T.S. Williams

The Eagle Incident – Chapter 2

 

3971

The assault carrier Eagle, on final approach to Sky Keep Fleet base

In Eagle’s CIC, Commander Gordon Jellicoe sat comfortably in his command chair. His ship was cruising in home space and his First Officer, Alison Tigh, was running the show. She was doing an excellent job of coaxing Eagle’s Junior Pilot through the docking procedure. Jellicoe knew he would miss her steady presence on the ship. But the wheel of postings had spun once more. Tigh was due to begin a tour as First Officer on the battleship Adamant in a week’s time.

In the meantime, Junior Pilot Douglas Flint was feeling the benefit of her tutelage. Her voice drifted over CIC’s background noise to his ear, “Of course that option is greyed out. Try enabling auto docking. Then hand off to Traffic Control.” Jellicoe smiled to himself. Tigh’s tone bordered on school teacher at the best of times and rookie pilots brought out the scold in her.

The CIC main display light up. The flight vector from Sky Keep Traffic Control was strangely comforting. One more step towards long leave.

Deep in Sky Keep Fleet base, Grand Admiral Brian Cook sat at his desk, fingers steeped in thought. Major General Frederick Cartwright sat opposite him.

“I don’t like the Intel coming out of Leonidas Colony,” grunted Cartwright.

“Not your problem, Fred. Your third tour ends next week. Back to idyllic retirement and your terrifying wife takes my name off her hit list.” The Grand Admiral said it with a smile, but Cartwright felt a sting anyway.

“Are you sure you can do without me? It’s dangerous times for the Kingdom, Brian.”

“It’s always dangerous times. I promised your wife this was the last time I’d let you volunteer. It’s time for you to do the foxtrot Oscar.” The Grand Admiral held Cartwright’s gaze for a moment.

Cartwright looked away first. Brian rumbled on, “Build a boat, play with your grandkids, spend time with you wife.”

“I live a very long way from water, Brian”.

“Bottom line. We’re strapped for ship crews, Fred, not command staff”.

“Alright, Brian. But promise me you’ll send someone to fly the flag with the Leonids.”

“I’ll keep an eye on them, but the galaxy’s got a lot of problem children.”

“That’s all I’m asking for,” said Cartwright a little dejectedly.

Kilometres away, Magnus sat looking out an observation blister at the surface of Avalon. The Long Drop was a favoured haunt of Patrol Flotilla crews when on Sky Keep. It had one of the best views down to White Spire City and watching the space lifts run up and down the tethers was as good a way to spend his time as any.

Magnus had spent four weeks on Sky Keep now. His last command, the frigate Ranger had departed with her new skipper three weeks ago. Since the completion of the week-long handover, he’d had nothing to do. He was supposed to be taking command of the cruiser Tiberius but she was overdue.

No comms drone had arrived explaining her absence, but she wouldn’t be marked as officially missing for another week. Meanwhile, he was, for the first-ever time in his serjeantcy, not owed long leave. He couldn’t just go planetside and wait out her arrival.

His Flight Lieutenant, Greg Jones, was taking the opportunity to socialise. Luckily, Laurentian cellular implants would prevent any socially transmitted infections.

Every so often a ship would fly past with her hull tuned for reflection. The polished silver gleamed in Laurence’s yellow light and Avalon provided a blue backdrop. It was almost like watching fish in a pond.

Sky Keep’s newest arrival passed into Magnus’ field vision. His mind’s eye queried SK Traffic Control, but again his hopes were dashed. Eagle. An assault carrier. Not a proper fighting ship. She had some defensive armaments, but her real job was to disgorge hordes of Paras and their drones. Her crew just drove the bus. Magnus was glad he didn’t serve on one.

Forget about that glorified livestock transport, he thought to himself. As if in agreement, his mind’s eye informed him that the Battleship Adamant was coming over the horizon.

Magnus found his thoughts interrupted as a familiar voice called out, “Excuse me, Sub-Commander Magnus.”

His eyes flicked up to the new comer. “Ah! Greg. We’re off duty, use my name. I thought you were out looking for female company.”

“I am, Len. But Ellen thinks you’re in dire need of a distraction.”

“I’m not much good at socialising and who is Ellen? Last night it was Michele.”

“Ellen’s a new friend. Stop naval navel gazing. Come to dinner. Ellen’s got a friend.”

“You know the rules, Greg. That’s a punalty.”

“Enforce it at dinner then. You can pretend to be normal for a couple of hours.”

“Oh alright.” Magnus grunted.

 

 

 

In a small science lab, tens of light years away, Doctor Ian Gough was admiring his handy work. After months of gruelling effort, he’d finally succeeded. The lab’s wall display was covered with charts and tables. Right that second Gough only cared about one.

His sponsors back home would be pleased. As Gough stood basking in his own brilliance, he was rudely interrupted by warning chimes in his mind’s eye. The containment vessel in the corner of his lab was throwing out minor error readings again. He strolled over to it, irritated now. His mind’s eye opened the control software for it. Self-diagnostics couldn’t identify a cause.

Here in the Leonidas system, Gough and his little project were far from unwanted scrutiny, but the available equipment was hardly first rate. He wasn’t exactly welcome at home and this new breakthrough wouldn’t change that. But then his sponsor hadn’t promised Gough it would. All he’d been offered was a chance to finish his work and a vague commitment to recognise Gough appropriately for his work. Hardly inspiring.

Gough finally realised what time it was. Five in the morning. This must be the third time this week. But he’d cracked it. Time for a well-deserved rest.

He set the lab’s virtual assistant to prepare his notes for double check his findings. If everything was still correct, after he’d had a well-earned nap, it would be time to report his success via comms drone.

Fatigue set in fast after the high of success. He could barely keep his eyes open as he made his way to the small room set aside for his living quarters. He just about had the energy to strip off and get into bed. The last thing he did before letting sleep take him was set his mind’s eye to hold any more error readings from the containment unit until after he awoke.

As he slept, Gough dreamt. He was bathed in light. His success. His critics confounded. But something troubled him. In a corner of his mind, a dark shadow lurked, growing. Suddenly it struck, wrapping him in darkness. Enveloping him, suffocating him. A little bit of him knew this was a dream. He kept expecting it to end. It didn’t. It was the last thing he ever experienced.

 

The Syracuse Deception – Characters

Security code accepted.


Name – Jack Armstrong


Intelligence Service Eyes only – Classified Operation Spectrum


Employment – High Guard Orbital Paratrooper (Rank – Corporal)


Nationality – Subject of the Laurentian Star Kingdom (LSK)


Born – 3933 in the town of Oban, Hiburnian Highlands on the Kingdom’s Capital world, Avalon.


Skills & Education – unarmed combat, crack shot, aerospace assault tactics, zero-gravity agility.


Alumni of  Pegasus Training Company  (class of 3953)


Current Assignment

Jack Armstrong is assigned to Thor Station, officially the High Guard’s reserve fleet yards. It’s a scrap heap for more than just ships. The whole crew consists of personnel too important to get rid of but unwanted by the High Guard Command.

At the start of The Syracuse Deception in 3991, he returns to front line duty.


Character

Armstrong is short for a Paratrooper. Those that underestimate him soon regret doing so. As previous performance reviews have noted “When bored he can be unruly, when in battle, he’s unstoppable.”

Armstrong has been up for promotion on a number of occasions. His inability to avoid trouble has ensured it’s never quite gone through.

He’s an intelligent man who hides it under a facade of insolence. Armstrong’s  only known weaknesses are his dislike of flying and a tendency to mischief if left to his own devices.


Role

In The Syracuse Deception, Armstrong and his Troopers are sent into danger repeatedly. No matter the odds, he leads from the front and won’t stop fighting until he’s won or he’s dead.


****Polite notice from the Laurentian Intelligence Service.****

All Intelligence personnel are reminded wipe their mind’s eye of classified material before operational deployment.

Order 112/3878 from the Office of the Intelligence Commissioner.


****Impolite notice to Corporal Armstrong****

1 – Stop reading your own personnel record. It’s about you, not for you.

2 – I know it was you, Jack. Put back what you’ve taken and I won’t shoot you out an airlock.

Commander Magnus, Tor Station

 

The Eagle Incident – Chapter 1

It’s 3868 and the Twelfth Blight Crusade has reached its height.

Aboard the Leonidas Colony Defence Force cruiser, the Palantine a new intelligence is dawning.

Fertile ranges surround us. The versatility of biologicals. The agency of their machine vassals.

We must multiply.

We must claim flesh and mechanism.

Blighted crew stalked the Palantine’s decks. They had killed or infected all but a handful of LCDF personnel. Those few found their own way to the ship’s recreation deck. The senior survivor, a grizzled Sergeant Major in the Leonid Defence Force, looked around grimly. He was a hard man, his skin was leathery and tanned. His left eye had been replaced by an ugly mechanical implant. His greying handlebar moustache completed the image.

In the face of despair, the Sergeant Major fell back on his training. He moved around the survivors, a mix of ship’s crew and marines like himself. Each had managed to acquire weapons in their own desperate struggle to survive and rally together.

Their combined arsenal was a mere three mag rifles, four gauss pistols, two grenades and a pitiful pile of ammo. No armour, no reinforcements.

The Sergeant Major smiled at the small assembly of terrified men and women.

“You are the last men and women standing.” The Sergeant looked around each survivor in turn “Blight has infected our ship and our comrades. Accept now, there’s no escape or rescue.”

The assembled faces stared back waiting for inspiration. Sergeant Majors never gave up.

“We take the Blight’s victory to ash.” the Sergeant Major said sounding enthusiastic, “We’re going to cook off a nuke and burn out the infection.”

One of the soldiers, Hestor, perennially on punishment duty spoke up questioningly “We destroy the ship to save it.”

One person of Palantine’s weapons department had survived and the Sergeant Major’s mechanical eye alighted on the nervous specialist. “What’s your name?” he asked encouragingly.

“Able Spaceman Rhea, Sergeant Major.” She continued nervously, “I’m a Weapons Technician.”

The Sergeant Major took on a fatherly tone. “Tell me what you know about jumpstarting a nuke, Able Spaceman.”

“It’s not easy. We can’t do it through the ship’s mainframe.” Her voice was breaking a little in fear.

“How will we do it?” he confidently asked.

“Get me to a warhead.” She looked round in vain, hoping another could take her place, but no one else from her department had survived this long. “The aft magazine is only a hundred metres away, but I’ll need a space suit,” she stuttered.

He hadn’t realised how young Rhea was until then. “First deployment?”

“Yes, Sergeant Major.”

“You picked a hell of a time to join up.”

The Sergeant Major gestured for his little band to close up.

“We get Rhea to the aft magazine. We’re expendable. She is not.” He looked round the rest of his small band. “This ship is built like a tower. To go aft, we go down. We take the nearest stairwell, we drop level by level. We punch out any of the infected. It doesn’t matter who they were. Your best friend, your booty call. They die. Any questions?”

The silence was complete.

“Move out people! Hestor, you take point. Rhea, in the middle. Go!” said the Sergeant Major.

Rhea watched the musclebound space marine named Hestor, trot confidently out into the passageway, then followed in turn.

The group hurried over to the central stairwell and began descending before Blighted members of their own crew started attacking them. Rhea huddled against a bulkhead as the marines above and below the group opened fire. Lights suddenly failed. A grenade exploded below. The sound was deafening. All Rhea could hear was ringing. The Sergeant Major grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and started running down the corridor. He screamed but she heard nothing. His lips seemed to be saying “Go. Go. Run!”

Some of the group followed, but two remained holding the position, firing in controlled bursts into the flesh of people they called friends and colleagues as tears ran down their cheeks. Rhea never saw them again.

The Sergeant Major rushed her onward to the bottom of the stairwell. He threw her bodily into maintenance airlock at the bottom of the pressure hull and chucked a gauss pistol in behind her.

She leapt to her feet and pressed her face to the small glass portal in the airlock door. She could see the Sergeant Major but couldn’t hear him. His face was red and contorted. Rhea could just see his lips moving, “Get in the fucking suit, Spaceman.”

She saw him turn and begin firing up the stairwell out of her eye line. Rhea could feel the air thinning. She grabbed for a spacesuit.

Rhea sealed herself in the suit without so much as glancing at the portal again. She grabbed the gun from the deck, and disappeared into the bowels of the ship as soon as the airlock emptied.

She held the gauss pistol out in front of her in a tight one-handed grip, just like at training school. The other hand pulled her along in zero-gravity. The only illumination came from her suit lights. Fear kept her wound like an overtight spring.

After she had gone fifty metres, she felt a strong breeze blow past her. Ice crystals sparkled in her view. Their beauty was in brutal contrast to the horror Rhea faced.

Rhea hurried on, knowing something was following her. She found the access hatch she wanted.

The aft magazine. She was here. Rhea’s hands fumbled as she tapped in her access code. Adrenalin robbed her of dexterity. She slipped inside before the hatch finished opening.

The warheads were stacked in cradles, disappearing back into darkness. They were well secured. Hands alone wouldn’t let her get inside and activate one. She needed tools. Rhea’s eyes roamed the bulkheads. She’d been in this room many times, but in the dark with fear in her blood, it looked different. Finally, she saw the tell-tale markings on the bulkhead. She grabbed an emergency tool kit off the bulkhead, then set to work with a will on the nearest warhead.

The first task, shorting out the arming module was easy. Rhea manged that in seconds. But then she had to install a manual trigger. This was supposed to be a simple task. A red light flicked on showing no connection. The suit gloves got in her way and no matter how much she jiggled, twisted and poked the connection, that red light stayed stubbornly on. She resisted the urge to try and force the new component in.  Finally, a light turned green. Power flooded from the manual trigger into the warhead. She felt a flood of relief. At least she could avenge her crew. And she wouldn’t suffer the agony of infection. She just needed a moment to gather her courage.

Rhea felt a tap on her shoulder. Her hyped reflexes spun her round too fast. Her gauss pistol went flying. For a brief instant, she saw the Sergeant Major looking directly in her face. He was upside down from hers and his moustache was floating wildly without gravity to steady it.

Relief flooded through her briefly, competing with the tangle in her guts that stubbornly refused to go away. Then Rhea realised he wasn’t wearing a helmet and his eyes were a mass of blood and pulped tissue.

Rhea screamed, and the sound reverberated round the space suit’s small helmet deafening herself.

Her hand gained a grip on to a warhead cradle, managing bring her spin to a halt. Rhea’s next frantic grab for the manual trigger was futile. She felt a tremendous blow across her back. Followed by a short light, then a crash into the bulkhead that had been her ceiling. Her helmet hit with a vicious crack. A whistling started and her ears popped.

Rhea tried to look back at the source of her torment even as her vision narrowed.

Her final sight was monstrous. A headless sloth-like Blight construct hung off the bulkhead above her. The ruined tatters of the Sergeant Major’s face dangled obscenely in its grip.

Darkness followed.


 

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