Kaines retribution, p.5

Kaine's Retribution, page 5


Kaine's Retribution

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  “You restored the network?”

  “Hell, no, nothing that extensive. We got access to designs for discarded old Glenatat tech; one of their first prototypes for a literal FTL drive. It is their equivalent of the steam engine, but it works, Kaine. We used it to come back here.”

  Hayden reappraised the evidence of the alien technology around him and emitted a low whistle.

  “We can restore interstellar travel to the human race and become richer than Croesus in the process,” said Pavlovich, still grinning. “We’ve just a few little difficulties to overcome.”

  “Such as?”

  “The journey back nearly exhausted our fuel. The stuff is kind of hard to find, and it took us most of the last ten years to gather enough for the trip.”

  “What is it?”

  “The shit is refined from a rare mineral the Glenatat call erganium.”

  “How scarce are we talking?”

  “They abandoned the technology for something better as soon as they could. We estimate it is only present in one percent of terrestrial bodies orbiting F3V class stars,” said Cora.

  “That’s pretty specific.”

  “You don’t appreciate the half of it,” said the captain. “We’ve compiled a short list of prospective Confederation planets and moons that could contain it in their crusts.”

  “This is all very interesting,” said Hayden, “but I don’t understand why you’re here. Is there erganium here at Mu Arae?”

  “Unfortunately, no.”

  “Then I’m confused. If you could go anywhere, why did you return to this shit hole?”

  A wry smile snuck out from beneath the big man’s beard. He turned to the woman who emerged from the shadows.


  She smiled coyly. “Hello, Hayden.”

  His mouth suddenly went dry, and the small room seemed to contract. Part of him wanted to run from the ship, but he couldn’t move. Realizing he held his breath, he inhaled and made a pathetic attempt to return her smile.

  “I found her before I came looking for you,” said Pavlovich. “I asked her to join our merry band, and she accepted.”

  Frowning, she said, “Conditionally.”

  Grateful for the distraction from the awkwardness, Hayden said, “What is this all about?”

  “Well, it turns out there are more Malliac floating about the galaxy—a lot of them. We encountered a few scouts in our travels, and after a couple of harrowing escapes, we determined that an early warning system would be in order.”

  “So you need Stella to keep them off your ass?”

  “Yes, but there are many ways an empath can come in handy.”

  “Like what?”

  “Did I mention wealth? Do you realize what offering access to FTL tech can be worth? The planets of the Confederation are cut off from each other.”

  Hayden turned to her. “You agreed to this?”

  “Look, Kaine, I think you figured out that one of Stella’s conditions is that we bring you along.”

  She blushed when Hayden fixed her with his gaze.

  “I understand that my reasons for coming to you seem shallow and selfish, but hear me out,” said Pavlovich.

  “I’m listening.”

  “I need this talented young woman to make this venture happen. It turns out, I now need you too—no offence intended.”

  “None taken.”

  “This can work out to your benefit in several ways. First, I know about you beating yourself up over the collapse of civilization.”

  Hayden glared at Stella as Pavlovich continued.

  “Well, just imagine the possibility for this tech to restore the Confederacy; maybe reshape it into something better. Sure, you can elect to take it on the chin as the one who brought everything down, but consider the opportunity to rebuild it all. You could go home to Earth a very wealthy man and herald in a new age for humanity.”

  Hayden’s frown deepened, and his gaze darted between the two of them. Stella appeared uncomfortable.

  Unable to find the words, he rose, grabbed his gloves and helmet, and stormed from the room.



  HAYDEN WAS ABOARD his ship and preparing to depart, to where, he had no idea. It had taken him three hours to repair the damage Pavlovich did to the console.

  Pavlovich’s voice came over the comm. “Kaine, let me in. There’s more to explain!”

  He stared at the closed hatch and considered his options. With a heavy sigh, he admitted the captain into the airlock and waited for it to pressurize.

  The inner door opened, and Pavlovich stepped through, his helmet already removed.

  “I am instructed to persuade you to stay.”


  He rolled his eyes. “All right, they threatened to all walk out on me unless you join the party.”

  “I don’t believe you. Stella, maybe...”

  “She and Cora are the ringleaders of this mutiny. They convinced most of the crew it is in their interest if you come along.”

  Wary, Hayden said, “Gunney too?”

  “Yes, even that grumpy old cyborg is in on it. You made a deep impression on him. He mumbled something about you being the best XO he ever worked with. Don’t tell him I told you that, by the way.”

  “I thought your crew was new?”

  “Look, Kaine. Stella is out if you’re out. Cora is threatening to pull out too, though I can’t imagine how she can accomplish that trick. With them offline, everyone else is second-guessing things.”

  “Tell ’em the truth; I’m bad news. I’ll get them killed.”

  Pavlovich stared at him intently, frowning. “Is that what this is about?”

  Hayden tried to reply, but the captain raised a hand to silence him. “Yeah, your girl told us everything that’s been going on; your attempt to pickle your liver for a decade out of some sense of guilt.”

  Hayden’s face warmed.

  “Kaine, if you don’t join the party, all of their lives are as good as over. Stella will stay with you in this godforsaken system out of some misguided belief that she can save you from yourself another way. Cora will retreat into her little VR world and may never come out. Yeah, Gunney and the others will come along, but our chances of making this work, let alone survive while trying, are next to nil. Do you want all of that on your conscience too?”

  “Don’t do that—”

  “Hayden, what we did saved trillions of lives. Don’t you get it? You’re a friggin’ hero. Sure, if we had enough time, we might’ve found another way to shut out the Malliac without collapsing the transit net. What you don’t realize is that the Confederation was on the brink of a civil war. We stopped that.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Did you think that I was posted to the asshole of the empire for no reason? Believe it or not, at one time I was on the fast track to the admiralty. That was until I refused to join in on Admiral Thomas’s little plan.”

  “Okay, you got my attention. Keep explaining.”

  “Thomas and a few of the members of the high command were quietly recruiting officers they believed were of like mind with them. They saw the system as politically flawed, with too much animosity being fostered between the colony worlds and Earth. In their minds, the whole thing was destined to collapse unless they took it over and ran it themselves.”

  “A coup? That’s ridiculous. Thomas would never be involved in such a thing.”

  “He told me as much to my face when he tried to recruit me to the cause.”

  Hayden stared at him, mouth agape. While attending the academy, he heard many uncomplimentary rumours about the admiral, but treason had never been among them.

  “When I told him where he could stuff it, he decided I needed to be removed. I guess having my throat slit was too extreme, so I was sent to the outer systems ‘for disciplinary reasons.’ He did everything he could to slander my reputation and ensure that nobody would listen to anything
I said if I ratted him out. It was a smart plan, because it worked.”

  “I can’t believe that. Word would spread—”

  “Thomas is far more cunning than you give him credit for. He spent a long time vetting those he drew in. He obviously made a mistake with me, but I know of a lot of others who were cozy with him before he called on me. All of them turned their backs on me.”

  “You can’t be the only one to turn him down.”

  “I’m sure there were other people. There is a good chance that a majority of the commanders in the less important postings were put there by Thomas for the same reason. I had no way to find out, because all of my communications were channelled through high command. I was cut off, and anyone who shared my point of view likely was as well.”

  Hayden rubbed his temples. “Was there a timeline?”

  “A vague one when he approached me. I set that back by a few years. I’m pretty sure he was more careful who he tried recruiting after me. Whether you want to believe me or not, Kaine, you saved the confederation from the likes of Thomas by breaking the jump network.”

  “By killing the patient. Sure.”

  “Think about it. Whoever was in on the coup is either isolated in the Sol system or trapped elsewhere. There is no way for them to coordinate or redeploy resources to pull it off. Their plans are dead.”

  “But so is the Confederacy.”

  “Not if we can bring back FTL travel. Don’t you see? If someone other than Thomas and his gang controls the tech, the empire can be reconstructed without them being involved; they will be impotent while we root them out. We can make the government stronger and safer.”

  “And all of this will be under your benevolent rule while you grow rich?”

  “Don’t be an idiot. I pretty much proved my political ineptitude when I got myself exiled. But you, on the other hand...”


  “Didn’t your influential father plan your career? Stella told me you were being groomed to run for the presidency one day. You still can, Kaine. You can campaign as the man who saved us from the Malliac and helped rebuild a better version of the Confederacy. I think that might make your father proud, don’t you?”

  “I never wanted any of that.”

  “You’re a shitty liar. You should work on that before you put your name on the ballot.”

  “So your initial story about taking me along to appease Stella...?”

  “Oh, that was entirely true. Recent events since you walked out forced me to consider things more globally. As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t see the bigger picture. Your value is greater than I first imagined—not for my fortunes, but for those of the entire Confederation.”

  Hayden tracked a shard of broken glass floating past his face. He plucked it out of the air and examined it.

  “Come on, Kaine! How much more do I need to sell it? If you don’t want to do it for the greater good, or for the wealth, at least do it to get Stella out of this shit hole system.”

  “Okay, Pavlovich, your point is taken.”


  “I’m in.”



  HAYDEN THOUGHT HIS small ship seemed at home docked in Scimitar’s hangar. The aging salvage vessel, in desperate need of a refit, reminded him of Scimitar when he first came aboard her. Then, he was a wet-behind-the-ears graduate cadet, unbelievably arrogant and so determined to be anywhere else but here.

  Standing again on the familiar deck, he felt at ease for the first time in a decade, and he thought that strange. In the brief time he had served as Pavlovich’s first officer, he never believed himself accepted. He didn’t take the time to settle into life aboard this ship. Of course, beginning his tenure with one crisis followed by another was not conducive to becoming comfortable.

  And yet he realized how much he missed the old wreck. Watching her vanish; believing her destroyed, had created a cavity in his soul that was impossible to fill. At the time, he believed his greatest loss was the life he’d intended to resume on his return to Earth. Now, as he walked the corridors, he understood that part of him had mourned the new life he had begun to build with the people.

  Almost all of them were now dead. Though he only knew most of them in passing, their deaths affected him deeply. Nothing assuaged the crippling guilt he carried. If not for him, they might still live.


  The familiar voice startled him.

  “Stella! I didn’t see you there. I was lost in thought.”

  Her smile was shy. “Yeah, I sort of felt that.”

  “I suppose I could never hide much from an empath. I guess that had something to do with our problem.”

  She frowned. “Hayden, I...”

  “No, no! I didn’t mean to imply it was your fault. It was all me, I...”

  She smiled and held up a hand to stop him. “I just wanted to say I’m glad you agreed to come along.”

  “Oh? Pavlovich gave me the distinct impression you wouldn’t go with him unless I came.”

  Her eyebrows rose. “Really?”

  “You mean, you didn’t tell him that?”

  “Yegor sometimes reads too much into what I say or don’t say.”

  His shoulders slumped. “Oh, okay.”

  “It’s not that I’m not delighted you’re here...”

  “I get it. I was foolish to believe the problems between us could be so easily solved.”

  “They can only be fixed if we’re together, right?”

  He smiled. “Right.”

  They stared at each other. He was unsure if he should try to hug her.

  “I, er, suppose a lot happened since Pavlovich found you,” he finally said. “I’m surprised...”

  “Go on. What surprised you?”

  “Well, you often spoke of how much you missed your father. I thought part of agreeing to work with him might be to see your dad again on the Glenatat home world.”

  Her face fell. “We tried, but the wormhole didn’t open, and the location of their Dyson sphere was purged from Cora’s database.”

  “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

  She wiped a tear away and put her arms around his neck. “Thanks. He’s in a place he always dreamed of. I’m sure he’s happy, studying their culture. I just miss him.”

  He pulled her close and decided to shut up, lest he ruin the moment. A crewman rounded the corner. They disengaged and shyly acknowledged the man.

  “Hayden, this is Adam Parker. Adam’s our navigator.”

  Parker’s dusky face lit up with a broad, toothy grin, and he extended his right hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you, sir. Stella and the captain told me a lot about you. Cora too...oh, and Gunney...”

  Hayden shook the young man’s hand. “I hope they said nice things.” He smiled, hoping his joke was interpreted as one.

  “The way they spoke of you, well, I’m just so proud to shake the hand of the man who saved humanity from the Malliac. Are you returning as XO?”

  “I, er, I’m not sure. My role here hasn’t been finalized.”

  “Well, I’m looking forward to working with you.”

  He grinned and nodded to Stella before continuing down the corridor. Hayden watched him disappear around the corner.

  “He seems like an unlikely fellow for Pavlovich to recruit. Where did he find him?”

  “Most of the crew are former raiders.”

  “Really? I never would guess that about him.”

  “The ones you encountered for the last decade are system scavengers, little more than pirates. Parker and the others were picked up in deep space, transiting between systems.”

  “How did Pavlovich manage that trick?”

  “In Parker’s case, their ship was in pretty bad shape. Scimitar rescued them, and the captain retained those who wanted to remain.”

  “And the rest?”

  “They were dropped off at the first raider outpost they came across. What did you think Yegor did with them?

  “I, er, well...I didn’t know what to think, to be honest.”

  “He is a bit unconventional and rough around the edges, but he’s not a barbarian. Did you forget how he talks a tough line, but doesn’t mean much of it? If he did, I wouldn’t be here.”

  “I’m not really sure what to make of Pavlovich—” Hayden didn’t know why he cut off his comment. He intended to add that he never really trusted his former captain, something he had expressed to Stella many times after they were marooned. “I suppose I should take him at his word, until he gives me reason not to.”

  They stared at each other.

  “Well, I must go,” she said. “Lot’s of things to prep before we depart.”

  “Yeah, right. I should find out what I’m supposed to be doing.”

  “Come by to visit me, when you get a chance.” She smiled.

  “Right...of course. We have a lot to talk about.”

  She kissed him on the cheek and turned to leave.

  Hayden watched her disappear around the same corner as Parker.

  He replayed their farewell in his mind; each time, it sounded lamer to him.

  ‘We’ve a lot to talk about...?’

  “You’re an idiot, Kaine,” he muttered, realizing how poorly he’d handled that encounter. They’d not spoken in almost a year, and he grew sick believing that he came off like an indifferent ass to her.

  Maybe he just needed more time to adjust to this new situation; perhaps she was being cautious—or they both were.

  Though he told himself that his acceptance of Pavlovich’s proposal was a means to fix the disaster he caused, the prospect of reuniting with Stella was even more appealing. A week before, neither opportunity was imaginable to him. Now, he actually believed there might be a chance to achieve at least one of them.

  Kaine pulled his upper body out of the access panel and shook his head. “How is this thing supposed to work?”

  “I sent you the specs last night,” said Cora through the ear jack he wore. He wished he still had an active cerebral LINK to communicate with her, but it became defective long ago and there was no way to replace it.

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