by James Bright
In a distant future, Capt. Richard Hargrove and a computer technician, Erik Johansen, are on an interstellar scouting mission. Hargrove had commanded an expedition in which Erik’s older brother, Roger, was killed two years earlier. Hargrove blames himself for Roger’s death, but Erik sees it rather differently. In the end, loyalties must come to terms with justice.
Two Years Ago:
The ravine had been a close call. The mountain blast was the edge they had needed to get out alive. Looking back over the smoke haze one last time before speeding forward, Hargrove saw a scene of utter carnage. Rocks hurling down on all sides, slamming Crickets into pieces, ionized dust drifting down to vaporize anything that still stood. Looking up, Hargrove realized it was only a lucky wind that kept that vaporizing dust from settling around his armor.
Hargrove snarled and thought, Take that, bastards before running ahead with his warriors. There would be no horde chasing them for a while now, not until the Conglomerate paid enough satellite attention to track the Legion unit down again. Plenty of time to get lost.
Flipping on his suit’s map, Hargrove plotted the team’s forward course. There was a jungle between their current position and the cave system they were headed for, a perfect place to hide, all they had to do was come out far enough away from the target to keep the enemy in the dark. The trick was keeping track of his own position without using a beacon. They’d just have to fight through the jungle by compass.
Hargrove loved the training the special forces had given him, especially the parts about separating your mind into little cubicles to keep track of different things. The skills he’d gained were probably the best part of the job. He’d managed to keep one eye on the map and the other on the ground he was running, so when he finished plotting the course, he didn’t even need to reorient himself; he just kept running, telling his computer to transmit the new map data to the rest of his unit.
Soon after receiving the new information, the soldiers tightened up their formation and corrected themselves, speeding into a winding trail that would make them hard to trace while still ending up in the jungle where they needed to cross. Getting through that would be a hassle, but the suits kept track of their movements on the map, so getting lost wasn’t as likely as it once was.
Within ten minutes the only way the soldiers could even tell where they’d come from was by the trails on their maps. Surely the enemies would have a hard time finding them. The jungle quickly loomed ahead of the unit. With barely a breath, they hurtled into it. Dodging through the trees, the soldiers pressed on, going at top speed to put as much distance between themselves and the valley as possible, heading roundabout for the cave entrance.
Within half an hour they’d torn through the twenty-mile stretch of forest, leaving only a few broken trunks as testament to their passage. Once they’d broken through, they made a wide loop, deciding to come at the cave system from the side instead of the front, just in case the enemies knew their target. They’d hoped to throw them off the trail.
The unit made it to the low peaks the caves were hidden in and took a rest. The soldiers looked around as they took their breather, committing the area to memory as a possible escape route for later. They all figured this could be a suicide mission, but with the new suits... they weren’t as certain of the idea as they’d been before getting practice in them.
Before anyone could make a move, their sensors started beeping...
Hargrove’s eyes tracked to one of his sensors. One of the enemy carriers had been on the ball and sent scouts out to recon the entire area. The sights hadn’t spotted the scouts, meaning whoever had sent them out was well hidden, probably close to the edge of the system. Hargrove looked around the screen for the scout, but couldn’t see it. His ship had simply picked up the signature from its propulsion drive.
He stayed put, knowing that on low power his ship looked almost like an asteroid. Apparently “almost” was good enough for now, because the enemy scout came into view without showing any awareness that he was there. Hargrove watched the enemy ship pass by, scanning the rocks.
He had a bad feeling, but couldn’t be sure what it was about. He had an idea about why the scout wasn’t sensing at full power: the Conglomerate liked to make assumptions. They weren’t looking for small ships, because they thought that what hit them was bigger than that. They were right, but that big stinger they felt was hidden in a whole other star system.
Hargrove decided right then that as soon as the scout was gone, it would be a very good idea to pick a new spot to watch the action. As soon as the sensor started beeping, the ship had gone to low power to fool the enemy scout. It could flip between low and high almost instantly, so even if they had to do the bug-out boogie, they’d still be able to. Unfortunately, that did cause problems for Erik...
Copyright © 2013 by James Bright