It is with pride that I present the last chapter in the preview. I'm writing the last handful of chapters in the book now, and I have to say that it has come out better than I planned. I'm enjoying the characters, story and the setting more than ever.
I'm enjoying them so much so that I'm only taking a month off to complete another project, then I am returning to Spinward Fringe for Broadcast 10. After you finish reading Chapter 6 of Warpath here, keep checking the blog (or subscribe) for information on extra materials from Broadcast 9, podcasts and the next two projects. They'll be out sooner than you think.
Spinward Fringe Broadcast 9: Warpath is available for preorder now through the iBookstore, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Broadcast 9 will be released on September 7, 2015.
Without any further delay, here is the last chapter in our preview and links leading back to chapters you may have missed.
If you want to read the earlier chapters first (which I absolutely hope you do!), here are the links:
Prologue: Freeground Alpha
Chapter 1: Day One
Chapter 2: Patrol
Chapter 3: The Message
Chapter 4: Parallels
Chapter 5: The Codis System
The Solar Forge’s Only Patient
Jake sat on a balancing seat that would sway left or right if he didn’t actively hold himself in place. Jake had almost mastered it, and could stay up straight without much concentration. His room was unrecognizable thanks to the holographic display that surrounded him. He was in a rest period, true, but that didn’t mean he had to rest his mind. He had been out of commission for weeks, and there was a lot to catch up on.
His recovery was going well, according to Alice and Oz, but it wasn’t fast enough for Jake. Even with a parade of visitors throughout the day, life-like simulated experiences, and an endless stream of reports, he still felt like he had been placed in a corner away from the rest of the universe. He appreciated the fact that the Warlord was on patrol, training the new crew under Stephanie, Frost, Agameg, Finn and Minh-Chu. They were doing what he’d wish they would while he was off his feet, nothing serious and nothing overly dangerous. He still felt like he should be with them, like he was missing too much.
The Triton hadn’t operated under his command for months, but he felt like there was too great a distance between it and him as well. Oz had that well in hand, Jake knew, but what he actually knew about the day to day operations of Triton Fleet could fit in a ten minute narrated report. An evolutionary kind of change was radiating from the Triton, and he felt like he was missing it. The captured Order of Eden Destroyer had become part of Triton Fleet after undergoing a refit inside the Solar Forge that lasted a little over two weeks. With the resdesign that Ayan’s new engineering team along with Agameg, Frost and Finn put together, it would have taken six months in a normal shipyard. The Solar Forge was a wonder, and while Jake was recovering it was attending to ships that came from across the sector to join Triton Fleet and Haven Shore Defence. Lorander was truly allowing Triton Fleet do whatever they liked with their gift, to Jake’s surprise. The Destroyer was even improved significantly during the refit. New exterior armour plates that could absorb incredible amounts of energy and emit nearly as much were added, along with advanced stealth systems. The lower cargo doors had been rebuilt so the main hold was a large hangar. The list went on with other minor improvements, some of which took two attempts to install properly, but one glaring oversight nagged at Jake: they hadn’t found a captain worthy of the destroyer yet.
He returned his attention to the work the Solar Forge was doing. It had taken the repair systems only a day and a half to repair all the damage aboard the Warlord, inside and out. The skitters aboard learned from the much smaller reacher droids that the station used to do fine internal repairs as well. Reports of the Warlord’s skitters efficiency rising were encouraging. The strides the Triton Fleet’s technology was making was more than impressive, it indicated to Jake that there was a will in Lorander Corporation to see them become a major force against the Order of Eden.
Even if they used it as a tool to track the number of ships Triton Fleet had, the benefits still far outweighed that kind of drawback. Oz even had his people checking every ship for control or tracking devices that may have been planted by the mobile shipyard, but they found absolutely nothing. Watching what was going through the ship refurbishing and building facility was one of the more interesting things Jake had to do, and even though he could rarely feel the vibrations or hear the sound of machinery that was right under his feet, he felt like he was close to one of the main devices for change in the Rega Gain system.
The quiet of his small medical ward was stifling at times, and when he discovered that there were over three hundred trainees aboard the Solar Forge, he was relieved. Two days passed and he only saw them when he was on his way to the training room he’d come to call the pillbox. They were in Triton Fleet uniforms, and were specifically being trained to service the busy ship building vessel by the vessel itself and a few Lorander guides. Jake was convinced that this was another way for the Lorander Corporation to observe members of Triton Fleet, but, again, what they were trading for the opportunity was worth it. To Jake’s surprise, all the issyrians who were once in the service of Clark Patterson were among the trainees. He had to wonder if Lorander foresaw that they would take an interest in the construction ship. It was a way for the group of issyrians to join Triton Fleet as non-combatants, a way around the agreement that won them safe Haven on Tamber.
The medical centre aboard was still empty, and it was where he spent much of his time. Even though he knew so much was going on aboard, he still felt separated from everything, a growing sensation that set Jacob Valent on edge.
It didn’t take long before he broke down and called a map of recent patrols outside the Rega Gain system. The circular paths of British Alliance and Triton Fleet patrols hung in the air above him, traced by lines coloured blue, yellow, green and red. The red line was always furthest out, that was his ship and Minh-Chu’s Samurai wing. Samurai Wing wasn’t out there with the Warlord more than a third of the time, the mission didn’t always require them.
“Engagement history for the period since Stephanie Vega has been Acting Captian,” he told the computer. To his surprise there were five encounters. The first two occurred while Warlord was on high speed patrol, moving so fast that, when they returned to orbit around Tamber, an extra half hour had passed there. What amazed Jake was that one of the encounters were engaged and concluded at that speed.
The Warlord detected a weak signal that didn’t match anything on the British Alliance’s frontier. Within seconds the Warlord determined exactly where it came from, matched the shape of the ship with a Regent Galactic scout ship, and then the Warlord fired her main rail guns, destroying the scout ship completely. The whole engagement took less than two minutes to resolve.
During the second engagement the Warlord had time to slow down and follow the scout ship they found, and offered surrender terms. The ship self destructed, but transmitted an encrypted stream of data first. “Okay, there’s something there,” Jake said to himself. The data still hadn’t been decrypted, but Triton Fleet was still working on it. He suspected they’d find sensor data from the scout ship along with a short log form whoever was aboard. What Jake found interesting was that it transmitted anything at all. That meant there was something else within range to receive the data. There was something launching these scouts, and it was within a light year of the Rega Gain system.
From then on at least part of the Samurai Squadron was present on the Warlord. Jake didn’t have to check Stephanie’s log to figure out why. She had come to the same conclusion he did.
“The next thing they came up on was three days later, the first Regent Galactic Cruiser we’ve seen,” Minh-Chu said from the door. “You and Ayan review way too much of your data in hologram,” he said. “Almost every time I visit she’s looking at something in mid-air.”
“Something like?” Jake asked.
“Reports, or she’s building a database, or something for the skitters to put together,” Minh-Chu replied, sitting on Jake’s bed.
“What happened here?” Jake said, pointing at the third engagement on the map. A rogue planetary body had drifted past the Rega Gain system, and a tiny graphic of an explosion marked it as a combat encounter.
“Like I said, the Warlord was swinging by that rogue planet, and we found a Regent Galactic Cruiser hiding there. Me and two members of the Samurai squadron were already out of the hangar, following behind the Warlord to get our scans of the planet finished faster, and the cruiser came at us firing. To us, it came out of nowhere, but Stephanie’s report includes a scan that broke through the cruiser’s cloaking systems, and it bolted the moment it realized it was detected. We didn’t even know they were using cloaking until then.”
“What happened next?”
“I hid behind the Warlord,” Minh-Chu said with a shrug. “I’m not proud to admit it, but I ordered my squadron to scatter, the cruiser threw everything at the fighters, I guess they thought they could get past the Warlord, but the fighters could be a problem.”
“With the way your wing has been loading your ships, I don’t blame them. You’ve managed to turn Uriels into full on gunships.”
“Yeah, that’s a necessary evil,” Minh-Chu said. “With our patrols spread out so thin, even with a hundred eighty British Alliance ships out there at all times, we’ve got to fill the high risk spots, so we take half of what’s on the deck before we go. That’s what happens when a big government like the British Alliance plans on putting a grand frontier defence up and they fail right out of the gate.”
Jake activated the recording of what happened to the cruiser in the last moments of the engagement. “I’m guessing the cruiser’s decision to ignore the Warlord was a mistake.”
“Oh yeah,” Minh-Chu said. “Just play that section there.” He gestured towards the graphic of the Warlord and the cruiser frozen in space. The Regent Galactic Cruiser was trying to leave the planet’s orbit, its engines and beam weapons firing brightly. The ship was only two hundred eighty metres long, compared to ta full sized destroyer, that was small. It was still larger than the Warlord in the space it took up, but it was half the Warlord’s mass. “What did they do here?” Jake asked, pointing to the underbelly of the ship.
“They managed to fit turrets firing high speed rounds into your mine launching positions. They can be removed so you can launch mines too, but Captain Vega has been sticking with her configuration since the Warlord was fixed by the Solar Forge.”
“Is it working?” Jake asked.
“For what we’re doing out there? Absolutely. Watch, she ordered armour piercing screwhead rounds this time.” Minh-Chu twitched his finger to the right and the playback began.
The Warlord fired her main weapons – the large railguns at the front of the ship and her new pulse cannons mounted acrosst he top. The railguns fired once, partially bursting through the enemy ship’s shields and showering the bridge with white-hot shrapnel. The pulse guns overloaded the enemies’ shields, raking white beams of pure energy across their invisible barriers. By the time the cruiser was along side the Warlord, the bottom half of Jake’s ship was turned towards it, and those new turrets rained hard rounds down on the enemy ship’s hull, breaking thrusters and compartments open.
“Surrender or die,” Jake’s voice said as the guns stopped, the power levels of the enemy ship dropped, and the Warlord took a position right above the cruiser, making it obvious that they were getting ready to make the kill.
“Yup, everything that comes out of that ship while it’s in patrol sounds like you,” Minh-Chu said. “Captain Vega’s orders. They even have a stand-in who is your height and build wearing armour that looks exactly the same. He boards and debarks from the ship whenever it’s with the fleet.”
“I’m alive and well everywhere except for in this room,” Jake said.
“That’s a dark way to look at it,” Minh-Chu muttered.
The playback continued with the cruiser signalling its surrender. The report summary said that the Warlord latched onto it with the maxjack and hauled it all the way back home, to Tamber orbit. Teams from the Triton stripped it after the crew were placed in British Alliance custody, and the hull was processed for raw materials by the Solar Forge.
“That was the last cruiser that surrendered. The Warlord was forced to destroy the other two. There wasn’t much to bring back.”
“They fought to the last man,” Jake said.
“That’s exactly how Frost put it,” Minh-Chu said, bringing the lights up to daylight level in the room.
“So the Warlord is doing fine without me,” Jake said.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Minh-Chu said. “You are like the main gravitational force in the middle of that ship. When you’re gone, things start floating away. Alice left for the Rangers, Agameg and Finn have been taking time to help with other parts of Triton Fleet, and other officers from your bridge are sharing what they’ve learned from close encounters with the Order and Regent Galactic. It’s not the same ship, Jake. Sure, Steph is doing an incredible job. She tells people she learned from the best instead of taking credit for thinking past your style, but she can’t keep the crew together like you can. She wants to see what you do with your ship next, not take your place.”
“Maybe it’s time for her to get her own command,” Jake said. “There’s this destroyer we have, Warlord still has the claim, technically.”
“She won’t take it unless you order her to,” Minh-Chu said. “Her and Frost are your people, they don’t want to leave your ship. Now, if you took command of the Barricade, they’d follow you in a second.”
“I didn’t even think about that,” Jake said.
“Oz sure has,” Minh-Chu said. “Just don’t tell him I told you.”
Jake was overwhelmed by a sinking feeling when he thought about the bridge of that ship. “No,” he said.
“You like the agility of the Warlord, I get it,” Minh-Chu said. “You should still think about it though.”
Jake thought about commanding the ship and was filled with dread. “Chinese whispers,” he muttered, not knowing where the words came from.
“Bad memories from that bridge,” Minh-Chu said, nodding. “I think Oz will understand.”
“What do you mean?” Jake asked. “I don’t remember getting to the bridge, I’ve thought about it, trying to get there, but I just remember the hallway in the middle of the ship.”
The colour drained from Minh-Chu’s face, he looked as though he was seeing a foe he could not defeat or escape.
“What happened there? Did I die there for a while or-“
“You murdered someone there, Jake,” Minh-Chu said quietly. “You menaced a junior member of the bridge staff in front of his mates when you couldn’t find the captain and killed him to make a point.”
Jake immediately gestured for the light in the room to be reduced and tried to call up the records of combat aboard the Barricade’s bridge, but discovered her was locked out of that file. “What? I don’t have access?” Jake exclaimed. “Bring it up, Minh, I need to see what happened.”
Minh-Chu wordlessly accessed the file. “I’m coming to terms with this, Jake. Recruitment is down across the Order of Eden, especially on this side of the Iron Head Nebula. You did this to show that you’ll give no quarter to your enemy, to scare people off.”
“Play it,” Jake said, “I need to know why I feel like the bridge of that ship is the worst place I’ve ever been, and that I’ve done something I’ll regret for the rest of my life.”
Minh-Chu stared at him a moment, then nodded. The playback began. Jake had a young officer in hand, and burned him with the heated end of his Violator Handgun as a form of torture, to get his attention. “We’re going to play a game – it’s called Chinese Whispers, only it’ll be a short one.” His recorded self said to his young captive. The boy was terrified, shaking, crying. The devil was at his back and there was no promise of mercy.
Jake could feel his heart racing, he didn’t remember any of what he was seeing, but somehow knew it was true. “Don’t do it,” he whispered to recorded image of himself. The recorded Jake threatened his captives, told them what would happen if the Captain or the codes for the ship wasn’t revealed to him, then ordered the young officer to begin counting.
A tear rolled down Jake’s cheek as the countdown continued, and he flinched so hard when the gun went off that he almost fell out of his seat. “No!” Jake shouted, “that not me!”
He fell from his seat, trying to remember that moment and failing in the midst of a remorseful panic. “I can’t remember, that can’t be me!” he cried. Minh-Chu was on the floor with him, picking him up in his arms. Over his should Jake caught a glimpse of his recorded self taking a young woman up by her pony tail and said; “stop playback.” The computer froze the image there.
“You killed the one, the others survived and are in custody,” Minh-Chu said.
“How did I do that?” Jake said, letting Minh-Chu hold him. “Why did I do that? I don’t remember anything before that that could-“ his meeting with an agent of the British Alliance returned to him. He was ordered to use fear, intimidation, but he was not ordered to murder. That was the way of the barbarian, the quick route that led your enemies to a feeling of being justified in standing against you. That could not have been his way, but he knew that it was for a while.
“That’s not me,” Jake said. “You’ve got to know that’s not me now.”
“I know, old friend,” Minh-Chu said. “I’m glad to have you back, you don’t know how much.”
Copyright 2015 Randolph Lalonde
Spinward Fringe is a Registered Trademark of Randolph Lalonde