Tenerif Lifeline

by Sea-Life

Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life

Science Fiction Story: The crew of the Catamount made it out of Keeler alive, but now they return to the rift in search of more debris from Sondag space. Of course in the rift, finding it is always the easy part.

Tags: Science Fiction   Space  

A tale of Asgard Space

It had been a long and interesting six weeks since the Catamount had left Keeler space. They were proceeding with caution, having stolen a fortune out from under the noses of Ayna's 'grandfather', the current President-for-life of the Keeler system. Some of the gems had been easy to sell, and for full price, but the rest were far too large and too closely associated with Keeler royalty to be able to sell on the open market. The Gamma Imperiax was too famous as a part of the Keeler crown jewels, and too famous. Their only option was to ransom it back to the Keeler government, but that was more safely done after tempers there had cooled down a bit first. Perhaps in a couple of years.

Smaller they may have been, but the lesser BloodCrys and Gamma Stones sold so far had the Catamount's bank balances swollen beyond healthy to prosperous. Perhaps even a little beyond prosperous. The immediate future only required a decision on the disposition of the Bugaboo. The crew was torn between keeping her or selling her. The yacht was capable of landing on a planet, and as opulent as it was, doing so far less conspicuously than the Catamount.

While they struggled with the decision, they continued to go over the ship with a fine toothed comb. A phrase that had tickled Dar, the fur-covered Sondag, tremendously. Kat had been tickled herself to see just how deviously the former Keeler ruler had been when it came to protecting his data, and had spend endless hours ferreting it out in the myriad of places he'd hidden it. Dar, using a half dozen of the Catamount's utility bots had been scouring every physical nook and cranny while Kat explored the electronic ones.

While Kat and Dar pored over the Bugaboo, Pete, Ross and Anya did the same with the Catamount. They were all learning everything Kat could teach them. Additionally, they continued to work out daily with the battle armor and, when possible, with the Sondag pulse rifles.

This had become the settled routine, until today, when Kat had asked them all to gather in the galley as soon as possible.

"You may be wondering why I called you all here today," Kat began, which drew groans from Pete, Ross and Anya.

"Well, you did say you had something important to tell us," Dar said, a bit nonplussed by the reaction from the humans. Kat in the meantime had part of herself begin a furious search of the comm nets for references that would explain the groan.

"I'm here to tell you," she told the gathered crew. "That the Bugaboo is less valuable to us than the data I've found."

"What? Another treasure hunt?" Pete laughed.

"No, something better than treasure. Ask yourselves, once Anya's great grandfather got out of the system in the Bugaboo, where would he go? Who would he be when he got there?"

"We have a bunch of grandfather's fake IDs stored in the Bugaboo's computer?"

"No. Better. Federation ship registrations. Six of them."Kat announced, unable to hold the information back any longer.

"Yes!" Ross crowed.

"How can he have six of them?" Pete asked. "I thought their assignment was rigidly controlled by the federation?"

"Of course it is," Anya snorted. "The Federation may be a political bureaucracy of the highest order, but politicians are politicians and bureaucrats are bureaucrats, the entire universe over. Everything has a price, and the higher up the ladder you are, the easier it is to find someone willing to accept your fortune for a favor – or six."

"I see," Kat said. "The Sondag military operated in a similar fashion."

"It's true, they did," Dar confirmed. "I always knew that politics was what kept me piloting assault shuttles. I liked the duty, and enjoyed socializing so closely with the marines, so I was content."

"How much of that contentment was a matter of being resigned to your fate though?" Pete asked.

"Some, to be sure," Dar sighed. "But I won't try to reinvent myself completely in the retelling. I was really, really good at the kind of flying needed for making planetary landings and pickups under fire. The Space Marines assigned to the Kadamon loved me, because I brought them back safely time and time again. I still regret deeply that I was not able to bring them back that last time. Their loss haunts me."

"Such loss is always difficult," Ross said. "Pete and I lost good friends and comrades when we were young. After all these years the questions still haunt us. Could we have done something different? What if we hadn't done this? What if we had done that? The questions never die, but the day comes when you make your peace with them and with the ghosts of those you've lost."

There was a long moment then of silent reflection as each of them thought to those they had lost in years past. For her part, Anya was reminded of those family members, closer to the throne, who had not been offered exile when the change of power happened. Few of them would have been called friend, but enough.

"So," Anya broke the reverie. "Six registrations. All assigned to the Bugaboo?"

"Six unassigned registrations," Kat clarified. "There's something unusual about that, wouldn't you say?"

"I wonder if grandpa Keeler paid a little extra for these somehow."

"I could see it," Pete mused. "He might have paid to have these registrations automatically reset to unassigned after a set period of time."

"More likely he paid a separate fee now and then to wipe the registration data." Ross suggested. "It would require someone with full access to the Federation secure data net to be able to program in an automatic reset. It would only take bribing an upper level bureaucrat in the registry section to get them reset it when requested."

"So we can assign these six as we want, but once we use them, they're permanent?" Dar asked.

"Unless the less likely scenario proves true, but even so, we have a registration for the Catamount," Pete refocused them. "We can now go anywhere in Asgard space we want, or even into Federation space itself."

"So at last we can plan for something more concrete than the charter contracts we've been settling for?" Dar asked.

"We didn't settle for those," Pete reminded him. "We could have been mining in the rift or even in Keeler's outer belt if we'd wanted to. The charters were more lucrative, and gave us other opportunities."

"Speaking of the rift," Kat said.

"The rift? I know the story, that Pete and Ross were mining there and that you survived transition through it from Sondag space. Is there more to it?"

"Yes and no, Anya. I would like to propose we return there."

"The rift is not a safe place, even in something as formidable as the Catamount," Pete reminded them. "We were there only because we couldn't afford to go anywhere else at the time."

"Are you anticipating more debris?" Dar asked.

"I am. Anything else that drifted into the Volmon rift at the same speed and approach we did may have arrived here as well. I would expect that whatever we find will be terribly broken up, and certainly not immediately usable, but even the salvage value would be tremendous."

"You would recommend doing that now?" Anya asked.

"It is a logical next effort," Kat argued. "We've sold everything we can for the moment from the Keeler haul. We've got these registrations, which solves that pressing problem at no cost to us. Anything else we do would require spending more time finding clients. Also, if anything did come through the rift after us, the longer we leave it, the more likely it is to be found by someone else."

"Anyone have an objection?" Pete asked. No one spoke up.

"Al right then, lets top off our stores with fresh fruits, vegetables and the like, and we'll plan on breaking orbit after breakfast tomorrow; destination Tenerif station."

Tenerif station is a misnomer, as it is not a station so much as it is a navigational aid, designed to warn ships away from the nearby rift. As the rift moves, so does the station. Since it's precise location was variable, it had powerful broadcasting features and a small crew of three Asgardian Naval ratings whose job it was to keep the station functioning and its broadcasts updated.

Ted Riggins was the man on watch when the Catamount arrived. Ted was typical of those who found themselves assigned to Tenerif Station. He was a screw up and an underachiever of the first order whose only true interest was in counting the time until his exile to this dust speck on the underside of nowhere ended and he could return to the comfort of a ground-side station somewhere civilized.

"Tenerif Station, this is Catamount, inbound towards the rift," came the call.

"Ahh, affirmative Catamount," he returned a moment later after managing to clear his head well enough to trigger the transmitter. "Ahh, be advised of the current conditions. Broadcast is on the secondary nave frequency."

"Confirmed, Tenerif Station," came the reply.

"Are they always so matter-of-fact here?" Anya asked aboard the Catamount.

"This was a relatively verbose exhcange," Ross laughed. "Usually we get a grunted reply: 'turn to nav 2', and nothing else.

"Well, if there's nothing else to worry about from that end, lets keep our eyes focused on the rift," Dar reminded everyone. "Kat has the best eyes, but the more sets we have peeled, the safer we are."

The rift was a shifting, unpredictable region of gravitic tides and surges. Light was known to do strange things here, and the normal assumptions regarding mass, momentum, and speed could not be expected to match the usual norms a good bit of the time. It was this, along with the isolation that made mining the rift dangerous.

"The station crew may be the dregs, but the automated data broadcasts are top notch," Kat observed after a while.

"Here," Ross said, sitting down at one of the nav station behind Dar's pod to key in some input. "Tune in here, its an open data frequency and you can access the archived data."

"Oh very good!" Kat explclaimed after a few minutes, this goes back a long ways."

"It does, and you can use it to plot the recent trends in the gravitic shifts and local variances."

"I thought you couldn't predict these shifts, Pete."

"You can't, Anya. But you can plot trends in the recent activity, and those trends let you get a more accurate reading on where the rift debris is likely to be collecting."

"Pete's right," Ross agreed. "If you read the data plots well enough, you cut the search time down considerably."

"And you have to go take up close looks to find anything close to the rift," Pete added. "The gravitic variances make long range scans pretty useless. The scanner will tell you there's a fifty megaton mass at a particular set of coordinates, and when you get there you find nothing."

"Mining the rift is an up close and personal business. That's why almost nobody does it," Ross told them. "Kat, if you access the Tenerif sections of that old navcomm of mine, it has all our routines in it. They should prove useful."

"Accessing," Kat said in her distracted, I'm-deep-in-the-data voice.

"We've got company," Kat called a few minutes later.

"What kind of company?" Dar asked.

"Small, low-powered," Kat replied. "I'm detecting fusion thrusters. Maneuvering thrusters, I'd say."

"Another miner then," Pete nodded. "Where are they?"

"They are 20 degrees north of us, about 20 minutes away at normal thrust."

"They're almost as far away from where we want to go as they can be," Ross said, still reading the nav data that Kat was examining. "Are we running in stealth mode?"

"We are now," Kat confirmed. "However, local gravitic conditions make it slightly less reliable than normal."

"Then lets not waste any time here," Anya said. "We need to start moving."

"Agreed," Dar said as he laid back in his pod. "Kat, give me the plot."

"Done. Gravitic thrusters online."

"Gravitic thrusters?" Ross asked.

"Correct," Kat replied. "We're rerouting some of our gravitic controls to use as thrust for the ship, rather than use our own fusion thrusters."

"Ahh, I get it," Pete crowed. "Any gravitic surge the other ship detects will be assumed to be just another rift phenomenon."

"That's correct," Kat confirmed. "We will alter the line of our travel to make our course more difficult to plot. We don't want anyone able to plot a smooth line out of the data if they are detecting our thrust."

"you make it sound like you've had lots of practice at this stealth stuff," Anya observed.

"That's absolutely right," Dar said from the pod. "A great many of our Space Marine's missions were covert. Landing undetected, within a planetary defense net was tricky business."

"You guys are natural born smugglers!" Anya laughed.

"No, don't laugh," Pete said semi-seriously. "Between Dar, Kat and the ship itself, that has always been our primary fallback position since we found each other. So far we've mostly been lucky, all we've smuggled so far is people."

"We're getting close to a large mass of some kind," Kat called. "low-grade, rocky detritus, but it will let us run on normal thrust for a while. Hang on, as we're going to do a brief bump on full thrust and a hard rotate at the same time."

The warning was just in time, as suddenly the three humans found themselves swaying to one side while feeling the deck drop out from under them for just a second. Ross was sitting at the nav station, but Pete and Anya were standing, and Anya swayed into Pete, who grabbed her around the waist to steady her.

"I think the ship did that for you on purpose," she teased him as he continued to hold onto her as the ship steadied again.

"If only I could talk Kat into doing anything like that for me," he teased back. Neither of them were quick to move apart.

"This seems so strange, compared to the life I've been living," Anya said quietly as they watched the ship's display show them the twisting, convoluted path they took through the inner debris of the rift.

"Your life on Keeler?" Pete asked.

"No, this is different than that too," Anya laughed softly, "But I meant different than what I've been doing since the exile. I was an office drone, working as a purchasing specialist. I got up every day and walked to work from a one bedroom apartment. I clocked in at 8 every morning and clocked out every evening at six. I packed a lunch, or I ate vendor food. A particularly exciting week would include a weekend concert or a trip to the ocean."

"Oh, that doesn't sound too bad," Pete said.

"It was dull and comfortable." Anya shuddered, then more softly. "And lonely."

Pete squeezer her a little more tightly, but they pulled apart then, both of them still not sure if this was right. Kat chose that moment to break their reverie with an excited announcement. "I've got something on sceeen, and it's big!"

"Where," Dar asked. "Zoom in."

"Here," Kat called, circling a section of the display in red and zooming in until it filled the screen.

"What the hell is that?" Ross asked. The three humans were staring at a twisted mass larger than anything they'd seen before. Far larger than the Catamount.

"Unable to determine at this time," Kat answered.

"I'm going to swing around it," Dar sent. The far side of the object appeared to be in better shape, with far smoother lines that more closely resembled the Catamount's sleek features.

"It's too small and too complete to be the Kuros," Kat observed.

"I agree, too big to be a fast cruiser or a cruiser/destroyer," Dar added.

"It could be a heavy cruiser, but if it is, its lost a third of its mass," Kat said after a while. "We need a closer look at the other end."

"Agreed," Dar said, and the ship spun as he turned it, matching words with action. A quick burst of power sent them towards the far end of the wreck.

"The Sondag really built big, didn't they?" Anya breathed.

"They do," Pete said, reminding her that the Sondag were still a present tense civilization, if unimaginably distant. "That thing is at last twice the size of the biggest Federation Battleship ever built, and they say a third of it appears to be missing."

"Its not even the biggest class of ship in their fleet," Ross said from where he sat. "It's a good thing they're so distant, and rifts are so unreliable. I'd hate to see what they would do to human space if they had access to it,"

"Confirm, the drive and power sections of that ship appear to have been vaporized," Kat said.

"But it looks like a solid bulkhead survived," Dar said after twisting the Catamount around the jagged end of the hulk. The hydroponics section is probably a disaster, but it might have maintained atmospheric integrity."

"Doing a broad spectrum scan," Kat replied.

"What kind of scan?" Ross asked.

"She's looking for air," Dar answered. "And signs of life"

"Is that possible?" Anya asked.

"Possible, yes," Dar replied. After a long pause he added, "Likely? No. Not very likely at all."

"I"m sorry," Kat said after a while. "We do have some pockets of air in the remains, but there's nothing alive aboard."

"I'm sorry," Anya echoed, Pete and Ross muttering their own sympathy.

"No, it wasn't why we were here in the first place," Dar said. "It would have been a happy surprise, perhaps, but we're here for salvage, not a rescue.

"True enough, my friend," Pete sighed. "True enough. That doesn't mean we can't be wishing it were so, for your sake."

"Thank you," Dar said as Ross and Anya expressed their agreement. "It is good to have friends willing to look after you, but we're delaying our purpose here."

"That too is true," Pete said, shaking off the sense of melancholy that had surrounded them all. "We need to tag that hulk, to stake our claim, since we've got competition in-system. Kat? Can you do it with a drone, or should I suit up?"

"The drone is on its way, Pete," Kat announced. "We do have quite a few more smaller pieces of debris here we need to check on as well."

All right," Pete said. "How shall we proceed? Biggest to smallest?"

"The sensors are still too unreliable to make that meaningful," Kat reminded them. We should move to the largest nearby piece and rescan from there, moving to the next piece."

"Are we worried about finding every piece that is identifiably of non-human origin?" Pete asked.

"I think we should be, unless it proves too formidable a task," Dar said.

"All right, then the three of us are going to suit up," Pete announced, looking to the other two for support. "We need to be ready to go at a moment's notice if you do run across something we can't fetch with drones."

An hour, and twenty three pieces of debris later, Ross yelled. "What is that?"

"Oh my," Dar said when he saw the highlighted object.

"Indeed," Kat added.

"Well?" Pete and Anya added, watching from the galley's remote display.

"That," Dar laughed. "Is an orbital missile platform. What the hell is it doing here?"

"It must have expended all its missiles early in the action," Kat speculated. "It would have pulled out of orbit once it had expended all its ordnance and headed for the rendezvous point."

"These things don't have long range drives. It would have had to wait to be pulled aboard one of the bulk transports."

"Perhaps it piggy-backed on one of the damaged ships like the Kuros," Kat speculated. "A lot of those ships had no fighters to pick up for the retreat."

"I suppose, but how did it get away from the sneak attack as we approached the rift?"

"Would they have had to jettison it to make transition?" Pete asked. "I know our own transition calculations require pretty accurate calculations on mass and volume."

"That is a distinct possibility," Dar growled. "I hope they got the crew off first."

"Probably," Kat said hesitantly.

"What?" all four of the flesh and blood crew asked at once.

"There is no atmosphere on board that I can detect, but there is minimal power."

"What are you holding back Kat," Dar growled even louder.

"Sir, there may be active stasis units on board. In an emergency, that is where crew would be directed to go."

"Ahh, fangs and blood!" Dar cursed. "Get us over there, and see if it still has working airlocks. If so, we need one as close to the med bay as we can get. Where's my EV suit?"

Kat moved the ship quickly to the med bay airlock, as Dar got his extravehicular suit over his shipsuit. He asked Pete and Anya to accompany him. Ross remained on the bridge in case Kat needed him.

"These corridors are smaller than the ones on the Caramount," Anya observed soon after they'd entered the wreck.

"This platform didn't have to worry about accomodating space marines," Dar answered. "I am slightly taller than the average Sondag, except for the space marines and some of the other combat specialists. Most places on Sondag worlds are designed for people my size."

"doesn't that make it awkward for the space marines when they are off duty planetside?" Pete asked.

"Space Marines have their own enclaves," Dar told them. "They seldom ventured into normal Sondag towns and cities.

"And yet they were the Sondag ideal?" Anya asked.

"I never claimed we Sondag were perfect," Dar said. "We have our foibles, just as humans do."

"I suppose," Pete agreed. "Is that it?" He shined a light on a door with visible lights further down the corridor.

"That it is," Dar said, moving faster. By the time Pete and Anya caught up to him he was poring over the readouts on the door.

"What's it look like?" Pete asked.

"There's no atmosphere in the med bay, but it appears to be airtight. We should be able to pump an atmosphere in there if we have to."

"Are we going to have to?"

"I hope not. If there's anyone in there, it would be better to take the entire stasis pod to the Catamount and process it there. If the pod has enough stored power to make the trip."

"We can't find out standing here," Anya urged them. Dar nodded, something impossible to do in a human engineered space suit.

There may not have been air in the med bay, but there were lights. A half dozen stasis pods sat resting at an angle along one wall and Dar rushed over to them immediately. Pete and Anya stayed by the entrance, waiting for word from Dar.

"We do have someone in this pod!" Dar called out excitedly. "It looks like its intact and has power!"

"All right, can we get air in here?" Pete asked.

"We need an EV suit for whoever's in there first," Dar said. "I didn't think to bring one."

"Shouldn't there be suits here?" Anya asked.

"Sure, emergency suits at least," Dar agreed. He quickly began rummaging through the med bay's storage units. "Here we go," he said in triumph. "We'd have to carry the survivor across to the Catamount, but at least they'd survive the trip in this."

"Okay, then lets try and cycle the lock and see if we get an atmosphere in here."

"Right," Dar agreed, waving Pete towards the lock. "Its just like the med bay lock on the Catamount. Go ahead."

Pete turned towards the airlock and realized other than the markings, which here were all still in Sondag, it was identical to what he was used to on the Catamount. "Cycling," he called.

Several minutes later it was obvious that nothing was happening. The airlock's readouts continued to signal that they were attempting to pressurize the area, but the indicator was cycling indefinitely with no sign of change. Pete looked at his own suit's display.

"I don't read any change in atmospheric pressure at all," he said at last.

"Same here," Anya confirmed.

"I'm guessing that wherever the system gets its air from, that it is no longer functioning." Pete said.

"It looks like you're right," Dar said, his shoulders visibly drooping. "Looks like we'll have to move the stasis pod and all."

It took Dar only a few minutes to determine that the pod itself didn't have sufficient power to keep the stasis unit functioning during a transfer to the Catamount.

"What can we do?" Anya asked.

"I don't know," Pete told her. "I don't know if its safe to try to make the med bay airtight."

"What about moving the platform?"

"Where to? This thing is too big to fit in any of the Catamount's holds, even if we took the Bugaboo out first."

"We need to look more closely at the wreckage of that heavy cruiser," Dar announced at once. "That's the only thing with a chance of having an airtight chamber large enough to hold the platform."

"That's nuts," Pete spat. "Dar, you're not thinking straight here. Show me what parts of this room you need to be airtight, and lets think about making it that way first, before we go off on any hair-brained scheme like moving this huge wreck into another huge wreck while hovering near an interstellar rift!"

"All right, all right," Dar stammered. "Lets see ... we need the pod of course and enough room around it to stand, plus enough room for two people to get whoever is in the the pod into an envirosuit, or an evac bubble. Suit would be better given the damage we'd have to pass through on the way back out of here."

"All right then," Pete crowed. We can do that! "Ross, you listening in?"

"Yes, Kat and I both, of course. What do you need?"

"I need you to bring over two rolls of the heavy duty construction sheeting, a case of the sealant foam and three or four rolls of Jeffries tape. We're going to need air bottles too, enough to fill this room to at least a survivable pressure. Oh! and don't forget the fogger and a bunch of patch seals."

"Got it!"

"Ross can gather these things," Kat chimed in."but I will have drones bring the air bottles over. There would be too much to manage otherwise, even if you came back to assist."

"Good," Pete said. "Get moving. We don't know how much time we have. Do we Dar?"

"No, the power seems steady, but it is not a self-contained system. It could fail at any time."

"Okay, lets get busy. What am I forgetting. Anyone?"

"Heat," Anya said after a while. "We're in our suits so we don't feel it, but this area is going to be as cold as space, and releasing all that compressed air into it won't make it feel warmer. We'll need to heat it."

the three humans already worked well together, even after so few weeks had passed. It didn't surprise them at all that Dar, once out of his pilot's pod, joined seamlessly into the mix. The work, and the frantic pace of it kept him from the frenetic loss of focus he'd suffered from earlier. Everyone understood. This pod represented the chance that he would not have to live out his days without the companionship of one of his own race. Three hours later they were as done as they had any hope of being.

"We filled the room to partial pressure, and then began heating the air," Ross explained. "Heating it also improves the pressure some. If we filled it to full pressure and then heated it, we could wind up over-pressurizing it, and our jury rigged seals could blow out."

Anya nodded at the explanation. After all this time, it wouldn't do to make a silly mistake now and ruin everything. As it was, there was nothing left for anyone to do but wait for the temperature to rise enough to risk opening the pod.

"You will all have to remain in your suits for now," Dar cautioned them again. "Our rescue will seem confusing enough in these conditions without a new and unknown race brought into the mix. Enough time for that once we're back on the Catamount."

There was still a leak somewhere they couldn't find, but it was a slow one. They kept one of the air bottles cracked open slightly to compensate. Once the room was warmed enough to make the surfaces of everything merely cold to the touch rather than dangerous to bare skin, Dar cycled the stasis unit. The four of them watched as the recovery sequence went through its routine, until finally, there was a hiss, and the pod's hatch popped open, slowly opening like a clamshell. Dar stepped forward.

"You're all right," he said in Sondag. Pete and Ross knew enough of it by now to understand slowly spoken sentences, but Anya was clueless in the language yet.

"Where am I?"

"On the other side of the Volmon Rift. Beyond the transit point."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Dar. I was the pilot of the assault shuttle Kadamon."

"We survived the attack?"

"We must wait for more questions. The wreck of the orbital platform is not stable, and we need to get you into an envirosuit and over to the med bay in our ship."

"The stasis units are amazing, and do what they were designed to," Dar told them later in the galley. "But our guest needs a little time in the med bay to deal with issues resulting from the planetary battle and the sneak attack we suffered during our retreat. She should be out of the unit in a day or two – she was suffering mostly from dehydration and a lot of small scratches and scrapes."

"We've been busy while you were attending to our guest," Kat told him. "We've collected 63 pieces of debris large enough to be recognizable as of non-human origin, aside from the orbital platform and the heavy cruiser remnant."

"We've secured those two to each other and placed everything else in the starboard cargo bay," Pete added. "There's some pretty scary looking stuff in there."

"Dar, we have at least three semi-complete drive pods in there," Kat explained. "They appear to be from scout and planetary air support craft."

"Interesting. Can you tell if they are complete enough to be made functional?"

"Not at this time," Kat answered. "I have service drones looking them over now, and at least one of them looks complete enough that I'm going to presume it can be made functional, but we may not have the repair resources to do them all. The question of where we would use them needs to be raised also."

"Ahh, well I was thinking we would replace the drive on the Bugaboo with one of ours, as a start."

"That might be possible. Our drives tend to be smaller and more efficient than the humans, but these are not yacht-sized drives, even the smallest of them."

"Some modification to the Bugaboo would be acceptable, if we're not going to sell it," Anya jumped in to the conversation. "Are we assuming that we will use this salvaged equipment to expand the size of our fleet?"

"Fleet?" Ross laughed. "One Sondag assault craft and one human space yacht don't exactly meet my definitions of a fleet."

"No,, but they're a start, and we did discuss the benefits of making planetary landings in something less likely to raise a stir," Pete reminded.

"Any discussion regarding what we do with this new salvage, or our work together in the future is premature," Dar coughed. "Until our guest awakens, we should hold off on any major decisions."

"That doesn't mean we can't keep working on some of them though," Anya offered. "It beat sitting around or spending all day training in the battle armor."

"True enough," Pete agreed. "Next question. Are we going to be able to spoof the systems at Tenerif Station so they don't get a glimpse of what we're really taking with us when we leave?"

"We're working on that," Kat answered. "We're not going to be able to enable any sort of stealth technology, but we may be able to overload their detectors, or confuse them. I'd prefer confusion to overload. That is more likely to seem like a technical glitch at their end rather than interference on our part."

"What do you have in mind?" Ross asked.

"We can generate very large fields, akin to the Catamount's shields. These fields, while huge, are very fragile, and could never be used as shields. I was thinking we could generate two fields, one slightly smaller than the other and then flood the space between them with gas."

"Are you talking about putting those fields around us and the wreckage? That would be a huge volume, even if the gap between the fields was hair thin!"

"No, I considered that, but you're right, we couldn't generate enough gas, quickly enough. I think we need to put a thin disk of it between us and the station and then use some of our electronic spoofing techniques to amplify the effect."

"That sounds a little more reasonable, but will require some good navigation and crack piloting to make sure everything stays lined up right."

"Don't worry about that, Anya," Pete laughed. "Dar and Kat are the best we could hope for."

"What kind of gas were you thinking of using, Kat?" Ross asked.

"I was thinking of methane. It will react to the radiation coming off the rift and fluoresce intermittently, for one thing. Also, it will reflect a lot of the Tenerif scan frequencies."

"Swamp gas," Pete laughed. Ross joined him as soon as he realized what he'd said. It took a little longer for Anya. The old Earth tales of UFOs and their association with weather balloons and swamp gas were much dimmed by time, but still could evoke a response.

"What's so funny?" Dar asked.

"Ask me later," Pete said, getting up. "I've got kitchen duty. Get out of the galley. I've got a meal to prepare."

"Dar, do you want to go down to the cargo bay and look at those drive pods with me?" Ross asked. "I'm fairly familiar with the way our drives are put together, and I know yours are more efficient and powerful. I'd be interested to see how they are different."

"Yes, we can do that. I am not a drive technician, but every pilot must have basic training in drive repair and maintenance."

The two left together, with Ross laughing about Dar's concern over the differences between human and Sondag bolt thread spacing.

Anya stood for a moment staring at Pete before she smiled shyly and waved a goodbye. "Guess I'd better take off too, or we'll never hear the end of it from those guys."

"All right, See you later."

Anya didn't pick a destination when she left, but soon realized she was headed for the med bay. "Kat, is the med bay off limits right now?"

"No Anya, as long as you don't touch the controls on the med pod where our survivor is, why?"

"I don't know, just curious, I guess. You and Dar haven't said anything so far, so I wanted to take a look for myself."

"I understand. Dar has been very protective of her, and understandably so."

"Her! She's female then?" Anya asked, shocked. "Pete and Ross didn't say anthing."

"They were probably too busy to see much during the transfer," Kat explained. "and sexual differentiation is not very pronounced in unmated individuals."

"But there is now a potential Sondag Adam and Eve on this side of the rift!" Anya said with some drama.

"Yes, I understand your reference. The Sondag do not have a similar creation myth, or rather in their most widely accepted creation story, a divine being created the sondag – collectively."

"You mean that one minute there are no Sondag, and the next minute there is a whole Sondag civilization?"

"Well, no, it doesn't mean that. The Sondag originally formed into large familial units. Similar to the prides that old Earth's lions formed. Actually, they were probably closer to old Earth wolf packs than to lions. So the old Sondag myths suggest the creation of such a unit, rather than a male, then a female, or even a male and a female."

"Ah, I see. Still, this must be a big relief to Dar."

"I think Dar is hoping he will find a mate, but he would be equally pleased merely to have another Sondag to share memories of home with," Kat sighed.

The conversation had carried Anya to the med bay by this time and she cycled the hatch and entered. The lights of the med pod blinked and gleamed at her as she walked over and looked through the clear cover to see the Sondag within. She hadn't seen that much of Dar to this point, and certainly not unclothed, so she could only compare their hands and faces. This new face was very much like Dar's, but it was obviously different at the same time.

"The ears appear a little smaller in relation to the face," she said aloud. "And the tips are a tiny bit darker, with slightly more pronounced tufts."

"Very good. What else do you notice?" Kat replied.

"There's some slight discoloration under the eyes that I don't remember seeing on Dar. Her mouth is a little wider I think, and the angle makes it hard to tell, but I think her face is a little narrower as well, or well, maybe not narrower, but sharper? Her features aren't quite as flat as Dar's."

"Very good. The discoloration should fade as her health improves. Male Sondag do generally have slightly flatter faces than the females, so that is one of the most reliable sexual indicators."

"I see." Anya said as she stared at the face, wondering. "Do we know anything about her?"

"We didn't find any identification, and while the Catamount has quite a lot of Sondag reference material in our data banks, we did not have anything except the most general of personnel information. Mostly a command roster. Names and ranks, and little else."

"There's so much you don't have, its a wonder it doesn't drive the two of you crazy thinking about it!"

"It has certainly caused Dar some sleepless nights."

"How much longer before she comes out of the med pod?"

"Fourteen hours and thirty two minutes," Kat answered. "Just after breakfast tomorrow."

"I guess I'll have to save my questions for then," Anya laughed. "It'll be good to have another female around anyway, even things up around here, since I think of you as female Kat, even if you're not."

"I do self-identify as female, so your observation is accurate. Since I was a Sondag battle intelligence, gender was considered immaterial to my makeup, but since the reboot after crossing through the rift, I've discovered I've changed in ways not considered optimal by our military scientists."

"That's okay, I think having the ability to be emotionally invested in the ship and your crew mates is a big plus, and one your military scientists should have considered more seriously."

"Oh, they considered it, and seriously, I'm sure. A Sondag scientist, and especially a military scientist is the very definition of seriousness. Utter, utter seriousness."

"You know, I'm constantly amazed at your and Dar's facility with our language. I would hope to learn some Sondag too, but I doubt I'll be speaking it as well in such a brief amount of time."

"Save the compliments for Dar," Kat laughed. "He's got a gift for languages, obviously. For me its not big deal. I was designed to do it easily."

"Sure, but you take some of the praise yourself. No selling yourself short around me, you hear?"

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