Charon's Opus ::
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Welcome Home, Now Go Away

Posted on Sun May 3rd, 2020 @ 10:59pm by Commanding Officer Mickey Serendipity & Pilot Allegra Jennings & Medical Officer Alex Garcia & Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue & Passenger Kol Wescott-Fitzgerald & Comm Tech Wulf Edevane

Mission: The Forgotten Arm
Location: HIgh Elysium Tether Station, Mars Low Orbit, MCR
Timeline: A few hours after 'Mad Dog Irish'

Light's flicked on.
Terminal screens began to boot up.

And the warm, burning dust smell of heaters cycling to full power filled the Albatross as the inner airlock hatch cycled open, and the crew returned to her. The air had a bite to it, even gone a day the chill of space had crept into the ship. She'd take some time to warm up properly, creaking and clicking disapprovingly at the absence.

"Ken, get the reactor up and running," Mickey said as he stepped onto the ladder that ran the length of the ship from nose to tail, beginning to climb downwards towards the cargo deck and engineering. "Allegra head up to the cockpit and begin to get clearance for us to leave port. The McCulluaghs gave us a flight plan, might as well use it. Wulf go to your cubbie and get your tech kit, I want you to look over something for me."

And with that, Ken disappeared down the ladder, and into his domain. Sweet nothings were whispered to consoles, security codes were entered, and a miniature sun was starting to form in the 'Tross' magnetic containment system as Ken warmed up the reactor.

He then popped his head up the ladder.

"Kol, take the good doctor to the room we keep the AutoDoc and SkinFix in, might as well show him where he'll be pulling his weight."

Home. It smelled like home, and Wulf was grateful for that safe haven as they stepped aboard. It had been happily sobering to walk away unscathed from the McCulluaghs and his hands had stopped shaking a little while back now. Despite the cold of the Tross' embrace, the ship felt like a warm welcome as Mickey called out his instructions.

"Yes, boss!" Wulf reacted swiftly, and ducked out of sight. He'd dutifully reemerge at Mickey's side a little later with the tools of his trade, ready not to rock and roll, but to tweak and coerce.

Kol watched Wulf retreat before turning back to face Mickey, "Sure thing, Cap" he said before turning to face Alex, "If you'd like to follow me, Doc" Kol said slowly starting for the exit of the bridge.

Mickey made his way down the ship's spinal ladder until he was just above the engineering decks, within the honeycomb-like cells of the cargo bays. Always nice to have a little extra shielding between the fusion reaction in a bottle and your flesh and blood people. Tapping in a code to one of the cargo cells, the inner door slid open to reveal the interior. As big as a good-sized apartment on Ceres Station, there was just enough room in the cargo cell for the trio of containers the McCulluagh's loaders had placed within.

Cyan blue in colour, festooned with the various fetishistic pictograms of the Red Cross and Worlds Health Organisation, the three containers looked like metallic medical sepulchres awaiting burial in space. Even with just one of the cells open, his breath came out in bright white plumes from whatever onboard coolant was pumping through the containers. He reached out a hand to touch one of them, to somehow feel from touch alone the pageantry being put on to fool customs sniffers.

"Warning: custom's and quarantine seals are intact. Breaking these seal's without authorisation will result in severe penalties." A waspish auto voice chimed from all three containers, as holographic customs foils and legal formwork began to bleed out of the containers via near field holography.

Mickey sucked in a breath and settled onto his haunches before the three stacked containers.

"You picked a hell of a time to step out Captain," Mickey said under his breath.

He'd learned the hard way never to sneak up on any of the original crew, so once Wulf had slid down the last section of ladder, he picked up a happy little tune and sung it neither loudly or quietly, but just enough to be noticed.

'Oh, if the sky comes falling down, for you... Nothing in this world I wouldn't.... What if I'm far from home...."

Wulf heard Mickey's exhaled words though he didn't actively acknowledge them as he approached. He walked slowly and deliberately in an arc that meant he'd come into view early, breath misting out before him. Pretty blue containers held their lives within inanimate hands, and Wulf shivered as he stopped alongside Mickey. Silent now, the tech checked his hand terminal's display versus their cargo's display in a pensive moment of keen study.

"Looks good," Wulf stated. "Want me to deep dive and be extra specially sure or are we reworking the McCulluagh's 'magic'?"

"Like your reading my mind," Mickey said, stepping back to give Wulf room. "Boxes are rigged with what looks like official WHO mandated quarantine AI's, so tread carefully. They have a tendency to keep shouting if they think the container's seals been breached. And if the cargo in these containers is what Terry & Jerry said they were then I'd bet there's an insurance policy to make sure we don't open them up. The sort of insurance policy that turns Comm techs into red sauce."

As Mickey moved away, Wulf stepped in closer, then took up a crosslegged seated position before the three boxes. He slipped his tech bag from his shoulder and regarded their latest cargo with a respectfully stern frown while Mickey spoke. In the ensuing lull, Wulf was extremely quiet for a little while, his concentration absolute.

"Looks like official, yup," he confirmed finally, after checking a far more detailed wireless interrogation. "But, you're right, it's not. They've got more than enough layers here to fool anyone making a casual to serious scan, but they're missing a coupla key strings down in the darker depths. Well, I say missing. S'more of an edit." Wulf turned to look up at Mickey now, his expression a casually scrunched up one of concerned anticipation. "Definitely hiding something..."

"I can shine the ol torch right on in there, if'n you want, Mickey," Wulf noted with no overt sign of trepidation in this regard. He shrugged and offered up a lopsided smile with little humour in it. "But you better stand back some. No sense in both of us getting ketchupped."

"This close to the reactor it'll be you, me, and the entire docking pier we're moored to," Mickey folded his arms over his chest. "Just to be clear, just interrogate the contents, don't try to force the seal on it."

That confident expression wavered, just a little bit, and from the tech came an audible gulp. He hadn't really been thinking on that big a scale, but Wulf realised he needed to. Any hint of a smile vanished as he turned his attention back to his cyan nemesis. "Zee, Guard Dog," Wulf whispered, and he readjusted his earbuds for the next level of the job in hand.

A hard-line connection was carefully made, an intense expression taking up residence on the tech's features as he triple-checked everything on the way into the secure code. Just the code, not the physical box itself, an extrapolation of not the manifest, but the true reality within. Wulf held his breath and carefully lifted his terminal up so that he and Mickey could both watch the 3D imagery of the interior reveal itself above the tech's little glass screen.

Mickey let out a breath as the foggy, smoke through glass effect of the scanner resolved into a neatly packed row of handguns.

"Well isn't that a pretty sight," the CO said and patted Wulf on his shoulder. "Pack up the toys. Put the seals back the way they were and seal up the cargo cell. Then get to Op's and begin to download the local data dump for the ship: feed broadcasts, software updates, the usual. Then you can help Ken boot up the reactor so we can stop being billed by the millivolt from station power."

He turned to the ladder.

"I'm going to go pester Allegra for a bit, see what she's up to," he said as he began to pull himself up the ladder rungs.

"I'm on it, Captain," chimed the tech. "Say hello from me," Wulf called up after Mickey, then, picking up the song where he'd left off, he turned back to the work he had left to do.

Once the cargo had been safely re-secured, and with the ship updates happily downloading, Wulf's terminal cheeped with a reminder alarm. "Hey, Kol?" He called via the ship's comm. "I'm rebooting the Autodoc's trial-ware, keep your hands and feet outside the ride until you hear the cheerful welcome warning, ok?"

"Thanks mate, it's begun activation" Kol replied after a moment. The device had begun it's activation moments before the tip came through but Wulf appreciated the update nonetheless.

Normally now Wulf would sit and play games until the Tross was ready to leave, but on the occasions when the reactor needed a re-up he didn't get that luxury. The tech moved swiftly to his next posting, and with a buoyant enthusiasm, strolled up to the entry to engineering.

"Hey, Ken-dog, help's here!" Wulf called.

Ken turned around at the doorway. "Hey man. Can you run the pre-flight diagnostic on the thrusters?"

A firm nod preempted Wulf's nonchalant stroll into engineering. "Yup!" Agreed the tech happily as he moved over to the control panel and hooked up his leads. "What do you think of the new medic?" He threw his question across the space. "He's not as pretty as the last one," Wulf added with grin.

The status screen Ken was studying showed the orange markers for air recycler diagnostic. The engineer accessed the error screen. "That's just your jealousy talking, kid." Ken teased as he okay'd the error, just a few filters nearing their planned replacement date. "But I don't know the guy, so I don't trust him. At least, not any more than I trust Kol, or I trusted what's-her-name. You think you can run a background check on him?"

Wulf grinned and it coloured his words as he spoke back. "Maybe," the tech conceded. He shrugged, and, keeping his attention on the screen's readings, let the check run through. "But I get a good feeling about him." Wulf turned then to regard Ken, his dark eyes glinting with a mixture of amusement and deeper thought. Could they trust anyone on the Tross? "Kol's alright," Wulf noted. "At least, he's a good person." He chuckled. "You trusted Alliegator enough to get naked with her..." The younger man's eyebrows waggled comedically. "But yeah - Alex - I could try. If he's Military though, might get us in some trouble that Mickey wouldn't like. Shall I do it anyway?" Wulf sought Ken's gaze, as the thrusters came up clean with a merry set of green lines and a chirpy confirmation jingle the tech had added for his own entertainmet.

"Don't poke into anything that might get a torpedo sent our way, or get our ship searched in a completely random stop and search." Ken said, humour and sarcasm filling his voice. "But I'd feel better if we knew a little more about him, especially due to our awkward position." Ken checked water and reactionmass levels, and started a pressure test on the lines, "Can you also run a check on the comms and targetting lasers. If those both come up green we'll set our board to green, and you can head up to Ops."

There was a hard stop in comm tech activity as Ken spoke the word 'torpedo' and Wulf shot his buddy a look of confused, mock horrified amusement. He hadn't missed the sarcasm, and the resultant openmouthed grin was accompanied by a demonstrative Belter shrug, the tech's expression pure innocent.

"Yes, bossman-mark-2," Wulf said, and he offered a lazy salute before tapping briefly at his hand terminal. "Operation Background Check underway."

Wulf looked up then, watching the engineer work while he waited for his second check on comms to complete. While he'd already done this up in Ops, Wulf had learned not to argue with Ken on this front and besides, a back-up check didn't hurt. Better to tick all the boxes.

"So, Ken..." the tech asked quietly now. "Mickey's Captain, right? Does that make you XO?"

A final check on the containment bottle just went green as Ken answered. "I'm basically the XO now too, yes. I'm first and foremost the engineer, but when there are XO things to do, I'll be handling those."

That same cheerful chirp resounded, confirming what Wulf already knew - comms were good-to-go. He set up the routine to prove all targeting laser systems were peachy about the same time as he adopted concerned-worried-mildly unhappy face, canted his head to the side and shot said expression at Ken. There followed a hefty sigh akin to a moody teen, and long pause before Wulf spoke again. "Okay," he said, in a tone than clearly suggested he was really far from such. "So, like a 50/50 split?" The tech couldn't resist asking.

"Mickey and I now both own 35 per cent of the ship. The other 30 will be dealt with when we get some money in the bank, and the shit all just cools down." Ken answered, setting the engineering status light on green for Ops, and then stepped over to his crashcouch, "You should head up to Ops."

Wulf picked up his gear and enacted a demonstrative shrug. "Sorry I asked," he said, a little too loudly and moodily to be a real apology. He stopped halfway to the exit though and turned back to face Ken's direction. "Sorry man," the tech said, genuinely this time as he stood by the hatch. Then came the honest confession. "I guess I just fear change."

"Mickey and I aren't planning on selling the old girl." Ken said, trying to sound comforting. "But life on the Tross has always been dynamic. Thomas was part of the crew before you joined up, and left pretty soon after. Those things just happen. We all just have to make the best of things."

The thought of them selling the Albatross hadn't actually occurred to Wulf until Ken mentioned their lack of desire to do so right now. But, Soto's share remained ungiven and the comm tech felt that void in the crew keenly. He hadn't known Thomas, and he had no idea who Mickey and Ken would consider worthy of taking that free space where their old friend had once been.

Wulf shrugged. "Yeah, I guess," he said, miserably and lingered a little longer in that moment of uncertainty before giving an upward nod and trying to inject some confidence into his voice. "Okay, boss," the tech confirmed and he turned to head back up the ladder to Ops.

"Allegra, how are things up here?" Mickey asked as he clambered up into the cockpit. The monitor displays showed various technical readouts for the Tross, as well as visuals of the High Elysium pier they were docked to. Like apples hanging from a branch, four other ships were docked ready to be dropped from the station by centripetal force and sent into the void. Only the strong docking arms held them to the station. "Station Control giving you the run around?"

Even though she didn't agree, Allegra had been outnumbered. But that didn't stop the pilot from doing her job. She'd settled into her crash couch and started the system up. Once it was warmed and ready she initiated contact with Station Council and pulled up the supplied flight plan. It looked right, but there was still something that felt wrong. Or maybe it was just that nothing had felt right since before Eros.

"Nah...they're actually more pleasant then when we docked."

"Probably because we're freeing up a docking berth," he said. "Okay, well signal them that we're ready to depart. Usually ten-minute warning for the cre-"

All of the screens in the cockpit stuttered at once. Even the air recyclers and lights seemed to grey out for a bit before cycling back to full life. The Albatross reacted quicker than her flesh and blood crew, and warning lights and hazard symbols began to appear on the flight deck screens.

'Multiple Fusion Events Detected'.

Mickey pawed at one of the screens flicking through navigation menus until he found the tactical plot. Still wired into every system, and illicitly kept up to date with bootleg patch files from the UNN, the Witchcraft battle computer that helped run the Tross's central computer systems was already running up theories. Multiple photon bursts detected, along with the neutrino pulse of nuclear fusion events.

Someone was throwing around nukes, nearby, and a lot of them. But not to close, or else the rad alarms would go off a few seconds before they evaporated. Witchcraft put the detonations roughly ten thousand kilometres away from their current location. Bearing zero by ninety...directly above them.

Directly above them was High Elysium Tether Station, ten meters not ten thousand kilometres.
But directly above the Tether Station, hanging from the end of the other half of the twenty thousand kilometres tall nanotube tether cable was...The MCRN Hepheusus Naval Yard and the Deimos Deep System Radar Array. Someone had just nuked Deimos with a half dozen bottled suns.

But it wasn't that he was worried about.

"Declare an emergency and decouple us now!" Mickey snapped at Allegra. He was already heading down the ladder. "As soon as we're clear of the station full burn away from here!"

“Yes, sir.” The two words were all Allegra was able to push out as she clenched her jaw shut. She did what she was told, there was no use in anything else, not when their lives were once again hanging in the balance. Only, this time it was on her to get the ‘Tross, to get them all away safely. A quick button press and she’d started the decoupling even before she spoke through and declared their emergency. Simple. Straightforward and no details.

He hit the Op's Deck and hit an alarm panel on the side of the ladder. A deep chiming tone began to play throughout the ship, and the usual soft white lights shifted to a deep blue.

"All hands get to the Op's Deck and strap in now, prepare for high gee!" Mickey barked over the loudspeaker, slipping into his crash couch and getting the webbing in place. With his free hand, he used the armrest controls to cycle through menus, using the hack Wulf had spliced into the station feed. He flicked through menus until he found the camera angle he wanted. It showed the tether, an ivory tower stretched away into the blackness of space. But it wasn't a tower, not really. It was a cable, a string, a length of rope 20 thousand kilometres from end to end.

A static string, unless the weight on its end got shaken up by a UNN surprise attack. In which case there would be a lot of vibration, a few megatons worth, travelling down the tether like a ripple. A ripple travelling at supersonic speeds, and with megatons of kinetic force behind it. Even if the tether stayed taunt the effect would be...well, biblical for the man on the pew. Like seeing a chandelier fly apart in a hurricane for the non-believer.

"Why couldn't this have waited a day?"

Wulf tumbled off the ladder and into Ops at a rapid pace, that tone from Mickey and the shift in lighting telling him this was no joke, or test-run. He strapped himself into his crash couch before he asked the question that hung on his lips and showed in his panicky expression and as he asked it the tremor wrapped up in his voice was real.

"What's happening, Mickey?" Wulf called across to the newly minted Captain. "Is someone trying to blow us up? We... we didn't do anything... "

"Cold War just went hot," Mickey said, flicking back to the Tross's main control screen. "Looks like the Deimos Deep Space Array and the MCRN fleet yards just got atomised. We have maybe minutes before the mother of all linear shock waves rides down the tether and slams High Eylisum around like a chew toy in a dogs mouth."

He hit the comm stud on his chair.

"Kol, Alex, if you two aren't buckled in shortly shelter in place and get on the deck. Expect high gee," his voice bellowed through then ship. "Ken get the reactor to full and strap in. Wulf, get the point defence turrets ready for activation and prepare to work your magic. We'll be running out of here, and a Mickey missile boat might take a pot shot at us."

Wulf instantly turned utterly serious. He nodded, hunkered down his attention from crash couch to screen and focused a dark pair of eyes on the task in hand. Point defence re-check and set-up. He silently reminded himself that they hadn't failed on that front yet. Well, not fatally, anyways. They could totally handle a Mickey missile if they needed to. Right?

From his comfy seat in Engineering Ken proverbially kicked the reactor. In moments the warm-up cycle switched to a full production. "Mickey, reactor is gearing up. I'm secure."

Hearing Mickey's warning Alex looked towards Kol and slapped the comm stud on the nearest panel.

"Understood, Garcia out!" he replied and moved to the sick bay's built in crash couches, strapping himself in and motioning for Kol to do the same. "I warn you now, the chairs here are nowhere near as comfortable as the ones up in ops. It's gonna be a bitch of a ride.'

"Don't worry about me, you should have seen the bunker they shipped me out to Eros on" Kol joked with a smile that didn't quite ready his eyes as he strapped in. His thoughts were stuck processing what Mickey had announced. Mars and Earth were at war, he'd hoped never to live through such a time, but here they where. He wondered how his family were more than he ever, he'd need to sort out sending a message to them with Wulf once they could move.

"PDCs ready, willing and able, Captain!" Wulf called out across Ops.

The Albatross suddenly rocked hard, the metallic space frame ringing like a struck bell from a psychical impact. From the terminal screens the image of a bulk gas freighter could be seen disengaging from the underside of High Elysium. Like the Tross, her crew had seen the writing on the wall and had tried to leave dock hurriedly. But in doing so, their unevenly secured load of gas cylinders had come free, tumbling into the free fall of space, or bouncing around on random trajectories as the freighter turned about. One of them had struck the side of the Tross, not rupturing the hull...but still.

"Allegra get us out of here!" Mickey grunted, his fingers tracking over the point defence screens. Of the six PDC mounts on the hull of the courier, they were a even split between reliable and tested kinetic slug throwers and solid state laser heads. Mickey brought the laser heads on line, not wanting to fill the surrounding navy controlled space with streams of high speed AP rounds. He sighted one of the gas canisters in the PDC's cross hairs, and fired. The invisible laser beam struck the container, melting through the thermal cladding, and then popping the pressure vessel in an explosive release of nitrogen into the void.

"Ken take laser head mount two under your control, we've got loose cargo out there jumping around!" Mickey sighted another pod.

"Copy. Going hot." Ken replied. His control panel switched to a tactical display. A fast moving object swung across his visual, but owing to it not having an engine, Ken selected the target for cooking, and was rewarded when a jet of flame appeared for a bright moment. The barrel of flammable material atomized. Slowly, Ken's laser array started cleaning up the area within range, one object at a time.

Avoiding interrupting, Wulf just went through the silent motions of mouthing a long chain of swearwords as he studiously watched the gas cylinders spin and fall in their very specific vicinity. This was easy money for Mickey and Ken. And Allegra would get them moving really soon. They definitely, most definitely, weren't about to die.

Down in the sick bay Alex felt himself being jerked around like a rag-doll as the ship performed maneuvers causing g-forces to suddenly shift from moment to moment. Anyone watching would probably be surprised to see a broad smile on his face.

Looking over at Kol he said, "I think I'm gonna like this ship!"

Judging by the expression on Kols face and the way he gripped at his seat it was evident Kol didn't concur. At least not in this current moment. A vast majority of UNIB agents worked on the ground, their only time shipside was when they were being ferried between location and their routes were typically more linear. He'd definitely not experienced high g manoeuvres prior to coming aboard the 'Tross and he expected it would take him some time to acclimate to the experience. It also didn't help that they were squirrelled away in the medbay and not the bridge.

"I much prefer it when we're not making a run for it" the Earther admitted.

"Sometimes that's the best fun to be had," Alex replied with a laugh. He could definitely tell the other man was definitely uncomfortable, but he was having a blast. Looking a bit more serious he asked, "You gonna be okay? I don't really want to have to patch anything up, or clean up any messes this soon into the trip, but if I have to I will..."

Mickey lanced another gas canister pod, this one imploding into shards of metal. A new alarm began to play out throughout the ship. For the military-minded ones, and those who had shipped on vessels with teeth, the purring high pitched whine of the search radar washing over them was heart-stopping. Somewhere in low Mars orbit was a ship lighting up the local volume with ranging pings and laser targeters.

"Allegra get us moving!" Mickey snapped, as he lanced another cargo pod. "If someone is throwing out fire control radar it's because they have birds on the rails ready to fly! Wulf get ready to jam up their search radar if they lock onto us!"

"Ohshitohshitohshitohshit...." A muttered mantra accompanied Wulf's studious attention to the screen before him, fingers lightly bouncing through icons in absolute readiness for action. His job might not be pretty, or flashy or make a big muted explosion outside, but his heart thumped fast and heavy as the tech made sure he was one swift action away from protecting their arses if that lock even so much as breathed in their direction. "ALLLIEEEEEEEEGAAAAAATOR!!" Wulf called out then, his voice reverberating about Ops as if that single elongated version of her name might make the pilot move faster. "Time to go..." he whispered under his breath.

"Wulf, maintain comm discipline. Only be on mic if relevant." Ken replied calmly as the final groupings of space junk disappeared around Tross.

"Yessir, XO," came the terse chirp of Wulf's swiftly offered compliance. He didn't risk adding that he'd felt it was pretty damn relevant, but just let those words sound off in the privacy of his own head. Time to go.

Allegra nearly growled and snapped back at all of them for yelling out her damn name. That damn nickname. Didn’t they know she was trying, that she was probably more nervous than any of them. The 'Tross was finally decoupled, free of the clamps that had been holding her in place, the small drop barely noticeable as Allegra took them away from the station as fast as she could.

Other ships were dropping from the underside docks of High Elysium now. Some of them were firing their point defence canons into their docking collars in a rush to escape what was coming. On the main plot, the scene was a hallucinogenic blur of transponder codes and overlapping radar beams. A few of the codes read as lifeless ships, unpowered and unmanned, cast free by the station during the opening act of the exodus. These steadily fell towards the thin but abrasive atmosphere of Mars. But they did so on ballistic courses, and suddenly two of the transponder codes merged together to transform into a growing cloud of fast-moving debris.

"Vampire, Vampire, Vampire!"

The 'Tross's electronic auto voice intoned the alarm as a pair of high-speed contacts arced down from the high orbits. The two missiles lanced into the crowd of ship's making a break for clear space and passed harmlessly through. They detonated harmlessly a hundred klicks lower, the bright pinpricks of their plasma warheads illuminating the chaos of the High Elyisum parking swarm.

"Keep going!" Mickey grunted as he swept the laser head through its targeting arc, vaporising a swarm of incoming debris. He felt the pinprick of the chair's injector needles slipping into his neck. The fire-like flood of the Juice as his heart raced. It didn't make the 4, then 5, then 7 Gee's of force easier to bear.

But it made the living through it easier.


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