((While cleaning up some files on my laptop I found this EVC story I'd started working on a few years ago but never finished. This is the first chapter. It looks like this forum is close to dead, alas, but if there's enough interest I may work on finishing writing the story.))
2253.03.07 08:27:52 NC/CST
A trio of missiles slammed into the side of the RSS Insurgent , penetrating the failing shields and vaporizing its port batteries in a gout of flame and superheated debris. The destroyer slowly swung around, intending to flee, but was cut off by a trio of patrol ships. Its remaining weapons batteries opened fire, showering the small ships in a succession of proton bolts. The two remaining Manta fighters streaked by and added their firepower to the battle. One was taken out by a well-placed missile but its wreckage crashed into a patrol ship, destroying it as well.
A torpedo shot out towards Insurgent , its intense electric fields ionizing gaseous debris and creating the characteristic yellow glow. It impacted on the destroyer's lower rear section, visibly interrupting the engines' output. The cumulative damage of the battle suddenly become too great for the Rebel ship to sustain. Lines of fire tore through the outer skin as overheated fuel lines exploded. The massive flywheel in the destroyer's heart, latent with stored rotational energy, seized up and tore the interior to shreds. A fraction of a second later the engine core detonated, engulfing what was left of Insurgent and the remaining Manta in a massive explosion. When the glare died down all that was left was an expanding cloud of incandescent vapor.
On board the USS Tsiolkovsky , Captain Jonas Turner sat back wearily. He thumbed a key on his control console. "Stand down red alert. Damage report."
The chief engineer responded through the comlink. "We've got burnthroughs all over E deck and in patches on D. Damcon teams are patching the holes before we repressurize those sections." In the background shouted orders could be heard above the groan of overstressed metal. "Starboard proton turrets are gone, and we're down two patrol ships. The shields are holding, but one of the secondary field generators is fused. I wouldn't want to fight again without a refit, sir."
"Thank you, lieutenant." Before he could say anything else, a light flashed on his console.
At the same time, the communications officer announced, "Captain, we're picking up a transmission from the message relays." A brief pause as the ship's computers chewed on the message with powerful decryption algorithms, then -- "It's from Navy headquarters."
"Let's hear it," Turner said. Privately he hoped it might be approval for some off-time for his crew. They had been terribly overworked in the six months since Tsiolkovsky first set out on active duty, and he feared to have their competence suffer as a result. The prospect was doubtful, though. A recent series of successful Rebel assaults on Confederation shipping lanes had the Navy brass worried, enough so to increase regular patrol details far beyond their usual proscribed limits. Having to spend long periods under heavy acceleration had not helped the situation.
The comm officer scanned the message scrolling up on his screen. "We're to put back to Stardock Alpha immediately for new orders." He glanced up from the screen. "The message is signed by Admiral Laguerre."
"Wonderful," Turner muttered to himself. It seemed no shore leave would be forthcoming. Aloud, he said, "Signal the patrol ships to dock."
The two fighters sank through a carefully opened hole in Tsiolkovsky 's shields, which were slowly fading from cherry red to transparent as they radiated the absorbed heat of the battle away into space. The ruddy glow was uniform across the ship's surface now, but the hull's armor plating was scored with deep gashes where the defense fields had briefly overheated and become permeable, allowing Insurgent 's weapons fire through.
Once the fighters had docked, Turner turned to his astrogator. "Helm, lay in a minimum-time course for Earth. Come about and prepare for hyperspace jump." Acceleration warnings sounded as the cruiser turned. They were currently moving too fast with respect to the system's star and would have to slow before entering hyperspace. Weight returned, building quickly until the ship was braking at 1.9 standard gravities, the limit of its drive.
It would not do to keep Navy Command waiting.
2253.03.21 19:59:52 NC/CST
Tsiolkovsky lay in darkness, orbiting through the Earth's shadow next to Stardock Alpha. It showed against the background of stars as a field of absolute black speckled with a multitude of tiny pinpricks of light, the only visible sign of the scores of repair drones and technicians scurrying over the hull. Inside the station the mood was hardly less frantic. Equipment and personnel fairly flew through the airlocks in a well-trained frenzy of refitting.
Turner stood in one of the dimly-lit observation lounges, watching the scene from a safe distance. Of course, what appeared to be an expanse of glass wall could really be no more than a large vid screen -- on a space station, a true window could only be in the floor -- but the illusion was well-done. Techs milled about on the ship's exterior like ants, repairing or replacing damaged armor panels and weapon emplacements.
The pace of their activity made Turner frown. Though the techs knew their business well, their activities outside seemed more rushed than just competently efficient. But then, there were more repairs to be made than usual.
This last battle in particular had been worrying. A single Rebel destroyer and a handful of Mantas should have been easy prey for a fully armed Confederate cruiser, especially one as newly commissioned as Tsiolkovsky , but she had taken more damage than Turner would have normally expected. Had it just been one of the vagaries of warfare, or was the crew starting to break under the strain? He replayed the battle in his mind, trying to recall any sign that he or the crew had slipped up -- an order given a moment too late, or followed slightly too slowly.
"Captain Turner?" A young rating stood in the lounge doorway. "Admiral's compliments, and you're to come to his office right away." Turner followed the man as he led the way, feeling the faint tug of Coriolis force as he walked. Just like a ship in standard orbit, the station rotated on its axis to provide those onboard with acceleration in place of real gravity. As they walked Turner gradually felt himself becoming fractionally lighter. The Admiral's office was close to the hub of the station.
The yeoman pointed Turner to a door at the end of the narrow hall, unadorned save for a small detachable nameplate: RADM G. LAGUERRE, INTCOMSOL. The door slid silently open as the Captain walked up to it, and he stepped through into the office. The Admiral sat behind a wide and extremely messy desk, looking at least as harried as Turner felt. He was a heavyset man, and obviously Regulus-native: skin so dark it seemed to be cut from the blackness outside, but with facial features which would fit right in on the streets of old Paris. Two hundred years of living around a blue-white star had been burned into New France's gene pool.
"Good afternoon, Captain," he said, still looking at the reports spread out before him. Then he looked up at Turner. "How is Tsiolkovsky?"
"She's spaceworthy, sir. Damaged, but the techs are taking care of that. It's the crew I'm worried about--" but Laguerre was already nodding.
"I know. We are rotating out most of your support crew while you are docked here, but your officers and senior staff have to stay. You are off patrol duty, at least for now. We have a new assignment for you." He stood and keyed a sequence of commands into the wall beside his desk. The room lights dimmed slightly as the holoscreen flickered to life. On the display was the map of explored space known well to every spacefarer: flat, roughly circular, the jump lines all roughly the same length. Travel time through hyperspace is a function only of mass, not distance.
"We use this schematic map every day," the Admiral remarked, "but of course the real stars are not arranged anything like this. Normally it makes no difference, because the links are the only way between systems, but... well, today it is different."
Another command, and the stars on the display shifted into their true positions. Most drifted above or below the plane of the map, as they were arranged in three-dimensional space. Jumplines shortened, or became grossly elongated. Only the slightest resemblance to the original map remained.
"Your mission is here." On the map an indicator appeared and blinked, circling a small red dot on the outskirts of the nebula. "Kapteyn's Star. It has never been explored up close before, because nobody has ever been able to find a jump line leading there, but that is about to change. Our astrophysicists tell us they expect the 'threshold event', as they call it, to happen in the Nexus system in a matter of days."
Turner's eyebrows went up in surprise. "A new jump line? That's... unprecedented."
The admiral nodded. "Indeed so, and we intend to be first on the scene when it forms. Intelligence has turned up no evidence the Rebels are aware of the possibility yet, but the stellar neighborhood has been well-charted for decades and their hyperspace theorists are almost as good as ours are. They will figure it out eventually. Before that happens we want to have solid survey data on the system and whether it is suitable for an operations base or at least a listening post."
"Sir, wouldn't a scoutship be more appropriate to this sort of work? I'm proud of Tsiokovsky , of course, but she's not a science vessel." Turner carefully kept his voice level to avoid sounding like he was protesting the orders -- which he wasn't. In fact, an assignment like this could be a good chance of pace for his crew. But he needed to know why he'd been chosen. If the Navy didn't think he could handle patrol duty...
"If the jump line were forming near one of the core worlds, perhaps," Laguerre explained. "But being so close to Rebel space limits our options. We need a ship that can handle a fight in the event that they spot you en route or show up at Kapteyn's on their own. It would be obvious that something unusual was going on if you were escorting a science vessel, and we cannot spare the ships to put together a larger task force. Your ship is one of the newest batch of cruisers, so she has the latest sensor equipment."
The admiral turned back to the holoscreen, regarding the star and its new jump line gravely. "A door is opening out there, Captain. Let us find out what is behind it."
This post has been edited by wisnij : 08 January 2011 - 05:11 PM