Falling back to the Helios’s bridge had been more a desperation move than Bran was ready to admit. They were cut off from the Gorion and surrounded by a horde of undead. He’d grasped Fentan’s information that B Deck had been vented like a drowning man grabs a lifeline. He’d led them here because it was all he could come up with to get his crew out of danger and keep them alive. To give him a chance to regroup.
Squaring his shoulders, Bran joined the others clustering around the now vacant command chair. He looked from face to face quickly, seeing their eyes watching him and nodding to each in turn. They’d succeeded in his plan to reach the bridge and now waited to hear the next part of it. He wanted to know what it was as well, but one of the first lessons of command was to always show confidence, especially when you were less than confident yourself. And right now, he would have paid good credits to only be less than confident.
Now, as he joined the rest of his crew, he had to conjure up a new plan to save his people from suffering the same fate the poor woman he and Fentan had just laid to rest. He needed information badly, and the ship’s computer was his best shot at getting it. The information contained within this relic’s databases might give him enough insight into the nature of the ship’s undead crew to retake the initiative. If he could dictate the terms of engagement, he’d have a much better shot of keeping his crew alive.
To get that critical information, he turned his eyes on the best computer slicer he’d ever met; Imoen. Her tool kit and mobile computer were already laid out on the deck plate and she’d set to work tearing apart the right arm of the command chair. As another access panel joined the small pile of discarded equipment, he crouched down by the dervish of destruction and asked, “Imoen, how long to crack the bridge computer?”
“Not sure, big bro,” Imoen replied without looking up from her work. “Depends on how quickly I can get a solid datalink and how complicated the security protocols are. I don’t want to just brute force it because we want the data in a useable format. And I gotta figure they ‘crypted it to make sure no one could, so I’m going to have to take my time.”
“Probably two to three hours to build the interface, crack the encryption and actually sort through everything. Really depends on how much effort I have to put in to get Sparky,” she patted the pink-cased mobile computer affectionately, “to talk to the ship’s AI in any real and meaningful way.”
“Any time you can shave off…”
“Is more than appreciated, I know, I know,” interrupted Imoen breezily. “But we’re talking some old and sophisticated computers here and its not like I’m just brute forcing a security lock or something and I can just frag the existing code. I cut any more corners and I run the risk of the data looking like scrambled naughty tri-D broadcasts.” The edge of her mouth turned up wickedly. “And I doubt you’re feeling too nostalgic.”
Bran cocked an eyebrow at his sister. She had an amazing knack for needling him even at the most inopportune times. A little levity probably wasn’t a bad thing, but he also didn’t feel like crossing mental swords with her when both had enough on their minds. Choosing a more neutral course, he replied, “Not particularly sis. Just get me the data.”
Imoen was silent for a moment before replying. “Sure thing big bro. Sparky and I are on it.”
The soft voice of the doctor came over the tac net next. “P..pardon me, C..captain. But if we are going to be st..stationary for a while, I.. I’d like to request that we go off suit life support to conserve capacity.”
“The Doctor has a good point,” Jaheira seconded. “While we’ve got plenty of life support capacity left, without a way to extend it, we should marshal it carefully.”
Bran flicked his eyes down to the life support indicators on his own suit. They were still all well within the green. The life support equipment built into each of the suits they wore was rated at 72 hours of sustained use in vacuum before the systems would need to be recharged. In the pressurized corridors of this ship, they could probably eke out another 10 to 12 hours as the temperature demands would not be as stringent, but eventually the atmospheric systems would fail, killing the suit’s occupant.
Nodding towards the doctor, Bran replied, “Good point. Everyone switch to local atmosphere.”
Bran punched in the appropriate command sequence to his wristcomp to switch over to local atmosphere. His suit’s sensors cycled through a confirmation sequence, checking to make sure that there was pressure and that the air mix present was breathable. After each requirement was met, the suit’s life support systems went into standby and the helmet seals disengaged.
Reaching up, Bran pushed up his faceplate and locked it into position over the crown of his helmet. His skin tingled as the dry, cold air of the Helios washed over his face. It was dead air, processed too many times by the ship’s environmental plant, and stank of dust, dried lubricants and decaying plastics. However, there was another smell, one that while not pleasant, served as a welcome counterpoint to the lifeless odors of over-processed air, the smell of unwashed Yolandan.
Bran turned towards the former captive and saw the Yolandan captain shrug, obviously understanding his reasons for doing so. “My apologies captain, but my captors did not think to provide me with bathing facilities.”
“I understand that, Mazzy,” replied Bran.
“I was only informing you of that to curtail any of the inevitable humorous remarks you or your crew might have chosen to make,” Mazzy explained.
“We wouldn’t do that,” Bran replied defensively.
“Captain, with all due respect, I have had a chance to observe you and your crew for some time now, so you will understand that my opinion of your self restraint is less than optimal,” Mazzy replied neutrally.
Ignoring the snort of laughter coming from his executive officer, Bran replied indignantly, “Just a moment here…”
Bran trailed off as he saw the wry smile cross the Yolandan’s face. It was perhaps the first one of hers he’d seen and it caught him flatfooted. His eyes narrowed slightly as he studied her. A slight smile formed on his lips as he waggled a gauntleted finger at her. “Decided to try and run up this old space dog, did you?”
Mazzy’s smile widened. “It seemed an appropriate occasion, yes. Especially considering the fact that I am in dire need of a shower.”
“Can’t argue with you there,” Bran replied with a laugh. “However, I can’t have people running around, mocking my august command personage. There will have to be some sort of punishment.”
The snorts of laughter turned into guffaws, most notably from Jaheira. Firing a glance in her direction, he said, “Well people, we’ve got time to waste while Im does her Immy thang on these poor unsuspecting computers. Might as well put it to good use. Here’s what we’re going to do. Doc, you and Minsc are going to stay here on the bridge and watch Imoen’s back. The rest of us are going to sweep the rest of the Command section. Jaheira and I will take the port section.” Bran turned towards Mazzy and cracked a wicked grin. “And you Captain Fentan, your sentence is to accompany Valygar in his sweep of the starboard section. I hope that will teach you your lesson properly.”
Mazzy nodded, her smile steadfastly refusing to fade. “Of course, Captain. I understand.”
Resting his Bladesinger against his shoulder, he smiled and said, “Alright people, let’s be about it.”
Valygar led the pair out of the starboard bridge hatch, one Katana resting in its hip holster, the other held in a ready position. He flicked his eyes back at Mazzy, who trailed him to port by about three paces and mentally nodded as he watched her carry her carbine at the ready as well. Since they were in a supposed ‘safe zone,’ some people may have been tempted to adopt a less vigilant mien. They would assume that the enemy also knew that the area was secure without confirming that with them, to sometimes disastrous effect. Thankfully, Mazzy was not one of them.
The first door off the starboard command corridor was right next to the starboard bridge hatch, the ancient label reading ‘Conference Room.’ Valygar studied the door for a moment, sensor readouts flashing across the transparent piece of memory plastic that wrapped around his eyes from his tactical set, replacing the displays built into his helmet faceplate. Leads along the neck of his pressure suit fed the data into the tac set from the processors and sensors built into his armored suit’s torso. His sensors assured him that the door and the room beyond were clear. However, he hadn’t lived as long as he had by just blindly accepting sensor information.
Motioning for Mazzy to take up a cover position, Valygar stabbed the button to open the conference room doors. Surprisingly, the ancient metal panels easily slid back into walls, revealing what had been a well-appointed and comfortable conference room. The transsteel windows were badly scarred and occluded from centuries of nebular gasses and the plaques and pictures dull and dingy. The leather chairs that ran around the heavy table were dried and cracked, two so damaged that large pieces of leather hung listlessly from their frames. The table itself was little better, empty food containers and sheets of plaspaper and datapads strewn about wildly and its holoprojectors obviously damaged.
The two swept the room quickly and professionally, finding no threats. Lowering their weapons slightly, Mazzy looked over to the taller form of Valygar and said, “Perhaps we should investigate the… rubble. There might be something of value in that… mess.”
Valygar looked over the wreckage and shrugged. “Very well.”
“I will take the bow side, you the aft?” the diminutive woman offered.
“Agreed,” the dark skinned man said, moving to the foot of the table while he took the aft. Resting his pulse rifle on the table, he reached for the closest piece of plaspaper to begin his search. A quick glance showed nothing more than what looked like idle doodling, quickly scrawled images of trees and birds. Disregarding it, he moved to the next. The second one was as useless as the first, this one so stained by what looked like e-rats to be illegible.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” Mazzy asked he dropped the stained page and grabbed for a new one.
“No,” Valygar answered, examining a long defunct datapad that resolutely refused to reactivate.
“What exactly are you and your crewmates doing out this far?”
Valygar lowered the useless datapad and looked over at Mazzy. His studied her for a long moment, Mazzy meeting his eyes the entire time. Deciding there would be no harm in telling her, he replied simply, “Gas prospecting.”
Mazzy’s left eyebrow shot up speculatively at the comment. Flicking her eyes over his powered space armor and his Katanas, she quipped, “You and your crewmates are rather well equipped for gas prospectors.”
Valygar dropped the defunct datapad into the pile and grabbed another piece of plaspaper. This one had unintelligible scrawling covering its surface. Dropping that as well, he replied succinctly, “Indeed.”
“Do you actually expect me to believe that a crew outfitted with modern battle armor and a mobile talking piece of field artillery are a bunch of gas miners?” she replied, her eyebrow remaining arched but her voice quite level.
“No?” she replied, this time her voice rising incredulously.
Mazzy discarded the dead datapad she was holding and stared at him. Waggling a finger, she replied as levelly as she could, “Let me get this straight. You told me you were out here gas mining but that you don’t expect me to believe that? Then why tell me you out here gas prospecting? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Valygar looked up from another useless piece of plaspaper. Shrugging, he replied calmly, “You asked us what we were doing out here and I answered. Any erroneous assumptions you made based on that are your own.”
Valygar allowed himself a small smile as he watched the diminutive captain blink. He quickly picked up another datapad to disguise his smile and save her any further embarrassment. Unlike certain pink clad acquaintances of his, it was the wordplay that mattered, not necessarily the consternation. He studied the pad, looking for any useful information as he awaited Mazzy’s response.
His fruitless examination lasted as long as it took for the Yolandan to put the facts in the proper order. Not very long at all. Eyes slightly narrowed at him, she said, “I see. The task does not make the crew. You may have been gas prospecting, but you are not miners, correct?”
“Then the question becomes,” she continued with a hint of her own smile, “what exactly you and Captain Varnas do.”
Valygar tossed the useless datapad to the discard pile and offered her a smile of his own before replying, “We are… problem solvers.”
“You mean mercenaries,” Mazzy replied, almost managing to conceal the contempt in her tone.
“No. Problem solvers,” Valygar replied flatly.
Mazzy’s left eyebrow cocked as she studied him instead of the piece of plaspaper in her hand. Slowly, she said, “However, you do, on occasion, use your obvious talents and abilities to solve certain problems in a more militaristic manner. For currency.”
“On occasion we do use our training in that manner,” he replied, tone even and eyes flat.
“So, you are former military then?” Mazzy asked redirecting the topic away from that particular subject. “I figured that was the case considering your organization and equipment.”
“Other than the Doctor and our engineer, yes.”
“With whom? Alliance? Dohlmani? Or one of the independent worlds?”
“We all left service with the Alliance a few years ago.”
“Left?” Mazzy asked, “Or discharged?”
“Not that it is any of your business, Mazzy,” Valygar said, the evenness of his tone now showing the iron beneath, “but we all resigned our commissions.”
“I see,” Mazzy said with a quick nod.
“Indeed,” Valygar replied as he continued to fruitlessly search. “Now I have a question for you.”
“Considering the questions I have asked, I consider that only fair.”
“What were you and the Peregrine actually doing so far from Yolandan space?”
“I told you all earlier. We were on a deep space exploration to determine if this sector had any usable resources for my government,” Mazzy replied testily.
“So, your ship was a science vessel?” Valygar pressed.
“Of course it was. It was a survey mission; therefore a survey vessel would be the best choice.”
“Then why do you have a regular navy insignia on your coverall instead of the Scientific Directorate’s?” Valygar asked, fixing his eyes on the Yolandan woman’s face.
Mazzy neither blinked nor frowned. In fact, she seemed to smile slightly. “The crossed swords instead of the flask is what makes you doubt my story?”
“Indeed,” he replied.
“I see the paranoia in regards to my people extends beyond just your captain,” she replied with a slight shake of the head. “But, to answer your question within a question, no, we were not out here for any military purpose, purely scientific. As to why I bear the crossed swords of the regular fleet is because I am in the regular fleet. The SD decided they would have more success assigning regular fleet captains to command their survey vessels instead of scientists. A few costly accidents by scientist-captains made that decision for them.”
“Interesting. I was not aware of that,” Valygar said with a nod.
“Considering that Central Command is not in the business of informing Alliance personnel, never mind former Alliance officers, of its internal personnel assignments it is not too surprising,” she said with a laugh.
“I suppose not,” Valygar said with his own chuckle as he discarded yet another piece of plaspaper that contained nothing but scrawls and what appeared to be dancing stick figures. “And I think our search has proven worthless.”
“There does seems to be nothing of use amongst this detritus,” Mazzy sighed, pushing away a blank stack of plaspaper.
“Then we should move on. There are still other compartments in this section to check.”
“Agreed,” Mazzy replied, gathering up her battered neutron carbine.
Once more, Valygar took the lead, sweeping out of the conference room and back into the corridor. The short-barreled Katana held lightly in his right hand, he worked his way towards the next hatch. Eyes playing back and forth, he asked, “Mazzy, why me?”
“Why you?” she asked, her tone surprisingly light. “I’m just a ship captain, not a philosopher.”
“That sounded strangely like an attempt at humor.”
“Perhaps it was,” the Yolandan replied. “My people are renowned for it.”
“Indeed. I suspect Imoen got some Yolandan mixed in her genetic code somewhere,” he said with an almost chuckle.
“You seem to get along with her well enough.”
“Years of training. First her brother, then her.” He turned his head part way and gave her a small smile. “Adapt or die.”
“You’ve known them a long time?” Mazzy asked as Valygar examined the next hatch. The door label had succumbed to time’s wrath, but his tac display provided a likely candidate for what it was. Owing to the position of the hatch, it most likely was part of the security station that guarded the bridge approach. Which made it of definite interest.
“Indeed. A very long time,” Valygar answered succinctly as he examined the hatch’s control panel. Once again, the door read as unlocked. Not that it was much of a surprise considering the lone occupant and the solid security doors that guarded the section. What had made life easier for the marooned captain simplified his as well.
Motioning for Mazzy to take up a position to the other side of the hatch, he said, “Probably the security section. Be ready.”
Hoisting her weapon, she nodded. “Ready.”
Valygar slapped the button to open the hatch and swept inside, Mazzy close on his heels. He played his weapon over his section of the room, finding no threats. What he did find was what had been the command center’s armory. Mostly empty armor and weapon racks lined the compartment’s walls and a few apparently empty ammunition boxes littered the floor. A computer station rested to the rear of the room where another hatch led to what he assumed was the actual defensive station itself.
Nodding to the computer, Valygar said, “I’ll check the computer, you check the racks, see if there is anything useful.”
Mazzy nodded in response and headed for the racks while Valygar pulled up around the computer station. He tapped the control panel lightly and much to his surprise, the ancient screen flickered to life. Unfortunately, all that appeared was a splash screen showing the ship’s logo, a flaming sun with the text GASV Helios and BC-120 written across the bottom, and the text “System Currently Unavailable.”
“Any luck?” Mazzy asked as he smiled slightly at the screen.
“The terminal still works, but it is ‘currently unavailable,’”
“Not terribly surprising.”
“Other than it working.”
“Other than that of course.”
“How about you?”
“Nothing really. A few sets of unpowered armor that probably wouldn’t fit anyone but Minsc, an obviously downchecked stun rifle and…” Mazzy trailed off and went silent for a moment. Then she almost chortled, “Oh hello there.”
“What is it?” Valygar asked, looking up from the unresponsive console.
“This,” she said, pointing at one of the weapons racks with a smile that could only be termed predatory. “And it’s still in its factory packaging.”
Valygar took one look at it and suppressed a shudder. “I see.”
“Oh yes. Give me a hand over here.”
Leaving the long abandoned bridge med station, Bran led Jaheira further down the rest of the corridor they were sweeping. So far, they’d turned up nothing of interest nor any sign of danger, but neither one was taking anything for granted. Carefully, they made their way to the last two hatches to this side of the bridge, each positioned to cover the other and stay out of their field of fire.
As they drew up to the last two hatchways, Bran asked, “Fore or aft first?”
Bran nodded and moved to the sealed hatch. Like all the other doors in the Command section, it read as unlocked. Once Jaheira slipped into position, he punched the open button. As the ancient door slid open, he slipped inside, sweeping one side of the room with Jaheira hot on his heels covering the other side. Once again, the room was clear.
The compartment itself was rather small, consisting of a workdesk and chair with two dusty, cracked guest chairs pushed up against the near wall. A computer workstation, a few knick knacks, and a nameplate rested under the thick layer of dust that had swallowed the desk whole. A coffee cup sat forlornly by the workstation, its bright colors still visible under a half millennia of dust. The room possessed the jarring feel of one where the occupant had dashed off and would return any moment, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Resting his Bladesinger against his shoulder, Bran picked up the nameplate and blew the thick layer of dust off. The once-shiny brass read, “Cmdr. Robert Cooper, GASV Helios.” Putting it back down, he said, “Probably the X.O.’s office.”
“Most likely,” Jaheira replied.
“Just for kicks, I’m going to try his workstation. Who knows, might just work,” he said almost hopefully as he walked around the desk and tapped at the panel, trying to get a response. Neither the panel nor the screen lit up, both remaining stubbornly dark. Shrugging, he said, “Or not.”
“Considering the computer lockdown and the age of the equipment, this doesn’t surprise me.”
“No, not really. Just hoping for another clue to help me figure out what in the blazes is going on here,” Bran replied, poking about the other knick knacks lying about the desk.
“Isn’t that what you have Imoen doing?”
“Yes. But sometimes you can find vital information in the strangest places. Using trash piles to predict troop movements and morale, things like that. Could be the key to this whole thing is lying out here in plain sight. We just have to find it.” He peered into the derelict mug and deadpanned, “However, I doubt that the mug holds any clues. Unless failed biowarfare experiments would be of use against the undead.
Jaheira fixed him with a speculative look and then said firmly, “We will find a way out of this.”
Bran looked up from the desk and looked back into those green eyes. He could feel them reading his thoughts like the open pages of a book. She’d known him too well for too long. Shrugging, he managed a half smile and asked, “Am I being that obvious?”
She walked forward and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder. Despite the sheer physical impossibility of it, he could feel the warmth of her touch through his shoulder armor. Smiling, she said teasingly, “Don’t worry, oh Captain my Captain. I doubt anyone else has noticed. Not that I think it would matter considering the circumstances.”
He shrugged and then smiled. “With this crew, probably not. But still…”
“Yes, I know.”
“One still must maintain appearances,” Bran said with a jaunty finger waggle, repeating the age-old dictum from command school. The thought that his mask of confidence could be slipping disturbed him.
Jaheira snorted. “If this was a naval crew and vessel I might agree. But this is most certainly not.”
“True enough, I suppose. It’s more like a heavily armed and well-trained family than a crew at this point,” Bran admitted. “And that’s what makes this situation even worse.”
Jaheira released his shoulder and nodded. “We have been in tough situations before.”
“More than a few,” Bran chuckled ruefully. As he continued, his voice bitterly darkened. “But this is different. Much different. We’re up against an enemy unlike any we’ve faced before. There isn’t a chapter in the Book on how to deal with a ship crewed by the dead. Somehow this particular scenario didn’t make it in. Can’t imagine why.” He laughed mirthlessly at his own joke. “I know we can kill them. Shot to the head drops them like a sack. But knowing how to kill them doesn’t tell me how to beat them. We can storm out there and kill them by the scores until every power pack runs dry and every pulse clip is empty. But all that gets us is a huge heap of corpses. And unless we’ve suddenly joined one of the Assault Regiments, that doesn’t necessarily equal victory.”
“We don’t have to beat them, Bran,” Jaheira replied, her concern growing as his tone darkened. “That isn’t our prime concern. Our prime concern is escaping this ship while minimizing casualties.”
“I know that,” Bran growled. Shaking his head, he took a moment to compose himself. “But I just don’t see how we can do that without beating them. We’ve lost the Gorion and Fentan says there aren’t any other spaceworthy craft on board. Unless there are, that means we have to somehow defeat these bloody zombies. We have to find a way to kill the frelling dead before they kill us. Without more information to hang a theory on, all I’ve got it is to go in guns blazing and hope we’re good enough and fast enough to win the war of attrition. It’s that or sitting up here until we slowly starve to death.” Bran slammed both hands palm down on the ancient desk in frustration. “Since I have no intention of ending up like Captain Vico, I have to figure out another way.” His shoulders slumped and deep sigh poured out of his chest. “And right now, I just can’t see one.”
Jaheira quickly stepped around the desk and slipped her arms around him and hugged him tight. Usually a swift kick to the emotional behind would suffice but this wasn’t such a time. She could see the doubt and fear baying at the edges of his mind. While this was no warship, if his confidence crumpled the effects would be disastrous, not just for the morale of the rest of her crewmates but it would cost them one of the best tactical minds she’d ever known. And that could cost her the only other man she’d ever loved.
Cocking her head so that she could stare right into the troubled darkness of his brown eyes, she said confidently, “We will figure it out Bran. That is why we fought so hard to get to the bridge. That is why Imoen is slicing the computers. We will get the information we need to get all of us off this unnatural hellhole.”
“And if that information isn’t in the computers?” Bran asked, allowing himself to express the fear that had been eating at him since he plotted their course for the bridge.
“Then we ‘apply the Powered Boot of Righteousness to Filthy Backside of Evil,” Jaheira replied in a passable impersonation of their over-enthusiastic gunner and fixed him with a wry smile.
Bran couldn’t help but laugh. “That would be Minsc’s solution to the problem, wouldn’t it?”
“I believe it is safe to say that is Minsc’s solution to every problem,” Jaheira replied with her own laugh.
“You know, you’re right,” Bran laughed, light flashing back to his eyes.
“Of course,” Jaheira replied dryly. “I’m always right. It would save significant time if you could simply remember that.”
Bran burst into laughter and Jaheira quickly joined in. Wrapping his arms around her waist, Bran hauled Jaheira into a tight embrace. The two hugged each other fiercely, armor almost creaking under the strain. After a long moment, Bran tilted his head down to Jaheira and said huskily, “I love you Jaheira. I don’t know if I tell you enough, but I truly, deeply do.”
Jaheira gave him a soft smile. “And I love you. Now, why don’t we finish up our sweep and see what your sister has dug up.”
Bran nodded and loosed his grip on the lovely woman he had in his arms. “Indeed. We don’t want to distract her from her work by ‘forcing’ her to make suggestive comments about what we’ve been up to.”
Both gathered their weapons and headed for the door. Bran reached out to open the door and then stopped, hand hovering over the panel. He turned to towards her and said, “Thank you Jaheira.”
“You are welcome. Just doing my duty.”
An eyebrow arched speculatively. “As my X.O. or my S.O.?”
“Both,” she said with a smile.
Minsc cradled his neutron blaster in both armored hands as he kept a sharp eye on both of the bridge access hatches. Both eyes actually, and the incredibly sharp eyes of Boo as well. Nothing would get past them, not with Little Imoen and Little Aerie to protect.
“Hey big guy, what’s with the puny pea shooter?” whined the electronic voice of his disruptor cannon from its safe position, locked vertically against his harness.
“Because we need to protect the bridge equipment Larry, and sometimes you get too enthusiastic,” he replied.
“Aw come on,” groaned the weapon. “You’re going to take that little thing over your good buddy Larry? You ain’t gonna stop anything with that.”
“Larry,” Minsc admonished as he gently patted the harness mounted weapon, “Boo and I explained. Quarters are too close to use your mighty powers on the bridge. We could damage one of the computers that Little Imoen needs, and that would make her grumpy. And if she’s grumpy, she’ll yell at us. And you don’t want that.”
“I still say you need me! Now, unsafe me and get me back into firing position! There could be hordes of zombie meat that needs vaporizing running up at us right now! You leave me up here and I’ll miss all that juicy fun!!”
“The deck is secure, Larry, so you will stay up there and recharge,” Minsc said sternly. Then more cheerfully he added, “Plus, Minsc is sure that there will be plenty of evil zombie buttocks to kick.”
“Fine! Just leave me all alone then!” Lilarcor whined.
“Okay,” Minsc agreed.
The disruptor cannon growled with frustration, but Minsc ignored that to listen to the musical sound of Little Aerie’s laughter. He turned to face the pretty little doctor and smiled as he saw a real smile on her face. It was the first one he’d seen since they’d come onboard this Evil ship.
“It is good to see Little Aerie smiling again. She has such a pretty smile and it always makes Minsc and Boo happy to see it,” Minsc said warmly.
Little Aerie’s smile widened further and a hint of red crept into her cheeks. “Why thank you, Minsc. I.. I think I needed the laugh.”
“Boo says that we all need a few laughs, and Boo is usually right about these things,” Minsc replied. Then more quickly he added, “Except when Little Imoen tries to make them.”
“I heard that, lunkhead,” Little Imoen announced from across the bridge. “Just busy.”
Little Aerie laughed again and Minsc beamed. Little Aerie was always so often sad and Minsc cherished every little smile he could give her. He just wished he had Boo’s talent for words.
“Minsc, Doc, Bran here. We’re at the hatch, coming back. Hold fire,” Bran’s voice sounded in his tac set, interrupting his chain of thought.
“Yes sir, Captain Bran,” Minsc quickly answered, raising his blaster so its barrel wasn’t pointed at the hatch.
A moment later, the door hissed open and Captain Bran and Jaheira stepped through. There was a little more dust on their armor and both of his mighty commanders looked more cheerful than when they’d left the bridge. Minsc hoped that it was a good sign, because Boo wanted to get off this ship.
“Everything good here?” Captain Bran asked.
“Yes, Captain Bran! No signs of Evildoers!”
Captain Bran nodded and smiled at him before looking at the armored figure sitting by the command chair. “Hey Sis, how’s it going?”
“Sparky’s cranking away,” Little Imoen replied, “But the encryption is tough. I’ve run into encrypt patterns I’ve never seen before already and I figure I’m only a third of the way through.”
“That bad, Im?”
“Look, I’m not saying Sparky and I can’t get it, but we’re dealing with some serious encrypt. Some top flight pre-Crash stuff, as good or even better than most of what we’ve got now.” Little Imoen looked up and flashed them all the grin that only meant trouble. “But I’ll slice it. And I’m keeping copies.”
“Alrighty then,” Captain Bran replied. “Once V and Fentan get back, we’ll button up the bridge hatches…”
“Captain, Minsc, Valygar here,” cut in Valygar’s voice, cutting off Captain Bran. “We’re at the starboard hatch.”
“Understood. Find anything?”
“I suppose you could say that,” Valygar replied, sounding almost unhappy.
The starboard bridge hatched hissed open and Valygar and the little Yolandan woman stepped through. As Valygar stepped through, Minsc saw that the Yolandan woman was pushing a cart. That in its self was odd, but what on the cart was what caught his eye.
It was impossible to mistake what it was. The four rotating tristeel barrels. The belt feeder mechanism. The body harness design and the integrated targeting system. Minsc had never seen that particular model, but the Voices spoke and the white hot rush filled his mind. Strange images burst into his mind, from the Dark Place. Now he knew exactly what it was and all of its proper operating procedures, from basic maintenance to proper bracing procedures for max distro fire.
He cringed and felt the soft paw of Boo on his neck. His friend chittered softly and the white hot rush subsided. Reaching up to pet his friend, the words poured forth, “Minsc has never seen one of these before. It’s old, historical data. That is a Leonis EMG-20 four barrel electro-impulse flechette thrower, in Alliance service from 1057 to 1198. Three thousand round per minute fire rate, maximum effective range one kilometer. Capable of operation in vacuum. Designed primarily for ship boarding actions. Unloaded weighs seven kilos. Belt fed from thousand round belt boxes of which I see five, all marked as frangible rounds. No armor piercing. This one is outfitted with an adjustable harness that fits races between Yolandan and Khazadan sizes.”
Because he was looking at the weapon, he saw Little Mazzy blink and stare up at him. In disbelief she demanded, “How… how do you know all that? Just from looking at it?”
Minsc frowned. “Minsc just does. Minsc is not sure how, but Doctor Dyna said that people did something to Minsc’s brain and put the Voices in his head. They tell him.”
He saw Little Mazzy open her mouth to say something, but Captain Bran cut her off. “Fentan, I explained to you what happened. His ability to recognize any weapon system they uploaded is part of the package.”
He heard Mazzy say something, but Little Aerie’s gentle hand on his forearm distracted him. “Are.. are you alright Minsc?”
Minsc looked down and gave Little Aerie a reassuring smile. “Yes, Little Aerie. Boo helped quiet the Voices.”
“Good,” she said with a smile. “Boo is a good friend.”
“Yes, Boo is,” he said, enclosing her hand in his gauntlet. “He helps, but so does pretty Little Aerie.”
“Thank you Minsc,” she said and then reached up to kiss him lightly on the nose.
Feeling his skin flush, Minsc stammered, “Th.. thank you Little Aerie.”
“Alright folks, other than Fentan’s new… well, I’d call it a toy, but then again, anything with a 3000 rpm cyclic rate isn’t really a toy. Well, other than that, it looks like we’ve turned up empty. So, we have to wait for Im and Sparky to do their magic. Since we’ve got a wait, I’m calling a meal and rest break. We’ll seal up the hatches and keep a weather eye on the door, but no watches because I think everyone is in need of a little downtime,” Captain Bran’s strong voice cut into the moment, and Minsc’s head snapped up to look at his mighty captain. Minsc could almost swear that his noble captain had winked at him, but that didn’t make sense to him. Then again, it was only with Little Aerie and Boo’s help that he understood Captain Bran’s odder statements.
He would have to ask Little Aerie about the wink. She would know what he meant.
A Space Odyssey Chapter 24
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