Authors: James Wisher
They dropped to the floor, Marcus and Iaka both drew their blasters. He scanned the hall behind them, looking for whoever fired that shot. Whoever shot at them had to be in the hall, there was nowhere else the blast could have come from.
Dorn tugged on his arm. “My partner has no legs. He flies on an antigravity unit.”
Marcus shrugged him off and glanced at Solomon. He mouthed the words ion grenade and pointed down the smoke filled hall.
Solomon held up a grenade the size of a plum and raised his eyebrows. Another green blast flashed above their heads. Marcus nodded and pointed again. Solomon pressed the primer and threw the grenade down the hall. A second later lightning filled the hall followed by a crash when their attacker crashed to the floor. The half-man tried to bring his weapon’s module to bear despite the sparks shooting from its barrel. Marcus aimed his blaster, but the module exploded, tearing the man’s arm off and saving Marcus from having to shoot him.
Marcus leapt to his feet then reached down and grabbed Dorn’s collar. He yanked the old man to his feet and thrust him toward the ship. Iaka and Solomon ran behind him and Marcus brought up the rear. Solomon, Iaka, and Dorn stopped by the ramp and stared at something. What the hell was the holdup? Marcus skidded to a stop beside the others, “Are you kidding me?”
Debris filled the opening to the hanger. There was no way the ship could maneuver through that mess. Marcus ran his finger through his hair. He couldn’t catch a break.
Choking down a string of curses he said. “I can fix this. Everyone on board. Solomon, stun cuffs on our passenger, please.”
Solomon smiled for the first time since he found him slumped over his computer. “With pleasure.”
“I’ll give you a hand,” Iaka said.
The four of them went up the ramp. With everyone on board Marcus sealed the ramp and ran for the cockpit. He dropped into the pilot’s chair, powered up the antigravity generator, and retracted the landing gear. With micro thrusts he pointed the ship toward the closest of the two fighters and activated the tractor beam.
Solomon and Iaka joined him just as the first fighter rose off the ground. He guided it toward the jagged metal and girders, pushing it until the fighter lodged amongst the debris.
“I thought the idea was to make the opening bigger.” Solomon dropped into his chair with a sigh.
“Criticizing already? It isn’t that far back to your cell.”
Solomon waved his hands in a placating gesture.
“What are you doing?” Iaka asked.
“Demolition work.” Marcus punched a code into his gauntlet and the bomb he placed on the fighter earlier exploded followed a moment later by a bigger explosion when the fighter’s missiles and fuel cells went off.
The explosion finished off the forcefield maintaining the hanger’s atmosphere. Debris, smoke, and everything in the hanger not nailed down or under power went flying out into space. The opening was big enough for two ships to fly outside by side. “That big enough for you?”
arcus streaked out into space
, happy to leave the disintegrating hauler behind. They hadn’t flown over a second when the collision warning went off. He spun and yanked back on the throttle. An arm from one of the octopus looking ships swiped through the space just ahead of them. Alarms shrieked when it raked them with a fan of plasma from its cutter.
He rolled and hammered the throttle forward. “Fire up the cannons and give that son of a bitch something to think about.”
Solomon stared at the console in a daze. Marcus didn’t have time to spare worrying about him. Despite his best efforts the octopus ship was staying right on his thrusters. He rolled, avoiding another jet of plasma.
“I’ve got them,” Iaka said from behind him in the auxiliary chair.
A moment later streams of energy poured from the ship’s cannons forcing the other pilot on the defensive. Marcus seized the moment and jetted toward open space. If he could just get a little distance they could fire up the hyperdrive and get out of there.
“Look out!” He was rolling again before Solomon finished speaking. The second enemy ship must have noticed the trouble its partner was having and decided to lend a hand. It wasn’t like the hauler was going anywhere.
“Which one do you want me to shoot at?” Iaka asked.
“Both!” Sweat beaded on Marcus’s forehead as he fought to avoid the second ship’s arms while not flying toward the first. They were so fast. It didn’t seem possible the ungainly things could keep up with him. How the hell would he get out of this mess? “Where’s the second fighter, the one from the hanger?”
Solomon tapped on his console. “The opposite side of the hauler. I’ll put it on the screen.”
A flashing dot popped up off to Marcus’s left. He pushed the engines to the red line and turned toward it. If this didn’t work he was out of ideas. In a straight race he finally gained a little distance between him and the second ship. “Where’s the first ship?”
“Coming up fast on our right.” The battle seemed to have burned the exhaustion from Solomon’s brain, thank the galaxy.
“Iaka, focus your fire on the first ship. Keep it off us for another few seconds.”
The streaks of energy shifted to target the approaching ship. Up ahead the drifting fighter drew him on. They should be close enough now. Marcus clenched his teeth, took one hand off the controls, and punched in all but the last digit of the code for the second bomb. They streaked past the fighter and he hit the final key. The bomb detonated, engulfing the pursuing ship in a spray of shrapnel. Marcus climbed and spun them back around. “Switch targets.”
Iaka shifted her fire again. The damaged ship took three hits then exploded. Marcus pumped his fist once then looked for the surviving ship. He found it fleeing back toward the space station. He started to turn in pursuit, but Iaka put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s over. Let’s get out of here.”
Marcus let out a breath. Part of him really wanted to chase down that second ship and blow it to smithereens, but Iaka was right. They were safe now. He turned toward open space and throttled back to half power.
“Course plotted and laid in.”
In unison they said. “Back to the council!”
Marcus flipped the switch and they shot into hyperspace.
most of three days to reach the council asteroid. They emerged from hyperspace, the massive asteroid filling the screen. Marcus let out a little sigh. They’d made it back, everyone in one piece. That was the best result he could have hoped for.
“So what happens now?” Solomon asked. His eyes looked clear and some of the darkness around them had faded. Three days of near constant rest worked wonders.
“I imagine the boss will want to talk to Dorn, try to find out how those freaks got a hold of Void tech. It’s bad enough to have to deal with the Void themselves without everyone else in the galaxy getting their claws on their weapons.”
“I second that.” Solomon glanced over at the empty seat behind Marcus. “What’s up with Iaka? She seems, different.”
“Looks like she’s had enough of our lifestyle.”
Solomon’s eyes widened. “Are you two…”
Marcus shook his head. “I don’t know, pal.”
The comm unit crackled. “Welcome back,
Your hanger’s empty and waiting.”
“Thanks, control, it’s good to be home.” Marcus flew the ship around to their usual hanger. The doors stood open, a forcefield the only thing keeping the vacuum of space out. He eased through the field and once the engines cleared sent the command that closed the doors. After this little adventure he’d think twice about not sealing the doors behind him.
The docking clamps locked on to the top, bottom, and sides of the ship, securing it in place then spinning them around to face the doors to allow an easy exit. They’d taken surprisingly little damage this time, just a little carbon scoring from the octopus ships’ cutters. Their fuel, however, was down to fumes. It was a good thing he got free fill ups as part of his unofficial salary. He powered everything down and got out of his chair. His gauntlet sat charging beside his station. Marcus unplugged it and strapped it on.
They left the cockpit and found Iaka standing in the hall. “Back at last.”
Marcus nodded. It was a relief to have everyone safe, but now they’d have to decide what their future held. He led the way back to the hold where they’d left the restrained Dorn lying on the deck, Gruesome towering over him. If ever there was an incentive to behave, having the giant war bot towering over you was it.
“Get up.” Marcus nudged Dorn with his boot.
The old man groaned, but didn’t move. Marcus looked at Solomon. “Want to see if the stun cuffs work?”
“Alright!” Dorn scrabbled to his feet, his blue robe wrinkled and filthy from sleeping on the deck. He looked more like a refugee than a rich businessman. He glared at the three of them. “I suppose you’re enjoying this.”
Solomon offered an enthusiastic nod. “I certainly am. I kind of hoped you might not get up so I could give you a taste of how the cuffs felt.”
Marcus grinned, but held his peace. He walked over and lowered the ramp. “Let’s go. I suspect my boss will want to talk with you.”
To his surprise, at the bottom of the ramp, a few feet away, stood Dra’Kor, his silver mask and white robes gleaming. Marcus guided Dorn down the ramp with a hand on his elbow. “Hi, boss. This is Dorn Karrik, kidnapper, liar, and all around slime ball. Despite his character issues you’re going to want to talk to him.”
The silver mask cocked to the left. “What makes you think that?”
“His partners were using Void tech. I saw at least one weapons’ module that came from an assassin. The universe knows what else they might have.”
“The universe may know.” Dra’kor raised a gloved hand and pointed at Dorn. “But does he?”
Dorn flinched under the cold regard of the first councilor. “I only know what I saw and heard. If I tell you, you have to guarantee me protection.”
“You’ll find all our prisons very safe. Come along. There’s a conference room nearby where we can talk.”
Dra’kor led the way out of the hanger and down a short hall. He took a left, passed several doors, and then stopped in front of the sixth. There was a control panel on the wall which Dra’kor used to open the door. Inside was an oval table with eight chairs around it. Dra’kor took a seat and gestured for the others to do the same. Marcus steered Dorn into the seat closest to the first councilor then took the one behind him for himself.
Dra’kor leaned towards Dorn. “Tell me about these partners of yours.”
Dorn leaned forward in his chair to take the pressure off his bound hands. “The truth, sir, is that it’s all his fault I fell in with such disreputable characters.” Dorn jerked his head toward Marcus.
Dra’kor looked to Marcus who gave him the abbreviated version of his rescue of Princess Lande. Dra’kor returned his attention to Dorn. “So you failed to force a wealthy girl to marry you against her will and this is what caused you to fall in your new partners.”
“Precisely, sir. I required capital for my business and when I failed to get it in one place it became necessary to get it elsewhere.”
The first councilor leaned forward so his mask was only a few inches from Dorn’s face. “Be grateful that my people reject violence. If ever a person tempted me to violate my beliefs you are him. Now tell me about your partners before I lose my patience.”
Dorn’s face went pale. “They call themselves Scrappers. They make money tearing apart derelict ships and selling parts and metal. It appears they make a great deal of money as they had no trouble providing me with the ten million credits I required, interest free I might add. It was only later I learned that sometimes they create the derelicts rather than just find or buy them.”
“So you took a loan from pirates,” Marcus said.
Dorn cleared his throat. “It turned out that way, but I didn’t set out to do so.”
“When you put it that way I guess we can’t complain.” Marcus said.
Dra’kor shook his head. “Enough, Marcus. Where did they get their technology?”
“I’m not certain. From what I’ve pieced together someone used them in a variety of experiments then when they didn’t turn out as they expected abandoned them. The ones I dealt with were quite bitter about the whole thing.”
These Scrappers must be the failed Void experiments Iaka’s old boss mentioned. Marcus frowned. Why the hell would they have wanted with a feed from the council chambers?
“Why did these scrappers have you kidnap Solomon?” Dra’kor asked.
“They required a hacker to get them access to your camera feeds. They didn’t specify who, just someone good enough to get the job done. I admit I selected Mr. Keys. I figured as long as I had to get someone to do the job I might as well cause a little discomfort to an old enemy. That turned out to be a poor decision on my part. Anyway I overhead my partner talking to his master. It seems they wanted to learn when especially valuable shipments would be heading out so they could ambush them.”
“Did they mention how they planned to ambush them or where?” Dra’kor asked.
“It seems they stole a device from their makers capable of dragging a ship out of hyperspace. They called it a Hyperwave Generator. I admit the science is well beyond me. The idea was to set up in a secluded spot on the target’s route, force it out of hyperspace, and attack before they recovered from the surprise.”
“This is very important,” Dra’kor said. “Do you know where the Scrappers’ master is located?”
Dorn lip curled in knowing smile. “If I did, what would it be worth to you?”
“It’s worth enough that if you don’t tell me I’ll strap you into a brain scanner and rip the information out of your head.” Dra’kor spoke in such a cold voice for a moment Marcus thought he might do it.
It appeared Dorn thought so too. “All I know was the name of a city, Sidwell they called it.”
Dra’kor nodded. “Thank you.”
A moment later a pair of Vencar in silver masks and white, form fitting, battle armor entered the room. Dra’kor pointed at Dorn. “Take him to a holding cell.”
Without a word the soldiers took Dorn by the arms and half carried half dragged him out of the room. When they’d gone Marcus asked, “What’s a Hyperwave Generator?”
Dra’kor sighed behind his mask. “Something that shouldn’t exist. Our scientists came up with the idea centuries ago. They theorized that a ship could move even faster through hyperspace if they could generate waves to push it along. They believed with these waves they could travel to the next galaxy and return in a few years. Though the theory was sound no one ever created a functional Hyperwave Generator.”
“Is this something else Sar’ken stole when he left your world?” Iaka asked.
“Apparently. And like everything else he ever touched, Sar’ken has corrupted it, taken a potentially revolutionary tool and turning it into a weapon. I hate to ask you to go into danger again, my friend, but we can’t allow these Scrappers to retain possession of the generator.”
Marcus nodded. He’d seen this coming as soon as Dorn mentioned the generator. “This is what you pay me for. If you can find Sidwell, I’ll be happy to smash their generator for you.”
“No, Marcus, you mustn’t destroy it. I need you to bring it back intact.”
Marcus frowned. “Wouldn’t it be easier to destroy it? Once it’s smashed the Scrappers won’t be able to use it anymore, problem solved.”
“The problem is far bigger than a few unfortunate beings getting their hands on a weapon. Even if this is their only prototype the Void have the knowledge to build another. We need to learn how it works so we can figure out how to counteract it. Until we know that hyperspace travel will be at the mercy of the Void, and we both know how little mercy Sar’ken and his followers possess.”
“I can’t argue with you there, boss. Okay, I’ll get the
ready to move.”
“I’ll help just as soon as I get the spyware stripped out of camera system.” Solomon got to his feet. “Shouldn’t take me more than an hour.”
Iaka stood as well. “I’ll see what I can dig up on the city of Sidwell.”
Marcus shot her an enquiring look. “I thought you didn’t want to do this sort of work anymore?”
She chewed her lip for a moment. “I don’t want to get shot at and run for my life anymore, but I’ve thought about what you do a lot on the way back from Dorn’s. It’s horrible, but someone needs to do it and you have the best combination of skills to do it well. I can’t go back in the field with you; it’s just too much for me, at the moment anyway. What I can do is help with research. I’m good at it. I spent a lot of time in the library in college. I want to help and this is the best way I can.”
Marcus grinned. “I knew you wouldn’t quit on me. Let’s do this.”