Here’s another excerpt from the upcoming anthology In Harm’s Way (Defending The Future 8), which is currently funding on Kickstarter. We have met our initial goal and are now working toward our stretch goals.
The following excerpt takes place in the author’s bestselling Starfist universe.
According to Janes Commercial Starfleets of the Confederation of Human Worlds, the unidentified starship off the Dayzee Mae’s port bow was the SS Runstable, which had vanished two years previous, along with her crew and cargo.
Sergeant Tim Kerr, of the Confederation Marine Corps, stood on the bridge of the Dayzee Mae, watching the derelict ship on the display. The ship’s acting captain, Lieutenant Junior Grade McPherson, had just finished briefing him. The Runstable’s cargo had been destined for twenty different worlds, none of which were near enough to this jump point to explain why the ship might be where it was. And all of the containers she was carrying when last heard from were missing; the superstructure made a narrow tower over the empty container deck. It was emitting a distress signal but carried no friend or foe identification.
“She must have been taken by pirates,” McPherson said, “then abandoned here. This location is far enough from normal trade routes that she wouldn’t be found quickly. We don’t have a surveillance tech aboard,” he added apologetically, “and we lack the necessary equipment to detect life forms on her. So you’ll be going in blind.”
Kerr nodded silently, his gaze intent on the latest display, which showed the starship in fuzzy detail. Her near-space running lights were on, but her passenger hatch and a bridge hatch were open. No lights showed through the open hatches.
The Dayzee Mae was a civilian starship, confiscated by the Confederation navy when they caught her supporting an illegal alien slavery operation on the twin worlds Opal and Ishtar. McPherson and his crew were ferrying her to the navy base on Thorsfinni’s World where another crew would transport her to wherever the Court of Inquiry determined she should go. So, naturally, she didn’t have military-grade sensors. She did, however, have one piece of military equipment never before found on a civilian freighter. The THB, Tweed Hull Breacher, was used by Confederation Marines to cut their way into hostile or potentially hostile starships. The THB carried by the Dayzee Mae had been used by the Marines when they boarded and took her.
Finally, Kerr said, “It could be an ambush. I want to use the THB and force an entryway. We’ll enter through the rear of the bridge.”
“You’ve got it, Sergeant.” McPherson gave a wry grin. “You are our expert on hostile boardings.”
Kerr grunted. He hoped the boarding wouldn’t be against a hostile force; he and his men had seen enough action on this latest deployment, and were on their way home. Second squad, third platoon, Company L of 34th Fleet Initial Strike Team’s infantry battalion had been given the assignment of providing security on the Dayzee Mae during her transit to Thorsfinni’s World because the squad had suffered badly in the action on Ishtar. Two of the fire team leaders and one other Marine were still nominally on light duty, and two new men weren’t completely integrated into the squad yet. Chain of command thought this duty would give them a chance to rest and recuperate.
“We’re Marines,” Sergeant Kerr said a short time later, when some of his men groaned at being told about the boarding mission. “Everyone in Human Space expects us to do anything necessary, at any time, in any place, regardless how difficult.”
“We’re Marines,” Corporal Rachman Claypoole—one of the injured fire team leaders—muttered. “We do the difficult immediately. The impossible might take a little longer.”
“That’s right, Rock,” Kerr said. “Now go to the arms locker to check out your weapons and armored vacuum suits.”
“With chameleon overalls?” Corporal Chan asked.
“Yes,” he said. There was no telling who or what they might find aboard the derelict. The invisibility provided by chameleons could prove to be vital.
“Armored suits, sir? Are we expecting trouble, Corporal Claypoole?” asked PFC Berry, one of the two new men in the squad.
There were vacuum suits, and there were armored vacuum suits. One protected the wearer from the vacuum of space, and the micrometeorites that swarmed through it. Armored vacuum suits protected the wearer from the flechettes that could shred an unarmored suit, and almost every other known projectile, including plasma weapons, such as the Marines’ own blasters.
Claypoole snorted. “We’re Marines boarding an unknown starship in interstellar space. We don’t have an invitation. No shit, we’re expecting trouble.”