“Hey Crash Em.”
Ian made a rude gestured in the direction of the loudmouth without looking to see who it was. He had a singular destination in mind and had no time for blunderbusses as he walked the flight line to his bay. Number Nine was in disarray and the lights were down low and no one was working. He stood there with his hands on his hips, he was told his ship was the highest priority and not a soul was there working. He kicked a wing plate cover knocking it to the floor with a loud clatter and shouted. “Finney!” He heard something move from behind a pile of crates.
Ian squinted his eyes in the dim light. “Finney is that you?”
There was movement behind some crates and a head scooted out from behind them at shoulder level. “Oh, hi McKracken.”
“Are you sleeping back there?” Ian said trying to figure out how to navigate back to where the obviously sleeping technician was.
Finney’s head had disappeared again, but his voice called out from behind the assorted parts, bins and crates that were stacked up. “Ensign, I told you I would have your new Shark together in a couple of days, you got to give me more time.”
Ensign Ian McKracken was stepping over pieces and ducking under a partially constructed fuselage with what looked like a loaded missile launcher that was suspended on a chain from the ceiling. “Finney it has been seven days, and you are nowhere near done.”
Finney crawled up from behind a crate. “Au contraire mon frere to the untrained eye this looks like it is a jumble of parts, a mish mash of unconnected and unrelated fragments, crude chunks of simple metal and plastisteel, but to the superior mechanically minded mind such as myself, it will take but a few hours of solitude and perspiration and you good Ensign will once again be flying untethered in the cosmos, striking fear into the hearts of Alarian ner’do wells who would love to end us.”
Ian tried to be serious for about five whole seconds then burst out laughing. “That must have been a very good nap back there.”
Finney chuckled. “A great nap, I even got a pillow and blanket stashed back there.”
Ian laughed. “Okay, okay, can you just move it along, the Captain is beginning to run out of easy jobs for me to do and soon he is going to start thinking of nasty jobs I am going to have to do, I would rather be flying before he starts me on latrine inspections.”
Finney chuckled. “You got it boss.” Then he sunk back behind a mostly completed engine assembly and began banging on something.
Ian walked down to the exit of the flight bay and turned left on the main corridor towards his cabin. Normally he would have exited right from his on-flight bay directly into his cabin but with Finney stacking engine pieces in a haphazard manner his personal door was blocked. Door might not be the most adapt description, hatch was more like it, where he could slide from his bed to a spot only feet away from his mounting ladder being in the cockpit of his fighter, The Steel Grouse in less then thirty seconds. Well actually his ship would be the Steel Grouse Seven, as this would be the seventh one, he piloted. He had just crashed number Steel Grouse Six a week ago.
Someone had once suggested that maybe the name itself was unlucky and Ian replied back the name was very lucky as he was able to come back every time and name the next ship.
He was almost to his cabin when something come barreling towards him and he jumped out of the way as an orange blur barely missing him
“Sorry Ensign it kind of got away from me.” A small female form said skidding to a halt behind the orange blur which was a heavily laden repair droid on four wheels.
Ian saw it was Technician Pena and she was out of breath from the chase. “Penny what are you doing?” Ian said looking both ways before he stepped into the middle of the corridor again.
She looked afraid just for second then she looked up at her name. “Sorry sir, just trying to get something down to the starboard side.”
The droid had come to a complete stop and Ian chuckled. “Penny don’t call me sir, I am just Ian or McCracken, but not sir please.”
“Okay, but I have to move this load on Big Orange down the corridor.”
Ian laughed. “Well, you are very conscientious moving so fast with whatever needs moved, he said looking at the heavy load the droid was carrying. These are kind of heavy.” Ian said tapping the heavy load and it rang out. “Isn’t Big Orange usually just loaded with the small droids.”
Penny nodded while not looking up. “Yes si” She said catching herself. “Ian, I have get moving.”
“Well, be careful that stuff doesn’t fall off.” Ian said tugging at the straps holding down the canvased covered load.”
Technician Pena looked at him. “My thoughts exactly si.” She caught herself. “Ian.”
Ian smiled at the short girl who loved her droids and waved to her as he made his way into his cabin.
Ian entered his cabin and was immediately assaulted by a flashing light on his desk that signified he had an urgent message waiting. He ignored it and climbed into his bunk built into the wall to try and take a nap, reaching for the light switch he turned the lights off, but the switch was malfunctioning as the lights got brighter. Trying the switch again, the lights got brighter again almost to the point of being painful. He looked at the blinking light on the desk. Someone really wanted him to respond. He stuck his tongue out at the blinking light and left his room. He had about six places he could take a nap, his quarters was just the most convenient and comfortable.
He was going to nap spot number four on the starboard side of the ship when he saw a familiar figure walk into the mess hall and she was unaccompanied.
“Lt. funny running into you here.” Ian said sliding into a seat directly across from Lieutenant Elliot.
“McCracken.” Was the only reply, with dislike, that Ian ignored.
“How many times have I said you can call me Ian.” He said smiling at her as he put his hands on the table palms up inviting her to put his hands in her.
“About a hundred times, and very equal to the number of times I have told you I am engaged to Lt. Beard.”
“And a lucky man he is, but I am just trying to be friendly and remind you that should you get tired of his macho façade,” Ian said smiling. “I am a viable option, caring, feeling, and a really good listener.”
“That is not the song that I heard from a little bird in Flight Operations.”
Ian waved his hand dismissively.
The lieutenant rolled her eyes and simply concentrated on her cup of coffee that she was adding a bit of cream to. “Finney should finish your ship, if not you are going to get into trouble.”
Ian nodded trying to look wise. “We are in a war, where big blue aliens are trying to kill me every time I fly, everything else is not that big of a deal.” Ian said. “Once Finney fixes up my ship, we will not have these stolen moments when Beard is out on patrol. This is the only time we together when Beard is not breathing down both our necks.”
“I like it just fine when my fiancé is breathing down my neck and that is a lot closer than you will ever get to me.” Lieutenant Eliot said then smiled, actually it was more a smirk. “I know something you don’t know Ensign McCracken.”
“What is that my love?” Ian said ignoring the smirk.
“Your squadron’s duty assignment changed. My betrothed is not on patrol and is even now looking for you.”
Ian quickly scanned the mess hall suspiciously and that is when someone called out. “Ensign McCracken.” The voice called out from the kitchen area, Ian recognized it as the Chief Culinary Tech, also known to everyone as Chef calling his name, never a good sign. “Ensign McCracken.” Chef called out again.
“Someone is looking for you.” Lieutenant Elliot said smirking again and put down her cup and started pointing towards Ian.
“Oh, you would not turn me in.” Ian said starting to stand.
Lieutenant Elliot simply smiled and began to raise her hand pointing towards him and drawing a deep breath to call out to Chef. Ian sighed and made a beeline for the nearby door. Making a series of turns he was only a few hundred steps from his second favorite napping and hiding spot when his luck ran out.
“Ensign McCracken.” The surprised but winning tone of Senior Lieutenant Beard signaled an end to Ian’s search for a few peaceful hours of napping.
“Beard how are you doing I thought you and guys were on patrol?”
“Last minute change but the new captain wants to talk to you.” He motioned for Ian to follow him as they walked towards their bosses office.
Ian shook his head and followed his squadron leader.
“Ian do you like being a pilot?”
“Best job in the Fleet sir.”
“And you like flying Sharks?”
“Yes sir, they are the best ship that money can buy sir.”
“And you are happy with being on the Canaveral, you do not want to transfer to another fighter ship, or maybe a Command ship, like the Cyclone, or maybe even the Redemption?”
“This is my home sir and the best carrier ship in the fleet.”
There was silence in the room for a few uncomfortable minutes as the Junior Captain Lazaar, the head Shark Pilot and the 2nd Wing Flight Commander on the Canaveral looked at his comm panel. Ian was about to say something when the man dropped the comm panel on his desk and threw up his hands in exasperation. “Do you know that you have the lowest number of flight hours of all my pilots?” Ian was about to say something when the Captain continued. “Not just by a little bit, but by a lot, the next lowest has a two hundred more hours in a cockpit.” Ian raised a finger, but the Captain glared at him, and Ian thought better of it. “I do not know if you are the luckiest man I have ever met, or the unluckiest, six Sharks shot out from under you and yet you still manage to make it back here every time.”
Ian felt this was a good time to speak up. “One of those was not entirely my fault, I was on my approach when Crenshaw rammed into me as I was about to land.”
Captain Lazaar glared at him. Then read off the comm panel. “You have no confirmed kills of Alarians either, but whoever your wingman is their stats soar, usually making ace after flying with you for only a month. That is the only reason I do not think you are a coward, you are always just on the periphery of the action, but never right in the mix.” The Captain could paused. “I simply cannot figure you out McKracken.” There was a pause as the Captain looked over his comm panel one more time. “You know you could leave the Fleet anytime you wanted to?”
Ian shook his head. “I do not want to leave sir.” There was another long pause between the two of them.
Captain Lazaar looked up and gritted his teeth in anger. “Ensign, I have only been your boss for three months and you are starting to drive me just a little bit crazy.” He said raising his voice a bit, then he got control of himself. “Lt. Beard is waiting outside; he has some very clear instructions for you.” The man took a breath. “Get out.”
Ian found the rescue suit and began to do his checklist. All the tanks were topped off, then he checked on the other items off his list. Right as he checked off the last item his comm panel chimed. He had twenty minutes to get back to his launch bay to report to Lt. Beard. Ian stowed his panel and began walking back to the launch bay. Ian debated if he had a few spare minutes to get a cup of tea and a biscuit when the klaxons started to sound.
There had been an emergency launch earlier in the day and this was most likely that squadron returning, but with the horns it meant someone was in trouble with the landing. Ian knew that the Rescue Techs would be ready, they always were for whatever was going to happen. Heck, he had just inspected the readiness aspect of all portside techs and none of it was below peak readiness.
Ian made his way to the catwalk above the landing bay, it was the only place to watch the entire bay and also be out of the way. He only had to wait a few moments before something happened. He noted that the Rescue Techs were already staged ready to do their firefighting duty. He saw the landing was bad, the nose was too far down, and the wingtips were uneven, after a hundred feet the shark began to cartwheel, end over end down the landing bay. It came to a rest several dozen yards from the catwalk and so Ian was able to see the rescue operations unfold.
Ian was not overly concerned about the pilot from the crash itself, his third crash was very similar to what he had just witnessed and also a little bit like his fifth crash to be honest. The sharks were built really well, and rescue operations were always top notch. Ian knew if he made it back to the carrier, he had a really good chance of survival. Trying to see the markings on the craft to see who it might have been, he was only able to make out it was a First Wing ship. Although he was in the Second Wing, he knew a lot of guys and gals in the First. He was not able to make out much more because the Rescue Technicians starting spraying extinguisher foam from their Mark Four Environmental Suits. It was then that things went bad.
An hour later Ian shook his head at the memory of the explosion. Two things were wrong with what happened. Something was wrong with what everyone was saying. He was sitting in the medical bay waiting to be released and everyone was talking about the explosion. How unlucky it was that the shark’s torpedo had gone off and killed Tech Hossam.
But Ian knew this was wrong, he had seen that the explosion had started with Tech Hossam’s suit. Sure, the torpedo was what killed the technician, and had destroyed the catwalk he was on as well, but the first explosion was the left arm of Environmental Suit, not the shark.
That was the first thing that he saw that was wrong. The second happened a few seconds later. He had just rolled off the broken catwalk and joined in with everyone else as they rushed save the Rescue Tech. Hossam’s suit that had taken a direct hit from torpedo from the shark. Even if someone has seen it, he was sure no one knew it’s significance. But he did. A shiny black tank had popped out of the technician’s right arm.
After all those inspections he knew the only thing that was supposed to be in the arms of the Rescue suits was a flat green tank with a single yellow stripe. So, the shiny black tank meant nothing to anyone else.
Ian had gotten some minor scrapes and cuts and bumped his head as well. The medics had thrown him in the auto-doc anyways due to some of the noxious fumes from the fire and the head injury, but he knew he was fine. Now he was just waiting to be released but everyone around him was wrong about the explosion.
Ian went to dinner and was going to pal around with the guys, maybe throw some darts or play table skittles but he just could not shake it, something wrong had happened today. Back in his quarters he watched some American Western movie with their biggest movie star John Wayne but could not concentrate fully on it. So, he turned off the lights and tried to sleep, after a few hours of tossing and turning he decided to figure out who was wrong, everyone else or his memory.
He did not bother putting on his uniform, just his physical training gear and went to find the most levelheaded person he knew.
“Ian is that you, good I could use a hand, lift up the fuselage with the winch by about 3 centimeters.”
Ian found the control and puzzled over the buttons for a few seconds then firgured out what to do. “Perfect.” Came from Finney from down below. There was a few seconds of powered wrenches and then the squirting sound of sealant being applied. Finney clapped his hands and dropped his tools then popped up. “Looking good don’t you think?”
Ian nodded and smiled at the half-completed ship. What had been just parts only a few hours ago was beginning to take shape of a single person fighter ship that he would be piloting very soon. “You are amazing.”
Finney wiped his hands. “I know.” But then he looked at Ian. “Something bothering you buddy? How is your head, I heard you took a blow?”
“My head is fine, nothing up there to damage.” He said and rapped on his head making a hollow sound with his mouth. “You heard about Tech Hossam?”
“Yeah, good Technician, bit of prick out of the suit, but still a rotten way to go. Good thing the warhead on that torpedo didn’t go off, it would have been a lot more people than just Hossam.” Finney said putting his hand rag back into a pocket.
Ian raised his eyebrow, Finney hardly ever said anything bad about anyone, but he continued with why he came here. “Everyone is saying it was the hung-up torpedo that ignited, but I was watching from the catwalk, and I thought I saw something else happen, and then when I ran over to the suit with everyone else, I thought I saw a black tank on his right arm.”
“I don’t follow ‘a black tank’?” Finney asked.
“All their tanks are green, at least the ones on their arms, the green ones are extinguisher fluid and I thought I saw the flames come out of his left arm jet.”
“You think.” Finney said skeptically.
Ian thought about it. “No, I definitely saw a black tank.”
Finney grimaced. “How come you know what color tanks they use?”
Ian nodded. “Lt. Beard had me doing busy work earlier today, I was checking the readiness of the Rescue Technicians gear. I did port side, Hossam’s deployed from the starboard side.
“And Hossam’s suit was on the starboard side.”
Ian nodded and continued. “The first item on the checklist were the arm tanks in their Environmental suits, one flat military green tanks with fifty psi of extinguisher foam in each arm.”
Finney nodded. “Kind of a mystery.”
“Yeah, it’s been bugging me.”
Finney nodded. “Well, you could go check the suit, it got pushed into the reclamation pit with the rest of the debris from the crash site. Penny uses Big Brown, to push everything into the pit, it gets broken down and the raw material are reconstituted to make new spare parts, they run the reclamation pit every Sunday morning, there is a huge power drain when they do it, all the lights go dim for about a half an hour. Great time to plan a nap.”
Ian looked at his watch, it was only Thursday so the stuff should be there. “Where is the pit?”
Finney pointed aft.
Ian nodded and took off running and yelled over his shoulder. “Thanks.” Arriving at the pit and he looked over the control panel. It was locked down, but he knew just about every standard code on the ship and activated the control panel after four tries. He looked around first to see if anyone was about or if any ships were incoming, he considered calling Deck Operations first but he this was just going to take a couple of minutes.
He activated the sliding doors on the floor and then leaned over to look into the pit to see what he could see. The pit was empty, swept clean, not a single stray bolt or piece of plastisteel from the destroyed environmental suit or the broken Shark. The pit had already been emptied.
“Captain Lazaar, can I speak to you?”
The Captain turned around. “McKracken?” The Captain said as he turned. “Aren’t you supposed to be meeting with you Lieutenant Beard for your daily assignment right now.” he said looking at his watch.
Ian simply winced but plunged on ahead with what he had to say. “Sir I think something strange happened with the crash yesterday, it was not as cut and dry as everyone thinks.”
The Captain looked concerned. “What do you mean?”
“Well sir the reclamation pit has been run early.”
“I don’t follow Ensign, what reclamation pit?”
Ian cursed himself silently. He was getting ahead of himself.
“Never mind about the reclamation pit for now sir.” Ian tried to say calmly. “I think the explosion started at the Rescue Techs suit, the torpedo was a secondary explosion, the primary one came from the suit.”
“There is nothing on those suits that could explode.” The Captain Lazaar retorted. Ian was about to tell him about the black tank but Lazaar held up his hand. “Nobody knows what happened officially yet, Lieutenant Beard is the officer I appointed to investigate it and from his preliminary report it is pretty cut and dry, EnsighnTkach took a hit and cartwheeled in, and an short circuit of the torpedo ignited the motor and it caught Tech Hossam while engaged in rescue duties.”
“But I do not think that is what happened sir.”
Just then a voice came from down the hall. “Ensign McKracken.”
Captain Lazaar looked past Ian to the owner of the voice. “Lieutenant the Ensign here is under some strange idea that there was something more to the crash then what it appears, any credence to that?”
Lieutenant Beard shook his head dismissively. “No sir, I just sent you the report, I interviewed every eyewitness, just simple bad luck all around, Tech Hossam was a good man, he is going to be missed.”
The Captain nodded at the Lieutenant then looked at McKracken and shook his head. “Case closed Ensign, now I think you need to get to your bay and give Tech Finney a hand with your ship, you have twenty-four hours to have a level one circuit check completed on all your major components, comms, weapons, navigation, and life support and be ready to integrate them within thirty hours.”
Ian nodded signifying that he heard him, and the Captain turned dismissing him.
Beard looked at him. “You got until lunch time tomorrow, you had better get on it.” Then he turned and followed Captain Lazaar into the mess hall.
“Kiss ass.” Ian said towards Beards back, sighed and made his way to Launch Bay Nine.
Ian walked away from the Launch Bay Nine after helping Finney for about an hour, until Finney said he was being more a hindrance than a help and he should go get his head together. Ian headed in no direction in particular. Then he started talking to himself in the empty corridor. ‘The captain and the lieutenant say that it was just a simple crash.’ ‘But you know better don’t you.’ ‘You bet I do I know what I saw.’ ‘No one else does.’ ‘So.’ ‘So what if it happened the way you think you saw it, it aint going to change things, Hossam will still be dead.’ ‘Yes, but someone really screwed up and put the wrong canister in his arms….’ Ian let the idea sit for a minute. ‘Or someone did it on purpose, hoping his suit would have a catastrophic failure during a rescue.’ ‘And that means what’ Ian was quiet, and he said the last part very softly. ‘They were trying to kill Hossam.’
He looked up he had ended up near the main landing bay doors, they were closed now but he knew they could open at any minute as a patrol was due back soon. Then he thought back to something Finney has said about Hossam being a bit of prick. He needed more information.
“Up here Ian.”
Ian looked up, Finney was on top of the almost completed Shark, doing some sort of adjust to the topside rear engine.
“Glad you are back; I need you to climb in the cockpit and turn on some switches.”
Ian looked around, the ladder was not installed yet, but he found some toe holds and got into the ship unfortunately he had to climb in backwards, but he easily turned himself around since there was plenty of room when not wearing a Mark Three Environmental suit.
The next hour passed quickly with yelled instructions from Finney to flick one switch then another, then a series of switches and then turning them off in a certain order.
“Okay we are good to go bud.” Finney said as he climbed down from the engine cowling.
Ian looked around to try and remember how he got up here, but Finney saw his distress and moved a portable ladder to the cockpit and Ian nodded his thanks. They both sat down on some boxes and looked at the ship. Ian spoke first after a few minutes. “No one believes me about the accident not being an accident.”
“Of course, you have a lot of faults Ian. You are pretty sharp even with a blow to your noggin and if you say you saw something then you did. You may play a little fast and loose with the whole military rules thing, but you do your duty when it comes down to it.”
“So, what should I do, I cannot find any proof of what I saw; the pit was cleaned out, not a nut, bolt, or casing in the reclamation pit and no one believes me.” Ian said.
Finney walked over to a shelf and grabbed his thermos and poured himself some coffee, he offered some to Ian who waved it off. There was silence in the bay for a few minutes then Finney spoke up. “So, what are you going to do?”
Ian was quiet for a few minutes as he thought, then he remembered why he had come back here. “You said something earlier about Hossam being a bit of a jerk off duty, what was that about?”
“That.” He waved his hand dismissively. “That was nothing, he was a bit of a prick when he drank, picked on people, took teasing a little too far, bullied people. Some of the other Techs would teach him a lesson occasionally, give him a few lumps but the guy never seemed to learn to keep his hands to himself.”
“I never saw or heard about that.” Ian said.
“Ah you wouldn’t no matter how great you are, you still got Ensign before your name and enlisted personnel are not always the same when officers are around.”
“I never knew.” Ian said.
“Kind of my point buddy.”
Ian sat there for a few minutes and looked around at the half-built ship and then at the launch bay. He spotted something which promoted a thought in his head and then he moaned.
“I think I know how to prove the accident was not an accident.”
“So why the groan?”
“I have to go up to Flight Operations.”
Finney groaned as well and put his hand on his shoulder. “Nice knowing you buddy, I will make sure the Steel Grouse Seven finds a good home.”
Flight Operations was a place he avoided like the plague. The second reason he hated going there was because every time he went there, he ended up behind a screen watching other people fly, or worse yet, fly and fight. Not that he was particularly enamored with flying or fighting, he liked to do it better than watching other people do it. He felt the same when he saw his first pornographic movie.
“As I live and breathe Ensign Crash Em.”
“Hi Sylvia.” This was Ian’s top reason for avoiding Flight Operations.
“And what does the night shift Flight Operations owe the honor of your visit?”
Ian winced, how long was this woman going to hold a grudge, it had been months. “I wanted to review the records of the crash yesterday, more importantly the explosion.”
Ian saw a bit of long-suffering cross Sylvia’s face, she hated it when anyone died having seen a lot of it in her previous life. “Shame about Tech Hossam, but I heard Ensign Tkach is expected to make it, with about five trips to the Auto-doc and some physical therapy to regrow his arm.”
Ian said what came naturally. “That is rough.”
Sylvia rolled her eyes. “What do you know about it, the most you ever had to regrow was the tip of two fingers, and then is was just your ring and pinky fingers. Not that you needed a ring finger for anything.” She looked at him with irritation.
Ian was about to say something, but he thought better about it and she just continued anyways
“Why are you interested in footage from the crash?” Then she decided to twist the knife. “Looking for some pointers or inspiration on a new way to crash?”
Ian shook his head he knew this had been a bad idea. “Never mind, just forget I was ever here.” He turned and started to leave the big room.
He was within a few inches of activating the door when Sylvia called out. “Come back you insensitive clod.”
Ian turned and looked back at the girl he had dated for a bit, and she motioned for him to follow her to the break room, once they were alone, she sat down and motioned for him to sit across the table. Ian moved the chair so he could lean against the wall and sit on it sideways with his arm draped over the back of the chair. “Okay spit it out, what are you looking for, I have never known you to go looking for extra responsibility let alone extra work, and you never stay up late unless you are gallivanting around with Finney”
He explained what he had seen and how he thought everyone else was wrong with what they thought they saw.
“So, you want to review the footage? No one ordered you to do this, or anything?”
Ian shook his head. “No, I just keep replaying it in my head and every time I think of it,” he paused. “it just seems wrong somehow.”
Sylvia looked at him then stood up and grabbed a cup of coffee from the replicator, then leaned against the wall. “This must have really got you bothered; you don’t go looking for a problems you just avoid them. You are the ‘king of going along to get along’.
Ian simply shrugged.
Sylvia took another sip of her mug. “Figures you would not have an answer.” Sylvia looked at him for a few moments.
Ian was beginning to get uncomfortable; it was not her all too familiar, ‘I am disappointed in you’, it was something else. Something not so judgey.
Sylvia spoke up before Ian could figure out what her look meant. “Okay I will let you look over the footage, you can have one of the workstations in the back, just don’t bug any of my technicians and don’t fall asleep, everyone has to be on their toes here, the Captain has been coming in a different times and I don’t need you to cause me any grief.”
Ian nodded and got up to leave. “You got it babe.”
Sylvia stared daggers at him. “Don’t call me babe we aren’t dating anymore.”
When Ian found what he was looking for it, but it wasn’t as good as he hoped. At least it wasn’t as clear as he was looking for. The camera view was terrible, it was too far to be clear and definite. But he swore the argument could be made that the flame came from the Rescue Techs suit instead of the crashed ship.
“What you got there Crash Em?”
Ian sighed. He keyed up the sequence and moved away from the screen so Sylvia could see what he found.
She watched it and then hit the rewind button and squinted as she watched it again.
“She was in the process of watching it again when Ian spoke up. “Are you seeing it.”
Sylvia hit the stop button. “Sort of but it is hard to make out.”
Ian sighed again.
Sylvia looked at him. “Kind of? If you hadn’t told me what it was, I was seeing, I wouldn’t have seen it.”
“So, you think I was wrong?”
Sylvia shook her head. “Not what I said. You never listen, one of your many flaws.” She stopped shaking her head then took a breath and stated calmly. “I do not think you are wrong.”
“You,” Ian stammered. “You, you mean I convinced you?”
Sylvia looked him over. “Yeah dummy. Why you are going to all this trouble for that jerk Hossam I will never know, but yeah there was something wrong with that suit.”
Ian nodded then looked quizzically at Sylvia. “What did you have against Hossam?”
Sylvia looked back at him. “You never know what is going on around you that is one of the reasons I broke up with you, you never paid attention to anything that did not directly happen in front of you, out of sight out of mind, if it was not happening right in front of you it never happened.”
Ian hold up a hand. “Yeah, we have gone over this ground, and I admit it’s mostly true, but let’s stick to the subject at hand.” Ian took a breath. “What did Hossam do that made everyone else but me, dislike him.”
Sylvia nodded in tacit agreement. “The way I heard it Hossam was a little handsy with a few of the lower enlisted females, touching them when they did not want to be touched, he got slapped a lot, in fact about two months ago a couple of the girls got into his quarters and smashed some of his fingers with a spanner.”
“Ouch.” Ian said.
“I did not hear about it until afterward and then only by accident, but it never got reported to the chain of command because it seemed to have been fixed.”
Ian shook his head. “Finney said this guy never seemed to get the message.”
Sylvia shrugged. “I did not hear anything more about him acting up.”
Ian shrugged back. “Good or bad person,” he looked at the screen. “I think someone set him up to die, someone ended his life.”
“You think he was murdered?”
Ian thought about if for a few seconds. “I guess so.”
Sylvia gave him a look he had not seen in a while, but he had not seen in a while. He thought it might be admiration. Ian got uncomfortable with her look and said the first thing that came to his mind. “You ever hear of anyone else being murdered out here?” He motioned towards the big display implying the Fleet as a whole.
“I think everyone heard about that bar fight with the Marines and that one guy getting punched so hard he died, but the guy that threw the punch was blubbering like a baby as soon as the pulled the sheet over the dead guy. But nothing intentional, like this.” She said motioning to the comm panel in Ian’s hand.
Ian looked down at the comm panel realizing what he had; he had evidence of a murder.
She saw his expression of shock and she went back to the way she was when he first came in. “Get out of here before my relief comes you stupid detective. I will send the footage to your chain of command.”
Ian checked his uniform in the mirror and continued down the hall towards the Captain’s office. He was about to turn the corner when someone shouted. “Can someone lend me a hand.” Ian turned and saw Technician Pena trying to stop a load of droids from falling off a cart. “I got ya, I got ya.” Ian said as he lended a hand in helping the petite girl gather up a dozen or so droids that had gotten dislodged from the top of the cart. It took the two of them to set the droids properly on top of the cart and arrange them so they would not fall over again. “Well, that should get you to where you are going.” He said smiling.
Penny nodded and looked at Ian but did not answer his question. “You are not in repair or flight gear; you have to report to the captain for something?”
“Nothing special, I just got to convince him of something and I firgured I would put on a clean uniform to present my case.”
“Oh, well you look good sir, I mean Ian.” She looked back at her cart then down the hall. “Thanks for the help, Ian, I have got to get going.”
Ian nodded and tipped his imaginary hat to her and turned and walked the way he was going. He turned back towards the way Penny had disappeared a bit confused, normally Penny transported her small droids on her other droids, like Big Orange or Big Blue, so why was she pushing them on top of a cart.
“Ensign McCracken.” The voice of Lt. Beard called down the hall distracting him.
Finney found Ian sitting in the cockpit of the almost totally rebuilt Steel Grouse. “You okay partner?”
“Did you find what you needed up in Flight Ops?”
“And did you take the evidence to the Captain?”
Ian nodded again.
“And?” Finney added. Ian was usually much more forthcoming.
Ian shrugged. “They said what I found was interesting so they said and said they would look into it further.”
“That is a good thing.” Finney said.
“Maybe,” Ian said. “I am not sure if they really believe me.”
“They did not believe you, why?”
Ian nodded. “It was not great evidence, kind of grainy, hard to make out, hard to see and.”
“But you said Sylvia believed you.”
“Yeah, but I told her what she was looking at, the Captain and Lt. Beard, not so much.”
Finney thought it over, then he remembered something. “You said ‘and’.”
“I think I know who put the tanks into Hossam’s arm.”
“Well, that is good.” Finney said.
“Not sure it is.” Ian said.
Ian leaned against the wall but did not have to wait long.
“Hey Ian.” Penny said as she came to the door of her shop. “You need something fixed?”
Ian shook his head sadly.
“What is the matter something wrong?”
Ian sighed. He did not want to do this, but he had started this and for some reason he felt he needed to see it through to the end. “I have been looking into something, that crash that occurred the other day.”
Penny just nodded but was intently studying the droid which had followed her down the hall like a big orange dog.
“You are really good with droids and machinery and even programming Penny.”
“Yeah, well my parents owned a clock shop and it just sort of comes natural to me.” She said without looking up from the droid where she had a panel open now.
“But not so much with people huh?”
The petite Tech shrugged.
“Penny why did you have two extinguisher tanks on Big Orange the other day?”
Penny did not answer but just buried her head deeper into the maintenance panel on the droid.
“What happened Penny, what did he do to you?” He said looking at her directly. “He had a history of taking advantage of people, did he do something to you?”
“Who sir?” She crouched lower behind Big Orange.
“Tech Hossan.” Ian stated flatly. “I know he was a bit of jerk, did he hit you?”
Penny looked, up shocked for a second at the mention of the dead man’s name, then a cascade of looks, anger, sadness, shock again and then her face got blank like all the energy left her entire body. “He came to my cabin one night after I danced with him in the pub, it was just one dance and then I left, and I think he kept drinking.” Then her tears started to flow, big tears full of sadness.
“Did you tell anyone?” Ian asked softly.
Penny shook her head no. “I went right to the auto doc, and I erased the records of what he did to me.”
There was a silence in the hall for a good five minutes as Penny got herself together. Ian still never moved. Penny spoke first. “It happened in my village, and the girl was looked at as a whore. No one was going to know about my shame.”
Ian shook his head in disgust at people.
Penny spoke again. “So, I replaced his arm tanks with fuel tanks.”
“That is what was under Big Orange when I ran into you in the hall?”
“Yes.” Was her only response.
“And then you ran the reclamation pit early after the crash, getting rid of the evidence.”
Silence between the two of them again Penny spoke first. “You are not going to tell on me are you.”
“What he did was so wrong Penny, but what you did was wrong as well, other people could have been hurt as well.”
Penny got angry now. “It was just enough to blow off his arms the tanks were not even full, it was just bad luck that Tkach had a hung-up torpedo in his forward tube.”
“Penny.” Ian said. “I am not saying Hossam did not get what he deserved but it was not for you alone to take matters into you own hands. It was not your fault what happened to you.”
Penny looked at him. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
Ian just stared at the floor. “I already have.” He pulled out his comm panel and showed that it was in broadcast mode. It was then they heard boots coming down the hall. Captain Lazaar turned the corner with two Marines in tow. The Marines cuffed her, and the Captain stayed back as she was led away
It wasn’t until they were out of sight and hearing when the captain spoke up. “Good job Ian.”
“Hossam deserved it.”
“Maybe so, but we can’t be vigilantes, we have to be a community about punishment.” Lazaar said.
Ian looked at the Captain. “What is going to happen to her?”
Lazaar shrugged “It is up to the Commanding Officer this can’t be handled with a simple flogging; it might get kicked all the way up to the Admiral for him to decide.”
“Better him than me.” Ian said. He did not want to think about it anymore, so he changed the subject. “Finney said we will be running tests when I come back, I had better get back there sir.”
“Very well.” Lazaar said as Ian walked away before being dismissed.