“We’re glad you’ve been able to make repairs,” said the Dyson Forces Commander on the other side of the view screen, holding her hand to her temple. “However, protocol dictates that your ship will need an entire shakedown. Particularly with the Morcalan vessel affixed to it.”
“Understood, Commander Sanchez,” said Pilot Tan, nodding to the screen. “I do believe that I’ll be able to remove the Scuttler myself, though, and until I do that docking won’t be an option. You’d have to spend the time and resources to have a crew physically come over here, and that’ll delay both my schedule and that of the repair crew. I understand that we’re on a tight schedule.”
“Super tight,” said Tan. “Incredibly tight. That was how I interpreted The Herald’s last instructions from Emperor Dyson, at least. We’re in a non-consecutive region of space, and most of our advantage comes from careful timing and the element of surprise.”
Commander Sanchez tapped a finger on the side of her head.
“This is irregular, but you’re right about the tight schedule. Given the circumstances… I’ll still be sending a repair ship your way, but work on them yourself to the best of your ability. The repair ship should be able to get to you before our operation in Veskid begins, but if you can get things finished before help arrives it’ll reflect well on you.”
“Hail Dyson,” she said, saluting to the camera.
“Hail Dyson,” said Tan, returning the salute. The feed went dark.
Ensign Trell lowered her energy blaster and reactivated its safety mechanism while Ortega exhaled.
“Nice work, Tan,” he said. “I was worried for a minute.”
“We’re not safe yet,” said Trell. “We’ve still got to make enough of a change to the ship to make it look like repairs are progressing. We may also need to cause some superficial damage that will better reflect the kinds of issues that you reported, Tan.”
“Sorry,” he said. “It was all I could think of for some of the questions she was asking.”
“Honestly, I think I would’ve told them more or less the same things. You didn’t have a lot to work with. You moved us out of the frying pan and into a different pan a little closer to the oven’s controls.”
“So, the first step should be removing the Scuttler?” asked Ortega. “Just calling Calen and asking her to unhook would probably be too fast. How long should we wait to make it believable that one person could fix that kind of issue?”
“Two hours, which is too long,” said Trell. “I’m willing to bet that there’s not a lot of data on the lesser known functions of Morcalan specialty vessels, though. We might be able to make twenty minutes believable if we simulate a controlled explosion near some of the pincers. We can even claim that Tan did it to speed up his work.”
“Good plan,” said Ortega. “Up for some more acting in a bit, Tan?”
“If I need to,” he said. “Still don’t feel great about this.”
“Must be rough, keeping your friends out there from blasting you to death,” said Trell. “We’ll keep the contact minimal, so you won’t need to do it often. We’ll keep working here, and with luck the Dyson Empire won’t know we’re coming for them until it’s too late.”
“He wasn’t wrong,” said Harold Zamona. “We are, as he says, on a Tight Schedule.”
“He was very emphatic, sir,” said Commander Sanchez, speaking to Zamona through her view screen. “He wanted that point to be made, and he made it. It could be nothing, but I felt it best to inform you.”
“Yes,” said Zamona, steepling his gauntlet-bound hands. “Tight Schedule isn’t the trouble phrase until tomorrow. It should be Random Sensor Glitch today. Still… you were right to call me.”
“One of my officers suggests that he might be operating with local time instead of Dyson Mean Time. It would account for the error. As would a simple mistake when memorizing trouble phrases.”
“It might,” said Zamona. “Prepare to send your repair team as promised, but inform them that I will send some specialists along for the job, Commander.”