For how long?” Weir asked.

“Not just the few hours we were going to be here. They want to change our mission for the time being. There’s trouble brewing back at Earth regarding sanctions being placed on SOL’s mining ring. The fleet is enforcing taxing rights for the whole damned belt.

“We can’t do that…” Weir stated. “It’s against the United Systems Trading Alliance.”

“Earth and Mars are breaking away from USTA and enforcing system wide taxes for anything mined from the belt.”

“How do you know all this?” Weir asked.

“Because of the AAAD Device…” McArthur said.

“Add Device?”

“Annoying Action At A Distance. It’s not spooky. It’s fucking annoying,” McArthur said. “If we didn’t have this thing onboard, we’d be out of the system by now but now the orders are to standby; our mission is on hold.”

“Want me to tell Davis to go fuck himself, sir?” There was hope in Weir’s voice. McArthur shook his head. Weir could guess that McArthur was feeling inadequate as a captain. He thought he was going to — get away from it all but there was a device on his ship that kept him in contact with home no matter how far away they got. Weir was starting to get the feeling that there were a lot of crew members that wanted the isolation; a new life. That was probably why at least a handful of people signed up for the mission, but now they’re the grand central hub for all communications until further notice. Weir thought it was a good idea though; a way to keep in touch with Opsfleet in case anything went wrong, or, at least, a way for the crew that, for better or worse, wanted some semblance of contact with their family back home, a chance to communicate while on an impossibly long journey, to do so.

Weir was betting that the whole crew was now in agreement that this wonder of modern communication was just a burden though. The captain saw the big picture before anyone else could weigh the odds and ends and he was thinking three thousand moves ahead. Weir was simply thinking about the amazing tech, but as Jane said, not about the consequences of having it aboard. No, McArthur wasn’t feeling inadequate as a captain, Weir realized that he must just be plain pissed. Weir was certain that the device wouldn’t be around for much longer. The universe was expanding but the whole crew was probably feeling like they were being sucked back to where they came like a giant rubber band that was the SAAD.

“You know, if the fleet gave us this technology because we were going to be away from any potential capture and influence here, they should be letting us go far from where some of this conflict is.”

“Keep thinking about it harder, and maybe it’ll happen!” McArthur yelled and stepped out of his seat. Weir didn’t know where he was going but he knew that the bridge was obviously given to him for the time being.

The bridge crew stopped what they were doing and looked up them. Davis was at a communications console, leering over Jane while she relayed communications to the OFS Edison’s storage device. If weir were Human, he would have swallowed hard and blushed at that point. He still had the same human emotions but it was as simple as writing a subroutine with the help of Shannon, that kept it from being outwardly apparent. All the tells of feeling ashamed, stunned, and humiliated for being an outright, short-sighted instigator were skillfully edited out of what should have been his response. He did however stand there silently. He found himself looking at Davis longer than he should have because he secretly wondered just how much he was enjoying the moment. He wasn’t a fan of Jane Finn, but he felt a little comfortable knowing that even she was looking at Commander Davis with obvious indignation.

 

Jane stood up and let Davis have the console. She leaned over to Weir.

“What was that about?”

“I was the one who originally recommended the installation of the SAAD Array.” Weir explained.

“I thought McArthur installed everything on this ship? Didn’t he have the final say on it?”

Weir nodded and then sat down in the chair.

“I went over his head on this one thing. I thought it would be seen as taking initiative, but now I see its causing more problems than anything else. Same with the fighters.” Weir leaned against the captains console while shifting his weight in the chair as he sheepishly grinned at Jane and laid his chin in the palm of his hand. He kept the grin as he looked at Davis. “And he’s just loving this shit.”

“Being an asshole eventually bites you in the ass.”

“Yeah but my real ass is somewhere on Earth… This is my fake ass.” Weir kept smiling.

“Blow me…” Jane whispered. Weir saw that she smiled as she turned around and walked back toward the console. Weir made a friend today but he felt guilty about initially not liking her. Davis of course wouldn’t give the seat up, leaving Jane to stand.

“Jane… Go ahead and hit the rack or whatever. Davis has comm’s.”

Davis turned around,

“No, I don’t. Jane, you can have it.”

“I insist. You weren’t willing to give it up before.” Weir pointed to Jane and waved his hands in the direction of the exit. Jane smiled and walked away. Weir pointed to Davis. “Inform Captain Canniff that you’ll be performing remedial duties under my command until McArthur comes back to relieve me.”

Davis’s jaw tightened as he stared at Weir. It was Opsfleet regulations to ensure that all stations on the bridge are manned while in a combat zone. It was Davis who declared the immediate area such a zone hours prior to arriving.

“I have other duties.”

“Your duties are to abide by Opsfleet Regs. I wasn’t going to have Lieutenant Finn standing around doing nothing on the bridge. This is a combat zone and you had the station.” Weir tapped his console and a hologram shot out into the air displaying Finn’s schedule. “That’s nine hours, Commander. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Weir sat adjusted himself in the Captain’s chair with a smile.