Story #1: The Outlaw

Story writing contest started 10 Feb, 2011 and running to April 16, 2011. Rules inside the forum.

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How do you rate story #1? (1 being the lowest score, and 10 being the highest score.)

Poll ended at Fri 22 Apr 2011 01:54

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Total votes : 6

Story #1: The Outlaw

Postby Cralis on Sun 17 Apr 2011 01:54

Remember that no man loses other life than that which he lives,
or lives any other life than that which he loses.
-Marcus Aurelius

Captain Megan Ryan stared at the monitor in front of her. She was going to die here, so very far from home. There would be no escape. No rescue. 'All I can choose is where and when.' She keyed open the ship's intercom and thought back on how this had all started.

0553 hours GMT, February 1st, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 500 light minutes from Sol

The United Spacefaring Nations Naval Vessel Outlaw shook slightly as the docking mechanism locked. Captain Megan Ryan felt the jostle as the two ships locked together and saw the 'Docking Complete' prompt flash on the monitor at her station. Tapping at the keys and controls on her armrest, Megan switched her monitor over to a visual feed from the bow. The bow of the USNN Hermes was just visible on the edge of the feed as a dark patch in the field of stars. Touching the prompt on her monitor she turned on the external floodlights and saw the dark patch become gleaming white. She panned the camera back along the gleaming area and the structure of the other ship came into view. Gleaming white pods and struts filled the monitor, and then the transit racks slowly came into view. Hundreds of yards of framework with docking brackets. And attached to them was the sleek, grey black hull of the Outlaw. The ships were studies in opposites. One, the Hermes, was designed to house the massive system that would allow ships to move between stars and the gravatic drive that enabled that. The other was a long and smooth engine of death, designed to ride a nuclear flare at tremendous velocities through space. For the moment they were just one entity.

The small white jets sprouting intermittently from the Hermes, along with the slow movement of the stars in the background told Megan that the ships were coming about. She panned the camera back to a forward view and saw Sol. From here, it was only a bright point of light in the field of stars. Megan knew that a few kilometers away, invisible in the dark of space at this distance, the USNN Apollo and USNN Conqueror were completing the same maneuvers. A box flashed on her screen. A blinking blue interruption. It was a message from Rear Admiral Scott Moreland on the Apollo. He was in charge of this mission. Megan tapped the box and watched as the message displayed on her screen.







The Communications Officer hadn't announced the message, so the admiral must have used the flag station's over ride and sent it directly to her. The admiral and her father had served together two decades ago. In fact, her maiden voyage in space had been on the USN Steadfast, in a convoy commanded by then Commander Moreland. At that time she had only been a Lieutenant Commander and a passenger, now she was Captain of her own ship. So much had happened.

Twenty years ago humanity had made its first contact with an alien race. Or rather an alien race made contact with humanity. They had possessed technologies that mankind had never dreamed of. Eighteen years ago Dr. Henk Leering had used that technology to generate gravitons and redistribute inertia, allowing the first practical interplanetary space craft that a human could travel on without extensive medical intervention. Three years later his associate Dr Thomas O'Connell had completed the calculations that replaced the old Standard Theory with the current Unified Point Coordinant Theory, leading to the development of the systems that allowed the transfer of mass through space - without crossing that space. Megan made no pretense at understanding the science and math behind it, but she did know that it was nearly impossible to use anywhere close to a star or planet's gravity well. The safest locations were deep outsystem. Using those discoveries humanity had made journeys to seven other stars.

Humanity had paid dearly for this knowledge though. The aliens had not come as friends. A billion lives had been lost in a war that spanned seven years. Some were lost in ships dueling at thousands of kilometers per second, others on the surface of the icy moons and dwarf planets the aliens had colonized. But most had died huddled in their homes as the aliens bombed their habitats or cities. Among the dead was her father, who had died far from home in one of the many battles humanity had fought against them.

Megan looked down from the monitor and raised her hand. The black polymer arm reflected the dim light of the Outlaw's bridge. She had nearly been killed in the first alien attack on the Earth eighteen years ago. Her body broken, she had become a cyborg. Only her brain and parts of her nervous system remained, meshed through with thousands of monomolecular strands and trapped inside of the black polycarbonate body of a space model cyborg. Just like everyone else on the Outlaw. A flesh and blood person could travel on the Hermes or Apollo, or on any ship with a graviton precession drive and its ability to distribute inertia across multiple membranes of existence. But for all the wonders of that drive, it had its limitations. Limitations which made it a poor choice for a warship. Limitations the nuclear drive did not. But no flesh and blood human could ever survive on a nuclear driven ship at combat acceleration. Even with the magnetic compensators a crew member needed to withstand accelerations of over 1000 G's. And only the cyborg crews would ever be able to withstand that stress.

The crackle of the intership comm link brought Megan back from her thoughts. "All hands, this is Captain Martin Jessup of the Hermes. The board is green. Sixty seconds until transit." It was a human voice. Not the flat monotone of a cyborg. Megan put her hand back down and keyed open her ship's intercom. "All hands, this is your Captain. This is it. Lock stations." Megan looked at her monitor and the bright point of light that was Sol, and then keyed the lock on her station. In a moment even her powerful cyborg body was held motionless as restraints locked in place. The only thing left she could move were her fingers.

'We are about to reach star number eight,' she thought to herself.

Megan could feel the ship hum as the drive on the Hermes warmed up. The monitor flickered for a moment as the stars shifted. One moment in one place, the next in another. The distant light of Sol was gone, replaced by a dim red glow. Megan felt the ship lurch. It was much rougher than docking. Using her fingers she panned the external visual feed back around toward her ship. The transit racks that still gripped the Outlaw were twisted and bent. Broken in a few places. 'They might have figured out how to damp inertia, but hauling the Outlaw isn't a cake walk.'

"Engineering, blow the docking clamps. Helm, get us clear of the Hermes and engage drive. Sensor Conn, I want a direct feed to my station. Anything unusual tag and highlight. Comm, raise Captain Hall of the Conqueror and send a status update to the Apollo." Megan heard the crew as they acknowledged their orders. She felt a new hum. The familiar feeling of the particle accelerators on board the Outlaw as they came online, and she waited for the green light to show on the corner or her monitor. The drive would not engage until the stations were all locked or the captain overrode the lock. A crew member not locked into their station would become a dangerous projectile when the drive engaged. A ship killing projectile. Any lose material would become a bullet punching through anything in its path. Air in the ship would be crushed and compressed to the rear of the compartments. Even if the hull could withstand the compressed air, it would shatter when the drive cut out and it explosively re-expanded. That air had all been vented long ago. Life on the Outlaw was a life in the hard vacuum of space.

No. This was no place for any normal person.

Megan tried to prepare for when the drive engaged. She'd never gotten used to it. She wasn't sure that anyone could. Shortly the particle accelerators would fire streams of hydrogen atoms at nearly the speed of light. Those streams would converge at 90 degree angles to a single point. The same point two dozen small chemical lasers were all focused on. And then that point would become a fair approximation of hell.

The drive engaged. Megan's vision grayed as the acceleration started. Even with the monomolecular mesh her brain still was affected by the stress. Then a blue halo ringed the outside of her vision. She had been told it was the effect of the magnetic field used to compensate for the acceleration. It interacted with the brain's own electronic fields, the two crossing at right angles or some such thing. She had done this thousands of times, but she still didn't like it.

"Welcome to Gliese eight seven six people. This is our home for the next three years."

Eons ago around a distant star, a giant of a planet circled. The planet was close to its star, completing its orbit in a matter of hours. Around this planet were dozens of moons. Most were no more than stray bits of rock captured by the planet's gravity. One was not. It was a giant of a moon. It had once been a small planet of its own, but it had also been captured by the giant planet's gravity. It had scattered many smaller moons as it had settled into its new orbit, and together the planet, moon, and star made their way through the vast emptiness of space.

As time passed, the moon was heated by the inferno it had found itself perilously close to, and then cooled as it orbited the great planet. In the constant cycles of heating and cooling, crystals began to form. Many types and combinations formed in the intense heat. Metals also were refined as the star burned away most of the impurities. Metals became alloys, fused in the furnace that was the surface of the moon. Metals and crystals mixed, then formed intricate matrices as time rolled on.

The magnetic field of the giant planet generated currents through many of the metals, and charges were stored in the crystals. Photons of light and ionizing radiation from the star added even more as electrons were stripped away or deposited. Great arcs of lightning played across the surface of the moon as the static charges were built and released. And at some point, deep within the lattice of crystals and alloys, it became aware.

It could direct its growth, and control charges and discharges. As it grew, it began to learn. It spread. At first it spread across the field of crystals that held it. And then across the face of its home. It understood that as one it was limited. So it became many, but still one. And it learned again. It spread across the few tiny moons left circling the giant planet. It reached out into the darkness around its star and began to spread across the last of the bodies in its solar system. It understood that it would not die. It also understood that in time its star would, and that could kill it. So it continued to learn. And after millennia passed, it learned to reach out to other stars.

It learned to bend the space between stars, so that what was far could be near. It understood even more. It did not perceive time as humanity did. As it bent space, it understood that time bent also. That time and space were one. That both were an illusion. As it bent space so that it could grow again, it also bent time. And in this way many were still one, and the self spread across many, many worlds.

In the eons that it spread, it met a dozen other anomalies that could self replicate. Some had proved dangerous and harmed the self. The self understood that in time all of these anomalies would perish, and until then all would squander resources the self would need. So all had been eliminated.

One had even been able to bend space as the self did. It had proven particularly difficult, as it also had spread across many systems. Battles were fought around many stars. In the end, it had also perished. Even as it perished it had struck back, for it had found the first home of the self. And it destroyed the star, and the first home of the self.

The self had foreseen the death of its star, and this came to pass in a time long before humanity had begun to look to the stars in wonder. The great light of its death would reach the tiny planet that humanity would call home many millennia later, and would be heralded as it shone in the sky for many nights. But something happened the self had never foreseen. As the star died, so did the birthplace of the self. What it had learned that let it reach across space and time, so that many could be one, brought the death of one too many. And so the self perished.

Yet its far reaching body lingered. As long as light and heat persisted, electrons coursed along metallic paths. Like long dead tissue, the proper stimulus would still bring a response from the corpse.

And near the last star the self had battled, a crystal lattice responded to the energy released as space/time folded and warped, and several parts of the dead being twitched and responded....

2100 hours GMT, February 8th, 2225 AD
USNN Apollo, 306 light minutes from Gliese 876

Rear Admiral Scott Moreland sat and watched the activity on the bridge. From his position at the flag station he had an excellent view of the Captain's staff as they moved about completing their tasks. Captain Sam Richards was a perfectionist, and expected nothing less from his crew even when there was little to work with.

Task Group Apollo was approaching twin balls of rock and ice on its journey to the inner system of 'Gee' 876 as the crew called the star. Or just 'Gee'. The planetoids were no larger than Pluto or Ceres back home, with the promise of nothing more to offer than those rocks did. Seven other distant dwarf planets had been identified circling the 'Gee', but none were close to the path that would lead them to the four innermost bodies. Those bodies were what they had come to look at. At least one would likely hold a decent site for a colony. Perhaps they would even find something humanity could survive on without extensive support. That was considered unlikely though. The first seven systems that had been explored held nothing that could remotely be considered habitable. Some held planets that were no more inhospitable than Mars, but that was as friendly as the universe seemed to offer near Earth.

Captain Richards had most of his staff working on readings and data from those four bodies and their moons. With the outer most of the large planets orbiting at less than two light minutes from 'Gee', data was still fairly lean. Groups were processing the data to check for atmospheres, composition, temperature, signs of water, or anything else the folks at home had considered as 'valuable' on this first pass. Others were preparing to do studies of the two frigid bodies the group was nearing. All of them were busy with whatever Sam could find for them to do.

Scott knew that it was all for show. The Apollo and Hermes both carried rudimentary facilities to conduct scientific work, but the real survey and analysis would happen when the follow on group arrived, the Pioneer Task Group. It would contain six USN Transit Carriers and the ships to conduct the real work of exploring the system. They would even bring 50,000 colonists from the USN to found the first colony, assuming a viable site could be identified. The Treaty of Serenetatis had given ownership of a body beyond Neptune to the first power to place a colony of 50,000 or greater on it. It had originally been intended to cover the dwarf planets in the scattered disk around Sol, but a later accord had applied it to any body or system that man could reach. Gliese 876 would be the USN's.

'Most of the ships the Carriers will bring are newer versions of my old ship, the Steadfast. Just civilian vessels fitted with improved sensors, some scientific equipment, a bay for a lander, and perhaps a weapon system. Mostly they will be cargo holds and passenger space. The big difference will be the crew and the drive system though. No more nuclear drives for the Steadfast Class.'

Scott looked at the bridge again. The bustle of young faces as they scrambled across the deck. The chatter of voices. A smile or a scowl. Even boredom. So different. 'Not one is a cyborg. That's the reason I'm the only one at the flag station. I'm the only 'borg on this ship. There had been no voices on the Steadfast. No scurrying most of the time. Just long hours locked in your station in the dead quiet of vacuum. The only voice was the monotone of a cyborg transmitted by the radio repeaters in the ship.' Scott watched a young man walk across the deck. 'The Graviton Emission Drive has definitely changed what a space going vessel looks like. You can even walk on the deck. With the drive running down the centerline of the ship and emitting gravitons to disperse the inertia, everything is drawn to the center of the ship. It only takes a little tuning to set the decks to one standard G. The fast freighter and 'grav warship' crews endure about four G's during their high speed runs, but that is nothing compared to the thousand G acceleration of the nuclear drives. I don't even need a locking station on this ship.' Scott looked back at the cushioned Admirals' Chair with its padded harness that was wasted on his cyborg body. 'Not that I miss being locked up for days on end.'

'No, this mission has only one real purpose. That's why the Hermes carries the largest sensor array the USNN can field. And why two expensive Transit Carriers brought along a pair of Warlord Class Destroyers instead of real scientific vessels. These ships that will do nothing but consume vast amounts of expensive supplies for the time that they are stranded here.' Scott looked over the sensor returns displayed on the monitor at his station again. Just as he always did. Every few moments. A habit born of seven years of warfare against an alien race that had almost cost humanity its existence.

'We're here to make sure nothing in this system is alive.'

Crystals reacted as gravitometric emissions started a cascade within the metallic matrix. Several crystal shards responded. One of the larger lattices began to function. The shards that responded reacted as they had been grown to, and moved toward the emissions.

0715 hours GMT, February 9th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 300 light minutes from Gliese 876

15 light seconds from 'The Twins'

"Helm, drive to standby power. Hold our position relative to 'The Twins'. Engineering, prep the ship's boat for launch." Captain Megan Ryan looked at the sensor returns. The Apollo and Hermes were still a light minute behind the Outlaw. They would actually be able to gather useful data on these moons but were far too valuable to risk. So the Outlaw would make the first pass while the Conqueror remained with the two Transit Carriers.

"Captain, Engineering reports boat ready for launch." The Communications Officer had actually turned in his station to relay the message. 'Didn't take him long to unlock his station,' Megan thought.

"Deploy boat for sweep of the Twins. Conduct pass over the surface at seventy thousand kilometers. Ensign Burnside, lock your station. We are still at General Quarters."

"Yes, Captain." Megan watched as the Ensign hurried to both lock his station and relay the orders. 'He's green, but at least he takes orders well. Not that the Twins are going anywhere soon.'

Megan watched the sensor returns as the icon for 'Launch 017' appeared on her monitor and began to move toward the icons for Twin A and Twin B. They were relatively far apart for twin bodies their size with three hundred and fifty thousand kilometers between them. It took fifteen days to rotate around their common center of mass. They were also tide locked, perpetually showing the same face to one another. 'That is why Launch 017 gets to go take a look. They turn so slowly we don't have any idea what is on the far side of them. The Outlaw is parked here because we can't risk the Hermes or Apollo on a first pass. The boat gets to take the close look because the Outlaw is too important to just park right beside these things, until someone has gone and gotten up close and cozy with them.'

It was going to take fifteen minutes for the boat to reach the dwarf planets, about five minutes to perform the sweep, and then half an hour for the Outlaw to complete the same procedure with its much larger sensor array. Only then would the Apollo and Hermes close with the two balls of ice to collect any real scientific data.

'It will take the message a minute just to reach Rear Admiral Moreland, and then an hour for them to get here. They will probably spend a few hours taking readings; maybe even put a lander on the surface. All in the name of science. Then we will get back to moving toward 'Gee'. Which will mean a month of nothing to do but running drills and conduct maintenance.' Megan looked at the icons on her screen. 'Perhaps I should be happy for this little distraction.'

"Captain, we have a report from Launch Zero One Seven. Incoming message to your station sir." Ensign Burnside wasn't quite the shining example of protocol. They should have been forwarded to the Sensor Conn and tagged for rebroadcast to the Transit Carriers.

"Thank you Ensign. Forward per protocol if you would." Megan hoped the sarcasm would still be noticeable through the monotone of a voice synthesizer. She keyed open the blinking box on her screen and sensor data displayed across the monitor. The readings were close to a minute old, and showed nine small objects in orbit of Twin A. 'There shouldn't be that many small moons in orbit that close. She selected the largest and pulled up the lidar returns on it.

"Comm, sound Battle Stations and get that boat back here. Message to Admiral Moreland. New Contacts times nine." Megan could feel a cold dread creep along her spine. It was going to take several minutes to get a reply from the admiral. 'Those aren't moons. Let's hope those things aren't hostile.'

0734 hours GMT, February 9th, 2225 AD
USNN Apollo, 301 light minutes from Gliese 876

60 light seconds from 'The Twins'

"Comm, transmit contact information to the rest of the Task Group. Orders Admiral?" Captain Sam Richards turned to face Rear Admiral Scott Moreland with a cold look on his face.

"Comm, send orders for the Task Group to hold position on the Apollo. Make sure the Outlaw keeps their magnetic shields down. Then monitor for transmissions from the contacts and in system. Let's make sure the Chinese didn't get here first." Scott looked at the data scrolling across his screen. "Sensor Conn, what do you make of the contact data?" Scott knew the flat monotone of his voice did nothing to reassure the crew. They were young. Scared. Only Sam had been in the service during the war and he'd been in a ground side post.

"Admiral, it's still impossible to determine. All the contacts are in simple orbital trajectories. No magnetic or gravatic emissions. They could be simple orbital stations. It's also possible they are mobile. The sensor returns are just too poor from Launch Zero One Seven to know. Seven of the nine are no larger than an Interceptor. Two are very large though." The Ensign was trying to keep his voice dry and professional. 'He's doing a good job at covering how he feels,' thought Scott.

Sam looked back to Scott. "Admiral, do you think this could be the Chinese? I don't remember any reports of Chinese transit signatures around Sol for a year."

"The Chinese have two colonies. They may have transited here from either of those locations without ground based sensors on Earth ever detecting them. Regardless, Engineering and Weapon Conn for all ships need to run checks on our defensive systems. Comm, transmit orders for Captain Ryan. Have them close to seven light seconds of Twin A."

'We need to get a better look. Megan, you're going to have to take it.'

A shard reached the proper distance from the two masses. It stopped and waited silently. This shard was little more than an emitter and receiver. Magnetic emissions activated its crystals and it transmitted a signal toward the inner system.

0630 hours GMT, February 10th, 2225 AD
USNN Apollo, 301 light minutes from Gliese 876

60 light seconds from 'The Twins'

"I want an analysis of the contacts on the board." Rear Admiral Scott Moreland was leaning over the plotting table, now hastily turned into the hub of an adhoc CIC. "What do we know?" The dull monotone of his voice rang in the small room.

A young woman wearing Lieutenant JG rank and a nameplate reading 'Wilson' touched a portion of the table and began to scroll through data. "Admiral, we can verify that all sixteen of the orbital contacts seem to be inactive. They match no known designs, either human or from the aliens that invaded Sol. Of the nine contacts in orbit of Twin A one of the large contacts and three of the small contacts appear to be designed as orbital structures, although that isn't confirmed. Two of the smaller contacts appear to have been designed as mobile vessels, while the remaining objects in orbit of A have suffered enough structural damage that it may be impossible to discern their original function. Of the seven contacts in orbit of B the largest appears to have been designed as a mobile structure while the rest appear to be asteroids moved into orbit of B and then used as sites for construction. There are obvious ruins on the surface of both Twin A and B. The Kelstar Array on the Outlaw is a combat array and very useful in locating and identifying these contacts, but has very limited ability to analyze the data. The pass at two light seconds from the Twins yielded a little more data. It confirmed that every contact seems to have sustained varying degrees of damage. Little else."

Scott turned his faceplate toward the woman and watched as she paled slightly. 'Not used to dealing with cyborgs. Good. She won't try to talk around a point if she is scared.' "Can we identify the source of the damage, or the age of the contacts or ruins?"

The woman looked toward another man at the table. This one wore insignia for a civilian technician. Likely one of the sensor jockeys who worked on the Dauntless Array on the Hermes. Obviously Captain Jessup wasn't interested in giving up any of his military personnel. Hopefully this man knew something. Scott turned to face the man. "The Lieutenant seems to think you have something to add."

The man looked up from the board and stared into Scott's faceplate. It was obvious the man was irritated. "Sir, I don't know what you are hoping for from me. Short of ordering the Outlaw to dock or land we aren't going to get much more information from her. If you want a guess, here it is. Most of the damage to the orbital contacts looks like collision damage. Probably from rocks and ice drifting in space that got pulled in by the Twins. Other damage is less obvious in its source. Without getting the instruments on either the Hermes or Apollo closer, we simply can't tell. As for the age, that I can take a little better guess at. The ruins on the surface have undergone significant erosion. 'Gee' is a variable star and suffers irregular periods of fluctuation in its output. These fluctuations seem to have caused geological activity on the surface of the Twins. The rate of change is impossible to figure accurately without more data, but I would say that the ruins have been there tens of thousands of years. Possibly hundreds of thousands if the geological rates are slower than projected."

Scott looked back to the table. "So you are telling me this place has been dead for over ten thousand years?"

"Sir, they were probably gone before man figured out how to make fire."

"Ok, order the Apollo to close with the Twins. You'd better be right."

0210 hours GMT, February 13th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 276 light minutes from Gliese 876

Megan tapped at the screen in front of her and flipped through various status reports. The group was far behind schedule, but that was Rear Admiral Moreland's concern, not hers. The SOP for transits to a new system gave little discretion in the event of contact with any life form. The initial contact group was to gather as much information as possible until the follow on group arrived and plotted the return jump home. The initial and follow on groups would then make return transit to Sol with as much data as possible for analysis. After that it would be up to the politicians back home what would happen.

If all the ships of Task Force Apollo keep moving toward the inner system, we will spend nearly all of our time staring at open space. Not much data to be gained in that. So most of the group is sitting by the Twins. The Outlaw is going to make the run to the inner system, poke around, then make the broadcast to the follow on group.

Megan pulled up what information she could on the contacts orbiting the Twins. It wasn't much. Megan had once been on the Command Staff of Admiral Bradley Walters and been in charge of extensive research into the aliens that had found Sol. She had made several significant discoveries during the war, but that was a long time ago. Now she was Captain of the Outlaw and the research types were on the Apollo and Hermes. The data they were collecting would be classified. Not something a combat ship Captain would need to know.

'That hasn't stopped me from taking a good look at what I did see. First, those ruins are a dead end for me. Too much damage and too much sensor clutter. The Hermes put two landers on the ground. They might have better luck but no sense me wasting time on it.' Megan deleted the sensor data of the surface from her screen. 'Next are these contacts that are more like orbiting debris fields. Most are just twisted chunks of scrap.' Megan deleted several other sets of returns. 'Now we divide up what is left. They seem to fall into three design categories. These are built inside rocky asteroids. The rest fall into two different design schemes.' Megan sorted the returns into three data sets.

'Now, what isn't there? The ruins on the Twins aren't extensive enough to have supported this many orbital elements. At least we couldn't have. Neither could the aliens that settled Sol's outsystem. The asteroids didn't just show up and park in convenient orbits either. So some of the wrecks used to be mobile. Not a single structure mounts a drive shield though. So no nuclear drives. That means the ships didn't need to withstand enormous amounts of stress. So only what they needed to take a pounding was designed to. So what is left will mostly be some form of military vessel.'

'Pushing a rock around would be a waste of fuel for a mobile unit, so let's assume they didn't move. The only other ways to get around in space we know of is slow reaction drives or gravatic precession drives. If they didn't originate here they would have to come from the inner system, or some other star.' That thought made Megan pause. 'Let's assume they couldn't afford to support these ships from some other star and needed some infrastructure here. None of these look to have huge fuel tanks that would allow a liquid fuel ship to get this far out. So we are down to gravatic drives. For a gravatic drive, you would want to design the ship around the drive as it will draw everything to the field generators.' Megan looked at the designs. 'This huge wreck is too spread out to be built around anything, so it's not a gravatic drive. We will call it stationary. The rest of the ones in this group then...' Megan tapped one set, 'are the stationary designs.'

'That leaves this group.' Megan pulled up the data. 'For lack of a better name, these are the warships. So let's take a look at them. Most look to have some impact damage, but if the Twins pick up so much meteorite activity that every single contact was hit there wouldn't be any ruins, just craters. So it's battle damage.'

Megan sat back. 'There are already dozens of people looking at reams of data on these ships. So why don't I take a look at what they aren't. The part that is important to me. If this is battle damage, and a gravatic drive deflects most incoming inertia and momentum, these were big impacts that could penetrate a gravatic field or ones that could pass through it. The big impacts would tear apart a ship.' Megan remembered the collections of debris. 'Ok, maybe it was both.' Megan focused on the smaller contacts. 'The damage looks like an impact, but it's all wrong. The stress lines on the hull are inverted. The structural damage doesn't match.'

'Of course the second most important thing is once again what isn't there. Survivors. So these are the losers.' Megan paused.

'Which makes the most important question, who killed them and where did they go?'

Although distant and faint, the lattice responded to the shard and moved toward its emissions. Deep within the lattice the stimulus triggered more responses and crystals began to gather or expend energy. The lattice detected an unknown emission stimulus and shards were released. The lattice engaged its emission suppression filament arrays as the shards travelled toward the stimulus.

2057 hours GMT, February 18th, 2225 AD
USNN Conqueror, 300 light minutes from Gliese 876

2 light seconds from 'The Twins'

Captain Thomas Hall's monitor flashed as the Sensor Officer overrode the comm link. "Captain, we've got two, no, five new contacts. Transferring data to your station. Captain, it looks awful big to be a missile, but the speed..." Thomas looked at the velocity for the new contacts. There were five of them now, and they were all moving at over twenty three thousand kilometers a second. The Ajax Deep Space Anti-Ship Missile was capable of almost seventy thousand kilometers per second, but it was a LOT smaller than this contact.

The Sensor Officer, Lieutenant 'Lenny' Johnson, cut in again. "Captain. The emissions don't match anything in our sensor logs. I don't think they're human."

Thomas began to tap rapidly at the controls and keys on his armrests. "Battle Stations. All hands, Battle Stations. Weapons Conn, I want firing solutions on all contacts. Release all safeties and charge the laser capacitors. Helm, combat acceleration. Comm, transmit my intention to intercept inbound contacts to the Apollo." The world turned grey-blue as the drive engaged.

The Communication Officer cut in. "Captain, we have orders from Admiral Moreland. Do not engage unless fired upon." Thomas tapped at his keys and pulled the message up on his monitor. 'What if these things are what they fire?' Thomas thought for a moment. "Helm, steer us out of the direct path of any contact, but keep us between them and the Transit Carriers. Weapon Conn, track contacts. If any of them change course to close on any vessel, engage them with all weapons when they reach one light second range or less." Thomas checked the velocity readings. That would give the weapon crews twelve seconds to engage the contacts. The two Ajax Launch Bays would barely have time to deploy a missile, but the Nova Laser Battery and the Cyclone Gatling Laser Array would have plenty of time to line up a shot. These Warlord Class ships weren't the old Interceptors of twenty years ago. They could easily track multiple targets, packed twice the launch bays of the old Mk IIb's, and the laser arrays could put two to three times the on target energy as the old output couplers. 'The question is what can these contacts do?'

Thomas could see on his monitor that the Hermes and Apollo were under way again, and turning away from the closing contacts. They were also transmitting on just about every radio frequency they could manage.

Lieutenant Johnson cut in one last time. "Captain, aspect change on contacts. They are closing on the Apollo. Time to intercept for contacts is fifty five seconds."

Thomas keyed the comm link. "Amend prior order. Firing solutions on any contact in range. Weapons free. Priority of fire to closest contacts."

Fifteen seconds later the drive shut down on the Conqueror to allow the Nova and Cyclone Laser Arrays' output couplers to align and capacitors to discharge. Fractions of a second later the drive restarted as the Conqueror began to come about.

Two seconds after that contacts One and Three had become collections of shattered debris as beams of light hundreds of yards across and carrying the energy of a star's surface superheated the contacts. The rapid expansion as the contacts heated caused violent shockwaves that tore them apart. But the last three contacts were already bearing down on the Apollo and Hermes.

2130 hours GMT, February 18th, 2225 AD
USNN Apollo, 301 light minutes from Gliese 876

Rear Admiral Scott Moreland was again leaning over the plotting table of the adhoc CIC. "What were those things, and are they related to what is orbiting the Twins?"

Lieutenant JG Tara Wilson touched the table and data sprang to life. "Admiral, we can verify that the contacts moved to close on our ships, but the exact drive they use is unknown. The gravitometric signature shows that they use some form of graviton emission, but it is very different from the drive we use. Readings seem to show the inertial distribution is much more uniform, and likely more efficient. The contacts seem to have no systems to damp the energy of the laser batteries. The Conqueror intercepted and neutralized the contacts we have designated as Bingo One, Two, and Four. The Apollo and Hermes were able to destroy one of the contacts, designated as Bingo Three. The last, Bingo Five, may have self destructed at a distance of about one light second from the Apollo or been destroyed by one of the Cyclone Arrays. Its drive appears to have overloaded, but at that distance it was no danger to the Apollo or Hermes. There was a gravatic pulse associated with the self destruction that seems to have been focused and passed within two thousand kilometers of the Apollo. Whether it was a weapon or not is unclear." The woman looked up from the table at the Admiral. "Questions sir?"

"You haven't addressed the issue of whether these contacts are in any way related to the wrecks orbiting the Twins, Lieutenant."

"Sir, it would be impossible to say either way. Composition of the debris from the contacts is unlike any used in the wrecks we found. With the age of the wrecks it is possible that different materials and construction methods are now employed. The comparison between our nuclear drive vessels and gravatic drives would show little similarity despite a common origin. After boarding the wrecks it is clear that they had crews on board, although their exact form is in doubt. In fact, as you well know, we have recovered fragments of what is obviously organic material. The contacts we have designated as Bingos showed no life pods or other systems ejecting from damaged craft. The Dauntless Array on the Hermes did not pick up anything but debris. It is possible these were crewless remote drones. We just don't know."

Scott turned to face another older man. "Commander Stevenson, tactical report."

Commander Stevenson cleared Wilson's data and a display of the system filled the board. "Admiral, we are currently moving back outsystem at the best speed these Transit Carriers can make. Due to the constraints of the jump drive on the gravatic generators, we are limited in that respect. Their emissions are also going to be detectable from a great distance. At our current emission levels the Hermes could track us at over twelve light minutes. Sensor capability of the Bingos is unknown."

Stevenson then pointed to the icon for the Outlaw. "The Outlaw will receive our transmission in about fifty six minutes. If they execute an immediate turn and reverse course at maximum combat speed they will reach the group in twenty seven hours. It is impossible to track the Outlaw at their current distance so we will just have to wait for a confirmation transmission. We should receive that transmission from Captain Ryan in two hours and twenty minutes. For the moment we have tied in the fire control uplinks to the Apollo with its Nova and Cyclone Arrays. This leaves the Hermes dependant on her single Cyclone Array for defense."

Scott looked at the assembled staff. "People, the Pioneer Task Group will arrive in two hundred forty two hours. That's just over ten days. We have to live long enough to make sure they get the message that we aren't the only folks here. They also need enough time to plot the jump home. Our job is to make sure those things happen. For the moment get this group turned around on course one seven three. We need to reach a position that will give us a chance to broadcast to the follow on group. Have the ships reduce emission profiles. We need to see if we can slip away from whatever might be out there."

Scott looked at the plotting table. 'And it sure will help if Megan gets her ship back here in a hurry.'

The destruction of the shards stimulated the lattice to move closer to the stimulus. The emission stimulus then disappeared. Without the stimulus, the lattice reacted as it always had. Always would. Expending the energy that it absorbed. Moving toward the central matrix to await another stimulus. Then another shard emitted a signal. A stimulus had passed close to it. The lattice turned toward the shard. The signal was not distant and it released more shards toward the signal.

1005 hours GMT, February 19th, 2225 AD
USNN Apollo, 304 light minutes from Gliese 876

Lieutenant JG Tara Wilson adjusted the harness at her station for the tenth time. It just wouldn't seem to fit comfortably. 'Or maybe I'm just not comfortable sitting here,' she thought. 'An appointment to the Admiral's staff should be an honor. I suppose it is. I graduated with high marks in both spectral and emissions analysis. Now that's gotten me a spot trying to analyze data on what is most likely the second alien race that mankind has ever encountered. But I'm parked a few meters from a cyborg and it gives me the creeps.' Tara glanced again at the dull shine of Rear Admiral Moreland's black form. He sat motionless in his station, his faceplate reflecting the scrolling returns from the monitor in front of him. The only movement was the near constant motion of his fingers on the armrest. 'He can use the armrest controls faster than anyone I've ever met.' She looked at her own controls on the armrest of her station. She had gotten better at using them, but they were still awkward. 'At least I'm doing better than Senior Tech Blackford. He must have a bladder the size of a teacup. We've been stuck in these chairs for the last six hours and he's been up four times to use the restroom.' She smiled to herself just slightly as she looked at the man from the Hermes. He looked more pale and uncomfortable than any of the six people seated here at the Flag Station.

Tara looked at the corner of her monitor. It showed a display of nearby space. In the center were icons representing the three ships of Task Group Apollo. They were all green. The rest of the space was black and empty. Tara's mouth went dry as a flashing yellow icon appeared. She heard the officer at the Comm station yelling, "Hermes reports contact at fifteen light seconds, closing. Forwarding data to Sensor Conn."

"Comm, order all ships to Battle Stations. Tight beam transmission only. Verify the Conqueror has stations locked and prepped for combat acceleration." The dull monotone of Admiral Moreland's voice synthesizer startled Tara.

Tara watched the crew on the bridge hurry toward their stations as the klaxon sounded Battle Stations. Only a dozen people on the bridge weren't already in their seats. With the ships running on reduced emissions the graviton production from the drive had been reduced. The bridge had about the same gravity as the surface of Luna at the moment. If you moved very fast, you would bounce along clumsily. It was considered bad form to crash into your fellow crewmembers. To avoid that embarrassment most folks would just strap themselves into their stations. The ones who were up and about tended to come from the asteroid belt colonies. Years in micro G made the low gravity environment fairly easy to adapt to. Now everyone was going to be strapped in.

"Contact bearing zero niner two, ascension minus one point two. Range to contact twelve point five light seconds. Speed two three thousand kilometers per second. Heading two five seven. Gravitometric emissions detected. Designating contact as Bingo Six." Tara could feel her heart begin to race as her eyes darted to the monitor and the yellow icon. "Oh my god it's coming straight at us." The words were out of her mouth before she realized it, and Tara could feel her cheeks burning as she looked at the rest of the people strapped in beside her.

"Very astute JG Wilson. Please direct your concerns to analyzing the new data if you would." The monotone of the admiral did little to cover the sarcasm, and her cheeks burned even more as she stared down at her monitor. Data was streaming across the screen. 'These keys are so hard to use.' Tara began typing and dragging her fingers trying to control and select the streams of information as it piled up.

She tried to concentrate. People were giving orders. The admiral. The captain. Crewmembers were calling out information. She began to feel sick and her stomach suddenly felt wrong. 'The drive is back to full power. It's just the gravity.' Her eyes kept straying to the corner of her monitor. The yellow dots were getting closer.

The lattice detected an emission stimulus. The stimulus was close and the lattice was drawn to it.

"New contacts. Bingo class times nine. Designating as Bingo Seven through Fifteen." Tara heard the strained voice reporting the new contacts she had just seen appear on her monitor. 'We've got eighty seven seconds till the first one reaches us.' Tara looked over the data on her monitor. The Bingos were a lot faster than the Apollo.

Tara heard her name. "Yes, Admiral." She looked toward the black figure sitting beside her.

"JG Wilson, you need to tell me what the hell those things are."

"On it, Admiral." Tara began to tap at her armrests, sorting through the sensor readings coming in. The sensors seemed to be picking up faint emissions from seven or eight light seconds out but it wasn't enough to track anything. In fact it seemed to be in several different places at once. "Admiral, something else is out there but I can't tell what or how many."

Tara felt her chair begin to buzz slightly. 'I've felt that before. It's the capacitor and linkages for the Nova. That laser takes up nearly twenty percent of the Apollo. It rattles the whole damn ship when they use it.' Tara glanced at the corner of her monitor. 'The Bingos are getting close.' The box disappeared from the corner of her monitor. Tara could feel her cheeks beginning to blush again. 'Someone noticed. I hope it wasn't the admiral.'

Tara tried to focus on her monitor. The voices made it hard. Then her head slammed into the back of her chair as her body was shoved hard into the cushions. A few lose pieces of equipment flew across the bridge and hit the wall behind Tara. She tried to sit back up but her neck hurt. She took a few deep breaths and looked at her monitor.

"Anybody, tell me what just happened." The faceplate of the Admiral was turning toward all of the people at the Flag Station. Tara nodded weakly and winced as the pain in her neck flared. "Aye, Admiral."

Tara tried to sort the data. Two Bingos had been destroyed. The others were slowing rapidly and trying to settle into the sensor distortion behind the Apollo. Tara checked the gravatic readings. All of the Bingos had displayed a 'drive' pulse that had moved out along their course, just like during the first encounter. It was thought that it could have been a side effect of the drive overload, or just a fragment of the drive that had continued generating gravitons as it continued on the original course. A number of fragments had been tracked moving along with the pulse. It had also been considered that it might have been a weapon system. Tara checked the sensor records of the first Bingo's pulse with the current reading. 'It's a match. This is a weapon.'

"Admiral, it looks like those things fire a pulse of gravitons. Kind of a gravity ripple or such. It's stressing the frame of the ship by pulling it violently in directions it wasn't designed to go. I can't be sure, but it looks like this thing is a weapon." Tara started tapping at her screen to send the data to the admiral.

"Use the armrest controls Wilson. Get your arms into the harness; we don't need you getting them pulled out of socket. Your head restraints also. Transmit that data to the Conqueror. If they have to fight those Bingos, they need to know that." Tara looked at the admiral and nodded, then shoved her arms through the harness straps on her chair. Her stomach was back up in her throat again. 'I wish they would leave the drive alone. I hate this low G.'

Tara started sorting through the data again and her stomach felt like it was dropping down into her legs once more. 'If they keep this up with the drive, I'm going to get sick.' Tara looked up and realized the red lights were flashing. Tara felt herself wrenched around in her harness. Straps cut into her side and her head twisted. She could hear others yelling or moaning. Someone was yelling that the hull had been breached and they were venting air from the forward compartments. She could remember shoving her arms into the harness, but she hadn't put on the head restraint. She slipped her arms out of the harness and pulled the hood of her suit over her head. The pain in her neck made her cry out, but she still sealed it along the neckline of her uniform. She could feel and see the clear plastic hood blow up like a balloon as the small oxygen cylinder on her side emptied. Voices buzzed in the small speaker at the base of the hood, but she couldn't understand them. Looking up she saw her monitor screen. It was flashing red with black letters.



Tara struggled to undo her harness clips, then stood up and moved across the bridge. It was only forty meters down the aft corridor leading from the bridge to her designated escape pod. She tried to jog but fell to her knees as the spasm in her neck knocked the air from her. She could hear herself scream as she held her neck with both hands and stood up. Focusing on each step, she walked toward the aft hatchway. She stepped through the hatch and felt herself fly upward into the roof, then crumple to the floor. She could feel herself get sick inside her hood and gagging to breathe. Tara tried to undo the hood but her arms wouldn't seem to work. She could feel herself panic as her chest started to burn and she struggled to breathe. A moment later the hood was gone and she was coughing and spitting. Cold air flooded into her lungs and she knew she was crying. Tara opened her eyes to see she was in a life pod and was no longer on the Apollo. And that she wasn't the only one crying.

The destruction of the shards created more stimuli. The lattice responded to the stimuli and began to move toward it. New shards of crystal began to grow into the voids left by those that had been destroyed. A stimulus was closing with the lattice. With no shards remaining the lattice redirected power.

...continued on second post...
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Re: Story #1: The Outlaw

Postby Cralis on Sun 17 Apr 2011 01:55

1011 hours GMT, February 19th, 2225 AD
USNN Conqueror, 304 light minutes from Gliese 876

Captain Thomas Hall looked at the status display on his monitor. Banks One and Two of the magnetic field generators would be online within the next sixty seconds. No breaches to the hull. Launch Bays One and Two ready for launch. Capacitors for the Nova and Cyclone Arrays charged. Drive online and maximum combat acceleration had been achieved. They were almost ready to engage whatever the sensor ghost was that had appeared.

"Do we have any more information on the contact?"

Lieutenant 'Lenny' Johnson responded. "Sir, I can barely keep the thing on the board. I can detect the graviton emissions but can't lock it up. Targeting is out of the question. Speed and size are unknown. We have to get closer."

Thomas looked at his monitor. The only sure contacts were the debris of the Bingos, Hermes, Apollo, and their scattered life pods. 'The life pods will just have to wait. If Admiral Moreland is on one, he is just going to have to sit this one out.' "Comm, transmit all sensor data on open frequencies. Let's hope Megan can hear us. If we don't make it, she is going to be the only one left to warn the Pioneer Task Group. Helm, bring us around. Maintain maximum combat acceleration. Let's get a look at this thing and then extend. One pass. Weapon Conn, I want firing solutions as quickly as you can give them to me. You aren't going to have much time so hit it with everything you've got."

Thomas heard the crew acknowledging the orders as his vision flashed from grey-blue to normal and back, over and over as the drive cut out to allow the maneuver thrusters time to change course, and then engaged to maintain the speed they had achieved. 'This ship is moving at nearly nineteen thousand kilometers per second, and I wish it could go faster.'

"Sir, contact bearing zero six zero, ascension minus four. Designating as India. Range three point five light seconds. Speed niner three three zero kilometers per second. No delta vee. Course one seven niner. The emissions seem to be all over the board. It's like the contact is shifting in space. Unable to lock in firing solutions yet." Lieutenant Johnson paused. "Sir, lidar puts the displacement at nearly three times our own."

"Fire as soon as you have lock on the target." This wasn't good. The Ajax Missiles could reach a target six light seconds away, but only if they could find it.

Red lights flashed on Thomas' monitor. Magnetic Field Generator Banks One through Five were off line. Only bank Six was still operating. "WHAT IN THE HELL HIT US?" Thomas knew that increasing the volume on his voice wasn't going to get answers faster, but it was the only thing he could do.

"Sir, graviton emissions detected. Much like the Bingos only stronger. We've got target lock on the emissions. Firing."

Thomas' vision cleared as the drive cut out. The ship hummed as the Nova Laser Battery discharged and the two launch bays deployed their Ajax Missiles. Four other missiles detached from reinforced recesses on the outer hull and joined the salvo. The missiles drifted for a second away from the Conqueror and then engaged their gravatic coils. With no crew, and designed to withstand high gee acceleration, the missiles rapidly reached a velocity nearly a quarter of light speed. One of the Ajax Missiles failed to maintain its lock as the target's gravatic field continued its erratic shifts. The target reacted with bursts of gravitons aimed at the five remaining missiles. Two of the missiles came apart as a ripple of gravity tore their frames. The last three rushed toward the target. Moments later capacitors in the missiles dumped their charge at once into the coils and the graviton drives overloaded. In a fraction of a second the Ajax Missiles were crushed into lumps of matter no bigger than a speck of dust, compressed into the same degenerate matter as a neutron star. Without the star's mass it would never remain stable, and milliseconds later the speck turned into a massive explosion as the nuclear forces drove every atom apart.

0045 hours GMT, February 20th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 294 light minutes from Gliese 876

Captain Megan Ryan looked at the ship's log of the Conqueror. "Those Bingos made one heck of a mess for small contacts. They make the old FSC Avenger Close Attack Craft look tame. Half again as fast and way more punch. The Pioneer Task Group should actually carry a squadron of Avengers purchased from Australia, but I doubt they will do much good against these Bingos."

Megan heard Thomas over the comm link. "Of course I will welcome any help I can get. The Outlaw and Conqueror pack better defenses than the Apollo and Hermes, but the Avengers will definitely help if more Bingos show up. The Steadfast Class ships will also help. They carry a single Ajax Launch Bay and can link fire controls in a pinch."

"True, but it didn't look like even three intercepts by your missiles did anything. Damned India is bigger than both of these Warlords put together and whatever shields it has shrugged off our Ajax Missiles like they were confetti." Megan continued the replay of the short engagement between the Conqueror and the India.

"Their shields don't seem to be much better than ours at stopping a laser. Sensor returns show some distortion of the beam from the India warping space around it, but the damage to its outer hull is obvious on the sensor record." Megan decided Thomas was always going to try and find the cup half full. 'He just survived an encounter with a ship as large as the Chinese Imperial Class. Guess I can't blame him for being up beat.'

Megan shut off the log. "The one advantage we seem to have is speed. It's using a gravatic drive so it can likely maintain its velocity better than we can, but in a short tactical engagement we seem to have almost twice the speed it does. It may be able to turn on a dime, or start and stop on one, but we don't have to engage it unless we want to. That could be important. The problem is those Bingos. Does that thing carry them or do they accompany it? They can definitely run us down."

"Captain Ryan, before the last attack Rear Admiral Moreland had all data on the wrecks around the Twins transferred to the Conqueror. A lot of it doesn't make sense to me but the techs found that the large mobile unit was apparently some form of carrier. It still held a few small attack craft that appear to be very advanced and had bays for dozens more. Those Bingos could be some form of this and the India a new carrier."

"Pretty heavily armed carrier. It about took your shields down in less than thirty seconds, but it looks like they stop firing when you pass beyond three light seconds from the contact." Megan remembered the sensor logs. "And if we have to close to point blank range just to get a targeting solution we are in trouble."

Thomas cut in. "We need to decide where we are going to make the broadcast from. The best location to make a broadcast that can reach all the ships is near Gliese. I have a bad feeling that is the worst place to be. We can make a transmission from farther out but we will have to broadcast the signal for longer. I have no illusions of what is going to happen when we start making open broadcasts."

Megan pulled up a display of Gliese. The Pioneer Task Group would show up as three groups randomly scattered about Gliese. They would all be in a ring about five hundred light minutes from the star, but that was the only thing that was fairly certain.

"One last question, Thomas." Megan waited a moment. "How many were you able to save from the Hermes and Apollo?"

The silence lasted a long time. "The Hermes managed to get five people on its launch. I've got five more on the launch from the Conqueror. The Launch from our bay had gravatic drives. Guess when they built the new ships they bought whatever model of ship's boat was current." Thomas paused again. "The crew of the Hermes and Apollo was six hundred and twenty eight men and women. We recorded eleven life pods jettisoned from the two transit carriers. They could each hold ten people. If you manage to get your launch into the combat area you could pick up five more."

Megan keyed the Outlaw's intercom. "I need a pilot to take the launch to pick up survivors from the Hermes or Apollo. Volunteers only."

Fifteen minutes later Launch Zero One Seven left the Outlaw.

1845 hours GMT, February 28th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 240 light minutes from Gliese 876

Captain Megan Ryan looked over the sensor returns again. 'Without the Hermes, we aren't going to see anything until it is right on top of us. And without the Conqueror, we don't stand much chance in a fight.'

"Communications, begin broadcast. Sensor Conn, if you so much as have an inkling that something is out there, you need to let me know. All hands, General Quarters."

"Aye, Captain."

Megan saw the box on her monitor pop up as the transmission began. 'Ok, we just rang the dinner bell. Let's see who comes to call.' Megan locked her station and tried to relax. It was difficult as a cyborg. There were no breathing exercises or such. You just learned not to focus as intensely on whatever was happening, without ignoring it at the same time.

Megan pulled up the data in the transmission. Captain Hall and she had spent hours going over the data and information trying to sort what was most important. They would need to fit as much as possible in a small amount of time. The Pioneer Task Group would be arriving in just over six hours. Unfortunately, the drives of only two ships could be calibrated and synchronized at a time. Not that it wasn't possible to have more; simply that no one had developed the equipment and software to coordinate more than two jump carriers' drives at one time. So the six jump carriers of the second group would arrive as three different groups. They would leave from nearly the same location but would end up arriving in a random and typically widely scattered pattern. The distance to the star would remain fairly constant, but the coordination of harmonics between two stars light years apart meant that the destination point could be nearly anywhere at that distance from the star. 'So these six jump carriers and their cargo of supplies, colonist, and survey vessels are going to be scattered to the four winds when they arrive.'

Standard protocol called for at least one ship of the lead group to position itself near the system's star and broadcast instructions from there to the follow on group. It would take about eight and a half hours for the transmission to travel through space and reach the incoming jump carriers. The broadcast would be sent for an hour and then discontinued. The scattered jump carriers would then receive the transmission and proceed. At least that was what had happened for the last seven jumps.

'Parking by the star isn't going to work this time. We are going to have to park here, quite some distance out and transmit. Instead of a one hour transmission that reaches the proper distance all at once, we are going to be transmitting continuously for the next five hours to make sure that every point of the 'jump ring' is able to hear us when they arrive. And just to make sure everyone gets the message, the Conqueror has parked twelve light minutes away. If anything happens to us, they will begin to broadcast.'

Megan looked at the sensor returns. 'Without the Hermes we have no way of knowing where everyone is located. The 'flash' of transit carries a lot of energy. Energy the Dauntless Array could detect over one thousand light minutes away. Without the Hermes every ship is going to have to transmit its position. It will take time for those transmissions to reach us, and just as long for the return message to coordinate the ships' activities. With all that radio traffic....'

Megan looked back to the sensor returns and tried to relax. 'One problem at a time. First we need to survive sending this message.'

The matrix responded to several emission stimuli. A weak yet constant emission followed by three powerful emissions. The signals rapidly coursed through the crystalline matrices of the hub resting just within the corona of the star. Lattices broke free and responded to the stimuli. Again and again.

0610 hours GMT, March 1st, 2225 AD
USNN D Boone, 498 light minutes from Gliese 876

Captain Jacob Burke looked at the message displayed on his screen. "When was this transmitted?"

"The coding of the message indicates it is twelve hours old sir." The Communications Officer looked pale.

"They are on the far side of the star then." Jacob turned from the screen and stood up. "Helm, get us underway. Course of one eight zero. Comm, transmit our current location and course on an open frequency. Indicate that this group will begin gravatic survey at this time until we receive further instructions. Transmit to all ships to go to General Quarters for the next hour. General Quarters rotations to follow."

Jacob moved to the sensor board and looked at the returns. The two Steadfast Class ships had older combat sensor arrays but that was all. Those would provide only a few minutes warning of an attack. The transit and their radio broadcasts were probably going to bring something looking for them, and they would need to be ready if they had jumped in close to something dangerous. The next most important task was to start the gravatic plot. They would need to complete a cursory plot in order to jump back to Sol and safety. The Boone and Crocket had only their jump ship crews on board. The Allegiant and Devoted carried ten thousand colonists each.

They needed to get them home. Soon.

1200 hours GMT, March 1st, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 248 light minutes from Gliese 876

'I'm not sure if fate was kind to us, or is just baiting us along with false hope,' wondered Megan.

Four transit carriers had arrived within ten light minutes of each other. Even more important, one of those carriers was the New York, a State Class Repair Carrier. It was much larger than the standard US Pioneer models and filled with equipment to conduct repair operations on the carriers' transit racks. Until those racks were repaired or replaced there was no way to get the colonists back out. Within hours the groups had joined. In thirty seven hours the Conqueror and Outlaw would reach the group.

Megan looked at the system plot. The other group had been less fortunate in their arrival. They had come in on the far side of Gliese. They were almost one thousand light minutes away. It would take them over two months to reach the rest of the ships. 'And that is if they cut right through the center of the system. If they try to circle around it will add months. We can't wait that long.'

'They're going to have to try.'

A lattice responded to an approaching emission stimulus. The flow of gravitons separated shards from the lattice. The shards, drawn by the distant emissions, moved toward them.

0110 hours GMT, March 7th, 2225 AD
USNN D Boone, 240 light minutes from Gliese 876

Captain Jacob Burke listened to the playback of the broadcast. It was from the Transit Carrier D Crocket. It was a report of contact with five Bingo Class contacts. The last reports had been of the Bingos closing with the unarmed ship and its Avenger launching to intercept them. The transmission ended abruptly.

"Comm, transmit to the Conqueror that the Crocket is presumed lost."

Jacob stared at the sensor returns. They were clear as always. 'The sensor array on this ship is just the standard commercial navigation array. We won't see anything coming until it is too late. The aging Euro surplus Phoenix Combat Array on the Devotion had only been able to detect the Bingos a few minutes before she was destroyed. The Devotion's single Ajax launch bay and two banks of magnetic shield generators had made no difference.'

Ten thousand colonists had died with the one hundred and eighty seven crew on the Devotion. The same number would die when the Allegiant was found by whatever inhabited this system. 'We are going to die also. The Boone carries no weapon. No shields. Just its crew, survey instruments, its drive, and supplies to keep those things going for the next few years if need be. We've got one surplus Avenger in a bay, but it didn't help the Crocket. We aren't going to last another day at this rate.'

Jacob knew that eight light minutes away the Allegiant was taking gravatic reading as she moved to keep formation with the Boone. 'The Allegiant is a lot faster than we are. She could just make it out of here. She just needs a chance.'

"Comm, transmit to the Allegiant to reduce drive emission profiles and change to course two two zero. They are to maintain radio silence unless directed by Captain Ryan. Transmit a copy of this message to the rest of the ships and of my intention to change course to one eight eight. Launch Avenger Zero Two Six and have them rendezvous with the Allegiant. After that leave the radio on open transmission and activate the distress beacon."

The Helmsman looked at Jacob. "Sir, that's directly towards the star and inner planets. They are going to hear us coming with all that radio noise."

Jacob looked back to the sensor returns. "I know. Helm, execute course change."

1300 hours GMT, March 11th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 372 light minutes from Gliese 876

Megan looked at the logs. Captain Burke had sacrificed his ship and crew to save the Allegiant. It had only taken seventeen hours before the distress beacon had stopped signaling. There had been no transmission from the Boone. Nothing but silence. Whatever had hit them, they didn't have time to transmit at all.

Megan scrolled down the log entries. It had all been in vain. Fifty three hours later the Allegiant had radioed that it was tracking five Bingos closing on it. It had managed two launches while the Avenger had engaged the Bingos, but it hadn't made any difference. The Allegiant had also stopped signaling. The entire jump group had been lost with almost twenty one thousand lives. No grave or marker. Just debris orbiting a star far from home.

In half an hour the ships would send her status updates. Megan already had compiled hers and was just waiting. What she was interested in was the progress on the gravatic survey. They had compiled about half of what they needed but the loss of the Allegiant and Devotion would slow things down. How much it was going to slow things down was what they needed to know.

This survey didn't have to be as thorough as one that would allow a jump from this star to an uncharted system. Sol's gravatic surveys were very precise, and it would be much easier to achieve a harmonic with Sol than with an unknown system, but it was still going to take time to complete. The earliest jump date was projected for March 17th. Longer if the group lost more of the survey ships and their instruments.

The repair of the Transit Carriers was also an issue. The New York had completed repairs on the transit racks of the USNN M Lewis and USNN W Clarke. The last Pioneer Class Carrier, the USNN J Smith, would be done within the week. With the racks repaired the Transit Carriers would be able to transport the ships back to Sol. All but two of them, assuming none of the Transit Carriers were destroyed. The Warlord Class was far too large for a Pioneer to carry.

In an attempt to safeguard the Transit Carriers they had all been stationed with their drives off line and the only communication with them was carried by tightbeam laser. To the combat sensors on the Outlaw the Transit Carriers were invisible from more than a few light seconds away. That strategy would not work with the Pioneers though. They needed to be able to move and record gravatic accelerations, gravitometric precession, and graviton emission levels from hundreds of points in the system. This entailed a great deal of movement along with periodically shutting the drive down to take measurements, without the drive's emissions fouling the readings. The Pioneers' drive would be generating enormous amounts of magnetic and gravatic fluctuations as they moved through the system. This made them vulnerable.

Megan had come up with a plan. It involved moving away from the nearly invisible but unarmed Transit Carriers and the vulnerable survey ships.

She had formulated a plan to engage an India when it arrived. The first India had proved impossible to target beyond a range of two light seconds or so. The Euros had come up with a little trick during the first war. This might be the time to pull it out of the bag again. Whatever these things were, they hadn't seen it yet.

2315 hours GMT, March 16th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 310 light minutes from Gliese 876

Megan watched the sensor returns. With the shield up and the radio transmitting it had only been a matter of time. She and Captain Hall knew this was a one way trip. So did the crews of the three Avengers flying one quarter of a light second in front of the two Warlords. With luck they would draw every Bingo and India in the system onto them.

The plan had been simple. They would draw away any contacts from the Transit Carriers. When the Bingos closed the destroyers would deal with them. With the Bingos gone the Avengers would close with any India in the vicinity. As the India fired on the Avengers the Outlaw and Conqueror would target the weapon emissions and then launch every missile they had until the target was gone. They would use their speed advantage and the range of their Ajax Missiles to keep the India from ever closing into its weapons' range.

That had been the plan. The contacts had shown up alright. The first contacts had only been of five or ten Bingos. This time fifteen Bingos were closing and the sensor ghost was creating intermittent contacts. It had to be the India. Now it was show time.

Megan keyed the comm override. "Avenger Flight Leader, hold back until we thin the heard." She keyed off the comm link and switched back to the ship intercom. "Weapon Conn, I need everything you can put on those little bastards. This won't help anyone if those Bingos cripple up these Warlords. We need to live long enough to lead them a merry little chase."

'It would be really nice if we could destroy the lot of them. That would teach them that messing with us was a mistake.'

The next few minutes were a blur as drives cut in and out. The Bingos drove in on the Outlaw and Conqueror, ignoring the Avengers. Missiles and lasers tore through the formation of Bingos as the Avengers swooped in behind the small targets. Debris littered the sensor returns. Megan could see that the Bingos were concentrating on the Conqueror. Their magnetic shields seemed to interfere with the gravity ripples the Bingos used, dispersing them. But the shields on the Conqueror were down now, and the Conqueror was stuttering its drive. Pausing in response to damage and venting the ship with pressurized argon. Clearing any debris before the drive could turn it into a piece of shrapnel that would tear the ship apart. Suddenly the Conqueror veered off toward the sensor ghost.

Megan keyed open the comm link to the Conqueror. "Thomas, get out of there. We are going to need both of these ships to take that India down. Let the Avengers draw the fire."

The comm link crackled with static as the reply came. "Megan, no can do. We've already lost the forward launch bay and half of the particle accelerators are off line. The Conqueror isn't going to outrun anything anymore. I can get you that targeting data and draw off some of the Bingos. With the Avengers you have a chance of clearing yours off." The transmission abruptly cut off.

Megan checked her sensor returns. The Conqueror was still there bearing down on the elusive contact and tearing into the Bingos that were swarming it. Then it was gone.

The emissions of the India had given it away as it destroyed the Conqueror. "Ajax Launchers target the India. Everything else get these Bingos away from my ship." Moments later the last of the Bingos near the Outlaw had been destroyed. "Helm, turn us away from the remaining Bingos and India. We need time to get the shield generators back on line before the last Bingos catch up. As soon as they are in range, implement the evasion protocol. Priority of fire is Ajax to the India, lasers on the Bingos." Megan checked the sensor returns. All three Avengers were still flying with the Outlaw. "Flight Leader, keep up the good work. Don't give those last Bingos a chance. Soon as the last Bingo is gone, tear that India apart."

0500 hours GMT, March 17th, 2225 AD
USNN Outlaw, 282 light minutes from Gliese 876

Megan played back the radio transmission. The Outlaw had just received the Pioneers' message that they were beginning jump prep. With the time it took the message to reach the Outlaw they should have left the system nearly two hours ago. There was nothing else left.

The outgoing ships would carry the message of the presence in this system and what they were capable of. That the Outlaw had fired every missile she had into the India and never managed to drop its shields. That the India's point defense system with its rapid gravity ripples was the equal of any human system at destroying missiles.

The Avengers had parked right behind the India and it had continued to fire on them. They had been killed in a location that should have been untargetable for a gravatic drive ship.

The Outlaw in its one pass had not only had its shields battered down by the 'gravity ripple' weapon system but had the plating on the port side ripped apart by what was obviously a focused beam of gravitons. It seemed to carry the one heavy gravatic projector and two of the graviton beam weapons along with two of the close in defense systems; one fore and one aft.

The Nova system, focused in a narrow ten meter wide beam, had managed to pierce the ship's defenses and cause the graviton emission signature to fluctuate.

And that the India was still following them.

Captain Megan Ryan stared at the monitor in front of her. She was going to die here, so very far from home. There would be no escape. No rescue. 'All I can choose is where and when.' She keyed open the ship's intercom.

"It's been an honor serving with you all. Let's turn this girl around and show them we aren't going to die running away."

And for a moment she was a young girl sitting on her father's lap, reading him a book.

'I've missed you daddy. I hope you are proud of your little girl.'

1230 hours GMT, September 18th, 2227 AD
USNN M Lewis, 486 light minutes from Sol

Lieutenant JG Tara Wilson woke up. Patches were attached to her chest. Her neck began to ache. The last thing she could remember was going to sleep in the survival cocoon in the life pod. This wasn't the life pod. She was in a small cryo pod. The lid was open and a red headed woman was looking down at her.

"I don't want to die in one of these things." Tara knew her voice was cracking and could feel the tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.

The woman smiled at Tara. "Hey, you're one of the lucky ones. You got to ride on my boat, and your getting out of the pod, not in. We're going home." She was strapping a collar around Tara's neck. "We're leaving?" Tara tried to keep control of her voice.

"Hold still. The X-rays show you have three cracked cervical vertebrae. You're lucky to be alive. In more ways than one. And you're lucky you start with an IV site. I can start one, but I'm no doctor. My name's Angela. You can thank me later."

Tara watched as Angela lifted her hand up and hooked IV tubing to a site in her arm. Tara felt Angela pulling the pads off her chest. "These things kept your heart going. You won't need them now." Tara tried to focus on the woman, but tears kept filling her eyes and they were getting hard to keep open.

"Go to sleep, hun. You are going to be fine. I'll see you when you wake up."

The lattices returned to the matrix. Within the corona of the star the play of electrons across the crystals continued. Enough remnants of the anomaly had been recovered and adequate emissions had been received to allow the matrix to discern the location of the anomaly's origin. A star fifteen light years away. Gravitons began to flow within the matrix.

And a flicker of recognition.

In time the matrix and lattices would bend space again.

And exterminate the anomaly.
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Re: Story #1: The Outlaw

Postby Cralis on Wed 04 May 2011 19:26

The winner! This story was written by Procyon. Congratulations!
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Re: Story #1: The Outlaw

Postby procyon on Thu 05 May 2011 02:31

Thank you.

And my greatest respect to the fellow enterants. All of the stories were really good. :D

My wife's biggest concern was that it would take the judges till Xmas to finally read all the way through my story.

Our playtests for the new game were rather involved, and I ended up cutting a lot of it just to get the story managable. But I am glad you enjoyed it and thank everyone once again.
...and I will show you fear in a handful of dust....

Cralis wrote:I would point out that the "what was" which is different from "here and now" can easily change in the "future then."
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Re: Story #1: The Outlaw

Postby mavikfelna on Fri 06 May 2011 13:01

Thank you for writing it! As always, a great read. And I want to know what happens next!

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Re: Story #1: The Outlaw

Postby procyon on Fri 09 Sep 2011 01:54

Just a small update on this.

We are holding off on starting the new 'session' of the Nemesis Camp until Ultra 2 is out and we can get a good look at it.

The thought is that if the rules are adaptable to what we have going, then we will use the newest iteration of Nemesis to try out the new rule set. Just like we used the first Nemesis Camp to try out Ultra.

In that it sounds like the Cp drive is going to undergo some big changes in Ultra 2, we may have to stay with Ultra. We will just have to wait and see.

As for the players, the oldest boy (US/USN) has been gone for a while, and oldest girl (FSC) plans to leave for college in the winter term - so there will be some changes. My wife (Pan Euro) is still with me, and the middle boy (China) won't graduate for several years - so these will remain under the same management.

The US and FSC won't disappear, but will end up under new management. You will just have to wait to find out what that entails.

As for the 'enemy', well, you will just have to wait for that one also. I am hoping I can adapt it to Ultra 2 if we go that route. I put a lot of time into their new opponent. I am sure my players will hate me for it later...... ;)
...and I will show you fear in a handful of dust....

Cralis wrote:I would point out that the "what was" which is different from "here and now" can easily change in the "future then."
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