Clangbalance pointed at a technician. Commands flashed at the speed of light to one of the Space Guard’s few space reconnaissance satellites. Radar and lidar pulses flashed through space, blanketing the area where the Mighty Transporter’s transponder said it was located. “Sir,” the technician reported, “I have no signal returns, not even one percent of the expected return.”
“Commodore,” Chelan said, again reading from the script, “I have grave doubts as to the safety of my vessel, and request the urgent assistance of the Space Guard in attempting to locate it.” Chelan decided not to emphasize that the Mighty Transporter filled much of the field of view of Space Guard patrol craft PC-12’s bow telescope,not to mention the images being forwarded by two Space Guard corvettes.
“Coded message,” Clangbalance said, “All ships and units. The Bulger Spaceship holdings freighter Mighty Transporter is not at its expected location. All ships and units are to assist in locating this ship. Because there is no natural explanation for this situation, all ships and units should assume that the Mighty Transporter may have been boarded by pirates, and take appropriate measures to recover this ship when found.” Clangbalance leaned back in his chair and turned off his broadcast link. “We have now completed the minuet establishing to Congress and Parliaments that you tried to contact the ship at its expected orbital location, it is nominally missing, and we were requested by you to find and recover it.”
Aboard the Mighty Transporter
Aboard the Mighty Transporter, the attention of its very small crew was entirely focused on cargo transfer operations now under way. There were four watches, each with three men on duty; for this operation, all twelve of them were busy.
Environmental Operations Officer Abraham Roosevelt looked again at panel lights, then had computers replay its record of airlock operations for the last minute. “Captain Allston, Sir, is there a reason someone just cycled airlocks one, three, and five?”
“Our friends do occasionally come on board…no, those are topside airlocks, aren’t they?” Allston answered.
“All three locks are cycling pressure up to shipboard nominal,” Roosevelt said. “So someone is coming on board.”
“In which case, they’ll be here in a few minutes and can tell us what the issue is,” Allston responded. “Alas, strict radio silence means that they can’t simply phone us up. And the comms cable is busy with navigational data.” He turned back to his coffee mug.
The Command Deck doors slammed open. “Space Guard! Hands on your heads! Now!”
Allston stared at the door. His jaw dropped. He put his hands, ever so slowly on his head.
“Dang it!” Maneuvering Officer Witherspoon shouted, not looking over his shoulder. “Turn off your retarded entertainment tape! I’m goshdarn busy!”
For a moment, there was stunned silence. “Mister Witherspoon,” Captain Allston mumbled, “that is a not an entertainment tape. That is a nice young lady pointing a machine pistol at your back. Please set maneuvering to automatic and do as she says.” Witherspoon looked over his shoulder and fainted.