In teams of three, Blane’s troops swept the long empty corridors of the Oronos’ unused sections. With their scanners being jammed, the search of the endless corridors, chambers, and levels was nearly pointless. Four people trained in evasion techniques could hide for days from a force as small as his.
“Sergeant,” called out one of the soldiers as two groups met at an intersection, “we got lucky and found this.”
She handed Blane a hand communicator belonging to Lieutenant Bogan. “They’re good Serge. It was taped into a power conduit. That’s how they can bounce it all over this section and jam our scanners.”
Blane looked it over. “They’re Tyramma,” he said with admiration, “you can expect nothing less than the best from them.”
“If they’re in this section,” she said, “then there should only be one more of those. I would think they’d keep the other two for communication among themselves.”
“That’s if they’re still in this section,” Blane said. “This jamming could be a diversion. They could be drinking in the lounge for all we know. And don’t count on them using any of their communicators. They know better than to give up their position with a transmission. If anything they’ll use the ship’s bulletin board, then move after the posting.”
Blane looked around the long empty corridors extending out in all directions. He knew all to well how quickly the hunters could become the hunted when dealing with that level of expertise.
“We’re wasting our time here. Fall back to defensive positions and organize some response teams. Let’s let the security net do this work for us.”
As the soldiers marched off toward the nearest transport, the grip on a weapon relaxed as peering eyes watched from above. Aurora had been making her way back to the hiding spot when the approaching soldiers forced her to flee up into the clutter of pipes above the ceiling grid. Once they were gone, she moved along the catwalk to a small maintenance hatch. The muzzle of a gun greeted her as she climbed through into a small office of an unused cell, which was set up as a barrack for troop movements. Being the last of the patrols to check in, the rest of the party was holdup and waiting for her.
“What did you find?” Sands asked.
“They’re pulling out,” she reported. “They’re going to guard the sensitive sections and wait for us to come out.”
“So next move is ours,” said Sands.
“Not only that, I got a hold of Lorran. We’re not the only ones who were less than enthusiastic about laying into the Attragone. Hellor refused the order and was arrested. She’s worried sick about him.”
“They won’t hurt him,” Bogan said, “no more than they will the rest of us.”
“Who fired that shot then?” asked Sands.
Hammann scoffed, “Fuckin’ Marcone.”
“Yeah, fuckin’ Marcone” Aurora countered. “The old man ordered him to dust one of the transports full of troops. Instead he creased her with one, then promptly resigned. Lorran said he was confined to his quarters.”
“Who took his place?” Sands asked.
“No help there,” Bogan said.
“What did you find?” Sands asked Bogan.
“They locked down the launch-bays. Horace and his lizards are covering the main hanger and access to the landing-bays.”
“So they shut down flight operations,” said Sands. “We’re out of it.”
“Not quite,” Bogan said, “there’s three interceptor squadrons comin’ up to take our place. They’ll probably use the port bay for all their operations.”
“Guess who they’ll be working for,” Aurora mused.
“There’ll be more troops with them,” added Hammann. “They may be waitin’ us out now, but it isn’t gonna be long before they fuckin’ come lookin’ for us.”
“What about COC?” Sands asked. “We have to get to the Commander. Find out what’s happenin’.”
“It’s perfectly clear what’s going on,” Aurora said.
“If I could get to him, he’ll listen to me.”
“It’s too late for that,” said Bogan.
“We have to get off this ship,” Aurora said.
“And go where?” asked Hammann. “We’re in the middle of enemy territory.”
“This isn’t enemy territory,” said Aurora, “it’s our home. I heard that we’ve been jamming the outgoing transmissions. Nobody knows what’s happened yet. If we can get to the surface, alert the outer systems and the rest of the fleet, they can fight her. That’s how she lost last time. We can still beat her. But we have to move. We need support from the people.”
Sands shook his head. “She’s too powerful. We’d never stand a chance.”
“You said it yourself,” Aurora said. “She had to move ahead of schedule. She can’t be ready. Even when she was ready, she failed.”
“That’s because she didn’t have the most powerful ship in the galaxy,” said Bogan. “You gonna fight the Oronos? We need to retake this ship.”
“Are you nuts?” said Aurora, “there’s only four of us.”
“There’s a lot more than four of us,” said Hammann. He knew of plenty of the Earth members who were itching to mutiny. In their eyes, and his, Earth had as much right to the ship as Aultra, if not more.
“He’s right,” Sands said. “And I know just the man to rally them, Marcone.”
Bogan scoffed at the idea, “That guy’s a prick.”
“Yeah,” said Sands, “but he’s straight up about it. When I first met him, he basically said he was an asshole. I’ve never had any doubt where I stood with the guy. Where I come from, they have the old saying, ‘I’m a hard man, but fair’. That means they’re gonna fuck ya the first chance they get. Only they’re being your friend so they can get it in deeper. I didn’t get that shit from him. He said he was a walkin’ hard-on and this is the way he wants shit. He’s straight up, by the book. I got no problem with that.”
“Yeah,” said Bogan, “he’s got no problem screwin’ over a brother in arms either.”
“Lemme ask you somethin’, did you ever meet the guy before he came onboard? No!” He answered for them. “Yet every one of you fuckers hates the guy before you even met him. Now granted he’s an asshole, but I’m kinda curious as to how one gets to be such a famous asshole. Can you tell me that?”
“Early in the war,” Aurora explained, “before we really started getting hit, Fleet Command wanted some recon’ on the Krix, find out where they were from and whatnot. They sent out a couple of cruisers to what they thought was Krix territory. The one Marcone was a lieutenant on went in the wrong direction. They came up on what they thought was a Krix heavy transport, disabled it and boarded it. The crew had no idea who they were and put up a fight.”
“Crew? There was a crew of Krix?”
“Nope,” said Bogan, “it was a Krix ship all right, but someone else was using it. It was just another one of their robot ships that was captured by this other race.”
“The crew fought to the last man,” Aurora continued. “Our idealistic young Lieutenant Marcone figured it out before his commander did. When she hesitated in listening to him, he pulled the reg’s out and tried to relieve her of command. The rest of the crew didn’t follow him and they blew the transport before leaving. Back at base, Marcone made a big stink about it. Tried to make himself look good by exposing this so-called murder. The bastard even went to the media when Fleet Com’ wanted to cover it all up. Made us all look bad.”
“So what you’re saying then is,” Sands said slowly, “he tried to do what he thought was right.”
“He tried to fuck us all over in order to make himself look good,” said Bogan.
“He betrayed the Corps,” Aurora said. “He brought disgrace to the Tyramma. His commander was Tyramma, he is not.”
“Oh, so it’s okay to massacre innocent people? So long as you’re Tyramma?”
“Collateral damage,” Bogan smugly said.
Aurora was somewhat more subdued. “It was an accident. Marcone was right in trying to stop the killing when he learned the truth, but he went too far in dragging the media into it. She was a good officer who lost her command over it. And it was right around the time they were negotiating for the alliance. ”
“Marcone was the one they should’ve thrown out,” Bogan said.
Sands shook his head. “Seems like a lot of other people lost a lot more. But never mind that, you people never gave Marcone a chance. How else do you expect him to act? I say we give him a chance now.”
“All right,” Aurora conceded, “we’ll talk to him.”
Colonel Marcone sat in his quarters staring at the blank computer screen where he would write his formal resignation. His career would end with a renowned document that would site the tyranny of Marlanna and expose the horrors of Kayden. He sat there, without having written a single word, imagining himself reading it before the public and exposing this whole sorted affair. The entire nation, indeed the entire sector would rally around him, and set this all right.
Who was he fooling? Nobody was going to read his speech. He was on his way to Kayden with the rest of the crew, to end up like his assistant, mind erased, not knowing who he really was or where he came from. Then again that might not be such a bad thing. Let’s face facts, his so-called career was not all it was cracked up to be. Excalibur was not the only job he had been fired from. With his unpopularity, the war and shortage of personnel was the only thing that kept him in uniform. Maybe with a new past he could start over. It almost started to look good to him. Except for one thing, without knowledge of his past mistakes he was doomed to repeat them. His flaws and experiences were what made him who he was. With someone else writing a past for him, he would no doubt be the man they wanted him to be. No, this was not a good thing and no good would come of it.
Marcone’s mental ramblings were interrupted by the buzz at his door. Annoyed, he opened it to see the sole pilot (not Tyramma) from the 204th that was left to guard him.
“What is it?”
The man didn’t respond. He instead raised his hands and placed them behind his head before being shoved inside. Aurora, with weapon drawn, followed behind him. “Hi,” she said blandly.
The other three people piled in after her, fanning out and checking the other rooms before declaring the area secure.
“Good evening, sir,” Sands said. “Sorry to disturb you at this late time.”
“It’s no longer sir,” Marcone grumbled. “I’ve left my commission, and I’m in the process of resigning.”
“You might want to reconsider that, sir,” Sands said. “We need you to relieve the General and assume command.”
“You are a dreamer, Vice.” Marcone walked back to his desk and gazed down at the blank screen, only the sight of it turned his stomach. “Yanex has always hand-picked officers for promotion he thought he could trust.”
He looked up at Sands. “That’s why I’m surprised to see you here.”
“I’m kinda surprised myself,” Sands admitted. “But, this has gone too far. Marlanna must have done something to General Yanex. That’s the only explanation. We need to help him.”
“No, I would like to believe that myself, we were old friends, wing-men.” He shook his head. “This has been coming on for a long time. I never thought it would come to something like this. I should have done something sooner.”
“You can do something now,” Sands said.
When Marcone just stood speechless, Aurora spoke out, “I told you he’d be a waste of time. He’ll probable report us as soon as we leave.”
“That’ll be enough out of you, Captain,” Marcone barked.
Aurora scoffed. “What are you gonna do about it? You quit. As a matter of fact, how ’bout I kick your teeth in right now?”
She moved toward him only to be stopped by Bogan. Until it hit him, “Wait, I hate this guy too.” He smiled and stood aside.
Sands jumped between them and waved an angry finger at her, in warning.
“Shut up man,” said Hammann, “you assholes are gonna trip the security net.”
“You’ll never retake this ship,” Marcone said. “The only thing we can do is get off it.”
“We?” Sands repeated.
“Yes, if we can get to the surface there’ll be a resistance forming there. We could be of some help to them. Maybe rally the rest of the fleet.”
“How are we gonna get off this ship?” asked Bogan, “The Landing-bays are crawling with surface troops looking for us, and the launch-tubes are locked down.”
“Escape pod,” said Marcone. “There’s one right down the passage. Once on the surface we can get to Shylock. He was a big opponent of Marlanna’s. He’ll listen to us.”
“An escape pod will never make past the defensive perimeter. They’d cut us down,” said Aurora.
Sands started toward the door. “The forward-bay, drop ship. It’s fast and armed.”
“That can’t out run a star-fighter,” said Bogan.
Sands turned to him, “I thought you said the launch-bays were locked down?”
“What about surface interceptors?” Marcone said. “I know she’s got a couple of squadrons under her belt.”
“They’ll never catch us,” smiled Aurora.
Daring not to use the transport system, they slipped through the corridors, avoiding any other crewmembers.
“Answer me something, Sands,” Aurora asked. “Why is it you speak differently with different people?”
“What? What the fuck are you talking about.”
“That. Back there with asshole, you were all, ‘you might want to reconsider that,’ and ‘assume command’. With us it’s, ‘let’s take this pig, shit and fuck’.”
She then mocked the dialect he sometimes got when he was really excited, “What’s up with that?”
“Never mind that now,” Sands snapped. “We got work to do. The control booth for the bay is around the next corner.”
When she started out ahead of him, he thought he might give her a little jab. “Sic ’um boy.”
“Now that’s another thing,” she turned back sharply. “I don’t want you calling me ‘boy’. I don’t call you ‘boy’.”
Having struck an old and sensitive nerve, Sands shot back, “And don’t even think about it.”
“Oh really?” she pushed as they stood wide open in a corridor. “I’ve got one even worse that.”
“Oh, don’t even go there.”
“Holder,” Aurora smiled.
Sands just shook his head at the floor, then started to laugh.
“If you two are through?” pressed Marcone as he pushed by.
Sands was grateful that the guards outside, and in the control booth, were both pilots. Stun bolts were useless against the armored troopers. As quickly as the five of them had taken the smaller forward hanger, the alarm had still gone out. Warning lights flashed and a klaxon sounded when Bogan and Hammann raised a force field that kept the chamber pressurized, then opened the large outer door. Stars shown bright through the slight shimmer of the field. After locking down every other entrance and destroying the controls, the two men took cover and held the entrance while the others prepped the ship.
Parked in line along the opposite wall, they chose a ship designed for covert op’s, rather than one of the APC transports. It bore a striking resemblance to a shuttle. On scanners it could appear to be a shuttle, that is if it was seen at all. There were extra antennas, bulges along the fuselage and large pods on the wing tips that held sensitive jamming equipment. There were of course gun mounts facing forward and an aft turret.
Marcone and Sands manned the controls of the ship and started bringing its systems on line. When the engines fired up, Aurora called out for the others. They were, however, preoccupied. Surface troops had forced the door to the control booth and a sudden firefight erupted in the small room.
“Go!” shouted Hammann as rounds burst all around. “I’ll cover you!”
“There’s too many of them,” Bogan said, swinging out from behind a desk to fire several shots at the now fully open door, “you won’t make it out.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Hammann, “my life is gone. There’s no place for me here.”
Bogan wasn’t expecting to hear that. This man was committing a selfless act?
“We fall back in stages,” he responded. “Go!”
Bogan fired again at the doorway full of soldiers.
Hammann made it to the office doorway then turned back to provide cover fire for Bogan, who made a dash across the hanger to the ship, which was starting to move. Both Bogan and Aurora fired across the bay while Hammann made a run for it. Soldiers flooded the control booth and fired wildly out at them. One round clipped the running man in the leg, sending him crashing to the deck.
“I’ll get him!” Bogan shouted as he ran toward Hammann.
“There’s no time,” said Aurora as she continued firing. The low indicator was flashing on her gun. She had to trot in order to stay near the ship’s open hatch as it advanced ever closer to the force field and vacuum of space.
Still bravely firing at the advancing soldiers, Hammann was surprised to be scooped up by the big man. “You came back for me, why?”
“You’re one of us,” Bogan answered as he ran for the ship. “You’ve always been one of us.”
They only made it a short distance before being cut down.
Aurora screamed and spent the last of her weapon’s energy as she retreated to the ship’s hatch. The sight of the two men tangled on the deck tore at her. That was until a horrible sound grabbed her. Loud crackling from the nose of the ship entering the force field. She stood in a wide-open hatch.
Aurora slammed the close button as she retreated into the ship. Energy snapped at the closing hatch as the inner layer of the force field passed.
“What the?” Sands asked as he turned away from the controls. Then, “Shit!” when he realized what it was.
“Hold on!” shouted Aurora as they passed the outer layer of the field and out into space. There was barely a sliver of the door still open, but it was enough to tear the air out of the tiny ship and from their lungs. Aurora was slammed against the closed and sealed hatch.
The sudden shock threw the drop ship out of control. It spun momentarily as it fell away from the Oronos’ underside. With the shakeup in the command staff, the COC was slow to get the word that an incident in the mostly unused bay had turned into an unauthorized launch. The ship was quickly out of range of any tractor system, and soon escaped the defensive perimeter without a shot being fired. General Yanex would not authorize the main guns on his own people. He instead, begrudgingly, passed the matter onto surface units.
The advanced jamming systems made it virtually impossible to track the ship once it dove into the atmosphere of Aultra. It skimmed the surface of the sea at supersonic speed, kicking up a shock wave of water behind it, as it out ran interceptors sent after it. The ship and crew vanished in a mountainous region on the coast near a small town serviced by the planet wide transportation system.
Far greater matters occupied the attention of troops based on the planet. An already standing order to find one renegade pilot had virtually gone unanswered. Three more didn’t make that big of a difference to units that were deploying for riot control.
“So there are no Saillians?” Shylock asked the three officers who had dragged him from a much-needed slumber.
“We’re the Saillians,” responded the man with unusually dark skin.
“Actually,” explained Colonel Marcone, “part of it is true, the Oronos is from a destroyed nation. Ours, ninety-four cycles in the future.”
“This is too much,” Shylock said as he sneaked a glance at his watch. “You’re telling me Marlanna concocted all this?”
“It’s a lot more complex than that,” said Sands. “The lie started as soon as we made contact with Fleet Command, thirty days ago.”
Shylock’s eyes shifted about the room. “I’m sure it is. Tell me about the future, what happened with the overthrow then?”
Marcone started to go into how Marlanna had conducted her plot in the alternate future as Aurora became increasingly uneasy. She once again turned in her seat to scan the glass wall, which faced out of Shylock’s study and into a darkened garden. She was not at all comfortable with the location of the meeting, however Marcone had insisted on going directly to Shylock’s home. Sands was all too eager to agree. She nearly produced her weapon at a soft knock at the study door. The valet, who had shown the in wearing his robe, was in uniform and calling the Counsel out of the room. This made Aurora even more tense.
“He’s stalling,” she whispered.
“He does seem nervous,” said Sands. “Catch how he keeps lookin’ at his watch? He got somewhere to go?”
“We dragged him out of bed,” said Marcone, “told him this wild story. Wouldn’t you be out of sorts? Relax, I read about him, he was an outspoken opponent of the overthrow. He’s been all over the media today denouncing Marlanna.”
Sands thought back to one of the few broadcasts that he’d seen that morning. He’d had a hard time figuring out just where the man had stood. Other than saying “I” and “me” a lot, Sands wasn’t entirely sure what the man had actually said. The one thing he was now sure of, having just met him, Shylock was full of shit.
“She’s right,” Sands said, “we’re out of here.”
“Be still,” ordered Marcone as he heard the door crack open, “Let’s see where this leads us.”
Only then did he notice a small red dot on his chest, emanating from out in the garden. Soldiers bearing the emblem of the Royal Garrison poured in through the door. Drawing a weapon was pointless, they were also at every window.
“Or,” Marcone sighed, “you could be right. History always said the Council was betrayed, but they never knew who it was.”
“It’s good to know that my secret is going to remain safe.” Shylock stepped in with a small gun in hand, as the three officers were disarmed. Now that the room was full of soldiers, his bravery increased tremendously. He stepped up to point the gun in the face of an unblinking Marcone.
“Put your weapon down, sir,” ordered one of the soldiers, “our orders are to return them to Kayden, alive.”
“I can’t let them leave here,” Shylock said with shaking voice. “They know about me, they can expose me.”
“Lower the gun!” The soldier trained his rifle on him.
“Looks like your friends have you out gunned,” Marcone said.
“You won’t shoot me,” Shylock said. He was panic stricken. “Do you know who I am? I’m too important to her.”
“Counsel,” boomed a deep voice from behind. Shylock turned to see a huge figure of a man.
“Never over estimate your role in the big picture,” said Horace.
Shylock felt the gun slip from his fingers and it thumped on the floor. Aurora snickering at him added to the indignity.
She turned a cold eye on Horace. “You’re not so big after all yourself, traitor.”