Edge of Solace (A Star Too Far)

BOOK: Edge of Solace (A Star Too Far)
4.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Edge of Solace


by Casey Calouette


For my Wife.


Copyright 201
4 Casey Calouette


All Rights Reserved


Cover art by Adam Burn


Edited by Max Booth III


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Major Archibald Theodore strutted down the narrow hallway. The
Major did not walk. The Major did not march. He did not even stroll. He strutted.

Narrow access shafts flickered by as he continued deeper into the hull of the orbital station. The smell of the place changed from processed food and people to machinery and chemicals. The tang of chlorine was particularly strong.

He tapped the Colt holstered onto his hip and nodded. Chatter echoed through his ears as the local communications net linked all of the Marines.

Colonel spoke and the chatter ceased. “Twenty minutes. Weapons locked, drones prepped, but be civil. This is a freighter, not a warship.”

Archie rounded a sharp corner and strutted into a small armored command room. Above the door, on the inside, was
stenciled ‘Safe #2’. Inside sat a rack of combat shotguns with frangible slugs, three suits of nanite-coated pattern armor and a set of emergency hull breach kits. A monitoring and command panel was merged into the far wall. A Marine Sergeant with deep olive skin stood at attention.

“Evening, Sergeant Hakimi,” Arc
hie said. “At ease.” He stood next to the panel with his hands on his hips. “Seen the Commander yet?”

, sir,” the Sergeant replied in a French accent. He relaxed his shoulders and peered out the hatch.

The command panel showed the inside of the cavernous receiving area. Marines were arrayed around the massive airlocks in full armor. Full
dress armor
, as the Colonel was fond of saying. The pair of platoons barely ranked a Captain let alone a Colonel, but the only transfer station to the Sa’Ami was deserving of someone with more tact.

The panel swapped to show the view outside. The slender, but bulbous, form of a Sa’Ami freighter was
slowly approaching. Heat shimmered from red-tinted niobium alloy heat sinks on the spine of the vessel.

The panel swapped once more to show the opposite side. A half dozen
civilian freighters were tethered and waiting for the opportunity to trade. Sa’Ami technology was of particular interest but they were extraordinarily shrewd and rarely struck a favorable bargain. One side sought the Sa’Ami technology—the other, consumer goods. Brand names still in demand among those who could afford it.

A final image showed the actual ‘bridge’ of the station
, where the main Naval contingent operated. Safe #2 was a security location that was always manned, and locked, when the Sa’Ami docked.

“Sorry I’m late!” A
bald-headed Naval Commander rushed into the room carrying a stack of data tablets. “Oh, hello, Archie! Didn’t know you were up today.”

Sergeant stepped behind the Commander and latched the armored airlock door closed.

, Luis.” Archie smiled. “I lost a wrestling match with Captain Cross.”

Luis shook his head and dropped the tablets on the panel. “You need to take up chess
, Archie. You’re getting too old for that.”

Archie snorted. He spun one of the chairs around and straddled it. “What do you have there?”

“My wife makes me videos that unlock every morning. I’ve had duty the past few days so I’m going to catch up while we’re locked up here.”

“How are the boys?”

“Big! All three of em, they eat like mules. My wife says they’re eating me out of my pension, I think she just likes to shop.” Luis winked. “Yours?”

Archie nodded. “Big
, too. They’ll be six and eight when I get back.” He turned away from Luis and focused on the display. He missed his sons.

Luis sat at the panel and padded a few keys. “Standard enough, just another freighter.”

Archie nodded. The comm chatter was relaxed. The squads had nothing to do but wait for the freighter to dock and disgorge itself into the transfer hold. The Colonel was silent, but Archie knew he was on the deck floor with the men. “How long?”

“A few more minutes
—docking struts are in position.”

The Sa’Ami freighter slowly edged closer. Hydraulic struts bristled outwards to absorb the shock of the massive starship as it nestled into the station. The hull of the freighter was featureless, plain, a design of pure utility.

The colonel clicked over the communications network. “XO, anything to report?”

, sir.”

“I heard Cross pinned you twice.”

Archie could almost hear the Colonel grinning. “Yes sir, the Captain is quite talented.”

“Locks are extending,” Luis said.

“Colonel, the air locks are going out. One more minute,” Archie said.

“Listen up. Relax, look professional, but keep your distance,” the
Colonel said in a level tone.

The comm chatter dropped off to silence as the sounds of the station vibrated through the room. A clicking of motor contactor, buzzing of transformers and the subtle shift as a grav reactor pulsed.

“Seals made, they’re pressurizing the chamber,” Luis said. Lines of data and communications stuttered on the edge of the panel. “Everything looks good. I’m giving it a green light. Do you concur, Major?”

“I concur
, Commander,” Archie said. It took two to open the door.

“We’re opening the doors
, Colonel.”

The doors pulled apart a few centimeters and paused before sliding totally open. On the opposite side a yellow
-gray bulkhead with a ragged seam marked the Sa’Ami freighter.

“Interesting design,” Luis said. He leaned forward towards the screen. “Like they just crack out a panel, near perfect seal. I bet they use a nanite barrier. No welding, no fabrication.”

Archie could care less how they made the damn thing. He wasn’t looking forward to sitting in the damn box while they unloaded the freighter. He should have grabbed his tablet like Luis, at least he could’ve watched the videos of his boys.

A slight line of white broke into a widening gap as the freighter doors disappeared. Inside was a dark, cavernous space. A set of lights bobbed into view. A rugged looking cargo loader stood on two heavy legs. It carried a wide alloy slab in its arms.

Archie leaned forward. “Where’s the ship’s master?”

The cargo loader took two steps into the airlock and set the slab down. It turned slowly and disappeared back into the freighter.

Luis spoke softly to the main command crew, then turned to Archie. “I’ve got nothing.”

Both men peered at the camera feed into the freighter and waited for something to appear. A light blinked in the darkness, then another, then a swarm of gently pulsing orange lights.

“Colonel…” Archie said before stopping himself.

The orange lights winked out and a massive group of Sa’Ami striders burst through the airlock. Each of the slender robotic drones prowled and pounced toward the waiting

“Shut it!” Archie bellowed.

Luis punched the keys.

The airlock tried to shut and slammed in great booms as the hydraulics strained against the plate.

“It won’t shut, that plate is blocking it,” Luis said.

Marines on the freight deck opened fire on the swarming Sa’Ami striders. Trails of expanded nanite traced across the hold as frangible rounds impacted onto the Sa’Ami striders. The Marine drones poured forward into the Sa’Ami line.

“Colonel, we’re going to blow it.” Archie felt his heart drop as he said the words. The
Colonel knew the protocol: they would blast the airlock apart, leaving nothing behind. The Marines on the deck had five seconds to get vacuum helmets sealed. “Marines, helmets on!”

Luis punched one key while Archie punched a second. The floor shuddered. The airlock separated from the station and the atmosphere rushed out.

The slab didn’t move. More striders pounced into the hold.

“Hakimi! Let
’s get suited up,” Archie said, slowly standing.

Sergeant moved quickly and tossed the atmosphere suits across the room.

“I’m launching courier capsules, last time stamp…now
.” Luis punched in the order.

Every single scrap of data was uploaded to the barest shell of a Haydn drive with
a gravity propulsion unit on the back. Three of the units burst forth and began to burn towards the exit point two weeks away.

Transfer station was built at the center of the grav point between Sa’Ami and United Colonies space. It was an equidistant
five weeks to the edges of each system. The station was for trade and cooperation, not a military asset.

Archie struggled into the suit. He strained his ears but heard nothing. The Marines in the hold were silent. “Colonel? Do you read?”

Luis stared at blank screens. “Major, the bridge is locking everything down. We’ve got thermal alarms coming from the cargo hold bulkheads.”

“Shit. They’re cutting in.”

“Civilians are edging off.” Luis’s voice crackled. “Abandon order has been given.”

“Bridge Station, this is Major Theodore. Remain on the bridge and protect the crew as long as possible. Do not open the bulkhead,” Archie said to the few remaining
Marines stationed on the bridge. Once an abandon order was given all critical information would be deleted, followed by thermite and nanite destroying everything else.

” a voice crackled, “permission to take up positions near—”

“Negative. Stay with the crew,” Archie snapped back. “Luis, can they make the launch?”

Luis whistled. “Not until the civilians are clear and the core is wiped.”

Archie walked over to the armory stand and slowly stuffed himself into the pattern armor. The bulk fit tight. The material slowly eased into and formed to his body. Forward panels turn
ed rigid while others loosened. He moved and strained, testing the boundaries.

Sergeant Hakimi followed the same ritual. He grabbed the last suit and walked over to Luis. “Sir, if you would
, please.”

“I can’t believe this is happening
. We need to get to that launch.” Luis took the suit of armor.

“Not until they smoke that core
.” Archie leaned down and grabbed one of the shotguns. He slid the action forward and seated one of the frangible slugs. He tossed one to Sergeant Hakimi and began stuffing logs of nanite slugs into the ammo pouch.

Luis tucked into the upper part of the armor and leaned over the panel. “Everything is wiped.”

“Marines, pop the thermite and nanite canisters. Get onto that launch.”

Luis stepped away from the panel and strapped the leggings on. “Good god, this is war isn’t it?”

“It does appear so.” Archie slid the helmet on and activated the face shield. The nanite-coated plastic slid across his view and sealed him in. A brief diagnostics scrolled over the upper corner.

The three men stood in full armor suits. The lighting flickered before dropping out totally. The letters of Safe #2 glowed a dull shade of green above them.

“Oh shit.” Luis stepped aside and braced against the wall.

“Turn on the nightvision filter, no lights,” Archie said. The chatter over the comm network changed from a hurried escape to the sounds of a firefight. Voices called out orders with blasts and hisses in the background. Silence came once more.

“Marines, report,” Archie said. He wanted to wipe the sweat off his brow. The suit felt stuffy even with the chiller running.

Silence was the only response.

“Oh god,” Luis said. “That freighter is armed.”

Archie snapped his head to the console. The
civilian freighters were being pursued by a pack of blistering white missiles. The first group impacted against a bulk freighter surrounded by squat shipping containers. It crumbled and cascaded apart.

Luis stumbled away from the console. “There’s more.”

The data stream grew as multiple warships appeared on the display. They’d been in space for hours but were only now visible. More signals appeared as a massed fleet of slender cruisers, battle cruisers, drone carriers and heavy assault cruisers blinked into the entrance of the grav point.

“Sergeant, once you open that door
, get the Commander to the launch and burn. Burn hard..” Archie grabbed another roll of ammo.

“Sir?” Sergeant Hakimi said.

“I’m going to make you a hole. Commander, get this data out, that fleet isn’t on the courier drones,” Archie said. He turned back to the display just in time to see another freighter blink a brilliant white and disappear. He cursed the damned luck for sending the couriers out early.

“What are you going to do?” Luis asked.

“Blow the damn station,” Archie said. He couldn’t believe he just said it.

“On your call
, Major,” Sergeant Hakimi said.

“Do it.”

The door opened slowly and the trio stepped cautiously into the service access. The safe room was buried in the maintenance section of the station near nothing of particular interest. Sergeant Hakimi saluted with a gloved hand and pointed the Commander down the hall. Archie bound toward the reactor.

BOOK: Edge of Solace (A Star Too Far)
4.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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