Ghosts

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Chapter 8 – “Power, always power”.

‘What’s all this nonsense, Henry? I understood that you were friendly with Georgi Balev? It looks like he just screwed you with that decision,’ a minister spoke without much charm through the video-call to Henry Poole.

‘He did what was expected. I can’t say that I’m happy but we cannot agree on every big decision. The Tri-Mining Agreement decision was not to screw me, but to push CEOL in ways I may disagree with. And I do disagree, for the record, but it’s not necessarily for all the reasons that people may think. From day one, Georgi and I thought the same about Valon’s tax. It is a shameless and criminal tax on the rich corporations all in favour of the poorer companies. Why should Georgi support them? Is it his right to do so; is it a pleasure, a duty? No, Benedict Valon will make this CEOL’s penance. He sees this as a moral victory for the small companies over those that have earned their place amongst the stars as greatness aligns them together.’

‘You believe that?’

‘Yes, of course I do. What is morally right is to let survival of the fittest run its course. Balev or whoever will deserve to control the market. Why should Balev bow down to the poor…?’

‘The Tri-Mining agreement includes all levels of companies.’

‘That changes nothing. CEOL leads them all where CEOL wants. They have the power out here. They earned it.’

‘Did they?’

‘Don’t try to play Devil’s advocate.’

‘Why would I try? CEOL are the Devil in this scenario.’

‘Are they? Is that you’re opinion or a fact.’

‘Facts are only facts until discounted by other evidence. In this case we could argue all day and night and not agree.’

‘Yes, well on that note, Georgi Balev is on the other line. I must deal with, as you called him, the Devil. If we don’t get a chance to speak before, good luck in your local elections, my friend.’ The line was closed with swiftness, not allowing any response to Henry Poole’s goodbye statement. The Prime Minister wasted no time in connecting himself to Georgi Balev’s call.

‘Good afternoon, Georgi, how can I help you?’

‘I come with an offer but so far, it’s not one you will like.’

’Is this based on our prior words?

‘It is. I am after control of sector Alpha-Seven.’

‘You want sector Alpha-Seven, in the Druid’s Rift system? Oh my…’

‘Oh my, what?’

‘Just an “Oh my, that’s a heavily-invested-in sector”. It is mainly invested in as you are aware by fledgling independent companies. They bought the sector licences when you never wanted it, joining up as a unit to buy it. They have every right to the resources.’

‘Licences can be revoked. Who cares how or why? You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours? You want money? I’ll give you money. You want power? I’ll give you power.’

‘Power, always power. Why now, Georgi? What makes the land so useful to you all of a sudden? My friend, I offered you a list of sectors to buy in advance of listings, and you turned this one down. So why now?’

‘It is mineral rich.’

‘They all are. It’s just ice.’

‘Ah, but amongst that particular ice is a mineral I would like. It’s rare. We have found further uses for it. It’s strategically important to the next few months’ plans. I want it.’

‘You… Shall have it, within reason, if I can find a way to revoke the licences my good man, also any other reasons why you want it?’

‘What are you fishing for, Henry Poole. I do not like games.’

‘Nor do I, Georgi, nor do I. I need to know the full reasons. What you’re asking for is tricky. I would need to find reasons…’

‘Oh, I can find reasons. I have people who can create solutions, one way or another. No questions asked.’

‘Your comment doesn’t sound too legitimate?’

‘I am not one for the law, breaking it or otherwise.’

‘I know, and that concerns me.’

‘Henry Poole, you either want my help in the election or you don’t. I always return loyalty with loyalty. It is the only way.’

‘What am I to do, Georgi?’

‘For now, you can just turn a blind eye.’

‘And that is all you would require of me? To turn a blind eye, a blind eye to what exactly, a blind eye to financial malpractice, to something like that?’

‘No, you will know when it happens but I will not tell you directly. It will happen soon and will be unstoppable. An unstoppable force will hit the region.’

‘Why not buy them out? Not bully them into deals with you? If you bought them out you would be happy.’

‘The word “if” is such a great word. If I had what I wanted I would not need to try. Anyway, I am on a mission. Please let me achieve mine and I will allow you to achieve yours. But you are not the only person seeking power. Benedict Valon or yourself, it is an easy choice for me. Valon has tried many times to change my mind. Who knows what financial subsidies and political deals he may offer CEOL for their support. Many things can change in the foreseeable future, for us both. Let it all go smoothly. We all make decisions and someone will be collateral damage. You will know when you see it on the reports. Goodbye, Henry.’

Like a swarm of hornets circling around their nest the twelve battle-scarred Dead ships furiously circled around the Zeta Ice Fields research and mining station, missiles bombing inwards like a black hole implosion. Inside the black steel constructures panic erupted. The sound driven through the P.A. system sent through by a Dead computer-virus was reason enough for this alarm, but the dread consuming the miners and engineers was intensified by the missiles bombarding the base.

A blizzard of missiles boomed against the metal work of one laboratory, inside key manufacturing and analytical equipment loomed large unaware of the pressures of space soon to engulf them. A scientist, white coat worn proudly around his body, a security badge naming him as Yan Johansson, spoke calmly into the recording console, with destroyed communication relays his words were not due to arrive for days, slowly drifting across space in the desperate wish of being picked up. The scientist knew he would be killed by then, picked apart by the vultures attack.
Two hundred emergency use-only, tiny smart-drones spun out of a hatch deep under the station, communication drones small enough to not be noticed by the Dead, a delayed message ready to be issued once they reached a safe distance from the danger. It would take days to arrive within range of any of the stations and the large warships that they were destined for. No message would be returned nor expected, just a visit to a graveyard lost amongst ice asteroids, frozen corpses floating within the space debris of a highly-esteemed research centre.

Outside the threat continued its violent assault, with no remorse for the deaths it caused. As fireballs erupted inside the base, missiles rained down hard, some piercing deep inside the steel, the vacuum of space seeping through, the stories of those lost aboard the station left to never be spoken. Only confusion mixed with devastation to be found when recovery teams dredged through future wreckage

Escape pods, and ships broke free of the steel docking vaults holding them, chancing freedom within the stars, only to find cold comfort embrace them, screams lost to the Dead around them. The attack lasted minutes, the defenceless station doomed to remain a ruin, wreckage to be lashed at by asteroids and ice, their killers, inhumane, uncaring, and inglorious, moved on, no losses of life within their battalion. New targets waited for their evil deeds, and the same fate awaited those they encountered.

Drake’s craft tilted left as soon as his ship’s computer registered four blips on his radar. Aware of the stock he was ferrying he spun his ship off the auto-piloted track he had previously preset several long hours ago.

The ship’s speed increased as the pilot overruled the auto-pilot, aware that the speed would need to be increased to distance the craft from the approaching cruisers. With a jumpgate nearby, Drake Black knew he would not reach it before the faster heavy cruisers, his blockade runner heavy in armour, but slower in comparison to a much more agile ship.

‘Safety first, guys!’ he announced across the ship as the freighter drifted into a docile asteroid field. The ship stopped. Engines cooled slowly as the cruisers approached the area.
Drake relaxed as he pinged back a response to a request for his ship ID credentials. Reading the communication he knew they were CEOL escort ships, just being nosey.

Not responding would be rude, and most likely arouse suspicion. It made sense to reply, polite despite his dislike for CEOL. He feared them calling in the nearby military patrols from the jumpgate or attacking directly.

A reply back from the CEOL escorts was sent almost immediately. Drake released a sigh of relief. On screen an illegal scan of the ships showed the CEOL escorts to be heavily armed, missile holds primed with enough warheads to worry him. The cruisers departed the immediate space heading off to the jumpgate.

‘Let’s move on. We are done here,’ he informed the crew. The engines erupted once more and the freighter left the asteroid belt.

Further blips on the radar showed more ships jumping into the region. Drake invited the computer to do a ship scan. The readings weren’t good, and a seasoned pilot would know these battle-tarnished ships were likely Dead. Drake remained calm knowing the CEOL ships were nearer to him than the new ships.

A flicker of thought made him consider what the CEOL escorts were thinking in a moment of sympathy for the enemy’s enemy. He waited for the voice to screech. It did not arrive.

The twelve Dead ships silently bypassed them all on a journey through the system. Drake considered informing the crew but felt he didn’t need to threaten them unnecessarily with the news.

‘Doesn’t make sense, with what they were packing, the CEOL ships could take out those battered Dead fighters with ease. The drones in the cargo alone would take a few out and the missiles would tear through them. Why no response? Why be more concerned by a single freighter in a mining belt than a terrorist faction jumping in?’ he speculated aloud, lost in the lonely cockpit.
The hauler reached the jumpgate leaving the CEOL ships behind to share territory with the silent Dead. Punching in jump-codes the freighter left the local space.

The rest of the journey was CEOL and Dead–free for Drake Black, his freighter left to roam alone through the depths of space. The last jump made, the ride from that point on was a simple story of boring space travel until the medical station approached. The only worry was the military ships stationed at each jumpgate ready to protect the busy station nearby. Drake had expected a request for ID credentials but nothing was required.

No communication reached him from the military warships looming over the gate like gargoyles. With the cargo he had aboard the ship he once more felt tense as he slipped past the gate-keepers.

If the military attacked he’d have to punch it to the station and pray he could land in time. He knew he would get the repairs done with little trouble if he made it alive, the contact would ensure he never had to pay or to struggle to get a docking bay. Drake preferred to not to have to struggle. Station-running was a risky option he’d prefer to avoid.

It was a simpler ride than he expected. Normally that would concern Drake but he had more prevalent issues on his mind.

‘Medical Station Zebra-Tango-Nineteen, requesting permission to supply-dock,’ Drake sent over his ship ID.

‘Roger that, please approach with care to docking bay twenty four.’
Drake flicked the auto-pilot on and monitored the approach for ship errors. None arrived and the auto-piloted craft entered the docking bay with reassuring serenity. Drake made a quick call via the station’s communication relay.

‘Medical Station Zebra-Tango-Nineteen communication team, how can I transfer you?’

‘Dr Luke Ciciala, please,’ Drake spoke the name reading it off the manifest.

‘Please hold... Please hold...’

‘Dr Ciciala here.’

‘I have a delivery for you to collect. Supply docking bay Two-Four.’ Drake waited for an answer.

‘Okay, who is it from?’ Drake didn’t answer, the gap in the conversation sufficient a reply.

‘Right, I’m on my way.’

Dr Ciciala approached Drake with unease.

‘Are these the supplies? More than we asked for.’

‘Is that a problem?’

‘God no, we have got incoming Dead attack victims. We need all the meds we can get. They’ve been worse than ever.’

‘Really? How so?’

‘More attacks, more victims - simple answer, we keep getting bodies in here, some alive, some gone. The ones still alive are in a lot of pain, paranoid and generally in a state of shock. I feel for them. We needed the supplies to heal them. The Government-rationed stock is limited, and the Government licences to produce are unavailable to all but the likes of CEOL, and we cannot afford this CEOL produce en-masse.’

‘Who can? Listen, I’ll tell my man about this. We’ll see if we can help out some more. Before I go…’ Drake considered whether to continue with his question.

‘Four heavy CEOL cruisers approach a jumpgate. Twelve Dead small fighter ships arrive as the cruisers approach. What happens?’

‘Is this a joke?’

‘Humour me, Doctor.’

‘Hell, all kinds of war breaks loose.’

‘That was my thought.’

‘Wait, this happened? You saw the fight.’

‘That is the thing. I never saw a fight because a fight didn’t happen.’

‘Wait… huh?’

‘That was my reaction. I might be wrong on the ships, but I’d swear they were Dead vessels, old and battered by plenty of heavy fights. I’ve enough experience with them. The Dead fighters stayed on course. No warnings, just kept on course through the area. The CEOL cruisers decided not to attack them.’

‘Possibly gave fake ID credentials? Or both of them were too lazy to fight or too scared?’

‘That was my thought. But it’s as likely to happen as Halley’s Comet doing a loop-de-loop. I can’t explain it.’

‘It happens. The Dead are random. Maybe they were in a rush.’

‘They weren’t exactly pushing the stars back. They seemed to be just rolling on through, content as they go. The CEOL ships had just requested ID checks from me so they weren’t in a hurry, and were looking for something or possibly someone to hassle. They were looking for trouble. And the Dead are the T in trouble.’

‘Might have been too many ships?’

‘Possibly, but a good pilot might have enjoyed the challenge. They had enough heavy gear to win easily. It’s kind of weird.’

‘Very much so.’

‘I wish I could help you figure this out but my time would be better off spent with the sick.’

‘Of course, hey, I understand. You get them feeling good again. Take care, Doctor Ciciala.’

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