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  Chapter 2

A Moment's Inattention

Prologue

Time: CY 10086 - Aug 5163
Location: The Eureka Maru

The crew was in the common room listening to Beka as she gave her pre EVA brief. Rev was listening but gave the impression he was listening more out of politeness than any interest in what Beka had to say. Harper was obviously bored, his attention more on the can of Sparky Cola in his hand than Beka's words. Only Trance seemed to be paying attention to what Beka was saying.

"OK," said Beka. "We know the K-MAC forces abandoned the ship, but they did so after fighting off a Dragan attempt to board her, so God only knows what we can expect when we get over there.

"I wouldn't presume to speak for the Divine, " said Rev, "but do watch out for unexploded munitions, automated attack drones..."

"Not to mention radiation leaks, blown pressure seals, torn pieces of hull...," added Beka

"Ok, Ok...mom and dad," said Harper. "We get the picture."

"We'll be careful," said Trance. "We promise."

"I don't want you to just be careful, Trance," said Beka. "I want you to be paranoid."

Harper lifted his hand like a kindergärtner getting ready to ask for permission to use the bathroom "Oh! Oh! Miss Valentine?" he asked raising the pitch of his voice to match the hand raising.

"Yes, Harper," said Beka

"This isn't our first field trip," said Harper. "Purple company excluded, of course."

"That's exactly my point, Harper," chided Beka. "You've done this before. You think you know what to expect so you're going to get careless, but out here a moment's inattention, a single careless act can kill you. I want you to treat every boarding just like your first one. I want you to double-check everything. Hell, triple check it. I don't want any of you to end up like Vexpeg. So think first, act second. OK, that's it. We'll meet in the airlock in one hour for suit up and final suit checks. Make sure your bladder and bowels are empty before we exit the Maru otherwise you'll be cleaning a mess out of your suit later."

Rev and Harper both got up to prepare for the upcoming EVA activity but Trance remained behind. "Beka," she said, "I know Vexpeg died during a salvage operation, but I've never heard how. Was it similar to this one, and is that why you're so nervous?"

"It was almost identical to this operation Trance," said Beka. "And I'm always nervous when we're conducting an EVA operation. You have no idea just how unforgiving space is." She paused, a thoughtful look crossed her face then she pointed to the bench seat. "Sit down. Maybe if I tell you how Vex died it will help you understand why I want you to be so cautious."

 

Chapter One

Time: CY 10085 - Dec 5162
Location: New Caledonia Spaceport

"Captain Valentine?" came a voice from behind Beka. "Do you have a moment?"

Beka turned to look at the woman standing behind her. The woman was wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant Commander in the New Caledonia Space Defense Forces. Her uniform had obviously been custom tailored to reveal her figure. Additionally she was immaculately made up and coiffured. Beka disliked her on site. In her opinion real working military personnel had jobs to do and were too busy doing their jobs to put so much effort into their work day appearance. This woman's job was to look attractive.

"Yes, Lieutenant?" she said deliberately using the wrong rank.

"Lieutenant Commander actually," corrected the woman apparently taking Beka's insult for an honest mistake. "My commanding officer sent me to find you. He has a job your vessel is far better suited for than any of ours and he would like to discuss the possibility of hiring it out."

Never one to turn down a possible job, and deciding that there was no sense in insulting what could turn out to be a potential employer's favorite, Beka nodded her head in agreement. "OK," she said, "but let me contact my ship and let them know what's going on."

"I have a communicator on my scoot," said the other woman. "Just punch in your ship's access code."

Twenty minutes later the scoot stopped in front of a nondescript building on the outskirts of the space port's landing tarmac. A small sign identified the building as 'Operations'. Beka's guide ushered her through the building finally stopping at an office bearing the name 'Commodore Jennings'. The woman opened the door without knocking and stepped inside. There was an unoccupied desk with the nameplate on it. The nameplate read 'LCDR Adeoye '. Behind the desk was another door. The woman leaned over an intercom system on the desk, pushed a key and announced. "Commodore, Captain Valentine is here."

"Send her in, Mara," came a man's voice from the other side of the intercom.

The woman opened the door and indicated that Beka should enter the inner office. The inner office was only marginally larger than the outer one consisting of a desk with a computer and intercom and a set of file cabinets pushed up along one wall. A window behind the desk opened out the landing zone. There was a single uncomfortable looking chair in front of the desk. Sitting behind the desk was a man in his mid 50's with thinning black hair. As Beka entered he stood up offering her his hand. Unlike his assistant the Commodore's uniform was so wrinkled it looked as if it had been slept in. Beka's escort began to close the door only to be stopped when the Commodore said. "You can stay, Mara. You probably have a greater stake in the outcome of this discussion than I do."

The Lieutenant Commander nodded and walked out into the other room returning momentarily with the chair from her desk. As soon as she had the chair in the office the Commodore began to speak.

"Two weeks ago, Captain Valentine, one of our spacecraft the NCSDF Victorious suffered a catastrophic accident during a training exercise while on picket duty over our outpost on Serenity. Our initial assessment is that there was a premature ignition of a missile in one of the ships ELS tubes, the ignition in turn caused a cascade of other premature ignitions. There were casualties and the ship had to be evacuated. Fortunately for the crew another one of our ships, the supply vessel Provider, was on station as well, and the survivors were able to evacuate to her. What we would like to do, Captain, is hire you and the Eureka Maru to do a salvage run and bring the Victorious back here to New Caledonia."

Beka held up a hand. "You said the ship was on sentry duty over Serenity. According to the most recent FTA travelers advisories the Serenity system is a contested system. Both New Caledonia and Kolk 7 claim ownership of it. It's listed as a potential combat zone."

Mara shifted uneasily in her seat at Beka's words.

The Commodore held out his hands in a placating manner. "The New Caledonia Space Defense Force is not in the habit of sending civilian vessels into potential combat zones but time is of an essence here. The Eureka Maru is specifically designed for salvage operations. The NCSDF has no slipstream capable vessels that are designed to conduct salvage operations and it would take weeks to convert one. Which is why we contacted you. We have a standard boiler plate contract that we use for insystem salvage operations with civilian organizations. I'll have a copy transferred over to your ship. Please review it this evening and let us know by tomorrow morning if you will accept the contract."

He got up from behind the desk and held the door open. "Mara, will you drive the Captain back to her vessel."

As the women walked towards Mara's scoot Beka said. "Commander, what did the Commodore mean when he said you had a greater stake in my decision than he did?"

"Do you have any brothers, Captain?" asked Mara.

"One," replied Beka somewhat puzzled by the sudden change of subject. "Raphael, We call him Rafe. He's older than I am. Why?"

"I have, had, two younger ones. They were both aboard the Victorious when the accident happened. Neither one survived. I want them back."

Beka still didn't like the Lieutenant Commander but saw no reason to kick her when she was already down and bleeding. "I haven't seen Rafe in years, but I know I'd be devastated if I found out he had been killed. Don't worry, Commander, we'll bring your brothers back to you."

  Chapter 2