OUT OF THE
EMBERS OF HELL
Book III in the Coalition/Orthodoxy Universe
(Sample Chapter only)
J. E. Bruce
Copyright 2016 by J.E. Bruce, all rights reserved. No portion of this work may be copied or duplicated without express written permission from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons or locations is strictly coincidental.
Dedicated to my muses: Miles, Mandy, Buck, Oliver, Indigo, Red, Wally and Gromit
They are the Elkanasu's beloved A'tuu'shahn'i. To everyone else they are the enigmatic and feared Hahtooshan Orthodoxy, believed by many to be organic machines, rumored by others to be the remnants of a once powerful alien civilization and capable of shapeshifting.�
They now make their living as the mercenaries of choice, and their services are in constant demand as the known galaxy's hegemonies, the Matarran Star Empire and the human-dominated Rim Coalition, have found it impossible to co-exist. The Orthodoxy has grown wealthy on the avarice of others, but its success has engendered universal enmity. And now the Orthodoxy has finally met its match, confronted not only with the enemy from without, but the enemy within when it becomes widely known that Hahtooshans, bio-engineered humans themselves, have no resistance to many common human illnesses.
Faced with the genocide of his people, one Hahtooshan, Khusaaq, risks all and loses almost all in an attempt to save his kind, and in the process finds allies in the most unexpected of places: the very members of the crew of the Coalition patrol ship, Baidarka, which had taken him prisoner.
Through these unlikely allies, an alliance is forged, but the nascent compact between the Coalition and Orthodoxy is fragile, with many on either side willing to do anything they can to destroy it before it can fully take root. One such group, spurred on by radical Coalition colonists, kidnaps Khusaaq's human bond-mate, Ensign Sirin Corsali and her friend, Lieutenant Drakin, as bait to entrap him. Another abducts Khusaaq's closest kin, Qar'qaah, with the same intent. Both parties flee with their hostages to a non-aligned planet, Poonda Five, with Khusaaq and the Baidarka hot on their heels.
Temporarily escaping captivity, Sirin and Qar'qaah bump into each other in the deserted streets of Poonda Five's space port, The Gorgon's Lair, and unhappily join forces in hopes of eluding their respective captors. Believing they have found freedom, Sirin and Qar'qaah take refuge for the night in a hostel, only to find that their kidnappers are far more cunning, and persistent than they'd assumed.
Crew of the Coalition Expeditionary Forces patrol ship, Baidarka:
Ensign Sirin Corsali, human, captain's adjutant
Commander Robert Aquila, human, captain
Doctor William Amalfitano, human, chief medical officer
Lieutenant Zarijan Izraad, human, intelligence officer and chempath
Crewman Xos� Tasende, human, ship's pathologist
Doctor Jenna Fleming, human, medical officer
Lieutenant Drakin, Eltannian, nurse/surgeon
Ensign Tace Pardix, human, former chief navigator, now renegade
Lieutenant Edwin Teague, human, exec
Ensign Ife Lesedi, human, chief weapons officer
Lieutenant Alain Perou, chief engineer
Chercjengh'khusaaq Abhijit'tischinjgra, Sha'ashahn (rank equivalent to commander); goes by his use name, Khusaaq
Sarhah'matoosh Abhijit'tischinjgra, Ruh'ta'aq (rank equivalent to lieutenant); goes by his use name, Matoosh
A'uha-larkahn'qar'qaah Abhijit'tischinjgra, Kon'ta'aq (rank equivalent to corporal); goes by his use name, Qar'qaah
Teq'tu'narbrooi ket Tashar'anhi, Hahtra'tzrhi (rank equivalent to fleet admiral) of the Orthodoxy destroyer, Faridour; goes by his use name, Narbrooi
Pashna'gaalan ket Tashar'anhi , Nahru'tzhri (rank equivalent to captain), Khusaaq's former commanding officer; goes by her use name, Gaalan.
Jonathan Urbat, human ringleader of the group who kidnapped Ensign Corsali and Lieutenant Drakin in order to entrap Khusaaq
Syr, human, one of Urbat's accomplices
Pava, Matarran, one of Urbat's accomplices
Mathoc, Looper, one of Urbat's accomplices
Seitakap, President of the High Council of the planet Tuli
Ensign Sirin Corsali reluctantly opened her eyes at the whispered voice. It took her groggy mind a moment to realize that she was staring into Qar'qaah's filthy, robe-shrouded back�and more critically, the voice not only wasn't Qar'qaah's but came from behind her.
She turned her head and looked up.
Jonathan Urbat, one of her kidnappers she thought she'd eluded, loomed over her, his blaster pointed at her face. As their eyes locked, he grinned and stepped back. "Up�and keep your hands where we can see 'em."
She did as she was told, leaving Qar'qaah's pistol under the pillow where she'd hidden it earlier, and peeled the blanket back slowly. As she levered herself up to a seated position at Urbat's urgent motioning, she noticed he wasn't alone. The Poondian landlady stood nearby, bracketed by a Matarran and a Looper.
It took Sirin only an instant to recognize the two aliens as the very same pair from the caf� the day before. Gods...!
"Now you've got what you want," the Poondian said as she started to back step towards the doorway, "you'll be leaving, just as you agreed?"
The Matarran clamped his hand on her shoulder, stopping in her tracks and growled, "Not so fast."
The Poondian, her swarthy face turning a shade paler, glanced wide-eyed at his restraining fingers, then at Urbat.
"No need to dash off, is there?" Urbat replied sweetly, to which the woman visibly swallowed. "We haven't thanked you properly for assisting us in retrieving these two... ship jumpers." He nodded to the Looper.
The Poondian, clearly thinking the worst, stammered, "N-n-no n-n-need to to t-t-thank m-m-me, I w-was..." but her frightened voice abruptly trailed off as the Looper offered her a handful of tokens. She stared at them, tempted but hesitant then at the Looper's prodding gesture, snatched them from his furry palm.
"I hope it goes without saying," Urbat continued in the same affable tone, "we'd rather you not mention this to anyone else who might come asking�wanna keep this matter from our captain's ears you see�he's not a man who is as... forgiving as we are."
"Of course! I run a respectable establishment here�don't want no trouble from no one." She eyed Sirin as the Matarran released his hold, then she hurried from the room, closing the door behind her.
Urbat chuckled, then, using his free hand, pulled his tac-pac from a pocket and brought it to his mouth. "Tace? Lock onto our coordinates. And you�" he again motioned to Sirin with his blaster. "Up."
Sirin did as she was told and slowly rose from the bed.
"Now move aside." Urbat again gestured with the weapon.
She remained where she was. "Why?"
"So you can shoot him in the back while he's sleeping? He can't�"
"Shoot him in the back? Why would I want to do that? He's worth a fortune alive�not much at all dead."
Out of the corner of her eye, Sirin noticed Qar'qaah start to slide his hand under the pillow and to his pistol. So not in fact asleep... The Matarran noticed too, and was just a split second faster than Qar'qaah: he fired his shocker. The beam hit Qar'qaah square between the shoulder blades.
Sirin screamed, "NO!" as Qar'qaah convulsed. Then, before she could grab him, he rolled lifelessly forward, tumbling off the narrow bed to land face first in a tangle of blanket and robe. She started for him, but Urbat grabbed her arm and jerked her back. "Oh no you don't!"
"Don't worry, your lover boy there isn't dead."
Sirin started to open her mouth, her eyes darting between the inert heap that was Qar'qaah and Urbat. Then she thought better of it. If they believed Qar'qaah was Khusaaq then he did indeed have value. Enough, she hoped, to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed�she'd worry about the consequences of the deception later�assuming there was a later. If Urbat knew the truth, he'd likely kill him�and her too for wasting his time. Ensign Tace Pardix, Urbat's partner in crime she noted, was noticeably absent and that left her wondering about his fate. His absence, though, did mean that no one present had ever actually seen Khusaaq up close....
Urbat, still holding her arm in a painful grip, motioned irritably to the Matarran with his blaster. "What are you waiting for, Pava?�we haven't got all day. Go on!"
The alien unhappily and warily walked around the bed, in the process tossing the pillow aside and revealing the pistol. He favored Sirin with a smirking look, then at Urbat's prodding dip of the chin and keeping his shocker pointed at Qar'qaah's head, he grabbed the pistol and stuffed it in his belt. With a nod to his Looper companion, who stepped closer, his blaster now covering the Matarran, the alien yanked the blanket free of Qar'qaah's limp body, then began patting him down for more weapons.
Qar'qaah's utility knife was yanked from its sheath and placed on the bed but, in a display of an abundance of caution by the Matarran, well out of Qar'qaah's ready reach, followed a minute later by his weapons belt. The Matarran then shoved Qar'qaah onto his back and placing a knee on Qar'qaah's stomach, began roughly frisking him, sparing no part of his body, with little of the expected aversion to touching a Hahtooshan, much less Qar'qaah's slowly morphing trousers. In the process of his very thorough search, the alien found a tiny locator clipped to a fold of his robe's cowl.
He held it up for the others to see and grasp its significance then the Matarran placed it on the floor not far from Qar'qaah's head and with more force than was necessary, smashed it with the butt of his shocker.
Satisfied, he grabbed the utility knife, then rose and slipped it into his belt as well. At Urbat's nod, the Matarran slung Qar'qaah's weapons belt over his shoulder, and as the alien stepped away, he eagerly fingered his undisputed reward for doing the hands-on frisking: Qar'qaah's maser pistol.
Urbat let Sirin go, walked over to Qar'qaah and knelt down, then pulled out a small, spatula-shaped device from his hip pocket, shoved it into Qar'qaah's gaping mouth and scraped it across his blistered tongue; a moment later tiny machine bleated softly.�
Urbat grinned at his confederates. "Perfect match, down to the very last short tandem repeat." He patted Qar'qaah on his barely moving chest. "This is our boy all right." He got back to his feet and turned to Sirin. "I knew you'd lead us to him. All we had to do was let you think you'd escaped, then follow you."
He stepped closer, tapped the collar of her jumpsuit. "Another imbedded tracking device. Granted, we lost you due to this planet's damned jamming, but then you decided to find a place to hole up in 'til morning and in a case of pure dumb luck, we just happened to pass by this marvelous establishment and reacquired the tracker's signal. Lucky for us that is�not so much for you and your lover boy here."
Sirin scowled at Urbat as she slipped around him then she knelt beside Qar'qaah and felt for a pulse, satisfying herself he was in fact still alive as Urbat brought his tac-pac back to his lips and said,
"Syr... it's go time. Agreed upon rendezvous."
Sirin fixed him with a baffled look.
Urbat grinned, said, "Just in case your friends who were following," he motioned to the shattered locator, "are listening."
A moment later and feeling the familiar tingle of a flicker, Sirin grabbed Qar'qaah's shoulders and barely had time to draw him tightly against her before the five of them were whisked away.
Khusaaq glanced sidelong at a clearly flagging Nihaal as they continued to make their way up yet another street, suspecting the young soldier, frustrated and exhausted, had finally reached the point where he could no longer continue. The trooper's telltale distortion, which should have read as an eeling bright cyan, was now little more than a sluggishly flickering watery green and getting dimmer by the minute.
So far it had been a long, so far utterly fruitless night for everyone. The locator Matoosh had attached to Qar'qaah's clothing had proven to be worthless, and worse, Tejat, working in close concert with the sensor officers aboard the two koursans had been unable to pick up Qar'qaah's personal identifier after the first few sporadic pulses, compelling Khusaaq's reluctant decision to request twelve attentional crew from Illuyanka and Kashkuh to assist in the ground search as well as break up the two groups from Jirah into smaller teams, all to cover more ground.
Together they'd thoroughly reconnoitered the southern and eastern landing fields and searched a goodly portion of the industrial district�an astonishing amount of ground covered by such a small number and in such a short period of time. Now, the Gorgon's Lair showed distinct signs of waking up. Streets, which they'd had largely to themselves aside from the occasional cargo crawler, were beginning to fill with creatures of all descriptions, rapidly increasing their risk of detection.
He'd been pushing everyone, not that he needed to as everyone was keenly aware that this was their last chance to find Qar'qaah alive. And Nihaal, along with the other three from Rasal Ghul, were paying the price, willingly giving more than their weakened bodies could deliver without one word of complaint.
Perhaps it's time to recall everyone, regroup, rethink... and yes, accept. "Yes, Ha'tat?"
"Tejat Ruh'ta'aq reports that a Coalition vessel has just entered orbit," Nihaal replied, adding with audible astonishment: "It's hailing Jirah... on an A'tuu'shahn-only frequency."
That totally unexpected news stopped Khusaaq in his tracks. He'd been so preoccupied with looking for any sign of Qar'qaah he'd left everything else, including monitoring feeds from the foldboat and koursans and communications with the other widely dispersed teams to Nihaal.�
"Jirah identifies it as..." Nihaal paused as he listened to the continuing stream of information before he continued, "the Coalition Patrol Ship, Baidarka? Tejat Ruh'ta'aq is requesting orders."�
Khusaaq looked upwards and the multitude of sensors contained within his helmet shifted their focus to search for the unexpected visitor. A moment later a telltale lit up and he murmured, "There you are..."
Nihaal, for his part, warily looked around him as he audibly caught his breath.�
Khusaaq tapped his chin on his visor's tac-net. "Tejat..."
"Tell the others to keep searching."
"Tell the others to keep searching," Khusaaq repeated with a trace of annoyance.
"Yes... ta'ahn. Of course." Tejat relayed the seemingly unnecessary order to the others and had no sooner confirmed acknowledgement from each team when Khusaaq said, "Can you patch the Coalition vessel's hail directly to me without it being detected?"
"Yes, ta'ahn�there may be some noticeable artifact, but�"
"Do it." He paused, heard the confirming echoing click of a connection, smiled a relieved smile and said, "Baidarka?"
There was a faint crackle of static then a familiar male voice replied, "This is Baidarka, Sha'ashahn. How may we be of assistance?"�
"It's a bit complicated, Commander Aquila�perhaps it would be best if I explained in person?"
"Of course," Aquila replied.
"Stand by." He motioned for Nihaal to follow him as he hurried into a side alley, stopping only after they were well away from its mouth, next to what at one time had been a shipping container and now clearly served as a trash dump. He glanced back at the street and muttered, "It will have to do."
"Do, ta'ahn?" Nihaal said an instant before Khusaaq grabbed his arm and drew him into the concealing gap between the container and the alley wall.
"Transmitting locator identifiers... now," Khusaaq said.
There was a momentary pause then the disembodied voice said, "Received, Sha'ashahn."
"Ready on your order, Commander."
"Just you, or�"
"Both." Khusaaq barely had time to notice Nihaal's wan distortion quiver as the trooper's helmeted head snapped towards him before the flicker effect washed over both of them.
A moment later, a rapidly enlarging beige wall rushed towards them, but just before it would have made impact, it stopped and solidified into the ubiquitous interior door of a Coalition flicker mechanism.
The door slipped open and Khusaaq found himself staring at a familiar trio of faces: Doctor William Amalfitano, Lieutenant Zarijan Izraad and Commander Robert Aquila, all of whom were standing not far away and within yet another familiar sight: the Baidarka's main flicker chamber�scene of his bloody escape only a few weeks before. To his young companion, though, these Rimmers were still the enemy, a long hated and deeply distrusted enemy. Even more disconcerting for Nihaal was that he found himself confronted, to his obvious shock going by his sharp intake of breath, by three A'tuu'shahn'i. His hand instinctively reached for the grip of his maser pistol.
The three bodyguards assigned to Amalfitano instantly mirrored Nihaal's reaction while shielding the doctor with their own armored bodies.
"No," Khusaaq warned over the link.
Nihaal obediently, but unhappily dropped his hand to his side and the three soldiers reacted accordingly, to some extent relaxing their own tense posture. Their watchful stares never wavered from the fully armored Nihaal�or his pistol hand.�
Amalfitano sharp-elbowed his way through the burly A'tuu'shahn troopers, his eyes searching the new arrivals' expressionless blast visors. "Khusaaq...?"
Khusaaq unclipped and slipped off his helmet. Tucking it under his arm and smiling, he stepped out of the flicker chamber. "Doctor!"
Amalfitano grinned a decidedly relieved grin, clapped him on his armored back and said, "Gods, I'm so happy to see you!" then he looked past him to Nihaal and gave him a quick once over with his eyes. He turned to Khusaaq. "Not Matoosh."
"No. One of those left behind on Rasal Ghul."
"Narbrooi's been keeping us informed�said you'd managed to rescue all of them,' Amalfitano added as he turned his smiling attention back to Nihaal. "Good job!"
Khusaaq impatiently motioned to Nihaal. "Quh."
Nihaal stepped out of the flicker chamber and stopped to stand rigidly beside Khusaaq as Aquila and Izraad approached.�
"Doctor Amalfitano, Commander Aquila, Lieutenant Izraad, this is Nihaal T'agoon Tlekuschke, Ha'tat."
Nihaal, at Khusaaq's prodding stare, unenthusiastically unclipped and pulled off his helmet, then clutching it to his chest, dutifully�but very briefly�made eye contact with each of the three officers, all of whom, Khusaaq noted, reacting to Nihaal's very sickly appearance with varying degrees of shock.
"Welcome aboard the Baidarka, Nihaal Ha'tat," Aquila said.
Nihaal glanced at Khusaaq, then turned back to the Rimmer and replied with obvious uncertainty but in nevertheless perfect trade-use Standard, "It is my... honor, Commander Aquila. Thank you."
Aquila smiled warmly and nodded, then turned his attention back to Khusaaq. "I'm given to understand one of the rescued has gone missing?"
Khusaaq flicked Amalfitano, then Izraad a quick glance before answering with a weary, "Yes�"
"I suggest we adjourn to the conference room," Amalfitano interrupted, critically eyeing the haggard-faced Nihaal and then the equally exhausted appearing Khusaaq.
Aquila nodded his agreement. "Of course. I'm sure you'd both like to sit down, and have something cold to drink�"
Out of the corner of his eye, Khusaaq noticed Nihaal reflexively swallow and lick his lips at the idea of something to drink. For him sitting down, getting his weight off his aching leg had the greater appeal, but he too would happily accept a cold drink.
"�and you can fill us in on all the details and what can we do to help."
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