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Takvah

The Lazarus Effect

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Author's Note: First of all I didn't know where to post this, I hope this is the right location and if it is not I am sure it will be moved *snickers*. Secondly, this is a stab at fan-fiction for the Battlecruiser universe. I take some liberties with lore but I surely do not mean to offend Derek or his intellectual property. I merely seek to indulge my hobby of writing within a universe I have come to adore; while at the same time hopefully entertaining some of the folks that read it. So without further explanation I give you the first part of: The Lazarus Effect.

I. Cornucopia

Someone once said that from endings come new beginnings. Whoever it was that had said it, had likely never suffered such an ending as Jason Kramer had just encountered. Call it a retreat, call it cowardice, call it what you like but just six hours prior, he had made a very critical decision to save his own ass while twenty of his friends and comrades fell at the hands of an enemy. An enemy was all he could call them. There was nothing about them that distinguished them as a recognizable faction or a known foe. They were human yet they were inhumane. They were warriors yet they were murderers, efficient, capable and powerful beyond anything he had ever seen. Now, mag-locked to a piece of debris he spun through space unconscious while his thoughts swirled in a haze of dreamed remembrance.

For a week and a half prior he had commanded the UCV-Darkstar, an LRT-10 Transport and Terran Miner in service to Galcom Intelligence. Mine Co., a Terran mining firm had given the relic of a ship to the military in order that they look the other way on some trafficking of contraband the company had been involved with. Knowing that Mine Co. was trusted to operate in Insurgent held space it seemed a smart tactical move on GalcomÔÇÖs part to exchange a small favor of discretion for many more favors on Mine Co.ÔÇÖs part. Mine Co. had been a reliable and useful front for many of GalcomÔÇÖs intelligence gathering missions and that single turn of the head in the other direction had lead to a wealth of information regarding the Insurgents.

During the years that encompassed the Gammulan Conflict the Insurgents and Galcom as well as various other smaller Terran militaries and guilds had set aside their differences and had reluctantly assisted one another against the alien aggressors. It had been some time now since the Gammulans had been pushed back to their space and Galcom and the Insurgents needed new enemies. While the Gammulans had occupied them all, they had little to fear from one another. The family of humanity had been quite cooperative when faced with the Gammulan menace but now, how the game had changed. The Insurgents backed by a mixture of off world governments, corporations and idealists had employed a defacto military comprised of mercenaries, criminals and scientists to press their agendas. Galcom for all of its righteous might, fairness, spit and polish was when truly scrutinized, a heavy-handed and oft paranoid blending of the political and the militaristic. They were the big dog, they were the force that moved the space controlled by humanity. To stand up to them was to engage in high stakes gaming with an entity whose honor and sense of fairness was often weighed against nothing more than an outcome they desired. Regardless Galcom had served the aligned worlds and the allies of humanity valiantly during the Gammulan Conflict and the Insurgents to this point had shown a willingness to cooperate if not simply fade away. However, when your coffers were filled by fear and war and the battles had ceased and your enemy had retreated, you had better find a new menace and slowly but surely the eye of Galcom was turning more and more toward the Insurgents.

Jason Kramer, a highly decorated CO in service to Galcom had commanded his fair share of ships within the fleet, doing a long tour in the big chair onboard GCV-Lancaster a run and gun Solnar Heavy Cruiser that had seen some intense action during the Gammulan Conflict. It had been during this tour that an old friend higher up the command chain had tapped him for service of a more discrete capacity within Galcom. After serving a few years in deep space and surviving his fair share of close calls it seemed as though Galcom was finally rewarding him by bringing him home. Once heÔÇÖd returned to Earth heÔÇÖd been briefed on all that was in the midst of change on the home front. The Insurgents although helpful during the Gammulan Conflict had taken some liberties with the time allotted them by the war to strengthen their once weakened position. Industrialists made rich by war profiteering had financed a rebirth within the Insurgent ranks. Several of their vessels had been dispatched to remote locales where unmolested they constructed bases. These bases for the most part reside underground. They are small but useful outposts and their number is undetermined. News of these bases has just recently come to light as Galactic Command has begun to assess its strengths and weaknesses in the Terran Quadrant.

It was to missions involving covert intelligence gathering that Kramer had been assigned for the past two years. To this point they had all gone well. The usual cover, trade or industry and the same rag tag vessels that had either been bought up by Galcom or commandeered. Corporations doing business in the quadrant were always sound cover and when one of them might find itself on hard times it was often a generous unnamed benefactor that would bail them out. Speculation had been that Galcom was secretly planting itself in the deep space trades but to this point it had never been proven and the militaryÔÇÖs cover had never been compromised. After all, the Insurgents needed to trade and to do business within the Terran Quadrant to survive and to finance their operations. Civil war was the plan but the implementation was years off. Galcom was not noted for its gentle hand or for its patience and it was in its embrace of this new philosophy of intelligence gathering that the Insurgents would find their old enemy had changed and evolved. Galcom was indeed more patient and Kramer assigned to intelligence gathering had come to know this. In the two years he had commanded the Darkstar and ships like her collecting data for Galcom they had never acted against the Insurgents publicly. Well, perhaps that was an inaccuracy. They had never acted, as the Galcom of old would have. There was no rally to battle in the name of justice. Instead he would read a bi-line on the news net that this person or that person had been involved in an accident of some sort, or perhaps a robbery gone badly. Other actions might come in the form of investigations into corporate practices brought on by the Terran government to weaken Insurgent finances. The new Galcom was just as much about knowing its enemies as crushing them.

When Kramer had been summoned to the office of Admiral Thomas Browning, heÔÇÖd thought it might be a social call. After all it was Browning whoÔÇÖd tapped him to be a part of the Galcom Intelligence Division and admirals were not in the habit of briefing commanders on their upcoming missions. Browning was a feather in the cap of Galcom. HeÔÇÖd been highly decorated during the Gammulan Conflict and moved up the ranks with a speed that had never before been seen. War needed its heroes and Thomas Browning fit the bill nicely. Although he and Kramer had graduated from the same officerÔÇÖs training class their careers had traveled drastically dissimilar paths. BrowningÔÇÖs CO had been killed in deep space during an encounter with a Gammulan ship and he had been promoted during that battle to command. The ship was in dire straits but somehow Browning had managed to salvage the situation by choosing to shut down weapons systems in an effort to draw the enemy in. When the enemy closed, thinking that the prey was wounded and ripe for boarding, Browning had reactivated weapons systems and launched a devastating broadside attack on the enemy that forced their retreat and bought his ship time to limp out of the sector. Whether tactically acceptable or reckless, the outcome was what mattered and as news of this great battle and unorthodox approach spread and combined with the lavish praise of his subordinates onboard the ship, his destiny was set.

As he entered BrowningÔÇÖs office he immediately knew this was not going to be the social call heÔÇÖd envisioned. Quite the contrary, Browning looked more serious than Kramer had ever seen him. Looking up from a mess of papers on his desk the Admiral offered a curt, ÔÇ£Have a seat.ÔÇØ

For what seemed an eternity he shuffled papers and read the reports, not saying a word. In the time since heÔÇÖd last seen his old friend, Kramer could see age beginning to make a play on his features. BrowningÔÇÖs hair had grayed and receded, his forehead set with deep lines. The man had also gained weight. He was obviously not eating a steady diet of tasteless nutripacks. Jason had often joked to his friends that nutripacks were a plot to keep men fed but not fat; you only ate them when you had to. As the Admiral moved his eyes from the pages in front of him and to look on Kramer they showed a bit of that sparkle that he remembered but not much, they were cold and deadly serious.

ÔÇ£How many missions have you been assigned to since returning from the war?ÔÇØ the admiral asked.

Jason raised an eyebrow both in contemplation of the answer to the question and in thinking that his friend had yet to say, hello. If I had to guess

ÔÇ£Seventeen,ÔÇØ Browning interrupted. ÔÇ£Seventeen missions of various lengths mostly within Terran space.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£If you say so, you have the debriefs there, youÔÇÖd be better suited to recall than I.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Two years in intelligence without any incidents of blown cover, arousal of suspicion or failure,ÔÇØ Browning said reading off a sheet. ÔÇ£Yes itÔÇÖs all here.ÔÇØ

Kramer was becoming more suspect of this meeting; he shifted uncomfortably in his chair but only sat more straight. ÔÇ£I was beginning to wonder if anybody would notice,ÔÇØ he said with a smile.

ÔÇ£Oh your service has been noticed make no mistake about that,ÔÇØ Browning replied humorlessly. ÔÇ£Seems they have a new mission for you, and we the brass have been briefed. When I heard they were selecting you for the job I was both relieved and concerned.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Indecision from you Tom?ÔÇØ Jason chuckled.

The admiral placed the papers heÔÇÖd been reading on his desk and rose from his chair. Placing his palms on the desk he leaned in over it and stared at the commander with a seriousness that Kramer had never seen him exhibit. ÔÇ£There is nothing indecisive about this Jason. You better listen to me and hear this very well. If you botch this mission, if you compromise your cover it wonÔÇÖt just mean your own possible end or that of your crew. It will mean the death of many a good deep cover operative weÔÇÖve got in place and it will mean that the Insurgents will be tipped to our desire to investigate their operations in and around the BarnardÔÇÖs Star region.ÔÇØ

Kramer was quiet, just a slight nod acknowledging the fact that heÔÇÖd heard his friendÔÇÖs words. HeÔÇÖd never seen Tom this resolute or this forceful. It was however, the manÔÇÖs next words that would replay themselves again and again in his mind.

ÔÇ£If by some remote chance you do foul this one up pal, donÔÇÖt bother to come home. If you screw this up you wonÔÇÖt have a home, certainly not in Galcom. Failure on something like this Kramer,ÔÇØ he said pausing his eyes narrowing, ÔÇ£if it isnÔÇÖt life ending it sure as hell is career ending.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£I hear you loud and clear, Sir!ÔÇØ Kramer said angrily popping up from his chair. How dare he, how dare he be so ham handed in his mandate, his thoughts screamed. ÔÇ£IÔÇÖm the one thatÔÇÖs still out there, Sir. I am the one that is taking the chances and playing the odds. If you donÔÇÖt think that I approach every mission I am assigned with a seriousness like that you just conveyed, then I fear we have become more distant acquaintances than I thought.ÔÇØ

Browning did not flinch, ÔÇ£As long as we understand one another then.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Oh yeah, we understand one another,ÔÇØ Kramer glared. ÔÇ£Dismissed sir?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Dismissed.ÔÇØ

Seething he turned on his heels and briskly exited the AdmiralÔÇÖs office. Bastard, he thought. God damned fool is going to pretend to still know what the stakes are out there? He was a living-breathing stereotype. Just ask any grunt and theyÔÇÖd tell you that eventually, this is what would happen to all former commanders made brass. They would become bureaucrats and politicians. Any day now he expected Browning to be shaking hands and kissing babies or perhaps pressing an established politician for a Chief of Staff position. There was a line between still being considered a warrior and just being considered a joke. It was a line that anybody that had attained a rank of Commander or higher tread daily. After all there were many men in command of vessels throughout Galcom that sheltered themselves away from their people and in doing so had made it clear that they were above the rest. It was a line that once crossed could never again be traversed. Browning had crossed that line, no longer a peer to be looked on warrior-to-warrior and surely no longer a friend.

Within days of that meeting he and his team had been assembled and transported via Mine Co. shuttles to the Darkstar. They were given false identification and for all outward appearances seemed to have been in the employ of Mine Co. for varying lengths of time. As this crew was entirely comprised of persons in service to Galcom there were no pesky questions being asked by legitimate personnel of the corporation that they might ordinarily have had to intermingle with. This was a total Galcom black-ops affair. When his command staff had all arrived onboard he had gathered them together on the bridge and broke down the mission for them. The cover was obvious; they were a Terran mining team that was blasting holes in G-397, an asteroid just outside the major nav lanes surrounding the principal target, a farming moon aptly named Cornucopia. The moonÔÇÖs official business was farming and its surface was dotted with bio-domes. These bio-domes were like small enclosed islands that had been terra formed and self contained to produce a variety of crops that would be shipped to various colonies throughout that region of space. Why Galcom was interested in the place was neither his concern nor the concern of the crew. They simply had to get to G-397, maintain a position and their cover and allow the Intelligence Officer or IO that Galcom had assigned to the team do his or her job monitoring the comings and goings around the moon.

All of the crew were familiar with one another, hand picked by Kramer himself when heÔÇÖd first been given this new assignment. It was one of the perks that Browning had afforded him. He had brought on a few of the old crew from Lancaster; he needed some familiar faces and friends that would back him up and he augmented that core with the best and the brightest in GalcomÔÇÖs graduating class that two years prior. Browning had frowned on the decision to utilize ÔÇ£green personnelÔÇØ but heÔÇÖd been adamant. Greens would be moldable, established members of the service might be forever questioning his orders or distrustful of the clique of staffers heÔÇÖd brought over from Lancaster. There were advantages to babysitting; these kids could be reared up in his system without animosity rather than forcing a seasoned grunt into compliance. Whatever the reasoning, Galcom rarely argued with success and the reputation of this group was admirable.

The IO theyÔÇÖd assigned to this mission was Matthew Janus. HeÔÇÖd been on five or so missions with this crew and was a good fit. Galcom wisely rotated its spooks so that they were none too familiar with the crews they worked or for that matter too aware of where each other had been operating. It was a mutual thing and it seemed to be a system that was working. If there was an Intel Officer that Jason had come to admire and whom he did feel a kinship with it was Janus. They had joked over a beer one time that they wished marriage were so free of complication. Marriage however, was not something that men like them considered too often. That was something for another time, when they had finally left the mistress that was Galcom.

At the ripe old age of forty, Commander Jason Kramer was a father figure to some in his command and to those that served with him on Lancaster he was more like a brother. The kids that heÔÇÖd brought on had given him the nickname Krusty, and would say if asked, ÔÇ£ThatÔÇÖs Krusty with a K,ÔÇØ mocking his last name. He didnÔÇÖt mind the ribbings as long as they were done in private and few of them would ever dare to say it within earshot but he knew they said it nonetheless. It was harmless and in a way endearing. He and his shipmates had done it during their tours under various commanders back in his early days; these kids were merely keeping with tradition. If they served with him long enough they might come to regard him as the members of his staff from the Lancaster did. Universally they found him to be tenacious and determined. Mission oriented but never reckless. It was a blessing to have a commander to serve under that valued his life more than the pursuit of glory or favor with the Galcom chain. Galcom had its heroes and its names and then it had its bread and butter core. Kramer was a member of that core. ÔÇ£LetÔÇÖs get the job done and get out,ÔÇØ these were the words he left his crew with after each mission briefing and this one was no different.

While Browning had chosen to instill a sense of duty through intimidation to stress the importance of this particular mission, Jason had taken another approach. He had told them all that if there was a mission where he would appreciate their undivided and complete attention it was during this one. Without detailing the conversation heÔÇÖd had with the admiral he had stressed the importance of getting this job done quietly and efficiently.

Janus sat in on the briefing. It was something that he had never done before. At the end of the meeting for reasons unknown he decided it was necessary to play the bad cop. When Kramer had asked for questions and none were forthcoming, Matthew stood up and addressed the crew. He was a small man as most spooks were. Cramped in the fortified and sensor deadening confines of the monitoring facility it served him well. He folded his arms and looked around at the crew he knew only peripherally and spoke softly but with strength. I know this might be out of school and frankly this is off the record, he said his eyes darting from one member of the crew to the next. I dont know what they told the Commander but I can tell you that Intelligence was extremely concerned about this mission. We need to keep our eyes and ears open and we need to keep the Insurgents interest in us to a minimum. If we start calling attention to ourselves out there and screw the pooch on this one

Jason jumped in surprised, ÔÇ£Screw the pooch on this one? WeÔÇÖre all professionals here and weÔÇÖll do the job. You just keep the power on those scanners set to levels that donÔÇÖt bring the heat and weÔÇÖll do the deal just as we have in every other mission involving you.ÔÇØ

Janus nodded and was quiet, seeming to accept the commanderÔÇÖs words as truth. He had no reason to expect anything short of what had been promised. This was a hell of a crew and given the briefing heÔÇÖd received he was relieved that it was JasonÔÇÖs ship that he was going into this one on.

They had set off from the Mine Co. maintenance hub at Jupiter. The paperwork on the Darkstar had to be clean and sheÔÇÖd been conveniently undergoing her routine scheduled maintenance as per Galcom shipping law. A week prior to launch Janus had supervised the installation of new scanning and listening equipment that was more efficient and therefore stealthier. Older equipment gave off some tell tale signs that if looked for could be seen. A quality tacops officer trained to look for the right signs would spot them fairly easily. This was why what seemed to be such a simple game as listening and watching was indeed quite a challenge. According to Janus and Galcom these new sensors were undetectable by anything other than the newest scanners available to the military. The arrogant confidence Janus had begun to exhibit as he got to work with the equipment brought a wide grin and only a sliver of concern to the face of Kramer.

The trip to Cornucopia would take them six days on the LRT-10. The traveling was always the most tedious portion of the trip but it was also the most nerve wracking. Once their documentation had been run through and they were in place at G-397, the watching, listening and waiting was a time to sigh and breathe deep. The Darkstar was a dog of a ship. To the common eye she was nothing more than an aging hulk of metal that was slow and dangerous, but Darkstar had been refit by Galcom in ways that while undetectable made her less than demure. To protect her from raiders Galcom warships would always be within a jump gate of her position. Nothing that looked obvious but enough that she never seemed too ripe a target for the picking. The commanders of those Galcom ships were never wise to the true purpose of Darkstar and as they were doing routine tours in the sectors in which sheÔÇÖd be operating, they too would periodically check the shipÔÇÖs paperwork and manifests. Knowing that the Insurgents bought their information from moles in Galcom it proved wise to get plucked by the service at least once while enroute to any Intelligence gathering location. After all chances were that if you passed muster with Galcom you would likewise pass muster with the Insurgents.

On this mission they had been intercepted and ordered to produce credentials and manifests once each day of their journey, twice by Galcom and on four separate occasions by Insurgent vessels. Once they had crossed into Insurgent held strongholds, places where only Galcom warships dared tread without molestation, it became obvious that this portion of space was not welcoming trade vessels of any sort. One Insurgent commander had been quite forceful in his approach demanding that they turn back but Kramer had been just as firm. He had demanded that the commander stand down and that he be allowed to do his job. Mine Co. did much business with the Insurgents and if they would not respect properly documented and paid for mining leases that the company held then perhaps his bosses who would lose money on this transaction might need to re-evaluate their dealings in this sector. The argument was enough to soften the commanderÔÇÖs stance and he allowed them to pass on to G-397.

Upon arrival one week after leaving the Jupiter Mine Co. base, the Darkstar took up a position near to the asteroid and dispatched a shuttle and several drones to the surface. In order to keep the illusion in force the shuttle would return to the Darkstar every eight to twelve hours to simulate shift rotations. For all the Insurgents knew or would ever know they were actually miners.

Twelve hours after arrival Janus had recalibrated his scanning equipment and requested permission to begin intelligence gathering. On the bridge Kramer had nodded to his Tacops officer Moirna Saffar and said, ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs go time.ÔÇØ She nodded acknowledgment and began to scan for the usual tell tale signs of deep space scanning devices. She looked up to the commander and nodded again.

ÔÇ£Alright Matthew, you may activate your equipment.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Aye,ÔÇØ came JanusÔÇÖs one word reply.

Better him than me, Kramer thought. That poor bastard would be locked in that monitoring facility for eight hours at a time and there was no way that anybody on the ship could get to him even if they wanted to. Galcom Intelligence had made it so that the command center for the monitors that Janus was using were behind several feet of protective metal. When he left the confines of that room it would seal behind him and he would not be able to enter until a new code had been communicated from Galcom to the Darkstar. Nobody could decipher the Galcom code with the exception of Janus so he would have to be alive and well when it came in order that the information be useful. Eight hours in the hole, eight hours out and then right back in. For the next week his life would be nothing but intelligence gathering.

ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖre clean sir,ÔÇØ came the word from Saffar at her station. ÔÇ£IÔÇÖm not picking up anything, whatever heÔÇÖs using itÔÇÖs quiet.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Good.ÔÇØ

For the next day and a half that was how things had gone. Janus would crawl out of his hole and the shuttle would come home. More often than not one of the Greens would accompany the shuttle just to make sure that there werenÔÇÖt any mishaps. Automation was great but if there was one thing Kramer had learned it was that a pair of eyes, a pair of ears and a good working brain were worth more than a freighter full of machines.

While business was being conducted, the crew had taken to their off duty rituals of card games and drinking in the mess. There was not much more for them to do. For a commander it was a mixed bag. On one hand he didnÔÇÖt appreciate drunkenness but on the other he understood the need to pass time. As long as none of these parties became a problem and none of the crew exhibited problems with their drinking it was allowed to continue unhindered. Off duty was off duty, Galcom owned your soul but hell if they owned your down time. It was a philosophy that had brought favor from the crew and had kept morale high. For all he knew it might be the secret to his success.

The eighth night of the mission, the second night spent at the G-397 asteroid, had been a mixed bag. Janus emerged from his hole and sat alone in the mess appearing pale and shaken. Prior to taking night watch Kramer had gone to the mess to grab a bottle of water and to wish the members of the crew attending that nightÔÇÖs card game luck. Upon seeing Janus in the corner he walked to his table and sat down. ÔÇ£Well Matt, I know this mess with its gray metal walls and nutripacks lacks a certain ambience, but you look like hell,ÔÇØ he said with a chuckle.

Janus looked up from his plate and leaned back in his chair wiping at the corners of his mouth with a napkin. He seemed to consider his words for a moment as he worked his tongue around the inside of his mouth licking bits of food from his teeth and gums. ÔÇ£You know Commander,ÔÇØ he said in a hushed tone, ÔÇ£some of the shit we see out here, that I see out here, it just ainÔÇÖt right.ÔÇØ

With those words Matthew Janus had just told Kramer more about a mission they were working than in all of their former conversations combined. ÔÇ£Do I even want to know what youÔÇÖre talking about?ÔÇØ Jason asked half joking and half serious.

The reply seemed to stir Janus back to his senses and he again picked up his fork. Before digging into a mound of mashed potatoes he looked up from his tray. ÔÇ£I have been getting some of the most screwed up,ÔÇØ he hesitated as if seeming to change his mind mid- sentence, ÔÇ£man you donÔÇÖt need to hear this. Just promise me that when the time comes youÔÇÖll get us out of here fast.ÔÇØ He was holding his fork so tightly that his fingers had lost their color and his jaw was as tight as a vise.

ÔÇ£When weÔÇÖre good to go, weÔÇÖre out of here my friend. I promise you that.ÔÇØ

Janus seemed relieved by the response and he went back to concentrating on his mashed potatoes. Kramer rose from his seat at the table and made a halfhearted approach at levity patting Ensign Ramirez on the back and feigning amazement at the hand he held. ÔÇ£Good luck all,ÔÇØ he said as he made his way out of the mess hall. JanusÔÇÖs words had shook him but more than that was the way in which he had said them, the intensity. Janus didnÔÇÖt seem to be a man broken, instead he looked like a man made very afraid.

By the time heÔÇÖd reached the bridge, the encounter Jason Kramer had shared with Matthew Janus had almost faded from his memory. It was 02:00 Terra Standard and he was reporting for late night watch. The commander that would split this particular shift with his crew was few and far between but it had been a normal occurrence onboard any ship commanded by him. For one the late night watch was usually fairly quiet and that allowed him time to mesh with his crew. They would trade off late watch with Kramer and twice a week they would sit with the commander and another officer and chew the fat and bond. Kramer had loved the late watch on every ship he had ever served on and it had carried over to the Lancaster with him setting a precedent for the younger officers by drawing two of the shortest straws by choice every week. Secondly, a commanderÔÇÖs call to duty was 24/7 and it made no difference to him whether it was 02:00 Terra Standard or 14:00 Terra Standard, the responsibilities were the same.

Upon entering the bridge for his first late night watch he had been struck by the green glow that washed over the entirety of the bridge, the distant rays from BarnardÔÇÖs star reflecting off asteroid G-397 made the eerie effect but for only a few hours out of the day. He had heard the other members of the crew speak of it but until now he had never seen it. He stood there for a moment awestruck looking out on the beauty of the asteroid as the metal and crystal content of the rock showered the ship in its radiance. Quietly he moved off towards the big chair as Moirna Saffar worked the Tacops station.

ÔÇ£Did you bring one for me?ÔÇØ she asked startling him.

ÔÇ£Bring you what?ÔÇØ he questioned back.

Turning in her chair she greeted him with a smile and a look of disappointment, ÔÇ£A bottle of water.ÔÇØ

She was a beautiful woman; heÔÇÖd always said that to anyone that had asked. Anyone that was not in earshot of her that is. SheÔÇÖd served with him on the Lancaster, a woman of demure stature and slender build, her green eyes flashing a stubborn streak and her fiery red hair confirming it. Pulled back tight in a ponytail military protocol all the way, she looked on him in mocked disgust.

ÔÇ£IÔÇÖm sorry, I was preoccupied with the card game and then with Janus,ÔÇØ he said offering up excuses.

ÔÇ£Janus?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Nevermind,ÔÇØ he said tossing her the bottle of water. ÔÇ£You enjoy it, IÔÇÖll have someone bring one up for me later.ÔÇØ

She caught it and held it close, ÔÇ£So thoughtful of you Commander Kramer.ÔÇØ

He smiled and hit a button on his command console requesting a systems status report. The metallic asexual voice of the computer droned through the overhead speakers reporting the condition of the ship. All of the systems were nominal. Moirna went back to her duties tweaking the Tacops console and sucking down some of the cold water that had been meant to whet KramerÔÇÖs whistle.

The vastness of space was never something that heÔÇÖd taken lightly. On the contrary it had always filled him with a mixture of awe and self-reflection. It was times like these while witnessing some new beauty revealed in that void, that the feelings were strongest. The green glow that washed over the bridge brought on more of that self-reflection and once coupled with JanusÔÇÖs strange behavior almost seemed to take on a quality that was omen- like. He knew it was likely for the best that Janus had not continued to reveal his thoughts. That was the kind of thing that got you killed or ran out of Intelligence. You didnÔÇÖt start to discuss the data you were receiving with those that did not have clearance but the way in which he had done it had almost breached the realm of need to know. An IO having data that confirmed that a mission has been jeopardized was within his right to brief his CO. It was standard protocol. Janus however had alluded to something that while not jeopardizing their cover or the mission at the very least gave him cause to be concerned for their safety.

He might have considered this situation for a much lengthier duration had it not been for the hollow rumble of the bridge door sliding back into the bulkhead. It woke him from his thoughts and brought him back to reality. Though he did not turn in his chair, Moirna did and the smirk that filled her lips was a sure giveaway as to who had entered the bridge. Michael Deckard, ships Combat Officer no doubt. The man had a way with Moirna, of this there was no doubt and Cornucopia might be the last mission in which their professionalism prevailed. Kramer knew the two were secretly meeting during tours under his command and not so secretly shacking up during times when they were on leave. That was the blessing of this assignment; you were free for long periods of time between missions.

Walking around the command deck and leaning over the railing that separated the command deck from the operations deck Deckard tossed a nutripack to Tactical Officer Saffar. Kramer barely acknowledged him although he was a hulk of a man standing over six feet and nearly as wide. His dark hair was cut close to his head and his eyes were sunken but bright their deep rich brown alive. Pushing himself off the railing he turned to Jason and tossed him a nutripack.

Without even looking Kramer caught it and asked with a smile, ÔÇ£Chicken and rice my favorite, how ever did you know?ÔÇØ The word was on almost every ship that of all the flavors of nutripacks, roast beef and mashed taters, turkey and stuffing, or any of the Asian or Italian varieties, that the chicken and rice was the least offensive to the palette. In the mess hall they would snap the packet and dump it on a tray and then embellish the contents with salt and pepper or whatever dried spices were available. It made the other varieties bearable. But without the aid of spices or the mess staff this was the only thing edible out of the plastic.

Deckard smiled back, ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs not exactly hyperjump theory you know. After four years of serving with you, I think I know what makes you tick.ÔÇØ

Combat Officer Deckard was a brute of a man, a mass of muscles accompanied by the kindness of a gentle giant. He had served with Kramer on the Lancaster for the last two years of the Gammulan Conflict. The man was a consummate professional and a good friend. The safety of this crew was in his hands and they were capable and strong. He wore a tight fitting gray shirt emblazoned with the Mine Co. logo and gray slacks that were lined with pockets. Strapped to his right leg was a modified HK-900 shotgun. In the beginning the choice of such a powerful kill-everything-in-its-path weapon, had left Jason to ponder the decision, but on more than one occasion when theyÔÇÖd been boarded during the Gammulan Conflict it had been a lifesaver. When heÔÇÖd questioned Deckard about the choice the answer heÔÇÖd given had been simple and concise, ÔÇ£Stopping power sir.ÔÇØ He had never again questioned his Combat OfficerÔÇÖs judgment.

The mood on the bridge, not unlike that below decks in the mess, was light and unconcerned but damned if those werenÔÇÖt the times when the crap would hit the fan. Moirna Saffar had been monitoring the Tacops station when sheÔÇÖd detected two Insurgent vessels on fast approach. She spun around in her chair and offered up the information in a way that was non-chalant, ÔÇ£Boys it looks like weÔÇÖve got company for dinner.ÔÇØ

Deckard sighed and tucked his own nutripack in one of the pockets that lined his left leg. ÔÇ£I guess this will have to wait.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£What have you got?ÔÇØ Kramer asked.

Saffar was becoming more concerned, ÔÇ£A Warmonger and an LRT-15.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£An LRT-15?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£You heard me sir,ÔÇØ she said agitated. ÔÇ£That thing has been made a troop transport, I have sixty life signs onboard.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£A troop transport!ÔÇØ Deckard said now becoming more animated.

From the monitoring hole JanusÔÇÖs voice boomed through the overhead speakers. ÔÇ£Boss, are you seeing what IÔÇÖm seeing?ÔÇØ he asked.

ÔÇ£Settle down people!ÔÇØ Kramer commanded. ÔÇ£We have proven credentials, there is no need to get crazy yet.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Sir,ÔÇØ Janus said through the commlink. ÔÇ£If theyÔÇÖre sending a transport then likely theyÔÇÖve made us.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Made us?ÔÇØ Kramer queried.

Janus was beginning to sound desperate, ÔÇ£What I tried to tell you before, it looks like theyÔÇÖve made us because theyÔÇÖre sending them.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Them?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Sir,ÔÇØ Saffar interrupted. ÔÇ£We are being hailed.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Yes them! Oh Jesus,ÔÇØ came the words of Janus.

ÔÇ£Cut him off Deckard, heÔÇÖs losing it in that hole!ÔÇØ Kramer shouted.

ÔÇ£Aye,ÔÇØ Deckard replied silencing the overhead speakers.

ÔÇ£TheyÔÇÖre sending another hail sir!ÔÇØ Saffar reported. ÔÇ£Do you wish to respond?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Put the bastards on the comm screen.ÔÇØ

The communications screen came to life with the green holographic image of the Insurgent commander. ÔÇ£Darkstar, this is Commander Jonathan Walker, of the Insurgent Vessel Puruscius. You are ordered to stand down and prepare for inspection.ÔÇØ The message repeated as Kramer and his skeleton bridge crew looked on in stunned silence.

ÔÇ£If we let them board,ÔÇØ Deckard started.

ÔÇ£Michael please!ÔÇØ Kramer shot back. ÔÇ£If they board weÔÇÖre blown and weÔÇÖre in a fight, do you honestly think I need to be told that!ÔÇØ

Deckard nodded and went to monitor the Perscan station.

Kramer leaned back in his command chair.

ÔÇ£They are closing fast sir, options are becoming few.ÔÇØ

If we run and gun Saffar Kramer began to ask.

She did not let him finish she shook her head from side to side slowly.

ÔÇ£So then we use the documents weÔÇÖve been given and we talk ourselves out of this one. Open a commlink to this Puruscius.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Aye,ÔÇØ she said quietly punching up the commlink console from her station. ÔÇ£YouÔÇÖre live.ÔÇØ

Kramer adjusted himself in his command chair and composed himself, ÔÇ£Commander of Insurgent Vessel Puruscius, this is Jason Kramer commanding Mine Co. transport Darkstar. Forgive me for the lateness of my reply but the watch officer roused me from sleep. What is it you request?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£If youÔÇÖve been listening commander Kramer, you know that we intend to conduct an inspection of your vessel. I have only ordered that the command be repeated several times now,ÔÇØ came the incredulous reply. Jonathan Walker, whoever he was, was a smug son of a *****.

Without missing a beat Kramer offered his reply, ÔÇ£Our paperwork has been inspected by various Insurgent personnel and found to be in order Commander Walker. This is highly unusual. Mine Co. vessels are sovereign property and the boys back at corporate arenÔÇÖt likely to be too amused by this intrusion especially at this ungodly hour. Do you intend on waking my entire crew and likely costing us a shiftÔÇÖs worth of productivity?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£TheyÔÇÖre on top of us sir,ÔÇØ Saffar whispered from her station.

ÔÇ£Deprive you of a shiftÔÇÖs worth of productivity?ÔÇØ came the sarcastic reply. ÔÇ£Commander Kramer or whoever the hell you are, I mean to do much more than deprive you of a shiftÔÇÖs worth of work. Do you know what we do to liars in this sector of space?ÔÇØ

There was no time to answer.

ÔÇ£Their weapons are charged and they are prepping to fire!ÔÇØ Saffar bellowed.

ÔÇ£Get the jump engines online and get us the hell out of here Saffar! Deckard get those weapons systems online!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Plotting course, sir!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Readying PTA systems!ÔÇØ

On the hull of the Darkstar panels slid back revealing a PTA system of eight guns. It wasnÔÇÖt much but it was something.

ÔÇ£Sound battle stations!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£TheyÔÇÖre firing! Targeting the core sir! Shields are not going to take this for long!ÔÇØ Saffar yelled over the battle stations klaxon that had begun to sound.

Fire from the Warmonger rocked the small Darkstar making short work of her shields.

At the Perscan station Deckard slammed his fists on the monitor. ÔÇ£These sons of *****es are boarding! TheyÔÇÖre heading right for the mess!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Sound boarding alarms and prep the marines!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Ramirez!ÔÇØ Deckard hollered into the shipÔÇÖs public address. ÔÇ£Get your people to prep and be ready to bag and tag!ÔÇØ

The warnings were coming much too slowly, the Perscan indicated that there were already thirty enemy personnel on the ship.

ÔÇ£Take out that transport Saffar!ÔÇØ Deckard shouted. ÔÇ£TheyÔÇÖre murdering our people down there!ÔÇØ

Whoever these Insurgents were theyÔÇÖd managed to scan the ship and send their people right to the locations with the highest concentrations of personnel. Though they had done a good job of beating the hell out of the Darkstar it was obvious that they intended to board her and take whatever data Janus had been accumulating on their operations.

On the overhead speakers Ramirez could be heard from the mess sounding harried and frightened, ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖre held down by a hostile boarding party, theyÔÇÖre tearing us apart!ÔÇØ Screams could be heard in the background. Galcom marines, men trained as warriors, were screaming in fear and agony.

ÔÇ£God damn it sir, I canÔÇÖt just let them be slaughtered like animals!ÔÇØ Deckard said drawing his weapon from his leg holster and exiting the bridge. ÔÇ£These bastards are going to pay!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Michael!ÔÇØ Saffar yelled making her way to the bridge door to stop him. ÔÇ£No!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£I love you,ÔÇØ he said as he punched in the locking codes and the bridge door sealed tight behind him.

ÔÇ£Open it Jason!ÔÇØ she yelled.

Kramer shook his head. ÔÇ£No. Get Janus to transfer his data to the log buoy.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£The log buoy?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Get back to your station and do as I have commanded Saffar, we havenÔÇÖt much time!ÔÇØ

His command had seemed to rouse her from her momentary catatonia. She rushed back to her console and was in conversation with Janus in an instant.

Kramer moved over to the Perscan station and began to watch the progress of the boarding parties that had been sent from the Insurgent troop transport. The PTA systems onboard Darkstar were no match for the shields of the War Monger and the core was pummeled to just near breach. Systems ship wide were beginning to shut down. The first to go were the defenses. No need to call to engineering, the Perscan showed intruders had already killed the late watch down there. He ran a hand through his hair and sold his soul for a moment to react.

One deck below him Deckard was making his way to the mess hall. The corridors were a maze of shattered components and smoke. He had his shotgun drawn and prepped for unloading. As he approached the mess the hatchway door was open and he could hear the cries of his men through the gray of the smoke. Two of his men lay in the entry dead and unidentifiable their faces caked in blood and soot. He did not linger on them long enough to check for vitals. ÔÇ£Get downÔÇØ he yelled firing his weapon into the room. Nothing seemed to move as he continued onward.

Ramirez crawled through the entry and grabbed ahold of him, ÔÇ£DonÔÇÖt go in there. Run!ÔÇØ he yelled.

Deckard grabbed him and held him close. Through the smoke enemy marines were appearing the lights on their battle armor illuminating the corridor in which he stood. Ramirez fell at his feet grabbing at his leg and trying to push him back.

Enraged, Deckard rushed forward. One of the enemy marines grabbed at him and lifted him with little effort and tossed him backward. Now seated against a bulkhead Deckard pumped his shotgun and fired two rounds into his attacker. The rounds punctured the metal shell of the battle armor but did nothing to stop the enemyÔÇÖs advance. He grabbed DeckardÔÇÖs weapon from his hand and tossed it backward. Deckard looked up at the face of the one that had grabbed his weapon. The eyes that he saw through the visor were white, there was no retina or pupil to be seen. With a cry that was inhuman yet somehow familiar he lifted Deckard from his seated position. Holding the Combat Officer high above his head by the throat he uttered another crazed cry and with a quick shake he snapped the neck of Deckard and released him dropping him to the ground.

From behind him a second marine emerged from the mess hall. With a press of a button on a panel located on the forearm of his armor he spoke, ÔÇ£Mess hall secured, units behaving as ordered. Dispatching Gamma Team to the bridge.ÔÇØ With that report the second marine stepped over the crumpled body of Deckard and made his way forward. Turning to the first marine he said coolly through his suit. ÔÇ£Kill anything that moves.ÔÇØ

On the bridge Jason Kramer, who had been monitoring the happenings and the communications being sent from the enemy units to their command vessel, was moving off to the weapons locker behind the command chair. He punched in his access codes and the doors hissed and slid open revealing a small arsenal of weaponry. On a wall to his right another door slid open revealing a row of space force marine suits of armor. He grabbed up a couple of rifles and ammunition and tossed them to the floor next to the sets of armor. ÔÇ£Saffar is that log buoy ready for launch?ÔÇØ

I I dont know, sir. Janus is losing it down there. He said he was doing it but he wants out of the hole! He keeps yelling something about genetacide and Lazarus Labs.

ÔÇ£You tell him that when that buoy is ready for launch he can come out of the hole!ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Aye.ÔÇØ

Removing a space force kit from the cabinet Kramer began to toss a full set over the railing to Saffar. ÔÇ£Start suiting up, we have to get the hell out of here. TheyÔÇÖre on their way to the bridge!ÔÇØ

Saffar grabbed up the armor and started to suit up while watching her console and monitoring progress as the log buoyÔÇÖs banks filled with information. ÔÇ£HeÔÇÖs downloading the data onto the buoy.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Thank God,ÔÇØ Kramer replied calmly pulling his boots over his legs. ÔÇ£As soon as you get the go from Janus you launch that buoy, you understand me Moirna?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Aye,ÔÇØ she said more out of habit than understanding. She too was pulling on her suit. ÔÇ£Where the hell are we going to run to Jason?ÔÇØ

Kramer was quiet for a moment. She was right, where the hell would they run? The simple truth was that after seeing the lifesigns of the team dim one by one from the Perscan system only one thing was clear. If they stayed here they were dead. ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖll worry about that when the time comes Saffar. HowÔÇÖs that data transfer coming?ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£He reports that the data has been transferred sir, he requests that we send him a few marines to escort him to an evac station.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Fire the buoy Moirna.ÔÇØ

She pulled her chest plate over her head and shoulders and then reached for the console. ÔÇ£Firing the log buoy!ÔÇØ

These Insurgents whoever they were would hopefully be too occupied with them to be worried about a log buoy. Those things were stealthy and they were fast. Hopefully it would make a fast burn for the nearest gate back to Galcom controlled space and then drift quietly toward home. The signals they sent were encoded and detectable only to aligned ships. Even if the Insurgents did manage to notice the launch they would be hard pressed to follow it or tractor it.

ÔÇ£Buoy away sir.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£Good,ÔÇØ Kramer replied pulling the arms of his suit on and locking them into the chest plate with a snap. He bent at the waist with considerable effort and grabbed up one of the Sabre rifles at his feet. ÔÇ£Catch,ÔÇØ he said as he tossed it over the railing. Bending again he grabbed the second rifle and then reached for a helmet from the cabinet.

Behind him at the bridge door there was an explosion. Bits of metal flew through the air one of them hitting the cabinet and bouncing off grazing his forehead. He went down on his knees and winced in pain blood trickling from a gash the metal had torn over his left eye.

ÔÇ£Commander!ÔÇØ Saffar yelled.

As the adrenaline surged through Kramer, he leaned on his rifle and pulled himself to his feet grabbing another helmet from the cabinet not wanting to bend for the one heÔÇÖd dropped when heÔÇÖd been hit. If he leaned over he might not have the strength to stand up again. ÔÇ£DonÔÇÖt worry about me! Get to the bridge evac station. WeÔÇÖre getting the hell out of here!ÔÇØ

At the door the explosives had bent the metal inward toward the bridge and torn a hole in it. Still the bridge door was holding. Kramer jumped over the railing from the command deck to the operations deck and met Moirna at the evac control panel. ÔÇ£I donÔÇÖt even know that this thing is going to work Jason. Damned if IÔÇÖve ever had to use one of these things before!ÔÇØ

Kramer pulled his helmet over his head, streaks of blood smearing the visor in red. He was breathing heavy now and feeling sick to his stomach. If there was one thing heÔÇÖd learned during his training it was that you did not allow yourself to puke into your helmet. He pushed Moirna toward the evac control console and motioned for her to open the door. Turning he watched the bridge entry. Through the hole in the metal there appeared at first two gloved hands and then three and finally a fourth. They were tugging on the door, pulling on it trying to push it backward into its slot in the bulkhead. There was no way that ten men could forcibly open an entry on a ship this way even with the explosives. You either opened it mechanically or you blew that sucker in but damned if that thing wasnÔÇÖt moving. Whoever was on the other side of that door was physically pushing it open.

Through the comm link in his helmet he heard MoirnaÔÇÖs voice, ÔÇ£The first door is open. IÔÇÖm going for the hull door.ÔÇØ

Kramer didnÔÇÖt respond he just watched in awe as inch by inch the bridge door was being slowly slid back by the enemies on the other side. He pressed a button on the right hand side of his rifle and he felt the weapon charge to life in his hand. When they came through that door, whoever or whatever the hell they were, he was waiting.

When theyÔÇÖd slid the door open no more that two feet the first of their number made his way sidestepping through the entry. Kramer immediately opened fire. The marine that entered was hit in the arm and writhed in momentary pain and then lunged forward into the bridge diving for cover. A second marine was soon to follow. Kramer opened fire on him as well firing his weapon like a mad man, the ordinance puncturing the armor the man wore time and again. He slumped in the entry seeming dead and in the next instant a third marine haphazardly kicked him through the doorway and onto the bridge floor.

Behind Kramer the second evac station door had been opened exposing the bridge to space. The third marine entering the bridge suffered the same fate as the second as he was lit up by fire from the Sabre rifle. Moirna came through the first evac door and looked around the bridge in surprise. As she brought her rifle up to take aim at the entry the first marine whoÔÇÖd taken cover behind the command chair popped up and returned fire. One of his rounds hit the neck of MoirnaÔÇÖs suit puncturing it. Blood began to flow from the hole. She grabbed at her neck, droplets of blood at first running paths down her suit and then as the bridge became depressurized floating between the fingers of her gloved hand and spinning sickening cartwheels in the weightless void of space. She would have screamed if she could have but the round had torn her throat to pieces.

Kramer was screaming for her. Yelling like a banshee as he fired round after round into the first marine. He bounced around like a marionette whose strings had been cut flailing against the bulkhead behind the big chair. The sound Kramer made as he screamed over the Sabre rifles firing was carnal, he yelled again and again until by sheer grace alone he felt the body of Moirna fall behind him and he was jarred back to reality. He looked down at her but did not keep his eyes there for long. Her visor was a sea of dark red and the blood continued to ooze from the gaping hole at the neck.

Commander Jason Kramer took one last look at the bridge door through blood and tears but nothing entered or for that matter attempted to enter. Realizing he might be the last one to ever tell what had happened this day, he needed to get out of there. If not for his own sake then for the sake of the friends heÔÇÖd lost here. Whatever theyÔÇÖd been sent to gather intelligence on, whatever the hell was going on out here, it sure as hell wasnÔÇÖt something that theyÔÇÖd prepared him or his crew for. Somebody would pay for this, somebody would answer and it would start with his good friend Browning.

He stumbled through the bridge evac station door and then ran with all the strength he could muster and launched himself into the void of space. All around the ship there were bits of wreckage and debris from the pummeling the Puruscius had delivered on the Darkstar. Large hunks of the hull spun off in different directions. Breathing deep and fast as if heÔÇÖd run a long distance race he held out his right hand and grabbed onto a very large piece and pulled himself onto it. He grunted in pain and felt himself losing consciousness. ÔÇ£Mag-lockÔÇØ he said and his chest plate, and boots automatically became magnetized. He was only meters from the ship now but he activated the suits rockets for just a few seconds and it was enough to send him pushing off into space farther and farther away from the Darkstar.

Ten minutes later he was far enough away that heÔÇÖd determined he might have a shot at survival and even if he didnÔÇÖt did it really matter? He only had enough air for a few hours at best. Maybe it would have been better if heÔÇÖd died onboard with the rest of them anyway. He didnÔÇÖt have a home to go back to, certainly not with Galcom. Browning had made that clear. But if Galcom wasnÔÇÖt fit for men like Jason Kramer then it sure as hell wasnÔÇÖt fit for men like Thomas Browning. The admiral however, was a matter for another day if he should make it through this mess. Some of the enemies that had murdered his crew were likely still onboard ransacking the Darkstar looking for anything that could be used to determine what it was that Janus had discovered or to whom they were affiliated. He brought his left forearm up to his visor and viewed the small set of controls on it through the haze of blood that was smeared across it. With his right hand he reached over and fumbled through the bulky glove to bring up the Tacops console. His visor flashed with the command sequences for Darkstar. He breathed a deep sigh and smiled. ÔÇ£I hope you find what youÔÇÖre looking for, in hell,ÔÇØ he whispered as he activated DarkstarÔÇÖs self-destruct sequence. The minimum countdown was thirty seconds, which was more than they deserved. He punched in his command authorization and waited for the big bang.

TO BE CONTINUED

Comments are welcome, praise or constructive criticism are beneficial to me as I evolve as a storyteller. Thank you.

[ 08-15-2004, 03:40 PM: Message edited by: Takvah ]

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