Chapter 1: Deep space near Aridos, 4012
Gunnery Officer David Adams checked the scope again to make sure, the cross-hairs were still on target and had been for the last 9 hours. They had quietly exited Hyperspace on the edge of the system and stealthily gunned their engines to bring them into range of their target. David checked his sights again, in the centre was the grey ball of Aridos, the cloudscape was whipped into bands reminiscent of a grayscale view of Jupiter. David had no idea why this planet was the target, he couldn’t even tell whether it was populated or not. All he knew was that it was deep in Union Territory.
“Time?” Captain John Steele asked in a low voice, almost a whisper. A curious but common psychological effect of being aboard a stealth ship.
“13.25” replied David in his natural voice, the captain scowled disapprovingly at this break in etiquette.
“Another three hours to go” the captain broke from his computer terminal and reached into a locker pulling out two ration packs, he handed one to David. The Captain returned to his computer screen. On it was a profile of the Ship, FNS Titania, a spectre class corvette, designed for stealth recon and small scale hit and run missions. But this time it was something different, the arrow shaped corvette was towing something much larger, a heavily shielded frigate sized ship, over 10 times the Titania’s size. Sensors reported the dull neutrino thrum of an active industrial fusion reactor, but there were no engines to be powered by it, and no signs of life support. No large scale comms equipment. The only visible equipment was a narrowband computer cable that formed part of the umbilical to the Titania. So what exactly was the fusion reactor powering?
David looked at the mission brief on his computer display, but was met with only one message. TOP SECRET BETA LEVEL CLEARENCE. Beta level clearance, so aside from the President of the Federation, and his chiefs of staff, not even the Federation Senate knew about this. Was the President acting without the senate’s approval? Was this even legal? David pushed these thoughts out of his head and concentrated on the task at hand. He returned to the cross-hairs. The planet was still centred in the middle, notably larger and more detailed than before. He thought he could see lights on the night side in the infrequent breaks in the cloud; and something else, the extended violet flash of Cherenkov radiation. Ships must be jumping too and from Hyperspace. His heart rate leapt and his mind jumped, was this a Union world?
Captain John Steele went over the mission brief again. They were to enter the ARIZONA system and proceed to the planet ARIZONA DELTA there they would drop off the Package, and make an escape along the pre determined vector to extraction point NEVADA where they will rendezvous with the Hyperspace Carrier Herschel. Survival odds were projected at 5:1. There was no mention of what planet Delta was or what the package would do. Only deliver the package and escape.
The captain switched his computer over to the targeting scope. Weighing up the situation he made his own projection on their odds of survival, estimating them to be closer to 5 million to one. Either intel screwed the pooch again or this was a suicide mission. Thinking for a moment, he thought to gun the engines and proceed to the rendezvous point. But this was a BETA LEVEL mission, intel couldn’t of screwed the pooch on this one. There would be no rendezvous, there would be no escape the only thing to do at this point was to continue with the mission as planned. He hoped what ever was in the package was worth it.
The captain forwarded his screen over to David. If he was going to die he deserved to know.
“Distance to target?” Asked the Captain
“1 million kilometres, at current velocity its going to take us 3 hours before we’re in range”
“Time?” whispered the Captain
“16.22” replied David. His eyes had rarely deviated from the gunnery sight in the last hour, all the while he watched the grey cloudy blob resolve into a living breathing planet. Bright lights glittered on the night side; through the breaks in the cloud he could see the entire world’s landmass was covered in Cities. Low in the atmosphere over a city he could see the small sparks of drive flame, as ships gained orbit, or came in for landing. There was a narrow ring around the equator; the firefly sparks of hundreds of orbital habitats, each one a mote of dust swirling around the planet. David began to have second thoughts.
The Captain monitored the output of the corvettes systems and all devices were functional. He had no idea what classified tech was on the ship, but before take off he noticed technicians bolting a box to the outside of the hull, aerials stuck out from it like porcupine spikes, he could only deduce it was a Union transponder, allowing them access to Union territory. Also the software package on his computer terminal seemed different somehow. It seemed to be smoother and almost predict what the captain wanted to look at. It was eerie. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to ensure this package was delivered.
“Range?” asked the Captain
“18106 kilometres, one minute to Package delivery” replied David, a lump formed in his throat as he turned the key on the gunnery console.
“Just remember they are not like us. They are not women and children down there, they are mutations, just fragments of their own construction. They are NOT human”
All across the board status lights winked on as the weaponry systems woke from their slumber. A green light appeared on the cross-hairs, and two vertical lines began to creep towards the centre, towards package release. The planet was no longer a dull grey ball, but a massive arc that slashed across the display. Magnification showed that it was covered in complex banded cloud layers and at random intervals, the spires of buildings poked through glittering with internal lights. Between them were brief glimpses of transports, going to and fro on their daily business.
“Range?” The Captain repeated
“3004 Kilometres, 10 seconds”
The countdown proceeded silently all the while the arc of the planet became closer to that of a line. The little corvette began to be buffeted by the atmosphere of the planet, the countdown reached zero. Gunnery officer David hit the release on the package, the captain took to the controls, angling the corvette and gunning the engines, below the package began to glow, a plasma trail streaked behind it as it dove deeper into the atmosphere
“Status?” was the last word the Captain said. Before David could reply, the bomb detonated and the corvette was bathed in a pure white light wiping it from existence.
All across the Union, data links and transport wormholes to Aridos Snapped shut as the entire planet dropped off the network.