Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1) (5 page)

BOOK: Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1)
2.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“MT&T Engineer,” scoffed Trigger. “They don’t hold a candle to our little gem here.” He leaned over and smiled as he grabbed Wilks in a one-arm embrace and gave her a little shake.

“Where do you find the room on that little finger of yours to wrap so many women, Trigger?” chided Hali.

“I’m like Pinocchio, love,” he answered, while he raised an eyebrow and stretched a leg out. “My wood just keeps growin’ with every lie.”

“Stop it…ooooggh.” Wilks playfully slapped him in the chest and moved away.

Gina laughed, “The lie is what keeps growing.”

“Just a little bit ago you guys were oh so worried about your personal freedoms and now its shits and giggles?” asked Boss.

“You’re right, sorry, Cap,” said Wilks.

“Okay, at this point, I am for waking up our newly found friend and finding out what he knows,” said Boss.

“What if he doesn’t know anything, Cap’n?” asked Gar. “What do we do with him then?”

“Drop him off at the nearest spaceport like the good Samaritans we are.”

“And if he’s smart enough to realize we shouldn’t have been in the area?” Trigger looked around the group and then back at Boss. “What then?”

“That depends on how cooperative he is. Basically, he has two choices: one, he signs on and scrubs the bilge for us, or two, we maroon him on a planet so far from anywhere no one would ever find him.”

“Bring an unknown player into our games? That’s nuts, Boss, come on! Things work for us because of how careful we all are,” said Trigger. “Taking this piss-ant out far enough so he can’t blow the whistle on us would burn a lot of fuel. That’s a large cost to all of us. So, now this rescue of yours has gone from being just risky to being risky
and
costly. It’s a bad idea, Boss.”

“I support the rescue, Trigger,” JP spoke up. “I’m not going to let somebody die if I can help them, but time is running out here, Captain. The alarms at MT&T headquarters went off the second the
Istraulis
went dark and the SAR teams are sure to be on their way to her last known position. When they find the
Istraulis
has been destroyed, the search-and-rescue mission will escalate to a system-wide manhunt.”

“That means an MT&T security force will be dispatched to monitor the system,” said Gar. “Do we really want to go up against MT&T security?”

“We should leave the system first, before doing anything else,” added Hali. “Find a place away from immediate danger. Then we can decide whether to wake this guy up or drop him off somewhere.”

“What about Canalar?” Gina asked. “It’s remote enough where we can get out before MT&T Security gets there. We drop off the schmoe and maybe pick up a few supplies to anchor the cover story.”

Boss considered her suggestion for a moment and then nodded. “Cat, how long can we keep him safely sedated?”

“About another eighteen hours.”

“All right, we table the whole ‘alien thing’ for now,” said Boss. “We’ll use the reverse full moon idea to leave the system as quickly as we can without leaving a trail behind. We’ll jump to Canalar as soon as we’re out of the system. That’ll be far enough out of the way to buy us some time. Cat, keep him under. Everybody else, jump prep. We leave as soon as we’re ready. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

*~*~*

Chapter Five

The lighting was at half-operational standard in Boss Keltzer’s quarters as he stepped into the small room. He turned slightly and palmed the door control panel to set the lock.

“Lights on – normal” he said into the air.

The lighting steadily increased until the room was well lit. Boss slid in behind his desk, plopped his large frame into his chair, and pulled out the Captain’s logbook. He wrote out several paragraphs; then he sat up and stretched his arms out with his hands on the desk’s edge. He glanced down to check out a recently healed cut on the back of his hand. The fresh pink scar stood out against the deep brown of his skin. He absently rubbed at it to ease the itch of the healed cut.

“GABI?” he said, once again into the air.

There was a slight visual distortion as the image of a parrot, the classic companion of ancient Earth sea captains, took shape at Boss’s shoulder.

“Online, Captain,” replied a disembodied female voice through a small chip implanted behind his left ear.

“Will you give me an analysis of the debris field left by the attack on the
Istraulis
, please?”

GABI projected the image of a smartly dressed woman with a bun hairstyle and heavy rimmed glasses next to his desk.

“I could have a more detailed analysis for you if I had been powered up at the time of the attack, Captain,” said the Generated Artificial Biologic Interface, although ‘she’ liked to be called GABI.

“I can’t mask your power signatures when the
Moon
is in blackout, you know that, GABI. Besides, I don’t want the rest of the crew to know about you just yet.”

“By…yourr…commannnd,” GABI said in a deep and heavy, slightly distorted electronic voice, this time projecting a red point of light moving slowly side to side in midair.

“Very funny,” said Boss, trying to ignore the jab at ancient Earth science fiction. “The analysis, GABI?”

“Yes, Captain,” The woman returned at his side. Data scans appeared on his terminal. “Analysis follows: the debris field at time of scan was five hundred cubic kilometers and continues to expand. Material scans indicate the amount of debris is consistent with that of a superliner class starship. Residue on the debris indicates a detonation of a molecular decay radiation warhead.”

“Scan ship’s library for data on MDR warheads, specifically recent entries.”

Less than a second’s time passed before she ran an inquiry and replied, “Molecular decay radiation warheads were banned by the Union of Allied Worlds before the formation of the Marlacuer Star Empire. The radiation that is emitted when the warhead detonates causes destruction of cell cohesion at the molecular level of any matter that it moves through. No listings of any use of MDR warheads for over three hundred galactic years.”

“Very well, continue with analysis.”

“Organic matter quantities indicate a discrepancy, Captain. Scans show a shortage of approximately one million, seven hundred thousand kilograms of organic matter.”

“Organic matter? What kind of organic matter?”

“Human beings, Captain.”

“People…we’re missing people?” Boss exclaimed. “One million seven hundred thousand kilograms of people? How many people does that actually work out to be?”

“Approximately thirty-four thousand based on the weight of the average Human being.”

“Thirty-four thousand people?” Boss was shocked. “Could they have been destroyed in the blast?”

“Negative, Captain. Not that amount.”

“G said they latched on and took what they wanted. They must’ve been after the people. The raid was for people not valuables. But why? To be hostages…or prisoners maybe…or…fodder?” Boss wondered out loud and shuddered at the thought of being eaten by an alien monster.

“That is unknown at this time, Captain,” GABI answered him anyway.

“Anything else?”

“No, sir. The analysis is complete and the details have been downloaded to your datpad.”

“Thank you, GABI, that’s all for now.”

“You’re welcome, Captain.” The image of the woman shimmered away.

Boss sat back in his chair and looked out the view port for a while. He feared his life had just become a great deal more complicated.

“Captain?” G came over the comms. “ETA Canalar is five minutes. No sign of pursuit. Comm chatter is normal.”

“Copy that G, I’ll be right there.” Boss allowed himself two more seconds before he replaced the logbook, pushed away from the desk, stood up, and left his quarters.

Dylan Treesh and Halcyon Stacatto met up with him as he made his way down the corridor to the bridge.

“Captain.” Trigger nodded.

“Hey, Boss,” said Hali. “That was a slick move, back there, using the full moon program in reverse. Got us out of a pinch once again.”

Boss smiled, “Thanks Hali, but I can’t do it without you guys. What we do, we do together.”

Trigger pulled the bolt lever and swung the door open. Boss and Hali stepped through and onto the bridge. Trigger followed them through and sealed the hatch.

“Report,” called out Boss as he settled heavily into the captain’s chair.

“Entering the Canalar system now, Captain,” reported G.

“All quantum jump systems are green and in standby mode,” said JP.

“Reading no short- or long-range sensor contacts, Captain,” said Trigger.

“Very well,” said Boss. “G, head to hidey-hole twenty-one and find us some shade.”

“Roger that, dark park at hidey-hole twenty-one.”

“Hali, do you think you could rustle up a full meal for us when we settle in?” Boss had a hopeful look on his face.

“Aye, Captain, you bet I could.” She winked. “One square comin’ up.”

“Trigger, call a mandatory crew muster in the mess tonight. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Trigger turned to him and gave a slight nod. “Aye, Captain.”

*~*~*

Chapter Six

Dishes clanked and glasses rattled as the crew of the
Altered Moon
settled around the mess table for an official full-crew dinner. What better time for a crew discussion than after the events of today. The smells that came from the cooking alcove were a reminder of how long a day it had been.

“Mmmm,” JP hummed as he walked in, sniffed the air, and rubbed his hands together. “That’s baked apples! How does she make baked apples on a starship?”

“And
that
looks like meat,” said Gar, as Hali brought out the serving trays. “Where did you get meat?”

“I’ve told you never to ask,” she said slyly over her shoulder as she walked away.

“Need any help?” asked Boss.

“Geez, Captain, you take up the whole kitchen,” joked Hali.

“Ha! That’s not hard when it’s smaller than a closet.”

“You got that right” she said. “Sure, grab that big pot and I’ll get these two.

“By…your…commannnd,” Boss said in a strange voice trying to be funny.

“What was that?” asked Hali.

“Oh…ah…it was nothing.” He hated the feeling of a bombed joke attempt. “It was just an old joke. Let’s eat!”

Crew meals aboard the
Altered Moon
were based more on duty than on community. A majority of the time the crew worked on the front business that covered the shadier aspects of what they did. Exploring for artifacts and making legitimate trading runs gave the ship and crew good reason to be in unexpected places. Between maintaining the West Becreth Trading Company and pulling off heists, the
Moon
and her crew were almost always on the move. The duties aboard a starship were twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so full sit-down meals didn’t happen all the time. They were more often celebrations of a successful heist or took place if an all-hands discussion was called for, which was the case tonight.

The conversations shifted throughout the dinner and covered everything about the day’s events, except the deaths of the
Istraulis’
crew and passengers. There was a strained limit on what was discussed, like soda contents under pressure, one twist and the cap was going to fly right off. No one really wanted to be the one to bring up the ugly topics.

“So…” said Boss as people started to shove away empty plates. “I have something more on the debris analysis.” He waited a moment then continued. “There is a shortage of organic matter, over one and half million kilograms.”

“What?” asked Cat. “Organic matter? You’re talking about people! Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Wait a minute,” said G. “A million and a half kilograms? What’s that in number of people?”

“About thirty-four thousand,” said Boss.

“Thirty-four thousand?” came from all the crew. The shock of what that meant stunned everyone.

“We have got to tell someone,” said JP.

“Yes, I agree,” said Cat.

“We can’t just walk up to the Marlacuer Guard or MT&T security and tell them that we just happened to be in a restricted area when the attack happened,” Gar finished with a snort of sarcasm.

“We have hostile aliens, Gar, who can jump into the gravity well of a solar system and are murdering and abducting people!” JP glared at him. “This affects all of Humankind. We have to alert the military.”

“I agree with both of you,” said Boss. “But think a little deeper about this. MT&T isn’t going to want a panic on their hands. They’re not going to want this to go public and anyone who knows about it will become a liability to the security of the company. Besides, we don’t know that it was aliens, just an unknown ship design. I think we need to find out what our MT&T friend knows.”

“How do we do that without tipping our hand to the kid?” asked Hali.

“An engineer’s third mate isn’t going to know anything about passenger arrivals. We tell him that we were going to meet with a client on the
Istraulis
when we came upon the debris field just in time to pick up his life pod in distress,” said Trigger.

“Yes,” agreed Boss. “Cat has already treated his wounds. We offer him room and board until we’re able to drop him off somewhere. Let him tell his story to MT&T security, while we ‘simple traders’ go off about our business. Okay, everyone?”

Nods and yeses came from the group.

“Okay, get your game faces on,” Boss said. “Cat, will you wake up our guest and invite him to dinner?”

“Aye, Captain. Back in twenty.”

Talk idled back and forth about the cover story until Cat came back a while later with the MT&T engineer. The young man stood about two meters tall with a lean worker’s frame of around one hundred kilograms. Short blond hair was ruffled with one spot singed close to the scalp. One eyebrow was gone and a second-degree burn ran from the middle of his forehead, across his temple, to just behind his left ear. Bandages covered injuries on his left hand, his right forearm, and the right side of his neck. Cat led the slightly unsteady and somewhat bewildered young man to a seat at the table.

“CJ, this is Bernard Keltzer, Captain of the
Altered Moon
,” Cat said. “Captain, this is CJ Evermore, Engineer’s Third Mate, formerly of the MSL
Istraulis
.”

“Hello, Captain. Thanks for coming after me and patching up my hurt. I thought I was a goner out there.” CJ nodded to Boss and the others around the table.

“Glad to do it, lad, glad to do it. How you holding up? Do you need anything? Hungry?”

“No…thanks,” he said with a wave, “but I could use a cup of that coffee I smell, if it’s not too much to ask.”

“Least we can do, lad. Hali?”

“One cup a joe, comin’ up,” she said, heading to the alcove.

“This is my crew,” Boss said. “First Mate Dylan Treesh, Star Pilot Gina Riley, Navigator and Jump Pilot Jordan Patrick, Chief of the Boat Tamara Wilkinson, Load Master Garavel Gribbons, and our Chief Medical Officer Zhu Katzu, you’ve already met. And this is the Chef of the
Altered Moon
, Halcyon Stacatto.”

“Thank you,” CJ said to Hali as she handed him a cup of coffee. “Thanks to all of you. I owe you my life and I’m grateful.” He leaned back and closed his eyes as he sipped the hot liquid.

“We were on the way to meet a client aboard the
Istraulis
when we came upon the wreckage at the Glimmerocks. Can you tell us what happened to your ship?” asked Boss.

“Bits and pieces only. We were doing routine maintenance during the Glimmerocks stop, when the ship was rocked. Alarms started going off, electrical shorts blew breakers everywhere. All communications were down.” CJ had a distant look in his eyes as he was remembered things as he was told them. “We were still trying to figure out what happened when the ship shuddered and began to…rumble.” He stopped, staring blankly, seeing in his mind Katy hanging by her arm lashing out at the creature with everything she had. “Aliens…animals…monsters, I don’t know what they were except big—they came in and they took everybody.”

“Aliens?” Cat asked.

“Ugh…definitely not Human…four legs, two arms, ten foot tall, ugly snake-looking mug,” CJ shook his head emphatically. “Then massive explosions went off and the order to abandon ship was sounded. I managed to get to a pod and launch just as something tore through the hull. I could hear the air leaking out. It got hard to breathe and then everything started to go dim. I remember thinking about Katy—”

“A crewmate?” asked Wilks sympathetically, who was already caught up in his story.

“A friend,” CJ looked at Wilks with a half-smile. “The next thing I remember is coming to in your medical bay. How many others are there? I should report in to someone.”

“None, Mr. Evermore. Out of four life pods that were jettisoned, yours was the only bio sign that our scanners picked up,” said Trigger. “The
Istraulis
was completely destroyed.”

“None? No one else?” CJ looked stunned. “There were over one hundred and twenty thousand crew and passengers on the
Istraulis
.” He paused a moment as the new information set in. “I need to contact MT&T right away. What about MT&T security or search and rescue? Didn’t anyone come? Can you send a message for me?”

“We were in the system and we didn’t receive any distress signals. Maybe there wasn’t time to send one” said Boss. “We waited as long as we could, but we had urgent business here on Canalar. There isn’t a security station here, but you can send a long-range comms from the spaceport to MT&T. I’m sure they will be very interested in talking to you, Mr. Evermore.”

“CJ, please…and thank you, Captain, the Canalar spaceport will be fine. You’ve done more than enough as is.” CJ put a hand to the cut side of his neck.

“You’re welcome, CJ. I’m sure you want to rest up a bit.”

“Cat, can you show CJ to some crew quarters and get him settled in?” asked Boss.

“Sure, Captain. Come on, CJ, follow me.”

“Thanks,” CJ said to Cat, “and thanks again to all of you.”

“Buzz the comms if you need anything,” said Boss. “We’ll let you know when we get to Canalar.”

Cat and CJ left the room and headed down the corridor toward the crew quarters.

“Well that was worthless,” said Trigger. “He didn’t know a damn thing.”

“Yeah and now we have to take him to the spaceport on Canalar,” pointed out Gar. “This is going from bad to worse, Cap’n.”

“Worthless?” JP was stunned. “He was talking about
aliens
, Trigger!”

“We’re going to Canalar anyway, so how does dropping him off there make anything worse?” Gina asked.

“Do you think it’s an invasion?” Wilks seemed truly concerned.

The question stopped the conversation and went uneasily without an answer from anyone.

“Well, we’re in it now.” Boss’s voice was stern. “We stick to the cover story if anyone gets curious. Imperial forces aren’t going to know anything about the
Istraulis’
client schedule. If MT&T asks, then we’re going to need a possible client that was on
the
Istraulis
. Gar, dig us up a mark that was on that ship and work up a story.”

“Aye, Cap’n.”

“Secure the ship and prep for flight,” said Boss. “Let’s go to Canalar.”

*~*~*

BOOK: Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1)
2.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Extraordinary by David Gilmour
A Prize Beyond Jewels by Carole Mortimer
Endless Summer Nights by Donna Hill, Grace Octavia, Delansy Diamond
Triple Time by Regina Kyle
The Everything Mafia Book by Scott M Dietche
One by Arden, Mari