Castle Roland

O'Connell's Grenadiers

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 5

Published: 8 Apr 14

O'Connell's Grenadiers

Copyright © by
Kyle Aarons

Major O'Connell looked up at the clock and shook his head as he saw they were entering the 16th hour of the disaster. He once again did a personnel check noting, with some disgust, the unit was still less than 85% accounted for. Making maters worse, was the fact of the 83% he knew about; only about half were in any shape to help with unit duties let alone help with ship repair and rescue efforts.

The sick bay and the hallways around it were packed to the gills with injured and medical supplies were starting to run a bit thin. He clenched his fists as he fought the urge to push those trying to get into the lower sections of the ship harder than they were already pushing themselves. He knew almost all of them were as anxious about those who had not been accounted for as he was, and most of them had kids or loved ones in the lower decks. The last thing he wanted was to ram orders down their throats which could cause mistakes and get more men and women killed. They had already lost two to debris in an attempt to fix the hull from outside the ship. Those deaths were his fault and his alone.

He sighed as he floated over to the tactical station. He glanced over the ship status displays for a few seconds before he turned his attention to the young woman subbing as the unit tactical officer. He frowned as he saw nothing on weapons status. "Where do we stand on weapon systems power?"

The woman punched a couple of buttons and brought up a ship power display. "It looks like everything from Echo deck up has full power from our bridge backup and we can route secondary power to Foxtrot. The rest of the ship's turrets would have to draw power directly form the decks they are on, pulling from life support until we can get full primary power from engineering. "Are we expecting trouble?"

The Major gently squeezed the woman's shoulder, "Not at the moment, but part of being on tactical watch is knowing weapon availability should trouble arise. If we need to fight, we need to know what we have to fight with."

The woman gulped, "Sorry sir I have been concentrating on helping Ops with diagnostics and the rotation of the few security personnel we have un-injured. I hadn't even run any kind of a weapon check yet."

"You're not normally on tactical, and nothing is shooting at us at the moment so relax. I need to know what weapons are on-line and what their firing arcs are though." He leaned forward and pulled up an outer view showing the basically dead Wagon Planetary Landing Craft. He then focused in on the small section mostly hidden from view right below the bridge of the crippled craft.

"There is a bay right in there. If you look closely, you can make out one of the outer doors on the second deck down. It is at an angle facing more toward the Space Fold Craft."

The woman leaned in and took a close look at the grainy image before finally nodding. "It's hard to see since our primary external cameras were damaged, but I can kind of see the outline. It looks like it extends down a couple of decks and was totally sheltered from the explosion and debris."

"That's what we are hoping." He paused and scratched his chin, realizing as he did so he was in need of a shave. He let out a deep breath, "A shower and some shut-eye are going to feel really good when this is over."

The woman glanced back, "As tired as we are, I wonder how those kids have managed to do as much as they have over there. They have to be exhausted."

Major O'Connell glanced up at the situation clock again as he squeezed the woman's shoulders. "Good question. While I find out, I want you to get me the status of every energy weapon we have that can hit those doors."


Major O'Connell's voice took on a light growl as he responded. "Trust me Corporal. I have an idea."

The worried woman turned to glance at the Operations officer sitting next to her as the Major moved away. The man shrugged, "I have no clue, but I've heard that tone. Get him what he wants ASAP, It's one of those again."

Major O'Connell moved away from everyone and keyed his personal radio, "Robin, how you guys holding out over there?"

Robin responded almost instantly, "We are recharging yet again sir. We found another 58 survivors in the Charlie Deck game room and attached automated dinning room, but the rest of Charlie is dead and mostly open to space as best as we could tell. If it hadn't been for Cody's brother playing in the vent system we wouldn't have a way to Bravo at all. Fortunately, one of the guys we found was a space engineer and rigged up a pair of generators to keep everyone with air and heat. He also said he could get everyone back once we told him where to go.

"We sent them back but they are going through areas that are well below zero. Making matters worse, over a dozen are seriously hurt. Cody's dad has people waiting at the door and I gave Jared the OK to push the heat up on our deck by 5 degrees. On the plus side, they have lots of medical and food supplies, cause we broke open the vending stations and they had already raided the main sickbay up here; so we have lots of supplies coming over to the Stallion."

Major O'Connell took a deep breath as he heard the weariness in Robin's voice, "OK, that's awesome son, but what I asked was how you are doing."

Cody's voice responded to the question. "Sir, we are as tired as you think we are, but we only have one more deck and the docking area to check. With any luck, this will be our last recharge. But from what we heard, some of those going back to our ship think they heard the firing of a thruster come from the other side of the bulkhead where the docking bay is. We still need to get in there."

"What about Dante and Kay?"

Robin responded with a tense sounding voice, "They are finishing up salvaging some useful items we found in a small side room. We procured a couple of duffle bags from the survivors we found up here to carry it all. Knowing Dante, he will find a way to make it all fit."

Major O'Connell snorted and made a show of clearing his throat to hide his laughter. "Well, um, yea, I can see that. If there is anyone in the Grenadiers who could find a way to salvage every scrap of something, it would be Dante."

He paused as he thought about what Cody had said, "Guys, I want you to be extra careful when you get to the docking bay. If there were thrusters firing, there is a good chance someone is trying to keep a ship off the walls which means it has broken loose and is floating in there. There is no telling what way it is facing and a burst of a thruster aimed at you could cook you instantly."

Cody responded, "The engineer we found said the exact same thing sir. He also warned us that whoever was behind the controls must be pretty green cause I guess there is some way to stabilize most ships without firing thrusters by using venting. Kay seemed to understand more than the rest of us when the guy was talking about it."

"It's pretty advanced stuff to stabilize by building up heat and venting it properly, but they man is right. Anyone flying a larger ship should be able to do it. Sounds like he knows his stuff. Cody, have your dad ask him if he wants a job, even a temporary one, when he makes it to our ship."

"I'll have Robin talk to my dad sir, he's pretty mad at me."

Major O'Connell snickered, "I think he'll get over it pretty fast son."

"Sir, with all do respect, if you really think so then you don't know my dad. After what he found out, I may need a permanent slot in your unit if I want to do more than go to school, do homework, eat, and breath."

Sounds of several laughing voices could be heard behind the Major as he answered. "I wouldn't have a problem with keeping you on son, but something tells me your dad is going to need lots of help when his armor units get here. Either way, keep up the good work and make sure the four of you all make it back here safe. We still have lots of work to do on the Stallion."

Robin chimed in. "Sir, I'll have Cody's dad talk to the guy. If nothing else, I bet he could be really helpful patching us up as we make our way planet-side. He sure did a nice job getting this room powered and heated."

"Fantastic. Keep up the good work and keep us posted. Also let us know the second you find out what the status is of any ships in the bay. It sounds like at least one is operational, so I will move foreword with my plan."

"Understood Major." Robin stated, "Just make sure you have someone who can really shoot behind the controls."

"You got it. Any preferences?"

Robin chewed on the bottom of his lip for a second, "Well I'd say Caleb's mom, but since we have yet to hear about her I guess she is unaccounted for, so my second choice would have to be you, sir."

There was a brief pause before Major O'Connell responded, "You sure? I have Master Chief Hammond available."

"Sir, he is really good, but I have seen you shoot. I'd prefer it be you."

"OK, son. You got it. I'll try not to miss."

"You won't sir. Robin out."

Major O'Connell took a deep breath as he glanced back at a couple of the bridge crew who had been listening. "OK people, I want to know the status of every laser battery that can hit the bay doors on that Wagon and I only want those batteries that we are absolutely certain are fully functioning and have visual targeting up and running. I need to be able to hit all four connection points at once. If we don't have enough guns on line, then I expect to have enough operational in less than three hours. Any questions?"

"Yes sir, I do." The ship's navigations officer spoke up. "Why are we going to shoot at them?"

Sergeant Akem took a deep breath of admiration as he responded, "If there is air in the bay and we hit all four main connection spots, the doors will blow off as the air rushes out. It will certainly all but finish off the wagon, but any ships in the bay will be able blow the docking claps with the emergency explosive bolts and then they could exit and if undamaged, make their way planet side with all the rest of the survivors. Even better, we would be able to claim those ships since we got them out of a derelict ship. A very unique idea to say the least."

"If the owners of those ships are alive, I'm not going to claim them. No mater what the law says; it wouldn't be right." Major O'Connell stated forcefully, "However, if they are not, then I absolutely will stake full claim on them so we can pull this unit back on decent financial footing."

The young woman at the tactical station glanced over, "Sir, we can't even see the entire door section. It is blocked by the SFC, besides even if we do manage to find a way to shoot, those doors will come straight at us."

Major O'Connell's face took on a bit of a smirk as he nodded. "You are both correct. There are two additional steps we will need to complete before we can shoot at those bay doors. In simple terms, we'll have to shoot it off the docking clamp and tap it with a couple of laser hits to spin it so we can take out the bay locks at an angle where the doors will blow off into space and not give us more damage than we already have."

Captain Tanner choked on the water he was drinking, "Dear God Major, you are taking about hitting 4 moving targets that are no more than 2 meters by 5 meters all at the same time!"

"Which is why I want to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the weapons we are going to use are 100% operational and that the visual targeting systems are up and running as well. I have already done the basic math and know where we need to shoot her to send her into a gentle spin once we blast her loose."

"What about explosive charges instead sir?" One of the technicians asked from under the main navigation terminal.

Captain Tanner shook his head, "Too much debris, son. We already have casualties from trying to go out there.

The tech peeked out, showing injuries he had suffered in the catastrophe that had yet to be looked at let alone taken care of. His broken nose and swollen shut right had not even been set or bandaged yet. Despite his condition, his voice suddenly sounded eager. "Sir, if you can get the exact positions of the connection points and the dimensions to me, we can do a preset simultaneous burst of laser fire to hit them. All I'd need would be the distance, locations, and dimensions of the door, then all you would have to do is shot the one I pre-select and the others should be hit automatically by the other three lasers set to link fire."

Captain Tanner's eyebrows shot up, "As in a set firing pattern?"

The young tech managed a smile, "Why not sir. I just program them to hit points in space and put in an angle and range adjustment that can be done on the fly. The computer will be able to automatically adjust for all the rest. Then as long as the first laser hits its target, the other three will simply hit the space where they were programmed to, which would be the spots of the other three connection points."

Major O'Connell looked down at the tech, "Son, how sure are you, you can do this, how long do you need, and who else do you want to help you?"

The young 15, soon to be 16, year old tech pulled himself clear of the navigation console, "Sir, if I can use the mainframe and can get someone to verify my numbers, I can have it ready in less than an hour. I will then need another half an hour or so to set it into the four turrets you are going to use. Then we'll have to make sure all four will have to have their automated systems on line in addition to them being fully functioning for manual fire. But from what I have seen, we have more than enough weapons in the green. I'd just like them all visually verified and test fired to make sure. We'd also need to have a couple on stand-by in case we have to shoot large debris out of the way of our primary targets."

Major O'Connell chewed on his lip for a few moments as he looked over the kid, "I don't know if I have ever seen you before. You joined us just before we left, didn't you?"

A note of sadness crept into the young man's voice. "Yes sir. My family was killed when the Quaker VI bastards took out our unarmed asteroid mining station. Then, when the academy was forced to close, Robin and Jared heard that I was being blackballed from decent work by the interim planetary government because my Mom was the station chief and part of the old government. They weren't even going to give me a graduate certificate even though we were only a month and a half from graduation and I had all my credits needed to pass. They also weren't going to let me leave aboard that wagon cause they said I wasn't and adult and couldn't make the decision to leave.

"As I was packing, they came in to my room and suggested I apply for a job with the Grenadiers along with my roommate. You didn't really have a slot for either of us since we aren't exactly the fighting types but gave us both apprenticeship slots with base pay because Robin and Jared spoke up for us even though we never so much as said hi to them before. I owe you all and especially those two. If it wasn't for them, I would be living is slum housing or worse, working on scraping computers or something for a living; if I would have even been allowed to do that."

With his one open eye, he stared directly into the Major's eyes and his voice took on a note of pride. "I can't shoot or pilot frames very well, sir. I only got barley passing marks in either, but I know computers. I was going to graduate second in my class in computer programming and seventh in repair. I can do this sir."

Major O'Connell slowly nodded, liking what he was seeing and hearing. "What's your name son?"

"Apprentice tech Nathaniel Jorgensen, sir."

Major O'Connell took in a deep breath, "You pull this off and you will be a sergeant and a lead tech. I want you as close to 100% as possible. You are to go to sick bay and get patched up, then you have full access to the mainframe."

Major O'Connell glanced over to Captain Tanner, "Get him priority clearance though sickbay and put every available tech on getting him four fully inspected tested and functioning turrets. Pull a couple of our best techs off the turbo lift if you need to, but do not pull anyone off of the rescue and external ship repair unless you absolutely have to.

"I want him to have four turrets ready to fire before he completes his programming and another two so we can shoot the docking collar and tap the ship into a soft spin. Those two can also be used to clear debris if needed; which is something I had not thought of by the way."

Captain Tanner gave a single hard nod, "Sergeant Akem, escort Tech Jorgensen to sickbay and explain to everyone he has priority second to only life or death cases. We need him in the best condition as possible!"

He then floated over to the internal communications station, "Turbo lift repair crew, secure your work and report to the bridge for a Priority Alpha task."

Major O'Connell keyed the radio, "Robin, we have a new way of doing this and may be able to move forward well ahead of schedule. Don't push too hard, but we think we can be ready in less than three hours, possibly as fast as two."

Robin responded with a relieved voice, "Sounds great to all of us sir, we'll be ready to move out in just a few minutes."

Major O'Connell released the key so Robin couldn't hear then turned to his XO. "Why does it seem the kids in this unit are doing better than the rest of us?"

Captain Tanner shrugged. A moment later he grinned and snickered, "You could always start an offshoot unit, the Rug-rat Renegades or something."

Laughter echoed off the bulkheads of the bridge as everyone went back to work.

Back aboard the crippled passenger PLC, Cody glanced around as he finished wiping down the inside of his heavy eco suit. The compartment was powered, but the patchwork job done to make it happen showed just how far gone the space craft they were in really was. The entire bank of main lighting had been destroyed and dangled from the ceiling panels. The exposed wiring hung from over a dozen sections and even an inexperienced eye could see where some of them had shorted out leaving blackened spots on some of the fireproof ceiling tiles.

Even most of the emergency lights were too badly damaged to safely provide illumination so the ingenious passenger had pulled floor emergency glow rods out, added in some lights taken out of vending machines, and even used some kids' toys with lights to provide enough radiance to see.

The unit providing heat was actually a dozen electrically powered large hotplates which had originally been installed to keep food warm during buffets served for the first class passengers. They were now mounted to the wall somehow and were turned on as high as they would go.

Finally, the life support for the deck they were on was shot so oxygen was not being recycled properly. To prevent carbon dioxide from building up too much, the guy had set up a venting system and built a unit to convert water into oxygen and hydrogen. The flammable hydrogen was shunted out into an adjacent section known to be exposed to space through a jury rigged life support station while the oxygen was released into the air only when the levels of carbon dioxide reached hazardous levels.

Cody ran a system diagnostic of his suit. As he waited for the results, he turned to Robin, "Do we leave this up and running or shut it down?"

Robin didn't hesitate, "Leave it be. My guess is there are still some survivors on this wreck, and with any luck someone may find their way here and hold out until Kipper Limited salvage and rescue crews can get here. Since this isn't running on batteries, there is no harm in letting it stay powered up." Robin glanced around and managed a slight smile. "Besides, I'd be a bit afraid to mess with it since I'd be afraid I'd touch something that shouldn't be touched."

"I hear ya." Caleb snickered as he helped Dante to suit up again. "I wish we had a video recorder so I could show this to my dad."

"It'd only give him a headache." Robin responded as he unplugged his suit and verified it had full power and the oxygen recharged. "So, did you do a full salvage job?"

Dante smacked a pair of duffle bags and nodded to the footlocker they had procured out of one of the abandoned rooms, "It's all there."

Caleb took in a deep breath, "Most of it was encryption locked boxes, so we just took em, so there is no way we know exactly what we have until we can figure out a way to bust the locks without them igniting the contents."

"No code book?" Cody asked.

"None we could find." Caleb stated with some aggravation. "And trust me, Dante looked everywhere. That's what took so long."

Robin shrugged, "There has to be backup codes in the bridge, and pressurized or not we need to get in there. I want their external recordings. This ship was closest to the blast and may show us what really happened. If it was sabotage, like I suspect, the bridge of this ship may be the only chance we have of seeing what, when, and with some real luck who did this."

Dante glanced over to Caleb. All he got was a brief shake of his head. "You know the bridge has almost zero chance of pressure. The way she is docked it faces the fold craft almost exactly across from where the explosion took place." As he spoke, he pulled up the floor plans again and pushed the holo-viewer over to Robin. "Besides, I don't see how you are going to get there without going through a decompression and getting yourself sucked out into space."

Robin took the unit and searched for a good five minutes "If it is open space, then I will have to seal myself into an area and decompress it. There would be no other way."

"Are you insane?" Cody next to shouted as he started suiting up again. "How would you get back?"

Robin scowled as he continued a careful search of the floor plans all the way around the bridge. "I need a small compartment with atmosphere that can be closed off from the pressurized parts of the ship. I'll tie myself in and decompress the other side. The trick is to find a spot that I can close the door again so I can reopen the door to the pressurized areas without sucking all the air out."

"A makeshift air lock?" Caleb asked not believing what he was hearing.

"Exactly. The smaller the area the better."

Cody thought it over for a few seconds, "Do elevators seal the shafts?"

Caleb nodded, "Yea, all spacecraft lifts are designed to be air locks. It is a fairly cheep way to secure sections of tubes incase of trouble. Why?'

"Cause the elevator I was telling you about had a top and bottom service hatch."

Caleb glanced over to Robin. "If it sits on Bravo, it would make the perfect airlock between Bravo and Alpha."

"And if it isn't?" Cody asked, glancing at each of the merc kids.

Robin chewed on his lip for a few seconds the slyly grinned, "Caleb, do you think we can hook up that portable fusion power unit powering those hot plates directly into the elevator?"

Caleb looked at it for a second then kind of shrugged, "Yea, I am sure we can, but it won't move that elevator very fast and may burn it out altogether. These portable units aren't designed for much more than what this one is doing right now."

"Taking it would take the heat away from this section." Dante reminded Robin.

"We'll leave it up and running until we check out the tube. If we are really lucky, it will be on Bravo or Alpha and we just use it as is. This is just an option." Robin responded.

"No, you'll need it if we are going to do it Robin." Caleb countered after just a few seconds. "You'll want to have power to the internal doors of the elevator so you can simply hit a button to open and close the hatches."

Robin shook his head, "We leave this for now. With any luck, the refurbishing locker on Bravo is still intact and we can grab another portable fusion generator out of it. I still have the one we grabbed several hours ago and we can combine the two to give us enough power to move the elevator as long as it isn't damaged. Besides, Dante's right. The last thing we want to do is take away heat form any part of this ship. I want to give any survivors we have missed the best chance possible for survival."

Dante finished putting on his own suit before turning to Cody, "It sounds like you need to take the lead."

Cody nodded as made sure everyone's suit diagnostic units showed them to be fully powered and all systems operational. The second he got thumbs up from the other three he exited the powered area and made his way down the passage toward the service elevator. Floating through the passage he could see what remained of Charlie deck had been fully scavenged. Every single door, had ether been opened or totally sealed by an emergency bulkhead. Every open room had been searched and anything of value or use had been removed.

Because the survivors of this deck had done a thorough scavenging job he didn't bother to look for supplies or stranded people. This made Charlie deck by far the quickest stop they had done the whole night. Glancing down at the built in timer, he shook his head as he realized night should have given into day. The lights on the ruined craft should be fully up and lunch should be on the buffet lines.

He shuttered as he passed by the game room. A brief glance told him this had been where the engineer had pulled many of the lights out of. Many of the game units had been all but destroyed in the miss-fold, but those that hadn't had been pulled apart and innards removed. Cody briefly shook his head as his mind's eye could almost see dozens of kids his age and younger flocked around those game tables, their lights flashing. It was almost line the games were begging them to put in more money or swipe their game cards to pull the credits off accounts set up by parents who simply wanted to get the kids out of their hair.

He took a deep breath as it finally sank in that this once proud and lively ship was now nothing more than a dead hulk floating in space. It halls would never again hear the sounds of laughter as it had the day he had spent several hours playing with his brother and a couple of other cadets. The joy was gone, replaced by terror. "And all in the space of a few moments." Cody stated softly to himself.

"Huh?" Dante asked.

Cody swallowed hard realizing he had actually verbalized his thoughts, "Sorry. Nothing really. Just thinking out loud."

"I have almost done the same thing a few times." Caleb responded. "This is so spooky. It reminds me of something right out of those ghost ship stories or something."

"Yea, or a horror vid." Robin added. "It really creeps me out to think there are probably people trapped in areas we simply can't get to who are screaming for help right now or slowly freezing to death. Cody's dad said there were over 4500 people on this craft, so it was packed to the gills and we haven't even gotten 500 over to the Stallion. That is not good odds at all."

"Yea, and I doubt we have seen much more than 400 bodies. That leaves us about 3600 missing." Dante frowned. "Where the hell did they all go?"

Cody gulped as he thought about it. "I hate to say it, but a huge number were in the observation decks to see what a fold looks like. Most of academy cadets have had a chance to fold a time or two, and any senior ones have had to fold as part of basic training and survival school. But very few people get to see a fold, so my guess is about half of them were in areas hit head on by the debris. The loud speaker on my deck said the observation lounge was at capacity. Fortunately all of us have seen it and we were in our hammocks when the miss-fold happened."

Caleb shuttered, "You mean there could be 2000 people floating out there?"

Cody nodded slowly, "Yea. I'm sure quite a few made it to the life pods, but most of them would have been damaged or even breached by the explosion and the debris. The one we tried to get to had an emergency bulkhead over the entrance so it was probably breached. Hopefully a few made it out of the danger area and are now just floating out there sending out emergency beacon signals so they can be picked up. The other thing you have to think about is breaches have totally cut us off from about a third of the ship, most of which is probably exposed to space. In the grand scheme of things, I am darn lucky to be alive and even luckier my whole family made it."

Dante managed a grin, "And we are lucky you all made it too, cause without you and your family I doubt we would have gotten half of the ones we have found out of this mess."

Robin nodded but still clenched his fist in a combination of anger and frustration. "Agreed, all the way around, but even if we use those numbers, we are still about 650 people short. I figure quite a few are in rooms we bypassed and or couldn't get open, but there still has to be more we can get to." Robin raised his eyes toward the ceiling as if trying to peer though to Bravo Deck above. "I just hope Jessie is one of them."

"Well, if I am right about him getting a first class cabin, then the chances are good." Cody sounded hopeful, "Cause out of everyone in our cadet force, he has done the most folds. I've heard him talk about summer and winter trips to other worlds after almost every major academy break. I kind of doubt him and his folks would want to go see a fold after all the times they have done it."

Robin nodded but remained silent as they finally made it to the service elevator. He looked at the sign and glanced over to Cody, "Yea, great security they had on this tub. They put up a sign as if that is going to stop someone. There isn't even a camera to watch who enters and leaves."

"It didn't even stop me." Cody reminded Robin.

"Good thing it didn't." Dante responded as he looked at the elevator door. He pointed suddenly, "Hey, look at that! It's been pried on and it's cracked open so it's not breached."

Robin moved forward and played his light over the door. He instantly saw what Dante was looking at. There was a slight bend in the upper edge and another in the lower edge. They were slight, but clearly enough to have left a crease. It was certainly enough to have decompressed the whole deck if the area on the far side had been breached.

With a sigh of relief, he moved closer figuring this was a good sign as there was at least a chance of a clear shot up to Bravo deck. After a few more moments of study, he realized the crease was clearly narrower on his side and wider on the other side. This meant there was a good chance of more survivors.

Robin tried to put his faceplate up to the upper crease, but all he could make out was blackness. "Someone tried to pry it open from the other side, I wonder why it didn't open?"

Caleb floated over to the control pad for the elevator. It took him only a couple of seconds to pry off the faceplate. "It has an airlock safety. It locked the doors with pins when the life support went off line. We have the same system on the Stallion."

"Crap!" Robin's fist pounded on the door. "Then we can't get it open either!"

Caleb held up his hand stopping Robin's explosion of anger. "Maybe, maybe not. Break out that mini fusion generator."

"What good is this thing going to do?" Robin asked, his voice still heavy with disappointment and anger. "If the pins are locked, they will need to be cut and we have nothing capable of getting to them, let alone cutting them."

"Give me a few minutes." Caleb stated calmly. "As my dad often says, there is more than one way to catch a fish."

Cody scowled, "What in the heck does that mean?"

Dante grinned, "It means you can hook it, net it, or spear it, but the end result is you still have a meal."

Caleb snickered as he powered up the small generator and started pulling wires out of the small access panel, "Man, you have been spending a lot of time around my dad haven't you?"

"Hey, working in the crawl spaces for him so I can sleep in your quarters is a small price to pay." Dante managed to keep a smile, "Besides, your old man is one of the few who simply does not take any crap from the asshole."

"The 'A'-hole?" Cody spoke up in bewilderment.

"It's what everyone calls the Master Sergeant when he ain't around." Robin responded, "His dad."

Dante started to say something but stopped, uttering only a slight growling sound.

Robin patted Dante on the back sending the younger boy into a bit of a spin in the zero gravity conditions, "OK, you let it slip, He isn't your dad but if any of us let on that you told us he'll beat you bloody, so lets just stick with calling him your dad, alright?"

Dante grabbed on to a broken light to steady himself. His features turned a bit pale as he thought over what would happen if the man found out what he had said. With a gulp, he slowly nodded.

Cody's eyes narrowed a bit, "Dante, it sounds like Robin and I will be sharing living quarters. There is no reason for you to ever need to stay anywhere but with us if you don't want to."

Robin eagerly nodded. "He's right. You don't need to look for a place to sleep any more. We'll set up a place for you."

Dante closed his eyes to hide a tear. "Thanks guys, but you know as well as I do that he'll make me stay in our quarters if he figures it out."

"We'll see." Caleb's voice hardened, "Let my dad and a few of the others help out. We can make it look like you are being shuffled from family to family like you usually do. My dad can even rig the intercom system to page into Robin's new quarters from whatever family you are supposed to be at. Your old man is a hell of a combat trooper but he simply is not as smart as he likes to think he is."

"But he sure makes up for it with nastiness and brute strength." Dante stated with a sad sigh.

Cody wanted to say something but nothing seemed appropriate so he simply rested his had on Dante's shoulder.

Dante acknowledged the gesture with a slight nod all the while trying to fight off a rare round of teardrops.

The mood of all the kids changed suddenly as Caleb muttered "Got ya!" Seconds later the elevator door made a series of popping noises and slid halfway open. A moment later something inside the door sparked and a red waning light went on over the door.

Dante turned, forgetting about his brief round of despair, "Right on Kay!"

"Wow!" Cody spoke only a moment later showing how awed he was by the display of technical skills of the younger boy.

Robin felt his jaw drop in some astonishment, "How in the hell did you do that?"

Caleb winked over at Cody and Dante, "Gee Robin, I though you had your emergency ship repair certification?"

Robin snickered but didn't hesitate firing back, "Sorry, the classes I took and passed weren't in criminal overriding and destroying of safety features."

Cody whistled softly as he used his hand to clear some of the smoke from whatever Caleb had burned up. He made his way over to the door and looked up and down the shaft, "Maybe it should have been."

"Agreed." Robin responded as he looked at a series of crossed wires all hooked up to the portable generator. "So what exactly did you do?"

Caleb pointed to the mess of spliced wires. "First, I powered the life support lead and the door, but cut the feed from the life support so it couldn't tell there was a problem. I then spliced into the emergency bulkhead and sent the all clear signal to the emergency locking sensor so it pulled the bolts back. Then, as soon as the bolts slid open, I sent a power spike and fried the motor so by the time the override figured out there was no life support signal other than power it couldn't lock the pins back in place."

Cody groaned, "Man I wish the instructors at the academy could see you all in action. You all should have been cadet officers. I have learned more and seen more in the last few hours than the first 5 years at the academy. You all know so much it boggles the mind."

Robin continued to examine the mess of wires as his mind started to grasp the sequence needed to duplicate Caleb's feat of reverse engineering. "Well, you're with us now. It won't take long to get you up to speed on the real universe." He paused and flashed Caleb a questioning scowl, "I am beginning to think you had more in a role of the camera hack than you let on. This here borders on something the Major likes to call demented brilliance."

Caleb gave a half bow and flashed an almost evil grin giving Robin's sudden insight even more credibility. Dante also smiled and slowly nodded.

Cody glanced back out of the elevator shaft knowing he was missing something but decided almost instantly not to pursue the matter. Even though he was quickly becoming accepted as one of the 'merc brats' from the Grenadiers, he guessed correctly it would take a bit longer before any of the inner secrets of dependents aboard the Grey Stallion would be reveled.

Still, it felt good to even hear them talk about something clearly forbidden around him. As he continued to play his light up and down the lift shaft, he realized that although he had friends his whole life, nothing compared to what he was seeing and hearing here. All three with him knew more about each other than most siblings would hope to know in a normal family and some of the bonds between them seemed deeper than any family he had ever been around, including his own.

He was certain, as sure as he was currently on a dead space craft, those behind him would fight, bleed, and die for each other even though they clearly weren't what they considered close friends. The very fact Robin was pushing so hard to see if his only real friend inside the academy was alive told of his devotion to those he cared about and what real friendship meant to him. However, the real astonishing thing was how Dante and Caleb were equally committed to the task when there was next to no chance either of them even knew the kid Robin was so hell bent to rescue.

Never in his life, had he seen such tight bonds between anyone with the possible exception of parents to their own kids, but even then, he seriously doubted many parents would help their own kids find a friend when the danger was this extreme. As he thought it over, he realized his own dad probably would, but that was about it.

Finally, he pulled his head out from between the doors and took a deep breath. "I think this is a huge break. The elevator is well above us, so it is probably stuck on the bridge and the bottom access hatch is open. I can kind of see something floating way down the shaft, but it must be four or even five decks down and a section of the left side of the lift track ripped loose and sparking so there is some power from somewhere still in the shaft. The problem is it is blocking my light from being able to see what is beyond, but I think it is a body."

Robin used the pry bar to force the doors to totally open and glanced down. After a full minute of using his lights and the extra illumination of the occasional bust of sparks, he could kind of make out a gloved hand holding a smaller pry bar and a blackened sleeve. "Damn."

"What?" Dante asked as he tried to look down the shaft.

"Cody's right. It's a body. Probably the one who tired to open this door. Looks like he fried on the power rail. The crowbar in his hand bumping up against the rail is what is causing the sparks. It is keeping him slowly spinning down there and every rotation the bar hits, sparks and sends him spinning around to hit it again."

Caleb shuttered, "Oh gross! What was he thinking taking a metal pry bar down a powered shaft!"

Robin responded after a short pause to shake off the gruesome sight. "Since there was no power up here, he probably didn't realize there was chance it had power below the break in the rail. He probably went down trying every door, hoping to find a way out into the main ship."

"Which means there was a good chance he was on or going to the bridge when the disaster struck." Cody said after a few moments of thought. "If he was, he may have the keys to open the door to get in there!"

Robin quickly spun back around and looked down the shaft, "Crap, good call. Kay, is there a way to kill power to that rail so we can get to him without cooking ourselves?"

"Not without getting to where the power is."

"Why, what's where the power is?" Cody asked.

Caleb pushed his way between Cody and Robin and glanced up, "See that small box above the door?"

Cody looked to where Caleb was pointing, "The one with the yellow and red bands?"

"Yea." Caleb answered as he floated up to it and started pulling the cover to it open. "This is the power relay. When there is power, it divides power to the shaft and the doors. If it blows, then everything between the power and this box will be hot and powered but everything beyond will be cold. Since there is no power here, but there is power below us, the power source is down there somewhere. If you short out the relay box below the body, it would kill the power to everything above including where he was at. This is where I need to tie in power to get Robin enough power to automatically open and close the doors to the bridge so he has his airlock. The only difference is I will only send power to the elevator and will not attach the power to the rail since the lift is where we want it.

"We'll also have to make sure the doors to the bridge are not damaged, but since we have atmosphere here, my guess is the guy was smart enough not to try to pry them open. I guess it's possible the bridge is pressurized, but I seriously doubt it."

"If it had been, there would be more than one body in this shaft. The whole bridge crew would be in here." Robin reminded the younger boy as he pulled his laser pistol. Even as the grim words escaped his lips he grinned. "I think it's time for some target practice on a power relay box."

Dante grabbed Robin's arm, "Ah, if you shoot and hit the side of the shaft where the other side is exposed to space you could decompress the rest of the tube and every door he pried on going down this shaft."

Robin gulped as he slowly re-holstered the sidearm, "Yea, good point."

"It's unlikely a laser pistol would cause a breach, Dante." Caleb responded, "These shafts were meant to contain breaches above or below the lift."

"But there is still a chance, no matter how slight." Robin spoke as his gloved hand went up to his helmet. "I am not going to risk killing Jessie if he is still alive, no way in hell. I need another option or two."

"Give me a couple of minutes. Be right back." Dante vanished as he headed back onto Charlie Deck.

Robin pointed to Cody, "Go with him, just to be safe. I'll stay here with Kay so he can try to get power to the lift."

Cody gave a thumb's up and quickly disappeared following Dante.

Caleb finally managed pull open the access panel to the power relay as he spoke up. "I thought we weren't supposed to split up."

"We shouldn't but I really don't want to have to re-power this suit again and we know there is no one left in the pressurized section of this deck. Besides, unless I wanted to hogtie Dante, he was going to do whatever he is up to."

"He really isn't that bad Robin. My dad really likes him and he listens to both my mom and dad." Caleb took a deep breath, "If I have a mom that is."

Robin clenched his fists as he heard the fear in Caleb's voice. He knew all to well what it was like to loose a parent suddenly. "Let me see what I can find out." He keyed the radio, "Bridge, this is Robin."

"Go." Captain Tanner's voice came back almost instantly, but with a bit of static.

"Has there been any word on Kay's mom?"

"I don't think so. Let me check. Be advised your transmission is a bit rough."

"We are in a lift tube on the far side of the ship, I am not surprised."

Another voice broke in, "This is Senior Tech Goland kids, if you are moving though those tubes be damned careful as you pass each deck. If there is any power on those rails, it'll cook you even inside your suits!"

"Caleb made sure we all understood that the second we got in here sir, but thanks."

"We all just want you back in one piece Rob." Major O'Connell responded calmly yet with a strong reassuring voice. "You can let Kay know we still have no internal communication to the deck she is on, but we now have life support readings including from her turret so she is getting life support and there is no indication of a breach in or around her turret. The sensors also say her door is slightly buckled so we need to get a crew to her before she has any chance of getting out.

"Understand this does not mean we are in the clear though. We have had some serious injuries from some of the turret crewmembers we have gotten to. That was a hell of a jolt and there isn't much in the way of padding other than the chair itself and the safety restraints. If she was wearing them, chances are she is fine. I can also tell you her turret does not have main power so there is no way for her to fire a burst letting us know of her condition, but we are working on getting power to all the turrets so with any luck, she'll be able to fire soon and tell us she is OK. The breach in the deck above her is giving us fits; if she does not fire it will be a few more hours before I have a real answer. That's really all I can report at this time. Sorry.

"On the other hand, pass on to Jared that his sister is alive, but in sickbay getting a piece of broken deck plating removed from her hip, so although we have secured her it will be a day or more before she is in the clear. One way or the other, she is unconscious, so he will not be hearing from her for a while. Something tells me it would be better coming from you than one of us up here."

Robin punched the side of the lift tube sending him flying back against the back of the tube. He took a moment to shake off the impact before he replied, "I'll take care of it sir."

Major O'Connell's voice softened slightly. "Once again, this is way more than you should have to deal with but as usual we are asking you to do so anyway. One way or the other, we will make this all up to you son."

"Just get to Kay's mom and switch to a private frequency for a moment sir."

There was a pause then the Major's voice spoke again. "Switch to 13 and put in your favorite 4 numbers son. I'll be back with you shortly."

Robin glanced up, "Did you get all that Kay?"

Caleb swallowed hard and nodded, "Yea, but I know mom doesn't like to wear the harness inside the turret. I hope she's alright. Are you going to talk to him about the Master Sergeant?"

Robin nodded as he quickly changed the setting of the radio and punched in a series of four numbers knowing only his mom and the Major would know them. "At least she is in a secure spot with life support. They'll get to her."

"I know. Thanks for putting her on the priority list."

"I'm sure she already was with your dad working his ass off to get to her."

"Yea, but now it is top of mind for the Major and that means the whole crew will soon know it. I've seen the type of results it gets to put something toward the top of the Major's list."

A moment later, Major O'Connell's voice came over the radio. "I'm alone in my break room son, go ahead."

Robin glanced up to Caleb and shrugged after a second of thought. "You really need to take me out to the rifle range or something once we get planet side so we can talk about Dante, sir."

A slightly worried tone came across instantly, showing even the Major could experience a bit of fear. "Is he OK?"

"Nothing like that sir. He is just fine over here, but there are other things I just found out in the last few hours. There is something going on behind our backs."

"Anything that would jeopardize our unit or you want to let me know about now?"

"Not really sir, but you absolutely need to keep the master sergeant away from him. Let him live with me and Cody or make it to where he has to stay somewhere else other than his own quarters until we can get away and really talk. I don't care what you do or how you do it but if you don't figure out a way to keep Dante safely away from that bastard I'll shoot him again."

There was a burst of laughter over the radio then a bit of a pause. "You have a deal Robin. After all, we can't have lower enlisted personal shooting our sergeants now can we?"

"Wouldn't do much for moral sir."

"No it wouldn't. Go ahead and get a hold of Jared on the sly and have him rip Dante's hammock hook out and break his dresser loose from the wall, we'll use that as an excuse until we are planet side. Major O'Connell out."

Robin quickly informed Jared of the remodeling job that needed to be preformed in Dante's quarters then took a few minutes to fill his friend in about the condition of his sister. Robin could almost hear and see the tears flowing out of Jared's light grey eyes. Even as he ended the transmission, he had to blink tears out of his own eyes as he wished he could have told him face to face and offer a shoulder to lean or even cry on.

Robin took a few seconds to compose himself before he turned his attention back to Caleb, "Can you pull the same trick on the doors to Bravo from inside the tube?"

"Already working on it, but it's harder because I don't have access to the power button to the door from this side. I'll get the pins to unlock and fry the motor again, but you'll probably have to pry the door open the hard way." Caleb glanced down from where he continued to work on the relay box, "So it really was you who shot him."

Robin flashed a brief smile happy to have something other than the condition of his friends' loved ones to talk about. "Yea, like three or four times because he is just too stubborn and stupid to fall after one or even two hits. Next time, I might be inclined to use something a bit more harmful than a stunner though. I know you and him are pretty good friends, what do you know about him being born in the Red Star system and the Master Sergeant not being his real dad?"

"First I have heard about the Red Star thing is when he was talking to Cody's dad, but both my mom and dad have seen him cringe a bit when we call him his dad, but today is the first time I have heard him admit to something along those lines. What's the deal Robin?"

Robin shrugged then made an obvious glancing motion to warn Caleb of Dante's return, "Not sure, but one way or the other I'll make sure we find out." Robin managed to keep his face neutral as he turned his full attention to Cody and Dante who were both carrying long sections of a game station and a few long coils of fiber optic cable. "What in the universe are you going to do with all that?"

Cody nodded his head toward Dante, "He figures if we can't safely go down to the body maybe we can bring the body up to us and see what it has on it. None of this will conduct, so we should be able to tie the cable to each side of this frame and use the side boards to slip it under the body and then pull it up to us past the powered section."

"Just a different type of fishing." Dante stated with a smirk.

"Definitely spending too much time around my dad. "Caleb noted as he tuned on the generator. A few seconds past before the safety locks to Bravo popped back releasing the door and then there was another burst of sparks as the power behind those pins shorted out. "The door is now all yours Robin."

"Awesome, how long before you can get power to the lift and check if it we can open and close the doors to the bridge?"

"Give me another five or ten minutes, powering the lift without powering the rails is not as easy as tricking a stupid sensor then sending a power spike to kill it. I need to get up there, pull the power transfers clear of the rail and power them. Having a second generator would be way easier and give you more power to the doors. One way or the other, you will still need the key or you will have to pry the door open and then it wouldn't be able to seal again."

Robin pointed down the shaft, "OK you two go fishing and get that body up here while Kay does what he can do. We need those keys. Once you do that, we'll all head into Bravo and try to find another generator."

Cody followed Dante down the shaft until they were at the break in the power rail. He cringed yet again as he watched the body continue to spin with the aid on the electrical burst of sparks about every minute and a half. It took another couple of seconds to fight back the urge to puke again before he turned to help Dante who was already pushing the plastic sides of the game table down toward the body.

Working as a team, it took only a couple of minutes to maneuver the extension up to the body. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the two boys to realize the hard part would be snagging the body. Each time they so much as touched any portion of it, the body would move slightly further down the shaft and forced them to get ever closer to the live power rail.

After a good ten minutes, Dante growled and hit the side of the shaft with his fist as once again a slight bump to the dead man's shoulder sent the body even further away from them. "Come on already!"

Cody clenched his fist and nodded in agreement, "It sure sounded like a good plan, but this just isn't working."

"Yea, and we are only a couple of meters from what is probably a hot rail."

"At least we stopped the spin so there are no more sparks." Cody took a deep breath, "We are so close, there has to be something we can do to snag him and bring him up to us."

Dante stopped and turned slowly to face Cody. As their eyes met, Dante's left eyebrow arched up. "Let me use your laser pistol for a moment."

Even as he unholstered the weapon, the puzzlement in his eyes told of his total confusion. "You do realize he is already dead and a laser shot will certainly send him beyond our reach."

Dante started laughing hard, "I have no intension of shooting him, and yea, I kind of figured he was dead. If he ain't then he is even scarier than the asshole I have to call dad."

Cody locked the trigger to prevent an accidental firing of the weapon before handing it over to Dante. Even as he did so, he continued to look a bit mystified as the younger boy continued to snicker. Confusion quickly turned to fear as Dante pulled off his gloves and took out a small tool kit from his belt. Within seconds, he was pulling apart the pistol. "What are you doing? That weapon must cost a couple of thousand credits!"

"Three to four, cause it is a high grade class VIII laser. None of the pistols we have are below a class VII and this is not one of those wimpy ones." Dante muttered under his breath as he continued to gut the small weapon. "It also means it is harder to work on."

"OK, so what exactly are you doing to it and why?"

Dante didn't look up as he popped the power pack and extracted the focusing chamber from behind it. "This one uses a micro fusion generator for power which is why it can shoot over a hundred times before a new power pack needs to be put in. It focuses the burst of energy into a chamber that puts the protons into a ultra-violet spectrum. This is great for some things, but not what we need."

Cody's hands gripped the sides of his helmet in frustration, "OK, I'm totally lost, what do we need?"

Dante handed the focusing chamber back to Cody but kept the rest of the weapon. He then pulled apart the three dimensional projector they had been using as a map. It took only another minute for him to pull out the projection crystal. "We need infra-red to microwave proton emissions. IR will create heat and I can use the heat to cut right through the edge of this game table side."

Dante then wiggled the slightly larger projector crystal into the weapon and adjusted the power relays to pump bursts of energy though it. "We'll loose a bit because it is the wrong size, but there still should be enough light to pump it."

Cody felt his head spin slightly, he was among the best in his class in electronics and weapon repair, but his brain just couldn't wrap itself into what a kid almost 3 years younger than he was attempting to do or even why. "Pump it? Dude you have totally lost me!"

Dante snapped the casing shut and glanced up. Seeing the total confusion on Cody's face caused an almost mean sounding snort, "Come on cadet commander, you do know how a military laser works don't you?"

Cody's face scrunched into a bit of a snarl at the condescending tone, "Well yea, the beam is produced in a focusing chamber then moved into an amplification chamber and refocused. It then is released though the aiming crystal that condenses all the light into a pinprick of focused light. The beam is so tight it is powerful enough to do damage. The power of the weapon is based on how much energy it can hold and condense before it has to release it to prevent damage to itself."

Dante's shoulder's slumped, "OK... Sir... That is about as textbook of an answer as I have ever heard. What I mean is, do you know how they really work."

Cody continued to frown, but finally shook his head, "To be honest, that's about all I really know. I know how to pull them apart and replace parts, and you're right, that was almost word for word out of our middle school text book on how a laser works.

Dante sighed as he popped off the front focusing crystal and grabbed the side of the game table they had been trying to use to get the fiber optic cable around the body. He pulled the trigger and a focused but not pinpoint beam blasted out of the tip. The beam dissipated after just a few meters. He grinned. "Perfect."

He then held the trigger down and used the wider beam to cut a hook shape into the long sidewall of the game table. As he did this he explained. "The word laser is actually an old earth acronym that stood for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. The basic idea behind them doesn't seem to have changed much other than the tech behind them getting a whole lot better and deadlier.

"Laser light is actually highly focused protons. Unlike a flash light that sends random wavelengths of light all over the place a laser used a rod as a lasing medium and a flash tube pumps it. The light excites the atoms and they put off protons. The protons bounce back and forth off mirrors and align. Without going into electron reaction and proton release, the basics are that once they start to align they stimulate the release of more protons in their wavelength.

"In a military laser there are two chambers where the proton beam moves into a second chamber and is highly augmented as protons are passed back into the lasing tube a second time, then one of the mirrors pop open in the front of the augmentation chamber and a monochromatic, single-phase, columnated light leaves the lasing medium and augmentation chamber. This is the beam of light that does the damage. In this case, I needed heat to cut this poly-carbon, not a powerful beam that is designed for range and pinpoint impact. UV is not a good heat beam but the lasing medium in this projector is IR and does produce some heat, so by changing out the lasing medium I changed the type of laser and basically made a laser cutter.

"The only problems are I am doing some damage to this lasing rod, cause it was not designed for this kind of power. In other words, I will have to replace it much sooner than I normally would and the image of the maps are going to be a bit fuzzy cause there will be some damage to the lasing rod even after the short time I am going to use it for this. With any luck, I'll be able to find a few in the game room since these things are standard size for holographic imagers and it looked like there were a lot of holo-games in there. If not, I have a couple of extras tucked in my academy gear and they are pretty cheap, if that is all you are buying, so getting a couple more replacements ain't going to be all that hard."

"The second problem is I am going to all but drain this micro generator pack, so once I get this back together as a weapon, you'll have to pop in your spare power pack."

He made a couple of more cuts including putting a wicked looking set of barbs on the hook he had made. He looked at it a minute then handed it over to a totally astonished Cody, "Try to grab him with this and I'll put the pistol back together."

Cody secured the meat hook looking sidewall with his mouth slightly agape. As he maneuvered the newly cut panel down to the dead body, he secretly wondered if there were more than four or five senior instructors who could have done what he just watched an eleven year old kid do. One thing was certain, there was no chance any of the Grenadiers he was with had gotten a fair shake at the academy or they would have all been cadet officers by the end of their first semesters.

With the newly crafted implement, it took only two tries to dig one of the barbs into the guy's clothing and pull him up. As he maneuvered the body up to him, he noticed almost instantly the guy had died with a scream on his lips and his eyes wide open as if he new what was happening. Cody swallowed hard and shuttered. He had to close his eyes for a moment as he spun the face of the man away from him so he could inspect the body without seeing the dead eyes staring back at him.

He took a couple more calming breaths before he forced his eyes open and reached for the guy's pockets. He stopped short as he saw the butt of a very large pistol poking out from under the guy's shirt. Carefully he reached forward and pulled. At first it didn't come out, but a second harder tug broke the buckle of the electrically burned hidden holster and clip belt the man had expertly fit under his uniform jacket. He let out a slight gasp as his eyes took in the sight of a micro-missile pistol.

Dante finished putting the last screw back into the laser pistol and snapped on the focusing crystal before he looked up. By the time he did, Cody had the highly lethal weapon's clip out and was examining it. Dante let out a low whistle as he too realized what it was. "What's a anti-armor pistol doing on a passenger ship?"

Cody held up his hand and shrugged, "I have no clue, but he has a back holster with four spare clips and slots for two others, even weirder, the clip only has five missiles in it."

Dante cocked his head to the side as he reached out and secured one of the spare clips. "These are standard seven shot magazines, so it must have been fired!"

"Or not reloaded after the last use, but that doesn't make any sense either." Cody countered as he dug into the guy's pockets and pulled out two sets of keys and a breast wallet. He flipped it open to see what it might tell him about the poor soul he was looting. Suddenly his eyes flashed panic as he keyed the radio in his suit, "Robin! Kay! Don't unbar the door to Alpha!"

Robin's voice responded instantly, "Too late, Caleb just fried the motor to the locking pins, why?"

"Keep your laser out and have Kay pull back now! I am on the way!"

Dante cocked his head and looked over at Cody, "What gives?"

Cody pushed over the spare power pack to the laser pistol and slapped the clip of the micro-missile pistol back into place. He then secured the remaining spare clips and shoved the wallet over to Dante, "Take a look at that then cover me with the laser."

Dante pulled the money and ID holder close. The outside had a Quaker VII ID and passport, but nothing that looked odd so he flipped it open wondering what was inside. The second he did so he could feel his blood go cold. A sharp shiver went down his spine as he continued to gaze at the crest of the Quaker VI Royal Guards inside with a small holographic badge that showed the guys face. There was next to no way to fake such a high tech ID, so there was no doubt the dead guy had been part of the utterly brutal and murderous secret police of Quaker VI. He keyed his radio, "Holy crap, Robin, this guy appears to have been Q Six, RG! He's got the badge and ID."

"What!" Robin almost screamed, "Caleb, drop below now! You two get back up here and keep your eyes sharp!" Robin paused just long enough to switch frequencies, "Colonel, you there?"

Cody's dad replied instantly, "Right here son, is something wrong?"

"Sir, switch over to a headset so no one can hear first!

"Wilco." Cody's dad responded followed a couple of seconds later with "OK, go."

Robin's voice sounded very tense as he once again keyed his radio. "Sir, we just found a body that has Q Six Royal Guard ID and badge. You need to totally check all those aboard the Stallion again. Use Jared and a couple of the others to help you with security and shoot first ask questions second!"

"Already moving son!" Cody's dad voice took on a deadly edge. "Be extra careful, they don't travel alone."

"I know sir, they infiltrated us early on and we lost 9 and they almost sabotaged the main engine. We became a lot more careful after that. One of the reasons I wanted all passengers we couldn't ID by direct knowledge kept in a small locked section was because we are all a bit paranoid about the Six RG."

Before Robin even finished speaking, Cody was up next to him holding the powerful weapon at the ready. Cody held out the keys, "He had a Royal Guard ID, badge, these keys and this!" He held out the pistol so Robin could see.

Robin felt his eyes kind of bug out, "Sir, be advised, the guy we found had a micro missile pistol on him. Cody is also carrying a stealth holster belt, so there is a good chance they walked on board both this ship and the Stallion armed and didn't even set off the weapon sensors."

Cody's dad made a deep snarling sound, "We only went though basic sensors set up outside the ship, we didn't even have to go though the central star port scanners, so there is no chance they got noticed. I think we now know why the security was so lax. The interm government put in place by Quaker Six set it up so their agents could easily get on board. Is there any way, we can separate small groups over here so we don't have to watch everyone or start a search with everyone watching?"

Robin glanced over to the others. Cody shrugged and Dante just shook his head. On the other hand, Caleb held up a finger. Robin keyed the radio, "We may have an idea, get Jared and a couple others ready and I'll be back with you shortly."

Robin cut the feed to the radio before turning to Caleb, "What do you got?"

Caleb managed a slight yet worried smile, "We can cut them in small groups and put them into rooms in the section we already have them locked down in. We have plenty of empties. We just say we need the room in the halls for more survivors and want them to get comfortable as possible. We can then lock them down in the rooms before they figure out what is going on. That way, Cody's dad can do a total search of only a few at a time without alerting the others.

Robin's eyes lit up. "Good idea, but we need to make sure they are in internal rooms so if some other RG jackass has one of these they don't try to give our ship a breach on our deck. We also need to have a reason to lock them down inside those rooms."

Cody kind of shrugged, "Easy. All we have to point to is simple safety reasons. Tell them all, the second the search team gets back, the Stallion is going to blow its docking clamps and start a burn planet side. No PLC allows people to be wandering the halls when it is starting a burn cause the increase of G forces is dangerous until speed stabilizes. Because of damage to the ship, there is no guarantee the ship's PA system will be able to broadcast the warning so the commander wants everyone in a spot where they can quickly get ready for main thruster burn. My dad can tell everyone that they are to braces for acceleration the second they hear the docking clamps blow, which may be really soon or several hours depending on when the search team comes back. Then he can go room to room and check everyone from head to toe."

"Awesome plan." Robin grinned as he keyed the radio again and filled Cody's dad in on the plan then let Major O'Connell in on what was going on as well. He ended by saying they were going to push on. After getting a pair of 'just be careful' from both men, Robin turned to the other three with him. "OK, we still need to hit the bridge."

Cody glanced over to the bags and foot lockers filled with the locked money boxes then back up to the lift. "I suggest two of us go up there and check out the bridge, while the other two guard the door to Bravo. Once the bridge is swept, we won't have to watch our backs and will only have Bravo left. We then find Jesse and as many survivors as we can and get off this ship."

Robin gave a single hard nod and glanced over to Caleb. "Can we do it with a single generator?"

"Since we didn't have to move the lift, I am sure we can." Caleb responded, "But it would be best if it were you and me in the lift cause we know the most about ship repair and between us we can seal the door to the bridge if it does not do so automatically once we close it again."

Dante looked a bit disappointed as he begrudgingly agreed, "He's right Rob, and let's face it, I'm better with a weapon than Kay is, so if there is a problem coming form Bravo, it would be better for all of us if Kay was not needed to fight. It would be best, if we got everything set and did one more full recharge though, because your suits are going to use a ton of juice keeping you warm if the bridge is open space like we expect."

Robin took a deep breath, "Good points all around, but I really don't think the Six RG, if there are any left, would start a fight now. They would want to remain hidden until they are in a spot to strike and do the most damage. Besides, they would have no way of knowing we know they infiltrated this ship, so even if you are suspicious, now is not the time to be trigger happy. We'll check everyone out before we let them get anywhere vital, and we now know to look for telltale bulges from the stealth holsters around the backs of all survivors."

Cody held up a finger, "You know, Robin's right. We actually have the upper hand on any RG jerks. First they wouldn't suspect we know about them and second they only see four kids. As long as we watch our backs and keep an eye out, we should be fine. At least until we are on one of those yachts."

Robin piped up. "Even then, they would be stupid to try anything until we are in atmosphere. So far the RG forces we have faced have not been suicidal. They wouldn't do anything knowing they would die, so we have to make sure we keep all unknown survivors in a spot were they would die if they took us out. To this end, we must lock down any escape pods on the yacht we take and probably should disable any on other craft somehow. Then the only time they will have to strike will be on solid ground. Once we are planet-side, however, we will have to be a great deal more cautious."

Caleb gave a skeptical glance over to Robin. "Locking down our ship's pods is easy enough, but to tamper with the others would be difficult and could easily be noticed. We'd be better off just chancing it if there is more than one ship and once we are out in space radio the other ships letting it be known we suspect sabotage and will be monitoring the other ships to make sure they get planet-side safely."

Cody quickly disagreed, "Any message suggesting they are in danger could create a panic."

Robin grinned, "Yea, but everyone would be so paranoid it would be hard for anyone, even an RG asshole, to damage anything. I think Kay is right."

"Yea, but if someone does something dumb, the rest might end up killing someone innocent." Cody countered.

Dante shrugged, "Sounds like a great way to keep the genetic pool strong."

Both Robin and Caleb giggled while Cody looked over all three with a bewildered questioning stare. The look only caused the other three to laugh harder.

Finally, as Cody's aggravation was stating to show, Caleb managed to explain through bursts of laughter. "It's a merc thing. Almost any time someone does something stupid enough to get themselves killed, we say it is God's way of keeping the gene pool strong."

"Sorry guys I still don't get it."

Dante slapped Cody on the back hard enough to send him into a bit of a spin. "In simple terms any moron who kills himself out of an act of dumbness should not be allowed to breed."

Cody's eyebrows arched upward, "Oh, OK... You know how mean that is?"

Robin flashed a grin, "Yup!"

Cody managed a bit of a snicker as he grabbed onto the door leading to Bravo deck to steady himself. "You guys are awful!"

Dante shook his head and pointed at Cody, "We are, and you are one of us now. Get used to it, cause like it or not you are a merc now and no matter what happens the rest of your life you will always carry a bit of a merc rep with you."

"But don't worry." Caleb snickered as he started moving to the hatch leading to the lift above him, "We'll have you thinking and talking like the rest of us in no time. Before you know it, you will find yourself acting, talking and thinking just like the rest of us merc brats."

Robin moved up behind Caleb, "Yea, and suddenly someone is going to treat you poorly or fear you because you are a merc and it will take you a few minutes to figure out why. Once you get used to being looked at like a merc by others, then you will finally see life as we do."

Cody let out a sigh as he shook his head, "Is that when I am finally one of you?"

"No," Dante stated as he moved to keep the open door to Bravo covered from inside the lift tube but stayed where no one from Bravo could see him, "You are one of us now, just a bit on the green side. Now slide down a bit so no survivor stumbling on this open door will be able to see you and take a pop shot. We don't want some lunatic RG guy with a heavy weapon to shoot you before we get to initiate you properly into the Grenadiers."

Cody started to say something but was cut of as both Robin and Caleb started laughing again above him.

Dante snickered at the concerned look playing over Cody's face, "Don't worry, it'll be every bit as bad as you think and probably worse."

Cody's mouth twisted into a bit of a smirk. "Gee, thanks for easing my fears."

"No problem." Dante responded while trying to keep a straight face. He failed badly.

Cody sighed. "I won't make it easy on you; I can keep my guard up, you know."

From above Caleb snorted out, "You have to sleep sometime and we know where you live."

Robin also chimed in, "Besides, there are way more of us than there are of you. Keeping your guard up only makes it a bit more fun and challenging for those doing the initiation. However, I'll give you a little bit of a clue. I will not be involved nor will I know when it is going to happen. It was decided long before I was born, that roommates and close friends can't directly participate."

"Directly?" Cody raised an eyebrow, "What does that mean?"

"It means, if approached, he can give a few ideas but that is it." Dante answered.

"So it's not the same thing for everyone?"

"No way." Robin responded though his radio as he pulled the lower hatch to the lift shut. "First off, word would get out and secondly, part of the fun for the rest of us is figuring out when where and how to strike to make a lasting impression. It may be hours, days, weeks, or even months, but it will happen and the Major will have final approval over it, so there is no chance we can go overboard, but by the time it is over you will think we did."

Cody shook his head lightly, "I don't get it, why warn me at all then?"

Dante responded instantly, "This way you cannot say we didn't warn you and when you look back on it you will see just how good we are at setting things up."

"What about my brother?"

"Oh, he'll get the same warning from some of the others who befriend him and so will your parents. I am sure the Major will pull them off to the side and let them know of our custom of breaking in new Grenadier dependants." Robin radioed back as he watched Caleb start a system check to make sure the whole lift was air tight and could be used for the makeshift airlock he wanted it to be.

"What if they say no?"

"Then your application to the unit will be denied." Robin stated with certainty. "So far, we have only had it happen 3 times since I have been in the unit and two of those were people we, or at least my mom, didn't want to sign on anyway."

Cody let out a huge breath. "Yea, well, there is no way my dad is going to say no. If anything he'll ask for it to be as hard and as nasty as possible just to get back at both of us. No one holds a grudge like my dad does and in his mind my brother and I messed up bad."

Dante snickered, "See, you were one of us and didn't even know it. Starting with a bit of a rep is a great start for a Grenadier kid." He suddenly changed subjects as he glanced up, "how does it look Kay?"

Robin responded. "Everything checks out and one of the keys you guys found fits. A word of warning though, once we open this other door the two of you are on your own until we can fully seal the door to the bridge and re-pressurize the lift. Once we do this, you can call for help if needed but it may take several minutes for us to provide backup, especially if this door does not seal again. If needed, retreat back to Charlie deck and play hide and seek with any morons. That way once we can provide backup we will be more like ambushers."

Robin reappeared with Caleb as they made their way back to the powered room on Charlie deck for a full recharge with the others. They made small talk and used the break to grab some more food and water.

As everyone suited up yet again, Dante went back to the game room scrounged some parts and grabbed a large flat piece of the game table he had made the hook out of. "If the lower door leaks we can put this over hatch to prevent a major breach."

"Great idea." Robin stated with bit of exhaustion in his voice. "I am going to be so glad to get this over with."

"All of us are" Cody responded. "

Caleb shook his head, "I'm glad I went to bed early or you'd be having to slap me to keep me awake."

Dante lightly smacked the back of Caleb's helmet, "Hey, that sounds like fun!"

Robin snickered as Caleb smacked him back. He waited for everyone to settle down before he spoke up. "Remember you guys will probably be on your own for a few minutes even if trouble does break out, so retreat back here."

Dante spoke up. "If it happens we'll use the game room over there as the strike point. There are several doors in and out and we can lead them on a goose chase around it for hours. If we have to talk, we'll get bob to help us so even if they can hear us, he'll confuse 'em."

Robin flashed a grin at Dante before responding, "Got ya, this is a perfect time for good ole bob to give us a hand. Stay safe till we get back." A second later he moved up the lift tube with Caleb and shut the lower hatch. Once Caleb gave him the thumbs up, he pushed the electronic key into the panel now being powered by Caleb's handy work and braced with his feet and back against the inner door frame. Once certain Caleb was also as secure as possible, he used his elbow to hit to button to the door. Even as he did so, he wondered what it would be like to be out in space with no atmosphere for the first time in his life.

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