Citizens of the Imperium

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Blue Ghost August 17th, 2019 05:47 AM

Legend of the Stalker's Fang
The seemingly lifeless hulk of the Solomani Far Trader slowly tumbled in the dim glow of the system’s single red dwarf, as the Stalker’s Fang ebbed closer with her serrated camouflaged hull moving like an ocean borne predator through the grim black. Aboard the bridge her captain’s fangs dripped with saliva, as if waiting to deliciously chomp into the stricken vessel that had some how managed to wend its way into the Extents. The Solomani design was odd and alien all at once, yet somehow its half rounded form with a nose that looked like it had been taken from an Imperial type-R and tacked on as an afterthought, promised to be full of wealth—riches taken from the triad-region of space known as the Imperium, Consulate and his own native extents. A new breed of pray. The rounded grill vents on the trader’s topside and her huge tail section “spoiler” that ran her width and was canted aft, added to her strangeness this far out from Terran space. Not altogether an unknown design, but a rarity all the same. The latest data packets stripped from Imperial information traffic identified this ship as the Evening Star. What was inside. What would it taste like? A Solomani ship that had traversed deep black, across the Imperium, as her class name suggested, a far trader. Through fate, luck and circumstance, she had fallen into the hands of some now hapless merchant captain who was about to suffer his vessel’s same fate.

Captain Kahyvagh Gahv again felt his mouth go moist as he instinctively sniffed the air, half expecting the faint scent of blood to be floating on the hundreds of meters of sheer vacuum between the Stalker’s Fang and the Terran. They continued to close with a ship that showed no sign of power, and had given up fighting to no avail.

In the near black of the bridge where the only illumination were the various displays showing attitude, relative velocity and course projection, all of wihch reflected or fell onto Gahv’s gray-black-and-white facial hair, there was nothing but the electronic silence of occasional beeps and computer chirps. The computer graphic of a series of rectangles showing the corsair’s projected intercept course glinted off of Gahv’s deep gray eyes as he stared at the Solomani ship, only briefly turning his head to look at one display to the next, making sure there were no course deviations and that all of his turrets remained locked on target. The fur on the back of his neck had risen to an excited frenzy, but had fallen flat after the Far Trader had lost control and ceased fire. But now he felt a new sense of blood lust, and his mind and heart sent adrenaline and signals to his body that the first phase of the hunt was over, and now the real struggle to bring down the merchant would begin.

Gahv nearly half-snarled his commands for his tactical officer to show the far trader’s position statistics. Energy output, zero. Power output, zero. Scanning emissions, zero. But she was still hot, which meant that there were emergency life support systems running on overtime to compensate for the lethality that the Fang’s gunnery crew had poured into her. No plasma vented, but the dim red glitter and glow of laser heated particles glinting in the red dwarfs light, sheered and blasted from the Terran starship’s hull, created an ethereal stream of sparkling metal which was dazzling to the eye.

Gahv and the rest of his crew did not know what red was, but the shades of dark gray told them a story of a starship that had decided to take a short cut, and now had paid the price for it, so for primate and wolf descendent alike, it was the blood in spite of the Vargrs’ relatively primitive eye structure.

A high pitched beep perked Gahv’s ears, which were silhouetted against the dim bridge lights lighting the single armored sliding door. Gahv’s fur again went erect as his adrenal gland pumped copious amounts of energy into every synapse of his physical being. The fur lining his body bristled from the edges of his ears and down his neck to where his coarse and battle hardened fur met the armored carapace of his combat space suit, a much cursed inferior design to the more expensive and technically superior Imperial armor of nearly the same design. Curse all humanity and their treacherous yet effective contemplative ways. So often they fought as they played, unfairly, and it was only Gahv’s tenaciousness that had seen him, his ship, and his crew through over a dozen raids.

Gahv didn’t pretend to understand humans with their high degree of organization for simple pack hunts, or what they termed as counter insurgency operations, or pirate sweeps—whatever that was. Gahv’s thinking didn’t go beyond pack level tactics, and even then he detested having to share the spoils of a well thought out raid with other ships and their crews. Going alone, like some human crew gone rogue and desiring to don the fur and fangs of his kind by illegally raiding their space lanes, was far more profitable.

Gahv half snarled half barked an order for more tactical data on the human vessel. Treacherous creatures. How did they ever manage to keep ahead of the Vargr technologically, again, was beyond Gahv’s ken, but somewhere deep in the recesses of his hunter’s thinking he knew the humans were up to no good amongst themselves, and would someday bring their own downfall. In the mean time Gahv and others of his kind would have to eek out an existence by lawfully hunting down humans senseless enough to seek fortune in the Extents.

A flurry of numbers and labels coalesced and danced on the tactical display, a CGI image of the Solomani designed vessel appeared, also duplicating her slow tumble. The readout also displayed arrows pointing to breaches, energy or heat sources, and a number of other minutiae that annoyed Gahv. Engineers, gunners, tech experts might find these words and numbers appealing, but all Gahv wanted to know was was she dead or alive. And if she lived, then what was left with her to fight with? If she was dead, then how were her crew faring, and were they armed? Gahv didn’t care who owned it, where it was built, how many owners she had had, her tonnage, nor where she was headed when she came upon the Stalker’s trap. He wanted to know if she was a wounded animal or not.

Gahv’s steely gaze remained unmoved as they closed distance. The predominantly disk like form of the Solomani vessel grew in size with each passing moment as various readouts on the bridge showed approach course and scrolled through thousands of numbers that meant nothing to the crew, but were the life blood of the ship’s AI network. Computer generated graphics of projected paths, rotation rates, distance to various objects, and relative velocity (including her rotational angular velocity) flashed and scrolled over the dozens of screens large and small on the corsair’s bridge. Each light, each photon, each diode found its way to Gahv’s retina, his eyelids twitching in anticipation.

He heard his navigator and copilot exchange some words about approach vector and how to line themselves up with the stricken vessel, but all of it was lost on Gahv. Like the predators of millennia before his time, he stood fixated on what might have been a slab of freshly killed meat. Again he could feel his mouth salivating in anticipation. Instinctively a low barely audible snarl left his gritted teeth as he demanded an update.

Moments later he got a reply and felt the ship’s reverse thrusters fire up to slow and adjust the corsair’s pitch and yaw as pilot and navigator worked in tandem to orient the corsair to secure air locks. The Stalker slewed and pivoted to starboard, and moments later Gahv could hear the boarding gangway fire off from the hull. The impact mutedly translated through the metal supports connecting both ships and holding the high tension fiber corridor in place. The metallic impact was another signifier to Gahv’s psyche. Again, the kill. The hunt. The anticipation.

“Gangway secure, captain.” Came Veelash’s mid toned voice. All business. No hunter’s blood lust in him, for the hunt was over. But for Gahv the thrill was just beginning. Space combat was a dangerous proposition, and not one he relished for all of its silent lethality, but once it was over with, then getting to see inside the bounty they had vanquished was the payoff.

Gahv turned to Veelash, “Standby boarding party. I’ll be there momentarily.”

Blue Ghost August 17th, 2019 05:40 PM

“Aye, captain.”

Gahv stepped forward to peer out the lateral portion of the bridges windscreen to see the gang-tube securely attached to the merchant’s air lock, then quickly glanced at a readout showing the pressurization of the tube before exiting the bridge—trust but verify. Gahv turned and stormed towards the armored door, his right hand feeling his low holstered sidearm which gave him both comfort and confidence.

The armored door slid shut and sealed itself after Gahv stepped off the bridge and into the main hexagonal shaped corridor, lined with struts to give the ship extra rigidity in combat, and in the rare event of a ram—a tactic Gahv had never contemplated, but against a foe like human vessels, it was a thing he kept in the back of his mind. Even at this stage he wouldn’t put it beyond the crew of the Evening Star to have some device or weapon that would cut open the gangway as he and his troops were attempting to board.

Gahv grabbed his helmet and high energy laser carbine, commonly known in Imperial parlance as a “HEL Gun”, and climbed down the ladder to the lower deck where a dozen troopers were waiting for him, all fully kitted in the same armored vaccsuit, some with more battle scars, bullet holes, laser burns and patches than others, but all assembled and waiting for Gahv with cowed ears.

Gahv finished sealing his helmet, then took his prized possession, an Imperial laser pistol with an extended magazine, and strapped on the extra large shoulder holster over the suit. He couldn’t remember what the weapon’s proper name was. Something unpronounceable by Vargr standards, but lethal sounding to the human ear. Truth be told Gahv preferred the big loud armor punching heavy side arms that made a lot of noise and flash to intimidate the opposition, but, function over form he told himself. That, and the laser weapon was far deadlier than anything human chemistry and engineering could come up with. Human—there was that word again. Still, for all that, on his other hip he carried a standard noise maker revolver in case he needed to make a point to some hapless victim or his crew, or both, that he was in command, and no one dare defy his authority.

The boarding party were armed with a multiple of weapons, from sawed off shotguns to mercenary hand-me-downs from the Imperium, including an antiquated ACR that hadn’t been in service with mainline Imperial soldiers for over fifty years, if not longer. Each trooper double checked his weapon, creating a symphony of a series of metallic clicks, slides, clacks and locks as chambers were loaded, accompanied by the exhilarating climbing whine of energy weapons being charged and primed.

He checked his life support and seal on his helmet once more before ordering Kael to open the air lock. Kael, the trim and mostly black and white furred lieutenant passed the order onto the muscular sergeant to open the air lock.

Kael was the lead, Gahv’s lieutenant, sometimes his sergeant, for even though he had a hunter’s mind for tactics, he, quite literally, barked orders at the rest of the boarding party to storm positions as opposed to passing on Gahv’s tactical wizardry, especially since Gahv lead the charge—like now.

The hiss of the door opening as air molecules gushed from one chamber to the next, filled the corsair’s lower deck. Soon the airlock was wide open to the main gangway tube. If there was to be treachery, then now was the time. But the gang tube mere undulated emptily as it contained breathable air for one ship to transit its crew to the other.

Gahv walked to the edge of the airlock’s deck, and let himself fall into the weightlessness of the artificial corridor of liveable space suspended by nothing but the vacuum outside. He shoved off and felt his body float free in a near straight line to the Solomani’s air lock. Behind was his combat engineer Zhegh, who immediately put a hand held unit with a tiny LCD and datalink to his helmet onto the external locking mechanism. For several moments Gahv watched the older Vargr run one routine after another, trying to outwit the security AI into opening the outer door, but for naught.

Gahv was growing impatient, he could feel his blood lust growing cold and did not want to lose the feeling. “Open it!”

Zhegh, without question put the electronic lockpit into his suits breast pocket, and immediately pulled a micro plasma torch. He pulled down the shade on his visor and went to work. Gahv turned away from the blindingly bright hyper-charged gaseous flame as did the rest of his boarding part, and let Zhegh do his work. Minutes went by, and the electric flame died, followed by the sound of Zhegh grunting as the outer door slid aside only to reveal the inner door. But, through luck or happenstance, it was partially open, and Gahv’s men immediately stormed in to help Zhegh pry it open to reveal a veritable warehouse of cargo and freight containers stacked up to the ceiling.

That’s when the first shot rang out, striking Ghrisawh’s faceplat, shattering the ballistic grade glass and knocking him to the deck unconscious.

Gahv and his men noted that that ship’s AG system was still functional, and if they could hear weapons’ fire, then that meant that there was air in here. Which meant the humans were still alive, and like their treacherous reputation, had played the part of the wounded beast only to show their fangs as that first single shot was followed by a hail of gunfire from all quarters.

Gagharn was the next to fall. A storm of full automatic weapons punctured his suit, turning him into a lifeless mass as the image of dark gray life giving ichor that was his blood oozed from his suit.

Gahv drew his heavy sidearm with his left hand and fired in the general direction of the enemy gunfire on the upper gantry behind a stack of cargo containers. The report from the large caliber weapon was thunderous and deafening, each shot audibly putting to shame the relative pops of the full automatic rifles and electronic searing-snaps of those in his party armed with laser weapons.

Gahv fired off the last of his sidearms round, and then switched to his HEL gun, laying down a lethal stream of high-energy light that cut through containers and human alike. Gahv stood in the open while his men took cover, returning fire when they braved a chance to do so. All the while Gahv, his white fangs bared brazenly, stood his ground.

Gahv locked onto each distant and partially concealed muzzle flash on the other side of the cargo bay. One, two, three and more human bodies dropped as the bright crimson beam found its mark. By this time Gahv’s boarding party had regained enough of its confidence to come out from their cover, weapons levelled, and firing as anything that moved.

The once stale recycled air was now alive with the scent of cordite, cordine, ozone, and fresh kill. Gahv stepped forward with purpose, scanning the area with his weapon, anticipating anything out of the ordinary. You only lived once, and if he were to die, then it wouldn’t be because some human had caught him unawares. The HUD on his armored faceplate and his own eyes and other senses soaked up input to allow Gahv’s hunter’s instinct to guide his every step—watching, waiting, expecting, sensing, and even desiring and hoping some human would come out and challenge his aim.

“Check the bridge.” Gahv didn’t raise his tone, but was all business. No need for bravado here. He had proven his point, and the need for barking tones was long gone. Gahv raised his face plate to let the chemical ridden air filter into his super olfactory passages, and get a better sense of who was alive, and where they were hiding. The electronic wizardry of human and Vargr engineers alike couldn’t satiate his own desire to smell it with his own nose, no matter how good humans were at creating electronic contrivances.

Blue Ghost August 19th, 2019 03:19 AM

“Open the freight, captain?”

Gahv didn’t know who asked, but replied in general, “After we secure the ship. Kael, take two men aft and secure engineering. The rest come with me.”

Gahv again strode with purpose, his eyes and nose scanning for anything suspicious. As usual for a human crewed ship the corridors stank with a mixture of pleasant foods and strong cleaners. Humans had a knack for cleanliness—human depending. Why they couldn’t live with a little grime or rust on the bulkheads was beyond him. What mattered were how the engines ran, how the weapons sang when needed, if the power plant delivered enough juice to keep the air breathable and lasers primed, not if the consoles and interior walls were free of scuff marks. Again, he never understood humans, and disliked them even more.

The ship’s hold bowed towards the center as Gahv led his team to her forward spaces, presumably where the bridge was on this design. Most of the light was yellow or white, which meant that during his transition through the gang tube that somehow the humans had gotten their power plant back on line. That made it all that much more imperative to reach the bridge or that Kael secure engineering.

The single door leading to the merchant’s living spaces was the accursed iris design. In spite of their reputation they weren’t impervious, but they were far tougher than their reputation suggested.

Again to Zhegh, “Open it!”

“Weapons on the other side, captain.” Barzh flatly stated dropping his scanner to let it dangle off his belt so he could put both hands on his HEL Gun.

Gahv motioned his men to the side of the corridor, two crouched, one went prone as they waited for Zhegh to do his magic with the micro plasma flame, but Gahv stood there defiantly, as if daring whoever was on the other side of the door to shoot him now or forever hold his peace.

But Gahv grew impatient. How he wanted his weapons to do the service Zhegh’s little device was performing now on the bulkhead. How much more devastating and effective it would be to immolate the door with pure weapons’ fire, and then storm in in true Vargr fashion.

The plate on the bulkhead next to the door’s locking mechanism fell off. Zhegh reached in and torqued the right lever, connected the right switch without electrocuting himself, then the iris valve expanded from the middle as if it had never been secured.

Gahv took a cautious step inside and sniffed the air. One human, maybe one other with all the other scents left behind, but definitely one. Gahv expected another human trick, but with weapon at the ready, whether he would suffer the same fate as his crewman or no, he would make whoever took a shot at him pay with their life.

There was one human in here. They could all smell it. A sweet scent, and sickly powerful as to be a reek.

Then a high pitched scream as a lone figure popped up from behind the navigational console and let out three high caliber shots that knocked back Zhegh. Gahv and the rest of his men bathed the area with high powered percussion and energy weapons’ fire.

The figure, wearing a bright orange armored vacc suit, was blown into the console lining the bridge’s outer bulkhead and fell to the deck. Dressed as it was there was a chance it had survived. Gahv and his men inched forward, weapons ready and canting downwards as they drew closer.

Yes, this scent was different. Gahv could tell. Peering over the edge of the navigational console he saw the pale form of what appeared to be a young male with its exaggerated head-fur tied back behind its head in a kind of tail.

Then over his headset on the tactical channel, “Engineering secure, captain. There’s no one here. Those people we encountered on the cargo deck were hired security.”

Gahv digested the information before replying, “Does this design have a launch?”

“Yes, captain, but it's still in the bay. It appears crew and passengers escaped.”

Gahv felt an ounce of rage creep in. He would prefer no survivors, but somehow during the fight the crew and whatever other non-security compliment had stolen away. But how?

Gahv slung his weapon, pushed his men aside and grabbed the human by the collar of its vacc suit with his right hand, then drew his sidearm with his left. Yes, young and perfumed. He never understood the human need to drench themselves in scent. Like all other space faring humans, this one probably only spoke Galanglic. Gahv did his best to muster the right lexicon.

“Gahveer ees yuu khreew?”

Gahv had not reloaded his sidearm, but this thing did not know that, and so he brought the flat faced smooth skinned creature closer while pushing the barrel of his revolver to its forehead.

Again, “Gahveer ees yuu khreew?”

The human didn’t reply.

“Secure this thing.” Gahv shoved it away, the human smacked into the piloting station before falling to the deck. “A ship without a crew but a security team left behind. Go back to the hold and start opening the containers. I want to know what we’ve caught.”

“Aye, captain.”

There was a groan from the main entrance. Apparently Zhegh was still alive. At his venerable age of over fifty, he had seen more than his share of missions and good luck to see him through the worst dangers.

“You live.” Gahv plainly stated, resisting the urge to help his old friend to his feet, preferring the old combat engineer rise of his own power.

“The spirits are with me, as always. That, and I did slip an extra plate into my suit.”

“Engineer’s intuition?” Gahv questioned.

“Luck.” Zhegh replied, the age and fear in his voice coming through loud and clear. “We have a prisoner?”

Gahv shook his head, “I don’t have time for prisoners. This one is tied up because I don’t want it causing anymore problems. I have the rest of the squad back in the hold seeing what we’ve nabbed for ourselves.”

Zhegh looked at the human, sniffed it, cocked his head in thought, and then motioned with his chin, “That one there, captain. I believe that’s a female. They typically don’t fight or remain as starship security. A few exceptions I suppose.”

Gahv didn’t have any opinion on human society and how it treated its child bearers. From what he knew human females tended human pups far longer than what he deemed necessary, and no human child matured as fast as a Vargr pup, which puzzled and angered Ghav all the more since somehow, again, humans maintained an edge in military technology and all other things.

“We should question it.” Zhegh offered.

“I’ve already asked it where the crew went, but all it did was stare back with its maw open. No words of any kind.”

“Always with you there is one try, and no more.”

“When it didn’t reply I applied force, but all it did was let out a human yelp.”

“That would be a cry, captain.”

“A cry? What for? We’re in the confines of a ship, not on a hunting preserve.”

“It’s their female’s way of signaling danger. It differs from a pack cry.”

But Gahv wasn’t interested, “Can you access their logs? I want to see the manifest.” Gahv’s tone again went back to his all-business demeanor—no passion, no anger, no joy, a flat deadly tone invoking obedience.

“I can, captain, but with your permission?” Zhegh raised his eyebrows in endearment as he gestured towards the human female.

“Be quick, engineer. I want to know what they were carrying that required a security team to remain on board.”

Zhegh bowed his head slightly as he lowered his ears acknowledging Gahv’s desire to get on with the operation.

Zhegh approached the human. Blue eyes, rich yellow hair, pale skin with no appreciable fur, he could smell her adrenaline through her skin. Fear. Zhegh put up both hands in a sign of non-threat, but her breathing didn’t abate. Then, in his best Galanglic;

“Where is your crew?”

“I don’t know …” followed by a flurry of what Zhegh assumed were curses, ending with “dog”. That much he understood. Dogs were the servile idiot companions of humans. Gahv often told him that they kept them around as a reminder of racial superiority. Zhegh wasn’t too sure about that, but he understood the intonation of the reply.

Gahv leveled his gaze at Zhegh, “I told you, I already interrogated it.”

Zhegh relented, then went to work on the ship’s logs with his electronic miracle worker. Soon the manifest came up, and Zhegh’s portable do-all computer spat out a list of products, half of which were human specific. Cooking utensils, textiles (mostly for Vargr), an assortment of consumer electronics and some perishables with extremely long chemical names.

Gahv was close to outrage, but let his hunter’s mind sooth his troubled brow as he thought of what to do next.

Zhegh looked at him, “Take her in tow?”

Gahv shook his head. “I can’t spare the crew, and all her consoles are in human speak. I don’t want to waste time having you translate every single thing so I can put a skeleton crew on her to bring her in. Too much time, and the repairs would cost a fortune more than this cargo will bring.”

“As you wish, captain. What about the human?”

“Bring it to the hold.”

Blue Ghost August 19th, 2019 03:19 AM

To the human ear Vargr speak sounded like a mish-mash of sloshed woofs and low grows and controlled toned barks, none of which was intelligible to most humans.

Gavh led Zhegh off the bridge with the human in tow, and by the time they had returned to the hold the rest of the corsair’s crew were handling the more valuable cargo with grav lifts, shoving it through the gang tube where the rest of the crew was stowing it in the corsairs comparatively small hold. When the Corsair’s hold was full, and the word came back that they couldn’t fit anymore, Gahv ordered the operation to stop, and to reboard the ship.

The powerful chemical odor of the human vessel was replaced with the more welcome scents of Gahv’s own crew as he stepped back into the Stalker’s Fang, and ordered the air lock sealed. The gang tube was retracted, and stowed in the ship’s bulkhead. The two ship’s parted, but not before Gahv gave the order to scuttle the Terran ship. Two well placed missiles tore her asunder, and the Evening Star was no more—nothing but particles on the stellar wind.

Blue Ghost August 19th, 2019 02:07 PM

I've done some minor editing. I have a tendency to type "on" when I mean "no", and "levelled" when I mean "leveled" … "levelled" is pronounced "lev-elled", and it's really annoying. I also did some rephrasing.

I'm not real happy with this latest installment … I wanted to show more ruthlessness on Gahv's part, but wound up softening him up. I guess subconsciously I didn't want to get in trouble with the powers that be on the forum, but I think I could have injected a bit more violence without going over the top. I may rewrite it, and again, apologies for the typos and raw read. I thought I had edited it before posting.

*2nd EDIT*
I did some massive editing on the first chapter. Again, it's my usual dyslexia conspiring with my natural laziness to think I've created great prose, when it's actually riddled with errors. I did proof read it, and even had MS Word read it back to me, but event then I missed a number of errors. Many apologies. It should read as I intended now. thanks again

Thanks again.

Blue Ghost August 20th, 2019 05:12 AM

Plumes of black smoke rose like banshees to be scattered in the desert wind. Born of enshrouded flame from various tents and low lying buildings designed to defeat the wind and sand, the visage of destruction was juxtaposed against a blue nitrogen sky with high altitude clouds feathering the stratosphere. All the while, in the background the sleek-serrated form of the yellow and black striped camouflage that was the Stalker’s Fang, sat on the desert floor, her struts half buried in the hardened parched earth.

Gahv, his HEL gun held high and pointing to the sky, was fixated on the hand held scanner presented to him by Kael. Imperial colonies were notoriously eclectic when it came to defenses. Some were virtual fortresses built out on airless worlds, where others, such as this one, were defenseless hamlets that invited anyone to raid.

Gahv didn’t pretend to understand the reasoning of humans, and how their inconsistencies perpetuated a continued naval superiority in terms of quality and size of armed combatants, he never understood. Gahv knew that his hunter’s mind kept him ahead of the scheming humans. Friends one moment, traitorous bringers of retribution the next. Many of his comrades commanding other vessels had fallen to Imperial naval sweeps. One after the other, the images emblazoned on the freeport he called home continued to swell in ranks as one starship captain after another was killed or went missing after an engagement with an Imperial cruiser.

And this foray, on some patch of desert on an equally arid world some distance from the Imperial fringe, for now, was safe for him and his crew to raid at their pleasure. Orbiting the larger of the colonial townships had brought out onlookers. And when no shots were fired or other defenses activated, that’s when Gahv ordered his laser batteries to put the larger buildings to the electric flame.

As the crimson beams seared ozone they sliced into the thin rooves meant to keep sun and other elements off of the good people of this fledgling colony. They were not designed to resist uncounted mega joules of a starship laser, and certainly not a double beam barbettes from two turrets. From the bridge of the Stalker’s Fang, Gahv had watched black human silhouettes scatter in all directions, some holding human cubs as the corsairs lasers slashed and punched into one building after another.

Planetary raids were sometimes a necessity. He preferred intercepting fat treasure filled merchants in deep star-studded black, but colonies, Vargr or human, often had food stuffs. And curse the humans again for being able to make tastier fare than his own galley cooks, whom he had spent extra credits and gold on acquiring and giving them the best provisions to work with he could find.

Once enough tents and buildings were ablaze and belching black smoke, Gahv gave the order to land. The four-hundred ton ship circled the village several times before extending its landing struts and plowing the desert floor until she slowed enough to come to a stop.

Gahv looked at Kael’s portable tactical unit, quietly surveyed the village sensing the various chemicals that constituted the black smoke, stray molecules of which shot away from the main streaming black plume and found their way into the Vargrs’ olfactory senses.

“No cattle, captain. No animals of any kind. Strictly agrarian.”

“On a desert world.” Gahv’s phrasing was a command meant as a question, but without the intonation of asking … it would make him seem weak.

The wind picked up some, the hot breeze pushing against raised pointed ears and fur and washing some of the chemical scent away, only to replace it with the smell of arid soil and rock.

“Some of those structures we torched were greenhouses, or top chambers leading to vats nested underground. It’s human produce, captain. Some of it we can digest, but it’s not meat. Strictly grasses of all sorts.”

Grass for Vargr meant anything that germinated out of the soil. Plainly speaking it wasn’t meat, and the only time Vargr didn’t eat meat was because of some medical condition, typically dealing with the digestive track. Few Vargr kept any produce of any kind on board, or if they did then again it was for medicinal purposes.

Gahv scanned the area with his steely gaze, while some of his squad let their mouths partially open to vent heat from their bodies, Gahv’s muzzle was a solid line with jaw clenched shut. He looked in one direction, glanced at Kael’s tactical readout, then glanced in another direction, seeing humans, some in burnt rags that passed for clothes, clutching to one another as they chanced a fearful look at Gahv and his troop, worrying and wondering what would happen next.

“Agrarian colonies always have animals.” Gahv asserted, as if it was some deep profound truth that only he could establish, and that everyone must acknowledge—all but his closest advisors.

“Some humans don’t eat meat, captain. Some prefer the desert and raising flowers to the open plains. They’re not unheard of. They call themselves communes, or some similar word. They organize themselves around a social idea or concept, and live as they desire.”

“They have no defenses.” Again Gahv was straight to the point, not quite ignoring Kael’s brief, but desiring that he add more to it without having to muster the energy to question his tactical officer.

“Such collections of humanity tend not to believe in warfare … of any kind, captain. They prefer the sedate. Like our kind who prefer daily jobs and spending time in parks. They differ from you and us.”

“Curse this world and these people.” Gahv finally uttered as he again surveyed the visage fire and smoke amidst a waterless landscape, with clusters of humans clutching onto one another in some vain hope that physical touch and the comfort it brought would alleviate the anguish they had suffered.

A fringe world populated by former Imperials hoping to escape the social clutches of Imperial law and taxes, and the protection and harness it brought, only to find themselves subject to Gahv’s whims. Gahv had no use for humans, dead or alive, only the goods they made, and the food that he and his kind could eat. If the Imperium took exception, then that was their prerogative, but it wouldn’t stop Gahv and his rampage through known space, nor make him reconsider an alternative way of existence.

Gahv lived for the hunt. He lived for pillaging. It was part of his every being, and both Vargr and Human on both sides of the great invisible national barrier that separated both species relative domain knew that. This had been the twelfth raid in as many weeks, often Gahv would order attacking two targets within as many hours, which only added to his reputation.

Unknown to him, someone had taken notice of his activities. Gahv had been content at one time to serve as a naval commander in a mainline fleet squadron for a government that no longer existed and that few remembered—as with most things that related to Vargr society. But attacking for the sake of some high potentate who reaped the rewards of wealth and mates grated on Gahv’s mind. The high born pack leaders of many pack worlds and beyond throughout the Extents were no better than their human counterparts they so often railed against to gain political favor and power.

So it was that Gahv raided to his own ends, and shared the wealth with his crew instead of delivering it to the former leader that had been deposed in one of hundreds of military coups across Vargr space. Gahv didn’t know how human society worked, and was continually surprised that the Imperium outlasted any semblance of government his own people could cobble together through ideals and rhetoric, only to have it collapse and be rebuilt on another ideal with another line of political nonsense meant only to make the natives feel better about their efforts, but always ending in disaster. How the humans continued to outpace the Vargr, Gahv would never know.

What was even more baffleing was that a large number Vargr preferred what was often called the stability of human culture. But Gahv saw the same iniquitous distribution of wealth, and literally did not understand how and why there were few human corsairs. What were they called? Pirates? Lawless trash by Gahv’s standards. They pillaged for the sake of it, and then spent their wealth on meaningless passtimes to please their physical senses. Even so, Gahv admired them to a certain degree. They were willing to embrace the basic Vargr instincts. Somewhere back in time the humans must have had similar insights into living as the Vargr. Somewhere. Some way. Some different time.

Again, black columns of smoke enshrouding red hot flames reached for the heavens. There was nothing here.

Gahv handed back Kael his tactical reader. “Let’s go.”

Some twenty minutes later the Stalker’s Fang’s engines thundered to life, then careened skyward as her maneuver drive kicked out massive amounts of thrust to heft four-hundred tons of alloy and crew into orbit and beyond.

Blue Ghost August 21st, 2019 04:04 AM

Captain David Farber sat in the commissioner’s office with a gaggle of officials, some in military uniform, others in local law enforcement, and even a scout or two, their eyes all locked on his relatively diminutive form. A kind of pale blue for eyes, dark blonde hair that was cut in a functional salad bowl shape for better starship operations, or so he was told. Farber was never a great achiever, which seemed puzzling since he managed to gain a position as first mate on an antiquated Solomani merchant that had seen better days before being sent to the starship graveyard via a couple of high yield missiles.

Kind of like his office on Efate. Oh sure, it was essentially a penthouse suite with bay windows overlooking the cityscape, but the off mayonnaise color of his office walls, the durable furniture designed to withstand the onslaught of a primitive primate and not designed for comfort, coupled with the usual smell of a government office, made the whole affair seem like a session in a high school principle’s office rather than the law enforcement interview that it was meant to be.

Scout commissioner Robert Haswell was sympathetic to Farber and those that had managed to escape with him in the ship’s enclosed air raft. A brilliant scheme of using the spare oxygen strapped and jury rigged to the air raft’s life support. How they managed to get picked up an hour later by a passing freighter that was going to put in for some field repairs, was one for the books. Hoping to be mistaken with debris and keeping the engines off and cool was a stroke of brilliance, but accordingly that was the engineer’s idea, and not mister Farber’s even though he had phrased it as such in his official report. Oh well. Even lady luck smiled on the poorest of starship candidates. Still, Haswell felt that he shouldn’t think of Farber like that. His record as a starship officer was less than sterling. He had had several “near misses” when it came to logging hours and reporting (or not-reporting as the case may be) situations on board vessel that could have led to a fire or serious malfunction, but he had managed to bring most of the crew home, save for the captain and the security team which remained on board in the vain hope of repulsing the boarders.

Still, Farber was competent enough at his job to retain a position with a variety of mid range tonnage vessels that needed an experienced person on the spot. Apparently his forte was as a fill in for a single voyage or series of jumps before the captain could find a serious replacement. Farber, in essence and form due to his spotty record, was what in office speak might be called a “temp” or “temporary employee”. A warm body for a position that needed a permanent fix.

“And then what happened?” Haswell pressed, a dozen pair of eyes and ears waiting for his every word.

“And then we launched. Or separated.” Farber’s tone wasn’t exactly sheepish, but far from confident, feeling as if he were being cross examined for some crime he had committed. He hadn’t. Not ever. He may have made a few mistakes here and there, but he didn’t deserve being put on the spot.

“How did you manage to separate yourself from the ship.”

“Our chief engineer, Alarh Sethay. He’s from Vland.” Farber said with a smile hoping somehow his engineer’s lineage might prove for levity to lighten the mood. It didn’t. “He stayed in a vacc suit with a hose hooked up to the air raft. He just pushed us off. But when he did we started to roll some, like the rest of the debris.”

“What happened then?” Haswell gently pressed, wanting Farber to keep focused and to get the story out as freshly as he could recall it to fill in any gaps in the ship’s automated log.

“A couple hours later the Quin-talla exited jump. We picked up her transponder and double checked to make sure that she was who her transponder said she was before signaling them for help.”

“What about your ship? The Evening Star?”

“Oh, sorry, the dogs blew it up. They hung around for like half an hour or more. We heard gun shots and screams over the tactical channel.” Farber’s tone chilled recalling the audio channeling to his ears all those weeks ago.

“Anything else?”

“I think our captain remained on the bridge. She may have fought back, but I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?”

“We heard shots, then silence, then Vargr talk, then someone asking her something in really bad Galanglic, and then I guess roughing her up. It was hard to tell what was going on simply by listening to the audio.”

“How did you manage not to get fired upon?”

“Like I said, I don’t really know, but Engineer Sethay kept us powerless until they moved off and jumped out. An hour or two later the Quin-talla came in, and we were taken aboard. Under guard at first, but then they let us stay as guests after they heard our story and corroborated it with the ship’s logs.”

“What did they attack you with?” Haswell had already asked the question, but like with all things, trust but verify.

“At first missiles. We managed to gun some of them down, but they were armed to the teeth with two triple turret lasers. The Solees build a tough ship, and that thing could take punishment, but they hit us with several triple shots. First the life support unit, though we had a backup, then the main drives and engineering. But they just kept damaging the mechanics and drives. No serious damage to the actual engineering section. But the power plant did shut down due to an overload or something. That’s when we lost attitudinal control and fire control. The bridge blacked out for a few seconds before the batteries kicked in. That’s when the captain ordered us to abandon ship, but put the security team in the hold while she went to the bridge.”

“Why did she go to the bridge?”

“I don’t know. Maybe some captain ego thing for all I know. She was big on duty.”

“But you went with the rest of the crew.”

“She ordered me to.”

Haswell didn’t press the issue. She probably knew that Farber wouldn’t be any good in a fight, and so tossed the dead weight overboard, so to speak.

There were a few other ancillary questions from some others standing in the commissioner’s office, notably Fleet Captain Roger Tolchin, the gold Imperial sunburst on his shoulder the and the extra braid signifying him as more than a mere starship captain, but a squadron leader.

“Did you get a name of the vessel, mister Farber?”

“A name?”

“A name, like any ship.” Tolchin stated.

“No, the whole thing … it was all black and yellow. I mean there was some lettering on the fuselage, but I couldn’t make it out. It was in some dog language. The whole thing was battle scarred from fore to aft. Laser burns, blast marks … it’s like the whole thing had been in a shootin’ match or something.”

The Commissioner half nodded, “Okay, thank you Mister Farber. You’ve been very informative. We’ll be in contact if we need you again, and the court bailiffs will be in contact if you’re needed to testify.”

“I can go now?”

Haswell feigned a polite smile. “Yeah. You can go.”

Farber rose unceremoniously and exited the old fashioned swinging wooden door – another government cost saving measure in a high tech building filled with AI, life support and other amenities that would make any yacht owner green with envy, but tax dollars were tax dollars, and not to be frivolously spent on things that could be accommodated with cheap versions of whatever they were.

Blue Ghost August 21st, 2019 04:05 AM

After Farber had exited everyone looked at everyone else and then to commissioner Haswell. “Well, gentlemen? Thoughts?”

IISS Team Leader Larry Graves was the first, “I say we hunt down this stray dog and put him to sleep.”

“I’ll remind you not to use that language in my office nor in my presence. We are all his majesties subjects, and as per his edict for better relations among the races, we will refrain from such abusive language. However right you may be. Anyone else?”

“Larry’s got my vote.” Tolchin stated. “I think I know what ship it is.”

“Care to enlighten the rest of us?” The commissioner was exhausted with not having enough information.

“Loosely translated, the name could mean Jaws of the hunter, or the main tooth of the one who hunts, or, more precisely, ‘Stalker’s Fang’. Commanded by a Captain Kahyvagh Gahv, formerly of the Empire of the Guiding Star Navy.”

“Empire of the guiding Star?” It was Chief Salinger’s turn to sound confused. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“It was some petty dictatorship that lasted for a few decades. If boasted an OOB of some thirty six patrol ships, like this one. A few frigates, one or two heavier units purchased from another power before the government was toppled by a coup. As with most things Vargr.”

“And this Captain, what, Gahv? He struck out on his own?”

Tolchin nodded. “This isn’t a big secret, but rogue Vargr captains are almost a necessity for Vargr space. It’s how half their fleet operate, and why we keep sweeping the borders every so often.”

Marshal’s Service Jim Iochona chimed in, “So, what makes this guy so interesting? Vargr raiders are nothing new.”

Tolchin stepped in again, “He somehow manages to keep ahead of our attempts to intercept him.”

The commissioner wasn’t satisfied, “You think Vargr in the Imperial navy have been tipping him off?”

“No, there’s no evidence for that. That, and we checked. Nine times out of ten it’s those you least suspect, and the motivation’s always money. But I don’t think there’s been a breach in security. I just think he plain out thinks us. He keeps on his toes. Doesn’t stay in any one place for very long, unlike many human pirates who like to splurge their wealth on wine and women, Captain Gahv sees his raiding as his way of life. Marrying his wolf borne instincts with starship combat is a deadly mixture.”

“How do we nab him?” Captain Frank Kashlin off of the CVL Lightfoot, a decorated FB pilot and Carrier “Air” Group commander had seen his fare share of anti Vargr raider sweeps, and didn’t mind strafing a yellow and black hull with lasers, or putting a few high yield conventional anti-shipping warheads into her hull.

The commissioner leaned back in his seat, which dutifully squeaked in response to his girth. “I don’t know. We’re just going to have to station units at all possible points of intercept.”

“Commissioner.” Tolchin again.

“What is it Commodore.” Haswell took a jab at the officer’s rank. He knew how Tolchin thought that commodore was something from the days of when naval officers wore garish feathered uniforms with exaggerated epaulets and braids.

Tolchin relented and half smiled at the jest, “I think whoever owned that ship had the right idea, but not enough fire power to pull it off.”

“I’m not following.”

“I think the captain thought she could take on the crew. She thought she was dealing with some two-bit thugs who had managed to get their hands on a starship and crew it. But, based on this, both logs and report, we’re dealing with a fully trained ex-military, or rather active military fully armed ship that doesn’t know, or wish, that the war is over.”

The commissioner sighed. “Are you going to ask me to ask the local noble, or the subsector duke, to muster a strike force to go into the Extents? Because your own Imperial boys aren’t going to disturb those troubled waters.”

“A local navy with a far reach may be the thing. I can think of few other options.”

It was Commander Larash Ahrnol’s turn to speak up. Tall , thin, gaunt, and somewhat elegant like his Vilani heritage was known for, his tone was less pointed, less hostile, and more mitigating. “Can we not pressure local Vargr governments into a cooperative joint task force?”

Haswell saw the fire in Tolchin’s eyes, and waved him back as he let his voice step in over Tolchin’s attempted rebuttal, “Get serious, will you, commander? Half their naval forces, military in general, are on the take, and those that aren’t would side with this captain Gahv. If not for a chance to take on and plunder our task force, then simply out of spite to stick it to us. You want that?”

But Ahrno’s tone was unrelenting, “I think you mischaracterize all of them. There are Vargr who desire to cooperate with us in order to put down lawlessness in their own space.”

The commissioner relented, and let Tolchin have his say. “Commander, there are ‘good Vargr’, yes, but this Captain Gahv and his ship are out for blood. And nothing galvanizes a war-pack like a blood lust under a leader who has proven he can take on the humans and beat them time and again. That’s the danger!”

“But he’s spared people… he hasn’t devastated for the sake of it.”

“That’s his one saving grace, commander. But it’s also his key strength which could draw others to his side. His reputation of not killing everyone will show that he’s a ‘humanitarian’, when in fact he’s a cold blooded killer that only kills when he needs to or when it suits him. When more word of his exploits gets into the ears of mainline Vargr units, we could have a full scale war on our hands. That’s why we need to go in alone, in my opinion. If you can find trustworthy Vargr naval units willing to help, then I’ll let them to your squadron, but not to my fleet.”

And there was the standoff witnessed by a dozen high ranking Imperial officials between an Imperial of mixed blood and pure blooded Vilani who believed that cooperation was a better alternative.

Haswell had to say something less things get more tense or out of control. “Gentlemen, I want alternative plans. The longer we wait the more damage this Captain Gahv does. No doubt there are going to be Vargr who will flock to his call, if he has one. The, pardon the pun, lone-wolf type is a lone-wolf for a reason, and he may not desire a following. Regardless, we need to find a pattern in his attacks, and formulate a plan on how to intercept him and bring him down.” Haswell exhaled a well deserved sigh. “Dismissed!”

Haswell squeakily turned his chair to the large bay windows over looking Efate’s startown, watching distant sleek shaped metal containers riding on blue hot flames amidst the usual traffic of grav vehicles.

All left, but Tolchin.

“Jake.” Tolchin said, “I’ve orders to ship out tonight. I won’t have time to come back tomorrow with a battle plan. I want a clear directive. If I run into that S-O-B out there, what do you want me to do?”

Haswell played with an old fashioned pencil. Twirling it in one hand, and then gently pounding its eraser portion on a note pad before looking over his shoulder and giving Haswell the “you know me” look. “Use your common sense.” Haswell grinned and turned back to the evening visage of traffic silhouetted against a fiery orange setting sun.

Blue Ghost August 23rd, 2019 06:21 AM

The Crystal Dragon lazily orbited the ice covered spherical geological store house on the fringe of the system. Too cold for normal miners, though many a belter had chanced a claim, only to be driven off by distance and lack of any real subterranean treasure that could be turned for quick cash. The planet was strictly an industrial storehouse for captains of industry to exploit, not for simple quick-rich belters looking for precious metals and gemstones ready to be cut. Still, it served as a hideout for many a belter on the skirts of the law, and wanting some place to put up a “no vacancy” sign for anyone looking to track them down.

The Crystal Dragon was a Dragon Class SDB, leased by some megacorporation to a well known mercenary outfit that specialized in SAR and wolf-hunting operations. Often on the outskirts of the Extents the two went hand in hand as humans starry eyed with the prospect of hunting or running with wild Vargr had claimed way too many victims to count. Vargr in the Imperium tended to be more civilized, for lack of a better term, but no less cunning, no less capable of breaking the law, though understood the consequences of getting out of line in Imperial space.

The extents were a different story, as the mercurial nature of Vargr society and governments both had a turnover rate that would put most fly by night insurance or fast food corporations within the Imperium or Solomani sphere to shame.

The Crystal Dragon entered the demarcated barrier between faint sunlight and black shadow. The red iron color situated next to yellow and blue told of frozen iron and nitrogen, with a tinge of sulfur. A cursory scan showed that no sizeable crystals could be found here, but standard iron ore and a smattering of other elements might bring a small profit to an automated outfit—if they could get here, or if any company would authorize it.

Captain Samuel Delany sat in the central command chair, a mixture of plush and functionality as the ship’s AG system pulled on his being. The command chair neither induced unwanted sleep nor kept the sitter awake and alert by being uncomfortable. It was a strange mix of the perfect chair that somehow had become with the Dragon class, and was performing its function as the Crystal Dragon slipped into the shadowy night of the planet for half an hour.

Rogue corsairs were not unknown, but Delany’s employer was convinced that it was a scout ship gone rogue by use of its superior power plant processing for raw-“unrefined” fuel to strike terror into the shipping lanes, and had hired Delany and his team to deal with the matter.

Delany had faith in the Dragon Class. It weighed in about the same as a Vargr built corsair, but carried a battery of guided ordinance, with a few beam weapons to put up a counter punch against whatever missiles the Vargr threw at them.

But, this long out in space and given the number of raids she was responsible for, the Vargr must have either spent her missiles, or was about to, depending on the captain’s tactics. The fact that he had been roaming space for years without being taken in by forces on either side of the geo-political barrier, astounded Delany.

Normally a Vargr captain gone rogue would have been rounded up within months. Sometimes, though rarely, one went unchecked for a few years. That happened in anyone’s space; Imperium, Zho, Terran, Aslan, even Hiver from what he understood (though Hiver piracy was so rare as to be unheard of). Delany had only gotten what the navy was willing to release to the public. A Corsair of some unpronounceable class name had went on a virtual rampage through the triumvirate area of where Zhodani and Imperial space met the unbridled frontier of Vargr space, and beyond. Whoever this Captain Gahv was, he wasn’t satisfied with staying in any one area for any length of time, and somehow his crew were tolerating the extended deployment. Delany didn’t know much about Vargr psychology, but if he were part of a human pirate crew (which Vargr also joined with the same regularity), then he would either want out or demand shore leave of some kind. But, that assumed they had been in space the entire time, which, odds were, was not the case.

Pound for pound the Dragon class was the near equivalent of any Vargr built ship of the same tonnage. And given that the Dragon class was specifically designed for intercept and long range as well as what was some times termed as “littoral space” patrol, he couldn’t imagine a lone Vargr outlaw being able too sustain his engines, his power plant, much less his crew or even rudimentary things like lights, for very long.

But, then again, he didn’t know all of what there was to know. This ship may have been on some special mission, maybe was gaining support from sympathetic Vargr throughout Imperial and Vargr space. It was doubtful there were any true sympathizers in Zho space, given how the Zhodani ran their society. And if there were, then the Zhos would just yank the information from who was suspected of helping Captain Gahv via a quick mind scan, and then act on that intelligence.

No, this Captain Gahv, whoever he was or whatever he was, kept ahead of the competition. Delany wondered if he might not be a human reputed as a Vargr. Such instances were rare but known to have happened; a lone human starship veteran commanding a boat load of Vargr was the fantasy of many a human, but the simple truth was that it had happened, though it always ended badly where corsair crews were concerned. Human officers had the edge that they were human and tended to put a little fright into the dogs by virtue of being human. But once one of the Vargr wanted to challenge the human’s authority, then the rest of the pack helped him in taking down whatever human was in charge.

Freighter mutinies weren’t unknown, though rare. Mutinies on board Corsairs happened with some regularity, which made this Captain Gahv all that more extraordinary. How many years had he been out in space? Apparently he had come from some region more coreward than the usual flotsam and jetsam of Vargr society on the Imperial frontier. Again, was he a human? Maybe he was a Zho? A Zho noble with exceptional psionic ability gone rogue, and flaying the mind of any dissenting Vargr crew? That made more sense than anything else, even though Delany reminded himself that it was pure speculation, and not to fall in love with his own theories. Still, it might explain how Gahv knew about Imperial starship tactics and fleet distribution, or so he theorized since Captain Gahv seemed to maintain an edge and keep abreast of the people after him.

Delany grunted in amusing satisfaction, happy with his theory, but curious about how he could go about proving it.

The crescent of the planet that filled the inset ballistic grade windows had been gone for several minutes once the Crystal Dragon entered its shadow. Technically it was night time, and Delany bemused whether he should end his shift early to appease the astral gods of planets, space and interstellar travel. He internally laughed. Someday he would write a children’s book of space fairy stories. He might include his deployment in trying to track down the Stalker’s Fang as one of them.

Blue Ghost August 23rd, 2019 06:27 AM

“Captain, sensors just picked up a jump signature.”

Delany snapped out of his whimsical thoughts and became focused like a laser. “Coming or going?” An academic question since they would have picked up anyone nearby.

“Someone exiting jump, captain.”

“Bearing and distance?”

The sensor ops officer shook his head, “I can’t get a clear bead on him, captain. The planet’s obscuring our sensors, and we don’t have an L-O-S for a scan of any kind. I’m just reading the usual disturbance with a jump.”

Delany got up and strode over to the sensor station to look over the young man’s shoulder. “Mass?”

“Not enough to get any kind of tonnage on her. It’s not a capital ship nor a major liner of any kind. It’s too small or too distant. My guess is that it’s a scout. The size of the disturbance correlates with something in the one-hundred ton range.”

Delany didn’t say anything. “Can you get a trace on the exit point, and see where it’s headed?”

Sometimes, not always, jump signatures had a vector to them related to the vessel’s direction of travel. Like a splash on a pool of water reacting to a stone tossed into a lake.

“I’ll try, captain. There’s barely enough there.” The sensor ops officer was ex-navy. In his early thirties he was well trained beyond being a mere traffic controller, and had intimate knowledge of what a ship’s sensor and scanner could do, and what it couldn’t. And he knew all the tricks of how to get the same kind of readings from a major ship of the line sensor suite without having to overload or hack the actual hardware. Even so the Dragon Class had limitations, and no expertise in any field could compensate for a lack of the right tools needed. Still, the officer’s fingers were flying over the console, hitting one series of buttons and controls after the next when he didn’t get the desired output on the screen.

All Delany could do was watch his hand picked crewman do his magic and not question his ability until it was time to give up … or if the desired result was forthcoming.

“There.” The officer finally said. “Vectoring a course parallel to planet’s natural orbit. At this distance I can’t get much, but from this disturbance here, and this plume of energy, it looks like whatever it is turned the moments it exited jump, and is making a b-line for our planet.”

Kayle Smith, the ship’s older executive officer and Delany’s long time friend since when they first created their private security firm, came over and stood next to Delany. “Contact?”

“Mmm…” Delany grumbled, “Contact with something.” Then to his officer, “He is scanning?”

“I’m picking up some residual radiation from the planet’s magnetic field that’s vectored from that contact.”

Delany digested the information, but it was Kayle who stated the obvious, “I doubt they know we’re here, whoever it is.”

Delany was more jaundiced, “Stranger things have happened. And we don’t have an exact contact, just an exit point.” Then again to his sensor ops officer, “Can we correlate the scanning radiation to get a fix on his position?”

“Sorry captain, I can try a few things, but the simple fact is that this gear on this rig isn’t that sensitive. She’s a rebuilt surplus unit—meaning they took the good stuff and swapped it out with regular civvie junk. If we were a cruiser or something, we might get a fix, otherwise …”

Delany wanted to reply with an “unacceptable”, but instead was mentally hitting himself for not having the ship thoroughly checked out before launch. System defense boats were just that. Something like an old coastal or river monitor—a floating platform with some guns. Only the Dragon class was designed for pursuit and deep strikes if needed. In fact her primary selling point to local navies was that she was designed as an ambush unit. She was meant to lay in wait with a squadron, and then leap out from cover of deep in some ocean or thick atmosphere onto some enemy vessel. And now here Delany was with such a vessel with all the hardware save a proper set of electronic eyes and ears.

“Do what you can.” Delany relented. Then to his pilot, “Rig for jump. Let’s get out of here before I regret anything.”

“Captain, lower power emission flashing our hull. I think something’s locked onto us.”

“Full power, get us out of here!” Delany ran back to his command chair

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