Friday, February 28, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 63

< Chapter 62                                                                                                   Chapter 64 >
Martin claims to have found Captain Caudill’s treasure map!

I struggled to keep my face impassive.  Was Martin out of his mind?  There had been no heavily encrypted files on Caudill's computer.  We hadn't found any treasure maps.  And the myth of buried pirate treasure is millennia old, dating back to to the days of wind-powered ships plying the oceans of Earth.  How could Martin expect an actual pirate to fall for such a story?

Given my train of thought, I almost missed it when the glow of avarice lit the pirate's eyes.  The pirate blinked it away a second later, but I knew what I had seen.

"If Caudill had a hidden treasure trove, I never heard of it," the pirate spat.

"Yes, I'm sure you and Caudill were like brothers," Martin drawled.  "No doubt, you and Caudill shared all your deepest secrets.  I expect you can tell me all about Caudill's childhood, his first schoolboy crush, and what drew him into this piratical life.  Pirates are such trusting folk.  Just one big happy family."

Martin and pirate on the view screen stared at each other for several seconds.

"Not interested?  Very well."  Martin looked at Nist.  "Helmsman, plot a course for-"

"What do you offer, Bane?" the pirate growled.

"Equal shares of Caudill's treasure, split between me and all the captains who use this base.  In return, I will be allowed to join your brotherhood on an equal footing with the other captains."

"I'll present your petition to the captains.  Hold your position and await further contact."

The view screen cleared.

"Signal terminated," Heidi announced.

"What were you thinking, Martin?"  I wasn't yelling, but it was close.  "Buried pirate treasure is one of the oldest stories in the book!"

"It's old because people believe it, David," Martin replied calmly.  "Even pirates.  They're sure famous raiders have far more wealth than they display and have all the excess hidden away somewhere remote.  I know of three groups still searching the desert for my buried treasure.  All three are led by men who served under me."  Martin dazzled me with a smile.  "I know how pirates think.  Trust me!"

Thirty-eight minutes later, the pirate was back on the view screen.

"Docking permission granted.  Welcome to the brotherhood, Bane!”

Our heroes have gained access to the pirate base!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 64, coming Monday!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 62

< Chapter 61                                                                                                   Chapter 63 >
Martin tries to talk his way into the pirate base!

"Caudill was killed after his spaceship crashed onto a lost colony world," Martin replied.  "Most of his crew were also killed in the crash."

On the view screen, the pirate's lips compressed.  "Caudill had an experienced crew and an excellent ship -- as you appear to have discovered.  Would you care to explain how such a ship and crew could crash?"

"They crashed the same way I crashed on the planet seventeen years ago."  Martin took a couple of steps toward the view screen.  "The wormhole exits into the middle of a planetary ring.  Great big rocks tend to take care of the rest.  It didn't help that Caudill's aft inertial dampener failed on exit."

The face on the view screen winced.  It was the first sign of emotion from the pirate.  "You have logs to bear this out?"

"Of course.  Tell me a channel and I'll send them to you."

"Channel four three one."  The head tilted to one side.  "You said Caudill was killed after the crash.  What happened?"

Martin shrugged.  "Caudill was under the impression a few laser pistols and a crashed spaceship made him king of the world.  I showed him just how wrong he was."

"You killed Caudill and then decided to show up here and claim his place?"  A mirthless grin split the face.  "Are you an idiot?"

"No, I'm a pirate and, based on Caudill's logs, I've been one longer than he had.  The difference was I was stuck flying airships in an atmosphere while Caudill had this spaceship."  Martin smiled.  "Had is the operative word."

"Very amusing."  The compressed lips were back.  "Why shouldn't we just blast you into a million pieces and be done with you?"

"Because I come bearing gifts!" Martin said.

"And what gifts could a backward, lost colony have that would interest us?" sneered the pirate.

"My gift doesn't come from  the planet.  My gift comes from Caudill's personal files."

The sneer vanished from the face.  "Yes?"

"It took a long time to break the encryption, but we had plenty of time while repairing the ship."  Martin returned to the command chair and lounged in it.  "I know where Caudill hid his treasure!”

Will Martin’s revelation stay the pirate’s hand?  Find out in Chapter 63, coming Friday!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 61

< Chapter 60                                                                                                   Chapter 62 >
The spaceship Aashla’s Hope begins its first wormhole jump.

In the early days of space exploration, wormhole travel was deadly.  The invention of the inertial dampener fifteen hundred years ago changed all that.  It made wormhole travel deadly dull.  Martin and I kept the crew on their toes with simulations and exercises.  Rupor kept the marines -- half Tartegian and half Mordanian -- busy with shipboard drills.  Laura and the women with her kept an eye on the spaceship's system and tried to quell the excitement of seeing their husbands for the first time in a year.

Everyone had something to do -- except Callan and Megan.  They spent hours together.  Megan asked Callan her opinion on various songs she was working on, including what was shaping up to be an epic ballad about Callan and me.  The song did not exaggerate our adventures, but I got embarrassed listening to it all the same.  Callan liked it, though.  In fairness to Megan, the verse where Rob died always brought a lump to my throat and Callan openly cried.

Between wormhole jumps, Martin and I would plot a course past small asteroid fields.  The gunnery crews gained hours of invaluable live-fire experience during those passes.  Milo and I went out in the pinnace, as well, allowing the gunners to practice against an evasive target and giving Milo hours of piloting experience.  By the time the ship entered the wormhole to the pirate base, the crew's rate of fire and accuracy had tripled.

The final wormhole jump seemed interminable, as was the slow crawl from the wormhole exit to the asteroid field concealing the pirate base.  We were but five light seconds from the field before we received the recognition challenge.  Martin keyed the response code Rupor's interrogators had...coaxed...from the pirates and we waited.

"We're being hailed," called Heidi, the redhead who'd kissed me for killing Orrons.

Martin rose from the command chair.  "On screen."

A lean, hard face filled the view screen.  "You took your time returning, Cau-"

The pirate's eyes locked on Martin.  "Where is Captain Caudill?”

How will our heroes respond?  How will the pirates react?  Find out in Chapter 62, coming Wednesday!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 60

< Chapter 59                                                                                                   Chapter 61 >
Our hero returns to space!

As Asshla's Hope cleared the atmosphere, everyone not busy at a work station rushed to the view ports.  Gasps rose as the crew got their first look at their planet from space.  Fortunately, Martin and I had seen this coming and had setup a work schedule which allowed everyone to get a look at the planet within the first hour.

We had time to enjoy the sights while the nav computer scanned the area of the planetary ring around the wormhole entrance.  The computer began tracking the movement of the rocks large enough to threaten our spaceship.  Martin and I watched the process for a while, verifying everything was going as planned.

Martin turned to me.  "I'll take first bridge watch.  Why don't you go find Callan and relax for an hour or two."

"You don't want to spend some time with Megan doing the same?"

"She'll be busy staring out the view port and strumming on her guitar.  I will just be a hinderance until she finds the right melody."  Martin waved me toward the hatch.  "Now, go kiss your wife or something."

I found Callan sitting next to Megan, who was experimenting with melodies as she gazed out a view port.

"You know, our cabin has a view port, too," I said, wrapping my arms around Callan.

Callan smiled and, without a word, took my hand and led me back to our cabin.  Taking Martin's advice a step further, I kissed my wife and something.

Eight hours later, the nav computer gave us a winding course to reach the wormhole entrance.  I took one look at the twists and turns required and summoned Nist.

"Do you think you can follow this?" I asked, showing him the course projection.

Nist nodded and took the helm.  The next seventeen minutes were nerve wracking for everyone except Nist.  He was having the time of his life.  Then the spaceship slipped past the last asteroid and Aashla's Hope plunged into the wormhole!

Our hero is on his way to the pirate lair!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 61, coming Monday!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 59

< Chapter 58                                                                                                   Chapter 60 >
Our hero and the women prepare to repair the spaceship and train a new crew!

Six months to train a crew had sounded optimistic in the extreme to me, but I hadn't thought it through like Laura had.  It would be impossible to train astrogators and engineers in six years, much less six months.  The educational foundation just wasn't there to teach these advanced skills.  But Martin and I already knew astrogation and the combined knowledge of the women formed the basis of a good engineering crew.  We'd all be run ragged if anything went wrong, but we could handle the load long enough to reach the pirate base and the nearest naval base after that.

What we needed were laser gunners and missile launchers and a couple of helmsmen to backup Martin and me.  We'd be well short of the training you'd find on a naval vessel -- or a pirate ship -- but if we had to fight our way into the pirate base we were in deep trouble, anyway.  I was much more concerned about training helmsmen, a concern that proved to be misplaced.  Once he learned the control layout, Nist proved to be just as talented with a spaceship as he was with an airship.  The real surprise was our second best helmsman.  Perhaps it was youthful reflexes or his absolute dedication to insuring he got to come with us, but Milo was almost as good as Nist.

Preparing a crew for a single voyage was easy compared to what Callan and Rupor went through.  Every country and city-state on the planet clamored to be included.  Alliances were struck and broken daily as politicians maneuvered to secure a spot for their representatives.  Callan squashed three attempts to renege on my promise to rescue the women's husbands.  Rupor fought against nobles intent on traveling with huge retinues.  The ship was repaired and the crew trained weeks before the diplomatic wrangling ended.

Six and a half months after it crashed, the newly christened spaceship Aashla's Hope rose into the sky.  After two planet-bound years, I returned to space!

Can our hero navigate the planetary ring and safely reach the wormhole back to galactic civilization?  Find out in Chapter 60, coming Friday!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 58

< Chapter 57                                                                                                   Chapter 59 >
The women chose to sabotage the pirate ship entering this star system because our hero was in the system, as well.

Callan turned to me.  "Are you famous in the star-spanning civilization you've told me about, darling?  Some kind of galactic hero?"

"No, I'm just a Scout."

"Just a Scout?" Laura interjected.  "Your Highness, the Scout Corps are a rare breed among a complacent and unadventurous people.  They blaze trails, discover new planets, and find lost civilizations.  Scouts are the last heroes in a civilization desperately in need of them!

"When we discovered the pirates were following a Scout's emergency drone," Laura continued, "we knew the Scout would find a way to help us."

"That's a lot of faith based on an emergency drone," I said.

"You're here.  The pirates are dead or captured.  We're free," Laura said, ticking each item off on her fingers.  "I'd call that faith well placed."

"I did my duty.  Nothing more."

Laura and Callan exchanged glances.  "He believes that to his core, Laura."

"You married a remarkable man, Your Highness."

Callan leaned over and kissed me.  "I know."

"And if I have anything to say about it, David will be a famous galactic hero!" Laura said.  "Milo told us tales of your adventures.  Even discounting his exaggerations, it's an amazing story."

"What exaggerations?" Callan asked.  "Milo is quite truthful."

"The most unbelievable one had David Boosting for over ten minutes while single-handedly defending a trapdoor from something Milo called trogs."

"I was there, Laura.  That really happened," Callan said.

Laura's eyes went wide.  I took advantage of the brief silence to change the subject.

"How long will it take you to repair the ship and train a crew?"

Laura pondered, then said, "Three weeks for repairs.  Considering the tech level we've seen, six months to train a crew."

"Then you'd better get started," I said.  "We've got a pirate base to take and your husbands to rescue!"

Can the pirate ship be made space-worthy again and can a crew be found among the people on the planet?  Find out more in Chapter 59, coming Wednesday!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 57

< Chapter 56                                                                                                   Chapter 58 >
Laura admits to sabotaging the pirate spaceship.

"You women sabotaged the ship?" I asked.

Laura nodded, her grin growing wider.

"Is that why the pirates didn't just blast our airships out of the sky with their lasers?"

"Yep.  The external lasers were second on our list."

I thought for a moment.  "The aft inertial dampener was first, right?"

"Got it in one," Laura said.  "Most of Caudill's best officers were killed when the dampener failed."

"What is an inertial dampener?" Callan asked.

"You know how you sway back when a vehicle speeds up and sway forward-" Laura began.

"I know what inertia is, Laura," Callan interrupted with a smile.

Laura reddened.  "Oh, right.  Um, so anyway, inertia is the big problem entering and exiting wormholes.  A spaceship instantly accelerates to well over the speed of light and does just the opposite exiting."

"Ah," Callan nodded.  "So these dampeners keep everything inside the ship from being crushed against the ship's walls."

"More like disintegrated, but that's the gist of it," I said, then turned to Laura.  "So I'm guessing you and your husbands weren't a random bunch of tourists?"

"Right.  We were supposed to be part of a second colonist wave."  At Callan's quizzical expression, Laura added, "The first wave is agriculture.  The second wave is infrastructure."

“So,you're all engineers and technicians?  And Caudill kept your husbands at the base to repair ships.  And you women..."  I trailed off, more appalled than before.

Laura was less squeamish.  "We repaired the ship, served as hostages against our husbands' behavior, and our spare time."

Staying well away from that last 'duty,' I said, "So you had plenty of opportunity to insert backup controls into ship's systems and then bided your time.  But why did you choose this wormhole for your sabotage?"

Laura smiled.  "Because we knew we'd find you at the other end!”

What will Laura’s next revelation be?  Find out in Chapter 58, coming Monday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 56

< Chapter 55                                                                                                   Chapter 57 >
Our hero is bleeding to death!

Tristan's pronouncement hung in the air for a second, then there was a bustle of activity around me.  One of Laura's women -- a med tech, I assumed -- hooked me up to a machine.

"Are you ready for me to put him under, Doctor?" she asked.

"Yes, Pamela."

As Pamela fiddled with her machine, Callan lifted my right hand to her lips.  "I'll be here waiting for you when you wake up."

"I can't think of anyone else I'd rather see," I said.

Then everything faded to black.

Despite the anesthesia, some small part of me was aware of what was going on around me.  Or maybe what I thought I remembered was sounds which my implant picked up and then leaked into my dreams.

"There's the cut in the artery.  Now, let's see if-  Damn!  Clamp the artery!  Now!"

"His blood pressure is dropping, Doctor!"

"Pamela, we need to try that blood trans whatever it was you told me about!"

"What's happening to David, Tristan?"

"Martin, get her out of here and find me some blood donors.  At least three, preferably more!"

"Martin, don't you dare try to take me away from David!"

"Callan, you're distracting Tristan.  You've got to leave!"

"Hang on, lad!"

I woke up.  Callan, dry eyed and calm, sat next to me, holding my hand.  Tristan stood on the other side of me, watching Pamela take readings from her machines.  Laura was at the foot of the bed, along with four other women.  They were all wearing marine shirts and looked quite fetching.

"We have got to get you one of those shirts, Callan."

Callan rolled her eyes.  "You nearly died and that's the first thing you think of?  Maybe you should try thanking them for donating blood, instead.”

"Or," Laura said, "you could thank us by keeping your promise."

“Won’t you need a working spaceship before David could hope to lead a rescue of your husbands?" Callan asked.  “As I understand it, this one is broken.”

“Not broken, Your Highness,” Laura said.  “Sabotaged.”

“Who did that?” I asked.

Laura grinned.  “We did.”

What did Laura and her friends do to the pirate ship?  Find out in Chapter 57, coming Friday!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 55

< Chapter 54                                                                                                   Chapter 56 >
The pirates have surrendered to Callan.

Minutes later, Callan and her escort of marines swept out of the airlock and headed my way.  My wife was in full princess mode.  She assumed this bearing as easily as she put on a new dress -- easier, when I considered how many ladies-in-waiting she had to help her change clothes!  Most of the time, Callan went into princess mode in court or during royal appearances.  Today, she was using it as armor to hold her worry for me at bay.

"Private?"  Callan smiled at the private who had given his shirt to Laura.  "I'm afraid we have twenty-two more women in need of proper clothing.  On my authority, please gather a shirt for each of them.  My page, Milo, will be along shortly to guide you to them."

She turned to the medic.  "Corporal, please prepare to move my husband.  Tristan will be operating in a surgery on board the pirate ship."

Callan's princess armor cracked a bit when she knelt beside me.  I wiped the single tear from her cheek as she said, "I see you're still alive.  Thank you for following my orders!"

"I strive to please, Your Wifeness."

Callan gave a bark of laughter, quickly smothering it into a quiet fit of giggles.

"I've been saving that one for just the right moment," I said.

Through her giggles, Callan replied, "How very thoughtful of you."

"Your Highness, we're ready," the medic said.

The princess armor snapped shut around Callan as she rose to her feet.  "Follow me."

She led us to the surgery, where we found Tristan staring goggle-eyed at what I saw as an outdated ship's surgery.  Tristan's attention focused on me.  His face grew serious as he examined my wound.

"Let's get started while there's still a chance to save him!"

Can Tristan save our hero's life?  Find out in Chapter 56, coming Wednesday!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 54

< Chapter 53                                                                                                   Chapter 55 >
Princess Callan demands the pirates surrender or face slow, agonizing deaths!

Silence stretched for several seconds.  I could only imagine the looks of disbelief plastered over the faces of the pirates at Callan's demands.  Artin's next words confirmed my mental image.

"I don't think you get the picture, lady.  We've got your prince and your doctor.  We hold all the cards!"

"No, Captain Artin.  You hold a single compartment in a spaceship.  I hold everything else.  That includes all the food, all the medical care, and more men-at-arms than you can imagine."  Callan spoke slowly, as if explaining this to a child.  Alas, the sarcasm in her tone was lost in the mechanical translation.

"Don't you care what happens to our hostages?"

"Deeply.  That is why I'm giving you a chance to surrender peacefully.  Is there someone who isn't stupid I can speak with?"

"The captain speaks for the crew, lady.  And you're the one who promoted me by killing Caudill!"

Callan sighed then spoke quietly.  "Sergeant, who is your best marksman?"

"Corporal Dobbs, Your Highness."

"Corporal, please promote someone else."

"Hey!" Artin called.  "What are you muttering-"

There was the snap of a crossbow firing and Artin's voice cut off with a gurgle.  Voices rose in shocked surprise.

"I do hope your new captain is more intelligent than your previous one," Callan called.  "Whom do I congratulate on their promotion?"

More muttering among the pirates was followed by a tentative voice.  "Um, this is Captain Rondle?"

"Are you asking me or telling me, Captain?"

"I...  Uh..."

Martin's voice cut in.  "May I speak to the pirates, Your Highness?"

"Be my guest, Martin."

Switching to galactic basic, Martin said, "Princess Callan represents the most enlightened monarchy on this planet, but her patience for fools was sorely tried by Artin.  Don't be another Artin!"

Rondle responded, "Very well.  We surrender!”

Did the surrender come in time for Tristan to save our hero’s life?  Find out in Chapter 55, coming Monday!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 53

< Chapter 52                                                                                                   Chapter 54 >
There are no medical nanites and Tristan — our hero’s friend and doctor — is a pirate hostage!

Callan frowned as she listened to the computerized translation of Laura's words.  "Private, give this woman your shirt."

Laura's eyebrows climbed as the private removed his shirt.

Callan smiled at the look on Laura's face.  "You know these pirates better than anyone else.  I want you to advise me during my negotiations and I don't want my marines distracted by a pretty, half-naked woman in their midst."

Slipping the shirt on, Laura replied, "Like they're going to pay any attention to me with you standing next to me."

I said, "Sure they would.  Callan's not half-naked."

Callan and Laura glared at me.

"I'll just wait here and listen over the radio, shall I?" I said.

"Good idea," Callan said, starting toward the airlock.  "And don't die."

Callan, Laura, and an escort of marines vanished from sight.  For several minutes I had nothing to do but concentrate on not dying.  I hoped Callan appreciated how seriously I was taking her order!

Then Callan's voice burst from the radio.  "I wish to speak with the pirate commander."

After translation lag, a pirate called, "Captain Caudill is our commander!"

"Then someone just got promoted.  Caudill is dead."

Silence, then, "My name is Artin.  I guess I'm in command."

"Captain Artin, you are holding my doctor and the crown prince from a neighboring kingdom."

"That's right, lady!  And we demand-"

"I'm here to accept your peaceful surrender, not listen to demands."

That caught Artin off guard.  "Then maybe we'll start cutting up the prince!"

"Eventually, you will end up as my prisoners.  Any atrocity visited on your hostages will, in turn, be visited on you!"

"That's against Terran Federation law!" Artin protested.

"We aren't members of this Terran Federation," Callan said.  "The choice is yours.  Surrender or die slowly and in agony!" 

Will the pirates surrender rather than face the threat of barbaric violence?  Find out in Chapter 54, coming Friday!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 52

< Chapter 51                                                                                                   Chapter 53 >

Our hero’s wounded shoulder is worse than anyone thought.  The sword nicked an artery!

Callan's face paled at the medic's pronouncement.  "David, can that thing in your head fix the wound?"

"My implant?  No, not without some medical nanites."

Ignoring the confused look of the medic, Callan asked, "Do they have some of those nan-whatevers on the spaceship?"

"I think they were destroyed in the crash.  Why else would they need Tristan to tend to their wounded," I said.  "But maybe the women hid some nanites.  Send someone to ask Laura."

"Who?  Never mind."  She turned to one of the marines who had brought me out.  "Private, do you know who Laura is?"

"I do, Your Highness."

"Good, take Milo and find her."

I'd almost forgotten Milo was with us before he stepped up to Callan's side.

"Milo," she said to him, "ask this Laura if they have..."  Callan got a faraway look in her eyes as she searched for the right phrasing.  "Any tiny medical machines.  Tell her about David's wound, if it it helps."

Milo looked as pale as Callan and twice as serious.  I hated to see his spirit weighed down worrying about me.

"And Milo," I added.  "Look her in the eyes when you talk to her."

"What?" he and Callan both asked.

"The pirates chose the clothes the ladies are wearing.  Be a gentleman.  Don't let your eyes wander too much."

A hint of Milo's impish smile returned.  "I'll try, David!"

The private and Milo bounded into the spaceship and disappeared from view.  While they were gone, I told Callan what had happened on board the spaceship.  I was just describing Martin's heroics when Laura and Milo dashed through the airlock.

Ignoring all the people staring at her, Laura reported to Callan, "We don't have any nanites.  Worse, the pirates are holding the prince and the doctor hostage!”

Can the doctor be rescued from the pirates in time to save our hero?  Find out more in Chapter 53, coming Wednesday!