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Excerpt for Alfuego Nemisis I: Awakening by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







ALFUEGO: Nemesis



Book I

Awakening


G. Weldon Tucker

#TheStoryteller





The use of names of countries, religions and religious beliefs, or the interpretation of such information is not intended to parallel or portray any group of people, anywhere on or off the planet. The accuracy with which the story is told is merely coincidental where it is true, and accidental where it is not. Please forgive my lack of precision and instead, enjoy the story for what it is intended, fiction.



©2013 G. Weldon Tucker- Tampa Bay, FL- USA


Novels by the Storyteller:

Gambler’s Lot (Romance/Suspense)

Robin’s Heritage (Paranormal/Suspense)

The Janitor - 3 part series

(Action/Adventure)

The Alfuego - 3 part series (SciFi-

Adventure)

Angela’s Torment-3 parts

(Action/Romance)

Dread-A Love Story (Paranormal/Romance)

High Country Terror – 4 parts

(Lady Det. Action/Humor)

Wolf’s Nightmare – 3 parts (Para/Suspense)

Death Trap – 5 part series

(Action/Suspense)

Wit- Sec (Action/Suspense)

Western (Occult)

Kin- Gray’s Dilemma – Flashback-

Confrontation.




Before

After barely coming out on top in a spectacular deep space battle, for which the juggernaut, the A. S. P. Alfuego, was designed, the huge vessel was alone, without engines or power, and helpless. In space, millions, even billions of kilometers, in distance or speed, mean nothing. There is too much of it. And easy to get lost.

So, out of control, without record or responsibility for direction or speed, seemingly forever, the big vessel drifted for almost three years at near light speed, while the surviving forty-one members of the crew, barely ten percent remnant, worked feverishly to get things patched up and running.

Lacking real engineers and techs, cooks and service personnel learned new duties the hard way, at the School of Hard Knocks. Space sailors are a hardy, inventive bunch.

No techs? Promote a warehouseman. Missing weapons masters? Train a Quartermaster.

But the Alfuego, tumbling awkwardly along, was moving damned fast. At eighty-five percent the speed of light, roughly 850,000 kilometers per hour, the big ship was a mere bullet. No controls, no steering, no stopping. Hang on and ride… maybe forever.

There are no real boundaries in space. Solar systems, regardless of the type of star, do not grow close to one another, else they would tear each other apart. So, ‘drifting’, even at high speed, from one system to another might take a year or more, and in that year, they would be well over eight hundred billion kilometers into oblivion.

Newton’s Law of Motion describes it well: The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force. Until they hit something, or got caught in some star’s gravity and pulled into orbit… or a flaming crash, they were trapped.

Without a computer for the first eighteen months, they did not even have a course to backtrack.

Every nearby, meaning within a few hundred million kilometers, planet, every star, added a little bend to the course, or turned them, sometimes, almost ninety degrees in the whip-like grasp of gravity. They felt it, they logged it, but there would be no coming back this way.

The hapless survivors learned enough about the technical aspects, studying the manuals, to keep the water flowing, the air clean, the sewage and other people-oriented services functioning. At the eighteenth month, they got the computer, named Axe, running, but only at seventy percent. As anyone knows, a computer running at seventy percent is borderline junk, and should probably be tossed out into the street. Figuratively, of course. No streets out there in space.

The computer helped to stop the tumbling as it began to regain control of the ship. And then, as it was designed, it began fixing itself.

At ninety percent functionality, the Alfuego crew could go under sleep travel, trusting the computer to know when to bring them up.

So, there were no live crew standing by and trust of the system had been absolute.

Eventually, after fifty years dreamless sleep, they were awakened by a fully restored Axe, who knew what to recognize as a functional solar system. They were still somewhere out in the Milky Way, as it would take over one hundred thousand light years to cross it. Even at their best speed of five times the speed of light, that would be more like twenty thousand years.

So, they still had to be in their own back yard, but which way? An unknown, but they were lucky to have enough speed to hold an orbit, far out in the dark corners. No apparent enemies about, but no friends, either. So far. They knew about aliens, it was aliens that put them in this position.

This gave them time to regroup, rebuild, and get their heads back on straight. But it took them no time at all to realize that they were, indeed, hopelessly lost. They had traveled another fifty trillion kilometers into, well, nowhere.

Well, human beings are never quite hopeless. There is always some shred of hope, and a determination in space crews, to find a way. But it did not look good, that was certain.

Returning home under normal service was most often done through Jump Points. Small beacons that reported their own location, direction, as well as the vessels that passed through it, en route to somewhere else. Make the Jump, settle into sleep for five, ten, fifty years, and bingo, you were there. Sort of. And, of course, those Jump Points were like bread crumbs in the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

They had no bread crumbs…


Book I

Awakening


CHAPTER 1

No enemies, no friends, my ass! Okay, so this was a BL. A damned bitch litany. Leala ducked, but the shot was close enough for her to feel the heat on her cheek, right through the polycarb shield! The thick beam chewed a three inch half circle off the titanium steel bulkhead next to where she and only one other officer had taken refuge. A goddam closet. Like she could find something smaller? And an unsuitable refuge it was, too.

The other crewman, David “Davey-Jones” Jones, First Lieutenant, lay barely alive, two of those massive holes in his upper right chest, right through the armor. The burn was so heavy and powerful it cauterized the wounds.

No blood, he might as well have been a plastic doll, with two big holes in him. She could see right through them… Jesus!

The BL went like this... They should have known their enemy. They should have seen them coming. They did neither. They did not know the unbelievable power of the alien weapons, either. Or the super strength of the armor plate the creatures wore… if it was not their skin. And it prevented her from taking off arms or heads with her own laser weapon… if the damn things had arms or heads. And if the battery on her Gentlink had not died. She was approaching powerless. As in, nothing to do but die. Yada, yada, yada…BL.

But Commander Leala Corrinder was made of sterner stuff. One did not get to be the Master of a frigate, the A. S. P. Alfuego, by being a pussy. Of course, as a Commander, without either a Captain on board or an Admiral present, she was the Captain, a right not necessarily awarded, but settled upon her by circumstance.

This being the vicious collision of two species, in that last multi ship battle. A sudden attack, a very nasty, high tech battle, and in less than eighteen minutes, it was over.

But it was, at best, a Pyrrhic Victory. The phrase is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War on Earth. It was a win, but it was a battle which left everybody, including the victors, mostly dead. As King Pyrrhus put it, so legend goes, “One more such victory and we will be undone.” Now, twenty six centuries later, Leala had been forced to see her victory the same way.

In this case, they saved only one of seven vessels, the Alfuego, and less than ten percent of the crew. One could not afford to win battles with that much attrition.

But it had also taken out Admiral Jackson Bellvue’s flagship, A. S. P. Quester, and, on her own ship, her Captain and so much of the crew. So, by attrition, she was now IT. As in tag, you’re it! They were powerless for a long time, thereafter, and had there been a single alien assault ship still functioning, the Alfuego would have been toast.

She ducked again, muttering under her breath. It was a human reaction, to duck something deadly and frightening, even if the danger was long, long past your ear.

Like it mattered, she thought, grimly. If I do not kill these bastards, there will be no ship, no command, no Leala, no nothing…

She took a quick glance behind her, where Davey-Jones lay gasping his last breath. He still held his Gentlink across his chest. A soldier to the end.

The three green lights on the exposed right side told her that his weapon was fully charged. Davey-Jones had gotten off only one shot before he was completely pierced by whatever these damned aliens were using.

The Gentlink was a point and shoot weapon, built similar to a shotgun, with no sights and an adjustable output pattern. The broad beam setting was very much like that shotgun, and she had wasted half a dozen blasts before she realized that it did not faze the black clad lumps of clay… or Jell-O. Whatever.

Leala could not tell what was under that armor. She had yet to strike a killing blow. Hell, she did not even see where the damned high intensity laser beams came from. She could see no weapon. Had to be part of the damn things’ suits!

Leala could see that David’s was on the orange setting, midway to precision, far more than stun, but not quite a killer, either. But the precision setting? Now there was a weapon!

That was where the tightly focused beam would indeed penetrate almost anything, even if it did a smaller amount of damage. But it would go on for a long, long time, well beyond the intense, close quarters of this battle. Or this ship.

The Alfuego laser cannons, good for anything in twenty-five thousand kilometers could destroy or seriously damage a target. The personal weapons, while smaller, had the range, if not quite the killing power at it. In other words, no need to use a sledgehammer on a fly, but then, using a flyswatter on an armed alien was not proving too swift either.

In any case, she had tried to stick to the ROE, rules of engagement. It was Alliance Security Patrol rules to stun, then kill, if necessary. Leala was well past the point of deciding to kill.

But this time, they’d simply got caught with their hands in their pockets. Somehow, she had to get that weapon off David.

Damn it. Well, sooner, now, for then he was dead, even as she watched his chest settle, and the grip on his weapon eased.

She eyed her other weapon, the hand pistol, also a laser, but destroyed in an unlucky shot from the first invader, barely ten minutes ago. The damn things had appeared on the bridge by some kind of transcender, maybe a teleporter, something the Alliance had been working on for more than two centuries with no luck.

The squat, ugly creatures had simply materialized throughout the huge expanse of the Alfuego, opening fire, and God only knew what happened to the rest of her crew. Her own pistol lay shattered several feet away on the deck. She was lucky she had not lost a hand.

Like a ship at sea, the bridge held the nerve center of the vessel behind it, her knowledge and a thousand controls, manual and computerized kept the battle ship well- tuned and ready for its missions. The aliens knew it, and went for it. And had nearly decapitated the Alfuego in the first few seconds of the fight. BL.

With no sight bead on her longer barreled Gentlink, Leala could not hook the strap that lay invitingly across Davey-Jones’ chest, attached at either end to his own weapon. Nothing else was within her reach, either. She was screwed.

Six meters away, across from her position, also sheltered by another titanium steel doorframe, four of the aliens waited, taking the occasional shot. Maybe they were unaware that her weapon was discharged. They acted like automons, taking their time, taking turns, not being very creative about it. It gave her time to think, though she knew she had to think faster.

Damn it, she was not destined to be the rising star of the Alliance Security Patrol only to die out here in some God forsaken corner of the galaxy no one ever even heard of!

Crap, she’d be space dust before anyone found her!

She eyed David’s boots, only a few feet from her right leg. If she was quick enough, she could jerk him to her, and get that rifle up in time to stop the inevitable charge.

Well, she had to do it. Two good reasons. First, she desperately needed the Gentlink, and, second, David’s pistol was still on the belt at his waist. He’d had the presence of mind, once they realized they had been boarded, and while taking fire, to turn and jerk the two Gentlinks off the mounting brackets and toss her one.

That had cost him, as the lead alien put a hole right into his chest and out the back. His one shot back was a reflex, and useless. Their second was final.

He was already out of it. She had gone for her pistol, showing amazing dexterity, even as she caught the rifle one handed. But then the aliens were on them, and it was too late.

Right now, it was highly probable that forty other men and women lay in various postures of death somewhere in the big frigate.

She knew this because every one of them had a life monitoring device that relayed green for life and red for death, their status, that she could call up with the touch of a button on her cuff. Her HUD showed all red. All of them! Heartbreaking

One, her own daughter, Krista, almost seventeen. Damn it, she had been too young for this kind of trip, but she had been adamant about coming with her mother. But that was five ‘space’ years ago, when Krista was almost twelve, and they were then on Colspice, over three hundred light years behind them, somewhere.

Leala had parked her daughter there, under the care of her ex-husband, a military history professor at the university, for safe keeping. A baby underfoot makes a tough distraction when constantly on the alert for the next thing to kill them!

But, Leala was just as anxious to keep her daughter with her. Besides, her baby would be over a hundred years dead before Leala could get back to Colspice, let alone Earth!

Such are the vagaries of hyperspace travel. Hundreds of light years out, meant hundreds of years gone behind them. Maybe not quite with the Alfuego, because it could sustain five times the speed of light forever. But distance? Now, there was a staggering number. Trillions of kilometers a year. No man or woman had been here before them. Certainly, not out here in the middle of bum… well, so it goes…BL.

She ducked a sudden bright bolt just over her head, taking another chip off the steel. She realized, suddenly, that there was almost a cadence to their shooting. Robots? Each taking a single shot, one alien, one shot, three seconds apart. Rotating? That was a three second window to turn the tide.


CHAPTER 2

Making up her mind, timing it between the seemingly predictable cadence of the alien shooters, Leala whirled, grasped the nearest boot of the big man, who outweighed her slim one twenty by a good sixty pounds, and jerked, hard, throwing her solid, well-toned mass into the effort.

The Alfuego had a well-made, faux gravity system, and so real weight was real heavy. But, on the brushed steel deck, his silksteel fatigues glided easily, and in fact, so quickly that she was caught off guard, and fell back behind the narrow wall on her butt, just avoiding two bright orange beams of light that tore up more supposedly indestructible wall.

So, they did react to movement. Two shots at once. Did they ever run out of power?

But now she had weapons. She hurriedly slipped the selector on the Gentlink to red, which was tight precision, and deadly as hell, regardless of the armor these assholes wore.

She dropped low, prone, popping out around the door frame like a cowboy in an old western. The aliens had apparently never seen a western, their immediate shots going high, even as she pulled the trigger.

The crisp BRRZZZAP! of the weapon was accompanied by a thick ozone odor, and a small hole appeared in the titanium border of the far opening. The nearest alien went down, a smoking hole in the center of his body mass, barely the diameter of a pencil. Behind him, another went down, and before she could blink, a tremendous, and very colorful, if not deathly quiet explosion occurred just beyond the thick polycarb glass! The quiet told her it was out in space, no molecules of air or anything at all to conduct sound. Good riddance alien chariot!

Orange, green and red fire went in all directions on the other side of the huge electronically controlled windows, billowing in odd streaks and clouds, and despite the fascinating display, she knew, then, she was as dead as Krista. Just like these hapless creeps. The explosion would surely take the Alfuego and all her occupants to hell in a single blast.

But, to her utter amazement, the only thing that happened was that the remaining two aliens and their dead companions simply disappeared! As in, dematerialized!

Whatever had held them together had gone down with their ship! Shades of Star Trek, she thought, grinning ruefully. They did have a few hundred vid copies in the entertainment room.

But she was certainly not out of danger. She kept her head down, and held her breath. A big ship can take a long time to blow itself to bits.

No further explosions occurred. Whatever had blown up was apparently too small to shake the Alfuego, a monster of a frigate, so named for Admiral Huey R. Alfuego, but loosely translated by Captain and crew to ‘Off We Go!’

Well, at a full one and half kilometer long and a half kilometer in diameter, built like the huge, solid warship it was, it could take a hell of a lot of damage before it was unable to Jump. Yet, even as they spread out into the then near universe, they found plenty of aliens with even bigger ships, transports, evacs, construction types. But none were as fast or as deadly as the Alfuego. So far…

-----

Very, very cautiously, Leala started peering around the various corners of the bridge, finding no other creatures, dead or alive. Just to be sure, she thumbed the reader on her cuff and still got all reds. Dammit. Really frightening. Heartbreaking. Krista, Daniel Wooler, her daughter’s boyfriend, a Lieutenant Junior Grade, who should know better… but then, along with them, a good crew, all wasted.

Leala made certain, this time, that the titanium and steel door was sealed, then hurried to find the small patches needed to stop the alarming hissing.

The pressurized cabin was emitting precious oxygen into space through quarter inch sized round holes. Two of them. One from an errant previous tight shot, and over the controls bridge, one from her last ‘rescue’ shot, which went under the control deck, through the hulls and into the enemy ship.

I hope there were fifty bad guys waiting in that shuttle. Barbecued aliens. She was pushing her anger. Anything else right now, she knew, was a nervous breakdown.

Minutes later, having applied what might well have been bicycle tube patches, she held her breath. Obviously, all the pressure was inside the ship. And a small hole, up to an inch diameter could actually be repaired with the silicon flaps. They worked perfectly. There were bigger, steel reinforced ones for serious holes, but they were not needed. Not in here. There was yet no telling what the rest of the ship had suffered.

Now, she sat down in the torn Pilot’s chair and took stock. Her head was spinning in shock. She took a small sens-tab from the aid box off the wall and swallowed it dry. It was not the strength of a true downer, but it would at least calm her so she could think.

She and David had put a few rounds this direction, but the ‘shotgun’ pattern was designed to take life, not electronics. She had tried not to damage the bridge. Still, the chair had a half dozen torn up spots. So much for expensive alien leather. At least the computer was alive. The cursor was in the hourglass mode, which meant it was rebooting, or standing by for her commands. Or worse, hopelessly defunct.

There was no reason to hurry back into the guts of the big frigate, what with everyone dead. So, she paused to investigate this alien intrusion.

“Axe, system check!”

“Yes, Commander.” Instant response, as usual.

That was a relief! Not that Axe could do anything about the invaders, but without him in the far reaches of outer space, she was utterly helpless. As soon as she had the computer with her, she replayed the security data from thirty minutes ago forward, looking for their attackers.

The entire battle had taken barely eleven minutes. The aliens had one hell of a stealth technology, for not a single blip, nor flag of warning occurred until… there! Damn it, right there!

The alien rig was barely larger than the Alfuego’ crew shuttle, about twenty meters long, and amazingly stealthed, but the sensitive skin of the frigate had detected the cold metal, or whatever the thing was made of, attaching like a leech.

But, before the signal had reached the super computer’s alarm system, the aliens had breached the hull without cutting in, or even seeking a door.

Leala was convinced it was some kind of teleportation. She wished she had been able to save that technology.

The final few minutes of the data showed the shuttle blowing to tiny, tiny pieces of space dust, right outside the nose, when the piercing laser took it out. Lucky shot, she thought, smiling grimly.

Well, it looked like she and Davey-Jones had put up the only counterattack. Everyone else showed up dead in the first few seconds. God, she could only hope Krista went quickly. Who, or what killed the others? she wondered. She could feel the sens-tab taking affect. She should be in helpless tears over Krista. But it was as if she were an observer, taking stock, checking off the casualties.

On the vids records, all digital, of course, she could observe most of the public rooms and the workrooms.

So, it took only a few moments to discover what happened. Dainty Delicia, the young Hispanic Ensign in the galley had moved lightning fast, but she was taken out before she even got her pistol in hand.

Two aliens. They had simply ‘appeared,’ fired two rounds, and then the cook, Art Duroc, ‘Frenchie,’ for obvious reasons, took out both aliens with a Gentlink. The bandwidth was medium, the damage to the wall serious, but it did not puncture. More aliens appeared right behind the cook, and he was toast.

The vids were pretty clear. The story was repeated room for room where the crew was found in the huge ship. The aliens entered, killed and often died, only to be replicated a slight distance behind the defenders. Yet the bodies remained. So, something or someone was controlling this. Perhaps a very clever computer.

And during that round of battles, she and hapless Davey-Jones and tried to hold the bridge. Apparently, none of the warning signals got through, though half the crew tried.

But then, something happened that shocked her. Just before the explosion outside the hull, something happened to the alien bodies, and with a blinding flash of light, each area was consumed by something like a booby trap.

Explosions? SHIT!

The aliens were down, apparently dead, and then, each of them, within only a few minutes, simply exploded. Maybe something on their suits. But now, each room was devoid of bodies, any living or dead creatures at all. In fact, it appeared there was no biological indicator at all!

Holding her face in her hands, fighting it, she almost sobbed, biting her knuckles to keep control, knowing that she was probably the only one left.

The sens-tab was fighting to help, but this was so damned… despairing. But then, where the hell was Krista… and Danny? She played back the vids, but in the confusion and the interference from bright, high energy blasts from the Gentlink rifles, it was hard to identify all the players.

Leala suddenly realized how lucky she had been. She had killed the two aliens, thereby setting the charge timers, if that was the case, but then the shuttle had gone up, and all the remaining bodies and live aliens went with it. Wow

But, in the long run, she was about ready to admit she might have been better off if she had, like the others, ceased to exist. This was going to be an ongoing nightmare…

The calm, cool, baritone of the ship’s computer sounded, cutting through her thoughts. “Proximity explosions, Commander, twenty-five hundred kilometers aft on the port side. Either a clean miss or a warning.” The computer was not a very exciting communicator, but it was adequate. “Another. And another, I count four, Commander. Looks like short range torpedoes on self-destruct.”

“Axe, what are they from?” She had so named the computer when she first came on board, one, because she had to develop a fairly tight relationship with it if she were to keep her craft under her, and two, it had a way of cutting through the confusion and clutter of a multi vehicle battle in a way that was most deserving of the name.

“Unknown, Commander. There is a stealth ship behind us, and I can only barely make it out, range fifty-one thousand kilometers, but it is retreating. Not nearly as large as the Alfuego, by half, but well concealed. The explosions may be screens to mask its escape.”

The Alfuego had stealth, too, but in a very outmoded manner. As in the bombers of more than two to three hundred years prior, the entire ship was sharp angles, deep ridges and varying angled deflective planes. It carried no radar absorbing surface, as that would not survive hyperspace.

That sort of thing was functional in atmosphere, where the wind currents and such worked with the odd angles to destroy the target’s return on radar.

Often a huge bomber might show a return no bigger than a swallow. But, in space, that was trouble. There are no swallows. Any return at all, no matter how small, caught the eye of the alien watchers. And a nuke tossed at a sparrow was certain to destroy the hidden giant behind it. She would love to have stealth characteristics of these bogeys.

“Axe, you and I cannot fight a live target alone. Give me an intensive search for survivors and let’s get out of this system, pronto!”

“Commander?”

Argh, no order. “Axe, how long to return to the Jump Point?”

“Two hours twenty-one minutes, Commander.”

“Axe, start the process, return to the Jump Point.” She reset all switches, then watched as Axe immediately set about retracing their path to the last Jump Point.

Leala was desperately hoping to get clear of this solar system and its aliens before she was swarmed with more of these things. The computer would handle the details, she just had to formulate the commands.

Jump Points were like landmarks, containing a long, long list of datum that controlled where they went, and how. It was ‘dropped’ automatically, whenever one of the Alliance’s units popped out of hyperspace.

The Jump Points could be billions of kilometers from each other, or they could be a few hundred thousand, no one could tell… but the computer, and it did not share everything. The universe is a desolate place if all you can do is wander and hope.

Leala was not one to give in, easily, of course. So, Commander, Captain, Master, whatever. But, as a lover of all things ancient that had to do with the sea, she preferred Master.

She had fought her way here, both on the congressional floor to allow women the higher ranks, and in the battlefields across nine galaxies. At thirty-five years of age, she was one of the youngest Commanders, as well as probably the prettiest.

Seeing as she had never met the other women, and all the rest she knew about were male. After all, there were over a thousand ships in the Alliance. She knew, personally, maybe a hundred officers. Well, they would all be surprised… But then, probably no one else in the universe would even hear about her ‘promotion’ if she and her limited crew did not prevail…


CHAPTER 3

Alone. She had cried for her daughter, but she also had to stay alert. Completely, helplessly alone, probably several hundred light years from Earth. Nearly three hundred years of sleep travel, at the Alfuego’s five light speed upper travel limit. Better than fifteen hundred light years. It was going to take years for the message to reach Colspice… if it ever got there. For a moment, as she hit the send key to submit the commands, she misted up. Again. Neither she nor Axe knew which direction to send the communication packet. It was, at best, a hopeless gesture.

Leala was a space junkie, had been all her life. She had grown up on Earth, until at ten she had gone with her father to help set up the Colspice interstellar planet. Five different alien cultures combined into one huge Alliance.

It was fascinating to the girl in her formative years, and she was quickly hooked.

Then, at thirteen, her father hauled her into the great unknown… and she never looked back. Krista, poor baby, like mother like daughter.

But, most likely, there was no going home, now. She only needed to get close enough to send the warning out, to beware this area of the huge galaxy and the tricky aliens who had failed to welcome her with open arms. As if they even had arms.

If any near ship, relatively speaking, answered her call for help, she could have a bearing, a course, and then, once she had a course set through the Jump Points, she could be in a friendly corner of the universe in just forty some years. She would put herself in suspended animation for the trip. Alone, again.

Unmolested, possibly not even tailed, the Alfuego was soon nearing the Jump Point, ETA in just a little over an hour. Trusting Axe to automatically feed in the keys and coordinates, she quickly typed in the added warning tag that had to be inserted.

This would give the next Jumper a heads up before they began to cruise the back forty in this huge, immeasurable corner of the Milky Way.

It did not take long for Axe to find out that the Alfuego did not carry powerful enough equipment to see even a third of the way across this section of the huge galaxy, and, of course, could see nothing in the direction of the expanding star.

Sensors in space were astounding. Long before anything could be seen, the ice cold sensors on the various points of the vessel could detect the slightest heat from sometimes several thousand kilometers.

Infrared for long range Jump planning, could pick up the shapes of stars and systems though nearly a hundred thousand light years of space dust, just like the orbital telescopes circling Earth in the twenty first century, and forward. By fifteen to twenty thousand kilometers, the vid cams could pick up vague shapes. The lesser infrared, for detecting and sorting lifeforms was limited deeply, down to two hundred kilometers.

Up to six thousand, if no interference got in the way, space dust or hydrogen molecules, planet scatter, whatever, the matter radar could identify almost any known vessel. However, if too close, say within a hundred million kilometers of the expanding surface of the star, any star, the last two sensors would overload. So, the typical Jump was to the edges of galaxies, as far away from the center as possible.

As soon as she heard Axe confirm his ETA and the gravity sensation to even out, she decided that she needed to conduct a systematic search of the ship. For life, of course, but to take stock, make certain there were no other damages that Axe had missed.

Also, like it or not, to make sure, in turn, she had what she needed to exist out here all alone for the rest of her life. Unless she went into a sleep mode. A gamble that someday, some species would stumble over her.

Probably eat her. Shit!

-----

Axe, calmly, as was his wont, reported, “Four large bogeys off the starboard bow, twenty degrees and more, in orbit, I think, Commander. Range forty-one thousand kilometers. They did not react. We have passed them. No threat signs.”

The last thing she needed right now was another battle. The odds were seriously against her, after two of those Phyrric Victories. “Axe, keep me posted on any change.”

“Yes, Commander.”

Another alien species, or the bad guys regrouping? Only time would tell. With luck she would reach the Jump Point and bail before they caught on. Still time for that physical search of the ship.

Of course she trusted Axe to conduct a complete search, but the system was not obtrusive. Crew quarters, barely cubicles with a door, were not monitored. It required a door to door search.

Or, if the occupants were functional, they should have come out fighting. But, there were only forty rooms allotted after their reawakening, not counting her quarters. Forty does not take that long to search, even singlehandedly. It had to be done.

The frigate, however, was quite large, with hundreds of rooms, a few factory-like sections for repair or fabrications, two galleys, five common rooms. Most of them were automated and fully loaded with weapons and supplies.

After the loss of most of her fleet, well, not hers, exactly, but the Admiral’s, she had set up a tight, well organized schedule that should see them home, once they found a way back.

The remaining forty crewmen worked in five split shifts, a minimal crew of eight to ten, counting her, on line or on call, almost ready at all times. Such was the needs of a frigate that had to be prepared for battle or rescue services at any moment. Even if, now, wandering lost through space, it was mostly a huge, empty shell.

She relied on her silksteel suit and a helmet, just in case the hull was breached and space had intruded, though the computer assured her all hulls were secure.

You can trust your technology blindly, and you won’t be around to complain about its errors. A space truism.

The suits of old, what they called the Michelin Tire Man, were a thing of the past, thank God. Now, slim fitting, highly protective but flexible, the heaviest item on the whole unit was the air breather and helmet combination. So, not so much work to conduct a search.

While the mighty frigate covered the distance back to the Jump Point in just a bit over those promised two hours and twenty minutes, Leala managed to open and hastily check every open residential area of the ship. ‘Open’ meaning so many of the rooms were sealed, as nine tenths of the crew were gone at the battle with the Rogue’s Nightmares. Better to seal them than to allow something unexpected.

Every room was painted a pale white, the better to show contaminants, but now, many of them were coated with a thin black soot from the alien explosions. She knew the crew, of course, not really well, as Masters and crew did not play well together, still, it crushed her to realize so many unnecessary deaths. Some of her lower but fellow officers were friends, but she could not even find their bodies. The explosions had vaporized all biological matter. Damn. But, hope against hope, she looked for any sign of Krista.

The crew’s common rooms had suffered the same fate as the rest of the ship. Pristine walls were dusted with soot, the furnishings equally dirty, and there were no bodies to be found. Carpeting was melted at the site of each alien explosion for a circle nearly three meters in diameter.

But there appeared to be no heavy particles, like steel or lead or whatever. It was all micro stuff, and it had evaporated life. Her suit monitor told her the air was ninety-eight percent quality, so she took a chance, and lifted off the helmet. Still breathable air, recycled and refreshed by Axe and the system. No odors.

Depressed, she sat down on one of the dust covered couches and fought back tears. Poor Krista. She had seen the whole thing as one great adventure. To be truthful, exactly as her mother had done, and nearly the same age. Suddenly, her head came up. What the hell?

Her commlink beeped, followed by a tinny voice. Leala had to hold it to her ear to hear a man calling for help. “Nine crew trapped in the engine blackroom. Can anyone hear us? Please respond!”

The engine blackroom was a well shielded, titanium steel cube that allowed live work on engine parts and Jump Points without threatening the ship. Electronic mesh kept the emissions quiet, and even the computer system could not function in there, as there was nothing that could cause interference allowed.

The mesh also cut down the commlink. The titanium added, should there be an accident, kept the parts inside… unfortunately turning the occupants to mist.

Leala quickly worked her way to the lower levels and finally, through many soot covered shells and damaged doorways, to the main hatch, eventually to the blackroom. She finally responded, “Commander Corrinder here. Can you hear me?”

A female voice, this time. “Oh, God, yes, Commander! It’s Ensign Andrews, ma’am. No one in here is hurt, but we have nine of us trapped in the blackroom. Can you get us out?”

God, she thought, her heart rate seeming to double! Nine more helping hands! There was hope for more, if they could find them! She would, indeed, find a way. “Is Krista with you?”

“Ummm, no, ma’am. She and… ummm, Lieutenant Wooler went somewhere after dinner to… umm talk, ma’am.”

Leala felt that information hit her like a slap. Well, no point worrying about it, now. I have to get the hatch open.

It was typical Navy, with a dog wheel and huge bulkhead of steel. But the main electronic entry port was fried, a piece of useless plastic and steel, all welded into a lump.

The aliens, apparently unable to reach the interior, had simply set the hapless crew up for a long, slow death.

It took Leala nearly an hour to free the men and women. She had, of course, come up through the ranks learning every skill she would need, and welding was certainly one of them.

In the advanced Navy, there was no telling when something was going to break and there might be no one around at all that could fix it. They had proven that over and over these past years. She first searched for the proper equipment, but had no idea where it might be stored. Then, she finally figured out how to melt the lock right off the face of the bulkhead with her laser pistol, and used her utility knife on her belt to pry out the dual tongue.

Then, struggling against the mighty wheel, she fought hard to get the first turn, then another, and finally, it began to spin free. The door opened easily.

Nine hot, sweaty, bedraggled crew staggered out and into her arms, one after another, grateful to be free from their impending coffin, six men, three women.

Only one officer, Sub Lieutenant Caitlyn Kerry, was among the group. If nothing else, she could back up Lieutenant Daniel, J.G.. If he was alive. If they were alive.

Leala thought of that because she thought of her daughter and the Lieutenant. Her boyfriend, none other than Lieutenant Daniel Wooler. If not back up, well, then replace, she thought, grimly.

Ensign Teri Andrews was a short, somewhat stocky, but tough little gal who knew her way around the ship very well. She was well respected for her willingness to get things done. She seemed in about the best shape, and quickly headed up to the galley to look for water and food that would restore some of her fellow ‘cellmates.’

Young crewman Carl Draken spoke up, “Commander, we heard some noises overhead, while we were in there. Someone banging on the walls and floors. This black room tucks up underneath the last few crew quarters on the next deck up… but you probably know that, ma’am?”

Corporal Draken was a fresh faced youngster, who, at nineteen, had signed on to see the universe. Now, four years later, he was older, but still looked like a kid to her. Not any sunlight in here, at all. Kept them all young. Her too.

He was, however, a hell of an environmental engineer, and she was glad to have him still alive. The system has to function in space. All of it.

“Thank you for telling me, Ensign. First thing, we get some food and water in you, and I want search parties. Three to a team. Scour the ship. I will take Andrews and check out the noise overhead. Can you handle that, Ensign Draken?”

“Yes, ma’am!” he stated, swiftly and saluted. After all, he was just, on the spot, promoted!

Andrews, dishwater blonde, with straggly hair now pulled back with a rubber band led the way up to the next deck, munching on an energy bar and taking huge swallows from an oversized water bottle.

She had the tough look, that solid body, square corners, almost, and looked like she could handle anything. Not a soft feminine look, but then, no one was going to tell her that… and come away unscathed.

She had brought an extra of each for Leala, who appreciated it very much. She had not realized how hungry she had become under all this stress.

As the two headed down the central corridor into the crew quarters, they could hear it. The banging.

It was a solid, metronome of a sound, a banging every five seconds or so, coming from far down the corridor.

Like a cruise ship, the corridor was lined with steel doors which allowed access to crew bedrooms. None on this deck were allotted, and all should hold supplies.

Weapons, Leala thought, if she remembered right. All entertainment, food services and such were provided around the open, public crew rooms in the center of each deck. And there were seven decks.

The banging was a long way off. The corridor branched left and right several times, making way for another hundred rooms, most of the old crew quarters, Leala realized, ruefully, now vacant and pretty much useless. Fortunately, the noise seemed to be at the end of this main corridor.

Hopeless battles had occurred here, too, they could see the half melted door handles and the soot covered walls and ceiling. But no bodies.

The banging was coming from the last door, one that stood at the end, across the hall, and was considered the most unpopular room, as it was above the main propulsion system. The crew generally used it for a rec room, as it was larger than the others, and had room for pool tables and table hockey, as well as bunks.

The engines were not just the silent isotope systems envisioned two hundred years ago. Certainly, they were in place to help with the long haul steady increase of speed, but the others were there to provide the ability to dance, so necessary in a battleship of any size. And moving a frigate this size in that dance took a hell of a lot of engines. Four of them.

These specialty drive engines could kick a frigate to unbelievable speeds, quickly, in fact, near the speed of light. Then the isotope engines would kick in with their gentle, ever-present push. If they were not using Jump Points, this was the one, sure way to get to the speed of light, though it took a while. A Jump Point put a ship into hyperspace, at some multiple of the speed of light, instantly. The multiple depended on the ship, and the Alfuego was damned fast.

And even in space, a frigate the size of the Alfuego required a million, billion kilograms of thrust, to wheel and deal…And, yes, back to the problem at hand, it was noisy. Despite the racket of the engines, Leala could still hear the repetitive CLANG!

In between the five to six second clash of metal on the door, Leala hammered her pistol butt on the door. The banging stopped.

The doors were thick, the noise high, and she could hear nothing on the other side. There were no cracks around the door to slide a note. No one answered the communicator when Leala tried. So did Andrews.

Leala checked her commlink, again. Except for the nine now out of their confinement, all other lifeforms showed red, dead. Who the hell was in this room? She had to find out, risking her life, once again. And she would never put a crew in harm’s way, doing jobs she was afraid to do herself.

“Move yourself and the others back around the corner, Andrews.” The woman did as she was told, getting a corner of steel walls between her group and the dangerous attempt the Commander was going to make.

Setting the pistol on medium, Leala moved up close but to one side, rested the top of the pistol against the door and aimed it straight down on the steel electronic card reader.

She tried to pull her body and her feet as far back out of the way as possible. If the card reader exploded, she could be seriously injured. The reader was mostly melted from a nearby explosion, but it would still have the metal tongue locking the door.

She fired.

BRAZZZZZT!” and the lock flew to pieces in globs of plastic and metal. She waited a moment, allowing the red hot parts to cool, then, with Andrews prodding inside the lock with her utility knife, suddenly, the door simply eased open, and Leala, eyes peering down the length of her deadly pistol, kicked it open and sprang into the room. And was immediately speechless!

The first thing she saw was her daughter, Krista, sitting on the nearby cot, half draped in a sheet, and apparently naked under it!

Daniel, unarmed, well, almost, and completely naked, stood in front of her, in a stance for hand to hand combat, as if to protect Krista from this invasion. And it only took Leala about three seconds to put it together. SHIT!

Then, motherly instinct took over, and she rushed to her daughter and almost fell against her, gathering her up in an embrace like there was no way she could ever stop. Then she pulled back, tears in her eyes, and said, “Oh, dear God, thank you, thank you! I thought I had lost you, baby!”

Then the other half, “What the HELL are you doing!”

Andrews, however, was much quicker. She giggled, then said, “Sorry, ma’am,” and hurried away.

Finally, as they all stared, coming down off the defensive high this had produced, Leala managed, “Where… are… your… commlink suits!”

Daniel held out his hands, as of to ward off the impending blast of the pistol, still in her right hand, and said, softly, “I can… explain, Commander. I… we… well, the suits were in that closet over there!”

Leala put away the pistol, looking over at what was left of the closet. Since each crew member’s room sat side by side, somehow, in the efficiency of these things, the closets were side by side, or back to back, and an explosion in the next room over, had fried the door to the frame on this side, and half melted the steel bolts. It was permanently fused, No suits, then.

The kids were trapped… and… naked… and… “Goddam you, Daniel. Krista is only sixteen!”

Krista leaped to the defense of her boyfriend, or maybe leaped to the offense to distract her mother.

“Come on, Mom, it is not the dark ages! I know what I am doing! Besides, I will be seventeen in a few months… I mean, I am not a child!”

Leala threw her hands to her head as if to keep her brains from exploding out of her skull. “No… no, you are not… How can you possibly know what you are doing? So do I know what… dammit…” but then, she stopped.

She was overwhelmed, for a moment. Did the knowledge that her daughter was too much like her mother matter, as much as how the hell they were going to get out of this mess? Wasn’t Leala herself only just seventeen when she carried Krista? Birthed at two months shy of eighteen?

“So, your commlink suits are dead in that closet. That is why I have you both dead on my link. Damn, you scared the hell out of me!”

Daniel tried to shelter Krista as much as possible, handling the conversation. But then, he was older, at twenty two, and this was not his first angry mother encounter. Or father. It could be worse.

As if to distract this one, he asked the right questions about what happened, telling Leala that, for all intents and purposes, they had been trapped away from it all and never saw a thing. The doors fried and they were in serious trouble. They could live on water and air, which was still processing into the room just fine, but they had no food.

Even with nine new people to conduct the hunt, it took a half an hour to find functional commlink suits to fit the latest two. Boots took longer, but hidden away, in various rooms, they managed to collect what they needed.

Leala was pleased to see that as soon as the two kids were dressed, their suits paired to Axe, her sleeve commlink showed them both in the green. Okay, I got a damaged ship, a functional computer, and eleven crew. Not much.

So, now she was just barely above Master of Nothing… It was an improvement.


CHAPTER 4

The Jump Point was not there.

“Axe, what do you mean, not there?” growled Leala, pacing the few free meters of space on the bridge. “You put it out there. Where did it go?”

Jump Points were about the size of basketballs, made of titanium steel and a few different lengths of antennae sticking out. Each Jump Point was carefully programmed and recorded, then went a step farther with triangulation off visible and sometimes invisible stars.

A fourth measurement was always kept, time away from the previous Jump Point.

Down to the micro second, so that a returning vessel could drop out of hyperspace right over that point.

Of course, it would be hauling ass, so exact precision was not measurable.

The crew would be doing its best to get the speed down to something much less reckless, rather than trying to see the Jump Point.

There might be room for error, if the Alliance had not perfected the process. The Alfuego had been traveling in excess of eight hundred thousand coming down, and from that, shutting down damned fast.

This speed was the usual remnant of a slide out of hyperspace, and the ball would be shot back, literally, at the point of the Jump, at that same super high speed so that it remained exactly in the same place.

It was designed to hold its place by orbiting against the star’s usual requirements, if there was one. That kept it seeming to be standing still. A well-practiced and accurate performance.

But it was always visible on their various radar equipment for thousands of kilometers. Even if Axe was off by a few kilometers, it should be easy to find. But Axe was never off, not even by a few centimeters.

“We are sitting right over it, Commander. I cannot find the Jump Point, and I am looking now a hundred thousand, four hundred six point four kilometers out. That is the limit of my present equipment until repairs are completed. It could be destroyed, but I see no debris to indicate it. It could be stolen.”

“Stolen? Jesus Christ!”

“Commander?”

Shit. Computers! She had to think!

Krista, still a bit pink in the face from her mother’s recent discovery, entered the bridge in the midst of this and delivered a rather incredible dinner plate with a variety of food from the galley, setting it gently in front of Leala on the open desk. Then, she added a canned soda. “What does he mean, he can’t find it?”

Leala almost smiled. Everyone else thought Axe was a computer, a non-sentient working machine, and called Axe an ‘it.’ Krista insisted the computer was a guy. Most of the time, she did, too. Still, for now, she decided it was better to distract the girl than to dismay her. “What is Daniel doing?”

Krista colored, as this was too close to that 800 pound gorilla in the room. “Umm, we ate, ‘cause we were starving. He is cleaning up the galley, then the two of us will begin on the various open rooms until we get the residue out. Everybody else is checking systems and weapons.”

She held her breath, hoping she put some distance between THAT discussion and what needed to be done.

“Okay, but go armed, as in keep a Gentlink strapped over your shoulder and a fully charged laser pistol on your belt at all times. We have not yet found our Jump Point to get out of this damned star system. And that huge sun is not natural. It is expanding at a prodigious rate, and has already eaten more than half its young. We are up here in the lonely outreaches, and there is no telling who else is out here with us. Probably more than one species, trying to get the hell away from that thing.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Quietly, content that her mother’s focus was on the job, and not on her daughter’s improper behavior, the girl hurried away, closing the door to the bridge behind her.

Besides, mama could be as mad as she wanted but everyone knew that you cannot put that cat back in the bag.

“Okay, Axe, this can be figured out. You dropped the Jump Point, so you know what was on it, right?” It should not be a tough question, but in all the years Leala had been working with the computer system, on any ship, no one had ever lost a Jump Point.

“I presume that I have it. But it is archived. We had a basic crash during the assault and some of the data was corrupted, Commander. I have reassembled what I have saved, so far, but the archive program is running a search for it, now. We are less than thirty percent to completion. It may take a while, Commander.”

She gritted her teeth and tried to remain calm. Dealing with a computer was like pulling teeth to get what you needed. They only told you what you asked. How the hell long is a while? “Axe, how long before we can duplicate the Jump Point?”

A sudden, sharp warning, always something to startle the hell out of anyone on the Alfuego bridge, sometime into sheer terror, sounded.

DEEEDLEDEEEEDLEDEEEDLE!’ filled the area, non-stop, loud, and obviously meant to wake the dead. Leala slammed her hand down on the kill switch, then hit the intercom, shouting, “GENERAL QUARTERS! Locked and loaded, we have company!”

Shit, indeed! Her huge ship was at dead stop, relative, which meant in orbit, running well over fifteen thousand kilometers an hour, but not under way either side of the circle, in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

In normal circumstance, they might be moving over a hundred thousand, and from there to near light speed was a fairly quick process, building off the momentum. However, sitting at a relative stop was another concept altogether.

The bastards had come back! Shit, shit, shit!

“Axe, tag this spot, and get me engines full, forward speed, NOW!”

“Engaging to full, engine one and four, engine two and five, engine three…” Axe counted, but by then, it was all Leala, and probably the crew in back, could do to stay conscious. Each of them vaguely heard the command, “Abdominal pressure, NOW!” as the last thing before going gray from lack of oxygen to the brain. The G’s were tremendous. Fortunately, in space, it was simply a matter of inertia, not of resistance, and the huge frigate moved really fast for its bulk.

The everyday uniform had life monitors and support systems and helped keep the wearer alive, but one still had to lock the abdominals and help. The technique of tightening the abdominals forced blood up into the head.

A short period without blood, even a few minutes could create permanent damage. But then, if you did not back off quickly, the result might be a deadly or debilitating stroke.

The Alfuego shot off like a bullet, rapidly gaining speed, rather than falling off, until it neared target speed. Then the acceleration would ease off to the point the humans could peel themselves off their specially designed chairs, or the walls, if such was the case, to help put the ship in the proper speed, orbit, or, if need be, battle.

Leala began to come out of the gray fog as the ship hit fifty-five thousand, because the G’s dropped off dramatically in a percentage balance against the speed versus the acceleration.

She could barely make out Axe’s continued reports, now, in kilometers per hour…

“… passing sixty point one thousand, seventy eight thousand, now ninety six point zero five thousand kilometers per hour, Commander. You may release abdominal pressure, soon.”


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