Commodore Alfred Harris surveyed the space station orbiting Janus as the Lincoln docked for repairs. Although his engineers assured him that repairs could be completed in under three months time, he wasn't satisified. While the Saratoga was assigned to stay in the region in case of a major enemy offensive, he still felt vulnerable. He already put out the order that any soldier with technical experience help out the technicians on the space station. Glen's group had volunteered to take up the slack on the ground. If Chigs were the only enemy he wouldn't have been so worried, however, he knew pirates were in the area. Hell, they might have already infiltrated either the space station or the ground fort.
He flashed back to the last communication he had received from his beloved niece, Sally, over two years ago. "I need your help, Uncle Al." He had taken vacation time immediately, but was too late. When he arrived Earth-side, Sally had already been murdered by her scum boyfriend, who had know links to the criminal organization. Sally had been his pride and joy, and he had made a vow that day he had discovered her lifeless body for vengence. He had never been able to find her executioner, the charming young man who had lured her away from knowing right and wrong. He had called in every favor he had trying to find him. If only he had stationed her away from him. At the time, he didn't want to face her wrath for pulling strings behind her back. The slight impact of landing on the moon jolted him out of his memories. He had work to do now. Never again would he be too late.
Two weeks later....
The atmosphere on Janus was breathable, but just barely. It was like being on top of a high mountain, after only a minimum of activity, you were gasping for breath. For long patrols, the marines wore their environmental suits. For short perimeter checks, the ground crew had rigged up a light weight breather mask. The original soldiers, who set up base over a year ago, had become accustomed to the thin air and usually went around with the breather mask around their necks, where they could inhale if needed. The gravity also worked against the humans. It was heavier than Earth's. The landscape made the Grand Canyon, look like a small nondescript hill. The military base, Fort Yamashita, was perched high on a cliff, if Chigs were around on the ground, they could easily be seen.
For the last two weeks, the Cards went out daily on routine patrols. No contact with Chigs had been reported during any of the numerous patrols. Harris had everyone on high alert and patrols running 24/7. He had arrived for the first time today to check out the ground operations, apparently satisfied that he had the space station running at optimum efficiency.
Cooper kept glancing to the left and to the right as he toured Fort Yamashita. He was doing his best to look like he had a purpose. Vansen and West had gone on an eastern perimeter check. Phoose and Wang had gone on a western perimeter check. The Colonel had chosen him to explore the northern part of the base. He really wished that one of the Cards had questioned the Colonel about their objective, he hated looking like a dumb tank to his superior officer. "Look for what's not there, what's out of place" were his orders. If it's not there, how are you gonna see it. Maybe he should ask, if he fucked up the Colonel was going to be mad. They had looked at the defenses at the perimeter, talked to sentries, wandered into a couple of warehouses, reviewed logs, and nothing but nothing gave him a clue as to what he should be looking for. The Colonel reviewed everything quickly and moved on to the next task without a moment of hesitation. Well it's a good thing one of us knows what he's doing.
One of the Forts clerks had been following them around since they arrived, "yes sir"ing and "no sir"ing a lot. Corporal McKinley stayed until the Colonel made some comment how there was a president name McKinley and he had died because he was too dumb to know that he was somewhere where he shouldn't have been. McKinley got the hint, and left after that comment. Hawkes liked how the Colonel had said it real conversational like. He had to remember that one, because it looked like McKinley might come back and he had been a real pain in the butt with his constant babbling.
Once McKinley was gone, McQueen turned and looked at Cooper. He mentally sighed, he had hoped that Cooper would catch on quicker. He might not always be there to draw the picture. He pushed that thought from his mind. "Inside the supply depot, the logs had been tampered with so someone is hiding something. Did you notice that the warehouses had items that didn't come from the Army, items like food we haven't seen since we left Earth? Where did they get all the sports equipment? I doubt baseball bats are standard issue items. My guess is that it means trade with the pirates. The sentries are satisfactory but I doubt they could withstand a serious assault without assistance. Again it looks like the base is collaborating with the pirates. No hard tangible proof, just a gut feeling."
"The pirates didn't seem that bad. They stopped West from getting spammed."
"Today, they may seem like our friends, but tomorrow they may have a short memory. History is full of examples where alliances shift with time."
McQueen started to walk away when Cooper asked, "Do you think it's true about them kidnapping tanks for slaves?"
"I wouldn't venture out in the middle of the night, without my weapon being locked and loaded."
They didn't quite make it to the northern most point when the base's attack sirens sounded.
"Does anyone know what's going on?" inquired the Colonel through his helmet's walkie talkie.
Wang responded immediately, "I heard that multiple Chig carrier ships landed by surprise about thirty clicks from the base. Must have come from a secret location, cause there wasn't any warning. Scouts say there are several platoons heading this way. Harris ordered the base evacuated to the orbital station. Everyone is packing up, complete evac is scheduled for fifty five mikes."
"OK people let's be useful. Cooper and I will check our evac, everyone else will guard the perimeter." McQueen wondered how big the Chig landing force was, if Harris was evacuating the area. He didn't seem like a man who would bow out gracefully.
McQueen switched to the Saratoga's frequency and found out that his carrier was also under attack. Ross said to help with the evac and then for the Cards to join the air attack. McQueen hated that he had to take an ISSCV back instead of a hammerhead.
As if on cue, Corporal McKinley came running up, right after he ended the transmission. McKinley was a scrawny man with thick glasses, exactly what you would expect a clerk to look like. Oh well, thought McQueen at least he frees up a soldier to fight.
Out of breath from running, McKinley took a long inhalation of oxygen from his mask. He still could barely get the words out, "Sir, there seems to be some trouble."
"What would I have done, without you to inform me," drawled McQueen. He had left his mike open, so the Cards could hear the conversation. They smiled, for once they were not the butt of the Colonel's sarcastic comments.
McKinley looked confused for a moment, "Oh the Chigs, no sir, that's not what I'm talking about. That Harris, Commodore Harris, sir, is a mad man. He's going to let the Chigs kill civilians!"
"Civilians?" McQueen paused for a moment processing the information. "You mean pirates." Maybe Harris was playing with a full deck.
"No sir, not pirates. Well you know we are kind of far away from Earth out here, and there's not much entertainment. So we have to kind of amuse ourselves. We put on exhibition games, you know like bowling, hockey, basketball, and..."
McQueen interrupted, by the time McKinley was done the Chigs would be on top of them. "Enough, in ten words or less, what are you trying to say?"
"Yes, sir." McKinley snapped to attention. "Yes sir doesn't count does it?"
McQueen wondered if he strangled the man, would he be doing the armed forces a favor.
McKinley must have guessed his fate by the Colonel's piercing glare. He held out his hands in front of him. "We have plays." He counted off three fingers. "Children, teachers from the pirate colony come." He counted off seven more fingers. McKinley smiled pleased with himself that he had made it under the ten word count. "Not pirates,"
In all of his recent years, no other individual other than West and his unauthorized trip to Tellus, had come this close to making him lose his temper. With the Chigs breathing down their backs they didn't have time for this nonsense. "What children? Are they on the base? Explain yourself mister."
"Do I have more than ten words this time?"
McKinley took a step back. He could almost feel the anger radiating from the Colonel. "There is a colony about 500MSK from Janus. It's on planet H567. The children come here with their teacher on field trips." He remembered that the Colonel was an invitro. "You know trips for children in school to learn different things, like going to museums, or art galleries, or ..."
"I'm not a dumb tank Mr. McKinley. I understand the concept. Did no one question that these field trips could be breaches in security? Did no one question the motives of these trips?"
McKinley interrupted, "They were just children sir. They really enjoyed visiting."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place, McKinley." McQueens's voice raised with each syllable until he was practically yelling. "Since they had a good time, it's totally all right. Let's put them on a recruiting poster for the Army."
"Sir, if you would just meet them, you would see that they are harmless. Harris won't let them board the transport for the orbital station. Well he'll let the children onboard, but not their mother. Please sir I figured you would be the only one who could help."
McQueen hesitated for a fraction of a second, and went into parade rest. He wanted his hands behind his back before he heard the man's explanation. "Why me?"
"Well sir, you know how it is being an invitro. Everyone thinking you all are alike. Not me sir. I mean everyone else. Not your squad sir."
McQueen nodded his head, to get the flustered young man the confidence to continue.
"Well everyone thinks everyone on H567 are pirates. Mrs. Peele is just a teacher. She has brought several of her classes here and this time she brought her girls. We were performing Romeo and Juliet. She's not bad. She doesn't deserve to die."
"Who ever does deserve to die?" "Cards, check your transport and meet me at ...". He looked at McKinley.
"They're at the landing field."
"Hawkes, you're with McKinley and me." They made it to the landing field in five mikes. It was bustling with frantic activity. Soldiers were everywhere loading ISSCVs with weapons, ammunition, and personnel. Several sentries stood alert at the far ends of the field, ready to defend their comrades from impending attack. No one gave them a second glance, so intent where they on evacuating before the Chigs arrived. McQueen marched to the command tent hastily erected by the evac vehicles. He didn't know what to expect. He wasn't particularly looking forward to interacting with Harris. Why didn't Glen put more effort into talking him out of coming ground side. Well that was water under the bridge. He opened the flaps and walked inside.
Harris glanced briefly at McQueen and continued to give evac orders to the Sergeant in front of him. To the left of Harris was a woman. Her hazel eyes seemed to look right through him. She was on the thin side, and the only other feature that had chance against her mesmerizing stare was her hair. It was the color of mahogany except for where the fluorescent light touched it, then it flared like flames. As he made his way to Harris something crinkled under his foot. It seemed prudent to break the visual connection between him and the woman, so he looked down. He bent to pick up the sheet of paper and noticed that paper was strewn throughout the floor. He saw that it was a child's school paper and looked back up at Harris and the woman. At that moment McQueen heard someone else enter the tent behind him and all hell broke lose.
"Spy!" Harris bellowed and pointed behind McQueen. "Sergeant, arrest that man!"
To Be Continued
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