Read The Lost Patrol Online

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 (3 page)

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
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Stokes slowed and took his time pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He stuck one in his mouth and sucked it alight so the tip glowed, while slipping the cigarette pack back into a pocket.

“I’m here to collect you,” Stokes said as smoke trickled from his mouth.

“I am analyzing his speech patterns,” Galyan said.

Maddox wondered why the major smoked a cigarette. Usually, the man smoked a stimstick.

“The brigadier would like a word with you,” Stokes added.

“I’m no longer in Intelligence,” Maddox replied.

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that, old son. Once you’re in Intelligence, you’re
always
in Intelligence.”

“There are Patrol officers who would disagree with you.”

Stokes’ left leg shivered again, but the major continued to ignore it.

Uneasy now, Maddox noted that the major wore a sidearm. For once in his life, the captain was unarmed. What could he do about that?

“It appears you have us in visual,” Maddox sub-vocalized to Galyan.

“I do,” the AI said.

“It’s time to test the new sniper beam the Kai-Kaus installed in you. Target the major.”

“Captain,” Galyan said, “the sniper beam is experimental. While atmospheric conditions are good, you are far too near the target for me to attempt a laser shot.”

“I accept the risk.”

“I could as easily hit you as the—Captain, that is not the major. I am seventy-four percent certain you are addressing an android.”

“So some slipped through our net, eh?” Maddox muttered.

“Are you well, Captain?” the thing that looked like Stokes asked. “You’re talking to yourself.”

“Why are you smoking a cigarette?” Maddox asked.

“I’m downwind of you, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“You misunderstand. Major Stokes smokes stimsticks, not cigarettes. Your programming is off.”

The two stared at each other. The major’s leg shivered again. Maddox finally noticed a dark substance smeared under the hole.

“Did someone shoot you in the leg?” the captain asked. “Now, Galyan,” he sub-vocalized. “Shoot it now.”

“You’ve interfered once too often, Captain,” the pseudo-major said. “This time, you will die.” Without another word, the thing reached for the gun holstered at its side.

At the same time, a narrow, nearly invisible beam slashed down from Starship
Victory
high in orbit. It produced a faint haziness in the air. Then, midway between Maddox and the major, a spot of grass the size of a dime curled up, smoked, burst into flame and disappeared as a hole deepened.

Maddox raised his hands to shield himself from the radiating heat, but that proved futile. So, he threw himself backward, rolling across the ground.

The pseudo-major shuffled back from the smoking hole. In a blur of movement, he drew the gun and fired—the bullet passing where Maddox had stood a moment before.

A second faint haziness appeared, burning a new tiny circle of grass and ground. This beam was much closer to Maddox than the first one.

It caused Maddox to scramble madly across the ground to escape the radiating heat. Behind him, the major fired twice more, the last bullet clipping Maddox’s shoe.

After the third shot, an invisible beam struck the major’s head. It burned through, turning the head and neck into blue-sparking, molten slag. The android toppled onto the ground, more of its pseudo-flesh melting. A second later, the beam quit.

Maddox panted from his sprawled position on the ground. The Kai-Kaus chief technician who had told him about the sniper beam had spoken about it in glowing terms. The captain did not want to rely on Galyan’s single-person shooting skills again.

He heard a whine. Maddox turned as he climbed to his feet. Another air-car flew low over the ground. It was identical to the first one.

“I will beam it,” Galyan suggested.

“No!” Maddox said.

“It’s far enough away so—”

“No,” Maddox repeated. He glanced at the android’s fallen gun. It looked too hot to pick up yet.

“I would like to apologize for the first two shots,” Galyan said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Maddox said. “It’s results that count. The thing is incapacitated. Well done, Galyan.”

“I would like to point out that I warned you about the sniper system—”

“Let’s concentrate on the issue at hand, shall we?” Maddox said, interrupting. “The air-car is slowing down.”

“As you wish, Captain,” Galyan said.

The air-car grounded hard, as if the occupant was in a hurry. The door opened, and out stepped Major Stokes. This one had a gun in his hand.

“Lower your gun!” Maddox shouted.

The major hesitated, his gaze taking in the scene. Slowly, he lowered his weapon so it aimed down.

“Better yet,” Maddox said, “holster your sidearm.”

“Don’t you trust me, Captain?” Stokes asked.

Maddox pointed at the smoldering android. “Starship
Victory
has you in sight, Major. The thing over there was a replica of you. Perhaps you can understand my caution.”

Stokes blinked several times before pitching his sidearm onto the ground.

“Thank you,” Maddox said.

Stokes nodded. “It looked like me?” he asked, bewildered.

“With a gimpy leg,” Maddox said.

The major absorbed the news. It seemed to take an effort of will for him to collect his thoughts. Finally, he said, “I found your drop team a kilometer from here. They’re all dead, shot in the head. The android must have killed them.”

Maddox had been afraid of that.

“It was actually
me
?” Stokes asked.

“The last of the androids,” Maddox said.

“You hope,” Stokes said.

The two men looked at each other.

“The brigadier sent me,” Stokes said. “She and the Lord High Admiral wish to speak with you.”

“Good,” Maddox said, “Because I’d like to speak to them.”

“We can use my air-car,” Stokes said.

“Don’t go, Captain,” Galyan said. “This could be an elaborate trap.”

“Is that your highest probability?” Maddox sub-vocalized to the AI in orbit.

“No,” Galyan admitted, “but it is
a
possibility.”

“I suppose,” Maddox said, “but let’s take the chance, shall we? It could prove interesting.”

The captain pulled out a cloth, folding it twice as he approached the android’s fallen gun. He gingerly picked up the revolver by the butt. He waved it in the air to cool the metal faster as he hurried to the major’s air-car.

 

-3-

 

The air-car rapidly gained height as Stokes set the coordinates for Star Watch Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The major was an older, nondescript man with dark hair except for two patches of white on the sides. He was the Iron Lady’s chief confidante.

“This is upsetting news,” the major said. “We were sure we’d eliminated every android. How could this have happened?”

“It makes sense that a few escaped the dragnet,” Maddox said. “I wonder why it targeted me, though.”

“Maybe the better question is how it knew where to find you.” Stokes glanced at him. “How did you know it was an android?”

“It smoked a cigarette for one thing.”

“I smoke cigarettes sometimes. That couldn’t have been the only giveaway.”

Maddox shrugged. Did he sense a hint of insistence in the question? He wasn’t sure.

“How did you destroy it?” Stokes asked.

“I already told you,” Maddox said. “Starship
Victory
shot it.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Are you implying the starship used a beam from orbit?”

“Precisely.”

Stokes glanced at him again. “I would think a starship’s laser would have burned you at the same time.”

“Hmm,” Maddox said.

The major frowned. “Are you suggesting
Victory
has an antipersonnel laser that can target an individual from orbit?”

Instead of answering, Maddox checked the android’s gun. It was a regular gunpowder revolver but of an extraordinary caliber. This one looked to be a .55 Magnum. It was a hand cannon, with three bullets remaining. He hadn’t thought to grab extra ammo from the android. That might have been an oversight on his part.

“That’s a big gun,” Stokes said, glancing at it.

“Indeed,” Maddox said, becoming thoughtful. The major was more talkative than normal. Usually, the man was sarcastic toward him. Today, Stokes was positively chatty.

“How did you signal
Victory
to smoke the android?” Stokes asked.

“I used Builder tech,” Maddox said, which wasn’t true. He was just curious as to the major’s reaction.

Stokes looked at him sharply. Then he laughed. “You just made a joke.”

“Did I?” Maddox asked.

“Now, see here, Captain—”

Maddox aimed the hand cannon at Stokes. “Take us down.”

“What is this?” Stokes asked. “What are you doing? Put that down this instant.”

Maddox did not repeat himself as he targeted Stokes’ mid-torso.

“This is a poor joke,” Stokes said.

“I will fire unless we begin to head down immediately.”

“Why, man? What did I do to upset you?”

Maddox remained silent, watching, waiting. He did not sub-vocalize to Galyan, as the major would hear that. The captain was surprised Galyan hadn’t spoken to him yet. That was the last giveaway that something was wrong. In some manner, Stokes had cut his communications with the starship.

The air-car headed down. Stokes guided the vehicle as he frowned. “Do you care to give me a hint what this is about?” the major asked.

“Call it a precaution.”

Stokes glanced at him again, at the gun, and then lunged at Maddox.

The captain had been expecting something like this. Under normal conditions, with a regular person, the major might have succeeded. Maddox had faster-than-normal reflexes, though. He pulled the trigger as Stokes grabbed his arms.

The major had irresistible strength, more than a regular human should possess. The first shot went wild, striking the bubble dome and cracking it. The discharge was deafening, making the captain’s ears ring as he winced with pain.

Maddox now gritted his teeth as he strove against the obvious android. There had been
two
Major Stokes androids, this one more like the man than the first one had been. What did the android-controllers want with him anyway?

“Surrender,” the android said.

“Do you wish to kill me?” Maddox panted.

“No. I want to talk.”

“Yes, I’ll talk.”

They spoke as the major grappled and Maddox tried to align the hand cannon at the torso.

“Release the gun,” the android said.

“I can’t. You’re gripping me too hard for that.”

“I will not fall for such an obvious tactic, Captain. Until you release the gun, I will continue to pin your arms.”

“Look,” Maddox said. “We’re going to hit a mountain.”

The android looked forward. Maddox knew there was nothing. They were still high in the air and there were no nearby mountains. As the android looked, though, Maddox tried a new maneuver, twisting the other way. The android’s split-second inattention allowed Maddox to aim the barrel at the thing’s torso.

BOOM!

As Maddox’s ears rang painfully once again, the android slammed backward with a hole in its side. Black gunk poured out. Electrical discharges sparked farther within.

BOOM!

Maddox fired his last round into the wound. Once more, the force slammed the android back. Its eyelids fluttered as it pulled its arm back. Then it shot a fist into the control panel, smashing electrical and computer equipment.

That caused an emergency procedure in the air-car. The dome ejected, tumbling away. Cold air almost ripped Maddox out of his seat. The android’s hand yanked out of the dash, holding sizzling wires.

“The seats will no longer eject,” it said, staring at Maddox.

“Why do this?” Maddox asked. “What are you attempting to achieve?”

“It will delight my controller to know that you’re confused seconds before you die. Good-bye, Captain Maddox. This is your final mission.”

Maddox slapped the control to his seat restraints. They popped off.

“What are you doing?” the android asked.

Maddox grabbed an emergency cord and leaped upward. He pulled a parachute bundle free. The air-car had many emergency redundancies. As the slipstream caught him, jerking the captain away from the forward-moving but slowing air-car, the android lunged at the rising chute-bundle. The dying android clawed at the straps, its fingers hooking one. That ripped the cord out of the captain’s hand.

A second later, the android exploded. Perhaps it had been intending to do that all along, taking Maddox into oblivion with it.

The cord jerking out of his grip caused the captain to tumble head-over-heels in the air. The burning air-car headed down, shedding debris along the way.

“Galyan,” he sub-vocalized. “I hope you can hear me.”

There was nothing but the rush of wind from the earpiece.

Maddox pressed the skin-pad on his throat. “Come in, Galyan. Can you hear me? I repeat. Can you hear me?”

There was no response from the Adok AI.

Maddox looked down. The distant ground rushed up all too fast. He would hit soon. The terrible realization that he would soon cease to exist welled up through him.

Maddox took a deep breath as his stomach tightened with fear. He hated the sensation. To combat it, he strove for rational thought. The fear intensified, however. This was an awful feeling.

Maddox closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look at the ground. That helped enough so he could think again.

Was there a Creator as the Builder had believed? It was time to make his peace with Him. Maddox strove to formulate more thoughts.

He opened his eyes instead, staring at the waiting ground, causing the fear to reassert its hold.

 

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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