“All right, gentlemen and ladies.” Mister Arrow said as he paced back and forth on the bridge in front of the assembled crew. Four turtle aliens, Jeborah’s grandchildren, stood with them. “We didn’t have time for gun drill when we were in port, in fact we never had time to even select a full gun crew. That lack has been brought home to me by Sergeant Culbertson after the last incident and we’re going to correct it. Sergeant Culbertson, they’re all yours.”
Sergeant Culbertson stepped forward and put his claw hands on his hips. “All right, listen up. We have five experienced gunners.” He gestured at the four and at the Big Lizard. “And we are going to need three more just to man all the guns. In addition to that we are going to need backups. So guess what? You’re all going to volunteer for gunnery practice and after we’re done we’ll select the three we need and the eight backups.” He paused at one of the laser cannons and caressed it briefly. “I want you all to know how to fire one of these babies. It may just save all of our lives. Now divide up into groups of four for each gunner and do it smartly or we’ll do it by my assignment and clean a lot of brass after we’re done.”
“Sergeant Culbertson sounds a lot like your brother, doesn’t he, Mister Arrow?” Silver said as he watched the crew members sort themselves out.
“Aye, Captain, he does and there be the difference between Billy and me.” Mister Arrow replied. “Billy always carried a big stick and used it. Me, I prefer a softer touch.”
Silver smiled as he watched the others crowd around the turtles, leaving the Big Lizard looking sad, but then Sarah Hawkins stepped up and was the first in his line, getting a huge grin in return from him. Following her two of the women aliens, one looking like a vampire and the other a large tiger-striped feline, joined her, and they in turn were followed by a bear-like alien.
Silver thought about what Mister Arrow had just said and how his brother Billy’s hard nose attitude had run him afoul of Mister Scroop and his cock-eyed sense of honor. “Maybe you should’ve been with us on the last trip, Mr. Arrow.” Silver said as he turned back to talk to Orfeo. “It might’ve been better.”
Mister Arrow shook his head and said softly. “That was a rough trip with Captain and First Mate commanding respect by force over a group of former pirates picked by that idiot Doctor. There was no way it was going to end in any way but bad. It’s amazing that any of them made it back. Now, this trip is different. We weeded out the bad ones early and except for Orfeo and the Big Lizard you brought no pirates but you did bring marines. I like that.” He turned back to watch the training.
After they were done and the crew was awaiting the results, Sarah Hawkins engaged the three who’d trained with her in conversation. The thin vampire-looking woman dressed in flowing green silks that seemed to go well with her white skin was Della Lillith from Lenster who was the ship’s doctors, specializing in alien life forms, especially those that were most plant-like.
The tiger-striped feline woman dressed in a black vest and white trousers was Sasha Adoree from Heinlein. Adoree was a computer programming specialist who worked with the Big Lizard below decks. Her main job was to keep the systems functioning that kept the ship enclosed in a force bubble that allowed no gases to escape and recycled all the gas, liquid, and solid wastes back into useable materials through controlled chemical reactions. Part of her function was to make sure that all the necessary chemicals were present in amounts more than enough to keep the crew healthy and notify the Captain immediately if the amounts fell below certain levels.
The bear-like alien wearing a red vest and black trousers was Song Urdessa from Rodenberry. He manned the communication and detection systems and worked below decks in association with Adoree and it soon became apparent that he was very fond of her.
“So, Sasha, as a crew member dependent on what you do can I ask how we are doing for consumables?” Sarah asked partly because the preparations for departure had been so rushed and mostly because they’d had to leave at the start of what was supposed to be a shakedown cruise to find out what the problems were before they became life threatening.
Adoree blinked and hesitated. Finally, Lillith said. “Come on, Sasha. You’ve told me and you told the Captain and Mister Arrow. I see no purpose in hiding what will soon be common knowledge. When Adoree still hesitated, Lillith sighed. “Very well, I’ll tell her. Sarah, there is no way to put this but bluntly. We are experiencing an unexpected rise in the use of chemical consumables such as oxygen and food. This is putting a strain on the system which then needs to draw more energy and energy is the most desperately needed consumable. If the drain continues we will not be able to reach our destination but will have to divert to get more energy.”
“But it’s not only energy being diverted for recycling consumables.” Adoree said. “More energy is also going to waste recycling and disinfection than predicted. I calculated before we left all the energy that we would need but we are drawing thirty percent more.”
It may be worse than that.” Urdessa added. “Energy totals should have been well above our perceived needs since we threw that pirate overboard the night before we left and did not replace him. Energy needs should’ve been reduced, not increased.” He growled in frustration.
“Maybe we have some stowaways.” Sarah said, remembering the feeling of being watched and touched when no one was near.
“That was my first thought.” Adoree replied. “And that was also the first thought of the Captain and Mister Arrow. However, after a complete search of the ship they found nothing out of the ordinary and they searched thoroughly both physically and electronically with Urdessa monitoring for them.”
“We saw nothing.” Urdessa growled. “No temperature, sound or light anomalies. Nothing. Which means the energy drain has got to be some mechanical or program glitch in the recycling system but Sasha and I can’t find it.”
“All right, people, listen up.” The Sergeant said from the bridge above them. “Our three gunners will be Mr. Felix, Ms. Tomas, and Ms. Gerry. I want to thank you all for trying out and the gunners will be notifying their backups. We gave careful weight to your scores and your other duties. If there are problems let me or Mister Arrow know. You’re dismissed.”
“Well, that was quick.” Mrs. Hawkins said as she turned to go.
She was stopped by the Big Lizard. He held up a score card with 375 circled in red and smiled as he said. “I. Good. Teacher. You. Backup.”
“Oh, my.” Was all she could say. It seemed like she had a battle station now.
Sarah Hawkins was tired that night but she couldn’t fall asleep. Something was nagging at her about the consumable problem and she wouldn’t sleep until she figured it out. It was like doing the books back at the Inn. If something had been overlooked then the books wouldn’t balance and she’d stay up half the night until she figured it out. She turned on the small overhead light as she sat up and called up her personal computer screen with a whispered vocal command.
The Big Lizard grunted from his bunk opposite her and opened one eye. “Problem?” He asked.
He had to be the lightest sleeper she’d ever known and she’d known a lot of them at the Inn. “It’s all right. I just can’t sleep. Go back to bed.”
He grunted but did not turn over. Even though his eyes were closed, she could sense he was still watching. “My silent protector, a former pirate.” She thought. “How ironic.” But he’d already saved her once and she was thankful for his presence. But come to think of it, Long John Silver had been a pirate and she trusted both. “Not the life you imagined for me, Mom.” She said softly.
Thinking of her Mother made her sad but also brought up memories of her Mom trying to drum the ship building trade into her. “It’s weight, Sarah.” Her Mother would say over and over again. “It’s weight that is not the ship builder’s friend unless you use it to help you.”
There were a lot more admonitions to the tirade but she put them aside as something seemed to coalesce in her brain. “It’s weight or I should say mass. That’s how we can detect them if they’re here.” She whispered. She punched up her computer display and sent an email to Adoree who almost immediately responded. Sarah explained her idea and finished up with. “I think we need to rig up some mass detectors, especially ones triggered by movement.” She never got to hear the reply as a horrified unseen watcher reacted.
A hand seized her throat cruelly and another blocked her mouth, cutting off all air. Without thinking she jabbed the rigid fingers of her right hand over her shoulder where a head should be and felt something give. For a moment the hand over her mouth loosened. “Help!” She cried. There was a blow and a searing pain in her shoulder.
Without a sound the Big Lizard shot out of his bunk. He could not see anyone who was fighting with her but from her muffled sounds and position in the bunk he knew the assailant was behind her and he could tell its location from the way it was dragging her out of the bed. He grabbed both of them but mostly the body of the assassin.
He ripped her free of the unseen being’s arms and then straddling it he began to pummel it as hard as he could. His fists rose and fell like pile drivers. There was a shriek from the unseen assailant and two sharp pains in his side as a knife plunged in and out. He ignored the two stab wounds as they touched nothing vital and kept pounding until with a final shriek it finally stopped moving and then he gave it several more blows to be sure, smiling grimly as he heard bones break.
He looked up at Sarah who was leaning against his bunk. She was bleeding from both shoulder areas and her pajamas were soaked with blood. She reeled and started to collapse but he caught her before she hit the deck. He spoke quickly to his embedded computer. “Medical. Emergency. Stabbing. Hawkins. Crew. Quarters. Four.” A red light began to flash, a klaxon began to blare, and a voice over the loudspeakers began to shout. “Life threatening medical emergency. Doctor Lillith to Crew Quarters four.” It then continued to repeat itself.
The whole bunk area was a scene of mass confusion as crewmates rushed over. Two of them knelt beside Sarah and began applying compresses to stop the bleeding. She caught one of them by the arm and whispered. “Cloaked assassins. Mass sensors.” She lapsed into unconsciousness.
A big Armadillo of an alien slapped two compresses on the Big Lizard’s wounds and someone shouted for Mister Arrow and another for the doctor. This was all silenced by a familiar bellow.
“What’s going on here?” Mister Arrow dressed in a loosely fitting night shirt demanded. He took in the blood-strewn scene and shouted over his command frequency. “Doctor, get here now. We have multiple stabbings!”
The Big Lizard slipped a hand free for a moment, pointed at the body on the floor and managed to rasp out. “Murderer!”
Mister Arrow looked down and his eyes widened as they took in the being only seeable by the blood covering its body. He turned to two huge crewmen. “Take that thing and throw it in the brig.”
“Not to medical?” One asked.
“Crew to medical first!” He snapped. “It can wait its turn in the brig.”
“Good.” The other snarled as he and his companion roughly seized the attacker and jerked him off the floor. “If you’re alive, scum, I hope you wait forever after what you did to our mates.”
As they dragged it out, leaving a trail of blood, Lillith came rushing through the door with a floating medical wagon behind her. She took the situation in quickly, knelt besides them, stripped off their clothes, checked their wounds, sprayed a fixative to stop the bleeding, and then ordered them placed on the now expanded cart. The cart promptly extended a multitude of wires and sensors, took readings and then began injecting vital fluids depending on the species all the time while Lillith ran beside it on the way to the medical bay. She almost ran Long John Silver down as he came to the door.
Silver’s face blanched when he saw who was on the cart. “Sarah. Mother of God.” He turned and said fiercely. “Mister Arrow, who’s responsible for this?”
“Cloaked assassins, Sir. But Ms. Adoree tells me that Mrs. Hawkins told us how to find them. We were idiots to not think of mass detectors. But don’t worry. With your permission I will organize a search party and we’ll hunt down these invisible murderers.”
“And don’t be gentle when you’ve found them, Mister Arrow.” Silver snarled. “If any of them live, I intend to hang each and every one.” Morph made a slicing motion under his chin and his head fell off. “If you want me, Mister Arrow, I’ll be in Medical.” He strode off with two pieces of Morph hurrying after him.
Later Long John Silver stood outside the window to the small medical bay watching the two being tended by Lillith and her medical robots. After a while Lillith washed her hands, sighed, leaned back against a wall and then triggered her communicator. “Captain.” She said. “The big Dronian should recover completely as nothing vital was cut. Mrs. Hawkins is another matter. Two of her wounds are not life threatening but the other one almost pierced her heart and she lost a lot of blood. Shock is my biggest concern. You may as well get some rest as we won’t know until tomorrow how she’s doing.”
Silver shook his head and triggered his communicator. “Thank you, Doctor, but I intend to keep watch here all night.”
Lillith frowned. “It’ll do no good to stand watch all night, Captain. It’ll not help them.”
“Doctor, you forget that they were attacked by cloaked assassins.” He said. “And we have no guarantee there are not more of them.” He brandished his sword. “The whole crew is looking for them and if more come here, seeking to finish what they started, I intend to cut them to pieces for what they did to her.” The doctor shook her head and went back to her patients. Silver looked up at Morph. “Mister Morph, I have a job for you.”
Morph snapped to attention. “Aye, aye.” He squeaked.
“Spread yourself thinly around the corridor and the door. Let me know if anyone you can’t see touches you.” Morph saluted and vanished. Silver smiled grimly and ran a finger down his blade. “I pray that one of them does, Morphy. I certainly do.”
Lillith continued to work while he stood guard. If she found it ironic that she who looked like a vampire was trying to save lives or that a formerly murderous pirate consumed with rage and sorrow was protecting them, she did not acknowledge it.
Sometime about 4 bells, Silver who despite his vows was just nodding when a small version of Morph squeaked loudly in his ear. “What is it Mister Morph? Is there someone here?” Morph squeaked again in the affirmative. Silver triggered his electronic sight and saw nothing. “Where are they, I can’t see a thing.”
Morph squeaked in terror and plastered his body over the face of the unseen attacker which revealed it had a bird head and Morph jerked it backwards just as it lunged at Silver. The bird alien’s sword just nicked Silver’s arm as its aim was spoiled. Silver lunged with his sword and then ripped upwards against the resistance. Blood flew and there was a thud as a body hit the floor.
With a snarl of rage Silver shouted. “Are there more, Morph?” Morph formed a one and then an arrow pointing at the door to the medical bay. The lights on the entrance pad were lighting up as something that was unseen keyed in the code. Silver started forward as he growled. “I don’t see a thing, but I can see you, Morph.” His eyes got a savage look. That’s it! Attach all your individual selves to him. That ought to make him visible!”
Silver strode forward as a swarm of midget Morphs concentrated in one area near the door to Medical. They outlined an invisible figure, revealing it to be about six feet tall with a head like an alligator and carrying a wicked sword in one hand while the other hand was withdrawing from the now active pad. The door chimed. Behind the opening door the Doctor screamed.
Silver charged. The gator seemed to realize he had been compromised. He pulled his pistol out of his sash and raised it pointing it point-blank at Silver. “I’m using the wrong weapon.” Silver thought just before a hundred tiny Morphs their bodies shiny like mirrors swarmed down the entrance to the pistol. A second later the pistol exploded from the feedback from the hundreds of reflectors filling the barrel. The gator screamed in pain as it cast aside the ruined pistol and frantically raised its sword as Silver descended on it like the wrath of God.
The clash of the swords echoed down the hall. The gator got in two quick blows but his strength was nothing to that of the enraged former pirate. On the third clash his sword went flying and the next blow driven by cyborg strength and rage took off his head. The head bounced at Silver’s feet as the blood-spouting body collapsed to the floor.
Silver stared at it as the blood revealed it. He spat on it and then wiped his sword on his sash. “Too quick, Morphy.” He growled. “For what they did to her, it deserved to suffer.” Morph nodded and then went back into dot mode again without being told. “You’re learning, Morphy.” He said. “Better than I’m doing.”
He turned to face the shocked Doctor who was looking through the window after relocking the door. “And that’s why I’m here, Doctor.” He snarled. “I’ll kill anyone who tries to harm her. Now, go to complete lock down.” She hurriedly obeyed.
He keyed his communicator. “Mister Arrow.”
“Yes, Captain?” Came the reply.
“We had a security breach at Medical. Both assassins are dead. Send a security detail if you can, otherwise I think Mister Morph and I can hold them. How is the hunt going?”
“We have them cornered, Captain. By the nebula we somehow missed those two. They must’ve been hiding in the riggings. I’ll have all the riggings searched. In the meantime I’m sending a four person detail as we no longer need the numbers we started with. Thank goodness, you were there.”
Silver grinned maliciously. “Goodness had little to do with it, Mister Arrow. Silver out.”
Even after the security detail arrived, Silver and Morph kept their vigil. There were no more incidents. Two more crew members came and took away the pieces. Finally, just at seven bells Mister Arrow appeared. He saluted and said. “I have a report, Captain, on our stowaway situation.”
“Let’s have it, Mister Arrow.” Silver sighed. “How badly did I screw up this time by not realizing they were aboard?”
“We all did, Sir. No one could’ve imagined that invisible fiends undetectable except for their consumption of supplies like rats after a grain bin would be aboard. No one could’ve predicted it.”
Silver shook his head. “That does not absolve me, Mister Arrow. I should’ve predicted he’d try and kill her. I deluded myself after the first attack but after this one I have no doubt that he’s the one behind this.”
Mister Arrow frowned. “He, Sir? Certainly Flint has a lot to answer for.”
“It’s not Flint she has to worry about.” Silver replied. “Flint would want her alive to force her son to cooperate. It’s my fault because I assumed the one who hated her most was dead and she was safe. She’s paying for that assumption, but I swear it will not be an iota of what the Dark Man will pay.”
“The Dark Man?” Mister Arrow snorted. “Flint’s first mate is a boogie man to scare children.”
“Oh he’s real, Mister Arrow. His handiwork is right before you.” He gestured towards the sick bay and they watched the two blanket covered patients silently for a time.
Mister Arrow shook himself. “I still have my report, Sir.” At Silver’s nod he continued. “Thanks to Mrs. Hawkins information that they can be tracked by their mass or weight, Ms. Adoree was able to detect in which parts of the ship they were and she rigged up some handheld detectors for us. Using sonic fields set at high intensities we herded them before us like sheep before wolves. We sustained several minor wounds but we cornered them at last in a storage hold where they barricaded themselves ready to make us pay dear for their capture.”
Silver growled. “The loss of one more of the crew would be too much to pay.”
Mister Arrow smiled grimly. “There we think alike, Captain. Rather than fight what we could not see, I had Ms. Adoree cut off all the oxygen to the hold. It took three hours but they all succumbed. We revealed their bodies by spraying paint on them. There were five of different species, all dead. We confiscated their cloaking devices. The Admiralty will be very interested in them. Also, on one of the bodies we found a picture of Mrs. Hawkins with an X drawn through it.” He shook himself. “You may be right about the Dark Man but those five if they were his minions will do no more harm.”
“And the one in the brig?” Silver asked.
“Dead, Sir. He had all his ribs broken and driven into his lungs and heart.” Mister Arrow shook his head. “I would never want to have the Big Lizard mad at me. Not after seeing this.”
“Now, the big question is how they got aboard, Mister Arrow.
Mister Arrow sighed. “Well, Captain, I have to thank Henry for explaining that. Go ahead Henry.” Mister Arrow directed.
Henry’s image appeared. “It was a most interesting problem. But I determined that the AMW explosion from the pirate ship was a diversion. That was why it never struck the ship as that would’ve compromised the boarding party. As soon as the Sergeant dropped the screen to fire the missile, the cloaked boarders came aboard. Their stealth cloaks prevented me from seeing their approach or passage through the screen. I have changed the size of the aperture and it won’t happen again, Captain.” He vanished.
“Not one for chit chat, is he, Mister Arrow.” Silver said.
Mister Arrow shook himself. “I have a feeling he’s even weirder than any alien we’ve ever met, Captain.”
“And the consumable situation?” Mister Arrow hesitated. “Come on, Mister Arrow, will we have to divert to a gas giant and a variable star?”
Mister Arrow held himself at attention. “I’m happy to report, Captain, the consumable situation will soon be under control. We may have to take on some energy at a variable, but all chemicals will be in balance shortly.”
Silver looked over at him with a raised eyebrow as he rubbed the reconstituted, sleepy Morph’s head. “And how will you achieve this seeming miracle, Mister Arrow?”
“Expediency, Sir.” Mister Arrow replied still standing at attention. “I am having all the corpses fed to the recyclers.”
Silver scratched his chin and then grinned. “Mister Arrow, you have the makings of a very fine pirate.”
Mister Arrow frowned. “There is no need to be insulting, Captain.”
“Consider it a compliment, Mister Arrow. Sometimes one has to play both roles, the hero and the pirate. Them that hides inside what they call civilization doesn’t understand this, but we who live out here do.” He sighed. “Now I’ll have to play a third role.”
“A third role, Sir?” Mister Arrow managed to look puzzled even while at attention.
“If she wakes, I have to tell her the truth.” He said slowly. “It’s what she deserves.”
Sarah Hawkins first awareness was of a bright light. For a second she wondered if she had died, but then the light was revealed to be the doctor’s hand light as she examined her. “Too bright.” She croaked.
The light snapped off and then Lillith’s smiling face filled her field of view. “Good to have you back with us, Sarah. You gave us all a huge scare, but the Captain the most of all. Now maybe I can get him to stop coming by every hour to check on you.”
“He did?” She whispered.
Lillith nodded. “Now I can order him to bed. He’s exhausted because until we caught all the cloaked sons of a dog, Captain Silver and his shape shifter stood guard all night and he killed two assassins, one in the hall and another who almost got in here. Mister Arrow believes we got them all. So you should be safe now.” She paused to read some data off the bed console and then continued. “I think you could have a sip of water, but not too deeply the first time.” She pressed a button on the bed and it rose softly to a gentle slope.
Sarah gratefully drank part of the small cup and then asked. “My Dronian friend who came to my rescue. How is he?”
Lillith pointed a pale hand to Sarah’s right. “See for yourself. Mister Balone’s healing fast but what can you expect from Dronians?”
Sarah managed to turn her head slightly and saw him with bandages around his middle sitting up in the next bed playing a game on his floating computer with the small lights flashing in the air in front of him. He grinned at her and held a thumb up very emphatically. “Thank you, again.” She said weakly. “You’re making a habit of this.” He smiled and slapped his heart area and then pointed at her before he slapped the same spot on his chest. “I don’t understand.” She said. “But I like you too.”
Lillith sighed. “I’m afraid you have a friend for life. When a Dronian cares enough to help you, then they feel they are responsible for you. This goes far beyond that since he’s saved your life twice now. The closest analogy I can come up with is that he’s declared you a pack sister and an adopted daughter and that doesn’t even begin to cover it. There are some who claim that members of a Dronian pack can communicate without speaking and move as one. But you’re human so you probably won’t get to test that legend out.” She looked at another reading from the bed monitor. “Now I’m going to insist you go back to sleep as you’re still healing. The next time you can have a little broth and some more conversation.” She pressed another button and for Sarah the lights went out again.
Long John Silver and Mister Arrow were deep in discussion in the Captain’s cabin when Lillith’s update arrived. “Thank you, doctor, that is indeed good news.” Silver said. Behind his back Morph became living fireworks.
Mister Arrow relaxed slightly for the first time in days. “Thank the gods who listen to prayers.” He said softly. “The crew will be glad to hear it. I had not realized how deeply they had taken her into their hearts.”
“There is little to understand, Mister Arrow.” Silver replied as he got up to fetch a drink which he ladled with some whiskey. He offered some to his First Mate who declined with a wave of his hand. Silver sat down. “She became one of them, worked with them, took no airs, and suffered what they suffered without complaint when she could’ve by rights sat above them and when she stayed after the Rhino’s attack that just confirmed their opinions. Right now they’d kill for her.”
“They almost did.” Mister Arrow said softly. “If I hadn’t come up with cutting off the oxygen to those villains, the crew would’ve stormed the hold and torn them limb from limb.”
Silver sipped his drink and smiled. “Which means you did kill for her, Mister Arrow.” When his First Mate started to sputter out an explanation, Silver waved his hand. “It’s alright, Mister Arrow, keep your illusions intact. Now about the energy situation. Have you come up with some suitable stars for harvesting energy that are close enough?”
Mister Arrow got to his feet. “With your permission, I think I’ll take that drink, Captain.”
Silver graciously waved his hand and waited until Mr. Arrow had reseated himself before asking again. “The variable star candidates, Mister Arrow?”
“There are three. I had Ms. Adoree and Mr. Urdessa run all the files and take repeated observations. Our best choice is Sigmadon X4. It is due to go into its energy release pattern in ten days and we can reach it in three which gives us plenty of time to spread the photon nets so we can begin harvesting. Our other two choices are much further away and we would have to wait longer for the energy release.”
“Let’s do it and, Mister Arrow, can you tell me why I keep having the urge to say ‘make it so’.”
Mister Arrow grinned. “I’ve not served under a Captain yet that has not voiced that complaint. Its origin has been lost in the far past.” He got up. “With your permission, I’ll tell Mister Orfeo to make the course changes.”
“Make it so, Mister Arrow.” Silver said with a grin. “Make it so.”
After Mister Arrow left, he put his face in his hands and wept in relief that she was safe.