Fractal Softworks Forum

Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
Advanced search  

Author Topic: Shadows of Maxios (updated 4/15)  (Read 826 times)

OddOneOut

  • Ensign
  • *
  • Posts: 2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Shadows of Maxios (updated 4/15)
« on: March 29, 2020, 07:37:31 PM »

Hello all! I've had some free time thanks to the quarantine, so I decided to dust off my creative writing hat. I hope you like it!
I have tried to stick as close as I can to the established lore, but I've taken a few liberties with things that, as far as I know, aren't ruled out by the lore.



Legal: Starsector is the property of Fractal Softworks. All content copyrighted to other parties is reproduced here under fair use terms. All other rights are reserved to the author.



Disclaimer: This story may well include some adult themes, including those of a violent or sexual nature. If you aren't comfortable with that, you probably shouldn't read it.




Change History
  • April 5, 2020 - Added chapter 3.
  • April 8, 2020 - Minor formatting fixes.
  • April 15, 2020 - Added chapter 4.

Chapter 1: The Pale Doctor
Spoiler
The distant silver speckle moved parallactically to the stars, drawing ever closer. Even from this distance, nearly a quarter-orbit ahead of the Fringe Clipper and her escorts, the speckle seemed menacing, dangerous, like a wild carnivore seen from a distance. Not that most of the bridge crew had even seen an animal, let alone a wild one.

Orbit-by-orbit, the speckle drew closer, growing larger, and eventually resolving into a large white mass surrounded by three smaller silver flecks.

Reese paced anxiously in the Captains lounge, tracing the outline of a silver patch worn in the grip-coating of the deck, no doubt created by the same activity of past captains in the Clipper's century of service. His officers sat monitoring a large collection of info-panels sling against the aft wall.

A few orbits later, the distant fleet morphed into recognizable shapes. An Apogee drifted gracefully, the tell-tale claws of a plasma cannon jutting from it's bow. Surrounding the Apogee in a precisely controlled escort formation were three Tempest frigates, their small size belying their deadliness in battle. Whoever controlled this fleet was clearly wealthy and well connected. Such ships were available to few outside of Tri-Tachyon's military hierarchy.

A voice of gravel and sharp edges emanated from Gamal, staring intently at a data-readout. "One Apogee, three Tempests. Standard armaments. No external markings. No more other ships in sensor range."

"Are they Tri-Tach?" Interjected Trinity.

"Doubt it. Tri-tach fleets usually have ident numbers stamped into their hulls."

"It could be a special task force."

"What would a Tri-tach special task force want with a small fry like us? It's probably some eccentric rich guy."

Reese cut in on the exchange. "Whoever it is, they seem to be loaded. The advance for this job was one-hundred k, with another four-hundred on delivery."

"If they have that kind of money, why don't they do the job themselves with that fancy fleet of theirs?" inquired Valentine, silent up to this point.

Their speculation was cut short by the grating chime of the ships computer, alerting of an incoming hail. Reese and his officers took their seats, arrayed in a half-circle about the round conference table, opposite the viewscreen. After a silent confirmation exchanged by edgewise glances, Reese keyed a few commands into his datapad, and the weathered face of their employer flickered into view across the table.

The man was dressed plainly in a simple light-gray suit that would have looked drab even in the most bureaucratic of Hegemony administrative offices. His hair matched the color of the suite, but his face showed few wrinkles to complement it. His skin was the extreme blanched white of a man who had lived his entire life within hab-blocks, never knowing the touch of natural sunlight. 

Skipping the normal formalities of such an encounter, the man began to speak, addressing Reese. "Captain Cabrakan. It is good to see you; I have been anxiously awaiting your arrival. This mission is time-critical, and of the utmost importance. I will rendezvous with your fleet in one of my frigates presently, and we will proceed to the planet's surface at once. I trust you have made the necessary arrangements per your contract."

"I have. Whom should I thank for this most... unusual task?"

"You will address me as Dr. Winters. I will expect your team to be waiting in the airlock at T+5."

The words spilled caustically from the speaker before the comm feed cut off abruptly.

"Well who shoved a stick up his ass?" thought Valentine aloud, echoing the inner monologues of her compatriots.

Reese said nothing, but donned his jacket and made for the door, gesturing for his officers to follow. As they strode down the well-worn corridors of the Clipper, Reese hurriedly gave instructions to Trinity, who gesticulated wildly at the control hologram floating just in front of her chest as they walked.

"Squadron three will join us with Dr. Winters. Five and Seven will follow in the Lotus. Have One, Four, and Six standing by to drop from the Arcadian Gypsy in case there is trouble. The Silverswift will tail us in high orbit."

The group stopped by an equipment locker, each strapping on a sidearm and a standard gear pack. Trinity affixed a short las-sword to the small of her back, it's three-foot spine coated with shining jet black enamel, almost lost within the charcoal of her fatigues. Gamal clipped a ballistic shotgun to the side of his pack; he had never trusted energy weapons like the standard-issue side arms of Reese's small fleet.

Minutes later, the quartet emerged into the freight airlock of the Clipper, already swarming with most of the small complement of mercenary soldiers that accompanied the fleet. Logistics personnel, their bodies traced with neon-green visibility markers danced around the space like ants, preparing the grav-trollies of equipment Dr. Winters had requested.

A loud clang echoed through the cargo hold surrounding the airlock as the frigate's docking clamps interlocked with the Clipper's. An angry hiss emanated from the blast doors as the atmospheric pressure equalized, which glided open smoothly, with less dramatic effect than was appropriate considering the circumstances.

Winters stood impatiently in the airlock, flanked on either side by white-clad guards standing at ease, and trailed by a timid-looking assistant, to whom he muttered something before greeting Reese and his comrades.

"Your punctuality is noted. Have your crew load the equipment into hold three. Mr. Turill will show them the way." Winters gestured to the guard on his immediate right, who showed no reaction. "Your team will accompany me to the observation deck."

At this, he pivoted and began walking briskly into the depths of the Tempest. Reese and his compatriots exchanged brief looks at this display of terseness, then began to follow. Five charcoal-clad mercenaries tailed them, the members of squadron three.

The interior of Winters' ship was spartan, even by the standards of a vessel of war. A handful of crew clothed in the same white garb as the guards, but void of the menacing plasma rifles, made their way around the corridors, offering the nine strangers not even a glance.

Gamal muttered into Reese's ear, "We've seen at least a dozen of Winter's crew. Not one has any markings on their clothes. No ranks. No logos. No ident numbers. Even their uniforms don't match any of the major factions."

Reese nodded his understanding, contemplating what he had gotten them into as they emerged into the observation deck.

[close]
Chapter 2: Descent
Spoiler
Reese, Valentine, and Gamal struggled to hide their shock when the walls, ceiling, and floor of the observation lounge disappeared, disintegrating into what appeared as a hurricane of blue fireflies, before settling on a crystal-clear view of space surrounding the Tempest, with a dozen chairs and a stout conference table floating in the void.

Gamal focused pointedly on Dr. Winters. “This isn’t standard issue on a Tempest.”

Winters flashed a tight-lipped smile, and with smugness dripping from each word bragged. “Impressive isn’t it? It’s a pre-collapse holo-chamber. Cost me a fortune.”

Trinity muttered. “I’ve seen better.”

“I very much doubt that you have, Miss?”

“You will address me as Commander Cryoborn if you please, Dr. Winters” retorted Trinity, mirroring the tone that Winters had taken during their recent introduction.

Reese disagreed with Winters, but held his tongue. He had little doubt that Trinity had seen the very best of the technology Tri-Tachyon had on tap during her career as an intelligence officer. Still, he shook his head disapprovingly at her; this was not the time to cop an attitude.

Reese looked surprised. “Cryoborn? What batch were you.”

“Echo Bres C+167-gamma.” She narrowed her eyes and her demeanor went cold as she glared at Winters.

Winters smiled, this time more genuinely. “Dr. Bingman must have been your overseer then?”

Trinity nodded silently.

“Bingman was one of my graduate students back on Maxios. Of course he wasn’t studying cryotech back then. He was a good man and a fine scientist.”

Trinity nodded again, and her stance became fractionally less guarded, though her face remained cold. Tri-Tachyon types had a strong tendency to view revived cryo-sleepers as sub-human, but Winters’ statement lacked sardonicism.

Around them, the Clipper and the surrounding vessels began to slip away into the darkness. Moments later, a single Kite shuttle, the Lotus broke formation to follow the frigate. Engulfed in the blackness of space, the black hull of the Silverswift, itself a dark void in the starscape slid gently into a higher orbit.

Valentine, blissfully unaware of the unspoken volumes that had passed between Trinity and the gray-clad scientist inquired “You were on Maxios?”

“Indeed. At risk of showing my age, I studied on Maxios, and worked there for many years.”

Winters gazed wistfully through the invisible floor of the lounge. The twisted hab-spires and bio-domes of Maxios sprawled below the vessel as it descended towards the surface, the deck vibrating almost imperceptibly from the re-entry forces of the nearly non-existent atmosphere.

Gamal looked on solemnly as well. In an uncharacteristically soft voice, he mentioned “I traveled through Maxios once. Long before the Battle... and the Fall”. He trailed off momentarily, lost in memory. “It was a beautiful place.”

It was Trinity’s turn to watch as other fought their inner demons. Reese remained stoic, but his mind wandered to his childhood on Hanan Pacha. To watching it’s atmosphere ignite from afar within the night sky of Salamanca. How no one cared; the Hegemony and Tri-Tachyon so caught up in their war, each too busy blaming the other to think of the untold millions they had snuffed out.

The moment was broken as Winters abruptly launched into the mission briefing. His tone was once again aloof, and his eyes focused fully on the present.

“I suppose I owe you some explanation as to the purpose of this mission. In my days with Tri-Tachyon, there was a research project. It yielded considerable fruit, but was buried in red tape. My associates have discovered that something of it remains still in the ruins of one of Tri-Tachyon’s facilities. I have procured the needed access codes to take control of the facility. Your purpose in this mission is to provided the hardware and manpower.”

Reese probed. “You are clearly a man of many resources. Why not land your own people and extract whatever this project is on your own?”

“My crew is not as numerous as you may believe, and they are engaged in other projects.”

“Other projects?”

“With all due respect Captain, I am not in the business of disclosing my dealings to my contractors.”

Pausing for a few seconds in contemplation, Winters added “I it will set your mind at ease, I am something of a philanthropist. Should we succeed today, life will be improved for a great many people.”

Reese decided not to press the matter further, as the pale doctor was clearly beginning to grow annoyed.

They sat in an uneasy silence for the rest of the flight, as the Tempest coasted ever lower and began to slow, the Lotus trailed a few kilometers behind, a blaze of orange-red drive exhaust from this distance. The two ships drifted over a vast empty plane, it’s only feature the remains of an Onslaught battleship, it’s leftmost arm sheared off of it’s primary hull. The hulk was long cold and dead, no emergency lights shone from the deep rents in it’s hide. In the faint blue-tinted illumination of the Tempest’s AM drive, the markings “XIV” could barely be seen displayed proudly on the bow of the wreck.

Over the horizon, the remains of the research facility crested. First, the large central spire appeared over a ridge of mountains, followed by the smaller surrounding ones. The central spire had been snapped in half, and it’s upper section had crashed through one of the bio-domes scattered around the complex. The shriveled remains of exotic trees could be seen for an instant, silhouetted against the brilliance blue backdrop of Magec, Maxios’s primary star.

Winters opened a comm channel to what Reese assumed was the ships pilot. “Take us in slow, hanger 26.”

With a wave of his hands, a control-holo appeared in space before him, and he began to claw at it vigorously. As explanation, he offered “The defense systems are likely still operational. I am broadcasting a battery of Tri-Tachyon ident codes. The sub-AI handling targeting should buy it for long enough for us to slip through.” He gestured at Trinity trinity as if pitching a grav-ball, and another glowing control-holo drifting from his fingertips towards her. “You should have your shuttle broadcast these.”

Both were lost in concentration, interfacing with the comms systems of their respective vessels. To the others assembled at the table, they appeared to be violently swatting at a hoard of angry fireflies. Reese was familiar with only the basic usage of Tri-Tachyon control holograms, and only that thanks to the tutelage of Trinity. She and Winters were clearly masters of the art flicking between dazzlingly complex chains of glowing logic with the same ease that lesser folk would order a bowl of fab-noodles in a food court.

Reese wondered how Winters had known Trinity would be able to use the command holo. Perhaps lost in the moment, he simply hadn’t thought. Or maybe it was a standard part of the post-revival training of Tri-Tach Cryoborn. He doubted both, and got the distinct impression that they were being tested.

 

[close]
Chapter 3: Critical Mass
Spoiler

With the benefit of Dr. Winters’ ident codes, both vessels made it safely through the overlapping firing arcs of the research facility’s defense canons. A handful of sentry turrets tracking their progress closely, but with their guns remained silent. The two vessels drifted lazily towards the hanger, bobbing gently on maneuvering jets. The Lotus entered the hanger first. As the Tempest drew towards the gaping maw of the hanger, barely small enough to fit between it’s jaws, the bolt of a laser blast vaporized a watermelon sized chunk of the facility’s armored side just above the hanger door. The arrival of the two ships had not gone unnoticed by the survivors of Maxios.

Before the crew of either vessel could react, the sentry turrets, perceiving a threat, snapped sharply to attention to reward the sniper’s shot with a volley of their own. Brilliant blue blaster bolts converged on the crumbling ruins of a distant hab-spire. One of the turrets, perhaps on account of its lengthy neglect, went up in a violent blaze of blue flame, quickly burning through the small amount of fuel within it’s chassis. As the flame ran out of oxidize-able material in the thin atmosphere and guttered out, the hab-spire wavered, and then collapsed, sending up a plume of regolith hundreds of meters in height.

As the Tempest eased into the tight hanger, Gamal scowled. “We can be sure that we’ve been noticed now.”

Winters, his tall and sinuous form silhouetted against the rising plume in the distance like a pale gray ghost, the edges of his outline barely distinguishable from the gray of the cloud, issued another smug, tight-lipped smile. “The security systems of this facility will protect us from any savages.”

The furrows in Gamal’s brow deepened, mirroring the deep trench of the scar that traced his left cheekbone. “You would do well not to underestimate savages. Savages with high-energy weapons may be dangerous even to a force such as ours.”

Winters annoyed at this contradiction, hissed “the defenses of this facility were the best available to Tri-Tachyon. Unless they have an army of siege mechs, they aren’t getting in.”

Gamal’s response was cut off, as Reese diffused the argument. His voice was the even calm that his officers knew signaled his irritation at having to intervene. “Dr. Winters. You brought us here to provide security, among other things. My tactical officer has raised a valid concern. With your permission, we will land your frigate facing outwards, so the firing arc of it’s main cannon will provide coverage of the hanger’s entrance. The crew of our shuttle are equipped with light anti-personal weaponry, and we can arm yours as well if they aren’t already.”

Winters’ demeanor betrayed that he still felt this was an over-reaction, but he argued no further. “Very well. I admit, this vessel is not equipped for planetary operations. I will allow you to arm my crew for the duration of this mission.” He jerkily gestured a few commands into a holo, waving it away as quickly as it had been summoned. Then he cocked his head slightly, pressing his index finger into his left temple, and making a strange face. No doubt he was sub-vocalizing orders into his ship’s intercom via a network of sub-dermal implants.

The Tempest landed without further incident. Gamal insisted the hanger should be should be swept for threats before the team began unloading their cargo, once again overriding Winter’s objection. Gamal, Trinity, and the soldiers of squadron three donned armored pressure suits in the airlock of Winters' tempest. It seemed as though they had never been used, and the glittering chrome of their polysteel armor plates clashed sharply with Gamal’s much more utilitarian tastes. The combat pressure-suits of Reese’s fleet were painted matte charcoal, at Gamal’s insistence.

The soldiers were split into two small groups, one lead by Trinity, and the other by Gamal. One of Winter’s stoic guards would accompany each team, at the doctor’s insistence. Within the self-adjusting pressure suits, their faces obscured by the reflective surface of the helmets, the two officers could be distinguished only by their stances. Both stood fractionally shorter than the tall, muscular marines, and each’s pressure suit had ratcheted down nearly to their tightest extreme to accommodate the wiry forms of the pair. However Trinity stood stiffly with her shoulders back, her stance still remaining the precisely-drilled standard of Tri-Tachyon’s elite operatives even all these years after she had left that life behind. Gamal stood more loosely, feet apart, shoulders hunched slightly forward, recalling to mind the image of a feral wolf in a holo-doc Reese had watched long ago.

As the team clipped an assortment of weapons and equipment to the waiting mag-latches studding their suites, Reese wondered which would win in a fair fight. Not that either would ever engage in a fair fight. Trinity had the benefit formal training and a cyberneticly augmented nervous system, boosting her reflexes near to those of a warship’s targeting AI. Gamal had nearly two centuries of experience on her though, and Reese had little doubt he had picked up a few tricks during his younger years on pre-Domain Cibola, though Gamal had never discussed the subject openly. Though Reese was himself an experienced fighter, he had no illusions: either would beat him handily.

The two small groups swept the hanger end to end, prying open access hatches and shining their lights within. A few scattered cargo containers were forced open, locks slagged past the breaking point by plasma rifle fire. But within the dark corners of the abandoned hanger waited only short dunes of regolith that had blown in on the thin winds of Maxios. Reese and his fellow occupants of the observation lounge watched on with interest, it’s holographic walls no longer showed the exterior view of the ship, but had shifted to display the 9 helmet-cam feeds of the well-practiced team.

Winters seemed impressed. “Your team moves with a great deal of precision. They show more professionalism than I expected.”

Nodding, Reese responded. “A fleet like mine doesn’t have the resources to maintain a large force, so we make up for it with quality.”

The hanger, now cleared to the satisfaction of Gamal, became host to the remaining squads from the Lotus, plus a number of Winter’s technicians, all wearing pressure suites. Under the directions of Winters, the party formed a long column, three abreast.  Winters, Reese, and his officers headed the assembly, trailed closely by two of Winters’ soldiers. The three squadrons of mercenaries from Reese’s fleet brought up the rear, and studded the flanks of the column at regular intervals. A handful of technicians that had emerged from Winter’s frigate tended the grav-trolleys, and waved strange instruments about knowingly. The crew of each ship would remain therein, but had been briefed on the potential danger, and would maintain doubled watches until the party’s return.

The complex’s life support systems were functional, but only just. Some of the vents remained dead, others sputtered dust, yet the atmosphere was breathable even if decades-stale. Once the party was safely within the airlock, they discarded their pressure suits, leaving them packed on the grav-trolly from whence they came.

The corridors were labyrinthine, and often choked with debris. Winters seemed to know his way around the facility well however, and routed the snaking column around each obstacle. Most of the facility had been stripped bare, presumably by departing Tri-Tachyon personnel evacuated during the Battle of Maxios. Some of the larger instruments had been left to rot, but a few of the dust-caked screens still displayed their charts and tables, ready for eyes that would never come.

Hours into the trek, the would-be archaeologists stopped to rest. Winters had lead them to one of the bio-domes, incredibly still intact. The blue light of Magec filtered through the regolith caking it’s transparent panels. What must have once been lush garden was filled with the long-withered remains of the plants that once inhabited it. A few patches of crimson lichen clung to life, sustained by the dim light.

The group had traveled in nearly total silence, absorbing the solemn decay. Valentine broke the silence.

“Amazing that anything is still alive in here, even if it’s just some weird lichen.”

Winters, lost in thought, replied absent-mindedly. “This was one of the recreational gardens. I always liked to walk here and look out at the city down in the valley below. More of a town really... Roland’s Crater I think it was called, mostly transplutonic mining. The fireworks they would launch during festivals were something to see from up here.”

Valentine pressed on. “What did you do here, Dr. Winters?”

“Power generation research mostly. We were developing new core designs. We were very close... our reactor design could have improved efficiency by a thousand-fold over the state of the art. For the first time, we would have been able to build something out here in the sector to rival anything the Domain ever made.”

“With tech like that, you could cram the armaments of a Paragon onto something the size of an Aurora”. The clear, precisely enunciated tones of Trinity’s voice spilled into the conversation like a glacial river into a spring valley.

“Or those of the largest battlestations onto a Paragon.”

“Force-projection like that could turn the tide of a war. Is this new reactor design why we’re here?” Her voice remained cold and even, but Reese could tell by her expression that her interest had been piqued.

“I shouldn’t have said that.” Replied Winters, the acidity returning to is disposition, offering nothing more.

“Ahh come on ‘doc. We’ll figure it out when we extract whatever this mysterious artifact your searching for anyway!” Valentines melodic tones seemed to evaporate the chill Trinity had left in the air. Winters remained silent however, shaking his head and pointedly burying his gaze into a datapad covered in technical redoubts.

Nutri-cubes were retrieved from one of the trolleys and eaten hastily in silence.

As the column re-formed, Winters once again took the lead.

“We’re nearly there. We have about five hundred meters left.”

“Where is there?” Trinity wondered aloud.

“Primary reactor core. We’ll need to re-activate it if we’re to extract the target.”

“Isn’t the backup power enough?”

“No. The objective is sealed in the secure wing of the facility. There is only one way in, and it needs primary power on as well as the access codes I have obtained.”

“We couldn’t cut our way in?”

“Anything smaller then a capital-class laser would take years to cut through the armor, and anything that large would risk collapsing the whole facility.”

Their journey came to an end at the reactor core, a cylindrical room perhaps thirty meters tall, and ten in diameter. Most of the central column was dominated by a massive AM reactor, which looked easily large enough to power a Paragon and then some. The hulk’s polished exterior glittered in the flickering of the light-strips, sputtering on the dying backup power. The exotic metals which comprised the immense apparatus had not tarnished, even after decades of abandonment. Ladders and scaffolding surrounded the behemoth, stretching up to the ceiling allowing for maintenance access to it’s many delicate components. Thick black tubes dangled from ports near the top of the cylinder, connecting the reactor to the rest of the complex. No doubt some were for AM injection, others coolant, and many to extract the power, once generated.

“This operation demands the utmost care.” Winters addressed his technicians, who had begun unpacking cases of equipment from one of the grav-trolleys. “If we just flip the master switch, the whole facility will turn back on and we’ll burn through all the AM fuel we brought with us in a few seconds. We’ll need to bring the control systems online first to cut power to everything but the secure wing’s lockout systems.”

The technicians scurried about, opening access panels scattered about the room. Some still opened smoothly on their compressed-gas pistons, locks responding to the access codes Winters had brought. Others had seized in their many years of neglect and had to be cut open with plasma torches. This caused some consternation, and an argument broke out among the technicians about how to open a seized panel protecting some particularly sensitive components. With considerable difficulty, an adjacent panel was cut open, a few non-essential systems unceremoniously removed and discarded, allowing the smallest of the technicians just enough room to squeeze in with a plasma torch. Once inside, the adjoining compartment was flayed open, and a bundle of cables and tubes as thick as a human thigh passed in to interface with one of the instruments brought from Winters’ ship.

Once satisfied with the mess of cables and instruments snaking around the chamber, the control system was brought online and the necessary software changes quickly hacked into place. Another argument broke out over some obscure peculiarity of AM reactions, and even Winters joined the pitched debate. The rest of the party milled around impatiently.

“Watcha think they’re talking about?” asked Valentine of no one in particular.

Trinity, who had been listening intently to the argument replied “Sounds like this reactor was experimental design. It included some kind of p-space shunt to accelerate the AM flow. A few of them seem to think it’s broken and want to bypass it. The others want to go ahead, since it will take a long time to work around.”

Reese, unable to resist something to do other than watch cut in “That sounds very dangerous. Don’t phase ships have reactor stability problems?”

“I’m not a reactor engineer, and I’ve never heard of a p-space shunt. But I would assume if it had worked well, they would have built more than one.”

As if on cue, the little circle of technicians broke apart, having apparently reached consensus. Winters addressed the waiting audience.

“This reactor shows some signs of damage, but we should be able to get it working.”

A worried looking Valentine wondered “What was all that stuff about p-space shunts and injector overloading?”

Winters cocked his head back, staring down his nose at Valentine as if she were a particularly petulant child. “It would take too long to explain.” He looked like he wanted to add and you wouldn’t understand it anyway, but carried on “The risks are minimal, and we will proceed with start-up shortly.

Reese looked displeased. “How minimal is minimal? I did not acquire my reputation by exposing my crew to unnecessary risks.”

“I am confident enough that I will be remaining in the reactor room during on-lining.”

Reese looked around, his gaze lingering briefly on each of his crew. “We will withdraw beyond the blast-doors while you activate the reactor. Those doors are the only entrance?”

Trinity nodded in confirmation.

“Our soldiers have already swept the interior of the reactor room for threats, you will be safe from any danger except for that which you create yourself.”

At this Winters scowled, but did not object. Reese and his companions exited the reactor chamber single file, forming a loose defensive line about the entrance. Considering the automated security of the facility, a hostile attack was unlikely, but their contract clearly stipulated that the security of Winter’s and his staff was to be assured at all times.

Tense minutes passed, with no apparent change coming from the sealed blast doors. A hum was heard, then a rush of liquids. The ground shuddered as a muffled explosion emanated from behind the blast doors.

After more tense minutes of waiting, the doors slid apart. A frazzled, but excited looking Dr. Winters emerged, trailing thin streams of dark vapor.

“One of the shunts blew. I must have told Nolan a thousand times those were a terrible idea. We— I was able to maintain containment, something he never got working right in the emergency protocols.” Winters’ looked particularly pleased with himself.

“Who’s Nolan?” asked Valentine.

“The damn fool that designed that reactor.” At this last word, Winters made over-exaggerated air-quotes.

“So it worked then?” Reese did not feel like beating around the bush.

Winters, looking slightly put-out at the absence of any further hero-worship, confirmed that they were ready to proceed to the secured wing of the complex. A handful of Winter’s technicians would remain behind to tend the reactor, along with one squad of Reese’s soldiers and most of the grav-trolleys of equipment. The column re-formed and resumed their march into the bowels of the decrepit structure.

Hours passed, and night fell. Or at least night by the hyperwave-synchronized clocks of the sector’s ships. The party was now deep below the surface of Maxios, where local dawn had just sent the blue disc of Magec creeping above the horizon. Winters had lead them to one of the abandoned hab-blocks where the facility’s staff had once resided. The nutrient fabricator in the mess had long since condensed it’s final bowl of fab-noodles, but at least the bunks were preferable to sleeping on the floor.

The mercenaries and Winter’s two guards staged an impromptu rock-paper-scissors tournament to decide who would take first watch. As they did, Trinity placed a sturdy chair from the mess where it would have a good view of the sole entrance to their temporary quarters. She took a seat, leaned her head back against the wall, and her eyes glazed over, the spark of consciousness snuffed out. Winters looked unsettled at the display. To the untrained observer she appeared dead, but her companions knew that her mind and body slept while the synthetic components of her nervous system remained alert to movement, ready to infuse her blood with synthetic adrenaline the instant danger was detected.

An faint tinge of concern crept into the doctor’s voice. “Captain, is you’re first officer alright?”

Reese chuckled. “Damn creepy isn’t it my good doctor? That’s how she sleeps. Or at least the biological parts of her. I’d think a Tri-Tach whitecoat like yourself would be used to this sort of things.”

“Not at all captain. I’ve never specialized in wetware. Humans are too... fragile a medium for my work.”

Valentine, seeing her opportunity to interject more questions, queried “Doc, do you still work for Tri-Tachyon?”

Winters sighed deeply. “I had a... falling out you might say with certain elements of Tri-Tachyon’s leadership many years ago.” He thought for a moment, looking pensively at his shoes. “You could say that had a certain lack of... vision.”

The pilot giggled. “I reckon’ the only vision they have is how many credits they can fit in their bank accounts!”

“Something like that.” Muttered the doctor.

Reese slept fitfully on the narrow bunk. He was woken far too early by raucous laughter emanating from a semicircle of charcoal-clad soldiers surrounding a very self-important looking Valentine. Even one of Winters normally-stoic guards chuckled slightly, unable to maintain his composure. No doubt she was recounting one of her famously raunchy stories about her days as a Hegemony war pilot. It seemed that he was the last to return to the land of the wakeful, and he hurried to get his bags and equipment back in order to resume their journey.

The trip to the entrance of the secure wing was a short walk from the hab-block. The column had to route around a caved-in tunnel only once. The antechamber was massive, the yawning entrances to the freight hangers and storage rooms stretching off into the distance. Long-abandoned cargo mechs sat strewn around the floor like the crumpled corpses of giants. The blast doors were easily fifteen meters wide, and ten tall. Winters broke off from the party and entered a small control booth, it’s armored doors frozen open. After a few minutes of plinking away on the holographic keyboard within, the blast doors began to lurch open.

Beyond them another chamber, at least as large again as the exterior one could be seen. This one was arrayed like the entrance to a fortress, the towering forms of armored turrets were visible. Unlike the facility without, the auxiliary power of the secure wing seemed in good condition, the lights still bright and steady.

Valentine whistled. “I bet even an army of siege mechs couldn’t make it through that.”

Winters nodded. “In it’s day, this was the largest Tri-Tachyon research facility outside of Hybrasil.”

Winters lead the column across the vast empty chasm into one of the dozens of side passages branching off it.

“How did you get around this place? Surely you didn’t walk this far every day?” Reese wondered aloud.

“Many of the senior research staff lived within the secure wing for most of the year. But that aside, there was a network of mag-trams connecting everything. That’s what the groove we stepped over earlier was for. You could travel from the furthest hanger to the deepest recesses of the secure wing in fifteen minutes. Of course for those to work we’d have to restore main power to the whole facility. And I’m sure many of the tunnels have collapsed by now.”

Their twisting path took them deeper and deeper, the hallways becoming shorter, narrower, and more claustrophobic. The life support systems in this part of the complex seemed to have held up better, though the gentle breeze of the ventilator grates was even more stale than it had been beyond the blast door.

At last, they emerged into a research lab. Whoever had worked here had left in a hurry. Datapads lay scattered around the floor, and several of the long metal tables had been pushed over, the shattered remains of experiments long forgotten strewn about them. The center of the room was dominated by a cylinder of blue static, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. Winters sat on one of the few chairs that hadn’t been knocked over, and wheeled it to an empty desk. He waved his hands wildly in the air, growing increasingly annoyed, until a cyan control hologram sputtered grudgingly into existence. He sat inspecting the nimbus of neon flecks, pawing at it occasionally to shift different data readouts into focus. Another flurry of activity, and the cylinder vanished. Another of the same appearance, but smaller in diameter waited behind it, and another behind that. Once all three had cleared, what Reese assumed was the target of their mission came into view.

A low table sat in the middle, a circle drawn in permanent marker delineating the circumference of the innermost force field. On the surface of the table sat a small equipment case. It was a standard-issue Tri-Tachyon model that appeared completely unremarkable, save for a number of notes and equations scrawled onto it's surface by hand. Winters drew up to the table apprehensively. He depressed the latches of the case, and it opened with a satisfying click. He raised the lid of the case with such care you would think it was his own newborn child. A deep crimson glow emanated from six spheres, nestled in six indentations in a mass of silvery foam. Each was about the size of a clenched fist. Their inner light shifted and whorled in strange patterns. They were deeply unsettling to look at directly, and Reese nearly vomited trying to hold his gaze on one. There was space for another four spheres of the same size cut into the foam. Three were unoccupied, and one bore an ashen sphere the same size as the others, but it’s inner light was extinguished, the patterns cold and dead remained frozen on it’s surface.

Valentine asked what they all wondered. “What are those? And why can’t I look at them?”

Winters seemed unperturbed by the spheres, staring into the depths of one of them intently. Absent-mindedly, his thoughts clearly elsewhere, he replied. “Each of these is a temporal fusion reactor core. One of these could power a Paragon on it’s own. They can be very unsettling to look at because they exist in many times at once. To a classical physicist, each of these spheres is the size of a moon and contains the mass of a blue supergiant. To put it in simple terms, the reactor’s diameter is vast in time, rather than in space. To look into one of these is to watch a fusion explosion powerful enough to vaporize this planet, happening all at once and never simultaneously.”

“It doesn’t seem to bother you doc.”

Winters smiled, if it could be called that. He looked more like a predator about to snatch it’s pray in it’s jaws. “I spent twenty years designing these. You get used to it after a while.”

Trinity tilted her head to the side, as if listening to something distant. Her head straightened and turned to face Dr. Winters. “Not to interrupt your victory dance, but whatever you did, the local Tri-Tachyon garrison on Achaman Enterprise Station seems not to have appreciated it.” She turned to face Reese. “Silverswift reports that hyperwave comm traffic on Tri-Tach’s secure military bands is way up. We can’t decrypt their messages of course, but they’re sending a lot more data than they were thirty seconds ago.”

Winters looked worried. “There should be no way for them to know we’re here. You must be mistaken.”

“Can you think of another reason why Tri-Tachyon’s military comms channels would light up the second you turned off those fancy force fields?”

“It must be some bizarre coincidence. Nevertheless, we must hurry back to our ships, even the chance of Tri-Tachyon interference at this stage would be troubling.”

He clipped the case shut abruptly, sealing it tightly closed.

“At this stage of what?” Reese interjected.

“There is no time to explain in detail. But let us say it would do little for my former colleagues’ pocketbooks if this technology was to make it’s way into the hands of a competitor.”

Reese was becoming visibly agitated. “You never said anything about Tri-Tach involvement in this mission.”

“I had no reason to suspect they would be involved.”

“*** you didn’t know, unless you’re such an arrogant fool to think that there wouldn’t have been security precautions in place unknown even to you. You want me to haul a bunch of dangerous experimental reactor prototypes to who-knows-where out in the outer rim, and now Tri-Tach is going to come chasing after us!” Reese nearly shouted this last sentence. “You had better have a damn good reason for this, better than lining your pockets.”

“But captain, I do.”

“Well out with it then.”

“I don’t think my associates woul—“

“I don’t give a half-eaten bowl of fab noodles about your associates. If you want us to risk our hides hauling your magic grapefruits around, you’ll have to do better than that.”

“I’m going to give them to the League, wh—“

“Give them?”

“For a nominal fee, yes. I’m going to give, err, sell them to the League. With this kind of power, they’ll finally be able to develop safe from hostile incursions. Think of the potential benefits to their people? The advancements that could be made in agriculture. Medicine. Defense.”

At this Valentine snorted, and incredulously added “What about the people outside of the League?”

“Don’t you see? The political tension in the sector is too high. We just fought a major war, and there’s another on the horizon if things don’t change. The major factions are too evenly matched. This way, next time, the League will have a decisive advantage.”

“Why the League?” Trinity cut in.

“The Hegemony would destroy this technology before they used it. It’s against their precious laws to manufacture causality-violating devices. The Luddics are even worse — it’s against their god. Tri-Tach would have my head mounted on a stake before they would deal with me again. Who does that leave? The Diktat? They would use it to spread their rule over the whole damn sector.”

Reese thought the doctor’s words over for a moment. “Ok” he said simply. “We’ll help you, Tri-Tach be damned. But this wasn’t in our original contract, we’ll need hazard pay.”

“Hazard pay?”

“We agreed to a simple contract. Dig up some obscure artifact, deliver it to your contact on the rim. Nice an easy. Maybe deal with some brigands along the way. We definitely did not agree to dodging the Tri-Tachyon navy while traipsing across the sector with a box full of supernovae. No. If you want our help, we’ll need a cut of whatever you’re selling it to the League for.”

Winters mulled over his options. “Fine. Three percent.”

Valentine squawked “I wipe my ass with three percent every morning!”

Reese backed her up. “Ten percent.”

“Seven. I have some pull in the League. I’ll make sure their authorities are more... understanding of your needs during cargo inspections. As a bonus.”

Reese and his three officers looked hesitantly at one another, nodding slightly. Reese turned back to Winters and said “deal.”

Valentine added “what are you planning to sell your fancy box for anyway doc?”

“Twenty five mil.”

Valentines jaw dropped. Reese looked surprised. Trinity and Gamal remained as unflappable as ever. She stammered “that’s a mil and three quarters.”

Winters narrowed his eyes and hissed. “And I expect your services to be worth every last credit.”
 

[close]
Chapter 4: Flight
Spoiler

The group reformed into a ragged column, Winters leading them, the silver case clutched tightly in both hands. An hour into their return trip, another report was relayed from their fleet in orbit via Trinity. “Tri-Tach is mobilizing. We’re too far out of sensor range of Achaman to tell what’s heading our way, but they’re about a day out, burning fast.”

Reese lacked the sub-dermal implants of Trinity and Dr. Winters; he pressed a communicator to his throat, it’s sensors waiting to measure the minute vibrations of his sub-vocalizations to relay them back to the Fringe Clipper.

On the bridge of the Clipper, drifting in high orbit of Maxios, Lieutenant Dennis Pham heard the crystal clear voice of his captain emanating from his earpiece.

“Lieutenant, I trust you have reviewed the reports from the Silverswift by now. Bring the fleet to full combat readiness, but don’t let on what you’re doing. Stick to point-to-point laser communication only, keep intra-fleet comms off hyperwave.”

“Aye captain, will do.”

“And Dennis.

“Sir?”

“See if you can’t reach Patrick on Nova Maxios. Send a standard market price request for AM fuel on hyperwave, but have the spooks on the Silverswift embed a coded message. I’ll have Trinity send them the stenography parameters. We’ll have to keep it short to avoid tripping the entropy-detectors on Tri-Tach’s crypto-sniffers. Tell him that Tri-Tachyon is launching to an expedition to Maxios, a clear threat to the government-in-exile’s sovereign claim. Also tell him that Cabrakan is calling in his favor.”

“Copy that captain.”

To his companions deep within the ruined research complex, Reese’s conversation was entirely silent. He stumbled along, paying just enough attention not to run into Gamal’s back or hold up the mercenary following just behind him. He motioned for the party to halt, an gestured Trinity to move closer. In hushed tones, he told her “Lieutenant Pham will be sending a coded message via the Silverswift shortly, I need to key in the steno params.”

Wordlessly, she summoned a command hologram. Winters looked on with envy; Trinity had a portable unit, as Reese’s mostly low-tech ships lacked the ubiquitous holo-emitters required to make effective use of such things, unlike Winters who was presently cut off from his fleet save for voice communications. Reese’s un-practiced fingers fumbled with the complex three-dimensional interface, but after a few minutes of aggravated fiddling he succeeded in entering the stenographic model and sending it to the Silverswift’s central computer. He knew Patrick, and he knew well what type of hidden patterns would trip the crypto-sniffers he had little doubt were embedded in every computer system on Nova Maxios.

As he looked on, Winters cocked his head and pressed his temple again, no doubt sub-vocalizing orders to his own fleet. He looked up. “I have ordered my fleet to follow the commands of your own until I return. Your people clearly have a better handle on the tactical situation than mine.”

Reese dismissed the hologram, his work completed. “Lieutenant Pham is in charge up top. Tell your fleet to maintain their current orbit. No intra-fleet hyperwave, direct laser comm only.”

Winters nodded and cocked his head again.

Gamal broke his silence to rumble “how long will it take to get back to the hanger from here?”

“At least a day.”

“That puts us departing at the same time as the Tri-Tach fleet is arriving. Isn’t there a shortcut?”

“No. The direct route has collapsed, that’s why we diverted through the bio-domes.”

“You should radio ahead to your people in the reactor, have them head back to the ship”

Winters nodded again and did so.

It amused Reese to see how the tables had turned, his officers issuing orders to Winters rather than the other way around. The doctor was clearly scared. Obviously, he hadn’t expected this turn of events.

Twenty Two hours later, the exhausted party had arrived at the hanger. They had marched straight through the day, stopping only for a two hour rest. Their dedication had paid off, they were just barely ahead of the inbound Tri-Tachyon fleet. Winters, Reese, and his officers huddled around Trinity in the hanger airlock, as she stared into the depths of a hologram, interpreting the results for her companions.

“Tri-Tach’s main fleet is is thirty eight minutes out. They must be taking this seriously, Achaman has to be totally undefended right now. I see a half-dozen Heron carriers, a couple of Aurora cruisers, a handful of Shrikes, and a smattering of smaller ships. They have a fast picket entering orbit right now, two Condor light carriers and a pack of Wolves. I’m also picking up another fleet seventy six minutes out, broadcasting IFF codes from Nova Maxios provisional defense fleet. One Eagle cruiser, a few Condors, some re-fitted Buffalos and some Lasher frigates. Even if Maxios’ fleet will intervene on our side, I don’t favor our odds in a head-on confrontation.”

Gamal nodded his agreement. “A direct confrontation would be suicide, even with Winter’s fleet on our side. At best we may be able to damage the Tri-Tach fleet badly enough they can’t pursue us.”

Reese wondered “are we sure they will open with an assault?”

Winters responded “I doubt it. They wouldn’t want to risk damage to their fleet if they can avoid it. They’ll try to intimidate us and attack only if we don’t back down. They’ll want a complete inspection of all our ships, top to bottom, and the signature on these reactor cores would be hard to miss at close range.”

Trinity postulated “The Silverswift remains undetected. What if we snuck aboard with the case and slipped away while they search our ships.’

Their debate was interrupted as Lieutenant Pham called in, his disembodied face a ghostly cloud of point lights in Trinity’s holo emitter.

“Captain, an old friend of yours wants to speak with you.”

A second disembodied face fizzled into existence next to the Lieutenant. Reese beamed. “Patrick! I’m awfully glad to see you.”

“Cabrakan ya bastard, you’ve gotten yourself into quite a pickle this time.” His voice was hard and sounded angry, but his face was glad to see his old friend. He winked, and a soft click emanated from the com feed. Reese knew they had switched from a private laser-link to a poorly encrypted hyperwave broadcast. Tri-Tachyon would be listening intently.  “You and the... uhh... Nova Maxios Territorial Defense Fleet there have sure put us back home in quite an embarrassing position. See you’ve gone on patrol without your official IFF codes again. I’ll transmit them to you shortly. Be sure not to do that again or command will have you for dinner.” He feigned the stern tone of a commanding officer disciplining a careless subordinate.

Reese put on the tone of an ashamed underling trying to hide his embarrassment. “Yes mister Admiral Boyer sir, it won’t happen again.” He began to improvise. “You see Admiral, we were over-eager to investigate what this strange fleet was doing in orbit of our planet.”

“Hmmm... yes. Good work Captain. We’ll let your forgetfulness slide this one time. We can’t have unauthorized fleets poking around here can we now.”

“Worse Admiral, you see a detachment from this fleet went down on the surface, probably to loot our holdings. I’ve gone after them in person to apprehend them.”

Patrick clearly understood the unspoken meaning of this statement, and his face showed a flicker of concern.

“Ahh, I see somebody is bucking for a promotion. I best be careful or you’ll be sitting in my chair.” Patrick forced a chuckle. “Well see that you escort them back up here safely so we can figure out what they’ve been doing.”

“Looks like they’ve been rummaging around these ruins for illegal AI cores.”

“Very dangerous. We’ll see to it that the Nova Maxios authorities will handle this case appropriately.”

Reese cut the call, patching back to laser-link direct to the Lieutenant.

“Dennis. Do you remember the Skathi job?”

“Aye sir.”

“We have a couple of those Gamma Core AIs still tucked away, right?”

“Aye.”

“Put them on an un-manned drone and fly them over to Winter’s fleet as stealthily as you can. See to it that his crew hides them poorly.”

“Very well, our orbits will pass within a few kilometers in T minus three minutes.”

Reese’s gaze turned back to his fellow occupants of the airlock.

“We’ll go up in the Lotus, and make a show of escorting the Winter’s frigate. Once we’re back on the Clipper we’ll pack into a mining drone and sneak onto the Silverswift. We’ll have Lieutenant Pham pretend to be in charge. He and Patrick will make a show of inspecting Winter’s fleet. When Tri-Tach butts in, we’ll trick them into thinking we were working with them to smuggle Gamma cores back to Nova Maxios.”

Trinity turned over the plan in her mind for a moment. “Won’t they know the reason for whatever alert it was that tipped them off?”

Winters replied “No. Something like this is big. Very high level. A mere capital assurance fleet captain wouldn’t have the clearance. Someone on Achaman must know, but by the time they realize the misdirection, we’ll be long gone.”

A few more moments were spent on hashing out details and transmitting orders. They donned their pressure suits hastily and ventured into the hanger. Squadron three joined Reese’s officer team and Dr. Winters in boarding the Lotus, while the crew of the Lotus packed into the cargo hold of the larger Tempest.

The two vessels burned hard for low orbit. Valentine occupied the pilots chair of the cramped cockpit of the Lotus, and made a great show of trailing just behind the frigate, chain-guns spun up and shield emitter conspicuously activated. As they broke Maxios’ thin upper atmosphere, the Tri-Tachyon picket fleet dipped below the horizon and thus they beyond it’s visual range. Valentine glanced at the radar readouts on the grainy green-on-black screens of the shuttle. “Now’s our window. Seven minutes before their main fleet will be in range to watch us on screens. Until then they’re sensors-only.”

The Tempest was surrounded by an escort formation of Reese’s other ships, while the Lotus docked with the Fringe Clipper.

“Six minutes.”

The Clipper was a Venture cruiser, and was equipped with a squadron of mining drones. It’s design had been conceived originally as a mining ship for long prospecting missions beyond the borders of the Core.

“Five minutes.”

Winters, Reese, Gamal, Trinity, and Valentine sprinted down the cramped hallways of the Clipper, alarmed crew members jumping out of their way, wondering at the sight of most of their officer team was at a dead run down an access corridor, dragging what looked like an aging bureaucrat clutching a silver case by his arm. 

“Four minutes.”

The five hastily packed into one of the Clipper’s mining drones. It was designed to operate autonomously, but could accommodate a pilot and co-pilot for missions too delicate for it’s crude sub-AI controller. The interior of the drone was claustrophobic even for it’s ostensible maximum crew of 2. Valentine sat in the pilot’s seat, the rest of them drifted freely around the rest of the drones interior, insofar as that enough space was available to drift.

“Three minutes.”

Valentine killed the running lights and main engines. The pod glided from the Venture’s flight deck on maneuvering thrusters alone. They would be invisible to anything but a direct line of sight.

“Two minutes.”

The pod accelerated towards the Silverswift, hidden within the bulk of a ruined space station in high orbit of Maxios.

“One minute.”

The pod attached to the Silverswift’s single docking port, and it’s inhabitants hauled themselves into it’s interior. Valentine was last out, she cut the drone’s power completely, and locked the throttle for the maneuvering thrusters open. They were compressed-gas based. No electronics involved, and critically no signature on sensors. She jumped through the docking port, slamming the emergency disconnect button. The hatch’s blast doors slammed closed, and the EM-controlled clamps went limp. The pod sailed away into a lower orbit around Maxios.

The Silverswift was a Harbinger phase destroyer, lovingly refitted as an intelligence craft by Trinity over several years. It’s phase cloaking system rendered it nearly invisible to sensors. It’s original design purpose had been as a deadly stealth strike craft. Comfort had not been a consideration. The sole docking port lead directly into the main engineering bay of the vessel.

The heat from the reactor and the intricate phase cloaking systems was oppressive. Engineers scampered to and fro tending to the sensitive equipment. Most had stripped their uniforms off as far as they could while retaining their modesty to cope. The entire place reeked of human sweat and reactor coolant. A few of the staff looked up to offer brief salutes to their captain, but most remained focused on their tasks, too caught up to notice the dramatic entrance of the ship’s newest occupants.

The five beleaguered people climbed the stairs to the destroyer’s main deck, so steep they were almost a ladder. They emerged into a large room, it’s temperature mercifully more bearable than the engine room below. It had once been the crew quarters, containing a rec lounge, bunks, and a cafeteria. Trinity had gutted it. A massive bank of computers and sub-AIs occupied the center of the room, coolant pumps whining under the thermal load of snooping the comms traffic of the entire Magec star system. Surrounding the bank were two rows of desks occupied by Trinity’s team of spooks. A few low conference tables were scattered around, some occupied by crew deep in arguments or discussions of the goings-on of the ship. The space had been retro-fitted with several arrays of holo-projectors, and cyan fireflies danced around the room. Most of the occupied desks sat below a whirling nimbus of light. What passed for bunks were shallow alcoves set into the outer walls of the room, their occupants separated only by thick black curtains. A distant door to the fore of the room lead to the spartan facilities of the ship, and a single nutrient fabricator squatted against the forward wall.

Rather than the durable charcoal fatigues Gamal had selected for the rest of the fleet’s personnel, these people wore dark gray pants and sky blue lab coats. They looked more like a Tri-Tachyon intelligence team than employees of a rim prospecting fleet. Indeed, some had been liberated from indentured military service to Tri-Tachyon’s intelligence arm by Trinity or Reese, and the rest had been hand-picked and trained by her. Though this was nominally Reese’s ship and crew, and they adhered to the expected decorum towards Reese and his officer team, everyone knew they really answered to Trinity and to her alone. On any other ship in his fleet, Reese would have broken the crew up, split them apart and merged them into the crews of larger ships to avoid any possibility of schism in the fleet’s command hierarchy. However Trinity had proven her trustworthiness many times, and the results her team obtained were unquestionably the best available outside of Tri-Tachyon’s intelligence command.

The subtle murmur of the crew, barely audible as it was over the noise of the computer bank, stopped as Reese and Trinity entered the room. The more senior staff (whom Reese recognized only by their faces, none wore markings of rank as was standard in the rest of the fleet) snapped to crisp formal salutes. The more junior crew looked like deer caught in headlights, but quickly mimicked the actions of their superiors. Reese barked “at ease”, and they resumed their work. He knew they had responded as much the subtle nod of Trinity as to his order.

The five made their way amidship, and clambered up another ladder-like flight of stairs to the command deck of the ship. They emerged into the officers mess. To the port and starboard were the entrances to the officer’s quarters, to the aft was a narrow hall containing doors to very slightly less cramped facilities than those on the deck below, and leading to the combination observation deck / conference room. Forward was the entrance to the Silverswift’s cramped bridge.

The door slid open, and a blue-coated officer emerged. On seeing Trinity, he snapped sharply to attention, finishing off the salute with “Commander Cryoborn.” He added, almost as an afterthought “Captain Cabrakan. Welcome aboard.” Trinity returned his salute, and ordered him at ease. His voice bore the same ice as Trinity’s, and Reese recognized him as another former Tri-Tach operative. “Lieutenant Pham has already briefed me on the nature of this operation, and the Silverswift is ready to depart at your order. “

“Very good Lieutenant. Set a course for Kanta's Den, maintain full dark running until we’re beyond sensor range of the Tri-Tachyon fleet.”

“Aye sir.”

Trouble spread over Gamal’s battle-scarred features. “Captain, I must urge you to consider another course of action. Kanta’s Den is a hive of pirates and brigands as you well know, and this ship is not armed for combat with anything larger than a frigate.”

“Your concern is noted. However we can’t well make port at Achaman with all of Tri-Tachyon looking for us. Nova Maxios will be the next place they’ll look. Kanta and her people won’t allow Tri-Tach to search their station, and I carry enough reputation that they shouldn’t trouble us.”

“We could make for another system and resupply there.”

“We have a limited window of opportunity before the authorities on Achaman realize they’ve been duped. We need to refuel and restock, and besides we’ll need long-haul auxiliary fuel tanks installed to make it to the rim. It will take at least two days for the necessary refits, and two to arrive at Kanta’s Den. We can’t afford to divert somewhere more pleasant.”

Gamal seemed ill at lease, but spat out nothing but “aye sir.”

Reese evicted the comms officer from his chair, patching into a laser-comm channel to the Clipper.

“Dennis.”

“Sir?”

“I trust you listened to my conversation with Admiral Boyer?”

“Yes.”

“Very good, then you understand what you must do, Acting Captain Pham. Once you escape this system, travel to Agreus and hide the fleet there among the derelicts. If you can keep Tri-Tach from impounding Dr. Winter’s fleet, bring them with you.”

The tone of command slipped from Reese’s voice. “This mission will be dangerous. Perhaps the most dangerous we’ve ever taken on. I wouldn’t be leaving you in charge if I didn’t trust your abilities. Play your cards right, and when this is over you’ll get that command I know you’ve been gunning for.”

Reese could nearly hear Dennis smile over the audio link.

“Take good care of my fleet. Cabrakan out.”

Reese slumped in the comms chair, exhausted after the hours of exertion. Bickering broke out among the exhausted officers over the allocation of bunks. There were four officer cabins in the cramped command deck. The lieutenant in command of the vessel, his comms officer, and his helmsman each had a cabin of their own, and seemed none too pleased to share. Winters insisted he must have his own cabin as well. In the end, Trinity, Valentine, and Gamal doubled up with the standing bridge crew, Winters took the unoccupied bunk, and Reese stormed off to sleep in the crew bunks on the main deck, mostly to prove a point. The crew looked surprised to see the captain of their fleet strapping himself into the crash webbing of one of the narrow bunks and drawing the thick curtain closed, but made no remark.

As the five slipped quickly into sleep, the Silverswifts bridge crew set a course for the pirate haven of Kanta’s Den.

[close]
« Last Edit: April 15, 2020, 05:33:10 PM by OddOneOut »
Logged

Histidine

  • Admiral
  • *****
  • Posts: 2873
    • View Profile
    • Bitbucket profile
    • Email
Re: Shadows of Maxios (updated 4/5)
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2020, 04:46:32 AM »

Looking fun!

Technical note: There are a bunch of places where the text is still using asterisks for italics instead of the bbcode tags, should fix those.
Logged

OddOneOut

  • Ensign
  • *
  • Posts: 2
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Shadows of Maxios (updated 4/5)
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2020, 09:44:27 AM »

Looking fun!

Technical note: There are a bunch of places where the text is still using asterisks for italics instead of the bbcode tags, should fix those.

Ahh, good catch. I write these in Markdown and then upload them here.

I think I'm a little out of practice; chapters one and two were a little bland. I tried to make three a little more colorful, and focus more on the characters.

I'm glad to hear that you liked it. Feedback is definitely welcome if you have any.
Logged

Melchizedek

  • Ensign
  • *
  • Posts: 2
    • View Profile
Re: Shadows of Maxios (updated 4/15)
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2021, 09:19:18 PM »

I don't think it was bland at all... I liked the way you established both characters and situation in chapter 1. Quite immersive!
Logged