"YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE," a computer generated voice boomed over the public address system, "THE EMERGENCY IS NOW OVER, THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE." Courteous and brusque in equal measure the automatic message was repeated two more times.
The massive blast doors that separated sections of the promenade deck of the orbital High Port of Regina from each other slowly opened. The doors couldn't open fast enough for Captain Dennis Sterling, at present master of the former Imperial close escort Chauchat, and very little else. He had to quickly find his darling little niece Ditzie as there was no end of trouble that a super-intelligent little girl could get into.
He'd start with a quick check of the other shops on the promenade and then work his way back to the dock level.
Aboard the Chauchat, which at the present time was masquerading as the Cobra-class close escort Diamondback, Chief Engineer and First Officer Dana Wolfsburg was not having what she would call a good day. While Captain Sterling was off shopping with his niece, Dana was stuck with the task of hunting down and killing one of the more whacked-out members of the family that owned the Chauchat after said nutcase had tried to chase down and toast an Imperial Scout/Courier that was on detached duty. The task was made no less easier by the fact that the problem relative was in possession of a used warship that was nearly identical to the ship that the Chief Engineer/First Officer was temporarily stuck in command of. According to the Captain, the problem relative was the result of a genetic engineering experiment that didn't quite work out properly, and the family as rule preferred to clean up their own messes. Usually with extreme prejudice.
The Famille Spofulam clan, into which the Captain was briefly married, was long rumored to have made radical genetic modifications to their own family members using methods both legal and illegal. One product of this alleged program, created through means known only to God and the perpetrators, was Ditzie, the Captain's so-called niece.
Of course Dana had undergone some modifications herself, but that was a choice she made as an adult. There were some things that should not be done to young children, regardless of the apparent benefits to their families.
On the other hand, the FS clan had no objections to hiring male-to-female transsexuals, unlike damned near every other ship owner operating in the Third Imperium.
After a brief space battle in which a local navy cruiser had barged in and apparently fried the whacked-out relative and his ship, Dana was directed by the High Port approach control to use a docking port other than the one the Chauchat had originally departed from.
Apparently, a Customs Service Strike Team had been caught in the docking tunnel when the Chauchat departed from the station to do battle. This could possibly explain the all of thumping noises on the hull right after the ship had undocked.
Dennis had found Ditzie sitting with the plush toy penguin near an airlock on the docking level of the station. She was holding the penguin as if she were comforting it. The penguin's right wing had been torn off.
"What happened to the penguin?" He asked her.
"Bad man came...hurt Norris."
"Norris?" He had to ask.
Ditzie held up the penguin. "He looks like a Norris."
That she had given this toy penguin a name was perhaps a good sign. That she had apparently named the penguin for the current Duke of Regina was potentially a bad sign.
"Where did the bad man go?" Dennis asked.
Ditzie pointed to the airlock door. The control panel for the airlock indicated that the outer door was open. A chill ran down his back, except for the docking tunnels in use by private spacecraft, an airlock could only be accessed by authorized personnel, such as the navy or the customs service.
"Did the bad man say who he was?"
Ditzie nodded her head. "Mister Herman." She replied.
Herman was a corrupt thug of a customs officer who had the rather nasty habit of planting multi-kilogram quantities of illegal psycho-actives and psi-drugs on ships owned by the Famille Spofulam. There were of course some crews who would deliberately route their ships through the High Port of Regina in order to freely replenish their personal stashes. But the fact of the matter was that Customs Officer Herman insisted on being a problem, and sooner or later that problem would have been solved by the FS clan in an extremely prejudicial manner.
"Did he hurt you?" Dennis asked her.
Ditzie shook her head.
"You had to use one of your special toys on him?"
Ditzie nodded again.
Dennis had always insisted that his niece keep her "special toys" hidden from view and undetectable by the usual weapon detectors. He always thought that there was something basically wrong with individuals who were afraid of personal weapons. He had an even lower opinion of those political leaders who sought to disarm the civil populations of their own worlds. Dennis usually described such politicians as, "vermin fit only for extermination."
Given Ditzie's extraordinarily slow rate of growth Dennis would reasonably expect to be dead and scattered long before she grew up, he would never see what his niece would eventually hide within a debutante dress. Interesting though that could be.
Ditzie looked up at him. "What are we going to do about Norris?"
Returning to Lisa's little shop on the promenade deck to buy another toy penguin was definitely not an option; Dennis would rather spend a week with his ex-wife, while she suffered through a bout of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, than to once again speak to the mature form of the girl he grew up with.
"Well...we can take him back to the ship...and try to fix him there." Dennis had an old Imperial Navy crewman's sewing kit. "Would that be okay with you?"
Ditzie nodded and then stood up.
"Okay Uncle Dennis."
On the dock level of the station, Major Briggs, the Imperial Marines Provost Marshall on the High Port, watched as another cheerfully bright orange body-bag was brought through airlock by a navy EVA-Rescue team. The ambient air pressure in the dock level corridor caused the body-bag to tightly contract itself around the corpse as if it had been shrink wrapped.
Vacuum sealed to insure freshness, the Provost Marshall thought to himself. The woman standing next to him groaned.
She was Lieutenant Stratton, a member of the Imperial Naval Intelligence unit stationed on Regina, she looked like a forty-ish woman who was desperately trying to pass for twenty, she was also a trained telepath. The Lieutenant was presently attached to the Military Police Garrison on the station, and she didn't like the assignment one bit.
"Major Briggs...sir...must you be so...so...gross?"
"Do you have to read my mind, Lieutenant?" He replied.
At this moment two Marine MP's who were fully suited in powered armor, with the exterior color set to Imperial Marines Maroon, led two civilians into the temporarily restricted section of the dock level corridor. One was a balding forty-something male human with closely cut brown hair and a bushy mustache. His attire from his leather and canvas combat boots up to his sunglasses was all black. He was introduced to Major Briggs and Lieutenant Stratton as Dennis Sterling, the captain of the ship that was briefly connected to this airlock and docking tunnel.
The other civilian appeared to be an eight-year-old human girl. She wore blue shorts, white socks with sneakers, and a tee-shirt that read, "I (heart symbol) H.E."
"Hi, I'm Ditzie." Said the little girl.
"Debutante dresses...happy fun...suits," groaned the Lieutenant, "Oh...my...head...hurts..." Her hands grasped the sides of her head as she turned away.
"Is the Lieutenant a telepath?" Dennis asked as he watched her stumble down the corridor.
"No. She isn't." Came the Major's well practiced reply.
The practice of telepathy and other psionic powers was at present illegal in the Third Imperium. There would certainly be the political equivalent of Hell to pay if the use of such powers by Imperial Naval Intelligence became public knowledge.
"Uh. Right." Said Dennis.
"Captain Sterling, these Customs officers," the Major pointed to the cheerfully bright orange body-bags in the corridor, "were accidently killed while attempting to board your ship to plant contraband as evidence of smuggling. We've recovered all of their bodies except for their leader. A piece of sh...er...garbage named Herman."
Ditzie spoke up. "I saw him go out the airlock."
"Did you see what kind or color of vacc-suit he had on?" Briggs asked her.
Quizzically, Ditzie replied. "He needed a vacc-suit?"
At this point, Lieutenant Stratton, who had walked back to rejoin the questioning of Captain Sterling and his niece, once again grabbed her own head and started groaning.
"Ow...ow...ow..." The Lieutenant moaned as once again she turned away.
"Perhaps," Dennis said as he watched her stumble away, "the Lieutenant should start wearing a psi-shield helmet."
Briggs' face turned pink as he struggled to maintain his composure.
"Major Briggs," said Dennis, "I'm afraid that my niece and I have some things we must do elsewhere. Good day to you, sir."
After seeing to it that Ditzie was taking her afternoon nap in her quarters aboard the Chauchat, Dennis entered his own stateroom and gently set the plush toy penguin and the torn off right wing down on the desk. An encrypted message from Imperial Naval Intelligence waited for him on his personal terminal.
In normal circumstances he would have immediately decoded and read the message. But this time there was something else he needed to do first.
Dennis sat down at his desk pulled out a sewing kit and spool of black thread from one of the lower drawers.
"Okay Norris," he said to the penguin, "let's see what I can do for you."
The EVA-Rescue Unit of the Planetary Navy of Regina was having an usually busy day. It started when a Customs Service boarding and inspection unit accidentally went EVA from the orbiting High Port without their vacc-suits, what was especially interesting was that contraband materials were already in their evidence bags even before they could board the ship that they had targeted for inspection.
In addition to the mass spacing of the customs unit there was also a brief space battle involving a Cobra, the mutiny prone predecessor of the Imperial Navy's GAZELLE class of close escort, against a Navy cruiser and the close escort Diamondback. The EVA-Rescue Unit now had to clean up the orbiting mess.
The modular cutter carrying an EVA team approached the scorched hulk of the Cobra. Through the cockpit windows the flight crew and members of the EVA team could see the scars left by the impact of a charged particle beam. Portions of the ship's chameleon surface that had not been burned away, which would be fully blacked out under combat conditions, displayed a riot of colors as if the surface had been tie-dyed and pasted back onto the hull. The crew and passengers of the cutter could also see that the landing craft of the Cobra was missing.
As the cutter held station with the wreck of the Cobra, the EVA team commenced their search for the dead bodies of the ship's crew in the burned out hulk.
The EVA team quickly found that there were no remains of crew members aboard the wreck of the Cobra.