If you missed the start of Alien Secrets, Flight of the Kestrel book 2, here is the link.
Parks woke with a start at the sound of a red alert. He had been sent to his cabin, but had only been in bed half an hour and was groggy. He struggled to consciousness, wondering if he was getting too old for this. He went to jump out of bed, but couldn't because of his injuries. At least his instincts were still sharp.
He carefully pulled on his uniform and shoes and went out into the corridor. John Blackwell was passing.
'Commander, wait!' Parks grabbed the engineer’s arm. 'What’s going on?'
'Pursuit,' Blackwell said as he hurried away, 'looks like you brought some company with you.'
Parks headed for the bridge. Unfortunately for him the way to the bridge led past sick bay, and the door was open.
The voice of Doctor Nefar came through the open door. 'You are not fit for duty. Return to your quarters, and I recommend you strap yourself into bed and keep your breather at hand. I do not want to treat any new injuries.'
Parks started to protest, but the doctor came out and escorted him back to his cabin. The Doctor was after all one of only two men on board the Kestrel who had the right to give Parks orders.
Sebu Nefar was new to the Kestrel. He was Kohathi. Parks had utmost respect for the race, on their last mission another Kohathi doctor, Tofi Dathan, had bravely sacrificed his life to save others. The Kohathi take apprentices to continue their work, and Nefar had been Dathan's apprentice. He volunteered to join the Kestrel in Dathan’s place.
Sebu Nefar might have appeared to be a genial be-whiskered old man, as all Kohathi did, including the females. He was young for his race at a mere 82, and much stronger than he appeared. Parks knew better than to argue with Doctor Nefar.
'What have we got, Lieutenant-Commander?' Darrow asked as he stepped on the bridge.
'Captain on the bridge.' Hoy and Balitoth both saluted from their chairs.
Hoy sat to the left at the helm, while to the right at the scanners and weapons console sat Lieutenant Balitoth, the Zoan communications specialist. Zoans were reptilian too, but with a shorter jaw than Bokans, and they felt the cold. Balitoth wore a padded waistcoat over his uniform. Both were strapped in and had breathers attached to their chairs. Darrow clipped his breather to his chair and strapped in.
'Two Bokan pursuit ships, sir,' Hoy said. 'At current rate of closing they'll be within firing range in five minutes.'
'Any chance we can outrun them?'
'No sir, they’re built for speed.'
'Have you attempted to communicate?'
'Yes, sir,' Balitoth said. 'No reply.'
'Why would the Bokans attack us?' Darrow asked as he took the central chair and looked up at the viewscreen. 'Negotiations between the Bokans and PACT are already fraught with difficulties, this could finish them.'
'Perhaps they did not recognise the ship, sir.' Balitoth suggested. 'The Bokans do not have the PACT ship recognition database and have not been out in space for long, so they would not have met many ships.'
'So they're just chasing an unknown ship who picked up some escaped prisoners,' Hoy said. 'But why? We didn't find out anything.'
Could it have anything to do with the man they brought with them? Darrow had a sudden idea. This mission is turning out to be more dangerous than I expected. I have to defend my ship, but if we destroy the attacking ships, that will no doubt cause trouble for the negotiations too.
He checked the encounter was being recorded. At least he could prove the Bokans attacked first. So much for a clandestine mission.
Darrow didn't like fighting. He was fully trained and had been in a few space battles through his career, but he didn't like it. He was more of a diplomat. He believed there was always a peaceful solution, you just had to find one and persuade the other party.
Not always possible of course, and what could he do here if the Bokans wouldn't even talk to him? He felt the full weight of responsibility for the lives of his crew.
Darrow turned to Balitoth at the weapons console. 'No offence, Lieutenant, but I wish we had Parks on weapons.'
'None taken Captain, but you know, communications can be a weapon too.'
'What are you going to do?' laughed Hoy. 'Insult them?'
Balitoth bared his pointed teeth, but ignored him, and spoke to Darrow. 'I have been monitoring their communications, sir: they are not encoded. If we can survive their first pass I can pick up their attack commands and rebroadcast an edited version to send them in the wrong direction.'
'What’s to stop them coming at us again after?' Darrow said.
'I believe I may engineer a collision.' Balitoth looked pointedly at Hoy.
'Sounds like a plan,' said Darrow. 'I need clear heads now. Hoy, this is where you get to demonstrate your flying skills. Try to keep us out of trouble. Balitoth, give us your best shooting and maybe we won’t need your plan after all.'
He flipped open the comm channel. 'Ensign Reuel to the bridge. Get up here and man the scanners and weapons for us.' He turned back to Balitoth. 'Once Reuel arrives you can concentrate on the comms.'
Darrow watched his crew. Despite their fear, they would be professional. Reuel was skilled on weapons, but seemed shaken after Boka. Unfortunately no one else was available. Balitoth never showed emotion anyway. Hoy had been on Boka too. How had he ended up with Hoy and Reuel on duty?
He racked his brains to think who he could call on, but that was the problem with a small crew, there wasn't much choice. Chambers was a better pilot than Hoy, but he had just pulled an 18 hour shift in Hoy’s absence, and would probably have been woken from a very necessary sleep.
The Bokan ships opened fire as soon as they were in range. Hoy swerved and banked the Kestrel and Balitoth returned fire. The ships were rocket-shaped with a huge engine at the rear and small wings down their length. One of the ships suffered minor damage to the nose but they managed two direct hits as they passed the Kestrel, flying in close formation across from starboard to port.
Reuel arrived at a run, his cranial spines raised in agitation, and almost lost his footing as the Kestrel was hit. He saluted and immediately reported from the scanners, as Balitoth moved to comms.
'Direct hit on the engines, sir.'
Blackwell’s voice came over the comm. 'Captain, they hit the regulator. I can give you maybe half an hour at this speed, then the engines will fail, unless we slow right down or stop for repairs.'
'Do your best Commander.' Darrow's tension was a tight knot in his stomach.
'Coming round for a second pass,' Reuel reported.
'Now’s the time,' said Darrow to Balitoth.
'I am prepared Captain.' His fingers flew over his console.
As the pursuit ships came in to attack, suddenly they broke formation and one swung in towards the port side as the other swung towards the starboard side. Hoy dived the Kestrel and the two ships manoeuvred frantically to try to avoid colliding.
Their wings touched and buckled and the engine of one gouged a hole in the other. Both ships spun wildly apart, out of control. The Kestrel shot away as the whole bridge crew cheered. Darrow noticed both Hoy and Reuel drop their heads for a moment as the tension passed.
Darrow said, 'Well done, all of you. Reduce speed to one quarter.' He contacted Engineering. 'How bad is it, Commander Blackwell?'
'The damage is not extensive, but we can't nurse the regulator for long, especially at full speed.'
'We're slowing down, we don’t expect additional pursuit. Any injuries?'
'Only minor, sir.'
'Good. Work out some figures for how far we can get at what speed and feed them through to Lieutenant-Commander Hoy on the bridge.' The captain turned to Hoy. 'We’re not far from Caspar by my reckoning, but I’d rather not go there if we can help it.'
Balitoth said, 'In my study of other races, I try to seek out all the best things about each race. I find it extremely difficult with the Casparans.'
Hoy looked up from his console. 'What you're trying to avoid saying is that they're an arrogant lot who are only in the Alliance for what they can get out of it. I’ve never met anyone who annoyed me as quickly as the Casparans I’ve met. Remember Desmar Barok? He was not an exception. He nearly started an interstellar war.'
Darrow smiled as he turned to leave. ‘Well, see what alternatives you can find and call me when you’re ready.’
Darrow went to sick bay. The man named Tanu was on one of the beds, still sedated, under a regeneration canopy. Tomos was monitoring his vital signs. The other bed was empty.
'Where's Parks?' Darrow asked.
'Resting in his cabin,' Nefar said.
'How is he? What did they do to him? He looked awful when they got back.'
This was more than a captain’s concern for his crew. Darrow and Parks had been friends for many years, having met at the PACT training academy. After a serious injury to his shoulder, Parks had been reassigned from shipside duty to a land based security team, Darrow had known how that chafed for the man.
When the Prin healed Parks’ shoulder, he couldn't wait to get back out there. That Darrow needed a new First Officer and Parks was then perfectly placed to step in, hadn’t hurt either. Darrow still worried about him though.
'Commander Parks will live, Captain. He is going to be indisposed for a few days,' Nefar said in his careful way. 'He took quite a beating, but lacerations and contusions I can deal with. What concerns me is what the Bokans call a pain-giver. It has been used on both Parks and our mystery guest.’
He switched on a display showing the punctures on Parks’ back. Darrow stepped forward to look more closely.
‘It fits over the spine,’ Nefar continued, ‘and directly affects the nervous system through the spinal column, causing more than pain. I found a lot of nerve damage. Maybe not to Bokans, perhaps they do not realise the difference for other species,' he switched off the display and sighed.
'I can repair Commander Parks with a few regenerator sessions, then check out any longer term medical implications. This other one I am not so sure about.’
Darrow walked over to the bed where the man lay sedated. Nefar continued.
‘His brain is affected and he has started having fits. I am not happy about the lump on his forehead - I cannot work out what it is, and it seems to be linked into his brain.'
'What do we know about him?' Darrow asked, frowning.
'Nothing. You will have to ask the mission team what they know. All I can tell you is he is humanoid, but not from Earth.’ Nefar lifted the man’s arm. ‘His muscle tone is poor - he is either not a physical sort of person, or he comes from a planet with low gravity. Any more than that will have to wait. If I can get him conscious and lucid we might find out, but he is in a bad state.'
'Can you help him?'
'Not with the facilities here, I am afraid. That pain-giver device has affected his central neural system, which is still deteriorating. The stasis chamber will not save him - the neural degeneration will continue. I believe we can save him if he gets treatment soon, but I do not think he will make it back to Earth.’ He shook his head. ‘Even if I can stabilise him, he will be in a coma. Is there anywhere nearer with up-to-date medical facilities?'
'We're looking for somewhere to make port: that attack damaged the engines. Caspar is probably nearest, but I was hoping we could find somewhere else.' Darrow ran his hand over his unruly curls.
'Caspar would have the facilities we need, Captain. I know they are difficult people to deal with but I believe it is Tanu’s best hope.’ Nefar paused. ‘Is the attack over, I noticed the change in the tone of the engines?'
'Yes.’ Darrow smiled. ‘Balitoth came up with a clever comms trick and the two pursuit ships collided. They’ll take some repairing. I also came to see if there were any casualties.'
'Ensign Stubbs got thrown out of bed and broke his wrist. He will be one-handed for a short while, which will not please Commander Blackwell, when there are repairs to be done. Commander Blackwell received minor burns when the regulator blew. The most serious problem is Tanu here.'
Darrow thumbed the comm channel. 'Captain to the bridge. How soon can we get to Caspar?'
'Hoy here, Captain. Commander Blackwell says if we cut power to twenty percent we can nurse the engines to get us there in 18 hours.'
The doctor winced. Darrow spoke into the comm channel. 'Anything closer?'
'Very well then. Proceed to Caspar. Notify Engineering to give us best speed. Out.'
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz