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Authors: Stephen A. Fender

Icarus

BOOK: Icarus
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ICARUS

 

Kestrel Saga: Book II

 

 

A novel by

Stephen A. Fender

 

Edited by

Lynda Dietz

 

 

 

Published by

JRP
©

Jolly
Rogers Productions

Icarus

Copyright © 2013
Stephen Fender

www.StephenFender.com

 

First Edition: 2013

 

Published through
Jolly Rogers Productions (JRP) ©, a subsidiary division of StephenFender.com

 

All rights
reserved.

 

Ordering
information: [email protected]

 

Printed in the
United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
1

 

ISBN:
1491231157

ISBN13:
978-1491231159

 

Cover art background
by
Joakim Olofsson
©

 

Final cover layout
and rendering by Stephen Fender ©.

 

All characters, settings, and events depicted in this
novel are still the sole intellectual property of Stephen Fender. Characters in
this novel are not intended, nor should they be inferred by anyone, to
represent actual living beings—either now or in the 24
th
century. So
there!

 

 

 

“Mystery creates
wonder, and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand.”

 

- Neil Armstrong

 

 

Chapter
1

      

  
B
eyond
the three parallel view ports, the twinkling pinpoints of stars spread out
haphazardly across the celestial abyss, as if
a large hand had
tossed diamond dust into the eternal darkness. With nothing noteworthy around
the ship for parsecs, the Unified Sector Command carrier
Rhea
was all
but alone in this desolate quadrant of Beta Sector; a lone sentinel navigating
a sea of cold, dispassionate vacuum.

   It was this same chill that seemed to permeate every
pore of Captain Richard Krif’s substantial bulk. Although the
Rhea
’s
commanding officer had turned the temperature in the office to a pleasant
seventy degrees, the chill in his bones had yet to subside. He’d recently
poured himself a cup of hot tea, a noxious mixture of leaves and spices
recommended to him for just these moments. Richard had to admit, though, that
while the liquid tasted foul, it brought the much-needed warmth he desperately
sought.

   He looked down at the glowing monitor of the terminal
and the copy of
Paradise Lost
that was being displayed.

 

“This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of Wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Stars
Thou knew’st by name, and all th’ ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Nature’s works,
Or works of God in Heav’n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all riches of this World enjoy’dst,
And all the rule, one Empire; only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come called Charity, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt though not be loath
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A paradise within thee, happier far.”

 

   Richard’s eyes scanned the text as his mind drank in the
subtle context of Milton’s words.
Paradise lost
, Krif thought idly to
himself, superimposing the text’s imagery with current affairs.
Is that what
this is? Will the Kafarans and their Army of Light come and finally wipe the
slate clean of humanity?
Will we be exiled to oblivion, with nothing but
the knowledge of our past existence a footnote in the recorded history of some
other empire? Or is this the beginning of a new chapter, one in which what we
do here and now will determine what humanity will see when next we turn the
page?
Richard’s mind then drifted to the missing Admiral William Graves.
Damn
it, Bill. What have you gotten us into?

   Krif brought the tea back to his lips, but before he was
afforded another moment to wax philosophically
, there was a brief but
measured knock at his cabin door.

   “Yes, come in,” he said with authority, gingerly setting the cup atop
his metal desk. With a push of a button on his computer, he closed the novel on
his terminal just as the doors parted. Richard glanced up from behind his desk,
a bemused smirk painting itself across his face as he leveled his eyes at the
visitor who stood poised at the entryway. “Well, as I live and breathe. If it
isn’t
Captain
Shawn Kestrel.”

   In the doorway, Shawn stood in a relaxed pose, not at all what Krif
would normally expect from an officer standing outside his door. Then again,
Shawn Kestrel was far from an officer. Under the merchant captain’s arm was
tucked the metal file folder that Richard had handed him nearly six hours ago:
Shawn’s reactivation orders, still sealed tight and waiting for Kestrel’s
thumbscan to open it. As Shawn entered the compartment with comfortable ease,
he slipped the folder out and held it toward Krif. “I figured you’d want this
back before I left.”

   “So you’ve decided to cut your losses and run, aye?” Krif jibed. Shawn
appeared unfazed, neither acknowledging nor denying Krif’s statement. “I’ve got
to say, Kestrel, that I don’t blame you.”

   Shawn cocked his head, wondering what back alley Krif would take this
conversation down. “Really? How’s that?”

   “It’s just that, a time or two, I’ve considered handing in my own
commission. You know, turning down everything you’re being offered here and all
that. Even the thought of settling down with a life similar to your own has
crossed my mind on occasion.”

   Shawn chuckled at the remark, despite the loathsome officer seated
across from him. “You? A free trader? It doesn’t quite suit your style.”

   Richard gave him a petulant stare. “No, nothing so dramatic. A job
like that would be far too humiliating for my blood.”

   Shawn’s lips smiled, but his demeanor carried the weight of his scorn.
“Well, the trade lanes are full of enough garbage as it is. The last thing we
need is another hazard to navigation.”

   “Something tells me you navigate as far outside the lanes as you can
legally get away with, Kestrel.”

   “My business is clean, which is more than I can say for some of the
crap you’ve pulled, Dick.”

   “For the last time, it’s Richard. Captain Richard Krif. Don’t you ever
listen?”

   Shawn offered a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “It depends on
who’s talking.”

   “You’re talking to a fleet officer, mister! Don’t forget that I can
pull your Unified Trade Guild license like that,” Krif made a snapping sound
with his fingers.

   “While I’m sure a gesture like that frightens the junior officers, I’m
afraid you’ll be waiting a long time for me to start quaking in my boots.”

   Krif sighed heavily, then leaned back in his chair. “Time is on my
side, Kestrel. But not yours.” He held his polished wristwatch up to the
overhead light. “You’ve got about thirty minutes to hightail it out of here
before we reach the point of no return.”

   “What’s wrong? Afraid I’ll get stranded out in space? Dick, I didn’t
think you cared so much.”

   Krif leaned forward, and then rose slowly from his chair, leaning over
the desk on the palms of his hands. “On the contrary, I don’t want you stuck on
board until we reach the next transfer port. My schedule says that’s going to
be a long time coming, if you catch my drift.”

   “Believe me, I’d love to be out of what little hair you have left on
your head.”

   Krif dismissed Shawn’s words with a wave of his hand, “Just hand over
the file and be on your merry little way. Your inconsequential life is waiting
for you back on Minos, and I’m a busy man, made even busier by the course
correction caused by your girlfriend…or should I say,
ex
-girlfriend.”

   “She’s not my girlfriend, Krif.”

   “My point exactly, not that I really care, hotshot.”

   Shawn looked away, slowly shaking his head. “So you’ll let me go, just
like that? And after the big speech you gave me earlier today?”

   Krif smiled. “Yeah. Just like that.”

   “What about your orders?”

   “My orders were to retrieve you, and to deliver
that
file into
your
hands. The rest was up to you and that precious little thumb of yours.”

   “My thumb is used to getting paid, and seeing as how it’s attached to
the rest of my body—”

   “Don’t tell me you’re going mercenary on me,” Krif snorted. “You’re
aware that doing so violates Section 47 of the Interstellar Code of Merchant
Operations. I can throw you in the brig for even making the suggestion.”

   “Not at all, Dick. It’s just that Miss Graves owes me a fairly hefty
sum of money, and I intend to collect on that debt before I go.”

   “Whatever that sly little minx told you was way beyond her scope of
responsibilities as an OSI agent, rogue or otherwise, and should be considered
null and void. Period.”

   Shawn had figured as much, and he was actually less concerned with the
money than what Krif had to say on the subject.
He knows Melissa is still in
the OSI. The Director must have already given him the news that Melissa was now
in operational command of the mission to locate the missing Admiral William
Graves, and Krif’s pissed off about it. This is a good thing.

  
“Then how do you expect me to recoup the losses I’ve sustained
so far?” Shawn quipped as if the thought of not getting paid had truly offended
him.

   “I’ve got three words for you, Kestrel: not my problem.”

   “But you’re still actively going to search for Admiral Graves at this
point, right?”

   Richard sat back down, shifting his eyes from Shawn back to his
computer. With a press of a button, his copy of
Paradise Lost
reappeared
on his computer screen, out of Shawn’s view. “Not your problem, ace.”

   Shawn shook his head heatedly. “This doesn’t surprise me one bit. You
haven’t changed, have you?”

   “Why mess with perfection?” Krif replied with a toothy grin.

   “And still no hint of common courtesy between old comrades who once
fought together, right?”

   “Just toss me the file and get out of my office,” Krif said with a
hint of boredom while keeping his eyes locked on the screen. “Unlike you, I
have real work to accomplish.”

   Shawn gave Krif a broad, thin smile. “You know, there are three words
I’d like to tell you, while I can, at least.”

   The statement enticed Krif’s attention, and the carrier captain turned
his eyes to meet Shawn’s. “Yeah? And what might those be?”

   Shawn walked toward the desk, holding the metal file folder just
outside Krif’s reach. He slapped it down on the desk, hard enough to cause the
computer terminal to shake for a brief moment as the sound of the contact
echoed off the barren metal walls.

   “Go to hell.” Shawn then reached out his left hand and placed his
thumb defiantly on the reader.

   The device made a cursory beep as the two men continued to stare at
one another. A perfunctory female voice, the same as every computer in the
Unified government, spoke up from a micro speaker imbedded near the scanner’s
faceplate. “Identity confirmed. Commission reinstated as of this date. Access to
secure materials granted to Lieutenant Commander Shawn Kestrel, Unified Sector
Command.” The side of the two-inch-thick case popped silently open toward Krif,
whose lips were held tightly in check.

   Shawn reached down and slapped the case closed, then neatly tucked it
back under his arm. He stood tall, standing at attention with a practiced ease.
“Now, how about showing me to my damn quarters…
sir
. I’ve got some
reading to catch up on.”

 

* * *

 

   Shawn’s accommodations on the
Rhea
were a vast improvement over
the berthing space he’d been assigned during the Galactic War while he was
aboard the
Fahrenwald
. Where junior officers were sometimes packed two
or three to a space, his rank of lieutenant commander afforded him the
privilege of having his own compartment. Even with the immense size of the
Rhea
,
Shawn’s quarters still seemed somewhat cramped. The room was about ten feet
long and eight feet wide, with an eight-foot ceiling that was crisscrossed with
lights, pipes, bundles of cabling, and ducted vents. Entering through the door,
Shawn saw a bed immediately on his right, with a small desk at its foot in the
opposite corner. Across from the desk was a lounge area, wide enough to
accommodate two chairs and a small, circular metal table. Behind the table was
a tall set of lockers, usually reserved for dress uniforms and any other items
too large to fit inside the handful of drawers that were built into the
single-occupant bed frame. Forward of the table was a small bathroom stall that
butted directly against a shower-sink combination, which was typical of the
space-saving designs required by fleet warships. To the left of the stateroom
door, sandwiched between the shower and the cabin’s bulkhead, was a small,
empty bookcase.

   The duty officer who had escorted him down there had left as quickly
as the doors had closed on Shawn, and the only sounds present were the dull
thuds and humming typical of living inside a ship of the line. The background
noise was both familiar and oddly soothing to his ears.

   “Home sweet home,” Shawn said to the vacant space. The overhead light
above the far desk flickered briefly, then returned to its normal brilliance.
He wondered fleetingly if his old friend and mechanic Trent Maddox was getting
along any better than he was.

 

   Half an hour later, Shawn had removed all his personal effects from
Sylvia’s
Delight
and moved them to his new quarters in a tattered blue duffel bag.
He hadn’t planned on being away from Minos for an extended amount of time, so
he’d only packed the essentials needed to remain presentable. He now knew the
Rhea
’s
supply stores would have everything he required, so it was just a matter of
finding out where the supply store actually was on the immensely large carrier.
He tossed his effects on the bed and sat down beside them, the forgiving gel
mattress undulating rhythmically under the pressure. In the passageway outside
his cabin, he could discern the ship’s intercom ringing with the
all-too-familiar sounds of departments calling for muster reports. This was
followed by an announcement that dinner was now being served, and that there
would be an award ceremony on the aft missile control deck at 1100 hours
tomorrow. 

   Shawn suddenly felt like a fish out of water, or more aptly, a fish
that had been taken from one pond and thrown into another. “What the hell am I
doing here?” he whispered, but was greeted with the cold silence of his barren
walls. He took in a heavy breath and, before he could let it out, there was a
surprisingly loud knock at his door.

BOOK: Icarus
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