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MINUTEMEN: Do No Harm
Prologue – “No Exit“
Frigate Enduring Progress
High orbit above colony world Eridanus
The Frigate Enduring Progress was a nuclear-armed coffin tumbling through the inkwell of space. To the passing ship or satellite she was a metal husk, a rush-job war machine with weapons that looked welded on last week. To sensors, the Progress was bereft of life, fallow, useless. As Colonel Tovald Bristow stalked the Progress’ hallways only by the grace of magnetic soled boots, he could not help but agree with that assessment.
As the Progress’ Executive Officer reached the rusty blast doors of the warship’s bridge, a hacking cough attacked and he scowled at the sky blue mucus floating in front of him. Now matter how short the journey, cryogenic freezing was, is, and forever would be a mother.
Ancient blast doors scraped open and Bristow scowled as he stepped into the cold dark silence of the bridge. Nothing moved, save a few pieces of trash floating in zero gravity. No hum of computers, no rush of air outside, only the eerie sensation of hurtling through space at a ludicrous speed yet feeling nothing at all.
The Colonel grunted and put an orange key into a glowing blue port on the captain’s chair. The soft, ethereal, symphonic tones of the ship’s computer booting managed to lift Tovald’s a mood a little as he nodded to the room. “Report.”
The seemingly ubiquitous, disembodied woman’s voice filled the room. “Per emergency order by the Commander. I have repaired essential systems. And am prepared to calculate an escape vector.”
“Where are we?”
“We are drifting with the remains of the Resistance Fleet. Of the thirty ships involved in combat action, only Martyr’s Sword and Just Cause survived. Be advised, Just Cause is venting atmosphere and has not responded to my hails in three months.”
“Three months?” The cobwebs in Colonel Tovald Bristow’s head fell away in an instant. Bristow was already dreading the weeks of physical therapy required after such a sustained cryogenic freeze.
“All essential systems suffered catastrophic damage in the assault against Colonial forces. Immediate repairs are required.”
“What’s the body count on the ‘Collies? How many did we get?”
“The Libertad suffered one fatality from equipment failure during an after-action space walk–”
“Computer to mute.”
The clinking of trinkets falling to the deck informed the XO of the return of artificial gravity a split-second before the computer flashed confirmation on the navigation table. A DNA swab and a hand wave later, the table hummed and disgorged gorgeous holograms of turquoise Dominion and its twin moons, Scylla and Charybdis; but there were no holograms of any of the dozens of ships that were always buzzing around the planet.
Bristow smacked the table with a fist, causing the image to flicker and splice, still nothing but the planet and moons. “God damn border control officers,” he muttered as he stalked back to the chair, feeling the hot flush of his blood pressure rising, “Bribe ‘em and they give you a blank map…god damn criminals.”
The Colonel jabbed a button on the captain’s chair. “Begin cryo thaw for all crew and bring jump systems online. Lieutenant Hartley is required ASAP at the bridge to explain himself to the Commander.”
Enduring Progress bridge
“I don’t understand.” Lieuteant Zhou Hartley shrugged, swiping his hand across the holographic displays like a teenage girl frantically searching for a missing outfit, “I bought this frequency myself. We should see everything: civvie transports, patrol vectors…this map should look like a beehive.”
Before the young insurrectionist officer could continue to explain himself, the blast doors ground open and the broad, tall silhouette of Commander Jacob Halcyon fell across the bridge. Colonel Bristow stamped a boot on the floor.
“Commander on deck!” Tovald announced, and the crew snapped to attention. Only a couple doubled over in coughing fits as their bodies still acclimated.
Commander Halcyon, by comparison, looked like he had just risen from a brief nap. The man was pushing fifty but showed no sign of it. His fitness regimen was legendary, his expectations of the crew were mostly unfair, and the man was a notorious brooding loner. Everyone on the crew considered the Commander a colossal jerk.
But he was also a tactical genius, and the entire crew volunteered because they knew that. As Jacob’s withering stare hit Lieutenant Hartley, the young man tried to focus beyond the fact that these were the most important ninety seconds of his career.
Somehow Hartley did not flinch when Halcyon’s voice hit him. “What happened?”
“Sir,” Hartley tried not to stammer, “it appears the security frequencies we bought to get around Dominion’s security blockade may have been…tampered with.”
“Did they get our systems?”
Tovald could not help but notice the snap on Halcyon’s service holster was open and, though he knew the Commander better than to execute a man on his own bridge, decided to intervene on the young Lieutenant’s behalf. “I ran diagnostics. The freq’s clear of any virus. Telemetry’s working on bouncing a scan from one of our cells on Dominion. We’ll have a clearer picture then.”
The huge uninterrupted sphere of Dominion hung over them like a wrecking ball. Usually light gray ghosts of warships and orange energy signatures of civilian vessels would be littered all over the planet’s orbit; now the First Colony spliced in and out with nothing to be seen.
Lieutenant Hartley wiped sweat off his brow for the fourth time that hour. “It’s like there’s just… nobody.”
“Conn, Telemetry,” The ship’s nearly ancient COM crackled. Halcyon stabbed a finger at the holotank.
“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve tried to boost the signal but FTL comm pings zilch. It must have been damaged during the assault. I can’t raise anyone on Dominion.”
The veteran guerilla Commander exhaled in a contemplative growl. “The mission’s too important to wait. We’re leaving. Inform the Sword they’ll be joining us.”
“What about the Just Cause, sir?”
Halcyon ignored the question, but tapped his hand on the table and traced an illuminated flight path toward Dominion’s twin moons. “We’ll use Scylla…to double our velocity when we slingshot around Charybdis…and surprise orbit control so we’re in atmosphere before they can match our entry trajectory.”
Tovald scratched his beard. “It’s your play. I’ll back it. But plotting this blind, into the beehive? Sir, you gotta know if there’s any ‘Collies near that sector, one of our boats is dust.”
What should have been a dark chuckle turned into a fit of coughing that left the last of the Commander’s cryo fluid on the floor. “Then we crash into one of ‘em on the way in.”
Enduring Progress bridge
All hands. General alert. All hands.
Colonel Bristow listened to the voice on the phone with grave intensity. “Conn copies all. XO out.” Tovald nodded immediately to the Commander once Halcyon looked away from small printed equations popping up around the flight path.
“Combat seating,” Jacob announced to the skeleton crew, half of whom were already strapped into their chair’s webbing. Halcyon and Bristow strapped in over the terse, vaguely female-sounding instructions from the ship’s computer. The damage Enduring Progress had sustained was already starting to affect the ship’s systems as the intercom began to fritz in and out.
All hands. General alert. All hands. Prepa- for -ombat landing. All fire teams report to deck -ommanders.
Jacob Halcyon finished strapping himself in to his captain’s chair and honestly could not decide if he had landed Dominion in “combat seating,” more than without. He brushed the thought aside as the call button flashed on the COM next to him. “Battery, this is the Commander.”
“This is battery. Go ahead, sir.”
“What’s the status on munitions?”
“We lost every missile tube ‘cept four through eight. Auto-load’s fried, so we get four missiles off no problem, after that it’s the 21st century. The good news is all the gun batteries report operational, so we can sustain a defensive barrage for at least a minute.”
“I’ll take that.”
“Unfortunately we only have enough gun batteries to defend about fifteen percent of the ship.”
Tovald stared at the ceiling. “I hate this boat.”
-neral alert. All hands.
Halcyon waved through streams of data and finally settled on two glowing lines of text. “Tactical, how many life pods are functional?”
An ensign swiped through his displays. “Sixteen, enough to evacuate most of the crew—”
“Battery, take all the remaining explosive ordnance you can’t fire and cram as much of it as you can into the escape pods.” Halcyon ignored the questioning glares thrown his way. “Tactical, give Battery clearance to launch emergency escape pods and remote boosters at their discretion.”
“Battery, sixteen more bombs at your disposal. Use them wisely.”
“Aye, sir. Battery out.”
A tense silence settled over the bridge as Halcyon rubbed his chin for a few moments. Orange and red light swept across his face as the last few holographic menus signaled their displeasure. As if just realizing every eye was fixed on him for the last minute, the insurrectionist leader looked up and secured the straps of the captain’s chair.
“Anyone uncomfortable with the situation is welcome to report to the escape pods.”
All hands. General alert. All fire teams report to deck commanders.
A comforting, warm tone sounded throughout the bridge. An Ensign looked up from the Nav table and nearly ran to the last unoccupied seat. “Sir,” he reported on the move, “We have jump solution. Green for FTL.”
Bristow balled his hands into fists and tried to keep them from shaking. The grizzled XO had been through enough close calls to know he was really starting to press his luck.
If Commander Halcyon had any of those concerns, it was not showing in his voice. Jacob stabbed a finger at his COM button. “Jump.”