Prosperous: Chutes & Ladders

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Chapter 26

“ALL HANDS TO STATIONS!” JACKIE SCREAMED ACROSS THE SHIP INTERCOM, ripping Tru out of sleep.

He was thrown out of bed by a torpedo exploding against the hull. He scrambled to pull on the clothes from the day before.

As he pulled his shirt over his head, he began to order, “Gracie, trans—”

She transported him before he could finish.


He arrived on the bridge to find three night crewmen and Jackie. Tru mentally noted to later ask her why she was at her post so early.

“Jackie, get Reuben and Aris up here, and then hail our attackers! Gracie, scan them.”

Jackie obeyed her orders.

A Paskian transport dropped from a hyper jump on us, Gracie reported. A Paskian war craft and Terallian assault raider with augmented shielding followed it. I cannot get configuration readings on the Terallian raider.

Tru looked at the view screen. He only saw two ships. “Where’s the third?”

The Paskian transport went into the Awedon nebula.

“The ships aren’t responding, Captain,” Jackie reported.

Aris and Reuben appeared on the transport behind Tru and ran to helm and tactical.

“Relinquish control to Reuben and Aris, Gracie.”

Okay.

“Aris, we need to make a jump.”

“We’re in a negative position, Captain,” Aris replied. “There’s no clear jumps in any direction.”

“What about ahead?” Tru looked at the view monitor. He didn’t see anything but an attacking ship.

“Two hundred kilometers ahead is an asteroid field. We need another three hundred kilometers to make a jump in that direction.”

“Long range sensors are picking up two more ships in hyperspace. They’ll be here in three minutes,” Reuben reported. “Gracie is reporting a hull fracture along deck E and another above our aft torpedo tube.”

“Head for the nebula, Aris,” Tru ordered.

Aris looked back at him. “We’ll lose all sensors, sir. We—”

“Go!”

Aris swung Prosperous to aft and headed into the nebula.

“Aris, switch sensors to sonar and radar,” Tru ordered.

“I’ve… Never heard of those, sir.”

Tru walked to helm, leaning over the helm controls. With quick fingers he brought the sonar and radar online. Aris’ screens showed two lit circles on a grid. Bars swung around the circles and blips appeared and disappeared as they passed some areas. Four of the blips were moving around, but stayed at the same distance.

“It looks like an old type of sensor, sir,” Aris commented. “Are you sure it’s working right?”

Tru smiled. “It’s working fine. My father believed in keeping old things around to get him out of scrapes like this.”

Aris smiled. “Smart human.”

“Gracie, can repair droids handle the fractures in the nebula?” Tru asked.

Yes.

“As soon as we halt, dispatch them.” Tru stood. “Let’s head for that Paskian ship and see if they need assistance. Then we’ll anchor near the center until we can finish repairs and decide how we’re getting out of this.”

“Aye, sir.”

Tru walked to the captain’s chair, sitting on the edge.

“We’re six hundred meters from the Paskian transport shuttle and closing,” Aris informed him.

“Hail them, Jackie.”

Tru heard the transport activate. Amanda appeared on the pad and he was surprised to see her in civilian clothes and no makeup. Her hair was out of its tight bun and hung in a sloppy braid to her waist. Amanda stopped beside him, staring at the view screen.

“Who’s shooting at us this time, sir?” she asked.

“We got in the Terallian’s way again.”

Very quietly she told him, “Perhaps you should consider not doing that any more, sir.”

Tru looked back at her, surprised again to see a faint smile on her lips. He nodded, looking away.

“Perhaps I should, XO.”

“The transport shuttle isn’t responding, sir,” Jackie told him.

“It’s heading deeper into the nebula,” Aris informed Tru.

“They might be Terallians,” Amanda suggested.

“Aris catch up and pull them into cargo hold six. If they are Terallians, I’d like to have a chat with them. Jackie, order all exits to the cargo bay secured and initiate an energy field as soon as the transport is secured.”

Tru watched the ship come into view. A tow beam attached to it before it could turn away and pulled it in.

“It’s secured, sir,” Aris told him.

Tru walked toward the back of the bridge, looking at Amanda when she hurried to join him.

“You should stay on the bridge, Wrigley.”

“If they’re Terallian, I want to know why they’re jeopardizing their membership with Merchant Raitor, sir.”

For a moment Tru considered ordering her to stay. It was good she was showing interest in their circumstance, but he wasn’t sure now was the best time for her to decide to be brave. He brushed his reservations aside.

“Gracie, transport us outside of the cargo bay.”

The two disappeared from the bridge.


Tru and Amanda approached the two security guards standing by the cargo hold door.

Tru held his hand out to one of the guards. “Gun.”

One handed Tru his weapon. Tru held his hand up to the biometric reader and the door disappeared. He held the pistol at ready, eyeing the transport shuttle as he led the way. Overhead, three security guards walked onto the catwalk with rifles aimed at the side hatch. Cautiously Tru approached the main hatch.

“Gracie, what are you reading in there? How many Terallians?”

They aren’t Terallians. I don’t know what they are, but there’s two and I think the vitals I’m reading indicate they’re pretty scared.

Tru’s brow furrowed. “An unknown species?”

It wasn’t that unknown species were unheard of — Merchant Raitor reported at least six or seven every year — but given the situation, it was odd.

“Are you sure there isn’t any shielding?” he heard Amanda ask.

Positive, Tru, Gracie reported, and XO.

Tru walked up to the side hatch and tried to use the control panel to open the door. It didn’t open.

“Get Jackie, Gracie.”

In a matter of seconds, Jackie materialized next to Tru.

“Unlock this door,” Tru looked through the cockpit window, but couldn’t see anything.

“Me, sir?”

Tru looked at her. “Joan! Get this door open!”

Jackie stepped up to the control panel and held her hand over it. Tru stepped back when it sparked and the door slid open. He quickly pulled Jackie behind him, staring into the dark ship. The interior lights were off and the light spilling through the cockpit window and side hatch hardly penetrated the darkness.

“I need a light,” Tru said, holding out a hand.

Someone pressed a flashlight into his hand and he switched it on as he brought it under the butt of the weapon. Tru slowly stepped in, gliding the light across the cockpit.

A hiss came from behind him and he spun, the light catching something brown before it disappeared. But the way it disappeared struck Tru. It wasn’t like it had gone under the bench or behind a chair; it looked more like a ship engaging a cloak.

“I want two guards in here and shut that door. They may have Chameleon abilities.”

“They’re also whispering,” Jackie said.

Tru looked back. She was leaning against the hull, examining her fingernails.

“Which of you two is the expert linguist?” Tru asked.

She looked at him. “Jackie.”

“Jackie, get in here and tell them we aren’t going to hurt them.”

“No! They’re hissing like snakes and we draw the lines at snakes, sentient or otherwise.”

“Jackie, get in here now.”

Jackie wilted for a moment before joining him. She shot him a glare and then turned her attention to the darkness at the back of the transport. Two security guards stepped inside and closed the hatch. No one spoke for a long moment.

“Jackie,” Tru said

“What?”

“Talk to them.”

“They stopped talking.”

“I want Jackie back now.”

“I am back!” Jackie retorted.

“So then talk to them!”

“I can’t talk to them. I didn’t hear enough to understand them, sir.”

Tru started to scold her, but a loud hiss cut him off. He and Jackie looked in its direction. Tru lifted his pistol, taking a slow step in the direction of the noise. Jackie began a slow retreat toward the hatch.

“We don’t want to hurt you,” Tru said. “We just want to talk.”

He heard one of them say something. Jackie repeated it. There was a reply and she said something else. The hissing moved to his left. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a movement. It looked like a wave of heat moving across the open space and it was headed for Jackie. He fired and the beam hit something solid. He heard it hit the floor and the being’s camouflage failed. The alien looked like a human male in his early twenties. There wasn’t a clean spot on him, his hair was unevenly cut, and his clothes had been patched repeatedly. He had a slight baby face with puffier skin around his mouth. A milky liquid dripped from the fangs that were slowly retracting into his mouth.

Tru was struck with a strong sense of déjà vu. Why did this feel familiar? Had he seen this alien somewhere before?

Tru slowly knelt down, laying his hand on the alien’s arm. He heard a hiss from behind him and turned slowly, tightening his grip on his pistol and flashlight. He didn’t see the movement of air like he had before. Was this alien different?

Tru suddenly recalled his premonition of the angry spirit attacking him and looked down at the body. The clothes were the same. The premonition was happening now. Tru turned to order everyone out when pain shot up his arm. He jerked back with a scream of pain.

“There!” he heard Jackie yell. “Tru, shoot! TRU, SHOOT IT!”

Tru couldn’t focus on anything. He felt like he’d just been hit by a car and pain went deep into his bones and bowels. An allergic reaction set off a chain reaction in his body. He gasped for breath, gagging on the air that did make it into his lungs. White light flashed behind his eyes and noise became a deafening roar.

“Th-the g-g—” Tru collapsed.

Jackie and the security guards stared at the alien one of the guards had shot. She was a dirty, gaunt, blond haired five year old that looked as innocent as a cherub. But the venom she’d injected into Tru’s arm was slowly eating away flesh and muscle, shattering the illusion of her innocence.

“Gracie, transport Tru,” Jackie said. When he didn’t transport she yelled, “GRACIE, TRANSPORT TRU TO SICKBAY, STAT!”

Tru disappeared.

“Get the XO,” Jackie ordered the security men.

One of the guards opened the door.

“XO,” a guard called. “We’ve subdued the aliens.”

Amanda walked in and stopped short, staring at the aliens.

Jackie plopped into the helm chair and started working on the computers.

“Where’s Captain Barnet?”

“The child bit him and his skin was deteriorating; I sent him to Sickbay,” Jackie told her

“That was my call, Ensign.”

“His skin was being eaten away, ma’am! I thought you would prefer he didn’t die from the bite.”

“Was he conscious?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Did he tell you what we’re supposed to do?”

Jackie glared up at her. “Yeah. Right before he started singing the national anthem.”

“We— How the hell are we supposed to get past the Terallians and out of this nebula?”

“Well, we could always surrender,” Jackie answered sarcastically. “Getting to see you sliced and diced would be worth a lifetime of slavery.”

Amanda glared. “Rhoades, get into the ship logs. See if there’s anything useful in there.” Amanda walked out, adding, “And send those two aliens to the Brig.”

Jackie just rolled her eyes and kept working.


Captain Barnet is being transported, Gracie announced over the Sickbay intercom.

Q’al and his medical staff turned, watching Tru appear on a bed. For a moment they stared at his slowly dissolving arm.

“CODE BLUE, STAT!” Q’al screamed.

The medical staff scrambled.

“This looks like a snake bite. What happened?” Q’al asked Gracie.

A species of unknown origin bit him, Gracie told him. She sounded close to hysterics. He saw this happening weeks ago. He didn’t know if he lived or died. Q’al, if he dies—

“Gracie, focus! We can’t afford for you to become distraught.” Q’al turned to a monitor, tapping the touch controls on it. “Where is the alien child that bit him?”

“They have been transported to the Brig.”

Q’al ran to a cupboard and pulled out a canister with a rubber cover over the wide mouth and a small control panel with six buttons.

“Doctor Ilka, have nurse Tipton help you isolate the venom’s protein. Doctor Lareshth and nurse Henrich, prep the surgery theater.”

The doctors obeyed, barking their own orders at the nurses.

“Transport me to the Brig, Gracie.”

Compliance, Gracie said and transported him.


“Are you fighting for vengeance or survival? Vengeance will kill you too. Survival will only kill your enemy.”

—Captain Vardee, Jit rebel leader and captain of the Diedra

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