Saturday, February 2, 2013

Freeman's Belt

Traveller fan Fiction by Richard Hazlewood, set in the Outer Veil universe

We have already published the first two parts of this unofficial Outer Veil fiction in issues #2 and #3 of Infinite Stars. Here we publish, for the first time ever, the full story with all its art and glory for your enjoyment!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The background for this story is based on the Outer Veil setting developed by Omer Golen-Joel and published by Spica Publishing and is used with permission of the author. In no way should the events or specific descriptions in this story be considered “official” or “canon” to the published setting. Any differences between the official published material and this story are the fault of the author. I would also like to send a special thank you to Omer for allowing me to play in his sandbox.

 Art by David Reddington

At the edge of a star system an empty point in space suddenly contained something. A flash of light appeared in the void; the flash started as a small gamma ray burst and descended through x-rays into the ultraviolet and finally into visible light. As it continued to decay, the flash passed through the red into infrared, then on to microwaves and radio frequencies. In less than a second, the light had completely faded and in its place sat a ship: a starship; a streamlined wedge shape with fins, projections and markings. The markings were an almost undecipherable version of English. They read “FSS Wyvern”.
On the bridge of the Federated Nations of Humanity Star Ship Wyvern sat her Captain. Lieutenant Commander Kathryn Drake was a tall, statuesque black woman with the short-cropped hair common among spacers. Her features were long and lean with high cheekbones and a broad nose. She sat in the command chair, her back straight, dividing her time between the main viewer in front of her and the other bridge positions to her right and left, monitoring not just the status of the ship, but the performance of the people. Drake was new to the ship; this was her first mission in command. She had only been with the crew for a couple of days when their orders came to depart Democritus Naval Base and make a sweep patrol through several of the Frontier systems in the Rana subsector. This was only their third system and she had been in command barely a month. The Wyvern had a crew of twenty-eight, including marines; Drake was very bad with names, good with faces but bad with names, so while she felt that she was getting to know her crew, frustratingly she still couldn’t remember many of their names.
“Sir, I have confirmed that we have arrived in the 58 Eridani system.” The voice of her Navigator, Ensign Harper Killig, rang through the bridge. Killig was a short man with dark hair and brown eyes that sparkled when he smiled, which seemed to be all the time.
Immediately afterward, the Engineer spoke up. “Captain, the ship is secured from Jump.”
Drake acknowledged the reports with a nod of her head. On the primary display was a holographic schematic of the 58 Eridani system and Freeman’s Belt. Tapping the link to the survey data, a side image came up and she noted absently that the primary star was a G3V yellow dwarf, only a bit cooler than Sol, with a very rich asteroid belt, called Freeman’s Belt, orbiting just outside the habitable zone. There was a link to a science paper on how a star system with no planets could form a distinct belt, but she didn’t follow it. On the display she could see that they had emerged just outside the jump limit of the star; right where they were supposed to be. Freeman’s Station was shown near the middle of the belt and half-a-dozen other ships, transponder codes identified them as independent mining ships, were scattered throughout the belt. The 58 Eridani star system was sparsely populated, barely two hundred belters called this system home. There was only one space station, a small conglomeration of modules that could barely claim to be a Class-E starport. She remembered from the system briefing that the starport was on a long list of systems that were about to be upgraded. Although this was a relatively empty system, things were about to change. As the Frontier was pushed back and settlements moved closer to Beta Eridani, this system and it’s very rich belt was going to become an important refueling point for ships headed out to that region. The rich belt would become an anchor for the expanding industrial capabilities of the Federated Nations of Humanity. The FNH was about to dump a lot of credits into this and similar systems, preparing for the next push into the unknown.  Freeman’s Belt was about to become very important and those that were here first would probably become very rich.
Lifting her gaze from the display, she addressed her Navigator.  “Mister Killig set course for Freeman’s Station, 1G please.”
“Freeman’s Station at 1G, aye Captain.” Came the crisp reply.
Drake liked the young Navigator, he was professional and earnest. He also had a wicked sense of humor which he let out of its cage occasionally. His stories of his life growing up in Juno and around the Asteroid Belt could keep the crew in stitches all night.
Drake herself had been born on humanity’s first extra-solar colony, Medea, or Alpha Centauri B 2.  Her grandparents had been some of the first immigrants from Earth and her earliest memories were of sitting on Geepaws knee and listening to his stories of how he had tamed a new world.
Drake watched quietly as the Navigator quickly fed in the obviously pre-plotted course to the Helm and Engineering positions. The Engineer, communicating back to the drive room, got the maneuver drive on line and with only the slightest feeling of movement, the ship swung about and began accelerating in-system. Drake was pleased with how well her crew worked together. Their former commander had done a wonderful job and she hoped she could be as good to the next commander.
“Captain, we are on course for Freeman’s Station. ETA 3.8 hours.” Her Pilot spoke for the first time since the ship had emerged from Jump.
Her senior pilot and Executive Officer, Lieutenant Arden Quetel was a quiet man; very intense and very shy. He was a very good pilot, but needed some seasoning if he was going to be a good XO. Quetel was very tall for a spacer, so tall in fact that he often had to duck to move through the ship. His record showed several trips to the infirmary for minor head wounds when he had failed to duck properly. Quetel seemed to walk with a permanent hunch in his shoulders as if he was always afraid he would hit his head again.
Glancing around the bridge to make sure nothing had been missed, she turned to the Comm station and said, “Mister Nakamura, send a message to Freeman’s Station announcing our arrival and ETA. Please give my compliments to the Station Commander.”
Pressing a button on her command station, Drake activated the all-comm channel. “This is the Captain; we have entered the 58 Eridani system and should arrive at Freeman’s Station in just under four hours.  Secure from Jump Stations and set the Underway Watch, Section Blue.”
The background noise of the ship changed as the crew began moving around and the extra people assigned to Jump watches stood down and resumed their regular duties.
A young petty officer came onto the bridge. Drake tried to remember her name, Deschard or Deschanne, something like that. The woman moved over to the Engineers station and began speaking softly with the Duty Engineer, getting her turnover. At about the same time, the Navigator left his station and moved quietly past Drake and out the door, giving her a slight nod and smile in passing.
After everyone on the bridge had been relieved and the watch pilot reported that the Underway Watch was stationed, Drake got up from her station and said, “Helm, you have the Watch.”
Receiving the acknowledgement from the junior pilot, she left the bridge and headed for her stateroom. She had a mountain of paperwork waiting on her desk; she always did.
Just over an hour into her paperwork, there was a soft knock at the door to her office. Warships rarely had extra room and the Wyvern was no exception. The Feilong Class Patrol Frigate had private staterooms for each of the three officers and the Marine Sergeant but the rest of the enlisted crew was housed in barracks. There was no office or ready-room; her small stateroom had to serve double-duty.
After being acknowledged, her XO entered with one of the Gunnery petty officers behind him. It was crowded with all three of them in her cabin, even with her bed stowed in the day position.
“Skipper,” her XO began quietly, “Petty Officer Lingle has family on Freeman’s. Every time we have come into this system, he has sent a personal message to her along with the first acknowledgement from the station. Lingle’s brother is the Station Manager and we’ve been through here three times in the last year, he always sends a message.” 
After a slight pause, he continued “This time there was no such message.”
When Drake didn’t reply, Quetel continued a bit more hesitantly. “Normally, I wouldn’t bother you with this kind of thing, but Lingle here brought it to my attention and I thought you should know about it.”
Drake thought for a second and then addressed PO2 Lingle directly. “Has he ever missed a message before?”
“No Sir.” Came the quick reply, “Josh always sends a message. My family has been in the station business for generations. The personal message is how we let each other know things are OK.”
Lingle was a short and slightly plump woman in her early twenties. Her dark hair shaved bare on the right side of her head and cut short on the left in a style that was common amongst some spacer tribes. She also had a small tattoo on the shaved side of her head. Drake knew that if she was more familiar with the spacer culture, she would have been able to tell Lingle’s family and clan affiliation from that tattoo.
Tapping her pen unconsciously on her lips, Drake said softly, “Mr. Quetel, please have the bridge perform a detailed passive scan of the station and surroundings. Let’s see if we can figure out what is going on.”
Turning to Lingle, she continued “Thank you for bringing this up. It may be nothing, but we will check it out.”
Lingle and the XO both looked relieved that Drake had chosen to listen to their rather unusual information.
As they left the cabin, Drake tried to return to her paperwork, but her mind wasn’t in it. Maybe this was nothing, maybe Lingle’s brother just forgot, or was too busy to send a message. But, if Lingle thought it important enough to bring it to the XO and the shy officer thought it was important enough to bring to her then she needed to trust her crew. Drake didn’t know if she really could trust them yet or not, she was too new. But everything she had seen about this crew said that they knew their business. If her XO thought it was important she was going to back him on this one and see how it played out.
As she forced herself back to her paperwork a quiet “Damn” escaped.
Another hour later, her private comm beeped.
“Captain, please come to the bridge when you have a moment” came the request from the duty pilot.
“On my way.”
As Drake entered the bridge, she quickly surveyed the scene. Normally only three of the six stations on the bridge would be occupied during this routine watch section. The pilot station was manned by the assistant pilot, Petty Officer Second Class Marissa Sveglianova and the Sensor station, which doubled as the Navigation station on this ship, was occupied by her Assault Shuttle pilot, Petty Officer Third Class Rene Chevien. The Engineering station was manned by Descharde or Deschanne or whoever, but was located on the opposite side of the bridge, away from the other two stations.  Judging by the expression on her pilot’s face, she had a feeling the other stations would be manned soon.
Sveglianova was a pretty young blonde with a strong eastern European accent that had a lilt in it that said it wasn’t Russian but from somewhere nearby. Chevien had the strong features and a slight accent that indicated he was from one of the French colonies. Drake thought she remembered reading that he was from Rusalka, but she could be wrong.
“Captain, Petty Officer Chevien has found something during the sensor sweep you ordered.”  Sveglianova said nervously, interrupting Drake’s train of thought.
Drake didn’t miss that her young pilot had just passed the buck to the older, but lower rank petty officer.
Turning to the Chevien, Drake asked “What have you found?”
After a pause that seemed a bit long to Drake, he replied, “Well sir, I’m not sure.
“You asked for a passive scan of the station and surroundings.  Well, I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. The Station has two docking port modules, each capable of docking two ships; two small craft are docked with the station: one is assigned to the station and the other is registered as a mining boat, both are Phaeton class small craft. There are no ships showing on sensors within a hundred thousand klicks of the station. But, I did find this.”
Chevien turned to the holo-display and without looking, pulled up a display of the 58 Eridani system. Zooming in to a region inside the belt about a quarter of a million kilometers from Freeman’s Station, Chevien centered the display on a dot that had routine information displayed next to it.
“Take a look at this sir.”
Chevien then overlaid the existing display of the ship with a wobbling line display and then a few seconds later with another line display. The lines were nothing alike.
Pointing to the first display he had brought up, Chevien explained “This is the passive sensor data on the ‘Ottoman Dream’.  Her transponder says she’s a Medved Class Freighter out of Rana, headed for the Outer Veil world of Epsilon Reticuli, stopping here to refuel. This is her drive signature.”
Pointing to the lower second line, Chevien continued “This is what her drive signature is supposed to look like. As you can see, there are definite differences. Mostly, if you look here and here, there seems to be some kind of interference pattern that doesn’t make sense. I tried to figure out what kind of drive irregularity might cause this pattern, but I couldn’t find anything. Then I thought of this…”
A third display came up and Drake could clearly see that it was a much closer match to the original display, the actual drive of the Ottoman Dream, but still not an exact match.
“Here is how I got that signal.” Chevien manipulated the display again and the third line split into two other lines. The two lines were identical but shifted slightly out of phase with each other.
Drake reached out and touched the virtual display, bringing up the data on the two new lines. The display read “TY-07F Kaban Class Assault Frigate” and a string of information about the performance of that ship. The Kaban was an outdated design, but still fairly common out here on the frontier. They were used throughout the less settled parts of the subsector. Several shipyards on the Frontier maintained them for anyone with the money.
Drake turned to Chevien, “Are you telling me that we have two frigates pretending to be a freighter?”
With only a slight pause, and a quick glance to Sveglianova who ignored him, Chevien said “Yes Sir, I think that is what it is. They seem to be docked together, but using both ship’s drives, which is what is causing the interference. When I used the Signal Processing software the interference pattern disappeared. Whoever is doing this, knows what they’re doing. I had to do the analysis manually. Also, their flight path to the station doesn’t seem right. If they were here to refuel, they should have jumped in about where we did, not clear across the system.”
Drake turned back to the display, studying it for a minute. “So, we have two someones pretending to be a freighter. I wonder why?”
Shifting her attention to her pilot, Drake said “Petty Officer Sveglianova, you don’t seem to agree with Mr. Chevien. What do you think it going on?”
Sveglianova refused to meet her captain’s eyes and said, “Sir, I think it is just a sensor glitch and Petty Officer Chevien is overreacting. I trust the software.”
Chevien looked hurt, but unsurprised by the lack of support from the young petty officer, but to his credit kept his mouth shut and waited.
“Well, I agree that it could be either one. Personally, I have found that the SP software is very reliable.” Chevien flushed at this comment. “But, Chevien here makes a very good case. Neither solution is a perfect fit, but this isn’t a perfect universe.”
Both Petty Officers were quiet as Drake thought.
“Petty Officer Sveglianova how long until we reach Freeman’s Station and what is the ETA of the Ottoman Dream to the Station?”
Sveglianova fumbled slightly at her controls; obviously she was not ready for this request. But a few seconds later she had the data.
“Our ETA is 1.4 hours. The Ottoman Dream is 9.2 hours out.”
“Well, we can worry about the Ottoman later.  We need to find out what is going on at the station first.”
Turning to Chevien, Drake said “Petty Officer Chevien, I want you to continue to watch the Ottoman and continue with your analysis. I want you to prove to me that it is either two frigates or a freighter with drive problems. Can you do that?”
“Yes Sir!” came the quick response. Without asking permission, Chevien turned back to the Sensor Station and began working on the data.
Without a glance at the pilot, Drake left the bridge and headed back to her stateroom, “Double Damn.”
Drake was back in her small stateroom when the door chime sounded again. Sergeant Sattar Albani stood at attention. With a small smile, Drake invited the marine into her stateroom and motioned to the only other chair in the room. With an obvious sign of reluctance, Albani sat, but still managed to look like he was at attention. Albani had the swarthy complexion of someone born and raised in the Middle Eastern part of Earth. Drake remembered that Albani was from the Persian Republic, near Islamabad.
“Sergeant, you have been briefed on what little we know at the station? I would like your input. I want contingency plans. If there is something going on at the station, I don’t want to be stuck in dock when all hell breaks loose, but I don’t want to put the people on the station at risk either.”
“Ma’am, my team has been working on that and we think we have an idea…”

 Art by David Reddington

One hour before their arrival at Freeman’s Station, Drake ordered the Maneuvering Watch set. Normally, she would have only set this watch during the final approach to the station, but with things as confused as they were, she wasn’t taking any chances.
As she entered the bridge, she noted that all the work stations were occupied, including the weapons station. Normally that station was not manned during the Maneuvering Watch. She turned to her XO, who was sitting in the command chair, with a questioning look. He glanced over at the Weapons Station and then back to Drake and nodded his head slightly. She smiled in response, liking his thinking and initiative. Maybe he was going to develop faster than she thought.
“Mister Quetel, I have the Conn.” She said loud enough for everyone on the bridge to hear and also to ensure that it was automatically recorded in the ship’s log.
“Captain has the Conn, Aye.” Came the young Lieutenant’s response as he got out of the Command Chair and moved over to take the Pilot’s station from Sveglianova as Drake took her seat.
Drake glanced out at the holoscreen, quickly updating herself on the situation around the station. As she expected, nothing had changed. The station image was displayed in the center of the screen. Freeman’s Station wasn’t really much to look at. It was made up of five standard modules: two for docking, one for power and command and two for habitation.  Two Phaeton-class small craft were docked at the station, one at each module. The Phaeton’s were universally called ‘Slow Boats’ for their minimal performance. One Boat looked battered and badly in need of repairs, but the other looked almost new, with the FNH logo prominently displayed on the small vertical fin.
“Comm, have we received any new messages from the station?” She asked.
“Nothing but routine docking instructions Ma’am.”
The normal buzz of activity proceeded on the bridge for the next half hour as the Wyvern used her gravitc thruster plates to match orbital speed with the station and then started moving slowly in to docking position next to the station’s Boat. Drake said very little, using the time to observe her crew in action. This was the first time she had seen them operating in any situation other than drills. She was very pleased with what she saw.
Things just didn’t feel right about this situation. She had never been to any station where there was no banter between orbital control and a docking ship, even with a military ship like hers. There just weren’t enough ships out here to make these things completely routine. But Freeman’s Station was all business. All messages were curt and short and completely to the point. There was no personality at all. Everyone on the bridge could tell that things were not right on Freeman’s Station.
When the Wyvern was within one kilometer of the station, Drake pressed a button on her Command Chair. “Sergeant Albani, proceed.”
After receiving the acknowledgement, she raised her voice to the bridge crew. “We are going to launch our shuttle and use it to cover us while we dock. Should things go south, they will have our back.”
“Captain!” Her Engineering Officer, Petty Officer First Class Armand Soliari, spoke up suddenly, “The aft airlock has just been activated.”
“That’s OK, Petty Officer Soliari; Sergeant Albani’s people are going outside for a bit.”
At the aft airlock, Sergeant Albani was making his final checks on the armoured vacc suits of his squad of marines. In groups of two, they were cycling through the airlock and regrouping on the ship’s hull. Once everyone else had moved outside, Albani made a quick silent prayer to Allah and moved through the airlock to join his troopers.
From the outside of the ship, Freeman’s Station was a bright, irregular blob hanging in the sky. The eight marines waited quietly as the blob got bigger and resolved itself into five connected modules. When the ship was within a hundred meters of the station, Albani gave the hand signal and the marines deactivated their magnetic boots and jumped from the ship’s hull towards the station. The marine’s vacc suits were equipped with small thruster packs.  The marines, using small puffs of compressed gas, moved over the docking module and headed for the junction unit that connected the various modules of the station together. Two pairs of marines carried large boxes between them, guiding them towards the station.
The standard modules used to build the station had an opening at each end. These openings, called Iris Valves, were airtight but they were not airlocks. The various modules were connected together using junction units, objects resembling dice that had openings on each face allowing up to six modules to be connected together. Freeman’s Station had been constructed using two junction units. One unit connected the two docking modules to one end of the command module while the other unit connected the two habitat modules to the other end of the command module giving the station the shape of a capital letter ‘I’.
The marines moved under the two docking modules. The artificial gravity of the station was oriented so that the floor of the modules was above the marines, but the artificial gravity plates built into the floor and ceiling confined the gravity field such that it was only within the module; all areas outside of the modules were in microgravity.  Using only hand signals, the marines opened one of their boxes and began assembling a clear plastic bag over the unused iris valve on the junction unit. Once completely assembled, Albani’s tech specialist, Corporal Jenna McKarty, moved inside the bag and activated the pressurization system. Corporal McKarty was a very short redhead; she was barely a meter-and-a-half tall and most of her equipment had to be specially ordered to fit her small frame; but she was one of the best techs that Albani had ever worked with. Slowly, the bag filled with air.
When the bag was pressurized to one atmosphere, McKarty opened another bag and began working on the external controls for the iris valve. Iris valves were designed so that they could not be opened if there was a differential pressure between the two sides of the door. Additionally, since this iris valve was not connected to a module, as an extra safety precaution, it was electrically disconnected so that it could not be accidentally opened. McKarty worked on the operating mechanism to provide power to the door so that the marines could open it.
After several minutes, McKarty had successfully connected her computer to the door’s operating mechanism and disabled the alarm that would have notified those on the station that the iris valve had been opened. She gave Albani a thumbs up and waited.
While McKarty had been working on the iris valve, the other marines had been busy assembling the second bag and attaching it to the first. The second bag would be used as a crude airlock to allow the marines to enter the module without depressurizing the area immediately next to the iris valve.  Once the second bag was assembled, three marines squeezed into it and began the pressurization process.
Once all four marines were within the first bag, the second bag was depressurized and the remaining marines scrambled inside and began pressurizing it again. After the bag had completely pressurized, the marines opened the door connecting the two bags, creating one large pressurized area with all eight marines together. Albani unzippered his flashlight and aimed it at the Wyvern hovering overhead. He blinked his flashlight three times, then returned it to its zippered compartment, double-checked his weapon and signaled McKarty to open the iris valve.
Aboard the Wyvern Ensign Killig, acting as the Sensor Operator as well as the Navigator, reported the signal to his captain. Drake then gave the order to begin the final docking sequence with the station. Above and just behind the Wyvern her shuttle, a Caracal-class assault shuttle, drifted several kilometers “above” the station, oriented so that her laser cannon covered the station and all three docked ships. The Caracal was designed to support planetary landings and assaults and carried several close support weapons but she was also equipped with a starship grade beam laser giving the design a lot of flexibility and some teeth in a fight.
As the iris valve opened, McKarty stuck her vacc-suited head “up” through the opening. She felt a moment of disorientation as her head was in normal gravity while the rest of her body was in zero-g; however, years of training had taught her how to adapt to this unusual situation and she quickly adjusted to the gravity shear. Seeing that the junction was clear and no one could see her, she moved up into the junction. The iris valve to the command module was closed, but the ones to the two docking modules were open. McKarty checked both docking modules quickly. The module to be used by the Wyvern was full of armed men, the other module was empty. The junction wasn’t huge, only a dozen or so cubic meters, but with her small frame there was enough room for three of the marines to move up out of the pressurized bag. McKarty moved over to the iris valve separating the junction from the docking module for the Wyvern. When the marines were in place, she led the advance into the Wyvern’s docking module, moving quietly hoping to catch the armed men unaware.
As she moved into the module, two of the marines that were in the junction with her followed her and veered to the sides, fanning out in the entrance to the module, moving away from the door and covering more area of the module; the remaining marine moved over to the entrance to the other docking module, covering their back. The four remaining marines in the bag quickly vaulted up into the junction and out into the module after the first group of marines. Albani was second from last through the door, behind him the last marine took up a rear guard position, covering their exit as well as the iris valve to the command module.
Within the module, things were relatively quiet. The first group of marines had encountered no resistance and had quickly found cover behind desks, piled up boxes and other items that were normally found in a docking module. As Albani moved into the module and took cover behind the same box as McKarty, he surveyed the rest of the module.
Within the relatively small space, about a dozen armed individuals were surrounding one of the airlocks; the Wyvern’s airlock. The group was a ragged bunch in mismatched clothing and bits of uniforms. Most of the group was men, but there were several women as well, just as ragged as the men. None of the people had noticed that the area behind them was now filled with armed marines. A quick scan of their weapons and armour showed mostly small arms with a couple of men armed with advanced combat rifles. Most of the group was wearing some kind of armour, although nothing heavier than ballistic cloth. The heavier weapons were not well deployed around the airlock and very few people seemed to be taking advantage of the available cover.
“Amateurs” thought Albani when he noticed the lack of a rear guard and poor use of cover and firing arcs. His marines could have come right through the airlock and probably taken minimal casualties dealing with these idiots.
As the last of his marines moved into position, Albani gave the signal and using the voice amplification feature of his vacc suit he yelled out “FNH Marines! You are surrounded, drop your weapons now or you will be fired upon!”
The people jumped and looked around, several of them swinging their weapons, looking for a target. One short man with a pistol raised it and fired at the box Albani was using as cover. Two quick shots rang out from the closest marine and the man dropped to the ground red spots spreading across his chest.
“Anyone else? You have five seconds to drop your weapons or we open fire!”
After a couple of seconds hesitation, first one, then the other people dropped their weapons and raised their hands.  One woman tried to use her personal communicator, but one of the marines moved quickly and grabbed her arm, preventing her from completing the call. The marine practically lifted the woman off of the deck as he held her hand over her head.  She struggled in his grip and balled up her fist like she was going to hit him but the marine must have said something because she got quiet in a hurry and stopped resisting.  The look she gave the marine could have melted tungsten.
Albani moved over to the airlock, which was still open on the station side and seeing the closed airlock of the Wyvern, banged on the door three times with the butt of his combat rifle, after a pause he banged again twice.  Stepping back, he closed the airlock and allowed the crew of the Wyvern to cycle over to the station.
Drake was the first one through the airlock, fully suited with the helmet sealed and pistol in hand. Albani smiled behind his faceplate in approval.
“Report.” She said briskly, flipping up her visor with one hand while her other hand held her service pistol and her eyes scanned the inside of the module.
“Sir, we have taken eleven armed personnel prisoner.  They were preparing for your entrance. They have been detained at the far end of the module.” Albani pointed to his left and Drake’s eyes moved over the prisoners.
Two marines were standing guard over the group of prisoners who where all sitting on the deck with their hands tied behind their back.
“None of the prisoners are talking so we don’t know the situation in the command module, but the other docking module was unoccupied. We did not attempt to enter either of the Slow Boats.”
Drake nodded and said, “Good job Sergeant. I have four people with me. I would like to leave a couple of them here with the prisoners while we use your marines to deal with whatever is going on in the command module.”
Albani motioned for two of the vacc suited figures who had just come through the airlock over towards the prisoners. When they had taken up guard duty for his marines, he directed those marines to guard the airlock of the Wyvern, which was closed again now that everyone was through it. Under no circumstances would he let anyone get onto his ship that didn’t belong. As he and Drake moved towards the iris valve, he organized his marines and used another of his marines as a guard at the entrance to their docking module. That left him with four marines and himself for whatever Drake had in mind. Unconsciously, Albani had discounted the Captain and the two other ship’s crew from any kind of combat operation.
Drake paused at the entrance to the junction, planning her next move. She wished the Wyvern had enough of the docking bags to allow her to send a group of marines through the other junction box and cover both entrances to the command module, but space was limited and if it hadn’t been for the ingenuity of Sergeant Albani, they wouldn’t have gotten onto the station the easy way.
While she was deciding what to do, one of the confiscated comm units beeped and a voice came out of the speaker box. “Jeskins, what is your status?  Have the Funnies docked yet. What is going on?”
The urgency in the man’s voice indicated that he didn’t like not knowing what was going on. Drake smiled as she took the proffered communicator from Albani.
“Jeskins and all the rest of your pirate buddies are now prisoners of the Federated Nations of Humanity. You will surrender now. We have control of both docking modules. You have no way off this station. Surrender now.”
Albani and Drake could both hear the cursing coming through the comm, along with what appeared to be a furious, multi-sided argument about what to do. At least one of the voices, a woman’s, was urging surrender and several seemed to be advocating using the crew of the station as hostages to secure passage to their space craft.
While Drake listened to the argument going on through the comm unit, Albani signaled to McKarty and she went to work on the activation panel for the iris valve to the command module. Before the argument had come close to ending, McKarty signaled that she was ready.
Drake saw the signal from McKarty to Albani and gave him a wink and a small smile.
Pressing the mute button on the comm unit, Drake told Albani what she wanted the marines to do. Albani immediately started moving his marines and the two remaining Wyvern crew into the necessary positions. He used the two Wyvern crew to cover the remaining docking module and got his marines into assault formation. Within five seconds he would have what was left of his squad through the iris valve and into the command module.
Drake eventually grew tired of listening to the pirates argue amongst themselves. “Listen, you have 10 seconds to surrender or we are coming in there.”
She held up one hand and as she started counting down from 10 to the pirates, she actually started counting down from five on her fingers to the marines.
With no change in her voice, she reached five and punched the air with her empty hand. Without waiting for word from Albani, McKarty activated the iris valve controls and before the door had even completely opened, she and two other marines were already through with the other two marines right behind them.
The command module was divided into two sections, the power section, containing the small fusion reactor that powered the station, and the command section which was designed like a starship bridge. Two-thirds of the module was taken up by the command section. The marines stormed through the iris valve and spread out through the command section.
The pirates were caught partially off-guard, but they reacted quickly. Two pirates, hiding behind control consoles, opened fire on the on-rushing marines with their sub-machine guns. The spray of bullets whizzed around the enclosed space, but missed their intended targets completely. Several bullets hit one of the control consoles sending a shower of sparks and shrapnel flying. At least one bullet hit a soft target with a dull, wet thud. The victim began screaming as she fell to the floor adding to the general mayhem. With quiet precision, the marines returned fire and both pirates were hit by several bullets which ripped through their light body armour and dropped them in their tracks.
Several other pirates started to raise their weapons and the situation was quickly degenerating into an all-out war when the leader of the pirates shouted, “We surrender!  Don’t shoot!”
The marines froze, their combat rifles shifting from one target to another, covering the six people still standing. First one, then the rest of the people dropped their weapons and raised their hands. Without any apparent communications, two of the marines moved to quickly separate the armed pirates from their weapons and then began searching them for any hidden weapons. A small assortment of knives and pistols were removed from their owners and then all of them were handcuffed and moved to one side of the command section.
During this entire event, Drake had remained outside of the command module and out of the line of fire. She much preferred to be inside with her people, but Sergeant Albani had been most insistent; even threatening and reluctantly Drake had admitted that he was right. The station’s crew had remained at their consoles, ducked down as far as possible to avoid the firefight.
When Albani allowed Drake to enter the command module, she came in with her pistol still in her hand but not exactly pointed at anyone. She quickly surveyed the module. All of the station’s crew seemed to be dressed in identical jump suits with the Freeman’s Station logo on the right sleeve and the pirates appeared to be dressed in mismatched military fatigues and civilian shirts, most with light body armour, but Drake was taking no chances.
She raised her voice, making sure everyone in the module could hear her. “I apologize in advance for any inconvenience to the station’s personnel, but right now, I don’t know who is who. Everyone will now stand up very slowly and raise your hands.  Move nice and slow people and we can get this straightened out quickly.
“Sergeant Albani, secure the rest of the station. I want everyone moved to the docking bay while we figure out who’s who and what is going on.”
Albani took three of his marines and moved to the far end of the command section and into the power section. After clearing the rest of the module, his team moved into the two habitation modules.
Flicking her tongue to activate her suit’s radio, she said, “Mr. Quetel, please send the medic over along with Petty Officer Lingle and anyone else who can help identify the station’s personnel.”
One of her crewmembers had moved over to the wounded woman and begun administering first aid while the other covered the mix of pirates and civilians.
While everyone was getting sorted out, searched and moved into the docking module, Drake received a private message from Albani, “Captain, habitat modules are secure, but we have wounded people back here. There are three GSW’s and someone who looks like he’s been beaten pretty badly. I think it is the Station Manager.”
Drake cursed under her breath, and moved past the few remaining people in the command module towards the habitat modules, radioing Quetel to have anyone with medical training to her location. She did the mental math as she moved to the iris valve.  Her ship only had a crew of sixteen, plus the eight marines. Of those twenty-four people only a handful had any real medical training and she only had one qualified Corpsman. But she now had to deal with five injured people, guard the prisoners and she still had crew on the Caracal.
As she was about to step through the iris valve the entire station shuddered. Vacuum alarms sounded and red lights started flashing. She jumped back quickly as the iris valve in front of her slammed shut, almost cutting off her nose. Behind her, she could hear the other iris valve slam shut. Rushing back to the command section, she moved over to the station manager’s console, which was almost identical to her own command console on the Wyvern. The two other people still in the module with her, one civilian and one marine were standing near the iris valve with a look of shock on their faces. On the deck, part of someone’s shoe, and foot, was sitting on the deck, a small pool of blood spreading away from it.
Drake brought up the internal monitors for the docking modules as well as the external sensors. She was afraid she knew what had happened… Sure enough, the pirate’s slow boat had broken away from the station, ripping out the airlock and tearing a gaping hole in the docking module. All of the iris valves on the station had slammed shut with the explosive decompression. The boat was rotating around and as she oriented herself with the sensor readings, the slow boat ignited its maneuver drive and accelerated away from the station. With grim satisfaction, she noted that her own assault shuttle was already accelerating into an attack vector and the Wyvern was cycling through her emergency undock procedures and should be clear of the station in a couple of minutes.
As she was assessing the external situation, another alarm sounded through the command module; the double-whoop of the Instability Alarm. When the pirate’s Phaeton ripped away from the station, the resulting torque had put the station into a tumble that her modest stabilizing jets were having trouble controlling. As Drake scrambled to collect the data regarding the station’s tumble, thoughts of what was going on outside faded from her mind.  There were still over twenty people on the station and if the tumble was not stopped quickly, the station could rip itself apart.
Aboard the Wyvern Lieutenant Quetel was torn between taking the helm and taking the command chair. He knew he was the best pilot on board, but with the Captain on the station, he was also in command… He hesitated, unsure which position gave the ship its best chance of survival. Before he could make a decision, it was made for him.
Ensign Killig, from his Navigators Station, said, “Captain what are your orders?”
Taking a deep breath, Quetel moved back to the Command Chair and sat down, quickly surveying the rest of the bridge. “Emergency Undock!  Get us some maneuvering room!”
Sveglianova and the rest of the bridge crew responded to his voice like he was the captain, which technically he was right now, whether he wanted it or not. With only a slight shaking of his hands, he reached down and punched up the external tactical display as well as the status of the ship.
Over a private line Killig sent him a message, “Arden, should we go to Battle Stations?”
With a start, Quetel realized he had forgotten the golden rule of a changing situation: Battle Stations is your friend.
Reaching down and pressing the ‘all-comm’ button, he said is as strong a voice as he could muster, “All hands Battle Stations! Battle Stations! Prepare for combat!  This is not a drill!”
With the same hand, he raised the cover and flipped the switch that activated the Battle Stations alarm throughout the ship. Luckily, the ship was still at Maneuvering Watch stations, so activating Battle Stations didn’t require the bridge crew to change positions. The only major change was the manning of the ships weapon systems and he had made sure that the Fire Control station was manned before docking, just in case.
Within a few seconds of the announcement, Chief Samataman Palahari, the Chief of the Boat and the Weapons Officer, reported from the Fire Control Console that Battle Stations was manned, minus the personnel on the station and that all weapons were ready. Apparently Quetel wasn’t the only one who had planned ahead. With half of the crew on Freeman’s Station or on the Caracal, they didn’t really have a Damage Control Party, but all required positions were filled.
Quetel pulled up full tactical on the main display board so that everyone could see the situation around the the station. Things did not look good. The station was in an uncontrolled two-axis spin; her maneuvering jets trying to stop the rotation. The rogue Phaeton was moving away from the station at her full thrust of 2-gees. Their own Caracal was in pursuit and asking for permission to fire on the fleeing boat.
Sensors showed that the Phaeton was not armed and had three people aboard. His Caracal only had a crew of two but did have its laser cannon. Quetel’s didn’t hesitate with his response here, procedure was clear.
“Alpha-One, capture the Phaeton, do not attack the vessel. Harassing fire is authorized.”
The pilot of the Caracal, designated Alpha One when away from the Wyvern, Petty Officer Chevien, acknowledged and changed course from an attack vector to an intercept vector. The Caracal had twice the acceleration of the Phaeton so while it might take some time to get the slow boat to surrender, the outcome was inevitable.
Quetel moved on to his next crisis. As he watched, the station was slowly coming under control.
Just when it seemed like things might be getting back under control, Petty Officer Senji Nakamura made a startling report. “Sir, we have bodies floating outside the station!”
Quetel cursed under his breath. He should have thought of this! When the Phaeton pulled away from the station she had ripped an airlock out. While the iris valves would have prevented the explosive decompression from exposing the entire station to the vacuum of space, those within that docking module would not have been so lucky. Switching the primary display to the area immediately around the station, he saw the two vacc suited figures floating away from the station.
Nakamura, pulling double duty as both comm and sensor operator while Chevien was piloting the shuttle,  pushed the status display from the two suits up onto the master display without really looking at them. After they were pushed, he had a chance to look at the actual read outs and realized that he had made a mistake.  The display for Karin Descharde, the love of his life, indicated no life signs.
Quetel felt a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach but he still had a crewmember out there that needed help. The vital signs for Spacehand Beatrice Ruark, backup gunner, were weakening, but she was still alive.
“Helm, bring us around and pick up Ruark!” he yelled, too loud he realized to himself.
Petty Officer Sveglianova, now the primary pilot with Quetel in the Command seat, swung the Wyvern around the station and moved towards the lonely figure floating through space. Quetel could only grip the arms of his seat and wait.

Aboard Freeman’s Station, Drake had been furiously working to get the station under control. The station’s computer was reporting minor damage from all of the modules, but nothing too serious. The docking module where the Phaeton had pulled away was a total loss. Her crew in the other docking module reported some minor injuries to several of the pirates, but again, nothing serious. She did get a comm message from inside the junction unit, one of her marines and one of the station personnel were trapped inside of it. The stationer had lost most of his foot, but the marine had stabilized him; that was the most serious injury.
Using all of her skill as a pilot along with the stability and control software, the station began to right itself. When it looked like the computer could handle the rest of the stabilization without her help Drake worked on getting the rest of the station opened back up. Her first priority was to get the iris valves between the two habitat modules and her command module opened. Then, when her marines were assembled, she opened the iris valves to the junction box to her docking module; allowing the marines to reinforce the crewmembers that were guarding the pirates and station personnel. It also let her corpsman get to the injured stationer. One of her crew, Petty Officer Lingle she noted absently, moved into the command module and without asking permission sat down at one of the station consoles and began helping Drake. Drake realized that Lingle must be frantic to get to her brother, but she did her job first.
With Lingle taking over many of the station monitoring functions, Drake could finally turn her attention back to the situation outside the station. The Wyvern was doing some tight maneuvering near the station, apparently trying to pick up a couple of the people that had been blown out the hole in the other docking station. Far off, she noted absently that the Medved, or two Kabans, or whatever that ship really was, had changed course and was making for the jump boundary. Her attention was drawn to the situation between the Phaeton and her Caracal. Things were not going well.
Aboard the Caracal, Petty Officer Chevien and his gunner Crewman Henri Bollow had their hands full with the Phaeton. While their assault shuttle could out maneuver the older Phaeton, the pirates refused to surrender and continued doggedly accelerating away from the station. The Phaeton had no weapons, so the FNH Rules of Engagement prevented Chevien from blowing the boat out of space, no matter how much he felt they deserved it. He had ordered Bollow to fire a warning shot across the Phaeton’s bow, but it had been ignored. Absently, Chevien noted that Bollow seemed to handle the gunnery controls competently, but slowly. The kid was barely out of basic training and as far as Chevien knew, this was Bollow’s first non-training action. Bollow was a compact man from central Africa. He had a lilting accent that most women found attractive.
Chevien flipped the comm switch and again ordered the Phaeton to cut all acceleration and prepare to be boarded. Silence again. Chevien knew that he didn’t actually have anyone on board the Caracal who could do any boarding actions, there were only the two of them after all, but it was the standard order to be given.
Chevien sent a tight-beam message back to the Wyvern asking for instructions and permission to use deadly force. While waiting for a reply, he continued to match the acceleration of the Phaeton as they moved towards the outer part of the system.
Chevien was watching the Phaeton so closely that it was Bollow who noticed that the Medved had changed course. “Chevien! The Medved has split in two.  One of the ships is changing course and coming towards us! Uh…Changing designation from Romeo-Four to Tango-Two and Tango-Three.”
Tango was the designation used for hostile spacecraft; Romeo was the designation used for routine, non-hostile ships. Each ship detected by the Wyvern had been given a Romeo designation automatically when she entered the system. If needed, there was also a Sierra designation for unknown or not yet identified spacecraft.
As Chevien quickly switched his attention from the Phaeton, previously designated Tango-One to the Medved, Bollow was already pulling up the detailed sensor data.  Chevien noted that Bollow seemed much more comfortable with the sensor controls than he was with the gunnery controls. Chevien also liked the way Bollow had kept his head and did his job.
‘This kid is going to be OK’ Chevien thought to himself.
Unfortunately, the sensor data was not such good news. The sensors showed that what had previously been identified as a 600-ton Medved class freighter was actually two ships and both were accelerating towards the Caracal at 3-Gs; much higher acceleration than a Medved could achieve.
‘I was right!’ he thought to himself.  When he got back to the station, he was going to make sure that Sveglianova knew about it too.
Chevien dumped the data into a comm package and sent it off to the Wyvern with an “Urgent, Captain’s Eyes Only” header with his request for instructions. The two ships were about an hour away from intercepting the Phaeton and the Caracal. They would not be able to dock of course, their relative velocities were too different, but the ships would get one maybe two shots at the Caracal before they were out of weapons range again.
“Chev, look at this.” Bollow said quietly, but with an edge in his voice.
In the private cockpit of the Caracal, Chevien allowed for a slightly more relaxed protocol than was normally used on the Bridge of the Wyvern. He looked at the new data on the incoming ships. The computer, minimal as it was on a shuttle, was able to identify that the ships were accelerating on different courses and at different rates.  One ship was coming straight at them for a passing run at 3-Gs, the other was angling away and if the computer’s projections were correct, it was lining up for a docking pass, which would allow it to grab the Phaeton and incidentally, take out the Caracal. The computer also indicated that both ships were armed with energy weapons, although the exact nature of those weapons was uncertain. If they were really Kabans like Chevien suspected, they could be carrying deadly particle beam weapons.
Chevien dumped more data to the Wyvern with another urgent request for instructions. There should have been plenty of time for them to get his first message and give him a response, but he was hearing nothing. Lacking instructions, Chevien continued to follow the Phaeton, hoping someone would tell him what to do before the other ships arrived.
Quetel was fighting information overload. He was having trouble deciding which had the higher priority, after recovery of the crew blown out of the station of course: dealing with the rapidly developing situation out with Alpha-One, or doing something about all the people on Freeman’s Station. While he remained locked in indecision, Sveglianova continued to maneuver the Wyvern to pick up Ruark.
Killig came to Quetel’s rescue again. Seeing that Quetel was not going to issue the necessary orders to complete the rescue, Killing prompted him again, “Sir! We don’t have a DC party aboard right now; who do you want to pick up Ruark?”
Quetel seemed to jump slightly and with a quick look around seemed unable to make up his mind.
Chief Premapari had also noticed the hesitation in Quetel and rather than ask a question like the young Ensign, he offered up the solution. “Sir, we don’t really need weapons right now, may I suggest that you assign Petty Officers Rowe and Kleinsmith to recover Ruark. I can handle any emergency weapons operations from here.”
Grasping at the verbal life line like a drowning man, Quetel, immediately jumped at the suggestion.
Premapari used the Weapons channel to order his gunners to recover Ruark. With all of his backup gunners and Lingle off ship, he was already controlling the missile turret remotely, now he switched control of all three turrets over to his secondary display. He pulled up the defensive turret and kept it hot figuring that he would need that turret first. He let the controls for the particle beam turret and the missile turret slip into computer control mode.
At the Comm station, Nakamura was still in shock over the death of his lover. He had been completely ignoring all of the communications as he tried not to scream and cry. With a start, he was forced out of his daze by an incoming Priority One message from Alpha-One; designated Captain’s Eyes Only.
“Sir,” he said to Quetel, his voice shaky and hoarse, ”Incoming message from Alpha-One. Urgent, Captain’s Eyes Only.”
Quetel knew that as the acting Captain that he had the right to look at this message, but he wasn’t sure that he should.  Unsure, he played it safe.
“Route the message to Freeman’s Station. Let the Captain see it.”
Moving slowly, and with great concentration, Nakamura routed the message to the Station. As he was finishing up that task, the second message arrived from Alpha-One and without asking for permission, he routed that to Drake as well, but due to his fog of sorrow, he did not notice that the second message was not just for the Captain but contained tactical data on the possible new threats, so the crew of the Wyvern were not aware that the unassuming Medved had become two possibly hostile ships and that one of them was making an attack run.
The crew of the Wyvern continued the rescue operation of Spacehand Ruark. Such actions were relatively routine and it was one of the drills they practiced on a regular basis.
Drake saw the incoming Urgent message. She glanced through the data sent by Alpha-One and while she was still reading it, the second message arrived with the updated data on Tango-Two and Three. She immediately saw what the bogies were trying to do.
“Lingle, take over all Station-keeping functions. We have an incoming threat.”
As Petty Officer Lingle routed all of the functions to her console, including the last of the stabilization work, Drake pulled up external sensor data and tried to update herself on the larger situation. Unfortunately, the sensors on the station were only basic civilian grade sensors, no better than what was on the Caracal. At this distance, she actually had less information from her sensors than she had received from the Caracal. There hadn’t been time to patch the military grade sensors on the Wyvern into the Station’s network. Drake felt like she was operating blind.
Pounding the edge of the console in frustration, Drake opened a channel to the Wyvern.
“Wyvern this is Drake.  What is going on out there! I need updated information on Tango-Two!”
The sensors aboard the Wyvern had detected the split in Romeo-Four at about the same time the second message had arrived from Alpha-One, but because the information was not given to the Wyvern crew, Killig was operating almost a minute behind the real situation due to the speed of light limitations of his sensors. At about the time he had figured out that one of the two ships was making a run at their position, the incoming message from Drake arrived.
Nakamura jumped when the Captain’s voice came over his earpiece. Automatically, he routed it to the bridge speakers so everyone could hear her urgent demand for information about Tango-Two.
Quetel was confused, not knowing anything about the change in designation of Romeo-Four. Killig hadn’t gotten the data from Alpha-One and was still working through the sensor data and had not yet redesignated the two ships. When Drake’s request for information on Tango-Two came over the speakers, Killig quickly put the pieces together and while Quetel was still turning to his Sensor operator, Killig was routing the current data on the incoming ship on to the main display, and without asking for permission, sent the same data to Drake. He was also assigning the Tango-Two and Tango-Three designations to the two ships that had emerged from the signal of Romeo-Four.
“Sir, data on possible hostile vessel, designated Tango-Two on main display.” He said to Quetel.
Quetel gave the junior officer a slightly puzzled look as the information came up on the main display. Obviously he had missed something, but now was not the time to figure out what had happened.
Looking at the newly displayed data, it was quickly apparent that the pirates had more outside help than they had originally thought. This was looking like a major operation that they had stumbled into.
“Is the Captain getting this?” he asked Killig quickly.
When Killig nodded, he turned back to the display. “Comm, get me a private channel with the Captain.”
When he didn’t get a response, he looked sharply over at Nakamura and almost shouted, “COMM!”
Nakamura jumped in his seat and glanced quickly over at Quetel with a dazed, but sheepish look on his face. “Yes Sir, private channel to the Captain. Yes Sir!”
Nakamura started fumbling with his console and Quetel thought he had figured out where the breakdown over Tango-Two had come from. He would get into that later.
The incoming data from Wyvern told Drake that she had about ten minutes before Tango-Two was within extreme weapons range. She hoped that would give her enough time to prepare. The station’s sensors showed her that the Wyvern had picked up the two people blown out of the station, so that crisis was over, at least for now.
As all of the new sensor data was coming in, several more people came through the iris valve from the docking modules. Four civilians, all wearing station patches, came together, escorted by a marine.
The marine spoke in a crisp tone, “Captain, we have verified the identities of all station personnel and intruders.  This is the bridge crew.”
“Thank you Private.” She said, having forgotten his name and not really having time to concentrate on the name patch on his vacc suit.
Turning her attention to the Stationers, “Take your stations and get yourself up to speed as fast as you can. We have a developing situation out there and I need you to run this station while I deal with it.” Drake said by way of hello.
She did not give up the command console and as the four people moved to the other stations, Lingle stood up and moved over beside the captain; a look of concern on her face.
“Petty Officer Lingle, I know you want to see your brother. Go, he is in the Habitation module. And good job.” Drake added with a slight smile.
With a quick nod and look of utter relief on her face, Lingle said a quick “Thank you Sir.” She was already moving.
Quetel’s call from the Wyvern came just a few seconds after Lingle disappeared through the iris valve. The Stationers had taken over all of the necessary duties to restore the station and the Comm station operator routed the channel to her without saying anything. Drake trusted that Albani would handle the situation in the docking module; he was obviously not waiting on her to start sorting things out there. She left him to it; making a mental note to put letters of commendation in his and Lingle’s personnel files.
Quetel really needed some guidance and although he had handled the situation with the spaced crewmembers, he just didn’t have the experience to deal with such a rapidly changing situation. If she was being honest with herself, Drake wasn’t sure she had the experience either. But, just before being assigned to the Wyvern, she had completed the FNH-Navy’s Tactical School and situations like this had been part of the training. She needed to act decisively and worry about consequences later. When there were lives on the line, the Navy was pretty forgiving of its officers over any minor procedural mistakes.
She outlined her plan to Quetel and let him get the ship prepared. Turning to the Station Comm operator, she got a message off to Alpha-One. It was time to take the initiative.
Chevien and Bollow had been trying to keep track of Tango-Two, but the sensors on the shuttle were just not designed for deep space missions. They were very good at providing tactical data on ground targets and near-space, but were completely inadequate for what they were being asked to perform now. Tango-Two never came into weapons range as it continued to accelerate towards the station at 3-Gs. Tango-Three was definitely positioning itself to rendezvous with Tango-One and themselves. Tango-Three would be in weapons range in just a couple of minutes.
Just when Chevien was about to make the decision himself about how to deal with the situation, he finally received the long-sought orders from Drake.
“Alpha-One, disable or destroy Tango-One and avoid Tango-Three if you can. Deadly force is authorized.”
That is the message he had been waiting for! Bollow had already verifying his sensor lock on Tango-One and with a quick nod from Chevien; he fired the laser cannon at the defenseless craft.
The first shot hit the Phaeton near the engine ports and her acceleration immediately dropped to zero. Chevien knew that the people aboard would be working frantically to restore engine power so he didn’t hesitate when he ordered Bollow to continue firing.
Their second shot missed the slow boat and just a few minutes later, as they waited for the laser to recharge, it was able to get some power out of the engine and began accelerating at 1-G. Not as much as before, but still something.
Their third shot hit the slow boat in the bridge, the entire front end of the Phaeton vaporized by the high energy beam that sliced through it. The fight was over.
Chevien cut acceleration and moved the Caracal closer to the damaged boat. Bollow had been monitoring the sensors and reported no life signs on the Phaeton. Long range sensors showed that Tango-Three had changed course again and now, rather than trying to dock with them, it was accelerating outward towards the jump limit. Apparently, it was giving up.
Chevien reported the results of their little fire fight back to the Wyvern, tagged the dead Phaeton for later retrieval, turned the shuttle around and headed back towards Freeman’s Station. There was no way they could get back in time to have any effect on the upcoming conflict, but they might be needed for the cleanup operation.
Quetel moved the Wyvern away from the station, giving the ship some space in case there was damage to the station. Once Chief Premapari reported that his gunners were back at their turrets, he had Killig feed them targeting information on Tango-Two. Due to the speed built up by the pirate, there would only be a few short minutes where the two ships would actually be in weapons range. Killig had done the calculations and there was no way the Wyvern would be able to catch Tango-Two before it reached the jump limit. The pirates were going to get away and unless they were very lucky, there was nothing they could do about it.
The first priority of the Wyvern was protection of herself and the station. Because of that, Drake, through Quetel, had ordered the two remaining gunners to the turrets that gave them the best opportunity to do that.
The particle beam turret; an incredibly deadly weapon against other ships, was completely worthless in this situation, so it was left unmanned, the computer taking over control should it be needed. Senior gunner Jame Rowe moved to the defensive turret, normally manned by Kleinsmith. His skill would be needed in positioning the defensive sand and firing the point defense laser. Kleinsmith, the junior-most gunner assigned to a turret, moved to the missile turret normally manned by Lingle. He would try to position several missiles into the path of the pirate in the slim hope that one of them could get within range and cause some damage; it was a long-shot, the missiles did not make good mines, but it was worth a try.
Rowe started firing off sand canisters even before Tango-Two came within range. The prismatic “sand” was actually statically charged crystals that could disrupt the sensors of incoming missiles and absorb some of the energy of lasers. Under the direction of Chief Premapari, Rowe began building up a wall of defensive sand between the station and the pirate. They were able to get three layers of sand into position before the sensors detected the first of the incoming missiles.
The pirates on Tango-Two were not stupid. They knew they would only get one chance at their target, so they maximized their chances. They fired off missiles at extreme range and then a second wave as soon after as their turrets could be reloaded. Combined with the speed of their approach, the acceleration of the missiles had been adjusted so that they would all impact at the same time. Their ship had a triple missile turret, so they were able to get six missiles on target before they came within range of their energy weapons.
As Tango-Two continued to approach the Wyvern, Killig was able to get good sensor readings on the ship. She was indeed a Kaban class frigate, just like Chevien had suspected. She was armed with three turrets, like the Wyvern. She had a two triple beam laser turrets and a triple missile turret. The original design had been equipped with a particle beam instead of one of the triple beams, but obviously this vessel did not have them; much to the advantage of the Wyvern. Particle beams were deadly weapons that fired a stream of charged subatomic particles that could punch through armor and inflict serious damage to a ship as well as cause radiation damage to the crew and computer system. Wyvern had one, Tango-Two did not.
Chief Premapari read the sensor data sent to him from Killig and modified his tactics somewhat. He decided that the particle beam might be worth using after all and using his own fire control subroutines, he presented the revised tactical plan to Quetel and Drake on their tactical displays. Since the station did not have significant maneuvering capability, merely station keeping thrusters, she was an easy target for the sensors of the incoming missiles. Drake had wanted to move the station, even a small amount of movement could throw off the targeting sensors, but the station was just too damaged; it had nothing left to give.
Drake and Quetel had less than a minute from the time the missiles were detected and their targets determined until they would impact the station. Tango-Two would also be able to fire six laser beams, which could not be intercepted, but might be blocked by the sand.
Quetel ordered defensive fire as soon as the missiles were within range of their PD laser. Kleinsmith was able to hit two of the incoming missiles, destroying them. Two more impacted the sand field; one detonated when it impacted the sand and the other was thrown off course due to the magnetic interference. The two remaining missiles continued on to the station unchecked.
Quetel had accepted Premapari’s suggestion to strike back at the pirate and as soon as it was within range he had the computer fire the particle beam turret, hoping for a lucky hit. At the last possible second, Drake ordered the station rotated so that the already damaged docking module was facing the incoming missiles. The missiles were smart missiles, but they were not programmed to differentiate an already damaged and unusable section of the target from a more desired area. Both missiles impacted into the damaged docking module, destroying it. Drake, sitting back in the command seat after being thrown sideways by the impacts, immediately ordered the docking module jettisoned from the station. Luckily, those systems were still operational and the wreckage of the docking module moved off away from the station and into the asteroid belt. Its orbit was automatically tracked and some day one of the miners would pick it up for the salvage recovery fee. Drake worked with the station personnel to stabilize the station in its new configuration and received the damage reports with a stoic face.
Quetel could only sit and watch on the tactical display as the particle beam lanced out through space towards the pirate ship. Premapari had timed the attack so that the beam should impact the pirate at its point of closest approach. Unfortunately, it missed. The pirate had dodged at the last minute. The pirate ship had also fired its beam lasers, but Kleinsmith and Premapari had so cleverly positioned the sand that all of the beams had to pass through that prismatic cloud before hitting the station.  Most of them were deflected or absorbed by the sand cloud.  Two beams did get through though. One hit the recently ejected docking module; melting several chunks of debris into one larger chunk of debris. The other beam hit the station in one of the habitation modules. Luckily, it had been weakened enough by distance and the sand cloud that it only caused damage to the hull. One small area of the hull was breached, but the self-sealing feature of the hull and a small army of repair drones quickly repaired the damage with minimal loss of air and no loss of life.
The pirate ship continued accelerating, now moving away from the station and Wyvern at such a high speed that it was out of weapons range before it could get off any more shots.  None of the missiles fired by the Wyvern detonated near the fleeing pirate. The large relative velocity between the almost stationary Wyvern and the attacking pirate was so great that it would be beyond the jump limit long before any ship could get near it.
Quetel pounded his fist in frustration on the arm of the command chair. He had been hoping that at least one of the missiles would have been close enough to get a lock on the pirate and cause some damage. Quetel ordered Ensign Killig to download all of the sensor data on the attacking pirate and prepare it for distribution throughout the subsector.  They had gotten a lot of good data on that ship and if it was ever detected again by an FHH-Navy ship, it would not get away so easily.
Quetel turned his attention back to Freeman’s Station. The station had been hit by one of the laser beams, but it had only caused some minor surface damage. It didn’t look like there were any casualties. He was amazed that Drake had been able to rotation the station around and absorb several hits in the already destroyed docking module. That tactic had been inspired and he would definitely have to ask his captain how she came up with the idea.
Once Freeman’s Station had stabilized in its new configuration, Quetel ordered the Wyvern back to the docking port that they had left so quickly less than an hour before.
The next few days were a flurry of activity as Wyvern crewmembers helped the Stationers restore Freeman’s Station to some semblance of normalcy. Several of the miners came in to provide whatever assistance they could. It became obvious to Drake very quickly that the station master, Josh Lingle, was well respected by everyone in the system.
The mystery of why the pirates had chosen to take over the station rather than just raid it cleared up on the day after the battle. A 2,000-ton Whale class freighter entered the system with upgrade modules for the Station.  These modules included a new power module and a weapons module as well as additional habitation and docking modules. Those modules were enough to upgrade the starport classification of the station from E to D. If the pirates had been able to board that ship and steal those modules, they would have been a force to contend with wherever they were at.  Had the Wyvern not arrived unexpectedly when she did, the pirates might have gotten away with it.
Once the Whale arrived, things moved very quickly and Drake was able to return the station back over to her Station Manager and continue with her patrol. She had lost one crewmember and several more had received minor injuries. She spent a lot of time writing letters of commendations, including a field promotion for Chevien.
Nine days after entering the 58 Eridani system the FSS Wyvern undocked and accelerated out to the jump limit and jumped for NSSC 1936, a supposedly uninhabited system.

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