GunBoat Elisabeth II - Titan

1: Lagrange Point

      The colonel wanted to die. You could see it in his eyes. The General had tried many things over the years to change his mind, and he might at last found something.
As the Colonel entered the General's office, the general rose from behind his desk and walked forward to greet him. He said: "Tomas, come here. So how is the new unit working.?"
      The colonel explained a little about his unit. The group was comprised of freaks and rejects. Mutants and the undesirables. The general said: "It is nice of you to save the boys. They are good marines, except for those three that were about to hang..."
    The colonel nodded and said: "That is part of the plan. Sent us in a place where there is little chance of survival, and if we died...."
   The general nodded at his idea. He knew about the colonel's curse. That was why this was the general's own private unit.
     The general's sin, if you could say that. The general said: "This next mission might be more of a go and look, and make contact, than a battle."
    He sat down at his desk, and offered a chair to the colonel. He said: "We have picked up signals from inside Titan. The largest moon around Saturn.  It might be pirates, it might be nothing, or it might be aliens, again. You have to make a haste to find out what it is."
    The colonel sat on the chair and asked: "But do you have any ships left to take that long a haul.? I thought they were all placed around Mars and Earth, for defence.?"
     The General nodded again and said: "We have a small single ship that is ready for this mission. You might like that crew. It was the ones that fought the last alien invasion."
     The general smiled and said: "The crew are … kind of an acquired taste... Much like your own crew."

      Between two points of gravity was a point where the two forces would cancel each other out, it was called a Lagrange Point. Between Earth and the Sun, there was one, and between Earth and the Moon, there was one. Technically, there were many, but we just needed one.
The larger the gravity wells, the closer you would be to the smaller of them to reach the Lagrange point. Right now, we were closer in on the Lagrange point between Earth and the Moon, because this was where they had placed the hub.
      The hub was the Earth's Space Station when you were close to Earth. Gamble, sex, and any kind of drug were here.
    It was also where we needed to pick up the guests for our longest flight ever. I was the captain of the Destroyer Elisabeth and stood with my hand resting on the wooden helm on the bridge of my ship. Feeling the grain of the smooth polished wheel. My skin was perfect and white. The teeth were perfect, and even the short blond hair looked like something from a movie poster of a space pilot ace. I looked at the space station as I was piloting my lady the last few metres into the harbour. I looked perfect, but for a small detail. I was wearing shorts, and you could see that my right leg was missing above the knee. I was grinning to myself. Gone were the parties, the lovely girls, and all the cameras. Gone were the loud noises and good food. I felt at home out here in space.
     The smile was not because I was flying, although I loved that. I was a synth and was hard-wired to love it... but it was my new mission. I smiled and thought to myself:
"I am going to touch the rings of Saturn."

     We had a long-range mission to Saturn and to the largest moon around Saturn called Titan. Above the moon, they had placed a small space station called Arcadis Station.
Beneath the yellow, dense, opaque soup that was the atmosphere of Titan, the scientists had found something living. Something that occasionally sends out signals sounding intelligent.
      They had not found out what it was, but something moved beneath the cover of the dense soup that was the atmosphere of Titan. I was on the bridge of my lady, the Destroyer Elisabeth.
      I had wanted to touch the rings of Saturn since I was born, about four years ago, but the last mission had only taken us to Jupiter and back. I was not sure if the gunboat Elisabeth was the right place for me to be... Sometimes I even thought about suicide, because I could no longer be a real fighter pilot. I let my commander take the helm. He was a black man, called Levi and he had saved my life when I first came aboard the ship. He had been a rich kid, but wanted to serve, and got the command of this ship. He was the captain and chose me as his 2nd in command. In our first encounter with aliens, he was incapacitated, and I took on the captain's role. I had to because we were at war, and I was bred for war... as a fighter pilot.
Commander Levi was piloting the ship to our assigned pier. The bridge looked like it self. There was some computer controls and a tactical screen in the middle of the room, in front of the helm and windows to the sides, so we could look nearly all the way around. There were monitors at the back with the face of a lady on one of them. The lady in question was the AI Elisabeth, and the brain behind the ship.

     She was reading up the rooster for the new crew, and her voice was a sweet young lady's: "Twenty marines with spacesuits, one officer, and their extra equipment. The Eight passengers for the Iapetus settlement, which we already have. Some experimental plants for the colony. Nothing seems strange."
      I said: "Well, not every trip can be a fight against aliens. Sometimes we just ferry stuff."
      Levi said: "And right now, we are the long haulers."
      I nodded and looked at him: "I still think it is stupid to place war ships like fortifications points around Earth."
      Elisabeth added: "Earth and Mars. They keep the disguise going with which planet is the real home planet."
    We had talked about it, and got nowhere. We had been famous for defeating the aliens for about a week, and then it started fading, and we got back to our day job. The job was transporting stuff and people between the planets.
     We normally only serviced the inner planets because your ship was small... but the desk generals had set up a picket line around Earth and Mars right now. We were not built for the long haul, but there was nobody else to do it. Levi said: "Touch down in ten."
     Elisabeth sounded a small alarm throughout the ship, so everybody was ready.
Levi touched down the ship on the blue plast-steel pier without too much drama. I had a cup of coffee standing in a bracket on a side table, and the contact between the ship and the ground, didn't even stir my coffee.
      Levi smiled and said: "Easy. When nobody is playing tricks on you."
     I smiled at him. We had a standing joke or competition between us. When we were landing the whaler, our small landing craft, the one in the big boat, would add something to make it a little harder. I had been a space fighter pilot, and Levi's had piloted small air planes on Earth.
Or maybe we were just boys playing 'Who's got the bigger dick.'
      We walked down into the cargo bay. The room was large and had our whaler parked on the one side. Forward was the forward cargo. There was room for about twelve pallets of stuff, if you stacked them right. Behind was the middle cargo, which was the largest, with room for twenty pallets. At the end of the wall was the rear cargo, with room for two pallets, but it was filled with other kinds of stuff, like spare parts, and unused space-suits. And next to it was the cargo toilet/bath.
    Ruslan, Chris, and Clayton had the side door opened and were getting the pallet with food and electronics from the pier into the rear cargo.
     They were all in the simple orange space suits you use in low-oxygen spaces like this. It's easy to see and easy to work in.
     The air inside the small hangar we had parked in was standard Earth, if a little bit stale with fuel and the smell of unwashed humans. It smelled like an old-time garage, where they would service road trucks and old-school people's ground cars. We walked past the guys hauling the pallets inside, and walked out of the ship's side door.
     The hangar was maybe five hundred metres wide, tall and deep. Small lights were placed on the grey plast-steel walls, and the ceiling was lost in darkness. There was another ship, white and sleek, next to ours. It looked more like a private pleasure cruise than a work horse like my Elisabeth.
    A guy in a red and gold uniform on the pier raised his hand toward me as a greeting. He looked like an old-fashioned officer. He gave a short cold smile as I approached him, and I said: "Colonel Tomas Noboa.?"
    He shook my hand and nodded: "Yes. You are Guy Garner. Captain Guy Or Garner.?"
    I smiled at him: "Just Guy. We are pretty informal here among the stars."
    He gave a little stiff reply and said: "I like my title. I had to work damn hard to get it."
    I nodded at his statement: "I got my because the captain got mind control..."
    I turned and motioned to my ship and said: "So what are you bringing aboard, Colonel.?"
    He gave a short chuckle: "Just my boys. Twenty fighters... ready to kick ass and kiss girls. Not in that order."
    From a double door out of the hangar came a skinny man, and the colonel signalled to him. He walked back and called for somebody.
     The doors were opened wide as the space marines entered the hanger. They were ten large and powerful space marines in their gleaming red and gold power-armour, each with their own personal e-rifle.
    The first ten marines came walking with e-rifles and a backpack over their shoulders. In the armour-power suits that signalled that here were the real space marines. They stopped and formed kind of a semi-circle around the colonel and me.
     Then the next ten walked out. They looked thinner, and their armour was lighter and not so shiny. The colours were still red and gold-coloured, but more light-armoured. They only had side arms at their sides and no e-rifles.
     They joined the marines, and the colonel said: "Boys. This is the captain that will get us to Saturn. Say hallo."
    The ten marines behind said "Sire. " on command and with military precision. The other ten said "hallo" or just waved a hand.
    I looked at the colonel, but he just said: "Embark, and get settled in for a long sleep."
    The ten marines saluted, and the others nodded. They all turned around and entered the ship. I smiled: "What are those.? Ten soldiers and ten … trainees.?"
    The colonel said: "Of the group, you should watch the soldiers. They have all killed people, and not only as marines. The others would have been rejected, if not for their psi-skills. "
   I frowned and looked at the colonel. He just said: "I will tell you the full version once we get light between us and Earth."

   Inside the ship, Ruslan said: "We have gotten all the stuff inside. The extra boxes have been put in the front cargo."
  I just nodded and was trying to figure out what was going on with those space marines...
After the small tour for the colonel, we ended up at the bridge. Levi said: "Are we ready to leave.?"
   I nodded and said: "The colonel has a surprise for us, but only when we are out of Earth's gravity."
    Levi looked at the Colonel, nodded, and said: "Unless he is an alien, we have to live with it."

    The colonel made a face that told of something hidden beneath his newly pressed red and gold uniform.

   We lifted off, and the hangar doors opened. We exited the hangar under my flying skills. Levi took her in, and I took her out.
   The force field that kept the air in the hanger made a sound like a plastic bag being dragged over the hull.
    And then we were out of the space station and on our way to Saturn.