Thursday, May 27, 2021

Flash Fiction # 460 -- Raiders/10


Befly didn't want to believe us, but she didn't do anything to stop the crazy people, either.  That was good.  We just didn't have time to go through all the explanations in any detail.

"Have you had contact with your admin in the last couple of days?"

"No," she admitted and went with me to the fighter.    "But you can't have come here knowing --"

"Didn't think it would be this far gone already," I admitted.  "We were going to see if anything was going on and do our best to stop it.  This is not the kind of mess I want to find myself in.  Krisin?"

"About there," he said with his head stuck in the heart of the craft.  His fingers found something in his pocket, and he worked it into place.  "I swear, Tana, that Captain Dundas purposely tries to find the most ... unusual work for us?"

"Like sticking you with a Catchin crewmember?" Lisel asked.

"The thought has occurred to me," Krisin said, his voice muffled still.

I didn't say anything, but mostly because I heard shouts and looked back in time to see Brick throw himself into the middle of a fight that was growing wilder by the moment.

"That's not good," Befly said.
"I think Brick is with us," I said.  I can't be sure about the rest of his people.  The Sailfor might be the heart of the trouble, and it seemed to us that they were getting ready to act.  Krisin?"

"Just about.  I wish we had time for tests, Tana.  I didn't imagine we'd need the fighter right away."

"I know.  We're all going to do what we can."

He slid back out, his face a bit pale.  "I should do with you."

"No.  The station needs you back at Admin.  I can handle this.  The target isn't even going to be moving."

'Ha," he said.  Then he put his hands on their arms, looked as though he wanted to say something, but only nodded and headed away without a word.  Tana only watched long enough to make sure he made it past the trouble spot.  Brick even moved out of the fray to go with him, and she counted that as good.

"Let me get some cover here," Befly said as though she had suddenly decided to side with them.  "No one needs to see what we do with the fighter."

Befly had another craft brought out to partially block the fighter.  This one was larger and looked like it had gone through hell.

"Local craft," Befly said.  "Owned by the station.  We have an obligation to keep them flying."

"What the hell do you fight out there?"

"Drunken space monkeys."

That was an ancient joke, but I thought I might not doubt it from the looks of that damage.  I would undoubtedly be on the lookout for trouble out there.  Krisin had finished his work, talked to someone for a  moment -- yes, make this all look normal -- and then walked over to me.  He looked calm, but I could see the trouble in his eyes.

"I have to get back," he said.  He ran a hand through his hair -- a nervous gesture, but others wouldn't realize it, I thought.  No one knew him here.  "I don't like splitting up like this, Tana."

"Can they handle admin without you?" I asked.

He stopped for a moment and blinked.  "I wish I could believe they could.  They might not need me, but that's not a chance we can take.   Be careful.  Both of you."

Then he went past me and walked casually back down the open bay area.  The trouble at the Sailfor seemed to be dying down.  I could see -- and hear -- Brick shouting orders, so I thought he had gotten some control.  I show what I hoped was no more than a casual interest as Krisin walked past them.  I suspected that he would be moving far faster once he made it back to the empty market area.

"I'm telling you that it was not as serious as it looked," Befly said suddenly while poking me in the arm.  Yeah, she had my attention.  "There is a bad conductor to the weapons, but once we have that rebuilt, it'll be fine."

"It didn't act like a bad conductor," I complained, aware of a man who had moved in far too close.  "It drained power to the engines --"

"I have that part fixed.  Go test it out.  Just don't go far.  You don't have any weapons, but that shouldn't be a problem."

"You could have said this before I sent my crewmember off on leave!"

"The two of us can handle it," Lisel said with a bored sigh.  "I want to see it so I can tell Krisin he was wrong.  Or I could take it out on my own."

"No," I said with such force that Lisel lifted an eyebrow, and his ears went back in surprise.  I hoped that was as much a show as my act had been.  "Fine.  Let's line it up.  Half an hour out, and then I get to go on leave, too."

Lisel nodded.  They looked less than happy with each other.  The man who had moved in closer was now heading away at a good pace.  I didn't much like it, but we couldn't snare him.  Befly watched him with narrowed eyes.

"We're heading out," I told her.  "Just line up the fighter, and we'll head out.  Things are happening here already, Befly.  We are out of time."

The woman nodded and went off to her work.  I looked at Lisel and then dared a hand on his arm when he looked away.

"Careful," he said.  "We're still on show."

"Screw the show," I said.  "You know that I trust you, right?"

He grinned in a way that made me think I would be in for trouble from him.

Later.  Right now, we had work to do.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Flash Fiction # 459 -- Raiders/9

 Brick had started looking frightened, but a moment later, his eyes narrowed, and anger took the place of fear.  I was glad to see it.  He could prove to be a formidable barrier against trouble, besides a guide to whom we might trust.

I wanted more time.

"Krisin?" I said.

He looked at me and shook his head.  "Do something crazy and brilliant.  I'll do what I can to keep things from blowing up."

"That's not a good thing to say to me."

"I've served with you for years.  If you can't do brilliant, you'll do crazy.  Try to go for both.  Sailfor is going to make its move at any moment.  We don't have a lot to lose."

I didn't want that kind of responsibility, but even Lisel stared at me with a look of expectation.  I didn't know what to do.  If I was in my fighter --

Well, hell.

"Krisin, I need you."

"But --" he began with a half panicked wave at the controls.

"It won't be for long. First, I need you to fix the fighter."

"You can't catch up with the ship. She'll be into slide by now --"

"You know me better."

He blinked, blinked again, and then smiled.  "I'll be back within the hour," he told the others.  "Just keep things steady."

Krisin rushed out so fast that Lisel, Brick, and I could hardly keep up with him.  Brick yelled for his people to keep guard, but well back from the door into Admin.  They shouted some questions, but we never slowed.

Some of them would know what was going on.  I expected those people to follow us.  That was fine.  Even Brick looked back, hand on his weapon, and gave a nod.

"Bring them on," I said.  "We might need a distraction of our own."

"True.  What a damned mess."

He might have wanted to ask questions, but we were hurrying again, and there were more people around now.  I wanted to order them to head for the protected core of the station, but they weren't going to listen to me.

If we got this worked out, I'd send Brick back.

We hurried through the market.  It mainly was shut down, so no one stopped us.  But as we neared the opening to the bay, Krisin and Lisel finally slowed.

"Head straight for the repair bay," I said. I looked around to make sure Brick's people were not too close.  "It will take us past Sailfor.  Try to get them occupied without being obvious.  Just long enough for the three of us to get to the repair bay.  Then get to cover -- you and everyone you can gather."

Brick gave a quick nod.  His face kept changing from worried to angered.  "I'll have to be careful.  If even just a few of my people are working with Sailfor, they will not want to work against the ship.  Well, it'll tell me who to trust anyway."
"Be damned careful," I said.  I wouldn't have thought I would have cared an hour ago.  "Don't go too far.  Remember that you have others to protect."

He gave another nod.

Lisel put a hand on Brick's arm.  "Remember your children.  I will do what I can to protect them.  The fighter is our best first step."

Brick nodded.

We parted company there at the edge of the bay.  I had to work very hard not to draw my laser and just start firing at the smug SOBs that were lounging around their ship.  You could tell they were up to something, but Lisel herded me on without being obvious.  I had a hard time not looking back, though.  I felt them watching us, and it was not a pleasant feeling.

"Why the hell did the captain do this to us?" Krisin demanded as we hurried on.  He did look frantic.  "This isn't the sort of thing we should be handling, Tana."

"No. We shouldn't," I agreed.  "And I don't think the Captain realized how close the trouble was before she booted us off the ship.  But here we are."

"And what can we do?" he demanded.  "You take the fighter out and threaten them?"

"I'm not going to threaten them.  I'm going to blow their engines to hell."

"Uh..."  Lisel slowed, and so did Krisin.  "We could be wrong about them, you know."

"I know.  And that's why I'm going for their engines and not just blowing the whole ship to hell."

"Ah."  Lisel moved a little faster again.  "And with them trapped here, you have to assume that they won't rip a hole in the station."

"Right.  Lisel, you need to get back to the control deck and do your best to keep everything from going to hell.  I suspect there is still going to be trouble.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them try for another ship."

"Yeah," Lisel said and scanned the area.  "I'd say the little puddle jumper there will be their target.  Small crew, easy to take.  We'll have to  try and keep an eye on it."

"Yes," I said.  We were almost to the repair bay.  I could even see my fighter up on the braces and hoped we could get her down quickly.  I could see Briefly pointing to something on a screen.  She didn't see us heading into the area until one of the others pointed to us.  We'd gone past the zone where we should have stopped, and Lisel was already looking into the open section.

"Tana --" Befly began.

"No time," I said.  I took Befly's arm and pulled her aside.  "The station is about to suffer a catastrophic event -- unless I can get the fighter out."

"You can't -- we don't -- what the hell?"

I gave her a quick rundown, watching her eyes narrow and her mouth clamp shut.  "I didn't know what was going to happen.  We're stuck here --"

"Except you are going to take the fighter."

"I intend to blow the hell out of Sailfor's engines.  Krisin is staying.  We are not running."

Friday, May 14, 2021

Flash Fiction 458 -- Raiders/8


Lisel moved faster.  He didn't even extend his claws -- just reached over to Brick and pulled the small laser pistol from the man's hand.  It might not have worked if Brick hadn't been so confused and upset.

"We are not the enemy," Lisel said.  "We're stuck here with you."

"I don't know that.  Your ship might be out there, waiting."

"I wish -- I hope -- it is," I said.  Brick frowned.  "Look, if we were behind this, would we have come here to find this with you?  You know we just arrived, so we couldn't have done the killing.  However, we had some reason to think there would be trouble.  I could lie and say we suspected a problem from the way we were handled when we came in."

"But you are saying that's not true.  That's not why you knew."

"Other stations have been destroyed," I said.  "Wiped out.  The three of us were sent in to find out what we could and hope to stop ... this.  We didn't realize the problem had already started."

"You took out the Catchins," he said with a flash of anger.

"My people are few," Lisel said with a whisper of regret in his voice.  "If I had realized how close we were to danger, I might have tried to rescue the young of others."

"I have a wife and two daughters under ten," Brick said with such fear in his face that it stilled anything I was about to say.

Lisel put his hand on Brick's shoulder.  "I apologize.  And I will fight for your daughters as though they were my own."

Brick blinked several times and then gave a bow of his head.  "Let's see if we can find anyone to help.  Quietly, I think.  We don't want a panic."

I looked at Lisel, but he only nodded and moved off with Brick.  I didn't like to see them go because I wanted Lisel safe.  I almost went with them, but no ... I needed to be here with Krisin.

"We need to move the bodies out of here," Krisin said as he stepped carefully over someone.  "The air filtration has worked so far, and the bots have kept things cleaned up -- but we need them out, especially if we have others we want to come in and work here.  We don't know these people, but they do.  We don't want them to fall apart."

"Damn.  What do we do?"

"Move them into the Station Manager's office and seal the door," he said with a wave of his hand toward a door on the right of the room.  "I think I can get the bots to do most of the work."

"That would be good."

He went straight to work, first to get the door open.  The station manager was not there, and I wondered if he was one of the dead.  I didn't know the people on this station.

That helped as we moved them, the bots doing their part.

But I felt as though every moment meant we were closer to death without ever learning what was happening here.  Did I trust Brick?  Not entirely, and that worried me about Lisel being off in the station with him.  She did trust Lisel to be careful of the man, though.

Krisin went to work at one of the stations.  I didn't linger over him, demanding what he was doing.  Instead, I found a computer station, ignored the burn hole through the back of the chair and the scorch mark on the side of the screen, and began to carefully call up info.

I knew a few secrets about comps that got me past the sign-in.  I stayed out of any of the controls, but I did want to see what was going on before everyone was killed.

Nothing outstanding leapt up, though I did get the name of the ship.  The Sailfor, with a tangled ownership record and a sketchy list of past destinations.  Sadly, this was not enough to make them look like a problem.  Out here along the edge, many ships changed hands and didn't always list everywhere they went, partly to hide good trading partners they didn't want to share.

If they hadn't done something odd that got the alarms running, she wouldn't have done more than scanned their record.  Now I marked their bay and checked to see if they'd had any visitors, but that was hard to track, too.

Brick and Lisel came back, bringing two pale-faced women with them.

"They were training for work here," Brick explained.  "We told them what happened."

"I don't know enough," one of the women said.  Her voice trembled.  "We barely started --"

Krisin took them both in hand.  I gave up my spot and went to talk to Brick and Lisel.

"The Sailfor is our problem ship," I said.  "I got that from the records."

"We took a quick look out at the bays.  The Sailfor is off-loading crates."

"Light crates," Brick added with a frown.  "Maybe empty ones?"

"Krisin --"

"Trying to look," he said from a seat nearby.  "Someone messed with the program.  These people are thorough.  They were doing their best not to let anyone look too closely."

I nodded.  We were running out of time, and I didn't know what we could do.  Why did the Captain drop us in here on Dayer's Station?  She didn't really expect the three of us to be able to stop this, did she?

We could run for our fighter and get out.

But we wouldn't.  Not yet, at least.

"Brick, how many of your team can you round up?  And how good are they at making trouble?

"Fourteen," he said.  "And they're far better at starting trouble than ending it.  Fools."

"You didn't hire them?" I said.

"Not me.  Someone on the station brought them in a few months ago ... oh."

"Not the people we want to trust," Lisel

Friday, May 07, 2021

Flash Fiction # 457 -- Raiders/7


 We followed the curve of the corridor.  I saw some children playing in an open area, which made my heart pound worse.  What the hell could we do?

Just keep going.  We were almost to the admin section.  I could see the sealed doors ahead.  No guards were standing around to keep us out, either, but the door was closed and locked.

I tried the buzzer a couple times and snarled when no one even answered the comm.  

Lisel leaned closer and sniffed.  Then he stepped back and looked worried.   "There's something dead in there."

"Oh hell," Bully 1 said softly.  "How dead?  Maybe two days?  That's the last time any of us go in there."

"Can't be that long," I said.  "We had a link to admin, or we couldn't have docked."  I looked at Krisin, who just shook his head.  "Could we?"

"Computer-controlled," he replied and moved up to the door.  He pulled a long, thin device out of his pocket.  "I wasn't on the control deck.  I'm not sure if they talked to anyone at all.  That sometimes happens, especially on stations like this one out on the edges of human space.  Sometimes you only talk to the actual crew if there is a problem."

I nodded and watched what he did.  So did Bully 1, but he didn't look as though he was going to protest.  There was a definite look of worry on his face.  When some of his people arrived, he just gave them a sign to stand down.

Lisel kept an eye on everything around us.  I wanted to ask him about why the Catchin's reacted the way they did to his name.  He was not honest with me about something.

This was not the time.  Then I wondered if I would have time later.  If any of us would have time.

If the administration people were all dead, that must mean the other people were ready to strike.  I feared that before long, we would be in the kind of trouble that would make any questions of that sort superfluous and maybe a bit too distracting.

"I've got it," Krisin said as he stepped back slightly.  He had his hand on the controls.  "I don't think we want anyone else coming in to see this, right?"

"Right," Bully 1 said.  "We don't need a damned riot.  I'll put my boys on it.  The locals are used to them being rude for no good reason."

I looked at him with one eyebrow raised.  He just shrugged and went to talk to the others.  I didn't think he told them that the others were dead.  He even sent them around the curve of the hall, but he came back and gave a quick nod.

"Do it," I told Krisin and found myself holding my breath.

The scent from the room was not as bad as I had expected -- but then I saw that the robos had been very hard at work.  The people must have been dead a couple days, so Bully 1 was correct.   I'd seen people dead longer than this, usually when we tugged in a fighter that had taken a hit and never made it back home.  We couldn't afford to lose those craft, but there had been times when I had wished not to see the remains of my comrades.

This wasn't so bad, maybe because I didn't actually know these people.

"Oh hell," Bully 1 said.  He sounded very, very worried.  "Why would someone do this?   What are we going to do?  This has to be dangerous!"

He was right, of course.  I saw a couple boards with red lights flashing frantically.  I took that in before I let myself look at the bodies.  Those closest to the door had obviously died first with a quick shot through the back of the head, a laser path done with almost surgical perfection.  By the time four or five had either fallen to the floor or slumped in their seats, the others had begun to notice something wrong.  She could see the pattern of those who started to turn and those who had started toward the attacker.

"This is not right," Lisel said as he looked from one to the others who had fallen.  "They should have heard the pistol if nothing else."

"Excellent point," Krisin replied.  He had started working his way closer to the boards, obviously to see what was going wrong.

"Hey -- you," I said, tapping Bully 1 on the arm.  "I don't know your name."

He looked at me, blinking as though what I said could not have mattered.  "Most people call me Brick."

"Brick."  I knew what a brick was, but I wasn't sure he did.  "Not long after you were last here, something happened.  Something in the next few hours.  There would have been alarms."

"Alarms.  Right.  Some ship was coming in too fast.  Scared the hell out of everyone until they got it under control."

Krisin and Lisel both nodded.  I had another concern, though.  Two, in fact that came in quick succession.

"These people have families, don't they?"

"Oh hell," Brick whispered.  "They must all be dead, too.  And even second shift -- what the hell is going on?"

"Raiders, I think," I said and did not mention the other stations.  "What was the name of the ship."

"I don't know."  He stopped and shook his head as though clearing it.  "But maybe I better find out.  Do you people know anything about this kind of equipment?"

"Not a lot," Krisin replied.  "Start rounding up anyone you know who might help."

Brick gave them all a long stare, and she knew he suspected something more about them.  The look he flashed Lisel --

"We're here with you.  We need to figure this out," Lisel said.  "Let's stop this from getting worse."

"You might be the problem.  You might have set this up."  His hand moved toward the weapon I hadn't realized he carried.