Sharoma Frontierverse Why Did The Groigan Dance? Chapter 23

Why Did The Groigan Dance?

Chapter 23

Disaster and Betrayal

"One minute to rendezvous, sir." Bush looked up out of his reverie, surprised the time had passed so quickly, for him at least. In his chair, Anthony had his head on his shoulder, snoring softly. Duval, however, was sitting as serenely as ever, and even flashed the Baron a quick thumbs-up.

"Roger that, flight leader," Bush replied, flicking a switch on the transmitter. "And it's back to 'sir' now, is it?"


"The one and only. Feeling fine and I'm your guiding hand now."

"Nice to have you back, Wolf."

"Aye aye, time to kick some ass, sir," Taranis piped in.

"That's what they tell me. Listen, when you come out of hyperspace in Sol, Sinclair will be waiting in a standard issue merchant - class Panther, registration JJ - 665. He's had a large plasma accelerator installed, so he's to be put in your "bomber" squadron. I've dug up an old program describing ancient earth aircraft formations..."

"...and decided to send each of the five heavy ships (including Sinclair's) off on a separate vector, each with an two escort groups flying in a loose finger four. This is the formation that was used in the "bombing runs" of the pre-space war called World War Two. This technique has fallen by the wayside lately, so I hope to have a better success rate than they did."

"I thought Sinclair made it so we couldn't be detected, sir?" Taranis queried from the seat across from Redfield. He was chewing on his bottom lip again, Redfield noted. Well, everyone deals with the pressure one way or another.

"Yes, he did," Bush's voice said from over the speakers. "But even so, that is no excuse for poor techniques. I expect this fast and by the book, boyo's. I'm watching you, do me proud."

"Aye, sir," the two said in unison, and Redfield felt sweat begin to drip on his forehead.

A red light began flashing on the control panel. "Five seconds to reentry," the computer said. ""

Sinclair watched as the deep black of space disappeared in a bright flash of blue as fifty four ships leapt out of hyperspace in front of him. Foremost was Redfield's destroyer Paladin, followed by a Courier, a Boa, and an Imperial Trader, the whole of the bombardment ships; these in turn were followed by fifty escort ships, the "light fighters" (though the word light may be a bit deceiving, as all had been equipped with class eight hyperdrives due to their foldspace capabilities). Enough firepower to demolish a small planet, or a large space station. Enough firepower pointed at Sinclair to make his throat itch for a Sohoan Red. Instead of synthesizing one, however, he instead flicked a switch on the control panel.

"Flight leader, this is Janus," Sinclair said. "Welcome to Sol, we hope you enjoy your visit and don't hesitate to ask if you desire anything."

"Roger that. How's the weather?"

"Sunny, with an evening forecast of fire and brimstone."

Sinclair heard Redfield laugh over the speakers. "Good thing we brought our raincoats," the Count replied. "Good news, Wolf's back and in command. One of those foldspace transmitter things we all have in our ships."

"Hiya Sinclair," Bush's voice suddenly said. "Now stop saying my name, Red, I'm trying to think and when Flight Leader says my name I am automatically informed and patched in."

A brief bit of silence filled the cramped cabin (probably Red apologizing and receiving further orders), then Red's voice came over the speaker again: "Ready to saddle up, partner?"

"Hey, you're the late ones to this hoe down."

"Fall in line then, soldier, but don't turn on your stardreamer yet," Red said plainly, then the dreaded silence filled the room again, and the squire felt begin to drip on his forehead.

Then the speakers clicked to life again and Bush filled Sinclair in on the details of the raid.

"...Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Sinclair replied to Bush's query. "What about the ships not assigned to a defensive role?"

"They'll be also be in a finger formation, but a very loose one, and used as an offensive group - attacking any enemies they see, responding to distress signals, et cetera."

"I see. Sinclair out." The foldspace transmitter fell dead.

Bush lapsed back into silence, studying the blueprints of the city and its defense network that Sinclair had managed to get out - he felt the beginning of a plan starting to work in the back of his mind.

"Do you feel that this mission will go according to plan, my dear Baron?" the Emperor asked from his seat, causing Bush to jump. He'd forgotten Duval was even there.

"No plans go according to plan, my lord. All we can hope for is a close twin."

"Well put, Baron." The Emperor turned his gaze to the small holoscreen in front of the Baron, its image already filled with little dots of white light representing the ships in the task force, with the bombardment ships a deep blue to identify them easily. "I will leave you to your planning now," the most powerful man in the universe said, leaning back in his chair. "As you told the Count, do not disappoint me."

Bush felt sweat drip from his forehead. "I won't sir." Then, to the fleet, he said "Set autopilots for Mars. Activate your stardreamers, boys, it's going to be a long ride."

In the central radar room of Mars High, Mark Raqoon leaned back in his chair, sipping on a cappuccino. This was the life - getting all the stock options that are due a Federal Military soldier, but out of harm's way, telling ships whether to fly left or right and scanning deep space for anything suspicious. A boring, easy job - the kind every soldier wants. Well, there was that anomaly a few days back, when the radars were filled with white, as if a lot of ships had hyperspaced into the system, but there were no corresponding blips that marked a ship, and the white disappeared almost instantaneously -they were almost a flash, really- so the commander had ignored it. This is definitely the life, Raqoon thought as he propped his feet on the control panel.

Beneath his scuffed boots, the virus Sinclair had implanted in the organic machinery of the Olympus Village defensive network multiplied, corrupting Mars High, making ships of a certain manufacture invisible to Federal radar, spreading to all the outposts in Sol. More than messages were being sent over the radio transmissions.

Nearing noon two days after the fleet members activated the star dreamers, Bush, now allowed to walk around, strode into the Hall of Alexander, which had been turned into an impromptu mission control. Amid the blinking lights and holoscreen images that filled the room, he found the Emperor and Anthony waiting patiently in chairs.

"About damn time Wolf," Anthony said with a lopsided grin. "Only thing happening is the most spectacular covert operation in history. No one's ever got an attack through to the homeworlds before."

"What the uncouth Lord is trying to say, beloved Baron, is welcome," Duval put in.

"Thank you, Sire," Bush said, bowing. "And you too, Mark."

"No problem, Wolf."

"Enough small talk," the Emperor said, waving his hand towards the controls. "It's time to wake the men up."

Bush nodded, and settled himself into the only free chair in the room, the one which had the holoscreen and foldspace transmitter in front of it. Grimacing, he activated the transmitter. "Rise and shine, men," he said, "One hour until showtime."

Hundreds of light years away, the hunters awakened began to stir.

Sinclair stretched, feeling the life come back into him. In the distance ahead, the green and blue orb that was Mars hung like a gigantic teardrop in the darkness of space. Sinclair quickly ran a systems analysis - the fun was only an hour away. Sinclair grimaced as he felt the tendrils of fear begin to twist his stomach.

Many kilometers away, Redfield awoke. Beside him, Taranis wiped the sleepy-seeds from his eyes, and the two of them looked up to find themselves staring at the beautiful planet of Mars. Exchanging brief glances, the duo immediately began pre-battle preparations.

Fifty minutes later, Bush looked up at the Emperor, who nodded slightly. The small lights representing the ships of the task force were almost on top of the gigantic green sphere that was Mars's doppleganger, having just passed a smaller globe representing Mars High. All was going according to plan. "Light the fires, boys," Bush whispered on the all-com frequency. "Pull those beltstraps tight, there's no backing out now."

Redfield looked down at the clock at the bottom left-hand corner of his display screen. Two minutes now. Taranis was in the back puking, the nervousness clawing at him again. Redfield smiled gently. As good as his co-pilot was, as many flights that he had flew in, he still got the jitters. Odd. It had quieted down some though - he'd probably be back momentarily.

Redfield leaned back, cracking his knuckles. These were his favorite times; the quiet time just before an operation, when the only thing to be heard is the soft drone of the ship's hyperdrive engine.

He heard footsteps behind him. "Time to rock, Dyl," Redfield murmured.

"Aye, that it is," Taranis's replied. His voice sounded sad but determined. "I am so very sorry that I must do what I have to do next, but we are all but cogs in the great machine."

"Wha...?" Then a terrible pain struck the Count in the back of his head, and all went black.

"Baron Bush, this is Dylan Taranis." Bush's head snapped up from the holoscreen. He grabbed the transmitter.

"Taranis? Where's Red?"

"I have placed him in the escape pod. No - be quiet now; allow me to finish. I am sorry about what I must do next, my friend - and you are my friend, no matter what happens, as incredulous as it may sound." A pause, and Bush took the time to glance at the other two in the Hall. Curious gazes stared back at him. "But fate guides my hand," Taranis went on, "The savior must be prepared." A choked sob. "Fare thee well, oh gentle Baron. I am not proud of what I have to do." Then a click.

"Dammit, Taranis, what the hell are you...!" He stopped in midsentence as the light for the Paladin, a small blue blip, tore away from the rest of the group and began to speed up, aimed at Olympus village.

The silence in the room was deafening.

Sinclair watched in amazement as Redfield's ship pulled out of formation and made a bee-line for Mars. What the hell? Sinclair leaped for the foldspace transmitter. "Red! What are you doing? Get back in formation, now!" he screamed into the small microphone.

A resigned chuckle replied. "Oh, dear, naive Sinclair," Taranis sighed.


"It has been pleasurable knowing you, young man, even if you were unconscious half of the time." The transmitter clicked off.

Sinclair sat staring at the thing.

Anthony watched silently, unbelievingly, as the Paladin's blue blip hurdled towards Mars. Of all the people he'd expect to turn traitor, Taranis was the last. He and Taranis had laughed together, had fought together, had gotten drunk together, had gone to jail together - but there he was, directing dozens of tons of reinforced duralium towards Mars with the intent of blowing the mission completely.

Anthony felt a lump in his throat while a small blip broke off from the bigger Paladin.

Sinclair gaped as a small escape pod shot out of the rear of the hijacked destroyer, the smooth metal glinting in the light from the heavy thrusters of the Paladin. A small flame came from its own end as the pod's interstellar drive kicked into gear.

The foldspace transmitter clicked on. "Get that pod! Red's in there," Bush cried. Sinclair thought he sounded a bit frayed.

"Yes, sir." Somehow, he managed to keep his own voice composed, despite the butterflies thrashing about his stomach. His throat screamed for Riedquatian beer.

He maneuvered the Panther around, adjusting his trajectory so that it intersected with the pod's. The Panther freefloated for a moment, simply continuing to glide. A short time later, he heard the tractor beam kick on, and felt the ship rock a bit as the pod came screeching to a halt in the cargo bay. Sinclair quickly had the computer run a scan on the lifeform in the pod; everything showed up fine, so the squire left him there for now, with more important and pressing matters requiring his continued presence in the bridge.

"Incoming transmission on general frequency, sir," the computer's cool voice intoned. General frequency? Sinclair thought. That's regular radio, not the foldspace!

"Federal dogs - I do this for the Emperor!" Taranis cried, then turned off the communications system. He sat back down on the floor of the destroyer, the coldness of it sending a shiver through his naked body. His faith was his protector now, his belief his cloak. He laid a hand on the tattoo on his chest, a small snake twisted in a figure eight, eating its tale. The classic infinity symbol. As he touched it, contentment filled his soul - he had fulfilled his destiny; the savior would be prepared. And if the preparations needed Taranis to sacrifice his life, so be it.

"Incoming ships," the computer said. Taranis looked up, the voice snapping him out of his daze. The radar screen showed small red blips - probably only police Vipers. Taranis smiled slightly - at the velocity this mammoth was traveling, they had no hope to deter it from its path. Even if they managed to blow Paladin in midair, the pieces would rain havoc on Olympus Village. He heard small dings as the Vipers bit at the shields with their laughable little lasers.

"Five seconds until impact,"

Taranis closed his eyes.

A bright white light, and then nothing.

Sinclair watched as a huge mushroom cloud bloomed over the industrial city of Olympus Village. The nuclear bomb that was standard operating equipment for a ship of that size had obviously exploded. He stared, shocked, as a cloud of dust and dirt expanded outward in the air above the city, and as the shockwave of the blast flew outward, flattening trees and small hills as it traveled across the green countryside. Utter devastation. Even the most dogged Fed-hater did not wish this upon them.

He was still staring a few minutes later when the foldspace transmitter cut back to life. "Everyone jump to the rendezvous coordinates," Bush said. He sounded tired and old.

Continue the story with Chapter 24