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USD: ~13 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi

Location: IND Iron Horse, In orbit 10000km above Ackman Station


 

Captain-Major Thraker had been the highest-ranking officer in the Iron Horse Mercenary Company for a long time. He was certainly the oldest, although he didn’t look it. His gray-white beard was immaculately cared for, and he could easily pass for being in his early forties other than hair color, while actually having been born in USD 3426, which made him 126 earth years old now. Most of the rest of the company had not had the advantage of having pre-collapse rejuvenation treatments. Men half his age in the company looked twenty years older than him.

As he entered the CIC of the Company’s largest and oldest of four warships, the Destroyer Iron Horse, the on-duty watch officer nodded to him then blew a brief whistle to announce his presence. All the on duty watch personnel stood at attention.

“At ease.”

Tradition and discipline satisfied, the crew turned back to their tasks, although there was not much occurring other than the regular watch. Thraker bypassed the captain’s console to head directly to the signal intelligence station. The junior officer and seaman manning the station tensed up at the Captain’s scrutiny.

“At ease, anything more about that sensor ghost?”

The young officer answered, “Nothing real, Captain. We’ve seen some transient EM waves from that inclination and axis, but nothing we could get a hold on. We’ve retasked that area for constant scans, but if something is out there, we can’t see it. Emmet has a few theories on it.”

The even younger seaman almost shrank into his seat. “Ah... Yes, Captain. I’m almost certain the first flare we saw was a linear drive signature, although it was much too short for the system to categorize it as one. If someone is flying dark out there, they are maintaining a low EM profile and running silent. The transient EM waves might be from power fluctuations in their powerplant. I was thinking battle damage, or even an aged reactor would do it.”

Thraker stroked his beard as his listened to the theory. He had ordered the company’s ships out of mooring from Ackman station as a precaution, although they had remained in a nearby orbit. The Portmaster had thrown a bloody fit, unfortunately. He had cited contract violations at them leaving, but nothing had spelled out that they had to remain moored while on security duty. Thraker had left the boots on the ground for security services, after all.

Reaching down to the console, Thraker selected the relevant signal playback and repeated the first flare, as well as the transient EM wave. They didn’t seem to come at regular intervals, and it was impossible to get a precise read on their origin other than a wide axis and inclination that covered almost a 30-degree area.

“Ensign, I agree with Seaman Emmet. I think there is something out there. I don’t know if we will ever find out what it is, but I want you to keep scouring that area with all your attention. Let the next watch know, as well.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

That they couldn’t find the blip worried him. The newer, less capable frigates in the squadron had a myopic sight compared to the Iron Horse which was an old Federation design. It was one of the last production models that had come off the line before the collapse, and its systems and capabilities had degraded over the intervening 86 years, but it still had a much more potent sensor suite that should have been able to pick up… something.

Thraker hadn’t quite called the squadron to yellow alert, even if his first instinct had told him to. He couldn’t afford to jump at ghosts at this point. He had heard the whispers, that he was too old now. That he should retire and let a younger hand lead.

It was partly true, he was old, and he was tired. He had watched a steady stream of senior officers, good friends and brothers retire. When the ones who had been young when they first joined the company had started to disperse, he knew his time was nearly up and that he needed to retire soon. Maybe in a few years, to a nice tropical world.

Long enough for him to make sure for himself that the younger captains would have what it took to keep the company from falling apart. He had not kept it together for eighty years just to let some young hotshot burn his precious company in a bid for glory that didn’t exist or treasure that got you killed.

 

USD: ~15 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi

Location: Tears of Fire, Enroute to Ackman Station


 

The muted lighting of the CIC highlighted the annoyance on Alex’s face as she tapped her fingers on the arm of her chair, “Are you seriously telling me to turn around with RCS, turn on the transponder, and then fly back in?”

Looking at the local system chart, Elis nodded, “I didn’t know you had planned on flying dark the whole way in! So yes, that would be a good idea if we want to remain inconspicuous and not scare the crap of whoever is running flight control for the station.”

“Nameless, how long will that take?”

[Informative: To reach the proposed safe distance as delineated by Elis it would take approximately 8 days of travel while dark then 2 days of main drive burn.]

“Ten days!” Alex threw up her arms, “We’ve already been sitting around doing essentially nothing for a week!”

“I’m not sure that’s how you felt during our sparring sessions.”

Alex bit her bottom lip as her cheeks heated in embarrassment. There had to be ‘adjustments’ to make things safe for them to spar without serious damage to Elis. That had meant Alex’s speed and strength advantage had been nullified. She had considered herself to be an ‘expert’ from what she had been able to do before.

But Elis had dominated her efforts. For all of Alex’s confident remarks, she had been brought a cold rush of reality. When they had first fought, Elis had been in cryoshock. The normalization of their strength and speed had reversed the course of the spars completely. More than once, Alex had found herself pinned to the floor with her arm locked behind her back, with Elis calmy instructing her to correct her mistakes. She also complimented her on the things she did right, as few and far between those felt. That helped take the bite out of the sting of getting your ass handed to you every day.

Alex raised her hand to her mouth and coughed, bringing herself out of the introspection, “That’s too long. Lets just light up now and go in. I want to make some progress on things.”

“Alex I am not sure that’s a good idea.”

“I realize that, but I just want to get this done. I feel like we are spinning our wheels right now, and I want to make some progress on the ship. I have been thinking about what you said before, too. I don’t want to just make progress on the ship, I want to really start something. We could build our own station, an industrial one. Or work on building a support ship that could help with resource collection. Nameless tells me they can be fully automated. I checked the logs once we got closer to the relay and have been examining the transponder signals. Independents are mining the belt, I’m sure they are making money like that. Even if we had to pay some sort of tax or fee for a license to mine or whatever, we’d be able to…”

Alex swallowed, having difficulty expressing how she felt. She wanted to establish things. To build more, do something... productive. Not float slowly through the dark with everything on the ship repaired and built as far as they could with their current resources. Progress needed to be made.

[Informative: This unit finds Avatar desire for progress admirable and ShipCore approves of suggested course of action.]

“Nameless, has the cover we decided on finished, the ShipCore is completely undetectable and sealed from access?”

[Informative: Stealth protocol for ShipCore has been completed. Ship has been rendered to appear completely Federation standard, with advanced amounts of non-nanite enhanced automation internally. External plating is in place and EM dark protocols are in place.]

Alex nodded, “So we’ll just go with something close to the truth. I’m a Federation Captain whose ship was disabled, and you are a Federation Marine, both of us have been in cryostasis for a while and we just woke up.”

Elis didn’t look convinced, but she nodded, “The best covers always have a bit of truth built into them, but you might be pushing it.”

Alex felt confused, “What do you mean?”

“Well, you certainly don’t look like a Federation Captain, you might have added those shoulder pads and insignia to your skinsuit, but you are not nailing the look. Even if you do look cute, you are essentially half naked.”

“Naked!?”

Elis laughed, “Skinsuits are generally worn underneath clothing, unless you are going for a trip in vacuum.”

“But… but you’re in a skinsuit all the time, too!”

“That’s normal. It isn’t unusual for shipboard marines to switch between combat gear, flight suits, power armor, or if going to something formal, even an actual uniform now and then.”

Alex nodded, “Nameless, we need some uniforms.”

 

USD: ~15 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi

Location: IND Iron Horse, In orbit 10000km above Ackman Station


 

Red lights cast a blinking red hue across the ship, while loudspeakers punctuated in a way that was impossible to ignore, creating a controlled chaos as the nearly two hundred sailors on the Iron Horse Company’s Squadron of four ships beat to quarters.

“ACTION STATIONS! ACTIONS STATIONS! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”

Captain Thraker closed the leather-bound book he had been reading and stood up calmly. As soon as he exited his quarters, he entered the maelstrom of young men running to and fro. The walk to CIC was conveniently short thanks to the location of his cabin, and as soon as he crossed into the bridge the watch officer announced him.

“Captain on deck!”

Those who weren’t busy with manning their stations turned and gave him a salute before turning back to their business. SIGINT was the exception, there were four officers and a seaman rapidly discussing something.

Unfortunately, the Captain had a good idea of what was going on, “What do you have for me, gentlemen?”

Seaman Emmet poked his head out and the other officers took a step back to let Thraker in, “It’s our ghost, Captain.”

“What do we know?”

“Bogey went active one minute before the alarm, it started squawking a standard IND IFF “Tears of Fire.” We have tracking on its course, it’s on a high-speed approach. We aren’t sure if it’s going to make a fly-by or if it has enough acceleration for a rendezvous. Optical pegs it as a large mover, freighter size at least, but…”

“What is it?”

“Sir, the only thing we are picking up is the transponder. EM shows nothing. It’s like a black hole, sir, even at maximum radar ping. I’m scanning for that transient EM signal we have been seeing, if it shows up, we’ll know it’s our ghost for sure.”

“Have you checked that our sensors are working properly?”

“Yessir. Everything reports normal. During the ping we cross-checked other known contacts and everything is nominal.”

A dozen possibilities came to Thraker’s mind, and most of them were not good. Was it a new Corpo stealth ship, and the Systems had finally decided to make a move on the Western Frontier? A damaged freighter that had lost all power and the crew had somehow just managed to rig their transponder up? No, that one didn’t make sense, they were coming in far from the standard star lanes.

“Sir, High Band communication is coming from bogey. It’s directed toward Station Ackman, in the clear. Visual, also.”

The seamen held up an earcup and Captain Thraker listened in as the comms display flickered to life presenting a blurry picture that only slowly came into focus as the old screen warmed up. The picture was of a dark room that had all the trappings of a CIC except that only two people were present, both young women in naval uniform. The blue haired one who he presumed was the Captain began to speak, while the other stood behind her in a textbook at ease position.

“…repeat, this is Captain Alex, IND Tears of Fire. Contacting Ackman Station Port Authority for permission to rendezvous and mooring assignment.”

Thraker frowned, the voice sounded painfully young to his ear. He swore that both women on screen could have passed as one of his daughters, he immediately pegged the red head somewhere in her twenties, and the Captain as a bit younger. Looks were deceiving though, and it was their uniforms that he stared at most intensely; unless someone was trying to pull an elaborate prank, they were certainly in charge of that ship.

Something about their uniforms tried to tickle an old memory, but he drew a blank.

Captain Thraker looked at the plot on tactical, unless the Tears of Fire sped up, there was at least seven hours before they arrived.

“XO, stand down general quarters and sound yellow alert.”

“Aye, Aye, Captain. Lieutenant, turn off that blasted siren.”

Emmet turned back to his station, then back to Captain Thraker, “Captain, we have a tight beam from the port authority, they are asking for you.”

Captain Thraker smiled, his last conversation with the Portmaster foremost in his mind, “Tell them I’m not available, unless they decide to pay us. This is outside our contract clause.”

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A note from Erios909

Next chapter later today at the regular time. It is pretty long, essentially a double chapter so I might split it into two parts at a scene break.

By the way, I have a discord. It was mostly used for my other webnovel that is on hiatus, but I have been posting AI art and stuff there. If anyone wanted to chat you can find me there! There's a story recommendation channel, cute animals channel, and a music channel! Anyways, here is the link: https://discord.gg/J4VtqMw

As always, if you are enjoying the story, please consider leaving a comment, rating, or review! And thanks for reading!

 


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Erios909

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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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