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Authors: Linda Andrews

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BOOK: The Syn-En Solution
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“Maintain speed.” Tension bit into Bei’s shoulders. How many more ships wouldn’t make the rest of the six week journey? “Wardens, target
Ursa Minor
, use thrusters to bring her in range of grappling hooks. Authorization Omega-Alpha-Foxtrot.”

“Wardens away. They got her, Admiral.” Commander Keyes’s white teeth flashed in her brown face as she grinned at the screen displaying the box-like barnacles clinging to the
Ursa Minor
’s hull. “Plasma contained. Her captain reports a hard fix.”

Bei’s knees shook. Hard fix. Two Syn-Ens had sacrificed themselves to manually shove a plate of steel into the escaping plasma, buying their crew a precious tenth of a second.

“Grappling hooks in place, Admiral. ETA of
Ursa
in Bay Eight in four, three, two, one.” Captain Penig’s weathered hands slapped the telemetry hub. “She’s in.”

Sinking into his chair before his legs buckled, Bei breathed a sigh of relief. They had saved another ship and most of her crew. He opened the WA, basked in the jubilation for a moment as his avatar danced. Pings bounced off Bei’s interface, the Syn-En equivalent of a citizen’s high five. “Good job, everyone.”

The news spilled into the
Starfarer’s
systems, lightening the tension.

Captain Penig reached inside the slot beside the telemetry hub, swung down the narrow plank hidden there and gingerly lowered his body onto the utilitarian seat. He groaned and closed his eyes. Balls of light flowed from his interface under his white hair to the hub. “Updating course and destination arrival date with current speed and weight.”

“Are you in a hurry to arrive at Terra Dos?” Smiling at his second-in-command’s eagerness, Bei noted the absence of one civilian tech from bridge. Using the WA, his avatar performed a diagnostic of the closed science hub. The digital man shook his head. Patched but not fixed. Such shoddy work was not acceptable.

The captain stretched before crossing his arms over his thin chest. “Space travel has made me a little sick. It will be good to get on land and feel the air on my face.”

Commander Keyes squatted next to the com hub and wrapped the lock of black hair around the bun at her nape. “Wardens have successfully returned to their dens, Admiral.”

Bei nodded and unplugged from the ship. “Status on our engines.”

The elevator door whispered open and Chief Engineer Sydney Shang’hai sauntered onto the deck. “They’re running hot. Some ham-handed ensign diverted the plasma in a rush instead of slowly.” Striding over to the ensigns at the navigation and weapons hubs, she placed a hand on both their shoulders. “Report to engineering.”

Both young men jerked their fiber optic cables out of their respective hubs and jogged to the elevator.

As the doors closed behind them, Engineer Shang’hai’s full red lips curved upward. “Poor kids. They had just completed tank maintenance when the call went out for volunteers to settle Terra Dos. Repairing the engines will reinforce the lecture they’re about to get.”

“And they’ll learn from their mistakes.” Bei watched the remaining civie, still stretched out on the floor working on the tactical bay.

Nodding, Shang’hai worked her fiber optics from her spiky pink hair then jacked into both vacated stations. “Even with my genius at work, the engines were never designed to do more than jump from Earth to Mars then back again. I’ll be glad to return to normal space.”

After hanging the panel in place, the civie wiggled over to the science hub. His green eyes locked with the engineer’s brown ones.

The sensors integrated in Bei’s armor picked up the civilian’s accelerated heart rate and the sudden shunting of blood to other pieces of the his anatomy. Had Shang’hai appeared on the command deck hoping for a little face time with the civie? Was Bei the only celibate person on his ship? He swallowed the bitterness.

The first joint of the civilian’s fingertips peeled back to reveal an assortment of lasers, drivers and pliers. Shifting his lower body slightly, the civie removed the access panel near the floor and ducked his head inside.

Bei pointed his index finger at the civie’s mechanical arm and read the identity chip embedded underneath the shiny alloy skin. Montgomery Smith. He’d turned to enhancements to pay his father’s gambling debts. Bei respected a man who gave up his own freedom so his mother and sister could keep their liberty. Still, the balance had been paid in full two years ago. The same time the civie had been assigned to engineering. Had the Chief Engineer’s Shang’hai’s considerable assets been enough to keep him, or was it something else? Something that would cause him to do the work of two men, while his comrade caused trouble?

“Civilian Smith.” Pushing out of his chair, Bei walked the two strides to the civie’s feet.

Smith sat up, banged his head and swore under his breath. Rubbing the red spot on his black forehead, he slid out of the bay’s guts. “Yes, Admiral.”

“Where did your fellow civilian go?” Squatting next to the Smith’s splayed legs, Bei activated all his sensors, waiting to detect signs of deceit.

Civilian Smith’s frown deepened the brackets around his mouth. “Tim said his plates were slipping and he wanted to go to the medical bay before the injured arrived. I offered to tune him up, but you know how newbies are. So used to doctors handling everything, they don’t think that a good mechanic is better than a biomedic any day.”

Bei scratched the itch between his shoulder blades. Although Civilian Smith told the truth, neither of them believed the other tech’s story. What could the man be up to? “Find Civilian Tim and send him back here. Let him finish the repairs.”

Accessing the medical logs via his WA, Bei noted the absence of anyone named Tim or Timothy. Where had the man gone? Bei woke up his avatar, handed him Tim’s photo and file to carry to security before pinging Chief Rome.

Civilian Smith’s forehead wrinkled as he hid his tools behind his fingers. “I already finished the repairs, Admiral. Don’t know why Tim didn’t complete them before he left, but I could undo them again.”

From the corner of his eye, Bei watched his men straighten. Had the missing man sabotaged his ship? Bei’s hands tightened into fists. “Find the civilian and send him to me.”

The tech quickly replaced the panel and leapt to his feet. His gaze drifted to Shang’hai. Bei’s engineer had her eyes closed and her red lips clamped shut. With a sigh, the civie trudged toward the elevator. The doors opened at his approach. He entered, turned and stared at Shang’hai’s spiky pink head with hope in his eyes until the doors shut.

Commander Keyes yanked her hair free of its bun and combed through her curly black tresses for another connection before jacking into the navigation system. “Admiral, the Perseus is drifting closer to the wall.”

Despite being made of time and space, hitting the edge of the wormhole would be just like hitting cement only with less give. Neither the ship nor her crew would survive.

The com LCD switched images. On screen, the Perseus’s saucer shape gleamed against the white glow of the wormhole. Plasma vented from the conical engines at the center of the radius. Bei considered yanking his own cable from his spine but decided against it. He would not micromanage his men. They were capable of handling a wayward ship as was her captain. “Does the Perseus know of the drift, or were the sensors damaged in the plasma spray?”

“He knows.” Captain Penig closed his eyes to focus on his link. “But I’m sending him our telemetry and recommending a course correction of ten degrees starboard.”

The com panel flashed black for an instant, then the Perseus’s captain’s haggard face appeared. The thin cables integrating his cranium interface with his ship glowed blue. Beard stubble sprayed across his tan skin, and bloodshot eyes hung heavy over his hooked nose. “Thanks for the data, Penig, but controls are not responding. That damn plasma stream fused the engines. I have a drift of one degree portside and not a hope in Hades of changing it.”

Bei whipped out his interface. His hands shook as he connected with his ship. “Manual override?”

The Perseus’s Captain shook his head and rubbed his nose. “Manual not responding. Evac underway. We’re slingshotting the Civies toward the Centari now. She’s in the best position to pick them up.”

The com screen backed away from the ship’s captain’s face, revealing the Perseus’s damaged command deck. Sparks flew out of the navigation panel, igniting fires wherever they landed. Her ensign’s arms and legs flopped on the ground in front of the hub. A crewman yanked the connection free and scooped up the twitching figure.

Another crewman aimed his fire extinguisher at the flames. “Temperature rising on decks three through eight. Fires close to main engineering and engines S1-5 failing.”

“Get in the damn pod, Boston,” the Perseus’s captain snapped as he dropped to his seat. His legs trembled while power surged through his ship’s systems.

Using the WA, Bei entered the Perseus’s systems. His avatar darted through the bridge computers looking for a means to regain control. A miracle would be easier to find. His avatar dug through bins of data.
Come on, give me something
.

“All fleet ships shift portside,” Commander Keyes shouted though the emergency com while the
Starfarer’s
captain sent course corrections to the fleet.

“Launch recovery shuttles.” Bei jerked as he felt the echo of the surges through the WA connection.
God dammit. Not another one
. Bei shut down the WA to all but himself. “Perseus cut your engines. We’ll tow you to Terra Dos.”

Crimson trailed down the doomed ship’s captain’s pale cheeks. Electricity arced across his mouth. “Main engines are on fire, but the last of my men are away. Save them, Admiral, I’m taking the chariot to freedom.”

Static blitzed Bei’s implants. His body jack-knifed as all sensors recorded the Perseus’s explosion and her captain’s death. Eyes open, Bei convulsed against the cushioned chair as his brain tried to reconcile the other Syn-En’s death with Bei’s own continued life.

Keeping a hand on her cable, Shang’hai hooked a boot around Bei’s cable and kicked up, breaking his link. Her almond eyes narrowed in her pale face.

His muscles turned to mush as his brain grappled with the silence. Only his locked armor kept him from sliding out of the chair. Sweat stung his eyes but Bei was too drained to wipe it away. Until he recovered, he’d only be able to communicate through the WA. He opened the channel, limiting access to his bridge crew.
Status
.

Captain Penig tugged on his interface, thinning it to the size of a hair. Maintaining the tether to the telemetry hub, he made his way toward Bei. “The Centari has retrieved all civies and seven Syn-En. Shuttles are retrieving the last of the Perseus’s crew pods.”

You’re an ass, Bei. Relax and allow yourself to recover
. Shang’hai’s voice was as clear as if she spoke out loud. Her pink hair quivered atop her oval head. “I’ve sent a probe to determine the impact on the wormhole’s stability.”

Commander Keyes’s black eyes sparkled, no doubt at Shang’hai’s impertinence in the WA. “Two darts report minor damage. The debris field has been tagged and is awaiting retrieval. Cargo bay twelve was depressurized for twelve seconds. I’ve dispatched crews to inventory the remaining rations.”

The captain knelt near Bei’s chair and manually removed his finger-shaped coverings. His tool appendages opened and closed in smoothed strokes. “While my equipment may be out of date, I’m a damn good mechanic.”

Do it
. Bei nodded and Penig began his diagnostics. Once Bei’s brain activity was stabilized, the rest of the repairs would be a snap.

“Admiral,” Shang’hai’s voice rose on the last syllable. Her white cheeks paled. “The probe is reporting back.”

Commander Keyes’s mouth dropped open and she fiddled with the port next to Shang’hai’s. “That can’t be right. Have the probe do a self check and report back.”

On screen dammit
. The tremor that seized Bei had little to do with his current muscle spasms.

Shang’hai flinched at the anger shooting through the WA but activated the LCD. “Results confirmed. In ninety-seven million kilometers, the wormhole dead-ends.”

 

 

In every battle there are casualties, but Syn-En soldiers

who sacrifice their lives for human liberty will never die.

—First Axiom of Command, Syn-En
Vade Mecum

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Where’s the event horizon
? Still paralyzed in his command chair, Bei sent the wireless signal to Shang’hai and opened the WA for his bridge staff. The dark spot grew bigger on the LCD by her head. Ninety-seven million kilometers. At his ship’s current rate of speed, the
Starfarer
and her crew had approximately seven minutes before they would splatter against the wormhole’s dead end.

“There is no event horizon, Admiral.” Shang’hai’s soft voice cracked and she shuddered. After raking her hand through her spiky pink hair, she unraveled two more optic fibers from the knot of interfaces at the base of her skull and filled the rest of the navigation hub’s ports. “This part of the wormhole has collapsed. Switching plasma emission to bow vents, all hands brace for imminent full stop.”

Kneeling on the grated metal floor near Bei’s chair, Captain Penig removed the cover plate on Bei’s cerebral interface. “The smaller ships won’t be able to stop in time. I’ve ordered all hands to abandon ship. We’ll pick them up later.”

If the
Starfarer
stopped in time. If not, everyone would die a slow death from starvation, oxygen deprivation or hypothermia. A buzzing sounded near Bei’s ear seconds before he felt the tug at the base of his skull.
Send out the grappling hooks. Lash as many ships as possible to our hull.

Remaining at her station near the communications hub, Commander Keyes nodded once. Her brown eyes were wide as she stilled her trembling hands by placing them on the LCD. “Seven Beagal Class Starships are moving into position. Admiral we’re not going to be able to take them all without damaging the
Starfarer
.”

BOOK: The Syn-En Solution
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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