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USD: A bit earlier

Location: 92 Pegasi, Ackman Asteroid Belt, A-3123Y Orbital


 

“Logan, this is the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen you pull, and that’s incredible.”

Amy held onto a handhold welded to the ceiling of the old badger MKII’s cockpit, her other hand on the back of the pilot’s seat that was occupied by her stupid younger brother.

“Trust me! System net’s hot with it. They’re offering higher rates than Ackman.”

“We don’t have life-support to spare. You’ve wasted a whole day of it by not getting in a transfer orbit with Ackman station. The scrub is going to overwork and need replacing, and that’ll cost us all our money this trip.”

“Relax, I checked that, too. They have a spare filter replacement. Even better, they have a whole new module with a full lifespan, and it’s not even as expensive as the JunkRat filter replacements.”

Amy sighed, feeling a bit of distress. Someone had played a horrible joke on the system net, offering better prices, and impossible to find parts.

“Listen, it’s some silly joke. There is no way anyone has a new life-support module for a Badger MKII. They stopped building them thirty years ago. That’s why we have to make do with the scrap from the JunkRat.”

“Nah, I put in what we needed, and they specifically spit out a confirmation for those exact parts.”

“Logan, it is some prank, some ass-blasted miner-jerk put this out to probably fuck with the competition. That’s us.”

The comm lit up with static.

|A small haul|

|Repeated many times|

|Large benefits bring|

“What the Ertan-blessed is that?” Amy blurted out.

“Relax, that’s how it goes, sis. Like, it is automated or something. We are getting navigation data, just like the sysnet said. We just follow it in. Don’t even have to dock, drones will unload us and leave behind what we ordered. Then the balance is transferred.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What did you order other than the life-support?”

“Heh. You’re going to love this.”

Logan reached over to grab his data pad and handed it to Amy, the order list still displayed on the screen.

“They got everything! I think it actually produces it made-to-order, ‘cause I haven’t run into anything it didn’t have yet as long as I didn’t put any crazy numbers in.”

Amy read the list and shook her head, thinking it was a trap, or a joke. But what could she do? They were going to be shafted when they had to burn their life-support getting up to Ackman Station.

But if it worked out… This was going to change a lot for all the rock rats in the belt.

One item on the bottom of the list blinked with a new entry, and Amy’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“It’s asking us our preference between kebabs or cake?”

 


[If you are reading ShipCore this somewhere other than Royal Road, Scribble Hub, or my Patreon then you should know this content was posted without the author's permission-Erios909, Author.]


 

USD: A few minutes after leaving the Tears of Fire

Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV Orbit, Space Elevator Orbital, Governor’s Office Meeting Room


 

“The rate of Rexxor activity is continuing to escalate. Seismic sensors have detected that the ‘hive’ is much larger than we ever thought possible, with tunnels extending hundreds of kilometers in a vast crisscrossing network. We have detected new activity and tunnels being dug toward the front and the city. That speed is increasing, and we project it is only a matter of days before the Rexxor will burrow up inside the frontline. It is only a matter of weeks before they could be inside the city itself.”

Brigadier Desersa let that set in.

Alex frowned but remained silent, examining the other faces in the room. She had a seat at the table but was conscious that all the others had brought aides or assistants. Even Captain-Major Thraker had two junior lieutenants standing behind him.

After the meeting, she was going to put an ad out for hiring a manager for future operations in the system.

Meanwhile, she continued to listen to the briefing.

Brigadier Desersa stood and went to a monitor, using an actual wooden stick to point at an image that displayed. She wondered how much she could get away with charging them for a holotable in the future. There were just so many things she could make that people needed.

She also needed to figure out if Rexxor could burrow under the ocean to reach her desired islands. That would be a problem. Maybe forgetting about Dedia IV and investing in the orbitals would be a better idea.

Although… being on a planet with ample resources and an atmosphere made so many things much simpler production wise. Especially since it had a space elevator that could move a large amount of tonnage to and from orbit.

‘Focus.’

Alex examined the map that had appeared.

“With the current projections, it has become clear we need a decapitation strike. Having conferred with my colleague, we have come up with an operational plan to evacuate the front line and protect the city. It involves using a maximum yield AMCN strike in a ground penetration configuration to kill the ‘queen’ of the hive.”

They were going to nuke the Rexxor’s nest. Alex had slowly concluded that it was a likely scenario. The Rexxor had sustained a constant stream of casualties for weeks, and the rate had only been increasing. She wasn’t sure how it was possible, but either their underground population was orders of magnitude higher than ever suspected or they were being grown in some type of super accelerated fashion.

“A simultaneous sustained kinetic bombardment from the Tears of Fire at the frontline, along with a sustained sortie of the 1st and 2nd air-wings, will relieve the positions and allow the soldiers to fall back. At the same time, the 33rd and 34th city-defense divisions will sally forth with all motorized equipment available to neutralize all the stragglers in the pocket and help speed the retreat of units which already have severe equipment losses.”

Alex coughed, and suddenly everyone was looking at her. She had instant regret at interrupting, but…

“Excuse me if I’m incorrect, but the city is only 150 kilometers from the nest. I realize the city walls and planetary curvature will probably provide ample protection from the direct gamma-ray burst, but… A ground detonation of an AMCN in the 200-megaton range will cause much more fallout than an airburst. Have you considered… maybe trying to communicate with the Rexxors for a cease-fire or something else…?”

All the Dedians shared a look with one another as if she’d stumbled upon a touchy subject. Maybe she had…?

The only one not looking at her like she had mentioned something entirely risqué was Captain-Major Thraker and his aides. Maybe it was a Dedian thing?

The silence elongated, and it felt like they were putting her on the spot. Embarrassment warred with growing annoyance. Surely, they could see that the Rexxor movements had some intelligence behind them? Ants didn’t setup military fronts, make flanking attacks, or setup ambushes that let strong columns through but hit lighter ones.

Alex bit her lip. Or maybe they did? Was she giving the Rexxor too much credit?

 

USD: After the meeting

Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV Orbit, Space Elevator Orbital, Ristro’s Restaurante


 

Alex had accepted an offer from Captain-Major to eat lunch at an establishment on the orbital. Ristro’s Restaurante’s staff all wore professional wait staff uniforms. They had received a private booth that was decorated with polished wood and had a privacy curtain. The Major’s two aides had split from them to sit at their own table in the main lobby.

The menu had been in some strange language that she had to guess at.

She had worried when Thraker gave her a look when she ordered ‘Escargot,’ but she was too self-conscious to ask what it was.

It had turned out alright. The sauce had been rich and buttery.

The Major had ordered a small sandwich with meatballs and some type of red sauce that smelled amazing, and Alex did her best to not eye it jealously.

“In the meeting, you asked why they couldn’t attempt to communicate with the Rexxors.”

Alex nodded. “I’m still not convinced about the Fauna thing. It bothers me, to be dropping weapons on them without even attempting a dialogue. Honestly, it didn’t seem they were completely convinced by their own reasoning, either.”

“What do you know about the Octanis Accords?”

Alex looked at him stared at him for a moment without comprehension. “Nothing?”

Thraker nodded, “I’m not surprised. They were signed fifty years ago after a violent incident in the Octanis system in the northern quadrant. To compress a decade of conflict: events lead to an uprising in the Draconis Sector and it sparked a succession war between the Ertan, Drakar and Imperium. It boiled over nastily, effecting the Solarians and Corpos as well. Part of the peace treaty involved all four major powers signing a concordat that prohibits the subjugation of native alien species.”

Thraker leaned back as the server arrived and took away their plates and left a chit for their bill. Alex reached down and tapped it with a finger, and a chime in her ear deducted the credit cost. A second message repeated on her HUD printed a message on the bill in small print.

|Credits: -334 SE|

|It is not customary to pay a tip to the wait staff at Ristro’s. All employees are compensated fairly, and charges are built into the price of meals. |

That seemed entirely more reasonable than relying on tips.

“Are you saying they are purposefully covering up Rexxor intelligence in order to not violate some interstellar treaty?” Alex’s words hung in the air for a moment.

“It is possible the experts see what they need to see for their own safety. If it turned out the Rexxor are sapient, and the treaty partners felt it was in their best interests… the colony could very well be ‘decommissioned’ and the colonists forcibly removed to other worlds.”

Alex frowned, her brow furrowed. “So they just came here and planned to take the planet from the natives because it was convenient?”

“I’m not sure many came here with plans at all. I imagine they all had their reasons to enlist to join a frontier world, whether it was to rid themselves of debts, avoid prison sentences, or just to start fresh somewhere new. The real crux is that Dedia is not a new colony world. It’s been developing for decades.”

Alex blinked. “And because the Rexxors and colonists haven’t been in conflict like this before, it just went unnoticed? I find it hard to believe the Solarian government wouldn’t have been thorough in vetting the colonization effort, and they have been throwing even more people here recently.”

Thraker shook his head. “I wouldn’t ascribe malice to any of the governments. Although I find the Corpos and Solarians to be distasteful, they are many times better than the chaos that they replaced during the collapse. Recent actions by Captain Walker seem quite… untoward. I suspect he understood exactly what he was doing. I just don’t know why the Solarians would do such a thing. It threatens their own interests here.”

“Could it have been greed? The Governor said that he kept all the supplies meant for the colonists.”

“Doubtful, while those supplies might be worth a billion or two credits, his admiralty will not be pleased. The Solarian Military can be quite… punishing to its members that would try something like that for personal gain.”

Alex noticed the time on her HUD. “Major, I have another meeting with the Governor scheduled for in fifteen minutes. I would like to continue this conversation, though. It’s given me some problematic things to think about. Things are going to be busy, but if there is time, I’d like to have lunch again.”

Thraker nodded, but his next words froze Alex in place as she stood up.

“You’re not a Federation Captain.”

Alex’s heart thrummed in her chest, and the only thing that stopped her from breaking into a sweat was her nanites going into action to prevent it.

“I have a Federation ship.” Alex hedged.

“You’re certainly the Captain of a Federation Ship. I am not sure about your Master Sergeant. She seemed to fit as a marine, at least.”

Alex swallowed, her pulse calming as she sat back down. Denying it seemed pointless, and she wanted to know where she had erred. “Why are you bringing this up? How did you find out?”

“My dear, I am neither the smartest nor the most experienced man you will meet. I have met and interacted with many people over my career, and I have known real Federation Captains from before the collapse.”

Thraker stroked his beard while examining her as he paused, but then shook his head.

“Before our first meeting, I thought you were indeed a Federation Captain, and just looked young because of the rejuv treatments. Yet it was very clear you were not after our first meeting. I believe you are exactly as your age appears to be. I know you have had considerable training in starship operations. Were you an officer cadet or midshipman on your ship?”

Alex squeezed her knee. “I don’t have to answer that. The ship is mine, and I’m proficient as its commander.”

“No, you don’t; and yes, you are. I did not bring this up to challenge your authority of your vessel, Captain, nor to pry it from you. However, if I’ve figured this out, others will be able to as well. There is also the issue of your crew. Are there only three of you?”

Just how much had he figured out? Nameless had been quiet, and he would have warned her if the ship was in trouble. She didn’t think that Thraker was trying to provoke her, but the worrying thought that if he had figured those two secrets… did he know the real one?

Should she kill him? Just to be safe? She could use any of a multitude of her abilities to do so, and then escape to the safe confines of the Tear’s metal shell with Nameless’s help.

Alex discarded the idea almost as soon as it came.

“You’ve been spying on us.”

“I’m sure everyone who has the ability has been spying on you. My men put the suggestion together after we arrived in Dedia. You’ve not had any crew come off the ship except yourself and your marine. The amount of food ordered by your ship is likewise quite low. Enough for a half-dozen people, maybe.”

Alex’s cheeks wanted to burn. She did not eat THAT much. Elis helped eat a lot of it, too!

“My ship is quite capable. It is not impossible that we can provide our own food production and stores. Not impossible for operational security to require that we keep a tight ship, either.”

Thraker nodded, “One other glaring issue: The Captain of a military warship without escort on a non-military base? Unless it is necessary, the captain does not normally leave the ship. You especially should not be out without an escort, but you’ve had to send your escort dirt side to manage your ground operations.”

A prickle of annoyance bit at Alex. “What is your point? I assume you have one, revealing that you know all this?”

“You need to be more careful. There are those who will want what you have and take it from you if they think they can. Just as there are those who will destroy it if they find they can’t possess it. My offer still stands to join the IHMC if you decide you need help.”

Alex’s wrist comm beeped. She was going to be late for her meeting with the Governor. Did she still even want to go? With everything she had learned, she wasn’t sure if setting up a base on the planet was a good idea anymore.

“Captain-Major, I’m sorry, but I’m going to be late for my meeting. We can discuss more later.”

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Next time: Chapter 43 – Firestorm One

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Erios909

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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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