Ares Chronicles: Mercenaries: Long Way

This is my first formal work of Ares fiction. Here is a stand alone story in its entirety (no "Part One" crap.) It's fairly lengthy, and for that I appologize.

If comments regarding this story are good, I may release preludes or sequels, with the same characters. In any case, the mercenary thing will be prominent in any Ares fiction I write, because I think it's so much more interesting if the hero is basically on his own.

And now, for your reading pleasure, Ares: Mercenaries: Long Way.

-Long Way-
Thank god for consumer space travel. It had taken a decade, but space travel was becoming accessible to the above average or desperate consumer. Andrew was one of the desperate ones. For the first 20 years of his life, he had dreamed of one day being able to own a ship, to be an interstellar trader, just like in the old vids. Finally, his scrapping and saving, his years of education and his membership in the UNS Colonial Navy had all paid of.
Consumer Space Systems had released a consumer line, including the typical 4 person car type vehicle for commutes to your lunar job if you missed the shuttle, to the model that Andrew and some friends had picked up: an almost carrier sized cargo hauler with limited interstellar capacity.
Andrew and his friends managed to add a suitable amount of weapons and armour onto the machine, through one of their ties to the black market. Andrew went AWOL from the navy, and together they had founded United Transport and Mercenary, using the freighter as their base of operations. Over the 4 years they’d been in business, they’d made some additions to their fleet, some more enhancements to the freighter, some new business ties, and lost a few members to marauding pirates. However, the UNS had hired them several times, and they were gaining interstellar recognition for their work cleaning up the UNS border territories. However, this was their first mission working for a major interstellar power other than the UNS.
The Ishimans had sent a message stating that they needed something transported through Cantharan space into a secluded system to which they had no jumpgate. They wanted to hire outside help because there was still a great deal of tension with the Cantharans, and they didn’t want to risk the cargo. UTM had been the ideal candidate, with years of experience and few government connections.
And now, Andrew, who was now in charge of business and Paul, director of tactical and practical operations, stood in front of the Ishiman high admiral, on board a carrier, as their cargo was loaded into their freighter.
“So what exactly are we transporting?” Andrew asked, a datapen hovering over his datapad.
“I’m afraid that I can’t tell you that. All that I can tell you is that if this falls into Cantharan hands, it will make its way to the Salrilians, and we cannot allow that to happen. We have spent a good part of our interstellar career keeping this away from them, this knowledge.”
“And you are not offering any escort for us, you want us to pull our whole fleet for this one transport mission?”
“You’ve seen how much you are being paid, and no escort is not accurate. You will be escorted to the edge of our space by 2 carriers, I think that that is entirely sufficient. Once you’re out of our space, the Cantharans will have great difficulty finding you. It is for that reason we are sending you through the Stygian nebula. Radio signals will be so scrambled that they will never be able to spot you, and once you have passed through it, you will be just about at our rendezvous point.”
“That sounds basically fair,” Paul jumped in, “but do the Cantharans or Salrilians know that you are attempting this?”
“The Cantharans definitely do not. The Salrilians have the Oracular Net. We do not know if it know of this. They have almost no information on this mission, if any, so they should have vastly inaccurate predictions. We only bring your whole fleet as a precaution, we do not expect much resistance.”
The discussion was cut short by a voice over the loudspeakers, which chirped out something in Ishiman.
“Your ship is loaded. You may leave any time, and the carriers are ready to depart..”
Andrew and Paul left to assume their posts in the fleet.
Andrew stood on the bridge of the UTM Reliance. The checklist was read off. “Fuel: Check. Weapons systems: Charged, ammo reserves full. Engineering: Ready, no problems with any systems.” After a brief check of other ships in the fleet, the hyperdrives were charged, and the 4 month trip through Cantharan space and the Stygian nebula had begun.

Week 1, Day 3, 2:40 am: Andrew sat in the Information Room, full of monitors and computers. Most of them were dark and offline, but he sat at the far end of the room, studying Ishiman history. From what he could see, they had preserved several other species, other than the humans, in their interstellar career. Who those species were, he had no idea. He could find more any further information on that vein, but did discover that the Ishimans had been in conflict with the Salrilians over their love of preserving life. Andrew could understand this; the Salrilians dislike diversity, the Ishimans are preserving it unnaturally. It’s much easy for the oracular net to predict what a species will do if that species is extinct.

Week 3, Day 5, 5:27 pm: Well across the Ishiman border, and fairly deep into neutral space by now, the crew of the Reliance was growing nervous. The Ishiman carriers had left long ago, and people were unsure what to expect. Andrew stood at the head of the onboard club, attempting to calm the troops.
“Please people, the Cantharans don’t even know we’re coming. Even if they did they don’t know where we’re going.”
“What about the Salrilians! Those slug bastards know everything!” a rowdy member of the crew shouted. His challenge was met with cheers from the increasingly worried crowd.
“Those slug bastards don’t know everything, their computers just guess based on what they know. Right now, they know next to nothing, and even if they can get a prediction, it will be inaccurate.”
Paul stepped up to the front of the room, next to Andrew. “If there is a confrontation, we are more than prepared. The Ishimans have loaned us the use of several fusion pulse launchers, which we have mounted on turrets. We’re easily able to take on a few Cantharan scout patrols.”
Calmed by these words, the crew begain to go back to their business, preparing reports and doing routine checks. Things were smoothed over, for now.

Week 4, Day 2, 9:54 am: The ships were out of hyperspace now, as one of the escorts had developed hyperdrive problems. A team of technicians from the Reliance had to be sent over, as the problem was more serious than originally thought.
As the fleet sat there in the deep, silent depths of space, a lone, cloaked, Cantharan cruiser watched, silently. It waited until the fleet was back in hyperspace before submitting information back to Cantharan HQ, and jumping back itself.

Week 4, Day 4, 6:37 pm: The Reliance and its escorts were making good time, and despite a number of setbacks were right on time. Suddenly, on the bridge of the Reliance, the sensor crew had something to report.
“Andrew! Paul! Come have a look at this!”
Andrew and Paul rushed over, and looked at the screen. A few random extra blips were moving slowly around.
“So, just a bunch of debris. Nothing big.”
“That’s what I thought at first too, sir, but every once in a while, a new blip turns up. See, look!” A larger blip appeared.
“Sir! We have visual contact of a Cantharan Carrier about 150 kliks away!”
Andrew could see it now, quite clearly. And the blips on the scanners were definitely not debris, judging by the usual Cantharan carrier escort. There was at least a gunship in that cluster, and who knew what else. “Redirect all power to engines! We can at least try to outrun the bastards!”
Of course, they weren’t so lucky. As the ship began to accelerate, the UTM Massive blew a hyperdrive tube. It spun out of control, moving rapidly towards the Cantharan fleet.
“Shields up! Charge weapons!” Paul screamed from the Tactical Control Room at the top of the bridge. “All our supplies are on that ship!”
The Reliance and its fleet lurched out of hyperspace, mostly strung out across the Cantharan line. All except the Reliance itself, which continued forwards a tad too long, leading it to end up just out of Cantharan weapons range. “Engage the enemy!” shouted Paul. “UTM Bravery and Ascension, move in to protect the Massive. All other ships, charge forwards to engage that carrier! That’s likely their headquarters. Engineering, send a team over to the Massive in a transport pod!”
Suddenly, the ugly face of a Cantharan appeared on the viewscreen. “Unidentified UNS vessel, you are in Cantharan space. Withdraw immediately or we will not hesitate to decimate your fleet.”
Andrew stepped forwards. “We are not affiliated with the UNS. We are Outbound Express, an exploration fleet. Everyone on these ships dumped their life savings into our dream of finding Eden, a planet which was lost from our people long ago.” Andrew mentally congratulated himself for making up such a clever story under pressure. At least with such a ridiculous sounding story, they would think the fleet harmless.
Paul said quietly on the private channel “all vessels hold fire.”
“This may be the neutral zone, but in 3 days of hyperdrive travel you’ll be in Cantharan space. We have already alerted the Salrilians to your presence, as you will soon be travelling in their space. We think that we will allow you to travel through our space. Hopefully the UNS will stop harassing us if we allow a convoy of humans to travel through our space. Bear in mind that we are watching you.”
“Thank you, allow us to fix our ship, and then we’ll be on our way.”
The screen went blank.
“That was a close one. I don’t want a major confrontation this early in the mission.” Andrew slumped down into the command chair.
“Oh s**t!” Paul shouted. “They’ve told the Salrilians! This may put a serious damper on our plans. They might have enough oracular net information to determine what we’re doing and where we’re going!”
“Well, hopefully they wont, and if we can get into the nebula in time, it wont make a difference. Not even the Oracular Net can see through that much debris.”

Week 6, Day 5, 5:45 pm: Jacob, the senior technician for UTM, was sitting at the captain’s table with Andrew and Paul. He was definitely worried about something, but had been eating fairly furiously, so Paul and Andrew hadn’t had the chance to ask him what was going on. Now dinner was just about over, and Jacob had nothing left to eat.
“So, what’s up?” asked Andrew.
“I think that we may have a serious problem. You’ve no doubt noticed the occasional hyperspace hiccups?”
“Yes, what about them?”
“Well, I’ve figured out what the problem is. You remember the Cantharan confrontation, and how we tried to overdrive out of there?”
“Yes, of course, how could I forget?”
“Well, we dropped out too abruptly. We damaged 3 hyperdrive coils. It wasn’t a very big problem when it happened, but continued travel is causing some problems. I figure that we have about 4 or 5 days before they burst, and even if we can stop, we need some replacement pieces, which we don’t have right now.”
“Hmm, that’s a pretty serious problem. If we drop out, is it possible to rig them so they wont explode?”
“I doubt it, we don’t have any of the materials we need.”
“That’s bad. The Ishimans were quite clear on it being necessary for us to get there without contacting them, but it doesn’t look like we have much of a choice.”
“We’re a little too far into Cantharan space to try that now,” Paul jumped in. “However, I can check with navigation, see if there’s anything we can do nearby. If we could jump a Cantharan scout, could we use the parts from that?”
“I suppose so, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Check with navigations, see what you come up with.”

Week 6, Day 6, 7:20 am: Paul, Andrew and Jacob were holding an emergency meeting to discuss what could be done. Kurt from navigations was also at the meeting, as he had stayed up all night doing research from the somewhat limited starmaps the Ishimans had given them. The room was dimly lit, as the whole ship was running on backup power to humour the hyperdrive. To prevent the crew from being worried, the meeting was being held in the sub levels of the ship, even lower down than engineering, and the room stank of coolant.
“So what have you found out?” Paul ventured, asking Kurt.
“Well, not too much. The Ishimans haven’t really updated this since the Cantharan occupation. However, we might just be lucky. According to my findings, there was a Bazidanese trading post not too far from here, about 2 days travel. It would require a slight course modification, and it’s probably not even still in service, but there might be some salvage there.”
“I like those odds.” Andrew said. “We should definitely try and get there.”
“There is one slight problem with this.” Jacob interrupted. ‘Human ships don’t use typical hyperdrive coils. Even if they have some parts, we’d need to modify them, and I don’t know if we could.”
Paul thought for a moment before answering. “I would also vote that we check it out, right now it’s the best chance we have. Besides, there’s always the off chance that it’s still in opperation.”
“I’d say that sounds like a plan,” Andrew said. “We’ll pursue that idea. Set the course, I’d better head back to the bridge.”

Week 7, Day 2, 7:20 am: The fleet pulled slowly out of hyperspace, fairly close to the brown, strange looking station. One thing was for sure, it was abandoned. There were no other ships parked near it, and all the lights seemed to be off. There were no radio transmissions coming from the station.
Paul, Jacob, Samuel (who was a salvage expert,) Norman (who had studied a little about Bazidanese culture and technology at the Ishiman School for Anthropology,) and Richard, who had had the most military service on the ship, were all geared up for extra vehicular activity. The suited up their EVA suits, made sure they had any tools they might need to break into the station if the doors were inoperable, and double checked their weapons, should the need to use them arise. Then, when all was certain, they were ejected from the Reliance, towards the station.
They drifted slowly, gracefully towards the dark station. As they drew nearer, it became clear that the station was either still inhabited, or else it had some kind of automated defence system. A few random laser shots were fired out of a few old looking turrets. Luckily, the targeting systems were obviously defective, and the team got through without any problems.
The doors were locked, so Jacob and Samuel had to burn through them with cutting torches. Once through the airlock, and upon discovering that inside the station the artificial gravity was still functioning, things got considerably easier. Despite the fact that the lights were out, it was easy going, since the team had brought flashlights. The Bazidanese writing was decipherable thanks to Norman’s limited knowledge of the language.
Eventually, they reached the storage room. The door was locked, and again had to be cut off with the torches. Entering the room, they found rows of shelves of ancient technology. There was an Ishiman hyperdrive tube that must have been 50 years old. After an hour of scavenging, air was running low, but at least they had found parts which could be used to make a replacement.
Returning to the ship, they discovered that a situation had arisen. Samuel took the parts down to engineering to see what could be done, while the others got back into normal crew gear and headed to the bridge to see what was happening.
Paul found Andrew waiting for him in the tactical display room.
“What seems to be the problem? The whole ship’s scurrying around like rats trying to find a safe place on a sinking boat!” Paul demanded.
“Long range scanners have a trace. See for yourself.” Andrew typed some data into the computer, and the holographic map of the area appeared. Green dots marked the positions of their ships. However, every once in a while, a few red dots would appear and flicker at the edge of the sensor range. They were getting closer.
“What are those? Salrilians?”
“We think so. It’s hard to tell. Anyway, they’ll be here in 4 hours, and everyone’s taking their battle stations. How soon can we fix the Reliance?”
“I’d say that we’re pretty much going to have to fight. There’s no way we can be ready by then.”
“Then you’d better work some kind of strategy out. I’ve never fought Salrilians before, and it can’t be easy to fight someone if you don’t know where they are.”
Paul sat down and wracked his brain.

Week 7, Day 2, 1:17 pm: Paul sat in the upper level of the bridge, with the tactical display to his left and the lower bridge, where Andrew and the bridge crew were, to his right. Long range sensors were no longer needed. The parts had been adjusted to the point that they would probably work in the hyperdrive, but still needed some converters from the Massive. A team of technicians was sent over to get the parts when visual conformation was gained.
“All ships, move to protect the Reliance. Fire at will! Don’t let them destroy that transport pod!”
The orders were cut short when a slimy Salrilian face appeared on the view screen. Paul turned back to the tactical display and directed the battle as Andrew conversed with the enemy.
“We know what you are doing, humans.”
“What’s that?”
“You are transporting supplies for the Ishimans. We know what the supplies are, and know where they are going. We know more than you do. We will already be there when you arrive.”
“Listen you bastard! We don’t even know what we’re carrying, so I frankly don’t see how you do! We’re just meeting up with an Ishiman fleet to take the supplies the rest of the way! Let us pass or we’ll cripple your fleet without a second thought.”
Andrew’s threat was cut short by a sudden shaking of the ship. “Sir! A bunch of gunship have just decloaked off our port side! What do we do?”
Paul broke in before Andrew had to. “Fire all weapons! We’ll give them something to remember us by!”
The Salrilian face on the view screen made what Andrew would swear was a smirk, and then blipped off, as a thousand fragments of debris hit the viewport.
“Sir, we got one.”
“Great! Now let’s see if we can survive the rest of the fight.”
“We’ve lost them again, they’ve cloaked again... sir, I see them moving in on our outer escorts, trying to pick them off.”
The communications officer jumped in. “Message from the Ascension!”
“Andrew, we’re being toasted. Those balls are causing heavy damage!”
In the background of the transmission, someone shouted “abandon ship!” as a wall burst.
“For god’s sake get out of there!”
Andrew watched on the view screen as the Ascension crumbled, escape pods moving towards other ships.
“This is never going to hold up!” Paul shouted from the tactical display. There are way more of the bastards than I thought! The parts are being loaded from the Massive, so we should be able to jump once we get them back, but until then...”
The whole ship was rocked as something smashed into it.
“What the hell was that?!” Andrew shouted. Suddenly, a bolt of lightening shot through the remaining shell of the Ascension.
Looking out the viewport, Andrew could see the most frightening thing he’d ever laid eyes on. A giant, sleek black ship was slowly crawling towards them, firing off enough weaponry to keep the Ishiman navy at bay.
“How are we doing with those parts!?” Andrew screamed at Paul.
“Give us 20 minutes, they just arrived!”
Andrew realised that they had only one viable option. It would require draining all the power on the Reliance, but it would frazzle the control systems of every ship in the area for about 15 minutes. After that, it wouldn’t be hard to hold them off for another 5.
Andrew shouted over to the weapons station “Prepare for electric storm. Begin power drain ASAP!”
The lights immediately began to dim. Alarm sirens were silenced, and the tactical display went dark. Other than the glow of the Salrilian lightening, there was no light to see by.
Suddenly, the sky was filled with blue static, as bolts jumped from ship to ship. After a minute, every ship in the area was crippled, floating derelict, as though the battle had been frozen in time. There was tension in the air, but luckily, the Reliance recovered before the Salrilians, since it was shielded, and only had to recover from the power drain. It immediately fired everything it had at the Salrilian carrier. After a moment of pounding on the hull with fusion and magneto pulses, the ship shuddered, and fragments filled the sky. A cheer went up from the crew of the Reliance, at least until it was cut short when the other Salrilian ships began to move. What happened next surprised the crew of all the ships in the UTM fleet. The Salrilians were retreating.
Another ugly face appeared on the screen. “That was unexpected. The Ishimans should have allowed your empty species to go extinct. When we have accounted for this information, you will see us again. We will be back.”
The entire fleet of Salrilian ships slowly turned and began to charge for a hyper jump. The Reliance and the rest of the UTM fleet held their fire as the ships cloaked and left.
There was now sufficient time to do a good job on the hyperdrive, and within an hour the Reliance was back in hyperspace.

Week 8, Day 5, 2:44 pm: Paul was acting commander of the bridge, as Andrew was out of commission, having developed the flu. He had been quarantined, so someone had to command the ship, and since Paul was seen as the most qualified, he had taken the job.
Of course, there wasn’t much commanding to do. The Reliance and its escorts just plowed slowly through space towards the Stygian nebula.
Paul couldn’t help but feel somewhat proud. Either the Salrilians had given up on their threats following the destruction of that carrier, or else they hadn’t been able to find the Reliance. Those were the only 2 options that occurred to him, and since the Stygian nebula was already visible, it didn’t matter anymore. Soon they’d be completely undetectable.
The best part about the travelling through the nebula would definitely be the sights. It was an amazing deep blue colour shot through with purple. Paul was wondering what gasses and combination of debris would make it appear like that, when an alarm sounded.
“Paul! We have a small problem. Our hyperdrive motivation unit just cut out!”
“What? It’s not because of the salvaged parts, is it?”
“No, it’s gotta be something else. We’re getting similar reports from the rest of the fleet. There’s definitely something outside causing this.”
“Ok, everyone to battle stations. Someone head down to the library and see what you can find out about previous instances like this.”
“Sir! I see a Salrilian carrier vessel coming in on the port side! It must be escorted... We might have some trouble.”
“Damn! And don’t call me ‘sir’ it makes me sound too responsible. In the mean time, drain all the power you can while keeping the fusion pulse generators charged and the library active. We’re basically screwed until we can find out why the hyperdrive isn’t working.”
“Ok Paul.”
“Paul!” someone shouted from the tactical display, “We may just be lucky. The Salrilian cloaking devices have been messed with by whatever is making us unable to jump. They obviously aren’t responsible for this!”
“Ok, great, there’s one thing in our favour. But if their hyperdrives are messed up as well, who’s causing this disruption?”
“I’m not sure, I’m using the data library on this display to find out as much as I can...”
The Salrilian fleet that was moving up on the Reliance was not as large as the last one. Clearly they had been counting on surprise and fear to get the humans. And now, they were likely scared, since their cloaking fields were gone, and their hyperdrives wouldn’t work. Neither speed nor invisibility would be a viable attack option, and a battle of attritions wouldn’t likely go well for the slugs, after what had happened last time. They probably didn’t want to lose another carrier.
The crew of the Reliance were just as frightened. Would they lost another ship? Would it be the Massive, or even the Reliance, instead of an escort?
The two fleets just floated there, each waiting for the other to make his opening. That’s when the man who’d been sent down to the library came back.
“Paul, the records don’t show very much about anything like this happening before. The last occurrence of hyperdrive problems was back during the crusade for Earth, when the Audemedon Axis used a hyperdrive inhibitor to stop Eleejeetan trade.”
“The Audemedon? That’s the last thing we need!”
“Don’t worry... I’d say that because the Salrilians are also stalled, it’s not them. In the ancient history stuff the Ishimans downloaded into our databanks, however, there is mention that no one ever settled the Nebula because of instances like this; hyperdrives would die, and the ships would be stranded. People eventually just got scared of it, because with jumpship technology, it wouldn’t be prohibitively difficult to get in and establish a colony for research.
That’s why when the Ishimans read some of our mythology, they named it the Stygian nebula; the Stygian caves were part of Hades, they weren’t a nice safe place to be”
“So this is a deathtrap by the Ishimans? They’re trying to get us killed?”
“No, I don’t think it’s that at all. There are records indicating that people did occasionally travel through this nebula, and that these hyperdrive problems were intermittent. I’d say that the Salrilians being decloaked has more to do with the Nebular debris hitting their ships than with anything else.”
“So what do we do, sit it through and hope that whatever’s not letting us jump just goes away?”
“I’d say that’s about all we can do.”
And that’s all they did do, for 3 hours. Both fleets just drifted there, a good distance from each other, until finally the crew of the Reliance lost their nerve. The man in charge of navigation spun the ship to face the nebula. He then tried to engage the hyperdrive, and to everyone’s surprise, it worked. Other human ships followed, and the Salrilians turned and headed for home.

Week 12, Day 7, 8:20 am: With just over a month left to their destination, the crew of the Reliance was getting anxious. Nothing serious had come up in the last month, and they were almost out of the nebula. Starmaps indicated that once out, they would have to pass through an asteroid field, but most of the members of UTM had joined to get out of their dead end asteroid mining careers, so they would be accustomed to avoiding the giant rocks.
The best part was that once out of the nebula, they’d be out of Salrilian space. They’d be past the enemies of the Ishimans, and would be on the edge of the Old Empire of Eleejee, where the Eleejee had established themselves before colonising the area closer to Earth. If there was anything that could cheer up the crew, it was that one of the most ancient, most advanced species ever to achieve interstellar travel would be there to help against any kind of confrontation.

Week 13, Day 5, 5:20 pm: The asteroid belt was denser than originally anticipated, but the Reliance and its escorts were not having much trouble getting through, as most were used to belts more dangerous than this one.
However, most were not prepared for what was about to happen.
A jumpgate opened roughly 100 km in front of the Reliance, and a small Audemedon fleet jumped in. They were towing something.
“That’s it! Shouted the man who’d been sent down to the library. “That’s a jumpgate inhibitor, exactly like the picture in the datafile!”
“Oh damn!” shouted Andrew, who had recovered by this time. “Communications, send a message to the Elejeetans. Tell them it’s a group of humans. We did save their new colony asses in the crusade, and they at least owe us this tiny favour.”
“Yes sir.”
Paul shouted from the upper bridge “Scatter, hide in the asteroids. If they can’t hit us we’re fine.”
“But what about the inhibitor? We can’t leave and the Eleejee can’t get in if that’s around!”
“Damnit!” muttered Paul. “Ok, you know what? I’m going to head over to one of the gunship in a transport pod, we’ll try and take it out. I’ll go over to the Bravery, it’s got the speed and the guns we’ll need.”
Paul left and Andrew was left with both tactics and command to look after. “Ok, people, everyone scatter, except for the Bravery, which must pick up Paul and then head over to destroy the inhibitor. Communications, how’s the message transmission doing?”
“We’ve sent it and are awaiting a reply. Give it 10 or 20 minutes. They have some thinking to do.”
“Ok, fine. Everyone, keep your weapons ready, in case a few of those cruisers get to close and have to be taught a lesson.”
Suddenly a voice cackled over the local transmission channel. It was from gunnery. “Sir, 3 cruisers are moving in on us! Can we fire?”
“2 of those must be holograms! Fire at will! Fire all weapons!”
A field of fusion bolts filled the asteroid field as the cruisers drew closer and close. It looked like they had hit only void, when a whole bunch of the deadly bolts hit the central cruiser, destroying its weapons systems. However, Audemedon are machines and don’t fear anything. The ship accelerated and rammed the hull of the Reliance, causing sever damage as the cruiser exploded.
“Holy s**t! Engineering, we have a hull breach! Send up 2 repair teams in EVA suits, there’s no atmosphere in there! Damage control, seal off sectors 5a-6c until the repair crews get there.”
Luckily the cruiser had hit the unused cargo bays, and nothing had been lost. However, the Reliance couldn’t risk another hit like that.
“Paul, how’s the Bravery doing?” Andrew asked over the comm channel.
“I’m on board, we’re preparing for the attack run. My god. I never realised how big that thing is.”
“Well, don’t worry about it, it can’t be too durable, and it seems like they’re just trying to slow us down. The only escort I see on the scanner are a gunship and another cruiser. Just head straight for the thing, blow the hell out of it and jump back to here.”
The communications officer broke in. “Sir, the Eleejee have offered their support and will jump over immediately. They’ll be arriving about when Paul has destroyed the inhibitor.”
“Ok, sounds good.”
The Bravery began moving quickly towards the inhibitor. It was a gunship which had been lent to UTM by the UNS during a pirate cleanup mission. It had been severely damaged, as a UNS crew which was not briefed on the mission had been operating it despite the request of UTM. The UNS had decided it was more cost effective to give the ship away than repair it.
UTM was happy for this gift. They repaired the ship, mounted the magneto pulse on a turret, and had added the fusion pulse generator that the Ishimans had lent them onto another turret. They had also boosted the engines substantially. Probably, this would get them through a brief encounter with the Audemedon. Hopefully.
The Bravery was within firing range in a moment, and opened up on the inhibitor with the magneto turret. The fusion turret ripped into a cruiser, destroying it utterly. Then, something went wrong. The magneto turret was jammed. It stopped working, and the Audemedon gunship fired a volley at the Bravery. The laser and fusion turrets were blown off. With no viable weaponry, and the gunship coming closer and firing more often, the crew was getting worried. Paul stepped forward as another volley blew off an engine.
“Everyone, take an escape pod. If the Audemedon can ram something, so can we. I’ll guide the ship into the inhibitor, and hopefully the explosion will destroy that gunship. It’s been nice knowing you.”
Normally the crew would have protested, but the urgency of the situation kept them quiet. They filed out of the bridge as Paul sat down at the navigation station. As the last escape pod left, he put all shields forwards, and accelerated to maximum speed towards the damaged inhibitor. The Audemedon ship fired at the Bravery, but in futility. The distance had widened to the point that there were too many asteroids in the way.
The Bravery hit the inhibitor with a huge crunching noise, or there would have been one if there had been air to carry the sound. The inhibitor had a hole blown right through it, and though it didn’t explode, it did stop working. The Bravery was alright, and it drifted slowly forwards.
The Audemedon gunship attempted to follow the Bravery through the hole in the inhibitor, but was too wide. It sheared off both its engines and it suffered massive damage. It was completely crippled, and drifted past the Bravery.
The Eleejeetan support arrived moments later, and the rest of the Reliance fleet moved to recover the Bravery. They found that everything on it was repairable, but Paul was dead. A piece of debris had come flying through the viewport and hit him.
There was a brief burial service for Paul, and the fleet moved on towards the destination with Eleejeetan escorts and the Bravery in tow.

Week 16, Day 1, 11:45 am: It had been a long, difficult journey, but the Reliance and its escorts had arrived at the appointed destination. A large Ishiman fleet was waiting to pick up the delivery.
The pay for the mission was enough for Andrew to retire, and he handed control of UTM over to one of his subordinates who he felt would be a good replacement. The fleet then turned and made a long, uneventful journey back towards Earth. With the Cargo already delivered, the Cantharans or Salrilians had no reason to try and stop them, and they were home quickly.
As soon as the cargo was loaded, the carrier jettisoned it. The Ishiman trade fleet arrived. Commander Greka of the Ishiman military smiled to himself. Yes, the humans had made excellent decoys.

(This message has been edited by Newt (edited 04-08-2000).)

Very very cool, please make a sequal! Why did the Ishimans need decoys? Please explain why when you make the sequal! This was very well written.


I take offence to you calling me a basterd :frown:

-Slug "basterd who knows everything"

In accepting the inevitable, one finds peace.
In denying it, one finds hope.

-Last words of Admiral Williams before the fall of Earth.

Sorry Slug. No personal offence intended this time. I just find the Salrilian Ishiman conflict very interesting.

And garbageman, I'm already working on a prequel... Going to be concerned with how UTM was founded. I don't know about a sequel, I liked Paul and Andrew as characters and I don't think I'd like writing something with one dead and the other retired... You never know though. As for revealing the decoy bit, or what the cargo really was, all I can say without trashing a lot of cool ares intrigue that I learned from Grammaticus himself on Gameranger is that it was too valuable to trust the humans with, so the Ishimans sent their own fleet, with the humans hauling nothing valuable to distract the sals and canths while the real fleet came.

One afternoon,
4000 men
died in the water here.
And 500 more were thrashing,
As parasites might,
in your blood.
-The Tragically Hip, "Nautical Disaster".

It's "bastard", not "basterd", by the way.