The Biofab War (Biofab 1)Stephen Ames Berry / Science Fiction
The Biofab War
Stephen Ames Berry
Copyright 2012 Stephen Ames Berry
“Space opera in the Grand Ol’ Tradition.” Other Realms
“Kickbutt military science fiction!” Amazon reader review
To my fellow Ace and Tor author Melisa Michaels, in appreciation of her support, encouragement and many kindnesses.
Stephen Ames Berry’s novels have been published by Ace/Berkley and Tor/Macmillan. His latest novel is The Eldridge Conspiracy.
This edition differs from the original Ace Books’ edition. It’s been rewritten to reflect present-day Earth and changes later in the series. The plot is unaltered and the heavy blaster fire unabated. Kronarin vowel markers denote retention of High Kronarin spelling conventions.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Also by Stephen Ames Berry
The Battle for Terra Two
The AI War
The Eldridge Conspiracy
Copyright © 1984 by Stephen Ames Berry
Revised edition © 2012 Stephen Ames Berry
All rights reserved
Ace Books edition May 1984
Biofab Publishing revised edition November 2012
Last Draft Editing
Formatting and Conversion
Stephen Robert Gusmer
Table of Contents
ALSO BY STEPHEN AMES BERRY
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
THE BATTLE FOR TERRA TWO – CHAPTER 1
THE BATTLE FOR TERRA TWO – CHAPTER 2
THE BIOFAB WAR
“Mr. Natrol,” said Detrelna, “we hang naked in space, solar winds caressing our asses. There are things out here wanting to kill and eat us. How much longer on the shield, please?”
“Watchend, Captain,” replied Implacable’s engineer, his distraction clear over the commlink. “We’ll have it up by watchend.”
“You’ve chanted that the last three watches.”
“It’s risen from chant to certainty, Captain. Internal security systems are finally on line. Internal and external shield systems shouldn’t be interdependent, but are. The Empire probably quick-rigged repairs just before the Fall and that’s how she went into stasis. But now we can concentrate on the main shield.”
“Everything on Implacable’s either quick-fixed or inscrutable, Engineer. Regrettable you had to repair internal shielding first—it’s not as vital as our exterior shield—little chance of a Scotar assault force flitting onboard so far from home. Will I be seeing the comforting glow of our main shield when I look out the armorglass at watchend?”
“Maybe. It would speed repairs if you didn’t ask how they’re going every time I crawl into some dusty hole. So unless you’d care to come down from the bridge and grab a spanner…”
Detrelna switched off with a snort. Swiveling the command chair back toward the big screen, he caught sight of Hanar Lawrona’s grin. “Something funny, Commander My-Lord-Captain?” he asked, exaggerating the title.
“You can’t bait me with that anymore, merchant,” his first officer said good-naturedly, turning back to his console. “And you really shouldn’t harass Natrol. He’s the best engineer in Fleet—probably the only one who could’ve kept this relic moving across the galaxy.”
“He’s an ass.”
“No doubt,” said Lawrona. “A very competent ass.” And so are you, he thought.
Half the slim aristocrat’s age and twice his size, the captain’s image would never adorn a recruiting poster. Luckily for Implacable, the ex-Shtarian trader was as brilliant as he was large.
Lawrona looked up. “Be logical, Jaquel. We’re a long way from the war. There’s no reason for the Scotar to be this far out. Probably no reason for us to be, either.”
“Laguan called this vital mission, Hanar,” said Detrelna, invoking Fleet’s Grand Admiral. “If Archives thinks there’s a chance of finding an intact Imperial matter transporter anywhere in this galaxy, then a ship must be sent. Look on it as a shakedown cruise.”
“Maybe.” Lawrona shrugged. “But how many missions sent at Archives’ request have turned up anything? Two? Four. Out of how many? A hundred?”
“Yes, but one of those was an Imperial citadel with a squadron of cruisers in stasis.”
“A badly functioning stasis field, Jaquel. And one still marginally functioning ship. Our communications, weapons and defenses are unreliable.”
“Tell me something new,” said Detrelna, dialing up a cup of steaming hot t’ata from the chair arm. “At least the beverager works.” A chime sounded.
“Coming up on space normal,” said Kiroda, the very young, very bright subcommander manning Navigation.
If they get any younger, thought the captain, suppressing an urge to check with Natrol, we’ll have to toilet train. “Very well, Mr. Kiroda. Shipwide,” he said over the commnet. “This is the captain.” His voice echoed through the long miles of Implacable. “We’re entering a star system unexplored since before the Fall. I expect no trouble—we’re far from home and enemies. We’ll make ready, though. Prepare for battle stations. All personnel into warsuits. Captain out.”
Taking the silvery packet from a yeoman, Detrelna rose, unbuckling and setting aside his long-barreled blaster. Shaking open the warsuit, he tugged it on over boots and brown duty uniform, as did the rest of the bridge crew.
It didn’t look like much, that bit of silver foil. A recently recovered product of the millennia-dead Kronarin Empire, its secret still a mystery, the warsuit could briefly absorb blaster fire and double as vacuum and pressure suit.
“Let’s do it, Commander Lawrona,” ordered the captain.
“Battle stations. Battle stations,” Lawrona intoned, the klaxon briefly seconding him.
“All sections report ready,” reported Lasura a moment later.
“Stand by for space normal,” Kiroda said. All eyes turned to the big screen and the gray of hyperspace.
“Space normal . . . now!”
A tugging at the stomach, slight pain in the head, and it was over. Swirling nebulae and a billion hard points of light filled the screen, set among the obsidian of space normal.
“So. Here we are,” said Detrelna. “Anything, Hanar?”
The first officer’s long tapering fingers flew over his board. “Nothing,” he said finally, looking up from the telltales. “At least nothing hostile. Primitive radio signals from somewhere in-system—too fragmented for immediate analysis. I’ll set computer on it. Permission to launch a survey probe?” At Detrelna’s nod, he gave the order. What looked like one of the many small hull instrument pods shot from the cruiser.
“What have you got for me, Mr. Kiroda?” asked Detrelna.
“Class Five sun, at least ten planets,” said the young officer. “No ships’ traces, no functioning Imperial comm or nav beacons.”
“Which means we probe from planet to planet, looking for Imperial remains.”
“Best chances are with the inner planets, given this system’s configuration and those signals,” said Lawrona.
“Agreed,” the captain nodded. “Follow that probe, Mr. Kiroda. Hanar,” he said, rising. “Stand down from battle stations. I’m going to get some sleep. Call me if anything at all happens. You have the bridge, Commander,” he added formally, relinquishing his chair and his ship to Lawrona and heading for the closed armored doors. “And keep checking on Natrol.”
Leaning back from the desk screen, Detrelna reread the diary entry:
Arrived today in a star system unexplored since Imperial dreadnoughts last kept the Pax Galactica 5,000 years ago. Is this yet another idiocy conceived by the pedants of Archives in collusion with the cretins of Intelligence? There’re no traces of Imperial bases or survey satellites, though there may be a pre-space civilization on one of the inner planets. Have launched and am following a survey probe there.
The hastiness of Implacable’s refit becomes more painfully obvious each day. Our shield’s been down for what seems several lifetimes and two of our fearsome High Imperial Mark 88 fusion batteries couldn’t heat a cup of t’ata. Our most urgent equipment malfunction is the shield. If we’re attacked by another ship, or if Scotar infiltrators don’t obligingly teleport into a security-shielded zone such as Hangar Deck, we’re dead.
Filing the dairy entry, Detrelna punched up and devoured two large helpings of varx scrapple then dropped into bed, his blaster’s comforting lump beneath his pillow.
Awakening at midwatch, he called Engineering. “Well?”
“Fine, thank you, sir. And yourself?”
“Still down, but . . .” He continued hastily, forestalling an awesome tantrum, “we’ve traced the flaw—a relay junction behind some Hangar Deck bulkheads. I’ve got two techs on it. They should’ve reported by now.”
“Check and advise. Bridge, Detrelna. What’s our status and location, Hanar?”
“As you heard, still no shield. Internal security fields are available at need. We’re midpoint between the fifth and fourth planets. We’ve confirmed the signals are coming from the third planet. Sensor probes are negative. The outer worlds we’ve passed aren’t habitable and have no resources worth extracting—nothing there to interest the Empire. Number three’s the most likely.” He glanced at the data trail threading his screen. “Coming up on number four now. Several small moons. Little atmosphere—just another dead . . .” He broke off, blinking. “Kiroda, Lasura, check radiation sensors. N17 band just went off scale.” He checked the trace. “Confirm,” he said tensely.
Computer spoke urgently. “Alert! Alert! N17 sweep. N17 sweep. Request battle stations. Request battle stations.”
“Battle stations!” snapped Lawrona. “Jaquel,” he said into the commlink. “N17.”
“Peak, down, off?” shouted Detrelna over the din as battle klaxons rattled through the ship. He swung out of bed, pulling on his warsuit.
“Yes, but this far out?” said Lawrona.
Another voice came into the commband as the klaxons stopped. “Bridge. Engineering. Hangar Deck isn’t responding.”
“Scotar detected on Hangar Deck,” said the computer. “Security fields activated.”
“Captain here. That’s it, gentlemen—Hangar Deck. It’s their standard assault pattern—target the largest open area.” He tugged on his boots. “Apologies, Natrol. Thank the gods you got our security fields on line.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Don’t run with it. Hanar, speed, not subtlety.” He stood, strapping on his blaster. “They’re trapped—now we kill them. I’m closest—I’ll lead the counterattack. You trace that sweep to their base and take it out.”
“Jaquel!” his first officer protested. “Firefights are mine!”
“And you’re welcome to them. There’s no time to trade places. I was shooting it out with Mitan’s corsairs while you were still in the Academy. If nothing else, I’ll draw fire from the assault. Out.” With that, he ran into the corridor past crewmen hurrying to their posts.
Sealed behind the bridge’s thick battlesteel doors, Lawrona sat in the Captain’s chair, softly drumming his fingers on the arm. “Well?” he demanded, unknowingly mimicking Detrelna.
Kiroda looked up, shaking his head. “I need another transmission for a fix. It could be either the fourth planet or one of its satellites.”
“Bridge. Engineering,” called Natrol. “We’ve bypassed that faulty relay from here. I can give you seventy-five percent external shield now.”
Lawrona shook his head, eyes still on the screen with its tactical scan of nearby space. “Negative, Engineer. Leave the shield down. And drop Hangar Deck’s security field. Raise both instantly on my order.”
“Flanking Councilor Two to Imperial Seven,” challenged Natrol.
“Archon Five to Flanking Councilor Seven.” Though nonsensical as an I’Wor move, it made a fine authenticator.
“Very well, sir. Awaiting your orders.”
Kiroda looked up from the half-finished trace pattern threading across a telltale. “What are you doing, sir, if I may ask?”
“Getting you your N17 source to peek out at us, Subcommander,” said Lawrona. “They know we’re at battle stations. But we haven’t moved on Hangar Deck yet, so they may think it’s a drill. I’m hoping they’ll take the opportunity to flit in reinforcements before trying to move deeper into the ship. When they do, complete your trace.”
“But we’re at battle stations,” protested Lasura. “They’ll think primary shielding has come up.”
“Don’t worry,” Lawrona said, “I’m about to tell them it hasn’t.” Before he could do anything, the commnet chimed.
“Hanar, we’re in position. Have you gotten a trace yet?” At the head of fifty commandos, the captain was pressed against the gray wall of corridor A-10. Around the next curve, the double access doors to Hangar Deck stood sealed.
“No, sir. I was about to inspire it.”
“Do so. Let’s get this over with. Computer, Captain. Leave this channel tied into Commander Lawrona’s and acknowledge.”
The machine beeped its response.
“First Officer to Hangar Deck,” Lawrona said casually.
“Hangar Watch. Ensign Urola,” replied a familiar cheery voice. A dead man’s voice.
“Shield’s still down, Ensign. Engineering wants a two-man maintenance shuttle readied. There’s a faulty hull repeater.”
“Very good, sir. It’ll be ready when they arrive.”
“Thank you, Mr. Urola. Bridge out.”
“Did you get that, Jaquel?”
“Why can’t we be that efficient?” said the captain coldly, checking his weapon.
Kiroda adjusted a tacscan setting. “Got the slime. Mark 7, 148. The nearer satellite. Standard defenses.”
“Well done,” Lawrona nodded. “Mr. Natrol, external and internal shields now, please. Mr. Lasura, flank speed for target. Stand by gunnery. They’re all yours, merchant.”
Peering cautiously around the corner, Detrelna saw the security field’s hazy overlay blurring the doors. “Computer,” he said, striding purposefully toward the doors, weapon leveled, “this is the captain.” Behind him the commandos fell into skirmish order, M-32 blast rifles at high-port. “On my command, override the seal on Hangar Deck access A-10 and breach security shield to admit my party and me. After we enter, seal and shield the access, opening only on my or the first officer’s direct, confirmed order. Acknowledge and confirm.”
“Acknowledged. Assault Leader Four to Admiral’s Phalanx Nine.”
“Imperiad Four to Admiral Two.”
Detrelna looked at Danir. The young commando sergeant nodded. “Computer, execute!”
Detrelna charged through as the doors pulled back, an angry bull heading straight down the center of the cavernous hangar. The familiar sight of shuttles, scouts, and fighters nestled in their soft-lit berths didn’t reassure him. Something was wrong: it was too quiet. Hangar Deck was never quiet. There should have been thirty crewmen on watch, performing the necessary drudgery of maintenance and security. Nothing moved. Only the troopers’ footfalls broke the uncanny silence.
Detrelna waved his weapon to the right. A squad broke off, running for the ramp to Hangar Control, recessed behind a great slab of one-way armor glass high above the gray deck.
Walking from behind a shuttle, commslate in hand, a cherub-faced ensign looked up, astonished at the sight of the advancing commandos. “Captain?” he asked, smiling uncertainly. “Why the invasion?”
As he stepped toward Urola, Detrelna’s communicator screeched. Unhesitating, the captain fired a bolt straight into the ensign’s chest. His form ripping, Urola dissolved into a tall, dark-green insectoid. It fell to the deck, a hole seared through its thorax. Bulbous eyes staring sightlessly at the distant ceiling, it lay with legs and tentacles twitching as the humans stormed past.
From atop the flat-roofed shuttles and from behind landing struts, the indigo of Scotar blaster fire lashed out. “Assault!” Detrelna shouted needlessly, snapping off a shot as his warsuit took a bolt. The commandos swept past him, closing with the shapes that flickered in among the shadows, angry red lightning flashing from their rifles. Blue blaster fire touched but didn’t harm them, deflected by the warsuits’ ancient magic.
Unprotected by resurrected Imperial technology, the Scotar warriors fell back until cornered in Flight Operations, where a final volley finished them. Detrelna personally killed their last transmute, distinguishable from the warriors by its thinner exoskeleton and tapering upper tentacles.
“Lawrona,” coughed the captain, gagging on the stench of burnt bug. “The warsuits work. We’ve wiped out their assault force. No casualties. They got the hangar crew. Must have flitted their bodies into space. Have you hit their base?”
“We have.” The first officer stared at the blasted ruins mirrored in the screen. “They stopped the first missile wave, but the next took out their shipbusters and the third finished them. Medium-sized surface base—not hardened. We punched through their shield with the first fusion salvo. We avoided counter-fire, but I’d hate to shoot it out with another cruiser without max shield.”
“Very well. I’m on my way.” Turning, he headed for the corridor and the lift. “Well done, Sergeant. Tidy up,” he ordered, glancing at the Scotar corpses being stripped of weapons and heaped middeck for disposal. The viscous green ooze was spreading slowly across the black deck.
Stepping into the lift, Detrelna sketched his action report: alarm quickly sounded, target area sealed, and the ship’s reaction force, under his personal command, had killed the Scotar and wiped out their small base. The enemy destroyed, Implacable had resumed her mission. And yet disturbing issues remained. The captain voiced one as he sank into the command chair, dialing up a fruit drink. “What are the Scotar doing this far out on the galactic rim, Hanar?”
“Perhaps they’re also looking for Imperial gear?”
“Make as much sense as our doing so.”
Lawrona thoughtfully tapped the tip of the laser stylus against his teeth. “The question is, how long have they been out here?”
“Long enough to build a base and be annoying.”
“But why? Oh. Jaquel? While we were clearing out that Scotar nest, our survey probe’s been busy.” He nodded to where Kiroda sat reading a scan. “Those radio transmissions are confirmed—early cybernetic-age civilization on the third planet.”
“Cousins?” asked the captain.
“Probably, according to preliminaries. The Empire must have seeded half the galaxy.”
“Perhaps that makes them post-space rather than pre-space? Why haven’t the Scotar enslaved or exterminated those people?” Detrelna crumbled the empty cup between thick, blunt fingers, tapping it into the chair disposer. “The force we just beat could easily have taken one backward planet.”
“Let’s find out. If this system holds any help or any answers, that world is the place to begin.”
“Agreed. Mr. Kiroda,” said the captain. “I’ll take damage control and casualty readouts at my station. Mr. Lasura, resume original heading for the third planet. Commander Lawrona, stand down battle stations and maintain high alert.”
Triumphant from her first battle in five thousand years, Implacable left the molten ruins on Deimos and closed at speed on Terra, Mars fading behind her.