The Skinnie Gambit
a Roughnecks fanfic by Mr. Hook


"Robert Higgins has arrived, Your Excellency. His security arrangements have all been taken care of. His shuttle will depart for the Valley Forge shortly."

"Fine and good. You are dismissed," Chancellor Kel'Rae said to his chief aid. The aid departed, leaving Kel'Rae alone with his thoughts. He stood before a panoramic view of the planet Klendathu and the vast glittering asteroid fields that lay beyond. In the vacuum of space, the stars refused to sparkle as their dim light reached the ceiling-to-floor window of the antechamber to the conference room.

The half of Kel'Rae's face which could still smile.....smiled. Signing Robert Higgins as the chief correspondent for the Universal News Network had been quite a coup. UNN would finally have some "name recognition" in its title. Next week when the first completely T'Phetti-built Federation vessel would be "christened" against the backdrop of the planet Terra, it would be a UNN logo resting in the corner of everyone's vid-screen. Or so he hoped.

Ambassador T'Phai would be the master of ceremonies at this strange human ritual. Tossing a bottle of grape juice at spaceship before it made its first interstellar jump was just plain silly as far as Kel'Rae was concerned. But the absurd ceremony had provided such delicious opportunities! T'Phai had assured him that it would be easy to re-assemble the legendary squad, Rico's Roughneck's, one last time, give it one last "hurrah" before the various team members went their separate ways. Most of them had completed their terms of service for SICON and were no doubt happily prepared to retire from active duty. As the only remaining member of Rico's original team, Max Brutto would become the sergeant of Rico's new squad.

Every member of Rico's Roughnecks were household names on the planet Terra, especially Higgins. To have such a prestigious crew present at the christening probably meant the vid-ratings would be spectacular! Kel'Rae already had a long string of corporate sponsors clamoring for a piece of the action. The whole universe would see first hand that the Skinnie race was a trusted ally of the Humans, a subject upon which Kel'Rae wanted to be sure there was never a shred of doubt.

Kel'Rae's worst nightmare was that the Humans would tire of their Skinnie friends. During the Bug Wars the humans had been desperate for allies, but now that the Arachnid tyranny had been eradicated, the Terran-T'Phetti Alliance was beginning to show signs of strain. Animosities still lingered among Terra's Civilian population regarding the unfortunate role the Skinnies had been forced to play in the Arachnid conquest. Thankfully, Civilians couldn't vote. But how many of those Civilians would become Citizens some day?

Being the consummate politician that he was, Chancellor Kel'Rae had prepared contingencies for a wide variety of possible futures, not the least of which was an Arachnid resurgence, even as unlikely as that seemed. The next time an invasion force threatened the security of the planet Tophet, the Skinnies wouldn't have to rely on Terran charity to save the day. Kel'Rae had seen to that.

Hidden among the asteroid belts in the Klendathu system was an entire fleet of T'Phetti warships identical to the one that was going to be unveiled in the Terran system next week. The red jewel embedded in the clasp of the Chancellor's robe housed a dormant tachyon transmitter which, when activated, allowed Admiral Du'Kra and his forces to home in on Kel'Rae's location no matter where he was in space or time. Wherever the Chancellor traveled in normal space, the covert T'Phetti fleet would linger nearby in hyperspace, just outside the range of prying gravimetric sensors. By simply twisting the spindle-shaped spike protruding from the bottom of his ornate clasp, Kel'Rae could always summon an armada at a moment's notice. This made all of the Chancellor's travel arrangements rather complex affairs, but Kel'Rae simply wouldn't have it any other way.

The T'Phetti Chancellor reformatted all of the computer drives in his office after he had uploaded all the necessary information related to his itinerary into his palm-unit. This little security procedure was no doubt driving his personal secretary to the brink of insanity, but it had become his personal habit to never leave any evidence of his covert activities for anyone to see, including his own chief aids. He would join Robert Higgins and his friends aboard the Valley Forge soon enough. He would have to signal Du'Kra's ship from a discreet location first. Since the interior design of the K'Lunae colony itself was little more that a myriad collection of discreet locations, the Chancellor didn't anticipate any difficulties in that regard.

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