CHAPTER 2

“Nest father’s withered ballsac!”

Sitting in the copilot’s seat, his ears still ringing from the cluster explosions, Hetz looked up from the gash on his left calf at his pilot’s latest curse. The first had come when they’d spotted the photon clusters dropping toward them, the second when the hovertank fired on the shuttle. “Now what?” Hetz demanded, blood from his wound trickling over his fingers.

“Warship,” the cavaxian snarled. “Directly ahead!”

Hetz glanced out the forward viewport. A shadow in the violet sky, the warship floated just moments ahead of them. “Too late to change course! Just head right at it. Keep us between it and the outpost,” he said, wiping his fingers on his pant leg.

“What?”

“Do it! They won’t fire as long as there’s a chance of missing us and hitting their troops below.” Hetz worked the console in front of him, reallocating a portion of the shuttle’s power to the small data station behind his seat. “Get us close enough for the jammer.”

“Ballsacs! Are you trying to get us killed?”

As he pivoted his chair around Hetz glanced at Brayn, noticed the deepening red of worry on his pilot’s scaly face. “I’ve activated the forward navigation sensor. They’ll think we’re scanning them and hold their fire until we’re close enough so they can’t miss. If we can get that close, we’ll be just fine.” He brought the small data station to full life. “The trick is knowing when to activate the jammer.”

Brayn hissed through clenched teeth. “I hope you know what you’re doing!”

“So do I,” Hetz replied, smiling. “Trust me. Be ready with an evasive maneuver.”

“Already in place,” Brayn said.

The jammer data station beeped its readiness. Hetz glanced over his shoulder at the warship. Its pulse cannons now aimed their way. Anxiety tickled his stomach. The pain from his calf faded from his awareness.

Everything depended on the timing. Hit the jammer too soon, the warship might have time to focus their countermeasures and blast the shuttle before Brayn could punch into darkspace. Wait too long, he’d never see the pulse that would finish what the hovertanks below had started.

Sure as shike, dying’s not on the agenda, he thought. Especially not here!

Brayn’s growl intensified as the warship loomed closer. “Anytime would be fine.”

Hetz shook his head. “Steady, my friend. Closer… closer… Now!”

He triggered the jammer as Brayn’s maneuver threw him hard to port. Groaning with the violent thrust, he gripped the data station and braced himself with his feet. The warship slid from view. Spots of light danced at the edges of his vision. Their masks and goggles fell from the hooks behind Brayn’s seat and tumbled to the cabin’s rear.

A moment later, Brayn activated the shuttle’s Tatum reactor. A shaft of rainbow light filled the viewscreen. The shuttle lurched down the bright, swirling passageway. The Tatum’s whine sharpened. With a jolt, the shuttle punched into the emptiness of darkspace.

The Tatum quieted. The ride smoothed out.

Brayn spent a moment examining his screen, then slumped back in his seat. “No serious damage.” He wiped a hand across his face, the scales on the underside of his neck returning to their normal red-green. “Rotted ballsacs,” he whispered. “Photon clusters! Fleet warships! I thought we were dead for sure.”

Hetz chuckled, swiveling around, returning his attention to his calf. He cleared his throat and tasted blood. He wondered if the concussions from the cluster explosions had caused any damage—his ears still rang from the noise. “I admit I felt a certain dread as well.” He looked up at the cavaxian. “But I never thought to give up. Remember that, my friend. Never give up.”

Brayn looked over at him, then shrugged. “Hetz, you defy explanation. You’ve been dead and buried, and still you challenge the Fleet. I could never hope to have your type of luck.”

“Luck? Nonsense! Good planning. And I was deanimated, not dead.” Hetz reached for the medkit under Brayn’s chair. “Do you think we would have escaped if I hadn’t ordered you to prep the shuttle? If I hadn’t installed the jammer when we first appropriated it from the Garingham? Foresight and planning.” He rolled up his pant leg and grimaced. The wound wasn’t deep but bled freely. Holding a compress over his wound, he dug the anesthetic spray from the small medkit. “Always try to envision things through, anticipate.” He hissed through clenched teeth at the anesthetic’s sting.

Brayn took the spray and handed him a medicated towelette. With it, Hetz cleaned his wound. “You don’t think you were lucky that piece of metal didn’t take off your leg?” the cavaxian asked, removing the plastic wrap from another towelette.

Hetz smiled. “Point for you, pilot. Okay, yes, it is extremely fortunate I’ve only a minor leg wound. Everyone else probably died.” He wiped vigorously at the gash. “So, how did the Unity Fleet sneak in unnoticed?”

After a moment, Brayn took in a sharp breath. “Where was the warning from the sat net?”

Hetz grunted. “Do we have time to reach the Yster system?”

Brayn typed on his console. “It’ll be close. We couldn’t stay longer than an hour.”

Hetz discarded the compress and towelette, now damp with his blood, and cleaned the skin around his wound with the second. He cleared his throat again. “That’ll be long enough to pay a byveri merchant a little visit.” He dropped the second towelette by the first, then covered the wound with a medicated pseudoscab.

“Byveri merchant? Oh, the shike who sold us that satellite net.”

“Very good, my friend,” Hetz said. Brayn had not been directly involved in the transaction, having gone to Yster only to pilot Hetz out of trouble if necessary. For him to deduce the reason for the trip showed his deeper thought processes were improving. “If I remember correctly, he had a young wife.”

He looked up in time to see Brayn’s scales flush a deep green. “For me?” he asked hesitantly.

Hetz closed the medkit. “It’s the least I can do to reward you for piloting us out of that mess back there.”

Brayn’s serpentine tongue darted out to wet his dark lips. “It’s been a while since I had byveri,” he whispered. The look in his eyes hinted at the fun he might have.

Hetz laughed. He slid his chair as far away from the forward console as it would go. “Just make sure we get there with plenty of time for us to enjoy ourselves and still keep our rendezvous with the Pishi,” he said, propping his feet on the console. “In the meantime, kill the lights. I’ve got some thinking to do.”

“Yes, sir!”

As the shuttle lights dimmed, Hetz reclined his chair and closed his eyes. The throb in his leg faded as he concentrated on his plans, how the Fleet’s discovery of his training facility might impact them. He’d expected an attack, knowing the Fleet would eventually find it, but he hadn’t anticipated it coming so quickly. The group that had rented the facility hadn’t yet had a chance to move in. So whatever clues he’d left would still be there. Not much for the Fleet to find, or anything to expose the operation, he thought. Still, better alert the teams. Play it safe.

He brought his hands together on his belly, tucking his elbows close. Only then did he realize the holster snug against his left side was empty.

Chapter 1Chapter 3

Terrorcruise cover art

 

TERRORCRUISE – a science-fiction action-adventure novel by Charles Brass
Published March, 2011 by ClearView Press, Inc.
Available in soft cover ($12.99) and Kindle ($3.99)
Contact Charles Brass by email at: seabrass@seabrassproductions.com

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