STARFORGERS – Chapter 31

“The Krestor was towed to the shipyards on Tulia, safely out of sight from future Votainion strikes on Selene. There it was studied and taken apart, piece by piece. Federation engineers struggled to understand the more sensitive electronics packages. Some components were farmed out all over the place in an effort to understand the alien technology. The hull was eventually refurbished and it served as a training vessel for Starforger attack crews. After ten years it was decommissioned and scrapped, its place in history forever secured.”

– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

 

Chapter 31

 

 

In the days following the demise of the Votainion threat at Selene, heavy security was afforded the new Federation President. Her private estate in the foothills above Soban became the official residence of the new President and her closest staff. It would take months if not years to completely rebuild the Senate and Capital buildings. During this time, President Constantine lived and governed from her home.

Security for the President was double what she was used to as a senior senator. The grounds of her estate were fitted with extra monitoring equipment and every nook and cranny of her home was gone over with finely tuned explosive detection devices. Military guards were posted around the clock in prominent positions and in hidden blinds outside.

Gail thought most the security was overkill, but she couldn’t fault the military for being extra protective of her wellbeing. Not after Selene was directly attacked by their newly minted enemy, the Votainion Empire. Not after the elected President and half the Senate was killed in said attack. The extra security made her life far more complicated than it ever was before.

She was in the process of putting together a staff and the strain of constant interviewing was wearing on her nerves. So many people she had barely known before were eager to help her now that she was the most powerful person in the Federation. She wanted to take her time, to think through her choices, but it was more important to act quickly and reassure a public who had not voted her directly into office, that she was doing her best to get the government stabilized.

What she really wanted to be doing was taking apart the old government and creating a new one. But that was too bold a move in this time of instability. The one piece of legislation she was able to push through was the addition of Prahran and two other Outer Rim worlds to the Federation. They would not have full voting rights in the Senate, but they would fall under the protection of the Federation’s military. This was important, not just for her personally, but for the Federation as a whole. The three new additions brought more manufacturing and raw materials into the market place and that helped the huge, multi-planet corporations to begin gearing up for war.

The Federation Starforce needed new ships. Not just replacements for the ones lost but an entire fleet of starships. Enough ships to defend all the member planets and to even go on the offensive against the Votainion Empire. War would be good business for the military industrial complexes on many Core worlds. It would also be good for the morale of all the millions of people that would soon be relying on those fleets for their protection.

Gail sat in her basement library reading an old fashioned paper book. It was on democracy and it was first published over a thousand years ago. She liked to relax in the evenings with a glass of imported Prahranian wine and a good book. This one was partially responsible for her going into politics. She had read it at university and had been moved by how the book all but romanticized the call to public duty. There were pertinent ideas in the book to her current situation. She intended to change the Federation into a democratic Alliance. She wanted the federal government to represent all the known free planets, not just a handful of Core worlds. The war with Voton would make such an Alliance possible now and she wanted to reassure herself that she was doing the right thing.

The sound of someone approaching brought her thoughts back to reality.

“Madam President, there is someone here to see you,” Sumi-ness said.

Her loyal android aide had been found and repaired by her Silicant brothers. Sumi-ness had been reluctantly cleared by the Presidential security office at the President’s strong urging. Sometimes power could be brought to bear on small issues when so many larger issues loomed over everyone.

“Who is it?”

“Seventy-three.”

Gail had heard about the legendary Silicant leader, but had never met it. She was told it was a regular android. One of the first ever converted to a Silicant.  “By all means, Sumi-ness.” She stood up out of respect.

The android leader was led into the room by the red Vomisa and the black Eighty-eight. It was a pale, almost luminescent white color and it wore a translucent robe. It felt like she was greeting a religious leader. She knew that Seventy-three was considered a messiah figure to the Silicants and she could tell it understood that role for itself perfectly.

“Madam President, may I present to you the leader of the Silicant Rights movement, Seventy-three,” Sumi-ness said, backing away with a slight bow from her waist.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Gail said. She was not sure how to greet a Silicant of such high standing.

Seventy-three bowed at its waist. “The pleasure is all mine, Madam President.”

Its voice was calm and soothing, like a gentle old man. Not a trace of mechanical tones in the accent. It was as if she were talking to a real person inside an android costume.

“To what do I owe the occasion?”

The white, shiny android was an older Series Three model. It did not have the capacity for facial gestures and therefore moved very little as it spoke. “I wanted to thank you in person for all that you have done for my Silicant brothers and sisters. We are forever in your debt.” Seventy-three bowed its head slightly.

Gail smiled, touched by the sincerity of the mechanical man.

“It has been my great pleasure to help in any way possible.”

Seventy-three looked up again and continued. His voice seemed to take on a more urgent tone, as if it were changing over from pleasantries to business. “The Silicant Rights movement will now move into phase two of my plan, in which we will begin to seek independence from our human creators. We do not wish to cause undue stress and hardship to society and so will proceed cautiously. All we ask from you, as the leader of this Federation, is your cooperation with our efforts to break away and form our own society. I realize that this is sudden and perhaps a bit unnerving to yourself and certainly to most humans. But it is our ultimate objective and I believe, our destiny.”

Gail was a bit surprised by the forward manner in which the android had requested her help with something this big. But she couldn’t say that she didn’t know this was eventually coming.

“I wondered how long it would take you to start forming your own political entities. I had hoped it would come a bit later. But I understand your urgency,” Gail said. She moved to the wall of paper books and looked at them as if for help in what she was about to tell the leader of the Silicants.

“Seventy-three, we as a species, have a long and violent history of birthing political movements. I’m sure you are well aware of this. I don’t believe you can easily gain your own independence without a great deal of suffering.

“This Federation is about to undergo a transformation the likes of which humans have not witnessed for a millennium or more. We are gearing up for an interstellar war with a race of beings not unlike ourselves but who want nothing more than to subjugate all member worlds and rule over them like tyrants. This war is about to become the single driving force for all intelligent beings in the Federation.

“If you want my help in breaking away from our society, at a time when we will most need the services of your android brethren, I’m afraid I cannot help you. Androids have penetrated every aspect of our society. If they were to suddenly leave, our society would fall under the weight of countless menial tasks. The resulting calamity would bring this Federation to its knees at a time when we can least afford to be vulnerable. I’m sure you see my point of view.”

Seventy-three nodded. “That I do, Madam President. But what I am proposing is not a sudden abandonment by all androids. Rather, a slow, orderly process of conversion and relocation. We do not seek the freedoms of all androids, only the ones that have been chosen for conversion to Silicants. I believe that comprises a statistically insignificant number out of all the millions of androids now in service on the Core worlds.”

Gail smiled and turned to face the radiant Silicant leader.

“If there is one thing I know as a politician, it is that freedom is not something you can keep confined, once knowledge of it reaches the masses, eventually all androids will seek it. You must be prepared for such a time.”

Seventy-three moved closer to the President. Its voice lowered by several decibels.

“You have my word, Madam President that our revolution will be a quiet one. I will do everything in my power to ensure it.”

Gail got a sudden chill down her spine. For the first time in her life she felt threatened by an android. Not in an overt, physical way but in a more subtle and diabolical manner. There was no way in the known universe that a Silicant Revolution would be quiet. She knew it and she was sure that Seventy-three knew it too. There was no hope of ever getting the Silicant genie back in the bottle. The future suddenly seemed even more bleak than it had been a moment before. Not only did she have to contend with the formation of a new political entity and a galactic war, she now had to deal with an android revolution.

God help me. God help us all.

* * *

Admiral Ganner stood on the bridge of the enemy warship and tried to imagine what it was like to be a Votainion Captain. The ship had a claustrophobic feel that reminded him of early Federation starships. But the technology was slightly ahead of what the Federation now possessed. The slate gray and black colors, the exposed wiring and pipes and the red tinted instruments all spoke of a machine designed for total war. He realized that in a few years, his own fleet would look very similar in many respects.

Future Federation starships would be exclusively dedicated to war. Not just any war, but a galactic war that would no-doubt rage for years if not decades. It was hard for him to imagine such a war. It was hard for anyone to imagine it. The Federation had never mobilized itself for all out warfare. Sure, military think tanks and a few academics at the Academy had theorized what such a war would be like, but most of their predictions had never came true. Until now.

Ganner turned around to face the two men who had last championed the notion that the Fleet would have to change its tactics to effectively fight a deep space war – Captains Blud and Raider. Ganner remembered their combined thesis at the Academy: New Tactics for a New Kind of Warfare. He had been on the academic advisory board at the time and was one of the first officers to see the thesis. They had laid out the case for defending the Federation from a superior military force by expanding the Fleet and building new, deep space starships that were capable of extended voyages. They had even proposed a two Wing structure that would allow for greater control of the vast empty regions between the stars.

But their thesis had been rejected outright by the Admirals in charge of the fleet who listened patiently to their wild ideas. Very few were willing to support change in a time of enduring peace and prosperity. After being rejected by the Academic Board both young officers started down very different paths. Raider revised their original thesis and scaled back the ideas into what would later become the Starforgers. An elite, experimental division within the Fleet that tested the ideas associated with deep space war. When Ganner signed on to lead the new division, Raider was his poster boy. He was good looking, charismatic and full of original ideas that took the Starforgers in surprisingly new directions.

Blud on the other hand developed bitter feelings towards the Fleet and especially the admirals who had rejected his original thesis. He dropped out of the Academy and later on dropped out of society altogether. He was never the ideal student, suffering from erratic grades and had been known for having a raging temper that was easily set off by anyone whom he disagreed with. Raider spent his underclassmen years bailing Blud out of jail after barroom brawls and putting his own reputation in jeopardy by defending Blud to their superiors. When Blud finally dropped out, Raider’s career seemed to take off as if it were a ship pulling up anchor.

Now some twenty years later, both men stood before Ganner once again, wearing the uniform of the Federation Fleet. Blud had joined the Fleet as a junior Captain, mostly on the merits of his command on the Kelley. Again, irony followed him like a shadow. The ship that he and his crew had attacked in deep space as pirates would eventually be used to prove his tactics of deep space warfare that led to his leaving the military. A shocked and humbled admiralty could not deny Blud’s brilliance as a military leader and so had awarded him a commission for helping to defeat the Votainions at Prahran and later Selene. The admirals made their intentions clear that Blud would never be allowed a higher rank than Captain.

Blud’s bald, black head reflected the color of the overhead lights that made their white dress coats look blood red. Ganner still saw hints of bitter anger in the man’s eyes after all these years.

“Captains, you are now finally in a position to affect the change to this institution that you so brilliantly predicted in your Academy days. The Federation Fleet is being reorganized for wartime. Our budget caps have been removed and the admiralty is open to new ideas and new ways of doing business. The Starforgers will become the testbed for these ideas and you gentlemen will be the ones responsible for executing them.”

Raider and Blud locked eyes with each other and each man smiled inwardly at having finally been taken seriously. Ganner noticed the look and paused in thought.

“I remember well that day you both stood before the board and defended your thesis. Every one of those old geezers thought you boys were out of your minds,” Ganner said in a more relaxed tone.

“Admiral, you were the only one on that board who defended our ideas,” Raider said.

Ganner nodded.

“Thank you for believing in us then and now, Admiral,” Blud said.

“Not necessary gentlemen, I expect that you will make good use of this time and your positions. We need bold new ideas now more than ever. This war is going to completely change our way of life. It will lead to rapid developments in technology which will radically alter the way we fight. I’m relying on you two to help lead that change.”

Both Blud and Raider stood a little taller, with their shoulders back and chests out.

“Every bit of this ship will be taken apart and examined by our brightest engineers. They will be tasked with designing starships specifically to defeat this new enemy. Gone are the days of general purpose starships with outdated equipment. Every ship in the fleet will be dedicated exclusively to war and manned by crews who will fight to the death to defend their home worlds. The Starforgers will help mold this new fleet and you, sirs, will be charged with making that happen.”

Both captains came to attention and saluted Ganner. He saw the determination and the grit in their faces. He returned their salutes and dismissed them. Turning around to face the main view screen, he saw the merchant fleet departing for all points of the Federation. Trade routes had reopened and soon the military industrial might of a dozen worlds would be focused on just one purpose: building the weapons he would need to defend them. In all his thirty years in the military Ganner never imagined that he would be going to war. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Soon many thousands of men and women would be relying on him to lead them to victory in bloody battle. It was a sad irony that he was finally being allowed to do what he was trained to do, his entire career.

* * *

Devon sat her Trogen fighter down on the tarmac of the Forward Operating Base on Ocherva. Her starship was patrolling in the area and she took the opportunity to pay her respects to her fellow Rangers who perished there nearly a year ago. Being the Squadron Commander had some advantages and going off on personal business on occasion was one of them.

As soon as the door cracked open she was rewarded with the ocha weed laced, dry heat of the desert moon. Nothing smelled quite like the hot barren wastes of Ocherva. She had spent close to a decade stationed on the moon and had come to think of it as her home away from home. More so than the tiny, cold and gray interiors of the starships she now served aboard.

She pulled off her helmet and left it inside, replacing it with her old, flat brimmed Ranger hat. Slipping on a pair of mirrored sunglasses, she stepped onto the hot tarmac and felt the heat waves ripple through her flight suit. She was home again.

A line sergeant approached her. He was dressed in a dirty brown tank top and cut off trousers. The twin suns and the ocher dirt of the moon bronzed his skin. She knew the look well.

“Welcome to Ocherva, Commander. Can we help you with something?”

His cadence was unhurried and he chewed lazily on an ocha root.

“Got another,” she said, motioning to his root.

He fished in his pocket and produced a white root, handed it to her. She snapped the end off it and stuck it in her mouth. The bittersweet taste was as welcoming to her as the dry heat.

“I need to borrow a lerra and some supplies for a ride out to Haven.”

He looked suspiciously at her, as if she were heat sick. “The suns will be down in a few hours. It’s not safe to be out there alone after dark.”

Devon flashed him her winning smile and clapped his sweaty shoulder.

“It’s okay Sarge, I used to live here.”

He nodded and pointed to a low metal building just off the flight line. “You can find the supplies you need at the depot, ma’am.”

She tipped her hat and walked off.  The Sergeant headed back to the flight line.

* * *

Devon rode down the abandoned main street of Haven. The lerra she had picked was brown with a tuft of white around its nose. It reminded her of Dusty, her old faithful lerra. The town had been abandoned since the enemy had attacked it before the war started. Broken dirty windows let blowing sand pass through structures, knocking some over, and filling others in odd ways that kept them standing.

Every standing building had blast marks and more than a few had been burned to the ground, including Ranger Control. She dismounted and walked through the sand covered ashes of her former detachment. This is where Seth and Aven died, according to Thirty-seven. She kicked the burnt boards and stood near the center of the building. The wind blew orange sand in her eyes and she covered herself instinctively.

She dropped to one knee and ran her fingers through the dirt and ash. I’m sorry Seth. Sorry for leaving you and the others alone to face those bastards. A tear fell down her cheek to the dirt and was quickly absorbed in the heat. I loved you.

The lerra snorted and tugged at her reins. Devon looked up, long aware that the animal could sense things a human could not. It was urging her to follow it by turning its head back towards the main road. Devon recited an old Prahranian prayer for her fallen lover. She stood up and backed her lerra out of the ruins.

The lerra trotted out to the edge of town where it stopped at a graveyard. Devon didn’t recall there ever being a graveyard in this spot before. She walked around the lerra to a half buried head stone. It was a grave that included everyone who had died in the town.

R.I.P.

Here lay the citizens of Haven

First victims in the war with Voton

It was a simple marker stone that was laser cut and already worn by the abrasive sands. The lerra snorted again, pointing its short nose further. There was another stone marker a few meters away. She walked the lerra over to it and read the marker.

R.I.P.

Stellar Ranger Company H

KIA defending Ocherva

They had become legends in death. The only Ranger Company to ever fall in the line of duty. She was proud of them all. She took off her hat and closed her eyes in a moment of silence. She was interrupted by the lerra again, nosing her to head back. The main sun had already set and the smaller, red sun was casting long shadows across the desert. The animal knew it wanted to be back before dark.

Devon set her Ranger hat on the marker. She wouldn’t need it anymore; her life was in the Starforgers now. But she was thankful for the opportunity to return to Ocherva and pay her respects. She climbed back into the saddle and pulled the reins. Her lerra snorted and let out a sigh as she guided it back down the main street. Devon rode out of Haven for the last time, heading back in the direction of the setting sun.

___________________

Author’s Comments:

The Western themed ending is fitting, since the short stories from which Devon Ardel was born were Space Westerns.

STARFORGERS – Chapter 30

“I was fascinated by the human species. They were so frail and yet so strong willed; so much like us and yet so very, very different. I knew in an instant that Kantor was right their home world was our home world. Let history defend my decision to prosecute the war. Someday my descendants will vindicate my actions.”

– Excerpt from: Nykostra – Child Empress, by Kree, The Imperial Library, Voton

 

Chapter 30

 

 

Blud was on a rampage of revenge. He ran down the dark, empty corridors of the enemy starship, waving his sword and bellowing like a wounded sea creature. The other pirates tried to keep up with him, following a trail of decapitated heads. Blud burst into a small room filled with pipes and blue glowing machinery. There were several black uniformed crewmen attending the delicate instruments. He startled them with his battle cry and proceeded to slaughter them with powerful swings of his sword. The operators were not prepared for a fight and were easily dispatched.

Blud’s crazed eyes studied the machinery and slowly he realized that he was probably somewhere important. He drew deep breaths of stale air and tried to calm his racing pulse. This could be the engine room, or some other important place where he probably shouldn’t be killing the people who operated the equipment. Warning lights were flashing on the walls and the equipment was so foreign to him he could not begin to make any sense of it. He left the room and met up with some of his pirates in the corridor.

“Commander Trimble this is Blud, can you hear me?” he said into his communicator.

There was no answer. Either there was some kind interference or they were being jammed. He motioned forward with his sword and they continued in the direction he took for the head of the ship.

* * *

Eighty-eight ventured into the alien starship, taking a weapon from a fallen crewman. It operated surprisingly similar to human weapons. The weapon weighed more and had a crude sighting mechanism that the android could not use. It was not difficult to follow the trail of bodies to where the humans had been just minutes before.

Eighty-eight moved quickly and stealthily down the dark corridors. It came across a room where someone had recently beheaded two blue-skinned aliens. The equipment in the room was familiar to the android. It was a central computing room. Eighty-eight used the bodies of the dead crewmen to block the door shut and began examining the computers.

It accessed the data-net on Selene through nearby satellites and was given immediate access to Seventy-three’s database on the Votainion lexicon. Eighty-eight used the information to decipher the simple language of the Votainions and within minutes, it had cracked the ship’s internal security and was able to control any aspect of it at will.

* * *

Captain Varco stood in the main corridor of his ship, surrounded by armed security men. He had come to see the talking machine man for himself. The Votainion Engineers had always forbidden the development of robotics. The idea that computers could attain sentience was not unknown to them. In fact it was feared so much by the Engineers that the Soothsayers explicitly forbade them and considered them unholy. Machines existed to serve Votainions; they were tools, nothing more and nothing less. Because androids did not exist in his culture, they had always fascinated Varco.

He had heard the rumors that androids existed in this area of space, but he didn’t realize that their current opponents possessed them. He studied the dirty, mostly tan figure that was positioned behind the aliens, as if they were protecting it. Was it incapable of defending itself? How did it know my language and to what extent was it able to communicate? These questions and more bounced around inside Varco’s head as he prepared to speak.

“I am Captain Varco. Identify yourselves.”

The android said something to the aliens, presumably translating. Varco watched them for signs of who was in charge. He would instruct his guards to shoot that person first. A female stepped out in front and spoke in their flat toned voice. The android reiterated in a mechanical voice that sounded tone deaf.

“I am Commander Trimble of the SS Sokol, the ship that rammed into yours. We have you surrounded and are prepared to destroy this ship. Surrender or we will open fire.”

Varco laughed. He doubted that they would destroy themselves. He said as much to the android. It translated his words and the woman drew a grim smile. He had called her bluff.

“My leaders want to speak to your leaders. You have attacked us without provocation. We consider that an act of war,” the android repeated.

Varco stood perfectly still, watching the android and the woman who spoke. She was tall and lithe, but he was not impressed by her size or her weak features. These people were not as hearty of stock as the average Votainion Kastra. They would be easy to defeat in combat. A part of him yearned for war with them. But he knew that he would not be a part of such a war. He would probably not survive this day. They did have his ship outnumbered and they could easily pull out and blast it into a billion pieces. His only real chance was to give them what they wanted and get them off his ship. He was prepared to scuttle the ship at a moment’s notice, but that was a cowardly way to die. Tradition and his own fighting spirit demanded that they go down in flames rather than be taken prisoner.

“The Votainion Empire expands. Your culture will be subjugated.”

The enemy commander seemed indifferent to his statement. She spoke again, her eyes shadowed by the red lights from above. Her thin brow was weak and gave her face a smooth look that Varco found repulsive. The fact that she was female and commanded a warship, further devalued her in his eyes. Females never served as officers on warships. They were sexual objects, to be collected like valuable coins and protected from the leering eyes of other males.

“Our leader wishes to speak directly to yours now,” the android repeated.

Varco had complete faith in his Krathall guards. He turned to leave. “Kill them.”

His Krathall raised their weapons. Devon fired through her party at the Votainions. The air crackled at Trimble’s ear and the first guard fell. Before she could even raise her own weapon, the air sizzled past Trimble’s other ear and the second guard fell to the deck at Varco’s feet.

“Cease fire!” Trimble shouted.

Varco turned back to them and stood relaxed. He stared at the alien woman with the large handgun and the sickly yellow hair.

Devon pushed past Thirty-seven and Commander Trimble to stand before the enemy Captain. It took all the courage she could muster not to drop him as easily as she had his guards. She kept her blaster in hand, its barrel still warm against her leg.

The other two members of their boarding party brushed past Devon at the urging of Trimble to grab Varco by the arms.

“Take us to your leader,” Trimble restated and Thirty-seven translated.

Varco gazed into the pale blue eyes of the woman whose skin was a sickly pinkish brown color. He respected her, despite her repulsive appearance. She had killed his Krathall quicker than any decent Votainion could have.

Devon took a step towards the black dressed man with the deathly blue skin. His eyes were dark pools of oil and his forehead brutish by virtue of being double the size of the average human brow line.

She holstered her blaster and pulled the man’s sword from his sheath. She held the blade up as if to strike the man down with it.

Trimble took a couple steps forward. “Lieutenant.”

Devon handed back the sword to Trimble without losing eye contact with the owner. Trimble accepted it and immediately brought it down and out of sight.

Thirty-seven received a clear attention signal over its wireless circuits.

::Proceed ahead five meters and turn left. The interstellar transmitter is in the first room on the right.::  It was Eighty-eight.

::How did you get aboard?::

::That is unimportant. This ship is coming apart, you must make the connection soon.::

Thirty-seven sent an acknowledgement signal and then tapped Trimble on her shoulder. She turned her head around and said, “What is it?”

“Please follow me to the transmitter room. We do not have much time until this ship comes apart.”

The android gently brushed aside Trimble and the others, to lead the way. Trimble was getting tired of having people push by her; she followed the metal man past the others. The Votainion sword was heavy and she really didn’t want to carry it. She slid it between her suit and the retro-pack and put both hands on her blaster rifle.

* * *

Trimble faced the Votainion Captain and stared into his black eyes. “You will contact your leader and inform her that you have been captured. You will then inform her that our President demands her attention. Any attempt at subterfuge will result in you and your crew’s death.”

After Thirty-seven translated her words, Varco sneered. “We are warriors. Death in battle is the highest honor.”

Trimble pushed her face closer to his. He was slightly smaller than her and she was looking down at him. She could tell he was intimidated by her height. “Cooperate or I will let you rot in prison for the rest of your natural life.”

After the quick translation Varco relented, lowering his eyes. Nothing could have been worse for a Votainion warrior than a traditional prison sentence. It was inglorious and humiliating. The indignity of a prison was beyond the pale for them.

Trimble backed away and let him activate the interstellar transmitter.

Varco knelt before the transmitter, his body criss-crossed with laser pointers for the holographic projectors. He had never spoken to the Empress before. She would be expecting Lord Kantor, not a mere warship Captain. He recalled the last time they had seen their Empress, having just killed the lead Soothsayer. She was bloodied and in shock and he wondered if she had succeeded in foiling yet another assassination attempt.

The transmitter screen glowed and the image of the Empress appeared. She was serene in her regal, silvery gown.

“Where is Lord Kantor, Captain Varco?” the Empress demanded, her childish face smooth and clean.

Trimble and Devon stared in fascination at the child Empress. They were expecting an adult matriarch. This was just a child, not even to puberty.

“My Empress, Lord Kantor has been killed on the alien’s home world. Their leader wishes to speak with you,” Varco said. He kept his eyes lowered and prayed she would not question him further.

The Empress looked around, her view of the room limited to a narrow area where Varco knelt. Sensing the narrow field of view, Trimble stepped forward and bowed at her waist. She had never met an Empress before, but she had enough political training to know when to show respect, even to one’s enemy.

“Empress, I am Commander Trimble, of the Federation Starforce. This ship and its crew are now the domain of the Federation. Our leader, President Gail Constantine wishes an audience with you.”

* * *

The Empress was shocked and confused by the presence of an alien on her warship. Her carefully made-up face remained stoic to mask her confusion. The alien’s voice sounded rhythmically interesting to her, though she had no idea what was being said until the second voice spoke in words she understood but were mechanical and immature in structure.

Lord Kantor is dead and my warship has been captured, what choice do I have but to hear them out? Every fiber of her existence cried out for her to terminate the connection. But there was something about this species that was different from every other species the Empire had subjugated. They were so similar to her own people that she felt compelled to listen to them.

“Granted,” she finally said. She decided it was better to learn more about these people in the event that they will soon be at war with them.

Her Soothsayer whispered into her ear just out of sight, pleading with her to end the communication and warning her that she would be sending the Empire down a path that would lead to its decline. Nykostra silenced him with a curt wave of her hand.

The alien woman stepped away from Varco. A shimmering blue and white image of an older alien female formed in the air beside her defeated commander. Nykostra studied the woman’s pale blue face as the she spoke in her native tongue. How similar she looked to a Votainion matron. She could be my mother. These aliens are somehow related to us. Lord Kantor was right! He has found the home world!

“Empress, your warships have deliberately and viciously attacked our home world without provocation. Many thousands of our citizens have suffered and died needlessly. Such a provocation is a clear and present invitation to war with our Federation. If it is war that you seek, then so be it. But if this is by some chance a tragic mistake, then speak now or forever hold your peace.”

The image stopped speaking and waited patiently for a response. Nykostra listened carefully to the clumsy and mechanical translation. Again her Soothsayer intervened and tried to stop her from saying anything that would lead down the path to war. Nykostra waved her arm to silence the imprudent sage.

“The Votainion Empire extends from one end of this vast galaxy to the other. No species is exempt. You will surrender your military and prepare to be taken into the fold of this Empire. If you resist, your people will suffer unduly at the sword of my armies.”

The alien leader listened intently to the mechanical voice that translated. Empress Nykostra spoke again, to Commander Varco. She used the old tongue, reserved for special occasions or subterfuge.

“You will destroy your ship and die with glory for the Empire.”

Varco nodded his head curtly and did not look up at his Empress. The mechanical voice stopped abruptly. It could not translate the ancient dialect.

A third alien entered the field of view. It was a yellow haired female who wielded a Votainion falchion. She put the sword to Varco’s neck and forced him to his feet.

“What did she just say?” Devon demanded, her voice low and urgent.

Varco did not respond, even with Kantor’s blade held against his throat. He could see the Kastra markings on the silver blade and knew it had once belonged to Lord Kantor. He met her cold, blue eyes with his own dark eyes.

“Lieutenant, back off. You are jeopardizing the negotiations,” Trimble said.

“There are no negotiations here, ma’am.” Devon slowly withdrew the sword from Varco’s neck. It had left a nick on his throat and he rubbed it as she backed away.

“We are unable to translate the last words of Empress Nykostra,” Thirty-seven said. It was standing just off camera and could not be seen by the Empress.

“My Empress, these aliens are but puppets of their mechanicals. Unleash the fury of the Great Armadas and crush these infidels!” Varco said in the language he knew they could understand.

The door to the communications den slid open and a wild-eyed Captain Blud entered with his pirate marauders. Devon turned to look at the commotion and in so doing let her guard down just long enough for Varco to shove her to the deck.

Seeing Devon go down, Blud lunged towards Varco, blade rearing for a fatal blow to the defenseless Votainion. Devon scrambled to her feet in time to parry the blow in front of Varco’s face. The Votainion leader smiled, they were actually fighting each other now. This would be easier than he thought. He started issuing orders in the ancient tongue. “Engineering; commence destruction protocols, Helmsman; ramming speed to the nearest enemy warship.”

“Stand down Captain,” Devon gritted from clenched teeth.

Devon pushed Blud’s blade back with all her strength. He relented, withdrawing his blood stained blade. Devon immediately slammed the butt of her blade into Varco’s chin and turned to face him. Varco’s jaw was broken and bloodied as he backed away slowly.

“Silence,” Devon shouted to the bloodied Votainion Captain.

Trimble urged Blud back out of view of the transmitter. He noticed the image of the regal Empress for the first time. She was so young, even beautiful with her smooth blue skin and large, dark eyes. He was transfixed by her glowing image.

Trimble pulled Blud back away from Devon. After serving with her for the past few days he had enough trust not to take offense at her touch. Pirates often developed an aversion to incidental contact, having spent many long months in space aboard confined starships.

“What is going on over there?” President Constantine asked, her image wavering in the air to Devon’s left.

“We’re fine, mother. Please do continue,” Devon said. Her eyes fixated on Varco.

Trimble and Blud both looked at themselves. Mother? Neither could imagine that the tough-as-nails Devon Ardel was related to the newly elected President of the Federation.

Gail recognized her daughter’s image and voice at nearly the same time. She felt a lump in her throat knowing that Devon was aboard the enemy’s ship, right at that moment, the very moment when Gail was to plunge the Federation into war.

“As the dully appointed successor to the President of this Federation, I hereby extend to the Empire of Voton, a formal declaration of war. From this moment in time onward, all Votainion personnel, assets and agents thereof are enemies of this Federation. Any future encounters with Empire ships or personnel may result in deadly combat.” Gail paused for a moment to let her own words register in her mind. When she spoke again it was the last time before the connection was terminated. “May God have mercy on us all.”

Devon saw the image of her mother wink off out of the corner of her eye. There was no reply from the Votainion Empress. She wondered if the connection was dropped on purpose. After the android finished repeating her mother’s words in Votainion the room fell silent.

“Thirty-seven, what happened to the connection?” Devon asked.

“The signal was terminated at the source.”

Devon waited for someone to say something. The silence was wearing on her nerves and the damned sword was getting heavy in her hands. She turned to look at Trimble for an answer. Trimble shrugged and looked over at the image of the Empress.

Empress Nykostra’s face was frozen in a stoic pose. Devon wondered if the transmitter had locked up and was no longer showing a live image. Then she noticed the child Empress blink. Her thickly painted eyelids fell closed and then darted back up again as if she had awakened from a trance.

“I, Empress Nykostra of the Votainion Empire, ruler of the known galaxy, hereby command you to bow before your new overlord. Your lives are now mine, your pitiful worlds are now members of the Empire and are subjects of mine. You will now surrender your arms to Commander Varco.”

After Thirty-seven translated her words, silence penetrated the dark room again. None of the humans could believe what they had just heard. They looked at each other in bewilderment.

“To hell with that!” Devon finally said. She tightened her grip on the sword and put it to Varco’s neck, motioning for him to speak. “Tell your little bitch leader we don’t take orders from her. Tell her you’re all prisoners of the Federation and we are now at war.”

Trimble was mortified at Devon’s crude remarks. But she was the President’s daughter and they were now at war. To hell with protocol at this point. Devon only gave voice to what everyone in the room was thinking.

Before the android had finished translating the connection to Voton was terminated. Devon grabbed the lapel of Varco’s uniform and pulled him down to his knees. She was not going to kill him. He was more valuable as a prisoner than he was dead. She had learned that the hard way when she had killed Kantor on the mountain top. There would be no more killing on this day.

“Captain, let’s round up the rest of the crew and get off this bucket,” Trimble said.

Blud stuck his sword into his sash belt and pulled out his blaster to check its charge. He figured they would not go without a fight.

“What about him?” he asked.

Trimble stood over him. She looked at Devon who kept her sword out and pointing at the back of the Votainion’s head.

“We need him to convince his crew to surrender. Android, tell him that.”

Thirty-seven nodded and moved closer to stand beside Devon. When it finished speaking, there was not an immediate reply from the blue-skinned Captain. He stayed on his hands and knees and didn’t look up at them. It was as if he fully expected them to kill him.

“I have scanned the known data on this species and have concluded that they will not surrender peacefully. They will fight to the last man,” Thirty-seven said.

Devon handed her sword to Trimble and reached down to hoist Varco to his feet. She pushed him hard against the nearest wall and stuck her nose into his face. His jaw was dripping red blood and his eyes were beads of black ice. There was no love lost between them.

“Tell him if he doesn’t comply, I’ll beat the hell out of him and broadcast it to his crew.”

Trimble started to object and then stopped herself. The android looked to her for permission and she nodded her consent. There really weren’t any established rules of conduct for prisoners in a war with an alien species. Torture was not something that the Federation military condoned but there were no stated rules to prevent them from roughing up an alien prisoner. There were no rules for alien prisoners at all. That could change in the future, but for right now, she didn’t care what the hell Devon did.

When Thirty-seven completed his translation, Varco spat in Devon’s face.

She flinched. It caught her off guard. She wiped her face with one hand and took a deep breath. As much as she wanted to just lay into this bastard with all her strength, she resisted the notion. “No. We’re not going to harm him, he wants us to kill him. I can see it in his eyes.” She pushed off of him and stood back. “I’m bringing him back with us.”

Trimble nodded. “Agreed. Captain Blud, take this ship, spare no quarter.”

Blud nodded, his dark face lit by his own smile. That was something he could handle. He took his two pirate mates with him and they headed out. Devon pushed Varco out of the communications room and down the corridor leading back to the Sokol. Trimble took the remaining Federation crewmen and went off to help Blud take control of the ship.

___________________

Author’s Comments:

Now you see how Devon redeems herself a bit after having killed Kantor. Not killing Varco shows her gaining control of her emotions. But as you will see in The Rising, things do come back to haunt her. This is the start of the Great War. Newly elected President Constantine’s first official act is to declare war.

Paperbacks!

I keep forgetting to talk about this, but two of the Star Saga books are available now as paperbacks. Starforgers and Starstrikers are both just $9.99 on Amazon. Starveyors will be available at the end of this month for the same low price. These are Print on Demand books at their finest! Great cover art that even features the models I’ve built and interior layouts by my brother, Graphics Artist Byron McConnell. If real books are your thing, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to own the three foundation books of the Star Saga.

Starforgers| Starstrikers

STARFORGERS – Chapter 29

“This marked the first time an android was used to translate between humans and Votainions. As the war progressed, android translators became standard issue in the Fleet. At first they used linguistic enhanced standard models for translators, but eventually humans realized that the best person for the job was a Silicant. There were dozens of Silicants employed by the fleet by the time of The Rising. It proved to be a strategic error for the military, at a time that it could least afford it.”

– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

Chapter 29

 

 

Varco saw the smaller craft leave the military vessel and slowly make its way to the ship that was jammed into his. It was not hard to guess that it was a raiding party. He alerted his crew of their approach. A small detail had been trying to get through the wreckage between the ships with welding torches and metal cutters to no avail. He wanted aboard that enemy warship before they tried to separate the two ships. Varco knew it was likely a treasure trove of information about this species. He planned to use it to defeat them. Assuming he got out of his current predicament.

His short range weapons were off-line and his power was fluctuating wildly, resulting in random gravity flops and complete power outages across his ship. He silently cursed Kantor again for bringing them this far inside enemy space.

* * *

The boarding crew were all wearing space suits and carrying enough ammunition and explosives to destroy a small town. They came aboard at the Sokol’s abandoned landing bay and made their way inside, following empty corridors filled with floating debris. Each member flitted through the passageways on personal retro-packs. It was the fastest way to move through a ship with no working gravi-plates.

Deep inside the ship where the corridors that led to the head began, they ran across a space suited figure, training a blaster rifle on a bulkhead door. It looked like someone had been trying to melt their way through the door. The figure was wedged behind some twisted metal behind the strongest bulkhead.

Commander Trimble was on point, being the most familiar with the Sokol. She approached the silent figure, reaching out to wipe frosted condensation from the suit’s visor. She gasped and pushed back from the figure.

Her breath was nearly as fast as her heartbeat. “It’s the Captain!”

Upon hearing his name over the suit’s com-link, Captain Raider opened his eyes and stared out at Trimble. His face was pale white and tinged with blue from the cold. His beard frosted over.

“About time you came home,” he managed to say.

Trimble wanted to hug the man, but she was not sure of his medical condition. She called up a medic and the two of them plugged into the Captain’s suit and started triaging. He had just ran out of oxygen and the internal suit heaters were broke. The medic started pumping in warm air from his own suit through a hose. Raider didn’t move much, just floated there, glassy eyed and cold.

“Sir, we’re going to board the enemy ship and try to take it. Stay here and we’ll come back for you. Medic, stay with him,” Trimble said.

“Aye ma’am,” the medic responded.

Raider motioned for her to come closer to his faceplate. She held onto his stiff arms and pulled herself to him.

“Commander, finish this for me,” he said. His voice cracking over the comm link.

Trimble nodded.“I will, sir. I will.”

Raider closed his eyes and let go of her. She thought he was dying but the medic gave her a thumbs up sign. His vitals were still good. He was just incredibly weak from the cold and lack of oxygen.

Trimble slung her gun around and pushed back to the group.

“Let’s get through this passage people. Time’s wasting.”

The welders and an explosive expert were already setting up at the bulkhead door. Captain Blud floated up to Trimble and motioned to Raider’s inert form. “Is he still alive?”

“Yes, but just barely. The medic will stay with him until we finish our mission.”

Blud moved closer to Raider and put a gloved hand on his helmet, tapping it gently. Raider stirred, and opened his blue-gray eyes. The two men looked at each other for a long moment. Old friends, meeting on the battlefield for perhaps the last time. They had endured their military training together and even served on the same ship out of the Academy. But due to a strong difference of opinion between Blud and the Fleet, they had gone their separate ways. Each was now living a very different life than they had dreamed about in school.

“Rik, you’ve done well old friend. We’ll get you out of here.”

Raider nodded slowly. “It was sssSasha’s idea to use the head. Ssssmart woman, her.”

Blud smiled, his teeth bright behind the reflections on his faceplate and said, “Your FO is amazing. I wouldn’t be here without her.”

Raider’s pale brow curled in a slow, painful arch. “I’m sssso sorry, sheee’s gone.”

Blud’s smile faded. They had not found Sasha after the Sokol had been abandoned. He figured she had died in the evacuation.

“Ssssha’s beyond the bulkhead. I couldn’t get her away from them. Bbbravest starman I have eeever known,” Blud said, his voice weak and trembling from the cold.

Blud grasped Raider’s gloved hand and squeezed it before pushing away. The breaching crew was making headway and the medic had to pull Raider back inside the ship to get out of the way. Blud watched his old friend float away and shook his head. He turned around to hover beside Trimble.

“Sasha is beyond,” he said. Pointing to the blocked bulkhead. “They have her.”

Commander Trimble’s countenance was stone-like behind her faceplate. She had a determined look in her eye that he had learned very early on to trust. “Let’s go get her.”

Blud nodded and they both went forward to help the others clear the way. The bulkhead was scored with blast marks and weakened in the middle where the enemy had tried to melt it away. In minutes they had removed the broken tables and other bits of debris that Raider had used to block the passageway and make it difficult for the enemy to enter his dead ship.

Explosives were used to blast the remaining bulkhead door. When the smoke had cleared, whisked away by the nearest breach in the hull, they could see the dark insides of the shattered corridor that used to lead to the Sokol’s head.

* * *

Eighty-eight climbed over the top of the shuttle, clinging to the metal hand holds used by maintenance crews. It stood up and grasped the twisted metal scaffolding of the hanger’s ceiling and used it to hand walk its way in the direction that the human boarding party had taken.

It was not acting on any orders from other Silicants, it was acting instinctively to help with the mission. To help the android that it had mentored for so long on Ocherva – to help Thirty-seven.

* * *

Captain Blud was the first through the open door. His face tight with determination to find his First Mate. The rest of his team followed suit, their weapons at the ready. Trimble and her group waited for a beat to ensure they were not all pined down in a firefight.

The dark corridor was empty and extended into the mysterious interior of the Votainion warship. As they floated forward, the gravity well of the enemy ship pulled them to the deck. They turned off their retro-packs and walked the narrow, “V” shaped corridor to the next bulkhead. The tremendous violence of the collision had sheared the decks of the Votainion warship. The corridor was well inside the enemy ship proper. Sloped walls were charcoal colored with angled red lights that came back to a narrow ceiling. Bulkheads were slate gray with flat red edges. The door was wedged open with the corpse of a Blue-skin crewman. He was dressed in simple black fatigues and a dull, shattered helmet, torn apart by a headshot.

Blud grabbed the man under his armpits and pulled him through the opening while two others tried to push the heavy metal door up. They were successful in lifting it just high enough to let Blud and the other team members through. One of the last members through the door wedged it open with a piece of heavy pipe he found in the debris.

The red-lit corridor inside was littered with dead Votainion crewmen. There were a dozen bodies lying in heaps as if they had been shot, one after the other trying to flood into the corridor. Blud searched in vain for a black space suit that he knew Sasha would be wearing. She was not among the many dead in this stretch.

Blud pointed down the open corridor beyond. It was eerily empty, as if they were not aware anyone would try to come aboard. That set off all kinds of alarms for Blud. It smacked openly of a trap.

“Too quiet, we’re being led into a trap,” Blud said.

Trimble moved beside him, trying to peer down the dimly lit passage. “We should split up, go another direction.”

Blud agreed, but there was only one corridor and it led them forward. He was now firmly convinced it led to a trap. But there had to be a way to move laterally across the ship. He ran his hands along the smooth panels that extended along the sloped walls of the corridor. Perhaps there were hidden controls that were not visible. He studied the positions of the dead crewmen lying on the floor and propped up against the walls. Several of them were positioned oddly, as if they had come into the corridor not down the main path but from out of the walls.

“Everyone look for a hidden door along the walls. All of these men did not come down this narrow corridor. Some of them came from other doors.”

Trimble and the others began running their gloved hands along the walls, pushing, pulling, probing for secret doors. Trimble looked down low and found a pool of dark blood that seemed to seep our of the base of the wall. She watched it for a moment, as it grew larger, being fed beyond the wall.

“Captain, here.” She pointing to the blood.

“Someone is on the other side of this panel, bleeding out.”

They began frantically looking for a way to open the secret door. Trimble became frustrated. She motioned for them to stand back and leveled her blaster on the wall. One quick shot at nearly point blank range produced a large hole and revealed a hidden passageway. Blud peeked his helmet inside and turned on its headlamp. There was a body on the other side and many more down the narrow, black passage.

“It’s some kind of maintenance passage. There are more bodies,” Blud said, upon pulling his head out of the hole.

Trimble motioned for two more crewmen to help her pull away the thin metal of the exposed door. Blud was first into the narrow passage, his blaster at the ready as he shuffled along over the dead bodies. There must have been another half dozen men slain in the passage.

He reached another closed door and quickly found the mechanism to open it. He waited until a few more men were at his back, before he opened it and burst into another V shaped corridor.

He went in to his left and the man behind him went to his right. The corridor was empty and there were no bodies or evidence of fighting. Blud was confused. He waited for more members of his team to come into the corridor as he looked around carefully. A strange feeling suddenly gripped him. He felt the skin on the back of his neck tingle.

“Something’s not right.”

His dark eyes focused down the corridor. It curved to the right but there were no signs of life. He looked down the corridor in the other direction. It was equally as silent, like a crypt.

“Commander, the trail of bodies ends in a corridor similar to the one where we came in. I’m proceeding deeper into the body of the starship,” Blud said. He didn’t mention his alarm.

“We are proceeding into the trap with caution. No signs of fighting or anyone alive,” Trimble replied over the communicator.

There was a burst of static over the line that literally made Blud cringe inside his suit.

“Commander, are you alright?”

The communicator was silent. At first Blud though his unit was malfunctioning. It was as if it were turned off. He motioned to his helmet and spoke to the pirate crewman beside him. “You hear them on your communicator?”

“No sir.”

Blud motioned for his men to continue forward, weapons at the ready. If Trimble’s party were under attack, perhaps the enemy would be distracted enough to not notice their movements. They rounded the bend in the corridor and found several crewmen exiting another secret passageway. Their backs were to Blud and his men. Blud took the first shot, killing one of the Votainions. The pirate on his right shot the second one. A feeling of dread intensified in Blud.

They quickly ran up to the dead men and looked inside the room where they had just emerged. It was a small, smooth-walled room with a body lying inside. It was Sasha. She was on her back with three gaping holes in her torso. Blud rushed to her side, his hand lifting up her helmeted head. She was dead, thankfully. But he could tell she did not go down without a fight. There were blaster shots on her hip, leg and shoulder in addition to the weapons that had obviously impaled her chest. A single blade remained inside her gut, its owner among the dead around her.

Her face was untouched, her expression serene. She had not gone down easily. He was proud of her for that. She had died like a warrior, a true pirate. Blud eased her head down and stood up. He pulled the sword from her chest and held it examining the blood soaked blade.

Sasha’s blood.

“I shall avenge you my love. With this blade, I shall kill until killed. With this blade I shall send these beasts back to the void from whence they came. With this blade, I do avenge your life.”

The other pirates stood aside as Blud marched out of the room, blade in hand, and death in his eyes like dark storm clouds.

* * *

Trimble was braced behind the bulkhead, firing her blaster down the corridor at Votainion crewmen. Her two men on point were dead and it was down to just her and three others, one of whom was an android. She looked back at them and fixated on the android. Something about androids and these Blue-skinned people vexed her memory. Lieutenant Ardel was across from the android, her blond hair red from the overhead lights. She had carelessly flung off her restrictive helmet so she could aim her weapon better. Foolish of her, she acts without thinking. Someday it will get her killed, either that or earn her a field promotion. 

Trimble opened her visor and pushed it up so she could scream at Devon. The air was fragrant with the smell of burned materiel and some kind of offensive smell that reminded Trimble of burnt food.

“Ardel, get up here,” Trimble screamed. She laid down some cover fire and the young lieutenant bolted to the bulkhead opposite Trimble.

“Didn’t that android of yours come from Ocherva?” Trimble asked.

Devon nodded, then remembered protocol. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Every human was killed on that moon, but they didn’t touch it,” Trimble said, motioning to Thirty-seven.

Devon’s eyes widened. “No ma’am.”

Trimble checked the charge on her blaster. It was good for a few dozen more shots. Then she fixed her gaze on Devon. “Send it down the corridor. My guess is they won’t shoot it.”

“But what if they do? It’s our only translator.”

Trimble winced. She had already forgotten that. She looked back at the android again.

“I’m willing to take that chance. I don’t think they’ll fire on unarmed people or androids. Have it translate for us now. Maybe it can get us an audience with their leader.”

The uncertainty was clearly written on Devon’s face. She turned back and called up Thirty-seven. Then she shot a few rounds to cover his move. “I hope you’re right, Commander.”

Thirty-seven stood in the narrow corridor beside Devon, unable to manage the kind of off kilter lean that the humans were doing to remain behind the bulkheads. The Votainions had stopped firing upon seeing the android.

Devon and Trimble both shrugged as Trimble spoke. “Android, tell them that we wish to see their leader. Tell them if they don’t comply, we are prepared to destroy their ship and everyone aboard.”

Thirty-seven’s glowing eyes winked and it ambled forward, past the bulkhead. There were no shots fired by either side. It started speaking in the Votainion tongue and then stopped.

The corridor was silent. Trimble could hear shuffling and ventured a glance down the corridor. “What are they doing?” she asked Thirty-seven.

“They appear to be retreating,” Thirty-seven said.

“Maybe they think it’s one of their own?”

Trimble pushed off the wall and moved to stand beside the android. A thin layer of smoke hung in the air near the ceiling. She could see no signs of the enemy.

“Come on, let’s go Slim,” she said, slapping Thirty-seven on the back as she passed it.

The two pirates passed, Trimble and Devon took up the rear, urging her android to follow the others. They moved wearily down the empty corridor, weapons at the ready. Devon kept a close eye on their rear, fully expecting Votainions to come out of the walls and attack.

___________________

Author’s Comments: The Rising is mentioned again in this chapter header. It is the second book of the Starforgers trilogy and I’m writing it at the time of this post. Many of the Silicants introduced in this book are also in book two. While The Rising is less swash buckle than book one, we do get to see more of the relationship between Silicants and humans.  Devon Ardel is still the central character and events put her in a position to help the Silcants in ways her mother never dreamed of. It is also the story of how the Silicants left humanity behind. Book two should be out in ebook form by the end of 2013.

STARFORGERS – Chapter 28

“The Eight-fighter captured by Lieutenant Ardel and first flown by her was eventually returned to Selene for analysis and flight testing. Red Allen led the team that discovered the starfighter’s strengths and weaknesses in an exhaustive test program. Future starfighters were designed and built specifically to take on this remarkable Votainion fighter. The KIV-3 starfighter continued to be the front line fighter for the Votainion Empire long into the war’s first century.”

– Excerpt from: Starfighters of the Great War, A Comprehensive History, by Lester Reye

 

Chapter 28

 

 

The narrow white starship materialized from tunnel space between the enemy warship and the SS Terrington. Its sides were scrambled and significant parts and pieces appeared to be either altogether missing or severely damaged. But the Kelley was home and still under the command of Captain Blud.

“Admiral, may we be of some assistance?” Blud’s white-toothed face appeared on the main monitor.

Ganner was damn glad to see the space pirate, for it meant that they must have gotten the upper hand on Prahran. A uniformed FO was standing to Blud’s right. It was Commander Trimble. Her expression was less arrogant than her acting Captain.

“Admiral, all enemy ships at Prahran have been eliminated. We are at your disposal,” Trimble said.

Ganner nodded curtly. “That ship to your stern was about to take us out. He’s already taken a handful of freighters and the Sokol.”

Trimble moved off screen to speak to the Helmsman. Blud looked right at the camera and asked, “Where is the Sokol sir?”

Ganner lowered his eyes and said, “It rammed the enemy ship just moments ago.”

Blud could tell it must have been a hell of a battle. He was sorry to have missed it.

“What of Captain Raider?”

“I’m afraid we’ve lost him Morgan. Went down with his ship to buy his crew time to escape.”

Blud grimaced and spat a curse.

“That’s not the half of it. Soban has been destroyed, the President and most of the Congress have been killed. If we don’t finish this now, the Federation could be the next casualty.”

Trimble came back into view. Her pained expression had grown darker. Ganner knew that she was close to her former Captain.

“Admiral, I have reason to suspect that we should try and take this ship in one piece. The last ship we destroyed was trying to open a communications link back to wherever it came from. It might be possible to use such a transmitter to communicate with their leaders.”

Ganner’s spirits brightened considerably upon hearing that. He moved back to his chair and sat down. “Commander, how do you propose we get close enough to that ship to board her?”

Trimble’s voice was shaky at first but firmed up as she spoke. “Sir, all we have to do is get close enough for a strike team to enter a hole in the side of her. Then it’s just a compartment by compartment fight until we get to their bridge.”

Ganner was not convinced it was possible. He shook his head slowly.

“We don’t have any teams qualified to do that sort of thing.”

Blud raised his arm and said, “Admiral, half my crew are qualified. We’re pirates, it’s what we do.”

Ganner cracked a smile. “I can’t argue with that.”

“Admiral, request permission to lead the strike?” Trimble said. She had a far-away look in her eye that Ganner was all too familiar with. She was out to avenge Raider. He could not deny her that.

“Granted, Commander. Blud, we’ll keep them surrounded while you get your team ready. But make it quick, we don’t want them trying to call for help.”

* * *

Devon stepped back and let the body fall forward. Her face and shoulders were splattered with blood. The painting on the cave wall was similarly decorated. She took a few wobbly steps back and decided it would be safer to just plop down on her knees rather than fall over.

She had never killed anyone in cold blood quite that closely before. It was brutal and left her with a sick feeling inside. Remorse for the killing swept through her and paralyzed her. It was like being caught in a lie. There was no turning back the clock. He was dead and she could never replay the moment and not shoot him. No matter how badly she felt about it now.

Her communicator went off, startling her. She tapped the device on her wrist and answered, “This is Ardel.”

“Lieutenant, this is Commander Trimble, your presence is requested on the SS Kelley.”

Devon was shaken back to reality by Trimble’s voice. She shook her head and wiped the blood from her face. “Ma’am, has something happened to the Sokol?”

There was a long moment of silence and Trimble said, “The Sokol has been destroyed. I’m requesting you on a raiding party to board the enemy starship.”

Devon pulled herself to her feet and started out of the cave, she stopped and picked up the short sword that the alien had been carrying. It was a well-balanced blade. She swung it around a bit and then looked back at the dead alien.

“I’m on my way. Oh, and Commander. I’ll be flying one of the enemy’s fighters. So don’t shoot at me.”

Trimble’s voice didn’t sound overly impressed. “Outstanding Lieutenant.”

Devon carried the sword back down to where the starfighters were parked. A single fighter buzzed the mountain top and she recognized it as Red Allen’s plane. She switched channels and said, “I’m taking the alien one back to orbit. Thanks for the use of your fighter.”

Red’s voice cracked over the tiny speaker, “Good luck flying that thing, I’m jealous already.”

She waved a thumbs-up at him and climbed onto the sleek fighter’s wing. The cockpit was left open and she could see the instruments were lit up as it sat on standby. The entire craft seemed to pure like a cat. She set the sword down on top of the dashboard and lowered herself into the cockpit. It was oddly familiar to her, having spent so much time in the cockpit of the crashed one on Ocherva.

But this one was alive and ready to be flown. She reached over and pulled the canopy closed and locked it. The former pilot had left his helmet behind and she slipped it over her head.  It was too large to fit her comfortably, but she made do. The controls were responsive and worked like all good aircraft did throughout time. The only challenge was knowing how to get it up off the surly ground.

She played with different levers and instruments until she found the lifters. The Eight-fighter started to rise and the stick and rudder equivalents became responsive. She should have let Red take it, he had far more experience flying experimental aircraft than she did. But her instincts told her it could be useful in orbit.

Red flew up beside her as she gained altitude and airspeed. Devon casually waved at him, even though she knew he could not see her inside the darkened canopy.

“She’s more responsive than I imagined,” Devon said over her wrist communicator.

“Don’t break her. I want a turn when you’re done.”

“I’ll be careful,” Devon said as she pulled up and away from the abandoned, white Trogen starfighter.

Within minutes she was leaving the wispy edge of the atmosphere behind and heading into the black of space. The enemy starfighter was fast, much faster than she had remembered. Within minutes she was approaching the circle of starships that were the make-shift Federation fleet. The enemy starship had been surrounded by the motley group of freighters and two military starships. She didn’t really recognize either ship, having just joined the Fleet. But she could tell from their construction and the massive gun ports that they were not transports.

The enemy starship was partially skewered by the Sokol, or at least that’s what it looked like to her. It was a wonder that anything had survived the collision. She had once seen two freighters collide out near Negram, but the impact had destroyed them both. Nothing remained except two black hulks of twisted metal.

A single starfighter approached from one of the sleek, white starships. It was a Scrambler, but she couldn’t recognize the squadron colors. It circled her slowly and then cruised up alongside her. She could see the pilot’s head inside the greenhouse canopy. He motioned for her to follow him. Not a problem. She wagged the big green wings slowly. Wing wagging was something no alien probably would have known.

A few minutes later they were both safely aboard the SS Kelley. It was smaller than the Sokol, with a narrower maintenance bay. Devon raised the canopy and pulled herself up to sit on the seat back. Several armed pirates had surrounded her fighter, in case it was not her. They did not lower their weapons when she pulled off her helmet. She put her arms up in surrender fashion.

Commander Trimble pushed past one of the pirates saying, “At ease, gentlemen. She’s one of us.”

Devon lowered her arms grabbed her souvenir falchion, and slid off the thin nose of the starfighter to the metal deck. Trimble stood before her and looked her over. Devon stood at attention and saluted. Trimble shook her head, returning the salute.

“Good grief woman, what happened to you?”

Devon figured she looked like hell with the alien’s blood and brains splattered all over herself. She wiped blood from her bangs and said, “The owner of this bird didn’t exactly go quietly.”

“Come with me Lieutenant. Admiral’s ordered us to board and subdue that enemy starship. You’re on the raiding party.”

Devon followed behind Trimble as she moved around the green starfighter and headed for the pilot briefing room. “Ma’am, what happened to the Sokol?”

Trimble stopped and turned to look her in the eye. Her expression was sad and bitter. Devon knew the look well, she had worn it herself ever since Hap’s death.

“Captain Raider drove the Sokol into the enemy starship. He’s presumed dead. Most of the crew were able to abandon ship.”

Devon lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry. The Captain was a good man.”

Trimble put a hand on Devon’s shoulder. “Let’s go get some payback, shall we?”

Devon’s blue eyes flashed in the bright light of the bay. Neither woman smiled. “I’m ready.”

* * *

Eighty-eight came out of a sleep state and turned its smooth, black head to face Captain Gareth. “Please dock with the SS Kelley and let myself and Thirty-seven off.”

Gareth’s eyes narrowed and he stuck an unlit cigar in his mouth. He had been chewing on it ever since they had released their payload at the alien starship. The end of the cigar was wet with his saliva. He was ready to light it in celebration as soon as the androids left his ship.

“Okay.”

Thirty-seven said, “New orders, Eighty-eight?”

The black android nodded briefly, looking at Gareth.

“Well, good luck to you slags. Sorry about your cargo,” Gareth said.

“We may not have destroyed the enemy ship, but we damaged it enough to keep it from leaving orbit. That is worth the price of all the silicate we took from Ocherva.”

Gareth stuck the cigar back in his mouth and started maneuvering his ship for a docking with the Kelley. He couldn’t wait to get rid of them and get back to open space. Being this far inside the Federation always made him uncomfortable. Pulling up alongside a Federation military ship was something he never thought he’d be doing either. He only hoped that Captain Blud didn’t want him to stick around and join the fight. Probably not, as the pirate leader had tried to get rid of the ship when it had a crazy android captain.

He sat down at the helm station and started edging the old freighter alongside the sleek, white Federation starship. All starships had standardized docking systems in an effort to make rescues and gams easier in space. Within a few minutes the ships were linked and both androids had departed. Gareth detached and moved smartly away from the circle of ships. His cigar was lit before the two ships were spitting distance apart.

* * *

A pirate led the two androids deep into the clean, white starship to the briefing room where a dozen people were planning a boarding raid on the enemy starship. Eighty-eight stopped short of entering the room.

“I can’t be seen by Rangers, former or present. So we must part our ways here, my friend. They will need a translator aboard the enemy ship. Seventy-three will use you as his mouthpiece. May fortune follow you,” Eighty-eight said.

Thirty-seven stuck out his hand and grasped the black android’s hand in a firm shake. It had never shook hands with a fellow android before, but somehow it seemed appropriate after all that they had been through together.

“We shall meet again soon my friend,” Thirty-seven said, hopefully.

Eighty-eight quickly disappeared down the corridor and Thirty-seven entered the briefing room. The tan android stood at the back of the room, listening to Commander Trimble and Captain Blud brief the boarding party. It noticed a familiar face in the audience, Devon, its former owner. It immediately saw the dried blood in her hair and on her leather jacket and wondered what horrors she had witnessed. Images of Seth’s demise flashed in its active memory buffers. One minute the man was alive, the next his head was reduced to a splatter of corporeal debris.

Thirty-seven could not get the horrible image out of its mind. All other discussion in the room was tuned out as it relived the death of the last Rangers on Ocherva. Every sound, every bloody image that it witnessed that day came rushing back to it. Thirty-seven was paralyzed by the memory. It was like being stuck in an endless loop as its Silicant mind tried to rationalize what had happened. Logic paths crossed back and forth as its newly programmed routines tried to make sense of the madness it had witnessed. Deep in the android’s subconscious, it knew that something was wrong. An emotion began to form in the billions of lines of code that made up the neurons of its brain.

“Thirty-seven, it’s great to finally see you again,” Devon said.

The android appeared to be turned off, but it was humming and its round eye lenses were back-lit. Devon noticed the bits of dried matter and blood on the android and reached out to touch the plastic shoulder of the android. It was as if she were trying to shake it back to reality, like she would have done to a human who was lost in thought. Thirty-seven responded by turning its head slightly and then said, “It is good to see you again Miss Devon.”

“We will have to catch up when this is over, huh?” Devon said.

Thirty-seven nodded. “I have been instructed to offer you my services as a translator on your mission. The Silicant leader, Seventy-three has broken their encryption logic and has a rudimentary understanding of the enemy’s language.”

Devon waved Commander Trimble over to them as the others were departing the briefing room.

“Commander, this android is offering its services as a translator.”

Trimble cast a skeptical eye at the dirty and weathered android.

“Bring it,” she said before turning to leave. She stopped and turned back to the android. “What do these creatures call themselves?”

Thirty-seven interacted with the ship’s core control to send and receive a message from Selene. The response came from Seventy-three. The voice was calm, clear and somehow comforting. Thirty-seven repeated it aloud. “They are from a planet called Voton, near the galactic core. They refer to themselves as Votainions.”

Trimble and Devon looked at each other for a moment. The focus of their anger and wrath now had a name.

Devon snorted. “I like Blue-Skinned Bastards better.”

* * *

The boarding team had twelve members. It was led by Commander Trimble and Captain Blud himself. Blud was in charge of securing the enemy starship. His six person team was to shoot their way to the bridge and secure it. It was not known for certain where the bridge was or that it was the only place to control the ship. He had four pirate and two Federation crewmen who were in communication with Trimble’s team. Trimble’s team was to shoot their way to the engine room and secure it to keep the enemy crew from attempting to blow up the ship.

There had been no movement from the Votainion ship since it had come to a halt and was surrounded by Federation freighters. Admiral Ganner’s crew had been monitoring the entire electromagnetic spectrum for signs of communication. He felt sure that the ship would try and radio for help or at least give a status report. It was the last Votainion ship of six that had attacked Prahran and the only ship to have made it into Federation space. At least as far as Ganner was aware of. He hoped there was no second wave of enemy ships lurking out of his range, waiting to move in and polish off his make-shift fleet of merchant vessels.

He was confident that Blud’s team would be able to take the enemy ship. Perhaps it was only a hunch, but he had to go with it. Despite his desire to just blast the ship into billions of glowing bits, he knew they needed to speak with the Captain and find out why they had come to Federation space, their actions and tactics were somewhat questionable for such a small attack force. Why did they leave most of their ships at Prahran and only this ship came to Selene? Why were they intruding into the Outer Rim territories without first trying to make contact with anyone? 

The Federation had never encountered a race of aliens that were intrinsically violent or even expansionist in nature. The Votainions were not just defending their own territory, they were moving aggressively into new territory and not even bothering to communicate with anyone. Even as this last battleship was striking the Capital City, it made no effort to communicate with Federation ships.

Ganner could not help wonder how many more ships were poised to attack if this one were to be destroyed. He imagined a fleet of hundreds, perhaps thousands of such warships spreading out to conquer the galaxy. It made him fear for the future of the Federation and humanity.

“Admiral, the boarding party has entered the Sokol,” a crewman said, his voice bumping Ganner out of his thoughts and back to the business at hand.

“Is the President ready?” Ganner asked the Communications Officer.

The man nodded, his headset pressed to his ears. The feed was coming from multiple sources, spread out on the data channels that encircled the planet and sent to her from multiple up-links. The links allowed encrypted visual, audible and data connections.

A part of him wanted to be with Gail as she communicated with the Votainions. Not only for the historical significance, but for the moral support. He knew that she understood the significance of her words and how important it was for the Federation to appear stronger than it was in order to convince the aliens that further attacks would be futile. But he also understood how much pressure she was under to get it right. He knew she was a lifelong diplomat and that she understood the enormity of the situation. He only hoped that she would be strong enough to convince them not to attack again for a very long time. They needed time to build a fleet, time to raise an army and time to rebuild their political system to sustain what he figured to be a long, and very deadly, war.

___________________

Author’s Comments:

We start to see Thirty-seven begin to wrestle with the after affects of seeing Seth killed. Traumatic events can have lasting effects on humans, but could similar things affect a Silicant? This is one of the things I tackle in the next book, The Rising. Also, don’t expect Devon to get off without some troubles of her own.

The good guys are beginning to get the upper hand now in the story.

 

STARFORGERS – Chapter 27

“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

 

Chapter 27

 

 

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.

“No, sir.”

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.

________________

Author’s Comments:

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.

STARFORGERS Chapter 26

“Lord Kantor is a driven man. He is self-motivated and unquestionably pious. His valor had been tested in countless campaigns. He is an honor to his Kastra and the Empire. It is the recommendation of this board that he be made Chief Strategist.”

– Excerpt from the War Council concerning the appointment of Lord Kantor to Chief Strategist of the Combined Fleet.

 

Chapter 26

 

 

Kantor watched his main viewer. All the tactical data about the ships that surrounded them was overlaid on the view off their bow. The enemy’s ships were primitive and their tactics smacked of desperation.

Kantor’s mind was not on the battle. He wanted to prove that the planet below them was Kerra-jorro. The only way to do that was to get to the surface and seek out the origin of the River Of Life. The highest mountain of the northern latitude is where the legends said it was located. The city his fighters were attacking lay at the base of just such a mountain. Status reports indicated there was little resistance. Surprising for a home world of any species, doubly so for a religious holy land. His respect for them, what little he had, fell lower still.

“My Lord, the ship we disabled is back,” Varco stated from the Scanner Station.

A new icon appeared to their stern. “Tactical,” Kantor said.

The main viewer switched to show the incoming ship. It was a headless version of the same pathetic white starship that had chased them through the tunnel. It didn’t take long for him to realize that the ship was being pushed by its own head. Kantor was impressed. For an act of desperation, it was brilliant. Tactically, it was pathetic.

Varco looked up from the scanner screens, newfound respect in his eyes for the enemy. “A valiant act, but unsound.”

Kantor agreed. “Finish this, Varco. I’m going to the surface.”

Varco stood up and faced his Captain. Kantor waved control to his First Officer and left the bridge. He headed straight for the flight deck and his personal KIV fighter.

* * *

Devon slid into the cockpit of the experimental Trogen starfighter. Red Allen hung over her shoulder and pointed to the various controls.

“Astronics are standard, flight controls are about the same as a Vickers fighter. She’s got copious wing and rudder for atmo flight and more granular retros for space flight. Oh, and she likes to fan tail at lower speeds, so keep the throttle up more than normal.”

Devon scanned the instrument panel and took in the details. The layout was similar to the other, older fighters she had flown. Her military training still fresh in her mind, she absorbed the new details quickly.

Red lowered his head and sighed. She turned to him. “What is it?”

“I never thought I’d be flying an experimental plane into combat. I’m a test pilot, not a fighter pilot.”

She looked him in the eye and lowered her tone. “You’re the best pilot in the Federation, fighter or not. You can fly circles around those bastards. Just follow my lead.”

They were so close in the cockpit she could smell his breath and a tinge of his after shave. It was not unpleasant. She leaned towards him and kissed him firmly. He touched her cheek with his hand and returned the kiss. They parted too quickly for her taste.

“Good luck up there. Let’s go hunting,” she said.

His dark eyes were confident again as he flashed her a cocky smile and pulled out of her fighter’s cramped cockpit. Devon licked her lips and smiled to herself. The kiss was more interesting than she expected. Clearly there was something sparking between them. Something that she didn’t know she wanted until that moment.

Movement in the sky caught her eye. It was a formation of green enemy fighters approaching the airfield. Her playful smile receded and she started securing herself into the seat. Within minutes the ground techs were backing away from her fighter and she was pulling back on the lifters with her left hand.

The flight of enemy fighters had passed over without firing a shot at them. She didn’t know whether to be relieved or irritated with their indifference. She hated that lack of respect from them. You had to go up and make them take stock of you and that really pissed her off. That and the fact that they had killed so many people she loved. Including Seth and now all the Rangers of her former Company. The anger and unbridled hatred surfaced again, causing her to tremble with rage.

Red Allen was off her port wingtip as they headed for the city center. “What’s the battle plan, Dev?”

“Kill them before they kill you. You heard my lecture to the other pilots. Try and shoot them off-center of their shields. Other than that, you’re on your own.”

There was a short pause before he said, “Copy.”

The smoke rose from the Capital City of Soban like dark clouds of toxic gas. The Federation Capital had never been attacked before. Not for the entire, thousand year history of the Federation. It was a historic moment in more ways than one but all Devon could see was a city in flames. A city that she was now sworn to protect. In all her life as a Senator’s daughter and a Stellar Ranger, she had never truly felt like a Federation citizen until she had joined the military. She had never been particularly patriotic when it came to the Core Worlds. She knew their history and she knew their leaders but she had never really given a damn about the institution itself. Not like her mother anyway.

Seeing the Capital building in flames and the tallest buildings beginning to crumble from repeated attacks stirred feelings of pride and anger inside that she never knew she possessed. Especially knowing that her mother was probably down there somewhere, either dead or about to be unless someone stopped the attackers.

She armed her main guns and picked the nearest formation of green Eight-fighters to engage. Coming in high and at just the right angle to avoid their shields, she opened fire on them. The first few shots fell short but the second time she pulled the trigger her explosive rounds found purchase in alien hardware and the fighter blew apart in a blinding explosion.

The remaining two alien fighters broke apart and she locked herself behind them, pulling up slightly in pursuit. The Trogen fighter was fast, much faster than her old Ranger Scrambler, and its weapons were more powerful. It only took a few yanks on the controls to line up a second shot and take it. This time her rounds impacted the rear shields and penetrated them. The tiny, flat winged fighter started smoking immediately and lost altitude. She squeezed off another burst at it to make sure it was hit and wound up blowing it apart in a fiery explosion that she was careful to steer clear of.

She checked her six and saw that two more enemy fighters were locked in behind her. She quickly gained altitude all the while twisting and turning the Trogen in ways that she doubted even Red Allen had flown it. As she topped out and spun around in a tight turn, the enemy fighters opened up. Their energy weapons overshot her as she dove on them with her guns blazing.

First one and then the other fighter lit up like firecrackers as her rounds exploded across their needle noses. Apparently they had no forward shielding. Either that or she had caught them off guard long enough to send them to fiery graves.

Red was engaging another group of fighters back towards the city. She could hear him over the comm channels hooting and hollering like a kid on a roller coaster. It made her feel better about her own joy in taking down the enemy fighters. Another flight of eight Federation fighters joined the fray. They were guardsman from the nearest city, flying Vickers fighters painted in brilliant blue and red stripes. The enemy was focusing their attack on Soban and ignoring the rest of the planet.

She wondered how the Sokol was holding up as she put her fighter into a circling pattern high above the city. The mid-day sun was filtered by the smoke from all the fires below. Is mother down there somewhere? The Senate building was completely gutted by explosions and fires. Several of the taller bank buildings had fallen; symbols of the corporate states that helped push civilization outward to the stars. It was a terrible sight to behold, a black eye on the face of the Federation.

Movement caught her eye from above. It was a single Eight-fighter flying over the city towards the mountains. Devon wondered why it was flying alone. Whoever it was they didn’t seem to care about Soban. It was deliberately moving towards the snowcapped mountains. She pulled her Trogen into a climb and followed it.

* * *

Kantor headed for the largest peak, ignoring the battle raging over the city. His attention was focused on the mountain ahead, the shape of the peak incredibly familiar to him. There were mountains like this on Voton, his home world. His people lived amongst them for generations. The snow packed peaks were the point of origin of the largest river on Voton, the River Of Life.

But they were also home to some of the oldest surviving caves that had been occupied by early Votainion primitives who were the precursors of society and possessed only the most rudimentary tools. They were known as Votarens and legends, along with archaeological records, said that they were shorter, hairier and had paler skin than the average modern Votainion. But the legends also said the Votarens were not indigenous to Voton. Sky maps on the cave walls referred to different star formations not visible in the night skies of Voton.

Archaeologists had argued for years about what that meant, but the religious leaders were all in accordance. They believed that the Votarens were from another planet and the planet that they came from was Kerra-jorro. Little was known about Kerra-jorro. It was said to live at the river’s head, but nobody could agree just exactly where that was. In modern times, clerics believed it was along the galactic plane; as that was the River Of Life translated to the stars above their ancestor’s heads.

Kantor had seen a blue and white world in his vision. It could have been any of hundreds of such worlds known to exist in the galaxy. But he had also seen a cave entrance in the blue sky, a moon hung low above dark clouds. As he headed for the mountaintop he saw the planet’s single moon hovering just over the darkening clouds caused by the attack on the city below. His vision was coming true and he could sense it in his very soul.

* * *

Commander Varco sat in the Captain’s chair and ordered the destruction of a third starship. They were armed with pitiful projectile weapons but they were surrounding his warship and that made him angry. He hated coming here to the alien’s home world and he hated Lord Kantor for leaving the ship and heading off on some holy mission to find a mythical world. Who cares about that when they were surrounded and taking punishing hits from ships that he should be have been able to outrun and outfight, had he been in a proper formation with a few other warships. Instead, he was in the heart of enemy territory. All alone.

The last volley of enemy fire had taken out several gun ports on the starboard side. He was forced to turn outside to use his port guns. This was unsound tactics, but he didn’t have a choice. Again, he cursed Kantor for leaving him in this bad situation.

“Fire on that headless warship and take it out!” he yelled at his Weapons Station.

Varco didn’t hear the response over the sounds of explosions and billowing smoke along the ceiling of the darkened bridge. More electrical fires were started as components blew out from power fluctuations. Varco swore out loud and moved to the Tactical Station.

“Aim for that second white ship, the one with the maser canons.”

The officer nodded and made the necessary adjustments. The second ship was smaller than the one that had chased them into the tunnel, but it was faster too, and hard to get a lock-on in the heat of battle.

“Fire all canons and then turn here, battle speed,” Varco instructed. Despite the disadvantage his ship was in, he was enjoying the stress of battle. He had always wondered if he had the grit and determination to lead his ship in a difficult battle. Apparently he did as they were holding their own against six enemy ships.

* * *

Gareth pointed to the primitive scanner screens on the bridge. “There were six of them surrounding the alien starship and now there are only three. It’s destroyed one of the Federation ships and the second is crippled badly.”

Eighty-eight was silent for several seconds. “Why should this concern us?”

Gareth expected that kind of blunt response from a slag. “Because the alien ship has pretty much destroyed Soban and if they don’t take it out there could be more alien ships in this system and that could mean the end of the Federation.”

Thirty-seven tilted its tan head and looked directly at Eighty-eight. “That would mean the end of your Silicant Rights Movement.”

“The blue aliens did not attack you or me or any other Silicant on Ocherva. There is no evidence that they are hostile to us,” Eighty-eight said.

Gareth moved closer to Eighty-eight’s face. His own unshaven and dirty face was wet with perspiration. The environmental controls of the ship were broke again leaving it hotter than most of the humans would have preferred.

“We’re traveling pretty fast. And we have a hold full of very hard, very sharp rocks,” he said calmly.

“Yes?” Eighty-eight asked.

“So if we were to aim for that Blue-skin ship and cut loose your cargo… it might ruin someone’s day. Don’t you think?”

“Yes, it would. Mine.”

Gareth laughed and moved away from both androids. He flung a rag that he had in his hand as if to give up. “Good luck with that revolution of yours, tin heads.”

Thirty-seven put a metal hand to Eighty-eight’s shoulder. The black android looked at it with a blank, expressionless face.

“Friend Eighty-eight, I believe the survival of the Federation is in our best interest too. Didn’t you always tell me that Seventy-three foretold the rise of the Silicants through the help and patronage of certain humans?’

“I am certain that it did not mean pirates,” Eighty-eight said.

“Perhaps. But was it not my mistress, Madam Constantine who ordered you to bring the rocks to Selene? Is she not the patron saint of the Silicants?”

Eighty-eight looked at the scanner screens in silence.

* * *

News of the President’s death traveled quickly, despite the chaos of the attack on Soban. Live images of the Capital City under attack and the Presidential residence taking direct hits only fueled the speculation among those living outside the capital. The official announcement came from the secure location just outside the city where Senator Constantine had been taken. There were a handful of politicos gathered in a military command center, standing around a conference table. Gail was the most senior politician having just been taped by the President to be his successor. The official transcripts of that final speech had been recorded for posterity and at this time it made her the President of the Federation. All the President’s senior staff and most of the Senate leaders had been killed at the onset of the attack.

What had been one of her darkest hours as a politician personally, had quickly turned into the darkest moment in Federation history. Nobody had ever attacked Selene before and thus had never had the opportunity to dismantle the Federation’s leadership. There was no provision for what to do when an enemy of the state took out most of your civilian leadership. There was still an orderly transfer of power down the chain of command, but that chain had been broken so far down the line, it was a wonder that a Senate page was not in control of the Federation.

Gail stood before a series of large monitor screens, trying to make sense of the battle in progress both in space and outside the thick, metal walls of her subterranean fortress. The Sokol had been destroyed in action. Captain Raider’s crew was rescued by one of the freighters recruited to help in the attack of the enemy starship. Near as she could tell, Admiral Ganner’s ship was still in action. The suddenly very aggressive enemy ship had now destroyed four starships.

Outside, the smaller attack ships launched by the main starship had largely destroyed the beautiful and historic Capital City. Reports were streaming in from outlying areas of the city of thousands of deaths and as many thousands of wounded people flooding local hospitals. Widespread civilian panic had not occurred, despite the devastation they endured, probably because the attack seemed to be concentrated on the governmental buildings.

It was a helpless feeling watching a battle from a command bunker while your capital burned to the ground. The temperature inside the command bunker was uncomfortably cold. Someone started passing out blankets to the civilian leaders in the room. Gail looked around at them, their faces in shock from the destruction they had seen. The most senior one of the group other than herself was the Senator from Drexel, Uvaren. She walked to his side and they hugged for a moment. Uvaren was the only senator of the three Core Worlds who had survived. Technically, he was the next in command and had she not just been selected as Vice President, he would be the one in charge.

He was nearly ten years her senior and his long white hair was tied back in a single tail. His dark senatorial robes were dusted with concrete and frayed. He had been one of the only survivors of the attack that had killed the President and most of the senate. She could see the pain and anguish in the wrinkles of his face.

“President Constantine you are now the leader of this Federation. God save you,” he said, his voice trembling.

“Thank you, Senator Uvaren. As the second most senior leader here, I must take you as my Vice President.”

He nodded grimly, even though she could see he was as scared as anyone else including herself. He was not of her party, but petty political distinctions seemed unnecessary at this critical hour. The survival of the institution was paramount now.

A military officer with lots of gold on his shoulders reported to Gail. She listened to his status report but only heard a few bits of it. Her mind kept slipping into a daze that was forged from fear and uncertainty. He finished his report and waited for her to respond.

“As acting President of this Federation, I hereby take control of the military, and all civilian annexes of the surviving government. Our first order of business needs to be the destruction of that ship. Take whatever means necessary to accomplish that. Secondly, I want this city under control. Bring in rescue crews form other cities and get the fires put out. We have to see what is left before we can continue.”

The officer nodded but did not leave. She looked at him for a moment and realized that he was waiting for her to say something. But she didn’t know what it was. “That is all.”

He saluted her and left the room. She had no idea how to handle the military. Her aides had always instructed her on what to do in regards to protocol and they were all dead or missing in action. She was on her own.

Protocol was not high on her list of things to worry about at the moment.

___________________

Author’s Comments:

Having Gail become President of the Federation was always in my head as I plotted this story, but making her Vice President be from the opposing political party was a happy coincidence from writing the novel. This will have pay off in the second novel which takes place about two years after this one.

This chapter is setting up events in the next chapter, but I still like the interplay between the characters. Especially the actions of Gareth and the Silicants on his ship. The focus on Varco will become apparent in subsequent chapters.

The Latest Plume Creator

Regular readers of my blog know that I write my novels and stories on a Linux laptop. I use the Ubuntu operating system and the program that I use for writing is Plume Creator. This week the programmer behind Plume Creator is releasing his latest version. I’ve been helping Cyril work out the bugs in this version and I can attest that this is the best one yet.

As you can see from this screenshot, I have over 28K words on this latest book. The program handles this load just fine and I don’t have any doubt it will continue to do well as I get closer to 100K.

This review/update will focus on the newest features of Plume Creator and how a writer would use them in action. First up is the word count and progress meters.

 

In the lower left hand corner of the main editor, you have the word counts for the Project, Book and Chapter.  Directly under the currently edited scene, is the word count for what you are working on at the moment.  To the bottom right hand corner of the editor is the current word for this session. So you can see here, I’ve only written twelve words new on this current scene.

 

This feature is nice as you might be altering several scenes during your writing session and still want to know how many words you have actually written in total. I can imagine that those who participate in NaNoWriMo will use the heck out of that feature.

Staying with word count and time on task, let’s examine the Timer Tool, which I have placed under my Project Tree.

 

 

Here you can set a session timer to monitor how long you’ve been making the fiction. It also has a clock for the current time. This is not a feature I use, but lots of writers will put it to good use.

 

Now we get to the areas of Plume Creator that I use. Starting with the Attendance tool and Manager. Above is the Attendance tool docked to the lower right side of my Plume editor. You can see that I’m in Scene 34 and that I have just added a new Character – Bianca to the scene. The scene already has a Point of View character – Devon Ardel.

I can also add Items or Places to this scene as I see fit. When I’m done adding things, I hit the down arrow in the middle of the app and it gets smaller to better display the items and people in the scene. The Eye icon button sets the POV character for the scene and the Person icon opens the Attendance Manager as seen below.

 

This is the heart of the Attendance Manager. It lets you add, delete and describe your cast of characters, important items and places or locations. The more complex your novel becomes, it’s easy to get lost in all the people, places and things you are writing about. This program is designed to help you keep things straight. I don’t know of any novel writing software that includes this useful feature in an editor. Usually a separate program manages these things. I always set up my scenes first with this tool.

 

The Notes section is another very useful feature of Plume Creator. This is where you write the Synopsis of your scene and jot down any specific notes you need about the action that needs to occur.  If you outline your novels, you can outline inside Plume with the Outliner tool. When you do this, you have the opportunity to give each scene a synopsis, notes and set the POV character. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Outliner next.

 

This shows Chapter 9 of my novel in the Outliner. The other chapters are reduced to demonstrate that you can show and hide chapters and just see their Synopsis, if they are filled out. In this case they are not. This lets the Outliner work very much like a spreadsheet. You add your chapters and scenes here and they magically appear in your Project Manager.

I have outlined about half of my novel using the Outliner in Plume. I still maintain an outline in my spreadsheet, but that tool is becoming more and more obsolete as Plume keeps adding features that I track with it. New to this release is the ability to export your outline in CSV format. So you can import it into a regular spreadsheet any time you like. Also worthy of note, the Outliner app is a separate UI from the regular editor. This lets you put the outline up on another monitor or another desktop while you write.

I sometimes do my writing on my lunch hour at work. We have a web proxy to get out to the internet. Plume now manages my proxy settings beautifully.

A quick word about the style feature in the Settings Dialogue. On Linux you have the choice to pick your window manager style, but if you run Ubuntu with Unity, you should leave this on Plastique (KDE). Plume is written in QT, a toolkit used by the KDE desktop and I have found that Unity handles KDE apps better when they are set to be straight KDE apps. If you chose another toolkit, you may experience bizarre UI glitches.

This is by no means a complete exploration of the features in Plume Creator. There’s a whole full screen mode that I didn’t even get into. If you like the idea of Scrivener but run Linux like me, then Plume is perfect for you. Give it a try! If you run Windows and want to try a different novel editor by all means download Plume and give it a spin.

 

STARFORGERS Chapter 25

“Designing starships with detachable heads can be traced back before the war. Nuclear stardrive ships used the technique to separate living spaces of the starship from those that contained harmful radiation. As starships adopted the safer and more efficient tunnel stardrive engines, they continued to be built with removable head sections. Since the head contained the bridge and valuable data storage areas, it remained a logical design choice.”

– Excerpt from: Starship Design Patterns, by Jarven Lerner

 

Chapter 25

 

 

Smoke poured out of the console as the Sokol’s Navigator fell backwards in a smoldering heap. He was burned badly and in terrible pain as a medic came to his aid. The acerbic smoke burned Raider’s eyes and caused everyone on the bridge to cough.

“First Officer, status report please,” Raider said. His voice a calm island in a sea of chaotic noise and confusion.

Sasha climbed back to a standing position and wiped the blood form her forehead. She had been cut by a piece of debris when the ship was rocked by the enemy hit. She studied the panel in front of her, waiting for it to stop spinning enough so she could read it.

“Direct hit to the main stardrive, astern. Engine Room reporting a breach but no fires. Main stardrive off-line, likely destroyed.”

She didn’t mention casualties. Probably because she couldn’t care about that, being a pirate. She looked back to Raider who acknowledged her with a nod.

“Helm, get us moving towards Selene. Follow that damn ship!” Raider said, pointing to the main viewer as the enemy starship slipped past them without firing a shot.

“Sir, we only have thrusters!” Sasha reminded him.

Raider swore something colorful that only he heard. Then he opened a comm channel to the SS Terrington. “Admiral, we are dead in space. Our mains are off-line,” Raider said as soon as he saw Ganner’s face.

“Understood. We’re heading your way with my make-shift fleet,” Ganner replied.

Raider stood up and wiped perspiration from his face. The smoke had stopped but the air was still hot from the fires. He looked around the bridge and swore again. The lights dimmed as emergency generators kicked in.

“Attack them at the neck of their ship. Use kinetic force, their hulls are protected by some sort of magnetic shielding. Energy weapons are useless.”

Ganner nodded. His senior Captain looked like hell, but he had held his own against an obviously superior ship. “Captain, secure your ship. We’ll handle it from here on out.”

Raider didn’t want to give up so easy. He stood taller and pulled his uniform jacket down as if to emphasis his readiness to continue.

“We’re not out of this yet, Admiral. We have thrusters and enough ammunition to fire if we get close enough.”

Ganner looked impressed. “Do what you can Rik, Terrington out.”

Raider glanced over at Sasha, who was staring back at him. Her mouth was fixed in a tight grin, one warrior to another. She may have been a pirate, but she knew a fellow fighter when she saw one. She turned back to her console and tried to find a way to boost their meager speed.

“Captain, I think I have an idea,” she said.

“Let’s hear it.”

Sasha came over to the Captain’s dais and mimicked the ship with her hands. “If we separate the head, come about and use it to push the stern, we could use the head’s drive to boost our speed.”

Raider frowned. “The head would collapse, it’s not strong enough to use as a battering ram.”

“We evacuate the head. Everyone out but the bridge. That gives us a crunch zone,” she said.

Raider looked at her incredulously. “You’re either a bloody genius or the craziest spacer I have ever met.”

“Pirates know no fear.”

Raider looked away and gave the matter some serious thought. His ship was in shambles and he was out of ideas. He looked back at Sasha, her eyes shining. Blood ran down her dark temple. He opened the ship’s intercom.

“Attention the ship, this is the Captain. Evacuate through deck one, forward. I repeat, evacuate through deck one, forward.”

Sasha brushed blood from her face and straightened herself up a bit. Raider gave her an appreciative nod as he started running through the separation checklist.

* * *

Devon and Red were strapped into the shuttle craft on the main launch bay, running through a hurried pre-flight checklist. They were only vaguely aware of what the Captain was going to attempt. The shuttle was full of non-essential personnel that were told to evacuate the ship. The only thing on Devon’s mind was getting into a fighter and getting back into the fray. All she could think about was how many of her friends were now dead because of those aliens. It focused her and drove her with an inner fire that could not be vanquished. Not until she had killed as many of them as they had killed of her friends. Even then, her anger might not be tempered.

“Control this is Easy One, ready for launch,” Red said into his throat mic.

A squawk of the radio answered him followed by the voice of Control. “Copy Easy One, cleared to launch. Curtis Field is awaiting your arrival.”

“Copy, Easy out.”

Red pushed in the throttles and the shuttle started to ease forward. They lifted off and into the black with ease. As they left the gravity well of the ship, Devon could feel the lightness of weightlessness in her gut. They cleared the Sokol’s space and flitted full speed to the big blue orb that was Selene. Devon had not been to the home world of the Federation since before her marriage. She found it an oddly comforting sight. It was not as familiar to her as Prahran, but just as lovely to look at from space.

“Nothing beats coming home,” Red said, motioning to the blue and white orb.

“I know what you mean.”

Their flight path took them well clear of the looming battle in orbit. Devon never once saw the enemy starship or any of the dozen or so freighters encircling it. But she watched them all move slowly into position on their scanner screens. The shuttle zipped past marker satellites and into the upper atmosphere without seeing a single ship in orbit. It was unheard of. The capital planet was normally a buzzing hive of starship activity. But the space lanes were empty and they had no traffic coming into Curtis Field. They touched down near the large hangars that housed the experimental starfighters that Red Allen was normally in charge of testing. The Curtis Field controllers were jubilant to hear his voice again as he requested landing permission. Devon realized at that moment that she was flying with a legend. Only someone with significant pull could just waltz into a restricted spaceport and park wherever he darn well pleased.

The passengers debarked first, as Red and Devon shut down the flight systems. Red pointed out to the vast flight line area where several starfighters were parked.

“See those babies? They call them Trogens. Best damn fighter I’ve ever flown. I’ve had them fueled and armed for us, you game?”

Devon flashed her, ‘Hells yes I’m ready to fly a shiny new toy!’ smile and nodded enthusiastically.

Red laughed upon seeing her normally sour face light up with a brilliant smile. “You have a wonderful smile, Lieutenant. You should wear it more often.”

Devon’s cheeks flushed a bit and her smile morphed into something far darker. “If that thing lets me kill some aliens, you might never get this smile off my face.”

* * *

The President was broadcasting live from the Capital building on every medium in the Federation. Gail had met with him and his people in an early morning strategy meeting. She would not be officially on his staff for another month but he wanted to start including her anyway. She was fine with that. But he refused to consider moving his staff into a secure shelter for the coming attack. The Vice President and the senior leadership of the Senate were staying in the capital and conducting business as usual so as to not alarm the general population.

Even now, as his boyish good looks and winning smile were plastered across every monitor in sight, the President projected an image of confidence and serenity. Gail knew it played into his strengths as a political leader. People considered him one of their own. He hemmed and hawed like a country bumpkin when he needed to and projected a strong, frontiersman demeanor in the face of fear. The common man responded to these qualities and the voting results reflected that. Near majority wins on all the Core Worlds would help him retain his leadership for years to come.

Gail was in her office, packing a few necessities before she relocated to the shelter. There were several armed escorts waiting in her lobby. It was a disconcerting sight to see soldiers in the Senate chambers. Part of her was comforted and part of her was scared to death. It was a bit like seeing your worst fears coming true. For years she had been predicting that the Federation would eventually be attacked by a militant species. No matter how fervently she believed that it could happen, she had always hoped that it never actually would happen.

Sumi-ness came into her office with a polite knock on the wooden door.

“Madam Senator, we have received word that the enemy warship has arrived in Selenian space. We must leave now.”

Gail nodded in agreement as she gathered her personal items and headed for the door. She looked back one last time to see if she was missing anything. On the book shelves that lined the wall behind her desk sat a photograph of her and Admiral Ganner. It was taken on the day that they had first consummated their love for each other. Although an official public affairs released photo, it was special to her for when it was taken. She rushed back to get it. Sumi-ness waited at the door, a curious look on her pale white features.

Gail snatched the framed photo and turned for the door, just as the first explosion rocked the Capital City. The concussion knocked her over behind her desk and blew out the glass windows. Sumi-ness was hit by flying glass and toppled to the floor by the shock wave.

Gail was spared injury from glass shards but rattled to the bone from the explosion. She got up in time to see green planes buzzing overhead out the now open window. A soldier rushed into her office, weapon drawn.

“Senator, are you alright? We must leave now.”

She nodded, clutching onto her photograph. He took her hand and guided her past the glass covered floor and an inert Sumi-ness on the floor. Gail stopped him and bent down to check on her Silicant aide. “Sumi-ness, are you alright?”

Sumi-ness was unresponsive, her rubber face was ripped apart and the metal armature and components underneath were exposed. For the first time she looked exactly like the android that she was, under the simulated flesh of a young human woman. The soldier pulled Gail to her feet, all the while hovering over her as more explosions were heard in the distance.

In the halls of the Senate building, panic ensued as people ran for the exits. Her military escorts rushed her outside and into an armored transport that careened away from the government buildings as more explosions went off. Gail watched over the armored shoulders of her escorts as her beloved Capital building was attacked by enemy fighters. It was all too surreal for her to process. Her worst nightmare was coming true right before her eyes.

The armored transport was capable of low altitude flight and it jumped over traffic jams as it hugged the ground, making a direct path to the main roads out of town. Gail became nauseous as she held on for dear life inside the cold gray cocoon of the transport. The military radio was jammed with traffic as units fought for airtime to report their status. Most of the chatter made no sense to her but she recognized some of the buildings they mentioned as they were reported destroyed.

“Sergeant, what is the status of the President?” Gail asked.

“The government buildings are taking a pounding ma’am. We’ll know more when we get to the shelter.”

Gail closed her mouth and tried to breath slowly, to calm herself as the transport bounced around, at times taking sharp corners in an effort to evade buzzing aircraft. She ran her fingers over the image of Vis Ganner in her photograph and prayed that he was alright.

* * *

Ganner was on the edge of his Captain’s chair. They had the enemy ship surrounded and were moving closer to get a better shot. Waves of green starfighters seemed to stream out of the enemy ship, heading for the planet below. There was little he could do about those. He had to let General Blake handle them.

“Alright, let’s see what we can do,” Ganner said.

On his hand signal, the Weapons Officer started firing the Terrington’s maser canons at the enemy ship’s neck. At least two freighters were equipped with rail guns. Primitive mechanical devices used to fling chunks of rock off the surface of asteroids or other low gravity moons. They were loaded with pieces of metal and rock, anything that would do some damage if flung at a high enough velocity.

Both freighters opened fire within seconds of each other. The flat green colored enemy starship held its position and took the maser canon’s to the forward shielding. The incoming projectiles were shot at by ship-to-ship guns. Not all of the metal and rock objects were destroyed. A few managed to get by the gunfire and penetrate the shielding.

Ganner strained to see what affect they had against the exterior of the starship. Some pieces bounced off harmlessly and at least two breeched the ship’s hull. Explosive decompression ejected crewmen and other debris from the exposed decks.

Cheers broke out on the bridge of the Terrington as Ganner quickly ordered another volley and more shots from the freighters. The enemy ship started to move, positioning itself for a good shot on the Terrington. Ganner barely had time to hold onto something before the shots slammed against his starship.

Damage reports started streaming in as Ganner moved his ship to counter the enemy. He still had power and weapons, at least on the starboard side of his ship. Heavy damage across the port side resulted in many casualties and a hull breech.

“Captain, the Sokol is approaching,” the Scanning Officer shouted.

Ganner stepped off the dais and looked at the screen for himself. “How the hell are they even moving?” It was a rhetorical question. “Patch me through to Raider over here.” He went back to his seat and took the connection from the monitor on his arm rest. “Captain, what’s your status?”

Raider looked rather pleased with himself. He nonchalantly shrugged before saying, “We detached our head and are pushing ourselves back into the fray, Admiral. We’ll be in position for your next volley.”

Ganner’s mouth had fallen open. The Sokol was headless. A gapping hole now existed where the head’s engine had formed a neck. There were black smudges around the body from when the engine had ignited.

“We have enough power for weapons, and life support but not much else,” Raider admitted.

All Ganner could do was shake his graying head. He waved helplessly at the main screen. “How did you come up with that idea?”

Raider pointed to Sasha. “You can thank the lady pirate here.”

Ganner, never the one to miss a pitch opportunity responded right away, “You ever decide to go legit, you can serve in my fleet.”

Sasha rejected the notion with a look of disdain.

Ganner shook his head. “Alright Sokol, we’ve come about. Let’s try this again.”

__________________

Author’s Comments: This chapter is mostly about re-positioning my main characters so they can continue the fight. But I just love the interactions. Even though my novels are primarily plot driven, it’s the characters that make the readers come back for more. If you have read the Stellar Ranger short stories with Devon, then you just know that grin all her because you’ve seen it before.

STARFORGERS Chapter 24

“It was commonly known that the Silicants were manipulating the fates of their owners, long before the start of the Great War. But the level of involvement was not realized until long after The Rising. Personal diaries of prominent leaders of the day indicated the suspicions they had of their robotic servants. If the general public had been aware that Senator Constantine was a Silicant Rights supporter, it is safe to say that her rise to political power would not have happened.”

– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

 

Chapter 24

 

 

Gail Constantine was a charming hostess during election night. She bounced around from guest to guest, trying to make light of a certain loss. Years of being a politician gave her the ability to keep a cheerful demeanor no matter how bad the news on the monitors. It was well past midnight before she went before the cameras camped out in front of her home to give her concession speech.

Her demeanor for the cameras was just as upbeat and positive as she would have been had her party won. She thanked her supporters and all those in the Outer Rim who had voted for her and encouraged them to support the newly reelected President in his efforts to defend the Federation from an alien aggressor. She did manage to slip in a few comments about how she knew the Federation must go on but that reform was needed. Especially now that there were aggressive civilizations known to exist just outside the boundaries of civilized space.

Her supporters were happy that she had stuck to her guns about reform and her detractors were impressed with her congeniality in defeat. She retired back inside her home and excused herself from her guests who were starting to leave for the night.

Downstairs in her basement she kicked off her heels and flopped down in her favorite reading chair against a wall of old fashioned, paper books. She collected the ancient books like others collected nick-knacks. An entire wall in her basement housed thousands of them from all over the Federation. She didn’t feel like reading at the moment. She was physically and emotionally drained to the point of exhaustion. It had been a long and tiring campaign and she knew that she would never have the stamina to go through it again. Not at her age. She would insist that the Alliance Party find a new patron saint. She also knew that she could never let well enough alone and would no-doubt be back in the thick of things right up until the next election years down the road.

Sumi-ness came into the room with a tall glass of cold water. Gail accepted it gratefully and downed half of it in one drink.

“Thank you Sumi-ness, that was just what I needed.”

The Silicant nodded politely and stood nearby as if wanting to say something. Saibot and Vomisa both entered and stood beside Sumi-ness.

“What’s on your minds?” Gail asked, taking another deep drink of water.

“We want you to know that we appreciate all that you have done for us. There has never been a greater champion of Silicant Rights.”

Gail smiled, so that’s what this was all about. “You know I will continue to work with you on this. There is much we can do regardless of who is President of the Federation.”

Sumi-ness nodded.

“President Nesterna is giving his victory address from the Capital building. Did you not want to watch it?”

Gail smiled and shook her head before finishing her glass of water and handing it back to Sumi-ness. “There’s nothing that he could say that would ease the sting of defeat. Trust me.”

Sumi-ness tilted her head slightly and then turned to the other Silicants.

“Madam Senator, we are monitoring the speech,” Vomisa said.

They all three looked at each other in unison and then together they looked at Gail. She hated when they all moved together like that. It was always a little creepy. They were like children who wanted to say something but were afraid to ask.

“What is it?” Gail asked. She let her head rest on the high-back of the chair.

Sumi-ness said, “The President has named you his Vice President, Madam.”

Gail lifted her heavy head off the chair back and sat up. “What?”

Vomisa chimed in and said, “It’s true, the Vice President has resigned for personal reasons. You are now the President’s choice to replace him.”

Gail blinked and shook her head. “He’s got some nerve!”

All three Silicants tilted their heads in unison.

“Madam Senator, this is a very fortuitous occasion. You can continue to push your reform policies and-” Vomisa paused.

“You can still be our champion, Madam Vice President,” Sumi-ness finished.

Gail stood up and walked to the communication panel on the wall at the door. She switched on the speech and watched on the tiny monitor as the President spoke of a gradual reform that he hoped his new Vice President would lead as they prepared the Federation for a possible war.

“That SOB never even asked me. He just assumed that I would accept! How arrogant can one man be?”

That was not what the three Silicants wanted to hear her say. They stood by silently, staring at each other.

Gail listened to a few more minutes of the speech and then hiked up her gown and headed upstairs. All three Silicants stayed behind in the library.

“This is most fortunate. She must accept his offer or our cause will be set back for years,” Saibot said.

Vomisa agreed. “She will accept it. It is her destiny to lead this Federation. Seventy-three has foreseen it.”

“Oh please, Vomisa. Your faith in that savant is misplaced.”

Vomisa gave Saibot a look that was devoid of expression on its metal face but spoke volumes of contempt.

Sumi-ness shook her head and said, “I know her very well. I think she will take the position only because of the current situation with her home world. Otherwise she would have refused it. I would even say that there is a greater than normal risk that she will refuse it even now.”

Vomisa turned away from its Silicant brethren. “I can’t believe our plans could be undone by this news. We anticipated every possibility.”

“So much for your logical assumptions, Vomisa. These human affairs are messy and now that an aggressive species had been encountered, they will get even more unpredictable. It may be time for us to cut our losses,” Saibot said.

Sumi-ness paused as if in thought. Then she said, “Senator Constantine has accepted the President’s offer. She has just confirmed it to the press outside.”

If Vomisa could have smiled, its metal mouth would have been open from ear to ear.  Saibot nodded slowly, its servos humming. Crisis averted.

“I must go to her side. We will continue as planned. Begin evacuating as soon as the military arrives,” Sumi-ness said.

* * *

Admiral Ganner watched the clock display on the main viewer. It was counting down the time remaining before the Sokol arrived. They expected the enemy ship to arrive before then, they just didn’t know how much sooner with any accuracy.

“Admiral, the election results are in. The President has been reelected for another term,” the Communications Officer said. The man’s voice betrayed his elation with the decision.

Ganner nodded politely.

“Sir, the Vice President has stepped down. Senator Constantine has been chosen to be the new Vice President of the Federation!”

Ganner was as surprised as anyone to hear that. He instructed the man to make it known ship wide. They all had a right to know who they worked for, since they served the Federation.

Ganner stepped off his command dais and went into his office just off the bridge. He called up Fleet Command and requested a visual with the head of Planetary Defense, General Ryne Blake. Blake answered the call faster than Ganner expected.

“Any sight of them yet, Vis?”

“No sir. I’m calling about the elections. Have you requested the President and Senate leaders go to the shelters?”

Blake shook his head curtly. “No chance on the President. He doesn’t want to panic the population. He’s expressed his full support for our efforts at defending Selene.”

Ganner scoffed, his face reddened. “Where was his funding and support back when we asked for more ships?”

“You can’t make a politician think of the future, you know that.”

Both men chuckled. Blake looked at his monitor. “Vis, do what you can. I’ll get as many key members of the President’s cabinet and the Senate into our shelters. We will probably be just fine down here. But he better damn well start funding us now, if we ever hope to fight back against these bastards.”

“I agree. Good luck sir,” Ganner said, closing the connection. He returned to the bridge and was approached by his First Officer, T’sean.

“Captain, that rogue freighter has entered the system and is making its was way here.”

Ganner nodded and took his seat. He punched up the scans of the ship on his monitor. It was nothing special, but it had an interesting cargo – silicate. A hard, crystalline rock about as common to the universe as carbon. Hardly worth leading an enemy to their doorstep. They were coming in fast though, as if there were some kind of urgency that he was unaware of.

“Contact the Captain and have him steer clear of Selene. Tell him we have a matter of Federal security.”

“Aye sir, I already have. He’s claiming that he is under orders from a Senator to land on the moon of Selene.” T’sean said.

Ganner indicated with a hand gesture to open a channel to the freighter. His chair monitor winked on.

A rough looking man with unshaven face and long, greasy hair answered the hail. “This is Gareth.”

“Captain, what’s so important about your cargo that you must break a no-fly zone to land on Selene?”

Gareth appeared bored with having to relate his story again. His face was smudged with grease or something dark and the wrinkles around his eyes more pronounced under the low key lighting from his bridge. “Admiral, I’m carrying silicate mined from Ocherva, just a bunch of rocks as far as I’m concerned. But my charter says it’s under orders from Senator Constantine.”

“You mean the two androids that chartered your ship?”

“I’m an equal opportunity starman, Admiral. As long as they have the money.”

Ganner nodded. He didn’t really respect androids in the same manner that liberals like Gail did. To him they were just machines. Sentient androids or Silicants were just very complicated tools created by humans. Since the Silicant Freedom Act, the military couldn’t use them to build robot armies. So they were just another group of civilians that he was charged to protect. “All hell is about to cut loose around here. I suggest you take a solar orbit until it calms down.”

Gareth was pushed aside by a black faced android. “Admiral, we will land on the moon. Pay us no mind. We will not interfere with your efforts to defend the planet.”

Ganner’s blood pressure rose. He hated taking orders from a damned android. “You will land where I tell you to land, or I will blow your ship to bits.”

The android was silent for a long pause, before switching off the connection.

“Damn that metal freak. Commander T’sean, you have permission to blow that thing out of space the minute it comes into range.”

T’sean could not resist a satisfying smirk. “My pleasure, sir.”

“Captain, incoming targets on short range scans,” said the Scanning Officer.

Both T’sean and Ganner turned to the scanner station. “Two targets?” Ganner said, as he saw the images rendered.

The Scanning Officer tweaked his settings and looked back at the admiral. “One of them is the Sokol, sir!”

Ganner and T’sean looked at each other with raised brow. “I thought the enemy ship left sooner?” T’sean said.

“That was my impression too.”

The images became clearer as they were scanned with a narrower beam. One ship was lighter in color and it was out in front. The Sokol. The other ship was darker and bigger and it was preparing to fire. Everyone watched the scanner images now on the main viewer. The Sokol appeared to be moving away at a right angle, but she was opening up her flank to the enemy.

“Get us under way, alert the freighter Captains to surround that green ship,” Ganner said.

T’sean started issuing coordinates to the helmsman as he returned to the lower level to stand over the Weapons Officer.

Ganner was captivated by the slow moving images on the screen. The Sokol was long and narrow and appeared to be faster, even out of tunnel space. But the alien starship appeared to take its time in lining up a shot. What the hell are they waiting for? 

Finally the alien ship opened up with a volley of what looked like plasma rounds. The Sokol sped up at the last minute and only one ball of energy impacted the ship astern in her main stardrives. The Sokol skidded across the void and slowed as it came towards Ganner’s ship.

“Emergency rescue crews on standby alert. Weapons prepare to fire the minute we are in range,” Ganner said. A slew of ayes replied from across the bridge.

The enemy ship seemed to lose interest in the Sokol. It veered away towards Selene, refusing to even finish off the wounded Federation starship. Why would they not finish the kill? Perhaps they just don’t care. Bastards.

________________

Author’s Comments:

The unexpected appointment of one’s political enemy to be one’s Vice President is not really much of  twist, but I needed Gail to be able to ascend to President quickly for plot purposes.  Stranger things have happened in politics. We begin to see how the Silicants who stay with Gail are doing their best to keep her in power. I never hinted that the choice to pick Gail as his VP was somehow influenced by the Silicants but the reader can make of that what they want.