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Fiction, Science Fiction, Serial Novels
Echo 13, Prologue
by: Derek Hawkins
From the Files of The X-Corps
Somewhere in the depths of space resides a small band of men. Men who do the impossible. Men who take on the dirty jobs nobody else can or will do. This is their story . . .
Legends and myths have been passed on from generation to generation throughout time. Missing star fleets of mighty warships. Lost planets of unbelievable wealth. That the home of the human race was a small, undistinguished, third rate, blue-green planet orbiting the star Sol. Some say that these are just children's tales, to be told at bed time and nothing more. But all myths and legends are somewhere based on truth. Over the past few years a new legend has arisen, about a group of men that run around the galaxy doing the impossible. Most credit these tales to drunken star pilots. But a few believe that the legend is true, that this mysterious group of men is real. You decide.
The history of the Galaxy was long and rich, filled with wars and heroes, expansion and discovery.
The present government was established in 3247. It has survived for some fifteen hundred years. Before that came over a thousand years of expansion and war. The human expansion into the galaxy began during the twenty-second century of Earth's history. Faster than light travel was developed and the first wave of Human expansion began with the settling of the other habitable planets in what would become the Terran sector.
In the centuries following this first wave, humans began to make contact with the other races of the galaxy. Many of these initial contacts went badly, igniting round after round of warfare. This period has come to be called the Alien Wars by both sides. The combatants settled on a truce and later came to form uneasy alliances with each other.
After time these ties became stronger, and both the humans and the other races began to form a loose confederation of states called the Galactic League of States. It survived for only ninety years. The League came apart almost as quickly as it had been formed. Factions on all sides resented the association with the 'aliens' and began a long rebellion against the League. After fifteen years of guerrilla warfare, the League relented and disbanded in 2907.
The next three centuries were a dark time in the history of the galaxy, and showed the growing need for some type of centralized government. The rebel factions that had caused the fall of the League of States now kept the galaxy in a constant state of low intensity warfare, putting down every attempt to form a new government. One Human finally had enough. His name was Nathan Kyzanzky. Kyzanzky met with others who were also fed up with the constant warring. They formed a secret alliance and began planning a counter rebellion, quietly stockpiling weapons and building small fleets of warships. Ten years later, the alliance was ready to make it's move.
They struck fast, hard, and brutally at the rebel factions. Two years later, two bloody years of war later, it was over. The rebel factions had been extinguished, never to ignite the flames of war again. Peace returned to the galaxy and the alliance leaders gathered together and formed the current government.
They organized the new representative government around a Senate. Each Senator represented a sector of space. Each sector was a group of star systems that had been grouped together for political or economic reasons or from mutual defense pacts during the dark times.
The Senate was headed by a President, elected by the Senate to a term of five standard years. Kyzanzky was elected the first President of the Senate. There was no set limit to the number of successive terms a President could serve. Most of the popular Presidents were elected to two and even three terms. It depended on how well each President served during his or her term.
For fourteen hundred ninety five years the government had operated without interruption. Certainly, it wasn't perfect, and there had been adjustments made along the way. But it had lasted. And it had brought profound changes to the galaxy.
The government established a galaxy wide communications network, linking every part of the galaxy with every other part of the galaxy. With the new era of peace in the galaxy came prosperity and exploration. Many scientific discoveries were made. New parts of space in and out of the galaxy were charted and explored.
The galaxy was at peace, but all was not as well as it appeared. For the last century or so, the fringe elements of society have been growing restless. Piracy was becoming an increasing problem galaxy wide....
The Ferry of the Dead
The deep blackness of space surrounded the star liner Rand's Adventure as it soared through the eternal night sky. Looking almost like an oversized racer, with its raked back nacelle pylons and its rounded lines, the ship was a converted cruise liner, and carried on its hull the official seal of the Del Drax system. The Adventure was on it's way to a special session of the Galactic Senate. On the bridge of the ship there was a palpable sense of tension, of weary nerves. It seemed strange to the communications technician on duty that the Captain was on the bridge at 02:15 standard. It had never happened before on his shift, although he did have to admit this was a new Captain he was serving under. The Adventure's regular captain had taken sick just the day before they were scheduled to leave port, delaying the departure until the new Captain, who offered to make the trip to Theralia, could arrive and take command. He supposed the new captain's being on the bridge now had something to do with the fact that the ship was carrying an important Senate delegation. Or, the technician thought, it could be the Captain was on the bridge to guide the Adventure through this "short cut" the ship was on.
Standing at the spacious forward view port on the equally spacious cruise liner's bridge, the Captain, it appeared to the technician, was worried about the "short cut" that they were on. This particular route would shave two days off of their travel time, but it would cut through the edge of a dangerous asteroid field.
The Captain checked with the navigator to be assured that the Rand's Adventure was on course, his course. The navigator was also new, the technician noted. The navigator was an unknown, his skills unfamiliar to the crew, and this was probably contributing to the unease he was feeling on the bridge. The new Captain had informed the crew before they left that he knew of a safe route through the edge of the asteroid field. This route was seldom used anymore, except for the occasional daredevil smuggler and foolish young star pilot. It was just too dangerous at high sub-light speeds. Many a young captain had lost a star ship on the edge of this field, trying to prove how hot a star pilot they were or trying to evade the authorities, the Captain of the Rand's Adventure knew. Glancing around at the crew manning the bridge dressed in their gleaming white uniforms trimmed in the official colors of Del Draxia, and matching the interior decor of the bridge, he figured that one more wouldn't make a difference.
What had been a quiet, though uneasy, watch on the bridge ended in the blink of an eye for the technician. Suddenly, the technician's headphones were filled with noise. The transmission was broken up and hard to understand at first. It took him a moment to understand the transmission, being slightly garbled as it was. When he did understand it finally, realization set upon him swiftly
"Captain," the communications technician called, "I am receiving a distress signal from just a bit further inside the asteroid field." The technician listened for a few more seconds. "There is a hull breach forming. The ship is losing pressurization."
The Captain paced the bridge for a moment, apparently considering the situation. He ordered a new course setting, to respond to the signal. "Helm, come around to 090 mark 0. Make your speed one-half ahead. I want to check this distress signal out. All gunners to your batteries, In case we should have to cut our way through the field." Facing the view-screen on the forward bridge, he spoke again. "Careful," he intoned, "I have a feeling that this could be a trap . . . "
* * *
The Scout watched as the patrol ship winked out of existence. The darkened ship was left behind, without any visible power sources in operation, apparently to drift into the asteroid field and be destroyed. The Mining Scout decided to check out the abandoned vessel, on the remote chance that there may still be people aboard.
With a secure airlock established between the two ships, the Scout transferred over to the derelict. There was no assurance of pressurization on the other ship, so the Scout was wearing a fully enclosed space suit as a precaution. First thing was to restore power, so that meant going down to Engineering.
The Scout traveled down the empty corridors, the searchlight in hand swinging along the white painted walls and deck and ceiling with Red and gray border striping top, middle, and bottom. It was almost eerie moving through the darkened ship ... almost like walking the decks of a ghost ship. The cabins on this deck of the ship revealed themselves to the handheld searchlight to be mostly empty, except for a few, that showed signs of recent use. The interesting fact, though, was that these didn't appear to be crew quarters. They looked more like plushly appointed VIP accommodations. Based on the over turned table and chairs, and the scattered cushions strewn about the floor that the Scout saw, it looked like VIP accommodations that had been left in a hurry, or like the occupants had been forced out. That was curious. Crew Cabins would be further down in the ship, the Scout knew, closer to the operating areas of the ship and out away from the passengers view.
The Scout continued down into the bowels of the ship. The going was decidedly slow. With main power out, the turbo lifts were frozen in position, wherever fate left them to spend eternity at in this new ghost ship. The Scout was often forced to leave the turbo shaft whenever a dead lift blocked the path between decks and take to the maintenance crawl spaces to continue onward to Engineering.
The scene in Engineering that greeted the Scout could only be described as gruesome at best. The Engineering crew was dead at their posts. All of them. The Scout could detect no physical marks on the bodies, but all of the crew's limbs were cramped, like they would have suffered muscle spasms and tightened up, similar to electrocution. That was most curious. The displays told an equally grim story; all main power units were off-line. Permanently. The ship was as dead as its crew. Whoever is responsible for this knew what they were doing, the Scout thought. There was enough back-up battery power to control the docking thrusters, but that was about it. The docking controls were up on the Bridge, so that was the next stop.
During the trip to the Bridge the Scout checked some of the crew cabins along the way, which only confirmed what the Scout feared and already suspected. The entire crew had been killed. This was a mass-murder on top of a possible kidnaping. The Scout took a moment to study the layout of the Bridge. Something seemed wrong with the scene, but the Scout could not put a finger on it. The docking controls would be located at the helm position on most star ships. The Scout gently removed the crewman seated there and studied the controls, finding the docking controls on-line, and fired up the thrusters. The bulk of the asteroid field was to the ship's starboard side, so that wasn't the way to go. The starboard side thrusters fired for a few seconds, then shut off. That corrected the drift towards the asteroids. Another burst pointed the ship towards open space.
After setting a directional beacon to warn passing ships, the Scout looked around the ship, hoping to try and pick up a clue as to what happened. Something really important happened here. But what could kill the entire crew in one instant? Nothing readily came to mind. They hadn't been shot, for there were no marks on the bodies, and they hadn't been deep spaced. All of the crew was present and there was no opening left in the hull.
Then on the way back from the ferry of the dead something clicked. The something that had bothered the Scout on the Bridge. The Captain and the Navigator were missing...