Authors: T. R. Harris
The Human Chronicles
Copyright 2011 by T.R. Harris
All rights reserved, without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanically, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, or associated with, or sponsored by, the trademark owners.
Adam Cain is an alien with an attitude.
Here’s the reason why.
Whoever designed this ship should be shot!
After all, with focusing rings so crucial to the operation of the gravity drive, Kaylor could not figure out why the designers set them in the most difficult areas of the ship to reach And this ring was for the main generator.
Annoyed, he felt another bead of sweat flow down his forehead and into his left eye, stinging, as had all the others before it. Cursing under his breath, he tried to regain focus in the eye, while carefully maneuvering the gripper closer to the focusing ring — for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past three hours.
His task wouldn’t have been so difficult if the gripper unit had been working properly. Yet like nearly everything else aboard his ship these days, it too, was acting up.
Of course, Kaylor couldn’t really complain too much about his ship, not considering the price he’d paid for it. The FS-475 was an old cargo hauler, and he had come upon her drifting out beyond the Silean Sector of The Void, having been attacked and stripped by the Fringe Pirates and left as a derelict. He never learned what became of the crew, but the vastness space can be a very convenient place to hide the bodies.
After the salvage had been awarded, it had taken him over three years to piece together enough spare parts to make her operational again. But once she was, Kaylor had strode into the office of his current hauler boss with a defiant attitude and - well, let’s just say he either had to make his fortune as a freelance mule-driver, or find another line of work. That was 14 standard years ago, and Kaylor had indeed survived all those years, if not living out his dream of fame and fortune, then at least making ends meet.
Now if he could just get this finicky gripper onto the ring.
With his body contorted in the narrow access tube like some Castorian String Dancer, all he had to do was get the gripper unit up and over a protruding electrical conduit and around a blind ninety-degree bend in the access tube - and do it all by feel. So he reached forward once again, both arms outstretched to their max, carefully, until he felt the unit contact the ring. Then with a push of the control button on the gripper’s handle, he heard the click of victory as the unit finally gained control of the focusing ring! Then with another press of the button, he heard the welcoming whirl as the ring was tightened back into place.
Exhausted, Kaylor collapsed on the hard metal surface and closed his eyes, his breathing labored and amplified by the walls of the tube.
What an ordeal.
With the ring out of focus by less than half a degree, a recalibration hadn’t really been necessary. But Kaylor had decided to do it anyway, out of a foolish attempt to escape the excruciating and mind-numbing boredom that came with transiting The Void. That was three hours ago and now exhausted and soaked with sweat, he lie in the dim, confined space of the third-level access tube thinking what an incredible waste of time this had been.
His quiet revere was interrupted when a phantom voice echoed around him. “Kaylor, you better get down here,” the voice said.
“What is it Jym”
“I have a contact.”
His heart skipped a beat as Kaylor was hit with the ramifications of those four innocent words. Without hesitation he scooped up his tool kit and began shimming down the access tube. “I’m on my way.”
It was just a short distance down the generator hallway to the second level access ladder, but it was time enough for Kaylor to imagine any number of dire outcomes for the news he’d just received. To be in the vicinity of another ship in The Void was almost unheard of; the odds were way beyond coincidence. And being this far out from any trace of authority meant that he and Jym were on their own against whatever threat this contact may pose.
Sliding quickly down the ladder, Kaylor half-sprinted the remaining distance to the open doorway of the pilothouse. Entering, he slipped past Jym seated at the nav console, engrossed in his calculations, and fell into the driver’s seat. On the screen before him was a bright blip of light in the upper right hand corner, moving slowly at a diagonal toward the center of the screen. The blip was extremely bright, indicating that the ship was either very large or at max-drive. Either way, the contact was a threat.
“Any indication he sees us” Kaylor asked.
“None. We’ve been dark since you’ve been working on the generators.”
Fortunate for us, Kaylor thought. Maybe something good did come out of his ordeal in the access tube. The only energy signatures they would be giving off would be from the ship’s own gravity wells, which were too weak to be detected this far out. Kaylor began to relax a little, as he watched the distance between the contact and his ship increase inexorable from the momentum they still carried, even without the generators fired up. This just might be okay.
Just then the large blip separated into two smaller ones and they began to expand into a shallow “V” formation. Simultaneously, Kaylor and Jym leaned closer to their screens, looking for any indication of hostile intent. With none coming, they shared a collective sigh of relief.
“How long until we’re out of range” Kaylor asked, not taking his eyes from the screen.
Jym tapped some keys on the nav console. “About half an hour.” He then slipped out of his seat and headed toward the doorway. “How about some Hildorian Tea while we wait”
“Sounds good. I’ll keep watch.” At least Jym seemed relaxed enough to accept their situation. Maybe Kaylor could relax, too.
Nearly half an hour later, Kaylor and Jym had their feet up on their consoles, sipping tea and watching the two contacts creep ever closer to the right edge of the view screen. In a few more minutes they would be out of range and Kaylor could fire up the generators and bolt out of the area. Only then could he fully let down his guard.
Suddenly the two blips flared bright - and disappeared!
In unison, Kaylor and Jym dove for their consoles, Kaylor spilling the tea down the front of his tunic in the process. Ignoring the hot liquid, he began to prep the generators for power.
“Do you have them” he barked out.
“Working on it.” Jym was feverishly tapping the keys of his consoles as two flashing red circles appeared on the screen where the contacts had last been. “From the strength of the backwells, it looks like they’ve come to a stop,” Jym said incredulously.
“They didn’t change course with the backwell” Kaylor asked.
“It doesn’t look like it. They’ve gone dark.and are just sitting out there.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Kaylor continued his preparations yet resisted activating the generators, a move which would clearly announce their presence. Taking a chance that they could still slip out of range undetected, he waited. Just a few more minutes. Still, why would—
Kaylor stopped in mid-thought as another blip appeared on the screen, this one carrying a massive gravity signature and entering out of the upper left corner of the screen. Kaylor glanced over at Jym, who stared back at him, his mouth half-opened. He simply shrugged, answering the silent question.
Then it all began to make sense, as yet another, smaller contact appeared on the screen, following closely behind the massive blip, in obviously pursuit. Kaylor didn’t need to comment. Both he and Jym knew what was happening: Pirates!
“But there are three of them,” Jym announced to the room. After crewing together for over 12 standard years, much of their conversation was now by intuition. “I’ve never heard of that many pirates working together before.”
“Yeah, but look at the signature of that ship. It’s incredible!” A few taps of his board and Kaylor had his answer. “They’re at 98% efficiency.” His ship operated at 75%, max. “Those generators would be worth a fortune.”
“If the pirates can catch it,” Jym countered, and by the ever-increasing gap between the large ship and its pursuer, it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen.
“They don’t have to catch it; they’ve already laid a pretty good trap.” Kaylor was right. The pursuing ship was herding the large target straight for the two dark contacts. The outcome was inevitable, and in a few minutes the carnage would begin.
Fortunately for Kaylor and Jym they would not be around to see it, as their momentum was just about to carry them out of range - and to safety.
Yet still, Kaylor felt a slight trace of disappointment. The gravity generators on that ship would have been something to see. He had never heard of 98% efficiency being achieved before. Besides the generators, what other treasures did that ship carry in her Kaylor’s question was rhetorical, with the outcome of the attack inevitable. Three pirates, operating in concert, would be able to bring down that ship with relative ease, and then they would have all the time they needed to pick it clean.
Suddenly Kaylor sat straight up in his seat, his eyes wide and focused on the screen before him. Jym noticed the movement. “What’s wrong” he asked.
“I just got an idea.”
“No, no you didn’t.” Jym didn’t like the look on Kaylor’s face.
“Yes, I did. And this will work.” He leaned forward and began programming the piloting computer. “Pull up the ship’s inventory. I need to know if we still have those satellite drones on board.”
“You’re not thinking about doing what I’m thinking you’re thinking about doing, are you” The sentence was awkward, but accurate.
Kaylor swiveled his chair until he was facing Jym. “This is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” His voice was animated, his face alight with excitement.
Jym had seen this look before, and it made him nervous. “We can’t take on three pirates! We’re a mule-ship, with no weapons except for that pea-gun you installed last year. How do you propose we do this”
“Remember a few years back, when we used a drone as a decoy to slip out of New Regian with those Regulators after us We’ll do that.” He scanned the inventory list Jym had just posted on his screen. “We have six drones on board. We hook grapples on them, fan them out on either side of the ship and then set their front-and backwells at max. We’ll look like a whole fleet of Rigorian warships to the pirates, six of them, plus us in the middle. There’s no way they’ll want to take on seven warships.”
“And then what We just glide in and pick up the remains” Jym still wasn’t buying it. “What if there’s still some crew left alive You can’t have a salvage without a derelict.”
Jym had a point. Kaylor hadn’t figured on the pirates not being finished with their kill by the time he scared them off. “In that case, we should get a reward from the ship’s owners,” he countered. But that wasn’t good enough. Then softer, “Or we’ll let them have a little more time to dispose of the crew before we move in.”
“Oh that’s really civilized of us.” Jym spat out sarcastically.
“Hey, we’re not the pirates here!” Kaylor was getting mad. This was a tremendous opportunity — for both of them. One big score like this and they wouldn’t have to keep towing cheap cargos back and forth throughout the Fringe. But Jym wasn’t seeing that.
“And what if the pirates don’t scare off What do we do then”
Kaylor turned back to his screen to finish the intercept calculations. Then half under his breath, he answered, “Then we’ll bolt out. We’re pretty fast — when we’re not towing a string.”
“You’re going to dump the string!” Jym yelled back.
Kaylor had had enough. He turned to face Jym again. “Just prep the drones! And yes, we’ll dump the string. We can always come back for it later. This salvage will be worth a hundred strings of smokesticks. I don’t want to hear any more objections. Just do it.”
Although they had crewed together for a long time, and were more like brothers than shipmates, Jym knew Kaylor was the boss. Besides, he had been right more often than he’d been wrong. With one last defiant sigh, Jym turned to his console and began prepping the drones.
“I hope this works,” was all he said.
Me too, Kaylor thought. Me too.
It was simply called The Void, an impossibly empty region of space approximately 18 light years long and eight wide. Devoid of even the most basic nebulae, dwarf stars, rouge asteroids or comets, The Void had been vacuumed clean a billion years before by a wandering black hole, until now it existed as a literal desert in space.