Heliosphere 2265, Volume 7: Collateral Damage (Science Fiction) - Andreas Suchanek - ebook

Heliosphere 2265, Volume 7: Collateral Damage (Science Fiction) ebook

Andreas Suchanek

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Captain Jayden Cross is facing his darkest hour. A fleet of Parlid vessels is moving to intercept the crippled HYPERION, intent on avenging the bloody attack on their homeworld. Chaos reigns on board the interlink cruiser: officers loyal to the new regime are engaged in a battle to the death with the rebel forces. Captain Cross will soon have to accept the far-reaching consequences of his fatal decision. This is the seventh Volume of Heliosphere 2265. The series is available in e-book (monthly) and print (bi-monthly) editions. It is written by Andreas Suchanek (Sternenfaust, Maddrax, Professor Zamorra) and produced with the support of Arndt Drechsler (cover) and Anja Dyck (interior illustrations).

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Heliosphere 2265

Volume 7

“Collateral Damage“

by Andreas Suchanek

Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, Algethi System, 19 June 2266, 20:58 hours

An electrical discharge arced across the room, causing the wall-mounted lighting panels to flicker wildly and transforming the bridge into a nightmarish scene. As sparks showered from consoles and computing stacks, the ashen-faced crew struggled to maintain their composure.

Just a few meters separated Captain Cross from Executive Controller Johnston, who still held in his hand the kill switch with which he had brought down Commander Noriko Ishida. The First Officer lay at Jayden's feet. Her eyes were closed and blood trickled down her chin from her nose. She was still breathing, but Jayden could see that she was slipping away with every passing second.

Ishida was dying just as Lieutenant Commander Lukas Akoskin had died before her. Jayden's Tactical Operations Officer was lying on the ground where he had been shot just meters away from his console. Three shots from EC Johnston's pulse gun had struck the officer square on the chest, killing him instantly. In his final seconds, Akoskin had revealed a dark secret.His eyes changed color.Sarah McCall had spoken the truth.

Jayden mustered Executive Controller Johnston. President Elias Skolberg had assigned Johnston to the HYPERION to monitor and – if necessary – eliminate the ship's bridge personnel.Everything around him was falling apart and yet Jayden felt strangely empty. A void had opened inside of him, steeled by a sense of bitter determination. The HYPERION might well be lost. With the ship's interlink and Pike drives damaged beyond repair, they couldn't hope to outrun the Parlid cruisers that were chasing down the HYPERION, intent on avenging the destruction of their home-world. But whatever happened, he couldn't allow Johnston to activate another kill chip – as the EC had chillingly referred to the lethal variant of the Navy's command chips.

Raising his fists, Jayden leaped at Johnston as the EC raised the cylindrical remote detonator again. With one swift blow he knocked the device from Johnston's hand. "You bastard!Ishida was never a threat!"

"She was a traitor. Just like you. Just like all of the officers on board this vessel." Johnston spat his words at Jayden. His face was distorted by rage. "I will hold you responsible for everything that has happened here, Cross – everything!"

Johnston had crossed the line. Jayden rammed his fist into the Executive Controller's midriff. Johnston staggered backwards, gasping desperately for air. Snatching at a console, he righted himself and drew the pulse gun that he had holstered after shooting Akoskin.

"I firmly believe that a captain", Johnston smiled sourly as he spoke, "should go down with his ship. In your case, I'm willing to make an exception. You can die now." He pulled the trigger.

A volley of energized particles shot from the gun as Jayden dived to the side. The last shot grazed his left arm, vaporizing part of his sleeve and searing his shoulder. He snatched up a data-pad thrown to the ground by the explosion and hurled it at Johnston. The EC ducked the projectile with ease. But by the time he had straightened up again, Jayden was at his throat, unleashing a flurry of blows that caught Johnston by surprise and left him unable to counterattack.

Out of the corner of his eye Jayden could still see the battle unfolding around him. At the entrance to the bridge, Alpha 365 was brawling with two of his own men. Akoskin and Ishida both lay prone on the deck. Lieutenant Larik, the ship's Communications Officer and the newest addition to the bridge, was crouched in terror in a corner. Seated at his console, Lieutenant Peter Task continued to work at a feverish pace, ignoring the battle around him as he struggled to regain control of the vessel. Now standing, Lieutenant Nurakov glanced about nervously.

"Help Alpha dammit!" Jayden bellowed at him. He could only hope that Nurakov was on his side and was willing to stand up to the EC and the ISP. "Task!" Jayden held Johnston in a headlock as he turned to address his navigation officer. "Get the emergency response kit and reanimate Akoskin, he..."

The EC lashed out at Jayden again, kicking him in the groin. Jayden collapsed to the ground in agony as Johnston rose to his feet, his face bloodied and battered.

"Why don't you just surrender, Cross?" he gasped. "You've lost. You don't stand a chance against Skolberg. Oh yes – I know everything. The President took me into his confidence. Me!" Then, instead of killing Jayden he simply turned away and walked across to the command console. Johnston tapped an icon on the display to activate the general intercom before announcing: "Executive Controller Johnston to all loyal officers of the ISP: initiate SPECIAL ORDER ONE immediately."

"What have you done?"

"I have ordered my people to restore order on board this ship. You may well be dead within a few hours, Cross, but I'll make your life hell until then." Leaping from the command platform, he sprinted across the bridge towards the detonator.

Jayden raced after him.

Lieutenant Peter Task baulked at the idea of leaving his console. It wasn't that he didn't want to help Akoskin, but the Lieutenant Commander had been shot in the chest three times. How was he supposed to reanimate a man whose heart had been torn to shreds? Besides, saving Akoskin would require him to leave his console at a critical moment. It was true that the damage to the ship had rendered the HYPERION's drives inoperable, but he would still be able to activate the ship's weapons systems once the enemy vessels were within range. And, as he had quickly discovered, he could still access the ship's tracking systems.

But the chaotic scene on the bridge was taking its toll on Peter's ability to concentrate. As a child, Task had been infected with the infamous Erios Virus, altering the structure of his brain forever. His resulting ability to process multi-sensory input in parallel was a mixed blessing and demanded from him the utmost concentration if he wished to focus on a single task.

What was it that the Captain wanted?Akoskin! Of course!An icon on the display blinked to indicate that the ship's automatic repair systems had completed another operation. He glanced at the data coming in from the interlink drive. It made little or no sense and Task's concern grew. The ship's sensors also indicated that another Parlid fleet was approaching them up ahead.That pretty much seals our fate...

Peter pushed the thought aside and stood abruptly.Removing the emergency response kit from its compartment on the side of his console, Task rushed to where Akoskin lay. He checked Akoskin's wrist and throat, but couldn't find a pulse. Task removed the hand-held sensor from the kit. The sensor was mounted on the back of a special glove. Slipping his hand into the glove, Peter cut open Akoskin's skin-suit with a laser scalpel then unbuttoned his uniform jacket. Next, he sliced through Akoskin's shirt and placed his palm on the officer's naked chest. Seconds later the first readings appeared on the glove's integrated display. Peter raised his eyebrows in astonishment.

Until now he had always believed that Lieutenant Commander Lukas Akoskin was human. But clearly he had been mistaken: the figure before him had two hearts. The Captain's order suddenly made sense. While the heart on the left side of his chest had been hit by three blasts from the pulse gun, the heart on the right was entirely unharmed. Peter scanned the organ again. The trauma caused by the shooting had triggered a cardiac arrest. He removed the reanimation pads from the kit and stuck them to Akoskin's chest. Task could only hope that the electric shocks would have the same effect on Akoskin as they did on 'normal' humans.

He activated the defibrillator. Seconds later, the command bridge shook again.

Wracked by pain and barely able to stay on his feet, Alpha 365 squared off against the two rookies who had recently joined the ship. This was the last thing that Johnston had expected and the Executive Controller stared at Alpha in dismay. Then he raised the kill switch.

I have betrayed him and that is an utterly intolerable crime in his eyes.Johnston intends to terminate me.He glanced across at Noriko Ishida's body.Absolute obedience is my second nature and yet even my command chip is equipped with a kill module.Skolberg has left nothing to chance.

It was Captain Cross who saved his life, striking the cylindrical device from Johnston's hand at the last moment. But EC Johnston wasn't his only concern. It had dawned on the two guards accompanying Alpha that in the bitter confrontation playing out on board the HYPERION their superior was on the wrong side.

They drew their pulse guns simultaneously, swiveling about to face him as they took aim But – anticipating this precise eventuality – Alpha 365 had issued the men with empty magazines."I'd leave that if I was you", he said calmly.

While the gawky Lieutenant Pen stared at his weapon in dismay, Lieutenant Vresno charged at him. A bull of a man, Vresno lashed out wildly as he rushed at Alpha 365, who wheeled about as he ducked under the officer's flailing fists. But Alpha wasn't as agile as he had thought – somehow one of the officer's blows connected with his shoulder, sending him flying into a nearby science console.

Heartache and slow reflexes – I guess that's the price of freedom,he thought.

Before Alpha could react, Vresno shoulder-charged him from behind, sending him sprawling to the floor.Alpha felt his cheeks glow with shame. This in itself, he thought, was all the more shameful. Alpha realized that it would all be over if he didn't act fast. As Vresno closed in, intending to stomp on him where he lay, Alpha rolled to the side and then up onto his legs before kicking Vresno squarely on the chest. The security officer staggered backwards, gasping for air. But Pen proved to be the greater threat. While Alpha was busy with Vresno, the young lieutenant had retrieved a pulse gun from the storage compartment of one the secondary consoles. Pen snapped the magazine into place, took aim, and fired. The gun cracked... and the shot went wide. Then – from out of nowhere – Lieutenant Nurakov tackled Pen, striking the weapon from his hand.

"I'll kill you!" Vresno bellowed.

"You don't stand a chance", replied Alpha calmly. "Surrender while you still can Lieutenant Vresno."

"Surrender? You've got to be kidding me!" Vresno sneered at Alpha then hit him again.

His fist struck Alpha in the stomach and sent him to the floor for a second time. Things were going from bad to worse. Adding to his misery, the gradual transformation of his brain appeared to have entered a new phase. A new emotion flooded his senses, instantly displacing his sense of shame: fear. It was decades since Alpha had experienced anything even vaguely and he had much preferred it that way.

"I think we're done here", gloated Vresno.

In his hand he held a jagged length of metal – a piece of shrapnel from the mine that had exploded just minutes before. "Say your prayers, Boss." He raised the spike above his head, ready to ram it into Alpha's chest.

The bridge shook.

The Executive Controller's fingers had already closed around the cylindrical detonator when another explosion shook the command bridge. Johnston lost his balance and the device fell from his hand, sliding across the floor before lodging itself between two nearby consoles. A wave of relief surged through Jayden. He pounced on Johnston immediately. The two exchanged a flurry of punches, kicks, and curses. By now blood was streaming down Jayden's cheek from a gash on his forehead and he could feel his lips swelling from where Johnston had struck him.

He ducked under Johnston's fist, ready to land another jab on his chin. But Johnston spun about and grabbed him by the throat. "You... will... never... win."

Jayden clawed desperately at Johnston's fingers, but his grip was relentless. Panic welled up inside of him as black spots began to dance before his eyes. The command bridge lurched violently again.

Jayden heard a sickening wet crunch and Johnston's grip on his throat went limp. As he struggled to his feet Jayden did his best to assess the situation.

"Akoskin," he gasped. His throat was burning like fire.

"You're welcome, Sir."

"Are you okay?" Jayden mustered his second officer coolly. There was nothing in Akoskin's demeanor to suggest that until moments ago he had been clinically dead. The contact lenses which Akoskin had always worn and which disguised his identity as a member of the Ketaria League had regained their normal color.

"I'm fine, Captain. I know what you saw when I was shot and..."

"Let's forget about that for now," Jayden responded. "I'd known for a long time."

"You knew?" Akoskin was astonished.

"We can talk about that later", Jayden surveyed the command bridge as he spoke. "Listen to me: you are the most capable fighter that I have on deck right now. Get Ishida to the medical bay. And quickly!"

No further explanation was necessary. Akoskin lifted the FO's slender form from where it lay on the deck and set out for the medical bay. As he left the bridge, Akoskin reached out and killed Lieutenant Pen with a single blow, saving Nurakov from certain death in the process. The cold efficiency of Akoskin's actions was chilling, but Jayden was glad to know that the assassin was on his side.

Lieutenant Larik was still crouched behind his console. The Communications Officer appeared to have suffered a panic attack. His reaction was hardly surprising after the traumatic events on board the PROTECTOR. Task had returned to the navigation console and his fingers were already flying across the touch display. Nurakov, who had struggled to defend himself against Lieutenant Pen until Akoskin's intervention, rushed over to help Alpha 365.

As Jayden glanced about the bridge, he noticed the ashen-faced scientists seated behind their consoles, observing the unfolding events in silence. He stepped across to his navigator just as Nurakov and Alpha finally wrestled Vresno to the ground. The bullish security officer put up a brief struggle before he was finally restrained. "What's our status, Lieutenant Task?"

"We are traveling at a constant velocity of 0.41 LS on an outward vector. We lost all power to the Pike drive after the HYPERION dropped out of interlink flight, but we've bled another 0.04 LS thanks to the ship's emergency deceleration protocols. The Parlids are closing in fast – another fleet dropped out of phase space just a few minutes ago."

"Is there any chance that they could be Space Navy vessels?"

"Negative, Sir." Task shook his head. "I've matched their signatures against known enemy vessels in our database. An initial scan suggests that they are standard Parlid ships of the line.

The vessels closest to us have identified our new position and adjusted their vector accordingly. If they maintain their current rate of acceleration, the Parlid vessels will intercept us in five hours and fifteen minutes. The enemy vessels are moving at 0.36 LS – if they continue to accelerate at their present rate, they'll intercept us in five hours and fifteen minutes.

The three ships that just arrived in the system are traveling at 0.43 LS.They will make their approach from the HYPERION's left flank and will intercept us in five hours and ten minutes. According to my data we should be out of range of the Parlid phase disruptors within the next few minutes.

I took the precautionary measure of deploying a salvo of pebbles towards the inner system in the immediate aftermath of our last skirmish. We are receiving real-time FTL transmissions from the pebbles on all movements within the system."

"I understand. Good work, Task."

"That's not quite everything, Sir. An anomaly in the interlink drive's operating protocols is causing us serious problems."

"Is the drive capable of field operations?"

Task shook his head. "Not in its current state, Sir. The drive is extracting energy from the storage ring in an attempt to initiate interlink flight, but its components are so badly damaged that the drive is unable to complete the operation. Each cycle ends with the interlink membrane collapsing within seconds of the Melnikov Shield coming online. I can't shut it down, Sir. The drive will continue to repeat this process until the storage ring has been depleted or one of the modules fails entirely."

"Great. But how does this pose a threat to the ship?"

"The drive's critical components are highly unstable. To be blunt, Captain: there is a very real chance that the interlink reactor could explode at any moment. The HYPERION would be obliterated, Sir."

Jayden glanced about the command bridge nervously. Nurakov and Alpha 365 had Lieutenant Vresno under control. Nurakov was badly bruised and Alpha was clearly in agony. "We don't have too many options, do we? If the interlink reactor doesn't kill us all, we've still got the entire Parlid home fleet to deal with.

"That pretty much sums things up, Sir." Task looked up at him. "All that we can do is to delay the inevitable."

Jayden was unsure what he should feel. Fear? Sadness? Despair? He walked across the deck to where Johnston was squatting against the wall.

"Your prayers have been heard", he said to the Executive Controller. "The Algethi System will be our grave."

The EC looked up to him wide-eyed. Johnston's pupils had taken on a reddish hue.

Jayden stepped back in horror.

"Die! You're all going to die!" A thick strand of saliva dripped from the corner of Johnston's mouth.

"What is that?" Alpha 365 had joined the captain.

A swarm of writhing black threads was visible within the Executive Controller's red pupils.

"That's a good question, Alpha", Jayden responded. "I've never seen anything like it."

For the briefest of moments the writhing mass of worm-like creatures turned Johnston's pupils from red to black. Seconds later they were gone and Johnston's eyes returned to their natural state.

Alpha 365 tilted his head to one side as he pondered what they had seen. "I believe that I have read of a similar phenomenon."

"What is it?"

"I'm not entirely certain, Sir", replied Alpha. A teardrop rolled down his left cheek, but the First Security Officer appeared oblivious to this anomaly. "But if it's what I think it is, then it explains a lot. But we will need a doctor – preferably a neurologist – to get to the bottom of this."

"I don't think that will be a problem."

*

Interlink Cruiser HYPERION, Algethi System, Medical Bay, 19 June 2266, 21:08 hours