Chapter Eleven – Levene’s Raiders
Max Levene lay on the uncomfortable cot in the darkened confines of the destroyer’s brig. He cursed his luck at being captured on that damned rock in the back of nowhere in the Droag cluster six month ago. Since he had been drummed out of the Earth Defence Force for annihilating the population of a peaceful settlement in the middle of the Hadjet campaign, in the autumn of 2720, he had wandered aimlessly throughout the Alliance trying to make a few credits here and there. When the offer of the only real work he understood was made, the old Levene was once more back in command of his destiny. Being a mercenary paid well. Some of the benefits were worth having, like that Najim female he won in a card game back on Molaat Nine.
The entire damned Droag episode had been a dog’s breakfast from the start. Tigroth, the warlord who hired the mercenary group he was a part of, handed them over to the Alliance to escape paying for their services—the scum bag! Now here he was enjoying the delights of Alliance ‘hospitality’ once more.
“Get up!” the guard ordered, jabbing him with his electric nightstick.
“Where are we going?” Levene asked, as the lift climbed to the flight deck.
“Shut your mouth,” growled the master-at-arms, viciously jabbing Levene in the ribs with the barrel of his pistol. He hated mercenaries. They were the scum of the universe in his eyes. Levene stared out through the shuttle’s force field windows as it flew towards the flagship. With each ship the shuttle passed, he saw practically every planet in the Alliance represented within the fleet. Something real big is going on—but what?
When the shuttle landed inside the docking bay aboard the carrier, Levene and his escorts were taken to the admiral’s day cabin, where he stood silently between the master-at-arms and the guard, his eyes taking in every detail of the cabin. The admiral closed the copy of Levene’s service record and stared at the disgraced former colonel. Until the massacre, Levene’s record had been exemplary. On more than one occasion he had been awarded medals and citations for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. It was hard to reconcile what he read with the mercenary standing before him. But then again, he never really understood the human part of the Human-Nephile make-up. Memnet looked past Levene to where Seth was seated in the corner of the room. “Are you sure he’s the man for the job?” he asked.
“I’m sure,” Seth replied, standing up and walking over to where Levene stood.
“Release him,” commanded Memnet. He left the cabin with the escort party.
Seth gestured towards a comfortable seat. “Drink?” he asked, pouring two glasses of Kalak and passing one to Levene.
“Thanks,” snarled Levene, as Seth offered a cigar from the box on the admiral’s desk. He took a long drag savouring the taste before releasing the spent smoke into the air in a series of small clouds.
“How are you, Max?” Seth asked.
“Oh considering I’m persona non-grata—not bad,” he replied, bitterly.
“You brought it on yourself. No one else put you where you are right now!” Seth replied, angrily.
“Why in hell didn’t you back me?” Levene growled.
“How could I? What you did was unforgivable. Killing innocent civilians because you were frustrated by their lack of help – it’s worse than unforgivable. We’re not Drana!” Seth was beginning to think this was not such a good idea after all.
“OK, so why am I here, general?” Levene asked.
“We need you—I need you, to organize a search and rescue mission,” Seth said. “The mine on the planet below was worked by prisoners sent there by the Drana. Because the air search has drawn a blank, we need to know if anyone is trapped below ground level. You used to explore caves for recreation—right? That makes you ideal for the job,” the general concluded.
“Expendable, you mean, don’t you!” Levene replied contemptuously.
Seth ignored the outburst. “Consider yourself lucky you’re back in uniform, colonel,” Seth said. “Anything you require for the mission, draw from supply. Pick your team and report here at 1400 hours tomorrow.”
Levene felt better after his sonic shower and a change of clothes. He peered out of the window of his quarters watching the activity within the fleet. Fighter squadrons constantly patrolled. Troop transports ferried personnel to the mining complex. With his reinstatement came all the privileges of his rank. The security level the general had authorized for him meant he could go anywhere, ask any questions and access any information he needed to get the job done. He sat at his small desk carefully working his way through the list of names retrieved from the fleet records. Finally after several hours, his team was ready.
“You have to be joking, Max!” Seth said, shaking his head as he slammed the list down on the desk. “You want this lot—why, for pity’s sake?”
“You told me to assemble the best, general, and that’s the team I want!” Levene snarled.
Seth sat in silence and reread the list. Kapinski (Human) weapons specialist. Status—currently awaiting death sentence on Absolum in the Andromedan Galaxy for mass murder on Baneer. Mdjat (Noreean) explosives specialist. Status – sentenced to double life on the Dregan penal colony for killing innocent civilians in a bar brawl while on leave on Gimen Alpha. Orz (Kaltaarian) interrogation specialist. Status – sentenced to fifty years hard labour on army penal colony in the Axaar cluster for murdering his family while under the influence of Kavorgian weed on Vilargo. Temo (Bhakturian) communications specialist. Status – sentenced to thirty years hard labour on the combined forces penal colony in the Benna system for contributing to the destruction of two Hadit class battle cruisers, killing all aboard while on live fire exercise in the Taygo nebulae.
Seth shook his head. “And you want the Drana as well?”
“You got it,” Levene said, with a contemptuous smile. “Well general, do we have a green light or do I just go back to the brig right now?”
“Huh—all right!” Seth reluctantly replied.
Levene snapped to attention, saluted, turned on his heel, and left. The irony of the act was not lost on Seth as Levene disappeared down the corridor. Even when he saluted a superior officer, he always managed to somehow or other inject a measure of contempt. The team assembled in the hanger deck twelve days later. Around them lay the boxes Levene had appropriated. “Pack your equipment and check your weapons, ladies, we move out as soon as the final member of our team arrives.”
“Kapinski—catch,” Mdjat grinned, as he tossed him a stun grenade. Temo carefully folded the communications dish and its attendant equipment stowing it in his field-pack. Orz shaved the top layer of skin from his forearm with the razor sharp edge of his knife. Satisfied, he pushed it into the concealed sheath between his shoulder blades. All eyes focused on the figure approaching them. He stopped in front of Levene and reported. “Master sergeant Manesh reporting for duty, sir.”
Next time – Chapter Twelve