Copyright © by Hammy
The doors slid open and Merlin looked around for a moment to take in the sight. The bridge didn't seem too busy at a glance, but several people were idly going about on their routine duties. The wizard stepped forward hoping to see the Captain, but couldn't locate him.
"May I help you?" Merlin was slightly startled out of his distant thoughts from the Lieutenant that approached him.
"I am looking for the Captain, he is expecting me." Merlin continued scanning the bridge, not giving the Lieutenant a single look.
"Well sir, you can't simply waltz in here without proper clearance! I'm going to have to have security escort you back."
Merlin wasted no time pulling out a small hand held touch pad out of his pocket then shoved it in the young man's face. Merlin's expression changed once he set his sights on him. The young man however, was not who Merlin was expecting.
"That identification means nothing…" The Lt. Began, but Merlin stopped him.
"I personally know each and every one of the crew on this ship and I also keep track of roster changes and the like. Now, you on the other hand, have some explaining to do."
The Lt. smiled, "I was hoping it was someone else and not you." Suddenly the idle crew shifted and stood from their seats, with a variety of weaponry pointed towards Merlin.
Merlin rolled his eyes, "Really?" He cocked his head to the left and every weapon disappeared from the room, causing some of the crew to panic.
A sudden blue flash enveloped the room, causing Merlin to flinch. "I wouldn't do that again if I were you."
"Hmm, sounds familiar." Merlin turned his attention away from the slowly retreating Lt. towards the sound of the familiar sounding voice. "Ah, you! I should have known it was Dark Mage behind this."
"Hope I didn't disappoint. Now we cannot use magic. Such a silly spell that. What will you do?"
Merlin casually put his small hand held back where it came from and pulled out a katana in one swift movement, somewhat handling it clumsily causing some snickering amongst the crew.
"You should have been a court jester! Silly Merlin, this isn't the time of Authur." Dark Mage's smile quickly turned into a frown. "Throw him in the brig, he is now nothing but a harmless old man."
The Lt was the first to speak, "With pleasure." The rest of the crew quickly made their way towards Merlin, however Merlin had other ideas.
"How little you know me." In a flash, Merlin moved so quickly, no one saw the movements, not even the Dark Mage. To Merlin, it was Sam who told him to find another sort of defense to use other than magic. At first, Merlin refused, but as the days wore by, he started to see the reasoning behind Sam's concern and the old wizard began his formal training with the katana. The sword itself seemed like your usual katana, but little did anyone but Merlin know, it was a finely constructed piece of highly polished metal. It took Merlin a little over a year for him to get used to the 3 foot long katana and once Merlin did, he continued to practice it whenever he got the chance. Merlin knew Sam all to well as he had tried numerous times to spring a surprise attack on him, but it never happened. This however was different and to Merlin, he knew something was wrong, but also wondered what the source was behind it. Merlin was extremely proud of himself as his training paid off. It took all of five seconds to behead everyone, except the Lt. and Dark Mage. Merlin's final strike was plunging the katana just inches from Dark Mage's heart, causing a surprised expression from him. Once the katana passed through his chest, the cloaking spell had dropped and the Dark Mage fell to Merlin's feet in a slowly forming red pool of blood beneath him.
The Lt. thought fast, and pulled a dagger out of his side pocket and wasted no time throwing it at Merlin. Little did he know, Merlin was now able to sense it and quickly brought up his left hand. The dagger stopped in mid-air then fell to the floor, causing the Lt. to wet his pants in fear. Merlin then flicked his wrist and the Lt. was lifted off his feet and thrown against the wall, losing consciousness in the process.
Merlin then breathed a sigh of relief, knelt down and wiped the blade on Dark Mage's uniform then slid it back in place. He took a quick look around the bridge and with another flick of his wrist, everyone but the Lt. was dumped into space as easy as taking out the trash.
The doors then slid open and several crewmembers came pouring in along with the Captain. At first they were stunned and expected to see a bloody mess, but the place was spotlessly clean except for the man laying face down on the floor.
"Merlin, wha…? The Captain scratched his head in mid sentence with a huge question mark hanging over his head.
"We had a few bugs and my fly swatter took care of the trick."
"I can bring the trash back if you'd like?"
The Captain finally figuring it out quickly held up his hands, "No, no! I think I know what happened, but very funny." He looked down then back at Merlin, "What about him?"
"I knocked him out for the time being, throw him in the brig. I intend to question him when he wakes up; no doubt he is a WOB spy as everyone else in here was, including Dark Mage himself."
The Captain's eyes widened in surprise, "How did you know?"
"They cannot fool me easily. We intercepted a transmission from WOB, headed in this direction. That was the first clue, but I ignored that, and I should not have. The second clue was, even if a masked presence filled this room, I would know something was very well off and it did not take all that much to figure it out." The rest of the bridge crew scattered about to their stations, checking for anything out of the ordinary all the while Merlin and the Captain continued on as if nothing unusual was happening. The unconscious man was now being carried away, off to the brig for questioning. "I knew I was walking into a trap, but I took care of that."
The Captain sighed deeply. "I don't think I wanna know. I'm not even gunna ask. But what I'd like to know is how the hell did WOB board my ship without me knowing?"
"Sneaky bunch, that lot of them."
"Captain, I'm showing some sort of unknown ship attached to bay four! They aren't responding to my hails."
The Captain turned to look at the middle-aged man who reported this, then back to Merlin. "Release them from the ship immediately. We make jump point in five minutes! I am not wasting any more time allowing WOB another chance at us."
"Already done, Cap."
"Good, navigation, activate the K-F drive and load jump program Outreach One! I want last minute calculations to verify everything is correct! God forbid a misjump or worse."
"Aye! Verifying coordinates for first jump. K-F field activated and beginning to envelope the ship." Navigation casually reported as if he had been doing this for years.
Merlin's eyes widened somewhat as the klaxons began to sound, warning of the impending jump, "That is our destination? Seems like a harsh place to go!"
The Captain let out a long drawn sigh. "It was Wild Dawg's orders. I too, received that transmission you spoke of. But before that, he sent one last order and it was to safely transport everyone to Outreach. He made sure the other DropShips escaped, carrying most of the civilians. Last of the monitoring showed they all made it. Somehow they were focusing all their manpower on you guys; good thing too because some of the commanders slipped by in those ships as well."
Merlin sighed, "Good. Damn, Outreach is one hundred light-years from here. By my calculations, that's three jumps and at all of those jump points, there is a recharging station, but it will still take a good thirteen days to reach our destination. I wish we could do a rapid charge on our K-F drive, but that is a risk I am not willing to take. Even you should know that."
"Yep. Have you heard of the new models?" Cap asked, shifting his focus on the navigation screen then back to Merlin.
"Ja. I have." Merlin paused and pulled out his handheld. He pressed a few buttons that brought up the necessary information he was looking for. "I hate the three hundred seventy six hour waits in between jump points. Makes jumping a moot point even if one is in a hurry. Rumor has it there is a new type of K-F drive being built and after undergoing a series of extensive testing and modifications, I hear it can do jumps of a hundred light-years and at less recharging time too."
Cap shook his head in disgust thinking at how much the new drive would cost. "Probably bloody expensive too."
"I will see to it that you get a new K-F drive then."
The klaxon sounded at the five-minute mark and Cap smiled once it passed, "For you to say it like that, I shudder to think how much you're worth!"
Merlin grinned slightly, "You do not want to know. Believe me. Sam could not believe it the first time he saw it. Of course, he had access to everything. Suffice to say, you might as well get a new ship. This old girl might have its fair share of use, but it is on its last legs is it not?"
Cap looked away for a minute letting Merlin's words sink in. "I agree. As hard as it is, it's time for something new. Please look into it." He paused for a second before responding and surprising Merlin, "You will get your original three days, not thirteen days. Your thinking of something else, but we are equipped with a few small fusion engines so they will help recharge the K-F drive."
"Good. The sooner the better; for our sake and the alliance because I sense a few lingering WOB members aboard and a strange presence about. I hope the rest of the guys are okay." The klaxon sounded once again at the one minute mark alerting the passengers and crew there is one minute to jump.
The Captain turned his attention away as Merlin spoke, but his head snapped right back to look at Merlin in the eye. "The strange presence, is it threatening?"
"Unknown. I sense it and then I do not. I know for sure it is not coming from JD, but I also sense a shift in him as well."
Navigation spoke up interrupting Merlin's thoughts. "Approaching jump point, Cap."
"Want a front row seat to the action?" The Captain directed to Merlin as he turned his attention to the view screen. "There ain't much to see, 'cept the shockwave from the emergence signature." The Klaxon then sounded again at the thirty-second mark.
Merlin paused as if thinking for a moment and grinned, "Sure. It never gets old."
The Klaxon sounded at the ten second and two second marks. "Awesome." The Captain nodded his head, "Navigation, initiate jump!"
With a click of a few buttons as the ship passed through the jump gate, leaving a wave of force behind it as it passed through. In the next instant, the ship appeared in a different sector, followed by a brilliant display of an electromagnetic field emitting from the jump point, otherwise known as emergence signature. The drive engines began powering down and Cap had navigation immediately start the recharge process. He hoped that the quick charge wouldn't cause any misfortunes.
"I best be going, Cap. I need to take care of a few things before our next jump. See to it that we are a friendly vessel and mean no harm."
Cap smiled at a departing Merlin. Just before the doors slid shut he managed to get out, "Already done. Good luck."
Great Lounge – After the jump –
"Wow, what a rush!" Chris shook his head as he felt some mild dizziness from the jump.
Tom and Josh were slightly concerned for Chris but for a first timer, he seemed to be holding up well. Other people didn't far too well as they were suffering from serious nausea, otherwise known as Transition-disorientation-syndrome or TDS for short.
The man next to them started heaving. Josh turned to look at him with annoyance, but his expression changed to anger and he quickly nudged Tom with his elbow.
"What?" Tom asked slightly annoyed till he saw Josh's expression. His expression also changed once he saw what he was looking at. "Ah. Do the honors?"
"Sure." Josh quickly grabbed the hunched man and twisted his arm behind his back with one swift movement, eliciting a groan for his efforts. Once the man was secure, crew personnel approached, armed with laser pistols.
"What is the meaning of this?"
"That man is a WOB spy. Throw him in the brig."
The second crewmember was going to protest, but the first one who spoke eyed Tom up and down before visually confirming who he was. "Yes sir. I will let the Captain know of the situation." They wasted no time in removing the spy from public and Tom felt he could breathe a sigh of relief till Josh stopped him short.
"There might be more, keep your guard up."
"So noted. Where's Merlin?"
"Right behind you, of course."
Tom jumped slightly causing Josh to stifle a giggle. Chris saw it and he too tried but failed to contain his giggles, much to Tom's slight scare. "You sure know how to sneak up on me, Merlie."
Merlin: "Years of practice, my friend. So you found the second spy."
Tom: "Ye… wait, second?"
Merlin: "Well, I massacred several on the bridge, including a Dark Mage."
Josh: "Well shit! How did they get on here?"
Merlin: "As much as I'd hate to say it, this is considered a public transport slash rescue ship. Registered to Fierce Panthers, but not entirely as it is also part of the alliance, so more of the alliance than ours."
Chris: "I thought we had our own?"
Merlin: "We do, but somehow, Sam knew something big was going down so he prepared them in advance, except they are WarShips."
JD approached the group without anyone noticing and listened in. At first, he heard a few things of what they were talking about but he quickly put two and two together as to what they were speaking of.
Josh: "Will they be at the meeting point?"
Chris: "Holy shit! Dude, you scared me!"
Tom and Josh giggled lightly while Merlin had a smirk across his face. "Karma is a bitch ain't it?"
Chris: "Really Merlin?"
JD: "Anyway, I found a WOB spy in my room. Did you guys see any?"
JD's casual description of his encounter with the WOB spy put the others at ease and at the same time, slightly tense.
Josh: "Pretty much. They're in the brig; we'll fill you in later. Merlin, how many more?"
Merlin scratched his beard for a moment, as he had to think. "Unknown. Could be it, could be ten. They are not to be underestimated."
JD: "Yeah, yeah, the one I found goes by Samurai. Name rings a bell, but I'm not sure who he is."
Merlin's eyes widened in shock. He was never easy to be shocked and this news certainly did shock him to his core. "Fuck! That dude is a Khan! You should not be standing here talking to us!"
JD rolled his eyes, "I dunno, we bumped into each other on my way to my quarters, but what happened was: when I ignored him, he spun around, grabbed the hammer, I thought I heard a pop as it fell to the floor. He prolly broke his back, so it made things easier."
Tom: "SHEER LUCK!"
Chris: "Who is he? Samurai I mean?"
"Former Khan of the Smoke Jags." Merlin darkly said, adding emphasis on the former. "They are a part of our alliance, too!"
Chris: "Can't trust anyone, then."
Tom: "How right you are. We need to locate the others."
JD and Josh: "That was fast."
Merlin: "They approach."
Scott: "Hey guys, wassup?"
Simon: "We need a private place to talk."
Merlin: "Agreed. Follow me."
Merlin turned to leave and the others followed. Chris looked at Aaron and signed to him asking if he was okay. The boy responded he was and he let go of Simon's hand then took Chris's in his. Chris felt some brotherly love towards the boy and smiled towards him, getting a toothy grin in return. Everyone remained silent, following Merlin till he reached a door that had 'Restricted Access' across in big red and black letters. Merlin passed his small handheld in front of the scanner and the door slid open, revealing a very private lounge. Everyone entered the room then the doors slid shut, ensuring their privacy.
"It's about time!" A voice spoke from the shadows startling everyone. The voice chuckled, "Honestly Merlin, I expected you to sense my presence, but I guess not."
"Do you really think you can take us all on?" JD was slowly reaching for his Hammer but stopped suddenly when a warning shot was fired.
"Ah, ah, ah, ah, I don't think so. Slowly remove what you were reaching for and toss it over."
JD smirked inwardly and slowly reached for his Hammer. Once he pulled it into sight, it was already at its normal size and he casually tossed it to the man who attempted to snatch it out of the air, but the instant he touched the Hammer, it dropped to the floor like a ton of bricks, pulling the man with him. He let out a groan of pain and couldn't react fast enough once JD was by his side. JD picked up the Hammer and kicked the man to the floor then immediately placed the Hammer on top of his chest, causing a new wave of groans.
"I'd start talking if I were you, because this thing can crush you, so you only have a few minutes to spare, starting now."
Merlin had a smirk on his face as he approached from the opposite side. "I will ask you this: why have you followed us when you knew it was your demise?"
"H-had to t-try I suppose." The stranger wheezed from the increasing pressure on his chest. "I was only following o-orders!"
"Heard that before. Tell me: Name, Rank, and Affiliation?" Merlin asked and after a full minute of silence, he turned to walk away.
"W-w-wait!" Merlin spun around and nodded to JD. JD lifted the Hammer a few inches off the man's chest so he could breathe.
Taking a sigh and a couple of breaths, he looked up to Merlin then to JD and back to Merlin with a sigh, "I'm so gunna get shit from Wolf about this."
Merlin's eyes lit up, "I see." He fell silent for a few minutes then motioned for JD to put the Hammer away. JD gave him a curious look and Merlin's glare hardened, much to JD's attempts to silently protest. With a sigh, JD put the Hammer back where it belonged and the man visibly relaxed.
"Do not underestimate Outreach. Most of all, do not underestimate WOB." He breathed in another heavy sigh and continued, "S-R-E has me doing some spying. This is classified and not to be mentioned again, till we meet officially, of course."
Merlin nodded, "Of course." Then added, "be sure to let them know you escaped. I do not care how, do be careful. I am going to assume there are some more WOB agents on board?"
The man nodded, "A few." He quickly scrambled to his feet and stepping into the light for the first time. The room had been dimly lit, for the sole purpose of concealing the man's identity. He appeared to be in his late thirties, but his voice was very youngish sounding and that threw everyone off. He had strikingly deep blue eyes and somewhat messy blond hair. Something was off with his appearance and no one could figure it out so they let it slide for the time being. With a quick nod, the man made his escape, causing everyone to exchange glances and shrug.
JD found a nearby chair and took his seat. "I think the current plan was to not take the DropShip and take a transport to the surface. With that warning, I'm going to opt for the DropShip and a full squadron just in case."
Merlin moved to sit to JD's right, "I agree. Outreach is currently peaceful for the time being. There are however, numerous spies."
Everyone else silently sat down while Aaron looked around, seeming bored. "Somehow I don't expect a welcoming committee upon our arrival so we should at least try to plan for an early arrival." Simon suggested as he was sitting down.
Josh and Tom remained silent for a while, as did the others. The silence was becoming deafening and the only sounds in the room were from Aaron's movements. JD couldn't take it anymore as his patience was running thin, "I need an answer from you two."
Tom looked up at JD then Merlin, "I need till the next jump to figure this out. I think Josh's silence agrees with me."
JD was about to protest but Merlin sensed this and held up a hand before he could respond, "So be it. We would like to hear your plan should you come up with something and knowing you, I am sure you already have some thoughts on it."
"I do, it's just that I can see holes in it and some of them need ironed out." Tom replied and Josh grunted in agreement.
"Good, objections?" There was none and Scott stood to leave, but was stopped short by Merlin.
"Seriously Scott, there is more to life than just working on 'Mechs."
"I know, there's something I wanna try."
JD smiled as did Merlin and Scott walked out the door as did everyone else. Once it slid closed Merlin turned to Chris, studying him for a moment.
Merlin smiled and silently excused himself. Once the doors opened and slid shut JD sighed and smiled awkwardly at Chris then slowly bowed his head. Chris wasn't sure what to expect so he decided to break the silence after several attempts at trying to form words.
"Umm…" Chris briefly stood, but decided to sit down, causing JD to follow his movements. "I don't know where to start."
JD didn't even give that question a thought and answered immediately. "From the beginning."
JD's steely stare was giving Chris shivers and he stood up and began walking away. "Where you going?"
"I… I'm not comfortable talking about this."
"What? Why the hell not?"
Chris turned his gaze at JD, trying to match his stare. "You make it uncomfortable."
A puzzled expression slowly filled JD's face. Chris didn't bother waiting for a response and continued on walking towards the door. JD Fell backwards into his seat and sighed, causing Chris to stop a few feet from the door. "You know, Merlin filled me in some. He reads everyone like a book and is usually spot on."
"Then you must want me to leave your quarters."
JD spun in his chair so fast, it startled the boy and Chris was about to turn to leave but JD grabbed his left wrist. "Please stay."
Chris thought he was being grabbed tightly and was about to put up a fight or call for help, but the near silent 'please stay' almost didn't reach his young ears. He slowly craned his head to look at JD and saw he had a slight, warm smile across his face and it appeared friendlier. Sighing to himself, he slowly turned around and sat in the chair to JD's left.
After a lengthy silence, Chris slowly found the courage to speak, but not loud. "So, now what?"
"Take it slow?" JD responded after a minute or two, causing Chris to immediately spin in his chair and launch himself towards JD for a tight embrace.
JD chuckled, "I guess that's a yes."
Outside the door, a smiling Merlin slowly faded from sight.
Planet Outreach – At the same time
A tall man of about six feet five inches with a grey-white fur coat wrapped over his shoulders looked over his mission briefing, studying the plans for the next few days grumbled in disgust at what he was seeing. The numbers on his pad were not making any sense and he slammed his fists down hard on the wooden table, making a slight cracking noise when the doors opened revealing another man in a formal uniform. He was dressed in blue and black jumpsuit but wore a red beret. The name Rampage was stitched across his right breast while there was a logo of a very vicious looking scorpion on the opposite side.
"Dammnit Wolf, I thought I told you not to call my name like that!" The man called Rampage entered the room and the doors closed behind him. "Anyway, what has you grumpy?"
Wolf picked up the pad and tossed it to Rampage. The pad made a clattering noise as it slid to the end of the table, right in front of Rampage as he came to a halt and looked down at the figures. "That can't be right."
Wolf growled, "I went over the numbers more times than I could count and they are correct. If we don't make a c-bill or two soon, the guys are gunna want to split."
Rampage made face of disgust, but lightened up as he thought of something else, "What about our scout? We haven't heard from him in weeks and I'm starting to wonder…" Rampage trailed off in thought letting the words sink in.
Wolf turned around to look at the display screen and thought for several long moments. He had brown eyes and a set square jaw with a five o'clock shadow and a scar that ran down his left cheek. "Nah, he can take care of himself."
"Sometimes I wonder about that." Rampage paused as Wolf spun around with a sneer on his face.
"Exactly what is that supposed to mean?"
Rampage shook his head as if he was in a trance, "Huh? Oh not our scout but of those numbers. Last I looked, we had close to a trillion c-bills, surely none of our operating expenses were that high."
"Ha! Guess aga…" Wolf paused in his sentence and looked down at the pad. It took him a few quiet moments to figure things out. "We have a traitor in our ranks. I'd place my bets on who it is, but I'd like for him to try and play with our heads for the time being."
Rampage cocked his head and squinted his steel-blue eyes at the pad. He then looked up over his yellow safety glasses towards Wolf, "You sure that's a good idea?"
"Yep. I'll have one of the guys cook something up in the way of a trap."
"Before or after our guests arrive?"
"I'm hoping before."
Rampage grinned and turned to leave the room. Once he approached the doors, they slid open and he paused, "How's the wife and kid?"
Wolf let out a low growl, causing Rampage to chuckle and he departed from the room. Rampage knew Wolf loved his family dearly, but often times when he was there, he got the impression the wife was head of the family, not the husband. Once the doors were sealed shut, a crashing sound was heard from Wolf throwing his pad at the door, but was too slow in doing so, hoping to clip his friend in the back.