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Authors: Peter Kenson

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Opera

Sertian Princess

BOOK: Sertian Princess
8.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub









Peter Kenson



Copyright 1990 Peter Kenson


He woke to the scent of Xetherian perfume in his nose, a warm mass of curls pillowed on his shoulder, and the faint prickling of the hairs at the back of his neck which told him that the subsonic alarm had gone off.  Cursing softly he disengaged himself and got up from the sleeping couch.  He padded across the room to the console and placed his palm over the actuator panel.

"Yes Sam."  Immediately he felt the prickling at his neck subside as the subsonics were switched off.

"There's a Purple come in from Centre.  I'm putting it through the decrypt computers now."

He woke up then.  Code Purple messages were the highest priority the Centre used and they did not use them often.  "Right.  Tell Control I'm on my way."

He paused for a moment debating whether he had time for a quick shower and reluctantly decided against it.  He shrugged into a coverall and headed for the door.

  "David" came sleepily from the area of the couch.  He turned and went across.

"Hush Marie.  Go back to sleep.  I won't be long."  He bent to kiss her but she was already asleep again.

Outside he turned down the passage in the direction of the garden.  As it was the dark period the passage lights were dimmed but the sensors embedded in the floor, detected the presence of a human body and increased the lighting ahead of him.  He passed through the opening into the garden feeling the buzz of the force field as he did so. The air smelled damp and heavy as though the rain had just been switched off for his benefit.  "It probably has" he thought, looking at his watch.  02:47.  Rain was normally scheduled until 04:00.

He started slightly as the wings of a night insect brushed against his arm, attracted by the increased luminescence of the path lights.  He looked round to find that he had acquired a little following of insects as he moved through the garden.  The night scent of the bougainvillea came to him strongly.  Of all the flowers in the garden the ones from Old Earth were still his favourites although as he moved on their scent became mixed with more exotic smells.

Through the force field at the other side of the garden he turned towards the central core of the spacecraft.  He entered the zerograv chute and pushed himself upwards towards the Control Centre.  Zara was already there.

"My Lord," she greeted him formally.

He looked round the room.  Corin and Elida were at their posts. That explained the formality.

"My lady" he replied with a smile.  "You got here quickly."

"Sam called me.  I wasn't asleep anyway."  She smiled back at him and the room brightened.

He turned and raised his voice slightly.  "Corin, has that message gone through decrypt yet?"

"All finished my lord.  Sam is holding it under your personal ID."

He crossed to the secure terminal and palmed the actuator.  After a second to verify the palm print and bioscan the screen flashed purple and the message displayed. 

"To: Lord David Held.  From: Khan.  Imperative I speak with you direct.  Establish secure audio-visual channel using STAR 8."

He wiped the screen and turned back to Zara.  "Have the Comms Room prepared for secure transmissions."

While he waited for Zara to give the necessary commands he groaned silently to himself.  He would be in that claustrophobic box for at least half an hour while the computers established the link and performed all the security checks to ensure that the link was as near intercept-proof as possible.

"Sam get me some coffee."

There was a whirring sound as a hatch opened and a little servitor robot came scurrying across the floor.  He took the coffee and waited. The little robot fled.

The coffee was too hot and scalded his tongue.  He carried it across to the Navigation Tank and scanned the display.  Little points of light flickered at him indicating the positions of stellar and other navigational objects but there was nothing to indicate the presence of any other ships.

"Elida, get Sam to run a full positional check and mark the Tank with all points of interest within say 500 light-years."

"It's already in hand my lord."

He turned towards her enquiringly.  She lowered her eyes and stammered: "It's... the third time this month that you've come to Control in the middle of the night and requested a full positional check my lord.  I... I was only trying to anticipate your wishes."

He laughed.  "Dammit, what with Sam and you.... am I so predictable?"

"Stop bullying the girl, David; or don't you want your officers to be capable of independent thought."

The use of his first name spun him round but Zara was smiling as she scolded him.

"The Comms Room is ready my lord" she said.

He took his coffee with him as he crossed to the secure room.  The door opened to his palm and he went in.  He locked the door from the inside and settled himself down in the chair.

"Ok Sam.  Let's get on with it.  And put up the file on STAR 8 for me."

Secure Transmission And Retrieval: Level 8.  He scanned the file quickly while all around him the electronics hummed establishing a secure field to trap any stray emissions.  Sensitive instruments outside the Comms Room monitored the transmission activity and reported it back along filtered lines.  When the external instruments reported no detectable transmissions the computers began the next stage of establishing the link with Centre.

They must have been expecting him because Centre came up straight away and Sam and the Centre Computers set about establishing that the carrier was secure.

"Secure carrier established, Boss".  Zara was always horrified by the use of such easy familiarity but Sam and he went back a long way: to the early days of exploration when the original Sam was installed in a tiny one man craft.  Somehow he had never got round to reprogramming the conversational circuits.

"Thanks Sam."  He took over the controls and started to initiate the STAR 8 procedures.  He had barely finished the complex identification and verification procedures before Khan was on the screen.

"Lord David," he greeted him.  "You look well."

"Thank you, your Excellency.  What have you got for me this time?"

"How well do you know the Royal Family of Serta?"

He quickly assembled his thoughts.  Serta was a complex system just under two thirds of the way to the Rim.  It lay close to three main transit routes and because of that had developed extensive trading facilities.  It had acquired significant strategic importance to the Empire both as a Commercial centre and as the key defence base for that entire Sector.

"Serta has been ruled by King Harald for about 25 years now.  I seem to remember there was some minor trouble at the time of the succession but it was suppressed and I can't recall hearing of anything since.  He has two children: Prince Gerald and Princess Nerissa.  Prince Gerald must be in his early twenties now and I believe is serving as an officer in the Imperial Guard.  Princess Nerissa must be about 18; I haven't heard anything of her for a while.  I used to know them quite well as I stayed with them for several months about 15 years ago but I haven't seen them recently."

"Very good but you omitted to mention Queen Serena."

"She died about two years ago didn't she? Some sort of shuttle craft accident?"

"Yes.  King Harald was distraught and so was Princess Nerissa.  Since that time he has retreated into his own private world, maintaining only the bare minimum of public engagements and Princess Nerissa has been allowed to run wild.  Three weeks ago she disappeared along with the Lady Lynda, the daughter of the Duchess of Gan.  It is believed they boarded an interstellar freighter bound for Timet in the system of Alba but then the trail went cold. 

"Yesterday, one of my agents on Ragen sighted them boarding a shuttle for the interstellar liner Aldebaran.  The liner is travelling on trade route N3E calling at Floreat, Andes and then the long hop to Quental.  The agent reported in to Centre and then promptly disappeared.  We found her six hours later: it is likely that she talked before she died."

"So who else is involved in the hunt?"

"The trouble you referred to on the succession of King Harald was actually caused by his cousin Wolfram, the then Duke of Gan.  When the insurrection was put down he was stripped of his title and lands and sent into exile.  The title passed to his younger brother, the father of the Lady Lynda.  Wolfram disappeared for a while before turning up in the Federation of Vostov, out on the Rim.  Our latest information is that he holds the rank of Counsellor and has the ear of the President."

"Is there any evidence that Vostov is involved in all this?"

"No hard evidence but there are reports of increased naval activity at the Vostovian bases nearest to Serta and the route from Andes to Quental will take the Aldebaran within 100 light-years of the system of Parm which is in alliance with Vostov."

"Do we know why the two girls took off together or where they might be heading?"

"No, we have no idea.  Playing truant maybe...  for the hell of it.  See the Universe while they're young.  We just don't know."

"Well, if you know they are on the Aldebaran and you have her schedule, why don't you just pull them off at the next stop; Floreat or at Andes?"

"The Aldebaran calls at Floreat the day after tomorrow, Andes three days later and then it's two full weeks across to Quental.  I don't have any agents in place capable of retrieving an independently-minded and probably very stubborn young member of a ruling Royal family in the face of possible hostile action by enemy agents."

"So what about military intervention?"

"Can't be done.  Any excessive display of force by the Imperial Navy so close to Parm might escalate the incident out of all recognition.  The Chief of Naval Staff would not welcome a diversion of that sort at a time when so much of the Fleet is involved with the trouble at Rigel. 

"David, you are the best hope of resolving this situation quietly and I want you to move on it straight away.  You have less than two days before the Aldebaran reaches Floreat.  What do you need from me?"

He tried to order his thoughts into action groups.  Things that he could organise from on board ship and things that would be best if the Centre organised. 

"We'll use two groups: first five female singers, the Blue Star Streak Group together with their manager; stranded on Andes by mechanical failure of their transport.  Can you get them a booking at a club on Quental?

"Second, we'll have a Mr. and Mrs. Held travelling to Quental and joining the Aldebaran at Floreat.  Part business, part holiday; you'd better make me a dealer in semi-precious gem stones.  I've used that cover before. 

He paused for a moment.  "Is there no possibility of any naval support at all?"

"I might be able to whistle up a corvette I suppose" Khan replied with obvious reluctance.  "But I'll have to put him under your direct orders because of the political sensitivity of the region.  I must stress that it would be infinitely preferable if you could avoid using any military force whatsoever."

"That's understood.  I'll get Sam to send you some rendezvous co-ordinates: I would like to put one of my people on board as a communications point."

"OK, is there anything else?"

"Yes.  I want a full list of all the passengers and crew of the Aldebaran with as much biographical detail as you can give me.  Particularly, of course, anybody joining the ship at Floreat or Andes."

"I will make the necessary arrangements at this end.  Contact me again before you board the Aldebaran at Floreat."

With that Khan broke the connection.

Sam cut in, "Carrier lost, Boss.  Do you want me to re-establish connection?"

"No thanks, Sam.  Wind it down."

He unlocked the door and climbed out into the Control Room.  He stretched his full 190 centimetres and looked around.  Corin and Elida were studiously examining the display panels in front of them.  Only Zara looked at him. 

"We have a job, my lady.  Put the ship on Amber Alert.  All crew to their stations."

"Sam, what is our current distance from Floreat and Andes?"

"Floreat: 2183 light-years Andes: 2357 light-years"

As the Amber Alert sounded throughout the ship he went across to the Command Panel and worked out the timings.  The Salamander IV was equipped to military specifications which meant that she could achieve sub-space jumps of 100 light-years but each jump took an hour to setup and verify the co-ordinates so they would be travelling flat out for a full day. 

He looked at the repeater display for the Main Power Supply Panel.  Only about half the lights showed green which was standard practice while the ship was stood down.  There were 50 independent power cells arranged in 5 banks of 10: Motive Power, Communications, Environmental Support, Offensive Weaponry and Defensive Shielding.  He checked the Motive Power bank; there was enough power for at least three jumps by which time the rest of the cells in the bank would be activated and brought on-line. 

There was a flurry of activity in the Control Room as the remaining Duty Officers arrived in a rush and took up their stations.  Zara took their reports and checked with Sam the status of the external stations.  She came across to the Command Panel. 

BOOK: Sertian Princess
8.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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