432nd Year of
Emperor Valek Foger XXVI
Vaughn worked in the cargo hold, stripping panels that lead to power conduits and reconnecting old circuits. “How many can I run based on our current generation capabilities, without disabling any of the modifications?”
“I was originally designed to host a compliment of seventy five guns. Pushing the current generators to one hundred ten percent would allow for seventeen.”
Vaughn shook his head. Halle’s AI was too valuable to lower her power consumption. He had to find more power somewhere. Seventeen guns wouldn’t be enough to stop incoming fire, let alone do any actual damage to an enemy ship.
“How much Argimonium is left on board?”
“Thirty seven pounds in static containment. Another seven ounces in my core. Sir, selling that much Argimonium will bottom out the price. You’ll saturate the market.”
“I know. I’m going to have to trade it. Let’s hope Fresia is happier to see me than we expected.” Vaughn wiped the sweat from his forehead on his arm and kept working.
“The odds of that are negligible, sir.”
Vaughn shook his head. “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“You’re the captain, Sir.”
When he was finished with as much of the modification to the power grid as he could, he went to the galley, grabbed a box of parts from a shelf and disassembled two IP guns. A couple of hours later, he strapped a small device to his arm.
“Captain, what do you hope to accomplish with that? It appears you are attempting to generate a stable ionic field from your wrist.”
Vaughn grinned. “Not attempting. I did.” He hit the side button on the device strapped to his wrist. A large shimmering blue field appeared before Vaughn. He moved his wrist back and forth. Where the field touched the corner of the steel table, the metal turned to dust and floated to the floor, leaving a razor sharp edge. A press of the other button and the field disappeared.
“Remarkable. How did you compensate for the electron shift?”
“Trade secret, Halle. Human ingenuity.”
“We’ve arrived. Prepare to leave the fold.” The ship shook, just like always, and then Halle spoke again. “Incoming message for you, Sir. Commander Gentry is requesting an explanation for your return.”
“Gentry you son of a bitch. How are you?” Vaughn asked as Halle patched him through.
“Fine, Captain Troupe. What brings you back so soon?” There was an edge to Gentry’s voice, but it was unusual for Vaughn to return so quickly.
“Halle’s generator is acting up. I turned around to see if I can pick up a spare.”
“Dock 367,” Gentry said. “And Vaughn. I need to speak with you when you’re on the ground. DTC out.”
Gentry had been working dock traffic control for years, ever since the war ended. In the old days, Gentry was Vaughn’s chief engineer. He’d always been a little jealous that Vaughn had never invited him to help with Halle. Gentry was a foger, and was entirely dedicated to the empire. He wouldn’t have looked kindly at Vaughn’s extra requisition orders, and he certainly wouldn’t have kept quiet about the technological advancements in Halle. Like all Fogerians, Gentry considered himself smarter than any Human. The fact that a Human was in command of a foger battle cruiser earned Vaughn some respect, but he was still a Human. That made him less in the eyes of Gentry.
Halle glided down to an easy stop on dock 367. “Captain, there are twelve armed men outside the door,” she warned him.
“Thanks. Probably just Gentry showing off his new title. If there’s trouble, take off and fold. I don’t care if you have to fold in the atmosphere, don’t let them in.”
“Creating a fold while still within a planet’s gravity would likely result in my destruction. The explosion would be massive.”
Vaughn nodded as he pressed the cargo bay door button. “No one but me.” He forced a smile onto his face and stepped down the ramp with his hands held high in the air. “What’s with the escort, Gentry?”
Gentry was standing behind his men. “Vaughn Troupe. You are under arrest on suspicion of collusion and high treason against the empire. Your property is forfeit. By the authority of the Fogerian Empire, your vessel will be seized. Any attempt to flee will result in your death.”
Vaughn jumped the last foot to the dock. “What’s this about? Collusion with whom? I am as dedicated to The Empire as you, Gentry.”
Halle closed the cargo bay door behind him as three men approached. “Do you agree to come willingly to answer for your crimes,” Gentry called.
“Sure, but I’m on a tight timetable.” Vaughn walked towards the three men. “Let’s get inside and work this out.”
The men grabbed Vaughn roughly, shackled his hands behind his back and shoved him forward. “Walk, prisoner,” the sergeant said.
The group left the dock. At the exact second that they were clear, Halle’s engines spun up and she rocketed skyward. The dock cannons spun in their turrets and fired, blue bolts streaked across the sky hitting Halle in the aft section just above the engines. The sky seemed to explode, throwing Vaughn and the soldiers to the ground. Vaughn rolled over several times, slipped under the railing and off the edge of the dock. It was almost three hundred meters to the ground. As he fell, he twisted his hands in the shackles until he could hit the button on his wrist. The ion field sliced through the chain connecting his wrists.
As he tumbled through the air, blue bolts from hand-held rifles whizzed by him. He spread his arms and legs, rolling over onto his back. The soldiers were up and leaned over the railing, firing at him. With only seconds left, he adjusted the position of his arms, angling himself towards the glass of the building until he could touch it. With a hundred meters to the ground, the building widened. He hit the glass, and spread his hands and feet gradually slowing him, sliding down the smooth glass exterior.
Vaughn scrambled for purchase on the glass in an attempt to further slow his fall. Three meters from the ground the wall ended and he sailed off the side of the building, smashing the roof of a parked transport.
“Ughhh,” he groaned, rolling over. He pulled his knees under him, and got to all fours, trying to catch his breath. “You gotta run,” he croaked to himself. “Matt needs you.”
He stood, leapt off the car and ran. The calf servo in his leg was malfunctioning, sending a jolt of pain through his leg with every step. Every breath felt like a knife stabbing his lungs and his hand had a death grip on his shirt. Try as he might, Vaughn couldn’t force his hand to let go.
He ran several blocks before boarding a sleek, black ground transport. He found a seat and started examining himself with his good hand. Two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a malfunctioning leg. He pried his hand from his shirt, and hoisted it up to the railing, where he clamped his good hand onto his fingers and kicked his leg out from under him. He dropped six inches before the disgusting crack and pop of his shoulder sliding back into its socket. It hurt like hell, but he managed to keep a straight face to not draw attention to himself. The last thing he needed was a panic on a transport.
‘Seventy five hours to get to Matt. I have no ship. My assets are frozen and I’m damaged. Think, Vaughn.’
He had to get to Fresia. He checked the route of the transport he’d chosen on the display. Vaughn knew the neighborhood well; he’d spent a lot of time here. At the third stop, he got off and walked a few blocks as normally as possible, trying not to raise any suspicion. In no time, he was at the door to Fresia’s house.
Before he could knock, the door opened. She grabbed him by the injured shoulder, yanked his arm to pull him into the house. Vaughn winced in pain and let out a yelp. Fresia slammed the door closed and threw him down on a chair.
“You stupid fucking idiot,” she screamed at him, punching him in the shoulder. “What are you doing? Why are you working with the Wyluse?” She punched him in the jaw. “It’s all over the wire. Decorated Captain Vaughn Troupe, wanted for high treason and collusion.”
“Please,” begged Vaughn, “Stop hitting me. It’s nice to see you too.”
Fresia backed up and sat down in the chair facing Vaughn. “What the fuck have you gotten into.” Her jaw was set and she wanted answers.
“I have no idea. I got home from my run, Sarah was dead and Matty has been kidnapped. I got a message to meet them on Loe in seventy-five hours. I came here to trade some argimonium for a battle cruiser’s generator so I can reinstall Halle’s guns.”
“You left here less than a day ago. You couldn’t have made it home and back. Calculating the folds would take too long.”
“You just have to believe me, Fre. Halle can calculate those folds in seconds. They have my boy, and I have to get him back.” He paused as he tried to stretch his bad leg. After flinching again he asked, “Can I borrow your tool kit?”
Fresia went into the next room and returned with a small black case, which she handed to Vaughn before sitting back down. “Halle already has an Independence class ship’s generator. Is it damaged?”
“No, it takes most of that generator to power her central core.”
She shook her head. “That generator powers four hundred cannons and three fold generators, plus the ship’s computer. You’re not making any sense.”
Vaughn crossed his artificial leg over his good one, and pulled a small laser knife from the kit. He sliced open the skin of his leg and winced as he pulled the flesh back, exposing the servo in his calf. Several of the linkages were bent. “Do you have a med kit?” He asked, as he began extracting the linkage.
Once again, Fresia walked deeper into the house and returned with a small bag. While Vaughn replaced the straightened metal, she dug through the second kit and handed him a small metal bottle. When he was finished, he pushed the skin together as best he could, and pressed the nozzle of the container to the wound. A thin line of foam traced the cut, sealing and disinfecting the wound.
Two hours later, Vaughn had convinced Fresia of his innocence and the cut in his leg was just a thin pink line. She’d helped repair the bones in his ribcage, and applied medstrips to his wounded shoulder. The steroids in the strips stimulated healing and by the time they’d worked out their plan, his shoulder was back to normal.
“You can’t stay here,” she said. “This will be one of the first places Gentry looks. We’ve probably been here too long already.” Fresia stood. “We need to get to my brothers shop. Frasier will know where we can get the parts for Halle.”
Vaughn tapped his ear. “Halle,” he called. “Where are you?” He listened for several seconds before Halle’s voice returned to his ear.
“In orbit, sir. I’m attached to the underside of a Freedom Class frigate. I’ve deployed the satellites, and been monitoring your plan with Fresia. I’m glad she didn’t kill you; there was a thirty seven percent chance she would.”
“Thank you, Halle. Stay hidden. We’re going to Frasier’s. When the time comes, we’ll find a landing site. See if you can figure out why Gentry thinks I was working with the Wyluse.”
Vaughn stood up. Fresia tossed him a small plastic package. “What’s this…” Vaughn started, but was interrupted when he saw stars as Fresia’s fist connected with his right eye.
“That’s for last time. Put the pack on your eye.” She turned and walked through the house towards the back door.
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