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       The Gatekeeper Chronicles, Book 1: Escape from Prison Base Luna, p.1

           Terrence McCauley
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The Gatekeeper Chronicles, Book 1: Escape from Prison Base Luna


  by Terrence McCauley

  Published by Pro Se Press


  This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters in this publication are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. No part or whole of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing of the publisher.

  Copyright © 2015 Terrence McCauley

  All rights reserved.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 1

  Captain Kyle Mackey of the Gate Keeper Unit of the Space Marshall Service toggled his Prowler’s instrument screen as his star fighter drifted through space. Riding the vacuum of space and nothing more.

  Normally, he would’ve killed time by listening to music or watching a video feed from Earth, but this wasn’t that kind of assignment. He’d been ordered to remain undetectable while watching space traffic into and out of Mars Gate. Protocol dictated that all systems except for life support and communications had to be dark so his Prowler scanned as just another hunk of dead metal floating through space.

  Since Mackey considered himself something of a historian, he thought of his assignment as an old fashioned speed trap that cops used to set up on sides of roads and highways. He was supposed to make sure only ships with prior authorization used the Martian gateway. He was also supposed to deter smaller star fighters like his Prowler from joyriding through the Gate to the growing Martian colony.

  It was a shitty assignment and one he probably deserved. The Marshall Service didn’t like to be defied and he’d defied them big time. He knew he’d get his chance to get out from under them. It was only a matter of time before he caught a break, but until then, he bided his time and did whatever they told him to do.

  He’d checked in millions of tons of starships through the portal that day and he was only half way through his shift. Since the invention and construction of the gateway that could bend the fabric of space, the push to settle and develop Mars had grown at an enormous rate. But not every ship was built for the trip. Freighters and military vessels and some cruise liners had the bulk and internal systems needed to survive the rigors of traveling through the gate unharmed.

  Small ships like star fighters and his Prowler could theoretically make the jump – in fact, many had - but were more likely to incur damage along the way and require rescue on the other side. The settlement of Mars was still in its early stages without all the rapid rescue capabilities of the Terran system. Joy riders through the gate were a pain in the ass.

  Mackey felt himself begin to fall asleep, so he took a VitaTab from the MediPak in the pouch of his flight suit and swallowed it. The tiny pill had enough adrenalin to give him the boost he needed to get through his shift.

  He was glad when his radio came to life. “G-K Two-Niner-Three, this is Lunar Command. Do you copy?”

  At least someone remembered he was alive. Mackey hit the reply button. “Lunar Command, this is G-K Two-Niner-Three. I copy, over.”

  A familiar, but less friendly voice came over the air. “G-K Two-Niner-Three, switch to SecCom Alpha.”

  Mackey knew this couldn’t be good news. Space Marshall Luis Polanco was a careful man who never took conversations off the official bandwidth unless it was important. Or another shit assignment to punish him for his supposed insubordination.

  Mackey switched to Security Communications Channel Alpha and braced for whatever chew-out session Polanco would throw at him. “Mackey here.”

  “Anything to report?”

  Since they were on a secure channel, proper radio protocol wasn’t required. “Your screen reads the same as mine, boss. You tell me.”

  “I guess you’re still pouting because I took your toy away from you.”

  Mackey knew Polanco was talking about the grounding of his Prowler and the system he’d installed in her. “Not at all, sir,” he lied. “I’m following my mission objective, just as I was trained to do. Sir.” He added the last ‘sir’ late for effect. Even on a secure channel, Polanco couldn’t charge him with insubordination if he was being polite.

  “Keep being an asshole about this and you’ll be on door duty for a lot longer than a month, Captain.”

  “I signed up to serve, sir. I’ll follow any orders…”

  “Knock it off. You’re out there because you’ve got a rotten attitude and you screwed around with a Gate Keeper vehicle without permission.”

  Since Polanco had brought it up, he asked, “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

  “Do you ever speak any other way?”

  “Velda isn’t just a Keeper vehicle anymore. She’s a craft I helped my father’s company design and build. All I did was make some improvements to her and field test those improvements at my own risk.”

  “And at the risk to any assignment I’d given you,” Polanco said. “As well as the lives of anyone flying with you or prisoners you’d been sent to apprehend. What if something had gone wrong on board that damned thing while you had a suspect on board? Did you ever think about the shit storm your tinkering would cause if a prisoner died in transit?”

  “No, because I would’ve been dead right along with him. Sir.”

  “You sarcastic son of a bitch. And you have the audacity to wonder why you’re in the doghouse.”

  “You gave me permission to speak freely, sir, and that’s what I’m doing now. My ship performs better than anything we’ve got flying and you know it. Better maneuverability, better weapons systems, and better cognitive responses than anything out there right now. Instead of putting her to good use, you’ve got her mothballed in a storage facility on the ass end of the moon.”

  “Because you won’t let us examine it,” Polanco said. “To prove that it’s okay to fly.”

  “She’s been flying for three years without a hitch. The improvements I made are mine, so if you want them, I should be paid for them. At least get credit for them.”

  Mackey could hear Polanco was getting frustrated. “I refuse to get into the same circular argument with you again, Captain Mackey. My previous offer still stands. Allow our techs to download her data and examine the ship and you’ll be back on regular duty in no time. I’ll even expedite your transfer request to the Martian sector. Until then, you’re stuck with a craft from the pool doing whatever needs doing.”

  “And stuck riding the vac.”

  “That’s the only assignment I have for you at the moment. You’ve got to get along to go along, Captain. You’ve been in the service long enough to know that.”

  He’d also been in the service long enough to know he’d never see a dime if Polanco’s technicians got their hands on his technology. It would be subsumed into that great galactic bureaucracy and copied – probably poorly – and downloaded into various systems throughout the fleet. The military would probably get hold of it, too. Probably for free.

  Mackey wouldn’t let that happen. His father had disowned him when he’d joined up with the Marshall Service in gen
eral and with the Gate Keeper Unit in particular. He said he’d spent too much money on his education for his son to be a cop. That’s why Mackey intended on beating his father at his own game one day. He wouldn’t get there by giving away his own technology.

  “I’ll keep your generous offer in mind, sir.”

  “Good, because you’re not going anywhere until you give us the specs on that ship. In the meantime, I’ve got an assignment for you.”

  There was no such thing as dog shit in space, but if there was, Polanco would assign him to clean it up. “Whatever you need, sir.”

  “We’ve lost contact with Fra Mauro Prison Base,” Polanco told him. “It’s probably just a busted transmitter but, as you know, protocol dictates we have to check it out.”

  The transmitters at the Marshall Service’s lunar SuperMax prison were always going down, so Mackey wasn’t alarmed. The facility was over fifty years old and things were breaking on the place all the time. “And we always follow protocol, don’t we, sir?”

  He heard Polanco stifle a curse. “You’re the closest bird I’ve got in the vicinity and I can’t spare the manpower it would take to send someone from Lunar Command to check it out. I need you to get over there, find out what’s happening and report back ASAP.”

  Mackey never passed up a chance to prove his point. “Are you ordering me to abandon my important post, sir, or should I remain in position until my relief arrives?”

  “Just do what you’re told, Captain. The Gate will still be there when you’re done investigating the prison base.”

  Mackey had already teed up another wisecrack when his ship’s proximity sensors began to sound. Instinct and training made him switch back to the standard Gate Keeper tactical channel. Command’s sensors always lagged a minute or two behind, so he knew this would be part of the official record. “Lunar Command, this is GK-Two-Niner-Three.” He double-checked his display to make sure he was reading it right. “My sensors are showing a proximity warning coming from the Martian side of the Gate. This is an unauthorized breach. I repeat. This is an unauthorized breach. Please advise.”

  The response from the dispatcher was immediate. “GK-Two-Niner-Three, this is Command. We copy your unauthorized access readings and confirm. No ships are scheduled to depart Martian space at this time. You are ordered to observe and report, only. I say again, observe and report, only. Do you copy?”

  “I copy, Lunar…”

  The absence of air in the vacuum of space meant an absence of sound, so he didn’t hear the portal activate as much as he felt it. The warning light atop the portal began to strobe, followed by a series of lights that flashed around the massive titanium circles making up the structure of the portal. It had been constructed to be twice the size of the largest known ship when it had been built three years before. As a result, ships built for the trek to Martian space had gotten longer rather than taller than the Gate.

  The mouth of the portal began to glow a bluish silver as the elements that stabilized the space between the portals was activated and the connection between both ends was made. Mackey watched a cloud of plasma burst forth into the opening just before the tip of the ship came through the portal. It was a beautiful sight even a jaded spacer like Mackey had never grown tired of seeing.

  Mackey broke stealth by bringing the Prowler up to full power; activating his engines and all of his shipboard sensors to get an immediate fix on the identity of the mystery vessel. He knew Lunar Command would get the information a minute or so after he did, so he began his narrative as soon as his systems identified the ship.

  “Lunar Command, this GK-Two-Niner-Three. We have a star freighter materializing at Lunar Portal Alpha.” He read off the information as it appeared on his screen. “It is Terran Freighter Opal registered to the African Union. No manifest on record and no permissions for Portal Transport listed for today. Last Martian embarkation is listed as seven months ago.” He tapped the Tactical screen to get a read on any defensive weapons the Opal might be authorized to use. “Opal does not, I repeat does not have permission for defensive armament but scans shows she’s been retrofitted with six pulse cannons. Do you copy?”

  “We copy, GK-Two-Niner-Three.” This time, it was Polanco. Since an intervention might be necessary, it made sense the senior officer in command had taken over. “You are to maintain a safe distance and observe the vessel. We will hail the ship when she gets in range. Do you copy?”

  “Copy, Lunar Command. Moving into a safe distance from Opal.”

  The Opal was a typical freighter; boxy and ugly, bristling with antenna arrays along its surface. Space faring vessels like freighters and most military warships weren’t designed to enter planetary atmosphere, so they were more utilitarian than streamlined. They often had thick armor and advanced energy fields to keep pirates at bay and, according to Mackey’s sensors, the Opal was no exception.

  There was nothing at all out of the ordinary about the ship except that it was armed to the gills with unauthorized pulse cannons.

  Mackey brought the Prowler to a safe distance behind the ship; high and to the port side per Gate Keeper intervention protocol. Given the official specs on the freighter’s pulse cannons, he should be out of range, but he didn’t take any chances. He readied the Prowler’s mini-cannons just in case.

  Polanco’s voice came over the Joint Lunar Communications Network used by all vessels in the area. “Star Freighter Opal. This is Lunar Command. You have entered Terran space without authorization. Please state your intentions immediately or prepare to…”

  Mackey’s warning systems came to life as his data screen blinked red. “Lunar Command: I’m being painted by Opal’s defensive systems. I repeat: I am being targeted by Opal’s guns. Taking evasive action.”

  He killed the alarm as he brought the Prowler into a fast roll, breaking off course. His screen showed a bay door opening up on the freighter’s port side and a missile array rising from below decks.

  Son of a bitch, Mackey thought as he hit his thrusters. These bastards are full of surprises.

  A new alarm sounded as his screen showed two missiles had been fired and were heading his way. “Command, Opal has fired two, I repeat, two missiles at me. Deploying counter measures.”

  Mackey’s proximity alarm continued to sound as he increased power to the engines and put more distance between him and the ship. On his display, the distance of the missiles to his position continued to run down like a stopwatch as he brought the Prowler into a tight spiral, trying to confuse the missiles’ guidance systems.

  The scanners showed they were depleted uranium warheads, not exactly nukes, but enough to blow his tiny craft into dust. If he’d been flying Velda, he would’ve been able to take them out with the defensive systems he’d devised, but as it was, he had to use the shit the Guard had purchased off the shelf.

  He waited until the missiles got closer, then deployed his decoys; guided drones that matched his ship’s frequency and heat signature long enough to pull the missiles off course. That was the goal, anyway.

  As the drones raced away from the Prowler, Mackey killed his thrusters to let the drones do their job. One missile took the bait, destroying itself and the drone in a tight blue blast of energy.

  But the other missile blew past the decoy and kept coming his way.

  Damned thing must be locked on my comm signal, Mackey thought as he hit the thrusters again. The proximity alarm kept sounding as the missile and the Prowler hurtled through space. The missile should’ve been running low on fuel by now, but it was still gaining. He deployed the last of his decoys, but the missile ignored them, too.

  Looks like he’d have to take the damned thing out the old fashioned way.

  He brought the Prowler into a ninety degree turn, racing straight up. The missile was fast, but not as nimble as a Prowler. It slowed a bit to compensate for the vector change.

  Mackey used those precious seconds to pull back on the stick until the Prowler broke its ascent and turned another n
inety degrees. As soon as he got a clear shot, Mackey opened up on the missile with his mini-pulse cannons until it exploded.

  He flew through the blue energy cloud of the weapon’s warhead and plotted a course straight for the freighter.

  Mackey knew his ship’s signature would be dulled for a few moments by the radiation his shields had absorbed from the missile. He didn’t have a moment to lose.

  “GK-Two-Niner-Three, this is Lunar Command,” Polanco said. “Report your status.”

  Mackey fed the thrusters all the energy they could handle. He had a hell of a lot of space to make up if he was going to catch the slow moving freighter and he didn’t have time to give Command a play-by-play. Besides, they’d watch the whole thing play out on screen.

  His display showed all of the freighter’s pulse cannons had been brought online. Opal’s scans were sweeping the area to get a lock on his position. He could see the invisible radio waves passing over his ship; confused by the residual radiation his shields held from the warhead.

  He settled in behind the freighter’s massive engines and came in fast. Staying in the energy wake of the big ship would only confuse Opal’s weapons systems even further. He tapped his tactical screen and locked his own cannons onto the freighter’s engines. Prowlers didn’t carry enough firepower to destroy anything larger than another fighter, but a couple of well-placed pulses from his mini-cannons should be enough to cripple the damned thing until the military could board her.

  Polanco continued to try to raise him. “G-K-Two-Niner-Three, we show your weapons are hot. Disengage. I repeat, disengage immediately. You can’t take on a freighter, Mackey. I am ordering you to cease and desist immediately!”

  Mackey’s display blinked green as his guidance systems locked on the most vulnerable part of the engine’s superstructure. He flew hidden in the slipstream until his onboard proximity sensors began to sound. He pulled up sharp, just above the blast of the engines, closed in tight, and fired.

  The mini-cannons fired an array of dozens of energy pulses at the engines per second, strafing the tail end of the vessel with withering fire. The Prowler’s warning sensors began to sound again as the freighter’s weapons systems acquired his signal. He banked right and strafed the missile launcher as he sped past, detonating all of the missiles in the launcher. The Prowler was buffeted by shockwaves as they exploded and the freighter’s engines ruptured to a halt.

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