Kilmeade strapped into the pilot’s chair in the Excelsior’s transport, still sitting on top of the Winthrop Administration Building where Curly had left it.

A copper line snaked away, connecting to the dongle developed by local engineers. They had taken basic household current generated by the coal-fired power plants on the edge of town and converted it for recharging the craft’s power pack.

She looked with a certain amount of satisfaction at the gauge showing how much power had been replenished.

“Those backward hillbillies figured it out, didn’t they?” Kang said, looking over her shoulder at the same gauge.

“That was not very nice,” she said in an admonishing tone.

Kang shrugged and sat down in the chair beside her, buckling in.

He said, “I’m still not sure this is a good idea. Why are we helping them out, again?”

Kilmeade took a deep breath, held it, then let it out in a long sigh. They had discussed this a lot, recently.

She said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

“You’ve changed your opinion, then. The Captain thought taking them over and knocking down this local government they set up was the right thing to do.”

“The Captain was blinded by hate and acting irrational.”

Kang steered away from that line of discussion.

He changed tack and said, “You don’t think the Navy is going to show up and take us to task for helping them?”

“If the Navy shows up, we’ll be executed for mutiny anyway.”

“Speak for yourself! You’re the one who shot the Captain.”

“Trust me, they’ll execute you and Vargas and Ong, too. We had to study the history of Naval tribunals in the Academy. There’s not a lot of mercy shown, or consideration for extenuating circumstances. Especially in wartime.”

Kang leaned back in the seat, looking miserable.

Kilmeade smiled at the sight. Kang had expressed reservations about doing this, but in the end he would follow through. He had no desire to face a Naval tribunal, and he probably had little desire to return to the League. The four remaining sailors found they rather preferred life on Halcyon.

It was only human to have second thoughts, but in the end Kang would do what was needed. Just by strapping in, she thought, he showed he was willing to go through with this.

She flicked a switch and the holoscreen lit up. Seldom and her bodyguards could be seen watching them on the far side of the roof.

Kilmeade flicked another switch and the door closed. She grabbed the control stick and eased it back, making the craft levitate a meter above the roof.

Kang said, “So, you know how to fly this thing, right?”

“Ensigns are trained in handling almost everything on a ship, don’t worry. I’ve flown simulators. There’s a special section in Off World reserved for use by the Academy.”

She pulled the craft up higher, then aimed the nose up. The little ship shot into the sky.

When they reached orbit, Kilmeade checked the instruments to make sure they were at the right altitude, then she told Kang to be on the lookout for the orbital platform they wanted.

It lit up on the holo as soon as it appeared over the horizon. Kilmeade guided the transport toward the platform, watching the augmented display and adjusting the stick as needed.

When she got close enough she activated auto-docking. They heard a bump inside the cabin when the transport meshed with the airlock and a lighter bump as its connector cable made contact.

“Let’s take a look inside, shall we?”

Kilmeade led the way and the transport door slid open. Kang followed her as the inner door slid open, opening the way to the sparse metallic interior of the orbiting com.

“It’s basically a floating antenna,” Kang said.

“I realize that, Kang. Can you turn it on? That’s the question.”

“I think so. I’ve never messed with one of these before, but the interface should be fairly straightforward.”

The Spartan controls were easy to find in the cramped quarters. Kang touched a button and a holo panel lit up. He examined the controls floating in the air.

Kilmeade said, “Well?”

“It needs an alignment frequency.”

“A what?”

“An alignment frequency. I’m sure there’s a standard one. It, uh . . . needs to know whether to broadcast on the League’s portion of the quantum matrix, or the Republic’s thanks to something called the Corbató Protocol. Obviously, we want to be on the Republic’s, but I don’t know what frequency to put in.”

“Well, is there somebody we can ask? Maybe down on the ground?”

Kang shook his head. He said, “No, they’re not going to know either or else they would have said something before we left. The best we can do is maybe put in something that we already have.”

“We don’t have anything, Kang. We’re just as clueless as they are.”

“No, that’s not true. We have the last transmission made by the ship that took out the Excelsior.”

He shouldered past her and made his way back to the transport. Kilmeade followed.

He pointed to the holopanel and said, “Pull up the Excelsior’s log. The transport should have a copy of its final minutes.”

Kilmeade made a motion with her hand, then flicked through the data that flashed by in the air.

“Right there,” Kang said. “What’s it say?”

“‘This is Captain Christopher Raleigh of the private warship Ultima Mule, operating under authorization of the Planetary Republic. Surrender your vessel immediately and no harm will come to your crew.’”

“And what was the frequency he used?”

Kilmeade pointed to the data appended to the end of the message.

“We’ll contact them and get the alignment info we need,” Kang said.

He went back into the satellite and began making adjustments to the control panel.

At last he looked up at Kilmeade and grinned. He said, “Ready?”

Kilmeade nodded and Kang swiped his finger through a floating button.

He said, “Hello. Hello, Ultima Mule? Do you read me?”

They waited a few tense seconds.

Finally, a man’s voice came back, filling the small enclosed space. He sounded tense.

“This is the Ultima Mule. Who is this?”

Kang looked at Kilmeade with a questioning expression on his face.

Kilmeade said, “We are representatives from the planet Halcyon. We need your help. And, we have a proposition for you . . .”

A note from jaxonreed

The final two chapters of Solar Storm comprise the short story, "The Sergeant's Secret Powers." They are available in the Amazon version or on Patreon. Scroll down to the new Table of Contents on Patreon to find it.

I've got the first few chapters of Book VI up on Patreon. The next book is titled Tetrarch's Dilemma. I'm taking a few days break to finish up the box set for Amazon. I'll resume posting public chapters on Sunday Aug. 11. 

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