Captain Edmond Archer stood on the bridge of the research ship Argo II gazing at the main screen. The stars stretched across the view. He felt the quiet purr of the ship vibrating through his boots as the ship hurtled through space. This was the fastest ship ever built and Archer felt the responsibility of that knowledge. He didn’t want to be named in that list of captains that destroyed the brightest/best/most indestructible ships on the very first voyage.
“Helm, report,” Archer said knowing that the crew had eyes on him.
“Captain, we are past the moon’s orbit and increasing speed at point seven G’s, sir.”
“Very good, helm. Steady as she goes.”
“Commander Bryant, you have the conn. I will be inspecting various systems on board,” Archer said.
“Aye Captain, I have the conn,” Commander Ben Bryant replied. Commander Bryant was one of three commanders trained in ship operations, along with Archer.
Archer left the bridge. The passage between decks resembled the pneumatic tubes used in 50’s era businesses. There was only room for one person. The ship was also equipped with small stairways and crawl ways, if gravity were lost.
Archer headed for engineering. Archer trained as an engineer and knew how the ship functioned. Yet, he did not have that personality that would make a great engineer. Archer loved action, not testing, re-testing, or re-re-testing. It was do or die, which was better for an officer as opposed to one working under an officer.
Marjorie Harland barely nodded when Archer strode into her domain. Her eyes were fixed on the engine monitoring system. Harland was the second commander trained in total ship operations and was third in command.
“How is it running, Marjay?” Archer asked.
“It’s doing wonders, Cap’n. The intakes are collecting enough ice particles, the separators are making enough Hydrogen for fission and enough oxygen for us. We could go on indefinitely without a refuel.”
“We’ll have to see how things look outside the asteroid belt. There are those that think it’s all a desert outside there.”
“We should find out soon, boss.”
Archer’s wrist-comm lit up and Bryant’s voice announced, “Captain to the bridge!”
Archer hit a small button and replied, “On my way.”
Archer left engineering and took the tube to the bridge.
Archer walked on the bridge. Bryant waved him over, “Captain we have a transmission from CentCom.”
“Main screen, commander,” Archer ordered.
The screen lit up. The image of Admiral Harold Johnston stared from the screen. The shield of the Interplanetary Defense Force filled the wall immediately behind the Admiral. Even with the neutrino communication system, there was a few seconds of delay before the admiral saw Archer.
“Hello, Edmond. I hadn’t realized that I would have to call you so soon on your mission.”
“Hello, Admiral. I am a bit surprised myself, especially after that resounding sendoff.”
“Unfortunately something has come up that might delay your expedition to the outer system.”
“Delay, sir? Things are working well at our end.”
“I’m sure they are working. Your crew is too well trained and even helped develop most of your systems. We have a problem, Edmond. Your ship is the only one near position to do something about it. I’ll try to make your delay as short as possible.”
“What seems to be the problem, Admiral?”
“One of our mining stations, SMS 347, has gone dark.”
“We are receiving minimal telemetric data, we haven’t had voice communications for several weeks.”
“And you’re just getting concerned now, sir?”
“It’s the Wild West out there Edmond. These mining stations are at the edge of the Asteroid Belt. There is constant interference from all sorts of things. Usually, communication is back up in a day or two.”
“But this time?”
“Telemetric data has shown the life supports systems have been shut down.”
“Shut down? Who shut down the life support?”
“The station’s computer is programmed to shut down life support when no life is detected. All the data we received just prior to the shutdown indicates that the computer acted properly. We have tried voice communication and encrypted communications. We have heard nothing. We need you to check it out.”
“Isn’t there a local authority, Admiral?”
“Well, yes and no, Edmond. Here is where it gets sticky. The station is owned by Recalcitrant Laboratories and the staff there are contractors. The main re-supply station is owned by the Martian Union. There is a supply link, but you can imagine the miners do not get along. There has also been some controversy about claim assignments.”
“How much controversy, Admiral?”
“The Martian Mining Authority has filed several grievances with IDF about Recalcitrant’s practices.”
“So, we may be looking at some sort of retaliation?”
“It could be, but be careful. You’ll want to talk to the MMA’s director at Haven Station. But first, take that small team of Space Marines that you have and secure SMS 347 and find out what happened.”
“Aye, sir. We’ll figure it out.”