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Dead Beckoning By Christina Engela Characters: 12770

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:01


Dedication

To my wife Wendy, who loves dark, twisted stories as much as I do.

Dead Beckoning

Imagine, if you will:

Meradinis!

The stuff of myths and legends! The Turtle Island of the stars – home planet to the fearsome and once legendary Corsairs – the terrors of the black, the monsters in Human form who killed innocents and waged a campaign of terror against the colonies for decades! Meradinis! The reputation of that place – that terrible place, a place of death and destruction that beckoned to adventurers, killers, profiteers and fortune seekers! Meradinis… The very name of this world grabbed the imaginations of young boys and girls, and universally mesmerized dreamers and romantics alike.

The truth was far less romantic – and as reality so often demonstrates in real life – rather ugly and brutal. The Corsairs who raided nearly every single Human colony over the span of a century, sowing terror, death and misery as they went, were not the corn-ball comics from old Earth tales that hopped about on peg-legs, with parrots on their shoulders, saying 'Arr!' to everything in general. They were anything but.

Behind the Corsairs and their sinister culture of plunder and violence lay a history fraught with a desperate, brutal struggle to survive, a vengefulness and a cruelty – and a drive to survive by any means necessary – chiefly of which was their predation upon other worlds… And it was their predatory nature that struck fear into the hearts of neighboring fringe worlds – and, some whispered – in the hallowed halls of the Terran Congress itself.

These marauders had started out as refugees who fled the dying planet Earth more than a century earlier, in the turmoil that followed a final great World War between archaic Human nation-states. The ancestors of what would become the Corsairs fled the turmoil and left the ruined Earth behind. Legends and myths told of these rough, tough survivors who made a home for themselves in uncharted, unclaimed space far outside the Empire's territory. Of course, there wasn't a Terran Empire then – only a divided Earth that had only just survived the devastating war.

The proto-Corsairs began to run out of supplies as they traveled, and became scavengers as they kept moving deeper and deeper into the black… until they found this world, this pristine beautiful blue-green planet, and thought it far away enough from Earth to start over. That was what they'd wanted – to start over – at least that had been the plan all along, and since they hadn't bothered to maintain communications with Earth, it was easy to sever all ties and to pretend there would be no one else to answer to for their actions.

Out there in the black, they found a kind of 'splendid isolation'– only more splendid, and more isolated, than any other. In the blackout of their isolation, however, they missed out completely on all subsequent news and developments from Earth. They never knew that Earth recovered from the turmoil of the 'Big One', or about its miraculous unification and advancement – or about the ravages of the Gimp War just a few years after that – followed in turn by Earth's amazing rebirth at the center of its own young interstellar empire. Over the next few decades though, that policy of isolation was to change, slowly.

The band of refugees had settled somewhere in what would eventually be called the Omegan Quadrant, and soon their scavenging became a mainstream way for the fledgling Corsair civilization to rise from merely eking out a bare living, to a thriving criminal enterprise founded on violence, plunder and fear. It was far easier for them to take what they needed than to actually produce it themselves, leading to the development of a culture based entirely on piracy. At the end of the Gimp War, the victorious planet Earth had beaten off the alien invaders, and Earth emerged as the new power in that part of space, and as might be expected – as new powers do – they began to expand and to exert their control over the surrounding systems. The Terran Empire's rapidly growing chain of colonies began the inevitable process of pushing back the boundaries of unknown space – and with them, their boundaries. The Terran Empire and its Commonwealth of member colonies became a beacon of peace and prosperity – unknowingly right on the doorstep of a violent aggressor.

In the Omegan Quadrant, Corsair descendants looked back at the distant home of their ancestors and the vast treasury of resources being plied into its space travel, colonization and commerce. These new Terran colonies had the very resources the Corsairs found hard to come by out in deep space. Taking the benefits of the labors of others seemed a logical, convenient – and altogether cheaper – alternative to developing entire infrastructures from the ground up.

As time went by, the Corsairs made regular forays into Imperial space – hijacking and stealing small ships and loderunners, attacking small settlements and under-defended outposts – but their own base remained a mystery. Rumors, myths and legends grew around them. The Corsairs' home was known only as Turtle Island, named so after the mythical island colonized by Earth buccaneers in the 17th century. At first, the Corsairs were really only bothersome, merely poking and prodding at the outskirts of the outermost colonies. Later, they became bolder and bolder still until each passing year marked increased incidence of pirate attack. Eventually however, they would rise to become the single biggest threat the Terran Empire had faced since the Ruminarii.

It had always been a point of interest to astro-anthropologists and stellar economists how such 'vampire economies' developed, subsisting off detached, larger, more conventional economies. In this case, trade agreements would've been impractical because the very notion implied the Corsairs had something to actually trade in exchange for goods and services, which was untrue.

The Corsair economy was outwardly only a one way street – from outside, in. Piracy was their commerce. This form of replenishment and acquisition created among the Corsairs a mindset of 'there's plenty more where that came from', encouraging among the orphaned colonists the consumerist mindset, but combining it with a philosophy if you will, of entitlement. It became theirs because they could t

ake it – and because they did. The Corsairs resented the Terrans because to them, the Terrans were the 'haves' – and they were the 'have-nots'. The Corsairs had a need and were smart enough and strong enough to take what they wanted – and of course, were prepared to fight for it. The Corsairs also no longer viewed themselves as being beholden to Earth or to other people from Earth, but as a separate society, a predator society free to take whatever they needed without having to answer for their actions to those outside their culture. For that reason, they scoffed at Terran laws, Terran courts, and Terran threats of retribution – and kept the location of their home world a closely-guarded secret.

The very first Corsair raids first affected the outer colonies of the young Terran Empire. More vulnerable and open to attack, they were easy prey for the daring and enterprising new space pirates – who plundered and murdered their way into the next century. They knew very well that Earth would not tolerate such brigandage if they knew where to strike – but in the end their secret, as most secrets do eventually, came out and with it, their doom.

Which brings us to more recent events.

One day, not too long ago, a Terran star base near Tremaine – one of Earth's oldest colonies, fell mysteriously silent... The Terrans sent a ship to investigate, only to discover the star base had been attacked by a large fleet of Corsair raiders, and virtually destroyed. Everything of value had been looted and plundered from the station, with great loss of life. The psychological shock was far more significant however, because it implied that the Corsairs had reached a level of strength where they no longer saw the Terran's military response as a threat… Action had to be taken.

A few hours later, while the ship that had been sent to investigate – the I.S.S. Antares – was on its way to Tremaine, they encountered a Corsair ship that had been left behind to spy on the ruined star base, and captured it – with the location of the Corsair home world still intact inside its nav-computer! Following a successful scouting operation, in which agents of the Terran Imperial Space Fleet infiltrated the planet Meradinis' defenses, the Terrans sent a large heavily armed fleet to settle the score with their long lost cousins, putting an end to nearly a century and a half of interstellar terror.

Traditionally, Corsair ships were converted loderunners and other old spacers toughened up and armed with improvised weapons. For the most part, the Corsairs fought using heavy industrial lasers, electro-magnetic rail guns that fired everything from iron-rich meteorites to warheads made from mining explosives. They had put up a fierce fight, but though they fought fiercely, they did so at the receiving end of state-of-the-art energy weapons and potent high yield slam-torpedoes – with predictable results.

After nearly two days of fierce fighting in the skies around Meradinis, the fighting was finally over and the Terran Space Fleet had taken the field. The Terrans had won, and had finally cornered their venomous, defeated foe in its own den. In orbit, where the battle of Turtle Island was fought, the remnants of the once feared predatory Black Fleet drifted, blazing, while the Corsair civilization below breathed its last. Too many of the black ships were destroyed to count, but it was later estimated that they numbered around five hundred, all types included. The Black Fleet had been decimated, with all but few ships destroyed, scattered to space. The shattered marauders hung suspended in the night sky, burning bright and telling a sinister tale that was not quite… yet… over.

The ships of Earth paused, holding orbit over the planet. On Meradinis, the populace held its breath and prepared to meet the expected airborne invasion. The Corsair's strength had been their fleet, and the scant ground forces would offer little noteworthy resistance to a well-disciplined landing force of Star Marines, as Imperial troop-landers delivered them to the surface, while fighter squadrons provided total air-cover.

In the capital city of Tortuga below, in the Black Palace, the man known as the Patron – Martel the Mighty, ruler of this dark world – had packed his coffers and was now also, presumably, making good his escape. For the Corsair elite and ruling class – those whose hands were literally dripping with blood and who had profited from the bloodshed and violence that had terrorized dozens of worlds – escape was the only option left, and he would not be the only one to mount an escape attempt, nor be the only one to succeed. For years to come there would be countless bounties offered on missing prominent Corsairs that had slipped through the net, with the occasional report of so-and-so being spotted on some or other rim world, presumably sporting a new beard and a pair of sunglasses – which might have raised a few eyebrows in the case of the many female Corsairs.

Meradinis! Turtle Island! …It was a little corner of chaos!

The speeding black ship had left behind Meradinis, Tortuga and home three days ago, fleeing in crushing, humiliating shame – and all three days had been a constant running battle to survive! For three days the accursed Imperial warship Indomitable had followed, firing on them at every opportunity. Death or imprisonment now awaited those who called themselves Corsairs – and though this death sentence was now more a certainty rather than just a possibility, Sona Kilroy, or "The Hammer" as he was called by his men, was not prepared to give up his freedom so easily.

Piracy was his life and he'd known no other, nor did he seek any alternative. He was tough and cruel, a despicable man, a case in point when academics quoted the barbarism by which the Corsairs had made themselves known and feared across the star systems of the peaceful Terran Empire. At forty two years, Sona Kilroy stood tall and strapping, a powerful figure. Rising to the rank of Admiral in the Corsair fleet had been no easy feat – nor had it ever been so for any predecessor. It took intelligence, skills, determination, resilience, creative thinking, brute force, and sheer cunning to achieve – and perhaps also a large slice of luck. As much as it had cost him to achieve that rank, it took nearly twice as much to hold onto.

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