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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels

Echo 13, Chapter 8

by: Derek Hawkins

Part II: Echo 13

Chapter 8: Damage Assessments


Friday, 22 May 4742 1812 Local Time

Saturday, 23 May 4742 0612 Galactic Mean Time

The Chief Engineer was right. It did take twelve hours to restore full power to the station. The main power reactor was totally shot. A reserve reactor taken out of storage was now supplying power. The new reactor provided full power to the station, but it was a smaller model than the main reactor and couldn't give enough power to return the grav fields to full strength. The Navy, having arrived too late to participate in the battle, was helping to clean up and begin the repair work on the station, along with launching an investigation into what had happened.

"So what you are saying is," asked Captain James Trahn of the Galactic Navy carrier Courageous, "that your crew was here to pick up another ship and then threw in with the Station defense when the attack occurred?" Trahn sat back and waited to hear the answer from the freighter captain.

Trahn was in his late forties, and he was a career Navy officer of twenty-six years. It showed. The crease lines in his uniform were razor sharp. He wore Captains insignia on his collar and the Naval Staff ribbon in his 'salad bar' of decorations. Just out of the Naval Staff, he was awaiting promotion to Rear Admiral and command of one of the Fleets in the Navy. He had requested and gotten command of a carrier to get back into the groove of Fleet operations after having spent three years at a desk job.

"That's more or less it, yes." Lt. Commander Grant Richards hated these investigations. That was one of the reasons why he had left the fleet in the first place. The only reason he was putting up with this one was to prevent any suspicions later on. He shrugged. "In the wrong place at the right time I guess."

Trahn looked at the other man for a long moment. "Indeed. And did you order your crew to help defend the station or were their actions of their own free will?" Trahn pressed onward. He suspected that this group was not as legal - or as legitimate - as they claimed to be. Or even who they claimed to be.

"My crew are some real go getters. When something needs to be done, they make it happen," Richards beamed with pride. "They'll do whatever it takes to get the job done."

Trahn stood and looked down at Grant, who was seated on one of the observation gallery's small couches. The Captain was trying to intimidate the 'civilian'. "Does that include wrecking those ships and destroying parts of the station in the process?"

Forester and a Lieutenant caught the last as they walked into the gallery.

Grant decided he'd had enough of this pompous overbearing ass. He stood and got face to face with the Naval officer. "Those decisions were made in the heat of combat," he said calmly. Then it was time to push back. "Or have you forgotten what it was like at Tamallah IV, James?"

Trahn was momentarily stunned and befuddled at the same time. Stunned because the civilian knew that he had been there and befuddled because he did not recognize this civilian. Trahn stood there staring blankly at the stranger.

The Lieutenant quickly came to his rescue. "Captain, the Senator would like to come over to inspect the damage. Should I arrange for a shuttle, sir?"

Trahn used the Lieutenant's interruption to recover. His stony faced superior attitude was back in place. "Yes. See to it Lieutenant."

Forester had kept quiet the whole time he had been in the room. Whatever went on at Tamallah IV, mentioning it really hit the Naval officer pretty hard. He would remember to ask about it. "Captain, could you throw in two dozen or so troops with the Senator's shuttle?"

"For what reason?"

Forester decided to play straight with him. It would probably get him further than screwing around with the Captain. "Some of our people are trapped in the Hangar Bay along with the ship thieves. Our people are outnumbered two or three to one down there. We could really use the help."

"Agreed. Lieutenant," the Captain said, ordering him to take care of it. "I believe that will do for the Navy's questions. You are free to leave," he told Richards as he left the observation gallery.

Richards and Forester followed the Naval officer and headed away in the other direction, towards the hangar bays. "You really rattled his cage in there," Mitch said a dozen yards down the passageway. The hall was lined with pictures of the different classes of starships the yard had built over the years. "What was that all about?"

Richards kept walking. 'That' was an incident that had continued to plague him through out his career whenever he came up for promotion. "Twenty years ago, I was an ensign on a patrol ship at the Tamall Ship Yard. Trahn was a senior Lieutenant in command of my patrol ship. I was there for the infamous raid of '22. When the attack came, the Navy wasn't ready for it. Someone had sabotaged the proximity radars and locked out most all of the crews from their ships. We were the only ship with a full crew that could fight. We managed to stop two or three of the smaller frigates and one of the destroyers, but almost the entire Task Force got away. Those ships that we did stop were heavily damaged and spent nearly six months in space dock undergoing repairs."

They entered the wide corridor of the Hangar Bays. Normally, parts and people moved about this corridor to construct the various starships that the yard produces. Now, however, it held the few station defense personnel who weren't busy trying to repair the station.

Al'Lari Jaz, Holly Nyx, and Eram Bimmer waited at the sealed entrance to Hangar Bay 3. A half-meter thick titanium blast door sealed up the entrance. The entrance was five meters wide and as many tall. Many of the smaller sub-assemblies passed through this door from other parts of the station. "It'll be a few more minutes, Commander," Jaz said. "Right now the Dulos are repressurizing the Bay."

"Good. The Navy is sending over two dozen Marines to help clear out the thieves." Richards shifted mental gears. "Have you talked to any of our people inside lately?"

Al'Lari nodded to the affirmative. "I talked to Jonathan an hour ago. He says things are pretty quiet in there. The raiders are staying inside the ships, and the firefight died off an hour or so after the screens were blown."

Holly Nyx beamed her best 'You're welcome' smile at Jaz.

~ * ~

Senator Andron Mial followed the Marines through the station to the Hangar Bay. She was returning from a peace treaty negotiation session between two warring factions on Tau Beta. She was traveling on the carrier Courageous as a security precaution. After the kidnapping she had received on her last journey, a little caution was appreciated. She halfway listened to the Captain's aid as he went on about the results of the investigation.

"And then there are these mercenary-looking scoundrels who say that they were here to pick up a freighter and then jumped in with the station defenders. No one knows what to make of them. Apparently, one of them knows Captain Trahn, called him by name even," the Lieutenant paused for a breath.

"These mercenary scoundrels," she asked, having heard enough of this mindless twit's babbling, "are they dangerous?" Mial had a suspicious feeling that she knew who they were.

"Oh, no Senator. I don't believe so. The one that I met seems like a rather nice fellow. I understand that he is an excellent pilot and prevented several ships from escaping." The troops had stopped in front of the main entrance to the Bay. "That's him there, standing next to the lady."

The Senator found herself looking into the intense, mysterious gray eyes of Mitchell Forester once again.

~ * ~

Grant finished conferring with one of the station personnel. "We are ready gentlemen." His voice took on the note of command authority from years of military service. "Lieutenant, divide these men into three groups. I want one group to go down each of these side corridors to come through the side doors. The third group will come in from the main corridor. Behind the Marines will come the station defense forces. Two will stay at each entrance. Station defenders are also inside so watch your fire." Richards finished. "Let's move out." Old habits die hard.

The Lieutenant quickly organized the Marines, more out of habit of following a command than of Richards' command in particular.

Richards turned to Mial as the blast door opened. The Marines swarmed into the bay. "Senator, would you care to join us?"

"Yes, I believe I will, thank you." She stepped over to where Forester stood with Nyx and whispered "I would like to speak to you later."

"Ok." was all he said as he and Nyx headed for the now open entrance to Hangar Bay 3.

~ * ~

Mcklure watched silently as the sealed doorway opened and armed troops rushed in, followed by station defense forces. He watched as they spread out from the main entrance and move towards his position. They advanced in pairs; one moving while the other covered him. Behind them Jason saw the other members of the team walking with a Naval officer and another person he thought he recognized as Senator Mial.

The next thing he knew, Jason was looking at the business end of a heavy blaster rifle. "Put your hands up," one of the Marines barked at him.

Mcklure was in the act of doing so when Mitch walked up. "It's okay, trooper. He's with us." The Marine lowered his rifle and walked off.

As the X-Corps recovered its members, the Marines began to empty the freighters. Surprisingly, there was no resistance. The raiders realized that it was useless to try and fight their way out with a carrier sitting on top of them. The prisoners were marched out of the ships. It had been decided that the Galactic Navy would take the prisoners, since the Dulodann Security facilities were not up to the task of holding nearly that many prisoners. As soon as the shuttles arrived, the prisoners would be transferred to the brig of the Courageous.

The team, along with Senator Andron Mial and Holly Nyx were standing in the now emptying bay, reviewing everyone's actions in the battle. Nyx was relating the details of 'the shot' as Jonathan had taken to calling it, when Mitch noticed a man lying behind some equipment. He motioned for Jason to step over with him.

"This one is alive," Forester announced after a quick once over, "But unconscious." This drew the rest of the group's attention over to the man attached to the deck with a safety line. The man was dressed in a standard technician's coveralls and safety harness.

Holly got a good long look at the unconscious man lying on the deck before her. He was clean-shaven, with a short, almost military style haircut. "I've seen him before, she said softly, searching her memory for the name that went along with the face.

Forester didn't know the name either, but he too knew the face. "This is one of Kilkenny's men. He was one of the officers on board the patrol ship Bravado." Mitch figured that the officer might have some vital information that may give them a clue as to what this operation was about and how to stop it. "We want this guy with us," he told Richards. "The Navy doesn't even hear about him. At least for now anyway."

Grant knew enough to trust Forester's instincts. He motioned towards Bimmer and Chief Malstrom. "Take him back to the Surfer. And do it quietly. We don't want to attract the Navy's attention. If anyone asks, he's one of us," he whispered.

"When I got out of bed this morning I never figured I'd be slinking around like a spy in a foreign space station," he grumbled good naturedly. "Been a good idea just to pull the covers over my head and stay there."

Grant wasn't fooled for a second. He knew the old Chief was a cowboy at heart from way back. Malstrom was a character. But, then, the X-Corps was filled with characters. He turned his attention to Jaz. "Is the new ship ready to go?"

Jaz nodded. "It's all checked out. The only thing left is to finish to registration computer work. All she needs is a name."

Richards looked at the group around him. "Any ideas?"

Nyx's face clouded over in thought for a moment, and then brightened. "How about the Cosmic Gypsy?" she offered.

Everyone agreed that the name sounded good, so Jaz went to finish the computer work. And, since this ship would be used like the Blue Dream, he was going to set up some alternate identities for her as well.

~ * ~

The team, along with the distinguished Senator Andron Mial and the beautiful scout/spy Holly Nyx made their way from the hangar bays to the relative comfort of the passenger area of the Solar Surfer. InCoulden was at work on two droids. Located in the forward part of the cargo hold, the passenger area consisted of a few acceleration couches located around a small table.

Comfortably seated, Forester asked Mial, "You had something you wanted to tell us, Senator?"

"Yes, although now that I think about it, it may be nothing. When I was looking through Central Files for some information, I came across a list of all the movements of all the major system leaders for the last six months or more."

"Their itineraries?" Richards asked. "Nothing strange about that."

The Senator shook her head. "No. This was not the public itinerary. This was a detailed list of their movements, travel times, the name, classification, make, model, and ID of those ships involved. The people they met. Who they were with. Things the public never learns." She looked around at the assembled faces. Richards, interested. Cruze and Nyx quiet and waiting. Forester, neutral and expressionless. But his smiling eyes gave him away. Something was going on in that canny mind of his. "Doesn't any of this sound strange to you."

"It does sound odd," Mitch admitted. "Do you know who is compiling this list?" He knew bureaucracies liked to keep track of everything.

"The file had a computer password on it, Echo 13, and a name. It had been started by someone in the Galactic Naval staff."

"What interest would the Navy have in that kind of data?" Richards asked for the assembled group. "When I was on the Naval Staff, we never kept up with it. We didn't much care who was going where. But, then we were also busy putting an end to the Nebahl Revolts." The codeword sounds familiar though, Richards thought. Echo 13 was something from his past, he was sure of it. If he could only put his finger on what it was....

The Senator's commlink beeped. "Yes," Mial answered.

"Senator Mial, Captain Trahn has completed his investigation. The Courageous can leave at your convenience."

Andron stood up to leave as Eram Bimmer came in. She did not notice the change in Richards face. Mitch caught it, though. "Senator, it's been a pleasure as always," he beamed at her. "Keep in touch, won't you?"

"Of course," she said, and walked out of the passenger lounge.

Bimmer waited until Mial was out of the compartment before he spoke. "Our friend is waking up," he said in the rough, gravelly voice typical of his humanoid race. "I suggest we wait until we get in hyperspace before we talk to him, make him sweat awhile."

"Thanks," Forester said before turning to Grant. "Okay," he asked, "did you just figure out what this Echo 13 means?"

"Maybe," Richards allowed, not saying any more on the subject. He did have an idea of what it might mean, but he wanted to check through his records first just to be sure. "As soon as the Cosmic Gypsy is ready, we can lift off. I'm sending Jaz, Mcklure, and Cruze over to crew the Gypsy. The rest of us will bring back the Surfer."

"Good," said InCoulden after Cruze departed. "Then I can work on these two." Both droids sat powered down with their access panels open.

"What's wrong with these two?" asked Holly Nyx.

"Bad motivators. Both of them when to shit on the way over here. Besides which, I wanted to adjust their personality programs."

"What's the problem with the programs?" she asked as she got up off the couch, preparing to leave the lounge.

"They weren't what we expected," InCoulden said, picked up another tool, and put his head back into his work.

"That can be a problem," Nyx said over her shoulder, passing through the entrance to the lounge.

. .