Freelight Part 16 Snatch, Grab, Run

Natalia was alone on the bridge. The engines were primed, and she was ready to get the hell out of there. Impatience, having commandeered her foot, kept a steady beat on the deck. Standing in front of Barklay’s engineering station the virtual screen showed Oliver, and the others current location. Move damn it!

The ship was already packed with refugees, and Oliver, Missy, and Barklay were bringing in the last few stragglers they could. The moon wasn’t in the ten occupied systems in Varna but, it was close to the Pleastos system.  The new owners didn’t take lightly to their stolen property, as they seemed to view these people, being shuttled off world. With each passing day the number of bounties listed by what was left of the Celestra Defense Forces seemed to double, and with each passing job they found themselves in situations where the need to exercise their consciences was greater than the need to simply grab their bounty.

“Six months and your war has cost you nearly twelve million lives,” Natalia mumbled aloud to herself. “Lives that are needed to continue producing all the things you need to oppress, and all for slave wages.”

Hearing a scuffle behind her, Natalia turned to see a small boy staring at her. She knelt, and held out her hands. The boy took them, and she scooped him up, and set him on the edge of the station. “What’s your name honey?” The boy remained silent, just looking at her with pursed lips, and haunted eyes.

Before the war started the people of this moon were paid decent wages and worked decent hours in many different jobs. Because the moon is incredibly resource rich the traitors wanted it. After the war started most of the inhabitants were moved into the mines, including this little boy, and they were working deplorably long hours, and paid in currency that could only be spent in businesses owned by the new corporate interests; corporate interests that were aligned with the mutinous traitors from Mulintia-2.

Natalia was watching the screen again when the boy pointed, and said “papa”. Papa was being pushed forward by Barklay as they made their way towards the ship.

“Shit,” Natalia said patching into Oliver’s com. “Oliver, you’re going to have company soon. A lot of company.”

Kara tapped into the local security feeds, and Natalia watched two dozen armed guards heading their way.

“Kara, bring weapons on-line and get ready to target anyone shooting at our people and the refugees they’re bringing with them.”

The ship was parked with the port side at the end of a long parkway. Natalia had the door open and waiting for the group to exit a side street, and make the short run. When Kara brought weapons on-line two additional virtual screens rose from Barklay’s engineering station; duel tracking system. Oliver, Melissa, and Barklay were immediately marked in green when they appeared. Kara began marking the refugees as they came into view.

Four streets down, the ground forces rounded the corner riding open topped mag vehicles, and stood three abreast. Oliver and the others were within ten meters when the first shot was fired, hitting a refugee in the leg. The woman dropped, and Melissa stopped to go back for her when Kara opened up with the rail gun mounted on the bow. Three plasma bolts sailed over the heads of the small group, striking the shooter three times in the chest.

Natalia looked over her shoulder towards the door and could see other refugees ready to help get the others on board as quickly as possible. Oliver got a small group on and ran to the bridge. “I’ll take engineering, get ready to bolt,” he told Natalia.

“I don’t know what his name is but Barklay’s bringing his papa,” she said when Oliver did a double take on the small body sitting next to him.

“Your papa’s almost here, buddy,” Oliver said smiling at the boy who retained the same look he gave Natalia.

Barklay got his people on then took a knee and unslung his rifle to cover Melissa. The expected barrage of weapons fire erupted from the security,and Kara let loose her own barrage on the fast approaching vehicles. Barklay ran forward passing his rifle off to Melissa as he made for the wounded woman. He met her, tossed her over his shoulder, spun on his heel and headed back under cover from Melissa and Kara.

“Punch it!” he shouted as he slammed his palm on the button to close the airlock.

Natalia fully engaged the docking boosters lifting them while simultaneously pushing the yoke forward shooting towards lower atmosphere.

“I have detected jump signatures from several vessels now in orbit,” Kara said.

“Who are they?” Oliver asked as he deployed electronic warfare countermeasures.

Simultaneously Natalia shouted, “Shit, they got us!”

Four fighters blew past them, flipped, and then matched pace as an unknown entity held them in their clutches.

“Kara we put safeguards in place to block this. Who got to the helm?” Oliver asked.

“The ship signatures match those of the Trylon navy,” Kara said.

Oliver jumped down from engineering and over to his station to place a call. A woman’s face appeared in the holo. It was a face with slight Asian features that Oliver recognized, but couldn’t place.

“This is Rya Ahana, Captain of the Trylon Carrier Ula. Before you speak understand that an official delegation from Trylon was on this moon for trade negotiations. Their health monitors indicate a deteriorating state, and any harm inflicted on citizens of Trylon during your civil war will be met with appropriate force. I am detecting several others on your ship in desperate need of medical attention.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Oliver said. “First, this isn’t my war. I had nothing to do with this political shit. Second, I came here on a bounty for Admiral Dunn, she’s one of the good guys—,”

“You say you work for Admiral Dunn?” Captain Ahana asked.

“Yes, and in the process of capturing that bounty we took on some refugees. The new owners have essentially enslaved the population,” Oliver said.

“One moment Captain Wheil.”

She closed the mike, but Oliver could see the woman look just off holo and issue some orders. A few agonizing minutes later the helm was released and the mike on the holo opened.

“Captain, please consider the fighters accompanying you as escorts and follow them to the hanger deck. Your refugees can be offloaded and we’ll get them medical care,” Captain Ahana said.

“What about the rest of them?” Oliver asked.

“Admiral Dunn informs me that you’re a man of unimpeachable character, and if, as you say, the rest of the population has been enslaved then we take your word as truth. That said, my orders are to pacify the occupying security, and re-establish rightful ownership. Essentially Captain, this moon is now under the protection of the Trylon/Uumshar Cooperation.”

“Well I don’t know about that unimpeachable stuff, but if you plan to set this right that might piss off some of those assholes who started this civil war,” Oliver said.

Captain Ahana smiled. “Our technology is far more advanced than theirs. If they attack us outright that would bring us into the war on your side. They can’t afford for that to happen.”

“And if Trylon happens to inconvenience them enough then, what? You force their hand?” Oliver asked.

“We can only hope,” Captain Ahana said as Natalia set the ship down on the carriers main hanger deck.

“Does this mean it’s going to go back to before?” a man asked. Oliver and Natalia turned to see the man known as papa holding his son.

“For you it does,” Natalia said, and the little boy smiled.

Freelight Part 15 Premonition

Oliver sat on the bridge asleep and dreaming of Barbara’s naked body wrapped around his. Her eyes bored into his soul begging him to answer her. Each time she asked the question her voice faded into nothingness driving him mad with curiosity and even madder with desire with each thrust of her hips.

His eyes opened as his command console vibrated in unison with the chirping from the holo. He answered the call and Drago’s three dimensional image appeared.

“Drago. Nice timing.”

“Did I interrupt something?”

“Just a dream.”

“Ah. I saw Major Blackwood a couple of weeks ago. She’s well.”

“We message often enough but still. You see her more than I do,” Oliver said running a hand over the four day growth on his chin.

“She said you were thinking about growing a beard. It doesn’t suit you.”

“That’s the line I’m getting from my crew. How about you? You got a woman. Or a man? I don’t mean to be presumptuous.”

Drago chuckled. “Woman. Her name is Xander and I saw her a couple of weeks ago. She was relocated to our home base.”

Natalia rushed onto the bridge. “Hi Drago, I thought I heard you.”

“Hello Natalia,” Drago nodded off holo and stepped aside, replaced by Belinda’s image. She was off duty and wearing a t-shirt that belonged to Natalia that read Whore. They were an all-girl band Natalia liked.

“Hi baby. Ooh, I love your hair,” Belinda said.

Natalia decided to try something new on the way here and dyed her raven pixie-cut white. She hated it and changed it to blue which matched the tattoo of a mythical winged unicorn, bright white and flying through a blue nebula that covered her left arm from elbow to shoulder.

“Okay, we got that out of the way so let’s get down to the business of why we’ve been called to this dying star system,” Oliver said.

Drago agreed and explained that the new bounty Oliver had been assigned would require Belinda to accompany them for her skill set. Oliver acknowledged it would be nice to have Belinda on board for a while, but protested in Barklay’s favor.

“I’m well aware of Mr. Barklay’s engineering skills Oliver, but where you’re going is into enemy territory and the codes you need to access the bounty are top secret,” Drago said.

“Fair enough,” Oliver said then sent Natalia to the small cargo bay to wait for Belinda who Drago had dismissed to get suited up for the space walk.

Drago sent the bounty information over and Oliver began scrolling through it on his virtual screen. He stopped, then sighed.

“How the hell am I supposed to get to Celestra?”

“Keep reading. There’s a ship waiting for you back on Freelight,” Drago said. “You’ll have to suffer with warp rather than jumping, but none of you are wanted.”

“And I’m sure you’re aware of Natalia’s status?”

“Of course we are that’s why the official records have been altered.”

Oliver was incredulous. “You guys altered the official records and didn’t bother to tell me?”

Drago raised his hands to fend off virtual Oliver. “I’ve only just been given this information. I also have a copy of the investigation we did. If you hadn’t come along her brothers would still be raping her, but you did and they got what they deserved. Now she’s perfectly legal anywhere in the galaxy.”

“I suppose you’re also need to know about these—,”

“Oliver,” the AI said.

“Yes Kara.”

“I’m detecting increasing rates of exotic solar particles.”

“Layman’s terms Kara.”

“The star is going supernova.”

Oliver closed the file Drago sent and opened the engineering module. “There’s nothing wrong with the star Kara.”

“Then there is a malfunction with the system.”

“Kara, you are the system.”

Oliver transferred Drago’s image to the larger, main holo then moved to the engineering station then he activated the intercom system. “Barklay I need you on the bridge. Drago, what’re you guys seeing?”

Drago looked over his shoulder to a young man who Oliver could see shaking his head nothing.

“What’s up?” Barklay asked joining Oliver.

“Kara says the star’s going supernova,” Oliver said.

“The rate of acceleration suggests we have less than five minutes to jump,” Kara said.

“We aren’t jumping Kara, besides Belinda isn’t on board yet,” Oliver said.

“That is unfortunate.”

Barklay and Oliver shared a quizzical look.

“This is why we don’t have AI’s,” Drago said.

“Plotting jump,” Kara said.

Oliver rushed back to his station, the only station with access to Kara. He brought up the main control and shut the AI down.

“Whoa, hang on a minute,” Barklay said as the armor over the front window retracted. “She’s right. Something’s happening.”

Natalia, Melissa, and Belinda joined Oliver and Barklay and watched as the flash blinded them a microsecond before they were obliterated.

Oliver sat bolt upright.

“Oliver your pulse is racing and your blood pressure is spiking,” Kara said.

Natalia swung her chair around. “He’s also sweating like a wasenhound drools. You okay boss?”

“Kara what’s the status of this star?” Oliver asked.

“I don’t understand the question.”

“Is this star going supernova?”

“This star will not go supernova for another two-hundred and fifty-thousand years.”

Six pair of perplexed eyes was staring at him. He rose and stood in front of Barklay’s station. “Run a full system diagnostic. Kara run a full diagnostic on yourself.”

“Drago’s here,” Natalia said as the other ship jumped into the area.

“Oliver, what’s up?” Missy asked.

“I know there’s no such thing as precognition, but I got a bad feeling,” Oliver said.

Hogosha Part 45 Wandering

0.5004.V.381 Sesian Expanse Outer Spiral – Charted Space

Varna is a class C spiral with half a dozen loose arms trailing into space. The tips of those arms were active areas of star formation which meant young star systems with young, still forming planets which meant no Imperium.

Hogosha, along with Svoboda, and Verndari had been scouring a single fully charted arm for just over four months with nothing to show for it. Long before the outbreak of civil war Trylon and Ah’hiana had joined with Celestra’s Pioneer Program to chart the galaxy. A rekindled desire for exploration had taken hold amongst the Trylonian’s, they were human after all, and they in turn convinced the Uumshar the program was beneficial if for no other reason than to locate the Chitoan and Murlanian fleet. With active charting programs it allowed the two worlds to join in the search for the secret enemy base without violating their laws. They could have ships out in the uncharted arms for legitimate purposes and if they did stumble across it their superior technology would deflect any assault, but nobody really expected the hidden base to be in uncharted space.

For that reason the two planets secretly dispatched several dozen cloaked scout ships to join with the three CDF stealth ships to search charted space. Some three-hundred million star systems had been fully charted in the arms.

Commander Jiang sat at his desk studying the star charts on the giant virtual screen above his desk. He sat back rubbing his chin, surprised at the stubble he felt. His command console vibrated indicating an incoming message from Lieutenant Whent.

“What is it Lieutenant?”

“Commander we’ve just finished our scans for this system.”

“Already? When did you come on duty?”

“I relieved Lieutenant Commander Fleur six hours ago.”

“I must have lost track of time. Let me guess, there’s nothing here?”

“Other than the dinosaurs? No sir.”

“Very well, I’m on the way.”

Drago stood and stretched then grabbed a fresh cup of coffee before heading for the bridge through the ready room. The door slid open silently, he strode in and joined Lieutenant Whent at the central holo activating the three dimensional star chart. Two small, brightly flashing blue dots indicated the areas where Commanders Pelo and Wayfairn were searching.

“Gunny? You pulling helm duty for O’Carroll?” Drago asked.

“Aye sir. She had to pay a visit to medical.”

“Nothing serious Commander, just a bit of nausea. Doctor Nulo gave her the rest of her shift off,” Whent said.

“Okay then gunny, please jump us to our next destination,” Drago said.

Space time folded and Hogosha jumped into the VPE-8871-GBO system. The binary star system consisted of three outer gas giants, a Terran and Subterran worlds. The largest of the gas giants had over two-hundred moons and twenty-two of those had atmospheres. The system was rejected for habitation for two reasons. First because the main star is a class O giant, second the Terran world’s unsteady orbits take them to the extremes of the habitable zone. The giant’s gravity pulls them too close while the much smaller gravitational pull of the small main sequence star pushes them too far out in the habitable zone.

“If we find nothing else here, getting a better look at that giant consume its little brother would be worth it,” Shu said from her engineering station.

“When we get close enough get some pictures of that Lieutenant,” Drago said and she nodded. “Anything else? I need to make some rounds and get some rack time.”

“No sir,” Whent said.

“Oh, Commander?” Shu said. “I received a message from Natalia before I came on duty. She said the new armor really worked out. Oliver stepped on some kind of improvised land mine. He’s okay and they got those five they were looking for.”

“I’m guessing they didn’t come quietly?” Gunny Taylor grinned.

“Nope. Dead or alive and they chose dead,” Shu said.

“Five less traitors to deal with then,” Whent said.

“The next time you send Natalia a message let her know I’m glad it worked out,” Drago said leaving Lieutenant Whent in charge and leaving the bridge. The single hallway of Hogosha was quiet during third shift with just a skeleton crew on the bridge.

He took the elevator down to engineering giving the systems a once over even though Shu had control from the bridge. It made him feel better to check the engines himself before turning in. Taking the elevator back up to the main deck he stepped off at the same time Sergeant Ts’ai was leaving Ensign Noor’s quarters.

 Ts’ai gave him a sheepish look. “Good morning sir.”

“Good morning sergeant,” Drago said smiling and continuing on to medical.

Doctor Nulo was asleep in her quarters, but O’Carroll’s visit wouldn’t be on file yet, and the results would be available through the doctors personal notes. Drago scrolled through a handful of records.

Torres had a cut sealed. Sayer broke a finger…again. Ah, here we go. O’Carroll. Minor food poisoning. Sent message to Commander Hill to check food processor. Okay, so not morning sickness.

Drago thought about the merits of having a ‘safe sex’ talk with the crew when his holo buzzed. He arched an eyebrow and made his way to his quarters. Using the xylone powered holo he contacted Commander Pelo.

“Amanda,” Drago said.

“Drago, you look tired,” Amanda said.

Drago grinned and poured himself a scotch. “I am tired. I’ve been sitting her studying these damn star charts. This is going to take forever you know.”

“Maybe not. I got a message from Whiskey. The Uumshar have already checked most of this arm.”

Drago signed and downed his drink. “Why don’t they tell us this so we don’t waste our time?”

“That seems to be changing. Whiskey contacted Admiral Dunn and she wants us back to sit down and work out an official non- official plan.”

“Well that deserves another drink,” Drago said pouring a second.

“Save some of that for me and Whiskey. See you at home,” Lieutenant Commander Pelo ended the call.

Drago rested his drink on his desk then called Lieutenant Whent.

“Yes sir,” Whent said.

“New orders Lieutenant. Have gunny jump us home.”

The Hunt Part 3 Choose Your Own Adventure

The cries and howls of the wolf pack mourning their lost companion grew dim as the higher walls of the canyon widened again as they descended back down the valley. The rain stopped and the clouds broke revealing the eerie greenish glow from twin moons.

“Cheese. Stinky, green cheese,” Oliver said, pausing to look up before setting his gaze on the valley that opened to their left.

Barklay used the pause to finger another dental hygiene tab out of his pocket. The first one was wearing off and the retched taste of that mouthful of water was returning. Melissa plopped down, pulled a boot off, and reached in, her fingers searching for the small rock that had become her personal hellish torment.

Natalia habitually twirled her blasters a couple of times before sliding them back into their holsters. She smirked, unknowingly, at the comfort the weight and feel of the weapons against her thighs brought her. “Oi, boss? Anything,” she said.

Oliver had his helmet on scanning the valley through the HUD and retrieving a single geologic sensor ball. The hiss of escaping oxygen preceded the nano’s releasing the faceplate and “un-zipping” down the neck and collar so it could be taken off. Oliver shoved the faceplate back into its pocket on his sleeve.

“Yea,” he said transferring some data to the others. “First, the demonstration Barbara gave when she gave us the new armor didn’t do it justice. The detail is amazing. I’ve sent you the clearest path so when you fire up your HUD it’ll be marked.”

“Are they still in the cave?” Barkley inquired before washing his mouth out with water from a canteen and spitting it out.

“Yea.”

“You see ‘em through the HUD or just the little geo balls?” Natalia asked.

“Just the balls, the HUD can’t seem to penetrate rock,” Oliver said.

“Wonder why that is,” Natalia mumbled.

Melissa pulled her boot back on and stood, rubbing her ass. “Probably because the little geo balls were made to, you know, look through rock and the armor wasn’t,” she said.

“I know that, I was putting the coming task in the back of my mind,” Natalia said.

“And I know why little sister. This night has been shit, hell this entire job is shit, and soon we’re probably going to get into a massive shoot out,” Melissa said wrapping Natalia in her arms and planting a kiss on her cheek. “Speaking of shit, you stink.”

Natalia reached up gently taking Melissa’s hands in her own and leaning her head into her friend, “So do you bitch.”

The armor, Barbara said, was standard issue Galactic Marine and a gift from Oliver’s old friend Drago the spook. When she delivered it Barklay couldn’t help notice that hers was slightly different in look and texture. When he pressed she’d simply reiterated theirs was standard marine. “But, you’re not standard marine Major, you’re Spec Op,” he said. She ignored him and continued the way she did with Oliver before he accepted he didn’t have the necessary need-to-know. What Barbara couldn’t say was that her armor, banned by Earth, was perfected stealth and could stop much heavier weapons fire than standard issue.

“And shootouts are why we don’t do people,” Oliver mused.

“Um, Oliver we did do that job with Makinaw,” Barklay said.

“Okay we do…did people when the money was right, but those twenty-five million GC’s are worth exactly dick now,” Oliver said.

“And that’s another reason to be pissed at the assholes who started this war,” Natalia said drawing away from Melissa and taking a defensive stance. “Those assholes up in that cave, the fucking traitors, they helped to start this war.”

Remembering why they’d been recruited the four set off with renewed vigor towards the cave; they made their way down into this new valley, their HUDs highlighting the near invisible path snaking up alongside the cave. Their path was temporarily hidden from the cave entrance by massive boulders that had been deposited in the area eons ago. When the boulder field ended they were above the entrance moving slowly, deliberately at a narrow angle down towards it.

Oliver glanced at his command console Two hours of air. At least the environmental system flushes the stink out.

Barklay had taken point when they began the ascent and now he was poised on a knee with his rifle leveled on the cave. The weapons scope was hooked into his HUD and a fire inside that licked the edges of the cave opening causing the night vision to increase the eerie creepiness of the moons greenish glow setting his hackles on end. He cycled to infrared then x-ray fully aware of first Natalia’s presence, then Melissa, followed shortly by Oliver kneeling beside him.

“Anything,” Oliver whispered more out of habit than anything; the armor prevented their voices from carrying on the now windless night.

“Nothing.”

“I’ll take point now,” Oliver said slipping past the others towards the dancing light from the flames.

“Oliver stop,” Kara said.

“What is it Kara?” Oliver asked continuing on.

“I’ve been scanning the area and believe some of the rocks may not be—,”

The blast threw Oliver backwards and rolling down the side of the hill a few meters. Only the sound of the explosion could be heard as it made no flash, but the boom was deafening even though the armor’s exterior audio sensors were tuned low.

“Oliver! Oliver!” Kara exclaimed.

Barklay rushed forward and rolled him onto his back groping for Oliver’s command console to check his vitals.

“Barklay, the new armor has prevented any internal damage, but his hearing may be affected. His blood pressure has spiked as has his pulse.”

Melissa and Natalia rushed forward to Barklay’s side falling to their knees. Melissa cradled his head while Natalia grabbed his free hand and gave Barklay a pleading look.

“Kara’s right. He’ll be fine,” Barklay said and Oliver opened his eyes.

“What the hell happened?”

“You blew our damn surprise attack is what happened,” Melissa said.

Only moments had passed since Oliver stepped on the homemade land mine when the first shots ripped through the night. In practiced symmetry Melissa and Natalie un-holstered and returned fire. Barklay grabbed Oliver by the handle on the back of his armor and drug him further down the slope behind the safety of a boulder. Melissa and Natalia provided the cover as they matched Barklay’s movement.

“This is why we don’t do people,” Oliver said sitting up and massaging his neck.

Barklay smiled and un-slung his rifle flicking the safety off and over to full auto then he stood and leveled a barrage at the mouth of the cave before taking cover again.

“What’s the plan now?” Natalia asked before sneaking her blasters around the corner of the boulder and getting several shots of her own off.

Oliver brought up the earlier topological scans on his HUD searching for the safest path. “The plan is this, Missy and Barklay break right to the next boulder. Nat, you and I are gonna press forward to the boulder in front of this one. Ready?”

Barklay stood and laid down suppressing fire as Oliver and Natalia, bent low at the waist, moved quickly to their target. As soon as they were set Oliver and Natalia provided the other two with the same courtesy. Slowly the hunters leap frogged their way towards the cave until they could clearly understand the shouts from the hunted.

“Why do they always have to call us cunts and whores?” Melissa asked.

“Why can’t they call us cocks and dicks for a change?” Natalia asked Oliver before turning her mike volume to max. “Hey! Traitorous assholes in the cave! This bounty specifies dead or alive so which would you like?” She was answered by a hail of laser and plasma fire.

“Melissa, are you close enough to use those grenades?”

“Nope. Barklay, give me your rifle.”

Melissa and Natalia gave cover while Oliver and Barklay tossed four grenades into the cave. The hunt was over and Oliver registered the bio-signatures of the dead.

“Kara, power up the ship and come get us,” Melissa said.

“Powering up. I have added a series of fragrances and other compounds to the ships bath water supply. That coupled with a thorough sonic shower should get the stink out of all of you.”

The End

The Hunt Part 2 Choose Your Own Adventure

As voted on by you, we’re heading up river.
*****

That break in the storm didn’t last long but for a little more than an hour they were free of the pouring rain. And they managed to deduce some very important information. The smell of this place came with the rain. The terrain climbed steadily and the rocky ground seemed less stable then where they’d already passed over. By luck of the draw, Natalia had managed to find a hefty stick to help her along. All the other vegetation in this area, if there had been any at all, was gone.

Kara kept them apprised of the wolf pack. Out of range she could still see Oliver and the crew, but she could only determine who they were based on their size and she no longer had “eyes on” their vitals. If someone got hurt she wouldn’t know and wouldn’t be able to assess the situation and provide any additional medical care their armor couldn’t such as releasing a stasis gel to immobilize them in case of spinal injury or serious internal injury. Nor could she prepare the small medical bay ahead of time.

Melissa stepped between two boulders, her foot failed to find purchase and she slipped. Reaching out to steady herself against a boulder that was slick from the stinking rain, she tumbled backwards landing at Oliver’s feet knocking him on his knees.

“Son of—,”

Oliver clamped a hand over her mouth. “No shouting. It’ll echo. You hurt at all?”

“Just frustrated.”

Natalia didn’t hear the commotion, just the conversation through her earpiece. She stopped and turned back following Barklay.

“You two alright?” Barklay asked reaching down to help Melissa to her feet. His question was answered with a piercing howl.

“Kara where are those wolves?” Natalia asked.

“One-hundred meters north, but they are circling back in your direction.”

“How much further to the crossing Kara?” Oliver asked.

“Approximately seventy meters.”

“Let’s get on it then,” Barklay said taking point.

After passing by some larger boulders the final leg of the journey up this side of the river was in the clear. Even in the dark and pouring rain the crossing was easy enough to spot and the ground seemed to level out further lightening their moods.

“Finally. I mean, shit. Really? Is this really worth the pay?” Melissa said more than asked.

“Seriously,” Natalia said. “I mean if you can’t wash this stink out of you your liable to have to pay the boys at Miss’ Chen’s extra for your sexcapades.”

“We can’t have that. If Missy isn’t getting properly laid on a regular basis she tends to get bitchy,” Oliver added.

“Then you guys better hope to hell this stink washes out,” Melissa said.

The three of them were laughing now. A break in the storm stole the rain from the night leaving only the bitter wind. Barklay was up at the boulder crossing and caught the conversation over his ear piece. “When you three are done discussing Melissa’s sexual appetite you might want to know I’m here. We’re clear. This is easily passable for the time being, even for you Missy.”

“Very funny,” Melissa said.

A lone wolf howl was answered by what must have been the rest of the pack.

“Oliver, I believe they have caught your scent. They’re picking up speed and heading directly towards your position,” Kara said.

Oliver, Melissa, and Natalia closed on Barklay’s position at a jog. The crossing point was made up of several very large boulders that had rolled down from the mountains long ago. They had become wedged into a section of the riverbed in such a way that it would take a torrential downpour several orders of magnitude larger than what they had experienced so far to even budge it. Behind the dam as you’d expect was a sea of water. Stinky, disgusting, nauseating, water; water that was rising again and threatening to make the crossing deadly.

“Up and over,” Oliver said grabbing Natalia by the waist and heaving her up onto the boulder dam. Barklay did the same for Melissa and the two women gave Barklay enough room to haul himself up before reaching down help Oliver.

Looking down Natalia took note of the water speeding between the rock she was standing on and the one next to it then she jumped onto the other boulder. Melissa didn’t look so sure of herself and Natalia coaxed her along. It wasn’t a long jump, just a hop really but the boulders were wet and that fall earlier unnerved her. Oliver tapped her on the shoulder. She shrugged it off and jumped, easily landing on the other rock.

“See, no problem,” Natalia said.

“I’m not as fleet-footed as you honey pie,” Melissa said.

With Natalia picking the easiest route the four managed to get near the other side by time the water started rising again. She jumped, slipped, and landed on her ass then she stood and rubbed out the pain.

“It’s okay Missy, that was my faul…”

Melissa took notice of the fright in Natalia’s eyes and she looked back. A lone wolf had leapt up onto the boulders and was following them across. Getting Oliver and Barklay’s attention she pointed.

“Go. Now, and no shooting otherwise you risk alerting our bounty,” Oliver said. Melissa flung herself onto the rock beside Natalia. The two women jumped once more before stopping to look back.

Barklay turned just in time to grab the beast by the throat as it pounced on him. Black as the night with red eyes the wolf snapped at his head. The wolf was bigger than Barklay, but the rising waters worked against it. Barklay’s head twisted from side to side escaping the vicious jaws while his massive hands tried feebly to choke the animal.

“We’ve gotta do something,” Natalia said making to go back.

“No, the water’s rising too fast. We’ve only got two more jumps to the other side,” Melissa said.

Once again on solid ground they watched as Oliver jumped back onto the boulder adjacent to the one Barklay was fighting for his life on. He grabbed his knife, something he’d started carrying only recently, a gift from Barbara. It was a marine issued blade; twenty-five centimeters of the hardest alloy in the known universe. He raised the blade then leapt to the other boulder shoving the blade down into the wolf’s haunch. The animal let out a shriek, but didn’t let up. It continued to snap and yap as Barklay’s arms struggled to keep his throat away from the rows of stained teeth.

Oliver pulled the blade out then rammed it down behind the animals head. It let out a final cry before collapsing dead on Barklay. Together the two managed to roll the heavy beast off of him. Eyeing the rising waters they wasted no time jumping to the other side.

Barklay doubled over heaving out the putrid water he’d swallowed while on his back. Running the back of his hand over his mouth he stood upright. “Remind me to thank the good major for that gift,” he told Oliver.

Natalia couldn’t help herself. She wrapped her arms around them both men, her adopted father and the brother she’d always wanted, always needed.

“Okay, okay,” Oliver broke free. “We’ve still got a job to do.” He brought up the data from the earlier topographical scans. “That cave they’re holed up in is a kilometer and a half down this side.” Oliver pulled the image, enlarging it. “There are two ways in there. The approach from the front gives some good cover, but the approach from the side gives us more secrecy.”

*****

Frontal assault or stealth from the side?

Varna’s Most Wanted Part 14 Keep On Trucking

Despite their desire to lay low Syn, Valery, and Jeoff were building a reputation for themselves. Smuggling had indeed become a very profitable business and the fact that they had a legal ship with jump capability meant they could get the job done fast. Although they managed to get on and off of Zalestra without incident the job was too stressful. If their bio-signatures had been scanned by anyone they would have been dead.

When the war started however they found a good deal of work with select corporations moving large quantities of goods. Goods the three of them believed were mostly weapons and supplies they were keeping out of the hands of the traitors whose mutiny resulted in the deaths of millions of innocents.

Not only was it profitable, it made them feel better knowing they were fighting, perhaps in the only way they could for now. And they were on the right side of the fight this time. Most of their deliveries were to unregistered moons or planets.

With the outbreak of hostilities the three agreed to Jeoff’s original idea of sealing off the forward section of the cargo area to use as a shuttle bay. Then they decided to implement some other changes. The stealth ship was going to have to be more accessible should they need it. For this to happen they would relocate the elevator from the middle of the cargo area (which was a bad design to begin with) to the shuttle bay, giving access to the bridge.

In lieu of credits, diamonds, precious metals, or other normal means of payment they’d bartered with these corporations for the engineering mechs and other equipment they would need. In the end the stealth ship had its own hanger that was accessed by a single airlock that opened to the back of the elevator. The ship itself came and went through a new set of doors under the hanger, and when looking at the new cargo bay from the outside it simply appeared to be the area walled off to create the shuttle bay with a new set of stairs providing access from the crew deck. Even the back of the elevator they’d cut to make the door didn’t appear to be anything other than the back of the elevator.

The changes weren’t meant to hide anything from military vessels that could image the ships interior just the prying eyes of clients. They’d never allowed anyone to come further onto the ship than just past the cargo doors and they had no intention of starting.

Valerie hit the comm switch. “Hey you two, we’re coming out of warp.”

Syn and Jeoff had been grabbing a bite to eat after re-stacking some cargo that’d shifted, and now the two made their way to the bridge. Jeoff gave Valerie a playful smack on the ass and a nibble on her ear.

“Sure, rub it in,” Syn said.

“Honey, the first thing we do after we get this load off is get her laid,” Jeoff said.

Valerie smiled. “She is becoming irritable.”

“There’s only so much pleasure one can derive from porn and a vibrator. Sometimes you need the real thing,” Syn said.

The ship exited warp seventy-thousand kilometers from their destination. At sixty-thousand meters they hit the first shipping lane buoy and Syn started downloading berthing information. “We’re considered large so we get the top deck—,”

“Shit! Jeoff check to see what that thing is,” Valerie exclaimed.

On the main holo a ship, at least as large as a carrier was gaining ground behind them. Jeoff activated the image then expanded it. “If it’s a carrier it isn’t CDF.”

“I’ve got her,” Syn said tilting her head as she read off the ships designation. “DD-19874-JA-INAC.”

“An INAC huh? I’ve never seen one,” Valerie said.

Intergalactic Non-Atmospheric Cargo ships have no home port and were almost exclusively privately owned. They roamed from one galaxy to the next moving massive amounts of freight and their owner/captains were fantastically wealthy.

The main holo began blinking with an incoming message which Valerie answered.

The face of a young man appeared. “This is Freelight space station. You’ll need to make a decision on your berthing options or leave the lane.”

“We’re sorry. We’ve never been here before and the information we were given was pretty shitty,” Valerie said.

“No problem. You’re ships size designates it to the uppermost deck. There are seven berthing companies to select from. I’m sending you their payment options now.”

“Great…um this one. Echolocation looks reasonable,” Valerie said.”

“Very good. I’ll transfer you to them. Thanks and have a great stay.” The young man’s image was replaced by the image of an older man with a beard. “Thanks for choosing Echolocation. We’ll take control at the second buoy and bring you in.”

After some other pleasantries regarding information about the space station and all of its amenities the older man’s image switched off.

“Let me see if I get this straight,” Jeoff said. There is no government here. All security is private and the only laws are no murder and no stealing.”

Syn was scrolling through the hundreds of ads for brothels. Each had holo’s of the men and women available for sex and she’d just set up an appointment for later. Valerie pulled up behind her to look over her shoulder as Syn scrolled through the images. “Three?”

“It’s been a long time,” Syn said with a devious smile.

The Hunt Part One – Choose Your Own Adventure

This is something I did over at Writers Carnival as a writing exercise and I’m using Oliver and his band of bounty hunters.

I’m doing a choose-your-own adventure bit and leaving it up to you guys. Let me know in the comments where you want me to go.

 

Standing in the pissing down rain lightning shattered the shroud of darkness followed by a thunderclap so angry the ground shook. Through Drago’s network of informants Oliver was able to track down the five bounties to an area in the foothills of a remote moon no one laid claim to. Something in the soil coupled with the rain brought out a stink that made them nauseous. In fact none of them had ever smelled anything as foul.

“Shit man this place is worse than Nahana,” Barklay said wiping rain from his face.

“Never been there,” Natalia said.

“Before I hooked up with Oliver and Melissa,” Barklay shrugged, his massive black hulk resting against a dead tree. “It’s a waste reclamation rock and it’s disgusting.”

Melissa kept fidgeting with a data pad. “The programming on this is so archaic I’m not sure if I can keep a lock on them,” she said shaking her head. Another bolt of lightning ripped through the sky followed by what ancient humans believed were the shouts of the gods.

“How close do you need us to be Missy?” Oliver asked.

“Maybe a kilometer. Shit if only I could sync this with my command console.”

“But you can’t because it might corrupt it,” Oliver said reaching into a satchel he dropped off his shoulder. Pulling out three balls about the size of his palm he activated them and gently tossed them in the air. “Let’s get a lay of the land.”

Using his command console Oliver set the balls off in different directions. Topographical data began streaming back and he transferred it to the unit’s hologram. Coming in, the ships holo had shown them to be in a valley and they had covered two and a half kilometers east of their original position. Fifty meters to their left a creek, fed by the deluge, had been transformed into a raging torrent. The balls continued up the valley painting the path they had to take as another valley broke off two-kilometers ahead. Slightly up the slope of that valley appeared to be a cave and five IR signatures.

“We may not have to depend on that data pad,” Oliver said. “But we’re gonna have to find some way over that river.” Oliver transferred the topographical data to the others and recalled the balls then asked for input.

“Why don’t we just go back to the ship and cross the river?” Melissa asked.

“Risky. They might have something that can detect us,” Barklay said.

“And if they do they’re gonna be waiting,” Natalia added.

“Why couldn’t these assholes just pick a nice warm planet to hide out on?” Oliver said.

“Well it looks like this river thins out about a kilometer above the break off into the other valley,” Melissa said looking to the others who nodded in agreement. “Natalia and I should get extra pay for this job too.”

“How’d you figure,” Oliver asked.

“Because the stink of this place is in our hair.”

“He’s the bald one,” Oliver said pointing to Barklay who grinned and ran a massive paw over his bald head. Oliver grabbed a small lock of his shoulder length blond hair and held it to his nose. “Mine stinks too so there’s your extra pay.”

Natalia let out a small laugh, un-holstered her blasters, doubled checked the power cells, twirled them on her fingers and re-holstered them. “The stink is in everything,” she said then hopped off the small rock she’d perched on and headed up the valley as another bolt of lightning rent the sky, in the distance thunder boomed.

They were fortunate in that the ground was mostly rocky with little soil and vegetation.  They picked their way between the gravel and over the larger rocks for hours until they were nearing the spot that seemed to have been a bit easier to ford the river.

“Shit,” Oliver said stopping, the others followed suit standing side by side.

“Shit,” Barklay repeated.

Melissa held out a small scanner and took readings. “Yep, it’s shit.”

“I thought there was no animal life on this rock,” Natalia said.

Oliver used his command console to contact Kara the ships AI. “Kara do you have our location?”

“Yes Oliver.”

“Are there any animals in the area?”

“Nothing that could have left the size of the droppings in front of you.”

“I’m not sure I’d call these droppings.

“Perhaps dung heap?”

Oliver grinned. “Are there any other animals in our area?”

“There are a number of small creatures in the area as well as what appears to be a group of larger animals a hundred meters ahead of you.”

“Define group.”

“Pack. Closest approximation of species would be to Earth wolves, but twice as large.”

“Pack animals hunt. Send me the info on these Earth wolves,”

“Yes and done. Oliver on your present heading I will only be able to read your bio-signatures for another seventy meters.”

“I know Kara we’re changing directions to cross the river.”

“No doubt you’ve deployed the geological sensors Major Blackwood provided?”

“Yes, they showed a part up here that we should be able to cross.”

“You may have more luck. I’m detecting a break in the storm.”

Oliver ended the conversation then told the others about the break in the storm and the pack of wolf like animals coming down the valley.

Barklay unslung his rifle and turned on the scope scanning the area. “Got ‘em. They’re weaving in and out of some larger rocks. I think we’re good, looks like they’re sniffing the ground not the air.”

They made their way to the river only to find it wasn’t passable here. Oliver adjusted the settings on a couple geological sensor balls and sent them up and down river. A few minutes later the hologram showed a passable area covered in larger boulders that worked as a dam. They could pass there, but continuing in that direction would put them in the path of the wolf pack.

“The storm’s already breaking maybe we should just wait here,” Natalia said just as a howl pierced the night.

*****

Do they wait out the storm and ford the river where they are or do they go up river?

Jin’ Dahaal Part 16 Seeing Them Off

Jin’ Dahaal Part 16

Shareen was walking the same trail to the waterfall she had walked with her father so often growing up only this time she was with Tom and Lucas. A little chic-chic darted onto the path and stopped seeming to inquire as to their presence here in the forest. Lucas squatted down and held out his hand as an invitation. The little brown rodent was no bigger than Lucas’ palm and it approached sniffing his fingers. He giggled with delight as the chic-chic accepted his invitation and he brought him up to face as they eyed one another curiously, the creature’s long whiskers tickling Lucas’ nose.

“What’s that sound babe?” Tom asked.

“It’s just the waterfall, it’s not far off,” Shareen said. Suddenly Alia appeared on the path with them urging them to wake as the sound of the waterfall became the incessant buzzing of Tom’s command console. Shareen woke, rousing him as well. Just as Tom answered the incoming call Alia entered their bedroom and turned on the lights.

“Alia what is it?” Shareen asked.

“I believe Tom’s call will explain.”

Shareen instinctively pressed her hand over her mouth to stifle a cry. Tom answered Colonel Dvorsky’s image appeared. “Tom, the Prime Minister has been assassinated. It seems there’s a lot of intel that’s been going around for some time and Fleet Admiral Gregory believes this system will be skipped but we’re on full alert anyway. You need to get your ass in here.”

“Roger that Colonel. I’m on my way.”

“What happened?” Tom asked Alia while he tossed the covers aside and headed for the closet.

“He was shot from a great distance. They found the weapon in a house that had been set on fire—“

Alia stood expressionless for a moment while tapping the news feeds. “Celestra is under attack. Reports indicate there was a terrorist attack at Celia City space port just before Parliament was destroyed. Coordinated attacks are occurring in various systems and I cannot be sure of their veracity.”

Shareen, still in bed, had brought her legs up underneath her quietly crying. Tom was already in his tactical suit and stepped out of the bathroom with dental pill. In two strides he was kneeling at her side holding her hands. “I don’t give a damn if Gregory thinks this planet won’t be hit. I want you to take Lucas and go to Halon.”

“Tom I’m not—,”

“You’re one of the few people that can visit the Halon Shar. I need you to do this for me. Trylon is on protection detail and I can contact you through them when I’m sure the planet is safe.”

Shareen reluctantly agreed then got dressed and began packing for the trip. Tom went to Lucas’ room turned on the light and gently shook his son awake. Sitting up groggily he asked, “Dad? What time is it?”

“It’s very early in the morning buddy. Look, something’s happened and I’ve got to go to work. You, mom, and Alia are going to go visit the Halon for a couple of weeks.”

Lucas sat up suddenly fully awake and alert. He smiled wide and his eyes were swimming with an excitement and wonder. Throwing off the blankets in the same manner Tom did he jumped out of bed and headed for the closet then he stopped and turned. “How come you’re not coming?”

“Something’s come up at work.”

“Like what?”

“Some people did something very bad and we’re going to need to deal with it.”

“Is it the coup?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“I overheard mom and Mrs. Vitt talking about it when she brought the baby over last week. It sounded like it scared them so I didn’t say anything.”

Tom motioned for Lucas to come to him and propped him up on his lap. “A coup is when some group or groups try to take control of government, often times by using violence.”

“Why would they do that? It’s wrong to hurt people if you don’t have to.”

“That’s true and I want you to always use that as a guideline, but others will hurt if they feel they can abuse power or want power.”

“Like the police that killed the protestors?”

“Exactly. That’s exactly right. The people who are trying to take over government because they aren’t happy with the way it is.”

“Do they want to make it better?”

“No Lucas, they simply want the power and the control. That’s why I have to go to work and the three of you are going to visit the Halon.”

The two studied each other for a moment then Lucas shook his head and got up to pack a bag. They locked up and headed to the star port. Tom contacted Tommy Vitt to tell him they’d be gone for a couple of weeks and to be safe. With the money Shareen had made from the Uploads they’d purchased one of the fastest private ships available for its size and kept it in a private berth. Before the mag-cab took Shar, Lucas, and Alia to the berth it stopped at the military personnel loading/unloading area. Tom and Shar got out, and hugged. She buried her face in his shoulder crying while he cooed reassurances to her then he poked his head back in to squeeze Lucas and give him a kiss then did the same to Alia. Then he waved them off and watched them leave wondering if he’d ever see them again.

Hogosha Part 44 Reveille

Firth opened her eyes. She was on her side looking at Jamaica Kekala’s smooth black skin and contrasting white pixie cut and watched her a moment as she slept. Then she gently rolled over and checked her clock. They had ninety minutes until duty so Firth leaned back and softly stroked Kekala’s cheek stirring her awake.

“What time is it?” Jamaica asked through a yawn.

“Oh-four thirty.”

Jamaica smiled. “Then we’ve got time.” She grabbed the back of Firth’s neck and lowered her face to her own sliding her tongue passed her lips. Firth laid down on top of her fully embraced in the kiss and Jamaica let go of her neck and felt the bed next to her. She broke off the kiss with Firth and turned to the now unoccupied area. “Did that fucking prick leave again?”

“No, the fucking prick was taking a leak,” Bozeman said. His olive complexion highlighted his thin but well-muscled frame and his torso contained just enough black hair to be sexy but not like he was wearing a wasenhound skin. Plus he had a huge cock which the two women eyed greedily. “I learned my lesson. Don’t sneak off in the middle of the night.”

“That’s right, now get the fuck over here,” Firth said sliding a hand between Jamaica’s legs.

*****

Firth made her way passed the bio-scanners and into the tram that would take her to Hogosha’s berth. Some of Svoboda’s and Verndari’s crew were in the tram along with some regular Trylon personnel she’d never seen before. After a minute the tram stopped and the Trylon folks got out then sped away again to drop the rest of them off.

“So what should we be expecting Lieutenant?” one of the others asked her.

“I got the same information as the rest of you petty officer,” Firth said. “There’s a new entry system and they replaced the bay doors with some sort of plasma shielding.”

After another minute the tram came to a stop and regurgitated it’s passengers into the remodeled entryway to the hanger bay. Where there used to be a turn style bio-scanner allowing personnel into the classified bay one at a time now stood an open tunnel that scanned everyone entering at the same time. Anyone attempting to enter who didn’t have access would be shot with a paralytic dart.

The airlock between the corridor to access the hanger bay and common room had been removed and where there used to be large doors protecting the atmosphere in the bay there was now a light green plasma shield that allowed for two-way traffic.

Firth looked back at the younger ensign from the tram. “See, exactly the same thing they sent you.”

“Yea, but is it safe?” someone asked.

“The Trylonian’s and the Uumshar developed it and it’s going into every hanger bay so, yea, I’d say it’s safe,” a tall redheaded ensign said.

The group meandered into the common room noting that nothing in there had changed save only a small control panel to access the plasma shielding in an emergency. Kekala was already sitting with Lieutenant Commander Nulo and Ensign Noor drinking what was supposed to be coffee.

“How the hell can you guys drink that bitter swill?” Firth said joining them.

“Ah, but an upgrade not mentioned in the bulletin was the upgraded meal processor,” Lieutenant Commander Nulo said.

“Apparently the commander’s pooled their resources and bought a genuine CDF processor,” Ensign Noor said smiling as she closed her eyes and enjoyed the scent of the hazelnut coffee. “It’s like being at fleet again.”

Firth noticed Kekala smirk then noticed the steaming froth of her cappuccino then got up to get her own savoring the drink when she returned. “For all their advancements over us the Trylonian’s just can’t do cappuccino.”

The common room suddenly stirred with murmurs and  whispers and the four of them let their eyes follow the others towards the assembled officers in the hanger bay. There was no policy about customizing your command console to chirp, buzz, or vibrate with incoming messages now, however the room was filled with the one sound that was reserved; “Priority One” and the message required the immediate assembly of all personnel on the hanger deck. Leaving their drinks and food the three crews filed out of the common room and assembled in front of their respective ships standing at attention.

When the crews had formed Whiskey gave the order to stand at ease they took the ancient position of spreading their feet shoulder wide and clasping their hands behind their backs. Before the crew stood two of Trylon’s highest ranking officers along with a CDF admiral. “Bring it in and listen up, this is Admiral Dunn, she is the Commanding Officer of this program,” Whiskey said as the crews from Verndari and Svoboda began shifting towards the crew from Hogosha in the center.

Admiral Dunn stepped forward. “Thank you commander. Ladies and gentlemen, you are all well aware of your mission and why your immediate families have been relocated to Trylon. I was fortunate enough to be here on leave with my husband Admiral Everal’a,” Dunn said inclining her head towards Trylon’s highest ranking military figure. “I say fortunate because the expected mutinous assault by forces within Naval Intelligence as well as regular Naval and Marine forces has occurred. The whispers that had begun to move through the assembled crews were immediately silenced with a wave of the Admirals hand.

“Just over two hours ago Prime Minister Nala was assassinated and attempts were made on other members of Parliament. Although the recent mission you undertook to tap the communication relays in the Pleastos system was a fantastic success and has, in the last few days, provided invaluable information, the attack was carried out without any communications being relayed through Mulintia-2 which suggests, again, that there is another base they are orchestrating this coup from.

They have full control of the Arion, Inta’la, Alusia, and Thoron systems. That means the planets of Patentia, Arestus, Tinus, Ophilia and Ophilia-2, Celestra, and Zalestra and all five billion inhabitants are now under their control. Estimates put immediate casualties on these worlds at seven million. “

Admiral Dunn stepped back and Admiral Everal’a stepped forward. “Our laws forbid us from entering the war. We are not however forbidden from scouting and I as well as the Uumshar want you to know that you three small crews are not alone in your hunt for their base of operations. As we speak our own scout ships are out there looking.”

Admiral Everal’a stepped back and Dunn again stepped forward. “Until now you’ve enjoyed the convenience of jumping home each day or week. No more,” Admiral Dunn finished then turned and left.

“STAND TO,” Pelo shouted and the crews came to attention and saluted the Admirals. Most of them understood the reference and were apprehensive. When the Admirals were gone Pelo continued. “You have two hours to visit with your loved ones, fuck, beat off, or do whatever the hell you feel like because at oh-eight-hundred we are leaving for the furthest reaches of the galaxy and we will complete our mission.”

Freelight Part 14 Catalyst

Dressed in baggy cargo pants and loose fitting t-shirt, Natalia wandered into the galley where the others were snacking and chatting about the job they just finished. “You’re not going to believe this, but there’s a ninety minute wait for the outbound traffic lane,” she said picking up a piece of the local cheese and popping it in her mouth. “Their traffic control is shit, but Patentian cheese is awesome.”

“Whore,” Melissa directed towards Natalia.

“Fuck you, bitch. What crawled up your ass?”

“Your t-shirt. It says ‘whore’.”

Natalia grabbed the front of her shirt and brought it up simultaneously looking down then shot Melissa sheepish grin. “Oh, sorry. Barklay got it for me. They’re a new band,” she said, kissing Missy on the cheek and stuffing another piece of cheese in her mouth.

“Is it a girl band?” Oliver asked.

“Yep. That reminds me, I got something for Barklay.” Natalia spun and went to her quarters then returned and handed Barklay a small bag.

“Ah you shouldn’t have,” Barklay said producing a giant floral print shirt with a brightly colored bird on the back.

“That’s to replace the one you ripped when we were stealing Max’s ore hauler,” she said noticing Oliver wince a bit. “Sorry, I know how you feel about getting your ass kicked.”

“He cold cocked me.”

“He broke your nose and could have beat the shit out of you. Considering you can kick my ass how do think that makes me feel?” Barklay said to Oliver then turned to Melissa. “Hey Missy have you picked up any chatter on him?” Barklay asked.

“A little, but he’s been flying off the radar since then,” Melissa said as her command console chirped quietly. She excused herself and headed for her station on the bridge. Oliver, Natalia, and Barklay continued to chat for a few moments before they were interrupted by Melissa’s voice over the intercom. “You guys need to get up here. Now.”

“Is it me, or does she sound really serious?” Barklay asked.

Oliver and Natalia shared a concerned look. “She does sound a bit…troubled,” Oliver said.

Emerging on the bridge Oliver saw a single tear slowing sliding down her cheek. “Missy what’s wrong?” Oliver asked.

Natalia took her hand. “What’s going on?”

“They did it. It’s started,” Melissa said then seemed to regain composure.

“Who did what and what’ve they started?” Oliver asked.

“After all those politicians, high ranking officers, and business people were arrested on treason and corruption charges the communication relays have been full of talk, whispers really, of a coming civil war. I’ve had Kara send me any information that may be some kind of spark, anything that could be the catalyst. They killed him, the Prime Minister’s been assassinated,” Melissa said.

“Kara details,” Oliver ordered.

“Forty-six minutes ago Prime Minister Nala was struck in the temple with a single plasma bolt. Shortly after fire and rescue were called to home that was engulfed in flame. When the fire was out a Trention D6 sniper rifle was found in the upstairs bedroom. Police confirmed the owner of the home was found murdered yesterday,” the AI said.

“Patentia has no MP’s,” Barklay said. “Both Ministers were arrested on bribery and corruption charges. They’re sitting in jail on Celestra.”

“Natalia get us out of here,” Oliver said, taking his seat and frantically entering some information into the holo.

“Boss we still have like—“

“I don’t care how long a wait we have, just get us off the fucking planet!”

Natalia took the helm and began start up. Her fingers flew across her virtual screen as the ship came to life. She’d never seen Oliver this freaked, out and it terrified her. When the engines began their warm, up she turned to him, “Oliver, what is it?”

He looked up only to see the others shared the same worried look that Natalia had. “Sorry, pillow talk. If Naval Intelligence is planning a coup, which Barbara said is likely, they can’t take control over the entire galaxy, but they will take Patentia. She said the first thing they’ll do is hit the planetary defense grid, and there are four massive concentrated dark matter weapons on the space port’s perimeter.”

Oliver’s holo was ringing with an incoming call. “What?” Oliver said.

“Captain Wheil, we’re detecting your ship’s engines are online and you’ve initiated start up—“

“Yea that’s because we’re leaving.”

“Captain you still have seventy minutes—“

“I don’t care,” Oliver said turning to Barklay, “Doors,” then back to the image in the holo, “I’m leaving right now, and If I were you I’d get as far from this space port as possible.”

With the transmission cut Natalia began guiding the ship out the now opened doors of the private berth. “Security’s coming,” she said.

Oliver activated the ship’s bow and aft rail guns as the security ships moved in attempting to block their path. “I won’t shoot if you don’t,” Oliver whispered to himself.

“Six carrier groups have just exited jump and are moving in position around Alusia Naval Station with an additional three dozen unregistered vessels,” the AI said. “Three carriers have also exited jump above the planet. Oliver, there is one above the city.”

“Kara what’s a standard compliment with a CDF carrier group?” Barklay asked.

“Current compliment contains six destroyers, six cruisers, two dreadnaughts, twelve frigates, and sixteen corvettes. Each carrier contains two-thousand fighters capable of atmospheric entry.”

Natalia pushed the ship out the doors and headed into the blockade. “Kara plot a jump to dead space and jump as soon as Natalia breaks atmo,” Oliver said as Natalia pulled back on the controls and floored it. The security ships turned to pursue and opened fire with standard lasers. Oliver returned a fusillade of plasma bolts from the rail gun and took a call from Barbara. “Hi babe,” he said.

Barbara’s image appeared in the holo, “Oli I take it by your…is that weapons fire I hear?”

“Yea, we’re—“

“Orbital bombardment of the planet is now commencing,” the AI said.

“Kara put the rearview up on the main screen,” Melissa said. The large view screen above the front window showed a bright yellow beam destroy one of the space port’s dark matter weapons and the space port exploded into flames.

The security ships called off their pursuit when the edge of the planet’s atmosphere approached. “Kara send your jump coordinates to Barbara,” Oliver said. “Baby I gotta call you back.”

“Coordinates sent. Jumping in 3.2.1,” the AI said and space folded around the ship. Seconds later they dropped out into a vast empty darkness.

Natalia was flush white and holding her hand over her mouth. Barklay’s deep baritone voice told her to let it out and she vomited on the floor between her feet. “There were over a hundred-thousand people in that space port,” she whispered.

They sat in silence for some time while they waited for Barbara to connect again. “You made it out? You’re all okay?” Barbara asked.

“Yea we’re okay. Better than the poor bastards on Patentia,” Oliver replied.

“Are you all on the bridge?” Barbara asked.

“Yea, let me turn you so you can see the others.”

Oliver rotated his holo then stepped down from his chair and wrapped Natalia in his arms. “You didn’t tell us she got promoted,” she said noticing the Major epaulette on Barbara’s collar.

“Yea kiddo she got a promotion,” Oliver said with a forced smile.

Barbara smiled briefly, “Look right now they’re attacking the Arion, Thoron, Inta’la, and Alusia systems. It looks like they’re only hitting the planets with populations they know they can control or are sympathetic. The Inta’la Naval Station is being taken from within.”

“From within?” Barklay asked. “Why the hell would they mutiny for a bunch of fucking spies?”

“Because Admiral Munoz and Lieutenant General Katz are wildly popular with those they commanded, and they were both arrested for treason. Most of the personnel didn’t buy that and thought the whole thing was politically motivated. We’ve also heard the General is leading the assault. As for the spies, the first target hit on Celestra was Parliament, and the second was Naval Command which was also home to the regular navy’s intelligence branch. This coup was planned and executed from Mulintia-2. A wholly separate entity, Barklay.”

“Five-thousand years,” Melissa said. “That’s how long it’s been since humans waged war against humans.”