2951-05-31 – Tales from the Service: The Tread of a Titan

 “Where in all creative hells did our air cover go?” Sergeant Marienne Von Brandt brushed concrete chips off the shoulders of her smart-cloth camouflage cloak and tried to make herself a smaller target as a heavy Incarnation armored vehicle rumbled past. She had never seen anything like that monster before. She was so close she could hear its fusion engine humming and its turret bearings whining as it swung back and forth. From the glassy face of the turret, an eerily silent pulsebeam stabbed out intermittently, turning sturdy buildings to flying chips and dust almost at random.

“The only squadron up there is tangling with a bunch of Sirrocos in sector K-31, Sarge.” Corporal Arif Schorel reeled in the antenna he’d carefully snaked up an exposed section of draining pipe, then cautiously peeked out of the ruined building they were hiding in. “Not sure they’d be able to stop that thing anyway.”

“Well we’re sure not going to stop it.” Marienne brielfly wondered if she’d rather be in a sector being lashed by strafing Siroccos or crushed by a couple of tracked behemoths. In the end, she decided she preferred the armored vehicles, if only slightly.

A pair of rockets flashed out of a building on the other side of the broad street toward the Nate vehicle. One of them exploded prematurely, intercepted by point defense, and the other exploded against the smoothly rounded side of the vehicle’s hull without apparent effect. Infantry anti-armor missiles like that would punch a hole through a Rico suit and the Marine inside, but against armor that probably belonged on a naval destroyer instead of on the ground, they were little more than a child’s toy.

As soon as the explosion faded, that hideously blank turret swung around in the direction of the attack, and another silent beam of death lanced out. The offending building exploded into another hail of splinters and a fresh plume of chalky smoke, likely marking the graves of at least a few brave FVDA soldiers.

While the turret was turned away, Marienne poked her head up and aimed her rail carbine at the monstrosity. Shooting it with such a weapon would do even less than the rockets, but she could at least paint the target with a rangefinding laser and broadcast a clear visual image of the vehicle on the command network. The Pumas weren’t coming, but perhaps there were quite a few un-occupied guided missile battery commanders back at the LZ who would see the value in not letting that thing get any closer.

As if sensing the invisible targeting laser, the vehicle ground to a stop and its turret spun back toward Marienne and Corporal Schorel. With a snarl of annoyance, she grabbed her compatriot by the shoulder and dragged him flat against the ground just before the ruined wall they were hiding behind exploded into a new hail of shards and dust.

By the time the pair had extricated themselves from the rubble and coughed up most of the concrete dust in their lungs, the behemoth had moved on. To its crew, crushing two soldiers probably seemed pointless, when in ten more blocks, it would reach the top of the rise and bring its weapon to bear on the supplies piled at LZ.

“Are you through making it angry, Sarge?” Schorel helped Marienne to her feet and peeked around the corner. “It’s gone. Let’s see who’s still alive and fall back.”

Marienne reached a finger into her helmet to wipe dust off the screen of her heads-up monitor. “Tell everyone to rally at that broadcast tower.” She pointed to a drunkenly-leaning latticework studded with comms gear. “We’ll figure out-”

Marienne’s helmet comms beeped. “Sergeant Von Brandt, resume painting your target.” The voice was gruff, deep, and unfamiliar; it certainly wasn’t any of the artillery officers she usually heard. “Highest priority. Please confirm.”

Marienne winced. “Schorel, give me your antenna reel, then get to that rally point.” He wouldn’t need a bigger antenna to reach the scattered members of her company, but she would need it to respond to whoever this was.

Schorel winced and nodded; he hadn’t heard the order, but it wouldn’t be too hard to guess at its contents. Slapping her on the shoulder, he passed on the antenna reel. “Be careful, Sarge. We’ll be waiting at the rally.” With that, he darted across the debris-choked street, cupping one hand to the microphone at his chin.

Marienne hooked the antenna unit into her comms unit and extended its whip-like aerial a few feet. “Confirmed receipt. Who is this?”

“Major Marius Kerr, 2nd Battalion, Twentieth Marine armored. We’re inbound at best speed.”

Marienne hadn’t realized the attack on Masinov had included any of the vanishingly rare Confederated Marine armored brigades. The last time she’d heard of any of them being deployed, it had been at Margaux, and she’d never so much as seen one of their combat vehicles. “Aye, Major.”

Stepping out into the street, Marienne loped in the direction the behemoth had gone, wincing each time she heard a building ahead collapse into rubble. With all the smoke and dust, she hoped she’d be as invisible to its crew as it was to her.

The only warning she had that she’d caught up to the huge armored vehicle was the telltale whining of its turret bearings barely twenty meters away. Instinctually, Marienne dove to the pavement, but the pulsebeam wasn’t meant for her; somewhere ahead in the dust cloud, another building flashed into splinters and collapsed in on itself.

Crawling forward now, Marienne began to see the dark outline of the huge machine looming out of the dust. Cautiously, she raised the antenna spool’s aerial a little, then hooked the device to her belt and crouched behind the twisted, burned wreckage of a civilian groundcar. The wreck wouldn’t be much protection against that high wattage weapon, but it would conceal her even better than the dust, and perhaps the crew wouldn’t be able to tell exactly where the target painting laser was coming from.

With a quick prayer, Marienne crossed herself, slid the barrel of her carbine through the groundcar’s charred skeleton, and flicked on both the camera and the target painter.

Today’s account is not from a recent engagement, unfortunately. The counterattack at Masinov took place last November, and though it did not result in recapture of that world, it did succeed in causing significant damage to enemy infantry formations and rescuing a significant civilian population which was taken when the planet was unexpectedly occupied two months previously.

Sergeant Von Brandt’s account of a super-heavy Incarnation armored vehicle is the first such sighting I have seen reported anywhere, even though it reaches us many months after the event. This indicates that this vehicle exists only in small numbers or is fielded only by a small number of enemy formations. Since at the beginning of the war, there seemed to be almost no ground armor in Incarnation inventory, this is yet another new weapon they’ve introduced based on battlefield experience.

Naturally, Confederated troops are also getting new weapons to deal with these enemy innovations. Von Brandt’s account also included a description of at least one rarely-seen (though not quite so new) Confederated weapon system, and it is for this reason that I intend to continue to feature it next week.

2951-05-24 – Tales from the Service: The Rock of New Tortuga

Though it has yet to be formally named, a planet only a few dozen light-years from Sagittarius Gate is referred to by service personnel as New Tortuga. Rumor has it that the system was an outpost for fugitives fleeing Reach authorities before the war. Certainly humans from the Reach settled it at least once in the decades prior to this conflict; images of the ruins on New Tortuga are easy enough to retrieve from the Sagittarius Gate datasphere, and you can still see the manufacturer’s insignias on some of the pre-fab shelter components.

Whether the inhabitants of New Tortuga died out due to their settlement’s extreme isolation, or, being fugitives, they left shortly after Naval Survey ships arrived to formally chart the system just before the war, I can’t clearly determine. The planet seems comfortable enough, at any rate, and the relatively pleasant climate and unthreatening biosphere found on most of its surface made it a prime candidate for use in a ground forces training exercise that completed only a few days ago.

As has been seen in past entries on this feed (Tales from the Service: An Officer’s Exercise), the Confederated Marines rely heavily on live-fire exercises against simulated opponents to keep troopers sharp. It might surprise some of our readers to know that several Marine brigades are attached to Seventh Fleet since the Seventh is currently not defending any planets, but every time we’ve talked with Admiral Abarca he’s brought up future offensives.

Evidently, the recent exercise permitted two Marine units (the Seventeenth and the Twenty-Ninth) to practice a full planetary invasion, complete with orbital bombardment, contested landing zones, and live-fire close air support. The actual ruins were not affected in this operation; the citadel of this simulated colony was set up on a plateau half a world from these potentially valuable artifacts, at a place the Marines are calling the Rock. Apparently, the Seventeenth suffered simulated casualties in excess of fifty percent in taking the Rock, through a combination of terrain, well prepared defenses, and unimaginative assault tactics.

While I’ve received two accounts of Marines storming this bastion in the teeth of simulated enemy fire, I also received an account of a very different kind pertaining to the exercise. Captain Judd Marlow is a superannuated Marine who serves as the leader of an opposition force simulation team, and he claims that his people set up some of the defenses at the Rock.

Judd Marlow turned in a slow circle, cracking his knuckles one by one. In every direction from where he stood, the alien grass waved in long, slow undulations that didn’t quite seem to line up with the morning’s gentle breeze. The place was beautiful, but his eye barely saw the magnificent desolation of this world so far from any human home. Where he looked, he saw lines of fire and defilade, sight-lines and military crests. Imaginary brigades and divisions marched up and down the gently rolling slopes, or burrowed into their sides and threw up earthworks that shortly bristled with guns.

All those toy soldiers, though, marched up past Judd toward the plateau’s western rim. There, rising from the horizon, was the feature he’d spied on the terrain maps before his team had ever left Sagittarius Gate. The basalt dome towered nearly two hundred meters above the plateau’s higher side, its crevassed flanks nearly precipitous at all points save for one water-etched ravine that cut a sloping path up to the summit. Its far side projected out from the rim of the plateau and hung as a sheer stone wall four hundred meters high above a shallow lake far below. In some weather, the summit was concealed by a halo of clouds; in other weather, an observer up there could see everything moving for fifty kilometers around.

A place like that, Judd knew, was destined to host a great conflict, and now he was bringing the conflict. In his pack were a hundred programmable marker beacons, and with these seeds, he would grow that forlorn, alien acropolis into the fortress it longed to become.

True, the defenses of this fortress would be built of shabby rammed earth and polymer panels rather than ferrocrete and alloy, and its defenders would exist only in the datasphere, but that hardly mattered. The attackers would be real Marines, and the harder Judd and his fellows made the simulation, the more realistic their experience would be. For every casualty his simulations tallied on New Tortuga, perhaps one fewer would be tallied in a real assault.

Judd pulled out one of his beacons, programmed it to mark a picket outpost, then jabbed it into the spongy, root-suffused soil. He’d already tested the properties of the local dirt and the rock below it, and verified that the machines that would come behind him could dig blast-proof bunkers deep enough that nothing the Marines had would knock them out. The simulated defenders of such outposts would retreat to the deepest level when bombarded, then dig themselves out just in time to catch the advancing Marines with flanking fire as they passed by. Judd wouldn’t commit his best troops to such delaying tactics, of course; the rules of the exercise limited how many of the best his opposition force could use. The outposts would be given over to fanatical amateurs.

Judd trudged down the hillock toward his lighter. “Joanna, can you finish setting up this picket field? I’m going to go get started on the Rock.”

“The what, Captain?”

“That big outcrop west of us. Center of the defenses.” Judd climbed up into the lighter’s cockpit and closed the canopy. There were seven people on his team programming beacons; seven whose artifice would oppose whole brigades. It was a heady feeling, but Judd still missed the days when, as a company commander, he’d donned a Rico suit and led forty-odd Marines into battle, simulated and otherwise.

“I think Theodor is already up there setting up the drones.”

Theodor Janowski, the team’s automation tech, supervised the machines that turned the programmed markers into earthworks, bunkers, structures, and obstacles. True, most of the construction was flimsy, temporary work, but inside the Marines’ helmets, it would all look like the real thing, and the phantom defenders would be protected by polymer panels as perfectly as armor-plate.

Judd took his lighter up and over the gently sloping meadow toward the Rock. Sure enough, as he circled for landing, he saw Theodor’s lighter and the boxy drone mothership perched at its summit, with several aerial drones already circling.

Judd touched down near the westward rim of the outcrop and jumped down onto weathered stone barely colonized by scrubby, rubbery plant-life. He couldn’t help but stare out over that expanse of empty air for several seconds. There were a few wispy clouds forming over the lake – forming far below his feet, but still far above the ground. No, there would be no assault from that side. With a flourish, he jabbed two more beacons into the ground as near to the rim as he dared, programming one to be an air-search sensor station and the other to be a heavy anti-air laser battery.

With one last look at the view, Judd turned toward the other side of the outcrop and waved at Theodor, who barely looked up from his work on one of the drones. As he walked toward the ravine that was the only way up to the summit, he planted a few more beacons. In his mind’s eye, a fortress was taking shape, a fortress that would make even Marines tremble. This would be the site of the final assault, and if everything went well, the attackers would not soon forget it.

2951-05-17 – Tales from the Inbox: A Midnight Search

This section of Noxolo Laska’s account will probably be the last we relay here. It has been interesting to see into the personal lives (or abortive attempts thereof) of the agents responsible for behind-the-lines security in this conflict, but the remainder of the story submitted is somewhat less than enthralling. It looks like details were excised by a second contributor, probably Damien himself (and I don’t think that’s his real name, even if Noxolo thinks it is).

The missing details relate to the actual discovery and disarming of the deadman-switched cargo. No doubt the contents are secret, but a thermite booby-trap is hardly top secret; something else about this section might have violated operational security on one of Damien’s other official investigations with BCI, but this is only speculation on my part.

I also do not know what became of this pair after the events described; the submitted account ends with a cursory note about the station being saved and the officials responsible for killing Damien’s partner being apprehended. This part would have been far more interesting in detail, but no detail was provided.

Noxolo tried to imagine the entire security apparatus of the station being so corrupt that they’d be willing to let people die to cover their tracks. Sure, she’d heard some of them were slow to report minor violations by their friends, but a smuggling ring worth enough to put the entire station’s population at risk in the coverup was something that seemed beyond the bumbling constabulary officers. Damien seemed to believe it, and sniffing out such things was his job. So was lying convincingly, but Noxolo either had to trust that he was telling the truth, or shoot him dead right now and spend the rest of the night trying to dispose of his body.

Damien, seeming to sense Noxolo’s doubt, placed his hands palms-up on the table and sighed. “If we’d expected this, Santi and I would have brought backup. But we didn’t. This was supposed to be a routine intercept.”

Noxolo nodded. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

“Noxie, I should-”

Noxolo raised the scattergun in her hand and shook it, arching one eyebrow. “I have the talking wand, Damien.”

Damien scowled, then folded his arms and sat back.

“Here’s what we’re going to do.” Noxolo leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table, and rested her chin on the weapon. “I’ll make a list of places where they could get a thermite rigged crate in without having to bypass too many security sensors, and eliminate places where it would be too visible. Should take only an hour or two, and I can keep those searches from drawing any official attention.”

Damien nodded cautiously. “I can help-”

Noxolo arched her eyebrow again, and Damien once again fell silent. This time, his expression fell from a frown into a scowl and showed signs of going into a full-blown pout. He liked to have things his way, and that was part of what had made him so much fun two years prior, but it was also probably why he’d left like he did. They’d come to that point in any relationship where both people involved have to face a future of not always getting things their way.

“While I do that, Damien dear, you are going to sleep.” Noxolo smiled. “If you’re going to keep my home from blowing up, I need you at least halfway rested.”

“Sleep?” Damien sat bolt upright, as if in denial of the dark circles under his eyes. “I don’t think that’s a good-”

“I am quite prepared to sedate you.” Noxolo rolled her eyes. She certainly wasn’t going to get anything done on the terminal with Damien pacing in agitation behind her; he was positively adorable when he was agitated. “You look like you haven’t slept in five shifts.”

Damien held up his hand. “It’s been less than four shifts.”

“Then you’re getting older, and four is the new five.” Noxolo pointed her scattergun toward the corridor leading to the only bedroom in the tenement; the second space intended to be one was currently serving as a spare stock-room for long-shelf-life products for her shop. “If you don’t whine too much, the bed might still be warm when you get there.”

Damien looked like he was going to whine far too much, but he seemed to be struck with a rare moment of good sense. With a nod, he stood up. “Thank you, Noxie. I’ll make this up to you, I promise.”

“By making sure I’m not homeless tomorrow.” Noxolo gestured again. “I’ll wake you up when it’s time to go find your bomb.”

Damien crossed the room in a few steps and paused to look over his shoulder at Noxolo. For a moment, his eyes softened into a look that was just like old times.

Noxolo met his eyes, and an involuntary smile tugged at her lips. Even now, that look made her feel ready to follow him and make very certain that he didn’t get any sleep, but she had too much good sense to give in to such urges.

Damien grinned, but his grin was swallowed up in an involuntary yawn. With a groan, he headed for the bedroom.

Noxolo watched the space where he’d been for a few seconds before turning to the computer terminal in the corner. Her hands danced across the input keys as she queued up a few initial system requests, but her mind was elsewhere. There was a part of her that was persuaded, despite all reason, that things could be like they were before, assuming nobody exploded with the contraband shipment he’d misplaced. Of course things couldn’t be the same; she knew that no matter what he said, there was no forever. Even if he stayed, there would be another day when duty called and she found him gone.

With her queries still running, Noxolo got up and crept toward the bedroom. Damien was already asleep, of course; he looked to have barely made it onto the bed before the lights went out. She tiptoed past him to the drawers in the far bulkhead and picked out some tight-fitting, dark-colored clothes that would be ideal for burgling storage compartments. She tossed off her robe right there and dressed, heedless of his soft snoring. After all, even if he was awake, and he wasn’t, Damien had seen it all before.

Back at the terminal, Noxolo started cross-referencing results. At the top of the holographic display, a wireframe of the station that started out golden-yellow began to acquire patches of green and red. The red patches generally grew larger as she worked, while the green ones narrowed.

When she got as far as she could on public data queries, Noxolo switched over to making queries using the credentials of the station’s most junior maintenance tech. The poor girl had been far too trusting, and Noxolo had found it only too easy to lift her thumbprint and guess her passcodes within two weeks of her starting on the job. Having access to the maintenance system had all kinds of perks, few of which Noxolo had yet found a use for.

A few more queries came back, and Noxolo added them one by one to her diagram. The red areas grew, and the green ones narrowed, while a few more appeared.

Soon, a pattern emerged, and it was one that Noxolo didn’t like. The green spots created by the maintenance queries were almost all concentrating in areas of the station that normally she would have expected – areas that even a diligent investigator might fail to inspect.

Two hours later, Noxolo shook Damien awake. He was up in an instant, but before he could go anywhere, she pressed a synthfoam cup of coffee into his hands. “I’ve got a hunch about where your smugglers are hiding things.” She gestured back toward the room where the terminal still showed her map of the station. “How sure are you about the official connection?”

Damien glanced down at the steaming beverage. Too late, Noxolo remembered that he couldn’t stand spacers’ synthesized coffee; this time, he would need the caffeine. “It’s the only explanation. Why?”

Noxolo sipped her own coffee, then grimaced. “Come on, I’ll show you. We’re in for an interesting few hours.”

2951-05-03 – Tales from the Inbox: A Midnight Visitor

I have gotten many questions since last week’s entry about life and leisure aboard the Sagittarius Gate spaceport, and thought that I might answer a few of the most common before introducing this week’s entry.

The station’s name, officially, is Centaur Hub 2, but colloquially it’s known as the Sprawl. Centaur Hub 1 is an industrial facility built by the same firm just before the war started, and the other habitats in the system bear more standard designations.

The Sprawl is, as has been noted in these pages, home to populations of multiple Sagittarius-native sapient species, and many, many exotic pests. The Yixhari are the most common of these, but a tall, square-shouldered, lumpy-skinned humanoid known to Reach spacers as Cutters (they use scars as a form of self-ornamentation, hence the name) are perhaps the most interesting. I do hope to interview one of their more prominent representatives at some point; contact with their kind was lost in the flood of news surrounding the Lost Squadrons and I fear most of our audience has not heard of them. Their home-world is allegedly occupied by Incarnation forces, and they seem to want the Navy to help them liberate it.

 The food aboard the Sprawl is mostly the same as it is aboard ship, with a few exceptions courtesy of the gardens and a large hydroponic habitat that has been built in-system. In short, getting a salad is easy, getting a good Periclean ribeye is impossible.

The staff of the botanical garden does not, as a rule, permit poorly understood sapient species to enter their domain. This is not because there have been problems; they just don’t know whether any of their plants poses any threat to these beings. Strangely, the Nuisance (who do a good job of pretending not to know the meaning of off-limits most of the time) seem to avoid the place voluntarily. Perhaps something there really is poisonous for them.

The original main concourse of the station is actually rather small, owing to the fact that the Sprawl was never designed to grow as big as it currently is. A second concourse ring that isn’t much bigger than the first is the de-facto main area for commerce aboard, and the original has become something of a seedy locale, and despite military authorities doing their best to limit unsavory trades in Sagittarius Gate, black marketeering and other illicit activities seem to gravitate there.

Finally, yes, Sam Bosch is still with Seventh Fleet. Where he seemed destined for an Academy rotation after the Lost Squadrons were relieved, he ended up back in command of a cruiser after only a brief return journey to the Core Worlds. His new ship is the Cameron Hauer, a heavy cruiser much larger than his prior command but also much older. In fact, the ship is significantly older than Bosch himself, launched in the late 2890s. I have reached out and asked if he would like to give an interview, and he has not yet responded.

This week's entry (which we will continue for at least two successive weeks) comes from a reader back in Maribel aboard one of the civilian habitats in the outer system. Though Maribel has been raided several times, few of these habitats have been much threatened, since they are not terribly useful military targets and most of them are inconveniently placed for a marauding cruiser to perform a hit and run without subjecting itself to strike-craft harassment for a long period of time. The names used in this account have been anonymized by the sender, for reasons that may not be clear until next week's entry.

Noxolo L. blinked at the man who had been leaning on the door-chime for the last few minutes. He was tall, broad shouldered, and with that unmistakable air of officialdom which she’d learned not to have anything to do with under any circumstances. The dimmed night-cycle lighting cast his face into long shadows.

With a scowl, she hugged her robe closer to her body and slapped the door control. “Come back with a warrant. At a reasonable hour.”

The man put one huge arm in the path of the closing door panel, then used its brief hesitation to shoulder his way inside, having to duck under the regulation two-meter lintel to do so. Noxolo darted backward, emitting an effeminate squeak that would probably sound harmless and terrified. Even as she did, she flicked the safety off the stubby scattergun she’d pulled out from under her bed before answering the door. Whoever this was, whoever he worked for, would be the coroner’s business shortly.

The door hissed shut. Noxolo spun around and leveled the scattergun, bathrobe flying open. She’d never gotten the hang of pajamas, so the man would get one good look before his cranium was radically reorganized.

The man froze, hands raised. The butt of a gun protruded from a holster under his arm. “Noxie, it’s me.”

Noxolo knew that voice, even if it didn’t match the man’s stoically rectangular face. Her finger loosened its pressure on the trigger, seemingly of its own accord. “Damien?”

“I need your help and there isn’t much time.” Without lowering his hands, the man crossed one hand over the other wrist and tapped at a glowing marker on his cuff. His face shimmered, and the familiar angular, hawk-nosed features of Damien Falkner appeared there. He had a scar above his left eyebrow that hadn’t been there two years ago, and one cheekbone was puffy and discolored as if still healing from a recent bruise. He was doing his best – which had never been very good, even when Noxolo was mostly clothed – to maintain eye contact.

If Damien had expected Noxolo to drop the gun and rush into his arms, then he had never known her as well as she thought. Damien represented many pleasant memories, but also several painful ones. Instead, she lowered the weapon to point to the deck, then quickly grabbed the corners of her loose-hanging robe and held it closed over her otherwise naked body. “Stars afire, what lunacy brought you all the way out here?”

“That’s a story I’ll have to tell later.” Damien glanced meaningfully at the gun. “You’ve been practicing, I hope?”

Noxolo raised one eyebrow. “Of course.” Business had been good lately and she had gotten a bit lax with her practice sessions, but she knew she could still ace a Marine-style marksmanship drill.

Damien nodded, gesturing to the table and two chairs in the tenement’s front room. “Mind if I sit down?”

Noxolo glanced to the table, then back to Damien. One corner of her mouth tugged downward as she considered the question. After a few seconds, she shrugged and released her bath-robe to extend a hand, palm up, ignoring the fact that the garment flopped open all over again. After all, there was nothing underneath Damien hadn’t had the luxury of inspecting before, on quite a few occasions.

Damien frowned, trying to keep his eyes on her hand with extremely limited success. “My gun? Really?”

“You said there isn’t much time.” Noxolo wiggled her fingers. “So if you’re going to do the bruised ego dance, do it quickly.”

Damien sighed, then slowly pulled the gun out from his holster with two fingers. “I’ll need this back.” With one step, he crossed the distance between them and dropped the weapon into her palm.

Noxolo tucked Damien’s gun into the pocket inside her robe, then gestured with her own weapon toward the table. “Start talking, Damien, dear.” She leaned against the bulkhead, pressing one bare foot against its cool metal in a way that ensured her bare leg protruded from the opening of her robe. “I’m very curious why you think I would help you.”

Damien, his eyes not leaving Noxolo even though they took a leisurely tour of the dark skin not covered by her bath-robe, sat down at the table. As he did, his shoulders slumped, and his head drooped. “I wouldn’t have gotten you involved if there was any other way.” He paused and drew in a long, slow breath. “Everyone on this station is in danger, and I probably only have a shift or two to do something to stop it.”