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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels

Echo 13, Chapter 2

by: Derek Hawkins

Part I : The Dance at Dulodann

Chapter 2 : Uninvited Guests


Saturday, 16 May 4742 0743 Local Time

Saturday, 16 May 4742 0243 Galactic Mean Time

Darkness fell on a large moon more than a quarter of the galaxy away from the small planetary fragment. The moon was orbiting a gas giant that in turn circled a dying star in a forgotten region of space. Somewhere in the descending darkness was a honeycomb of seemingly endless caverns, some as big as two kilometers across.

Nestled in a few dozen of these caves was the evidence of occupation by man; computers, sensors, living quarters, command centers, starships, plundered cargos. A veritable pirate's nest. Which is exactly what it appeared to be to the uninformed eye. But the true nature of the cave's inhabitants was something far nastier than a rag-tag bunch of pirates or even an organized pirate gang. It was a powerful, well-equipped private army.

In one of the caves off the main command center sat a lone figure studying a display screen. The lone figure was clad in a gray shipsuit, matching the trimmed beard he wore on his face. He had worked for the pirate gang for eight years and had headed it for another thirteen years, transforming it from a collection of fifth rate ship thieves and starpilots into the most powerful organization of its kind in the galaxy. And his own private army.

"Sir, report from the Bravado just in."

Devin Kilkenny turned his chair to face his second in command, and apparent successor. Killkenny had ships and men stationed in every sector of the galaxy, carrying out his orders with a fierce allegiance. Some were covert intelligence gatherers collecting information to further Killkenny's causes, while others were patrol ships and smaller warships that took those causes directly to his enemy, the Galactic Democracy. "I trust our guests are doing well?"

The man standing before Kilkenny was an athletic looking human with a tanned face and a neatly trimmed full dark beard. Vykos Parnel scanned the report. "Loud complaints, demands for release, promises of death."

A small smile crossed Kilkenny's face. "All to be expected, Parnel, given the nature of our 'guests'. What about the Rand's Adventure?"

"Set adrift into the asteroid field after the prisoner transfer. All aboard where killed. Our two operatives transferred with the delegates. Bravado's sensors reported no one in the area." The sensor report had to be taken with rather large grain of salt. The metal ore in the asteroids effectively blocked most of the ships sensors. Parnel shifted to his other foot. "No witnesses, no one alive to tell any tales. A clean operation, sir."

"So it seems, Parnel. So it seems," Kilkenny replied. The man dismissed the report and moved on to other business. "Have you gotten an up date on the bounty hunter's progress recently?" An employee had disappeared some eight months ago under mysterious circumstances. This former employee had known more than she should have, and that was what made Kilkenny take special interest in her disappearance.

Vykos shook his head. "No, sir. The trail seems to have vanished on Retalon IV. He's the best in the business, sir. If she can be found, he'll find her."

* * *

The Blue Dream hurdled through the swirling, mottled blue-white-pink of hyperspace with her group of party crashers. The Dream was a deceptively slow looking tramp freighter about 50 meters long and twenty meters across at her widest point. A Galactic Intelligence ship had intercepted an outbound transmission from the target - it had been identified as the Senega-Class patrolship Bravado - and then gave the target's position to the Dream.

The Bravado was a known vessel to the X - Corps. It was once a patrol ship in a task force that served, or rather would have served in the Democratic Navy Fleet. The task force was stolen lock, stock, and almost the full barrel right out of the shipyard some twenty years before hand. Now, the ship was know to operate in the Benuvian Pirate fleet under a new name, but the faded Navy markings she was intended to sail under could still be seen on some parts of her hull.

Al'Lari Jaz was a fantastic navigator. While he was in the Navy, he had won the Fleet's astronavigation competition two years running, beating out some of the heavy favorites. With a neat bit of that astronavigation that Jaz was famous for, the Blue Dream dropped into normal space a bare kilometer from the Bravado. Instantly the Dream when into action. Her powerful grav field generators were nearly powered up and would be operating in seconds.

Although the Dream was a much smaller ship, only about a quarter of the size of the Bravado, she was no ordinary Varkers 764 Light Freighter. Bought newly built from the Varkers spaceyard, she was flown to the Rahadi system, stripped down to the bare hull, heavily modified, and rebuilt by the X-Corps to suit their purposes. This covered a variety of things, including blockade running, surprise hit and run attacks, and special rescue operations like the one she was on now. The only thing that wasn't modified in some way was the light in the galley.

A Mirtok heavy cannon, one of the nastier surprises on the Dream, emerged from a concealed position on the underside of the hull and fired several shots into the Bravado's main engines, then swung around in its mounting to aim at the hanger bay.

On the bridge of the patrol ship, the Executive Officer, Aqui Vasor, cursed his luck. They had been stumbled upon by some light freighter. His thoughts were interrupted by the thuds he felt through the deck.

"Sir," a lieutenant called out, "Engineering reports that the main drive units are damaged."

Great, the XO thought. We accidentally get stumbled upon by some light freighter and now our engines are damaged. "What caused it?"

"Cannon fire, sir."

This is no accident, the XO thought. "We're under attack. Red alert. Get all crews to their fighters." He turned to the communications officer. "Send out a message that we are under attack and need back up."

The slightly panicked tone betrayed the professional manner in which the Lieutenant tried to give his report. "Not possible, sir. We are being jammed on all frequencies."

There was only one reason for the attack that the XO knew of. The delegates. "Put a squad in the holding area to guard the Del Draxians. Then get the rest of the troops ready to repel boarders."

The modified cockpit -the word bridge just didn't feel right on a ship this small- of the Blue Dream was a blur of activity. Captain Bartholos sat calmly in his control chair, in the eye of the storm. "Grant, anything that moves out of the hanger bay - waste it," Bartholos told the fire control officer, in the same tone he would use to order a meal in any fine dinning establishment. He changed buttons and called the strike team, waiting in the boxy looking cargo bay just forward of the freighter's engine compartment. "Mitch, are you guys ready down there?"

"Just get them to open the door, Captain. We'll make the sales pitch once we're inside. By the way, can I pick up anything for you while I'm out and about?"

Bartholos laughed. A bad joke to relieve the coming tension. That would be par for the course, coming from Forester. "Nothing today thanks. Z out."

"Launch the fighters," the XO ordered as Captain Tynn entered the bridge, only half dressed and even less awake. Tynn was filled in on the developing situation as he finished dressing, and then Vasor turned over command to him, more than happy to give this mess to someone else.

The hangar bay of the Bravado was located aft of amidships, making up a quarter of her size. In the hanger bay a half-dozen wedge-shaped starfighters began to launch. Because the attacking ship was on the starboard side, the port bay was ordered to launch first to cover the starboard bay's launch. The three fighters shot out of the rectangular bay and curved upwards to half loop over the ship, and then dove on the target to lay down cover-fire for the other fighters.

Who never had a chance. As soon as group two cleared the bay, the big Mirtok opened up again, shooting at the fighters. Two of the three fighters were destroyed instantly. The third one was fatally crippled by shrapnel from his wingmen. The pilot only had an instant to think about ejecting before he joined the other two expanding fireballs.

Seeing the second flight destroyed, the first flight finished their attack run and then split up to harass the enemy ship, giving it three different targets instead of one large one. That way, it would take longer to pick them off one by one, and not all at once like the other flight.

While the Dream's automated defense cannons engaged the fighters, Sebb Wilden was putting the next part of the rescue plan into operation. "Richards, communications antenna, upper hull," he called, giving the fire control officer a new target. "Watch it, the detention area is up there too."

"Why is it," the former Naval Lieutenant Commander asked rhetorically, "That no one has any faith in my aim?" Then he vaporized the antenna with one dead-centered burst.

From his command chair, Bartholos called out orders in rapid-fire procession. "Sebb, open the cargo bay doors." He didn't wait for an acknowledgment. "Hank, end jamming - now."

The Bravado was slowly dying an agonizing death. The Captain's control display told the dismal story. Main drive engines were shredded, the outbound communications array was completely destroyed, and half of her squadron of twelve fighters was destroyed. The only positive thing was that the delegates were still safely secured. For the moment at least.

"Sir," shouted the comm. lieutenant, "the jamming has stopped!"

After the blizzard of electronic noise caused by the jamming, the sudden silence was deafening. A voice crackled over the radio. "Alpha Force Rangers - go!"

A chill ran down along the Captain's spine, and for a good reason. The Alpha Force Rangers were the most feared covert action group the Galactic Council had in its service. With a galactic reputation for being butchers, and ravenous executioners, the Rangers weren't known for leaving anyone alive after an operation. Tynn and Vasor both feared greatly for their lives now.

A small personnel shuttle burst out of the cargo bay and flew straight towards the starboard hanger bay of the Bravado. Each bay was 75 meters wide and 150 meters long. The two bays were separated by a center wall, acting both as a firewall and as a support for the ship. Repulsor-lift jets eased the boxy-looking shuttle to the gray deck plates near the full height gap in the wall, to allow men and machines access to either bay.

A bolt of crimson exploded at the foot of the boarding ramp as the X-Corpsmen charged down the ramp. The lead man down the ramp, Baetox Zevos snapped off two shots at the trooper on the second level observation balcony. The first shot missed wide, burning a hole in the wall. But the second shot caught the trooper in the chest, dropping him to the deck below

The eight X-Corpsmen spread out and ran towards the opening in the wall. No two-team members were dressed exactly alike, except for color; gray-black. Most wore a jumpsuit of a design native to their homeworlds. Their weaponry and gear was equally varied. Cruze and Zevos carried heavy lasers while twin riflemen Asko and Mardo Ferrella carried standard issue Democratic Armed Forces laser rifles. Lenny Tahl, the team's radioman, carried the best in mobile communications gear that wouldn't even reach the civilian market for another four or five years. InCoulden was the computer specialist and special weapons expert. He was carrying a sonic disrupter pistol that had been designed in a government research lab. Mcklure also carried a standard issue DAF laser rifle and an assortment of explosive devices. As for Forester, his personal arsenal included several grenades of various types and a combination laser rifle and rocket launcher.

Half a dozen men burst out of passageways at either end of the hanger bay. The soldiers were clad in light trooper armor that mixed basic body coverage with good movement. Cruze and Zevos both opened up with their heavy lasers. The trooper armor was good for a few hits of light and medium caliber laser fire, but it was next to useless against heavy firepower like the two were using. Those who weren't cut down by the intense fire were became targets for the rest of the strike team.

Eram Bimmer stayed with the shuttle to protect the transportation while the other eight men dashed the twenty meters through the gap to find work crews frantically preparing two fighters for launch. One shot in their direction was enough to scatter the deck crews. The flight crews had come down from their ready rooms to launch the fighters when a wild shot came from the aft passageway to their left. More troopers!

Being the first ones through, Forester and Cruze were the last ones to duck back into the limited protection of the gap. Mitch turned to his long time friend. "You'd think they weren't expecting us or something?" Cruze just shrugged his shoulders. "Didn't you call ahead and tell them that we were coming and to roll out the red carpet?" Mitch added with a wink.

Jonathan had to grin in spite of himself. Any man who can make bad jokes in the middle of a firefight and still keep on top of the situation was definitely the kind of person he wanted on his side. "I thought it was your turn!"

Lenny Tahl, who could have passed for a pure human except for the small sixth finger on each hand, crawled over to Forester. He was keeping a running dialogue with the Blue Dream, filling them in on the situation as it developed. And if Forester had an idea on how to handle these fighters, then this would be an interesting development. Tahl knew to expect that much. "Okay, bright boy. What are we going to do about those fighters?" he asked.

Forester gave him a sly grin. "Watch," he said and took out two of his grenades. He crawled to the edge of the access way, pulled the pin on the first one and sent a thermal grenade flying towards the fighters. The grenade bounce off of a wing and fell to the deck near the fuel lines connected to the fighters. The small explosion was followed by two fireballs as the two spacecraft full of fuel exploded. The on-coming troopers around the corner were too distracted by the explosions to notice the concussion grenade that had bounced it's way in among their feet.

Everyone on the bridge of the patrol ship Bravado felt a double rumble through the deck plating. The Captain knew the situation that the ship was in, and those rumbles could only mean that it was getting worse.

He called up Engineering. "Damage report."

"An explosion in the port hanger bay, sir. It appears that a fuel line exploded somehow. The automatic systems are putting the fire out now. I'm about to assemble a team to investigate," the Chief Engineer said.

"Don't bother with it. Right now those men are likely to get themselves killed. Besides, we'll need every available man after this attack is over with. Tynn out."

The Captain turned to his XO with a look that summed up the entire situation. "Take a squad to the detention block and greet our uninvited guests." He took Vasor by the elbow, pulling him aside. "These intruders have already cost us half of our fighters and nearly thirty men. If they are indeed the Alpha Force Rangers, it might be best if you just go ahead and hand over the delegates. We'll face Kilkenny when the time comes." If the time comes, he didn't add. No sense in making the crew scared beyond what they already were.

"Yes, sir." The XO left the bridge and walked to meet his fate, whatever it may be.

. .