I punched in my priority code at the transit station, then turned to the crowd of people waiting there.
“Sorry, but we’re taking the next one. We’re needed on the bridge.”
“Who are you?” asked one of the crew members.
“Watch it, man,” his companion said. “That’s Captain Clarke. We’ll wait, sir.”
“Thanks, and sorry,” I said. The door slid open. I stood by it as Izzy, Nolan, Cyrus, JJ, and Tim got in, following them inside. We took off, getting to the bridge after a few twists and turns.
“Thanks so much for getting down here,” Andrea said, getting up from the Captain’s chair. “I think you should take command.”
“You’re totally capable, Andrea,” I said.
“She is,” Vermillion said, walking towards the group, “but in this case you’ve got the battle experience.”
“Exactly,” Andrea said. “I’ll take the science officer’s chair, with Nolan assisting, if that’s all right, Captain.”
“Of course,” I said, then turned to Vermillion. “So sorry to hear about your sister, sir.”
“Thank you,” he said, his eyes red from crying.
“What do you want us to do?” I asked.
“Jump in, cripple them, and jump out,” Vermillion said. “I’ll leave the methods and tactics up to you.”
I sat in the captain’s chair and looked around the large bridge, feeling comfortable in my old setting. The Zephyrus had been my command for nearly two years. My stint on the New Jersey wasn’t that long, since she’s a new ship. I was captain on a series of Centurion-class ships before I got her, my services leased to the Central Authority by the Samson Corporation.
“How long will we be in the jump?” I asked.
Nolan turned towards me, breaking his hushed conversation with Andrea. “This is a fast ship. No more than a couple hours.”
“Wow,” Izzy said, sitting in the second pilot’s seat.
“I’m going back to my office,” Vermillion said. He left the bridge.
Tim walked over to me. “He’s a mess.”
“He just lost his sister,” I said. “Get with Nolan and start working on a strategy. I want to know how to target the engines of the Centurion Class ships they have guarding the space dock. Oh, and I also want to know where the power systems are for that dock.”
“Yes sir,” he said, joining Andrea and Nolan at their console.
“Targeting engines?” JJ asked, sitting in the first-mate’s chair. “You’re not going to destroy the ships outright?”
I glanced at her, then back to the monitor attached to the side of my seat. “There are over a hundred thousand souls on each of those ships. I’m not a mass-murderer.”
“Vermillion may have a different opinion.”
I sighed, turning to her from the monitor. “He said cripple them, not destroy them, and left the methods and tactics to me. I don’t think he intends this to be a slaughter.”
“Captain,” Nolan said.
“We’ve got a good long-range scan of the environment we’re jumping into. Andrea had that running before the jump.”
“Good,” I said.
“There are twenty Centurion-Class ships there.”
I thought about that for a moment. “If we pop right into the middle of them, how long can our shields hold when they’re all taking shots at us?”
“Indefinitely,” Nolan said. “They’d need more like five hundred ships using a concentrated attack to get through the upgraded shields.”
“We’re sure about that?” JJ asked.
“Yes, unless they have much improved weapons systems on those Centurion-Class ships,” Nolan said, “and the retrofit would require reactor replacements. The current reactors can’t supply enough power. It’s a mathematical impossibility.”
“I can search the maintenance records, sir,” Izzy said. “Publicly owned ships are required by law to record all upgrades.”
I chuckled. “Do that, but if they’ve done something, I suspect they’ve forgotten to follow the reporting law. It’s not legal to stun innocent people to death, and they don’t seem too concerned about that.”
“It wasn’t legal to attack all of the Samson Corporation’s facilities on Earth with railguns, either,” JJ quipped. “Maybe we should just destroy the ships.”
“Nonsense,” Nolan said. “Captain Clarke has the correct strategy. If we take out their engines, they’ll have to scramble to save their crews. It’ll keep them busy for a while.”
We’re attacking the space dock too, correct?” Izzy asked.
“Yes, but I want it functional enough that they can shuttle the crews in from the Centurion ships,” I said. “We’ll create damage, so they have to use resources to repair it. It won’t orbit forever without their main power systems to do station-keeping. I want them to have a sense of urgency about this.”
“What if Simone goes on a bigger rampage with the stun capability?” Tim asked.
“Then we’ll have no choice but to escalate,” Nolan said. “I’m hoping they lay off for a while, so we can get the other ships built.”
“You think they’ll lay off for six months after we take out a number of their ships?” JJ asked. “That’s not the Simone I remember.”
I sat back in my seat. “War is completely unpredictable, and we’ve got a big wild card.”
“The Clan,” Nolan said. “Yes, I’m wondering about them too.”
My PA buzzed. It was Dr. Hazelton.
“Captain, we can proceed with the next round of Barney’s training, but I thought maybe we should wait since we’re going into battle. I’d rather not have to interrupt it.”
“I agree, let’s wait until this is over. How’s he doing?”
Dr. Hazelton chuckled. “He’s learning fast. We’ve been letting him watch videos. I think Deneuve is going a little stir-crazy, but Barney wants to be at his side all the time.”
“He’s not dangerous, right?”
“Then if Deneuve wants to take him outside of sick bay, I have no problem, but I’d keep them on the Zephyrus for now. He’ll get overwhelmed if he sees the inside of the New Jersey.”
“Understand, Captain, I’ll chat with Deneuve and Deacon.”
“Deacon’s back there, huh?”
“Yes, he seems to think we’ll need to beat a hasty retreat. That isn’t really a danger, is it?”
“I hope not. Did he recover the crew members that survived the railgun attack?”
“Yes, some of them were transferred to our sick bay.”
“How many total?” I asked.
“Six able bodied, twelve injured.”
“So, we only got eighteen out of nearly forty missing crew members. Geez.”
“I know, it’s tough. Deacon took it pretty hard.”
“Thanks for letting me know. We’ll send out a general alarm when we come out of the jump.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
I ended the call.
“Postponing the rest of Barney’s training until the battle is over?” JJ asked.
“Yes. He’s also got permission to be with Deneuve outside of sick bay.”
“That ought to be interesting,” Tim said.
“How are his injuries?” Izzy asked.
“He was in good shape when I saw him earlier,” I said. “Weird listening to him talk.”
“I’ll bet,” Izzy said.
“I’ve got the data on the best locations to pinpoint plasma attacks, Captain,” Nolan said.
“For the ships and the space dock?”
“Yes sir,” Nolan said. “We’re going in cloaked, right?”
“We’ll arrive that way,” I said, “and target everything. Then we’re gonna show ourselves before the attack. I don’t want any doubt who did this.”
“Do you really think that’s wise?” Andrea asked.
“Yep, I want them to know that the Samson Corporation still has some tricks up it’s sleeves. They need to fear us.”
“You think this will make them think twice before stunning more innocents?” Nolan asked.
“I’m hoping it does. The chances of that are unlikely, I’m afraid.”
“They’ll do worse if they go unchallenged,” Nolan said.
Andrea looked over at me. “Just got a call from the head of engineering. Should we continue on with the retrofit of Tristar and Zephyrus through this?”
I thought about it for a moment. “While we’re in transit, yes, but when we arrive I want them to stop. I want all power available to the shields and the weapons systems.”
“Good call,” Andrea said. “I’ll let them know.”
At that point we’d done as much as we could do ahead of time on the bridge, so we sat silently, monitoring progress and system status, making small talk, trying to keep from being too nervous. The time passed quickly. I looked around the bridge, with its bank of five huge screens wrapping around the oval room, the white walls and consoles with indirect blue lighting shining on the counters. The bridge crew on this ship wasn’t much bigger than the bridge crew on the Zephyrus, but there were many more people behind the scenes in other parts of the ship. Nolan had sent the instructions on targeting to the battle pilots. I knew they were meeting with their gunners and other support people right now, getting the repair robotics started just in case, and running system checks on all the weapons.
“Almost there, Captain,” Andrea said.
“Okay, I want the cameras on as soon as we get out of the jump. Stay cloaked until our battle pilots have their targets locked in.”
“We’re hitting them all at the same instance?” Izzy asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Remember that this attack is as much for effect as it is a practical attempt to ruin their hardware. Think of it like the Doolittle raid on Tokyo.”
“We’ll put them on notice,” Tim said. “There’s a new sheriff in town. It’s called the New Jersey.”
Something about Tim’s statement made me queasy. Never underestimate your enemy.
“We’re coming out of the jump in thirty seconds,” Andrea said.
“Send out the general alarm, please,” I said.
“On it, Captain,” Izzy said, looking at the console. The buzzer sounded, softly in the bridge, loud in the rest of the ship. I felt my hair stand on end with static electricity as we settled to a stop, the video feeds filling the screens in an instant.
“That’s more than twenty ships,” Nolan said. “All Centurion class, though, so our data on target points is valid for all. I’ll send out the adjusted coordinates to the battle pilots.”
“Do that,” I said. “Is that a transport ship approaching the dock?”
“Looks like it, sir,” Andrea said, looking at the large ship with lines like a whale, it’s surface free of the armaments which were bristling from the Centurion ships.
“All targets locked, Captain,” Nolan said.
“Uncloak and fire,” I said. In a split-second we saw the light of plasma weapons, explosions happening on the Centurion ships almost instantly, along with several impacts on the space dock.
“All targets hit, sir,” Nolan said. “They’re drifting. See it? Their power is off.”
“Casualties?” I asked.
“No way for us to tell,” Nolan said. “Anybody close to the engines is having a bad day.”
“Whoa, five more ships just jumped in,” Tim shouted. I scanned the video monitors, seeing them spread out over three screens. All of them fired at us, the intense light of the plasma weapons blinding our cameras for a split-second.
“Shields?” I asked.
“Barely a ripple,” Nolan said. “There’s half a dozen more ships heading for us. They’ll appear any second.
“Fire at will.”
An instant later our plasma guns hit the visible ships, taking their engines out, setting them adrift.
Nolan laughed. “The rest of the ships decided against sticking around. They saw what happened when they came out of their jump and took off immediately.”
“Good,” I said.
“We’re being hailed, Captain,” Andrea said.
“Put them on screen.” I watched the center monitor. A beautiful woman’s face appeared, framed by silver hair, a large necklace just below her chin, flowing down her torso. Jet-black eyebrows raised when she recognized me.
“Captain Trey Clarke. Traded up, I see. Where’s the Zephyrus?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” I shot her a wicked grin.
“As leader of the Overlords, fully sanctioned by the Central Authority, I’m placing you under arrest.”
I stared at her face for a moment, then burst out laughing. “Give it your best shot. Go ahead and send some more ships over.”
“How dare you speak to me like that?”
“You’re just a second-rate thug,” I said. “You targeted innocents with that stun attack.”
“That was not my organization.”
I laughed again. “We know what you’ve been up to. It won’t stand.”
“There’s no place you can hide, Captain Trey Clarke. We will hunt you to the ends of the Universe.”
“I’ll take that under advisement. Why did you attack the Samson Corporation’s installations? You killed many innocent people in those illegal attacks. There will be consequences.”
“We attacked those installations because of the collusion we uncovered between your leader Chairman Vermillion and the Clan. Your corporation has been outlawed and must turn over all assets to the Central Authority at once.”
“Another thing I’ll take under advisement.”
“Savages,” she said, hatred coming from her eyes with an unnerving intensity.
“Savages? Oh really. How do you figure?”
“You attacked our ships and our space dock.”
I chuckled. “If we were savages, all of the ships we hit plus your space dock would be floating debris at this moment. We only targeted the engines and power systems. This was a gift. Stop your blackmail of the Central Authority Zone immediately. Stop your stun attacks and end the embargo on space travel. Then we’ll talk.”
“How dare you?”
I shrugged. “You already said that.”
My PA buzzed. Message from Nolan. “She’s stalling you, Captain. There’s a large ship jumping towards us. It’s not a Centurion-Class ship. It’s much larger.”
I glanced at Nolan and nodded.
“Sorry, Simone, but we’ve got important work to do. Ta ta.”
We jumped away, the faint feeling hitting all of us.
“Okay, let’s stop someplace where we can scan for that ship,” I said. “I’d like to see what they were sending.”
“You read my mind, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’re cloaked again. I’ll stop us just past the orbit of Pluto. Ought to be close enough for a good look.”
We stopped, the static hitting all of us, the video monitors coming on again.
“Going telescopic on camera nine,” Andrea said. “I’ll put it on center screen.”
“Thank you,” I said, settling in. The drifting Centurion ships were visible, as was the space dock, parts of which were still glowing.
“Look, they’re already bringing tugs out to steady the drifting ships,” Izzy said.
“They’d better save some of those for the space dock,” Tim said.
Suddenly a giant ship appeared in their midst.
“There it is,” Andrea said, zooming in so the ship filled the screen.
“What the hell is that?” Tim asked. “It’s not one that the Corporation constructed.”
Nolan shot me a glance. “I’m doing a search now, Captain, looking for a match.”
“Better include Clan ships,” I said. Nolan nodded affirmative.
“That ship is bigger than this one,” Andrea said. “Significantly.”
“Size doesn’t always matter, my dear,” Nolan said, bringing a snicker from Tim.
“This isn’t good,” JJ whispered. “One of my main jobs was on the Central Authority’s Spacecraft Design Approval Committee. I know I would’ve remembered something like that ship from the SDAC, and they didn’t build it in the time that I’ve been off that committee. No way. I’ve only been off it for three months.”
“Having any luck?” I asked Nolan.
“It didn’t match any known ships in the Central Authority data banks, Captain. I’m still running the search of known Clan vessels, but so far it’s not seeing anything there either.”
“No matches at all? Not even similar?”
“Not yet. After I get through the known existing ships, I’ll search for prototypes and concepts. Maybe we’ll get a match there.”
Chairman Vermillion entered the bridge, eyeing the image of the giant ship on the monitor.
“Should I brief you on what just happened?” I asked.
Vermillion shook his head no. “I watched the whole thing from my office, Captain. Well handled, by the way.”
“Do you recognize that ship?” I asked.
“Nope, but I’m not an expert on the ships of our customers.”
“We’re not sure this ship has a Samson Drive,” Nolan said.
“There aren’t natural wormholes near Mars,” Vermillion said, “so it’s either one of our drives, or somebody figured out how to duplicate our technology.”
“The power profile wasn’t the same as our standard drives,” Nolan said. “That was the first thing I checked. Oh, and the scan of the Clan data is complete. No matches. Not even anything close. Moving on to prototypes and concepts.”
“I doubt you’ll find anything,” Vermillion said. “The Overlords have been busy. First the PA system infiltration, and now this.”
“Simone was very defiant,” I said to Vermillion.
He smiled. “She’s about eighty-percent bluster, you know. Even back in the days when I was her friend.”
“Uh oh,” Nolan muttered.
“Match?” I asked.
“Close, sir. Too close.”
I stood, walking to his station, looking over his shoulder. “Prototype or Concept?”
“Concept,” Nolan said, eyes glued to the screen. “This is about twenty years old. Earth years, that is.”
“Who owns it?” Vermillion asked.
“The local government of Devonia Axxiom.”
“The Capital world?” Izzy asked, eyes wide.
“I’m afraid so, dear,” Nolan said. “Dammit. Ecason.”
Vermillion laughed nervously. “That crackpot? He disappeared about sixteen years ago, after being exposed as a fraud.”
“He was brilliant,” Nolan said. “I met him once, at a conference. He was far ahead of his time. Completely anti-war, though, and dead set against government overreach. I can’t imagine he’d construct a killing machine for Simone. He railed against the ascension of the Overlords into a sanctioned part of the Central Authority.”
“How did he disappear?” Tim asked.
“That’s a good question,” Nolan said. “Never believed the stories about him being a fraud. I figured he just said screw it and went into solitude someplace.”
“His ship blew up,” Vermillion said, “and he was presumed dead, along with a crew of seventy-thousand.”
“I’ve never heard that before,” Nolan said, eyeing Vermillion.
“Where did his ship blow up?” I asked.
“Far end of the Free Zone.”
“So it wasn’t a military ship,” Tim said.
“Research ship,” Vermillion said. “He was trying to go outside of our Universe.”
“Did they find wreckage of his ship?” Nolan asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Vermillion said. “It was in a very remote part of the Free Zone. Nobody wanted to expend the fuel to check it out.”
“Maybe his ship didn’t blow up,” Nolan said. “Maybe it left the Universe.”
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018