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.


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.



“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.


“People used to question my relationship to the Admiral, but after the war started those same people seemed to suddenly approve of the relationship. Nothing had changed between him and I, but now it was somehow a more honorable relationship. I think in those first dark days of the war, people were looking for hope wherever they could find it.”

– From the personal diary of President Gail Constantine


Chapter 15


Admiral Ganner sat down in front of Senator Constantine’s desk in her senate office. It was a familiar seat for him. Not only did he report to her on military affairs, she had in recent years become his close, personal friend. At least that was the official line they both gave anyone who asked. But those in their inner circle of friends all knew that the Senator and the Admiral were more than just friends.

They tried to keep their personal lives separate from their public lives but somewhere along the way, it all started to blend together. It was difficult for them to keep from becoming attracted to one another when they spent so much time together in their respective jobs. His administrative position at Starforce Command was located in a building adjacent to the Capitol dome where she spent her long days in public service. He had been attracted to her from the moment they were first introduced. Her poise, intelligence and timeless beauty made his tired, old heart dance in ways it had not done for many, many years.

The sneaking around they attempted early in their relationship also added to the attraction both of them had for each other. But what he cherished most of all about her was her compassion for her job and those who called her friend. She was the type of woman who always put other’s needs before her own and would make anyone feel welcome and important. Old fashioned characteristics perhaps, but he found them irresistible nevertheless.

She was running late again so Ganner spent the down time thinking about the events of the past week. Ever since they had received the horrific news of the Bourke’s destruction, his life had kicked into high gear and things started happening that he never believed he would ever see happen. A new and deadly race of aliens had come out of deep space and started attacking Outer Rim establishments, sparking fear and political dissent. The Federation Starforce had always been a small, specialized military, more a police force than anything; funded by multi-planet corporations. There had not been a war or even major military action in hundreds of years. Peace and rampant prosperity had enjoyed a long run in the Federation.

That was all about to change. War clouds were on the horizon. But war could also bring political change.

The Federation had always been a select club of industrial elites that all worked together to keep the machines of commerce running. Every few thousand years they invited a new planet into the club when it had reached an acceptable level of technological advancement and political stability. But in the last thousand years more planets became colonized than at any time in the past. Presently there were more people living on the Outer Rim worlds than all the Core worlds combined. The Outer Rim was larger too. The colonized planets were spread out over hundreds of light years and technology had to advance in order to keep the lines of commerce open into the Core worlds.

The latest development in starship engines enabled them to tunnel through holes in the space-time continuum in order to reduce travel time. Of course the Starforce pioneered this technology and it was only now starting to make its way onto ships of the line. The Sokol and Kelley were two of the first operational starships with this new tunnel drive. All the other ships in the fleet were standard, nuclear drive ships with limited reach.

Each of the six Core worlds had one or two standard drive starships permanently stationed in their systems. A few starships rotated out into the Outer Rim territories but none of them were permanently stationed there. In all, the Starforce Fleet had between eight and twelve deep space starships operational at any one time. A disturbingly small number of ships to protect an increasingly large population spread out over an even larger area spelled trouble for a Starforce charged with protecting everyone.

Working with Senator Constantine and the many heads of industry in the transportation categories, Ganner had received permission to create a new division within the Starforce Fleet. It was known as the Starforgers. So named because Ganner believed that what they were testing would be the future make-up of the entire Starforce. Using the few tunnel drive starships that were just coming on line, the Starforgers would be a quick reaction fleet that could get to any part of the Core or the Outer Rim in less time and with less resources than the old fleet could.

Who could have known that Ganner’s little experiment would be battle tested before it was even operational? Certainly not him and his supporters, including Senator Constantine.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting Vis. I was late getting out of my Foreign Affairs Committee meeting,” Gail said as she rushed into her office. She brushed by him with a gentle tap to his knee. He sat up, his tired face brightening as she came into the room. The air in the room was suddenly alive with her perfume.

“It’s okay. I was just taking a moment to collect my thoughts. Been rushing around like a bird with its head cut off lately.”

Gail sat down with a warm smile. Her dark green dress had subtle details that were brought out by a ray of sunshine coming in from the only window. She always has impeccable taste in clothes. It was one of the many things he loved about her.

“I suppose you’re looking for more ships.”

“Yes. I would like to have some political support before I go before the transportation council and beg for help. Also, it might become necessary to shut down the Core shipping lanes in the coming weeks. All this traffic will act like a neon sign pointing to every planet in the Core.”

Gail shook her head slowly as her smile faded. “That’s not going to go over well with anyone. This Federation lives by the shipping lanes. If you shut them down for even a day or two, supplies will get backed up and businesses will grind to a halt. Not to mention all the lost revenue or the starvation that would eventually happen.”

“I know. But you can tell them about all the death that would result from an attack on a Core world, like Selene. If we don’t stop these aliens in the Outer Rim, they’ll be here eventually. It’s just sound military strategy to go after the heart of your enemy.”

Gail looked away in thought for a moment. “Vis, do you think these aliens want that? I mean, what have we done to them? It seems strange to me that they would engage us in warfare without first trying to establish communications with us.”

“Maybe that’s not their way. Maybe they prefer to shoot first and talk later. Just because we haven’t encountered a militant race of aliens in the galaxy doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.”

“The diplomatic core has asked to send representatives to the Outer Rim. They think we should at least attempt to communicate with them.”

Ganner sighed in exasperation. “I can’t blame them for wanting to give peace a chance. This Federation has known peace for so long people have begun to accept it as the normal way of existence. But history proves them wrong. We have always had wars and there is no reason to expect that to change, just because nobody living today has experienced it. History is long with tales of those who refused to prepare for war in times of peace. I for one do not want this Federation to fall because of such hubris.”

She returned her eyes to his. “Neither do I.”

“I’ll see what I can do to get you some merchant ships. But unless the President declares war, there’s not much I can guarantee.”

“Thanks,” Ganner said. He started to get up from his chair.

“There is some good news today from the Outer Rim.”

Ganner looked down at the dark eyed senator.

“The latest election returns have us up in the polls on nearly every planet. Hoque and his people are getting nervous. Finally.”

Ganner managed a grateful smile. “Good. With all the events of late, I can just about promise you the military vote here at home. Most of my peers are trying to get money from their constituents to expand the Starforce. Let’s just hope we can counter this new threat before anything major happens. Otherwise it won’t matter who’s elected because our way of life will be finished.”

He tossed her a two fingered salute and she returned the parting gesture.

* * *

The staff room at Starforce Command was dominated by a long table in the middle of the room and a large picture window that overlooked the capital city of Selene. Members filed in and took their seats at the table, speaking to one another in quiet greetings. Each planet in the Core had a representative, usually an admiral or an army general. Ursai, Selene, Drexel, Tepik, Cadia, Tress and Arkab were all represented and one Outer Rim world, Tulia.

Admiral Ganner sat beside the Chief of Staff, Admiral Danes. Since the Starforgers were a new unit, sitting beside Danes afforded Ganner’s unit some recognition that he might not have garnered by himself.

The room was decorated in wood trim and earth tones as it was located in the historical old Military Affairs Building. Congress had been promising the Starforce a new state of the art home for nearly as long as Ganner had been an officer, but it had never materialized. During peacetime, little money flowed to the military. A fact of life that everyone who served eventually recognized.

“Good afternoon, folks,” Chief Danes said as he took his seat at the table. “I’ve just come from Intel and we have an update from Prahran. General Solano of the Stellar Rangers has informed us that his outpost on Ocherva has stopped sending updates. In fact, there has been no communication with any of the mines or settlers on that moon.”

“That’s not entirely unusual for a moon that far out in the black, is it?” Admiral Torrin asked. He was based on Ursai and hadn’t been out of the Core for his entire career.

“It is, actually,” Ganner said. “Especially Ranger outposts. They are required to check in daily with SITREPs and to report stellar traffic. They are in many ways our eyes and ears on the frontier.”

Torrin nodded, duly impressed with Ganner’s knowledge.

“If we assume that Ocherva has fallen to these new invaders, it would seem that we are dealing with more than one group of them. Am I correct in that assumption?” Danes asked.

Ganner made direct eye contact with the Chief of Staff. “Perhaps, sir. But then again, our intelligence data is extremely weak in the Outer Rim. The Sokol is in the area in pursuit of the alien ships. Captain Raider has informed me that they are heading towards Prahran, where they expect to encounter the aliens. Prahran is the jewel of the Outer Rim and a logical target for them to attack next.”

Danes shook his head. “Tam, send your ship at Tulia to Prahran, they are going to need all the help they can get.”

Admiral Tam Darnel spoke from across the table. She was a stern looking woman with hair more gray than brown. “Already done, sir. Admiral Ganner requested it before this meeting. I am all too happy to oblige.”

“Good. It looks like we are in for a stand on Prahran,” Danes said. He looked back to his right towards Ganner. “Your Starforgers are going to get battle tested before they are quite ready. Capital idea that unit.”

“Let’s hope so, sir. Right now I’d like to have my second ship back. Although it’s not going to do much good without any weapons.”

“Damn pirates,” Danes said.

Ganner agreed with the statement, embarrassed that his new ship had been taken so easily by them.

“Folks, we have to assume that these alien invaders might not be stopped at Prahran. If they take that planet their next logical targets will be inner Core worlds. We have to assume that due to all the traffic to and from Selene, they will eventually come here.”

“I think that’s a bit rash, sir. I mean, we’re a pretty fair distance from Prahran. It might take them months to get this far into the Core systems,” Admiral Seldon said from beside Darnel.

“Not if they have something similar to our new tunnel drives. The Sokol has not been able to track them using conventional means. Either they are hiding or they can move without leaving tracks. Tunnel drives are hard to track too. They leave a brief electromagnetic signature when activated but due to the manner in which they warp space and time, nothing can track them after they jump,” Ganner said.

Seldon was still skeptical as were many of the people around the table. New technology was always hard for people to grasp, especially when it completely changed the rules for traveling, like tunnel drives did.

“I’m not taking any chances. This Federation is not worth risking over it. I want to move some ships from two of the furthest planets to Selene to augment our defenses. That means Tepik and Ursai. Any objections?” Danes looked around the long table in the direction of those planet’s representatives. Both men shook their heads.

“Good. In the meantime, I will move the home guards to Condition Yellow until further notice.”


Author’s Comments:

This is another transition chapter. We are introduced to the affair between Ganner and Constantine. This is an important character development chapter for them. I briefly mention when they first met and if that interests you, you will enjoy the free short story, “A Promising Alliance”. You can read it right here under Free Short Stories.




“The only known AI survivors of the massacre on Ocherva were two Silicants. Much attention has been placed on the memory banks of the most famous of those androids – Thirty-seven. One transcript included the details leading to the last stand by the Rangers of Company H. Those heroic details have been the stuff of legend for over a thousand years.”

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


Chapter 13


The attack progressed smoothly and in accordance to the battle plan. The frail, bipedal aliens had put up only a token show of force. Viper troops landed at all the major urban centers, if you could call them that. Small, one or two dirt street assemblages of buildings that were not even defended. The aliens on this moon were unorganized and weak. It was clear that the moon was just a mining outpost and not of much military value. A bunch of civilians living on a desert moon with no protection just invited trouble. This kind of thing would never happen on a Votainion controlled world. Kaigun watched the tactical data returning from the surface troops.

The entire attack was over so quickly his elite troops had not even gotten their armor dirty. There would be rumbling amongst them as they were recalled to the landing ships. Where was the challenge in a battle that lasted no longer than a mid-day meal? Kaigun hoped that Lord Kantor was ready to press with the next attack soon. Or there would be hell to pay on his attack transports.

* * *

Thirty-seven could hear sporadic shooting in the distance as the attackers got closer. There were two remaining Rangers holed up in the storage vault of Control. Both of them were loading explosive rounds into their weapons and seemed prepared to fight to the last. It was normally very cold in the storage room, but the power had been cut to the building and now it was becoming oppressively hot. Thirty-seven did not mind the heat, but the humans sweated profusely.

“How many rounds do you have?” Seth asked. His panting hadn’t slowed from his sprint across the street. His dark hair and tanned skin dripped with sweat and his right leg bled profusely, even though the shot had barely slowed him.

Aven held up five rounds. “That’s it.”


Seth looked around the dusty floor for more ammo cans. There were two near the back of the room. “Slim, check those boxes for ammo, will ya?”

Thirty-seven had only been called Slim by its owner, but after she had left with the military, Seth had assumed ownership of the spindly android. It moved to the back of the small room and quickly opened both boxes. They were empty.

“Shit.” Seth looked at the table they were sitting on. Sliding off it he motioned for the android to help him tip it over. The armored attackers were getting closer. The three of them got behind the table and waited. Aven was uninjured but obviously winded from the battle.

“Looks like this is it boys,” Seth said. He held up his blaster defiantly.

“I’ve always hated this damn moon. Now I’m going to die on it.” Aven gave Seth a quick grin.

Seth let out a nervous laugh. “This ain’t how my ocha dream ended, yours?”

Aven grinned again. “Hell no.” He motioned for the door. “I did see those blue skin devils though.”

“Me, too. Guess we should have left with Devon.”

Aven’s smile faded. “She saw them too.”

Seth and Aven locked eyes. Both men understood that they would probably die. It was like the fulfillment of a bad nightmare. An explosion sent shock waves through them as debris impacted the other side of the door.

Seth looked at Thirty-seven. There was a chance the android would be spared. It was unarmed and therefore not a threat. “Slim, you have to find a way off this rock and warn Devon.”

Thirty-seven nodded its round metal head slowly, sensing the weight of situation.

“Get over there in the corner and shut down. If they don’t blast you, try and get out of here. There are hidden landing zones in the northern foothills. Find a way off this moon and back to the Core Worlds. Let them know what has happened.”

Thirty-seven tilted its head as another explosive round impacted on the door and blew it into the room. The concussion sent its torso back against the wall. Seth and Aven stood up and shot their last rounds into the hole at the advancing soldiers. Both men were cut down where they stood, their lifeless bodies falling like fleshy debris.

Seth fell onto Thirty-seven’s lap, his glossy eyes inches from the android’s eye lenses. An enemy weapon discharged and Seth’s head exploded apart. Pieces of blood, bone and gray matter splattered on the face plate of the tan android.

The attackers pushed his body aside and left. Thirty-seven was in a perpetual state of shock. The Silicant sat unmoving for hours, replaying the violent death of its master in an endless loop.

* * *

The black android strolled down the empty main street of Haven, the only moving thing for as far as the eye could see. Fires were still burning, casting pillars of dark smoke into the bright, salmon skies. Dead humans and lerras littered the dirt street. The android turned to enter a bombed out structure that had once been home to the Stellar Ranger company.

The android easily pushed aside debris until it reached a reinforced room near the center of the still burning building. There, sitting with its back propped up against a wall pock marked with blast holes was Thirty-seven. Its eye lenses glowing faintly, blood and gore from the humans splattered across its body.

“Are you functioning, Thirty-seven?” the black android asked.

Thirty-seven sat motionless. It was on, but the visual and audio inputs were being ignored by the confused brain inside. Both androids were sentient beings, made so by upgrades synthesized from the very sands of Ocherva. The black android was called Eighty-eight by those who originally built it to serve mankind. Since being upgraded to a Silicant, Eighty-eight cared little for the affairs of its creators. It was concerned only with members of its own ilk.

Thirty-seven was unresponsive on all levels, visual, audible and wireless. Eighty-eight picked up the body of Seth and tossed it away unceremoniously to get to Thirty-seven. It touched the reset switch on the android’s neck and the tan android’s lenses winked off and then slowly came back on again. Eighty-eight was patient. It stood over its metal compatriot and waited for it to come on-line.

“Eighty-eight, where did you come from?”

The black android pulled Thirty-seven upright and led it out of the smoking remains of Ranger Control before speaking. “This moon was attacked by an alien race I have never seen before. It is the same race who attacked our Silicant processing factory on Sillecore. This is not good for our cause, Thirty-seven. If we lose this moon and our fabrication facility, we will not have the ability to convert androids into Silicants.”

Thirty-seven seemed to process what its friend was saying, but it was not easy. Scanning the remains of Haven it felt alone and empty inside. “What do we do now?”

“There is a transport on the way to carry the remaining supply of silicate rock to Sillecore for processing. We shall travel with them.”

Thirty-seven was heartened by that news, but unsure of the journey ahead of them. It had an urge to see its former owner Devon Ardel, but he knew that she was far away and out of reach. Both androids walked slowly out of the deserted town and into the hot sands of the Ochervan desert.

* * *

Captain Blud kicked at the charred remains of Ranger Control and then looked up at the two shinning balls of light in the midday sky of Ocherva. It was hot like an oven on this dirty moon. His black space suit absorbed the heat and he could hear the cooling system working overtime to keep his body from boiling inside the spacesuit. His helmet was left behind, he could breath fine on the moon without it.

“There’s nothing left of any value on this moon.”

Sasha was within earshot. She held up a tarnished tin Ranger star she had found in the rubble. “This was a Ranger station. They killed the lawmen, miners, cattle ranchers. Anything alive on this moon was killed and then they just left. Who would do such a thing?”

They had taken a shuttle craft down to the surface to see firsthand the total destruction they had detected from orbit. It was depressing, even for pirates used to death and destruction. Blud looked around for any signs of life at all. There were no birds on the moon and only the smallest of desert creatures, none of which were crazy enough to be out at midday.

“Let’s go. I’ve seen enough.”

Sasha pocketed the badge and stepped over the burned out remains of the building until she was on the dirt street next to her lover. They started walking back to their shuttle when movement caught Blud’s eye. He pulled his pistol and pointed it at the black shape that was coming at them from across the street. It was an android. He slowly holstered the weapon and waited for the thin biped to approach them.

“Captain Blud, I presume?” Eighty-eight said.

Blud nodded.

“I am Eighty-eight, the Silicant representative.”

Blud looked at Sasha who waved a hand like she didn’t care one bit about any Silicant. “How did you survive this attack?”

“The invaders paid no attention to androids. Something we are not altogether unused to.”

Blud seemed to ignore the snide remark. “What did they look like, the invaders?”

“They were humanoid, with brutish faces and pale blue skin. They killed with alarming speed and discipline. I must admit it was impressive.”

Blud seemed lost in thought. Finally he asked, “How many of you are on this moon?”

“Just myself and one other Silicant. We are charged with getting the final load of silicate rocks back to Sillecore for refinement.”

“Sillecore was destroyed. Most likely by whoever attacked here,” Blud said, motioning to the destruction around them.

Eighty-eight stood perfectly still, processing that news. “What has become of our transport?”

“Destroyed. I have a ship that could take your load, if the price is right.”

Eighty-eight nodded curtly. “I have fifty-thousand Redbacks. Will that buy me transport to Selene?”

Sasha turned around in disgust, she hated doing business with damn slags. She started back for the shuttle. Blud watched her leave and knew he had better strike a deal quickly before she blasted off without him.

“That will be sufficient. I’ll have the captain contact you. They’re in orbit now, the Rashionu-sera.”

Eighty-eight nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”

Blud frowned, turned and headed back to the shuttle. He knew about the Silicant Rights movement and he knew about their secret attempts to process silicate rock into chips that gave sentience to regular androids. None of that mattered to him. What he cared the most about was making profit off them. As long as they didn’t bother his pirating and paid handsomely, he would do business with them. The moment they showed any signs of turning on him, he would blast every one of their slag heads.

* * *

Eighty-eight returned to the gorge where the crates filled with silicate were stored. They had been hidden from sight for many months. Orange sand had drifted against them and ocha shrubs were growing under the shaded areas. Thirty-seven was using a shovel to dig out the base of one of the crates. The fine, ocher sand got into everything. Eighty-eight hated this moon and could not wait to get off its barren and hostile surface. No android should ever have to endure the conditions it had since first coming to this moon.

“I have located a transport. They will arrive shortly. We must continue to dig out the crates and be ready to move them aboard,” Eighty-eight said, as it picked up a shovel and started helping Thirty-seven dig.

“Did the ship come from the Trade Triangle?” Thirty-seven asked.

“No, they are pirates. We shall pay them for their efforts and they will get us as far as the Inner Rim.”

Thirty-seven stared at its black friend.

Eighty-eight stopped shoveling to stare back. “What is wrong?”

“I must inform Miss Devon of what has happened here,” Thirty-seven said. It glanced longingly in the direction of Haven.

Eighty-eight continued digging. “She probably already knows. The pirates have discovered what has happened and news always travels quickly with their kind.”

Thirty-seven glanced back to Eighty-eight. “She will be sad to learn of her lover’s death.”

Eighty-eight looked up and jammed its shovel into the ground. It came over to Thirty-seven and slapped the tan android across its head. The metal on metal sound echoed off the rock walls of the gorge. “Forget about your former master. You are a Free Silicant now. Your only concern is for the safety and well-being of your fellow Silicants. Understand?”

Thirty-seven stood still and silent for a longer than normal interval.

“Our only mission now is to get these rocks back to Selene for processing,” Eighty-eight said.

Thirty-seven tightened its grip on its own shovel. For a moment, Eighty-eight wondered if it was going to smack it back in retaliation. But instead it went back to work uncovering the crates. Satisfied that Thirty-seven was not going to question it further, Eighty-eight went back and picked up its shovel and continued to dig out another crate.

* * *

The transfer shuttle from the Rashionu-sera landed near the hidden gorge and several worker androids started moving the heavy crates into the back of the shuttle. They were normal androids that didn’t question their menial labor jobs. Eighty-eight ignored them and approached the group of humans overseeing the operation.

The man in charge was dressed in a black pressure suit that was ragged and worn. He didn’t wear a helmet and his hair was long, greasy and wet with perspiration. There were two other crew members looking around at the alien landscape. They were holding large rifles and wore expressions of disappointment on their sweaty faces.

“Welcome to Ocherva,” Eighty-eight said to the man in the space suit.

“Are you Eighty-eight?”


He pulled a pistol from a holster that had been out of sight. He pointed it at Eighty-eight’s metal temple and charged an explosive round. The other humans pointed their rifles at Eighty-eight’s waist. “Where’s the Redbacks, slag?”

Eighty-eight assessed the situation and realized it was not in a position to fight back. It raised both arms in surrender, as it had seen humans do in similar situations. “When the cargo has been transferred, I shall turn over the money.”

One of the humans was fatter and dirtier than the rest. He spat something on the ground and cocked his projectile rifle. “Let me shoot it, Gareth.”

“If you destroy me, you will never find the money.”

Gareth pushed the rifle away and put his hand on Eighty-eight’s black plastic shoulder. “Listen pal, we’re just doing business. Right?”

Eighty-eight nodded cautiously giving Gareth his full attention.

“Dohlber, tell your slags to hurry up. We don’t want to keep Two Three waiting.”

The fat man grunted and slung the barrel of his rifle over his shoulder. He moved towards the worker androids.

Gareth took out a cigar and lit it with a lighter that projected a large, blue flame. His mouth formed a dirty smile. “You’re one of them Silicants, ain’t you boy?”

It was common knowledge that some androids had become sentient, but not everyone could tell the difference, especially out here in the Outer Rim. Eighty-eight nodded slowly, figuring that if the man reported to a Silicant, he probably knew more about them than most humans.

“Cap’n is one too, ‘cept he’s kinda…” Gareth drifted off. His attention on watching the others beat on the mindless androids moving the crates of rock. “Look, you watch yourself. Two-three ain’t ’xactly factory direct, if you catch my drift. Just do what he says and stay out of his way. Where are we heading with this load? Tulia? Negram?”


Gareth clamped down on his cigar and his face clouded over. “Did you say Selene?”

Again, Eighty-eight silently nodded.

“That’s not too smart. Bringing a pirate ship to the heart of the Federation.” He spat something dark onto the ground.

“We shall have no trouble with the port authorities, I can assure you sir. We are expected.”

Gareth took the half chewed cigar from his mouth and erupted in a wide grin. “Shit, only a crazy as slag Captain would do such a thing. You’ve hired the right ship for that, I reckon.” He patted Eighty-eight on the shoulder and moved on to supervise the androids tying the crates to the floor of the shuttle craft.

Eighty-eight lingered in the shade until the final crate was brought on board. The humans came back to him, their weapons at the ready.

Gareth snuffed out his cigar on the orange clay and coughed. “Alright plastic man, where’s the Redbacks?”

Thirty-seven came ambling up to the group from behind a rock formation. All three humans pointed their weapons at the new android carrying a large leather case.

“This is my compatriot, Thirty-seven. You will find sufficient funds in the case he is carrying.”

One of the humans took the case away and stepped back, keeping his rifle trained at both androids. Gareth took the case and knelt down on one knee to open it on the ground. He pushed his hand through the wrapped bills in a cursory manner, not counting but estimating the total. It met with his approval and he shut the case.

“Looks about right to me. You both coming along?”

Eighty-eight nodded.

Gareth stood up with the case and headed back to the shuttle. The other two escorted the Silicants. Thirty-seven exchanged silent looks with Eighty-eight. They communicated wirelessly, unbeknown to the humans.

::I have a bad feeling about this trip.::

::You are not the only one, Thirty-seven.::

Thirty-seven watched in silence as the black android moved slightly in front a bit as they walked.


Author’s Comments:

This chapter was hard to write. The death of Seth is something that I will come back to again in Starforgers Book 2, The Rising.  That scene has implications that will alter the lives of Thirty-seven and Devon Ardel. Stay tuned.

This chapter is also the introduction of the pirate named Gareth. The character is named in homage to one of my favorite SF authors, British author Gareth Powell. It is one of many Tuckerizations in my novels. Another character named for a favorite author is the silicant  Saibot. Who’s name is the reverse spelling of Tobias, named for SF novelist Tobias Buckell. One more for the road: Vomisa is named after author Issac Asimov.



“I’ve always hated Stellar Rangers. Cocky and self-righteous the lot of them. And yes, my brother-in-law is a Ranger, so I know first hand. That pompous lerra’s ass.”

– Personal Journal of Commander Jaye, SS Sokol


Chapter 8


The VCF Krestor was flanked by the other cruisers of the armada as it entered the outer reaches of the Prahranian system. All the cruiser Captains were standing around a table in the Krestor’s conference room. Several of them were sweating profusely, lending a horrid stench to the confined room.

“This system isn’t protected. There are regular transport flights from neighboring systems but no military ships on patrol. The planet is about twice the size of Voton, but with nearly the same gravity. Despite the size, I believe we can occupy it with the ground forces we have,” Kantor said.

“Sir, what about land forces? We have no idea what kind army the enemy may have on the surface. We could easily get overwhelmed,” said Krom, a stout man with a heavier than normal brow line.

Kantor flashed his black eyes at the general who expressed doubt. “There’s nothing to suggest that this planet is anything but a sleeping giant. Your forces will enjoy full orbital support, General Krom. Even if you are overwhelmed, the enemy will have to endure the superior firepower of this fleet.”

Krom nodded curtly and wiped sweat from his blue forehead.

“Standard planetary invasion tactics will be utilized. Take the urban centers and secure all star ports,” Kantor said.

“Chief Strategist, how long will we occupy this planet? Are we going to be moving on to the other ones in this sector?” Captain Voss asked, his face thin and gaunt in the low light.

“The Empress wants us to hold as many planets as we can for as long as we can. More ships are on their way. Scans indicate there are more populated planets here, and here,” Kantor pointed to several star systems further from Votainion space. My plan is to leap from system to system until we find the core worlds of this race. It is possible we will meet with stiffer resistance as we get closer to their home world.”

“Your plan is sound, Lord Kantor, but we have never engaged a foe with such a vast amount of planets. The industrial complex alone of this species could out-produce the Empire if given the chance. We must destroy their will to fight, before they can organize a serious resistance,” Voss said.

“Precisely, Captain. If we can strike fear into their central government, they will capitulate before our warships. But we must act swiftly and decisively.”

An older Captain, Kvorn, spoke. “This species is remarkably similar to our own. I have a strong feeling it could be the lost Kastra.”

Kantor bared his teeth in a grin that resembled a snarl.

“I believe it is the lost tribe of Voton. When I returned from that desolate moon I had a vision of the future. It was magnificent. War and unrest in these parts for many years. Huge starfleets battling for dominance. We stand at the edge of a new war. One that will expand the Empire and lead to our eventual dominance of the galaxy.”

The other Captains seemed to buy into Kantor’s vision. Their dark eyes shined with satisfaction. It was every Votainion’s dream to conquer new worlds and be victorious in battle. Kantor was offering them the chance to lead the Empire into battle with a worthy foe who would never know what hit them.


* * *

They had made the tunnel jump successfully and were slowly moving through the space where the Kelley had reported pirates. Raider left the bridge and retired to his quarters. He had some messages from Selene and wanted to view them in private.

The first was from Admiral Ganner. Several shipping lines were attacked near Prahran. It was not clear if the attackers were pirates or someone else. There were no further transmissions from the Kelley. That one was disturbing. Raider wondered if the crew had been killed when the pirates attacked. He didn’t want to think about losing Captain Dobson and his crew. But he knew that pirates could be ruthless and if they had been attacked there was a strong possibility they were all dead.

The second message was from Senator Constantine. She was concerned about her daughter on Ocherva. Raider had forgotten about the senator’s daughter. Devon was her name and she was a bit of an outcast. She had joined the Stellar Rangers like her old man, much to her mother’s chagrin. Senator Constantine had been grooming her daughter to be a diplomat and was disappointed when she ran off and married a young officer in the merchant fleet. Raider had never met Devon but knew of her exploits from many conversations with the senator.

“Captain, my daughter heads the Stellar Ranger company on Ocherva. I know you are short on trained starfighter pilots, but if this situation gets out of hand, you could enlist her and some of her Rangers. I’ve spoken with my ex-husband on Prahran and he agrees that in time of war, Rangers are allowed to resign in order to accept a commission in the military. She’s the only person who has battled with those green fighters. I also happen to know that they are in possession of the wreckage. That could prove invaluable to helping you counter them.”

She paused on the recording and shook her head in disgust.

“The Senate has started debating my Alliance Resolution. I’m still getting resistance from the opposition. Sometimes I’d like to wring their necks. I’m just about done with this whole Presidential campaign. It’s wearing me down more than I expected. Enough of my troubles, Captain, good luck with finding the Kelley. If you decide to enlist Devon, give her my best and tell her to send me a message.”

Raider noticed the strain in the senator’s voice as she signed off. It must be hard on her being so far removed from her family and running for President. He thought about what she had said concerning the enlisting of Ranger pilots. It was a good idea. He pressed the comm link.

“Commander, meet me on the flight deck in ten minutes.”

“Aye sir,” Trimble replied.

* * *

Raider stood before the parked starfighters in the hanger. There were a handful of standard fighters lined up together on one side and about a dozen mixed prototypes strewn around everywhere else. The fleet was in the process of evaluating several new starfighter designs. The Sokol had been selected as the test bed to determine if the new designs could be deployed on the next generation of starships.

Some of the prototypes were one-off designs. Others were nearly completed programs with huge corporate sponsors behind them. Raider was not a pilot. He rose to command through traditional methods rooted in leadership tracts. He didn’t always understand Feet’s interest in fighter pilots. To him they were an anachronism. Star battles of the type that the Sokol was built to engage in were not going to be won by single-seat fighters anymore. Not when the battles were light years away from planetary systems. His lack of faith in their importance let him place their selection at the bottom of his priority list. When they left Selene, they had six pilots, half the normal compliment. If they were somehow able to get six or eight more starfighters flying, they would be short pilots.

Trimble came on deck and hustled over to where Raider was standing.

“I’m waiting for Commander Jaye to join us,” Raider said.

Trimble looked around at the various fighters in disrepair on the deck. “I didn’t know we had so many prototypes down here.”

Commander Jaye climbed out of the nearest fighter and jumped down to the grated deck beside Raider and Trimble.

“G’day, Cap’n. Commander,” Jaye said.

He was wearing greasy overalls and looked for all the world like a mechanic. He extended a dirty hand to Raider. Raider accepted with a firm grip that was returned in kind.

“How many fighters have you and Mr. Allen managed to get working?” Raider asked.

“Including this little beauty, four sir. Of course that’s not including flight tests. We could lose half of what we just gained after we take ’em for a test flight.” Jaye seemed confident that losing ships to technical problems was inevitable.

“I think we can get you a handful of former Stellar Ranger pilots when we get to Ocherva. They will have to be assimilated into the fleet but they are at least more disciplined fliers than most civilians.”

Jaye quickly lost the enthusiasm in his demeanor. “Rangers, Cap’n?”

“Is that a problem?”

“Well, they do tend to be a bit rowdy sir,” Jaye said.

“He’s right, Captain. Stellar Ranger pilots are known far and wide as being undisciplined. They may turn out to be more trouble than we’d like.”

Raider didn’t need to hear that. He was probably heading into a war and the last thing he needed was dissension in his ranks.

“I’m holding you two personally responsible for making sure they get assimilated into your units as quickly and painlessly as possible. We need every person on this ship in top fighting form. Do I make myself clear?”

Jaye straightened up and gave him a stiff salute. “Aye, Cap’n.”

Raider looked him hard in the eyes for a moment before returning the salute. Then he stormed off the deck with Trimble tagging along behind him.


Author’s Comments:

Another transition chapter, so not much action. We get a peek at the Votainions planning to attack Prahran in this chapter. I tried to make my bad guys as realistic as possible. I didn’t want them to come off as cold, unfeeling thugs, or so completely alien that the reader couldn’t begin to sympathize with them.


“The SS Kelley was in fact named after a rather famous relative of mine. There have been three ships named for Admiral Chester Lee Kelley, one was an ocean vessel, one was a prototype tunnel drive starship and one was a destroyer escort starship. Only the tunnel drive prototype is ever remembered by historians. Considering the fates of the other two vessels, that was just as well.”

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


Chapter 5


There were six warships in the armada, four capital and two cruisers. Kantor led from the VCF Krestor, one of the heavily armed cruisers. The warships exited tunnel space in a circular pattern around the largest asteroid of the system. To a scanning crew it would have appeared that they had come out of nowhere. But there were no such scanning operators at the hidden base. Nobody ever saw it coming.

Like green bats, reconnaissance fighters swooped into the crevice of rock that ran down the center of the asteroid. Flames of death shot from their wingtips as they bore down on the unsuspecting human outpost. There were two freighters docked in the rocky crevice, feeding their cargo to the warehouses buried deep inside the asteroid. One of them opened fire in return with the limited weapons it had on board. The Eight-fighters quickly dispatched it, causing a main reactor to blow. The explosion wound up doing more damage and killing more people than the invading fighters could have managed on their own.

Sensor sweeps by the warships revealed no survivors and high levels of radiation from the explosion. Kantor was clearly frustrated that he could not inspect the battle zone himself. He ordered his force back to the warships and reconvened with Varco in the war room.

“That was too easy to have been a military base. It looks like you were correct. Clearly they were pirates of some kind.”

“We probably helped out the local constabulary, My Lord.”

Kantor grunted. He pointed to the planet with the most traffic heading from it to parts unknown. “We’re heading here next. Tunnel space when the fighters return. This was a waste of time.”

Kantor left the room with a disgusted harrumph, and headed back to his cabin.

Varco changed the viewer to show scanning results from the destroyed base. He tried to get a handle on what level of technology these people had. Their starships had nuclear drives and they returned fire with plasma based weapons that were at best ineffective. Component analysis indicated metal alloys and a few composites of unknown strength.

He was surprised by how similar their technology was to his own. It was rare to come across an unknown civilization that was at the same level as the Empire. Almost as rare as coming across beings that looked for all the universe just like Votainions. They were slightly smaller and uglier but they were otherwise so closely matched that it unnerved him. He really wanted to get some specimens before engaging them again. Perhaps there were aspects of their physiology that he could leverage in their next engagement. But after the reactor blew, he could not risk sending his troops into the remains of the base.

Varco called up more scanner reports looking for anything that he could find that would help him understand his new enemy. Communications by the aliens were flooding space in this sector, none of it encrypted. If he could just read it they would have some bit of advantage. The ship’s Engineers were combing through the languages and trying to parse out what was being said. But it would take time. Time for them to understand it and more time to build translators.

* * *

The SS Kelley was on the final leg of her deep space trials. She was the first nearly operational starship of the Federation Starforce to have the revolutionary tunnel drive. It allowed the ship to traverse large distances in space by tunneling through artificially created worm holes. The technology was so bleeding edge that the crew barely understood what she was capable of doing. As a result the ship carried many civilian engineers and was underarmed.

They were four light years outside Prahran when their scanners detected a nuclear flash in an area of space considered uninhabited. Captain Blane Dobson ordered a suspension of the tightly scheduled testing program in order to investigate the anomaly. It would give the scanning crews a chance to test their new equipment and it would give his bridge crew a chance to work together on a real-world problem; instead of running test checklists and going through drills night and day.

The Kelley went into yellow alert and all testing of the stardrives and related systems were put on hold. His crew was less than half the normal complement and his primary weapons were off-line. The Captain was ready to jump back to Federation space at the first sign of any trouble. The Kelley was far too valuable a starship to lose to pirates or even to an accident. At times Dobson felt he was lucky just to have the conn, much less be allowed to cruise around the galaxy.

“Captain, I have multi-ship traffic approaching at cruising speed,” the First Officer said from the scanning station.

Dobson got up from his chair and stood over the FO. “Looks like a squadron of transports. Check the trader schedules, they are way outside the normal routes.”

“Aye sir.”

“Comm, patch me through to the lead freighter please,” Dobson said. He sat back down in his Captain’s chair and put on a headset.

The Comm Officer adjusted her controls and a channel opened. There was a pop and sputter as the link was established.

“This is Federation Starship SS Kelley, please state your current flight path and affiliation.”

Dobson pressed the headset against his ears in an effort to hear better.

SS Kelley this is the Bainesbright, we are en route to Prahran and in need of escort from pirates, can you assist?”

Dobson locked eyes with his FO, a thin man with long black hair tied back in the customary fashion. The FO looked skeptical. Although this area was ripe with pirates, it was unlikely that three or more ships would be bothered. Pirates preferred to pick on solo ships as there was usually safety in numbers, even out here in the wilds of the Outer Rim.

Bainesbright, unless you have an emergency we cannot assist, over.”

There was silence from the transport as the three ships came closer to the Kelley.

“Captain, the civilian registry shows that the Bainesbright was lost in space nearly a year ago in this general area,” the FO said, his voice rising in alarm.

Dobson watched the images on his forward screen get larger as the distance between them and the transports closed. Lost in space? How long have they been out here, anyway? This is very suspicious.

“Helm, make preparations for a jump back to Federation space. Jarve, organize a rescue party in case they have wounded.” The FO nodded, but looked over his shoulder at the transports one last time. They certainly didn’t look like they needed any assistance.

Bainesbright, please match speed and be prepared to dock. We have limited medical supplies but are prepared to help in any way we can.”

There was another long pause as the transports continued forward without slowing. Dobson started to get that annoying feeling that something was still not right. He stepped forward and studied the growing images on the viewer. What was that odd feature on the side of the lead transport? It sure as hell wasn’t a loading crane or a probe. Weapons!

A flash of light erupted from the transport’s single rail gun, startling him.

“Brace for impact! Helm start the jump cycle.”

Dobson started back for his seat and was forced into it by the initial impact.

“Damage report,” he said.

“Loss of pressure on the engineering deck. Containment fields collapsing. Sir, we can’t make the jump,” the FO shouted over the vibrations that shook the entire ship.

Damn, I feel like an ass. Dobson could now clearly see the flaming skull markings on the three pirate ships as they spread apart in a flanking maneuver.

“Prepare to be boarded. Armory start issuing weapons. Helm, flank speed!”

Dobson moved to the communications station and spoke into the ear of the officer. “Send an emergency message to the Fleet. Inform them we’re engaging pirates.”

The officer nodded and sent the message.

Dobson went to a locker on the wall and removed the handguns inside. He started passing them out to the other bridge crewmen. There were only three crewmen and one of them left for the airlocks upon receiving his weapon.

Federation procedures for dealing with space pirates were essentially no quarter. Pirates often returned the gesture in kind. By allowing his ship to be overtaken, he was sentencing his crew to their deaths.

“Helm, start a meltdown by my command.”

He was also about to deny the pirates the use of his ship. The Helmsman grimly executed the order no one ever imagined hearing. Dobson cleared his weapon and loaded a round into the chamber. It was tradition on Federation starships to only use projectile weapons for defense. Living on a nuclear time bomb made lazing weapons nothing short of insane. Holes in a starship’s skin were easier to plug than a blown reactor.

There was a deep, grinding sound from the sides of the ship as docking commenced with the lead pirate ship.

“Begin reactor meltdown,” Dobson said.

The Helmsman solemnly carried out the order.“Sir, Helm is not responding!”

Dobson tucked his pistol in the red pleated cumberbun of his uniform and picked up the headset at his chair. “Helm, this is the Captain. What’s wrong?”

There was no response.

“Jarve, get down there and make it happen.”

Commander Jarve chambered a round in his pistol and headed for the hatch. He quickly knocked the hatch locks off and was pushed aside by several burly men wielding blunt barreled rifles.

Captain Dobson drew his pistol but was hit square on with a blast of metal pellets. His tattered body bounced off the Helm station and slumped into a pile on the metal grid of the deck. The same fate met the Comm Officer from behind. He collapsed forward on his instruments.

Jarve got one shot off at the pirates before being leveled at point blank range.

The pirate gunners wore black space suits with armor plating. Dark face shields masked their faces. Three of them moved onto the bridge and pulled or pushed aside the dead Federation officers and took their positions.

“Hull intact. We have power and Helm,” one of the pirates stated with a flat, business like tone.

The last pirate to enter took the Captain’s chair and opened his face shield. The ebony face inside was wet with perspiration but perfectly serene. He looked around with steady, dark eyes and smiled. It had been a long time since Captain Blud had been on a Federation bridge. It was not too different from what he remembered. Bigger and more refined, but basically the same.

“Excellent. Sashi, how many crew?”

A confident female voice answered over the ship’s comm line. “Thirty crew,” she paused for a moment and the sound of gunfire could be heard, “all neutralized.”

“Join me on the bridge, my love,” Blud said.

A few minutes later, Sasha came through the hatch carrying her helmet. She stepped over the dead Captain on the floor and tossed her helmet onto the Helm station. She wore her black hair in tight rows across her head. Her skin was darker than Blud’s. She had a scar on her chin marring her otherwise perfect face. “Too easy.”

Blud smiled and drew her close to him. They kissed intimately without regard for anyone else present. When they parted Blud pulled up a flat viewer panel from the Captain’s chair and punched the buttons displayed on it. Data streamed by as the log book printed.

“This ship is unarmed and was not in the area when our base was attacked.”

He sat back and stared coldly at the panel.

Sasha scrolled further until the log stopped. “Maybe they were directing the strike from way out here?”

Blud shook his head and stepped off the chair. He stooped down and rolled over the body of the dead Federation Captain. “This is Dobson. If memory serves he was assigned to a desk most of his career. Odd that they would have put him in charge of a prototype starship.” Blud frowned at the corpse. “Poor bastard.”

“Forget him, we have this beautiful ship! We can find who attacked us and kill them.”

Blud stood up and moved to the scanning officer’s station. He sat down and performed a quick wide area sweep. There was one other ship in the area and it was too far away to have been responsible. Something flashed on the screen halfway to Prahran. It was big and it was one of many targets that brightened and then suddenly went away.

“What the hell was that?” Blud asked.

Sasha moved to his side and rubbed his smooth shaved head. “Did you find someone?”

Blud shook his head slowly. “Something lit up the area like a nova and then disappeared.”

She looked closer at the screen. It was empty as if nothing had happened. She kissed his head. “Scanner ghosts.”


Author’s Comments:

Finally, we get some pirate action! I really enjoyed writing this novel and space pirates were a big part of that fun. I was worried that Blud’s name would be too obviously a pun, but most readers seem to just roll with it. Which was my intent.

Another aspect of this chapter is that we start to get the point of view of Varco, the second in command under Lord Kantor. There’s always a reason for such things. In this case Varco becomes more important later on in the story.


“The only known record of a Votainion having experienced the hallucinogenic properties of burning ocha was Lord Kantor. Considering how he reacted afterwards, most agree that was probably a fortunate turn of events.”

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


Chapter 4


Kantor stepped off the wing of the rescue fighter and rubbed his left forearm. The alien woman had shot him with a projectile weapon of some sort. It left his arm bloodied and throbbing. He had wrapped it tightly on the ride back to the VCF Krestor. The rancid smell of burnt weed from the moon filled his nostrils and its fine sand stained his hands and uniform orange.

Commander Varco met him as he came through the tight passageway from the flight deck to the main corridor. Varco was taller than his Captain and wore a serious expression on his thin blue face. Deep set black eyes were shadowed under the red overhead lights.

“Welcome back, my Captain.”

Kantor nodded as he tried to ignore the lingering pain in his arm. He could not contain a toothy grin. Kantor clapped his commander’s shoulder, his gray eye shinning.

“I’ve found our next opponent Varco. They are resourceful and brave, everything we could hope for. And they look like us!” He cleared his nostrils in a sneeze but could not get the burning smell out of them.

The two senior officers walked down the narrow corridor. Other crewman pulled up with their backs to the slanted wall to make room for them.

“Should I order landfall, sir?”

Kantor shook his head and stopped at the entrance to his cabin. “This moon is a rock. Follow the starship traffic and inform me when you find more.”

Varco saluted with his right arm across his chest before heading for the bridge. Kantor entered his cabin and went straight for his meditation nook. It was small and spartan with only a cushion to sit on. He took off his weapon belt and his calf length boots before sitting cross-legged on the cushion. He extended his arms out to his side and closed his eyes.

His mind focused on a rhythmic meditation used to clear one’s thoughts. The pain in his arm slowly slipped from his awareness as he fell deep into a trance. With his mind at peace his subconscious slipped into a quiescent state.

* * *

Commander Varco entered the narrow bridge and took his seat beside the Captain’s chair. He still sensed the fresh, outdoors of the moon from Kantor’s uniform. It was tinged with a slightly acrid smell that reminded Varco of burning vegetation.

“Commander, multiple targets are leaving this system and converging in deep space,” the Scanning Officer said.

Varco stepped forward to the man’s post and looked over his shoulder at the instruments. The flight paths of dozens of starships clearly showed the established trade routes of this newly discovered civilization. There were three planetary systems nearby that accounted for most of the interstellar traffic. But there was a noticeable amount of activity off in deep space where scans did not pick up any habitable planets.

“Focus your scans in that area. Helm, take us closer to these coordinates, best speed.”

* * *

Kantor’s heartbeat raced as images rushed through him. Fierce battles, alien faces and unknown weapons of war flashed at him, overwhelming his senses. He was seeing into the future, of that he was certain. But never had his visions been this clear and this violent. Thousands if not millions of people killed in massive campaigns that seemed to last forever. It was glorious and he didn’t want it to end.

The intensity of the vision began to fade. Once this restful state had been smashed apart, it left him awake and brimming with energy. His wild eyes snapped open and looked around the silent cabin. He breathed heavily as if he had just come from a battle. Unfolding his legs he stood up and went to a porthole. The fiery orange moon below was moving away as the Krestor left the binary star system. He watched the glowing ball get smaller as he fought to regain his composure.

Many images had revealed themselves in his vision, but none more clear than the pale face of the woman who had shot him on that moon. Their fates were intertwined in ways he could not fathom. What he did know, was that her race would be locked with his in a violent struggle for control of the galaxy.

He had seen his Empress, Nykostra in the vision. Her throne strengthened by the coming war. Her power and influence elevated in the nine Kastra of the Empire. As her Chief Strategist, he was destined to lead the coming conflict. It is every Votainion’s dream to lead his Kastra in a great war to establish dominance. Warfare and the struggle for dominance was an important part of their history and beliefs. What Kantor had just witnessed was the greatest war ever imagined. Many worlds lain barren and entire races destroyed in the name of the Empire.


A buzzer alerted him to an incoming message from the Empress. Kantor faced the hologrid in his room and activated the message. The child ruler would not be a woman for several more years. Her elfin blue face wavered in front of Kantor, her nose high and her dark eyes narrow. She was already practiced at the art of appearing superior to all under her rule. Kantor thought she was a pretentious child who could use a good swat, but he wisely kept his thoughts to himself. Even though the hologram message was one-sided, he held his tongue.

“Chief Strategist, as you are aware, I have successfully fended off one attempt at my life since you embarked on your mission. I anticipate having to do so again, before your return. The attempts are not the only reason I must recall your armada to home space. There is growing discontent amongst the nine Kastra on Voton. My Soothsayers are warning me that another civil war is coming unless I can put down the unrest. For that, I need you and your ships as a show of strength and support.”

Kantor shook his head slowly as he listened. She couldn’t recall them, they were on the verge of the greatest conflict in Votainion history. He patiently waited for the message to end, already forming his argument for her to let his fleet continue on.

“I am therefore directing you to return your fleet to Empire Space and take up positions around the three core worlds. Stay in close contact during your return. I shall look forward to seeing my Chief Architect again and forming our plans for keeping the Kastra united.”

She nodded gently and closed her eyes. The hologram terminated with a flash. Kantor activated the ship’s intercom. “Commander Varco get me a secure beam to Voton, I need to speak to the Empress immediately.”

“Sir, we will have to come out of tunnel to redirect the power grid.”


Kantor switched off the intercom. The warship began to decelerate and drop out of tunnel speed. He could feel the stardrive tubes rumbling from several decks away as he put on his boots and headed to the communications den.

* * *

Kantor stood before the image processor in the darkened communications den. An operator sat below him, adjusting the signal strength. The same tunneling capability that the giant warship used to move through large chunks of empty space could be reconfigured to open two-way communications back to Voton. The connection was usually unstable and only lasted a few minutes. The process used all the ship’s power and could easily overwhelm circuits and render the ship dead in space, but it was the only way to maintain close contact with the homeland.

The receiving projector activated and the face of Empress Nykostra appeared before him, floating angelically in space. Her makeup was gone, her cheeks dark blue with emotion. Her demeanor sullen and defeated.

“Empress, I must respectfully insist that you allow this armada to stay on our mission. We have discovered a new race of aliens who inhabit large areas of space just like our own Empire. They are worthy opponents and will provide great resources for the Empire.”

“I need your ships here, Chief Strategist  The Kastra are growing restless and war could break out at any time. If you don’t return at once, I will replace you.”

Kantor could see the fear and anxiety in her normally tough demeanor. She was a different person from the confident child that had sent the message he had just watched.

“My Empress, I’m sending you data about the aliens we have encountered. Use it to convince the other Kastra leaders that now is not the time for bitter in-fighting. We need to marshal our forces and send them here to engage this new enemy. If we don’t go on the offensive here and now, they will grow stronger and eventually attack us.

“I’ve had a vision, my Empress. The gods have allowed me to glimpse our future. I saw your rule extending to dozens of new worlds and our armies defeating these aliens in glorious battle. It is the very thing your Soothsayers claimed that we would find. I believe this is our destiny.”

The Empress stared blankly into the lens of the recorder. Kantor could tell she was listening to her Soothsayers. He could picture them just out of camera range, hovering like gray scavengers. Whispering their desires into her ears, influencing the future of the Empire in ways no other Votainion could imagine. She slowly nodded and turned to one side as if to stare down one of the more persistent muses. She flinched and brought up her hands to defend herself. Kantor wanted to push through the connection and protect his empress.

One of the Soothsayers hovered into view in front of the Empress. Its black cowl pulled back to reveal smooth, gray-blue skin. Red eyes flashed directly at Kantor. He felt a powerful, uneasy feeling grip him physically.

“Stay the course. Do not return,” the Soothsayer said. Its mouth never moved but the demonic sounding words reverberated from his head.

Kantor froze, staring helplessly into the eyes of the senior Soothsayer. He felt the icy grip of the psychic link loosen as the connection began to close. The Soothsayer pulled the cowl back over its head and retracted from view. The Empress faded into darkness, frightened and helpless against the power of the gray clerics.

The connection terminated and Kantor found himself out of breath and ill at ease. The Empress wanted him to return but the Soothsayer overruled her. He had never seen a Soothsayer overrule the sitting Empress before, no matter how young and naïve or old and decrepit they were. Power always flowed from the sitting ruler to the specialists. That was the Votainion way. He should honor her wishes and let the Soothsayers be damned.

But he could not return. He had glimpsed what he felt was the future and it would not unfold as he had seen unless he engaged now. The Soothsayers would not allow her to be harmed by a coup. Her bloodline was sacrosanct. He slapped the intercom on the wall.

“Commander Varco, proceed on your prior course. Meet me in the war room.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

* * *

Kantor and Varco stood over a projector table in the cramped war room. Starship traffic lanes were displayed that formed a triangle between three habitable worlds. Still more lanes of traffic extended deeper into space and out of their scanning range. All the starships that were moving between the worlds in this area of space were displayed. It was more activity than either man had ever seen.

“They have a vast trade empire. It will be difficult to conquer them,” Varco said.

“A worthy opponent is not weak. Intelligence reports indicate they have no galactic fleet. Each of these worlds has limited defenses. There must be a military base in this region somewhere. There are too many unprotected assets, here and there all over this part of space.” Kantor waved his arm at the map.

Varco pointed to a dark region of space and tapped the screen. A planetary system map appeared and drilled down to a stretch of space between the fourth and fifth planets. “My Lord, we’ve tracked several freighters from the orange moon to this region of space. But no movement from there to any of the other star systems.”

Kantor lifted a heavy, black eyebrow. Something mysterious was going on and they were close to it. Possibly in striking distance. “Shipments in but not out. They could be supplying a base.”

Varco folded his arms. “Or it could be pirates.”

Kantor cracked a sly grin. “Battle stations, commander.”


Author’s Comments:

If you have read the short stories that took place on Ocherva, you are familiar with the ocha weed. Devon had an ocha dream of the future and it’s what guides her to eventually join the military in her pursuit of the Votainions.

I’ve had great fun world building Ocherva and the planet becomes quite significant to the entire Star Saga.