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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels
Echo 13, Chapter 3
by: Derek Hawkins
Part I : The Dance at Dulodann
Chapter 3 : Adventure's End / Beginning
Saturday, 16 May 4742 1645 Local Time
Saturday, 16 May 4742 1145 Galactic Mean Time
Seated at his display, Devon Kilkenny watched as reports came in from his ships all across the galaxy. All seemed to be shaping up as nicely as he had planed. He asked Parnel for the latest report from the Bravado. The last one he'd read was over eight hours old.
"We've tried to reach them for the last hour, sir. Either she's not replying to our calls for some reason, or she's not receiving us. If you want, I can order the nearest ship," Parnel consulted a data pad, "the Redliner to investigate."
Kilkenny turned to his second in command with an uneasy look on his face. It was rare to see any emotion on his normally stone statue face." No," he decided after thinking a moment. "Send the Storm Shadow. We'll need the Redliner where it's at."
Parnel seemed troubled by this. "Sir, Pardon me for asking, but if something has happened to the delegates, won't that interfere with the Vega Operation?" They were the only two who knew the full extent of the operation. The players were told their parts when it was time for them to know and little else about it.
Kilkenny relaxed slightly as his nerves calmed down and the uneasiness passed. "Only slightly. The success of the Vega operation is certainly tied to our continued possession of the delegates, but not solely dependent on it."
This threw Vykos for a loop, despite what he knew about the operation. "But, sir, how can that be..."
"Possible?" The older man finished. "Easy. On the battlefield, what would you do to mask your true intent from the enemy?" Parnel may have known the extent of the plan, but he didn't know the specific details. Only Kilkenny knew that.
"Use a diversion." Every first year military cadet knew that answer.
Kilkenny gave a nod. "Correct. Which is exactly what the delegates are, a diversion. By having half the galaxy looking for the Del Draxian delegation, we can accomplish our true intent relatively easily." He stood up. "Transmit a Message to the Redliner to start the operation in twenty-four hours."
"Yes, sir." Parnel turned and walked toward the door.
"Oh, and Parnel," Kilkenny called as the man reached the doorway, "do enjoy yourself on your vacation. When you get back, things are going to be very busy with the Vega operation."
* * *
In the cockpit of the Blue Dream, Captain Bartholos came over to Jaz's console. "Give me an update on the team's position," he said to the astronavigation/sensor operator.
Next to Jaz's console was a holographic display. The two meter by two meter display shimmered as it updated all nine members of the strike team. The three dimensional display showed the interior design of the standard Senega-class patrol ship that had been preprogrammed into the display. All nine of the X-Corpsmen was shown on the 'map' at one time. This was possible because each man wore an individually tuned tracer unit that displayed him and his movements distinctly, even when he was standing in a crowd of tracers. This was another new gadget that the government had cooked up and the X-Corps was field-testing it.
"Zoom in on the main group," the Captain ordered.
"Ok." Jaz began to reconfigure the display. Eram Bimmer and the shuttle moved to the far edge of the display, where Al'Lari could keep an eye on the hanger bay. The rest of the display redrew itself around the eight members of the strike team. The display showed them on a stairway between the second and the first decks. "They're on the stairway just down the corridor from the detention area."
The Captain of the Blue Dream turned to Wilden. "Go ahead and get the second shuttle ready to go the moment they get the delegates out of the holding area."
"On my way now, sir," the Del Draxian said as he left for the cargo bay.
The team came around the corner from the stairway to find themselves face to face with a squad of troopers spilling out of a side passageway. Most were too stunned by the sight of the raiders on their own ship to react quickly. That didn't stop the X-Corpsmen, however. Those few troopers that did react quickly had only extended their lives a few heartbeats before they joined the pile of bodies on the deck.
They raced down the steel gray corridor, leaving the carnage behind, to the detention area. To find it guarded by one man, who it appeared to the Corpsmen looked like a ship's officer. Forester approached him slowly, almost casually, with the pistol grip of his rifle held loosely in his hand.
"I suppose you're here for the delegates," the officer said, holding the cipher key to the cells in his left hand.
Forester couldn't detect any rank on the other's gray uniform, which was of a different cut and style than the enlisted uniforms they had already seen. That made him think that the other was an officer. "Actually, we were just passing through and thought that you could recommend a good restaurant, but if you've got any spare delegates lying around we'll be glad to take'em off your hands for you."
The officer gave Mitch a nasty look. " Very funny. We can dispense with the bad humor, if you please."
He tossed the key to the deck at Forester's feet. "Here. There are no guards. They're all yours, Alpha Force Rangers," he said and turned to walk back to the bridge, fully expecting to be dead before he got ten meters down the corridor.
He thinks we're the Rangers, Forester thought. They must have bought into that transmission. He shifted mental gears. Enough speculation. "InCoulden, Jonathan, Lenny, and I are going to get the delegates. The rest of you get them some weapons. That trooper armor isn't much protection, but it'll help." After all, it wouldn't do any good to get them killed on the way out.
"Ok, Boss," said Baetox as the team split up.
The detention block was indeed unguarded when Mitch's team entered. InCoulden went to the computer terminal. He was the computer whiz. There wasn't a system he had come across yet that he couldn't break into. Before he joined the X-Corps, he was wanted for electronic breaking and entering of a galactic bank's computer system. He called up a list of the occupied cells. He keyed in the cell numbers he wanted, then inserted the cipher key into the slot in the computer terminal and hit the execute button.
All seven delegates had the same thought when their cell doors opened with an armed man motioning them outside; They've come to kill us.
"Come on. Let's go," said the man as he stood outside the cluster of detention cells.
The first one out was a woman who started talking immediately. "What's going on here? Where are you taking us?" demanded the head delegate, Senator Andron Mial.
"Shut up, follow directions, don't ask any questions, and you'll live longer," said the man with the piercing gray eyes that looked to be in charge. "Up the hallway, let's go."
The Del Draxians followed the armed men out of the detention area and into passageway to find four more armed men with piles of trooper armor.
"Put this on," ordered Mitch. "Lenny, send out the coded message." Forester watched the delegates struggle into the trooper armor with inner amusement. When they were finished, Asko and Mardo Ferrella passed out weapons.
They were twenty minutes into the rescue operation. So far nothing had gone wrong. The team was actually having an easy time with this one, according to the holographic display. Things didn't always go this smooth.
Hank Suon tore the printed message off the laser printer and gave it to Bartholos. The Captain read the printout aloud:
"UNABLE TO UNLOAD SHIPMENT ON DEL REVO
MARKETS. HOWEVER, PICKED UP A GOOD DEAL
ONE USED STARFREIGHTER. ALMOST PREPPED.
WILL LEAVE DEL REVO TOMORROW."
Bartholos turned to Suon. "Launch Commander Wilden's shuttle."
"Yes, sir." He activated the line to the cargo bay. "Launch the shuttle."
The strike team was still outside the detention area, where Senator Mial was raging. "I demand to know what's going on here. Where are you taking us?"
Mitch got right up in the Mial's face. "What's going on here is that we," he made a sweeping gesture at the rest of the team, "put our lives on the line to save your pretty little neck lady. Now the least you can do is to stop running your mouth and take orders."
The Senator was shocked. In all her years, years spent in the Senate where there was some of the nastiest political infighting in the galaxy, no one had ever treated her so rudely. Even her kidnappers were more polite than this. This treatment was absolutely ridiculous. "If we were in a bar right now, I'd throw a drink right in your face."
Mitch looked her right in the eye. "Lady, you wouldn't be caught dead in the kind of bars I hang out in," and with that he headed up the hallway toward the stairs.
She turned and saw Cruze grinning at her. "Trust me. Once you get to know him, you'll love him," he said and the group followed Mitch to the stairs.
Captain Tynn was seated at his display when the XO returned to the bridge. "Well?" he asked.
Vasor shifted his body weight from foot to foot nervously. "The Rangers have the delegates, sir. I didn't even offer any resistance." He looked down, ashamed with himself.
"Cheer up. I don't think that they were the Alpha Force Rangers."
The Bravado's second in command looked up. "You know I never expected to return to the bridge alive."
"The fact that you are here after having faced the 'Rangers' in person leads me to believe that whoever they are, they aren't the Rangers. After all, it is their reputation not to leave any one alive, especially someone who has seen them face to face on an operation."
This puzzled the XO. "Then who are they, sir?"
"I don't know." The Captain answered. "I don't know but I intend to find out."
Wilden eased the shuttle down onto the deck of the hanger bay. He could see black smoke filling the top of the hanger bay. It clouded the overhead lights, casting both bays in dim light.
Wilden noticed several men approaching the waiting shuttles. Some of them appeared to be wearing armor. This could get messy, he thought. Then he noticed a smaller group coming into the bay to his right, the forward end of the ship. All of these were wearing armor. It just got worse, he told himself. I can't tell where the team is at, he thought and then he corrected himself. Of course he could - the display!
Sebb activated the display and tuned in the tracer frequencies. Then he called up the hanger lay out for the Senega-class patrol ship. Though less sophisticated than the one on the Dream, it showed eight figures approaching the shuttles from the gap to the other bay. There was the team, so that would be the delegates with them.
Forester, Cruze, and Zevos were the first though the gap and were the first to draw the troopers' attention. Crimson bolts sent them ducking back into the passageway. Zevos informed the rest of the party about the current situation.
"Some rescue this is turning out to be. We're cut off from our only way off this bucket," said the Senator in disgust. "How are you going to us out of this one, Hotshot?" She directed this question at Mitch.
Mitch normally wasn't bothered by the rantings of women under stress, but he'd had enough if this one, Galactic Senator or not. "If you've got any ideas, Sweetheart, let's hear'em," he replied acidly.
Wilden took stock of the situation. The team and the delegates were stranded, trapped by troopers while he sat in a shuttle. An armed shuttle. He hit the gun controls.
A small light cannon appeared beneath the shuttle's nose. It swiveled on the group of advancing troopers and opened fire. The unsuspecting troopers were cut down in a scything arc of green laser bolts.
It was the most beautiful sight Jason Mcklure had ever seen. He had positioned himself to take a quick look into the bay when Wilden started firing the cannon. He shouted that Wilden had cleared out the troops even before the last body had fallen to the deck. The group reached the two waiting shuttles at a dead run. They boarded quickly and both ships lifted off as the boarding ramps retracted. Forester ended up next to the Senator. He grinned at her. "See. I told you I'd think of something."
The Senator was not amused. However, her retort was drowned out by the whine of the repulsor lift engines lifting the shuttle off the hangar deck.
Sebb Wilden gunned his engine as he shot out of the hanger bay and streaked towards the Blue Dream's open cargo bay. The commander's performance was repeated as Eram Bimmer brought his shuttle into the cargo bay. Lenny Tahl was on the shuttle's radio channel to the bridge. "We're on-board. Let's get the hell out of here!"
Hank Suon relayed the message to Captain Bartholos. He barked out orders to the crew when Al'Lari Jaz broke in.
"New ship just appeared out of hyperspace, on the opposite of the target." The operator studied the display another moment. "She's maneuvering toward us!"'
This is not what we need right now, thought the Captain. "Delay her, Richards."
"Already on it, sir," he replied and then the big Mirtok opened up once again. Only one shot reached the Storm Shadow before her deflector screens went up. But, that one shot hit the primary forward fire control, rendering the forward end of the Storm Shadow's weapons useless. "That ought to slow them down," Grant said, and then he aimed at the Bravado. Richards fired at the ailing ship again. The shot exploded a fuel cell, treating Grant to a spectacularly rare sight, flames in space.
A second later the Blue Dream jumped.