Captain Joseph Rosen downed his fourth beer and gazed out the window at the Earth. If he squinted, he could see the brown clouds of pollution, even from this distance. Whenever he saw the Earth, he felt a sense of awe. It was hard to imagine that it contained millions of different species of plant and animal; and most staggering was that it housed nearly 9 billion people.
Captain Rosen then shook his head in disgust. Humanity practically destroyed the home world, and was now making a half-hearted attempt to repair it. Environmental Adjustment Drones peppered the skies of Earth, but no one actually stopped producing the massive amounts of pollution that caused the problems.
Suddenly a warm, yet indifferent female voice came from his jacket pocket, "Captain Rosen, you have an incoming transmission. Do you wish to respond or take a message?"
Captain Rosen cursed. He then pulled out his communication device and said, "Patch it through."
Engineer May Bower's cheerful voice filtered through the speaker, "The modifications are complete sir. We're ready to depart at a moments notice."
"I'm heading back to the ship now. Rosen out."
As Rosen moved through the throng of people, he slapped a man heartily on the back and boomed out, "Good to see you again!"
The man, who was named James Wong and was the nephew of a prominent Admiral looked at Rosen in confusion. He was about to speak, but then Captain Rosen disappeared into the crowd of people.
Rosen's corvette, the Soldier of Fortune was docked to one of the stubby ports of the G-KON station. Unlike its military counterparts, the Soldier of Fortune was painted jet black, and sported hundreds of illegal modifications. If someone where to take a piece of equipment from the ship's storage and run the serial number, it would undoubtably show up as stolen. But the corvette was not a pirate vessel. The Soldier of Fortune was crewed by mercenaries willing to do anything or kill anyone if the price were right. Even now they were preparing for a mission.
Rosen entered through the upper hatch and quickly moved toward the bridge. As he passed the crewmen in the hall, each one gave a curt nod of respect. When he entered the bridge, First Officer Lauh scrambled up out of the Command station and took Navigation. Lauh had quickly lowered his eyes; but not before Captain Rosen noticed the look of fear. Rosen simply smiled grimly to himself.
He tapped a few controls on the Command station and a holographic representation of G-KON appeared in the center of the bridge. A few seconds later the hologram became transparent and the only solid object was a slow moving dot. Rosen waited patiently as the dot moved across the station and finally settled near the outermost section on the inner hull.
The captain swore under his breath. The inner hull was a long cylinder, that was covered by large, thick panels that projected off of the inner hull and surrounded it. These thick panels contained large gardens and the farms of the station. The target supposedly spent some time in these gardens before he reported for work. This was apparently not true. The target had moved directly to his work station.
Captain Rosen leaned back in his flight seat and considered his options. A quick scan told him that the Soldier of Fortune could safely maneuver between the outer and inner hulls. He would still be able to achieve contact with his target, but G-KON's sensor's would instantly detect the corvette.
Quickly, he made his decision. "Undock the ship."
Officer Lauh's fingers flew over his control board, "Docking clamps released sir. Thrusters are responding."
Captain Rosen ordered, "Move toward the space between the two hulls. 40 meters per second."
"Aye sir. 40 meters per second."
Aaron Luser called out from WEP. "We're being hailed by G-KON. They want to know what the hell we're doing."
"Ignore them," said Rosen. "Increase speed to 150 meters per second. Take us in."
"We're between the hulls," reported Lauh. "I'm homing in on the signal...alright! The signal is directly below us...five meters."
"Charging PBC. Calibrating for the exact distance." called out Engineer Bower. "Opening the pod attached to the lower hatch. The tether gun is working properly. Firing PBC now!"
James Wong sat on his comfortable chair, programing an updated version of Environmental Adjustment Drone chips. He had just finished regulating the dispersement of bio-element 120 when a massive wave of heat struck him. Instinctively he looked up at the ceiling. Wong screamed as he was blinded by the light of a PBC blast.
Before he could finish his scream, the wind was torn from his lips as the room was exposed to the cold vacuum of space. The fiery heat was instantly replaced by a numbing cold as he was blown out in space along with everything else that wasn't attached to the deck.
I'm dying, Wong thought as the icy grip of the vacuum tightened around his chest. He then felt dull surprise as he realized that there was some sort of rope surrounding his chest and that it was quickly reeling him into a small cargo pod. It wasn't until that the pod doors closed behind him and he heard the hiss of oxygen, that he fathomed that he wasn't going to die.
Soldier of Fortune's bridge
"What is his condition?" demanded Rosen.
"Wait a second. The medic is just opening the lower hatch." reported Bower. "Okay...the medic says he's unconscious and he's suffering from light shock. He was partially blinded, and has second degree burns over 10 percent of his body. He's also suffered minor tissue damage from vacuum exposure. 12 hours in the Regeneration Tube should fix him up."
Satisfied, Rosen turned to Lauh, "Take us out of here and get us to the L-point. There shouldn't be any problem, we only took two minutes. They couldn't have summoned help already. I'm going to see our guest."
"Yessir!" called Lauh as Rosen left the bridge.
When Captain Rosen entered the ship's small medical bay, the medic was fussing with controls on a large tube that contained a thick yellow liquid and a nude man. Magnetic fields kept the man floating in the center of the tube, and the oxygen enriched liquid also flooded the man's lungs.
The medic glanced up from the control panel for a moment when he heard Rosen's footsteps.
"Hello, sir." he said. "This man is confirmed to be James Wong. I'm just beginning the regeneration treatment now. It should-"
"I want him to be back on his feet within eight hours," Rosen interrupted. "We have a schedule to maintain."
"But sir-" he protested.
Captain Rosen's face reddened, "No 'buts' dammit! Wong has to be up and about in eight hours and not a minute later!"
"Yessir," the medic said meekly. "I'll try and speed up the treatment."
At the end of the sentence he was speaking to no one. Rosen had left before he could even hear the medic's response.
The Soldier of Fortune engaged LDS instantly after emerging from the L-point. Less then a second before the corvette disappeared; it dumped a data slug attached to a transmitter. Fifteen minutes later, it began to broadcast it's message.
Nearly half of an hour later, the Soldier of Fortune entered an elliptical orbit around Alpha Centuri B. As the mercenary ship approached the perigee of it's orbit, a relatively large asteroid appeared on the HUD. The scanners showed the nearly spherical to be made of mostly iron and ice and had a radius of 1.9 kilometers. It also served as a make-shift storage depot.
"Orient us with the asteroid and drop us on the landing area," ordered Rosen.
"Yessir. Cutting thrusters now and extending landing struts." Lauh stated. The landing struts were very weak, and couldn't support the ship if the gravity was over .01 g. The Soldier of Fortune landed softly, and Rosen rose to his feet.
. "Alright everyone. Our current employers should have left the required parts in The Cavern. I'll lead the team to retrieve them. Bower, you're with me." Captain Rosen ordered.
Admiral Wong's face reddened as he watched the ransom holo-vid. He ran the video again; this time having the computer examine the probability that the man speaking was lying.
**Video Recording Time Index Zero**
Rosen sat calmly in his spartan cabin, "Hello Admiral Wong. I am Captain Joseph Rosen; late of the Commonwealth Navy. This transmission is in regard to your nephew, James Wong. First, let me assure you that he did not die in the supposed terrorist attack on the G-KON station. He was exposed to vacuum for a few short seconds and received moderate injury; but he is now undergoing Regeneration treatment. I have him in my care, and will gladly give him back to you...for a price of course"
The image suddenly flashed to a picture of James Wong in the Regeneration Tube, then back to Rosen. "Our demands are simple, Admiral. James Wong's ransom is this: a freighter that contains twelve life support management computers; 1000 cubic meters of starship fuel; three hundred standard hull plates; and five hundred quartz focusing cylinders. You have six hours to deliver the items to the L-point that is named in the text file of this transmission. Once there, you will receive further orders"
Captain Rosen then leaned forward in his chair, "One more thing. I know for a fact that none of these items are military equipment. All of the ransom can be acquired on Saltlake Base and you will have no trouble getting them in the time allotted to you. When you deliver the ransom, there will only be two ships. The one with the supplies, and the one carrying you. No more then that. Most importantly is that you do not mention this to anyone, especially the Navy. Just do what I say, and you can get your nephew back safe and sound. Otherwise he will die."
Admiral Wong stared at the computer readout. According to its calculations, there was an 92 percent chance that Rosen was telling the truth. Wong shook his head. There was no way that he would bet on those odds.
Wong activated the speaker that lead to his aide's office. The aide's response was immediate, "How may I help you, sir?"
Admiral Wong then tapped in a few commands on his computer, "I need you to secure the following items and have them delivered to a freighter. You will find these materials in the station's stores. Also, prepare my ship for a launch in approximately five hours. Wong out."
*Four hours later*
James Wong woke up with a start. He attempted to rise, but there were restraints across his chest. As he twisted his head around to look at his surroundings he realized that there was something wrong with his eyes. The light made him squint and his vision was slightly blurred.
"Ah! I see that you're awake! I'll summon the captain.," a voice said out of his sight.
James attempted to demand where he was, but all that he could manage was a faint croaking noise. A concerned face bobbed into his vision. A cool liquid was sprayed into his mouth, and with it, the ability to talk. "Where the hell am I?"
A calm voice answered for the medic, "Where you are is here, and that's all you need to know."
James Wong spotted the speaker, who was at the foot of his "bed". He was a man of about forty years, and had about him an air of authority. He had already turned away from James. "Doc, there is no reason for him to be awake. Sedate him immediately."
Before James could protest, he was knocked unconscious.
*1.5 hours later*
The remote controlled freighter Mind-Force and the destroyer Rommel flashed out of the L-point. As soon as they appeared, a nearby transmitter sent them the proper coordinates for the ransom drop off. The Mind-Force and the Rommel engaged LDS, heading directly for Alpha Centuri B.
Admiral Wong gripped the sides of his command chair tightly. His crew
was curious as to what was happening, but where so far keeping quiet. Admiral
Wong simply wanted this to be done with. To pass the time, he sifted through the
Navy personnel files and brought up Rosen's file
Rank/Name: Captain Rosen, Joseph
Birthplace: Los Angles, California 2225
Began Navy service: 2247
Status: Dishonorably Discharged 2261
Reason for Discharge: Savage beating of a Navy officer. In a routine I.D. check on a Navy base, the Lieutenant on duty "took to long" in examining Captain Rosen's identification. Rosen became impatient and decided to "teach the punk a lesson." Captain Rosen then beat the Lieutenant, breaking the officer's right arm and jaw. After Joseph Rosen was discharged, he faced assault charges. Before trial could commence, Rosen disappeared. Since then, Captain Rosen has been seen on numerous accounts, but has managed to evade capture thus far.
Admiral Wong looked up as the navigator announced, "Sir, we are approaching the coordinates. We detect a unknown corvette keeping station with an asteroid."
"Drop us out of LDS," ordered Wong.
"We're receiving a transmission from the corvette sir." stated the navigator.
"Let's here it"
"Approach the asteroid at 1.2 kilometers per second. Move directly at sector 3 of the asteroid until I tell you to stop. Out."
Soldier of Fortune
"Report, Engineer Bower," demanded Rosen.
Bower consulted her readings, "The drill has penetrated the core and
has heated it to 45 degrees Celsius. We're ready to pump it out."
She added, "This is the strangest mission yet."
"Yeah, well this is how they wanted him dead. I just do the work." Rosen stared at the quickly approaching destroyer. He waited until it was within 12 kilometers of the asteroid, then shouted out, "Now! Fire the LDSI and start the pump!"
Admiral Wong was about to give the order to change course, when the weapons officer cried out in alarm. The Rommel shook as it was hit with hundreds of tons of water. The water rapidly turned into ice, freezing against the destroyer's hull.
"Get us out of here," roared the admiral.
"I can't change course sir! The forward attitude thrusters are clogged with ice! I can't clear them in time. Impact in four seconds." Screamed out the navigator.
In a flash, Wong realized that his nephew was just bait. This was all a trap to get him here. And now he was going to pay dearly for his mistake. His only hope now was that his nephew would survive.
The Rommel collapsed against the asteroid, digging out a huge crater. Every crew member died within seconds of impact, and the force of the impact altered the asteroid's orbit a few degrees. Within 34 more hours, Alpha Centuri B caught the rock in it's pull, and incinerated it.
As for the Soldier of Fortune, it quickly left the system. It had other missions to preform, and they had to maintain schedule.