Here’s version two of this chapter/scene. I may break it into two or three separate parts for a faster read. What do you think?
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MILK RUN Scene 18 v2- The Brig
Burnt odor somehow makes its way past Toby’s orca suit bio filters to fill his bubble helmet. It’s hard to tell if that charred metal smell is from the molten magnetic hull armor or from the debris of a broken command.
Toby’s back stiffens. Doesn’t matter. Emerson should have just swallowed his pride and followed my fucking orders.
A slight shuffling sound wakes Toby from his trance. It’s Susan. How long has she been standing there? “Dr. Connors, do you always sneak up on your patients?”
“Sneak up?” she says with a smirk. “Hard to do that in this small place and right in front of you.”
Dr. Connors’ eyes trace up and down the black bars of the jail cell. “Do you like your new quarters?”
Toby’s eyes narrow at the dry humor. “Could be better. Think you can arrange a cocktail service?”
“I’ll see what I can do but don’t think Commander Emerson would approve.”
Toby shakes his head slightly. “Well, do you think he will approve of you telling me about the status of our chief engineer?”
“His condition is stable; his suit repaired; bleeding has stopped but he is still unconscious,” reports the doctor.
“Unconscious? How long will that be? I need him back.”
“I’ll do the best I can but that depends on the chief.”
“I need him back on station ASAP,” says Toby his voice and octave higher than desired.
“He shouldn’t move for the next few hours to prevent bleeding again,” says Dr. Conners with a voice slightly lower than Toby’s.
Air rushes from Toby’s lungs. Zero-g bleed out. It’s the number one reason injured crew members’ die from space combat. Blood just spurts out of the body till there is no more. If that happens to Stockton . . .
Susan’s eyes take in Toby’s dejected look sitting there on the low hung metal bench. So, she changes the subject. “Speaking of the commander, he asked me to evaluate you to see if you have been infected.”
Toby frowns. That’s the second or third time Emerson suggested that. “He should know I’m not compromised!”
“Well, I know that but I’m just following orders.” Then Susan smiles, “come closer and let me look through that bubble helmet of yours and gaze into your nice eyes.”
Toby lets out a loud sigh. “You take your duties too enthusiastically doctor. You are not going to find what you are looking for there.”
“Humm,” says Susan with her lips squished to one side. “Well, then let’s look for Telrachnid jerky eye symptoms.”
Susan brings her helmet close to Toby and their helmets tap between the metal bars. Her voice drops with disappointment. “Nothing there, your eyes look just as cold as before.”
“Told ya,” says Toby unsmiling.
“Place your arm through the bar and let me access your suit’s injection port,” responds Susan with a more appropriate and professional voice.
Like an obedient kid, Toby sticks his right arm through the bars.
Susan then takes out a medical needle. “Just a little stick.”
As she inserts the needle through his orca suit medical port, Toby flinches back from that ‘little stick’ that feels more like a blind jab. “Still not going to find anything wrong.”
“Just doing my job so relax!” says Susan.
“So, when do we get the results?” asks Toby.
“In about 10 seconds,” says Susan as she empties the blood-filled syringe into a small white box with two blinking blue lights.
The blue lights suddenly turn steady yellow, then switches off. After what seems like more than 30 seconds, both lights glow red.
The red light glows steady for 5 breath holding seconds then turns green.
“Told ya! Now go tell Emerson… and the rest of the crew.”
Susan packs up her medical kit then looks back at Toby. “Tell me again, why you are doing this?”
“Strategic prerogative,” says Toby loudly.
“And you are sure it’s not just to rescue your ex-fiancé? She dumped you, remember?”
“Yea, I remember. And no, that’s not why I want that ship. Geez, you are starting to sound like Emerson!”
“I’m not that old!” balks Susan. “But he’s right to consider that possibility. Wouldn’t you if the situation was reversed?”
That logic is hard to ignore. “Yea, I haven’t thought of it that way. But you got to believe me, this is not a rescue mission.”
Susan looks in close at Toby again, like she’s conducting a follow-up medical exam. “OK,” comes back her diagnosis. Then she adds, “no chance for us?”
Toby sighs, “I can’t think of that right now, I’ve got a ship to run, a gunship to capture and a mission to complete.”
“OK,” comes back Susan’s second response with a slight smile.
“And do me a favor,” adds Toby.
“Quietly let it be known that I passed all of my medical exams.”
She smiles again, “Well, you passed only some of your exams.”
Toby’s voice raises up a half octave. “I’m talking about the Telrachnid medical exams!”
She smiles a third time then turns and exits the brig.
Two days with nothing to do but freeze on a low cold metal bench behind bars is not part of the job description for a SpaceComm captain.
But today, a slight queasiness swirls inside Toby stomach. The result of maneuvering thrusters accelerating the ship in a different direction. It’s been said that this ‘feel of the ship’ only comes to older ship captains who have been in space, or at sea as some SpaceComm elders would say, for a long time. So, a warm satisfying feeling overcomes the numbness from that cold bench having acquired a feel of the ship after only a few weeks ‘at sea.’
Nevertheless, a slight growl rumbles up Toby’s chest to dim out that satisfaction. The USS Princeton probably has resumed its course to Starbase 21. This lunacy will, no doubt, reveal the starbase’s secret location to the Telrachnid gunship that is sure to dog the USS Princeton all the way there.
Then, Toby eyes Lieutenant Commander Anderson opening the outer bar gateway to the brig.
Lieutenant Commander Jeffery Bartholomew Anderson, ten years in the service with five battle citations and two Purple Hearts. Yea, he’s been around the block and now he’s fourth in command under Emerson and Stockton. Or is it second in command considering the view from behind bars and Stockton’s condition. Whatever the case, Anderson marches right up to the bars, stops then salutes.
Anderson knows that salutes are not required about ship. But Toby returns the salute anyway. Then with a raised eyebrow says, “This must be a special occasion. What brings you here Lieutenant?”
“To see how you are doing sir.”
“Commander Emerson has resumed course to Starbase 21.”
“Yea, I felt it. And no zigzagging!”
“The commander’s rush to Starbase 21 could get us blown out of the water,” grumbles Toby.
The Lieutenant Commander sighs, “The commander felt that delivering the Crowbar as soon as possible is imperative.”
Toby’s voice now rumbles loudly. “Imperative enough to risk a Telrachnid D-Jump ambush with us going in a straight line. . . and to risk revealing the location of our last secret starbase?”
“Sir, uh . . .”
“What is it!”
“Well, some of us feel the commander is wrong and uh, we want to set things straight.”
Toby glares straight into Anderson’s eyes. “So, now you want to take over the ship just because you disagree with management! How is that different from what Emerson did?”
“Sir, it’s not. But we must do what is necessary to achieve your new objectives.”
Toby’s eyes narrow at the Lieutenant Commander. “Anderson, that Telrachnid gunship has already won, if this ship’s crew remains divided.”
“Sir, this ship is already divided because Emerson arbitrarily took command.”
“Go on,” says Toby.
“The third in command, Chief Stockton, did not consent to the change.”
“He was unconscious at the time,” reminds Toby.
“Then the decision should have fallen to the fourth in command,” chides the Lieutenant.
“So, did you inform the commander of this lapse?”
“Yes sir. But he said his actions were justified during the heat of battle.”
“That was then, this is now,” says Toby.
“He’s holding on to command, he says, until the situation cools off,” responds Anderson.
“Cools off! That’s a load of shit. He’s in violation of the chain of command,” says Toby in a monotone voice trying not to sound excited.
“But there are a number of crew members who support things staying as they are,” says Anderson.
Toby’s arms fold tightly across his chest. “That will change shortly.”
“Sir?“ asks Anderson.
“Do me a favor,” continues Toby.
“Do everything you can to get Chief Stockton back on the bridge. But do nothing that will give Emerson an excuse to relieve you of command.”
“But that does nothing to get you back in command of this ship,” counters Anderson.
“Not directly. But I’m counting on Smriti in that Telrachnid gunship attacking again. Traveling in a straight line, makes us an easy, tempting target.”
“That means we’ll take on even more battle damage. That could overwhelm us!” warns the lieutenant.
“Yep, and I’m betting that Emerson will bring me back to the bridge to distract Smriti,” continues Toby.
“Emerson suggested that approach earlier,” says Anderson, his face beginning to light up.
“That’s right. You will, of course, reinsert that idea in his head at the right moment as his trusted and compliant officer. And with Chief Stockton there, I can resume command of this ship.”
“You are assuming the chief will back you.”
“I’m counting on it. You have your orders.”
“Yes sir,” says Anderson turning away with a slight grin.
It’s now been four days in this brig and it still hurts to sit on the low metal bench. It was probably designed that way as a reminder of one’s own transgression that led to incarceration in this tiny cell.
But four days without being attacked by that Telrachnid gunship hurts even more. Emerson must have really put a good sting on it. Or maybe they gave up the chase and decided just to follow the Princeton and discover the location of the secret starbase.
Four days, alone in this brig waiting for an attack that probably will not materialize with nothing better to do but count the parallel lines of floor rivets and weld seams, can drive you crazy. Nevertheless, practiced patience is the order of this day as Toby traces those lines to the point where they stop at the wall. Much like how this plan seems to be going.
A rattle against the bars once again brings Toby out from a trance that seems to speed time along.
It’s Emerson trying to readjust the fit of his black orca suit. “Procedure 4243 will end tomorrow, and we can get out of these things.”
Toby cocks an eye at Emerson and two others. “You came here with your security team to tell me that?”
Emerson ignores the crack. “I think we put a hurting on that gunship.”
“So now you are going to lead them directly to Starbase 21, no zigzagging to avoid an ambush?”
“We waited two days before resuming our original course, we should be safe. Besides, we are late already and still three weeks out.”
“A lot can happen,” says Toby looking away toward the cell wall to hide a disapproving frown.
“Well, we can do a couple of Crazy Ivans just to make sure they are not following directly behind us.”
“Crazy Ivans? You are betting they will D-Jump into our space at the exact moment you rotate the ship around? And you said my plan was risky.”
“You forget we did a lot of damage that last time they tangled with us. I doubt they can even keep up with us now.”
Tired of that explanation, Toby changes the subject. “So why are you here?”
“To formally let you know that I will remain in command of this ship till we reach Starbase 21.”
“Too bad you can’t contact SpaceComm right now and tell’em what you did,” says Toby now looking straight into Emerson.
“You mean what YOU did! Besides, with us five times the distance to Proxima Centauri it would take over 21 years for our radio signal to reach Earth,” responds Emerson sounding like an annoyed SpaceComm instructor.
“And another 21 years for them to tell you, you screwed up, that you violated the chain of command by not allowing the execs of this ship to decide who will lead this ship,” shoots back Toby like an errant cadet.
“Chief Stockton was unconscious at the time.”
“So his role as third in command falls to Lieutenant Commander Anderson as called for in paragraph 5 section A of the officer’s manual. Or did you forget that during the heat of battle?”
“You know, it’s good that you can now quote chapter and verse from the manual to backup your decisions. But it’s your other behavior that causes me to this action,” says Emerson with a prideful voice.
“You may not know this, but I have access to your records. And when this is all over, I will report to SpaceComm leadership that your current behavior and decision making is inconsistent with your record as a top of the class graduating captain.”
“My records!” says Toby in a loud voice. “Who gave you access to my records?”
“SpaceComm! It’s a special privilege ship commanders have when they have to babysit new captains right out of battle and command school.”
“And did you read that ship captains are granted the right of the Strategic Imperative?”
Emerson looks down at the floor as if getting ready to spit through his helmet. “Never did like that doctrine, especially for newbies.”
That newcomer crack strikes deep inside Toby, a good reason to lash back. But instead, he forces out a steady voice saying, “well, that inflexibility is probably why they didn’t give you a ship. That and your involvement years ago during that Bleecker Street incident.”
Emerson’s eyes rise up from the floor with what looks like a fiery red glow. “I’m not compromised. That was my wife who was bitten by a Telrachnid spider. She was forced to spy for them. Not me!”
“Sounds like you are still trying to prove your innocence to this day. Do you think bringing in the Crowbar on time will demonstrate your trustworthiness?” asks Toby hoping for a bullseye retaliatory hit.
“I have a mission to complete,” huffs Emerson.
“Which mission is that commander?”
Emerson narrows his eyes at Toby then leaves the brig.
As Emerson’s security team slams the outer brig bars shut, Toby let’s out one last barrage. “Just bringing in the Crowbar won’t cut it commander! And don’t count on any absolution if you allow the Telrachnids to destroy this ship and its cargo or discover the location of our very last secret starbase!”