We were just settling down to some serious stomping of brain cells when the old guy who had been dubbed The Historian, some small woman I had never seen before and some big guy came in. For some reason my hackles went up as I saw the big guy. “Slow down Andy, that wolf is probably on our side”, as I saw the same look coming from him.
Mariana was in the process of tying to calm down a young Lady who was obviously not in the sheepdog category. Mariana was better at that than most anyone I knew. Who would look at her and think “Wolf” and she knew how to use that reaction.
Mariana had just returned to her seat when Capt. Travis gave his acceleration warning speech. Lots of people here were going to have to learn some new reactions.
We were just beginning to feel the first gentle push of acceleration when, “Bamp Bamp” came the shockwaves of two structural explosions. I had blown up too many things to mistake the feel of those shockwaves.
Then there was Travis’s announcement of where the explosions had occurred and the room was suddenly full of action again.
The big guy in a move like greased lightning had Ash by the neck with a Glock at his head and babbling about Ash killing his Boss.
Looking Ash in the eyes I said, “Ash, I trusted you. I gave my word for you.”
“Andy, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t. You’ve got to believe me!” All I could see was the absolute confusion and fear in his eyes, he had no damn idea what was going on.
Bart’s voice growled, “Rocco, break his neck” and I squared to the scene.
My right hand began the first half of the move to put the AMT in my palm when a voice rang out “Nobody is breaking any necks right now.”
The guy we had seen identified as Clark was standing in a Command pose that would have got him plus marks at old Colorado Springs. As He walked past me in low non-carrying sotto voice, “Mr. Stuart, please relax that wrist. We might just need you and Rocco both at some time.”
He quickly settled that Ash was going into confinement. As Bart was mumbling something about taking a while I interrupted. “People, if I may. Ash, give it to me now.”
His head nodded and his right hand slapped the right breast of his flight jacket. The Springfield XD compact appeared in his hand and spun butt down and forward as He handed to me. “Take care of it Andy, Uncle CJ’s ghost would find me if I dishonored it.”
I said, “OK Bart, now put him in the cooler!”
As Bart and Glenda took Ash from the room, I stopped in front of Rocco and unloaded the XD. “I don’t blame you a bit fellow. In your place I would be an accident looking for a place to happen. But, if Ash was dirty you would now have a .45ACP Hollow point where once your heart had been. Think about it! That puppy ain’t nowhere near a tame wolf like you and me but, a sheepdog he is!”
I was walking back to the table when Steven stopped me. “Sorry about this but, Capt. Travis asks if you would lead a team to inventory the non-perishable supplies on board. We know would should be here but, not what really is. The Capt. indicated that you might have some skills in that aspect.”
Grinning I just told him, “Ask the Capt. what database format he wants the data in and give me 6 people with handhelds not wrist comps and we will get it done.”
During a rest break in the survey Mariana asked me, “Why are we getting treated like ignorant cretins?”
“Well DR. Stuart we are not. This is a data basing problem and we got put on it. But, think about it how many people on this vessel could have the data from our classified files. How many could know that you were pushing Real Estate because UNWG shut down your research project and declared you persona non grata. Sure the PHD in Bio Sciences looks good if, you are allowed to see it. Look at my patents that are published as “Originator Unidentified”. To these people we are a couple of knuckle dragging snipers and the sheep are scared of us. When we get on the ground and start doing compatibility research with the new environment, you can get back in your precious lab and I can start building a civilization.”
She said, “So Shooter, we hunker down and ride it out?”
“Afraid we do Spotter, it is best all around!”
Just then our team came in jubilant at finishing the inventory. Collecting all their results via wi-fi I had a good handle on what we actually had. Especially Steven’s much desired store of TP! The commo gear gave me about the same grin!
After the breakfast and briefing that ended a long and eventful day Mariana and I were storing our gear in a room which was to be ours after the cold sleep. I had just located the UPS power and hooked up the two small cyro transports for the DNA and sperm/ova we had brought when there was a knock at the door.
Capt. Travis stood in the corridor and asked to speak with me. “As you may have guessed Mr. Stuart, I have been able to obtain portions of your SOCOM and UNWG files. Might I ask which of you is LTC Stuart and which is SFC Stuart? “
“No offense Capt., you may ask but you will not get an answer. The answer to that question would win somebody a lot of money. You see, in the Teams we never used ranks. The Shooter was in charge until the target was in sight. Then, the Spotter controlled everything. Ranks would have gotten in the way! Now it’s a running gag which, we treat as ‘burn before reading’.”
That got the hoped for laugh and a sputtered, “OK, but who do I talk to about Electro-Mechanical systems?”
“That would be me! She is the Bio-scientist.”
“Good, come with me! Got anymore surprises for me?”
“Yeah, do not make me sing if, you want to keep your supper!”
Laughing again he said, “We compared your survey against the manifest that R. J. ordered and found a discrepancy, we have too many robots. But four of the crates are giving off some strange energy readings. I have a limited number of people I trust to evaluate them, care to take a shot?”
“Lead on MacDuff.”
The quizzical look was worth the bad old pun.
Arriving at the storage vault, I was surprised to see Rocco sitting in front of a full blown DC to Daylight Spectrum Analyzer.
“You really know how to run that thing”, I asked?
‘Run Yes, Interpret No!”
“Ok, let me look at your data.” One good glance at the screen was enough to freeze me in my tracks. That pattern was supposed to have died with old SOCOM.
“Capt., what you have here is four covert insertion self-contained cyro chambers. Developed by SOCOM but, now it’s in the sole and proud possession of UNWG Fleet Marine Recon. You have a rat in the woodwork!”
“What do you think we should do?” Travis asked.
“Go to the bridge and let me and Rocco handle this. Just promise me that when you flush the bastard, you can do what has to be done!”
‘I think I can handle this one!”
“Then Capt., go be the Capt. and let the grunts do the grunts job.”
“Yeah, see you on the other side!”
After the airlock finished cycling I looked at Rocco and said, “Luck big guy, see you on the other side!”
Without another word or look I left to go to do what I thought needed to be done.
“Bart, got a minute?”
“Yeah, what you need?”
“Understand you are going to be staying awake and I thought you might need this. Take this and use it to collect and store the data you are going to get. Crap, your background makes you a better observer than me. But, we gotta collate and analyze all that data on the other side. This little baby should do it for you!”
“I have never seen one like this.”
“I hope not, only five of them were made. That was my price for the patents I gave HP. The two programs you want to look at are DATAACQ and FINDRF. The first is an on-the-fly conformable data acquisition and database program. The second is a DC-to-Daylight Spectrum Analysis program. The source code for it is in findrf.src.code. It should not take much work on your part for it to do Astral Spectrum Survey for you. When we get to the other side I will link its four brothers up in a star array and we will have more computing power than this whole boat put together. You have a prime partition of 80 Terabytes and two secondary’s of 80 Terabytes apiece”.
“Andy, this things worth a Kings Ransom and I wanted to wax your Cuz? Would you still have given me this thing if I had gotten Ash killed?”
“If we had both still been here at this point in time, probably would. Whether we both would have; let’s just say I’m glad I did not have to make that decision. Get the data, make this trip worth it, figure out how to stop them when they come after us if they can and make some sense of this thing. I know Ash is clean, time will prove it. Life however has to go on.”
From there I went to Mariana and the chamber!
When they woke us up I had a moment of terror before the memories came flooding back. Looking to my left was Mariana with the same “Deer in the Headlights” look. “Welcome Home”, was all I said.
Dressed I stepped in to the hallway to see Rocco and Bart waiting on me. “Guess we owe you one. Ash wasn’t the plant. Want to be there when we wake him up?”
“Hell NO! If we can keep him down, let’s leave him there for a while!”
The two confused faces were worth the energy that outburst cost! “Gentlemen and I use that term loosely, do either of you understand the old southern term “Hound Dog”? It means I will trust Ash with my life, my honor, my money and my children. But, never with my booze, my best friends 19 yr old daughter, or my girlfriend. He’s a hotshot pilot and you can always tell a pilot but, you can’t tell them much. He is also a hell of an aeronautical engineer. The best way to control him is give him a problem and tell him ‘Hick, you could not spell this cat if we spotted you the C and the A’. Obsession with a problem is his control. Leave him where he is at till I can find him that problem!”
Rocco looked at me, “You were ready to shoot me over that?”
“Hell, he is my cousin. Mariana is the one who has first dibs on shooting him just on general principals.”
A laugh turned all our heads. Capt. Travis stood laughing, “OK, we will leave him there. There are a couple of others who have to stay down for various reasons. Just wish we had more medical help?”
My quizzical look was answered by Bart saying, “Let me tell you about Van Vogt!”