Authors: Jake Elwood
Hive Invasion – Book 1
By Jake Elwood
Copyright 2016 by Jake Elwood.
This is a work of fiction. A novel. Totally made up. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, starship commanders or alien invaders is entirely coincidental.
Captain Richard Hammett needed a drink.
He tucked the bulky box that contained his ceremonial sword under his arm, took a deep breath, and stepped into the drop tube. He hated the damned things. Thirty years in space gave him reflexes that tried to kick in every time the pull of gravity changed. Drop tubes, perfectly ordinary things to the planetside population, frayed his nerves every single time. He fell forty stories in a few seconds, stepping out of the tube at the bottom with a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead.
The ground floor of Spacecom headquarters was a majestic vault of a room, and he peered around, taking it in as he crossed the wide floor. Once this view had been ordinary. Once, long ago, he'd been a student here, back when this was the Naval Academy. He'd been full of himself in those days, barely noticing the magnificent room as he'd hurried through on his first day.
Now, thirty-five years later, he felt like an old man. Spacecom was deteriorating along with him. The entire organization now fit into one building that had once been just a school. He shook his head as he crossed the echoing marble floor. If someone had told him, back when he was a young cadet, that it could ever come to this …
He plodded outside, feeling weary and heartsick. The sword under his arm was supposed to be a great honor, a symbol of three decades of loyal service. It felt like a mockery, though. A bauble, given to an old man just before they decommissioned his ship, even as they dismantled the organization around him.
"Poor baby," he muttered, and chuckled. He'd never had any patience for self-pity in others, and he wasn't going to start indulging in it himself. "Sounds like somebody needs a beer."
The Rusty Cutlass still stood at the corner of Constitution and Fleet. Hammett stood across the street from the pub, smiling as he took it in. Things changed, it was the way of the universe, but perhaps a few things remained the same. The sign above the door looked like carved wood, but as it hadn't changed in a quarter of a century, it was probably polymer. The sign showed a bearded old sea captain with a cutlass in one fist and a beer stein in the other, leering out at passers-by.
Hammett shifted the sword to his other arm and hurried across the street. His pleasant cloud of nostalgia lasted until he pushed open the front door. Instead of dark wood and exposed ceiling beams, the pub was filled with white light and gleaming chrome. He stood in the doorway, muttering a curse, then headed for a booth near the front window. The place didn't even have live servers anymore. He scowled at the table console, then pressed his thumb to the scanner and ordered a pint of stout.
At least the beer tasted like he remembered. He sat back with his eyes half closed, sipping the drink and superimposing his memories over the bones of the room. He'd frittered away some of the best days of his youth in this pub. He let the faces scroll past in his mind's eye, all the friends he'd studied with, served with, fought alongside. Some had died. Most had retired. The war took some of them much too early, robbing him of decades of friendship. He thought of the war and felt the familiar cold fury rising within him. Why the hell had it all been necessary? Why did so many bright young people have to be fed into the maw of a meat grinder?
Someone jostled him, and he looked up. For a moment he thought he recognized the brawny young man who stood over him. Hammett started to smile, the name on the tip of his tongue, but this was not Rick Olson. Olson, if he lived, would be in his fifties. And Olson had never had the predatory gleam that Hammett saw in the eyes of the man who put a large hand on his shoulder and leaned in close with a sneer.
"Sorry, Gramps. Didn't see you there. Say, you sure you have the right bar?"
Hammett reached up, took a good grip on the man's smallest finger, and twisted, not too far. The man yelped, and Hammett lifted his hand several centimeters. "Hands off, kid. Don't touch me with anything you want to keep."
They locked eyes, Hammett half hoping the man – he was just a kid, really – would push it. Brawling with some punk would be stupid, but it would be a chance to prove he wasn't so old. Whatever the man saw in Hammett's eyes, though, he didn't like it.
The man wasn't the problem, though. The problem was his friends, two more punks right behind him, snickering at his humiliation. He couldn't just walk away. Not with an audience. There was something close to desperation in the man's eyes. He was in over his head, but he had to do something.
"Leave me alone," said Hammett. "Please."
It was the opening the man needed, and he took it. "Sure, sure. Don't wet your pants, Gramps." He gave Hammett a sneer and walked away, his friends ribbing him as they followed. Hammett watched them go, relaxing his grip on his beer stein. He'd come close – very close – to swinging for the side of the man's jaw. It would have been stupid. It would have meant trading a perfectly good beer for a couple of hours in a police station. Still …
"Kids," he muttered. They were young and feeling their oats, that's all. When Hammett was that age, he'd had a war for an outlet. He'd had a way to challenge himself, to prove himself. It was the only real difference between him and the three punks. Hell, he'd had his share of stupid, pointless confrontations in bars, even with a war going on.
He took a pull on the beer. The Outer Settlements War was long over, and humanity hadn't had another war since. Hammett was one of a handful of actual veterans still in service. There were good big ships out there without a single person on board who'd seen combat.
What was the galaxy coming to?
"What we need is another …" He stopped himself. Another war?
Tell it to the dead.
"More alarming news from the colonies. Another jump Gate has gone off-line, and Spacecom seems to have no idea why." The voice came from the next table over, and Hammett turned his head. A young couple watched a newsfeed, and he tapped at his table controls until he found the same feed.
A bland-faced announcer stared out from a screen projected in the air in front of Hammett. "It's the third Gate malfunction in three weeks, and it could mean economic disaster for the affected systems. Here's Earth Central's Michael Noburo with more on this developing story."
The screen switched to another announcer. The man kept his face suitably solemn as he talked about the economic repercussions of a Gate closure. The Aries system was more than three weeks away by ship, instead of the two days or so that it took to go from Earth to Aries through three jump Gates. "Don't forget," he said gravely, leaning forward to peer into the camera. "Most ships don't even have the ability to make faster-than-light jumps."
Hammett rolled his eyes. What kind of idiot didn't know that? Ships with jump drives could cross a light-year in a day or so, but they seldom bothered. The overwhelming majority of ship traffic was through the jump Gates that linked Earth to her fourteen colonies and outposts.
Now, three Gates were down. That meant four outposts were cut off from Earth. No doubt Spacecom had sent jump ships to investigate. If the Gates couldn't be repaired
, it would take days or weeks for those same jump ships to come back with a report.
Hammett poked a finger through the screen, interrupting the reporter in mid-sentence. He rummaged through the data stream until he found a link to background details.
Gate Eleven was the latest Gate to fail. Hammett frowned. Gate Fifteen had failed first. It was the most distant gate in a long chain, connecting Tanos System to the far-flung colony of Calypso. Gate Thirteen had failed next. Gate Thirteen connected Aries to Tanos.
Gate failures happened occasionally. They were delicate technology, after all, and loaded with safety features to make sure a ship was never lost in the wormholes between gates. For two consecutive gates to fail was unusual, but not wildly unlikely.
Now, though, the Gate to the Aries system was down.
"Whatever's going on," Hammett murmured, "it's only two Gates from Earth now."
Well, it wasn't his problem. Spacecom would investigate, but it was a dead certainty they wouldn't send him. His beer was close to empty, and he was thoroughly sick of the Rusty Cutlass. He drained the glass and headed outside in a sour mood.
A dry desert wind stirred the litter on the sidewalk. The air was unpleasantly hot, particularly to a man who'd spent most of the last thirty years in climate-controlled ships. It was late afternoon, though, and the deepening shadows held the promise of coolness. He walked the streets of a city that hadn't existed before the twenty-second century. The first spaceports had needed plenty of open ground, and the politicians of the day had worried about crashes. So the ports were built in open countryside far from any major settlement. As the decades passed and no crashes occurred, cities had sprung up around the major ports.
Hawking stood in the center of the Baja Peninsula, close to the north end. Spaceports needed much less real estate now. Every city had one. Hawking had reinvented itself, becoming the headquarters of Spacecom and the Naval Academy. In its heyday the streets had bustled with sailors. Hammett remembered it as a raucous and vibrant place, but it was the domain of Spacecom bureaucrats now.
His mood was so foul that it was almost a relief when he realized he was being followed.
He didn't look back. The quiet scuff of feet behind him and a distorted reflection in a store window told him all he needed to know. One person, staying directly behind him where they were hardest to see. The punk from the bar? Either that or a mugger, he decided. Or some random pedestrian on his way home from work.
It was time to find out.
A narrow alley opened to Hammett's right, and he turned in. He found a recessed doorway and pressed himself into it. He set down the sword and waited.
Footsteps made a soft rustling sound, right at the edge of his hearing. The sound grew faint, and then stopped. Either the pedestrian had moved on, or …
The footsteps started up again. The sound was different, though, louder on the rough surface of the alley.
Hammett smiled to himself.
When he saw the first flicker of movement he lunged. He had a quick impression of a startled figure, arms coming up defensively. Then he crashed into the man, driving him across the alley. The two of them slammed together into the back wall of another building, and he got a forearm under the guy's chin. His other hand caught hold of a wrist.
Quite a slender wrist. Hammett looked at the face a few centimeters in front of his own. Wide brown eyes stared into his. The eyes were set in a delicate, distinctly feminine face.
"Who the hell are you?" he said.
She tried to speak, then swallowed. "I'm Janice Ling."
He looked her over. She wore a skirted business suit and the sort of ridiculous shoes that only a civilian woman would own. She couldn't have run a dozen steps if her life depended on it, not in those heels.
Not a mugger, then.
He released her and stepped back, embarrassment warring with irritation inside him. "Who the hell are you, Janice Ling, and why are you following strange men into alleys?"
She stared up at him, clearly flustered. She stood barely taller than his chin, and she couldn't have been much more than half his weight.
And you threw her against a wall? What's the matter with you?
"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have been so rough."
That brought a ghost of a smile to her lips. She straightened her clothes, took a deep breath, and said, "I should have known better than to sneak up on a veteran."
Well, she had a point.
"I'm a reporter with United Sky Services." She was visibly throwing off the shock of the ambush. He could see an aura of professionalism settling on her, and he was impressed in spite of himself. She reminded him of the very best Naval personnel, men and women who could set aside overwhelming stress and do their jobs well in the middle of a crisis. She may have been a tiny woman in ridiculous shoes, but she would have done all right in the Navy.
"And why is a reporter from USS following me around?" He realized as he asked the question that he probably knew the answer, and he gritted his teeth.
A delicate flush spread across Janice Ling's cheeks. "You, ah, have a certain reputation for being … outspoken."
"You mean, I speak without thinking, and you thought I'd be good for a controversial sound bite."