“The Rashionu-sera was constructed on Tulia in the shipyards south of Larzen. It was sold to the Terra-Tyne Transport company and spent several decades moving goods and services from the Outer Rim to Prahran. Company records show that it was attacked by pirates and all hands were lost. Just exactly how it came under the command of a deranged Silicant is not known. The ship logs were deleted by Gareth shortly after the events that lead to the start of the Great War. The old and somewhat reliable transport met its fate a few years later when it was attacked and destroyed by a Votainion Eight-fighter squadron near IS489b.”
– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
Kantor studied the scans of the newly arrived enemy warships. They were impressive but nothing to be overly concerned about. One shot to the belly and the lead ship was already steering clear of Kantor’s main guns. Near as he could make out, they didn’t have shielding or any kind of reinforced armor plating. Not much of warship.
He was losing landing ships to the pesky fighters though. That was unfortunate, but again, nothing to be overly concerned about. His troops were not leaving this world. It belonged to the Votainion Empire now. There would be more ships arriving in the next few months, enough to completely subjugate the local insurgents and put them to work making warships for his fleet. The planet would also be used to grow food that would help extend the reach of his Empress, Nykostra.
“My Lord, perhaps we should protect the remaining landing ships,” Varco said as he approached his Captain.
“Launch a few KIVs to handle them. The enemy warship doesn’t have a taste for our main guns. They turn tail and run like spooked khoneys.”
“You were right about there being more to the enemy than they first let on.”
“What I’ve seen so far doesn’t impress me. Prepare to close on them and finish this little spat.”
Varco nodded and ordered the helm to advance into attack formation on the white enemy warships. He sent the flight deck orders to launch a squad of KIV-3 starfighters to dispatch the enemy fighters.
“Sir, we are picking up strange movements on our long range scanners,” a junior bridge officer said.
“What kind of movements?” Varco asked.
The man pointed to a screen that showed the amount of traffic heading to and from the area of space that they assumed was where the aliens had originated. The map was so thick with targets, moving to and from multiple systems, it was impossible to tell which star system might be the home world. Until now.
Nearly all the targets were heading away from a single system and only one target continued to that system, unable or unwilling to change its course. In that instant Varco realized that they might have found the home world of these aliens. His heart raced as he dismissed the scanning officer and moved to the Captain’s dais. “My Lord, I believe we have discovered their home world.”
Kantor snapped his dark eyes at Varco. “Show me.”
Varco moved back to the scanning station and pointed to the star system highlighted. It was an unremarkable, yellow star with a standard compliment of rock and gas giant planets. A single scanner contact was moving in its direction. All other contacts were moving away from it.
“It would appear that they have halted traffic in lieu of our attack. But one ship continues to this centrally located system,” Varco said.
Kantor took over the controls, leaning over the seated scanning officer. He punched up astronomical data on the system. There were several inhabited planets but only one had a comparatively large moon.
Varco noticed the glimmer in Kantor’s eye as he stepped back and motioned to the system on the screen.
“I believe we have found Kerra-jorro,” Kantor said. The reverence in his tone was one he reserved for religious prayers.
“My Lord, we have no proof of that. But this system is obviously important to the aliens. It is a fortuitous break for us that one of their ships has pointed us to their home world.”
Kantor withdrew into his own thoughts. He returned to his seat and put his fingers together in a common prayer gesture. His eyes closed and he began reciting a mantra to himself.
Varco swore to himself and directed the helmsman to plot a course to the enemy home world. Then he returned to the task of finishing off the newly arrived enemy warships. He hated it when Kantor let his beliefs direct his actions. Going to the heart of the enemy’s empire was a bold and dangerous move. But if they could somehow assert themselves over that world, they would be in a position to avoid a lengthy war if the enemy were to capitulate to them. Varco only hoped that his Captain would not let his beliefs interfere with that mission.
* * *
Devon’s fighter came to rest at the back of the landing bay wrapped up in emergency netting. The starboard wing had collapsed and crushed under the weight of the fighter. Extraction crews lifted her quickly out of the damaged fighter and led her away from it. She pushed them off.
The fighter was ruined. She looked around the nearly empty bay for any other plane that might be capable of flying. There were two parts fighters that she knew were incapable of getting aloft at all. Devon swore and stormed off the flight deck and into the debriefing room. She took off her helmet and various flight related survival gear and shoved them into cubicles where they belonged. There were no officers waiting to debrief her and the room was empty. All hands were elsewhere, helping to get the ship under control after it had taken a hard hit.
Devon unzipped her flight suit at the arms and the chest. It was getting hot in the silver, fire-retardant suit.
Red Allen came into the room. He wore his civilian flight suit and leather jacket. “There you are. Captain Raider wants you in Control, directing the attack.”
She nodded, and followed his lead to the combat control room. “Red, do you have anything else on board that I can fly?”
He shook his head as they walked. “Not unless you want to pilot a shuttle with no weapons.”
She swore again.
“My sentiments exactly.”
* * *
Raider shifted his weight in his command chair and tried to focus on his new battle plan. The Kelley and the Sokol alone could not manage to harm the enemy starship. But if they combined their attack on a smaller starship, they might have some luck. He had taken the idea from watching his starfighters gang up on the smaller ships in lower orbit.
“Have the Kelley direct their fire at the back of the ship’s neck. Fire on my command,” he said to Sasha.
She was standing behind the weapons officer and in contact with Commander Trimble on her headset. Raider watched her relay the command, acting for all the world like a Federation officer. Albeit a very odd looking officer. Her short cut black hair was not regulation length and her loose, revealing clothes were borderline indecent. But she spoke with authority and his officers didn’t hesitate to execute her orders. “Morgan, we’re doubling up on the smaller starship. Full power to the main guns,” Sasha said into her headphone mic.
“Right,” he answered her.
The two white Federation starships were both long and slender compared to the green, stubby enemy starships. They came about from opposite vectors and lined up on the second enemy starship. Their maser canons belched balls of energy at their target, most of which was absorbed by the powerful electromagnetic shields of the Votainion warship.
Raider saw the hits fade out into nothing and an idea occurred to him. Perhaps energy weapons were the wrong answer. What they needed was something more kinetic. Like a projectile weapon. He slipped on his headset. “Blud, this is Raider. Do any of your pirate ships have rail guns?”
There was a long pause and then Blud responded over static, “Yes. I’ve ordered them to take the lead in our next attack run. Come about and heave to for the Blistered Soul. She’s got the biggest rail canon. I’ll continue firing my energy weapons.”
It was just like when they were back at Academy and improvising maneuvers that the stuffy professors hated. Only this time nobody was grading them. This time it was for keeps. Either their plan worked or they would get slaughtered by the enemy starships.
“Good idea mate. Just like old times, eh?”
“Let’s put some of that youthful creativity to work, Sokol out,” Raider said.
The lead enemy starship had pulled back and was leaving orbit. Raider directed the attack on the remaining ship of equal size. It had moved into a lower orbit to protect the landing ships. Both the Kelley and the Sokol flanked the smaller Blistered Soul as they made their attack run. When the three ships were within the range of the rail gun, they all opened fire.
The energy weapons impacted first in a blinding display of power and deflection. Then the rocks hit with a jarring impact that severed the twin boomed head off the enemy starship in a secondary explosion that scattered debris everywhere.
Raider’s crew erupted in cheer as their main viewer showed the damaged starship. He sat back in his Captain’s chair and exhaled. The enemy ship was motionless after the explosion. The severed section that everyone assumed was the bridge, slowly lost altitude in the thin upper air of Prahran. It was swallowed up by glowing flames as friction heated it and gravity pulled it down.
The remaining hull lingered longer, held up by the massive stardrives. There were several stray shots from the main guns, but for the most part the ship was finished. Raider ordered another pass by the two Federation ships. With no shields, they were able to explode the main body with their energy weapons. Whoever remained alive on the ship was surely grateful for the quick and merciless death.
The other enemy starships were backing out of low orbit and moving into what could only be described as an attack formation. There were three of them remaining, a transport ship and two slightly smaller ships that Raider took for escorts of some kind.
“Bridge this is Control, we have incoming enemy fighters,” Devon’s voice announced over the bridge’s intercom. The main viewer switched to a side angle in time to see dozens of tiny Eight-fighters approaching over their port bow. Their tiny canons peppering the hull of the Sokol with explosive rounds.
“All fighters return to engage. I repeat, all fighters return to base and engage,” Devon called out.
Raider stepped down to the scanning station and watched helplessly as his fighters tried in vain to stop the tiny, green fighters with pointed black noses. It was over in minutes. Six Vickers fighters either damaged or destroyed by enemy guns. They listened to Devon’s voice over the intercom, trying in vain to get her fighters to maneuver against the agile enemy fighters.
Raider directed the Kelley and her rail gun ship to attack the remaining escort ships while he and his tactical officer convened for a discussion on the remaining large enemy starship heading for deep space. “Why do you think this one is moving away from the battle?”
“Perhaps they are turning tail and running home,” his tactical officer said.
“I don’t think so. I think he’s on a new mission and I don’t intend to let him get away.” Raider ordered the helmsman to pursue the fleeing enemy starship. Then he had engineering start the tunnel drives. “He’s heading in the direction of the Core. If they jump to the home worlds…,” he never finished the thought. “Scanning Officer, put the Core map on the main viewer please.”
The Core worlds were quiet. There were no longer any contacts moving between them. Nobody had ever seen shipping lanes so quiet before. The wheels of commerce had been ground to a halt across the six planets of the Core. Raider marveled at the lack of contacts, until he noticed one small ship. It was moving quickly towards Selene.
“Who is that?” he asked, pointing to the glowing contact.
The Scanning Officer was silent for a few minutes and then said, “Unknown transport. It’s not transmitting an ID code.”
Sasha moved to the Scanning station and looked over the man’s shoulders. She adjusted some controls and then turned to Raider. “I know this ship. It’s the Rashionu-sera.”
Raider looked confused. “A Tulian transport?”
“It was before we acquired it. It’s a pirate ship now.”
“Why are they heading for Selene?” he asked. He had to stop himself short of asking why they were ignoring the Federation no-fly zone. They were pirates, after all.
Sasha wrinkled her brow in thought. She remembered something about that ship, but it was not coming to her. Something about a cargo of rocks. Where had they been? Then it hit her.
“Captain Raider, that ship is full of silicate rocks and it’s chartered by some androids who were trying to leave Ocherva after the invasion.”
Raider did a double-take. “Chartered by androids?”
Sasha didn’t see what was so unusual. To a pirate anyone with cash was a customer.
“Wait. When do pirates take charters?” Raider asked.
“I don’t think Morgan wanted that ship in our group anymore. Its captain had a few screws loose. He probably didn’t mind if they left us all together.”
Raider looked back at the contact. “Right now it’s leading the enemy right to our home world.” He moved back to his command chair and sat down hard. There was no way anyone could stop it, short of a direct communication. But since it was a pirate ship it was not going to take directions from the Federation. Still, it was worth a try.
“Comm, send that ship an open hail.”
Raider slipped on his headset again and waited for a response. He had to alert Admiral Ganner next regardless of whether the ship responded.
“They are responding, sir,” the woman at Comm said.
“This is Captain Rik Raider of the SS Sokol. Please change your course away from Selene. Repeat, alter your course away from Selene, copy?”
The hatchway to the bridge from the lift opened and Devon entered. She looked defeated. Raider waved her over to his seat. She started to say something and he held up his hand for her to stop.
A burst of static followed by a man’s voice, weak and weary came through Raider’s headphones. “Federation Captain, this ship is under a charter for Selene as per Senator Constantine.”
Raider locked eyes with Devon and switched the audio to external speakers.
“Say again?” he asked.
“This ship is under orders from Senator Constantine. I was told to ignore any Federation no-fly zones, and deliver these rocks to Selene.”
Devon’s eyes got big. “Captain, I-” She was cut off by another curt wave from Raider.
“Rashionu-sera, please standby,” Raider motioned to Comm to cut the transmission.
“Why the hell would she be telling androids to bring rocks to Selene?” Raider was losing his temper. This was going from amusing to just plain bizarre. Lives were in the balance and this ship was compromising the safety of everyone on Selene.
Devon shrugged. She looked as confused as he was.
Sasha stepped forward. “Those androids are working for a Senator?”
“What androids?” Devon asked.
“Two androids from Ocherva chartered a ship to take a cargo of rocks to Selene. They claim to be working for your, for Senator Constantine.”
Devon’s confusion changed to a curious smile. “Was one of the android’s named Thirty-seven?”
Sasha shrugged. “It was black in color, that’s all I know.”
Devon’s smile faded. “Black, with a dent in its head, above the right temple?” She pointed to her own head.
Sasha nodded. “Yeah. That sounds like it.”
Devon swore. Raider was even more confused. “What the hell is going on here, Lieutenant?”
“That android is called Eighty-eight. It’s a wanted criminal on Ocherva. We’ve been trying to nab it for some time.” She stopped and thought a moment.
“Ask the ship if they have an android named Thirty-seven on board?”
Raider opened the channel again. “Rashionu-sera do you have an android with the number thirty-seven on board?”
Devon motioned to cut the audio then said, “That android belongs to me, or rather, my…” She lowered her voice so that only Raider could hear her. “Mother.”
“Captain, the lead enemy ship has departed the system. The others are still engaging the Kelley,” the Scanning Officer said.
Raider swore out loud. “Rashionu-sera proceed with your charter. Sokol out. Comm put me through to Admiral Ganner. Helm, prepare to tunnel back to Selene. You’re with me, LT. Sasha, you have the conn, get this ship to Selene. The crew knows what to do.”
Devon followed Raider into the private office off the bridge. “Captain, our fighters are defeated. Only one managed to make it aboard. Those green things tore us up.”
Raider took a seat before the communications gear. Devon sat down at his side. “I’m sorry. I know you were close with those pilots.”
Devon was becoming immune to death. Her face seemed to wear a perpetual frown, her eyes dulled by a faraway look. “We have three pilots and no planes.”
Raider put his head in a hand and rubbed his temple. “There are some fighters on Selene, mostly experimental. You and Allen get to the surface, find them and engage.”
“What do you know about these androids?” Raider asked.
“Just what I told you. One is a criminal and the other was my mother’s property. She sent it to Ocherva to look after her baby girl.”
Raider could see the disdain in her eyes about that. He looked away towards the communicator screen. It winked on and the Federation logo appeared. “Something’s going on and I’m tired of being left out of the loop.”
The video switched to Admiral Ganner’s face. The message was traveling through its own tiny communication tunnel and would sometimes waver as bits of it were lost in transit.
Raider didn’t waste time on formalities when his dander was up. “Admiral, what the hell is that transport doing in our no-fly zone?”
“Senator Constantine needs those rocks to create more Silicants, that’s all I know about it,” Ganner said. His face was unusually stoic.
“She’s leading the enemy to Selene, you do realize that sir?”
Ganner slowly nodded. It was clear he didn’t want to say more. Raider slammed his palm on the metal table. “Dammit Admiral, how could you let that happen?”
Ganner’s teeth were clenched as he spoke. “Captain, I’m ordering you to pursue the enemy and engage. I have a dozen civilian ships under my command ready to assist you.”
Raider knew the Admiral was not being frank on an open line for security reasons, but that only made it more difficult to accept. “Rail guns are the only effective weapon we’ve found. That coupled with combined attacks to the ship’s neck or stern. Their shields are impenetrable by our maser canons.”
“Acknowledged,” Ganner said.
Raider shook his head again. “Raider out.” He cut off the transmission and uttered a more vulgar curse.
Devon had watched the admiral closely and it looked to her like he was allowing things to happen for a reason. “Captain, I think he wants that ship to lure in the enemy.”
Raider looked askance at Devon.
“That would be treason.”
Devon shook her head. “No, not for him.”
Raider thought about it for a moment. “You may be right. The damage is already done, even though the ship won’t get to Selene until after the enemy does. It would be pointless for me to stop it now. Selene’s position has already been compromised.”
“How ironic that a war could be started by some androids on a mission for my mother.” Devon looked away and shook her head.
“Senator Constantine is more involved in this then you may realize,” Raider said.
Devon’s eyes slid back to meet her Captain’s. “What do you mean?”
Raider drew a breath and sat back. “She’s involved in the Silicant Rights movement. In fact, she’s probably more involved than any Federation government operative.”
Devon stared slack jawed at Raider.
“The Silicants didn’t just happen. They were part of a secret government operation to bring mobile AI’s to life. I don’t know much more than that. But I know your mother is deeply involved. Your android care taker was not sent to Ocherva to protect you. It was sent there to be converted into a Silicant. The black android on that freighter is an operative responsible for securing silicate used to make sentient androids.”
Devon could not believe what she was hearing. But it made sense to her and it explained so much of what had happened since she had arrived on Ocherva. “I caught it trying to get silicate rocks off the moon using local bandits. I didn’t understand why anyone would want to kill over a common element like silicate. Now I get it,” she said. Devon stood up and paced around the cramped room. “So Thirty-seven is a Silicant now?”
Raider hunched his shoulders. “I would have to assume, since it is with that black one.”
Devon whistled. “That would explain its behavior lately. I had no idea.”
Raider stood up and stretched. The ship was maneuvering into position for the tunnel jump, he could feel the low rumble of the positioning thrusters. “We’re getting ready to make the jump to Selene. Get down to the flight deck. Don’t discuss this with anyone.”
Raider left for the bridge and Devon headed for the flight deck.
Lots of interesting things going on in this chapter. This is where Devon becomes aware of her mother’s involvement in the Silicant Rights movement. We also get a healthy dose of space combat, Star Wars style. The starship names are a favorite bit of world building for me. I tried to make them interesting and yet familiar.
If you have read the short stories in Tales From Ocherva, Volume One, you will better understand Devon’s dismay when she learns about why Thirty-seven was sent to Ocherva. Those stories chronicle her time on the desert moon in Space Western style.