Note: this is an Adult-themed, Science Fiction Space Opera intended for readers over the age of 17.
“GODS, NO! No wishes! Nothing good EVER comes of it! And if I ever find out why, SOMETHING is gonna DIE!”
His new ship finally ready, Rondal Caldar begins his task in earnest - resolving the Drecks issue. First, though, he must ferret out more information about their society.
To help him out, he's brought along a helper this time - the ex-mercenary companion known as “Four.”
Together they secretly prowl the clusters of the Hegemony and pry both secrets and refugees from their suppressive society.
His geas, now acting under a tentative truce, is helping when the situation warrants.
More surprises await him when he stumbles over secrets within secrets, and finds allies where enemies used to reside.
Part One – A Rocky Start to the New Year…
Christmas 1999 had not been a cheerful time for Lord Rondal Caldar, First Sword of the Emperor of the Commonwealth of Planets.
He’d lost one who would have become his wife and borne his children; saving her life, only to find her memories forever erased of him and their love. He’d returned her to his brother’s house at the apparent intellectual age of five, and turned her over to her Aunt Liling Song to be cared for until her mother arrived from Cletus to take her home.
As for Rondal, he’d spent a restless night at the Royal Homestead on Kantor; haunted not only by the presence of ‘Oli’, formerly his intended bond-mate, Lady Xiaoli Song, but also that of his ex-companion and former lover, Mistress Maya Tal, who had spurned him and his affections nearly a year and a half ago when all the secrets he’d been keeping from her had finally come to light after nearly sixteen years from their first meeting.
Christmas morning found him once again on the move; going back to work on the problem the Emperor had assigned to him, but still burdened with the geas the Elder had cursed him with – which he hadn’t quite managed to suppress altogether, according to what the Elder had last told him.
The Fringe, Claxon Ship Works, Updates
After leaving orbit, Rondal made a long jump and arrived several minutes after his abrupt departure from Kantor; the single transition bringing him within the system Claxon Ship Works called home.
He’d come in openly and arranged a progress check on his ship, which, according to Clax, was well ahead of schedule and nearing flight status. Clax had come through even more quickly than expected, although he’d had little idea of how he’d accomplished it until seeing the familiar lines of the ship.
It looked very similar to the original stolen Drecks cruiser, with the exception of enhancements Deltec, Tannis, and Ardan had stipulated that were visible as deviations from the original Drecks design. Clax had explained the three in question had actually visited him a while ago “just to check and make sure things were progressing on schedule.”
When they’d gotten a good look at the new resource material, they’d immediately pounced upon Clax to let them prowl through the cruiser and update their original design drawings to take advantage of all the existing resources now available. Since all three of them were, as Clax had told Rondal, “family,” there was no question their input wouldn’t have been approved by him. Therefore, he’d gone ahead and given them free rein to update their original design drawings to incorporate many new features they knew “Tank” would find helpful.
The supplies from the Avenger, the sixty-thousand ton cruiser he’d spirited away from the Drecks earlier in the year, had outfitted his new ship nicely – all the way from the extra large doors, to the bedding, the spare Drecks clothing, the odd Drecks-sized ship suit, and the various loose weapons that had also been recovered. Of course, that would have been expected since the Avenger was the underlying physical platform for the rest of the ship – a fact that Clax promised would reduce the total cost significantly, and likely the overhead.
Despite all that, the three had also added some structural stiffening to the core of the ship – knowing full well that Tank was prone to prosecute an attack even without live weapons.
Clax was known for his honesty, and Tank was known for his attention to detail. Between the two of them, they began the inspection paying an honest amount of detailed attention to the results of the construction efforts.
As with any effort of this size, there were bound to be errors, and Rondal made copious notes on his data pad as they continued up one level and down another, throughout all the compartments, and then enabled ship suit collars to visit some of the vacuum spaces as well. At certain spots, he stood still and extended through places; occasionally typing on his data pad while telling Clax what he was concerned about.
On the whole, he was very pleased, but some of the corrections he’d mentioned had Clax stumped, as they were behind panels and walls that either needed to be opened, or needed to be cut into to deal with.
At the end of this extensive tour, Rondal asked to meet with the workers who were assigned to this particular project – all the workers – and Clax had reluctantly rounded them up for him on the hanger deck of the ship.
Rondal walked behind the line of nervous workers and looked within each one of them – finally pushing two of them forward and letting the rest of them leave at Clax’ order.
“These two – there was another one working with them,” Rondal said from behind the last two workers.
“H-He’s gone. Last month,” one of the hapless men volunteered.
“You thought he did shoddy work,” Rondal stated flatly.
“We checked it afterwards, Sir!” the other one said.
“And we reported it just like we’re supposed to!” said the first.
Rondal turned to Clax and motioned for him to send the workers away. When they’d left the hanger deck, he turned back to Rondal with an explanation on his lips.
“Tank … honestly, I had them go back over everything that guy touched and it looked all right … except for maybe two places I made them do it over. I let him go because of it. My word, Sir!”
“It’s all right, Clax, I believe you. If I didn’t, you wouldn’t be standing there. Let’s go outside and check some of those spindles,” he suggested calmly.
So saying, they reached an airlock and triggered their collars before cycling through to vacuum. Then Rondal launched himself towards one of the exterior spindles forming part of the cage the ship was suspended within while inside its fake asteroid covering.
On the inside point of each spindle was a magnetic hard pad that, combined all together, would cup the ship in place. The spindle array itself comprised the supporting interior framework for the asteroid shell Clax had hollowed out and built the spindle assembly within.
With the ship in the center and braced evenly within the rock, the ship and the outer shell would move as a single unit as long as the ship’s shield was tightened over the surrounding rock structure. Ardan had already run additional shield tests while they were there just to make sure.
The open spaces in the surrounding area held spare mass tanks and a vacuum-capable workshop, but left the rear open and clear with a huge but simple double-door and hinge arrangement. This would open and close the hollow asteroid shell to let the main ship out.
The ship’s hanger deck had parking spaces inside for up to four Galaxy-class tanks or similar-sized shuttles; they being able to enter by a smaller door concealed in the asteroid’s large rear door. The only downside of the whole arrangement was having to completely undock the main ship in order to fire the primary weapon – which still needed to be tested.
Rondal floated still for several minutes to get the feel of the construction before moving over the complicated space-truss structure from strut to strut. About halfway up the length of the ship, he paused and concentrated on a strut a few feet over. Then he anchored himself with his hands before kicking out viciously with one leg. The offending strut collapsed and floated away in pieces.