“My name is Gerard Andrews, sir. I’m a private and second class—”
“At ease, Andrews. I don’t need your family history,” said Captain Neubert. “If your supervisor approves, you can explore the colony.” The captain walked off the command deck and began chatting with his first-mate about lunch.
Before Gerard was ushered out the door, the primary screen provided a good view of the colony.
D-75 was a middle-aged space station with a population of thirty-four thousand. The colony wasn’t a tourist attraction or a rich society, but it was the last civilized state on the border of Federation territory.
Gerard returned to his station and found his supervisor in his chair.
“Private Andres, I called for your diagnostics ten minutes ago.” Shoal stood tall and shouted, “The head engineer was pissed. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I’m sincerely sorry, sir. I’ll personally meet the head engineer and report my—”
“Hey!” Shoal scowled and laughed as he slapped Gerard’s shoulder. “Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Where were you?”
“I asked the captain for his permission to leave the ship.” Gerard returned to his console and sat in his chair.
“You’re brain is stuck in the academy, private. The captain doesn’t want to deal with everyone’s shit.” Shoal pressed some buttons on his communicator and a notice popped up on Gerard’s console. “That’s a list of parts I made up. The head engineer wants to be fully stocked for the journey.”
“Hold on.” Gerard performed his diagnosis for their equipment and made a proper supply list.
“Hope you didn’t have any plans for the next few hours. As your supervisor, I’m gonna need your help to get this done.”
After Gerard accepted the loss of his free time, he prepared the system for the docking protocols. The Condor was the latest “Peacekeeper” Federation ship. It could fly and dock by itself, but the autopilot had a tendency to move too fast. Which caused people to panic.
Once the Condor was docked, Shoal and Gerard waded through the crew that were leaving the ship. The majority of the Federation members were chatting about restaurants and sports games.
The docks had rental cars and low-altitude shuttles for transport, and a train station. Gerard suggested a rental car, but Shoal wanted to take the public train. As they rode in the crowded passenger cabin, Shoal hummed a tune and made comments about the scenery or the passengers.
There were a few trees scattered among the residential and business buildings—several were worn down structures while the newest construction tried to reach the roof of the artificial sky.
If Gerard wanted an extended excursion, he would’ve stayed on Mars and worked as a tour guide for the tourists from Earth.
Even though Shoal and Gerard saved credits by taking the one hour train ride, they still had to walk another thirty minutes to reach the business district.
Dozens of Federation crew members were roaming the streets—they bought organic fruits, artisan meals, and a variety of hand-made goods.
Shoal sampled the street food and used the work budget as they walked. Gerard took what he was given, but he couldn’t enjoy it, because his academy friend made the glorious dream into a tedious job.
“We’re not going to find any parts or weapons here unless you’re going to buy another toy.” Gerard stopped.
Then Shoal did an about face and pulled out his blaster, and cradled it before Gerard. “Does a Viper 17 blaster look like a toy? It has a range of two-hundred meters with a built in holographic targeting system.”
“It has a chrome finish with snakes engraved on the barrel.” Gerard swiped his finger along the shiny barrel. “And you hand polish it every other night.”
“Nothing wrong with taking care of your weapon.” Shoal stuck his gun back into his leather holster. “Also the colonists love us. They’ll help us with the job.”
After Shoal dragged Gerard through the market and they asked for directions from dozens of colonists, Gerard followed Shoal into a car repair shop. It was a decent sized store, though it didn’t have anything useful.
The owner of the shop told them that the military depo was the only place where they could get anything for spacecraft, yet Shoal kept asking about tires and hover thrusters. Gerard resigned himself to do nothing and planned to have a stiff drink before bed.
A young man who was an employee of the store scampered over and stuttered for help. The manager tried to calm his employee until the young man tilted his head and swiveled his eyes toward the same direction.
Behind the employee, was a monolith of a man. This stranger wore a long tattered jacket and his head nearly touched the ceiling. The man had broad shoulders, but his frame was thin. A short beard tried to cover the scars on his face, and a smoking cigar rested between his yellowing.
Gerard tried to ask what the problem was, but Shoal cut him off and approached the man.
Shoal stopped short of the man’s reach, and said, “Did you threaten that boy? D75 is a peaceful colony under the jurisdiction—”
“—and protection of the Federation System,” said the tall man as he opened the flap of his jacket and revealed the polished Federation medal on his chest. “I memorized that line before you were even potty trained.”
“Well captain, it’s an honor.” Shoal mockingly offered his hand. “I’m Private Shoal You are?”
“Bahaul—Captain of the Salvage Division.” The man flicked the ash from his cigar onto the floor. Shoal pulled out his blaster, and Bahaul rested his hands on his waist.
A stand-off wasn’t anywhere in Gerard’s plans. He checked his communicator and searched for Bahaul in the Federation directory. When a profile came up, he snatched Shoal’s blaster and shouted, “Stand down!”
“Why?” said Shoal, “This guy is obviously an impost—” Gerard shoved the communicator in Shoal’s face. Although Shoal shoved Gerard, the captain’s profile caused Shoal to step away from Bahaul.
“We’re sorry, Captain, Please, accept our apology.” Gerard gave Bahaul the blaster.
Bahaul appraised the blaster before pointing the barrel at Shoal’s face.
“Good one, Captain.” Shoal raised his hands above his head. “I guess I deserve this.”
“You should be jailed and court-marshaled.” Bahaul pressed the muzzle of the blaster against Shoal’s forehead. “During the war, we would execute privates like you. Wasting time on trials wasn’t an option. They were simple casualties.”
“Captain, please. My friend made a mistake, but he doesn’t deserve this.” Gerard put his hands behind his back and stood with his head raised high. “I’m responsible for him. What am I supposed to tell my supervisor?”
“What’s your name?” asked Bahaul
“Private Gerard Agreas—second class weapons engineer.”
Bahaul put the blaster in his pocket and nudged past Shoal. “Well, Gerard, you can tell your supervisor that you’ll be escorting me to the military depo.”
Gerard followed Bahaul to the car and they drove to a military warehouse. Bahaul and Gerard showed their credentials to the guards, and entered the armory.
The managing officer walked them through the single-pilot spacecraft, sonic rifles, and laser cannons for battleships.
Before the officer could demonstrate their latest one-man army multi-targeting blaster, Bahaul listed all the items he wanted. The officer directed the robots to carry the crates to the inspection floor—it was tidy compact load.
“This can’t be everything.” Bahaul eyed the crates and snuffed out his cigar on one of the boxes. “You barely have any of the armor I asked for. Your rail-guns are thirty years old. And you have no EMP torpedoes. You’re basically dead in space.”
“My apologies, sir,” said the officer. “But the majority of what you requested has been decommissioned. That equipment became obsolete with our energy shields and lasers.”
“Are you calling me outdated?” Bahaul tossed his cigar at the man. The officer tried to say something, but his frustration and confusion caused him to babble about proper procedures.
“Captain?” said Gerard. “May I speak, sir?”
“Granted, if you have something useful to say.”
“The F-57’s are expensive, but they could help.” Gerard explained that the F-57 spacecraft had an osmium reinforced cockpit and it was equipped with a rail-gun.
Then Bahaul demanded to inspect the F-57. After the robots set the ship on the floor, Bahaul thoroughly examined the cockpit and the rail-gun.
“I can use the osmium. But this rail-gun doesn’t have the capacity and power that we need.”
“It can be modified, sir.” Gerard described that the rails could be extended with parts from the F-57’s and the spare engine could be used to increase the gun’s power.
“This is a big job. I would need entire teams and several months to finish the project.”
“It’s a big job, but the modifications are straight forward. If I could do the job, then it shouldn’t be a problem for a first-class engineer.”
Bahaul nodded and ordered thirty-six fighters. He gave the officer the dock number and called his crew to prepare for the delivery. Gerard waited and watched the robots carry a long line of ships toward the docks—the display would raise more than a few concerns among the colonists.
“Captain, I don’t mean to intrude, but that was enough equipment to arm a small army.” Gerard paused, and Bahaul didn’t show any sign of disapproval, so he continued. “Why do you need them?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Bahaul pulled out the chrome blaster from his pocket and gave it to Gerard. “Your friend deserved what he got, and you earned this for your work. Don’t give it away for free.”
“Yes, sir.” Gerard pocketed the gun. “If you don’t mind, I’ll be returning to my—”
“Allow me to give you a ride. Also here’s a bonus for your troubles.” Bahaul rattled his jacket and took out a handful of gold lathes.
Gerard refused, but Bahaul shoved the gold into Gerard’s pocket. The gold threatened to tear Gerard’s pants which forced him to redistribute the thin bars into every pocket he had available.
They drove back to the port and Gerard hoped to split off from Bahaul, yet the captain continued to walk ahead of him in the same direction. Gerard peered through the windows and studied the vessels outside.
There was a few trade merchant ships dropping off goods from the other side of the system. A high speed racing ship was being refueled between a public transport and a privately owned shuttle. The Condor Federation ship hovered menacingly close to the others—it was a war machine made in a time of peace.
Then Gerard noticed the shadow that hung on the Condor. A massive vessel dwarfed the peacekeeper—it was a ship that was nearly half the size of the D75 space station. “What is that doing here? Is that a Juggernaut?”
“That’s the Sky Breaker.” Bahaul lit a new cigar and smiled. “It’s a Federation relic, but its my ship. Come aboard, and I’ll show you to your new quarters.”
“Hold on.” Gerard ran ahead and blocked the captain’s path. “What do mean? I’m a crew member of the Condor. It’s my assignment, and—”
“You’ve been reassigned and promoted.” Bahaul patted Gerard’s shoulder. “Congratulations, you’re my first-class weapons engineer.”
“Since when? I haven’t taken the tests, and—”
“Oh, don’t worry about the tangle of things. I called your captain and gave him a generous donation in exchange for your services.” Bahaul described how he wanted Gerard to finish the integration of the major weapons systems. Gerard tried to argue the audacity, and Bahaul slipped something into Gerard’s pocket.
Although Bahaul was a broad and intimidating man, he knew how to offer incentives. Gerard relented when a robot delivered his personal belongings to him. Bahaul marched and they entered the Sky Breaker.
After they wandered through the halls, they arrived at the massive cargo hold. Men swarmed the middle-class cruiser they had salvaged. The crew was tearing it apart with torches, and a group of colony citizens were making bids for the scraps.
Ten bidders from D75. Hmm… Bahaul approached the crew member who was handling the sales. “Look at this burly fellow! He’s got brains and brawn. Let’s give him a break.”
Once the burly man stood aside, Bahaul offered to sell the warp engines from the wrecked cruiser. The bidders went into a frenzy as Bahaul described how the engines carried the cruiser on a chase through a meteor storm and how it survived the crash without a scratch.
A thin man with a long beard raised his hands victoriously—three-thousand two-hundred fifty gold lathes was a profitable deal for the bidder and the captain.
Bahaul announced the next item and told his burly crewman to keep up the good work.
“Captain, we got something here!” shouted a crewman from an opening in the cruiser. Bahaul and Gerard climbed into the ship, and followed the crewman.
They entered what used to be a vaulted room and three cryogenic freezers rested in the center.
“Survivors?” Bahaul approached the control panel and brought the screen to life.
Gerard wiped the frost from the glass. A man, a woman, and a teenage girl laid in the pods. “They appear to be in good shape captain. If we activate the revival process—”
“—We would have to eject them into space,” said Bahaul. Gerard stared at the captain, but Bahaul stepped aside the controls without breaking eye contact.
Once Gerard dropped his stare, he checked the computer. The three people in the cryo-pods were dead. He checked the records and discovered that the machine malfunctioned for two-minutes when the ship had crashed. It had corrected the error, but the machine couldn’t revive the dead.
“Don’t worry.” Bahaul smirked as he handed Gerard a cigar. “It’s a terrible waste, but you’ll be well taken care of. Money will never be an issue, ever again.”