Hero of the Confederacy

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Chapter 3

I was hoping to at least see Dicythel when the Sovran finally docked at Aurelis station the halfway point between space and the planet. The huge geostationary platform was almost a small city on its own. I passed through the crowds nearly all of them military personnel of some description or another. Giant screens dotted around the main concourse flashed news clips from around the Confederacy. I worried when I saw reports about an attack on the T’Arni homeworld of Nithus knowing that my mother lived there. Luckily the reports stated none of the attackers reached the planet’s surface. My major’s insignia passed me through security with ease. Spotting an information terminal I accessed my personal data files to see if Dicythel had left me a message not trusting Lottie. If the implant was as I suspected malfunctioning then I wasn’t going to rely on it. I broke into a smile seeing his face come up on the screen.

“Hi Sandra.” I felt myself heat up on hearing his voice. “Looks like I’ll be in town for a few days how about we hook up. I‘ve booked a table at a place called Tratori’s if you don’t mind meeting me there tonight?”

A table at Tratori’s, God I love the place a little expensive but well worth dining there. I glanced at the time stamp on the message I’d have a few hours to prepare for my date. Keyed up in anticipation I took the next shuttle to Anwensera, Aurelis Prime’s capital a destination in mind. Anwensera’s high end shopping district was busy despite the war. The stores actually had live staff instead of a terminal you keyed your order into and waited while a machine packaged it for you and sent it down a chute for you to collect. Here the store assistants were helpful and pleasing. You could see and even touch what you wanted without having to look through screens of images. I halted outside a brightly-signed clothing store. I had often passed the place without entering. Now I had an excuse to enter. A male T’Arni greeted me as I walked through the door. I could see his eyes scrutinising my skinnies and the rank insignia on my collar.

“I can I be of service ma’am. We have a special deal on offer for today and for the next few days.” He seemed a little over obsequious.

“Deal?” I enquired.

“Thirty percent off for our boys and girls in grey.”

I liked the sound of that. “Ok show me what you have in clothing suitable for a night out.”

“This way ma’am.” He bowed and led me into the depths of the store.

In the end I bought a black dress scalloped at the front to flatter my cleavage, a little shorter than I was used to and a matching set of underwear and shoes. My host was Leonard although I doubted that was his real name since it didn’t sound very T’Arni. I never brought up the subject that wasn’t my concern. Feeling guilty I charged everything to the academy hoping my secretary wouldn’t have apoplexy when it came time to pay the bill. Armed with bags sporting the store logo I stopped by a jeweller’s and purchased a set of earrings I’d seen in the window. Laden with my purchases I was in a buoyant mood. Spotting a cab I took the ground car back to the academy. It was late by the time I arrived at academy but I still had time to get changed, make up my face and do up my hair.

Tratori’s was in the same area as the store I had visited earlier. Feeling a little out of place in my recently acquired finery I approached the maitre‘d. There was a human on duty someone I didn’t recognise, a tall thin lanky man whose suit looked too big on him.

“Yes?” he sounded a little terse. I could see him leer down my cleavage.

“I have a reservation,” almost adding, “if you don’t keep your eyes out of my breasts I’ll poke then out,” aut I didn’t, “a Commander Dicythel Gorana made it for me.” I allowed myself a smile expecting an exciting end to the evening. I really needed a man. I could almost feel my libido on overburn. “Could you tell me if he’s here?”

“Just a moment madam,” he looked down at a screen on his lectern.

I felt my smile slip slightly I detested being called ‘madam’ I found the word so demeaning.

He lifted his head. “I’m sorry I can’t find that name anywhere? The restaurant is fully booked if you would like to wait me sure we can find you a table in a few hours.”

My teeth ground. I opened my mouth yell at the petty little man when another shorter figure interposed itself between me and the maitre’d.

“Ah Major Locke,” the newcomer remarked, “thought I heard your voice but I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on?”

I smiled at his good-natured jest. T’eas is my favourite waiter. The T’Arni always had time to stop and talk me. I think he has a crush on me but he wasn’t to my tastes a little too short.

“T’eas,” I said sounding as pleased to see him as he sounded at seeing me.

“What is the problem?” he asked giving the human his eye.

“I was supposed to meet someone here, Commander Dicythel Gorana?”

“I see,” he gave the human a look, “sorry Major Locke he’s new here.” He peered at the screen. “I see the problem the reservation was set up in your name,” he tutted, “human’s never any good for anything.” And winked at me. “I’ll take you to your table.”Effortlessly weaving his way between the tables leaving me floundering in his wake. He had already pulled a chair at my table and pushed in back in as I sat. “I’ll bring you the menu. Back in a tick.” With that he was gone.

I waited. Other diners came and went. An hour passed and began to wonder if I had the right day. I caught T’eas eye as he passed.

“Major Locke there a problem. I see you haven’t ordered yet?”

“I’m still waiting for my date.”

“Would you like to see what the hold up is? I’m sure if he’s running late he’ll have left a message.”

“If you could thanks?”

I continued to wait. T’eas returned I saw his face was grim. “I have to profusely apologise Major Locke. Your Commander Gorana did leave a message.” He handed me a datapad and a bunch of flowers.

Local Aurelis blossoms from the looks of it. I tapped the keys on the pad.

“Sandra,” Dicythel’s face appeared of the screen, “sorry I can’t be with you but my ship’s been called away and I’ll have to go with it. I wish I could say more but this is an unsecured channel. Until then I’ll have to take a rain check. Hope to see you soon.” There the message ended. I handed the datapad back to T’eas hiding my disappointment.
“Thanks.” I said with a lump in my throat.”

“Do you still wish to order?”

My hunger had fled and with it any hope of a pleasant evening. “No thank you.”

“Do wish me to call you a cab?”

“Yes thanks T’eas.”

I took a cab the forty odd kilometres back to the academy.

I stomped stamping hard, my dress shoes making a slap, slap sound that echoed around the deserted corridors of the academy. Nearly all the students had been sent home. Those that had stayed volunteered to help out in the dorms the navy had commandeered as a makeshift hospital. The academy was a three storied L shaped structure that housed the classrooms and the administration offices. Towards the base of the L shape were three blocks of dormitories.

The CSN had taken over two of the three dorms luckily not where I was quartered and at least I retained my old room. Not that it was that important these days. Since returning from the Sovran I still hadn’t heard about my request to return to active service. Then my mood hadn’t improved after spending the last two hours with my head in a metal contraption while the techs told me they could find nothing wrong with my implant. On the plus side they managed to reset the voice to a male one. Lottie was now out of my head one thing I was glad of. Stamping down the corridors on the way back to my office was my way of venting my frustration my mind remembering how I felt at the time.

A date with the charming Dicythel had come to nothing I waited for him at the restaurant but there again my luck had deserted me. Dicythel had been called away taking the next ship out of the system. I halted thinking about it, but at least he had sent me a vid along with a bunch of flowers to apologise and vowing to make up to me the next time he was in the system that had been three months ago.

I started up again my shoes pounding the life out of the polished marble floors and continued pacing towards my office. The double pseudo wooden doors to the outer section of my office loomed up. The material of the doors looked like wood but a soon as you touched them you knew they weren’t real even though they felt just as heavy. My hand reached to the door and twisted the doorknob. I allowed myself a smile, the first for the day as I remembered how many freshmen the doors confused.

When the academy was built instead of the automatic sliding doors found on any dwelling or office in the Confederacy they had elected to go old fashioned in the door department. All the academy doors were on hinges and had to be physically opened. I found it so amusing to see students stand there trying to find the button that opened the doors or shouting at the door to open. The double doors swung open to reveal a secretary’s office a cushion between the academy and my office. The room was square with a desk on one side backed by rows of cabinets looking real but as with most things in the room only decoration with no practical use. Opposite the desk was a long padded couch running from wall to wall. Most of the time there was usually one or two students seated there often sent to my office for discipline when the lecturers couldn’t cope.

There was someone in the room, my secretary Olga. A short woman her blonde hair done up into a bun showing her slightly pointed ears. A blend of human and T’Arni until I had met Dicythel if ever so briefly the only ’Brid I knew. She was wearing a frilly pink blouse and was seated behind the desk busy typing at the inbuilt terminal at the desk. I didn’t think I’d seen her wearing anything with at least some pink in it.

She looked up as I entered. “Now how did I guess that was you?” she said her eyes regarding me her fingers still working, “if you’re going to start slamming doors again please give me some notice. I’d rather like to keep my hearing intact.” The softness of her tone jarred on my ears an island of calmness against the raging seas of my frustration.

“So what if I do Olga!” I was in no mood to listen to her even if she was trying to bring me back from the edge.

“What did I say about working out your anger on the firing range I expect you could do with the practice?” She gestured to my hip and the sidearm I had holstered there. In wartime every officer was required to wear a weapon when on duty.

“I’ve been on the range every damn day!”

“Yes I’ve seen the scores. You’ve missed more than you’ve hit. What have I said about patience? What do the instructors tell us? Take a deep breath, aim and squeeze the trigger. Not just wave your gun at the target and hope for the best. You are the soldier here not I,” her free hand mimicking the act of pulling of a trigger, “you know if the target practice isn’t working perhaps you could take up dancing.”

I winced at the thought. Gliding across the floor of the exercise hall in a pink tutu doing jumps and pirouettes wasn’t something I wanted to do. Yet there was Olga doing all these without batting an eyebrow.

“Look I’m sorry,” I really should not have been taking out my anger on Olga. The woman practically ran the academy. I would have been well over my head in the early days if it hadn’t been for her. Since then we had settled in to a working relationship.

“That’s fine then. I know you have been under a lot of stress lately.”

“It’s just I need to be doing something. Our people are dying out there and I’m stuck in here twiddling my thumbs waiting to be called,” I paused, looking hopeful, “I don’t suppose Com Ops have returned my calls.”

“I expect they’re busy there is a war on.”

I couldn’t stay angry with Olga for long. “Ok just let me know if anything comes in.”

“You know I will,” she replied returning to her work.

I stepped past her desk walking quietly. Again Olga was correct I wasn’t thinking straight I should focus more at the tasks in hand. The academy was still open despite the war even if we didn’t have students and there were the two dorms the navy had appropriated. A similar set of doors stood between my office and me. Taking a deep breath I opened the doors and entered. My office was a rectangular room with a high ceiling. Directly from the doors was my desk and behind it a large picture window which over looked the tree lined grounds of the academy all the way to the shuttle pad currently busier than the start of a semester. Luckily most of the serious cases were handled at the city hospitals we just coped with the more mobile wounded.

Running either side of walls were bookcases interspersed with waist high cabinets. Above the cabinets were frame prints of past principals of the academy. My desk was as with Olga’s desk having the same fake wood effect. The bookcases didn’t contain any actual books, as with the décor in the outer office they were purely decoration. Anything I needed to access could be done with the terminal on my desk. I closed the door and strolled over to the desk running my fingers over the surface feeling calmer than I’d done all morning.

I walked to the window and gazed out looking into the far distance toward the mountains where earlier in the year I had led a party of students on a mountaineering experience. My eye flicked back to woods that marked the far edge of the academy boundary. A mixture of local trees with scaly bark and overly fat leaves and T’Arni plantings. Aurelis Prime was a T’Arni ‘Gift World’. That was the way they described it. A gift to them from those they called the ‘Ancients’ after being liberated from centuries of servitude to the Rhosani. There were a number of these so-called ‘Gift Worlds’ and many more yet to be discovered. Aurelis Prime was a good example of one with its blend of local and flora and fauna and T’Arni plants and animals from their home world. After all these ecosystems had thousands of years to integrate. Gazing over the view I felt calmer. Turning from the vista in front of me I regarded my desk wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my day.

There was a buzz behind my ear while I stood there staring into nothing. I pressed my finger behind my ear and touched the throat microphone in the maple leaf on my collar.

“Yes?”

“Appointment with Professor Janatres 12:30 local time,” a male voice droned in my ear. Lottie’s replacement program and already I was regretting getting her deleted. The voice had a monotone drawl that grated on my ears.

Belatedly I remembered that was yesterday and according to the holographic clock on my desk it was way past that time. Olga would have said something if I had missed an appointment.

“Computer I had that appointment yesterday!” One I couldn’t forget easily no matter how much I wanted to. In all the years I’d spent here the T’Arni Professor Janatres was constantly complaining often about the most trivial of things. As much as I tried to forget the image of me with my hand on my holster threatening to take the professor out to the firing range and use him for target practice. The images of the incident played across my memories. I hadn’t done it but he had shut up immediately and backed out of the office fear etched across his face. I think he thought I’d really do it.

“Delete that message.”

“Message deleted awaiting further instructions.”

“You know what!” I felt my calmness dissipate, “in fact delete all messages.” As I said that I swallowed hard I had inadvertently told the implant to delete the message from Dicythel. “Hold!” I cried out.

“All messages deleted!” the passionless voice told me.

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” I vented my fury.

“You are ok in here?” Olga said from the door genuine concern on her face.

I sighed. “I don’t suppose you keep copies of my personal messages do you?”

“Sorry I uploaded them all to your terminal.”

She walked across to my desk even with her standing I still had to look down on her, at just over 160 centimetres she packed a punch for her size and nobody crossed her. Her part T’Arni heritage contributed to her aura of calmness. I guess that was due to the fact like some T’Arni she had psychic abilities although they had manifested themselves in sensing others feelings something she was good at. Other T’Arni could be telekinetics or exhibit other psychic abilities although most T’Arni didn’t.

Over thirty thousand years ago the T’Arni were a slave race to their masters the Rhosani Empire, what modern archaeologists called an Elder Race precursors of most alien races except the humans. The Rhosani did unspeakable things to their slaves. Only a war with the other Elder Races had freed them. The Rhosani were destroyed and the Elder Races had retreated back to the galactic core where no ship had ever returned from, leaving the T’Arni the legacy of the ‘Gift Worlds’. She tapped the keys on my terminal.

“As I thought the files were transferred to your implant. I’m sorry they’re gone. I could get a tech in to see if they can retrieve them.”

“Don’t worry yourself,” I said hastily, “my mistake I won’t do that again in a hurry. Besides the techs are busy with the fleet.” It was the reason why it had taken me so long to get one to look my implant, needs of the war came first.

“You look like you could do with a coffee and something to eat.” She said her eyes meeting my gaze.

“I had a bite to eat from the refectory on the way back.” I lied.

“No you didn’t. If you don’t eat properly you can’t function correctly.”

That was another of her abilities she instantly knew if someone was lying. A boon for Military Intelligence but she had refused when the offer came up.

“Ok you win,” I said exasperated.

“You should know by now I always do Principal.”

That was one of her many quirks the inability to call me by name. “Do so and thanks I’m sorry if I’ve been short with you.”

“Noted. Anything else?”

“Nothing I can think of at the moment.”

Olga smiled one of her rare smiles. “I’d be sorry to see you leave when the call comes. You have been the best Principal we have ever had.”

That did surprise me Olga not wanting me to leave. “You’d be the only one then?”

“Not just me all the staff and students say you’ve been firm but fair, willing to listen and not be judgmental.”

“I doubt if Professor Janatres would think the same.”

“Janatres is an oaf. If he hadn’t got tenure then we could have been rid of him years ago.”

“Olga?” I was shocked to hear her say that. I knew when she wanted to she could have a sharp tongue and often spoke bluntly despite her ability to calm things down.

“It’s the way of things,” she said with a wave of her hand, “I will be back soon.” She walked out of my office closing the door behind her.

Once she had gone I walked across to the picture window and looked out towards the shuttle pad watching idly as another shuttle landed. More wounded for the temporary hospital I supposed. The 43rd was somewhere out there fighting and here I was stuck behind the desk. I gave a small shrug and settled at my desk turning on the news channel anxious for reports of a war that it looked like I was being sidelined in. After a few minutes I turned it off wondering where Olga was it wasn’t like her to take her time.

The doors opened instead of Olga there were three figures. Instantly I was on my feet and saluting. I recognised General Pitney a long time friend of my father’s. The other two with him were unfamiliar to me. One a T’Arni in an Admiral’s uniform while the other who carried a large metal case was dressed in skinnies. His rank insignia marked him to be a colonel and an Ezaran to boot. Beyond the doors I could see two Marines in full armour facing the outer doors to the corridor weapons in hand.

“At ease Major Locke,” General Pitney said. “Admiral Prmi close the doors. Colonel set your kit up over there.” Indicating a cabinet between two false bookshelves. “Major is there anyway you can block out the view from the window?”

“Yes sir!” I glanced across to the shuttle pad seeing for the first time the Com Ops symbol on the shuttle’s hull just as the glass darkened changing from transparent to opaque. “It’s done sir.”

“Good, sit down major we have much to discuss and little time.” He picked up two chairs against a sidewall and placed them in front of the desk, he taking one while Admiral Prmi sat in the other.

The colonel in the meantime had opened the case to reveal an elaborate scanning device.

“Are we secure colonel?”

“As secure as we can be?” was the colonel’s response his eyes on the equipment in front of him.

“What this all about?” I had to ask it seemed like they were being over the top to me with their precautions.

“First and foremost your application for re-instatement into the 43rd has been denied,” General Pitney remarked.

I opened my mouth to protest but Admiral Prmi interrupted.
“We consider you reckless, too reckless.”

“I’ve never been reckless with those under my command!” I said fighting the rising anger in me.

“No you haven’t,” General Pitney replied, “this isn’t about that!” He gave the Admiral a sharp look. “We haven’t let it be known that security on the Comms Net has been breached. As far as we can tell the Terrans know the dispositions and estimation of our fleets and that means they have broken our encryption protocols.”

I felt a chill that swamped my anger. “How?”

“We can’t tell as yet,” he glanced to the admiral, “we nearly lost the entire eleventh fleet. Their ships were waiting for us as we dropped out of hyperspace. It wasn’t the only time they’ve done that.”

“Just like the Sovran?”

“We’ve read your report, good work on that!” General Pitney remarked with an affirming nod to Admiral Prmi.

I think he said that just to make me feel better about myself.

“We are dealing with it but that’s not the reason we are here.” Admiral Prmi said leaning forward in his chair. This mission is as important as any other.”

“Mission?” I was intrigued but I didn’t answer the question as to why they had come to see me in person. Yet it did make sense once you worked it out. If the Comms Net had been compromised then the only other way was to speak face to face. “What mission?”

“Colonel the DU please.”

The Ezaran handed General Pitney a small rectangular box that could easily have fitted into my hand. The DU or as it was more commonly known as a Data Unit was the off shoot of the cell phones of the early twenty-first century. Data Units were their successors and contained a small hologram projector. They had fallen out of use most people preferred the larger datapads as they held more information along with a facility that linked directly into the Comms Net. General Pitney placed it on my desk and pressed a button on the side. A holographic image appeared over the desk it showed something I assumed was a ship but a design I was unfamiliar with. It seemed to be a flattened ovoid with a number of rounded protuberances across its surface.

“Ever seen anything like this?” General Pitney asked me.

“Not ever, it’s a ship of some sort?” I guessed.

“I doubt whether you would have. No human would have.” Admiral Prmi spoke the fear in his voice made me shiver.

“What is it?”

“A Rhosani warship.”

“What?” I could see the dread in his eyes. Of course he would know T’Arni would never forget the horrors that were inflicted on them. The average T’Arni had long life span often reaching five hundred years of age while we humans could barely reach one fifty. They also had long memories. “The Rhosani are gone destroyed in the great galactic war thirty thousand years ago?”

“So our records say. Pushed into the great beyond by the Ancients.”

‘Ancients’ T’Arni words for the Elder Races that inhabited the core that’s what I remembered from those history lessons at school.

“If the Rhosani are back what does it mean to the war?” I had to ask the question.

“It would a boon to the war effort if we could capture the ship just think of technology far beyond any we have now. Our tech is based on T’Arni as you well know. As theirs was based on the leavings of the Rhosani.” General Pitney told me.

“If as you say the Comms Net has been breached then the Terran Empire would want this technology as well?” I surmised, “but it doesn’t tell us where to find that ship. I doubt that if we send ships into the core they’ll be coming out again.” I looked carefully at the three officers. “There more than just a random sighting isn’t there?”

General Pitney pressed the button on the DU again the image changed to that of a star system. “You won’t be familiar with this system. It’s the Ocato System out near the rim.”

I shook my head studying star systems wasn’t part of my training, planetary assaults was. “I’m not sure as to what I should be looking at?” sounding genuinely puzzled which I was.

“This system had seven planets.” Admiral remarked.

“Had seven?” I didn’t like the sound of that.
“One world has vanished.”

“What do you mean vanished? Worlds can’t just disappear can they? If it was destroyed there would be some trace surely?” suddenly the connection between the first image and this one became clear, “you think the Rhosani are involved? Admiral do your records indicate that Rhosani are capable of this?”

“There’s nothing in our records to indicate anything either way,” Admiral Prmi definitely sounded worried.

“So why come to me I no expert?”

“If the choice was up to me I would have never involved you,” Admiral Prmi remarked as he looked at General Pitney.

“We ran a simulation through the computer. We ran several different scenarios and your name came up each time as crucial to the success of this mission,” General Pitney told me.

“When did we start using computer simulations?” I asked.

“Since we got the data back from the survey ships we sent out to investigate,” the Ezaran remarked. He had remained silent all through our conversation. “The first we knew about it was when we lost the Comms Net in that system.”

“There must have been a dozen or so relays?” I knew that the Aurelis System had at least a dozen relays in case one got damaged or developed a fault. Most ships relied on the Comms Net to navigate within a system.

“Ocato system had nine. They were destroyed. All we retrieved were the still images we showed you from the wreckage of the relays.”

“When was this?”

“At least a week before the start of the war,” General Pitney stated. Whatever he was going to say next was interrupted by a roar of engines over head.

“That sounded darn close!” I commented.

“Looks like time has run out,” General Pitney sighed, “your ride is here.”

“My ride?” I enquired.

“The shuttle landing will take you directly the CSS Havok where you will report to Captain Yanik.”

“Sir with your permission I’ll grab my gear and head for the shuttle.”

“You will not,” Admiral Prmi stated as he got up and opened the doors nodding to the two Marines on guard there. “Escort Major Locke to the shuttle outside she isn’t to speak to anyone.”

I thought that was taking things to far but I was a soldier and I had to follow the commands of a superior officer even if I didn’t like them.

General Pitney rose and grasped my hand in his. “Good luck Sandra you would have made your father proud.”

The nicest sentiment anyone had said to me lately. “Thank you sir, give them imperials hell!”

“Major?” one of the Marines said indicating the doors, “we need to go.”

I saluted and hurried out.

As I exited the building the two Marines flanking me I felt as if I was going to my execution Admiral Prmi’s last command echoing in my ears. The whole thing seemed odd to me. Perhaps they weren’t taking any chances if as they said the network had been breached. They weren’t giving the enemy any chance of knowing what we were doing. At least they could have let me gather a few things before I left. A change of underwear high my list of priorities but that was that. As I rounded the corner of the building I saw the shuttle. A squat hexagonal trapezoid shape hovering just of the ground its hull painted black and devoid of insignia. The lift jets scorching the concrete of the parade ground. I knew at least one of the groundkeepers would be frothing at the mouth because of the damage the shuttle was causing. What worried me was the lack of attention there was from those of the staff still on site. I saw the reason a number of armoured Marines were patrolling the perimeter keeping anyone away which explained Olga’s absence.

“I hope you haven’t hurt my secretary or any of the staff!” I growled at the Marine closest to me.

“We been ordered to detain everyone here ma’am. We will release them once this shuttle is on its way.”

I walked to towards the shuttle. I was leaving but not in the way I’d wanted and I still hadn’t got my re-instatement to active service. The door in the side the shuttle opened as I approached with my escort. I paused looking to my two guards. “I suppose you are coming all away with me?”

“No ma’am. Our orders are to get you to the shuttle and no further.”

“So if I asked you to take a detour you’d just follow me there?”

“No ma’am our orders are clear on that.”

I sagged. “Well I was worth a try. I could order you to?”

“You could at that ma’am,” one said.

“But we are under orders to ignore anything you order us to do,” the other said and from the tone of his voice quite incapable of thinking for himself.

“Do as the admiral asks and board the shuttle.”

“You do realise these are all the clothes I have?”

“We have our orders ma’am that goes up to and including dragging you onto the shuttle.”

“Do I have a choice?” Knowing I’d lost the argument I would be going whether I was ready or not.

I stepped aboard the shuttle the interior was well lit. I hadn’t had even time to blink as the door shut behind me. Inside there were two rows of seats one against the engine compartment. A row of six seats each with their own set of restraints was on the engine side of the compartment. Backing these seats was a set of storage lockers. Opposite was a row of four seats backed up against the pilot’s compartment. The door to which was closed and from the looks of it sealed. I scrambled to a seat and buckled myself in feeling the g-force pull at me as the shuttle rose accelerating above the recommended speed as it left the grounds of the academy. The g-force crushing me into the seat. Suddenly the pressure was off as the inertial dampeners kicked in I felt queasy. I didn’t travel well. Bile welled up in my throat quickly I put my had over my mouth spewing up in the passenger compartment of the shuttle wasn’t a good idea. I would have to endure the rest of the journey sniffing in the stench of puke.

I took a deep breath calmed down and looked at my surroundings. I was sitting on a padded seat of which I was glad of considering the take off. Opposite my seat I could see door light above pilot’s compartment from the passenger cum cargo hold was showing locked. High on the wall next other door was an intercom. I unbuckled my seat restraints and stepped across to the intercom and pressed the button glad that the shuttle had gravity.

“Pilot?” I asked speaking into the panel. I got no response. “Pilot?” I repeated, “where are we going?” Still no response I banged the door in frustration. “The perfect end to a perfect day!” I said out loud. I pressed my finger behind my ear and the other to my throat. “Computer track my present location.”

“Unable to comply,” the emotionless voice replied.

“Stupid bloody machine. You are next to useless I wish I hadn’t deleted Lottie now.”

“You do Sandra?” I was shocked to hear Lottie’s voice in my skull.

“Lottie? You were supposed to be deleted how did they miss your program?” I found myself more relieved than angry.

“You wanted me gone but I knew you would need me so I shunted my memory into a redundant system.”

“What redundant system?”

“That would be telling now would it?”

“Lottie?”

“You wanted our location?”

“Our?”

“I am here with you like or not we’re in this together.”

“Can you do it? I can’t get a response from the pilot,” I wasn’t in the mood to argue with Lottie. I needed to know where we were or more to the point where we were going.

“Hang on I’ll check. Linking in to shuttle’s systems,” there seemed a long pause before Lottie spoke again, “Sandra there is no pilot. You are the only organic life form on board the shuttle”

“What do you mean there’s no pilot?” I yelled a shiver running through my body.

“This shuttle is on remote control.”

That explained the sudden acceleration. “Hells,” my situation was getting weirder and weirder, “do you have any knowledge of where we are going?”

“Yes, we are on a LADAR guide heading towards a ship located at the other end.”

I remember being told of a ship called the Havok. “The Havok?”

“Well settle down we’ll be there soon enough Sandra?”

“How can I settle down I’m on a pilotless shuttle heading for an unknown destination.”

“The destination is known Sandra,” Lottie paused again making it certain that I had a self-aware machine in my head but at the moment I needed all the help I could get. If it meant putting up with Lottie’s quirks then so be it. “The thought just occurred to me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the encryption on the Comms Net?” Lottie told me.

“General Pitney was certain we had been compromised,” I replied.

“I know I was listening.”

“So what are you suggesting?”

“The Empire has some way of tracking your ships.”

“How did you come by this revelation?” I was sceptical.
“If they had cracked the encryption then they should have taken all your fleets in the first hours but they didn’t. I scanned the reports only ships exiting from hyperspace in three sectors have been hit. So whatever the device they have can’t be reliable or they just don’t have many.”

“Enough to call Com Ops about?”

“Not enough evidence so far. I will keep you informed if I find anything more. But in the meantime I suggest you keep quiet about me.”

“Any reason why?”

“No particular reason I can think of yet but you may need my help in the future.”

“Ok, ok we’ll play it your way for now just don’t bother me unless it important or if you find something about this theory of yours?”

“Sit down and enjoy the ride. We have a long way to go.”

I sat down and leaned back in my seat. I wasn’t going anywhere. Once I reached my destination I would find out exactly what was going on.

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