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Authors: Vaughn Heppner

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #Galactic Empire, #Genetic Engineering, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Marine, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration

The Lost Patrol

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
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SF Books by Vaughn Heppner

 

DOOM STAR SERIES:

Star Soldier

Bio Weapon

Battle Pod

Cyborg Assault

Planet Wrecker

Star Fortress

Task Force 7
(Novella)

 

EXTINCTION WARS SERIES:

Assault Troopers

Planet Strike

Star Viking

Fortress Earth

 

LOST STARSHIP SERIES:

The Lost Starship

The Lost Command

The Lost Destroyer

The Lost Colony

The Lost Patrol

 

Visit VaughnHeppner.com for more information

 

The Lost Patrol

(Lost Starship Series 5)

 

by Vaughn Heppner

 

Copyright © 2016 by the author.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

 

-1-

 

The oldest Methuselah Man in existence—Strand—was too bitter and too apprehensive to gloat. Better than anyone else, he knew the risks in being here.

The Solar System swarmed with Star Watch vessels, with sensor buoys and hidden tracking devices. If the sub-men, those who called themselves humans, knew he was here, a system-wide alert would send every spaceship, every orbital laser station hunting for his cloaked star cruiser with extreme prejudice. The sub-men wanted him dead. Before they committed the heinous deed, they would try to drain his brain of every particle of information, data they desperately wished to learn but which he would never give them.

Strand sneered as he hunched in his command chair. He was a wizened little man with hellish embers for eyes.

Around him at their stations sat tall, golden-skinned New Men. In every way, they were superior to the Earthlings. Strand should know. His genius had created the super-race through careful genetic selection and modified gene-splicing.

The Methuselah Man curled the fingers of his left hand into a fist. The ungrateful Emperor of the New Men had escaped from Strand’s control, taking the majority of the golden race with him. The New Men of Strand’s crew would never do likewise. He’d seen to that long ago. Everyone aboard the star cruiser had undergone brain surgery. Strand had implanted control fibers into their gray matter, leaving hairline scars on their scalps. He should have done that with
all
of the New Men from the beginning. He would never make such a mistake again.

“Master,” the leanest of his New Men said.

Strand eyed the fellow. What was his name? Yes, yes, it was Dar Estevan. Did he detect a stubborn trace of free will in the man? What other reason would Estevan have to speak without his leave?

Dar Estevan kept his gaze downcast as trained. Strand wondered what caused him to think the golden-skinned one had become rebellious.

I’ve taken too many stims
, Strand told himself. He’d been awake for a long time.
The stims are starting to alter my perceptions
.

Slipping into the Solar System several days ago with his modified jump drive had been a harrowing experience. Tiptoeing while cloaked toward Neptune—three days and nights of careful maneuvering—had taken its toll on him. He was full of nervous energy.

Under such conditions, Strand knew that his normal suspicions could turn into delusional paranoia much too easily. It had happened before, causing him to kill those closest to him. It was ludicrous to believe that Dar Estevan could act independently. The brain surgery had seen to that.

“Report,” Strand told Estevan.

“The targeted space yacht has begun inserting into an orbital pattern, Master.”

Strand almost accepted the report with a nod. Instead, a last suspicion caused him to study Estevan more closely. One of the man’s eyelids twitched. Did that indicate more than simple exhaustion? Might it be nervousness? Why would Dar Estevan be nervous?

Strand scanned the bridge. The other New Men were alert at their stations, watching their monitors. Yet…the weapons specialist inhaled deeper than normal. Surely that was a signal. The comm specialist scratched his right shoulder, although he never took his eyes off his panel. Could the bridge crew be planning mutiny, secretly signaling each other?

Strand refocused on Dar Estevan. The offensive eyelid continued to twitch, almost as if it was a tic. He destroyed imperfect specimens. It was why, after one hundred and fifty years, the New Men were so superior to the Earthlings.

Strand held his breath, and the next second seemed to stretch into timelessness. For a long moment, it felt as if the bridge crew watched him with hidden cunning, observing his reactions with furtive sidelong glances.

I’m noticing now
, Strand told himself.
I can see your tricks. I realize you’re trying to lull me. To put me off my

Strand shook his head. What was wrong with him? He had to get a handle on this growing paranoia.

“Show me the luxury yacht on the main screen,” he said.

Dar Estevan swiveled back to his panel. With a tap, the New Man activated the screen.

Strand took a moment to rub his face. It felt gritty, his eyes heavy. He needed to sleep for a day, maybe two, and recuperate.

Neptune appeared on the screen, a gem of an ice giant with an exotic blue color. Red triangles began to appear, each of them representing an orbital station or spaceship. Like all the outer planets, Neptune had many moons. Many of those moons boasted science stations, Star Watch outposts or industrial factories. Scattered among the moons were more spaceships, some of them Star Watch cruisers and destroyers.

“Highlight the target,” Strand said.

Dar Estevan tapped his panel.

A green circle grew around a speck against the ice planet’s blue background. Immediately, data began running across the left edge of the screen concerning the targeted vessel.

Strand glanced at the specs. The tonnage, carrying capacity, hull strength, and engine size told him the “speck” was a
Giaconda
-class luxury yacht, very expensive and posh. There were only three in existence. One of those had once belonged to Octavian Nerva.

“Ahhh,” Strand said, rubbing his hands together. He’d gone to extreme lengths to engineer this moment. For a while, he hadn’t believed he would succeed. Star Watch’s Hyperion security had been too tight, too cautious. Finally, though, they had made a mistake, one he’d exploited to create today’s possibility.

Even so, coming here alone like this was a terrible risk. If his desire for vengeance had been even one iota less powerful, he might have let it go. He had not let it go, however, because he was Strand, the wisest, smartest,
best
man in the universe. Those who had thought to sideline him would soon learn a harsh truth.

“Range?” Strand asked.

“Twenty-five thousand kilometers and closing,” Dar Estevan answered.

Strand rubbed his hands again, saying, “Ready the stasis field.”

Dar Estevan tapped a control. A buzzing sound commenced inside the star cruiser.

Strand’s stomach began to churn. This was true daring. Who else could slip into the most fortified star system in Human Space? Who else would dare to pluck the prize right off the dinner plate and expect to do so unnoticed?

He used Builder technology that no one else possessed. The cloak, the stasis field, the stealth materials used to construct his star cruiser—

“Begin now,” Strand said.

Dar Estevan tapped a control.

The buzzing sound intensified as an invisible beam radiated from the star cruiser. It started narrowly and expanded rapidly in a triangular fashion until the entire space yacht was caught in a stasis field.

“Launch,” Strand whispered.

A different New Man tapped a code on his panel.

The star cruiser shuddered.

On the screen, a dark torpedo made of sensor-resistant material slid into view. The torpedo held four New Men in the nosecone.

Strand froze, his gaze riveted on the screen. As the torpedo sped toward the “speck,” it dwindled in size. All the while, data played on the left corner of the main screen, the distance between torpedo and target changing rapidly.

“Comm?” Strand asked.

“Neptune area communications remain consistent,” the comm specialist said. “No one has reported any unusual activity.”

Strand sneered. For all their technical sophistication, the sub-men were unimaginative and dense, unable to recognize a stealth raid happening right before their eyes.

“Three, two, one, zero,” Dar Estevan said.

The commando missile began dumping gravity waves, slowing its velocity as it neared the stasis field-captured yacht.

“Second report, Comm,” Strand said.

“Still no unusual comm activity,” the specialist said.

“Zoom in,” Strand said.

A New Man tapped a panel.

Strand watched as three dark pods launched from the torpedo’s nosecone. The seconds ticked away. Then, blackened hydrogen thrust caused the pods to ease near the yacht. Like a night moth breaking from its cocoon, a space-suited New Man squeezed from a hatch of the first pod. He jumped, sailing through the void. Two others—one from pod two and another from pod three—also sailed for the yacht. The three landed on the hull, using suction cups to grip tight. Because of special fibers in each suit, the commandos were immune to the stasis field. Each activated magnetic boots, clomping on the hull toward an entry hatch.

Strand snapped his teeth together as his stomach continued to churn. Time was critical, as people quickly died in a stasis field.


Sir
,” Dar Estevan said.

Something about the tone alerted Strand. He stiffened, looking left.

Dar Estevan swiveled around, staring in Strand’s direction but keeping his gaze downcast. That eyelid still twitched, though. It did so more than before. That seemed ominous somehow.

“A Star Watch vessel is hailing the yacht,” Dar Estevan reported.

A thrill of fear shot down Strand’s spine. “Range and type,” he snapped.

“The vessel is approximately five hundred thousand kilometers away,” Dar Estevan said while studying a wrist screen. “It is a destroyer-class ship.”

Strand thought fast. Why did a destroyer so far away react while other, nearer spacecraft continued to remain oblivious to the situation? The destroyer was in orbit around one of the farther moons…

Strand shook his head. He must act with smooth concentration, not asking himself useless questions. He considered the problem, soon saying, “Continue the extraction.”

As Strand finished speaking, the odd sensation from earlier returned. Time seemed to stretch once more, and his senses became heightened. He narrowed his focus upon Dar Estevan and his eye tic.

The subject’s lips twitched in what might have been a sneer of amusement. That was ominous, indeed. Then, with seeming arrogance, Dar Estevan began to swivel back to his panel, as if he could do whatever he pleased.

“Hold,” Strand said.

Dar Estevan froze.

“Why did you just smile?” Strand asked.

Dar Estevan blinked slowly, perhaps trying to gain time to marshal his thoughts. “I did not smile, Great One.”

Strand heard deceit in Estevan’s tone. “Your lips twitched, then.”

If there had been a sneer, it had vanished. Instead, the subject’s mouth tightened, as if he disapproved of the questions.

Strand had seen enough. This was rebellion. Without hesitation, he depressed a button on his wrist monitor.

Dar Estevan sharply sucked in his breath. His eyes bulged outward and his entire body spasmed. A moment later, he collapsed onto the deck, dead.

Strand leaned back in his command chair. He studied the others, gauging their reactions, trying to determine if this was supposed to have been a full-scale mutiny.

One or two glanced at the dead Dar Estevan. Then, each resumed studying his own controls. None frowned. Their conditioning forbade them to react during punishments. Still, Strand wondered. Did a secret rebellion stir in his mind-controlled crew? Had he just stamped out the single spark, or was there a hidden cabal planning to unseat him?

After a few more seconds of study, Strand bared his teeth. His eyes hurt. He was tired, truly exhausted. The sooner he could leave the Solar System, the better. Commando raids in a heavily fortified star system were among the most wearying of military actions.

“Master,” a New Man said.

Strand looked up sharply.

On the screen, three suited individuals stood on the hull of the space yacht. Two leaped for the nearby torpedo. The third lay limply in the grip of the two. He was the subject of the raid; the reason Strand had risked so much. Gaining the subject would change everything.

“Release the stasis field,” Strand ordered.

A New Man rose from his station, went to Dar Estevan’s board and tapped a control.

The stasis field vanished. So did the buzzing on the bridge. That allowed the yacht to operate normally again. The ship’s engines glowed orange. The last commando to enter the luxury vessel piloted it. In seconds, a long tail grew behind the yacht. The ship plunged toward Neptune’s upper atmosphere.

Strand rechecked his crew. Watching one of their own commit suicide—the New Man pilot plunging the yacht into Neptune—could have adverse effects on their conditioning. Several of them stiffened. He noticed the way they held their shoulders. One stared too fixedly at the main screen. If any dared to comment, he would kill that one instantly.

“The destroyer’s comm-officer has become urgent,” a New Man reported.

Strand barely checked himself in time as his hand twitched to make another kill before realizing the New Man had reported correctly. The words weren’t part of a secret plot. Likely, there was no plot to unseat him. He might have needlessly slain Dar Estevan. That was unfortunate. He was more worked-up than he’d realized. He needed to relax. Yet, how could he at a critical time like this?

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
2.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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