Joint Post by Andrew Stuart and Capt. Travis
Thanks to the effort of the younger set, we were ready. I saw Histy and Travis having their conversation as I came out of the tent with the ice and glasses. I waved the Bottle of booze I knew Travis recognized and nodded towards one of the outside tables.
Travis said, “I think I need one of those!”
I handed him the bottle, “Have at and it’s come time for the Million Dollar Question. Do you have any idea why I trust you so much?”
“Well now,” Travis said and then paused for a moment, “I suspect we’ve both spent a lot of time in space and understand that the chief requirement there is trust in your fellow crew mates. Close?”
“That’s a part of it Travis; That and I know how much the UNWG hate’s and fears you. You see once upon a midnight dreary they tried to send the best they thought they were going to have to “Find and Eliminate” one Glen Travis, blockade-runner. The idiots thought they were going to send ME!” I carefully pulled out the other bottle and poured myself a drink. “Care to have a short discussion about our mutual ex-friends?”
“Our friends…” Travis drawled and took a pull from his drink. “I know they hated me, but I’m flattered to think they might also have feared me. I didn’t think they feared anyone. I remember one run I was making, my little Rust Bucket – that was the name, and apt description of my ship by the way, the Rust Bucket – filled to the proverbial rafters with antibiotics, insulin, and other medicines, and there was this one blockade cruiser that I just couldn’t shake for the longest time. It had begun pursuing me the moment I left the cover of the asteroid belt.”
Travis held out his glass and Andy refilled it for him.
“Thanks,” Travis continued, “I wound up heading back into the belt and we spent three days playing cat-and-mouse with their captain cursing at me the whole time on the hail frequencies. I finally lost him but it was probably only because of a particularly violent solar flare knocking all radar and other instruments out. He didn’t know the rocks the way I did. I barely made it to Mars with only fumes left in the He3 tank.”
“Galloping Ghost of the Belt is what the Black Suits called you.”
Andy laughed and continued, “Those jerks fear anything they can not control. That’s why they wanted us to go get you. We were flying the last of the U. S. built Hunter/Killer ships. The one’s Bryce Harrison blew up rather than turn over to the UNWG. When Col. Kearns and I resigned, every damn Operator Team in SOCOM followed us. Ash wanted to take a HUK out and help you!”
I just leaned back and waited a long pause. “Glen, the political pressures back there are such that they have to make a military strike at us in between three to four E-years or they are going to look like fools! Two questions for you. Do you think that they can pull off a Company sized strike in that time frame and the bigger question; can Space Command Alchibah be ready to meet it?”
Travis looked around to be sure that nobody was lingering nearby the table, listening in on their conversation. Satisfied that there wasn’t, he leaned forward in his chair, putting his elbows on the table as he got closer to Andrew. In a softer voice he said, “I trust you, Andy. I also trust Mariana. What I’m about to tell you must go no farther than the two of you. Please don’t even tell Ash—“
Andrew started to protest but Travis put up a hand and waved that away, saying, “I know, I know, you would swear by him but I’m a cautious person and he joined our party while under the employ of the UNWG. I’m sure that in time I’ll consider him 100 percent but for now. . . . One thing I’m reasonably sure of is that if the Goonies were able to plant one operative, Van Vogt, among us, they were probably able to plant at least one other. Don’t have a clue as to who that is but we have to assume that someone is a mole of some sort.”
Andrew gave a shrugging nod of acquiescence and Travis continued, “When we launched from the Titan Docks and after you all were in cryo, we continued, passively, to monitor the solarnet and other broadcasts. The Goonies reported us as having been destroyed so as far as most people on Earth are concerned, we no longer exist. So, it’s not for looking like fools that they will come after us, but – and Histy and I were discussing this earlier today – but ego or something else. There’s something here, either in this system or on this planet that they want and I don’t have a clue as to what it is but it was enough for them to try to stop us from leaving for here.”
He paused to refresh the ice and Bourbon in his drink and then said, “We also figured a 3-4 year timeline for them to build a proper ship or three, to come after us. They’ve already launched!”
Andrew exclaimed, “What?”
Travis said, “I’m just saying it’s likely, not that I actually know. Remember, for most of you it seems as if you started on this voyage only a few weeks ago but it’s now over four years later on Earth.”
“They’re still four years away from us. Anyway, we have to assume that they will show up with a sizable force of one sort or another. Now, to get to your second question: I believe we will be ready. We’ve taken to calling Hibbes ‘The Mad Scientist’ and he really is. He’s cooking up several ideas. One is a new, small but very fast and agile craft he’s calling the ‘X-Fighter’, partially as a tribute to us ‘ex-earthers’ and partly due to the design of it. It’s the size of a cruiser but has four engines instead of one. Each engine is mounted on a separate ‘wing’ so to speak. That’s part one. The X-Fighter would be useless without some kick-ass weaponry and he’s percolating an idea for that as well, based on plasma physics, his actual specialty. Chandler will be a big asset as well and will help move things along much faster.”
Andrew refilled his own drink and reflected for a moment.
“Now,” Travis said, “Now for the third part of the equation, and it’s the one that requires me to ask for your and Mariana’s secrecy in case there really is a mole of some sort around here. I don’t know how much of my history you actually know although I assume the UNWG was pretty efficient in those regards. I grew up on Mars and as you’ve noted, I was a runner of bootleg supplies between Stelco and the Mars Colony. Medicines, food, water, all that. Plus some other things you probably didn’t know about. We were leaving the colonists with several unregistered passenger ferries, maybe half the size of the Galileo. They were hidden in the mountains and laying in wait.”
Andrew said, “What was the purpose of them?”
Travis took another pull on his drink and said, “Evacuation! When Hamilton built the Lancer, he also built two others like it but modified for interstellar travel. With the extra fuel and supplies and cryo units, they only had space for 35 people apiece instead of the 60 plus of the Lancer but that was alright since as best we could tell, of the 200 people living and working in the Mars Colonies, there were only about 40 who were dedicated to the cause and willing to leave the comforts – such as they were – of the colony. The two ships were equipped similarly to the Lancer, with both lasers and guns and increased shielding. The ships are hidden in the asteroid belt and the ferries will take the Martians to them at the right time.”
“You know who Al Steel is?” Travis asked.
“Of course, the leader of the ‘opposition’ in the Mars Colony. The UNWG hated him.” Andrew replied.
“Right,” Travis said, “He’s an operative, so to speak, of Hamilton. His instructions are to wait until the Goonies launch for us and then follow behind at a safe distance, maybe a couple weeks later, with the two Lancer style ships and whomever is ready to join us. We’ll meet the Goonies with our own strategies but we’ll have two ace-in-the-holes coming up behind them. It’s not perfect since the weapons on their ships are what they are but with them at the flanks…. Will it be enough? I’m also preparing one of the lifeboats, guided by two specially programmed robots and maybe a prototype of whatever Hibbes comes up with by way of armaments. It’ll sit dead in the water, so to speak, a smarter version of the sentinel we left when we exited the wormhole, to report in detail what they ‘see’ when the UNWG comes through. Then, they’ll greet the Martians and be a third ace under our control. And, I have other ideas but not fully formed as yet. So, what do you think?”
Andy took along draw on his drink. “I think you are right. As soon as we get some stuff cleared up down here, I’ll convince Ash to take a trip up to Mayflower to work with you! He is the pilot we have with the most confirmed Space-to-Space kills. Do not let him see anything you are worried about and do not let the mole see an absolute separation between the two communities. If they go too deep, we will never catch them! Glen, get the Space Force in shape and I will have the board and storm force ready! Damn it, Clan Alchibah Shall Not Fall!” I raised my glass in the classic Dining In Salute, “Are we agreed Sir?”
Travis raised his glass and said, “I trust that you know how important you and the ground forces are. Not that you are limited to the planet. I promise that within a few weeks you will have four kick-ass lifeboats-turned-fighters. We are the outside shield but you and your –can I call them the ‘Marines’ – are the final zone of defense, certainly the most important and skilled. My plans rely on nine nutty people (I include myself) and 25 plus robots. You have only your brave compatriots. You folks are the real fighters and the last resort. God knows, Andy, I hope it all never comes to that but I will work with you, help you when I, we can. But you are the last and most important defense against it all.”
Travis took another drink and then said, “Andy, I’ve told you some of my history now, and I suppose you know a great deal more. Let me tell you one last thing. I hate – and I don’t like to use the word ‘hate’ lightly – but my dad died in a mine explosion on Mars. ‘Officially’, it was ruled an ‘accident’. It wasn’t. For as long as I live, the UNWG will be centered in my crosshairs. I suspect you’re of like kind. I also think we will make a great team in fending off, defending, protecting our, well, us! WE are the colonists and we will never surrender to the UNWG.”
“Glen,” Andy replied as he stood, “I intended to deliver 15 fully Badged, SOCOM Shooter/Spotter teams. You find ‘em, fix ‘em and we’ll take ‘em. Damn do you smell something that isn’t chicken?”