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CHAPTER 22 A
Kacey strolled into the Hanger. She watched her people going about their assigned tasks and not paying attention to her. Which was the way she preferred. She checked the flight schedule board. The next shift was not scheduled for two hours. She felt the swell of pride every time she walked into the Hanger and watched her troops.
Mechanics crawled all over the Stingers and Shuttles, as they were prepped to go out with the next squad. She walked to the Hanger office where she grabbed a coffee before she turned on the intercom.
"Major Anderson, report to the Hanger office."
Within minutes the Major walked into the office. "Kacey it is good to see you. How are you feeling?" He shook her hand.
"Good enough to be bored Mike."
"So what brings you to the trenches?"
"Do I really need a reason to visit?"
"Of course not, Kacey."
"In this case, however, I do have a reason. We need all the batteries in the Rovers fully charged up. Also have the harnesses hooked up to the shuttles. We will be bringing them down to the surface for exploring tomorrow. Make sure everyone has regular as well as phasic weapons, plenty of water, rations, medical kits and survival gear. Bring extra radios and scanners."
"Will you be among the explorers?"
"Doc gave me the okay as long as we use the Rovers. Andromeda will drop to five kilometers above the surface. The shuttles will carry the Rovers down." Kacey told him. "How is my Shuttle?"
"We replaced all the damaged systems as well as those not affected, so you have all new systems, including a new cloaking device. Captain Jensen told us to leave it on for your own protection.." Kacey laughed. "She will never stop looking out for you my friend. She even took on your mother over this."
"I heard about part of that."
"We also found a way to tie the heat into the same power as the cloaking device. That way no matter what other systems go off, the heat will not be affected."
"That is an excellent idea, Mike."
"Were you thinking about using your shuttle to bring a Rover down?"
"Will it handle the weight?"
"I would not advise it."
"Then use Shuttles two through five. There will be five Shuttles on the surface."
"You can fly any Shuttle, Kacey."
"I know that but I have special equipment on mine. The Stingers will be doing mapping duties. I also want three Stingers on each of the groups on the ground in the event we run into any animals like we did on the Hell planet."
"That is probably a good idea.
"Mike I want you to be with my group after you land Shuttle two. The Rovers can handle six passengers. Have two person on each Rover be equipped with the heavy duty weapons. That includes you and one other of your choosing."
"Any reason for the extra fire power?"
"Just a precaution, Mike."
Kate stood at the window and looked out at the passing stars. She sipped her coffee while she waited for Kacey. She was unaware of how long she waited until she went to take a drink and found her cup empty. The door chimed as she made her way to the carafe on her desk. Kate found the carafe empty also.
"Come in" She called out as she went to the replicator. "coffee black" Kacey walked in as Kate placed the coffee on the desk for her. and requested another cup for herself.. "Have a seat. How are things in the Hanger?"
"Good. I told them to charge all the Rover batteries and get the harnesses hooked up. My shuttle is ready to go. They replaced all the systems, not just the ones blown out by the Ellipsis. They hooked heating system into the same power supply as the cloaking device so the heat will stay on no matter what systems get knocked out."
"Fantastic." Kate stated.
"I told Mike to have the Stingers start mapping and to make sure the Marines have regular rifles and side arms. Two of them will be coming with us. Mike will be one of them."
"Kacey when I first mentioned your were released for this trip, you were excited, but then you backed off. Why?"
"I remembered that I should talk to Natalia before I made any sort of decision."
"You still were hesitant even after she said she would not stop you. What is going on?"
"What if I can not... This will be the first time since you were hurt that we will go exploring. What if you get hurt again and it was because I lost focus?"
Kate sighed. "You have to let go of the guilt. It was just an accident and nothing you could have prevented. I have full confidence in you to watch my back. There is no one I trust more than you."
"You can still say that, Kate?"
"Yes without any reservations. What are you afraid of? Do not even try to tell me you are not." Kate said. Kacey remained silent. Kate walked around the desk until she stood in front of Kacey which forced her to look up. "It is really easy to give in to fear, but if you give in once you will be giving in for the rest of your life. Is that what you want?" Kacey looked down into her cup and shook her head no. "Then kick that courage of yours in the ass to wake it up, because I want you by my side tomorrow."
"Are you making that on order, Kate?"
"No, just a request. You decide. Do you want to be the one to guard my back or cower in your quarters like a frightened child? If you choose to hide, you can kiss every ounce of respect your people have for you good by."
"You certainly are not pulling any punches are you?"
"It is called tough love. You ego got kicked when I was injured. Get over it."
"All right, I will go with you, but you will pick the direction we head in."
Kate laughed. "I can live with that. I am glad that is settled."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"What did you say to mom?"
"I wondered when that would come up." Kate said, as she sat next to Kacey. "I told her you were no longer a little kid anymore, but an extremely capable adult. That she needed to back off and let you be that adult. To let you make your own decisions. That is why there was no milk with lunch today. I also told her that you were the one who never broke the rules and about my wild parties and the rules I broke."
"Thanks, Kate. If this planet is safe, how long do you think we will stay?"
"A week or two, depending on how long it take the tower to be built."
"Until after the party?"
"That was my plan."
"Great. I have an idea I want to talk to Anya about tonight when you come over."
"Because she can sing.
CHAPTER 22 B
Andromeda held orbit five kilometers above the planet. The launch door opened. Kacey's shuttle headed for the surface. She landed with in minutes. After she shut down the engine, she opened the ramp, grabbed her hat, binoculars and sunglasses and went to wait for the arrival of the first Rover.
The first shuttle to carry a Rover in the harness left the Hanger slowly. The shuttle waited for the Rover to stop swinging before moving down the planet. Pilots already on the ground waited to release the harness before the shuttle could land. Kacey watched the first of the Rovers through the binoculars. She stood next to her shuttle waiting for the rover they would use.
She moved away from the shuttle when the Rover was one hundred meters from the ground. She grabbed her radio.
"Nice and easy, Mike." She called into the radio.
"You are about fifty meters up now." She watched the shuttle lower. "Ten meters." She stated. "Stop. Rover is on the ground."
The pilots ran forward to release the harness. Once free a pilot drove the rover out of the way as the next shuttle was preparing to leave the Hanger. He parked the Rover next to Kacey's shuttle. The shuttle landed.
Kate watched from inside the shuttle. She remained inside as a favor to Kacey. She saw the wisdom in remaining in the relative safety. The shuttle pilots could not see what was underneath them as they brought the Rovers to the surface, and relied on the pilots below to direct them. They needed to concentrate on getting the Rovers to the surface safely without distractions.
The second Rover and shuttle were on the ground. As soon as it was moved out of the way the next began it's descent. While waiting for the Marines to finish, Anya and Rhea went to the back of the shuttle and pulled out the gear they would need from the lockers. Water, survival packs, radios, Anya placed several of Kate's special pens in her pocket and picked up the medical kit. She joined Kate after they finished and placed her hands on Kate's shoulders.
"She never ceases to amaze me with her abilities. Her training took in so much more than ours did."
"The Marines are more of an on the ground force. Their training is geared for survival on the ground not in space. She probably says the same thing about us."
"Andromeda to Shamrock."
"Go ahead Andromeda."
"How are the deliveries going?"
"Very well. The last rover is almost down. We will be going out in the next thirty minutes."
"Keep us posted, Katie."
"Roger dad. Will let you know when we leave to explore."
"The Stingers are leaving now. You should be seeing them shortly."
"We can see them now. Take the ship up and hold at ten kilometers."
"Roger, Katie. Do ye have your pens with ye?" Kate rolled her eyes.
"We all have them Liam." Anya said.
"Thank you lass. Andromeda out."
The ramp opened. Kacey walked into the shuttle.
"Lets grab our gear and go exploring." Kacey said and they moved to their gear. Kacey pulled on her backpack, put the phasic rifle over her shoulder. She ignored the regular side arm and picked up the phasic one which she placed in the holster she had around her waist. She clipped the water bottles, radio, and scanner to her utility belt. She checked her pocket to make sure her compass, flashlight, and Kate's pens were present. She picked up her hat and sunglasses once again as they left the shuttle. "Pick a direction Kate." She said
"How about East?"
"East it is. Come on as soon as the Stingers arrive we will start. Gather around." She called to the Marines. "Each Rover will carry six people. Two of which will have the heavy duty weapons. We will head East. Go out five kilometers and wait for instructions. Gather as many samples as you can for testing. Look for an area large enough for Andromeda to land." She pulled the radio from her belt. "Stingers break into groups of three. Each group will be with a rover at two hundred meters up for a better view. Advise those on the ground of any dangers." Kacey ordered.
Kacey put the radio back onto her belt. "Let's go exploring." She said as they walked to the Rover. Kacey jumped into the driver's seat. Kate sat beside her with Anya and Rhea in the back seat. The Marines stood on the back and hooked their harnesses into the hooks on the sides and roof of the rover. They rested their guns on the roof. "Everyone strap in." Kacey ordered. She picked up the radio. "Andromeda, we are heading East away from our base."
"We have you on screen lass. You girls be careful down there." Kacey rolled her eyes. Don't you be rolling you eyes at me at me lass." He ordered.
"Yes dad, we will be careful." Kacey said over Kate's laughter.
"You have to remember that video lock. Arguing with yourself a last week, now rolling your eyes at dad where he can see you. What next, sticking your tongue out or flipping the bird."
"For your information, I do not happen to have a death wish Kate. I might flip you off but I would never do that to dad."
"Flipping the Captain off is not a good idea, Kacey." Rhea stated.
"I agree." Anya added. "Disrespecting your commanding officer is a punishable offense." Anya reminded her,
"I know better than to do something like that when we are on duty. Off duty, however all bets are off." She joked. "How about we table this discussion for a later hour." Kacey said as she started the Rover and they headed off.
As soon as she put the Rover into gear, Kacey entered what Kate called Marine Mode. Her eyes scanned the area around them for possible dangers. She let the conversation of the others flow around her without any input from her. Kate watched her enter that hyper vigilant state as they drove away from the shuttle. The sensors on the Rovers and their belts remained quiet.
They stopped periodically to collect water, plant, rocks and insect samples that they came upon. Anya would test them when they returned to base. To Kate's aggravation, Kacey made her stay in the Rover at every stop.
The varied colors of the blue grass against the red earth intrigued them. A purple haze hung over the blue leaved trees in the forest. The water samples instead of being colorless were light green tinted. Sensors registered aquatic life in the lakes and ponds they stopped at. After an hour, they stopped. Kacey pulled the radio from her belt.
"All squads report in."
"Squad two heading North. Very quiet. We have samples for Commander Jensen. Have reached the five kilometer mark and awaiting further instructions."
"Squad three, heading West, also have samples for testing, Colonel. We came upon a very large open level area at about the two Kilometers mark that would be suitable for Andromeda to land."
"Squad four heading South. We also have collected samples. Very quiet."
"Same hear. Hold for further instructions." Kacey stated. Stinger leader report in."
"All seems quiet, Colonel. The only life forms we have seen are small birds and rodents that look almost like the prairie dogs back home."
"Roger Stinger leader. Carry on." Kacey returned the radio to her belt. She scanned the area around them. She looked through the binoculars to further check the area for any dangers. Mike did the same from his higher point.
"See any thing interesting?" Kate asked.
"Seems to be quiet, Kate, but you can not be too careful." Kacey answered as she continued to scan the area around them. "Mike can you see anything?"
"Only the haze over the forest area."
"It is your call, Kate."
"Let's go check out that area squad tree found."
Kacey nodded. "Squad three send out the coordinates for that open area. All squads head to those coordinates." Kacey floored the Rover and turned around."
"We have the coordinates, Kacey." Kate stated
They headed towards the area. With in twenty minutes they arrived at the coordinates. Kacey scanned the area before she would allow Kate to leave the Rover.
"Finally." Kate said and was about to say more until Kacey looked at her. She held up her hands in a conciliatory manner. She knew Kacey was in Marine Mode and would not relax until thy were back on Andromeda. "This place looks large enough." She said. Nice and flat, near water, no trees to block our view of the surrounding area."
"Your call, Kate." Kacey said.
"Let's get the testing done first." Kate answered.
"All right. Captain Taggart, take one Rover and bring the pilots to the shuttles. Move them all here so the tests can be done. The rest of you fan out and set a perimeter of one kilometer. Put out the shock sticks and turn them on. Kate do not go wandering." Kacey ordered.
"Yes ma'am." Kate said, and mock saluted her.
"Andromeda." Kacey spoke into the radio.
"We may have a landing area but need to do the testing."
"We can see the area. It looks good" Liam stated.
"It all depends on the tests, dad." Kacey returned the radio to her belt and held her binoculars to her eyes. Kate could tell by Kacey's stiff movements and posture, she was in a heavier Marine Mode than normal. She walked away from the Rovers. Kacey continued to scan the area, her rifle within easy reach if needed.
The shuttles arrived. Anya started testing all the samples they had collected. The Marines stood guard around the perimeter. They watched for anything that could prove to be a danger to the humans. Kacey stood outside the safe area the Marine had set up. Her binoculars continued to scan the area.
Kate left Anya with her testing equipment and walked to the perimeter, where she was stopped from going any further.
"I am sorry, Captain. I can not allow you outside the perimeter."
"Is that right, Private?"
"Yes ma'am. Colonel's orders."
"Private, who is the Captain?"
"Uh you are ma'am."
"Precisely Private. Please let me pass."
"Sorry ma'am. Colonel's orders were to make sure you stayed in the safe area."
"Kate please do not give my troops a hard time. They have their orders." Kacey stated without turning around.
"NOW JUST ONE MINUTE." Kate yelled angrily.
"You are on my turf now, so to speak. We are on the ground, so that means I am in charge."
"We decided not to do that."
"Yeah but you changed that on Gellary when you put me in charge. For your safety, stay inside the perimeter." Kacey stated as she continued to scan the area.
"You have been waiting to turn that around on me haven't you?"
"Not at all Kate. Until we know for sure that this planet is safe and Andromeda can land, I will remain in charge. I will turn command back over to you as soon as we know." Kate sighed. "Please return to the shuttles, Kate."
"Kate please, I need all my concentration."
"THERE ISN'T A GOD DAMNED THING AROUND US. SENSORS AND SCANNERS ARE ALL QUIET."
"RETURN TO THE SHUTTLES, CAPTAIN. THAT IS AN ORDER." Kacey snapped still not turning around.
Kacey moved around the outside of the perimeter and met up with Mike.
"This would be an ideal stop over point, Kacey."
"If the test are good it will be."
"How much longer until we have an answer?"
"I am not sure."
"Then why not take a short break until we have answers."
"Not going to happen, Mike."
"Look, Kacey, you are my friend. You can not let what happened on that other planet consume you every time we land. First Gellary, now here."
"I can not take the chance of ever losing focus again. The cost is way too high."
"That was not your fault."
"Some day I might just believe that , Mike." Kacey said and returned to her post.
To be continued...
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