Starshock: Part Six

Starshock: Part 6

By Roger Bennett

Illustration by Robert Sankner

If you havent read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 yet click here for Pt1, here for Pt2, here for Pt3, here for Pt4, or here for Pt5.

Stancil looked dazedly at the face on his viewscreen.

"Surely, you can't be seroius about this," He said. "You must know what the T'zirian response will be!"

"Admiral Stancil, I appreciate your reservations in this matter. However, the Confederation Council has unanimously voted to send your force in. The T'zir have now destroyed three of our star systems, with a total of over four million of our people killed. We cannot ignore that. We must respond in force, and respond we will. You will proceed at once into T'zirian space and carry out a punative action against at least three well-populated T'zir worlds. The main intent of this mission is to inflict massive casualties upon the T'zir."

"You're declaring war on them."

"Technically, no. We're just responding in kind to the provocation they have visited upon us. If they want war, Admiral, then their Emperor can declare it."

"Mr. President, with all due respect, I think that this is a bad decision. I do not believe that the Emperor is pursuing a course to bring us to war."

"I'm not interested in your opinion, Admiral. You have your orders. See to it that they are followed to the letter."

"Very well, Mr. President. Stancil out." He looked at his aide. "That idiot is only worried about his re-election. If there's a war going on, people are very hesitant to change leadership."

"So what do we do, Admiral?" asked his aide.

"We follow orders, Lieutenant. Signal all ships to execute Plan Omega One immediately."

"Aye, sir."

God help us,' thought Stancil. There will be war. Too bad the Emperor's son failed. I guess he'll never see home again...I wonder if any of us will.'

Slowly, the fleet got under way. As a unit, they traversed the short distance to the border, and then crossed over into T'zirian space. They took up a heading towards the nearest T'zirian colony, and settled in for the voyage.

Stancil took no chances. The swift scoutships raced on ahead, and the blades covered the fleet's flanks. Invincible and her cohorts moved in the center of the fleet, protected by the screen of destroyers and cruisers around them. It was a formidable fleet, numbering over a hundred ships. It was easily the most powerful Stancil had seen since the war. But whether it would prove to be powerful enough remained to be seen.

T'kul slowly came to his senses, his head aching terribly. He was in the Security block, under guard.

"What happened?" He demanded of the guard, "Why am I being held here?"

The guard looked nervously at him, but remained silent. He gestured towards O'tar, who stood nearby.

"Speak!" T'kul growled. "Why have I been placed here?"

"The Captain ordered your confinement. He said you overrode the security code and entered his quarters and attempted to kill him."

"That is a lie. I entered his quarters when he did not answer. I had been ordered to report to him. When he did not answer, I followed the established procedure. When I entered, I was attacked."

"By whom?" asked O'tar. "Did you recognize your attacker?"

"It was the Captain!" said T'kul forcefully. "O'tar, he is insane. You must believe me."

"Why should I believe you, T'kal? Why should I disobey my Captain?"

"Because," said T'kul slowly, "I believe the Captain is acting on his own. I believe that he is on some sort of insane quest....I don't think he has any orders for these attacks, O'tar."

"Serious charges, T'kul. Can you prove them?"

"Perhaps. O'tar, I have told you my suspicions. Consider: the Captain has forbade any contact with the fleet. He has claimed that only the Emperor and himself know the nature of the mission. He refuses to disclose to me, his First Officer, the details of that mission. Are these normal actions for the Captain of a ship-of-the-line?"

"No," said O'tar thoughtfully. "But suspicion is not enough. You must be able to offer proof. Have you any way of confirming your suspicions?"

"Only one," said T'kul. "get S'lena aside, privately. Order her to open a copy of that personal message the Captain received before he changed the mission profile. I believe it holds the key to what is going on."

"You ask me to take a great risk, T'kul."

"O'tar, you and I have served together a long time. Have you ever known me to act as the Captain claims I have?"

"No," O'tar admitted.

"Then you must ask yourself, O'tar, who you will believe: a Captain whose actions cannot be explained, or your friend and brother officer who has served with you in honor."

O'tar thought for a moment, and then answered.

"I will see what I can do," he said.

"Have you decided what to do yet?" asked N'tal.

"Not really," said Ryan. "I'm still pretty much in shock. All my life I've been told that the T'zir were the bad guys, and now I find out I'm a prince among the T'zir. It's very confusing...I just need some time to sort it all out."

"Understandable," said N'tal. "I identify with part of what you say. I have been raised to be mistrustful of the humans, and now I find my brother, who I thought to be dead, in the uniform of a human. While I find joy that you live, I don't quite know how to accept that we could have been enemies, had we failed in our mission, or had fate not brought us together."

"But it did, though," said Ryan. "And fate must have had a reason...we must work together to help both our peoples, N'tal. We carry both bloods...we must speak for both peoples, before it is too late."

"I agree, brother. But how?"

"I ...I don't know. But we must try to think of something."

The comm squealed. "Mr. Ryan and Commander N'tal, report to the bridge."

R'gal was on the Command Deck of the A'zani. They were four hours away from the Valia system, and R'gal's impatience was showing.

From his chair on the raised dias of the Command Deck, R'gal could see almost every activity on the deck. And it seemed to the Command Crew that everything their Captain saw, he did not like. He swiftly pounced on every tiny mistake or infraction with a frenzied attack, leaving his crew shaken, frightened, and angry.

O'tar entered the Deck. He observed R'gal for several minutes, and made note of his apparent mental state and irritability.

T'kul could be right,' he thought. This doens't appear to be normal behavior for the Captain.'

Slowly, O'tar casually made his way over to the communications station. Lieutenant S'lena was there, busy running maintenance checks on her equipment. She appeared flustered and angry.

"Is there a problem, S'lena?" O'tar asked.

"I'll say. He" she nodded towards R'gal, "has ordered me to conduct functional checks of the communications system. When I said that I would monitor the fleet to tune the receiving bands, he screamed at me...what does he want, O'tar? Why is he doing this?"

O'tar bent down low and whispered into S'lena's ear.

"You may be the only one who can provide us with answers, S'lena."

"How?" she whispered.

"The Captain's personal message. The one he received before he ordered us to the human's you have a copy?"

"Yes," S'lena whispered. "But it's encoded. You won't be able to read it. The only other person on board who can decipher the code is T'kul."

"That's not a problem. T'kul is the one who wants the message."

S'lena turned to her station suddenly. O'tar rose, feeling R'gal's eyes on him.

"Is something wrong, Captain?" he asked.

"I was about to ask you the same question, O'tar" said R'gal acidly. "I have ordered maintenance checks on all the Command systems...yet these incompetent fools don't seem to know what they are doing. Isn't training of the Command Staff your responsibility, O'tar?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Then I would suggest that you engage in some remedial training drills for the next few hours, O'tar" said R'gal. "I shall be in my quarters. Contact me at 1400."

"Aye, Captain"

R'gal stormed off the Command Deck. An audible sigh of relief escaped from the crew.

"Thank the Creator," someone said.

"Stow that talk!" O'tar ordered. "He's the Captain, and he will be obeyed. Begin standard test drill."

As the test drill began, O'tar turned back to S'lena. She handed him a datacard, and winked at him.

"Good luck, O'tar," she whispered. "I hope you and T'kul can get to the bottom of this."

"I do, too, S'lena," whispered O'tar. "I do, too."

"Admiral, the Troll is reporting in." said the Communications officer on the Invinceable.

"On viewscreen."

The screen illuminated. Stancil grteeted the Troll's Captain, and he gave his report.

"I don't like it, Admiral," the scoutship's Captain said. "It's too quiet. We're three hours into T'zirian space, and we haven't seen so much as a dingy."

"I agree," said Stancil. "We should have been challenged by now. Something's wrong with this situation, Captain, so be on your guard. This smells of a trap."

The Troll's Captain looked off screen, apparently reffering with someone.

"Hold on, Admiral," He said. "We've got something. A single ship, B'hagath-class heavy dreadnaught. It's just sitting out in front of it's waiting for us."

"Stand by, Troll." Stancil turned to his aide. "Order all ships to reduce speed to dead slow. I want every scanner in the fleet looking all around us."

"Captain," said Stancil, turning back to the viewscreen, " Proceed to a point just in front of the dreadnaught and hold. Do not engage unless attacked. We'll be up with you in a few minutes."

"Aye, Sir. Troll out."

"Valia system, sir. Looks like we beat them here," said Ryan.

"Confirmed," said N'tal from his instruments. "I read no signs of a novaship in the area. Are you sure that you are correct, Captain?"

"Quite correct, Commander. Would you and Mr. Ryan join me for a moment?" As they gatherered, Sanderson ordered the charts displayed. He indicated a course outlined in red.

"I prepared this on the way here. This is A'zani's expected course, based on their last known trajectory, and their last target. Figuring in current T'zirian strategy, R'gal should come in from here, to try to keep Valia Naval Station from detecting him. Do you agree, Cammander?"

"You know our tactics well, Captain. I suspect that you are correct."

"Mr. Ryan?"

"Works for me, Captain."

"Good. I see we are all thinking the same on this. Here's my plan: Valia II is here. It's not really a planet, more like a glorified moon in a planet's orbit. But, it has a solid nickel-iron core that will wreak havoc with A'zani's scanners. We'll keep the planet between us, and as she comes in, we'll move around the planet's disk. She will pass by us at this point, and we'll hit her from behind. Any questions?"

"If A'zani cannot see us," asked N'tal, "Then how will we see her?"

"Valia has a scanner relay system set up in the first planet. We'll bounce a signal off that and reflect it back to our scanners."

"Excellent," said N'tal. "Let's do it."

The Glamdring slid in behind Valia II, and waited.

"Human...are you lost? The border is that way, " said a T'zirian officer on Stancil's viewscreen.

We are aware of where the border is."

"You are Admiral Wainwright Stancil, I presume," said the T'zirian.

"I am. And you?"

"I am Admiral S'lan D'varga, commander of the First Thane of the Imperial Navy. The Emperor has sent me to stop you. He has specifically instructed me to attempt to do so without violence."

"You may find that difficult, with only one ship."

"I'm not so sure. The B'hagath is quite powerful."

"We shall see." Stancil broke contact, and turned to his aide.

"Order all ships to attack that ship. Destroy it completely. And God have mercy on us." The order was relayed. The ships broke into an attack configuration, with Albion and Narthung leading in.

"Admiral, the T'zirian is signalling you."

"Let him rot."

"Admiral, he's quite insistant."

"To hell with him."

The two blades, and several scoutships swept down upon the B'hagath. They fired, their energy lancing through the darkness, impacting on the B'hagath's hull.

There was no effect. The B'hagath faded like a ghost, and was gone.

"Sensor drone. Damn!" roared Stancil. "The bastards fooled us!"

The screen illuminated. S'lan laughed.

"We are not so easy, Admiral. This is your last chance. Return to your borders. We do not wish war...The Emperor grieves over your destroyed stars and the loss of life. Let us not add to it. Return to your"

"Go to hell."

"Very well, Admiral. You have been warned."

The screen went dark as S'lan broke contact.

"Contact, Admiral, bearing 143.5 by 22. I'm reading seven, no eight...nine...Oh, my God...."

"Another contact, bearing 212.4 by 92.1....Damn...I'm reading waves of ships...

"What type?" roared Stancil.

"A mixture of B'hagath-class dreadnaughts and K'tansa-class heavy cruisers.."

"Contact bearing 358.9 by 199.3....multiple targets...too many to count..

We're surrounded,' thought Stancil and vastly outnumbered.'

"Valia system, Captain," said P'nal, the helmsman.

"Where is O'tar?" demanded R'gal. "I want him on the deck, right now!"

"We're trying to locate him, Captain."

"Ahead at half-speed. Move us into position for analysis, P'nal"

"Aye, Captain."

A'zani slowly moved toward Valia II. R'gal stamped his foot impatiently.

"Begin the analysis now," he ordered.

The A'zani's computers began the analysis of the star Valia. A few moments later, the computer chimed, signaling completion.

"Transfer the data to the main battery and fire." R'gal ordered.

"Unable to comply, Captain," said P'nal. We'll have to clear Valia II first."

"Very well. Fire as soon as we're clear.

As the great ship began to round the rocky planet , the bridge doors burst open. T'kul and O'tar entered the Command Deck brandishing weapons.

"Captain" said T'kul, " I am relieving you and placing you under arrest."

"On what charge?" sneered R'gal.

"You had no mission from the Emperor, Captain. You are on your own mission, that of vengence. You have made murders of us all."

"You know nothing, T'kal."

"I know everything. I have seen your mother's message. Take him below, O'tar."

To be continued...

Copyright by Roger Bennett 1996

Illustration by Robert Sankner, Copyright 1997

R.R. Bennett was the Founder,Senior Editor and a 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.

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