So_Clever

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Sgt_G, Jul 12, 2018.

  1. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    So Clever
    By: GLG
    (c) 2018

    A young woman eschews a position in the family business and strikes out on her own. She has the training and the resources to succeed. Strong-willed and independent, she believes she is ready for anything. However, when things don’t go according to plan, she is tested like never before. Her ship is damaged and forced to land on an uncharted planet for emergency repairs. She must deal with one crisis after another, when even mundane tasks become challenging, and every decision may have lasting consequences. If her ship and crew are to survive, her choices must be bold and her actions decisive. But is she clever enough to handle the surprises this strange new world will throw at her? One thing is for certain: her life will never be the same after this voyage.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


    *** This story is influenced by the Star Fleet Battles universe and thus is set within the ST:TOS era. ***

    -- just under 38,000 words --

    I know some SFB players will want to take me to task for a few things that happened in the story. The biggest complaint I've heard is the Free Trader doesn't carry T-Bombs. Yes, I knew that. Maybe it's lazy writing on my part, but I couldn't think of another way for my hero ship to get away from the bandits.

    However, comma, in my defense, I would point out that I said my story was INFLUENCED by the game. It is not based on the game, and definitely is not set in the game's universe. I never wrote it with any expectation that ADB would ever consider publishing it. If I had been going that route, the story might have been only half as long as it is. And I would not have used T-bombs.

    Setting the game rule book aside gave me the freedom to tell the story the way I wanted without needing to adapt it to fit into a strict set of guidelines. So, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy reading it. I had fun writing it. And that's what it's all about, right?
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018
  2. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the trading vessel Tina’s Pride; we are under attack! Mayday! Mayday!”

    The small ship swerved and jinked as another, very similar, ship pursued. The trading vessel was wide and squat, designed for hauling small cargo loads, roughly sixty-five meters long (not including the engines) by forty meters wide. The bow was a blunt curve designed for atmospheric entry, and save for the twin warp-drive units extruded from the aft end, the ship was devoid of wings, fins, or other major protrusions. Tina’s Pride was factory-stock and about two decades old. The pursuing ship was newer, slightly larger, and had several unauthorized modifications, including a notable upgrade to its weapons suite. The enemy was closing the range with each passing minute. Tina’s Pride needed a miracle.

    “Anything, Val?” the pilot asked without looking away from the control panel.

    “Nothing,” his wife replied, “not even static. I have green lights for the sub-space radio, but I think they shot up the antenna.” She looked over at the Star Fleet officer sitting at another control station. “Any luck with those phasers, Lieutenant?”

    Kyle Price was only a passenger, but he was the most qualified to man the weapons station. “Maybe. The capacitor on one is fried, and the gimbals are jammed on the other. If I can cross-circuit them ... Yes! There it is. Hold fire; it won’t do anything at this range.”

    “They’re powering up their tractor beam,” Valerie exclaimed. “Billy, there!” She pointed.

    “I see it,” the pilot acknowledged as he banked the ship hard over towards a small cluster of asteroids.

    “Can’t we, like, dump some of the cargo out and let them hit it?” asked the young woman who was monitoring the deflector shield strength. She noticed the reactions of the others. “I read that in a book once.”

    “No, Lisa, it doesn’t work like that,” another young man replied. “It’d just bounce off their shields.”

    Lisa Bell gave him a dirty look, but she couldn’t really be mad at him. She was wearing the engagement ring he presented to her only three weeks prior. “What about the shuttle, Frank? Could that damage them?”

    Frank Carter shook his head. “No. Not a big enough explosion. We’d need something bigger.”

    “Like a transporter mine,” suggested the young lady, still technically a teen-ager, sitting in the command chair. Her demeanor was calm yet concerned. Up until this time, she had remained quiet throughout the ordeal, save for refusing to surrender when the enemy first approached. The family resemblance between her and Valerie was undeniable despite their eight-year age difference.

    Her older sister whirled around. “T-bombs? Chrissy, please tell me we don’t have a T-bomb in the cargo hold!”

    The younger sister gave her a bland look. “No, don’t be silly. There wasn’t any room. There are, however, two transporter mines in the shuttle bay.” She turned to the lone Star Fleet officer. “Lieutenant Price, may I presume that you know how to deploy them?”

    “I do,” he confirmed, “but I’ll need the activation codes. And it’s a two-man job, so I’ll need some help.”

    “I can help, sir,” responded a young man standing behind the command chair.

    “This isn’t a game, Miller,” Valerie snapped. “And you! I know you just got your master’s certificate, but Daddy should never have put you in charge. As soon as this is over, I’m taking command of this ship.” Her sister ignored her and instead entered commands into her data panel.

    Miller took a step over to Price. “Sir, I’m in Star Fleet Reserves. I’ve done this before. Twice. It was only a training dummy, but I’d bet no one else here has ever seen a T-bomb in person.”

    Price nodded once. “You’re hired.”

    “Computer, this is Christina M. Smith, master of the trading vessel Tina’s Pride. Verify credentials for Lieutenant Kyle Price and transfer the transporter mine activation codes to his personal display device. Let the record show that under terms of the shipping contract, I am approving use of the devices due to exigent circumstances.”

    “You can’t do that! You don’t have the authority,” Valerie exclaimed. “Billy, tell her. Company regulations forbid that.”

    Her husband shook his head. “Rules or not, right now we need all the luck we can get. Grab the Jensen brothers to help you move them down to the transporter.”

    “No need, sir. We’ll just roll them out the shuttle bay hatch.” And with that, Price and Miller left the bridge.

    In the time it took the two men to reach the shuttle bay and don environment suits, William “Billy” Jones had twice maneuvered the small ship behind a convenient asteroid and broke the other ship’s sensor-lock. The tactic was working, but it was only a matter of time before their luck would run out. Sooner or later, the enemy would manage to get a tractor lock and reel them in like a fish on a hook.

    Price found a crowbar and started to pry open the crate. Miller took the tool from him and swung it like a baseball bat two times to break the crate, and then a third time to punch a hole in it. He reached in to feel around, and then bashed in another spot on the crate to reveal the access panel. Price shrugged and entered the activation codes. Together, they moved the device to the shuttlecraft lift, then performed the same procedure on the second device, and attached themselves down with safety cables. Miller used a control panel mounted on the wall to de-pressurize the bay, open the overhead doors (the shuttle hatch was on the top of the ship), and raise the lift up until they were halfway exposed to open space.

    Price signaled to the bridge that they were ready. Billy Jones plotted a beeline course toward the next batch of asteroids. The enemy took the bait. Price pulled a handle to release the tie-down cable. The first T-bomb floated up, crate and all, and disappeared in an instant as it broke out of the ship’s warp field.

    They counted ten seconds. Nothing. At fourteen seconds, there was a blinding flash as the mine’s proximity sensor found the other ship. The enemy boosted their speed, closing the range. An angry volley of phaser beams reached out and struck Tina’s Pride. Her aft shield flared and died; one of the beams scorched a dark line across the top of the ship. Another phaser beam shot out, making the two men duck involuntarily; this time it was Tina’s Pride’s turn to score a direct hit on the enemy’s forward shield.

    Price and Miller dumped the second T-bomb overboard. The mine detonated nine seconds later, followed by a series of secondary explosions. Crippled, the enemy ship fell out of warp and disappeared into the darkness of space.


     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2018
    jespah likes this.
  3. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Miller lowered the lift, closed the hatch, and re-pressurized the shuttle bay. Both men removed their helmets. They did not celebrate their victory; they knew their action probably cost somebody their life, and not all of the crew on a pirate ship were volunteers.

    Miller opened the door, and slammed it shut again. He hit the button on the communication panel. “Fire! Fire in the cargo hold!”

    “The automatic suppression system is off-line,” a male voice responded.

    “All hands, man the fire extinguishers!” Valerie Smith-Jones ordered.

    “Belay that!” Christina countered. “Price, Miller, get in the shuttle craft. Felicia, where are the twins?”

    A young voice replied, “We’re in the chow hall.”

    “Go to your cabin and seal the door. All hands, get sealed in. Uncle Milt, vent the cargo hold.” Billy and Valerie were arguing with her.

    “Understood. Venting now.” A long minute later, he informed them, “The fire’s out. Okay, the left warp drive is running at half-power, life support is damaged, and we’ve lost sixty percent of our air reserves. We need to find somewhere to land in the next, oh, about eighteen hours or so. Someplace we can get fresh air.”

    Fifteen minutes later, with Tina’s Pride in the relative safety of a low-orbit around a dead planet two star system away from where they were attacked, Miss Smith called everybody to the dining room. Nineteen people crowded into the small room: members of Christina’s extended family were her older sister Valerie Smith-Jones and Val's husband William Jones, her great-uncle Milton Smith and his wife Rosanne Smith, née Baker, Rosanne’s nephew James Baker and his wife Ashely Baker, née Jones (William’s second cousin). Non-family members were the four Jensen brothers, Elijah, Emanuel, Gabriel, and Levi; Pedro and Felicia Vasquez and their twelve-year-old twins Pedro Junior and Carmella; Frank Carter and his fiancé Lisa Bell; Daniel Miller, and the only paying passenger Star Fleet Lieutenant Kyle Price.

    Milton, as the ship’s engineer, gave them a run-down of the damage. “Okay, so the good news is we’re still space-worthy and we have enough fuel to get us to anywhere we want to go. The left warp drive is gimping along, which cuts our top speed by forty percent. Sub-space comms are down, and I need to take a look from the outside before I know whether or not I can fix it.

    “The bad news is the air purifier is broken, and we can’t make it more than eighteen, maybe twenty hours before we suffocate. Half the reserve tanks blew with that last phaser hit, and the cargo hold is still in vacuum. We do have the parts needed to fix the recycler, but I’ll need to shut the ventilation system down for five or six hours. The problem is no ventilation means no heat. We’ll freeze to death first.

    “The other problem is water. The purge value popped open and let grey-water back up into the fresh water tank and contaminate it. I have the system on self-clean, so in two or three days we’ll have safe drinking water again. Still, it’d be nice to dump the entire supply and refill it with clean water. In the meantime, we need to use the emergency bottled water supply.”

    Christina acknowledged the news with a single nod. “There’s a settlement, Teasdale’s Rock, somewhere near here. I’ve been there once. Not the friendliness bunch, kind of ‘don’t bother us and we won’t bother you’ type. Pretty sure if we land well away from the town, they’ll leave us to our work. Mister Carter, please figure out how long it’ll take us to get there.”

    The young man punched a couple commands into his tablet. He looked nervously at Billy Jones, and then told the ship’s master, “Ah, Ma’am, Teasdale is over a week away. Twelve days at our reduced speed.”

    Miss Smith noticed his apprehension and realized something was amiss. “Where are we, exactly,” she demanded; her voice was dead-flat. “Show me our course since we left the Andorian colony.” Frank tapped the screen a couple times then turned it for all to see. There was an abrupt thirty-degree heading shift about a day out from their last port call. Christina tapped the screen to check the duty roster for that time. She looked daggers at her brother-in-law. “You changed course and destination against my standing orders. I wanted to stop by Star Base Seven before going on out to the new colony. So, now we’re several hundred parsecs left of where we should be, well off any shipping routes and right in the heart of un-surveyed territory. By all rights, I should confine you to quarters on bread-and-water rations.”

    “You wouldn’t dare!” her sister snapped.

    “Don’t. Test. Me.” She stared her older sibling down.

    Valerie called her bluff. “Enough of this. I’m taking command of this ship.”

    “No. You’re not.”

    “Computer, please log that I, Valerie Ann Smith-Jones, as senior company officer, will assume command of the trading vessel Tina’s Pride at this time.”

    The computer beeped once and replied, “Negative. Your authority is not recognized.

    “Computer, this is William P. Jones, regional manager for Smith & Jones Shipping & Freight. Transfer all access and control of Tina’s Pride to me at this time.”

    Again, the computer replied, “Unable to comply. Your authority is not recognized. This vessel is not a Smith & Jones asset.

    The couple were aghast. The rest of the crew looked like they wanted to go hide someplace quite. “If you’re well and truly done, we have work to do,” Christina dismissed their attempted mutiny. “Our one saving grace is this was contested space. There was some surveying done during the war, over twenty years ago. Star Fleet found an unusually high number of Class-M worlds, even in orbit around stars that normally don’t support the creation of those kinds of planets. It appears that someone did a lot of terraforming in this region some ten thousand years ago. With any luck, we can find one nearby.”

    Lieutenant Price studied the young captain intently. “How, exactly, do you know any of that?”

    “Not important,” she evaded the question. “Mister Carter, Miss Bell, please start searching these charts,” she requested as she handed them a pair of data cards from her carry case.

    “We passed a marginal Class-M planet about an hour ago,” Frank offered helpfully. “I noticed it on the sensors as we went by.”

    Billy Jones shook his head. “Right. Probably being used by the pirates who attacked us, no doubt. If not their base of operations, I’d bet they’ve landed there for repairs.”

    His wife suggested, “Maybe we should go back to the Andorian colony.”

    Again, Billy shook his head. “Too far. We’ll never make it. And we’d probably run into those pirates. No, thanks.”

    Lisa Bell exclaimed, “I found one!”

    “So did I,” Frank joined in.

    Lisa's planet was twelve hours away, but even further off course from their intended destination. The short survey report said it was hot, humid, and teeming with lifeforms. Large, dangerous insectoid lifeforms. Several members of the survey team were killed, and probably eaten. If the absolute had to, they could go there and scoop up fresh air, but there was no way that could land.

    Frank's planet was better and yet worse. Only four hours away, it was populated with a civilization on an early steam-powered technology base. Star Fleet dropped a few probes to the surface but otherwise survey from orbit. They found two different races, one was an offshoot of Klingons and the other related to Tellarites, both apparently transplanted to the planet about twenty-five hundred years ago, competing for dominance. The planet was listed as Restricted: No Contact Allowed / Prime Directive. If ever there was case for the strict non-interference policy, it was that planet. The two sides were on a course of mutually assured destruction. Any introduction of new technology, even something as simple as electricity, would only hasten their self-annihilation.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  4. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Lisa found another promising candidate, in the right direction but slightly out of reach at twenty-four hours away. The survey team named it “Senja”, which is Malaysian for Twilight, and they spent ten days on the surface with no ill effects. They described it as “pristine”: Earth-like with many various climate zones, from deserts to grasslands to forests to tropical jungles, and an abundance of wildlife. There were predators, best described as bear-like, the largest of which were four meters tall and upwards of five hundred kilograms.

    Price took the tablet. “Well, at least there’s no indigenous people to deal with, but that’s an issue,” he pointed to the word “pristine”.

    Christina shrugged. “I’m well aware of what that means. Uncle Milt, will that be a problem for you?” He shook his head to indicate not. She made her decision. “Okay, if we don’t find a better place in the next ten minutes, that’s where we’re going. Elijah, I need you and your brothers to put E-suits on and go to the main cargo hold. There’s a bunch of two-hundred-liter barrels on the starboard side. Find the blue ones with the yellow stripes and move them into the hallway. Then get yourselves something to eat and go to bed. Take sleeping pills if you have to. Uncle Milt, I need you and James to rig up some sort of contraption to drip water into those barrels. The chemical reaction will give off oxygen. Not too fast or it combust. Carter, Bell, you’re on bridge duty. Rotate you shifts every four hours. Anyone who’s not needed, go to sleep.”

    Milton Smith nodded his head knowingly. “I see what you’re doing. A sleeping person uses less oxygen.” He turned to his wife, “Rosanne, you and Ashley take some extra filters and tape them over the vents. That will scrub some of the carbon dioxide out of the air. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that earlier.”

    Carmella and her brother were whispering back and forth. Their mother tried to hush them. “Miss Smith,” the young girl interrupted, “I’ve been doing the math, and it looks like we’ll have about twenty-three hours of oxygen, even with everything you’re doing.”

    Her brother piped up, “There’s some scuba gear in the cargo hold. You know, for breathing under water.”

    “And how would you know that?” Miss Smith inquired. “Sneaking around where you’re not supposed to be, were you? If there is any such gear, those air tanks would be empty for transport.”

    “Oh,” Pedro sounded dejected. “But there are four re-breathers, too.” These backpack devices acted as a personal carbon-dioxide scrubber, allowing a diver to remain underwater for hours at a time.

    Her eyebrows shot up. “Really? Why don’t you and Mister Miller put E-suits on and go find them for me?” He looked at his mother, who nodded her consent, and jumped to his feet. “When you get back, you can pick the ice cream flavor.”

    Carmella looked concerned. “That will help some, but we might not make it.”

    “Did you account for the air in the shuttle bay? Or the shuttle craft itself?” her father asked.

    “No,” she admitted. “Does the shuttle craft have air tanks, too?” He told her it did. She recalculated her numbers. “Okay, we have twenty-five, maybe twenty-six hours of air.”

    Lieutenant Price smiled, “That’s one smart girl you have there. Star Fleet could use someone like her.” The young girl beamed at the complement. For once, her brother didn’t get all the attention.

    The next couple of hours were fairly tense. Passive sensors picked up two or three different warp signatures at the planet an hour back. As there were no transponder signals, this seemed to confirm Billy’s theory the pirates were using the planet as a repair base. Ideally, Tina’s Pride should simply land on the dead planet and go dark, to hide until the pirates left the area. The damaged life support system prevented them from doing so. Christina had Lisa plot a course that kept the local star between them and the pirates for as long as possible, to minimize the chance of being spotted.

    Lieutenant Price and Daniel Miller were able to repair the phasers. Miller reported that the capacitor itself wasn’t damaged, but simply that the power cable melted like a fuse ... an easy fix. As to the jammed gimbal, that took fifteen minutes working with a crowbar and a sledge hammer, plus a lot of swear words, to force the axle back into its mount. Even so, the twin phaser mount was intended to shoot space rocks out of the way, not fight up-gunned pirate ships.

    Miss Smith took Frank Carter aside and gently reprimanded him. She checked in with him four separate times in the past two days, and each time he reported, “On course and on schedule, no problems.” True, he was only doing as Billy Jones ordered him to do, to lie by omission, but he knew -- he KNEW -- that Billy wasn’t in command of the ship. Carter understood his job was hanging by a thread.

    Christina waited a few hours before confronting her brother-in-law. Indeed, she had just decided to put that conversation off for good when Billy sought her out. He demanded to know why she had blocked his access to the ship’s records, and she informed him he never had any such access. Valerie joined in, and the “discussion” went downhill from there. Milton and Rosanne had to separate them. The two sisters gave each other the silent treatment for the rest of the trip, which did Christina’s mood no good at all.

    She read the survey report beginning to end, twice, and asked Lieutenant Price and Uncle Milt to read it as well. She was starting to question her decision to make for this planet. Too many unknowns. The two men did not share her concerns. Price imparted the wisdom that it was every commander’s job to worry about the “what ifs”, but that should not -- must not -- lead to indecision or inaction.
     
  5. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    As predicted, after twenty-four hours flight time, Tina’s Pride arrived at the planet known as Senja, no worse for wear. They picked up a signal on short-range comms; a six-year-old beacon in orbit warned them the planet was restricted. Their oxygen level was dangerously low, and the carbon dioxide level was far above recommended safe limits. Everyone on board was nursing headaches. Christina saved the re-breathers as long as possible. Now she wore one, as did her sister and her great-uncle and Lisa Bell, who seemed to be suffering the worst from oxygen deprivation.

    Christina had to hold her ego in check and ask Valerie to take the helm for the decent, for she was the most experience pilot on board. Val brought the ship down to a thousand meters over the open ocean, where Milt tested the atmosphere for hazardous compounds before opening the intake valve to suck air into the ship. He had to be careful to not let any of their air escape, particularly any contaminated by the smoke. To do so would violate the rules for a “pristine planet”. They could leave no pollution footprint of any kind. Within a half-hour, their oxygen ratio was up to acceptable levels.

    The next item on the list was to find a place to land and repair the ship. This opened up a whole new debate. Christina wanted to land on an island somewhere, but Milton pointed out their need to find fresh water. The water recycler just wasn’t cleaning the system well enough, and they’d soon exhaust their bottled water supply. The problem was, where could they land and not leave any evidence behind after they leave?

    Daniel Miller spotted a good area to sit down in, possibly, on the sensor imagery they took when they first entered orbit. There were some forest fires in the temperate region of the summer hemisphere, and he suggested that perhaps they could land in a burnt-out area to minimize their impact on the local environment. The ship’s master was uncharacteristically receptive to the idea.

    They took the ship back up to low orbit and waited for the local sun to rise over the landing zone. Tina’s Pride, being a freighter, did not have the advanced sensors of a Star Fleet starship. Even so, they were able to see large herds of animals scattered throughout the sub-tropical savannahs, on the prairies in the temperate zone, and even in the sub-arctic tundra region. The previous survey team noted that these appeared to be antelope and water buffalo, deer and bison, and moose and elk, all separated from their Earthly cousins by a mere ten-thousand years of development. There were no horses or zebra or giraffe, no hippos or elephants. Nor were there any canines or felines, so no wolves or foxes, and no lions or tigers. Their report said the predatory role was filled by bear-like creatures ranging from a half-meter to upwards of four meters tall, some roving in packs and others solitary.

    The planet was devoid of birds. There were, however, fish and amphibians and reptiles of all shapes and sizes. And insects and other crawly critters galore. The report spoke at length of the abundance of smaller mammals, much like mice and rats, squirrels and rabbits, ranging from as small as a shrew to larger than a beaver. Someone had taken the time to comment that these were all edible, and that he found the rabbit-things to be quite tasty. Miss Smith made a mental note to forbid anyone from testing that theory.

    The vegetation, likewise, appeared to be mostly transplanted from Earth, with a few species from Alpha and other core worlds. There were even American Chestnut trees, something that had died out on Earth centuries ago. Lieutenant Price commented that he had heard rumors of other alleged terraformed worlds with transplanted life, but nothing on this scale or this successful. Of course, the other possible example is Alpha Centuri, but don’t tell them that; most Alphas vehemently reject the theory that their ancestors originated on Earth.

    The most intriguing part of the report is what it didn’t say, or rather what was missing. Christina couldn’t help but notice two pages were missing from the second day’s log. It spoke of the team catching glimpses of “skittish little monkeys” hiding in the trees. Barely a half-meter tall with long, prehensile tails, they looked virtually identical to South American spider monkeys. There was little mentioned about them for the rest of the report.

    On day three, there was an amusing if not disturbing log entry. The team leader had to reprimand someone for going around naked save for a towel around his waist. Christina blushed at the thought. The team moved to a different location on day four, about fifty kilometers away, due to a pack of bears taking an uncomfortable interest in them. The next few days were fairly mundane, save for a couple sightings of bear or spider monkeys. Several paragraphs were redacted on day seven, apparently something dealing with some analysis of a tree.

    The day eight and day nine logs were also missing several pages. At lunchtime on day eight, a “troop of curious monkeys” entered the camp. It was unclear if these were the aforementioned spider monkeys or something else entirely. The log skipped ahead twelve page-numbers, leaving no information as to the day’s events. The next entry was at dusk, with the sighting of several bears and the team leader ordering everyone to sleep inside the ship that night.

    Day nine started off quiet, with no bears within five kilometers. The “clever little monkeys” were still at the camp, apparently having spent the night up in the trees. Mid-day, someone was stung by a wasp (not the first such incident), which was easily treated with no lasting effects. The monkeys, curious as ever, intently watched the medic work his magic. Just before dinner, three bears attacked the camp. Without the perimeter warning sensors, the team would have been taken completely by surprise. As it was, two members were injured, one severely. Everyone retreated to the safety of the ship, worried about their friendly monkeys left to fend for themselves.

    The day ten report was very short on details, but no pages were missing. At dawn, with no explanation recorded in the log, the team leader ordered them to gather up all the gear back onto the ship. He flew the ship a few hundred kilometers away to a rocky desert area. They inspected the ship for any damage, inventoried and packed everything away properly, and lifted off. They made several low-orbits for a final sensor record (oddly enough, not attached to the report), and then departed. They ended the survey mission five days ahead of schedule. The last entry was to label the planet officially as “pristine”.

    Christina gazed at the world below them. It was beautiful. Senja really was pristine. A little larger than Earth, it had five large oceans and several seas covering about sixty-five percent of the surface. The landmasses consisted of nine main continents, two of which were better classified as dense archipelagoes. With an axial tilt of twenty-one degrees, it had a similar seasonal climate as Earth, and one local day was twenty-five hours, fifteen minutes Earth-standard time. It had one decent sized moon, about a third the size of Luna, and two smaller moons, little more than captured asteroids. From up here, Senja looked like an idyllic place to live.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2018 at 1:01 AM
  6. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Christina, Milton, and Valerie examined the sensor-derived terrain map of their intended landing zone. To the east, a range of rugged mountain averaging three thousand meters elevation, with the tallest peaks reaching to forty-five hundred meters, was on a north-south orientation. A dry basin about two hundred kilometers wide lay between the mountains and the foothills to the west, which were eight to twelve hundred meters tall. A river ran through a valley in the middle of the foothills from the south before turning west across the low plains to the ocean. A second, smaller, river from the north joined it where is turned through the gap in the hills.

    There were at least seven major fires burning with a score of smaller fires all up and down the hills. The devastation was heartbreaking. Christina tried, and failed, to put the wildlife she had read about out of her mind. Infrared imagery showed that even where the fires had burned themselves out, the ground was too hot to land the ship. As dawn broke over the hills, they took visible imagery of the area. More towards the north, they found several recently burnt areas where the land had time to cool off. They found a clearing next to the northern river that was large enough to set down in. A creek cut a draw into the eastern hillside for many kilometers. It appeared that a lightning strike started the fire near the river, and it burned up the draw, destroying hundreds of hectares of woodland.

    Miss Smith ordered the crew to make final preparations for landing and had Miss Bell take the helm. She asked her sister to stand by to advise and assist the younger pilot. The decent was smooth and uneventful. Valerie suggested they hold a hover and allow any dust and debris kicked up by the thrusters to clear; Christina overruled that idea as she didn’t want to use the thrusters at all. The exhaust could be considered a form of pollution, something that had to be avoided as much as humanly possible. Lisa brought Tina’s Pride in on impulse power and touched down with a solid thud.

    The first priority was to check the external cameras to make sure the ship’s landing pads were on stable ground, neither sinking in nor sliding around. Next was to make sure the ship wasn’t leaking any fluids nor venting any gases of any kind. So far so good. After making sure there was nothing under the ship’s belly, no large rocks or tree stumps, they retracted the landing gear partway to allow the ship to squat down. Milton Smith and James Baker began the shutdown process for the warp drive and impulse engines, leaving the small auxiliary power reactor on-line to run basic ship functions.

    Christina called the rest of the crew to the dining room for another meeting. As Mrs. Vasquez entered the room, she was admonishing her children to stay close to the ship, if they were allowed outside at all. “Let me make that official,” Christina interrupted, “if either of you go more than thirty meters away from the ship without an adult, you are both confined to your quarters, together in the same room, for the duration of the journey.” To their credit, neither of the twins complained, groaned, or even rolled their eyes, but rather simply acknowledged with a meek “Yes, Ma’am.”

    The ship’s master began handing out assignments: Billy and Miller would stand guard as Frank and Pedro set up the perimeter warning sensors; the Jensen brothers would move the drums of chemicals back to the cargo hold, and then start cleaning up the smoky soot; Val and Lisa would help inspect the ship damage; and Felicia and her twins would take care of the kitchen and inventory their food supplies. She asked Lieutenant Price to accompany her to inspect the cargo, a request that piqued Billy and Val’s curiosity.

    “Just breathing the air is a technical violation of ‘pristine’ policy,” she reminded them, “so be careful. Turn the air-screens before you go outside. The will help reduce mixing our air with the outside air. And there are insects here; I don’t want them getting in!” The air-screens were a pair of fans that blew air straight down vertically to create a “wall of wind” that would knock down any flying bugs and keep other creepy-crawlers out where they belong.

    A short while later, Billy joined his sister-in-law in the cargo hold. “The perimeter sensors are in place. Miller tested the air; it’s safe. He’s testing the river water now.” He looked around. “What is all this stuff, anyway?” There was furniture, kitchen appliances, boxes of clothes and toys and books, entertainment electronics, and all sorts of sporting equipment -- a complete hodgepodge of stuff.

    “Personal property of high-ranking Star Fleet officers and their families. All of their belongings they couldn’t carry with them to the new colony. I hope we can deliver it to them on schedule. Some of the clothing may need a good wash to get rid of the smoky smell, but it looks like nothing’s damaged. I will have to pay them for using the re-breathers.”

    “Ah, I see. Not the kind of load Smith & Jones normally bids on. Hey, is that a safe? Do you know what’s in it?”

    “Yes and no,” she shrugged, “I made them open it before I’d accept it for transport. Just papers and memory cards. No idea what’s on them; they refused to tell me. Could be nothing, could be something we really don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. All that stuff over there,” she indicated to the crates next to the safe, “is Star Fleet hardware. There’s a helm control station and a bunch of computer gear. The only reason I was able to pick up the contract was Price agreed to sign as a Star Fleet courier. It’s why I asked him to help with the inspection.”

    Billy nodded. “Smith & Jones have people certified to do that, so Star Fleet doesn’t make us take a rep unless we’re shipping restricting items, like weapons ... like T-bombs.” He raised his voice a little. “Hey, you know, it would have been nice if you had said something about those earlier.”

    Price replied sheepishly while examining the safe, “Never even crossed my mind.” He stood up and closed his tricorder. “Best I can tell, everything’s intact.” He looked around for the source of the fire. He found a container of metal powder that had spilled out across the floor. “Wow. If we had hit that fire with standard extinguishers ...” he imitated an explosion with his hands, “... poof. Good thing you decided to vent instead.”

    Just then, Miller came in. “Ma’am, we have company.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
  7. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    They moved to the bridge where Frank was watching a monitor. The view was from one of the aft external cameras, looking towards the east, up the draw. At first, all they saw was some rocks and half-burnt timber. Suddenly, there was movement about forty meters away from the ship, a tail flicking back and forth, divulging the visitors’ position. Frank zoomed the camera in. There were two, no, three of them, all a dark chocolate brown that blended in to the background. These must be the spider monkeys the survey team wrote about. Or were they?

    Annoyed, once again, that the initial survey report did not attach any imagery, Christina requested the computer bring up any information it had on the Earth monkeys. Nothing. Miller suggested the twins might have something in their schoolbooks. The youngsters reported to the bridge, a place they were rarely allowed to see, and in no time at all Carmella found what they wanted on her tablet.

    The South American spider monkeys were about thirty-five to forty centimeters tall, with long, tapering tails that always seemed to wrap into a spiral on the end. The survey report claimed the “skittish monkeys” were identical to the one on the screen. They compared the imagery with the creatures hiding in the rock pile. These guys had relatively shorter, bushier tails, more like a cat’s tail. Their faces were different, too. “How tall do you think they are?” Christina asked.

    “Well, the one that came up to me,” Miller began.

    “You let one get close to you?” Price exclaimed. “What were you thinking?”

    “I didn’t mean to, sir,” Miller pleaded his case, “The warning sensor alerted us. I saw two of them and was trying to get a tricorder reading when this one,” he pointed to the screen indicating one that seemed to have a bit of a mane around his neck, “popped up from behind a bush. He stopped a few meters away and stood up on his hind legs. He held his hands out like this,” he demonstrated, palms up and wrists together with his fingers spread wide apart. “I went to do the same, but I was holding the tricorder. I reached down to put it away, and zoom, he took off. Man, he’s fast. At any rate, I’d say he was Pedro’s height, almost, maybe about a hundred forty centimeters.”

    “I’m a hundred and forty-eight centimeters,” Pedro complained, ignoring the fact that his twin sister was taller.

    Carmella pointed to the screen with a big smile, “Look! There’s a little one with them. He’s so cute.”

    Lieutenant Price lightly grasped her shoulder and turned her to face him. He tapped her brother so he could address both of them. “They may be cute. They may look cuddly. However, they are still wild animals and could be dangerous. If nothing else, they might carry diseases, or they could catch a disease from us. You wouldn’t want them to get sick, would you?”

    The door opened, and Felicia Vasquez stepped in. “Have you seen ... oh, there you are! You shouldn’t be in here. I’m sorry, Ma’am. I hope they weren’t any trouble for you.”

    “On the contrary, they’ve been very helpful. I asked them to come.”

    The young girl pulled her mother to the monitor. “Aren’t they cute?” They watched the visitors for moment. The small one started creeping down the bank, and one of the adults reached out and pinched his tail. He scurried back up behind the rocks, out of sight from the ship. “I think that one’s the mom, with her three kids. This one is all grown up, and he’s still a teenager.”

    Her brother added his observations, “The mom kind of looks like our nanna, Sarah, back on Earth.”

    “Yeah, she does, doesn’t she? Just as strict, too. Did you see how she grabbed his tail?” Carmella unconsciously covered her ear.

    Price shook his head. “No. No, no, no. They’re not pets. You’re not going to name them. Miss Smith, please tell them.”

    She shrugged. “It’s harmless.”

    He pointed to the screen, “They might not be!”

    “We’ll keep an eye on them.” She looked at the screen just as the small family moved up the hill and out of sight. “Frank, please set the perimeter sensors to relay to all of our tablets.” He indicated he had already done so. Her stomach growled. “Is it lunch time already?” she asked nobody in particular.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  8. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Everyone moved down to the dining hall. Lisa Bell and Ashley Baker were preparing cold sandwiches for the crew; the stove wasn’t working for some reason. Rosanne passed out drinks, ice tea or fruit juice or bottled water, to everyone. Christina asked her great-uncle when they’d have drinkable water again.

    “At this rate, maybe never,” he informed her sadly. “It’s better than it was, but there’s still too much bacteria in the test samples.”

    Pedro Junior looked confused. “I don’t understand, what happened to the water?”

    Daniel Miller explained, “Okay, so we have three different water tanks. There’s black water, which is what you flush and anything that goes down the garbage disposal. There’s grey water, which is anything from the sinks or showers. And then there’s fresh water. When we go into port, we can purge the system. The first thing is we connect a hose to the outside drain and then open the valve on the black-water tank. Then we open the purge valves between the grey-water and black-water tanks; that will knock out a lot of the sludge. Finally, we open the purge valves between the fresh-water and grey-water tanks, which will flush out the black-water tank a second time. After that, we close all the valves and fill the top tank all the way up. Usually, we’ll put some water in the grey-water tank, too, because over time we lose some to the black-water tank.”

    Pedro nodded. “Okay. I kind of knew all that.”

    Miller went on, “Well, when the ship got knocked around, one of the purge valves opened up and let grey water get into the fresh-water tank. There’s another valve, a one-way safety, that’s supposed to prevent that from happening. I don’t know yet why that failed. The point is, if you drink it, you’ll get really sick. As you probably know, we have a piece of equipment to clean the grey water and make it drinkable again.” Pedro nodded again.

    At this point, Milton took over. “The problem is we can’t clean the water fast enough. The fresh-water tank gets full, and we have to drain some into the grey-water tank. That takes too long, and the germs grow back before the system can purify the water. The recycler won’t run with the values open; it’s a safety thing.”

    “Can’t you drain all the water out of the top tank?”

    “No, the fresh-water tank is bigger than the grey-water tank.”

    Carmella joined in the discussion. “You said grey water is from the sinks and showers, right?” Milton confirmed that she was right. “What if you turned on all the faucets? Would that let the water cycle through the system fast enough?”

    Milt froze, his drink halfway to his lips. Miller, likewise, stopped just short of biting into his sandwich. Everyone had the same dumbfounded look. After a long moment, Milt replied, “Yeah, that might work. It’s worth a try.” Christina looked at Carmella and gave her a wink; the young girl hid her smile by taking a bite of a carrot stick.

    “What’s wrong with the stove?” the ship’s master asked.

    “Circuit breaker popped. I reset it, and it popped again. Probably the same thing as last week.”

    “How’d you fix it before?”

    “I gave it a swift kick,” Milt admitted. His great-niece glared at him. “No, seriously, it worked. For a while, anyway. And yes, I tried kicking it again. I’ll have to tear it apart to figure out what’s wrong with it. Probably just a loose wire. I have to get the HVAC” -- heating, ventilation, air conditioner -- “system running right first. Without it, we have about four days of oxygen. That is, unless we exchange our air with outside air. And we have to take a look at the port-side warp drive. Which one do you want me to work on first?”

    Christina just looked at him intently while she carefully chewed a bite of food and washed it down with some iced tea. “You know, you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Mister Baker is a capable engineer in his own right, and Mister Miller seems to know his way around this ship. Divide and conquer. As to exchanging our air, that is not an option.”

    Milt shrugged off her admonishments, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but if we can’t fix the HVAC, we will have to exchange air.”

    “Only as a last resort. And even then, I want to filter whatever we have to purge. We can’t release any chemicals that aren’t found in this planet’s atmosphere.” He shrugged again, and she lost her temper with him. “Do you have idea what the fines would be? This is a ‘pristine’ planet. We didn’t have permission to land here. I have to document everything we do. Every little thing. I’m not going to lose my ship, or end up in jail, over something that easy to avoid. Let’s not do anything stupid, okay?”

    Her sister interrupted, “The ship is space worthy, isn’t it? Why don’t we just head to the colony, now that we have oxygen?”

    Lisa Bell answered, “I already looked into that. We’d be nine days out if we had full warp drive, but at best speed now, it’s a sixteen-day trip. Without the scrubbers, we’d have to stop three or four times to exchange air. And so far, I haven’t found a good planet closer than five and a half days from here, except for the one back there with the pirates.”

    Christina nodded in agreement. “Okay, then, the first priority is the HVAC. Mister Miller, if you would, please start working on that after lunch. Uncle Milt, you and Mister Baker please see what you can do with the warp drive. The stove can wait.”

    “Yes, Ma’am,” Miller responded, “I can do that. However, I think I’d be of more use working on the warp drive. I helped rebuild one once, but I’ve never seen the guts of the HVAC before.”

    Baker shook his head. “This ain’t no Star Fleet simulator, kid. Besides, I thought you were a medic. What do you know about starship mechanics?”

    “Yes, I went to corpsmen’s school but was cut after stage two. I didn’t fail out; manning levels were cut, and they only took the top third of the class. Missed the cut by six places.” He sounded annoyed and dejected. “I crossed over to boatswain’s mate” -- he pronounced it ‘bow-suns’ -- “and just finished my six months certification before transferring to Star Fleet Reserves.” A boatswain’s mate is a generalize sailor trained in the basic function of pretty much anything and everything on a ship: a Jack-of-all-trades/Master-of-none.

    Baker frowned. “Okay, I’ll give you that. But whatever engines you worked on before, not the same; Star Fleet don’t fly ships like this one.”

    Miller gave him half a smile. “Actually, they do, but my uncle had one like her, The Salty Seagull, and I spend three summers working for him.”

    Milton Smith regarded him in awe. “You flew on the Seagull? I don’t know if you’re brave, stupid, or just plain crazy.”

    “Too young to know better, my dad tells me. But Uncle Oscar, yeah, I’d say he’s a little bit of all three.”

    “So I’ve heard,” Christina noted, “and I’d love to hear more about him. Later. We have too much work to do.” She shuffled the repair assignments and approved Miller’s suggestion to open the outside of the warp nacelles, rather than crawl around inside the Jeffries Tube. She asked Billy and Val to inspect and repair, if possible, the sub-space radio. Her great-uncle recommended that she move as many of the crew outside once the HVAC was shut down, for it would get pretty warm pretty quick inside the ship. Little Pedro said he saw some folding chairs and tables in a storage compartment, earning the ire of his parents for once again snooping in places he wasn’t supposed to be.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2018
  9. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    After lunch, Miss Smith went outside to inspect the ship herself. As she exited the vessel, the extent of the fire damage hit her. There wasn’t anything green on this side of the river; the ground was blackened with burnt grass and brush. Looking up the draw, there was nothing but fallen logs, stumps, and dead trees on both sides of the creek as far as the eye could see. One large tree, now fallen across the creek, bore the fresh scars of a lightning strike, obviously the source of the inferno. She walked around to the other side of the ship and found a rocky outcropping that stopped the blaze from moving up-river, sparing all the vegetation in that direction.

    Finding no visible damage to the ship, she climbed a ladder to the top. The scorch mark from the phaser hit was quite ugly, but upon closer inspection was actually superficial. Billy and Valerie had three access panels open. She walked over and looked in. She didn’t need them to tell her the sub-space radio antenna was beyond repair, now just a useless pile of slag. Billy said he’d do what he could to jury-rig something.

    As she climbed back down the ladder, the proximity alarm went off. Lieutenant Price met her, phaser in hand, and together they moved towards the tail of the ship. They found Miller and the creature he had encountered earlier. “Hey, buddy,” Miller said in a soft voice, “how are you doing?” He slowly and carefully set his tools on the ground, stood up, and turned his hand palms up and fingers splayed. “See? I’m not going to hurt you.”

    The creature stood erect, chest-high to Miller, and held his hands out in the same manner. He took a step, and then two, forward, sniffing the air. His fur coat was a beautiful chocolate brown; his tail had grey rings. He had large, inquisitive eyes, small human-like ears peeking through his mane, and a tiny flat nose. He made a cooing noise, revealing an impressive array of very sharp teeth. He stopped and looked over at Christina and Price, bobbed his head and made the same cooing noise. Christina stepped forward, her hands open and palm up, and he turned to face her. He started to take a step forward but then looked at Price, or rather at the phaser in Price’s hand. The creature stood frozen in his tracks for a long second, his eyes wide open and nostrils flaring, and then suddenly turned and scampered away at an amazing speed, disappearing up the hillside into the rocks and brush.

    Miss Smith turned to face the Star Fleet officer. “You can put that away now.” No doubt about it: that was an order.

    “It’s set to light-stun,” the Lieutenant pointed out as he returned the weapon to his belt.

    “For all we know, that might be enough to kill one of them.” She turned to Miller. “I don’t want you working back here by yourself. That little guy might be friendly and all, but I’m sure the bears aren’t.” She turned and took two steps back towards the side of the ship and stopped. She closed her eyes and cocked her head to the side, “Is it my imagination, or was he wearing a loincloth?”

    “I don’t know if I’d call it a loincloth, but yes, he had some sort of animal pelt tied around his waist,” Miller confirmed.

    Returning to the side of the ship, they found the Jensen brothers setting up a picnic table and other folding chairs in a clearing they had swept (sort of) clean of debris. Felicia Vasquez and the twins were trying to help, but most of the work was already done. Felicia told her children to do some schoolwork, and they gave her that “Aw, Mom” look. It was obvious they wanted to explore. Christina winked at their mother and announced, “I have an assignment for you. I need you to test the air and water to make sure it’s safe. Start with the ground around here, make sure the ash and dirt won’t harm us if we breathe it in.”

    “Yes, Ma’am,” they happily replied in unison. They knew that Miller had already tested everything, but hey, this was science. And it got them out of schoolwork, for now. Felicia said she would make sure they didn’t wander off too far. Pedro asked, “Are we going to sleep outside?”

    Christina shook her head, “Probably not a good idea. We don’t know what’s out here at night. But if the HVAC isn’t running, we may need to open the shuttle hatch and sleep in the shuttle bay.”

    Carmella was looking up at the sky. “That’s not a ship, is it?” After a long second, “No, it’s not moving. What is that?” She pointed to a bright light to the north, high up over the hill.

    Lieutenant Price looked at it, and said, “That’s a binary star system about eight light-months from here.”

    Miss Smith confirmed it so. “Together, they’re a little brighter than a full moon back on Earth, and they’re always visible, day or night, in the northern hemisphere. That’s why the people who discovered this planet named it Senja, which means Twilight, because it never really gets dark here.”

    Pedro Senior and Lisa Bell came out of the ship with a boxy contraption on a hand truck. They removed the cover to reveal a portable water purifier. The instructions said it could make ten liters of safe drinking water in five minutes, up to five hundred liters per filter, and there were ten filters in the box. Perfect. The twins were assigned the job, if the river water proved to be safe enough to use, to refill the purifier as needed.

    Miller asked Elijah Jensen for he and his brothers to help set up the scaffolding on the warp drive unit. When the reply was “Yes, Sir,” Miller told him, “Mister Jensen, you’re old enough to be my father. You don’t need to call me ‘sir’.”

    Jensen nodded and said, “I’ll keep that in mind, sir.” The younger man just sighed and led the way.

    Christina went back inside to check progress of the repairs. Milt and Rosanne had removed all the access panels on the HVAC system and were starting to remove various internal components. Milt promised that he knew where everything went, but his wife was taking photos just to be sure.

    She found Frank Carter in the cargo hold empting the contents of some two-hundred-liter barrels into large bags. He already one emptied and lined with another bag. He said the Milt wanted him to place a barrel in four or five of the showers and fill them with water. Frank didn’t know why her great-uncle had him doing this.
     
  10. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    She stopped by the kitchen and discovered James and Ashley were working on the stove. Ashley was on her back on the floor, half her body inside the appliance, while her husband held a light and handed her tools. She mumbled some sort of a curse, pushed herself out and sat up. “It’s dead, Jim,” she informed him. She held up a circuit board; it didn’t take an expert to know that it was fried. Crispy fried.

    Her husband took her place inside the stove, and after a long moment, extracted himself. “I think, maybe, that I can by-pass the control board and wire up one heating element. It will only have two settings: off and high. The oven won’t work. At least we’ll have something to cook with.”

    Christina was about to answer when the proximity alarm went off. She told them to concentrate on the HVAC first, and quickly exited the ship. Price met her at the door and escorted her to the tail end of the ship. The creature was back, just sitting on a stump watching Miller and the Jensen brothers assemble the scaffolding, which locked into mounting brackets on the nacelle. The creature looked at Price and started to move as if to run away. Price held his hands out, palms up, and it returned the gesture. It sat back down and relaxed a bit, watching Price warily.

    Miller unfolded the stairs and climbed up to the platform. As he began to open the access panels to the warp drive, the creature leaped up to the other end of the platform. Price and Christina climbed the stairs. “Looks like you’ve got a buddy,” she smiled.

    “Yeah, reminds me of this kid I knew in high school. Luke. He was my best friend’s little brother, always hanging around us older kids.”

    “Not you too,” Price said, annoyed.

    “What?”

    “You’re naming them.”

    Miss Smith smiled. “Well, why not? We can’t call them ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two’, can we?” She turned to look inside the engine compartment. “Okay, so I’ve read up on the specs. This thing is the...” She started to point at something.

    “NO!” Miller exclaimed and grabbed her hand. He took a long tool and placed its middle on the edge of the opening. He tilted it forward until it was close to the interior framework. A large spark jumped to the tool. “The grounding cable came off.” He used a flashlight to point to the missing connection.

    The creature, Luke, watched with curiosity. He reached his hand forward. “No!” Miller said sharply, but it was too late. Another spark leaped out, this time striking Luke’s fingers. He yanked his hand back reflexively. “He’ll be okay. Lots of volts, but it’s the amps that will kill you,” Miller noted. He used the tool to pull a lever, throwing a switch to shut down the power junction. He tested the ground again; there was no spark this time.

    “So, all you need to do is replace the ground?” Miss Smith asked.

    “Oh, no. I wish. I can already see five things wrong with how this engine was maintained. See that cable?” he indicated with his light. “It’s supposed to go through that grommet there, not under the frame. That’s the wrong type of bolt on the grounding clamp. And I see two injection modules that are upside down. I hope they’re not jammed. As far as why the engine won’t run, the computer says it’s either the sequence initiator, the frequency modulator, or the pre-injection flow-rate stabilizer. Each node has twelve sets, and each nacelle has four nodes. We’ll have to manually test each module, and replace any that are bad.”

    She nodded. “Okay, please document everything wrong with the engines. I paid good money to have it serviced, and I’m not happy that it wasn’t done right. Get this one running, and if there’s time, please inspect the other one.”

    “Yes, Ma’am.”

    “Do we know why, yet, whether it stopped working due to battle damage, or due to bad maintenance?”

    “No, not yet, Ma’am. I suspect a bit of both. As I said, each node has twelve sets of injection units, but they only need six to run. My guess is too many weren’t installed right and thus were easy to knock out of alignment. Who knows how many more are just barely hanging on.”

    “That’s what I need you and Uncle Milt to find out.” She turned and looked inside the nacelle. “So, this is the frequency modulator?”

    “No, Ma’am. That is. This is the sequence initiator.”

    “Ah, and what’s it do?”

    Miller shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Do you have an hour or two? I’d love to explain the technobabble behind it all. Short version, think of it as kind of like a coil for the spark plug in an internal combustion engine. Just don’t ask me what actually happens inside the reaction chamber. That stuff is way above my head.”

    “I doubt that,” she dismissed his last statement with a wave of her hand. “Okay, I know when to get out of someone’s way and let them work. Have one of the Jensen brothers stay back here with you, and remember to close the panels when you’re not here.” She looked a Luke, who was sitting on the safety rail, watching the entire conversation with interest, and said, “You need to stay out of there.” If she didn’t know better, the way he looked at her, he understood her meaning.

    Price chuckled, “I think he learned that lesson already.” He led her down the stairs and back to the picnic table. The twins reported their test results: the dirt and ash wasn’t hazardous, at least not in the short term, and air and river water were clean, but the creek was far too dirty with fire debris to use. Frank Carter and James Baker were setting up another piece of equipment: a camper’s cook stove. Price asked what it used for fuel; Frank showed him a small propane tank. He looked at Miss Smith and shook his head.

    “No,” she told them, “we can’t use that. Take it back inside.” They began to dismantle the stove.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  11. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Carmella half-raised her hand, like a school student attracting the teacher’s attention, “Can we build a fire? It’ll help drive the bugs away.” She looked passed the adults and smiled. “Oh, look!” Luke had entered the encampment, moving around the edge several meters away until he found a place to sit. Felicia put a protective arm around her daughter.

    Christina watched Luke until he settled in. She looked at Price and shrugged, then turned to the group, “Yes, I think a fire would be a good idea. Start gathering up some wood, but don’t cut down anything that’s alive. Anybody actually ever build a campfire?” Frank indicated that he had, as did Price in part of his survival training. The party fanned out to collect the wood; Luke watched them bring back enough for a small pile. He jumped up and walked to the creek, and returned with a fair-sized rock.

    “Oh, yeah, good idea,” Frank proclaimed. He sent others to bring enough rocks to enclose a circle about a meter and a half across. Luke found a flat rock roughly the size of a large dinner plate. Frank sat that in the circle, and Luke took it back and set it aside. “Looks like he wants that one,” Frank said with a shrug.

    Levi brought an armful of wood and dropped in on the growing pile. Luke went to the pile and pulled all of Levi’s wood out of the pile, along with a few other pieces. “Hey, don’t do that!” Levi complained as he tried to replace the wood, only to have Luke pull it back out. This time, the creature threw the logs a pretty good distance. Levi stood back and watched. It appeared that Luke was being selective in the kind of wood he discarded; he threw away all the wood with a light-grey bark but kept everything else. “I guess we’re not supposed to use those ones,” Levi noted.

    The humans watched in amazement as Luke took several larger pieces of wood and formed a pyramid inside the circle. He shredded some bark, piled it inside the pyramid, and covered it with smaller twigs. Next, he did something a bit strange; he took three more rocks and set them just inside the circle, and then placed his flat rock on top of them. He peeled another strip of bark, placed it by the twigs, and began rubbing it with the point of a stick. “Here, I got this one, little guy,” Frank offered as he used a hand-held electric ignitor to spark the flame. Luke bent low and began to blow gently on the tiny fire, coaxing it to life. In no time at all, they had a true campfire burning.

    Frank sent the others to gather more fuel for the fire, for the small supply they had now would last only a couple of hours. Levi told them to leave the wood with light-grey bark alone. Luke walked up the draw a short distance and found a fairly large log. He tried to roll it, but it was just too heavy for him. Two of the Jensen brothers picked it up to bring it back. Frank told them to drop it, as it was far too big for the fire pit. Luke was insistent he wanted that log, so the brothers picked it back up and carried it to the fire. In his own way, Luke indicated he wanted it placed near the fire, and they complied. Once they put it down, Luke sat on it, bobbed his head and made a cooing noise, holding his hands out in the now-familiar gesture.

    After a long moment, Luke got up and loped away towards the river, disappearing around the front of the ship. A few minutes later, he returned with the rest of his family. The youngster tried to dart ahead, but his mother, Sarah, barked out at him, and he slowed down. Luke’s yet-unnamed sister was bringing up the rear with an obvious limp, holding something in her arms. He led them to the log by the fire. His sister seemed fearful of the flames, but he persuaded her to sit. “Oh, she has a baby!” Carmella exclaimed joyfully. The tiny one squirmed in its mother’s arms, found the food supply, and drifted back to sleep. The way the creature cooed softly to her child made Christina think of the lullabies her own mother sang to her and her little sister when they were young.

    Miss Smith looked at Lieutenant Price and sighed, “I thought a campfire would make them stay away.”

    “Yeah, me too. They’re probably more afraid of what’s out there than they are of the fire.”

    She pinched her lower lip. “They redacted so many pages from that survey report; it’s making me wonder just how clever these critters really are.” She looked at him, her eyes saying what she feared to say aloud.

    He shook his head, “Nothing to worry about. Many animals have learned to make and use tools. Chimpanzees, for example, are known to make simple tools. I’ve read about them digging traps and making snares to catch small animals. Even otters use stones to break shells open. In the late twentieth century, gorillas were taught to communicate with sign language, and in the mid-twenty-first century, researchers found orangutans in the wild that had discovered how to make fire. What this little fellow -- Luke, is it -- has done is well within the spectrum of non-sentient animals. I’d say they’re more intelligent than dogs, probably on par with dolphins and chimps.”

    The ship’s master conceded his points. Still, just to cover the bases, she decided she should document everything these creatures do. Who knows what data Star Fleet would find relevant to the after-action report? Maybe if she distracts them with enough scientific data, they might ignore any violations to the pristine policy. Heck, on a good day, she could even break the Prime Directive and get away with it. She called Lisa Bell and told her to verify the security camera recordings were all being saved to multiple storage devices.

    Miller, Pedro, and Gabriel Jensen entered the campsite. Miller looked at the guests sitting on the log and said, “I wondered where he disappeared to. Ma’am, I’ll wait until Mister Smith is here to explain it all, but it looks like I was right. We removed those upside-down injectors. They were jammed on pretty tight but otherwise weren’t damaged.”

    All of a sudden, Luke took off in a gallop, up the creek and over the fallen tree. He got to the other end and stopped, and then began to creep forward slowly. The humans noticed a movement in the brush. A rabbit. A rabbit with short, rounded ears, but a rabbit nonetheless. Luke got close enough to pounce, but his prey saw or heard him. The two vanished into the brush, racing at full speed. A few minutes later, Luke returned to the camp, empty-handed and dejected. “Better luck next time, buddy,” Miller offered sympathetically. Sarah cooed softly and brushed his fur with her hand. Luke went to the river’s edge, drank his fill, and headed upstream.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  12. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Levi Jensen picked up a medium-sized pot and went to the river, and brought it back full of water. He sat it down at the end of the log, along with a couple small bowls, and backed away, motioning to Sarah to take it. She used her hand to sample the water, then filled a bowl and gave that to her daughter. The young mother drank it down in one long pull. When she lifted her arm, the humans could see her fur was singed all down her side. The end of her tail was nearly bald, and there were patches missing on her left leg, but at least the skin didn’t look blistered. Sarah re-fill the bowl, and then used to other for herself. The youngster started to lap straight out of the pot, but she pinched his tail and made him drink from a bowl, too. Levi sat two more bowls down for them.

    Sarah looked over at the twins and tilted her head in curiosity. She stood up and walked over to Carmella. Christina could help but notice that she was just as graceful on hind legs as on all four. She remembered the chimps and other great apes in the zoo, how they’d waddle as they walked upright. Not so for Sarah and her family. She walked right up to Carmella, almost eye-to-eye with the tween-ager. Everyone was holding their breath. Price put his hand on his phaser; Christina lightly put her hand on his wrist.

    Carmella stood her ground until Sarah reached a hand up; the girl leaned back warily. Sarah retracted her hand and made a gently cooing noise. Again, she reached out a hand towards the girl’s ear. When she lowered it, there was a large wasp sitting on the back of her hand. The insect must have been a good seven centimeters long, with a very sharp stinger. With a violent whip of her arm, Sarah flung the wasp into the fire, and made a hissing noise.

    After exchanging the open-hand gesture, Sarah went back to the log, and Carmella went to her mother’s arms, visibly shaken. Everyone relaxed, and some took seats. The two younger Jensen brothers remained standing, as if on guard duty.

    William and Valerie came out of the ship and stopped when they saw the surprise visitors. “Chrissy, we need to talk,” Val hissed at her sister.

    “Problem with the antenna?”

    “What? No. Yes, there is. But no, that’s not we need to talk about.” She sat down across the picnic table from her sister. “Them,” she pointed with her thumb over her shoulder at the creatures. “Chrissy, have you gone mad?”

    Christina chuckled, “You know, you’re the only one in the family who still calls me that.”

    “What? ‘Chrissy’? Since when?”

    “I think the last time was when Grandfather bought the farm.”

    “Oh,” Miller kibitzed, “I’m sorry to hear that. When did he die?”

    “Who?” both sisters asked.

    “Your grandfather. I didn’t know he passed away.”

    Christina shook her head quickly, as if to shake the thought out of her head, “He’s still very much alive and a pain in everyone’s back-side.”

    Miller looked confused, as did Price and the others, “You just said he bought the farm.”

    William, Val, and Christina all laughed. “He literally bought an actual farm,” Christina explained.

    Milton and others came out of the ship, dripping with sweat. “It’s getting hotter than sin in there.”

    “And how would you know how hot sin is, old man?” his wife teased with a twinkle in her eye.

    Lisa announced, “I made lemonade. Who wants?” Several people replied, “Yes, please.” Ashley asked where the ice cubes came from, to which Lisa responded, “It’s from a bag we put in the freezer a few days ago, long before the water system broke. Do you think I’m that stupid? On second thought, don’t answer that.”

    Milt drained his glass. “More, please. So, what are we talking about?”

    “Your brother’s farm,” Billy answered.

    “Yes, so,” Val turned to Miller and Price, “When Chrissy,” she emphasized the nickname, “was about ten years old, she wanted a horse, and Grandpa bought a whole farm just so she could have her little ponies.”

    “What?” The younger sister exclaim in surprise. “Just where are you getting your information?”

    “That’s what Grandma told me.”

    “No. That’s not what happened at all. The truth is...” Her eyes darted around the group. “The truth is a story best kept in the family,” she finished, to everyone’s disappointment. “Okay, so what’s the status of the ship?”

    Milton called the twins over, “I’ve got a job for you two.” A big smile grew on Pedro’s face. “Don’t get excited; you’re not going to like it. Are either of you claustrophobic?” They both said no but looked leery of the question. “Good. We’re filling drums of water to drain the fresh-water tank as low as possible. I need you to put e-suits on and get inside the tank to scrub it down. The reason we can’t kill the bacteria is there’s some sort of sludge on the bottom that’s feeding the germs. And now there’s an algae film on the walls.”

    “Aw, yuck,” Pedro groaned. His sister agreed with him.

    “So, the radio, any chance of getting a signal out today?” Miss Smith asked. Billy shook his head. “Tomorrow?” Again, the answer was no. “Well, blip.”

    “Blip?” her uncle parroted. “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing. I’m just…” she shrugged. “I’m worried about Joy.”

    Price frowned. “Which one’s ‘Joy’? The baby?” he indicated to the furry creatures by the fire.

    “What? No. That’s Henry. Or Harriette. We haven’t been able to see whether it’s a boy or a girl yet.”

    Young Pedro, once again put his nose where it didn’t belong, this time interrupting the adult conversation. “How can you tell the difference?”

    All the adults chuckled embarrassedly and found something else to look at. His sister giggled and hid her face against her mother’s chest, ready to burst out into full laughter. The boy’s father hung his head. “This isn’t a conversation I want to have,” he grumbled.

    “Pedro!” his wife snapped. “He’s twelve years old! Why haven’t you talked with him yet?” Their son looked even more confused.

    Mr. Vasquez sighed deeply. “Okay, fine. What about Carmella?”

    Felicia scowled at him. “I had that talk with my daughter over a year ago. Go talk to your son. Now.”

    Her husband knew better than to argue. He put his hand on the back of his son’s neck and led him into the ship. Frank Carter broke the tension, “Well, that was awkward.”

    James snorted a laugh. “Just wait until you two have kids.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  13. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Billy looked at his sister-in-law intently. “Who’s Joy?”

    She ignored the question. “Mister Miller, why don’t you tell us what you found with the engines?”

    “Chrissy, who is Joy?” Valerie demanded in a tone that said she would not be ignored.

    Miller’s face lit up with a sudden epiphany. “Not who. What.” He pointed to the ship. “Tina’s Pride.” He pointed to the sky. “Tina’s Joy.” Christina gave him a look of annoyance. She shook her head with a sigh, and resigned to the fact that the cat was out of the bag.

    William and Valerie were surprised, shocked even, at this news. “There’s another ship? Chrissy, what’s going on?”

    Christina shook her head. “Fine. I’ll explain it after dinner. It’s a family discussion.” She gave Miller and Price a look that told them they were not invited to the party.

    “Tell us now.”

    “Later.”

    The sisters stared each other down, neither giving in. Luke picked that moment to return to the campsite. He was walking on three limbs, using one hand to hold his loincloth, which was filled with items he had collected. He stood up and walked to his mother. “Well, Luke’s definitely male,” Rosanne Smith stated the obvious, which made everyone look. Luke deposited several pieces of fruit, some sort of apple or pair, into a bowl. His family happily started eating.

    Christina and Lisa Bell both turned beet-red; even Valerie blushed. Poor little Carmella threw a hand over her eyes. “Argh! I can’t un-see that!” She grabbed her tablet and headed into the ship.

    Her mother watched her leave. “Next, she’ll tell me she’s scarred for life,” she laughed.

    Valerie turned to her. “I can’t believe you waited until she was ten to have that talk with her. My little Rachel is seven, and we had that talk already.”

    Felicia nodded. “Yeah, I tried when she was eight, and again at nine. She wasn’t interested in talking. Once I finally sat her down, she told me she already knew everything.” She shook her head with an exasperated look. “She read all about it when she was six. I’m surprised her brother never did that.”

    “Kids will be curious,” Rosanne agreed.

    Felicia shrugged, “Ever try to raise a child with a one-forty-five IQ?” She paused. “Please don’t tell them that. Pedro’s is only one-thirty. They’re competitive enough; they don’t need to know that.”

    “One-forty-five,” Miller said in awe. “I feel bad now. All this time, I’ve been talking to them like they’re little kids.”

    Kyle Price was watching the creatures by the fire. “The baby’s being fussy again. I hope it wasn’t injured in the fire.” He tried to hide it, but there was genuine concern in his voice.

    Val smiled at him. “The little one’s probably teething.”

    Miller noticed that Luke’s little brother was having trouble with his apple. He walked over to the fire slowly with his empty hands out, knelt down and reached for a piece of fruit. When he pulled his utility knife out, the creatures all pulled back fearfully. He laid the knife down and softly said, “It’s okay.” He took the apple and sat it down by the knife, which he picked up and folded a blade out. After he quartered the apple, he laid the knife down, and then handed a slice of apple to the young one. He took it and made a gleeful sound as he discovered it was easier to eat.

    Miller handed the animal-child another slice, but it reached for his knife. “No!” Miller commanded sharply. Luke made a barking noise, and his brother looked at him and repeated the bark, only with a questioning inflection. He turned back to Miller and again reached for the knife. “No,” Miller said firmly. Again, Luke made the same barking noise, as did Sarah. Miller retrieved the tool, closed the blade and put it in its case. The young one gathered up the rest fruit slices and retreated to his mother’s side.

    Miller returned to the table and was informed that the young one had been named “Jack” for reasons he didn’t understand. When he asked about the baby’s mother, Lisa replied, “Emily.”

    “Emily? Really?” Frank asked in surprise.

    “Yes. Emily.” Lisa retorted.

    “Sounds like there a story there,” Miller commented.

    “There is,” both Frank and Lisa responded, but neither seemed willing to elaborate.

    The humans watched as Luke walked to the river. Again, Christina couldn’t help but notice how human-like his gait was. He waded in knee-deep and leaned forward, standing motionless against the water flow. Meanwhile, his mother Sarah took an item he brought back to the camp, a branch of tree with light-grey bark. She stripped the leaves off into a bowl, and began to shred them into tiny bits. Next, she used a pair of rocks to grind the leaves and added a little water until it was a pasty mash, which she handed to her daughter. Emily put a glob on her finger, forced her baby, now confirmed to be Harriette and not Henry, to open her mouth, and rubbed it on her teeth and gums.

    Luke’s tail flicked back and forth in anticipation. Suddenly he dove under the water and thrashed about. He reemerged with a large fish, at least twenty-five or thirty centimeters long, and threw it onto the riverbank. The fish was flopping about until Luke dispatched it with a single blow with a small rock. He then proceeded to process the fish with quick, deft slices with his sharp claw-like fingernails. The humans gave him a silent cheer; he redeemed himself for the rabbit that got away. He tossed the unwanted bits into the river.

    Luke returned to the fire and dripped a little water on the flat rock he had so carefully placed earlier. It boiled away instantly. Luke place two large fish fillets skin-side down on the rock. After a few minutes, he slid the meat off the rock and divided it up amongst his family.

    Miss Smith watched this with interest. “We should probably start thinking about dinner, too. Ashley, would you please take charge of that? Elijah, I want you to set up a guard-duty schedule for the night. I want two people outside at all times. You can use your brothers, Mister Carter, Mister Vasquez, Mister Miller, and Lieutenant Price. Make sure you men get some sleep before your shift. Uncle Milt, will we be able to sleep inside, or should I have cots set up in the shuttle bay?”

    “No, I turned the air conditioner back on.”

    “Okay, explain that to me. How is it we have heating and cooling, but we don’t have CO2 scrubbers? Air comes in one end, passes through each sub-system, and goes out the other end, yes?”

    “Yes and no. There are internal by-pass baffles that you can close, for maintenance, like when you’re changing filters and such. When we vented the cargo hold, all the baffles closed automatically. The ones on the scrubbers won’t open. I thought a hydraulic actuator blew, but now that I got inside it, I think the entire HVAC system is bent. Literally twisted. Some of the baffles are jammed. I’ll have to take it all half apart and straighten it out enough to get them free.”

    His great-niece sighed. “It could be worse, I suppose.” Four people countered, “Don’t jinx us!”
     
  14. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The group made small talk until dinner. They pried the source for “Emily” from Frank and Lisa: Emily was the girl who tried and failed to steal Frank away for prom night. Miller and young Pedro searched for and found some fresh samples of the light-grey barked tree. His tricorder, being a civilian model, could not analyze the leaves. By using crude chemical reactions, the twins determined that it contained compounds not unlike a mild opioid. Price observed that it was a good thing they didn’t put any of that wood in the fire.

    The twins also made an interesting discovery about their furry friends. “Miss Smith, I found something you should see,” Carmella told her. “Sarah and her family, they look just like an animal from Earth, from the region called Brazil in South America.” She brought the image up on her school tablet. “This is a Callithrix. More specifically, it’s the Callithrix Flavicaps. There’s also the Callithrix Aurita, the Callithrix Geoffroyi, the Callithrix Jacchus, and a few others.” She flipped through several images.

    “I’ve never heard of them,” Christina confessed. None of the others at the table had, either. She had to admit the young lady was correct: they did look very much alike.

    “They were an endangered species for a long time, but their population is stable now. The common name is marmoset, related to the tamarin. Some people called them ‘finger monkeys’ because they’re so tiny. Ma’am, these are only ten centimeters long. The biggest ones are less than forty centimeters. How did these,” she pointed to the photo, “turn into those?” she nodded towards Sarah. “It’d be like a human over twelve meters tall.”

    “We don’t know that they did,” Lieutenant Price answered slowly. “Star Fleet has found many planets that have had separate, parallel evolutions resulting in similar lifeforms.”

    Frank walked over and picked up a log for the fire, which he placed carefully so as to not kick up a bunch of hot embers. When he picked up a second log, he dropped it with a mild curse. A large splinter of wood was sticking out of the heel of his left hand. “Don’t pull that out,” Miller said as grabbed the first-aid kit. “Here, let me help.” As he tended to the wound, Sarah came over to watch. Miller pulled the splinter, rinsed the injury with water, and then used tweezers to remove the small fragments. Frank looked away when the blood started to flow freely as Miller pulled the last, biggest and deepest piece out. Miller clamped a section of gauze on it and applied pressure. Frank flinched, and Sarah lightly touched his cheek with the back of her hand and made a soft cooing noise. “Lisa, I need a little help here, please,” Miller requested. He asked her to cut the bandage to size and hand him the disinfectant. He cleaned the wound properly, closed the gash with some liquid sutures, and replaced the dressing and wrapped Frank’s hand in a bandage. Sarah inspected his work before returning to the fire pit.

    Lisa kissed Frank on the forehead. “You’re such a big baby. Still can’t stand the sight of blood. Want anything for the pain?”

    “Actually, no, he can’t have anything,” Miller responded. “Frank, if the pain increases, or your hand goes numb, or if your forearm starts turning red, come find me. Immediately.” He saw the shocked look on Lisa’s face. “Probably nothing to worry about, but I’m not going to take any chances. Okay?” She and Frank both nodded.

    The eldest Jensen brother examined Frank’s hand. “Sorry, that doesn’t get you out of guard duty.”

    Ashley and Felicia made a wonderful beef stew for supper. They did the prep work in the kitchen and brought the pot out to cook over the fire. Sarah and Luke found this fascinating and chittered back and forth for several minutes. Frank quipped that he was glad they didn’t serve up steaks, for he wouldn’t be able to cut his food by himself. Lisa smiled and assured him that she would have helped him.

    Ashley announced that dinner was ready, and everyone would have to line up to be served. Christina Smith turned to Elijah, “Mister Jensen, we’re not as religious as you and your brothers are, but I do think it would be appropriate to say grace before our first meal on this planet. Would you be so kind as to lead us, please?” He smiled, placed his hand on his chest, and leaned forward in a slight bow. He called upon everyone to gather around and bow their heads as he spoke a short blessing and thanksgiving.

    Felicia ladled stew into bowls for each person in line, and then served herself. “There’s more left, if anyone wants seconds.” The picnic table was too small to allow everyone to have a seat, so seven people had to find another place to eat their meal. Some used the folding chairs, while the twins sat on logs from the woodpile. Several people commented on how delicious the stew was. Christina agreed but didn’t ask whether the meat was actually beef, or even real animal protein. At this point, she didn’t really care.

    Christina asked Billy what he wanted to tell her about the sub-space radio. He said he wanted to build a new dish-type antenna using deck plates, but Lieutenant Price suggested a simple long-line antenna. Such a device would require nearly four kilometers of cable. Milton pointed out the flaws with both ideas. It would be hard to construct a dish to the proper shape with the tools they had on-hand, and a long-line worked best only if laid out in a perfectly straight line. Price said he planned to use the shuttle to stretch it out. James asked about using the shuttle’s antenna, whether it could handle the power that the ship’s radio would generate.

    Frank told them that none of the ideas would work because the planet had a strong, complex Van Allen radiation belt. Senja had multiple magnetic poles. Billy said they’d just have to install a temporary antenna, fly up into orbit, send a signal out, after which they could re-land and continue repairs on the ship. Easy as pie, he claimed. The debate raged on for several minutes, who had the best plan.

    Daniel Miller tapped his spoon on his bowl, quieting the group. “There’s fuel in the shuttle, yes? And it’s space worthy, yes? So why not just take the shuttle into orbit and send the message?”

    Everyone looked at him, then each other, and back at him. “Well, isn’t that about the stupidest thing,” William declared with annoyance.

    “What’s so stupid about it?” Miller responded confused.

    Price chuckled. “It’s stupid because none of us thought of it.”
     
  15. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    “Right. Well, I think it’s an excellent idea,” Miss Smith announced, putting an end to the debate. “We still have short-range communications. Frank, do you think we can talk from here to a shuttle in orbit?” He indicated they should be able to. “Any reason this plan won’t work?” Nobody objected. “Perfect. Tomorrow morning, I’d like Lieutenant Price to fly the shuttle and take Aunt Rosanne. If we can set up a relay, great, and if not, I’ll have specific instructions for who she should contact and what to say.” With that item of business taken care of, she moved on to the next one. “Mister Miller, how long do you think it will take to repair the warp drive?”

    Miller finished his bite and took a sip of iced tea. “To get them running, four or five hours, tops. To do it right, three days.” He held up a finger when she was going to ask the obvious question. “Whoever did the maintenance didn’t bother matching parts when they put the engine back together. In theory, all the modules are identical and it shouldn’t matter. In practice, each unit should be put back together with the original modules, or replace all the connectors with new ones. As the engines run, the connectors will wear differently. Mixing module components means the connectors may not fit snuggly. That’s why the components are tagged with the unit number.”

    Milton and James both confirmed this to be correct. “What I can do,” Miller continued, “is I can take each unit apart, put goop on the connectors, and put them back in. That will do until we get to a proper dry dock, where we should take both engines completely apart and sort out the modules to pair them up to the right units.” Milton and James both concurred with this plan, and Miss Smith approved it.

    Rosanne got up and went to the pot to refill her husband’s bowl. Christina held her bowl up. “Please?” Miller took her bowl and filled it for her, and filled his own, too. “I’m not even going to ask how you made this so easily.” Ashley told her: fresh potatoes and carrots, frozen mixed-vegetable, canned gravy, and pre-cooked / flash-frozen meat. What kind of meat, she didn’t say. Throw it all in a pot and stir. “I really need to learn how to cook,” the ship’s master lamented.

    After dinner, Christina sent Miller and Frank Carter in to supervise the twins with the ugly job of scrubbing the water tank. She sent others to do other chores, or to go take a nap if pulling guard duty. Seven people, Miss Smith and her extended family, were left at the table. “Okay, about Grandfather’s farm,” she began.

    “I don’t care about Grandpa’s farm. I want to know about this ship,” Valerie snapped.

    “I need to explain the farm before I can explain the ship,” Christina replied. Milton and Rosanne both nodded. It seemed they knew part of the story already. “I never wanted the stupid horses, and Grandfather wouldn’t have bought them, or the farm, for me even if I had begged him. Eight years ago, about the time you two were sneaking out to elope, he had a fight with the Port Authority at the Long Island spaceport, so he decided he was going to build his own private spaceport.”

    Valerie looked dubious. “What spaceport? He doesn’t have a spaceport.”

    “No, he doesn’t. But you’re getting ahead of the story. He started to buy up land in Ohio, a whole village and surrounding farmland. I heard he planned to bulldoze everything and send all the animals to slaughter. I told him I wouldn’t let him do that. He said, ‘Just try and stop me.’ You know me; I wasn’t going to take that attitude from him. Father and Uncle Milton tried to help me stop him, but because Grandfather wasn’t using Company money there wasn’t much they could do. Your uncle George,” she nodded to Billy, “gave me the idea. I bought two foals. Baby horses are called foals, not ponies, by the way. A colt and a filly, that is to say, a male and a female, not even weanlings yet.”

    “Okay, how did that stop him from building a spaceport?”

    Christina smiled. “I was faster than Grandfather. I bought the horses before he could close on the farm deal. The sales contract had a clause that required the seller stable my horses along with their parents for a year, and that they stay where they were born and raised, because their veterinarian said that they were too young for the stress. Grandfather sued and lost. The judge ruled that because there was now a third party involved, he could not raze the farm, which just happened to be right in the middle of where his spaceport was going to be.”

    “Oh, I’ll bet he was fit to be tied. I’m surprised Gramp’s lawyers couldn’t find some loophole to get around your contract.”

    Christina laughed. “Oh, they tried. Remember that he and Father had a huge falling out back then, so Father loaned me his lawyer. Besides, how could the judge resist a sad little ten-year-old crying that her ponies would lose their home?” She demonstrated the pouty-face to the amusement of her family. “Grandfather lost a ton of money on the deal. That was the last time he called me ‘Chrissy’. In fact, he’s hardly spoken to me ever since.”

    “Alright, but what does this have to do with the ship? Or rather, ships, as there’s two of them,” William asked.

    Christina gave him a serious look. “I know why you changed our course. You’ve been poking around ever since you heard about Tina’s Pride, wanting to know who in the company authorized buying it. Your father is out at the new colony and sent you a message he found something. Right?” She was letting him know the matter wasn’t dropped.

    Her brother-in-law admitted it so. “He said he had to tell me in person.”

    “Yeah, he just wants to see your face when he tells you. Back to the horses. After a couple years, I entered them into the racing circuit. Rosebud was pretty good, but Star Blaze really made a name for himself.”
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  16. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    “Wait! What? You own Star Blaze?” James was in awe. The others shrugged, not seeing the importance of the name. “Star Blaze was a favorite to win the Triple Crown a few years ago.” His wife gave him a dirty look. “No, I’m not betting anymore.”

    “Yes, that’s my Star Blaze,” Christina confirmed with pride. “The muddy track cost him the second race. At any rate, I started to breed them; he and Rosebud have had four offspring. I’ve sold two of them, and bought three more pairs of champion breeders. Of course, I put Star Blaze and the other stallions up for stud. Do you have any idea how much money there is in stud fees?”

    Valerie blinked several times in disbelief. “Enough to buy a ship? Two ships?”

    Christina Smith listed them, ticking them off on her fingers. “Tina’s Pride, Tina’s Joy, Tina’s Hope, Tina’s Faith, and Tina’s Dream.”

    Her sister just stared at her, mouth hanging open, for the longest time. “Five ships? Five! You own five ships?”

    “Yes, I do. Or rather, four ships and a hunk of junk. I should rename Tina’s Dream to Tina’s Nightmare. I bought them, with my own money, out of the boneyard at Armstrong City on Luna. They were Star Fleet surplus. Dream was a combat troop transport and took one too many hard landings. The whole ship is twisted so bad I had to have the cargo doors welded shut.”

    Uncle Milt sat up straight. “Wow. I knew you had two ships; I didn’t know you had five.”

    “Oh, you won’t believe the deal I got on them!” With a bemused look, she explained, “I went to the auction with a hundred-thousand credits in my pocket and a letter from the bank stating I was good for a half-million.” She allowed herself a quick smile at their shocked looks. “Father sent me as a representative of Smith & Jones to bid on a few bulk freighters.”

    “Yeah, ten ships, three of them twin-pods and one quad,” William confirmed. “Nice deal. I wondered who pulled that off. The reason I’m going to the new colony is to bid on the supply route with those ships.”

    “Ah, thank you. You’re welcome. I had to pass on a couple good ones as they turned into bidding wars. Father told me to pick my battles, and I did. When the twin-pods came up, I had enough money left to grab them.” She stopped to refill her glass. “On the second day of the auction was for the small boats, but there just wasn’t much interest in them. You know, they came out with a new model a couple years ago, with Warp Seven engines. There are too many of the old ones flooding the market. Who wants a Warp Five ship these days? I knew a couple buyers were there to pick up a few cheap, for parts, so I bid against them on a few other ships and then let them win. When this one came up,” she pointed to Tina’s Pride, “actually, it was Dream, I opened the bid at twenty thousand, expecting for it to go up to two-hundred or so.”

    James and Milt both nodded. “I wouldn’t go much more than that,” James replied, “but anything under one-fifty would be a good deal.”

    “Yeah,” she said slowly with a big grin. “Nobody bid against me.” She paused while her family absorbed that bit of information. “The parts guys had spent all their money. The only other person looking for flyable ships thought I was crazy. I mean, these are Star Fleet surplus; you expect they’d been beat to death. What they didn’t seem to know is Star Fleet special ordered these with all the options including military-spec engines. These boats were actually used during the war. On paper, they’re rated at seven-point-five. Except for this one, they all do eight-plus. Maybe this one can, too, once Miller fixes the drive units.”

    “So, what you’re telling us,” Valerie asked, “is you bought five ships for only twenty-thousand a piece? Or twenty for all five? Either way, that’s a heck of a deal.”

    “Nah, it was twenty thousand for one,” Christina confirmed. “But when I went back the next week to pick it up, all five were sitting there. I asked if I could take my pick of the bunch. They said sure, because the others were going to the breakers. Star Fleet was going to spent ten thousand or more per ship to chop them up. I made a smart-aleck comment that I’d give them five thousand a piece for them. They took it.”

    “Wow! Sweet deal,” James exclaimed. “I’m taking you with me next time I buy a car.”

    “Yes and no. Star Fleet did beat them up pretty bad. I still had to put fifty to sixty thousand into each one to get them flying again.” She didn’t want to tell her family just where she stood financially. She wasn’t tapped out, but with buying and servicing the ships, paying all the taxes and registration fees, and then hiring more crew, she was stretched thin.

    “So, what’s with the names?” William inquired. “That’s a bit narcissistic, even for you.”

    “No, I’ll bet Daddy had a hand in that,” Valerie defended her sister, “he’s the only one who calls her ‘Tina’.”

    “Yep, exactly. The registrar’s office sent the purchase documents to me care of the company, and Father intercepted them. He was oh so very helpful in filling out the title applications for me.” She layered on the sarcasm. “Just as well, I suppose. I was going to list them as simply CMS-One through CMS-Five. To be honest, the names are growing on me.”

    Milton grinned. “Are you two ever going to bury the hatchet?” His great-niece gave him half a smile and shrugged. “Why were you worried about Joy? Jason can handle himself.”

    “No, he can’t,” Christina snapped, “which is why I fired him!”

    Milton was surprised by that. “You fired your own brother?”

    Now it was Valerie’s turn to be surprised. “Fired him? I can’t believe you would have hired him in the first place. Didn’t you hear; we suspended him from the company?”

    “Of course I heard. Mom told me. Jason gave me his side of the story, which surprisingly enough matched with what she said, more or less. Okay, so, yeah, I figured I’d give him a job and a chance to redeem himself. I mean, I owe him that much, right?”

    “If you say so,” her sister didn’t sound convinced but didn’t say any more on that subject -- no reason to re-hash that bit of history.

    Christina sighed. “At any rate, he did the same thing to me that you suspended for, so I fired him. I had to move his second, Kami Mbuko, to pilot-in-command. She’s a great person and a pretty good pilot, but I swear she needs help deciding what to have for lunch. I gave her instructions to follow us out to the colony. I did tell her I planned on making a detour to the star base on the way, but if she saw that we changed course, and with us being out of radio contact, I’m afraid that she’ll follow our last known heading.” In other words, right into the hands of the pirates that attacked Tina’s Pride, nobody said it aloud but they were all thinking it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
  17. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The sun was sinking low on the horizon when the floodlights over the cargo doors came on with a pop and a crackle. Miss Smith keyed her communicator, “Who turn on the lights?”

    “I did, Ma’am,” Lieutenant Price’s voice responded. “It’s standard security procedure.”

    “Turn them off, please. We don’t need them. They’re already attracting insects, and I don’t want to attract any bears.” Price acknowledged her order, and the lights snapped off with a fading glow of the filaments. The bats were disappointed, for they were enjoying the easy snack. Miss Smith made a note in her voice-log to replace the lights with a more modern system.

    She and her family talked for another half-hour or so, until the sun had set. As expected, the nearby binary stars provided adequate light to see by. Christina and James made a lap around the ship to verify everything was secure. They added another log on the fire, one large enough that it should burn through the night. They were careful not to disturb the creatures who were all piled together in one big fur ball, sound asleep. Two of the Jensen brothers had first watch for the night, each armed with a meter-long pipe and a type-one hand-phaser set to light-stun.

    On her way to her cabin, Christina overheard a private conversation between her sister and brother-in-law. William said something about her determination and confidence, to which her sister replied, “Well, what did you expect? You know we all grew up on Daddy’s knee, Chrissy more than any of us did, and learnt the business from the time we could walk. I’ll deny ever saying this, but I’m actually proud of her, going out on her own like this.” Christina smiled and backed away quietly.

    She went to the dining room and found the twins at the table. Their mother rewarded them with cookies and milk for a job well done with the water tank. Miller said the test samples were almost in the safe zone already. The system was cycling the water efficiently, so with any luck, he said, they should have clean drinking water by morning. He showed her the recordings from the perimeter sensors that showed another group of animals moved down out of the hills. They seemed to be bedding down about fifteen hundred meters to the south, just over the ridge on the other side of the creek. The night watch was already aware of them and would keep an eye out for any sign of them.

    Satisfied with the safety and security of her ship, Christina Smith went to bed. She expected to toss and turn half the night, but she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She woke once during the night, about 2-AM, and checked her display monitors. Four men were outside at the fire; it appeared that Levi Jensen and Daniel Miller were relieving Kyle Price and Pedro Vasquez from guard duty. She watched for several minutes; her thoughts drifted to places she didn’t want them to go. After a warm cup of milk, she forced herself back to sleep into the waiting arms of pleasant dreams.

    Christina woke at daybreak. The sky was bright even though the sun had not yet risen above the hilltops to the east. She checked the monitors and found all was well. Luke had gone on a scavenging hunt and returned with more fruit and tubers for his family. After her morning routine, she went to the dining room, whistling as she entered the room. Her sister turned to her, “You’re in a good mood today,” she observed. Christina just smiled and shrugged. “Okay, spill it,” Valerie demanded, “what’s going on with you?”

    “Nothing,” she replied innocently. “I’m just happy the repairs are going well. We can probably leave tomorrow.”

    Her older sister just stared and nodded. “Right.” She wasn’t convinced.

    The Jensen brothers entered the room, soon followed by the Vasquez family. Ashley stepped in from the kitchen and announced, “We’re making breakfast stir-fry hash. If you want something else, you’re on your own.” She disappeared back into the kitchen. Felicia and Carmella went to help with the cooking.

    Uncle Milt came in and told everyone the water was now safe to drink. When his niece asked if he fixed the one-way check valve, too, he replied with a smile, “Yes, I got it working. I hit it with a hammer.”

    She glared at him with a low rumble in her throat. “Is that how you’re going to fix everything on my ship? Just grab a bigger hammer?”

    “Hey, now, I just said I got it working. I didn’t say I fixed it,” he returned. “It needs a complete rebuild once we get to a proper depot. By the way, you know all those spare deck plates, the ones we were going to use to make a radio antenna? Those are actually baffle plates to prevent sloshing in a slack tank. I added that to the to-do list.”

    Once everyone was seated, they allowed Elijah and his brothers their traditional moment of silence before the meal. Lieutenant Price offered his complements, saying it was the best breakfast hash he had had in a long time. Lisa proudly admitted she did most of the cooking, with Ashley’s guidance. Carmella laid claim to making the pancakes. With only one working burner on the stove, she had to use a freestanding hot plate to cook them. Christina once again lamented she wasn’t a very good cook, to which Valerie also confessed to not being any good either.

    “Why do us women have to do all the cooking,” Aunt Rosanne asked teasingly.

    James chocked down a laugh. “I’ve been married long enough to know to stay out of her way when she’s in the kitchen.” Milton and Pedro both nodded in agreement.

    “Yes, true enough,” Emanuel Jensen confirmed. “In our community, there is men’s work and there is women’s work. We men know to stay out of women’s work.” He noted the sideways look some of his companions were giving him. “Don’t get me wrong. We don’t think of our wives as subservient to their husbands. We are equal partners in life.”

    “Yes,” Gabriel chimed in, “and they well remind us should we forget.” Everyone laughed, because they all knew how true that was. “That’s not to say men can’t cook. I do once in a while to give my wife a break, but we have learned the hard way we can’t work in the kitchen together.”

    “Mom made sure all of us boys could cook, too,” Miller quipped, “she made Dad teach us.”

    The conversation moved on to the plan for the day. Milton was not confident he could repair the HVAC in one day, but Miller said he was “pretty sure” he’d have the warp drive working before dinner. Miss Smith told him don't rush the job, and that she wanted the impulse engines inspected, too. In the meantime, she still wanted Price and Rosanna to fly the shuttlecraft into orbit and attempt to make contact with Miss Mbuko. She expressed concern for how Sarah and her offspring would react to the shuttle taking off.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
  18. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The proximity alarm sounded. The second group of animals moved to the riverbank and were walking towards the ship, now about five hundred meters downstream. Luke and Sarah were alert, sniffing the air, but didn’t seem to be afraid. Luke bounded up onto the scaffolding, watching intently from this vantage point. They didn’t have to wait long before another clan of creatures appeared from the grove of half-burnt trees.

    They were obviously the same species as Sarah’s family, what Carmella Vasquez had named Callithrix Gigantis. There were seven adults, four males and three females, and one younger child, a little older than Jack was. The group stopped and hid behind some brush, watching the ship with suspicion.

    The four males were a buff color with darker manes; one had a full mane and appeared to be older than the other three, presumably their father. Much to Carmella’s relief, the males all wore pelts in a similar fashion to Luke’s loincloth. One of the females was a tabby-grey color and was heavily pregnant. She stayed close to one of the younger males, obviously a mated pair. Another female was also buff colored with darker highlights; she was not yet fully grown, perhaps about Luke’s age. The last female was much older, more of a tan color than buff but with noticeable greying around her muzzle. She was bald on the top of her head, so the lighter fur made it look like she wore a halo, which would later earn her the name “Angel”. The way the older male deferred to her suggested she was his mother and the matriarch of the clan.

    The child was another matter. By her markings, a rusty red with bands of black, she did not appear to be related to the rest of the group. Her face was disfigured with a pair of scars running from ear to chin, and she bore several scars on her back and hind leg. Perhaps she was orphaned and adopted by this family, but she remained aloof, staying a few meters away from the others.

    Luke called out from his perch. No reply. He dropped down to the ground and moved to the fallen-tree bridge. He called out again, and again his calls were not answered. Cautiously he crossed the bridge and approached the newcomers. He stopped about twenty meters away and called out again. The younger female returned his call and started to walk towards him. One of her brothers moved quickly to intervene, soon joined by the other two.

    From the humans’ point of view, there was a lot of screeching and yowling for several minutes. Luke, to his credit, was submissive. He tried to offer the open-hand gesture and lowered his head and chest to the ground submissively. The female and one of her brothers continued to squabble while the other two continued to be aggressive to Luke. After a long minute, the older male entered the fray. Amazingly, he did not chase Luke off immediately but rather exchanged chitterings with him for several seconds. In the end, he waved Luke away with the back of his hand and pointed towards the tree-bridge. Luke had no choice but to retreat and slink away with his tail between his legs. The female let off a string of angry barks at her father and then went to her grandmother’s side to sulk. Her protective brother stood upright and raised his arms, hooting as if to boast; his sister glared at him.

    Luke returned to his family. Sarah, having watched the entire event unfold, cooed softly and tried to console her son. He wanted nothing of it and instead went to the river where he was able to catch two small fish.

    Inside the ship, the humans watched the new clan as they settled in. Two of the males foraged the area and found a small amount of berries that somehow survived the fire. The oldest male climbed up on a large rock and took a seat, content to let his sons do the work. “He reminds me of Bruce,” Price said to no one in particular.

    Miller looked at him. “Bruce? As in Bruce Hunter, the action-hero actor?”

    Price shook his head, “No. Gunnery Sergeant Bruce, one of my drill instructors the first year of Academy.”

    “Sebastian Bruce?” Christina asked. “He’s a Sergeant Major now and the head instructor at my Junior ROTC unit.”

    Price gave her a sideways look. “You were ROTC? That explains a lot.”

    “Meaning?”

    The Star Fleet officer inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. “Just that it seemed you’ve had some leadership training,” he answered diplomatically. He wasn’t sure if she accepted that, or simply let him off the hook.

    “Is the shuttle ready to fly?” she changed the subject. “I’d like to send you up right after breakfast.”

    “You need to wait about three hours,” Frank Carter interrupted. “If they go up now, they’ll be in line of sight to that planet where we were attacked. In three hours, this planet will rotate far enough to block the pirates from hearing our signal. In theory, at least. Here, I can diagram it for you.” He pulled out his table, but she waved him off, saying she could visualize it. He addressed Price. “There’s a comm-relay platform over near Teasdale we can bounce off of. You’ll have to use the directional antenna, so your aim will have to be precise.”

    “How precise?”

    “Within two or three degrees.”

    “That’s not precise,” Price snorted out a laugh. “Precise is hitting an apple at a thousand meters. This is more like hitting a watermelon at ten meters.”

    “Yeah, well, holding a shuttlecraft on a stable bearing while in orbit isn’t the same as aiming a phaser rifle,” Lisa Bell replied as she got up from the table and headed into the kitchen. She paused at the door, “And I’ve hit an apple at a thousand meters. With a projectile weapon.”

    Frank shrugged one shoulder. “She was second alternate for the Olympic team last year. So, think you can do it?”

    Price scratched his head. “Yeah. I’m a better pilot than I am a shooter, and I’ve hit the apple, too. Okay, so it took me four tries, but I hit it.”

    “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Miss Smith said, “what is your job in Star Fleet?”

    “Right now, public affairs, you know, press releases and all that. Before that, I was a security officer, making sure people followed proper procedures while handling and storing classified data. Of course, I pulled four months each of bridge duty and phaser controls. Every junior officer does that.”

    “Any chance at a command?” she inquired.

    “Slim,” he sighed. “I was ‘recommended’, not ‘highly recommended’, so I’m not out of the running. But like with Miller here, personnel cuts and all, the number of slots has dwindled. The odds aren’t great.”

    “Well, if you ever want to punch out of Star Fleet, Smith & Jones is always looking for good men.” Billy and Val both nodded at that. “And I have another boat in need of a skipper.”

    Price looked at her, wondering how serious she was. “Oh, tempting, but I’m committed for another six years of service.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  19. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    Christina watched the monitor. Bruce and his family seemed content to settle in on the other side of the creek. Still, she had seen how fast they could move; they could be across the bridge and into the campsite in no time at all. “Kids, you’re going to have to stay inside today. In fact, Mister Miller, I think you need to hold off working on the warp engine until we can see how they’ll react to humans.”

    “Yes, ma’am. Might I suggest we make introductions from up on the roof?”

    “Yeah, good idea.” She noticed that little Pedro wasn’t happy about being cooped up inside. “Sorry, kiddo, it’s too dangerous right now.”

    “I understand, Miss Smith. It’s just …” he let out a big sigh, “I wanted to look for any more of those wasps.”

    “You are not going to bring them, or any other animal life-forms, on my ship,” she told him sternly.

    “Not alive,” he exclaimed, “but if they’re what I think they are, we should get a few samples for study.”

    She glanced at Price; he shrugged. “Why? What are they?”

    “It looked like a Rigelian parasitic wasp. They’re supposed to be extinct.” He brought up the information on his tablet. “They were a lab mistake, created about two hundred years ago by cross-breeding four different species of wasp. The Rigelian scientists were trying to make attack wasps to hunt other insects, for pest control. What they came up with was a wasp that lays its eggs inside living animals. When they hatch, well ...” he looked at his sister. “You don’t want to know what happens to the host, Sis.” Carmella put her fork down, looking a little green around the gills.

    “They might have been brought in on a ship during the war,” Lieutenant Price offered.

    Pedro shook his head. “No, sir. They were exterminated seventy-five years ago, long before the war.”

    Lisa returned from the kitchen with more breakfast hash. “I probably made too much, so dig in.” She sat the bowl on the table, and the Jensen brothers each helped themselves to seconds. “You were talking about the wasp; maybe they came from the insect planet on the star charts. Maybe that ship came here after leaving there.”

    “Sure, anything’s possible,” Price agreed as he too scooped more hash onto his plate. “Hard to say.”

    “That’s why I wanted to catch a few,” Pedro replied, “either way; we need to get rid of them.”

    “We?” Miss Smith asked rhetorically. “No, what ‘we’ need to do is report it to Star Fleet and let them determine whether or not they’re an invasive species, and if so, how to deal with them.”

    Daniel Miller washed a bite of food down with a sip of juice. “If those bugs were transplanted here, there’s another issue to consider. The survey ship wasn’t the only outsiders to land here.” He paused, not wanting to voice his thoughts, but he had to. “Any chance those pirates know about this planet?”

    The ship’s master shook her head. “Unlikely. Unless the survey team brought the wasps in on their own ship, they were already here. Either they’re indigenous or they were imported some time ago.” She pushed her empty plate away. Noticing that her sister wasn’t eating much, she asked, “What’s wrong, Val? Don’t like it?” Valerie didn’t respond, looking to be lost in a fog of thought. “Val, you okay?”

    Shaking away the cobwebs, she answered, “Yeah, no, it’s good. I’ve just been a little queasy ever since we ate at that restaurant last port call.”

    “But, you love Andorian food.” An impish grin formed on her face. “Maybe it’s morning sickness,” she poked.

    “What? No!” Val exclaimed, her eyes wide in shock. She looked at her husband; luckily, he was between bites, otherwise he might have choked. She looked back at Christina and then down at her plate, moving her food around with a fork. “No, I’m not,” she stated, more to herself than anyone else. She began eating again. Ashley and Rosanne exchanged knowing smiles but said nothing.

    After breakfast, Miss Smith, Price, and Miller went to the shuttle bay. They moved the spacecraft over to the landing pad, and Miller began the pre-flight inspection. Christina and Price went up on the top of the ship. “When you take off, I want you to keep it low and go out that way,” she pointed off the starboard bow, “and take it up river a couple hundred meters before climbing out. I don’t want to freak out the neighbors.” Price agreed with the plan. “Speaking of, let go see how the critters are doing.”

    They walked to the edge of the ship and looked down. Sarah was holding the baby while Emily went to the riverbank to wash herself. Luke was putting more wood on the fire, and Jack had found some small object to entertain himself with. The other clan was politely ignoring Sarah’s family and didn’t seem to notice the two humans. Price shook the guardrail, which folded down into the ship during flight, but the noise wasn’t loud enough to attract their attention. Jack heard it and gleeked out a joyful noise as he pointed up at them. Luke looked up and gave them the empty-hands gesture; Christina responded in kind.

    On the other side of the creek, Bruce also noticed Jack’s excitement and walked to the edge of the water. He stood there for a long moment, eyeing the humans suspiciously. He sat down on a large rock and began gnawing on some sort of hard tuber, keeping watch on the ship. The others simply looked up at them and went right back to eating. The young orphan female, whom someone had named Mia, darted to a nearby tree and took refuge high up in its branches.

    “Well,” Lieutenant Price declared, “That went better than I expected. Let’s give it a few minutes and then go down to the ground.” Christina agreed and after several moments, led the way. As they passed through the shuttle bay, Miller informed them that the shuttle was ready to fly. As a precaution, he placed a pair of e-suits onboard, just in case there was an air leak. Price told him, “No offense, but I’m going to double-check it.”

    “Not a problem, sir. I’d be worried if you didn’t.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018
  20. Sgt_G

    Sgt_G Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2013
    Location:
    USA
    The trio made their way down to the exit. Gabriel and Levi met them and insisted on going outside first. This led to a debate; Price said that he, having Star Fleet training, should go first, whereas Miller pointed out that, unlike the Jensen brothers, he was unmarried with no children and thus was the most expendable. Miss Smith gave him a strange look but said nothing. Suddenly and without warning, Gabriel turned on his heel and exited the ship, and his younger brother followed right behind him.

    Christina went to the nearest monitor and brought up the view from the portside camera. Luke saw the two men and loped over to them, gave them his open-hands gesture, and then went to the dwindling pile of wood. By his hand signals, it was obvious that he was asking them to restock the firewood. Over on the other side of the creek, Bruce and his offspring barely noticed the humans and kept on with what they were doing.

    It seemed safe enough, so Christina exited the ship, accompanied by Price and Miller. Again, the other clan ignored their presence. She used her communicator to call Elijah, Emanuel, Frank, and Pedro senior to come outside as well. She tasked Frank and Pedro to shut down the water purifier and put it back in storage. She had the Jensen brothers set the table and chairs up again and then go gather firewood.

    Cautiously, Miss Smith walked to the edge of the creek. Lieutenant Price started to follow her, but she waved him off. He and Miller stood guard several paces behind her. She stopped directly opposite from Bruce, no more than twelve meters away, and greeted him with the open-hands gesture and a slight bow. The creature stood to his full height and tilted his head inquisitively. He returned the gesture and made some chittering noises. She smiled at him, careful not to bare her teeth, and took a couple of steps backwards. Bruce dropped to all fours and returned to his family.

    Christina turned and walked back to the table. “Please don’t ever do that again, Ma’am,” Price warned sternly. She simply looked at him with one raised eyebrow, as if to say, “I’ll do what I want.” She knew he was right, however; it was a risky action, albeit one worth taking given the results.

    She noticed what had Jack so intrigued; he had found a scrap of the bandage Miller put on Frank’s hand the evening before. It was a simple cotton cloth with a loose plain weave. The youngster was examining it closely as he tried to duplicate the pattern with a bundle of vines he had collected. After several attempts and missteps, it appeared he was getting the hang of it. Once he figured it out, he quickly created a mesh about twenty centimeters square, which he proudly presented to his mother.

    Price watched this in awe. “You know, they’re really good imitators.”

    “Why do you say that?” Miller inquired.

    “Remember in the survey report,” he started, “Oh, you didn’t read it, did you? There was someone on the team who went native and was running around camp wearing nothing but a towel and a smile. I’ll bet that’s where they got the idea for their loincloths.”

    Miller chuckled. “Imagine, in ten years, what they’ll do with that,” he pointed to Jack’s handiwork.

    Price shook his head. “Oh, I don’t think they can actually invent things. Just monkey see, monkey do.”

    Frank Carter came back out, carrying a tray with a pitcher of iced tea and several glasses. “Lisa sent this out, Ma’am. Is there anything else you need me to do?”

    Miller stood up, “Can you give me a hand with the engines?”

    “Lead the way.” The two men left. Miller ducked inside to grab the tool kit and headed towards the warp nacelle. Luke followed them and then bounded ahead, leaping up to the scaffolding with ease. Miller opened the access panels furthest back at the end of the drive unit. He showed Frank how to remove and disassemble the modules.

    While Frank was working on the next module, Miller began setting up the test equipment. He’d have to test each component before putting goop on the connectors and reassembling them. He told Frank to be careful to keep each module’s parts together. He didn’t want to mix them any more than they already were.

    Miller noticed Luke was sitting on the safety rail, looking longingly across the creek. He followed the creature’s gaze and realized he was watching the female, the one Felicia Vasquez decided should be named Sophie. “Yeah, buddy,” he chuckled softly, “I know the feeling. You meet a girl you really like, and her family gets in the way.” He turned his attention to the campsite, to the ship’s young captain, Christina Margret Smith. She was lost in conversation with the dashing Star Fleet officer. He let out a heavy sigh.

    “She’s eighteen!”

    Startled, he jumped and turned to find himself face to face with Christina’s older and very protective sister, Valerie Ann Smith-Jones. He never heard her come up the aft stairs onto the platform. “Oh. Um, good,” he blushed, “I’m only nineteen.” She let her breath out slowly with a quiet growl. “I thought, um,” he stammered, “I thought she’s older than me.” Valerie stared him down. “Is there something I can help you with, Ma’am?” he asked meekly.

    “Yes.” She regarded him for a moment longer. “May I borrow the medical tricorder, please?”

    “Yes, Ma’am. It’s in the first-aid kit, on the shelf just inside the door,” he nodded in that direction. “I believe the option you want is ....”

    “I know how to use it,” she cut him off curtly. She left and headed down the stairs. As she reached the bottom, her husband approached. Miller heard her say, “Billy, you need to have a talk with that kid.” They talked for a minute longer; Val was quite animated. Billy laughed at something, which made her all the madder. He took her by the shoulders, kissed her on the forehead and again lightly on the lips, and sent her on her way.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2018