Chapter 6
Jailing the Jailer

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Uranian Sphere
Date: Tue 09 Jul 121
Time: UST 0918

The bodies of the MAs in the brig lay where they fell. They did not stand a chance against the invisible specters that swooped in and killed them all in a matter of seconds. When the last one hit the deck, the specters took form, deactivating their optic camouflage, revealing a half dozen figures dressed head to toe in black.
The door to the cell holding the Sheolite prisoner slid open. He did not look particularly surprised to see three of the men in black walking into his cell.
"Showtime," the lead man in black said in his modded voice.
The Sheolite prisoner did not say anything and his face revealed no particular emotion. He peeled off his jumpsuit and calmly proceeded to pull pieces from the cybernetic apparatuses that covered his body. As he was taking the pieces out, he assembled them with the speed and precision of a well-trained infantryman with a field-stripped weapon. When he was done, he had a small handheld device with a trigger on the front and a small button up top.
He looked at the lead man in black, who nodded his head. With that, the Sheolite pulled the trigger and pressed down on the button with his thumb. And now it truly began.

* * *

Date: Tue 09 Jul 121
Time: UST 0921

Airman Apprentice Evon Rhee looked to his left and to his right to see that the coast was clear. It wasn't like there wasn't anyone around. The hangar was always busy, after all. However, no one was taking notice of him and that was the main thing.
The whole 133 had been moved out of Hangar One to give the captured Shelly Viper wide berth. Rumor had it that the Skipper got into it with several admirals over letting it on board, but was it really worth all that fuss?
He was only a maintainer, just out of A school when the Tico launched. He really didn't know much of anything, but he'd heard some stories from the fighter jocks when they felt like showing off for the crews.
There was definitely some mystique about their elusive enemy. They say no one's ever taken a Shelly alive, but how could that be true in a twenty-year war? Still, he'd never heard of anyone who'd seen a live Shelly or one of their birds up close.
It was stupid in retrospect, but Rhee and his buddies were trying to one-up each other and he wound up on top with the claim that he'd take a picture of himself touching the captured Viper. He wasn't thinking at the time and he was really starting to regret it now, but if he didn't want to be branded a chickenshit, he had to go through with it, even if he got Mast or worse for it. Then again, if he got caught, he'd just be derided as a dumbass. Chickenshit or dumbass? He didn't want either one. The only choice was to make it happen and be immortalized as a magnificent bastard.
Still, it was a long way to get to the Viper, at least a good forty or fifty meters wide open where anyone and everyone can see you. Plus there were a couple leathernecks guarding it. Armed leathernecks, probably with shoot on sight orders. Why was he doing this again?
There's no way he could sneak up to it and if he tried rushing at it he'd only get perforated by the leathernecks. What to do, what to do...
Then it hit him. If the two leathernecks were fellow junior enlisted, they might be cool about it. Besides, would his triumph be any less awesome or ballsy if he used is brain instead of charging in like an idiot? It was worth a shot, anyway.
Confidence, Rhee told himself.
With that thought on his mind, he sauntered up to the Viper as nonchalantly as he could manage. The closest leatherneck took notice of Rhee and turned to face him.
Once Rhee was about ten meters away, the leatherneck said, "I know you ain't walkin' up here, squid."
Still walking forward, Rhee held up his hands inoffensively and said, "Hey, fellas, what's goin' on?"
"'Hey, fellas,'" the leatherneck jeered. He glanced over to his partner and said, "Hey, Dominguez, get a load a' this joker." Seeing Rhee continue to approach, he started to ready his rifle. "Whup, hold it right there, killer. This thing ain't show, ya know. I don't know what you're up to, but you're gonna turn around an' go right back the way ya came."
Rhee stopped dead in his tracks. He could feel his guts churning, but he was too stubborn to give up yet. He noted that the leatherneck talking to him was an E-3. He'd heard that lances tended to be the coolest as far as leathernecks go, so maybe there was still a chance.
"Come on, man," he said, trying to pretend he wasn't scared shitless, "lighten up. We're all on the same team, aren't we?"
"Are we?" the leatherneck asked. "Why don't ya prove it by backin' the fuck up?"
Honesty is the best policy, right?
"Listen, I told my mates I could get a picture of myself with the Viper."
"You have got ta be kiddin' me."
"Come on, how often does a chance like this happen? I, I could let you and your buddy in on it. It'd make a great memento. I know an IT who could encrypt the file so nobody'd pick up on it."
The leatherneck didn't seem to be going for it.
"I'll give you fifty creds," Rhee offered. "I'll give both of you fifty creds. A hundred."
The leatherneck looked at his buddy, then at Rhee, then around and about in the general vicinity. Without a word, he walked up to Rhee, who flinched, half-expecting to get his teeth knocked out.
Leaning in close, the leatherneck said in a low voice, "Two hundred creds each. You get it done quick an' you better pray your IT is as good as he says he is."
Rhee couldn't believe it. He did it.
"R-right," he stammered. "Let's do this."
He pulled out his camera and the two leathernecks huddled in close. He stretched out his arm as far as he could to get as much of the Viper as he could.
"Say cheese."

* * *

Date: Tue 09 Jul 121
Time: UST 0925

The whole ship rocked violently and the bridge was bathed in red light as alarms went off.
"What the hell was that!?" Commodore Frazier exclaimed. "Report!"
"There's been an explosion in Hangar One, sir!"
"Was it that Shelly ship?"
"I don't know, sir!"
"Find out! Play back the security footage!"
"Hull integrity's at 42%, but we're getting a leak from the bay doors."
"Order an evacuation of the hangar. Get DC and a medevac team out there now! Stand by to depressurize once the casualties are out."
"Aye-aye, sir!"
Everything had happened so fast, it was just now hitting Commodore Frazier what had happened. Dammit, he knew something like this would happen. Why didn't those damn fools listen?
"Sir, we have the security footage."
"Put it onscreen."
On the screen installed in the armrest of the Captain's chair, he watched the playback. There was the Viper with its two Marine guards. A sailor approaches the guards, looks like he's talking with them, then they huddle up as the sailor pulls out a camera to take a picture. Then boom.
"Get me the brig," Commodore Frazier said.
"There's no response, sir."
"What? Open up the brig's feed."
"I can't, sir. It's down."
With the brig blacked out, all of the Commodore's fears seemed to be coming true. He had some curses for SupCom in mind, but right now he needed to get the ship back under control. First, he needed to get ahold of the Chief Security Officer. Commodore Frazier just hoped he wasn't in the brig when it went down.
"Get me Commander Chandaria."
"Yes, sir?" Chandaria said.
The Commodore breathed a sigh of relief. With Chandaria to direct security operations, the task was that much easier.
"Chandaria, that Shelly bird in the hangar just blew and we've lost contact with the brig. I'm putting the ship on FPCON Delta and locking everything down. Coordinate with Colonels Vasquez and Grozny to get whatever additional manpower you need. I want that Shelly accounted for."
"Aye-aye, sir."
The Commodore trusted Chandaria to do his job. While he could let the notification go down the line, he opted instead to make the announcement himself. If there were any hostiles on the loose, he wanted as much of the crew out of the way as soon as possible.
Switching to the intercom, he said, "Attention all hands. Attention all hands. We are now at FPCON Delta. I repeat, we are now at FPCON Delta. All non-essential personnel report to your berths and stand by until further notice."
He stood up and made an additional announcement.
"Seal the bridge," he told the MA standing guard. To the rest of the bridge crew, he said, "Alright, people, get comfortable. We may be here for a while."

* * *

Date: Tue 09 Jul 121
Time: UST 0944

Eva and the EM LPO stalked through the Engine Room looking for an E-2 who was unaccounted for when they herded out everyone they could spare. The division officers, CPOs and a skeleton crew would stay behind to oversee things until the FPCON was lifted. She wanted to get the straggler found quick and join up with Commander Gunmoontree and the other chiefs. Captain Huang was going completely out of his gourd and she didn't want to deal with him on her own if she could avoid it.
She wished she could just pick up the stray sailor on his tracker, but even as LCPO she didn't have the authorization to call up that information. There was a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time to get it done. She could already imagine the chewing she had in store for her, but now wasn't the time to worry about that.
Faced with a bulkhead, she looked at the LPO and told him, "You go that way, I'll go this way, and maybe we'll find him."
"Aye-aye, Chief," the LPO replied.
Eva would rather have the LPO around if she ran into Captain Huang or any of his crew, but they should be sticking close to the Kasfeys--that is, the Things That Do Not Exist. They needed to cover ground faster, so there wasn't much choice except to split up.
As she was walking, she thought about trying the intercom again, even if it did draw attention to the fact that she didn't have her division together. She needed to focus on getting the job done and worry less about all the chewing she would have to put up with later.
She then noticed something, a pool of some dark fluid on the deck. Was there a hydraulics leak or something? As she got closer, she saw that one of the bulkhead panels was loose. It wasn't the responsibility of her division, but if she diagnosed the source of the leak, it'd make repairs go faster.
The loose panel wasn't secured to the bulkhead like it was supposed to be, so Eva was able to pull it off easily. Nothing could've prepared her for what she found.
There, stuffed into bulkhead was the body of Fireman Rimi, the missing sailor from her division. The fluid on the deck wasn't from the hydraulics. It was his blood.
She would've screamed, but she could barely manage a gasp as she recoiled from the body, tripping over her own feet and falling on her rear.
She might as well have been bolted down where she fell, because she couldn't move. She just sat there staring in shock at the dead body, practically hyperventilating.
"Wh, wh'th, wha-the... A, ohma, ohmiga--"
The words wouldn't come out. She couldn't speak, couldn't scream, could barely even breathe. Her stomach sank and she broke out in a cold sweat. She started to feel dizzy and may well have gone into a full-fledged panic attack, but her system was suddenly jolted back into sorts by the sound of a shot being fired.
Eva instinctively scrambled behind a terminal for cover as several more shots rang out. There was some shouting going on too, then silence--well, as silent as the Engine Room ever got.
She wanted to make a break for it. The door wasn't far. She could make it. She was sure of it.
Then she checked herself. She needed to know what was going on first. If she called the MAs for help, they needed to know what they were getting into. For that matter, she needed to be sure she wasn't misunderstanding the situation, or she'd be unnecessarily drawing security from where it needed to be.
Still, it felt like a really bad idea as she crawled back the way she came, trying to stay out of view as much as she could. She didn't go any farther when her cover ran out, but by then she had a clear view of the Ka--the Things That Do Not Exist.
She could see Captain Huang's Marine guards down on the deck. The Captain and his people were penned in on the platform for the Things That--oh, the hell with him--the Kasfeys by several figures dressed all in black. Correction: Several armed figures dressed in black.
Despite the good ten meters between them and all the ambient noise of the Engine Room, Eva could still make out what was being said if she strained her ears a bit.
"You seem to the man in charge," one of the men in black said to Captain Huang, speaking with a rather heavy voice mod. "I'm only going to tell you this once. Initiate a spacefold to the coordinates my associate provides or face the consequences."
"You can go to hell," Captain Huang growled.
"Wrong answer."
The man in black held up a boxer pistol and shot Captain Huang square in the forehead. Eva had to cover her mouth to keep from gasping out loud. As much as she hated Captain Huang, it was still a shock to see him gunned down in cold blood.
The man in black pointed his boxer pistol at one of the Captain's crewmen.
"We go down the line. How about it, Commander?"
This time it was apparently the Assistant Reactor Officer, but Eva didn't know him or any of the other red-suiters. The late captain outfitted his people in red jumpsuits to separate them from the other personnel and now that made them an easy target for the hostiles.
"I refuse," the ARO replied.
Instead of shooting him, the man in black shot another crewman instead.
"You son of a bitch!" the ARO shouted.
"You may be eager to throw away your own life," the man in black replied, "but are you so willing to sacrifice your men?"
The man in black shot another crewman.
"You can make it stop, Commander. Do what we want and no one else has to die."
"I can't do that."
The man in black then pointed to a female crewmember, who immediately cried out in fear.
"You," the man in black said.
"Oh, God, please, no," the female blubbered. "I--"
"On your knees."
"Please don't. Please--"
"On your knees," the man in black repeated.
The female got down on her knees, all the while sobbing loudly and begging the man in black not to shoot her.
"Now ask the Commander to do what we say," the man in black told her, pressing the barrel to her forehead.
The female continued to blubber incoherently, prompting the man in black to nudge her with his pistol.
"Don't ask me. Only he can save you now."
She managed to pull herself together enough to look up at the ARO and beg, "Sir, please! I, I don't want to die! Please!"
The ARO held his ground.
"Too slow."
With that, the female crewmember was gunned down as well. Eva could barely see straight from the tears welling up in her eyes. The ARO looked away, but one of the other men in black moved in and took hold of his head, twisting it back to face the dead crewmember's body.
"You look at the consequences," the lead man in black insisted tersely. "She's dead because of you. She pleaded for her life and you could have saved her, but you didn't. Look at what's left of her."
The ARO broke down, pitifully crying and wailing.
"Are you going to do what we say?" the lead man in black asked.
In spite of his wailing, the red-faced ARO shook his head stubbornly. The lead man in black motioned for one of other to come up.
"Hold him down."
The man in black already holding his head was joined by another and two of them pulled the ARO to the deck kicking and screaming.
"I'm not going to kill you," the lead man in black said. "But I am going to hurt you until I get compliance."
He then blew off half to ARO's right foot. The ARO howled in pain, but the two men in black kept him from thrashing too much.
The lead man in black pulled something from the pack strapped to his thigh and held it up in front of the ARO's face.
"Initiate the spacefold and I give you this morphine. Refuse and you lose your other foot."
Eva was so transfixed by the horrific display that it wasn't until just then that she realized she had to do something. Whoever these men in black were, where they were trying to send the ship couldn't possibly be good. She couldn't cut them off by interfering with the Kasfeys or the Six-Echoes directly, but the circuits connecting them were another story. If she could cut the connections, the Kasfeys wouldn't be able to activate and though everyone in the Engine Room would likely end up dead, at least the rest of the crew would be safe. If only she knew how to hack the system, she would seal the Engine Room and depressurize it, putting the men in black to a definitive end--along with everyone else, unfortunately, but it looked like they were dead anyway.
Keeping a low profile, she started to access the terminal she was hiding behind. She punched in the emergency override code she needed to access the circuits without the Electrical Officer and proceeded to sever all connections to the engines and the auxiliary power to the Engine Room. Even with her access, she couldn't block the emergency power, but that shouldn't be enough to work the Kasfeys.
With the Engine Room cut off from everything except emergency power, the lights dimmed and much of the equipment either shut down entirely or shifted to low power mode. The engines were still going, even if they weren't able to supply power to the ship, so there was still a somewhat protective blanket of noise to cover Eva as she crawled away to find the nearest sound-powered telephone to call for help.
For being such old technology, sound-powered phones were a real lifesaver, not requiring any external power and far less affected by the interference in the Engine Room that made PersComs unusable. They weren't perfect and they weren't infallible, but they were handy in a pinch.
There were six stations in the Engine Room, one port and one starboard on each of the three levels. Eva would have liked to go up a level or two to put some more distance between her and the men in black, but she doubted she could go up the ladders without drawing attention to herself. The jack box for the phone on this level was ironically near the place where Fireman Rimi's body was stowed.
Eva looked around cautiously, staying crouched down, before plugging in the headset and activating the circuit.
"Bridge, Engine Room," she said in a low voice, "respond."
"Unknown station, bridge, did not copy. Say again."
Eva scrambled to cover the receiver and muffle the sound. She had forgotten that you needed to speak fairly loudly to be heard. This idea suddenly looked a lot less appealing.
Eva tried raising her voice--but only by a little--and repeated, "Bridge, Engine Room, respond."
Straying from protocol, the telephone talker on the bridge said, "Unknown station, bridge, I can't hear you. You're going to have to speak up."
Eva closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was going to die.
"Bridge, Engine Room, we have hostiles. Multiple fatalities. Send help ASAP. Exercise extreme caution. Hostiles are armed and highly dangerous."
She hoped that was loud enough to take. She spoke a little faster than she should've, but every second she was making noise was a second she was potentially drawing the attention of the men in black.
"Engine Room, Bridge. Armed hostiles present. Multiple fatalities. Confirm."
Just as Eva was about to reply, she felt something hard nudge the side of her head. Her blood turned to ice and her whole body began to shake as she slowly turned her head to see one of the men in black standing over her with his weapon pointed right at her.
"Engine Room, Bridge, respond," the headset squawked, but there was no one to answer it.