EV/EVO Chronicles: The Lost Ship --- Part 2 of 2

(posted 12-23-2000)

The Lost Ship

Part 2 of 2


In our first part, Leery, an ordinary freight captain, is framed for a burglary he didn’t commit. To pay for his freedom he has to run an errand for the military. A small jump into Voinian territory to extract a crew of service technicians from a damaged ship and get back.

Unfortunately he has to do this on a spot at the border that seems to be the likely place for a Voinian invasion.


The Transit

During most of the time in transit, he ran simulations of the boarding-phase. Every time, he tried to shave off another few minutes or even seconds. It was a matter of speed and precision, because there wouldn’t be time for slip-ups when it was live.

The relayed emergency message from the damaged ship didn’t contain any damage report, so he had to play out different scenarios. But judging from the instruction videos showing the effects of pirate attacks, he gathered that it was a small miracle if the ship still held together.

On one level, he almost hoped that the ship would have burst when he arrived, sparing him the danger of rescuing the crew and trying to get back over the border alive. But that was only temporarily when the simulations went bad.

As pilot and freight master he knew how his fellow stranded pilot must feel. In his sleep it sometimes was as if he could feel the tangible mad hopes for rescue that must fill the pilot. Leery would give it his best shot, if for nothing else than to be able to sleep soundly.

But he didn’t like how he got set up to do the job. Rinna Diskmaskin usually trusted her charisma and inventive tongue to outline the rosy future that awaited after a job well done. A rosy future that mostly turned to grease and grit when the job really was done. “What a sucker I am.” He shook his head incredulously that he fallen for her tricks twice before. But the plain threat this time had taken him off guard, without retort.

Besides, she was right - he hadn’t the credits to shift bases. He was stuck with standard cargo runs, paying peanuts. Perhaps she’d fulfill a part of her promise, and pay him enough credits to get to more lucrative trade routes. Perhaps not.

Every so often, when he awoke from troubled sleep, he had a nagging suspicion that he was headed towards disaster. It was strange that the emergency message didn’t contain damage reports; it is standard procedure for military vessels to include that in their SOS.

Perhaps the pilot tried to maintain a low profile and imitate a ordinary freight captain. But that seemed strange, given how valuable a “cargo” he brought with him. Perhaps he didn’t know that the technicians really were prominent military scientists.

The other possibility was exponentially worse: that the ship already was boarded, the crew captured and the message sent to lure even more UE ships into a trap. In that case, he’d have no chance to make it out alive. His small ship was too slow and weak to resist Voinian warships.

Trying his best to act like the pirate he was supposed to be, he kept the downtime at the space stations to a minimum. Get in, get fuel and get out. Every time he took a few moments to download the latest bulletins and sift through them to see if he was mentioned.

So far he’d never noticed anything about his supposed burglary at Frys Inc. But that didn’t mean that the planetary police corps was out of the loop. He had to hurry.

At the last station before jumping into no man’s land neighboring Voinian space, he was hailed and questioned by military police.

“OK sir, your freight master license please.” Leery submited the fake number he’d gotten from Rinna Diskmaskin. It was supposed to keep up for casual inspection, as long as nobody tried to verify it with the Freight Masters Guild databases.

“And your business in this area?”

Keeping it close to truth, Leery said “Cargo delivery for UE outpost," while he beamed over the cargo identifiers. The codes seemed to please the military. “Great, at last some Saalian Brandy for the poor souls. Oh well, it probably only end up at the senior officers' hall.”

He seemed bitter enough about the senior officers to make Leery take a chance. “You’ve been out there, doing time?”

“Yeah, a couple of years - wasted a lot of youth out there. Came back an old man. Found that the only jobs available were patroling, boring as vacuum.” Lost in thought, the military police officer almost routinely punched through the other checklists and granted Leery the go-codes for outbound traffic.

The ships drifted appart when Leery ran through the jump schedule. The com-set crackled. “Hey kid.”

Leery felt the small hairs in the back of his neck stand in attention. “Don’t get no stupid ideas and enroll when you’re out there. They’re always keen on getting new hot pilots to the frontier, but belive me - it takes a greater toll than you’ll ever imagine.”

“Yes, officer, I mean no, I won’t enroll. Thanks for the warning.”

“And don’t get shot down either, there seem to be more pirates around now than half a year ago.” The military vessel accelerated and jumped from the system. Leery paused in the countdown and sent a thought with it. “Can’t promise just that, friend.”

The Jump

Subatomic particles got heated so fast that they evaporated as light and gamma radiance. Bigger particles got split and lost energy in the form of heat and gamma-beams. Particles bigger than atoms simply got pushed out of the way, often colliding and forming more complex molecules as helium or methane. Unaware of the havoc reaped, Leery's ship entered the system the ordinary way through sub-space.

It was the third jump since he left safe UE space. It had been quite uneventful, but that was sure to change now.

The ships presence immediately registered on a dozen radar screens. His own radar screen showed the big structure rotating around a dead planet. A wasps nest of conflicting interests, a place for bounty hunters to find their prey, for pirates to hear the gossip about mining corporations trade routes, and for honest people to get the short end of the stick.

The medical supplies in his cargo bays should fetch a good price, but to keep apperences he would have to haggle over the return cargo, whatever it would prove to be.

He hailed the station and negotiated a “landing fee." The coordinates fed into the ship's computer turned out to be an auxiliary landing bay, far from the ordinary docking stations. A neat place for an ambush on a unsuspecting and tired pilot, that is.

Leery ended the landing procedures and kicked back in the chair. A couple of hours sleep would do him just fine. The ship was anchored to the station, but hadn’t yet been tethered with fuel, air and sewage lines. He could leave station within ten minutes if he needed to.

A hail from the station's service crew awoke him later. He declined the offered services of inspection and refitting of the ship, even after he got a hefty rebate. “Refitting” probably meant that they would use his ship to take spare parts to a better paying client.

The Deal

A mumbling of voices filled the spaceport bar while an constant beat from the loudspeakers tried to drown the heated discussions around the round tables. In a corner a couple of poker players tried to outstare each other. Leery could faintly make out the glow of the credit counter mounted on the table top. It seemed to be a six figure number. The gamblers were flanked by curious bystanders and bodyguards.

It was a slow evening compared to many other nights, but the bar still vibrated with untold threats and the smell of unwashed bodies. The constant hum was pierced occasionally by laughter.

“Something local, please.” The bartender didn’t hesitate and put a glass with a slightly green content on the bar. Leery hadn’t the least intent on drinking it, but he would look out of league without it.

On the screens overhead new stats from the ongoing war marched by. Nobody seemed to take notice. Leery looked around in the gloom and tried to identify anybody who looked like a merchant.

“Hey you!” It was the bartender who shouted in his ear. “There’s a guy over there who you should talk to.” A fat finger pointed in direction of the darkest corner. “He’s got first call on newcomers' cargo.”

Leery picked up his glass and made his way between the tables. On the smaller space stations there usually was someone who managed to take control over some essential product. By blackmailing the station directors, they got inside information about cargo in docked ships. It was dirty, but the system worked reasonably well. Because every so often the kingpin had to pass up good cargo and another merchant got the chance.

“Have a seat.” A strong voice, probably could instill fear in underlings when in bad mood. Probably could infuse optimism and fighting spirit in moments of danger also.

The man never gave his name, neither asked about Leery's. “What you got?” Leery answered by handing over the cargo sheets. They were left lying on the table.

“I mean what do you really got. Not what you changed the codes to be.”

“Medical supplies, 6 tons. Military quality, originally going to the front but they were nicked from a warehouse by friends of mine.” Leery told almost the truth, he did get the supplies from a military warehouse – but it was the military who gave them to him.

A slow nodding from the other side of the table. “I’ll give you 24.”

“No way. It’s worth 45 and you know it. I can’t go lower than 30.”

A sad shake of the head. “Have it your own way. A couple of pirates boarded a cargo ship with medical supplies not long ago and sold it for almost nothing. We’re up to our ears in drugs, pills, X-ray machinery and plaster.”

Probably was true, and by any rate Leery couldn’t spend too much time dockside. He had to get to the other ship.”27. But then I need your help to get a good price on outbound goods.”

“25 and you’ll have my help.”

The deal was struck. Leery got handed a credit card, which he ran through a pocket scanner. It checked out. In return, he handed over the cargo documents and release codes to the ship's cargo bay.

The man leafed through the papers and gave them away to another man, who disappeared. “We’ll just check out your cargo, you can’t leave for another 40 minutes. Have another drink, it’s on me.”

“What about another cargo? I’d much rather have that.”

“Patience is a virtue. We’ll talk about that later.”

Leery slumbed in the chair and swept his eyes over the room. The poker table duel was over. Only one chair was occupied, probably the winner, enjoying his riches, gloating in the victory.

The second man had returned to the merchant's side. He talked quietly in his ear. The merchant turned towards Leery. “OK, good. Nice stuff you brought, was everything you said.”

“And the return cargo?”

“Well, let’s see. We got two tons brandy tucked away somewhere and a couple of tons of mechanical equipment. You can get it all for, let’s say 40 for the brandy and 15 for the equipment.”

“Seriously, that expensive brandy doesn’t exist. I can take the equipment for 15, but then I want the brandy for 29.”

A lot of haggling ensued. Leery found that it was much harder to negotiate now when he already closed the other deal. Finally, they agreed on a price, Leery handed over the credits, got release codes for the warehouse and rose to leave.

“Pleasure doing business” shouted the merchant over the general din of the room as he walked out.

The loading went smooth and Leery found that he could prepare for take off earlier than he first thought. Going through the take off checklist, he jumped when the alarm systems went off. It was the station systems, warning that hostile craft had appeared in the space system.

Leery gave the situation a quick overview. He could stay in the relative safety of the port and hope that the system's fighters would take care of the problem. But that could prove disastrous if the invaders fought all the way to the station, and he became a sitting duck. Or he could finish the countdown, take off and hope to evade the hostilities and jump away. It was a gamble, but it would help his further mission to get away in the shroud of confusion.

He choose the latter alternative, punched through the rest of the list and kept an eye on the radar screen. When he got a clean vector he pulled the straps really hard and gave the accelerators maximum fuel injections.

The flight path seemed to be out of harm's way from the invaders, but the system's fighters tried a head-on-assault, causing the hostile vessels to split in two groups. One of them crossed Leery's intended path nicely.

A stray shot or a mistake in the heat of battle from one of the fighter pilots and he was done for. The screen showed a hectic battle in front of him. He wasn’t far enough from system center, he had to push forward a bit longer. Then he saw the blip.

The dangerous blip on the screen had locked on to him, a heat seeker, almost impossible to shake off. Cursing, Leery pressed the jump button frantically. Not far away from center yet.

The blip closed, he pressed the button again and again. Suddenly he felt the well-known acceleration put him firmly against the chair. The radar screen blurred and the ship jumped from system.

The Rescue

A bad dream awoke him. The last week's strain was taking its toll. Daily simulations of boarding and rescuing had numbed his senses. The close encounter with the missile had brutally pulled him out of his belief that he was going to make it. The hard part still lay ahead of him.

“I’m not fit for a life on the frontier,” he said aloud to the cabin. “When this is over I’ll hire me some travel companions and stop working alone.”

Today was the next to last day before rendezvous with the wounded ship. Whatever preparations he didn’t have time to do now, wouldn’t be done at all.

The emergency pod was restocked on supplies, he’d checked it twice and run through the evacuation diagnostics a dozen times. It should work flawlessly if he needed it.

What had began as a gnawing suspicion of an trap had grown into a full fledged conviction that he walked into a crossfire with Voinian ships. He’d run through the scenario many times in his head. The jump to the system, the red dots on the radar screen – all coming his way - a barrage of missiles and his own frantic evasions to try to jump from system again.

He had to visit the system, otherwise the ship's flight recorder would give him away, but he intended to get out as fast as possible - with or without the crew.

The hyperspace jump brought him into a quiet and empty system. Asteroids swirled around aimlessly. He could not make out if they once had been an planet or if they were beginning to form a planet by their own gravitational pull. He didn’t care, either.

All he cared about was the green blip on the screen, the damaged ship, floating far from system center.

He accelerated and calculated the distance to the ship. Braking boosters kicked in and his ship floated steadily alongside the other ship. It seemed dead. No hull light shone, the small correction boosters didn’t glow either.

The hull was marred by laserfire pockmarks, severely dented armor held by only a few rivets protuded from the ship and one or two holes made by small missiles showed as dark craters. It still hold together, amazingly enough. That’s the stuff military vessels were built of apparently.

Boarding sequence had started even before he’d aligned both ships. The docking tunnel attached smartly over the cargo door, connecting the ships and making him vulnerable for attacks or self-destruct mechanisms.

No sign of life from the other pilot either, he should have responded to Leery's hails if he could. Leery did use the standard military hail to identify himself.

From the ship plans he got from Rinna Diskmaskin, he’d gathered that the cryo chambers should fit even without jettisoning the freight he carried. The cargo would prove useful if he got stopped en route to the border. He could always throw it as bones in the way of pirates, or bribe his way across if hailed by Voinians.

Going down the freight elevator to the other ship, he checked the ship's status on the screen inside the helmet. No sign of life yet. Perhaps he could get status information when he connected locally to the ships network beyond the door.

The emergency release codes worked and the doors opened, revealing a dark pit. Headlights went on and Leery advanced inside the silent ship.

He had the blueprints of the ship memorized since freight master school. It was a standard cargo ship, although small. He drifted down the corridor, illuminating the cold walls. At the cargo door where the scientists would be frozen stiff, he paused and punched the combination supplied by Diskmaskin. Green light and the doors slid open. Eight big boxes filled the space inside the door. They seemed unharmed.

He started the unloading sequence at the cargo computer and held his breath that the emergency batteries still held power. The rails along the ceiling and floor hummed to life when the cargo robot woke to life. It locked on to one of the boxes and started dragging it through the corridor towards the freight elevator to Leery's ship.

The rest of the sequence would work automatically. His ship would haul up the boxes and a similar cargo robot would store them in the cargo room.

Time to turn his attention to the pilot. One of the things that kept him going all the way was the thought of a fellow pilot being trapped in a dying ship. The frozen scientists hadn’t clue to their peril, but the pilot knew with certainty what gloomy outcast they had for rescue.

Leery wondered why he hadn’t been hailed yet or even greeted at the bay door by the pilot. The timer on the helmet screen showed that he had almost a full half hour to find the pilot before the loading was finished.

Out of fear of being trapped if the emergency batteries died, he didn’t take the elevator. Instead he used the corridors, working his way towards the **** pit.

The **** pit was empty, the pilot’s chair unmanned. It was a strange feeling to see the most important room in the ship beeing abandonned. In the pilot’s quarters he finally found the pilot, strapped to the bed in full suit and unconcious. It was a hurdle to get him out in the corridor and down to loading area.

The timer had reached zero and continued to count on overtime when Leery finaly got back to his ship. The pilot got strapped to a new bed and Leery punched the release codes for the docking tunnel.

He’d already set the new jump point and was far into doing the routine checks when a fleet of Voinian war ships entered normal space close by.

The warning systems kicked in and he threw aside the checklist and reached for the accelerator controls. A swarm of small missiles was headed his way, and he attemped to hide among the asteroids.

A hailing signal echoed in the cabin, but there was no time to answer. Blasts behind the ship pulverized asteroids, littering the space with small flying projectiles. Each and every one capable of ripping through an unshielded hull.

The jump button activated the hyperspace engine and Leery felt a moment of triumph when the ship left the system.

The Trap

He arrived in the midst of another Voinian fleet. Without warning the ship rocked heavily when it was hit by missiles from all around. The shield depleted almost at once. He was vulnerable. A single shot and the hull would break and spill him out in the universe.

He had his finger on the ejection button when he got the hail. ”Give up and let us board and you’ll live.”

He hadn’t many options. A lot of stories about people being saved from escape pods were told around in bars. But not once had he heard about someone who survived in an escape pod in the middle of an enemy fleet.

“Captain Leery here. I give up.” It was with a bitter taste of bile he spoke over the com set. In the silence that followed he had time to ponder the bleak future. The fate of prisoners of war was one of hardship. Some were sent to the mines, expected to work until they worked no more. Others were kept for “scientific reasons." Then again, more than once he’d heard about prisonor exchanges by the borders. But he doubted that he’ll get that chance. Not when the Voinians found out what he had in the cargo bays.

One of the smaller warships had closed in during his dark thoughs and started to maneuver to the right position for boarding. For a moment Leery toyed with the idea to set the ship on self-destruct and bring the other ship with him. But what would that mean in the big picture? Nothing at all.

Suddenly the ship’s radar screen became bright with green blips. An whole armada of UE ships popped out of hyperspace around him. The space at once filled with phaser fire and missiles.

Leery hardly had time to suck his breath back, before he banged down on the hyperspace controls. The ship accelerated straight through the lethal rain. A couple of missiles hit the ship, but it reached jump speed and vanished from the boiling war field.

The Pick up

Once he recovered consciousness, he became the object of an lengthy interogation. His warders ask him again and again about why he was in the Voinian system, how he’d come there and where from he came.

Answering made his head hurt. The room never stopped spinning and a high-pitched noise whined in his ears.

“How come you traveled to the border?” “Who sent you?” “What did you pick up from the ship?”

All the time he told them: “I was framed for an burglary, a warrant for my arrest put up. So I had to save some military scientists from the wreckage. Rinna Diskmaskin is behind all this.”

On the seventh day they left him in his quarters. He got to read the report of how he was found in his ship adrift. The last missiles before jump had broken part of the hull and put the ship's systems into emergency state. He’d been knocked out by debris from the interior of the ship.

While he was unconcious, he’d been boarded by UE military personel who salvaged him and the ship. Since then, he’d been kept under arrest because he was a civilian found near the border without adequate reasons for being there.

Later that day he had a surprise visitor. Rinna Diskmaskin walked into the cell with the same air of superiority as always. Hardly a look at the room before she sat down by the wall-mounted desk. Only one thug this time, but they were inside a military prison after all. The man-mountain leaned against the wall close to the door.

“Rough trip for you?” She didn’t wait for Leery to answer. “Luckily for you that the UE forces had an sharp ammunition drill near the border when they noticed your situation. A Voinian squadron attacking a poor defenseless human freight captain. Can’t tolerate that, can we?”

It took him a few heartbeats to get the drift. “You used me as... as live bait! You almost got me killed!”

A cool look shot from her dark, sparkling eyes silenced him. “You never were in any real danger. We had listening posts all along this section of the border and all the ships were alerted.”

A sigh. “It really was the only way to get the gears rolling for an initiative along the border. The military bureaucrats have been mangling the question of offensive action for months. All the time we’ve been fighting an uphill battle when Voinian forces nicked over the border and raided our weaker holds. It was only a matter of time before they’d decided to overrun us totally.”

She leaned forward, one elbow on the table and the hand cleanched into a fist. “We needed a compelling reason to fight back. And fight back in force. A innocent, defenseless civilian provided that reason.”

He sputtered a protest. “Poor innocent civilian! You made me a criminal and forced me to run your dirty errands. I’m surprised that the UE ships didn’t shoot me on sight.”

“Ah, yes. The burglary. Now, don’t be cross with me. But you see, there never were a burglary, nor any warrant for your arrest.”

Leery saw small, black blotches swim across his eyesight. For a moment he heard nothing but his pulse, echoing in his ears.

“You see Leery, we only wired the systems of the bar. Sending a faked newsflash. Ordinary skunk works. Then all we had to do was to get you to the ship and get you space bound, and we knew you’d run like a rabbit to collect our carrot.”

The blotches grew bigger, and for an instant, he was certain he’d faint. She’d played him the fool and he’d not seen through her bluff.

Rinna Diskmaskin didn’t seem to take notice of his situation, but continued to talk.

“You have no idea what I had to do to convince the high rankers that it was necessary to have a sharp ammunitions drill along the border. And what means it took to make it coincide with your return. A lot of thinking and tinkering was recuired. I’m quite pleased with the way it went.”

Leery got his breath back, his mind cloudfree for a moment. “But the ship, the captain and the scientists. What about them?”

“Well you know. The boxes contained only Saalian Brandy, the triple proof, 50 years aged kind. Not allowed on every planet, but not exactly smuggling either. You’ll get away with a slap on your fingers. The captain, well, his name is Rosund Fedi and he is one of my most trusted spies at the pirate's station. We usually get him in and out of there by the help of smugglers like you. He’ll testify that’s exactly what happened this time also.”

“But what about my testimony? I’ve told them everything about the set up and how you tricked me into doing this.”

A smile and almost an wink of the eye. “Well, it could be difficult to explain that - if it really had been military personel examining you. As it is, it was my people the whole time. The military let me take the helm, since you, after all, were carrying my man over the border. I’ve produced a nice looking statement from you to satisfy the military police.”

He had only one question left. “What about the scientist and the probe. Was it all a lie, just to get me to do your work?”

“No, we did have a probe malfunction and we did send a repair crew to fix it. And yes they were attacked. But they’re safe now, picked up by military recon ships. You don’t seriously think we’d put a civilian like you on a rescue mission like that, do you?”

In a more thoughtful voice she added: “But it was after their rescue that I became convinced that we had to advance over the border. It seemed as though the Voinians were assembling troops to push ahead through the no-man's land into our space. That wouldn’t do, so we had to do something to stop them.”

The Release

Rinna Diskmaskin arose from the chair, the thug straightened by the door. “I’ll leave you now. You’ve done well. Better than I thought, I have to admit. You’ll find that your account has been fed some credits while you’ve been gone. In a matter of hours you’ll be released and escorted out of this system. After that you’ll be a free man again and no official records will exist. I’ll see to that.” With that she walked away.

Halfway out of the room, she paused and turned around. “You know, this time you almost made up for the other disasters you’ve cost me.” And with pearly laughter, she left.

Sure enough, five hours later Leery got collected by the wardens. They handed back his freight captain's license, gave him the new access codes to his ship and a written statement about his involvement in the issue at the border.

Later that evening, Leery slumped over the counter at a rundown bar close to the space port. On the overhead screens various maps followed in succession, outlining UE-forces rush attack on Voinian strongholds that had taken place the last week. The talking heads mimed silently, but Leery still had a fairly good idea what they said. He’d already heard the news serveral times already, how an military maneuver suddenly turned into a fullfledged invasion, all because of a civilian freighter in distress.

A couple of influential politicians had begun to milk the incident for their own purposes, talking about how the federation could not stand idly by the side and see their civilians be attacked. Nobody seemed to wonder why a honest, hardworking captain - the salt of the space trade would sneak around the border to Voinian territory.

Oh, well. He’d made it out alive. That’s more reward than most pilots along the lightyear-long border ever got. And he got the credits to prove that it was a job well done.

But it still hurt that he’d been so easily tricked into doing the job. Leery nodded solemnly. “Next time I see her. I’ll take my chances with the security corridor. At least it will be a quick and painless death.”

The fat bartender eyed him suspiciously, the last words he’d spoken out aloud. “I’ll have another one”, Leery said to mollify the fat man. “Have one for yourself too, because I’d like to toast to a person I know. Here’s to Rinna Diskmaskin – one heck of an woman.”

(This message has been edited by moderator (edited 12-23-2000).)

Good story. If you had seperated it where you added the titles like "The Rescue" or "The Release" I would have liked it a little better.

(url="http://"http://pub29.ezboard.com/b20")Don't click here.(/url)
The Person who misspells "Voinian" knows not of the 50 gigaton nuke coming at their cranium.

My objective is to live forever. So far so good.




Had you not said so, I never would have guessed that English wasn't your native tongue.



I really enjoyed your story. Clear and readable, nice details, well-drawn protagonist. ('“I’m not fit for a life on the frontier,” he said aloud to the cabin.' Very good.) Thanks!

lousy weather, friendly natives

Hi everyone. Thanks for your kind words -- it really lifted my spirits! I've been on Christmas holiday without my Mac, that's why I've not responded earlier.

If you find the time I'd more than anything would like to hear about your specific critizism (spelling?) about the story - persons, plot, length, anything that crosses your mind.

'till next time - happy new year, or as we say in Sweden "Gott Nytt Ĺr". Heidel

Or as we say it in Norway: Godt nytt ĺr. 🙂 Great story. Why don`t you register as a member??

I`m a bomb technician. If you see me running...try to keep up.