Asteroid Patrol: TroublebyStorm62©
Sorry if any of you have been waiting long for this, the final part of 'Asteroid Patrol', but I was waiting for a reasonable storyline to occur to me.
I was just finishing reading the days reports when my Senior Pilot and friend, Sergeant Stacey Grainger, came into my office. Glancing up, I told her to sit down as I was nearly done. She looked a bit glum; she had for a couple of days. I closed the report and looked her in the eye.
"What's the matter Stace? You seem really down."
She shrugged non-committedly
"It's just...." She sighed. "It's Paul, Emmy. He's so indecisive."
"He still not named a marriage date?" She nodded. "I thought you two were settled?"
"We are. And I do want to be with him. But he always wants me to take the lead. I want something a bit more old-fashioned I suppose."
"You want him to tell you that you're getting hitched." I laughed.
"I suppose." She grinned back weakly. "But he's so shy about it."
"Maybe he doesn't think you'll take kindly to taking orders from your junior?"
"That's what it seems like." She sighed now. "How do you and Big Dave manage?"
"Easy. At work, he knows who the boss is, and then at home I let him get away with thinking he's in charge." I grinned.
"Only think?" She smiled properly for the first time in ages.
"I let him make major decisions like what coffee we buy." I grinned. "Do you want me to have a word with Toddy?"
"It might come better from Dave."
"I'll see what I can do. Where did they go anyway?" I asked. My husband, Senior Sergeant Dave Baldwin, had stuck his head around the door earlier and told me that he and Stacey's boyfriend, Officer Paul Todd, were nipping out and not to wait for him.
"I got the impression that they were going to McLeary's for a drink. They'd been talking to that detective in charge of the meteorite case for an hour or so before." Stacey said.
She and I both had the same thought. I reached for the intercom and asked traffic control the status of JHU, Stacey's patrol ship. I was told 'Juliet' had departed half an hour ago on a shakedown cruise after a short refit.
"The sneaky sods! Stace, see if you can find that detective. He's not to leave 'the Boonies' until I've had a word with him."
"What are you going to do while I find him?"
"I'm going to find his latest report; I must have been sent a copy." I called for Elsie, my LC15 unit who had been my compatriot since I arrived here on 'the Boonies', to help me find the thing. Elsie had become my confidante while the others were all busy and I had been stuck in my office; she always listened and said nothing unless asked a direct question; she never told anyone what I said. She was the perfect sounding board.
"You sure this is okay Big Dave?" Officer Paul Todd asked.
"Course it is Toddy." I grinned. "As Senior Sergeant I'm allowed to follow up on an investigation."
"If you say so. But I still think we should have told Stacey and Lieutenant Baldwin what we're up to. What is Emmy going to say when she finds out?"
"Emmy will understand the need for urgency. This is very time sensitive." I hedged my answer; I wasn't a hundred percent sure what my wife and senior officer would say, that's why I hadn't told her.
"I know, but...." Paul obviously had reservations about going behind both our bosses' backs, and it was weighing on him.
"But what Paul?"
"I just don't like lying to Stacey. Sorry Dave."
"You haven't exactly lied to her, you just didn't tell her." I sighed. "Look at it this way. If we don't tell them, they can't worry about us."
"I don't know about that," he said dubiously, "they seem to find out nearly everything that happens."
"Who do you think tells them most of it? Us!"
"It just feels like we're doing something wrong." He shook his head.
"What would be wrong is missing the opportunity we have to find out more about the meteorite attack. So relax: You're only following my orders. If anyone gets into trouble it'll be me."
"Okay, I'm probably worrying for nothing." He sighed. "How long until we get there?"
"About four hours. We need Juliet, as she looks unobtrusive, but she's too big to take through the belt at the moment, the 'roids are acting up, realigning orbits or something."
"So then, it seems as if Lafarge was connected to the gang responsible for the meteorite attack; and the bank job was going to payroll that assault on us." I said, looking up from the report. "Makes some sort of sick sense I suppose; steal the money from 'The Boonies' and then use it to destroy the place. Our foiling the raid and then Dave killing Lafarge must have delayed their plans. It leaves us with a lot of 'whys' though."
"And it doesn't explain why Paul and Big Dave have rushed off, or where to for that matter."
"No it doesn't." I mused. "Dave must have seen a connection between what he knows about Lafarge and something else that we're missing." I had an idea. "You keep looking Stace, I'm going to call my dad, he's the only person who knows more than Dave about Lafarge."
"Okay, but it would help if I knew what I'm looking for."
"Something not in the report: A note, a reminder, something like that." I sighed. "If only the gang hadn't got to the detective before us."
"They must have realised he was on to something and had him killed."
"It looks that way." I sighed. "I should have made sure he reported to me and not just Dave." I shook myself; there was no time for 'what-if'. "Keep rooting, I'll contact my dad."
I opened up a comm line to the academy where dad was a tutor and was soon greeted by his smiling face.
"Hello Baby Girl, or is this an official call by Lieutenant Baldwin?"
"It's a bit of both dad, and in either case you don't have to call me 'Lieutenant'." I grinned.
"Okay then, what's up Michelle? What can it be that only your dad can help with?" He grinned back in return. He was the only one who still called me 'Michelle', my given name.
"Well, we just got some intel linking Lafarge to the meteorite gang, or rather Dave got it before I did, and now he's gone off somewhere without telling me. He must have spotted something else in the report, and connected it to what he knows about Lafarge. Now if anyone knows more about that man than Dave, it's you."
"So what do you need from me?"
"Anything that might help me find out what Dave is up to, or where he's gone. Stuff not in the files, something actually IN the files that me and Stacey are overlooking, anything. Please?"
"Maybe Dave has his reasons for not telling you what he was up to. Perhaps he thinks you shouldn't get involved."
"Of course I'm involved; I'm in charge here not him. And how do you think I'll feel if something happens to the daft bugger? The gang have already murdered the detective who made the report."
"All right Michelle, I'm convinced. Give me half an hour."
"Thanks dad. I owe you one."
"You'll never owe me a thing Baby Girl. I'm immensely proud of you." He smiled as he broke the connection.
As I looked up I saw Stacey looking at me with a wistful smile.
"What?" I asked.
"Sorry!" She jumped a little. "It's nothing really."
"Tell me anyway."
"I was just thinking how proud your dad is of you, and..." She tailed off.
"And I wish my dad was half as proud. He might be I suppose, I just don't know."
"Because I don't know where he is." She shrugged hopelessly. "I haven't seen him since I entered the academy. I got the impression he didn't approve."
"I had that problem too!" I laughed. "Dad never wanted me to follow in his footsteps, that's why I enrolled using my mother's maiden name."
"But he never held it against you when he found out; he accepted that it was your choice. My dad has never said a thing to me. I hoped things would change after they said I was a hero, but I've not heard from him."
"Maybe he just didn't like the idea of his little girl growing up; I'm pretty sure all dads feel that way about their daughters." I smiled, wishing I could help my friend more.
"Maybe. I can't help thinking there is something more to it though."
"Like he's involved in something he shouldn't be."
"Now you're being paranoid my girl. Back to the files."
We were about halfway to our destination when a thought struck me.
"Hey Paul, what was Juliet in dock for anyway?"
"Nothing major." He said, continuing to monitor his instruments. "Stacey wanted the new transmat escape system installed, that's all. They're retro-fitting all our ships at the moment."
"Transmat escape system?" I was a bit surprised; it sounded expensive.
"Yeah. When Stace used the escape pod on the Sierra and we caught her, she realised it would have been pointless if no-one had been around to pick her up, so she badgered Central until they agreed to upgrade all our stuff and put receivers in all the stations. That pretty much covered the entire sector."
I turned around and looked at the new fittings behind the pilot's seats, where two of the four rear seats had been removed.
"But that looks like a receiver to me."
"Stace had them put receivers in all the bigger ships, Juliet, Boozy Bee, Nobby's, and the transports, as a precaution."
"She's very thorough."
"Just trying to safeguard her crews."
"Let's hope none of us have to use them anytime soon. I suppose when someone with the Armstrong Cross asks for something it's hard to turn them down." I grinned.
"I get the feeling that helped her argument no end." He grinned back.
Stacey sat back and looked at me thoughtfully.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I was just looking at this geology report about 'Big Blue 7' that Elsie found."
"And it seems that BB7 is a pretty close match for the 'Boonies' asteroid geologically. So I was thinking that maybe it was just a coincidence that I had Paul land there, that we weren't the target, that it was just a test run."
"It's possible." I agreed slowly. "What about the attack on Station 6?"
"Elimination of possible witnesses?"
"That makes sense. It could mean that the sighting report was real, not faked, that someone was trying to draw our attention to what was going on. Where did the report originate?"
Stacey found the relevant report.
"It was made to the sub-station on Mondas, the small settlement near station 3, well away from 6."
"So maybe someone WAS trying to tell us something." I mused. At that point I got an incoming comms call from the academy.
It was my dad.
"Michelle, I think I have the connection you're looking for. Lafarge's uncle Dante runs a supply and repair business that is thought to be a front for the meteorite gang, and there is a whisper that they're looking for a new pilot today. My guess would be that Dave is going to try and infiltrate the gang as that pilot."
"Without proper back-up, a very sketchy plan and without telling me first? The bloody fool." I practically shouted. Dad just looked at me impassively. Realising that losing my temper wasn't going to help I took a couple of deep breaths and calmed down. "Okay dad, sorry about that. Where is this business?"
"I understand girl. The business is run out of Mondas, on the other side of the belt." He smiled ruefully.
"Thanks, that confirms the conclusion we were coming to. Stacey found a clue pointing to Mondas as well. I think we need to get there ASAP; before the reckless idiots get themselves caught or worse."
"How are you going to do that Michelle? They have a big head start."
"If we take our quickest scout and cut some corners, we shouldn't be far behind them."
"You just be careful baby, the belt in flux is a dangerous place, even around the edges." He frowned in worry.
"We'll be fine dad. Stacey didn't get to be Senior Pilot just by looking good."
"I should hope not, good though her looks are." He gave me his 'teasing' grin.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Stacey blushing.
"Dad! She is here with me listening you know." I admonished him.
"Doesn't make her any the less attractive. The pair of you be careful; you're both too pretty to lose." He rang off.
I was blushing as well as I turned to Stace, about to apologise, when she grinned at me.
"Your dad has a way with words, doesn't he?" Her grin grew wider. "How do you feel about having a younger step-mom?"
"Stacey Grainger! That's my dad you're thinking naughty things about!"
She just burst out laughing and I realised that she was joking and joined in.
"Seriously though," she said, "your dad is right about the dangers of cutting through the belt at the moment." She paused. "But I've got an idea, if you give the okay."
"That depends on what it is."
"We take one of the scouts fitted with the transmat device, get within range of 'Juliet' and then beam in. It would be better if you could get them to hold position for a while though."
"Well, I can try. They've ignored me up till now though. What about the scout ship?"
"I can land it on one of the rocks and turn on the beacon. Then Nobby can find it and bring it back."
I nodded slowly, turning over the pros and cons.
"You sure the transmat works?"
"They haven't had any problems on the trials or I wouldn't have pushed so hard to get the system installed."
I made up my mind.
"Okay, we'll do it. I'll meet you in the docking bays in five minutes."
"I can tell you how to set up the transmat on the way and then you can get Big Dave to stay put for ten minutes or so."
I gulped a little; although Stace was confident in the new system, I wasn't exactly sold on it yet.
Paul looked across at me as we received the message to hold our position thirty clicks out from Mondas for ten minutes, and to wait for a further transmission.
"That was the Lieutenant; what shall we do?"
"We'll hold off and see what she wants. It'll probably be a ticking off for not telling her what we were up to. She must have worked it out; she didn't get put in charge by accident." I grinned.
"Will she tell us to scrub the mission?"
"I doubt it; she'll be able to see how important it is."
"So, we wait?"
"We'll wait and see, but I'm carrying on whatever Emmy says."
Paul looked a bit concerned but nodded.
"Okay, I'm still with you."
Suddenly there was a buzzing behind us. We both turned around to see Emmy and Stacey appear on the receiver plate. Emmy staggered backwards slightly against the rear of the cabin, but Stacey's legs weren't under her and she went down to the floor in a sitting position, landing hard.
"Oww! That hurt!" She cried out.
"It certainly needs refining a little." Emmy panted.
Paul and I stared for a long moment until I found my tongue.
"Where did you two spring from?" I asked in amazement.
"Sierra Alpha Sierra, if you must know." Stacey smirked as she gingerly got to her feet, feeling her sore bottom. "Emmy told you to expect another transmission."
By now Paul had got up from his seat and wordlessly hugged her.
"Don't ever use that again unless it's really necessary." He said quietly.
"We wouldn't have had to use it this time if you two macho lunatics hadn't taken off without informing me." Emmy glared, but I could see the worry etched into her face.
"Sorry beautiful." I smiled. "Forgive me?"
"Maybe, you silly bugger." She leant forward and kissed me. "Now exactly what were you bloody fools planning on doing?"
I listened as my husband sketched out what he and Paul intended. It was a fundamentally sound plan, if a little 'on the fly'.
"Not bad for an outline," I mused, "but it needs a few tweaks."
"Like what?" Dave replied with a touch of petulance.
"Like; it can't be you who goes undercover. You're too well known all over the belt you twit."
"I could have managed." He sulkily said.
"If Dave doesn't go, then who will?" Paul asked, evidently thinking I meant him.
"Stacey of course!" I smiled. "They want a good belt pilot and she's the best."
"ME? But I've never done that sort of work!" Stace was almost plaintive.
"You'd never been a belt pilot before either." Dave grinned; despite his disappointment as he knew I was right. "Anyway, I'll be there to back you up, right Em?" He looked at me pointedly, daring me to disagree.
"That's right Stace; Dave will be on the other end of your earwig device. He'll tell you what to do if you have a problem, okay?"
"If that's what you think will work boss, I'm willing to try." Stacey didn't sound completely convinced, but I knew with Dave's help she'd be fine.
"What about me?" Paul asked.
"Toddy, you and I are going to find a way to have a look around their repair yard. It would be the perfect place to build those meteorite engines, so I want to check it out." I turned back to Stacey. "If they offer you the chance to look around the yard, take it, but don't ask." I turned to Dave next. "Any information you get from Stacey that you think might be helpful, tell us." He nodded. "Right then team," I smiled, "let's get to Mondas."
I was worried as I sat in the Café booth not far from where Stacey was meeting the gang contact. I was confidant enough in her; I knew her logic and quick-thinking would serve her well. I also knew her earpiece and listening device were both top-notch and undetectable. What I was worried about was getting to her in time if she uttered the distress word. Because I was so well-known (Emmy was right about that!) there was no way I could just hang around outside the building where the meeting was taking place, I would be spotted for certain. So I was forced to ensconce myself in this private booth in this out-of-the-way café just around the corner; fairly close but still a good minutes run away. I just had to hope if things went awry Stace would manage to look after herself until I arrived.
"All right Dave, I'm going in." She said over the comm.
"Roger that Stace. I just want you to remember that THEY want YOU. Be confidant, cocky even."
"Cocky? Me?" She seemed surprised at the suggestion.
"Yes, you. Like you were with Joe on your SP test." I grinned to myself, remembering with how much relish Joe Winters had described her ordering him about on Station Six. "Now go on, you'll be great."
I heard Stacey asked to enter the doorway and being gruffly told she would be searched. There was no way that they'd find the bug and the earpiece but we hadn't had the time to get a mini camera as undetectable so we'd reluctantly decided not to chance using one for this reason.
"Watch where you're putting your hands, I can be ticklish." I heard Stacey say. There was a grunt of acknowledgement. I could hear hands patting her down as they got close to the microphone and then that stopped.
"You don't carry a weapon?" The gruff voice asked.
"You'd only have confiscated it." Stacey laughed. She was doing well so far.
"True. Follow me." The other voice said. There was relative silence for a while, wit only the sound of footsteps as Stacey was taken to meet the gang leader. "In here." The voice said brusquely, as I heard another door opening.
"You in charge?" Stacey asked. "I'm here about the piloting job."
"A pretty woman like you is a pilot?" A new voice said.
"What have my looks got to do with my skill as a pilot?" Stacey replied cheekily.
"Not a thing I suppose. How good a pilot are you? In the asteroid belt I mean."
"There might be someone better, but I've never met them." Stace was taking my advice and being cocky. I could imagine the grin on her face as she spoke. "What's the job?"
"We need someone to fly through the belt to a specific asteroid and pick something up, and it needs to be done by tomorrow."
I blanched at the thought while Stacey whistled.
"While the belt is in flux? The pay better be damn good."