The long-range scanner, or LRS was in the front most cabin on the Anaconda, which also served as a makeshift observation deck. Amar sat at a large holographic terminal that housed the LRS. Frustrated he, shifted displays rapidly as if there was something he was missing. Outside the massive floor to ceiling viewport, the sun of the Erandani system cast its brilliant rays across the room, bathing everything in another worldly light. Amar tabbed through the screens again, checking for recent FSD trails, nothing out of the normal. Subtly pain began to tug at his eyes, he had been staring at the screen for too long, again. A soft voice interrupted the stillness he had become enveloped in. “Sir, is there anything I can do to help?” The holographic image of young woman standing in a blue orb appeared at the edge of the display. Julles stood arms crossed, with a concerned look. Amar stared at Julles for a time before responding. “Sir?” She asked, when she decided he was taking too long.
“It’s nothing, I am just frustrated, is all.” he said, voiced strained.
“Well, I have some news that might cheer you up.”She quipped.
“I am all ears.”
A bio-scan appeared on the screen, “VC DeWilder is going to make a full recovery.”
“That’s good to hear.” He concluded.
Amar had been concerned for his friend, but he was fully confident in the abilities of Dr. Daniels. He continued to check different spectrums. “Sir, Might I suggest preforming an exhaust scan over the last known location.”
“Julles, I have tried every scan I could think of, and even scans that should not be used in this situation…”
Julles interrupted him, “Sir, what I mean is, if we fly the ship over the cargo dump, we might be able to pick up the trails of all ships that have flown over the wreck. With any luck, one of those trails will match our missing vessel.”
Amar pondered this, it was a good idea, and even though he had tried the scan, over the site might yield better results. He stood up, and stretched. “Thanks, Julles,” He said, dismissing the AI as he reached for the commlink. “Commander to the Bridge.”
“Bridge here, Sergeant Lobel speaking.”
“Lobel, have Navigator Gladstone plot us a route to the dump site. Also, tell Ithora to go ahead and put us on the ground nearby. I will be up there shortly to review the landing site.”
“Understood, passing it on.”
Amar stood up and started out the door, when he collapsed. He felt cold, shaking. Slowly a chilling sweat broke out. He tried to get up, but found he had not the strength to stand. His vision blurred, and he slowly reached for his communicator.
“Julles, get the doc.” Was all he managed to say before he passed out.
He might have been sleeping, but every dream was hellish. faces danced before his eyes. A picture sat on the edge of his mind, looming, like storm clouds on the horizon. It was important, but he could never make it out. Technical information or perhaps a map, where had he seen this before? Slowly he awoke from his fitful dreams.
“The next time you decide to stop drinking water, at least let me know so I can hook you up to an IV.” Said an angry Dr Daniels.
“Give him a break doc, you know when he gets motivated things like that just become second thoughts.”
“Regardless, he is now a Heat-Cat. Do you know how life threatening that is?” She snapped.
“Killed by forgetting to drink water, now that would be a humorous way to go.” Amar added.
Jansen turned towards him and chuckled, “Well, I’ll add that to our list of stupid ways to die.”
"Hell, I thought it was already on the list," Amar said as he tried to situp, but he was shoved back into the medical bed by the kind doctor. Raising a hand he started to object, “Come on Doc, I got to get back at it…”
“OH no you don’t! As senior medical officer and as the only medical officer on board, I am ordering you to stay here.”
Jansen’s smile only grew at this point, “Quite forceful doc.”
“And you!” She said whirling on him. “I have had quite enough of your quips!”
“Now, doc, if you would only let me out of confinement, I would be on my merry way out of your hair.” Jansen prodded.
Amar decided, against his better judgement to join in. “At least you have some company now.”
Daniels was now frustrated. Throwing her hands up in the air, she shouted a couple of obscenities at Jansen and walked out of the infirmary. Their eyes followed her as she left the bay.
Amar looked at Jansen. "Ok, really?” he said.
“You forgot to drink water, water, come on I thought after that mess on Vulcan you would have known better.” Jansen said.
“Come on, not you too.”
“Yes, I have been your battle since we both went into the service, and when we got out. So, don’t you pull some stupid crap like that and die on me.”
“Relax…” Amar stopped after hearing a muffled laugh come from the bed on the other side of Jansen. He gave Jansen a quizzical look, and Jansen mouthed something back. Amar had never been a good lip reader, but he had a good idea as to who it was. Oh what was her name again? Thames?
He lay there and drifted into a restless sleep.
He awoke with the doc pulling out the IV, “Easy doc, I remember you having gentler hands.” She gave him one of her most antagonizing smiles. “Remember…”
“I know, plenty of fluids, no exerting activities.” He had heard it all before, and they were right, he should have known better.
“Well, maybe some of my warnings will finally get through that skull of yours.” She said.
“Thanks all the same.”
Amar got up, and rubbed his head slowly. How much time had they lost because of him?
Jansen was no longer in the room, and the bed across from him was occupied. He stood up and examined the occupant. Thames, was well built, sleeping amid the turmoil of a dream. Her face contorted and relaxed ever so often. Amar put his boots on and left the medbay as quietly as his boots would allow.
The synthesized female voice broke the stillness, “Sir, your presence has been requested on the bridge.”
“Thank you, Julles. What is the current time and our location?”
“Time is 0600 on March 8th, 3302. This vessel is currently orbiting the 4th celestial body of TAU-1 ERIDANI.”
Amar relaxed, if his luck changed, they might still be able to pick up a faint exhaust trail, invisible to the naked eye. All they needed was an approximate heading. Although, realistically, the trails should have all dissipated. Maybe they would find some clue amidst the abandoned cargo. After a couple of minutes, he was back on the bridge; the crew moved to attention. “Commander on the Bridge.”
“As you were,” he replied, moving to his station. He chose to stand, drinking in the sunrise. “Patton, please add the cargo dump to the nav points. Helmsman, take us down.”
“Understood, forwarding coordinates to navigation. How was that bump on the noggin?” Patton said.
“No worse than any I’ve experienced.” Amar responded.
The ai continued, “If it had been me and not Julles, I would have left you drooling on the floor for a while.”
“You should be grateful.” Patton added.
Amar walked over to the bridge’s coffee station, a little addition to the Anaconda’s design. Jansen joined him. “What’s the plan?” Jansen asked.
“Touch down, try to pick up the ship’s exhaust trail. Have the Julles and Patton attempt to discern a heading.”
“You know most of the trail will be gone, right?” Jansen said.
“If I may,” Julles chimed in, “There is a minute chance that the exhaust remains in the atmosphere.”
“See, even Julles thinks we’re grasping at straws now. I looked over the logs and saw what you ran on the scanner. That ship is gone, the fleet waited too long before scrambling us.” Jansen added.
“My turn,” Patton interjected, “Potentially, the ship mixed fuel with elements to extend the range, these elements will have left molecules that will have fallen and mixed with the soil.”
“Patton, are you asking us to collect soil samples?” Amar said, slightly confused.
“No, what I mean is, these molecules will have carpeted the area, we might get a direction, which would be as good a place to start. I mean, it’s going to be inaccurate, but we will have a general direction.”
At this point, Yves join the conference. “We might be able to discover somezzing from ze cargo.”
“Hold on, Yves may have a point. Wasn't the cargo was ejected with the escape pods.” Amar asked.
“Manual override, kinda like a last screw you to the people who have control of the ship.” Jansen said.
“Maybe, just maybe, the black box was jettisoned with the cargo.” Amar continued, “Yves, do you think that Miss Thames could join us for a quick eva? She might be able to help us find what we are looking for.”
“I believe so.”
“Good, have her join me and Jansen in the SRV bay. Lobel, radio Hines and have him prep the TRV.” Amar concluded.
“Understood.” Lobel said from his station.
“Commander, entering glide in 10.” Ithora said.
Amar returned his console, and watched the ship drop into glide. The hull shuddered, and slowly pitched back and forth, the helmsman maintained control, guiding the ship towards the nav point issued to him by Patton. Slowing to normal speed, the helmsman began to look for a landing zone. Amar walked over to the canopy and examined the barren landscape. Craters lay scattered about the dusty red surface, in the distance there were mountains, pointing towards the sky. The sun slowly rose behind them, casting eerie shadows across the sight. The tracks from their last visit barely remained, dust storms frequently blew across this world, obscuring and claiming the lives of careless explorers. The ship began to touch down, he could hear the massive landing gear deploy. Softly, the gear contacted with the surface, and the engines could be heard powering down. From his vantage point he could barely see the cargo peeking through the top of the sand. Patting Ithora on the shoulder, he said, “Nice job.” He turned and left heading for the elevator with Jansen following close behind him.
“Sir, the TRV is prepped, the log shows four of you will be departing, anything you wish to add?” Julles asked.
“No thank you Julles.”
“Think we should bring any firepower?” Jansen inquired.
Amar thought for a moment and then responded. “After the events on the station, I think it would be wise.”
“Something just seems off about this entire fiasco.” Jansen stated.
“Jansen, at this point I don’t think we should leave anything to chance.”
The forced rest had done him good, but he was still feeling the effects. They stepped off the elevator and walked to the bay in silence. A technician stood in the bay preforming final checkups on a large tracked vehicle. The TRV was built for stability and durability, taking a page from old military tracked vehicles. The chassis sat upon two sets of tracks one on each side. The tracks were about a meter tall, topped with a railed walkway. The walkway connected to the cabin and the rest of the vehicle, the vehicle was about three meters wide, including the tracks, and six meters long. It did not have a bubble canopy like the normal SRVs, instead it had a sloped armored plate leading to a slit that served as the view port. Inside there were monitors allowing the operator to drive the vehicle without relying on windscreen visibility. There were four seats in the cabin, with a small door leading to a second. In the second cabin, there were two benches running the length of the room. Above each bench there were storage racks loaded with supplies, and at the very end there was a weapons locker.
Amar and Jansen suited up, slipping into thin remlocks. Over the remlocks they slid another layer of a gel insulated emergency sealant. This layer solidifies and fills any tears in the suit, minimizing risk, a slim comfort when faced with the hostility of space. In addition, both slipped into Federal Tactical Rem-Suit or FighTeRS as it was known. Next step looked the coolest, but was by far the most uncomfortable and lengthy, equipping the bulky Vulkan mk-3, a combat exoskeleton with EVA capabilities. Twenty minutes later Jansen and Amar stepped towards the TRV. Waiting for them leaning against the tracks stood Yves, and sitting right beside him on a crate of sensor equipment was Jess Thomas. She wore a black Remlock EVA suit, with teal highlights that accentuated her physique.
She caught Amar staring. “Glad I can still turn some heads.”
Caught unawares, Amar fumbled for words. Sensing his frustration, Jansen jumped in. “That you can, you also draw bullets…”
Amar cut him off before he could finish, “Jess Thomas, meet my VC Jansen Dewilder. Sorry for interrupting, but we still have work to do, mount up.”
The four of them climbed into the TRV. “As if I needed to tell you, Strap in.” Amar said. The vehicle’s core slowly spinned up. “FSS Eagle’s Flame, this is the CMDR, going out for a stroll, be back in a few.”
“Roger, stay safe out there.”
The hanger door opened up on the lifeless terrain before them, the bay depressurized, a gust of air escaped into the void. As Amar drove the TRV out of the hangar, “Alright, helmets on and locked into place. Coms on frequency 6790.8." The sand parted and slowly compressed as the tracks moved over the terrain.
"Yves, anything on scanner?” Jansen asked after he locked his helmet into place.
“High band readings eight hundred meters to the north, right where ze sight should be.”
Speaking through his helmet, Jansen asked, “Are we going to recover any of the cargo. I mean, we could always use the credits.”
“Salvage team will be out here in 20 hours. If you see anything that we could load quickly, I don’t see why not, but only after we accomplish what we came here for."
“So, what exactly am I doing here?” Jess asked.
Jansen turned and said, “We are looking for clues to the whereabouts of your old ship. Frankly, we are stumped, you would be able to tell if something in the cargo manifests or in the dump was out of place.”
“I still have no idea why all the cargo was dumped.” Amar added.
“Maybe a final screw you to the boarders?” Jansen asked, although the crew had passed that scenario around, he wanted to see if Thames had anything to add.
“Even then, the ship would still sell for a nice little value.” She said.
“We’re here. Yves can you wait here and check the sensors we set up?” Amar said, moving to the airlock.
“Oui.” He said as he turned back towards his monitor.
“Alright everyone else let’s head out. Jansen, can you hand me one of the rifles?” Amar indicated a simple looking military rifle.
Jansen grabbed two from the locker, passing one to Amar and placing the other over his shoulder. “Here you go.”
“Are you expecting Aliens or something?” Jess asked, sarcastically.
“Just being prepared, so if things go south, it will turn out differently, than last time.” Jansen said looking directly at Jess.
“Jess, while Jansen and I set up the sensors, can you go look for the black box? Hopefully its out here, somewhere.” Amar said, try to refocus their "merry" band as they departed the TRV.
Jess turned and walked away, leaving prints in the sand. Her head turning back and forth. Jansen turned to Amar, “With our luck, she will get lost, and we won’t find anything.”
“Be a little more optimistic.”
“1000 credits says she falls into a crater.” Jansen said, smirking mischievously.
“Look around, you see any craters within 2 kilometers?” Amar responded.
“I never said the odds were good.”
“You know I can hear you two.” Jess interrupted.
“I apologies for my coworkers, miss Thomas.” Yves said.
“Don’t worry about it Yves. I have had to handle guys like them for years.” Amar could almost see her smirking as she said it.
“Let me know if you find anything.” Amar said.
“Come on commander, let’s set these sensors up. Huh, I just thought of something. If it was pirates, they might back track to pick up the cargo. Sensors will pick them up, and we could wait for them.” Jansen commented as they moved the equipment, box by box.
“Still doesn’t explain the why we got shot at.”
A few minutes later, the sensors were set up and connected. Amar knelt by the equipment and started the scanner.
“Commander, update from ze Flame, Zere is a large storm front headed our way.” Yves said over the coms.
“Alright, tell Ithora to lift off, we should be good in the TRV.” Amar said, storms had a way of complicating everything, but for the most part, they were just a mild nuisance.
“Yikes, that’s a hell of a front.” Jansen said standing up and pointing at the storm.
Amar turned towards the direction Jansen indicated. A solid wall of dust surged towards them.
“Jess, update.” Amar said, they had not heard from her, and he was concerned. Maybe she had fallen into a crater.
“I think I may have found the black box. I could use a hand getting it back to the Rover.” Her voice came back over the com.
“Alright start dragging it towards us, we are heading your way.” Amar and Jansen started casually following her tracks.
“Almost to it, it should be behind this ridge.” She said.
“Wait, you don’t have eyes on?” Jansen asked.
“No, we had all of our black boxes set to a different frequency. For recovery.”
“Interesting, you’ll have to explain that to me later.” Amar said, trying to make conversation.
Jansen stopped, something on his mind. “Hey Amar, why on earth were we not able to pick up any frequencies at all?”
Amar stopped, raised his hand, touching the private coms channel shared between the crew. “Yves, do you have any frequencies listed?”
“One, but it iz tres faint.”
“600 meters Sud West.”
“Commander, I think I see the Black Box. I got it. Wait, who is there? What are you… **lp! *********” Jess's coms went dead. The abrupt end shocked Jansen and Amar.
“What the, Yves, clear that signal up!” Amar shouted.
“Somezing is jamming our communication relay.”
Jansen and Amar broke into a sprint both drawing their rifles. They covered the 600 meters quickly, slowling as they ran up a prominent sand dune. Boulders dotted the ridge, beyond the crest, the storm could be seen sweeping over the landscape. They both crested the dune only to be met with a hail of weapons fire. The sounds all were muffled by the lack of atmosphere. Both dove into the sand, rounds screaming over their heads. Finding cover, Amar and Jansen began to return fire. Between the bursts Amar took a moment to analyze their situation. He and Jansen were on a ridge, in cover behind several boulders, their unknown assailants were in the middle of a valley, hiding behind what little cover they could have. Jess was at gun point, and she was complying. However, instead of using her as a hostage, they moved her to cover, and attempted to use their overwhelming numbers to stop the would be rescuers.
“Why is it that everywhere we go with her leads to a fire fight?” Jansen yelled as he reloaded.
“Beats me. One on the left!” Amar said firing at a man moving the other direction.
“Got him!” Jansen put a small targeted burst into the assailant Amar had indicated, he tumbled backwards in slow motion, a pink mist escaping from the wound. “Payback’s a bitch!” He shouted.
Two rovers crested from the other side and pulled in front of the men. The turrets barked angrily at Amar and Jansen, keeping them pinned. Amar carefully peeked between volleys. He watched unable to act as the unknown hostiles loaded Jess and the black box into one of the rovers. She valiantly attempted to fight refusing to go quietly, but it did not take long for the assailants to bind her arms behind her back and push her into the vehicle. The rovers then retreated the way they came, allowing Jansen and Amar to fire upon the retreating vehicles.
“Damn it! Yves, get the TRV over here now.”