Venecia, page 1part #8 of Heroes of the League Series
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
About the Author
Heroes of the League Book 8
By Frank Carey
Copyright © 2015 by Frank Carey
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This story appeared previously in Smuggler Elf.
League Tale #9
Two years after Maranta Five.
Capt. Torga slept deeply as his command—the Submarine Deltafish—slipped through the water one hundred feet beneath the waves. Around him, the night shift went about their business unconcerned by the hurricane raging above them.
The captain was abruptly wakened from his rest by klaxons as a call to general quarters came over the PA system. Torga pressed the intercom button, connecting him instantly to the Bridge. "Bridge, this is Torga. Report."
"Captain," the executive officer, Cmdr. Nachase replied. "We have detected a temblor occurring in real time. It measures mag8 with an epicenter at 225 degrees true, distance 300-miles."
"What about a tsunami?" he asked referring to the inevitable tidal wave generated by any quake of this size. Being in deep water Deltafish would barely feel the ripple. Unfortunately, any island in the wave's path would not be so lucky.
"None detected, sir"
"That's odd. Does Geology have an opinion?"
"They say it's impossible for a seaquake of that magnitude not to have a tidal wave, but we may have a partial answer."
"Please explain, Ms. Nachase."
"Sir, Sea Command reports something has appeared near the epicenter. They say it looks like one of our arcologies, but smaller. It's pyramidal with a base a half-mile on a side and fifteen hundred feet above sea level to the flat area where the peak should be. The satellite photos suggest the roof may have doors which can be used to access the interior."
The captain went to his documents collection and pulled out a pre-flood map of the area. "Just as I thought, Nachase. That structure is at the exact center of the Muertan Territories."
"I'm not familiar with the Muertan, sir," Nachase admitted.
"That's not surprising. Except for those of us who study the history of our planet, few have heard of the Muertan. They were a secretive society who shunned the other nations. What few records remain speak of the Muertan dabbling in the dark arts. It is said that as the water rose, the Muertan searched for a gateway to another dimension through which they could escape the flood, a dimension ruled by creatures with hearts as dark as their own."
"So what happened to them," Nachase asked, fascinated by the story.
"No one knows. Rescue craft were sent during the final days, but found only empty buildings. It was as if the Muertan just left. No member of the Muertanise Consortium has been seen since."
The commander shuddered as if hit by a cold wind. Nachase never liked scary stories, especially the ones her father told his children before bedtime. "Orders sir?"
"Set course for this mysterious arcology and have Maj. Aymar join us on the Bridge. I'll be up in a few minutes. And, Nachase..."
"I suggest a sweater. I can hear your teeth chattering," he said with a chuckle.
"Yes, sir," she replied self-consciously as she quickly closed the connection.
"Personally. I love a good scary mystery," Torga said as he hit the shower.
"One more time!" Royce yelled as he flipped off the lights.
In front of him, two members of his team held out parts of a blaster while the Marine facing them grabbed the parts and assembled them into a working gun. The object of the exercise was to familiarize each team member with their weapon so they could field strip it, fix any problem, then reassemble it in pitch-dark conditions. This time around, Sgt. Zon held parts for Marta while Cpl. Stal held parts for the blindfolded LCpl. Eloen. Being an elf, the lance corporal could see perfectly in the dark.
"Time," Royce said. He turned on the lights and saw both weapons assembled, so he grabbed them one by one and fired them into a containment target. "Outstanding! Now..."
"Maj. Aymar, report to the Bridge," the ship-wide intercom announced.
"Marta with me, the rest of you square-away the squad bay," Royce said as he headed to the door. On the way out, he palmed the intercom. "Bridge, this is Aymar. Copy last message. We're on our way. Aymar out."
In the corridor, the two Marines dodged researchers and crew as they made their way to the brain of the ship, the Bridge. Even a vessel the size of the Deltafish had cramped corridors. With a length of over one thousand feet and a beam of over two hundred, the Deltafish was as large as an Earth super carrier. Unlike a carrier, the Deltafish's crew complement was a mere three hundred souls including crew, researchers, and a small compliment of security personnel. On this voyage, the security force was augmented by Elf Marine Expeditionary Force Team One lead by Royce and Marta.
"Not to be the nosy brother-in-law, but how are things going with you and Harmon?" Royce asked while dodging delivery bots running down the center of the ceiling.
"Great, actually. We sat down and got drunk the moment we got back to Ventos Prime. We spent two days yelling, arguing, pointing fingers—venting mostly. Sad to say, I think it's the first time we ever really talked. We ended up on the couch watching some old tearjerker vid. I swear I've never seen a male of any species tear up like he did," she explained. "Somewhere in all that, we fell in love again."
"Don't tell anyone, but you should have seen me when Losira and I got married. Damn, that was a beautiful ceremony," Royce said while wiping an eye. He stopped talking and tried to stifle a laugh when he saw the look on Marta's face. It was priceless.
"Ah, Major, Captain, good of you to join us. We seem to have somewhat of a mystery," Torga said while pointing to the main viewer. On it was an image of the mysterious arcology complete with sensor readings. "We've sent in a small UAV to take a look. What you're seeing is real-time."
"What is it?" Royce asked as he read the data streams while Marta examined the image.
"From the outside it looks like a typical arcology, but this one's appearance coincides to the second with a mag8 temblor," the captain explained. "In fact, this structure is sitting over the quake’s epicenter."
"What about the tsunami?"
"There wasn't one, which indicates there was no ground-shift associated with the quake."
"Isn't that impossible with a quake of that magnitude?" Marta asked as she zoomed in on the structure. "Don't arcologies normally have points of entry?"
"Yes to both questions, Captain. Normally, a quake of this magnitude would produce massive tidal waves, yet none has been detected either by sats or buoys," Torga explained as he looked at the viewer. “Typically, arcologies have hu
"What's your plan, Captain Torga?" Royce asked as he looked at the viewer.
"We're heading to the arcology at flank speed and should arrive in under an hour. We have contacted Sea Command and apprised them of what little information we have been able to gather so far. When we arrive, I plan to launch several submersible and airborne drones to survey the structure before sending in a team, possibly through the roof hatch. Interested in taking your team for a small excursion, Major?"
"We would be honored, Captain," Royce said while continuing to stare at the viewer. Turning to Marta, Royce said, "We should go and prepare the team for a recon mission. Captain, with your permission?"
"Permission granted. We'll call you when we've arrived," Torga replied as he turned to confer with his XO.
Royce and his team were finishing their preparations when the captain called to confirm arrival at the arcology. "Captain, can you pipe the feeds down here so my team can watch?" Royce asked. The squad bay main viewer lit up with video from four submersibles and four aerial probes as they headed toward the arcology. A sudden flash and the feeds disappeared one by one. Immediately, the boat went to general quarters. "Captain, what happened?"
"A force field has englobed the arcology. We lost three aerial probes and one submersible probe before we could scram the mission. Major, I want you and Capt. McMurphy to join me in the main briefing room to discuss our next move."
"Aye, aye, Captain. We're on our way," Royce said as he killed the connection. "Sargent, secure the gear but standby for further instructions. Marta, you're with me."
When Royce and Marta reached the briefing room, they found several department heads and the boat's exec—Nachase—waiting for the captain to arrive.
"Cmdr. Nachase, any idea what just happened?" Marta asked as she and Royce sat down at the large wooden conference table filling the center of the room.
"None. Without warning a force field formed around the structure, engulfing it," she said as the captain walked in. Everyone stood as he sat down. "Stand easy. As you are all aware, the mystery arcology—codenamed Hephaestus—is now protected by a spherical force field one mile in diameter. All attempts at breaching the field or penetrating it with sensors have failed. I am at a loss as to how to proceed. Suggestions?"
"Sir, if I may?" Royce asked.
"Of course, Major. Please proceed."
"The League's Office of Security has been working on ways to quietly bypass shielded installations in hostage situations. They may be of help."
"I wasn't aware of this. Who can we contact to see about getting some help with this matter?"
"My sister, Gloria, has been spearheading the research effort at the Cube. I can call her. If memory serves, she’s here on Venecia to give a talk at the League Biocybernetics Conference being held at Melgassa arcology. I can contact her immediately," Royce said.
"Excellent. Let us adjourn while the Major makes his inquiries. We shall reconvene in an hour. Dismissed," the captain said as he got up and walked out of the room.
As they headed down the corridor, Marta said, "I didn't know Gloria was on-planet. I would have thought you and her would have had lunch..."
"This is a covert op, remember? She doesn't know I'm here, so be prepared for an angry lady elf when I call her."
"Oops. Such is the life of a Marine," Marta said. "Do you want me to leave and give you two some quality sibling time?"
"Gods no. I need you to put me out when she flames me over the commlink," he said as he dialed Gloria's number.
"Hello?" a female voice said.
"Gloria? It's Royce..."
"Royce! I missed you. Is everything OK? How's Losira?" she asked in a thousand-word-per-minute rapid-fire.
"Everyone is great. Listen, I need some help from my big sister."
"Oh. It's big sister now. Must be a hell of a problem. What's up?"
He explained but she stopped him when he told here where he was.
"And you didn't bother to call me until now?" Marta could swear she could hear the tapping of a shoe on the lab’s tile floor.
"Sorry, Big Sister, but this is supposed to be a covert op. Can you help us out here?"
"Can you buy me dinner when this is all over and tell me everything that's been happening lately?"
"Then I can help you. I've got a few things back in the lab that can help us. Let me call John and get something shipped out."
"How are you and Dr. Taggart doing now that you two are married?" Royce asked.
"Thanks for asking. We're doing great! I can't believe we waited so long to tie the knot. Listen, I'm up next, so I've got to go. Give Losira and Marta my love. I'll call you when I’ve got things squared away."
"Thanks, Kiddo. I owe you big time. Bye," he said as he killed the link.
"That wasn't so bad, now was it?" Marta asked.
"You really don't hear the sub-text do you? Yet you can hear a snake slither by at ten yards. I don't get it," he said, shaking his head.
"Oh, I hear it all right. I'm just trying to take your mind off your impending doom," she said with a chuckle.
"Right," he said as he leaned back in his seat and thought about their next move.
Harmon awoke to the sound of his commlink bleeping. He looked at the clock and saw it was barely oh-dark-thirty hours. "What now?" he mumbled while grabbing the infernal device. He answered, silencing the racket. "What?" he growled as he forced his eyes to focus on a red LED on the room's vid viewer.
"Good morning, Capt. Aymar. My name is Agent Powell. I'm with OffSec. I assume you've heard of OffSec," a female voice said.
Oh great, an OffSec agent with a sense of humor, Harmon thought to himself. "Vaguely. I think they have something to do with League security. So, Agent Powell, what can I do for you at this ungodly hour?"
"We have a shipment which must be delivered to Venecia in less than five hours. It's sitting at the OffSec shipping depot in the Government District, but it can be dropped anywhere on Ventos prime within one hour. Will you take the contract?"
Harmon stopped and stared at that damn red light as something niggled at the back of his brain. Venecia... Why is that name so familiar? "Why me? Ventos Prime is lousy with freighter pilots."
"Yes it is, but everyone we talked to broke into fits of laughter and said only you would take such a job and be able to pull it off. It seems you have the fastest freighter in the quadrant."
Actually, the Conquistador is the fastest ship in the League. I really don't want to leave the home world while Marta is off on assignment... "OK, I'll take it," Harmon said, shocking himself as he spoke.
"Great. Are you going to pick up or do you want us to deliver it someplace special?"
He opened up his commlink to reveal a keyboard. "I'm sending you the coordinates of my base of operations," he said as he thumb-typed the information. "It's owned by my boss, Glentar Skoll, and his two wives.”
"The Conquistador is stored in Hangar Eighteen. Have your people tell the Skolls that Harm sent them, and there'll be no trouble."
"Excellent. Your paperwork will be with the shipment. Good luck, Mr. Aymar, and thanks for the assist. Powell out."
Harm put the commlink on the nightstand and stared at the red light. "Elf, you're losing it," he said out loud to himself. "Mabel, are you awake, darling?" he called out to the house security system.
"Of course, sir. I'm always awake," she replied.
"Mabel, I'll be leaving for a few days on an errand for our friends at OffSec. Contact the Skolls and let them know to expect company, and I need Conquistador prepared for liftoff within the hour."
"Yes, sir. Would you like to talk with Aerith?"
"Excellent idea. Please call my daughter," Harm replied as he stripped and headed to the shower. "Audio only, if you please."
"Yes, sir... Ms. Aerith, I have your father on the line. Will you accept the call?"
"What? Daddy? Wait a minute..." Aerith replied. Harm could hear panic in her voice
"Ms. Aerith, the call is audio only," Mable informed her.
"Oh. Great. Put him on..."
"Aerith, haven't heard from you in a while. How's your vacation going? Having fun?" Harm asked as he punched the shower's temp control to "elf" and lathered up. Water, hot enough to make espresso with, poured out of the showerhead at barely subsonic speed.
"Vacation? Oh yeah, vacation. It's great. Loving every minute of it. How's Mom?"
Harmon stopped and listened to his daughter while his acute hearing picked up subtle nuances in her speech patterns. Having been a smuggler for most of his adult life, Harmon had learned how to read people. He activated the terminal inset in the shower's wall and ran voice analysis routines against the comm feeds. He frowned at what he saw. "Mom is incommunicado. She and the team are on some hush-hush assignment which your poor, clueless father is not privy to know about. By the way, I'm going on a run in an hour, so the house is yours if you need it. I shouldn't be gone long."
"Great! Have a good time. Gotta go," she said hurriedly. "Bye!"
Harm finished his shower and toweled-off as he thought about his daughter's call. He realized she was an adult, incredibly smart, and talented as all get out, just like her mother. But she inherited recklessness, stubbornness, and determination from him. "Mabel, trace that last call and lock on to Ms. Aerith's commlink. Go to full trace mode."
"Yes, Sir. Sir, her commlink is located on the North Side of the city, approximately twenty clicks from your base of operation. Heart rate, respiration, and BP are above norms."
Harmon quickly got dressed and headed for the front door. He knew she would call him when she was way in over her head. His first reaction was to blow-off the pickup and go to her rescue, but he didn't know if she needed rescue. She could be doing a hundred innocent things, any of which would cause elevated physiological parameters. "Mable, is she stationary?"
"No sir, she is walking at a normal pace. I have rerouted a security drone to her location," the system said as the viewer near the front door activated showing his daughter walking through the evening crowd. She looked fine. Still... "Continue monitoring and route all data to Conquistador," Harm said as he grabbed his duster with his tail and headed out the door. "Lock up after me, won't ya Mabel?"
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