“Lord Kantor is the worst Votainion officer I have ever served. His blind pursuit of a mythological planet put his fleet, his starship and the success of his mission in jeopardy. Were he to return from the surface of the enemy home world alive, I would cut him down and carve him up slowly.”
- Personal logs of Commander Varco, VCF Krestor
Admiral Ganner’s starship was damaged beyond repair. It limped slowly along on maneuvering thrusters. The enemy starship leaked a dark red gas into space like the blood from a mortally wounded prey. The battle was nearing an end. But neither side seemed to have the ability to finish it.
Ganner’s bridge was filled with the acrid smell of electrical fires. Fire was a starship’s worst enemy as it consumed oxygen and destroyed equipment and people. In many cases he could order a compartment evacuated and then just breech it to space to extinguish the fires. But on the bridge, that was not an option.
“Admiral, incoming message from the Rashionu-sera,” the Comm Officer said. The main viewer was destroyed so the admiral pressed a button on his command chair for audio only.
“This is Admiral Ganner. Are you joining the fray, Captain?”
“This is Gareth. I’m carrying raw silicate rock and I’ve got enough momentum to make it hurt. Come about and lead the enemy ship to the following coordinates.” He rattled off a position in space not far from both combatants.
“Outstanding Rashionu-sera. Thanks for the assist.”
There was a pause and the pirate captain responded, “This one’s from one SOB to another.”
Ganner cracked a smile for the first time in hours. In times of desperation humans came together, no matter what walk of life they were from.
“Okay people, let’s lead this ship to the slaughterhouse,” Ganner ordered.
The Terrington limped along to the given coordinates, bringing the enemy ship with it. Both starships were barely space worthy anymore, yet neither Captain was about to give up the fight.
* * *
Varco pursued the enemy warship with dogged determination. He was not going to let it limp away into the black. He was going to finish it and hopefully it would break the will of the enemy to fight them. His crew had destroyed four starships including the one that had chased them from KV-01. It was a glorious day to be a Votainion.
“Any word from Lord Kantor?” he asked the Comm Station.
Varco knew he was not likely to hear from the Chief Strategist until he had positively identified the planet. Varco didn’t care if it was the home world or not, his ship was in no condition to leave or stay and fight much longer. If they did not finish off the enemy here and now he could not be sure that more warships wouldn’t eventually show up and destroy him. It was a bold move, but if they could destroy the enemy’s government and its fleet at the same time, perhaps they could be made to capitulate.
“Tactical, one final shot into their stern,” Varco ordered. “Helm, come about and head back to the planet as soon as we confirm the kill.”
The squat, dull green warship edged forward, its only working canon glowing as it readied for discharge. Tiny bits of rock started raining into the ship’s path and impacting the hull. It sounded like rain on a tin roof from inside the ship. Varco jumped the railing to the scanner station and tried to identify the source of the impacts. The short-range scanners had been taken out in the last attack. They were blind except for long-range contacts.
“It’s a meteor shower of some sort. Steer clear of it!”
The Helmsman pounded on his frozen controls. “I can’t sir! We don’t have the speed to maneuver!”
Varco indicated to the Helmsman to rotate the ship to absorb the most damage to their stern. The man understood the hand gesture and complied. The huge warship spun on its axis as fast it the maneuvering thrusters could move it.
The noise became unbearable as rocks impacting with tremendous velocity scrambled the outside of the Votainion cruiser. Varco grabbed a railing and held on until the shower passed.
As the sounds of thundering rock against metal subsided, Varco ordered them to come around again for the delayed kill shot. The underside and part of the bow of his warship was scrambled beyond recognition. But it had held together under the punishing impacts. Votainion warships were heavy and slow for a reason. They were well armored ships of war, capable of absorbing more punishment than anything they had yet encountered.
Everyone on the bridge were suddenly and violently knocked to their feet by a tremendous force that rocked the ship.
* * *
Kantor had found what looked like cave entrances near the top of the largest peak. He circled the mountain until he was able to find a place to set his starfighter down in the snow and ice. It would be a treacherous climb, but he could make it to the largest of the caves. His heart raced as he flared the KIV out and gently set it down on the mountain.
The engine was still winding down when he popped the canopy and pulled himself out of the narrow cockpit. A sound above captured his attention. It was another fighter. Not a KIV but something new. He put up his hand to his shield his eyes from the bright starlight reflecting off the ice. It was an enemy fighter.
Quickly he jumped free of the plane and ran to the rocky embankment that he needed to climb to reach the cave. The enemy fighter swooped down to observe him but did not fire on his KIV. Kantor ignored it. He had to get into that cave and find some kind of proof that this was Kerra-jorro. He didn’t know what that would be, exactly, only that he was sure he would find something.
The snow and cold made climbing difficult. The rise was bigger than it looked form above, but not impossible to scale. It was just going to take him some time. More time than he probably had.
* * *
Devon circled back around and decided to land next to the red starfighter. She could see the darkly dressed pilot climbing up to what looked the mouth of a large cave. It was hard for her to imagine what the pilot was doing on this barren mountaintop, but she relished the chance to find out.
The Trogen starfighter buffeted in the swirling winds as it settled on the frozen ground beside the alien fighter. Devon unstrapped herself and pulled off her helmet. She could just make out the other pilot’s form clearing the rise and heading into the cave. She climbed through the narrow door on the fighter’s port side and was immediately assaulted by a stiff icy wind. She pulled out her old leather Ranger jacket and put it on.
As she moved past the dark green starfighter she reached out to touch it. No shielding stopped her. Her hand trailed her along the leading edge of the wing. It felt just like the wreckage of the one back on Ocherva. The slightly rough texture was by now very familiar to her.
She started climbing the ridge, following the trail in the snow left by the alien pilot. It was easier for her to climb where he had climbed and she made quick work of it. Peeking over the top of the ridge, she didn’t see anyone looking for her. He must have heard her land. She had to be ready for a fight. She drew her sidearm and took it off safe.
* * *
Kantor found the cave drawings and immediately started tracing them on the wall with his gloved hands. They were indeed similar to the drawings on Voton, a simplistic cave dweller’s view of animal hunting and the life cycle. It was not hard to understand what the artist was trying to communicate. They were painted at a time in history when spoken language was not as sophisticated as these two-dimensional drawings. Kantor had studied the ancient cave art on Voton during his spiritual quest just after secondary school. He was better versed on the styles and techniques than most. He activated a recording device on his uniform and transmitted the images back to the ship in orbit.
Kantor took off his glove and rubbed the cold rock face along the back of a four-legged animal of some sort. The animals were all foreign to him. But he could tell that this one was large and perhaps fury. Exactly like the khars on Voton. Hunters had surrounded the khar with pointed sticks or spears of some kind. Every Votainion warrior appreciated a hunting society. It was but a quick leap of technology to transform a society from hunters to soldiers.
As he walked along the cave walls, the light from outside dimmed and it became harder to see the faint images. He stopped at a new scene that depicted a tribal gathering of some sort. There was a leader who held his arm wide above his sitting followers and was dressed in the skins of animals. There was an object of some sort hanging from a simple necklace. Kantor traced the design, no bigger than his own fingertip. It looked remarkably like an arrowhead pointed down with a bar across it.
Kantor smiled to himself. It was an early Vhotook, or Votainion symbol of long life. Of course it was not exactly like the ones drawn in the caves of Voton, but the similarity was striking. His heart raced for a moment. Could I be standing on the mythological home world of the Votainions?The source of all life in the galaxy, the cradle of my race? His skin crawled with goose flesh as the magnitude of it all overcame him.
He was home. This planet was Kerra-jorro!
Kantor’s eyes began to water and he fell to his knees before the sacred mural. He was the only modern Votainion to ever stand on the world where his race originated. The experience overwhelmed him. Images flooded his mind in a waking dream. He was seeing the past this time.
Primitive hominids of two species were warring on the grasslands in a fertile valley. Spears made from stone and wood that were used for killing prey animals, were being used on tribes that looked like the aliens of this world. The images were more intense and real than any of his previous visions. He had never seen the past before and was stunned by what he saw. His vision began to fade into clouds and swirling bits of matter as his legs weakened.
Another vision crystallized from the haze. It was of a desolate planet, or something that used to be a planet. It was familiar to him but at the same so unfamiliar. Burnt orange colored and surrounded by a metallic ring, the world was being excessively strip mined. He could have been seeing into the future, or perhaps across a great expanse of space to some distant part of the galaxy. Kantor was so absorbed in the vivid details of his waking vision that he did not hear the woman approach behind him until she was right on top of him.
* * *
Devon brought the butt of her pistol down as hard as she could on the back of the man’s head. She heard something crack but was unsure if it was her pistol or his head. He fell back to the floor at her feet, his hands reaching for a short metal blade attached to his belt.
Devon grabbed the short sword and pulled it out of its sheath. The shiny metal blade was slightly curved and had elaborate engravings near the handle. She threw it far out of reach and holstered her pistol. The man was dazed by the blow to his head and offered nothing in the way of self-defense. She could see his face clearly now. It was human in just about every way: heavy eyebrow ridge and deep-set eyes that were glassy. The deathly blue pallor of his skin was definitely inhuman. She pulled him up to his feet and shoved him against the wall knocking his head against the rock.
The man had scars across his eye socket and his left eye was a light gray color. This was the man she had seen on Ocherva. The man who had killed her best friend and then left before she could return the favor. There was nobody holding her back now. No Hap and no Trimble to talk her down. Her anger warmed her in the cold of the cave. She back slapped his face with her hand.
Blood started to trickle from the corner of his mouth. His eyes were rolling around in his head like marbles. He tried to push her away, but her strength was too much for him. Devon pulled a small handgun from her jacket and stuck it to the alien’s forehead. It was the alien’s own handgun. She yelled at the top her lungs at him.
“You killed everyone I knew on that damn moon! You destroyed my home world and now, you come here and try to take down the Federation? What are you? Where the hell did you come from?”
The man could not speak her language and said nothing. His mismatched eyes were still swimming from the heavy blow to the back of his head. His expression was dazed but not angry with her. He appeared to be drunk or high on drugs.
Devon pushed the tiny blaster barrel harder against his pronounced forehead. She wrapped a bare finger around its trigger. The rage inside her boiled over. Her finger slowly caressed the cold metal trigger. All she needed was some reason not to pull the trigger. Some hint that he regretted even meeting her. The man’s eyes slowly focused on his own gun. She knew he understood that it was his gun. He smiled, and it sealed his fate.
She pulled the trigger.
That final scene was a tough one to write. My hero basically commits murder. Sure she is at war, but this is a wounded an unarmed man. She finally unleashed her violent anger and now she’ll have to live with the result of it. It’s kind of unusual to kill off your lead bad guy, but now you see why I took up the POV of Varco.
Devon will have a shot, if you will, at redemption in this book so keep reading. But she will live with the affects of this trigger pull far into Book 2 and possibly even Book 3.
Alert readers who’ve read STARVEYORS will know what planet Kantor was having a vision of before Devon interrupted him.