Here’s the next draft chapter of Seeker (StarFighter Book 2). Let me know what you think.
CH 1 Here:
Commander Mog stepped out of the transpod onto Deck 22 and made straight for the Chief Engineer’s office, paying little attention to the conscripts and enlisted crewmembers who pressed themselves against the corridor walls. They saluted as he strode past.
Standing a head-and-a-half taller than anyone on the deck, it was easy for Mog to see the extent of the repair effort to the Narma Kull’s engineering level. Every other deck plate was either removed or askew, providing access to the through-service piping and conduits that ran below the walking surface. Engineers and technicians worked frantically to re-route power cables and data lines. He’d already passed an entire wing that had been sealed off with force fields, where welders in space suits were working to patch a crack in the hull.
What a mess. It’s a miracle we’re still alive.
He turned the last corner. A line had formed just outside Kremp’s office. Mog didn’t recognize any of these crewmembers. His ship was full of new faces, mostly green replacements from Sledgim with a few veteran survivors from other starships thrown in. The mining world which Mog’s ship now orbited had always maintained a small naval outpost, whose primary duty had been to make sure the anitheum reserves kept flowing and that no civilians ever left, lest they spill the secret of the Eighth World’s existence to the rest of the Empire.
That hardly mattered now.
After the utterly surprising victory five days ago, the Narma Kull had been taking on sorely needed replacements from Sledgim’s barracks. Unfortunately, the best candidates that Sledgim had to offer had shipped out months ago in defense of the Empire. By now, most of those brave men and women would be dead—either killed off during the previous engagements, or incinerated at the Battle of Mauria. Mog liked to imagine that some lucky few had made it deep into the black, either as members of ragtag convoys or lone ships that had escaped the main action, using whatever means necessary to outrun and hide from the xenocidal Ta’Krell.
He scowled as a few of the crewmen at the front of the line started shoving each other. Now, I’m left with the dregs.
“Get out of my way,” said the man who had just been pushed aside.
“No way,” said the second man, waving a scanner. “I need to see him first. These cracks we detected are in Level One conduits… as in…Level One!”
“I don’t care about your stupid level whatever conduits,” said the first man. He growled, and went snout-to-snout with the other crewman. “Kremp asked to see the report on the quantum computer diagnostics first thing in the morning!”
“Well, you should have got here sooner, then,” said the second man, baring his fangs.
“Excuse me,” said a third crewman, holding a charred piece of twisted metal over her head in one hand. She pointed at Kremp’s door. “But Kremp ordered this blast sample from the Ta’Krell debris to be brought to him immediately! So if you boys are done kissing, I’d appreciate it if you shut up and move!”
Both men turned to stare at her. “Nazpah,” spat the first man. “Just try and make us.”
“Get back to the kitchen, mietchra!” said the second man.
The collection of Maurians behind the first three gasped. One of them—an officer—moved as if to break them up, but then stopped short when Mog bellowed. As one, group turned to face him. Jaws dropped as recognition dawned.
“Next one of you to speak gets a free ride to sickbay,” he growled through bared fangs. He extended the claws on his right hand. “Now, get to your stations.”
No one spoke. A few offered salutes, which Mog ignored. As the corridor before him cleared, Mog stepped sideways, blocking the three squabbling crewmembers. “Not you three!”
They looked up at Mog with wide yellow eyes. They were all dark brown-furred, the most common color of the Sledgim population. Their cadet uniforms indicated they were all first-year students at the naval academy. Damn this war, now we’ve dragged the pouchlings to the front lines. He pointed at the woman, who was cowering furthest from him. “You, give me that.”
She didn’t move.
He retracted his claws and did his best to soften his expression. He pointed at the piece of metal. “I’ll bring it to Chief Kremp.”
The woman bowed her head and handed him the metal fragment. He hefted it. It was lighter than it looked. Wordlessly, he stepped aside so she could slip past.
“We’ll be going too,” said the crewmen with the Level One conduit report.
“Stupid woman got us in trouble,” muttered the second man.
“Shut up, idiot!” said the first man.
Mog grinned a warrior’s grin. He leaned in and placed one of his great paw-like hands on each man’s shoulder. “Thank you, cadets, for your service,” he growled.
The pair looked up at him uncertainly. Then, in one sudden motion, Mog grabbed them by their scruffy necks and knocked their heads together. Both men yelped and dropped to their knees, holding their heads and whimpering.
“I’ve got no time for disrespect on this ship,” he said. “Now, get to the galley and tell the chef you’re there to scrub pots. I want everything spotless by the time I’m down there for lunch. Move!”
The two idiots staggered to their feet and, tripping over each other, made their escape.
Mog straightened his uniform and tapped the door chime. He waited. He tapped the chime again. No wonder there was a line. This had better be good. He entered his override code.
The doors parted, and he walked into…a university classroom?
Professor Drakmara was standing on top of Kremp’s desk, which had been pushed to the back of the room in front of a massive holographic display of the universe. Drakmara—a gray-furred academic—hardly seemed aware of the edge of the desk upon which he stood. A few millimarks behind Drakmara’s back foot was the railing, at perfect ankle-tripping height. Beyond that was the vast three-story expanse of the Narma Kull’s reactor room, which Kremp’s office overlooked. All Drakmara had to do to suffer a twenty-mark drop onto the keel of the ship was take one step backwards off the desk.
“And thus!” said Drakmara, pointing into the floating hologram of a bright star just behind him, “we arrive at Earth in just two months’ time!”
Someone had pulled a bunch of extra chairs into the room. Kremp, along with Ryal, Meela, and Nali, were all seated in front of the Professor, looking up at the projection. Mog’s nose twitched. He opened his mouth to breathe through that, then choked. In heaven’s name it reeks in here. The stink in the room wasn’t surprising, considering over half of his ship’s gravimetric and hydronic shower systems were broken, and everyone had been working around the clock to fix more important systems.
Kremp, who was seated nearest the door, looked up at him. “Ah, welcome to hyperspace stinks 101, sir!”
“You’re late,” said Drakmara. “I called you forty minutes ago. You missed my entire presentation!”
“I was busy coordinating the emergency resupply of the entire Navy,” said Mog coldly. He pointed. “You know there’s nothing but freefall behind that projection, right?”
Drakmara looked down at his feet, mutteed something to himself, then hopped forward, landing nimbly despite his frail appearance. “Late is late,” he said.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Mog. “I was standing outside pressing the damn door chime and nobody answered.”
“Ah, that’s because he made me disable it,” said Kremp.
Mog glanced down at the gray-furred engineer. “Isn’t this your office?”
In the opposite corner of the room, Nali snorted in amusement.
Kremp blinked. “Well, yes but…”
“It’s alright,” said Drakmara. He leaned against Kremp’s desk as if he owned it, crossing one leg behind the other. “I can summarize for the dear captain.”
“Fleet Commander,” growled Mog.
“Ah, captain, commander, what’s the difference?” said Drakmara. “I remember when you were a mere sub-commander, or was it boardman? All your little ranks, all of the military posh and precision, and for what? You still got spanked by Azhra’s army.”
Nali yawned, then looked over her shoulder at Mog. “Want me to kill him for you, sir?”
“That will hardly be necessary.”
Drakmara scowled. “Look, Commander, I don’t have all day, but I did call this meeting for your benefit, since it will be you, of course, making the decision as to our imminent course. A course, of course!”
Mog and his officers glanced at each other. Ryal raised his metallic arm and extended a titanium claw, then made a throat-slitting motion.
Drakmara completely missed the gesture. “Oh I do love a bit of wordplay. If you would but take a seat, I’ll make an exception and we will—”
“How about you just tell me in five minutes or less how we can get to Earth?” said Mog.
Drakmara looked as if he’d been slapped. “But, don’t you want to see the basis of the research? The data we recovered from the human fighters posed quite a challenge—the subtlety of the translation matrix into our numerical and grammatical system cannot simply be—”
“Ok, that’s it,” said Mog. He turned to leave. “Ryal, Meela, Nali, in my office in twenty minutes.” This’ll get him for sure.
“Alright, alright!” Drakmara squawked. “I’ll…summarize.”
Meela—the helmswoman and youngest member of Mog’s senior staff—suppressed a giggle. She looked back at Mog and, catching his eye, tipped an ear at him. Mog’s pulse quickened, and he quickly turned his attention towards the professor as the old man reset his projection. The map zoomed out and centered on a familiar system. Drakmara pointed at the star.
“We are here, at Mauria Prime.”
“Sledgim,” grunted Ryal.
Drakmara bared his yellowed teeth. “Mauria Prime, as so named by His Majesty mar-Ruba after the fall of—”
“Doesn’t matter what it’s called,” said Mog. “Faster, please.”
Drakmara winced. He tapped a control, and the image zoomed in to show a number of small dots labeled with the Marian Navy’s insignia circling the planet. “Here are your precious warships,” he said curtly. He tapped another control, and a red line was interposed onto the image. “This is the flight path of the alien vessel ISF Sagitta as logged by Mauria Prime’s satellite network prior to that vessel’s collision with the Ta’Krell flagship.” Drakmara zoomed the view out again. “As we have determined that the furless ones use a spatial-distortion type drive, as opposed to a multi-dimensional hyperplanar translator, we can assume the path taken is more or less a linear vector from the point of origin, corrected of course for interspatial gravimetric drift…”
“In plain Maurian, professor, or I’m leaving,” said Mog.
“They came from over there,” said Ryal, pointing.
“That’s right, said Drakmara, rotating the view and pointing along the line. “The problem was figuring out where along this line their ship originated from. There are multiple close star-systems over the course of thousands of light-years, within the theoretical range of their ship’s reaction mass and engine efficiency, which we determined from—”
“Earth!” said Mog. “You found it, right?”
“Yes!” said Drakmara. “From the star-charts in the alien fighter ships, correlated with matching systems along this vector.
“And we can get there?”
Drakmara opened his mouth, then looked at Kremp. “You tell him. I’m not sure how to do it without him yelling at me.”
Mog turned to Kremp. “Well?”
“Yes,” said Kremp. “In a way. We can get close. There is no mapped hyperspace current to Star AC-26294, which the humans call Sol. We’ve never explored that way, because it’s located beyond the black in between our local arm and the subsequent arm of the galaxy. The humans call their local arm the Orion-Cygnus arm, to us this is the Vel-Monok arm.” Kremp stood and walked over to the projection. “We’re here, in the Nostra arm. In between us and Vel-Monok is—”
“A whole bunch of black,” finished Mog.
“That’s right,” said Kremp. “And it takes a lot of anitheum to punch across that into the next arm over. We’ve done it before, but only with probes, and it’s a one-way trip.”
“Unless…” said Mog, “You happen to be orbiting the Maurian Empire’s anitheum stockpile, and the Navy that use to need all that fuel no longer exists…”
“Exactly,” said Kremp.
“Did I hear you can do it in two months?” said Mog.
“I believe so,” said Drakmara.
“Or, we can save a bunch of people and do it in three,” said Meela.
Mog looked at his helmswoman. “What do you mean?”
Meela looked at Drakmara. “Professor, can you load the full route you showed us before?”
“Of course.” Drakmara tapped his control pad, and the galactic map pivoted to show a hyperspace course in three-dimensions. The entry and exit points of the route corresponded with Sledgim’s sun and the Sol system.
Meela tapped something into her own control pad, and seven dots illuminated on the screen. “These are the Seven Worlds of the Maurian Empire, all fallen to the Ta’Krell.” She pressed another button, and thin purple lines connected the seven dots to seven different entry points on the hyperspace currents running parallel to the projected course. Three of the dots appeared within a few micromarks of the red course line.
“Ah, I see what you are doing,” said Drakmara. “Here, here, and here.” He tapped the illuminated midway points, and the red hyperspace course adjusted to line up. “These waypoints will only add three weeks to the trip, not including any time spent on reconnaissance. I see you know your craft well, young lady.”
The three worlds Drakmara had strung into their route were Rajak, Varsis, and Illum. Rajak, the Second World, had been the first to fall, and there had been no communication or ships from that sector for six months. Illum had fallen three weeks later, and Varsis more recently, about five weeks prior to the destruction of Mauria. Before the loss of Mauria, scout ships and unmanned probes had been sent to the other worlds to search for survivors, but all had disappeared without so much as a text message sent back.
“What, are you saying we visit those planets?” said Kremp.
“Exactly,” said Meela. “We can pick up any survivors we find and bring them along to Earth with us!”
Kremp’s ears perked up. “It’s true we never received any sensor data or confirmation of planetary destruction…I’ve prayed every night that my sisters on Illum made it out. Maesh and her mate had six pouchlings, not even a year old, when Illum fell…”
“I had cousins on Rajak and a great-aunt on Varsis,” said Meela. “My mate worked a freighter run between Varsis and Opeka. When we lost communication, he was enroute back to Varsis. Everyone just assumed they were dead, but no one really knows. We have enough ships to fight, we can go find out.”
“Interesting,” said Drakmara. “Perhaps the Ta’Krell’s fleets have moved on. They must have recalled ships from the other worlds when they mounted that attack on Mauria. A small expeditionary force such as ours might stand a chance against a comparatively small Ta’Krell rear guard, assuming they left any defenses at all. If we had the element of surprise…”
“We hide deep in the hyperspace layer,” muttered Kremp. “I could reconfigure our ships with some of the stealth technology that Sledgim’s researchers were tinkering with.”
A sinking feeling took hold in the pit of Mog’s stomach. He glanced over at Ryal.
Ryal met Mog’s gaze, and his ears drooped. “You want to tell them, Mog, or should I?”
“I’ll do it,” said Mog. He looked down at the chunk of Ta’Krell hull fragment in his hand. He had no doubt that once Kremp was done analyzing it, the report would tell them that even the metal the Ta’Krell made their ships out of was incomparably better than Maurian technology. Even one Ta’Krell dreadnaught would be enough to turn the surviving Maurian fleet into space trash.
“Well?” said Drakmara, glaring at Mog.
Mog saw the hope in Meela’s eyes. Nazpah. He looked at the ground. “We’re not going anywhere except Earth. That was Ruba’s last instruction.”
“But sir,” stammered Meela, “We’re literally passing right by the hypercurrents to those worlds. You said you would help me look for Vurl if you got the chance. Well, this is our chance! It would only take a little time to—”
“No,” he said firmly. Damn this job. “I’m sorry, but the decision’s been made. We can’t spare the time. Our ships are short on food, and we’re rationing as it is. The sooner we get to Earth the better.”
Kremp growled. “We can’t just give up on those planets. What if there’s people—”
“And what if there’s Ta’Krell?” said Ryal.
“That’s not a reason to…”
Drakmara’s words seemed to trail off as the sound of weapon’s fire filled Mog’s head. He swayed as the vision of a planet consumed by fire flashed before his eyes. Acrid smoke stung his nose. In the distance, people were screaming. It was his mother, and father, and little brother. All on fire, all dead. “Enough!” he roared, and the vision faded. “Didn’t you see what they did to Mauria? To our fleet? We’ve lost everything. Earth is our only chance, and I will not delay any longer.”
“I see,” said Drakmara. “I must point out that the King’s orders were just to seek help at the planet of the furless ones. He did not specify the route be direct, however—” He raised his hands as Mog bared his fangs. “Your logic is sound, Commander. I concur with your assessment.”
“I do not,” said Meela.
“Then you’re a stupid yischit,” said Nali.
Everyone turned to look at the Kalisari.
“What did you call me?” gasped Meela.
“You heard me,” said Nali. “Keep it up and I’ll call you something worse. The Commander’s made his decision. Our fleet is full of refugees and civilians, and we can’t risk their lives on a blind fool’s mission. Our ships can’t defeat the Ta’Krell. There is no reason to expect any survivors, only burned-out planets and ships torn asunder. Without a significantly larger and more heavily armed fleet, as tactical officer, I cannot recommend going within ten sectors of any Maurian planet.”
“We could try Taluria,” said Meela. “If they could send us some ships—”
“Stop it,” snapped Nali. “You know as well as anyone that our hails to Taluria have landed on deaf ears. Why would they help us? The Ta’Krell are finishing us off for good, something the Talurians tried and failed to do three times! The lizards are gloating while we die! With the departure of the elder races from the galaxy, there’s no other space-faring species with anywhere close to the level of technology required to battle this foe, except perhaps Earth. Time is short, and we’ve got to get them on our side. You’d do best to forget about Vurl. He’s dead, deal with it.”
Meela stood up so fast her chair toppled over, but Ryal got ahold of the helmswoman before she could make a lunge at Nali. Nali didn’t so much as flinch. She just went back to picking at her claws.
“So that’s it then?” said Meela, struggling against Ryal’s mechanical arm. Her glare was worse than being shot by a Ta’Krell plasma blast.
“Yes,” said Mog. “And there will be no more discussion on the matter.” Before anyone could say anything else, he turned to Kremp. “Here.” He handed the engineer the piece of debris. “It’s a chunk of a Ta’Krell ship. I took it off a young woman outside that was waiting to deliver it.”
“Ah, yes,” said Kremp. “This might give us a better idea of why our weapons do so little against their hulls.” He barely noticed the piece of metal, as he was still looking over Drakmara’s shoulder at the projected course. Mog glared at Drakmara. “Professor, program the course for Earth. Everyone, there’s work to do. To your stations.” He avoided Meela’s gaze as he turned to leave. She’ll come around. But, deep in his hearts, he knew that she wouldn’t.