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Life in the service is full of adventure where the routine can become exciting and excitement becomes routine, and people are rarely what they first appear to be.
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“Unidentified civilian freighter, this is the Federation Police Cutter Magnum
. I say again, lower your shields and stand by for a boarding party. We wish to make a health and safety inspection.” Lieutenant Commander Thomas Isenberg pressed a button on the arm of his command chair to turn off the transmitter. “They’re not listening, Chief, let’s give them a love-tap.”
“Aye, sir. Targeting one phaser. Range one hundred and sixty thousand kilometers and closing,” Senior Chief Petty Officer Roger Guzman responded from the Operations console. It was normally an officer’s duty station, but as the Chief of the Boat with nearly twenty-two years of experience, Guzman was more qualified than any commissioned officer in the squadron. He looked over at the helmsman -- oh how glad he was Star Fleet had finally decided to drop that stupid ‘helms-woman’ title, “Don’t run over their wake, Ensign. They might have laid an egg.”
“An egg?” She gave him a quizzical look. “What are you talking about, Chief?”
“A mine, Stephanie,” Isenberg explained, “A transporter bomb rolled out the shuttle hatch. Not as big as a nuclear space mine, but it’ll still rock your world.”
“Ah. I see.” She turned to look at the ship’s captain, still puzzled. “This is a civilian trader ship. If memory serves, they don’t carry such weaponry.”
Isenberg suppressed a little chuckle. “They’re pirates, Stephanie, smugglers and thieves. Do you really expect them to play by the rulebook?”
“Ah. Valid point.” She made a minor adjustment to the Cutter’s course. Isenberg noted, not for the first time, her lack of using ‘sir’ when addressing superior officers. Ensign Tillman’s a good troop, though lacking in proper military bearing. The commander filed that away to deal with later.
Chief Guzman noticed the absence of protocol as well, but he wondered if he had earned enough of the commander’s trust yet to talk to him about it. Isenberg had assumed command only a month ago, and although it was his first official command, he seemed comfortable enough already. He might not be the best skipper the chief had ever served under, but he’d do okay in the long run. Still, it might be too early to broach such a delicate subject with him.
“Any reply, Chief?”
“Negative, sir. But sensor replay analysis confirms they did squirt off a microburst transmission right after we made contact. Range now one-fifty; phaser crew standing by for your order, sir.”
They heard and felt the whine of the Number Two phaser as its lethal energy reached across the void to wash across the tramp freighter’s aft shield. At point-blank range, it could have ripped most of the shield away; at this range, it barely dented it. Still, it was more than enough to get the crew’s attention.
“They’re charging weapons, sir.”
Isenberg opened the channel again, “This is the Cutter Magnum
. Strike your colors and prepare to be boarded. We can outrun you and outgun you. Chief, max load to the photon torpedo.” He closed the channel again, intentionally waiting until after he ordered the cutter’s primary weapon charged. He wanted the freighter’s captain to hear that he was fully prepared for combat, if needed.
“Bridge; Science Officer here. I’m reading on an asteroid field up ahead. Volume is approximately one point six cubic light-seconds, density class-eight. There’s very little iron or other heavy metal, but I’m showing concentrations of aluminum, titanium and magnesium.”
“Acknowledged, Ben. Isenberg out. If he goes in there, Chief, we’ll never dig him out.”
“Aye, sir. I’ve been in worse. Although, with all that titanium ore, it’d be near impossible to keep a lock on his hull. Might even give Shimmer some pause.” Memories from half a lifetime ago flooded the chief’s thoughts of his love-hate relationship with then-Petty Officer Third Class Sahani, possibly the best sensor tech ever to wear a Star Fleet uniform. Many a pirate accused her of being a witch; some of her crewmates had a rhyming-word to describe her. Chief Guzman recollected the longest five hours of his life when, as helmsman on the J. Wilson
and as green as the ensign beside him now, he piloted that Cutter through a class-eleven asteroid field. In a nerve-racking game of cat-and-mouse, they hunted down a Privateer-class convoy raider. Were it not for Sarisha Sahani playing the cat, that mouse would have gotten away.
He didn’t want to lose this one, either. “We’re closing range at thirty thousand per minute ... make it four minutes to intercept, and six minutes thirty to the field. Not a problem, sir, we’ll get him,” the chief declared with satisfaction. “I just hope he doesn’t have friends waiting for him inside.”
Isenberg considered this for a moment. “Let’s hope we don’t find out the hard way. Give him a double-tap, Chief.” He opened the channel again. “Civilian freighter, this is your last warning. We know you’re smuggling at least two hundred kilos of zap. I have no qualms about blowing drug runners out of the sky. Your choice.” He saw a shocked look on Ensign Tillman’s face: obviously, she didn’t play poker. Yet another thing he’d have to correct.
“Phasers ready, sir.”
“Fire.” Again, they heard and felt a whine of phaser fire, then another a half-second later.
“They’re slowing, sir. Weapons are off line. Slowing ... slowing ... full stop. They’ve dropped forward and starboard shields. Guess they don’t trust us enough to drop the facing shield.” The chief grinned.
“Bring us to twenty thousand kilometers off their port quarter, Stephanie. Stand by on the tractor beams, just in case they try to bolt. And keep an eye on the asteroid field; I don’t want any surprise visitors. Sergeant McKendrey, are your Marines ready to go?”
“Ooh-rah!” The Marine posted by the door snapped from parade-rest to the position of attention. “They were born ready, sir!” Isenberg ran a hand over his face to hide the grimace. Jarheads. For better or for worse, they’ll never change.
“So what are you waiting for, Sergeant? You’re leading this team. Get over there and find that contraband.”
If that surprised the Marine, it never showed on his face. Isenberg knew his predecessor required an officer lead all boarding parties. “Aye aye, sir!” McKendrey executed a parade-field perfect about-face and marched off the bridge.
The commander shook his head as watched the Marine NCO depart. His attention turned back to the main view screen, as they were now close enough for a visual of the freighter. Wide and squat, it was designed for rough landings onto planets without modern spaceports. He recalled the specifications and layout: eighty-two meters bow to stern, including the twin fifteen-meter warp drive units extending aft, fifty meters abeam and ten meters top to bottom. The bow was a blunt curve designed for atmospheric entry, and save for the main propulsion nacelles, the ship was devoid of wings, fins or other major protrusions.
Internally, the forward two-thirds consisted of three decks of living areas and other ship functions. The forward cargo bay on the lower deck was a customizable fifteen by twenty-five meter space that could be converted to passenger quarters, troop barracks or facilities for specialized missions. During his last year of Star Fleet Academy, then-Midshipman Isenberg served on just such a ship configured for ore processing and assaying searching for new dilithium sources. The aft third of the ship, split into two over-height decks, was dedicated to cargo storage, the shuttle bay and engineering. In total, the ship had over seventy-five hundred cubic-meters of cargo room, if packed to the rafters, though a typical load only required three- to four-thousand cubic-meters.
“Incoming message, sir,” Chief Guzman said. “Priority Two, encryption level gamma, from Star Base Thirteen. And the freighter is hailing us.”
“Decode it. Put him on main viewer.” A moment later, the image of space dissolved and was replaced by that of a strikingly beautiful woman with an olive complexion, jet-black hair and deep brown eyes. She did not look happy.
“I am Madre Rosalina Chavez del la Casa Serena-Domingo, of the Free Trader Santa Maria
. You are?” Isenberg knew this wasn’t the Santa Maria
; he already had the ship identified as the Harmony
, which Star Fleet Intelligence knew to be wholly owned and operated by the Daven Cartel, one of a dozen crime syndicates operating throughout known space.
“As I announced in our first two hails, Madre,” he was polite enough to use her proper title, even if it might not be hers to rightfully claim, “I am Lieutenant Commander Thomas Isenberg of the Federation Patrol Cutter Magnum
. Please stand by to receive a health and safety inspection team.”
She frowned, which did not detract from her beauty. “Health and safety inspection,” she said dryly. “So you lied when you said you believe we’re carrying drugs. I am surprised at you, Commander. I had thought such deceitfulness was beneath the police.”
“Of course it is,” he smiled at her. God, she was beautiful. Just his luck she was on the opposite side of the law. “But I didn’t lie to you. We have information that a shipment, including a dozen crates of rare artwork stolen from the historical museum and enough zap for an army of addicts, left Cygnus six days ago on a ship just like yours, right down to the noisy impulse drive.”
“I may be many things, Commander, but I am not a thief.” She was seething. “And I am certainly not a drug runner! You’re more than welcome to come over here and look for yourself. I’ll accept red wine or chocolate with your apology. Santa Maria
out,” and with that, the connection closed. Thomas Isenberg told himself he just had to meet this woman.
“She’s dropped her shields, sir.” Well, her ship’s shields were down, Chief Guzman thought, but her shields were firmly in place. Which was more than he could say for his skipper. “Looks like two people on the bridge, three in engineering, and nineteen on the lower deck, in the forward cargo hold. That message is decrypted and on your display.”
“Very well. I’ve got it.” Isenberg pressed a button, “Sergeant, you may beam over whenever you’re ready.”
Over the speaker, they heard the Marine reply, “Aye aye, sir, energizing now. Semper Fi!” followed immediately by the whirl of the transporter in action.
“I should have known they’d be standing on the pads,” the commander said to no one in particular. He quickly read the message, then read it again to make sure he understood it right. “They have got to be kidding! Open a secure channel to Sergeant McKendrey.”
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