by Joseph Sisco

Standing at the helm, Captain Voca Voss eyed the image of the Ghoulie vessel, a UEF GL4 boarding ship. The Ghoulie pirate clan is partial to Cilonian ships, but it’s not unheard of to find them in a UEF vessel occasionally, especially this modified gem. They were in a standoff. The superior fire power of Voss’ SV-9 heavy transport vessel, lovingly called the Deliverance, could easily destroy the pirate’s ship. Though, manoeuvrability would be an issue, and if the Goulie ship were to get in close, boarding would be imminent.

Sucking his teeth, Voss assessed the likelihood of getting out of this situation with his dignity and his ship intact.

“We’re waiting.” The voice on the loudspeaker says.

“Yea, I’m thinking.” Voss replied. “Commander, recommendation for best outcome?”

“Let them board, Sir.”

“What’s the word, Voss?”

“We’re lowering our shields. Board at the portal from above. I have one condition.

“Name it.”

“I will escort my crew directly to the brig, before you come through. Let us live and I will negotiate a ransom from United Earth Force, under section 279 sub-paragraph 558 in the Galactic Federations Charter.”

The atmosphere was thick with the tension of the dead silence of the comms and the beeps and ticks of instrument panels and radar pings. Pings that were not functioning properly just moments earlier when the boarding ship seemed to come out of nowhere. The Commander, having spent plenty of time piloting for diplomatic missions and a deep understanding of diplomatic relations as well as the laws and ordinances of the UEF, had never even heard of the Galactic Federations Charter. Voss caught the man’s bug-eyed nervous glance, sweat dripping from his brow, and winked at him. Finally…

“Alright. Get your crew to the brig. And Voss?”

“Yea?”

“You double cross me, and you will watch your crew die, slowly and painfully. Then we’ll throw you in our brig with Munchie, where you’ll live out the rest of your miserable life in terror and agony.”

“Larkin, how long till their on board?” Voss asked the newest Lieutenant.

Lieutenant Larkin was the talented systems specialist and engineer, plain as paintless drywall, but eyes sharp as a tack and the colour of emeralds. Tiny beads of perspiration on her forehead, beneath the hairline of her dark brown slicked back hair, glinted in the glow of the overhead lights. It was warm on the bridge of the deliverance, and the black and grey UEF uniforms weren’t helping matters any.

“They will creep in close and get situated, then…”

“Time, Lieutenant?! I don’t need a physics lesson!”

“Twenty Five minutes, Captain.” Lt. Larkin snapped.

She wasn’t offended, her nerves had gotten the better of her. She was a stalwart soldier, but dealing with pirates was a lot different than dealing with other soldiers. First off, alien races they were at war with, rarely threatened you. They would simply fire on your ship. Commonly, the first shot was basically their way of saying, leave or die. Then you would fight, then it would be over. You would either be dead, or they would. UEF doesn’t run.

Pirates, on the other hand, dealt strictly with the easiest, most profitable solution. They dealt with intimidation, and if that didn’t work, lucid brutality. However strong they were; whatever advantages they had from the use of alien technology stolen from the Annakazi or Cilonian vessels they’ve burgled, they had one weakness. And it was a doozy. Greed.

“Larkin, shut down control to the ship. Let them hack if they wanna drive this beast. Verity, set torpedoes to detonate upon firing, then disable auto override functionality. If they want to hijack us, let em. Two can play at that game. While they are trying to figure out how to take Deliverance, we’ll be taking their GL4. By the time they figure out what’s going down, we’ll be gone.”

Verity, a short but stocky sort, was a man with a quick wit, and a keen sense of what Voss was always on about. Bluish grey eyes, and a shiny dome of a head, gave the man’s soft features a bit of needed harness. As a soldier in the UEF, the baby-faced Commander would often be underestimated, causing those with an over-elated sense of self confidence to challenge him and then end up having their asses handed to them.

Danny Verity was no push-over, but looking like one, added distractions to his life he simply couldn’t afford. Although, he liked his ash blonde hair, when he allowed it to grow, he learned that by shaving his head and lazing the follicles to postpone regrowth, it lent him somewhat of a menacing appearance. Enough to keep from becoming a beacon for afflicted soldiers with self-esteem issues.

“I’m on it.”

Larkin was somewhat new to the crew, and didn’t quite fully understand the Captain’s ways. She has learned to trust him, but she has not learned when not to question him. Fortunately, Voss believed in teaching his crew, rather than forcing them to blindly follow orders. Which was what prompted him to reveal why he want the torpedoes sabotaged.

“With all due respect, Sir, if they fire those torpedoes, they will destroy the Deliverance.”

“Can’t get anything past you, Lieutenant. We are going to hijack that GL4 while they are taking Deliverance. By the time they figure out what’s happening, their only option will be to fire our own torpedoes at us.”

“But they have cloaking, couldn’t we just use that?” Larkin asked.

“We could, but they have the frequency jamming codes. Cloaking is really only effective if they don’t know you are there. Which basically means, they’ll have just enough time to get off one shot before we are out of range. But to get that one shot off, they’ll have to manually reprogram one of the torpedo’s detonators.” Voss explained.

Understanding came over Larkin. It reminded her why Voss seemed to be given the missions with the most importance. Especially this mission. They were carrying seeding technology to the Rilos Cluster. The mission was to deliver it to the earth-like planet that needed a little boost to its evolutionary process, so that humans could colonise it.

Ecotone was spending billions of credits investing in the success of the Planet Demeter project. Earth is falling apart, and it’s not she’s not fixing herself fast enough, and the only way she will ever recover, is if humans would just leave her alone for good. However, Demeter is not ready to support life as of yet. It needs help. That’s where Ecotone comes in.

Scientists at Ecotone in collaboration with Kraiden geneticists have discovered how to kick-start the geo and ecological processes that began life on planet earth. The earth, in the beginning, was blue and brown. But when insects and animals came, the brown quickly became green within a few thousand years. Well, Ecotone doesn’t want to wait thousands of years, so they used Kraiden technology to genetically create micro-organisms that will quickly spread and become animals, insects, and nature within five years, instead of thousands.

One vial is all it will take. And that vial has literally been injected into Commander Verity. All that is needed is for him to take leave of the ship, visit Ecotones lab already based on Demeter, have the hyper-life microorganisms extracted from his blood, introduced to an activation medium, and finally, released into the atmosphere. Problem is, no one expected pirates.

Pirates are always a concern, but the Galactic Arm is big place. Voss hadn’t expected the modified GL4, and mentally kicked himself for it, but the mission was not yet failed. Voss’ plan was to use pirate tactics against pirates, something that the corporate UEF CEOs didn’t understand, and would frown upon. However, when you need a job done, you give it to the man that knows a little something about problem solving.

Losing the Deliverance would sting a little, of course, but commandeering the GL4 would be the next best thing. They wouldn’t have a lot of time, though. If Ghoulies were here, then that meant more were coming. They would have to complete the unofficial trade quickly and make it to the next jumpgate in a hurry.

“They’re going to come in from the top, so we’re going to hide in the maintenance shaft near the portal. They’ll leave two guards to protect the exit and the other ten, assuming there are ten more, will begin a sweep on the way to the bridge. We’ll see how gullible they actually are when we get through that exit to the other side. My guess is, not that gullible. It’ll be rough getting in; we’ll have to fight. Once we make it to the bridge, we can take it and bolt to the jumpgate. Any questions?” Voss asked as the three of them made their way to the entry point.

“Hide, fight, steal the pirate ship. Got it.” Verity said.

Larkin nodded. Voss adjusted his Comlink to the ships intercom system. They took up position in the maintenance shaft, twenty feet where they could hear the GL4 preparing to make their break in. They waited.

After a painstakingly warm and sweaty few moments, they heard system warnings alerting to the portal controls being hacked. A few moments after that, a tube from the GL4 lowered and sealed the entry point to the entrance. Voss, Larkin, and Verity listened for the invasion. It wasn’t long before they heard it. SHHHhh thud, SHHHHhh thud, they heard one after another. Ten in all. It was as Voss expected, but better than he had hoped. They waited until the pirates had run down the hall and begin their sweep before they made their move. That’s when Blackthorne’s voice came over the intercom.

“Voss, friend, where are you? It’s not a surrender till we have you in custody.”

“There are only three of us on board. You’ll find us in the personal sleep quarters. We have one of the diplomatic VIP rooms converted to a brig since the SV-9 doesn’t come built with one. If you want to get to us, you’ll have to hack the system. Hope you understand. If you plan on killing us anyway, we’ll at least have a little time to come to terms with it.” Voss replied.

“Fair enough, Captain Voss. You are a smart man. We are going to kill you; that was always the plan, however, I like the way you think. I’m going to forgive you for your effort and kill you quick if you can answer one question.”

“Shoot.”

“Where’s the Project Hyper-Green vial?”

“Oh, you know about that, do you?”

“HAH! I’m Kraiden, Voss! It’s our technology. Who do you think sent those scientists to Ecotone? Give me the vial, and you can have your quick death. Planet Ghoulie will be a reality and there is nothing the UEF can do to stop it.”

“Sounds like someone has a degree from Villain University.” Voss replied, sarcastically. “Sorry, Blackthorne. You’ll just have to have your lackeys find it for you.”

“Have it your way, Voss.” Blackthorne said, in his reptilian gurgle that serves as his voice.

Kraiden are frog-like in appearance except for their usual fancy royal clothing they drape over themselves to hide the fact that they can only stand for moments at time and have to spend most of their lives in a hover-chair. They tend to use technology to mask their voices to sound more human, in order to seem more diplomatic for their human relations, but this particular pirate liked intimidating humans with his true voice.

It was time to make a move. Larkin, aside from being a talented engineer, was also a crack shot with a nine mm silenced ballistic pistol, loaded with armour piercing bullets. She snuck out of the shaft and peeked around the corner where, sure enough, two guards stood protecting the hole in the ceiling. She motioned for Voss and Larkin to join her. As they stepped up to guard her rear, she popped around the corner and pulled the trigger twice and pivoted back, returning to her position with her back against the wall, pistol pointing up, ready to go again.

Thud …thud.

Both men were down. Larkin led the way as they approached the bodies. One was human. The other, a Cilonian.

“There’s something you don’t see every day.” Verity said, grabbing the P4 tactical rifles.

After a quick inspection, he found they were not Lynx equipped. Made sense; pirates liked to cut corners when they could.

“What’s that?” Larkin asked, searching for the grappling guns the pirates planned to use to return to the GL4.

Beautiful tools, really. Recent invention. You could shoot a magnet with a guiding laser that ran the length of a very fine wire that connected to the small gun. Connected to that was a resin support that fitted to your elbow.

First trigger pull shot the magnet, the second returned the pistol to the magnet, and the third released the magnet. If you messed up the shot, you could hit the trigger twice quickly and that would release the magnet and return it to the gun. Kraiden invented it, and pirates loved them.

There were only two available here, though. So the plan would be for Larkin and Voss to shoot up the tunnel, take out the remaining two guards and send one of the grapple guns back down for Verity.

“A Cilonian pirate.” Voss answered nonchalantly. “Most Cilonians aren’t interested in the pirating way of life, but there are exceptions to every rule.”

Cilonians were the big headed, black eyed little aliens that Earth had made first contact with, centuries ago. Years before that, there was controversy when a small town called Roswell, in New Mexico, had people witnessing a UFO crash. Some people with psychic abilities thought they were being abducted, and described the Cilonians. They called them Greys. Of course, the initial story of the UFO being a weather balloon was try, but it sparked some with the gift of foresight to have visions of the Cilonians. When their descriptions got out, it spread like wildfire. Even becoming sensationalised and assimilating into popular culture.

Voss looked up the entry hole and saw the two guards standing at the drop in. They weren’t looking down, as they weren’t expecting anything to be amiss.

“I’ve got an idea. Larkin, go up first and take em out. Just like you did with these two. I’ll be right behind you. Alright?”

Larkin nodded.

“Hey, I’m comin back up, I forgot something!” Voss called up the hole.

The two guards looked down the hole and Larkin shot her magnet right between their heads and triggered the pull. As she began to rise she took aim and began pulling the trigger. She got one of the men right in the face with two bullets but the other when fell away and took cover.

Before she was even through, Voss shot his magnet passed her and began his own ascent. Larkin allowed herself to be pulled right up to the ceiling. Voss, right behind her, let go of his grappler while still coming up, and pulled out his large knife in one swift motion. He shifted his centre of gravity towards the other guard and swung the blade through the air, before rolling to the ground.

Larkin released the grappler and landed next to the entrance.

“Wow. They said you were good, but damn!” Larkin exclaimed.

“Come on.” Was Voss’ only reply to the praise, while wiping blood from his blade. “Toss him the gun.”

Larkin checked the device and tossed it down to Verity, but just as he caught it, one of the pirates came up behind him and slammed a large needle into the back of his head. He went unconscious and fell to the ground. The pirate looked up the hole and said something. Voss couldn’t make it out, but didn’t think it was for him anyway. They had been made, and the pirate was alerting Blackthorne.

“Go! Go now, to the bridge.” Voss ordered.

Larkin started to run up the long hall to the spherical bridge, Voss hot on her tail. They stopped at the metal doors.

Voss’ Comlink kicked on and Blackthorne’s voice entered his head. He was gurgling with laughter.

“You must really think I’m stupid. Now I got your ship, I got your vial, which I know is actually your commander, and now I got you. My men will have you before you can get inside. Give up now, and I’ll make sure you get that quick death I promised you.”

This time, Voss didn’t answer. He had one more trick up his sleeve, and hoped beyond hope that it hadn’t been thought of yet. He went to the door’s control panel and spoke into it.

“Security access override. Captain Voca Voss, United Earth Force ID 687429.”

“Access granted.” The panel replied in a monotone female’s voice. Good ol UEF safety standards. Thank you, as well, Kevin!

The doors swished open as Larkin was snapping in another clip. She stormed in and began pulling the trigger. Voss kept cover, waiting for her to finish mopping up the crew. Three of the four went down in a heap, but Blackthorne, with a wave of his hand, teleported two of the bullets that would have hit him and then teleported the pistol, itself, out of Larkin’s hand. After disarming Larkin, he waved his hand and a ball of fire appeared in front of him. Larkin tried to turn, but Blackthorne released it just in time to catch her in the side and throw her into one of the control consoles, knocking her unconscious.

Voss made his move. He leapt around the corner and threw his knife with ferocious accuracy, striking Blackthorne in the throat. The reptilian gurgled and a yellowish mucous bubbled out of his mouth and spilled down onto the royal red and purple throw rug, he used to disguise his disability.

Voss ran to Larkin to check if she was still alive. She was. He ran to the systems station and disconnected the sealed tunnel from the Deliverance where pirates were returning to the GL4 in order to retake it. Three had made it back, leaving five on the Deliverance.

After initiating separation from his ship, Voss shut down life support to most of the GL4, except for the bridge, to starve the three remaining pirates of oxygen, then jumped over to the pilot’s station and set a course for the jump gate, and engaged the hyperdrive. Moments after they were on their way, Voss heard in his Comlink an explosion and then nothing. He felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach.

He had lost his ship. More importantly, though, he had lost his friend. He had escaped the situation, but at a heavy cost. Soon after, he was being hailed. It was the Ghoulies wondering what happened, no doubt. He shut down communications, and went to see to Larkin.

“Hey, are you still with me?” Voss asked, as Lt. Larkin stirred and tried to move.

“Stay still. You’re going to live, but you’re injured badly.”

“Unh…” Larkin moaned. “Did we get away?”

“Yea. We’ll be at the jumpgate soon.”

“But … we failed the mission.” Larkin said, defeated.

“No we didn’t. I didn’t trust the original plan, so I had Verity injected with saline. I am the vial.”

“Oh, you are good!” Larkin said, and passed out.




 

Stories by Al Corbin

The Second Coming Universe

Games in the Second Coming Universe