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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels
Echo 13, Chapter 6
by: Derek Hawkins
Part I : The Dance at Dulodann
Chapter 6: Early Returns
Thursday, 21 May 4742 1500 Local Time
Thursday, 21 May 4742 1000 Galactic Mean Time
Devon Kilkenny sat back and allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. The early reports from the Vega operation, now four days old, were better than he expected. All units had captured or stolen at or above the level required by phase one of the operation plan.
One thing stuck like a thorn in the side of Vega, however. None of the teams sent out had turned up a usable starship. Even Parnel had come up empty. It seemed that no one would willingly part with the type of vessels that were needed to execute the operation's second phase.
It was a set back, but not a totally unforeseen one. With the galactic economy on the upswing, no trader in his or her right mind wanted to sell their ships, especially to other people who may be the competition. There were ways around this problem, thanks to the contingency planning Devon had done earlier.
Kilkenny turned to one of the communications personnel. "I want all acquisition units in place for the planned option B by no later than four days from now. The order to start option B will follow when all units are in place."
He was about to dismiss the technician when another thought occurred to him. "Get me Parnel on the comline. I'm putting him in command to personally lead this mission on the Dulodann Space Yard. Put Captain Vasor as his second in command." He nodded at the technician, dismissing him.
While he waited for Parnel, he gave the failed operation with the delegates some thought. The opposition had been professionally trained, that he had no doubts about. A private army, out to settle a private score? he asked himself. No, he decided. Even though his was the best-trained private army around, the soldiers or whomever they were that raided the Bravado were on a level beyond that of his own troops. That means they must be Special Forces of some kind, he concluded. But which group? They had called themselves Alpha Force Rangers to conceal their true identity. So they weren't the Rangers. There were two or three others, notably the mysterious Seven Blue. Was that who they were, or could there be another group, unknown to the vast majority of space?
The comline on his display buzzed, interrupting his thoughts. "Parnel, how goes the cruise?"
Vykos Parnel told him about coming up dry on the ships, about the meeting with the bounty hunter, and the futile search. They had missed her by two hours. She disappeared off the ship at the first stop. He also told Kilkenny about the possible connection between Nyx and the group of rescuers.
"I want you to head for the staging place for the mission on the spaceyard. I've put Captain Vasor as your second in command." Parnel was surprised at the promotion. "Any questions?" Devon Kilkenny asked.
* * *
Forester and Nyx were on the Solar Surfer, a legitimate light freighter owned by the Corps. The Surfer flew through the nothingness of hyperspace, short cutting across tracts of space that would take more than the combined lifetimes of her crew to cross at the speed of light. That was the nature of hyperspace travel. It allowed ships to travel through space faster than light and it made use of the available short cuts: wormholes, inter-dimensional tunnels, and other things scientists didn't fully understand. But that didn't stop them from using these enigmas either.
Lt. Commander Richards and several team members had picked up the pair while on their way to pick up a brand new ship. Also with the team were two androids, one a tall, black 'droid with antennas sprouting from the sides of its head, and the other was a shorter, almost skinny looking, blue 'droid. They were here to help with ship functions once the other ship had been picked up, taking over the lesser functions and automating them, therefore requiring fewer crewmembers to run the ship.
Nyx had gone to one of the small cabins to change and rest up. Mitch was in the main lounge with Jonathan and Jason. Jaz and Chief Malstrom were there also, going over the schematics of the new ship's sensor arrays. Mitch's sixth sense was tingling again.
"Well boys, enjoy Dulodann while it lasts," Forester said. "After this, I have a feeling we'll be running on both hyper drives for a while."
Jason was curious as to Mitch's reasons why he thought they would be busy after this stop at the shipyard. "Explain, hotshot."
"Something really big is about to burn through. This wave of thefts recently is part of it. It's the opening move of some kind of operation by Devon Kilkenny." He looked at them seriously. "That bit of info I got straight from a source who watched that part of the plan being draw up."
"Who's this 'source' that eyeballed the plans then," asked Cruze, afraid that his friend might just be right. Again.
"Nyx. She used to be a GIC agent that worked in Kilkenny's group as an undercover plant."
GIC agents were trained in a multitude of areas. Agents were trained to fly, to be extremely capable with firearms, to be lethal in hand-to-hand combat. They learn how to blend in, to disappear into their surroundings. Computer programming, sabotage, demolition, and over a dozen other skills. The X-Corps trained in much the same way and often trained against the GIC agents.
Jonathan didn't believe that Nyx was GIC trained. "That little looker couldn't kill anybody. She's no GIC agent," Cruze told his friend.
The proximity alarm sounded it's warning before Mitch could reply. It was just as well, he decided as he headed forward to the bridge, to let this matter rest for a while. He knew she was telling him the truth. Somehow.
* * *
The Dulodann Space Yard was the largest producer of light freighters and personnel transports in the Betral sector. The yard was a skeletal mass vaguely looking like two letter E's stuck back-to-back. At one end, it had three hanger bays on one side for ship construction. The other side held a launch bay in the middle fork for the yard's defense fighters. The two outer forks were retractable space docks for repairing larger ships. One end of the yard extended beyond the hangers for temporarily docking, and for supply ships. Rising 'above' the yard, for terms like up and down, above and below, lost their meanings in the three dimensions of space, a column extended like a prison watchtower. The tower held an observation gallery, giving a fine view of the space yard, and the yard's traffic control center, directing the comings and goings of traffic in and out of the yard.
Holly found Mitch at a computer terminal in the observation gallery, just below the shipyard's control center. She had been looking for him for over an hour.
"There you are. I'd wondered where you had snuck off to when you left the Yard Master's office."
He pushed himself half away from the terminal. "Richards is just going over the bills. He doesn't need me for that." Forester looked out the view port to watch a lone freighter docking well away from the other ships, near an unused section of the station. "Besides, I wanted to do some thinking."
Nyx looked at the data on the computer's display. "What's all of this?"
Mitch turned to face Holly Nyx with his best crystal ball prophet look. "Data lists of everything reported stolen this week during that wave of robberies and attacks. All of it came from space yards or repair facilities."
Holly looked at another list Mitch called up, only about one third the size of the first, without saying a word. "What about all of this. How does it fit in to Kilkenny's scheme?"
"Just enough to make it seem random and unconnected." Forester called up a navigation chart and plotted all of the systems that were raided off of the first list. "Yards in these systems have been hit. None of them were capable of building anything larger than a medium bulk freighter."
Nyx studied the chart. "No major shipping centers have been hit. Maybe they're after parts and equipment."
Forester looked out the view port again at the lone freighter. A stray thought occurred to him. Or, maybe it was his mystical sixth sense, Mitch would never know. "What kind of ships does Kilkenny's group posses?"
Holly had to think back. "When I was still there he had probably twenty or so freighters, and maybe a dozen patrol ships."
"One less patrol ship now," he grinned at her. "We trashed one when we rescued the Del Drax delegation. What else do they have?"
She thought again, trying to remember what Kilkenny owned. "Two heavy troop transports, large enough to carry a thousand troops each. Three or four dozen fighters, with another dozen on each patrol ship. That's not counting the purely atmospheric craft he owns."
"Ouch. Definitely sounds like a private army rather than a pirate group, just like we suspected," Mitch admitted. "What about the freighters. What sizes do they run?"
"Four heavy-bulk carriers. A few local traders, and the rest were light to medium haulers," She pointed at the view port. "Like that one." Holly kept staring at the ship, docked now for maybe half an hour. "Exactly like that one."
Whatever had caused Holly's interest in the freighter also had Forester's. He pushed a control on the computer's console. "Control, why's that freighter docked all alone in that unused section of the station?"
It was a few moments before he got an answer. "That freighter is in quarantine. The whole crew got infected from the survivors of a shipwreck." The voice sounded nervous and a little scared.
This puzzled Mitch. The controllers here were usually icy calm. They were known for being cold professionals. That one sounded scared. Then there was this quarantined ship. Why wasn't it closer to the medical wing? Something wasn't right here.
An alarm went off in the back of Forester's mind, another manifestation of his sixth sense trying to get his attention. "Come on. Let's go find Richards."
Nyx was starting to pick up on his thoughts, even though she had known him only a short time. "Trouble?"
"Looks that way."