22. The lure.

“Hey, Zeet, I’m picking up some sort of distress signal.” Lazzaro’s voice broke Toes’ reverie and he turned from surveying the starry blackness outside and ground out the Jamaican Gold he’d been smoking in an ashtray, “It seems to originate somewhere around Mars, but I’m having trouble getting a more accurate fix on it than that.”
Captain Zachary “ZT” Toes sighed and punched the talk button on the comm panel, “Ok, Eric, I’m on my way up now.”

“Roger that, cap’n. Lazzaro out.”

Toes reluctantly kicked off his comfortable sandals and crammed his feet into the new boots he’d ordered during their brief stopover in Earth orbit. He had hoped they would have started wearing in by now, because they pinched like a bitch when he walked and he already had a blister coming on one heel. But Lazzaro had been hassling him for a while now, about his somewhat relaxed attitude to what constituted appropriate on-duty attire, so he was trying to make an effort before his First Officer suggested they went the whole hog and wore uniforms. 

Toes shuddered at the thought, left his cabin and hurried to the bridge, trying not to limp too obviously in front of any passing crew members on the way.

Lazzaro was consulting with Biff, the ship’s chief communications officer, when ZT walked onto the bridge; the pair of them were deep in conversation as Biff tried to explain something to Eric, but by the looks of it he wasn’t having too much success. 

“You say the signal is coming from a drifting ship,” Lazzaro was saying as Toes reached the comms station, “so how come it’s managing to stay hidden behind Phobos? They can’t be that badly damaged, not if they can keep manoeuvring the ship into the shadow of the moon.”

“Dunno, sir,” said a puzzled-looking Biff, “unless they’re on the surface, I suppose…” he scratched his head uncertainly and continued to keep watch on the comm panel

“So, what’s the story?” Toes asked.

“Hi ZT,” said Lazzaro, “it’s a bit of a strange one, at least I don’t understand it.” he shrugged and went on, “We picked up a single S.O.S. about an hour ago and kept scanning for repeat signals, but didn’t hear anything more. So I got Biff to do a narrow beam scan in the direction the first signal came from and suddenly, Bingo! We got a strong hit on a distress beacon or something.”

Toes glanced at the comm panel and frowned, “Hmmm, and you think it might be coming from the surface of the moon?” he looked at Biff, who made a non-committal expression to indicate he wasn’t sure one way or another, then studied the regular trace on the comm panel for a few more seconds.

“Ok, we’re going to have to investigate it, whatever it is.” Toes groaned inwardly, this was not going to be as relaxing a day as he’d hoped. “Mr Lazzaro, please instruct the helm to alter our heading and head for Mars orbit. Biff, you keep a close eye on that signal beacon, I’m still not convinced there isn’t something fishy going on here, so we’ll play it cautious and monitor the ship’s position as we approach.”

With that, Toes flopped into his command chair and with a relieved sigh, started to prise loose the strangulating footwear, before he heard a distinct clearing of the throat and looked up to see Lazzaro shaking his head with an amused expression. He hurrumphed and made an unflattering gesture at Eric, but nevertheless desisted from unshoing himself and began doing some analysis of the signal to take his mind off the discomfort.

*****

Carli, aka Intel Ops officer Zena Fisher, paced nervously round her small cabin, trying not to think about what was coming, a task at which she was failing completely.

She knew, deep down, that if she followed the plan the way it had been laid out for her when she signed up for this damn fool mission, then there was every chance that it’d all go as smoothly as Control seemed to think it would. But Agent Fisher couldn’t silence the niggling little voice in the back of her head, the one that told her she was going to regret deceiving the very people she would need to depend on the most, if it did all go horribly wrong; namely, Captain Zachary Toes and her erstwhile friend and (she winced) romantic entanglement, Eric Lazzaro.

It was imperative that Dreeb be stopped, before he could embark on the next, even more calamitous phase of his insane plan, that was obvious. But what she didn’t yet understand, was why he had ordered her to acquire Lazzaro’s security pass in the first place, because the plan, as Dreeb had explained it to her anyway, didn’t require any actual, physical interaction with the IGV Alice Marie at all. 

This inconsistency in Dreeb’s intentions troubled her more than anything else she knew (or didn’t know) about what was going to happen; not just because Dreeb was an unhinged maniac with about as much balance as a one-legged stilt walker with an inner ear infection, but because a plan as complicated and deranged as his must have been conceived a long time ago and was unlikely to have changed at the last moment.

Which meant there was something she wasn’t being told, and that thought made her very nervous indeed.

******

Dreeb had supervised the deployment of the distress pod himself, following the successful launch and subsequent crash-landing of the empty shuttle on the surface of Phobos; he couldn’t afford the risk of trusting this crucial part of his masterplan to the Numeric Goons, as he privately referred to them and besides, it wasn’t every day you got to send an old friend such an impressive gift. 

Dreeb smiled and closed his eyes, as he once again pictured the pod, modified to carry the immensely powerful plasma bomb, in addition to its specially targeted distress beacon, falling away from the ship’s cargo bay doors and dropping towards the moon’s surface, before booster rockets fired and it gained a low, stable orbit, where it would wait patiently until the time came to welcome the star of the show, First Officer Eric Lazzaro.

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4 thoughts on “22. The lure.

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