Against The Gods Of Shadow - Shadow Gods Saga: Book Two
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by Stefan Vucak
Category: Science Fiction
Description: By merging, Sargon and the Paleans seek to become a dominant political force within the Serrll Combine. Pizgor's three systems are the only thing that stands in their way. Palean raiders are used in a clandestine operation to disrupt Pizgor's commerce to the point where it will be forced to succumb. Pizgor makes a desperate plea for help from the Serrll government on Captal. Second Scout Terrllss-rr is tasked to find the raider base and eliminate the threat to Pizgor. While escorting a bulk carrier, Terr confronts a Fleet ship that is secretly working with the raiders. In the ensuing battle both vessels are badly damaged, but the encounter leads Terr to an eventual capture of a raider and the unmasking of the Palean supported base. Thwarted, the Paleans risk everything on a bold move that could destabilize the Serrll, forcing Terr into another encounter with an old enemy.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2011 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [494 KB]
Reading time: 298-417 min.
Against a backdrop of greens, yellows and reds, lit from deep within by a trinary of furiously hot protostars, the nebula spread its fiery tentacles into the black deeps of space. Hidden in the stellar nursery a fourth protostar glowed a sullen orange. Thin lances of ejecta streamed out from its magnetic poles. Still young, its enriched core was sustained by relatively cold fission. The reaction pressure kept gravity at bay until the moment when the star accreted sufficient material to trigger a collapse and induce fusion ignition.
Full of organics, heavy metals and roiling plasma streams gathered from the ashes of long extinct supernova sheddings, the nebula shone like a beacon; beautiful, but dangerous. Highly energetic particles sleeting outward from the core could tear apart the shield grid of any ship foolish enough to venture too close, destabilizing the distortion field matrix and dumping the unfortunate out of subspace to limp away at sublight speed. But like a beacon, merchant ships and liners used the nebula as a waypoint when entering Pizgor space, or heading into Palean or Karkan deeps.
Three days out from planetfall, the crew of the Pizgor registered bulk carrier Pagin were irritable and weary. They wanted off the Sargon-made scow and taste open air again, uncontaminated by the accumulated scents of close living that filters never seemed able to remove completely. On a last leg of a tortuous route picking up and delivering a variety of industrial stockfeeds, they wanted to see their families, old loves and perhaps make new ones. They wanted freedom to vent steam and lose sight of faces that have grown irksome and too familiar, if only for a while, until the turnaround sent them out again. Pizgor offered a welcomed layover where much needed maintenance of ship and men could be made.
Gazing absently at the nebula displayed in the primary nav plot as it drifted by on their starboard quarter, the pilot allowed his thoughts to stray comfortably to his beloved partner waiting for him when they made planetfall. Quietly wise, she had grown philosophical about his need to wander the deeps and had given up trying to tame him. He did not have to worry about his boys, both were grown men now and free to make their own lives. He squinted when a white dot blinked into life on the big display plate. He glanced at his nav master and raised an eyebrow.
"Contact emerging out of Et-Aran Nebula's shadow. Indicating nav and primary screens only. Range, point three-eight lights. That places them twelve minutes away at present closure rate."
Chewing his lower lip the pilot watched with morbid interest as the computer rotated profile configurations of the unknown contact. His concern turned to relief when the final image stabilized.
"A picket M-3 sweeper," he mused, then exhaled slowly.
"Contact has altered course and is heading for an intercept," the plot operator announced.
The pilot nodded to himself. It was expected that any prowling Fleet ship would want to check them out. But it could have been a different type of ship altogether. He sat back in his command couch, rotated it and swept his eyes over his three watchstanders, seeing his own thoughts reflected in their drawn faces.
Some of the raider scum were simple out and out marauders and freebooters preying on innocent commerce out of greed and easy profit. Others dished out mayhem and terror in the name of religious fervor. Of these, the Palean and Deklan orders were the worst. The Almighty help those who fell into their clutches! They did not satisfy themselves with simply taking cargo and ships. They took lives, and took them in the most grisly manner possible. In the vastness of Serrll space there was a lot of room for misery.
"About time we had Fleet coverage. We pay 'em enough," the exec growled sourly and waved his hand at the main plot. "Not that the bastards are around when you need them the most anyway," he grumbled, his head bent over the engineering panel.
The pilot's thin mouth twitched. A year back, his exec had lost a friend in a raider attack. The search never found anything, not even debris. The ship had simply disappeared. Of late, lots of Pizgor merchant carriers had come to grief, increasingly singled out by raiders. Judging by the results, or lack of them, the Fleet was doing precious little to root out the vermin. That left the risks and soaring insurance premiums squarely in the laps of ship owners and crews. With problems of his own, he was happy to leave high finance to his owners. He was more worried about maintenance, Pagin badly needed a thorough overhaul. Another run and they might as well scrap the scow. The lengthy stopover on Pizgor would be relished by everyone.
"Raise them," the pilot ordered and nodded to his comms officer.
"There is heavy interference, sir. I'm not sure they have our ping."
Interference this far out from Et-Aran? The pilot was puzzled, but not concerned. The whole region was subject to gravitational instability that induced localized subspace distortion. It was possible.
"Give them a few minutes."
Three minutes later it was the M-3 that made contact. When the main plate cleared, the pilot was looking at the stern features of a Palean Fleet officer. The image was slightly snowy, breaking up, but clear enough. The Palean's thin hands twined in a characteristic nervous gesture and the long fingers twitched like coiling snakes. His delicate button nose glistened on a small triangular face. He had a pointed chin and, hidden beneath a high rectangular forehead, enormous black eyes that reflected no light. What struck the pilot were two purplish scars that angled from above the Palean's right eye and ran down across a pale cheek. One ended at the chin and the other cut across the neck and throat. They were striking disfigurations if it meant that modern genotherapy was unable to hide it.
"Merchant vessel, this is First Scout Kai Tanard, SSF Laverne. Please identify yourself." The voice was raspy, guttural and cold.
The pilot tore his eyes from the amazing scars. In a curious way, he was reassured by Tanard's business-like approach. The underlying discipline meant efficiency and that meant no raiders, and that made the pilot very happy.
"This is Pizgor registered bulk carrier Pagin on a return Deklan run from Pita. Ready to transmit ident dump. If I can add First Scout, you make a welcome sight."
The M-3 approached the carrier in a leisurely sweep. Its course would bring it close to the merchant vessel as it made a pass on its way out. The pilot thought nothing of it.
"You will have a clear run home, Pilot," Tanard said with a thin smile that only touched the left side of his face. "Transmit ident."
The pilot glanced at his comms officer who touched a pad on his color-reactive console.
"Ident received. You are cleared for transit to Pizgor, Pilot," Tanard grated, nodded once and cut contact.
"Bureaucratic crap!" the exec growled, shaking his head.
When Laverne got to within 28,000 talans, it raised its secondary shield. In the engineering spaces deep within the ship, almost directly above the phased array projector dome, the computer increased the level of energy management readiness. Stripped helium nuclei plasma powered the primary fusion chamber that fed the artificial antimatter convergence point and kept it from collapsing. The energy surge from particle annihilation was channeled through the containment field into separation wave-guides. Most of the generated power surge was directed into massive secondary bus nodes in the hull that formed the protective screens.
Laverne's secondary shield extended four talans beyond the primaries along almost spherical lines of force. With both shield grids in place, a cocoon of energy enclosed the M-3 that extended nine talans. The wave-guides allowed some of the energy to flow into a separate reaction chamber that flooded the single Koyami 2/F generator. Coils fully powered up, the computer waited for the command to synchronize the firing pulses with the shield management system and the ship would be ready to engage.
The pilot saw nothing unusual about the M-3 extending its shields, especially if it was preparing to enter high boost - or checking out a strange contact. But when the shields began to pulse, he felt his face drain and his mouth go dry.
"Sons of canal worms!" the exec snarled and lunged for the bright green flashing pad above the engineering panel. If nothing else the emergency beacon pod would tell Pizgor SC&C that they were gone. But he never got the chance to launch the beacon.
Energy surged from the Koyami generator into the projector dome and formed an overload point. Slung beneath Laverne's belly a track of dull yellow ionization lanced from the projector dome. It flashed between the two ships in a barely registered instant. There was a flare of secondary discharges where the beam impacted the screen grid of the bulk carrier directly above the command bubble, the target carefully selected. The shield discharge around the impact point was a tangle of force lines that streamed around a yellow-green bubble of light. Pagin's nav deflector screen was never designed to withstand impact from a warship and immediately collapsed around the surge point.
A stream of eighty-two TeV sent in sixteen millisecond pulses tore at the ablative hull material of the command bubble, forming an expanding cloud of metallic and ceramic debris. Under sustained bombardment the hull began to glow from dull red to searing white before it deformed and ruptured in a plume of molten spray from internal pressure.
When the M-3 opened fire, the merchant pilot knew that he and his ship were doomed. That did not stop him from feeling intense outrage at being betrayed by the very service meant to protect him. He saw death in the faces of his watchstanders and there was nothing he could do to save them. His nose crinkled at the strong smell of ozone as the air ionized from the near-field effect. Small blue sparks slithered across exposed surfaces, crackling eerily, jumping over naked hands and faces - a torment of a thousand insect bites. The three watchstanders plucked at their bodies, yelping and screaming in a frantic dance of contorted pain.
The pilot sat rooted, his face set in stony agony. Pagin gave a violent shudder when the screen collapsed and the internal temperature immediately soared. Audible computer warnings accompanied flickering alerts from the color-reactive display plates. The primary engineering panel glowed orange-white, indicating imminent power failure. Others pulsed brown in their demand for attention. The pilot felt his hair sear, the stink sharp, and looked up. The nav bubble heated bright white, spattering droplets of molten material on the crew below. The comms officer howled as fiery drops struck his face. He fell on the deck writhing, clawing at the burns. The hull creaked as frame plates deformed. The main plot display cracked with a snap that sent needle shards of polymer scything in all directions. The very air burned, cooking exposed skin, eyes and lungs. The pilot managed a single anguished cry just as the hull ruptured. Solid light tore through the command deck vaporizing equipment and bodies, turning everything into glowing plasma.
Laverne shifted its fire to the carrier's drive spaces. The beam burned into the ship's hull and sliced through the antimatter reactor core. The screen collapsed entirely and Pagin immediately dropped out of subspace. Although no longer under direct fire, the reactor assembly was compromised. The containment field flickered and dissipated, setting off a runaway reaction. In a burst of white brilliance the reaction consumed the reactor core, blazing outward, turning the hull and the ship to vapor. As the expanding sphere cooled, it coalesced into an irregular cloud of writhing particles and gas. The glow gradually died, leaving only a front of fading radiation.
Laverne powered down, dropped its secondary shield and boosted back toward the glowing nebula.
* * * *