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Following is an excerpt of
Search for the Saiph (The Saiph Series, book 2)
Copyright 2015 PP Corcoran
Published by Castrum Press
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Somebody Else's War
FLAG BRIDGE – TDF RAPIER – CHARON BASE - ORBIT OF PLUTO – SOL SYSTEM
Rear Admiral Bruce Torrance allowed himself a moment of satisfaction as the ships of SurvFlot Two slowly pulled away from Charon Base and headed for clear space before engaging their gravity drives sending them on their way to 23 Librae, 83.7 light years from Earth. Like the majority of the star systems visited by the Saiph, information on 23 Librae was sketchy. Observations identified it as a G5 V-type star, a main sequence star that gave off the yellow hue typical of G-types. It was approximately 107 percent the size of Earth’s sun but much older, somewhere between 8.4 and 11.1 billion years old.
The Persai observation platform established there were seven planets in orbit around the star. Two of these planets had been identified by human astronomers as far back as 1999; one a gas giant much like Saturn but 1.6 times its mass; and in 2009 a second Saturn-like planet was discovered but it wasn’t until the Persai shared their platforms data with the rest of the Commonwealth that astronomers were able to get a definitive structure for the star system, and what they found was remarkable. Two planets were orbiting the star in a region that indicated they had liquid water on their surface and could be fully capable of bearing life. This was not the first star system that the Commonwealth had come across with more than one life-bearing planet in a single star system. Messier 54 had two such planets, Alona and Geta. But what made 23 Librae different was the Persai data that led scientists to believe that there were, in fact, two intelligent races in this one star system, each of which had evolved independently of the other. The xenobiologists were already expounding theories as to what differences or similarities they may find. Well, time to find out, thought Bruce.
“Communications. Has the flotilla reported ready?”
“All ships report ready to fold, Admiral.”
“Very well. Navigation. When you’re ready.”
“Aye-aye, sir. Three…Two…One…Fold!”
The familiar feeling of dislocation with the real world washed over Bruce, it passed as SurvFlot Two exited fold space and the collision alarm began to wail… all hell broke loose.
“Navigation. Status report!” shouted Bruce as his fingers flew over his own controls to bring up the navigational plot on his chair’s holo cube, but the young lieutenant at the navigator’s position got there before him. Bruce felt his seat restraints cut into his shoulders and waist as TDF Rapier rolled hard and its compensators fought to correct the sudden maneuver. The restraints slackened as the compensators caught up and Bruce’s brain began to analyze the data rolling across his repeater. Had they inadvertently arrived in an asteroid field? The Persai platform had shown this area of space located between two of the outermost planets well clear of any obstructions.
Bruce had to shout to be heard over the wailing alarm. “Communications! Update on the status of the flotilla please! I want to know if we’ve suffered any damage ASAP,” he paused before adding, “and will someone kill that damned alarm!”
Before the officer could answer, Rapier was rocked to her keel, Bruce felt his restraints bite once more. That was no asteroid impact, somebody was firing at them! Bruce’s brain went into overdrive and he began snapping orders in rapid-fire succession.
“Communications! Weapons free, flotilla-wide. Tactical – I need to know what the hell is going on here and quickly. Navigation – plot us a course out of here and standby to fold.”
“Admiral…” the tactical officer called. “Sensors are showing a single bogey at a range of… 5000 kilometers. The bogey fired some form of particle beam weapon at us. Engineering reports we suffered minimal damage. Bogey is maneuvering. I believe it is attempting to get broadside onto the Ericson. Possibly to bring its full armament to bear.”
Ericson was one of Bruce’s three Vanguard survey ships, designed primarily for stealthy survey missions, not for combat. A particle beam that could rock a heavy cruiser like the Rapier could do a lot of damage to the much smaller Ericson. Any decision Bruce may have made was muted a few seconds later as the bogey fired and three particle beams hit the Ericson’s rear quarter. It turned its engineering section into a mass of twisted metal and venting atmosphere.
In Bruce’s tactical display, the icon for the Ericson began to blink blood-red. “Communications, warn that ship off. Tactical, move the Claymore and the Mosi into position to support the Ericson. If it looks like that bogey is about to fire again, I want it wiped from space.”
“Sir! I have Captain Ray on secure link.”
Bruce punched a control and the face of Foster Ray, captain of the Ericson, appeared in the holo cube.
“What’s the damage, Foster?” Bruce saw the smoke-shrouded bridge behind Foster and heard the background shouts of officers trying to regain control of their ship.
Foster shook his head slowly. “Not good, Admiral. Engineering is gone. Damage control can’t even get in to check for survivors and I fear the worst. Without engineering I have no propulsion and we’re operating on emergency power for life support. Weapons control is damaged but my XO believes that given a few hours he can have that back on line, but the power lines to the reactors are pretty much shot and that’s not a job we can repair without yard help…” Foster looked at Bruce with dejection. Foster knew that his ship was finished. It would only take one more broadside from the bogey to kill Foster and his remaining crew.
“Captain, wipe your computers, set your scuttling charges and abandon ship.” Bruce could see that Foster wanted to argue with him but Foster knew the reality of the situation and his shoulders slumped in resignation.
Bruce cut the link and turned to the tactical officer. “OK, Guns, what’s the bogey up to?”
“Bogey’s creeping closer to the Ericson. Power readings indicate that its weapons systems are still powered up. Computer has identified at least three heavy particle beam emitters, although from their configuration I’d bet there is at least another two we haven’t identified yet. The armor of our cruisers should be able to handle the beam’s output but unfortunately as seen by the damage to the Ericson it’s easily a match for our lighter units. Bogey’s approximately the size of an Agis class destroyer. As far as propulsion goes, it’s shown it’s capable of moving at a quarter the speed of light during maneuvers. Engineering is analyzing the power readings and will hopefully be able to give us a better estimate of its design limits. As far as its intentions, I’d guess it’s trying to get as close to the Ericson as it can so it can use it as a shield to stop us firing on it.”
That all made sense. On the tactical repeater Bruce saw smaller icons begin to shoot away from the Ericson. That would be the life pods containing the surviving crew. The bogey shifted its position and before anyone could react it was amongst the scattering life pods and magnetic grapples shot out from its hull and snared four of the pods and began reeling them in remorselessly. Whoever crewed the bogey now had hostages.
The next hour seemed to crawl by. All the remaining life pods from the Ericson had been recovered and their occupants were safely aboard the Claymore and Mosi. All except the four taken aboard the ship which had fired on the Ericson. Their current situation was unknown. The bogey had just sat still in space, making no attempt to move or to communicate with the Commonwealth flotilla that now surrounded it.
Bruce stared at the image in his repeater. The snub nose of the bogey had two large particle beam projectors protruding from it. The sleek shape and gray color scheme reminded Bruce of a shark. Small boxes disturbed the smooth skin at regular intervals. Fire and control points for its weapons systems theorized the Tactical Officer. At regular intervals along the waist were smaller weapons points. Small enough to be area denial weapons or anti-missile weapons. Near the rear of the ship there was a cluster of weapons points, presumably to defend the drive system, which was housed in what could only be described as an inverted fin that dropped some twenty metres below the main body of the ship. All in all, it made for a lethal-looking ship.
Bruce smacked his hand on his armrest in frustration. He knew next to nothing about the ship that held his men. Although he hadn’t ordered it, he knew that in the marine spaces they were already preparing contingency plans to storm the ship and rescue the captives but without a lot more intelligence a rescue mission was worse than foolhardy. All attempts at communication with the bogey had failed. If there was no movement soon, Bruce would be forced to send in his marines. He would not leave people behind.
“Admiral, incoming call from the bogey.”
Bruce span to his holo cube and an image coalesced. A young, obviously frightened crew member appeared. A nasty-looking welt on her right cheek. Her survival suit showed the name Childers, A. Bruce felt his anger rise at the sight of the injured crew member and it took all his willpower to keep it in check.
“Childers, are you all right?”
The crew member glanced at something or someone outside of the camera’s field of view before replying and Bruce saw the fear in her eyes. “Admiral…sir. There are three of us here. Lieutenant Medina’s life pod must have been damaged.” Childers’ eyes dropped to the floor for a second and when she looked back up there was the glint of a tear. “She was dead when they opened her pod.”
Bruce could tell that the young woman was struggling to hold it together.
“It’s OK, Childers, there was nothing you could do. What about the other two with you? How are they?”
Childers’ face broke into a satisfied smile. “PO Gambee came out fighting, sir. It took five of them just to hold him down. They tied him up but he’s OK. Crew member Yong isn’t in a good way though, sir. He wasn’t conscious when they took him out of the life pod and I don’t know where they took him…I don’t know if he’s still alive, sir.” Childers started to tremble and Bruce could see that she was on the verge of losing it.
“Childers, you need to hold it together. I promise you, we will get you out of there. You and Gambee and Young. I’m not leaving here without you. Do you understand me, Childers?”
The trembling slowly subsided and Childers wiped at her eyes. “Yes, sir.”
“What about your captors, Childers? What can you tell me about them?”
A fleeting confused expression passed over the crew member’s face. “Sir… I got the feeling that they expected someone else when they opened the life pod’s hatch. When the hatch opened they dragged me out and I thought it was all over.” Childers touched the large welt on her cheek. “That’s how I got this. I banged my face on the pod bulkhead on the way out. I always was a bit clumsy.” A small smile came to her lips. “But sir, when they got a good look at me they seemed… startled. That’s when PO Gambee started struggling with them and they just tied me up and dumped me in a cell with the PO. We had a couple of visitors. I think one of them was a doctor of some kind because he took skin and blood samples but otherwise they’ve left us alone. When they came to my cell this time and dragged me out I thought… I thought it was all over, sir but then they stuck me in front of this contraption and linked me to you. I don’t get it, sir. They haven’t spoken to us at all. I… I don’t know what they want me to say?”
Bruce didn’t get the chance to ask another question as the image of the crew member cut away and was replaced with that of a gray-skinned, lightly scaled alien. The large bulbous head shaped like an oval ball, the jet-black eyes set widely apart and what looked like breathing holes set high in the forehead. A small slit below the eyes lay slightly open.
The alien stared into the camera lens as if searching deep into Bruce’s soul before the small slit opened wide and a deep growling tone escaped its lip-less mouth. The image disappeared as the link was cut.
“Admiral we’re receiving a data packet from the bogey. I’ll forward it to linguistics for analysis but from my initial take, I’d say that it’s a language file.”
Bruce sat back in his chair and considered this turn of events. The aliens had three of his crew members and two of them appeared to be unharmed. How Yong was faring was unknown. Now the aliens had sent a language file. Were they trying to establish a dialog with him? Childers had said it appeared the aliens were surprised when they had found her in the life pod, so who had they been expecting?
“Communications, compile an English language packet and transmit it to the bogey. Tactical, I want a complete sensor sweep of this system. Primarily I want to know if our friends out there are the only space-faring race.”
Bruce touched a control on his armrest and after a slight pause, he was connected to Ambassador Isa, head of SurvFlot Two’s diplomatic mission. “Ambassador, there’s been an interesting development in our standoff with the bogey and I would like to discuss it with you as I believe that it may fall more within your purview than mine.”
Amber Isa cocked one fine eyebrow above heavy-lidded eyes. “Do we have an update on the crew members from the life pods?” Her softly spoken question was edged with concern.
The image of the bruised face of Childers came fleetingly to Bruce’s mind as took a small breath before answering. “As far as we know, we have one fatality but the other three are alive.”
Amber looked into the gaunt face of Bruce for a moment, his usual self-assuredness had taken a knock but beneath it, Amber could see his resolve hardening into something else. A determination to secure the release of his people. “And how can I be of assistance, Admiral?”
“It was something Childers said to me. That when the life pods were opened the aliens seemed surprised. Like they’d been expecting to find someone else inside. Ambassador, I think they fired on us more by knee-jerk reaction rather than by intention. I think we’ve wandered into someone else’s war.”
The anxiety was easy to read on Bruce’s face as Amber made her final preparations for what they both hoped would be the first step in releasing the three captured crew member. Amber’s face was one of studied calm. Years of service in the Diplomatic Corps had given her the ability to keep all emotion from her expression but that didn’t mean that she didn’t feel her chest tightening. The linguists had been working feverishly to make sense of the language packet that had been transmitted to the Rapier. The linguists assured Bruce and Amber they were confident they had made enough headway that a limited conversation was possible and that any two-way conversation would only increase their understanding of the aliens’ language.
Amber gave Bruce a small smile. “Well, here goes nothing.”
Bruce gave her a small nod. “Communications. Open a link to the bogey.”
Amber let her neutral expression return as the holo cube sprang to life and she was confronted with the image of the gray-skinned alien. The computer’s facial recognition software identified the alien as the same one Bruce had seen earlier. Unless they’re all identical, thought Amber.
“Greetings, sir. I am Ambassador Amber Isa and I represent a group of planets called the Commonwealth Union of Planets.”
There was a long pause as the alien stood stock-still saying nothing in reply. Amber began to wonder if the linguistic program had failed to interpret her message. After what seemed an eternity, the slit below the alien’s eyes began to move and in Amber’s ear bug a broken, unemotional computer-generated voice said, “Greetings Ambassador Amber Isa of… unknown…planet. Apologies. Death. Hurt. Mistake. Forgive. Thought you Deres… unknown… Enemy.”
Out of range of the pickup Bruce slapped his armrest with a balled fist. Damn, I was right. They thought we were someone else.
“We are not your enemy, sir. All we wish are the return of our people and we will leave in peace.”
Obviously the computers on the bogey were working on the interpretation just as the ones on Rapier as this time the alien’s reply came quicker.
“I will return unknown crew member unknown worry you take revenge unknown trust you.”
In the holo cube the alien raised its arms revealing its large hands, thin pieces of skin linked each of its fingers, like those on a frog’s feet. Amber kept her face expressionless but inside she allowed herself a smile as she counted the fingers. Five. No doubt about it, these aliens were the descendants of Saiph DNA manipulation. Exactly what SurvFlot Two had been sent to find. When Amber had been selected as head of the diplomatic mission she felt it was the culmination of her career. The opportunity to go into space and establish relations with alien races which carried the same genetic material as humans. Long-lost relatives of humanity. In that moment, Amber realized that she only had one choice if she was to earn the trust of these aliens.
“I suggest a trade, sir. The crew member for me. I will be your guarantee of safety.”
Bruce Torrance’s jaw dropped and he began to protest but a look from Amber stopped him. She understood that she couldn’t secure the release of the crew member without offering something in return and what would signal trust more than her offer?
“That would be acceptable.”
Amber gave a satisfied nod. “Expect me shortly and thank you, sir.”
The link was cut and Amber turned to Bruce. The relief at the prospect of the release of his crew member mixed with apprehension over the deal that Amber had just struck with the alien. Bruce regarded her for a few moments before his face broke into a wide grin.
“Ambassador, excuse my turn of phrase, but you have got a big set of stones.”
Amber returned his grin. “Admiral, sometimes you just have to roll the dice and see where they land.”
The shuttle that had delivered Amber to the motionless bogey had undocked and was accelerating away when the incoming signal icon lit up in Bruce’s holo cube. Accepting the signal the face of Doctor Novak, the Rapier’s chief medical officer, appeared.
“You’ll be glad to hear that apart from a few cuts and bruises, both Childers and Gambee are fine.”
“What about Yong?”
“Crew member Yong has suffered a fractured skull so I’ve kept him unconscious for the moment until I can get him back to sick bay and get a bone weaver on him but there doesn’t appear to be any brain damage so he should be fine in a week or so, just a headache.”
A sense of relief washed over Bruce, which was quickly replaced with one of unease as he remembered that the ambassador was now a hostage of the aliens.
“How did the aliens treat the ambassador?”
“From what I could see, with respect…” The doctor chuckled. “Although the look on Wilder’s face was one for the books.”
Aubrey Wilder had been… persuaded to accompany Amber aboard the alien ship. When the head of the linguistics department had heard of Amber’s deal, he petitioned Bruce to allow someone from his department to go with her. His argument was based on the point that the ambassador was fully reliant on the interpretation software loaded onto her PAD and, as he had pointed out, there was always the chance the PAD could fail. Wouldn’t it be better if a trained linguist accompanied the ambassador? Bruce wasn’t happy with the suggestion of giving the aliens a second hostage but he could see the merit and reluctantly agreed. Aubrey Wilder hadn’t been too enamored with the idea either, but when Bruce mentioned the words “promotion” and “academic credit,” the young linguist agreed. Now Bruce was wondering if Wilder was beginning to regret his decision.
“Thank you, Doctor. Let me know as soon as you have anything new on Yong’s condition.”
Bruce cut the link and sat back in his command chair. His stomach let out a quiet rumble and he realized he hadn’t eaten since they’d arrived in system. Bruce checked the clock on his repeater. Had it only been three hours? Perhaps a sandwich from the galley? Bruce settled in for a long wait.
“I swear to you Aubrey, if you throw up, I will personally kick your ass!”
“Sorry Ambassador, but I’ve never been in a situation like this. I work in an office.”
Another pitiful moan escaped Aubrey, and Amber Isa regretted her decision to bring him along. When they had docked with the alien ship, Amber had been the first to step through the airlock with Doctor Novak close on her heels. Awaiting her was crew member Childers, a vacant stare fixed on her face. Two of the gray-skinned aliens had Gambee’s arms pinned by his sides and he looked like he was ready to throw them off at any moment and start fighting again. From a side corridor, what looked like a hospital gurney was wheeled in by another alien. On the gurney lay an unconscious Yong, the cover over his chest rising and falling at a steady rate. Gambee’s muscles tensed and the aliens holding him tightened their grip.
“Petty Officer, relax. I’m here to get you and the others home and any rash action will only delay that,” intoned Amber loud enough to be heard across space. Gambee gave a curt nod and forced himself to relax.
A single alien in a one-piece brilliant white coverall belted at the waist stepped forward. A stylized golden sunburst was emblazoned on the right side of his chest and he held a small black box-like device in his webbed hand. He raised the box to his mouth and began to speak into it quietly. From a hidden speaker in the device came out slow, monotone English.
“Ambassador Amber Isa, I am Ship Master Ussa and I greet you in the name of the Nilmerg. Sorry for damage to ship and bodies. Was mistake. Believe you Deres. Mistake. Give back bodies.”
Ussa made an awkward arm motion at the Nilmerg pushing the gurney and he wheeled it into the center of the room before retreating.
Amber spoke without turning away from Ussa. “Doctor, if you would be so kind.”
Novak cautiously walked forward and ran his medical PAD quickly over the unconscious Yong. “Looks like a skull fracture, but I’ll know more when we get back to the Rapier’s medical bay.” Two medical orderlies moved forward transferring Yong onto a hovering med bed, its built-in instrumentation coming to life as it detected a casualty. Novak tapped a few controls on his PAD and the bed administered a mild sedative. “That should keep him comfortable for the journey. Let’s get him aboard the shuttle.”
One of the orderlies gave the med bed a gentle nudge and it moved off in the direction of the waiting shuttle with the second orderly and Novak trailing behind. With Yong safely on his way to the shuttle, Ussa motioned to the Nilmergs restraining Gambee. Both Nilmergs released him and took a step back. Gambee flexed his arms and began to say something but Amber cut him off.
“Not a word, Petty Officer. Get aboard the shuttle. Now!”
Gambee gave her a sullen look before reluctantly walking towards the airlock. “Aye-aye ma’am.”
That only left Childers. Amber called to her softly. “Childers.” No reaction. “Angie.” The use of her first name provoked a reaction in the young crew member. Bruce had been right. The whole ordeal of having her ship shot out from under her, the mad scramble for the life pods, being taken hostage by aliens, seeing her dead officer and watching her crew mates being either beaten by the aliens or removed unconscious had just been too much for her. Amber marveled that she had managed to last as long as she had.
Amber looked towards Ussa for permission and he made that strange arm motion again. Amber walked slowly forward and put an arm around Childers’ shoulders. “Come on Angie, let’s get you home.”
Childers looked into the ambassador’s face as the trembling set in and her eyes filled with tears. “Home?”
Amber hugged her gently. “Yes, home. I need you to walk Angie, can you do that?”
Together they shuffled forward to the airlock where one of the orderlies had returned from securing Yong aboard the shuttle. He gently took Childers from the ambassador. Amber went to step away but Childers gripped her arm with surprising strength.
“Thank you. Thank you for coming for us.”
Amber gave her a small smile and patted her hand gently. “The admiral was very insistent.” With that, the orderly carefully walked Childers into the airlock. Shaking herself mentally Amber walked as confidently as she could back the few paces until she once again stood opposite Ussa. Behind her, she heard the airlock close and with a jolt the shuttle disconnected itself and began its journey back toward the Rapier.
Quiet descended on the space as human ambassador and her nervous linguist faced Ship Master Ussa. The seconds passed slowly. Ussa stood stock-still, his two large black eyes unblinking. That’s if they do blink of course, thought Amber. Well, we just can’t stand here forever, someone has to make the first move.
“As I promised Ship Master, I have remained in exchange for our hostages. So, where do we go from here?”
“Ambassador not prisoner. Trust shown. Guest now.”
“Perhaps we could talk about…”
A high-pitched triple beep came from behind her and the Nilmergs’ reactions were lightning-fast as hands dropped to leg holsters and evil-looking stubby weapons appeared.
Ussa shouted something at his crew and each froze in place but the weapons still pointed towards Amber. No, she realized, they weren’t pointed at her. They were pointed at something behind her. Wilder. What had that idiot done?
Amber raised her arms above her head, hoping the Nilmergs would recognize it as an act of surrender and in a loud stage whisper called out to Aubrey, “Whatever you’re doing Aubrey, I strongly suggest you stop it or we’re both going to end up dead.”
When the linguist didn’t answer, Amber slowly turned her head to see what he was doing, only to find him busily tapping away at his PAD.
“Aubrey, you need to stop whatever you’re doing now, do you hear me?”
Aubrey continued tapping away for another few seconds then stopped and his face came up with a smile that spread from ear to ear. “Got it.” It took him a moment to realize that Amber had her hands above her head and that every Nilmerg in the room was pointing something nasty at him.
“Oh dear. Eh…”
“Very slowly put the PAD on the deck, Aubrey, and step away from it, OK?”
Instead of obeying, Aubrey touched a single key on his PAD and in her ear Amber felt the familiar gentle tingling of her ear bug activating and clear as day a voice could be heard.
“No one will fire unless specifically instructed by me. There have been enough mistakes already and I will not go down in our history as the ship master who started another war.”
While Amber had been concentrating on her dialogue with Ussa, Aubrey had been busily refining the interpretation software on his PAD, unaware of events going on around him. The triple beep emitted by the PAD was the sound of his success. Unfortunately, it had almost got both of them killed.
“Aubrey, tell me you can get your software to run on Ussa’s little box of tricks.”
“Not a chance, Ambassador. I have no idea how their systems are set up.”
Amber felt the hope fade.
“But what I can do is download it to an external bone pick up that he could wear. A bit bulkier than an ear bug, it bypasses the ear canal and sends the sound vibrations directly into whatever equivalent bone structure they have for converting sound to vibration, but with a little trial and error it should be just as effective.”
Amber was still trying to figure out how to ask Ussa to wear the bone pick up when he walked right up to Aubrey and stretched out his open hand. Ussa had obviously been following their conversation as best he could. Aubrey got to work. Pulling a pick up from his top pocket, he placed it carefully onto his PAD. A few seconds later, Aubrey’s PAD emitted a small beep and he placed the pick-up in Ussa’s hand. With a swift motion the Nilmerg commander rotated his arm at the elbow and placed the pick up beside a small flap of skin just behind his lower jaw. Amber gave it a few seconds, crossing the fingers of her outstretched hands.
“Can you understand me, Ship Master?”
Ussa’s took a small step backwards and his hand went to the pick-up. “Yes Ambassador, I hear you clearly. A moment please.” Ussa pivoted to face his crew, all still with their weapons aimed at Aubrey. “Holster your weapons.” With obvious reluctance, they did as ordered.
“Now that we can understand each other properly, Ambassador, let my express my deep regret for the confusion which led to us firing on your ship. In way of an explanation we have been at war with the Deres for more than four generations and your ship’s sudden arrival… well, to be honest, we thought it was a new Deres weapon with which to ambush us.”
“Understandable, Ship Master. If I had been at war for so long then I may have reacted in the same fashion. But if I may ask, who are the Deres?”
Thank you for reading!
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