If you haven't read Starshock, Part 1, please do so before reading Part 2.
"Skipper, we have a nova in the Darwin system" said Ryan. "Shall we investigate?"
'Damn,' thought Sanderson. 'Fine time for this crap.'
"Affirmative, Mr. Ryan. Alter course immediately, maximum speed. See if you can find any ships in the area who might have any information."
"Aye, Sir. And there's this: Valia is relaying reports, as yet unconfirmed, that a possible border incursion has taken place. A listening post in the Tovus asteroid field reported a spatial distortion consistent with a ship running silent."
"Mr. Starrett, bring up the sector chart on the main screen", ordered Sanderson. "maybe we can get an angle on the ship's track."
The chart appeared, and Sanderson studied it for a moment. He touched a panel on his chair, and two points were highlighted on the chart.
"Here is Tovus," said Sanderson, "And here is the Darwin System. Assuming that there was a ship, and this same ship is responsible for the Darwin nova, then she would have had to pass through here."
He indicated a point on the chart. Ryan nodded.
"A good choice, Sir. If we alter course now, we can cross that point in about two hours, and not seriously affect our arrival at the Darwin System."
"Very good, Mr. Ryan. Helm, lay in a new course and implement."
GLAMDRING swung around to her new course. Ryan studied the chart for a moment, thoughtfully.
"Starrett, highlight the positions of any other Destroyer in the squadron on the chart."
Three small symbols appeared on the chart. Ryan studied them briefly.
"We're the closest ship. ALBION is next, about fourteen hours behind us. EXCALIBUR and ANDURIL are approaching from the far side of where Darwin used to be, about eighteen and twenty-two hours away, respectively. If there is a novaship out her, we have more than enough firepower to deal with her."
"Skipper, I have Admiral Stancil at Valia on the line," called the communications officer.
"On Main Screen, Mr. Rice."
The Admiral face filled the screen. Sanderson nodded curtly.
"Admiral, good to see you. What's up?"
"We have a problem, Captain. We have it on the very best of authority that there is a renegade novaship in your area, and the Captain of that ship intends to provoke a war."
"Well, that fits. The Darwin System has been blown away."
"I know," he said. "We've been monitoring the situation from here. The ship you're looking for is the A'ZANI, Captain."
"You've got some pretty good intelligence, Admiral."
"A special envoy from Emperor K'val gave us the information. I'm sending him out to you, Sanderson. He's got some special gear he brought with him to help you track the A'ZANI."
"Can we trust a T'zirian, Admiral?"
"I believe we can trust this one, Captain. I'm not at liberty to tell you why, but co-operate with him any way you can." Stancil paused before continuing.
"Sanderson, I don't have to tell you what's at stake. You and I fought the T'zir before. You know what that kind of war is like. We must prevent another one from starting."
"We'll do our best, Admiral."
Captain," said T'kul quietly, venom in his voice, "have you any idea what you have done?"
They were in R'gal's quarters. T'zirian naval protocol forbade a First Officer from questioning his Captain's judgment in front of the crew, and T'kul had been forced to wait several hours to confront R'gal.
"I am carrying out orders. You will not question."
"I have to. Who gave those orders? Why were those orders not relayed through normal communications? What exactly is our mission, and why? What has brought us to this?"
"I am the Captain of this vessel, T'kul. I am also a member of the royal family. As such, I am not required to explain my actions. You will follow my orders without question, or I will order your immediate execution on charges of mutiny and treason. Do I make myself clear, T'kul?
"Quite clear, Captain. I will follow your orders without question. However, I want it noted in the log that I do so under protest. This matter is highly irregular, Captain, and I will not accept responsibility for my performance of duty if it is later found to be improper."
"So noted, T'kul. Return to your station. We will be changing course in three z'hostas, and heading for our secondary target."
T'kul turned smartly on his heel and left. R'gal leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. He was tired, and the last several hours had drained him. Sleep, however, was out of the question for now, for R'gal had to plan.
He called up charts on his console, and studied them. Yes, here was his next target, and after that...here. Where then?
R'gal frowned. Where was that last target? Oh, yes, he remembered. The homeworld of the youngest of his mother's attackers, the one who had held him, forcing his eyes open, making him watch...
Memory flooded over R'gal. He heard his mother's screams, watched as her gown was cut away from her slender body. They threw her to the deck, laughing cruelly as they pawed her breasts. She screamed and writhed as they held her down, as the first lay over her...
He remembered the hoarse laugh of the man who held him, taunting him as he was made to watch his mother's torment. The man's face came back to him, clearly. R'gal could remember every feature of that mocking face.
'Soon," he thought, 'very soon, we shall see who shall be laughing.'
A few hours later, he went to the bridge. He ordered a course change, sending A'ZANI towards her next target: a heavily populated star system known as Coby.
"Captain, I have a T'zirian D'MATA-class scoutship coming alongside. She's sending the truce signal and requesting permission for a party to come on board."
"Acknowledged, Mr. Ryan. Gunnery Section: keep our weapons trained on that ship. I don't want to get any surprises here. If she does something suspicious, we'll shoot first and ask questions later."
Sanderson eyed Ryan, who stood frowning.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Ryan?" he asked.
"Do you think that's wise, sir, in light of the fact she's carrying an envoy from the T'zirian Emperor?"
"Perhaps not, Mr. Ryan, but I think it's far wiser than getting hit by a surprise attack from a decoy ship."
"Let's get one thing straight before our guests arrive, Mr. Ryan. I don't trust this envoy, or the Emperor that sent him. I think it's quite possible that they sent him to sabotage our efforts to find this novaship."
"To what end, sir?" asked Ryan, somewhat thickly.
"They don't need an end, Mr. Ryan. They're T'zirians. You can't trust 'em."
"With all due respect, sir, I must say that I find that to be a very bigoted and offensive attitude."
"With all due respect to your T'zirian ancestry, Mr. Ryan," roared Sanderson, " you can stick your opinion up your ass. When I turn this ship over to you, you can fly her to hell, for all I care. But until I do turn her over to you, I'm still the Captain. And I'll do things my own way, and no goddamned half-breed will tell me a damned thing. Is that CLEAR?"
"Quite clear, Captain." snarled Ryan. He turned and disappeared into the forward compartment. Sanderson scowled after his retreating form.
"Master-at-arms! Meet our 'guest' and escort him to the bridge.
"Aye, sir." Jenkins turned and disappeared down the companionway. A few minutes later, he returned with a man in a T'zirian Naval Uniform.
Sanderson eyed him in disbelief. Another half-breed.
'Damn,' he thought. 'all these half-breeds look alike. He could be Ryan's older brother.,
"Captain Sanderson?" the young officer asked, extending his hand, "I'm Commander G'rvan. The Emperor sent me to assist in tracking the A'ZANI."
Sanderson ignored his hand, and N'tal slowly removed it.
"Just how do you intend to help us find this novaship, Commander?" asked Sanderson.
"I brought along some rather sensitive equipment, Captain. Once it's installed, it will increase the range of your sensors. In addition, it looks specifically for the signature of a novaship's engines."
"Let me get this straight. You're going to install some unknown equipment to my sensor array?"
"Captain, I assure you, it will not harm your equipment. As a matter of fact, it's some rather highly classified technology we're giving you...it will allow you to track our novaships with much greater accuracy."
"Jenkins! Assemble a detail to assist Commander G'rvan to install his toys," Sanderson ordered, " but let's make one thing clear. I want every piece of this junk gone over. If it causes any problems with our sensor array, pull it out immediately."
"Aye, Sir." Jenkins turned to his console and spoke into the comm. Sanderson turned back to N'tal.
"Commander, you'll be bunking with Mr. Ryan. He's up forward at the moment. You two have a lot in common." He paused, smiling strangely. He turned and spoke into the comm.
"Mr. Ryan to the Bridge. Mr. Ryan to the Bridge."
As Ryan re-entered the compartment, N'tal gave him a shocked look. Ryan eyed him quizzically.
"Something wrong, Commander?" he asked. N'tal shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Commander," he said. "I wasn't expecting to find anyone of T'zirian blood here, you took me by surprise."
'A rather large surprise,' he thought to himself privately. 'he looks like me, only a bit younger.'
"I'm Commander G'rvan," he said aloud. "You can call me N'tal."
"I'm Neil Ryan."
"Well, isn't this just charming," said Sanderson sarcastically. "Ryan, Commander G'rvan will be sharing your quarters. Please show him the way."
"Aye, sir. This way, Commander."
"You really just have to ignore his attitude," said Ryan, as they made their way to his quarters. "He fought in the last war. There was some business about mistreating prisoners, and he thinks that cost him his Admiral's flag. Needless to say, he doesn't care much for T'zirians."
"I rather...sensed ..that," said N'tal. "I guess that makes life here a bit difficult for you here."
"For the moment. We were on our way to Valia Naval Station when all this broke loose. Sanderson is retiring, and he was turning the GLAMDRING over to me. I guess I'll have to wait a bit longer for my command."
They arrived at Ryan's quarters. Ryan showed N'tal how to operate the security lock, and they entered the tiny compartment.
N'tal looked around. There were two bunks, vertically stacked, and a small deck. Two lockers ere mounted to the opposite wall, and a small hatch opened into a small bath.
"It's not large," said Ryan, "but it has a private head and the environment controls are independent. I can make it warmer and more comfortable for us in here."
"I noticed that it was a bit cold throughout the ship," said N'Tal. "Is that standard?"
"The full-humans like it a bit cooler that I do. Probably something to do with the T'zirian blood in me. But then, you're only part T'zirian yourself."
"My mother is human," explained N'tal. "She married my father during the war."
"My mother was human, too," said Ryan. "I don't remember my father. I was raised in an orphanage on Valia VII after my mother was killed."
"What happened to her?"
"Well, I was very young, you understand," said Ryan slowly. "I believe my mother was captured by your people during the war. I guess she must have either been raped or gave her body for better treatment or something...I don't really know. All I remember is being on a ship, T'zirian, I think; and there was an explosion. I got separated from my mother...there was another explosion between us. Somebody stuffed me in a lifepod , and launched it. I drifted around in that thing for weeks before I was picked up, and then they took me to the orphanage. I was there until I made it into the Academy."
"Well, my mother was a prisoner, as well. She fell in love with a T'zirian officer, and married him. I was raised on the homeworld, and when I was old enough, our family tradition demanded that I enter Naval Service...that wasn't easy, being half-human."
"Tell me about it." Ryan found himself warming to this man. It had not escaped his notice that N'tal looked almost exactly like him. He attributed this to their mixed ancestry.
The comm squealed to life.
"Mr. Ryan," came the Captain's voice. "Bring our guest to the Bridge. Jenkins has the detail ready to install the Commander's equipment."
"Aye, Captain. We'll be right there." He turned to N'tal. "Well, duty calls."
The A'ZANI crept stealthily through the Coby system. Silently, she took up her station and began the analysis of the star.
"Captain, we have detected a ship. Three Thousand d'hastas and closing fast." T'kul's voice was calm, emotionless.
"Raise our shields. We will lower them only briefly to fire."
"Aye, sir. Shields coming up."
The chime sounded indicating the end of the analysis. T'kul read the result, and swore softly.
R'gal swore. "We must dispose of that ship," he said. "Can you identify the type and armament?"
T'kul studied his screen. He touched a panel, calling up identification files.
"Well?" R'gal demanded.
"GNOME-class scoutship. Not a threat to us, even unshielded, Captain."
"Initiate firing sequence."
Again the low whine reverberated throughout the ship as the capacitors charged.
"Lower the shields."
"Aye, sir. Shields coming down."
Immediately the scoutship, sensing the lack of shields, charged in. It began to fire on the A'ZANI, its' tiny beams inflicting only minor damage upon the massive novaship's hull.
The capacitors finished the charging cycle, and A'ZANI again shuddered as its' massive weapon discharged.
"1 z'ta...1.2...1.5 z'tas," T'kul counted. "1.6...1.7. Firing sequence complete."
The Coby star collapsed, and then flared violently. The shock wave caught A'ZANI and shook it violently. The little scoutship was hurled violently, tumbling out of control.
"Secure from firing stations." ordered T'kul. "Captain, what course?"
"Set course 194.2 by 341. maximum speed for 8 z'hostas, then run silent. Call me at that time for new course. I will be in my quarters." R'gal turned to leave, then paused
'T'kul, pass this on to all crew. Well done."
R'gal arrived at his quarters and threw himself onto his sleep pad. His mind racing, he lay there for several moments. Again and again, he saw his mother's attackers, heard her screams. The voice of the man who held him echoed through his head again and again.
"This is what you people are good for," he kept saying. "this is what you deserve."
R'gal forced his mind clear. He went to his console and called up charts. he studied them, locating his next target. In his mind, he calculated his speed and course, and determined the required course change.
'Two targets destroyed,' he thought. 'Two remain. But not for long.'
Part 2 ends here. Part 3 will continue the story in the Next Issue of The Dragon's Lair Webzine. Click here to go directly to Part 3
R.R. Bennett is the Senior Editor and contributing writer to Dragon's Lair Webzine. He likes Science Fiction and Fantasy, particularly when it has a humorous twist to it. He enjoys the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Robert Asprin, and Andre Norton, among with many others. He is also a BIG fan of the Science Fiction Television Series BABYLON 5.
R.R. Bennett resides in Bel Air, Maryland, with his wife and children.
"Starshock" copyright 1996 R.R. Bennett. If you enjoyed this story, why not e-mail R.R. Bennett (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your comments? Or visit his homepage by clicking here.