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Bob Lasceau needed a drink. It had been a long shift. The suddenness of going from EVA retrieval straight to combat maneuvers was a shock he could have done without. It was damned lucky that their little pilot was quick on the throttle. Those were at least frigate class weapons being thrown about, striking derelicts in the debris field. It was almost like a trap had been sprung. But who set it? And was if set for them, or someone else? Who could have known they’d pick this particular spot?

As soon as he got off shift he’d take some downtime, he promised himself. The lock banged shut behind him, cutting off his mental meanderings. He looked to his charges. He began marshaling his thoughts to set them a task. It wouldn’t do to-

The ship lurched. Then it shook as a grinding noise echoed through the hull. Bodies slammed into each other as the ship shook again, hitting the wreck more solidly this time. Even holed and dead, the huge wreck they were hiding in massed many times as much as the little scout ship. One more shock, this time throwing him back against the hatch, and the ship was still. Wedged tight would be his guess. They’d have a bear of a time working free, he thought. They’d do it anyway, though. Wouldn’t do to disappoint the old man.

“Make a hole you lot!” The burly petty officer was the last one in from the lock. Becker carried a wounded crewman over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes that had somehow been missed in the scramble to the lock. Tranj was one of their two smokers from engineering and they could little afford to lose him. He was conscious, but woozy and uncoordinated. Bob snagged him just shy of stumbling loose of the deck, hard as that was to believe with magboots. A good sized dent spread across the back of his hardsuit from his left shoulder across his helmet.

Sergeant Woods met him on the way to the tiny medical compartment. Few people could get a good read on the stoic noncom, but Lasceau had decades of experience reading people. The news was not good.

“Hattersly?” That was the crewman who’d been slashed by the cable. The sergeant shook his head.

“Didn’t make it. Decompression trauma and massive blood loss. It was quick.” The expression on the old noncom’s face did not lift.

“That’s not all, I take it.” Sergeant Woods shook his head slowly.

“Headcount’s down two. Ensign Liu and the captian.” That rocked him.

The old man…? He helped the burly Becker set Tranj down on a gurney carefully, sitting him up. With the damage to his back, it wouldn’t do to lay him down. They began easing him down to the infirmary. Griggs, what passed for a doctor in the scouts, didn’t look up from where he was bent over Littlefoot’s left hand. With luck he’d be able to reattach it.

Scout ships didn’t rate much in the way of officers. One senior lieutenant and an ensign were all a tiny scout ship merited. The whole fleet was poor of officers these days, but by the stars themselves they’d get by. The watch was shared with the section chiefs, of which Bob was one. With no officers on the ship, acting command would fall upon the shoulders of the most senior non-commissioned officer. One Petty Officer First Class Robert Gregory Lasceau. That and a couple of creds would buy him a weak beer back at the station hall. Here all it brought was more work to do with fewer hands.

A few crewmen were bunched up in the corridor as he exited Celerity’s tiny surgery. Worried faces looked back at him. Most were still in hardsuits, helmets unlatched. Rumor mill being what it was, the story was likely that the Captain and Ensign Liu had been squeezed like grapes between the ship and the wreck with their guts all trailing out over the hull. He snorted. Missing wasn’t dead. Not till they saw a body.

“Section chiefs to the bridge, on the double! Porter, Yates, head back out and assess the breakage from the *starboard* lock. Check the rig, see if we can’t still get that passive sensing platform up.” The two crewmen named headed out with booming acknowledgments. Those two had been with the crew the longest. They could be trusted to know what he was looking for. Who he was looking, hoping for.

“The rest of you lot are on damage control.” The crew knew the routine already. They’d be securing any loose items knocked free in the crash, checking for leaks. Doing what they could to repair the damage incurred on the way here if they knew what was good for ’em.

Bob thumped up the companionway as crew scattered to their duties. They were good lads and lasses. Just needed a bit of goosing now and then to get moving, but not much. No, not like bigger ships, what with their hundreds of little hidey holes where an unscrupulous sort could sneak off here and there. A poor petty officer would be run absolutely ragged just trying to keep the lot in line. Celerity was just right, good crew, fine officers…

Please, God, if you’re listening bring the old man back to us. We need him. He prayed, as he rarely had over the years, and the little pilot, too, if you can manage it. Amen.

“P.O? You called for us?” Ritter, the chief engineer stood behind him. She was a quiet one, but he suspected it was out of habit rather than intent. Celerity’s engines and drive components took up nearly a third of her total mass, and almost half the ship itself. Engineers, and their smokers learned to tread carefully and deliberately around their temperamental charges.

Dammit. That break would have to wait a little longer. He waived for her to follow, and stomped up to the bridge.

The tiny bridge was cramped. Ritter sat at the pilot’s console, Watts lounged in his usual place at gunnery. Griggs had followed him in. Lasceau stood behind the command console, but carefully did not sit in the captain’s chair.

“Where’s Captain Everts? And Ensign Liu? What’s going on?” Watts asked, curiously.

“Missing.,” Lasceau ground out. “Didn’t make it in. We’ll be looking for them, but we need to secure the ship first. Still got some dings from the fight as well as that bump we took to deal with.” Watts looked abashed. He must not have heard the scuttlebutt on the way- but he’d have been one of the first ones in. Probably gone aft to check on his missiles. Gunners were strange that way.

“Did anyone see what happened to them? Maybe they just got tossed loose…” The willowy engineer asked hopefully. To the best of his knowledge, she’d stayed inside while her juniors did the EVA checks.

“If they got loose, they’ve still got their EVA jets to stabilize, and get back here. That’s probably what happened. They wouldn’t want to be on the hull while we were crashing.” Maybe that was it. Ritter made a good point. The captain could be back anytime now. He just had to hold things together until the old man got back, that was all. Then he could get himself a drink in peace. A knock on the hatch coaming drew their attention. It was the ship’s sergeant of marines.

“Permission to enter the bridge, sirs?” Woods asked.

“Granted,” Lasceau grunted. “What do you need, sergeant?”

“Permission to enter the wreck, sirs.”

“Whatever for, good man?” Watts enquired, his wealthy upbringing overwhelming his training for a moment. Woods ignored it.

“The captain and ensign Liu are in there somewhere. Alive or dead, I intend to get them back.”