Void Wraith (The Void Wraith Trilogy Book 2) (4 page)

BOOK: Void Wraith (The Void Wraith Trilogy Book 2)
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"Are you finally ready to share your plans?" Fizgig asked. She slowly folded her arms, her tail swishing gently behind her.

"I am," Nolan said, nodding. "We're going to stop by a human mining station, Coronas 6. I know the overseer, and I think he'll loan us a quantum transmitter. That will allow us to tap into the Quantum Network, so we can start catching up on everything we've missed."

Chapter 4- Helios Gate

Nolan watched in awe as the harvester dove into the sun's corona. Their speed slowed, despite the tremendous gravity pulling them closer to the star. The vessel's inductive field sprang up around them, a ripple of faint blue energy that faded to invisibility after it formed. It was far more efficient than the human equivalent, using the star's own magnetic fields to sustain itself. The stronger they grew, the stronger the shield became.

They dove lower, and the holomap became an undulating mass of reds, whites, and blues. "Ship, raise the temperature band we're monitoring."

"Of course, Captain," Ship said, cheerfully. Nolan thought of the Primo VI that way--as though "Ship" were its proper name--now that it had merged with the Harvester. They all did. After all, they couldn't keep calling it "Primo Virtual Intelligence" every time they spoke to or about it.

Of course, they probably couldn't go on just calling it "Ship" either. But they had more important things to worry about.

The hologram shifted, showing the sun's interior--a soup of charged particles so dense they distorted magnetic fields like a cat playing with yarn.
 

"Seeing the inside of a star makes me uneasy," Lena said, seizing her tail in both hands. Her eyes were wide, reflecting the light of the hologram.

"Doesn't bother me," Nolan shrugged. "I have to admit, I take Helios travel for granted. We've had it since I was a kid."

Lena shot him a look that made it clear he'd insulted her. "We've had it for generations, Captain," she said. "I may only be an anthropologist, but all scientists learn multiple disciplines. Helios travel is one of mine, so I understand the implausibility of what we are doing. We're displacing the densest matter in the universe, using equations so complex that everything I understand about science tells me this should be impossible. Did you know that it can take light over a hundred thousand years to escape the core of a star?"

"Captain," Ship interrupted, its voice hesitant. "I've discovered something troubling. Something I hadn't noticed when we dove through the Gate in the Ghantan system."

"Go on," Nolan said, trying to be encouraging. He wasn't sure how human this thing was, but it acted as if it had emotions, so he tried to treat it like crew.

"This vessel can interface with the Helios Gate in ways unlike what was possible in my time," Ship said. "My preliminary scans of the
Johnston
's inductive control module suggest your race does not have these interface capabilities either."

"Capabilities to do what?" Edwards asked, slapping the wall of the ship with one of his gigantic hands. "Spit it out, already."

"This vessel can issue a command to the Gate--a command that would cause the Gate to transform into a vessel, and give it travel instructions to another Gate," Ship said. "The language used is clearly Primo, yet this technology was unknown to my people. That is troubling. It suggests the possibility that something existed earlier, and that whatever came earlier created the Gates."

"An even earlier empire?" Lena said, blinking. She rose gracefully to her feet. "Ship, I'm heading to my quarters. Compile all information about these commands, and begin making a list of..." Her voice faded as she strode off the bridge.

"All right, everyone," Nolan said, smiling after Lena. "It's time to rejoin civilization. Real showers and hot meals, here we come."

Chapter 5- Coronas 6

"Hail them," Nolan ordered, watching the holographic display of the Coronas mining station.
 

It floated by itself, a tiny dot near a dense patch of asteroids clustered in an area the size of a moon. Little drones zipped to and from the station, their bright torches flaring as they carved hunks of ore from the asteroids.

"You have a live connection, Captain," Ship said, in its friendly monotone. They really needed to give it a name.
 

"Unidentified vessel, please state your intention," came a reedy voice. Evidently their request for a video connection had been denied.

"Hello, Bock," Nolan said. "It's been a while since I last saved your ass."

There was a long silence. Nolan knew Bock was remembering the attack on his mining station, an attack Nolan had helped fend off, back before his exile to the 14
th
.

"Nolan?" Bock's voice finally said. The fear was still there, but there was a little excitement in it, too.

"That's right. Listen, my crew and I have been on a long trip," Nolan explained. He talked fast, knowing if he didn't there was a chance Bock would cut the connection. "We're just reentering the data stream. To do that I have to ask you a favor. I need to borrow a quantum transmitter. I know that's a big ask, but we can--"

"That transmitter is Coronas property. I can't give it up," Bock said.
 

"You realize we could simply take it, do you not, worm?" Fizgig growled from beside Nolan. "Listen, tiny human. I will squeeze the breath out of you myself, and devour your corpse whole. If--"

"Fizgig," Nolan snapped. The Tigris glared at him, her tail lashing back and forth. After a long, tense moment she averted her gaze. Nolan turned back to the comm. "I'm sorry about that, Bock. I should have mentioned that some of my friends are Tigris."

"Are you crazy?" Bock shrieked. "You have to leave.
Right now
. I can't have you anywhere near this station."

"Captain," Ship said. "The connection has been severed."

"Board them," Fizgig said, stalking up to Nolan. "We can take what we need. They cannot stop us."

"No, they can't," Nolan said, taking a half step toward Fizgig. They were inches apart now, but he forced himself to meet her gaze. She'd never respect him otherwise. "That isn't how we do things. These are my people, Fizgig, and I'm not going to steal their only method of communicating with the outside world. Not without their permission."

"Then what do you plan to do?" she growled. Her hackles stood on end now. Not a good sign.

Out of the corner of his eye, Nolan saw Hannan wrap her hand around the grip of her sidearm. He could tell from her stance that she was ready to take Fizgig down if needed.

"We're going to board their ship, pay them for the supplies we buy, and use their transmitter. We don't need to steal it. We can spend a few hours gathering the data we need, then leave the system. We'll find another transmitter," Nolan said. He leaned in even closer, close enough to smell Fizgig's fetid breath. "No one dies. No one is even harmed. Not without cause. We need these people's goodwill, Fizgig. And we have a larger problem."

"What problem?" Fizgig asked. Her tone softened, and her tail slowed.
 

"You heard the way Bock reacted to us having Tigris on board," Nolan said. "He sounded terrified. Something has changed since we left, and I want to know what it is. We need him to cooperate, and you terrifying him isn't going to make that happen."

Fizgig was silent. Then she gave a single nod. "Apologies, Captain Nolan. I have overstepped my place. I am used to bearing the burden of command. This subservience...I am ill-suited to it. I will remain on the ship with Izzy and Lena."

"Apology accepted. Ship, dock with the station. Hannan, you're with me. The rest of you, stay put," Nolan ordered.

Chapter 6- Catching Up

Hannan followed Nolan to the airlock, using the time to consider as they made their way through the ship. She liked the direction Nolan was going. He was less reticent about command, and seemed to have found his confidence. That confidence had been lacking when he'd been assigned to the
Johnston
, though that was true for most officers in the 14
th
. Everyone knew it was a death sentence for your career.

"What can we expect inside, sir?" Hannan asked. Nolan didn't demand the honorific, but she made sure to always use it. It set a good example, one that Edwards followed. Nolan was in charge, and Hannan wanted to make sure the cats saw that. Especially Fizgig, who had a real problem remembering she wasn't their leader.

"A warm welcome, I'm hoping. They don't have much in the way of firearms--and, besides, these people owe me," Nolan said, striding up to the airlock door. He tapped the red button, turning to face her as it went green. "Bock is a bit of a weasel, but he'll work with us as long as we don't take or damage Coronas property."

Hannan relaxed a hair, but only a hair. The captain wasn't expecting trouble, but it was her
job
to expect it. She watched as the airlock door slid open, then she followed the captain inside. She kept her hand close enough to grab her sidearm if necessary, but not so close the station personnel would find it threatening.

The door slid closed behind them, and there was a brief hiss. Then the door leading into the station slid open. A crowd of people milled about outside the airlock, and some were trying to press inside. Most had their hands full, with everything from soy cakes to a bottle of wine with a bow tied around it. Hannan's weapon was in her hand and snapped into a firing position before she could even think.
 

"Stand back!" she barked in her best parade voice.
 

The people nearest the door tried to fall back, but those behind them continued to push. Hannan glanced at Nolan, but before she could receive instructions a shrill whistle killed the cacophony.

"Everyone of you grease-swilling mongrels listen up," a female voice boomed through the station. "Commander Nolan's got business with Bock, not the likes of you. Give the man some room. He ain't here for a goddamned party."

The crowd immediately began to disperse, most of the people retreating to other airlock doors. Hannan holstered her sidearm, but she stepped protectively ahead of Nolan, scanning for threats. The only potential target was the woman who'd spoken. She stood at the top of a wide stairwell that ascended toward what appeared to be an office.

The woman wore stained grey overalls, and had a pump-action shotgun absently propped over one shoulder. She stared impassively down at Hannan, meeting her gaze without flinching.
 

"Annie, it is damned good to see you," Nolan said, trotting up the stairs to meet her. He took the woman's hand, giving her a huge smile.
 

Hannan trotted after the commander, sizing Annie up as she approached. Her voice screamed NCO, but Hannan didn't peg her for a Marine.

"You served?" Hannan asked, nodding at Annie.
 

"11
th
infantry," the woman said, releasing Nolan's hand and offering hers to Hannan.

Hannan took it.

"Marine?" Annie asked. "Don't often see you types out of uniform."

"We've been through it," Hannan said, giving Annie a smile. She found herself liking the woman.

"Annie, this is Sergeant Hannan. She's kept my ass alive for the last few months, not an easy task," Nolan said, half-turning toward the office at the top of the stairs.
 

"Last I checked you were on a little speck of a vessel. The
Sparhawk
? With that lady you were making eyes at. Kathryn, right?" Annie said.

"We've got a lot to catch up on, but not much time to do it," Nolan said, looking uncomfortable.

Nolan hadn't spoken much about his past, but Hannan knew the stories. Kathryn must be Commander Mendez, the admiral's daughter. "I need to talk to Bock."

"He's up there in his office. I stood guard to make sure he didn't try running off," Annie said, giving a grin. Her teeth were stained from tobacco. "Head on in. He's expecting you. I'll keep your friend here company."
 

"You want me to wait here, sir?" Hannan asked, raising an eyebrow. Since he'd started training with Fizgig, Nolan was far more capable of taking care of himself. She still didn't like the idea of him being alone with an unknown, but he called the shots.

"Do that," Nolan nodded. He shook Annie's hand. "We'll catch up soon."

Then Nolan trotted up the stairs and into the office.

Chapter 7- Bock and Nolan

Nolan ducked into the tiny office, a wash of memories flowing over him. Last time he'd come here it had been with Kathryn. They'd led a last-ditch defense against Delta, a cybernetically enhanced UFC soldier working for Admiral Chu. They'd won that fight, but the victory had been short-lived.

He dropped into the seat across from a weaselly-looking man he had never expected to see again. Bock's eyes darted about, like those of a panicked animal looking for a direction to flee.

"Hello, Bock," Nolan said. He rested his elbows on the narrow desk, fixing the administrator with his best officer's gaze. "You have information I need. You also have a quantum transmitter, and I need access to it."

Then Nolan leaned back, waiting. He knew this would be a negotiation; the more he gave, the harder the price Bock would demand. So he let the silence stretch, waiting for Bock to respond.

"All right," Bock said, licking his lips. His eyes were wide, but a hint of greed now lit them. "What do I get out of this?"

"That's a good question," Nolan said. "It really depends on what I get. You saw my ship. You know you're not in much of a bargaining position."

"Maybe not, but you're an officer of the UFC," Bock said. His eyes narrowed and he gave a predatory smile. "An officer who deserted in a time of war. An officer consorting with the enemy. One Quantum call and I could inform the admiralty."

Nolan was silent for a long time, considering Bock's words. They'd knocked him back a half step mentally. "Consorting with the enemy? What the hell does that mean?"

"Are you serious?" Bock asked, his surprise genuine. He blinked several times. "We're at war with the Tigris. They're crushing us. Where the hell have you been?"

BOOK: Void Wraith (The Void Wraith Trilogy Book 2)
6.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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