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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels

Echo 13
Chapter 9

by: Derek Hawkins

Part II: Echo 13

Chapter 9: Meetings


Sunday, 24 May 4742 0940 Local Time

Sunday, 24 May 4742 0940 Galactic Mean Time

Hidden away in a remote corner of the southern continent of Theralia was the GIC's main complex: Spy Central. All of the Council's operations and intelligence activities were run out of this complex. The intelligence reports generated by the field agents made their way here through courier and by direct transmission.

One cavernous room under the building was where all the GIC communications were received, field reports were transmitted to, and messages were sent to the field agents. The messages that the room, called the Signals Center, received were decrypted, unscrambled, and printed on a laser Teletype printer. The printers were set in banks of eight machines with one person watching over each bank. Then people, called Runners, took the incoming transmissions to the Watch Officer, who then sent the message to the appropriate office or department.

One of the printers began printing.

Darren Bruce came up out of his chair and began to read the message as it came in. Shift work as a runner had become dull after a year, and Bruce had taken to reading where the message was coming in from and imagining himself there. Bruce read the report location, The Shardu Wastes, and quit his daydreaming. Who wanted to be out there? He continued down to the next line on the report. This one was a regular report.

Regular messages were common. He usually handled anywhere between one and two dozen a shift. The report was scrambled on the page; it looked like random nonsense except for the location line and the message type. Only the directors could unscramble a message.

Bruce called for another runner to watch his bank as he took the message off the printer. He quickly put the message in a sealed container and went to the Watch Officer's station. Normally, the Watch Officer handled the messages, but this time the WO was busy and told Bruce to take the message up to the Director of Intelligence himself. The only time that a runner usually got to deliver a message directly to the directors was whenever an Eyes Only came in on their bank of printers.

The elevator doors opened. Bruce walked out of the elevator and up to the security desk. After he cleared security, he proceeded to the Director of Intelligence office, and knocked on the door. Darren heard a muffled "Come." through the door. Bruce handed the case to the DI. "Regular report."

The DI took the case and opened it. "Dismissed," he ordered.

Bruce closed the door behind him on his way out. The DI scanned the scrambled message form with a decoder bar and watched the computer screen. The decoder unscrambled the message and displayed the cleared form on the screen.

The DI added the report to the growing file of reports that came out of Devin Kilkenny's organization. This report came from the one agent left in the outfit. There had been two agents in the pirate gang, inserted in as part of the big GIC/GIB crackdown on space piracy of a few years ago, but one agent had found out too much and was in danger of being discovered. She was then pulled out and put into a protection program, where she could build a new identity and begin preparations for her next assignment.

This particular agent was currently on a short assignment to the X-Corps. The DI knew about the Corps. He had been one of the founding members twelve years ago. He quit to take over as Deputy Director of Intelligence three years ago and had been DI for almost a year. Once he became DI, the GIC and the X-Corps began working even closer than before. He was the one who sent Holly Nyx's holo tape to the Corps in the first place because he knew that they could handle it, and because the GIC had no special dedicated unit to handle these kinds of assignments.

One building dominated all the others on Theralia: the Main Council Chambers of the Galactic Senate. It was an imposing building to look at. The huge, square, slate gray monolith was the place where the affairs affecting the galaxy were decided.

In the Chambers, the Senate President held sway. President Aleski Vard of Duronga, a system in the Betral sector, was the first alien leader to head the Senate in seventy years. Two meters tall, and slender despite having entered 'old age' more than a decade ago, Aleski looked and acted like someone half his age. Vard's leathery face and salt and pepper hair gave him a tough, experienced look. That tough, experienced look had gained him three successive terms as President.

"Ladies and Gentle beings of the Senate," Vard spoke, calling the Senate to order in a deep clear tone. The general murmurs ceased, a sign of the respect Vard held. "The issue of space piracy stands unresolved. With the recent events that have happened as of late," everyone knew that Aleski meant the wave of violence, "it has become even more pressing of an issue." The assembly nodded its consent. The problem needed to be dealt with swiftly and forcefully, especially after one of their own had been attacked recently.

"Senator Mial is on her way here now with a first hand report on the attack at the Dulodann Space Yard in the Betral sector." Vard leaned his tall frame against the podium. "While we await her arrival, may I remind all of you about the upcoming Governor conference at Yudo III."

Senator Wen Natel rose to speak. Natel represented an expanse of space larger than any two other sectors combined. The sector, composed of one habitable system called the Shardu Wastes, was the least populated in the known galaxy, being dominated by gas giants and uninhabitable planets. The system didn't even have a governor. Wen, herself, acted as the system's representative at large and administrative head. "I am looking forward to discussing Governor Gerith's ideas on gas mining. I have heard that he has discovered a way to make the entire operation cost effective. This could bring desperately needed prosperity back to the Shardu Wastes."

At that moment, and without the fanfare that usually announced a Senator's entrance, the Chamber doors opened. Senator Andron Mial strode down the aisle to the center podium as stately - and briskly - as possible. "Mr. President, " she called when she had descended to the Chamber floor, "permission to take the podium and address the full Senate?"

"Granted." Vard stepped down and motioned to the podium. "The floor is yours."

"Thank you, Mr. President." Mial took the Podium. She faced the semi-circle of delegates from the length and breadth of the galaxy, stacked three tiers high. She recognized nearly all of the representatives by face. "Ladies and gentle beings of the Senate, forgive my tardiness, I was unfortunately delayed by events beyond my control." Andron raised a pair of metallic disks in her hand. "I have here the sensor logs of the attack on the Dulodann Space Yard." Mial loaded the disks into the holographic projector.

The sensor logs played through from just before the explosion of the power station, the appearance of the patrol ships, and the swirling dogfights to the escape of the freighters and the appearance of the Galactic Navy. All of it in miniature holographic three-dimensional imagery. Every blast, every movement, every explosion was exactly as it had occurred in the actual battle.

Senator Mial shut off the display and held up a third metal disk. "This is the damage report from the raid on the Space Yard." She loaded this disk into a separate drive, which down loaded the report into the repeater displays at the Senators' seats. The report told a dismal tale. Twenty-four of the thirty-two light freighters and transports that the yard was working on were stolen. Two of the gravity field generators were damaged and would require two to three weeks to repair them. The Space Yard's defense fighters were barely above half strength, ten fighters having been destroyed during the battle.

The Space Yard at Dulodann was not damaged, except for the main power station and the external damage caused by the exploding freighter. None of the yard's production infrastructure had been interfered with. But the current production run had been interfered with and that would cost the Yard both time and money. Time because the stolen ships had to be replaced, backing up the orders that were already on the books, and money because the delay and especially the apparent lack of security could cost the yard a few contracts down the road.

The report also included details of the action both on and off the station. It was filled with first hand accounts from the fighter cockpits, the action in the hanger bays, the firefight in Hanger Bay Three that settled down into a twelve hour stand off. That standoff ended when the Marines arrived and captured the thieves. The report made no direct mention of the X-Corps or their actions, although it did mention that a freighter outfit with past military experience did help out during the battle in pivotal roles.

Senator Natel whistled softly as she read the report. "Senator Mial," she asked, "This freighter outfit seems almost mercenary to me." Wen glanced around at the other Senators gauging their reactions to the report, before looking again at Mial. "Did you get the chance to speak with these," she seemed to consider her choice of words carefully, "persons?"

"Yes, I did," Mial replied. "I had previously talked with these people before, because these are the same people that rescued my delegation and myself as we floated in our survival pods, after the mishap on the Rand's Adventure."

"What was their business with the Space Yard? Why were they there when the attack occurred?"

"The outfit was there to pick up a new freighter before the attack came, and then were caught up in the middle of it."

"And then joined in with the station defenders?" Natel asked calmly. She handed something to an aide and dismissed him quickly.

"Yes, that's correct."

Wen stroked the end of her braided black hair that draped over her shoulder, as she always did when she was thinking. It seemed oddly convenient that Mial's 'rescuers' were also at the Space Yard for the attack. Natel did not know the actual details of the rescue of the delegates, no one in the Senate except the Del Draxians did, but she had heard the rumors that were floating around. Rumors that Mial amd the others had not been found in rescue pods at all, but that she had been rescued by one of the Special Forces groups the military possessed. Wen's mind raced for any connection between this freighter outfit and the wild rumors. "So," she said thoughtfully, "Dulodann was saved because of the timely interference of these strangers?"

"Yes," replied Mial simply.

"Then the defense of our industries is being trusted to total strangers," Natel said sarcastically. "There are bleak times ahead if we trust on chance to defend us." She predicted prophetically.

Mial, while taken aback by Natel's statement, already had a solution in place. "Agreed. That's why I have requested Navy fighters be deployed to the shipyard. Captain Trahn agrees with me and has detached two squadrons off of the Courageous until a full wing can be deployed to the yard."

Senator Natel had never served in the military, but, as the administrative head of an entire sector, she did know the basics of force structure. Twelve fighter craft made up one squadron, and there were six squadrons in a wing. She quickly did the math in her head. "Seventy-two fighter sized craft? You want to tie up seventy-two fighters defending an unimportant space yard that has already been attacked?" She threw her arms up in a gesture of helplessness.

"I wouldn't say it was all that unimportant, Senator," Vard said under his breath. The Space Yard at Dulodann was one of the chief sources of income in the Betral sector.

Mial, standing at the podium with Vard standing beside her, put her had on the President's forearm in a gesture of understanding. No one else had been close enough to hear him. "It is only a temporary move, Senator, just until the Space Yard's defenses are back on-line."

Natel looked pointedly at Andron. "I would think that that wing was better used to protect the upcoming Governor's conference."

Andron Mial was unflapped by this. She knew the conference would be well defended. Captain James Trahn, hero of the Battle of Tamallah-IV, was overseeing the security measures. "I was discussing that subject with Captain Trahn on the trip back here. He assures me that with the defensive scheme he has planned it would take a fleet of battleships to reach the Governors."
~ * ~

A storm raged on the large moon. A moon that circled a gas giant in an unpopulated region of space. The least populated region of space in the settled galaxy. These unpopulated regions had been a haven for pirates, slavers, and other scoundrels for centuries. As the civilized area expanded, these safe havens were pushed further and further out from the galactic center.

Seated at his command center, Kilkenny listened to Parnel's report on the engagement silently. Parnel had done exceedingly well, stealing more ships than were actually necessary for the operation.

Having arrived with the stolen ships less than an hour before Parnel began his report, Kilkenny's technicians and mechanics were already busy making the modifications necessary to fulfill the operation plan. ID's were being changed, and small modifications were being made to each ship, usually upgrading the shields and adding offensive capabilities to the existing defensive weapons systems.

"What about Captain Vasor's unit?" Kilkenny asked, his voice as cold as the storm outside the caves.

Parnel shook his head slowly. "Most of them didn't make it out. The Dulos managed to seal up the bay, trapping our people inside." He was quiet for a moment. "Vasor was with them."

"Damn." Kilkenny had just picked Vasor to be his second officer. The way that he had handled the Del Draxian delegation had been the deciding factor in Kilkenny's decision-making process. He had even begun the grooming process, once Aqui had returned from the mission. Aqui Vasor knew things that could be damaging to this and some future operations. "Damn," he repeated.

Parnel also understood the ramifications of losing Vasor. "Do we cancel the operation?" he asked.

Kilkenny was quiet for a long time. "No," he said finally. "We may lose some resources, but the operation is not compromised in any way. We will just have to adjust to that fact."
~ * ~

Vard closed the meeting, after running late into the night. The day's scheduled business had been bumped to the next day's schedule. Senator Mial's briefing on the Dulodann raid had taken up the entire day's session time, and into the late hour's of the night. Not that that idea had much meaning in this part of the planet.

The seat of the Galactic Government was located within 15 degrees latitude of the planet's north magnetic pole. Theralia itself orbited a binary star of the same name, but at an angle of depression of 53 degrees to the system's equatorial plane. Consequently, it never stayed dark for very long near the pole.

President Vard and Senator Mial walked out of the Chamber building towards the residential section of the city. Both were wearing the ever-present sunshades found on every being in the Capital city. The suns burned brightly as they moved around the nighttime horizon, never completely setting on the government. This was symbolic of the hopes of the Founders. They hoped that the figurative sun would never set on the principles and practices they had set down 1500 years ago.

"Damned suns. I've never had a good long sleep on this planet in the forty years I've been in the Senate." Aleski grumbled. It was true. All the best sleeps he'd had since he joined the Senate had been off planet.

This wasn't the first time Andron had heard this, nor was it the first walk home the two had shared. Both lived in the same apartment complex. The complex consisted of three triangular towers connected at various levels by lift tubes and an enclosed courtyard at its base, connecting the three towers.

"You have to admit though,' Mial said as they entered the relative darkness of the court yard, "it does lend itself to a long work day."

Vard made a harrumphing noise. "It's been a long day Senator, and tomorrow will be another long one I am afraid. So you can take that sunny disposition and stuff it."

They crossed the courtyard and entered the lobby of one of the towers. The pair waited for one of the turbo lifts to become available. "Speaking of tomorrow, I've got an idea that I'd like to run by you before I present it to the full Senate for discussion." A lift opened up and the pair walked in. Mial keyed the lift to go straight to Vard's quarters.

"What is it," he asked.

Andron shook her head. "Not here."

They rode up in silence. The lift stopped on the top floor. The entire penthouse was given over to the President's use. This was the traditional residence of the President of the Galactic Senate. It was his or her - for there had been a few females to hold the position - living spaces, office, conference room and thinking spot all rolled in to one.

Mial was completely familiar with the residence, though she had never been to Vard's home before. Her mother had been President before Vard had taken office. Andron had spent her teen years sitting in on briefings and policy meetings. But that had been almost twenty years ago. Before her mother, a full human, had died. Andron looked full-blooded, but the truth was that she was actually half Del Draxian. Not that there was that much difference between the two races any way. The Draxians were paler and had longer, narrower noses, but that was about it.

She had no plans of a return to living in this apartment. Yet.

Vard waved a hand at the security sensor that locked the door. It recognized him and the door slid open. Aleski led her into his home. Much of it was exactly as Mial remembered. Some of the same paintings were on the walls, and most of the furniture was still there like she remembered it being. "The last occupant had such a wonderful sense of taste," he said graciously. "Now, what's this idea of yours?"

Mial explained for ten minutes about her ideas.

"Interesting," Vard said when she was finished. "The independent special forces units may grumble about losing some personnel, though. How did you come up with this type of unit organization?"

Mial was drop dead serious when she asked, "What do you know about the X - Corps?"

. .