include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for Alfuego: Nemesis II- Ascension by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




ALFUEGO: Nemesis II

Ascension

By

G. Weldon Tucker


The Storyteller

gweldontucker.com



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)

The Determined- (Sci-Fi/Romance)

Death Trap – 5 part series

(Action/Suspense)

Wit- Sec (Action/Suspense)

Western (Dark Side Westerns)

Kin- Gray’s Dilemma – Flashback-

Confrontation.




ALFUEGO: Nemesis II

Ascension

G. Weldon Tucker


Prologue -Before

Krista Angel Corrinder, not even seventeen, had been forced to grow up quickly. With ninety percent of the crew dead, the huge battleship, Alfuego, nearly destroyed, everything went to high speed, growth, repairs, preparation.

Named for a then famous, now forgotten Admiral in the A. S. P., or Alliance Space Patrol, the name was often reduced, aptly, to ‘Off we go…’

Introduced to the weapons system, via her fascination for vid games and her skill, she was a fast learner and became quite adept at keeping vicious aliens off the Alfuego. From that rocky start had grown a career, one that her friends on Colspice might envy. If only they still existed.

A light year out meant they traveled damned fast, and really, really far, but a year went by, in real time. A hundred light years? So long friends and family. Three hundred? Same story, but add… forgotten.

The mantra was the same: No one to go home to, and Captain Leala Corrinder, Mother, had found a lover in the Dinae, a man in line for the First Ruler slot, essentially a King, though the Dinae did not know what that meant. They lived it… in innocence.

Krista thought Mother knew how to pick ‘em. Leala bore the future king a beautiful girl, and settled down, much as she had sworn never to do. Well, she kept the Admiral role; she just stopped strapping into super speedy death machines. Oh, sure, she put up a good front for the first several years.

Meanwhile, of course, Krista worked her way up the ladder. It was, after all, a very short ladder. Only twelve people from the Alliance Security Patrol left, after that Phyrric Victory over Colspice. All of them assimilated into the Dinae society quite easily, mostly from having forty to more than a hundred or more Dinae on board at any one time. Language was no difficulty, for they all wore the incredible bracelet translators the well advanced Dinae had given them.

Not only that, but English as a second language course blossomed on board the Alfuego. Typical English speaking arrogance.

By the time Angela, her half sister, was five, and two more children followed, Leala was still the full-fledged Admiral of the Hope Defense Fleet. However, she was finding her requirements on the planet they’d taken from the hated Geckos and settled, Hope, to be more a demand than a standing force of will on the bridge.

In an ongoing war, the Admiral often commanded the fleet from a flagship, but for twelve years, now, there had been no war. The Fleet Office HQ was Leala’s new home, and the patrol and exploration now fell to the younger officers.

Meanwhile, Krista moved from a simple weapons officer to Weapons Master, then Senior WM, and rather quickly, a sideways jump to Commander. She was vying with others who had reached Commander status, but there were mitigations to consider.

Most were Commanders of a particular division, as in hydroponics, or water management, even galley or warehouse areas. They did not qualify to run the Alfuego.

Lieutenant Caitlyn Kerry, who had worked side by side with her for so long, declined the Commander rank, content to be near her friend and lover, Commander Daniel Wooler. A‘where he goes, I go kind of thing.’ She preferred, so to speak, to stay under him… So, Daniel, Krista’s son’s father, was her main competition for the Captain’s job.

Krista was certain she would have it, soon. She had a leg up, so to speak. And she had a better reputation. Frankly, Daniel liked the ladies too much, and a Captain had to learn to keep his or her distance. No one believed Daniel wanted to fall into that category. Caitlyn, however, seemed firmly in control of his proclivities, but that could change.

And, so, on her thirtieth birthday, clad in the Dress Whites of the long absentee Alliance Security Patrol, with her single gold button to indicate Commander, and four chest ribbons for surviving the last wars, she met Daniel, a peacock in his own dress uniform, at the huge entrance to the throne room. He was handsome, yes, and long ago had won access to her … body, if not her heart. An experiment that almost instantly bore fruit.

The innocent rarely do well in those experiments, and Daniel should have known better. Hence, twelve year old Thomas, running loose somewhere in the palace while she and Daniel attended this call.

Something big was going on, and both now seasoned people wanted it to be all about them. Maybe it was…

But First Ruler Deophaus was now getting on in years, sick, in bed, his wife, Eloquine, too distracted to play the apparent ‘Queenly’ role, and something big was indeed in the air.

Krista and Daniel greeted each other as they always did, a quick hug and a warm cheek kiss. He might be the father of Thomas, but they were not an item. They were not antagonists, either. Back then, there had been no corralling the handsome, devilish Daniel. She knew it, he knew it, and they had always been friends.

Now, they moved to military bearing, brushed their uniforms straight before signaling the guards they were ready.

The Alfuego, the grand old dame, still struck terror in the hearts of whatever alien race eyed them for hopefully easy pickings. A three hundred year old ship with the heart of a lion and the soul of a warrior. This with the size of an intergalactic behemoth. At a full one and half kilometers long and a half kilometer in diameter, built like the huge, solid warship it was, it was not handsome, as frigates, or in the mid twentieth century, naval battleships, go, perhaps, even, an ugly beast, except to those who counted on it saving their lives. And because of that, every crewman thought it beautiful.

Both wanted the helm very badly. Only one would get it.





BOOK II:
Ascension


CHAPTER 1

Admiral Leala Corrinder knew that the ‘kids,’ as she called them, were anticipating an announcement of the Captaincy of the Alfuego. She’d called for and heard the pitch from both of them. But this was different. Much different.

And no BL, either, bitch litany. She was in trouble, and no way out of it. Not the kind most would steer away from, but Leala was all action, and little politics.

Now, at forty-eight, she was no longer interested in more children, but the next step had little to do with making more. Making love, yes. Kids, no.

Third Ruler Haeus had asked her to marry him, in the Dinae fashion, not that much of a step aside from her own Earth colony experiences. But, there was an urgency, now.

If Deophaus died, Haeus was the next in line for First Ruler, as the old man’s son had died in a battle against the Crolin, in an explosion of one of the fleet ships, many years ago. No Second Ruler, the scepter would pass to Haeus, Third Ruler. And from there to their son.

She remembered the anxious plea, night before last, as she lay comfortable and relaxed in his post coital embrace.

“Honey, you have to understand. We have three children. Marriage, in any other condition would not be necessary. Hell, you said it yourself, it had fallen out of fashion even on Earth and Colspice, what the twenty first century? Four hundred years ago?”

“More than that, in many places.”

“But if I move to take Deophaus’ place, the next in line is one of our sons, and cannot be done if we are not united in name and family. It is too important to stand on less family style principles. I am not interested in being free from you, and I know you are the same with me. So, why not? As you said, a kingdom is at stake. And you must be what you call the Queen!

Dinae did not have an understanding of queens, but there was no doubt who won and ruled the hearts of the people. The skirt behind the First Ruler.

“As proposals go, dear Haeus, you have done better,” Leala said, smiling sweetly at her man. He had been good for her, and she had loved her time with him, every step. Including all three children. And taking nothing away from Krista, her first born girl, from a long absent father in Colspice, she loved them all. But Haeus was right, and she knew it. She also knew that the twins, Aura One and Aura Two, as she lovingly called them, were granddaughters of Deophaus, princesses in their own right, but too young to take on the heavy mantle of a Queen.

And so, that night, she accepted. He was ecstatic. All those discussions and proposals, and now, finally, she said, “YES!”

They celebrated as only two passionate lovers can do.

---

Now, the knock sounded at the door.

“Enter, please!” Leala called out, and reached for Haeus’ hand. She was dressed in some of the best of the Dinae fashion, royalty, of course, in a light blue with frothy lace at her neck and wrists. Sensible shoes hid underneath the long flounced skirt, but then she was a sensible girl who would rather be blasting Crolin and Geckos, then standing around in this finery. But then, in the language of her people, that ship had sailed.

Duty, however, and her heart, called. It was time to make the first announcement, and she wanted Krista as her daughter to hear it first, and Daniel as her line Commander, to know that both of them were about to get their wish, though in slightly different fashion than they probably anticipated.

“Hello, mother…. Ummm, Admiral,” Krista said, remembering her place, as she drew to attention in her Dress Whites and saluted, in time with Daniel, right by her side. Her eyes took in the near formal dress, and declared her mother beautiful. Something big was up, all right.

“Greetings, Admiral,” Daniel followed. He eyed the two leaders holding hands. Something important, all right, and he began to accept it might not be about him. Darn.

“First of all, Krista, dear, happy birthday, and I bring that from not only my own heart, but the hearts and minds of the Dinae people! Now, I have several announcements to make, my friends, my daughter and my grandson’s father. Convoluted we may be, but we are a family.”

Krista might as well have said, ‘No duh...’ it was on her face.

“Third Ruler Haeus has convinced me to marry him, and of course, this time, with the continuance of the Rulership at stake, I must finally agree. This will, of course, take me out of the daily Admiralty, at least as far as any active duty in space or off planet.”

Both visitors brightened right up! This was big news, indeed, and it directly affected them both!

“I will still make decisions and make the tough calls, as I have not lost my instincts or skills.”

Both sets of younger eyes widened. Not at the marriage announcement, hell, they both expected that for the last five years. But, the Admiralty? But both knew that Leala had been infrequently aboard a ship, leaving it in the hands of her Commanders, now, for better than five years. Nothing really new, there.

“The Dinae do not yet want to appoint another Admiral, for, apparently, that was a gift to me for services rendered. And I will make it a point to pass it on for services further rendered over time. But whoever it is will have to earn it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” came from both mouths in sync. That was a given, and they assumed, of course, it would be one of them chosen. In time.

“But the second announcement concerns both of you and your careers. Without Alliance Security Patrol protocol or permission, so therefore, making the appointments essentially temporary, I am promoting both of you to Captain rank. Krista, you will head the Alfuego, for you, as only myself before you, know every inch of it very well, and do not yet know the Dinae ships to the same degree.”

There was a momentary consternation in Daniel’s eyes, realizing he would have to serve under Krista. Not a bad place, but not what he wanted.

But Leala was not through. She turned to see the slight disappointment in his eyes, and smiled. “Daniel, you will Captain a Dinae cruiser, as you have worked on three of our fleet cruisers these past few years, where you served as Senior Weapons Officer. You know the new ships inside and out, and it makes sense that you head up one of them.”

Daniel all but leaped for joy. He managed a very controlled, “Yes, ma’am!”

“On top of that Weapons Master Caitlyn Kerry will follow you, as she has these past years. You two make a great team, and I would not dream of breaking you apart.” This last said with a hand on his arm, encouraging him.

Which one? WHICH ONE? he practically shouted, but all of it internally. One does not act like a child in front of the Admiral.

“The cruiser, the Elusive, will be your ship. Captain Delomien is stepping down, retiring, effective the first of the year, less than two months from now. Daniel, you and Caitlyn will report to him tomorrow morning, transferred, so bring your bags. Report at 0600, and learn whatever else you will need before he leaves. In fact, you will become direct clones of Captain Delomien. This because I expect the best from you as I have from him. For now, you will serve as Commander, First Officer and Sr. Weapons Master in conjunction with Caitlyn, but you will hold the Captain title, ready to go.”

Daniel went to attention, beaming so brightly his cheeks turned pink, and said, proudly, “Yes, ma’am!” and saluted her crisply.

If not the Alfuego, the handsome cruiser Elusive was his next choice. Newer, faster, smaller, by far, and very, very deadly. And he had helped design and build it. He did know it well. And underneath that thought? Caitlyn was coming with him! Hell of a deal!

Caitlyn had sunk hooks into him so deep that he had nevermore strayed. Prior to that, he had never intended to be a one woman man. Or, so he thought.

“Krista, you will take command of the Alfuego effective immediately. I suggest you study your crew and draw a Commander from the Senior Officers, either from our original members or a Dinae. The language problem is nearly fixed, between bracelets and study, so there should be little communication difficulty. Is there anyone you recommend right away?”

Krista, equally beaming, now that she’d finally won the Alfuego, stood at crisp attention, fired off a professional military salute and said, “None, yet, ma’am! And, thank you, ma’am!” She was too excited to handle a highly important question like that!

Her mother saluted her back, less formally. “At ease, please, both of you. We are all family, here, now,” Leala urged.

Then, as Krista stood at ease, Leala smiled hugely, and added, “And congratulations, you two. It is time!” Breaking protocol, she stepped forward and hugged her daughter, fiercely, whispering, “I love you, Krista, soooo much! Do me proud out there!” She stepped back, both the women with tears building.

Almost on cue, Leala and Haeus’ three kids came charging through the room, the younger ones chased by Angela, who, at twelve, was pretty, solid, tall, but still well formed, and almost a twin to her mother at that tender age.

Named after Krista, the oldest, by taking her middle name. Behind them at a more sedate pace, came the lighter framed twelve year old Thomas, Daniel and Krista’s boy, who had been on planet now for eight years, attending school.

He had not yet started his growth spurt into his teens, and so Angela, the same age, was a head taller than him, and a good ten pounds heavier.

She proved it, every chance she got. She was not afraid of a tussle, even to the point of locking Thomas up in some painful contortion, to settle an argument. A girl after her mother’s heart. In a man’s world, a woman had to stand her ground, but, sometimes, no matter what, she first had to claim it.

The two oldest children stopped, sensing something very important, and letting the others race away, screaming and giggling in false fear. The two looked expectantly at the four adults. Both were born within weeks of one another, both just short of being teenagers. More important, in today’s Hope, women were ‘marrying’ very early, or at least bearing children with chosen mates. They both, then, for all intents and purposes, were almost adults. Or so close it practically hurt. Every parent’s nightmare.

Angela knew full well that her mother had gone to space at about this age. So had her half sister, Krista. She had asked, repeatedly, but Leala had told her, often, it was not yet time.

In truth, Leala was loathe to let her go. Space is a dangerous, damned cold place, and her own insertion, years ago, was important to keep her family together. As was Krista’s. Now, it was not necessary. They had a home.

But sooner or later, Leala knew, Angela would be a ‘cabin girl’ on one of the ships. Like the proverbial ‘cabin boy,’ they ran errands, and took care of a thousand chores beneath the eyes of the crew. It was as old as man and sea had been a team on Earth.

It was in the blood. Even if she ran off to do it. Another ship rat, and it could not be helped. Better to be brought in under control then tossed into that wild world alone.

Leala reached for Angela’s hand, as Krista did Thomas’, and then asked them all to join hands, and she told the children the news. Of course, this was not a surprise. Angela loved her father, Haeus, as completely as a daughter can, and she wanted a true family. And, though she understood that marriage was a religious contract, and in some cases, not much else, it was a sense of closeness she sought.

Thomas, as boys often do, was not all that interested, either way. Frankly, he wanted to be out of school and on a ship. Of course, school was provided there, too, for an uneducated crew member was a danger to all those around him or her.

Daniel was in his life, was a father, at least as much as one who prowls outer space can be, and his mother was gone all the time, too. Thomas was being schooled at the Royal Academy, his grades high and the need for family not so much. And he was just now getting into the concept that girls were not boys. His interests would be changing fast.

Grinning hugely, though, Angela hugged her mother, then her father, and finally, her half sister, Krista. This time, in the heavy emotional moment, tears filled every eye.

If only the rest of space could simply hold off on the next terror until this moment could be treasured for a long, long time.

Yeah, right…


CHAPTER 2

“CONTACT! Contact, Commander, bearing eighty six degrees off the bow, three kilometers high and coming right at us. Range one hundred seventy five thousand kilometers and closing fast,” Axe added an opinion on the end.

Over the past ten years, he had gotten far more personality, more human, as he had associated more closely with the Dinae’s AI system, artificial intelligence. The two of them blended perfectly, now, and Axe was a far different system that Krista’s mother knew… and loved.

Because the Cray system was so powerful, especially with the alliance through each ship’s system, Axe was everywhere, sometimes as an observer, sometimes as the essential master of the ship, weapons, travel, and whatever. And a large part of him served right on Hope, close to Leala. She would never stir far from her closest friend next to Haeus.

The huge multi platform Cray, or a copy, in any case, at Fleet HQ was ninety percent Axe, and ten percent Dinae. And he could talk to any ship, anywhere, by direct vid or, if out of the solar system, by micro burst. Leala was kept apprised of every movement of her people.

Along with that, the Dinae engineers’ latest upgrades to sensors gave the Alfuego a powerful range. Axe could detect ships, friend or foe, for better than two million kilometers, long before most could discover the Alfuego. And the new stealth painted over the Alfuego’s less than streamlined look, was a newer style, always on, and now impervious to all elements, in or out of space. She was, finally, almost invisible.

The ship coming at them either had one hell of a sensor system, or was flying blind.

Running at the farthest reaches of the solar system that supported Hope, nearly a half billion kilometers from the planet, they had been patrolling, looking for outsiders, and surprise, they found one! The first time in years!

Krista called out, “Axe, thank you. Identify, now.”

“Second contact, Commander. Same bearing, nearly forty thousand kilometers behind the first. No identification. Commander, it appears a Gecko ship. I am… stunned. Closing speed over one hundred twenty one thousand kilometers per hour.”

He was stunned, Krista thought, just like herself, because, as far as they knew, they had exterminated the Geckos. Maybe not.

Closing speed was the difference between the Alfuego’s orbital velocity of two hundred sixty two thousand kilometers and the new arrivals’, coming in from the high right side, at an angle to overtake her ship, which would happen in less than ten minutes. “Hail the lead ship, Axe. There should be no hostiles in this region.” She, like Axe, was unwilling to believe there were Geckos in pursuit.

“Done, Commander. Brush your hair.”

Krista smiled, despite the tension of the moment. A thirty year old Captain, chided by a computer with a personality. Almost. She ran her fingers through her long raven tresses, smoothing them to the final up flip at her shoulders, and put a stern expression on her face. The curls softened whatever stern look she wanted, but there was no mistaking the determination in those eyes, or the set of that chin. Her mother’s genes.

The forward vid came up, replacing the view of stars with a view of an apparent bridge. And no one there.

Instantly, she said, “Axe, range?” Axe still had to have his name first, else he ignored the orders. Though, no one was certain about that, anymore, despite the myriad new improvements in AI. At least, it was hoped he ignored what he heard… or saw.

“Forty seven thousand and still closing. No change in velocity or direction. I am confident we are not detected. I am quick scanning for lifeforms.” A quick scan did not alert the target, usually. A matter of a half second. Deep scan would draw the defenses of any ship touched.

One thing about the new and improved Axe was he did things on his own. No need to command him every step for those things in offense or defense. He knew his stuff. And, having literally grown up with him, she trusted him completely. She waited.

“Commander, eleven lifeforms on the lead ship. Warm blooded. Some are weak. One hundred sixty three cold blooded lifeforms on the second ship, I believe the second pursues the first. I am confident the second is Gecko origin, though I cannot confirm it. I find damage on stabilizers on both ships, but the lead ship is in the worst condition.”

Suddenly, into the view screen, a rugged looking man slipped into the pilot’s chair and glanced over the digital and vid readouts of his bridge. Yes, a human, by his appearance, unruly brown hair, bright blue eyes, and harried grin, did an open mouthed double-take at the picture of the beautiful Commander watching him, and said, quickly, “Holy shit! A woman? Out here! I’m dreaming! I’ve already died and gone to heaven!”

There was a brief pause while he managed to get control of himself, then he ran a heavy hand through his hair, rubbed his eyes, and continued, “Hey, sorry, hello! For God’s sake, get these bastards off of us! They have pursued us for four fucking light years!”

Coldly, she announced, “I am Captain Krista Corrinder of the Alliance Security Patrol serving the Dinae Fleet. You require assistance. I cannot do that until you identify yourself!”

“Jesus, woman, hurry it up! I am Captain Mark Dillinger, no relation, of Colspice, and there is no Alliance Security Patrol. They disbanded two hundred years ago! Get these fucking lizards off me!”

Though Krista had no clue who the ‘no relation’ referred to, the most famous Dillinger in history was an Earth born, early twentieth century thief and a bank robber. He would explain later.

“Torpedoes in flight, Commander,” Axe reported. “Range twenty two thousand and closing. His voice, as always, was utterly calm.

“Axe, who fired?” Lizards? Geckos? Not those damned Nightmare things, again. Either of them eat humans, but the Geckos tend to eat only women and children. And it meant they had another nest world somewhere, as well as a place for raising their ‘livestock.’ Shit!

In a half second, however, Axe had his report. “Torpedoes from the pursuing ship, Commander. Impact in seven seconds on lead vessel, will pass over our head in forty one seconds.”

The Geckos might know they were out here, probably by the vid communication, but not exactly where. Alfuego’s newest sensors were better about not giving themselves away, masking their location, thus preventing a radar homing torpedo from taking them out.

But Krista had no time for all the reflection. Immediately, she ordered, “Axe, remove the torpedoes.” Her voice was not nearly as calm.

Though she had seen some minor action around Hope over the years, nothing like this had occurred under her command. This was hurry up or die, stuff. No sitting back and sniping.

But, she was a wiz at the vid games, kept active and always improved to train all rising officers. No one beat her scores. And though they were games, few treated one as such. Getting into trouble there could put your heartrate in the same category as a real life, real deadly encounters.

Outside the aft view of the vids, the Alfuego laser cannon danced madly, a strike every half second, with half strength laser blasts that took each and every torpedo out in under two seconds. And, of course, revealed their exact position to the Geckos. The battle was on.

Axe called, “Torpedoes removed. Shields up.” Though the Alfuego carried permanently energized stealth, it could add to it, as needed in a close brush. But the shields still had to be brought up and down by the computer. In this case, just in time, for several wide, powerful blasts of laser weapons flashed uselessly on their electromagnetic shield.

This was an Earth equivalent magnetic shield that completely encompassed the Alfuego about a thousand kilometers around it in an elongated egg. To supply the immense power for this shielding, she carried a dedicated triple nuclear power system for it and had that and much, much more.

Nothing electrical or laser oriented could pass through. That did not include torpedoes. Like Earth’s nemesis, meteors and asteroids, the torpedoes could come right on in.

However, she was mostly invisible until close in, and by then, any enemy was far too close.

All should be dead well out of range for incoming weapons. Or vice versa. It was still invisible to radar and any infrared sensors until the shield went up. That lighted up an enemy weapons board like the proverbial Christmas tree.

Krista remained relatively calm. The Geckos were a long way back. “Axe, thank you. Laser to the pursuer, first opportunity.”

Thankfully, he could think. Shields were a requirement, and luckily Axe was on the ball. She could be dead, right now. But lasers outbound required a quick drop of the shield, and Axe could get two to four blasts from the laser cannon and have the shields down and up in under a half a second. Even if the enemy had the fastest computers, they had to recognize the shield dropped, take their aiming solutions and fire, and by then, Axe had it up again.

But the lasers, though weakening the Gecko shields, did not damage the ship. It was still coming.

The pursuers laid out another barrage of laser blasts at the Alfuego, and even more at the ship they had been pursuing, which was wobbling erratically, now. Krista now had her incentive. “Axe, one nuke to the pursuer’s nose, now, set arm beyond the pursued. Lower the gain on the vid.” That vid was about to overload. The main vid in the center, a hundred and fifty inch micro thin screen, went to black.

“Incoming torpedoes, Commander, shield down, lasers out, torpedoes removed. Shields up.” It was almost amusing to hear Axe in a hurry, and yet so very, very calm.

Axe had not only remained quick, he had gained in efficiency since her mother’s days at the helm. For a girl who had dreaded nuclear confrontation when her mother first brought them into battle, she had learned to love the efficiency of a powerful, quick hit.

Unlike atmospheric nuclear blasts, space cleaned up after itself quite well. There was simply nothing to carry the radiation on into eternity. One blast, all space dust, all falling in a long, slow arc to the nearest star, almost seven hundred million kilometers away.

“Target removed, Commander.”

Without the vid, there had been no picture, no sound, no light, nothing to show the destruction of the aliens and their craft. Just Axe’s calm report.

To the image on the main vid, she said, “Done, Captain Dillinger. Slow down and parallel us, orbit velocity two hundred sixty two thousand and change. Your system up?”

“Yes, Captain, it is. Mostly. Give me a moment to check for casualties.” He pushed some buttons, but left the vid on, as he said to his computer, “Lady, put us in orbit, five hundred kilometers off the Alfuego’s port side.” He waved with his fingers toward the vid and hurried away.

Krista, her heart pounding from the excitement, but even more so from the knowledge that this ship had come from Colspice, stood waiting impatiently. “Axe, scan first for alien vessels, then scan Avenger for lifeforms.” Colspice had been their home port when Leala had brought her daughter aboard, leaving her professor father alone. A lifetime or three, ago.

Through the wide ranging exploration, the disorienting battles and the long period adrift, they had lost their way. And now, right here, right next to her ship, lay the answer to the riddle: Where was home?

“No vessels around the two of us, Commander. Lifeforms decreased to six, ma’am. The ship has multiple invasive damage, and one third is open to space. Make that five. They lost another one.”

“Is it salvageable?”

“Commander?”

Ugh, she thought. Like her mother, who treated Axe as a person, she often forgot, her system need a keyword to cause them to listen. In this case, his name. “Axe, can it support life?”

“Not long, Captain. It is losing the aft engines and supplies room to space, right now.”

Then came the fateful decision. “Axe, teleport the lifeforms to our big cargo bay, now!”

“Done, Captain.”

Weapons officer Trues Briguet, a Dinae youngster of just twenty-four years, reported, calmly, “Five people, human, in the cargo bay, one is a very, very angry man! And he is armed.”

Shit! Krista thought, she’d not had a way to warn Captain Dillinger...

-----

Trues had started in the deep hold of the Prelance, when it was a monster sized refugee ship. She had worked just ahead of the engine room as a logistics clerk when she was thirteen. Dinae children are not kids very long. Their small population could not allow it. The massive process for handling enough supplies, material and weapons to house, feed, protect and care for seventy thousand people was akin to the purchasing agent’s job for a mid sized town.

Which was pretty much what the Prelance was all about.

She and three others toiled ten to twelve hours a day to track, ship, store and deliver things as needed, and she caught the eye of the head Quartermaster, early on. Not because she was cute. She was that and more.

Standing just barely four foot eight, blond hair cut in a bowl around her pixie-like face, her deep blue, spring sky eyes were, as with all Dinae, all color, indiscernible pupil, but an intelligence behind the eyes that was hard to miss.

Frinck Yygstan recognized in her what he was supposed to be looking for. Sharp minds are not easy to come by. And the weapons program they offered, though, then, all defensive, required those quick reflexes, extra intelligence, and a work ethic unequalled by any.

Where her cohorts were taking power naps mid-afternoon, Trues was working overtime to make sure things were done ahead of time, and done right. She was, he told the weapons program head, Commander Josip Holindy, practically a kind of savant.

“Whatever I give her, she figures it out, on her own, then does it, on time and right. I have tried to trick her, but she sees through that, right away. Too sharp for this job, and making the others rely on her and be lazy themselves. I think she has what you guys look for.”

“Yeah, but Frinck, she is hardly fifteen. Enough maturity to kill people… and things?”

“Won’t know until you test her. I can tell you she has the boys whipped on the vid games. She is damned good at them. No holding back there. I think you should test her,” he pushed.

“Okay, because I owe you for forcing that oaf, Joance on you, I will do it.” Joance was the Commander’s brother, however, he had not survived logistics a week.

Trues found herself reporting for weapons training the next morning. This was a complete surprise because, as the men had thought, she was too young, and secondly, that seemed to be the province of pretty aggressive men. But she was up for any challenge, and determined to make good.

She had not only done well, she had come out first in her class. When the Dinae moved onto Hope, Prelance had been physically cut down to frigate size, losing over half of its mass and length, along with some necessary narrowing. It had then joined up with Krista’s fleet, and within a month Krista had recruited Angela to the Alfuego.

Always on the lookout for the best of the best, she knew Trues would not let her down. And she had been right.


CHAPTER 3

Krista and two larger than average Dinae, both with the tell-tale violet eyes, big, disconcerting eyes with no discernible pupils, and both, though slightly shorter, about half again her weight, hurried down to the teleporter under the bridge. They would then TP to the cargo bay. Armed.

Most Dinae were of slightly smaller stature, evolving in a rescue or refugee transporter with rationed food and little room over the last five hundred years. However, there were, as in any population, exceptions. Now was a good time to borrow some muscle. These were her two favorite bodyguards. Did not say much, but then, they did not have to.

“Commander, scans for chemicals or biological contaminants show clean. Two are armed with pistols. Four are weak, possibly injured,” Trues reported.

“Trues, thank you,” Krista said into her commlink by simply lifting her wrist within a foot of her mouth.

They materialized just outside the door. Even before she pushed the pass key thumb button into the cargo bay, she could hear the yelling. Not distinguishable, but apparently a man in a rage.

She drew her weapon, as did her bodyguards. She pushed the button, and remained eighteen inches away from the vid eye, which carefully studied her face. The computer took a half second to recognize her thumb print, scanned her eyes in a flicker of laser light, and the circular door spiraled open.

This security would seem redundant, at best, inside a huge ship, but it was intended to keep boarding parties confined. If they teleported in, they had nowhere to go. A lesson learned and fixed by Leala, years ago when she almost temporarily lost her daughter and the rest of her crew to a Crolin boarding party.

Captain Mark Dillinger had his weapon in his hand, and his face was red with rage, as he cursed being jerked out of his ship. He whirled to face the incoming party. “Goddamit, put me back. My ship will self-destruct without my presence. Who the fuck are you to…” and he realized, as he waved his own pistol around, uselessly, he was staring at three sets of determined eyes, looking right down the business ends of powerful laser pistols.

His eyes went wide, his mouth a perfect, ‘O!’ and he stopped all noise.

“Umm… I see. I… wait…” he said, holding up a hand palm outward, as he very slowly lowered his pistol, and put it into the holster on his right side of his belt. “Look, you scared the hell out of me, Captain! I think protocol means you ask, first, before blindly teleporting… ”

Leala put up a hand to shut him up, then put her weapon away, but did not yet signal the others to do so. “Captain, you left the bridge, and I had no way to warn you. Your ship had a life expectancy of twenty minutes, tops. I have engineers who can stop the leakage on your foredecks but not the engine rooms and cargo bays without extensive work. Shall I send the work party?”

“Yes, God, yes! But I have to go with them. The security will not let them into any part of the ship beyond the initial arrival point. I have four badly injured crew, can you tend to them?” he asked, gesturing to the barely moving bodies dumped unceremoniously on the cargo bay floor.

“Of course. Axe, medics?”

“Already on the way, Commander.” The system’s calm voice issued from a half dozen speakers around the bay.

Meanwhile, he had calmed, dramatically, and he stood before her, first in a salute, then shook hands, warmly. He was a bit over six foot one, a good five inches taller than her, but far more muscled. The epitome of the rogue adventurer, fending off aliens and probably smuggling almost anything.

And, she noted, his deep blue eyes took the tour. Men! Tsk.

“Uh, Captain, repair? We need to go!”

Ohmigod, I’ve been taking the tour, too! “Yes, of course. Axe, ten crew, engineers and tools, to the cargo bay. Accompany Captain Dillinger to rescue his ship.

“En route, Commander. I summoned them before you left.”

Yes, she thought, Axe was becoming just like a good Senior Officer.

Almost immediately, ten crew, eight husky men and two women, arrived wheeling dollies of equipment, boxes of titanium bonding agent, and repair netting. All were in silksteel ship’s uniforms, with helmets and rebreathers, so they could handle the areas where space had intruded.

Right behind them came half a dozen medical team assistants and the one ship’s doctor, and they headed for the fallen to assess and transport the injured. Krista saw that two women and two men had arrived with Captain Dillinger. All were older than she, possibly mid-forties. Dillinger seemed about ten years older than herself, but then, as Captains go, she was an early appointment.

“Thank you Captain,” Dillinger said, addressing her formally, as protocol demanded, at this moment. “I hope to rescue my cruiser, the Avenger, but if not, I request transport for myself and crew to the nearest Colony Defense Forces station?”

“Go. We will discuss your refugee status when you are back!” Krista said, smiling and gave him a light shove toward the group awaiting teleportation. All it needed was a group and the coordinates for the destination.

The injured were out, on their way to sick bay, and the engineers were pulling and pushing their dollied supplies into a pile for the teleporter. Someone reached out, grabbed Dillinger by the back of his shirt and pulled him into the stack. In seconds, all were gone.

The medic, Dr. Amber Frieghly, an older, but still quite attractive Dinae, walked up to Krista, and saluted. “All appear to be human, ma’am. Injuries are consistent with battle, but not life threatening, short of infection. I will know more in an hour.” Her red hair was still without gray, her green eyes, like the twins, seemingly deep pools of emerald.

“Thank you, Doc. Go.”

The woman, a short one, almost a head shorter than Krista, saluted and hurried off.

“Axe, report on the Avenger,” Krista ordered as she stepped into the teleporter and put herself on the bridge.

“Captain, the vessel is barely three fourths of a kilometer long, one hundred fifty meters wide, a relatively newer, fast cruiser. The port side stabilizer is thirty four percent dysfunctional, and the port wall is breached to space along the aft portion. I am not sure, but the central firewall may be sealed. Four engines, but two on the port side are down and cold. This could be why they fell out of hyperspace. Two torpedo strikes on the upper faring over the top engines. Space has intruded but not yet killed the engines on the starboard side. The cargo bays, both of them, are breached on the port side by torpedo strikes. The only functional part of the ship is forward of the midpoint, so it must be sealed by blast doors, locked.”

“Axe, are you handshaking with the system?”

“Yes, Captain. They are forty point six light years out of Colspice. They have been running for the entire time from at least one Gecko frigate. Probably the same one we killed. From the ship’s log, it seems that each time they bounced out to cool down and recharge, the Gecko ship was on them. They left with one hundred twenty five refugees and crew. Five, counting the Captain, have survived.”

She felt that in her gut. That was a lot of death. “Axe, is there a record of the battle?” Her heart was in her throat. Forty six years from Colspice! All of this time, they had been a hell of a lot closer to home than they thought! Light years, true, but at Alfuego speed, that was just nine years of sleep travel! “Axe, what is the designer’s specs top speed of the Avenger?”

“Commander, nine times the speed of light, with minor variations. Almost twice as fast as the Alfuego. This is only a hundred year old vessel.”

Krista was stunned. The Alfuego had been supplanted as the fastest ship in the universe, apparently without notification! What a laugh! No one even knew they were alive. Until now.

She called down on the commlink to the medic. When she answered, Krista asked, “Can anyone tell us what was chasing them?”

Amber replied, “They are all a bit hazy. The least injured has a broken pelvis, caught in an elevator door during a blast. He says they were the new plague of the twenty fifth century, some kind of man eating lizards. He does not know the name of the species.”

“I do. Find out if they looked like Geckos. It sounds like some of our enemy got clean away, and started up on the other side of the galaxy.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Amber replied, and disconnected.

If they did, she thought, had they settled on Earth, or maybe Colspice? She shivered, inexplicably. How many got away? Out of all those billions of people, was Captain Dillinger’s ship full of the only ones?


CHAPTER 4

It took most of the next six hours to ensure the entire foredecks section was properly sealed, so that the Avenger was livable. It was full of pinholes from exploding debris, and while not life threatening as long as the ship remained pressurized, it was a drain on the system. Stacked in the cargo bays were too many body bags, indicating those that had not survived the journey.

The team, behind the midships bulkhead, while patching the bigger holes into the cargo bay, a process of titanium netting and a titanium laced filler paste, added the remainder of the crew as they found them, those that had not been tossed into space in the battles, to the stack of dead.

As any Alliance Captain knows, when there was time, the bodies had to be jettisoned in a declining orbit to the nearest star. It was only proper. And easy to do. Essentially aiming about sixty degrees off the orbit vector, toward the far star, the sealed packet would be shot out of the torpedo tubes with air pressure, pointed ‘down,’ but forward. It might take a year, but the coffin would gain speed dramatically as it closed in on the star.

Most would disintegrate to ash long before fifty million kilometers to the star. There was going to be a lot of space debris, when Dillinger jettisoned his dead…

Once the repairs were well under way, and it was certain that the Avenger would survive, Dillinger came back to his bridge and asked to be teleported to hers. Krista complied.

Two minutes later, he was on the Alfuego’s bridge with her. “First, I apologize for my rude behavior, but Avenger is all I have. I could not lose her! But, hey, this is a nice old bucket you have here. What is she, three, four hundred years old?”

Instantly, she bristled. An insulting ass! Barely keeping a level of ice out of her voice, Krista retorted, “This grand old lady has fought and won more battles than you are old, Captain,” resenting the insult to her pride and joy. “Plus, it just saved your sorry ass!”

His eyes went wide as hands flew up in a dramatic palms out defense, and he hastily replied, “No, no, wait a minute! Of course I did not mean it that way! Just a figure of speech, honest! Look, I have hardly talked to anyone for a couple of years. I am out of practice.”

“Then practice keeping it civil. Not everyone in the patrols have the latest and greatest, but this one will kick your ass.”

He did not know whether she meant her ship, or herself. He started again, more gently, “It is just that the bridge has changed so dramatically over the past two hundred years. Hell, the old frigates are a thing of the past. Everything is smaller, lighter, less crew. I have never seen the ancient equipment you have in here. But it works, I have no doubt, because, well, here you stand! And hell, you did save my ass! I just can’t believe my luck, falling out of hyperspace right next to the most gorgeous… uhhh, errr, ship in the universe!”

Smooth, he was not, as she watched him turned slightly red. So, maybe not an ass, just an idiot. Breaking the tension, she chuckled. It was a serious time, but spacers took their enjoyments where they could.

Tomorrow might never come. So, dead was dead, damage, both body and ship was healing, and, despite his lack of social graces, here stood a very handsome Captain. She fell back on an age old ploy, “So, Captain, I hope your mate was one of the survivors?”

“Mate? Oh, you mean my wife? Ah, as in the ancients… No, no wife. No mate. Never had time. Too busy running a ship, and running from… well, trouble. I don’t have the firepower your frigate does.”

Feeling somehow, weirdly relieved, Krista reached into a magnetically latched drawer and pulled out a picture of the hated Gecko. “The enemy look anything like this?” she asked, handing it to him.

He nearly recoiled as it slid into his hand. “Hell yes! They founded a colony about midway between Earth and Colspice, setting up on an oversized asteroid. Then they started collecting. Some kind of special rigs. Earth first, and we lost several hundred thousand women and children, mostly from the southern hemisphere, until the so called peace loving population caught on.

Then the surface began meeting them with long range laser and high speed nukes, and the collecting stopped for a while. All they did was move on to another planet, cleaned it off, basically, then found Colspice.” He stopped, running a hand through his hair, forcing himself to calm down.

Then added, “I gotta tell you, it may be that they have cut the human population down by half. It has been about ten years or so, and we cannot seem to stop them. They multiply ferociously. If we could find their home base and their factories, we could cut the ships out from under them.”

“Who is fighting them? You told me earlier that the ASP had disbanded. Why? They were there to prevent this kind of thing!”

“Politics, I guess. Who gets to be,” and here, he used space quotes with his fingers, something Krista had never seen, “Supreme Mucky-muck!” Hands back on his hips, he continued, “Well, there is us, a loose coalition of fifty some contractors, along with the Colony Defense Force. They got another hundred rigs, but nothing like your ship. We are all smaller, lighter, faster, and carry some serious weapons. Until we run dry, as I did, here. We got teleporters and long range laser cannon, along with some of the weapons you have, and we can do some damage. But, then, my aft laser was destroyed in a battle a couple of Jumps ago.”

“How did you come to have so many people on that small ship?”

“We teleport, so we can rescue captives, if we can get within a few hundred kilometers. But our ships are too small to stay out for long term, like you. We have to resupply. I am out of nukes, torpedoes and most supplies.”

“Well, that we can fix, if you have not changed the specs for your weapons. That would seem to be crazy, but then, I have not been back to Colspice in many years. So, what happened, this time?”

“Well, we met the damned lizards, Geckos, I guess, about ten light years this side of Colspice, and there were two of us, and six of them. We planned a rescue, and I got my share, then they destroyed my partner, as we had a hell of a battle. When the other ship went up, we split. I just chose the wrong direction… no, belay that. I may have chosen exactly the right direction. Luck is a wonderful thing, right?”

And an optimist, she concluded, but met his eager smile with a slim one of her own. “We will see, Captain Dillinger. So, why did this thing chase you so long?”

“Actually, there were two, and we thought we had a chance. I took out one of them, a year ago, but the last one stayed on me. Revenge, hell I don’t know. This last one was the final Gecko, some kind of collector, bigger and better armed, and damn, we could not shake him. We had stolen about a hundred women and children right out of his hold, and he wanted them back. Their food supply, hard as that is to believe. We put it at max hyperspace and took off in a straight shot.”

“They had the capability to keep up with you?”

“Oh, yeah, they stole the technology from some of the ships they captured over the last century. Nine times light speed, but worse, they could ride up on my ass and take pot shots with the laser, while inside hyperspace! No one has ever seen that done. We were getting our butt kicked… in hyperspace.”

Krista’s mind was calculating. As Axe had reported, this ship had the technology for really, really fast space travel. “If we can rescue the Avenger, will you share your engine and weapons technology with us? We can resupply your ship, arm you to the teeth, and send you back, if that is what you want!”

He glanced around at the pristine, but, as he said, ancient bridge, then said, “Uhh, no offense, honey, but this old tub won’t handle the high abrasives of that kind of speed. You got something painted on that won’t be painted long. See the needle nose on the Avenger? Every forward facing surface is needle nosed or razor edged, and I mean down to a hundredth of a millimeter. Anything with the slightest resistance will hit Hydrogen, Helium, Nitrogen and dark matter like a brick wall. Might as well be a sandstorm out there!”

Honey! Even without growing up in the PC world of Earth, she recognized the breach of etiquette.

Coolly, she replied, “Really! We can do five times lightspeed, Captain Dillinger, for several decades and more. Our paint does not come off. Even so, as big as we are, we can turn around at full speed, on a five thousand kilometer sized dime, run a full multi-level, multi-directional dogfight, and walk away, usually without a scratch.” Then she leaned closer, turning on the deep emerald of her eyes as she locked gazes and said, mockingly, “How is that working for you… honey?”


CHAPTER 5

Dillinger laughed, honestly pleased at her spirit, and again lifted his hands up toward her, palms outward in mock surrender. He was good at it, so apparently he used this defensive gesture often. “Hey, sorry. Force of habit on a big old ship, a long, long way from civilization.” Again, he saluted her, but more casually, and added, contritely, “I stand corrected, Captain Corrinder. So, where are you based?”

Hope. We found it full of Geckos, cleaned it, and its sister planet, and have established the Dinae on it. They are, we are certain, a precursor to man on Earth, from probably a few million years ago. They arose, grew technical, found space, and a pending collision with what we assume was another planet or a huge asteroid, sent them fleeing from Earth, a long, long time before the rest of us came up out of the water.”

“Good God, what a find! How did they get way out here?”

“Their legends say that the collision left them stripped of their home planet. They simply traveled in a straight line, losing all their ships but one. I guess they eventually crash landed on one they named Imersia.”

“Never heard of it. Where is it?”

“It is no more. The star was already a red giant, right on the edge of going nova. Over the next couple of million years, the sun expanded, swallowed all the planets including theirs, as they rapidly built huge refugee ships and bolted. But they had not retained the technology for breaking out of the solar system. I guess they lost all the original engines. But they had millions of years for redevelopment.”

“How long did they stay in orbit as refugees?”

“They’d been stuck, now, for five hundred years. We got to them, and helped get them out before the star went nova. They and their mortal enemy, the Crolin, were stuck out here in an antagonistic relationship for generations. We just happened to fall into their corner of the galaxy by mistake.”

“Kinda like I did, huh?”

“Yeah, but we came in by being simply lost. A huge battle, an out of control ship, a half dead computer, we have been sailing blind for over a hundred and fifty years. Out of our regular, and fat, I might add, complement of four hundred and ten, we were cut down by a probably famous Nightmare battle at Colspice, to just forty one, and we, the last one standing, got away. Or were tossed away.”

Shock struck his expression. He blurted, “Oh, my God! Captain Leala Corrinder? She is famous! You are all famous! You are in every history book! We thought you were lost!”

Leala smiled, but did not get too carried away. It was, after all, her mother that gained all that notoriety. “Thank you remembering. So, we fell into the Dinae system with only forty one crew, and immediately were attacked. The Crolin boarding party killed off thirty more. We fought clear, or rather, my mother did, got away, then discovered the Dinae in the same solar system and formed our own alliance. Long story not so short, huh?”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-30 show above.)