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“Cleared to land on Pad One Zero, Sisters' Refuge Control out.”
Sister's Refuge in HIP 16813 was a different kind of station, in more ways than one. It was run by a religious order called the Order of the Seven Bells, what they worshiped and what it all entailed I have no idea. The other thing is that it is a hollowed out asteroid, just a lump of rock with a slot to get in. With clearance given it was that slot that I aimed the bright yellow Orca toward.
Apart from the appearance the asteroid station was just as good as any other space station. As the Orca was lowered into the hangar a group of the Orders members waited for the access port to open so that they could remove the Escape Pods within it's hold.
“So how many this time Brother Aitken.” One of the Sisters asked as Shoshana and I stepped out of the ship.
“Just the twelve this time. Would have been more but one of the Flower Ships got a little upset at us for taking their share of the Pods.”
Now if that sound a little nonchalant it was an act. It wasn't the first time I had seen one and it also wasn't the first time one had fired at me but no matter now many times I had encountered them they always filled with the same feeling. Fear. They scared the snot out of me. Drifting up and scanning you with that yellow green light wasn't that bad but their appearance was so alien (well duh) , maybe fear is too strong a word but they definitely gave me the creeps. It could have been because Shoshana was with me. I had tried to reason with her before we left the Ring but no, as usual she had to have her own way and here we were.
As the Pods were being unloaded I had a word with one of the repair crews supervisors.
“Doesn't look too bad Commander. End of day tomorrow suit you?” The fair haired lady asked me.
“That quick? Sure.” I replied enthusiastically. “You really shouldn't have to do this but that last one was quicker that the others I have encountered, damn good turn of speed.”
“Sounds like you ran into a Basilisk.” She must have saw the blank look I bore. “It's the name Aegis have give this new variant, it's quicker and carries more Thargons than the Cyclops. Anyway time to get on if you want this thing back tomorrow.”
As the mechanic walked away I took Shoshana by the hand and headed into the station. A couple of turns after leaving the hangar I found what I was looking for, a cafe with communication outlets.
Shoshana went to order coffee and something to eat as I grabbed a table and started to hook up the padd I had with me. As much as I had tried to get her to return to the Ring I must admit it had easier with her to help. After retrieving an escape pod Shoshana would go to the hold to check it over and make sure it was stowed safely. While she was doing that I could continue with rescue operations, keep an eye on the Goid or as like the last time, run. The Orca was one of the better ships for the 'Brave Sir Robin' due to it's excellent speed and with the thrusters upgraded by Prof. Palin it was even better.
“Aitken, where have you been for the past two weeks?” Gabe Wyndham sounded relieved as he spoke to me.
“Sorry old man I've been a little busy. Got this crazy idea that the Goids were using humans for experiments. So with them picking up pods I thought it would be a good idea to beat them to the punch.”
“Alright but experimenting on them for what reason?” My Dads old friend asked.
“To do to us what we did to them, make a virus or a plague to hit back at us. Heck now I think about it the Cerberus plague could have been their first attempt. ”
“Again a possibility. Have you voiced your concerns to Aegis?”
“Yeah. They were thinking along the same lines or something similar as they put out a call for pilots to collect and then deliver pods to one of their stations out here.” I took a sip of coffee as Shoshana joined me.
“Hello young lady, didn't think he'd be so stupid to put you at risk.”
“You can't blame Aitken for this Gabe. I wouldn't let him leave me at home.”
“I'm sure he didn't try very hard to dissuade you, anyway. So you've been working for Aegis have you?”
“Just for a couple of days, as soon as I could I got back to delivering here at Sisters' Refugee. I don't trust that Aegis organisation very far. They feel like INRA light to me but with added Alliance for extra conspiracy points.” Gabe kept his face deadpan before his next words.
“I know you have done a little research on INRA so I'll take your word on that but talking about them. The ship that fired the Mycoid missile has been found. A vintage Cobra Mk. III. I have a copy of the logs that I'll send you. Let's just say that it doesn't paint INRA in a good light.”
“Very little does make INRA sound good Gabe.” I paused as the audio logs installed on the padd. “I'll listen to these later. You know, I don't like the way I'm feeling about all this. Something just doesn't sit right.”
“I hear you. Kinda feels like we're all being played.” The old man said nodding. “So many players and pieces in play we probably are missing some things.”
“Yeah, I just wish we knew what those things were.” I answered before taking a bite out of the sandwich Shoshana and brought for us.
“Well if we knew them they won't be missing would they.” Gabe answered matter of factly. I couldn't answer as my mouth was full and because he was right. “Well you listen to those logs when you get the chance and remember to check in now and again. Things are quiet this close to Sol but that could change.” I promised to check in with him on a more regular basis and then he cut the connection.
“They sent him to his death.” Shoshana said after the fourth log faded out. “That INRA, sure sounded like they were evil.”
“Were?” I asked.
“They disbanded, you think they're still around?” It was her turn to ask a question.
“Yup. An organisation that big with the amount of power it held doesn't just disband. I think they just went underground. Slinked into the shadows and waited for the right time.”
“I can see that happening sure. So you think that Aegis is just a front for them?”
“No.” I shook my head as I spoke. “Aegis I think is a honest attempt by the Super Powers to work toward a solution. Aegis are more than likely being used by INRA , played. They're still in the shadows cast by Aegis.”
“Are you guessing or do you have real proof?” A slight hint of concern crept into her voice.
“No proof. I'm just guessing. Adding two and two together and probably coming up with five.” I gave a shrug.
Gabe must've hit my conscience as I spent some of the 18 hours downtime getting in touch with those close to me. Mum was fine. She and Shoshana spent an hour catching up. Emma was now in Imperial space and flying a Python doing honest trading as she called it. Cleo seemed unconcerned about the Goid Threat. Kev and the family were doing well and that only left Robert, who for some reason I could not get a hold of. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't concerned but knowing who he worked for, it also didn't surprise me. I left a message at his office. All that left me doing in between calls was checking up on the Orca. I made a point of only visiting a couple of times. I have never known a mechanic who enjoyed being checked up on, a couple of times was alright by them but making it a regular habit never went well. So I tried to leave them to it for the most part.
The 18 hours were relaxing, just the break from the frantic scooping and evading we had been doing. So it was two revived humans that entered the hangar to reclaim the newly repaired Orca. The sounds of industry and repair slowly ebbed away to silence as one by one the maintenance crews became aware of the breaking news bulletin that appeared on the few screens in the hangar bays.
“Hades, that's The Oracle!” “Their attacking stations.” “The reactor, their hitting the reactor.”
A few other words filtered through the hushed muttering of those in the hangar area. I just stood watching as the horror unfolded before us. The image cut to a worried looking announcer.
“As you have just witnessed ladies and gentleman the Thargoids have finally shown their true intent. They have sent a new type of Interceptor, codenamed Medusa by Aegis, to cause havoc to three new stations out in the Pleiades. Aegis have sent out a call to all Independent pilots to help evacuate the affected stations. This desperate and cowardly attack will be met....”
“Is this a Federal or Aegis feed?” I asked Shoshana.
“Federal I think.” I nodded and was not the least surprised due to the tone being set by the announcer.
“Come on, I'll pay for the repairs to Anthem and then we'll go.”
She didn't even ask where we were going, she knew as soon as we both had seen the attack where our next stop would be. She did however set off in the direction that we had last saw out mechanic, I hung back still looking at the images of the Medusa that were now being shown. I didn't think it was possible but this latest variant was even uglier and scarier than Basilisks. With one last glance I headed toward the two women standing beside the bright yellow Orca.
The heat was intense I was sweating just standing by the entry door of the Orca. It was more intense on the flight deck above. The heat was creating strange air currents and up-draft thermals that had caused me to sweat for different reasons. A harassed sounding flight controller had granted landing permission and had been warning all inbound craft about the heat. I had even tightened my seat harness but I was still shocked by the fury and power of the explosions that rocked the ship.
“That's us full Aitken.” Shoshana proclaimed from the interior.
I turned to tell the next person in line that they would have to wait for the next ship. Standing there was a young guy holding what looked to be a bunch of rags in his arms. The rags gave a cough and I saw that it was a young girl, she must have been about three or four.
“Don't tell us no mister please. She ain't doin' so well.” I looked into the cabin again. “Please Commander, we lost her mother in the attack and I don't want to lose her too. I need to get her to a doctor soon. I can pay if I need to man, please.”
I thought about asking someone to get off for him but the panic and terror that had shown on most of the faces told me no one would volunteer or be told to do that.
“Listen and listen good. “I told him as I pointed to a jump seat at the back of the cabin. “It's only got a lap belt so hang on to her tight as the flight out of here is going to be bumpy.”
“Thank you, oh thank you.” Once he and his daughter were in I closed the hatch and headed to the pilots chair.
“We're over weight you know.” Shoshana told me as I strapped in. I gave a shrug and started the start up sequence. “That was a sweet thing you did there.”
“Yeah well, we'll see how sweet it was once we hit the air up there.”
“We'll be fine. I hear we have a good pilot.” Her smile and light-hearted tone seemed to take a little of my worry away as the elevator began to move.
“Pffft. He's lucky, dunno about good though.” I replied as we received clearance to lift off.
I had never been so happy to have fitted A grade thrusters than I was at that moment. The rocking and buffeting may even have helped lift the narrow Orca but it still wasn't a smooth ride. In a Beluga, Conda or any other ship with a larger plan profile it must have been worse. Once up to the level of the slot I only opened the throttle half way as a huge piece of the stations superstructure floated past us. Once clear of the debris and with the ships temperature rising I dropped a heat-sink and hit the boost. Anthem rocketed out of the slot and past the toast rack before another thermal could push us off our route. Then once in supercruise I kept the throttle wide open and a few seconds later we were dropping beside the rescue ship.
A medical team were waiting to meet the ship as it descended into the mega-ship and rushed in to help the injured. I watched as the the kid and her father were led away into an uncertain future.
“They'll be fine, she has some smoke inhalation but otherwise she's good.” Sho spoke reassuringly.
“Yeah but growing up with out her mother is going to be tough. That's if she gets to grow up.”
“Those are problems beyond the medical teams responsibility. Beyond ours too. We can only do our best.” A thoughtful expression appeared on her face and I knew that she would be thinking of her own kids.
“I'm sure their fine. Quivira is not in any danger that I know of.” She nodded and gave my hand a squeeze.
“Well Fly Boy we're not helping anyone standing here shooting the breeze are we? C'mon lets get back to The Oracle and get some more survivors.”
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