|The acrid stench of burnt alien bodies still hung in the air as Dave Razor, Space Marine, pulled himself to his feet. His recent
experiences were a blur, but he did remember that he followed General Robinson's last
instructions to "trigger the self-destruct and get your butt outta there."
Of course it was a bit trickier than that, since he really needed to get his butt out first, but the remote triggering mechanism on the small escape pod worked fine once the self-destruct was enabled. He recalled the blinding flash, the silent roar of the explosion in space, and the shock wave battering him around like a pea in a can. Still, he survived, and looking around now revealed that most of the critical equipment on the EDFS Icarus Escape Vessel EV-102 was in working order.
A couple of the enemy still had been on the EV-102 when he had commandeered it (was it only yesterday?) but he had made short work of them. Now if the Oxyprocessor would just do a better job of filtering that smell.
Out the window and on the pod's scanners, nothing remained of the Icarus. The explosion may not have vaporized it but the resulting tumble into the atmosphere of Beta Pictoris 3 certainly did. If he hadn't been knocked unconscious by the shock wave, Dave would have been impressed by the disquieting yet beautiful shower of fireballs as the Icarus met its final reward.
All was quiet, save the low hum of the pod's electrical and environmental equipment. Dave could hear an occasional sizzle of dying electronics, but none of it seemed to be crucial. He had emergency lighting, eerie in its red glow but functional. The scanners were operational. The ULF subspace radio was out, but he didn't expect to be able to send anything back to Earth Defense Force headquarters anyway. They hadn't known anything about how the whole mission went, for that matter.
So, here he was in a small escape pod just outside orbit around Beta Pictoris 3. He did have a relatively limitless energy source in the tiny engine core, but speed wasn't something these pods were famous for. The intent was only to give people a place to wait for help to arrive, and that wasn't likely to happen here. Dave was going to have to figure out some alternative.
The planet below was adequate refuge during some of the earlier battles, but he remembered the ion storm triggered by the aliens that rendered the atmosphere useless to anyone but them. There was no way he could make it back down there with enough oxygen to last more than a few hours, even with the small rebreather he had. Besides, there was nothing down there worth going for.
He reached for the scanner resolution control and increased the scan radius to include the whole solar system of Beta Pictoris. The other four planets were obvious, along with the thin asteroid belt between BP2 and BP3 that looked like a blue glowing stripe out the window. No telling what that was made of with the pod's equipment, and everything more sophisticated died with the Icarus. Probably not something to try to go play with.
As Dave tweaked the controls on the scanner, a blip seemed to go in and out of view, almost like that faint star that you can't see when you look straight at it but is there as you glance sideways. The scanner should have been able to handle that sort of thing much better than the human eye, but it was having trouble. The blip wasn't even staying in one place, for that matter, as if the scanner couldn't home in on its range either.
Dave was finally able to center the blip with some swift adjustments of the controls back and forth and a change in the latency setting so it wouldn't appear to fade out as often, and he pressed the button to lock onto it. The scanner adjusted, though it still couldn't get a fix on the range and everything but the blip he was interested in began flashing all over the screen. It was hard to focus on, but Dave concentrated on the central blip and zoomed in.
More detail seemed to be available after that, but it wasn't what he wanted to see. As he zoomed the view in further, he was able to make out an outline of a ship. It wasn't an EDF ship though--he knew all of them from his training. It was longer and thinner, for one thing, and EDF vessels were more, well, ship looking. Could this be a ship from the aliens he'd just finished wiping out? Did they launch a ship at some point to save some of their race from the destruction of BP3?
There hadn't been any evidence of life on any other planets in the Beta Pictoris system in Captain Fairchild's original reports from the Icarus, but they had only checked BP5, BP4 and BP3, so there was a possibility that BP2 could have been inhabited too. BP1 was much too close to their sun to support life, but it was hard to tell what else might be there through the blue glow of the asteroid belt. Dave wasn't really in the mood to discover more of the enemy.
The scanner stopped shifting its focus, and a message appeared at the top of the screen proclaiming "SCAN JAM COMP". He wasn't sure he had run into that before, but with a military background he didn't have too much trouble deciphering that the scanner has introduced some sort of compensation for a jamming signal that it was receiving. So that's why it had been so hard to pinpoint this ship--it was jamming our scanners.
"Our?" The loneliness of his predicament crashed down on him like a lead blanket. If this indeed was another ship loaded with aliens, he was in no mood to go fight it alone. Then again, an escape pod isn't bristling with armaments either. That's not what it's for, and its designers kept that in mind. A tiny lifeboat against a battle cruiser wouldn't be much of a match, no matter how determined the pilot may be.
Back at the scanner, Dave glanced at the range readout and to his shock and dismay, found that this ship was close by. Very close. In fact without the cloaking of the jamming signal, he really didn't know how he could have missed it when he was looking out the window. It was just about 110 degrees counter-rotation from him, in an orbit that would bring it directly between him and Beta Pictoris 3. He could always hope that they wouldn't notice him, but he could also hope for a ham sandwich. He wasn't likely to get either one.
The ship advanced some more and was now within 60 degrees of the pod's position over the planet. Interestingly though, they hadn't seen it, or didn't care about it, because no one had fired anything and Dave and his pod were still here to think this through. 30 degrees, nearly close enough to block the entire view out the window, and the thought he had earlier that it was shaped like a sausage had been pretty close. It was smooth and long and round, as if the creators were concerned about not having any protrusions on the outer skin of the ship. Perhaps it had come through the asteroid belt, and this was part of a smooth shield to make that trip safely.
Still nothing was happening, and the ship was close enough that Dave felt he could reach out and touch it. He ran his fingers over a couple of controls on the panel in front of him, and the pod began to move along with the larger ship, matching its pace around the planet. He saw a spot about 1/3 of the way down the ship that looked a bit different, and subtle adjustments to his controls moved the pod in that direction. Blue lights shone from the spot, flashing in a definite pattern.
As the pod got closer, Dave could see that this was an opening, much like the shuttle bays on the Icarus but not as organized inside. There was still no one firing at him, and no creatures or other small ships were visible even on full zoom. If his radio had worked he'd have tried hailing the ship, but then again that would be asking for trouble. On the off chance that their scanners just weren't set for anything as small as his escape pod, he was doing a good job of sneaking in the back door.
He got within a couple of hundred meters of the opening and could see that this was a trash room. It was big enough for his little pod to land in, but it was apparent that they had just been jettisoning their trash out into space. He didn't even want to think about what creatures like those he had spent months eradicating would consider trash, but he was about to land in a pile of it. Choosing a relatively clear spot, he nudged the EV-102 into what could become its final resting place and landed softly.
Looking out the windows, there didn't seem to be any activity at all. Dave Razor was a stowaway on an alien ship, and he was going to have to be pretty sneaky to get away with it.
Clipping his visor down, turning on his suit's tiny oxygen regenerator and grabbing the small pistol he escaped the Icarus with, he bade farewell to his little lifeboat, pressed the panel to open the door, and stepped out into an unknown future.
Odds were, it was time to kick some more butt.