71: Star Light 3 – Hero

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Metzger waited through another difficult-to-tolerate pause, as the Zindavoor worked out how to answer.

“Aye, sir. To listen, for most of it. The sensitive relayed his pack leader’s speech, as that one conducted rituals of honor for the crew of the human craft. The rituals required recounting of the crew’s deeds. Also, much readings of old things… like Humans reading Bible at funeral. These honors could not begin until Orion arrived, so must wait through entire ceremony.”

Metzger knew the Sesseem had been fighting and holding their own against the Enemy for five thousand years. But like many had before him, he wondered how they ever found the time to get around to fighting.

“Deeds, Crewman?”

“What they could guess from the gun cameras. The cameras recorded a significant battle. The Sesseem believe that the craft is a member of a squadron. They suggest it was the last one standing. They believe the squadron may have succeeded in taking out a ring before they died. They suggest that injuries drove the pilot into battle-frenzy by the end. In Sesseem eyes, that last detail is a very positive thing, sir.”

“And the Enemy that the squadron took out?”

“Unclear, sir. They may have first fought a Slave light cruiser or heavy frigate. This craft appears to have fired one of the killing shots on that ship. But after that, they were jumped by a large ring. The Sesseem believe it possible they took out the ring, but they aren’t certain.”

Metzger thought for a bit, before inquiring, “What class was the ring?”

“Your pardon, sir. It is difficult to translate the Sesseem usage of mind-glyphs into English on most things.” As best as he could judge, the fellow was uncomfortable with the question. “Technical terms such as weight classes are especially difficult. It is uncertain….”

The XO cut him off. “Give me your best try, Crewman! It is vital intel if we have a heavy ring within a light year or two of here!”

The Zindavoor hesitated, then nodded. “Mind-glyphs equate to the phrase, ‘a worthy opponent bearing eighteen clan’s honor’. They have a great many categories for rings, but to believe that this one Humans would call… ‘Class E’.” He looked unhappy about having to say that.

Metzger stared in shock at him, suppressing the urge to laugh in disbelief. He had never even seen a Class E, outside of a text book.

The bosun’s mate called out again. “Take hold, sir. We’re braking into tether distance, now.” Hands all over the cabin again shot out to grab hand-loops, as Metzger ducked his head to see through the nearest window.

The craft came into view, illuminated by the Yankee’s searchlight. Several crew members audibly gasped.

It was an attacker-type Banshee, a rugged design, but from its terrible condition, its arrival in-system may have been a certifiable miracle.

# # #

Ross watched the Yankee carrying in the pilot’s body on his personal screen. Another ship’s boat was outbound to fit the stricken fighter with limpet motors and lines for the tricky job of bringing it in by hand.

It isn’t one of my squadron-mates, he told himself. We hadn’t switched to Banshees yet when that happened. We were still flying ‘Ernies’.

He had known it was a long shot. His squadron-mates had crashed out close to here, but only in the interstellar sense. The missing pilots wouldn’t have had more than a hundredth of a cee of Normal velocity. If, by some miracle, they ever did show up in-system, they could take fifty years or more to arrive. He still hoped for that miracle.

And the Sesseem had detected the transit when this craft crashed out. That’s how they found the wreck in the first place. It hadn’t been drifting for twenty years at all.

He gave himself a mental kick. This pilot prayed for rescue as surely as your friends did. It doesn’t matter who it is, he or she is one of ours.

His ship hummed with activity around him while he went back to check on their new charge. The bosun and two dozen deck hands were clearing out davits and preparing braces along the main port corridor. The sail master, the helmsman, and the chief engineer were huddling in the conference room. Both groups had to resolve a host of handling problems that the cruiser would face with an unplanned 30 tonne protuberance sticking out one side.

The XO and the graves detail were just coming up the passageway to Sick Bay when he arrived. The ‘hall’, more of a long, skinny empty spot in the ship’s guts, faced on four sides with metal grid catwalks, echoed with the sounds of the bosun’s team coming through the hull as the group drifted toward him.

They had wrapped the froze-up body in cords to give themselves handholds for maneuvering the unwieldy shape. The rigid body retained the position of a seated pilot, and the face plate and breather mask were opaque.

He was thankful he could not see the face. That not-dead-nor-alive look, only seen in wax museums and on those in Freeze-up, gave him nightmares. The surgeon’s mate had joined the detail at the lock, but she just moved along with the litter. That had him worried. If she were planning to revive the patient, she would have dashed back here ahead of time, to make ready.

“You aren’t going to resuscitate, Doc?” he asked the surgeon’s mate.

Medical ratings were always ‘Doc’, but a surgeon’s mate was more of a paramedic. He double-checked her name tag: SuM1 Kuàng Xiùyīng. He’d stick with ‘Doc’.

Kuàng gave a quick head shake. “No, sir. Her injuries are too serious. We need to have her in the hands of a real doctor at a real hospital as soon as possible.”

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“Room temperature is dangerous for Freeze-up, Doc. Do you have facilities?”

She nodded, and smiled. It was almost a smirk. “Sir, this ship’s crew includes two former Aviators and a former Scout engineer. That’s three opportunities for Freeze-ups. We keep facilities for all three.” She led the graves detail into the sick bay. Metzger stayed with him in the hall.

Ross paused for a minute, a little astonished at the ratings’ humor. It was unusual for a rating to take such a familiar tone with the ship’s captain.

“How comforting, Mr. Metzger,” he noted with a rueful smile, “to know she has a spot picked out for me in her freezer.” He shook his head and turned to hand-over-hand his way back to the command room.

Metzger gave one of his rare chuckles and followed his CO.

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