From the moment the first Mackinac transport cast an enormous shadow across the late-day tarmac and the water treatment plant, the civilians knew the situation had changed.

By now, Captain Hunter, Zony and Yili had established a temporary headquarters next to the LZ for Command One. It was equipped with a ground communications station and access to the two geo-synch lookdown birds Argent had launched to maintain comprehensive sensor and scanner contacts with the surface. Hunter’s signals team was now able to monitor an area more than five thousand miles in diameter and direct the ship’s units to the areas they were needed most.

Jason and Annora had agreed with dusk approaching, the situation had the potential to become ugly. Some of the assembled refugees made attempts to build fires and makeshift shelters, but roughly three-quarters of them had failed and that was only adding to the frustration. The only lights available were the maintenance floodlights attached to the nearby water station facilities which were too far away to be effective. To say the situation was untenable was optimistic at best. The captain gave the orders and his officers and crew carried them out. They all knew they had to hurry. First up was to get light and heat where it was needed most. The air temperature had fallen into the 50s. Time was working against the Argent engineers.

While Yili’s watch crews worked to set up stable lighting, Hunter ordered paladin pilots from 12th Mechanized and the 40th Marine Airborne to park their mechs at strategic locations across the open area south of the aqueduct. Each spacecraft landed several hundred feet away from the crowds and activated their landing lights to provide temporary illumination. While nobody actually heard the sigh of relief, the tension in the crowds seemed to subside a little.

Colonel Moody equipped squads of six marines each with infantry camp kits. They were deployed to the crowds with orders to separate the people into sections of 60-100 people and to assist them in setting up the tents and their portable life support units. Once functioning, each tent was provided with enough racks and bedding to house 70 people. Tents were assigned a civilian marshal whose job it was to establish a sleep rotation so everyone could get at least eight hours in a clean rack. The life support units provided heat, ventilation, air purification and air filtration along with a supplemental oxygen supply.

The captain stood at the egress hatch of his shuttle and supervised. Two able crewmen were manning the communications relays and making sure the right officers were in the loop for their tasks while bubbling up any command-level decisions to Hunter.

Yili’s team had set down with two of her capsule fusion reactors aboard a Copernicus engineering corvette. They were identical to the ones she had deployed on Bayone Three. The units were automatically anchored and operating in a matter of minutes. When the light standards snapped on near the engineering boat, hundreds of people cheered. A few moments later, an illuminated red neon sign lit up at the entrance to the corvette: “DSS Argent 117th Orbital Combat Engineering Battalion - Power to the People”

Once Commander Curtiss had both her reactors online, Doctor Doverly hooked the Tranquility Search and Rescue corvette into the camp’s main power network. Fifteen minutes later, she opened a 12-bed hospital and medical clinic staffed with Argent’s crew of fleet doctors, specialists and marine corpsmen. Medical teams fanned out into the crowds with supplies of pain relievers, disinfectant, topical medicine, cough syrup and vitamin supplements. Dozens were led back to the medical ship where they were examined and treated if necessary.

Chief Petty Officer O’Hagan rode down on one of the Mackinacs with three thousand tons of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, milk, bread, cookies, coffee, water and serving utensils. With her were 140 members of Argent’s galley crew and a field-house-class tent complete with enough furniture to accommodate and serve meals in shifts of 400. Captain Hunter stood sipping his coffee while he watched a team of several hundred enthusiastic crew members build his cozy restaurant with the help of a half-dozen heavy-lift vehicles from the battleship’s flight decks. The elapsed time from the transport’s touchdown to the first serving of pancakes was just over an hour. Hunter naturally donned an apron and worked the buffet line serving hot breakfasts to the first shift of 1000 refugees. He didn’t really have a choice. After all, the restaurant was his idea.

As he was handing his apron to a member of the next shift, Hunter was confronted by Zony Tixia, who stood in the doorway of the galley tent with an enormous smile on her face. Her hands were clasped behind her back and she was doing the “rocking on her heels” thing again. Hunter froze.


“Oh, nothing.”

“You never have that look on your face unless you’re up to something highly entertaining.”

“What look on my face? I don’t have a look on my face!”


“Your presence has been requested aboard the Tranquility.”

As he passed, Jason gave Zony his best skeptical “raised eyebrow” expression. The two officers proceeded to the lair of the chief medical officer and climbed aboard. It even smelled like a hospital. Jason was sure Annora was pleased. Places that were white, spotless and smelled like a fresh band-aid were always Annora’s favorites. There were ten or so civilians aboard being examined by Argent technicians and specialists. Doctor Doverly was treating a young man in a t-shirt and jeans and athletic shoes that looked like they belonged to a boy in elementary school. He was holding what looked like a toy-sized metal robot of some kind. Zony whispered the name “Bucky” before slipping back out the hatch. Hunter just missed snagging her collar and grumbled. Annora walked over to the treatment table to get her portable scanner and whispered to the captain.

“He wants me to fix his robot.”

“You summoned me to the medical corvette for a toy robot?”

“He won’t let me fix it unless the captain says it’s okay,” Annora said. “I’m simply following procedure when it comes to fleet auxiliary vehicle repairs when requested by seven-year-old patients.”

“I have a sneaking suspicion you made those procedures up on your own.”

“One of the perks of being the chief medical officer. He’s still suffering from minor dehydration, but otherwise he’s going to be fine.”

“I see,” Jason replied tentatively. He walked over and grabbed one of the shiny chrome stools with wheels and pulled it up to Bucky’s bedside. The boy looked like he would rather be anywhere else.

“Hey Bucky. My name’s Jason. How are you feeling?”

Bucky shrugged.

“Your doctor tells me you have the best robot she’s ever seen.”

The boy stared straight ahead. His eyebrows were parallel with the floor. He held his toy closer with both arms around it. The robot appeared to be constructed out of modular high-impact plastic. Each of the parts was roughly one inch square. Jason had to admit if it were nothing else it was retro. It even had a Tesla-style electrical coil for an antenna right on top of its head.

“It’s broken.”

Jason glanced at Annora, who almost laughed as she continued setting up Bucky’s re-hydration IV.

“Can I take a look? I have some robots too. I even know someone who can fix ‘em.”

Annora rolled her eyes.

“The other kids said only the captain can fix it.”

“Well, what if I took you to meet the captain?”

That finally got a reaction other than a stubborn angry-looking collection of freckles, mussed hair and a frown.

“You can do that?”

Jason nodded. “Sure can. The captain has a lot of robots but none of them are as cool as this one.” Jason gently lifted the toy from Bucky’s arms and stood him up on the treatment bed railing to get a better look. He tested the arms and legs to make sure they could move. “What’s his name?”

“XG One Five”

“XG One Five!? Wow, your robot has a cooler name than any of mine! What do these do? Are these the missile launchers?”

Bucky finally lit up. His voice became more enthusiastic with each word. “No, those are the explosion bombs! He has a missile launcher in his jet pack!”

“A jet pack!? Wow! What kind of missiles?” Jason examined the device while Bucky explained how it worked.

Annora stepped back to the treatment table next to one of the combat nurses and began opening a sterile set of pressure gear. “See? All you have to do is get the boys talking about their robots and they’re good until dinner.”

The nurse also tried to keep from giggling, but couldn’t help it.

Once Bucky had been assured his robot was in the best possible hands, Hunter exited the medical corvette. He looked over the sea of civilians and took a moment to reflect on the events of the past two days. His crew was performing brilliantly. People were being fed, clothed, provided with fresh water, heat and light and some of the best medical care anywhere in known space. It had all come together in a matter of hours, and Captain Hunter was determined the crews, NCOs and officers responsible for the humanitarian miracle his battleship had brought to life be commended for their professionalism and speed. What the captain was witnessing would have overwhelmed a civilian government. It would have taken weeks just to do the paperwork and even then, they would have left all their supplies in a warehouse someplace. Hunter’s men and women had it all distributed in ninety minutes.

Now, it was time for the starship Argent to do what only warships could: make sure all these families and children survived what was certain to be a potentially catastrophic combat situation. The captain activated his commlink.

“Hunter to Argent.”

“Bridge, Mallory.”

“What’s our time factor, commander?”

“It’s combat o’ clock, sir. Based on the signals from Platmore Field I’m expecting enemy contact at the jump gate any second.”

“Zony, Moo, Yili and I are on our way back to the ship. Put on your Sunday best and sound fleet wide general quarters, XO. It’s party time.”

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