Welcome Anonymous !


Battletech Universe

Fan Fiction

Orbit - Winter Fiction First Place

Post your Battletech stories and read & rate the tales of others!

Moderators: Ravion Hawk, AVA MANGO TWO, Typhoon, trboturtle

Orbit - Winter Fiction First Place

Postby Centurion13 » Sat Mar 17, 2007 10:31 am



It was early evening and the Rocky Bottom Flats Saloon was humming with activity. The recent solar storm had cost the nearby starport millions of credits in stranded shipping and travelers. But it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. And so far, the week's enforced stay had been very good indeed for Gus, owner of the Rocky Bottom Flats.

Proximity to the starport was one reason. Many customers were anxious passengers who didn't want to be stranded when the storm subsided. They stayed in a large hotel to one side of the saloon, and paid frequent visits as the days passed. Gus had just settled a tab with one of the regulars and was working on a revised barmaid schedule when the door opened. Glancing up, Gus recognized the new patron and waved him in.

"Hey, Father. Good to see ya again. Here for the game?"

The stranger smiled as he doffed his hat, revealing silver hair. He wore a dark suit, tasteful and stylishly cut despite his expanding waistline. In his mid-sixties, the man might have passed for a business executive but for the modest white collar around his neck and the small silver cross which hung below. Father O'Malley's dark brown eyes twinkled beneath black eyebrows. The broad face crinkled into an easy smile.

"You betcha, Gus. I'm not too early, am I?"

"Naw. The boys still have a couple of seats left, and one of 'em is reserved. I'm told you owe them a story. That true?"

The older man paused to hang his coat and hat on a rack. "Yeah. We've all been taking turns during the week. I missed Tuesday's story, but Al says it was okay. Something about a haunted mine."

Gus gestured towards the hallway at the back of the bar. "Well, help yerself, Father. I'm short a barmaid, so we'll close around two or three tonight, or whenever the crowds thin a bit. Gin and tonic, right?"

Father O'Malley nodded "That's right, Gus. Just put them on my tab, and I'll settle before I leave tonight. Storm's gonna lift sometime in the morning”

As the priest turned to go, Gus suddenly remembered something. "Hey, Father, hang on a second. I got something for ya. You asked if I carried good cigars a while back, right? And I said I didn't." He reached down under the bar. "Well, I still don't. But I know someone who does." He reappeared holding a small bundle. "I could only get a few, though."

Father O'Malley smile grew even wider. He shook his head in mock disgust. "Gus! You're supposed to tend bar - not work miracles!" He took the small bundle from the barkeep. Unwrapping it, he drew a long, dark brown cylinder under his nose and gently inhaled.

"Ahhhh..... brings back good memories. How did you get these? I looked all over the city, but couldn't find anything I'd want to light up." The priest carefully re-wrapped the cigars.

"Ah, you know. Connections. I called in a favor last night from a guy who owes me. He has a private stock. Those are Kalandrian Especiales, from Valexa. I know you're used to Havanas, bein' as you're from Terra and all, but he says you oughta like those. They're rated pretty high."

The priest nodded. "Thank you, Gus. I'm sure I will. What'll you want for....ahhh, never mind. You went to the trouble, so charge what you like." With that, Father O'Malley tucked the cigars into his vest pocket and started for the door at the end of the hallway. On the way back, he admired the numerous pictures lining the walls to either side. He recognized a few faces - most were of celebrities and famous military figures. All were signed "To Gus". When he reached the door, O'Malley paused for a moment to loosen his collar. He closed his eyes and murmured a short prayer. Opening his eyes, he squared his shoulders and grasped the large brass handle. Giving it a half-turn, he pushed the heavy oaken door open and entered the card room.

The scene which met his eyes was familiar from previous evenings. It was cozy and quiet, with a slight haze of tobacco smoke in the air. The ceiling fans turned lazily over leather-covered chairs and a thick carpet. Several strategically- placed antique lamps shed a warm light. In the center of the room was a large square table made of some exotic dark wood and covered with green felt. Over it hung a small chandelier. Five men and a woman sat around the table, counting their chips and chatting. As O'Malley entered, they looked up. One of them stood and met him halfway, clapped the priest on the shoulder and shook his hand.

"Hey, it's about time! Meg thought you might beg off tonight, seeing as you owe us a story, but we held up anyway. Ready to play?" The man released O'Malley's hand and gestured towards an empty seat. A stack of chips waited on the table.

O'Malley nodded. "Thanks, Ed. Sorry I'm so late, folks, but there were some last minute arrangements concerning the storm. I didn't want to leave my temporary flock hanging without a prayer." As he sat down, he glanced over at the lone woman player. "Meg, I would never dream of dodging my duty as a storyteller", he said solemnly. "And besides," he grinned "there's a pot of money hanging in the balance, if my memory serves right." He began counting his poker chips.

A thin, dark skinned man chimed in as he began shuffling the deck. "Dat's right. De rest have already told dere tales. Gus will be in around eleven, to listen and judge. He'll award the pot to de best storyteller. If you're not around to collect for some reason, we'll wire it to your next stop." The others murmured approval and were discussing the relative merits of past stories when a waitress entered the room with a large tray of drinks. Each player took one and tipped the waitress. Soon the dealer began passing out cards, and the chatter died away. Serious play had begun.

The hours passed as hand after hand was played to the accompaniment of cheers and groans from the players. O'Malley's pile grew substantially and was the second largest at the table when the heavy wooden door opened. It was Gus. He dried his hands with a towel and nodded towards the gathered players.

"It's almost midnight, ladies and gentlemen. Thought you'd like to take a break and stretch your legs before the storytelling begins. I have to finish up some things out in front. Give me fifteen minutes and we'll all meet back here."

Father O'Malley smiled. He stood up and stretched arms that still looked as if they belonged to a longshoreman, then began rolling the sleeves down. Buttoning the cuffs, he looked over at the thin dark man.

"Elliot, keep an eye on my chips, willya? My fellow players have been swearing all evening they're going to get them back before I leave. I ask ya, what's a man of God to do in such a den of iniquity?"

The other man grimaced. "Eh, some of dose chips used to be mine. Don' be too long. My wife, she could use a new dress, eh?"

Father O'Malley grinned. "That money's going straight to the collection plate. But I'm not worried." He pointed at the ceiling. "Remember, He's watching too..." He chuckled as Elliot glanced nervously upward. "See ya in a few."


The players were seated around the table. Fresh drinks were served all around and several people lit up tabac sticks or inhaled their favorite Vaypor(r). Ed Raimey, who'd lost the most money that evening, grabbed a snack from the bowl and pushed his chair back. "Well, Father, what've you got for us this evening? It's the last story, so it better be good. I don't know about the rest of you, but I thought Tyrel spun a pretty fine tale and so did Meg."

O'Malley finished moistening the wrapper of a long, dark cigar. Borrowing a light from another player, he carefully rotated the cigar as he applied flame to the end. After a few draws, he blew a smoke ring and pushed his own chair back, propping his feet up on a table crossbrace. "Ed, the story I am about to tell you all is something no one - no one - outside the Church has ever heard before. And after tonight no one will ever hear it again. But first you'll have to put up with some background."

Ed looked around at his fellow players, who had perked up at the old priest's words. "Sounds interesting. You mean you don't want any of us repeating this story?"

O'Malley shook his head. "No, no, not at all. Tell it all you want, to whomever you like. What I mean is, I don't think you'll want to. Anyway, no one will believe you." He paused for a moment, then added with a wink "If you're lucky."

"Well, now you've got my attention," commented Gus from the corner of the room where he was working on receipts. He swiveled his chair towards the seated players and tapped his chin with a pencil. "Don't keep us in suspense, Padre."

O'Malley raised his eyebrows. "Hmph. Well, my dad was a miner working radioactives on one of those backwater places everyone hears about but never visits. We'd followed the work from our home world, and had no local family to speak of. I was about ten when Dad died of rad poisoning. Mom tried to keep things together, but the income just wasn't there. We lost our house, sold most of our belongings. Three years later we were living in a homeless shelter. I won't say what my mother did for a living, but I was about fifteen when she was killed by a drunk trucker. The state took over raising me, but I was an angry teenager by then and a hellraiser to boot . No family would put up with me for long. I ended up on the streets, living from hand to mouth and running with a street gang." O'Malley puffed on his cigar. "We made money running drugs and stealing anything that looked valuable, but we were all just kids."

"It was about this time, a year or so after joining the gang, that The Job came around. It was kinda like a rite of passage for us gangers. If you stripped away all the ceremony, of course, you saw it for what it was - a test of ability. I couldn't wait for my turn.

See, until you pulled off 'The Job', you were just a 'kid', on probation. You got no respect from the older members. I'd been around a bit before I joined the gang and I thought that oughta count for something. I let 'em know, too. Some of 'em didn't like it, but I didn't care - not then.

Anyway, The Job went like this: you had to plan a robbery, carry it out and come back with stuff that was worth a certain amount of money in order to be accepted as a full member. I decided that the local church was as good a place as any to start. I'd heard they had precious metals all over the place, so I decided to case the place. About two months passed, with me attending Mass like I was a born Catholic. I got to know the priest and his assistants pretty well, and even volunteered to be an altar boy." O'Malley paused.

Ed broke the silence. "So is that when you decided to become a priest?"

O'Malley looked at him. "Naw. I was just going along so I could case the joint. I had to nail down the basics, see? You know; their schedules, their habits, where the valuables were kept and what kind of security systems they had in place. Stuff like that."

Ed grimaced. "Wow. That's cold."

O'Malley nodded. "Yeah, it was. And it worked. I found out what they had and one night, I went in and took it. Gold chalice, silver candlesticks, cross with jewels, the whole works. Of course, I had to do it alone. And I got caught. The cops who finally cornered me acted like they'd been waiting for me. I figure someone in the gang tipped them off. "

"I ended up in a cell downtown, looking at four concrete walls and some time in prison. And that was if things went well. If the judge decided to throw the book at me, I was screwed. See, on that planet, there wasn't much sympathy for thieves.. I already had a record, and it looked like I was headed for a long stretch. But not in prison. That would have been a burden to the state. No, my debt to society would be worked off mining radioactives. They wouldn't be too careful about the antirad precautions for a convict. It was a death sentence. I'd die the same way as my Dad - coughin' up blood and wasting away." O'Malley paused again, and finished his drink. Gus motioned to the waitress, who brought another and placed it in front of the priest.

"Thanks, Molly." O'Malley drew on the cigar. "Anyway, I'd been there a couple days when a cop came for me. I figured he was there to take me to the detention center, but he didn't look at all happy. I asked him what was going on.

'Shut your trap and follow me,' was all he said as he opened the door and let me out. Another cop came up as we reached the sallyport and shoved my clothes at me. 'Take these and get out of here, creep. Looks like you got lucky this time. Church ain't pressin' charges.' He spat. 'You're free to go.'"

"I stumbled out of that station into the gathering gloom. It was evening and the weather was turning bad. The cold truth was, I didn't have anywhere to go. Those days in the can had given me time to think. I knew if I went back to the gang, they'd think I snitched on them to get out of working the mines. So I sat down with my bundle on the station steps and pondered my next move. That's when someone sat down next to me. It was the priest from the Church."

"We had a long talk, let me tell you. He saw promise in me - why, I'll never know - and offered to take me in if I agreed to stay clean and earn my keep. Well, you can believe I took that offer up - in a heartbeat! For the next four years, I worked on construction jobs for the Church and kept clear of the streets. It was hard, hard work, but that old priest - Father Benjamin - was as good as his word. And more."

O'Malley paused and inspected his cigar. Puffing on it again, he continued. "In fact, he was like a real father to me, the father I had grown up without. Believe you me, it made a difference. He was a Jesuit, and he taught me a lot. I don't think he was too surprised when I told him on the eve of my twenty-first birthday that I wanted to be a priest like him."

"Oh, he tried to talk me out of it. He said celibacy was no picnic, that I would miss having a family of my own and that I should taste a little more of life before I made my choice. But I was set. I was never much for the ladies, though I had tumbled a few in my time. Maybe my lack of an upbringing had burned all of that out of me, but I really didn't want to do the family thing either. I decided that other people's families would do just as well.

“Father Ben seemed pleased with my choice. He agreed to sponsor me to seminary. I eventually took my preliminary vows and entered the transitional diaconate . After three years there, they offered to send me on to a university run by Jesuits, to finish my education before they finally ordained me into the priesthood. So off I went. A few more years of school and I’d be a brand-new priest ready to take on his first challenge. Looking back, I think I grew up to be the son that old priest never had. So we both got something out of it."

O'Malley took a sip of his drink, looked around the table and noted the impatient looks on a few faces. "Hey!" he said and waved his cigar. "I told you there was some back story!"
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Albrecht Jorgensson » Sat Mar 17, 2007 4:14 pm

MORE!! Dammit MORE!! Talk about a frigging CLIFFHANGER!! GRAAHHH!!!! BAD Cent13!!! BAD!! *beats with a wet noodle*

Alright, now that my general displeasure with cliffys has been vented, I have to say, this is a great story. I understand the idea, but I have no clue where this is going. Come on man, give us more. Don't leave us hanging!
How do I spell 'Politics'? C-O-W-A-R-D-I-C-E

Image Image
My Blog: http://thetwitcherspulpit.blogspot.com/
Albrecht Jorgensson
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 2010
Joined: Mon Jul 31, 2006 4:53 pm

Postby Centurion13 » Sun Mar 18, 2007 1:07 am


"Ed , can I borrow that light again? My smoke's out." Father O'Malley took the lighter and relit his cigar. "Thanks. Okay, I promised a mystery. So... here we go."

"I was supposed to go offplanet after graduation. Father Ben had gotten me a position at the Chapel of Saint Andrew, Baxley. There was a Jesuit school there that needed a teacher, and they were willing to train one. It turned out I had the gift of the gab, so Ben wangled me a berth on a medium size Jumpship. The Captain agreed to take me aboard, so long as I kept out of the way. And I did."

"Everybody knows how these things work. Shuttles would take cargo to and from orbit, the in-system freighters would haul it out to the Jump points, and then attach themselves to a Jumpship stationed there. The Jumpship would translate through hyperspace carrying her crew, cargo and any attached craft. After arriving at the new system, the whole thing would work in reverse.

I rode an aerodyne freighter right from the ground out to the Jump point, then joined the crew of the Jumpship. She'd load and offload at various systems, but I'd stay onboard. When she arrived at my destination, that's when I would hitch a ride on another system freighter."

"We'd completed two Jumps and were about to cross a gulf between inhabited systems when it happened." He paused again. "We misJumped. Sorta."

Ed whistled. "Wow. I've never heard of anyone coming back from a misJump. You sure about that?"

O'Malley gestured impatiently with his cigar. "Look, it wrecked the engineroom and we didn't get to where we were going. That's all I know about it. The Captain called it a misJump and I'm calling it a misJump. Now can I get on with the story?"

Ed leaned back, somewhat subdued. "Yeah, sure. Sorry, Father. You know I didn't mean anything by it."

"S'okay." Mollified, O'Malley continued. "Anyway, we came out in the middle of nowhere, with a fried Jump drive. But to hear the crew talk, you'd think we'd gotten off easy. And looking back on it, I guess we did. We weren't dead, and we were pretty close to a star system. But pretty close is a relative thing out there. It took us about three months to get close enough to that star so we could deploy the solar sail. It took another month after that to finish repairing the Jumpdrive."

Ed looked puzzled. "Uh....Father?"

O'Malley looked over at him. "Yeah?"

"Uh, well .... if you were so close to a system, why didn't you just signal them and have someone come give you a hand? Why did you need to repair the drive in space?"

O'Malley smiled. "Take a look at that map on the wall."

All heads turned to an old map of the Inner Sphere which covered an entire wall of the room.

"See all those stars? Pretty close, aren't they? Maybe you forgot - a lot of people do - but that's only about a quarter of the stars that are actually in the Inner Sphere. Those familiar names you see? Those are just the habitable systems. We came out near an uninhabited system, and by that, I mean there was nothing there a man could live on. A couple gas giants, some asteroid belts, and that was it. The damn thing wasn't even listed in the navigation computer. We were on our own."

Meg thought of something. "What was the name of your ship?"

O'Malley got a thoughtful look. "The Gaea's Bounty"

[The ship drifted silently between the stars, her darkened hull marked only by the occasionally winking of a light or puff of waste gas. Gaea's Bounty was an Invader-class Jumpship, with two Mule-class dropships attached. Not three hours before, she had translated from hyperspace with significant damage to her Kearny - Fuchida interstellar drive. Or as one of the engineers put it, "We didn't translate, we got kicked out. We're lucky to be alive."

The mood on the Jumpship's bridge was understandably tense. A sense of urgency and just a hint of despair wafted throughout the ship, but it was concentrated here in the sour odor of sweat and fear. The Captain sat slumped in his command chair. He'd just finished speaking with two dropship commanders, and he had nothing good to tell them. They each had expensive cargo and a crew of at least twenty apiece. One ship carried grain, the other a load of BattleMech supplies. He'd told them repairs were already underway, and they went away satisfied. But as time passed, it was beginning to look as if getting the ship back on course wouldn't be so easy.

Rubbing his temples, he spoke quietly. "Mr. Wilson, I want a complete report on the damage, with hourly updates."

"Yes sir", a voice piped from the arm of the command chair. The Cheng, or Chief Engineer, was back in Engineering surveying the damage to the ship's interstellar K-F drive. "We have issues with the drive controllers, but it'll be a few hours before I can get a complete list to you. Also, there's some damage to the converters. Charging with the fusion core is out of the question for now. We'll still be able to use the solar sail, but we'll have to get a lot closer to that star before we can get any real current flow. The Jump coils are our main problem right now."

Captain Hathaway reached for a mug. "Why? We have replacements. I went over inventory with Mister Sprague last quarter. There should be enough spares to swap out all the coils at least once."

The Cheng's sigh was audible on the quiet bridge. "Well, that's part of the problem. We checked them after removing them from the bulkheads, and it turns out that about a fifth of them aren't compatible with the others. They have the exact same stock numbers, but they don't match. It seems the manufacturer changed the specs about two years ago."

The Captain rubbed his face. "Mr. Wilson, meet me in my stateroom in ... four hours with a complete rundown of what we have on hand, and what we have to do to get the hell out of here. We're running out of wiggle room. I want that drive ready to charge when we hit the system. You're going to tell me what I need to do to make it happen."

The Cheng's voice was tired. "Yes sir. Wilson out."

The Captain leaned back and was considering his options when a quiet voice near his ear made him jump.

"Goddammit, Tim! I wish you wouldn't do that!"

"Sorry, Captain. It's none of my business, but you might want to go easy on Wilson. He's been in the thick of it since we fell out of Jumpspace. And we have a long way to go."

Hathaway set his jaw. "No can do, Tim. I know you mean well. But that's not gonna save the crew. We don't have much time to figure out what we have to do, and even less time to do it. In case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of interstellar space, about ten light years from the nearest inhabited planet. I want to go easy. Believe me, I do. But space doesn't care. And right now, neither do I."

He paused. "Tim, we have a three-month transit ahead of us. In that time, we have to find a way to get the fuel from those dropships into our tanks. We have to get the Jump drive up and running. But the first problem we have to solve is making about three week's worth of food last for that three months."

"Now. Here's what we're going to do. I want you at that meeting in my stateroom four hours from now. Bring the dropship commanders - they're gonna be part of the solution. In the meantime, round up a couple of techs from A-Gang. Get some bodies from the dropship crews, too. Go up to the hydroponic domes and see what we can do to amplify what light we do have, maybe augment it. Come up with something - artificial light, whatever you can think of. Otherwise, this ship will be orbiting around that mystery star with a dead crew."

The First Officer stepped back, his face an emotionless mask. "Yes, sir."]

O'Malley had their attention now. "When the ship dropped out of hyperspace, she was in a pretty bad way. I didn't see much of what was going on, and tried to stay out of the way. But you knew things were getting dicey when the Captain himself began attending the little prayer meetings I'd set up for the crew. He asked me to put in a good word for the engineers who were hard at work, and I did. My flock grew quite a bit when the dropship crews began coming around. Before long, though, we were on our way to a mystery star, someplace that wasn't even in the computers, according to the Navigator. It took a long time to get there, too."

The priest paused, sipped his drink and puffed contentedly on his cigar. He went on.

"That was the longest three months of my life. By the end of the trip, we were all getting on each other's nerves, and pretty hungry to boot. To make matters worse, some of the guys owed a lot of money to the cardsharks who ran their poker games up in the dropships. The Captain put a stop to that, but we were all a little ancy when the ship finally arrived in the new system. They'd had a good opportunity to scan and study that system; Navigator said it was strange that the thing wasn't in the computers. They were determined to get as much information as they could on it. Lord only knows we had the time."

"Anyway, we're in the system and the word is that the Captain and crew have come up with a way to get us into hyperspace. They hadda work out the kinks while we orbited that sun charging our drive's accumulators. I was writing a short sermon for Sunday services when the word came over the comm system for the Captain to get to the Bridge. It didn't sound like good news."

[The dimly lit bridge was nearly empty. The smell of coffee was in the air. Blue lighting illuminated the heads of the night crew as they went about their duties. Halfway through the first evening watch, Ship's Navigator Ben Strickland leaned back with his feet up on a console, leafing through printout sheets while his assistant studied the readings coming in from the ship's sensors. Every hour the sensors would scan the surrounding space for approaching debris and stellar conditions. It was Assistant Navigator Charlie Mitchell's job to collate the resulting data and send it to the Captain in summary form.

"About ready to blow this joint, Mitch?" the older man asked.

"Yeah. Gonna be hell getting our land legs back after this one. I don't know anyone who's been in space this long. You think the capacitors will hold the charge?" The younger man grimaced as he adjusted the sensor sweep.

"Sure will. We're cutting it close, but Clark and Tana know what they're doing, and they've got a good gang working with them."

Clark and Tana Beresfort were the Lead Engineer and his Assistant. They'd been putting in extra hours to make sure the ship's KF drive didn't fail again. That they were newlyweds added extra urgency to their work.

"Got anything to show the Old Man on that report?", Mitch asked.

"Mmmmm.... yeah. Sorta. This system looks funny. The navigation computers don't know what to make of the orbits and the distribution of mass. Everything's out of whack. It's like something's missing, but damned if I know what. I've been plugging some numbers in, but from the looks of these results, they aren't big enough. You make any progress on those scans?"

The younger man did not immediately reply. After a moment, Strickland looked up at Mitchell, and noticed the young man staring intently at his screen. "What's up, Mitch?"

Without moving his eyes from the screen, Mitchell replied "Ben...... c'mere and look at this, will ya?"

"Sure". Strickland set his printouts to one side, swung his feet to the deck and bounced through the light gravity toward the younger man's station. "Whatcha got?" he asked.

" I don't know. I thought maybe it was a comet, but it's not moving in the right direction, and it cuts on and off. I swear it looks like a ... well, like someone's firing a fusion drive."

The older man peered closely at the screen. Reaching over, he tapped an icon on the small screen and the scanner's contents were transferred to a large overhead projector. Flipping another switch, Strickland shifted the display over to the visible spectrum. The two men stared at a panorama of stars against the pitch black of space. Mitchell moved his joystick and a green reticule appeared, moving across the screen to settle on a blue-white point. The screen zoomed in and the point of light became a familiar streak of fusion flame. Strickland checked the energy readings. "That's not long enough for a fusion drive", he said.

Mitchell wrinkled his brow. "What if it's been changed by the angle of the source? Foreshortening would account for the unusual length of the exhaust." He stared intently at the blue-white flame.

Strickland did some quick mental calculations as he fiddled with the contrast. The image sharpened slightly. "Yeah, it's probably foreshortened. But that would mean it's coming right at..." His voice trailed off as he too stared at the image of the mystery flame. Tearing his eyes away, Strickland made haste to a comm panel and jabbed a red button on the screen. "Captain to the Bridge. Captain to the Bridge!" he said tersely. "Code Alpha. I repeat, Code Alpha."

The two men shared a brief glance before turning towards the screen. The flame went out, then a few minutes later flickered on again. Mitchell licked his lips. "I thought we were alone out here. What the hell is that thing, Ben?"

Strickland stared grimly at the screen. "I don't know, Mitch. Maybe the Captain can make some sense of this."

Mitchell looked down at the scanner. Rubbing his eyes, he squinted. "Hello....." After a few moments of silence, he added "Well, whatever it is, it's got company. We have another fusion signal coming from ...there." And a blue reticule flashed on the screen, centered on another point of light.

Strickland stared at the display. Despite the warm dry air of the bridge, a chill ran through him. Shuddering, he muttered aloud "This is not good."]

Ed raised his hand. "Father, what was it all about?"

O'Malley shrugged. "I don't know. I can guess, based on what I learned later, but I figure they saw something they didn't like. The Captain, he wasn't taking chances on scuttlebut, no sir. They closed the bridge off to everyone about twenty minutes later. Whatever it was, it was top secret. Only reason I know was because I saw the Navigator a couple days later. I held Confession for him and he told me what he'd seen."

[The Captain strode onto the bridge. Waving a hand, he ordered "Standard lighting, Mr. Mitchell." Blue overhead lights vanished as the main lighting came on, and First Officer Lyman joined them as the Captain bent over a sensor screen and did some adjusting of his own. "Mr. Strickland, what have we got here?"

Strickland cleared his throat. "Sir, it looks like we have two unidentified craft out there accelerating towards us. They've been at it for nearly an hour now, according to the records."

The Captain turned to the First Officer. "Tim, any thoughts?"

"Captain, this system was dead as a doornail when we arrived. We're going to have to wait until they get closer to see what they're up to." Tim glanced up at the screen. "Mitchell, see if you can get some kind of response from that thing. The other one, too. And give me an ultra high frequency scan. I want to know what they look like."

"Yes sir." The young man paused, then performed the assigned tasks. The others waited. Finally, after several minutes, the console flashed.

"Well? What've we got, Mr. Mitchell?" boomed the Captain.

The young man pressed another button, then stabbed it again. He turned, obviously flustered, and shrugged with open palms. "Sir, I'm sorry. There's no response from them. Not only that, it looks like they just scanned us. It trigged the Identification Friend or Foe response from our transponder. Then our computer just up and started spilling its guts through the main antenna. I stopped that nonsense as soon as I saw the data start to flow." Mitchell flashed a satisfied smirk. His face fell as he added "But that's not the worst of it."

The Captain stared at the screen. "Go on, lad. Don't keep me in suspense; it's not polite. What do our UHF scans show?

The Assistant Navigator swallowed nervously. "That's just it, Captain. The scans show nothing. Whatever they are, those objects aren't returning a signal of any kind. The only reason we know they're coming is because we saw their fusion drive exhaust. A few more hours and even that might have been considered background noise by the anomaly detectors."

The Captain very slowly leaned back in his chair. The First Officer stood to one side and waited. "Tim," the Captain said, "I have a crazy idea, and I want your take on it. I think those..." and he gestured towards the twin points of light, "...are military satellites. They fit what we know so far. Stealthy, designed to remain hidden until needed." He looked round to the other man.

The First Officer nodded. "The question is, why the hell are they here?"

The Captain faced the screens again. A hollow feeling that had been growing for the past few hours took hold of his gut, something that didn't happen unless things were about to go from bad to worse. With some effort, he ignored the sensation and settled back into his seat. In a carefully neutral tone, he replied "I don't know. I guess we won't know until they get closer and we can get a good look at them." Raising his voice slightly, the Captain addressed the Navigator.

"Mr. Strickland, what is the Estimated Time of Arrival for those... things out there?" Strickland looked at a monitor, then up at the Captain.

"Sir, at their present acceleration, three hours standard ship's time."

"Very good. Mr. Strickland, as of now you and Mitchell here are my sole bridge crew. There will be no relief for you until my say-so. You are not to leave the bridge - food will be dropped off. You will not, I repeat, NOT contact any other crewmember until I am done with you. Mr. Lyman, see to it the rest of the crew stays clear of the bridge until further notice." The First Officer nodded curtly, then turned to go.

The Captain, still staring intently at the screen, raised his voice to the departing First Officer. "And Tim? Tell the Engineers to step on it. I want to see assholes and elbows down there. I have a feeling we're going to need to move on real soon."

Without a backward glance, the departing First Officer replied "Yes, Sir"]

Father O'Malley shifted the cigar around, and puffed some more. "The ship was busy all of a sudden, and I decided to stay in my cabin and lay low, you know? A couple of hours passed and I was getting pretty bored when word came over the comm system for all hands to muster up on the mess decks - that's the crew's eating area. I figured I better get up there, too."

[The hours passed as the two mystery craft approached. When their fusion flames finally flickered and died out, they were stationed barely a thousand kilometers from Gaea's Bounty. Suddenly, Mitchell jumped. "Sir! There's an incoming signal! It's from those unknowns!"

The Captain sat up. "Mr. Strickland, see if you can slip a scan in while they're still transmitting."

Strickland's eyes were glued to his console as he shot back "Already on it, sir!"

Captain Hathaway stabbed at a button on the arm of his chair. A monitor swung down from overhead and stopped half a meter from his face. "Mr. Mitchell, route the message to my screen only. Mr. Strickland, let me see what we come up with on the main display."

"Yes sir."

A moment passed before the Captain's blank video screen filled with an emblem he did not recognize. Half to himself, he murmured "What the hell is that?"
The First Officer was peering at the screen over Hathaway's shoulder. "It looks like an old Star League design. But I've never seen it in the history files."

A moment later, text flashed on the screen and Captain Hathaway's worst fears were confirmed.


The message began to repeat itself as the Captain stared. Blindly, he felt around on the chair arm and found the switch which turned the screen off. It silently returned to the overhead. Hathaway blew a puff of air and sat for several moments with his eyes closed.

When he opened them, it was to a view of the main screen. An odd-looking outline was in the center, the details gradually filling in as the computers finished with the scan information and began guessing at the missing bits. Hathaway stole a look at the Navigator and his assistant.

Mitchell looked puzzled. He ran his fingers though lanky brown hair and squinted at the image. "Huh. Wonder what it is?"

Strickland's reaction was markedly different. He stared for a long minute, eyes occasionally darting down to his console as he tried to get better detail on the image. Finally, shoulders slumping, he pushed his chair back. Looking sad and tired, he said softly "Awww, crap. "

Mitchell turned to him. "What is it, Ben? You know what that is?"

Strickland was about to reply when the Captain interrupted him. "That will be all, Mr. Mitchell. You're relieved. Go and get some shut-eye. You've done a good job."

Mitchell didn't like the look on the Navigator's face. "Ben?"

"That will be ALL, Mister Mitchell. Leave the bridge - NOW!"

The Captain's raised voice snapped Mitchell back to reality. "Yes sir! Sorry, sir." He scrambled for the exit. The Captain remained silent until the bridge door had closed behind the young man. After a few moments, he spoke. "Mr. Strickland, I assume from your demeanor that you know what that is."

Ben Strickland looked up at his Captain. "Yes, sir. I've been around. You talk to folks, you hear stories. Those... funny-looking antenna amidships? Those are hyperpulse generator emitters. There are only a few kinds of craft that carry that kind of gear, and only one reason why two of them would be stuck out here. I assume this system - or something in it - is Interdicted."

"And," he added "as of now, we're all dead men."]
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Steve Ronin » Mon Mar 19, 2007 9:42 am

** don't you leave me hanging like this, CENT. It's Monday morning, and it ain't been a good one. Please let us have the rest!**

Steve Ronin
Forum Moderator
Forum Moderator
Northwind Highlanders
Northwind Highlanders
Posts: 5215
Joined: Tue Sep 09, 2003 2:40 pm
Location: Virginia

Postby trboturtle » Mon Mar 19, 2007 12:17 pm

He's being sadistic, I tell you! He wants to draw this out for as long as he can! :P


BattleCorps Author -- "The Lance Killer," "Hikagemono," "Negotiation," "Snipe Hunt," "Groundpounder," "The Clawing," "Salvage," "The Promise," "Reap What You Sow," "Color of Authority," "Family Ties," "The Blood of Man," "End of Message," "Heroes Bridge," "Kurodenkou," "Thirteen," and "My Father's Sword."
Fiction Director
Fiction Director
Federated Suns
Federated Suns
Posts: 1024
Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2005 4:34 am
Medals: 2
Registered BTU Member (1) Staff Member (1)

Postby Rollingdrafter » Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:34 pm

Yes please post the rest...can't wait to see how this goes.down.
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 424
Joined: Tue May 23, 2006 4:33 pm
Location: Missouri

Postby Centurion13 » Mon Mar 19, 2007 5:05 pm


"Well, when we got there, the Captain and the First Officer were waiting for us. And not just him, but the commanders of those dropships, too! It was getting more and more crowded and I realized the dropship crews were mustering there as well. That's when I knew something big was going down."

O'Malley took one last puff on his cigar, then stubbed it out in the ashtray and finished his drink. Leaning back, he scratched his chin and began again.

"The upshot was that we were gonna have to get rid of every heavy thing on the ship that wasn't nailed down, and unbolt some things that were. Everything non-essential. Someone from Engineering handed me a wrench and that's what I did for the next three hours - unbolt stuff and haul it away. I never saw the crew in such a tizzy, let me tell you. They were all running around the ship. Some were already carrying stuff to the cargo hold; big, heavy items. Others were suiting up for some kind of work on the outside hull."

["Good God, Captain Hathaway, who do you think you are?," Commander Stiller fumed. "My company has over three hundred megacredits tied up in that ship, and another seventy in the cargo. Phil here has a cargo of BattleMech components that's worth even more!" Commander Stiller stood up. A red-faced Commander Whitley rose with him.

Angrily, he continued "We're not listening to this crap. You'll have to come up with another way to get us home, that's all. I'll sit here for another year on reduced rations and wait for you to make a Jump coil out of bed springs before I'll dump my cargo into orbit around a mystery star. I know my crew will agree. All our careers would be over in an instant if we ever did such a thing." Turning to the other officer, Stiller made as if to go.

Captain Hathaway glanced over at the guards standing to either side of the door, and shook his head. The two crewmen drew their weapons and blocked the door.

"What's the meaning of this?!", squealed an outraged Whitley. Stiller sputtered, at a loss for words, and Hathaway snatched the opportunity.

"Sit down, gentlemen. I see sweet reason won't win you over to my way of thinking. And I really do need your cooperation." He spun his chair away from the two dropship commanders as they were herded back to their seats. Without so much as a glance behind him, Hathaway said "Boys, take a break. Be back in thirty minutes."

The two crewmembers holstered their sidearms and left.

"All right, gentlemen." he repeated. "Since I can't seem to convince you to let go of your ships to save my crew, let's get down to brass tacks. The truth of the matter is it's not just my crew, it's everyone, including you, whose ass is on the line." The Captain pointed to a large screen on the far bulkhead. Pressing a button on the table, he spoke quietly. "We don't have a year, a month, a week or a day. We have maybe six hours before something really big comes along and blows us to scorched bits." He raised his voice slightly. "Mr. Strickland, please pipe the image and the stats of our little friends out there to my stateroom display"

"Yes, sir. Shall I show the accelerated contact recording first?"

Hathaway nodded. "By all means." He turned to the two commanders. "Let's do a quick walkthrough, shall we?"

Half an hour later, the two guards returned, ready for trouble. They turned the corner of the passageway just in time to witness the dropship commanders exiting the Captain's stateroom. Looking chastened, the two officers offered profuse apologies and assurances to the Captain as he saw them out the hatch. They nearly broke into a run as they headed back to their ships.

Awestruck, the two crewmen could only stand and stare until the Captain finally turned and said "That'll be all, boys. Get back to your assignments." He fixed them both with a stare. "Not one goddamn word, either. Is that clear?"

The two crewmen nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir! I mean, NO sir!", and hurried back the way they came, glad for once to be on a work detail.]

"I was busy lugging gear to the cargo bay when the word was passed over the ship's comm that they were going to spin - that is, rotate on their longitudinal axis. One of the guys helping me commented that we'd better get the heavy stuff out fast, before it got to where we couldn't carry it anymore. And sure enough, as the ship began to spin, things started to get heavier. You wouldn't believe how that slowed us down. But we finally got the bay filled up. We sealed it with a handful of guys in spacesuits still inside. It wasn't until I was leaving that I thought to ask my buddies why we were stacking all our gear with the cargo. 'It's all going out, Father. Out into space. That's why we're spinning the ship.' Well, you could have knocked me over with a dirty look."

The waitress brought another drink. O'Malley accepted it with a nod and a smile, then took out another cigar. He spoke as he prepared to light it.

"It was getting harder to move around the ship as she spun up, but we were all mustered up on the mess decks again for one last job. I trooped up to the hydroponic domes with the rest of the gang. When we got there the place was pretty busy, with the dropship crews helping us haul out what foodstuff we'd been able to grow. Me and the guys pitched in, and before long we sealed both the domes off. Now, all the time we were hustling vegetables and whatnot, you could hear clanking and other sounds from outside the hull. It was strange, let me tell you."

["Captain, the domes are ready for separation. The ship's just about at maximum rotation. We have to do this within the next ten minutes or we won't have time to stop the spin and Jump on schedule." This last came from the Chief Engineer, whose coveralls were soaked with sweat. Captain Hathaway glanced at the rotating starfield on the bridge's main display, then nodded. "Have Cargo One and Two been cleared?"

"Yes sir. All hands are back inside the hull and the loading doors are closed." Hathaway absently switched screen displays to a view from the Jump sail. He saw the ship rotating amidst a slowly expanding cloud of debris. Expensive equipment, tools, cargo - it was all junk now, thousands of new satellites for the mystery star. "What a waste," he thought.

Hathaway turned to his Chief Engineer. "Are the explosives ready?" The Cheng gave a curt nod.

"All right, clear the crew from the forward part of the hull except for bridge personnel. Seal off the mid section bulkheads and hatches. When they're sealed and the dropships are clear, set off the charges as per our plan."

The Captain turned to the two dropship Commanders. "Gentlemen, you've programmed your navigation computers?"

Stiller and Whitley shared an uncomfortable glance. "Yes, Captain," Whitley finally said. "They're ready to separate. Ten minutes after undocking, they'll begin a fast burn towards an orbit further out."

"Good, good." Captain Hathaway looked at the display screen. "Hopefully, that will throw any pursuit off our trail long enough for us to get our case heard before a Review Board."

"I hope the hell so. That's a lot of money out there," responded a bitter Stiller.

"Yes, well... all the money in the galaxy won't save us when we're staring down the barrels of a cruiser. The Review Board doesn't deal with dead men." The Captain paused. "Tim, pass the word. Let's get this done."]

Father O'Malley lit the new cigar and puffed on it a few times. "A couple of guys took me back to Engineering, and I watched the comm system monitor as they blew the domes right off. There was a flash, a ringing sound throughout the hull, and away they went. That's when I began to wonder if something else was going on. I didn't have much time to think about it, though. The word was passed about ten minutes later to prepare for a Jump."

[Captain Hathaway sat upright, listening keenly to last-minute readiness reports from around the ship. A screen to one side of the bridge showed glowing fusion exhausts as the dropships receded into the distance. Another displayed a glittering speck that was beginning to blend in with the starfield backdrop; a closer look revealed a lazily-tumbling hydroponic dome. Still another screen featured two craft, highlighted in false colors; these were the Interdiction satellites that recorded everything.

"Sir", the Chief Engineer said "We've finished dumping fuel and are down to just below our target mass. The ship's spin has been stabilized. We're clear of the debris field. " He paused. "As soon as the j-sail is stowed, we’ll be ready to translate to Jumpspace."

The Captain did not take his eyes from the view of the receding dropships. "Very well, Mr. Wilson. What's the status of the Jump drive itself?"

Without hesitation, Wilson replied "Fully charged and as good as can be expected. She'll get us there. It would be nice to have a little insurance, though. If we could lose even a bit more mass...."

Hathaway mulled it over. “No, we’ve done all we can. It’ll have to be enough.”

He settled back into his seat. "Navigator, have you locked in the coordinates?"

"Yes sir"

Hathaway looked down at the right arm of his captain's chair, noting the bright green light. Jump initiation was under his control. Pressing a well-worn button on the left armrest, he cleared his throat.

"Attention, crew. This is the Captain. We have committed ourselves to Jumping to the nearest inhabited star. You must know by now that the odds are pretty good we'll get there in one piece. But as you may have deduced from the effort you have put forth in the past four hours, we will not get another chance. If you believe in a higher power, a Creator, then I suggest you get in touch with him. Or her. We need all the help we can get." He was silent for a moment. "Twenty minutes until Jump. Captain out."

Releasing the button, the Captain leaned back. Reaching over to his right, he tapped the Jump Sequence Initiator.

Twenty minutes later, the Interdiction satellites faithfully recorded Gaea's Bounty fading from sight as it translated into Jumpspace, leaving behind only debris.]

Father O’Malley puffed on his cigar, then blew a smoke ring. “Well, obviously we made it. The authorities weren’t happy with Captain Hathaway when they saw the condition of the ship. When they heard about the lost dropships, they just about had kittens. But they began repairs with what parts they had on hand. We stayed out there for a little over a week before word came that a Merchant Review Board would convene on Planet X.”

“We hopped the first ship bound in-system. We took copies of the computer records with us, for the Board to look over. The Captain went, along with the Navigator and his Assistant, the Supply Officer, the Chief Engineer and a commo tech. And me, of course. This was the end of the line, or so the Captain said. He was real sorry, but he couldn’t mix me up in their mess. He gave me some cash and a contact so I could finish my journey. But even I could see it wouldn’t be enough. I was going to have to pay a visit to the local Church and hope they would tide me through.”

Sipping his drink, O’Malley licked his lips. “We arrived dirtside and got rooms at a local hotel near the spaceport. The Board was going to convene the next morning, so the Old Man – excuse me, Captain Hathaway – let us go out on the town for a few hours.”

O’Malley paused. “That’s when things started getting really strange. I stopped at the local church, hoping for a chance to talk to the priest in residence. He wasn’t there, so I left a message. Our Navigator was carrying the computer records on him for security reasons and asked me to leave his bag there, too. He didn’t want to take a chance losing it out on the town to some thief. So….that’s what we did.”

“Now, wandering around town was great - for a while. You have no idea what a pleasure it was after such a long time in space. I felt bad for the rest of the crew – they’d been restricted to the ship until the Board rendered a decision. Eventually, we ended up in a little bar at the shady section of town.”

At this, Ed smothered a chuckle. O’Malley glanced at him. “What?”

“Sorry, Father. Thinking of you hanging out and drinking in a dive with the blue collar man – well, it struck me as a bit incongruous.”

O’Malley half-smiled, then jabbed his cigar towards his drink. “Yeah, hard to imagine a young priest in the nasty section of town doin’ something besides saving souls. But to tell the truth, I hadn’t gotten a taste for gin yet. I figured the others could get lit and I’d be there to help ‘em get to the hotel. As it turned out, it was a good thing I kept a clear head.”

“We were in there for about an hour, minding our business and keeping a low profile when some new guys came into the place. You could tell they weren’t regulars by the way the other patrons eyed them, but unlike us, they gave off some kind of – I don’t know, some crazy vibration. They took a booth a couple of meters from ours, ordered drinks, and began arguing. Me, the Navigator and his assistant tried to ignore the racket, but it just kept getting louder. Next thing you knew, they were fighting, swinging wildly. We held our ground, tried to stay low, but the fight seemed to move towards our table. A couple of regulars tried to break it up, but after they got their noses busted, the place turned into a madhouse.”

Meg whistled. “I’ve been in a barfight before. They’re not pretty. The only way you can stay out of one is to leave the building.”

O’Malley nodded. “Yeah, and that’s what we tried to do. I’m ashamed to say I had to break a chair over some fella’s head in the process. We beat a hasty exit and had just made it to a hallway leading back to the bathrooms when the cops busted in. I don’t know, though. Those guys had their stun batons charged and ready when they showed up. They were laying into anyone they could reach, and dropping them like cattle. Looking back it seemed like their timing was a little too convenient, if you ask me. But we saw the crowd surging our way and decided it was a good time to take a leak."

“We got back to the men’s and ducked inside. Ben Strickland – that was the Navigator – he locked the door and jammed it tight. There were a few old windows there, most of them nailed shut, but we were on the first floor and it looked like we weren’t getting out any other way. We all worked desperately on the loose one for a few minutes – you could hear the crowd and the fighting getting closer. It finally slid up enough for us to wiggle through. The Assistant – Mitchell, I think his name was – went through first, and the Navigator was set to go through next when we heard a pounding on the door. Someone shouted “Open up! Police!

“We both looked at the door and each other. I think Ben knew it wouldn’t hold long. And even though the alley was clear, they’d close it off soon. He turned to me and said “Father, get out. They won’t believe a locked door with nobody behind it. They’ll come after us. We don’t know the lay of the land: they do. The ship doesn’t need any more trouble. Get out! I’ll deal with the cops and meet up with you later.”

“Well, you know, I felt like a coward right then. Many’s the time I’ve lain awake late at night and wondered what might’ve happened if we’d done things differently. But we didn’t have time, so I swung a leg out. Before you could say “bar tab”, me and Mitchell were hightailing it out of there. I never saw Ben Strickland again.”

[Strickland sat nervously twisting a button and shaking with adrenaline. He’d just slammed the window shut and now waited in a toilet stall. The shouting outside stopped and was replaced by the crack! of splintering wood. He began to tremble as the police battered their way in. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea”, he thought. But why be afraid? He’d done nothing wrong. With the window closed, his alibi was airtight – he’d just been trying to get away from the fight in the bar. It didn’t help. He still shook, hoping they wouldn’t stun first and ask questions later.

Out in the bar area, a young policeman in a crisply-starched uniform eagerly reported to the area commander, who was interrogating the barkeep. The riot was dying down but things were still busy. The young man looked eager as he gave his name.

“Miller, sir, just reported in from Tenth Precinct. I can give a hand to the guys checking the back of the bar, see if we can pick up any stragglers.”

The harried scene commander gave the young man a cursory look, then said “Yeah, get back there and give Murphy some backup. Let me know how things are going.”

“Yes, sir!” The young man saluted smartly.

The scene commander shook his head. “Rookies,” he thought, then turned as something occurred to him. “Hey Miller, why don’t you check the alley and see if ….”

But the young policeman was gone.

Officer Miller pushed through the crowd of patrons, swinging methodically back and forth with his stun baton. The crowd melted away from the threat, closing behind him but not daring to approach. When he reached the bathrooms, the cop there had just finished smashing through the door. Miller wasted no time. “Murphy! Commander wants you up front pronto. I’ll take it from here.

Officer Murphy’s face fell. Covered with sweat, he’d been looking forward to busting some heads after all this trouble. He grumbled and fingered his stun baton as he headed back towards the crowd. Some heads were gonna get busted anyway.

Miller watched him go, then turned to the door and kicked it open. Looking around, he saw nothing but closed window and urinals. The place stank. One toilet stall was closed. “I know you’re in there! Come out with your hands in the air!” he snarled.

Strickland shook as he stood and opened the stall door. Outside, he saw a young policeman with a stun baton. The Navigator knew what those things could do to a man, and he wanted none of it. With his hands in the air, he slowly emerged. “Sure. Hey, I didn’t do anything. I don’t want any trouble.”

But something was wrong. The young cop looked scared, pale and angry, and it only got worse as he began to panic. He raised the baton. “Get back in the stall! Turn around and put your hands against the wall! NOW!!”

Ben stumbled back, turning as he did so. Finally he straddled the toilet with his belly against the tank, palms high in the air and flat against the wall. “Don’t hit me, don’t hit me!” he shouted frantically. “I don’t want any trouble!”

The cop began to pat him down roughly with one hand, still shouting. “What are you doing back here?! Where are your buddies?! Where are you from?!”

A terrified Strickland could only stutter. “I, uh, I’m alone. I’m off the Gaea’s Bounty, we’re over in the Cloverleaf Hotel. Look, just call them, my Captain will tell you who I am. I really don’t want any trouble. Please, please don’t hit me!” he begged.

Behind him, the excited policeman took a step back and checked the bathroom doorway. No one was in sight. The panicked, scared look dropped away from his face, replaced with a mask of reptilian calm. He leaned forward and pulled something from the waistband at the small of his back.

“From the Gaea’s Bounty?” he asked.

Still in shock, Ben Strickland did not notice the change of tone. “Yeah, yeah. We just got in today. How…”

He never finished. Officer Miller pointed his maser pistol at the back of Strickland’s neck and shot him point-blank. The microwave beam instantly cooked the man’s neck, spinal cord and a portion of his brain stem. Ben Strickland collapsed, slumped over the toilet tank and died. Steam rose from his neck as his body twitched. The assassin searched the corpse carefully. Finding nothing, he heaved it up, turned it over, and arranged the limbs so that it appeared the dead man had passed out drunk while using the toilet.

‘Officer Miller’ carefully closed the stall door. He murmured into a miniature microphone on his lapel and left the bathroom. Turning the corner, he met Murphy coming up the hallway.

“Hey, the Lieutenant didn’t want to see me! What the hell you trying to pull?”

Miller shrugged. “Sorry, I guess I got my orders mixed up. There’s nothing but a drunk passed out in there. I’ll go check the alley.”

Officer Murphy glared at him and cursed as he shoved by the young man and entered the bathroom. He looked around for a few moments, checked the stall with the drunk, and turned to the doorway. “Hey, give me a hand with this guy!”

But the young policeman was gone.]
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Centurion13 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 1:25 am


Rolling his cigar between his fingers, O’Malley sipped his drink again. “We split up about three blocks away. It seemed like the police were everywhere. Mitch wanted to get back to the others, so he headed for the hotel. Me, I knew my only chance of avoiding trouble was to head back to the church. So I kept to the less-traveled streets and walked. I got there eventually.”

Elliot interrupted “What you mean, you walked? Wid all dem cops chasing you, you just strolled back to de church?” He shook his head. “You got bigger stones than I do, mon.”

O’Malley thought for a moment. “Well, yeah I walked. Back in my youth, if you were a thief and you stole something, everybody knew the best way to get caught was to take off fast. People running were people in trouble. Some of the best thieves in my neighborhood would walk into a house or business and then right back out, like they owned the place. But yeah, you’re right. It takes guts.”

“When I arrived at the church, the priest had just got back from a funeral service. He took me in his office, and I told him what had happened to the ship and where I’d just been. You could tell he was concerned when he heard I’d gotten involved in a bar fight. But when I told him about the Interdiction and the Navigator’s records in my possession, he turned white and excused himself.”

“I waited in that office for about an hour and was about halfway though a stack of magazines when there was a knock on the door. In comes the priest and another, older fella who introduced himself as the local bishop! He wanted to hear my story, too. So after I picked my jaw up from the floor, I told him.”

“He didn’t look too happy about it. He got on his private phone and called a few people. They must not have told him what he wanted to hear, though, ‘cause when he finally turned back to me, he was looking pretty grim. He said to me:

‘As far as I know, you and your fellow travelers are the first people who actually entered and left an Interdicted area - and lived to tell about it. It doesn’t look like you’re going to live much longer, though. My contact in the police department says there’s a report of a murder in that bar you just left. You say you left someone behind there?’

All I could do was nod my head. Poor old Ben.

“I asked him, ‘Where do I go now, sir?’. Well, he looked at me hard, and then went over to the desk, sat in the priest’s chair and bowed his head for a moment. After a few moments of prayer, he said he had a plan. Next thing you know, the priest hustled me down to the basement and had me change into an old pair of coveralls. They set me to working cleaning the place up. I went to work hoping they could clean things up on their end. A couple of hours later, they came back with one of the church deacons and the details.”

[The cruiser Bellepheron had been on full military thrust for five days when she rounded the outermost gas giant. It was simple enough to destroy the fleeing Mule-class dropships, but they’d gone in opposite directions and it had taken time to catch up with them. Neither had put up a fight or tried to communicate. Captain Marquez suspected both craft were unmanned, but they had to be eliminated as a matter of policy. Orders were orders.

What was curious was what they found when they’d translated into the system. It took some time, but they finally came within hailing distance of the Interdiction satellites. After receiving the correct passwords, the ancient machines uploaded their recorded information to the Bellepheron’s computers. An hour later, Marquez conferred with his senior officers and decided that first, the offending ship had been very desperate and very clever. She’d been damaged and had come to this system unintentionally. That much was obvious from the great lengths she’d gone to in order to Jump out of there.

Second, it was the First Officer’s opinion that Gaea’s Bounty would attempt to jump only as far as she had to, and that meant that Planet X was her likely destination. Third, the Jumpship had been carrying two Mule-class dropships and they were now heading away from the sun at full thrust. It was unknown who was on them or what their plans were, but Bellepheron could not take a chance under Interdiction orders.

Marquez concurred. Fifteen minutes later, a hyperpulse message went out to Planet X informing certain organizations that Gaea’s Bounty was likely inbound. They were to handle the ‘details’ with discretion. Twenty minutes after that, Bellepheron began chasing down the fleeing dropships.

The pursuit now over, Marquez would normally assign his crew to salvage the wrecked craft. The cargo on this last one had been worth quite a bit. But the First Officer advised against it.

“Phil”, he’d said “I don’t like this place and neither do you. We’ve been scanning the hell out of this system and I still don’t understand why it’s under Interdiction. But it is.”

“Now, we just turned two ships into derelicts. That’s almost three quarters of a billion credits’ worth of equipment and cargo reduced to scrap. The people who Interdicted this place are powerful enough to put an entire planetary system off-limits. They don’t like accidental visitors and they don’t care about money. We’ve been here almost a standard week and the job is done. Never mind the salvage; I think we ought to leave. Now. Before we find out the hard way that we’ve worn out our own welcome.”

Captain Marquez gave a reluctant nod. The Bellepheron recharged her Jump capacitors from the reactor, and translated to hyperspace nine hours later.]

“The Bishop told me I would have to be smuggled off-planet. There was no place they could hide me or the records for long. He’d arrange my escape and cover my tracks, but I would have to follow instructions to the letter. ‘There’s only one place where you and the information you have will be safe,’ says he. ‘The only way to get you there and keep you out of sight is to put you to work in the bowels of a Jumpship. You may as well get used to those coveralls. When you get to your destination, you’ll be taken off the way you got on.’

"I was a little confused by this. 'Where am I going?' I asked. I had more questions, but right about then, that deacon shoved a needle into my shoulder and things began to get fuzzy. The last thing I saw or heard was the Bishop shaking his head sadly. ‘I’m afraid your life has taken quite the unexpected turn, O’Malley. I’m sending you to Old Earth. To the Vatican.’”

[Mitchell wound his way through the city, heading steadily towards the hotel. He was less than a block away when he spotted a crowd gathered around the sidewalk near the front of the hotel. As he approached, he noticed the flashing lights of several police vehicles and an ambulance. He slowed to a stop just at the back of the crowd, and was craning his neck to see what was there when he heard a ‘hsst!’ from the alley entrance next to him.

Looking over, he had just enough time to recognize Captain Hathaway before he was jerked into the alley and behind a trash bin.

“Cap’n, what in heck’s going on out there? What’s this all about?”

Hathaway put his finger to his lips and motioned the younger man to follow him. They trotted down the alley, then crossed over to another and finally ended up near a vehicle which Mitchell recognized as the rental car the Old Man had gotten the day before.

“Get in!” Hathaway hissed.

Mitchell remained silent for several minutes after they were inside. The Captain carefully navigated the streets, smoothly merging in and out of traffic and taking several unexpected detours through alleys.

“What the hell, sir? What was that business out in front of the hotel? We just missed getting bounced by the cops in a bar fight, and I still haven’t seen Ben. Did he make it back?”

The Captain was silent a moment before answering. “That ‘business’ out in front of the hotel, as you put it, is what’s left of the Cheng. It seems he had a terrible accident and fell out of the window of his room.” He paused and swallowed. “Of course, it wasn’t an accident. I think I saw the fellow that pushed him slipping out of our room as I returned from the pool. Luckily, he didn’t see me or I might be a splatter on the pavement too”

Mitchell could only stare. “Somebody killed Mr. Wilson?! But…. why?”

Hathaway shook his head grimly. “I don’t know. My guess is that the folks who are behind that Interdiction don’t mean to let us get away so easy. I can’t get in touch with the Supply Officer or anyone else. They don’t answer their comm units.” He looked over at Mitchell. “I’m afraid we’re probably the only ones left that haven’t had tragic ‘accidents’ in the last few hours.”

Mitchell looked out the window at the trees which lined the road out to the spaceport. “I think Father O’Malley got away, too. At least he was headed for the Church last time I saw him.”

Captain Hathaway flashed his ID to the gate sentry as they passed through the security area and headed towards the passenger loading area. “I hope so. There’s no question of attending that Merchant Review Board. We don’t have any witnesses or hard data. I contacted the head of the Review Board, and she agreed to re-convene on another planet. We’ll be heading there now.”

They got out of the car and headed for the in-system ship that would take them back to the Gaea’s Bounty. As they crossed the tarmac, Hathaway added “Mitch, we were set up. Why you and I have been allowed to get this far is anybody’s guess. Maybe whoever’s after us is not all-powerful and all-knowing – in which case, we might have a chance of getting to the ship and losing ourselves out in the stars somewhere.”

The two men ran for the waiting transport.]
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Centurion13 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 1:35 am


Father O’Malley stood up and stretched. “I’m gonna take a little break here. I’ll be back to wrap this up in about ten minutes.” When he was gone, Meg turned to the others.

“What do you think of his story so far?”

Ed stubbed his cigarette out in a ceramic ashtray. “Well, so far it’s been pretty wild. I mean, no one’s ever returned from an Interdicted area before. At least I’ve never heard or read of such a thing. And the idea that there’s something or someone out there who will kill you on sight for breaking it is a little hard to swallow. We don’t even know why the place was Interdicted. Talk about your conspiracy theories.” He turned to Gus, who sipped a beer. “Whadda you think, Gus?”

Gus held his beer up to the light and took another swallow. “Me, I figure the whole thing could be a pack of lies. But if it is, it’s pretty darned good. There are a lot of things he mentioned that ring familiar. You hear tales all the time in this place, and I’ve heard some over the past few decades that lend credibility to his account.”

He set the beer down. “What the hell, right? Let’s see how our good Father wraps it up. So far it’s been entertaining, hasn’t taken too long and who knows? We might learn something new.”

Meg nodded and the others murmured their assent. In a few minutes, the door opened again and Father O’Malley entered the room. He drew his last cigar from a vest pocket as he crossed the carpet and resumed his seat. “Thanks for waiting, everyone. Okay, where were we? Ah, yes. Shanghaied by a Bishop.”

“Well, drugging me was something that had to be done, according to the papers I found after I woke up. See, they smuggled me out of there in a casket.” O’Malley waved his hand dismissively at the incredulous looks from several of his listeners. “I know, but but the idea was to pass me off for an embalmed corpse when the Customs agents scanned the casket. They had to drug me for that. Anyway, I woke up on a Jumpship. The woman who opened the casket gave me a pouch with those papers I mentioned. She told me not to contact her again and left after our next stop.” O’Malley chuckled “I told you I never hit it off too well with the ladies.”

“They did something with that casket. I don’t know – probably sealed it into a bulkhead somewhere. But I didn’t see it again for almost ten months. And in the meantime, I worked my butt off.” O’Malley rolled his sleeves up and flexed his muscular forearms. “These guns, ladies and gentlemen, are the souvenirs a man of God gets when he puts the phrase ‘Work is prayer’ to daily use. I learned everything there was to know about being an engineer on a Jumpship. Or at least, everything that didn’t require a university degree. I never left that ship for anything, and we made something like twenty two stops before I finally arrived in the Sol system. It got to where my idea of shore leave was a really gripping chapter of the air scrubber tech manual.”

“You wouldn’t believe how dirty, how tired and hungry a fella can get after working two days straight to overhaul the waste recycling plant on an Star Lord-class Jumpship. You wouldn’t believe how tight Engineering was, either. They were like a family to me. We fought a never-ending battle against old, worn-out equipment, a chronic shortage of parts and a cheap SOB of a Supply Officer who was probably lining his pockets with the ‘savings’. God love him. I couldn’t minister to anyone during that time, for fear of giving away my true identity. So I just put my head down and worked, and after ten months I looked up and there was another woman with a needle, telling me it was time to leave.”

O’Malley paused, and a sad look crossed his face. “I’ll never forget those lads – and lassies! – who sweated and cursed and celebrated with me. I never even got to say goodbye. I was knocked out and popped back in that casket. Never saw any of ‘em again. I’ve prayed for ‘em every night for the past forty-ought years.”

[Inspector Thomas ran his hand through his thinning hair and waited patiently. The day had been busy, and not in a good way. In front of him a computer display took up most of the desktop. He had pulled it closer in preparation for his meeting with his boss, Police Commissioner Lodwick. A small picture frame to the left contained images of his wife and two sons.

“Sir, the Commissioner will speak with you now” piped the voice of his secretary through the intercom.

“Thank you, Beth. Please put us on a secure line.”

“Yes sir” A moment later, the deep voice of the Commissioner came over the line. “Kevin!” he boomed. “So good to hear from you. How are Marla and the boys?”

“They’re fine. Sir? I have a bit of a problem down here.”

“I’m sure you’re on top of it, whatever it is. Now, how can I be of service?”

Inspector Thomas braced himself and jumped in. “Well, for starters we have five dead bodies in one day, at a time when the city’s murder rate is at an all-time low.”

“Yes, yes, I’m aware that our recent sweeps have reduced the overall crime rate admirably. Are you sure this isn’t just a statistical fluke?”

Thomas looked at the monitor. “Mmmm….no. Well, I’d have to at least say the odds are very much against it. Let me explain. First, we have a dead male, about mid-forties, found in a bathroom stall in one of the local bars. He appears to have severe heat trauma to the neck area.”

“Next, we have another male, mid-thirties, apparently a suicide who jumped from the Barcelona Hotel over by the spaceport. Then there’s the female, mid-twenties, found dead in a computer kiosk of what appears to be a drug overdose. Another male, late twenties, floating face-down in a fishing pond out in the ….”

“Yes, yes” interrupted the Commissioner. “It’s all very deplorable, but accidental deaths usually are. Is … there a point to all this?”

“Yes sir” replied the Inspector. “And I’ll bloody get to it if you’d only shut up” he added silently. “Just an hour ago I received a report from Preshorne Hills that a car had gone off the road and ended up at the bottom of the cliffs. When the officers arrived on the scene, the fire had already been put out by emergency crews. We found some bits of the driver that weren’t absolutely burnt to a crisp. We think he might have been a Catholic priest.”

“Really?” The Commissioner seemed to mull over the thought. “Mmm. Have you contacted the local church?”

Inspector Thomas sighed inwardly. “It was the first place we checked, sir. They reported that a priest from one of the ships had turned up there looking for a ride to an outlying parish, but that he’d decided to go with a rental vehicle instead. That was the last they saw of him.”

“I see.” The Commissioner was silent for a moment. “Was, ah, there anything else he might have said?”

Thomas frowned. “No sir. They were very helpful, but they’d only seen him for about an hour, and knew nothing beyond what I just told you.”

“Well, then. Very tragic, I’m sure. I trust there’s nothing beyond that to prevent you from filing the case as an accident. You are going to wrap these up soon, aren’t you? It won’t do to have the news people breathing down our neck for the next week about this, won’t do at all.”

“Sir, the trouble is that the death in the bar was not an accident, and I’m beginning to suspect the others aren’t, either. For one, I find it highly suspicious that in every instance, our officers were anonymously tipped off about each death and were on the scene before the corpse had time to cool. For another, the victims…”

“Excuse me, but now you’re calling them victims? I’m sure you know what you’re doing, but really, that suggests foul play.” The Commissioner seemed annoyed at the very thought.

“Yes sir. Victims. The nail in the coffin, you’ll pardon the reference, is that every one of the victims was from a Jumpship named Gaea’s Bounty.”

“Oh. I see.”

After a moment of silence, Thomas added “We’re going to open a full investigation tomorrow, and I can assure you we’ll get to the bottom of this by the end of the week.”

The Commissioner did not immediately reply, and when he did, it was with a patronizing tone that Inspector Thomas had heard all too often in meetings. “Inspector, these … incidents you refer to will waste valuable department money and time if they turn out, as I am certain they will, to be mere accidents. Awful things, I’m sure. But not worth the time. Time, I might add, better spent at home with your family. I should think your boys miss you already with the hours you keep. I grew up without a father, don’t you know? So I know about these things.”

“Yes sir” Thomas replied stiffly.

“My father was taken from me in a hunting accident. I was only five years old and I was devastated, absolutely devastated. It’s a shame that a boy should grow up without his father. So please, take my advice and don’t waste any more time than you must with these incidents. By all means, do your best as always. But do remember why you are working so hard. Go home and be with those boys. Mark my words, you’ll thank me for it someday.”

“Yes, sir. Is there anything else?” Inspector Thomas said wearily.

“No, no, Kevin. Thank you for keeping me informed. I’ll do what I can to keep the press hounds at bay. Give my best to Marla and we’ll see you at the department’s summer cookout.” A tone signaled that the Commissioner had signed off.

Inspector Thomas slowly inhaled and then let the air out in a puff. He leaned back in the tall leather chair. His eyes wandered from the computer screen to the pictures of his family. “He’s right; I’d rather be with Willy and Sam right now” he thought ruefully. But something nagged at him. What was it the Commissioner had said about fathers?

A chill ran down his spine. “My father was taken from me in a hunting accident.” That was impossible; it was well-known throughout the force that the Commissioner had lost his father to a botched burglary. The tragedy had been what inspired Commissioner Lodwick to take up the badge in the first place. But why would he make that kind of mistake? And then another phrase wound through his tired brain:

It’s a shame that a boy should grow up without his father.

Inspector Thomas stared at the computer screen. He had found something odd. And more. The Commissioner was doing his best to warn Thomas to drop it. It was not at all like him. Yet the hard-charging lawman had not only made a deliberate mis-statement, he’d offered Thomas an easy out. “Someone’s probably monitoring him”, thought Thomas. “And if they’re monitoring the Commissioner, then they’re almost certainly monitoring me”.

Thomas looked at the smiling faces of his two sons. “It’s a shame that a boy should grow up without his father” echoed in his head, and he came to a decision that in later years he did not regret. It was the work of a few minutes to type the necessary commands into his computer. The machine promptly began a low-level format of all its storage devices. As the silent electronic lobotomy proceeded, Inspector Thomas cleaned out the most recent contents of the file cabinet. He clutched folders and other data under one arm as he pressed the intercom button.

“Beth, take the rest of the day off. I’m going down to Evidence and I’ll be there for a while. Oh, and call in the tech tomorrow morning. I think something’s wrong with my computer.”

“Yes sir” came the reply, but Thomas was already out the door and headed down the hall. He passed an arrow sign labeled “Evidence Room, Supply Room, Incinerator” and followed it towards a stairwell that led down into the bowels of the building. It was going to be a long night. “But at least” he thought "my sons will have a father when they grow up.”]
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Centurion13 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 1:43 am


O’Malley lit his cigar and drew on it until the end was cherry red. He shook out the wooden match and tossed it into an ashtray. Leaning back, he continued.

“I woke up in a nice bed, in a quiet room with a view onto a courtyard. The place disoriented me at first, but presently a nun opened the door and peeked in. When she saw me, she said ‘Oh! You’re awake!” and closed the door. She soon returned with some clothes, which was a good thing because while she was gone, I’d realized I was stark naked under those clean sheets. Made me wonder how long I’d been out. So I asked her. But she didn’t reply, and I didn’t see her again.”

Puffing some more, O’Malley took a swallow of the fresh gin and tonic which sat before him.

“That’s how it went for about three days; they set a tray of food on the table next to the door, and only returned to take the empty trays. They brought me some reading material, but never answered my questions. The nuns informed me of meal times and asked me to be patient. It wasn’t like I had a choice, though. I used the adjoining bathroom and shower periodically and discovered early on that the door was locked. So I was a prisoner. But what a prison!”

“See, it didn’t take long for me to hear the church bells from outside. After some looking around through that window, I began to feel butterflies inside me. I was in Vatican City!”

Ed stirred. “What was that like? I heard it had been pretty beat up during the Amaris Coup.”

O’Malley nodded. “Yeah, but while they were rebuilding, they decided to expand the grounds, so it’s quite a bit bigger than it used to be. Room for hotels and so forth, plus administrative buildings. I was in one of the private hotels. They came for me on the fourth day.”

“I was taken to a building in the old Vatican Compound itself, and left in a little room with a desk, some magazines and a couple of chairs. After a while, a tall fellow dressed in a monk’s robe came in. He had the biggest moustache I’d ever seen, and he introduced himself as Monsignor Gemaldi. He explained that he was going to ask some questions and,, basically, debrief me of all the things that had happened to me. Then I would have an audience with the Pope”

“For the next week, I visited that room and answered questions. Sometimes I was drugged, sometimes not. They seemed particularly interested in the ship’s accident, and the details surrounding our entry into the mystery system. About three days in, I was dismissed early. With nothing to do for several hours, it was suggested I visit the Vatican Museum. I was warned it would not go well with me to be found alone on the grounds. And so, with an escort, I went.”

“I’ve heard about that place. Is it true they saved the best artwork in Rome from Amaris’ goon squads?” asked Meg. “How did it feel to walk in the same place as the Romans did?”

O’Malley scratched his nose. “Well, you know, not too many Romans did walk there; the whole Vatican area has been sacred ground at one time or another for the past three millennia. But yes, they managed to keep quite a bit preserved, and not just artwork, either. The museum was beautiful, just beautiful. I was amazed at the statues, the odor of age and paint. In fact, I was so interested that when I looked down from one particular fine rendition of the Madonna, I discovered that my escort had moved on without me.”

“Well, I didn’t want any trouble, so I began looking for him, and when I discovered the bathrooms, I naturally thought he’d gone there to answer Nature’s call. But no one was there except the custodian. By this time I was beginning to get nervous, because I was, in fact, alone. I latched onto the old man and asked him if he’d seen my guide, where the admissions desk was, and so on. He answered in broken English that he would help me as soon as he completed his assigned tasks.”

“I wasn’t about to mop floors and clean toilets for a set of directions, so I found a place to sit and wait. But no one came by – except, of course, for that little old man pushing a broom. He ignored me the entire time he was doing his work, and it was only when he rounded the corner and disappeared that I realized he’d been the only person I’d seen for an hour.”

Meg furrowed her brow in concentration. “You mean there weren’t any tourists? I heard that place is pretty popular.”

“Yeah, well, I just assumed the museum was closed. As far as I know, it was. Anyway, I struck a deal with that custodian and before long, I was dusting high while he swept low, hauling clean buckets of water from broom closets to where he knelt scrubbing the floor. I figured if I helped him, the work would go quicker and I could get back to my room. But it went on for hours – washing windows, dusting mantles and picture frames, brushing cobwebs from the high corners. All the while I was talking to the old guy and listening to stories about his family and his life. I never realized how big that place was until I had to try and clean part of it. The funniest thing was that, at the end of a couple of hours of work I was hot, tired and hungry. But that old man kept on chugging. He didn’t even break a sweat.”

O’Malley shifted in his seat, and took another sip. “We eventually stopped as the sun dropped below the roofs. The old guy – his name was Cesare - invited me to join him, and I soon found myself sharing a meal of garlic sausage, cheese, bread and red wine. When he broke out the wine, he winked at me. After we had finished the meal, he unwrapped two cigars and, putting his fingers to his lips, winked again.”

“’Say nothing of this. My sisters,’ he whispered to me conspiratorially ‘they will not like it if they hear I have been keeping company with the vino and sigaro.’ So there we were; two grown men in the middle of Vatican City, furtively enjoying our wine and cigars with one eye on the lookout and one ear to the ground.

“After we finished, we stowed the cleaning supplies and the old man led me to the front desk. To my surprise, my escort was waiting for me. He explained that he’d been called away on some minor emergency, and did not see the harm in leaving me in the museum. I returned to my room and awaited my continued ‘debrief’.

[Captain Hathaway strode down the passageway to the bridge. Depot workers were re-installing access panels on bulkheads and hauling repair equipment off the ship. The First Officer met him halfway to the bridge door, and brought him up to date on the repairs. Hathaway nodded when they were through. “Thank you, Mr. Lyman. I wasn’t sure they could repair the domes here – we’ll have to contract that to a shipyard.”

“Yes sir” The First Officer paused. “Captain, I was going to wait until you decided to tell us, but it’s getting in the way of ship’s operation. Where are the others? I saw Mitchell an hour ago, but he wouldn’t talk to me. He told me to talk to you. What’n hell is going on? Have they been jailed?”

Hathaway heaved a sigh as he reached the bridge entrance. “Mr. Lyman, I’m sorry, but my guess is that they’re dead.” At the First Officer’s incredulous look, he nodded sadly. “Yes, Tim. They’re gone. All of them. We’re in a lot more trouble than I thought. Please have the Supply Assistant, the Engineering Assistant, and Mr. Mitchell report to me on the bridge. I’ll be promoting them for the duration. And let me know when we’re ready to Jump. We’re getting out of here before any more ‘accidents’ happen."


Three hours passed. A feeling of gloom had settled over the ship; most of her crew knew something had happened to the members of the Review Board team. No news was bad news in this case, and neither the Captain nor newly-promoted Navigator Mitchell were talking. Hathaway sat in his chair waiting for the familiar green light on his armrest.

A voice piped from the chair’s headrest. “Bridge, Engineering. This is Myles…. er, Chief Engineer Myles. Captain, can I get you on a secure line?”

Hathaway grunted. After a moment, he replied “Yes. I’ll take it in my stateroom.” Tapping the comm panel, he raised his voice slightly. “First Officer, you have the con. When we get the green light, inform me and proceed with the Jump sequence.” He slid out of the chair and left the bridge.

In his stateroom, Hathaway closed the door behind him and locked it. He touched a bulkhead communicator panel. “Engineering, Captain here. What’s the problem?”

The voice of the new Chief Engineer filled the small compartment. “Sir, we’ve just completed diagnostics on the Jump drive, but Beresford thought we should do a visual walkaround as well. We found some odd-looking modules mounted on all of the J-drive equipment and the fusion core. Do you know what those are?”

The Captain shook his head. “I was informed by the Lead Depot Technician that they’re recorders installed to monitor the equipment. The Depot techs need the feedback for quality control. We’ll remove them at the next Depot. Is everything else ready?”

“Yes sir. We just transferred Jump sequence control to the bridge.”

“Very well. Let me know if anything else comes up. Captain out.”

When he arrived on the bridge, the First Officer slid out of the command chair. “We’ve got the green light. We’re ready to Jump.”

The Captain eased back into the chair. Tapping the comm button, he raised his voice again. “Attention, ship’s company. We are initiating Jump. Prepare for Jump in twenty minutes.” Signing off, he flipped up the safety cover and pressed the Jump sequence button. The countdown had begun.


Clark Beresford stood by as Engineer Myles signed off. “Well, that’s a relief” said Myles. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

Beresford scratched his head. “Never seen those things before, Vinnie. The Depot usually relies on the J-drive’s own sensors for data. I’ve been through three Selected Restricted Availabilities and this is new.”

“Yeah, well, let’s finish our Jump preps.”

The two men were seated in the engineroom control booth when Tana Beresford burst in. She had a small grey cube in her hand which she waved about as she talked excitedly. “Clark! We found one that fell off the coils! It wasn’t attached very well; the Seeley twins found it in the bilge. I decided to run a check on it. Clark, whatever these things are, they aren’t sensor modules. They do contain a sensor – I think it’s designed to respond to a Jump field.” She paused, turning the small block in her hand.

“The rest is some sort of power source and a lump of something my scanner says contains polyisobutylene. That’s synthetic rubber. I can’t quite classify the rest, but it’s pretty complex. One of the dropship engineers told me it looked a lot like the stuff they used to blow the hydroponic domes. We thought that was kind of weird, so we did a quick look-up on the computer. It showed a list of possible applications for that stuff…… and it includes acting as a binder for plastic explosive!”

The two men looked at each other. “How far along is the Jump Sequence?” asked Myles.

Clark checked a monitor. “Five minutes.”

The Chief Engineer made a decision. “The rumor going around is that some bad things happened to our guys on that planet. I’m contacting the Captain. He has to stop the Jump.” Stabbing at a comm panel, he struggled to control his voice . “Captain, Engineering, stop the Jump sequence. I repeat, stop the Jump! We got a problem back here!”

On the bridge, Hathaway immediately pressed the Jump Abort button. “Engineering, Bridge, this is the Captain. Jump Sequence has been…wait one, Engineering.” Hathaway stared at the Jump status display. It was still counting down. He hit the ABORT button again. Nothing happened. A tiny knot of dread which the Captain had been ignoring for hours suddenly expanded to fill his gut. “Now I know why they let us return to Gaea’s Bounty” he thought. “They’re gonna finish the job and take us all out with one stroke.”

“Engineering, Bridge. I am unable to abort the Jump sequence from the bridge! Assume control and abort from your location! Repeat, unable to abort! Take control!”

Back in Engineering, the tension in the control booth mounted as Myles tried again and again to recover control of the drives. Finally he swore in frustration and stabbed the comm panel.

“Bridge, Engineering! No can do, we cannot regain control. Something’s wrong with the computers.” Before the Captain could reply, Myles shifted to the main space speakers. “All hands, this is Myles. Muster on the Jump coil flats with Clark and Tana. NOW!”

He turned to the pair. “Get out there, get a hammer and knock those modules off! Toss them in the aft bilge and make sure you get them all! We’ve only got a few minutes. Let’s make the most of it, guys. Muster everyone back in the control booth at the one-minute warning.” The three dashed from the control booth.

Thirteen minutes later, Gaea’s Bounty faded as she translated to Jumpspace.

She was never seen again.]
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Centurion13 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 1:56 am


O’Malley re-lit his cigar – it had gone out while he answered questions about Vatican City. “Okay, okay, enough about my travels. You want to hear about the rest of my ‘debrief’?”

“It depends” Meg shot back. “Is this where the mystery clears up?”

O’Malley looked over with a twinkle in his eye. “Well, yes and no. I guess that depends on your curiosity and how you define ‘clear’.” He shifted in his chair and puffed on the stogie. “Anyway, Monsignor Gemaldi informed me that the debrief was over. He asked if I had any questions. I had not had the interview with the Pope and said so. He waved his hand dismissively and said that had already been taken care of.”

“Well, I was a little put out by this. I mean, I had been all this way and gone through a lot of trouble and I still did not know what was going on. And that’s pretty much how I presented it to the Monsignor. I’d done plenty for them – when were they going to fill me in?”

“Imagine a first-year priest demanding answers from a man who’d been in holy orders since before that priest was born! But Monsignor didn’t seem upset. Instead, he tapped at a sleeve of his robe and a screen of some sort appeared in one of the room’s walls. ‘You’ve already seen the Pontiff, and he approves of you.’

“That just floored me. I thought I’d know it if I met the Pope, and I said so. ‘I’ve been to the bathroom, this room and the museum. I met my escort, you, some interrogaters and an old janitor cleaning bathrooms. Did I miss something here?’ As I said it, I saw Monsignor smile and it dawned on me that he was telling the truth. But what he was suggesting was so incredible, so unexpected, I just couldn’t believe it.”

“You..you mean the custodian?! But he was cleaning toilets. He was pushing a broom. That couldn’t have been the Holy Father!”

“Monsignor Gemaldi shrugged. “Have you not heard of the annual Washing of the Feet? ‘The last shall be first, and the first, last.’ This Pontiff prefers to clean floors and wash windows a few times a year – no small feat for a man his age, or any other age, as you discovered yourself. And besides, one of his titles is ‘Caretaker of the Records’. One could assume that to mean the Museum.’”

I was still trying to get my head around the idea. I mean, this was the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church! “But …his dinner…I hardly think the Holy Father would….’ And there I paused for just the briefest moment, because Monsignor Gemaldi was paying particular attention to me. It was almost like he was waiting for something. I think I knew right then that if I mentioned the wine and the cigars, I’d be pushing up daisies before the day was out. It was only a slight pause, and I managed to finish ‘…eat common food like sausage and bread.’ It sounded kind of lame, but I could see him relax from the corner of my eye.”

“When Monsignor relaxed, I figured I’d made the right choice. A moment later he confirmed it when he leaned back and smiled at me. ‘We know about the wine and cigars. Of course, if you had betrayed his confidence, that would have been the end of you. But you did not. And it relieves me of a sticky problem: how does one kill a man already dead?’

"He reached into a desk drawer and tossed me a copy of a newsheet from Planet X. It was dated almost a year before, and contained a report of some priest who had been found burned beyond recognition. I must have looked puzzled because the Monsignor added ‘The local Bishop covered your tracks, naturally.’ There was more, of course. It seemed that most of the crew members who’d come with me had been killed in one unfortunate incident or another.”

“I counted myself lucky, then thought of something. I asked the Monsignor ‘What did it mean when Ces… er, His Eminence said his sisters would not approve of his smoking and drinking?’ “

“Monsignor Gemaldi laughed. ‘It’s true; the Sisters of Bartholomew would not approve. They are his caretakers, so to speak, and they pride themselves on making sure he eats right, exercises and stays away from his old vices. He treasures the handful of times per year when he is able to indulge. We see no harm in it.’”

“Then he turned his chair towards the screen in the wall. ‘So you want to know what’s going on, do you? Well, be careful what you ask for’. And tapping his sleeve again, he brought the screen to life.”

O’Malley paused, took a small container from a vest pocket, withdrew a pill and popped it into his mouth. Washing it down with gin and tonic, he continued.

“What it was all about was this: for over a thousand years, men have been in space and they’ve never yet encountered intelligent life. There are no aliens. And yet, according to the information the Church has gathered or preserved, there have been signs that this was not always so.”

“First, there are old records of alien visitation. Kept safe in deep mines from Amaris and his invading army, they were proof that something had been going on. Monsignor pointed out that ninety-five percent of these accounts could be explained by illusion, delusion or hoax. But the remaining five percent of the sightings – the Valentich incident near the continent of Australia and many others – couldn’t be plausibly explained, either then or now.”

“These accounts had four things in common:
- They couldn’t be explained away, due to the circumstances, number of reliable witnesses and documentation.
- They involved vehicles which did not seem bound by the laws of physics and generally avoided contact with humans.
- The sightings of these craft began around the time humans detonated their first nuclear device, in 1945.
- The sightings ended at about the same time as the testing of the first Kearny-Fuchida Jumpdrive, in 2018.”

“Second, there are thousands of planets out there which have hosted life for several billion years. These worlds have plentiful coal and petroleum deposits, as well as an extensive fossil record. Their indigenous life forms are based on the same organization of DNA as our own. In other words, these planets could be Terra, or something very like it. But even if you consider DNA itself the result of a fortunate accident repeated countless times – and I consider that very unlikely – such wonderfully convenient convergent evolution has unaccountably failed to produce even one other species of intelligent life. It’s a lot to ask of blind chance.”

“Third, the human race has been expanding into our arm of the galaxy for a thousand years. But if you take a look at the expansion rate before the fall of the Star League three hundred years back, and the rate since we’ve begun to recover, you’ll notice it has slowed. It’s even come to a stop in some places. It’s not that we don’t have ships; that was the problem hundreds of years ago.”

“And it’s not that there’s no desire to expand outward; we’ve been beating the hell out of each other for hundreds of years over the worlds we have, developed or not. It’s just that with few exceptions, there’s nowhere to go. The suns beyond the Outer Periphery are relatively poor in life-bearing worlds. Maybe this is coincidence; maybe we’re just in the center of a mineral-poor part of the galaxy. But some people don’t think so.”

“See, the Comstar folks did a little experiment about fifty, sixty years back. They sent fifteen probes out into space, equipped with Jumpdrives, fusion plants, a automatic navigation system and a HyperPulse generator. These probes went out in threes, from five different locations in the Inner Sphere. They went out at maximum Jump, and the goal was to Jump as many times as they could.”

“A couple of them disappeared along the way, but a year later the rest were all roughly on their sixtieth consecutive Jump when the signals stopped coming in. From all of them. Simultaneously. Comstar feels this is a sign that there is an artificial limit to our expansion. It has nothing to do with suitable planets and everything to do with our presumed neighbors.”

“Anyway…. Monsignor showed me the final piece of the puzzle, the electronic records of what Gaea’s Bounty’s scanners had found. These records were uploaded into a supercomputer, and the physicists took it from there. He said the ship’s Navigator had come close to guessing the secret of the mystery star, but that the missing mass was not only displaced in location, it was displaced in time. I kinda lost him there, until he explained that you couldn’t just toss a given mass into a solar system and expect everything to even out. You had to insert it at the right time, as well as the right place.”

The priest adjusted his collar and began rolling his sleeves down.

“Those scientists used the information gathered to recreate the mystery solar system. Then they ran the recording backwards, so to speak. Every six standards months the computer inserted the missing mass into the system’s ‘life zone’ and recorded the results. They went back over a thousand simulated years before they got numbers that made sense.”

Ed interrupted. “Um, Father? What exactly was the missing mass?”

O’Malley picked up his cigar and waved it casually. He took his audience in with a glance. “It was a planet, Ed. About the same size as Terra. And it vanished around 2018.” At the puzzled looks, he continued “That’s right, vanished. It didn’t explode, it wasn’t carried away and it wasn’t struck by another wandering planet. It disappeared. And it left a mystery apparently so threatening in its implications that someone decided to Interdict the system rather than let anyone else figure it out.”

The priest stood up, stretched and cracked his knuckles. “I ended up working directly for Pope Justinian XXV and his successors for almost forty years. Quite a change in my plans, I must say. We shared many more glasses of wine and good cigars before he passed away. The Pope who was raised up after him was a good man, and so was the one after that, but no one was ever quite like Cesare. I… well, I miss him. And I hope to see him again soon, God willing.”

Elliot stood up, stretched and spoke. “Father, you say alla de clues point to alien intelligent life. If dey out dere, why we ain’t met one yet?”

O’Malley finished off his drink and stubbed the remains of his final cigar out in the ashtray. “It’s funny, but I think I agree with Cesare. He was a very good, very smart, very humble man, and his opinion was that it was due to our status as a Fallen race. That is, we are self-centered egoists from birth, corrupted, given to violence and doing horrible things to others just to satisfy our own spiritual pride. Being Fallen is now part of our nature, and makes us unfit for many things. One of them is meeting other intelligent life.”

“Some fellow wrote a long time ago that if our Fallen species ever met an unFallen intelligence out in the stars, they would have to either avoid us or destroy us. So here we are. Our expansion is all but stalled. All evidence of other intelligent races vanished when we built a stardrive. At the same time, an entire planet seems to have been evacuated and we have no idea where it went or how it was done. In short, the Holy Father thought it very likely our race is in quarantine. It’s not hard to see why. And it can’t be a secret to any non-human intelligence out there. After all, we’ve been broadcasting our intent to the stars for the past eleven hundred years.”
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Centurion13 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 2:06 am


[The ship sat nearly motionless between the stars. Again. This time she bled; atmosphere, fluids, equipment and humanity. Her aft hull had been ruptured by a single large explosion. Several more internal detonations had wrecked her vitals. Gaea’s Bounty had emerged from Jumpspace again, but this time no one could say she had been lucky.

The fusion fires were out in Engineering, and would never be re-lit. The damage was too extensive. She would never Jump again, either. Although the valiant engineers had removed most of the explosives, they had not had time to find the remaining units before taking shelter in the control booth. The delicate controls for the Jumpdrive and the fusion plant were in ruins. The explosions had been quick, triggered as the ship emerged from Jumpspace. Most of the resulting smoke and debris was sucked out along with the atmosphere when the hull ruptured.

What was left of the Engineering gang huddled in the control booth and stared out the viewport at the stars which shone through a gaping hole in the aft hull. The viewport’s thick glass had been cracked and in the silence they could hear the hiss of escaping atmosphere.

“The Seeley twins are gone” Clark observed. “They refused to come in at the one-minute warning. Stubborn bastards” he finished sadly.

“Yeah. You never could talk sense to ‘em” replied Technician Second Class Dalrymple.

The Chief Engineer studied the console, which still had power. “All right. Let’s evacuate in an orderly fashion. Clark, Tana, you take the lead and use the escape trunk. We’ll muster on the mess decks.”

“Aye, sir”

Myles winced. “And don’t call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.” As the crowded control booth cleared, he turned to the comm panel. After several moments he realized the comm System had no power. “Looks like I’ll have to use Old Reliable” he thought, and reached for the sound-powered phone.

On the darkened bridge, an unfamiliar growl broke into the restrained pandemonium. The First Officer grabbed at the handset of the antique phone system. After a moment, he shouted “Quiet! Quiet on the Bridge!” and the bridge fell silent.

“Yes? Engineering?” he queried. He motioned to the Captain in the dim battery-powered lighting. “Sir, it’s the Chief Engineer.”

Hathaway slid out of the chair and reached for the phone. “Captain speaking. What’s the status back there?”

In the control booth, Myles could hear the hissing as the room’s air slowly leaked into the vacuum. “Sir” he replied “we’ve lost the reactor, the Jumpdrive, the entire engineroom is open to space. And…” he paused “and the Seeley twins are presumed dead.”

On the bridge, the Captain gave a quick, silent prayer for the lost crewmen, then said aloud “Have you still got control of the power routers?”

Myles glanced at the console. “Yes sir. I don’t know how much longer we’ll have power back here, though. I routed the remaining Jump capacitors back through the local power grid. Do you want me to reroute it to the bridge instead?”

The response was immediate. “Yes! Then evacuate the crew and yourself and report when you’ve mustered.”

One hand holding the phone to his ear, Myles’ other hand danced over the control panel. “There. That should do it. Anywhere else?”

Hathaway thought for a second. “No. Cut power down there and muster up with the rest of the crew.”

Myles tapped a final button on the screen and the control booth was plunged into darkness relieved only by the starlight streaming in from space. “On my way, sir.” He pushed off from the chair and floated over to the escape trunk door. Bracing himself, he opened the door and was soon floating up the escape trunk.

The bridge came slowly to life as lighting and equipment were energized. Screens flickered as computers booted up. Soon the crew looked out at interstellar space filled with bits of debris and the ever-present stars, which crawled across the displays as the ship drifted. The First Officer was the first to speak.

“Well, this seems awfully familiar.”

The Captain grunted. “Yes, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to wiggle out of this one. Unless somebody gets a bright idea, that is.”

The sound-powered phone growled again. The Captain answered it this time. “Bridge.”

At the other end, Myles pressed the phone to his ear. “Sir, we’ve mustered and all hands are present with the exception of Technician Third Class Brimford and the Seeley twins. We think they got sucked out when the hull went. Engineering was totaled by explosions; we think those modules were to blame. We managed to knock most of them off before the Jump, but obviously not enough. Do you want us on the bridge?”

Captain Hathaway nodded “Yes, get ship’s company up here. The dropship crews, too. It’s going to get cold pretty soon, so we might as well begin conserving now.”

The First Officer grimaced when he hear this. After the Captain had hung the handset up, he spoke quietly. “Captain, we’re not going to get a rescue out here. Why raise their hopes?”

Hathaway turned to him. “Never give up, Tim. Even out here. We’ve got a couple hours of power. Something may turn up.” He turned to the screens. “Mr. Mitchell, do you know where we are?”

Navigator Mitchell looked back over his shoulder. “No sir. We are a long, long way from home, that’s all I can say. One of the globular clusters we reference just jumped tenfold in size and a hundredfold in magnitude.”

Hathaway resumed his chair. “About how far do you think we are from the Inner Sphere, Mr. Mitchell?”

Mitchell tapped the keyboard. “Looks like we went about …..two thousand.”

The Captain sat open-mouthed. “Two thousand light years?! How the hell is that possible?”

The First Officer clucked his tongue. “It looks like we got squirted like a watermelon seed out of Jumpspace. Probably at maximum power, too. We’re in the boondocks, that’s for sure.” He turned to Hathaway and said wryly “Still think something will turn up?”

The Captain sat unmoving as the rest of the crew reached the bridge and crowded in, finally closing the door behind them. It was silent for the next hour except for the muttering of crewmembers. A fight had started and been quashed in the tight quarters and the remaining crew were getting restless when Mitchell suddenly shouted “Captain, there’s something out there!”

The crew immediately began an excited buzz. “Quiet! Quiet on the bridge! Mr. Mitchell, give me a close-up!”

As the few remaining cameras panned, an odd phenomenon came into view. It started out as a single point of light, hardly bigger than the surrounding stars. Soon it grew into a spiraling disk, and as they watched, it grew larger and moved closer.

Hathaway was instantly alert. “What is it? Can we get a better picture?”

Mitchell fiddled with his controls. “No sir. There’s nothing to focus on.” He paused. “It’s bigger than the ship now.”

The crew sat numbly as the apparition came closer and closer. Finally, as it filled the screen, Captain Hathaway turned to his First Officer. “Tim, it’s been a real pleasure working with you. I just want you to know that.”

The First Officer drew himself up proudly. “It’s been my…”

The bridge disappeared, along with the ship and everyone in it as the spinning disk of light passed quickly over the ship, leaving nothing behind. Moments later, the swirling disk collapsed into itself and faded away.


“…honor, sir….” The First Officer stopped. “Whoah. That was weird.”

Mitchell shouted. “Sir! LOOK!” He pointed at the main viewscreen. The crew stared at the image of a beautiful blue, green and white planet. An orbital shipyard could be seen to the extreme left of the main screen.

A stunned Hathaway finally managed to speak. “Where are we?” he said, to no one in particular. The bridge was silent. “From nightmare to dream in a few seconds. My life just keeps getting stranger and stranger…” he thought to himself.

The Commo Officer spoke up. “Sir, we have an incoming transmission.

The Captain came out of his reverie. “Eh? Put it up on Screen Two.”

“Yes sir.” The screen flickered, colors shifting, then settled down to an image of a young woman. She smiled at them.

“Hello and welcome to Five Suns space. A shuttle will be along soon to evacuate your ship. When you arrive at the Orbital Station, you’ll be assigned a Five Suns liason, who will present resettlement packages to each of your crew. Please let us know if you require medical assistance.” She paused. “Any questions?”

A clamor erupted on the bridge, along with hooting and laughter. “Quiet on the Bridge!!” shouted the First Officer. As the noise abated, the Captain spoke. “Yes. Where are we, and who are you?”

“I am Sylva Trell, of New Mechty. We are predominantly Clan, but are of course a member of the Five Suns. You are on the periphery of the globular cluster known as M71. We are about thirteen thousand light years from the edge of the Inner Sphere.” She paused. “Your ship is now property of Five Suns Transport. You will all be resettled on the planet of your choice. Choosing will be easy, as there are only four available. Unless you are of the Clans, in which case you have New Mechty to choose from as well.”

“Clans, huh?” murmured the First Officer. “I’m surprised they haven’t taken everything over yet.”

The woman smiled. “You need not worry about that. New Mechty is Clan only, but that is because new Clan arrivals seem to adjust more quickly that way.”

Hathaway thought for a moment, then asked “New arrivals? How exactly did we get here?”

A serious look crossed the young woman’s face. “We receive derelicts and other ships about three times a year. As for how it happens, the short answer is: we don’t know. It’s best not to go into that right now. We haven’t the time.” She resumed her pleasant smile. “A tug will be along after the shuttle has departed, and take your vessel under tow. Again, welcome to Five Suns.”

The Captain settled back in his chair. “Quite an abrupt welcome. Still beats dead, I suppose.”

The First Officer stood quietly to Hathaway’s side and watched the screen shift to a view of an approaching spacecraft. Finally, he spoke. “Thank God.” He sighed. “Never thought I’d be so happy to see dirtside.”

The Captain was silent for a moment. Finally, he thumped his fist on the command chair arm. “Dammit. I guess this is where we get into the unemployment line.”

The First Officer raised an eyebrow at this. “No offense, sir, but I’ve had a bellyful of deep space. I consider it an honor to serve under you, but it’s time to call it a career. I can read the writing on the wall.” When Hathaway did not reply, he continued.

“I hear some of the crew have farming skills. After what we’ve been through, it might be nice to pass the next few decades raising corn on a quiet little farm.” He mused thoughtfully “Maybe even get married. Have some kids.” Both men were single. There hadn’t been much time for a family in their chosen profession.

The Captain turned to him. “Sounds good to me”, he said without much enthusiasm. He fumbled for the right words “Do, uh, do you think if they repair the Bounty, they’ll hire me on? I’m not ready to settle down just yet.”

The First Officer smiled even as he heard the note of desperation in the other man’s voice. Shaking his head, he spoke carefully. “I wouldn’t know, sir. We’ll have to talk with that liason. Me, I’m for some solid ground. This has been enough excitement for a lifetime.”

The two resumed looking at the planet below, oblivious to the excited babble of the crew around them.]

The wind blew through the opening door as a cabbie pushed his way into the Rocky Bottom Flats Saloon. “Father O’Malley? I’m your ride. The ship sent me to collect you – they want to lift in an hour. I’ll help you with your bags if you need it.”

The Saloon was empty but for tables with chairs stacked on them. Gus, Ed and Father O’Malley were the last to leave. The priest shrugged his coat on and wrapped a scarf around his neck. “Thank you, son,” he said to the cab driver. “I’ll be along in a minute.” As the man departed, O’Malley turned and shook Gus’ hand. “Thank you again for your hospitality. I truly enjoyed myself here, especially tonight.”

Gus smiled. “I wish all my customers were as easy to please as you, Father.” As O’Malley turned to go, Ed chimed in “Have a good trip, Father!”

The priest adjusted his collar, tipped his hat to the two men and stepped through the door. Ed suddenly thought of something.

“Father! Father O’Malley! Wait. Can you answer one question for me?”

O’Malley turned, halfway out the door. The patient look on his face said he guessed what was coming. “Yes, Edward?”

“Father, if that secret was so important that all those people had to die, then why are you telling us about it now?” Ed stopped abruptly, somewhat uncomfortable now that the matter was in the open.

Father O’Malley smiled gently. “Well, you see, son, it’s like this. My birth name is not O’Malley. This face you see? It’s not the face I had as a young man in seminary. The surgeons took care of that. Furthermore, those things happened over forty years ago. And finally, I myself am dying.”

“I’m sorry, Father. I..I didn’t mean to pry,” Ed stuttered, taken aback.

The old priest stepped towards him and touched his shoulder. “Don’t worry, Ed. Those pills you saw me take? Yes? They help me control the pain. Terminal cancer. I have a few months left, at best. Enough time for me to complete my mission and return home. Then I can die at peace, in the place I love most.”

Saluting the two, Father O’Malley turned and went outside to the waiting cab. He climbed in and gave a small wave as the cab pulled away.

Ed turned to Gus, who was locking the saloon door. “Gus, what did you think of that story? Pretty wild, huh?”

Gus finished locking the door and straightened up. He glanced up at the starry night sky and then at Ed. “I don’t know about that, Ed. A lot of it made sense. If that fella was telling even half the truth, it’s one of the greatest mysteries we’ll ever encounter.”

Ed nodded. “Yeah. I don’t know what to think of that idea of aliens out there watching us. Kinda spooky.” He paused. “What do you think?”

Gus stuffed his keys in his pocket, and pulled his collar up against the cold wind. “Me? I guess an old ‘Mech pilot I knew about twenty years back said it best. ‘The surest sign that there’s intelligent life out there is that none of it has tried to contact us yet.’ After what I’ve seen of the human race, I think that’s pretty much how it is.”

Ed shivered. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re probably right. Well, see ya next Friday. Goodnight.”

Gus nodded. “Same to you. Say hi to the wife and kids, hey?”

Looking up at the stars once more, Gus shook his head and began his own walk home.

Last edited by Centurion13 on Sat Apr 07, 2007 12:39 am, edited 2 times in total.
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Rollingdrafter » Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:17 am

WHOA!!!! very excellent story!!!!!! gave me chills. :D
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 424
Joined: Tue May 23, 2006 4:33 pm
Location: Missouri

Postby Zmuh11 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 10:30 am

Wow, this was really excellent. I liked it a lot.

Was this the story you gave the judges? Or is it your edited version?

Rollingdrafter wrote:Like Zach H says "Just my two cents"
BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 1393
Joined: Tue Sep 12, 2006 1:14 am
Location: St. Louis MO

Postby Steve Ronin » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:19 am


now THAT is how to spin a yarn!

great story, intelligent and sinister, yet strangely hopeful.

Steve Ronin
Forum Moderator
Forum Moderator
Northwind Highlanders
Northwind Highlanders
Posts: 5215
Joined: Tue Sep 09, 2003 2:40 pm
Location: Virginia

Postby Centurion13 » Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:30 pm

Zmuh11 wrote:Wow, this was really excellent. I liked it a lot.

Was this the story you gave the judges? Or is it your edited version?

It's the 3rd revision. The First Rev made it to the judges. Plus, I took one of the judge's advice and folded it into the third rev. So you have a polished version of what went to the judges.

Glad you liked it.

Some questions:

1. Did this story have enough BT in it?

2. Did you want to know what came next?

3. Do you think a story of this type would be accepted at, say, BattleCorps?

4. Do you like reading stories like this?

5. Were the characters and the setting sufficiently 'real' for you to lose yourself in the story?

Thanks again for reading!


BTU Rank
BTU Rank
Posts: 781
Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2003 10:37 pm

Postby Paint it Pink » Sun Aug 15, 2010 10:24 am

Centurion13 wrote:Some questions:

1. Did this story have enough BT in it?

2. Did you want to know what came next?

3. Do you think a story of this type would be accepted at, say, BattleCorps?

4. Do you like reading stories like this?

5. Were the characters and the setting sufficiently 'real' for you to lose yourself in the story?

1. Probably not quite enough, but it didn't matter.
2. Yes.
3. No idea.
4. Yes.
5. Yes, but a couple of places needed minor editing for flow and to add polish.

Thank you, very entertaining to read and I don't generally like fanfic.
The Unseen once seen cannot be unseen


Paint it Pink
Posts: 980
Joined: Sun May 25, 2008 4:21 am
Location: London, England

Return to Fan Fiction


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest