Chapter 3: Space Truckin’
Sitting in deep space, aboard the “Speckled Bird”…a Dinamic Mining Asset Recovery Vessel (Or DMARV for short) assigned to this vector of space…Tommy Gray, or Tom-Tom as Bill Stratt called him (Tommy called Stratt numerous things), worked feverishly on a keyboard console linked to the ship’s central computer system.
The six foot four scarecrow of a tech spun his chair around to another keyboard,and after guzzling half a can of soft drink…began typing. He glanced up at the flatscreen monitors on the adjacent wall, his curly brown hair falling into sensitive hazel eyes. Impatiently he brushed the inevitable curls aside.
“Five foot to your right…Stratt…see it? Right there!”
He spoke into what appeared to be thin air…but in reality…a chip imbedded in his ear relayed sound between them. By pinching his ear, Tommy could shift between fifty two channels.Not that he needed all of them…but he had them…just in case.
Right now he was connected to William (Bill) Stratt, the forty six year old pilot of this glorified tin can. Stratt was an ex-combat pilot who had flown with the Cosmic Marines under the Galactic Coalition of Planets…more simply known as GCP.
Stratt was five foot ten and in superb physical shape without being muscle bound like a lot of the Special Forces soldiers. He was a bit of an eccentric, a sharp mind that absolutely hated authority of any kind…but one damn fine pilot with razor instincts. The GCP had gotten the worst of the deal when Stratt’s C.O. finally racked up enough violations to drum Stratt out of their space fleet.
Not one to idle…Stratt immediately went to work for a group of pirates that hijacked ore shipments…more importantly…diamond shipments. One of them was an old flying buddy of Stratt’s. Ray Smith…a twenty four year old escapee from Cryogenic-Prison, and ex-Cosmic Marine.
A couple of Ray’s old street buddies were notorious hackers. They had engineered Ray’s escape and made it look like a legal parole. Ray had stolen an Australian transport ship and hauled all of his hacking buddies to an asteroid that had been terraformed as a remote prison before the cryogenic technology. It was now owned by Warren Miller, part of his vast holdings, bought through one of his splinter companies.
Privately…Miller was financing Ray to recruit fighter pilots and wreak havoc on the rival mining companies…specifically the Australian and Chinese. On Ray’s recommendation, Stratt was promoted to a quasi-legal operation that protected the Moon’s interests.
Stratt had been paired with Tommy Gray…one of the best techs to ever hit space. The two had immediately formed a bond, becoming fast friends. But to hear them sometimes…one would think them bitter enemies. It was just their strange way of having fun…and letting off stress.
One of their main jobs was to monitor the GCP’S twelve battle cruisers, and the myriad assortment of fighter craft the US, Australia, and the Chinese employed to protect their interests in space mining operations. Their other main objective was to destroy anything that remotely threatened the Moon or Miller’s interests…and whatever else Miller told them to do.
Australia and China already had a few conflicts over ‘who owned what’ vectors of space and which asteroids. Ray’s pirates had nudged them ever closer to the brink of all out war. The GCP had it’s hands full just trying to prevent war.
The US predictably was trying to play both ends against the middle. It had planned on terraforming Mars and building military bases there to protect it’s interests and nine prototype ‘Battle-Miners’…armed transport ships. The rub came in when it was discovered that Mars was inhabited…and destroyed Earth’s exploratory spaceship.
Now the US President Conners took an even harder look toward the Moon. They began a campaign to try and oust Miller from his beloved Moon…citing that the Moon was crucial to the US’s national security, and the fact that they already had a military base there before Miller bought the Moon with it’s strategic position.
The GCP sided with Miller and determined that the Moon deal was a valid acquisition. That didn’t stop Jimmy Conners. He knew there was more than one way to ‘skin a cat’.
Australia managed to make friends with the Martians…which infuriated the Chinese…strengthened Conner’s resolve to take back the Moon…and made Miller ‘pour on the coals’ to further his various projects and re-evaluate his position.
Chapter 4: Wango Tango
“Looks like you’re about to find out!” Tommy laughed as thirty yards away a plume of dust marked the doors to an exit being flung open. Franks boiled out firing conventional weaponry, Uzi’s, M-16’s, shotguns, AK’s, and pistolry of various makes.
Stratt took cover and opened fire with his own weapon, an experimental rapid fire pulse beam rifle that delivered a highly concentrated pulse of electricity, contained in oil-filled gelatin capsules. The charge was sufficient to effectively ‘wipe clean’ the brain nodules of the older model Franks and incapacitate them until a new nodule could be installed and make them fully functional again.
It beat destroying them. This way they could harvest the ‘bodies’ and make a profit from reselling them. As far as the customer was concerned, the rogue Franks were killed in action.
“Hang on old man, I’m targeting them now.” Tom-tom told him. Tommy was preparing a barrage from the ship sitting safely in orbit. He locked in the target information on the pad.
Stratt was retreating under the hail of fire and returning it as cover and time permitted. “Well hurry the hell up!” Stratt groused, as he loped toward his two-man hovercraft that slightly resembled the old four-wheelers from Earth. Bullets whizzed by his head and he felt a tug on the side of his suit.
“Shit! Hurry up Tom-Tom!” Stratt growled as he fingered the hole in the protective cloth where the bullet had just missed flesh. He turned and fired a few bursts from the hip, then scampered for the Hovercraft with new urgency. Behind him, purple explosions flung Franks in all directions.
Tom-Tom had finally zeroed in on the bunker entrance. Stratt made the craft. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and climbed on, initiating the magnetic propulsion thrusters and twisting the throttle.
The Hover was armed with front mounted twin laser cannons and in a tough pinch, he could fire two heat-seeking twister missiles with armor piercing delayed explosive tips. Although highly effective, they really cut down on profits, so Stratt ignored them mostly. Except when he wanted to razz Tommy and pointed them at the ‘Speckled Bird’ on and ‘locked on’, just to hear Tommy curse. That was always fun.
The hovercraft streaked upward to a height of fifteen feet and leveled off. Stratt loved the hovercraft. It was a lot like riding those old dirt bikes he’d had as a kid except better, and faster. He looped around and headed for the bunker to finish up.Franks were still boiling out of the bunker despite the heavy fire that Tommy was laying down.
“Where in the hell are they all coming from? Are there more bunkers interconnected down there? That gas should’ve knocked out ninety percent of them! I’m flipping on the sub-scanners and making a pass, Tom-Tom. I think the Chinese done pulled a fast one on the Aussie’s. Let’s see what we got here!” Stratt was rattling it off so fast that Tommy couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
Tommy chuckled. He loved hearing Stratt work. that old bum was hell on wheels and tough as his grandmother’s porkchops. He got a chance to speak as Stratt caught a breath.
“Wouldn’t be the first time they broke policy would it? You just be careful, I”d hate to have to go back and tell Mr. Miller that an old obsolete Frank took out his obsolete pilot!” Tommy snickered.
“Riiight! Like these old rust buckets stand a chance of tagging me! Besides…do you think I’d get myself killed and let you drive my baby? You’d plow her into an asteroid or burn her up in a solar flare sure as shooting! You young kids never had to fly by the seat of your pants like we did in the Corp!” Stratt retorted and opened up with the laser cannons, blasting a path for the hovercraft to recon the bunker area. Tommy stifled a laugh.
“Piece of cake!” Stratt dove down and skimmed through the Franks. “Okay tech-wonder, tell me what we’re picking up here, I’m over the bunker.
Tommy was watching the monitors and whistled.
“Oh yeah! The Chinese done snuck one over! All kinds of tunnels and bunkers down here! Plus I’m reading Plutonium, gold, uranium, and possibly a diamond cluster down near the core.The China-men been keeping this on the down-low. I bet it took some doing to smuggle all this equipment down here without the Aussie seeing them. Good thing Ray’s ship saw that Chinese vessel unloading, they were going to gut the Aussie’s asteroid from, ‘down under’!”
Stratt grinned as Tommy laughed at his own joke.
“Oh you’re a real riot Tom-Tom, funny boy! Spare me the history lesson and tell me how many bunkers I’m dealing with.” Stratt zig zagged to confuse the Frank’s aim. “I can’t collect our ‘bodies’ until we get some of these guys thinned out! They’re everywhere!”
“Twelve at least…maybe more. That’s just what I’m seeing just on the strip you’ve flown so far.” Tommy said and Stratt heard him pop open a can of soft drink over the hum of the hover’s propulsion system.
“Come on back up. We’ll drop some deep penetration explosives and take care of the bunkers. There’s just too many to try and harvest the Frank’s. Miller just told me to clear the rock for the Aussie’s. I’m sure he’s going to make us all a pretty pay-day on it. He said waste the Frank’s, he could make more.”
“All right, headed back up.” Stratt barked. He looped and fired a few more bursts into the Frank’s, who were still boiling out of the entrance like angry ants. The he swung around and angled the hovercraft up toward the ‘Speckled Bird’.
A few minutes later, Stratt was fastening the lockdown latches on the hovercraft in the left hold aboard the ‘Speckled Bird’. Stratt adjusted the settings on his gravity boots before entering the first of three air locks that led to the main corridor of his ship. Tommy was waiting for him in the bridge below the pilot’s cockpit.
“I’ve armed two Tomahawks with bunker-busters and I’ve got another bunker-buster sitting in the missile quarters just in case we need it.”
Stratt frowned. The missiles were old Block 2 TLAM-A models left over from ancient times. They had a max range of fifteen hundred miles. They weighed in at 3,330 pounds apiece counting the warhead, which weighed approximately one thousand pounds itself. They were twenty feet and three inches long…they might be old…but they packed one helluva wallop!
“One should be plenty.” Stratt thought but said nothing. Tommy was the tech and the armament was his responsibility as was the inventory. Tommy punched some numbers into his pad and a monitor flickered and came to life. It showed the Frank’s dragging the ‘dead’ Franks into a pile, stacking them up for transporting later.
Stratt took a sit in a soft bucket-style simulated leather seat and leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. “Okay Tommy-tech, give ’em the first one.” His eyes sparkled at the anticipation of fireworks.
“This ought to be fun!” Stratt chortled.
Tom-Tom raised an eyebrow. “First bird is away!”
There was a splash of dust and debris to the side of the Franks piling up their brethren. Glittering dust particles filled the screen then were swept away. A hole had appeared in the hard ground.”Alice’s rabbit hole!” Tommy chuckled. Flame erupted from the hole as the missile reached detonation level. Then all hell broke loose!
The monitor flashed white from the intensity of the explosion. The ‘Speckled Bird’, sitting in orbit around the asteroid, shook violently, throwing Tommy to the floor and nearly unseating Stratt.
“What the fucking hell!” Stratt roared. The ship settled as thrusters kicked on and leveled the craft back into proper trajectory. The monitor showed the scorched surface of the asteroid and something else.
A huge crack in the surface…as far as the monitor could see. Tommy struggled to his feet, mouth hanging open.
“What fucking warhead did you load on that Tomahawk?” Stratt growled, thinking nuclear but knowing better. “Tommy wasn’t that dumb! Surely!”
He spun to face Tommy. Tommy was for once…speechless. Then he gained some of his composure and spluttered. “The bunker-buster! That’s all!”
Stratt gave him a long look. “That was one helluva blast for a bunker-buster!”
Tommy’s keen mind was already counting and discounting explanations. Stratt was watching his face…waiting for something that made sense.Then it hit him.
“Dust!” He blurted. Stratt’s eyes narrowed.
“Plutonium dust, it was compressed in the bunkers when the warhead went off! It chain reacted! Holy shit! We could have blown ourselves to atoms! We cracked the whole fucking asteroid!”