Authors: Isaac Hooke
Military Science Fiction
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Cradle of War
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A CAPTAIN'S CRUCIBLE
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, organizations, places, events and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
Text copyright © Isaac Hooke 2016
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
Cover design by Isaac Hooke
Cover image by Shookooboo
aptain Daniel H. Thompson of the United Systems corvette the
frowned when he saw the notification on the display.
“Carter,” he said to the lieutenant manning the ops station. “What’s going on with the comm nodes near 2-Prius?”
“Looks like both of them have gone offline again,” Lieutenant Carter said.
was at the center of the tactical display overlaying his vision. The corvette was in orbit above the planet Prius 3A, which housed the only colony and military base in the system. Further out, about two hundred million kilometers away, resided 2-Prius and the Gate in front of it. The yellow dots representing the comm nodes there had winked out.
Comm nodes were drones that passed back and forth through the Gates to which they were assigned, transmitting data to and from the adjacent systems, and were an integral part of the InterGalNet; however, the two drones in place around 2-Prius were more observatory in nature, as no return Gate existed on the other side and so neither one would be passing through.
Daniel rubbed his chin. “Both offline again...”
NAVCENT had dispatched Task Group 72.5, commanded by Admiral Knox, to Prius 3 seven months ago. The fleet headed directly toward the outgoing wormhole, 2-Prius, and passed through into Vega 951. At the time, Daniel had been a little surprised to see a battle group in a backwater system like Prius 3, what with the tensions between the Sino-Koreans and United Systems and the resultant military buildup taking place along the front line systems. But who was he to judge the orders of Central Command?
A little over six months ago almost all of the telemetry drones in the system had gone offline, including the comm nodes near 2-Prius, thanks to some electromagnetic pulse event. The comm nodes above the opposite Slipstream, 1-Prius, had remained intact, likely because the devices were performing an update in the neighboring system at the time.
The scientists had theorized that the EMP was caused by some unknown property of the stars that orbited each other in the middle of the system—those two were like pugilists in the ring, locked into a boxing match that would last until the end of time. The third star, Rook, around which Prius 3A revolved, would have protected the colony from that pulse, as Rook and its magnetosphere had eclipsed the inner suns at the time.
Daniel had a few repair drones dispatched to the wormhole. After becoming operational again, the AIs in the comm nodes studied the gravimetric fluctuations from the Prius 3 side and determined that no return Gate existed beyond the wormhole. Task Group 72.5 was stranded in Vega 951. That observation made Daniel doubt that the stars were the actual source of the EMP.
But once again the scientists came to the rescue with their theories, and they explained away the destruction of the return Gate by claiming that the Slipstream must have transmitted and magnified the EMP event somehow, despite the fact that such an aberrant transmission had never been recorded before. The captain had been reluctant to believe it, but when a routine sweep of the system turned up nothing else, he had no other recourse but to file his report and include the theories.
“Status on the remaining telemetry drones?” Daniel asked the lieutenant.
“Strangely, still operational,” Carter said. “Though they’re in full view of both inner stars.”
“I guess that rules out our hypothesis that the stars produced the EMP,” Daniel said.
“Actually, I haven’t detected anything that would indicate an EMP event,” Carter said. “Maybe the nodes have failed for a different reason, this time.”
“The failure definitely isn’t some problem inherent to the nodes themselves,” Daniel said. “The odds of two comm nodes failing at the same time on their own has to be astronomical.”
He stared at that wormhole on his tactical display. 2-Prius. That mystery wormhole.
What secrets do you hide?
When Daniel reported the situation six months ago, NAVCENT promptly sent Task Group 12.5.2, composed of a Harvester, Builder, cruiser and four destroyers. Daniel thought that was a little odd, given that Task Group 72.5 already had a Harvester and Builder with them. At the time he didn’t read too much into it, as standard protocol dictated the inclusion of a Harvester and Builder when dispatching a fleet through a wormhole that lacked a return Gate. But something else bothered him, and that was how soon Task Group 12.5.2 arrived after his report. Once again NAVCENT was sending all these ships to a relatively unimportant border system, moving precious destroyers away from the Sino-Korean front lines. It seemed obvious that Task Group 72.5 had been doing something significant in the system beyond.
After calling in some favors, three months ago he finally discovered that Task Group 72.5 had harbored a planet killer in its midst. What exactly the fleet had planned to do with that world-destroying bomb in Vega 951, Daniel didn’t know, but he finally understood why Task Group 12.5.2 had come along so soon—if he had misplaced a planet killer, he would have dispatched a fleet to retrieve it ASAP, too.
“I’m detecting three heat signatures,” Carter announced, drawing him out of his thoughts. “Ships, Captain. They just emerged from 2-Prius.”
“2-Prius?” Daniel glanced at his ops officer. “You mean 1-Prius, don’t you? From Anvil Rappel?” That was the other adjoined star system, a frontier territory the United Systems had purchased from the Franco-Italians and then resold to the Asiatic Alliance, who allowed the United Systems to continue operating a military base there.
“Negative,” Carter said. “I definitely mean 2-Prius. From Vega 951.”
“I thought Task Group 12.5.2 wasn’t due to finish construction of the return Gate for another three weeks?”
“They aren’t,” Lieutenant Carter agreed. He paused. “The Gate, Captain.” A strange tremor undermined his tone. Urgent. Fearful.
Daniel glanced at his tactical display and zoomed in on the wormhole. The Gate to Vega 951 no longer existed. In its place was debris.
“How old is this data?” Daniel asked.
“Approximately ten minutes old.”
“Do we have a positive ID on those heat signatures?” the captain pushed.
“No,” Carter said. “The signatures don’t match anything in our database.”
Daniel clenched his jaw. “They have to be some new Sino-Korean ship type.”
“You think Vega 951 has a Slipstream that loops back to SK space?” Carter asked.
“There’s no other explanation. Hermes, can you confirm?”
AI, Hermes, answered. “Slipstream data for Vega 951 is currently classified.”
“Ah yes,” Daniel said. “And so we hit a brick wall once again, thanks to NAVCENT’s overuse of the classified initiative. Come on, Hermes, help me out here. We’re kind of in a bind.”
“Slipstream data for Vega 951 is currently classified,” Hermes repeated.
“Fine.” Daniel turned toward the comm officer. “Transmit an emergency message to NAVCENT. Tell them unknown assailants have destroyed the Prius-2 Gate. Send along the heat signatures of the ships.”
In about twelve minutes that message would reach the comm nodes orbiting 1-Prius on the far side of the system.
“And Hermes, sound general quarters please,” Daniel said.
The AI’s voice came over the main circuit and made the announcement for all hands to man battle stations.
“Send a message to the
,” Daniel said as the klaxon sounded in the background. The
sister corvette, the only other military vessel in Prius 3. “Tell them to join us above the colony, and to prepare to assume defensive formation Bravo Five.”
Three minutes later Carter made another announcement. “Six more unidentified heat signatures have just emerged from behind Hercules 951-A.”
“What the hell is Hercules 951-A?” Daniel said.
“It’s an asteroid, Captain. Fairly close to 1-Prius.” He paused. “Some of the new heat signatures match the other unidentified craft.”
“What?” Daniel said. “You’re telling me the Sino-Koreans sneaked these new ship types into Prius 3 right under our noses, and hid them here for who knows how long?”
“Sirs,” Hermes interjected. “I have extrapolated the trajectory of that asteroid back in time by six months, to when the first EMP struck. It would have been close to the further Slipstream, 2-Prius. When the telemetry drones were offline in the system, the intruders could have entered via 2-Prius and hidden behind the asteroid.”
“Interesting conjecture,” Daniel said. And probably accurate, given that his search team hadn’t paid too much attention to asteroids when performing their sweep of the system; all the intruders had to do was hunker down on the big rock and cut all power and his team would have missed them completely.
“Active sensors are detecting a highly directional EMP pulse emanating from the six newcomers,” Carter said. “Looks like it’s aimed toward 1-Prius.”
“Trying to disable our comm nodes there...” Daniel said.
“The beam struck,” Carter continued.
“Status on the comm nodes?” the captain asked, though he guessed the answer already.
“Both disabled,” Carter replied. “Wait. We got lucky. Looks like the attack just so happened to coincide with the transmit time of one of the comm nodes.” That was the designated time a given comm node would pass through to the adjacent system for the transmission and receipt of data. “It got away through the Gate.”
Daniel exhaled in relief. “Did the comm node get our message?”
“No, but it would have witnessed the emergence of the six thermal signatures from behind the nearby asteroid. It will transmit those signatures to NAVCENT. One of the AIs on the receiving end will inevitably notify someone.”
Daniel hoped that would be enough to rouse Central Command into action, because the comm node wouldn’t have yet detected the attack on the farther Gate.
“I’m detecting a spike in thermal energy from the six near 1-Prius.” Carter looked up. “1-Prius Gate has just been destroyed.”
We’re trapped, then. Three enemies in front, and six behind.
moved into position beside the
to defend the colony, Daniel found it hard to contain his dread. There were too many opponents, with armaments and capabilities entirely unknown. A part of him wasn’t even sure they were Sino-Korean.
But who else could they be?
Well, either way, he couldn’t let his doubts show.
He had a battle to fight in a few days’ time. A probably hopeless battle, maybe, but he would fight it nonetheless. Someone had to protect the two hundred thousand colonists below.
He buttoned up his collar.
“Well ladies and gents,” Daniel said. “It looks like we’re finally going to see some action.”