About the book
The encrypted message that has arrived at the Union's center either holds the key to the survival of the human species...or its doom.
Realizing that suffering from extreme boredom was not so bad afterall, Captain Hank Snider and his badass crew need to act fast. After stealing the super-advanced ship called Dalida from the Union’s headquarters, they run to discover the meaning behind the mystery message.
Unaware that the worst is yet to come, they also discover the true reason of existence of the highly classified military project “Dalida”...
With the Union’s greatest weapon out for blood, they are running out of time...and luck. And when Lory, Hank’s female version, gets captured, time runs even shorter.
If the message falls in the wrong hands, it will mean humanity's last extinction level event...
“We are screwed...” the tall man said with a look of horror on his face.
It was no wonder that Hank Snider, ex-Union Special Forces and Captain of the stolen Lordstar was taken aback by what was happening to him–or about to happen.
The errant Captain was standing in the middle of a supposedly-secret Confederate base–the sworn enemy of the Union–with the entire planet now surrounded by Union forces.
“You led them right to us!” said the very angry, and rather glitchy, form on the view screen of the Confederate Briefing Room. This was CO Admiral Mahari–a mature woman in the classic gun-metal grey suit of the Confederate military alliance, and whose greying ponytail still held threads of the cornflower yellow that it must have once been.
In front of the viewscreen sat Jake Steed–General Steed, Hank thought ruefully–a Confederate Agent who had snuck onto the Lordstar and a man whom Hank would have shot dead, were it not for the fact that they appeared to be on the same side.
Besides Captain Snider stood Lory Cox, a Union dissident who looked about as appalled as Hank did at what they were facing. And on the other side of her was the Professor. The guy who had started this whole mess.
“Admiral Mahari, I must point you to the fact that this base is a well-known secret amongst all Confederates and Dissidents–it was only a matter of time before the Union forces–” Steed was saying in his solid, calm manner.
Nothing fazed that guy, Hank thought.
“Well, we sure as Butang crap could have done with more time before the Union found us!” the woman said.
She wasn’t even on the base, Hank realized. Although this looked to be a well-established military base with defensive gun emplacements around the metal buildings and domes, and an electrified perimeter fence that kept out the planet’s indigenous Giant Sloth-like creatures, the Butang–it seemed that it wasn’t the only one that the Confederates had.
Which was kind of a blessing, at least, Hank thought, for the Confederates that were left. The Confederates were a loose powerhouse of non-aligned worlds who had, so far, managed to escape the worst degradations of the more powerful Union Empire. Hank had always been led to believe that most of their worlds were little more than balls of muck barely out of the equivalent of the twentieth century, compared to that of the much more powerful Union.
But it was clear that the Confederates had been busy while the Union wasn’t watching. They had been building up their armaments, ships, troops, bases.
“Not that any of it is going to make a blind bit of difference now,” Hank muttered to himself.
“I’m sorry, soldier?” said CO Admiral Mahari, glaring out from the screen as her face once again glitched with static.
“I’m not your soldier, lady,” Hank growled.
“People, please…” Jake Steed held up his hands in mock surrender. “Now is not the time for blame. Now is the time for solutions to this problem,” the man’s eyes flickered to the overhead sensor screens on the wall, “to that.”
On the screens above them were two images–one a close-up tactical map of the Confederate base, and the other a near-orbit map showing the green orb of the planet that they were on. Around that orb were the fifty or so green blips of the Confederate ships–and around that were the angry red vectors of the Union ships. At least twice the number of the Confederate defenders.
“They’ve dropped out of warp, but they are still a few thousand klicks from our forward satellites,” Steed looked at the tactical map. “We have a little time to ready the base…”
Ready the base for what–total annihilation? Hank thought as he watched Steed’s hands flicker over his controls and for the sound of ever more urgent klaxons and alarms to begin outside. On the near-base tactical map, insignia and lights started appearing at the gun emplacements as the ever-ready crews started to fire up their tracking systems…
“General Steed, you know the importance of the REAL mission…” CO Admiral Mahari said sternly.
“I do,” Steed nodded.
“Mind telling the rest of us?” Hank interjected. Of course, he knew about the message that Professor Serrano had decoded when he worked in the Union scientific facilities. But the years that Hank had spent rising through the Union ranks and eventually donning the super-black special-ops soldier suit had taught him one thing: It was always wise to find out what your superiors thought the mission was. Even if they had given you clear instructions–there were many times when he would have been kicking down the door to some dissident cell to receive last minute urgent instructions from Senior-Officer-this or General-that which would completely change the mission parameters.
And besides which, this is MY life and MY crew we’re talking about here… Hank’s eyes slid to the nervous-looking Professor Serrano, whose eyes were locked onto the screen just the same as everyone else.
“It’s all about the Message of course.” CO Admiral Mahari said. “It holds the key to Confederate freedom. It contains data-sets on advanced weaponry, agricultural machines, improved warp-drives, subspace relay systems–we cannot let the Union hold onto that information any longer!”
“Professor,” Hank nodded at Serrano, who looked as startled as a rabbit to be directly asked for his analysis.
“Ah, well, the Union has always claimed that the Message is evidence of an alien race….” Serrano began, his long-fingered hands fluttering. He wasn’t a man built for combat, Hank thought. He was used to giving lectures and seminars, not battle briefings.
“Just the facts please, Professor–we know that was all a load of Union hogwash…”
“But was it though…?” Serrano said, his eyes lighting up as his enthusiasm warmed. “The Message we received was certainly filled with all sorts of wonders, but it would be unwise for our analysis to rule out what happened to Earth, all those centuries ago…”
Everyone was aware of what had happened to Earth of course, Hank knew. A space virus had decimated the population, forcing the creation of the generation ships that the survivors had seeded the stars with. Thus was born the tyrannical Union Empire and the Confederate alliance and a whole scattering of weirder, wilder human outposts. Some people still believed that the space virus was the creation of some malevolent alien species, seeking to eliminate the galactic competition.
Did that mean that the Professor was one of those quacks? Hank thought. Good grief. As if he didn’t have enough problems than to have to start worrying about the mental health of his crew as well.
“Please, Professor. Just the facts,” Hank repeated. “Is the Message everything that Admiral Mahari believes it to be?”
Hank saw Serrano open his mouth to pontificate once again, but from the thunderous look on both Hank’s and the glitched CO Admiral Mahari’s face he opted for silence and nodded instead.
“Okay,” Hank turned. “Well, I have some real bad news for you lady,” he addressed the leading military commander of the Confederacy. “The data that we managed to decode out of the Union servers is empty. It doesn’t have the Message in it.”
“What? Is that true…?” Steed paled behind the desk. Finally, there appeared to be something that shocked him. Hank would have laughed where it not for that total annihilation thing…
“It is,” Hank explained what Serrano had told him just moments before they had entered the briefing room. “It was a dupe. The Union was playing us this whole time.”
“Probably so that they could find the Confederate base,” Lory Cox muttered beside him.
“And now, seeing as we’re all going to die terrible fiery and hopefully quick deaths, I am going to make sure that I don’t notice it…” Hank reached for his left thigh holster–the one that mirrored the one on his right, but instead of the heavy Union pistol, it held his trusty bottle of 25 year, oak-cask aged Cubanian whiskey.
“Captain,” Lory said a little disapprovingly, but Hank had heard opinions like that a thousand times before. ‘How could you? Don’t get drunk! Not at a time like this’ Hank almost laughed. To be honest, Hank Snider wasn’t sure if there was a better time to get plastered…
“General, you know that we’ve committed too many forces already to this. Your mission remains the same: Get That Message, and I don’t care how you do it.” Mahari said.
“But that means going back to the Message Center,” Serrano said out loud. “It’s a top-secret Union research facility, in highly-regulated space.” He should know after all, Hank thought, as both he and Lory had worked there–although Lory had only been pretending to work as she was actually an undercover agent.
“The Shimmering Path,” Lory said suddenly, which Hank knew was the underground dissident group that she belonged to, working to try and subvert and overthrow the corrupt Union.
“Can they get here in…?” Steed looked at the overhead tactical map, “Oh, I’d say about half an hour or so?” Even Steed didn’t look convinced.
“And do our Shimmering Path comrades even have access to battleships!?” If Steed, who was the nice one, Hank thought, remained unconvinced, then CO Admiral Mahari looked positively hostile to the idea.
“You’d be surprised,” Lory growled at them both.
“Explain,” Mahari barked at her, earning a sharp look and a tightening of Lory’s jaw.
“We don’t have much, but we’re infiltrated throughout the Union. I bet that there are even Path agents on that Union fleet out there. If you let me send a message to them, they might be able to help us.” Lory said.
“Do it,” Steed said, rising from his chair and letting Lory take it to access the Confederate bases’ satellite network.
“Just get that Message, General Steed.” There was a sigh of disgust from the CO Admiral Mahari, and then a dull click as the screen went black.
“Wow,” Hank said, his voice echoing into the flask as he sipped. “She’s a real hard-ass, right?”
Outside those metal walls of the Confederate base, the grey-suited Confederate soldiers raced back and forth to their positions as red lights flared and pulsed.
It was dusk, and the already deeply-crimson sun of the planet, it was almost an L-class red-brown star in fact, was starting to set, turning the skies above to a deep inferno-red.
It was perhaps a fitting sight for the battle to come.
Confederate soldiers ran to the metal towers and jumped into the harnesses for the orbital guns, as the tower grooves opened up and there were extended launch tubes. On battle screens and HUDs all over the base, Confederate soldiers saw tiny flashing crosshairs start to scan and sweep the darkening night, as–even though they couldn’t see them–were out there somewhere approaching the Confederate fleet. The guns would be the last line of defense for the Confederate base.
Higher still, squadron COs in their Confederate attack craft tried to not display any hint of nervousness to their pilots. The fifty defense craft were jockeying into squadron position–each battle group comprising of ten ships; three wings of three and one CO vessel. They would attack in waves if they could, but the Union forces were two to one in their favor at least.
And further out even than the orbiting defense craft came the satellites–most were civilian, but a scattering were orbital defense satellites, and, as their automated sensors pinged off the falling wave of Union craft, they waited for them to come into range…
The weapons’ ports on the defense satellites opened with bursts of gas, and from them exploded small missiles, rising on the plumes of their own rockets, like a cloud of gnats against a herd of charging elephants…
The battle had begun.
Lory’s fingers moved ferociously fast over the Confederate’s computer display, as the alarms continued to blare above her.
‘ATTENTION ALL PERSONNEL: Action Stations. REPEAT: Action Stations. Those not on front-line deployment to prepare with evacuation plan. ATTENTION ALL PERSONNEL…’
“Have you got it?” Steed was whispering over her shoulder as his knuckles turned white on the back of the chair.
Lory looked at the readouts on the screen. “Almost,” she gritted her teeth. The Shimmering Path agent was using the Confederate satellites above to access the hidden sub-space channels that her dissident group used. It was a protocol that she had done many times before, but never with this…urgency.
Narrow-band message. 0.0–2Ghz wavelength. Transmit to these co-ordinates: Alpha 00’42’23…
“That’s the listening satellite we’ve got,” Lory murmured, as in front of her desk Hank was sauntering to the viewing windows and watching the blood-red dusk settle to a deeper, purpling night. There was the bright glimmer of hard stars up there–but were they really stars, or the stationary orbits of the Confederate defense craft?
“One of our Agents managed to sneak the probe onto a Union launcher, and it was deployed along with their listening devices,” Lory explained. Only it was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It would only be activated by the exact codewords and used by the Path to monitor Union activities.
‘Message Received!’ Steed’s computer suddenly blared.
‘Input Code:’ was all it said.
“Lincoln,” Lory repeated the top-level, catch-all Shimmering Path code word, and suddenly the screen glitched and scrolled with distant commands.
“Activate emergency channel,” Lory said. “All agents. Send out location and request immediate assistance.”
The cursor flashed once, twice, three times–and then the automated words Sending appeared on the screen, followed by three dots that repeated themselves over and over as they waited for someone–anyone to reply.
“How long will it take–we haven’t exactly got much time…” Hank turned on his heel to say to her.
Well, it would help if you weren’t already sozzled, Captain, Lory thought with a burst of annoyance. Maybe she shouldn’t be so harsh on him. If she were in his position–chased out of his home world and halfway across the Milky Way galaxy by the fanatical, obsessive Union agent called the Jackal–maybe she would get drunk right now, too…
‘‘Message Received!: Agent Cox, we have your co-ordinates. There are operatives at your position, on board the Union war fleet. We’ll do what we can…’’
“Much appreciated. Any help you can offer would be a godsend…” Lory said urgently.
“Can they co-ordinate with our forces–Confederate forces, that is? If we could team up…” Steed was saying.
Lory wasn’t sure if they even had time for this sort of high-level diplomacy, but she tried anyway.
“Requesting possible assistance for Confederate forces. The people here are working towards the same objective…” Lory spoke into the computer terminal.
“The Message,” came the affirmative back. “We’ve been trying to build contacts with the Confederates for years—"
“Tell them I can send them a secure access link to speak to Confederate command—” Steed was partway through saying, when Hank interrupted him.
“Although your CO is a complete bi—”
“Agreed.” The Shimmering Path operative said on the other end of the line.
This was it, Lory thought. With the Shimmering Path able to coordinate their attacks on Union strongholds with Confederate help–then maybe they might just have a chance to defeat them…
KA-WHUMPFH! Suddenly, a shockwave rippled through their feet, as if this forested, prehistoric Eden had just discovered earthquakes.
“Oh Butang-crap!” Steed was already rising, looking at the tactical map. In horror, Lory turned to look at the map to see the glowing ring of the perimeter fence and, a few klicks out from that, the expanding detonation circles of something.
A damned orbital bombardment!
Far above their heads in the tumult of space, the battle was raging. The missiles that the Confederate defense satellites had fired had scattered across the front line of Union battle ships like thrown confetti.
But the man who was the lead counsel for the Union battle-group–all a hundred and thirty-six Union Hydras was clever.
That is, if the Jackal could even be called human anymore, with his metal hands and prosthetic plastic and metal throat.
The Jackal stood on the Bridge and looked out on his own overlaid tactical map over the viewing screen. He might have been a handsome man once, were it not for the wolves that Hank had trained. The Jackal had tracked Professor Alan Serrano to the Outlying Planets, with orders to execute the dangerous traitor, but this man–this nobody–had thwarted his efforts.
But the Jackal was also one of the Union’s best Wolverines. He had to be, because even his bosses would never have spent the money it took to repair him if he didn’t have such an exemplary record for getting the job done.
Even his superior officers thought that the Jackal was insane, and that made him smile. It was a good reputation to have for someone in his position. He had seen his own Union psych reports. It is amazing what a good lock-pick and a loaded gun can do… Latent psychopathic tendencies at birth, they had read. And a prognosis: ‘If this man hadn’t been picked up by the Union military forces, then he would probably be languishing in a Union top security institute for the Criminally-Insane…’
Ha. What did they all know about him? the Jackal thought. Being who he was, the sort of man he was, he had always wondered at the levels of fear that most people carried around inside of them.
People really were just bundles of neuroses and vulnerabilities, the Jackal considered once again as he watched the tactical map.
“Take the Confederates right before us, for example…” the Jackal murmured, continuing his small, motivational speech for the somewhat nervy Confederate bridge officers and tactical personnel.
“They surely must realize that they will be beaten–so what is the sane thing to do?” the Jackal mused. “In their position, I would be launching kamikaze runs, and using tactical nukes…but they won’t. Why not?”
None of the other Confederate Bridge officers dared to answer his question.
“Because they are afraid. Surely, they must see that their only way out is through, and yet they refuse to commit!” He pointed out the paltry efforts of the Confederate defense satellites. “They should have loaded them with tactical warheads instead of the TNT loads they had…”
“We’ve lost eighteen ships of the line, sir!” one of the officers burst out–a career lieutenant, the Jackal inwardly sneered. He’d probably sat at that desk for the best part of ten years, and never even bothered to put in for promotion.
“And we have over a hundred left!” the Jackal crowed with glee. The ‘career lieutenant’ had been right, however; the defense satellites had indeed taken out a small number of their leading ships–but now the first sixty-five Union Hydras were in amongst them, using short-burst lasers to disable the satellites before they turned their attention to the larger threat…
The Confederate forces. Fifty ships versus sixty-five, with another forty or fifty Union Hydras in reserve. The Jackal knew that he could overwhelm them easily if he sent in his entire fleet, but he also kind of enjoyed the fact that the numbers were near even. It was the same savagery that led the Jackal to fight the way that he did.
Let’s see how good you REALLY are, he thought as he saw the Confederate forces start to rise from their positions in three battle groups of ten, splitting to attack the flanks and the middle of the approaching wave just as the Jackal had predicted.
But then again…The Jackal had never prided himself in being honorable. It wasn’t honor that motivated him, but a cold sort of fascination in what happened when you pushed an enemy to their very limits…
“Fire the Corkscrews,” the Jackal hissed.
“But we haven’t even broken the defensive line yet!” said the career lieutenant.
I’m really going to have to have that man shot, the Jackal thought.
“Did you hear me, Lieutenant?” the Jackal turned to glare at him full in the face. It was clearly an unsettling sight for the man, to see the puckered and pink flesh around the Jackal’s new throat, and the sleek hybrid metal and plastic hands clasped in front of him…
“Uh–I, sir yes sir!” the man swallowed nervously, and gave the orders.
At various positions along the reserve Union fighters, weapons bays were deployed along their undercarriage, and the launch tubes opened to erupt with fast-evaporating gas and flame.
Giant missiles, each a gleaming silver, were thrown down towards the surface of the planet on A.I.-assisted paths. The A.I.s on board each of the missiles were barely conscious, little more than targeting computers, but clever enough to keep a constant awareness of where the other Union ships were at all times, and to navigate around them with tiny bursts of positional thrusters—
These giant missiles, each one almost a quarter of the size of a Hydra battleship itself, swept through the fiery battle zone. Some of them turned the swerving and fighting Confederate ships to great bursts of flame and plasma, breaking them apart into fragments in a heartbeat.
But even that wasn’t the intended design of the Corkscrews. Those remaining–only five, all told–emerged from the far side of the battle and started to glow white-hot from re-entry.
“You know, I’ve never seen these used before, and I’ve always wondered how effective they are…” the Jackal murmured as his forward sensors magnified the images of the missiles as they fell forwards…
Passing through the meso- and the strato-sphere, the outer silver casings of the giant missiles ruptured and burst from their bodies, revealing thinner columns of galvanized titanium, striated with deep grooves and ending in a wickedly-sharp spike. The difference in air tensions sent them into a spin as their thruster propellant finally burnt itself out.
Not that the Corkscrews needed any more propulsion than they already had. They had terminal velocity on their side now…
They hit the jungle Eden like the hammers of a vengeful god, sending shockwaves that even the Jackal could see rippling through the trees and vegetation—
But the wave of shaking flora and fauna lasted only a nanosecond, before the bodies of each missile ruptured and the explosive payload caught. It was night time on the planet below, but the ground was quickly obscured by the rising black cloud of pulverized rock and dust as each Corkscrew dropped down into the planet’s crust.
It was bad enough being underneath one of them–but the Corkscrews were really engineered as city-killers. Nation-killers.
The explosion rippled through the ground, heaving plates of earth the size of soccer pitches; creating sudden canyons and sinkholes; throwing trees and burying entire herds of the docile giant Sloth-like creatures; the Butang.
And then the advancing tide of destruction hit the Confederate base.
“Brace!” Lory heard Steed shout seconds before the impact hit. There was a sound of growing thunder and the entire room seemed to jump and fall into the air–and then everything went black.
“Argh…” Lory groaned in pain. She was no longer seated at General Steed’s control desk but was instead lying on the floor with something hard on top of her–and something soft underneath her.
“Huh?” she moaned.
“Well, I like you too, but…” coughed the voice of Hank Snider, as he shifted his weight.
“God’ dammit!” Lory hissed in annoyance, shifting the metal table where it had fallen across her legs to roll off of the man, just as the emergency red lights came on.
“Status Report!” Steed was shouting, his face now smeared with dirt and dust. The entire Briefing Room looked as though someone had crumpled one edge of it, and Lory could see the improbably gigantic branches of a tree now spearing through where a window once had been.
“Guard Control Reporting” came a muffled voice from some still-functioning set of speakers. “Perimeter fence is down. Crew Quarters 1 through 5 is destroyed; Guard Towers 1 and 2 are down–and they’ve taken out the cafeteria!”
“Priorities, priorities…” Lory saw Hank groaned as he sat up in front of her, rubbing dirt and rock from his hair and reaching to his left thigh holster to come away with only the broken top of his hip flask. The guy stank of spilled Cubanian whiskey. “Right, that damn well does it…” she heard him say fiercely.
“Captain? Snider! Lory!?” a new voice burst into the room; it was Drake Madigan, his huge, man mountain-like form pushing aside the bits of broken door and jumbled furniture between them.
“Where’s the Professor?” Madigan was saying. “We’ve got to get out of here. The Lordstar avoided the worst of it, but another blast like that and we’re going to lose our ship!”
“Damnable, mouth-breathing, bottom-feeding…” Hank was snarling angrily as he accepted the large hand of the other Shimmering Path agent on his crew, as there was another whimper from deeper inside the room.
“Err…I seem to be stuck…” It was Professor Alan Serrano, who turned out to be, thankfully, alive and mostly unhurt save for a few scratches.
“Madigan’s right. We can’t wait for the Path to save us…” Steed was saying, as he helped Lory to her feet and the foursome clambered and struggled out of the wreckage, to sprint through the fragmented corridors to the Lordstar.
“Captain?” The ramp was already down, and the door was already open to reveal Malcolm Cortez, their terrible cook and excellent engineer.
“Lory–thank god you’re alive!” the man immediately reached out a hand to help the beautiful agent on board, who batted it away.
“Cortez–save your charm for the engines, please!” Lory groaned as she raced into the ship. Why is that guy always trying to hit on me? She thought. Men. They always think with their—
“Forward tactical ops to the Lordstar!” Behind them, Steed’s last act as a General of the base was to get the failing Confederate tactical computers to synch up with the Lordstar’s own. Lory heard the dull alerts and alarms pinging ahead of them as they raced to the Bridge.
“General evacuation order Alpha-Green!” Steed was shouting as he took his place at the comms console, and Lory saw Hank’s look of puzzlement behind him as he took the command chair.
“Oh, don’t mind me, General Steed. I’m only the captain of this boat…” he murmured.
He might be a complete mess to work with, Lory thought as she slid into one of the piloting chairs, but she could see that Hank was working just as fast and hard as the rest of them were.
The Captain’s hands flickered over the controls, calling up Cortez in engineering to start prepping the engines for an emergency take-off, as well as scanning the near-orbit for a possible route of escape, and priming the Lordstar’s weapons.
“Steed, Lory–you should see this…” Lory heard Hank say as he ‘threw’ a tactical display map up onto the screens above them.
It was of the battle above, which had turned into three whirling knots of attack vectors; one colored grey, and the other colored red.
“What am I looking at?” Steed said.
“That’s the battle, Steed. Your Confederate forces are getting wiped out,” Hank said grimly, all trace of his earlier sarcasm gone. “But take a look at the top right-hand corner…”
Lory looked, to see that there was another knot of red attack vectors, and they were apparently attacking each other.
“I know the Union can be a bunch of loonies–I used to work for them, after all–but I don’t remember them completely forgetting which side they were on…”
“It has to be the Path agents!” Lory guessed immediately what was going on. “They’ve seized control of some of the Union ships and are fighting back!”
“They’re getting wiped out, you mean…” Hank said. “But it does give us a very small window of opportunity, if we move now.” The tall captain clicked buttons on the command chair and called out. “Cortez? How are we doing on those engines?”
“She’s warmed up and ready to fire on your command, Captain!” returned their terrible cook’s voice.
“Then fire them already!” Hank said. “Lory, you’re with me on piloting.”
Lory was amazed at the change that had come over the man that she had fought beside. Hank Snider never ceased to surprise her, turning from irascible, irreverent, irresponsible in one breath to a coldly-competent commanding officer in the next.
No wonder he was kicked out of the Union forces, Lory thought. He was too wild and too unpredictable.
On her own command console screens appeared the drop-down list of piloting controls, all of the positional rockets and gravity-eliminators while Hank himself had the main directional flight stick.
“Hit it!” Hank shouted, and Lory did, firing everything in a controlled burst, directing them straight up.
The Lordstar rose on the plume of its own rocketry, to quickly turn over to impulse power as soon as they were clear of the semi-destroyed base. On the viewing screens in front of them all, Lory could see four giant areas of churned and blackened earth where the Union’s weapons had hit. The base itself was partially swamped and destroyed, and even as she watched, she saw tiny shuttles rising into the air just as they had, and racing off across the planet’s surface as the last of the Confederate forces attempted to flee.
“Professor you’ve got the co-ordinates for this Message Center of yours?” Hank was saying.
In one of the side chairs, the ‘science’ chair, Lory thought it was called, the Professor was only just managing to strap himself into the X-harness and looking nervously at the tactical screen filled with angry red triangles.
“Uh, yes, yes Captain, I believe I do…”
“Lory? I want us to go to warp as soon as we’re clear of the planet, you got that?” Hank said harshly. “I don’t want to give the Jackal any time to send his goons after us…”
“Already prepping warp engines, boss,” Lory said, requesting more power from engineering as Hank, behind her, turned them towards the tiny gap in the Union defenses, and the Lordstar charged upwards into the skies…
“Sir–we have a wanted vessel reaching escape velocity from the planet below!” called out the career lieutenant a few chairs down from where the Jackal orchestrated the complete destruction of the Confederate forces.
“What? On screen–now!” the Jackal turned his attention from the battle and his own apparently hijacked Union ships to see the unmistakable–and quite frankly, ridiculous–form of the Lordstar breaking the canopy of the planet’s atmosphere, and already starting to glitter as it accrued warp plasma to itself.
“They’re powering their FTL drive, sir!” the same man said.
“I can see that, you idiot!” the Jackal snarled. “Don’t just sit there–fire at them!”
In response, his borrowed tactical team quickly started zeroing their tactical computers in on the Lordstar as its own Faster-Than-Light engines burned an intense glow.
“Fire! Now, damn you all, fire everything you’ve got!” The Jackal was almost hopping with fury and rage. Why did it take so long for everyone else to get things done? He was much better off alone, just like always…
“Firing!” the tactical team called, and the Union Hydra released salvo after salvo of missiles at the escaping Lordstar.
The Jackal watched the tiny attack vectors spearing to meet his enemies craft head-on. It would be obliterated in seconds…
Only the Lordstar was no longer there. It had jumped to warp in the seconds before the missiles had struck, and now the Jackal was watching them explode harmlessly as their thinner casings could not withstand the pressures of entry into the planet’s atmosphere.
“Rargh!” the Jackal exploded, moving as fast as a striking viper to snatch at the career lieutenant from his chair with just one cybernetically-enhanced hand, and flinging him across the bridge in a fit of pique.
“Ah!” the man gave a squeal as his body thudded on the floor and skidded into the wall, where the Jackal at least heard something break. The man wasn’t dead, but at least he wouldn’t be in front-line service for a while.
“Ready the Pequod,” the Jackal was already turning, abandoning the bridge. “And alert the Wolverines.” He called. “I know exactly where the criminals are going, and I intend to greet them!”
“But, but sir–the battle? The hijacked ships?” One of his tactical officers said.
“Sort it out yourselves, Command restored to the Acting General.” The Jackal growled at them as the door hissed open and he was already running down the metal corridor to the Hold, where his own, precious Pequod would be waiting for him, along with its staff of trained, elite Union killers–the Wolverines.
The Jackal had no qualms about abandoning the battle to the rest of the Union forces. He had only assumed Acting Command as he was the one who had the lead on the mission here. He had been tasked with protecting the Message and bringing the dangerous fugitive Alan Serrano to Union justice.
In fact, now that the Jackal knew that he was once more a free agent again–no longer constrained with listening to the inane ramblings of career lieutenants, for example–he felt infinitely better.
The Lordstar had managed to evade his clutches once more–and as infuriating as that was–the Jackal also felt himself grin as he ran.
This was turning into a proper challenge, he thought. It was going to be so delicious when he finally got face to face with that meddlesome Captain Snider again.
He was going to make that traitor pay.
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