The Orphan Alliance (The Black Ships Book 3)

BOOK: The Orphan Alliance (The Black Ships Book 3)
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THE ORPHAN
ALLIANCE

Published by A.G. Claymore

Edited by
B.H
. MacFadyen

Copyright 2013 A.G. Claymore

 

This
is a work of fiction. Names, Characters, Places, Incidents and Brands are
either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The
author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of any products
referenced in this work of fiction which have been used without permission. The
publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with or
sponsored by the trademark owners.

 

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Part of the Problem

The Business of War

Presh, Oaxes

T
he
scent of rancid cooking oil wafted into the shuttle, reminding Harry of the
food markets on Weirfall. The two planets had traded regularly, before the
Human/Midgaard Alliance carved Weirfall out of the Dactari Republic, and many
of the same ‘food on a stick’ varieties were present in the markets of both
worlds. There were always some vendors who continued to use their oil far
longer than was advisable. His stomach rumbled as he recognized the spicy tang
of fried
chiari
tails.

Where was that smuggler? He’d left an hour ago, promising to
return with lunch.

He sat up suddenly, his right hand coming to rest on the
handgrip of his pistol.
When did everything suddenly go quiet?
If his contact had arrived, it
would have drawn no notice from the crowds outside the small smuggling shuttle.
Harry was here to negotiate a price for control systems. Weirfall excelled in
the construction of carbon hulls for warships, but lacked the electronics
industries necessary for fitting out those hulls. The Oaxians specialized in
the production of control systems but had no facilities for the production of
hulls.

The Law of
Imperial Trade and Commerce had been created by the old empire and it was
strictly enforced, even now, by the Republic. No planet could be allowed to
attain economic independence. No more than sixty percent of a product could be
manufactured on any single world. It was an effective means of suppressing
rebellion as any world that broke away would soon find their economy in
shambles.

Now that
Weirfall was an Alliance world – the only Alliance world – the level of unrest
was quickly growing. Harry needed to convince the local corporate leaders on
Oaxes to allow some of their shipments to be ‘captured’ by Alliance forces in
return for generous payment. On the face of it, it sounded like a good plan.
The companies could write off huge losses, leading to lower taxes while still
getting the revenue.

The main
sticking point, as Harry had pointed out to Admiral Towers during the briefing,
was the need for dozens of conspirators to keep their mouths shut. Someone else
had cooked up this harebrained scheme, and Harry had been chosen by Towers because
the admiral had known him for almost two decades.

It was a
half-baked, stop-gap scheme with small chance of success and a high probability
of being compromised. Though he was glad to get away from Weirfall for a few
days, this was certainly not the sort of mission he would have wanted. It was a
measure of how desperate his old friend must have become that he would have
asked Harry to even consider it.

With
Earth’s economies destroyed by the ravages of a global pandemic, they had
nowhere to turn for anything. No food, spare parts or replacement troops were
coming from home world anymore, and they were fast running out of money to buy
the necessities from their Weiran allies.

Knowing
that the Alliance would be doomed if nothing was done to break the economic
stalemate, Harry had assured Towers that he would do his very best to come home
with an agreement from the Oaxians. Despite the necessity of the mission, he
couldn’t shake that sixth sense that had kept him alive for so many years. It was
telling him that no secret could be kept for long by so many conspirators.

The gradual
silence building outside the shuttle told him that he’d been right. At least
one mouth had been busy. His money was on the smuggler who had brought him to
this crowded market. The shifty little bastard would sell his own lungs, if the
money was right.

He pulled
out his pistol, realizing that, after almost three years of war, he had never
even fired the thing, except for training. With 48 rounds of caseless
ammunition in two magazines, the selective-fire Colt could do a hell of a lot
of damage in the few seconds it would take to empty itself.

He stepped
around the bulkhead that separated the passenger compartment from the cargo
hold. Looking out the back ramp, he could see the silent crowd standing around
the perimeter of the landing pad. The muted sounds of commerce drifted over
their heads from the ramshackle collection of shops, but the Oaxians staring at
him were silent… expectant.

Some cast
glances to the right or to a place above the shuttle.

Air
cover,
Harry
thought.
Not leaving anything to chance.
He sighed.
I’m sure they’ve
apprehended far more dangerous fugitives than me, since they’ve been fighting
separatists for over a thousand years.
He threw his pistol to the tarmac
and slowly walked out into the sunshine, raising a hand to shield his eyes. The
market was perched on a large platform that jutted out from the side of the
massive city. To his left was a thousand meter drop into the canyon that the
city arch spanned.

There was
nobody between him and the drop and he supposed there were some officers who
would throw themselves off to avoid capture. He looked up at the graceful curve
of the city skyline. He firmly believed that fortune favored the bold, and that
it wanted nothing to do with a man who was busy accelerating at
nine-and-a-quarter meters per second, every second, on his way to the muddy
river that flowed far below the city.

To his right, two squads of Dactari troops were waiting for
him. The smaller unit was dressed in SWAT-type gear and they were plainly
relieved at his easy surrender. The larger group, dressed in riot control
equipment, quickly spread out to ensure the crowd wouldn’t interfere.

An under officer walked over to Harry. “I claim you as a prisoner
of conflict,” he declared in perfect English, looking up at his captive. “Tell
me who you are here to meet and events will unfold more comfortably for you.”

“Harrison Young,” Harry stated flatly as his hands were
bound behind his back. “Captain, United States Navy. Serial - 
alpha-eighty-two, one-five-one, zero-seven-two, delta-seventy-five.”

The Dactari officer’s raised eyebrows gave way to a frown as
he realized that he was merely hearing Harry’s personal data. “You may think
this is a joke, Harrison Young, but we will have what we need from you, whether
you cooperate or not.”

“Harrison Young,” Harry repeated. “Captain, United States
Navy. Serial -  alpha-eighty-two, one-five-one, zero-seven-two,
delta-seventy-five.”
The sooner they draw you into a conversation,
 Harry
remembered the old axiom from his academy days,
the sooner you start
talking.

“Very well,” the under officer hissed as he waved at the
armed transport that hovered above them. “You will find that life gets
increasingly difficult from this point on.”

Harry watched the transport descend, trying to keep his mind
off the situation. The vehicle’s left engine had a rhythmic ‘thwup, thwup’
sound to it as it descended.
Bad needle bearings on the port lifter,
he
mused.
Could be the separatists out here are having more effect on the flow
of goods than intelligence thought.
He shrugged to himself as they started
toward the small vessel’s ramp.
Or they might just have shoddy maintenance.

Imp and Immortality

High Polar Orbit - Weirfall

“W
here’s
the planet?” Dwight unbuckled his restraints and climbed down from his chair.
During the long months in transit from Earth, he had slowly acquired
privileges, including access to an unused weapons station chair on the
under-crewed Hussar class vessel. He walked toward the front windows but
stopped as a tracery of red streaks suddenly appeared in front of them.
Is
someone shooting at us?
He didn’t want to come all this way just to die on
arrival.

“Unidentified vessel, this is Orbital Control,” a harsh
voice boomed over the bridge speakers. “You have jumped into a restricted
system. If you engage your pitch drives or activate your weapons, you will be
fired upon. Identify yourself immediately. Over.”

“Captain?” Dwight turned to look at the twenty-four-year-old
captain. With the outbreak, any surviving officers were being promoted so fast
that their rank insignia were often out of date. Captain Shelby was still
wearing her Lieutenant’s insignia but she didn’t care. Her small crew knew and
trusted her.

“Better strap back in, Dr. Young,” she advised, opening a
channel on the screen to her right. “This is Captain Erin Shelby of the
Pandora.
We’ve just arrived from Earth. Request permission to join the fleet. Over.”

A long pause. “Roger,
Pandora
, confirm receipt of
holding coordinates, proceed at one-tenth pitch and stand by to await further
instructions.”

“Roger, Orbital Control,” Shelby replied. “Coordinates
received. Moving now. Out.” She turned to her helmsman. “One tenth, Edwards, so
better make it one percent. We don’t want to surprise them into killing us just
because they don’t know about our tandem lensed engines.”

“What’s going on?” Dwight fumbled ineffectually with his
buckles as he looked over at the captain.

“We jumped in a bit too close to a fleet at war with no
advance warning,” Shelby said with a grimace. “Now we move out of the arrival
corridor and hope the CAP doesn’t get orders to destroy us. We did just arrive
from a plague-infested planet, so they may not be all that happy to see us.”

“The CAP?” Dwight looked out the window as they began to
move.

“Combat Air Patrol,” she answered. “I know there’s no air
out here – but it’s traditional and has a pronounceable acronym. Combat Fleet
Patrol just doesn’t work; does it?”

“Who decides if we’re gonna live?” Dwight pulled his jacket
closed.
Did it suddenly get cold in here?

“Well, I imagine that Admiral Towers has been notified by
now,” Shelby replied mildly. “From what I’ve heard, he’s probably employing
some fairly exciting language while he tries to decide what to do with us.” She
grinned over at Dwight. “I wouldn’t be terribly pleased to learn that a plague
ship had arrived from Earth.”

“But we’re bringing the cure,” he protested. “You need to
call them and explain why we came. We can’t come all this way just to be blown
up by a poorly informed…”

“Relax, Dr. Young,” Shelby replied calmly. “As long as we
don’t make any aggressive moves, I’m reasonably certain they’ll give us the
chance to explain ourselves.”

“Reasonably?” Dwight’s voice rose an octave. “I’d  have
hoped for a little more than reasonably. If we…”


Pandora
, Orbital Control. Switch to one-twenty
megahertz, mode delta, and stand by. Over.”

“You see?” She smiled as she turned her attention back to
the screen. “Roger, Orbital Control. One-twenty megahertz, mode delta. Out.”
She opened the new frequency and the encryption panel came to life, warbling as
it compared coding keys with a corresponding system on the
Midway
.


Pandora
, this is Admiral Towers,” a new voice boomed
through the speakers. “Before I send you straight back to Earth, how about
explaining what you thought you were going to accomplish by trying to join my
fleet with an infected vessel?”

Holding her hand up to the speakers in a ‘there – you see?’
gesture she grinned at Dwight. “Admiral, this is Captain Shelby. I happen to
have a very good explanation for our presence out here, and Dr. Young here will
be more than happy to explain the whole thing.”

It took a couple of seconds for Dwight to realize that the
sudden silence was supposed to be filled with his voice. He stumbled over his
own words as he sought his footing against the irascible senior officer. “Umm
sir, the reason we came is that the cure is the disease – I mean the disease
itself is the cure,” he corrected lamely. “We can vaccinate your forces if you
give me access to…”

“I’m going to cut you off right there, young man,” Towers
said quickly. “We don’t want any more being said over the air. Even a secure
channel can be hacked.” He was quiet for a few moments. “Suit up. You and
Captain Shelby. I’m sending over a shuttle with a decontamination cubicle.
You’ll go through it in your suits and keep them on until we put you back on
your pretty little ship. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Shelby answered. The line went dead. “Duncan,
you have the conn.” She climbed out of her chair and looked expectantly at
Dwight.

Should’ve stayed home and let someone else come,
Dwight
thought to himself. As soon as the thought formed, he knew it for a lie. When
he was still on Earth, he couldn’t wait to leave. He shook the buckles loose,
having failed to get them closed in the first place, and slid out of his chair.
No sense in delaying this.

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