Authors: MICHAEL KOTCHER
Samair in Argos – Book the Third
By Michael Kotcher
Copyright 2015 by Michael Kotcher
All rights reserved.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. All events and characters depicted herein are the results of my imagination.
Proofread and copy edited by Maureen Nealon.
Cover art by jamajurabaev on deviantart.com.
I just want to say thank you to the fans, who have enjoyed going through the Argos Cluster with Tamara and I. I hope you’ll continue with us through many more adventures!
6 months before the mercenary attack on the Kutok Mining Station
Seated in his command chair on the bridge of the light cruiser
, the insectoid pirate lord Verrikoth waited with eager anticipation. Years of preparation and work, not to mention the theft of property, plundering of ships and sacking of settlements had gone into this plan of his. He’d made alliances (or forced them) with a number of corporations and governments across the Argos Cluster, the span of one hundred or so star systems in this part of the galactic arm. This had allowed him to expand his small flotilla of armed merchant ships to a flotilla of proper warships. Three light cruisers were accompanied by four of those merchant ships, which game him an astonishing amount of firepower compared to most of the system defense forces here in the Cluster. Now while having these new warships would give him the ability to hit more and bigger star systems, he had instead decided that he would remove the biggest threat to his operations here in the Argos Cluster: the small Republic base and patrol ships in the Byra-Kae system.
This came with a degree of great risk. The Republic wasn’t a powerful force here in the Argos Cluster, not since they withdrew their fleet during the war two and a half centuries ago. There was little more than a token force that performed anti-piracy patrols, a few corvettes and a pair of destroyers, but Verrikoth had long since learned to deal with them. He had mapped out their patrol routes, bribed officers, made arrangements with higher commands for a piece of the profit. But now that his warships were up and running, he’d decided that the time for waiting and collaborating with the Republic dilettantes was over. He had three more ships that would be ready to roll in a little more than three months, and these ones would add a significant amount of firepower to his mix. A corvette, a light cruiser and a heavy cruiser, ships he wished he could bring into the battle ahead, but he wasn’t willing to delay the three months. Also, he didn’t have the crews trained yet to operate those ships.
But none of that mattered now. Did he wish for the extra firepower? Yes. But the longer he waited, the more likely it would be that someone in the Republic might figure out what he was up to and decide that he had outlived his usefulness. Or rather the amount of threat he posed outweighed any potential gains, especially once he added a heavy cruiser to his order of battle.
“Report,” he ordered.
“Yes, sir,” the sensor officer replied. “We’re showing Republic ships in toward the fourth planet of the system. Two destroyers and three corvettes. I’m also showing seven cutters in various patrols around the system. Two of them are less than half a light hour from us, Captain. They’ll be detecting us in roughly forty minutes.”
The pirate lord’s scarred mouthparts clacked in anticipation. “Commander Tyler, get the flotilla moving,” he ordered. “I want to close the distance.”
The human commander of his flagship nodded, gesturing to his navigator who already had the course ready, relaying it to the helm. “Mister Kubang, engage at full military acceleration,” Tyler ordered the zheen pilot. The insectoid acknowledged and entered the commands, and the
roared off into space, the rest of the flotilla quickly keeping pace. The light cruisers, however, quickly outstripped the armed merchant ships, leaving them far behind.
, Verrikoth thought to himself.
We won’t need them to take on the first cutter.
He held fond memories of his first ship, the cutter
, but a ship like that would stand no chance against his cruisers. A tiny little eight or ten crew ship, with only a pair of heavy lasers for armament, it was meant for traffic interdiction of freighters, not to try and fight a trio of light cruisers.
Republic Naval Lieutenant Yselle Clarkson, Master under the Stars of the Republic cutter
, looked up from her datapad where she had been reading a novel as her display flashed an alert. Patrols in Byra-Kae were endless and they were dreadfully boring. Only when her ship actually got near one of the celestial bodies in the system, or came back into the base orbiting the second planet in the system did it actually require thought and/or her full attention. Clarkson’s patrol route took her out past the system’s enormous gas giant, in a long loop that would give her ship the ability to scout ships that might be incoming from this vector. Thus far, today, the patrol had been like every other one she’d participated in. Nothing had happened and as far as she knew it never would. Until now.
“What have we got?” she asked, sitting up straighter in her seat.
“Seven ships just entered the system, at the extreme edge of our sensor range, Lieutenant,” her crew chief, the Severite Bujanda replied. The cat didn’t look all that concerned about it, despite the fact that there were no convoys scheduled.
“What kind of ships?” she asked absently, checking her displays. “Looks like a trio of cruisers and four merchant ships.”
“Cruisers?” Bujanda responded. “Really? Why the hell would the Republic be sending cruisers out this way? We’re not important enough for that.”
Clarkson considered this. The ships were on a vector heading in system, toward the base proper. “No, we’re not, but perhaps the merchant ships have supplies. Perhaps fleet command decided to expand our presence here in the Cluster and we need the materials and personnel to do it.”
The chief turned to her with his ears flattened to his head. “Lieutenant, we both know that isn’t the case.”
“All right,” she said, getting irritated at him. “You tell me why they’re here. You’re always banging on about how the chiefs really run the Navy anyway. Dazzle this junior officer with your wit and strategic thinking.”
The cat blinked slowly. “Well, it isn’t a secret, this base of ours,” he said. “And it isn’t as though we regularly are turning ships away. If anyone needed to come here for help, they would know to come to Byra-Kae. Maybe they’re a flotilla looking for repairs.”
“And we’re supposed to help with that?” Clarkson returned. “I doubt it. We could refuel and the techs could maybe help with minor repairs, but we don’t have a proper dry dock or yard here. Certainly nothing large enough to work with those cruisers.”
There was a pause. “El-tee, ships have changed course, slightly. They’re now on a direct intercept for us.”
She frowned. “Why would they be coming after us? Republic ships wouldn’t care about one of the patrol ships in system…” Her voice trailed off. “Wait. The engine signatures are wrong.”
“Yes, El-tee, they are,” the chief concurred. “So are their shield signatures. And they’re bringing shields up to full power.”
Clarkson felt her blood run cold. She mashed her hand down on the alert button and a klaxon blared through the small ship. The remainder of the ship’s company, all six of them, would be up and to battle stations in a minute or two. The
was a cramped little ship, with a bridge, living compartments, gunnery and engineering. Normally, the crew of eight only needed two people up and working at any time, one on the bridge, the other in engineering, the remainder of the crew sleeping or otherwise relaxing in the living compartments.
“What’s up, El-tee?” a woman asked, slipping into one of the bridge stations.
“A flotilla of ships just arrived in system. Three light cruisers and four merchant ships.”
“A convoy?” the woman asked.
Clarkson shook her head. “I don’t think it’s a Republic one,” she answered. “They’re powering their shields and they’re heading right for us.”
The other woman checked over her displays. “Yeah, I don’t recognize the engine signatures and the computer doesn’t have a match for their profile. Local built, probably.”
Clarkson sighed. “All right. Let’s see if they’ll talk to us.” She pressed a control. “This is Lieutenant Clarkson of the Republic Defense cutter
to incoming ships. You are entering restricted space. Please identify yourselves and state your intentions.”
There was a short pause before a response came in. Her display lit up, changing from the sensor feed to the image of a scarred-faced zheen. He was very close to the pickup, making his face appear larger than it actually was and made the lieutenant squirm a bit. She was never fond of zheen. There were a lot of them in the Republic and even more of them out here in the Argos Cluster, but their insectoid build and non-human nature was more than she could take. They disgusted her, something that had caused her problems in the past on her fitness reports, since she’d had problems working with them and especially taking orders from them. Having one showing up on the screen like this caught her by surprise and it was all she could do to avoid curling her lip in disgust.
“This iz Verrikoth,” the zheen said simply, his voice dripping with malice. “I am here to take control of this star system and all of its assetss. It would be in your besst interesst to power down your sship and ssurrender. Of course, you will not, because you are Republic foolz.” His mandibles clacked in amusement, causing the lieutenant to shudder. “And your deaths will be much more ssatissfying.” And he cut the connection.
The other two looked over at Yselle, who was trying to regain her composure. “What do we do, El-tee?” Bujanda asked.
“Alter course,” she ordered. “Drop us down below the plane of the ecliptic. Serra, send a message to Command. Forward that message and inform them of what’s coming.”
“We can’t outrun them forever,” Bujanda said, working the helm console and turning the cutter away from the incoming ships.
“No, we can’t,” she acknowledged. “Those cruisers have much bigger engines than we do and they’re already accelerating like mad. In a short sprint we could lose them, but they’ve got much better legs than we do. The best we can do is start back and transmit a message to the base and get them ready.” Clarkson squared her shoulders. “Once we’ve sent that, we’re going to let them chase us for a little bit and then we’re going to turn and engage.”
“What?” Serra demanded. “You’re going to attack them? They’ll cut us apart!”
“Yes, they would,” she replied. “But we’re not going to attack the cruisers. We’re going to try and make an end run around them and hit those merchant ships. I’m sure they’ve got weapons, and probably good ones, but they’re not going to be tough enough to take us on. If we can cause them some heartache, so much the better.”
As far as plans went, it wasn’t the worst, but that all presupposed that they could evade the cruisers long enough to get around them and then hit the merchants. And then, Clarkson hoped, those merchants really didn’t have enough capabilities to stop a Republic cutter. She took a deep breath and gripped the arms of her chair. The sensors showed that the
was already turning and diving down below the vector the cruisers were on.
“They’re reacting just as you predicted, Captain,” Commander Jensen Tyler said, watching the display as the cutter dove below the vector the cruisers were flying. “They’re trying to do an end run around us and go for the armed merchant ships.”
“To be fair, Commander,” the zheen replied, “that really is the only response they could have made. They certainly don’t have the legs to try and out run us. I suppose they could have just tried to rise above the ecliptic and run away, hoping that we wouldn’t give chase.”
“Should I launch the fighters?” Jensen asked.
The zheen nodded. “Please do, Commander. I want this annoying vermin dealt with so that we can move on the inner system.”
Jensen gestured to the communications officer, who signaled for the fighters to be launched. Each of the light cruisers had carried three fighters each, but each had launched two of them to try and fight off a Republic heavy cruiser, back in the Ulla-tran system. Now, the remaining three starfighters spat forth from the cruisers’ boat bays, giving chase to the Republic cutter.
“They just launched fighters!” Bujanda screeched.
“Easy, Chief,” Yselle said, though she could feel the cold sweat running down her back. She pressed a control, ending the message she’d just sent. She wriggled slightly in her seat to try and find a more comfortable position, but she knew it wasn’t working. She cleared her throat. “I see them. And I think we’re going to be in a bit of trouble.”
The three boxy fighters moved in on the fleeing cutter, looking for all the world like a trio of hunters closing in on their prey. In less than a minute, the three smaller ships had entered their effective weapons envelope and a missile launched from each of the three ships, racing out to close the gap between them.