“There and Back Again”
The woman jammed her keyboard with her finger cursing at the screen. She checked her watch and then snapped a rubber band around her ponytail to keep it in place. The screen finally flashed green letters at her waiting for her to enter a message.
Message: Paul, I know it’s been awhile, but-
A fist pounding at the apartment door snapped her attention away from the screen. She found herself holding her breath while watching the door. After a few seconds of silence, she turned back to the computer and typed out a quick message.
Message: Paul, I know it’s been awhile, but I’m in trouble. I need your help NOW.
More pounding at the door. Elizabeth hit the SEND button on the computer. She walked over to her bed where a packed bag was ready to go. The top of the bag was flipped open, a pistol was carefully pulled out, and the weapon was cocked. She padded across the room to the door without a sound. Holding the gun at her side, she touched her finger to a tiny screen next to the door. Through the display, a camera showed a man outside trying to hack through the electronic lock with a device in his hand.
Elizabeth cursed and ran to the glass door leading to the balcony at the other end of the apartment. She snatched up the bag from the bed and stuffed her weapon inside. She threw open the curtain and slid the door open to find another thug was dropping on to her second-floor balcony.
She attacked without hesitation.
Elizabeth swung her bag up into the man’s chin and knocked him back towards the railing, but his right hand crashed against her cheek sending Elizabeth stumbling. The thug rushed in to grab her. She yanked his hands towards her, swung herself to the side, and tossed the man through the glass door into the apartment. Shards scattered across the floor as the thug lay on stunned on the ground.
Elizabeth snatched up her bag and looked up only to find the front door open and another man standing there with a pistol in his hand. His weapon crackled with a white spark. There was nowhere to run. She dropped her bag and slumped her shoulders.
Planet: Cormentine (Fringe)
Location: Trade Depot
Polera rested comfortably amidst a bustling dry port planetside. The ship was taking on supplies and gearing up for its next job. Crew from other transports huddled around trade kiosks looking for goods to haul or passengers to ferry while others dealt in face-to-face meetings with the locals.
The door to Polera’s engineering room slid open with a clang and the three owners of the ship walked in. Bill, the ship’s engineer didn’t bother looking up from an old magazine. He liked to pretend he couldn’t hear someone enter and leaned back in his chair without a care in the world. Catherine, Dr. Graham, and Paul stood together and demanded the engineer’s attention.
Daniel Graham cleared his throat and said, “Bill, we need to have a discussion with you. It’s a serious matter regarding the employment status-”
“You’re fired,” Catherine blurted out with a smug look across her face.
“What? What the hell is this? What’s she talkin’ about?” Bill asked tossing his magazine to the floor.
The three Polera crew members began listing off the many reasons why their engineer was being let go. The list of grievances ranged from poor attitude to incompetence even to nearly killing Catherine when he pushed her towards a grenade.
“I’ve been workin’ in all this craziness you guys call a job for months, and this is what I get?” Bill yelled. “I’m puttin’ in my hours and you all try to get me killed by goin’ this place or blowin’ up that thing. You almost got me killed lots of times, and now you’re firin’ me?”
Paul explained that the planet they were had a relative of Bill’s and should have some work for him, but captain had little interest in what the former engineer had to say. The crotchety man was escorted to his quarters and watched closely as he picked up his belongings. He left his room a smelly mess and smashed out the window in the galley door before leaving. The crew walked him to the gangway where he threw an endless barrage of curses at each and everyone of them. He spit at the ship and disappeared into the crowd in the trading depot.
“Well, that went better than expected,” Graham said closing the airlock door.
The ship’s new engineer, Niko, was given free reign of the vessel and some money to resupply as needed. While the young man got familiar with his new responsibilities, the rest of the crew began the futile task of removing the smell from Bill’s old room. With gloves in hand, they scrubbed, steamed, and sprayed the room to as sterile a place as they could manage.
Catherine downloaded the latest package which included two messages. The first message was directed at Catherine. It was from an old friend, Jennifer Hecton, who was in charge of a mining operation on the world Venowin. Hecton wrote that if Catherine was still caught up with that “old transport” then she had some interesting work for someone of Catherine’s skills.
The second message was for Paul Cole and read as follows:
Message: Paul, I know it’s been awhile, but I’m in trouble. I need your help NOW.
Paul read the message from his younger sister several times and sat down with his friends to talk about where they should go next.
“Look, she’s tough and can handle herself, but I can’t remember the last time she asked me for help,” Paul said.
“What does she do for a living?” Graham asked.
“She’s a ‘troubleshooter’, just like us.”
“Your sister is maybe a little bit risque,” Dr. Graham said causing the pilot’s head to slowly turn his way. “I mean risky…risky.”
“Well, I’ve got a friend who also could use some help,” Catherine said moving the conversation right along, “and I just got a call from Niche who asked about the shuttle we originally went after.”
“A shuttle would be cool,” Niko said.
Catherine continued, “According to Niche, that shuttle we passed up on is actually a rather nice one. Streamlined, capable of folding, and durable. Oh, and still in new condition too.”
The group tossed various ideas back and forth until deciding that the shuttle was their top priority. The crew was vulnerable without one in the event of a critical ship failure, and it might also help later on when they tracked down Paul’s sister.
The catch was that they had to go right back to the same system in the Ruins where they had just come from. To access the shuttle, they were warned by Niche to pick up a GSI Interface, a rare item that he had information on where one could be found. However, the interface was located in the same system as the planet Askalade. This meant another trip to the edge of the Ruins, and the last time they folded there, things went more than a little wrong.
With the prospect of acquiring a new shuttle, the crew were determined to succeed this time. The transport fired up her weary drives and folded back from where she had come.
Planet: Harbit (Fringe)
Location: Outside of Town
Polera arrived at their destination without incident. It was hard to imagine that a tiny blip on the sensor screen represented the planet Askalade just an hour’s flight away. Somewhere on that blip lived the Cariet people whose lives they had affected so dramatically. This time, Polera was headed to the sister planet. She turned around and entered the atmosphere of Harbit.
The ship flew across the brown, cracked surface and landed behind a mesa some distance away from the only settlement on the planet.
“When we picked up Olivia here, she said the interface was at an old military compound,” Catherine said picking up a military power signature on her sensors at the edge of town.
“And don’t forget she said they had some kind of anti-air gun there too,” Paul quickly added.
The crew decided to go explore the town and get a look at the military compound for themselves. They brought the ship down a few miles outside of town and walked down a paved road. It didn’t take long before two cars filled with armed mercenaries sped out of town to meet them.
Circled by the armed men, the crew of the Polera put up no fight and simply asked to see the leader of the town. The armed men tossed the group in the back of their rundown truck though Niko was left behind to watch the ship. The cars drove directly to the compound, a collection of buildings bordered by a chain-link fence on three sides and a water reservoir on the other. A dozen vehicles worn down by the environment and hard use were parked together next to the largest structure, while the center of the compound was dominated by an anti-air cannon that watched the sky.
The group was led to an open room in the largest building which held ten more locals looking as friendly as their dry, inhospitable world. Cole kept his duffel bag close feeling the weight of his AA9 submachine gun inside. The leader of the compound demanded to know the crew’s business.
“We’re ah, here on business…to trade. We’re here to trade.” Paul said.
The leader smiled and nodded to the strangers. He waved several of his men towards the hallway leading out.
“Show these traders to the stores in Midtown. Let them make their bargains and go,” the leader said making a swift motion with his hand.
The crew walked down the hallway with five of the mercenaries in tow.
Catherine turned to her friends and said, “Well that turned out better than I-”
Suddenly three of the men tackled Cole to the ground knocking his duffel bag to the floor. Catherine turned back to the mercenary closest to her only to find his left hand around her throat slamming her against the wall. His right hand reached down to draw his pistol from a holster at his hip, but Catherine clutched on to his wrist with both hands and kept the weapon down.
Graham whipped out his charge pistol and pounded several rounds into one of the men on Cole. The pilot took several punches to the back and kicks to his ribs before tossing one of two men off. Catherine, struggling to breathe with a hand around her throat, slid her fingers around the man’s pistol still in its holster and managed to squeeze off a shot into his thigh. The mercenary cried out and grabbed his bloody leg. Cat pushed him off, had her laser pistol in hand, and blasted the man at point-blank range. Cole continued to wrestle with the last man hammering at his back. Cat quickly scanned the hallway back towards the room with the rest of the mercenaries. One of the locals burst down the corridor with a submachine gun firing at his hip.
The man sprayed down the hall slightly wounding one his own friends as well as Catherine and the doctor. Graham dropped to one knee, aimed, and fired a single shot. The submachine gunner’s brains splattered against the wall.
Cole finally twisted around his attacker and found himself atop the man. With a quick jerk, he snapped the man’s neck.
Catherine checked on the doctor. “Are you all right?”
From the room down the hall, a shotgun with a pissed off face behind it appeared around a corner and blasted away. Doctor Graham took the brunt of it as he ran away. He crumpled to the ground with his back torn to shreds. Cat took cover, but it was Paul Cole who stopped the shooting. He stood up with his hands jammed in the duffel bag around his own weapon. He blasted through the nylon bag at the last attacker. The shotgun disappeared around the corner.
“We’ve got to go!” Catherine yelled.
_“I know!” Paul yelled between bursts of his gun.
Catherine pulled the doctor to his feet with Cole covering their retreat. They burst through the outside door and ran to the vehicles parked in a cluster. Paul sat Graham up against a dust-covered car and checked out his bloody back.
“Doc, are you okay?”
“I…I should be all right.” he said wincing in pain.
Bullets shattered the glass of a nearby truck. Both men ducked. Attackers charged out of the building.
“Catherine, you gotta get us a ride before-”
Before Cole could finish, the engine of a nearby car revved up with Catherine waving the other two to jump in. She pushed the exposed wiring out of the way and opened up the doors. Graham was carefully placed in the back seat before Cole emptied his clip at the attackers. His butt barely hit the passenger seat when the car took off towards the gate. Catherine clutched at the wheel as more bullets peppered the car.
Two men armed with rifles at the gate were ready for them. They took aim and fired away punching several holes in the grill of the car. Cole reloaded his submachine gun, aimed it out the window, and dropped one of the men.
Suddenly, the windshield cracked and Catherine clutched a bleeding shoulder. The car veered hard to the left, but she spun the tires back and slammed on the gas. The last guard at the gate dove as the car barreled down on him. He was clipped and spun around. A broken hip was all the guard got for his trouble, and the normally gentle Catherine Stapleton couldn’t care less.
The car limped down the road straight out of town right to the Polera. Niko had the airlock door open before they arrived, and the doctor was rushed to the medical bay. The ship took off leaving only a ruined car behind. She flew several hours away to other side of the planet tucking herself behind a mesa.
Emergency treatment from the high-tech medical bay kept the doctor alive. The crew decided to stay put for five days to rest up and heal before heading back.
They devised an assault on the compound. The goal was clear: recover the GSI interface and get off the planet, but they were not sure exactly where it was in the compound. The first step was to knock out the anti-air gun so that Polera could provide air support if things went wrong. A team on the ground would move from building to building as quietly as they could and slip away in the night. Cole and Graham would handle the ship while Catherine and Niko handled the ground recovery.
It was very early morning; still dark out. Niko and Catherine hopped off their motorcycle and slipped into the shallow end of the reservoir bordering the compound. They waded through the water until reaching a chain fence. A few snips later, and they were through and crouched next to the anti-air cannon. Niko went to work ripping out wires on the gun while Catherine scanned their next target, a two story shack away from the main building.
The pair moved to the shack as quietly as they could, but just before they reached it, Niko stomped into a pile of trash. Catherine flattened him up against the exterior wall of the shack and put a finger to her lips. Footsteps approached and a mercenary opened the door to check on the sound. Catherine held out her pistol and pointed it a foot away from his head as he looked the other way.
She held her breath.
The mercenary turned towards them. She fired.
Niko said into his communicator, “It’s started. Gun’s down. We need you here.”
“On the way,” Paul said from the bridge of Polera.
Catherine stepped over the dead man’s body and entered the shack. Another mercenary sat at a workbench. She shook her head in frustration before killing the second man. Niko closed the door to the shack while Cat searched the place for anything that looked like a computer.
A half-dozen mercenaries poured out of the large building as the blue light of dawn began to show. They looked around to see where the gun fire had come from. The distant whine of a starship’s engines grew louder. The dark shape of Polera came into view. Cole banked the ship at a 60 degree angle and circled the compound. The turret on top of the ship blasted away with Graham at the controls. The rapid fire was neither focused or damaging, but it was more than enough to scatter the sleepy mercenaries already confused in the early morning.
Catherine reached the second floor of the shack but could barely see a thing in the darkness. A single pulsing green light caught her attention on a dusty shelf. Outside, Polera’s anti-missile rounds started to light up the cars parked in a tight bunch. Catherine looked out a slit of a window to see a truck erupt in flames. She turned her attention back to the pulsing light and found it came from a portable computer interface. She snatched it up and pressed a blinking button. The machine began to speak in a soothing tone.
“GSI online and fully operational. Matrix Protocols have expired by more than: 10,000 days. How may I have be of service to you?”
She slung the interface around her shoulder, called for evac, and pulled Niko outside. Polera stopped circling and swung in towards the shack with Graham constantly firing from the turret. Paul brought the ship to rest with the engines still roaring. Catherine and Niko climbed aboard as a few bullets bounced off the ship’s hull. She blasted off the ground hard and roared away. A few mercenaries reached their canon but couldn’t get the heavy machine to work at all. Polera disappeared forever.
The old transport was given no to time to rest, as she was folded to a different system in the ruins. After several days in fold space, the ship arrived in an asteroid field, though a bit closer than they had expected. Several micro impacts hit the ship damaging the hull, but Polera carried on as she always did.
Paul maneuvered the vessel through the asteroid field towards a massive hunk of rock several miles in diameter. It was a bright orange rock with a hole in the center giving it the rough shape of donut. At the inner section of the hole, a large hangar entrance could be seen that led to some deeper facility inside the asteroid.
“Somewhere in there is our new shuttle,” Paul said.
Niko patted the GSI interface and said, “I hope this was worth it.”
1) (winner for the night) an exchange between Tom and Chris, Bill has just walked off the ship for the very last time never to be seen again, after a brief pause, Tom snaps over to Chris and immediately starts a new scene:
Tom: “You are Bill for the next fifteen minutes.”
Chris: (pauses for a moment) “I kill myself.”
Tom: “You win!”
2) Chris: “The Aliens are rubbery but pliable.”
3) Meghan: (reading through the titles of her characters special skills) “I am an indomitable greased pig monkey who’s a natural salesman of recovered tech.”4) Michael: “When was the last time we had a plan?” Meghan: “Usually it’s in our pants.”