Categories > Original > Sci-Fi

Calif System

by derrickhawkins 1 Reviews

Marines on the run from Sol for mutinying against emperor run into major troubles in a system once forgotten about but is now on every ones 'must have' list!

Category: Sci-Fi - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Erotica,Sci-fi - Characters:  - Warnings: [X] [?] - Published: 2011/01/05 - Updated: 2011/01/05 - 8407 words

CALIF
By

Derrick L. Hawkins



CHAPTER ONE


Emperor Sol the Fifteenth clasped the kindle behind his back as he gazed out upon the fleet of war ships ready to deliver his wrath to the enemy. He should be proud of the two hundred and eighty nine ships but sabotage and a surprise assault by pirates had robbed him of eleven prized vessels several weeks ago. He was unusually lenient on the remaining captains as long as they were actively hunting for more devices and personnel who had the tiniest bit of rebellion in them. He wasn't at all surprised by the outcome. They'd rather do it themselves than his people do it.
The fleet was finally ready to take his wrath and rule to those who sought to escape. Half would go in search of the eleven missing ships and crew; wouldn't do for pirates to have ships as good as his. The other half would go after the scourge of the empire which was his first and foremost reason for building the fleet in the first place.
His jaw clenched involuntarily thinking about how the Marines, once his most favored tool for striking at his enemies were now enemies of the empire themselves. They had to be taught a lesson; you don't go against your emperor without suffering the ultimate consequences. After they dishonored themselves by refusing his direct orders they compounded the issue by embarrassing his militia, forcing his most powerful ships to retreat under a devastating defense. He slammed his palm against the armorplas window remembering the aftermath; ship after ship limping back to port, over half of them had to be put to salvage.
Now almost twelve years of civil unrest they sparked the Empire was ready to open their own can of whoop-ass, to use the old Marine vernacular. Then after soundly defeating them the fleet would be in position to extend the Empire of Sol into the Calif System. No one would dare challenge him.
As long as his representative was strong. He hadn't heard any thing from governor Brand since he set off with the Brightstar thirteen years ago, he considered that a lost cause. He had no choice but to send his son, speaking of lost causes.
He closed his eyes momentarily trying to imagine a heir that was worthy of succeeding him. That would be nice as hell, he sighed. Emperor-in-waiting the Sixteenth was a spoiled, angry brat who should've been terminated like his mother. But he was his only natural born male heir which saved his life countless times. He spent considerable resources, pulling people off jobs he needed them in to make sure the ungrateful boy had a first class education. He was absolutely sure he was going to regret his decision but at least it wouldn't be for a while yet.
He hated to lose her company but he could send his niece Selby along with him. She was the gentle pretty face of the empire while he was the ugly feared. She knew how to handle Essie's mood swings and general bad attitude. As aggravating as the mutt was he was still too impressionable, which is why he didn't want any of his trusted governors or generals to escort him so far away without family. It had to be Selby.
He called up a screen on the kindle that looked into a cell deep in the bowels of the emperial palace on Earth. The former commander of his new fleet was stubborn and well trained to resist interrogation but even the stoutest man wilted when his family was put to the same methods. Surprisingly the man only caved after his youngest daughter was gang raped. He keyed in the order. In another five minutes the signal would reach its destination and soon after the traitor would be introduced to the recyclers. Good riddance.
Which brought him to another problem. He needed a new fleet commander. The current fleet commanders, sector generals and governors hadn't impressed him in a long time with their bickering and ass kissing and favor-mongering. He sighed deeply and called up another screen to look at the candidates his Inquisitor sent him. Complainers mostly.
At the top of the complainers list was Sector governor Talbot in the Belts Sector furious over-he glanced at the small screen to refresh his memory- some nobody from 3rd RES named Commander Westy. In Talbot's eyes the commander overstepped his boundaries by pursuing pirates and other undesirables into his sector without Talbots explicit approval.
Eradicating enemies of the empire was the only authority any ship commander required and that came straight from him. Belts Sector was a major producer of materials the empire needed for ship production so he had to address the issue. Not that the man couldn't be replaced with someone who complained a lot less but it'd take time to get the replacement up to speed and replacing his lost eleven ships.
He let his eyes drift over his fleet picking out the flagship RazorFist majestic and dangerous floated in the center of the ordered chaos like a mother bear keeping an eye on her young. Re-engineered from the remains of the EAF(Army) flagship Ike, it bore no outward resemblance to its parentage and stunning defeat at the hands of the treacherous Marines. He'd considered keeping the name in fact he had kept the name but his chief engineers project name stuck. He had to admit that in its new configuration it was a good name.
His gaze drifted to the almost invisible black ship standing alone with a small swarm of smaller just as dark ships going to and from the supply depot. Its commander, Inquisitor General Kalmar, would be accompanying the hundred and three ships Sol personally selected for this mission to expand the empire. He hated to lose his long time and most trusted -colleague? He hesitated to use the word but he couldn't really call him a friend could he? A ruler had no true friends, several predecessors had been assassinated by “friends”, he could do without those kinds of friends.
He reached down to rub the head of one the Rottweilers he kept with him but remembered he'd left them on Earth as too conspicuous for traveling incognito. As much as the best known and feared face in Sol space could. The Rotties were his true friends, they wouldn't turn on him. Inquisitor Kalmar was a Rottie in human form, vicious and loyal but he never let it slip his mind that the man had his own goals not even the Emperor was privy too. He'd have to do something about that upon his return.
“A penny for your thoughts your highness?” Sol covered his start with an angry glance in the general direction the voice seemed to come from. He turned fully to the Inquisitor and leaned against the armorplas port.
Inquisitors were first designed by Emperor Sol the Seventh as his personal bodyguards. They were specially designed with mental abilities that allowed them to make the best use of the hardware nano-grown into their bodies. Not every one could handle those kinds of changes, there was a substantial failure rate even among Inquisitors who've made it through the growing and training. Couple million credits gone to waste. Unfortunately the once secret cloning facility had undergone a change in ownership when the SyHu's commandeered it fifteen years ago, rather than go all out he simply directed Kalmar to make sure they had eyes and ears. So far so good.
All Inquisitors were gene engineered to be at least six feet tall, Kalmar was six feet nine, not unheard of in this day and age where families had their genes engineered for whatever qualities they desired. But with ship space at a premium there was no need to have a crew six feet plus when average had a better fit. Kalmar was a large man, muscular by his own rights and probably the single most dangerous man in the empire as far as Sol was concerned. Those types of people Sol did his best to eradicate before they became a problem. Kalmar would be a challenge since it was him he went to to take care others. Might be best to have him as far away from the upcoming trouble as he could, deal with it when he returned. By then there would be some one to take his place.
“The fleet is prepared to depart Kalmar?” He made a show of looking at the kindle. “Have you seen these reports?”
“It is,” the large man was at his side in the blink of an eye. Sol looked up in annoyance. “I have seen the reports. As usual Sector Governor Talbot appears to be on the warpath.”
“I think its time there was a new Belts governor. Production has been on a steady slide while the number of pirate outposts in his area has risen the same amount. If I didn't know any better I'd say Talbot has gotten into bed with the enemy.”
“I believe I've found a replacement for the fleet commander.” Kalmar gestured at the kindle, the screen flickered and Commander Westy's file came up.
“You think he's mature enough for this kind of responsibility?” Sol scrolled thru the file noting all the complaints lodged against the man, lately from Talbot and those under his command, and the long string of successes. “If I didn't know any better I'd say the commander has had some help.” He frowned at the inquisitor, some of the exploits listed he could hardly believe had been accomplished with the resources of the Third RES. The entire Third should've been sent to the scrappers decades ago, personnel and all. Fortunately it was a convenient place to send undesirables to keep them out of the way of progress.
“How did commander Westy end up out there with the likes of commander Zant?” He gestured with the kindle. “If he can pull these kinds of missions off on a regular basis he should never have been posted there.”
“I've noticed that as well my lord.” Kalmar came as close to a shrug as Sol had ever seen. “I haven't figured out how he does it but his intelligence work is first rate. Some how he's managed to get and keep agents in a number of the pirate enclaves.”
“I guess its settled then. Bring him in. We need some one who thinks outside the box.” Kalmar appeared to smile but Sol wasn't sure. “On to the matter of Talbot. Start looking for a replacement for his sector. If there's that many pirates operating out of his territory then we need to put someone in that will take care of the problem. Shame we need Westy out in the Calif system. What about lieutenant commander Zant? He's not one to act too far out of his comfort zone even under orders, he'd be perfect.”
“I wouldn't recommend the commander even though he would be pliable. His kind tend to resent being controlled and become unpredictable. The last thing the empire needs right now is more unpredictability.”
“I have to agree with you on that. By the time you return I'll have scrubbed the empire of all of the Zants and Talbots.” He thumbed the kindle off and handed to Kalmar.
“I've sent orders to commander Westy to come here at his best possible speed. Having to return here to assume command will push back your timetable for perhaps two weeks.”
“I want to give my newest commander his marching orders personally. Besides the extra time to lay in additional stores will benefit everyone.” He gestured out the port.
“Now, tell me about this systems glitch the techs can't seem to get a hold on.”
“Its been cleansed from the other ships but RazorFist is still experiencing some issues. Nothing to prevent launch, no major systems are affected, its more of an annoyance than a real problem. They should have it locked down by deployment.”
“Good,” Sol moved away from the portal and took a seat in the only chair in the room. “I'd hate for anything to hamper the expansion of my empire. And more importantly the eradication of the traitors.” He waved the inquisitor away. “I want to know every thing that goes on with this fleet, Kalmar. When the commander arrives have him report to me immediately.”
“As you wish, my lord,” Kalmar didn't bow as required before leaving the emperors presence. Sol was too deep in thought to notice.

Third Revenue Enforcement Service
Commander Westy. Dragons Breath

Commander Dyvid Westy was bored. He slouched unprofessionally in the captains chair while the quiet work of the ship went on around him. He had them on a dull patrol route previously cleansed of pirates and other traitors to the empire to give them an easy go of it after three grueling months clearing out pirates nests in the Belts Sector. And constantly doing end runs around that sectors governor and the rest of the bureaucrats who were making a mighty fine profit from catering to the very people they were suppose to be eradicating. Still, he sighed, governor Talbot was a powerful if annoying man, his sector supplied over half of the materials the emperor required to build ships. No doubt his report to the emperor wasn't going to be glowing. He didn't dare think just because there wasn't any word in the last two weeks that he forgot to complain.
Besides adding another crossed out pirates graphic on the hull he added five former pirate vessels to his ragtag fleet of obsoletes bringing the grand total to seventeen. Let every one spread out from close quarters a little bit. He for one could use it. He should've posted his exec to one of the ships-too late now.
Every one except lieutenant commander Zant considered this a posting that signaled the end of their career. Most made the best of things since it beat hell out of simmering in one of the emperors gene-tanks. Zant was still under the impression that those glowing fitreps were a true glimpse into the man that was him. They were at odds for a number of reasons the least being Dyvid wrote honest fitreps.
Zant had extraordinary skill in avoiding the heavy lifting while making it seem like he was doing it all by himself. Maybe now that the Third had a name people wanted to be associated with they all might have a slim chance at decent postings. Or maybe the emperor would send them to the recyclers, ships, crew and all and start over fresh.
“Hopefully I'm not stabbing us all in the foot,” he chuckled out loud. “Just thinking how nice it'd be to have a ship that works most of the time,” he answered Zants questioning look.
“I second that. People are putting in requests to move to one of the new ships in droves. They might be lowlifes but their equipment is first rate. And in case you hadn't noticed, the main viewer is down for good. We might be able to hack out some repairs from one of the other ships.”
“I had wondered about that but I was too comfortable to ask. You know, I've been thinking about splitting the fleet. Eight and eight with an overall command ship. I think its time you had a couple of ships under your direct command. Give you something to do besides hassle people about your fiancée.”
“Well, I finally made some headway in that,” Zant jumped on the subject like a lifesaver. “One of my contacts finally came thru,” he paused for dramatic affect. Dyvid put on his 'I'm the interested boss' expression. “Turns out she's among those people that got caught up thirteen years ago when the Marines went rogue.”
“Son of a bitch.” This was the most interesting thing Zant had ever said about his fiancée “That means she got dragged off to the Calif System with them. I can only imagine what kind of barbaric things they've done to her and all the other hostages.”
“I can imagine,” Zant shivered. “And I don't like it. Unfortunately there's nothing I can do about it.” “The only thing you can do is rid this system of the scourge.” He waved a waiting comtec over.
“Sir, com from headquarters,” he handed him the stik and stepped smartly back. Westy looked at the personalized design on the cylinder that showed the messages origination. He sat up from his slouched position abruptly with a sharp curse. Zant mumbled a what now.
“Is this right?” The tec nodded somberly. “Thank you, I'll read it right here.” He slipped the small cylinder into the chairs data slot and entered his private code to unlock the message.
The image of the Inquisitor General himself dissolved onto the small screen. For some reason his pleased look scared Westy more than a scowl would have. He instinctively sat straighter as if the bald imposing figure could see him. You never knew with Inquisitors, especially this one.
“Commander Westy you are directed to these coordinates at best possible speed. Message ends.” The stiks colors swirled and settled to bright white to signify its contents had been erased.
“Get right to the point why don't you.” He keyed the coordinates into his console. “Helm plot a course for these coordinates. Best speed.” The comtec acknowledged the order as well and notified the rest of the fleet of their new destination.
“I don't recognize those coordinates,” Lieutenant Commander Zant checked them on his own board. “Its going to take us at least two weeks with those ships in tow.”
“Then that's the best possible speed. Personally I'm in no hurry to be any where near Inquisitors ” he said loud enough for whoever hadn't been whispered to by now. It wasn't usually a good thing to be summoned by the emperors right hand man.
“He looked like he was in a good mood if that's any indication of anything.” Westy chuckled.
“That's probably because we've been ordered to the recyclers,” Zant sighed. “The emperor finally got tired of all the complaints you've generated over the years.” He looked at Westy. “On the other hand it'd be nice to finally have some ships up to date- at least more recent than these relics. Any hint what he wants us for?”
“No doubt the debacle with Sector governor Talbot has finally reached the highest levels,” he chuckled softly. “But, I think the rest of the fleet is in the clear mister Zant. I gave the orders. You, however may be standing beside me on the carpet as my second.” He thoroughly enjoyed the panic on Zants face.
“Be that as it may sir? Perhaps now you'll listen to me when I speak about annoying people we need to be friends with. Considering the condition of the Third and the availability of parts-”
“We can get parts and pieces from the pirates. They seem to have a better supply chain than the empire, certainly better than we get. Hell we've confiscated ships from them. We don't need some annoying fat ass sector governors supplies. If I were you I wouldn't stand too long in his corner. We found enough pirates operating unchecked in his sector that it wouldn't surprise me if he's standing next to us.”
“You have made quite a lot of enemies in your time Dyvid. Maybe its finally caught up to you.” His expression said he was praying hard. It was going to be a long two weeks.

Sleep wasn't coming, he was anxious to get the days events over and done with. He never was good at waiting for punishment. He looked over at the time, they were do at the IG's coordinates in the next few hours, may as well get a start on the day.
He rolled out of bed, gave some thought to his best uniform then went with the everyday one. He was a soldier and he'd look like it even on his death march.
Lieutenant commander Zant had the down shift, he always had on a sharply creased uniform, somehow he never managed to get it dirty no matter what was going on.
“Anything interesting to report?” He settled into his chair and logged into the system. “This is the day of reckoning, Zant. Are you up to it?” He knew the man wasn't by the stressed look he had on his face the last two weeks. The closer they got the greener he seemed to get.
“The viewers fixed, who knows how long that’s going to last, all the back ends scrapped out. Nothing that needs your attention. Just a few scrapes, every ones nervous to be getting close to the emperor. You never know what he knows about you.”
“You can bet your ass if he doesn't know it there's an inquisitor nearby happy to give him any particulars. Whats in your closet, Zant? Anything else I need to worry about?”
“I've performed my duties admirably. I have nothing to fear.”
“Your face says other wise. Commander Zant, I relieve you,” he said formally. The ships ancient AI transferred command systems to Dyvid and brought up the illumination and systems for the day shift.
Zant put his boards in standby and stepped from the dais, “We're a few hours a head of schedule. We'll be arriving within an hour-”
“Sir, sensors are picking up a ship on approach,” the sensor-tec broke in. Westy swiveled his chair to face the man. “The configuration isn't in our database and their coming in hot.”
“Red alert, all hands to battle stations!” Westy swiveled his chair back and locked it in place. All over the bridge others secured their own chairs for combat. “Weapons?”
“At your command, sir.”
“Well, lets see if they're willing to talk. Open a ch-”
“This is Captain T'Shan of the Razorfist. This is a restricted area. State your business or be destroyed.” Westy and Zant exchanged glances.
“Sir, I'm detecting more ships-” The sensor-tec snapped.
“How many?” Zant asked.
“Fifty eight.”
“Seems the odds are in Captain T'Shans favor,” Dyvid sighed. “This is Commander Dyvid of the Third Revenue Enforcement Service ship Dragons Breath.”
“Please proceed. Any deviations will be destroyed.”
“Thank you Captain T'Shan. May I inquire about your ship?”
“Yes.” The channel closed.
“She needs some work on her conversation skills,” Dyvid muttered. “Helm pass the word and tuck us in behind her.” On the screen Razorfist wheeled around gracefully and began picking up speed.
“What class do you reckon that is commander?”
“We've been out so long I wouldn't begin to hazard a guess, sir.” Zant typed rapid-fire at his console trying to come up with something but gave up after a few minutes with a shrug.
“Lets just hope they stay on our side,” Dyvid worked his own console. “That one ship outguns three-quarters of our fleet. She'd barely break a sweat putting us out of our misery.”
Razorfist set a leisurely pace, sensors didn't show any other RES ships but he knew that could change at any moment so he set his fleet to making ready for the inevitable inspections. He dreaded inspections the desk jockeys used to justify their continued existence. They were so damn nit-picky, even with the stack of operational fitness waivers, maybe especially.
“Maybe we're finally getting new ships,” Zant sighed. “I bet this is one of the emperors secret yards. He has them all over the system you know.”
“I'd be surprised if we're allowed to keep our captures. Some higher echelon barnacles will end up confiscating them for official use.” Dyvid made an easy-come-easy-go gesture.
“I can just hear the tall tales now about how they wrested the ships from the biggest meanest two hundred pirates and Marines there ever was.”
“Do I detect some animosity mister Zant? That's very unlike you.” Dyvid chuckled.
“I'm like every other fighting man, sir. I hate uptight self-important desk riders who take credit for others hard work.” He was so intent on his rant that he didn't notice the looks of disbelief on most faces.
“Be that as it may we still have to be on our best behavior.”

“What? I'm going where?” Selby stared slack jawed at her uncle not sure she just heard what she thought she just heard.
“I'm sending you with the RazorFist to the Calif system. I need a representative.”
“All those ships and people and you don't have any one to represent you?” She squalled. She hopped out of her seat and began pacing swiftly. “I have a life here, uncle, in case you hadn't noticed? Me and Sparm are engaged!” Sparm was her third love interest, she was looking serious about this one though.
“I've noticed and I have a bit of bad news for you in that regard.” he cleared his throat and spoke quick. “Lieutenant Sparm-” He didn't have the heart to tell her he'd been implicated in the sabotage of the fleet and subsequently given to the genetecs. He really should have at least given her the evidence, he mightn't let the young man off with exile in a solo-ship headed out-system. But he didn't and had to cover his actions with another elaborate lie. He really shouldn't give a care but he was very fond of his only niece.
“I had to promote him into a vacant slot. You know how fond I was of him, Selby. He had the skills I needed so I used him. Don't look at me like that. The needs of the empire always come before the needs of the individual. You know that.”
“I know,” she sighed. “But, I really liked him.”
“I know you did, sweetie,” and therein lie the problem. “He promised to keep in touch. After he works out the issues the previous commander couldn't.” Her eyes lit up.
“You made him a commander?” She leaped into his arms. “Thank you uncle Sol!”
“I do what I can favorite niece.”
“I'm your only niece unless there's something your not telling me?” She stood back with fists on hips. “Your the only one, still. But, down to business. I want you to keep an eye on Essie.”
“I know there was a catch.” She smiled “Why didn't you just say that in the first place? Of course I'll keep an eye on him. I do that anyway. Have you told him?”
“He's not talking to me. As usual.”
“No wonder with all the stuff you have him doing to 'prepare him for his destiny',” she intoned with a deep voice that made him smile.
“He has to be ready, Selby.”
“I know, uncle. I'll let him know. You know him he probably already knows. If he's learned anything from you its how to 'cultivate sources'.” She laughed at his stern expression. “How long do we have until you ship us off?”
“Razorfists new commander is enroute-say five hours?” She gave him a pout and gently shoved him out the door complaining about all the things she had to pack in the amount of time he gave her.
“That went well,” Sol whispered to his bodyguard who'd personally escorted the understandably reluctant lieutenant to the stations genetics. “Lets pray she never finds out.”
“I'm not much for prayer, sir.” The man said with all seriousness. “My parents are Scientholics,” he said as if that was all the explanation required. He wasn't the brightest but he was trustworthy with some of the touchier things he needed done around the empire.
“Sir, commander Westy has arrived.” His gaze vacant as he accessed the information on his VIOD.
“Excellent. I'll meet them in the landing bay.” The man relayed the message and fell in half a step behind him.
Commander Westy wasn't what Sol was expecting even after reading the mans file. He was perfectly ordinary, once he left you'd be hard pressed to remember he was even there. That was the makings of the perfect spy. Maybe after he returned from Calif he'd have a new job for him. He ignored lieutenant commander Zant and stopped in front of Westy.
“Commander Westy,” Sol nodded perfunctorily at the commanders deep bow. “I know you were expecting Inquisitor general Kalmar, sorry to disappoint you,” he tried a disarming smile. Westy nodded nervously but didn't return the smile.
“The request was sent on my behalf. Your fleet has been out of range for quite a while, if you'll forgive me for getting right down to business?”
“Of course, your highness,” Westy tried to stay the proscribed full step behind him but Sol pulled him even with him and put his arm around his shoulder like old friends reunited. The guards smoothly prevented Zant from joining his commander.
“I have a mission for you commander Westy. A very sensitive and of utmost importance to the empire. You and the Third have exhibited some exceptional strategic prowess in dealing with the pirates and the Marines, that's the kind of thing I need for this. Can I count on you?”
“I'm honored, your highness. And speechless. What's the nature of the mission, my lord?”
“Ah,” he clapped him roughly on the back, “I like a commander who doesn't jump in unprepared! Most of my other commanders would've agreed without knowing any of the details. That just proves I've picked the right man for the job.”
“Thank you sir, whatever it is you require I'll try not to disappoint you.”
“See that you don't.” He softened the threat with a grin. “But you might not thank me after you hear what it is.”
Commander Westy and lieutenant commander Zant listened intently as Emperor Sol outlined what he wanted done. Westy was all smiles while Zant seemed to have reservations about most of it.
“That's quite a bit of responsibility for the Third, sir. There has to be any number of fleets better equipped to handle that sort of mission.” Westy leaned back in his chair running a hand thru his hair.
“Your royal and august highness,” Zant said full of authority into the silence, “even if we were to undertake such a mission none of the Third is equipped with String Drives. Even with them a trip that long is ten years subjective time, two years ship-”
“I am aware of the math, lieutenant commander Zant,” Sol said dangerously. He locked eyes with the man until Zant looked away. “I have a solution to that problem, captain Westy. Westy's head snapped up.
“It just so happens that the flagship Razorfist is in need of a captain. I can't think of any one more qualified to command her than you. Congratulations.”
“I'm speechless, your highness.” He lapsed into silence.
“Who's to take command of the Third?” Zant straightened noticeably.
“I'll leave that decision in the hands of Captain Westy. Effective immediately the Third Fleet of the Revenue Enforcement Service is attached to the First Army Expeditionary Force. I'm sure Captain Westy will do whats best for the Third.” As he stood the stations AI was sending out the orders. He put out his hand to Westy.
“Well, Captain Westy, your ship awaits. I've gathered the finest people of all disciplines to staff the fleet, I expect you to make sure their ready when they reach Calif.”
“I'll give the fleet commander whatever assistance he requires.”
“I'm sure that you will,” Sol chuckled softly.

“I'm not sure I liked the smile on his face as we left,” Zant whispered as they left the emperor and his people behind on their way back to the shuttle bay. “I especially don't like he left the Third hanging in limbo like that.”
“He attached us to the fleet, that's not exactly in limbo Ulysis.”
“He attached us to the fleet, your the captain of Razorfist and not even in our chain of command anymore.”
“Actually,” Dyvid grinned, “he did say he was leaving the disposition of the Third in my hands. If that’s not putting me in the chain of command I don't know what would.”
“So, who's going to be the new commander? Some one who's been with the fleet for some time I would hope.”
“Despite the emperors edict having the word of law, he's not going to be with us on the mission. I don't want to get started on the wrong foot with fleet commander by appointing a replacement without at least his consent.” He touched Zant on the arm lightly, “don't worry though, your the first one on the list. You've been waiting long enough.”
They paused next to the obsolete shuttle from Dragons Breath to shake hands and wish each other good luck.
“Captain Westy,” a black woman with captains rank approached them. He was momentarily taken aback by her lack of hair when baldness had been eradicated centuries ago. “Congratulations on your appointment, I'm-”
“Captain T'Shan. I recognize the voice.” He looked at her rank pinned to her ample bosom then back up to her face hoping his face wasn't as red as it felt. “Um-”
“I've been directed to escort you to your new command, our shuttle is over there,” she hooked a thumb over he shoulder at a dangerous looking flat black shuttle with guards at both open hatches while station personnel loaded last minute supplies.
“God speed, captain Westy,” Zant shook his hand then stepped into his shuttle where the pilot was beginning pref-light checks.
“Captain,” T'Shan turned smartly and headed for the shuttle. Westy hurried to keep pace with her. “Inquisitor General Kalmar speaks highly of you, he's not one to give his blessing lightly.”
“From what I've heard he's not the kind to give any blessing.”
“He has his moments but he's human just like the rest of us.” She chuckled, “Mostly anyway.” She waited for him to proceed her into the shuttle then spent a few moments talking to the guard.
He passed through the airlock, none of his shuttles had airlocks they were so old, every body had to suit up if even one person was going into vacuum. The interior was spacious compared to what he was use to, the miracle of modern nanotechnology shrank a lot of components that other wise would have encroached. The results were mostly smooth bulkheads of metal and plastic. The auto-doc area was hard and unforgiving, and a lot smaller than he was use to but then only one of his shuttles even had one (and he confiscated that one from pirates) but at least it looked up to date and had a door to seal it off from the rest of the shuttle.
“We're ready to go,” T'Shan came in with the guard plus several more he hadn't noticed. “Any last minute issues? Your pretty much ass out if you have any special supplies you want.”
“No thank you, I'm good,” he made to sit in one of the chairs but she waved him to the cockpit. She sat in the co-pilots seat and swiveled to face him. He took the pilots seat and looked over the board.
Most shuttles were laid out the same way in the cockpit even if some of the controls were smaller or touch instead of toggles and switches and levers. He was surprised that a newer model shuttle still had positive feel controls. He preferred to know when he pressed a button without having to look at it.
“I haven't been checked out in the newer models.”
“Then I suggest you not run into anything,” she turned to her own board and started the pref-light.

CHAPTER TWO


“Come on Essie, the ships going to leave without us!” She tugged his arm to pull him to his feet. He was a handsome young man but couldn't keep a girlfriend for more than a couple of weeks before his bad attitude and lack of motivation ran them off. Then there was always the ever present fear of the emperor looming over any relationship either of them had. He had the bad habit of culling the herd and not being subtle about it.
Emperor Sol the sixteenth was eighteen years old just a month ago, five feet eleven, the shortest would-be ruler by a good five inches, he had a good build only because his father insisted on a rigorous exercise routine of martial arts and physical fitness training to round out the ten hours a day of education in everything he might need in order to rule the empire. He was a reluctant student at best but absorbed every detail of every lesson while pretending not to. Needless to say he got on every body's nerves in the worst way.
He casually pushed his hair out of his face and linked his fingers behind his head to grin up at her.
“I seriously doubt any ones leaving without us, we're what they call supercargo.” He drolled. She rolled her eyes and kicked his leg until he grumbled. “I'm going, I'm going, hell, you act like your in a hurry or something.”
“We are, uncle Sol said we had five hours to pack and be on the ship. That was nine hours ago. Your lucky he hasn't sent some of his goons to help us along.”
“You mean to help me along?”
“Yeah, you, now get a move on already. If I hear another lecture about how I'm suppose to make sure your ready to take the throne I'm going to assassinate him myself. Besides, you know you want to go, get away from uncle for a while?”
“Last time I checked the Calif system was more than a while away. Its gonna take us two years to get there. Hopefully by the time we get back things will have changed around here.”
“Oh stop it, by the time you get back your probably going to be the next emperor.”
“Yeah, right. The only reason he's sending me away is so he can hatch a replacement that's easier to get along with and train. Some one who doesn't have a mind of his own.”
“Your going to be a real pain in the ass, aren't you Essie?” He grinned in answer, she sighed and stalked down the hall in front of his sarcastic laugh.
“Wait up, sis,” he linked arms and matched her stride. “I can't get excited about being kicked out of the nest like you are.”
“What are you talking about? This is the opportunity of a life time, Essie. How many people get to go to another solar system?”
“You mean besides the hundred or so thousand Marines? Not to mention the thousands of people that abandoned the empire a couple centuries ago?”
“Don't be a smart ass, smart ass. This is from uncle Sol,” she handed him a stik with the emperors personal seal on it. “He said the security seal won't let you open it for two weeks,” she shrugged at his questioning look. He took it and slipped it into one of the hundreds of tiny pockets he'd sewn into his favorite ship-suit. He'd have it opened and read as soon as he got a minute alone.
“Probably telling me never to come back,” he mumbled mostly to himself. She stopped and gave him a brief hug that took him by surprise but he let out a deep sigh. “Thanks sis, your the best as usual. Sorry you have to babysit me for the rest of your your life.”
“I'm just keeping you out of trouble until you become the emperor. So far so good, no major catastrophe's. That I know of.” She wrinkled her nose at him. He returned her expression perfectly. “Not going to confess to anything are you?”
“Hell no!” He laughed. “First rule of emperorshipism is never confess to doing anything wrong, especially if you have.”
“Emperorshipism? Is that even a word?” She shoved him playfully. “Knowing you you probably already put it in the official language database.” She sighed at his grin. “When are you going to put those slicing skills to good use, Essie?”
“Who says I haven't?” He said softly. She narrowed her eyes at him but no more information was forthcoming. He looped his arm in hers and propelled them along.
The shuttle bay was busy with people and machinery but neither one saw any sign of a royal send off. Selby was both relieved and angry that Sol would let them go without one final word or even a hug. She risked a glance at Essie but his face was carefully blank.
As they neared the shuttle inquisitor general Kalmar came down the short ramp of an adjacent shuttle.
“Out of all the people uncle Sol could've sent did he have to send you?” Selby frowned up at the inquisitor general. “Don't you have something else to do? This isn't the shuttle we were assigned to.”
“I'm sure you were expecting a royal send off but his highness has other matters to attend. Besides, I convinced him you're both self sufficient enough not to need any last minute pampering. I took it on myself to upgrade you to a shuttle befitting someone of both your exalted ranks. You'll find everything you need aboard along with your belongings,” Selby recognized some of her luggage being hauled from the other shuttle as he spoke.
“I'm sure it didn't take much to convince him to 'attend to other matters' as far as I was concerned,” Essie snapped.
Ignoring the comment, Kalmar continued. “At the moment I'm making sure both of you make it off the station and onto the ship safe and sound. Your highness,” he made a sweeping bow that was completely unlike him.
“Don't be a smart ass, Kalmar,” Selby grumbled. She tugged Essie up the ramp into the shuttle. She made a quick tour then stomped back to the ramp where Kalmar waited expectantly.
“Where the hell is the crew? You expect us to run this thing by ourselves?” She stomped down the ramp to him. He grinned down at her. She put fists on hips trying not to smile. While every one in the solar system feared this one man above the emperor she actually liked him for some reason. “Jack ass.”
“Unless my information is incorrect, and it rarely is, you and his highness are perfectly qualified to pilot and you hardly need the usual crew for such a short journey.” She glared harder.
“If I find you a pilot your destination is going to be Heavens Bain.” He paused a moment to let her imagine the next two years working and studying pretty much non-stop. She let out a sigh and deflated.
“This shuttle is equipped with all the luxuries your use to plus a few extras I hope that you never have need of. Now is the time to stop being the spoiled, protected princess. Use the skills the empire has been giving you for free the last nineteen years. Both of you.” His gaze shifted to one side of her as Essie moved to the top of the ramp. She stomped back up the ramp, gave one final look over her shoulder at Kalmar.
“Your a jerk,” she slapped her palm on the ramp controls. Just before the hatch sealed she stuck out her tongue. Kalmar chuckled. “What?” She pushed past Essie.
“I swear you two are like husband and wife or something. He's more feared than Sol himself but your always antagonizing him. Least he's not going with us.” He stopped dead in his tracks. “He's not going with us is he?”
“With any luck we won't be seeing much of him the next two years. You know how the inquisitors like their privacy.” She sat in the pilots seat and mumbling it was just like that bald headed ass to send her off in a ship with cold engines. She shot a rude glance at Essie chuckling softly but at least he went thru the pre-flight flawlessly. She suppressed an angry retort several times when he rechecked her work, apparently he had some training in this configuration.
“That's basic stuff, Selby.” He said sternly while correcting the last mistake. Get your mind off your future husband so we can get the hell off this station.”
“Now who's anxious to go? You know uncle Sol would be here if he didn't-”
“I know,I know, if he didn't have to run the empire. Business as usual,” he called station control to request take off clearance. Of course they went to the top of the list. “Sometimes its good being the heir apparent.” He grinned as he gently lifted the shuttle without a wobble and exited the shuttle bay at twice the recommended speed.
“Essie!” She squeaked as he took them on a looping spin between three shuttles sending them scattering. She sighed and took her hands off the controls even though she was in the pilots seat and let him do his thing. By now every one knew he was leaving with the fleet so as long as he didn't crash into anything no one was going to complain. Not to the emperor anyway.
She turned down the shouting from the three shuttles so as not to disturb Essie’s concentration as he weaved in and around everything he could find.
“Okay,” he finally set the shuttle on a direct course for the Razorfist at a more sedate speed. “I've been wanting to do that every since Kalmar made me start taking lessons.”
“I'm sure he's patting himself on the back for that,” she said more to herself. “Your going to be on your best behavior aren't you?” He smiled but didn't answer. “As much as you can please? Kalmars right about one thing as much as I hate to admit he's right about anything. Its time for us to learn to live out from under uncle Sols thumb. You never know, we might actually have a life of our own.”
“I'm sure he's already ordered every one to make sure we continue our education. Me anyway. So for me it'll be the same life.”
“Oh, I think you'll find some way to make life away from the empire bearable. I have total confidence in your ability to find something to entertain you. And aggravate every one else.”
“I do believe you have a point big sis.” His eyes gleamed.

“Welcome aboard, your Highness,” captain Westy nodded slightly, “this is captain T'Shan my executive officer. My apologies for the small welcoming party, we weren't told you were coming until you were landing.”
“Uncle Sol keeping you on your toes,” Selby sighed. “I'm sorry we're late, some last minute things,” she shrugged and looked at Essie for input but he and captain T'Shan had locked eyes. Selby looked away before Westy noticed.
“Of course, we're slightly behind schedule awaiting the new fleet commander,” Westy looked at T'Shan who gave a slight shrug of her own.
“Which reminds me,” Selby pulled out a stik and presented it to Westy. “Uncle Sol said you should read this immediately.” He took the stik and went to the nearest wall console. Emperor Sol appeared on the small screen.
“Captain Westy you are to assume command of the Razorfist fleet. By now you have met my son and niece. I expect you to take excellent care of them. I think you'll find empress Selby to be of great use to you while you prepare the citizens for inclusion in the empire. Good luck, Fleet Admiral Westy.” The image faded.
“Well, that solves that problem,” In the back of her mind Selby thought he looked a little pale for someone who just got promoted to fleet admiral his first day on the job as ship captain. In the front of her mind she was mad that her uncle hadn't given Essie any encouragement.
“I'll make sure the fleets brought up to speed, sir,” T'Shan stepped away briskly, turned back after a few steps to look back. She sighed visibly and continued on her way. Selby turned to Essie while Westy was still in shock and found him watching the bald womans retreating form with a grin on his face. She leaned close.
“Essie. Leave her alone.” T'Shan went thru a distant hatch and out of view. Essie sighed and brought his gaze back to Selby who rolled her eyes. He had it bad. This should prove to be an interesting trip.
“Well, if you'll follow me I'll show you to your quarters,” they fell in behind him while workers went to work on the shuttle.
The VIP decks were full of activity as they stepped off the lift. There was a swift ripple effect as first one person saw them and stiffened. In a matter of seconds the the only sound heard was the soft whirring of air circulators.
“Emperor Sol the sixteenth and Empress Selby will be making the journey with us,” admiral Westy said into the silence. He looked around noting anger on more than a few faces. He'd have to make sure to put security on the job as soon as possible, wouldn't do to have the royal heirs assassinated on his watch.
“Seeing as this is going to be a long trip we're not going to stand on too much ceremony. The emperor hand picked each of you for this mission so its only fitting that you be prepared to impart some of your knowledge to the future rulers of the Calif System. Carry on.” He led Essie and Selby thru the parting crowd to the far end of the corridor.
“This is going to be a long trip,” Essie sighed as Westy touched the pad on the door on the left and the door directly across from it. Both swished open to reveal spacious quarters.
“Not as spacious as your use to but at least you don't have to share,” Westy smiled. “Of course there'll be security posted-sorry can't take any chances. I'm sure there are sympathizers even here despite the severe screening process. Well, it seems I have matters to attend. Your belongings should be arriving shortly.” He stepped smartly back thru the crowd greeting and shaking hands as word of his promotion trickled through.

SUBJECT TO REVISION AT ANY TIME!!!
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