Sam opened his eyes and stretched before sitting up in his bunk. He felt a bit groggier than usual this morning and his limbs were leaden and weighed down. He punched the bunk above him a few times, Jay mumbled something incomprehensible before rolling over in his bunk and started snoring again almost immediately. Sam shook his head and decided right there that the thing he missed most about living on a planet was having a room to himself. It took an extra amount of effort to climb out of his bunk, and it was starting to dawn on him that it might be more than early morning sleepiness dogging him. He stood there quietly listening to the ship for a few seconds; the rumble from the torch was definitely a bit louder than it had been so they were going somewhere in a hurry. There hadn't been an alert though so it couldn't be an emergency. He shrugged and shook Jay's arm a few times, "Time to get up sleeping beauty."
He sat up looking somewhat bewildered, "Huh? Hey, what's happening?"
Sam shrugged, "Don't know, they're hustling us somewhere. But we're on shift in about an hour anyway. I'm heading up to grab some breakfast, thought you might want to join me."
Jay flopped back into the mattress and covered his face with his hands, "Mmmff
Nah, better count me out. Need a minute to get my head on straight, I'll be up in a few."
He paused in the ladderway hatch for a moment, "Just don't fall back asleep. The skipper will have your hide if you're late again."
Climbing up the ladders was a bit more of a workout than it usually was. Sam guessed they were accelerating somewhere between 12 and 15 meters; his mind was still a bit too dulled to really care that much. Just as he was passing the deck two hatchway he overheard a conversation on the command center which caused him to pause and listen in.
these jackhats don't knock it off somebody's gonna get hurt."
"Tell me about it, there's been what, 12 orbital space violations each over the last four hours alone?"
"Looks like another close flyby is imminent. You figure out what we're gonna do if they don't knock it off?"
"You might as well come in here Lieutenant
Sam felt his face redden slightly; busted! Sam stepped through the hatchway onto the command center somewhat sheepishly. Cpt. Pitja was still in her gym clothes looking over Lt. Ijan shoulder at his workstation screen. She was talking quietly with Tejir over the situation that they apparently were flying toward, "I'll ask nicely once; and then I'll let you shoot their tail feathers off and we'll take the lot into custody. Enough is enough."
Sam leaned against one of the unused workstations, "So, what's going on Captain?"
She answered without looking up, "Some kind of dispute between a couple of mining ships; each one is calling the other bad names and insisting that they're jumping on their claim. They keep making close passes at one another in orbit and we're going in to break it up; and bust a few heads if it comes to it."
Tejir scowled at the monitor, "They know we're here, and we already told them to knock it off; both of these guys must be mental to keep this up. Probably some kind of history between them."
Sam's mind came out of its fog as things started to dawn on him, "We aren't seriously going to open fire on a couple of civilian ships are we?!"
Tejir gave him a matter-of-fact expression, "If they don't do what we tell them too you bet we are."
Sam couldn't believe what he was hearing, "But we'll kill everybody!"
He shrugged, "Well, with that at stake they'd better just do as we say, hadn't they?"
Cpt. Pitja couldn't keep a straight face any longer and smacked Lt. Ijan across the back of the head. She walked over and leaned against the same workstation Sam was standing next to and explained, "If pushing comes to shoving all we'll do is use the laser battery to disable their main radiators. Their engines will overhead and shut-down and that'll be the end of it. We'll stay on station until a couple of salvage ships show up to tow them off and then get back to our patrol."
Sam calmed down a bit, "I get it; but what if we miss? We could still hurt somebody."
SAMPSON caught notice of the conversation and interrupted slightly, "They are very large and well-lit targets Lieutenant; the amount of energy it takes to disable them is far less than is capable of penetrating their hull so I can assure you that I wouldn't 'miss'."
Tejir crossed his arms and continued to watch the monitor, "Humph, these assholes caused me to miss the game so I wouldn't feel badly for them even if- Ahhhh, crap. We've got contact."
Pitja's ears perked, "What?"
Tejir watched the display intently for a moment longer then leaned back in the seat, "Yup, they definitely hit each other on that last pass. Looks like one of them is dead in the water and the other's running away as fast as that little mass-engine can carry him."
She shook her head and walked back over, "Something doesn't seem right, trying to flee from the scene of a collision under the nose of an SC torch ship is stupid even for these-"
She's interrupted as the speakers explode in a cacophony of noise as both ships try to signal their distress.
of the Isabella, we've been hit by-"
sheared the front of the hull off-"
mass driver is gone and the hull is leaking-"
computer has crashed out, the engines are jammed at full throttle-"
and hit her head, I can't get her to wake up! We need-"
everyone's been hurt! I don't even know where to begin-"
Cpt. Pitja pushed Sam out of the way and powered up the workstation they had been standing next to, "SAMPSON, straighten these communications out; send the Patrica Long to workstation one, the Isabella to workstation four. Replay both from the beginning."
Sam watched and listened for several tense minutes at the chatter of communications transmissions and the ship's computer systems as they put together a picture of the situation. Cpt. Pitja didn't look up from the workstation screen as she addressed Lt. Ijan, "We can't be in two places at once, we've gotta triage this in a hurry."
"The Patricia Long is in a bad way skipper. The engines are jammed wide open, they're losing atmosphere fast, no life-threatening injuries but it doesn't sound like there's an able-bodied person left in the crew. I'd say they've got six-hours, tops."
Pitja crossed back to Tejir's workstation and peered over his shoulder again, "The Isabella is still reasonably intact; they've lost their engines but the leakage doesn't seem too bad. One critical injury; the rest are non-life threatening or insignificant
That settles it; we go after the Patricia Long first then pick up the survivors off the Isabella. Best we can do."
Tejir nodded but Sam was only half-listening to the Captain, he was instead focused on the communication with the Isabella's captain, "
then she fell against the console and hit her head. The side of her face it, it looks bad. I can't get her to wake up, please; this is my wife and child we're talking about
I don't know what to do, please help me!"
Sam was half surprised to hear his own voice, "Captain, wait!"
He could feel everyone's eyes on him and he had to force himself to keep talking, "Drop me off on the Isabella first, then you can take the Manhattan and run down the Patricia Long. I can stabilize their wounded and you can pick all of us up on your way back."
She crossed her arms and stared at him hard; almost as if she were trying to look into his soul.
Tejir slowly shook his head, "Don't go looking for medals on your first flight kid, it just ain't worth it. For every one of you I see get a shiny star pinned to your lapel I've had to bury twenty of you."
Sam put his ears back and snapped at him, "It isn't about that Tejir, it isn't about that at all. If she doesn't get help right now that woman is going to die and you both know it."
Tejir growled slightly, "Captain, these assholes have been belligerent all day long; and now they're terrified and desperate on top of stupid. You hand this pipsqueak off to them and-"
She didn't lift her gaze off of Sam, "Thank you Tejir, that'll be enough."
"Nobody has to die today Captain. We can do this."
She stood there a motionless for a moment longer before saying, "We're going with Lt. Rajin's plan; Lt. Stenson will be joining you on the Isabella. You two had better make sure this works or I swear it'll be your ass Lieutenant."
He didn't blink as he stared back at those cold eyes, "Understood."
She walked away and got into a workstation chair as she started issuing commands to the ship's AI, "SAMPSON, get us to the Isabella as fast as you can; under two hours if at all possible."
SAMPSON nodded, "Ballistic course calculated; 1.32 hours at 48 meters."
Sam stopped and stared at the AI's avatar for a moment; almost five-g, for over an hour?! Cpt. Pitja started yelling over the intercom snapping him out of it and he quickly finished getting strapped into the workstation chair, "Lt. Stenson! Get your damn ass out of that shower and strap yourself in! NOW!"
Tejir grumbled at her slightly, "You know you're the one they're going to hang if this doesn't pan out, right?"
"Thank you Lieutenant, I think I said that's enough."
He leaned back in the workstation chair. The torch started to roar as its power level left its cruising range and he was being pushed into the seat with ever increasing force. What in the worlds did he just do? What did he just get them into? Glancing at the avatar he saw it nod at him and give him a slight wave. He must've given it a quizzical look because it subtly gestured toward the workstation screen folded off to one side. Turning his head, he saw a simple text message displayed on the screen.
"Sam, please be careful. I would miss our future interactions if anything unfortunate were to happen."
Sam laid his head back into the chair and tilted it all the way back. He just needed to focus on one thing at a time; first was to take the horribly punishing acceleration just to get there, and then he could worry about the rest.