Echoes of Deception
by Jannette Johnson
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Hesitating, the female turned her antenna toward the centre landing. “Sir, Protocol 231 indicates that a formal request must be lodged with the Council before deadly force is used.”
Floorg’s dorsal fur rippled. He was not used to having his commands questioned. Especially from a subordinate. “There are enough complaints registered against the Grobian government to warrant this use of deadly force, Ensign.”
Kell turned completely around in her seat. “But sir —”
“Enough, Ensign,” Floorg’s tone was sharp. “If you cannot follow orders then you will resign your post.” Floorg’s dorsal fur stood on end. “I will not have my orders questioned in the middle of a crisis situation, and certainly not by a recruit!”
All eyes watched as Kell, crestfallen, her antenna slouched forward, disconnected her seat from the monitor console and lowered herself to the walkway.
“Are forward weapons armed, Ensign Frep?” Floorg asked, returning his attention to the matter at hand.
Frep hesitated for a moment. “Yes, sir.”
“Target a non-essential area of the ship, and fire when ready.”
Floorg saw Kell’s head turn in his direction. “Deadly force does not always mean destruction, Ensign.” The gentleness in his tone returned. “We will give them a taste of our arsenal, let the Grobians know the Galactic Perseverance Council is powerful and means what it says.”
The smaller ship whizzed by, its blip becoming a white streak on the grid map. A targeting icon flashed to life and locked onto the ship as it passed. Another recruit above Frep frantically tapped his monitor, trying his best to keep up with the retreating blip.
Floorg’s young crew now focused on the Grobian warships, which were continuing on a direct route to them. In a burst of white, two shots leapt from the underbelly of their ship, the tracking system locked on and followed as the missiles advanced toward one warship. They detonated near the rear of the Grobian vessel, causing minor explosions on either side. Suddenly, several larger internal explosions rocked the warship, throwing huge pieces of debris out into space.
“Rear and quarterly weapons ports on the Grobian warship have been destroyed,” Frep said, barely loud enough for anyone to hear.“Destroyed?” Floorg said, slightly annoyed. “You were supposed to target a non-essential.”
“I did, Sir.” Frep was unable to face his superior. “I don’t understand.“
Scrambling to discover what happened, the recruit above Frep began to tap his monitor on the image of the impact. His station clicked furiously as symbols scrolled along. “Master Corporal, sensors show a high degree of previous damage.”
Pleased at the promptness of this recruit, Floorg nodded in his direction. “Explain, Ensign Xon.”
“Sir, it is possible that a previous battle has left them vulnerable and structurally weak. Our weapons caused a cascade effect, and the resulting explosions have severely damaged their ship.”
Suddenly several flashes lit up the monitors as two more shots streaked past Floorg’s vessel, and directly toward the injured warship.
Floorg scanned the grid. “Where did those shots come from?”
“Master Corporal,” Xon’s excited voice rang out. “The pod has changed course, and is now heading toward the damaged warship.”
“It’s going to attack,” Kell said, staring at the monitors as she hovered in her chair over the walkway.
“Nonsense,” Floorg snorted, “it’s too small to carry weapons that will do any sort of real damage.”
As the last words tumbled from his mouth, the weapons fire impacted close to the same area that had been hit moments ago. Another rolling wave of blasts tore apart the Grobian ship, scattering more chunks of debris into space. Flashes erupted from all parts of the hull, until it was finally engulfed in a brilliant explosion that erased it from existence.
Severely damaged from impacted debris, the surviving warship began a slow turn away from Floorg’s ship, heading back the way it had come, as small explosions from debris damage flickered across one side of the hull.
Shocked by the devastation, Floorg could do nothing but stare at the monitor. The blast had been intense enough to register on even his limited visual facility. “That’s impossible,” he spoke softly. “Our sensors didn’t indicate weapons that powerful.”
Frep straightened himself in his chair. “Our sensors didn’t show much of anything.” he said. “Radiation interference.”
“Sir,” Xon said. “I have confirmation on the smaller ship. It is of Reekian origin.”
“Reekian,” Floorg adjusted his antenna. This new information wasn’t making sense. “Archive indicates they are a peaceful society, not known to be antagonistic to other races. Why would they leave their territory to attack a Hostile?”
“Perhaps,” Kell spoke softly, “it is as you said, Master Corporal: species evolve, and not always for the better.”
Floorg watched as the small pod closed in on the surviving warship, unsure how to proceed. The Reekian species was an ancient society, more advanced than even his own race. Their weapons were powerful, and Floorg feared if the pod attacked again, there was a very good chance the warship would be destroyed.
But what would be wrong with that? Grobians were on the Hostile list. They’d ignored the Galactic Liaison Charter more than once by attacking passing ships. So why would he be stressed over this new development?
“Sir,” Ensign Frep spoke uneasily. “Do we assist the Reekian ship in their attack on the Grobians?”
“We can’t.” Kell had returned and stood facing her superior. “It is clear the Grobians are the weaker of the two. Aiding in their attack would make us no better than the Reekians.”
“They’re Hostiles,” Xon argued. “Council ships have destroyed Hostile ships before, why should this be any different?”
“But they’re not Hostiles, not any more.” Kell turned her head toward Floorg. “Sir, the Galactic Preservation Charter clearly states that any spacefaring species functioning within the Preservation Council must protect those races who cannot protect themselves. In this situation, it has become clear that the Grobian race now falls into this category.”
Floorg was silent. He knew the Grobians to be an aggressive, combatant race. Previous encounters with them could not be dismissed, but Ensign Kell was right as well, and he could not ignore one of his own fundamental beliefs.
“Sir,” Frep spoke again. “The Reekian ship is closing quickly on the Grobian warship. What should we do?”
Floorg hesitated for a moment, then keyed his system before sitting down. Touching a small icon at the top of his monitor, he activating a small blue light within all stations across the ship, then opened a communication channel. “This is Master Corporal Floorg of the Galactic Preservation Council. To Reekian attack ship: refrain from your assault on the Grobian warship. They are in retreat; there is no need for further destruction.”
It was a few moments before a large portion of the screens flickered, and an oblong pale face greeted the crew. Its neck was slender, and rested on frail shoulders. “Greetings, Master Corporal Floorg, I am Sheeka of the Reekian Empire. Your assistance is no longer needed in this matter. You may return to your station, secure in the knowledge that the Grobians will be taken care of.”
Perplexed, Floorg turned his head to one side, “You sent out the distress,” he said matter-of-factly. “when it is clear you did not need our help at all.”
“On the contrary.” The corners of Skeeka’s small mouth turned slightly upward. “Our weapons could only do minimal damage to their border patrol ships. It was hard to focus on one vessel when the second was attacking.”
“Border patrol ships?” Floorg barely spoke above a whisper. Only warships crossed the border. The realization of what happened slowly began to emerge. “Then they weren’t attacking you?”
Time seemed to halt as Floorg waited for a reply, yet none came. Instead, the Reekian turned its head slightly as the transmission began to fade. It was all the response he needed.
Floorg sensed the apprehension that washed his crew. His dorsal lay stiff on his back as he stormed to the edge of his landing. They had been deceived, forced into a confrontation that played on their prejudice against a Hostile species. Of course the Grobians wouldn’t hide in a star’s corona; it was just as Ensign Kell had stated: they were incapable of cunning. But the Reekians, on the other hand, had proven their deceptiveness. They were more than capable.
“This is Master Corporal Floorg to Reekian ship,” Floorg was angry, struggling to remain calm. “Cease hostilities toward Grobian warship or I will be forced to lodge a complaint with the Preservation Council.”
There was no response as the smaller ship whipped past them and quickly headed for the larger warship. Floorg re-activated the huge grid screen before taking his seat.
A part of him was furious at his feeble response, but the rules stated this course of action was required for first-time offenders. Yet he had followed the rules the last time, and now a ship full of dead Grobians would forever be on his conscience. He felt helpless, unable to do his duty because of protocol. The small Council insignia engraved into his chair caught his eye, and a surge of remorse washed over him. He could not let more innocents die.
“Ensign Kell,” Floorg said, as the targeting icon flashed to life. “Scan the Reekian ship for any non-essential targets.”
Kell’s antenna snapped to attention at the mention of her name. “Yes, sir,” she said, as her seat quickly manoeuvred its way back to her station.
“There is no time to wait for a response to a formal request to use deadly force,” Floorg said, turning his head toward her. “Council may find me in violation of the Charter, yet considering the urgency of this situation, I feel it is prudent.” He straightened his posture. “You may fire when ready, Ensign. Let them know we mean business.”
Two shots fired out from the underbelly of Floorg’s ship. The crew tapped their monitors repeatedly, following the ammunition to its target, but the Reekian ship was more manoeuvrable, and easily swerved away from the attack.
Moments later, bright flashes launched toward the Grobian warship from the Reekian pod. The damaged ship could not outrun the attack. The ammunition impacted the middle of the ship, sending explosions that ripped through the multilevel hull and destroying it within moments.
Gasps echoed though the ship as stunned recruits watched the last of the explosions fade away into darkness. Again, Floorg’s dorsal hair went stiff as his anger reduced his black eyes to narrow slits. “The Grobians were in retreat, heading for their own territory.”
Floorg pressed a small icon at the top of his monitor. “This is Master Corporal Floorg to Reekian ship. Under Preservation Code 7-99387 you are hereby identified as a Hostile.”
Shouts of concern switched Floorg’s attention to the huge monitor that surrounded him. The Reekian ship had turned and was now headed in their direction.
“Evasive manoeuvres, Ensign Frep,” Floorg said, tapping several new icons on the screen, switching the blue light to green. “We need to send our report back to the Archive.”
Shouts of fear gripped the recruits, as two flashes of light quickly descended upon their ship. Floorg finished his report, then pressed a large green button at the side of his monitor. Whatever was to come, at least others would know what happened this day.
The ensuing explosion lit up space as brilliantly as any star.
Copyright © 2010 by Jannette Johnson