Pritchard on the Frontier

Matthew A. Fossa

Chapter Forty-Two

"Well, it's gonna take a little while for your friends to recover, but they should be okay." Doctor Larson turned away from our group to make some final adjustments on the AutoMed in which Mike was lying. The stump of his severed arm was hooked into a regeneration sleeve that would take samples of his DNA and then automatically grow a perfect clone of his missing limb. The shock and trauma aspects of the treatment, however, would take a little longer. Fortunately, the medical staff of TerraCorp I knew their jobs extremely well and would deliver on their promises. After all, they'd managed to put me back together after a nasty head injury, so sticking an arm back on someone or healing up some burns should be a piece of cake!

"But Mike's going to be okay, right?" Sarah's voice had a sharpness to it that didn't seem to go with the forlorn look she was casting toward the seriously injured man.

Larson placed his hand gently on the engineer's shoulder and said, "Yes. In no more than a week he'll have his arm back and then in another two days, he'll be as good as new."

At that, I turned my attention to the AutoMed unit behind me in which Jenny lay. Already the particularly ugly gashes in Jenny's pale skin had begun to respond to the computer's work and her burns were starting to fade.

AutoMeds were a wonderful way of treating just about any serious injuries. Their only shortcoming was the fact that they took up a lot of space aboard ship, which is why only the very largest vessels were capable of carrying them. The unit, operated by human doctors, extended up beyond the ceiling and floor of the room. Inside the glass-windowed treatment compartment, which was large enough for two average-sized people to lie in comfortably, the patient would be scanned for all injuries and traumas. After the scanning and a thorough sonic cleansing, various computer-controlled appliances would attach themselves to the patient and treatment would begin.

The sound of a sigh to my left was followed by the deep voice of Max Weaver saying, "Good."

I turned toward my employer, nodded, and added, "Yeah, absolutely!"

Weaver then regarded me, laid a friendly hand on my elbow, and squeezed a bit while saying, "That was some damn good thinking about those emergency freezers. That's probably the only reason they're gonna pull through."

The older man in the white lab coat returned his attention to us and nodded in agreement, "Yes, sir. That is, in fact, what's saved their lives." He grinned a bit before returning to his work on Mike.

Weaver then gestured toward my freshly bandaged right upper arm, "How's the arm feeling?"

The pain had subsided a long time ago thanks to the care of Nurse Ellie Phillips. In truth, it was only until the Arrow was being pulled into the safety of the space dredger's docking bay that I remembered being injured. The arm still felt a little stiff, but nothing to worry about. I told the cigar-smoking executive exactly that.

"Good," The older man replied with a nod and a smile. He began to head toward the door leading into the triage wing. I followed two steps behind.

The door hissed open and a moving pair of crutches just barely managed avoid causing Max Weaver to tumble headlong across the threshold.

"Oh! Sorry about that, sir!" The familiar tenor voice had a slight rasp to it as though its owner had just recently awoken from a long night's sleep.

Weaver glanced up to see the portly shape of Steve Mandrake being supported by the offending crutches. He raised a hand and waved it downward in a gesture of dismissal.

"Don't worry about it, Mandrake. You missed anyway." Weaver recomposed himself almost immediately and even helped to bring his employee to a slightly more comfortable looking stance as the interruption of his stride left him in a rather precarious position. After a moment of struggling to help the Arrow's communications tech, Weaver's voice lowered slightly and he asked, "How're you feeling now?"

Steve gave a slight smile and sighed, "Well, sir, I'm not too keen on this stupid bandage," he indicated the very thick roll of white cloth that bound his entire left thigh and then continued, "but at least it'll be off in a day or two." I shook my head, remembering Steve walking with a bad limp to get across the bridge to his console. A moment later, I winced, remembering Jenny's horrible scream as her console exploded, practically in her face. The debris that burst out from the fixture was the reason why my right arm was sprained and why Steve had to pull a jagged four-centimeter-long piece of plastic from his left thigh before being able to help our chief engineer.

Even in the 33rd Century, the age-old medical practices of bandages, casts, and splints were used to treat moderate injuries. Fortunately, thanks to modern medicine, healing times were reduced from periods of months to between several hours and a few days. Small things like minor burns, cuts, and scrapes were healable in seconds... provided you had access to a medical knitter.

"Oh, this old bear can handle anything," The lovely face of Terri appeared behind him and she gave him a reassuring pat on the back.

Steve turned his head toward her and with a toothy grin, replied, "I'll manage, somehow."

"Of course you will," The blonde woman returned as she stepped over to me. Immediately, our arms encircled each other and Terri leaned against me. I let my forehead rest against her hair for a moment as Weaver stepped over toward the coffee dispenser.

Another door hissed open and out stepped the trim figure of Hank Middlewell. With a worried expression, he crossed the four-meter room in as many steps.

"Where's Jenny?" He asked, a desperate look in his eyes.

"Relax, my boy." Weaver called out while pouring his drink, "She'll be fine."

Weaver's statement failed to produce the desired result and Hank repeated, "Mark, where is she?"

I sighed and freed one arm from its embrace around my girlfriend to wave it at the door into the intensive care ward.

"Thanks!" the cargo handler breathed and bounded to the door. Upon its opening, Hank pounced through as though he was a Federal Army Orbit Dive Trooper taking the "Express Elevator to Hell."

Weaver watched him go, shook his head, and said, "Might as well let him be with her."

I nodded, keeping my head against Terri, and added, "Yeah, I mean, we sure wouldn't have kept Sarah from seeing Mike."

The executive pursed his lips, "No, absolutely not."

* * * * *

"Well, Max. It looks like you really managed to make quite a nice find," Ron Dreyfuss shook his partner's hand as he gazed around the enormous bridge of the factory ship.

"That's what I thought too," Weaver replied, "I figure we'll be up and ready for trading with our new friends the Thargoids in no more than five years."

At the mention of the Thargoids, the three other assembled partners of Weaver, Baker, Dreyfuss, and Stone seemed to shrink inwardly, but nobody said anything to contradict the senior partner's statement.

Kelly Baker drew her scarf a little tighter around her small neck and said, "So, you plan to do the refitting in Alliance space, Max?"

Weaver nodded, "That's right, Kel. I figure the Feds and Impies would rather see this little venture disappear and so I'm just gonna put it somewhere where they don't have to see it." He grinned and added, "Out of sight, out of mind, you know?"

The elderly woman responded, "Well, out of sight out of mind for the Federation doesn't mean that your old pals in the INRA won't find out about it."

Weaver immediately turned serious and held up a restraining hand, "Please, Kel. They're not my friends."

She leered at him, "Not anymore at least."

A very uncomfortable silence filled our small circle.

A moment later, Kent Stone, a tall, thin man in a dark formal business suit cleared his throat and intoned, "Well, either way, it looks like we will definitely have the ability to begin our investment in... er..." he searched for the right word, then gave a weak smile, saying, "foreign trade... much sooner than we ever expected."

"That's putting it mildly," Dreyfuss commented.

Weaver glanced at the shorter man and, with a curious expression, asked him, "Something wrong, Ronnie?"

Dreyfuss seemed to shake himself and then replied in a calm voice, "Oh, no. Everything's fine," Before another silence could impose upon us, he continued, "So, we'll begin doing the outfitting where? Argent's Claim?"

Weaver nodded, "Yeah, the folks at New Rossyth were able to scrape me up an orbital construction clearance and we can get set up whenever we arrive."

Baker gave Weaver a questioning glance, "New Rossyth is helping us? I know they're a very large shipyard, but aren't they working on another big project already?"

I had no idea what they were discussing but my attention was very much riveted. Could it be that really big ship that we saw being built next to where we landed the Arrow a couple of months ago?

Weaver grinned, took a puff from his cigar, and replied, "Yeah. Good ol' Mic Turner's got another new baby that he's trying to give birth to. It's a big deal, but it's still peanuts compared to what we're going to be providing."

The scarf-wrapped woman raised an eyebrow and murmured, "And are we feeling maybe just a bit too self important these days?"

The older man kept his grin and retorted, "I don't know what you're talking about. The guys at the AAAI need our help in order to finance their expedition. They'll help us get this ship into better working order if they know what's good for ‘em."

The other executives glanced at each other silently.

I felt compelled to ask, "What does Mr. Turner have to do with us?"

"Everything," Weaver replied, "Mic's one of the better minds behind the Crimson Arrow. Remember what I said about that Class 4 Military Engine?" I nodded and he continued, "Well, that engine is just a small part of a much larger project to help rescue the Thargoids from extinction."

There was another silence that seemed to wander around the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the faces of Weaver's associates darken slightly.

Weaver continued, not noticing, "Anyway, Mic is building a ship that's going to be using that engine and carrying a vaccine to the virus that the INRA infected their living machinery with."

A thought struck me, "Hey. That war ended years and years ago. Why haven't they already died out?"

To my surprise, it was Dreyfuss that answered, "The virus acts very slowly. Part of the reason is the fact that we were guessing how an advanced race like the Thargoids would be affected by a virus. We hadn't managed to capture a living Thargoid and working with an alien corpse after it had been exposed to hard vacuum isn't exactly easy. Seeing their cells freeze-dried doesn't give you much chance to learn about the effects of viruses and such."

"What we could figure out, though, was that the Thargoids used living machinery that was partly based on their own bodies." Weaver added, "It was a shot in the dark, but an INRA team managed to make a rough draft of a virus that might be able to shut them down or at least make them fall back and regroup."

Dreyfuss smiled and commented, "Yes, and even though their ships were still in almost perfect working order, they knew they were infected and retreated back to their close-in bases to study the virus before their ships turned into dead husks.

Terri glared at the smiling man and quipped, "You weren't actually thinking about sabotaging their machinery, were you? You were looking to develop a biological weapon that would affect the Thargoids themselves!"

Dreyfuss's expression did not waver, he simply moved his eyes in Terri's direction and replied, "Maybe Mr. Weaver didn't explain well enough; we, meaning all of humanity, were in a war for our very survival. All's fair in love and war, Miss Lane. Whether it's Thargoids or simple space pirates, they have weapons and want to use them on you. If your one and only choice is you or them, I'm fairly certain you'd be choosing yourself above them."

As cold and calculating as he sounded, particularly with the smirk on his face, I wanted nothing more than to smack the shorter man. How I managed to keep myself restrained is still a mystery to me.

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Three

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