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Dead Beckoning By Christina Engela Characters: 5583

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

Even at his age and rank, Sona Kilroy was still used to roughing it with his men, and this made him a popular, respected leader, even though he was also still greatly feared. In the Corsair culture, the slightest sign of weakness might encourage a mutiny and the election of a replacement, who would undoubtedly be younger and stronger, or perhaps just more popular. As a Corsair leader, Kilroy had to have the respect of those who fought under him, which in itself meant only the toughest survived, ruling by a delicate balance of respect and fear…fear being his favorite.

Terran intelligence reports and local folklore had woven together to perpetuate tales of his bloody adventures across the rim worlds and badlands of Terran space – tales of bloody infamy! That was his trademark, and often over the last two decades, history had proclaimed in large bloody letters that 'Kilroy woz 'ere.'

Kilroy's flagship shook around him as another Terran slam-torpedo struck home. The shields – improvised and based on an upgraded civilian system – had failed, and the Black Reaper had already sustained heavy damage. Her number was up – and so it seemed, was Kilroy's. The small launch bay was littered with debris. A powerful breeze tore at his black silk shirt as Kilroy strode his way across it to the waiting shuttle, evoking a feeling like the fingers of fate were caressing his body. "The Hammer" stepped over the body of one of his fallen crew without a trace of care or concern. The air rushed past him, like a wind, out into space through the wounds in the side of his ship. Fatigued and desperate, the Hammer was running out of options. His ship was a mess, holed in a dozen places, the life support systems failing. Weakened hull sections were collapsing in pressure bursts. The vibrations that shook the deck beneath him now were not from the engines that once drove her forward, but now from the explosions down below, tearing her apart.

His loyal crew had suffered many casualties, his ship had nothing left to give – he'd used up ship and crew in this last desperate bid for their freedom – and if he didn't hurry, he would perish along with the rest or risk capture at the hands of the accursed Terran ship that was still firing on them, pounding his flagship into a shambles. Internal chain explosions were ripping out the guts of his ship now, sending tremors through the deck and into his black heart. A betting man would say he was finished. Only, not quite. He still hung on, by a thread. It wasn't over yet.

The shuttle was just meters away now. As he climbed the short landing ramp, his shirt still flapping noisily, a haggard unshaven face appeared at the doorway, and urged him to hasten. As desperate as their situation was, they wouldn't dare try to leave with

out him – not even to save their own miserable skins.

"Hurry! Hurry!" The man shouted, his voice almost lost in the maelstrom of the booming explosions, the rising thunder of the shuttle engines and the howling chaos of escaping air.

Inside the shuttle, the anti-grav motors hummed loudly as the pilot gunned the throttle. The small craft rose off the deck. Just as the small airlock door closed and the ramp retracted behind him, the huge doors of the launch bay finally gave in without warning, and blew outward. Kilroy grimaced, looking over the shoulder of the pilot through the viewports on the cramped flight deck, holding on to supports and metal ribs of the structure. The universe lay open before him. Freedom! …But it wasn't just simply there for the taking – he would have to fight for it. Tooth and claw.

The small craft blasted clear of the debris as the last internal detonations tore his old ship apart. Pieces of hull plating and sections of the disintegrating hulk spiraled away, trailing plumes of flame and fading atmosphere as minor explosions became major ones. Flames engulfed the festering carcass in a purifying ball of flame as they shot clear of it! The shuttle accelerated, the pilot hoping the destruction of the ship would mask their escape. In two minutes it was already close to light speed – but swift and fleet as it was, it could not outrun the Indomitable or hide from her sensors.

A tractor beam from the Imperial ship locked onto the shuttle and in seconds it became apparent they were being hauled in. The tractor was inescapable, and they knew it. The shuttle's small yet potent engines struggled vainly against the irresistible pull. Inside, the Hammer and his men prepared to meet their fate.

With the engines shut down, the captive shuttle was drawn into the waiting hangar deck of the Indomitable, steadily positioned until it was gently lowered onto the landing surface. Kilroy eyed the huge doors of the Terran ship's shuttle deck coldly as they began to roll shut, cutting off their escape. Through the side viewports, his crewmates alerted him to the arrival of a platoon of security marines as they came running from the entrance of the main airlock, in full body armor, weapons bristling. Kilroy eyed them on his external monitors as they took up strategic positions behind a stack of containers and a small yellow hover-tractor. Twenty Terran security marines had their weapons aimed at the shuttle. Moments later, a brisk command came over the com channel.

"Attention, aboard the shuttle!" A male voice said crisply. "You are under arrest! Surrender immediately! Shut down all systems! Come out slowly, in single file, with your hands behind your heads! Leave all weapons behind. Comply and your lives will be spared!"

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