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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels
Echo 13, Chapter 5
by: Derek Hawkins
Part I : The Dance at Dulodann
Chapter 5: Information
Wednesday, 20 May 4742 1425 Local Time
Wednesday, 20 May 4742 1425 Galactic Mean Time
Near the geographic center of the galaxy was a binary star system called Theralia. It had long been a major meeting place because of its location, being a system that lay on several of the established trade routes. When the Galactic government was established fifteen hundred years ago, Theralia was the logical choice for the seat of the government. The planet Theralia itself was a quiet, forested world without any recognizable intelligent life. Some claim that since the politicians moved in, that the fact hasn't changed.
The Government had come in and built two dozen buildings of various sizes and shapes to house the different parts of the government. Underneath the buildings, down in the bedrock, construction crews had dug out underground rooms for the various lesser departments, maintenance, and storage spaces. The underground rooms also held the different accouterments needed by the races from across the galaxy.
Senator Andron Mial was in Central Files, researching one of the ideas that another senator had proposed. Central Files was a cavernous underground room where data was stored and cataloged for future use, all on computers for easier access.
Sometimes it's easier to go straight to the origin of the data and get what you need, thought the Senator. She was computer literate, but usually she had a hard time using the damn things. This time was no different. The file she wanted didn't appear to be on the list. She ran though the list again, more slowly this time. Andron came across a file that looked like what she was after. The file appeared to be a bust, however, containing information on the major star system leaders' itineraries. Someone must have mislabeled the file, she thought.
Mial was about to close the file when she looked at it again, more closely. These weren't the publicly announced itineraries. This file had information the public wasn't given access to, like detailed lists of travel times; the name, classification, make, model, and ID of the ships they traveled on; the people they met and who they were with. Detailed information the public never learned. And it appeared to be six months worth.
She ran a quick search to see who initiated the file. The one nice thing about bureaucracies was that they liked to keep track of everything. The search turned out that someone on the Galactic Naval Staff had started the file. No name; just a cryptic code word: Echo 13. Something was strange about the file she decided. She closed the file, automatically refiling it into the system, then she mentally filed it away in her own central files, reminding herself to check on the computer file later.
* * *
After Forester explained as much as he could about the incident and the X-corps, they got down to business. Mitch found out much about Holly Nyx, her past, and the information that Captain Bartholos had sent him after. Still, there seemed to be a gap of about six years that remained unfilled...
"Ok. Break time," Forester announced. He clicked on the remote for the holovision. He was refilling their glasses when Nyx turned up the volume on the continuous news station.
"Listen to this," she said.
"OUR TOP STORY THIS HOUR IS THE WAVE OF VIOLENCE THAT HAS OCCURED GALAXY WIDE IN THE PAST TWO DAYS."
The woman being reporting the news was indifferent, as if this kind of thing happened daily.
"THIS WAVE OF VIOLENCE APPEARS TO BE OCCURING AT RANDOM. HERE IS A PARTIAL LIST OF THE ATTACKS AT THIS TIME: THREE CONVOYS, AT LEAST SEVEN DIFFERENT MATERIAL STORAGE FACILITIES HAVE BEEN RAIDED, TWO GALACTIC BANK ROBBERIES, AND SHIPBUILDING AND REPAIR EQUIPMENT WAS STOLEN FROM TWO SHIPYARDS. NO ONE HAS CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR THESE ATTACKS."
The reporter changed topics smoothly.
"IN OTHER NEWS, THE MISSING DEL DRAXIAN DELEGATION THAT TURNED UP NEAR SOLISTAR III IS...."
Nyx turned down the sound and sat numb. "He's doing it," she murmured, just loud enough that Forester heard her. "Parnel must be part of this. We gotta stop this."
Mitch was completely baffled. "Wait a second. What are you talking about? Who's doing what?"
"The head of the Benuvian pirate gang?"
Nyx shook her head. "It's not a pirate gang. It's more of a large private army," she corrected him. "He's got some kind of operation running and this is the opening move. That must be why Parnel is here."
"Vykos Parnel. The man you ran into in the corridor. He's Kilkenny's second in command."
Mitch didn't ask her how she knew. "What's the deal with him, anyway?" Forester asked. "You get nervous whenever he's around."
Nyx sat back before answering. "Vykos Parnel is Kilkenny's right hand man. I was afraid he might recognize me. You see, I once worked for Kilkenny's group."
Mitch said nothing, so Nyx continued.
"Up until about eight months ago, I was a GIC undercover agent in Kilkenny's group. The GIC had recruited me back when I was still in the Academy. I finished school, received my certificate and got my first 'posting' to a GIC ship. The Academy's Commandant had ties to the GIC and was the one who recruited me on their behalf. So, naturally, I was assigned to the GIC's ship."
"Naturally," Mitch agreed. He knew how the Galactic Intelligence Council worked. "I've done a few favors for them myself. So what happened after your training by the Council?"
Nyx shifted positions on the couch. "I was part of the GIC/GIB crackdown on piracy three years ago. Devon Kilkenny hired me as a pilot. After establishing myself with him, I began passing information to the GIC. Cargo lists, ship seizures, that kind of stuff."
"Let me see if I can fill in the rest of the story. You were suspected of being an undercover plant and were pulled of the case."
Before Nyx could reply, the cabin's telecomm buzzed. An inner-ship communication system, the telecomm allowed passengers to talk to each other or for the crew to get messages to passengers simply by dialing the cabin number.
"Yes," Mitch answered.
"Sir, You have an urgent message from your office," said the dispassionate computer voice." You are requested to contact your office immediately, sir."
"Thank you," Forester broke the connection. When he turned back to Nyx, he seemed lost in thought. Holly didn't know him well enough to recognize the look his face took on when his mind was in full gear.
"What was that about?" she asked after a moment, her curiosity getting the best of her.
"My guess is that it's got something to do with that," he pointed towards the holovision. "Won't know for certain until I talk to Bartholos."
Holly Nyx got up and refilled their glasses while Forester tried to get an open channel out to Captain Bartholos. On the third try Mitch got a clear reply on the ship's unsecured line. He wasn't talking directly to the base; rather he had called a communications relay, which relayed his transmissions to Bartholos and vice-versa.
"Forester, I need you back here in the office right now."
"What's the problem, boss?" asked Mitch.
"That Kytraos trading group is up in arms about those transports you sold to that Del Revo freighter outfit instead of the trade group like you said you would." Del Revo was the team's code word for the operation to rescue the delegates.
"Tell'em I got a better offer."
"They're demanding to talk with you about the possibilities of you keeping your head and your body together in the same sector."
Something really hot is about to burn through, Forester thought. "Ok. I'll come back and try to straighten this out. Tomorrow is our first stop at Palic II."
"I'll book you passage on the first thing out of the system," the Captain told him, then added "Prepaid." That was unusual for Bartholos. He was normally very frugal with the Corps' credits.
Forester looked up at Nyx for a heartbeat. "Better make that two."
The ship's casinos were in full swing. A smoky haze floated near the ceiling, partially obscuring the overhead lighting. The room was a gumbo of different species and cultures from across the galaxy. Many of the well known and the not so well known alien (non-human) races had members on the cruise, and they weren't here for the geology. After all, gambling wasn't an exclusively human pastime.
Parnel won the third big pot in a row. He was graciously raking in his winnings when he noticed the bounty hunter enter the casino and take a seat at an empty drink table. Since he had won the last hand, the deal stayed with him. He was playing a variation of the card game poker, called Cardigan's Bluff. He dealt himself worthless cards, and purposely lost the hand. The standing rule in this variation of poker was that the dealer couldn't leave the game while he had the deck. That way, there were no chances to take the credits and run. Parnel picked up his winnings from the hour he had been in the high stakes game. Twenty thousand credits richer, Parnel bowed out of the game and walked over to the hunter's table.
Vykos didn't wait to be invited to sit down. He tapped the table's order light, signaling for a waiter. A robotic waiter shuffled over. The 'droid was roughly humanoid shaped, but only a meter and a half tall. It had a black exterior with a long white rectangle from the neckline to the waist, in imitation of a tuxedo clad human waiter. "Good evening, gentlemen," it said in deep male computer voice. It had obviously been given a personality program, Parnel thought. "What can I do for you this evening?"
Vykos placed an order. Sendahl said nothing as the 'droid departed. He had a very understanding view of their function in galactic society. After all, he was half cyborg himself. Bounty hunters tended to be a fearless bunch, doing whatever it took to capture the target and collect the bounty. By the standards of his peers, he had been a highly successful bounty hunter until he came across his profession's single common fear, the one case that goes to hell in hand basket without warning. His happened while chasing a ship thief on Deneb II. He had the target trapped in an alley when the fates conspired against him. The thief got off a lucky shot, hitting Danor in the right side of his chest and arm. He had been wounded before, many times, but this one forced him to use an artificial heart, and a bionic limb replacement for his right arm. On the up side, the bionic arm gave him the fastest draw in the known galaxy.
The waiter returned with the drink. Alone once again, Parnel asked, "So what have you got to report?"
"She was spotted in the Zendo Clusters two weeks ago, working for a Broxian Mining company. She was working an asteroid field on the edge of the system."
Parnel was visibly upset at the mention of the Zendo Clusters. That was were the attack on the delegates had taken place. If Nyx had been there, then she may have seen the attack take place and could've been the one to report it. Which means, he concluded, that she was connected to the rescuers somehow. That did not, however, explain how the Bravado had been discovered and raided. "So why aren't you on her trail instead of sitting here?"
"Because she disappeared from the Clusters three days later. No one has seen her since." Sendahl had noted Parnel's reaction to the mention of the Zendo Clusters. He decided to go with his instinct and lay another piece of information on Parnel to see if he reacted. "Coincidentally, an abandoned Del Drax cruiseliner was found near the same asteroid field. You wouldn't know anything about it, would you?"
Vykos had recovered his composure, and was determined not to let Sendahl do it to him again. "No, I don't. First I've heard about it," he said evenly. "Is there anything else?"
Sendahl chuckled softly. "I didn't think so. Yes, there is. This is the most current picture of the target, taken while she was in the Clusters." He passed the photo across the table. Parnel took one look and nearly dropped the photo.
It was the face of the woman he'd seen in the corridor on his way to the casino. "She's aboard this cruiseliner," he practically shouted. "I saw her only an hour or so ago. Something about her seemed familiar, but I couldn't place her, so I shrugged it off and continued on my way here."
Danor could sense the end of the hunt coming. It had been a long one, taking up eight standard months, and it would be good to finally finish it. "Then we can start a search of the ship immediately."