Sydnee's heart seemed to be beating faster than was humanly possible. It
was after midnight, and the tiny sliver of light provided by a small,
distant moon was barely adequate to illuminate the ground in front of her
as she strained to hear any sounds that would indicate danger was near.
This was her first trip down to the capital city of Yolongus, and when she
managed to block out the pounding of her heart, the only other sounds she
heard were the soft footfalls of her own carefully placed steps.
She had studied the map before beginning the mission, but after fifteen
minutes of trying to escape pursuit by unknown individuals, she had lost
her bearings. She believed she was close to the deserted warehouse on whose
roof she had parked her shuttle, but she was unsure in which direction she
should be traveling.
She stopped for just a moment to check the map on her viewpad. The light
provided by the small device was extremely dim, but in the darkness that
surrounded her, it was enough to give away her position. A flurry of laser
flashes suddenly flew in her direction, all narrowly missing her body. The
light from the viewpad had been so faint that the shooters hadn’t been able
to target her properly, and none had gotten lucky— this time.
As laser flashes continued to narrowly miss her body, she dove for
protection behind a low, stone wall. Her cover story for this mission was
that she was a human who’d been enslaved by the Clidepp government, so she
hadn’t been able to wear the DS personal armor that would have enabled her
to walk through the city almost without fear. Almost, because, as everyone
knew, where there were laser weapons, there might also be RPG weapons and
hand grenades, although the local police on the Clidepp home world were
rarely so armed. Laser pistols and rifles were more than adequate to put
down any citizen insurrection and even fight civilian crime on a planet
where the citizenry wasn’t armed.
Many decades ago, the government of Yolongus had required that all
civilian-owned weapons be registered with the local police or the owner
could face severe fines and even suffer imprisonment. When the registration
process had been completed, the government then asked— purely in the
interest of protecting the civilians from a handful of deranged people—
that the hundreds of millions of law-abiding civilians voluntarily turn in
all weapons. The populace, for the most part, complied. After that,
government law enforcement officers visited everyone who hadn't complied
and confiscated the weapons they had failed to surrender voluntarily. A
substantial number of citizens had died during those confiscations, all
quite accidently, according to the secret police charged with collecting
all guns on the planet. A few civilians, those who wisely hadn’t registered
their weapons or turned them in, still had their guns. Unfortunately, most
were ancient lead-projectile weapons that presented little danger to anyone
wearing armor. So, the people firing at Sydnee with laser weapons most
likely had to be either the local police, the secret police, or the
military. The local police might not have anything more dangerous than
laser pistols or laser rifles, but the secret police and the military were
well armed with much more deadly ordnance.
As Sydnee squatted behind the wall, looking at the map while trying to
block the dim light, she tried to determine which direction would take her
to the warehouse and how she might accomplish that with her position now
known. Her attention was instantly yanked from the map as a grenade
practically landed in her lap.
Sydnee instinctively jumped up and over the low protective wall of stone in
a quick movement reminiscent of a startled housecat on Earth. Landing on
her back on the other side she remained flattened against the ground as an
explosion shook the pavement beneath her. It was too dangerous to remain
where she was, so she jumped to her feet again and began running in the
direction where the laser flashes seemed lightest. Each time she identified
where a flash had originated and was able to see what appeared to be a
person’s shape, she fired her laser pistol in that direction. She finally
got a good look at one of the shooters when laser flashes in his background
briefly illuminated his shape. From the uniform he was wearing, she knew
him to be part of the secret police agency known as the Qummuc. Halting
briefly, she managed to take down that attacker and three of his
associates, then continued her flight and rounded the corner of a building
at the end of the block. She didn't know if she’d killed any of them, but
each had stopped shooting and fallen backwards in response to her fire.
As she hurried down a side street, she seemed safe for the moment, but she
couldn’t stop to catch her breath. The surviving attackers would be on her
trail in a minute, and she knew there were a lot more back there than the
four she’d shot at. At times, it had seemed like she was fighting an entire
As Sydnee began to race down the street, she spotted the one-story
warehouse she’d been searching for. It gave her renewed strength, and she
ran flat out to reach the safety of the structure. She entered the alleyway
next to the building and pulled open the door to an interior stairwell that
led to the roof. Bounding up the stairs two at a time, she reached the roof
in just eight seconds.
She opened the door cautiously and scanned the roof before leaving the
comparative safety of the stairwell. Seeing no one, she hurried to her
shuttle, raced up the ramp, and entered the small ship, then smacked the
plate on the wall that would retract the ramp while sealing the hatch.
Sydnee began to relax, releasing a sigh of relief, but she’d been
premature. Before the hatch had fully closed, an RPG round entered the
shuttle’s rear cabin. There was nowhere to run within the confines of the
ship, nor was there enough time to get clear. As the round exploded,
everything was suddenly bathed in blinding light, followed by total
A few seconds later, her surroundings illuminated to normal levels, and a
horn sounded somewhere as the holographic ship around her disappeared.
Sydnee discovered she was lying on a raised platform with low walls and not
in a shuttle after all.
"Excellent score for your first time through the new Marine Combat Range,
Syd," Marine First Lieutenant Kelly MacDonald said as she walked up to the
raised platform. "Congratulations."
"Damn it, Kel," Sydnee said. "I thought I was going to make it to safety."
"You came close, Syd," First Lieutenant Martin Aguilo, the range officer,
said from behind MacDonald. "You just failed to check the surrounding roofs
before lowering your guard. There was a member of the secret police hiding
behind a pile of refuse on the roof of the building across from the shuttle
location. A thermal scan would have revealed him. As you ran up the
shuttle’s ramp, he stepped out and fired the RPG launcher."
"What was my score up until that RPG round entered the shuttle?"
"Your final score was four hundred thirty," MacDonald said. "If you’d
spotted that secret policeman on the roof before he fired, you might have
survived that final RPG round, and you would have been the very first to
receive a perfect score of five hundred. As it is, you’re in the top five
percent of the range leaders. That's incredible for a first run."
"I'll do better next time."
"Care to go again now?" Aguilo asked. “We’ll reset the game to another part
of the city.”
"Are you kidding? I'm wiped out. I doubt if I could score a hundred the way
I feel right now."
Kelly MacDonald chuckled. "Exactly the way I felt after my first time. And
after my second and third time as well."
"You've really outdone yourself, Martin," Sydnee said with a smile. "This
has to be the greatest Marine Combat Range in any ship in the fleet."
"Thanks, Syd," Lt. Aguilo said. "We spent a long time planning it, and then
even more time constructing it. I wanted it to be the best."
"You succeeded. I'm anxious to go again— but not tonight."
"I hope you have a chance before your next mission."
"I should. I told Captain Lidden that my people and I need three weeks
downtime before we deploy again. My entire crew needs a long rest after
those months of surreptitious activity in Clidepp space. But I heard SCI is
pressuring him already. They want us to drop off that Yolongi minister
before he tries to claim citizenship in the G.A. from having been in our
custody for so long."
"Technically, he's been in orbit around Yolongus for most of the time since
we kidnapped him," MacDonald said, "although he's been inside a prison cell
inside a Space Command vessel."
"True. And he’s logged more kilometers in a CPS than most members of Space
Command,” Sydnee said with a chuckle. “I’m reasonably confident after our
last mission that we now have the right person in custody for the bombing
of the trade show. So, all I want to do is drop the innocent minister off
on his home planet and consider our role in this complete.”
“We still have to seed the Clidepp Empire with the spy satellites.”
“Maybe not, Kel. If we do have the real Citizen X this time, SCI may cancel
that part of the operation. Bringing back his two top lieutenants was the
icing on the cake.”
w w w
“What have you learned?” Prime Minister Gustallo Plelillo screamed at the
military officer who’d just stepped into his office. Plelillo ruled his
nation with an iron fist, demanding absolute loyalty and obedience.
“The captain of your personal yacht keeps repeating the same story over and
over. He says they were attacked by a ship they were never able to see with
their cameras and that never showed up on radar. The captain of that
mystery ship called herself Captain Anne Bonny. She demanded that the two
top persons aboard the ship climb into a shuttle and fly over to their
ship. They said they’d guide the shuttle once it left the yacht. The
captain says they had no choice. The unknown ship had already destroyed the
yacht’s temporal generator so it couldn’t get away. And they were
threatening to completely destroy the yacht if they didn’t comply. The
yacht has no offensive weapons and was helpless.
“So, your son sent two of his people over. Bonny must have realized the two
weren’t the top people, and she demanded that the top person aboard the
yacht come to their ship at once. She again warned that failure to comply
would result in the destruction of the yacht. Bonny then sent the yacht’s
own shuttle back to ferry him over. The captain says they never even saw
who was piloting the small craft. As soon as your son climbed in, the hatch
was closed, and the shuttle pulled away. That was the last time they saw
any of the three.
“When they heard nothing for hours, they tried to contact the ship or the
shuttle, but they received no response.“The captain decided to take the
course the shuttle had followed. They’d been able to follow its course on
radar and could see it was still there, but when they arrived at its
location, all they found was an empty shuttle. They performed a standard
search of the area, but they never found the three individuals that had
gone to meet Captain Bonny, and they never even caught sight of the mystery
“A ship that can’t be seen by radar? Impossible. Go back and grill the
captain again. He has to be hiding something. Squeeze him until he splits
wide open like a melon. I want to know what happened to my son.”
“Sir, I heard a rumor that some time ago a Space Command ship stopped a
freighter in our space and demanded food. They didn’t steal it. They paid
for it in G.A. Credits.”
“Yes, I heard about that. What of it?”
“Well, I also heard that the freighter never saw the ship until it was next
to the freighter and threatening to fire on it unless it stopped. The
security officer aboard that freighter swears they never DeTected the ship
as it approached them, and it remained invisible to their radar even when
it was stopped alongside the freighter.”
“Are you sure of your facts?”
“I didn’t speak to the security officer personally, sir, so I can’t swear
to it. But the informant who told me has always been extremely reliable.”
“A black Space Command vessel that can’t be seen on radar? Yes, it’s all
starting to make sense. All of the attacks on this planet occurred at
night, and no one ever saw the attackers. Someone blacked out the city just
before the attacks on our holding facilities and the slave marketplace.
There have been numerous attacks where no one ever saw a thing. Black ships
that can’t be seen on radar would explain many things. I’ve heard that
Space Command was using black ships exclusively now, but I never heard
about them being invisible to radar. So, how do we target it the next time
“I have no idea, sir. Perhaps one of our scientists might know.”
“See what you can find out. Did you damage the captain of my yacht to a
point where he’s of no further use?”
“No, sir. He has some bruises and will need a few days to recover from
muscle strains. That’s all.”
“Very well. Release him and send him back to my yacht. It appears he
couldn’t have done anything to stop the events that occurred.”
“Yes, sir. Is there anything else you wish us to do with regard to the
unseen ship that took your son?”
“Until we learn a bit more about it, there’s nothing to be done. But keep
your people on the case, and report anything you hear.”
w w w
Lt. Sydnee Marcola stepped into the captain’s office when the double doors
slid back into their pockets on either side of the entranceway. Walking to
the captain’s desk, she stopped two feet away and braced to attention
before saying, “Lieutenant Marcola reporting to the Captain as ordered.”
Lidden looked up from the viewpad he held in one hand and said, “At ease,
Sydnee. Have a seat,” before returning his attention to the viewpad.
“Thank you, sir,” she said as she sat down in an oh-gee chair that faced
Commander Timothy Bryant, the Denver’s XO, was sitting in his customary
location at the side of Lidden’s desk. He smiled and nodded to Sydnee when
she looked in his direction. She returned the smile and nod.
Both Bryant and Sydnee remained quiet while Lidden read from the viewpad.
Lidden had once told Sydnee that if he invited her to sit when she entered
his office, she probably wasn’t in trouble, but she’d only been back for
three days and hadn’t expected to be summoned until it was time for her to
begin her next mission.
“Sydnee,” Lidden said as he finished reading the message and looked at her,
“SCI tells me that you did indeed bring back the individual responsible for
the bombing of the G.A. Trade Show where over four hundred children and
twenty-five hundred adults were killed. I understand that Space Command
wants to honor you on Earth, but SCI has requested that any mention of your
name in connection with Citizen X be postponed until after you complete the
mission to return the Clidepp minister to Yolongus. Space Command HQ has
agreed, so both SHQ and SCI wants you to leave as soon as possible.”
“We’re not going to get the three weeks recovery period I requested, sir?”
“I’m afraid not. SCI says you can rest up during the return voyage to
“Sort of a working vacation, I guess.”
“Uh, yes, something like that. I’m sorry. If it was up to me, you’d have
your requested three weeks. But SCI wants us to return the minister as
quickly as possible. As it is, they’ll be making an announcement that the
party responsible for the bombing of the G.A. Trade Show has been captured.
He and his top two lieutenants will stand trial before you’ve reached
Yolongus. And Sydnee, it’s imperative that you get in and out quickly this
trip. The slaves you brought back on your last mission are proof positive
that the Clidepp Empire is not only condoning Terran slavery but actively
promoting it. So, get in quickly, drop off the minister, and get out. And
don’t bring back any more slaves.”
“That was my intention last time, sir, until you ordered us to pick up an
SCI undercover agent who refused to leave until we rescued a shipload of
“Uh, yes, that’s true. And I’m sorry we burdened you with that. SCI ordered
me to pass that task on to you.”
“I understand, sir, and I’m not blaming you. And I don’t regret being
forced to rescue the slaves. It was just something that spiraled out of
control. Once we started the rescue SCI ordered, we couldn’t just drop the
“You did what you had to do to carry out your orders, and we’re grateful
that everything turned out so well. You raised a lot of hell on Yolongus. I
hope this mission goes smoother.”
“Has SCI made a decision regarding the satellites?”
“Yes. They’ve confirmed the assignment. Since the Trade Show bomber is the
son of the Clidepp Empire Prime Minister, it’s more imperative than ever
that we have intelligence regarding their military plans.”
“SCI surely doesn’t suspect that the Clidepp Empire will attack the G.A.
over this issue, do they? I mean it would be extremely foolish of them.
They wouldn’t stand a chance against our battle capabilities.”
“They don’t know what the Empire will do. That’s why they want those
satellites in place.”
“Then I’d like to make a request for additional resources.”
“What kind of resources?”
“I’d like two extra habitat containers and a doubling of all food, plus a
doubling of all spare engineering supplies and parts.”
“Double the usual allotment for an extended voyage?”
“Yes, sir. If we’re going to seed all those spy satellites in a possible
hostile environment, I want to ensure we don’t have to go hunting for food
and spare parts this trip.”
“Two extra containers will mean you’ll be dragging ten, total.”
“Yes, sir, but the CPS-14 is more than able to handle it.”
“Then we’ll need to install a second computer interface unit to handle more
than the present eight containers since the Justice only has one interface
installed at present.”
“I understand it was part of the original design of the ship, and it’s a
relatively simple task to add up to two more interface units.”
“So I’ve been told. Okay, Sydnee, I’ll order that done right away. Anything
“No, sir. That should do it. I’ll sleep a lot better knowing we’ll have
plenty of supplies this time.”
“Remember, Sydnee, don’t bring any more slaves back this trip. That order
comes direct from SCI.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll do my best.”
“Do better than your best. Leave it to the G.A. to handle the issue of
slavery in the Clidepp Empire now.”
“Okay, Sydnee, you’d better get your crew together. SCI wants you to shove
off as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir. I don’t look forward to telling my crew that their leave has
been cancelled. They all worked extra hard and deserve a rest. This
assignment is voluntary, right?”
“Thinking of declining the mission?”
“No, sir. Not me. But I’m sure someone might ask. And if anyone does
decline, I’ll have to find replacements for them.”
“Yes, the mission is voluntary. And you can’t discuss the details until
after they commit.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get right on it.”
“Thank you, Sydnee. I’m sure this mission is going to go smoother than the
“I hope you’re right, sir.”
“Syd, you said we’d have three weeks,” Lt.(jg) Peter Caruthers said in a
“I’m sorry, Pete. SCI overruled the captain. They want us gone yesterday.
In fact, they want us gone before we even got back.”
“Look at it this way, Pete. It’s going to take us a month to get there, and
we know the trip in is always boring. You’ll get plenty of rest.”
“I’m in,” Lt.(jg) Jerry Weems said. “We’ve been dragging that poor minister
back and forth. This time he gets to go home, right?”
“Right Jerry. We drop him off before we do anything else.”
“Okay, I’m in,” Caruthers said.
“And me,” Lt.(jg) Olivetti said.
“Ditto,” Lt.(jg) Templeton said.
“I’ll make it unanimous, Lieutenant,” Chief Petty Officer Wilson Lemela
“Great,” Sydnee said. “Thanks. Now all we have to do is get the rest of the
crew to sign on. I’ve scheduled a meeting in this conference room for 1300
hours. I’ll see you all then.”
w w w
At 2147 hours, Commander Bryant had the watch and was seated in the command
chair on the bridge when Sydnee approached him and handed him a viewpad.
Sir, this is the crew roster of the Justice for the upcoming mission,”
“Did you have anyone decline?” Bryant asked.
“No sir. Lt. Colonel Dennier, Marine Captain Blade, and Marine Lieutenant
Kelly MacDonald have all reported that they and their teams will be ready.
And my Space Command team will be ready as well. I do have one substitution
to report. Marine Corporal Vernon Jensen broke his right arm yesterday
while training on the new Marine Combat Range. He tripped while trying to
leap over a low wall as he dodged fire from a Tsgardi patrol. The doctor
estimates that the nano-bots will have the damage completely repaired in
two to three weeks, but he wants Jensen to remain on light duty for two
months. That disqualifies him from coming. Lt. Kelly MacDonald has filled
the position with another Marine who volunteered for the mission. So, we’re
ready to go as soon as the Justice is prepped.”
“Very good, Lieutenant. The ship will be ready for deployment by 1300 hours
tomorrow. You can alert your team to be prepared to deploy at that time.”
“Aye, Commander. I’ll alert everyone immediately.”