Kaines retribution, p.1

Kaine's Retribution, page 1

 

Kaine's Retribution
 


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Kaine's Retribution


  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter One - Exile

  Chapter Two - Surviving

  Chapter Three - Time for a Drink

  Chapter Four - How Low Can You Go?

  Chapter Five - An Offer You Can't Refuse

  Chapter Six - A Lucky Break

  Chapter Seven - Nothing Changes

  Chapter Eight - Escape

  Chapter Nine - Ghosts

  Chapter Ten - Explanations

  Chapter Eleven - Reunions

  Chapter Twelve - Down the Rabbit Hole

  Chapter Thirteen - Taking Stock

  Chapter Fourteen - Reconsideration

  Chapter Fifteen - What Game Are You Playing?

  Chapter Sixteen - A New Plan

  Chapter Seventeen - Parting Ways

  Chapter Eighteen - Stromm

  Chapter Nineteen - A Monster on the Loose

  Chapter Twenty - A Game of Chess

  Chapter Twenty-One - The Best of Poor Choices

  Chapter Twenty-Two - Pomp

  Chapter Twenty-Three - Sacrifice

  Chapter Twenty-Four - Very Few Secrets Remain

  Chapter Twenty-Five - Malkovich

  Chapter Twenty-Six - Family History

  Chapter Twenty-Seven - Bringing Guests

  Chapter Twenty-Eight - True Character

  Chapter Twenty-Nine - The Cynosure

  Chapter Thirty - Scimitar's Secret

  Chapter Thirty-One - Welcome Home

  Chapter Thirty-Two - A Tight Spot

  Chapter Thirty-Three - Make Sure You Use It

  Chapter Thirty-Four - Allies

  Chapter Thirty-Five - Taking Off the Gloves

  Chapter Thirty-Six - Iliad

  Chapter Thirty-Seven - Remorse

  Chapter Thirty-Eight - Who Are You Going to Become?

  Chapter Thirty-Nine - Stella

  Chapter Forty - Hostages

  Chapter Forty-One - Preparing for Battle

  Chapter Forty-Two - A Rescue Mission

  Chapter Forty-Three - Reunited

  Chapter Forty-Four - True Colours

  Chapter Forty-Five - Desperate Deal

  Chapter Forty-Six - Try Not to Kill Everyone

  Chapter Forty-Seven - Show Me

  Chapter Forty-Eight - Mano-a-Mano

  Chapter Forty-Nine - Goodbye

  Other books by D.M. Pruden

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  About the Author

  Kaine’s Retribution

  Shattered Empire Book 2

  D.M.Pruden

  Copyright © 2019 D.M.Pruden

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without permission.

  This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  D.M.Pruden asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

  ISBN: 978-1-989341-01-8

  ISBN-13: 9781989341018

  For Gord

  CHAPTER ONE

  Exile

  HAYDEN KAINE STARED at the blinking console lights and wondered how long he would live if the atmosphere vented.

  Basic survival skills were taught at the academy, but aside from a few emergency evacuation drills, most of what he knew was anecdotal and theoretical. And over a decade old.

  After all, how could someone know what to expect when a living body is exposed to the vacuum of space? Physics told him that his blood would boil, and if he held his breath, his lungs would explode, but had anyone tested it?

  Academy drill sergeants spun gruesome tales to scare cadets with how horrible their deaths would be if they did not follow safety protocols. Though he acknowledged the wisdom of the teaching, he had no concept of what it would actually feel like to vent his air and end it all.

  A perimeter alarm sounded, jerking him from his morbid thoughts. The tempting voice in the back of his head retreated like a coward when his mind was presented with a more immediate concern. He wondered if the time might come when it would not.

  “Ship, talk to me. What is going on?”

  “Our angle of approach needs adjustment, Boss, if we don’t want to bounce off the atmosphere.”

  He leaned forward to examine the readout. “Decrease by seven degrees.”

  “Your wish is my command.”

  Hayden pushed back into the pilot seat and tightened his restraints. For some reason, he never gave the AI a name. Not doing so was rude, but then the idea likely only bothered him.

  Too many crazy ideas. Corralling them and keeping them under control was difficult. What he needed was a good stiff drink to settle down.

  The tempting thought was quickly dismissed.

  Remaining dry for twelve weeks and four days was a personal record; an accomplishment he realized he should feel proud of. Instead, he wondered why he still bothered with the effort.

  Another, more urgent alarm sounded, accompanied by the smell of burning circuitry. The ship shuddered, setting off additional warnings.

  “Piece of shit,” he mumbled as he unbuckled. The salvage vessel had been old in his grandfather’s time. Every major safety system was bypassed at least three different ways, and that was just by him. There was no way to tell how many other off-spec repairs the previous owners had made just to keep the old bird flying. It was impossible simply to order new replacement parts any more. People had to make do with what was at hand, or go without, and Hayden couldn’t afford to lose his ship.

  As he pushed himself to float toward the smoking panel in the back of the cockpit, he grabbed a fire extinguisher. After lowering the visor of his helmet, he opened the door and put out the flames.

  “What failed this time?” he asked the AI.

  “Fuel transfer control valve on the starboard side.”

  “That’s kind of important. Bring up the specs on my HUD.”

  “Not to be alarmist or anything, Boss, but that little bump knocked us out of our approach window. We’ve got about two minutes to correct our course or be bounced into space. There’s bingo fuel, so that could be a serious setback.”

  Hayden stuck his head inside the open panel to assess the damage. “It’s the transfer relay again. Reroute the control signal through the manoeuvring thruster module, just like last time. I can put it back to normal as soon as we break atmosphere.”

  “You like dangerous living, don’t you?”

  “You didn’t hide a spare FTCV in the hold that I’m not aware of?”

  “Sorry, Boss, we’re out of just about everything—unless you found something useful on that last wreck we visited?”

  “Nope,” he said as he strapped himself back into the pilot chair. “That sucker was picked clean by Derry and his crew.”

  “They do tend to make things more of a challenge these days.”

  The AI didn’t appreciate how challenging. Since Derry’s arrival, his merry band had already stripped every derelict Kaine found. Making enough to feed himself was becoming a concern.

  “Tomorrow is another day,” he said, more to himself.

  After one last paranoid check of their entry vector, he settled back in his seat for the bumpy ride home.

  At once, every alarm went haywire, and the panel covering his repair work exploded open in a
spray of sparks. The ship jerked sharply to the left, and Hayden suddenly found himself pressed with more than his own weight against the restraining harness. He became dizzy and wanted to vomit.

  The restraints dug into his shoulders. Out of the front window, the blue and tawny surface of Ricote spun dizzily across his field of vision.

  “Ship...” Speaking was a struggle. He couldn’t inhale a full breath. “What’s going on?”

  Shit!

  Whatever happened took the AI out with it.

  Outside, he saw flames lick off the hull. Sweat flowed freely from every pore of his body. His closed visor prevented him from wiping the stinging perspiration from his eyes. The rapidly rising cabin temperature would soon cook him in his spacesuit like a foil-wrapped potato.

  In about one minute, maybe less—he’d lost track of time—the burning vessel would break up, and he wouldn’t need to wonder what it felt like to die in the vacuum; he was about to be cremated.

  There was only one bat-shit crazy thing he could think of, but he had to reach the thruster fuel control to make it happen.

  Hayden reached his left arm back and looped what little slack there was in the restraining harness strap around it. Better to break that one, he thought.

  As secure as he would ever be, he hit the buckle release.

  Like a rat shaken by a dog, his legs shot out from under him toward the ceiling. Agony tore through his shoulder and elbow as the seat belt jerked.

  Fighting the G-force, he grabbed the harness with his unrestrained hand. The torment to his injury was excruciating. He felt himself starting to pass out. Reflexively, he held his breath and squeezed his stomach, trying to force the blood back to his head.

  As his vision cleared, he remembered his training and began the Hook Manoeuvre while he pulled himself down to the controls.

  He anchored his feet under the console to relieve the stress on his injured arm. With his free hand, he tore off the panel access cover.

  He was going to need a drink when this was over.

  CHAPTER TWO

  Surviving

  THE LANDING THRUSTERS kicked up a cloud of fine dust around Hayden’s ship.

  While the whine of the engines spun down, he sat shivering in the pilot’s seat and allowed his emotions to catch up to his body. He yanked off his vomit-baptized helmet and cast it aside. The soaked garment under his spacesuit stuck to his skin, and he was pretty sure he smelled of piss, too.

  Never, in all his years of spacing, had he been so scared. Even when the Malliac almost destroyed Scimitar, the shared experience with his crew mates—with Stella—made it more endurable. With others sharing terror, it was as if hope was passed from one to another, so it was never entirely lost.

  But this time he thought he would die alone, and it had frightened him to the bone. It was the most isolated he could recall ever feeling since Stella left.

  Ten minutes later, he worked up the courage to try his shaky legs. After the first tentative steps to the rear of the cockpit, he studied the descent ladder with trepidation.

  Getting down to the ground was the first challenge. The pain in his shoulder suggested it was dislocated, and he could barely bend his elbow. He considered jumping down, as he had done often in attempts to impress Stella. He could still hear her laugh.

  “Don’t come running to me when you break your foolish neck doing that,” she’d say.

  They both knew it was never a risk. Ricote’s gravity was one-third of Earth’s. Now, however, with his injured wing and jelly legs, he thought it might be a real possibility.

  With a resigned sigh, he grasped the ladder railing with his good hand and descended from the ship.

  He checked the barren landscape, concerned someone might see him kiss the dirt as he was tempted. In the end, he chose to hang on to the landing undercarriage until the quaking of his limbs stopped.

  Inspecting the damage now was not what he wanted to do, but if he retreated to his house to immerse in some liquid courage, he might never again find the strength to approach the vessel.

  Face your fear. Look it in the eye and tell it you cannot be beaten.

  It was a hard-learned lesson, pounded into him as a child. His father and Iris, his surrogate mother, did not agree on many things about raising him. They were, however, united in not permitting him to indulge the temptation to accept failure and move on to easier things.

  Kaines were made of sterner stuff.

  Now, he was half a galaxy away from the destiny they intended for him. The empire he was groomed to lead was no more. Now, the only advantage to be gleaned from those lessons was the seed of courage to keep his ship running so he wouldn’t starve to death.

  Wincing, he forced his injured elbow to bend to access the data pad embedded in his sleeve. The postflight protocol came up, and he reviewed each item. As he inspected every listed component, the balm of routine settled his nerves.

  When his first pass was completed and the damage tallied, he repeated the operation, locating several more problems. He couldn’t recall ever being so focused on this task, but his lesson was learned. Taking things for granted had almost killed him.

  Why did it take a disaster for him to learn anything?

  His entire life was a series of calamities of his own making, culminating in his arrival in the Mu Arae system aboard the doomed ship, Scimitar. Human weakness and bad choices were the reasons for the loss of the women he loved.

  Back on Earth, what seemed like a lifetime ago, he had betrayed Katie out of spite with a meaningless tryst. A different failing of his character drove Stella away.

  “Hayden,” she once told him, “your presumption that the end of civilization is your fault is…well, I can’t live with someone who assumes the burden that should be carried only by a god. You’re better than that vanity.”

  Although his drinking was the catalyst for her leaving, remorse had built the true barrier between them. She grew up fearing the Malliac would capture her. For her, crippling a civilization in the process of destroying the monsters was an inconvenient side effect. For Hayden—for trillions of others—the cure was worse than the disease.

  There had been no real choice. Closing the FTL network was the only way to prevent the empire from being overrun. Limbs had to be amputated to save the patient.

  He kept telling himself that during his intermittent attempts at sobriety. It didn’t help.

  The inspection completed, he retreated to his house for something to eat. Standing before the door, his heart pounded, as it did every time he came home; the naïve hope that this time, when he opened it, he would find Stella enjoying a cup of tea as if nothing had happened.

  The dark, empty interior smelled like dust and rotting food. The power was out again. A hint of a smile crept across his face. Yet one more thing to repair; a new distraction. Between the aging battery unit and the repairs to his ship, he would be preoccupied for some time.

  Over a can of cold beans, he sat at the table and reviewed the damage to his vessel. As each item came up, he referenced the listing of the stash of salvaged parts collected for just such a purpose. Calm returned as he realized he could repair most of the damage—with one notable exception.

  The faulty FTCV that almost killed him was something for which he couldn’t kluge a fix. He would need to find one, and they were as rare as a virginal conception.

  The easiest solution was to buy one from Derry, but the son-of-a-whore wouldn’t part with it for a fair price if word got out that Hayden was desperate to acquire it.

  There was little chance that the fireball of his return that streaked across the sky went unnoticed in Katox. Any crash would draw Derry’s scavengers out of the settlement to pick at the corpse of a downed ship. They would be disappointed when they made their way to where they believed he crashed. The sighting would be attributed to a meteorite that burned up.

  If nobody suspected that had been his contrail, he might be able to fool Derry that his interest was casual. If so, there
was a chance—a minuscule one—that he could purchase a few drinks and sweet-talk the man into a deal. All he needed was some hard currency.

  Mu Arae was isolated long before the FTL network collapse made the condition permanent. Most commerce was done through barter. Since the destruction of the Malliac, people had abandoned their nomadic lives and settled in habitable environments around the system. As a consequence, money was making a comeback. The new regional government didn’t like to receive its tax revenue in the form of chickens and produce. Derry would only deal in currency. His warehouses were too full for him to be interested in trading for anything.

  Hayden had burned through the last of his cash two months earlier. He considered tearing the place apart to see if he found loose change. If he did, it would only be enough to buy a bottle of barely drinkable hooch. Besides, he went through that exercise last week and didn’t find anything, hence his current attempt at sobriety.

  His only chance was to collect what was owed him by a few acquaintances. They would be at their usual watering hole. Putting the press on people that shared his situation was not his first choice, but that was the reason he made loans to them. He figured he could not buy booze on a whim if it was in other people’s pockets.

  Grabbing his coat, he started for the door before he remembered his ship was grounded. It was too late in the day to begin the long trek into Katox. He would leave early in the morning. The walk would do him good.

  Rolling his shoulder, he hoped it was not dislocated. There had to be something in his old medical kit that would speed the healing process. A good night’s sleep and some exercise wouldn’t hurt either.

  CHAPTER THREE

  Time for a Drink

  THE FLIMSY METAL door clanked shut behind him. Even as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, the reek of vomit, piss, and spilled booze assaulted Hayden’s nose. At another time, in another life, he would not risk being found dead in an establishment like this—if that was even the word for the place.

 
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