Ms. Robinson strode out of the vault and set the box on her desk. Smiling pleasantly, she said, "Here you are, Mr. Caine."
Nodding somberly, Caine pulled out a key and unlocked the box. He peered into it for a moment then shut it, satisfied. "Thank you, Ms. Robinson."
Robert Caine stood up, appearing all the more impressive. Inclining his head slightly to Kim Robinson, he hefted the box in one hand and walked out of the bank.
Serenely, Caine walked down the filthy Paris street and tossed the safe deposit box into a nearby trash bin. Whistling a few bars of the Commonwealth Anthem, he entered a travel agent's office and prepared a flight off of Earth.
*Three months later*
Captain William de Retz stood at rigid attention with seven other captains, four to one side of him, and three on the other. The man before him deserved the utmost respect. Continuing with his speech, President King smiled for a moment at the cameras.
"The Highwind is the most powerful ship ever created by humanity. It's firepower is amazing, as it's capability to carry 30 fighters. Truly, today we will show the Indies who is supreme in Known Space. This is a day that will go down in history."
Expertly, King paused. An aid handed him a bottle of 2009 champagne. President King lifted the champagne over his head for a moment, then smashed it against the hull of the Highwind. The assembled people cheered.
Over the din, President King shouted, "Let's get this cruiser out of dry-dock and into space!"
"God, I hate dress uniforms," complained Captain de Retz as he entered the bridge of the Eclipse. "They're stuffy, they're itchy, and they're stiff! Not to mention the weight of that ceremonial sword."
Smiling, Lieutenant Gabriel called from the engineering station, "I don't know, Captain. I think that you look handsome in it."
"Not me." Commander Breem stated deadpan.
"No one was asking your opinion," de Retz retorted. He grinned to show he was joking.
"Captain, we're getting the navigational data for the Highwind's course." said Ensign Simon Bleak. "We're to take a standard escort formation with the Highwind and the other ships. Our course will be to go to Metallake, then Wolf 359, then Alpha Centuri, and finally to Sol."
"By all means Ensign, enter formation with the other ships."
"Setting course for Metallake and engaging, sir." Ensign Bleak reported.
Captain de Retz sighed and sat in his command chair. Something told him that this wouldn't just be another routine mission.
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Ian Freeman shouted. As if he hadn't even spoken, the person outside rang the doorbell again. Red faced, Ian swung the door open. "Just what the hell is so important that you couldn't. . ."
Robert Caine smiled coldly at Ian, "Hello, Father. May I come in?"
Shoving past his stunned father, Caine glanced at the small apartment. "I had a hell of a time tracking you down. When did you move to Mars? Why'd you change your name?"
Angry now, Ian hollered, "To get away from you, you b@stard son!"
Eyes smoldering, Caine said quietly, "Nice to see you too, Father."
"Don't take that tone with me, you-"
Caine's hand lashed out and clamped on Ian's throat, cutting off his words. "You know, I've been trying to make myself disappear. There aren't any computer records of me, and almost everyone who can identify me is dead. . .except you."
Ian's mouth worked, as he tried to speak. Shaking his head, Caine said, "Nothing personal. This is just the way things have to be. Goodbye, Father."
"All ships have successfully Jumped to Wolf 359, sir." Ensign Bleak stated, bored.
Captain de Retz waved his hand in dismissal, "Keep in the formation. Another few hours and this will be over."
As the bridge became silent except for the thrum of the engines, de Retz stared out of the forward viewport. Almost directly in front of the Eclipse was the imposing Highwind. Not only was the cruiser efficiently built, it was aesthetically pleasing. Instead of the squarish shape of a Danube cruiser, the Highwind was a piece of art, with sloping hulls and it faintly resembled a bird of prey.
"Beautiful, isn't it sir?" Lieutenant Gabriel breathed. As an engineer, de Retz bet that she would love to examine and study the Highwind from top to bottom.
"I certainly wouldn't want to have to fight it. I feel sorry for the Indies after this," commented Breem.
Gabriel squawked indignantly, "Fight it?! Who would want to fight such a work of art?"
Captain de Retz chuckled, "I can think of some people who might want to just do that."
Commander Breem stood up and turned to Captain de Retz, "Permission to leave the bridge for a trip to the head?"
"Permission granted," de Retz said formally. As the airlock cycled shut behind Breem, de Retz accessed the Commonwealth Database. He had his computer keep an ongoing search in the Database for anything that might deal with Robert Caine. For the past three and a half months, the search had been completely fruitless. It had been over three weeks since he had checked to see if the search came up with anything. He was surprised to find two files waiting for him. His pulse racing, he opened both and quickly read through them.
It seemed that someone had murdered a man named Ian Freeman(age 82), formally known as Ian Caine. Someone had torched his apartment, and Freeman's body was almost destroyed in the blaze. Autopsy later revealed that Freeman's cause of death was that several of his vertebrae was shattered.
A week before that, a woman named Allison Caine(age 39) was killed in an auto accident. Her hover car suddenly lost power while on the highway at 190 kph. The hover car bounced end over end for nearly two kilometers before coming to a halt. Foul play was suspected, but nothing came of it.
"Whatcha got there?" Breem asked.
Startled, de Retz almost jumped out of his skin. Quickly bringing something else up on the screen, de Retz responded, "Just a pet project. No big deal."
Commander Breem rocked back on his heels and replied, "I see."
Breem looked at de Retz oddly for a moment, but then turned and sat at his station. Captain de Retz watched Breem for a moment, then turned back to his own screen, satisfied that Commander Breem hadn't seen anything.
Captain de Retz looked up when Ensign Bleak said, "Sir, I'm getting something on long range sensors. . .about 5 million klicks out. . .looks to me like it is a lot of ships in LDS. They're heading toward us, if they maintain their current speed, they will intercept us in about twenty minutes."
Lieutenant Gabriel spoke, "Confirmed. The other ships have spotted them also. We're being ordered into a defensive formation around the Highwind."
Captain de Retz nodded, "Alright. Bring all systems to full power, and have the crew take battle stations. Ensign Bleak, open a comm link to the Highwind, if you please."
"Yessir." Ensign Bleak paused for a moment. "Admiral Huff is sending an order to all ships to maintain radio silence and continue the defensive posture."
de Retz scowled. "Lieutenant Gabriel, is the Highwind prepared to fight?"
"Hard to tell, sir. The cruiser's hull absorbs most forms of scans, but it looks like it's weapons systems are powered. The fighter bay appears inactive, though. They don't even have the pilots to fly them, this tour was just supposed to be ceremonial."
"I'm seeing individual ships now! Looks like. . .twelve PatComs, five corvettes, and two tugs. It is a safe bet that they are after the Highwind." reported Bleak.
The Indie ships dropped out of LDS forty kilometers away from the Commonwealth fleet. As one, all of the Independent ships fired a volley of seeker missiles.
"Three seekers have locked onto us." Commander Breem stated calmly. "Launching flares now."
"Good. Lock onto one of the corvettes and return fire. Fire upon the bridge if you can." ordered the captain.
The Eclipse shook as four missiles erupted from the port magazine. They locked onto their target, and streaked away. Breem called, "The lead PatCom will be in PBC range within fifteen seconds."
Even as Commander Breem finished his sentence, the Highwind fired it's own colossal PBC. The blast of plasma struck the upper hemisphere of the PatCom. The Indie vessel's shield flared briefly, then went out. Blackened and distorted from the heat, the PatCom spun helplessly in space as the Highwind struck again, this time completely destroying the vessel.
Commander Breem broke the awed silence on the bridge, "Two of our missiles impacted the ship. One hit the starboard PBC, the other hit a glancing blow to the command section."
"Great. Concentrate PBC and missiles on the command section of the corvette."
The two fleets merged together, each ship firing in earnest. The Highwind fired on a tug and vaporized it with a single shot. The two Commonwealth destroyers were being attacked by four PatComs each. The six other Commonwealth ships-including the Eclipse-were all corvettes and were also under heavy fire.
Captain de Retz gripped the panel in front of him to keep from getting shaken around. "Fifty degree pitch! Full burn now!"
The Eclipse sped directly toward the corvette. Any sane captain would have rolled and used his ship's belly thrusters to get out of the Eclipse's way, which was exactly what de Retz was planning on.
"Two klicks!" warned Ensign Bleak. The corvette showed no signs of moving. "One klick! Five hundred meters!"
"Goddamn it! Break off, break off!" yelled de Retz.
The Eclipse groaned and twisted in space, missing the enemy corvette by bare meters.
"Why the hell didn't that corvette evade! It's acting like a dumbass AI!" Captain de Retz halted. Whirling around to face Gabriel he ordered, "Scan that ship! Scan any of them. Are there crew aboard?"
Lieutenant Gabriel tapped a few commands into her panel and gasped in shock, "There isn't anyone aboard any of the ships! The only manned ones are the Commonwealth vessels."
Captain de Retz was about to reply when the entire ship lurched. Breem shouted, "We're under attack by two of the PatComs! Firing seekers and disrupters."
"Handle them!" roared de Retz. "Full sensor sweep, Gabriel. There very well might be a manned Indie ship around here."
The lieutenant shook her head, "I've been running sensor sweeps from the beginning of the battle. There aren't any other ships within scanning range."
"Sir!" Ensign Bleak pointed through the front viewport.
de Retz's eyes followed Bleak's pointing finger, but all he saw was the Highwind finishing off the last Indie corvette. Wait! The Highwind had stopped attacking, and it's running lights had deactivated.
"Gabriel, what the hell is going on?"
"Someone is hacking into the Highwind's main computer system. They managed to deactivate the weapons and propulsion systems. The Highwind has shut it's computer systems down, so the unknown hacker won't be able to do anymore damage." she reported.
"Track the signal and get the coordinates. Ensign Bleak, make best speed toward the source when we get the craft's position. The rest of the ships will have to clean up here."
Lieutenant Gabriel leaned over her station and pressed controls furiously. She accessed the forward and aft radio dishes of the Eclipse and pointed each one toward the signal source. Now it was a simple matter of triangulation. . .
"Got it!" Gabriel shouted in triumph. "Twelve thousand kilometers from our position. Transmitting the exact coordinates to Navigation."
"Coordinates received," confirmed Ensign Bleak. "Engaging LDS."
The crew heard the Linear Displacement System activate, but after a moment, most of the crew realized something was wrong. The sound of the LDS rose to a shriek, and the deck began to vibrate. A few seconds later, the ship began to buck like a wild animal. Quickly, Bleak deactivated the Drive.
Tiredly, de Retz rubbed his temples. "What. . .is. . .it. . .now?"
"The LDS Field is misaligned. . .no doubt because of the battle. I'll try a quick fix-try it now." Lieutenant Gabriel told Bleak.
"Reactivating LDS," Bleak said cautiously.
The sound of the LDS began to rise to a screech again, but suddenly quieted to a whisper. The deck still vibrated, but it was hardly noticeable.
"She's a miracle worker, William." commented Commander Breem.
de Retz leaned back in his chair, "Our personal Jesus Christ."
Gabriel just smiled.
Commander Breem stated, "I see one corvette, no markings. Our missiles are depleted, but we have full power to our PBCs."
Captain William de Retz stood up from his chair. "Hail them."
"They are receiving our signal, sir." stated Bleak.
"Unknown corvette, you are in violation of Commonwealth space. You are ordered to power down immediately, or we will have to use force."
An amused voice answered, "Didn't you give this little speech before, de Retz? Except last time I was on the bridge next to you, at the engineering station. By the way, how's the ship?"
"Talon." de Retz spoke the name as if it were a curse, and to him, it was. The former Admiral Talon had caused the death of one of de Retz's crew.
"The one and only." Talon's voice was filled with contempt. "We have to talk, you and I. In private."
Captain de Retz shook his head, even though he knew Talon wouldn't be able to see him. "Whatever you have to say, it can be said in front of my bridge crew."
Talon gave a little laugh. "Oh, I wouldn't be to sure about that, my dear Captain."
Ignoring the last remark, de Retz asked, "Where is Caine? What is he?"
"That really isn't what I wanted to talk about but. . ." Talon paused for a moment, and de Retz could hear whispering, but couldn't make it out. "Why not? What Caine is, is a genetic supersoldier. Immensely powerful, fast, amplified hearing, sight, and he heals from injury in a matter of seconds. His body is also very adaptable. For example, he has been shot quite a lot, but bullets no longer penetrate his skin. It's like he is wearing a bulletproof vest inside his skin, something like a rhino. As you may have noticed before, he appears to have cancer; but that is an illusion. What he really has is no Hayflick Limit, which, with combined with his healing ability, makes him potentially immortal. But he can still be killed."
"You haven't answered my other question." de Retz pressed. "Where is he?"
For the first time since they talked, there was now uncertainty and worry in Talon's voice. "We don't know. He escaped from our station a few months ago, and killed about forty people doing it."
Captain de Retz exploded, "What?! That monster is completely loose?! You f*cking morons! You should have killed him while you could! Now he's loose!"
"Calm yourself, Captain or I'll end this right now. What I came to talk about was the Commonwealth. Things are changing, and a group of upper level navy personnel are going to do something against the Indies. Something big. What it is I don't know. I no longer have Commonwealth clearance. . .but you do. You're a smart boy, you can find things out. This is a big conspiracy, but I am confident you can help end it. Be careful, Captain. It looks like the Commonwealth fleet has destroyed my little distraction, so I'm afraid I must say goodbye."
Commander Breem shouted, "They're firing on us! It looks like-" the lights flickered and went out -"an EMP."
Lieutenant Gabriel stated, "Rebooting systems now."
The lights flickered back on. de Retz called, "Where is Talon's vessel?"
Ensign Bleak stared at his readings. "Talon's vessel entered LDS. He is almost a hundred thousand kilometers away. No way are we going to catch him now."
Except for the engines and the hum of the computers, the bridge was quiet. Suddenly Breem said, "What do you think of it, sir?"
de Retz leaned back thoughtfully, then said, "I'm due for some vacation time. I think I'll take a little trip to Earth. This is worth checking out."
Commonwealth Naval Vessel Eclipse, CNV-492
Captain's Log: 19th October 2268
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