Manxome foe votsb 3, p.19

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 19

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series


Manxome Foe votsb-3

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  “If that’s a survivor of the other race, we probably should get in there and recover him, sir,” Weaver pointed out. “Her. It.”

  “Agreed,” Spectre replied coldly. “But not until we’re sure there are no active defense systems. I don’t want to get shot out of the sky on a rescue mission.”

  “There’s some EM coming from the remnant of that ship, sir,” Bill said, looking at his displays. “And there’s a hot source in another piece of debris. I’d say it’s some sort of powered up machinery. But it could be a washing machine for all I know.”

  The hull suddenly “bonged” and everyone in the conn jumped.

  “Damn this debris,” the CO swore. “We also can’t just charge forward with all this chither flying around. But we’re going to have to close the heavier pieces.” He hit the intercom to the science section. “Master Sergeant Guzik, your team needs to start prepping for EVA.”

  “Roger, sir,” the Special Forces master sergeant replied. “We’re in skins and ready to board the Wyverns.”

  “Get with the Marine CO,” Spectre added. “I want a platoon of Marines out there with you. The first priority is an apparent distress signal we’re picking up. As soon as we figure out where it’s coming from, your team and the Marines will retrieve whatever it is. After that there’s some bits we need to pick up and take a look at. Last, you’ll be examining the biggest chunk, which is probably Dreen.”

  “Roger, sir,” Guzik said. “We’ll get it done.”

  “First Platoon,” Berg’s intercom chimed. “Fall out and fall in on Wyverns. EVA mission.”

  “Oh, glory,” Himes bitched, pulling out a set of skins. “Zero-Gee.”

  “Space Marines,” Berg pointed out, sliding out of his bunk and heading for the hatch. “And I told you to keep your damned skins on. You’ve got head-cleaning duty next cycle.”

  “Speaking of heads,” Himes muttered.

  “Should have kept your skins on,” Smith said, sliding past him and following the team leader. “Last one into their Wyvern is a head-cleaner.”

  “There’s a radio signal coming from a piece of debris,” Master Sergeant Guzik said. “The debris sort of looks like it might be a life pod. Our mission is to recover the pod and extract whatever is inside, alive. Unless it’s Dreen, in which case dead works. We’ll try to determine what is inside prior to opening it. Either way, we’re going to be opening it carefully.”

  “There’s lots of debris out there,” the first sergeant added. He, too, was suited up in his Wyvern. “Watch out for it. We’ve worked in microgravity but this is a whole new mission. Take it slow and easy. Keep your eyes open and one eye on your monitors. If you see any of the signs of Dreen presence, report it at once. The good news is that we can use the Number Three airlock, so we can get out faster. And in.”

  “Good luck,” Captain Zanella said. He was not suited up. “Semper Fi.”

  “Bravo First,” Lieutenant Monaghan barked. “Into the airlock.”

  The airlock was the same tube that the Wyverns had been lowered down through, now converted back to its primary purpose. Berg and his team marched in and hit the closing button, then waited. The airlock was controlled remotely so that nobody could accidentally evacuate the ship.

  “Move out slowly and deploy in a triangle,” Berg said. “Don’t engage your EVA thrusters. Just climb out and step onto the hull. When the next team comes out, we’ll spread outwards.”

  “Yes, mother,” Himes replied.

  “And watch the debris,” Berg added as there was a faint “bong” from the hull again. “It’s raining metal up there.”

  The ship shut down engines and went into microgravity. Immediately afterwards, the hatch overhead opened up and outward like a clamshell.

  Berg grabbed the ladder and pulled himself up, hand over hand and carefully. If he drifted free, he had the EVA pack to get back. But it would be a pain.

  The ladder had automatically extended beyond the hull and he used it to lift himself up and over the lip of the former missile tube. He ignored the view; he had more important things to do, like getting his magnetic boots clamped down. When he was in place he swiveled his sensor pod to ensure the other two Marines were settled.

  Smith had, somehow, managed to lose his grip on the ladder before getting clamped down and was now drifting slowly away from the ship.

  “Smith, fire your thrusters down,” Berg said with a sigh.

  “Working on it,” the lance corporal replied. There was a brief puff of gas from the thrusters on his shoulders and he drifted downward, connecting to the ship’s hull with a “click.”

  “Bravo First deployed,” Berg reported then switched to the team frequency. “Everybody make sure they’re away from the doors.”

  While he waited for the next team to deploy, he switched his view to a shot of their target. The pod was shaped vaguely like a seedpod but more angular and was tumbling slowly through space. Five meters long and about two wide, it had a pointed bow and stern and was apparently made of an aluminum alloy, according to the spectral readings. Aluminum was an odd choice, in Berg’s opinion, but not something the Dreen had ever been seen to use. Which was oddly comforting.

  There were not, however, any portholes. They weren’t going to be able to look in before they opened it. And what or whoever was inside couldn’t look out. Odd that.

  He waited as the teams deployed, moving his outward from the airlock as each got into place; then the SF team came up.

  “Right,” Guzik said. “Sir, we’re going to have to secure the pod. Since it’s tumbling, we’re going to have to stop the tumble, first. Myself and the sergeant first class will attempt that, first. If that’s okay by you, sir.”

  “Go for it, Master Sergeant,” the lieutenant said. “Want company?”

  “I would recommend deploying your Marines around the pod, sir, yes,” Guzik replied.

  “First Platoon, prepare to deploy. I want Alpha top side, Bravo forward and Charlie to the rear. That is with the ship as down. All clear? Sound off.”

  “Alpha, clear,” Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe replied.

  “Bravo, aye aye,” Berg said.

  “Charlie, aye aye,” Priester chimed in.

  “Roger,” the LT said. “Deploy.”

  “Bravo, let’s take this easy,” Berg said. “Break boots then follow me.”

  He lifted one boot up to the toe, then moved it back to position alongside the heel of the second. Lifting up the second from the heel, he drifted very slowly away from the hull. He picked a spot forward of the pod and engaged his thrusters, moving outward from the hull at a lightning pace of barely a half meter a second. Looking at his monitors, he could see that the rest of the teams were deploying with equal rapidity. Moving in microgravity just plain sucked.

  So did fighting in it. If he’d carried his Mojo, one shot would have sent him spinning off into the void. There simply wasn’t anything with serious punch that didn’t punch back; even most rocket launchers had some recoil. The system that the Marines used for microgravity combat was, therefore, a very low-power multiple rocket launcher. The rockets were notoriously inaccurate and the best you could do with them was fill up the target area with fire. And each of the micro-rockets had not only minimal velocity but a lousy little warhead. And they still had some recoil. So unless you were clamped down, you also had to correct your spin as you fired. Supposedly the next weapons system would have automatic compensation, but for now it was a pain. Presumably the Dreen had a better system. If they ended up fighting Dreen in microgravity, they were grapped.

  By the time he reached the “front” of the pod, it was no longer the front because of the tumble. But he figured he’d just park where he was. There was no way he was going to chase the tumble.

  Master Sergeant Guzik and Sergeant Hanel had to. They got into position, then fired up their jets, basically trying to catch up to the nose and tail of the ship. Guzik managed to snag the nose with a vacuum clamp on the first pass but Hanel mis
sed his snatch and went rocketing off into the void before he got control again. In the meantime, Guzik had gotten flipped around but by reeling in managed to get into contact with the hull of the pod. Applying full force from the really low acceleration jets, he managed to get the tumble slowed enough for Hanel to hook up on his second pass. With two jets working on it, the pod eventually stopped tumbling. More or less. It was still not quite in sync with the ship but that could be dealt with later.

  However, as soon as the tumbling stopped, the nose of the ship recessed into a curve instead of a point. It had by then rotated back to Berg’s position and he was the first one to spot it.

  “There’s a change here,” Berg said. “The nose just did something really weird.”

  “Define ‘really weird,’ ” Gunnery Sergeant Neely said.

  “It just… flexed,” Berg said. “It didn’t move like metal, Gunny. More like memory plastic. I don’t know what it means.”

  “So do we move it down to the hull?” Master Sergeant Guzik asked.

  “I just had an interesting thought,” Sergeant First Class Hanel said in a very strange voice. “What if it’s not a life pod? What if it’s a boobytrap?”

  “Oh… grapp,” Lieutenant Monaghan replied. “Tell me that wasn’t a general broadcast.”

  “Team leaders only, sir,” the SF sergeant replied. “But it’s an interesting question.”

  “Whoa,” Guzik said, releasing his hold on the pod and backing away. “I’ve got a seam opening.”

  The pod split open along its length, revealing three creatures in suits. They were about the size of large dogs and had six limbs, four apparently “legs” and two “arms.” However, the ends of the arm portion of the suits split into multiple flexible appendages that looked more like tentacles than hands.

  Two of them were holding devices in those tentacles. They might be communicators or guns, it was impossible to tell. They looked like PDAs, but for all Berg knew they could throw lightning bolts.

  Guzik backed up his suit and held his claws up, rotating up the shoulder mounted rocket launcher.

  “Hey,” he said. “We come in peace and all that.”

  “Well, that wrecks this as a salvage operation,” Himes muttered.

  “I’ve got it,” the LT said, jetting slowly up to hover beside the master sergeant. He held out one of the suit claws while waving to the ship with the other. “Come on. Your survival gear’s not going to hold out forever. We’ll see what we can do in the ship.”

  “I doubt they can understand you, sir,” the master sergeant said.

  “Hey, maybe they have a universal communicator,” the LT quipped.

  One of the beings slowly put away the device in its hand, then reached under the couch it occupied and pulled out a box. It looked not unlike a metal attaché case. He used his flexible tentacles to scramble up to the edge of the escape pod and then took the lieutenant’s claw.

  “Sir, what’s in the box?” Master Sergeant Guzik chimed in, holding out his hand to another of the creatures.

  “Good question, Master Sergeant,” the LT replied. “Why don’t you ask him?”

  As the second being hooked onto the master sergeant, the latter pointed at the box and made a negative gesture. The being paused and turned his head back and forth.

  It was at that point that Eric noticed the weird part about the suits. They appeared to be normal space suits, albeit of a strange material. But they had no visors. There was no way for the creature to see out.

  The being, nonetheless, looked at the other two and then made a gesture at his head and to the, very small, environmental pack on his back. He did it again then moved his tentacles in a motion that was oddly disconcerting.

  “Sir,” Berg interjected. “I would interpret that as food and air, sir.”

  “And it could be a nuke for all we know,” the LT said, but he engaged his jets and started backing towards the ship. “Tell Dr. Chet he’s got three patients inbound. Hopefully their food and air will hold out long enough for us to figure out how to keep them alive.”


  “Thank you,” Dr. Chet said, taking the air tank from the small, suited creature. He still had no clue what their visitors looked like, but the apparently senior one had carefully changed the air-tank of one of its brethren, then handed over the nearly empty spare to the neurologist, along with a small chunk of what was probably food.

  “They’re handling all this remarkably well,” Spectre said from beyond the glass partition to the isolation area.

  “Yes, they are,” Dr. Chet replied, taking the canister to a testing station. “Extremely stable for the situation. But that is based only on human reactions. I would have expected situational hysteria in most humans, even the toughest. Adar less so, but they still would show some signs of stress. There is virtually none in these beings.”

  He squirted some of the air into the test chamber and there was a flare of light as it was hit by a high energy laser.

  “Hmmm…” he muttered, opening the chamber again and crumbling some of the food into it. “Their air is high in nitrogen and low in oxygen. This air is completely absent of CO2, but any mixed gas might be. I have an isolation chamber I can put them in and adjust the atmosphere.”

  He examined the second flash and then shrugged.

  “The food appears to be Chloro B,” he continued. “It’s similar to Adar food. I’ll need to do more analysis but some of Tchar’s food may be consumable by them. But I’ll need to do more tests.”

  “Okay,” the CO said. “Where’s Miss Moon?”

  “In with Miss Cutler,” Dr. Chet said. “She’s already said that she’s going to monitor remotely at first. But I need to get them out of their suits and talking for her to have anything to work with. Let me set the containment suite up and we’ll see what we see.”

  “Keep me apprised,” the CO said. “But I’ve got other fish to fry. We’re closing on the next bit that has energy readings.”

  “Sucker’s fairly hot,” Himes pointed out as they approached the broken bit of spaceship. This one was made of an iron alloy, not quite true steel but perhaps a stronger version. At least, part of it was. Other parts appeared to be carbon fiber and “exotic” materials.

  “But it’s also putting out particles that aren’t consistent with nuclear reactions,” Berg said. “And EM. It’s a device of some sort.”

  “But exactly what sort?” Master Sergeant Guzik asked. “A communicator? An engine? A washing machine as someone suggested?”

  “Unless we can communicate with the guys we picked up, I’m not sure we’ll ever know, Master Sergeant,” Berg said. “Hell, we still don’t really know what the engine of the ship is for. It might be God’s washing machine and just happen to have a warp setting.”

  “Good point, Berg,” the SFer said, a grin in his voice. “Darren’s off on another bit hunt. Do you think you can get ahold of this thing?”

  “I can try,” Berg said, positioning himself for a run at the large and in many places sharp bit of debris.

  “There is no try,” the master sergeant intoned. “There is only do. Or do not.”

  “Yes, O Master… Sergeant,” Berg said with a chuckle.

  “Let’s go,” Guzik replied, engaging his jets.

  Instead of trying to figure the arc, Berg just headed right for the rising end of the thing. The thing caught him in the crotch of the suit, no danger there and he engaged his thrusters downward, trying to get a handle on some of the extruding bits. Finally, he snagged a couple of pieces of what looked like reinforcing bar. As the tumble slowed he cut his thrusters.

  “Nice snag,” the master sergeant said. “Ballsy, but not bad.”

  “I didn’t figure I could catch up to it,” Berg admitted. “What now?”

  “Take it back and strap it to the hull,” Guzik said. “On my count, engage your number six and seven thrusters at three percent output and we’ll tow. Three, two, one, Mark!”

  “And just how are we suppos
ed to get this stuff into the boat?” the chief of boat asked. The senior NCO of the Blade, he was in charge of all things nautical. Or, in this case, astronautical. Such as securing big bits of alien space craft for later analysis. Which was why he’d donned his space suit and was now standing on the hull, fists on his hips, looking at the latest bit of junk to be brought to his boat. “First of all, we don’t know if it’s contaminated. Second, ain’t none of the hatches big enough. Take your pick but it ain’t going in the boat.”

  “Space tape?” Berg said, then wished he hadn’t.

  “Go on,” the COB said, not dressing the Marine down, which was what Berg had expected.

  “They might not survive, but we can just tape them to the hull,” Berg continued. “Or tie them if there are any tie points. But I think the tape might do it.”

  “If we end up with enough pieces we could just ring the hull,” Master Sergeant Guzik said. “How much space tape do we have?”

  “What is it with Marines and space tape?” the COB moaned. “Okay, okay, try it. See if it will hold. Mind you, it probably won’t when the CO gets near a planet. Sometimes I think I’m going to have to get a spill-proof cup. And then where would my cred be?”

  “I guess this will give him a good reason to take it easy on landing,” Berg said.

  “There’s a point.” The COB looked up at the debris floating very near the Blade and then back at the sail of the boat.

  One of the Marines was floating between the largest piece of debris and the boat with about four centimeters between the feet of his Wyvern and the boat and about a hand’s breadth between his head and the chunk of debris. Just as the Marine reached up to grab the large piece of metal a violet arc of lightning stretched from the debris down the Wyvern and jumped the few-centimeter gap on to the boat.

  “Holy maulk! Aaarrrggghhh!” the Marine cried as he lost consciousness from the electrical shock. He fell forward in his Wyvern, forcing his thrusters on and spinning him wildly out of control, bumping into debris and then back onto the hull of the Blade.

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