VELVET GLOVE, IRON FIST -- Act III - Erich von Shrakenberg


            Commander Eric Von Shrakenberg sat on the bridge, but it no longer felt the same; there was a traitor on his ship and he had no idea who. Could he ever really trust anyone on the ship again? He informed Naval Command that the Stornoway needed a certain upgrade, a specialized bit of circuitry that wasn't available at Van Diemen. All this stalling allowed him to do what he needed to do; get to Phoenix system and meet with the family. If InSec was going to be on his tail, then he needed something desperately to get them off. That meant calling the family. The Von Shrakenbergs had been serving the Federation for centuries. That meant that people owed them a lot of favors. It was time to start collecting.

            He looked over at Gergenstein, manning the weapons display, "Lieutenant, are we clear for the jump gate?"

            "Sensors report no traffic in our vicinity."

            "Van Diemen orbital command reports go for jump." Lefarge chimed in.

            Eric looked over at the empty chair where Johanna would normally be. She was still recovering from the close blast when someone fired at the communications link. Somebody on this ship, he thought, maybe even in this room. The captain rubbed his head; all this paranoia was giving him a headache. "Helm, set course for New Paris system, then take us through the jumpgate."

            "Sir?" Henri looked more than a little confused. New Paris was a little off the track from Phoenix system. A ship that was careful could easily make the jump from Van Diemen to Phoenix, even though it wasn't exactly safe; the risk of losing the hyperspace beacon was slight, possible only if they caught in a grav storm, which was rather rare.

            "Commander Ho reported that the overload in the system's energy grid had declined hyperdrive efficency to 85%. Weren't you paying attention at today's briefing?"

            "Eighty-five is still within safe limits to..."

            "Lieutenant, I want to take it nice and easy." Eric replied, forgetting to mention that he also needed to kill some time. Even with the side trip to New Paris, the commander would still be two days early for the family meeting. "We'll make the two jumps."

            "Aye." Lefarge replied, punching in the buttons necessary for course change. Probably annoyed about dumping his course program to Phoenix, Eric thought; a course plan over the safety margin meant taking another couple minutes to check the calculations. Playing dice with the chaos of hyperspace meant the navigator had to make sure what he had in his hand. "Course laid in, engines ready."

            "Very well, M. Lefarge, at your discretion."

            The comm beam lanced out from the Storoway, hitting the dish planted on the jump gate. The mechanism responded and opened the glowing reddish swirl upon the blankness of space. Then the Rota-class destroyer jolted forward on its ion engines, felt the tug of the gravity waves pulling it, then fell into its glowing vortez. Then in a blink, ship and swirl vanished, leaving Van Diemen system behind.


            Eric saw Johanna coming down the corridor with the help of a metal crutch. Von Shrakenberg walked a little faster with more than a little concern on his face. Ingolfsson just smiled, her normal bouncy self replaced with one wincing through the stiffness of her muscles. "You look like you lost your favorite hovertrike."

            "You really shouldn't be up, Johanna."

            "Great Buddha! I've been hurt worse than this. Remember that time when I wrestled with that lion?"

            Eric smiled. She was fourteen at the time and he was a cadet at the academy. During his break, the family went to Earth to see the African nature preserve. It was amazing to see an entire continent set aside; well, the Fed ecologist said that it wasn't good for conventional agriculture anyway. It wasn't like there were any people to fill it up. So after dumping several cloned versions of the previous animal inhabitants, they set them wild among an entire continent. Anyway, no one could tell Johanna anything as a teenager. That was, until she had to see a family a baby cubs close up. When she got away from Eric and the rest of the group, the young cadet barely caught up to her when the momma lion returned home. Johanna held off the lioness until Eric could get the tranquilizer and fire. However, she was badly scraped up, spending the next week in a hospital recovering. Ingolfsson was a lot more receptive to instructions after that.

            "I don't remember you laughing afterwards, though."

            "I'm not really laughing now." She lowered her eyes and began to whisper. "Any luck?"

            "Not yet." he replied in the same tone. "Cameras went down in that area a few minutes before you called. Engineering said it was necessary to fix the comm system, but I'm not so sure."

            "Check on it, Eric. I'm not sleeping well at night with this over my head."

            "Me neither."


            After 46 hours in hyperspace, the EFS Stornoway passed out of the swirling red glow that was its chaos and back into the comforting void. New Paris system; the suburb of the capital Avalon. One wouldn't think of an entire system being dependant on another, but it was linked through the digital gate, allowing instanteous travel between the two sites. Even so, space travel wasn't cheap, limiting it to the very rich or the very well connected; on Avalon, there was plenty of both.

            "What are your orders, sir?" Lefarge asked once they passed into the system.

            "Approach the fourth planet, ask to dock, and then take a 24-hour furlough on the orbital station. Clear, lieutenant?"

            "Yes, sir."

            Some chief mumbled under his breath behind him. "Great, New Paris. Most boring place in the Fed."

            "Secure that shit, Almos!" Someone else whispered back.

            The captain didn't let the smile inside him reach his face. The good commander was supposed to know everything that was going on without letting everyone _know_ that he knew what was going on. That was especially true now.      

            As the Stornoway sped toward the inner planets, Gergenstein suddenly sat upright in his chair. "Sir!"

            "Report, lieutenant."

            "New Paris Orbital's is calling a Code 3 alert. Dangerous criminals have escaped the third planet on a stolen ship."

            "Orders, sir?" the helmsman eagerly awaited. This was the first action they had in a week.

            "You know regs, lieutenant. Code 3 means all available fleet craft respond. We're in system. Plot an intercept course, maximum speed!"




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.