Copyright © by
Robin made another pass through and around the deck before he entered the central break room on Hotel deck and looked around. Spotting Jared, he nodded silently calling him off to the side. "Where do we stand?"
"Not much has changed." Jared quietly responded with a yawn, "The younger ones are finally all in hammocks and Luna has managed to get almost all of them to sleep. Tommy finally stopped whimpering and Erin decided to sling up her hammock next to his. Oh, and Glen is still totally out of it. What's the word on them getting down to us?"
Robin shook his head, "Repair crews had a very bad time out there. From what I have been told, the whole side of the SFC shredded. They had to deal with a vast amount of debris and we lost one of the repair crew and two others had suit breaches and injuries. The Major pulled them back about 30 minutes ago. They are going to try to patch from the inside. We may be here until a rescue ship gets here. New Brunswick is talking about sending a pair of salvage ships and a rescue docker but haven't even committed to them yet."
"Two salvage craft? Are we going to be towed?"
"Maybe out of the debris field." Robin sighed, "But the reason for two salvage craft is the Planetary Landing Craft next to ours is far worse off than we are. Our people saw multiple deck breaches and there has been no communication from it. At least the two on the opposite side, were able to blow their attachment collars and are now burning toward New Brunswick on their own, but they both suffered some structural damage and lots of injuries."
Jared shuttered. "The ship next to us was carrying some of our academy class mates. 95% of them are refugees from Quaker VII fleeing the new government. This isn't fair."
Robin rolled his head, "It may not have anything to do with being fair. Captain Tanner suspects the fold craft was sabotaged. We may be lucky it didn't half fold."
"Well, I guess being stuck here is far better than our bodies being stretched over 21.3 light years. I'll say this though, if it turns out someone did this on purpose, I am going to go back to Quaker VI when I am older and it won't be for a vacation." Jared spat out. "I consider quite a few kids from the academy friends. And I know you and Jessie were quite tight. He is on that other PLC."
"I know. I just" Robin paused and smacked his head, "Oh my god!"
"The life support system is fully green."
Robin held up his hand, "OK think this out with me. You went through the ship repair course too."
Jared shook his head, "And I got a D-, and that is only because the instructor liked me and was being nice. You want to work this over with anyone it should be Glen, but he is out of it. Your next best bet is Caleb since he works with his dad all the time keeping the Grey Stallion running."
Robin nodded, "Good point. I know you are as tired as I am. Do you mind keeping watch a bit longer?"
"Sure. It's not like we didn't have to pull 24 hour barracks duty at the Quaker VII academy. Besides, I went to bed early so I had about 6 hours of sleep before all hell broke loose.
"We are lucky this happened so late. Almost all of us were in hammocks, which probably saved our lives." Robin glanced around noting almost everyone was asleep. "Just make sure you switch out and get some sleep."
"As soon as Luna or Neil wakes up, I'll hand watch over."
"You could use Dante, Kerri or Erin as well."
"Erin?" Jared spoke with some skepticism, "She did great with first aid, but there ain't no way I'm ready to trust her to keep watch yet."
"It's not like you are asking her to pull a guard duty. Besides, with her medical skill, she is going to be the first person you go to if there is a problem."
"You're probably right. I just don't like to trust new-bees." Jared then looked straight into Robin's eyes, "You're going to need some shuteye too."
"I know. The second I figure this out, I will be in my hammock."
"OK, Specialist, but for the record, I don't believe you any more than you believe yourself."
Robin snickered, "Don't forget you were made a Senior Private as was Luna." He paused and shook his head, "And you're right. The chances of me going to bed until I have this completely handed are zero."
"It wasn't a question; I know you too well. On the other hand, most of us are now in the unit. The Major is paying Zane and Kerri as Privates and the rest of the older kids as recruits, but yours is permanent. The rest of us haven't been granted that yet."
"We shall see." Robin grinned. He then floated over to Caleb and gently shook the boy's shoulder. "He dude, wake up. I need your help."
Caleb groaned as he rubbed his eyes, "What do I have to clean up now?"
"Nothin'. You did great on the cleanup crew. I need your advice."
Caleb's brown eyes suddenly snapped open with surprise. "Really?"
"Yea really." Robin let out a sigh, "Look, I know we have never gotten along very well, but this isn't about friendship. This is about the Grey Stallion and, of those of us that are healthy, no one knows her better than you."
Caleb pulled himself out of his hammock and grabbed his dressing bag. He pulled on some tattered jeans as he spoke, "OK, so what's the problem?"
"We are fine. The problem is the other ship docked next to us. No one has heard a word from it and it appears to have no power."
Caleb frowned, "What are we supposed ta do about that?"
"Come on Caleb." Robin chided lightly, "Think this through with me for a sec. Our life support is on primary and we only had three warnings on this deck. Neil's room was totally dead, but that light went out once we got his door open. The other two are the cargo lifts. Other than that, we are green across the board."
Caleb's eyes lit up as he realized what Robin was saying. "Of course! That means our connection point with the SFC is still secure and the link tube that leads to the other PLC is also secure. If it wasn't we would be getting warnings and the emergency bulkheads would have dropped."
Robin held up his hand, "If I remember correctly, the passageways between landing craft are not powered by the fold craft either, right?"
Caleb thought it over for a few moments as he tried to pull on his shirt. Much like Robin he had difficulty doing so in zero G, but with Robin's help the task became a great deal easier. "It depends on the SFC, Robin. I'd have to check the life support outputs to know."
"Get on it. I'm going to talk to Captain Tanner."
Caleb maneuvered around the passage, double checking all the sensor panels as he went. Finally he made it to the air lock. He ran a couple of quick checks and adjusted the controls some.
Just as he was starting to wonder what was going on, Robin appeared and handed Suberov's radio over to Caleb. "If everything checks out, the Major has given us the OK to check for survivors. Your dad wants to run you though how we are going to do this though."
Caleb keyed the radio, "Dad?"
A relieved voice came through the small speaker, "Son, it is great to hear your voice. How are you really?"
"I'm fine dad. I got lucky and stayed in the hammock the whole time. How is mom?"
"We don't know yet. She was on Juliet in the gunner turret and we still have no comm down there."
"NO! Stop and listen Kay." His dad responded forcefully.
Caleb swallowed hard but managed to respond. "Yes sir."
"Good. Now take a few breaths. This is hard on both of us, but there is nothing you can do right now for her. But according to Rob, there may be something you can do for others. That has to be your focus."
Caleb wiped away a couple of tears. "I understand. How long before you can get to Juliet?"
The normally strong voice of the ship's engineer softened considerably. "I wish I could give you a time frame but I can't. We have a crew on Golf trying to locate and patch the breach or breaches there. Once we secure Golf, then we can move down the turbo lift tube, put a set of temporary airlock doors in the tube and send crews in to check for survivors. But you have been with me out on the hull when we hit that micro meteor storm and you saw how hard it is to find a breach from the inside. It's going to take time. All we can do is hope the turret is ok, cause if it is, then she should have life support since you show it is running on Juliet. We are working as hard and as fast as we can to get crews in there to see what is going on. Remember Kay, you are with other kids who haven't heard from either parent yet and there could be parents and kids on the other PLC going though exactly what your mom is down below. You may be their only shot."
Robin put his arm around Caleb to give him what support he could as he listened to Caleb's dad. "Your dad's right Caleb. You need to be happy you know where your dad is and that he knows where to look for your mom. We both went to Quaker VII academy for a while and you know probably as many kids as I do that bugged out with their parents. Some of them are on that PLC."
Captain Tanner broke into the conversation. "Kay, Rob is counting on you to help him. He thinks you are his best chance at getting safely to the other ship to see if we can find survivors. We are up in the bridge and can't do much but give guidance and advice, but there's one thing you should know, we agree with Rob. You have played in every passageway, crawl space, and access tube in the Grey Stallion. You have helped your dad to fix everything from plumbing to the main drive engines dozens of times. Between the two of you, and with the help of the other kids, you guys may be the only hope any survivor of the other PLC has."
Caleb looked at Robin, bit back a sob and managed to nod. "OK, Dad. What do you want us ta do?"
The chief engineer responded with healthy praise. "That's my boy! Now get focused, cause you two are on point down there. I can give recommendations, but can't make the decisions for you. First off, did you manage to get any readings for us?"
"Yes sir." Caleb responded, "Our life support is plugged into the link tube. It shows normal temps and oxygen all the way to the other craft. It also shows we are providing 100% of the life support power to the tube. But I have a question."
"Since we have done this trip by rapid transport, we haven't had the chance to go over to her. Where does she hook to the link tube?"
"Good question. Hold a sec." His dad's voice trailed off before he spoke again. "Bridge, she is an old Wagon class PLC. Can you pull up specs and send a basic blueprint down to them?"
"We can pull up the blueprint," Captain Tanner replied, "But I'm not sure how we are going to get it to them."
Caleb jumped in, "Rob, did your Holo-cube survive?"
"It's cracked, but it works. Why?"
"Cause" Caleb's voice drifted off as he bit his lip.
"What son?" Caleb's dad asked with some aggravation. "There are lives on the line here. Speak up."
Caleb cringed and looked at Robin without keying the radio, "If I tell him, I am going to have a sore ass for weeks and Dante is going to kill me if his dad doesn't kill him first."
Robin raised an eyebrow for a moment then nodded. He gave Caleb a sly look and grinned. "You're going to owe me big time on this and I want the full story."
Robin then keyed his radio. "I think he is going to have Dante try to hook it up to a video receiver again. Last time all it did was give me a 30 second picture and fried my really good battery. They both still owe me for it."
Caleb spoke up adding credence to the story, "We know what we did wrong and Dante is sure he can get it right, but Robin wouldn't let us touch his cube again. If Robin will let us use it, Dante can hook it up to the same receiver unit he built for it last time and you can send the full plans right down to us."
Captain Tanner spoke up, "Rob, let them give it a try. We'll figure a way to make all of this right later."
"I'm already handing Caleb the key to my desk sir." Robin responded with a voice he tried to make as resigned as possible as he winked at Caleb, "I'm going to grab three ecological suits so Dante can join us."
Caleb's dad's voice came over the radio again. "You'll have to get the heavy eco-suits. The light ones will not protect you from the cold of deep space if you end up in a fully exposed section. I keep 6 small sizes for Caleb, Glen and 4 spares for other kids to train with in the ammo lock up. I'm sure you'll fit into the one Glen normally uses, and Dante should be able to use the one that is the same size as my son's. The security code for the locked storage is Tango Alpha Four Two Romeo. Also, go ahead and secure a sonic stun pistol for my son while you're in there. You may run into some dangerously desperate people over there."
"Got it sir."
Captain Tanner spoke up. "Warrant Officer Jorgan has a valid point Rob. Get Dante, Jared, Zane, Luna, Kerri, and Glen one as well, since you're going to be bringing any survivors over to the Grey Stallion."
"What about Valerie?"
"If you think she can handle it, go ahead. I want you to also get yourself and Jared a laser pistol. If the sight of sonic stunners doesn't get their attention, the laser pistols in yours and Jared's hands certainly will."
Caleb's dad spoke up again. "Make sure you lock it back up and hit the change code button so it will cycle to the next locking code. Also, remember to make sure the section behind you is air tight before trying to open the airlock to the passenger tube. The last thing we want is to have a damaged door stick open and decompress a large area of your deck."
Robin rolled his eyes, "I know sir. Both the Captain and the Major already went over that with me. We are going to close ourselves into section Hotel One Zero Three and make sure the door shuts and seals behind us completely before we open the first dual air lock door to the outside. We will then do the same thing before opening up the outer door to enter the link tube."
"Alright Rob, as soon as Dante does his thing with your cube let us know how to transmit the plans to you."
Robin made sure he was not transmitting before he turned to Caleb. "As soon as we get some down time I want to know what you and Dante did."
"Not much to explain." Caleb gulped nervously. "I pick pocketed one of the guards at the academy to get us a pass card and Dante spliced into the academy security room cameras. He rigged up a transmitter and a receiver and sent the pictures to the battle-map HUD on the high tech frame we got to practice electronic warfare in. The HUD and your cube are the same technology, just used differently so he can do the same thing. Anyway, he then burned a copy of the whole thing."
Caleb managed a grin, "Because our Science and Math instructors both prepared their test in their rooms and the cameras were able to catch them both making it. We also got to see what was on the finals from History and Language classes from the kids who took those tests the day before we did."
"Wow." Robin whistled, "You two are good! No wonder you two got such good grades on the finals." Robin then sighed and shook his head. "Do you have any idea what would have happened if you had been caught?"
"Like I said, I would get the beating of my life and probably a whole shit load of extra punishments and Dante's dad very well might a killed him. You know how hot headed the Master Sergeant is."
"Yea, probably better than you think."
"Rumor has it, you were the one who shot him."
"Some rumors are true." Robin smiled without totally confirming the unit gossip. He took a deep breath and patted Caleb on the shoulder. "The important thing is you guys pulled it off. Next time I want in on it and you both owe me, got it?"
"Absolutely! I'll make sure Dante knows the score as well." Caleb agreed without any hesitation. "What now?"
"Get my Holo-player, Dante, and what he needs to make this work. I'm going to grab the weapons and E-suits. Also, send Jared to collect the other weapons. We'll all meet at the door to Hotel One Zero Three."
Robin couldn't help but chuckle as he left the younger kid. Caleb was probably correct. Dante's father would have come close to killing his son if his actions had been discovered. On the other hand, Dante had not done well in many of the very hard academy classes and bad grades would have been almost as bad. So, the reward of keeping the man off his back was certainly worth the risk. It was one of the unit's unspoken facts that Dante's dad was basically a psyco, but was tolerated because there was no better fighter inside a combat frame. The man had more confirmed frame kills than any other member of the Grenadiers yet had only been with the unit for about 5 years.
Merc units, as a general rule, stuck together and took care of their own problems. This case was no different. The rest of the unit did what they could to ease Dante's plight. The boy almost never slept in his quarters and when Dante did mess up; Major O'Connell found duties well suited for the Master Sergeant which kept him away from his son. Still, in the 5 years Dante had been with the kids, he had spent over a dozen days in the infirmary because of beatings delivered from the biggest, meanest, and craziest bastard in the unit.
Rob had witnessed the savage behavior of the man first hand along with the type of abuse the youngster had to deal with. It had been a little less than 6 months ago. All the older kids were on a practice range using light rifles. For some of the kids including him and Jared, this was a time for rifle recertification. For others, like Dante, the range was an opportunity to gain their rifle qualification.
Unfortunately for Dante, he dropped his rifle after slipping while trying to climb out of a muddy foxhole. The rifle discharged and this caused Dante to fail qualification on grounds of unsafe weapon handling. The Master Sergeant went nuts. Taking his own rifle, the huge man, spun it around and slammed the butt of it into Dante's stomach, tossing the helpless kid back into the foxhole.
As the rifle butt came up to once again fall on the boy, Robin did the opposite of the others who all dove down into the foxholes to get away from the stray round discharged by Dante's fall. Robin put his rifle down and pulled his sonic stun pistol, which was required on the Quaker VII range just in case someone did go nuts. He jumped up and fired three fast shots into the man. The first shot only staggered the guy, the second knocked him to one knee and the third one finally dropped him. Everyone who saw what happened, including Captain Tanner, made a cover story up, saying one of the range guards from Quaker VII being the shooter. Although it was clear the man didn't believe the fabrication, he finally let it go saying the next time he would leave the unit. Three days later he was arrested for actively hunting down and beating up range guards.
Ever since then, Captain Tanner had given Robin a lot more respect and the Master Sergeant had been even more vicious with Dante when the poor kid messed up. On the other hand, the youngster found almost every family willing to let him spend as many nights as he was allowed with them. Even Robin invited him over a few times.
Major O'Connell also used the arrest to keep the man on extra duties keeping him away from his son even more than normal. The whole unit had rallied around the boy, but there was only so much they could do. When push came to shove, Dante's dad would always find him while the boy's mom hid behind a bottle of liquor or her primary job as an assistant cook. Robin figured sooner or later Dante would either run away or his father would beat him so badly the kid would need attention beyond what the unit could provide. Either way, it would not end up in a way that would benefit Dante.
Robin let these thoughts slide away as he arrived at the vault. He entered the code and wasted no time getting the equipment he would need. As he took one last look around, he paused for a moment to pull the battery pack out of the laser pistol he wore and replaced it with a fully charged one. He then grabbed two extra batteries for his own and two more for Jared's. Finally, he exited the vault and hit the change code key. Just to make sure, he tried the old key sequence. When it buzzed and gave him a red light, he moved away satisfied the vault was indeed secure.
By the time he got all the way around to the passage where the living deck of the Grey Stallion linked up to the SFC, the other kids were already there working hard. Caleb had the door open while Dante floated just to the left of the door with the holo-player and what looked to be a pair of two way radios stuck to it.
As Dante saw Robin, the boy flipped it on. The display crystal projected a perfect 3 dimensional image of a starship's deck plans. "It's working, but it's not on a secure frequency, so other than open communications and its ability to receive its uses are limited. It also has a limited range so once we get over to the others ship I doubt we will be able to sues it for a radio or get any kids fo updates."
Robin let out a light whistle, "Damn, Dante, you really are a geek. A good one, but a geek none the less."
"Yea," Dante half snorted, "I wish some of you all would take that in mind when you blame me for all the shit you tend to point my direction."
Robin raised an eyebrow but shrugged off the comment as he continued to look at the plans. "It looks good."
Dante nodded, "Yea, I know." He forced some of the aggravation out of his vie with a deep breath and handed it over to Robin so he could take a close look. It's about done receiving the basic deck plans of a Wagon Class PLC. Chances are this will not be perfect though, because the last one was built over 35 years ago, and there are sure to be some changes."
"Maybe here and there, but the overall layout couldn't have been altered too much. Great work!" Robin stated totally impressed.
Jared looked over, "Are we really going to arm all the older kids?"
Robin nodded as he handed over a case filled with sonic stun pistols. "Yea, and you are getting a laser pistol. Don't use it unless you have to, but if we have problems, we will shoot to stun first then if we have to, we shoot to kill. The Major's right; we really don't know who we will be taking aboard, if we even find survivors, so we have to be prepared for the worst."
Jared took a deep breath, "Do you want me to post a couple of guards here?"
Robin thought it over for a few seconds. "No, not yet. Let everyone get as much sleep as they can for now. Instead, I want you to lock down everything from Zero Two Zero to One Eight Zero. They can all stay in the halls right along here until Dante, Caleb, and I get back here. Also, open up the 9 other empty rooms so they have a bit more space, but lock the rest of the rooms so they don't steal anything."
Jared thought it over for a second. "I'll put Val on it. She really has not done much yet."
"Good choice. She is the second youngest of us older kids, but if she wants to be part of us she needs some duties to show the younger ones she has some authority over them. Caleb's doing a fantastic job and she's a couple of months older than he is."
"What about food and water?" Dante asked as he saved the deck plans to an external drive he had made on his own. For a kid who would turn 12 in less than a month, he was truly amazing when it came to electronics. Unfortunately, since he was seen as the constant trouble maker, he seldom got credit for what he could do.
"They can get water in the open rooms." Robin replied after a few moments of thought. "If we find anyone, we should tell them to grab any food if they have any, because we only have snacks kept in crew quarters for us. Besides, Major O'Connell didn't do much with replenishment of on board food stores because of money and the fact we were doing a rapid transport."
Jared nodded as he pushed off the wall, "Makes sense, but while you are over there see if you can bust open a candy machine or something. We haven't had any junk food since Q Six shut off all but the basic shipments.
"We'll find you some." Dante snickered. "But we get fist pick."
"You get it over here, you deserve it!" Jared stated with a smile. "Good luck guys."
Robin sighed. "I think we have been lucky over all. I just hope some of those on the other ship found some luck. I put a couple of extra radios and batteries in the case with the sonic pistols. I want you to keep one and give one to Luna. You two are in command until I get back."
Jared nodded again as he continued to float away from them. "Sounds good. Oh, Robin, Erin wanted me to tell you to look for an extra emergency aid kit or two while you are over there and Neil suggested gabbing a repair kit."
"The repair kit was on my list. We'll keep our eyes open for a med kit as well." Robin stated as he helped Dante into the bulky and heavy eco-suit.
Well before Robin had secured and checked Dante's suit, Caleb was helping Robin into his. Up till now, Robin had tended to look down on Caleb, truth be told, everyone did. He was not great with weapons, not terribly good in unarmed combat, and would probably never make a good frame pilot. But now, seeing what the boy did know and could do, he started to realize there was much more to the boy than the other kids in the unit gave him credit for.
As Caleb handed over the helmet of the eco-suit, Robin smiled. "Thanks. Do you want point?"
"Me? The boy squeaked out as his brown eyes widened with astonishment.
"Yea." Robin confirmed as he secured the helmet and checked the internal life support reading to make sure the suit had no leaks. "You know what to look for just as good as I do and you have worked on way more PLCs with your dad than I have even been in. You also know how to read sensor panels and can do adjustments to life support better than I can."
As much as Caleb was enjoying being one of the guys there was something he just had to ask and he knew of any kid in the unit would know who it would be. "Robin?"
Robin motioned for Caleb to continue.
"Why do you think we got told my mom was fine earlier when she isn't"
Robin patted the younger boy on the shoulder, "My bet is Captain Tanner was working off a list and someone put down the wrong information. Take a look around, we are now hours into this mess and the bridge still is counting on us getting them life support information for the lower parts of the ship. Internal comm is all screwed up and in some ways we know as much or even more about some of what is going on than they do. But it sounds like the ship next us is all messed up and I am counting on you to help us get as many as possible safely over here. Your dad will find your mom, and we need you to focus on helping us. OK?"
"But what if she is not OK?"
Robin took a deep breath but forced himself to look straight into Caleb's eyes. "Then we will all help you deal with it, just like everyone helped me when my dad and sister were killed. You are one of us Kay even if it don't seem like it very often." Even as he talked he had to fight off the fears of what was going on with his own mom and the horrors of seeing his own father and sister laying dead in the middle of a field surrounded by over a hundred other bodies.
Dante moved up, "Come on Caleb, he's giving you point, man, let's get a move on already!"
Caleb finally nodded. He lowered the door behind the trio, making sure it was sealed. His frown quickly changed into a grin as he realized the others were making way for him. Never before had any of the older kids other than Dante given him any kind of respect until now. He moved past Robin with a bit of a gleam in his eyes. "Then let's do this!"
Opening up the door to the link tube, Caleb's grin faded as four adults and two kids almost knocked him over as they quickly tried to push their way past. Robin saw this and pulled the sonic pistol, fired a shot harmlessly into the floor, then pointed it at the crowed. Almost instantly the mass of people backed away, but a couple started to look like they would become a problem as they glared at Robin.
Fortunately, a very large man calmed things down with a very commanding voice. "Everyone stop!"
Those in the front and those behind the man instantly obeyed, some even jerking back to get away from the guy.
Robin let out a quick breath, "Thank you sir. Can you give us a hand getting people into the Stallion?"
The older of the two boys trying to gain entry into the Grey Stallion nearly smacked his head on the upper bulkhead as he turned toward the familiar voice. Only the quick reaction of the large man behind him gabbing his ankle prevented it. "Cadet Sergeant Lerrik?" the boy's voice alone told of his desire to be correct.
Robin's eyes went wide with a mixture of astonishment and relief at seeing his cadet commander. He nodded, but the gesture could not be seen outside of the fully contained suit "Cadet Captain Meschev! You made it!"
Tears rolled out of the boy's eyes as he floated over to Robin and hugged him. "Man is it good to see you! Dad, this is Robin Lerrik, the kid I was telling you about."
The large shirtless man turned to face Robin. The ease of the man's movements showed he had spent many a year in zero G and the way he carried himself said he was a military veteran. "Are you the young man who passed both ship repair and got an emergency ship repair certification?"
"I am sir." Robin stammered with some embarrassment. To hide this, he looked into the link tube, seeing almost a hundred others behind the big man. "Right now I want to get all of you into our ship, but we are only going to open the inner door once the outer door is shut and sealed. There is not nearly enough room for us to get everyone in this compartment so we will have to do it a few at a time."
The man smiled showing some amazingly calm nerves. "Solid and safe plan. I'll handle the crowd. You can shoulder your side arm son. We are going on your ship and it is clear you have been put in command, so how do you want to work this?"
Robin glanced over the crowd of desperate yet relieved survivors. All of them seemed to have calmed down and were looking toward the man speaking to him for direction. As Robin glanced over everyone, he noticed almost all of them had injuries. He also spotted two other kids he had gotten to know while attending the Quaker VII academy.
Finally Robin placed the pistol in a built in holster on the outside of the eco-suit. He then pointed to Caleb, "His dad is our senior engineer and he knows this craft better than any of us. He will stay in the airlock, seal the outer door then open the inner door. Once everyone is in the Grey Stallion, he will seal the inner door again and we will repeat the process until everyone is in. We can probably cram 10 in each time."
The man shook his head, "There is no reason to cram. We have injured that need more room and there is plenty of time. What do you say to doing six at a time."
Robin gave a quick nod, "Fine by me sir."
The man quickly moved down the link tube telling everyone exactly what they were going to do and how they would act. He then returned to his son. "Cody, stay in there in case there is a problem. I want you to help the injured as well. These three have their hands plenty full."
"No problem dad." The boy entered the link tube and patted Caleb on the shoulder of the heavy suit. "Good to see you again."
Caleb managed a smile, "You too sir, but next time try not to knock me over."
Cody blushed, "You got yourself a deal, but I'm not a cadet officer here, you are."
The small talk quickly came to an end as Cody's father escorted kids who didn't have parents with them to the front. One of them was a kid from Dante's and Caleb's class. It was pretty clear; by the fact he only wore boxers and had been crying his parents were missing.
Dante quickly moved over spoke to Mitchell for a few moments before coming over to Robin. "Mitchell's family went to the observation lounge to see what a fold looks like. Since he had seen one as part of an academy field trip, he went to bed instead. He was alone when the fold happened. He said he manually opened the door and fled when he heard air escaping through a tiny crack in his compartment so he has nothing. We should add clothing to the list of things to grab."
Robin took a deep breath, "We'll have our hands pretty full, but we'll see what we can find."
As Cody's father moved the next group forward he turned to Robin. "If you have another kid sized suit and an adult one, Cody and I could come with you."
Robin thought it over. "Sir, with all do respect. I'd prefer you stay with the survivors to keep them" his voice stalled as he tried to find a word that would not sound belittling.
The man smiled and nodded, "Calm?"
"Yea," Robin exhaled, "good word. We do have a suit Cody could fit into though, and he at least knows the ship a little."
"Cody's only 13" the man seemed uncomfortable for the first time since Robin had met him.
"So am I." Robin sounded a bit hurt.
The man cringed, "Touché"
Robin forced a slight smile. "It's your call sir."
"No, actually, it is yours. You are commanding the rescue effort and what you say goes. You could demand he helps."
"Not in my lifetime." Robin stated with complete conviction. "I'd prefer him cause I know him; I know he's decent in zero G and we worked well together in frames, but if you say no I'll simply ask for volunteers."
The man patted Robin on the back and sighed. "Let me think about it a few minutes and talk to my wife."
"Like you said, sir we have time. But the sooner we move into her the better our chance of finding survivors."
The big guy nodded but said nothing as he selected the most seriously injured, then parents with kids and finally adults without kids for the order to move aboard the Grey Stallion.
The process moved quickly and was helped along a great deal by Cody's father. As the last group moved into the Grey Stallion the man stayed behind, securing the door. He took a deep breath and patted Robin on the shoulder. "My son has spoken about you often. Now I can see why."
"Sir, with all do respect, I really don't deserve any praise. I should have thought about survivors from your ship hours before I did, and without Caleb's and Dante's help I would not have been able to get to you this quickly. Nor would I have a basic floor plan to guide me."
Dante spoke up, "Rob, none of the rest of us thought about the other ships at all, not even Major O'Connell. This was all your idea. All we did is help. That's one of the reasons the Major made you a real specialist. You took over our whole deck, welded doors, got doors open, patched us up, the whole shooting match! The rest of us just got temporary rank cause it's pretty clear who is doing most of the work."
"I'm not doing most of the work," Robin argued, "the rest of you are. I'm spending more time telling all of you what to do than doing the actual work. The only things I have really done were to weld the lift shaft doors and slap some bandages on a few kids."
Cody's father put his arm around Robin, "From what I heard as we were moving those of us who made it to the link tube to your ship and what I am hearing now, you have been the backbone of this deck and this rescue operation. My son was right about you. The academy should have made you a cadet officer."
Robin shook his head fiercely, "Merc kids almost never get command slots on any planet and would never have gotten nothing on Q Seven had it not been for Cody sticking up for me and a few other mercs from this unit and a few others. Besides sir, every kid in this unit is better at something than I am. There are better fighters, better shooters, better med techs, better everything. I am the oldest of what we call the older kids, but I'm not the best."
Dante rolled his eyes, "You liar! You are the best frame pilot and the best shot with lasers weapons by a wide margin. Hell, you can smoke most of the sergeants if you're in a frame with decent beam weapons, and are murder with ballistic weapons. You're also the only one who can really weld, not even Caleb or Glen have that down yet."
Robin tried to glare at Dante but the effect was lost because of the suit helmet.
"And your leadership is incredible." The big man replied.
"Mine? What about yours, sir." Robin responded with growing embarrassment, "You got all of these people into the safety of the tube and stopped a near riot with a simple short command."
"No, actually I just got them all into the tube and sealed it. Most of them were already there when Cody and I got there. The rest we let in as they made it. I opened the door every 15 minutes to check for survivors but the last time we found one was poor little Mitchell over an hour ago.
"As far as crowd control goes, you pulling the pistol stopped the riot. I just reinforced your authority. Besides, I am an ex-colonel and should be able to bark out a few commands now and again."
Robin looked rather shocked at hearing the man in front of him was a colonel. "What frame force did you command sir?"
"I am an armor commander, not a frame pilot. I commanded the 19th Armor Platform Brigade."
Robin raised an eyebrow, "So where are they? They didn't throw down their weapons with the rest of Quaker VII's military. We should know, Quaker VI searched our ship 3 times looking for clues on where you guys went."
Colonel Meschev smiled, "Sorry about that. Actually, we used a secret military base on Quaker VII moon III. Almost all of the non surrendering military forces went there since only a few key government officials knew about it and they joined us there. We spent a couple of months stripping it down to a shell, then two days before we left the Quaker system we used a beat up Pelican PLC, making it look like we were merchants having engine trouble. We raided Quaker VI's military starport with the help of the 23rd infantry regiment. We commandeered 5 PLC's and captured one of their two Venom SFCs.
As far as where they are now, hopefully my XO made it to Red Star to sell off one or two of the PLC's for supplies and will join me on New Brunswick when they are re-armed and fully refit. I came here to lay the ground work of becoming a licensed unit."
"You're going merc?"
"Yep. At least I hope to. I'd prefer you keep this all under your hat for now. Quaker VI's government is bound to still be on the lookout for us, but at least we are now out of the Free Planet's Association and in the Great Outback Confederation. They will have a hard time doing much to us once we are back to full strength and licensed."
"We're not going to say a word. Mercs should stick together whenever possible. Mind if I ask why you didn't stay with them?"
The Colonel snickered, "Have you ever heard of Red Star?"
Dante spoke up, "I was born there sir. I left when I was only 6, but I know exactly why you are here and they are there."
Dante turned to Robin, "Red Star is a system with 4 marginally inhabitable worlds and one pretty decent one. The 4 poor planets are basically nothing more than desert pirate worlds. If you are on the run from the law and want to hide, Red Star is where you go cause none a the poor worlds have any sort of extradition or customs. No one will care who or what you are as long as you don't cause the ruler of the area you live in too much trouble. They only care about keeping power and making money which is done though force of arms. Mini wars are fought all the time.
"I can remember watching the news, and there was usually a 2 or 3 hour report every night on who was fighting and how many had been killed. Usually the fights were over mines or other mineral resources which are actually pretty abundant.
"The decent world, Red Star IV, is little better. It is the black market capitol of the Avalon Breakaway Republic, maybe for the whole galaxy. You can buy and sell anything there, and I do mean anything. I should know"
Dante paused as he caught himself about to say something he knew he shouldn't. "Anyway, the government keeps the power grids up most of the time and water flowing about half the time. Some times you have to boil water to drink it, but most of the time there is warnings when that happens. Power is cheep, but water was something my folks always complained about having to pay so much for.
"Where I used to live, the police were private. They were paid by business owners or they simply didn't show up since the planetary government left everything but street, water and power in the private sector. Laws were pretty basic, no stealing, killing, shooting in the street and that sort of thing. If you broke a law and you had money, you could usually buy your way to freedom, but were sent to one of the other 4 worlds. If you didn't have money, you spent time in a work camp, usually a mine, or were simply killed, sometimes on the spot. My uncle got into a knife fight with a rich guy. The rich guy paid his fine and my uncle was shot right in the middle of the street. I also remember my folks had to pay to have his body hauled away under threat of arms. The first time I saw a frame up close was when it was pointing its weapons at me and my family demanding we turn over 10 silver for the bullets used to kill my uncle and another 150 for cleanup."
"Silver?" Robin asked trying to figure out what Dante was saying.
Colonel Meschev couldn't help but snicker, "Boy does that ever sum up what the Red Star system is all about." He then turned to Robin. "The standard currency of the Red Star system is silver coins, cause no one trusts paper credits and silver actually is worth something without any government backing it up."
Robin digested this information, but it took a few seconds to put it together, "You mean your family had to pay for the bullets that killed your uncle? That's horrible!" Robin shouted in total disgust.
"Yea, but that is life on Red Star IV." Dante seemed to cringe then continued. "The truth is, no one there will bat an eyelash when a large foreign force comes into the system with a planetary landing craft or two for sale. The fact that Quaker VII was settled by Russians and so was Red Star will help since the primary street language is Russian.
"The unit will probably have to set down on one of the poor worlds, because Red Star IV will never allow such a huge military force to land. But other than that, they will be left alone because they are a powerful unknown. As soon as the local lord or lords realize they will leave as soon as they make their transactions, they will get help making deals just to get rid of them.
"It will take some time, but they will find a buyer for the ships. It will probably be to some pirate unit, local lord, or some deep space free trader who does not care if what they are buying is stolen or not. They can also find equipment to repair armor along with ammo and weapons for sale. They will get too little for the ships and pay too much for the parts, but that is life in the Red Star system.
"On the other hand, tying to become a legit merc unit there is basically impossible. The planet you license on stays with you forever. Having Red Star as your point of origin would eliminate any chance at good contracts, especially for a new merc unit with questionable legal rights to most of their property."
The colonel looked over thoroughly impressed but still chuckled. "Exactly what he just said."
Robin looked over at Dante in stunned silence for several moments, "How did you end up on Ah wherever your dad joined us?"
"We joined you on Alchemy III." Dante sighed, "That is a whole nother story." The boy's voice alone said he either was not allowed to discuss it or didn't want to.
The Colonel picked up on this and spoke up, changing the subject much to Dante's relief. "The truth is, Quaker VI has no idea how much equipment we took, nor do they really care as long as we are gone and outside of the Free Planets Association. The landing craft we stole were old as was the fold craft. But having such a questionable background, no one would help us get started so we had to help ourselves. If all goes well, my unit will arrive in the system in a month or two fully repaired and ready to find employment. In the mean time, I will lay the groundwork for getting the merc licenses from New Brunswick and AIM.
"With the current civil war raging in the Avalon Breakaway Republic, I am hoping it will not be too hard to find a contract. If there was ever a good time to start a new unit, I would think now would be it. If I can get some kind of license from AIM, someone in the ABR ought to hire us."
Robin nodded, "Major O'Connell has some great contacts with the Association of Independent Mercenaries. You should talk to him. Maybe he can help set things in motion with AIM. They are already pretty annoyed with Quaker VI for their treatment of us and a few other merc units working for Quaker VII. With the right contacts, you may even get a rating before you hire out for the first time just so AIM can flex their muscles and send a message to Quaker VI's government about how to treat merc units.
Colonel Meschev raised an eyebrow. "Excellent suggestion young man. I will do so at the first opportunity."
Robin looked around making sure no one was left in the link tube, "But for the record, sir, if you are going to the ABR, don't go against Blood's Honor. We fought side by side with them once and terrifying is simply not a strong enough word for their troops or their equipment. Our best stuff wouldn't even be second line equipment to their greenest units."
"I have heard about BH, but I doubt I could get them to hire me."
"Talk to the Major, sir. He worked pretty closely with one of their brigade commanders when we fought Earth Core a few years back. His son and I actually got along pretty well for the two months we worked with them as well so maybe I can help too.
"I can't remember the commander's full name but his last name was Price, Colonel Price, and his son's name is Joel. He tried to get my mom to send me to BHJMA, but mom was going to have none of it cause we don't have that kind of money and mom simply will not take handouts even though one was offered. If needed, maybe I can send a message to Forest Garden to see if I can contact Joel or Gabriel, his best friend. They sent me communications almost every month until the war broke out, but haven't head from either in quite a while. Part of it very well may have been Quaker VI refusing to let communications get to us though."
The colonel listened to the young man in front of him with even more respect. "Your unit fought with BH?"
"Not really with them, more like we licked our wounds while BH landed in a small area we secured and moved through our lines like a tidal wave. Before we even realized they were ready to take the fight on for us, they had crushed the EC troops facing us and rolled over half a dozen merc units like they weren't there."
Cody's dad looked at Robin with fascination. "What planet?"
"Earth Core hit us hard on New Bravaria. If it hadn't been for BH moving in as fast as they did, chances are good there would be no more O'Connell Grenadiers."
The man whistled softly, "Well it is a darned good thing they helped you all out, cause without you all I don't think any of us would be alive right now."
Robin gave an embarrassed half grin, "You should join the others sir. We are going to press on."
The Colonel sighed, "Get my son one of those eco-suits so he can join you. There has to be other survivors. There had to be over 4500 people aboard her, and you could certainly use someone who is somewhat familiar with her."
"Are you sure sir?" Robin asked with a mixture of hope and surprise.
"Yes, I am. The whole reason I stayed to talk with you is to see just what type of young man I would be sending my son with. You impressed my son, which is why he put you in his command squad. After talking with you, I am every bit as comfortable with you as he is. Just take care of him, OK?"
"Absolutely sir, but knowing Cody he will take care of me more than I will take care of him."
The Colonel smiled, "We shall see. I would like your permission to arm him as well."
"Granted." Robin stated instantly, "He scored the highest in the class in the friend foe range."
"According to him you scored second best, by exactly one point."
"Tied for second. The First Sergeant got the same score as I did." Robin turned to Dante, "Contact Jared and have him get us the other heavy eco-suit my size along with a laser and stun pistol for Cody. Also have him gather clothing in various sizes and distribute them as best we can."
"What about Mitchell sir." Dante asked with clear concern.
Robin chewed on his lip, "Does he know anyone other than you and Caleb?"
"He had classes with Val and Glen too."
"See if he wants to move in with the rest of us or stay with the survivors of the wagon. Only those we know from the academy and can be confirmed by two or more older kids are allowed past the secure section."
"Well, yea. If they are with family all of them can come through, but I want them all double checked for weapons. Only the ones Jared or I approve get a stunner and only I can approve lasers."
Robin took a deep breath and looked back toward the Grey Stallion, "Colonel Meschev you can move past the secure section as well, but I'd kind of like you to stay with the others"
"I'll stick with the refugees and keep them in line. I wouldn't mind having a weapon of my own just in case though."
Robin turned to Dante, "Have Jared arm Colonel Meschev and get him a radio as well."
Dante radioed Jared then looked over toward the hatch leading to the wagon. "How bad is it over there Colonel?"
The Colonel shook his head sadly, "I can only speak for what I saw, but it is bad. The whole ship is trashed. There are breaches on multiple decks in multiple locations. Most of the emergency lights were damaged and almost all power is out. Making matters worse, there is hazardous debris and dead floating all over.
"We were basically lucky. We were two decks up and there is a deck stairwell just down the passage from our room that leads down to the dining area which happens to be the deck the link tube hooks up to. We took that then I forced open the emergency bulkhead in a section just port of the link tube. We then had to wrap all the way around to the starboard side because the section just forward of the link tube is breached, but the long way around was still secure.
"We had to move quickly, but Cody and my wife helped a couple of other families and my daughter grabbed that really young girl she found floating in the passageway, but the passageway was a mess and we didn't spend much time looking for others. We heard lots of screams and cries though."
Dante shuttered, "So there are more survivors?"
The Colonel shrugged, "There is no way to know for sure how many, but there certainly are some, but I fear not for too much longer. As the ship gets colder they will start to freeze. As it is, you will only find survivors in areas insulated from exposed space by a few bulkheads. Work toward the center of the ship and spiral out. That way you will have the best chance of finding the living."
Robin chewed his lip as he listened. "Any other suggestions?"
"I am used to traveling in space and know what was taught in classrooms, but don't know squat about ship functions or repairs. The last few survivors said there was no sign of a hull breach all the way to the central dining area, but the airlock to the fold ship is blocked by an emergency bulkhead and there are bulkheads in place along many of the port side sections. That last kid, Mitchell, said he saw light coming from the kitchen area, but couldn't get there because of bulkheads between the dining area and the kitchen."
Robin looked over to Dante, "Then we will start there. Find us as many possible paths as you can to the kitchen from where we are now. Look for service crawl ways, ways to go up or down a few decks, even look for a place where we could cut through, whatever you can think of."
Dante pulled up the plans and started playing with the controls. As he did so, Colonel Meschev floated over and watched the boy for several minutes before he whistled softly, "How in the hell did you get the plans on a holo-player and how are you manipulating the views?"
Robin smiled as he floated over and patted Dante's shoulder. "He is our electronics whiz kid. Everything but the holo-player he built on his own. You ought to see the robot he was starting to build for the academy science fair."
Dante shook his head sadly, "I wish I had been allowed to finish her, we could have used her to scope out the area for us."
The opening of the airlock door leading to the Grey Stallion halted further conversation as Caleb floated in with Cody. Cody handed over a sonic pistol and a laser pistol to his father, "Mom is really freaking out about me going dad."
"I'll handle her. You stay focused on keeping safe and saving as many lives as you can, in that order."
"We'll be fine dad."
Robin looked over as Caleb helped Cody secure the helmet of the eco-suit. "Are you OK with this?"
"I'm nervous, but it has to be done. Maybe we can even find Mitchell's parents."
"We can only hope." Robin stated his voice showing he really didn't see much chance of that happening. "Dante, have you come up with anything?"
"Yea." The younger boy responded, "There is three possibilities, but the last one would require a cutting torch to burn through a storage room into the freezer, but is probably the most likely way to gain access, since from what we have heard, the way is secure all the way to the closet."
Robin clenched his fist, "Great, the one piece of equipment that was damaged beyond repair of all our repair equipment is the one I really need. We'll try the other two ways first, but keep all eyes pealed for a repair kit. But, the wagon is a passenger liner so they will not be nearly as available as they are on the Stallion.
"Caleb, I want you and Cody up front. Caleb, your primary responsibility will be to look for possible dangers. Cody, I want you to kind of guide us and to gently push debris away from us so nothing bumps into the contraption Dante built around my holo-player. I will bring up the rear and I will have the stunner in my hand at all times. If someone tries to rush us, move to the side and I will fire. The last thing we want is some desperate person to grab on and knock us into something which could damage our suits."
Colonel Meschev looked nervous as he hugged his son. "Stick together. I will keep someone at the airlock at all times. All you have to do is smack on it and we will open it. Otherwise, we will check every fifteen minutes just as we did with the hatch to the link tube."
Robin managed a smile, "Our suits have built in radios, lamps, and enough air for 6 hours. We will return to re-supply air and recharge battery packs after 4 hours. Hopefully by then we will have gotten most of the survivors off."
"If you haven't, then they will probably have frozen to death. Good luck kids." Colonel Meschev stated as he slowly closed the airlock to the grey Stallion. He wiped away a tear and forced himself to get rid of the fear he knew was showing in his eyes. He then entered the Grey Stallion seeing a girl moving around taking care of injuries with the help of a younger boy. The pair was being carefully watched over by a third boy armed with a sonic pistol in his hand and a laser pistol in a shoulder holster.
"Son I can keep an eye on things."
Jared shook his head, "Sir, with all due respect, I'll wait until all injuries are treated as best as Erin can; then the three of us will move back. If you have anyone with good med skill, then by all means have them jump in, cause Erin really should be keeping an eye on one of our own seriously injured instead of helping you all, but what Robin says goes."
"You don't seem to trust us very much son."
"Sir," Jared half snarled, "After the way we were screwed on Quaker VII, it'll take quite a while before I trust anyone other than kids and instructors I know from the academy who come from there. Robin says you are Cody's dad, and that is a great start, but other than Mitchell, who is now with the others from Stallion, and Pasha over there," he pointed to another academy survivor huddled with his father and sister, "I don't trust anyone from either Quaker planet."
A man in his early twenties looked over rather annoyed, "Why?"
Colonel Meschev responded for Jared, "Because not only did the government pull the rug out from under them, so did the general population. The Grenadiers were fighting for all of you and you all did nothing when Quaker VI's interim government stopped sending supplies to them while preventing them from using inner planetary communications to allow them to leave. The surrender was supposed to include pay and supplies to the mercs fighting for us, but it didn't come through and all of you know it. We all saw it on the news before Quaker VI shut it down, again in violation of the cease fire agreement. But no one lifted a finger to help."
Jared glared at the man, "My uncle lost his life defending your Northern Greenhouse Complex so you could all have food, but when we started to go hungry none of you cared."
An older woman glared, "You are mercs, your parents get paid to fight."
Jared shook with anger, "You better read the contract we signed you bi..."
Colonel Meschev held up a hand cutting Jared off, "Ease up son. You have every right to be angry, but it will not get you anywhere with the likes of those you have rescued."
A round of muttering started to break out, but was silenced as Colonel Meschev voice got very loud, "You know I find it kind of amazing. Here you all are, still treating these people like crap just because they were paid to help your government fight for you. The whole reason mercs exist is to fill in a needed void left because the people and the governments don't have the intestinal fortitude to build and maintain a good enough military force.
"Yet even after they have opened up their ship to us, sent a couple of kids to help our wounded and are sending kids let me say this again. They are sending kids to save the lives of others on the ship we just got off of; you still want to act like they owe you something. Well ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you. They don't owe us anything. As of right now we owe them. We owe them for medical treatments being rendered by that wonderful young lady. We owe them transport fees for them allowing us to board their ship. We owe then security fees for them protecting us from the fold disaster and ourselves.
That young man, you are being so rude to, is a member ship's security detail. As with any ship security force, they are in command while you are in space and aboard their ship. The second you freely came aboard this ship without signing a transport agreement, you placed yourselves under their laws and their rules."
A man with his wife and two young children shook is head, "That's not true. There are rescue clauses and laws."
Jared snorted, "Really, mister know-it-all, I am so thrilled to see you have such a command of interstellar law. Maybe you should reread the bylaws section on deep space rescue."
"What the hell is so funny?" The man fired back as Jared started laughing outright.
Colonel Meschev couldn't help but snicker, "The fact is, the boy is laughing at you because you don't know squat. He is talking about rescue versus space salvage. I believe that is taught to 5th graders in the military academy and probably to 6th or 7th graders in the public schools."
Pasha, the other Quaker VII academy cadet spoke up, "Did any of you ask for permission to come aboard? I know I didn't."
"What does that matter?" The man's wife asked, looking totally confused.
Pasha tossed up his hands, "I can't believe Cody's dad and me are the only two who know the laws of deep space travel."
Colonel Meschev nodded encouragement to Pasha, "I'm sure we are not, but some may need to be reminded of our situation. Please continue young man."
Pasha got a nudge from his dad who looked as confused as may of the others along the Grey Stallion passageway. The boy looked around and got a smile from Jared who was clearly enjoying this impromptu lesson on the laws of deep space travel. Pasha smiled back and rose up so everyone could see him. "There are three elements required for this to be a space rescue. One is need of rescue. There is no doubt we fell into that category, but that is the only one of the three we fell into.
"The second requirement is a request for rescue." Pasha looked around, "Did any of you request rescue or did you just simply pile into this landing craft expecting good treatment?"
A few of the grumblings faded as Pasha continued to speak. "I didn't think so. So you are like me, you came aboard without asking for permission. This alone places us at the mercy of this crew. But there is a third element that is even more important. This is a private ship that didn't cause the ship we were on to become crippled nor was it part of a conspiracy to render our ship crippled. This eliminates piracy. With piracy out of the way we are nothing more than part of the ship we came out of."
"But they knew of our situation!" Argued one man who clearly understood what the boy was implying.
"All of us heard two other ships blow their docking clamps and burn away." Pasha responded, clearly having thought this through all the way before he spoke up. "We also all worried about this ship doing the same. That's why we left the airlock closed between its clamp and us until we heard them open their airlock. With two other ships abandoning us, we can't say anyone knew anything."
Pasha looked at the man, giving him a chance to come up with a counter argument. When it didn't happen he continued. "To sum this up, we didn't request help. Our ship is dead in space as is the fold ship we are still attached to. We have almost no life support signs and could not have sent a distress call so our ship is considered dead. Finally, we have no expectation of a free ride since this is a privately owned ship. Put all of that together and we are nothing more than part of the ship we came off of."
"Which is what?" Pasha's mom asked, genuinely concerned.
Colonel Meschev looked around. He nodded as he saw many of the faces now wore stunned and even fearful expressions. "It means ladies and gentlemen, we are classified as salvage. It will be up to the captain of the ship or the owner of this unit to decide our fate. Until he allows you to pay a transport fee and sign some sort of contract, we belong to him. As pure luck would have it, the boy in charge of this deck is treating this as a rescue, but it would be in everyone's best interest to be ultra kind to every member of this ship's crew. Like it or not, that boy you were just being so rude to, could shoot you without having to justify it. So before you mouth off to him or any other member of this ship, you may want to consider just how much power they have over us."
One small boy clutched his mom's neck, "Are they going to kill us like the bad people in that show daddy likes?"
Jared moved over to the boy, "No way kiddo. You and your mom are safe here. We get paid to take care of those kind of bad guys."
He moved to pat the boy on the head but the mother simply hugged the boy tighter. Jared backed away and looked around. "Look, I don't want to cause a big panic, but I am sick of being treated like I have the plague. Ever since we came to Quaker, it has been clear no one wanted us there. With the exception of a few kids from the academy, no one on your crappy world would give us the time of day."
He paused and looked around to a few adults with kids his own age. "I have been to almost a dozen planets that I can remember. Quaker was the worst for me. In the year and a half we were there, I never made a single friend outside of school. I never got the chance to invite any one over to spend the night. I never got invited over to anyone's house, not even for a meal. When we went to parks, your kids ignored us completely. They backed away in fear just like that kid's mom, or attacked us if they thought they could get away with it.
"A few times I had to jump in and prevent younger kids from the Grenadiers from being picked on or belittled. If it hadn't been for Cody and another kid from the academy, I would have ended up seriously hurt or seriously hurting other kids who were hell bent on chasing us out of a game center just because we were merc brats. All of us have ended up with multiple black eyes because of your kids, when the fact is we could have kicked the asses of just about all of them but we held back because we would have gotten in trouble from your cops, our parents and our commander and we knew it."
Jared slid along the wall to a kid who was about 12 or 13. Instantly the boy tried to back away, but the zero G put him into a bit of a spin. Jared reached and steadied him only to see the kid flinch. He backed off and fought back a tear, "All of you were watching. What he just did is exactly what every other kid outside of the academy and quite a few in the academy did whenever I got close. What in the hell did I do to get treated like this?"
Jared pushed off the wall and did a series of spins. "Instead of making a friend and showing him how to do something like this I get treated like I'm some sort of drug dealing thug. Yet you were sure happy to rush our ship. What exactly did we do to deserve this type of treatment?" Jared pushed of the wall again and made his way over to the hatch, clearly trying not to cry, he settled in to keep an eye on Erin as she finished up.
Erin glanced up and shook her head, "I sure hope you are all proud of yourselves. I, for one, am completely embarrassed to be from Quaker VII. It amazes me they even offered my father a slot in the unit. I also finally understand why the kids of this unit have been so suspicious of me. How do you live with yourselves?"
She pushed the aid kit away from herself. "Find someone else to fix you injuries."
Jared gritted his teeth, "No Erin. If they want to act like savages while treating us like dirt, let them. Robin is risking his ass over there and expects us to do our part here. Finish up so you can check on Tommy again and get some sleep. We have plenty of our own wounded that need your abilities and I am sure Robin will bring back others."
She took a deep breath, "Fine, but he better find a couple of aid kits cause other than what I am holding back for Tommy and Glen, we are going to be bone dry on first aid supplies after I finish up here."
"I'll radio and let him know just how bad it is. Maybe he can get to the med bay or something."
The kid who Jared had just steadied suddenly looked up, "Hey kid!"
Jared turned, "Me?"
The boy nodded vigorously, "Yea. Tell your buddies that two decks down there is an aid station. I got space sick my first day and had to go there for some meds. We went right by it on our way to that passage thing you found us in so it was in an area that still had air less than 3 hours ago. It was also closed for the night, so it was probably locked."
Jared moved over to the kid again, this time the boy didn't try to move away but was clearly nervous to be so close. Jared ignored the reaction as he radioed Robin. "How's it going?"
"Slow. We found 2 lone survivors and a family of 4. We had to pry on their room door, but finally got it open enough to allow them to slide out. We sent them all toward the link tube, but it is getting pretty cold in the section we are in. It is down to 7 degrees Celsius. What's up?"
"Erin has about used up all the med supplies, but there is a kid here who thinks he can direct you to a med station two decks down. It may be locked though."
"I can handle the lock and the ship plans we have are awesome. So far all the deck plans match right down to the room numbers. Give us a deck and room number. I'll have Dante pull it up."
Jared kept his radio keyed as he looked at the boy. The kid shook his head in frustration before looked back to his parents, "Dad?"
The man's brow wrinkled in thought. "We were in Kilo one twelve. We had to turn left to get there and it was a good 15 or maybe as many as 20 doors down, but on the other side of the hall. It had a red cross on it when open, but just a sign that said closed at night."
"Robin did you get that?"
"Affirmative. We'll find a way down there. In the mean time send a couple of the others into rooms. Have them dig around for field packs. Almost all the adults carry some kind of first aid kit with them when in combat, and some of that should be in the rooms. I know my mom doesn't take her field kit with her when at combat station on the ship."
"Great idea, I'm on it." Jared sighed as he put the radio back on his side. He turned and put on a forced smile, "Thanks kid."
The kid nodded, "We should be thanking you. I don't think I have heard anyone do so yet."
All up and down the corridor heads sagged as the truth of the boy's words struck a cord.
On the other hand, Jared bit back a snicker and turned his face away from everyone to hide a satisfied smirk. Maybe these people were finally getting it, but somehow he doubted it would stick once they were all safely on the ground or aboard a space station. "Finish up Erin so these people can get some rest. All of us need it."
"What about Robin?" Erin asked as she secured a head dressing on an older woman who looked more scared than hurt.
"Don't worry. He'll sleep for 18 to 24 hours once he crashes. I have seen him do this back at the academy. He can go for 48 hours when he has to." Jared responded with a yawn. "I think he has a built in overdrive switch."