Friday, April 3, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 3

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David finds himself wondering if the two missing scientists have gone rogue.

A somber mood lay over us as the officers gathered for dinner with Callan and me. Inspection escort duty was a popular assignment, with interesting sights to see and people from the stars to meet. Not to mention giving them a chance to travel and interact with the beautiful heir to their country’s throne. Unfortunately, this trip wasn’t following the traditional script.

“How do you wish to proceed, Your Highness?” Captain Jorson, the commander of the escort squadron, asked.

“We’ve got to get word to the Federation,” Callan responded, “and try to find the two missing members of the scientific expedition.”

Jorson grimaced. “Contacting the Federation would be a trivial matter if they would send us some of their simplest communication devices. I can understand weapons, but—”

“There are excellent reasons for those prohibitions, Captain,” Callan said. “Pardon me for interrupting, but imagine a band of raiders equipped with comms. Or the navy of one of Aashla’s less savory rulers. The level of coordination such devices allow would go a long way to offsetting advantages in training and equipment.”

Jorson reddened slightly, perhaps chagrinned that he had not thought of this angle or perhaps irritated that a young woman—even his future ruler—dared to lecture him on military matters. This was my first time working with Jorson and he’d shown himself a competent commander thus far, so I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I am just frustrated at the time it will take our messenger to reach the nearest Federation consulate, Your Highness.”

“I share your frustration, Captain. That is why I want you to send a ship right after dinner. The sooner the message is away, the sooner it arrives.”

Jorson flashed a brief smile and stood. “My thoughts exactly, Princess Callan. By your leave, I’ll make the arrangements now.”

Callan nodded. “David will record a message for your ship to carry.”

I pulled a small message capsule—allowable technology as only someone with an implant could read from or record to the device—from a pocket and tossed it to Jorson. “Already done, Captain. This has everything we know about the situation right now.”

Callan looked around at her officers. “We’ll gather back here once the ship is away. I’d like to begin our search tonight, if possible.”

The senior officers nodded and returned to their own ships to prepare for the search. Within seconds, only Marlow—conveniently assigned as Callan’s attendant in camp—remained with us. Lost in thought, the young man missed his cue to clear away Callan’s dinner. At a nod from my wife, I gathered our plates while she watched the young man. Only when I took Marlow’s plate did he break from his reverie with a start.

“Oh my goodness! My deepest apologies Your Highness!” He leapt up, reaching to take the plates from me. “I’ll take those, Captain Rice.”

Being quite capable of handling a little cleanup for myself, I was tempted to argue with the lad. I also knew the ensign would face some form of discipline if his commanding officer learned the young man didn’t do this himself.

As I handed the plates to Marlow, Callan asked, “What were you thinking about just now, Ensign?” A gentle smile lit her face. “Perhaps thoughts of a special young lady back home?”

The young man blushed. “No, Your Highness, there’s no young lady. Not yet, anyway. I was planning the most efficient search pattern for the local terrain.”

I cocked an eyebrow at Marlow. “You were doing this planning without any charts?” Marlow nodded and my other eyebrow rose to join the first one. “Have you travelled this area before?”

“No sir.” Marlow shook his head. “I just pictured the charts in my mind.”

That’s when Captain Jorson and his remaining officers rejoined us. One of the escort ships rose into the darkening sky as the charts were spread on the table. I kept an eye on Marlow as the officers debated the best way to perform the search. The ensign did a good job of hiding his opinion, but I saw he wasn’t impressed with the plan. Callan saw it as well.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” she said, “but I’d like to hear what Ensign Marlow has to suggest.”

Jorson and Captain Lindsey jerked upright in surprise at Callan’s suggestion. I caught just the hint of a smile on the lips of Captain Wright. I had no doubt Wright was Marlow’s commanding officer and knew what was coming.

Marlow swallowed visibly under the glares of the gathered officers, but at Callan’s nod he stepped between two stiff lieutenants and up to the table. He stammered when beginning his explanation but, once into the details, spoke with calm and conviction. A minute later, the two skeptical captains were nodding at each point the ensign presented.

“Well done, Ensign,” Jorson said before looking at the gathered officers. “Are there any questions?”

When there weren’t, the men reported to their ships. Jorson assigned three airmen to assist Callan and me. It would be our task to act as messengers between the three searching vessels. Minutes later, all four ships ascended. We remained  circling above the remains of the research station while the other ships split up and began their search.

Flying under the light of the planetary ring should have been quite romantic, but sharing the deck with three airmen rather ruined the ambience. It also made for a boring several hours as we waited for a signal from any of the searching ships. Finally, the ship to our southwest—the Vanguard—fired off a signal flare. Relieved to have something to do, I pointed our small ship southwest and off we flew.

I didn’t notice the wind at first, attributing it to the simple fact that we were finally underway. Within a few minutes, it was obvious we were flying into an increasing headwind. I still didn’t give the wind much thought. These things happen when you’re aloft, after all. Fifteen minutes later, that all changed.

“Sir!” Simms, the airman at the bow called. “The Vanguard looks to be in distress!”

“I don’t have your night sight, Simms. What do you see?”

“She’s being tossed all over the place, sir. Like she’s trying to ride through a hurricane. It must be some kind of freak storm coming off the mountains over there.”

“Can you take the wheel for a minute, dear, so I can take a look?”

Callan took the wheel and I joined Simms in the bow. The man tried his best to point out the floundering airship, but I still couldn’t see it. Then something else caught my attention. Far above the ground—on the side of a mountain, no doubt—something flashed in the darkness.

Pointing toward the flashing, I asked Simms, “What can you make out from that flashing?”

The man peered in that direction for a few seconds. “I never seen anything like it, sir. It looks like a bunch of little lightning bolts shooting off in all directions.”

A chill ran down my spine and I ran back to the controls yelling, “Land the ship now! And attach your safety lines!”

One wonderful thing about working with the navy is the men don’t stand around asking questions. The airmen leapt to their stations, venting gas from the envelope and operating ailerons to tilt the ship down.

Before taking the wheel, I fastened safety lines to Callan and then myself. Then I shoved the throttle forward and started a power dive for the ground. We were still five hundred feet in the air when a wall of wind slammed into us and capsized our airship!

Will their safety lines hold and can our heroes right their ship? Find out in Chapter 4, coming Monday!