Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 18part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
About halfway down the first page he found it, a poem that was linked to a flash animation.
He watched the animation, wondering where Brooke had dredged it up. It was from way back in the War On Terror, mostly shots from Iraq. It was kind of like watching a film clip from Vietnam. The gear they were using was so antique he had to wonder how they’d gotten anything done. No Wyverns, no Mojos, no particle detectors, no scanners. Just Kevlar body armor and peashooters. Of course, the terrorists they were fighting didn’t have any better.
But the sentiment of the piece was timeless and he quickly found himself tearing up. He dashed the water off his face and sucked it up to the end. Okay, now he knew how Brooke felt.
And the more he examined the lyrics, the stronger he felt. She was asking him to come home, but only when the time was right. She was saying she wouldn’t hold him back, that he was “free to find his calling” but that she would be there when he returned.
And his calling was right here. He wondered if she understood just what that meant. How could she? He didn’t even know what it really meant. Except a lot of separation.
He considered the undersize keyboard for a moment then typed rapidly, hit “Send” and vowed that if she had the strength to let him “find his calling,” he had the strength to find a way home.
“No messages for you, Commander Weaver?” the CO asked as he sat down in his chair in the conn.
“No, sir,” Bill replied. “Footloose and fancy-free bachelor. I get an occasional e-mail from my parents, but they don’t even know how to access the FMFs.”
“Admiral Rickover would have approved,” the XO said, grinning. “He felt an officer should be married to his career and not ‘chick hatching’ all the time.”
“And where are we going to find the next generation of Junior Spacemen?” the CO asked. “It was one of those points Rickover never quite got around to addressing. So, what’s your recommendation, Astro?”
“I’ve set up a search pattern of the nearest stars, sir,” Bill replied. “My recommendation is that we enter on the outer periphery of each of the systems, do a chill while simultaneously looking for any indicators of Dreen presence, then jump around the periphery, slowly working inward. When we get to about one AU from the local star, we’ll have looked about all we can. Then we go to the next. With stops at each of the jump points to let the instruments really get in a good scan, I’d say about one full day at each star. We do that until we find something or you call it a bust.”
“All right,” the CO said. “XO, Set Condition One on each system entry. At each move inwards, we’ll go to GQ again, figuring that is the most likely point that we’ll encounter the Dreen. Tell the Marines to just sit tight. I don’t want them running around doing a drill when we could be going into battle at any time.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Let’s head outwards,” the CO said. “Astro?”
“Come to heading three-one-six mark neg dot two and head for the star,” Bill replied, pointing at the forward viewscreen.
“Make it so.”
Brooke checked the caller ID on her cell phone as it sounded out with “Sunshine and Summertime.” It was the Bergstresser’s home number, which could be good news or bad or none at all. She took a deep breath and answered the call.
“Brooke, it’s Amanda Bergstresser.”
Mrs. Bergstresser sounded cheerful. A good sign so far.
“Yes, ma’am?” Brooke said. “Have you heard from Eric?”
“We have indeed,” Mrs. Bergstresser said. “I know he wasn’t supposed to be able to send a message for at least ninety days, but you got a response to yours. It’s a bit cryptic, though.”
“Go ahead,” Brooke said, swallowing.
“In the quiet misty morning Eric. That’s it. Does it make any sense to you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Brooke said, sniffling. “Yes, it does.”
“Brooke, I know all this is rather sudden and terribly dramatic, but I have a question: Do I need to start getting to know a future daughter-in-law?”
Brooke thought about that for a few seconds, then sniffled again.
“I sure hope so, Mrs. Bergstresser.”
“In that case, you’d better call me Amanda.”
“Adjusted to system Tycho 714-1046-1,” the pilot said, tiredly.
The ship had been doing an expanding sweep of the area for the last two weeks and it had been a very boring process. Most of the stars in the region, which was a fairly tightly packed local cluster, were within ten light-years of each other. Ten hours to reach a new system. About twenty hours scanning the system and then on to the next. And with GQ being called at least five times a day, nobody was getting any sleep.
“What do we have?” Spectre asked, his voice a bit too steady. The CO was on the ragged edge as well.
“G3V star, bit hotter than Sol but otherwise very main sequence,” Bill replied. “Waiting on readings, sir.”
“I’m getting a bit tired of waiting on readings,” the CO said bitterly.
“So am I, si—” Weaver paused and leaned forward, running his hand down one of the lines on his monitor. “Sir… ?”
“Go,” Spectre snapped.
“We’re getting some quirky readings on the particle detectors,” Tactical replied, clearly puzzled. “The system is just saying higher than normal background of neutrinos. I’m not sure what that means.”
“Weaver?” Spectre asked.
“Just… Give me a moment, sir,” Weaver said, opening up another screen and typing rapidly.
The CO walked over to look over the astrogator’s shoulder but the math he was working on was way over Spectre’s head. Another example of how difficult it was going to be to create a space navy. Too many times he simply had to go on his faith in Weaver’s knowledge.
“Concur on that, sir,” Weaver said after about a minute. “Furthermore, the extra neutrinos are generating from a point in the system. It’s at about six AU from the star on the far side from us. Something created a bunch of neutrinos there about nine hours ago. What, why and how I’m not sure. But I’d say that it’s probable that it was not a natural event. More than that… I can’t say without checking it out.”
“Can we do that quietly?” the CO asked. “Come in from the side or something? Maybe duck around a planet?”
“We still don’t have a planet map for the system, sir,” Bill said, checking the update from the astronomy department. Since it consisted of two overworked SF staff sergeants, he wasn’t expecting anything any time soon. Especially since their position was poor for finding planets. They usually didn’t get a good map until they moved in-system. “I would suggest moving in an arc across the outer fringes of the system, getting a look at the anomaly from another angle, then possibly moving in to no less than ten AUs from the anomaly for a visual.”
“Right,” Spectre said, rubbing his face. “Gimme a vector.”
“Heading zero-nine-six, sir,” Bill replied. “Warp Two for twenty-three minutes. Then come to normal space for another survey.”
“Pilot, make it so,” Spectre said, keying the 1-MC. “All hands. All hands. Ship remains at Condition One. There’s an anomaly in this system. We’re going to spend some time checking it out. Stay tight while we do that. Missile crews to ready positions.”
The second check had just repeated the first. Turning even their largest telescope towards the anomaly didn’t tell them anything.
“Astro, we’re going to go insystem unless you have another idea,” Spectre said.
“I actually do, sir,” Bill said, musingly. “We need to get farther away.”
“Say again?” the CO asked, rubbing his face. “What are we going to learn from farther away?”
“We can move faster than light, sir,” Bill replied, getting excited. “If whatever this was made a big enough signature, we can back out of the system and look at it. It’s sort of like going back in time. If t
“Okay, that’s just about weird enough to work,” Spectre said. “Gimme a vector and let’s do it.”
“Should be coming up pretty soon,” Bill said, looking at his chronometer. “If there’s going to be… whoa!”
It was almost pretty. Where there had been more or less empty space on the viewer, only the distant stars showing, there was suddenly a flurry of lights.
“Conn, Tactical,” the intercom chimed. “We’re getting a mass of particle readings from the direction of the anomaly. I’d say that multiple nuclear detonations are occurring.”
“Roger that,” Spectre said. “We’re watching it in—”
“Try ‘unreal’ time, sir,” Bill said, grinning. “Somebody was fighting somebody else. Who and why is the question, now.”
“Is this maximum magnification?” Spectre asked, walking over to the main viewer. “All I can see is the detonations.”
“They’re more visually obvious than whatever’s causing them, sir,” Bill pointed out. “That’s all we can get out of our systems: we’re not up to Star Trek level yet. And ours are as good as any that are made, sir. But at this distance, it’s like trying to pick out individual sand grains on Earth from a satellite. It’s easy to spot a spotlight pointed up. We’re going to have to go insystem to find out anything else.”
“Right,” Spectre said, his chin firming up. “Pilot, head for that battle. Stop at twenty AU out and then again at ten. This might just have zero to do with us. But I want to know who was fighting.”
Twenty AU hadn’t given them any information, nor were they learning much at ten AU. The spot where the battle had taken place was still just empty space as far as they could tell. There were still some emissions from the area, but they were faint. And nothing on the electrical band.
“Orders, sir?” the pilot asked.
“Heat levels?” the CO asked.
“We chilled on the outside stops,” the XO replied from damage control. “We’re good for about five hours.”
“Close the position under warp,” the CO said. “Stay away from the center. Pass by at Warp One, five light-seconds up in the elliptic. Tactical, stand by to scan the area visually. I want to see what we can see. Pilot, you laid in?”
“Aye, aye,” the NCO replied, hitting the warp drive.
The ship began hurtling forward, fast enough that the distant star could be seen to move. The viewer remained focused on the scene of the presumed battle as the ship flew “overhead” relative to the local solar system. They were approaching the system from just short of the distance from the Earth to the Moon, so anything left in the area had better be big.
“Conn, Tactical. Switching main viewer to thermal.”
“Go,” Spectre replied. They were approaching closest point of approach and tactical must have spotted something.
When the screen switched to false color thermal imagery, what Tactical had spotted was obvious. There were large chunks of material, much hotter than the background, floating in space. One looked as if it might have been part of a ship. A very odd ship, but probably about half of a hull.
“Maintain course and speed,” Spectre said. “Tactical, I want full spectrum analysis. Pilot, as soon as we reach one light-minute from the scene of the battle, go to full warp and park it sixty AUs out from the sun.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” the pilot said.
“Tactical, Astro, I want a meeting with the full science and command group in the wardroom in one hour,” Spectre said. “It looks as if whatever happened here is over. XO, stand down from Condition One.”
“Does anyone have anything to input that’s not obvious?” the CO asked as soon as the full video was replayed.
The region of space where the presumed battle had taken place was a mess. Bits of ships were littered liberally through the area. But they were so fragmented, it was hard to tell what they really looked like. However, there did seem to be two broad types. Some of the debris had a “hard-edged” look, while other bits were uniformly smoothly curved. There also appeared to be two broad types of material, one based around metals and the other carbon fibers. That was drawn from spectral analysis of smoldering “fires” where material was converting chemically bonded oxygen in slow vacuum fires.
The largest chunk was a vaguely ovoid piece of what must have been a much larger ship. It was forty meters long and wide, more or less. There might be remaining sealed compartments. It was hard to determine in the low-resolution image. One side of the tumbling wreckage had clearly been hull. The other side was…spongy.
“Two species in a space battle,” Lieutenant Fey said. “I’d bet dollars to donuts that the smooth ones are Dreen ships. There’s just an… organic look to them that is what you’d expect from the Dreen. And the spectral numbers from them match the chemical composition of Dreen rhino-tank armor about right. Not perfectly, but very close.”
“I’ve been looking at the particle traces, sir,” Bill said, punching at his laptop. “I think I’ve detected a stream of materials headed outward from the system. There’s a higher level of monatomic oxygen as well as traces of water. I’d say it’s the track of a damaged ship or ships.”
“That’s new information,” the CO said, looking over at Tactical. “Did you get that?”
“I’m not even sure what readings he’s referring to, sir,” the TACO admitted.
“I’ll send it over to you in a minute,” Bill said, not looking up. “You’ve got the numbers; it’s knowing what they mean that matters. There’s always a small background of elements in space. Not much, but it’s there and it can be detected by the way that it interacts with the particles being shoved out by a sun. In this case, there’s a series of higher than normal readings, headed more or less in a line. It’s like the trail of oil left by a damaged ship. We’re going to need to write some code for the tactical computers to start looking for this sort of thing. Heck, it might not even be damage. We sure leak like mad. In fact, we should look for RF emissions from electron spin flips of water components like the hydrogen twenty-one centimeter wavelength line and the hydroxyl radical nineteen centimeter wavelength line. I’ll bet you we leave those behind all over the place. And, they’d be easy, very easy, to detect.” He manipulated the data for a moment, then nodded. “Yep, there they are. Wow. You know, we leave a trail a blind man could follow.”
“Great to hear,” Spectre said grumpily. “But in other news, where’s the damaged ship going?”
“In the general direction of HD 37355, sir,” Bill replied. “That’s a G5 star in the general direction of Earth. Not on a line, mind you, just headed for that general quadrant. It could be headed for Tycho 714-1500-1. The two stars are only about two light-years apart. They’re nearly a binary system. And both are main sequence stars.”
“Which means a higher likelihood of habitable planets,” the CO said, nodding. “Bunch of them around here I noticed.”
“Yes, sir,” Bill replied. “This is part of the Orion local group. It’s a very dense group. Lots of hot sequence stars as well. And more dwarfs than we’d realized. Basically, it’s crowded as hell. We’re not far, at all, from some of the stars of Orion’s Belt.”
“So this is probably a good area for the Dreen to colonize,” the XO pointed out.
“Uh, yes, sir,” Bill admitted.
“Which explains their presence,” the CO said. “But what about this other race? Lieutenant Fey? Any points?”
“Only a quote from the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates,’ sir,” the lieutenant said. “ ’The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy. No more. No less.’ I’d love to find an ally against the Dreen, sir. But until we find out more about them, I would advise proceeding with caution.”
“And there’s only one way I can think of to find out more,” the CO said distastefully. “
“Carefully, sir,” the XO said. “Get close, take a snapshot, closer…”
“Agreed,” the CO said. “Tell the SF guys they’re going to have to take point in this one. They’re the closest we have to a science team.”
“Sir,” Bill interjected. “I think a careful search for survivors, especially this other race, is in order. Keep an eye out for beacons.”
“Agreed,” the CO said. “Let’s get to it.”
» » »
Harold was happy to be back in the commo shack. Ground pounding was for Marines. He was just as happy to have the ship wrapped back around him. Not to mention being able to stretch out on a cot instead of on the ground.
“What you got, Hal?” the leading PO asked.
“I’m getting a radio signal,” the commo tech said. “Emanating from the area of the battle.”
It was the third stop to check for data on the way in. The ship was under three light-seconds from the area of the battle and already starting to run into debris. It wasn’t so much that it had been a big battle as that the forces involved had sent debris spinning off at very fast velocities. It was spreading so fast that in another day or two it would have been hard to find the pieces.
“It’s code, non-frequency skipping, just a set of dots and dashes,” the commo tech continued, tracing the signal on his display. “I’d say that it’s an emergency beacon sending somebody’s version of SOS. It works out as ‘MRE’ in Morse.”
“Good job finding it,” the LPO said. “Conn, radio shack…”
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