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Tangled Threads, Tangled Strings

by Michael J A Tyzuk

Table of Contents
Part 7 appears
in this issue.

part 8 of 11

* * *

“Captain on the bridge,” a voice announced as Mike stepped through the aft access way onto the bridge of the Rising Star.

“I have the conn,” Mike announced before he had taken as much as a step through the door.

“Captain has the conn,” Matt agreed as he vacated the captain’s chair at the center of the bridge.

Tamara and Jeremy followed Mike through the access way and stood beside the tactical table behind the captain’s chair.

Mike dropped into his chair and turned to face the navigator, who was seated just before the twin view screens that dominated most of the forward bulkhead. “Status,” he demanded.

Matt took up station behind the captain’s chair on the right hand side. “We’ve pulled out of orbit and are almost clear of the gravity well,” he reported. “We’re proceeding at point one sub light until we clear the well.”

Mike nodded. “Position of the runabout?”

“She’s got a bit of a head start, but it’s essentially meaningless,” Matt answered. “Sensor telemetry doesn’t show any kind of engine modifications, so we’re operating under the assumption that we’re dealing with the factory model of this class of runabout. That means we can accelerate faster and maintain a higher maximum velocity for a longer period of time.”

“In other words, they’re ours whether they like it or not,” Mike summarized.

“That’s about the size of it, yeah.”

“Free and clear of the well, Captain,” the navigator reported.

“Very well,” Mike answered. “Intercept course, all ahead one half.”

“Intercept course, all ahead one half, aye aye, sir.”

“Sound battle stations,” Mike commanded. The bridge lights dimmed and reddened and an alarm klaxon started sounding through the corridors. Moments later relief personnel started filing through the access ways, taking their places at redundant stations and bringing their consoles to life.

Matt stepped up to the tactical table and started tapping controls. The screen in the center of the table came to life. “I’ll show you what’s happening,” he said as he gestured for Tamara and Jeremy to look down at the screen. The display showed a red asterisk with a series of numbers beside it. The numbers changed as the asterisk moved across the screen. A green diamond surrounded by a green circle, with similar changing numbers beside it, drew closer and closer to the asterisk.

“We’re the diamond, the hostile is the asterisk,” Matt explained. “The numbers are vector information for the two ships, so you can ignore those with a clear conscience.” He tapped more controls and a red parabola appeared, intersecting with the asterisk. “This is the runabout’s projected course.” Matt touched more controls. A green parabola appeared, intersecting with the diamond. The green parabola also intersected with the red parabola. “This is our course. The point where the two plots intersect is the projected point at which we’ll intercept the runabout.”

“What happens then?” Tamara wanted to know.

Matt shrugged. “We’ll signal and direct him to heave to, surrender, and prepare to be boarded,” he explained. “If he surrenders then procedure calls for us to dock with him and board him with Marines. However, in this case all of our Marines are down the Well, working with your police department to raid all of those safe houses you identified.”

“So, what’s he going to do without Marines?” Jeremy asked.

Matt shrugged again. “If I were in his shoes I’d check out a rifle and a suit of combat armor and lead a boarding party,” was his answer. “The Chief Master-At-Arms has a number of combat trained ratings that we can tap for an excursion like this. They’re not as good as Marines, or, even better, Rangers, but for a mission like this they’ll do the job.”

Mike came up behind Matt and stepped up to the table. “The downside of that plan is that the runabout is a pretty small ship,” he cut in, “so fielding a large boarding party would probably just lead to complications. So, I’m going to keep the party small. I’m going aboard and, because this is your case, I’m taking the two of you with me.”

Tamara nodded. “I can live with that.”

Mike turned to Matt. “Signal the Chief Master-At-Arms. Have him report to Conference Room One with three rifles and three sets of combat armor, with enlisted ratings to help Tamara and Jeremy into the armor.”

“Aye aye, sir.” Matt stepped over to one of the consoles.

Mike turned to face the Navigator. “Time to intercept?”

“Thirty-seven minutes, Captain.”

“Very well.”

“Sensor contact!” one of the officers called out.

“What and where?” Mike demanded.

“Underground cruiser,” the officer answered. “She’s leaving the local asteroid belt between Iskander and Proxima Station. Looks like she’s on course to intercept our target.”

“Oh, hell,” Mike muttered. He tapped controls on the tactical table. Another red asterisk appeared, closely followed by a red parabola. The new parabola intersected with the first two at the projected intercept point. Mike closely scrutinized the vector numbers, performed some calculations in his head. “She’s accelerating,” he explained, “running herself up to full speed so that she can get to the runabout around the same time that we do.”

“What happens then?” Tamara wondered.

Mike shrugged. “Then you’re going to get your first taste of space combat between capital vessels,” he answered. “Needless to say, that’s a fate I’d rather try to avoid. The good news it that we have a head start, and we can use that to our advantage.” He turned to the Navigator. “All ahead full,” he ordered. “Adjust intercept course for new velocity.”

“All ahead full, recalculate for new velocity, aye aye, sir.”

The parabola for the Rising Star changed on the tactical screen, moved away from the intercept point to an earlier position along the runabout’s projected course. Mike grinned. “The numbers never lie,” he said. “We’ll get to her first.”

Matt stepped up to Mike. “All stations on all decks report battle stations,” he reported. “Tactical Action confirms that the ship has been made ready for combat.”

“Very well.” Mike turned to face Matt. “We’ll have a grace period of about ten minutes before that cruiser shows up and makes life interesting for us,” he said, “and there’s always the possibility that this thing is going to go south. If we’re not back aboard the ship after seven minutes I want you to cast off ties and engage the cruiser. Keep the Rising Star between the cruiser and the runabout. In accordance with the Rules of Engagement you have my authorization to fire the first shot. Do whatever you have to do, but keep that cruiser away from the runabout.”

Matt shook his head. “This feels wrong,” he said. “There’s no reason for you to lead this excursion. Why don’t you let the Chief and his men handle this one?”

“I can’t,” Mike answered. “That would mean leaving Tamara and Jeremy out of the operation, and I can’t do that to them.”

“Fair enough,” Matt acknowledged. “May I suggest taking two of the Chief’s men with you as backup?”

Mike grinned. “Not this time,” he said. “I appreciate the concern, XO, but my orders stand.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

* * *

Mike sent Tamara and Jeremy aft to the Number One Conference Room, where they met the ratings who had their rifles and armor, and then retired to his Ready Room.

Tamara rather liked the Imperial Combat Armor. The armor plates were lightweight but incredibly sturdy. The ratings who assisted her and Jeremy told them that the armor plates were strong enough to absorb most of the damage behind a conventional blaster shot. People wearing the armor still got hurt, but they usually only got killed in an extended battle, and neither Tamara nor Jeremy had any intention of letting this fight go on that long.

There were plates for both shins, both thighs, both forearms, both biceps, and a chest plate that even offered some protection to the wearer’s back. The helmet was interesting. It had a secure comm system built into it that was controlled from a unit that was worn on the wrist. The visor acted like a heads-up-display on a star fighter, and displayed telemetry from the low-power sensor suite built into the helmet. The ratings also provided belts and holsters for their sidearms, and an impressive collection of throwing and fighting knives.

Tamara and Jeremy had been geared up for less than two minutes and were still adjusting the fit of some of the plates when Mike came through the conference room door, ready to go. “You two ready?” he asked.

Tamara nodded. “I’ve never been more ready in my life,” she said.

The Rising Star had caught up to the runabout and had signaled for her to heave to, surrender, and prepare to be boarded. The runabout had ignored the signal, so Matt had taken matters into his own hands. He used a carefully controlled burst from the ship’s guns to disable the runabout’s engines and bring her to a stop. Then he had come alongside the runabout and docked with her, airlock to airlock.

By the time Tamara and Jeremy and Mike had arrived at the number ten airlock the docking process had completed. The cofferdam that had been extended between the two ships was pressurized. Matt signaled from the bridge to let them know that they only had a few minutes before that Underground cruiser came into firing range.

Mike exchanged nods with his two companions, unslung his rifle and tapped the open command into the panel beside the airlock door. The inner door cycled open and the three of them stepped through into the airlock. The inner door closed and the outer door cycled open. Mike scurried down the cofferdam and slapped a shaped charge against the airlock door, legged it back to the Rising Star just in time for Jeremy to close the outer door. The charge detonated and the outer door of the runabout’s airlock shattered under the force of the explosive charge. Mike opened the outer door and bounded down the cofferdam, with Tamara and Jeremy close behind.

It didn’t take long for Mike to get the inner door of the runabout’s airlock opened. He stepped out into a short corridor. Tamara and Jeremy came through the door after him. Mike consulted the sensor display that flashed against his visor, noticed a blip that indicated a biosign in one of the amidships holds, two frames forward and one frame starboard. He gestured forward.

Tamara made it to the hold first and took up station on one side of the open door. Jeremy took up position opposite her while Mike came up behind Tamara, who was peeking around the edge of the door. She could see Phillip, bent over a console in the middle of the hold, tapping in commands. There were several circular doorways in the wall behind him.

“This is the escape hold,” Mike whispered to Tamara. “Those doors lead to the ship’s escape pods.”

“What’s he doing at the console?” Jeremy wondered.

“We won’t find out hanging around out here,” Tamara answered.

“I’ve got your back,” Jeremy said.

Tamara went around the corner first, followed by Jeremy. Mike brought up the rear. All of them had their rifles up and ready. “Phillip Graham,” Tamara called out, “step away from the console and put your hands up!”

Phillip started at the sound of Tamara’s voice, looked up to find three rifles pointed at his face. A single glance told him that the safeties were off and that there were three fingers on three triggers. He raised his hands and took two slow steps back. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll cooperate.”

Tamara kept Phillip covered while Jeremy lowered his rifle and stepped around the console with a pair of binders in his hands. He grabbed Phillip and threw him none too gently against the bulkhead, spread his ankles and began to systematically search him. Mike stepped around the console and began to scrutinize the settings. His eyes went wide and he looked up at Tamara. “We have a problem here,” he said.

“What kind of problem?” Tamara wanted to know.

Mike gestured at the console. “Our friend here managed to bypass the security protocols for the runabout’s fusion reactor,” he explained. “He was working on programming the computer to decrease power to the containment vessel by five percent every five minutes.”

Tamara felt herself pale. “Did he get the program entered?” she demanded.

Mike nodded. “It’s running now.”

“Boarding Party, Rising Star,” Tamara heard through her comset.

“Boarding party, aye,” Mike answered.

“Captain, our astrotelemetry people are having something of a fit over here,” Matt said. “We’re showing an increasing instability in the runabout’s fusion reactor. Recommend you conclude your business and get the hell out of Dodge.”

“Understood,” Mike acknowledged. “We’ve got Graham. We’ll be back aboard the ship in five minutes.”

There was a short pause. “Captain, I don’t think you have five minutes anymore,” Matt cautioned.

“Why not?” Mike demanded.

“Because,” Matt answered, “that Underground cruiser just put on a burst of acceleration. If I’m reading these numbers right you’ve got less than five minutes before they reach missile range.”

“Just what we needed,” Mike commented. “Very well. Cast off ties and put the Rising Star between the runabout and the cruiser. Your orders are to do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of the runabout and the boarding party.”

“I don’t like just abandoning you like that,” Matt protested.

“Well, I can’t say that I’m all that fond of the idea either,” Mike returned, “but that’s never stopped us before. You have your orders.”

“Aye aye, Captain. Rising Star out.”

“What about that fusion reactor?” Tamara asked.

Mike shrugged. “I can probably undo the program and restore power to the reactor containment systems,” he answered, “but I can’t do it from here. I have to go back to the engineering spaces to do it.”

“Then you had better get moving,” Tamara advised. “Jeremy and I can keep tabs on our friend here.”

* * *

“Cast off ties,” Matt ordered from the captain’s chair on the bridge of the Rising Star.

Maureen stood up from her console and stepped across the bridge to the captain’s chair, leaned down to whisper in Matt’s ear. “Tell me we’re not doing this,” she pleaded. “Tell me we’re not just abandoning him.”

Matt shook his head. “We’re not if I can help it,” he said. “Look, I’m not all that fond of the idea of cutting that runabout loose and leaving them to fend for themselves, but I agree with the decision to cast off. Think about it. If we go into battle with that thing still attached to us and that reactor goes off, we’ll have a hole in the side of this bucket big enough to pass an asteroid through. And even if the reactor didn’t go off the Underground would just concentrate all of their fire on her, and the end result would be exactly the same. Casting off and putting ourselves between the cruiser and the runabout is all we can do.”

“Ties cast off,” Irene reported. “Runabout is floating free.”

“Very well,” Matt answered. “Lateral thrust, one kilometer to starboard, then all ahead one quarter. Bring us to missile range.”

“Lateral thrust, one kilometer to starboard, then all ahead one quarter, aye aye.”

“And what happens if we’re off tangling with that cruiser and they can’t stop that runaway reaction?” Maureen pressed.

“Then I hope you have something black in your wardrobe,” Matt replied.

“That isn’t very reassuring,” Maureen protested.

“Tell me about it,” Matt agreed.

* * *

Mike legged it through the door and turned towards the engineering spaces.

Tamara watched as Jeremy began to maneuver Phillip into the binders. It looked like everything was under control so she engaged the safety on her rifle and lowered the weapon.

Phillip saw all of this happen out of the corner of his eye, and when he saw Tamara lower her weapon he knew that it was time to do something about this untenable situation he was in. Jeremy was standing behind him, reaching up to grab hold of his left hand so that he could force it behind his back. Phillip allowed Jeremy to take hold of his hand and guide it down behind his back. When Jeremy looked down to apply the binders Phillip took a step back and slammed the back of his head into Jeremy’s face. Jeremy staggered back against the console and dropped the binders.

Tamara was around the console in a flash. Phillip saw her coming and stepped toward her. The two of them met halfway.

Tamara ducked underneath a left hook and brought the butt of her rifle up into Phillip’s chin, sending him staggering back a step. She took another step towards him to close the gap and press her advantage, but he got his bearings back too quickly for that. He snap kicked the rifle out of her hands, sending it skidding across the floor of the hold, turned and kicked again, catching Tamara in the chest and sending her back into the bulkhead.

That’s when Jeremy got his wits about him again. He grabbed hold of Phillip from behind and tried to maneuver him into a full nelson, but Phillip wasn’t having any. He wriggled free of the attempted submission hold and extended his right arm. A thin cylinder dropped out of his sleeve and into the palm of his hand.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2005 by Michael J A Tyzuk

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