Chapter Eight: Faceoff
Dylan Hunt moved through the halls as quickly as possible, trying to stay focused. The war was over, the Commonwealth had fallen. Everyone he'd known except Rhade and Dawn was dead if what they were saying was true.
He could hardly process it.
Andromeda appeared as an image, speaking. "Alert, alert, prisoner has escaped. Notifying Commander Rhade."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Andromeda. It means a lot," said Dylan, reflecting that she was one more person he knew.
"I am merely fulfilling my programmed instructions, Captain Hunt," said Andromeda. "I am obligated to inform you that there will be severe consequences if you do not return to your cell."
"You mean the command deck?" asked Dylan.
"More suitable accommodations can be made later," said Andromeda.
Dylan got to the console and activated it. "Yeah, I think I'm going to stick with my original plan.
"Computer, program override, code 3-4-5-8-8-4, codeword Perseus."
Andromeda paused. "Control overwridden. I await your commands, Captain Hunt."
"I want you to disable all security. Then do a full diagnostic for any foreign influences on your systems," said Dylan. "In addition, I want you to move us away from the black hole. Plot a course for space outside of this one. If you see any fleets, take evasive maneuvers."
"Bear in mind, Captain, I will not be able to use the slipstream drive," said Andromeda.
"I know," said Dylan. "Have the medical nanites on Refractions of Dawn taken effect?"
"Affirmative, she is stable and recovering," said Andromeda.
"Patch me through to her," said Dylan.
The screen appeared and showed Refractions of Dawn. She looked painted. "Captain Hunt?"
"Refractions, I know you're still injured," said Dylan. "But right now, I have reason to believe we're about to get hit by a major fleet. I need you to pilot the slipstream. Can you do that?"
"Of course, Captain Hunt." said Refractions. "To what coordinates?"
"It is a valid question," said Andromeda. "We have no idea what the universe looks like at the moment. We'd be jumping blind, and without a safe harbor, my systems won't operate for long."
Dylan paused. "Well then, what do you recommend?"
"With Refraction of Dawn's help, I can send out a slipspace communication. We may find any possible Commonwealth bases," said Andromeda. "It is conceivable that the old system is still in use, or at least recognized."
"Do it," said Dylan. Then he thought of the other problem.
His best friend, Rhade.
"And what will you do?" asked Refractions.
Dylan sighed. "I've got to deal with Rhade. But first, I need a weapon."
Time to hit the armory.
The guns had stopped firing all of a sudden. The machines that Beka hadn't shot turned back and walked away. Firing after them, Beka brought up her gun, which was hot to the touch. Looking over to the far wall, she looked to where Trance was peeled up against the wall.
"You alright, Trance?" asked Beka, offering her a hand.
"Yeah, fine," said Trance, taking it. "It looks like the security systems are offline, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it does," said Beka. Then she looked to where Rev and Geretex were in cover by another door. "Get your things, we're leaving." Raising her communicator, she opened a channel. "Attention all mercenaries. Give me a status report."
Nothing for a moment.
"Oh, thank god, there's still someone else alive out here." said a man.
"For now, yeah," said Beka. "What the hell is going on out there?"
"This is team 3, we were holding out for a bit, and we've got wounded." said the man. "Still, the systems have shut down."
"Any idea why?" asked Beka.
"I don't know, maybe they short-circuited." said the man.
"That may be possible." said Rev. "These machines are truly ancient."
Beka didn't buy it, she'd done enough repairs to know that. "Anyone else?"
"Give me that," said Geretex, grabbing the communicator. "Team 1 report.
"Team 2 report.
"Team 4 report.
"Doesn't look like anyone is answering."
"Give me that," said Beka, grabbing it back. "Team 3, can you get back to the Maru Hanger Bay?"
"I think so, yeah." said the man. "We pulled up some schematics on one of the consoles like we were sent to do."
"Good," said Beka. "Send it to us, then head back there."
"Why the hanger?" asked Trance.
"You know why." snapped Beka. "I think I speak for everyone when I say this scheme has hit rock bottom.
"We should get out of here while we can."
"What are you doing?" asked Geretex.
"Oh come on, Geretex, we've just fought a neverending tide of androids," said Beka. "Most of our crew is dead, and we've got a fleet of Nietzscheans coming down here to wipe us out!"
"We just bypassed the defenses," said Geretex. "After all we've invested into this, you want to just leave?
"Do you really think Cuchulain will let us go? The Nietzschean will want to keep this secret! They'll kill us as soon as they have the ship!"
"And what's gonna stop them from doing that if we hand it over to them?" asked Beka. "I say we get on the Maru, and knock the damn thing back into the black hole. Nobody gets it, and there's nothing to hush up."
"Beka, we were not drawn to this place for no reason." said Rev. "Everything happens for a purpose. To turn back now is to deny the will of the universe."
"Yeah, well, the universe can will someone else into place." snapped Beka. "I'm fucking done.
"Where the hell is Tyr and Harper?" She hoped they weren't dead as she opened a channel. "Tyr, Harper, do you read?"
"Speaking lovely lady, we've just hit some slight turbulence in our flight-" began Harper.
"Shut up, people are dead," said Beka. "We're evacing before we all get killed. Head for the Maru."
"That would not be wise, Ms. Valentine," came Tyr's voice. "We cannot afford to return emptyhanded."
"He's right," said Geretex. "What was all this for if not a profit?"
"Okay, big guy, how are you planning to make a profit if all of us are dead?" asked Beka, not wanting to leave anyone behind.
"I am in the midst of retrieving the schematics for a Nova Bomb," said Tyr.
"...That's brilliant, Mr. Anasazi," said Geretex. "The Nova Bomb is a lost art, one of the most powerful weapons in history. If we can get that, and the schematics for the Andromeda, we can sell it to the Than. That will make us enough to pay off our debts, and we don't have to stay here any longer.
"Does this seem a decent compromise, Ms. Valentine?"
"Yeah, fine," said Beka. "Just get the damn thing and get back here before anyone else gets killed. Beka out." She cut the channel. "...Once we're off here, I say we send this miserable ship back into the black hole. I'm not giving Cuchulain it unless he pays me for it."
"Sounds fine to me," said Geretex.
"You may do so." said Rev. "However, I will still be on it."
"You've got to be kidding," said Beka. "Rev, this isn't a course in philosophy. All of us could die if we stay here."
"Death is but an illusion Beka, and the world is the means by which we explore ourselves," said Rev.
Then Beka heard a sound. "That's gunfire. Come on."
Raising her gun, she ran in the direction of it. As she did, she raised her communicator. "Team 3, what's going on?"
"He came out of nowhere and got one of us!" said the mercenary from before. "We can't outrun him, and we're pinned down!" There was a scream. "Oh god, he just got Alsin, I'm the last one!"
"We're coming to help you," said Beka.
The sound of gunfire came forward. "Forget that! Get to the Maru, I'll try to keep him occupied as long as I-" There was a scream.
Beka halted. Then she raised he communicator. "...Tyr, Tyr we've got a psycho on the loose here! Follow this channel; we need your help?"
"We are too far away to make it in time," said Tyr. "I recommend making a run for it."
"Too late for that." said a voice.
The communicator went dead.
Beka turned around and saw a calm looking man with a buzzcut. He wore the red garb of the Commonwealth and held a force pike.
"What..." said Beka.
"They're dead. All of them." said the man.
"Who... who are you?" asked Geretex, raising a gun.
"I am Gaheris Rhade, and you are on my ship." said the man.
"We were leaving anyway," said Beka.
"With schematics that do not belong to you," said Rhade. "No, you will not.
"I have a use for your vessel, the Maru. The Andromeda, at present, is in poor condition. You have two choices. You can assist me and profit from my success, or you can be forced to assist and be swept aside afterward."
"...Did you make that offer to the men you just murdered?" asked Beka, stepping back a pace. If she could pull her gun fast enough...
"Murder is killing in defiance of lawful authority. No lawful authority has hold on me," said Rhade. "And no.
"Their existence gave you more bargaining power. I need subordinates, and those that remain alive seem ideal for that role."
"Right, so we work for you and get... what exactly?" asked Trance.
"I listened to your conversations before I sprang my attack," said Rhade. "The universe has obviously changed a great deal. My power base may not exist at all.
"Judging from the state of your crew, the standard of living has decreased. You went to all the trouble of drawing in the Andromeda, my guess is that weapons technology has degraded.
"When the Andromeda is fully operational, it will be of immense power. With it, I can easily reestablish my empire. If you aid in this, you will be well rewarded. And, in the meantime, you will have access to a standard of living far higher than most vessels."
"I do not believe you," said Rev. "You are a murderer, and you have lied many times before. This is but one more lie, even if you believe otherwise."
"Fine words from a Magog," snapped Rhade. "Your first act in this world was murder. Your race were murderers from the beginning. But I am not speaking to you.
"Have you looked at the cargo hold of this ship, Ms. Valentine? Imagine how much cargo you could transport in that?
"A few shipments would be more than sufficient to make a fortune.
"I don't expect you'll remain with me the entire way, of course. In fact, I expect I'll only need you for a few months. After that, you can move on if you so desire."
"Are you seriously offering us a job after killing our entire crew?" asked Beka.
"Yes," said Rhade. "You invaded my ship with a heavily armed contingent of guards, so I activated the defense systems. If I had offered you this job when you had over a dozen heavily armed mercenaries, would you have considered it?
"You've have shot me and taken the ship for yourself."
"...No, I wouldn't," said Beka, though Geretex might have.
"Really?" asked Rhade. "Then perhaps you would have stranded me on some planet and flown off with my ship. It is of no consequence. When you come in peace, do not do so with unholstered blasters.
"At the moment, it is of no further consequence."
"...I am the official leader of this expedition if I might interject," said Geretex, moving forward. "Naturally, I'll be willing to discuss the details of such an offer."
"Rhade, I think I once told you that making contracts under duress didn't get reliable results." said a calm voice.
Rhade tensed and glanced back.
Behind him was a bear of a man with long brown hair. He held a force pike in one hand. Rhade turned to him in turn. "...You should have shot me when you had the chance, Dylan."
"Dylan?" asked Trance. "Dylan Hunt?"
"Yeah, that's me," said Dylan.
"I take it then, that Harper and Tyr were not the ones who disabled the security systems," said Rhade.
"Well, they helped a lot, but I was the guy who pushed the button," said Dylan. "Beka, is it? I suggest you step back. This doesn't involve you or your crew."
Rhade and Dylan, two legends, were standing in front of them, about to throw down. Beka considered shooting Rhade in the back but didn't like the idea. So she raised her gun. "Right, right."
"Shouldn't we be-" began Geretex.
"Hey, these are the legendary space heroes, let them settle this," said Beka.
"I agree completely," said Rev.
"Single combat, is it?" asked Rhade. "You always did have an inflated opinion of yourself."
Dylan remained silent for a moment. "...Why exactly did you do this, Rhade?"
"I believe I already explained my motives," said Rhade.
"No, you didn't," said Dylan. "You gave some spiel about how the Commonwealth was decadent and deserved to fall, but why would you care? You're a Nietzschean. Your race's entire philosophy is to always do what is best for the individual. It just so happens that an enlightened man realizes being part of society is what is best.
"You had a promising career. And even if you'd pulled this off, you wouldn't have established an empire. Without the Commonwealth as a stabilizing element, you would have been overthrown. Avoiding that kind of thing was the entire reason your race joined."
"No great thing may be achieved without risk," said Rhade. "Make your point?"
"Complex schemes were never your style, Rhade," said Dylan. "You always preferred the direct approach.
"I just don't buy that you would pull off this kind of elaborate scheme without some kind of personal grudge."
Rhade paused and finally nodded. "...You can never truly loathe someone until you know them on a personal level."
Dylan remained silent for a moment. "Well, there's always that."
And then the image of a dark-skinned supermodel appeared on the screen. "Alert, multiple Nietschean vessels have come out of subspace. They are heading toward us even now at attack speed. In the present situation, we are unlikely to outrun them."
"Cuchulain." said Geretex, voice afriad.
"...Well, it would appear this showdown will have to wait, Dylan," said Rhade. "We're about to be blown out of the sky."
This was... not good.