Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven
Byzantium – Imperial HQ
Fleet Admiral Howard Quincy Butner’s office

“I can’t believe this,” Fleet Admiral Butner sat staring at the blank top of his desk where the display had returned to the image of the naval emblem.  He had just reviewed the report from Captain Sinclair of the corruption endemic on Sparta.  He was stunned and dismayed.

The rear admiral, captain and lieutenant commander who made up his senior staff were sitting across from his desk with stunned looks on their faces as well.  This was precedent setting, nothing of this magnitude had happened since the founding of the Empire. Read more

Chapter Six

Chapter Six
A Terrible Conspiracy

I

“You’re back!” Elaine said happily.  She had come into the kitchen to find me having a cup of coffee at the snack bar.  She was dressed to go riding.  I had arisen with the rising sun, showered shaved and put on a fresh uniform.  It was an older one and I had to change the rank badges but I was proud that it still fit perfectly.

“We are going to take a skimmer ride,” I told her earnestly, severely, without the hint of a smile.  There is something I want to see.”

“We could take the horses…”

“No, what I want to see is too far away.”

“Okay, let me get some coffee.” Read more

Chapter Five

Chapter Five
Sparta – Sinclair Estate

I

“I can see how my grandfathers loved this place,” I told my brother’s wife.  “It is truly beautiful.”  We were sitting on two magnificent paint horses from the Sinclair stables.  Elaine had suggested we take a ride out across the Estate and reacquaint me with the family property.  The view from the copse of trees where the horses were standing stretched out miles to the horizon over meadows, pasture and fenced cropland.

The estate where Emil made his home was the original ranch founded by our great grandfather.  It was just over six hundred thousand acres of farmland, forest, lakes, and streams.   Since it was roughly rectangular, on the long axis it was more than fifty miles across.   It was more like a plantation than an estate since it was a self-contained economic unit. Read more

Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Byzantium – Imperial HQ
Fleet Admiral Howard Quincy Butner’s office

I

“Eighteen months!” the Fleet Admiral exclaimed.  “This all happened eighteen months ago, and I’m just now being notified!  My God man, we’ve been at war with an alien race for over a year and I’m just now finding out about it!”

“Admiral, they were out beyond the farthest fringes of the Empire,” his chief of staff explained.  They beat it back as fast as they could, Sir.  As soon as they hit a settled system they sent message packets through.  I would imagine in their time frame less than a week has passed.  It’s that damned time-dilation when they make long-distance jumps.”

“We need to get a powerful flotilla out there.  Who is closest?”

“Well, that depends… Admiral,” the chief of staff made some adjustments to his handheld Omni and one entire wall of the fleet admiral’s office disappeared revealing a three-dimensional star map of the nearer portion of the galaxy. Read more

Chapter Three

Chapter Three
An Unexpected Inheritance

I

“Lyna, what do you think about this?”  I was so caught off guard my mouth was on autopilot.  I couldn’t imagine living in a universe that didn’t have my grandmother in it.  I had never even considered the idea.

“I’ll take care of your grandmother until she doesn’t need me any longer then I’ll come to wherever you are and take care of you.”  She said this was such conviction and with such certainty that it added to my unease.

I don’t even know where I’ll be.”

“It doesn’t matter, I’ll find you.”

I had to laugh.  When my grandmother died, I could be halfway across the Empire.  It wasn’t like Lyna could catch a cab.  There were a few merchant ships that crossed the incomprehensible void between systems but the passage was expensive and one never knew when one might show up and where it was going when it left.  In the heyday of the Empire, there had been passenger ships but the last passenger line went belly up over fifty years ago.

“Once we leave, no one will know where we are.  The admiral takes the flotilla where he pleases.  The board will give him some suggestions and alert him to any problem areas in our quadrant, but for security purposes when we leave this system no one outside our little group of ships will know where we are until we show up.”

Lyna gave me a look like she had when I was five and doubted something she told me.  “Walter, have I ever lied to you?”

“Well no but…”

“I’ll find you and I’ll come to where you are.  Before your grandmother passes, I’ll come and get you so you can tell her goodbye.  Then we can leave together, I never left your grandmother and I’ll never leave you.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Sweetheart, there are a lot of things you don’t know.  It’s time to bring you up to speed.  Come over here and sit next to me.”  Nana had moved from the table and was sitting comfortably on one of the broad couches that faced the black void.

I joined her and she took my hand.  She gave me the same look that Lyna had.  I felt like a child again.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far away,” she started.  “There was a race of beings called the Anastazi…”  It went on for a long time.  When she finished, I felt as though my reality had been turned inside out.  Much of what I had come to believe as history and the basis for my life was just so much fiction.

“…and grandpa JG developed antimatter!”

“With assistance from the Anastazi ship he did.  The ship was on its last legs.  It had almost exhausted its antimatter supply.  If the ship didn’t get a fresh charge of antimatter, it would die.  Your ancestor provided the Anastazi vessel what it needed and it, in turn, gave him the formula for the emerald that made his fortune.”

“Where is this ship today?”

“It’s here, in the Sparta system in orbit around Titan II.”  Titan II was a gas giant on the far fringes of the Spartan system.

“…and Lyna is an Anastazi?”  This caused both ladies to laugh.

“No, Lyna is an android built by the Anastazi ship.”

“You mean built by the Anastazi?”

“No, she was actually constructed by the ship itself.  The ship has an AI that is so far superior to anything we have as to be unrecognizable.”

“I’m sorry, I just don’t get any of this,” I said after a long silence.

“When you go out to the ship and meet the AI, you will understand.”

“When is this going to happen?”

“The sooner, the better, can you get a couple days off?”

“I haven’t taken any leave for five years.  I can take some time, but how are we going to get out to Titan, it’s a long way, or are you going to bring…”

“Leave that to us,” my grandmother interrupted.  “Make your arrangements for forty-eight hours free time and let us know; we’ll arrange for you to meet the AI.”

My head was spinning and I was experiencing a sense of almost vertigo when the voice in my earbud brought me back to the present reality.

“Sir, the transport is loaded.  We can get underway at your convenience,” my COB reported.

“Nana, we are going back to Sparta.  Do you want to go back with us or are you going to stay out here for a while?”  She and Lyna had come out with us, but Emil had a couple of shuttles that could take them back if they wished to stay a while.

“We’ll ride back with you,” she replied.  “That way, when you get leave we can make arrangements…”

“Well, it’s almost a week back to Sparta at one g, you can fill me in on a lot of the details on the way back.”

“Sweetheart there is one other thing I want to ask you,” my Nana said earnestly.

“Sure, go ahead.”

She hesitated as if somewhat embarrassed by her question but then dived right in.  “Walter, have you ever had a girlfriend?  Have you ever been in love?”

I’ll have to admit, that slowed me down.  I had to think a bit about where she might be coming from with this question.  Was she trying to determine if I was gay?  Of course, she could have no idea.  I left home when I was fifteen and had hardly seen her since, other than hasty short visits.

Now, I’ve had a few girlfriends over the years.  The Navy is integrated and there are roughly as many women on a ship as men, so there had been opportunities, but the Navy is humorless about fraternization.  There are strict rules that make getting serious with a shipmate complicated and awkward.

“I’ve had a few girlfriends,” I told her.  “I’ll have to admit, I really don’t know what love is, in the context you’re talking about; I love you, I loved bapaw, my mom and I love Lyna.  What I feel for Emil is more akin to admiration, I guess, but as far as loving a woman to the point of wanting to spend the rest of my life being faithful to her; no — I haven’t been in love.”  I finally ran down.

“You don’t have …urges?” She asked me tentatively as if afraid of the answer.

“Look, Nana, the Navy puts certain trace chemicals in our diet.  These potions reduce our libido to almost zero.  It is necessary.  They couldn’t have mixed crews of several hundred young people living, eating, bathing and sleeping together in close proximity without some damper on their sexual urges.  It would be chaos.

“Hmmm, I see.  This isn’t common knowledge.”

“No, the Navy would deny it vehemently if it came up.  Until I became the commander of my own ship, I was unaware of it.  It’s a closely held secret.”

“Don’t you miss…”

“Nana, I’ve been on the Navy diet since I was fifteen.  You don’t miss something you never had.”

“That is just …sad.”

“Nana, what is this really about?”

“You need an heir.  Emil is sterile.  He and Elaine tried to have children for a couple of years without success.  Finally, they ran tests.  Emil cannot have children.  If the Sinclair name in our branch is going to continue, it’s up to you.”

This was proving to be a very enlightening day.

II

“I have something for you,” Emil told me.  We were standing on the loading platform in front of the little tube car that would take me down to the zero gravity portion of the station where our transport ship was docked.  We had embarked Nana and Lyna with all of their personal effects and were ready to depart.  Emil had come down to tell everyone goodbye.

He was holding a carved wooden box the size of a medium suitcase in front of his body balanced on his right arm.  He pushed a hidden button and the lid popped up revealing the contents.  Inside, cushioned on purple velvet cutouts, were six of the emerald wine glasses Nana had shown me in the Sinclair suite.

Emil picked one up by its almost invisible stem so I could see the glass itself.  It was embossed with the Navy emblem below which were the words, “HMS Caligula Capt. Walter Sinclair Commanding.”  The lettering and logo were very faintly etched into the crystal, barely visible but legible.

“This is too much Emil; those glasses are worth a king’s ransom!”

“They are Sinclair legacy, as much yours as mine, take them, enjoy them and pass them on.”  He actually smiled.  I couldn’t remember when I had seen him relax and smile.  I decided he might not be a big a jerk as I thought.

I gently closed the lid and set the box down in the seat of the shuttle.  I straightened up and held out my hand.  To my amazement Emil to a step toward me and enveloped me in a hug.  When he stepped back, I swear there were tears in his eyes.

I was shocked.

“Emil, what is going on?”  All of this was so out of character for my older brother to the point where I was beginning to believe he had been possessed by some alien personality.

Emil looked at the box then straight at me for a moment.  “Those are for my nephew,” he said, turned on his heel and marched away without another word.

I was starting to get it.

Emil was not very religious.  He stopped attending divine services shortly after he was confirmed.  What Emil worshiped was the Sinclair family name, its history, and its legacy.  Unable to provide an heir, Emil was passing the torch to me.

This was going to be a tall order for someone who hadn’t had an erection since he was fifteen.

III

“Commodore, there is a family emergency that has come up.  I’m going to have to take a couple days leave.”  I was standing in front of the flotilla commander’s desk.  We were on his flagship, HMS Hadrian III.  Typically the fleet commander would plant his flag on the largest ship of the flotilla; which in our case would be my battlecruiser.  Our commander preferred the destroyer since it was newer, faster and had come to the fleet with a flag suite built in.

“Walter, you’re certainly due some leave and I’m not going to deny you.  However, we have emergency orders.  I’m going to have to take the flotilla and I can’t leave the big guns of your ship behind.”

Commodore Nathan Carlisle was a distant cousin on my mother’s side of the family.  He was a Spartan and was in line to be Fleet Admiral at some point in the future.  He was the first Colonial to be promoted to flag rank in our generation.

“My exec can step up in my absence,” I told him reluctantly.  The thought of leaving my command when it was going into action was not sitting well with me.  I began to have some second thoughts about this alien ship business.

“I’m sure he can,” the commodore replied.  “I’ll move my flag to the cruiser in your absence, however, and I’ll leave a destroyer here to bring you back.”

“Will I be a passenger?”

“No Walter,” the commodore said patiently.  “I will take her captain with me on staff.  Haddy is yours until you rejoin us.”   I was impressed.  The commodore was leaving me his flagship as a personal taxi.  “How long do you need to wrap up your business?”

“Officially I’m taking a week; if I get done sooner I’ll…”

“No Walter,” he interrupted me.  “Take a week; spend some time with your grandmother.  Who knows when you will see her again?”

“Thank you, Sir,” I told him, surprised at his willingness to let the senior captain of his command traipse off on unexplained family business when the commodore was taking the flotilla into action.

“There is one other thing,” he said and I knew the other shoe was about to drop.  “You have better contacts here at home than I do.  I get rumors of sedition talk floating around.  While you are here, I want you to drop in on a council meeting and take their temperature.  The Empire cannot afford to lose Sparta.”

That stopped me cold.  I had no idea the Emperor’s court had any hint of Sparta’s council flirting with independence.

“Sir, may I speak freely and off the record?”

“Certainly Captain, feel free,” he said verbally but his shaking head and eyes rolling up to look at the ceiling told me everything was being recorded.  I had to think fast.

“I think the majority of the council is loyal, there may be some opportunists with differing views, but I don’t think there is a problem.”

“Well okay then, but I would still like for you to dig around and see what you can come up with.”  He stood and came around his desk to take my hand.  “I’ll walk you down to the shuttle bay, okay?”

“Certainly Sir, thank you.”

The hangar deck was a cacophony of noise and bustle as shuttles were being loaded and outfitted for getting underway.  There were robot trucks and androids mixed in with the crew in a last-minute hurrying shuffle. offloading fresh supplies and discarding junk that had been accumulated during the month of the crews enjoying shore leave.

What they could not know was they were going nowhere until I was ready.

“What did you want to say, Captain?” the commodore leaned over and whispered in my ear.  We were standing at the bottom of the ramp leading up to the shuttle I would take to the surface of Sparta below.

“If Sparta declares independence it will put you and me in a tight spot.”  I put my cards on the table.  “I’ll have to tell you, I don’t know which way I would go.”

“I know,” he replied.  “If the Emperor accepted their independence I would stay with the fleet.  If it comes to war, I will not fire on my own people.”

“You’re a good man Nathan,” I told him earnestly.  “The majority of the council is loyal.  If it comes to it, I believe my brother will do the right thing.  A civil war would not be good for business.”

The commodore nodded his understanding of my position.  He turned to walk away but stopped after a couple steps and turned back to face me.

“Look, Walter, I’m putting you in for thirty days,” he said with finality.  “You deal with this issue whatever it is.  Put it to rest and come back when it’s settled.  I’ll leave a sealed packet of orders in my safe encoded with your biometrics telling you where we will be.”  He then turned before I could reply and marched off his shoulders slumped a bit with the pressure of command clearly weighing on him.

I watched him walk away with no little trepidation.  He had just dumped the entire issue of Spartan independence in my lap.

Chapter Two

Chapter Two
Calista four – Trinary star system
200 light years from Byzantium
Bridge of HMS Atlas IV – Survey Ship, Imperial Royal Navy

“I think We’ve found what we are looking for Captain,” the young lieutenant said proudly.

They were in orbit over a blue water world smack in the center of the Cinderella zone around an only recently named G class star at the far periphery of explored space.

“There is no sign of barbarian activity?”

“No Sir, it looks like a virgin.”

In the six hundred plus years mankind had been exploring the galaxy no life beyond micro-organisms and lichen had ever been discovered.  Somehow, life on earth had taken a giant evolutionary leap forward after the Neogene era provided the planet with its oxygen atmosphere.  The other earthlike, similarly aged worlds, seemed stuck at a level of development where the earth had been two and a half billion years ago.

“Do you think they will send an ark-ship?”

“They haven’t seeded a new planet in fifty years.  I doubt they will this one.”

“Why do they keep sending us out looking for new worlds if they have no intention to terraform them?”

“Inertia, Lieutenant, inertia,” the captain replied disgustedly.  “For four hundred years the Navy has been sending out survey ships.  It’s in the budget and no one has ever come up with a good reason to stop.”

“It’s hard on us, Sir,” the lieutenant replied rhetorically.  “None of us will ever see our families again.”  Interstellar travel using gravity lenses seemed instantaneous to the travelers, but there was a time dilation factor.  The longer the transition, the larger the gap between “real” time and the experienced time of the travelers.  By the time the survey ship returned to the Empire, as much as a hundred years could have passed.

“It makes no sense Captain,” the lieutenant complained.  “We locate these planets and the barbarians settle them.  We are creating our own enemies.”

“Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die,” the captain replied, miss-quoting Tennyson.  “Besides, the barbarians have to foot the bill for making the places habitable.  Someday the Empire will merely return and take them over.”

“I don’t know, Sir.  They haven’t yet,” he replied skeptically.  “Besides, we are going to seed the krill like we always do.  Fifty years from now the basic food stock of the ocean will be in place.  When the barbarians come in all they have to do is bring in some fish, plant some grass, and they are good to go.”

The captain was about to upbraid the lieutenant for questioning his Emperor and the Navy when the “GONG GONG” of an alarm rang out across the bridge.

“A ship is detected coming from the far side of this planet; it’s headed directly for us and has locked onto us with sensors!” Atlas IV’s central computer informed the crew.

“Is it a barbarian ship?” the captain exclaimed as he headed for his command chair.  Before the computer could reply, he raised his voice and ordered.  “General Quarters!  All crew to G chairs, accelerating to maneuvering speed in ten seconds.”  In the corner of the bridge-wide display dominating the front quarter of the bridge a block of fifty red lights appeared.  Some were already turning color.  As the crew found their acceleration couches, the lights turned to green.  The last green light from engineering came on some twelve seconds later.

“Full right flank 25G thrust,” the captain ordered and was buried in his command chair as the ship obeyed his command, instantly pouring twenty-five megawatts of power into the fusion-ion engines.

“No captain, the ship is of not of any known type used by the barbarians, it’s of a type unlisted in our library.”

“Come up to maneuvering speed, steady on our current heading, and reduce to one g,” the captain grunted against the massive pressure shoving him into his seat.  The anti-gravity field counteracted most of the g-force, but every watt of power available had been channeled to the engines, dimming the lights on the bridge and leaving only enough anti-gravity force to preserve the crew’s lives, their comfort was secondary.

“Give me visual on the ship,” the captain squeezed out with extreme effort.

The display shifted showing the lower right quarter filled with the blue-green planet rapidly disappearing below.  There was a black cylindrical shape appearing around the edge of the liquid water world.  The view expanded as the ship zoomed in on the approaching vessel.

Lieutenant Commander Brian Leonard Carlisle was shocked.  This ship looked like no other human starship he had ever heard of.  First and foremost it was sleek and streamlined as if it was designed to operate in an atmosphere as well as space.  Secondly, and even more important, it lacked the immense donut ring that surrounded all human ships.  This ring was the power storage unit where gigantic capacitors stored the power to allow the ships to slip through the gravity lenses.

The more he examined the vessel he became convinced his initial thought was correct.  The ship actually had vestigial wings.  It was an atmospheric hybrid.

“Scale,” he grunted.

Immediately the image of a Navy battle cruiser appeared next to the oncoming mystery ship.  The unidentified ship was a third smaller, twice the size of a corvette and three times larger than the scout ship.  It was unbelievably massive for a vessel that could operate in the atmosphere of a planet.

“The ship is firing on us,” the computer announced as if describing the color of the oncoming ship’s paint.  “Energy pulse weapon, power and type undetermined,” it finished its report.  The captain felt an instant relief of pressure as twenty-four g’s of thrust was lifted and power was shifted to the aft shields, there was a slight sense of lateral pressure as the ship turned to put the looming threat directly astern.

“Are you trying to hail?” the captain asked rhetorically, he knew the AI would have been attempting to get the other vessel to talk to them.  It was standard procedure.

“All bands, all standard languages,” the ship replied.  “No response Sir.”

The display showing the incoming ship and the nasty red ball of oncoming energy acquired a blue tint as the shields came up.

“Who the hell is that? Captain?!!” the lieutenant exclaimed in shocked surprise.  “They are gaining on us! No one can catch a scout ship!”  Their diminutive ship had the same engines as a corvette.  In the human Empire, no ship was even close to as fast maneuvering in real time space.  Since they operated alone for years at a time in a potentially hostile territory, they were fleet and armed to the teeth.  They had a main battery of disrupter cannon, rail guns for close-in fire support and really wicked photon torpedoes.

“Camie, give me a three torp spread, NOW!”  The battle computer’s actual name was “Centralized Automatic Machine Integrated Defense Environment” but everyone called her by her nickname.

“On the way Captain,” a sultry ladies voice filled the cabin as the battle computer took over control of the ship.  “Incoming impact in five, four, three…”  The menacing red dot was rapidly approaching and getting larger as it streaked toward them.  The shields snapped off for five hundred milliseconds as Camie shunted power to the engines to orient the shields strongest part to the imminent threat, then came back cold black-blue as the bridge went dark and its occupants were slammed sideways in their seats.

“Shot deflected — no damage,” Camie reported as the lights came back up.  The three photon torpedoes were streaking toward the rapidly approaching enemy ship which seemed to ignore them.

That proved to be a mistake.

Two of the torpedoes missed.  They were deflected, one above and one below the oncoming vessel.  The third made a direct hit on the forward shield and exploded with over a megaton of TNT equivalent energy.  The red glowing shield snapped off as it was penetrated.

The other ship seemed to stagger and turn halfway around continuing toward them presenting an amidships orientation.  It began to drop back quickly since it evidently had lost power and the scout ship was accelerating away at one g.

“You had no authorization to engage that vessel!” the rotund figure of the ship’s political and legal officer rang across the bridge as the elevator closed behind him.  “I’ll have your stripes commander!”

“They fired on us, Leroy,” the captain told the JAG officer, using his first name in front of the staff on the bridge in a retaliatory insult.  The political officer had addressed him by his permanent rank and not as captain.  He had little use for the political officer.  The JAG lieutenant had even less use for the ship’s captain.

Leroy Templeton was a royal.  The purple braided brassard that hung from his left shoulder and under his armpit marked him as a member of the royal family.  He had little actual authority on the ship when it was underway.  When they went into battle, he had none at all.

His entire reason for existence was to represent the royal family’s interests and to make sure the Navy conformed to the law of the Empire.

“It was a warning shot!” Leroy argued.  “You should have responded in kind!”

“Camie?” the Captain asked.

“I’m sorry Sir,” the battle computer replied, ever polite.  “It was a killing shot, deflected at the last possible moment with the full power of our shields.  A second simultaneous shot would have destroyed us.”

“Hmmm, we’ll see!  I’m calling for a court-martial as soon as we return!”  The little fat man turned and walked to the elevator.  He stopped in the door and glared back across the bridge at the captain.  “You’re an insubordinate, colonial-nobody and I’ll have your ass when we get back to Byzantium!”  He announced imperiously and disappeared into the elevator.

“The only way he could be a bigger jerk would be to gain weight!” the lieutenant mumbled.  There were sniggers heard across the bridge.

“Gentlemen! As you were!” the captain barked.  “His honor is the Emperor’s representative and we all need to keep that in mind.”  His words were severe, but the smile and wink he shared with the others on the bridge left no doubt where his true feelings lie.

In fact, he had a bit of sympathy for the man.  The JAG officer was caught between the Imperial family and the Navy itself.  There was a constant and continual struggle for power between the two entities.  The last fifty years the Navy had become the senior partner in the relationship and the royal family resented this fact intensely.

In retrospect, building the Navy around the Academy was probably a mistake on the Imperial Family’s part.  For over four hundred years, the Navy formed the basis for its existence around a sense of honor and duty.  The Naval officer corps began to see themselves as knights and protectors of the downtrodden and powerless.

When the Islamic barbarians became a serious threat, the naval officer corps began to see themselves as the inheritors of the mantle of the Templars.  With this development, the stage was set for a dramatic change.  The naval emblem had been an anchor with six stars.  The stars were arranged three and three above the crossbeam of an anchor.  The six stars represented the first six planets that made up the original Imperial alliance.  Sometime in the previous century, the top half of the anchor became the red cross of the Templars.

The break came when the Emperor Demontheses ordered a fleet admiral to replace the elected governor of Torantos, one of the six original systems, with one of his lackeys.  The governor was a Colonial, a descendant of one of the original founding families of Torantos, and was popular with the citizens of his system.

Not only did the Navy refuse to do it, they basically staged a coup.  They set up their own governing council, appointed a panel of retired admirals, and installed a colonial mustang officer as admiral of the fleet.

They told the sitting Emperor to go pound sand.

This erupted into a short bitter civil war when half dozen admirals of royal blood took their fleets back to Byzantium and declared the dissenting officers’ traitors.  Outnumbered a hundred to one, with their own sailors and some of their officers in mutiny, the royals, in the end, had no choice but to back down.  They were summarily retired and their slots filled with colonial captains.

“Camie, retain control,” the captain ordered.  “Atlas IV remains at battle stations.  I want the main battery locked onto that ship.  If those sensors come back on and we get even a hint of them scanning us again, pound ’em to splinters.”  Routinely after any action, control of the ship would be passed back to the AI which managed the day to day exploration activities.  “Camie, ready a shuttle, Lieutenant Dawson will take an away team and board her.”

“Who is it Captain?” the lieutenant asked with a confused look on his face as he stood to obey the captain’s order.

“Lieutenant, I’m not entirely sure, unless the barbarians have got a technological jump on us, I think We’ve finally bumped up against another sentient race.”

“My God, Captain, I hope not!” the Lieutenant exclaimed.  “If so, we may have started an inter-species war!”

“Remember who shot first Lieutenant,” the captain reminded him.  “Now, go take a look at that ship.  Take six Marines with long guns and armor, and be careful, those bastards fired on us for no reason.  Mister Howard, you will accompany the lieutenant.”

Wilbur Howard was a chief warrant officer, marine, and engineer.  He was fifty years old and had served in the Navy for thirty-five of those years.  The warrant officer corps was the backbone of the service.  Mister Howard had been selected to go to the academy but had been washed out in his third year over “conduct unbecoming.”  The details of this career-destroying misadventure had been expunged from his record, but there were still rumors of an excess of alcohol and an admiral’s daughter.

Most of the young men who washed out of the academy returned to the fleet as warrant officers.  The Navy was unwilling to lose the experience gained through years of service even though the young men didn’t make the final cut for a myriad of reasons.

Everyone knew who would actually be running the away team, even though the young lieutenant was nominally in charge.

“Aye Sir,” the warrant officer replied.  “I think we should take a ‘willy.’”  The “willy” was a medicine ball sized AI equipped with disrupters and laser cannon.  It was autonomous and equipped with anti-gravity mobility.  Having a “willy” provided some serious firepower.

The only downside was the AI.

The “willy’s” AI was somewhat of a problem.  They tended to be insubordinate and have their own ideas of what constituted a threat.  They were overprotective of any team to which they were assigned, had little respect for any officer below the rank of captain, and were dangerous in the extreme.

Warrant officers loved them, and the “willies” reciprocated their affection.  They were strange little buggers.

“Very well Mister Howard, but keep a tight rein on him,” the captain reluctantly agreed, “Camie, have Mister Martin report to the bridge to relieve Mister Howard.”

The two officers who would command the away team walked to the elevator and waited.  When the door opened, a starched and creased, slim little man stepped onto the bridge.  He nodded to the two officers who passed him to enter the elevator and marched crisply to the captain’s chair.  He had combed black hair graying at the temples and a razor-thin mustache.  Even his creases had creases.  He looked like he was going to pose for a recruiting poster.

Garnet Rueben Martin had lied about his age and joined the Navy when he was thirteen.  He had worked his way up from able seaman to become one of the most senior warrant officers in the service.  He was sixty-eight years old and looked forty.  There were rumors that he slept in his starched khakis since no one had ever seen him out of uniform.  In a sheath at his left hip, he wore the ceremonial dagger of the Order of Templars.

If Templeton was the Emperor’s man on the ship, “Butch” Martin was the Navy’s.  Where every Navy officer considered himself a Templar knight, the exclusive little cadre of men who made up the order were a step beyond.  The Order of the Templars was an exclusive club of men whose only loyalty was to the Navy itself.  Membership was by invitation and limited to a select few whose service and dedication to the ideals of the Navy were without a doubt.

Butch answered only to the captain and was seldom away from his side.  Only when the ship went to battle stations was he in a different location.  When the ship went into combat, the chief of staff’s battle station was deep inside the vessel in the most secure spot available.  Losing the captain would be a terrible blow.  Losing the chief of the boat would be a disaster.

Trying to operate with neither was unthinkable.

“Ensign Ito is there a problem with your station?” the captain asked the tiny Japanese officer who was looking at the COB like she would like to eat him like an ice cream cone.

“What? …oh no Sir,” she whirled around blushing and studied the display in front of her.

The captain winked at the chief who shook his head in a “what are you going to do?” gesture.  If one looked in the dictionary after “lady’s man,” Garnet Martin’s name appeared next.

“You might want to take some speed off her Sir,” the COB suggested.  “We have a fairly large differential.  It will take the shuttle a long time to catch up with us on her way back.”

“Thank you COB,” the captain murmured, and then spoke up.  “Camie, let’s turn her around and get me one and a half g’s until we match the speed of the drifting ship.  I don’t want to get any closer, but let’s match her speed and keep our distance.”

“WHOOP WHOOP zero gravity in three, two…” the alarm blared throughout the ship.  Everyone not in a chair grabbed for something to anchor themselves for the three minutes it would take the ship to reverse direction.  Three minutes was the minimum transition time necessary to keep from splattering the crew against various bulkheads.

When gravity returned, it was punishing for anyone outside of a G-chair.  An extra half gravity doesn’t seem like much until one realizes a two hundred pound man suddenly weighs three hundred.

“How much extra would it have cost just to incorporate the anti-grav fields to the whole ship?” the captain asked the COB rhetorically.

“There are compromises in every design,” the COB replied, reflexively defending the Navy’s design bureau.  It was what he did.  In his eyes, the Navy did nothing without very good reason.  Unseen by the chief, the captain rolled his eyes.

“What do you think, COB?” the captain asked his chief about the action they had just been through.  He didn’t need to elaborate, he and the COB were so attuned to each other’s thinking there was no need.

“It was a closely run thing, and we got lucky,” the COB replied.  “That ship’s weapon had some serious power.  If Camie hadn’t maneuvered at the last minute to make the angle of interception as steep as she did, it would have cut through our shields like they were toilet paper.”

“It was that close?”

“We were within a few hundred milliseconds of penetration,” the COB informed him.

“From one shot?!!” the captain exclaimed in shock.  “Our shields can stand up to a broadside from a cruiser!”

“Check it out,” the COB said as he held up his wrist-omni.  A graph materialized in the air above his wrist.  It showed two lines converging, a red spike coming up to a solid blue running left to right at the top.  The red line came dangerously close to interception before it winked out.

“Wow, that is too close for comfort.”

“Templeton is going to be a problem,” the COB whispered just loud enough for the captain to hear.  In the COB’s view, the political officer was a bigger threat than the barbarians or this new alien ship could ever be.  External enemies came and went, the Emperor’s man was always there, hovering around the edges, looking for weaknesses and threatening his precious Navy.

“I’ll handle his imminence, don’t worry about him.”

“Hmmm,” the chief grunted, clearly not convinced.  If the COB had his way, the JAG officer would suffer an accident that expelled him from the ship into open space.  “The away team is under way,” the COB informed the captain pointing toward the main viewscreen.

The foreground of the display showed one side of Atlas IV.  There was an open hangar door and the shuttle could be seen accelerating away from the ship.  Inside the shuttle, the lieutenant was haranguing the warrant officer.

“You need to make sure that crazy toy of yours stays on the reservation,” he told the chief.  “If We’ve not started a war with these folks already, I don’t want it on my head.”

“Do you really think there are aliens on that ship?” the chief replied deflecting the lieutenant’s concern.  “I would say it’s much more likely the rag-heads have come up with some new technology.  It makes sense when you think they didn’t even try to talk to us, they just started shooting.”

“You may be right,” the lieutenant admitted.  “That vessel might not even be a starship.  It doesn’t have a ring and it does have wings, perhaps it’s a primarily an airship with the ability to stick its nose into space.”

“Perhaps, but it sure as hell is fast.  It was overtaking us and we were accelerating at twenty-five g’s.  If the rag-heads have made that big a technological breakthrough, we are in trouble.”

“How long until we are alongside?” the lieutenant asked the warrant officer.

“Camie said her estimate was a little over five hours at three g’s.”

“The troops will be exhausted by the time we get there.  Fighting three g’s is not fun.”

“Perhaps it may not be so long, the enemy ship had built up quite a bit of speed differential before we knocked out its engines.  I don’t think Camie was including that in her estimate.”

Silence fell across the deck of the shuttle as all the men focused their effort on breathing and staying conscious against the punishing g-force.  In the end, the WO was proven correct.  It was just four hours later when the shuttle’s computer announced in their headsets.

“Maneuvering to intercept,” docking in five minutes,” it informed them.  “The vessel shows two-thirds of the ship is open to space.  The portion that is still pressurized is one and a half times standard earth pressure at sea level.  The atmosphere is inert gasses and CO2 and oxygen.  There are wisps of chlorine so you will need to keep your masks on.  There are life signs inside the pressurized areas.  There are indications the ship had lost power but is beginning to get some measure restored.”

“Where are you putting us?  Can you give me some visuals?”  The lieutenant asked the shuttle’s AI.

“Your choice Lieutenant,” the AI responded generating a hologram in the space between the parallel rows of passengers.  “There is a building size hole in the hull, here,” the hologram circled a large ragged black rent in the side of the oncoming ship.  I can drop you there, and you can make your way to the pressurized areas, or I can attempt to breach the hull in the occupied third somewhere.”

“Let’s take the depressurized route,” the WO suggested.  “We are less likely to encounter any resistance in the damaged section.  I would suggest we come up just outside the hole and let me send Willy and his little buddies in ahead of us to scout around.”

“Sounds good, Shuttle — as he said.”

The men felt pressure left then right as the ship maneuvered to come alongside the holed hull.  The gaping wound was twice the size of the shuttle.

“Willy, you’re deployed.  Stay out here with us for the moment, send in your drones moving forward and give me a view.”  The shuttle had opened a hatch to the baggage area and Willy floated free.  Three bouncing nervous balls of light popped out of a port on Willy’s mottled surface and streaked toward the black hole in front of them.

Three 3D holograms appeared in front of the WO’s visor.  All of the men could see them as well.  It looked as if three decks had been opened to space.  The drones took the middle section and turned right toward the pressurized and active portion of the ship.

“Life signs, Lieutenant,” the WO exclaimed.  “It looks like almost a dozen of the buggers lived through the hit.  Sorry, Sir, it looks like your worst fears are confirmed.  Those bastards are big!  I’m showing close to five hundred pounds mass, and look at these ceilings; these hallways are at least ten feet in height.  They are aliens’ Sir no doubt, and damn big ones at that!”

“You damn Spartans and your archaic measurements!  What is that in real numbers?!!

“Oh sorry Sir, about 230 kilos and a tad over three meters,” he corrected himself but then went on.  “LT, I think we need to back off.  I do not like this at all.  I think we may be in way over our heads here.”

“We have our orders…”

“With all due respect Sir, the captain told us to take a look.  We looked and determined it’s an alien ship.  I think we need to back off, tell the captain what we found and ask for…”

“Wheep, Wheep, Notification!” the shrill, tinny voice of Willy’s AI filled the cabin.  “Alien operatives are moving in our direction.  Should I engage?”

The center hologram revealed three bipedal forms moving through the darkened passage coming aft.  They were suited in some flexible material whose color was indeterminate in the faint light.  They were walking steadily carrying what looked like long guns in two arms.

“Sir, their gravity field is still functioning, even in the vented areas, and it looks like they are using infrared light sources.”  Beams of red light were being emitted from two sources on each helmet of the approaching beings.  The point creature whipped up the weapon he was carrying and snapped a shot in the direction of the hologram’s source.  A spear of blue light flashed and winked out.  The creature was firing on the drone.

“That is it!  These bastards shoot first and ask questions later!  Take’em out Mister Howard,” the lieutenant exclaimed.

“Go get’em, Willy,” the WO turned his mascot loose.

“Shuttle, get us out of here!” the lieutenant ordered.  “Back us out fifty klicks dead astern of the vented area and hold.  Update Atlas IV and ask for instructions.”

“Good move LT,” the WO said agreeing with the lieutenant.  “We’ve no idea of what these things are capable of.”

A fourth and larger hologram appeared in front of the WO’s position.  Willy had added his viewpoint as he entered the ship.  He seemed to be moving cautiously.  Now that his charges had backed off he was looking after himself.  Three beams of concentrated light speared out fifteen feet in front of him.  At their apex, there was a dancing quivering football-shaped bundle of energy.

“Willy is bringing out the big guns right away,” the WO observed.  Willy had staged a mini-photon torpedo that seemed to be eager to be released.

“I didn’t even know they had such a thing!” the lieutenant exclaimed.  “How much damage will that thing cause?”

“I don’t rightly know LT, but it’s a nasty bugger.  Willy is playing for keeps.”

“Those damn things always do, that is what I was afraid of.  Maybe you should call him…”

Before the lieutenant could finish his statement, the hologram revealed the torpedo flashing forward into the darkened interior of the ship.  An immense white flash blanked all four holograms for an instant.  When the views returned, it revealed chaos.  There was nothing forward of where the torpedo impacted but charred twisted metal and raging fires.

“Get out of there Willy, home!” the WO recalled his weapon without orders.

“The remaining pressurized area is now venting to space,” the shuttle reported.  “Power has dropped to a few pockets of emergency backup.”

“In five minutes it will be a lifeless hulk,” Mister Howard observed cryptically.  “Congratulations Lieutenant, you have become historically relevant.  You have now started a war with the first alien race humans have encountered in over a thousand years.”

The lieutenant’s face drained of color and he looked like he was going to be sick.

Chapter One

Chapter One
Sinclair Station

 

“You have to make up your mind,” my older brother Emil told me in his imperious manner.  He had been bossing me around since I was a toddler.  I didn’t appreciate it anymore now at forty years old than when I was five.  “You are either going to serve Sparta or you are going to serve the Emperor.  You cannot have it both ways!”

“Even the Council is divided, and you expect me to commit to this foolishness?”

“The Empire is on its last legs.  Sparta must fend for itself.”

“The Navy is all that stands between civilization and the forces of barbarism…”  I started into my spiel, but Emil cut me off.

“Your precious damn Navy!”  Emil exclaimed.  “Where was your vaunted Navy when Oberon was lost?” Read more

This is the fifth book in the Sinclair Saga

This is a serial novel.

It tells the story of a descendant of King Arthur set in the future in an Interstellar Empire.

It carries the story of Isla Marin, the sentient spaceship, and Merlyna, the devastatingly beautiful android that allows the ship to interact with humans and the physical world, forward five hundred years.

The ship has been in hibernation mode since the 21st century to preserve its diminishing supply of anti-matter fuel.

Before going into shutdown the ship had predicted that mankind would come into contact with an alien race some 500 years into the future.

Isla Marin is back.

The first four books are available on Kindle and Amazon.  Links are published under the “About” tab above.

Best to all,

Ted Snedeker