Sometimes not knowing can be an advantage
“They’re hailing us,” the communications officer said, then turned expecting an order to open a channel.
“What’s the speakers tone?”
I got a blank look in return.
“Does he sound agitated, angry, arrogant…?
“Like a person of authority.”
Not much help in gauging their mood.
“OK, put him on the viewer.” I had one of the crew bring up the data we had on the vessel class.
It was once a personnel transport, one of a dozen that had been taken to the edge of space and dumped, if that was a word that could be used to describe what happened. They should have been destroyed, but another contractor took the cheap option, and abandoned them off Neptune.
The spokesman was dressed in the same suit as those I’d seen before, on the cargo ship, and in the Captains day room. Clearly he didn’t want to be identified.
“What can I do for you,” I asked, after waiting a minute or so after realising he was waiting for me to speak.
“Surrender your ship.”
Of course. They had three ships, we had one. A junior officer came over and gave me a sheet of paper. The names of the ship’s, how many life signs on each, and scans indicating possible weaponry.
Weapons needed power, and if they were anything like ours, they would need auxiliary power sources. No indication yet they intended to use any.
Life signs was interesting, six on each of the smaller ships, roughly half the crew when the ships were commercially used, and 34 for the larger vessel, including the nuclear scientist.
“Why would I do that?”
Number one’s expression was one of surprise, the Lt Colonel not so much.
“We have superior fire power, and will disable the ship if you don’t. That means taking out the life support. You can save your crew an ignominious death.”
No alien would use the word ‘ignominious’.
The two smaller ships were the closest, acting as guards for the bigger ship. I suspect they had the weapons, being smaller and more manoeuvrable.
I’d spoken to the Lt Colonel and the gunnery sergeant when he arrived on the bridge, and we agreed that the best action would be to target the bridges of the enemy vessels. After we retrieved the scientist.
“You do realise you’re targeting a research vessel, not a man of war.”
“Is that what they told you?”
“Space command, that bunch on nincompoops who think the rest of the planets believes their lies.”
Well, that was the statement that proved they were not aliens, but working for one of the other countries no so happy with the deal that had been struck over space exploration. The Admiral could work out which one in his own time.
For the operation of removing our crew member, I had a direct line to the cargo bay where ? was setting up the parameters for the transport. All I had to do was keep the ship as steady as possible.
“Ready when you are,” his voice was in my ear.
Ten seconds later, “she’s aboard, safe.”
From the side, “There’s activity…”
“Gunnery sergeant, now,” I said.
The viewer cleared of my counterpart, and showed two explosions, where I would have said were the command centres of the two ships, and then the sudden movement of the larger ship, moving away, and at speed, to a point where it disappeared.
“Can we track that escaping ship?”
“We have sufficient information about it to send it back to HQ and let them deal with it. We achieved what we set out to do.”
The Lt Colonel was right, but it would be good to know where our enemy was.
A crew member said, “we can track it if you like, but it just jumped to high speed and out of scanner range.”
“Life signs?” I asked, looking at the two ships adrift, if that was possible. I didn’t like the idea of using force, and it was going to create a mountain of paperwork, and an investigation, but they were going to attack
“Eleven remaining on board, all deceased “
“One transported to the larger ship just before we attacked.”
Number one appeared beside me. “Do you think we should go over to the other ships and verify that the dead crew were the escaped prisoners.”
“For your report? Yes. Take a medical team, and the military.” The Lt Colonel looked over at the mention of the military. “You can arrange a squad,” I asked him.
The third officer, Jacobs, like myself, crossing over from captaining cargo vessels, recently promoted to Second had been at his station for the duration, instead of resting, a man who wanted more experience. And spent as much time as he could on the bridge.
“Sir.” He jumped up out of his seat, whether from fright or enthusiasm I wasn’t sure.
“You have the bridge. Try not to run into those ships out there.”
“Yes sir, I mean, no sir, no crashing sir.”
“I’ll be in medical if there’s any problems.”
© Charles Heath 2021