Whispers of Earth: Pirates of Clew Book Two (The Pirates of Clew 2), страница 1
Whispers of Earth
A “Pirates of Clew” Novel, Book Two.
By Taylor L. Smith
Copyright © 2015 Taylor L. Smith
Dedicated to my mother Debra, whose support never wavered.
Special thanks to those whose support for my first book fueled this one:
Melissa, Tyler, Loretta, Margate, Denise, Liz, Patrick, Roger and Steven
Table of Contents
Dorian Cade had never stolen a brand-spanking-new starship before, but he was about to. He lifted his chin and displayed the indignant scowl he’d practiced for the past four days. “How much longer will this dreadful fiasco take?” he said in an uppity tone and pushed a tuft of bright-blue hair from his eyes. “We should be launched into the void and on our way to greatness by now.”
“Just a few more moments, Mr. Selig. I promise.” Criss Hulbert said calmly from beside him, and then produced a worried look for the guard behind the counter. “This really is taking a lot longer than we anticipated, Mr…” she paused and glanced at his nametag. “Mr. Felban. Is there any way we could hurry this up? We’re behind schedule as it is.”
The guard named Felban dropped his shoulders and said, “You’ve been here all of two minutes, lady. It won’t take long. We just need to validate that you have the proper paperwork in order, and the ship is yours.” He looked back down to his screen with a shake of his head, and continued entering commands as they waited.
Cade looked to the ceiling and huffed overdramatically. “Fine, Mister… what-not. Just get it done,” he ground out and crossed his arms. He carefully glanced to Criss who was still staring expectantly at the guard. It was hard not to laugh at her ridiculously colorful outfit. They were both dressed in nightmarish flamboyancy by their own standards, but evidently it was the latest fashion in the Alliance Capital of Adara. He was just glad it was so late, station-time, as there weren’t many people awake at this hour to gawk at them. This wasn’t Adara, and the denizens of Torj Station didn’t dress as loud as those in the Alliance Capital.
The actual owners of these clothes sat comfortably in a lavish hotel room on the other side of the station. Yes, they were tied to their chairs, but that was beside the point. The crew of the Reaper had stalked them for several months after getting the tip from Jerry that the deal would go down in the Torj System. A sort of celebrity scientist named Kolbart Selig had contracted a brand-new science frigate to be built by one of the Aligned World’s top ship-builders. Evidently, the genius had found several loopholes dealing with installing certain high-grade scientific systems if he had the ship built outside of Alliance territory. Torj was Allied, but not fully vested into the Alliance yet.
The intrepid scientist was set to travel bravely into the outer territories where he would stay for two years. He would then return to tout new discoveries that would turn the scientific community on its head. That was Kolbart’s plan, anyway.
This station, like many others, played middle man for goods of all sorts. It wasn’t uncommon for a transaction this big, and bigger, to be made here. Cade and Criss just hoped that they had everything in order. If they were caught impersonating Kolbart and his assistant, it would be a tough spot to get out of.
“All right, Mr. Selig,” the guard finally said as he rose from his chair. He leaned forward and lifted a small device toward Cade. “Eye-scan please.”
Cade rolled his eyes and stared into the reader. This was the big moment; His prosthetic left eye could give him away.
Three years ago, Cade’s home-ship Grim Shoals had been attacked by an Allied Fleet heavy cruiser named Valiant. His EVA suit had been flash-melted to his left side by an energy weapon that struck the ship several meters away from the compartment he was in. It was a gruesome recovery, both mentally and physically, after the pirate vessel Reaper had found him. Doctor Grant had been able to save his life, but not without the loss of his left eye, arm and a good portion of his left leg.
He was used to the prosthetics now, but they were a constant reminder of the loss of his family and friends. They were also a potential hindrance at times like this. Even with the retinal-overlays they’d been able to make to pull this mission off, this was the moment of truth. Now they would discover if the past four days aboard the station would pay off.
The machine hummed in its work, and then, thankfully, it chirped happily.
The guard checked his readouts and nodded. He then handed Cade a small tablet and said, “All done. Here’s your final checkout and the command code for your ship. She’s in bay two.” He pointed toward the passage that would lead them to the docks.
“Thank you,” Criss said with a wide smile.
Cade grunted with a hint of satisfaction, and then tossed his blue hair as he turned toward the hall that the guard had gestured toward. His nerves had picked up near the end of the transaction and he breathed a sigh of relief as they faced away.
Criss had been the trump card on this leg of the mission. The goal wasn’t to seduce the guard into becoming lax at his job, although there was a high probability of that working in their favor, but something much more subtle. Criss was cute, even on a bad day. But the objective was to attract the guard just enough that he felt sorry for her for being employed by a neurotic pinprick such as Kolbart Selig.
When they considered Mr. Felban’s own boss, their research told them that he could most definitely relate. In the end, they would never know if it was their cunning plan for appealing to the guard’s apathy, or their months of diligently preparing all aspects of identity-fraud that won the guard over.
“Hey!” The guard called out just before they cleared the terminal.
Cade wheeled about in surprise, and almost reached for his Voger R2 sidearm tucked beneath his sweltering jacket.
“Don’t forget your bags,” he said pointing to the small hover-dolly that floated quietly next to the man’s station.
“Right,” Criss said with a wide smile, and hurriedly grabbed the dolly. “Thanks.”
They left the dock security area and entered the dock proper. The station only had four docking bays, so it wasn’t difficult to find bay two. They stopped at a large window overlooking the bay and stared out at their prize.
“Wow,” Criss said with a dreamy tone.
“Yeah,” Cade replied with a slow nod. “Nice ship, isn’t it?”
The sleek, Resonance-Class science vessel was slightly smaller than a frigate, and looked awfully weak compared to the ships Cade was used to being around. On the other hand, though, she looked very fast, and shined like new. The ship was shaped like a tear drop that was sliced long-ways. The aft section of the ship was bulbous, and gently tapered off to a point at the front.
“Let’s go,” Cade finally said and led the wide-eyed Criss away from the window.
They made their way down the long hallway, across the boarding tube and onto the ship. As they stepped aboard, Criss closed the m
“You’re telling me,” Cade said as he ripped the frilly blue wig from his bald head and threw it into the corner. He paused, holding very still as he pulled the contacts from his eyes that mirrored the retinal patterns of the uppity scientist. They’d itched like hell the entire time, and he made a mental note to get used to them next time before putting them through the final test.
Criss laughed as they made their way to the bridge. “You looked like you had a tic!” she exclaimed and jerked her head toward her shoulder a few times.
“That thing itched, and I haven’t had real hair for years” Cade said, as he rubbed his head. “I’m just ready to get out of here.”
“You did great though,” Criss said, and glanced at him as they walked. “I couldn’t have pulled that bitter, sour-puss attitude off as well as you.” She gave him a nudge with her shoulder and shot a wry grin his way.
Cade nodded. “I have a lot to be bitter about, I guess.” He glanced at Criss again from the corner of his eye and smiled. They’d made a great team during the mission. Having to share a room while surveilling and planning everything out would have been torturous if he’d been paired with anyone else. Criss was good company, and close to his age, so they’d meshed well.
They made their way through the small ship and onto its bridge. There were three chairs facing the ships operational systems, such as flight and comms. Three more were surrounded by a multitude of other consoles in the rear of the bridge. From the ship’s blueprints, which they’d scored from Jerry, Cade knew these were the ship’s science and observation stations, even if he had no idea how to operate them.
As Cade sat, he was surprised to be greeted by a small holographic screen. The floating image that appeared before him was labeled ‘command authorization required,’ and included a small keypad. “Nice,” he muttered, and entered the command code for the ship.
The lights brightened, and the slight thrum of systems booting up filled the bridge. Displays came alive, and more holoscreens appeared above consoles across the small room. A disembodied feminine voice said, “Command code accepted. Systems activating.”
Criss took the seat next to him and started bringing up the communications systems. “We need to upgrade the Reaper’s systems, Cade. This is wonderful,” she said, as she set her station up. “It’s so responsive, and it looks pretty, too.”
Cade shook his head. “And probably as sensitive as Crane,” he replied with a grin as me mentioned the crew member aboard their ship most likely to wilt under any semblance of pressure. “The Reaper’s systems are military grade, and shielded from EMP, radiation, intense shock. These systems would fry themselves out at the first mention of a fight.”
“Shame.” Criss shrugged and activated the comms. “Torj Three Station Docking Control this is,” she grabbed the data pad from Cade’s console and continued. “This is R-C-eight-five-two-A, requesting permission to undock.” She muted the comms and turned to Cade. “We should give it a name.”
Cade thought about it for a moment and shook his head. “It’ll just be sold or used for spare parts. No use in it.”
Criss twisted her mouth and tapped her fingers on her console. Several more seconds later, she squinted at her station and said, “They’re not responding.”
Cade looked to her, and then quickly brought up the ships command interface. “I’m changing the command code,” he said, and entered in a new sequence.
“New command code accepted,” acknowledged the computer.
“Five-two-A, this is docking control. Stand by,” a deep voice finally replied over the speaker.
“Crap,” Cade said. “Something’s wrong. Get Andy.”
Criss shot forward and leaned over her controls to open a separate channel. “Reaper, Reaper, Reaper. This is Criss, come in?” she asked, and waited another several seconds before shaking her head to Cade.
“Keep trying. I’m getting us out of here,” he said, and began the manual undocking sequence. A hissing sound, followed by a thump, resonated through the small ship as the station umbilical detached. “Umbilical’s away. Bringing up the engines.”
Criss repeated her call over the private channel they’d agreed upon, as Cade worked. The Pirate Vessel Reaper, a cruiser class warship out of Clew Station, should be sitting dark only a few thousand kilometers off the station. But so far, there was no response.
“It’s been four days, Cade,” Criss said between calls. “Do you think that something happened and they had to leave?”
Cade shook his head. “No. Andy would have warned us. If they’re not there, they aren’t anywhere,” he replied grimly. Andrew Neese, Captain of the Reaper, was also Cade’s adopted brother. He knew, without a doubt, that Andy wouldn’t leave him.
“Five-two-A, shut your engines down and prepare to be boarded,” came the same deep voice as before.
Cade shook his head at Criss as she looked his way, and said, “They’ve locked us down. I can’t disengage the docking clamps.” He thought for a moment. “They must have found the real Mr. Selig and his assistant. Great.”
“Plan B?” Criss asked, as the first hint of real fear crossed her face.
“I really don’t want to do that,” he replied with a sigh. Three days ago he’d snuck into the docking bay and planted small charges on the docking clamps. He knew he might need them, but it was absolutely a last resort. He shook his head. “I don’t think we’re there yet. The ship will take damage if we set the charges off. Even then, it may not work. Those clamps are made of some pretty stout stuff.”
Cade engaged the ship’s flight system, and applied a small amount of reverse thrust. The ship’s engines began pulling at the clamps, and they could hear a faint echo of protesting metal.
“Structural integrity warning,” the ship’s computer began. “Disengage engines.”
“Ignore it,” he said. He pointed at her console. “Un-mute the comms to the station,” he said, and then continued at her nod. “Torj control. In five seconds I’m going to detonate a charge that I’ve placed in your command center. Release this ship, now.”
Criss looked to him, wide-eyed and mouth agape.
He shrugged back to her.
“You’re going down, thief,” came the response. “This is Torj Station. You don’t get away with this here. We’ve caught so many idiots trying to –“.
Cade chuckled and swiped his hand across his neck for Criss to cut the channel. “They’re going to be mad,” he said and brought the reverse engines up a bit more. An eerie moan accompanied a new vibration in the bridge. Several alarms began blaring angrily. Cade shut them off and said, “Strap in.”
They both buckled themselves into their seats, and Cade nodded. “Blow it.”
“Right,” Criss said, but then looked at him quizzically. “I don’t have it. I thought you had it.”
Cade groaned. “Seriously?” The detonator was in his bag near the main hatch. “Damn it.” He reached for the clasp to unlatch himself, when an explosion reverberated through the station and into the ship. Cade froze, waiting to be forced against his restraints when the ship was freed from its clamps, and jolted backward out of the bay, but it never happened. “What was that?” he asked, suddenly fearful Criss had been joking about the detonator, and had actually blown the docking charges. If that was the case, then he’d set it up wrong, the charges didn’t do their job, and they weren’t going anywhere.
“You two need a hand?” Andy’s voice sounded over the comms.
“Ha!” Criss responded with a wide grin. “About time!”
Cade sighed with relief. “Good to hear you, Andy. They won’t unlock –“. He was suddenly thrown against his restraints as the small ship was shot backwards out of the docking bay. Cade grimaced and cut the engines. “We’re free.” he said and angled the nimble ship away from the station. “Andy must have scared them into cutting us loose.”
“They’re screaming mad,” Criss said with a wide smile as she monitored the comms. “Beautiful Allied tears. You’d think they’d get the hint that not everyone wants them to join the Alliance.”
Cade piloted the ship into the Reaper’s shadow, and brought its engines up to full power. He turned to Criss and produced a tired smile. “You did a good job, Criss,” he said. It had been an interesting four days with her. She was bright, and had a great sense of humor. This job had actually felt like a small vacation away from his duties as second in command of the Reaper.
Criss unbuckled from her seat with a wide smile, and threw her arms around Cade’s neck. “We did it!”
Cade smiled, and patted her arm as she held on. “We did.”
He knew she had feelings for him, and in another world he’d be able to reciprocate. In truth, with their latest victory, it was hard not to. She was attractive and fun, but it was still too soon for him.
Cade and Criss boarded the Reaper ten hours later, and were met at the main airlock by a multitude of cheers and applause. The science ship would be a big payout for everyone aboard, so of course their welcome-home was jubilant.
The Reaper and her crew had done very well in the past several years. They’d hit an average of a mark every month, and their bank accounts showed it. Because of their success, Clew had done very well too. There was a lot of damage done during the Deshi attack three years ago; both to the station, and to the ships involved in the brief, but brutal, battle. Cade, in his misery, had played a big part of driving the ship hard. He only stopped looking for the next mark when Andy ordered him to take a break.
“Congratulations, you two!” Andy said, beaming with pride. “When we heard Criss over the comms, we were sure you were in trouble.”
“Just in the nick of time, too,” Cade said, shaking Andy’s hand. “We were about to blow the docking charges.”