June 10th, 2410
Aromata Atagi grinned as the four destroyers emerged from shadow space dead in the middle of his ambush. Engage, he sent and as one, the five frigates of his squadron opened fire.
Each of the frigates were substantially smaller than the three destroyers they faced, but at close range and with the element of surprise, that didn’t matter much. Thirty mass driver rounds smashed into the lead pair of destroyers, an overwhelming barrage against foes who had no idea that they were even under attack.
The frigates had angling shots above and below the belly-bands of the destroyers’ defense screens. Armor shattered and engine pods detonated under the salvo of tungsten-tipped depleted uranium rounds. Yet both ships went to battle stations, radar lashing out, weapons systems coming online and flailing blindly in an attempt to suppress the incoming fire.
Second salvo, Aromata commanded. These enemy ships were immaterial, but they needed to be removed so that he could hit his true target. His lieutenants replied, even as they volleyed another thirty mass drivers into the two lead ships.
One of the two destroyers broke in half, its midships shattered, all systems offline. The other was a powerless hulk, venting its hydrogen fuel and atmosphere from massive rents in its hull.
But in the time it took those two destroyers to die, they bought the next pair of ships time to get their systems online, time to search for the killers of their brethren… and Aromata’s smile faded a bit as he sensed that the fight had shifted.
Flank them, he commanded, and his five frigates surged forward, single firing pass. He didn’t need to give them more detail than that. His commanders knew how to move in coordination, they’d conducted raids similar to this one dozens, even hundreds, of times together. They had the initiative to move and maneuver, they knew their orders… and they knew why this one mission was different and why it was very important that they follow his direction perfectly… even if it meant that some of them might not survive.
Aromata’s frigate went high, while the other four split into pairs that swung low, firing their mass drivers from knife range, all four focusing fire on the third destroyer. Aromata, however, had a different target.
He took over weapons, reaching out with his psychic senses as he did so, feeling for the exact position of the Defiance-class destroyer… and it’s very important passenger. There you are, he thought, even as he aimed his frigate’s mass drivers, taking the time to line up the shot perfectly.
The frigate’s single turret fired, three mass driver rounds lanced out, too close to dodge, and smashed through the side armor of the fourth destroyer. The ship shuddered, but power stayed online and both its engine pods remained intact. That ship was Reese’s flag ship, and Aromata Atagi’s shot had just destroyed the vessel’s shadow space drive.
Reese Leone’s destroyer continued to spit mass driver rounds in reply and Aromata’s frigate shuddered under multiple impacts, glancing blows, but still enough that alarms wailed through the bridge. He saw that the third destroyer was crippled, the vessel yawing over, still returning fire, but spinning like a dying beast.
Mission accomplished, Aromata sent, withdraw.
All five of his frigates had sustained damage, two of them severely, but they retained their shadow space drives. They’d already plotted their escape routes and they jumped to shadow, leaving the wounded and crippled destroyers behind.
It would look like they’d been driven off, like a pirate ambush that had expected merchant ships rather than a military force. That is what Reese and his master need to believe, Aromata told himself. The five frigates he’d used had been taken from pirates, their systems cobbled together, wholly unworthy of the name of warships.
Every bit of evidence would suggest that Reese Leone had run into a pirate ambush by sheer bad luck. The damage to his surviving vessels would require him to make a stop at Formosa Station to either repair or transfer to another ship. Someone would recognize him, someone would talk.
And from there, it would merely be a matter of making certain that the other game pieces were set in motion. Five pirate frigates had just set in motion the downfall of all of Reese’s efforts. Aromata’s smile grew broad as he considered that. His master would be very pleased and Aromata knew that would translate to better rewards… and a better chance at overall victory. After all, while some Shadow Lords favored overwhelming force, Aromata’s master appreciated a more subtle hand.
Shadow Lord Invictus manipulated from behind the scenes, his focus always upon greater victory.
June 12, 2410
Formosa Station, 124R36 System
Ricky One-Eye scratched at his bald head. The rash that had made all his hair fall out hadn’t gone away, despite the various drugs he’d stolen from the pharmacy. Nor had he been able to regain much of the weight he’d lost while living on garbage and rats in Yaitsik Station’s waste system. At least he didn’t match any of the wanted posters that had popped up for his capture across civilized space.
“Look,” he said in as ingratiating a tone as he could manage, “all I’m trying to do is get back home to see my ailing mother.” He gave a friendly smile, even as he scanned the bar for any potential bounty hunters or law enforcement.
“You look disease ridden,” the freighter’s owner growled. The captain had the only ship going out towards the periphery and he’d been pretty hard to talk around into letting Ricky aboard. Then again, since Ricky planned to murder the man and seize his ship if given the chance, that was probably wise of him.
Ricky’s smile wavered, “Well, you look…”
He trailed off as he recognized the man over the freighter captain’s shoulder, just walking out of the bar. “I understand, entirely, thanks for your time,” Ricky said absently as he rose from the table. He had to have been mistaken, there was no way that he’d seen right. He rubbed at his one good eye and then blinked disbelievingly at the retreating figure.
Ricky stepped out into the station’s corridors, he found his target and followed the man. There was no mistaking the blonde hair or the set of his shoulders. As Reese Leone paused in outside a docking port and looked over his shoulder, Ricky had to rub his one good eye in disbelief. Yet there was no mistaking him. The man sported an impressive set of scars across his face and head, but the shape of his jaw, the blue eyes, and the rest of him was unmistakable. But… by all reports, Reese Leone was dead. Everyone was talking about that, and Ricky had consoled himself in the fact that the same navy boys that had ruined him had killed Reese not long afterward.
That son of a bitch, Ricky thought to himself. His hand fell to where his pistol should have rested, but then the pirate remembered that he’d had to leave his stolen weapons behind when he boarded the last transport. Ricky knew a guy on the station who could have got him a weapon, but that would have risked the criminal turning him in. After all, last time he’d been here at Formosa Station, Ricky had shorted the fence.
Ricky didn’t want to risk fighting Reese hand to hand. Besides, there was no profit in revenge.
But there might be profit in reporting the man’s survival. Ricky gave a wicked grin as he thought about that. If this was Reese and if his many enemies still wanted him dead, then finding out more about his presence here at Formosa Station could be very, very valuable.
Ricky ducked his head and moved past the man, but he stopped a short distance away and pretended to consult a station map. Soon enough, another man joined Reese at the docking collar. “You’ve made the arrangements?” Reese asked.
“Yes, sir,” the subordinate replied, “we’ve uploaded the coordinates to the rendezvous and we’ve completed our repairs. The Lord Admiral says that our replacement escort will meet us and provide us with the final coordinates to Golgotha.” Ricky nearly choked at those words. Golgotha, he thought to himself, that’s impossible, the place is just a myth…
He’d become so distracted that he missed whatever Reese said in reply. Reese’s underling went on, “Yes, sir, we’ll get them aboard immediately. The rest of the cargo has been loaded, would you like for me to lead you to your suite?”
“No, thank you,” Reese said. “I know the way. Please see to our other guests.” The man turned and scanned the crowd and Ricky felt sweat bead his brow as Reese’s blue eyes settled on him.
Ricky pawed at the map, as if he were tracing a route. He kept his gaze locked forward, even as he watched the renegade military officer out of the corner of his eyes. After a moment, Reese turned back and walked past the guards and onto the ship.
Ricky swallowed nervously. The news of Reese’s survival would be invaluable… but he didn’t have any proof. No one would believe him, especially not with a bogus destination like Golgotha. The place was a myth, a rumored system filled with alien ruins and a “ghost” star that was too dim to see with the unaided eye. It was legendary, a place of fabulous treasures… and a place where so many treasure hunters had reputedly died that Amalgamated Worlds had erased the location from the star charts.
There had to be some way to turn this information to his use, Ricky decided. Even if most people wouldn’t believe his story, there was bound to be someone desperate enough to do so. Ricky would find that person and he’d milk the information for everything it was worth.