Swift Fox and the Pirates of the Jackai, Part Thirty-three
Pantheran Hub, officers’ common area
The Pantheran Hub was much different than many of the other orbital platforms in the Lupine Star System. Yes, it had a merchant’s quarter, but the larger bulk of it was set aside for the Pantheran Imperial Fleet. The ship building yards, which built and repaired all of the ships in the fleet, where steadily busy. Troop movements almost always went through the Hub before heading out into space. It was here that Admiral Felan Tal had called two officers that he knew he could trust.
Those two officers were Commander Jarin Tor and Commander Yenna Fal. Both had proved themselves time and time again as loyal to keeping the peace in the sector. Sometimes, that would mean taking offensive action in a situation. But always, they tried to negotiate before using deadly force. Jarin had graduated from the Academy with full honours, and many believed he should have been fast tracked to his own ship, but he wouldn’t have it. He wanted experience in the fleet before he took command of his own vessel. Yenna was similar, but she had to work extra hard. She may not have had the marks or the accolades, but she had the work ethic, and she was able to read situations quickly.
Both were black Pantherans, which was extremely rare in the fleet. It meant they met with some adversity and some prejudice. To the eyes of someone like Admiral Felan Tal, he saw a pair of cadets who knew what they wanted. Tal at a younger age would have thought differently, but his experience from a cadet to his present position taught him a lot. His interactions were more favourable with those who thought in an intellectual manner. Much like his friendship with Tor Clarendale.
Both commanders had been summed from their duties, and asked to meet with the Admiral at their most convenient time. That often meant, right away. Both Jarin and Yenna informed their first officers and went directly to meet the Admiral. If Felan Tal wanted something and asked for you personally, you never questioned it, never hesitated, and never put it on your list to do later. As they met in the hall leading to the Admiral’s quarters, they talked lightly about recent events in the system. They wore the red and black of command officers and held the stripes of those in charge of their own vessels. It wasn’t long before Tal’s personal assistant approached them and asked them to follow her. Both nodded and quickly followed, straightening their tunics as they walked behind the assistant into Tal’s personal chambers.
Inside, Tal was at his desk, going over the details of those ships under his command. As the commanders entered, they saluted smartly. “Commanders,” he said as he rose to his feet and saluted them back. “At ease. Please take a seat. There is a good deal to discuss.” He motioned to his assistant. “Kela, if you please, fetch the commanders tea. I believe there is a ginseng tea in my pantry.” She nodded and went off to prepare the tea. Jarin perked an ear as he took his seat. But it was Yenna that made comment.
“Tea is a common formality for Vulpine,” she stated. “I take it that our reason for being here will be with a ship affiliated with the Authority?”
“Not affiliated,” Tal replied as his assistant brought back a tea service. “However, the ship is commanded by a Vulpine. You may have heard of her history. The Barrow’s Revenge.” Yenna and Jarin looked to each other for a moment. The name was very familiar in Pantheran ranks and did have a history in the sector. “I require that you two have your ships escort the Revenge into port at the Hub.”
“The Revenge is a cargo cruiser, sir,” Jarin spoke up as he took his tea. “Granted, she has weapons systems and has been known to fight off Jackai raiders and even Pantheran pirates. But we’ve never had to escort her before.”
“This is true,” Tal nodded in reply, informing Jarin he was indeed correct in his assumption. “I trust you are familiar with some of my suspicions.” Both nodded quickly. “There is a slight breakdown in the command situation of this fleet. The Revenge at present has a Central Council Agent that they are bringing here. As well, they have the communication logs of a Jackai ship known as the Hyna’s Dread. They encountered it in the Run and managed to fight it off and capture the crew. You remember the wave that went across the command channels about the Tiger’s Claw?” Again, both commanders nodded, knowing fully well what happened. “The Night Sky reported she was lost in battle. Let’s say that was a fabrication on Commander Riktar’s part. Riktar has compromised his allegiance. My suspicions that he has been the guiding hand of the Jackai are becoming clearer. The Revenge now has the proof. Which means the Revenge must be protected.”
“Riktar’s betrayal can’t be his own, Admiral,” Yenna said as she set down her tea. “If I may speak freely, I believe that it might go further.”
Tal nodded, but placed a finger to his lips as though he were shushing someone. “Keep those thoughts to yourself for now, Yenna. If there is a deeper conspiracy, we’ll need commanders like yourself and Jarin. For now, let us concentrate on bringing in the Revenge. I want that evidence. And I need to make sure that a promise I made to Admiral Tor Clarendale is kept. You will make yourselves ready to leave port at once. Contact the Revenge as soon as you do, make it over general hails. If Riktar knows that the Dread was taken, he’ll most likely be going after the Revenge. You two making your presence known, and the fact you are to escort them might make him think twice.”
“If the Revenge has evidence against him, Admiral,” Jarin stated as he rose to his feet. “That will make him dangerous. We’ll make sure that all hands are ready for battle stations as we make our way to the Revenge.” Yenna nodded in reply, not needing to add to what Jarin had already said. In response, Felan Tal rose to his feet and saluted them both. Without another word, the two commanders went to carry out their orders.
The Barrow’s Revenge
They had left the Wayfarer’s Belt far behind them, but they still had a great distance to go before they arrived at the Pantheran Hub. Norrin sat in the crow’s nest with Griffin and Taffy, studying the long range scans, checking patrol movements, and listening for communication chatter. So far, it was quiet, they weren’t close enough to the Hub to hear the general commotion made over comm channels. Most ship traffic was confined closer to the hub, though they had taken note of a few cargo cruisers that were passing close by in the system. When one was in visible range, Griffin would send out a hail, asking about the situation closer to the Hub. Most of these were Lionid vessels, and the Revenge had a good reputation with the Lionids. Norrin guessed that by this time, Red Streak was already busy ripping apart the Dread. In a couple of hours, they should have the ship stripped clean, and begin logging inventory in their reclamation hold.
Griffin’s ears perked up as a signal came across the communication console. He ran it through filters, identifying it immediately. “Captain,” he called out quickly. “We are receiving a hail from the IPF Osprey. Commander Yenna Fal is using a priority one channel.” He looked up from his console, directly to Captain Clarendale. “Every ship in the fleet will hear this.”
“I assume they are doing it so that everyone knows exactly what is happening,” Crena said with a sigh. “An interesting ploy, and nonetheless dangerous. Patch it through, Mr. Griffin.” Griffin nodded and made the connection, soon Commander Fal’s voice was heard across the bridge.
“Greetings, Captain Clarendale,” she stated in a formal sounding voice. “Admiral Tal has instructed the Osprey and the Kestrel to rendezvous with you and escort you to the Pantheran Hub. We should reach you in approximately four hours.”
“Thank you, Commander,” Crena replied. “I do hope this isn’t too much trouble. We don’t wish to put a damper on any fleet movements.”
“Not at all, Captain. We can talk more when we reach you. Commander Tal out.” As quickly as the communication came in, it ended. But in those few words, it spoke volumes to Crena.
“I believe,” she finally stated after some thought. “That was a warning.”
“A warning, Captain?” Gor’lan said as he stood in his usual place next to Crena. “Do ya b’lieve that there could be trouble?”
“I believe that would be correct,” she said as she looked over to Agent Townes, who had stepped forward during Crena’s short conversation with Commander Fal. “Wouldn’t you say so, Agent?”
“Commander Fal is one of Admiral Tal’s trusted commanders,” Townes stated flatly. “She commands a Stalker Class cruiser. Not a destroyer, but it packs a punch and has speed to match. She usually runs with a twin Stalker called the Kestrel, as she stated. Commanded by Jarin Tor. I’ve met both, they’re good at what they do, and very trustworthy.”
“As I recall,” Crena said with a nod of thanks to Townes for his information. “A single Stalker Class took out the RVA Tritan during the Great War.” Townes nodded with the information. “I’d say sending a couple of ships like that is a boon to us. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to see them in action. I’d prefer we get to the Hub with as little bloodshed as possible.”