POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS – Act II
“There are times when even the most cynical must trust in luck.”
--- Commadore Kerr Avonlea, during the Battle of Proxima in 2224.
Fear pulsed through the Sergeant's body as he herd footsteps approach his cargo container. He looked at the face of the mother holding her frightened little girl inside the dark box, possibly their coffin. I will not have the blood of the innocent on my hands again, he thought. His body rippled with impotent rage as the container started to get smaller. The beast was coming. There was no stopping it now.
Captain Bantu tried to stall. "I can't imagine what you're detecting, these are simple…"
"Shut up." The Eastern Bloc commander said, cutting him off. "You two, search that container."
The two soldiers went to open the cargo crate when it opened it for them. A ten-foot tall armored behemoth burst from the box with a mighty roar. It was a terrible sight to behold. The screams of the women and children seemed to emanate nearby. The soldiers froze in terror; that was their mistake.
The mighty beast grabbed the smaller armored figures, and in an instant, smashed their heads together, splitting open like rotten fruit. It then pounced upon the squad commander, throwing its two victims into the other soldiers, knocking them down like nine pins. Seconds later, it was over; the beast celebrated its triumph by rending one of the dead limb from limb. Then the rage subsided.
I must concentrate, Dimiye thought, as he turned to the captain and his corporal. Captain Bantu looked like he had just seen a ghost; Corporal Tess looked unabashed. He pointed to the ruptured cargo container, which still contained occupants.
"Get them, BRIDGE!" The beast commanded. The corporal and reluctant captain acknowledged.
The sergeant tried desperately to control his thoughts. Gotta calm down, I must focus! I am a son of the celestial Polaris. My will is constant as the Northern Star. As he concentrated, his mind and body relaxed into that of a human once more.
"All hands, this is Dimiye. Initiate our contingency plan, T- two minutes. A quad! You're with me." The sergeant barked over the internal comm. Time for plan B, he thought, as he charged his plasma cannon.
While Tess’ squad picked up the pieces of the Bloc Marines, Alastar was already getting the shuttle filled with his men. The captain came over to him and asked, “What do we do now?”
“The shuttle hasn’t been gone long enough for the destroyer to be nervous. We’re going to cross over and seize that ship.”
“What?” Bantu replied.
“Look, that destroyer has no more than a platoon of marines. We have them all. So what they’ve got is just the crew of that ship, and without power armor,” Dimiye smiled eerily, undetectable behind the nanotech grey of his suit, “we can take it. So, I want everyone ready to go within a few minutes. That’s how long it should take my eight troopers and me to seize that ship.”
“Wait a minute, you mean you want… you’re telling me to leave the Vera Cruz?”
“You said it yourself. There’s no way we can run past that cruiser in this tin can.”
Bantu stood there stunned for a moment, trying to absorb all that he said, but Dimiye didn’t waste time. “Corporal Johannes, are you ready?”
“Lock and load, sir.” Her soprano voice responded.
“Good. Corporal Tess, remember to send the second shuttle over to the destroyer once we send the signal. That will be the sign that we’ve taken the ship.”
Dimiye got into the shuttle and sealed the hatch behind him. Soon enough, there was a THUNK as the tiny craft detached from the freighter, and then they cast off into the space between the ships.
One could feel the tension in the air as the troopers went through their routine of checking their suits. They had already done the list before getting in them, but it helped to calm their minds before going into combat. “All right, A quad drops first. Stunners only. If you encounter resistance, switch to plasma. Remember, we want to take prisoners; we don’t know when they’re going to come in handy. Once we secure the shuttle bay, A quad moves toward the bridge, B quad takes their ion drive room.” They had to make sure they could move after they’d taken the ship. If those Bloc engineers managed to sabotage the fusion reactor, he thought, we can always guide on dead reckoning, and repair it later. If they shut down the ion drive, though, we are dead in space.
“Coming into the shuttle bay.” Johannes said.
“Make me proud,” Alastar replied, looking over his troopers, “activate chameleon circuits.” In a flurry of quiet clicks, the nanotech shifted their suits’ gray to transparent. Once they were invisible, another THUNK announced their arrival on the enemy ship; the sergeant smiled to himself, it’s showtime.
The minute the shuttle’s airlock opened, A quad went to work. With the focused taser built into their suits, they quickly paralyzed the surrounding crew. B quad dispersed out and took out the flight personnel; a total time of five seconds. Quickly, the squads made their way to the hallway and broke off to their individual duties. Often, the crew was completely unaware as they passed by. Those who got in their way dropped like stones when the high voltage hit them.
The ship was dark; darker than an Earth Fleet ship. Not that it mattered to the suits; they enhanced the light to normal patterns and they moved through fine. Suddenly as they turned the corner to the lifts, Dimiye saw two plasma bolts rush past his head. The quad didn’t even blink; also shifting their weapons to plasma, they rushed headlong toward them, and fried them into a charred mess.
Reaching the lifts, they got in quickly, heading up to the bridge, when the alarm sounded. Too late, Alastar thought, as the lift opened up on the bridge. All eyes turned toward them as they stormed onto the bridge, and in a storm of light, immediately tasered the entire crew.
The sergeant bit down on his dentcom. “A quad to B quad. Primary objective reached.”
Corporal Johannes answered, with the sounds of action all around them. “Confirmed, sir. We’re almost at the drive room.”
“Keep me advised,” he replied, dragging the destoyer captain out of his chair and checking the controls.
“Hey, sarge,” Trooper Dreven asked, “what’s on these controls? I can’t read a single word!”
Alastar looked at the captain’s chair; everything was written in Chinese. “You don’t have to,” the master sergeant smirked, placing his suit’s arm on the control panel, and watching the little red letters flash across his screen translating it. The suit computers were wonderful. Finally he found the alarm button, and turned it off, breathing a sigh of relief from that terrible noise.
“B quad to A quad. Secondary objective reached.” The corporal spoke over the comm.
“Good. Send the all-clear.”
Tess got her charges across the vastness of space, after they had set up the remote guidance transmitter, and over aboard their captured destroyer. Johannes was already busy with rounding up the prisoners and holding them in secure areas. They were already giving the consulate staff and their families the bunks for the enlisted personnel while they continued to search the ship for stragglers. Meanwhile, the corporal and Captain Bantu came to the bridge, while Dimiye was putting stickers on the control panels.
“What are you doing?” the freighter captain moved closer to the sergeant.
“Translating the controls. Otherwise, we’re not going to be able to move a kilometer in this crate.” Alastar looked up and the two of them. “Are we ready?”
“Yes, sir.” Corporal Tess smiled through the opening in her suit.
Dimiye took a second look at Tess; for a moment, he swore there was something behind that smile. He shook it off and walked over to the communications station. “Good. Captain, please take command of your new ship, while I take care of the old one.”
Bantu took the helm control while his eyes glanced over the stickers. “This is crazy!”
“This helm control. It’s completely backwards!”
“Get used to it. Tess, can you handle the weapons?”
“I can try.”
“Do it. If we wait too much longer, that cruiser’s going to wonder what’s taking so long.” Dimiye clicked his dentcom over to the command circuit. “Johannes?”
“Tell me that drive is functioning.”
“Purring like a K’Nes, sir.”
“Get ready to go to full power,” he answered, before transmitting the coded message to the Vera Cruz.
On their sensors, the Vera Cruz fired its ion drive and pulled away from the destroyer. While they sat there, the freighter kept building up speed, running straight for the jumpgate.
“Tess, fire a warning shot.”
The blast of incandescent light burst across the vastness of space. None of this mattered to the remote controlled ship as it hit full speed.
Suddenly, a holoproj burst in front of him. The face of the cruiser captain was staring right at Dimiye’s own. A chill swept through his body, staring right at the computer image. “Semma fassen-lyah?” The captain yelled across the space waves. “Semma fassen-lyah?!”
Bantu ripped himself from the helm and rushed over to the comm station. Pressing the audio reply, he spoke quickly, “Chon-go choo!”
Without another word, the sensor display showed the light cruiser moving on an intercept course with the freighter. Alastar looked at the captain and stared. “What did you say to them?”
“They asked what was happening. I told them the freighter was running the blockade.”
“You speak Chinese?”
“Badly, sergeant. For all I know, I just told them I’m a fish.”
“Well then,” Dimiye smirked, “we better chase them. Captain, get this ship moving.”
Bantu rushed back over to the controls and pressed the engines to the max. The destroyer shuddered as they bolted forward after the fleeting craft. What the cruiser didn’t see was the freighter captain’s slight course change, aiming itself for the jumpgate.
The light cruiser quickly came into weapons range of the freighter. The Bloc craft fired another warning shot across the Vera Cruz’s bow. Dimiye ordered a slight course correction; keeping with the fiction that the ship was manned. The destroyer was bolting for the jumpgate, right after the freighter, when the cruiser proceeded to blast it atoms.
“We’ve run out of time.” Bantu muttered.
“Only in your mind,” Alastar shot back. “Tess, can you get a lock on their engines?”
Tess shouted, “You didn’t put stickers on the weapon console!”
“We’re coming in proximity with the cruiser.”
“Tess, you’re going to have point-blank range. Use it!”
The corporal’s hands flew over the controls. Finally, she configured the targeting program on the engines and locked it. “Ready!”
The destroyer’s chemlasers burned into the side of the cruiser, ripping their engines into golden flame. Several explosions burst throughout the rear of the ship, using the released oxygen as fuel to power their dying flames. The cruiser was caught completely off-guard as the destroyer ran harmlessly by it.
Bantu broke the abrupt silence. “Computer acknowledges receipt of… something. I think it’s the hyperspace beacon coordinates.”
“Lock it in, captain, and take us through.”
A few seconds later, several hundred thousand tons of metal passed through the jump, and vanished into the orange haze.
Rebecca burst into the mass of toughs and threw them to every side while Cianan blasted away with the plasma revolver. Bodies were dropping on top of bodies. The smugglers and pirates that congregated here didn’t like being shot at, so they proceeded to whip out their weapons, and answered with a volley of fire. The entire bar was being ripped apart by slugs and plasma bolts. In the midst of all this Cianan rushed to the aid of her friend.
Justine Macoure was folded in on herself when he got to her. Chambers immediately rushed to get his gun, gripping it with his fingers, and turning to fire. Rebecca slammed one of her enormous feet down on his hand and the other against his face. The scum lord went down cold. “Let’s get out of here!” she screamed, grabbing Justine in her arms, as Cianan made a hole through the mass of running freeloaders.
The air outside wasn’t that much more refreshing, and with the platoon of Light Infantry rushing towards them in light armor, it wasn’t getting any better. “Shit!” Cianan cursed, “Run for the ship!”
The troopers opened up on the crowd, slaughtering the group of riff-raff and assorted scum before them, as they ran the opposite direction. It didn’t take long for them to mow down the mob, then the LI platoon was running after the fleeing trio.
“Damn, we must have really pissed someone off!” Becky yelled over the scorching sound of plasma burning the shanties around them.
As they reached the transfer station, Cianan took position behind the front door. “I’ll try and hold them off. Get to the ship!”
“GO!” he yelled back, slamming another energy clip into his revolver, and firing a barrage at the platoon moving toward them.
Rebecca rushed down the hallway of the station, cradling the weakening Justine in her arms, hoping to reach the ship’s bay before it was too late. Behind her, there was a huge explosion, with the deafening sound of a sonic grenade. The concussion brought Becky to her knees, grasping her ears for comfort. Once the ringing had stopped, she looked up, and saw the door for the Derision’s hold. Managing to grab Justine again, she hit the door controls, and the metal blast doors cycled open.
The muscled woman walked inside… and stopped. All around the ship were her fellow crewmates. Her friends, all of them, were dead; all of them, she noticed, except…
“FREAK!” she howled, rushing towards the ship. Suddenly, the engines kicked on and started humming to life. While Becky’s body was in rage, a part of her mind remembered that they were out of fusion mass for the reactor. How the hell is the ship running?
The thrusters roared to life and the ship catapulted up into the open sky. The exhaust from the engines drove Rebecca back into the wall in a rush of air and charged particles. Becky blacked out as the Derision lifted off into the sky, leaving the world of Van Diemen 2 behind. Right before the LI platoon could flood the sparse shuttle bay with plasma fire, Justine’s released her last breath, her spirit following her body into the void.
He is so predictable, Hex thought, as he relaxed in the storefront chair. Outside the window, the boy watched the vampire slink out of the shadows of the alley, slowly moving towards the street light. It was embarrassingly obvious where he could find himself a vampire; it was a wonder that the Crusaders still had a job. All Hex had to do was find out where there was a rash of muggings in the New Paris system, wait until dusk, and then stalk it out. Sure enough, in the corner of everyone’s perception, there it was. Waiting for its next victim; well, the leech didn’t have to wait too long.
Hex took the pocket crossbow out of his jacket and put it under the table. Placing the stake in the slot, he cocked the weapon, and locked it for action. The waitress came by, a bubbly brunette that God had endowed a bit more than most women, and smiled with those perfect teeth that were thanks to early dental implants. “Do ya want your check, little man?” she squeaked in that chirpy voice usually common to rodents.
“Yes, please,” he replied, calmly placing the crossbow in his left hand, keeping it underneath the table.
“Okay,” the waitress replied, putting the notepad down on the table, “the bill comes to… oh, three and a half creds.”
With his right hand, Hex fished a five-credit coin out of his pocket, and threw it on the table. “Keep the change.”
“Hey, thanks! Little man, you’re my favorite customer tonight!”
He managed a smile, realizing that she could recognize him now, and regretting how he couldn’t let that happen. Keeping the crossbow out of sight, he activated his plasma grenade, opened the restaurant door, and dropped it behind him as he closed it. There can be no witnesses, Hex thought, calmly walking across the street, while the store behind him exploded into an orange haze.
The vampire didn’t flinch an eyebrow. Good, Hex smiled; he’s hoping I didn’t notice him. The boy walked calmly down that same alleyway, hoping that the blood-sucker would make this easy for him. True to form, once he walked a few meters down the pavement, he leaped from the rooftop, and Hex pivoted and fired the crossbow. He dropped like a stone, falling far from his target, since he was impaled through the heart by the stake. He quickly gathered the living corpse in his arms and dragged him off to his flitter. Now, he thought, I’m ready to do my work.
“You are so fucking dead!”
“Five thousand years of existence and that’s all your immortal race has to say? Rather depressing."
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with!”
“I don’t? Why don’t you tell me?”
“I wouldn’t give you the time of day!” the vampire spat back.
Well, Hex thought, this interview wasn’t going particularly stellar. Then again, if I had just had a large piece of wood drove through my heart, and I awoke to see my body chained down on a cold table, I wouldn’t be in a happy mood either. Oh well, time to show him my trump card. “Speaking of the day…” Hex let his voice trail off as he opened the heavy blind, letting the sunlight hit the creature. The vampire convulsed and burned as the light seared his flesh; his screeching voice pleading for release. Finally, after a few seconds, the boy closed the curtain. With a smug grin on his face, he walked back over to the wyrm. “Did that hurt?”
The leech bared his fangs at him and Hex unconsciously took a step back. “Guess so. Now that you know my power, why don’t we try a more civilized conversation.”
“Go to hell!”
“Really, what’s it like?” The vampire was not amused. “All right, why don’t we start with your name. Now that’s not that much to ask. Who are you?”
“I’m the guy… who fucks your mother!”
Hex closed his eyes. He never had a mother… well, one that he knew about anyway. All he had was the Center and Doctor Xaktos. There was Doctor Atkins for a while, but… he wasn’t that nice. He felt a spike of hate go through him, but he pushed it down. No, he couldn’t let this vampire get to him. “Very well,” he replied, as he went back over to the window.
“NO!” the leech screamed, pleading, desperate at all costs to stop the sunlight from coming in. “Please, no! I’ll tell you anything. But please, not that!”
“Better.” The boy replied, moving back toward the dead meat on the table. “Now, who are you?”
“My name is Samuel Morales.”
“You see, it wasn’t that hard. Now, who is your sire?”
“Yes, I think that’s the word you use. The person who… turned you, I assume he’s still around.”
“Her name is Catherine.”
“Good. Now, why are you here on New Paris?”
Samuel smiled to show his fangs. “For a snack.”
“Just passing through the system?”
“Something like that.”
“Somehow I doubt you would bother going all the way over to Dietersburg just for a ‘snack.’ So why don’t you tell me why you’re really here?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh really, let’s see if we can refresh your memory.” Hex went over to the window again. Before the leech could plead, he gave him another dose of sunlight. After a couple seconds, he closed the blind again. The room was really starting to smell bad, the boy noticed, walking back to the frying corpse. “Now, why are you here?”
“It’s a trap!” it screamed, crying tears of blood through the pain, “We’re trying to trap someone!”
“Some damn Enoch lieutenant, I think. She doesn’t tell me shit!”
“I see. Well, it’s really not what I’m interested in anyway. Tell me, what do you know about a Mary Obanye.”
“No, Oh-bahn-yee. Mary Obanye, former Federation senator, member of the Equal Rights Alliance.”
“Why the fuck should I know?”
“Because it occurs to me that a creature, such as yourself, needs to know what’s happening wherever you go. Now a woman like that doesn’t go into hiding without leaving a large trail or getting some serious help. Something tells me you would have sniffed either.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Well, let me put it another way. Is there some group moving in somewhere or something big that’s gone down lately?”
“There’s the Resistance, but…”
“The Resistance. They’re setting up a base here on New Paris.”
If a former senator on the run from the Federation wanted to be safe, Hex thought, the best place to go would be into the hands of the Resistance. “Where?”
“They’re being pretty secret…”
Hex inched toward the curtain. “But I’m sure you’ve got a good idea.”
Samuel tensed and then finally said, “Maine City. They’re forming up near Maine City.”
“Thank you.” The boy replied, before walking over to the curtain.
“WAIT!” the leech screamed, “I told you what you wanted to know!”
“No witnesses.” Hex answered, before burning him alive with the blaze of the sun.
Xinjao cut off by an annoying flashing button on Herbert’s console. “Ma’am, I have a jumpgate activating.”
Johanna broke away from her datapad and barked, “Where?”
Lt. Gergenstein brought up his screen. “Aspect GC 179 mark 308. It’s inbound from Ashdown!”
The shock on the bridge was complete. “Number of ships?”
“I read twenty, no… ma’am, it’s an entire fleet!”
Just then, the commander hit the GQ alarm.
"Activate full stealth mode, I want silent running in 20 seconds! Jerez, give me an ID!" Commander Ingolfsson was suddenly nothing like her usual bouncy, happy self, but was focused; all business.
"Commander, It's the Jurvain! I read 4 dreadnoughts, probably Koryo-class, at least 10 other capital ships, and maybe two dozen escorts."
Shit, thought the commander. "That's pretty heavy for a raiding force. Any transports with them?"
"I can't be sure at this range, some of them might be light assault transports, but I don't think so. At least, not enough for a full planetary assault landing. But it's long range for a passive reading." The sensor officer was furiously working over her station, refining the image.
"So, either this is just a very large reconnaissance-in-force, or just the spearhead to clear aside any of our warships so the transports can come in and land unopposed."
"Captain on the bridge," came the call from the helmsman.
"Talk to me, Jo," the Captain ordered curtly.
"We got a Jurvain heavy task group. Looks like 4 dreadnoughts, 10 or so battlecruisers, maybe 40 ships in total, including tin cans."
"I'll take on the Jurvain at anything up to and including 5-to-1 odds. But 50-to-1, that's not fair. What do we still have in-system?"
"Not enough. One Avalon-class DN, a squadron of Stalingrads, and some heavy cruisers in orbit, and the Agincourt is covering the Fieras Gate with some destroyers. A couple more destroyers and light cruisers on outer patrol like us, that's it." Lieutenant Jerez didn't look happy to be bearing this kind of news.
"Great. Well, for an inner system that only has to worry about Rebel forces, that would do. But not with a Jurvain heavy task group bearing down on them. Any orders from the system CO?" Admiral Ostrow wasn't high on Von Shrakenberg's list of illustrious senior officers.
"Just coming in now," answered the executive officer. "He's ordering all ships to form up at the New Madrid Gate to fall back and link up with Task Group 34. He thinks together we can take back the system."
"Well, he's not as dumb as I thought. At least he's not gonna waste his forces ‘for the honor of the flag.’"
"Or he's just scared shitless," the exec smirked.
"Commander, making fun of superior officers is the exclusive right of Captains and above." Captain Von Shrakenberg smiled, though. "But he's right, he can't stop them from taking the system if that's what they want to do." He turned to the sensor officer. "Lt. Jerez, have the Jurvain seen us yet?"
"I don’t think so, we shut off all active emissions pretty quick, and they're probably looking toward the primary," she answered.
"Then I have an idea. Get me a narrow band transmission to the flagship!"
Admiral Ostrow wasn't easy to convince. But, in the end, he agreed to let Erich attempt his plan. Captain Von Shrakenberg called M. Treschi into his office, with Lieutenant Spyder in attendance.
"M. Treschi, I've been looking at your record. It says here you were once a lieutenant in the Raptors." Von Shrakenberg grimaced. The Raptors were the elite unit of the Tech Infantry charged with running down rogue werewolves, mages, and other awakened individuals who refused to serve their term in the military. Some saw them as an elite unit; others saw them as second only to Internal Security for their ruthlessness, a kind of new Gestapo.
"Yes, captain. I served my term, I have my honorable discharge papers in my cabin," stated the tall freighter captain. "Is there a problem?"
"Yes, there is. A Jurvain heavy task group just jumped into this system. We don't have the forces to stop them from taking this system, and our ships are pulling out for New Madrid."
"Well, aside from the unfortunate impact on my bottom line, I don't see how that's my problem, captain." Treschi's eyebrow raised slightly.
"I'm making it your problem," the captain said. "In accordance with the Earth Federation articles of war, I'm activating your reserve commission at your previous rank for the duration of hostilities. Welcome back to Earth Force, Lieutenant Treschi."
"You can't do that," sputtered Treschi. "I've served my term!"
"I can and I am doing that," Erich stated flatly. "And there's more. I am commandeering your ship and also drafting your crew. You will all receive pay commensurate with your present rank, and you will be compensated for your ship and lost cargo and profit. The Federation needs you, lieutenant."
"And if I refuse?"
"Then you will spend the voyage to New Madrid in the brig instead of in quarters, we'll still take your ship, and you will NOT be compensated for your losses."
"That doesn’t sound great."
"Well, I can sweeten it a bit. If you go along with this plan peacefully, we'll overlook the problem with the stolen ship registration and the suspicion of smuggling. And unless you're selling to the Jurvain, I think their occupation of this system AND Ashdown is already gonna blow quite a hole in your profit margin."
"That…may be acceptable."
"Good," answered the captain. "I'm glad you will be joining us for this upcoming mission."
"So, what do you need my ship and my crew for," asked the lieutenant. "Evacuating refugees?"
"No, although that came to mind," answered Von Shrakenberg. "Despite the best efforts of my repair crew, I doubt your ship is sound enough for a jump through hyperspace without a few days in spacedock. And, since the nearest spacedock is about to fall to the Jurvain, we have another mission in mind for your ship." Captain Von Shrakenberg tossed a datapad across his desk to the erstwhile freighter captain.
Treschi looked over the plan. "You can't be serious!"
"That's what the Admiral said," smiled Von Shrakenberg. "If he couldn't come up with a good objection, what do you think you're gonna say to change my mind?"
"I think that I might convince you…"
"I don't think so," interjected the TI lieutenant, who had stood silently through this exchange.
"Oh, yes, M. Treschi," the captain replied. Your dossier is quite complete. You won't be doing any of your Mind Mage tricks on me with the lieutenant here to keep an eye on you."
"I would never stoop to such lengths," Treschi said indignantly.
"Of course not. So we are in agreement, then?"
"Yes, sir," said Treschi. This was really turning into a bad day.
Andrea was annoyed; no, that was too light a word. He was fucking pissed off! Here he was, trapped in the middle of a war zone, and now he was impressed into service aboard a damn Earth Fleet ship. Well, better make the most of it.
He got Thrasher and Stewart Weaver from his crew and went over to the Fearless. There were a couple things he had to take care of before they decided to blast it into space. As they got on board the shuttle, it slowly coasted them toward the old freighter. “Dahm em ahl to ‘ell!” Thrasher spewed out as he preceeded to rip the hell out of the durasteel bench he sat on. “I joost git aut o’ de Tee-I ‘n sum dahm kapp-taine uts ‘e bakk een!” The former (now reinstated) staff sergeant was one of the cornerstones of the Tech Infantry Special Service, better known as the Raptors. However, life played a cruel trick on him, and made him a were-rhino. Now he had more anger than he could fight with and more teeth they he could speak with.
Weaver adjusted his optical implants and got a better look at his crazed companion. “Cool your jets, man! Stay cool, stay slinky.”
Treschi raised his eyebrows. “What did you say? I understood you less than than I understood the Muscle.”
“Hey, I’m all ‘bout a little lingo.” Stewart replied, blasting his fingers away like guns, and clicking his gums.
The combination of gestures and talking drove Andrea crazy. “God damn it, Stew, quit watching that damn 2-dee trash and talk to me in English!”
“Better. Where the hell did you get that crazy accent from?”
“I saw it on the vids, man. Pure 20th century; the pre-Fed days. Everyone spoke like that back then.”
“It’s a wonder we ever stopped the Bugs.” Treschi muttered, massaging the bridge of his nose. “All right, when he get to the ship, you guys off-load the cargo, I’ll do the talking. Clear?”
“Rrrrite ‘o, bhoss!”
“Why’re you the one flapping the gums?”
“Because I’m the only person anyone can understand!” Andrea shouted back. “No offense, Thrasher.”
As the shuttle docked, they silently went out the cycling air-lock and walked into the ship. On the Fearless, engineering crews were busy turning the ship into a floating bomb. As soon as they turned the corner, Chief Engineer O’Reilly was standing there. “What are you doing here? If you haven’t noticed, we’re a little busy.”
“Just taking care of some minor details.” Treschi answered, gesturing for his two henchmen to go on, “You know, before we turn my ship into atoms.”
Thrasher and Weaver moved to walk on by, but Xinjao stopped them. “Just a moment. You don’t have permission to be back here. I’ve got a lot of my teams on board, I don’t want you in my way. So kindly get back on the shuttle and back to the Big S, M. Treschi.”
“1st Lieutenant Treschi, sir, Tech Infantry. The captain’s seen it in his wisdom to draft us back into federal service, so,” Andrea spoke, reaching out to Xinjao’s mind, being careful not to warn him, “we’re fellow officers again.”
O’Reilly felt a little disoriented, but he soon righted himself. “I don’t understand.”
“You can call it into the Old Man, it’s all approved. Meanwhile, we have a job to do.” This time, Thrasher and Weaver walked on unabated, leaving their boss with the engineer.
“Where are they going?” Xinjao asked.
“Cargo Bay 1. We’re off-loading the food and medical supplies with a homing beacon. With any luck, we’ll be able to pick them up after this is all over.”
“Just a minute.” The red-haired Asian face swung into Treschi’s full view. “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to dump the last remaining evidence we have against you!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Phenol barbiturates are not standard med-kit issue. In fact, I believe they’re on the Federation’s most prohibited list, the one that carrying a mandatory five-year term on Pluto?”
Xinjao was getting the upper hand, Andrea knew; had to stop him. Pressing on the logic functions in the engineer’s mind, he was hoping to get it back. “Have you ever seen a grown man with a Bug claw stuck through him? Have you ever seen beg for someone to kill him because he can’t pull the medivouch’s cords out? Do you know how many cubic centimeters of Dryaxol it takes to stop that pain? They need something a little stronger than ‘standard med-kit issue’… sir.”
“I’m… sorry?” Even from the commander’s perspective, his voice sounded weird.
“That’s okay. I’ve been making runs to the Frontier Worlds for some time. It’s not something that a Fleet boy like you would have experienced.” Andrea slowly released his hold on his logic functions and Xinjao felt better, although his head still felt fuzzy. “Anyway, I’m sorry if I came off rough there. I get rather touchy about those things.”
“That’s all right, lieutenant, but…”
“Never mind. What did you want to talk about?”
“Well, I was curious, what does a man do after hours on a crate like the Schaumburg?”
“Lots of things. There’s the O-club, but… oh, I guess you’re an officer now. You can go there.”
“I see. So what do you do?”
He was evasive at first, but he managed to answer. “I mostly stay in my room. I need to catch up on the latest journals.”
Andrea read him like last year’s catalog. There was fear behind those eyes, but not of the rebels, as he’d hoped, but of something else. InSec? Maybe, doubtless there’s plenty of that after that corvette tried to wipe him out from the stars. No, there was something else, but he couldn’t catch it. “Oh well, maybe you’d like to go out for a drink sometime.”
“I’m working right now.”
“Some other time, then. Later!” Treschi muttered off down the hallway, heading off to Cargo Bay 1.
When he got there, Thrasher was pushing entire multi-ton crates to the end of the bay, making incredible screeching noises as he went, leaving Weaver to doodle on a notepad. “Hey, boss! We’ve almost got every crate near the airlock. Once those fleet boys get done tying down their explosive… oh, I guess they’re gone. Well, we can blow the hatch, and… hasta la vista, cargo!”
“Thrasher!” Andrea tried to call over the squeal of the metal. “Thrasher!”
Once the crate was in position, the were-rhino looked back over at him. “Wat?!”
“Why don’t you use the counter-grav?”
“Thoo schloh!” Thrasher moaned, muscled out in… what Andrea guessed was Crinos form, as he walked over to the last crate.
Treschi couldn’t argue with him, so he placed his hands to his ears as he scraped the final metal box over to the airlock. Finished, he signaled them to get going, and they filed out of the cargo bay. As the door closed behind him, Andrea said, “All right. There’s only one problem. We’ll have to go up to the bridge and blow out the lock from there.”
“Piece of cake, boss!” Weaver smiled as he pulled out a convoluted piece of hardware. “It’s a snap, you dig?”
“Where did you get this?”
“I ripped it out of the airlock controls. I put a remote transmitter on it so we can open the ‘lock anywhere on the ship.”
“That’s quick work. How did you do it?”
“Well, I had to do something while the Muscle was making me look bad!”
Treschi smiled as he pressed the button. Through the viewport of the door, the airlock burst out with explosive force, the air inside snapping the crates off into the starry void as it went.
“Good, let’s get out of here.”
"That's it people, now let's get back to the Schaumburg!" Lieutenant Commander O'Reilly finished packing up his equipment and moved towards the docking port. "Damn it, as soon as we patch her back up, the captain goes and pulls a stunt like this."
"I imagine that's what the guys who built that jumpgate are gonna be thinking in a couple of hours," replied Chief Tran.
"Ah, war is always such a waste of good machinery."
"Preaching to the choir, sir.”
As the engineers filed into the shuttles, Treschi and his company appeared around the corner. O’Reilly’s eyes widened, “Are you still aboard?”
“Yes, sir.” Andrea moved forward.
“This is the last shuttle out, lieutenant. Get you and your men aboard.”
“Yes, sir.” Andrea repeated, managing to squeeze Weaver and Thrasher aboard one of those tin cans.
“Okay, let’s go!” the chief engineer called, before getting in the shuttle himself, and closing the hatch.
Once the shuttles docked, the lieutenant went back over to the engineer. “Sir?” Andrea smiled, playing the dutiful officer routine to the hilt.
“M. Treschi, I am rather busy…”
“I just need access to a transmitter. My company might want to know what happened to their ship.”
“Lieutenant, that is out of my scope. Go to the bridge, I’m sure they’ll take care of you there.”
Xinjao walked away, trying to clear his mind as he went to his control station. His cloudiness disappeared once he made it to the Ion Drive reactor. Entering in the guidance program from his BLAM, he started entering it into the communications system. With a sigh of relief, from the engineer, the newly commissioned EFMS Fearless restarted its engines and moved off towards the Rios-Ashdown Jumpgate. Through the sensors, the crew watched as the Jurvain fleet finished forming up and was moving in-system towards the planet. The main Earth Fleet squadron was clearly forming up for a defense of the planet, and the Jurvain smelled blood. The balance of forces seemed to ensure another Jurvain victory. The gate had reported a communication sent through by the Jurvain fleet calling for the transports to prepare to move in.
Then they detected the freighter. It was on a direct interception course for the jumpgate. At first, they thought it was mistakenly trying to escape. But when the freighter continued to accelerate, beyond safe transit speed, they realized what it was doing. It was going to ram the jumpgate and prevent the transports from coming in, or the Jurvain fleet from going home.
The Jurvain hesitated for almost a minute, then dispatched two fast destroyers back to the gate to catch the freighter before it could cut off their way home.
"Beautiful," said Captain Von Shrakenberg. "Exactly what I expected. Prepare to drop Stealth Mode and engage maximum thrust!"
"Engines standing by," O’Reilly answered.
The EFS Schaumburg dropped silent running and its ion engines went to maximum burn. It had been moving very slowly around behind the two Jurvain destroyers, coming in from the side, timed to come between them and the system's primary just before coming close enough to be detected despite the stealth systems. Now it dropped the sneaky act, turning on all active targeting sensors and deploying its fighters. Another six fighters popped up from behind the freighter, previously masked by the sensor shadow of the bulk of the freighter.
The Jurvain destroyers, focused as they were on the freighter, saw the fighters first and began active targeting forward. They didn't see the Schaumburg before it was too late.
"Fire all forward armament," ordered Von Shrakenberg. The heavy grav laser, twin heavy chemlasers, and two heavy particle beams tore into the farthest Jurvain Destroyer, gutting the ship from stem to stern. The fighters and their lance torpedoes were closing in on the second destroyer, when it shifted its trajectory, and went screaming after the freighter.
O’Reilly caught the problem at the last second. With no time to lose, he whipped out his slide rule and found the calculations he needed. In a whirlwind of keyboard strokes, the freighter jolted away from the destroyer, allowing the fighters to open fire. The destroyer vanished in an eruption of light.
"All right,” Erich sighed as he watched the freighter continue its track, “all fighters scatter. Maximum burn, Mr. Shijumi. Get us the hell out of here!" The EFS Schaumburg ran at maximum speed for the outer system. The main body of the Jurvain fleet had too much velocity built up in-system to turn and catch the Earth Fleet light cruiser before it could escape beyond sensor range. And neither could they stop the freighter. It closed relentlessly on the immobile jump gate, still building velocity.
Lieutenant Jerez suddenly exclaimed, "Captain, jump gate activating!"
"Schiesse," replied the Captain. Time to impact?"
"Ten seconds," answered the sensor officer. "Oh my God, they're not gonna make it!"
The freighter slammed into the structure of the jump gate just as the hyperspace jump point opened. The bridge crew of the Schaumburg got a brief glimpse of a dozen Jurvain heavy assault transports materializing in the gate's opening, just before the massive energy needed to keep the gate open was released in a colossal explosion. Nearly the entire Jurvain Invasion fleet was instantly vaporized. A lone Jurvain heavy cruiser, the lead ship out of the gate, managed to transit to normal space soon enough to only be badly damaged by the blast.
"Mr. Gergenstein, finish them off," ordered Captain Von Shrakenberg.
The cruiser never had a chance. The Schaumburg almost absent-mindedly blew it in half as it raced past the expanding cloud of plasma that used to be a billion Federation Credits' worth of jumpgate and several times that value of Jurvain warships towards the emptiness of the outer system.
Captain Von Shrakenberg was jubilant. "Excellent job, crew. Now, if we can just live long enough to brag about it…"
"Sir, the Jurvain Battle fleet is turning to engage us," warned Lieutenant Jerez.
"Do they have the acceleration to overtake?"
"I don't think so, but it's gonna be close."
"Status of Admiral Ostrow's force?"
"They're moving towards the New Madrid Gate," reported the exec. She checked the plot on her panel. "If the Jurvain don't turn to chase them within the next minute, they'll be able to escape."
"Okay, then. Reduce acceleration by 10%," ordered the captain.
"Sir," asked the helmsman. "That might let the Jurvain catch us."
"That's what they will think," answered the captain. "At the very last second, resume full acceleration. I want them chasing us as long as possible, to let Ostrow's fleet escape."
For the next 45 seconds, there was silence on the bridge of the EFS Schaumburg, as the crew watched the plot on the main monitor with mounting tension.
"Sir! The New Madrid Gate is activating," interjected the sensor officer.
"Right on schedule," said Von Shrakenberg with obvious relief.
"It's Admiral Frankel with Task Force 34," stated an equally relieved Lieutenant Jerez.
"Activate the drones," ordered Captain Von Shrakenberg.
The Schaumburg's entire complement of sensor drones, previously sent out on a silent run for the outer system, activated their transmitters. They put out the sensor emissions of a squadron of Nicodemus-class assault dreadnoughts and their escorts charging inward from the outer system, on an intercept course to merge with the Schaumburg. The range was too great for the Jurvain to recognize the drones for the ruse they were. With Admiral Ostrow's force coming out from the planet, Admiral Frankel's six dreadnoughts and twelve battlecruisers charging inward from the New Madrid Gate, and the even larger force coming in from out-system, the Jurvain saw that they were trapped.
"Hail Admirals Ostrow and Frankel, Commander Ingolfsson," said a very smug Captain Von Shrakenberg. "Tell them they can inform the Jurvain squadron of their surrender terms."
"Captain," interjected sensor officer Jerez. "I don't think that's Admiral Frankel…"
"Transmission coming in from the inbound task force, they're calling Admiral Ostrow."
"Monitor on screen," ordered the captain.
The figure that appeared on the monitor was definitely not Admiral Frankel. "This is Admiral Chin of the Federation Emergency Committee," said the figure. The Committee was the ruling body set up by the TI-led rebel faction, the allies of "Auntie Sarah". He went on. "You will surrender this system to the legitimate authority of the Committee and stand down your ships."
The screen split to show Admiral Ostrow on board the Deseret with the Rios Task Force. "Negative, we have legitimate authority. All Rebel ships will stand down, and stand down NOW!"
"Break in on that circuit," ordered Captain Von Shrakenberg. "We can't let them piss away this opportunity."
"Admiral Chin, Admiral Ostrow, this system is under attack from the Jurvain. Surely we can postpone this rivalry long enough to at least prevent the planet from falling to the aliens?"
"You will disconnect from this channel NOW, Captain," ordered Admiral Ostrow. The flagship's comm officer cut the Schaumburg's connection.
Captain Von Shrakenberg was desperate. "Get back the signal!"
"Unable to monitor, they've changed the encryption, sir."
"Schizen. They can't throw away this opportunity," grunted the Captain. "Damn it, there are millions of civilians down on Rios. The Jurvain will slaughter them!" Species-vs-species wars rarely involved the taking of prisoners or the induction of alien populations into the citizenry of the conquerors.
"Admiral Ostrow is opening fire on the Rebel fleet," interjected the weapons officer.
"Gott in Himmel…"
“You don’t have room!”
“I have room to kill anyone I want.” Mark gave his friend that snide grin that he hated. Adjusting the sights on his pellet rifle, he had the man he wanted in his crosshairs. They had to make a living, he thought, and if him and Steven wanted to kill people for a living, there were worse paying jobs. Of course, on top of a roof was not the greatest place for an office, but at least they got some fresh air. “Okay, I don’t think him and this doctor fellow are going to go anywhere for a couple minutes. Jupiter, hand me the acid.”
Jupiter said nothing, but fished around in the bag for the pellets. His name was Steven Jupidus, but his friend Mark Smith always called him Jupiter. Finally he found the mixture and handed it (carefully) to Mark. Hydropotasiargosulfiric acid by itself was not particularly harmful, but placed in a radioactive shell, it was deadly. The shell is detonated once it hit his target. The radioactive material explodes, causing the hydrogen to be released, igniting, and causing a catalyst. The concentrated sulfiric acid burns quickly into the flesh (or anything else you shoot at) and then the potassium ignites. The combination not only kills whatever the hell hits it, but also dissolves the body as well, in under ten seconds. An incredibly useful concoction and potentially dangerous to the one who uses it. That why he chose a high-powered pellet rifle for today’s job. The compressed air wouldn’t prematurely detonate the shell, but it limited his range to a few blocks away.
After putting on a special glove, he cautiously picked up one of the tiny beads, and placed in the loading chamber. Once Mark closed it, the glove came off, and he sighed. “All right, let’s get paid.”
Steve didn’t usually talk, but he was very nervous, holding his own plasma revolver ready as insurance. “If you miss, you’re going to take half a building with it. You’ve got no room for mistakes.”
“Never had, never will.” Smith breathed out, locked on, and fired.
Through the scope, he could see the bead impact, and the smooth talking man with the balding hair convulsed into a spasmodic wreck, before dissolving before their very eyes. Mark smiled and turned to his friend, “You see, Jupiter, all you’ve got to do is have a little faith.”
“Hmph,” was all he replied, before collecting their belongings back into the bag, and getting up. The open sleeve of Steve’s shirt displayed a TI tattoo arm, probably earned back when he was serving on the EFS Circe. “Death Before Dishonor,” it proudly read, and in their business, it was especially true. Not that they had much honor, but they would die before they would make a mistake.
“Let’s pick up the check.”
An hour later, they were back at the office, and Mark was making the call. He adjusted the cosmetic program to show him as a large black skinned woman. When the guy on the line answered, he was a bit taken back. “General Willard?”
Brigadier-General Thomas Willard was the commanding officer for the TI on New Madrid. He was also the guy who signed their paychecks. Business has gone up since the war started and life was good. “Yes?”
“My name is Cicero. I believe you know what I’m calling for.”
Cicero was their code name. It wasn’t brilliant, but it identified them to Willard, no matter what disguise they used. “Yes, I know. Good work, by the way. With that traitor gone, we’ll be able to secure this system for the true Federation. The Emergency Council thanks you.”
“The Emergency Council can thank us all it wants, as long as we get paid.”
The screen split and the scrolling numbers appearing was a financial statement. “As you can see, Cicero, the fifty thousand credits was deposited once confirmation was established. Good work.”
“Do you have anything else for us, general?”
“Actually, yes. We’ve been having a bit trouble with a high-ranking member of the opposing side.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Let’s say he’s making it difficult for us to recruit. Do you think you can do it?”
“You haven’t given us a name.”
“Colonel Rashid King, head of Internal Security.”
Behind Mark, Jupiter’s mouth dropped open. Smith was just as shocked. Internal Security is not one that people took lightly. Even they kept a discreet distance from their black and silver thugs. “Well, that’s a tough target. Not easy to get access to.”
“You would be well paid. The Emergency Council has authorized me to offer two million credits.”
Now that was a handsome fee. That was double what he had in his combined savings! Although InSec tended to get real touchy about killing one of their people, that amount of money was not something you could ignore.
“Um, well… we’ll have to check in on it before we make a decision.”
“I would expect nothing less. Discom.” The holoproj blinked out of existence. Mark swiveled in his chair to face his friend. “What do you think?”
“I think we’ll have to check it out.” Steve replied, giving him a blank stare. InSec was enough to make anyone nervous.
“True.” Smith pushed the intercom button to their secretary. “Valerie, get us two tickets to Avalon, we’re leaving tonight.”
END OF ACT II
Text Copyright (C) 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved. Do not try ANY of this at home, especially not the part with the vampire and the window shade.