„Do you know why this hearing was scheduled in addition to your last mission debriefing, citizen?“
Rear Admiral Cortez leaned forward, putting his hands on the desk in his ‘I demand answers’ mode. The other officers of the Alliance Defence Forces tried to show their best poker faces.
Andrew Gaspurr shrugged his shoulders. „I guess there are some questions left and that you want some answers or at least assumptions so you can rest easier.“
„Your last assignment was for the Long Arm Expedition, an Alliance scout and survey operation. But it is also heavily supported by the ADF. No small degree of monetary funding, to be more precise. And of course we would, on occasion, like to know if our money is spent appropriately and in compliance with our Mission Directive Statements.“
„I didn’t know the solar flares of Beta Coronae Austrinae were of any concern for your compliance. Well, you never stop learning?“
„We decide what is within our Compliance Directive and what is not! It is not for you to discuss them, but to oblige them,“ Cortez snorted. „Don’t be mistaken by you signing up with the Alioth Independents. They are contractors themselves, and in this case they opted to take on a situation that has been around certain circles. And by that, you work for us.“ There was the hint of a self satisfactory smile somewhere in the corner of his mouth. Right now, Andrew thought of a wolf having found the sheeps’ shelter.
„Let’s be honest: They are washing the dirty laundry for you. It’s not that you hired a moron here. Sorry, I didn’t find your ‘situation’ but I guess the ball’s in your court again, no?“
„You don’t hold much esteem for authorities, citizen, do you? Speaking of courts,“ Cortez summonded some holofac images before him: text, numbers, images and such. „Insubordination. Ignoring your superiors. According to your files with the Federation Navy that was a prime reason why you were discharged after your fourth term of service, wasn’t it?“
„What do you want, Cortez?“
He leaned forward, now all the wolf again. „I want to know what happened down there on Austrinae 2. Your debriefing is good at stating the obvious but it lacks… how shall I put it? Exploratory intuition, the thing you are famed of if listening to bar talks can be taken seriously. So again, what I want is you telling us the whole story all over again.“
Andrew sighed audibly.
„All right then. I hooked up with the Long Arm Expedition again some weeks ago. You know the details, Sir. Fact is they wanted someone for a search and rescue mission, as one of their scouts was missing, having passed his last three schedules of reporting back to the Long Arm’s HQ. It turned out the scout was doing on-site research about solar flares of Beta Coronae Austrinae, a giant star at the end of its lifespan; well, astronomically speaking.“
„There were several mission opportunities, citizen. Why did you chose that one?“
„Because I am doing my own studies of dark clouds and stellar forges. The Corona Australis was on my agenda anyway after having travelled to the Coalsack earlier this year.“
„And what did you find?“
“I picked up an emergency broadcast signal from orbit around the second planet of the Beta Coronae Austriensis system. The signal was an automated mayday and on Federation, Alliance and Empire frequencies. I tried to establish radio and tight beam contact but to no avail. So I homed in on the signal’s source and prepped for planetary landing. It turned out to be in a peculiarly big impact crater, close to the central peak. Landing occurred at 1437 Standard Tauri Time, which is pretty much dawn in the Beta C system. I took the SRV out and located the signal source about half an hour later near a ridge of fragmented rock. It was a Standard Type IV Escape Pod commonly found on exploration and military vessels. These pods are for up to 6 persons, you know. It was breached and heavily damaged. Life support systems failed days ago according to its readings. There were no traces of survivors and the signal was running on emergency solar capacitors.”
(to be continued)