Chapter 24: Let’s just jump in the middle of things, sci-fi military fiction

“Captain Radawski, we’ve finished our deceleration burn, and our profile is to dock with the mgate in four millis,” said Lieutenant Winthrop over the intercom system on the shuttle.

Radawski considered a map of the massive gate, and moved a glowing spot over the area he wanted to breach through. Guajardo could see the linked map and highlighting on her suit helmet.

“Acknowledge four millis, standby for final attachment point,” Radawski said. “Sergeant, this best complies with our search plan, we breach at this sector because it will cause the least damage to any important piece of equipment at the mgate and gets us closest to the target.”

An agreement icon appeared from Guajardo.

Radawski said, “Great, sending it to Winthrop now. Lieutenant Winthrop, this is our attachment point for the shuttle, grapple to attach and maintain our presence on the mgate until otherwise ordered.”

“Copy, I have it, this looks to be an easy approach. Securing atmosphere in the cabin, and opening the ramp as soon as it’s vack. Also, we’re being hailed by ACP picket gunboat, they want to know our flight path and purpose of being here. Do you want me to maintain the radio silence until we land?”

“Affirm. Once we’ve landed on the mgate and we’re all out, you can respond that we are security force being landed on the mgate for safety and to secure it for purposes of the ACP.” Radawski switched to a command screen showing the mgate, the shuttle, and the giving distances and directions for other ships in the area. The ACP ships were all broadcasting their identification and location, with the exception of Radawski’s shuttle. “Squad, be sure your IFF transponders are set to OFF.”

A set of electronic acknowledgments came up on his screen.

“One milli to impact, all personnel secure, standby to assault,” Lieutenant Winthrop said on the intercoms.

“Everyone attach to the safety line!” Guajardo said. Each of the squad attached a tether on their suit to the safety line, one end of which was attached to the shuttle and the other end a complex grappling system that could be attached to a tie down on the exterior surface of an mgate or whatever it was the marines were traveling to. “Switch to enhanced vision, nothing here but the stars to see by.”

The shuttle decelerated hard enough to push them gently in their seats, and a few more jolts followed as the pilot lined them up and did pilot stuff. A clang announced the mating of the two structures, the shuttle with the mgate. Guajardo punched her release and gave a vocal command on the net. “Go! Go! Go!”

Corporal Tub fired the safety line grappling hook near the service door of the mgate where it attached and held. A green light shone from the device, indicating the connection was good. Tub pulled himself across on the line while first team covered him from the rear of the shuttle. There was no sense in having the entire team out in the vacuum, exposed to whatever dangers might occur.

“Accessing,” Tub said, placing an access device on the service door. Several seconds ticked by, and Tub said, “it’s not cracking. Trying a different protocol, this might be an older system.”

“Captain, the gunboat is ordering us to leave the mgate or they will fire on us,” Lieutenant Winthrop said over the general team net.

“Can we detach the safety line from the shuttle?” Radawski asked.

“Yes, that’s possible, but do you want to just leave a string of marines floating in vacuum?” Winthrop said.

“Do it,” Radawski said. First team followed Tub across a few meters of vacuum and stacked up at the door. “Lieutenant, can you release the line?”

“I can. Releasing now, your line is free, be sure to pull it free of the rear door with the last man.”

“Reel ‘em out,” Radawski said.

“Squad, everyone out of the shuttle. Last man grab the line reserve cylinder and keep it from becoming an anchor or projectile,” Guajardo said.

“This is Vimhefo, last man out, this chalk is free of the shuttle, he’s free to maneuver.”

“Winthrop copy all personnel free, shuttle moving.”

Radawski noted on his HUD that the entire squad, secured on one monofilament line, showed clear of the shuttle rear door. He was floating next to Guajardo in between the four person squads, and the line had some velocity that pulled the end weight and corporal Vimhefo around in an arc in a vacuum version of crack the whip. He hoped the wormgate was made of stern stuff and would withstand the thousands of kilograms of suit and marine that were about to collide with it.

In the dreamy reality of space, the entire line of marines, nine of them not connected to the building, swung around in a ponderous arc and impacted the side of the wormgate in strange silence and darkness. The structure of the wormgate was not illuminated on the exterior, and the wan light of Reville’s single class K red giant was like a faint flashlight shone from miles away in a light fog.

“Gimme a check-in, everyone green after impact? Captain, just send me an electronic notice, faster than voice.” Guajardo advised.

Radawski switched back to check the shuttle’s main comms frequency. “Clover 1635, stand by for boarding,” he heard, a woman’s voice. “Clover 1635, copy, will comply,” said Winthrop in reply.

They don’t know we’re here? We’ll leave them in the dark, then.

“Tubby, we need to get inside, what’s the hold up?” Guajardo said.

“It’s binary. Either it works or it doesn’t. Pregnant, not pregnant. Doing my best,” Tub said.

“Which one represents an open door, pregnant or not pregnant?” Vimhefo said.

“Set security,” Guajardo said, “Watch for threats coming on the outside of this structure, and first squad, stay locked on that door in case it opens before we’re ready.”

“Make sure suit transponders are mute,” Radawski said. “Wouldn’t do to have our little party detected by the wrong people.”

“Sir, you asked us to do that before disembarking and I confirmed our team has no IFF emissions,” Guajardo said.

“Got it!” Tub said. “I wasn’t expecting that to be as hard as it was.”

“Crack it, first team detach from safety line, go on open, acknowledge,” Guajardo said.

The structure vibrated beneath their feet, at first slight, then increasing intensity. “What is—” someone said. Radawski noted his suit was detecting something jamming common radio frequencies and answered the query to switch to laser comms with an affirmative.

“Is this jamming?” Guajardo asked.

“Detecting huge power spike!” Another soldier said.

“Look at that!”

The entire wormgate emitted white and blue electric light from the center area. The gate’s enormous size became apparent to the marines outlined against the structure by the energy pooled in the center. The prow of a ship emerged from one side of the pool, lit by the electrical discharges swirling around it.

Radawski’s suit clamped down the incoming light to keep the user from going blind, and sent short-range queries to the other suits around him to poll them on what they thought had just occurred.

“Sergeant, let’s move, get inside,” Radawski said.

“You’re right, it’s not exactly healthy eating and yoga sitting out here next to that power wash. Tub, crack it, let’s move.”

Next to them, the ship continued its exit from the wormgate. Radawski’s suit did its best to identify it, and had settled on “Freighter type, class unknown, size unknown.”

“Opening in 3, 2, 1, go!” Tub said. His three team members moved through the microgravity by detaching their feet from the metal hull and pulling with their arms through the opening, a slow ballet of suit and gun. As they were still on laser comms, Tub’s suit needed to act as a repeater since the three team members weren’t in direct line of sight of Guajardo and Radawski.

“Room is clear, one entrance, this is an airlock,” private Macala said. “Standing by for instructions. Covering the interior door.”

“We can fit four people per cycle, so I’ll go in, Team one can cycle in, and then the officers,” Tub said.

“Sounds good, do it,” Guajardo said.

“I’ve never been at a wormgate before,” said corporal Vimhefo. “That is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

The freighter continued to expel from the wormgate, and only the vibration through physical contact with the wormgate hinted at the power involved.

Guajardo checked the door.

“Still cycling?” Radawski said.

“Yeah, the lasers don’t work through the door so we can’t communicate until that finishes getting born.” Guajardo indicated the freighter with an expansive wave of her arm, the one not cradling the rifle. She was crouched next to locking device and interface, her suit using sticky technology to keep her feet bonded to the surface until she didn’t want them bonded.

“Is this communication problem local, and does it go through shielding, like this wormgate? We’re going to need comms better than line of sight once we’re in there.” Radawski said.

Guajardo stepped a little around so she could see Radawski. “That’s a good question, sir, but unfortunately that’s also secret, and they don’t tell sergeants the real information. Considering that wormgates are forbidden locations—except for transiting them—it’s amazing we had the information to even get in this thing. Imperial Marines don’t get any training on this, either. It’s simply not a scenario that is imagined. I know the ACP doesn’t train with wormgates.”

“Maybe we should,” Radawski said. “As long as people are deciding that we can fark around with the wormgates and their administration, then making them secure against people with bad intentions should get bumped up.”

“Green light, the chamber is ready for the next four, opening it up, Captain, you’re first in, then Vims and his second,” Guajardo said. “Go on 3, 2, 1, open!”

Radawski pulled himself in with one arm while scanning the space with his gun up. A clear room greeted him, and he said, “Room is clear, move inside and let’s cycle this.”

“Sergeant? Team 1, we have comms inside. We’re holding the hallway and room outside the airlock until you all cycle through,” Tub said on the regular radio which used lower length waveforms to effectively communicate through the dense metals and plastics found in space and in buildings.

“Copy your last team one, we’re cycling through now,” Guajardo said as she pulled the outer door closed and began the cycling of atmosphere into the chamber.

The second group moved into the inner hallway and soon was joined by the third and final group. Radawski looked at a bulkhead identifier and consulted his map. He sent the highlighted location to Guajardo. “We’re here. As planned, we split up to three teams, FT one, FT two, and command. Can Tubs run a hack on the locaters?”

“Aye sir. I’ll do my best, need to access a secure console in the system,” Tub said.

“Sir, looks like we’re cut off from outside radiation inside this structure—no comms being picked up,” said Macala.

Radawski checked his suit readout and saw that the comms and radiation levels detected were suppressed. Except for the team comms, which were jumping between laser and radio, there wasn’t anything detected. He compared the levels to a milli before when the ship started to emerge and the difference was considerable. “Yeah, we’re shielded in here. The only comms going out are through the wormgate official comms, unless we hack the signal for our own means.”

“Copy that. We’ll use laser when possible,” Guajardo said.

Radawski liked the laser comms. It was possible to have several people speak at the same time, so you didn’t have one person hogging the channel or making you wait for them to finish their thoughts. “Okay, we’re moving, Tubs is going to move to the next point which has a secure console, first team will cover him during his attempts to hack.”

“Team one, on me, moving,” Tub said. His team moved down the hall with him.

“Team two, move up your corridor. Captain, you’re with me, we’re behind team one.”

“All call signs, this net, identify,” said someone on the main open radio frequency.

“We’re not identifying for anyone,” Radawski said on the encrypted comms.

“Understood, sir,” Guajardo said.

“This is Zoob, I’ve got a node here,” said private Zuberi of team two.

“Copy Zoob, hold that area, team one will head over,” Guajardo said. “Team one, relieve team two and run that node, team two will continue on the other team’s track.”

A series of electric acknowledgments popped up on Radawski’s command screen. The two teams would do a dance to switch places. Moments later, the exchange was finished, and team two resumed traveling up team one’s old track.

“This is Tub, we’re in, we’re tracking, I’ve dropped an HF boo on it to keep us in the money.”

“Copy Tubs, move on two’s old track,” Guajardo said. “Signal is good, information looks current.”

Radawski’s screen updated with names and icons tracking the station personnel. A list populated with the names of those people also appeared, then minimized.

“Sir, there’s tracking that will give you prior movements for a specified amount of time if you want it.” Guajardo said. “I’m running that now. Longer tracks means someone was moving with machinery or running. No tracks means they’re stationary or no data.”

“Got it, and… there’s more than ten personnel here?” Radawski knew the standard number was ten. “That’s your radio broadcast earlier – looks like there’s a whole bunch of our people here, sixteen marines holding key positions.” He looked at the name list, which gave ranks and names.

“I see ‘em, sir. Do you want to halt the teams and see if we can find our subject and bypass the friendly but not friendly marines?” Guajardo asked. “Maybe they have the main corridors plugged, but there’s got to be some other routes.”

“Can Tubs do it?” Radawski said.

“Sure, I was considering offloading to him anyway, he’s the best at running solutions with computers.”

All three teams halted under orders from the sergeant and waited for Corporal Tub to find a solution. “I’ve got it, she’s in her cabin, and here’s our route, sending to all now. We’ll need to be stealthy.”

Radawski looked at the location where the subject was. Had she moved recently? He moved the slider bar back a few millidays. She had remained in the exact same spot for several millidays. He pulled the slider back a few more millidays, still nothing. “Sergeant, wait one. Look at the subject’s time tracking for the past few days. Either her tracker is busted, or she doesn’t have a tracker on her, or she’s dead, or incapacitated.”

“Good catch, sir. She hasn’t moved in… since she got here. Not even to use the head. Wait one, let Tubs see if he can get diag on it and maybe find out what’s going on. Tubs, check the subject’s movement history, see why she hasn’t moved in over a thirty-day.”

“Tub copy.”

His reply came a milliday later. “There’s a strong possibility the system may have been tampered with. She’s a spy, we know that, and it looks like she killed the tracking for her and made it tell everyone that she’s in her room. That’d be strange if anyone were checking on her, so it’s possible her bosses know that there’s something stinky in her behavior.”

Radawski’s eyes narrowed and he looked over the data again. “Thanks, corporal. Sergeant, let’s divert to the main control room and hold that for the time being until we can locate the subject.”

“Copy main control room, Tubs, get us a new route to the main control room, and the rest of you remember we’re facing friendly marines, they’re showing as two squads, so control your fire. We don’t know what their intentions are or if they’ve been compromised, so let’s communicate if we run into any green marines.”

A series of positive acknowledgments came up on the command screen. This team knew what to do.

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