Authors: Thomas DePrima
A Galaxy Unknown
Copyright © 2008 by Thomas J. DePrima
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the copyright holder is illegal, and punishable by law.
No part of this novel may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the copyright holder, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
This version of the printed novel has been formatted for presentation on Amazon Kindle devices and various other electronic media. The requirement that the text flow freely to accommodate different mediums may at times result in unusual display arrangements.
Cover art by
Nicholas Stanton Turner
To contact the author, or see additional information about this and his other novels, visit:
An appendix containing technical data pertinent to this series is included at the back of this book.
This novel is dedicated to my good friend Ted King for his invaluable suggestions, proofreading, and encouragement during the creation of this series.
This series of Jenetta Carver novels include:
A Galaxy Unknown
Valor at Vauzlee
The Clones of Mawcett
Against All Odds
Other novels by this author include:
When The Spirit Moves You
When The Spirit Calls
Table of Contents
~ September 29
, 2256 ~
A dizzying montage of abrasive red and white splashes from the overhead rotating emergency light slathered the room and savagely doused her sleeping form without effect. But when the red alert horn's undulating shrieks stabbed mercilessly at her body and knifed their way to the marrow of her bones, consciousness aggressively irrupted into Jenetta Carver's sleep-anesthetized brain.
Disoriented and frightened, she realized that she was sitting bolt upright in bed. She feverishly blinked eyes still thick with sleep, then swiped at each to clear away the vestiges of slumber. A final ripple of mind numbing din shook the bedroom, then all was quiet— for a full two seconds. Delivered through her implanted cranial transducer, an emergency directive began to reverberate incessantly inside her head at twice normal volume. At the same instant, the message started emanating from overhead speakers throughout the ship.
Whipping back the lightweight covers, she flung herself from her bed and landed lightly on the balls of her feet— a fraction of a second before screaming loudly and crashing solidly to the carpeted deck, arms and legs akimbo like a child's hastily discarded doll. An uncharacteristic oath about the carelessness of leaving service boots lying in the middle of the floor escaped her mouth as she kicked angrily at the innocent ankle-high footwear. But the emergency condition of the ship perforce drove her attention away from personal shortcomings and self-recriminations. Kneeling on newly scraped knees, she struggled to pull her nightgown off over her head, cursing both its acute embrace and herself for not wearing her usual pajamas this evening.
Finally free of an encumbering garment seemingly come alive with a maniacal need to smother her body, she jumped up and snatched her trousers from the chair where she'd left them. She purposely fell backwards onto her bed so she could shove both feet into the pant's legs as she landed, then nimbly leapt back onto the floor. The gymnastic movement evinced a legerity that contrasted markedly with the near comedic struggle to free herself from her nightgown. The newly commissioned Space Command officer didn't squander time trying to button her blouse or close her tunic; she simply yanked them on before jamming her feet into soft, flat-soled boots and grabbing her most prized personal possession from her dresser. With the framed picture of her family tucked safely beneath her arm, Jenetta bolted for the door.
A dozen small housekeeping bots were industriously cleaning the walls and carpet in a brightly lit corridor devoid of fellow crewmembers as she burst from her quarters. Except for the flashing emergency lights and horrific message of impending doom being broadcast by the computer throughout the ship, there seemed little amiss— until one noticed the soft whooshing sounds generated by the rapid departure of activated escape pods.
"All hands, abandon ship," the computer announced in a calm and insouciant tone. "This is not a drill. Containment failure is imminent. You have a safety margin of— 218 seconds. All hands abandon ship." Repeating endlessly, only the number of remaining seconds changed. The dulcet sounds of the computer's audio interface, programmed to simulate a feminine voice, normally had a calming effect, but the substance of the message belied the delivery. Echoing in her CT, it greatly increased an already heightened state of agitation.
Anticipation of a swift departure was crushed when she discovered that both pods in the nearest escape tube were already gone. Preservation could only be found elsewhere. Like a hurdler in a track and field event, she flew over sixty-centimeter tall housekeeping bots as she frantically raced through the deserted corridors of the quarters' deck, but her search yielded only empty escape tubes as the computer complacently droned on about the urgency of the situation.
Now fully awake, Jenetta suddenly realized that everyone aboard ship, except the skeletal third-watch crew, had probably been snug in their beds at this hour. Breathless, and on the verge of calamitous panic, she jumped into a lift and barked a command that sent the car plummeting to the Engineering Section five decks below, where the second largest concentration of escape pods could be found.
Her heart seemed ready to burst from her chest as she finally spotted an available escape pod. Its wide-open hatch and inviting interior screamed at her to hurry as the computer announced that just fourteen seconds remained. Jenetta hurled herself into the pod and smacked the flashing, over-sized launch button with the bottom of her fist, instantly sealing the pod and initiating the emergency launch sequence! As if a tremendous weight had suddenly been dropped upon her chest, g forces pushed her deeply into the thick padding of the pod's nose cone. Jenetta fought to fill her lungs as the diminutive transport was blasted out of the main ship by compressed gas jets positioned in the tube walls.
The pod's rocket engine ignited as it cleared the ship, and it furiously clawed its way through space, desperately seeking to distance itself from its former sanctuary. The noise and vibration from the chemical rocket was unlike anything she had ever experienced. Close to blacking out, Jenetta counted off the final seconds in her head, all the time willing the tiny craft to move faster. Since her CT was still functional, she knew that she was too close, much too close.
"…Five, Four, Thre…"
The countdown never reached ‘Two.' Even computers can miscalculate when they don't control the event. As the Hokyuu's long and faithful service to the Galactic Alliance came to an unnervingly violent end, fragments from the ship swatted at the life pod and sent it careening along an erratic trajectory. Automatic gyros and attitude thrusters toiled to stabilize the craft as Jenetta remained helplessly flattened against the capsule's cushioned bulkhead. One of two small portholes flared briefly with a blinding light that brilliantly illuminated the padded compartment when combustible material in the ship ignited. But just as quickly, the porthole darkened again, the oxygen in the Hokyuu having been either burnt off or dispersed into space.
The pod's main rocket cut out after completing its programmed sixty-second burn. In the deafening silence that ensued, Jenetta was able to pull herself to a porthole, but an ebony curtain had once again descended over the area. She strained to spot other survivors, but without benefit of a nearby sun, the vast blackness of space that enveloped the pod swallowed up all signs. The steady, un-flickering lights from distant stars were occasionally broken as nearby objects passed between them and her pod, but she had no way of knowing if the dark, silent shapes were other pods, or merely twisted chunks of broken ship radiating outward from the disaster site. Weak, emergency radio beacon signals provided the only testament that others had made it out alive, or at least that other pods had ejected from the ship.
Jenetta was still staring cheerlessly out the porthole when the realization that her retrorocket hadn't fired struck her with the force of a micro-asteroid! Whirling, she clawed furiously at the thick padding that covered the rear bulkhead and the door to the pod's main compartment! A sensor switch in the doorjamb instantly relayed a signal to the onboard computer as the door opened. Over a sixty-second interval all pod functions would initiate, including artificial gravity to a full g.
While still literally weightless, Jenetta pushed off from the bulkhead with a powerful thrust of her legs. She almost overshot her intended destination, the onboard computer console on the larboard sidewall, but managed to get a hand on a grab bar and check her trajectory. As she steadied herself in front of the console, she manually entered the command to fire the retrorocket, but the telltale braking that would halt the progress of the life pod and keep it near the original disaster location until rescue ships arrived, still didn't occur. The pod continued its pell-mell flight from the last reported position of the Hokyuu as artificial gravity slowly exerted its dominance over her and she became firmly rooted on the deck. Jenetta sent the command to fire the retrorocket repeatedly, only to be met with similar negative results after each attempt. She felt an icy hand reach out and clench her heart with a savage grip. "This is bad, Carver," she said ominously in the deathly silent cabin, "you've landed in it deep this time."
* * *
Designed to optimally accommodate no more than three crewmembers, Space Command life pods provide a spacious, although somewhat austere, interior encompassing an area roughly six-meters in length by three-meters in width. Extensive use of polycarbonate mirrors create the impression of a much larger space, while cool, eye-pleasing colors, intended to calm disaster survivors during a time of extreme emotional distress, cover all non-mirrored interior walls and surfaces. A full-wall 3-D SimWindow occupies one end of the pod, and pod denizens can select from dozens of different animated views. In tests, the designers found a scene from a tropical island paradise to be the most popular with pod occupants. Tall palm trees, leaning drunkenly towards a vast ocean of deep aqua, sway gently in the breeze against a medium-blue, almost cloudless sky. While sea birds glide overhead, uttering occasional plaintive cries, and small crabs scurry about silently near the waterline, white-capped rollers crash endlessly on a deserted, white-sand beach. The associated sound track reinforces the image as it plays through hidden speakers in the pod. Although not included in life pods, an optional scent generator can produce the salty smell of sea air.
The second most popular Simage proved to be a full day of images captured at the Northern Hemisphere Space Academy. Shot from a third floor window in Driscoll Hall, just one of several cadet dormitories, the SimWindow looks out across the parade ground towards the academy chapel. Hundreds of grey-uniformed cadets can be seen going about their daily business beneath a pale-blue sky filled with large, puffy clouds. The blue-green grass of the parade ground looks cool and peaceful against the stoic gray granite of the imposing edifice on Solemnity Hill. While the spire of the distant chapel stretches longingly towards the heavens, melodious strains of music from its renowned carillon can be heard wafting across the campus. The jumbled voices of people engaged in idle conversation as they pass the dorm room's open door to the corridor, can be heard in the background.
Equipped with a low-power communications system, the pod should have been able to contact other life pods from the Hokyuu. Following the explosion, Jenetta sat at the radio console for hours transmitting, "This is Ensign Carver of the GSC Hokyuu, calling anyone. Does anyone copy? Acknowledge please." Although all discernible evidence indicated that the transmitter was working, no one responded to her hails. She'd even tried using her cranial transducer, a miniscule electronic component, subcutaneously implanted against the exterior skull of every cadet upon entrance to the Academy. Vibrations from the vocal cords, reverberating in the cranium, are picked up by the transducer and piggybacked onto a carrier wave. The devices only function on Space Command vessels and bases properly equipped to provide the carrier, but Jenetta was desperate enough to try nearly anything. Unable to contact any of the other survivors, it appeared almost certain that her com system was malfunctioning. Since the emergency locator beacon was tied to the com system, she feared that she might not be transmitting a signal.
The twenty-one-year-old Space Command ensign spent the remainder of her first day aboard the life pod pacing and fretting like a tiger in a too-small cage as she concentrated on the main problem, the retrorocket malfunction. The soft soles of her boots made just a whisper of sound on the medium-blue carpet of the deck as she repeatedly traversed the pod's interior from end to end. The five-foot four-inch blonde knew that if rescue ships didn't arrive post-haste, she'd be too far away for them to spot the movement of her tiny un-powered pod with their sensors. But all of her intense concentration on the problem didn't produce the much-desired epiphany.
Having already expended its sixty seconds of fuel propelling the pod away from the ship, the main rocket couldn't be used to stop, or even slow, the pod's travel by flipping the craft and performing a quick burn. A skillful ship's engineer might know of a way to fire the malfunctioning retrorocket, but Jenetta, a young but brilliant astrophysicist, was out of her element. While all cadets at the Academy must complete rudimentary courses in spacecraft engineering, her limited knowledge of escape pod design and construction didn't permit her to identify what was preventing the rocket from firing, especially since the computer repeatedly verified that the command to fire had been sent. The pod's onboard configuration manual showed the electronic connections to be part of a simple fiber-optic wiring harness, and after testing the connections to the point where the wires passed through the hull of the pod, she was forced to assume that the problem was external to the craft. With no E.V.A. suit available, there was nothing more she could do.
Admitting defeat with the retrorocket problem, she resignedly turned her attention to computing the pod's position and course. Four explosive bolts held a protective cover over a small radio telemetry array. When the cover had been released and the equipment exposed, Jenetta was able to begin computing position, course, and speed. After performing the necessary analysis and calculations, Jenetta sat back in her chair stunned. The inadvertent boost received from the explosion of the ship had increased the pod's speed to over thirty-two kps, almost
times the maximum speed that pods are expected to achieve during their short burst. Since the Hokyuu had been traveling for ninety-six days since departing Earth, she knew that they were still sixty-three days from their first stop, a small SC base on Hyllfoll. Her computations told Jenetta that she'd be over a hundred-seventy-five-million kilometers from the disaster site when the rescue ship arrived, assuming that rescue came from the base. Even more depressing, the rescuers would have no way of knowing how many pods had successfully ejected before the explosion.