Castle Roland

O'Connell's Grenadiers

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 7

Posted: N/A

O'Connell's Grenadiers

Copyright © by
Kyle Aarons

Robin turned to Caleb as he finally managed to come to grips with the fact he was floating out in deep space with no atmosphere other than what was in the suit to protect him. He had to speak a bit louder than normal to talk over the hum of the heating fans. "Of all the command staff, Captain Tanner would be the very last person I would expect to make an offer to sponsor a kid."

Caleb snickered, "Then you really don't know him very well."

Robin floated over to the ships main console. The two main view screens had been shattered and there was a large red smear over the left side of it, but some of the keys and switches still had lights showing there was power. "Wow this place is trashed." He glanced over at Caleb again. "So our XO doesn't really hate kids?"

Caleb openly laughed, "Hell no. He doesn't get along with the girls as well as the boys and tries to hide the fact he likes us though. Unfortunately, since you are basically the Major's adopted son, he has tried to steer a bit clear of you. I think he's afraid the other adults will find out he is really a giant kid at heart."

"Wow, he hides it well then. Every time I needed his help with something I have had to all but beg."

"Next time, have Zane, Jared or Dante ask for you... Especially Dante!"

"Dante? Come on, he hates Dante."

"Bullshit Robin. If he could take Dante away from the Master Sergeant, he'd do so in a heartbeat. After the last beating, Captain Tanner has made it a point to check on him every time Dante had to stay in his own quarters and, believe it or not, a few nights when Dante was looking for a place to stay, he ended up in Captain Tanner's quarters."

A gasp of pure shock escaped Robin's lips. "He's never let me step foot in his quarters!"

Caleb shrugged as he checked the door one last time to make sure the portable generator was still connected properly. "Me neither, but Jared, Dante, and Denny all slept in his study multiple times. Dante and Jared both said Captain Tanner balled his eyes out when he found out Denny had been killed."

Robin whistled softly. "I don't think I have ever seen Captain Tanner shed a tear. He didn't even cry after he got pegged with that medium laser last year when Q Six hit our base." He suddenly shuddered lightly as his peripheral vision caught sight of a swipe of four long trails in the red smear marking where fingers had dragged trough it. "Blood..."

Caleb glanced over from his inspection of the small generator, clearly surprised at the change of subjects. "Blood?"

"Yea. There is smeared blood dried on the central terminal. The only way it could have gotten there like it is if the ship had gravity at the time cause it pooled on here and dried."

"So someone was killed on the ship before it left the gravitational pull of Quaker VII?"

"Yea." Robin stated with disgust as he continued to look over the controls including a still fully powered panel showing a number of green and red lights. "And I think I know why we are way short on survivors too, someone locked down all life boats except three. The captain's personal escape pod is not only unlocked it is gone, along with one on Bravo and there is one on Charlie Deck that is unlocked and appears to still be in place. The others all are locked in place with all the overrides in place including communications."

"Can you send the signal to release them?"

"Yea, well at least to most of them. I have green lights on 52 pods, red on 17, and another 10 I have no light to at all other than the lock down lights, so who knows. The one on Charlie is showing green but has a command lockout on the inner door from inside it so unless I miss my guess the RG puke we found in the tube was trying to get to that pod. I am locking it in place now and putting in a second command override to prevent anyone inside it from having access back to the ship."

"So release all the others." Caleb almost demanded.

Robin took a deep breath to hide some anger, "As much as I would love to, it would not be in the interest of any possible survivor. The problem is, if they all launch this ship is going to totally vac. There is no way all the inner doors leading to those pods are air tight after all the damage we have seen. I am unlocking comm and each of the pod's primary power units, but I don't dare over ride the locking clamps."

There was a long pause. "Oh, yea. Sorry."

Robin fought hard to keep his voice neutral, "No sweat. You just want as many people safe as possible. Forget it."

Caleb turned away from the generator again as he stared over at Robin, "Is there a life support reading from the pod on Charlie?"

Robin glanced around and finally shrugged after floating over to a couple of different stations on the ruined bridge, "Its independent power has not been locked out so I am gathering it is, but I'm not sure where to even look in this mess to find pod readings. Some of these terminals are totally shot and a few of them I don't even know what they were for. The navigation station and engineering sections look to be purposefully destroyed and there is one over here with three holes in it. Unless I miss my guess it was shot repeatedly with exploding rounds from the micro missile pistol."

Caleb floated over, pushing one of the dead bodies out of the way as he did so. He swallowed some bile as he noticed a small hole in the front of the gal's head but a fist sized exit wound on the back. He also noticed her hands were tied with some wire "She was shot with her hands tied!"

"The other one also has his hands and feet tied. Judging by his uniform, it looks like he was the captain. Someone beat him before they shot him too. His face is all busted up. I'm surprised they didn't end up out in space when the bridge vac happened."

"They probably snagged on something then once there was no pressure left they simply floated free. At least their blood got sucked out or this would be really gross." Caleb stated as he looked at the mess of jagged holes, scorched metal, and wires at the blasted controls Robin had pointed out. "You should check the body for keys or pass cards. If there is extra codes for the boxes they would most likely be in a safe somewhere in the captain's room or study through the door on the far side."

"Good idea." Robin cringed as he started checking the body, "This really creeps me out, it's so cold his body is frozen solid. It's almost like checking over a manikin or something."

Caleb shook his head. "Oh, come on Robin, that is soooooo nasty! I'm already going to have nightmares over this place. I really didn't need to hear that."

"Sorry, but if you think you're the only one who is going to have to deal with some sleepless nights, you're wrong." Robin managed to find a set of electronic keys tucked in the inside breast pocket of the uniform. He grimaced as he pulled trying to separate the bloody vest from the body so he could pull the keys free. Making matters even worse, he could feel the body cracking as he pulled. As he finally managed to free them from the body, he swallowed hard and shook slightly.

To break his train of thought on what he just had to do, he tried to joke. "I might even need to dig out some of my stuffed toys that I used to sleep with after this."

Caleb managed a grin; "If you find some, let me hold on to one for a few nights too."

"Deal." Robin forced a slight laugh. "So any idea why they blasted the crap out of one terminal while only putting a single round into most of the others?"

"Yea. This was the security station. By destroying this and the data storage chips in it, they made sure there was no recordings of them. All camera feeds were stored here."

Robin looked over the destruction again with some disappointment and disgust. "It looks like the keys I found were stuffed back into his vest after they shot him for some reason. One of the holes is right under the pocket I pulled them from, but they aren't damaged. Can you salvage anything over there?"

"To be honest I doubt it, but I'll try."

"Alright," Robin pointed to a door on the wall opposite the lift door. "I'm going to check out the captain's room. With any luck one of these keys will work."

"Dad told me the captain's room is usually a blue colored key." Caleb responded, "But if they put them back they either searched it or couldn't get it open. Be careful though, you have no way of knowing if it is pressurized or not."

"Good call." Robin responded as he looked over the small electronic keys. Once he found the blue one he pulled some wire from the closest terminal to the door and secured a loop around the whole station. He then floated into it and made sure his arm pits were under the loop and that he could still reach the door. After nearly 10 minutes he glanced over his shoulder. "You secure over there?"

"Yea, I'm good and I think I found a section of data chips that survived, but have no way of knowing what, if anything, is on them."

"Bag em and get ready."

Robin pounded on the door and hit the intercom button just in off chance there was someone inside and the speaker still worked. As a final thought he placed his external speaker right up against the intercom hoping the sound waves would travel just enough so anyone inside could hear. "Rescue is anyone in there?"

He repeated the communication attempt twice more before he turned and waited to get a thumbs up before he hit the intercom one last time, "If you can hear me, the space outside is depressurized. Let all air out of your lungs and hold on tight. My first task will be to get you to an air lock." With a nervous sigh, he pushed the electronic key into the slot and hit the power button half expecting nothing to happen.

There was a pair of static bursts in their radios followed by a red flashing LED light over the door but nothing happened. "Kay, what the hell is this?"

Caleb shrugged and shook his head, "No clue. Hold on a sec." Caleb switched most of his E-suit's electronics off and bit down on a small bump inside his mouth, "Hey dad, can you hear me?"

There was a slight pause before Caleb's dad responded, "Kay? You OK?"

"Well, I'm a bit spooked by all this but I'll live. I'm sorry because I know you hate me to use your implanted receiver, but we are seeing something over here we don't know what to make of and I really don't have any idea who else might know what we are looking at."

"Don't apologize, son. If there was ever a time to use this blasted thing, this would be it. Besides, the headache I normally get won't even be noticed because I'm going with no sleep and my temples are pounding already. What's the situation?"

"Well, we are on the bridge. It is depressurized..."

"What! How in the hell did you get in there and how are you getting back?"

"Relax dad, Robin and I rigged up power to the lift and are using it as an airlock. We have an easy way back."

"The three of us are going to have to talk. He should not be risking your life like this..."

"Dad, I had more to do with this than Robin."

"He is still in command over there..." there was a long breath, "But knowing you and Dante, the two of you would be in there even if Robin hadn't helped you."


Caleb's dad sighed, "OK, you really are as evil as some of the other crew say you are."

Caleb couldn't help but grin, "Getting there."

There was a brief very nervous sounding snicker, "OK my little hellion, give me the situation."

Caleb's smile widened at his dad's response. "OK, we managed to find the captain and get his keys, but when Robin tried to open the captain's door we only got a strange static burst and a series of LED lights are flashing red around the top of the door."

"Well it sounds like a pretty high tech problem you have there son. Does the key pad have a panel above it with a slide out tray?"

"Hold a sec dad." Caleb looked over, "Is there a panel above the key slot Robin?"

Robin slipped out from the wires and moved closer to get a good look, "No, but there is some kind of weird access thing about 15 centimeters below it and to the right. I don't see a way to open it, and if I hadn't been looking for it I would not have seen it at all."

Caleb passed on Robin's observations and added in, "I'm really surprised there is any power for the door slot though dad. This place was totally trashed."

"As if on purpose?"

"Oh yea, dad. It's pretty nasty up here. The captain was executed as was another crew member. There is a large hole in the upper bridge and we can clearly see the fold craft, but she has no lights at all. Almost every control panel has been shot up except for the life boat section of the ops station. All life boats were purposefully locked out and down except for the bridge's, one on Bravo that is not there and one on Charlie. The one on Charlie has a command lock out from the inside and it didn't have the clamp locks overridden. Robin and I both think it may have some of the people who did this in it so we locked it down and did a secondary override so they could not open the door and gain entry back into the main ship. He also released communications and primary power to all the others, but there is no guarantee the switches are working. At least over half now have green lights on primary power and quite a few others no longer have red lock out lights."

Caleb's dad whistled softly, "Well it sounds like it's a good thing you got up there after all. If there are people in those pods they would have heat because secondary systems always keep the pods warm enough to use, but no primary power means no life support. As long as it has been since the miss fold, some may have run out of oxygen or have such low levels most would have passed out by now, especially if they are full. Chances are you all just saved hundreds of lives. Do you have a view of the damaged area of the fold craft?"

"Yea, but it is pretty dark. If it wasn't for the few working external lights on the Stallion I doubt we would be able to see anything, but from where I am at, I can see a huge area that looks like something slammed into her and Robin says the bridge's lifeboat is missing. Unless I am totally off, the damage on the fold craft is directly opposite of where the bridge's pod should be."

"So they sabotaged the fold and are trying to get the rest of their team into one pod they designated. Damn Them! "Caleb's dad's voice took on a very angry edge. "Hold a sec, I need to talk to the Major."

Caleb glanced over to Robin, "Dad sounds pretty pissed about the pod you just locked down."

"He ain't the only one." Robin growled. "There is no reason for any of this. The people on board were fleeing the Quaker system..."

A wave from Caleb silenced Robin's outburst.

Caleb's father's voice spilled directly into Caleb's ear. "Do you have control over the outer door to the pod in question?"

"Yea, it is the one terminal they didn't trash."

"Excellent. Tell Robin I want him to drop the blast door over the pod you think may have some of the saboteurs on it. If he gets a secure light from the blast door tell him to launch it. Once you do so I want you to purge all you e-suit's data and get video of everything you are describing then lock your data overwrite. We need all of this recorded. If you don't have enough memory, which you probably don't, capture as much as you can and then have Robin do the same thing. I want as much as you can possibly get!"

"Understood. What about the door to the captain's quarters, though?"

"One thing at a time, son. Launch the pod, get me the recording then we'll move on to the security door. Besides, we really don't want your suit's computer recording you breaking into a secure area, now, do we?"

"Um, well... probably not. We should probably make sure the door doesn't get into the recordings either, huh?"

"I think I'll stop with my advice. Do what you think is best, son."

Caleb spent a couple of seconds explaining to Robin what his dad wanted and they divided the bridge in half so they could get as much of the damage and slaughter as possible. It took only a couple of minutes to get everything set before Robin hit the override and ejected the pod. Even from the bridge the boys felt a light shuddering as the explosive bolts forcibly separated the lifeboat from the doomed passenger ship. Less than five seconds after Robin launched the pod on the far side of Charlie deck both boys saw a series of laser light flashes between the bridge and the space fold craft. A moment later there was a bright light as something exploded.

Caleb's eyes went wide, "Um, dad, was that the life boat we just ejected?"

"Yup. One less thing for you all to have to worry about."

"What if they had hostages?"

"Then they died quickly." Caleb's dad stated firmly and without remorse. "Both the Major and I would prefer the chance of us accidentally killing civilians than the possibility of those in the pod killing you all or doing more harm than they already did. Now get us those recordings so we have justification as to our actions if anyone should ask."

"Already on it, dad."

Once Robin started recording, he glanced over, "Kay, how did you get a hold of your dad?"

Caleb took a deep breath, "You remember how the unit basically broke up for a few months after Earth Core wiped half of us out?"

"How could I forget? It took the Major like 4 months to get the supplies to rebuild everything we lost and another 2 or three to really get us back on our feet. He was totally astonished at how many came back."

"Yea, well my mom stayed on, but with there being almost no damage done to the Stallion and Major O'Connell being very short on funds, my dad decided to pull a six month stint with Jacob's Raiders. They offered him a great contract to help fix up their three ships cause Earth Core tore into them pretty bad. Dad took me and my brother with him."

Robin kind of tossed up his hands, "Sorry Kay, I didn't even realize you weren't there."

Caleb chewed on his lip for a second as his face showed some disappointment, but he brushed it off the best he could, "I'm not surprised. From what I hear you spent like a month in the hospital after you got put through the re-gen chamber and had lots of other stuff on your mind. Besides, I was not a double digit yet so I was not really part of the working dependants yet.

"Anyway, the second dad signed on, they took us to their sickbay and gave us a micro radio implant. When we left the unit after the six months they took out the tracker and transponder, but let us keep the rest as a way of saying thanks to my dad for agreeing to let my brother sign on permanently with them and for all the hard work he did to get their ships fully up and running. It took a while to get used to it, but now I forget I have it, especially since dad hates his cause it gives him a headache when he uses it."

Robin let out a light whistle, "Man, I wish our unit was rich enough to afford them for everyone including dependants. You must have twenty grand inside your cheek!"

"Probably more. Ours has encryption and 5 channels. It took me almost the whole six months to learn how to nibble on it properly to change frequencies. It's really kind of cool. My brother used it a couple of times to help me cheat on tests in school until dad found out. Oh, man did we pay for it though. To this day it is the only time he used his belt on me and he made a point of turning it around so the buckle hit the last two times."

Robin cringed, "Ouch." He then kind of grinned evilly, "It didn't seem to stop you though."

Caleb's face went a bit flush, "It kinda did. I vowed never to get caught again."

Robin burst out laughing, "I never realized just how much like the rest of us you are, Kay."

"I'm really not. I suck at combat stuff."

Robin clicked off his recorder as the memory status of his suit flashed as being full. "Part of it is our fault. Me, Jared, Denny and Zane have never invited you to spar or shoot with us. Trust me, that is all in the past, Kay. You and Dante both deserve to be one of us and we'll get your skills up." Robin turned back to the door, "OK, I'm full. How do we open this blasted thing?"

Caleb held up a finger telling Robin to be quite as he bit into the implant again. "Dad, we got everything we could. What's up with this door?"

"Good job son. First I want you guys to reset the door. Since you have the key it's pretty easy. To start with you have to push the key into the slot and push on the panel until the lights stop flashing."

Caleb floated over to Robin and took the key. As he followed his dad instructions, he glanced out at the lifeless fold ship again and said a brief quite prayer for the hundred or so souls aboard. Suddenly his mind switched back to the task at hand as there was a series of three more static bursts in both Robin's and Caleb's radios. The red lights then went through one more sequence then went out. "OK Dad, it looks like it is back to normal. The lights are out."

"Good work. Did it make any noise?"

"Yea. Well at least our radios did. It kind of sounded like putting bacon on a hot pan but it was short and pretty loud. There was two when Robin first tried and three more before it went out."

"Perfect. Now I want you to insert the key again and tap the panel two times quickly wait about a second and tap the panel three more times. Those bursts are a security override clue to get access to the panel."

Robin watched as the younger boy continued to follow instructions he could not hear. His eyes went wide with surprise as the panel below the key suddenly slid open revealing a hand pad. "Hand print security? How in the hell do we bypass that?"

Even as he was asking the question Caleb was busy talking to his father again. "What now? I doubt even Dante could override a hand print pad."

"You know, somehow I really didn't need to hear that Dante may know how to bypass security of any level." A bit of aggravation tinged Caleb's dad's response. "You two best not be..." His voice trailed off as he took a deep breath. "Never mind. I'll let it all slide for now."

There was another pause as the man took a moment to compose himself and his thoughts. "You don't have to get all sneaky about this. You are on a civilian transport and it should have a standard protocol for gaining emergency entry into the room. The second the lockout detected a major problem, like a decompression, it should have switched into an emergency mode and the red lights were a way of saying it had switched itself from command lockout to emergency lockout.

"Since it appears the door has full power, it should respond and open as long you stick to the sequence I outline."

"Alright dad. Ready."

"Excellent. Now I just want you to listen first. Don't do it until I give the OK, got it?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. First, with one hand on the tray to prevent it from sliding back in place, I want you to point your suit lights into the slot and flash them with three fast on and offs followed by three longer on and offs and then three quick ones again. Once you do so get away from the door in case it has pressure behind it cause it should open exactly 30 seconds after you flash the code."

"What does the flashing lights mean?"

"I'm not sure. I was told once when I was about your age it was an ancient Earth code for 'save our ship' but I think that was just my granddad telling tall tales. In any case, it has been used for hundreds of years for civilian space craft. Military ships are nowhere near as easy or straight forward."

There was a long pause so Caleb's dad spoke again, "Son?"

"Relax dad. Robin wouldn't let me do it. He made me get back and secure again. He is tying more wire around himself so he can get closer to the door so he can shine his light into the pad."

"So you already had spots picked out in case the captain's room has pressure?"

Caleb's voice sounded a bit hurt. "Of course we did."

"Hey kiddo, I didn't mean it that way. I'm every bit as pleased as I am surprised. You guys are doing a fantastic job over there. Many of my repair guys would not have thought about it at all, let alone picked places to secure themselves in."

"Robin is making sure he takes all the major risks. One of the reasons we have been moving so slow is he just has to be certain we aren't doing anything too dangerous."

"I'll be sure to thank him."

"Yea, sure you will. Right after you chew him out for taking me into a vaced section of the ship."

Caleb's dad snickered, "Something along those lines."

Caleb spoke up again as Robin flashed his light into the hand pad panel and the light above the door started flashing green and red, "Dad there are now green and red lights above the door."

"Damn, have him get back! It's pressurized!"

"Robin, dad says it's warning us it still has air, get back!"

Robin pulled hard on the wires getting himself as far away from the door as he could. Just as he got to the terminal he had tied the wires to and slipped them around his arms the door slid open. Instantly air rushed out taking with it almost everything that was not secured. Clothing, bed sheets, books, a note-puter, and even a duffle bag all flew out of the open door. Most of it followed the path the air took, right out the huge hole in the superstructure of the bridge, but quite a few items escaped the air flow adding to the floating junk cluttering the bridge.

As Robin quickly yanked the makeshift safety wires from around his arm and made his way into the room, Caleb glanced around. He tried hard to fight off a bout of nausea as he noticed the female body had been caught in the escaping torrent and had smashed into the side of the hole leading out of the ship. It had shattered sending some of the body out into space while frozen chunks of the reminder, including the head, now spun around the room. "Oh, god!"

Caleb's dad responded instantly, "Are you and Robin OK?"

Caleb gripped the sides of the station he had tied himself to and looked straight down at the shattered controls. When he spoke his voice was very strained. "Robin's fine, but I think I'm going to be sick!"

"Take it easy son. It is very dangerous to get sick inside your suit. I want you to turn on the pumps to your body waste unit to full, if you need to throw up for some reason slide down so your head is out of the helmet portion and get as low into your suit as possible then go ahead and do it."

There was a few seconds pause before he heard Caleb gag and throw up. The sound was repeated half a dozen times before there was relative silence. "Son, are you hurt?"

Caleb took a drink for the on board water, lowered himself down into the suit again and spat it out before he answered, "No dad, I'm fine."

"What happened?"

Caleb finally opened his eyes and took another drink. As he did so, he saw Robin come out of the room holding a light e-suit with what appeared to be a silver case attached to its wrist.

Robin shouted into his radio, "Kay, get the lift door fired up now!"

It took Caleb almost a full second before he realized the e-suit actually had someone inside. "Dad, I'll tell you later. Robin found someone who is only in a light E-suit!"

"Crap!" His dad shouted, "You have to get him out of there fast! A light e-suit will not hold in empty space. It will pop like a balloon!"

"It's already swelling out! Got to go!"

"Move son, move!"

Robin used his feet to push hard off of one of the destroyed control terminals, aiming straight for the lift door. As he did so he switched to an open frequency again. "Dante, get ready to grab a light E-suit and move to the heated room on Charlie. Crank the heat once you get there! Cody, have something ready to push over the bottom of the lift in case the doors to the bridge do not totally seal but keep the bottom hatch clear!"

Dante glanced over at Cody with some panic as he radioed back, "Do one of you have a suit breach?"

Robin slammed into the back of the lift pretty hard, but was actually cushioned slightly by the rapidly expanding e-suit he had under his arm. The person inside the suit started to screech in pain as the pressure built and the seams of the suit started to make popping sounds. Robin saw a bit of air start leaking out from some of the spots as he managed to respond. "No, but someone else might here any second! Kay! You have to get these doors shut!"

Caleb got to the lift and hit the power button half a second later. Much to his and Robin's relief, the door slid closed followed moments later by the inner door. He gritted his teeth, "I don't think we have time to make sure it is totally sealed."

"We have to chance it and Cody is ready below! Open the bottom hatch now!"

Robin was suddenly propelled upwards with a great deal of force as air rushed in from underneath. He hit hard enough to see stars but didn't totally black out. Fortunately for the other two in the lift they slammed into him so they came out of it much better then he did. Robin took a few seconds to shake his head. As it cleared he realized his left side hurt a great deal.

Cody appeared and moved over to him. "Robin?'

Robin winced as he took a deep breath. Gritting his teeth lightly he took the offered hand of help to move out of the lift. The second Cody pulled him clear Caleb shoved the door shut and activated the locking pins.

Caleb looked at Robin with some concern, "You OK?"

Robin glanced down and saw Dante pulling on the occupied light e-suit. A bit of a relieved look crossed his features as he pointed for Cody to join Dante. "I think I cracked a rib or two, but I'll live. Any air leaks here?"

Caleb shook his head. "Don't think so. The doors to the bridge seem to have held, but I activated the locking bolts here just to be safe. We won't be able to get back up there though."

Robin waved his hand and sounded relieved when he spoke. "We shouldn't need to. The safe was open and it looked like the case the kid had tied to his wrist was about the same shape as the safe. If it doesn't have what we need, we'll just have to try to get security boxes open some other way.

"That was a kid?"

"Yea, I think he is about your age. He looked kind of familiar too, so he may have been in the Q Seven academy." Robin paused and he winced again, "Would you mind helping me back to Charlie Deck. I don't want to do much until we put some bandages around my chest."

"You got it. Just float and let me do all the work." Caleb stated as he gently grabbed Robin's feet and slowly started making his way back down the lift tube. "Both my dad and the Major want updates."

Robin closed his eyes, "Give them one. I'm going to rest for a few minutes."

Aboard the Grey Stallion Major O'Connell listened to Caleb's report with a clenched fist. He took a moment to make sure his voice was calm and relaxed in tone when quite the opposite was true. "OK Kay, get Robin back to the heated room along with the survivor. Take care of any injuries and go ahead and recharge your suits again. You may as well take the needed time to empty your waste pump since it is probably about full after you got sick."

"Sorry sir, it was just..."

"Kay, there is not a soul aboard this ship who will fault you. Your description alone was enough to make many of us cringe and a few gag. To be honest I am thrilled your suit's memory was full cause that is simply something I never want to have to see. You are all doing great."

Frustration could be heard in Caleb's voice as he responded. "It sure doesn't feel like it sir. Robin is now hurt, the ship keeps getting colder, and we still have not searched any of Bravo deck let alone gotten to the internal docking bay. We have been over here for all this time and here we are back tracking again!"

Captain Tanner spoke as he noticed the Major was struggling to maintain his cool. "Son, we currently have scores of men and women trying to get to our stranded crew on the lower decks. We have had them take breaks, rotate personnel, back track and try something new dozens of times. On the other hand there are just four of you. You have had only each other and have been going nonstop. You have relied on what skills each of you brought to the table with no one to rotate out with who knows more to take over. You are going with zero sleep through areas every bit as dangerous as the men and women over here are and in several cases quite a bit more dangerous.

"None of you have stopped other than to recharge your suits, which is something you simply cannot control. The only ones going on no sleep time over here are the senior personnel, Jared, a few kids working closely with him, and your friends dad. Everyone else is now either trapped until we get one of the lifts working and can reclaim the breached areas or they have had at least a four hour uninterrupted rest period.

"To be honest none of us, with the possible exception of your father, has done as much work as you all have without sleep or a decent rest. There is absolutely nothing to apologize for and even less reason to feel badly about your progress."

There was a long pause before Cody's voice came over the radio. "Thank you, sir. I think we all needed to hear that. We are just tired, hungry and more than a bit frustrated. It will be about 30 minutes before we can move out again, and will take it even slower, but from what Caleb says we are very close to wrapping this up. The readouts he was able to get from the bridge suggest we only have access to about a third of Bravo deck because of bulkhead drops and most of the ship is now well below minus ten. There simply isn't much time left except for those who managed to get to lifeboats.

"We are going to patch Robin up, check on the kid he found up on the bridge, clean suits and recharge then get back to you."

"Affirmative." Captain Tanner replied. "We continue to keep this channel open just for you guys so don't hesitate to use it."

Major O'Connell waited for Captain Tanner to click off the voice switch before he slammed his fist into his command station. "Am I the only one who wants to turn around and go back to Quaker to kick some ass?"

Around the bridge, crew members glanced at each other somewhat nervously. A few nodded while a couple of others shook their heads. The silence lasted for almost a full minute before Captain Tanner spoke, "Sir, if you give us time to refit and find us a contract I'd be game."

Major O'Connell let out a bit of a snarl. "Well, the second we get ourselves put back in some semblance of order and barring anything totally unexpected, I am going to publicly put out the word we will take any legit contract against the Quaker system as long as the terms are decent. If anyone wants out because of this new unit policy then you all have the six months of this current contract to find a new ride with some other outfit."

Robin cringed as he watched Caleb get the kid from the bridge out of the light E-suit. The overpressure of it nearly popping with the boy in it had knocked him cold, but, with the exception of some blood leaking out of the kid's nose and a bump on the left side of his head, he appeared to be fine and his breathing was good. "Do you know him?"

Dante nodded as he and Cody helped Robin out of his E-suit. "He was in the aero wing, but I had German with him." Dante kind of shrugged, "I don't know his name though. He was one in a long line who didn't even look my direction let alone speak to me."

Caleb kind of frowned. "He did fine by me Dante."

"Well for some reason the Aero wing cadets seemed to talk to you a lot. You had more friends in the wing nut side than the rest of us did in the entire academy."

Caleb wiped the blood from under the kid's nose. "Yea thanks to him."

Cody turned, "So you know him pretty well?"

"Yea, his name is Yuri." Caleb stated with a bit of worry in his voice. "He actually came over to me and chatted with me at lunch a couple of times early on. When he found out I knew stuff about Planetary Landing Craft and had a basic shuttle license he was really nice, at least to me. He told me his dad was a starship captain and he was hoping to become a PLC pilot but his dad wanted him to follow in the family path of being a fighter jock instead. I guess his dad had a problem with high G's so he washed out early on in his own fighter training.

"From what he told me, his dad enrolled him into the inter-planetary superiority craft school without even asking. Yuri hated it, but was toward the top of his class. He was actually pretty cool to me and introduced me to almost all the others from the junior cadet squadron and even a few from the senior squadron.

"Thanks to Yuri, I got to take up the academy shuttle with a bunch of Yuri's class several times in the primary seat because one of the squadron cadre was an ex-merc and he wanted to show the other kids what extra study could get them. The guy even let me take them out of the atmosphere a few times. It was kind of cool too, cause he was able to take me up and let me get my unaided re-entry. I had no idea just how hard it is to do a atmospheric entry without computer guidance. Even with all the simulator time it wasn't at all like I expected, but I was able to do it three times so it's on record with the FPA. It scared the shit out of me the first time, but I did it without a single bounce off. That's how I managed to get my space certification and interplanetary shuttle license without the unit having to pay for it. He also let me take the armed shuttle up so I could get space warfare certs."

Robin's head spun causing his chest some extra pain, but surprise clearly overrode his discomfort as he almost shouted. "You have fighter pilot gunnery certifications?"

Dante nodded, "Yea, and as far as I know no one, including Kay's dad, knows. He ain't even telling you the real amazing part."

Cody stared at the smaller boy, "What are you hiding, Caleb?"

Caleb glared at Dante for a moment before shaking his head and sighing. "Well, the last couple of times he took me up in one of the two seat IPSCs and let me run the asteroid belt between Q Seven and their number 5 moon. For some reason I am way better shooting from a fighter than I ever was in a frame."

Robin lightly shook his head wondering if he was hearing things, "Are you inter-planetary superiority craft certified?"

Dante rolled his eyes, "He got his basic, but didn't solo the combat side cause not even the instructor who liked him so much could figure out a way to allow it without him entering the fighter side of the academy. As it was, they didn't even want to give Kay the basic, but his scores were too high to ignore."

"Holy crap! That's awesome, Kay!" Robin managed to gasp out in total astonishment.

Caleb's cheeks flushed in some embarrassment as he tried to shrug it all off. "I think the instructor was going to try to convince my dad to switch over to the fighter school but Q Seven tossed in the towel before he got the chance. Too bad too, cause I think I'd make a far better fighter pilot than a framer."

Robin frowned, "Why didn't you ask your dad to transfer you then?"

Dante responded with a roll of his eyes, "Cause Kay is convinced his dad will love him less if he doesn't get his frame cert."

"That's crazy!" Robin shouted then grabbed his ribs and bit back a curse.

Dante nodded, "I keep trying to tell him the same thing, Robin. You OK?"

"I'll live. It just hurts like hell when I take a deep breath. Right now, I am more worried about getting Kay's head screwed on right."

Caleb shook his head, "You guys just don't see the way my dad reacts when he sees me in a frame. He is so proud...."

"You think he would be less so if he saw you behind an inter-planetary superiority craft?" Robin stated as he stared at the boy in utter disbelief. "Are you insane?"

Caleb let out a deep breath, "I don't know!"

Cody let out a half sigh not believing his ears while being extremely impressed any kid Caleb's age could get any kind to fighter certification, let alone in the combination atmosphere and space fighters known as IPSCs. "Caleb, there is only like 1 IPSC pilot for every 50 frame pilots galaxy wide. They are the ultra elite! How could your dad possibly not be proud of that?"

Caleb looked up at the ceiling, "I don't know. It's all he really talked about from the first time Captain Tanner let me jump into one of the cadet frames we used to have."

Cody's face scrunched up as if his head suddenly started hurting. "Well, maybe you should jump into the seat of an IPSC and see what he thinks."

"Maybe you're right. I don't know." He looked over to Yuri desperate to change the subject. "The real question is what do we do with him."

"Well judging by the fact he was locked in the captain's quarters I think we know what happened to his dad."

"It also sounds like we have one more dependant to figure out how to get the Major to sign off on." Robin stated while glancing over to Caleb.

"If you can figure out a way to make it happen," Caleb replied glumly, "but it sure sounded like the Major was done with taking on more kids."

"We'll figure out a way to get him a slot." Robin stated with total certainty. "Over half the adults lost a kid in the last three years and if push comes to shove Luna and I could always talk to Denny's folks. Both have made it pretty clear to both of us they would take in any unit orphan."

Yuri's eyes slowly opened, "I hate to say this, but I can hear you all talking."

"Oh shit." Robin turned with a start, "I'm sorry. We thought you were out."

Yuri closed his eyes and remained basically still floating beside the four boys. He forced back a sob. "I already know my dad was killed. He managed to shove me into his room and do a command lockout of his room just as the Quaker Six guys stormed the bridge. He refused to give them the override code to his room. They tortured him for days knowing I was in there. They even forced me to listen because they kept the comm open. But even as he screamed and begged for mercy he kept telling me not to open the door no matter what."

"Dear God!" Cody reached over and took the boy's hand and squeezed it, "Why? What did they want?"

Even though there were some tears, there was no question the kid's mind had become somewhat numbed by everything he had gone though over the last few days. His voice was resigned and everything about him said he had all but accepted a fate that was not a good one. "All I know is they wanted the primary computer override codes to the ship's main computer core." He yanked on his wrist and case tied to it. "It's all in here. On the third day they left for a while thinking Dad was unconscious or something. He managed to babble out the safe combination and told me to shove everything out the trash air lock. I told him I would, but I launched some trash and one of his briefcases thinking if I did so they may let him go. Not long after they came back in and shot him and told me it was my fault.

"After that I was too scared to come out, but I figured whatever was in here was too important so I never sent it out the airlock." Tears poured out of his eyes. "I should have given it to them!"

Caleb shook his head and hugged the kid, "If you had they would have killed you too, Yuri. They would have killed everyone."

"How?" Cody asked.

Dante suddenly realized what Caleb was referring to. "Holy shit, if they had gotten the codes they could have overridden every safety and vaced the whole ship."

Cody's eyes went wide, "There is a way to do that?"

Robin nodded. "Sure there is. We did it once after we left the Alchemy system because we ended up with a massive hexa-rat infestation. It only got worse on New Bravaria. Once they started chewing on wiring and biting us at night Major O'Connell ordered us all off the ship and he and a few others got in E-suits and took the Grey Stallion up into space. They vaced the whole ship and stayed up there for a few hours then came back down. We ended up with dead rats all over the place and didn't find several until after they started to smell, but at least we got rid of them."

"So they could have killed all of us and we would have been defenseless to stop it?"

Caleb nodded, "Yea. It also explains the lock outs on the life boats. Since they locked out life support from the escape pods, even those who managed to get to them before the ship vaced would have been killed." He looked down at Yuri, "You saved a lot of lives."

"But I lost my dad, brother and mom." The boy managed to sob out.

"What happened to your mom and brother?"

Yuri gripped Cody's hand so hard it hurt but Cody said nothing and let the boy speak, "After they shot Dad, they took the rest of the crew and my brother and stuck them all in the bridge escape pod. I heard my brother crying and my mom screaming, but they didn't care at all. They made sure I could hear it all as they left one guy on the bridge and headed down to an escape pod on Charlie deck. Then, just as the last guy saw the fold craft power up its magnetic coil, he bragged about launching the pod with my mom and brother straight at it. He even put their screams on the radio so I had to hear them. A second later I heard the door to the bridge open and close. I moved to the door but the pod's radio suddenly went dead and the whole ship shook. I think we folded or miss-folded but I hit my head so I passed out.

"I floated there for a long time, but didn't totally wake up until I heard you pounding on the door. I guess I was kind of hoping I was dead, but once I saw the door cycle through I realized I was not lucky enough to be dead and I was too scared to get vaced. The only thing I could think to do was put on the E-suit, tie the case to my wrist, and hook my arms and legs around the desk and hold on with everything I had."

"Do you have any family to take you in?"

More tears rolled out his eyes, some even floated upward off his face. "My uncle left Quaker VII with my grandparents a couple of months ago when the war really started to go bad, but I have no clue where they went." He glanced over to Caleb and tried to wipe the snot and tears off his face with the sleeve of the e-suit. "Can I really stay with you guys for a while?"

"We'll make it happen, Yuri." Robin stated with a hard nod and again cringed. The pain in his chest was not overwhelming, but it was by no means easy to deal with. Every deep breath he took made him wish he was dead or, at the very least, unconscious, though hard movements of any type were certainly uncomfortable. As he thought about his current discomfort, his mind turned back to little Tommy, who had much more serious damage.

He let Cody finish wrapping his chest with some bandages they had procured from a smaller aid station on Delta. He then stood and floated a bit away from the others making it look like he was testing the wrap job. Once out of ear shot he keyed the radio. He turned on his headset so he could talk privately with the kids back on the Stallion, "Hey, I have no clue who is on watch, but what's the status on checking the rest of the survivors and how are Glen and Tommy doing?"

Luna responded almost instantly, "Jared got back about 10 minutes ago showered and crashed. I think he was asleep before he was all the way in his hammock. They finished their search and the rest of those who came over are clean. Zane and Kerri are both taking showers. I can have them give you a shout before they hit their hammocks if you want more info."

"No, let em get some shuteye. What about Glen and Tommy?"

"Both are sleeping Robin. The drugs you found over there allowed Erin to give them much better treatment with the help of a direct patch into sickbay. They are both on IV's and Glen keeps babbling in his sleep. We are still real worried about both of them. Erin thinks they will be in medical for quite some time once we can get them up there.

"However, thanks to you guys the rest of us are not doing too bad. It turned out the toy stuck in Neil's shoulder was only in soft tissue but was all the way to the bone so Erin was able to get it out. He let out a hell of a howl but once it was out he was way better and said he would be up for the next watch if we needed him, and it looks like we do cause both Zane and Kerri are exhausted."

Luna let out a light chuckle. "But all things considered, we are now in pretty good shape. We have plenty of food, everyone has now had a shower and has either slept, are sleeping or will be there real fast like, and every kid has heard from or know of at least one parent who made it. Hell, I even have a decent wrist air cast on now and we still have plenty of supplies. The real problem now is a kid from the other ship who was trying to help Erin. His hands got burned really bad. Erin finally hit him with enough drugs to knock him out and is getting a portable burn unit up and running. The kid's old man is totally freaked by it too. How about you guys?"

Robin cringed as he tried to take another deep breath, "Well, to be honest I have a good clue how Tommy feels, only not nearly as bad and I am so tired I am having a hell of a time keeping my eyes open."

Pure concern entered her voice as she responded. "Are you hurt?"

"Yea, I got stupid and ended up cracking a rib or two."

"Robin, you need to get back here!"

"It's wrapped, so I'll be fine. We are almost done here anyway." He paused for a moment, "It's actually a great thing you are the one on watch. I wanted to talk to you and since I have you on, I could use your help with something else."

"Fire away. But I still think you should get your butt back here."

"Trust me, we are working on it. But this isn't about me. Do you happen to know if Denny's mom and dad are OK?"

"No clue. But I can find out. Why?"

"Let's just say there is another kid over here who badly needs a home and I am pretty much done with my ability to get any more in without direct adult sponsorship."

"Oh, come on, you could make the Major take in one more. We have plenty of room and more than enough adults. We could rotate him through."

"Not this time Luna. As it is, Captain Tanner had to agree to sponsor my friend if I can even find him in the mess."

"Captain Tanner?" Luna sounded totally stunned, "You must be kidding!"

"Nope." Robin debated on telling Luna what he had learned about the Captain but decided against it after a moment of thought. "Look Luna I really need some help on this one."

Robin heard Luna take a deep breath. "One of us is speaking for the kid?"

"Caleb is. And yes he is certain. After hearing both Caleb and the kid, so am I."

Luna responded after a few seconds. "Alright, since you're sure, I'm on it."

Robin frowned knowing where she was coming from. He had the same thoughts about Caleb less than 24 hours ago. "Luna, we really need to cut Kay some slack. He is one of us and without him and Dante we'd be screwed over here."

"Come on, he's a wuss and, while no one deserves to have the Master Sergeant for a dad, Dante is a shit head."

"Luna, we have been like brother and sister for as long as I can remember. Trust me on this. We have done both of them very wrong, especially Kay."

"Something tells me we need to have a meeting of the regulars when you get back, huh?"

"Definitely. But pass the word for me about both of them. There is some stuff I just found out about Kay that will make your head spin and probably the whole crew, but right now he is secondary. No matter what, we need to make it abundantly clear Dante is one of us and the Master Sergeant better never lay another finger on him. If he does, I will kill the son of a bitch. I am setting the stage with the Major, but if we ever needed a united front we need one now for Dante."

There was a considerable pause as Luna took in not only the words but the tone in which Robin was saying them. "OK, from this point on we will blanket Dante."

"Thank you Luna. And believe me on Kay as well, he ain't nearly the cry baby wimp we thought. Getting his friend a spot is just the beginning of trying to make things right but it would be a hell of a good start."

"Understood. I'll find one or both of Denny's folks. Have Kay keep the engine room sub channel open so they can contact him directly. This will give Kay a chance to show us he has some balls and is willing to go to bat for someone. If they say no, which they probably won't, I'll check with some of others I used to baby-sit for. One way or another I'll dig up a sponsor for him, but we should let Kay take the lead. How old is his friend anyway?"

"A bit younger than Caleb I think, but still a double digit. He's probably a class below. He had a language class with Dante and most of us were in classes a grade behind the others in the academy because the foreign credits were killing us. His head is all messed up too, Luna. He had to hear his parents and brother get tortured and killed by Q Six RG."

There was a long snarl. "You do realize some of us are going to have to eventually go back there and kill a hell of a lot of Q Six bastards before the scales are level, right?"

"Every one of us over here agrees with you, trust me. Just make sure you warn any interested adults.

"I'll let Denny's dad know. If anyone can help the kid, he can. As a matter of fact once he hears about this there is an even better chance he will take the kid in."

"I kind of figured if anyone could help the kid it would be them and I also know of all the kids to find him a place, it would be you. Great idea with letting Kay take lead as well. Thanks Luna."

"My pleasure. I'll take care of setting the stage for covering Dante and getting the rest in line with what we want to happen with both Kay and Dante as well. Now stay safe."

Robin checked his freedom of movement again as he changed the channel back to the others. The bandage held well and still gave him decent arm movement so he moved back to the group satisfied and started suiting up. "It's getting so cold the heat from this setup is pretty much confined to this room. Just sliding out the door I could see my breath and my fingers are already a bit numb. We really need to get out of here. You all ready to suit up for this?"

"What about Yuri?" Caleb asked. "His suit's only a light and ain't in the greatest condition after being exposed to space."

Yuri pulled up the hood of the suit with a new grim determination in his sad eyes, "As long as we stay in atmosphere it'll keep me warm enough. It has a full charge too, so let's go. Right now I just want off this death ship!"

Robin watched Cody give Yuri a bit of a reassuring hug and waited for everyone to give him a thumb's up before he had Caleb help secure his helmet. The pain in his chest was simply a bit too much for him to do it by himself. Once fully isolated in the suit he switched to Caleb's frequency. "While I was out in the hall I had a chat with Luna. She is going to have Denny's parents contact you."

Caleb's voice kind of squeaked, "Why? What did I do wrong?"

"Dude, relax." Robin chided lightly. "We are trying to set it up so Yuri has a sponsor."

Total amazement could be hard as the younger boy spoke. "And you want me to handle it?"

"Hey, he's your friend and you know more about him than the rest of us by a kilometer." Robin paused and let out a light humor filled snort. "And it sounds like he knows more about you than everyone other than Dante, including your own family. Do you really have an IPSC cert?"

"Yea. If the instructor could have got me transferred I would have been one of only 3 cadets under the age of 12 with a basic cert and I am sure I would have been one of only two with the Combat scores needed to make me an advanced pilot. I just wish I could shoot a frame like I can a fighter." Caleb let out a nervous chuckle, "What happens if I don't know how to help Yuri?"

"For the most part you will depend on Denny's folks and what you already know about him. Luna and I will help as needed, so will Jared, but this is your chance to step up and show the others that you are a double digit and should be treated as one."

"Wow! Thanks Robin!"

Robin grinned but decided to give the boy a bit more confidence. "Don't thank me. It was actually Luna's idea to pass it off to you. But trust me, I absolutely agree. You should be able to work things out between you and Denny's folks."

"But what if they say no?"

"Then Luna will find someone who is interested and pass them to you. One way or the other, we are trusting you to complete the sponsorship."

"I won't let you two down, Robin."

"Hey it ain't about me or Luna; it's about Yuri and letting the others know we trust you enough to take the lead in something. Just be warned, whoever takes him in is going to count on you to help him become one of us and be a friend, cause he only knows you and he is trusting you to find him a good safe spot to rebuild his life around.

"When I took the lead for Glen, the hard part was having to be there for him though the first few months. He sometimes came over in the middle of the night just so he could cry around someone he knew. A few times he would get really mad at me and I didn't even know what I did wrong. Once he even punched me when I tried to tell him how sorry I was for him. I have heard the same thing from Luna, Jared and Denny before he was murdered."

"I can handle it."

"I know."

Robin turned to Cody, "I know I promised to keep you safe over here, but my chest hurts like hell and if there is problems my response time will be way down. Can you take the lead through Bravo?"

"Absolutely." Cody responded.

Robin clenched his fist to hide how much pain he was in. "Thanks. Dante that makes you primary on backup in any fight and Caleb, you need to keep your eyes open cause Cody ain't going to be able to spot problems like the two of us can."

Robin pointed over to Yuri. "Stay behind the others and in front of me." Not waiting to get a response, "let's get this over with guys."

The group made their way up though the lift tube and exited onto Bravo. The first thing all of them noticed was how dark it was. The emergency lights had almost run out of power and were down to dim glowing globs spaced about every 10 meters. Even though there was air, it was very cold. Cody noticed his e-suit's reading showed outside temperatures had reached minus 15 C and were continuing to fall. Moving down the hall he glanced into several rooms. All had their doors open and most appeared to have been emptied of most belongings. There was nowhere near the amount of debris floating around on this deck as there had been on all the others.

"Robin," Cody spoke softly, "if there is anyone here I don't see how they could still be alive."

Robin closed his eyes wanting to find a way to argue, but knew he couldn't. "Agreed. Let's do a quick sweep anyway then get to the docking bay."

Yuri glanced back, "Why are you going to the bay?"

"We are going to the bay to see if there are any ships with survivors on them." Dante responded. His voice clearly showing he really didn't like the kid much and certainly didn't feel as sorry for him as the others did. "What do you think we have spent the last... oh I don't even know any more, maybe a full day by now, doing?"

Caleb instantly came to Yuri's defense. "Dante, chill. There was nothing he could have done to help other than what he did. Remember, if he had opened that door, there wouldn't be a single survivor over here."

Cody also spoke up, "Yea, we would all be dead. I'm sure those Q Six guys would have taken the ship back to the Quaker system and no one would have ever found out what had happened. All of us should have been nicer to you guys, but we weren't. At least Yuri befriended Caleb, which is far, far better than you can say about the vast majority of the rest of us."

Dante's shoulders slumped some. He paused for a moment to turn to Yuri, "Sorry, dude, I'm just really tired."

"Without you all I'd still be stuck in my dad's study." Yuri let out a long breath, "Besides, I had kind of pushed my luck about as far as most of the others would take by getting to know Caleb. Many were calling me a 'merc lover' and even worse stuff. I even got beat up in the showers one night after Caleb got his space combat certification. Four held me down while five others each hit me and kicked me five times each. They were going to switch around, but something spooked them off."

Robin growled, "When we get out of here I want the name of every kid who hit you..."

Yuri waved his hand, "No need. Each and every one of them ended up getting seriously hurt in training accidents within a week after we went up to the space station. As a matter of fact, there were so many training accidents they shut down the whole personal space combat module on the station for almost three months, but opened it back up saying they could find nothing wrong."

"Interesting." Cody stated with a frown. "We actually missed our two weeks because of that. I think there were three or four Frame Forces who all missed their annual two weeks in hand to hand and small weapons space combat training when they took the whole module off line."

"To bad too," Robin spoke up, "cause both Jared and I were hoping to beat the crap out of everyone in our Forces including the instructors. So it sounds like they weren't accidents. Any idea who was behind them?"

"None," Yuri answered, "but all nine of them ended up in the hospital along with a few others who were kind of mean to me and a few others who helped Caleb get extra simulator and aero lab time. The one positive was no one bothered me again and a few others also started helping Caleb. We were really hoping to see him transfer to our side."

Robin glanced into yet another abandoned room, taking in the much nicer features including private kitchenettes and small bars. He quickly went in and checked both bedrooms and came back out. Finally he switched to Dante's frequency, "Alright, what did you and Kay do?"


"Come on Dante. Neither one of you are saying a word about this."

"Look Robin, this time you are wrong. I could care less about a bunch of wing nuts getting hurt. Now granted, like you, I'd be happy to hurt whoever beat up Yuri, but I don't even like the kid very much. I wouldn't like him at all if he hadn't been nice to Kay. But until today, I didn't even know how much Yuri helped Kay. I kind of figured he got to know Kay after the old merc instructor took an interest. Most of the kids who befriended Kay only did so after the space weapon cert happened, so I'm as much in the dark as you are. But, I'll give you this much, one of us had to be behind it, and I really don't think Kay could have pulled it off by himself."

Robin came out of the room and glanced at Caleb. The boy noticed instantly and turned his gaze away, but failed to hide a very satisfied smirk. Robin radioed Dante again, "Yea, but the look I just got says he had something to do with it."

"He would have had to. I doubt anyone else knew anything about it until now. The real question is who spooked the others off when they were giving Yuri a blanket party."

"Any chance it was the instructor?"

"Although possible, very unlikely. I never saw the cadre come into the showers except to inspect them and there was no cameras, which is why it was the perfect place to beat the crap out of someone." Dante paused as he checked out yet another room. He came out stuffing a few more items into the already full duffle bag. "You do realize not everything mean and sneaky is done by me right?"

"Not everything," Robin snickered, "but Luna puts it best, you are kind of a shit head."

Dante sighed, "I know I am probably the sneakiest and biggest troublemaker out of the double digits and I certainly get in the most trouble. But something tells me I get blamed for a lot of crap that ain't my doing."

Robin let out a snort and shrugged, "I am beginning to believe the same thing. I'm starting to see we have been giving Kay way too little credit and you a bit too much. The friendship of you two has always been a bit of a mystery to the rest of us, but I am starting to believe you two are cut from the same mold."

A bit of anger seeped into Dante's tone. "It's about time someone figured out Caleb is not the helpless little kid everyone else treats like he ain't even a double digit and it ain't always me when bad shit happens. Hell, every time I get blamed for something there is about an even up chance the asshole will hear a rumor about it and it gives him a reason to keep me in our quarters. I figure I get the crap beat out of me or worse a few times a year just because someone mentioned my name with some event I may not even have been a part of and a couple of times I had no clue what he was saying I did as he... he tossed me around the room like a rag doll."

Robin closed his eyes and clenched his fists. "We'll make it right Dante. We really will."

Further up the passage Cody signaled for everyone to stop while he ducked back. He quickly signaled for Dante to move up with weapon ready while he moved up to the top of the passage, floated over a large open door and back down the other side.

Dante's anger seemed to evaporate as he prepared for possible trouble. He glanced at Robin, "Keep the wing nut covered and back us up. It's time to see how much more trouble I can cause."

Even as tense as the situation was, Robin couldn't help but chuckle at the tone of Dante's voice. The kid had a remarkable ability to bounce back from the edge of despair. Robin pulled his laser pistol and gently yanked Yuri and pointed to the room Dante had just checked. "Get in there and stay quiet. If there is a problem, you are unarmed and will only get in the way."

Yuri nodded somewhat nervously as he disappeared from view. Satisfied, Robin slid forward trying to get a look only to see Caleb hold up a hand to stop him. Robin frowned as both Cody and Dante slid into the large room while Caleb continued to hold up his hand and shake his head. After nearly three minutes Robin confusion changed to concern. He activated his Radio, "What's going on?"

Cody responded. "Keep the passageway covered for a couple of minutes more Robin." The boy's voice shook slightly and sounded forced.

Robin felt his heart speed up as he nervously glanced around. "Come on guys tell me something."

Cody's voice came over the radio sounding a bit shaky, "I don't see him in here but his mom and dad both are."

"Who..." Robin felt his head spin a bit... "Jessie?" He started to move forward with a bit of panic only to have Caleb try to push him back. Just as started to pull Caleb out of his way Robin spotted movement from a doorway at the edge of his vision. Without a second thought his attempt to pull turned into a hard shove as he propelled Caleb roughly into the room the younger boy was trying to prevent Robin from gaining entry into.

An instant later a laser beam pierced the gloom and hit the door frame right behind where Caleb had been floating. Robin pushed off the wall as hard as he could and managed to get into a doorway up and across the passage just as a second searing flash of light stabbed at the spot he had vacated leaving a glowing burn spot on the passageway wall.

"We got company!"

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