0001 Day 88 Liberty Spaceport, Alchibah
I watched the group gather round. First the Backup Crew Major JoAnn “Digger” Andrews Pilot, CPT. Jai (Firebird) Benjamin Mission Commander, SFC Walt “Wirehead” Davis Jai’s Spotter, 1LT Mike (Grinder) Reye Bravo Team Leader and Laura Seaworth (who seemed to be impossible to split from him) No Rank (Yet).
Then the Primary Crew that I knew all so well. LTC Ashcroft “Ghost” Andrews Pilot, COL Andrew Stuart Mission Commander and Tiger Team Leader, Col Mariana Stuart Spotter, Master Chief Petty Officer Gabriel “Angel” Benjamin Cougar Team Leader, Gunnery Sergeant Kathryn “Wildcat” Jamos Spotter.
Site Security was being provided by 1LT Summer Pierce and Sgt Ryu Maeda.
Gabe walked up stared and said, “I should probably ask you what the Hell do you think you are doing. But I think you are doing better than I did. This is no rag-tag resistance group; this here is a professional Military Force.”
“Gabe, I had a better situation to work with. But, in case you have not noticed; the keystone of what I have here is your work to start with. Jai is what holds these kids together or did you not read the file I sent you.”
Gabe grunted, “I read it, the fighter I recognized. The Young Lady I did not!”
“For that part Turkey you can blame Sin and Mariana. Now, you gonna refuse that Commission again? I need you Buddy!”
Gabriel grimaced and said, “Let me get back to you on that OK?”
I just grinned and said, “Sure, let’s get this show on the road.”
With everyone there I started the final brief. “OK, the plan is we sneak in and sneak out if possible. Digger, you will hold no less than 5 miles off of the Coast. If everything goes as planned you and the rest have a nice training exercise.
“We are not going in to Hunt People. If they want to be idiots then they can be idiots as long as they don’t break the Law or do harm.
“Hell People, I can make a bulkhead Lawyers case that the supplies on that shuttle are their fair share of the commonly held goods of Alchibah. That Shuttle however is not! It is ours and we are going to get it. I’ll be honest, I almost hope they shoot at us! But if they don’t we take the shuttle and scoot.
“Mariana is going to leave a one time message for them from the Council. Everyone hopes that the deliberately over-the-top tone of it will at least give the idiots some pause.
“Does everyone understand?” Getting nothing but nods in return, I moved to the next point.
“We are going to try to sneak in on nothing but the Andrews-Hibbs Gravity Drive. Ash are you and the Mad Doctor ever going to quit coming up with stuff?”
“Andy, we don’t even really understand what we have so far. We think our separate stuff will come together somewhere, somewhen. We need an Einstein to pull it all together and we can’t find him or imitate him Yet!”
“Great,” I said, “get the Mayflower on the tight-beam and see if they are ready to monitor.”
I listened to Ash coordinating with the Mayflower and surprise we did not get the duty crew, we got Larry Monroe himself. “Ash, if we really can’t detect the new drive, assuming of course you don’t fall into the sea. It’s too damn important to leave to lesser lights, so go make my lack of sleep worth it.”
Ash gave a guttural half laugh, “We damn sure gonna try. If we don’t make it back, thanks for all the help. It was more than we could have hoped for.”
Monroe’s reply was short and sweet, “Shut up and bring her home Fighter Jock.”
As he turned and walked to the first MK III shuttle, I swear I saw a tear in his eye.
As the shuttles lifted smoothly and turned towards the South Summer was scared practically out of her skin by a soft voice that seemed to come from nowhere.
“Aye and there goes a legend reborn, the Shadows walk again.”
She turned towards the sound to see Robert “Call me Robbie” McMaster appear as if from the very shadows. “What do you mean by Legends and Shadows?”
“Of course Lass, tis what the Bad Guys of the old belt called that strange apperation that appeared whenever the Gods cried that Team Tiger and Team Cougar should scourge the Universe. But, to mine old Irish heart I be swearing that it happened when a bairn in distress preyed for help in the proper supplicating tone.
“For if the Gods ever created Avenging Angels lass there they go.”
Summer stared, “I thought their reputations were built on killing people and breaking things?”
“That they were lassie,” He replied. “Sometimes you have to look past the bleeding reputation.
“Have Ye ever wondered about that bit of Blue Ribbon yon Ashcroft wears bout his throat and Aye lassie I have had the wedding described to me?”
Summer had to laugh, “Robbie that has to be ‘The Question’ among the crowd the people around here call the ‘Young Guns’.”
“Weel Lassie, allow me to win the bets fer ye. The Shadows had chased one of the most vicious group of heathen scum you would ever hope to meet to a mid-sized asteroid deep in the Belt. When the action teams boarded her they found nigh on to a hundred young bairns locked in a shaft mined to blow to open space.
“Well the Ladies went to save the bairns, while our touchy males went for the bad guys like the very Hounds themselves. Killed a fair part of them but, the rest made it to their ships. They had seven old EU Counqurent class Assault Shuttles. The take off blast almost broke the locks and took out our laddies.
“Well, the Reaper was cussing to turn space itself blue when Ash came on in a cold voice and said ‘They don’t get away that damn easy.’”
“Andy and Admiral Harrison himself were screaming at Ash not to do anything stupid when something drowned them out. I had but to guess that by now you have heard Ash and his bad imitation of what those lads call a Coon Hound?”
“Lord, you are right about that. If I had a dog that sounded that bad I would shoot it myself to put it out of its misery.”
“Weel Lassie tis not what they heard that day. I twas in range and the sound that came over those Comms you would not recognized had ye not lived on gorse, bog or plain. Twas a King Wolf howling Vengeance an enough to chill yer very soul. When the SOCOM Cruiser and Hospital ship showed up 45 min. later all twas left was Ash in a Tillman Class shuttle that would never fly again. Ash was bleeding from his ears, eyes and nose from G forces. But Ghost had left them seven slowly expanding clouds of debris. There were Seven of them lassie and one of him in a clearly outclassed ship. It mattered not Lass, for the War Prince of Clan Stuart had claimed vengeance.
“Lass, he is the one on yon shuttle that everyone in space did not fear. The Shadows of the Night they are!”
Summer just thought for a moment and then said, “Somehow that also does not fit with what we young people see.
“They seem to be more interested in building things than breaking them. If I have to hear the chant of ‘Logistics, followed by Logistics and more Logistics’ one more time I think I’ll throw up.”
Robbie grunted and replied with all trace of an accent gone and sounding controlled mid-Atlantic. “You have confused aggressive Type A behavior with the frustration of a Type A doer. They would rather be left alone to build and expand or to chase estoric Mathematical Theories. Their idea of a dream existence is one where they are left alone to just ‘Do Things’.
“Unfortunately the sum of human existence is one form Religion or Government attempting to impose their wills on the totality of the Race. Press Free Men long enough and hard enough and your Sheepdogs evolve to Wolves in their own right.
“Of the people in that lead shuttle I know all about save for one. Fate or the hand of the True God placed a foundling known as Gabriel Benjamin in the proper family for certain. The rest are the end result of hundreds of years of incredible pressures. They can no more walk away from this upcoming fight than they can cease to breath by choice.”
He turned and the twinkle returned to his eyes and as he spoke the Brogue returned
“Now the Goonies are coming for us, an I smell the taint of Clan Stuart upon ye Lass!”
Summer reared up, “And that is a problem for you Sir?”
“Nay Lassie, it may well be our one hope. That and that Lad called Travis upon yon Mayflower.”
Over the open Ocean the two shuttles picked up their 5 mile separation and moved towards the Southern continent purely atmospheric. 100 Miles out from the coast Ash looked at Andy. “We are over the continental shelf. Might as well try it now.”
His answer was a grimace and a hand check of personal emergency gear by all on board.
Bringing up all the systems on the new panel up into the green Ash slowly dialed down the power on the conventional systems. There was a large lurch as the ship seemed to drop then steadied as Ash dialed up the new panel.
“Damn Andy, it flies.”
“So far, now run us in and see what Monroe gets.”
Ash poured forward vector into the new drive and pointed at the airspeed indicator.
“Damn Ash, slow down. No need to leave a sonic boom.”
On the Mayflower Monroe triggered a private Comm channel. “Travis Here.”
“Glen,” Larry said, “you have to come see this. The Mad Whackos did it again.”
“Oh crap,” came the groan, “on the way!”
The trip from Captains Quarters to the Comms Center was a short five minutes, Travis was there in six.
“Al right Larry, what’s so important.”
Monroe merely gestured and said, “Watch this tape!”
Travis watched as two shuttles crawled towards the Southern continent and the lead one disappeared. “What happened Larry, did they go down?”
“Not according to their Comms. All that happened was that Ash cut in the Andrews-Hibbs Drive. They are still on course and time according to the data link.”
“Make this close hold Larry, I think everyone who NEEDS to know about this already does. What are those Maniacs going to think up next?”
“Who knows,” Larry replied, “I just try to keep up and tie it into the real world.”
Travis snorted a laugh and left the room.
Over the Continent Ash tripped the Command Code for the stolen Shuttle locater beacon. “Bingo, there she is 14.5 forward, port 5. Looks like a clearing”
“Get us in there,” was Andy’s cold reply.
Settling into the clearing the hatch popped open as soon as the skid touched and Tiger Team boiled out in full Chameleon Mode. Two invisible figures slowly circled the shuttle weapons at the ready. Slowly they entered the open hatch to find barrens. “Damn Ash, they stripped out everything but the head.”
“Will it fly?” Ash asked
“Checking,” was Andy’s terse reply.
“OK, this sucker will fly. Mariana is cutting a message for our runaways. Give her five!”
Everyone sat tensely as the time went by until Andy called, “Done deal, lifting and we are going to be noisy.”
The Shuttle roared up into the morning twilight on a pillar of flaming under-jets as the main propulsion slowly feed in. Then in a sonic boom they were gone.
The runaways stared towards the clearing where they had stashed the shuttle when their short range Comms blasted open in override mode.
“This is Mariana Stuart speaking of and for the Federal Council of Alchibah.
“You have chosen to leave our Compact, this is your choice.
“This is your Legal choice, however we have reclaimed our property. In your absence the Colony of Alchibah has by public vote accepted the implied treaty offered by those beings known as the Guardians.
“You trespass upon this Continent upon your peril from those entities. You having left our Compact we will not interfere in that relationship with one provision.
“Should you harm or Gods forbid kill a Soessossian then I will personally take great joy in Ordering the Hounds of Hell to hunt you down.
“Believe me, that in this Case; they are mine to Command.