" ‘Yeah, Jonas, just reconfigure the scanners, and while you're at it, a cup of coffee and a good home cooked meal!'" He cursed, fighting with one of the control panels beneath the Lunchbox's main sensor console. "Cos it's just that simple." Eventually it came free with a clang, smacking him painfully in the shin as it did. "Son of a bitch!" He kicked the plate away then dropped down at the open hatch, muttering quietly to himself .
Scratching his fuzzy hair with one hand, Jonas frowned at the array of wires in front of him. Reaching forward with a small pair of clippers he cut away a small section of casing from two of the wires, then crossed them. A spark flared briefly in the small space and the screen of the mass scanner flickered for a moment.
"So far so good." Ramming the panel spitefully back into place he stood up and took a long drink from the latest cup of coffee. Taking a deep breath, he stepped over to the console and looked over the readings. The bleeping cluster of LED lights and screens stared innocently back at him.
His fingers danced over the controls as he began to reconfigure the mass scanner's operating system, to work in conjunction with the main sensors. Although modifications of this type were fairly common, especially among the Engineering Corp of the colonies, Jonas himself had never needed to perform one. Theory would only go so far.
He paused, his eyebrows creasing into a perplexed frown. "Ah…bollocks." He thumped the side of the console with the palm of his hand. Pressing a few buttons he started the process again from scratch. Avoiding the snag that had caught him out the first time, Jonas pressed on until the scanner had been manhandled into readiness. At least he hoped so. Rubbing his eyes with one hand he directed the scanning beams of the Lunchbox around the ungainly bulk of the Gehanon and to the blue-black sphere of Alsace IV.
"Here goes nothing." With a whirring bleep the console began its cycle, the screen depicting a cross-section of the gas giant's atmosphere. "Now where have we been harvesting from then?" Pressing a button, Jonas switched the scan spread to its widest possible setting. The screen flickered, as though zooming out, filling with a much larger section of Alsace IV's gaseous surface. In only a matter of minutes he spotted what he was looking for. One section of the atmosphere showed a small but definite decrease in density from its counterparts.
"And we have a winner," he muttered. Pressing more buttons on the console he retracted the scanning beams into a single, high intensity burst and targeted the area in question. Blowing out his cheeks he sat down heavily in the nearest chair, leaving the machine to run its cycle. Rubbing his eyes with both lands he let his head loll backwards. The small moment of respite, however, was shattered by a crackling from the communications console. Bounding from the chair he crossed the room in two long steps, staring down at the array. He swore, then reached forward and opened the channel.
"E-C…-X…respond imm-…priority one-" Snorting in annoyance, Jonas fiddled with several dials before replaying the garbled message.
"E-Corp ship UN-C11 0-X," grated an impossibly deep voice. "This is the C.N.S Androcles. Respond immediately, this is a priority one message." Closing his eyes for a moment, Jonas mouthed an obscenity before moving close to the transmitter.
"Ahoy there, Androcles," he said. "Something you need?"
"This is Captain Marcus O'Donovan, who am I speaking to?"
"Specialist Jonas Galloway, ship's pilot." He threw a mock salute to the communications console.
"Where's your commander, Galloway?" O'Donovan demanded.
"He's in the shower," Jonas replied nonchalantly. "Can I take a message?"
"Listen smartass, I know you spark plugs like to run a loose ship, but this is a cruiser of the Colonial Navy. That shit doesn't fly with us, Specialist. Now, I'll ask again, where is your commander?"
Jonas sighed. "He's…he's on the Gehanon."
"You were given strict orders not to board that ship!"
"Strict orders that we received a full hour after we'd already arrived," he snapped back, his patience beginning to erode under the man's abrasive manner. "I apologise, Captain, for not having the clairvoyance necessary to know our orders before we actually get them!"
"Watch your mouth, Specialist. I presume the rest of the crew is also onboard that ship?"
"Well they've got two hours to get off the Gehanon."
"Or they're going to die when we blow that ship to pieces."
Jonas' eyes opened wide in surprise and he stared at the console. Blinking twice, he hesitated, unsure of how to respond. "O'Donovan, we…they…it's not that simple." He nodded to himself. "There's something onboard the Gehanon that stopped them getting off. They tried to leave as soon as we got the first message but got trapped there."
"I'm sorry, specialist, but that's not my problem."
"Like hell it's not you brass-necked muscle head!" Jonas exploded. "We were sent out here with orders to board that ship. It's not their fault that we weren't warned!"
"Sent out with orders not sanctioned by the other Corps. You've got your own executives to blame for this, not me. I understand how you feel. What you need to understand is that I couldn't care less. I've got orders too, Galloway. My orders are to blast that factory ship to kingdom come, your crew not withstanding. They've got two hours until we reach Alsace IV. If they haven't made it off the ship by then, then there's nothing I can do."
"You mind telling me why you couldn't help them off?"
"Afraid not, Specialist, that's above your pay grade."
"My pay grade?!" His eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "You're threatening to blast my crew out of existence and you're talking about pay grades? What the hell is going on around here? Why were we ordered not to board? What is that thing on the Gehanon?"
"I'm not discussing this with you, engineer," O'Donovan replied. "You have your orders and I have mine. Case closed."
"Now, you hold the fuck on," Jonas began, but the transmission cut out abruptly.
He waited for a moment, his mind racing, then switched the com channel to the factory ship. "Xander, Xander, come in!" Only static crackled over the communications array. "Damn it man, answer your radio!" Still nothing. Kicking the console with a snarl he darted back over to the mass scanner. Glancing at the screen he let out a frustrated curse. Nothing had turned up yet. Standing upright he turned his furious gaze out of the bridge window to the bulk of the Gehanon, floating barely two hundred yards away. Placing his hand on his head he tried to think. With his jaw clenched like a vice, he realised with a pang of anger that there was little he could do.
Not knowing what else to try, he stepped back over to the communications array and attempted to contact Xander again. Still the set remained infuriatingly silent. He ground his teeth together until they hurt and tried once more.
"Xander. Pick. Up. Your. Radio!" he shouted.
"Christ almighty, Jonas, keep your voice down," Xander hissed back over the com. "What the hell do you want? I told you to stay off the radio."
"Look, just shut up and listen for a second. The Navy flotilla just got in touch; they're about two hours out."
"You'd think so wouldn't you?" Jonas turned his eyes skyward, as though looking for inspiration. "Xander, they're not coming to help. The trigger happy bastards have orders to destroy the Gehanon."
"The second they get here they've been ordered to blow that ship to pieces."
"You are shitting me."
"I really wish I was."
"Didn't you tell them we were on the ship?"
"Of course I did," Jonas exclaimed. "But they don't care! If you guys can't get off that hulk in two hours then it's not going to matter. They're going to blast that thing to cinders. And Xander, there is something more going on here, they wouldn't even give me a reason why. Whatever shit-storm we've fallen into here they're trying to keep it under raps."
"Great. Things just keep getting better and better," Xander replied "What about the mass scanner? You getting any warmer?"
"Well it's patched in and scanning now, but no luck so far. We need to open up those computer logs. Maybe they've got some info on this mess."
"Maybe, I'll see what we can do. Right, thanks for the head's up." Jonas couldn't tell if his shipmate was being sarcastic or not. "See what you can do from your end, Jonas. Oh, and stay off the com from now on will you? Got enough problems without the creepy zombie bastards hearing the radios. I'll be in touch. Xander out."
The transmission ended abruptly, leaving Jonas alone in the solitary bubble of safety that was the Lunchbox. Letting out a long breath he crossed the bridge back to the mass scanner, slumped down in the chair and picked up his coffee. He grimaced slightly after taking a sip. It had gone cold.
Grimly contemplating the liquid, he ran over the conversation with the military commander in his mind. Swivelling in the seat, his gaze fell on the communications console again. Narrowing his eyes, Jonas stood up, swallowing the last of the cold coffee and banging the cup down on the mass scanner's metal surface. Crossing the room, he leaned in over the communication array and flicked several toggles, bringing up the data from the last exchange with O'Donovan. Staring hard at the fluctuating green sound waves his face lit up.
"Well, well, well," he murmured. "Doesn't this look strangely familiar?" Leaning closer he squinted at the readings. "Well I'll be damned!" He pressed several buttons and began cycling through earlier logs till he found the warning from the military command, and the original transmission from the Naval Corp. Once this was done, he searched through the computer system till he found the data from the power cut of only a few hours ago. Bringing them all together onto the same screen he scrutinized them closely. And slammed his fist down against the console.
"Treacherous rat bastards. Oh-ho, it is on!" He sat down in the communications chair and set to work with feverish energy.