Secrets on Wenshen
Earl T. Roske
A distress call changes everything.
The ship Dewey’s platoon is on responds to the signal. They jump to another solar system A supposedly unoccupied system. There they find a smuggler’s ship. All its systems are failing. Fortunately, the Hospitallers have arrived in time.
But they are not alone.
Now, under attack, their jump drive broken, the Hospitallers are in trouble and running out of options. There’s a planet, Wenshen, in the system. But, as Dewey knows, Wenshen isn’t just unoccupied, it’s acidic atmosphere makes it inhospitable to humans.
Their choices are few.
They can stay in space, and die. Or, they can land on Wenshen and die there. But if anyone can find a solution to impending death, it’s the Hospitaller Orphan Corps.
Suit up. Strap in. It’s going to be a wild ride.
It always happened when things were quiet. Lieutenant Dewey Tyler knew it, and yet he dared to pick up his tablet. He dared to open a book in it to read. Two pages in, his feet free of his boots, and things weren’t quiet anymore.
“Lieutenant Tyler? Major wants to see you.”
“On my way, Dunn.”
“I’ll let the major know.”
Private First Class Dunn’s footsteps banged on the metal floor of the corridor as she jogged back to the bridge.
Dewey stared at the words on the tablet. A part of him said that another paragraph couldn’t hurt. A larger part of him was already sitting, his toes finding the top edges of his boots, and sliding home. He tapped the screen to put the tablet to sleep and then pocketed it. Maybe it wasn’t a big thing. Something simple that he could accomplish quickly and get back to reading. He wouldn’t even take off his boots, wouldn’t lie down. Just sit on the edge of his bunk, and read.
“Right, Dewey, cause that’s always how it works.” He checked himself in the metal mirror, and then marched into the corridor and forward to the bridge.
It wasn’t a long walk to the bridge of a Hospitaller patrol ship. His quarters were past medical, and near the stairs that led down to the response platoon’s quarters, and training. The other way led to loading bay 2, and then the engine compartments. Not a long walk, but long enough to give Dewey time to wonder about the request to report to the bridge.
And they didn’t request his presence over the comm. That, too, was curious.
“Major Simmons,” Dewey said. “Lieutenant Tyler reporting as ordered.”
Major Helen Simmons looked up from where she was bent over the comm station operated by Cpl Marcia Robertson, and PFC Camille Dunn.
“Lieutenant,” the major said. She added a nod to her return greeting. “We received an incoming message. A distress signal.”
Dewey regretted trying to read his book. “Is it local? I was under the impression the in-system marauders had been quelled.”
That was why it had become so quiet throughout the system. After four months of attacks and forced boardings of enemy ships, the quiet had been welled-earned. But apparently not quite enough to read a book.
“No, Lt Tyler,” said Cpl Roberston. “It’s coming in from the Kongxu system.”
That was why the Major had called him up to the bridge. “The Kongxu system is uninhabited. Five planets, four of them are gas giants. Well, there’s a sixth body, but it’s a burnt rock so close to the sun we’d burn to a crisp the moment we touched the surface.”
“So, the fifth planet?” Maj Simmons’s eyebrows were arched, hinting at the lack of patience she was feeling.
“Yes, of course, Major,” Dewey said. “There’s a standard-size rocky planet. Someone actually bothered to name it: Wenshen. But no one ever colonized it because the atmosphere is just acidic enough to burn skin and lungs after a short exposure to it. Oh, and of course, it would permanently blind people, too.”
“Sounds like a fun place,” said PFC Dunn. “Couldn’t they have terraformed it?”
“Supposedly they tried in the first expansion,” Dewey said. “But the atmosphere corroded the equipment before it could make a significant difference.”
“So there’s no reason to be there,” said the major. It was a statement, not a question.
“Shouldn’t be. Oh, there was some research done on the planet just about the time the Radial War began. The information is thin, but it seems that the researchers were pulled as the war picked up speed.”
Dewey liked to read. When he read, he read a lot. His brain was a sponge when it came to information. His level of recall, once he read something, was nearly as good as that of the handlers who worked with the Wutenigels. Dewey could talk about the history of those creatures, too, if given a chance. Which he wasn’t going to get right now.
“Okay,” the major said. She walked back to her seat. “We have a distress signal in an unoccupied, unclaimed system. Cpl Robertson, send a request to respond over to system command. Lt Tyler, you might want to prep your teams. Just in case.”
“Will do, Major.”
Dewey left the bridge with one backward look at the comm station. Cpl Robertson had a comm mic, what they called a plunger, over her mouth as she communicated with system command. This was just a lowly patrol ship that had specific permissions and responsibilities. Jumping out of system, even to respond to a distress signal, was not one of them. Command could elect to send someone else. Though, based on their ship’s position, they were the likely candidate.
Admittedly, Dewey wouldn’t mind if someone else went. Maybe then he could get back to his book.
“What’s going on, Lieutenant?”
Dewey paused and looked left. He was in the corridor that led aft to the crew quarters, the mess hall, and the stairs down to his platoon. His quarters were to port along with MSgt Roberson, and several empty rooms for visiting officers. Parallel with his quarters were the medical offices. MedTech1 Terrence Phillips was sitting on one of the examination tables, his own tablet in his hands. Was he getting time to read? What was he reading? Dewey might not ever know.
He poked a thumb back toward the bridge. “Distress call just came through.”
MedTech Phillips hopped off the table. “I thought the system was cleaned up?”
“It’s coming from another system.” Dewey nodded in the direction of the mess hall. “I need to go brief my teams.”
Dewey returned to walking the length of the ship, passing through the ship’s crew quarters, and then through the mess hall where he could smell the spices and oils that would be part of lunch. Past the mess hall, the corridor continued with an initial interruption by wide spiral stairs leading to lower levels. Dewey followed them to the next level, where they opened onto the Response Platoon’s quarters.
The platoon was modified by attrition such that there were now only two squads rather than three. A new squad was scheduled to transfer over within seventy-two hours. If the ship was sent to investigate the distress signal, they’d be doing it shorthanded.
“Attention on deck!” The voice boomed through the platoon quarters as Dewey stepped through the hatchway. A dozen Hospitallers leaped from bunks, jumped up from tables, snapping to attention at Sergeant Shelley Perry’s command.
“Stand easy, everyone,” Dewey said. Around him, the Hospitallers took a more relaxed stance but did not resume whatever it was they’d been doing previously. Dewey looked around. “Everyone here? Where’s the staff sergeant? Who else is missing?”
“I’m here, LT.”
Dewey turned to see SSgt Diane Castro exiting her private quarters to starboard. As a Staff NCO, she had her own space, though it wasn’t a lot of space, about half of what Dewey had, and no private head.
“PFC Ramirez is in the shower,” said Sgt Perry. Ramirez was one of her charges.
“PFC Burke and Pvt Becker are forward, in the cargo bay,” added Sgt Parks, 1st squad’s leader.
“Get everyone, please,” Dewey said. He didn’t have to say please. His words were orders. When he’d been a private, he’d jumped when asked to jump, and no one had to say please. It was just his own habit.
Two Hospitallers instantly bolted from the room.
“What’s going on, Lieutenant?” asked SSgt Castro.
“Message. May mean action. Let’s wait.”
They all stood around in an awkward silence that was slowly filled with the sounds of three pairs of boots sprinting in from the loading bay.
“PFC Burke reporting, Lieutenant.”
“Private Becker reporting, Lieutenant.”
“Stand easy. Where’s…? Ah, Ramirez, good. We can start.”
Ramirez had appeared from the directions of the showers. She had a towel wrapped around her torso, and a second one hanging on her head.
“Sorry, Lieutenant,” she said.
“No need, Ramirez. No need.” Dewey paused and looked around. “All right. There’s been a distress signal. It’s come from out of the system. From an unoccupied, uninhabited system.”
“Pirates?” someone asked.
“Don’t know yet,” said Dewey. “Don’t even know if we’re going to be the ones that respond. But as we might, I need everyone to gear up. Assume hostiles. Plan for the worst.”
“Business as usual, Lieutenant.”
Dewey grinned. “That’s right, Cpl Mitchell, business as usual.”
“Staff Sergeant Castro, get them suited and booted. Let me know when everyone’s ready.”
“Will do, Lt Tyler.” Castro turned to the platoon. “Suit up kids. Let’s have some fun.”
Cheers and joviality filled the air. Dewey headed back to the stairs until the ship-wide comm pinged for everyone’s attention.
“This is Maj Simmons. Prepare for action. Stand by for jump.”
“That answers that,” Dewey said as he turned back to face his platoon. “We’re going to the rescue.”
Lt Tyler’s platoon quickly suited up. Some, like PFC Ramirez, had to move a little faster than others. However, before the last warning for jump, everyone was dressed and ready. Those who felt queasy during jump were already lying in their bunks. The rest were seated and buckled in. Sometimes dropping out of jump came with surprises. Nothing more embarrassing than being thrown across the dorm room because the ship fell out of jump and ran into an ambush or an uncharted asteroid field.
As Dewey was some distance from his own quarters, he sat in a nearby chair and buckled in.
“Two, one….” Maj Simmons’s voice stopped, and the shiver of entering jump completed her sentence.
The jump was short. The ship only had to move over to the next system, four light-years away as the photon flies. No one had time to fall asleep or tell a tried-and-true corny joke before the ship dropped out of jump.
Dewey looked around, catching SSgt Castro’s eye. He gave her a nod.
Castro grinned, and said, “Well, that was anticlimactic.”
“I’ve been through the opposite,” said Sgt Perry. “I prefer the anticlimactic any day.”
The comm buzzed, signaling that a message was forthcoming.
“Lieutenant Tyler to the bridge.” PFC, Anderson, or Dunn, Dewey wasn’t entirely sure. Except for the noses, they could have passed as twins.
“Don’t keep us in the dark long, L.T.”
Dewey flipped the latch on his lap restraint. “Never, Cpl Garner.”
Several people chuckled at the exchange. Dewey left the bunk room, and made his way up the stairs, and then forward to bridge. Besides Maj Simmons and MSgt Roberson, Cpl Theresa Knight was on nav with PFC Fox. PFC Angel Anderson was at the comm station. Weapons station was currently unoccupied. If needed, Dewey would have one of his fireteams in place.
“Lieutenant Tyler reporting.”
“Thank you for joining us,” Maj Simmons said. “Have a seat. We’ve images coming on the screens momentarily.”
Dewey took the empty seat behind the major. MSgt Roberson was in the other and gave Dewey a welcome nod.
There were no portholes or windows on the bridge. The bridge wasn’t even at the front of the ship. Instead, weapons and stowage were forward. Command was nearly in the center of the ship, protected by other sections, and extra layers of ballistic, and steel shielding. Hundreds of cams, embedded in the outer skin of the ship, provided the view displayed on the screens. Five screens provided the illusion of windows.
Dewey watched the center three screens that were currently displaying a starfield. A filtered image of the Kongxu system’s star was visible to the left. Several discs in the center screen were the gas giants. Wenshen, the almost-habitable planet, was not visible to the naked eye, and might not even be on this side of the system. Dewey’s mind held facts, the math took a lot more work.
“Data coming in, Major,” said PFC Fox. She’d turned in her seat to speak, and then spun back to her station, her fingers attacking the keys, and touchscreens.
“Thank you, Fox,” said Maj Simmons.
The image on the center screen winked. The starfield was gone, replaced by a slightly blurred image of a transport ship.
“What do we have? MSgt Roberson?”
“Modified transport, Major,” Roberson said after a short pause to consult a small screen to his right.
“Engines are offline.”
“Anderson,” Maj Simmons said. “That the source of our distress signal?”
There was a long pause while PFC Anderson spoke into the plunger. It filtered out sounds that the ship might not want anyone else to hear and kept the speaker’s voice clear and isolated. Several times she shook her head. She made a series of adjustments on her station’s controls while she continued to talk. At least, Dewey had to assume she was talking, based on the motion of the muscles in her cheeks.
“There’s something, Maj Simmons,” Anderson said after several more adjustments to the controls at her station. “I think they can hear me, but I think they’ve lost too much power to boost a comm signal.”
“Any other ships in the system? Cpl Knight?”
“Nothing, Major.” Cpl Knight looked up at the screen to her right. Dewey followed her lead.
The screen showed a simple version of the system with over-sized circles for the planets. White lines arcing out from the circles traced their orbits around the Kongxu star. Two other dots were present. The green one Dewey knew was their ship, the Shnel Shnek. The red dot was the transport ship.
“All right, then,” said Maj Simmons. “Bring us closer.”
For the next two hours, Dewey watched as they moved closer to the other ship. At some point, crew brought boxed lunches from the mess hall. Dewey recognized them as the second fireteam from first squad. Shultz, Burke, and Becker. Each of them gave Dewey a questioning look as they passed by. Dewey signaled for them to remain quiet, and to fall back, which they did after dispersing the meals.
As the ship continued its approach, the bridge became tinted with the smell of protein spread from the sandwiches in the lunch. It was one of the better flavors, Dewey considered, which meant the smell was bearable. If he’d been in charge, they’d never open a container of spread while onboard. Stick with pouches and bars was his opinion.
“We have comms, Maj Simmons,” PFC Anderson said.
“Fox? We have ID on that ship?”
“Sort of, Major.” PFC Fox wobbled her head, mimicking confusion. “It’s the Tunkum Panri, but it doesn’t show up in any registry.”
“So they’re running gray,” Maj Simmons said. “Weapons?”
Dewey tapped on the screen to his right. It was small, and could be flipped on a hinge, and slid out of the way as necessary. It took him several seconds to pull up the right window and scan through the readings.
“They have self-defense,” Dewey said. “But it’s either down or offline.”
“Fun,” Maj Simmons said. “Okay, Anderson, let me talk to them.”
PFC, Anderson set her plunger on the comm station and tapped the monitor screen in several places. “All yours, Major.”
“Tunkum Panri, this is the Shnel Shnek of the Hospitallers. You copy?”
The reply was quick, though the comm sounded distant. “Copy, Shnel Shnek.”
Maj Simmons motioned upward with a thumb, and PFC Fox made adjustments at her station that brought the distant voice closer.
“This is Maj Simmons. What seems to be the nature of your distress?”
It was more than a mere formality. They had already managed to assess the external damage. But there might be problems inside that were of greater concern. For example, a failing life-support system.
“Thank you for coming, Major.” The other voice took a deep breath. Whispers of others somewhere near the comm on the other ship were heard. “We’ve lost engines, defenses, and our escape pods, and airlocks are damaged.”
Maj Simmons tapped a circle on her chair’s screen, muting the comm. She turned, and looked at MSgt Roberson, and then in Dewey’s direction.
“That’s some interesting damage,” she said.
MSgt Roberson nodded. “It’s almost like someone didn’t want them to escape.”
“Might be coming back,” Dewey ventured.
“Good point, both of you.” Simmons turned back to the front. “Fox, set up a wide scan. Let me know if anything pops in from another system. Cpl Knight, bring us closer to the Tunkum Panri.”
“Yes, Major,” Knight said.
The major tapped the button to unmute the comm. “That’s pretty selective damage, Tunkum Panri. Any chance you know how this happened?”
The laugh on the other side was bitter. “That we do, Major. It was an allied planet attack ship.”
“Well, that is interesting,” said MSgt Roberson.
“Yes, it is,” Maj Simmons said after a short pause with the mute button. To the other ship, she said, “Why would an A.P. attack ship come after you?”
It was standard procedure, if dealing with smugglers, to order them to stand down. Most did. The others had their engines disabled. But only a desperate smuggler would resist a military ship. The defensive weapons on the ship, from Dewey’s quick survey, would do little damage to a military-grade ship. So why, indeed?
“‘Why?’ To kill us, Major.”
Dewey could feel the collective holding of breath across the bridge. Even in battle, the goal wasn’t to kill the enemy but to disable their ship, to force them to surrender. Yes, people died in war. Space was a terrible place to engage in combat. One lucky shot could destroy an entire ship and its crew. But to set out with the intent of killing? If that was the goal, there had to be a lot more going on.
All of that went through Dewey’s head in a flash, likely something similar went through the major’s, and MSgt Roberson’s.
“Hyperbole?” It was a suggestion on MSgt Roberson’s part. Though, from his facial expression, it looked to Dewey as if the master sergeant doubted his own question.
“If they wanted them dead,” Dewey said. “Why didn’t they just blow the ship instead of disabling it.”
Maj Simmons nodded. “They would have recognized the distress signal going out,” she said. Her voice was slow and thoughtful. “But they wouldn’t have destroyed airlocks, and escape pods before leaving the area. They wouldn’t be able to count on having the time.”
“They also didn’t finish their job,” said MSgt Roberson. “If they had to leave, why not just launch a barrage of missiles, and go.”
“Because they are coming back.” Maj Simmons scooted forward on her seat. “Corporal Knight, push the power on that scan. We need to know the moment they come back.”
“Yes, Major.” Knight started making adjustments on her screens.
Maj Simmons turned in her seat. “Lieutenant Tyler. We’re going to do an evac of that ship, the Tunkum Panri.”
From the way the major had been acting, Dewey didn’t think they were going to do this like a regular boarding. “Ship to ship, Major?”
“Ship to ship,” said Maj Simmons with a quick nod. “Put everyone in EVA gear. Helmets sealed.”
“Yes, Lieutenant, and two fireteams on weapons.”
The major wasn’t taking chances. Dewey jumped out of his seat. “On it, Major.”
Dewey ran, just as PFC Dunn had earlier in the day. The book Dewey had planned to read was temporarily forgotten. He passed medical without a glance, and then through the mess hall. As he took the stairs, he began shouting orders.
“Gear up! EVA squad one. Ship to ship extraction!”
Ordered chaos was already in progress as Dewey leaped over the last step, and jogged to a stop in the Response Platoon’s quarters.
“Hostile boarding, Lieutenant?” asked Sgt Parks. She had the EVA lockers for squad one open, and the Hospitallers were already pulling out their gear, and suiting up. Next to her, SSgt Castro was in her suit, helping others.
Dewey shook his head as he looked around. “Sergeant Perry, your squad on weapons.”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” said Sgt Perry. She started barking her own commands. “Corporal Chavez. Your team to bridge weapons control. Cpl Mitchell, your team is forward.”
There were several shouts of acknowledgment, and then a fireteam ran towards Dewey.
“By your leave, Lieutenant,” said Cpl Chavez. Her fireteam was forming up behind her.
“Carry on, Corporal,” Dewey said. He moved to the side, and the fireteam bolted up the stairs like they were the last ones to chow call and there was a shortage on dessert.
On the other side of the platoon’s quarters, Cpl Mitchell’s fireteam was disappearing through the door that took them to the training area. At the other end was the second weapons control station and the airlock to the forward loading bay.
Dewey went over and began to do safety checks on the first squad.
Overhead, the comm pinged for everyone’s attention. “This is Maj Simmons. We’re about to make ship-to-ship contact for an emergency extraction. Boarding protocols are to be followed, except do not shoot on contact.”
“Like we would,” said Sgt Castro. Her voice came through the speaker on her EVA suit, but Dewey could still hear the humor that tinged her voice.
When a hole was cut into a ship for boarding, the Hospitallers moved forward with ballistic shields presented. The enemy was always allowed to surrender. But once they started shooting, the Hospitallers did not hesitate to defend themselves. The more aggressive the reception, the more aggressive the response.
The major continued, saying, “We need to evacuate the other ship as quickly as possible. Hostiles may be incoming. Everyone needs to be alert. Lt Tyler, contact in five minutes. Forward loading bay. Starboard.”
The rear loading bay held the boarding boats they would typically use to enter another ship. However, the Shnel Shnek was designed to initiate a boarding, too. There were two special airlocks to either side of the ship. Much like a salvage boat or one of the boarding boats, they were capable of connecting to varied surfaces. Once connected, they would cut a hole into the other ship, and then seal the passage, creating an airlock much like one would use to transit from ship to station. Like the others, the Shnel Shnek was then capable of re-sealing the entrance to preserve the internal integrity of the boarded ship.
“You heard the major. We’ve got less than five minutes to move forward and prepare to board.”
“You heard the lieutenant,” said SSgt Castro. “Move out.”
In their EVA suits, Sgt Parks and her squad did not move with the same speed the two fireteams of second squad had employed as they left the platoon’s quarters. The EVA suits were heavy, though not bulky. They had deck boots with their automatic magnetic engagement should gravity be cut on the enemy ship. Those had a lot of weight to them. The suits were self-contained, and a person could survive for seventy-two hours in one if their ship was destroyed. Every feature had weight to it, and the suits had a lot of features.
Dewey moved ahead of them, opening the doors to the training room, and then to the forward loading bay.
“Lieutenant Tyler? Comm from Maj Simmons.”
“You have it from here, SSgt Castro?”
“I’ll check in with you before boarding.”
Dewey shut the door to the forward loading bay and then jogged back across the training room to the comm on the wall. He tapped the screen awake, and then entered the code for Maj Simmons.
“Lieutenant Tyler, Major.”
“Lieutenant. Everyone ready?”
“Yes, Maj Simmons. First squad is prepping the airlock for boarding. Second squad is deployed to the weapons stations.”
“Good,” Maj Simmons said. Dewey recognized the slight hesitation in the Major’s words. Something else was coming. “Lieutenant Tyler, I want you to get permission from the people on that ship to back up their systems. I want logs, navigation, comms, everything. Ask politely, first.”
“I understand, Major.”
“Be safe, Lieutenant.”
The comm clicked off. Dewey ran back through the open airlock to the lockers in the platoon’s quarters. He suited up as quickly as he could, listening to the comm detailing the approach. He had his EVA suit sealed but still needed a safety check. From the bottom of the locker, he grabbed his toolbox and hurried forward as quick as the suit allowed.
“Corporal Mitchell?” Dewey had stopped at the entrance to the forward weapons control.
“Lieutenant.” Mitchell snapped to attention. The others, by protocol, stayed focused on their duty on the weapons panels.
“I need a safety check.”
Cpl Mitchell stepped through the hatch and began the safety check for Dewey. It took fifteen seconds, and then Mitchell tapped the button on the back of Dewey’s suit.
“All good, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, Mitchell.”
Dewey moved toward the next airlock. On the other side was the forward loading bay.
Once out the airlock, he clumped across the loading bay. There were several storage containers and a half-dozen large crates secured to the deck. Further forward were several pygmy crawlers. Other than that, and the squad at the boarding airlock, the space was relatively empty. The rear loading bay was not so open. Not with four boarding boats, and all the other equipment used by the Response Platoon.
“Hey, Lieutenant. What’s going on?”
Dewey stopped next to SSgt Castro and tapped the toolbox he was carrying. “Backing up data.”
“Sergeant Parks,” the staff sergeant said. “We’re going to need the long tether for the lieutenant.
Dewey didn’t like the idea of dragging the tether through the ship to reach the bridge. He’d rather do without it if he were asked. However, he’d seen several lives saved because of the long tether. He reminded himself that he would insist his team wear them if they had to go any significant distance into the ship during a boarding.
“Contact in five,” said one of the crew on the bridge. They counted down. As usual, nothing happened. That meant perfect contact had been made. Outside, unseen by Dewey, several magnetic grapplers had deployed, grabbing the other ship, ensuring it didn’t move during the boarding process.
“Deploy,” SSgt Castro said.
Sgt Parks acknowledged with a thumbs up, and then punched several buttons on a screen that was generally hidden behind a locked panel.
Again, everything was happening outside. Sgt Parks could see it as there was a small screen on the control box that showed the front of the extending airlock. Dewey only knew from experience that there was a thick rectangle with rounded edges and an accordion extension moving towards the other ship. It would take a minute, depending on the distance, and then it would connect to the other hull. An electromagnet would hold the extension of the airlock in place until a more permanent seal had formed. A seal that wouldn’t leak atmo.
“Connection made,” Sgt Parks said. Her words were transferred to the bridge so that they could give the other ship a heads up. Not something they would do during a standard offensive entry. Either way, someone would be waiting on the other side.
Now that the connection was made, Dewey waited with the others outside the airlock extension. It had to equalize its atmosphere to that inside the Shnel Shnek before cutting through the other hull. Clamps and pistons would pull the section of hull away, much like a door.
“Breach has begun,” said Parks. That was the airlock cutting through.
Another minute and lights on the panel Sgt Parks watched began to flash and change colors.
“Shields,” SSgt Castro said.
PFC Gonzalez and Pvt Foster stepped forward and opened the ballistic shields. The shields would stop most automatic weapons fire, and deflect the explosions from grenades. It would take a high energy round to poke a hole, and even then, it would lose most of its momentum.
With the shields open, SSgt Castro gave Sgt Parks the okay to open the airlock. Everyone else moved so they were either out of the potential field of fire or behind Gonzalez and Foster, ready to give as good as they might get. The airlock hissed, and the mechanisms inside made it sound like the growl of an angry drill instructor who’d been woken too early. Then the hatch swung inward.
The airlock past the hull of the Shnel Shnek extended five meters by Dewey’s guess. But that was numbers, and numbers weren’t his thing. On the other side, a neatly cut section of the Tunkum Panri’s hull had been pulled away, revealing its interior. Standing in the opening were three people in emergency evacuation suits, helmets hanging from a clip on their suit’s belts. They had their hands up, palms out.
“I’m Capt Augia Aunztequi,” said the man in the center of the small group. He nodded his head to the left, and added, “This is my engineer, Temistokles Aurrano, and this is our medic, Anua Izu.”
“Captain. I’m Sgt Parks. “Please remain where you are.”
Dewey had taken position behind the other fireteam backing up Gonzalez, and Foster. Sgt Parks turned and looked directly at him as if Dewey’s position was to be expected.
“Corporal Garner, secure the area.”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Garner said. He moved forward toward the gap being made between the ballistic shields. “Fireteam, on me.”
Dewey waited as Cpl Garner, and his team entered the airlock. Sgt Parks clipped tethers to them as they moved past. Once they crossed to the other end of the airlock, they slipped around the three people on that side. They disappeared for several minutes.
“Lieutenant Tyler?” The voice was on Dewey’s EVA internal speaker.
“How are things going down there?”
Dewey knew that the major was not in the dark. There were cams in the loading bays that allowed her to keep an eye on her ship. So she could see them standing, and waiting. She had just as likely watched the airlock make contact via the exterior cams. But Maj Simmons liked to hear what was going on as well.
“We’ve made contact with the captain of the Tunkum Panri, and fireteam two is clearing the other side.”
“Good news,” the major said. Then, “Soon as the area is secure, we want to get the people from the Tunkum Panri over here quick as a Marine retreat. Don’t forget the backups.”
“Will do, Major.”
The comm went dead and was replaced by another voice that was shared amongst the squad at the airlock. “Corporal Garner here. Area’s clear. No weapons visible. No threats currently detected.”
“Thank you, Garner,” Dewey said. “Have your team hold position.”
Dewey moved forward past the ballistic shields. He paused as Sgt Parks attached the long tether to him. With a nodded thank you, he proceeded forward.
“Greetings, Capt Aunztequi,” Dewey said. “We’re ready to bring your people over. Do you have wounded that require help?”
“We have wounded, but the others will bring them across, and we have Anua, she’s been looking after everyone so far.”
Dewey paused and took in Anua, the medic. He gave her a nod, which was returned in kind, before turning back to Capt Aunztequi. “You can give them the orders to start crossing. My team, on the other side, will direct you where to go. We haven’t had time to arrange decent bedding and shelter yet. There’s a bit of a time crunch.”
“You mean the attack ship might come back.”
Dewey couldn’t miss the anger in the engineer’s voice.
“We are concerned that they may return. So it’s best to get you over here where there’s more protection.”
The engineer grinned. “And jump engines.”
“And jump engines.” Dewey turned back to the captain. “Captain Aunztequi, I’d like permission to backup all of your systems. It’s a standard procedure in the Hospitallers fleet. I’ll have it all copied on to data disks for you when we’re out of the area.”
“You’re going to go through my data?”
Dewey paused. How honest should he be?
“They are,” said the engineer. “We’d do the same thing if we had the chance.”
Anua, the medic, added, “If it’s the price of being saved, Augia, I’m all for it.”
“Besides, they probably already know or suspect we’re not a completely-above-board operation,” added the engineer.
Capt Aunztequi looked at her. “Well, Temistokles, if they didn’t know, they do now.”
“We knew,” Dewey said. “Now, do I have your permission, Captain?”
“If it’s a choice between that, and facing the attack ship, again, then have all the data you want. You know how to reach the bridge?”
Dewey tapped a button on his EVA suit and brought a heads up display online. With his free hand, he manipulated VR controls that only he could see. The captain and his crew might be confused, but every Hospitaller present knew what was going on, and none were phased by Dewey grabbing at empty space and turning it. A 3D overlay of the ship showed Dewey where to go.
“I can find my way, Captain. You see to your people.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” said Capt Aunztequi, “for coming to our rescue.”
“It’s what we do, Captain, and we enjoy what we do.”