Snippet #3 – One Dark Future is heating up! Don't miss it!
April 11, 2230, Neo Southern California Metroplex, Private Hangar of the Argo
Erik lifted his head and took in the full majesty of the Argo. Everything about the ship, from its sleek curves to its weaponry, separated it from the tiny, pathetic transport he’d been using to help out Alina. He finally had a ship worthy of his mission—one worthy of him.
He nodded in satisfaction. Since Erik’s time back on Earth, he’d learned to accept that having some nice toys didn’t hurt nor say anything bad about a man. He might have purchased his MX 60 mostly as a disguise, but there was no shame in flying around a luxury flitter, and the capabilities of the vehicle, both factory-ready and post-modification, had helped him countless times. A good soldier needed the proper tools to do his job.
Half the reason we lost on Molino was that those merc bastards had better equipment, Erik thought. I like being on the other side of the equation.
As with the MX 60, the upgrade from the Pegasus to the Argo wasn’t just an exercise in style. The weapons and maneuverability of the ship had saved them during their confrontation with Sophia Vand. He tried to imagine how they could have captured or taken her down in the Pegasus but decided it would have ended with the entire crew dead and floating through space in plasma-scorched debris. They would be filed as a flight accident and buried by the Intelligence Directorate to cover its tracks.
Erik understood superior gear alone wouldn’t be enough to secure a victory. Dealing with the conspiracy would require a combination of equipment, savvy, and force. If it were as simple as blasting open a door and slapping on binding ties, the Criminal Investigations Directorate and the Intelligence Directorate would have sniffed out Sophia Vand and her friends long before Erik arrived back home.
Someone growled behind Erik, low and threatening. Recognizing the sound, he didn’t go for his gun despite the risk. It might not be a yaoguai behind him, but that didn’t mean he was safe. A man always needed to be careful in territory controlled by someone else.
“Just because it looks patched up from the outside doesn’t mean it’s fixed, Blackwell,” snarled Lanara. She stomped in front of him and poked him in the chest, which required her to reach up. “Just because it has decent self-repair, it doesn’t mean it can fix everything when you blow holes in it. It’s not magic.”
Erik chuckled and raised his hands in mock surrender. “I know. I was on the ship with you when we flew back, and you kept cursing at me and telling me that. In my defense, I didn’t blow holes in it, Sophia Vand did. Technically, I imagine her crew did, but you know…”
“Don’t feed me that crap.” Lanara shook her fist, her eyes narrowed. “You should have solved that shit in Parvati, so we didn’t end up in a shootout in space.”
Erik suppressed a laugh. The engineer was trying to intimidate him, but her size made it like a Chihuahua barking at a Doberman. Even Jia could do a decent job looming over Lanara. Sheer personality let the engineer bully Malcolm.
“It wasn’t like we were dragging our feet,” Erik replied. “And she was a big fish. We couldn’t let her get away.”
“Couldn’t you have just reported her?” Lanara huffed and folded her arms. “Then you could have had a bunch of ghosts waiting to pick her up somewhere.”
“That would have been nice, but we had no idea where she was going.” Erik frowned. “And somebody with her kind of pull could have burned hard for the HTP and bluffed or bribed her way through, assuming she didn’t switch to a different ship and use fake identification. If we hadn’t chased her down right then and there, she could have ended up halfway across the galaxy before we could begin to track her. We might not have been able to capture and interrogate her, but when you’re fighting a war and the enemy general parades out in the open, you take the shot. That’s the only way you win.”
“That’s what this is to you? A war?”
Erik shrugged. “I’m not going to spew out a bunch of crap about how this is all for the good of the UTC, because honestly, I don’t care as much as Jia about that. I want the Knights Errant avenged. It just so happens doing that involves cleaning out trash as well. So, yeah, it’s a war of bloody damned vengeance, one I’m not quitting until either I’m dead or the enemy is taken out.”
Lanara squinted. “You crazy bastard. Just try to be more careful next time.” She rolled her eyes, her fingers tightening around her arms. “No reason to continue bitching about it now, even though I’ve had to waste all my time doing repairs. That said, since I had to go in and fix a bunch of stuff anyway, I decided to work on improving internal power transmission and rearranging the grav field emitters.” Her speech sped up, and the anger drained from her face. “I was thinking last week about how if you don’t rely on a standard Yau Manifold for emitting patterns, you could potentially tweak efficiency as much as point-two percent in most of the emitters. And then—”
“Okay,” Erik interrupted, waving a hand. “You do whatever you need to do. Neither Jia nor I knows shit about this sort of thing. Okay, maybe Jia does, but not more than you. We both trust you to do what you need to get the best of the ship, and as good as we are at wasting scum, you’re that good at tweaking this ship.”
The engineer leaned forward, her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed in suspicion. “Good. It’s important to let the experts handle things. You stick to killing bad guys, and I’ll stick to fixing the ship when you don’t kill the bad guys quickly enough that they blow holes in it.”
“About that.” Erik inclined his head toward the Argo. “I’m good at what I do, but I can do a better job with better tools.”
“What are you getting at, Blackwell?”
“If we had more or better guns, we could take out enemy ships a lot faster.” Erik offered her a pleasant smile. “The faster we do that, the fewer holes end up in the Argo. Simple logic, right?”
“Alina’s not going to give you everything you want just because you ask.” Lanara pointed with her thumb toward the ship. “That’s already a hefty investment, even before you count the jump drive. You might be her favorite pets at the moment, but you’re not the only ones in the galaxy sniffing around for the conspiracy, and you’ve already been given a lot of toys. I’m sure every ID ghost out there wishes they had a ship bristling with top-of-the-line weapons and the UTC’s only self-aware AI.”
Erik shrugged. “So what if she doesn’t want to fund it? I’m sure you have some spare parts lying around, or you could tear apart a cargo flitter and turn it into a laser cannon. Alina’s not going to complain if you don’t send in a huge wish list but do something impressive with what you have available.”
“I don’t know.” Lanara cupped her chin. “I’m not saying I do have that kind of thing lying around, and I’m also not saying I couldn’t do it even if I don’t. But if I’m spending time juicing the weapons, I’m not doing other things. Winning a fight in space isn’t just about the biggest guns, Blackwell.”
“Sure, but if you don’t want holes in the ship, you need to give us the tools to make sure we end up with none and the other guy ends up with a ton. Your grav shield assist last time was nice, but we wouldn’t have needed it if we could have blown those bastards away in one quick attack.”
“I’ll look into it, but it’s not anything I can do soon. Just getting everything back to where we need to be is still going to take some time. The Argo’s ready to fly, but I’d prefer if we didn’t get in any fights anytime soon.”
“I don’t go looking for fights. I just end them.” Erik nodded. “Put it on your to-do list.”
“Whatever you say, Blackwell. Next time try to—” Lanara frowned as the cargo bay door opened and extended the ramp with a loud whir and a rumble. “I swear, Maras is physically incapable of leaving the ship anywhere other than the cargo bay lately. He probably thinks it makes him look like a badass. Even worse, I think he’s infecting Constantine with his thinking. Tweedledee and Tweedledumb.”
Erik didn’t respond as he waited for the door to finish lowering. Lanara was right; Raphael and Malcolm stood near the back of the cargo bay, both with ridiculously smug smiles as if they’d already located the rest of the conspiracy. The pair swaggered down the cargo ramp and toward Lanara and Erik.
“Good morning, Mr. Blackwell!” Malcolm waved. “This is such a nice ship. I’ve been looking into signal relays and that sort of thing with Lanara’s help. I’m trying to optimize things for electronic warfare. You never know, maybe you can hack your way to victory. Fewer holes in the ship that way.” He mimed shooting the ship with a finger gun.
“Everyone keeps acting like we are going to be able to take on a heavily armed vessel and get away without a scratch.” Erik grunted in frustration. He gave Lanara a meaningful look, and she rolled her eyes in response. “We’ll see what happens when we have more guns.”
Raphael snapped his fingers. “Oh, oh, oh. Don’t worry about that. I’ve been spending time with both Lanara and Malcolm so we can do our best to control the jumpship from the Argo if necessary, but from what the DD has said, the jumpship is going to be loaded with weapons.” He punched into the air. “If the Argo’s docked with the jumpship, what we’ll lose in maneuverability, we’ll make up for in defenses and the jump drive. We’ll be able to deliver the pain like a straight-up Fleet cruiser.” He punched a couple more times, making what might charitably described as a gunshot noise. “The next conspiracy ship we run into will get blown to bite-sized chunks for messing with the Obsidian Detective and Lady Justice.”
Erik chuckled, then walked over to Raphael and patted the enthusiastic man on the shoulder. “That’d be nice, but from what you’ve told me, it’s not like the jumpship doesn’t stick out, and we don’t want to park it in orbit where we might be boarded. I’m confident, even cocky, but I’m not stupid. If the conspiracy gets their hands on the drive, we’re screwed. The entire UTC is screwed.”
Raphael slumped his shoulders. “But what about bringing the pain? It’d be epic.”
“We’ll do that when we need to, but the standard play’s probably going to be us flying the Argo to missions and keeping the jumpship back.” Erik lowered his arm. “It’s funny, though.”
“What is? Not being epic?” Raphael asked, with Malcolm nodding his agreement. Lanara wandered off, muttering a stream of unintelligible numbers under her breath. She’d lost interest in the conversation, or maybe she was trying to control her desire to grind Malcolm and Raphael into oil.
Erik gestured around the hangar. “I used to be a cop with a nice flitter and a big gun. Then I stumbled onto Emma.”
The AI’s holographic form materialized nearby, a faint smirk on her face. For whatever bizarre reason, she had chosen a puffy light-blue tulle dress with a massive billowing skirt. It was as if she were dressing as the Good AI Fairy of the North. Her sartorial experiments were one of the more obvious consequences of her learning the truth about her creation. Erik had found it was better not to comment. No one liked a huffy AI.
“I’m glad to see you acknowledge the advantage of having such a useful ally.” Emma bowed over a lace- and tulle-shrouded arm.
“The point is, you were and are a game-changer,” Erik replied. “But now, I’m not just a cop with a gun and a fancy flitter. I’m working for a ghost, and I’ve got a great partner and a team of experts.” He nodded to Malcolm and Raphael in turn and even Lanara, though her back was turned. “And from what Raphael’s telling me, I’m going to have my own cruiser soon.”
Raphael clapped once. “Better than a cruiser because you’ll have the jump drive. You won’t be the Obsidian Detective anymore, you’ll be the Obsidian Admiral!”
“I think I’ll just stick to being Erik Blackwell. All my old Army friends would throw me outside a dome if they found out I was going around calling myself an admiral.”
Erik stared at the ship, lost in his thoughts. Jia was right. Sophia Vand might or might not have been the head of the conspiracy, but a woman of her stature had to be a major player.
He was a shark, and blood was in the water. It was time for the feeding frenzy to begin.
Do you think Erik will really leave the jump ship behind any time soon? Hehehe I can't wait to see it! And see what they do with it. What about you?
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