Authors: Licinio Goncalves
All rights reserved including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part, in any form: without the express consent of the author.
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, locations and events are purely fictional or, where applicable, in the public domain. Any similarity to individuals, living, dead or fictional, or to any event(s) is purely coincidental.
This work is intended to entertain, not guide or instruct in any way shape or form, and the author accepts no responsibility for any actions taken by the reader, of his or her own free will, during or after reading it.
© 2014 Licinio Santos Gonçalves
Fourth Edition (E-Book)
Dedicated to all of the people that have supported me through this on-going journey called life, and to those who would place their own lives on the line in order to protect innocents from harm.
Books in the series:
Shadow Core – The Legacy
Books on the horizon:
Shadow Core – Broken Soul
Shadow Core – Crusade
It is the 107
year of the 4
Galactic age and humanity is no longer shackled by the light speed limitation.
What had once been the cradle of humanity is now home to the Solarian Union. Considered by some to be the beating heart of the species and by others as an archaic regime of elitist zealots.
While galactic society grows each year, with over 1000 major colonies already established, the Union still enjoys unrivalled prosperity on the galactic scene. The fully developed infrastructure of the Sol system placing the resources from planets, moons, comets and countless resourcing satellites at its disposal. With the Grid, one of the most sophisticated sensor detection systems in known space, protecting this rich treasure trove of mineral wealth. Its ever watchful gaze tracking everything, from asteroid orbits and debris distribution to spaceship traffic. The slightest hint of suspicious or unauthorised activity triggering the deployment of patrol ships, or unleashing the might of the Union's military.
It is widely accepted by Galactic society that nothing exists, or happens, in this system that the Solarian Union doesn’t know about.
Against the cold and beautiful background of space, as the distant stars shine and the nearby planets dance around the Sun, a lone ship travels stealthily on its way to a relatively quiet area of the system.
The Icarus, an independent frigate class spaceship, was not the newest ship around. The design was actually quite dated by current standards and it had been modified so many times it was often joked that it didn't have a single original part left. But even so, it was the only ship that Kade and Jude would ever consider flying. This was their ship, entrusted to them by their grandfather on his passing. There was nothing particularly special about it, at least that they could tell, it was just an old and reliable ship.
The Icarus was commanded by Kade, a fiery red head with piercing blue eyes and an adventurous spirit bordering on insanity. A woman that prided herself on always getting the job done and honouring her deals.
Jude was the second in command, navigator and resident technical genius. A resourceful, spirited and rather impulsive woman with short chestnut brown hair and brown eyes. Her petite stature and unassuming demeanour frequently causing people to underestimate her, which was just how she liked it.
The last member of the crew was Nick, the pilot. He was a relatively recent addition to the roster of the Icarus. Seemingly incapable of taking anything seriously and always looking for an angle to exploit in order to make money. With short black hair, brown eyes, a light brown skin tone and an attitude that shifted between playful and arrogant.
The Icarus was a true freelancer ship, unbound from colonial power schemes or petty politics and ready to take on almost any mission.
Kade, as the captain, had final say on what missions to take on and, as a rule was often very pragmatic on such matters: piracy, slavery or smuggling of goods intended to harm life in any way were jobs that were strictly out of bounds. To a lesser extent, jobs that involved crossing paths with the Solarian Union were also generally avoided, as these could go very wrong extremely quickly since the Union didn’t hold freelancers in very high regard to begin with, and cared little for smugglers as a whole. Any other jobs were fair game, especially if they offered a little adventure on the side.
Those were the rules the Icarus operated by, but today was a little different. Somewhere in the Sol sector, far removed from all established trade routes, the Icarus was on approach to what appeared to be a large derelict vessel...
“Look at the size of that thing! It's freaking huge!” Nick said as he looked at the derelict's image on his holographic console, having just finished performing some last minute adjustments to the ship's course.
“I half expected not to find anything. It's hard to believe the information was accurate,” Kade said without looking away from her console, which was displaying the data she had received from her contact back on Titan orbital station two. A way-station infamous for its lax customs and questionable business operations.
She was trying to make sense of the information, having read through it many times, but some of it still didn’t make much sense to her.
“I'm surprised we're the first ones here. True, we are technically in the back end of beyond, but how has no-one stumbled across this thing yet? Why aren't there patrol ships swarming all over it? Did the Union's pride and joy, state of the art sensor grid, actually fail to see this thing. And how did it get here?” Nick asked, feeling frustrated and more than a little confused.
“I don’t think we were the first ones here,” Jude said as she sifted through all the sensor data the Icarus was collecting as it approached the derelict. She manipulated her holographic interface, selecting, enhancing and effortlessly classifying complex data as if it was second nature to her.
Jude didn't have much to work with, being limited to passive sensors since active scans would no doubt cause the local authorities to take notice of them, and this complicated things: the passive sensor data wasn’t making much sense to her since whole sections of the region of space they were approaching seemed to be unnaturally distorted. Which wasn't much of a surprise since they were entering the infamous Sol dead-zone: a region of the solar system that has been a hazard to navigation for a century.
“I'm seeing signatures of debris near our target, a lot of it... titanium, composites, the list goes on... but it doesn’t appear as though the debris is coming from the derelict. The readings I'm getting from the derelict itself are... well... weird. It's there, and yet it isn’t... not sure how to explain this...” Jude said and then paused for a few seconds as she organised her thoughts. “Our cameras can see it clear as day, but all other readings are coming in scrambled. If I didn’t know for a fact that it's there I wouldn’t know what I'm looking at right now, which might explain why the patrols are ignoring it.”
Nick closed his eyes briefly as he pondered the meaning of Jude's words with a troubled expression and wondered what it all meant. Meanwhile, Kade just carried on reading through the information pack.
“I see! Indeed, that must be it!” Nick said without hesitation as he opened his eyes again, looking as though he had reached an important conclusion.
“What?” Jude asked as she looked away from her console, curious about Nick's comment.
Nick looked back at Jude with a mischievous smile and said, “A ghost ship!”
Disappointed, Jude replied, “Are you ever planning on growing up?” She was not so much disappointed at Nick but at herself for having believed that he was actually taking things seriously for a change.
Nick smiled and said, “Not if I can help it,” as Jude turned back towards her console.
Concerned, Jude said, “This disruption could be a natural phenomenon, or interference from the derelict's reactor core. We'll need to run some active scans in order to know for sure. But there is another possibility, this could very well be a trap.”
“Not really the most effective place for a trap if we consider that ships usually go out of their way to avoid this area. I mean, who in their right mind would ever actually want to go through this graveyard?” Nick asked as he examined the sensor data on his own console since he didn’t really have much else to do until they got closer to the derelict.
“I am surprised you can make any sense of this mess, there's crap everywhere! How can you even tell there's debris near the target?” Nick asked.
“Most of the contacts you're seeing on your console don't actually exist, you need to filter out the echo distortions from the target list,” Jude said as she remotely updated the settings of Nick's console, causing the vast majority of the contacts to vanish.
“Oh!” Nick said. “None of the ships I've piloted before could do that.”
“The Icarus sensors are a bit outdated. The control software has always had this weird quirk that requires user input to classify unknown signals. It's a pain, but it does have its advantages,” Jude explained.
Nick laughed and said, “And here I thought it was only the navigation system that was ancient...” and then noticed Kade glaring at him. “...er, I meant vintage!” He said as he quickly turned back around.
“It's no good,” Jude said as she leaned back on her chair with a defeated look. “I can't get a reading on the derelict. As far as our sensors can tell, the thing doesn't exist. I'm starting to understand why they call this a dead-zone. Between the sensor disruption and the spatial instabilities this whole area is a death trap.”
“Spatial what?” Nick asked.
“The area around the derelict is peppered with unstable space bubbles. They prevent ships engaging their Burst drives and cause anyone trying to Burst through them to drop to sub-light,” Jude explained.
“Is that why we're approaching using our sub-light drives?” Nick asked. “I was wondering why we were snailing our way there.”
“Yes. The bubbles drift around inside this region, making it impossible to predict what sections are safe to travel through. Still, at least they seem to be contained to this one area. Though it is puzzling that the dead-zone would have an orbital path like a planet,” Jude said.
“We're not here to solve the mysteries of the Universe. Focus on the task at hand,” Kade ordered.
Jude smiled as she said, “Bah! You're no fun!”
“Have your fun later. This region is seriously bad for sensors, making it the perfect place to hide. We could be flying into a pirate den for all we know,” Kade said while still focusing on her console.
“In Sol?” Nick asked with a chuckle. “It would take a special kind of suicidal idiot to set up a pirate presence in this system. If I had to bet then my money would be on smugglers.”
“There are three smuggler bases that I'm aware of in this system, and two more that I’ve heard of in rumours, but this isn’t one of them,” Kade said as she finally looked away from her console.
She had spent all this time trying to make sense of the information she had received from her contact, but something about it all was still bugging her.
Nick was visibly surprised at Kade's statement, he was only aware of two smuggler bases in Sol.
“According to the information this derelict hasn’t been here long, only about a month. And yet it seems to be in a stable orbit, moving with the dead-zone,” Kade said and then carried on with a frustrated look, “This rules out the possibilities that it was destroyed here a long time ago, or that it recently drifted into the system. Add to the mix that the Sol grid has failed to take notice of it, and then what, exactly, does all of this mean?”