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Old January 23 2008, 06:41 PM   #1
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Location: The void between my ears
Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Author’s Note: Re-imagining Star Trek, particularly The Original Series, is a hobby in itself. (Some would call it blasphemy!) A lot of bandwith on the internet has been burned discussing J.J. Abram’s version and there are several websites devoted to a re-imagined version of Kirk’s Enterprise.

I thought it would be fun to do the same for the captain and crew of the USS Bluefin. I’ve tweaked the story a bit, giving it a more “retro” feel. Even the cutter herself has been re-imagined (Think Gerry Anderson’s Stingray from the 1960’s. Yes, I know it was a submarine, but as a kid I always thought it looked more like a spaceship.) If you’ve read my other Bluefin tales, you’ll quickly pick up on both the similarities and the differences. This is not the Star Trek universe as has been portrayed in the United Trek stories. There are “Vulcanians” and the “Klingonese” and warp drive is replaced by the “Spin-drive,” subspace is replaced with null-space and other technologies and social moiré’s differ. It is NOT a politically correct ST universe. By the way, no Tellarites here (sorry!) Gralt is now a human CPO from Brooklyn. But he’s still all Gralt!

So read it if you care to. I thought I’d give you guys a chance to lob some over-ripe fruit and vegetables. That’s okay, though, this is a tough crew – no tears or introspection here! And no, I’m not replacing the Bluefin tales of the United Trek universe and time-line. This one’s just for fun!

Chapter One

22 October 2376
United Federation Star Guard Base – Echo Station
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Captain Joseph Barabbas Akinola leaned against the rail of the gangway leading to his cutter, the Bluefin, and surveyed the massive internal docking bay of Echo station through a cloud of blue pipe smoke. He nudged the brim of his hat, tipping back the white officer’s lid (with the crown stiffener removed for a “crushed” look) and smiled as he regarded the approaching Chief of the Boat, Senior Chief Solly Brin. Brin was wearing a heavy pea-coat in the chilly atmosphere of the docking bay and muttering Orion curses to himself.

Akinola removed the pipe from his mouth, “What’s wrong, Boats?”

Chief Brin stopped and cocked an eye at Akinola. “Quartermasters!” he said, with obvious disgust. He removed his khaki chief’s hat and wiped the dark, red skin of his shaved skull. “This is a frakkin’ Star Guard base! You’d think the frakkin’ quartermaster would keep frakkin’ spare parts on hand for the frakkin’ cutters!” He put his hat on and produced a large, black cigar from his pea-coat. He rummaged around in the coat pockets and produced a silver lighter with the Star Guard insignia. Biting the end off the stogie, he applied flame until he was able to produce copious amounts of noxious smoke.

Akinola winced, “Gods, Solly, where did you get that cigar?”

“Ferengi trader. Hand-rolled, premium aged tobacco from the swamp-moon of Ferrangar,” he said, puffing contentedly.

“It smells like a swamp,” observed Akinola.

Chief Brin grinned around the cigar, showing his long, golden fangs. It always gave Akinola the creeps when Brin did that. He decided to get back to the original subject.

“So what was the problem with the quartermaster?” Akinola asked.

Brin’s grin faded. He snorted. “The usual. Some desk-bound paper-pusher is running the QM. Back when Commander Bristol was running it, we never had problems. Now we have to fill out forms to request other forms to be signed, sealed and shredded. All that for spare data-com screens, pressure seals, and flange clasps.”

Akinola nodded. “You got them, of course?”

Brin raised his eyebrows in mock indignation. “Hey! Skipper! It’s me! Of course I got them, plus a new coil for the reefer unit in the galley.”

“Did you have to hurt anyone?”

“Nah!” A pause and a thoughtful look. “Well, not too much. The kid in the warehouse will either get off of that hook or wiggle out of his pants before too long. He’s got a good set of lungs, I’ll give him that!” Brin rubbed his pinky into his ear for emphasis.

Akinola pulled a pocket knife out and scraped the now-cold tobacco leavings from his pipe into a waste bin. “Alright, you old pirate. Get on board before you get us all arrested.”

“Aye, aye, Skipper. Say, why are you standing watch, skipper?”

“Just wanted some fresh air, Boats.”

Brin frowned in puzzlement. “But isn’t the air on the ship the same as the air on the station?”

“Let me enjoy my illusion, chief.”

* * *

United Federation Star Guard Base – Echo Station
Office of Admiral Morgan Bateson, Cutter Group 7 Commander

Rear Admiral (lower-half) Morgan Bateson looked at the young officer standing before him with a mix of amusement and irritation. He was having a hard time believing that the young, petite and very pretty young woman standing at parade ground perfect attention was a full lieutenant, despite the shiny railroad tracks on her collar. His amusement was tempered, however, by the orders she had presented to him.

“Have a seat Lieutenant Strauss,” he said as he glanced again at the file jacket of orders. “You’ll have to forgive me, but these orders are somewhat unusual.”

Inga Strauss sat stiffly in the proffered seat, obviously ill at ease under the admiral’s scrutiny. “I’m sorry, sir. I realize this is irregular, but Vice-Admiral Phan’s orders are quite clear. It is imperative that the instrument package in my care is delivered to these coordinates within the next two weeks. More than that, I am not at liberty to say.”

Bateson frowned. Admiral Tran Phan oversaw the scientific research arm of the Star Guard. The Federal Navy no longer conducted scientific missions. Phan was brilliant but also a bit eccentric and had a reputation for tilting at windmills.

“Your orders are clear in that regard, Lieutenant. What I don’t understand is why you need one of my cutters. Why not use one of your fancy research vessels?”

“Sir, none of our dedicated research ships are available at the moment.”

“None available? Bateson asked, skeptically, “What about the Endurance?

Strauss looked like she wanted to squirm in her chair. She cleared her throat. “The Endurance is, ah, missing, sir.”

“MISSING?” Bateson roared, “A 65 thousand ton ship with over 200 officers and crew? Why haven’t I heard about this before now?”

This time, Strauss did squirm in her chair. “She was on a classified mission.” She paused, took a deep breath, then continued, “The same mission that I have, sir.”

Admiral Bateson became very quiet as he stared at the young officer. Strauss felt a trickle of perspiration down her neck. When Bateson spoke again, it was in a quiet, dangerous tone.

“Lieutenant Strauss, before I task one of my cutters to your mission, you are going to tell me exactly what this mission entails, is that understood?”

* * *

United Federation Star Guard Base – Echo Station
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Lt. Commander Dale McBride, Executive Officer of the Bluefin, reflexively ducked as he entered the tight bridge of the cutter. At 6 feet 3 inches, his head was uncomfortably close to the overhead ductwork, instruments and panic bars hanging from the overhead. He made his way to the Operations station which was manned by Lieutenant T’Ser, a Vulcanian who had been raised on Earth. McBride, normally easy-going and self-assured, often felt awkward and shy around the exotic and quite beautiful woman. He paused for a moment to take in her olive complexion, her long, dark hair, and her graceful, upswept ears.

Sensing McBride’s presence, T’Ser turned toward him with a raised eyebrow and a slight smile. She nodded her head slightly. “Commander,” she said in greeting.

McBride felt like a schoolboy caught in some infraction. “Lieutenant,” he responded. “What’s our status?”

She turned to him and recited easily from memory, “Ship’s internal systems are off-line and we remain on station power. Fuel loading was completed at 0948 hours. We are still in process of on-loading ship’s stores and weapons. Crewman Palendar slipped on a ladder and fractured his right wrist. Dr. Baxter is seeing to him. The captain has left the ship to meet with Admiral Bateson and Lt. Bane has the watch.”

McBride frowned. “The old man’s meeting the admiral? I wonder what that’s about?”

* * *

United Federation Star Guard Base – Echo Station
Office of Admiral Morgan Bateson, Cutter Group 7 Commander

I wonder what this is all about? thought Akinola as he entered the anteroom to Admiral Bateson’s office. An aide-de-camp with a gold and blue shoulder cord stood as Akinola entered.

“Captain Akinola, you may go right in.”

“Thanks!” he said with more enthusiasm than he felt. Surely he couldn’t know about Chief Brin’s little “procurement” methods, could he? He tucked his hat under his arm and opened the door to the admiral’s office.

Bateson, a large, barrel-chested man with thinning chestnut hair stood from behind his desk and held out his hand in greeting. A blonde-haired woman in dark blue uniform also stood.

“Captain Akinola, thank you for coming on such short notice. Allow me to introduce Lieutenant Inga Strauss.”

Akinola turned from the admiral and was surprised to see that the young woman wore lieutenant’s bars. He had figured her for an ensign or jay-gee when he first entered the office. He shook her hand and was surprised by the firmness of her grip.

“Have a seat Captain, Lieutenant,” instructed Bateson as he settled back into his own chair. He steepled his fingers and regarded the two officers with a frown. “Joseph, it seems you are about to get a new officer, at least temporarily.”

“Sir?” Akinola was puzzled.

Bateson tossed the red file jacket across the desk toward Akinola. “You’ve got new orders. You depart within 24 hours headed toward the Molari system to deploy a special scientific instrument package, along with other tasks outlined there. Lieutenant Strauss, here, will serve as mission specialist and oversee the payload and deployment.”

Akinola frowned. “Sir, the Molari system is right on the border of Klingonese space. They may not take too kindly to our nosing around there. Besides, the Bluefin isn’t well suited for scientific missions – we don’t have any labs and precious little extra space for instrument packages.”

Bateson clasped his large hands together and leaned on the desk. “I’m well aware of that, Captain. For the record, I don’t like it either. But you have your orders and I expect you to carry them out to the best of your ability. And while you’re out there, you’ll keep an eye out for the Endurance. Apparently she’s gone missing. . .” He gave a meaningful look in Strauss’ direction. “while on the same mission you’ll be undertaking.”

Akinola turned to face the young woman. “What is of such great interest in the Molari system, Lieutenant? Besides the Badlands, a bunch of asteroids and a couple of mining colonies, I mean.”

“The package we will deploy will help detect ion storms before they can form. If the experiment is a success, it will lead us to develop more effective early warning systems for marker buoys and starships. The Molari Badlands, as you know, are notorious for its dangerous ionic activity,” said Strauss.

Akinola thought the speech sounded a bit too canned and rehearsed, but he refrained from comment. “Okay, Lieutenant. Admiral? If that’s all, I’d like to finish up the re-supply and get the lieutenant’s gizmo on board.”

“Just one more thing, Captain. Tell Chief Brin that hanging a crewman up by his belt-loops is unacceptable behavior for a senior NCO, regardless of the inefficiency and general mule-headedness of the quarter master’s office. If it happens again, I’ll reassign Brin to a remote refueling station.”

“I’ll . . . pass that along, sir.”

“Good. Now get out of here. I’ve got work to do.”

* * *

Lt. Strauss hurried to keep up with the much taller captain. He had a long stride and tended to cover ground quickly. Akinola glanced back at the young officer.

“So, Mr. Strauss, what ship are you coming from?”

“Actually, sir, I was stationed at the Klaamat IV Stellar Meteorology Station,” she said.

“What ships have you served on, then?”

“Well . . . I did my cadet cruise on the Eagle.”

Akinola stopped and turned, regarding her with a raised eyebrow. He reached into a pocket of his jacket and pulled out his well-worn pipe. “Lieutenant,” he said, pausing to light his pipe and exuding billowing clouds of fragrant smoke, “do you mean to tell me that you have no shipboard experience?”

“I made A’s in all of my classes at the academy in navigation, operations and propulsion systems,” she said, proudly.

“Uh-huh,” said Akinola as he re-lit his recalcitrant pipe. “That’s nice, Lieutenant, but the Bluefin is a working cutter, understand?” He gestured at her with the stem of his pipe. “Let me make this clear – under no circumstances are you to interfere with any of my officers or crew as they carry out their duties. You are a passenger on this little trip to the Badlands, and you will be a passenger once you’ve launched your little gizmos. Are we clear?”

“Perfectly!” she said, stiffly.

Akinola turned and resumed walking. Momentarily, they passed a large Asteroid-breaker and the Bluefin came into view.

Strauss liked what she saw. The ship was a Stingray-class fast cutter, 120 feet in length. It had lines typical for star cutters – a long, tapered hull with a secondary dorsal hull and raised bridge area. Two dorsal fins stood out at angles. Strauss guessed (correctly) that they were shield generators. Two small wings angled downward near the bow, but their function eluded her. Twin ion-mass engines were faired in low along the port and starboard ventral hull while the “Spin-drive” was housed at the stern for jumps into Null-space where the speed of light could be exceeded. She noted twin torpedo tubes near the bow and a single phase cannon mount topside. The ship was painted a gleaming white with diagonal lines of blue and red near the bow. The ship’s number – 58, and name, Bluefin, were painted proudly along the hull below the bridge.

“What a beautiful ship!” Strauss exclaimed.

Akinola turned, eyebrow askance, but he recognized the sincerity in her voice. He chuckled. “That she is, Mr. Strauss, that she is.”

* * *
"You are beginning to damage my calm." - Jayne Cobb
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Old January 23 2008, 06:59 PM   #2
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Location: Between the candle and the flame
Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Ok, I'm glad you put that preface in because otherwise I'd be writing, "What the heck is this?" Maybe you could use this to start a new "Group" writing team. Call it Twisted Trek. Pretty good writing so far, even if it is dislocating my brain at times.
...sf fandom is only a personality disorder if you do it right.-Klaus - archive stories! for honest gaming

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Old January 23 2008, 08:04 PM   #3
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Yeah, I guess this would seem pretty twisted without the preface! Hope the plot overcomes the weirdness.

Chapter Two

United Federation Star Guard Base – Echo Station
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Lt.(j.g.) Nigel Bane checked his wrist watch, urging time to pass more quickly. He always disliked standing watch at the gangway, a tradition that dated back centuries to wooden sea-faring cutters with masts and sails. He looked up to see the Captain and another officer approaching the gangway. Bane straightened. The officer was a woman, petite and very attractive with blonde hair done up in a single braid. She stepped forward, saluted the stern then saluted Bane. “Permission to come aboard?” He noticed a slight German accent.

“Granted,” replied Bane as he lowered his hand. “Welcome aboard, Lieutenant . . .?”

“Strauss, Inga Strauss. And you are? . . .”

“Lieutenant j.g. Nigel Bane, ma’am.”

Akinola stepped forward. “Lieutenant Strauss is on TDY with us on a ‘scientific’ mission, Mr. Bane. Keep an eye out for her gear and a pallet of equipment.”

“Aye, sir.” Crikey, she has beautiful eyes, Bane thought.

“Come on commander, let’s get you assigned to quarters and introduce you around,” said Akinola.

Strauss struggled to keep up with the captain as he navigated tight passageways and ascended steep ladders with practiced ease. Finally, they came to a rather cramped (in Strauss’ opinion) bridge occupied by a tall man with a spectacular mustache and bronze oak leaves on his collar. An exotic Vulcanian lieutenant was also present.

Akinola gestured to the tall man. “Lieutenant Inga Strauss, meet Lt. Commander Dale McBride, my XO. Over there is our Ops officer, Lieutenant T’Ser.”

McBride was even taller than Akinola and towered over Strauss. “Howdy!” he said, affably as his large hand engulfed hers.

Akinola continued. “Lieutenant Strauss is assigned to us TDY as a mission specialist to oversee a scientific experiment in the Molari Badlands.”

McBride looked quickly at the captain. “The Badlands, huh?” He turned back toward Strauss, his grin having faded. “What’s so damn important in the Badlands?”

“Later, XO,” interrupted Akinola. “Mr. T’Ser, I’m afraid I’m going to have to assign Lt. Strauss to bunk with you.”

The beautiful Vulcanian inclined her head slightly and offered a slight smile. “That will be fine, Captain. With your permission, I’ll show the Lieutenant to the cabin.”

* * *

Once again, Strauss struggled to keep up as T’Ser gracefully slid down ladders and twisted through a rabbit warren’s maze until they came to a cabin with the Ops officer’s nameplate. Before they entered, Strauss became aware of a small storm moving up the corridor in their direction. At the storm’s center was a banty little man with porcine features, stained coveralls and CPO chevrons on his collar. He was chewing on a noxious cigar, but that was not nearly as noxious as the string of colorful epithets that streamed from his mouth. He was followed by an entourage of crewmen, also wearing coveralls, most carrying tools of various types. As he drew closer, Strauss could read his name tag – “G. Gralt.”

“What the HELL am I supposed to do with you buncha dumb turd-brains? Any raw recruit knows you can’t let pump pressure fall when you’re on-loadin’ deuterium! Ain’t I taught youse nothin’? GEEZ LOUISE, now we gotta tear down the whole frakkin’ pump because NO ONE CAN READ A GODDAM PRESSURE GAUGE. ‘Evenin’ Lieutenants. FRAK ME! I swear if any of youse pulls this again, I’ll rip off your balls and shove ‘em so far up your ass YOU’LL THINK YOU’VE GROWN TWO MORE EYES IN YOUR HEAD! . . .”

The little entourage moved away and the sound of Chief Gralt’s voice finally began to fade. Strauss, still a little stunned by the parade, turned back to T’Ser who wore a sardonic grin.

“That’s Chief of Engineering Gerald Gralt. He’s a bit short on social skills but he is an accomplished engineer,” explained T’Ser.

“I see.”

“He also thinks this is his cutter, or ‘boat’ as he calls it. A word of advice - if something breaks, tell the XO first, unless you enjoy conversations interlaced with expletives.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

T’Ser opened the cabin door and allowed Strauss to enter. The cabin was rather small but very ship-shape. A bunk was folded down and neatly made. A small, stainless steel sink hung on the opposite wall, along with a fold-down desk. T’Ser entered and pulled down a second, higher bunk from the bulkhead.

“Do you prefer to be on top?” asked T’Ser.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The bunk – do you prefer the top or would you rather sleep in the lower bunk?”

“Oh! Um, it doesn’t matter, whichever one you weren’t using.” Strauss could feel her face redden.

T’Ser nodded, ignoring Strauss’ discomfiture. “Very well, I’ll remain in the lower bunk, then. Over here is an additional desk with data-com terminal.” Strauss pulled down the second desk from the wall.

Inga looked around, puzzled. “Where is the head?”

“Down the corridor, aft, port side. There are only six showers, so you’ll need to get on the schedule. By the way, it’s unisex, any problems with that?”

Inga blanched. “What? Oh. No, no problem.”

“I’ll have your gear delivered here when it arrives, then you can get squared away. Do you have a foot locker?” asked T’Ser.

Inga shook her head. “No, just a duffel bag. The science pallet needs to be stored, though. It’s very important.”

“I’m sure it will be well-secured in the cargo bay. Is there anything hazardous about it?”

“No, of course not,” Strauss lied.

* * *

23 October 2376
0700 Galactic Mean Time
United Federation Star Guard Base – Echo Station
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Inga Strauss tried to make herself invisible as she watched with fascination the bridge crew prepare for departure. She stood in what she hoped was an out-of-the-way corner of the bridge near the aft bulkhead. The problem was that it placed her just a few feet from the currently empty command chair. She wasn’t sure how Captain Akinola would feel about her being on the bridge since she was merely a “passenger.”

The XO was in a khaki uniform with sleeves rolled to his forearms and a blue ball cap with “Bluefin SGC-58” embroidered prominently in yellow. He held a databoard and was making notations with a stylus. The young officer she met on the gangway yesterday was standing at Ops and carrying on conversations with at least a half dozen of the crew over the inter-ship com, seemingly simultaneously. How can he keep track of all of that? She wondered, impressed with his multi-tasking ability. A petty officer in denim shirt and blue dungarees stood at the helm station, awaiting orders.

McBride’s booming voice startled her, “Captain on the bridge!”

Strauss turned to see Captain Akinola step through the hatchway onto the bridge. He was wearing a weathered leather jacket and had on a khaki officer’s lid this morning. He glanced in Strauss’ direction, but said nothing to her. He turned his attention to McBride.

“Good morning, XO. Are we ready to cast off?”

“Yes sir, all stations report ready. Just give the word.”

“Very well.” Akinola reached up and grabbed a microphone from the overhead and keyed it. “All hands, this is the Captain. Departure stations! Departure stations! Prepare for immediate launch. That is all.” He took a seat in the leather command chair. “Mr. Bane, signal the dockmaster we are ready to depart. Disengage all moorings and retract gangway.”

“Aye, sir.” A pause as Bane carried out the order, “Sir, all mooring and umbilical lines released and retracted, gangway is retracted and secured. Dock master has opened inner lock doors for our departure.”

“Thank you. Helm, reverse, dead-slow to clear the dock, then ahead, dead-slow to the lock doors.”

Strauss heard a low rumble and felt the deck vibrate under her feet. Suddenly, she pitched forward as the gravity shifted slightly as the cutter backed from its berth. Two strong arms grabbed her before she hit the hard deck.

“Whoa there. Gotcha Lieutenant!”

Strauss looked into the face of Lt. Bane. He’s rather nice looking! was the first thought that entered her mind, followed quickly by, I must look like an idiot!

Bane steadied Strauss back on her feet. She could feel her face glowing bright red. Realizing she was still holding on to him, she quickly released her grip. “Thank you, Mr. Bane,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster.

“No worries!” he said, with a flash of brilliant white teeth. Strauss again took note of the handsome features of the young officer. She figured him to be about her age, late 20’s to about 30. He had a tanned face, sandy blond hair and grayish blue eyes. She cleared her throat, resumed her position and glanced toward the captain. His face was dead-pan, but she thought she detected a glimmer of amusement in his eyes.

“The gravity coils on these old cutters take a second to adjust to directional changes,” he said in his low baritone voice. He pointed to the overhead bars which were painted a bright yellow. “That’s why we have those. You might want to make use of them, next time.”

“Yes sir. Thank you, sir,” she said.

Akinola nodded and turned his attention forward. “Take us out, helm.”

Struass took in the 180 degree view through the forward windows. They slowly moved past a row of identical cutters, then a small satellite tender before passing a large Asteroid-breaker with the name Vesuvius painted on the hull. Her attention was then drawn to the now-open massive inner lock doors. The cutter crept slowly through.

“Helm, full stop.”

This time, Inga held on to the “panic bar” as the ship halted in the lock chamber. Although she could not see it, she knew that the inner lock doors were closing and that atmosphere was now being pumped from the lock.

“Lock at 0 psi,” announced the XO, glancing at a panel. Momentarily, red lights began to flash on the outer doors and they slowly slid open to reveal the darkness of space.

“Ahead, one quarter,” announced Akinola. He stood from his chair and walked over to McBride who was standing by a transparent globe. The captain turned.

“Mr. Strauss, come over here. Since you got an ‘A’ in navigation, you might be interested in this.”

Strauss’ face flushed again, but she ignored the jibe. She walked over to stand by the Captain and XO.

“Recognize this?” asked Akinola, indicating the globe.

“It’s a Bradley-Haas Model 14 Navigation Tank,” she said.

Akinola nodded approvingly. “Correct. Do you understand how it operates?”

Strauss nodded. She had been proficient on the simulators at the academy and was quite familiar with the Model 14. “Yes sir, it provides a holographic, 3-D representation of a portion of space from a range of one light minute up to 3 AUs. The flashing blue indicator represents our current position. You can input the coordinates of your destination and it will give course options based on fuel load, mass, speed, gravitic anomalies, and ionic activity.”

The Captain actually smiled, slightly. “Very good. That’s a nice summation, Lieutenant. However, you left out other factors to consider that the Nav Tank can’t provide. Do you know what those might be?”

Strauss frowned. “Well, there’s always the tactical and political situation. You wouldn’t want to plot a course through enemy territory.”

Akinola nodded. “Correct, although you can input such areas into it. Anything else?”

Strauss offered an apologetic look. “No sir.”

“Look here,” he indicated a flashing line suspended in the globe. “Do you see anything wrong with that route?” he asked.

Strauss peered into the tank. She noted that the line veered around gravity wells, spots of ionic activity, and was predominantly colored for established space lanes. “No sir, nothing obvious.”

“Exactly!” He punched in some data. At several places along the indicated route, flashing red orbs of light appeared.

“What are those?” she asked, puzzled.

Akinola straightened and tipped his hat back on his head. “Those, Lieutenant, are hot spots of pirate activity. I know that because of our own encounters and from some under-the-table information that seems to elude Fleet Intel. You might take this route and arrive perfectly fine. But there’s a fair chance you’d run into someone who would just as soon shoot holes in your hull, rape you, kill you, then eat you for good measure.”

Strauss swallowed. “Do you mean Orion pirates?”

He nodded. “The same.”

“I always thought that those were made-up stories to scare Plebes at the academy.”

Akinola regarded her with hooded eyes. “Oh, they are very real, Lieutenant. They are barbaric, fearless people who have developed a taste for human flesh. I think they enjoy the killing more than the looting. The Green Orions, they’re the worst, although some of the Reds are just as bad.”

A low voice behind Struass rumbled, “Hey Skipper! I resemble that remark!”

Strauss turned to face a very large man with dark, red skin, and red eyes with yellow sclera. His grin exhibited very sharp, gold teeth. He had numerous scars in intricate patterns on his face and his ears had several notches. Massive muscles rippled beneath the tight-fitting blue jumpsuit. The insignia of a senior chief adorned his collars. Strauss’ breath caught in her throat and she found herself unable to speak.

“Lieutenant Strauss, meet Senior Chief Solly Brin, our C.O.B.”

“Ma’am,” the big Orion said, with a glint of something unfathomable in his eyes.

* * *
"You are beginning to damage my calm." - Jayne Cobb
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Old January 23 2008, 08:43 PM   #4
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

This is cool, TLR. You must be hammering away at your typewriter(so to speak).
...sf fandom is only a personality disorder if you do it right.-Klaus - archive stories! for honest gaming

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Old January 23 2008, 10:39 PM   #5
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

I like it. Sounds slightly steampunky even though it isn't really. I'm curious as to where this is heading.
"Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
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Old January 24 2008, 03:28 AM   #6
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Chapter Three

23 October 2376
0830 Galactic Mean Time
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Strauss left the bridge in search of the galley. She gingerly descended two decks, but quickly became lost. She stopped a moment to get her bearings, a puzzled expression on her face.

“Lieutenant? Are you all right?”

Strauss turned to see an older man with thinning white hair and neatly trimmed beard peering at her quizzically through a pair of anachronistic eyeglasses. The effect gave him an owl-like appearance and was rather comical. Strauss smiled. She noted the lab coat and stethoscope draped over his neck and figured him for the ship’s surgeon.

“Oh, yes. I’m fine, thanks. I seem to have lost my way, though. Can you direct me to the galley.”

The old man smiled and bobbed his head. “Certainly, my dear. You need to go up one level, then head forward. You can’t miss it. I’m Calvin Baxter, by the way. Ship’s surgeon.” He stuck out a bony hand in greeting.

She took the frail-looking hand gingerly, and shook it. The doctor’s grip was dry and firm. He was much stronger than he looked. “I’m Inga Strauss. Nice to meet you Dr. Baxter, and thank you for the directions.”

He withdrew his hand and poked it back into the pocket of his labcoat. “Charmed! Glad to be of assistance and all that. And if you’re ever in need of medical attention, remember deck 3, aft, is the infirmary.” With that, he ambled down the hall, whistling a merry tune.

Strauss’ smile widened and she shook her head at the disappearing form of the eccentric saw-bones. She went back to the ladder and climbed up one deck.

The galley was, as Dr. Baxter said, hard to miss. The room was nearly full as delta shift crewmen were eating their breakfast (dinner?) before hitting the rack or whatever they did when off-duty. A haze of tobacco smoke filled the space as did the rumble of conversation, the clink of cutlery and the occasional hearty laugh. It seemed a very pleasant place. The smell of food was tantalizing.

She made her way to the serving line where steam from the serving tables added to the heavy atmosphere. A steward in white t-shirt and apron stood languidly over the fare.

“What’ll it be, Lieutenant?” he asked.

She selected scrambled eggs, toast with marmalade, and a bowl of fruit, which the steward heaped on a steel tray. She looked doubtfully at the copious quantity, thinking there was enough on her tray to feed three of her. She carried the tray over to a large coffee urn where she filled a thick porcelain mug with the steaming brew and added cream from a pitcher and two spoons of sugar. She looked around through the murk, seeking a place to sit.

“Mr. Strauss! Over here!”

Inga turned in the direction of the voice and saw Lt. Bane and another young officer seated at a table. She moved in that direction, squeezing past seated crewmen.

Bane stood and pulled out a chair for Strauss, as the other officer, an Asian ensign, also stood. Bane indicated the other man.

“Lt. Strauss, this is Ensign Yumo Takara, our tactical officer,” said Bane. Takara nodded his head in greeting.

“Lieutenant, nice to meet you,” said the ensign.

“Ensign,” said Strauss, taking a seat. The two male officers resumed their seat. Takara’s plate was empty, save for a few crumbs while Bane’s was still heavy laden with food, more than twice the amount on Strauss’ tray. He tore into his food with gusto.

Struass gingerly sampled the food and found it to be quite good. She looked at Bane. “Thanks again for the rescue on the bridge earlier. That was rather klutzy of me.”

“Nah,” responded Bane around a mouthful of food, “Happens to nearly everyone there first time on a cutter. We accelerate a lot faster than most ships, so it can catch you off guard until you’re used to it.”

She smiled at his gracious attitude. Turning her attention to Ensign Takara, she asked. “Where is your duty station?”

Takara set his cup of tea down. “It depends. Unless we’re at battle stations, I usually make rounds of the torpedo rooms and the phase cannon control room. During a drill or actual alert, my station is on the bridge at the tactical plotter.”

“I see,” said Strauss. She was about to ask the same of Bane, when the ship’s intercom blared.

“Attention all hands, this is the Captain. Prepare for jump to null-space. I repeat, prepare for jump to null-space. That is all.”

“Here we go!” grinned Bane.

Strauss was about to ask Bane what to expect, when a ringing in her ear suddenly began, increasing to a painful level. She felt dizzy and her vision began to blur. She thought she heard Bane say from a great distance, “Blimey! There she goes!” Then everything faded to gray, then black.

* * *

Strauss’ world slowly swirled back into focus. She blinked several times, puzzled to see several concerned faces peering at her at close range. A distant part of her realized that Bane was holding her in a reclining position on the deck – a position she did not find unpleasant. Dr. Baxter was also there and he placed a cylindrical instrument against her bare forearm. Who rolled up my sleeve? She wondered, blearily. She heard a hiss and felt a small amount of pressure against her arm. Almost immediately, her head began to clear and everyone came into sharper focus.

“What happened?” she asked, puzzled.

Baxter smiled. “A common reaction to the transition from normal space to null-space. You fainted, my dear.”

Strauss wished she could sink into the deck. “Oh no,” she said, embarrassed.

“Mr. Bane caught you before you hit the deck,” offered Ensign Takara, helpfully.

It dawned on her that Lt. Bane was, indeed, holding her. She quickly sat up and tried to stand, but a wave of dizziness overcame her.

“Easy there, young lady!” warned Dr. Baxter. “Give that injection a moment to take full effect. You may experience a bit of vertigo until you get your space legs.”

Bane helped her back to her chair. Thankfully, she hadn’t pulled the tray with her or spilled coffee everywhere.

“Just take it slow, Lieutenant,” cautioned the doctor. “Sit there for a few minutes, then you’ll be as right as rain. Come see me if you have any residual dizziness.” He closed up his medical kit, nodded at Bane and Takara, and exited the galley.

Strauss placed her elbows on the table and rubbed her temples, her appetite gone. “I can’t believe I did that,” she said, morosely.

“Hey now,” chided Bane, “don’t let it get you down. It happens to people all the time. Why, it happened to me on my first cruise on the Skipjack. Landed square on m’ arse, on the bridge, right in front of God and the Captain!”

Strauss actually giggled at that, whether from Dr. Baxter’s shot or the remaining traces of dizziness, she didn’t know. She looked at the handsome young officer and smiled. “Thanks for coming to my rescue – again!”

His face broke into a boyish grin, “Any time!”

* * *

23 October 2376
1320 Galactic Mean Time
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Captain Akinola sat in the office section of his small star cabin just aft of the bridge. He preferred the star cabin to the more spacious captain’s quarters two decks below. For him, it made better sense to be near the center of the action. A visitor would have found the star cabin to be surprisingly small, but also efficient and practical. Akinola had fitted it out to suit his tastes. Rather than a standard desk, he had acquired a small antique oak roll-top desk, which was secured against one wall. This made the office space seem larger and allowed him to add a comfortable sofa and two cabinets to display his collection of starship carvings that he had produced over the years. An antique clock was secured to the opposite bulkhead, its pendulum swinging steadily and offered the occasional chime to mark the hour. Framed pictures and certificates surrounded the clock, most cherished of which was a picture of his daughter and her family, and a portrait taken years ago of Akinola in dress uniform, wearing master chief’s chevrons, standing next to his late wife, Kalinda. A door led to a tiny sleeping area with a bunk, dresser and a very compact head.

Akinola took a sip of coffee and scrolled down the round screen of his data-com, perusing the personnel record of Lt. Inga Strauss. He saw that she had, indeed, been a top-notch student at the Star Guard Academy back on Earth in New London, Connecticut. He also noted with interest that her father was Captain Dieter Strauss, currently the C.O. of the Federal Navy’s Heavy Starcruiser, Invincible. Akinola had not made the connection before.

Reading on, he saw that she was a competent officer, with excellent performance reviews and even a few commendations in her file jacket. Oddly enough, when he tried to open the files related to the commendations, he only received a screen saying, “Access denied – enter authorization code.” He swiveled in his chair and leaned back, looking at the picture of Kalinda Mayweather Akinola, his dead wife.

“Kay, why is it, that such a promising young officer as Lt. Strauss is stuck running errands for the science division? Seems like a waste of talent and training, to me. And why is part of her personnel jacket sealed?”

But the portrait of his beloved wife remained silent, favoring him only with a faint, Mona Lisa smile. He turned back to the data-com screen. “I believe there’s more to you than meets the eye, Inga Strauss,” he murmured to himself.

* * *

23 October 2376
2100 Galactic Mean Time
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Lieutenant T’Ser stood watch over the bridge, idly watching various monitor screens and occasionally answering queries from various departments over the ships com system. The ship’s lighting was set for “night,” to simulate Earth’s diurnal cycle. The subdued lighting was restful to T’Ser as well, but did nothing to hamper her senses or alertness. The panoramic windows of the bridge only revealed the total darkness of null-space.

Her keen hearing picked up the soft ping of the contact tone before the helmsman announced, “Contact, bearing 142 mark 38.”

T’Ser stepped forward to the sensor display and frowned. “Helm, adjust course for intercept.” She stepped to the com panel and lifted a handset. “Captain? Bridge. We’ve picked up a stationary contact bearing 142 mark 38. Range is 24 light minutes. I’ve ordered a course change to intercept.” She listened to the response, then replied, “Understood. Bridge, out.”

T’Ser turned back to the helmsman. “Maintain new course and present speed. When we get to 50 million kilometers of the target, drop us out of null-space.”

“Aye aye,” replied the helmsman. Momentarily, Captain Akinola entered the bridge, tugging on his leather jacket. He walked to the sensor station where T’Ser stood and studied the display. He looked up at her. “Might be her,” he said.

She nodded. “It’s certainly big enough to be the Endurance.”

“Time to normal space?” he asked.

She glanced at another screen, then at her wrist watch. “Nineteen minutes, forty-two seconds.”

He nodded. “Okay. When we hit normal space, go to silent running. Passive sensors only. Let’s see if she’s just having engine troubles – if she is, she’ll be broadcasting. If not . . .”

“Then we may have hostile company,” T’Ser finished.

“Right.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pipe. He struck a match with a thumbnail and lit the bowl of tobacco. Settling into the command chair, he said, “Now, we wait and see.”

* * *
"You are beginning to damage my calm." - Jayne Cobb
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Old January 24 2008, 05:05 AM   #7
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

This is jut like reading a 50's pulp sci-fi story in Amazing Stories or Astounding. The only thing missing is Gralt wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers hat.
USS Sutherland, Lexington, Gibraltar, Bluefin, Independence, Dauntless, Eagle, Dark Territory all dock here
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Old January 25 2008, 01:57 AM   #8
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Pretty good so far.
"Understand, Commander: That torpedo did not self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull, and I was never here."

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Old January 25 2008, 06:26 AM   #9
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

DavidFalkayn said:
This is jut like reading a 50's pulp sci-fi story in Amazing Stories or Astounding. The only thing missing is Gralt wearing a Brooklyn Dodgers hat.
Yup. That's what it feels like. Grey Lensman series or something.
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Old January 26 2008, 02:48 AM   #10
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Chapter Four

23 October 2376
2124 Galactic Mean Time
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

The Bluefin shifted back to normal space and the view through the bridge windows changed from stark black to a vast starscape.

“Helm, alter your course five degrees to starboard, adjust yaw to maintain a bow-on aspect,” ordered Akinola. He wanted to keep a minimal profile while attempting to bypass the contact slightly, allowing them more time for observation.

The helmsman complied and Akinola stood, pocketing his now-cold pipe. “T’Ser – anything?”

T’Ser wore a headset, listening intently. She shook her head. “Nothing sir. Whoever it is, they’re not broadcasting, at least not in the clear.”

“Can you get an ident code?” he asked.

T’Ser glanced at a screen at the Ops station. “No sir. No IFF code, no transponder, no broadcast emissions of any kind. Whoever it is seems to be dead in space.”

Akinola winced at her choice of words, but nodded. “Alright, then.” He paused a moment, considering. “Helm, resume original intercept course, ahead full. Mr. T’Ser, sound general quarters.”

Akinola sat back in his leather chair as the ship’s klaxon gonged and T’Ser’s calm voice echoed through the cutter. “General quarters, general quarters, all hands – man your action stations. This is not a drill, repeat – this is not a drill.”

* * *

The sudden gonging and the call to general quarters startled Strauss from her sleep. She tumbled from the bunk and quickly pulled her uniform back on. As she opened the cabin door to see crewmen jogging past, it struck her – she did not have a duty station. As the captain had put it rather bluntly, “You’re a passenger.” Yet her sense of duty rebelled against the notion of sitting in the cabin, doing nothing. After a moment’s hesitation, she trotted forward, toward the ladder that led to the bridge.

* * *

Akinola bent over the tactical plotter – a device similar to the navigation tank, it gave a 3-D holographic representation of the immediate area of space and any other vessels in proximity. Currently, it showed the relatively stationary mystery ship (no object in space is ever at an absolute dead stop) and the rapidly closing Bluefin. He looked up toward T’Ser.

“Go active on sensors and ping that ship. I doubt we’re sneaking up on anyone and if anyone else is lurking around, I want to know it.”

T’Ser turned toward the sensor panel and activated the powerful scanners. After a few moments, she looked back at Akinola and shook her head. “No other contacts within scanning range.”

“Any ion trails?”

“Negative. If there were any other ships in the area, they’ve been gone for more than a day at least.”

Akinola nodded as he searched his pocket for a match. “Are you picking up any biological readings?”

T’Ser studied the panel again. “At this range, still indeterminate on biological signs. However, I now have a positive ID on the ship.” She looked at Akinola. “It’s definitely the Endurance.”

* * *

The Bluefin slowed as it approached the drifting vessel, Endurance. Braking thrusters in the cutter's bow fired until they were alongside the larger exploration ship. Powerful spotlights from the Bluefin played over the hull of the derelict.

The furrows in Captain Akinola’s brow deepened as the spotlights played over several prominent breaches in the hull of the Endurance. Clouds of frozen gas created an eerie corona effect as the spotlights reflected from them. The bridge crew was silent. Each knew that the damage they saw was catastrophic and the chance of finding survivors, slim. The Endurance appeared to have been twisted somehow, as if by giant, malevolent hands. Hull plates were buckled and askew. Tiny bits of debris tumbled and sparkled as the spotlights reflected off random bits of endurium, ceramics and shards of ice. The research vessel itself was dark and foreboding. No running lights shone, nor any did any light appear through view ports.

Finally, Akinola broke the silence. “XO, organize a boarding party to search for survivors and any clues as to what happened. I want them armed – whoever, whatever did this might still have a presence on that ship. And have them watch for booby traps – if the Orions did this, they love leaving behind nasty little surprises.”

“I don’t think the Orions did this,” whispered T’Ser to herself.

McBride’s face was grim. “Aye sir,” he said, solemnly.

“Captain!” Lt. Strauss suddenly spoke up. “Request permission to accompany the boarding party.”

Akinola frowned. “Why do you want to do that, Lieutenant?”

“There’s special equipment on the Endurance that may shed some light on what happened. And I may be of some help in . . . salvaging the instrument package.”

The Captain’s frown deepened. “Lt. Strauss, do you have any idea what happened to the Endurance?." There was a cold, hard edge to his voice now.

She quickly shook her head quickly. “No sir – none! I just want to help find out what happened, sir. . . I’ve got friends on that ship.” Her tone was quiet but earnest.

Akinola regarded her with an unreadable expression before speaking. “Very well, Mr. Strauss. But you will stay with Commander McBride at all times. You are not to go off by yourself at any time while on that ship! Is that clear?”

“Yes sir.”

McBride did not look altogether pleased, but he nodded. “Alright. Come on, Lieutenant. We’ve got to get suited up.” He led Strauss off the bridge.

“Mr. Takara, are the tactical scanners still showing all-clear?” Akinola asked.

“Yes sir, no other ships within range of our scanners.”

“Very well, but keep the torpedo and gun crews on standby. If we get jumped, I want to get off the first shot.”

“Understood, sir,” replied Takara.

“Helm, line us up by their port side airlock. Mr. Bane, prepare to extend the connector tube to that airlock as soon as we’re in position,” ordered the Captain. He rolled his neck to relieve some of the tension, then jammed his hands into his back pockets.

“Captain?” T’Ser spoke up from her station, a puzzled tone in her voice.

“What is it, Mr. T’Ser?”

“I’m picking up some very strange readings in this area of space – fluctuations in background radiation and . . .” She shook her head in obvious frustration. “I’m sorry, sir, but our sensors aren’t sensitive enough to give a more definitive report.”

“How about an educated guess?” he asked, patiently.

She straightened. “I wish I could, but the data is pretty sketchy. No trace of a cosmic string or pockets of anti-matter. It’s more as if this region of space is – thin – expanding and contracting somehow. Whatever happened here, I don’t believe it was a natural occurrence.”

“Could what happened to the Endurance happen to us?” queried Akinola.

“Unknown at this time. We don’t have sufficient data.”

* * *

23 October 2376
2217 Galactic Mean Time
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

Lt. Commander McBride checked the readouts of the space suit of each boarding party member while Chief Brin performed the same task for the XO. Satisfied that everyone had 90 minutes of air and a 15 minute reserve, McBride addressed the group.

“Alright everyone, I want you on your toes when we get over there. Keep your com-links open and your eyes peeled. If you find a survivor from the ship’s crew, sing out. If you run into a hostile, defend yourself – obviously we’d like to take prisoners for questioning, but that’s secondary to securing that ship. We’ll go in pairs, be sure to maintain visual contact with your partner at all times. Lieutenant Strauss, you’re with me. Chief Brin will take Corpsman Rice, Petty Officer Martinez, you’ve got Corpsman Sanders. Okay! Lower and lock your faceplates!

The boarding party did as ordered, pulling their helmet visors down and sliding home the collar lock. Each took a moment to get acclimated to the hiss of oxygen and the sound of their own breathing through their earphones. McBride’s voice came through, seemingly more distant, through the com link.

“Cycle air lock.”

Chief Brin turned the airlock control 90 degrees clockwise. A louder hissing sound filled the chamber, then faded as atmosphere was pumped out. In a moment, they stood in vacuum.

“Open outer door,” said McBride.

Brin pulled the handle out, then turned it 90 degrees counter-clockwise. The outer hatch slid silently open to reveal the articulated connector tube. 50 feet away, at the opposite end, was the hatch to the Endurance.

Strauss could feel her pulse rate increase. She forced herself to breathe slowly and steadily. Hyper-ventilating in a space suit was dangerous!

“Let’s go,” McBride said and stepped into the tube.

The boarding party had to use grab rails to pull themselves, once they moved beyond the cutter’s gravity field. It took about a minute to reach the other hatch. Senior Chief Brin pulled a tool off of his belt, and inserted it in a slot beside the hatch of the Endurance. Once in the slot, he checked a small gauge at the end of the tool.

“Airlock at zero psi. It’s safe to enter,” said the big Orion. If the airlock had been pressurized and they had attempted to open the door, the rapid decompression would have blown them all the way back to the Bluefin, possibly injuring or even killing them.

Brin began to pump the tool handle up and down. At first, nothing seemed to happen, then a crack appeared at the edge of the hatch as it slowly opened. In a few moments, Brin had the hatch open wide enough for them to enter. The chamber was as dark as a grave.

“Switch on helmet lights and unsafe weapons,” ordered McBride as they entered the airlock chamber. Each member charged his or her Durham 80 pulse pistol. Senior Chief Brin charged his heavy pulse rifle. The XO keyed his helmet radio. “Boarding party to Bluefin. We’re entering the airlock of the Endurance.”

“Acknowledged, boarding party,” came the tinny reply, “Be careful.”

McBride muttered to himself. “If I wanted to be careful, I’d have become an accountant.” He stepped through the open hatch into the airlock chamber, their helmet lights provided circles of illumination and ghostly shadows. McBride moved to the inner air-lock controls and frowned. “No power to this panel. Senior Chief, bring the hyper-jack.”

Brin stepped forward, hitched the rifle strap up on his shoulder and inserted the same tool he’d used on the outer hatch into a similar control slot. He peered at the read-out. “Very low pressure on the other side,” he announced, somberly. Once again, he began to pump the tool up and down.

As the inner hatch creaked open, a small eddy of paper and other small items swirled out, sliding around their feet, caught in the slight amount of atmosphere that vented from the interior. Strauss turned to look at the other members of the boarding party; their helmet lighting gave their faces a haunted look.

McBride’s voice crackled over their helmet speakers. “Brin and Rice, head to engineering. See if you can restore any power or atmosphere. Martinez and Sanders, begin a deck-by-deck sweep, working up from here. Mr. Strauss, we’ll head toward the bridge.” With that, the boarding party entered the tomb-like darkness of the Endurance.

* * *
"You are beginning to damage my calm." - Jayne Cobb
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Old January 26 2008, 12:41 PM   #11
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Intense. I want to write this. I keep saying this about your stuff. Go Figure.
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Old January 28 2008, 10:33 PM   #12
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Chapter Five

23 October 2376
2225 Galactic Mean Time
Science/Exploration Vessel Endurance SEV 12

Strauss was grateful that the gravity coils on the Endurance still functioned. She knew all too well what prolonged weightlessness did to her stomach. She followed McBride down a dark corridor, their helmet lights creating eerie shadows as they progressed.

"I wonder why the emergency lights aren't on?" she asked.

"Could be damaged conduits, drained batteries, who knows?" came McBride's tinny response. "Can you pick up any biological readings?"

Strauss looked at the portable scanner she carried and frowned. "There's some kind of background radiation that's interfering with the readings. But I think I'm picking up a bio-reading ahead and to starboard. It's faint, though."

"What about the radiation?" queried McBride. "Is it dangerous?"

"Not at current levels."

"Okay, let's try to make our way to the location of that bio-reading. Maybe there are some survivors on board after all."

"We need to continue forward until we find a crossing corridor. There should be one ahead about 20 meters," said Strauss.

McBride thought it odd that Strauss would be familiar with the ship, considering her declared lack of starship duty. He set aside the thought for now as they continued forward.

* * *

Senior Chief Brin and Corpsman Rice found the first dead body as they moved aft toward engineering.

Brin's helmet lights caught the ravaged corpse lying akimbo in the corridor. He muttered an Orion curse and tapped the top of his visor in a superstitious gesture. Rice moved forward, kneeling before the bloody mess.

"Did the decompression kill him?" asked Brin.

"I don't know, Chief. Maybe. But there's a lot more physical trauma here than I would have expected. It looks almost as if he were . . . turned inside out!"

Brin grimaced. "Let's move on. Nothing we can do for him, anyway."

"Yeah," she agreed, sadly. "I got a feeling we're going to need a lot of body bags before we're done."

* * *

Petty Officer Martinez and Corpsman Sanders began to encounter numerous corpses, all horribly mangled as the first.

"Sandy, what could have caused this?" mused Martinez, a nervous quaver in his voice.

"I don't know," said Sanders, grimly. "There are no signs of weapons' fire, no obvious wounds except that . . . twisting. I've never seen anything like it."

"Do you think we'll find any survivors?"

Sanders snorted. "Not if they look like that!"

* * *

23 October 2376
2301 Galactic Mean Time
Star Cutter Bluefin SGC 58

As Akinola listened to the comm chatter from the boarding party, his hope that this might be a rescue mission faded. Whatever had reduced the Endurance into a mangled lump of space debris had apparently done likewise to her crew.

A steward entered the bridge, carrying a tray laden with coffee and sandwiches. Akinola gratefully took a mug of coffee with an absent, "Thanks, Johnny." He needed the caffeine, but he had no appetite for food.

He took a swig of the hot beverage before addressing T'Ser. "Lt. T'Ser - are there any accounts in the computer database similar to what we've discovered on that ship?"

T'Ser also took a mug of coffee from the steward, inclining her head in thanks. "I've done a search of our database as well as the Fleetnet archives. There are no records of anything remotely like this happening before."

Akinola grimaced, but he wasn't surprised by her answer. He had served in the Star Guard for over forty years and, while he had encountered his share of strange occurences, this was a new one. He emitted a sigh.

"T'Ser, send a priority message to Echo station. We'll need a tug and some additional help with the recovery operation - at least two more cutters to handle all the casualties. Be sure to send Admiral Bateson all of the pertinent data we have. Oh, and scramble it too. This doesn't need to fall on civilian ears just yet."

"Aye, sir." She turned back to her control panel to open a communications link. Akinola pulled his pipe out of his pocket and tamped some tobacco in the bowl from a foil pouch. As he began to light the pipe, T'Ser turned back to him, a puzzled frown on her face.

"Sir? I'm unable to establish a link with the station. The background radiation seems to be interfering with our transmitter."

"Keep trying, Lieutenant. If you don't have any luck, we'll have to move off and try again, after we recover the boarding party."

* * *

23 October 2376
2307 Galactic Mean Time
Science/Exploration Vessel Endurance SEV 12

McBride and Strauss also encountered several bodies, all in the same twisted and contorted condition. The expressions on the bodies (those that still had recognizable faces) were frozen in terror and agony. Whatever had happened had come upon them suddenly. Strauss dutifully recorded the terrible scene with her helmet cam.

"Good Lord! What is that?"

Strauss turned quickly, startled by the surprise and fear evident in McBride's voice. What she saw shocked her.

Lying before them in the corridor was some bizarre, alien creature, apparently dead like the ship's crew. It had a large, blocky head with a huge mouth and rows of razor sharp teeth, between which a long black tongue dangled. It's shiny skin was yellow with brown mottling. A trickle of black ichor oozed from its eye slits. It's body did not exhibit the same ravaged appearance as the ship's crew. Its stubby arms clad with numerous metal bands were held up as if in supplication. The muscular legs and thick torso were unmarred. There were no external signs of apparent trauma. Yet, it appeared to be just as dead.

McBride trained his pulse pistol on the creature, not taking any chances. He glanced at Struass. "Scan it!" he ordered.

Strauss shook off the paralysis of her initial shock and activated the bio-scanner. She frowned at the readings and actually shook the device. "That can't be right!" she muttered.

"What?" McBride asked, impatiently.

"These readings don't make sense! It's as if that . . . thing doesn't even exist! All I'm getting are stronger readings of the background radiation."

McBride prodded the creature with his boot. Strauss winced, halfway expecting the saurian-like alien to rise up and attack the XO. But it did nothing.

"Feels real to me," drawled McBride. "Bluefin, are you seeing this?" he asked over the open comm link.

"Yeah, XO. We see it too," came Akinola's voice over their helmet speakers. "Damned if I know what it is, though."

"What do you want us to do with it?" asked the XO.

"For now, leave it be. It doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Continue your search for survivors. I'll have Chief Gralt assemble a second party to relieve you in twenty minutes," said Akinola.

"Roger that!" said McBride. "You heard the Skipper," he said to Strauss. "Let's move on."

She gingerly stepped over the mysterious creature, still expecting it to come to life and attack. It remained motionless on the deck - one more enigma in a totally surreal situation.

They continued forward until they came to a junction in the corridor.

"I'm definitely picking up a faint life sign!" Strauss exclaimed, excitement in her voice. She pointed to their right. "Down this way, about 10 meters."

They moved as quickly as their space suits allowed until they came to an interior airlock. McBride checked a wall panel then turned to her, his helmet lighting revealed an excited expression on his sweat-slick face.

"There's power and atmosphere on the other side of this air-lock!"

Strauss' pulse quickened with excitement and fear. She hoped that there were indeed survivors on the other side of that airlock, but nothing they had seen thus far gave her much hope. As McBride attempted to open the air-lock, Strauss noticed the yellow signage over the door: "Restricted Area - Authorized Personnel Only!" There were also radiation warning signs as well. She had an idea what had transpired on the other side, though she could not reveal that to McBride or anyone else on the Bluefin, at least not yet.

Yellow lights on the control panel flashed, then turned green. Silently, the outer airlock door slid apart. McBride and Strauss looked at each other.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," he said. They stepped into the chamber and McBride cycled the airlock. As the pressure increased to one atmosphere, Strauss checked the bio-scanner for any air-born contaminants. No bio-hazards registered, no noxious gas, no lethal radiation. She looked at McBride and nodded.

"Looks safe to go in," she said.

McBride gave her a side-long glance, full of irony. "Riight," he said. "Ladies first."

She raised an eyebrow at him and he waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

"Just kiddin'" he said. "I'll lead, you cover me."

Strauss swallowed, attached the scanner to her belt and held the pulse pistol with both hands in the ready position. McBride turned the inner door handle to release and the twin panels slid open with an audible hum.

The room was large - about 15 meters square and the ceiling was 4 meters high, vast for a starship. Electronic equipment lined the walls and the sound of pulsing power thrummed rhythmically in the space. In the center of the room, connected by numerous cables to overhead power conduits, was a dome-shaped chamber, the interior of which emitted a faint glow that pulsed in rhythm with the sound.

"What the hell is that?" asked McBride, a trace of awe in his voice.

"I don't know," said Strauss, although, truth be known, she was pretty sure she knew exactly what it was. The thought filled her with a sense of wonder and fear.

They moved cautiously toward the chamber, then both stopped at the same moment. Partially hidden by a console was another of the saurian creatures. This one, however, had a hole burned through its body. At least the cause of death in this instance was obvious.

"A pulse pistol did this," said McBride with certainty. "Close range, too!"

A low moaning sound caused both of them to turn quickly, pistols at the ready.

A human form was lying sprawled inside the central chamber. They quickly moved toward the prone man, thoughts of personal danger set aside for the moment.

To Strauss' relief, the man appeared alive but unconscious as she noted the steady rise and fall of his breathing. His body was unmarked by the trauma that had ravaged the rest of the ship's crew. He wore a form-fitting orange jump suit that was covered by a thin mesh of sensors and electrodes. His arm was draped over his face. A pulse pistol lay nearby.

The XO moved the man's arm and Strauss gasped, "O.C.!"

McBride looked at her sharply. "You know him?"

She looked down at the familiar face - a light-skinned human male in his late 30's with close-cropped thinning hair and a nose a bit too large for his otherwise handsome face.

"Yes, yes I know him. It's Dr. Octavius Castille." She paused, "My ex-husband."

* * *
"You are beginning to damage my calm." - Jayne Cobb
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Old January 29 2008, 03:00 AM   #13
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Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

So...Doc Ock is in this one?

Kidding. Another good chapter.
"Understand, Commander: That torpedo did not self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull, and I was never here."

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Old January 29 2008, 04:29 AM   #14
Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

It great so far. Keep up the good work. Can't wait to see what you have next.
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Old January 29 2008, 06:38 AM   #15
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Location: Between the candle and the flame
Re: Bluefin - Retro: "Here There Be Dragons"

Sweet! She's married? This IS a different universe.
...sf fandom is only a personality disorder if you do it right.-Klaus - archive stories! for honest gaming

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