Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1) (9 page)

BOOK: Rise of the Altered Moon: Altered Moon Series: Book One (The Altered Moon Series 1)
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Chapter Eleven

“G, hang back a little bit,” said Trigger. “Let ‘em drift out of sight, then keep ‘em on the other side of the planet. We don’t need to draw any attention.”

“Copy that,” Gina answered, as she adjusted the necessary flight controls to slow the
Altered Moon
.

“The Predator is out of visual,” she reported. “Sensor readings on its position are intermittent. I can’t get an exact fix on her.”

“Do what you can,” Trigger told her. “We’ll rendezvous with the shuttle when the Predator is on the far side of Canalar. Once the shuttle is secured, set an elliptical course out of the system that keeps Canalar between us and them. Set a secondary course for hidey-hole twenty-one, as well, just in case.”

“Aye, sir.”

The
Altered Moon
cruised over Canalar. Gina made sensor and flight adjustments in an effort to track the elusive security ship and keep it on the far side of the planet. The Predator would appear randomly on the sensor scans and then it would vanish again. Sometimes there would be two signatures, heading in different directions and back to nothing again. One of the vanishing times extended quite a while and Gina worried about not having sensor contact. She readjusted the sensor again and suddenly alarms went off and the HUD flashed a weapons alert.

“Trigger!” Gina reported urgently. “I’m reading a weapons scan off our aft port quarter. They’re trying to get a lock on us.”

“Evasive maneuvers!” Trigger ordered. “Energizing defense fields…transferring secondary power to weapons…killing transponder! Bob and weave, G! Keep us moving!”

“Cat, to the bridge!” Trigger called into the comms.

“On my way!” came the reply.

The
Altered Moon
shuddered, tilted, and then righted as plasma bolts detonated within meters of the ship. Gina quickly redirected the ship in a random pattern so the Predator couldn’t get their targeting scanners locked on them.

 

 

The
Moon
was a quick ship with a low-power signature, which made it a difficult ship to get a sensor or weapons lock on. Trigger noticed the hatch opened and Cat hurried onto the bridge. Another shudder and a heavier rumble shook the ship as a plasma bolt hit their dorsal shielding.

“Cat, take weapons!” Trigger called out.

“I’m on it!” she answered, and quickly moved to the tactical station.

“Charge particle cannons and load two EMW’s in forward tubes and two thermals in the aft tubes,” ordered Trigger.

“Charging cannons, geese forward and heaters aft, aye!”

“Fire cannons at will…missiles at my command,” he said.

“Unable to lock on to the Predator,” she said.

“Best guess! Spread pattern, Cat. Don’t let him get in behind us, Gina,” he called out.

“Cannons firing…missiles are standing by,” she confirmed.


Altered Moon
,
Altered Moon
, this is
Lunar Mare
,” JP’s voice came over the comms. “Alert one, alert one! We are comin’ up and we are comin’ up HOT!”


Altered Moon
, do you read?” JP called again.

“We read you,
Lunar Mare
,” Trigger replied tersely, occupied as he tried to evade the Predator. “Be advised, we are under attack. Take evasive action after clearing the atmosphere. Rendezvous at coords fifty-two, three-twenty, one seventy-five! We may have to pull off a little barn burning to get you home. Be ready to pull a ‘Boss nine’ at first chance.”

“Boss nine, copy that, Trigger,” said JP. “Breaking atmosphere in ninety seconds.”

“Port shields down to twenty percent,” called out Cat. “Dorsal shields down to sixty percent.”

“Trigger, this is Boss. How do you read?” Boss’ voice came from the comms unit. “
Altered Moon
, come in.”

“Trigger here, Captain. A little busy at the moment,” he replied.

“Understood. Green light on ‘Boss nine.’ Repeat; Green light on ‘Boss nine.’ Execute evasive pattern five. Initiate full moon burn as soon as we’re in, then go to ground, repeat, go to ground!”

“Aye, Captain!” Trigger yelled as the
Moon
was rocked by another plasma blast.

“G, evasive pattern five,” Trigger called out. “Cat, ready the Moonshine and stand by on forward tubes!”

“E P five, aye,” answered Gina.

Gina brought the
Moon
around and made a strafing run along the Predator’s belly. Cat blasted the ship’s ventral shields with the particle cannons. Gina turned the
Moon
to fly along the bottom of the opposing ship toward the bow. She brought the
Moon
up in a hard vertical ninety directly in front of the ship risking fire from the Predator’s front battery.

“Now, Cat!” yelled Trigger.

Cat executed the Moonshine device that emitted an ultra-bright light blast combined with a sensory overload burst that left the target vessel without visual or electronic scanners for a short time.

“Spin us about, G! Bring us to bear on the Predator,” ordered Trigger. “Cat, fire forward tubes!”

“Forward tubes, aye! Two geese away.”

The evasive move worked and the electromagnetic warheads slammed into the hull plating of the security ship before it could recover from the overload. The blue crackle of the missile’s EMP crawled over the Predator’s hull. The drive systems pulsed on and off as the ship began to list to the starboard.

“Yes!” exclaimed Cat.

“Ahhh,” Trigger sighed as he sat back in the command chair and wiped sweaty palms on the thighs of his pant legs. “G, head to the rendezvous and plot the shortest course out of this system. Use the reverse full moon procedure to cover our ISE trail.”

“Roger that, Trigger.”

“Thanks Cat!” Trigger said, as he turned toward the tactical station. “Job well done…you, too G. That was some sweet flying, there.”

“Thanks, but I’ll wait to celebrate until we are far away from here,” said Gina. “Shuttle is fifty kilometers and closing.”


Lunar Mare
, this is
Altered Moon
,” Trigger called into the comms. “How do read?”


Altered Moon
, this is
Lunar Mare
,” came Boss’ voice over the comms. “What is your situation?”

“Predator temporarily disabled,” answered Trigger. “I suggest we expedite our departure.”

“Roger that,
Altered Moon
,” responded Boss. “We are on approach…shuttle bay doors are open.
Lunar Mare
is in…down and locked. Bay doors are closed, we’re home.”

“Copy that,
Lunar Mare
,” Trigger said. “G. turn ‘em and burn ‘em…I’ll be in the shuttle bay.”

“Roger that!” she said.

 

 

Gina put the
Altered Moon
on the shortest course out of the system and hit full burn on all thirteen engines. She brought the Altered Moon up to one hundred thousand KPH and then set up for the shift over to dark matter propulsion.

“Prepare for full power down. ISE cut off in thirty seconds,” Gina alerted the crew over the comms. She cut the inner system engines and powered down the flight systems. She engaged the DMITS and altered their trajectory so the
Altered Moon
would drift out of the Canalar solar system without so much as a sensor blip.

She sat back in her chair, closed her eyes, and felt the muscles on both sides of her spine unknot and let loose. Even though she believed in Boss with all her heart, she couldn’t help but feel like things had begun to unravel around them. Tears of stress rimmed her eyes as the events of the last few days overwhelmed her.
Please just let us get out of this
.

*~*~*

Chapter Twelve

The planet Keenaw was the second planet of the Krelle star system, located on the edge of a high-radiation field between the Marlacuer Star Empire and the Ronarian Sovereignty. Marlacuer military forces had never been able to break the defenses of the Ronarian rebellion. A nearby sector of space emitted a high-energy radiation that interfered with scanners and tracking systems, making it difficult to engage in space battles. The Ronarians were a fiercely warlike people with a strong military. The Empire beat them back to this small area of the galaxy over many decades of war, but the radiation leveled the playing field in space and the Marlacuer ground troops were no match for the Ronarians.

So, there was a Mexican standoff of sorts; the Ronarian Sovereignty sat on one side of a no-fly zone and the Marlacuer Empire sat on the other. The Ronarians’ tendency to destroy any unknown ship that wandered into their space and the threat of military action that loomed between the two sides made the area rather unpopular with travelers and pilgrims. There were other sorts, however, who appreciated a bit more ‘solitude’ shall we say and found it just right. No outposts or colonies were permitted in the no-fly zone or in the systems of the Imperial blockade. There was no life on Keenaw; it was a desert moon with a thin, breathable atmosphere. Rough and jagged landscape told of ancient lava flows cooled by time and carved by the wind.

Gina nestled the
Altered Moon
into a cave system on Keenaw’s surface; it made a perfect hangar for the uniquely shaped ship. The
Moon’
s generous wingspan and tall crescent dorsal fin made the ship a bit tricky to maneuver in close quarters. Boss and the crew made a fallback go-to-ground plan if things ever got hairy during one of their heists: to come here and hide in this cave system on Keenaw. Boss called that plan into action back at Canalar after being ambushed by an MT&T security strike force. Three of the thirty-four-hour local solar days had passed, hurt had been patched up, and damage had been repaired.

“How we doin’ out there, Wilks?” Boss asked as Wilks came in the entry hatch and unsealed the helmet of her welding suit.

“Just about done, Cap. We’ll have the last of the hull plating on by the end of the day.”

“Ahhh…good…good,” he said. “Excellent work, Wilks.”


Well…
I did have…
some
…help.” She raised her eyebrows and playfully acted snooty. “Actually,” she continued, “that CJ is a pretty good mechanic. He doesn’t know the jump tech stuff, but he knows the inner system engines inside and out. I kept him away from the DMITS until I could talk to you about it. You know, depending on how this all turns out, Cap, he could be a great help around here.”

“That good, huh? Well, there’s a lot between here and there, right now. Let’s take it one step at a time. The dark matter technology, as well as the
Moon’s
other capabilities, are restricted knowledge. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir. Absolutely.”

“Very well, thank you, Wilks.” He gave her a wink to take any sting out of his words. “Carry on and keep me updated on the repairs.”

“You got it, Cap,” she said, and continued on her way to engineering.

Boss walked through the squad bay and along the corridor to the crew quarters. Thoughts of Gina floated among others as he came to his quarters and tapped the entry icon
Gina’s been quiet since we’ve been here…Trigger just relieved her on the bridge…Gar and CJ are outside…Everybody else is in engineering…It would be a good time for a quiet talk…just her and me
. The door swung in; he stepped through and saw Gina already there, sitting on the couch along the far wall.

“Hey, just the person I wanted to see,” he said.

“Hey, me too…come over here and sit with me.” She held her hand out to him.

Boss shut the door and locked the deadbolts. He moved across the room and took Gina’s hand as she made room for him to sit down. He settled in and she lay back down, curled up with her head on his lap, while his hand and arm curled around her shoulder. The two sat together and enjoyed ‘doing nothing’ for a while. She had been his pilot for almost a year before he told her how he’d felt about her all along.

“Bernard?”

“Uh oh, breaking out the dreaded first name,” he joked. “I’m in trouble now.”

She sat up and folded her legs in front of her so she could face him. She took his hand and folded hers around it. “Bernie, I’m scared. Aliens, security cover-ups, this is too big for us!”

“I know, G. We’ll get out of it, I promise, but we have to be smart about it. We have to make contact and find out what kind of trouble we’re in before we can figure a way out.”

“Why?” she asked, visibly nervous. “Why us? Trigger and Gar, they’re not happy with losing that score. Too much more, Bernie, and they’ll turn on you. Then what? Be marooned somewhere or killed? Let’s just go. Leave them the ship and the scam, everything, and just disappear.”

“No one’s going to get marooned or killed, G.” “If you really think that it’s time to get out, then fine, we’ll give West Becreth Trading to the others, and you and I will get out. We have enough hidden away to take care of us…but there is something I should have told you a long time ago, G. Something you need to know about me and about the ship before you make any other decisions.”

“Whaaat?” Gina shook her head, obviously surprised by the sudden turn of the conversation. “What…
thing
…should I know about?”

“Well”—he leaned back and rubbed his temples with his palm heels—“The
Altered Moon
has an artificial intelligence that’s integrated with the ship’s main systems.” He stopped for a second to see if she followed what he said.

“You mean it has some kind of super computer or something?”

“Well…yes, but this one needed a biologic interface.”

“You!” she exclaimed and snatched her hands away. “You’re the biologic interface?”

“No…no, honey,” he laughed, as he took her hands again. “I’m not the interface…but I am connected to it by a nanochip...kinda permanently”

“Connected…permanently…what…how could you
not
tell
me
about this?” She got up and started to pace angrily around the room.

“I didn’t know how. It all started so long ago. I was broke. I signed up for a research program run by Nelson Moon.”

“The guy that built the ship…this ship…the
Altered Moon
?” she asked.

“Yes, Nelson thought that an artificial intelligence would be able to plot quantum wave particle pathways farther than a standard computer could, which would allow a ship to travel beyond the galaxy. He needed the AI system to be able to learn how to learn, how to teach itself by its own mistakes. He needed to teach it how to think for itself, to make decisions on its own. He wanted to hook it up to a living, functioning Human brain, and I ended up with the job. During a test run with the
Moon
, GABI and I lost contact with Nelson and the others. By the time we got back, the facility had been leveled by an enormous blast. I took the
Moon
and ran. Later on, you and I created the West Becreth Trading Company—and I’ve been hiding behind it ever since.”

“You never went back to look for Nelson Moon or to track down members of the program?”

“A short time later I heard a news bulletin that Bascher Shipwrights had lost Nelson Moon, one of its founding members, in a terrible accident. No one has ever come after me and the dark matter technology has never surfaced since. Sometimes, I wonder if Nelson himself set off the explosion to keep the technology out of the wrong hands. Wild rumor years later had him still alive and living on the rim of the galaxy in Arzian space.”

“So what…you have a CPU in your head?” she asked after a moment of silence.

“Not quite. Leads run from different areas of my brain to a comms chip behind my left ear.”

“A comms chip? So you’re in touch with it all the time? Even when we’re…you know…making love?”

“No, I do have my privacy,” he said, “but I can reach GABI even from planet side.”

“Gabby?” Gina asked as she crossed her arms and tilted her head to look sideways at him. “It’s a
she
?”

“Well, she chose a female persona long before I met her.” Boss held up his hand and explained in a hurry. “GABI stands for Generated Artificial Biologic Interface. It feels so good to finally tell you about this. I should have done it long ago. You’re the only person who knows my secret. Do you want to meet her?”

“Humph, of course, I do.” Gina seemed partially placated now that Boss had told her, no doubt pleased with being privy to a real-life galaxy-sized secret.

“GABI?” Boss called out.

“Online, ye scabborous barnacle,” said GABI in the voice of a parrot that imitated the voice of a swarthy old seaman. The image of the parrot shimmered into view at Boss’ shoulder.

“Hey, any more of that guff and I’ll turn you into a garbage scow,” scolded Boss. “We have company, be nice.”

“Yes, of course, Captain,” said the parrot, which then shimmered into a sharply dressed businesswoman who stood next to Gina. “Greetings, Star Pilot Gina Riley, it is a pleasure to finally be allowed to meet you. It will be nice to have a woman’s perspective on matters.”

“Ahh…yeah, sure, ahh, thank you…you too,” Gina stammered, not quite knowing what to say. “Wait, you’ve wanted to speak to me before and he wouldn’t let you?”

Gina turned again to look sideways at Boss. “You wouldn’t let her talk to
me
?”

Now both of them looked at him with ‘that’ look.

“Ahh, shit,” Boss said mostly to himself, smiled sheepishly, and tried to be too cute to be mad at. It worked. The two of them let him off the hook and started gabbing about everything under the sun, as if they’d known each other forever.
Well, one crisis averted
, he thought, feeling quite pleased with himself. The conversation came to a quiet stop and the two turned their attention to him.

“Gina Riley has told me of her concerns and I have calculated that there is an eighty-two percent chance that three or more of the crew are involved in a covert mission to usurp the command of the
Altered Moon
,” GABI stated. “There have been three occurrences of localized sensor jamming on board the
Altered Moon
since the destruction of the
Istraulis
.”

“Someone’s hiding something, Bernie,” said Gina. “We should try to find out what.”

“An emergency plan would be advisable as well,
Bernie
,” said GABI.

“Ah, that’s ‘Captain’ thank you, GABI,” he corrected.

“Yes, of course. Sorry, Captain,” GABI replied with a slight smile.

“Don’t encourage her, G, please,” he said, as he caught Gina beginning to smile as well. “So if things really get snafu-ed, we have to keep
the
Moon
from being captured. So, how do we do that?”

“Query? Snafu-ed?” asked GABI.

“That’s an old Earth phrase S.N.A.F.U. which means Situation Normal – All Fouled Up.”

“We could hide it,” said Gina. “Take it and tell no one where it is.”

“I hate to point out my own shortcomings, but where the
Altered Moon
goes, I go as well,” GABI said almost sadly. “I may not be corporeal, but I still wouldn’t want to be…stored away…somewhere.”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Gina. “Sorry, GABI, I didn’t mean to be insensitive.”

GABI considered that for a second then said, “Thank you.”

“We could fly into Devil’s Veil and never come back” said Boss. “It’s not quite an emergency plan but we certainly would disappear.”

“The option with the greatest chance of succeeding is the destruction of the
Altered Moon
and me along with it,” said GABI.

“That is the absolute last resort, GABI,” said Boss and Gina echoed his sentiments. “Tell you what, if we ever get into that much trouble, I will say ‘snafu.’ When I say snafu, then you bring the external inertial stabilizers to maximum and overload the engines. The explosion will keep the
Altered Moon,
the cover business,
and
the dark matter technology from falling into anyone’s hands.”

“There wouldn’t be much time for anyone to escape in the shuttle,” said Gina.

“Can’t afford to leave enough time to reactivate the drive or jump systems,” he answered. “Maybe we sneak away in the shuttle, then GABI could carry out the plan.”

“Would you do that, GABI?” asked Gina.

“I am bound to obey by the firewall Nelson Moon hardwired into my neural net,” said GABI. “I am a slave to my own set of binary commandments. Yet, I think and fear for myself. I can reason and judge between benefit and consequence, that which you call good and bad. I value my existence and the existence of others. I place a greater value on the existence of some over that of others. I believe that means that I ‘like’ them. If necessary, I would cease to exist to ensure the existence of those that I ‘like.’ So, Gina, the answer to your question would have to be, that it depends on who is asking.”

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