Federation Communications Hub, Xantos Beta
Sub-technician Glynd Tandar stared with tired eyes at the flare of data juddering across the large wallscreen. He had been on shift for seven hours, and was not due to be relieved for another two. His red-rimmed eyes ached from the long hours spent monitoring and deciphering the never-ending comms traffic. The coded information held little meaning at this stage of his shift.
Tandar knew the work they did here was important. Maintaining the network of communication hubs across the Federation was vital to security – especially in the current climate. The installation on Xantos Beta was a prime node in this sector for cascading top priority transmits through the hyperspace network. If Xantos Beta ever fell silent, it could cripple the Federation.
Pinching the bridge of his nose to relieve a build-up of pressure, Tandar forced himself awake and focused his concentration back to the instrument banks.
On the chair next to Tandar, clothed in the same pristine white uniform of the science-corps that he wore himself, Olivar yawned. They had been working this shift together for nearly three years, and knew exactly how each other thought.
Tandar glanced at his younger comrade, adjusting a control as he did. ‘You too?’ he asked.
Olivar ran a hand though sandy hair and smiled ruefully. ‘Yeah. The Eighth Hour,’ he announced with mock drama. It was a joke among the comms technicians on Xantos Beta. The Eighth Hour: the hour of your shift cycle where, if you were going to make a mistake, it would be then. Olivar pointed his stylus at the screen. ‘I’ve no idea if this is detailing troop movements on Saurian Demos, or if it’s the President’s shopping list.’
Tandar smiled. Olivar always knew how to cheer up a long shift. His colleague waggled a plastic beaker at him and he nodded. Olivar picked up another beaker and walked the short distance across the control room to the food dispenser. He placed a beaker in a small alcove and pressed a button. With a dull whine, the machine began to dispense a dark, steaming liquid.
Olivar leant against the wall and watched the stream of liquid. ‘They should just get computers to do everything. Aren’t they supposed to enhance the quality of life?’
‘You’d soon get bored with all that leisure time,’ Tandar said over his shoulder. ‘And besides, what would you do without me for company?’
‘I’m sure I could think of –’
Olivar broke off as the heavy door at the back of the control room was slammed open. Tandar tensed and rose to his feet as a black-clad trooper stalked into the room, boots thudding heavily on the metal floor plates. The trooper’s face was completely obscured by the helmet and he moved slowly around the room like some sightless mantis. Hefting a standard-issue Federation blaster rifle, the trooper looked first at Tandar, then at Olivar, before raising a comm-unit to his mouthpiece.
‘Section Gamma clear,’ the trooper rasped into the unit. ‘Green condition.’ Satisfied, the trooper stalked back to the door, the two technicians watching nervously as he stopped at the drinks dispenser. Without a word, he took the recently poured beverage and left the room. The door was pulled closed after him with almost unnecessary politeness.
Olivar visibly sagged against the wall and Tandar realised he had barely breathed throughout the last minute.
‘These additional security checks make me nervous,’ said Olivar as he stabbed the button to dispense another drink.
‘Relax,’ soothed Tandar. ‘They’re doing their jobs.’
‘Yeah, scaring innocent Federation citizens.’ Olivar walked quickly back to his work station, drink in hand. ‘Just because some freedom fighter goes on the rampage, our personal liberty has to suffer because they up all the security rotations.’ He sat heavily back at his seat. ‘Am I the only one who sees the irony in that? Thanks a lot, Blake.’
Tandar had to laugh. ‘This Blake seems to be getting the blame for everything now. I even heard a transcription clerk blaming the quality of the food in the refectory on him.’
‘Maybe she has a point.’ Olivar took a gulp from the beaker and returned his attention to the screen.
‘It’ll all die down soon enough,’ Tandar tried to reassure his colleague. ‘These things always do. Remember all that trouble with Baban the Butcher? How often do you hear about him these days?’
Olivar shrugged. ‘I guess.’ He returned to work, tapping a sequence on the wide control panel. ‘Do you think we can reach the end of this shift without any foul-ups. I’d quite like to enjoy some personal relaxation time later.’
Grinning, Tandar wheeled his chair up close to the control bank next to his colleague. ‘I’m sure we can get through the next two hours without –’
Tandar felt a sudden pressure as a cold, solid tube was pressed against his neck. He froze.
A voice, soft and calm, said: ‘If you do exactly as I say, neither of you will be harmed.’
Olivar leapt to his feet, immediately squaring up to the presence standing behind Tandar, but was roughly shoved back into his seat by a dark-haired man who appeared from the shadows.
‘Sit down,’ hissed this second newcomer, pressing an identical device hard against Olivar’s cheek. The tube was attached to a cupped base of concentric rings and smooth moulded black handle. The man’s thumb wavered over a stud set into the device’s base. Tandar had never seen anything like it, but the intent behind its use was obvious.
‘You won’t shoot us,’ Tandar said, his pulse quickening as adrenalin rushed through his body.
The man standing with Olivar broke into a thin, sardonic smile. ‘My friend here has a streak of honour that renders the chance of him pulling the trigger at around 98 per cent. I, on the other hand, have no such emotional disability and guarantee you, one hundred per cent, that I will shoot if you do not follow our instructions.’
‘That’s enough, Avon. We have a job to do.’
Avon? Had Tandar heard right? Olivar was hauled roughly from his chair and the man – Avon – shoved him bodily across the control room. Seconds later, Tandar himself was pulled from his seat and thrust towards the back of the room. Olivar caught him and helped him to stay on his feet.
Both men faced the second aggressor. He stood a short distance away, covering them with the strange weapon. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘don’t move and nobody will be hurt. I give you my word.’ This tall, powerfully built man radiated a calm sense of power. He was clothed in heavy boots and some sort of hooded green combat fatigues; much like his comrade.
But it was the face that Tandar was drawn to. The unruly mop of dark hair framing an intelligent face. And the eyes, careworn and sad, darting between Tandar and Olivar.
Tandar knew that face. It had been burned into his memory from the constant security bulletins that dominated the Federation comms network.
Blake didn’t take his eyes from the technicians. ‘Avon?’
Behind him, the other man had sat at the bank of instruments, moving dexterous, confident hands across the controls. ‘I’m concentrating,’ he said without looking up.
Kerr Avon, thought Tandar. One of Blake’s band of ‘outlaws’.
Computer genius. Embezzler.
‘Concentrate faster,’ said Blake.
‘Uploading a virus of this nature is not just a case of pressing a button. I need to encrypt the chameleon subroutine before I can lay it into the hyperspace network. If I get this right, it should be enough to knock out this node of the entire Federation comms network for weeks.’
‘You’ve got two.’
Avon said nothing and continued working. He pulled a crystal from a pouch on his belt and inserted it into the control bank’s data port. It began to whirr and click as the upload process began.
‘What are you going to do to us?’ blurted Olivar. Tandar just wanted him to stay quiet and not antagonise the terrorists. Thankfully, Blake ignored him and quickly activated a control on a bracelet adorning his wrist.
‘Liberator, Blake,’ he said into the bracelet, training his weapon back on the technicians. Tandar placed an arm across Olivar, hoping to calm his jittery colleague.
‘Jenna here,’ crackled a woman’s voice from the bracelet.
‘Jenna, we’re in and everything is going to plan.’
‘We’re standing by on teleport and awaiting your signal.’
‘Good. Advise Gan and Cally we’ll see them at the rendezvous point in three minutes.’
‘Will do. Liberator out.’
Blake lowered his arm and backed slowly towards Avon, gun always levelled at Tandar and Olivar. Tandar could feel Olivar’s shaking body tense. He gave the younger technician a warning look, but he could see the anger in his eyes.
‘Come on, Avon,’ said Blake urgently. ‘Hurry it up.’
Avon looked up with narrowed eyes. ‘I am,’ he replied drily.
‘You won’t escape!’ Olivar blurted. ‘The Federation is too big, they’re going to bring you down!’
‘Shut up,’ Tandar pleaded with his colleague. ‘You’ll get us killed.’
‘I don’t care, they’re terrorists!’
‘I told you to keep quiet!’ said Blake as he strode back towards them, the sudden flash of anger immediately convincing Tandar that Blake was capable of everything the Federation accused him of.
‘Blake, it’s done,’ called Avon from the control desk. The data moving across the screen turned from green to red. ‘The entire hub will be down within minutes.’
‘Well done, Avon.’ Blake glanced at the screen as spidery lines began to appear between the blocks of comms. In that moment, Olivar pounced forward, barrelling into Blake and shoving past the rebel. Before Blake could react, he leapt towards the panic button set into the wall. Olivar’s hand slammed over the alarm and a klaxon began to blare. In the next second, a terrifying shriek drowned out the alert and Olivar screamed, his body spasming and jerking back. He fell to the floor, dead, sightless eyes looking up towards Tandar.
‘No!’ shouted the technician. He had wanted none of this.
The bright flare of energy that had suffused Avon’s slim weapon dulled to nothing. He stepped forward and kicked the lifeless technician with a booted foot.
‘I did warn him,’ said Avon, almost by way of casual apology to Blake, who was already moving to the door.
‘We have to get out of here,’ was all Blake said before opening the door and checking the corridor outside. Alarms blared all across the base and shouted orders could be heard moving closer. ‘Avon,’ he barked before disappearing into the corridor.
Avon stepped over Olivar’s body, turning calmly to face Tandar. The Federation technician raised his arms in surrender as Avon aimed the weapon directly between his eyes. ‘Please,’ he said. ‘Just go.’
Avon stood for a second, eyes locked with Tandar’s. Then he smiled a cruel, arrogant smile, jerked the gun back in a swift movement and was gone, following Blake out into the chaos of sounding klaxons and the thud of booted feet.
Tandar collapsed to the ground in a sobbing heap next to the corpse of his dead friend.
Blake and Avon ran.
Alarms blared rhythmically throughout the complex, echoing around the landscape of twisting steel towers and labyrinthine walkways. The two men emerged into the open air through a heavy vaulted doorway onto a balcony overlooking the communications base. Vapour from cooling vents obscured much of the industrial terrain, lending the base an eerie quality as Blake and Avon clattered down a grilled stairway to reach ground level.
They had almost reached the bottom when a trooper emerged like a black ghost through the miasma, his gun up and ready to fire. Blake launched himself down the remaining steps, smashing onto the trooper. Both men went down, the trooper’s rifle skittering away as Blake landed the butt of his gun into the man’s face once, twice, shattering the eye lenses of the trooper’s helmet.
A second guard sprinted into view, aiming straight at Blake’s exposed back.
‘Blake, down!’ shouted Avon.
Blake felt the heat across his back as Avon’s blaster shrieked, the trooper slamming roughly against a concrete wall. Blake was up and running before Avon reached the bottom of the stairs.
‘Thank you,’ Blake called as the pair ran down a straight walkway between two buildings.
‘Don’t thank me yet! Which way?’
‘Left here.’ The two men ducked nimbly into a side passage as a retinue of helmeted guards marched into view at the end of the walkway, their boots splashing through oily slicks of water. They spotted the two rebels and broke into a sprint.
Avon followed Blake down one passage, then another, always dodging the squads of pursuing Federation troopers. But logic dictates that luck, sooner or later, must run out. They reached a junction where six walkways carved into the landscape of twisting steel intersected. From all around, a symphony of thudding boots, barked orders and klaxons told them they were out of options.
Dark smudges appeared in the distance of every thoroughfare, soon focusing into black phalanxes of troopers marching closer. Hot sparks haloed just above Blake’s head as the first shot slammed into the wall. He raised his gun with a determined gleam in his eyes, a look mirrored back in Avon’s angular face. ‘Make them count,’ said Blake grimly.
Both men fired into the lines of approaching troopers, selecting their targets carefully. The air crackled and fizzed with the heat of the energy discharge from their weapons, which screamed fatal blasts of power into the Federation ranks. As bodies began to fall, the troopers took cover, returning the aggressors’ fire, but never finding their mark.
‘How much more of this, Blake?’ Avon shouted over his shoulder as shots gouged shards of scorched metal from the floor.
‘Until Cally –’
‘That’s not what I mean,’ Avon countered, dropping another trooper. ‘How many more communication bases? Depots? Insignificant supply routes?’
A flash of black came into Blake’s line of sight and he fired, a trooper falling with a cry of pain. ‘This is what we do, Avon. This is the fight.’
‘It may be your fight,’ said Avon, shifting position and firing, ‘but how long it will be everyone else’s remains to be seen.’
‘What’s your point, Avon?’
‘How long until this rebellion starts to mean something? How long can you keep striking at the edge of the Federation? Sooner or later, you will have to aim for the heart.’
Blake didn’t reply, mouth set into a determined line as he fired again and again.
Avon paused, glancing back questioningly. ‘Blake?’
‘I’ll know the moment. For now, I just need you to trust me.’
‘Right now, I’d settle for trusting we’re going to get out of here.’
‘Oh, I think something should be happening right about… now.’
An explosion erupted across a walkway, the retinue of guards caught in a blast of fire and debris. Other discharges erupted in sequence, some rumbling in distant corners of the base, others close, ripping savagely into the attacking troopers. One body lay, blood spurting in a sticky river where an arm should have been, another ran screaming as fire engulfed his entire body.
Avon averted his face away from the wall of heat that squalled towards him, trying to ignore the screams of the dying men. ‘That was close,’ he said. ‘Too close.’
Blake smiled as two figures emerged sprinting through the flames of the walkway directly ahead of him. One was a giant of a man, his tall, broad frame like a running wall of muscle. The other was a woman, lithe and graceful, her curls of brown hair bouncing as she ran. Avon levelled his blaster towards them then pulled back sharply as he recognised the pair.
Blake greeted them. ‘Cally, Gan. Right on time.’
Olag Gan towered above his three comrades, smiling benignly. ‘Always happy to help, Blake.’
‘Mission accomplished?’ asked Cally.
‘For what it matters,’ Avon said coldly.
Cally’s eyes narrowed and she looked questioningly from Avon to Blake.
Blake placed a hand on Cally’s shoulder. ‘Ignore him. Yes, mission accomplished.’
‘So can we please get out of here?’ said Avon impatiently.
‘I’m with Avon,’ said Gan.
‘You have no idea how much that pleases me.’
Gan ignored him. ‘Those guards won’t be down for long.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Blake. ‘Time to leave.’ He raised the teleport bracelet on his wrist and thumbed a button. ‘Liberator?’
‘Thank goodness,’ Jenna’s voice crackled from the speaker. ‘Vila thought you’d got lost.’
‘I did not,’ joined in another crackling voice. ‘I just… worry. I’m a worrier, okay?’
Avon rolled his eyes wearily.
‘We’re fine,’ said Blake. ‘And ready for teleport. Bring us up.’
The four rebels remained still as the air around them began to vibrate with energy and with a gentle burst of static they were each outlined in a halo of thin white light. Seconds later, the whine of static altered pitch and the freedom fighters vanished, the white light discharging to nothing.
Dirty red flames licked at where Blake and his three followers had stood seconds before, black smoke obscuring the dead bodies of fallen Federation troops.
Federation Space Command
A Federation trooper was flung aside as an explosion tore apart the side of a building. Black smoke obscured the troopers as they scattered in the chaos created by the blast, one screaming in agony, uniform shredded and skin blistered. A second blast erupted...
… and Supreme Commander Servalan of the Terran Federation swivelled her chair away from the screen relaying the security archive feed from Xantos Beta. She met the probing gaze of the hawk-faced man standing before her desk with a questioning, almost amused look.
‘300 hundred troops dead, many more injured. Incalculable damage to the physical infrastructure of the base. The entire communications hub disabled, plunging our military forces in that sector into chaos. This is not to mention –’
‘Secretary Rontane,’ Servalan purred, cutting him off mid flow, ‘I am well aware of the facts pertaining to Blake’s recent attack on Xantos Beta. I did pen the official report, after all.’
‘And most illuminating reading it was. The President was especially interested in the section relating to Blake’s escape – yet again – from the capture that has been promised by your office for several months. The President is a patient man, Supreme Commander. But his reserves are not, shall we say, limitless.’
‘The President’s continued understanding of the Blake situation is appreciated,’ Servalan said with a disarming smile. ‘While I realise he is still at large, along with his associates, I have every confidence that Blake’s liberty will be coming to an end very soon.’
‘I wish I shared that confidence,’ Rontane said, his dark watery eyes staring at her from beneath a severe black fringe. The Secretary was not known for his looks, and it proved a challenge for Servalan to bring herself to look upon him. Indeed, in the early days of her career, she had known the woman who was now Rontane’s wife. How she pitied her, having this creature pawing at her under the bed sheets with those cold, clammy hands. She suppressed a shudder, her demure smile never slipping.
Rontane slowly paced the length of Servalan’s expansive and plush office. ‘Computer, display security file Blake 1.’
A rhythmic chime sounded and the screen behind Servalan changed from an image of smoke rising above the burning communications base to the face of a man. A face that had become very familiar. Text scrolled in a column next to the picture.
‘Roj Blake,’ announced Rontane, glancing towards Servalan when she did not appear compelled to turn and face the screen, instead choosing to face her guest with a beatific smile. Blake’s face stared out from the screen, his eyes dead and emotionless. ‘Activist. Dissident. Terrorist. Public enemy number one.’
The picture changed with a chime to show a woman, blonde hair tumbling in curls around stunningly attractive, but hardened, features. ‘Jenna Stannis,’ Rontane continued as the text burned across the screen, detailing the woman’s crimes. ‘Smuggler, a self-styled free trader with affiliation to several terrorist organisations.’
As Rontane warmed to his theme, Servalan fought to keep the indifference from her face as he listed in turn the crimes and activities of Blake’s crew, moving from Stannis through the cold, calculating features of Kerr Avon, to the man called Vila Restal.
‘Delta grade,’ barked Rontane. ‘Thief with a particular talent for bypassing high-grade security systems.’
Servalan finally turned to face the screen, if only to hide her irritation at Rontane’s tediously theatrical performance. She closed her eyes briefly, before looking at the wall screen with an imperceptible sigh. Vila Restal looked back, his thin, brown hair framing a round, open face that belied the keen intelligence that hid behind the eyes.
The screen changed yet again, showing the one member of Blake’s crew that had briefly been captured during an incident on Centero. This one fascinated the Supreme Commander. Her motivations in joining Blake’s movement had been unclear and, despite the opportunity for extensive interrogation, this Cally remained something of a mystery.
‘A native of the planet Auron, with known affiliations to other insurrectionist groups. Intelligence had placed her previously on Saurian Major.’ He paused. ‘Olag Gan.’
Servalan absently rubbed a temple, no longer concerned if her boredom showed or not. ‘Common murderer with overt tendencies towards violence.’ The kind eyes staring from the screen suggested he was anything but, the features were those of a retrograde yokel better suited to manual labour or those of a common farmer.
Servalan elegantly swivelled her chair back to face Rontane. If she was uncomfortable in his presence, her straight-backed poise did not betray her as she placed her hands delicately on the arms of her chair. ‘Perhaps, Secretary,’ she said, ‘you would now like to give me a detailed appraisal of the essential schematics and capabilities of the Liberator?’ She smiled charmingly. ‘They appear to have quite slipped my mind.’
Rontane returned her smile coldly. ‘I find it never hurts to review vital information, especially in such delicate matters.’
‘I quite agree, and I thank you for that. I can assure you, and the President, that the matter of Blake and his associates is quite under control.’
‘I am relieved to hear it.’
Servalan leant forward, the material of her figure-pressing white dress rustling with the movement. ‘So you may return to Earth and inform the President.’
Rontane paused, regarding the Supreme Commander with the hint of a smile flickering on his bloodless lips. ‘I shan’t be returning to Earth. At least not immediately.’
‘What?’ For the first time during the meeting, a note of emotion crept into Servalan’s voice.
‘It was thought best to inform you in person, Supreme Commander. The President has assigned me, purely in an observatory capacity of course, to monitor your progress in person.’
Servalan resisted the urge to stand.
‘While you have the full backing of the President’s office, it was thought some on-the-ground assistance would be a welcome… encouragement to your efforts to bring Blake to justice. I shall be remaining on Space Command Headquarters for the foreseeable future.’ Rontane produced a sheath of folded papers from within his tunic and offered them across the desk to Servalan. When she didn’t take them, he placed them neatly before her. ‘The President’s orders are quite clear.’
‘I’m sure they are.’ Finally she rose to her feet. ‘Of course, I fully appreciate…’ Rontane cut her off. ‘To that end, for the first step in this process I would like you to recall Space Commander Travis for immediate debrief. I am eager to be updated on his progress in apprehending the insurrectionists.’
‘That may not be possible,’ said Servalan evenly, regaining her composure. ‘Travis is currently on deep space manoeuvres following the incident on Xantos Beta. Telemetry data on the anticipated course of the Liberator has been relayed to his command ship from our tracking platforms. I am confident that the Space Commander will be reporting with positive developments quite soon.’
Rontane’s nostrils flared as he considered Servalan’s statement. ‘Very well,’ he eventually said. ‘I wish to be informed as soon as Travis reports in. Do I make myself clear, Supreme Commander?’
Servalan flashed her most dazzling and professional smile. ‘Crystal,’ she said, maintaining the charming, mannered shell that had protected her on her meteoric rise through the ranks of Federation civil servants.
‘I have assigned myself the executive guest suite,’ said Rontane as he finally made a move to leave.
‘Of course you have,’ Servalan replied, making a mental note to reprimand certain members of her staff for failing to inform her of this turn of events. ‘You’ll join me for dinner, of course?’
Rontane paused at the door, a visible wince of distaste indicating he’d rather spend the evening in a slum with a group of Delta Grade labourers. ‘Has the catering improved since my last visit to Space Command?’
‘My personal chef is a graduate of the Curbishley Academy on Roba Nine. I personally vouch for his excellence.’
‘Very well,’ Rontane said wearily. ‘’Until later.’ The door opened with a brisk hiss of air and the Secretary oozed out of the room.
‘Yes. Until later.’
Servalan closed her eyes and sank back into the comfort of her chair. She felt dirty, oily even. Rontane always left her with the urge to cleanse herself immediately beneath the wave of a sonic shower.
She turned slowly in her chair and opened her eyes, finding that the screen had frozen on the image of Blake. He stared impassively out at her and she was taken with a sudden desire to sit with this man, to talk to him, perhaps even to share a drink. She simply wanted to know why.
She dismissed the thought, removing Blake with a curt flick of a control on her desk. The image faded, replaced with the view outside the station. The field of stars shifted slowly as the structure rotated on its axis, maintaining Earth natural gravity in every area of Space Command. Servalan watched, trying to empty her mind of the stresses and strains of high office.
The Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation’s military forces set her mouth in a tight line and swivelled back to her desk. She pressed a control on the console that responded with an efficient chime. When she spoke, her voice was edged with cold steel.
‘Get me Space Commander Travis. Now.’
At that precise moment, Space Commander Travis was shouting orders into a comm-unit, the engines of his Starburst-class pursuit ship screaming with the torture of sudden acceleration.
‘Squad Beta, come about and target sector four! Delta, hold off at 500 spacials, they’ll come running straight at you. Cappa, target all weapons and fire at will!’
The wide viewscreen mounted above the command deck flashed brightly with the sudden firing of plasma bolts. Travis gripped the arm of his command chair with a black-gloved hand as the floor plating shuddered beneath his feet. His mutoid pilot compensated for the shockwave and brought the ship back to an even course.
‘Holding steady, sir,’ relayed the pilot calmly, her hands moving deftly over the flight controls. Mutoids, thought Travis. Cold as ice, but unswerving in their loyalty and stoic under the most extreme pressure. He found their reliance on the blood serum that nourished their augmented physiognomy somewhat distasteful, but it undoubtedly made them more reliable. Control the serum, and you controlled them.
Travis sank his broad frame into his command chair, feeling the intelligent material moulding around his body to secure him against sudden flight turbulence. He glanced up at the screen, gazing keenly at the image displayed, with a single eye. His left eye was obscured, the terrible scarring of a previous battle injury covered with a patch that looked like tar oozing across his face.
The weapons fire receded, and Travis leant forward greedily, his right eye glinting at the image on the screen. Three pursuit ships flashed in the distance as they swooped round on a new course heading, but it was the ship in the centre of the screen that held Travis’s attention.
It was a vessel like no other he had ever seen and, every time he saw it, a perverse thrill shivered through his body. The sleek lines burst forth at steep angles from the pulsing green orb of the propulsion module. They swept up into three identical pods arranged in a triangle configuration around a central superstructure that tapered into a needle point. Each of the three modules was mounted with powerful shard-like neutron blasters, and the whole ship had all the appearance of a silver talon hanging in space.
This was his target. His quarry. His prize.
And Blake’s ship would soon be his for the taking.
‘Squad Epsilon, advance to sector seven and lay down a barrage of fire. Let Blake know that’s a dead end.’
‘Acknowledged, Alpha,’ crackled the response over the speakers.
‘Cappa, keep firing!’
Plasma bolts were loosed from the three ships of Squad Cappa, fiery suns hurtling towards the Liberator. Seconds later, the rebel ship was engulfed in a searing firestorm. The huge ship shook visibly under the impact, but the plasma energy dissipated, burning off harmlessly into space. The Liberator was unscathed.
Travis slammed a fist against the arm of his seat.
‘Their forcewall is still operational,’ said the navigator, her mutoid eyes never moving from the banks of instruments.
‘It won’t last for ever,’ growled Travis. ‘And then they’ll be ours.’
‘They’re moving, sir.’
For a large ship, the Liberator had an amazing turn of speed and fierce manoeuvrability. The ship powered into action, arcing round in a graceful curve to bring her blasters to bear on the attacking Cappa squadron. Incandescent beams of energy shot out from the three neutron blasters. Two of the pursuit ships had anticipated the move and employed evasive strategy, but Cappa Three was caught in the blast, a beam of neutron energy slamming into it. It flashed negative for a split second, before vaporising into space dust.
Before Travis could issue counter orders, orange pinpricks of light flashed at intervals along one side of the Liberator’s primary hull. ‘Seeker missiles launched,’ intoned the pilot. ‘Locked on.’
‘Evasive!’ shouted Travis, gripping his comm-unit tighter as the deck lurched sickeningly. ‘All squads, evasive manoeuvres! Evade and regroup!’
The pilot’s hands flashed across the controls and the ship spiralled into a dizzying dive, forcing Travis to wedge himself firmly against the padded grip of his command chair. The engines shrieked and the deck shuddered as an explosion impacted off the left flank. Sparks fizzed from the flight controls, but the mutoids never flinched, and the ship was soon back on a steady course.
‘Status,’ Travis barked.
‘Minimal damage. Squads Beta and Cappa are down one ship each.’
Travis could hear the blood pumping in his veins, fury surging through him in waves. ‘Damn you, Blake! Launch plasma bolts. Launch!’
The Forgotten will be published in May by Big Finish Books.