Authors: G.P. Hudson
Book 5 of The Pike Chronicles
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The Pike Chronicles
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in the book are fictional and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form, other than for review purposes, without the permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
Cover art by Justin Adams
Captain Rickards turned in his command chair, cracking his back, and sighing in relief as the pressure on his spine dissipated. They had been out on patrol for forty days now, well past the typical three-week mark. Under the terms of his contract with the Amboss corporation, he and his crew were entitled to two weeks off after three weeks of active duty. Yet here they were on day forty, still out on patrol. Of course, they would make a killing on overtime pay, but he was tired. There was something about being out in space for prolonged periods of time that messed with his head.
This was the fault of the fools in head office, and the attempted invasion of New Byzantium
Not only did it fail, but these idiots lost the bulk of their fleet in the process. Now, there weren’t enough ships available for the necessary rotation, which left him stuck out on patrol indefinitely. Head office continued to remind him of all the money they would make, as if that made everything right. Those damn executive types thought they could simply buy anyone off. Sure, he liked money as much as the next guy, but he’d also like the chance to spend it.
, he thought.
They’re probably doing you a favor you dumb bastard. If you save enough you might actually retire one day. Maybe even open a business of your own.
This almost made his assignment bearable. Of course it could have been worse. They could have assigned him to that fool invasion. Patrol duty might be boring, but at least he was still alive, which was more than he could say for many of those who attacked New Byzantium. Rickards shook his head. New Byzantium. Who would’ve thought that they could defeat a combined corporate fleet? And the rumors were fantastic. He heard talk of ships with miraculous technology. They could vanish and reappear at different locations, sometimes even light years apart. Even more fantastical, there was talk that the vanishing ships were from Earth, of all places.
Imagine being defeated by ghosts and legends
He didn’t know what to believe, but he knew that there was something big going on in the New Byzantium system. To top it all off, the planet wasn’t under corporate rule. They had a democratic government, and everyone could vote, not just the shareholders. Rickards rolled his head around, trying to relieve the tension in his neck. The movement produced a couple of satisfying cracks, temporarily loosening the tightness. He wondered what retirement on New Byzantium would be like. He hated to admit it, but age had crept up on him. He had to start thinking of these things now. He needed to put a plan in place, and New Byzantium was starting to look a lot better from where he sat. The stories depicted the planet as an oasis. It wasn’t just the political system. There was sunshine all year round, and more beaches than people. Why not enjoy his old age on a sandy beach? He could only hope that he would be allowed to emigrate when the time came.
“Picking up multiple contacts on long range scans,” announced the tactical officer.
Rickards sat up straight in his chair. “Contacts? How many contacts?” He feared the answer. They hadn’t seen a single ship in forty days.
“Two-hundred-and-fifteen.” The tactical officer looked up from his console, his face pale. “They’re Kemmar warships.”
“On main screen,” said Rickards, jumping out of his chair. The bridge’s main screen switched to tactical, displaying a cluster of red threat icons advancing toward their position. Rickards stared in disbelief. The Kemmar were invading Amboss space. And after the attack on New Byzantium, Amboss was powerless to stop them.
"Sir?" said the helmsman, who had turned around in his chair to face him. "What are your orders?"
Rickards glanced from the display to the helmsman. He could see the fear on the young man’s face, and he couldn’t fault him for it. He realized the entire bridge had fallen silent, as they all looked to him for a decision.
What should we do?
What can we do?
"Turn this boat around, Ensign,” said Rickards. “Get us the hell out of here."
"Yes, Sir. Setting course for Amboss Prime," said the helmsman, visibly relieved to be leaving.
"We’re not going to Amboss Prime, Ensign."
"But, don't we need to warn them, Sir?"
"Warn them of what?” said Rickards, raising his voice. “That they're about to become Kemmar slaves?”
“Sir?” The helmsman gave Rickards a look and he bristled with guilt.
“Fine. Send a communication advising them of the situation.”
“But, Sir, aren’t we obligated to return to base?” pleaded the helmsman.
“No Ensign. Amboss Prime is finished. Nothing we do can change that."
"But shouldn't we do something?"
"Do you want to become a Kemmar slave, Ensign?"
"Uh, no, Sir"
"Neither do I. Let's get the hell out of here now."
"Yes, Sir. Destination?"
"Set a course for New Byzantium."
Let’s hope the rumors are true
, he thought, as he sat back down in his command chair.
The helmsman nodded, returning to his control panel. "Setting course for New Byzantium."
Franz Stumpf, CEO of Amboss corporation, stood on the tarmac with a handful of executives and security personnel, watching the Kemmar shuttles land. The Kemmar fleet had advanced on Amboss Prime unopposed, and Stumpf had been careful to ensure that none of the Amboss ships took an aggressive posture. He had sent the Amboss corporation’s unconditional surrender the moment the Kemmar ships appeared. Opposing the Kemmar would be hopeless, and could also provoke punitive strikes against Amboss Prime.
The Kemmar fleet now had control of the Amboss system. All remaining Amboss starships had been seized and boarded. Several Kemmar ships had taken position in low orbit around Amboss Prime. Now, hundreds of Kemmar shuttles landed across the planet, bringing with them the Kemmar occupation force. The moment he struggled to prevent had arrived.
As he waited for the Kemmar troops to emerge, he wondered if things would have been different had the New Byzantium invasion succeeded. The Kemmar had promised to leave them alone if they delivered the vanishing ship technology. Would they have done so? Even if they hadn’t, Amboss would still have its fleet, and some hope of defending themselves. Instead, they were left praying for mercy. He hoped that mercy could be bought. Amboss was the richest of the corporate planets. A smart Kemmar commander could become incredibly wealthy by merely taking a cut of Amboss commerce.
Five large shuttles landed on the tarmac, and their hatches swung open, dropping heavy metal ramps to the ground. Within seconds, Kemmar soldiers in full, jet black combat armor poured out of the shuttles and began to fan out, like ants defiling a wedding cake. A contingent of Kemmar soldiers immediately surrounded Stumpf’s party, weapons shouldered, their black visors reflecting the terrified faces of Stumpf’s executives.
“Just stay calm, everyone,” said Stumpf, in a quiet voice. “They will not harm us.”
“Why do you think that, Mr. Stumpf?” said one of the Kemmar, stepping up to Stumpf and removing his helmet.
Stumpf immediately recognized the alien. “Lord Koft,” said Stumpf. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”
Koft snarled at Stumpf, flashing his razor sharp teeth. “Do you find this pleasurable, Mr. Stumpf?”
“It is always a pleasure to see a familiar face,” said Stumpf, doing his best to keep from trembling.
“Curious. Now tell me why.”
“Forgive me, Lord Koft, but I don’t understand.”
Koft let out a short, low growl. “Tell me why you think we will not harm you.”
“Oh, I see. Well, my lord, we have surrendered, and offered no resistance to your occupation of our planet.”
“Do you think that we should be grateful for your cowardice?” said Koft.
“We are a practical people, my lord. We have no hope of defeating your fleet. Attempting to repel your invasion would cause unnecessary losses on both sides. Is it not better to avoid those losses with a peaceful transfer of power?”
“Do you think we fear battle?”
“What? No, of course not.”
“Yet you claim that the Kemmar fear casualties.”
“No, my lord. That is not what I meant. I merely suggested that a practical approach would save resources on both sides.”
“You deprive my men the glory of battle, and expect us to be grateful. Is that not correct?”
“I apologize, my lord. I meant no disrespect,” said Stumpf, a bead of perspiration stinging his eye.
“Do you still think we won’t harm you?”
“Amboss Prime is now under your control, my lord. This is a wealthy planet. We have been its administrators for some time. Permitting us to continue in our function would ensure no disruption of commerce, providing substantial profits to the Kemmar Empire.”
“Who is this man?” said Lord Koft, pointing at one of Stumpf’s executives.
“This is Mr. Shuster. He is Amboss corporation’s Vice President of Finance.”
“Step forward,” Koft ordered.
“Uh, yes, my lord,” said Shuster, his voice cracking as he walked forward a few steps.
“Closer,” Koft barked.
Shuster took a few more tentative steps.
“Here,” said Koft, pointing to the ground directly in front of him.
Shuster acquiesced, taking several more steps, until he stood directly in front of Koft.
Koft studied the man, growling and baring his teeth. “Are you afraid, Mr. Shuster?”
“Yes,” squeaked Shuster.
“Honesty. How refreshing.” Koft suddenly lunged at Shuster. The terrified man futilely tried to get away, but tripped, and fell backward. Koft was on him before his back hit the tarmac. The Kemmar’s sharp teeth clamped down on the screaming man’s neck. Shrieks gave way to gurgles, as Koft relentlessly tore apart the man’s throat.
Stumpf looked away in horror. A few moments later and Shuster was silent, leaving only the sound of Koft’s grunts, crunching cartilage, and the frightened whimpers of the Amboss executives. Stumpf only hoped that Shuster was dead, and no longer suffering. He morbidly wondered if Shuster was the lucky one.
Koft spent several gruesome minutes feeding on Shuster’s lifeless body before rising to face Stumpf again. Blood was smeared across the Kemmar’s face, and dripped down the front of his black armor. A strand of pink flesh still clung to Koft’s chin. Bile burned the back of Stumpf’s throat. He fought to keep it down.
“Do we understand each other now?” said Koft.
“Yes, my lord,” said Stumpf, cold dread filling his belly. “We understand each other.”