Our shop can handle big ships, the three rear bays are the size of an airplane hanger after all, but when I came on shift the next day--oh my God. I had just dropped off some paperwork and glanced out the window on the second floor and did a double take when I was eye level with the bridge port of a ship, that nearly touched the shop lights. I wandered out to get a better look.
The behemouth and the scaffolding placed around it like caging a monster, nearly filled two bays. I once flew in a C-2 transport out of Sacramento and it would fit in this easily. I squeezed by some equipment and gazed up at the purple and black exterior grimy with oil. There didn't seem to be much work going on so I donned a hardhat and decided to explore. I hauled myself up the steep stairs to the side entrance some twenty feet off the floor.
I walked down a hall to the bridge and crew seating, I'd never been inside something this big and I was astonished at the sheer size of everything, the steel webbing was heavier than anything I'd seen before. The hall was dark and narrow, typical for a Rogue cargo ship. There was a small porthole that offered a view of the payload bay where a partially draped ship that looked heavily armored, filled the hold. That looks familiar, I thought, with mounting anxiety.
"Hey there," I heard a voice call out and turned to see a red haired fellow walking toward me.
"I'm Eddie, the site manager," he said. He was a lean guy in dirty gray overalls. He seemed nice with an open square face and brown eyes that darted everywhere.
"Are you here to install the additional transmitters?" he indicated an open slot on the main control console with a blurred wave of a hand.
"Oh you're a Pohl," it came out more accusing than I intended.
"We're not all stiff and serious like the ambassador," he bristled.
That was news to me, every Pohl I ever saw was a walking mannequin. This guy was all loose and relaxed. Who was this guy and what the hell was he doing on a Rogue ship? Like the Pohl's, the Rogues did their own repair work. Actually the seating looked to small for Rogues, who tend to be tall or bulky.
There was an awkward silence when it dawned on both of us that I was not who he expected. He moved slightly to block my view of the bridge and I could feel him trying to probe inside my head. My urgent bladder came to my rescue.
"Ah, that would be a job for Zero Atcha. I'll go fetch him after I take a serious piss, ok?" I said as causally as I could.
"Take your time, there's no rush," he said equally stalling.
I left with no intention of returning as my inner alarm bell told me there was something very wrong with this picture.
Realization hit me like a blast of cold air when I realized the ship in the hold was a Klee fighter like one of Shakova's models.
Holy shit it's a Trojan horse, I thought in terror. I tossed the hardhat aside and ran to the office to warn everyone fast as my chubby legs could carry me in the syrupy gravity and thin air that left me panting.
One tidbit of information I gathered about the Pohl's is that the planet's environment is as unhealthy to the Klee as it is to us. As I rounded a corner, I guessed it would make sense to launch an invasion from a safe place more compatible to their atmospheric taste. This was a perfect base of operations and Pohl was a sitting duck.
Why the Trojan horse trick? Because the security around the moon is fairly substantial given the alien population passing through. Having agents inside to override the many airlocks would be--
An alarm sounded and a sudden drop in pressure made me skid to a halt. As I waited to get enough air for my brain to work, I saw people rushing to the airlock shelters as I raced to the front hall.
"Get to the safety now," Stan bellowed to me as he hurried the staff along.
"We're being invaded by the Klee, they have a ship hidden inside the barge," I managed quickly between gulps. He stared at me and I feared sounding like a lunatic then his eyes widen, at that moment he spotted Temple rushing by.
" Get some rifles from the weapons locker and call for reinforcements, we got a bug infestation," he informed her over the din of people running and the clanging alarm.
By now the safety door began to close automatically and I'd never make it, so I broke away to hide in a ship I had been working on in bay one. It was fully operational and airtight. I could escape in it if need be. The thudding sound of rifle fire distracted me then I was almost knocked down by a clearly frightened Elvis as he shoved his way pass me. What the hell? I wondered.
I advanced carefully into the shop to see what scared him off when I spotted Imbler lying on the floor in a widening pool of dark liquid, a laser rifle, far too big for his slight build, lay nearby. I approached cautiously having discovered the first week at work to stay away from an injured Pohl.
Fet had punctured his hand and as blood spurted, I instinctively moved to help when Temple warned me back.
"Their blood is poison," she explained and Imbler rushed in instead.
Imbler lay still as I stood and wondered what to do. He looked up at me, his wig slipping off his head as he moved.
"Don't let them get in . . . the Bailey doors . . . George," he gurgled. I nodded and looking around, spotted a sandbag we use as a universal weigh on a mover's quilted blanket. I gently placed the blanket over his torso and set the bag close to his wound. He figured out my intention and slowly pushed the bag closer with a free hand. Satisfied he would hold, I dashed past my hideout to see George come toward me.
"By the Gods, get to safety," he waved an impatient arm, shooing me away.
"We have to lock the Bailey, that's how the rest of the invaders will get in," I shouted and pointed to the heavy door at the far end of the garage. As we headed for the control room, a swarm of Klee emerged from the big ship, chattering like cicadas.
The creatures that looked like heavily armored beetles with crab like arms and legs headed straight for us firing pulse rifles. George rushed at them with a heavy bar in each upper hand roaring with primitive rage while I scrambled up the ladder to the control cabin. I glanced back to see George pick up two of the invaders and throw them at the advancing line. He was pushing them back toward the barge but there was no way he could defeat the overwhelming hoard.
There was hell of a racket with the pitched battle and alarm but all I could hear was my heart pounding in my ears and heavy breathing as I frantically tried to remember the shut down procedure I had seen once. This wasn't my job, in fact it was the one thing Elvis was good at, the bastard.
Don't lose your focus, I told myself as I wiped sweat from my face and put on the sound blocking earphones. I had ten seconds to figure out this control before the invaders shot their way in through the inch thick door window. I found the door lift lever and pushed it all the way off.
Or so I thought.
To my horror the door began to slide open. Several Klee and anything not anchored was sucked out as decompression occurred. George held on to a metal post and kicked off a Klee who was trying to hold onto him.
This is not as bad as it sounds, I knew the Bailey wouldn't open if the outer airlock door was open so the decompression wasn't total. There was still a chance to stop this disaster.
The only way I figured to quickly disable the door was to disconnect it from the hydraulic lift, causing the door to fall like a guillotine and ruin it, but fuck it, that was the least of our concerns right now.
I grabbed a large mallet lying on the floor that is used to free the steel pin holding the safety line in place. I swung at the pin and sent it sailing then hit the release with the mallet. I flinched away as the counterweight whizzed upward and turned too late to see George on the other side of the door fighting off more of those awful bugs.
"George," I yelled, as the door fell with terrifying speed and crushed several Klee underneath.
The sound of rifle fire from behind informed me that security, along with Stan and Temple had arrived to wipe out the remaining bugs. I climbed down the ladder and was immediately grabbed by Temple who continued to fire an automatic weapon with one hand while shoving me into my intended hiding place with the other.
I was too dazed to comprehend anything as the door was shut behind me. I lay curled up on the floor in the dark cabin with the gun battle faint in the background.
George, George had to be dead if the outer door lock had been opened to flush the Klee out to the airless moon. I hope every one of those disgusting bugs was dead. How could I have been so stupid not to make sure he was safe before dropping the door?
I began to shake as the events and shock caught up with me. The shooting stopped then I heard vague shouting. I sat up, brushing away tears and suddenly hating everything about this place. There was a thump on the hull.
"Open up it's me," I heard Temple yell and I reluctantly unlocked the door. The outside light momentarily blinded me but I adjusted to see the lithe mechanic holding a rifle over her shoulder, her face and clothes smudged with dirt and God knows what, her short hair in wild disarray.
"You look like shit McLaughlin," she said with relief.
"Same to you Giotti," I retorted with anger. She regarded my desolate mood for a moment then broke into a broad grin.
"Don't be that way, we beat the bugs good thanks to your move," she said in an attempt to cheer me up.
"And killed George," I said, not cheered at all.
"Did someone mention me," I heard a voice then a familiar blue face peeked around the open hatch.
"George," I leapt at him with unbridled joy. He caught me as I rapped my arms around his thick neck, laughing at my reaction.
"Oh come on little one, it takes more than the Klee and a bit of decompression to stop a Chiron," he informed me with a dramatic sneer. I had to laugh at his bravado, I should have known he was invincible under that gentle demeanor.
The invasion was stopped in its tracks. The Alliance Defense showed up in full force within an hour and the Klee beat a very hasty retreat at the sight of the armada. The surprise attack taught the Pohls not to under estimate their foes.
Imbler survived and it was revealed at length that the Klee wanted him because he was an intelligence agent. Eddie was hauled off and tried for treason, another embarrassment for the Pohls.
Stan and Co. were cited for their defense of Mark's Station. And Elvis-- he had the nerve to show up several days later, chipper as ever like nothing had happened. He walked in while Stan was finishing up a new safety lecture with the whole staff. Pretty ballsy considering how he cowardly left Imbler to bleed to death.
"Hey all," he greeted us.
Maybe it was out of place but I couldn’t control my fury and without warning, stepped forward and kneed him in the groin as hard as I could. He doubled over in pain. Stan and the others regarded him unsympathetically
"That's for being a shit and running away," I informed him contemptuously as he lay writhing on the floor.
Oh yeah, and I aced my exam.