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Authors: Richard L. Sanders

Tags: #romance, #mystery, #military, #conspiracy, #danger, #war, #spy, #deadly, #operative

The Phoenix Conspiracy

BOOK: The Phoenix Conspiracy
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The Phoenix
Conspiracy

by Richard L. Sanders

 

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2011 Richard L.
Sanders

 

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***

 

All was quiet.

Those eyes not glued to
computer-screens were staring out the windows at the two very large
cruisers flying alongside them. Warships more interested in
preventing their escape than offering protection.

Raidan felt the weight of every
passing second, each taking him one step closer to the
inevitable—and, in the silence of spaceflight, he heard the solemn
bells of the executioner.

"This is it, boy," he whispered to
himself. "I hope it was worth it."

His XO looked up from her station,
probably a response to his mumbling. Her narrow eyes shot him a
hateful glare. Seeing her that way, knowing her disgust was
justified, made him almost regret his decision to leave her in the
dark. But, if he’d told her everything, she would have compromised
his efforts. And, if somehow, by some miracle, she had taken his
side... she'd be under arrest now too, and that would be
unbearable.

Poor beautiful Commander
Presley. And she really was beautiful. Glossy golden hair, cunning
eyes that were as sharp as they were green—accented by her
brilliant mind. She was more than most twenty-eight year old
officers could hope to be, and an outstanding second in command.
His eyes traced her misleadingly delicate face and part of him
wished he were ten years younger, like the junior helmsman at her
side, enthralled and intimidated by such a stunning young woman.
With an amused smile, he imagined himself as the boy he used to
be—the timid young officer at the operations post—nervously
scouring his mind for an excuse to ask her out. It made him laugh
inside and, for a moment, he almost forgot the gravity of his
situation.
Almost.

His expert crew looked elegant in
their blue-and-black uniforms while they worked tirelessly to keep
the damaged ship under control. They had a certain dignity, and it
had been a true honor serving with them these past several years.
An honor tainted by the fact he was leaving them this way, shocked
and confused. Wondering… why had fellow Imperial ships intercepted
and boarded them? Why were they being escorted to the nearest
government station, Praxis One? And why was their faithful CO under
arrest? Had their last mission been the Captain's personal crusade
and not orders from Fleet Command?

Poor officers, they would never know
the whole truth. Very soon they'd all arrive at Praxis and the
tribunal would invent whatever explanation it wanted. No one would
ever get the real story. If only they could, they'd realize he'd
done the right thing. But that knowledge was too dangerous to have.
So, for their own safety, he'd kept his crew out of it. If things
didn't go as planned, if his friends didn’t come through for him,
then he'd be dead soon. No reason to drag such fine men and women
to the grave with him.

"I'm going to my quarters," he said
aloud, all heads turned his way. "Commander, you have the
deck."

"Yes, sir." Even though hate poured
through her eyes, her tone remained respectful. Despite how he'd
betrayed them all.

"Thank you," he paused. "All of you."
It was barely more than a whisper—an inadequate tribute, but
sincere.

He left the bridge, flanked by a
marine who followed him down three decks to his quarters. Raidan
thumbed the plate and the door whisked open. Before stepping inside
he addressed the marine. "What's your name, soldier?"

"Lance Corporal Charlie
Davis,
sir
."

Raidan nodded. "Thank you for the
escort, Corporal. That will be all." He stepped into his quarters,
making it clear the soldier was not invited to follow. Instead the
marine took up position outside, guarding the door which slid
shut.

Finally alone, Raidan was able to
relax. He pulled off his uniform shirt, replacing it with something
more comfortable, and took a seat at his small desk. His bedroom
was the largest aboard the ship, but he kept it just as dull and
barren as the lowliest midshipman. Basic carpet, empty grey walls,
a standard bed, and a single desk. His only luxury was the one he
couldn't dispense with, the window set against the port wall. The
view was dominated by the very large ISS Andromeda, the flagship of
the Fifth Fleet. She was an awesome spectacle to behold. More than
four times the size of the Phoenix, her running lights splashed the
royal navy's colors against her hull, blue and white. Raidan’s
heart saluted it.

They wouldn't believe him. But the
truth was, everything he'd ever done had been for the good of the
Empire. That knowledge gave him some small comfort.

Vice Admiral Aleksandra Harkov was
somewhere aboard that ship. Whether she was on the bridge or asleep
in her quarters, her commanding presence filled every inch of her
massive starship and permeated the space all around. She had been
kind to allow him the dignity of retaining his command until they
reached Praxis, even if it was just a façade.

"Don't worry, Admiral.
You'll get no resistance from me…
yet
."

He picked up the bottle of whiskey on
his desk and pulled off the cork. An old proverb came to mind. "Eat
drink and be merry, for tomorrow I die." He took a sip, trying to
forget that in three hours time he'd be officially arrested by the
authorities on Praxis. And after that, his friends would either
come through for him or they wouldn't. But at least he'd done his
part to save the Empire.

 

Chapter 2

 

The IWS Nighthawk was one of
only a few phantom-class stealth warships ever to be commissioned.
Small and agile, it was hard to see and even harder to target.
Black from bow to stern with its identifier lights usually kept
off, its signature was that of Intel Wing. One that, when
transmitted to an Imperial Station, said, in no uncertain
terms:
Do what we say without asking
questions. Why we’re here is none of your business. Stay out of our
way.

The ship was fast and quiet, but
relied mostly on stealth for defense. Utilizing technologies most
of the galaxy didn't even know about. And it was with those
technologies that the rogue ISS Phoenix had been finally tracked
down. The Fifth Fleet had swept its space looking for it, for over
two standard days, before eventually appealing to Intel Wing for
help. Another two standard days and it was back under Fleet
control. Now the Nighthawk trailed it and its flotilla to Praxis
where justice would be served. And, hopefully, the incident would
be investigated.

Calvin Cross, the commanding officer
of the Nighthawk, remained unsettled. The whole incident made no
sense to him. His investigation into Captain Asari Raidan and the
Phoenix had been unfortunately short, conducted in only two days
while he tracked down the missing ship, but he had expected to find
a motive that explained everything. He hadn't. No one had. A
decorated captain, a veteran of the Great War, inexplicably going
rogue, attacking and destroying a civilian convoy of alien traders,
and then refusing to communicate with any Imperial ships or
outposts for days. Then, when finally caught, he surrendered
without resistance. Now he sat, presumably on his bridge, soaring
toward Praxis where he'd certainly face the death
penalty.

Why would you do it,
Raidan?

Some believed he'd mentally snapped.
Years of too much pressure? Mid-life crisis? Chemical imbalance
only now manifesting? Calvin dismissed all these theories. Raidan
definitely had a motive, it was just a matter of finding
it.

"Entering Praxis System. Braking
thrusters have fired and we're again in normal space, Captain,"
said Sarah from the helm. She was a young brunette, though a year
his senior, with wide brown eyes and a relaxed demeanor that was
well-known to their tight-knit crew. People joked she'd be calm
even if the ship were breaking apart and everyone was about to
die.

"Thank you," Calvin nodded. He didn't
like being called Captain, partly because it felt too formal, but
mostly because it wasn’t true. He wasn't a captain. On paper he was
a Lieutenant Commander, a technicality few people other than his
crew knew about since he was a CO and therefore held the rank of
Acting Captain.

"Contact the control tower, put in a
docking request, and begin a standard approach. You know the
drill."

"Yes, sir."

They followed behind the Phoenix,
while the other two warships were on its flanks. The Phoenix's
identifier lights flashed the brilliant white signal of surrender,
illuminating its damaged hull. That was another mystery, the plasma
burns and the shredding pattern that could only have been caused by
the heavily mounted guns of a serious warship, damage not caused by
the Imperial navy. His only other engagement had been the skirmish
with the Rotham freighters, but surely freighters wouldn’t be
outfitted with weapons like that.

A transmission came over the bridge
speakers. "IWS Nighthawk. Please power down your weapons and
standby for authentication." Two sentry ships broke from their
patrol pattern and approached from the port side.

"We've been targeted by two small
destroyers, weapons armed," said Miles from the defense
post.

"They're a bit touchy this close to
the border, aren't they?" Calvin had done plenty of missions this
far out but had never docked with any of these deep space outposts.
"Okay power it all down. Do what they say."

A minute later, the ships broke off
and swept back to their patrol pattern.

"IWS Nighthawk, you're clear to
approach."

They passed through the station's
outer defenses and, after receiving clearance from Traffic Control,
entered a long orbit around the planet while awaiting their turn to
dock with the station. They were last in line, following the
Phoenix and the battleships from the Fifth Fleet, meaning they had
time to spare.

"What do you suppose happens next?"
asked Sarah.

"Two words," said Miles from the
defense post, "Military Tribunal."

"I don't think so," said Calvin. "The
Phoenix never fired on any of our ships, and given the
international nature of the incident, I expect a General
Tribunal."

"I would have expected a court
martial,” said Shen.

“It’s a complicated situation to be
sure, which makes me wonder what other people are speculating,”
said Calvin, flashing the mischievous smile he was famous for, the
same one that made people guess he was even younger than his
twenty-five years let on. "Let's tap into the local news. Shen, go
ahead and put it on every non-essential screen on the
bridge."

“Aye, sir,” his operations officer
said. His long, unkempt hair and bulbous figure made him seem a
poor fit for Intel Wing but Calvin doubted there was a more
brilliant person on the ship.

Seconds later, several dark screens
flickered to life—including the one at the command position. The
image clarified to reveal a female reporter whose voice filled the
bridge speakers.

"… and we're getting reports
now that the man who military police took into custody is Captain
Asari Raidan of the Imperial Starship
Phoenix
. For those just tuning in,
moments ago, military police swarmed the terminals of Access Point
One and arrested who we now know to be military Captain Asari
Raidan. A passer-by caught this footage."

The image on the viewers shifted to
show several blue-and-black navy officers descend a ramp,
accompanied by marines in grey fatigues. Upon reaching the bottom,
the leading officer—Raidan—raised his hands and allowed several
military police to surround him, cuff him, and take him away. A
throng of people, including station personnel, tried to get a
closer look but were held back by a line of security
officers.

BOOK: The Phoenix Conspiracy
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