Excerpt for Friends in Need (Broken Soldier book 6) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Broken Soldier

Book Six





This story is copyright 2017 by Bruce George. All rights reserved.

Re-edited 2017

Smashwords Edition



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.



This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook supplier and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author





Table of Contents



Prelude

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

The End

Index of characters, weapons and ships











Prelude





As the Imperial Sauran Navy Corvette Golden Claw was attempting to leave human space, it was struck in the rear end by another powerful blast from four of those amazing little ships the cursed humans were using. The blast resulted in the loss of another engine; yet they were still able to make it out of the solar system.

They traveled back through the fold, from wince they came. The Grand Pilot notified Prince Kodo, “Highness, the closest repair facility is not too far away. I see that it is due to be placed in reserve and that most of the warriors and workers have already been sent elsewhere. It is possible that they will not be able to help us.

“In any event, we will need to make a few false transits, in case we are followed. I’m afraid with the engines at one half power, we won’t get there for another six weeks.”

He cringed, when the Prince screamed, “SIX WEEKS?”

He threw a cup across the room in anger, before calming to the point where he could speak. “Grand Pilot, even if they do not have the workers to do the repairs, they will have replacements for our engines and other damaged material we need. Our own crew can do the labor if necessary. So, we go there as quickly as we can.”

“My Prince, I shall chart a course for it at once. When we have cleared this fold, we will open a series of folds to confuse any followers. Then, we shall head directly to the repair facility. In a few weeks’ time, we will be there and the replacement parts can be installed immediately. Also, should I launch message drones informing the regional command of the problems happening in human space?”

“You fool! Of course not! This mission must not be compromised by revealing that I was ever in this quadrant. Unless I order it, you will send no message drones.”

“I understand Highness.”

Prince Kodo was brooding about being assaulted in a system that had been declared safe. The warrior in him wanted to go back and achieve victory. But, if he was to advance his position in the line of succession, he needed to proceed to the trap he was about to set for six of his siblings. Five of the six were before him in line to ascend to the throne. Once his father had been removed, his higher placement in the royal family would be firmly cemented.

His plan called for him to eliminate most of the brothers ahead of him. To his amusement, the prince’s intelligence staff had identified a planned adjustment to the existing line of princes and it had nothing to do with his scheme (Adjustment- when Sauran royalty culled the blood line by the assassinations of other members of the royal family). It seems the twenty fifth brother, just behind him, was about to move up the line, due to an accident which would kill off eight of the brothers before him. Prince Kodo was to be one of those. But, thanks to his Chief of Intelligence, he had been forewarned. Thus, without notifying anyone, he had sent a stand in for the meeting with those who were about to be eliminated.

The situation allowed Prince Kodo to make his own adjustment to a few other siblings who stood in his way. The grandest element of his plan was the agreement with the fourth brother in line to assassinate the brothers between the Emperor and the fourth son.

Everyone knew the Crown Prince would eventually generate an adjustment at the highest level. As soon as the Crown Prince made his move against the Emperor, the final stage of Kodo’s plan would proceed. The Crown Prince would be eliminated, along with the second and third Prince. In the end, the forth son would ascend to the throne, and Kodo would be elevated from twenty third to second, making him the new Crown Prince, which was fine with him. In that position, he would not be so heavily targeted for adjustment as his predecessors currently were, because nearly all the others in line for the crown would have been eliminated.

In fact, he had no desire to sit at the highest position of the empire. His agreement with the fourth Prince, was for Kodo to direct the government from beneath the new Emperor’s cloak. History had shown that the person behind the power, often lived through many adjustments, while the one who wore the crown met with tragedy. Such was life in the royal family of Sauria.

The Forth Prince, Chooz, was much older than Kodo and had no real talent as an organizer or a leader. The amazing thing was, he knew it and accepted that fact. He would be the perfect figurehead for the Empire, while Kodo made the decisions and expanded the Empire throughout this arm of the galaxy. He would be the true the power of the Empire, while avoiding all the wasteful ceremonies that the Emperor was obligated to attend and at which the Forth Prince was so good in handling. They would make a formidable pair, because each knew of the others strength and they trusted each other.

He did see one problem with current events. Because his mission was to remain unannounced, he was out of contact with his Intelligence Chief, Duke Kebullac (pronounced Keb-yu-lac). He was one of Kodo’s cousins and they had been raised in the same pool. His cousin was the only other Sauran, Prince Kodo truly trusted. Kebullac enjoyed his position and had no designs on rising further, providing he could increase his unseen political strength. Together, the three of them would soon rule the Empire, each exercising his own special talents, making the triumvirate unbeatable.

Once he arrived at the meeting, he would be able to contact his cousin and get a report on the current state of affairs. Until then, Kodo would be stranded in a tidal pool of ignorance, as important events happened without him. That fact kept his anger on a razors edge.

He knew it was possible that he could be cast aside and find himself declared disavowed and an enemy of the royal family. This is when his trust in Forth Prince Chooz and Kebullac would pay dividends. He never doubted that they would continue with the plan, until Kodo was heard from.

Once the ship was repaired and Kodo arrived at his ultimate destination, he may find that his brothers had already been eliminated. It was most likely that the adjustment, planned by his older sibling, would also have been carried out. The beauty of the adjustments was that it wasn’t necessary for Kodo to be present at either event.

Of course, any Sauran with half a brain would see his hand in this. But, they would also see his cleverness, along with his new power. It would be a long time before anyone made a move against the trio of relatives who would lead the Sauran Empire to new heights of conquest and grandeur.



***



Mike and Bet were anxious, as they waited to be told what was about to exit the fold. Pellus was monitoring the scan, along with his Sensor Tech, Pitulo.

Finally, he announced, I’m afraid it looks like several ships and by their fold signatures, I would guess we’re about to see three Sauran escorts.”

He made a ship wide announcement, “We will shortly be joined in system by three Sauran ships. I want this ship to be absolutely dead. Triple check everything to be sure we’re not leaking heat, electronic signatures, or gravity evidence. The only system running should be environmental controls and they must be set to the lowest level.”

He turned to Mike telling him, “We are going to be sucking on thin air, General. A few hours after the Saurans do their sensor sweeps, we can turn it up a notch. But, until then, we must use as little energy as possible. With three ships, the Saurans might be able to spot us, if they coordinate their scans properly.”

Bet said, “So it is possible for them to defeat your stealth.”

“Sadly, it is, if they have good sensor operators and they combine all three ships equipment to do a detailed sweep of the system.”

The nose of a Sauran escort made its appearance, followed closely by two more. They immediately went into a close formation, providing maximum shield protection.

Pellus said, “As I had hoped. They chose the more cautious posture. They will hold like that for an hour, as they do their best to look over this system. The good news is that in this configuration, their sensors are not as effective.”

Bet said, “I wonder what happens when they spread out and begin to use their abilities to get a better picture?”

Pitulo spoke up. “Major Fulwiler, we are drifting at a very rapid rate. With every second we are getting further away and reducing the chances that their scans can get a read on us.”

Pellus nodded once and added, “I think an hour should do it for us. We’ll be out of sensor range and safe, until they leave.”

Mike asked, “Do you think they’ll stay for long?”

“I believe they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to recharge first, and then they’ll either return to their prior location, or move on to another. I’d say we’re stuck here for a while. But, at least they won’t be shooting at us.”

Bet grumbled, “Thank God for small miracles.”





Chapter 1





Admiral Wayne Hurst sat in the larger of the conference rooms on board the destroyer TSN Markham. Around the table sat Gwalic, the Sauran manager who had proven to be a tremendous help in their building program, Jut, the senior Sauran engineer, the ship’s Captain, Stan Novak, his Executive Officer Ensign Jewel Styles, the Admiral’s XO, Buck Dodson, Major Hughes of the assault forces, and several minor members of the defense teams and the construction teams.

Wayne allowed Gwalic to offer two proposals for increasing the manpower of the TSN forces, now renamed Fleet Zebra. Those ideas were anathema to most humans, yet they had to be considered.

The first was to have the special med-units on the repair station clone as many humans as they could make. They would be fully grown in three to four months and ready to have pertinent information downloaded into their upgrade minds.

The second plan called for the med-units to use their programming to enlighten and free the minds of Saurans in stasis. There was natural concern about freeing reptilian like Saurans to work in the assembly docks, or the on board TSN ships. Gwalic assured them that the Saurans in stasis had never been activated and had never been programed. So, if the humans had the programs set for acceptance of humans as their leaders, they would each consider themselves to be loyal members of the TSN.

Having fought Sauran warriors face to face, on several occasions, Major Armstrong Hughes, the commander of the TSN troops, was adamantly opposed to waking Sauran warriors and assuming they would ‘Behave’, as he put it.

Buck Dodson was more in favor of cloning and upgrading humans. His primary concern was the staffing of all the new ships they were building.

Wayne allowed the arguments to get pretty ugly, before he slammed his hand down on the table. “Enough of this petty bickering. The concerns for both ideas are valid and I believe we can handled them. We are not going to waste endless hours of disagreement, as we lose sight of the prize; which is a complete fleet of TSN ships that can go home with a boat load of new technology.”

Major Hughes gave him an angry glare, as he asked, “So, Admiral, what do you propose?”

“We are going to do both.” He held up his hands to ward off the outburst of complaints.

“Let me explain. By bringing the Saurans out of stasis, we gain bodies right now. We will have the time to monitor their acceptance of us and see how well they work with our people. If they do as good as Gwalic seems to think they will, I will consider the possibility of adding them as either allies of the Terran Space Navy, or as full fledge members of the Federation.”

Hughes exploded, “This is preposterous. Those bastards will kill us all, if they get the chance.”

Calmly, Wayne told him, “Army, we will wake a few at a time and put them in with your guys. If anyone can spot a problem with that, it will your men. If they work out, we will add more to your group and a few to ship’s crew training. At each step of the way, we will be watching them. If this works out, we’ll have seven hundred TSN Saurans.”

He returned the Major’s glare and compassionately explained, “Major, imagine having a battalion of Sauran warriors who answered to you. You’ve fought them and you know damned good and well how effective they would be if they fought on our side. And, imagine the frustration of a Sauran Commander, when he realizes his boys were defeated by Saurans working for us.”

Without allowing time for anyone to interrupt, Wayne said, “Now, as for growing humans, I must point out that we have been doing it for many thousands of years. We’ve just done it the old fashion way. The cruel truth is we don’t have enough people right now. The Saurans offer a brief fill in period for us. But, in the long run, we’re going to need thousands more men and women in our fleet. In five months, we’ll be able to begin programming fully grown humans to work in the manufacturing process, or to man our ships.”

Major Hughes was speechless. Buck Dodson felt the tension in the room and calmly asked, “Wayne, is this your final decision?” We are going to do both?”

“Yes, it is, Buck.”

Army Hughes pleaded, “Must the Saurans be assigned to my men?”

“Yes, they must, Major. It isn’t a punishment. If there’s going to be a problem with them, I am confident that you will spot it before anyone else. I trust you and your men, Army.”

Wayne looked to Gwalic. “How soon can we begin waking Saurans?”

“I’ll need a few hours to set up the process. Normally, all I have to do is command the stasis chambers to activate as many warriors as I need. When that’s done, the program automatically loads the obedience codes into their minds. That would make them quite hostile towards humans.

“If you’ll allow it, I’d like to have the aid of the Thorian, Yurllas, in setting up the new program. I’ve never seen anyone better than a Thorian, when it comes to writing code.”

Wayne gave it some thought, as the others all waited for his reply. “OK, I’ll allow it. But, I want Tiger, Captain Novak and Ensign Styles to be present. I feel a need for humans to see what’s being done and how it’s done. I’m not comfortable with humans not advancing their knowledge. We won’t be a help to any race, or ourselves, if we can’t learn to do things on our own.”

Gwalic nodded. “I do hope you realize that teaching your people how to work with Sauran codes could take a while. It’s just going to slow down the process.”

Wayne firmly tapped the table, with a finger. “Then it will take longer. We only need to learn it once. When the methods are in Stan’s and Jewels’s heads, we can easily transfer that knowledge to anyone else. So, I expect you and Yurllas to be sure and teach my people correctly and be sure they know what you’re talking about.”

Then he turned to Stan and Jewels. “You two will pay attention and cram every bit of information in to your skulls as possible. You never know when that knowledge will come in handy.”

In unison, “Aye, aye, sir.”

Wayne’s tone of voice changed the atmosphere in the room, as he cheerfully said, “Now Jut. How are we doing on building our ships. I need a brief rundown on each type and a timeline for the various projects we’re working on.”

Jut smiled confidently, showing off his long pointed teeth. “Admiral, so far we have completed six new escorts and one more destroyer. Each of them have the newly designed engines and the smaller engines for the guns. One of these escorts will be able to outgun any two enemy escorts we face; and two of them may be a match for a Sauran corvette or destroyer. Their guns are more accurate and powerful than anything the Saurans would expect.

“The destroyer is another story. None of my Sauran engineers were present, when the humans installed the guns and the gun engines. They damaged every gun and every engine. It wasn’t done deliberately, just careless. I wondered if perhaps the former human slaves were not as smart as the humans who were free born.

“So, I held a test to see if they could learn to function properly. They did, except for a visual acuity test. When I checked the program we have been using to upgrade them, I found a problem with visual comprehension. The program had used an adulterated Sauran code set and transferred it to humans. As long as a Sauran was there to make the necessary corrections, the problem was never noticed. Every one of the upgraded slaves had been given an incorrect ability to judge size and distance. They weren’t off by much; but they were off.

“With the help of Yurllas’s people, we reprogrammed them and now they work just fine. I told Gwalic and he has ordered all former slaves to be reprogrammed. But, that process is going to cost us a few weeks. Also, we are going to lose another six weeks, going back over the work they did, to be sure we catch any other mistakes they might have made.

“It is painful for a Sauran to apologize, but I must tell you that I am sorry this was not caught earlier, in the program.”

Wayne just shook his head. Then he told Jut, “It isn’t any one person’s fault. We are trying to accomplish something that has never been tried before. We all must watch initial processes closely to be sure it is being done correctly. If any of you spot a mistake, don’t just fix it. Report it, so we can be sure it isn’t happening elsewhere.”

He sighed and asked, “Has anyone else had problems with the former slaves?”

Everyone reported problems and most of them related to a form of visual errors. He ordered the mistakes that didn’t seem to be visual to be investigated further and reported to Captain Novak for review.

After a discussion on how to avoid errors in the future, Wayne went back to Jut and asked, “Give me the rest of the details on our small ship production.”

“That’s good news. Your sloops and shuttles have proven to be very easily manufactured. The new ones are a substantial improvement over the design humans had been using. We’ve created a hull design that looks like six glued together shuttles, but it’s not. The entire hull is one solid core, so there are no seams to fracture.

“I’ve set up an assembly line that is almost entirely robotic. We are pumping out three sloops and ten shuttles a week now. However, only a few of them have their guns working, because I decided to upgrade the design of them also.

“Admiral, I know that humans originally designed these ships to defend human space. They don’t have fold capability, which saved a lot of room on board. But, the fold equipment we’re installing needs separate chambers and a separate power source. We had to reduce the armament, in order to make room for the fold devices.

“By reducing the number of guns on each ship, and using my new design for them, we don’t really lose any firepower. With the addition of Daygon Armor, they are still faster than similar sized Sauran vessels and their ability to strike hard and accurate is far superior to theirs. We should have all of the new ships re-gunned in about eight weeks.”

“Jut, why so long?”

“We are re-fitting the guns on the old ships, as we build new ships. I’ve adjusted the work schedule to increase production. I think it’s working out quite well, although a few humans have complained.”

Wayne showed his concern, when he asked, “How many hours is each human working per day?”

“Sixteen. That gives them eight hours of free time, before they return to work. And each human gets a fifteen minute break every four hours.”

He was tempted to show his anger at the alien. But, Wayne held his temper, knowing that the Sauran had no experience in dealing fairly with free humans, or any other free race for that matter.

“Jut, free people aren’t going to tolerate those hours for long. I think they’ll begin to do a bad job for us. Not because they’ll try to, but because working those hours will begin to deteriorate their ability to focus.

“I want their hours cut back to ten a day. They will get an hour to relax and eat lunch, plus a fifteen minute break every two and half hours. The lunch period will not be part of their work day, but the break time will be. In other words, they will be on sight for eleven hours a day, although they’ll still be working ten hours a day. Also, everyone works eight days, and then they get two off. There will be no argument on this, Jut.”

Jut was clever and he did not argue with his Admiral. He did point out, “We are going to lose a lot of efficiency, with this schedule.”

“Probably so, Jut. But, I suspect you’ll find they’ll do a much better job, because they won’t be tied and angry. Trust me on this.”

“Of course, Admiral.”

“One more item, Jut. What about fighters?”

“We are up to two hundred and growing daily. May I suggest that we cut back on the rate at which we build fighters, and divert some of those workers to help with the new work schedule.?”

Wayne couldn’t hide a smile, as he told him, “Yes, that’s a good idea. Good thinking Jut.”

Although Wayne was finished, Jut was not. “Admiral, I have another request. In stasis, we have thirty seven Saurans who were sentenced to be spaced in the stars corona, for insolence. Those Saurans were all part of my engineering team. I respectfully request they be awakened and allowed to aid me with ship designs and construction methods. It will greatly enhance the speed of new ship and weapons development.”

Wayne gave him a suspicious glare, and Jut added, “I know they need to be mind altered to accept human command. Even if you didn’t do that, they would probably be so glad to have a reprieve, they would follow you anyway. Please, Admiral. These are some of the best minds I’ve ever seen. They are so creative, which is very unlike most Saurans.”

The Admiral looked at Gwalic, who nodded.

The overweight Sauran told him, “Wayne, I know little of these particular Saurans, other than I was to attach them to the outside of the repair facility, when we moved into the star’s outer layer. It would be a frightening way to die, even for a Sauran. I should add, we have extensive records on all of them. Let me look them up and share them with you, before you make this decision.”

“Agreed.”

He sounded puzzled, when he asked Jut, “If they were your people, why weren’t you sentenced to die with them?”

“My punishment required that I be the one to attach them to the outside of the facility. The Grand Pilot knew these were my best friends and that it would be painful for me to be the one to see to their deaths.”

“Jut, you said they were insolent…how so.”

“As a group, they went behind my back and talked to the Grand Pilot, telling him that it was foolish for us to not make improvements on our exiting designs. He reminded them of the reason Saurans didn’t make changes often, unless it was necessary. My friends didn’t accept the age old system of standardization. They pressed him on it, and he took offense at their attitude. If they had come to me first, I would have handled it more delicately and perhaps saved them from this horrible fate.”

Wayne smiled and said, “Well, that horrible fate no longer awaits them, does it. I’ll have Gwalic notify you of the first few Saurans we’ll awaken.”

Jut bowed his head and responded, “Admiral Hurst, I am very grateful for your understanding. I believe you’ll be pleased at the results.”



Chapter 2



As Pellus had predicted, the three Sauran escorts took turns recharging their energy banks. Going one escort at a time meant the Januki ship had to watch for twenty six hours, as the Saurans topped off their ships.

Finally, they took up a formation together and the one in the lead opened a fold. Once it was fully formed, they disappeared into the hole in space.

Bet asked, “Do we know where they are headed?”

Pellus looked at his Technician, Pitulo, who said, “We can only guess, Major. They appear to be heading toward Regulus. As far as I know, there’s nothing there.”

Mike pointed out, “That may be true, but we have evidence of Saurans going that way, from your own observations many months ago and Admiral Denniston’s discovery a few weeks ago. Whatever is out that way must be very important to the enemy.”

Pellus grumbled, “I agree. It would be nice to find out, but that is not our mission, General. I shall report this to our intelligence staff and it will be their decision whether to send out a patrol in that area.”

Mike looked at Pellus and he saw the unasked question in his expression. “General, we will open three folds and leave through one of them. Because we saw those escorts, I believe it would be wise to do it again, as soon as we exit the fold. What we carry is too important to lose because I was careless.”

Bet grinned, as she observed, “So, you admit that we have provided the Januki military with vital equipment and information.”

Pellus merely nodded, protecting his integrity through his silence, yet revealing the truth of Bet’s comment.


***


TSN Audacious was about to exit its fourth fold. The Captain of the sloop, Bug Nelson, warned his crew, “Exit time in ten. Everyone take a dose of nausea meds.”

He turned to the Tall Thorian woman next to him and asked, “Dink, doesn’t any of this bother Thorians?”

“We have made genetic adjustments to our bodies for millennia. Also, we programmed our nanite monitors to automatically inject mild sedatives, just as humans do. The difference is that we don’t even give it a thought. The program handles it, without being told to do so.”

“Could you help us with that?”

“No. It requires a Thorian who works with genetics and nanites. I’m afraid that’s not my area.”

“Oh well.”

The Sensor Tech, Bishop, announced, “Captain, there’s something waiting for us on the other side. I can’t be sure, but it has the same mass as a Sauran escort.”

“Ah shit.”

Bug looked over the information to be sure the Tech had it correct. Unfortunately, he did.

“All hands to general quarters, this is not a drill. Bring engines to full power and charge all gunnery energy banks. I want seventy-five per cent power to the forward shields. Set environmental for vacuum suit connections. All hands be sure to wear your outdoor clothes and connect to the air system; we are going to vent the ship. It looks as though we are about to face at least one Sauran escort.”

As she donned her odd space suit, the Thorian, Dink, asked, “Do you actually waste your air by tossing it out into space?”

“Of course not. We suck it into a salvage compartment, before we open the vents. We do lose a little air, but most of it is saved. If we didn’t vent the ship and it got hit, the air would provide fuel for a fire.”

She said, “I doubt we would survive, if we did get hit. So, fire is a low priority.”

“You are a real charmer, Dink.”

Bishop cried out, “Sir, I can’t be sure, but I think there’s another fold opening.”

“First things first, Bishop. We’ll handle things as they come at us. And remember, it might not be an enemy.”

As they exited the fold, Bishop, calmer now, announced, “One Sauran escort at ninety thousand kilometers. And, I’m detecting another one way out at fifteen million kilometers.”

Without effort, Dink said, “If the distant one moves this way, he’ll get here in approximately 12.3 minutes, at the earliest. He won’t have the time to get above light speed and if he did, he’d overshoot the area.”

Bug thought out loud, “So, we have about ten minutes to destroy that damned escort.”

“Don’t be hasty, Captain. Let Samisto talk with him. I doubt the ruse will last for long, but it might allow us to draw him within deadly range of our guns. He’ll never expect our guns to reach out as powerfully as they are capable.”

He turned to the quiet Sauran and said, “Do you think you can convince this guy we’re not a threat to him.”

“I do. But, you’re not going to feel comfortable with my idea.”

“OK, let’s hear it.”

“That Sauran is going to order us to drop shields and turn off all gunnery scans. We must do as he says, or the fight will be on. Don’t drop them yet. Wait until he demands it. Otherwise he’d get suspicious.”

Bug scratched the back of his head, as he thought. Dink interrupted his thinking, when she loudly said, “Bug, Samisto needs to speak now, before the Sauran does.”

“OK, OK. Samisto, do it.”

In his best low guttural Sauran voice, Samisto communicated, “Escort, this is a captured ship of unknown class. We are taking it in for evaluation. Can you provide an energy charge for us, as we are low on fuel?”

Loudly and in a very threatening tone, the Senior Pilot of the enemy ship ordered, “Drop your shields and we’ll talk.”

Dink looked at Bug and he told Bishop, “Drop ‘em.”

The shields for TSN Audacious fell away and the aiming scanners for the guns were turned off, leaving them completely exposed. The Sauran told them, “Prepare to be boarded. Once we have inspected your ship, we will talk about boosting your energy banks.”

Humbly, Samisto responded, “Thank you, Senior Pilot. You are a credit to our race.”

Bishop looked around and asked, “Now what?”

Bug asked, “What’s the status of the new fold.

“Sir, whatever is about to come out of there is not very big and it’s going very fast.”

“How far away is it?”

“About nine million kilometers and in nearly a direct line to the other Sauran.”

“Damn. If it is another Sauran, it sure is convenient.”

Dink asked her friend, “Samisto, after we defeat the escort, do you think we’ll have time to open another fold and leave the area.”

“It wouldn’t do any good, and you know it. The other escort would just follow us through and we’d never be able to get away from him. I’m afraid we’ll need to defeat both along with whatever else shows up.”

Bug dropped his head, and then he raised it, looking more confident. He made a ship wide announcement. “We need to get as close to that escort as possible, before we fire on him. We have a charge for our guns in place. The problem is, he’ll see us aiming our guns and he’ll reinforce his shields. Our first strike just might be enough to blunt his power, if we hit his engines. So, when I give the order to fire, all guns aim for the aft end of that ship and hit exactly the same spot.”

Bishop said, “Sir, what about the rail gun. It doesn’t need charging, because it runs directly off the ships engine energy.”

Bug gave him and odd look and asked, “What rail gun?”

“Sir, before you took over as Captain, Admiral Hurst was going to experiment with a rail gun. It’s still on board, although we never had a chance to use it.”

“Is it connected?”

“Yes sir. I’ve been playing around with a practice program for it. Everything checks out. It’s just never been fired.”

“So technically, we don’t know if it works?”

“I guess that’s true sir. But, the Saurans would never see it coming. And the thing fires a high explosive shell that weighs three thousand pounds. With the help of Jut’s engineers, we boosted the energy of the explosion by five hundred per cent.”

Dink shook her head, saying, “It won’t work. Even at that power, it wouldn’t make a dent in the Sauran’s shields. And, if you fire it at too great a distance, they’ll have plenty of time to shift their shield power to the source of the threat.”

They all just sat there, speechless. Finally, Samisto spoke up. “Captain Nelson, there may be a way to do this, but I don’t know if your crew can get the changes done in time.”

Bug looked at him and said, “Well?”

“It is common a Sauran custom for the home ship commander to invite the commander of the visiting ship to his quarters to talk about what has been going on each of their journeys.

“Assuming that will be the case, we will be expected to go to their ship in one of our shuttles. If we can load that rail gun on the shuttle, we can fire it at such a close range that he wouldn’t have an opportunity to use his shields.”

Without hesitation, Bug told Bishop. “Call whoever you need to and get that gun on a shuttle. Even if we don’t get invited to their ship, we can still fire it right out of our hanger bay portal.”

With a huge grin, Bishop said, “On it.”

Samisto assured him the Senior Pilot of the escort would insist on a visit from him. But, they would still send over a boarding party to inspect the sloop.

Nelson asked, “Will they want to do that first, or after you have met with him?”

“Possibly after they have searched the ship, although they may have our shuttles pass each other on the way to their destination.”

Captain Nelson broadcast ship wide, explaining the situation and telling everyone on board what the game plan was to be.

“OK, here’s what I want. We’re going to have thirty troops hiding by the hanger entrance. If Samisto is not asked to go over to the escort, we will need to attack the search party, as soon as they enter.”

“If they do invite you over before they do a search, or they decide to search simultaneously to your visit, we’ll handle it differently. Our shuttle will need to stay off to one side, as they make their way over to the other ship. That way, they won’t block our aim, when we open fire; which we won’t do, until Samisto has fired the rail gun. We need to fire and keep firing, until that ship’s engines are destroyed. Then we can turn and face the other ship.”

Bug stopped talking for a few seconds, and then added, “Oh yeah, we will need to destroy their shuttle, too. Does everyone understand?”

Acknowledgments came back from all departments.

Nelson waited for the Sauran to get within eight thousand kilometers. The Audacious still had her shields down and the Sauran still had his raised.

Samisto offered Bug an idea. Captain Nelson OK’d it and the Sauran made the call to the enemy ship.

“Escort, I have a fine bottle of Rulash here and I invite you to join me in removing it from the galaxy.”

The reply was immediate. “You have been too long away from Sauran discipline. It is for me to invite you to my ship. Do so; and bring the Rulash. We will talk.”

Samisto offered no response and Bug glared at him. The Sauran explained, “I deliberately broke a minor custom, by inviting him to join me here. He was slightly annoyed. But, as I expected, the offer of Rulash was more than he could resist. Now, it all feels normal to him and he is looking forward to getting tanked with his fellow Sauran.

“We will be able to approach closely and he will need to drop the shields covering his hanger bay. When he does, we will annihilate him.”

Dink grinned, evilly and nodded her approval. She told Bug, “This should work. But, just in case it doesn’t finish him off. The Audacious must be ready to quickly charge the guns and fire.”

Bishop asked, “Can we last long enough to do that?”

Samisto answered, “I believe so. Jut gave us this wonderful armor and his engines can excite the finishing charge for the guns very fast. We’ll take a few hits, but when we fire back, they will be very surprised at how hard we can hit.”

Bug said, “That’s certainly good news.” Beneath his façade of confidence, he had serious doubts. He realized it didn’t really make any difference, because it was the only plan they had that sounded as though it would work.

Then he asked Bishop, “How’s that new fold looking?”

“Well, it’s small and seems to be opening faster than any fold I’ve ever seen.” The Tech’s last comment was delivered with a tremor in his voice.

Calmly and in command of his emotions, Bug said, “Calm down, Bishop. Whoever it is won’t be here for a while. We’ll deal with him if needs be.”


***


Pellus announced they were about to exit the third fold they had traversed. His Sensor Tech, Pitulo, said, “Commander, there is evidence of other ships in the system. I don’t think they are close, but they will certainly know a ship has exited this fold.”

As soon as the tiny ship exited the fold, Pellus looked at the scan and made a quick evaluation. He told Mike, “There is a Sauran escort ten million kilometers from here and it’s already headed this way. I don’t think it’s coming for us. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t change its course and charge straight for us. That’s the bad news.

“The good news is that I doubt they have a good scan on us. They’re just too far away to know exactly where we are.”

Mike asked, “What about the other ships, are they also Saurans?”

Pitulo answered, “That area is just now beginning to be defined. I can tell you that one of those ships is a Sauran escort. The other one is smaller and I feel certain it isn’t Sauran made. However, they are not firing on each other, so I assume they must be allies.”

No one spoke for a few minutes, until Pellus declared, “Oh my! Pitulo, compare the data on that small ship with our data base of human ships.”

Bet was shocked at his order and asked, “What is it, Pellus. What do you see.”

“Major, you’re not familiar with reading Januki sensors, although yours are similar, they put out the information in a different format. I don’t know if I hope I’m wrong, or hope I’m right.”

Mike loudly demand, “Well, what the hell is it.”

Pellus told them, “I believe we are looking at your son’s ship, General. The signatures are close, yet different. It has about the same mass, but the energy output is greater than Wayne’s ship was capable of producing. It is the visual we see that looks nearly identical to his vessel.”

Without thinking, Mike said, “Call him. I need to know if that’s his ship. I need to know if my son is alive.”

“I understand how you feel, Mike. But, we can’t risk a communication. We would be giving away our position and you know it. Something very strange is happening here and I suspect we’ll soon have an idea what it might be.”

Pitulo warned, “Commander, that Sauran has launched a reconnaissance drone in our general direction. They’re using a standard crosshatch search pattern and it will probably pick us up in about twenty to thirty minutes.”

Bet asked, “When this happens, do you shoot it down?”

“No. That would just make their job easier. We will move closer to the other ships, because I doubt they’ll believe we would want to get nearer to danger. If it works, they won’t see us, although they obviously know we are in the vicinity.”

She said, “This is nerve wracking.”

Pellus nodded and said, “This is war, Major Fulwiler.”


***


The only way the rail gun could be loaded onto the shuttle quickly, was to place it at the rear ramp and weld it onto the deck. Samisto felt that could be a problem. When they approached the escort, they would need to turn the shuttle, so the ramp was facing the enemy. Then they would need to open the ramp, before they got too close to the escort and fire.

The Sauran told the Captain, “Bug, if I may call you that, I am hoping that the strange configuration of this shuttle will keep the enemy from becoming suspicious.”

Nelson pointed out, “But this sloop looks like a bunch of Sauran shuttles welded together, Samisto.”

“True. But humans have made enough alterations to the outside, by adding stealth nodes and better aiming sensors that it will look different. When I tell them this is the only way for us come aboard, they just might believe me.

“All we need for them to do is to drop their shields in front of the hanger entrance. Even if its portal is closed, the rail gun will cause significant damage, when it explodes against the outside of it. Then you open up with everything you’ve got and I’ll try to avoid getting killed.”

Bug was more than two feet shorter than Samisto. He stood as tall as he could and offered his hand, saying, “This is a human custom, Samisto. We shake the hand of a friend when he leaves.”

Samisto took Bug’s hand and said, “I know of this custom. I’ve always thought it was a nice way to say hello, or good bye. Let me just say, I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Yes, my friend. I like that better. Good luck.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Nelson smiled at him and nodded his head, as the Sauran boarded the shuttle, along with four volunteers.

The hanger portal opened and the shuttle slowly moved out to do its worst to the enemy. Bug watched their progress in his minds monitor and saw that the Sauran escort was launching its shuttle to inspect the Audacious. The enemy had launched two minutes late and that should mean the TSN shuttle would have its opportunity to get in a shot, before the Sauran shuttle was in the sloop’s hanger.

This could have been a problem. But thanks to Jut’s clever design, there were two plasma guns hidden on the outside of the hanger bay portal. They had covers that would pop open, giving the guns a clean shot at the enemy. As long as the enemy shuttle wasn’t too close, it would be blown apart seconds after Samisto fired his rail gun.

The Audacious had been slowly drifting toward the escort. By the time Samisto reached the point where he began turning around, the sloop had closed to within eight hundred kilometers. In plasma gun distances, that was like firing a pistol from five feet away. You couldn’t miss if you tried.

As the shuttle turned to fire, the Sauran Senior Pilot challenged why they were altering position. Samisto explained the problem with handling a shuttle that had been altered by the enemy.

A moment later, the Sauran asked, “Did you bring a bottle of Rulash?”

“No. I brought four bottles. I’m in no hurry, and I haven’t had a good chat with another Senior Pilot in a long time.”

The Sauran never replied. The shield wall in front of the hanger entrance disappeared. The escort hanger portal was wide open and Samisto made a minor adjustment to the angle of the shuttle. He aimed the rail gun at the inside of the hanger and toward the front of the enemy ship.

Samisto didn’t hesitate. He fired and the three thousand pound projectile went crunching through five bulkheads before exploding. When it did, it destroyed the entire front of the ship, ruining everything from the Central Control Center to the Back up Control Center. The force of it was so powerful that the armored hull of the ship bowed out from the pressure.

As soon as Samisto fired, Captain Nelson screamed, “Fire all guns.”

In seconds the enemy shuttle was in pieces, which went floating by the sloop. The larger guns of the Audacious opened up on the remaining aft end of the escort, piercing the shield wall and blasting into the engineering section. Once that happened, all the enemy shields fell and the guns of Audacious kept firing, until the entire rear of the enemy ship was severely damaged.

When they received no fire at all from the escort, Bug ordered, “Cease fire, all guns. Check the condition of all weapons and make any necessary adjustments now. Recharge the energy banks of all guns and prepare for additional combat in a few minutes.”

Then he sat down and breathed a sigh of temporary relief.



Chapter 3



Everyone on the Januki scout ship had been watching the escort and the former TSN sloop. When the shooting started, there were gasps on the bridge. They were shocked how quickly the sloop dispatched the Sauran ship.

When Mike saw the results, he screamed, “Hot damn, that’s my boy.”

With a huge grin, he looked at Pellus and said, “We need to contact them now. I want to talk with my son.”

Pellus shook his head. “Mike, I understand your excitement about seeing Wayne’s ship. But, we cannot reveal our presence. There is still another Sauran escort headed their way; and he has seen what that sloop can do. He will adjust his tactics to take into consideration the power of the sloop’s guns. I’m afraid this next battle will not be as easy for humans.”

Mike exploded, “Then we need to help them. There is no other threat out here. Once that escort is destroyed, we can comm with them and bring each other up to date.”

Using a firmer tone, Pellus told him, “General Hurst, this is a scout ship. We have very light armor and only four guns; none of which are as powerful as that sloop and certainly not as powerful as the escort.

“I have my mission to consider. Getting these samples of Sauran equipment and the knowledge of what humans have been able to do is vital to both our people.”

Pellus tapped Pitulo on the shoulder and told him, “Open a small fold for us. Then get to the front of it, so the enemy can see us.”

“Yes, Commander.”

Mike cried out, “No. You can’t do this, Pellus.”

Bet place a hand on his arm and patted it, as she softly said to the Januki Commander, “Pellus, if we leave now, that escort is going to know which way to look for us. Isn’t there some other way to deal with this situation?”

“Of course, Major. I’m very hurt that you don’t have more faith in me. We are not leaving, but the Sauran won’t be able to be sure of that.”

Mike asked, “So what are we going to do?”

Pellus smiled and told him, “Watch and learn, General.”

They watched, as the Januki ship opened a fold. Pellus had the ship come out of stealth, allowing the Sauran to see him. Then they made a run at the fold, heading right at the gravity pool in front of it.

Pellus announced ship wide, “We’re about to traverse a gravity pool. Everyone tighten the ship and yourselves.”

He turned to Mike and Bet, warning, “It’s best if you strap in, and you may wish to adjust your nanites for a rough ride.” As he spoke, Pellus connected his own safety harness and then told Pitulo, “Take us through to the other side of that pool, but don’t get drawn into the fold. Just before we exit the gravity pool, execute full stealth protocol and reduce engine power.”

“Yes, Commander.”

Bet wanted to know what he was doing. Mike smiled and answered her question. “He’s going to make that escort think he went through the fold. The gravity pool will hide us, making it seem as though we’re gone.”

Pellus looked serious, as he explained. “Correct General Hurst. We will sit out here and pray that your son has another trick to play on the second escort. If he is victorious, which would not surprise me, then we will contact him. If he is not victorious, we must leave immediately.”

Mike had conflicting emotions. He badly wanted to talk with his son. Yet, he understood the Januki’s need to avoid being in a fire fight, which he could not win.

He told Pellus, “OK. I understand your position and I agree, although it’s a painful realization for me. Thank you, my friend.”

Pellus nodded. “And thank you, Mike, for being sympathetic toward the needs of our mission. And, I do mean OUR mission.”


***


Sensor Tech Bishop looked up at his Captain and said, “Hole shit! I can’t believe we beat that guy without taking a single hit.”

Dink brought him back down from his euphoria. “He was lulled into thinking we were an ally. This next ship saw everything we did and he won’t be satisfied until he avenges his brother.”

Captain Nelson turned to Samisto and asked, “Any idea how this guy will come at us?”

Samisto put his hand inside of his coveralls and scratched his belly. Bug didn’t know if all Saurans did that, as they thought, or was it just him. He knew the Sauran wouldn’t speak until he removed his hand.

When he did, he told them, “He’s going to be very cautious, which is the Sauran way. He’ll slow down and try to get you to fire on him at a distance, so he can judge the force of our guns and determine their range. He will stand off and fire at us, using his larger guns, attempting to inflict damage on us and weaken our defenses.”

Bug asked, “Will that work?”

“Probably, if we stand and fight. Getting into a slug fest with him would be the quickest way to lose the battle. I suspect he’ll assume we will run, using our speed. Of course, that won’t work, because he’ll trail us wherever we go. Eventually, we would have to face him and he knows it.”

Dink had insisted on bringing a Butarian on the journey. He had been very quiet, almost as though he was intimidated by all the upgraded humans. When he spoke, Bug nearly jumped out of his skin. He had never heard the creature talk and it came out in a squeaky, high pitched tone.

“I’ve been studying the alterations that Jut made on this vessel and I believe there are some advantages you should consider, before you choose a course of action.” Then he just stood there.

Bug twirled his hand and said, “WELL.”

The Butarian didn’t seem upset at all, as he explained. “That escort has no idea how powerful these engines are, for such a small craft. You are lighter, faster, and far more maneuverable than he is expecting. Also, your guns can target faster, more accurately and fire more rounds per minute than he can. And, don’t forget the armor we have on our hull.

“I suggest, you try to avoid him, as he fires at you. Perform expected maneuvers, to avoid being hit. Do not move as quickly as this ship is capable of doing and don’t perform any extreme maneuvers. Do not fire back at him, until he is well within range of our guns.”

Bishop was incredulous. “You can’t be serious. That damn thing will blow us to pieces. If we maneuver at subnormal ability, we’re going to be hit.”

The Butarian grinned for the first time and told them all, “That’s exactly what we need. After the first few hits, we’ll need to temporarily shut down two engines. Then, Captain Nelson will call them and sue for terms. If that Senior Pilot is anything like his counter parts, he’ll promise mercy and tell us to lower our shields. As soon as we do that, he will destroy us.”

Bishop looked at the Butarian in astonishment. However, Bug knew the alien had a better plan than that in mind, so he waited for him to finish explaining his idea.

“Captain, you must tell him we will not drop shields, until he stops firing. Keep him talking as long as you can. The entire time, he will be moving in closer to get off an easy kill. You pick the moment, and then blow his fucking ass out of space.”

Bug laughed. Not because the plan didn’t have merit, but because he never expected the alien to curse like a human.

Nelson looked around the bridge and asked, “Does anyone else have an idea that doesn’t include getting us killed?”

There was silence. He announced, “Then that is exactly what we’ll do.”

Bishop asked, “What about that fold that opened?”

“Were you able to get a read on it?”


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