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 (5 page)

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The hatch opened as a klaxon wailed in the outer hall. One of the provost sentries rushed in with a bundle in his hands. He pitched it to Maddox. Behind the sentry raced Shu 15.

“Come,” she said, motioning to Maddox. “You must leave before they destroy our vessel.”

“Why are you in league with the androids?” Maddox shouted at the Visionary.

“You continue to misinterpret events,” the Visionary said. “We spied on the androids to see what they would do to you. As we watched you destroy each of them in turn, it became obvious the Spirit was still with you. You are still
di-far
. Thus, we thought it best to warn you. More currents are connecting inside you, Captain—”

This time, the bulkheads shuddered as well as the deck. An explosion deeper in the airship caused even more shaking than before.

“Come!” Shu shouted, grabbing one of Maddox’s sleeves. “There’s no more time. You must leave.”

Maddox allowed her to drag him out of the Visionary’s sanctum. They reentered the chamber where he’d first landed.

“Run!” Shu shouted. “Follow me!”

Maddox ran with her as he clutched the bundle. It looked like a parachute. The belly hatch dilated open, and the worst shivering and shuddering so far made both of them stagger toward the opening.

Shu’s feet stepped upon air. She shrieked and tightened her grip but fell anyway, the force ripping her fingers from Maddox’s sleeve. The jerk and the shivering deck caused Maddox to lose his balance, a sickening feeling overtaking him as he tumbled out of the airship.

 

-6-

 

As Maddox plummeted from the airship, he noticed several things at once. First, the Spacer vehicle had a similarity to the Dyson sphere saucers in the Builder System. Second, a Star Watch interceptor roared past the airship. Almost immediately, a missile ignited against the Spacer vehicle, blowing away hull armor.

That had to be the cause of the airship’s repeated, interior shocks.

Third, Shu 15 was below him, her limbs writhing as a faint shriek drifted upward. Fourth, the airship had lifted considerably since his capture. That gave him a little more time before he hit the ground.

Maddox had a slit-eyed gaze as wind tore at his face and garments, trying to rip the parachute from his grip. With fierce concentration, he slid his arms and legs through the harness, cinching a belt around his waist.

By the time he finished, the airship moved away with unbelievable velocity like the fabled UFOs of legend, seeming to defy normal physics. One thing was clear. The Visionary wasn’t going to rescue Shu. If the Provost Marshal were going to live, he would have to do something about it.

Maddox gauged the distance to Shu and then to the ground. He didn’t have much time left. Without further thought, he swept his arms to his sides, shifted his weight and plunged headfirst, cutting through the air faster than before. He gained on her. Luckily, she had assumed a skydiving posture, slowing her rate of descent.

Maddox grinned harshly, reveling in the challenge. He could reach her, he—

He spied a plume from the ground. A rocket, roaring upward. Flames lengthened behind it. The rocket climbed with great velocity, aiming at Shu. Someone on the ground had targeted her. Maddox would like to know why.

He tilted his feet so his toes pointed at the hidden stars. He had already begun to slow his descent so he wouldn’t crash against her too hard. Now, he realized he had to get to Shu before the missile did. He was risking his life doing this—

“Balls,” he whispered.

Maddox slashed through the air like a rapier, concentrating—the rocket had almost reached Shu 15.

The captain slammed against Shu, grabbing her in a flying tackle. If he’d hit her lower back like that, it might have crippled her. She grunted forcefully, the wind likely knocked out of her, and went limp.

Maddox grabbed with his arms and wrapped his legs around her lower torso. He aimed them both straight down.

The rocket zoomed higher than they were and exploded. Shrapnel hissed past. One piece burned against Maddox’s side. Another slammed against him on the bundle. Had it destroyed the parachute?

Maddox had no idea. He couldn’t worry about it. He hoped the Visionary was even half-right and the Spirit, the Creator, helped him. He was going to need it.

With perfect body control and strength, Maddox moved them into a skydiving position even as he clutched a limp Provost Marshal. That slowed their rate of descent a little.

He scanned the nearing ground for a missile launcher. Apparently, so did two interceptors, the planes roaring over the deck, hunting for a launcher.

“Are you awake?” he shouted into Shu’s right ear. He heard a faint reply and felt movement in his grip. “Turn around,” he told her, “and grab me.”

Shu twisted in his grip, clutching his torso with manic strength, pressing her body against his.

Here it was then, the decisive moment. Maddox tore his right arm free from her.

Shu whimpered, and as impossible as it seemed, tightened her hold.

Maddox found the deployment handle, and pulled. Nothing happened.

We’re dead, I guess
.

Then the parachute blossomed, the silk bursting free as the lines followed. A moment later, a clap of noise and a jerk told Maddox the shrapnel hadn’t destroyed their salvation. The two of them began to float to Earth.

Shu buried her face against Maddox’s chest, shuddering as she began to sob.

Maddox readied himself for impact as the ground rushed up. He’d almost rescued them both.

 

-7-

 

For the second time that day, Maddox climbed out of parachute silk draped over him. This time, he assisted Shu 15 to do the same.

He slithered free of the harness and looked around. A barn and a two-story house stood a kilometer away. Closer by were a pair of rolling hills covered with grape vines, and a dirt road.

“I’m alive,” Shu said.

“And more grateful for life because of it,” Maddox said, as he scanned the sky.

“Yes,” she said, a moment later. “That’s true. It’s glorious to breathe, to see and smell the lovely air. Captain, is this why you skydive from space?”

“One of the reasons,” he said.

“I believe I understand. This is incredible. Who would have believed it?”

“The Visionary, possibly,” Maddox said.

The captain looked at Shu to see her reaction. As he did, two interceptors roared overhead. One of the pilots waggled his wings from side-to-side. There was no sign of the Spacer airship.

The Provost Marshal stared at Maddox through her goggles. She appeared thoughtful. “I wonder if the Visionary did foresee this. Why wouldn’t she have told me, then?”

“That might have changed the future,” Maddox said.

“Of course,” Shu said breathlessly. “I must—” The intensity of her stare increased, or it must have, because her body language indicated that. The dark goggles hid her eyes.

“You’ve just seen the future?” Maddox asked.

“One particle of it,” she said in all seriousness. “I’m to join your expedition.”

“What expedition would that be?”

“You’re always traveling into the Beyond. It’s why you’re the captain of
Victory
. Truly, I don’t have to have the Visionary’s bloodline to have foreseen that.”

“No. I suppose not.”

She stepped closer, saying breathlessly. “Thank you for what you did.”

He nodded.

“You saved my life.” Before he could respond, Shu stepped closer still, stretched up onto her tiptoes and kissed him. Then, she backed away, looking shocked.

“I don’t know why I just did that,” she said.

“Perhaps it was a natural outflow of survival,” he said, “the exuberance of life exhibiting itself in the warmest manner possible.”

She looked at him, and said archly, “That wasn’t the
warmest
possible response.”

Maddox smiled. Her words made him curious. This wasn’t like the Provost Marshal in the Lin Ru Hotel, not in the least. She had been stark and serious then. Today…she acted contrary. Was the kiss a true reaction, a ploy or maybe a combination of both?

She turned away suddenly, as if flustered, shaking her head. “I’m normally not like this.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” he said.

“Don’t make fun of me, please.”

“Provost Marshal—”

“Please, call me Shu. We’re…we’re friends now, aren’t we?”

“Of course,” he said.

“Do you mind if I sit down? I’m finding it difficult to keep standing. My knees—” Shu almost collapsed as she sat on the grass.

Maddox looked away. She had almost died falling out of the airship. This could be a reaction to that. And yet…her actions seemed feigned. Could she have staged the fall, would she have dared? He decided to see what she might be willing to tell him in this disoriented state.

“Do Spacers really loathe androids?” Maddox asked.

Shu shuddered. “I thought everyone knew that.”

“Hmmm… Do you have any idea who fired the rocket?”

“Whoever used the androids,” she said.

“What is the Spacer speculation about the androids?”

“The Builders made them. So it’s likely someone familiar with Builder technology.”

“Such as Spacers?” he asked.

“What?” she said. “Oh, no.”

“The nature of your airship causes me to suspect the Spacers stumbled onto Builder technology sometime in the past.”

Shu’s brow wrinkled. “Did the Visionary name you?”

“Are you referring to the
di-far
?”

“You are named,” she said breathlessly. “No wonder you caught me in the air. And your insights, the Spirit gives them to you.” She smiled. “I am wrapped within a blessing. This is marvelous and terrifying.”

Maddox looked away. This was becoming embarrassing. It was one thing for a woman to fall in love with him for rescuing her from certain death. But to be the object of religious fervor…it unsettled him. Still, a good Intelligence operative should use any opening to learn more.

“Where did the Spacers find their Builder technology?” Maddox asked.

Shu shook her head.

Maddox took her gesture to mean that she didn’t know, not that she wouldn’t tell him. “What is the official reason for the Spacers remaining so remote from the rest of humanity?”

“The Visionary named you,” Shu said to herself. “I had wondered about you, but to know you’re
di-far
…” She shook her head in amazement.

Maddox shifted uncomfortably, forcing another question. “Why do Spacers hate androids so intently?”

Shu looked up at him. “They are an abomination, an imitation of life that is nonlife. Surely, you can see that. They mock the Spirit.”

“And robots?”

“We only loathe robots made in human likeness. A factory robot that is part of an assembly line is acceptable.”

“So this…loathing is religious in nature?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Do the Spacers know the coordinates to the New Men’s Throne World?”

“No.”

“Do you know the extent of the Swarm Imperium?”

Shu laughed softly. “We don’t even know where they are, let alone the
extent
of such an imperium.”

“Have the Spacers searched for either?”

“Oh, yes,” Shu said.

“And none of you thought to tell the rest of us about that?”

“You must understand. We had hoped to find the location of the Throne World before the New Men revealed themselves to humanity. Concerning the Swarm, we knew as much as you did.”

“That they control ten percent of the Milky Way Galaxy?”

“Not what you learned from the Builder,” she said. “We knew the Swarm used to exist, but until lately, we didn’t know they
still
existed.”

“How do you know about the Builder and what I learned from him?”

“We have a Visionary, Captain. There is little that remains hidden from us over time.”

Maddox wondered if Shu really believed that. Maybe the Visionary was part of a religious order that had an excellent intelligence division. He didn’t believe “the Spirit” communicated with the old woman. Yet, it could be useful for the lower-ranked members of a society to believe that. It would help to keep them in line.

“What do you know about Strand or Professor Ludendorff?” Maddox asked.

“Spacers know the names, of course. They are both hideous agents of evil. Both have attempted to corrupt humanity many times. Both consort with androids, and both are excessively irreligious.”

“Do you suspect that either Strand or Ludendorff is in collusion with the remaining androids?”

“That seems obvious,” Shu said. “Strand and Ludendorff are creatures of the Builders just like the androids.”

Shu stiffened, pointing at the horizon, trying to speak, but unable.

Maddox shaded his eyes from the sun. He saw it then, a zigzagging cruise missile heading in their direction. He glanced around for the interceptors. He spied one in the opposite direction as the missile. The other plane had left their vicinity, it seemed.

“What are we going to do?” Shu said.

Maddox watched the racing interceptor. A missile dropped from a wing and ignited. The antiair device zoomed fast, heading for the cruise missile.

Shu clapped her hands in appreciation.

Maddox followed the antiair device with his eyes. The thing streaked across the sky as the cruise missile continued a zigzag course toward them.

“Get down,” he told Shu.

She threw herself onto the ground, covering her head with her arms. Maddox put one knee on the soil. The cruise missile stopped its zigzag course as it rushed straight at them. Before it reached them, though, the antiair missile—

Maddox’s stomach clenched. The antiair missile curved away from the cruise missile, heading down. Did the cruise missile have electronic defenses?

The antiair missile exploded harmlessly against the ground.

“I don’t believe it,” Shu whispered starkly. She was looking up. “You’re
di-far
. The cruise missile shouldn’t be able to reach us—to reach you.”

“Maybe it won’t,” Maddox said.

“No,” she said from the ground. “Don’t be arrogant. The Spirit leaves in an instant if arrogance reigns in one’s heart.”

“My conjecture has nothing to do with arrogance,” Maddox said.

“The missile is almost here.” Shu gazed up at Maddox. “I wish we’d had more time together. I would have liked to get to know you better.”

“You still may.”

“No. It’s too late. Nothing can save us. Good-bye, Captain.”

Maddox had looked higher than the cruise missile. As the interceptor’s antiair missile had streaked at its target, the captain had seen a distant speck high in the sky. The speck had grown the entire time. Now, he spotted a shuttle. No doubt, it had left Starship
Victory
some time ago. Likely, Sergeant Riker had taken it upon himself to come down.

Would the sergeant reach the cruise missile in time? It was going to be close, especially if Riker used antiair missiles.

No, a beam speared from the shuttle. It struck the cruise missile’s nosecone. Seconds later, the missile overshot them by several hundred meters. It plowed into the ground, throwing up grass, dirt and—

A ripping metal sound told of the missile’s crumpling destruction. The warhead had failed to go off, but the impact with the Earth still shredded it.

“I can’t believe it,” Shu whispered. “You are
di-far
. But I doubted. I’m unworthy of the Spirit. No. This is awful. I’ve tainted myself.”

“Luckily,” Maddox said, “because you’re still alive, you’ll be able to do something about the oversight.”

Shu regarded him, climbing to her feet. Then, she dropped to her knees, bowing her head as she beat her chest. She moaned pitifully and began to weep.

Maddox watched for a moment, stunned. The shuttle was coming down fast. It would be here in thirty seconds or less.

“Here, now,” Maddox said, going to Shu. He grabbed her upper arms and hauled her to her feet. Tears streaked down her cheeks.

“Thank you,” she whispered, throwing herself against him, kissing his face fervently. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,
di-far
.”

As Shu did this, the shuttle landed with a thud. Maddox looked up into the window as the Provost Marshal continued to kiss him. He expected to see Sergeant Riker grinning at him. Instead, Meta frowned down at him, growing angrier by the moment.

 

BOOK: The Lost Patrol
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Silent Kills by Lawrence, C.E.
Redemption by Erica Stevens
Up by Five by Erin Nicholas
Running from the Devil by Jamie Freveletti
Breeze of Life by Kirsty Dallas
The Auslander by Paul Dowswell
Blood on a Saint by Anne Emery
Explore Her, More of Her by Z.L. Arkadie