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ALFUEGO: Nemesis- Revenge 708




ALFUEGO: Nemesis III

REVENGE

by

gweldontucker.com

#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 (Dark Side Westerns)

Kin- Gray’s Dilemma – Flashback-

Confrontation.




ALFUEGO: Nemesis III

Revenge

G. Weldon Tucker


Before…

Many years ago, then Captain Leala Corrinder first brought them out here, out in the middle of nowhere. Not her fault, simply a Pyrrhic Victory gone bad in a famous battle over Colspice, Earth’s nearest inhabitable planet, even if ten light years distant.

They’d been lost, cast out of the battle zone riding a massive, final explosive destruction from the dying Nightmare Fleet, traveling almost three times faster than light speed. But damaged, badly.

With the computer down, the lack of windows and vids, and no sense of direction, they rode that wave for several years, struggling to put Alfuego back online and whole.

Sleep periods of ten, fifteen years each rolled by, and they had no idea how far, let alone which direction they’d come when the computer woke them up.

The very fact that they found an inhabitable solar system before falling into a black hole or sailing right into the inner workings of a gas planet was a miracle in its own right.

The fact that the remaining skeleton crew, ten percent complement, also got the Alfuego put back together and running properly in time find the place was yet another miracle. A testament to human ingenuity. Not enough crew? Not enough skill? Train like your life depended on it… because it did.



Chapter 1

Angela Haeus-Corrinder, Angie to her friends, Angela, as she formally insisted, trying to separate herself, as teenagers will, from her friends and siblings, fulfilled every foretelling of the family line.

While growing up under the careful attention of the royal nursery, as Mom and Dad were either out pursuing the bad guys, sweeping space clear for many light years, or building a government on two planets at once, Angela had the best care, but she had the best training, too.

Leala Haues-Corrinder was establishing a royal house with a people who did not understand the word royal, though they provided all the trappings necessary. So, one would expect a pretty, yet solid young lady, raven haired, with the deep emerald, oversized eyes that were a blend of her father’s Dinae full iris that allowed no white at all, and the normal post evolutionary human sized of her mother’s green. It proved, if nothing else, the power of the dominating DNA. Green trumps violet, apparently. So, apparently, does size, at least to a degree.

So, a fascinating, different look to her, but raised under the royal flag, one would expect her to be a little lady. After all, she was a princess. And, though that was stressed, often, coming to her in those words, by the time she was twelve, “..little lady…” would provoke a fight. And, since she had started at five in mixed martial arts, she usually came away the winner. Boys learned to watch their mouth, and if they could not, they kept their distance. A good distance. After all, she could run like the wind…

As she grew into young adulthood, a raven haired beauty with those slightly odd Dinae-human mixed emerald eyes, she retained that same standoffish attitude, partly because she was in a special realm, daughter-heir to the throne, though, the Dinae might not agree with all the words. In any case, it made dating damned difficult.

This had come in handy by the time she reached her early teen years and entered the Alfuego crew under her sister’s guidance. It was a Corrinder tradition, like the Navy of yesteryear, there were cabin boys and girls to run the errands and do the dirty work. But Angela had proven herself many times, and moved up the ranks in a quick step. She was smart, she was strong, and she was damned determined. Another Corrinder trait. She saw the top of the ship, the bridge, as the goal, and knew exactly what she wanted.

Krista, of course, knew of her half-sister’s daughter-heir title, but she gave no slack to any member of her crew, male, female, royalty, whatever. You came to do a job, and you better damned well do it right!

One of the best inventions for these modern times was the rather realistic vid games available to any kid, let alone anyone aiming for weapons platforms or eventually, a command. Lightning reflexes, instant, effective, accurate decisions, and a coordination factor almost unbelievable, all came to her naturally.

Like her sister before her, Angela was the top player, defeating any of the crew that tried their best to win. And, should they somehow inadvertently indicate they had thrown the game, well, they were in for it, and she wasted no time teaching them to try harder. She hated losing, and the drive to win created a drive to know, and soon, she was a Weapons Master in all but name.

During her young adult years, perhaps from the hormonal changes of puberty, perhaps from something natural to green eyed, pale beauties, she had taken on what some might call a nervous tic.

Not the mouth, or eyes, but an immediate blush, an inability to stop her face from flaming at the very first hint of embarrassment. She’d fought this through early teens, hated it in late teens, even visited Amber in the medical department, nothing helped.

But she survived, and she survived well. Perhaps it was one of those things handed down from on high to help build character. And Angela’s character was strong, determined, and ideal for what lay ahead…

-----

Now, on her twenty fourth birthday, her most important ceremony to date occurred in the galley of the Alfuego.

Aura Lynn and Aura Tielle, commonly known by all as the twins, had her waiting in the galley proper, checking her uniform, though she was perfect in Dress Whites. Her dark hair was glossy black, cut to collar length and left natural in shape, topped with her graduation cap, not dissimilar to the officer’s cap she would soon be picking up. She had graduated! But, she expected a birthday celebration, and the requirement to go formal was not all that unusual. She had few real friends, as she kept herself contained, her eyes on the goal.

Then, grinning mischievously, they produced a white blindfold. Despite her protests, they put it on, blocking her vision. And, yes, her face flamed. Damn. Well, they were Commanders, both of them, and she a raw Lieutenant. What could she do? Sometimes you gotta play the game.

So, blindfolded, trusting her Aunts to guide her properly, Angela allowed them to direct her into the huge dining room. It was dead silent in a large cavern designed to sit a hundred people at a time, for the Alfuego had been designed for four hundred crew.

Its efficiency had improved to the point that they now ran well on less than a hundred, even down to forty, but no more physical change would be coming to the big ship. Still quiet. Ears straining, unable to see, she was finally stopped, but told by one of the twins, to stand, whispering, “Attention!” Again, since both were Commanders, she had no choice.

Still, deathly quiet. Angela had been through some of the hazing rituals in the academy, conducted right here on the Alfuego, when she was not planet-side. Though, to tell the truth, she would have thought they had all outgrown this, by now.

This was probably going to be something similar, but she still had no choice. As required of any sub ranking military, she kept her face firm, but blank, her lips lightly compressed, and waited. She was sure her cheeks were twin spotlights that could light up the room. This process was… rather unusual, to say the least.

There was some faint rustling to either side. Her heart rate picked up. She had been told not to speak, and not to touch the blindfold. Helpless, wondering, all she could do was wait.

Finally, Krista spoke, mere feet away, “Steady, Lieutenant.” This, of course, despite standing at rigid attention, made her jump. But she maintained.

Someone touched the blindfold. The first thing she saw was Krista’s hands lifting the blindfold over her head, but the face was cold, official, and stern. From the corner of her larger than normal eyes, she could see to either side of her, four each men and women stood at perfect attention, in their own Dress Whites.

But Angela only barely noted them. She had heard the title! Six hard years had paid off! She was a Weapons Officer! A full Lieutenant! No longer in training! A Sub Lieutenant had been the lowest on the official totem pole, merely a slave to the real officers, and she was now free from that place of dismal harassment. In fact, she could provide some of it. Stuff runs downhill… Yet she never moved a muscle.

Before she could start to really glow, however, Krista took control. “You each have passed the weapons training program, and are now, officially Lieutenants, all. And each of you will now have direct access and duties on the platforms on the bridge, under the supervision of, at minimum, a Weapons Master. Some will serve on the Alfuego, some will be transferred to other fleet vessels. I congratulate all of you!” and Krista stepped back and saluted the rigid Lieutenants. They promptly saluted back, perfect form.

Krista continued, “What makes me especially proud, today, is that Lieutenant Angela Corrinder is the newest member of the Dinae First Ruler’s family to accept the title! And more, today is her birthday! Congratulations, Lieutenant!” and Krista saluted her one on one.

She automatically returned the salute. It was the way it was done. Well, now, that was embarrassing! Nothing like a little personal push. Angela did not like being singled out, and now, darn it, her face went hot, just as she had feared it would, before nearly a hundred peers and officers in the room. She had no control of it as the hated blush went off on its own.

Immediately, as if triggered by a switch, a hundred voices filled the room with the traditional birthday song, accompanied by those standing in the graduation line with her, and her sister, all as loud as could be. Angela, remained deeply red, blushing fiercely.

She wanted to fade right into the floor, in fact was quite certain that she was surely about to melt and do just that! Her skin was pale by nature, but the blushes that ruled, or, to her, ruined, her life were the bane of her existence!

Finally, an eternity, the room stilled as the song came to an end. Slipping Happy Birthday Lieutenant Corrinder into the second to last line had been a stretch, but it worked.

“ENOUGH! ATTENTION!” snarled Krista in a room filling voice of command, and the room went instantly dead silent, every uniform in the place at rigid attention.

Carefully, starting at one end of the line, person by person, Krista first inspected the uniform of each graduate, then attached the single bar representing the new status of Lieutenant to each side of the recipient’s collar points. The silksteel uniforms had the bars painted on, carefully, as there was no such thing as driving any kind of pin through them. They were tough, and designed to keep out space, should the wall breach. But Dress Whites were as they had always been, and the gold bar looked very nice on every new graduate’s collar. Even the red faced one.

Angela was still flushed, but the warm, secretive smile on Krista’s face and the look in her eyes calmed her down. In moments, it was done.

The first graduating class of the weapons program did as cadets have done for centuries, and threw caps high in the air, everyone at ease in an instant and cheering wildly.

Captain Krista Corrinder hugged her half-sister, whispering, closely into her ear, “Congratulations, honey. You are on your way!”

After that, as Angela’s birthday cake, looking to her like it was totally on fire, came out of the galley, Krista headed out. Nothing like a Fleet Commander to put a wet blanket over a party! Let them have their fun. The universe is a cruel place. Not all of them would survive their service and letting their hair down and loosening up was part of the plan to stay healthy. But she knew, too, there would be a lot of thick, heavy, sore heads in the morning…

-----

Alfuego, one and a half kilometers long, and half a kilometer in diameter, a huge mass of titanium steel, engines, weapons, supplies, material and people, was merely half a billion kilometers out from Hope that following morning, on patrol, in company with seven other Dinae Fleet vessels, in two wings. Alfuego, the midsized frigate, was a hell of a battlewagon, a well experienced killer.

But she was literally dwarfed by the serious frigate shadowing the second, and nearby wing, Prelance. Five times the size of the Alfuego, with a deadly reach nearly twice as far, she was one of the backbones of the fleet. However, given the chance to dance in a dogfight, hands down, Alfuego ruled space.

She was agile as a cruiser, as weapons heavy as a frigate should be, and she was almost indestructible. But, of course, that had not been proven. A few scratches, here and there did not count. Over three hundred years old, the grand old dame had survived countless encounters with enemy aliens, succeeding where so many failed and turned to space dust.

Two other wings patrolled in the off-side quadrants around the two planets, made up of three cruisers and a frigate each, just like Krista’s own. But none of the newer frigates came close to the ponderous size of the Prelance. The bigger units were on sentry duty, far, far out in the Apollo Solar System.

Though Hope had a huge manufacturing facility outside of New Hope City, the focus was on smaller, not bigger. Smaller, faster, cheaper, three crew cruisers were now the norm. When a frigate rolled off the boards, they, too, were smaller, twenty crew powerhouses, barely twice the size of the old-fashioned cruisers such as Avenger and Elusive, two of Krista Corrinders best wingmen.

The giant old birds were considered slow and ponderous, good for warehousing, up to a point, but well-armed. Too, they were turning out the occasional ‘warehouse’ to lug around the supplies, which might eventually get the monsters like Prelance into mothballs, replaced by cavernous, empty shells.

Cheaper to run, with higher load capacity not taken up so much by weapons and heavy hulls. But they were still a long way from that point. Prelance and her sisters were a necessity, and not a soul out here in the middle of nothing would have them put away.

-----

Several years past, a horde of refugees from a planet of the Colspice Alliance, Earth’s near twin planet, if ten light years could be considered near, showed up uninvited, led by an Alliance Admiral well out of control. It was the first news of the plight of Earth and Colspice, and the proof that Leala, Krista and the Dinae Fleet had chased the Geckos and the Nightmares out of this end of the galaxy back to somewhere else, and onto the hapless homes of Corrinder roots.

The upside of all that was the fact that the refugees were only a third made up of military, and once they settled on the sister planet to Hope, one they named Terra, they began to trade off weapons and vessels for labor and materials to get the infrastructure in on Terra as quickly as they could. They essentially assigned their security to the responsibility of the Dinae.

Of course, there were lifers in the Colspice system, too, and the Dinae were happy to add crew to fill up all these ‘new’ ships. Ships that might have been even a few hundred years old, but in the eyes of the Dinae, well advanced, nicely equipped, and battle ready.

The initial concept was to provide enough Dinae Fleet to head back to Colspice and ‘rescue’ any survivors. The Rogue’s Nightmares had been systematically destroying or taking over worlds and when the refugees had fled, even at their unbelievable four times light speed, it was better than ten years just to come into Dinae space. So then, time to train up, time to develop a strategy, and time… well, marches on.

Forty light years is simply too far to run a hasty rescue mission even if the Dinae Fleet, who often ‘borrowed’ from those that passed through, usually under fire, managed to increase hyperspace to better than ten times light speed. Damned fast.

Like the old joke about the elephant, if the front end is moving that fast, the back end is …hauling ass…

True, there had been the string theorists of the twenty first century, proposing bold ideas, like the demise of the Big Bang Theory for the birth of the universe, and bolder ideas like warping time and space. Most of the time, the concept of string theory was discounted, reduced to a joke.

‘You can stretch that string as tight as you want, and provide all the proof you can make up, but when you let go, it collapses on itself in a pile of… string.’

Later, through the ingenuity of mankind, and the hard work of scientists who refused to give up, some of this stuff had been proven, then put to work. However, in truth, this took several hundred years and had to weather a hell of a lot of mistakes, and yes, death to far too many in the exercise of those experiments. But, again, humans are persistent and determined, for the most part. They prevailed, after all, because, well, here they were…


Chapter 2

There is no way to rush logistics. When any military organization is undertaking a sizeable task where supplies, weapons, fuel and such are going to be in short supply, there is a logistics nightmare.

So, despite the lure of the Weapons Platform, Angela found herself under intense training sessions with Commander Alicar, a very attractive, dark haired, violet eyed young Dinae man.

She liked him, but he seemed to make it a point to remain aloof, whether because he was afraid of the beautiful Corrinder girl, or he refused to get entangled with a subordinate. Either was okay with her, for now, as long as he did not get in her way to the top.

In between these lessons, Angela was working furiously on the mountain of records and detailed plans to help the rescue get under way. Though every crewmember was literally chomping at the bit to get it on and get out there, everyone had to sit through hundreds of hours of planning. Everything from routes, to obstacles, a great deal of ‘what-if’ scenarios, it all was a required process to planning and preparation.

And, of course, this process added yet another two years on to the Dinae Fleet plan. Would it never end? No one wanted to die, but for those who had it in their blood, anything was better than the constant waiting.

In the meantime, Angela remained unbeatable both in the vids, and on the Weapons Platforms, even if it was all simulations. Who the hell was there to shoot at for real?

-----

Okay, so now ten times light speed was a matter of fact. Who knew? Doable. But still, no hurrying the process. Ten years on the backs of the refugees in flight, another five plus years or more getting settled, getting prepared, an added two for logistics, and then at least four plus years to get back. A lot could happen in well over twenty years.

In any case, who was to lead it, and when? This had never been settled. As time went on, Leala was pulling herself away from it. First, she had the experience, but too much responsibility in family and government on Hope, the Dinae’s fairly recent, over twenty year old established home planet. With the care of her own four, Mary, Allen Roland and toddler Alex, growing ever so slowly through childhood, and Krista’s daughter, Christine, now approaching five, she had her hands full. A welcome duty to take on them all, as any happy mother and grandmother can attest…

Besides, there, the inhabitants had elevated Leala as their own rescuer, made her essentially their Queen, and were loathe to let her risk her life. And approaching her later years, she found that she was not anxious to take on the universe, anymore.

Hearth and home, and First Ruler Haues, of course, had their own values, similar for what must come to all aging spacers, eventually. Or… they die.

To the Dinae Fleet, there were only a few other possibilities to head this up. Avenger was a privately owned fighter-cruiser, captained by Krista’s own ‘mate,’ Mark Dillinger, originally from the Colspice territories, but as a privateer, himself. He certainly qualified on experience and survival, but he had a strong independent streak, and it could be said that he was not one to take well to orders, at least not from Leala. He was just learning how to be a decent mate from Krista, another set of different ‘orders.’

He was under contract to the Dinae Fleet, but more important, he was, essentially Krista’s husband. In the late twenty fifth century, marriage had become a matter of contract. A legal step to protect heirs, if not property, for all property was easily controlled by simpler contracts. Because of her, he obeyed.

But, in any case, not only did he stretch orders, too often, he was by far too much of a risk taker to entrust an entire rescue fleet into his hands. A fighter? By all means. He lived to be a warrior, and it was only the gentling of Krista that also brought out the mate. From a rambler, a rake, a ladies’ man… to a strong, ideal match for Krista. Who knew?

So, the mantle would thus fall to Leala’s daughter, Captain Krista Corrinder, Commander of the Fleet, and Master of one of the mightiest warships ever built, the Alfuego. Certainly, an old vessel, wonderfully updated and refurbished, but a grand old dame, at that.

Of course, Krista reported to her land bound mother, but then, in some way, don’t we all?

-----

Left behind, and a standard action with women driven to command mighty killer vessels in outer space, her daughter, Christine Angel Dillinger, a beautiful, smart product of the union of Mark and Krista, was under the child care system with the royal house, now approaching five years old.

On odd thing to those who are close to kith and kin and hate being away, these women carried the DNA that made them independent, determined, and above all, successful. Children survive, and in the care of the ‘royal family,’ she was doing just fine.

Another question that had to be addressed was what to do about Angela, rising in the ranks, but the next in line to assume Leala’s position in the government. Essentially, a princess. Daughter-heir and all that. There was certain to be a great danger to the fleet, both in the possibility of destruction, but in the very real possibility that they might never find their way home. If that were to happen, they dare not carry the daughter-heir out of the Hope solar system.

But Leala put her own spin on it. “She is only daughter-heir, and we have three others in line behind her. It is a breadth vs. depth kind of thing. Angela needs the discipline, the understanding, and the skills to drive a command, and perhaps, then, eventually take all command of the Dinae Fleet. Ultimately, she needs to step in behind me, then for me. In any case, if something were to keep her from us, she will have the skills, the nature and the determination to start up from scratch on any rock and build a new world. She has to go with you. And she would be a very unhappy stay at home princess. Frankly, I don’t need the drama. She goes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Krista understood the chain of command quite well. What her mother said, she meant. What the Admiral said to do, you did. Double whammy. Simple.

Not that Krista was the least worried about her half-sister’s rising skills. Gotta love those vid games, in the modern age. The similarity to the games and these galactic battles was extraordinarily close, indeed. Programmed by the systems that fought the real battles, out of the records, old and new, the training was endlessly varied, and one who survived the vids training would always be welcome on the platforms. She not only survived, she owned them. It was her name at the top, across the boards.

Besides, they were all in the good hands of their partner. Of course, if you were going to have a partner, one like Axe, the three level Cray super computer was the ideal. It allowed a tiny bit of room for error, on the human side, because, well, Axe missed nothing.

-----

So, for Angela, the important step up to Weapons Officer, Lieutenant, had been the initial one for seeking command, and Angie had to prove herself, her courage, her focus under fire, and her ability to maintain tight discipline under pressure.

Simulations just don’t do it, for, in actuality, you can die a hundred deaths and be back later. Though to the believer, it is a close second, and if you really, really hate to lose, it is closer than that.

But now, with nothing to shoot at, the reward of advancements was beginning to be a timed event, not an earned one. Krista knew that Angela was loathe to win a Command on time alone. And, frankly, she did not trust a Commander with only time on the bridge to back him or her, though, under her command, now, she had a half dozen.

So, as Lieutenant, Weapons Officer, all Angela had to do, oddly enough, was pray for a fight. Lots of them. Crazy, right?

But, of course, youth thinks themselves invincible, maybe even immortal. Then, barring any errors in judgment, personal or official, the hotshot girl would be eyeing the Commander slot. No special treatment, Krista knew, Angela would have to earn every bit of it.

Frankly, the love of the battle ran deep in Corrinder blood. Krista, too, was bored stiff. So, with Angela, so far, so good. And so much like her sister it was scary, Krista mused, smiling to herself.

As with the rest of the crew of the Alfuego, she would head off into the farthest part of the galaxy when that rescue attempt came, knowing full well that even if she lived through it, it was a long, long way home to Hope and Mother.

However, logistics would not let up. It was busywork when not on the Weapons Platform and truth be told, it was something to do. Staring at nothing on a vidscreen for eight hour shifts was pure torture. Thus, the half shift on Weapons, the half shift in logistics. As Krista put it, Angela needed to know everything about the Alfuego. Not just think she did…


Chapter 3

“CONTACT! BATTLE STATIONS! Multiple bogeys,” Axe all but shouted. The klaxons were sounding, not all that loud, for, though sound does not travel in space, there are detectors that can pick up the energy through laser sonar. That simply means that a laser beam in contact with the outer skin of the target ship can transmit the sounds therein. Of course, anybody that close should already be space dust.

But, there were klaxons everywhere, and it was impossible to find a place within the big frigate they did not reach. They were necessary, all the same, for though the Alfuego and her sister patrol vessels were manned by a skeleton crew at ‘night’, everyone else was in one of several stages.

They could be coming off duty, preparing to eat and head for bed, going to bed, ready to get some rest, or coming up out of sleep to prepare for the ‘day’s duties. The klaxon did as it was intended. It put them all on instant alert. The call to stations ensued as a madly organized scramble.

Of course, in space, there is no day and night, and for as long as Earthmen have traveled the stars, they took their watches and clocks with them. Some habits die hard. Besides, they had a very expensive computer to tell them what time of day or night it was on any given planet in the galaxy. It might not get confused, but humans thrive on habits, traditions and constancy.

But for now, those already waking were suddenly moving very, very quickly, donning the ship’s uniform, a silksteel gray, form fitting jumpsuit, with boots, belts containing passive and active weapons, and scurrying to battle stations, slapping Velcro fasteners on the way.

Those asleep had the capability of going to full wakefulness and were generally less than two minutes behind the former, even if they arrived half dressed, fumbling with their own snaps and Velcro on the run. Those on duty simply perked up. All of this for the same reason.

Trouble.

Lieutenant Angela Corrinder, now twenty five, “and three fourths,” she reminded anyone who asked, raced from her quarters next to the Captain’s quickly, as she had not yet disrobed for her off duty sleeping period, and so was sliding her pert backside into the starboard Weapons Platform seat just as Weapons Master Trues Briguet relinquished the conn and slipped into the port side. Alfuego had been configured to run with only one of the two platforms operating, but with multiple bogeys, the klaxons were calling for all the help they could find.

Angela was barely strapped in, reading the screens, when Captain Krista Corrinder raced in to the bridge, also wrestling Velcro holds on her clothing on the way. The attack, if such was the case, had been timed to coincide with human early dawn, the hardest time to be alert.

Which proved, as often happens, the enemy had been studying their target. But, too, that they did not know them all that well. What the hell is dawn, billions of miles from the nearest planet?

“Captain on the bridge!” Angela called, but made no move to salute. Not during battle stations calls.

“Captain has the conn!” Trues called out on the heels of the previous call.

“As you were! Axe, report!” commanded Krista. She was pleased to see Weapons Master Trues Briquet, now an older hand, but still in command of the weapons boards, and tickled to be there. The woman knew her stuff.

The now stouter, but still well-toned woman had a Commander rank, the natural progression through the weapons side, but after being nearly killed while on her watch, and coming within a hair’s breadth of losing the entire ship to a boarding invasion, several years back, she had requested to remain Weapons Master. It was, after all, something she was very, very good at. Yet, she still stood relief on the bridge when needed, but was anxious to turn it over, first sign of trouble.

Axe replied, much more calmly than all the activity had assumed, “A fly by, Commander, to start, eleven craft, I identify as Rogue’s Nightmares, but … something is off. Newer, maybe? I detect no visible propulsion, yet they are easily maintaining high velocity. They are making a wide u-turn at range six hundred thousand kilometers, coming back for another look. I think one of us was revealed.”

Krista and Angela both knew that Rogue’s Nightmares had been discovered a couple of centuries earlier, and so named when the founder, Vice Admiral Rogue, was unable in any way to communicate with them… except through the lens of a laser cannon.

Many had died at the ‘hands’ of the Nightmares, and it had been one huge battle, supposedly a final one with her mother the Captain, and the battle was now famous throughout that part of the galaxy. Both Leala and Krista had served with the Alliance Space Patrol.

But that had thrown them out of their own solar system into this far out and lost one they now patrolled. Famous did not reach this far. Forty light years is a hell of a lot of ones and zeros for total kilometers.

-----

Krista quickly checked to be sure that the six Dinae Fleet patrol vessels orbited far out in space, nearly a half billion kilometers from the central star, Apollo, and half that from Hope and Terra, sister planets in an orbit straddling the star. Leala had named the star, even as the Dinae had named Hope, and the refugees accepted the gift of the extra planet, naming it Terra.

All Hope Fleet units remained under stealth at all times. With anywhere from three to six fusion nuclear power plants, depending on the size and weaponry of the vessel, operating at less than ten percent each, they could power the vessels for a few million years.

The beauty of fusion was the bang for the buck. Small, easily contained, cooler to run, and very, very powerful. Fusion brings particles together, a colder process and far more easily controlled than the atom splitting fission. And far less physical size and mass. It was a wonderful improvement over the old fission units.

There had to be a glitch. Krista was too good a Captain not to recognize bad luck when it happened. Or sabotage.

But now, on the call to battle stations, the small patrol geared up from standby to full readiness. “Keep the shields down, Axe, stealth up. Weapons on hot standby.”

Krista knew that Axe would have already taken care of it, keeping the shields down prevented easy detection. As did high stealth. But the newly growing officers on the bridge needed to hear every nuance.

“Done on contact, Commander.” He still called the top bridge authority Commander, allowing for a danger code if something happened and they were boarded. Calling anyone ‘Captain’ would be a signal, and had saved the ship before. “Range, four hundred thousand kilometers and closing at five hundred sixty-five thousand, directly aft of our beam, ma’am. I think it is us they discovered.”

The patrol ships were scattered over nearly ten thousand kilometers, an easy laser cannon shot so that, though that seemed a long way off, the technology put them in each other’s back yard, almost side by side. She wasted no time, ordering, “System check, Axe, now, and quickly!”

Almost immediately, Axe reported, “The port side stabilizer is cracked in the forward face, Commander. It is an access face plate of one square meter that is floating by its tether off the end, by the endcap. We have degraded stealth fore and aft with that plate!”

“Good God! Get a crew on it from inside, Axe, and tell them hurry. We could have company in less than thirty minutes!”

“Yes, Commander.”

Probably sooner, if they pick us up, again. They will come in hot, she thought, ruefully. “Weapons hot, standby only,” she reminded the Weapons Platforms. From this ready position, full action was a tenth of a second away, through Axe, while perhaps a half second through the well-trained Weapons Officers.

The Dinae provided upgrade was a matter of painted stealth that literally mimicked the space around and behind them, from any angle, making them very hard to see, visually.

This, as well, absorbed any form of seeker radiation, making it almost impossible to find with any sensors in the universe. But a dangling plate meant a hole into the stabilizer, and these were anomalies that would allow any decent sensor to pick them up, quickly.

As the old-fashioned stealth B1 bombers knew full well in the late twentieth century, it is bad news to go instantly from a swallow to a whale in the technical eyes of the enemy…


Chapter 4

Stabilizers and even the vestiges of a tail look like what was important in atmospheric flight conditions, but now served very different purposes. They carried redirected exhaust to the very ends of each, on either side, or at the tip of the ‘tail’ to provide thrust and increase steerage capability.

But the good news was that the stabilizers were three to five meters ‘high’ inside, designed to handle the stresses of monster sized warcraft. Though there was plenty of hydraulics and exhaust systems, items like a face plate could be easily replaced or repaired by anyone in a ship’s silksteel suit and a helmet. For most of the huge structure, it could be done from inside.

Space walks were pretty much unheard of, for, given time, she could send out the bots. They were not quite as efficient from inside a stabilizer, where they risked entanglement, and thus, slower. So, in this case, they could not be used.

Outside, they were phenomenal repair units. In short order, the engineers scurrying to the Captain’s orders, the plate was retrieved and a new one set in place, then connected to the stealth system.

“Engineering reports plate replaced, full stealth,” Axe called out, softly. Sound does not travel in outer space, despite all the old movies feeding the deep bass of big engines. But, as said, the vibration of the hull, however slight, can be picked up with the right kinds of sensors, usually laser. Ask the FBI.

“Bogeys have slowed, Commander. One hundred sixty-three thousand kilometers behind us. I believe they have lost us.”

Now, the bridge crew thought, unanimously, and to the second, if they will only believe it was a fluke. “Dead stop, relative,” Krista said, just as softly. Relative meant that the sticks were at dead stop, no propulsion to give them away, even as the vessel traveled in excess of sixty thousand kilometers an hour in a wide orbit around Apollo. In fact, the entire wing of the Dinae Fleet ran parallel on their slightly wider or narrower orbit. All were dead stick… waiting. Once the Nightmares lost them, they had already traveled another ten plus thousand kilometers away. If the aliens had the math, and they probably did, they could calculate the targeting points pretty easily. More prayers from anxious crew.

Like the submariners of old, everyone literally held their breath while the enemy circled around them, looking for what they might have missed. It had only been a titanium steel plate, a meter square, but it had caught their sensors as a brief, but distinct blip, and it was out of place. And, yes, even the aliens had glitches. It was, after all, the golden age of serious technology… theirs and ours. If only they thought it to be a glitch and moved on.

If only.

Krista shivered, inexplicably. How many times had she been so close to death, only to prove victorious, and still… it was unnerving. She was viewing the long range rear vid up on the screen, just barely making out the oddly sinuous shapes of the vessels.

The vid had a maximum range, like a telescopic lens of cameras in the twentieth century, but the pixel count was so high that it could see half again farther, just not in great detail. Now, over one hundred thousand kilometers, certainly invisible to the naked eye, the evil things swung this way and that, trying to acquire another bounce on their sensors. They reminded her of long, skinny sharks, almost a half kilometer long, and in fact, tended to emulate some of the movements of a shark when in battle. All they needed was teeth painted on the front…

-----

Suddenly, a huge shape seemed to fill the screen. “What the hell is THAT!” Angela whispered a little too loudly.

“Hush, Angie,” whispered Krista.

Since moving into a full officer role, the still young Lieutenant had reverted from Angie to Angela. But this was not the time to make corrections. A monster of a ship, easily two or three times the size of their own Fleet frigate the Prelance had slowly come into view in the long range vids from behind the Rogue’s Nightmares… and was bearing down on the Alfuego. It was slowly gaining, not a threat for probably an hour or more, but it was a threat.

“Passive sensors, only, Axe, tell me what that is?” Krista asked, quietly.

“It is merely a cylinder, Commander, six and a half kilometers in length, two and a half kilometers wide. It has mixed carbon and fission nuclear propulsion, minimal weapons, and I sense a great deal of activity inside of it. My first impression is that it is either a troop transport, or a refugee vessel. Could be a factory of some kind, perhaps turning out robotics… And, wait, Commander. I have three more just coming into range. All the same size. Identical. They could even be transporters for captives, but… so big… no, I suspect refugees.”

Krista growled, still quietly, “No, you bastards, not on my worlds.”

Far below them, Terra and Hope beckoned invitingly. Like Earth, the high water content gave both of the far off planets a distinct bluish tinge. But they were being inhabited, taken over by humans. And the two species did not mix. At all.

She glanced around at her team. Trues, a well experienced hand in these space battles, was calm, patient, her fingers hovering near her controls, which, not surprisingly, looked very much like vid game joysticks and fire buttons.

Angela, inexperienced, and therefore invincible, had an air of eager expectation as she watched the vid display directly in front of her. She was missing nothing. The team was ready. Axe was always ready.

Krista smiled, thinking that if she cried, ‘Boo!’ Angela would kill everything in sight in record time! She would, of course, learn to calm down, and that took time and maturity.

Krista tried to figure this out. The Nightmares had no reason to transport and care for refugees. They did not need them to exist. Unless it was a manufacturing plant, and they staffed it with their possessed units, human or alien. Hmmm. “Status, Axe?” Krista whispered.

Just then, a loud ‘CLICK-CLICK-CLICK’ sounded on the hull. Now, sonar, all Navy personnel understood, was sound waves in water. The waves traveled out, going on for a long time in decreasing strength until absorbed by the ever present resistance of the water itself.

If they hit something, the waves bounced back, and the receiver in a sub, for example, could measure range, bearing and identity of the target. But, without sound waves in space, this had to be something else.

Krista bet it was laser controlled, and just then, Captain Mark Dillinger of the Avenger, four thousand kilometers off, opened fire with his dual mount, three lens long range laser cannon, as he cried aloud through the communications system, “They went weapons hot! They got laser seekers, kill them!”

His computer, interfaced with Axe, could fire all three lenses in near tandem, both sides forward, which put six laser bolts in through space, almost instantaneously, and hopefully, through a Nightmare vessel or two at the same time. One thing about lasers, the bolt was like lightning, short lived, damned hard to dodge, for it traveled the speed of light. Only luck saved those that had any.

Of course, long before all that even registered with the three bridge crew on Alfuego, they were already in the fight. Axe was handling the battle, and he called up all reserves in less than quarter of a second.

Elusive and Vagabond, two small but deadly cruisers opened up on the hapless Nightmares, too, and the battle was on.

Axe did his thing wordlessly, for he was suddenly very busy.

Well, from Krista’s point of view as fleet commander, it was now out of her hands. Whatever tried to find them died in a series of explosive blasts a hundred thousand kilometers behind the Alfuego.

The remainder Nightmare ships scattered, diving into stealth, but, foolishly, with shields up, so they were easily tracked by the very magnetic energy that prevented laser attacks. The bigger ships, however, seemed to majestically ease away, farther out in orbit, removing themselves from the fray.

To rise in orbit, a vessel simply added speed, letting centrifugal force push it away from the center. To lower in orbit, they simply slowed down, letting the gravity of the far away star begin to reel them in. Orbiting speed was merely a balance that held a ship at the same level from the central object, be it a star or a planet… or, heaven forbid, a black hole.

Axe reported, “Four Rogue’s Nightmares removed, Commander, however, at a cost. We lost the Loyalist with all hands. I see seven Nightmare cruisers still hunting, ma’am. The large vessels are almost out of the system.”

Goddamit! she thought. But, there would be time for mourning Captain Sara Dales, a new ship and a new leader, but she had made a mistake and caught a laser blast. It was extremely hard to anticipate a laser, and sometimes, it was just dumb, bad luck. It happens. Space is a very dangerous place.

True, sometimes, if only a part of a cruiser was damaged, they had time to teleport the remaining crew to safety, but the Loyalist had gone up in a perfect sphere of flaming energy. Could have been a nuke, but in that case, it was a Weapons Platform error. Shields did nothing to prevent the intrusion of missiles. It was Angela fast on the trigger to take out the one that got the Loyalist. But, still, it hurt. In vid simulators, you simply did a reset and it was all good. Not so much, here.

Axe was embedded in every system, but in the newer cruisers, his influence was limited. They had just discovered what a bad idea that was. Some geek weenie who had never been on a battleship thought that idea up. Probably worried that Axe would take over, or something.

Nothing left but space dust. That hurt like hell. Any Captain would have to be inhuman not to feel it. She shook herself, determined to regret the loss of Sara later. She was in a life or death situation, and sitting around feeling sorry for the dead lets you join them.

The lasers from both sides cut across space, showing as they tore through the debris of destroyed vessels, barely missing each other, let alone finding a target. In space, it is erroneously thought that there is no substance at all. That there is only vacuum. However, particles, from too fine to be seen by the naked eye, like dark matter, to larger particles like leftover dust of planet formations, even battles, are everywhere. And the lasers excite them.

The bright blue-white streaks enflamed the space dust, energizing them to incandescence for the brief thousandth of a second it took to empower and subdue, a beautiful, laser light show at the biggest rave club in the galaxy, except it was so damned dangerous.

“Thee nukes aft, Axe, now, set the angle to allow three kilometers spread at one hundred thousand kilometers. Give me full hard x-band, one revolution, where is everyone else?”

“Yes, Commander. A moment on the scan.” The Alfuego trembled, just slightly, as the aft tubes discharged the huge cylinders of death. Torpedoes came and went through the shields with no affect, but lasers were absorbed, either way. Torpedoes came with a solid rocket booster for speed and range, and a conventional explosive warhead, or a nuke.

The conventionals could take out whatever they hit, even if the explosion never materialized, but trying to hit something going in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand kilometers an hour was a nightmare, even for the super computer. They could do damage with proximity settings. But nukes could catch anything in a thousand mile radius.

Just then, Axe announced, calmly, “All fleet seem out of the danger zone, Commander… wait… new bogey coming at ninety degrees in across the bow at forty thousand kilometers, I see two vessels, high stealth, speed sixty thousand kilometers, headed for Avenger, Commander. Two nukes away, laser active.”

She was stunned. Once again, Axe did it on his own… why did this scare her so much?


Chapter 5

The system was believed to be the only thing capable of the speed it took to drop the shield, make the laser shots and raise the shield in under a half a second.

Angela could not compete, but she could do her best, and managed a single laser cannon shot between the dips in the shield, perfectly timed. It was a single pulse of barely a microsecond, but the power behind that beam was devastating.

Axe had the shields down and up, taking barely over half of a second and got in two more quick shots as the bright white of the nukes going up in their brilliant sphere tore off the shielding of two more Nightmares a thousand kilometers down and behind the two Axe caught.

Then, to her surprise and Krista’s, maybe even Axe’s, Avenger blew a hidden bogey away almost on his nose. Suddenly, there were no more Nightmares… except the monster ships still running higher and higher.

Those were slow and ponderous, but they were controlled. As Nightmare refugees or manufacturing, they most likely consisted of possessed captives. Krista was loathe to fire on the worker bees. Yet, it was understood that the worker bees did the process of possession, person to person among their own species.

They were no longer human, or whatever the Nightmares recruited. One drop of the oily glue of a transfer was enough. Walking dead.

The only way to stop the Nightmares was to exterminate the carriers. There was no way to extract the poison. So, they were the same as the Nightmares, but in substance.

Krista ordered, conversationally, “Okay, they found us. You can count on the fact that they are calling for help. Anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Axe, rouse the Fleet around Hope and Terra. Call up Operation Shield.”

This was a specific plan to spread out in wings of six, one frigate for every three cruisers. High stealth, shields down. “Get Prelance on station with us, and Bastion over Terra. Pair her with Staunch, just in case. The Nightmares will be coming back.”

“Yes, Commander.”

Those two, Bastion and Staunch, were the deadliest frigates of the fleet, as a pair, equal to Alfuego in anything reasonably close, and Prelance on her own in distance battles. They could handle almost anything the aliens could throw at them.

Also, the ships provided materials, weapons, ammunition and repairs, usually on the fly. Not to mention the swift ability to jerk the living right out of a dying ship, via ultra-fast teleport equipment, at very long range. In today’s modern, quick kill environment, that was proving essential.

“Make certain every vessel has a full complement of torpedoes and supplies. We dare not be caught short!” Krista ordered.

“Yes, Commander.”

“As for you, Angela!” Krista growled, amused as the young Lieutenant ducked and turned beet red.

It was fun teasing her younger half-sister, but this was not the time. She relented, and spoke up, loudly for the bridge crew, “Good shooting, young … Lieutenant! Damned quick and on target! Your first kill!” Now, she was distinctly applauding her along with Trues and a runner on the bridge. It was a hell of a shot at that speed. Lasers travel at light speed, so point and shoot would be nothing special if everything else stood still. But with the Alfuego at sixty thousand kilometers an hour, one way, the Nightmare vessel at cross track another fifty or sixty thousand, it had been a phenomenal shot, indeed! It was, frankly, akin to shooting a .223 bullet out of the air with another rifle at one hundred yards.

Angela grinned, trying her best to avoid the cursed flaming face. But to no avail. But then, she was still maturing, and she hoped to learn how to control it. As a fresh Sub-Lieutenant, she had taken a lot of ribbing about her blush, in fact, it had made her the butt of much of the practical jokes. Even got called, ‘Pinky’, once. Cured that one. Still, it also helped build character. The peers called the culprit ‘Blacky’ for the eye for a while.

As a Lieutenant, she was gaining better control of the willy-nilly reaction, but she was still unable to master it. Kind of hard to issue iron clad orders with your face aflame. Couple that with the indoor pallor of all spacers, and she aged not at all, seemingly locked at sixteen. Another hurdle to overcome for the almost twenty-six year old.

For the moment, many hands trembled a bit, handling hastily ordered coffee delivered by silent, but efficient servers in all white galley uniforms, complete with soft mag slippers so as not to make any noise.

But, while coffee kept one alert, it did little for the excess adrenaline coursing through the human body. Adrenaline rose and fell very quickly. Coffee sustained. And no one was immune. The more seasoned officers throughout the ship quickly got busy checking systems and stations and hoped no one noticed. The others simply looked a bit shook up.

After years of nothing, this was the opening battle in what might become a long, destructive war…

Angela, despite the loss of Loyalist, was hooked. This was the real thing. And she had scored, first time out!

-----

Within the hour, the entire Dinae Fleet was on post, as well as two hundred sentry satellites, surrounding the two planets, all nearly a million kilometers out, guarding billions upon billions of cubic kilometers of space. For those who just need to know the answer, at least approximate, at best, or close, but here it is: 4,188,790,204,786,391,000 cubic kilometers. Give or take.

What had started out to be a mere two dozen vessels had grown in leaps and bounds over the years, Krista found herself remembering. The Colspice Refugees had turned over many of their ‘modern’ cruisers and more than a few frigates to the Dinae, who were both much more technologically advanced, and far more practiced in this kind of warfare.

The tradeoff was tools, supplies, materials, even Dinae labor to spread the new humans over as much of Terra as they could, subduing the planet to human habitation.

It had taken nearly eight years to get the conversions done right, and to apply the training to rusty Colspice Alliance crews, but they were finally up to par, and awaiting word on when to head out for the ‘rescue.’

So now, sixty one fighting vessels held the space around their home planets, in ‘wings’ or formations, as ordered, weapons standby ready, shields down, but stealth high. Passive sensors could reach out and read incoming energy of every type, out to nearly two million kilometers.

So, the wings were scattered in such a way that the passives almost overlapped, though, to tell the truth, even Krista knew they could not cover all that space with this few of vessels.

Two hundred satellites were linked to the fleet, too, and they also provided another large patch of detection. The plan was another two hundred million kilometers farther out, but soon, it would be damned dangerous to run the obstacle course, especially when the obstacles are running sixteen to twenty thousand kilometers an hour, and in myriad orbit formations.

Still, however, not enough. They really needed to turn up the heat in the manufacturing on Hope. And, of course, on the bigger frigates, like Prelance and Bastion. They, too, could churn out the newer cruisers right down deep in the bowels of the big ships. All they needed was more titanium, something in rare supply. Asteroid mining had started up again, late last year, as a big one, laden with titanium steel, hove into view, but it would not be in reach for long. The engineers were doing their level best to gut it before it got out of the system.

In any case, however, anyone coming in was going to run into a firestorm. The Captains and Commanders holding each helm were well trained, experienced, and deadly. Every finger hovered, figuratively, on the trigger.

“Incoming hail, Commander. Admiral Corrinder.” The Admiral was on Hope, of course, and nearly a million kilometers away. Before the technology provided by the Dinae, that represented a few minutes delay, one way, and then back again, totaling a very stilted talk of six to seven minute waits. Now, at well over light speed, it was just over four seconds, roughly ten, roundtrip.

Admiral Leala Corrinder appeared on the vid. Basically the Queen of the Dinae, now married to First Ruler Haeus, the top leader of the entire population of Hope. Though they did not recognize Kings and Queens, the treatment held too many similarities for either Leala or Krista to deny.

“Admiral?” Krista asked. She watched as Leala addressed the camera, almost a talking head, with a well-rehearsed script.

“I heard that you had a run-in with Nightmares. Good job all around. I am sorry we lost the Loyalist, I had such high hopes for Sara. She will be missed, as well as her crew. Damned stuff happens.”

She paused, cleared her throat, as if subduing emotions, and then continued, “Keep your head in the game. We are trying to determine why the Nightmares appear to be in refugee status. I believe their entire population would probably fit in a one-liter kid’s sand bucket, but they may be embedded in people or robots that they need for some purpose, who knows! Perhaps as a workforce, but otherwise, they certainly do not need many bodies. As the only two viable planets in probably ten light years in any direction, we are prime targets. Stop them at all costs. Good job, good luck, and good hunting. Admiral Leala Corrinder out.”

-----

There was no need for a reply, she was gone. This was basically a letter of congratulations, as well as orders and Axe had already sent the receipt.

Krista and Angela saluted, anyway, as protocol demanded. Then, Krista ordered, “If no action in sixty minutes, Axe, release battle stations, but keep the alert status on orange. They will be back. All shields down, all stealth high. Axe, take all wings up another million kilometers off this orbit, and scan every vessel to make sure no one has any more dangling debris.”


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