View Full Version : Every New Beginning...
11th Dec 01, 10:56 PM
He he, more junk for you guys to read and laugh at! I wrote this over about a week and a half, and I tried to capture the initial elation of the mothership launch, then the horror of the burning of Kharak. There are two protagonists, who you will find out about yourself... :p
Enjoy, guys. Leave comments -- if you go to www.fanfiction.net, you'll find this and my other stories too (bullseye benny is my author ID)
It hung there in the reflected light of Kharak. Mothership!
The shuttle pilot, with some unexpected flair for drama, had manoeuvred to keep the massive starship from her sight until the last possible moment. Then, he had used a quick burst of lateral thrust to nudge the unwieldy shuttle into a sweeping turn, bringing the mothership into glorious full view. It was gently enclosed within the heavy metal filigree of the orbital Scaffold, which had illuminated the night skies of Tiir for the past decades. However, now, the passenger’s eyes saw only the long curve of the hull. It was as if the bracing arms of the docking gallows did not exist…or, if she was aware of it, she saw it and its lights as a bejewelled space-sculpture that served only to frame and highlight the new symmetry and breathtaking enormity of the mothership. The dramatic impact was only heightened by the light that flooded her from every angle within the huge orbital dock, seemingly doubly brilliant against the velvet black of space beyond. The passenger had, of course, seen the mothership before, but only as schematics on computer screens or at various stages of construction. It was complete now, gracefully whole, a myth come alive.
Admiral Kirana Paktu sat at the viewport of the shuttle and watched as they angled in towards the starboard docking bay. She savoured the very sight of the ship, and while the pilot was kind enough to point out design changes and details, she immersed herself in the experience of visual contact. Soon, the bright blue work lights of the shuttle dock penetrated the cabin, tinting her fiery hair with sapphire highlights. She felt a few short vibrations as the landing gear mated home with the connections on the deck, the metallic sound of the security bolts unlocking, the familiar pneumatic whoosh of the airlock doors opening behind her.
Ten years of training, and a further two years of campaigning for this position. Now, Kirana, you are finally home. This is your command! Partial command, yes, but what a post to hold! The safety of the sleeping Kharakid is yours to protect. And now, what was the pilot saying?
“Welcome aboard, admiral,” the pilot repeated.
The cargo deck was a confusion of supplies and equipment, zero-g cargo carriers, and hurrying technicians. Overhead, large one-man exoskeletal loader hauled crates or welded metal joints together. Neither her study of the design schematics nor her visits during construction had fully prepared her for the sheer magnitude of the mothership’s interior. Even in the chaos of pre-launch frenzy, she was awe-struck by the size of the bay. There was something comfortably empowering in the way the loader pilots smiled at her through the wiring and metal framework of their exoskeletons. Admiral Paktu raked her emerald eyes over every detail. This was her new command. She wanted to know the ship intimately.
Behind her, the airlock clanged shut – apparently, the shuttle that brought her in was needed elsewhere in some part of the mothership’s cavernous bay. There was hurry and a few signs of fatigue among the work crews as they struggled to have their part of the mothership ready for the imminent launch. Will she leave in time? Paktu mused. Somewhere inside this ship, the rest of the Admiralty is waiting for me, and they were the ones who argued that the hyperdrive test should be delayed. As representative of the Paktu kiith, she had liased with the elders and decided to remain neutral in that argument. She wondered now if she should have sided with the Admiralty and held the launch back. Her train of thought was abruptly derailed by a sweaty young ensign who emerged from the forest of cargo containers to greet her, suddenly nervous at the sight of an admiral having come aboard. Kirana noted how young the man was…barely out of his teenage years, by the look of it.
“Permission to come aboard, sir,” she said, a faint smile touching her lips.
“Granted, ma’am,” the ensign huffed. He was a fellow Paktu, judging by the sigil on his uniform. “Welcome aboard, Admiral Paktu. You’re needed on the bridge immediately, so if you’d like to be escorted…?”
“I think I can find my own way, ensign. Return to your duties.”
Kirana Paktu moved off, feeling the young officer’s relief at her back. She found an elevator that took her to the upper catwalks of the cargo bay, crossed across the open deck below to the nearest personnel lift. She waited a few seconds until the cab arrived; it had the familiar feeling of the Scaffold’s own carriages. Kirana stepped inside, drinking in the sensation of being there and giving the voice command that came next.
“Bridge,” she ordered, relishing the moment.
The mechanisms responded instantly, engaging the magnetic drive modules on the outer skin and propelling the lift carriage upwards at a speed that was immediately smothered by a localised inertial dampening field. She could just feel the slightest residue of acceleration that told her that the lift was now moving horizontally to enter a new shaft. On the wall of the carriage, a large screen showed her exact position as she hurtled through the mothership. She was now crossing the equatorial regions and heading upwards towards the massive command sector, which contained the restricted areas of the bridge, Fleet Intelligence, and the haunting command core, where the young Karan Sjet controlled the mothership from her hardwired synapses. Kirana felt a pang of sympathy for the woman, who had given up her mobility to ensure the success of the mission.
She saw a handful of padded seats spaced around the elevator’s walls, and settled into one as best she could. The screen on the wall scrolled some miscellaneous data that was supposed to keep people occupied, so the Paktu watched it with some disinterest until, minutes later, she felt the press of inertia on her stomach. Deceleration. She was now only a couple of seconds from being there, on the bridge of the mothership, her people’s sole hope for continued survival. As the sands of the Great Banded Desert crept forward towards Tiir, she would be one of the Kharakid who found hope in that faraway planet.
Kirana stood up as the soft chime of the lift informed her that she was just about to arrive on the bridge. She smoothed out her form-fitting uniform with one gloved hand and composed herself in front of the large double doors. She wanted to appear intelligently concerned, but also determined and confident that she would be a diligent and fair officer, expecting them to give her their full effort, but not overtax them…
11th Dec 01, 10:57 PM
The lift doors snapped open briskly.
Admiral Kirana Paktu’s composure vanished.
She stepped out onto the bridge, her appearance unnoticed and presence unrecognised.
Before, the cargo deck had seemed to her as a vast arena of confusion. The bridge, here, was more like a pressure pot at full boil. Disarray everywhere; test equipment underfoot, consoles open with cables spilling out like entrails, monitor screens disconnected, relays clocking, data buffers laid open, servos whirring, and somewhere, an overload signal protested with its nerve-jangling squeal of warning, warning, warning. Again, Kirana felt apprehension – a sense of perhaps coming into this too quickly, too precipitously, possibly even unprepared – but this was blotted out by her gaze around the wondrous bridge.
It was not as large as the cargo deck. The only bigger places on the entire ship were the fleet foundries, where fighters and capital ships could be manufactured in record time. No, the bridge was not quite that immense. But it had a presence and size all its own. The main floor was spread before her like a sea of people, equipment, desks, chairs, and more equipment. A large sunken disc in the middle of the bridge was home to a holographic projector. It was displaying a diagram of the mothership in the Scaffold, but was configurable to render any image or data in a tri-D format. Spaced around that were control panels for mission briefings.
Beyond the holoprojector was a huge viewport – not a computer screen, as some had wanted, but a single reinforced block of glassteel. It was what every window on the ship was made out of, but because of its size and the risk of it being punctured by a stray micro-meteor, it had been outfitted with external force-field emitter diodes and deflector fields. It looked out on the main arms of the Scaffold, and beyond them, open space. Kirana fancied that she could just see the specks of the tiny support vessels as the hovered nearby.
The command station was the largest post on the bridge. It consisted of a cluster of consoles spaced around a central chair – her chair – and was the point of focus during situations. Elsewhere around the bridge were hives of activity denoting the other posts: Hyperdrive Control, Navigation, Life Sciences, Fleet Intelligence, Communications, Sensors, Medical, Engineering, Internal Security, Tactical…the list went on and on. The critical stations were located on the main floor, and the others were placed in niches in the walls, where catwalks and gantries formed a second level in the huge bridge.
“Admiral on the bridge!” someone shouted, and everyone snapped to attention.
“At ease,” she said.
Kirana crossed the bridge, shaking hands or nodding at the veritable army of officers. Then, she eased herself into the centre seat. This place was her command now, and she forced herself to hang onto that first moment, pretending to survey the stations around her. Not that she expected anyone else to be deceived; her fingers grasped the armrests just a little too tightly, and he toyed with her fire-bright hair a little too often. But this was the start of a new voyage into the centre of the galaxy. She would leave Kharak for two years while they surveyed the world the ancient Guidestone had identified as Hiigara, then return home and ferry the rest of her people back to their place of origin. Our past is a lie, she reflected. Their journey started here, now. She tried to appear impassive as consoles were hurriedly reassembled and benchmark tests hurriedly completed. The mothership was not technically finished as yet – all key systems were in and functioning, but some integral parts of the vessel were only forty percent complete. This was a short test-run of the hyperdrive module alone.
Soon, a man who looked to be two or three years her senior, a lieutenant, snapped off a salute and passed her a keycard. “All systems ready for launch, ma’am.”
“Thank-you,” she said with a smile. With slender fingers, she slid the keycard into a slot on the right armrest of her chair. A green light went on, and a female voice filled the bridge chamber. All other voices were silent as the slight echo of the hauntingly-Kharakid woman spoke in response to Kirana’s simple action.
“Fleet Command on-line,” Karan Sjet said from the command core. “Requesting sign-in of commanding officer for hyperdrive launch.”
“Fleet Command, this is Admiral Kirana Paktu,” the green-eyed woman said from her chair. “Signing in. Authorisation code: four-two-zero-one-nine-bravo. Confirm.”
A second elapsed as Sjet processed the information. “Voiceprint and keycard permission authenticated and confirmed. Welcome aboard, Admiral Paktu.” The voice was pleasant and genuine, unlike the synthesised garble that most computers came up with these days. Kirana smiled and thanked the marriage of metal and flesh for the greeting. “Let’s get moving, then.” She looked forward to the holographic projector, and behind it, the viewport. “Contact the Scaffold and withdraw main umbilicals. Inform me of the all-clear. All stations, report.”
“Helm and navigation, ready. Orbit departure vector programmed.”
“Tactical is prepped.”
“Mission Medical, in the green.”
“Engineering is go.”
“InSec standing by. No hazards or unauthorised personnel detected.”
“Communications at one-hundred percent. Scaffold has disengaged main umbilicals, standing by for withdrawal.”
“Hyperdrive module charged and ready for initialisation. No problems so far.”
“Fleet Intelligence active, interfaced with all ship departments.”
“Fleet Command on-line,” Karan Sjet added. “Preparing for undocking procedure.”
Admiral Paktu waited for the Scaffold to send its ‘all-clear’ signal. Had she pushed too hard, too soon? Had the Admiralty made a grave error in bowing to the whims of the Daiamid Council, which had wanted the mothership operation as soon as was feasible? She shook her head to clear the doubts from her brain. If they not meet the deadline set by the kiithid’sa, doubt would breed among the mothership crew as to whether they could meet a second deadline, or even a third. No, they had to go now. The entire ship seemed to tremor as the Scaffold’s maintenance workers withdrew the docking clamps, which meant that they were not entirely under their own power. “Helm, manoeuvring thrusters to station keeping,” she ordered. “Hold us here.”
On the speakers, Karan Sjet began to run through each system as she brought it up to operating capacity. The admiral let it blend into the background until she saw that their departure vector was clear.
“Manoeuvring thrusters forward, helm. Take us out.”
The helmsman’s right hand played the thruster controls and the mothership began to inch out of the Scaffold. Metre by metre, hundreds of thousands of metric kilotons jetted forwards, like a newborn leaving the womb, a child leaving its mother, a lover leaving an embrace. Girders slid past them, and it was as though they had left the safe clutch of the dock forever. Outside, they were watched by tiny figures in work suits who hung to those girders. Some waved, others merely watched with what seemed to be weary satisfaction. No, the others were waving too. It would have been hard to be out there and not be moved by the sight of the giant crescent-form mothership emerging majestically from her orbital chrysalis. Below them, Kharak was a darkening shape, dominating the full half of the sky beneath the slim profile of the ship. The sun was just now beginning to set on this side of the planet, and a last atmosphere-flare of sunlight reflected for an instant as a harsh actinic burst against the bonded ceramic hull. Kirana felt the grace of their departure from the dock, and now felt the cool winds of space cleaning the skin of the mothership. The soft pulse of the main engines – not entirely complete, incapable of moving the mothership but functional nonetheless – filled her being with its throbbing rhythm, tightly-leashed thunder. This barest of intermix power output was required for the ship to hover as it was, now in orbit around their desert prison.
A fresh buzz of movement accompanied the mothership crew as they launched their meagre fleet of support craft. Ten scout starfighters were circling in the void, conducting combat trials and tactics tests, while a research vessel emerged from the starboard docking bay, accompanied by the boxy resource collector craft. Both of them began to go through a series of thruster diagnostic sequences to ensure that there would be no problems later on; no ship they possessed had a hyperdrive module, although it was assumed that most capital ships would require them. All small support ships had to dock for any hyperspace jumps. Admiral Paktu watched the holoprojector as it cycled through information on the support vessels. Finally, she turned as a crew member from Hyperdrive Control called out to her.
“Ma’am, we’re ready,” he said simply.
This is it.
“Alright. Fleet Command, initiate pre-jump procedures.”
“Attention, all personnel,” the voice of Fleet Command said. “Prepare for hyperspace jump. Abort systems at one hundred percent. Sealing internal pressure doors…now.” The bridge was filled with the sounds of heavy blast doors sliding into place around all the ingress/egress points. No movement about the ship was permitted now, in case of any side effects of their test flight. “Fleet is now docking. Stand by.”
“Ready to engage hyperdrive,” the HC officer said.
Admiral Paktu stood up and gazed tenaciously out into the void.
“Permission granted. Let’s go.”
A new sound began to crescendo…the grating hum of the hyperdrive module as it prepared to generate a gateway into hyperspace. The module itself had been backwards-engineered from a relic found in the ruins of the First City, Khar-Toba, and only a few test prototypes had been built before they had installed the final version into the mothership. Kirana desperately prayed that it would all run according to plan. “Computational cycles complete,” the HC officer called over the hum, which was now quite audible, “and gate geometry is ready. Projection is occurring…now!”
Kirana looked out through the viewport.
The void was blank.
Then, it tore open.
A perfect line of bright blue light incised space as a thin, hairline slash. It lengthened until it was slightly wider than the mothership itself, and then grew vertically, first into a square, then upward into a rectangle that blazed in the darkness of space. The hyperdrive module controlled the shape of the quantum waveform meticulously – she had expected it to look somewhat more organic, but realised that it was a product of infinitely-complex science, and so it was no surprise that it was a purely geometric shape. Kirana had done some research into quantum waveforms so as to be somewhat knowledgeable into the subject; most of it had gone over her head, a realm best left to astrophysicists and quantum mechanists. She did recall that the hyperspace front was the result of a high-energy field generator that accelerated ordinary particles until they punctured through the barrier between space and hyperspace. She had no idea how that happened, but she did know that the waveforms had to take linear shapes in order to stay stable, given that the generator module couldn’t bend such a rift between dimensions into a curve. She felt her muscles tense as the quantum waveform reached full height, then started moving back towards the mothership, a pane of frozen starlight.
The forward-thrust sensor spires were the first parts of the ship to disappear. A rim of sparkling azure lightning spread out from them while the hyperspace gate made contact and engulfed them. The bridge was set near the front, so it would soon follow. Kirana saw the waveform reach the forward viewport and slide through it with no hint of resistance whatsoever. She smiled as she realised that destiny was coming to take her away, and in that one moment of jubilance, she uttered a phrase that her kiith treasured.
“I can smell the sea,” she said delightedly.
In one swift motion, the wall of otherworldly, cobalt energies swept over her and the rest of the bridge crew, momentarily locking them in time. The spell broke after a second or so, and the front viewport was filled with a streaking tunnel of pure hyperspace. The HC station nodded a few seconds later, saying that the mothership was at full integrity and had entered hyperspace without a hitch. Admiral Paktu could not suppress a grin. “This is the beginning!” she called into the empty space, and every Kharakid turned their attention to her. “This is the beginning of a new journey. The end of a long exodus, but now the beginning of our return home. In a few seconds, we will reach the outer sectors of the Kharak system, proving that the hyperdrive is fully functional, and in another month, the mothership will leave our system: this time, for good. It is all thanks to you. Your hard work will ensure that we reach Hiigara.” She took a deep breath, watched as everyone around her tried to focus on her rather than the hypnotic light show outside. “Our future lies out here. Our past is something that we shall treasure, but we must look to destiny.”
Standing here, in the frozen limbo of hyperspace, it was very easy to believe her.
16th Dec 01, 12:02 PM
Quite good. You seem to have gotten the feel of the Kushan as they leave Kharak. Keep it up. :3d:
16th Dec 01, 12:59 PM
Unf Unf. Excellent work in description.
16th Dec 01, 3:01 PM
Looking very nice!
It's very fitting to make the Admiral of the ship a lady from kiith Paktu.
"I can smell the sea", she said delightedly.
I knew you had to put that in:D
16th Dec 01, 7:35 PM
It engulfed everything from one end of the universe to the other – planets, stars, beings. Space did not care what it was that it possessed. All that mattered was having it. Nothing could escape the icy grasp of the darkness. Suns burned brightly for a few million years, but for all the heat and light they could produce, space was always the winner in the contest for supremacy. Various life-forms tried to conquer the void in metal ships, charting it as though it were some vast continent. They were always unaware that they were now at the mercy of space and all its agents, holding out hope that somehow, they would survive in the vacuum. Their newfound frontier was not a friendly place.
As the Kharakid mothership hurtled through the otherworldly light of hyperspace, it became clear that space was feeling capricious as a lover. The balance between their voyage being successful and a failure could fall one way or another with the softest touch. The tiny craft sailed through the void faster than anything space could throw at it. It seemed that, for the present moment, their journey was going quite well, considering that this was a blatant violation of space’s sovereignty. But the scales could tip oh so easily. Sometimes, all it took was one chance, one life, one moment, one opportunity, and the life of thousands could slide into tragedy…
Space was an enemy.
And sometimes, it worked through agents with the same purpose and agenda.
The mothership flew onwards…
* * *
16th Dec 01, 7:40 PM
The Kharak system was comprised of seven worlds, and the mothership was now about to arrive at the seventh far-flung planet, a tiny ball of ice from which the burning star of Kharak appeared as a flare of yellow light. Through the fantastic properties of hyperspace, it had only taken them a few seconds to go from the Scaffold to the seventh planet. However, to Admiral Kirana Paktu, it had felt like so much more. She watched the forward viewport as the rush of cerulean movement began to coalesce back into the window back into normal space. It was as though they had gone from full throttle to absolute stop, and she felt as though there should be some kind of deceleration or feeling of slowing down, rather than the instant transition from dynamic to static. Once more, the quantum waveform locked the bridge crew into poses for a few seconds before relinquishing its hold, and they could see stars outside once more. The holoprojector whirred to life and started to show holographic data from the sensors as they snapped on-line.
“Reversion to realspace complete,” the hyperdrive controller announced. “Power-down complete. No fluctuations or instabilities detected.”
A short but slender Sjet woman at the small Mission Medical station nodded as she watched a long string of statistics appear on one of her monitors. “No casualties, ma’am.”
That was it.
The hyperdrive was a success.
“Note in the log that the mothership’s first use of the quantum waveform drive was an unqualified success,” Admiral Paktu ordered. “And put out a signal to the support ship. We do not require assistance, but we will be happy to liase and check sensor output.”
There was a long moment of quiet, and Kirana opened her mouth to repeat her command, but the communications officer up on the upper deck called down to her first. “Uh, ma’am…I can’t raise them on any channels.”
“Sensors, report,” the admiral said, all business.
“Short-range scans do not detect the support ship, ma’am.”
“Then try a long-range scan.”
“I am, but the scopes haven’t been entirely calibrated yet. We didn’t anticipate the need for a long-range sweep.”
Kirana pushed herself out of the command chair and walked out to the holoprojector. It was displaying a map of the immediate region, using the mothership and the seventh planet as reference points. I don’t understand, she thought. They’re supposed to be here. They spent ten years getting here on conventional drives…they have to be here. She looked at the holograms and frowned. The support vessel had taken a decade to arrive here, in the event that the mothership suffered some form of problem during hyperspace transit. It was impossible that they weren’t here – she would have suspected a problem with the sensors, but if the comm officer couldn’t raise them, then something was up. “Bridge to Fleet Intelligence,” she said, speaking into the air before her. “Report.”
“This is Fleet Intelligence. All systems nominal, admiral.”
“Intel, where is the Khar-Selim?”
“Unknown, ma’am. We’ve started a search pattern, and…wait, we have something. Transmitting to the bridge holo…now.”
All eyes turned to the holoprojector as it refreshed, showing the data from Fleet Intel. It showed the same chart of the space around them, but a blinking red dot appeared some distance from the mothership. A yellow circle of light surrounded it for contrast. “We must have misjumped,” the nameless, faceless voice of Fleet Intelligence said calmly. “A mid-range scan picked up this distress frequency caught in the gravity well of the seventh planet. It appears to be the Khar-Selim, judging by the IFF transponder, but we can’t be sure. Recommend that a probe be sent to investigate.” Admiral Paktu nodded as she digested the information. The Identity Friend/Foe transponder was usually a reliable piece of equipment that communications and sensor officers alike queried for data as to a ship’s name and alignment – Kharakid had, so far, not found any other ships from other life forms in the galaxy. Therefore, it was extremely unlikely that the ship was an alien vessel in distress. Kirana felt a familiar instinct telling her that something wasn’t quite right in this situation, particularly if it was an emergency frequency. “Bridge to Fleet Command. Construct and launch a probe to the co-ordinates indicated on the holoprojector,” she said again. This time, Karan Sjet received the information and replied with an acknowledgement, then signalled the construction bays to begin building a probe.
Because most of the materials were already premanufactured, it took ten minutes for the tiny sensor drone to be built and tested. Ten seconds later, it launched from the starboard bay, propelled by a combination of internal drives and inverse magnetic fields. The probe was a complex series of sensor matrices built on top of a basic plasma drive assembly, and as such, had little on-board power that it could spare for manoeuvring. A micro-perpetuator array was able to capture some of the energy from the initial launch and re-use it, but eventually, the probe would run out of power and drift, a remote sensor station that was vulnerable to external factors such as meteors or weapons fire. Fleet Command had programmed the course with fuel economy in mind, and so the probe rocketed out into the void with a minimum of course corrections.
“Probe away,” Fleet Command said calmly and tonelessly. “ETA is thirteen minutes.”
Kirana groaned inwardly. The hyperspace targeting system was designed to bring them out of hyperspace at a specific point that matched the mothership’s profile exactly. They were meant to emerge in close proximity to the Khar-Selim, which was to monitor the quantum waveform effect as they returned to realspace and assist in tuning the drive control systems, given that sensors were momentarily useless in the reversion process. However, they had either misjumped or the Khar-Selim had moved from its original position. She sincerely hoped that it was the first one, because the support vessel had been given orders to stay put until the mothership emerged.
She spent the next thirteen minutes analysing the data they already possessed on the Khar-Selim. It was a blocky, pragmatically-designed ship that had a distinctive snub-nose and clean, angular lines. As far as she could tell, it had become home to over one thousand Kharakid, each one manning the ship for three-month shifts before going into cold sleep. Paktu noted that it was not equipped with any sort of effective weapons array; the designers had instead opted for filling the Khar-Selim with repair facilities, cryogenics equipment, and installing heavy shields that were powered directly from the fusion drive. Such a design feature was a risk in combat situations, as any tactician worth their salt knew. Kirana had heard of cases where the energy backlash of failing shields would cause the engines to overload and explode, which is why all ships carrying omnidirectional shielding used buffers and power couplings to supply energy to the generators.
Her nightmares of the support vessel blowing up due to a horrible accident on-board faded into nothingness when the one of the Sensors staff caught her attention. “Admiral, the probe is nearly in position. I’m feeding the telemetry link to the holoprojector now.”
Tri-D images in the recessed projector rippled before her as the data stream began to roll in. At first, it was just a stream of garble, but then Karan Sjet interpreted it into a holographic format, and the images and data took on form in the air. Admiral Paktu watched as the engine ratios on the seeker probe began to drop, indicating that it was nearing its final destination. “Go to high resolution,” she ordered, and the images sharpened at her word. Her emerald eyes flicked back to the navigation readouts, and she saw that the probe was now in position. Sensors began to sweep the area surrounding the probe. Kirana went to one of the consoles, input a command, and stepped back. She had configured the hologram to show her a direct feed from the probe’s main optical sensor, which would show her a realistic representation of what the seeker was ‘seeing’.
Slowly, but surely, the image began to refine itself into clarity.
Admiral Kirana Paktu gasped.
“They’re gone,” she whispered quietly, and yet all heard her.
The Khar-Selim had been hulled by an incredibly destructive force. The forward section appeared intact, albeit charred and blackened by internal explosions, but what was more horrifying was the rear of the ship. Whereas in life it had been all bulky engines and supply bays, it was now gone. Not broken free, but gone, erased from existence. Nobody could even begin to guess how that had happened, but Kirana knew that none of the one thousand souls aboard the support ship were alive. She watched the scrolling data with a heart that felt as dead as the hulk outside. Had she been right? Had the direct power link from engines to shields caused some kind of catastrophic meltdown? That would certainly account for the obliteration of the entire back half of the ship. But that didn’t explain the tiny pockmarks that peppered the remaining hull fragment. They appeared too often to be random meteor impacts, and in patterns that just couldn’t occur as an act of natural force. No, Kirana had seen them before. They were the trademark impacts of directed weapons fire.
Something had been here.
Something had destroyed the Khar-Selim.
“This is Fleet Intelligence,” the intercom said suddenly, urgently. “The probe’s scans show heavy weapons fire at hundreds of points on the hull of the derelict. There’s also evidence of recent engine trails.”
“I know…” Paktu said.
“Dating scans put the weapons fire back to about forty minutes ago.”
Kirana fell backwards into her chair, one hand feebly clasping at the armrest to steady her. Forty minutes? That meant that the attack had begun a long time before the mothership had even launched. She felt sharp pangs of guilt for being so happy at the launch, and having so much pride in her own abilities. “Note it in the log, Fleet Intelligence. The Khar-Selim was lost in battle.”
For what felt like the hundredth time that hour, Paktu turned to the Sensors station and saw a horrified look on the man’s face. “Admiral, I’ve got incoming contacts closing fast. Multiple intercept points. Unidentified vessels, mainly fighter-sized, unable to get details. Ma’am, we’re being swarmed!”
Admiral Kirana Paktu swivelled her chair back to the holoprojector, which showed the first wave of alien fighters approaching. They were blocky and menacing in shape, spewing yellow engine trails as they rocketed through the void. Clearly hostile, they engaged in what seemed to be infighting – one bounced off another in a dangerous hull impact, and the other returned the favour, dodging at the last second to avoid an asteroid that lay in its path. They were now only seconds from the mothership. “We have two fighter squadrons ready to fly,” she said resolutely. “Let’s use them. Deploy Arrow and Blade squadrons. All hands, full alert. Raise shields and prepare for incoming fire. Tactical, what kind of weaponry are we packing?”
A well-muscled man standing at the Tactical station shook his head. “A handful of mass driver cannons, nothing more. The rest is to be installed on our return to Kharak, admiral.”
“Get them tracking. Engage and destroy as they approach.”
18th Dec 01, 1:07 AM
I must say that I am impressed, this is one of the few stories that I can say the following about. . .
"From the first moment I set eyes upon the gleaming surface of the tale I could see the writers imagination flaring forth. Never before has a fan based fiction crossed my path that has immediatelly caught my attention. Such description and imagery, not to mention the portrayal of the Admiral's feelings about the journey. I would never have thought to put the Fleet Admiral as a woman. (no offence ladies) That in itself tells of the Authors ability to stretch what people have previously written. All this in the introduction. I am amazed, either this writer is already a published author or a very promising future Writer."
So I say this, keep up the good work and please continue.
19th Dec 01, 7:46 PM
Thanks for the positive comments, guys! I've written a few more parts, so sit back and enjoy.
No pilot liked cleaning up an ambush, primarily because they couldn’t be wholly certain that they were going to be hit a second time. If the mothership was attacked with a second group, there would be hell to pay, given that only two fighter squadrons were up and running. Arrow Squadron, which was comprised of twelve scout craft, had scrambled and launched almost immediately; Arrow-class scouts were one of two military craft that the mothership carried, and they were noted for superior speed and maneouvribility. However, they carried a single mass driver cannon, and so were not the best combat ship. The workers in the foundry watched as the twelve scouts looped through the void and engaged the attacking fighters.
Arban Ferriil, a young man of about twenty-six, stared out into space from the hangar deck. His Blade-class interceptor sat in its launch rack behind him as the technicians ran the last pre-flight checks. Soon, he would be through the thin membrane of electricity that contained the atmosphere and out in the fight. There were pinpoint flashes of explosions as the Arrows engaged the enemy. “I’m coming,” he said to the pilots out there, and hoisted himself up into the cockpit. The on-board computer detected his presence and powered up the heads-up display; a holographic options menu appeared in front of him, and he touched the green circle that denoted the ignition sequence. The drive systems behind him flared to life.
“All Blades, report in.”
That was Juriin Nabaal, Blade Lead. She was a hot pilot, and Arban implicitly trusted her. As the servo mechanisms of the launch rack kicked in and aligned the twelve fighters with the hangar entrance, he waited until it was his turn to report in. “Blade Six, ready to fly,” he said through his helmet mike.
“This is Fleet Command,” a new voice, this time Karan Sjet’s, said over the comm channel. “Blade Squadron, you are cleared for launch.”
A series of electromagnetic accelerators fired, and the twelve interceptors were suddenly rocketing out into space. Inertial dampeners were killing the g-forces, but Arban always dialled the setting down a fraction in order to get a better feel of his fighter as it moved in the vacuum. He glanced at his primary monitor the instant he was out of the hangar. There were thirteen or fourteen enemy contacts out there, with a few more on the long-range scans. He queried the computer, and it identified two larger ships moving in; they appeared to be corvettes of some form. They bore the same ugly architecture as the fighters, except on a larger scale, studded with warty protrusions that could only be gun turrets. Arban flicked the flight stick and headed in towards the battle, keying the comm with one finger. “Blade Lead, we’ve got contacts. Two corvettes and fourteen fighters heading towards the mothership.”
Juriin’s voice came back cool and calm. “I copy, Six. Engage the fighters. The Arrows will move in on the corvettes.”
Arban hit the throttle, then shunted power to the shields. The interceptor rose like a ghost of the Khar-Selim from its grave and came about to point its nose towards the fighter cloud. As the other members of his squadron pulled up on his left and right, he punched the engines full forward and launched himself into the fight.
A smile blossomed on his face. Any sane Kharakid would find hurtling along in a fragile craft of metal and ferroceramics to be stupid, suicidal, or a combination of both. Pushing that same craft into battle merely compounded the danger in the situation, and he knew it. By the same token, very few experiences in his life compared to flying a fighter, because that was a point where civilisation demanded that he harness his animal nature and employ it against a more dangerous prey. Without being physically, mentally, and mechanically at his best, he would die, and might even cause the death of his teammates. But he had no intention of letting that happened.
Using the lateral thrust controls, he moved into a slide behind his first victim. The crosshairs on his heads-up display instantly locked onto the boxy ship in front of him. A steady beep from the targeting computer let him know that he had a lock, and the square surrounding the ship went red, then the tone went constant. Showtime. Arban hit the trigger and the twin mass driver cannons set into the prow of his ship lit up with projectile fury. Thousands of ultra-hardened metal/ceramic bolts crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, puncturing the hull and splitting the engine assembly wide open. Roiling fire spewed out and engulfed the enemy ship before the pilot knew what was going on.
“Pick your targets carefully,” Juriin cautioned as he moved away from the spreading debris cloud. “They’re started to get cranky out there.”
“I copy,” Arban replied.
He kicked his interceptor up on the port side and hauled back on the stick. Chopping power to the engine, he tightened the circle, then rolled out to the right as one of the fighters started a long, serpentine turn. He switched over from mass drivers to missiles – unlike the Arrows, interceptor fighters carried six torpedoes for use against heavily-armed targets. Pilots often saw it as overkill when used against fighters, as had been done before in war games, but Ferriil saw it as an expedient way of lowering the odds. The targeting computer picked out a pair of fighters; Arban goosed the throttle and lined up his first shot. The crosshairs went blood-red, and he thumbed the button. A streak of scarlet fire shot out from the belly of the Blade fighter and jammed itself right up the exhaust port of the enemy fighter, actually punching through the cockpit before detonating. The second missile got similar results.
When the interceptor spun back towards the fight, Arban saw that the amount of enemy fighters had dwindled significantly. “Lead, this is Six,” he reported. “Let us take the corvettes. We’ve got the firepower. The Arrows can clean up the remaining fighters.”
“Too late, Six. The Arrows shot down one corvette and rammed the other. Let’s get ready to go home -- ” The transmission blurred for a second, then a new announcement filled the earpiece in his helmet. “Attention all fighters, this is Fleet Command. Incoming carrier-class vessel. It seems to be refuelling, repairing, and constructing fighters. All fighters, engage the carrier and destroy it.”
“Looks like we’ve got our orders, Lead.”
“The Arrows are going to cover us while we make attack runs. We’ll take down the shields, then use torps to make the kill.”
The carrier was not terribly far away from the fighter cloud, so it took Arban only seconds to snap his interceptor around and fly in towards his target. In his peripheral vision, he saw Blade Nine, a Sjet man by the name of Hirar, transform a tailing fighter into a golden gout of flame. Ferriil thanked him by comm before turning his full attention to the carrier before him. It was small for a carrier vessel, and consisted mainly of a long, segmented maintenance and hangar bay strapped to a ventral engine. Arban’s instinct for ship design told him that it was probably an unwieldy ship to manoeuvre, particularly in combat, but it seemed well-armed; point-defence turrets had already taken out both one Arrow and one Blade, and if they didn’t go on the evasive quick enough, the rest of his squadron, too. Through the cockpit canopy, he could see the far-off glimmer of the sun and the curve of the mothership, hovering in a dramatic silhouette against it. Off to the starboard, the carrier crouched like a malignant beetle. The turrets along its spine and collar fired out, trying to track the Blades heading inwards, but the shots were no real danger to the fighters and their superb pilots. Juriin and Hirar Sjet were old hands at piloting, and knew how to pull the teeth of such vessels. As long as the Arrows kept the fighters busy, the carrier had no chance.
The first slashing attacks came from Juriin Nabaal. She rolled through and opened fire on the forward shields. Coming from the other direction was Hirar, who strafed the dorsal shields with projectile hell. Juriin’s concentrated attack seemed to make little difference, until another Blade pilot loosed a torpedo into the aft shielding. It flared and collapsed under the explosion. Hirar’s second burst melted a dorsal turret clean away while the other pilot, Blade Three, nibbled away at the ship’s belly vector jets. The carrier was done, though Arban had no doubts it would take a couple more passes before it was truly destroyed.
“Blade Six to Fleet Command,” he said through the comm. “The carrier is pretty much dead in the water. Destroy or abandon?”
“This is Fleet Command. Intelligence reports that the carrier may leave the system and call for reinforcements. Destroy, repeat, destroy the carrier.”
He followed Juriin up and around the back, where the vulnerable engine ports glowed a fiery reddish-pink. The Arrows seemed to have the fighters cleaned up, given that the scouts were faster and more heavily-armed than their squared-off opponents. They also seemed to lack the discipline of a military unit like Blade Squadron. Arban settled into an attack run and began a long stride in towards the engines. He opened fire with the mass drivers first, then toggled to missiles and lined up a double hit. A quick tone-lock informed him that the carrier’s engines, which were immobile targets anyway, were open and vulnerable. The interceptor closed at rapid speed. Arban let the gap narrow to about fifty metres, then hit the trigger and veered to the right. The two missiles outgunned him and slammed into the engine assembly before detonating. They still had a lot of fresh kinetic energy built up, and they managed to worm their way deep into the thrusters to maximise destruction. Lights across the carrier’s hull flickered on and off as power fluctuations began to play havoc with the ship’s systems. Hirar and Juriin nailed the hangar and the engines once more, and as Arban loped away into open space once more, the carrier collapsed in on itself and fire consumed it from within. Long, insanely-distorted fingers of liquefied metal stretched out into the cosmos before freezing solid.
“Target destroyed,” Arban reported gleefully. “Entering holding pattern.”
The heads-up display was bordered with green, indicating no more active hostiles. He thumbed the comm channel to the Arrow frequency and hailed the lead ship. “Nice job there, Arrows. Thanks for keeping us alive and flying.”
“Always happy to save your tails, bomb jockey. See you back at base.”
Arban Ferriil locked the interceptor’s navigation computer onto the mothership’s hangar bay and transmitted the appropriate docking codes. They had saved the mothership, but the fact that there were other beings out here frightened him a little. They had been malevolent to the point of destroying an unarmed support craft like the Khar-Selim with little provocation; would they treat the mothership and its fleet in a similar manner?
He found that they probably would.
19th Dec 01, 7:54 PM
Thanks again for the encouragement. I'm not a published writer at all, just someone who writes as a creative outlet. Well...it's fast becoming an obsession, but that's besides the point. If I don't write, i end up like this --> :allnight: and then it's bad.
I'm glad you like it so much, though. Here's the next part, where it begins to get into a negative key. I called the next chapter, 'The Impending'. I'm working on sustaining certain emotions and threads of thought, so can people please let me know if I'm getting better or worse? Thanks, guys.
19th Dec 01, 7:56 PM
Admiral Kirana Paktu felt the palpable relief on the bridge. They had only lost three fighters, and replacements were being constructed now. Their pilot pool was large enough that they could sustain the loss of several squadrons before they had to bring some people out of cold sleep, but she hoped it would not come to that.
During the battle, she had ordered a salvage corvette to be built and despatched to the wreckage of the Khar-Selim, where they retrieved the data recorder that would hold the last few minutes of the bridge logs. The recorder was fashioned of extremely tough materials, so there was a good chance that they could access the majority of the data without problem. The corvette Porter had located and brought back the requested item, and Fleet Intelligence was decoding the information as she thought about it. She drummed her fingers on her knees as she thought about what had just occurred. The carrier and its complement of fighters had, apparently, ruthlessly destroyed the Khar-Selim without reason, then attacked the mothership when it had shown up. Only a few shots had struck the shields of the massive colony vessel, and they had not been enough to even dent them. However, the fact that such an aggressive race existed and wanted their destruction was worrying.
“We have decoded the bridge logs of the Khar-Selim, ma’am,” came the voice of Intel.
She nodded serenely. “Put it on bridge speakers. I want everyone to hear this.”
The speakers crackled momentarily, then the voice of the now-dead captain of the support vessel came tumbling into the bridge, accompanied by whistles and clicks that must have been the crew working the various control panels. “What do you mean, you detect a hyperspace entry?” the captain was saying. He sounded frustrated and tired. “The mothership isn’t due for nearly – ”
“Sir, I have multiple contacts on closing vectors,” another voice said. It was probably the communications or sensor officer on duty. “Unknown profiles, no recognition codes. Uh…they’re not ours.”
“Not ours?” the captain spluttered, disbelieving as he realised that they were probably about to be attacked. “If they’re not ours, then who the hell are they?”
“Sir, they’re coming in fast. Checking…” The sound in the log went dead for a long moment, then came back, now filled with various explosions and flickering noises that told Kirana that power to the bridge had been momentarily compromised. “We’re under attack! Incoming fire! They’re punching through our shields, sir. They’re getting through! Hull breaches across the board. Our hull integrity is failing…”
“Khar-Selim to mothership! If you are receiving, abort hyperdrive test. Repeat, abort the hyperdrive test!”
The rest of the data was corrupted, and the sound faded into garble and winked out.
Kirana Paktu sat down heavily.
They’re gone. And if they warned us off, then that must mean…
She swore under her breath.
“Helm,” she snapped. “plot a course back to Kharak. Hyperdrive Control, I want us back in orbit in the next five minutes! If those raider ships intercepted that transmission, that means there could be more of them heading in-system. We have to reverse course and warn Kharak about an impending attack. The mothership is the only hope we have to avert that attack. Tactical, stay at alert level three. Recall the fleet and get us into hyperspace.”
Now, Kirana, she thought to herself. Will you be in time?
The bridge crew scrambled, and within minutes, the pane of icy quantum waveform particles ate the mothership from outside in. Now, it was a matter of getting back before the raiders – whoever they were – did, and possibly attacked their people.
* * *
19th Dec 01, 8:02 PM
The stonework where Nuun Gaalsien knelt was so ancient that its origins could not be traced in even the oldest Kharakid legends. Some thought it was a fragment of the First City, carved by the survivors of the Khar-Toba. Others believed that it was an altar that once belonged to a temple, dedicated to some long-dead deity. One of Nuun’s long, spindly fingers traced over a glyph that was etched into the red stone; the same glyph had been rendered in a precious silver metal and stitched onto his long robe. The meanings of the symbols were known only to the leaders of his kiith, whose abodes were made here, on the high plateaus of the Great Banded Desert. He was drawing near to the end of his life, and would never know what the mysterious carvings meant, but he lived safe in the knowledge that he would die having made a great contribution to his kiith.
It was at this exact moment that a shockingly powerful terror stabbed into his heart. It was as though some powerful entity had driven a knife through his frail chest. Nuun turned his aged eyes skywards and felt his heart sink as he saw the bright flashes of explosions, even in the sunlight. Something was happening in orbit.
Something huge had arrived.
And it was not the mothership.
“Doom!” he said, first softly, then getting louder and louder as he shrieked it into the hollow expanses of the desert. A few acolytes heard his cry and peered out of their shelters to watch as Nuun threw his hands skywards. “Doom has come to Kharak! The cursed mothership has brought death upon us all!”
Then the first volley hit, and Nuun knew no more.
* * *
19th Dec 01, 8:20 PM
Keep going. This story will get you to the honoured ranks of the "read."
19th Dec 01, 10:00 PM
As it turned out, the mothership was too late.
Far, far too late.
The placid, liquid starlight of the quantum waveform unceremoniously dumped them into orbit around Kharak. As it turned out, the hyperspace targeting system was completely accurate, and the mothership emerged at the exact point of its departure – however, it was facing the opposite direction, and so both the Scaffold and the planet were entirely visible to the naked eye. The LiirHra helmsman slid back from his console as though he had burned his hands on the control boards; his mouth was agape, but he managed to gasp a jumble of apologies. “I’m sorry,” he breathed, as though he were responsible for what everyone saw. “I’m so sorry. I should have done something…” Tears formed in the corner of his eyes, and he slumped forward against the expansive curve of his station. Admiral Paktu was oblivious to the poor man’s suffering, though. She was too absorbed in what she beheld in front of the powerful mothership.
A tangle of blackened wreckage hung suspended in space was the only sign that the orbital Scaffold had ever existed. Whereas it had been a proudly angular structure, all clean lines and protruding girders that once cradled the years of hard work that the Kharakid had poured into their journey to Hiigara, bright lights that had illuminated the skies of Tiir for decades as a reminder of their destiny…it was now gone. Enormous slabs of metal had melted and folded in on themselves, or worse yet, simply vanished into clouds of atomised particles. It was, to the bridge crew, a twisted sepulchre, a tomb to over twenty thousand engineers and command officers. No natural force could have caused such devastation. Somewhere, a datapad fell from stunned fingers to the deck.
“No-one’s left…everything is gone…” Karan Sjet’s voice was impassive and nearly devoid of emotion, but even her integration into the computer network of the mothership had not killed her soul. An undercurrent of torment choked her voice, and systems across the board fluctuated as her grief ricocheted the length of the ship. Kirana Paktu wanted to scream bloody outrage at the Sjet’s lack of feeling for the loss of the innocent Scaffold technicians, wanted to throw herself out an airlock for arriving too late, wanted to bring them back from their icy, airless graves. None of these things could she do.
“Kharak is burning...”
In the light of the sun, the pinkish-yellow globe of Kharak, the desert world that had been her people’s exilic home for so long, was under siege by a massive firestorm. The entire northern hemisphere, the sanctuary of millions of beings, was blackening and wilting like a grossly insatiable tumour, a blight that had consumed almost the entire population of the planet. It was moving so fast that she could visible see it crawling towards the southern pole of her planet, where a few kiithid had moved in defiance of the Great Daiamid. In the midst of her grief, Kirana had forgotten that the Daiamid was now gone. Spires of white gas seemed to claw out into space; the frantic fingers of her people as they burned alive. She could hear nothing, see nothing, save the plight of the world beneath. Oh, gods, it’s burning! was all she could think. The soft glimmer of stars outside were harsh, mocking their wordless pain as they had done for a thousand million years. Whispers of anguish in the silence that echoed, and echoed, and lay still. Someone on the bridge screamed long and loud as the last castle of their people burned as a funereal pyre.
Kirana’s mind and soul burned with her world. Burned with guilt. Burned with hurt.
Burned for revenge.
In the background, she hard someone from Intel talk about how there were no frequency contacts throughout the entire system. Kharak was being consumed by firestorm, he said. The Scaffold has been destroyed, along with all orbital facilities. Kirana wanted him to tell them something she didn’t know. He sounded just like Fleet Command: no emotion and no pain, just carrying out their orders. Intel staff were chosen for their ability to continue functioning in a crisis situation, but the sheer magnitude of this disaster had overridden the training of everyone on the bridge, touching something primal and deeply ingrained, perhaps as a result of their exile from Hiigara thousands of years ago.
“Admiral, do you copy?”
It was that damned Sjet woman again, nagging Kirana for orders. She scrubbed tears out of her eyes. “What is it, dammit?”
“Admiral, I said I have a weak communications contact, on one of the maintenance frequencies. I’m analysing it now. Do you wish to be informed once…it’s the cryo-tray systems. One of them is suffering a massive malfunction. Damage reports are coming in…all hands to battle stations! Three enemy frigates are firing on the cryo-trays!” Karan Sjet said, this time with a dash of emotion tainting her words. They shook Admiral Paktu back into a state of awareness, and the fiery-haired woman ripped her gaze from the dying planet of Kharak and stood up. Her knees were still shaky, but she was the admiral of the mothership. She had to appear in control and confident before her crew. “Scramble fighters, fast as you can,” she said. “We need to save as many lives as we can.”
* * *
19th Dec 01, 10:11 PM
For the second time in an hour, Arban Ferriil strapped himself into the cockpit of his interceptor and got ready for combat. Blade Squadron was now whole again, the ship lost at the Khar-Selim battle having being replaced, but no-one seemed particularly eager to talk about anything. They had all seen that one poignant image of the firestorms sweeping across the surface of their former world. Kharak was not their planet by birthright, but it was the home to millions of people. Millions of people, Arban corrected, that were now nothing more than ashes or constituent particles. Everyone in the squadron was supremely angry and desired nothing more than to bring their people back, but it was too late for that now. They had an opportunity for vengeance which no-one could deny them of. It was time to take back a little of what they had lost.
“Blade Six here, ready to go,” he reported. The rest of the squadron reported in, then they were out of the hangar and into orbit, soaring over the carcass of Kharak. It took the targeting computer in the interceptor only a second or two to pick out the three large vessels that were firing upon the six cryo-trays nearby; the IFF transponders did not identify them as anything more than assault frigates. Each one was armed with a fearsome array of forward guns set on rotating bases which might pose a problem for anyone making a forward attack, but it seemed that they were undefended everywhere else. What was more interesting was that the third ship, the one closest to Kharak, was already heavily damaged. The orbital missile launchers must have caused some damage before they were taken out, Arban thought. These ships packed a significant amount of firepower, but they couldn’t have done all the damage here. There must have been a large complement of fighters, as well as some kind of specialty weapons ship to attack the planet’s surface.
He also noticed that they weren’t the same alien ships from the edge of the Kharak system. Their architecture was less utilitarian, less pragmatic. It carried a deliberate malevolence and cruelty to it, combining function and sharp sadism into one vessel.
“So if they aren’t the same ones,” he asked himself, “then who the hell are they?”
“All fighters, this is Fleet Intelligence. Do not attack the heavily-damaged frigate; we are despatching salvage corvettes to bring it in for interrogation and dismantling. Destroy the other two ships as ordered.” The leaders of both Arrows and Blades acknowledged the orders and altered their attack vectors.
The cryo-trays were large, rectangular structures that were nothing more than immense storage facilities. Each tray housed one hundred thousand Kharakid in cryogenic stasis for the long journey to Hiigara, and while they were self-contained, they were not permanent endpoints for the ‘sleepers’. They were designed to hold the colonists in orbit until the mothership was complete, then they would be loaded and secured into the capital ship foundry on-board, where the Kharakid would be off-loaded and placed in the cryogenic vault while the trays were disassembled for resource reclamation. No shielding or weaponry had been built into them, and as such, they were large targets for the assault frigates and their guns. Arban saw that they were concentrating their fire on one single tray at a time. The Arrows were already making strafing runs on the first undamaged ship to weaken the shields, making room for the interceptors and their missile attacks.
Juriin’s voice cut into his thoughts. “This is Blade Lead. Knock the shields down, then regroup at co-ordinates four-five-oh mark seven-nine.”
The combined might of twelve interceptors and their mass driver cannons struck the shields of the first assault frigate. Being a large ship, the frigate had shields that were able to take fire from small fighter craft for a long time. However, Kharakid tacticians knew that by concentrating fire on one single point, even a small handful of fighters could cause serious problems with shielding. After the Arrows, it took the Blades a single run to punch a hole in the frigate’s shields. Arban locked onto the shield and opened fire. The pinpoint projectiles of the mass drivers splashed across the energy field before causing it to flicker. Behind him, Blade Seven’s shots penetrated into the hull, where they tore bits and pieces of metal loose. Arban soared over the back of the frigate, executed a rolling loop, and came back for a second run. He triggered a burst of fire that nibbled through another part of the shield, then he inverted and climbed away in a long spiral. The damaged frigate made a few shots at him, but they exploded by on either side harmlessly. Ferriil noticed that a pair of salvage corvettes, the Porter and the Another Day, had latched on to either side of the ship and were already beginning to pull it away. Salvage corvettes were a tactician’s drawback plan: if a battle was going somewhat badly, they could deploy a series of salvage corvettes to steal some of the enemy ships. A data uplink in each of the stocky ‘arms’ downloaded a series of viruses and scrambler programs into the computer system, then a pair of high-power tractor beams was able to secure the opponent. Salvage corvettes possessed the greatest thrust-to-size ratio in the entire fleet, including the mothership, and it was this that allowed them to bring home vessels that were several times their own size. Arban smiled as he watched, imagining the alien crew as they tried and failed to regain control of their ship. They would be taken onto the mothership, questioned by InSec and Intel, and then detained or released.
His heads-up display showed that the shields on the frigate were down, so he punched the co-ordinates Juriin had given him into the navicomp and let the interceptor fly itself out. “Blades, this is Lead. Arm torpedoes, single shot, and lock onto the target I assign you. The enemy’s armour is heavy from a front perspective, but it looks real thin towards the rear, particularly in the lateral segments. We should be able to cripple him in one run,” Juriin said, voice cold and deadly.
A string of numbers appeared on the tactical screen before a targeting reticle appeared around a diagram of the frigate. Arban had been given orders to hit a long stretch of power transfer conduit that supplied the weapons turrets at the front. It was a small target, but the missile was computer-controlled, so he figured that it’d be a fairly easy shot. As he looped around, he felt his ship crunch and rattle heavily, and the lights on the controls went off. “What the…?” he muttered as everything came back on. The first frigate is firing on us! It’s damaged partner gone and it’s sister ship still focusing on the cryo-tray, the first vessel had decided to have a shot at the fighters. His shields were back up, but that had been a solid hit, and no doubt a few systems were burned out. The technicians weren’t going to be happy.
Blades Lead through to Five made their attack runs. Missiles punched through the ship armour and detonated inside, boiling great holes in the hull. Gun turrets raked the surrounding space with frantic fire as it tried to fight off the now-deadly interceptors. Arban waited until his target reticle went red, and popped off a single torpedo. It hit the transfer conduit head on. Volatile energy streams ripped free of their cylindrical prison and cut into the battleship from all sides. Atmosphere vented, carrying with it debris and bodies, then subsidiary explosions rocketed more shrapnel and parts into the void. Lights went off along the length of the frigate as it began to lose power. Gouts of plasma fire escaped into the vacuum.
With no chance of survival, the assault frigate’s captain did the one thing left open to him – the one thing that no-one expected. He rolled his ship forward to face the six cryo-trays and reset his forward guns to straight alignment. Arban swore as he watched the large cannons line up and fire one last desperate volley before the ship was consumed with fire. There was no escape from the Kharakid, only death, and the frigate died spectacularly.
It had a hull breach along one side that seemed to suck in everything around it. The large engine array exploded immediately, shredding the rear third of the ship and causing a roiling blue wave of incandescent gas to push the ship forward, but by then it was only the spasmodic jerking of a dead body. A final torpedo from Blade Eleven cored through the frigate’s bridge module, melting everything into long, twisted threads that trailed from the wreck like streamers, or congealed blood. The hollow hull sagged in on itself and hung there in space.
“Good job, guys,” Arban congratulated over the comm. “We showed – ”
“Attention, all fighters! Cryo-tray one is about to melt down!”
The final shot from the assault frigate had reached its intended target. The Porter and Another Day had carted off two of the cryo-trays already, but the damaged one was still vulnerable. Those last hits seemed to push it over the edge – forks of lightning played across the hull before it erupted in a volcano of light and heat. Fragments of hull and cryogenic suspension pods hurtled away, and one hundred thousand Kharakid joined their planetside comrades in the icy sea of death.
Arban felt his heart ignite as the two fighter squadrons turned on the final frigate. They repeated the same tactic, and their final frigate detonated in as fiery a fashion as its partner, but each move was ingrained with anger and pain that now seemed a defining characteristic of the Kharakid fleet. As the last missiles hit, someone shouted, “For Kharak! For vengeance!” over the comm, and Arban Ferriil found he could only agree.
Blade Squadron returned to the mothership in silence.
* * *
21st Dec 01, 2:24 AM
In the yawning hollow of the capital starship foundry, medical personnel swarmed like ants over the five cryo-trays that hung from racks, in much the same way that slabs of meat would be pinned up to roast in the noon sun back on Kharak during the times before technology had returned to them. But, of course, Kharak is gone now, Doctor Miirna Sjet thought. When she had first saw the clouds of blackness that covered half of her world, she had nearly choked on the grief she felt. But her medical training overrode the shock and the pain and the sense of loss that permeated her and the entire crew of the mothership. Everyone had been expecting to see family or friends, partners, or just their homes again upon their return from the hyperspace test. Now they would never see anyone again. As soon as the battle had concluded, Miirna had offered to take a shuttle on a flyby of Tiir to see if anyone had somehow survived the immolation strike, but the Admiralty had denied her request, citing the destructive power of the missile and the fact that no building on the planet could have protected flesh-and-blood beings from the firestorm that now burned on the surface. And, in hindsight, she had to agree. Even if someone had survived the wave of flames, they would not survive the after-effects of the blast, which had been strong enough to destabilise the gaseous equilibrium. Any survivors would have asphyxiated as the atmosphere spiralled away into the void, where it would drift forevermore.
Miirna watched as the cargo crews opened access hatches along the sides of the cryo-trays. Each tray had been extensively scanned the moment it had made contact with the heavy foundry loading door, and each cryogenic pod assessed for problems. So far, they hadn’t picked up any fatalities, but several pods had reported damage as a result of battle. They would be automatically set aside by the unloading machines for checking and repair by medical and biotechnician crews. Unlike the attack on Kharak, they had planned for this eventuality. Miirna made sure her medscanner was calibrated correctly, then issued her final orders to her teams.
“Stay in your groups,” she said, brushing a strand of jet-black hair from her face. “Keep an eye out for tagged pods. Remember that we need to keep people under unless it’s absolutely necessary to bring them out. Triage rules apply, so if someone is too far gone, let them go.” She felt guilty for saying such things in the light of the recent disaster, but there were five hundred thousand pods to process, and that could take days unless they got them out of the trays and into the cryogenic vault with a minimum of delay. The refreezing process took two weeks, and could be traumatic if done too fast or a number of times, so Miirna had decided that triage was the best way to deal with possibly fatal cases.
The pods, lozenge shaped and assembled in rows of ten, began to come down past the teams of medical personnel. Sjet tried to keep an eye on them, but the tagged ones would be automatically removed, so –
“We’ve got one!” she cried as one pod was separated from its row and floated to the side on antigrav palettes. Her team, which consisted of handful of doctors, nurses, and freshly-trained biotechnicians, surrounded the smooth metal and got their diagnostic tools out. Miirna watched as the vital signs of the sleeping Kharakid inside scrolled past on her medscanner. “Occupant is alive and healthy,” she pronounced. “The freezing engine has suffered minor damage. It’ll be repaired by the maintenance drones once it’s installed in the vault. Next!”
The slightly-damaged cryogenic shell hovered away.
Miirna and her team processed another seven pods before a seriously-injured patient came up. She and her team worked with practised precision, and it seemed alright as the freezing engine and its components checked out with flying colours. But then the medical scans came back, and her heart skipped a beat in pain. “Damn, the occupant’s redlining,” she said. “Are you sure that the mechanics are okay?”
Her counterpart, a Nabaali technician, plugged his diagnostic tool back into the datalink and shrugged. “It’s all fine. Everything is…hey, wait a second. We’ve got some major damage here! The datalink must be faulty. Life support and freezing is going on and off erratically!”
“Life support manipulation controls, stat!” Miirna shouted. Someone opened the panel for her, and she went to work. Each cryogenic pod allowed medical staff to adjust settings and inject chemicals as treatment, in situations like this. A holographic display showed the patient inside in real time – this was almost as horrible as watching Kharak die. Inside the pod lay a swirl of black ugliness where a normal, healthy Kharakid should have been. Had she made some foolish mistake with her check? Or had the battle damage somehow caused the patient to...to deform like this? Whatever it was, it seemed to be progressive, based on the fluctuations in the freezing array.
“Go to emergency power,” she snapped. Her nurse made the switch-over smoothly.
The hologram showed the twisted form of her patient spasm once. What’s wrong? Every control is set properly, all back-ups functioning…why is it still happening? Your assistant is as perplexed as you! Damn this technology! “Override primary systems! Get him on an auxiliary freezing engine!”
“Transfer not working…”
A fresh wave of fright swept over Miirna as she stole another glance at her patient, who was clearly misshapen now. She began the thawing procedure, in clear violation of her own orders, and waited as the emergency protocols started the long process of revival. She dialled the speed up as fast as it would let her, but nothing was making any difference. “It’s too late,” she whispered, but she continued to work frantically. The pod shook under her fingers as the Kharakid inside shook uncontrollably – he was now a writhing, chaotic mass of flesh, skeletal shapes and pumping organs on the outside of ‘his’ body. A twisted, claw-like hand tore at the smooth inside walls of the metal pod, and a scream came from a bleeding mouth that could be heard even through the thick layers of alloy that were meant to be soundproofed. Miirna gasped and stepped back as the thawing process completed in record time, and the cryogenic pod split open.
“Did you save him?” a voice asked from behind.
It was one of her nurses.
Miirna’s voice was unsteady as she turned away from the lump of meat inside the cryo-pod. She didn't really want to think about the mutated Kharakid right now. “What we dug out…didn’t live long," she said quietly, respectfully, enigmatically. "Fortunately.”
How many more deaths this day? she asked herself. How many more must die at the hands of the alien forces, directly or indirectly? The cryo-trays were full of civilians. They didn’t know about the mothership. They were just looking to start a new life in freedom.
How many more people will we lose in the journey ahead?
“Doctor Sjet! We have another one!”
She went back to work.
* * *
22nd Dec 01, 6:31 PM
The mothership’s Admiralty convened in one of the briefing rooms, seated round a table to discuss the next move. Each admiral represented each of the major kiith involved in the mothership project – Nabaal, Sjet, Paktu, Soban, Manaan, LiirHra, and Sagald. They were trained to be responsible for the huge logistical structure of the mothership, and yet in this time of crisis, it took all seven of them to tackle the possibilities of their people’s future. A holographic projector on the table showed details of the attack on Kharak, gleaned from the interrogations of the captured frigate’s crew and various logs from the frigate’s computer core. It detailed a massive force that arrived and systematically destroyed the missile defence system, the Scaffold, and then immolated the surface of Kharak with some kind of large missile weapon. Admiral Paktu had watched the visual recordings and had felt sick to her stomach. These were a completely different race from the raider ships they had previously encountered. They were, as the interrogators had learned, part of a far-spanning empire that dominated huge tracts of the galaxy. And their names?
“So,” Admiral Nolek Manaan, a handsome man in his late forties, asked in his bass timbre. “The Taidaani fleet has destroyed all vestiges of our culture, from both the planet and orbit. The Scaffold is gone, meaning that the mothership will never be entirely complete. Where do we go from here? Half a million Kharakid depend on us now for survival. Where can we take them? What if the mothership runs out of resources?”
Admiral Ferreli Sagald shook his head. “You ask too many questions, Nolek. We need to be calm and controlled about this. I grieve as much as the rest of us for the lives lost on Kharak – my family was down there when it was burned – but I can’t imagine how worrying will accomplish anything.” He sighed. “Logic dictates that if there are hostile alien races, there is a high probability of friendly races existing as well. That is why we constructed the Ambassador craft. As for the question of resources, the resource collectors can harvest some of the asteroids in the outer regions of our system.”
“But where will we go?” the Manaani shot back. “The Taidaan will no doubt plague the path to Hiigara, and the mothership is not equipped for military conflict against anything larger than a few fighters. We must have vengeance for what was brought upon us, but we cannot allow the cost for our revenge to exceed the cost of our lives.”
“Why did the Taidaan attack us in the first place?” Sagald mused.
The answer came from Admiral Kabaal Soban, a man with close-cropped hair and eyes black as obsidian stone. He frowned before speaking in his soft but vaguely-menacing voice. “The Taidaani empire have subjugated other races before, and apparently, we fall within their jurisdiction,” he said. That in itself was hard to believe, given that the Kharak system was only barely within the outermost regions of the galaxy, but the admirals ignored that fact for the time being. “The captain was very proud of his people’s ability to maintain control over those in their power. They simply restrict technological development among the constituent species of their empire.
“For four thousand years,” the Sobani continued, “an edict has been in place forbidding anyone from developing hyperspace technology. There are exceptions, of course, but we are not among the privileged. A deep-space probe or a passing vessel must have detected one of our earlier tests of the prototype hyperdrive module, because the Taidaani fleet responded within weeks. I do not think it is a coincidence that the aliens in the outer system destroyed our support vessel just as our world was being immolated. These aliens are most likely a lesser race that the Taidaan have assimilated into their military. We determined that a large carrier-class vessel launched a missile that was responsible for our planet’s death.” He blinked, and his eyes were as black holes, drawing the attention of the other six admirals into them. “The punishment for violating this edict is the destruction of their world. We have paid the price for our supposed insolence.”
Admiral Sjet gasped, one hand covering her mouth. “The Khar-Selim warned us to abort our hyperdrive test…” she whispered.
“And what of the Taidaani captain?” Admiral Manaan asked.
Kabaal Soban smiled enigmatically. “The subject did not survive interrogation.”
From the opposite side of the table, Kirana Paktu repressed a wave of disgust.
“Our comrades in Fleet Intelligence have tracked the hyperspace signatures of the remaining Taidaani fleet to another sector, further inside the local spiral arm,” the Sobani admiral said. “They seem to have paused to gather resources. It would only be a slight deviation for us to construct a strike fleet and exact vengeance. Moreover, this would send a concrete message to the Taidaan Empire – that Kharak may be gone, but the Exiles live on, and that we will not stop in our quest to give up the dream of Hiigara.”
The other admirals nodded in agreement at this idea.
Kirana Paktu pushed one of the toggles on her control panel, and the table’s projector switched to a life-size image of Karan Sjet from the neck up. Entangled in cables and wires, she appeared to be the result of a freakish meld between a Kharakid and a serpentine machine, but she was peaceful now. Earlier, when she had first laid her mechanical eyes upon the destruction of Kharak, her violent upsurge of emotions had caused hundreds of systems to erratically flicker on and off. “Fleet Command here. How can I help?” she said.
“We need a brief status report on the current status of the mothership,” Paktu said.
“As requested. One moment…”
Karan’s eyes darted imperceptibly backwards and forwards as she gathered information from the length of the ship, then inclined her head slightly.
“The mothership is currently incomplete, as you know, but operational. All major systems, such as resource collecting, construction, life support, and defensive shielding are on-line and fully functional. However, we do not possess the heavy weapons we require to mount a direct assault, which transfers that responsibility to vessels we construct on our journey. Additionally, the mothership’s sublight drives are unable to generate any form of propulsive energy. The Scaffold was in the process of constructing the initiator coils and attenuator components, which would be necessary for the production of thrust. Currently, the hyperdrive is our only means of travel, and each use of it will undoubtedly agitate the Taidaan.”
“What do you recommend as our course of action?”
“To stay here is to die,” she said simply. “We are all that’s left of our world, our culture, our people. There’s nothing left for us to return to or to bind us here. Our mission was to follow the path etched into the Guidestone, and this is what we must do. Finding our ancient world of Hiigara is our only hope left to us in this time of trouble.”
The hologram faded before anyone else could interject.
“Well,” Admiral LiirHra said, her token pessimism filtering through in her tone. “It appears that our ship has had its say. I think it’s safe to boil down our options into two courses of action: we can head straight for Hiigara, with a slight detour to destroy the Taidaani fleet; or we can head out into the galaxy and take our chances before assuming a more or less indirect path towards Hiigara. Any takers on the second option?”
“No, I didn’t think so. Fleet Command, this is Admiral LiirHra. Note in the logs that the Admiralty has voted unanimously to continue on a path towards Hiigara. Part of this journey will be the destruction of the Taidaani fleet in an act of retribution for the immolation of Kharak. End log entry.”
“Log entry noted and recorded.”
* * *
25th Dec 01, 4:01 PM
Space was a cold, hard enemy. No-one fully understood it and its ways, but more importantly, no-one fully trusted it. It smiled slyly at those who dared to challenge its power and could (and often would) backstab those souls in the shortest of heartbeats. Only a person’s own odds could say whether the obsidian void would be freedom or a dungeon – or death – and the cosmos ignored all hopes, turning blindly to its victims and softly whispering to them…
The Kharakid knew the power of space now. They knew its temper, they knew its mood. They had felt its might when the unknown raider ships had blown the Khar-Selim into smithereens. They knew its fury when the clouds of fighters had wiped out the Kharakid missile defence system, and when the actinic blue lances of ion beams had melted the Scaffold into a misshapen grave of thousands of engineers. And they had known its mercy when five of the cryo-trays had been rescued by the salvage corvettes. Unfortunately, space had decided not to be too merciful, and had allowed the Taidaan to destroy their world and one of the cryo-trays. Millions of lives had been taken on this one fateful day that had begun with promise and ended in tragedy.
And yet, there was hope for the Exiles.
In the silence of the vacuum, the giant semi-crescent of the mothership slipped into hyperspace and left the corpse of their world behind. It could not carry them straight to Hiigara in one jump, but they would be well on their way for now. The depths of the galaxy could prove to have open arms or closed fists, but for now, it was impassive, unrevealing, and unknowably anonymous.
Space whispered to the occupants of the mothership, taunting, mysterious, relentless.
Powered by vBulletin® Version 4.2.0 Copyright © 2013 vBulletin Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.