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The Cleon Memorial Library For discussion of Traveller fiction, both official and fan-written. Fan-written drafts are explicitly welcome.

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  #31  
Old September 16th, 2019, 03:54 PM
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Zhegh watched the lethal ethereal glow ebb from the port drive to return the engine back to its furtive metallic self, both power plant and engine both keeping their hyper-charged high-energy physics within. But Zhegh and his two ratings’ jobs were not finished.

Both power plant and engine had been pushed, shoved, crushed beyond theoretical limits, and had come back from the scientific and engineering equivalent of the physic’s netherworld, operating as they should be. And yet there were a few sounds, pops and snaps, that neither Zhegh nor his engineering crew recognized coming from both drive and power plant that neither Zhegh nor his ratings had ever heard before this. Zhegh growled. He would have to do a full teardown assuming they ever reached another starport again.

On the bridge blue skies and multicolored streams of cloud banks the size of entire worlds, snaked to a hazy infinite horizon. Were the situation not so dire it would be absolutely picturesque, gliding above rivers of thunderheads, each as a cotton ball clumped into streams of cotton balls that bent like rivers. A colossal sight of layers of gases far more vast than any habitable world could behold for any living creature. And even further below, in the dark and even near black recesses of the jovian atmosphere, flashes of brilliant white-blue. Arcs of pure electricity jumped from cloud to cloud. Arcs that were the size of entire cities or canyons found on rock worlds, leapt and flashes from cloud to cloud, briefly illuminating otherwise black shapes of more river like streams of atmosphere.

Gahv made a mental note, and continued to recline in his command chair as if all were normal. Communications had relayed that a three ship formation of Imperial type-Ts were also in pursuit. If this were so, then dealing with the Zhodani patroller wouldn’t be enough. The Stalker’s Fang, especially deep in a jovian atmosphere, didn’t have the might to take on four craft in her tonnage. No corsair did.

“Helm.” Gahv nearly growled, “rig for jump. Navigator, plot course for Saksoukuer.”

Saksouker was a world in constant turmoil. Divided by various powers engaged in petty ground wars, a chest full of treasure would buy repairs. Zhegh was right, he could buy a whole new fleet, but needed to get deeper into the Extents to a port that might prove friendlier, or at least less influenced by human treachery to purchase a new starship. Here he was still close to the hunting grounds to contract a yard to construct a new vessel. Yet some form of human reprisal would be forthcoming. A consulate vessel and three Imperial hunters were proof of that. Gahv needed to get into the interstellar geo-political haze of the deep Extents, where none but the most crazed humans would dare follow.

Veelash wasn’t sure if he should carry out the order. Jumping this close to a world, and not just a planet, but a gas giant with many times the gravitational pull of a normal terrestrial world, could spell disaster. As he was about to turn his head to address his commanding officer…

“Captain! Two missiles approaching from astern! Closing fast.”

Gahv audibly growled, “Helmsman, navigator, carry out my orders!”

Veelash looked over at the navigator whose cowed ears and dropping tail told all he needed to. But Veelash’s ears didn’t fold back in subdued obedience, instead, hidden as both were behind the captain’s control console, he eyed the navigator, and then patted his sidearm while seeming to carry out Gahv’s orders. The navigator’s ears perked as he did the same. Weapons, communications, the message was spread. Death under the cruelty of Gahv the tactical genius and bringer yet keeper of wealth, or freedom. Which would it be?

“Course plotted, captain.”

“Rig for jump and engage when ready.”

But the ship didn’t respond.

Gahv’s words were a restrained growl, “What is happening? Why aren’t we jumping?”

The explanation came over the ship’s intercom system, “Captain, engineering.” It was Zhegh, “the strain of the breaking and refueling maneuver has thrown a bone into the power plant. I got my crew working on her, but something’s nixed her nominal power output. I can keep us flying, you’ve got weapons if you want them, lights, life support, but getting enough power to jump is going to be a while.”

“Why is there not enough power to jump?” Gahv demanded.

“Both drive and powerplant superheated. I’ve got power shortcircuiting across coils that normally don’t talk to one another. We’ve got nominal power for now, but until I can get the coils isolated again for proper induction, jump is going to have to wait. Zheega and Shen are working on it now.”

“What if we divert all power to jump?”

“Even if we threw in life support, I couldn’t jump us out of here. Not for ten or twenty minutes at least. It’s not an irreparable situation, captain. It’s just going to take time. Trying to force a jump now would only sap our power, and leave us without grav flight against the planet.”

Gahv cut the channel, “Helm, plot an intercept for the patroller. Weapons, call the gunnery crews, standby all weapons.” Any other Vargr captain would have roared in defiance, bellowing out orders to cower his crew and establish dominance. “Rig for combat.”

Gahv didn’t need to. That, and he quite literally smelled a mixture of fear and confidence in his crew. The scent of betrayal.

“And if anyone reaches for their weapon, I’ll kill them here and now.” Gahv added without so much as an inflection of pity or any other emotion.

Suddenly the entire bridge scent changed, and ears were lowered. The Stalker’s Fang went perpendicular to the jovian’s cloud banks, and the whole visage of clouds slowly scrolled by the binary windows as shadows shifted across the bridge’s interior.

Within moments every crewman had their helmet on, and the Corsair was horizontal again, only this time racing for the Consulate Patroller.

The navigator glanced at Veelash through his helmet, and again Veelash patted his sidearm. Again, word was spread, but this time over the vacc suit’s private channel.

Outside the Stalker’s Fang streaked contrails as she thundered on one engine to engage the enemy.
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  #32  
Old September 16th, 2019, 04:05 PM
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Tolchin’s patrol cruisers made a continent wide lazy high speed loop through the stratosphere. Up here oxygen and nitrogen mixed as on any other world, giving a kind of normalcy to the action as the sun blazed away through the translucent canopy of all three ships with the occasional shade of a wispy feathery cloud giving feeble shade. An almost summer like scene, even though everyone was suited up and the interior was devoid of any breathable atmosphere.

Re-entry had been the normal superheated plasma glow affair, but was not fraught with any of the ships running on a single engine like the Stalker’s Fang. Equal in fire power and performance, a single type-T, under a competent commander, was a match for the best corsair Vargr engineering could create.

The Stalker’s Fang had been forced to refuel, but she couldn’t escape on one engine, meaning that she should have jumped by now, even if it meant jumping out into deep interstellar black. But she hadn’t. Tolchin mulled it over in his mind as he watched the multicolored cloud banks scroll across his view.

Had he been wrong about Gahv? No. They why was he turning to fight? … unless … unless he had no choice. But if that were the case, then that meant there was something wrong with the Stalker’s Fang.

“She can’t jump. Something’s happened to her jump drive. She’s cornered and can’t back out, that’s why she’s turning to fight that patroller!” The words came out like a fresh thought translated into the clearest Galanglic Tolchin could think of. His audible conclusion was heard over the tactical channel, forcing a few heads to turn.

“She’s on one engine. She must have pushed her drive and power plant to the edge to dive this deep to grab more juice, and she’s over taxed it so that they don’t have enough power to jump out.” Tolchin continued. “Helm, what’s she doing now?”

Allen glanced at the target data, “She slowed to subsonic, but is now supersonic again, captain.”

“Ops, what’s her output?”

“Nominal, captain, for a ship on one engine. Her actual output is within specs, but not enough to push her into jump space, as you said, sir.”

Tolchin had ordered his Ops officer to go active on her. There was no point in trying to conceal their presence any longer.

“Helm, keep us abeam of him.”

A targeting reticle appeared on everyone’s station, even on the canopy above their heads. The computer designated it ‘Varg-1’. It was followed by another contact, again designated ‘Psi-1’. Both Vargr and Zhodani on an intercept course.

Communications, “Captain, birds one and two want to know if you want them to go high-lo.”

“Negative. Tell them they can break formation at any time, but not to fire until I give the go ahead.”

“Aye captain.”

Maintaining a diamond three was irrelevant now. And if they were going to engage in old fashioned ACM, then everyone needed elbow room, and big-sky theory had no truer meaning than within a gas giant’s atmosphere.

Outside Tolchin’s type-T maintained it’s singular left hand turn while his two other birds spread out to put some distance between one another.

Back on the bridge Tolchin watched the range numbers whir down to something his mind could imagine. Distance in mega-kilometers or more meant orbital ranges between planets, and that simply didn’t translate to his military mind on a tactical level. Here, now, the ranges were closing, and his starship captain’s instincts were getting a sense of where and how far the Stalker’s Fang and her Patroller pursuer were.

After some time the Fang was no longer an invisible contact, but now a faint dot against a massive nitrogen blue atmosphere, again with streaks of titanic clouds above and below.

Weapons; “She’s within firing range, captain.”

“Hold your fire. We need to see what our Zhodani friend does.”

“Sir, they’ve already exchanged fire.”

“Weapons, stow your opinion. Maintain lock.”

“Aye sir.”

Tolchin didn’t want to act too rashly. One misfire hitting that Zho patroller could mean political disaster. His and the ship’s automated logs would be subject to public scrutiny, and that’s when … he thought for a moment, and again recalled his Scottish friend’s explicative phrasing, “the haggis is in the fire for sure!”

Tolchin and his two commands saw Psi-1 and Varg-1 clearly, but he wanted visual confirmation before trusting the batch of microcircuits stuffed in each ship that constituted the fleet AI. AI had botched things before, miscalculated Gahv’s behavior several times over. He wouldn’t allow another screw up. Not here. Not now.

“I got a visual, captain.” Ops announced.

“Throw it up on the screen.” Tolchin fired off.

Both ships appeared on the canopy in two windows. From the fore appeared the Zhodani, her antiquated frame heralding from the days of when supersonic flight was a novelty, speared through clouds of a variety of colors. From astern the corsair’s single white hot engine exhaust pushed her yellow black serrated form through clear nitrogen skies. The range between the two narrowed until flashes of crimson red were exchanged between the two.

They flashed by one another at blinding speeds, their weapons recycling, the Zhodani kicking out two missiles, the Vargr thrusting out six before nosing downwards and heading for the deck—if there ever was a solid surface on a gas giant.

Tolchin nodded to himself, at first gently, then vigooursly—as if coming to some sudden realization, “Open fire!”
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  #33  
Old September 16th, 2019, 05:16 PM
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The bridge of the Stalker’s Fang went bright with emergency indicators and flashing lights coupled with klaxons sounding over the ship’s intercom channel tied into the vaccsuits private communications.

The port missile turret had been hit, the starboard laser turret sheered off, engineering had taken several hits, several streaks of fine mist streaked from lacerations on her fuel tanks, her port wing had been cut off, hits to her hold, living spaces and crew quarters, and now even her port drive was sputtering again, only this time it wasn’t because of magnetic laced fuel, but a laser slash across her port side drive. Yet still she continued to function, albeit like a dying swan that she had become.

Gahv growled for the crew to regain control of the ship, and for somehow to instantly fix everything. That’s when a blue glow pulsated behind his command chair at the armored access door. Four figures materialized out of the globular pulsating blue, assault laser rifles held high by black clam-shelled helmeted armored figures.

Gahv unstrapped himself from his command chair, drew his revolver, and emptied the entire cylinder into the materializing mass.

The four troopers, Veanch and his four officer boarding party immediately returned fire, and suddenly the bridge was alit with laser fire from all angles as Gahv’s bridge crew returned fire in kind. Only this time, for whatever reason, the armor for this party of Zhodani, was more resilient. Veelash and the navigator took cover, while weapons and communications hunkered behind their chairs exchanging shots.

Veanch blasted one Vargr crewman, the ops officer, with a psi blast. The young Vargr grabbed his helmet and careened backwards in a hail of Zhodani laser fire. It gave Veanch the opportunity he needed to go forward and approach the command console, only to be met by Gahv.

Growling through his helmet Gahv grabbed the Zhodani by the throat. Veanch’s eyes went wide as he was caught unawares by the largest Vargr he had ever seen. Even through his reinforced swivel seal of the neck portion of his armor, he could feel the strength of this Vargr trying to crush his throat as his fangs dripped with saliva.

Something hit the Corsair again, and this time her flight had been turned into a tumble as she mercilessly plummeted through layers of colored clouds, and into the deep dark near black recesses of carbon stained clouds, with electricity flashing and arcing across the skies. The Fang’s bridge was blindingly strobed by the planet’s natural electrical discharges and light show therefrom.

Veelash grabbed Kael’s ACR, popped up, and sprayed the Zhodani’s position with a full magazine of HEAP rounds, that punched through plastic control consoles coverings and seated into starship bulkhead. No sound came from the weapon, but her flash rivaled that of the lightning storm outside.

For that moment the bridge of the Stalker’s Fang was a veritable underworld for the dead as flashes from weapons and nature itself punctuated the near black. Zhodani trying to take control of the bridge on one side, Vargr pack mentality defying the Zhoes on the other. All the while the ship continued to fall into the black abyss of no return, pressure piling up against her hull with each passing minute.
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  #34  
Old September 16th, 2019, 05:24 PM
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Tolchin watched the Vargr corsair Stalker’s Fang slowly meld and finally vanish into the darker recesses of the gas giant’s atmosphere, silhouetted briefly by flashes of lightening, until even then the ship could no longer be seen. One flash looked like another, and against the perpetual raging storm of a jovian world, Tolchin couldn’t imagine anything surviving down there for any appreciable amount of time.

All the while the Patroller continued to orbit the area, keeping her active fire control on the Imperial three, but otherwise not firing a shot. Until finally, after some time, she appeared to give up hope and leave. It wasn’t until she was out of sight, though not out of range, that Tolchin secured his flotilla from general quarters.

Even though they were still encapsulated within the hull of a type-T patrol cruiser, the ship’s air, for whatever strange psychological reason, seemed fresher than the air recirculated by the vacc suits. It wasn’t logical, but it was often true.

“Ops, are you getting anything?”

The young officer methodically worked his controls like a surgeon with gentle hands. He shook his head while staring at the screen. “No returns, no passive sensor data, captain. If they’re down there, I can’t pick them up.”

Tolchin sat there like a slayer of the proverbial dragon, unsure of whether the creature he had pushed over the cliff in some allegorical distant mountain range had met its fate on the rocks below, or had somehow managed to flee in some moment of animalistic instinctive genius. In the end all he could do was put “Lost contact” followed by the ship’s time.

“Comms, call back birds two and three. Have them form up on my wing. Then instruct them that we’re heading for home. Navigator, set course for Efate once we’re out of atmosphere.”

“Aye sir.”

* * *

Haswell flipped through Tolchin’s report as Tolchin sat on the other side of the desk, none the worse for wear. Haswell then casually leaned back in his chair and flipped through the report to the final page, then to the annex to have a glance at the sensor data. He stoically sighed as he read the numbers.

“Fleet Captain, I see you picked up psi-energy impulses. An odd number of them. Any idea of who they were or what happened to them?”

Tolchin wasn’t sure how to answer, “The best we could discern was that the patroller was carrying a squad of special commandos. We didn’t know their actual numbers, but it appears the Fang was boarded twice by that contingent. That’s our best guess, sir.”

“Guess?”

“The best we were able to conclude from sensor data, sir.”

Haswell didn’t immediately respond, sighed, put down the report on his desk, and let his chair squeak again he shifted positions. “Any ‘guesses’ as to what happened to the Fang, commodore?”

Another friendly jab, which to Tolchin signified that the mission had been accomplished, and that Haswell wanted his opinion, no matter how bizarre it was.

“I don’t know, commissioner. For all we know she was fried by one of the gas giant’s electrical storms. She may have regained power, she may not have. She was simply too deep for us to follow and keep track of. The patroller lingered in the area for some time after the Fang fell into the gas giant’s deeper altitudes, but nothing definite.”

Haswell nodded. “Do you think the Stalker’s Fang and captain Gahv have been finally dealt with?”

Tolchin clenched his jaw, then relaxed it as he took the liberty of leaning back in Haswell’s guests’ chair. “I think the best I can say is that, for now, she’s been dealt with.”

“Do I detect a spiritual aspect to your report, commodore? You’re not one for believing in ghosts, are you?”

Tolchin waved off his friend. Unlike their previous meeting some months back, this was a private affair, and not a public bull session with other commanders present, “That’s got nothing to do with it, commissioner. It’s just that it wouldn’t surprise me if Captain Gahv had found a way out. I don’t know what or how, but if he somehow managed to escape that, then it wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Do you think he managed to get his power plant back in order, and somehow managed to jump out?”

Tolchin was silent, but in the end he shook his head. “It would seem unlikely, sir.”

“Then the matter is closed.” Haswell settled. “I’m recommending that you and your squadron get a furlough. That’ll give the techs time to give your ships a tear down and rebuild while you go run half naked on some sandy shore somewhere. All right?”

Tolchin half laughed. “All right, commissioner. Just one favor.”

“A favor? That depends on what it is?” Haswell half grinned.

“Don’t’ call me commodore in front of the other C Os.”

Haswell smiled, “Go grab a Pinacolata, and some female companionship … fleet captain.”

Tolchin stood up, saluted, “Yes sir.”, spun while grabbing the door to leave, leaving Haswell once again to enjoy Efate’s air traffic against a blazing orange setting sun.
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  #35  
Old September 16th, 2019, 05:27 PM
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EPILOGUE

Kael leaned forward on a wooden fence post of some far flung world in the Extents. Far from Zhodani or Imperial space, he thought about that moment he woke on some desert world with a pile of treasure next to his cold berth, which had been deactivated and opened.

It was only now, now that he saw his wife and his three pups playing on some grass covered knoll with some of the fluffy live stock they rose, that it settled in. All those ships he had raided under the command of Gahv. All those lives they had ended. All those families who had lost loved ones. All those family fortunes and homes they had pillaged and destroyed, putting to the torch or to the laser, and summarily destroyed or otherwise razed, and yet here he was enjoying the good life.

Was that fair? Was that right? Was that justice? Kael already knew the answers to those questions, and others of a political science or philosophical bent. And yet here he was under summer skies with a family to enjoy. He now understood how the humans continued to maintain a social advantage, and why so many Vargr tended towards Imperial space. The tradition, the safety, the stability, a far cry from the perpetual political flux that was Vargr politics.

What had become of Ghav? Zhegh? Veelash and all the rest? He didn’t know. But copies of the ship’s automatic logs had been left in his care, and what a tale they told. He still couldn’t believe it, nor the fact that he somehow managed to make it here, alive, breathing, and thriving.

From a high lord which he vowed to serve with his life, to the life of a free booting of what humans called “a pirate”, to the life of a gentleman farmer and herder. Maybe he would write about those exploits someday. Someday. Someday he would pen the chronicles of his life aboard the corsair, and call it “The Legend of the Stalker’s Fang.”
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  #36  
Old September 17th, 2019, 03:23 PM
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Many apologies, I just read through the first couple of chapters, and found a number of errors. I'll try to clean them up later on.

Thanks for being tolerant and patient with this fan fiction author.
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