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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels

Echo 13, Chapter 1

by: Derek Hawkins

Part I : The Dance at Dulodann

Chapter 1 : Once more into the Breach


Friday, 15 May 4742 0447 Local Time

Friday, 15 May 4742 2347 Galactic Mean Time

A smoky haze floated near the domed ceiling, too thick for the exhaust system to ever completely clear away. All around him were life forms from across the galaxy; humans, humanoids, insectoids, reptilianoids, and others best left unmentioned. The place had the general feel of any spaceport dive bar where starship pilots hang out. He'd seen the same thing on a hundred different systems across the galaxy. They were all the same. However, each was just a bit different, enough so to make things.......interesting.

Dozens of conversations were going on in the dimly lit booths along the curved walls, blending into a chaotic symphony of human and alien voices. He studied the layout of the place. In front of him was the bar. Behind it, several gaming tables sat on one side. The other side held a small raised dance floor, and on the dance floor was a hologram of a scantily clad three-armed dancing girl that no one paid attention to. After the first ten seconds or so it had ceased to be interesting.

He stood at the bar and ordered a drink from the robobartender. The drink the bartender set in front of him was a dark red color. Then it turned blue. Then green. Then it flashed and settled on a dark golden color with a head of foam. He was well into his second one when a woman slid up next to him at the bar. He sized her up out of the corner of his eye. She was tall, only half a head shorter than he was. Long, straight hair framed a face that would cause a double take from anyone but a blind man. The front of her hair was trimmed shorter that the back and came to rest on the upper slopes of a magnificent looking chest.

This one might be worth the effort, he said to himself. He tried to decide which snow job he was going to use on her. A snow job was a story, usually a false one, which was used to pick up women. Space Marines were famous for them. He turned to speak with her, but she got there first.

"Boy," She had called him Boy. For an instant, that brought the merest flicker of an amused smile to his face. He looked surprisingly young for his age. "I'm gonna show you something your momma doesn't let you see," she said and then raised her shirt, revealing not one, but two pairs of breasts.

He was about to reply to the contrary about what he was or was not allowed to see when he heard a loud knocking coming from somewhere, almost like someone knocking on the other side of a closed door. He ignored the knocking and tried again. Not to be out done, the knocking returned louder this time. It had also brought a friend along. This friend acted exactly like a bright light being shone in the face of a sleeping person.

Baetox Zevos, a tall, lean human being with a head of scruffy looking dark hair, had done exactly that when he turned on the bright overhead lights to the small sleeping quarters. "Hey, Mitch, wake up."

This got no response.

He tried again, this time louder. "C'mon man, wake up. Something's going down."

One sleepy eyelid cranked itself open. "What?" The eye half closed again.

"We just got word from the GIC, a Senate delegation is missing and no one has heard from them for two days." GIC was the acronym for the Galactic Intelligence Council. "The current thinking is that the Benuvians have struck again." The Benuvian Space Pirates were one of the best equipped and most ruthless gangs in the history of this half of the galaxy. "Looks like we're the ones going after the delegates. Anyway, we'll get a full briefing at 0600." The clock by the bed said 0447.

"Then I've still got time to sleep," Mitch Forester told him and then rolled over and fell asleep again.

Maybe he could still talk to that woman.

* * *

On the frozen edge of the Rahadi system orbited the rocky debris field of a planet that didn't quite make it to existence. In the midst of the stillborn planet, one small fragment held life. The fragment was not large, and certainly not the largest fragment out there, being roughly four kilometers square and three kilometers thick. It wasn't pretty, but it was home to the X-Corps, who were certainly not the largest group out there either. And they intended to keep it that way.

The X-Corps was a small organization. Very small. The Corps consisted of about two dozen people, and there was less than half of that number on the outside that knew of their existence. With only a few exceptions, those outsiders that did know were former members of the Corps. Those outside outsiders who had heard of the X-Corps had no idea what the Corps did.

The last of the stragglers entered the briefing room where the rest of the team was assembled. Forester and the Head of the Maintenance/Engineering department, Chief Malstrom, took the two open seats left. There were over a dozen beings in the room of both the organic and inorganic varieties. Captain Z. Bartholos noted their arrival and called the briefing to order.

"Gentlemen, let's begin. As you all know the Benuvian Space Pirates have been quiet for the last six months. No one has heard anything about them, no material raids, nothing." He triggered the riser for the holographic display under a panel in the floor. "All that changed yesterday." No one was surprised. The Benuvians had been quiet for too long, and that wasn't like them. They usually made the network news every few weeks. "First thing, Chief, I want you and the boys to get the ship prepped. We leave in eight hours. I shouldn't have to tell you what needs to be done. You know who's wearing the black hats on this one." Bartholos looked at Malstrom who nodded in return. "Ok. Get going." He dismissed the chief, who immediately left on his appointed task. The Captain turned on the display.

"Commander Wilden."

A humanoid stepped up to the display. He looked like any regular human except for the long narrow nose and the pale, almost deathly ill looking skin. "The Del Draxian delegation was attacked while in route to a confidential Senate meeting. The subject of the meeting was to discuss a plan of action for dealing with the rising concern over the issue of," he paused for a moment, "space piracy." He activated the display. "Fortunately, a Broxian Mining Scout was in the area and managed to capture this on tape."

A medium bulk freighter hovered over the display. "The freighter is the Bandiry Express. She's registered to the Quas'ril Brothers Freighter Line on Deneb II. The Scout reported that the freighter was stopped for thirty minutes before it sent out any distress signals. The delegation ship dropped into normal space a couple of minutes later." The small converted starliner appeared on the display. "At this point the starliner responded to the signals from the freighter and offered assistance. After the two ships docked, the attack occurred and the delegates taken hostage." The display shut down. "Any ideas Gentlemen?"

"Chance encounter?" suggested Al'Lari Jaz. Others nodded at the idea. Jaz was a quiet young man in his late-twenties. He came to the X-Corps right after leaving the Galactic Navy, following the lead of one of his commanding officers. "They could have spent the last six months waiting for a chance like this."

From across the room came another idea. "Maybe the Benuvs caught word of the Senate meeting and decided to try and hit them on an impulse," put in Hank Suon, the team communications expert. Hank was a broad shouldered human with short dark hair. In another time he would had been called an all-pro linebacker.

Forester spoke one quiet word. "Ambush."

All eyes and photoreceptors turned towards Mitch. "How so?" asked Jonathan Cruze, a sandy haired, dark skinned human. He was solidly built with massive upper body strength gained from his extensive training for the X-Corps..

"Simple. This was a set up."

Everybody in the room considered this possibility. "Explain," said Bartholos after a moment of contemplation.

Cruze and Forester had been best friends for over a decade. He knew all the signs of Forester's mind at work, especially that quiet tone his voice took on. He sat back with an amused smile on his face. Whatever Mitch was thinking, it had to be good. And it was probably on the money.

Forester walked around the display. He usually thought better on his feet. "First, consider the target. This wasn't just any delegation, this was a Del Draxian delegation. They have always been death on space pirates." He glanced over at Commander Wilden. The Del Drax nodded, confirming the truth of the statement. Del Draxia had been victimized by one pirate gang or another for over a century in her history. Mitch continued. "This delegation would have some definite ideas on dealing with piracy." He went to the holo display and replayed the incident one step at a time.

"Second, consider where the hit took place." He called up a starmap of the surrounding area. "The Broxian was scouting along the edge of this asteroid group, taking samples and making notes." Forester pointed to the group on the map and then overlaid the most direct routes in that area on the map. "Well?" Mitch asked the rest of the group in the briefing room.

It was a long moment before anyone saw a connection. Jason Mcklure caught it a breath before everyone else. "But that's over five light years from the nearest route! No navigator is bad enough to make that big of a error."

"It wouldn't have been a mistake if the navigator was in on the attack," Jaz said. He was the team's navigator and sensor operator. Although there were no assigned positions on the team, each member tended to assume the role that his specialties were best used. "Sorry I didn't notice this earlier, Captain."

"Right," continued Forester. "The navigator and probably the captain were part of the plan. That bit with the distress signal had to be a ruse. No way a starliner could respond so fast." Mitch was nearing the finish line. "The only thing they didn't count on was the Broxian." He turned to Wilden and Bartholos. "Did the scout mention anything that happened after the holotape ran out?"

"Yes. After the starliner was captured, a Senega-class patrol ship appeared. A small shuttle from the patrol ship was sent to the freighter. According to the Scout, the shuttle was aboard for ten minutes or so and then returned to the patrol ship." Wilden said, barely able to keep the anger out of his voice. Once again his race had become the victim of pirates.

"Ten minutes is more than enough time for a prisoner transfer, even if they were being held a short distance away from the docking area." Zevos spoke for the first time.

"There's more," Wilden continued. "The freighter undocked from the starliner and jumped when it was clear. The patrol ship stayed another minute and then it jumped on a different vector." The rest of the report dealt with the abandoned starliner. It had been set to drift into the asteroids to be destroyed. The Broxian Mining Scout boarded the liner and backed it away from danger. She found the crew dead at their posts except for the navigator and the ship's captain who were missing....

"Gentlemen, we lift off in six hours. Dismissed." With that, Bartholos ended the briefing. As the team left in ones and twos to make their own preparations, each man knew that in a few hours he would be laying it on the line one more time, going once more into the breach.

They were going against the Benuvs again. Good, Baetox Zevos told himself as he headed for his quarters. Any job that involved the Benuvians really got him pumped up. He had a special place in his heart for space pirates. Somewhere between utter disgust and total blinding hatred.

There was a special reason for his hatred for space pirates. He had been raised on a war torn planet in the Formax sector. His father had died in the fighting when he was young. Then, when he was sixteen, his mother and two sisters, the only family he had left, had become sick. The Senate sent a relief convoy containing medical supplies to the planet. While the convoy was within sight of the planet, the Benuvian Space Pirates attacked the convoy and stole the medical supplies. Many people who were in desperate need of those supplies died. Including his mother and two sisters. The pirates took away the last remaining family he had.

. .