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Pursuit of the Guardian (Children of the Republic Book 2)
 


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Pursuit of the Guardian (Children of the Republic Book 2)


  Ten years after the incident on Dust, Max Cabot is smuggling families out from under the oppressive rule of a corrupt republic. Over that time, Max has ferried families with unauthorized children to sanctuary on the planet Maisha as he piloted the only ship in explored space that could generate a wormhole without a jump beacon, the Guardian.

  Now, the Republic has finally caught up with Max. Senator Maria Cahill vowed to eliminate the lawlessness of those like Max after the incident on Dust took the life of her son. She championed the creation of a task force to root out those that sought to undermine the Republic.

  That task force is closing in on its objective as the driven, devoted agent Djimbe Akimbe has infiltrated Max's operation. Akimbe's mission is clear. Capture Max. Capture unauthorized children like Hannah Cabot, the clone of Max's long dead daughter. Capture the Guardian.

  Other Works by Jason T. Hutt

  Dust

  Children of the Republic Book 1

  A Problem of Hope

  (Short Fiction)

  Pursuit of the Guardian

  Children of the Republic: Book 2

  Jason T. Hutt

  This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Published by Hutt Publishing

  Copyright © 2017 Jason T. Hutt

  All rights reserved.

  ISBN-10: 1543243584

  ISBN-13: 978-1543243581

  For Laurel, Samantha, and Charlie.

  Worlds await you.

  Acknowledgements

  Thank you to everyone who has supported this project and helped me get to this point – Bill Frank, Dr. Jenny Gruber, Corey Davis, Clint Balmain, Gabe Bevilacqua, and, most of all, my wife Melinda. I appreciate the encouragement, feedback, support, and time as you helped me turn these ideas into reality. Also, thank you to my oldest for just thinking this is cool.

  Part I

  Chapter 1

  Max glanced at the time, he had an hour at most before the Republic would determine that his ship’s registration code was a forgery. All around him a myriad of spacecraft launched and landed in a bustling cacophony of orchestrated chaos. He leaned on the landing strut of his silver, ovoid-shaped ship, the Guardian, which sat nestled amongst several large luxury craft along the outer ring of the landing pad. Officially, he was Captain Xavier Marco eagerly awaiting his next round of interstellar adventurers. Unofficially, his next set of passengers needed to hurry the hell up. Max started pacing and once again checked the time on his wrist computer.

  He raised his right hand to shield his eyes from the afternoon sunlight. Hoversleds zipped passengers from terminals to shuttles, darting around the spacecraft that littered the landing field. Every time a shuttle got within fifty meters, Max’s pulse quickened, only to slow when the sled stopped at another pad.

  An automated luggage carrier zipped by, rustling Max’s thinning, gray hair. He rubbed the sheen of sweat from his palms onto his overalls and then ran his fingers through his scalp.

  “Excuse me, Captain Marco,” a mechanical voice shouted above the din. “Captain Marco?”

  For a heartbeat, Max forgot to respond. He blinked to clear his mind and offered the approaching gray-green automaton as warm a smile as he could muster.

  “I’m sorry,” Max said, “I know we’re running late. I’m told my passengers will be here any moment now.”

  The spherical-headed robot stared at him unblinking. “You have exceeded your landing permit duration.”

  “I know. Like I said, I’ll be out of here in just a minute,” Max said.

  “You will incur a fine of one hundred dollars at ten minute intervals for the next hour. If you do not leave within the hour, you will incur an additional fine of one thousand dollars. After two hours, your vehicle will be impounded. Do you understand these terms, Captain Marco?”

  Max ground his teeth together and exhaled slowly through his nose.

  “I understand.”

  The robot beeped. “I have logged you as Captain Xavier Marco. Your identification chip has been logged. Fines will be automatically deducted from your account. Good day.”

  Max gave the robot a tight-lipped nod as it pivoted on its base and rolled away.

  “I hope your neural pathways decay and your joints become clogged with dust,” Max said under his breath. “Where are they, Eleanor? Time’s about to get real short.”

  “Relax, old man,” she said, her voice coming from a patch stuck just inside Max’s ear canal. Despite the comment Max caught the nervousness of her tone.

  “It’s not going to take them long to figure out that Xavier Marco is somewhere on the other side of the Republic, skiing down the Windik Mountains.”

  “You worry too much, Max.”

  “That’s because I’ve done this before,” Max said, “And so have you.”

  “We do this dance every time, Max,” Eleanor said, “Would you like me to tell you what you’re going to say next? Just relax, they will be there soon.”

  “Easy to say from behind a computer hundreds of kilometers away from here when my butt’s on the landing pad. The Republic won’t be knocking down your door; they’ll be too busy firing lasers up my ass.”

  “Max, it’s okay. This family checks out. They were referred by a close friend. Besides, when you see their little girl, you’ll see why I did this.”

  A luggage sled slipped by just meters from Max and he involuntarily stepped back. He scanned the pad again and started to chew on the inside of his lip.

  “Five years, kiddo,” Max said, “They will catch up to us eventually. Maybe it’s time to get out.”

  “Does that mean you’re going to stop flying? Is it time for Max to hang up his Captain’s hat?”

  “Not a chance.”

  “Then, I’m not going anywhere either,” she said, “As long as you’re flying families out, I’ll be sending them to you.”

  “I’ve never liked having you involved, Eleanor. If I get caught, I’ve earned what I’ll get. I’m more worried about you.”

  “You sound like my Dad.”

  Max sighed and went back to pacing back and forth in front of the boarding ramp. “How is he?”

  “All right,” she said, though her tone suggested otherwise, “He’s visiting my mom’s parents on Juniper Falls. It’s been ten years, you know.”

  “I know, kid,” Max said, “I know. I think about that every day. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry…you know I would give anything to go back and change what happened…” A moment of silence passed between them only to be broken by the sound of Eleanor clearing her throat. “You should have stuck with robotics,” Max said, “You were a natural.”

  “I outgrew it. Family law is much more important to me.”

  Max shook his head. “I need to talk to your father about that. Can’t believe he’s letting you go to law school.”

  “I’m pretty sure I didn’t give him a choice.”

  “I have no doubt of that,” Max said. He checked the time again. Where the hell were they?

  “Another five and I’m leaving.”

  “Just sit tight, Max,” she said, “Let me see if I can get ahold of them.”

  “If you were my daughter…”

  “I wouldn’t have given you a choice either.”

  Max scuffled his feet on the landing pad. He had only seen Eleanor on a handful of occasions over the five years they’d been doing this. They’d first met ten years ago in the terrorist attack on Nexus
station that had claimed the life of Eleanor’s mother. Eleanor was just a little girl then, frightened and alone. For the first few years after that, they had traded notes as he checked in to see how she was recovering. He had done it first out of a lingering sense of guilt, but he found that with each note from her, Eleanor reminded Max of his own little girl that he had lost so long ago. Then one day, she had sent him a request. Get a friend of their family out from under the watchful eye of the Republic. Max had never been able to say no to his own daughter either.

  “Just got a message from the wife,” she said, “You should see her any moment now.”

  As Eleanor finished speaking, a passenger tram came to a stop before The Guardian and a short, pale-skinned, very pregnant woman stepped off. Max extended a hand to help her step down.

  “Welcome to Nebula Tours, madam. Our sites are out of sight,” Max said with practiced ease.

  “This trip will be the dream of a lifetime,” the woman responded with slight hesitation as she struggled to remember the passphrase.

  “You’re late,” Max said.

  “You’re an asshole, Max,” Eleanor said, her response only audible to him.

  The pregnant woman looked Max in the eye. Her lower lip trembled slightly.

  “My husband and I had to split up. We would have never made it through customs together.”

  Max looked at her clearly pregnant belly and frowned. “You should have arranged this pickup two months ago. You’re lucky you haven’t already been picked up by the Republic.”

  “My husband thought…”

  “Thoughts won’t save an unauthorized child,” Max said. “How far out is your husband anyway?”

  “I don’t know,” she said, a slight tremor in her voice, “He’s bringing our daughter.”

  Max nodded but didn’t respond. One child per family had been the law for most of Max’s life. Human overpopulation had put a strain on the Republic’s resources. Poverty and starvation were the norm on many worlds. In theory, the population controls were the right thing; in practice, they were just another method for a corrupt government to control and drain the life from its citizens. Of course, people found ways around the mandatory controls and when they did, they came to Max and others like him to get them out of the Republic’s watchful eye.

  Max gestured to the robot standing atop the boarding ramp. “Reggie, get her on-board and strapped in. We leave as soon as her husband arrives.”

  Reggie nodded and offered his hand to the woman to help her up the boarding ramp.

  A sharp burst of feedback exploded over the tiny speaker in Max’s ear and he winced in pain. “What the hell was that? Eleanor, are you there?”

  “Sir,” Reggie said, “We’re picking up three ships on a direct approach. They are closing with our position.”

  Max looked around. The skies had suddenly cleared of ship traffic. “How far out?”

  “Ten minutes.”

  A pit formed in Max’s stomach. He bounded up the ramp and rushed to the small ship’s command console. Max’s nostrils flared as the scan confirmed Reggie’s report. It was time to go.

  “Sorry, Miss…”

  Just as Max said the words, another passenger tram came into view, this one carrying a tall, slender man and a little girl of about ten years old. Max bounded back down the ramp and almost buckled his knee as he planted his foot too hard. He winced as he frantically waved to the man and his daughter.

  “Let’s go!”

  The man picked his daughter up and lifted her out of the tram. Max hesitated at the site of her. The resemblance to Hannah was almost uncanny. It’s been twenty years, Max thought. My Hannah, my little girl, died twenty years ago and yet here she was. Max’s unfocused gaze hesitated on the little girl; his mouth hung open. He wanted to urge them to hurry, but the thought could not escape his stunned silence.

  “Sir,” Reggie said.

  “Yeah,” Max said, “Yeah, let’s get going.” Max’s eyes regained focus and he looked sharply at the ebony-skinned, completely bald man. “There are ships inbound on an intercept course. They know you’re here, Mister…”

  “Montel Adderman,” the man said as he extended a hand towards Max.

  Max didn’t take it; he just continued to stare at the man.

  “Please, sir,” the man said, “We just want to get out of here.”

  “Max,” Reggie said, “I have confirmed that these are Republic Navy ships en route. We need to leave.”

  Max held a finger to his ear. “Not Sector Security ships?”

  “No, sir,” Reggie responded.

  “Shit,” Max said. He turned back to Adderman. “Why should I let you on-board my ship? How do I know you’re not behind this?”

  The younger man let out a hefty sigh, his shoulders slumped, and he cast his gaze to the hard, gray surface of the landing pad. “Please, sir,” he said, “I just want to get my family out of here. I have no idea what’s going on. Please don’t let them take away my wife. Don’t let them tear us apart. Please.”

  When the man looked back up, a tear was streaking down his cheek.

  “Captain,” Reggie said, “Our chances of successful escape are diminishing rapidly.”

  The little girl gave her father a worried look. “Daddy?”

  The father put his hands on the little girl’s shoulders and pulled her a step closer. Max looked at the girl’s face again. It was her eyes that really unsettled him. They were her eyes, Hannah’s eyes. He was staring into the eyes of his once dead daughter. He was sure of it.

  “Eleanor?” Max called out as he held a finger to his ear. The only response was silence. He wanted to hear her voice, make sure she was okay.

  “The Republic is most likely jamming the transmission, sir,” Reggie reported.

  “Right,” Max said with a weary sigh. He turned back to the father. “Let’s go.”

  The younger man exhaled deeply, picked his daughter up in his arms, and hurried her aboard. Max was quickly up the ramp behind him and at the ship’s command console. With a tap of the console, the boarding ramp retracted and the ship lifted off the pad. Max checked the vector of the incoming ships and opened up the throttle.

  He made a tight turn around an incoming passenger ferry and then rocketed the ship towards the stratosphere.

  “Reggie, make sure they’re strapped in. This is going to be close.” The Republic ships were closing fast. Max tapped the transponder on his display and an image of the delta-winged pursuing craft appeared. He didn’t recognize the model. “Looks like the Republic has some new toys.”

  Max pushed the Guardian’s engines but the Republic ships continued to gain on them. He briefly thought of Eleanor and his hands hesitated over the controls that would turn the ship around. His hand trembled slightly as it hovered above the console.

  “Eleanor, are you okay?”

  There was no response. Max closed his eyes slowly and a tear welled up in the corner of his eye.

  “Eleanor…”

  An explosion rocked the ship just off the port side. Max’s eyes snapped open and scanned the console for any damage reports. There were none.

  “The jump drive is ready, sir,” Reggie reported, “It’s time to go.”

  “Eleanor,” Max said, “If you can hear me, I hope you’re all right.”

  Max bit the inside of his lip and exhaled slowly. Reluctantly, he initiated the jump. He felt the slight pull as the ship entered the wormhole and then they were gone.

  ***

  Maria Cahill walked out onto the small landing pad on the roof of her apartment complex, brushing at a stray piece of lint that was on the lapel of her navy-blue blazer. She stared out across the treetops that covered the rolling hills for miles around. She could barely make out the silhouette of the next closest apartment tower in the distance. She breathed deep and let it out slowly. The air was cool and crisp and she felt the cold seep into her chest as she took another deep breath.

  Her aircar pulled up in front of her and
beeped as it scanned the identity chip in her neck. The aircar door swung up and Maria stepped in. The vehicle lifted off, heading for the Capitol, just as it did every other weekday morning.

  “Schedule,” Maria said.

  A feminine robotic voice responded. “Good morning, Senator. You have four meetings on the schedule today. Senator Graham is up first at nine in his office.”

  “What’s the topic?”

  “His proposed amendments to the Family Planning Act.”

  Maria picked at her teeth with the fingernail of her right thumb as the aircar streaked over the rolling forest-covered hills. Her eyes lingered on the contours of the hills that weren’t quite natural, though it was getting harder to discern where Mother Nature had always been versus where she had overgrown humanity’s abandoned constructs.

  Maria registered what she was doing with her thumb and looked at the appendage as if it had betrayed her. Some bad habits never truly died. She looked up and, in the distance, could see the faint golden shimmer of New Washington’s environmental field.

  “What else?”

  “The Archbishop of New Washington is on the schedule at eleven. After lunch is your meeting with the Outer Colony Caucus. All thirteen representatives are expected to be in attendance. You’ll end the day with your travel security briefing.”

  “Very good,” Maria said, “Messages?”

  “One, madam, from Governor Murphy.”

  “Play,” Maria commanded. Her seat swiveled away from the front windshield until she was facing the rear of the aircar. The backseat seemed to dissolve and was replaced with a gray, utilitarian office. A middle-aged black man sat at a spartan desk and looked at her with tired eyes.

  “Maria, I hope this note finds you well,” Governor Cillian Murphy said, “I’m looking forward to your visit coming up in a couple of weeks. We’ve had a few developments here, none of them good.”

 
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