Bewildering Stories

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A Good Day to Die


by P. J. Lawton

Part 1 appeared in issue 86.

The plan was quite simple. Take over Centurion and wait for the first available supply ship. If it was a small ship, as most tramp freighters were, overpower the crew and with one hundred men, make the short hop to Eros. Once there, the one hundred freed fugitives would power up one of the battle cruisers. Returning to Centurion they would pick up the remaining one thousand Telek soldiers. It would be a tight fit, but they could then return to Eros and outfit ten battle cruisers. With the ten battle cruisers, half would go to the Ra’gon-run prison on Nancit and half to the joint Terra-Ra’gon prison on Devo. There they would free all the Telek prisoners, well over one hundred thousand. With them, they would have enough crew members to man one hundred battle cruisers. Then the war would start again.

First they would destroy all Terra defenses. Terra Force had been disbanded. The politicians had decided the resources were necessary to rebuild the destroyed colonies of Exodus and Genesis. The limited available forces would be no match for the fully-loaded battle cruisers. It would be over quickly. No ground operations this time. Half of the Telek space force would engage the Terra Force ships and quickly overwhelm them. They would then blockade the planet. The others would attack all the main space ports with their major plasma weapons, destroying all Terra Force reserves. It should all be over in a few hours. With all Terra’s defenses destroyed they would come back at their leisure and occupy the planet.

Then the Teleks would turn on Ra’gon. Ra’gon would not get off as easily as Terra. The Teleks had no desire to occupy Ra’gon Prime; their hate for the Ra’gons was so absolute that they simply wanted it completely destroyed. White Star bombs, planet killers, would be used. While a few would be sufficient to inflict irreparable damage, they would fire a full spread of White Stars from all available battle cruisers. Ra’gon Prime would be no more; it would simply vaporize.

Soon Telek would have its revenge. Terra decimated and occupied and Ra’gon totally destroyed.

Finished talking, Zin-o sat back, a satisfied smile on his ugly face.

My God, James thought, it’s a horribly workable plan. It would probably succeed, too, unless he could do something about it. Putting as much contempt in his voice as possible, he spoke: “You don’t really think you can get away with this. You know that Centurion has already notified the Terra-Ra’gon joint commission. They probably have fleet destroyers looking for us right now.”

“I’m afraid not, Captain. You see, there is no one left on Centurion to notify anyone,” said Zin-o.

Stunned, James shouted, “You killed them all? “There were over two hundred people working there.”

“Two hundred and five actually; I’m afraid they are now casualties of war.”

Zin-o gave a slight wave of dismissal and again spoke to one of his men. Then looking back to me James he said, “You will be taken back to your holding cell until you are needed again when we reach Eros. Take him away.”

The route back to his holding cell passed one of the larger cArgo holds. A shove from a Telek guard sent him reeling into the partially open door. Pausing to regain his balance he glanced inside. What he saw there chilled him to the bone.

On the floor in the empty hold were four bodies, the remainder of his crew. In a second, his numbed mind registered the fact that each had been shot in the back of the head, execution style. The looks of the burns indicated a laser weapon. The smell of burned flesh filled his nostrils. Gagging with the taste of bile in his throat James thought, So that’s why they need me so badly. Their lust to kill had almost cost them their grand scheme. I’m the only one left.

Choking back a sob he realized that they had never had a chance. He knew it. He knew ‘boners’ couldn’t be trusted. Silent tears of rage ran down his cheeks. Being an orphan, he had never had a real family; those folks back there were the only family he ever had. Again he made his vow, They’re going to pay. Somehow, they’re going to pay.

* * *

The ship gave a slight shudder as it slipped out of Star Drive. His mind quickly jumped back to the present and the task at hand. Must be close to Eros; they’ll be coming soon. James decided that it was now or never. He knew that once we reached the mothballed fleet his usefulness would be over and he too would be killed.

While waiting he had devised a makeshift plan letting rage and desire for revenge drive him. The plan was actually pretty straightforward. The Teleks didn’t know about the HEAT cannons.

The High Energy Automated Tracking or HEAT cannons were powerful weapons. Unlike laser cannons, with their continuous energy stream, the HEAT cannons fired concentrated bursts of energy. Seeing a HEAT fire, many were reminded of lightening flashing across the sky.

The Argo’s heat cannons were first-generation and, unfortunately had a couple of large design flaws. It was the presence of one of these flaws that could make the plan succeed. The cannons could actually be charged while in stowed position, Because of potential danger of accidental discharge, Standard procedure was always to run them out manually before charging them. Herein lies the problem, he thought. The guns could be run out and charged at the Captain’s or First Officer’s station but could only be fired at the First Officer’s console. Of course, running them out wasn’t part of the plan; firing them was.

A complicated plan it wasn’t. He was going to die anyway, so why not destroy this ship and the Teleks along with it. In theory how to do it was also pretty simple. Fire the HEAT cannons in their stored position with the outer doors closed. Not only would they blow big nasty holes the outer hull, the super heated energy particles being in such a confined place with no where to go should travel back up the conduit to the energy coil causing an instant overload and the explosion that should completely destroy the ship. James was no engineer, but by his calculations it should all be over in seconds. Now, how to get to the firing button? I’ll just have to look for my chance, he thought.

* * *

Again herded to the bridge, he was pushed into the Captain’s chair. Zin-o was still sitting in the First Officer’s chair. James looked out the forward view screen then asked, “Okay ‘boner’, now what?”

Ignoring the insult, Zin-o said, “We are coming up on Eros’s outer moon where our fleet is moored. I wish you to dock with my old cruiser the Xnon. Once there, you and your crew will be released.”

Yeah, right, he thought, playing along with the deception. As his fingers flew over the keyboard, James said. “Navigation computer indicates docking in ten minutes. I will have to stay here to monitor the thrusters, just in case.” This was of course not true; he just hoped that the Teleks really didn’t know much about Earth navigational computer systems. He had to stay here on the bridge if he was to do anything. All he needed was one chance.

“Yes Captain, I would like you to remain here,” said Zin-o turning toward me with an evil smile. “In a moment you will see the means for the rebirth of the mighty Telek Empire.”

As the ship came around to far side of the moon, James was awed by a sight filling the view screen; a sight that he had hoped I would never see again. Telek battle cruisers. There must be hundreds moored there.

A quick glance determined that no one was closely watching. James casually moved his hand forward and pushed a button marked HEAT. The cannons began to charge. Maybe they’ll just blow up by themselves and save me the trouble, he thought. No, I’m just not that lucky. How do I get to the firing button?

He realized he had to do something now or all would indeed be lost. Again looking through the view screen he noticed some large floating junk hanging loosely in space. An idea began to form.

Zero Gravity. That’s it. If he could switch off the artificial gravity it might just give him the chance to reach the firing button. James knew that with the artificial gravity gone, things would happen quickly. That would be his chance.

He quickly scanned the bridge and noted that all Telek eyes were glued on the massive spectacle before them. A glance at the console show that the HEAT light was green, fully charged. Sliding his hand slowly he touched the AG, Artificial Gravity switch.

Here we go, he thought. Wrapping legs around the chair stand James flipped the switch.

Pandemonium erupted. Men, equipment and weapons were all flying about the compartment. James made a quick move toward the First Officer’s station and the firing button. To his amazement Zin-o was still there. The alien’s webbed hands gripped the chair and a look of utter amazement was on his face.

Without conscious thought James raised his feet straight out from his body. With a mighty push he hurled himself forward his feet striking the Telek commander on the shoulder and head sending the creature cartwheeling across the compartment. James was only able to stop himself from following by reaching out a hand and catching the back of the First Officer’s Chair.

With a death grip he held onto the back of the chair as the other hand searched for the firing button. A laser blast split the air inches from his head leaving a heavy ozone smell in the air.

Another laser blast. This time he wasn’t so lucky. A scorching pain jolted him as the laser seared through his left shoulder. James nearly fainted. The nerves in his left shoulder and arm were burning like molten lava. With shear will power alone he forced himself to continue.

With a hurried look behind he saw Zin-o floating upside down attempting to again aim a laser weapon. The Telek’s yellow eyes held a look of pure hate and just a hint of desperation as the laser failed to charge. He doesn’t know what I’m doing, James thought, but he knows it can’t be good.

Again reaching forward James found the firing button and then hesitated. Turing back he looked directly into Zin-o’s eyes. He felt a great sadness for the loss his friends but at the same time a deadly smile etched across his face.

“Sorry bonehead. You lose. This is for my crew and this is for Terra.” Without a backward look he pushed the firing button.

Two large explosions tore through the small ship. Utter chaos ensued. Dead and injured Teleks floated about the battle bridge. James couldn’t believe he was still alive. For a few seconds he just sat waiting to die then training took over. With practiced ease from many escape drills he pushed off and quickly floated to forward escape pod hatchway located to the left of the Captain’s station. He moved inside and in rapid succession hit the Close Hatch and Eject Pod switches.

A small explosive charge sent his escape pod flying away from the stricken ship. He watched in morbid fascination as the Argo came apart with one gigantic blast, littering the area with hundreds of pieces of space junk. James saw no other escape pods. Amid the junk he could see bodies, Telek bodies. With a sad smile he thought, Okay,my friends, I made them pay just like I said I would.

* * *

There must be only about 30 minutes of air left. James was light headed and a little dizzy from his wound and from oxygen deprivation. The only advantage of a laser wound, if you could call in an advantage, was the lack of blood loss. Unlike sonic disruptor weapons that completely shattered all your bones, the laser simply burned a hole. The laser actually cauterized the wound as it passed through. Unless something vital was hit, survival from a laser hit was over seventy-five percent. So, although very painful his laser wound would probably not be fatal. Lack of oxygen surely would.

He looked through the escape pod doorway at the ships moored in drydock. His pod was simply floating in space about five kilometers from the closest ship. How ironic, he thought, hundreds of ships loaded with all the air and supplies he would need for a lifetime and he couldn’t reach them. The escape pods were designed for emergencies only and had no propulsion systems other than the explosive charges used to disengage from the ship. His time was rapidly running out.

He had heard that lack of oxygen can cause a person to do strange things. James guessed that was true. To pass his remaining time he decided to count and classify the ships. Most were Telek ships but there were also several older Terran ships. Most of the Telek crafts were large boxy shaped with gigantic engines on each side. The cruisers were enormous and could easily have held 20 ships the size of the Argo.

The Terran ships were smaller and sleeker. Many had been designed in a pattern of the early stealth bombers. The smooth design was to facilitate the gliding through space with the least resistance, making wormhole travel easier. His final count had showed 103 Telek and 22 Terran ships, not that any of that actually mattered.

Ten minutes of air left and his mind was starting to wonder. He was slumped down vacantly looking out the front view port. All of a sudden something caught his attention. There was movement out there. No, couldn’t be, his mind must be going, he thought. Yes, there was movement. Coming around the far side of the inactive fleet was a ship. The design he did not immediately recognize.

After a few seconds he determined the configuration, A Ra’gon light cruiser, the newest ship in their fleet. It must be one of the patrol craft guarding the mothballed ships. He had forgotten all about them. Although he had never actually seen a new Ra’gon cruiser he had heard much about them. The shape was distinctive. It looked just like a shark and was smooth and mean. The Teleks had learned quickly just how mean.

With a flick of another switch on the instrument panel he activated the distress signal. It had a limited range but should reach the necessary distance. At first he didn’t think it worked but suddenly the Ra’gon ship made a hard right turn and headed in his direction.

He breathed a hefty sigh of relief a small smile crossed his lips. It looked like just maybe he would live after all.

For a minute his mind flashed back to his crew. He would miss them terribly. From somewhere an old saying popped into his mind. It went something like this, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” His crew, no, his friends would have wanted it that way.

James watched the rapidly approaching space ship grow larger in his view port. A silent tear ran down his cheek. No, he thought, I guess it’s not a good day to die after all.

Copyright © 2004 by P. J. Lawton

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