EV/EVO Chronicles: The Duel Part 1

(Posted on 01-23-2001)

I am a coward. I am also the Confederacy’s most decorated commander since the time of Admiral Salvatore, and widely respected as a flight instructor and mission specialist on the side. I lead sorties into Rebellion-held areas, and wince as my lightships are turned to space debris. I am safe, of course, within two million tons of armaplast, directing the action, striking with artillery weapons from thousands of navi-miles away. Yes, as difficult as it is to admit, I am a coward, yet I am the Confed answer to a rising Rebellion.

I lived a privileged life on Luna in the Sol System for a good part of my youth. I had excellent hand-eye coordination from birth, and parents would marvel as a six-year old easily completed flight simulator missions difficult for many adult pilots. I was a bit of a sideshow attraction, and my father, a businessman grown wealthy off of the slaves in the Luna mines before the Sol Emancipation, and my mother, a relative of the Governor of a colony on Earth, determined that I would be better off outside of the public’s eye. I was sent to a boarding school run by a strict disciplinarian who preached the Confederacy’s rhetoric daily. I developed as a pilot and a sharpshooter, spending hours firing upon electronic skeet until my trigger finger and shoulders ached.

It was only months after my graduation when I was introduced to Admiral Russo, a proud, overbearing higher-up in the Confed Pilot Training School. My father had already allowed me to go. I was ecstatic.

I completed the courses after only two years, having shattered several of the previous records for piloting skill and accuracy with plasma weapons. I was set loose into the massive organization of the Confederacy Armed Forces, and for two years, I served as a clerical assistant to a lieutenant on Hodgson’s World in the Matar System. My father intervened and I was promoted to the position I currently hold. I have served the Confederacy loyally and well for twenty-five years. I am forty-two years old, and I am the heir to my father’s massive fortune. My mother has taken up residence on Earth, and our relations are tense, to say the least. I no longer feel affection for her, and frankly, I feel hardly any affection to anyone. Yes, there are women in my life, but no more than a trip to the Gymkata Opera and dinner, and toward my young officers I have trained to become pilots I feel only pride. I am a man void of emotion, a man who lives for the thrill of battle, a man sheltered within armor and weapons, alone, aloof, cold as the metal that surrounds him.

I rose from the grav-bed, yawned, and stood before the full-length mirror. My physique was in average condition, a product of my days of desk work and little exercise. I lit a cigar and inhaled, feeling the dizzying nicotine spread through my system like a cancer. I had quit, but the stress of an impending mission, and perhaps impending death, caused me to take them up again. Setting the lit cigar on the edge of my plastisteel desk, I turned toward the comm unit. It crackled with static before proceeding with the standard good morning message and reviews of any messages I had missed. Erasing the bureaucrats begging for money and the erstwhile ensign hoping to reserve a space in my next year’s class, I reached the message of Lt. Stromglad, the Defense Coordinator for the Procyn and Tau Ceti systems. He spoke with a short, clipped, military tone and informed me that the Rebels had struck on the Tau Ceti port of Merlin. A daring offensive move, I thought, seeing as how Tau Ceti was only one hyperjump from the Sol System, home of the Confederacy Command station. The pilot had been skilled. Traces of ion engines laced the scene of the attack, now reduced to wreckage, indicating a Rebel Cruiser. A formidable ship, yes, but Merlin had been renowned for it’s garrison. The Eighty-Eighth "Star Lion" regiment, led by the highly respected General Tomas Solas, defeated at the hands of a single Rebel Cruiser. Yes, this pilot was skilled indeed. I was the man to hunt him down. I took a final drag on my cigar, then ground it into the desk’s surface. I was ready for the hunt to begin.

The C.S.S. Politico arrived in Tau Ceti with a full crew of 1029, each handpicked days before, mostly crewmen that had been through my own specialized training programs. I needed a crew I knew from experience were trained by the best, in this case, me. I strode into the expansive command/navigation center, my hotshot technician, Jules, gazing over a console of binary, while my protégé pilot, Nicole, tapped a series of commands into the navigation array. Weapons control was manned by Ken, a gunnery sergeant drafted into the Confed Ground Forces that I had selected to be promoted to active duty aboard the Politico, and Sam, an eager, fresh-faced young recruit who showed promise. We traveled at a high rate of speed with full shields through the dazzling stars of the Tau Ceti system, our sensors highly attuned to any passing craft. The merchants and travelers gave the Politico a wide berth, and we cruised through the twisted wreckage of the Merlin garrison freely. The massive fire-ravaged components slid past us, eerie reminders of the threat we were facing. Merlin itself stood nearby, the pockmarks of bombing and scars of energy weapons glaring off of its surface. We landed, the cursory security teams swept through the vincinity clearing the area before we were allowed to disembark. My bodyguard, Stevens, stood at my right shoulder, the heavy plasma rifle he held enough to discourage any unwanted advances. Even as my crewmen and soldiers powered down the Politico and readied to leave, I felt strangely vulnerable. It was not a feeling I was accustomed to.

Merlin was being rebuilt a brick at a time. Massive construction droids tore down burnt-out structures and fire hazards while the construction crews, dwarfed in comparison to their mechanical servants, loaded wreckage into hoversleds and doused flames with hydro-foam. The landing strips were reduced to streaks of blackened, stinking asphalt being shoveled into waiting loaders to be reprocessed. The main city center of Merlin was largely untouched, though I had heard rumors from the port authority that the population was making a mass exodus to the surrounding systems, eager to escape their ravaged home.

We were now being lead from the one serviceable landing strip where the Politico now sat, under constant guard by surface-to-air missile turrets, through a luma-lit tunnel heavy with traffic, engineers, droids, aid workers, the smell of sweat and bodies overpowering our crew, used to the recycled air of the ship. We reached the end of the tunnel and arrived in a cramped field hospital filled with the sick, the dead, the dying. I lit another cigar before being outfitted in an antiseptic hospital gown and gloves. I was led to the bedside of a man I barely recognized, whose face was twisted in pain. His left leg had been amputated below the knee and his eyes fluttered lightly when I came near.

"General Tomas Solas at your service, sir," he rasped, breathing heavily and coughing.

So, this was the vaunted General Solas, his forces and his body crushed by a single Rebel cruiser. "It is a pleasure, General," I spoke, flattering, hoping this Solas might reveal important information as to the whereabouts of this mysterious attacker. "How are you feeling?"

He gave a slight grimace and answered, "Leg amputated explosion in gunboat lost my crew I was recovered in an escape pod three days later Rebel cruiser did this to us "

The man wanted revenge, I could see it in his eyes. "Can you tell me anything more about this cruiser?"

The general coughed for a few moments and spoke. "Huge I sent out patrol ships as first wave. Pilot of cruiser very good took out first wave in minutes before my eyes. Sent gunboat gone finally I went out. Here I am Listen if you find him blow him to hell for me. Be careful. He’s a smart one."

I replaced the cold compress on the man’s forehead with a new colder replacement handed to me by the nurse and stood, shaking the general’s hand. The man had a firm grip, and I knew he knew he would be back flying soon.

"Thank you for your time, General. You served the Confederacy well," I said, patting the man’s arm.

I had had enough of this sickroom, and I had the information I needed. I had never had patience for the sick. They were a liability, an expense to the Confed medical forces that could be aiding the front lines elsewhere. Alas, here I was, trailing a ghost ship, speaking with a revenge-seeking general having seen better days.

The bartender handed me the shot of synthenol and an orange slice in the hazy confines of the Wizard’s Bar. Somehow, even amid the crisis, the bar had remained open, serving it’s intoxicated patrons as the Rebel Cruiser rained shells into the port. Not a single customer remembered the night, which happened to be Free Drinks Friday. I tossed back the synthenol with a flourish and sucked the acidic juice from the orange as the combined liquids burnt my throat. I finished by inhaling through my sleeve as the spacefarer customarily did, savoring the burn as long as possible. My eyes watered, reminding me that had been the first drink I had downed since leaving on the Politico. I nodded toward the bartender and tossed him a credit chip. He smiled thankfully and turned back to the other patrons. I trained my gaze on the bulky man, florid faced and rotund, and wondered if he was the type to sympathize with the Rebellion. He had vehemently denied any Rebel connections, which made me automatically rouse my suspicions. Second, he had assured me his customers were God-fearing Confed men, loyal working-class Joes, which most likely meant they were all Confed-hating Rebels masquerading as the average guy. Stevens stood at a stool against the wall, likewise watching the bartender’s movements. It would take days, yes, but we had time. Every step of the way, the Rebel Cruiser moved closer into our sights.

Midnight on the sixteenth, we made our move. The Wizard’s Bar was closed for a local holiday, and I had managed to secure a team of port authority security men to investigate the premises. I crouched with Stevens near the shadowy entrance as the team approached, each man fully armed and concealed with ShadowCloak gear. The point man of the Merlin security team, known only as Irons to us, placed the acid charge near the padlock of the Wizard’s bar entrance and stepped backward. The padlock hissed and Irons slid the door open. The team followed his lead, their weapons raised attentively as they crept stealthily into the darkened bar. It took only moments to detect the audible sound of voices from the kitchen entrance. We pursued the source of the noise at a creeping pace, gently nudging the doors open and slipping into the shadows as the voices grew louder. Irons nodded, and the team leapt into view. Energy bolts flew from several rifles and a loud thud echoed through the kitchen. The bartender could be heard plainly begging for his life. I stepped into the light. An armed man lay in pooling blood face-down on the floor, and the bartender had fallen to his knees. I signalled Irons not to kill him as Stevens turned over the body. I cursed. It was Sam, our oh-so naďve weapons specialist, a Rebel spy. Damn, I had trusted him. I turned to the bartender and leaned over menacingly.

"Listen, you scum ," I spat, "why the hell are you here?"

The sweating man stuttered, "I-I was selling equipment to this gentleman here." I straightened out, and drew my autopistol, leveling it at the man’s head.

"All right. The equipment, what and where is it?"

The bartender shifted, and suddenly a rivulet of blood trickled from his mouth. He collapsed, and a shadowy figure retreated at full speed from behind a barricade of boxes. The security team opened fire, shredding the containers amid a hail of weapons fire, but finding no mark. The assassin had escaped, bringing down our only witness. What a night.

The next morning the Merlin port authority located the merchandise inside a well camouflaged wall safe. A cloaking device, a trademark Rebel model designed for safe insertions into enemy territory. Sleek, using a minimum of engine power with a high chance of success, the cloaking device was a weapon of stealth and secrecy, the consummate Rebel device. The unit was determined to be a top of the line, working model, fit for any and all craft. Without hesitation, I ordered it installed. Jules complied, and within a week, the Politico had the ability to conceal itself for several hours. Perfect, I knew, the exact surprise to draw the Rebels into the open. Fitting, I thought, to use a weapon designed for our own destruction to destroy our enemies. Exactly the ironic twist I particularly enjoyed. A further examination of the scene turned up a comm device on the bartender, pre-programmed to contact a certain operative. I sat up and took notice at this finding. The communications tower at the Merlin port managed to trace the source of the comm frequency. Jake Haskins, a young outdoorsman who runs a hostel on southern Merlin. I called Stevens and requisitioned a hover-cab to pay a visit to young Mr. Haskins.

"As you can see, sir," Haskins said over a glass of port, "I am no Rebel."

He had just completed showing me the fantastically manicured grounds of his hunting lodge and the building itself, and now we sat at an empty table in his own restaurant nearby the lodge. He had demonstrated his past history, his legal discharge from the Confed forces because of a heart defect, and his staunch anti-Rebellion stand. It seemed plausible enough, and I was enjoying my glass of red wine and my Earth-imported cigar.

"I have no further doubts, Mr. Haskins," I said, grinning, "and I am sorry to have disturbed your home. Thank you for your immense hospitality, and if you would be so kind, please, die."

Haskins rose to his feet, grasping for his weapon, before a red bloom spread out over his chest. Stevens had reached him first. He toppled over the table, and I was careful to keep the blood from splattering my clothes. In his hand was a memorandum, carefully printed onto plasti-paper.

"To Whom It May Concern—
When you read this, I am dead. I admit to being a Rebel sympathizer. The cruiser that attacked Merlin, known as Starslayer, is moving next into the Spica system. Proceed with caution. The sale of a cloaking device to a Confed traitor will undoutedly have already taken place, and the Starslayer is now outfitted with that very device. The pilot, known by the codename Raven, is extremely skilled. Take caution."

The Spica system contained only a communications pod. We approached waringly, having scanned the most minute space debris for a sign of any further Rebel activity, and detected only this pod. It blinked peacefully, and interfaced with our communications system.

The readout was simple, but to the point. "This is Captain David Zhukov, the Raven. Surrender now or be destroyed. Your choice. You have one minute."

I grinned at the man’s bluntness and said, "Destroy the pod." The arcs of laser energy shot forth and the comm pod exploded in a brilliant flash. The duel had begun.

(This message has been edited by moderator (edited 01-23-2001).)

Very entertaining, with an interesting and complex protagonist. Not a terribly likeable guy, but compelling nonetheless. Looking forward to more.

not drowning, waving

Very well written. Nice Style. Good Job.

Damn the Man!

Nice story. First account is always kind of difficult to write in. I did notice that sometimes your character would refer to himself, and then be referred too, ( Both First person and third person ) I love the characters though. A lot of insight into their personalities.

When did I go Insane?

Good story!

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Brilliant stuff but why did the rebel sympathizer have the note on him giving information abou the Rebellion.