November 9th 2012
Cal Mason gave a last look at the Gemini, still working its way free from Yar’s gravitational pull, at Penny and the rest of the wing fall into a landing formation.
It’s worth it, Cal thought. By the time he convinced Admiral Showalter that there was more to the Vanduul raid than simple thievery, the Vanduul Clan would have disappeared back into their territory and Military Command would never authorize an operation in enemy space. So that would be that. “It’s worth it,” he repeated to himself and loaded the appropriate NavPlan file.
The computer assumed control as Cal dove into the jump-point. Now all he had to do was wait while the computer weaved through interspace with programmed perfection and hope that the Vanduul weren’t sitting on the other side, guns ready to blast any brave idiots who tried to follow them… hmm… probably should have considered that before.
Cal watched the countdown on his monitor. He slowly took hold of the flight controls. A finger hovered over the shield-booster just in case.
He popped out the other side, ready for anything, then breathed a sigh of relief. All good. He could see the flagship rejoining the rest of its clan; a fleet of junker transports, freighters, small destroyers, and tankers, all of them probably the spoils from hundreds of fights over the decades on the drift.
Cal shut down any extraneous systems to minimize his energy signature and cut his engines after pushing toward the fleet. He should be able to get pretty close unless they change their trajectory. In order to see him, they’d have to look out their window. According to their scanners, he was simply empty space. People relied too much on their scanners and the tech to watch their back. Cal couldn’t count the number of times he gotten out of a jam because people didn’t trust or even use their senses.
Cal coasted over the fleet, ready for any indication that he’d been spotted. So far so good. He passed what looked like an old farm vessel, probably held the grow-farms for the entire Vanduul Clan. It was chugging along, leaking a trail of fumes in its wake.
Command tried building databases of each Vanduul clan but they were always struggling for the raw data. For as long as humans have been fending off the Vanduul, Cal was always amazed about how little we knew about them. It didn’t help that the species itself was so fragmented. Even though each Vanduul Clan/Fleet had its own set of traditions, diplomatic affiliations, even religions, there were a few consistencies. Their fighters were eerily similar, same with their flagships. Many an analyst went nuts trying to figure that one out. It was almost as if their designs were imprinted in their DNA. Which had been suggested.
All the same, not many people had been in Cal’s position and been this close to a Vanduul fleet. So he was making the most of it, snapping and tagging each of the ships as he passed them. Military Intelligence was going to have a field day with the data.
Suddenly, the flagship’s massive thrusters flashed. They were changing course. It wasn’t until a stream of fighters began to launch out the front that Cal knew for sure:
Someone looked out the window.
Cal had thirty seconds or so before he got swarmed. He fired the engine and headed along the hull of the flagship. He couldn’t just bolt, even if he made it to the jump-point, he wasn’t any closer to figuring out what they were up to. Nope. He had to stick around.
The Vanduul fighters screamed out of their launch bays led by Black Talon. They sliced back toward the foolish soon-to-be-dead human and found it full-burning toward the jump-point.
The Vanduul pursued and, with their speed, easily overtook Cal’s ship. Black Talon unleashed the first spray of laser-fire. The rest of the Vanduul fighters followed suit. In a manner of seconds, Cal’s ship was blasted to pieces.
Shame, Cal thought as he stood on the side of the Vanduul flagship, that was a good ship. He noticed something else too. There was another ship in the distance. Too far to identify but it definitely wasn’t another Vanduul ship. Cal walked along the hull of the ship toward one of the gaping holes caused by the battle with the Gemini and climbed inside.
Cal carefully moved down through the ship guts into a hallway. The area had been sealed off after it lost hull integrity. Cal examined the doorlocks. It was in Vanduul, obviously. The character system was completely foreign to him. Then it unlocked.
Cal hid before the door slid open. A Vanduul in an environment suit stepped through the doorway. Cal watched him from a crevice in the wall, his pistol ready.
The Vanduul approached the hole in the hull and examined it. Must be a Tech assessing the damage. Cal glanced between the Vanduul and the open door. The Tech had its back to it. Cal slipped past and through the pressurized antechamber into the ship itself. Though it was nice to have gravity back, he still couldn’t take off his suit as the Vanduul didn’t breathe oxygen.
In an effort to not think about how ridiculously suicidal sneaking around a Vanduul flagship was, Cal stayed focused on the identity of the new vessel. Fighters hadn’t been redirected or deployed on sight, so Cal assumed that the vessel was not a surprise to the Vanduul. In which case, they might be headed to the landing bay.
Cal carefully moved through the winding sloped passageways, dodging the occasional Vanduul officer or soldier. Eventually, he saw a stream of pilots exit a door. Maybe one of them was Black Talon? Cal waited until they disappeared around a corner before checking the door they came through. It was the hangar.
He moved past the stacks of Vanduul ships to see a heavily modified Constellation landing in the bay. A couple dozen Vanduul soldiers waited, weapons at the ready. Cal found a good spot to hide and watch.
The Constellation set down on the tarmac. Its engines powered down but someone was manning the turret. The landing bay opened. Two humanoids came out. Both wore enclosed suits, clearly not Vanduul air-breathers. They were about human-sized.
Cal had heard that some pirates had made deals with certain Vanduul clans but it was pretty rare. Most were carved up the second they came within sight of a Vanduul ship.
The large pieces of tech taken from the settlement on Yar were brought out and loaded onto the Constellation. One of the two humanoids examined the tech while the other talked with the Vanduul. When satisfied they brought out a pair of crates.
A plasma rifle hummed next to Cal’s ear.Crap.