Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1) (20 page)

BOOK: Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1)
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“Holy shit.” CJ was stunned by what they had found.

“Captain, do you know what these are?” Gina asked, her voice reverent. “These are the council tributes to the founding star systems of the Union.”

A spooky feeling filled the room. They’d found themselves in danger…again.

“Okay, we’re burning time here, sir.”

“Right, here’s what we do,” said CJ. “Put the statues in the equipment bag and pack sand around them. We tie it and the Seal up with the rope in a bundle. We tie it to one of the chairs out there and leave enough rope to grab and drag it through the tough spots. We take everything in one trip.”

“That’s a lot of weight, Captain.”

“Even if we take stops along the way, it will still be quicker than making two trips,” he said.

“Agreed.”

“Let’s get all this stuff loaded and scram the hell out of here,” he added.

The two tomb-raiding artifact traders carefully and quickly packed and loaded their loot onto one of the chairs. CJ tied the bundle to the chair and fashioned two pull harnesses out of the rope from the top of the chair back. The ropes provided a solid grip on the top of the chair while the legs provided a solid grip on the bottom. CJ and Gina slowly carried and dragged their makeshift booty litter across the council chamber, up the stairway, and out the tunnel before they loaded the whole kit and caboodle, chair and all, onto
Moonshadow
’s cargo lift.

They climbed onto the lift and rode it into the belly of the shuttle. Next, they sat through a decontamination spray down that killed any bacteria or virus on them or their cargo. A green light flashed over the airlock control panel, indicating that it was clear to exit the cargo hold. They stowed their helmets and gloves back on the rack by the hatch. The effort of hauling the goods back to the ship had occupied their minds, but now that the task was done, the enormity of the find settled on CJ’s nerves as if they were being hunted by an unseen predator.

“Immediate dust-off, G,” CJ said. “Let’s get back to the
Moon
.”

“Roger that, Captain, we’re gone.” She settled into the pilot seat and powered up the flight systems.

“Home base, how do you read?” CJ called into the comms.

“Loud and clear, new guy, go ahead,” Boss answered.

“We are on route and I feel the need…the need for speed,” CJ used a vernacular from ancient Earth Boss would appreciate.

“Understood, new guy. Home base is standing by.”

“Captain, why wouldn’t they take the time to get the last of that stuff?” Gina asked.

“It took us three hours, G,” he said. “Maybe they decided what was left behind wasn’t worth the trouble compared to what they had already.”

“I can’t believe what we just got away with.”

“Fortune favors the bold, my sharp-shooting friend,” CJ quipped. “Let’s hope it’s smiling on us today.”

A few lip-biting minutes later and Gina set
Moonshadow
down safely in the shuttle bay of the
Altered Moon
. “Home base, this is
super girl
. The eagle has landed,” she said with her own sly use of Boss’ verbiage.

CJ laughed out loud at Gina’s ability to not only catch on quickly to the game; but to always be able to pull out a trump card of some kind. Boss apparently appreciated it as well by the response to her hail.

“Roger that, super girl, welcome home!” Boss tried to say between roars of laughter. “Home base is out of the park,” he said, letting them know that the
Altered Moon
had taken her leave of Arzia Octonus and had turned for, hopefully, less hostile horizons.

*~*~*

Chapter Twenty-Four

The excited storytelling and soaring elation over an acquisition of such rare and valuable antiquities, as well as the unimaginable wealth that came with it, screeched to a halt a few short moments after CJ and Gina set foot back on the bridge of the
Altered Moon
. Long-range sensor alerts sounded the alarm as six missile launches were detected.

“Six long-range homing missiles bearing two sixty-two by one ninety-eight, Captain, fifty-two thousand kilometers out, closing at two hundred fifty thousand kilometers per hour,” reported GABI urgently.

“STATIONS,” ordered CJ. “Shields up! Evasive, G, away from the missiles! Boss, plot their origin and focus on that area. How can they get a lock on us when we can’t see them?”

“Estimated time to impact is twelve minutes,” said GABI.

“Weapons and defenses are online and standing by, Captain,” stated Cat.

“Thank you, Cat,” CJ answered. “Boss?”

“Nothing, sir!” the S.O. read from the readout screen. “No ships detected.”

“Missile impact in nine minutes,” said GABI.

“How long before we can lock on to the missiles?” asked CJ.

“Six minutes, Captain,” Cat answered.

“Damn. GABI, plot a course to the closest jump point,” CJ called out. A thousand thoughts raced through his head.
How can we not pick them up?
Stealth hull plating, yeah, but why no engine signatures?
Seconds passed as he struggled for a plan.
Wait a minute…the
Moon
doesn’t leave a signature when she uses the dark matter propulsion
. “They have dark matter thrusters,” he said out loud. “They have Nelson’s technology! Boss scan for pockets of concentrated dark matter.”

“Aye, sir, scanning.”

“Course out of Arzia star system is plotted, Captain,” GABI reported. “Jump destination is laid in and the String Field Drive is standing by.”

“Dark matter readings dead ahead, Captain,” Boss called out. “Dozens of them.”

“It’s a trap. They’re driving us to the wolf pack,” CJ realized out loud.

“Missiles are twenty-five thousand kilometers and closing. Impact in eight minutes,” said GABI.

“G, get us out of the system, full burn!” CJ called out.

“Fullmoon, aye.” She turned to the course GABI had laid in moments ago and ignited all thirteen Inner System Engines.

“Distance to the welcoming party, Boss?” CJ asked.

Before Boss could reply, launch alerts sounded off as two, then eight, then twelve, and finally sixteen missile launch detections came from the waiting armada. Eight ships appeared on CJ’s tactical screen as they powered up their systems to engage pursuit. Five of the ships moved out ahead of the other three and opened fire on the
Altered Moon
. The searing deep red streaks slammed into the
Moon
’s aft shields with a force that shook the entire ship.

“What the hell are they firing at us? Can you get a scan of their weapons?” asked CJ.

“Pulsed plasma beam of some kind from the cruisers. I don’t recognize the energy signature,” said Boss. “They’ll weaken the shields so the missiles can finish us off.”

“GABI, transfer fifty percent power from the forward shields to the aft!” ordered CJ. “Shut down all secondary systems and increase power to inertial stabilizers and engines.”

“Aye, Captain.” She immediately did as he ordered.

“Can we give them a Moonshine and go dark?” CJ grabbed at a straw.

“No, sir, not enough time,” answered Boss.

“We cannot outrun them, Captain,” GABI said.

“Damn!” CJ swore. “Counter measures?” he asked Cat.

“Not enough for all the missiles, sir.”

The two groups of pursuing missiles merged into one mass of twenty-four; combined with the eight ships they made the tactical screen light up with incoming attack blips.

“Missile impact in six minutes,” GABI said.

“Cat, give me two EMP missiles in the rear tubes,” CJ suddenly ordered as a plan formed in his head. “Boss, get me a target lock on those missiles.”

Cat answered him with a sly smile, “Aye, sir, two geese in the rear tubes!”

“Nobody deals us aces and eights. Gina, on my mar—” CJ was cut short as six ship-shuddering plasma impacts hammered the aft shielding. Overload warnings blared as electricity arced over several panels on different stations around the bridge. Sparks jumped from failed circuits that were forced to carry ten times their normal charge. The blast was enough to change the
Moon
’s trajectory by just a degree, but at high-star drive speeds that was all it took.

The enormous thrust of the engine that was the key in their escape threw the
Altered Moon
into a violent yaw-to-pitch spin. Gina was forced to shut down the main engines in order to bring the ship under control with the thrusters. The disorientation of the spin made it hard to judge which thrusters to fire. Pitching nose down needed aft dorsal thrusters in three-second bursts to compensate. Yawing to port needed port ventral and starboard dorsal thrusters in three-second bursts. CJ watched Gina fight hard to get the Altered Moon back under control.

WUMP! WUMP!
The
Altered Moon
pitched backward as pulsed plasma beams from the attacking ships slammed the aft shields to their breaking point.

“Aft shields have failed, Captain,” GABI reported.

“Sensors are dow—” Boss tried to say as another plasma blast seared a hole through the hull in front of the engine assembly. The blue glow of the
Moon’s
engines sputtered on and off as they were slowly deprived of the precious fuel. Hull breach alarms sounded throughout the ship.

“Weapons?” CJ yelled out.

“Missiles and cannons at your command,” Cat answered.

WUMP!
Another blast sent the
Moon
into a starboard spin.
WUMPBALASHHZZZTBOOM!
Another blast ripped into the tall dorsal fin of the ship.
WAA! WAA! WAA!
Critical systems and hull breach alarms screamed out their warnings as the ship rolled hard to starboard and shook like she was coming apart.

“Hull breach in engineering, Captain, emergency bulkheads are in place,” GABI reported. “Critical structural damage to the dorsal fin. Shields are offline. Sensor and maneuvering systems are down. Last reading puts the missile impact at thirty seconds.”

“GABI, jump the ship!” CJ yelled out.

“Captain, we are still in…” GABI started to remind him that they were still inside the star system’s gravitational field and the g-forces would tear the ship apart.

“Jump the ship!” he screamed.

GABI engaged the String Field Drive to align the quantum particles of the
Altered Moon
and her crew with the quantum wave particles of the plotted destination. The crippled ship slipped from normal space mere seconds before the deadly rain of murderous intent tore through the space they had just occupied.

The reappearance of the ship into normal space was a quiet contrast compared to the chaos of their exit. The
Altered Moon
just hung there in space as she listed forward and to port. The tall dorsal fin tore nearly in half by the barrage of plasma blasts. No running lights or navigational beacons, all secondary systems were down. The slow spin would go on forever without the maneuvering thrusters to correct the ship’s attitude and position. Snaps, pops, sizzles, and sparks mixed with what seemed to be every alarm and warning klaxon on the ship in a clamor that almost drowned out the coughs and moans of the battle-beaten crew.

“Sound off people,” said CJ.

“I’m shaken, but okay,” Cat’s voice came from behind the tactical station.

“Same here, Captain,” answered Gina, as she waved away the smoke from her sparking flight console.

“I’m still alive…I think,” said Boss.

“GABI, damage report.”

“Major damage to dorsal fin infrastructure, Captain. There is a hull breach in the engineering bay—the compartment is decompressed. Main engines and maneuvering are offline. Shields are offline. Defense fields are offline. Sensors and targeting are offline.”

“It would probably be quicker if you told me what was working,” CJ half joked.

“Yes,” she replied seriously, “particle cannons, communications, and life support are on auxiliary power.”

“Oh, cannons, but no targeting or thrusters,” CJ mused. “Something would have to fly in front of us to even hit it.”

“Hey we’re alive and it looks like we have gotten away,” Boss pointed out.

“Gotten away?” Gina threw a scalding look at him. “Maybe for now. We never should have gone to that blasted planet! What the HELL were we thinking? Tomb raiding in the middle of the shit that we’re in. That was stupid.” She shook her arms and fists in anger.

“Easy, Gina,” said Boss.

“Hey, G! I need you calm and cool.” CJ stepped in. “I need your help to get us out of this mess. Got it?”

“Yeah, okay…sorry, Cap, but, look at what it cost us. Look at the ship. What are we going to do now?”

CJ could feel their eyes on him as Gina asked the question that was probably on everyone’s mind.

“Okay, we need to take stock of what we’ve got and find out where we are,” he said. “First thing is life support. GABI, status report, please.”

“The life support system is on auxiliary power,” she answered. “Without the engine system online to replenish the power supply, the heat and oxygen will run out in approximately ten hours.”

“Status of the engines?” asked Gina.

GABI replied, “Major damage to the fuel conduits of secondary engines two through five. The conduits will have to be isolated and the power rerouted before the remaining engines can be restarted. Estimated repair time twenty-two point three hours.”

The news that repairing the engines would take longer than the amount of time they had left for oxygen did not bode well for the crew of the battle-torn ship. The
Altered Moon
couldn’t get underway or provide life support for long without the engines online, and they couldn’t repair the engines before they ran out of air. One system relying on so many others could be a deadly Catch-22 when life or death aboard a starship was concerned.

“Where are we?” asked Cat. “What about the DMITS? Can we use it to get anywhere before the air runs out?”

“No sensors or view screens to get a fix on our position,” explained Boss. “The DMITS won’t do us any good if we don’t know which way to go.”

“What about
Moonshadow
?” Gina asked. “Her systems should be intact unless she was damaged in the attack.”

“Damn, G, that’s good thinking there,” CJ said and pointed his finger at her. “Go check out the shuttle. Check the emergency bulkheads while you’re down there. Make sure things are secure. Cat, check over the rest of the ship, especially the ventral airlock. Boss and GABI, you’re with me. The clock is running, people, let’s move.” They acknowledged CJ’s orders and went to carry them out.

“Okay, I want to go over the engine schematics to see where the damaged fuel conduits need to be rerouted,” said CJ.

“Very well, Captain,” GABI replied.

They worked for a short time to lay out a repair priority list when Gina called over the comms, “Bridge, come in.”

“Bridge, go ahead Gina,” Boss replied.


Moonshadow
is a-ok,” Gina informed him. “Shuttle bay doors appear undamaged but also unpowered. We can open the doors with the emergency release, but it has to be done from inside the shuttle bay.”

“Understood. Stand by
Moonshadow
.” CJ poked the 1MC icon on the comms panel. “Cat?”

“Go for Cat,” she replied.

“Suit up and head down to the shuttle bay. Use the emergency release to open the outer doors to let Gina out to play.”

“Roger that, Captain, on my way.”

CJ poked the S2S icon on the comms panel. “Gina, Cat is on her way down as soon as she suits up. Take
Moonshadow
to run short- and long-range sensor sweeps as well as scans of the damaged areas.”

“Copy that, Captain.”

CJ, Boss, and GABI worked for a short time more on the repair list before Cat stepped onto the bridge.

She handed CJ a datpad. “The shuttle is clear and on the way, Captain. Here’s the visual damage report: minor damage in just about every compartment, no major damage that we’re not already aware of, and no hazardous spills.”

“Thanks, Cat, how you holding up?”

“I’ll be ok, Cap,” she replied, “but, we’re in a mighty pickle here.”

“Could be that’s so,” he said, “but, we’re going to find a way out of the pickle barrel, Cat, I promise. I can’t let my first tour as captain end in disaster, now, can I?”

“No, sir, we can’t have that, but what if we can’t fix the ship?”

“It’s not just the ship, its GABI too, and she’s part of the crew.” He turned his head slightly and thought of Katy. “From now on, nobody gets left behind. Nobody.”

BOOK: Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1)
5.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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