"Damn," Val Salvis twisted his torso through the gapping rip in the side of the now derelict Aslan merchant ship, "I can almost fit through this hole." He paused for a second to reconsider his approach and to look back at his companion in this enterprise, Zachary Prax. The other was clamped to the outer hull of the ship holding on incase Salvis lost his footing and drifted back out into space. In complete silence other than the sound of his own labored breath Salvis pushed through and entered the Aslan's interior. Using the illumination of his helmet's headlamp Salvis surveyed the room's interior. It appeared to have been a passenger cabin before the hull breach had destroyed nearly everything in the compartment. Salvis stepped aside to allow Prax space to crawl into the room, he coiled the tether connecting the two of them together as it slackened.
Prax's raspy voice made him jump as he moved across the room as it blasted over his headset. "Doesn't look so bad, this must have been caused by collateral damage." Salvis turned to watch his partner crawl easily through the gash that he had struggled to fit through. Together the men moved toward the compartment's door, their magnetic soled boots holding them to the floor plating. It was eerie not hearing the clank of the magnetic soles on the metal grating of the floor plates. The room's entrance door was ajar, pulled off its slides in the ceiling and floor, it was slightly buckled in the center inward toward them; the explosive decompression had no doubt caused the damage. Salvis pushed hard against the door without success. He motioned for Prax to assist; together they successfully forced the door into the outer passageway. Salvis stepped into the hall first. His raspy breathing the only evidence that anything was still alive on this ship.
Salvis looked down the passageway in both directions, to his right was the heavily damaged bow of the merchant. To his left were the still intact parts of the ship such as the cargo and engineering spaces, the part the raiders would be most interested in if they were pirates. The survivors that Angelica has sensed would be in that direction. He turned to see if Prax had successfully negotiated the door, when he had together they began their trek down the dark hallway. The passage led them out of what had been the starboard passenger area to a central hall with an airtight door. Here was going to be the trick, they had to find a compartment that was relatively small and would not bleed too much of the ship's remaining atmosphere off when they entered it. What was on the other side of the door was unknown, there was no glass view port on the door to allow inspection of the other side of the door.
Prax took his pistol from its holster and banged the butt of the gun on the metal door to give anyone on the other side warning they were going to open the door. Suddenly the mechanical mechanism locking the door cycled releasing the seals and the heavy metal door exploded toward the two men with tremendous violence. The door swung on its hinges hitting Prax full force. Salvis was blown backward bouncing off the wall and careening down the passageway in the other direction from Prax carried by the expanding and escaping atmosphere from the breached compartment. Salvis rolled with the velocity he traveled at until he struck the wall perpendicular to his vector of travel. There he laid stunned for what seemed like an eternity. As he slowly began to push himself up to his feet he felt his whole body rise from the lack of gravity. He scrambled to find a handhold on the bulkhead where he had fallen. From the darkness of the passageway he saw the approach of another headlamp, panic set in as he realized that there were two lamps side by side approaching him. His and Zack's suits had single lamps mounted to the tops of their helmets.
Salvis struggled to gain a handhold to right himself now but to no avail, the encroacher was no upon him. The attacker was huge, well over two full meters in height. The suit he wore was well armored too, Salvis had no realistic choice other than surrender. The attacker knew what he was looking for too as he deftly removed the dwarfed handgun from its holster and tossed it down the hallway into oblivion. Then the giant maneuvered Salvis like he was an inflated balloon turning him over and over stripping the survival knife and other tools that could be used as melee weapons from their pockets and tossing them down the hallway into the darkness.
During the manhandling Salvis' lamp illuminated the hall in the direction that Prax had been blown. He could see that a second giant was kneeling beside the limp form of Prax's slumped suit and was examining it without the same rough treatment he was receiving. Suddenly the attacker slapped Salvis' boot as if to signal to use the magnetic soles, then placed him firmly on the deck plate.
Simultaneously Angelica's voice cracked across his helmet communicator, "Val, I've lost telemetry from Zachary is he alright." Quickly Salvis turned to better survey Zack's position with his headlamp. He stood about ten meters from Zack, but he immediately saw the reason for the loss of the suit telemetry. The faceplate had been cracked and the interior of the helmet was covered in red blood, explosive decompression. Salvis then turned to face the giant that had captured him. The Aslan's helmet visor was darkened hiding his features.
The two Aslan appeared to be discussing what to do next. Salvis tapped the upper arm of the one that had captured him, then immediately raised his hands in surrender as the giant reacted defensively and assumed an position indicating he was prepared to brawl. Salvis was impressed with how quickly these two moved in their bulky suits and decided right then and there that he was not going to try escape attempts in the foreseeable future. The second Aslan motioned for him to proceed through the hatch that had been so effectively used as an ambush device.
They entered a cargo compartment as Val had suspected. Lying on an emergency rescue module was the third Aslan that Angelica had sensed. Val walked toward the stretcher sized life support unit to inspect the faceplate. The Aslan that lay inside looked worn and to be frank, already dead. The bio-indicators on the chest module were dominated by blue lights, but there were orange and one or two dark red, almost maroon lights flashing too. Val had no idea the significance of the Aslan color code system, he hoped that blue was used the way as green was for humans for the sake of the Aslan in the unit.
One of the Aslan moved to a mechanical device near the cargo bay's exterior door. He began to work the device manually. Val Salvis turned and watched him, as the single Aslan was able to open the colossal door by himself. The other Aslan stood beside him and the life support unit and watched silently. Then he took a lanyard and connected Salvis to the unit, them did the same for himself at the other end of the device. The Aslan then motioned for Salvis to lift the unit with him and to move to the bay opening. The Aslan that had opened the bay door moved to meet them at the lip of the cargo bay's deck. All three stood for an instant and looked across the gulf of space to the distant Imperial freetrader that belonged to Salvis hanging off their starboard side. Grabbing Salvis in a hug that also allowed for the Aslan to grab hold of the life support unit the giant shoved off the lip of the cargo deck, from the pressure in his hands from the unit Salvis sensed that the other Aslan had done the same.
"Angelica get ready we're having company. We're leaving Zack on the derelict, he didn't make it," was all that Salvis said as he watched the Glory grow larger during their approach. When they were within approximately one hundred meters he called to Angelica again, "We're going to enter on the portside of the ship, you might as well let us in. Make sure you're in plain sight, no weapons. You might get one of these bastards but the other one would either get you or me."
"All right Val, if you say so," came back the crackled response over his radio.
"Make sure you hide the weapons in the planned locations though, we'll get the ship back once I'm safely inside." She acknowledged stating that was what she was doing as they spoke. "Two can play the ambush game you know." Val said to his captor knowing that the other could not hear him in the vacuum of space.
The two Aslan deftly glided them all to a perfect landing on the hull of the Freetrader Glory, Salvis' captor then assisted him move his end of the unit to the airlock on the side of the Imperial trader. They had to stand the unit up on its end to fit all four of them into the smaller airlock of the human designed starship. The hatches of the airlock cycled releasing them into the interior of the Glory near the captain's stateroom the portside turret. Angelica was there to meet them as she had been instructed.
Once Salvis' helmet was off she greeted him with, "Val did they kill Zack?"
"Indirectly yes, they ambushed us using explosive decompression. The impact of the airtight hatch crushed Zack's helmet like an egg shell." He turned to watch the two large Aslan, one was running a diagnostic check on the life support unit, and the other was watching the two of them talking.
When Val began to remove his suit the one that was guarding them quickly extended his fist straight ahead signaling for him to freeze. Val watched as the second Aslan completed his check of the life support unit and then stood. He removed his helmet as he turned to face Val, in guttural Anglic he stated "I claim this ship, are you its master?"
"I am," replied Val barely containing his anger.
The Aslan puffed out his chest then continued, "I am Eafarleal." Then the Aslan turned and indicated the person laying in the life support unit, "Gnarra is the one encased in the survival device, she is of great importance and needs medical treatment," the Aslan paused. "Now."
"I am Captain Val Salvis, this is my companion Angelica Shimmer. We left behind my crewman Zachary Prax. I am the master of this ship and will remain so or it will lay here in space for all eternity."
Suddenly the Aslan stepped forward and smashed the back of his gloved hand across the face of Val Salvis spinning him across the room and onto the deck. Instantly Salvis was on his feet launching himself back at the attacking Aslan. Salvis tackled the Aslan driving him backward across the top of the life support unit. Both of them tumbled onto the deck, with the wind knocked out of the Aslan Salvis quickly delivered a knockout blow. The second Aslan that had been watching Val then attacked ineffectively kicking Salvis to dislodge him from the downed ally. Salvis then stood and spun delivering a roundhouse punch to the head of the attacker that was easily dodged. The Aslan swung at a now fully standing Salvis, unfortunately for the Aslan, Salvis blocked the clumsily delivered blow easily and returned with a jab to the Aslan's snout missing due to the height disadvantage. Suddenly the Aslan's eyes lost focus and he stood fully erect, then he fell forward to the floor. Behind him stood Angelica Shimmer toting a heavy wrench that she tapped smiling in her hands. Quickly Salvis turned to see the first Aslan still gasping for air. Salvis grabbed him by the straps of the suit and pulled him to his feet, then reared back his right hand and delivered a punch solidly on the snout of the towering Aslan, almost leaving his feet in the effort to hit the would be pirate.
"Ok, lets strip them out of their suits and dump them in the airlock. Move quick Angelica before their senses return to them." Salvis tossed his own suit gloves to the side and began stripping the apparent leader from his suit. Angelica focused on the other. Quickly the two massive Aslan males were striped and carried into the airlock. Then Salvis and Angelica turned their attention to the third Aslan encased in the life support unit. The patient was apparently a female in her late thirties. The indicators on the unit were in Aslan text so the two humans had to rely on the imagery displayed on the unit monitor.
"Val this one is in serious shape, we need to get her to a hospital," offered Angelica quietly.
"Hospital? Angelica we'll be lucky if we ever touch ground again. Come on, let's move her to cold sleep until we can get her to a doctor or medic at the port."
"I don't know Val, I can't read all this stuff but it looks like some internal organs were damaged." Angelica runs her fingers over the display pointing slowly to the diagram to indicate the organs that she thought were in danger.
"Ok lets move her to the room where I can at least get a better look at her." The two moved the life support unit with their new patient into the stateroom that belonged to Zack because of its nearness to the airlock. Once the life support unit was on the fold-down bed Val turned to Angelica, "I am going to go to the ship's locker to get some medical supplies. I'll be right back." It did not take Salvis long to retrieve what he needed and return to his former crewmate and friend's stateroom.
"She is still unconscious Val," was all that Angelica said as Salvis entered the room. Quickly Salvis dropped the emergency medical kit on the desk beside the unit and then examined it for an opening. Salvis held a certification as a medic but had never worked on an Aslan before. He pressed the command control data entry module deactivating the unit. It sprang open in the center revealing the wounded Aslan. Salvis quickly stabilized her and then examined her wounds using the Imperial equipment.
Finally Salvis completed his work and set the medical equipment to the side, "She'll be alright for now, you're right though, we need to get her to a hospital or at least a full service sickbay on a station or larger ship." He moved to the permanently mounted swivel chair next to the desk, wiping his brow with a napkin as he sat. "She'll be conscious in a few hours, but she will not fully recover with out seeing a real doctor."
"But she won't die?" queried the nervous Angelica.
Salvis smiled then replied, "Well not from her wounds at least." Salvis sat in thought for a moment before continuing. "Poor Zack, he never even knew what hit him."
"He died instantly?" asked Angelica.
"Damn near if it wasn't." Salvis shook his head, "The explosive decompression would have been so fast he would barely have been aware of what had happened if he had realized he was in trouble." Then Salvis looked over at his new patient and passenger, "I hope she was worth it."
Angelica stepped to his side and placed her hand on his shoulder, "Well someone thought so or they would not have dared ambush an Aslan convoy like they did. I am sure she was part of the reason. Look at those robes," Angelica stepped over to the opened life support unit and pulled out one of the Aslan females tattered clothes. "These are rags now but they were expensive garments at one time. This woman was rich and powerful I would wager."
"Yeah, that reminds me, the bad guys will be coming back this way to make sure there were no survivors on that ship. We better get out of here." Salvis got up and headed for the door. Angelica followed him out into the common area near the airlock, but instead of heading for the passageway to the flight deck Salvis when to the hatch for the portside turret. Looking over his shoulder he told Angelica to go the computer and load the combat programs.
Quickly Salvis targeted the derelict and fired a missile into the open cargo bay, the missile exploded on impact. Salvis was confident that any trace of his friend's body was concealed in the wreckage of the interior caused by his missile. Quietly Salvis sat in the gunner's couch watching the drifting derelict. With a slow salute he reverently moved from the couch and exited the turret and headed for the flight deck.
Walking on to the flight deck area Salvis looked in on Angelica in her private sanctuary, the ship's computer room. Pinching the bridge of his nose to relieve the growing headache caused by the stress of the current situation he asked Angelica to bring up the data on the system they were now in. She swiveled to the navigation computer main interface and tapped some commands on the keyboard. Instantly green numbers and letters began to race across the small black screen to her front. Salvis could hear the connections clicking as the computer ran through its library and navigation databases.
"Imperial grid 2815, Ardasii." Angelica read off the data for Salvis as he stood in the door well. Then she read the Universal World Profile off the screen, "B650684-9. Trade classifications are non-industrial, desert world, and poor. Astronomical data is as follows: Type F7 dwarf star, one asteroid belt, no gas giants." Angelica swiveled in her chair to face Salvis.
"We have to stick to the original plan, we can't refuel ourselves in this system. We will have to go to the starport." Salvis turned and stepped into the cockpit just slightly forward of the computer room and slid into his accelerator couch. He activated the passive sensor screen on this flight console. There were no signatures on the screen. "Well it would appear our raiders have not doubled back yet. Let's go." With that Salvis pulled the large cushioned accelerator couch into the fully forward position and ignited the ships maneuver drive. The Glory gave a slight jerk as the ship went to its full two-gravity acceleration, then the grav compensators kicked in and the press from the acceleration fell away. "Angelica secure the combat programs and initialize the navigation program, I need the calculations for intercepting Ardasii's prime world."
"Working on it Val. Coming to you now, already had them stored in the memory." Came back Angelica's answer from the computer room.
To himself Salvis whispered, "Alright, just under a million kilometers to go cruising at 2 G, we should be getting there in about...let's say just under four standard hours. That means we'll flip the ship in about two and half-hours making us blind with our rear end facing the planet as we slow down to make orbit. Damn I hope the bad guys aren't there waiting for us."
"Marine Outpost Delta-7741, over." The voice of the female marine came across the hand phone as clear as if Marine Force Commander Bast were standing right next to the trooper on the surface of Romar instead of the bridge of the Imperial Light Cruiser Akagi.
"Outpost Delta-7741 this is Chariot, over." Bast followed the instructions his written orders had outlined.
"Roger Chariot. Wait." There was a pregnant pause while Bast waited for his intended contact to come on line.
"Chariot this is Gladiator, welcome to Romar, over." Bast did not recognize the new male voice, but he hadn't really believed he would. Romar is a very long way from the worlds he had served on in the past.
"Gladiator this is Chariot, glad to finally be here. The barge does not intend to spend too much time at the pump, is your package ready for pickup?"
"Affirmative Chariot, waiting at the Imperial Post as requested."
"Roger that Gladiator, I look forward to opening the package, out." Bast smiled to himself as he made his way to the starmen to return the cordless hand phone. He then made his way to the command dais to confer with Akagi's executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion. Both men quickly exchanged information; Davion would pass the word to ready the boat deck for the arrival of the Marine Desert Commandos immediately. Following the discussion Bast made his way back down to Marine Country as the deck that belonged to the Imperial Marines is known on Imperial Navy warships.
"Commander on deck!" screamed the Marine sentry stationed at the pressure door leading in to the contingent's command post offices. Sergeant Major Ermagaa Anthelme stepped out of his small closet sized office to greet Bast then stepped back inside to continue his meeting with his subordinate noncommissioned officers.
Commander Bast stuck his head into Major Brionii's office and asked the duty corporal if the detachment commander was in. He was immediately ushered into the commanding officer's office. Brionii was finishing up reviewing the maintenance report recently completed by his chief mechanic. Brionii smiled up at Bast as he walked in. "Well I made contact, they should be on their way up here shortly," Bast offered as he sat down in the office chair across from Brionii.
"Any word on who the detachment commander is?" Brionii stood and walked to the door to order up some fresh coffee from the pantry. The duty corporal acknowledged the order and departed smartly to retrieve the coffee for the two senior offices. "Hell Connie I don't even know how many Marines will be coming up here. The Akagi is a Gionetti-class light cruiser with a complement of 35 officers, 176 enlisted, and 20 Marines. We really don't have much space for many more bodies."
"Truer words were never spoken, but a standard detachment is about our size, we should be prepared for another twenty men and women to come aboard," commented Brionii.
The ship intercom bell sounded paging Commander Bast. "Bast here," the force commander answered leaning forward to use the intercom on Brionii's desk.
"Sir this is flight operations, we have detected the launch of two pinnaces from the planet's surface, from in the vicinity of the planet's main starport," reported the starman on duty on the cruiser's bridge.
"Very well thank you starman." Bast sat back in his chair and smiled. "Well I guess we will soon find out. Pinnaces, the deck officer will not be happy with that, better get a detail suited up to lend a hand with transferring supplies and equipment."
Major Brionii smiled broadly as he gave a hearty "Aye-aye sir!"
Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion stood with his hands grasped firmly behind his back. He stood in the center of the command dais watching the activity of Command Flight Bridge as it transitioned from the underway-maneuvering watch to the orbital watch. Depending on the operations underway the orbital watch could be as few as a quarter of the normal staffing. From his left he hear a command being relayed from the watch supervisor to one of the ratings. Then the junior officer turned to report that they had detected approaching ships inbound from the jump line, the point where safe transitions from jump space to normal space routinely occurred.
"Identify the newcomers, lieutenant," ordered Davion while trying hard not to show any interest.
Within a few short minutes the report was ready, "Sir we are detecting eight starships, two are estimated to be approximately 1,000 displacement tons, the others are between 400 and 600 displacement tons each."
Then from the Communications area can the report, "Commander, we have intercepted a radio communication message to the starport control center, sir they are Aslan."
"Really, how very interesting. Quartermaster of the Watch, send my regards to the Captain and inform her that we have detected an inbound convoy of Aslan starships, speed..." Davion paused to let the weapons officer report the information, then he continued, "Aslan speed is 1 G."
"Aye-aye sir!" shouted the duty Quartermaster before leaving to inform Captain Aart for Commander Davion.
"Weapons Officer do you have anything on the Aslan?" queried Davion.
"Negative sir, we have displacement tonnage, and speed nothing else. If Communications had not intercepted that traffic we wouldn't know they are Aslan."
"Very well keep an eye on them." Davion changed gears quickly, "Flight Operations, ready two pinnaces to do a flyby reconnaissance of our visitors."
"Aye-aye sir!" came back the second reply from that section duty officer.
The ringing of the ship's bell indicating that someone was hailing the command dais using the ship's intercom caught Davion's attention. He stepped over to the intercom repeater and answered the call. The image that appeared on the screen was that of Captain Aart. The two senior officers exchanged information quickly then the Captain signed off.
Straightening his back Davion called to the duty Communications Officer. "Communications Officer, contact the approaching convoy and invite the commodore in command to dinner onboard the Akagi, compliments of Captain Aart." Davion straightened his tunic then added with a slightly lower voice, "So we are inviting the beasts to dinner are we, well then so be it."