A Very Blue Moon 26

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 26 Draft (03-19-11)

A week after docking, with the end of the engineering department’s work on the Castleton nearly complete, Lt. Cmdr Borselov made his way to the local terminal for his first trip down to Union. Both of his own ship’s landers were in use; the Major had taken one and left an hour earlier for the Union Fleet Sat with Connie as pilot. Using the other Lotti had his marines practicing suit work and maneuver on the planet’s outermost moon, a fair sized body with a surface gravity of .08 and a surface terrain resembling that of baked mud, Instead or loosing any of his off time Yuri had elected to travel civilian at his own expense.

He hadn’t racked up the quite the fortune that the very first of the Seventh’s members had managed before the units integration into the Cardoman military. That was when prize awards went completely to the units involved and there was no government to take the lion’s share (was that the big one or small one?)—but even at the reduced rate they used afterwards he’d been involved in enough captures that his personal wealth was well north of what his Lt Commanders salary made possible.

He had banked his surplus on Llanfairn and Cardoman, before the Calp occupation. With Cardoman desperate for hard currency he used his money on Llanfairn to purchase Cardoman high rate interest deferred bonds, and did so without the slightest trace of guilt. Cardoman’s share of the prize money he’d earned would more than cover any long term gains Cardoman would pay out, so long as they won and provided he lived to collect them. Both of those items were still in doubt.

But Union was taking Cardoman credits at par when spent on items suitable for consumer consumption, though not for exchange or investment, and local travel certainly qualified under the personal consumption rule. Yuri walked the four hundred meters to the nearest small first class commercial shuttle bay where a lander suitable for ten left the station every fifteen minutes.

The blister on the side of the station was almost empty. It was therefore surprising when after using his ident card to purchase a ticket, and retrieving a stick-on tag for his one piece of scanned luggage, he was intercepted just before reaching the open hatch into the loading tube.

“Mr. Borselov, would you please come with me?” said the rather large man who flashed an impressively ornate security badge in a tone that said “You will come with me or else!”

Resistance being futile without making a scene, Yuri replied at once, “That was just what I had intended.” As he was saying this his head turned slightly and his eyes widened as he looked over the other’s shoulder.

The man with the badge, seeing the look and motion turned to see behind, and as he did Yuri brushed the com unit on his belt and the lights in that room and the surrounding area went black. Moving rapidly in the darkness, his contacts enhancing the IR end of the spectrum, Yuri was already out in the station corridor walking slowly six seconds later when the lights came back on and a computer generated voice said over the sub section station intercom, “Please continue with your business. A partial switching relay failure has been corrected and all local services are restored to normal. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused and trust it will not happen again.”

Scarce a dozen minutes later Yuri was back on the Castleton with the captain in his day cabin.

“No injuries?”

“None I expect. Besides me and the security goon there were only seven other people in the area and all were standing still waiting for the lights to come back on when I left the blister. The hallway outside was the same. It would seem minor lights out incidents are not all that uncommon on the station here or these people actually read safety instructions.”

“More likely the later. Should we contact station security, or wait till the Major gets back?”

“Give them a buzz I should think,” Yuri was saying when the voice of the signals duty officer came over the intercom.

“Sir, we have Station Security on line. A Mr. Phillips is asking to speak with Cmdr. Borselov.”

“Patch him through,” Yuri said and the wall screen showed the picture of someone who most definitely was not James Phillips but whose voice most definitely was. Yuri held up a finger then reached across the desk and hit a button on the Captain’s side of the desk and said, “Visual screen-,” then said to Ustinov, “Two can play at this game.” He then hit voice and leaned back.

“Hello James, good to see you.”

The picture on the screen dissolved and the real image of Cmdr Phillips reappeared.

“Oops. Sorry Yuri, force of habit.”
“I’m learning,” Yuri said as he corrected his own image.

“Yes,” the Federation agent said with a smile, “I just received a report that says you’ve met agent Dawkins. — Much to his embarrassment.”

“One of your’s was he? I took him for somebody’s hired muscle. I was regretting not kicking him where it counts on the way out, but now I feel maybe a little better about skipping that part.”

“He’s Station Security actually, but I can see why you might think otherwise. He was told to inform you I was waiting with a drink in hand on a shuttle two locks down and got carried away. If you would be so kind as to join me I think we can get you down to the planet in one piece and I will see to it that the cost of the unused ticket is returned to your credit account.”

“I see B deck, compartment 214 as the origination point of this session. Is that right?”
“Compartment, 217,” and the number changed, “Hurry now, your ice is melting.”

As soon as Yuri entered the VIP shuttle Phillips stood and saluted. You’ve been here a week, found and used a program error in our identity scanning system, a system that has been operational for ten years or more, one that let you get into the local environmental grid, and left us no clue as to how you did it. How much does Cardoman pay Yuri? I’m sure we can top it.”

“I’m sure you could, but I’d make far more as a consultant, and besides I would give up my access to the experts on Cardoman who really know how to break into a code base. And besides that, I find I like to travel, ‘Join the Seventh, see the Worlds.’ never a dull moment and such.”

“If General Calvert will authorize you to tell us exactly how you did this, and I’m quire certain he will, the rest of your stay on Union, everything within reason will be at our expense.”

“No problem there James, I was going to tell you anyway. It was pure luck I got to try it out first.”

“Not so lucky for agent Dawkins, but I see we are about to break free. As soon as we clear local traffic control I’ll explain why I asked to see you.”

“. . . So you see, this goes to the highest level of intelligence we posses and our contact in the Caliphate must not be jeopardized. There is without doubt someone, or perhaps a group, whose only mission is to assassinate, our President and your Commanding General. The fact we have yet to pick them up on our end means they are very good. I rate the situation as extremely serious and offer a warning and a request for any help you can give us.”

“I don’t know what more we can do,” Yuri said. “But I’ll be sure the Major knows about this, and if I think of anything I’ll let you know.”

The shuttle was down and they left together, Phillips providing Yuri with a car and driver. “Thank you Commander. Enjoy your stay.”

* * *
Yuri spent two days and nights in Union then gave it up as a bad bargain. The first night, spent with a paid consort was enjoyable but really not worth the expense, even if Phillips was correct about who would foot this part of his bill. And that seemed to be the case as his credit balance hadn’t budged when he checked the next morning. He put in a call to the Shearings and spent a pleasant few hours at the dacha, had a uniform sent down from the ship, and later went with them to a diplomatic reception put on by Ardmore.

From Yuri’s perspective the event was all flash and with very little substance. Not even the assistant to their Minister of Trade knew anything about the planet’s main export: embedded electronics. The Calvert’s put on a much better show at the Castle even with far less skin being visible, and he told them so.

“We’re going back to the ship when we leave here tonight,” Connie said, “room for one more on the shuttle.”

“I’m with you! Let me see if I can bribe Ricks to clean out my room and send up my things.”

“Tell him you’ll let him use it for the rest of the week, being that it’s already paid for that should do the trick. He has a few days leave of his own yet to take, and we wouldn’t want to see Union hospitality going to waste.”

When the shuttle, with Lt Arpinia at the controls, drifted past the Castleton’s open boat deck Yuri watched while a container almost as big as their lander was taken aboard. Three of the ships crew could be seen guiding it towards an open slot near the center of the bare metal deck. The open area was filling up with similar containers and the two Cardoman shuttles, now exercising under the First Officer would be last inside the hatch before it was sealed.

With a roll to port Arpinia pulled away then proceeded to dock at one of the small shuttle bays on the station that the Cardoman ship had reserved for itself. From there they walked a few hundred meters in a near empty passage way, Lotti in front and Pranger behind, to the Castleton’s entryway. Next they were visually checked and cleared by bosun Joyce before entering the ship through the upper loading tube where in a weeks time their passengers, old and new, would also join the ship in the last few hours prior to departure.

The Castleton was almost empty, two thirds of the crew on the station or on Union leaving thirty to handle the final loading and all other ship’s functions. As a rule there were two on the bridge, two in engineering, one at the loading dock and one on roaming patrol. The remaining crewmen were involved with loading, inspection where required, then securing the last part of their cargo. Or they were off duty and restricted to the ship unless relieved by someone returning from leave.

Roger Elmendorf and an elderly couple from Rushton, a Cardoman coastal village, were the only ones left from their original group of passengers still using the ships facilities and as such entering or leaving the ship at odd intervals. Therefore there was very little that the guard at the loading tube actually had to do in any kind of direct sense.

Bosun Joyce kept busy by working at a part of her regular job, devising individual training schedules for the non-marine portion of the crew she was responsible for. In her hours off duty she helped out in engineering, keeping up her skill level as an engineering mate and working on a master’s ticket. That was about as far away from the assistant purser she had been before joining the Cardoman Navy as it was possible to go and a welcome change of pace, especially now when she could work under Commander Borselov who effortlessly went from design to build and back again.

Bosun Joyce saluted the Major when he and Connie entered the ship. The compartment was not large enough to require such a move but it was a natural response and came without thought.

“Welcome aboard Sir, Ma’am,” she said.
“At ease, Bosun. Anything new to report?”

“The Captain would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience sir, other than that situation normal,” she said with a knowing grin.

“Carry on Joyce, you’re working wonders.”

Roger Elmendorf left his room for the station twenty minutes after the Major came aboard. Jenny Joyce made him go through the standard security scan without waving him through as she might have done. There was just something about the man that did not ring true, something that rubbed her the wrong way. She’d run his personal data, pass after pass through the ships database, and even with the inclusion of everything new obtained from Union she kept coming up empty. Too empty, even for someone from Valerian. It bothered her and she couldn’t give it up.

While she was thinking about the problem she tried a pass on ship’s records using alternate spellings of his first and last name. Still nothing. There was time to finish up the training schedule before going off shift, so she set one problem aside and went back to work on another.

Imhoff went directly to the Zero G where Yasser Allahbad was waiting in the gym. “Calvert is on the ship with his wife, Captain Ustinov, and thirty members of the crew. Both of her shuttles and most of the marines are away. It is time!”

The pilot who would have flown the cargo shuttle, and this container to the Castleton, was in a bag stuffed into the lavatory. The insulated container showing years of use clamped to the deck of the cargo hold had a data strip and memory module that said it was filled with 11000 kilograms of meat—beef, extra prime. Azrie Kalid was piloting the vehicle, Yasser Allahabad in the cargo compartment doing duty as the loadmaster.

Mohammad Zur sat in the copilot’s seat and read words from a screen in front of him purely as background while Azrie talked to launch control from his takeoff script. A filter took care of matching Azrie’s voice to that of the former pilot. It was unlikely that a mismatch between the two would be noticed but Imhoff had insisted.

Inside the container, behind a wall of boxes three deep, was the assault team. Ten men in skin suits and breathing oxygen from a central tank, saving their personal supplies, shivering despite their suit’s protection in the -20 degree cold.

The insulation and cooling coils preventing a clean scan would require that cargo handlers open the container to verify the contents. Most transports would let that slide, relying on the data strip and bond stamp. Two similar containers already loaded showed the Cardoman’s went beyond the book when it came to such matters.

They reported ready filed a provisional flight in an empty time slot and requested confirmation of departure time. A few minutes later it was confirmed with no need for adjustments. Azrie tracked the three shuttles in front of him and lifted on time to the second. A twenty minute orbital burn and he was coasting towards the Castleton with the signals operator on the bridge talking him into his final approach.

There was a slight bump and a dull metal on metal sound and they were inside with magnets holding them to the hanger deck. In the dock control room gravity was reestablished, five minutes for pressure to return then a pounding on the shuttles hatch said it was time to open up. Yasser opened the clamshell doors and stood moving towards the opening.

“We’ll take it from here,” said a rating entering as soon as there was room for him to pass, “We have to check the cargo before we off load it. Won’t take a minute.” A second crew member followed him in.

Instead of returning to his seat Yasser nodded assent and moved to the hatch, stepped down on the deck, and looked around. He could see the windowed control room up on the boat deck wall with one person inside. He could see two other crewmen on the other side of the bay moving a hauler they would use to shift the container from the shuttle and to its final resting place. He turned to see inside the cargo craft once more and the back of the first crew member aboard who was opening the end panel of the container, gloved hands careful of the cold.

Taking a step forward so he was hidden from the figure in the control room he pulled a silenced short barreled weapon from his pocket and fired twice, once for each of the Cardomans facing the cargo container. He took a second step and into each, from only centimeters away fired twice more. Moments later he was joined by Zur who with a glance at his leader casually slit the throats of both bodies before he began removing boxes from the open container, moving as fast as the laws of physics allowed.

Yasser opened a narrow wall locker just inside the shuttles hatch, took out a short range missile launcher, and then stepped back into the shuttle bay. There were five rounds in the cartridge fed magazine. The first went to the armored window of the deck control room and caused it to craze, the second blew it out and the third made certain the operator inside was dead. The final two missiles were aimed at the loading crew and machinery. They remained alive as long as it took for the missiles to cover the thirty meter distance, call it a second and a half.

He had been looking out towards Castleton and after seeing at a distance the shuttle ‘borrowed’ from the Latakian G-2 start its final docking, maneuver Imhoff left the observation blister and returned to the ship’s only connected boarding tube. Bosun Joyce no longer had the duty, a pity thought Moqtada al-Sadr,— he would go by his true name from here on in with nothing to loose for he had spent a pleasant hour in anticipation of dealing with the bitch.

He fumbled with a loose tie on his boot for a moment and was about to try and make some ‘how is the weather’ style small talk to the bosun’s replacement when the ships intercom announced the shuttle was on board.

The new guard never looked up, she never had a chance. Maqtada drove his clenched fist into her neck between breastbone and chin and as she lay gasping on the deck set to work on the tube control.

“What the hell! — Lieutenant, there’s been an accident on the loading deck!” reported the crewman sharing the watch under Arpinia. I show structural damage to deck control and have lost all visuals.”

Enrico Arpinia hit the ship wide alarm. “Damage control to the boat deck, damage control to the boat deck.” was followed by, “Captain to the bridge.” He tried once more to find a video feed that didn’t route through deck control and failed, “I’m going down to see for myself, let the Captain know as soon as he gets here!”

Until he knew what was happening Arpinia was going to stay out of the elevator tubes, no reason to risk being trapped even for a few minutes if power should fail. He took the ladder way down one level and heard another warning.

“Boarding tube malfunction, upper lock inoperative.”

Rico paused on the landing, this was no ordinary accident. He opened the hatch and stepped out of the ladder well into the ring corridor around the ship’s central shaft. The Captain was running his way towards the opening.

“Sir, we have no idea what is happening, but it must be more than a simple accident, I am going to suit up before going any further.”

“Be fast,” Ustinov said while passing him before taking the stairs two at a time and going up the flight to the bridge.

“Get dressed dear! Suits!” Wes was standing and looking at a screen on the bedroom wall showing the boat deck and the upper loading tub in red. A tap on the control block gave no explanation or additional information. He could see a damage control team was suiting up above engineering and that Vince Ustinov was on the bridge. Connie was placing both their suits on the bed. Total time since the first alarm, about thirty seconds.

They helped each other into the tight fitting garments and went from their sleeping room into the suites larger dining and entertaining area. Dormer entered from the outside hatch which he left open while at the same time carrying a rifle under one arm and his suit with the other, he would have needed to be sleeping in it to have donned it unaided this rapidly. He did have on his helmet and was listening intently.

“Sir, engineering reports the elevator controls are out and the run is broken at the boat deck. Captain Ustinov requests your presence on the bridge. I recommend that you and your wife get into an escape pod and leave the ship at once!”

“Connie, help Dormer into his suit.” Wes stepped into the passageway and saw an empty desk where the bosun or one of her subordinates normally held court. He sat down and tried to get an open line into engineering with no answer. Next he tried to call off the ship with the same result. The security channel was down as well, or at least it had no traffic.

Connie and Dormer, now in full suit, came through the hatch. “To the bridge,” Wes said leading the way to a stairwell running next to the hull, a twin to one on the ship’s port side. They could hear gunshots and echoing voices coming from the depths below, and what could be footsteps climbing upwards over the sound of the ship’s alarm. Had there been a hull breach the well would have been sealed at each deck level. For now at least it was connecting the upper section of the ship from bottom to top.

One flight up and they were on the control deck but outside of the centrally located bridge space. The access hatch, a small airlock, was closed. Wes touched the open control but to no avail. Dormer said, “Let me try sir.”

He stuck a card in a slot and typed in an override. The outer door slid open and the three of them crowded into the confined space. That door closed and the inner door opened.

“It’s Calvert!” Dormer shouted as he was first out of the lock. The bridge was in nearly dark, light coming from secondary sources. With eyes rapidly adjusting Wes could see Ustinov standing at the signals station rapidly flipping through screen views. Getting closer he could see they were schematics of control runs.

“If you can talk to me while doing that, what the hell is going on?” Wes asked, much more calmly then the situation warranted.

“We are under some kind of attack, though by whom I can’t say. I had the general comm channel open a moment ago and Lotti reported intruders and fighting on the boat deck. There,” he said, highlighting a control code and hitting enter.

“What is your Status? Castleton, this is station security, what is your status?” came a voice over a radio relay to the station.

“Ustinov here. My ship has been boarded and is under attack. Control functions are down and we are taking casualties. I request assistance as rapidly as possible.”

Castleton, your boarding tube is evacuated and sealed. Can you repressurize?”

“Not at this time.”
“We are scrambling a shuttle but this will take some time.”

“And there is no time,” came a new voice on the line. “This is Colonel Sadr, you—Captain Ustinov— have known me as Roger Elmendorf. I am here to return this ship to her rightful owners. Loss of life to this point has been minimal and regrettable. If you do not undock from the station and leave orbit at once that situation will change.”

“On your boat deck in a cargo container I have eight tons of high explosive. I have men under my command waiting to establish control over your engineering section. You will do as I say or the loss of life on Union Station will be devastating, and the loss of life on the Castleton . . . total. You have three minutes before even I will be powerless to stop the destruction. Order your crew to cease all resistance now! Do not delete anything from the ships database. I am on my way to the bridge.”

“What do I do Sir?” Ustinov asked turning off his mike.
“Can you get me a secure channel to engineering?”
“I can now, he said highlighting another control code on the screen in front of him.

“Do so—then order the crew to stand down and issue orders to undock. Start but be slow about it. We need to find out how many of us are left and where they are without cluing in this Colonel Sadr.”

“What about you and Connie? You could still get off the ship in an escape pod before this Sadr gets here. Give him time and I am sure he will have them made inoperable.”

“I will wait for him here.” He turned to Connie with the intention of ordering her off the ship. Seeing her expression he said, “We both will.”