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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels
by: Derek Hawkins
Part II: Echo 13
Chapter 10: Revelations and Realizations
Sunday, 24 May 4742 0130 Local Time
Sunday, 24 May 4742 2030 Galactic Mean Time
The Solar Surfer and the Cosmic Gypsy settled on to the deck of the hangar bay. Captain Z. Bartholos was there to greet the crews as they came down the boarding ramps. He noted the new faces mixed in among his bunch of misfits. He recognized the face of Holly Nyx from the photo in the intelligence packet, but he drew a blank on the other.
The stranger was looking around the bay. The bay was carved out of solid rock. The stranger tried to gauge the dimensions of the hanger. Sixty meters tall, he guessed, and maybe two hundred and fifty meters on a side. It looked like a full service hanger, with refueling lines and repair stations. On one side sat a ship that he recognized, the Blue Dream. "Nice lifter," the stranger said. "You guys did the Del Draxian rescue. Nice piece of work."
Bartholos was at a momentary loss. An adversary had never praised him before. "Thanks," he said. "You'll have to forgive the goon squad, they didn't tell me your name."
The stranger came to attention. "Captain Aqui Vasor, formerly of the patrol ship Bravado." Vasor snapped a salute.
Bartholos returned the salute. "Welcome to Home Plate." Home Plate was the group's nickname for their base. Bartholos and Vasor were alone in the bay with Forester and Nyx. The others had gone off to relax or to get ready to go on duty.
Vasor looked directly at the others. "I know I'm not here for a friendly visit. But I just want to know when is the interrogation scheduled?"
"No questions." Forester said. "You can talk to us whenever you're ready."
"Then let's get started right away."
Z nodded and led them out of the hanger and deeper into Home Plate. They passed through corridors carved out of the solid rock. Not rough walls, but smooth surfaces, and not twisting and turning but arrow straight.
~ * ~
Grant Richards entered his quarters. "Lights," he called. The place was a disaster area. Just the way he had left it. He dropped his gear on the floor. "Computer, any messages?"
The computer was quick with its answer. "Your ex-wife called three times." The computer had a personality program, and had been given a syrupy sweet female voice.
I need a new number, Richards though. "Any other messages, HELEN?"
"No, Grant." HELEN replied. "Do you want me to erase these like the others?"
Richards smiled. "HELEN, you're a cybernetic sweetheart." He sat down on his unmade bed. He had a hell of a time keeping the housekeeping 'droids out while he was away. Which happened to be quite often. "I want do a key word search, HELEN."
"Specify key word."
"Specify file directory."
Grant knew it was something that had come from his past. "Personal." He ordered.
"Set search parameters."
"Call signs and code words."
Richards took a shower while he waited. The hot water, even the chemically reprocessed water on Home Plate, felt good. Grant allowed himself a luxurious fifteen minutes in the shower. He emerged from the bathroom in a robe and was toweling off his hair. HELEN was finished with her search. "What'd you find, HELEN?"
"There were two occasions that fit your search parameters, Grant." Her voice was soothing, and Richards could listen to it all day without tiring of it. "Do you want audio or visual readout?"
"The first instance was during your Academy training. Echo 13 was the name of an exercise during your first year."
"I remember that," Richards said. The cadets had been required to navigate their way into a star system without a navigational computer. They had to take the raw sensor reports and make their way to the spaceport, simulating a busted navicomputer. "That was a pain in the ass. What about the second one?"
"The call sign of a patrol ship you served on during the Battle of Tamallah IV."
Bingo, he thought. "Gimme it on visual and expand on the entry."
"Certainly. Did we find what we were after?"
Grant was busy searching the entry. "Let you know in a minute." There! That was what he was looking for, the crew roster the patrol ship. "HELEN, do you have a list of the personnel that served on the Galactic Naval Staff in the past year?"
He waited about three seconds, - an eternity in computing time - for the answer. "Got it. Should I cross reference this list with that of the crew roster?"
"HELEN, you're way ahead of me. Do it."
"But naturally. Women have been way ahead of men for centuries." The computer was done almost before Grant finished giving the order. The list was short.
There was a single name on the list.
Richards sat silently as he keyed for a printed copy of all three lists. He stood with the printouts and patted the top of the monitor. "HELEN, if you were any more real I could kiss you."
"I think that all that time in hyperspace has affected your brain, Grant."
He caught this on his way out the door. In his hurry, he left the door open and a passing housekeeping 'droid glanced in at the room.
The 'droid just about fried a circuit when it saw the disastrous state that the room was in.
~ * ~
Bartholos was in one of the smaller briefing rooms, down the passageway from the larger mass-briefing room they had used to brief the rescue mission. He sat across from Vasor, who was still dressed in the yard worker's jumpsuit, and looked over the notes he'd made so far.
Kilkenny had someone placed high up in the Navy. That much seemed obvious. The facts just seemed to add up. He was getting his information from some one. After what Mial told them about the file she had found, the one that had been started by some one on the Galactic Naval Staff, that conclusion just made sense. He also had military-class patrol ships. Where did they come from? It was clear that Kilkenny had a source for his warships. The patrol ship that the X-Corps had slagged had been a Senega-class unit. The only user of that class of patrol ship was the Navy. However, Bartholos remembered, a dozen of these had been stolen fresh out of the yard at Tamallah IV. Which meant there could be a possible connection between Kilkenny's source and the raiders from twenty years ago.
"Ok," Z. said, "back to this source in the Navy. Are you sure you don't remember who it was?"
"I told you. Devon told me once who it was, but I didn't pay close attention to it. And he's not in the habit of repeating himself."
Nyx nodded a silent confirmation of the fact. He had certainly been that way when she was there.
"I think I can help." No one had heard Grant Richards come in.
"You know who it is?" asked Mitch.
"Think so. Remember that file the Senator told us about, the one with the name that I thought I remembered?"
"I think I know who started that file." Grant handed Mitch the first print out. "This is the crew roster of the patrol ship that I was on at the Battle of Tamallah IV. The ship's call sign was Echo 13." He passed over the second list. "This is a list of all the personnel that served on the Naval Staff in the last year."
Mitch looked over it quickly. "So?"
Richards grinned devilishly. "And this is a list of the names that appear on both of the other lists," he said with the flourish of a master showman.
Mitch arched his eyebrows. "Your old buddy James Trahn?"
A dead silence fell on the room. No one dared to move or speak. But it was shattered a second later by Vasor. "That's it. That's the name he told me."
This was accepted without comment. It had to be taken with a large grain of salt. Vasor could be telling the truth. Or he was lying through his teeth.
Grant explained about the search he'd made through his records and then how he'd cross-referenced the crew roster with the personnel list of the Galactic Naval Staff. Only one name appeared on both lists.
Nyx's curiosity got the best of her. "Tell me," asked Holly, "what exactly happened at Tamallah IV anyway?" Nyx was a bit of history buff. She had heard stories about this infamous battle, but never had the chance to talk directly with some one who was actually there.
Richards was silent for a long moment. "Let me start at the beginning. The shipyard was just finishing construction of a Task Force for the Navy. The Navy had skeleton crews for each ship. Once the Task Force was finished the crews were flying the ships off to a supply depot to provision them.
"When the attack came, the station was completely unprepared for it. A half dozen old patrol ships, and I mean old - older than I was at the time - appeared out of nowhere from hyperspace and launched troop transports into the space dock."
"Surely the outer defenses picked up the patrol ships?" Nyx asked.
"Normally, yes, they would have," Grant admitted. "But not this time. You see, somebody commanded the defensive computers to shut off seconds before the attack occurred. That same saboteur had a whole list of sleeper commands hard wired into the station's computer core. It wasn't discovered until afterwards that it was in the computers." Richards sat down. "Whoever it was that fiddled with the computers caused us no small amount of headaches."
Vasor found himself leaning in, hanging on Richards every word. There was something about these people that appealed to him, even just the few that he had met so far. They were different somehow from the people in Kilkenny's organization. Most of them were cold and detached in Kilkenny's private army. No sense in trying to fool himself. That's what it was: his own private army. These people that he had met here were loose and freewheeling. That was what appealed to him. These people, he realized, were the kind of people he wanted to be associated with. "Did they ever catch the miserable hacker?"
"No. Whoever it was was slick, and erased all traces of having been there. But that one person was the real reason for the success of the raid. The hacker locked out the crews from their ships. And to make matters worse, the joker fooled the systems into thinking there were depressurization emergencies in most of the station. Took hours to get everything squared away again." He lapsed in to silence. A random memory bubbled up to the surface. "Now that I think about it, Trahn had always been good with computers."
It was Nyx who put it together first. "Maybe Trahn did it?"
"That's possible. The hacker used sleeper commands, and Trahn and I were together during the entire raid. But why would he do it?"
"Money," said Forester quietly. This got everybody's attention. It was the first he'd contributed to the entire discussion of the subject. "Somebody paid him to. Look at it. He was what, a Senior Lieutenant, you said?"
Grant nodded. "That's right."
"Senior Lieutenants don't make a whole lot. Even today."
Bartholos noticed that familiar smile behind the gray eyes of Mitchell Forester. It was unmistakable. The bloodhounds were on the trail again.
"I'd bet that he was on the take, and committing treason on top of it," he concluded.
Richards slowly smiled. "That makes sense. James always did like to live up to and even beyond his means."
Hank Suon came into the briefing at that moment. His size belied his personality. Solidly built at 1.9 meters tall and broad shouldered, those who knew him knew that he was really a pussycat at heart. But that pussycat turned into a raging tiger when the need arose. "Captain, message coming in for you on subspace. It's from the Senator."
"Thanks. I'll take it in my office. If you all will excuse me," Z said as he stood to leave.
After the Captain left, Holly asked, "So, they got away with the Task Force scot free then?"
"Actually, no. We managed to keep two or three small frigates and one destroyer from escaping, although the Task Force commander didn't particularly care for our tactics. The destroyer spent six months in space dock undergoing repairs."
Mitch stood up, ready to leave. He hadn't been home in fourteen days, and now he just wanted to take a shower and relax to some guitar music. Late Twentieth Century Earth electrical, he decided. He had quite a large collection of recordings and related items from that period and the early Twenty-First Century. Some blues and some rock, with a little shred thrown in for good measure. "Well," he said, "I think that just about wraps things up here. I'll see you - "
"Wait," Aqui Vasor said, "there are other..." he searched for the right word for a moment, "things I need to tell you about."
Forester sat back down, forgetting about the shower for now. "Like?"
"I would like to join you guys. I know, or at least I'm pretty sure, that you are not the Alpha Force Rangers like you claimed to be, but whatever you call yourselves, I'd like to become one. Now, right about now you guys are thinking sure, he finds out a little about us and then at the first chance he gets he's running back to Kilkenny." He looked into their faces. Vasor knew for a fact that Mitch was some kind of secret super commando, and he was certain that Richards was as well. But he couldn't figure out the woman, - he'd never heard them speak her name yet - what her role was in all of this was. "Well, you're wrong. I'm not like that at all."
He looked down at the table top, gathering his thoughts together. He asked himself if this was what he really wanted to do, what he really wanted to get himself into. Yes, he decided. He wanted to atone for the mistakes he had made, the crimes he had perpetrated. "You see," he began slowly, almost hesitantly, and still looking at the tabletop, "I've done some things while working for Kilkenny that I'm not very proud of. I want to pay for those mistakes."
"What kind of mistakes?" Nyx asked.
Aqui's voice sounded a little stronger as he spoke, like he was more and more sure of the choice he had just made. "The biggest one was with the crew of the Rand's Adventure. Once the delegates were off the ship, I killed the entire crew while they were at their posts." He hung his head again, ashamed of his actions. "Those were Devon's orders. I placed gas canisters containing a deadly nerve agent in the ventilation ducts. It acted quickly with as little pain as possible."
Holly's eyes lit up with a sudden understanding. "So that's how you did it. I wondered what had happened to the crew when I boarded the ship."
"The gas was my idea. Kilkenny just wanted them dead - he didn't care how it happened, he just wanted all the loose ends tied up." Then Vasor's brain caught up with Holly's statement. "You were aboard the ship?"
"Yes. I was there for the entire incident." Nyx leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. "I was scouting the edge of the asteroid field."
"But we scanned the area. No other ships appeared on the scopes."
"I'm not surprised. The ore in the asteroids effectively blocked out most sensor frequencies. The only reason I knew that you were there was because I saw the freighter appear out of hyperspace. When the freighter did appear, I headed back to my ship. I had just gotten back to my cockpit and started a holotape recorder when the freighter began broadcasting a distress signal. Before I could answer it, the cruiseliner appeared."
"That was me." Vasor acknowledged. "I was captaining the ship and I had us on a short cut along the edge of the field. Once we were docked with the freighter, the delegates were taken and the crew was killed. After that, the Bravado rendezvoused with us and the delegates were transferred over. Once that was done, the freighter jumped into hyperspace in one direction and we jumped in the other. The starliner was set adrift just like you found it."
Richards looked at Mitch. Everything that he had said in the briefing room was right on. "Forester, you're a damned witch!"
"Actually, we males prefer the term warlock." He replied not missing a beat, and then allowed himself a grin at Richards, who was laughing himself. Then Mitchell Forester went on to ask Vasor one quick question about the location of something, and then he left with Nyx in tow. He would get her settled in one of the spare quarters, and then he was off to the showers for a nice relax.
Grant continued to discuss Vasor's future with him. Vasor's acceptance into the X - Corps would bring many changes to his life. Because of his background, Vasor could expect to get a new identity, along with a new face, through the wonders of plastic surgery. None of this would come about before he had earned their trust. If he got accepted.
Grant sat back and looked at the other man, considering the man's possible future.
~Continued in Chapter 11~
Coming in January, 2005