DarkStar Running (Living on the Run Book 2)

BOOK: DarkStar Running (Living on the Run Book 2)
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DarkStar Running

Volume Two of the

Living on the Run

series

 

 

By Ben Patterson

 

Copyright 2014 Ben Patterson

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like
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not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook
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this author.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Printed in
the United States of America.

 

Living on the Run

I’m a killer. I don't remember every face of every victim,
but I remember this: that look in the eyes of someone facing their end, the
mixture of fear, resentment, resignation. It was my job, just my job. I stole
lives. Now they steal my sleep, my peace of mind, my soul. The men, the women
and, God help me, the children. I am a haunted man.

This government asked too much from its soldiers. It asked
too much from its citizens. It asks too much from me.

Now, I'm asking for something. To get my soul back.

There are as many ways to disappear as there are people, but
no one could have predicted this.

Fire up her engines. Let’s get
DarkStar
Running.

Chapter One

The oldest were grown men, twenty-six and twenty-seven-years
old. One was twenty-four. Most were younger, twenty two or less.

Captain Archer watched them from the second story window of
his office, listening to them grunt and strain and curse as they drilled in the
arts of hand-to-hand. The open hanger bay below was alive to the thumps of
well-delivered fists and feet to chests or cheeks, punctuated all too often by
the drill sergeants’ shouts whenever a punch or kick failed to connect. Missing
the mark would cost a crack on the back with a bamboo rod. Capt. Archer still
bore the scars of his training. Few soldiers didn’t. Colonel Ketchem strode
among the knew recruits, face reddening beneath his greying whiskers, muttering
at them one and all. Archer never seen the old training commander look so
fierce. “You there, look alive,” he said to one. “On your toes,” to another.
“No. No. No.”

His sergeants stayed to the perimeter for the most part,
darting in now and again to deliver a crack to a deserving back and scream
obscenities into the offending man’s face.

“These men don’t seem to learn as quickly or fight as well
as we did,” Archer said to his lieutenant who sat on the couch. With an arm
stretched out across the couch’s back, and a calf resting across a knee, Lt.
Troy Younger reclined, as much as any soldier on edge could recline.

Immediately following a sharp rap on the door, a soldier
stepped into the office and handed Archer a fist-sized digi-pod. “Your orders,
sir.” With that, he glanced at Lt. Younger, dipped his head in salute, and
left.

Captain Archer gripped the small device. Reading his
palm-print, a holographic screen appeared over it with text. If what he saw was
correct, these orders were distressingly unacceptable. His orders had been
getting increasingly worst every day, but he never thought they’d come to this.
Abruptly, he flung the electronic palm-pod across the room; it glanced off a
wall, and brought the bookshelf down with a crash.

With a stern face, Lt. Troy Younger stared at him for a
moment before glancing at the fallen shelves and the books scattered across the
floor.

“Swift, you okay?”

Archer sighed irritably.

“Are they really that bad?”

“Damn strait!” Stan snapped, glaring at Troy. “I can’t
believe they’re asking us to do that.”

“Asking, sir.” With raised eyebrows, Troy cocked his head. “Are
they giving us an option?”

Archer stepped to his desk, stiffened his arm, and sent
everything careening to the floor. If he could have lifted the huge oak desk,
he would have thrown it through the window. Appalled at his own
uncharacteristic display of anger, Stan stopped.
Get a hold of yourself, man
,
he chided himself.
What’s gotten into you? Where did this dangerous
stupidity come from?

“I take it, that’s a ‘no’.”

“Command has gone insane.”

“Look, Swift, if I—” But the look in Stan’s eyes was enough
to clamp Troy’s mouth shut. “Okay. Fine,” he said. “I just let you deal with
it.” Retreating from saying more, he stood to recover the digi-pod, and read it
silently to himself. “This can’t be right.”

“Really? What could it actually be saying then?”

Stan turned and pulled his helmet from his locker. Small
hand-painted hash marks, each representing a “Trog,” completely covered one
side. Each kill had started out as a source of pride, but now the hashes served
as a constant reminder. “Once done, Troy, some things can never be undone. If
we do what Command orders, there’ll be no going back.”

“Maybe HQ knows something we don’t. It’s a mission. I say we
do it and trust our higher-ups.”

Stan considered his senior Lieutenant. He had managed to get
his longtime best friend, Troy Younger, as his second in command, but was now
wondering why.

“And if I don’t do this?”

Younger sighed, then turned away to peer out the window at
the men below, perhaps, or perhaps at the Dart-class fighters at the bays far
end. Perhaps he looked at nothing at all before turning to his captain. “Swift,
please don’t put me in that position.”

“I need to know where your loyalties lie, Troy.”

Troy rubbed irritably at his face, his forehead, his eyes.
“Dammit, Swift.”

“If I turn from this task, Troy?”

“Sir, we’ve been friends forever, but if I’m pressed, I’ll
do what I must.”

Archer glared at him. “That means
what
, exactly?”

“If we start to question our orders now, there’ll be no end
to it. We’ll have to revisit everything we’ve ever done. But I think you know
that.”

While in their teens, Stan had taken Troy under his wing to
help him get past a rough parental divorce and an abusive father. Troy was a
year younger, so Stan got his friend into the academy by vouching for him. For
the last five years they had flown together as a team. But in spite of their
history, they seldom saw eye to eye anymore. Fact was, because of their
friendship, Stan had turned a blind eye to what Troy had, over time, become.
Truth be told, there were real reasons to hate the man.

The aristocracy thinks he’s the ideal soldier. They can
think what they want, but I know better. If
that
is my best friend
,
thought Stan,
what does that say about me?

His mind panned back through the days and weeks in search of
the trigger that changed his mood . . . his outlook.
Oh, yes, that
new kid
.

Carl Ogier—fresh and full of promise, an exceptional pilot,
sharp and always ready—had joined them just a month ago. Even from the first
day, Stan noticed that, no matter how hard he tried; the kid could never meet
his gaze. It was as though something about Capt. Archer acutely disturbed Carl,
as though the kid perceived something in his captain’s soul that
was . . .

Stan couldn’t put his finger on it, but it certain bothered
him.

He dropped his head to consider the mess at his feet. To be
honest, long before Carl joined the squad, Stan’s growing anger started to take
on a life of its own. The kid’s boyish face—or the troubled look in his
eyes—seemed to bring to the surface what Stan had, up until then, kept very
deeply buried.

Archer’s mind jogged back to the time he first joined a
fighter squad like this one. Just as Carl seemed now, back then Stan had high
ideals; thoughts of changing the Confederacy toward the better, toward a
proletariat living without the threat of Trogs mucking about. But the more
Trogs Stan killed, the more prolific the buggers became. There seemed no end to
this enemy.

Problem was they knew how to blend into the population at
large, making them near impossible to ferret out. Only eyes on the ground
provided a sure way to discover who was who. This was exasperatingly difficult,
though. Many once loyal citizens who had discovered Trogs wound up, themselves,
contaminated and turned.

This next mission, tomorrow’s mission, was designed to
alleviate the Trog problem, or at least show them that the Confederacy was
serious about their defeat.

Still . . . that unknown something gnawed at the
pit of Stan’s stomach. One way or another tomorrow would change everything.

“All right, Troy. Gather the men. I’ll be down shortly.”

Chapter Two

Carl Ogier wondered what this day would bring to him and his
fellow pilots. Would
Wolverine
Squad see more of the same, just more
killing?

Fully suited up for this next mission, he quietly shut his
locker and tucked his helmet under an arm. The two hash marks on it—now painted
over—said he found the very idea of marking his kills in this way, whether
tradition or not, was as repulsive to him as the rows of tattooed hashes that
spiraled around Lt. Troy Younger’s neck.

Three hundred plus, Troy had bragged.

Sick
.

Fighting a mix of acceptance and irritation, Carl sighed
before turning to his boss, avoiding his eyes.

Captain Archer’s manner and voice were always calm and
self-assured—
leaderly
—but Carl hated looking into eyes that veiled all
emotion.

“Geared up and ready?” Archer said, then turned away and
headed for the situation room without waiting for a response.

“Yeah, sure,” Carl muttered, knowing full well Cap couldn’t
hear him, nor would the
old man
care even if the words registered. Carl
glanced at Billy, the only other new pilot.

Billy Taft shrugged and shook his head. “That old guy should
retire or take a desk job. What’s he now, twenty-five? Kind of old for a
Dart
pilot, don’t you think?”

Considering Archer’s replacement would be Lt. Younger, his
XO, Carl shuddered.

Lt. Troy Younger nearly burst at the seams with a toothy
grin. “Great day ahead of us, boys, but tomorrow will be even better. More
Trogs will meet a just end. Yehah!” He headed out behind Cap.

It was clear to Carl that Troy was once again in his
element. Murder came so easily for the man that it set Carl’s teeth on edge.

“Freaky,” Billy Taft muttered, referring to Troy as he
brushed past Carl.

“Yeah,” Carl answered, following him and the older pilots
into the situation room.

Capt. Archer stood at the head of the room in front of a
large computer screen waiting for his pilots to find their seats. Troy stood to
one side.

“Get the animals fed?” Cap asked Troy, just as he had each
and every morning.

“Yes, sir.
Wolverines
are ready, Cap.”

The only chair open sat in the middle of the room, just in
front of Lt. DuMass, Troy Younger’s wingman.

Carl grudgingly took the chair. Any moment now Jessup DuMass
would resort to his typical childish behavior. Carl waited for it; as expected,
a wadded piece of paper smacked his head from behind, and Jessup chortled like
a schoolgirl.

Carl turned to the man behind him. “You’d think that a man
with as much gun under his belt as you have would act like an adult.”

DuMass snapped a closed fist at Carl’s face, but stopped
short of connecting.

Carl didn’t flinch. “Well, apparently not.” He quickly wiped
the annoyed frown off his face, and turned back to focus on his captain.

Cap dragged a finger across the screen to pull a digital
star map to its center and expanded it for all to see. With Parandi, the Confederation’s
capital planet, at its center, the map showed most of the surrounding star
systems. Just four light years east sat its nearest neighbor, Atheron. Cap
tapped it with a knuckle.

“Our target is a cruise liner nearing Atheron, boys. We’ve
just received intel that suggests the ship,
Emperor’s Princess
, is
infested with Trogs. Key Trog leaders, actually. We can’t allow the ship to
make landfall.”

Carl reared back. Had he heard right? “Intel ‘
suggests
,’
Cap? Does this mean no one’s certain?”

Cap’s eyes, as cold as ever, focused on Carl. “The Consul
has ordered the ship’s immediate destruction before its passengers contaminate
Atheron. Is there a problem, Ensign?”

“Capt. Archer, what about the innocents there? Are they
doomed to die alongside the guilty?”

“Would you like to sit this one out, Ensign? No one will
fault you—”

“Well, I will fault him, sir,” Troy snapped. “If he has
issues with the Consul’s orders, Cap, demote him. We fly
Dart
Interceptors; if he wants a surgical strike he can hoof door-to-door looking
for Trogs under beds and in basements. I don’t need anyone on my flight team
hesitating in the midst of battle.”

“That’s enough!” Cap glared at Troy. “I don’t fault the
man.” In locking horns with his first in command over this issue Cap was moving
toward setting himself up for an overthrow. If Troy Younger was an ambitious
man, and he was, he now had the means to usurp Cap and take his command. But
Capt. Archer didn’t show the slightest hint that he would back down.

Troy Younger hesitated, looking first at Carl and then at
Cap, before restating his position more carefully. “Sir. With all due respect,
we can’t allow our men to ‘opt out’ whenever the mood strikes them. These
orders come from the Consul himself. Consul Dais says kill, we kill.”

Archer’s eyes, once cold, turned hot with anger. “We’re
talking about downing a cruise liner, Troy, killing citizens loyal to the Confederacy.
And for what; a mere rumor?”

Troy’s eyes darted around the room. “Trogs, Captain. We’re
talking about a threat to our society like no other.”

“Really?” Cap looked at the map once more. “Have you
witnessed firsthand the threat you say we face? Have you seen any real evidence
of the damage done by Trogs?”

The room went absolutely silent. Carl and everyone else knew
that the lieutenant was Cap’s close friend and protégé. A disagreement between
them? In public? Unheard of.

Troy stepped closer and leaned toward Cap so as not to be
overheard, but in the silence everyone heard Troy’s low growling tone anyway.

“Captain Archer, you’re talking treason. Calling into
question the danger we face only stokes rebellion.” He leaned closer to
whisper, “We must take a firm stand, sir.”

Carl considered Cap. What Archer had said was indeed
treasonous, but his expression spoke of something more, something new, the
least of which was rebellion. There was life in old Thorn-bushel’s eyes, the
likes of which Carl had never before seen. It was as if Cap had caught hold of
a thought he’d only now considered.

Carl just had to stick around to find out what that might
be. “Cap, I’m in. Sorry I led you to believe otherwise. Just wanted to make the
stakes clear, sir.”

Cap’s gaze narrowed once again on Carl, considering him for
a long moment before turning back to Troy. “Carl flies my wing. Reassign
Tuttle.”

Oh, man
, thought Carl. Flying as Cap’s wingman meant
that on the way up to the transport, Carl was going to get a private butt
chewing by Cap, and everyone in the room knew it.

Another wad of paper hit Carl in the head, and he heard
Lieutenant DuMass’ chair squeak as he leaned closer to Carl.

“Now you’ve done it, runt. Cap’s goin’ta burn you a new
one.”

After the briefing, Carl followed the others as Capt. Archer
led his men out into the hall toward the flight bay. DuMass waited to one side
and when Carl passed by, DuMass tripped him, sending Carl crashing into Billy
Taft and on to the floor. DuMass laughed.

With a hand from Billy, Carl climbed to his feet.

DuMass stepped up. “You should have stayed down, punk.”
DuMass shot a fist up, Carl blocked it, and returned fire with a blinding blow.

DuMass now lay sprawled on the floor. Sitting up, he shook
his head to ward off the daze, then glared at Carl.

Saying nothing, Capt. Archer pushed his way back through the
crowd to the disturbance, glanced at the man on the floor, at Carl’s bloodied
knuckles, and then considered Carl’s face. But to see any emotion on Archer’s
eyes was still impossible. “ ‘Bout time you defended yourself, pilot.”

“Sir,” DuMass said, raising himself to sit on the floor, “he
struck a superior officer.”

“Now who are you superior to, sitting on the floor?”

DuMass scrambled to his feet. “You should—”

Archer backhanded DuMass sending him back to the floor.
“When talking to me, DumAss, never start a sentence with ‘You should.’ I’ll
decide what I should or should not do. Am I understood?”

DuMass sat up. “It looks like I’ll need to file charges
against both of you.”

Troy Younger’s face soured. “Don’t be absurd, idiot. Push it
any further and you’ll find yourself hoofin’ door to door to find Trogs.”

Archer turned back to lead his men to the launch bay leaving
DuMass scrambling to catch up.

They mounted their fighters fly up to a transport awaiting
them in orbit.

 

With
C
arlton
Ogier at his wing, Cap led his posse up
in tight formation.

Carl tabbed the autopilot, keyed in Cap’s
Dart
-wing
code, and settled back in his seat to let his bird stay where it should all on
its own. His hand was beginning to throb. Once aboard the transport that would
take them to Atheron, he’d have it looked at. But for now, the transport was
still some distance away.

Cap’s voice crackled in Carl’s headset. “What was going on
back there, Ensign? At first, it sounded as if killing innocents bothered you.
Care to explain yourself?”

“Yes, sir. If you please, can we make this just between you
and me?”

“On my honor, my ears only, Ensign.”

“I have my orders, and I will obey them, but to be honest it
doesn’t set well with me. I don’t think killing should come as easily to a man
as Troy or Jessup would lead us to believe.”

There was a long moment of silence. Usually quick and
decisive, this was totally unlike the actions Carl had come to expect from his
leader.

In the silence, one issue nagged at the back of his mind,
prodding Carl to push for an answer, even though his question might be over the
top.

“Cap, you seem as troubled about the
Princess
as I
do. May I ask why that is, sir?”

When Cap finally spoke, he offered only a hint of what was
on his mind. “Hard to say, Carl. Truth be told, I was pleased to hear you
question our orders. Someone had to.”

Carl tilted his head back to stare out at the stars. The
transport was still nothing more than a dot in the distance. “Do you see Trogs
as a true threat, Captain, or is there something else?”

“My handle is ‘Swift’, Carl. Out here, that’s what I go by.”

“Yes, sir, umm, Swift, sir.”

Captain Archer chuckled. “Do you know much about Providence,
kid?” Even through the crackle of the headset, Carl could tell Cap was careful
to guard his words.

“Rumors and hearsay, sir.”

“Swift!”

“Yes, mmm, Swift, sir.”

The captain shook his head. “Go on. You were saying?”

“It’s said . . . mmm,
Swift
, Prov territory
has been on a war footing with the Confederacy for more than a hundred years.
It’s loaded with Trogs, they say. Why do you ask?”

“You say that for more than a hundred years they’ve held the
Confederation at bay? Kind of begs the question, don’t you think?”

Carl glanced to his left. Cap looked at him, but, even with
the distance that separated them, Carl could tell real life now filled the old
man’s eyes.

“I don’t understand where you’re going with this, Cap. I
mean, Swift. What’s Providence got to do with anything?

“Chock full of Trogs, Carl. Chock full of inferiors, isn’t
it?”

“Yeah?”

“Inferiors?”

Then it dawned on him. How could an inferior, any inferior,
hold a superior at bay, especially for a hundred years? “Oh, I think I take
your meaning, Swift. Trogs defy the Confederacy as if they were an equal.”

“You’ve got it. Intel seems a bit lacking when it comes to
explaining that, but they won’t give me any more to go on.”

“Swift, sir, ever fantasize about crossing the border to see
for yourself how they live . . . and how they die?”

Another bit of protracted silence filled his headset. Then a
thought popped into his head. Sly old Swift had gotten him to lower his guard
and speak his mind—speak treason. Had he been set up from the start, an
elaborate ruse to get him to question the Confederacy? Carl’s anxious fingers
strummed rapidly on his armrest.

Just ahead he saw the transport growing larger as they
neared. Once aboard, there would be no escape, none that he would care for, at
any rate. Carl got a mental picture of being shoved into an airlock, and yanked
into the vacuum of space as the outer doors opened. “Accidents” like that
happened all too often to be less than suspect. He took a deep breath, but even
that was shaky.

“The truth?” Swift said at long last. “Yes, I have thought
about crossing over, just to see. Problem is, what if I like it better than
here?”

Now
that
was revealing! Before saying more, Carl
tried to quietly release his held breath but could hear it loud and clear in
his own ears. Swift had climbed way out on a limb in trusting him. Although the
desire to cross the border was Swift’s personal secret, he would know soon
enough whether Carl could be trusted with it. Treason was an ugly word, but if
thinking for oneself, opposite established norms, was treasonous, then both
Capt. Archer and Ensign Ogier were indeed traitors to their country.

“Swift, sir?”

“Yeah, Carl?”

“I’ve got no desire to kill our own citizens. But I’ve got
no out . . . no solution.”

“Tomorrow morning someone will die, Carl. It’s just that
simple.”

“So it’s them or me, huh, Swift?”

“Seems so, Carl. You’re flying my wing, so if you don’t pull
the trigger, DuMass will take you out. You can count on that.”

Carl didn’t know what to say. What
was
there to say?
Cap was right. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, someone was going to die. But
did it have to be him? DuMass would be eager to get a little payback, and now
Carl was lined up in his crosshairs. The only possible way out of this mess—
and
live
—was to kill all seven of his fellow
Wolverines
. Carl balked at
that solution, even if it had been possible. He was a good pilot, better than
most . . . but was he
that
good? He didn’t think so. The
descriptive word for what he was thinking was “Turncoat,” a traitor to
everything he stood for; everything he held dear. The very reason he joined the
academy to begin with was to protect these things. Now his own government had
his back against the wall.

BOOK: DarkStar Running (Living on the Run Book 2)
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