Author Topic: Astra Ascendant  (Read 1336 times)

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Offline Erik Luken

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Astra Ascendant
« on: November 11, 2012, 07:12:21 PM »
Chapter 1
The sun shone in through the window, waking Miles Coventry. He blinked as his mind began to wake up and engage. The room was bare, spartanly so. Only a small cot and a rudimentary facility for waste in the corner. He sat up, the motion making his head swim. The last thing he could recall was shadowing the operative from the Bear’s intelligence.
It wasn’t so bad tracking the aliens since they stood out so much. It was the other human nations that made it hard. Someone from the Ursae Republic looked like a Novaya Ruskayan Commonwealth citizen or a native Terran, or a Tauran. He held his head in his hands until it stopped throbbing, or at least subsided to a manageable level. Standing up, he moved to the window and peered out. The skyline looked like the Greater New Boston skyline, so he was still on Earth. He prowled around the room, checking for anything that might aid him in his escape.
The room was small, only eight feet to a side. The cot took up most of one wall, with the barred window almost directly across from the sturdy door. He stared idly out of the window as his fingers ran around the bases of the bars, seeking out any weakness that might be present. His mind was racing, formulating and rejecting plans of escape when he heard a faint click behind him. He turned slowly as the door opened. The man who entered was dressed in a business suit, his greying hair combed neatly. He stepped inside the door closed behind him with a sturdy click.
“Mr. Coventry, it is good to see you awake again. I hope the effects of the stunner have worn off by now?” His voice held a slight accent, and Miles frowned as he tried to place it.
Miles cocked his head to the side and looked at the man, “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. You know my name, why don’t you tell me who you are and why you’ve decided to kidnap a citizen of the Confederation?”
“Come now Mr. Coventry. Kidnap? Surely you jest. Why you are free to leave at any time you wish. My name is Anton Grigorovich, and I am the attaché to the Ursae Republican ambassador.”
Miles looked into the man’s dark blue eyes for a moment, testing him for the truth. With a mental shrug, he walked past him and tugged the door handle on the door. To his surprise, it opened readily. He was halfway out of the door when Grigorovich called out, “Mr. Coventry, do you not wish to know why we brought you here?”
Miles stopped and turned to face him, “All right. Tell me why you locked me up in a cell, in what I am presuming is the Republican embassy. You can be sure I will be filing a complaint with the authorities once I am out of here.”
Grigorovich smiled slightly, his lips barely curving as he gave a low chuckle, “Mr. Coventry, may I call you Miles? Mister always sounds so formal, not used between friends. As you have surmised, this is the Republican embassy on Earth. In New Boston in fact. Come, follow me and I shall explain in detail why you are a guest here.”
Anton led Miles down the corridor from the cell; heading to what Miles guessed was the more public areas of the embassy. “The relations between your Confederation and my Republic have been estranged, especially for the last fifty years or so.” Miles snorted at that, “Relations between the Confederation and the Republic have been cool at best, glacial most of the time. Your Republic is xenophobic, isolationist and ready to attack outsiders at the drop of a hat.”
“So you say, Miles. The Republic was born of Terra, descended from Terra, but no longer beholden to Terra. Not since our ship boosted from orbit and headed out to the stars. What we found there…“ Grigorovich fell silent. After a few silent steps, he seemed to shudder and then brightened, “That is not why we are here. Republican Intelligence knows that you are a senior field operative for the Confederation Bureau of Intelligence, which is why we invited you here.”
Miles stopped short, then continued walking, “A stunner to the back is not the most polite of invitations you could have issued.”
Grigorovich smiled, his eyes twinkling, “Come now Miles, do you think we could have dropped an invitation in the mail and have you respond? At best you would have thought it a joke and thrown it away. No, we needed to get you here and have your full attention. Ah! Here we are. After you.”
He held the door to the conference room open for Miles. Miles looked at him briefly then entered, taking a seat at the luxurious hardwood table, “So why don’t you tell me why you ‘invited’ me here? I’m a captive audience, as it were.”
“I did say you were free to go, and I certainly meant that. However, I do wish you’d stay long enough to hear what I have to tell you,” Grigorovich sat across from Miles, and slipped a data chip into the table’s reader port. A hologram sprung to life between them. “As you can see, this is Confederation space marked in blue, and Republican space marked in red, with the Commonwealth and the Taurus Republic on either side of your space.”
Miles nodded; the star map was familiar to him as it would be to any child. He looked at it briefly, then sat up straighter, peering intently at a section of space between the Commonwealth and Confederation space. Grigorovich smiled when he saw Miles’ interest, “So you see it too.”
Miles nodded slowly, still staring at the small section of space, “What is it?”
Grigorovich zoomed the map in, bringing the sector into stark detail, “That, Miles is a Kal’Shak base. Or at least we think it is. The damned bugs come at us from the other side of our space, and we know where your fleets come from. That leaves only pirates or the Kal’Shak.”
Both men shared a brief moment of humor at the thought of the pirates building something on this scale. “It’s the size of a small planet if this scale is correct,” Miles said.
“It is. As near as our long range scanners have been able to determine, the Kal’Shak utilized most of the rubble in that system to fabricate this base.”
“You’ve got my attention. What do you want me to do with this information?”
“Merely present it to your superiors. Let them decide what to do.”
Miles looked at him, “And where am I supposed to say I got this information? Republican data chips don’t just happen to be laying around much.”
Grigorovich laughed and looked at his watch, “In about a minute, you are going to be jumped by the Republican agent you’ve been tailing for most of the day. Sadly, the agent is not as well trained as he should be perhaps, and is about to assault you in front of witnesses. After you defend yourself, and incapacitate your assailant, you will find a secure pouch on him. In that pouch, you will find this data chip.” He held up the chip after he pulled it from the reader.
Miles tensed, wondering what was about to happen. Grigorovich smiled and slide the chip across the table to him. “You’d best hurry. We have a vehicle ready to take you to near the site where you were attacked, so you may arrive at your offices from the proper direction.” Grigorovich pushed a button and the door opened, allowing a young lady to enter. “Miss Smirnova will accompany you.”
Grigorovich stood and Miles walked to the door with the young lady. Once into the hallway, she guided him to an enclosed vehicle bay. They entered a plain, unmarked vehicle and drove out into the falling darkness. 
Miles studied ‘Miss Smirnova’ silently as they drove through the streets. She seemed to be in her late twenties, lithe figure, and her shoulder-length auburn hair neatly framing her face. She was relaxed as they drove into the gloom, passing him his wallet and identification, along with his weapon and spare magazine. His eyebrows raised as he took the gun and started to holster it. He paused and pulled the weapon back out, looking over it carefully. He popped the magazine out and counted the rounds.
“It seems you missed with one shot Mr. Coventry,” Smirnova’s voice was a soft contralto. “Not to worry, your other two shots took our poor agent in the chest, killing him instantly. Poor Grigory should have known better than to try to attack you, but you had him spooked.”
Miles smiled bemusedly as she recounted an attack that never took place as far as his memory went, “I only missed once? I must be improving.”
The vehicle came a stop and Smirnova opened the door for him, “Two blocks to the west is where you were attacked. Authorities in this neighborhood are somewhat lax in their response times, but they are on their way now. You should hurry and leave the area.”
Miles stepped onto the sidewalk and turned to face the vehicle again. “Thank you Miss, Smirnova was it?”
“Veronika if you wish Mr. Coventry.” She closed the door and the car sped off. He stared after it for a moment before the sounds of sirens brought him back to reality. He looked around and dashed off into the darkness, headed for safety.
Miles entered his apartment, and stood leaning against the closed door. He straightened up and walked into the main room. Depositing his wallet on the counter, he shrugged out of his jacket. He darkened the windows and powered up his deskcomp. He made a connection to the TCBI offices and logged his report. He stashed the data chip in a secure box, and headed to the shower, needing to scrub the residue of the day from his body.
Miles lay on the bed, his mind drifting off, when the door to his apartment burst open, and a number of figures in combat armor flooded into the room. He rolled off the bed, mind suddenly awake and filled with adrenaline. His weapon was in his hand as the first intruder burst into his bedroom. He didn’t hesitate and fired two shots, hitting him in the chest. The intruder staggered back, and a second forced his way in, aiming a weapon at Miles. Miles squeezed the trigger again, just as the intruder fired, the stun blast knocking Miles into unconsciousness.
 

Offline Erik Luken

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Re: Astra Ascendant
« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2012, 04:58:45 AM »
Chapter 2
The sun shone through the window, waking Miles.
He lay for a moment; eyes closed gathering his wits and strength. He sat up, his head still swimming from the stunner. He glanced out the window and saw the familiar New Boston skyline. He stepped to the door and tried it. The door swung open at his touch.  He looked out into the hallway, recognizing the medical section of the TCBI offices. He strode out and headed for the lift, ignoring the squawk from the attendant behind him.
“Mr. Coventry! Mr. Cov…” The lift doors closed, cutting the attendant off mid-word. He punched the code for his office level, then reconsidered and entered the code for his boss’s office. The lift silently took him up the seventy-plus floors from the medical section to the offices. He stepped from the lift and ignored the startled looks he got as he walked to his boss’s office. He walked in, interrupting his boss, who shut down his call with a curt “I need to go.”
“Dammit Harry, what is with the goons busting into my place and dragging me out like that?” Miles nearly shouted. “I’d had a rough day and I was catching a quick rest before coming in.”
Harry Hargrove, once the top operative of the Bureau looked at Miles steadily for a minute. He sighed, “Miles, there was sound bites suggesting you might have been compromised by the Bears. We couldn’t take any chances you might have been flipped.”
Miles looked at him and then let out an explosive “Bullsmeg! If you were worried about me being doubled, I wouldn’t be standing here in your office. I’d have woken up in interrogation rather than medical. So what’s really going on?”
Hargrove shook his head, “I wish to hell I knew Miles. You tail a Republican operative and he jumps you, yet you hang around almost until the locals show up? And this data chip. Where the hell did that come from?” Hargrove’s raspy voice steadily rose through his short speech.
Miles looked around and dragged a chair to the desk. “Yeah, I got jumped. I wish I knew how he made me and got the drop on me.” Miles tried to keep any reflection of his inner thoughts off his face as he recounted his ‘encounter’. “And that chip was on the guy.  Figured it might have some good data on it, so I snatched it. What was on it? I am guessing you’ve had it analyzed?”
Harry leaned back and steepled his fingers, “Yes, it’s been analyzed. And the information that was on it is being cross-checked. We don’t need another Io incident. Go back to your desk. I’ll find something for you to do.”
Miles looked at Hargrove for a minute, and then stood, “Okay Harry. I’ll be the good boy for now.” He walked out of the office and back to the lift, going to his desk. At his station, he sat staring at the comp, wondering what was going to happen next.
***
The sun glinted off of the stark white upper hull of the TCNS Gyrefalcon. Commander Paterno stood on the command deck of the small scout corvette, looking over the displays as his ship cautiously entered the system. “Ahead one third helm. Bring us in-system.”
“Aye, aye Captain.”
Commander Paterno watched as his ship crept into the system deeper, her scanners reaching out to light up the stygian darkness of space. His concentration was interrupted by an alarm as the scanners detected something.
“What do we have, Joe? What’s out there?” Commander Paterno asked his scan tech.
“I’m not sure sir. The long range scanners picked up a momentary blip, but the second sweep showed nothing. I’m concentrating on the area where the blip was.”
Commander Paterno nodded subconsciously. “Let me know as soon as you have anything Joe.” He stood back and watched his crew, watched the displays, his attention on everything on the small command deck.
He swore as proximity alarms blared, “What the hell? What’s out there?”
His tactical officer, Lieutenant Graves called out, “Incoming bogies! Six of them! Range six hundred kay!”
Commander Paterno cursed again. His ship was a scout. Not a warship. It was supposed to be the eyes and ears of the warships. “Bring us about 180 helm! Full speed! Jackie, prep and fire the drone.”
Lieutenant Graves paled and replied, “Yes sir,” her voice quavering slightly. The ship seemed to shake a bit as the drone fired out of its bay. “Bogey range now four hundred kay.”
Commander Paterno nodded and mentally crossed his fingers as his small ship raced for the Van Klaiburn Limit of the system. “Let me know when we cross the Line, Raoul.”
His helmsman gave a brief acknowledgement and continued to try to wring every last kps from the engines. “Two hundred kay!” Lieutenant Jacqueline Graves called out. Commander Paterno tensed, the Line was drawing closer, but so where the bogies.
“Sir! The bogies!”
Paterno looked at the tactical display and blanched as each of the six bogies split into four missiles. Now twenty-four missiles streaked in on his little ship. He looked at the display, calculating distances and velocities. His mind kept rejecting the outcome of those calculations. His ship was going to be caught short of the line which meant he could enter FTL. He leaned back and watched helplessly as multiple streaks intersected with the symbol for his ship. His eyes closed as the first explosions tore through the tiny ship, turning it into rapidly expanding plasma.
 

Offline Erik Luken

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Re: Astra Ascendant
« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2012, 05:01:30 AM »
Chapter 3
The sun shone in through the window, waking him up.
He threw his arm over his eyes and cursed. As he lay there muttering under his breath, an alarm began to sound. He cursed louder and got up, taking a half-hearted swing at the clock bleating at him. He staggered to the sink and ran the water until it was as cold as it would get, then dunked his head under the stream. He raised his head and looked into the mirror. Bloodshot brown eyes stared back at him, a pale scar on one cheek devoid of the dark stubble that covered the rest of his jawline. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and glanced at the depilatory, then walked to a small closet. He shrugged on a black tunic and pulled on a pair of scuffed boots.
Exiting the small set of rooms he called home, the man who didn’t allow himself to remember the name Terence Hawthorne walked down the corridor, avoiding the trash and human effluvia. He kicked aside a drunk who staggered into his path and entered the largest section on the hidden base. Approaching a door, he cleared his throat and announced as clearly as he could “Westley Roberts, Captain.” A retinal scanner flicked open and he groaned as he leaned forward. The security computers thought about granting him access for an agonizing minute before the door slid open.
Roberts made a bee-line for the bar set to one side of the chamber, snatching a bottle of whiskey. He popped the seal and took a swig as he settled into his seat. The ten other men stared back at him disinterestedly. He cleared his throat again and used his whiskey bottle as a gavel, “This convocation of the Council of Shadow Captains is hereby brought to order.”
One man smothered a cough as Roberts stumbled through the line. Roberts glared at him, “You had something to say Bellamy?”
The hulking redhead met Roberts’ stare, finally dropping his gaze, “No Roberts, I don’t.”
With a suspicious look at Bellamy, Roberts cleared his throat again and began, “Our profits are up from last month Captains. The routes between the Commonwealth and the Confederation are picking up more military and security traffic, so tell your clans to tread lightly there. The Ursae xenophobes have been sending out more ships, so they are ripe for the picking. Everything else is pretty much the same. Now, anyone have anything new, or can I go back to my hangover?”
Scattered chuckles rang around the room, but died down as a balding, portly man who looked more like a banker than a pirate looked up with a slight “Ahem.”
Roberts looked at him and nodded, “Alright Ferdinand, what do you have?”
The man, Ferdinand the Hatless stood and gave a soft cough, “One of my scouts out looking fer some tramps saw somethin’. I want to bring him in, so he can give you a first-hand accountin’ of what happened.”
After a quick glance around the room, Roberts nodded. Ferdinand touched a button and the door slid open, allowing a slight man to enter, “Captains, this is Domino Pete, captain of the Iron Dagger. Go ahead Pete.”
“Well, you see, it was like this. We was over near the south expanses of Confed territ’ry lookin’ for some tramps we could jump and plunder. We been lyin’ doggo in a system fer a couple days when we sees a big-arsed warp splash. I got me boys up and on the scanners to find out what just came in on us, when some scout ship goes putterin’ past us ‘bout twenny, thirty million kay. So’s we got extra quiet, just in case. Then the scout flips a one-eighty and hightails it fer the Limit. She fired her drone off and was skedaddling when she popped. We stripped her drone as it zipped past but we never saw what did it, but we lay there fer three days before we creeped out o’ the system an’ came back home.” He stood shuffling his feet slightly and looking like a young boy called to account for transgressions. Roberts nodded and Ferdinand shooed the other pirate out.
“You got the drone data Ferdinand?” another pirate demanded.
Ferdinand held up a chip, “It’s all right here Captains.” He slotted the chip into a reader and the captains watched the final moments of the TCNS Gyrefalcon. Quiet muttering broke out between the captains as the ship was destroyed. Roberts watched the data, eyes narrowed to slits then banged on the table again with his makeshift gavel.
“Alright Captains, this is what we’re going to do. That system is now Code Black. No Clan is to enter that system without express unanimous consent of this Council. Any independent ship that enters that system is on their own and cannot expect any aid from the Clans.” He banged the bottle again, “Meeting adjourned.”
Roberts sat there, staring at the data while the captains, save one left the chamber. The other captain remained unnoticed until he cleared his throat. Roberts looked up startled. “What is it John?”
John le Morte, a cadaverous looking man, thin and pale eyed Roberts, “You seem to know what is going on in that system. More than you are telling us.”
Roberts sighed, “We’ve known each other for almost twenty years now John. Have I ever held out on you?”
Le Morte looked at the ceiling of the chamber, obviously contemplating, “Only twice that I can recall. The first was how you managed to get the X from Domingo, and the second time was just now.”
Roberts looked at him for a long moment before nodding, “I killed Domingo when he boarded the ship I was on and tried to hijack it. As for today, I don’t know what you mean.”
Le Morte held his gaze for a minute before nodding in acquiescence. “As you say Westley.” He stood up and walked from the chamber slowly. He paused at the door, “The Star Reavers are with you Captain, should you need us.” He walked out without waiting for a reply, leaving Roberts to once again replay the data from the Gyrefalcon’s drone.
 

 

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