There were a lot of things in the universe that could have the Commander of a Starship asking himself, “What the heck was that?”
What was that? Weir thought to himself as he got up from the sheets. It sounded as if some collision happened deep within the ship. There weren’t any alarms going off though. There weren’t sounds of crew members frantically rushing to battle stations or the Captain’s Voice telling Weir to get up and get to his post or to get to a fighter.
Weir heard it again; a deep thud that was obviously coming from within the ship. He put his clothes on and checked the time. The computer on the wall said it was 0300. Weir stepped into the hallway to see his neighbor’s friend, some girl from maintenance, pounding on the door like there was a pound of pounds to give away in 21st Century Britain and they needed to be converted to credits right away; only there were no bag of Pounds and she was just pounding.
“Hey! It’s O’Three Hundred in the Goddamn Morning, Crewman…”
“That’s right! Which means Billy should be home!” The woman had an accent, Australian, or Scottish, or something like that; it made it hard for Weir to hear exactly what she was saying due to the horrible way she spoke. To Weir, it sounded like someone trying to chew on glass and talk about how great it tasted as it sliced up their throat.
“Yeah, he should be — and sleeping!” Weir said.
“He said he’d be there for me today! And I saw him with this bitch…” She unfolded a piece of paper and looked down at it. She had taken a video of it and it was playing on the paper. Weir watched as a scene of his neighbor with Aiko Lee. Weir sighed.
“Well, it doesn’t look like they’re kissing, it doesn’t look like they’re doing anything other than work related stuff, and honestly, it just looks like you’re being paranoid, and it looks like it’s 3 in the Goddamn A.M.”
“You don’t sleep anymore, what do you care?”
“You’re right… Crewman, come with me!”
As the Commander of the Yutomaky, he had certain privileges and prerogatives that resulted in Crewman Adairia Cockburn sitting in the B-Seat of a new trainer for the X-101 at 3 O’Clock in the Goddamn Morning.
“I work on computers and programming. This is not my forte’, Commander!”
“Yeah but you’re awake!”
Weir gunned the throttle so hard that the ships in the racks of the bay rattled. Crewman Cockburn would have screamed if she didn’t’ pass out from the rapid acceleration that even the artificial dampeners couldn’t fully protect against. Weir was happy about the fact that he didn’t have to sleep. He had to remind himself that he wouldn’t get tired, but his brain, or, rather, his human programming which, used to be his brain, still told him he needed to sleep, and that he would get tired if he didn’t.
The asteroid field would have been so dark that human eyes couldn’t see anything at all, but the enhanced glass dome of the transparent armored canopy automatically increased the light levels to provide brilliant clarity within an endless field of rocks that reflected what appeared to be a spectacle of light from the nearest star. When Adairia came to, she even waited a second to take in the beauty of deep space before complaining.
“Where’s my Mead Sheet?!” She started searching the pockets of her flight suit. “I need the footage to confront Billy about this.”
Weir pointed to the rear of him in a way where she could see his hands from the seat in front of him. “I left it on the floor of the bay when I left. I don’t think it didn’t get swept up by our sudden departure. It’s probably floating in space somewhere. So, when is your shift?”
“I have first shift…” The scottish girl said.
“And you’re up at 3… In the Goddamn?”
“Yes in the Goddamn! Now take me home!”
“Only if you promise not to show up for work tomorrow, get some sleep tonight, and stop worrying about —,” Weir trailed off. “Adairia! There’s a lot of opportunity on this ship for you to burn and you don’t need to be worrying about Billy.”
Rocks started flying by the canopy while Weir travelled fast through the system. She looked up over her head to see a red tracking square projected on that portion of the glass-like armor, inside it said “YUTOMAKY” and next to it, it said, “7,215KM”. The numbers were getting bigger second by second.
“You aren’t even headed home!” She yelled.
“Well yeah, we’re heading home eventually. You just earned the day off so we’re going to complete this CAP.”
“Apparently not,” Adairia said as she flipped through the computer screen. “Opsfleet ordered us to return back to the ship; this flight was not authorized.”
“Why is McArthur up this late?” Weir asked.
“No. McArthur, Opsfleet…”
Weir’s brows furrowed as he opened up his computer link and scrolled through the communications commands using keyboard instructions. “We have autonomy out here. Orders come through the Commanding Officer, through me, and then down… This isn’t what we agreed to.”
“I didn’t agree to anything,” the crewman said.
“Not you…” Weir sighed. “Alright..”
Weir approached Captain McArthur after it was past the time he would be up and about. McArthur was apparently stomping around the bridge with something possibly weighing heavily on his mind.
“Captain, can we speak in private?” Weir asked.
McArthur nodded to the door to his private room and they stepped inside.
“What’s on your mind, Commander?”
“I was just ordered to return to base after a late night cruise.”
“Ah yes, the cruise in the fighter that you weren’t supposed to have printed. I suppose Sean slaved away for that? I thought you two were friends. Did you get resources for that fighter yourself? Or did you decide to take it upon yourself to do whatever the hell you wanted without asking approval?” Weston folded his arms. Weir didn’t know what to say at first but he decided to reply as honestly as he could.
“Totally self-serving sir. I needed a trainer. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ll ask for approval from now on. The concern, sir,” Weir kicked at McArthur’s metal plated deck with his boots as he explained while looking down at his shoes, “Opsfleet did tell us we were going to have autonomy with this project, right?”
“Yes,” McArthur said. “Then you brought on experimental fighters. Those are top secret at the highest level. Does the crewman you took out have top secret level 3 clearance? Do the rogue miners out here? Does the local colony?”
“That’s why I got a direct order from command to RTB.” Weir finally looked up. “I guess it’s good we still have two combat ready S-91s.”
“I guess so. Because you took that crewman out, now all S-101 flights have to be cleared by command and only crew with top secret 3 can operate and maintain them. That’s a very short list. These fucking SAAD arrays let command crawl up our ass whenever they want, and someone just happened to be awake at 3am with nothing better to do, and you had to take a fucking headcase riding shotgun in a classified fighter. I’m going to be hearing about it for a month at least.” McArthur let out a long sigh as he bounced his right heel on the deck anxiously. “It was also great of you to decide for the rest of the crew what the resources should be used for. Sean spent twelve hours building that fighter on your order and now it’s time for his shift to start. I can’t give him coffee… McAvoy drank it all!”
At that point Weir tried not to crack a smile.
“I should apologize.”
“Yeah, Sean would like that. You know what he’d like even more… Someone to cover his shift.” McArthur raised his eyebrow at him.
“I believe I can handle that,” Weir said.
“Alright. Stay away from the printers while you’re down there. I can deal with this morning’s events on my own. Tell your buddy on deck to get some sleep.”
Weston grabbed a data sheet from his desk and handed it to Weir. “While I have you here, it’s briefing time.”
Bryan looked at the sheet as Weston continued talking. “Command is a bit pissed some old miner was in their MOA. The closest asset is a destroyer flotilla about four days out. Mission orders straight from the top. Patrol LHS 288 and prosecute all unauthorized mining aggressively.”
“Prosecute aggressively?” Weir said. “They want us to kill a bunch of unarmed independent miners because they forgot to put a patrol here once in a while?”
“You know how generals are. I’m pulling the Yutomaky out of the field and going on system patrol. I need the CAG to get the CVW and MAG together for some CAP, CAS, OCA, BDA and whatever acronyms I’m forgetting. I want to see our birds on rotation with full loads of anti-ship weapons. The Yutomaky will be broadcasting an official get-off-my-lawn over standard notification frequencies.”
“Are we killing them?”
“I’d rather not, but these indy types are more likely to listen if you have a loaded gun. Besides, it’s good drills. Remember to file those flights with command. The short list for S-101 pilots is you, me, and Jaime. Everyone else rides the 91s.”
“You can fly?” Bryan asked.
“REMF POG with a lot of spare time, a lot of clearance, and a lot of budget.” Weston smiled. “Some prefer to be the bird above the clouds, but I prefer to be the mountain. I won’t be encroaching on your hours.”
Two Days Later
The Klaxons went off two days into their patrol. Weir was curious if this was just another drill but nobody claimed it was yet. He had given up sleeping and was working on new hobbies when the ship turned into one giant alarm. He found himself perpetually plugged into the Virtual Reality system and formed a gaming group with a couple other crew members onboard. He was in the middle of a sixteenth century castle raid when the simulation faded away to the interior of his quarters. He stepped out of the VR booth and ran to the bridge. When Weir saw that the screens were in tactical mode and a holographic battle display filled some of the open-air voids of the bridge with icons, ships, distances, and weapons readouts, he knew that it was time to put down one weapon from the middle ages and pick up the real ones.
“Ah shit…” Weir said out loud as he looked around. “What’s the assessment?”
Jane had just finished taking over comm’s from the night shift and was getting her information. Weir looked over the tactical map to see that there were still miners in the asteroid belt. They didn’t look like they were doing any mining to Weir; they were running. In the middle of it all, was a deep space transport vessel with no IFF transponder, and another large mining vessel squawking a civilian code.
The tactical officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Max Volkov responded first to Weir’s question.
“We were tracking the civilian mining crew throughout the night but not engaging. The consensus amongst the shift was to alert the CO upon the instance they attempted to leave and requisition their stolen material. However, these ships came in. One of them registers as one of the missing ships from last week. It appears that they couldn’t get the transponder to turn off yet but it’s a safe assumption that they’re all pirate vessels now.”
Weir watched as the ships approached the others on the tac map.
“What’s the light lag on this feed?”
“Two hours. We’re out of their range, but they’re on our Mil-Extents.” Volkov stated.
“What’s the new extents on the range of that shiny new transport ship with the tamper-proof transponder though?” Weir asked.
More crew passed Weir as they took their positions at their seats while Weir waited. Jane Finn turned around after pulling up the specs on the UCF Barrow. She shook her head at Weir as she prepared to reply.
“That ship has a two point four… Latest and greatest.”
McArthur stepped in after hearing the back-and-forth.
“They know we’re at the party.”
Instead of being perturbed, there was a hint of a smile. Weir didn’t know what to think of that. “Commander… I believe it’s time you made yourself useful. I don’t need you up here.”
The flight deck was full of Marines, Pilots, Support Personnel, and Traffic Controllers. Weir knew they were being fed all the pertinent information from the bridge along with McArthur’s orders but several people stopped when they saw Weir; they expected some sort of in-person briefing. Weir pulled out a sheet of animated paper and shook it at them.
“It’s all on upload! We don’t have time for a pep talk guys, let’s get it done! To your posts and prep for action!” Weir didn’t even bother stopping as he said it. He slipped the paper back into his pocket and pulled his skin tight pressure suit out of a box next to his X-101. Crewman Aiko Lee passed by for a brief moment to give Weir his pressure helmet.
“Save travels, Commander.”
Before Weir could even say thank you, Aiko vanished to meet up with Sergeant Jefferson. They were obviously gearing up for any sort of damage control that the ship may have to incur. The Sergeant was giving his team a talk and pointing at spots on the ever-updating Meade Sheet in his hand.
“This is going to be the real deal,” Weir whispered to himself just before locking his helmet into place. Just as Weir began his run-up, his screens turned red and he tried to restart the engines on the fighter.
“Sorry Commander, you’re showing an A5-NL. Throttle limiter inconsistency — won’t communicate properly with the computer.” Sean’s voice said apologetically.
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Weir sighed. “How long to fix?”
“It’ll take three hours.”
“Give me something different!” Weir unbuckled himself and slid down the side of the fuselage. “Give me that!” Weir pointed to the X-101 B fighter.
“It’s not armed, sir.”
“How long to Arm?” Weir walked over.
“Fifteen minutes. But you’ll need a second person.”
“Time to pin some Wings on, Sean! Let’s go!”
Weir pulled a ladder up to his own fighter before the ground crew could even help. He locked the wheels in place and rushed up to the cockpit.
Rosendo Ramos, the Ground Crew Executive Officer rushed out with a group of five crewman, all carrying carts full of ammo, and power packs. Meanwhile, Sean stepped out in full suit and gear. Weir could hear him breathing through his helmet mic and likewise adjusted the sensitivity to filter out the sound of his panting as he climbed up the ladder and strapped himself in back seat.
“The Yutomaky has already jumped,” Sean said.
Weir watched forward through his cockpit window while the Canopy closed over their heads. The noise of the bay was further cut out once the cockpit sealed and pressurized. He watched as fighters exited the bay and blasted through the shields, into the stars.
“Yeah? Figured…” Weir said with regret in his voice.
“What the hell happened? Is it another glitch?” Weir asked.
“Nah, this is just a random maintenance issue. Could have happened to the 91’s… Sir, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to come with you.”
“You sabotaged my ride so you could, so no need to thank me,” Weir said. He felt the weight shift on the fighter as Rosendo’s Crew mounted ordinance onto the internal acceptors. He heard Sean chuckle. He wasn’t easy to fool or to accuse. Weir knew that was because he was a perfectionist at his job. “Hey, so… I’m starting this gaming guild in VR. You should join us!”
“Mm maybe… “ Sean said.
“Don’t knock it until you try it… Seriously…” Weir said.
“When do you do it?” Sean asked while activating some of the primary systems for Weir.
“Whenever I’m not on the clock, you name it, we’ll do it. I don’t sleep.”
“Yutomaky, CAG… We’re in range. We have multiple targets swarming around the miners, sensors showing devastating damage to the crews. These guys knew we were coming. The main ship already went to FTL out but they left the deep space transport behind. We’re going to need that gun.” Jaime’s voice clicked off at the end of her transmission. There was a moment of silence in the cockpit as Weir and Sean waited for their armament.
“Rosendo,” Sean clicked the short range transmitter. “What do we have already?”
“I got packed with the short range, and the countermeasures. We’re still charging the capacitors on the lasers.”
“Yutomaky CAG be advised, we’re engaged!” Jaime’s voice was raised and fearful.
“Actual, CAG – Copy.” McArthur replied to her on the transmitter.
“What’s the ETA on that, Rosendo?” Weir asked.
“Give me another six minutes.” Weir looked out to see Rosendo looking at them through the cockpit canopy and motioning to them with a thumbs up. Weir shook his head at him.
“The short range will do. They need us out there, now!”
“Commencing pushback!” Rosendo yelled on the mic after wasting no time, whatsoever. His loud attention getting yell was not just to Weir, but to alert his team.
Weir watched his LIDAR multi function display light up with pre-selected targets. Sean was obviously hard at work in the backseat.
“Yutomaky, CAG! SAR!” Jaime screamed.
“Roger,SAR.” Jane Finn’s voice returned from the bridges tactical communications.
“Actual, ExO. Swap Tac 8.” McArthur called.
Weir clicked his flightstick. “Tac 8!”
Weir was about to switch transmitter channels but Sean beat him to it, and Weir’s Multi Function Display by his left knee had already switched to mid-range 8.
“ExO, Send it.” Weir said.
“We lost Ensign Moore. Jaime’s taking care of it and we are winning this fight. What the fuck are you doing still in the hangar bay, Commander?” McArthur asked.
“Technical Malfunction on my Fighter. I had to swap out for the 101-B.” Weir explained.
“Blessing in disguise. Hold for takeoff. I’m sending the Marines for the Barrow, and the SAR for Larry. Take off with them.”
“Is he okay?” Weir asked.
“His telemetry is showing a heartbeat of 124 BPM so yeah… He may need to change his underwear, but he’s alright. You and the Marines stick with SAR until they scoop up Larry, and after that you have orders to break off and Escort the Marines to board that ship. Go with them.”
“I didn’t bring a gun,” Sean said.
“Sean?” McArthur asked. “Why are you with him?”
“The X-101B was the only fighter available after Weir’s failed. It requires a second pilot,” Sean explained.
There was a very long sigh over the channel that Weir had in his captain’s lexicon as ‘you really fucked it up this time. “Swap back to one… The Marines will have a rifle waiting for you when you get there. You have your orders.”
As they approached the Barrow they could see it was already heavily converted. It launched as a long range container ship. It now had grappler cannons, robotic arms, mooring clamps, and a heavy duty breeching ring. There was an empty open cargo bay that the pirates converted into a hangar for their smaller piggyback ship that they escaped on.
Weir’s fighter and the marine assault ship were doing an outside visual inspection.
“Yutomaky, Gunny,” Jennifer said over comms.
“We can take her.”
“Just assume scuttle it.”
“They left in a hurry. Lights on, plant hot, pressure. I can fucking take her. Her core has to be full of action intel.”
“Alright, Sarn. Tommy has no vacancy.”
“CFB, Actual. Prize in 30. Weir, Gunny. See you in the hangar.”
The marine assault ship rolled and slammed down on the deck of the converted hangar. The marines were already out in full combat EVA by the time Weir touched down. Hanks slammed a fiberglass ladder against the nose.
“This fucked up bay does not pressurize,” Hanks said. “Your suits sealed?”
Weir and Reece gave a thumbs up. Hanks stepped onto the wing and popped the canopy and pulled Weir out onto the ladder. Hanks leaned in and started entering information into the pilot’s computer.
“What are you doing?” Weir asked.
“Difference between a God damned marine and a space boy?” Hanks said as she hit a big button marked COMMIT on the navcomp. She jumped off the wing into the deck and kicked over the ladder. “Our shit fucking works.” She pointed at her helmet. “And I know how to use your fucking autopilot.”
Weir watched as the S-101B took off on autopilot with Sean and returned to the Yutomaky.
“Maybe you should take some fucking lessons from me.” Hanks tossed her rifle and magazine belt to Weir. She unholstered her pistol. “Or maybe you like using shit that doesn’t work when you need it?”
Hanks grabbed another rifle and a hard briefcase out of the assault ship, then pounded her fist on the nose. The pilot gave a thumbs up and took off to stay on station outside the ship.
“You’ve never had your gear fail in combat?” Weir said.
“Nope!” Hanks said with a smile. “Because we’re MARINES! Not candy ass space boys!”
Corporal Loud popped open the airlock and waved an arm. “Ladies first,” he said.
Hanks laughed. “I’m no fucking lady, bitchface limey prick.”
Loud smiled. “Fuck you, too, Gunny.”
Hanks stepped in and looked at Weir. “C’mon, sir. We’re point.”
“Is that a good idea?” Weir asked as he stepped in.
“I take a hit someone’s playing amazing grace over my casket.” Hanks pulled the airlock hatch closed and started the cycle. “You take a hit you get copy-pasted into a new toaster oven. So guess who’s going first?”
“Ah,” Weir said quietly. “You make a good argument.”
“I didn’t make Master Gunny Cuntsarge of the goddamn space marines by being a soft whiney little bitch,” Hanks said as she checked her weapon one last time. “Fuckers die in combat, better someone else than me.”
The cycle finished. Weir opened the inner airlock and stepped inside the ship looking both ways. Hanks was right behind him and slammed the hatch shut so the airlock could cycle again and let the other three marines in. The ship was supposed to be new, but the pirates had transformed the interior into a pigsty that looked like a 50 year old rust bucket. Service panels were laying around or missing. Conduit and wiring was yanked out and exposed. Hoarded junk was piled up. Even the light directly over the airlock was flickering and buzzing.
Hanks put her hand on Weir’s shoulder and held tightly. “Unless of course the reason your fighter failed is because you’re chickenshit.”
“Gunny,” Weir said with a big smile.
“Bawk bawk!” Hanks laughed and held a flashbang in Weirs face. Weir snatched the grenade and stuck it to his belt. “Take the next right, go forward until you reach a stairway. Top of that is the command deck. I’ll be on your ass.” Hanks gave Weir two hard pats on his shoulder to let him know he was good to go.
He made sure to check the rooms as he passed. The ship was empty. It was a short distance to the stairs, and only three decks up to command. Navigation was to the rear, staff rooms to the sides, and the bridge forward. Weir carefully pushed the hatch open a little, clicked the button on the grenade three times to arm it, and tossed it in. He felt the concussion more than heard it, and kicked the hatch open the rest of the way.
There was a single man with a shotgun standing over the nav console. Weir put two in his chest and one in his head. Weir went over to the console and looked. The man was trying to take the ship to FTL to escape but obviously had no idea what he was doing and the computer was telling him as much. By the time Weir turned around, Hanks already had the hardcase she was carrying plugged into the main console. In two seconds it had brute-forced through the ship’s security software and Hanks was setting the autopilot to enter formation with Yutomaky.
“Yutomaky, Gunny” Hanks said.
“Prize secure, entering formation.”
“Good. Uplink when ready. ExO?”
“Here,” Weir replied over comms.
“Congrats on your first ship, captain. Enjoy it while you have it. Actual, out.”