Star Force: Shame (SF59)

BOOK: Star Force: Shame (SF59)
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1

 
 

March 1, 2655

Unnamed System
(lizard territory)

High Stellar
Orbit

 

Kara’s Ma’kri exited the very slow interstellar jump
at full repulsion, draining its capacitors in order to slow the jumpship far
away from the star where the gravity field was weaker. That left the ship
vulnerable, for it would take time for the gravity drive capacitors to recharge
sufficiently to make another jump, but the benefit of it was that the lizards
wouldn’t know where to expect them. Even if they picked them up on sensors it
would take time to get ships out to their location, and without the lizards possessing
binary drives it would be a difficult bit of navigation for them to do so.

Which was why Kara was willing to risk the jump. The
system in question was on the edge of the lizards’ core region, with the
journey to get here being extremely difficult. Over the past few years she’d
been raiding one world or another, blowing up or otherwise sabotaging important
pieces of infrastructure or ships, and data mining every computer system she
could get her Vorch’nas plugged into…as well as mind melding with a few
Mastermind variants she was able to track down.

Little by little she gained information on the
lizards, their territory, and their inner workings…but only in piecemeal for
most didn’t know anything other than what concerned their local affairs. In
fact, she probably knew more about their empire than most of them did, and that
knowledge had led her here.

What ‘here’ was she still wasn’t sure, but it was a
level of system far beyond anything Star Force had encountered before. Those
systems surrounding it were nearly impossible to enter without being detected
and swarmed with ships, and on more than one occasion her ship had to bug out
almost immediately when scouting the area became impossible.

Kara desperately wanted to probe deeper into the core
of lizard territory but to do so she’d needed more engine power…and now finally
she had it. The Ma’kri she was commanding was a prototype, or rather the first
model out of prototype finishing. It carried Star Force’s newest gravity drive,
which now put them at 1/10th the strength of the
V’kit’no’sat’s
basic drives. That was no small feat, and the ship had to be redesigned with
most of the internal space going into more jump drives and leaving little more
than a skeleton crew onboard, but the
Sonic
was now by far the fastest jumpship in the ADZ and probably the entire local
segment of the Orion galactic arm.

That made her trips between systems ultra-fast, but
that wasn’t the point. She needed the enhanced engine power so she could jump
off the star’s gravity field but far enough out from it to miss the stellar
detection network the lizards, or others, would have set up. That was the only
way she had been able to scout out the surrounding systems, and it was the only
way she’d been able to make it this far into the interior.

The Ma’kri also had the best sensor plating available,
which would hopefully make it a ghost to lizard sensors at range, but there was
no way of telling until you got there to find out.

“How do we look?” Kara asked her Captain, standing
behind his command chair with her hands on the backrest.

“Nothing local, but there are…oh my,” he cut off as
the passive sensors began to pick up slight reflective signals from the
lizards’ own detection grid as they bounced off of various objects, with the
biggest ones being the first the computer analysis could pick out.

“We knew there was something special here,” Kara said
calmly. “Let’s have a thorough look.”

“Please tell me you’re not going in there?” the
Captain pleaded.

“Not today, no,” she said, seeing more detail forming
on both the main hologram and the Captain’s readouts that she was snooping on.
“We’re just going to take a peak from range, but let’s make sure we see all
that there is to see. Bring us in a lazy slingshot around the planet, but keep
it high,” she said, seeing the closest of the planets in the system not too far
off from their current position. It was larger than Earth by about a third and
was covered in green according to the visual scans that were being enhanced and
shown to the bridge, along with so many ships in orbit that they appeared to be
solid globs on the sensors until they were able to sort out the tiny dots for
what they were.

They appeared as schools of fish, with varying sizes.
The Ma’kri couldn’t give numbers or makes from this range, only detect the mass
of them, but that wasn’t what had shocked the Captain. Also in ‘orbit’ around
the planet was a solid, giant ring some 10-15 miles wide and by no means a
natural occurrence. As the Ma’kri began moving a bit closer the sensors were
able to get more detail, but it appeared that there was a massive, artificially
constructed ‘halo’ around the planet, and one with lines running down to the
surface.

The closer they came the more detail they got, up
until they’d ventured as near as they dared yet still in high orbit, but it was
close enough to get ship counts and see the construct for what it was. The
previously smooth ring was not so pristine on inspection, but rather a lumpy
jumbled assortment of niches and pylons that housed partially constructed ships
of massive size. As they lazily flew by the closest approach in their slingshot
orbit they saw several invokers under construction, along with slots that
appeared to be building assault pillars and their massive cargo ships.

Others were constructing their jumpships and no less
than 7 additional models that Star Force had not seen to date, nor had gained
intelligence on from Kara’s computer and memory raids. There was no way to tell
if they were warships or not, but it was clear that the lizards had constructed
a mindboggling shipyard that ringed the entire planet and was no doubt the
source of the swarm-like fleets sitting nearby.

The lines that connected the ring down to the planet
were obviously orbital tethers, something that Star Force had experimented with
early on then abandoned in favor of dropships. It seemed the lizards had found
a use for them, and if Kara’s instincts were right they were hauling massive
amounts of resources up from the planet round the clock, and given that each
one was nearly a mile wide there had to be multiple shafts inside to run who
knew how many lifts.

Other than the Nexus grid points this was the biggest
feat of engineering Star Force had ever seen, and the fact that it was the work
of the lower tech level lizards only underscored how innovative, bold, and
devious they were…not to mention industrious. This ring shipyard had to be
capable of producing more warships than all the slips in Star Force combined.

Kara guessed that the cruiser slips were interior
ones, for the bulk of the ships in orbit were of that make, but there was also
a disproportionately high number of battleships, dreadnaughts, and other larger
vessels, with facilities like this no doubt being their primary source of
fabrication. Already Kara was thinking of ways to attack or sabotage the thing,
but it was so massive that there was literally no easy way to do it. Even if
she smuggled several dropships’ worth of explosives onto it she’d only make a
dent in the thing, leaving virtually all of it intact and operational.

She had no clue how she was going to mess with it, but
right now that wasn’t going to happen anyway. This was a pure recon run and
they’d already got further than she’d thought they’d get, so it was time to
move on, look some more, then get the hell out of here before they pressed
their luck to the limit.

Keeping well clear of the planet the Ma’kri made a
light jump across to the next planet in the system and traveled around the full
circuit, always going slow and braking high up where there should have been no
trouble. They found several other worlds fully inhabited by the lizards,
including three airless ones that were no doubt mining operations to assist in
feeding the shipyard ring. Kara wished they could turn their own active sensors
on, for she knew they were missing a wealth of information, but it wasn’t worth
the risk. Already the planetary tracking sensors were hitting their hull
lightly and being absorbed, but any closer or even a twitch from their own
actives would give them away.

But they didn’t need actives to see the ship counts
around each of the planets they passed near. There were literally millions of
ships in the system, a mix of warships and transports and who knew what else
with all the unfamiliar designs, but it was clear that this system was on a
development level far beyond any they’d come across before, making this a whole
new ball game and confirming the fears the trailblazers had had about the
strength of the lizards…with Kara only now beginning to understand how patient
their enemy was.

With the exception of the Skarrons the lizards were
almost lazily conquering their tiny slice of the galaxy, picking off easy
targets and working over those more difficult ones with successive hikes in
ship count and resources, but not overwhelming targets with the gigantic hammer
of a fleet before her. They were biding their time and expanding while keeping
their true power held back and out of view of others, giving them perhaps a
hope of surviving when they had none. It was simply a matter of time and a
waiting game, with the lizards watching, learning, and growing stronger as
their second and third tier troops did all the fighting.

Star Force had noted that the lizards were not taking
that strategy with the Skarrons, and from the
intel
reports they were getting, which they knew were incomplete, there was a steady
flow of ships coming out from the core and ramming straight into Skarron
territory…and now Kara knew from where they were coming. There was no doubt in
her mind that there were other ring shipyards like this one in the other core
systems, which numbered about 40 as far as she’d been able to deduce, and for
every fleet they monitored heading for the Skarrons there must have been ten
times that going in that they were unaware of.

Already the lizards had carved out a huge chunk into
the Skarrons’ expansion region in previously Nestafar space, but instead of
pushing out laterally the lizards were driving forward like a spear in the
giant empire. Kara thought she now knew why, for the lizards had to have
learned from captured ships or recovered debris of the size of the Skarron
empire
and realized that this was a foe they could not
overrun nor play the waiting game with.

Up until now she didn’t think the lizards had a chance
of beating the Skarrons, not on the whole, but now she wasn’t so sure. Granted,
lizard territory was still vastly smaller, and that meant less resources
available for them to use, but with the aggressive way they were going at the
Skarrons and pretty much ignoring everyone else, figuratively speaking, she got
the feeling they sensed a worthy opponent and were going at them hard before
they had a chance to realize the threat from the rim for what it was.

Then again this was the lizards, who always seemed to
have something up their sleeve that you didn’t know about, but the spear of
systems they were attacking and taking away from the Skarrons hadn’t made any
sense to her until now, and she would have bet a million credits they were
pushing towards a high level Skarron system further inside their territory,
intent on knocking it out and weakening the entire region around it so they
could move forward and gobble up the pieces.

Hit the stronghold and the systems that relied upon it
would wither, and now Kara saw that the lizards had the
might
to possibly pull that off. She didn’t know for sure because Star Force hadn’t
probed into Skarron territory to see what their strongholds looked like and
they weren’t going to. Heading further towards the galactic core was banned
because they didn’t want to increase the odds of word getting back to the
V’kit’no’sat of their existence. That meant Beta Region was as far in as they
were willing to go, or maybe out to Achkor where the Voku were, but no further.

The Hycre had been going though, and monitoring what
they could of the lizard/Skarron war, and from that Star Force was getting most
of its intel, but in order to get to the ‘spearhead’ the lizard core fleets had
to pass through or around what used to be Calavari territory, and that’s where
Star Force was monitoring and ambushing what they could, though they weren’t
stupid enough to try and hit one of the mega-sized fleets moving through.

Kara’s Ma’kri made it through seven planetary peeks
before their luck ran out at the 8th, and as soon as they came out of their
microjump in high orbit they were hit with a much higher intensity sensor scan
than the other planets had had, with their armor not being able to absorb all
of it. After only 9 seconds there was activity in the nearby ship ‘clouds,’
making it obvious that they’d been noticed.

“Full sensor scan for 20 seconds then run like hell,”
Kara ordered, wanting to get a quick peek as long as they were here. “Capacitor
charge?”

“23%,” the navigator replied.

“Damn.”

“Hop around or try a stellar run?” the Captain asked.

“There’s no time to play games, they’ve got too many
ships in play. Take us to the star, indirect route, but make it quick…and go
dark when we make the jump,” Kara said, tapping her short fingernails against
her teeth in frustration. They shouldn’t have been detected because the
tracking systems around the planets were nowhere near as powerful as those
around the star. Why this planet was different she didn’t know, but they’d
jumped right into the beams like a bunch of
newbs
and
now they had to run before they were hunted down, and with so many ships
available that wouldn’t be hard to do.

BOOK: Star Force: Shame (SF59)
13.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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