Star Blitzers, Episode 3: “Enter Commander Abel Firth”

“Enter Commander Abel Firth”

Enter Commander Abel Firth. I’d never met the guy, never heard of him. But he had security badges like you wouldn’t believe. He had an Omega Orange. And he was all business.

He said: “You’ve heard about the PFK-480 by now.”

I didn’t want him to get too full of himself.: “Sure,” I said. “I’ve got intel clearance. I’m in the loop. What about it?”

“It’s up there waiting for somebody to grab it. Could be us, or it could be the Gramlings.”

What was that to me? “Yeah, I know.” I said. “Or the Holloi. But with the Sagitid meteor shower just starting to rev up, even the Gramlings and the Holloi won’t go up there. Nobody’s that dumb.”

Says Firth: “Yeah, well, somebody is. Us.”

“What do you mean us?”

He was not cutting me any slack. Whatever this was, it was going to happen–at least as far as he was concerned. “Slice it however you want,” he said. “Earth intel, A-7 himself, or little old you and me. When the order comes down, it’s all the same. Except that somebody has to do the dirty work.”

“Are they crazy?”

“Dumb, crazy, that’s all the same, too. They want their PFK-480. Or at least they want it scrubbed clean before anybody else can get to it. And they’re not going to get any help from the Daulians, not even charts, not in our lifetime. That’s why I’m on it.”

“Well, I hope you have a very nice time, Firth. Bon voyage.”

“And they want a pilot—”

Now things were starting to get a little weird, even for Citheron. “Look,” I said, “even a crack pilot—which I am not, being about a five-point-six on a scale of ten according to my last—”

“—who’s good at handling a field buggy, and they want—”

“Even a field buggy master charioteer cannot drive through a meteor shower. Have you heard about the meteor showers up there at this time of year? It would be like trying to run through a hailstorm without getting hit—once. And one hit–”

He pushed right over me.”They want somebody who’s had experience with Daulians.”

That stopped me. “The Daulians? What for?”

Now that he had my attention, he took his time. “They think there’s one up there. They think there’s one that survived the crash.”

“I thought the thing was unmanned.”

“That’s what they want everybody to think. But there were five humans aboard—and one Daulian.”

Omega orange. The guy seemed to know everything.

“A Daulian on a PFK-480? Those ships are way too sensitive. They’d never let a Daulian or any other Citherian so much as set foot on one.”

“That’s something else they want everybody to think. So now consider, what if the Gramlings or the Holloi did get a hold of that ship and the Daulian on it? You want to talk about intelligence coups?”

“And they expect us—you and me—to find that thing and clean up their mess for them. If they’re lucky, a big old hunk of the Sagitid belt will take care of everything for them.”

He was smooth. “Get a hold of yourself, Bowman. When was the last time your read your commission? This is a matter of earth security.”

“Look,” I said, “if this is earth security, it’s a long way from home. Can they at least give us a fix on the thing? They can do that, can’t they?”

“Kappa Bravo 2799.”

“That’s it? For real? The whole blasted sector? No triangulation on the 480’s transponders?”

“No triangulation, no biangulation, no vectors, nothing. They think that a rogue Sagitid squall took it down and that it ended up in a crater with the transponders either knocked out or buried too deep to function. But the number crunchers say we can run the perimeter of the sector with a wide-band seeker beam and hone in on whatever signal it’s sending out.”

I was starting to feel a little itchy under the collar. “So what makes them think there’s still somebody alive up there?”

He dialed up a file on the communication console.”This. A fragmentary voice transmission. Take a listen. It’s unscrambled.”

Next: Episode 4: “The Appeal”

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