Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Thirty-Six

The six of us were all sitting in the crew lounge as the Crimson Arrow plowed through the hyperspace tunnel at speeds never before imagined. The engine was running perfectly and none of us had any doubt that in less than three days' time we'd be coasting into the docking bay of Boston Base.

"So, am I right in assuming that all of us need to be dropped off on Argent's Claim?" I asked as I leaned back in the thick, cream colored corner couch.

"Yeah, I'd just go there," replied Steve.

"No problem." I stretched out a little more, enjoying the surroundings of a fully functional starship. True, the Arrow had all her amenities in working order even when we were resting in the hangar of the giant TerraCorp I, but there's something about being on a ship that's moving under its own power that makes living on board that much more agreeable. Maybe the fact that we could hear and feel the hum of the Arrow's remarkable engine was what got us into the mind set that we were actually doing something purposeful instead of simply laying around and waiting on one Maximillian Weaver.

Sarah Meyer, one of Jenny's assistants, must've been able to sense my own thoughts, because she said, "God, I just have to say, I'm so glad that Weaver let us leave. I don't know what I would've done if I had to stay on that old relic for another month!"

"Amen!" remarked Hank as he ran his fingers through his close-cropped sandy hair. A few grunts from the rest of the crew indicated their agreement.

That set of statements annoyed me just a little and I said, "Sarah, if Weaver wanted us to stay, you'd have had to just deal with it." I wasn't interested in nurturing any arguments against someone who loaned us his experimental ship. Sarah still scowled at me but I wasn't about to back down.

"Well, at least that's all behind us," said Jenny as she put her feet up on the square coffee table, "I still think it's amazing he was willing to let us take the Arrow back!"

I nodded, "Exactly my point. He didn't have to do that at all, but he knew that none of us wanted to stay."

"That's true," said Hank, now looking as though he was examining Jenny's black leather utility boots.

"Actually, I kinda miss the old man and his constant cigar smoking," Steve commented as he sat his husky frame into the armchair next to Jenny and stretched out his own legs.

A deep voice from the far corner of the room said, "Yeah, that's one thing that was consistent around here. Cigar smoke blowing into the atmo-scrubbers." I looked up and saw Mike Taurence, Jenny's other assistant, sprawled out on another couch on the far side of our gathering. The light reflected off his black skin, giving it a slightly brownish tinge. In his long fingered hands was a datapad. Apparently he stopped reading in order to join our discussion group.

A very curious thought struck me, Y'know, in nine months, I don't think I ever remember hearing that guy talk! That night that the seven of us exchanged stories, he had abruptly left his place and gone down to the engine room to check on something. Supposedly he and Sarah spent all their spare time together, though it didn't seem like they were in any kind of intimate relationship. Who knows, maybe they felt themselves apart from the rest of us as they were members of the team that designed the Arrow's new engine... Of course, that doesn't quite explain Jenny. Oh well, some people are more outgoing than others, I guess.

"Oh, there you are, Mike!" Jenny called to him after turning around. "Nice to see you feeling a little more social than usual!"

The thin black man gave a small smile and said, "Yeah, I'm in rare form today."

Sarah, who was sitting in the crook of the corner couch gestured to an open space between her and Hank, "Well, then come on over here and live it up!"

Mike seemed to hesitate, then stood up slowly. I didn't realize just how tall he was. Two meters seemed about right. His thin stature further accentuated his height by making him appear almost like a stick figure. He made it to our ring of couches and chairs in two easy strides, then carefully stepped over Jenny's feet in order to sit himself between Sarah and Hank. Sarah smiled at him, then slapped his right thigh.

"There, see? It's not so bad over here."

Mike looked away briefly, then back at his co worker saying, "Oh, I know. I was just doing some reading, that's all."

"What are you reading?" I asked.

"Oh, a couple things," Mike answered, "Rechecking our report for the folks at New Rossyth." This I understood, considering the fact that the ship builders would want to know every detail regarding our mis-jump as well as the particulars about the successful jump we were currently making.

"You manage to get any of the latest journals?" asked Steve.

Mike nodded, "Yeah, that's the other thing I've been catching up on. Ever since we jumped at Veedin, the relay beacons have been able to reach our receivers."

I sat there for a moment, trying to remember just where Veedin was. Then it hit me.

"Wait a minute, that was that really big system with the fourteen planets?"

Mike gave another nod, "Yep. Of course, it wasn't that big, it only had one star."

"Yeah, but fourteen planets is quite a few!"

The engineer gave a resigned shrug, "True." He then resumed his original tack, "Anyway, that's when I got this huge load of updates." He gave a chuckle and then said, "Looks like a lot's been goin' on in the universe since we've been gone!"

* * * * *

It took me a couple hours to get through nine months worth of journal updates. Sure enough, the galaxy had most definitely changed. One thing I found interesting was that there was absolutely no mention of the missing Python freighter and the new Class 4 military engine. I suppose the folks in the INRA High Command managed to get their hooks into the press and "encourage" the reporters to find other things to write about. To this end, the news services did them proud: Emperor Duval had a rather priceless piece of artwork stolen right out from under his nose and a freedom fighter named Dentara Rast was murdered by some guy who had no respect for human life. Reading that article caused me to shudder involuntarily.

Though, even a mighty syndicate like the Intergalactic Naval Research Arm couldn't suppress the newsies entirely. A series of reports concerning a scientist named Innitu managed to make it into the networks. Innitu had published several articles in the Universal Scientist about the race of insectoid aliens called the Thargoids and made several conjectural statements as to why they disappeared so suddenly. The reports began painting a rather frightening picture of the connection between the INRA and the Thargoids. Then, not long after the last of those articles was sent over the news networks, Innitu was slain by another faceless assassin.

Even though Max Weaver had explained all the details about the Thargoids and the INRA to me when we were sitting in the office of the secluded Baker Outpost, there was a part of me that still didn't quite believe what I was hearing. The newscasts concerning the disappearance of the Thargoids and the recent murder of the good scientist managed to bring the whole discussion back into the forefront of my mind. It was no longer a detached conversation I had several lifetimes ago, it was something that Max Weaver and his research team had been working nonstop to mend, for better or for worse, and he was counting on me and the rest of us on his experimental ship. It was now our job to prepare his three business partners for something that could turn out to become an Ace-in-the-Hole as far as negotiations and business deals with the aliens went.

We arrived in the vicinity of Boston Base at about fifteen hundred hours on March 1st, 3251. I figured it would be a good idea to just let the autopilot handle the docking and so, as soon as Steve got us our docking clearance, I stepped away from the helm and relaxed as the ship was guided smoothly into the cavernous entry bay. I exchanged smiles with Jenny, Steve, and Hank and then said,

"I figure we'll have about three days here, so everyone can get themselves a bit of off time." The chorus of nods I received was all the answer I needed.

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Five

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