CHAPTER 1: YEAR TWO
I turned the viewer to aft view as we emerged from the Igras Nebula and the USS Rosinante was in normal space once more. I had christened the Karthanian Raider after the horse of Don Quixote. Like the old lame steed of that fictitious character it was hapless piece of junk. Bolted and glued together from parts of of at least seventeen different space ships, each ship from a different space faring civilization no less. Somehow it all worked and the ship did not let me down when I needed it to work.
Only two weeks ago I had arrived here, in a shiny new Strugeon Courier ship and nothing that should have worked. The Command seat in this rust bucket had been a leather sofa, bolted down onto the deck plates with actual screw bolts. That sofa floated somewhere in space between here and Coven, the secret planet of the Netherworld Witches,along with whatever vermin was hiding between the cushions. The red scaled lizard, that was there to hunt the vermin tuned out to be a coward and as soon as I let the thing out, it gorged itself on the Vac Packed supplies and hid inside a ventilation shaft when it heard the sharp teeth vermin squeal between the cushions.
Well, the red scaled pirate pet was called a Hantkit and it had a better home now. I had sold him along with everything loose and not absolutely essential to a Vendor for pretty much everything aboard a Scooper station two days ago. They let me land, and it turned out the Karthanian ship of mine had a few tons of Good Scoop aboard, it and the rest of the things gained me a small bag full of gold and Platinum chips. Union Credits had no meaning out here as I found out. For the chips they sold me something like an old fashioned dentist chair that was now my command chair, a big bucket of Scrub-A-Deck and seven bulbs of fuel. Hopefully enough to take this piece of junk back to Union Space.
It had felt like a cold shower , like being evicted from a castle to turn back to my male persona, but I really wanted to complete my Academy and not complicate things even more. But my experience on Coven had shown me what I wanted and what I would do as soon as I could. The doubts and the pain of not knowing what I was were gone.
Gwen, like me wore uniform once more. It was her who knew how to find the Scoopers base.
The Karthanian version of Isah Pods, called Nuran Enticers kicked us past the transluminal threshold and while the Karthaninans called it Nuran Space , it was the same thing as Quasi space. The transluminal speed of the ship was not exactly fast and it would take us eleven days just to reach Union space and another seventeen to make it back to Pauli Base.
Gwen sighed as she saw the Nebula turn smaller.
„Would you like to have stayed longer?" I asked her.
"No not at all. I told you that I feel home at Lorman's Starbase. To many it is just a dust ball, but I have my career there and my friends and colleagues. It might surprise you but I really like being a JAG lawyer."
She pointed at the fainting image of the Nebulae. "I was thinking about the lives of the Scoopers. Now that the Coven has decided to join the Union, this part will become Union space and their way of live will chance and I don't think they will like it."
"Well it is up to you how much exposure you want for Coven. It's not going to be a big industrial or cultural center in the first place and all that chances might be a Union Post office, a public GalNet station and perhaps a monthly visit by the space bus. The Narth have none of that, they opted for a Space station called Narth Gate and pretty much all Union interaction ends there and never reaches Narth Prime."
„Well of course you are right and I don't think we do want much official exposure, but once the Union becomes truly aware of the Nebula and the conditions there, they send scientists and technicians. It's what they always do. You Terrans are especially nosy and inquisitive."
"You keep saying that and yet it is you who shares a human host body and it seems very Terran human at that."
She laughed. "It seems you did learn something about us and it does sometimes take an outsiders eyes to see the obvious."
She then added."Not that you would ever be perceived as outsider on Coven. You would always be welcome."
The Circle of the Coven watched the Human leave and with him went Gwen, the youngest.
This time she would travel all the way to Pluribus and represent the Coven and ask for Union Membership. The decision had been made.
The Human was a great surprise. He had seen them all in their true form and was not terrified or affraid. The Oldest had left the side of the Warrior and had returned to Coven and to the Circle to witness the event.
The Mother of the Coven said."He is brave and he carries the essence of duality. His female side is as complete as his male side is. There is no middle ground. He is not the third way as the Narth hope he would be."
Th Oldest who listened to the Name of Alycia and was the Leader of the PSI Corps for the Union objected. "Mother, the Narth do not hope. It is a concept alien to them. The Narth say there is a third way, then we who want to be wise, should heed and consider that there is a third we are the Coven and we are bound to the Nether world which stands for the way of darkness and chaos. But we are free to make our decisions and we choose the way of right and good. We made the decision to join the Union. We made the same decision as the Narth did.This seems to be a third way indeed."
The others in the Circle nodded."This is so. We made the decision and we shall abide by it."
Only a week ago we were intercepted long before we made it to Paui Station by the USS Shetland no less. I had to give Admiral McElligott a detailed account of my adventure. He simply listened, shook his head and and then dropped me off at Corri-Dor from where I caught a space bus to Arsenal Gate.
Once again wore my uniform and was all male. I decided not to experiment more until I completed the academy. Somehow the urge to be female was not as strong anymore and felt myself walking taller. My visit to Coven had freed me of many doubts and I felt content in myself for the first time in my life.
The space bus was filled to the last seat and most of the passengers came here for the first time.
A human female with bright green eyes and flaming red hair sat on the seat next to me. She looked skeptical at the forward screen showing Arsenal Gate getting bigger.
"Can I ask you something, Sir?"
It took me a second to realize she was addressing me." Sure!"
"I see you wear fleet uniform. Do you have any advice how to become a Midshipman?"
"Swallow your pride for one thing. They going to test and probe every orifice mentally and physically. Most of what you experience is not done because they don't care but because they test you and weed out those who aren't meant for this. There is much more to this process than it appears. Especially to someone starting out. I learned that just a while ago myself."
I listened to my own voice and realized how much had changed. How much I had chanced in only a little over a years time. It felt like a life time ago when I was finally on my way to Arsenal Gate.
She nodded." I try to remember that, thanks!"
After we docked they herded the Newcomers into a line. At first I thought I had to stand in line as well, but I saw three uniform wearing passengers leaving the space bus and they walked to another air lock so I followed them. The Marine guarding it simply scanned my ID chip and said:" Access granted, Sir."
Behind the door it came to me I had no idea how to get to Arsenal II from here. This was only Arsenal Gate, the actual system was still a light year away. The last time they stuck us into a military Leyland, but this time I was on my own.
After passing through the air lock from which I had entered the station I found myself in a wide well lit corridor and not far from where I was standing I saw a Project-A-Sign reading "D-Dock Saloon".
I felt thirsty and was in no particular hurry, besides maybe one of the patrons could tell me how to get to Arsenal II, without making a fool of myself.
The bar was dimly lit, the music that played in the background sounded like Ult harmonics, but could have been any popular song played by Ult instruments,it always sounded alike to me.
There weren't many patrons. Two humans wearing blue jumpsuits with the Engineering Bee patch on their arms sat at the bar and had a lively discussion. The bar keep was an ancient SI-5 multi task robot this one featured a chrome polished body. The bow tie around its flex neck looked out of place.
Close to the door and to the right were two public GalNet Terminals. I decided to call Elena and check my messages.
Nothing usual has happened at home. To Elena it was important things. Who married whom and who sold what to whom. Little Exa did not look so little anymore, even though it was not that long ago I had send her to Nilfeheim. It seemed the harsh climate and the good food of Nilfeheim made her grow faster. Father so I learned was on his first Pilgrimage to the Halls Of Hasvik and I secretly hoped he had to climb each of those iced stairs at least twice. Perhaps he would fall and break his neck.I could not help to wish him bad things. I had buried it but I had not forgotten what he had done,and all his new found ways to atone himself was when I truly thought about it not enough to wipe away his guilt in my eyes. I did not want to dwell at these thoughts and called my friends,I reached none of them, but had a pending message from Pure who got the picture I send him and he insisted that I would visit him right after the Academy.
I left the GalNet booth and finished my visual survey of the bar.
Only one table at the opposite from the bar was occupied by four cargo handlers, two of
them human and two of them insectoid Klack. One of the humans eyed me with an openly hostile expression on his face then he returned to his drink and to the conversation he had with his friends.
On the opposite side of the entrance was a row of floor to ceiling view ports. I went over to the windows and gasped. This was one of the hangars of the base. It was hard to imagine that this cavernous space was made by man. And even more mind boggling was the fact that it was only one hangar of hundreds like these, and all part of a an artificial station floating in the darkness if space. The dimensions of this hangar alone was hard to comprehend. A full size 3500 meter Battle ship was serviced there at the moment and there was room for at least three more. All of Halstad Fjord would have easily fit into this hangar with room to spare to store every single burg. There was hectic activity of robots, vehicles and service personnel. It was a wedge shaped battle ship. but it was too close for me to see the registration name.
Even the hundred meter tall Octo Bots shifting tons of materials with their memory metal tentacle arms looked like toys compared to that ship. Seeing all this had the same effect on me as it ha when I saw one of these the first time at Grandfather's funeral.
The bulky looking man wearing a blue jump suit came over. His suit had only one sleeve his other arm was exposed all the way to the shoulder and it was clearly a cybernetic implant. His rank insignia identified him as an E-4 Petty Officer. And the stylized cargo hook above the rank informed me that he was a Cargo specialist.
"Are you lost or something?" He asked with a disapproving tone in his voice.
"No not exactly, Sir."
"What have I done to you to be insulted by you?"
"Sir I fail to understand how I insulted you!"
"You did it again! Do it one more time and you going to get to know me in a very unpleasant manner!"
He was out for trouble and I had no intentions of fighting with an enlisted man. Technically I was a Midshipman and his superior but it was obvious he was not impressed by that.
I was sure whatever I said would escalate the situation, so I backed up, raised my hands in a defensive manner and said."Let us not escalate this situation, Sir. I am going to leave!"
The man grunted and swung at me. I evaded and walked to the door. He said." First you insult me three times and now you run like a coward and such jelly belly jerks think they are so high and mighty! You are nothing but a stinking coward!" He came after me and I knew I would not make it to door unless I ran and I would not run!. So I stopped turned and said." I will ignore what you said so far, Petty Officer. I will forget that you tried to hit me. But take one more step towards me, Threaten me one more time and this will end for you in the medical ward of the brig.
He did stop, the three workers at the table now paid full attention to the situation. One of them said." Curt you better stop or that Midshipman will have you scrub the deck plates from here to sector 12!"
Cyberarm's name was Curt and he didn't like that comment one egged him on and he snapped at me." This is Loaders country. You have no business here! There are no Marines to come to your help. You are on your own and if I decide to rip your head off, then that is what I do! It is exactly what \will happen now!"
"I warned you nicely. Let's see if we can't find a supervisor of yours and see what he thinks of your conduct!"
Curt launched himself forward. He was an experienced brawler I could tell at once. I needed to make a point and do it fast. Brawling with an Enlisted was not a good career move. I stepped inside his attack, grabbed him by the wrist, added momentum and smacked the palm of my hand hard under his chin. He tumbled with a spray of blood and teeth backwards into chairs and tables,
The robot bar tender extended a red light from his skull and announced: "Cease all fighting. Station security is alerted!"
Curt came up, with several of his teeth missing and not to steady on his feet and past his pain I saw fear in his eyes as he glanced towards the door. The workers at the table did not look much happier and the same one said." Your goose is cooked Curt. Attacking an officer, you going to get spaced if you're lucky!"
And just then the door opened and two Marines with shock batons arrived. By the looks of them it was clear that they could have cleared a room of fighting Petharian without breaking a sweat. One of them pointed at me." What is the nature of the disturbance here?" He looked at Carl and then at me." Oh I see, that green want-to-be-officer strolled in here and you picked a fight, isn't that what happened Curt?"
I straightened ignored the speaking marine and addressed the second:"Corporal are you on official security detail?"
He looked at me as if I asked him if space was black." Yes I am!"
"Then I assume you recording this for your watch log?"
He nodded." Yes of course."
I raised my voice just a notch." This is Midshipman Olafson. Marine Corporals of the watch have displayed extreme disrespect against an officer of the fleet. Responding Marines did not address me properly but used profane language and belittled my statue and position. I herby file and official complaint!"
Both Marines seemed to shrink several inches and I went closer to the first one looked for his name tag and said." Corporal Rengar how do you explain your observation calling me a want to be Officer? Did you check my ID.? Did you obtain any data that could make you think I might not be an Officer?"
"Sir, I apologize. I did not mean any disrespect Sir. This is not the first disturbance of this nature and in this bar. Did this Petty Officer cause you any harm or trouble, Sir?"
"None at all Corporals. This Petty Officer asked me to demonstrate an Aikido throw that was all. The robot misinterpreted the situation."
"If you say so Sir!"
"Indeed. Now do I need to follow you to the guard center and file a complete report including the record of your conduct or can we file this situation under false alarm?"
"It seems that would be an acceptable solution, Sir. We will report it as a false alarm. Have a good day, Sir!"
The Marines apologized again and left.
Neither Curt nor the workers on the table had said a word during until the Marines left.
Curt stepped forward." That was mighty noble of you, Sir!"
"Well I don't want to see anyone spaced. Just never call me a coward, that is serious matter for someone where I come from. But you are right about one thing. I don't belong here. I better go now."
One of the Klacks got up." Why don't you join us for a drink, Sir? We owe you at least that much for saving our friend."
"Alright I guess I can use a drink."
I sat down with the four and Curt also found a chair and pulled it to the table.
The human worker leaned forward." One tip of advice, Sir. Don't call enlisted personnel Sir. That Sir is reserved for officers!"
"I am sorry. I didn't know. I am fresh out first Year academy I call a fence post sir."
That caused laughter and even Curt smirked." I am sorry I was a jerk!"
I just waved and turned my attention to the Serv-bot." Got any Holstein Pilsner?"
"No but I we have Heilbronner on Tab, that is also a Pilsner."
"Alright one of those!"
The Klack ordered sugar water and asked:" What are you doing here if I may ask. This is a bar usually frequented by Cargo handlers and long shore workers like us."
"I need to find a way to get to Arsenal II and I have no idea how to get there so I thought I find someone to ask and the bar was the first thing I saw after the airlock."
"There is hourly shuttle service right from the Equator Deck Section 9. Just take any IST and tell the System where you want to go."
Chaper 1 Continued: ARSENAL II
It was just as easy as the Load handler said and a shuttle transport took me to Arsenal II without any problems. After it landed and I got out I wondered what I should do next. I was a few weeks late and no clear instructions as where to report. I double checked my PDD and contacted Fleet Personnel if there were any specific orders for me, there weren't any new ones. The only active orders on file were to report to Arsenal II for my second year instructions. Those orders were almost two month overdue , but there was a properly filed extension by Fleet command.
Maybe someone at Academy HQ would be able to give me advice. So I took a maglev train from the Shuttle port to Academy Head Quarters.
There on the Duro-Crete before the Academy tower was a long line of orange jump suit wearing applicants. Only a year ago I had stood in that line. Now I walked unhindered, wearing navy black. Even though I choose to approach the building from another walkway I could almost feel the eyes of the applicants on me and I was glad I didn't have to that again.
Right behind the entrance door I had chosen was a desk with a humanoid Lieutenant. He looked at me with light surprise in his face." What can I do for you, Midshipman?"
"Sir I am to start the 2nd year, but I don't really have a place to report so, so I thought I come here and see if I can get information and perhaps advice what I have to do."
He scanned my ID chip and looked over his screen tapped a few times on it." I assigned you to Bachelor housing complex 345A. There you will have a room to stay and study."
He handed me a print out." Here are the directions how to get there from here."
"Thank you Sir, very kind!"
He waved his hand and grinned." Since I could not find any active orders for you. You just volunteered to work right here, you can take the IST behind me to Level 8 and report to Lt Archer. We got lots of applicants today and we are short handed as usual."
I recognized level 8 as soon as the IST let me out. It was the place where Applicants got their green uniforms. There was a long line and a bald headed Lieutenant directed each applicant to the Auto-dressers.
He saw me and waved me over." First time a Midshipman is volunteering for this, but I am not complaining. Get over there and take the four auto-dressers over there. Check the applicant's status to make sure he or she got accepted, double scan them to make sure there are no civilian items on them and put him in one of the auto-dressers. Don't answer many questions or you never get done!"
The task was easy but after sending over two hundred applicants through, I lost count and caught myself snapping at an applicant who asked a stupid question. A question similar to what 179 applicants before him asked.
Then I realized what I had done! Only short time ago I was that applicant and quite angry at the indifferent or unfriendly officers. I was about to turn and apologize, but a voice stopped me." Don't apologize!" It was the silver haired woman I had seen in Webb's office a year ago. Now I could identify her as a Saresii and her rank was tiny brain pin on her collar was the insignia of the elusive PSI Corps.
She smiled ever so lightly at me." It is quite a different experience to have the shoe on the other foot is it not?"I nodded." Yes Ma'am. I came to that conclusion just now myself!"
"Commander Webb wants to see you."
I followed the woman. Just before I left the room , Archer called my name and gave me a thumb up." Thank you Midshipman good job and the help was appreciated."
I smiled back and went after the PSI Corps General and I wondered why she would run errands for the Admiral. In the corridor before the IST she said." Never apologize to a subordinate, at least not in public. A good officer stands by his actions and reactions even as small as these. If it was a wrong you might in rare cases take that subordinate to a private place and apologize. On a regular duty station there are other ways for a superior officer to make up for a slip like that without apologizing."
She was tall and with her heeled boots taller than me. She leaned closer. „ Just to let you know Gwen your friend has made the official request and it all goes smothly. Most of the Union Assembly hardly took notice at the request of a single planet race membersip, but the Saresii and the Narth Representatives did and welcomed us."
„You are of the Coven as well?"
„I am Alyicia Lichfang and I am the oldest sister of the Coven. I just decided to fetch you myself as I learned Webb wanted to talk to you and let you know that everything went as planned."
„That is good to know. Not that I really understood why you needed me to make a decision you had basically made already."
„I think you just been at the right place to the right time and Gwen does like you." She pointed at the Admirals door." Well he is waiting for you and it is never a good thing to make an Admiral wait too long."
I had to agree with her on that and she opened the door for me and almost pushed me was behind his desk, so I snapped in attention." Cadet Olafson reporting as ordered Sir!"
He nodded." At ease Midshipman. I am surprised to see you here so early."
"I thought I am two month behind schedule Sir. Admiral McElligott ordered me to report here, Sir."
"Well technically you are now six month to early as we placed your second year into the next turn. I recall that Asmiral McElligott also ordered you to take a vacation after all your shenanigans on Winchester and in the Igras Nebula. I don't know details of course, no one tells the old Academy horse anything these days , but I would have to send you to the stockades if you even so much as open your mouth."
He crossed his short arms across his chest in a very human gesture." Be as it may you too late for your classes and to early for the next ones to start now that you are here!"
He glanced at a read out on his desk."I see you have been assigned with a room at the Bachelor housing complex 345A. That is clear across the planet and keeps you out of my hair, not that I have any but using a figure of speech of course."
He paced away from his desk, looked across the Academy Gardens." Down the street from your Bachelors Home is a large old fashioned library with all the material you need to study."
"Thank you Sir. I will"
"Have you decided already what you want to specialize in?"
"No not exactly, it was suggested I might study helm."
"Do you know what books are?"
"Most study material you will find on GalNet in form of Holos, Hyno courses, direct cortex upload and so forth but some material to this day is best studied in printed form and in books."
"Yes Sir, my old teacher in Basic School made a point of this as well!"
„Maybe he was a graduate from my Academy then or perhaps simply a wise man." He took a sheet of paper from his desk. „ I have here a list of books I recommend you to study while you're here. Consider it as my personal study assignment."
„Well get started. It's a long list of books and I expect you to know them all by heart."
"See me in three month from now! That is all Midshipmen."
The bachelor's home was like most buildings and facilities on this hostile environment planet deep underground and part of a sub surface building and tunnel complex.. I found the building and the door to my apartment easily enough following the instruction I had been given. .It had a bed, a desk a GalNet terminal and a small hygiene cell, that was all but I found it adequate and better than a dorm in any case.
I freshened up and changed Uniforms. A slot in the wall outside on the corridor was labeled Laundry and I disposed my worn uniform there.
Not tired enough for bed I went over the list, it was handwritten on a note paper with the Academy Logo. The list was thirteen titles long:
The late profession of arms.
Armed Forces and society: problems of non human alien integration.
Critical incidents of leadership
A Firsthand Account of How a graviton storm, More Powerful than the Nul-Nul Fleet, Dealt Death and Destruction to Admiral Brigleys's third Fleet."
The Greek and Macedonian Art of War.
Introduction to the Concepts of United Stars Navy Leadership.
Sun Tzu's Art of War
Ult Fighting Doctrine
Basic Command guidelines of the United Stars Navy
The Seven Voyages of Captain Harvey
The Captain's Table: Ten humorous stories
Translocators Curse or Blessing
Fifty One Rules of Klack and War
None of the books had anything to do with helm. It turned out all 13 books were ancient and not available on GalNet. The library down the street had them, just as Admiral Stokes had said. Old tomes, real books made of paper. Why he wanted me to read these old books I could not say, but he wanted me to read them and read them I would.
Loaded with a stack of musky smelling paper books that looked as if no one had checked them out in decades and I wondered why they were around and not scanned and I returned and almost collided with someone as I turned to enter the Bachelors Home.
It was a Shiss!
I dropped the books and went instinctive in a fighting stance.
The Shiss, a lizard- like species belonged to the enemies of the United Stars. We had fought a series of wars against them and while there was no open war at the moment, there wasn't any peace agreement either.
To see a Shiss on a military installation was quite unusual, even more so because this being wore a black navy uniform.
His voice sounded like high pressured air escaping a small hole." You are surprised to see a Shiss, but it is not necessary to go into fighting stance, Midshipman."
Now I saw the Captain striped on his uniform and immediately snapped into attention. "I am sorry Sir!"
"No problem. I get that a lot and I am used to it."
He stepped a little closer and even helped me gather my books. While he did he looked at the titles. "You picked quite unusual reading material for a Midshipman. From the looks of it you are in your sophomore year at the Academy, right?"
"Technically I am still a freshman, Sir. The second year hasn't started for me yet."
"What did they teach you about the Shiss so far?
I straightened my stance and began to recite what I knew." The Shiss a lizaroid species indigenous to the Balford Strand of the Orion arm in the Upward sector of our galaxy. These four armed, bipedal lizards have wings attached to the primary arm pair but are not capable of flight. They are strictly ruled by a caste system dominated by the White throat caste and ruled by the caste system is based on the color the throat skin of a Shiss male. He female of the species has no such coloration. The Colors are White,Beige, Yellow, Green, Red, Blue and the lowest caste is Purple" I took a deep breath and continued:" The Shiss attained Tech level 7 and are mortal enemies of the Nul-Nul. The Shiss and Nul-Nul fight wars for over 2000 years. First Contact with the United Stars was made by…"
He raised one of his upper hands. "Well you do know the text book version so it seems."
He made a sound that sounded surprisingly like a human sigh." I am a purple Shiss, member of the lowest Caste, but I was born far away from Shiss-shaa the home world on a distant colony planet. Shiss colonize new worlds by first dumping a few loads of Purple throat Shiss on any marginally suitable is no survey, no one checks if the conditions are survivable, they dump a few thousand with marginal tools and supplies and check periodically if the Colony takes hold or if more Purples need to be sent.
Those distant colonies are much more interest in survival than keeping the caste system alive.
Once a colony thrives Upper Caste Shiss move in. Expect to be given all the fruits of purple Shiss labor. Purples are then allowed to serve their masters as slaves on a world they made livable."
He pointed at a knee high wall surrounding a flower bed next to entrance."Sit down so I can tell you the rest!"
I simply did and he piled my books onto my lap while he continued." The Purples did not want to lose what we gained and had no interest to give up all their freedoms and possessions just because a higher caste prince decided to take it. The outer colonies rebelled and the All-White-Nestling dispatched a punishment fleet to eradicate the 33 colonies. The first colony was orbital bombed and every single colonist died.
The elected leaders of the other colonies approached the United Stars for membership and got full protection from the fleet.
A navy fleet fought hard and valiant for us and won. To us Purple Throats that 33th Colony became a symbol of defiance. My mother told me this story when I was a little nestling and I swore I would repay my debt to these aliens who fought so gallantly for our freedom because we could not. Now you know why there is a Shiss in Union Uniform."
"I am truly sorry, Sir, it was more a reaction than a conscious thought."
"No apologies necessary. I almost sneaked up on you and must have startled you."
"Yes Sir a little!"
"So what are you doing here if you still a freshman? "
"I don't really have any other place to go, Sir."
I told him a very rough short version why I did not know if I was too late or to early for my next year.
He pointed at the books." What exactly are you studying?"
"Those books where recommended to me by Admiral Stokes, Sir. He wanted me to read them."
"Old Webb himself recommended them, I see. I must tell you I read each of them as well. Did you know that those books are called the Captains Treasure and that every Captain in this Fleet has read and often memorized each one?"
"No Sir. I did not know that!" But I did remember what I had told Webb while still standing in line before the Academy and now I knew he had not forgotten either.
He clasped all four hands behind his back. "Why don't you give me your name and service number. I think I might have something for you to do."
"Midshipman Eric Olafson. Service Number 1082320-O-5434, Sir!"
"Take your books to your apartment and wait there for me!"
He left the hallway and went down the street and I went to my room. I promised myself, never to tell any Superior officer again, that I had time on my hands. The worst part was that this was something a Cadet learned in his first week. I needed to learn to keep my mouth shut.
It didn't take long, I estimated no more than 30 minutes had passed as the visitor chime sounded and the Shiss Captain stood before my door." Leave those books here and follow me, Midshipman."
I had a hard time keeping up with him. He walked briskly on his long muscular legs keeping balance with a long spiked tail. I wondered what this was all about.
Finally our march stopped at a Trans Planet Mover Station and entered a car heading for Southern Hemisphere, Adams Port. At least so read the vari-sign above the door.
The high speed grav car whisked us away after beeping a confirm signal.
He lowered his head and pulled something out of his right pocket." Midshipman Olafson you are herby acting Ensign and assigned until further notice to me." He fixed a real Ensign bar on my collar.
I was speechless as he explained: "My Ship the Hyperion is in dock and receives a series of upgrades and that is already going on for a few months, my crew is on leave or temporarily assigned elsewhere."
I simply listened while the Trans Planet mover carried us through vacuum pipes.
He sat down at one of the vari-seats provided. "A friend of mine in Small Craft Development asked me to take a new Shuttle type for a test flight and I thought you might enjoy that too!"
I could not hide my excitement." Yes Sir indeed I would!"
The TPM- Capsule came to a smooth stop and we emerged at a typical military star port terminal. Again the Shiss walked purposeful and fast on his large legs and I was almost running to keep up. Through corridors and over Slide ways, concourses and sky bridges we finally reached were he wanted to go, a sign next to it read: Auxiliary Space Craft Development Department.
It was an elegant building, reminding me of a giant amphitheater built into a meteor impact crater. Like giant steps the upper levels retracted further back. There on the top floor, with golden glazed windows, one had a spectacular sight across the stark landscape , the terrace like tiers of the huge building. The floor of the Crater was smooth Duro Crete and a few dozen small craft of all kinds and types all over the place. While I stared past the floor to ceiling windows, the Shiss captain talked to a pretty mostly humanoid female with cobalt blue hair and light blue skin. She smiled at us from behind a floating kidney shaped desk and pointed at a door to her left." Nice to see you again Captain Zezzazzzzz. Commander Larson is in his office."
Commander Larson turned out to be a standard human and he grinned and shook one of the Shiss clawed hands." It's good to see you old Lizard."
"It is good to see you too, Smooth face!"
Zezzazzzzz pointed at me. "I found myself a midshipman and we're ready to take that new toy of yours for a spin."
"A Midshipman, uh?" The Commander looked at me." It's your lucky day, Son. That Lizard is probably the best pilot this fleet has, but he decided to float around in his slow steel mountain instead."
The Shiss made strange labored sounds and I realized he was laughing." The Hyperion isn't slow old friend and they don't offer you the Captains seat to a Battle ship every day."
"I know I am proud of you, but still you are the best small craft expert bar none and I should know because I am the second best and I am in charge of small craft development!"
Zest put his upper right arm on the Commanders shoulder and explained to me. "Commander Larson and I went to the academy together."
Larson's grin became even broader. "The stories I could tell you Son. That Crocodile Face and I we sure did some bad things indeed!"
"He is second year we better not put any ideas in his mind. Could get him expelled."
Larson surrounded his desk and pushed a sign board over the surface." Sign here Lizard and she's all yours. Berth 234."
Zezz pressed one of his thumbs on the pad and said:" You said it's a shuttle right?"
"Well that's only what she's called on the non classified papers and technically the thing can be used as a shuttle."
"Why do you want me to test it? Something wrong with it?""No not really it tested out fine so far, but it is still in the Prototype phase, but you know how it is. It is a brand new system and there is always something somewhere just not right. So I thought I let you at it.
Besides I like your opinion. Take her out and go to the Barrow System or somewhere and take her to the limits and back and see how she does."
"Berth 234, right?"
"Berth 234. There is a landing field dedicated IBT, outside right across my office. It will take you right to the hangar."
Zezz looked down to me. "Well Mr. Olafson, let's get going. So we have you back reading your books by tomorrow."
"Starships are incredibly complex machines as you know." He explained on our way to the IBT." We use them every day and all of us think we know how they work and take them for granted. But if you really think about how much development, how many parts need to work together in perfect harmony to harness and Channel sun like energies, travel faster than light through quasi space and even fight at these conditions, if you realize that then you stand in awe before something as small as a D12. Don't you?"
'Yes Sir I am fascinated about ships!"
We reached the IBT and it was as the Commander said a dedicated unit having only one destination.
The Inter Base Transport delivered us to a deserted corridor with huge black and yellow striped doors on one side in regular intervals of every thousand meters or so. The Corridor seemed endless in both directions. The massive access door before us bore the number 234.
Two Cerberus Robots stood silent guard before the door and did not react as we approached. Nevertheless I knew their sensors were tracking every movement and checking our authorization.
Both stepped in a fluid robotic exact motion to the sides and snarled." Access Authority verified."
The 20 meter tall and 40 meter wide door made of thick Ultronit sank into the floor. Revealing a sleek ship staning there inside an air lock hangar. It was clearly of Terran design, Terrans always designed ships with a hint of aerodynamic shapes, not that such considerations meant anything to a space ship.
I estimated it to be perhaps 90 meters long. It had Two long over sized looking ISAH thrusters on each side of a streamlined hull. The hull had no designation markings and there was no name I could see.
Zezz entered it through an open side air lock and I followed.
A short hexagonal shaped corridor led through the center of the ships only crew deck from aft to bow. The air smelled of those exciting scent new machines had.
A safety airlock in iris configuration zipped open and we stepped into the small flight deck. Two control Stations and a third command chair behind them.
Zezz pointed at the left seat." Take her out, Ensign"
I couldn't wipe the smile of my face." Yes Sir, I will Sir!"
"Ensign this is not the Academy. Don't snap into attention every time you talk to me, just call me Captain Zezz and leave the parade ground manners and the rest of the Z's of my name behind for a while."
"Yes Captain Zezz."
I slid behind the multi task console and the soft pseudo leather seat adjusted itself automatically to my body. The Direct access panel for ship systems slipped under my left hand and the Intuitive-control under my right.
The panel came to life and a sexless voice said." Prototype Scorpion, fast attack craft, all systems on standby."
Zezz sat in the Command chair behind me and leaned back. "Just take her out she's all yours."
I ran a swift system check and got all green. "How about Communications Sir? How do I identify us?"
"Your name, ship type and reason for our excursion."
So I opened the Comm. unit." Port Control, this is Ensign Eric Olafson aboard Prototype Scorpion request takes off clearance from Berth 235 for System Test flight."
"This is Port 5 Control. Prototype Scorpion you have take off clearance in 12 minutes. Stand by for computronic control."
"Prototype Scorpion acknowledged, standing by for external control!"
I sealed the ship and made sure there were no umbilical attached, then I pushed the power plant to full standby.
The berth doors opened and revealed the dirty yellow sulfur sky of Arsenal 2.
External tractor beams lifted us of the ground and pushed the small ship fast into the sky.
"This is Port 5 Control, Prototype Scorpion we will disengage Computronic control in 60 seconds. Have a safe flight, Port 5 Control out!"
I acknowledged and pushed the Intuition lever slowly backwards firing our own thrusters and gaining altitude.
The ship handled like a dream and responded to the slightest Intu- move of my right hand.
Zezz hissed." Take her out of orbit right away and lay in a course to the Barrow system."
"Make sure you have plenty of acceleration space in front of you. This is one of the busiest star systems in the galaxy, and it would be a shame if we puncture a hole through a freighter."
"Aye Sir. Programming way points now,with path scan phases at each curse change sir."
Using a tactical map of the quadrant I programmed two waypoints, and kicked the ship past the light threshold into Quasi Space."
Zezz said:" That was quick! How fast did she accelerate?"
"Sir I accelerated this shuttle with 800km/sec^2"
"That is as fast as a Wolfcraft IV!" He said." They made her quick that is for sure!"
"Sir I believe she outperforms a Wolfcraft. I only accelerated with 65 % of available thrust. Full acceleration according to these read outs is 1230 km/sec^2"
The Shiss gasped." They broke the 1000 click mark with little engines like that. That is amazing indeed; those Terrans are indeed the best engineers! The very fastest Shiss ships can accelerate is 230."
"Sir does this Vessel we are in right now, not incorporate the pinnacle of engineering skills of all member species and that includes Colonial Shiss I am certain!"
He laughed."You are alright, Olafson, but I was quite serious. When it comes to engineering something for military use no one beats the Terrans. The Attikans are known for the fastest engines but they have not managed to break the 1000 click mark. Now we sit in a bird that can! They have a knack for it! Do you know they have an old saying on Shiss and it goes like this. Those Monkey primates of Terra always talk about peace and all, because they are so terribly good at war!"
„ I am getting this a lot lately. Every non Human species always points out just how savage and war like we Humans are."
„Well maybe there is a tad of truth then?" He glanced at the Nav Screen and said." Let's take her past red line and see how fast she is translight!"
I acknowledged and pushed the Isahs to max ship accelerated and the Computronic verified that my rank as Ensign was enough to authorize ship operation past red line conditions. I silently cursed and wished I had that available when I faced the pirates with my Sturgeon. The Shiss Captain kept an eye on the Nav Screen and said. That's enough Ensign , we are already 24 light years past Barrow System. Looks like she is about 20 percent faster translight as a standard Barracuda. Make a note of that Ensign and remind me to call the designer of these engines. I want to know..
One of my screens blinked red and I said." Sorry to interrupt you Sir! We have an incoming Distress call!"
"Put it on and check who else is close by"
„Yes Sir. No Union assets in scanner range. Putting distress call on."
"This is the USS Seneca, Captain Nagfir. This is a distress call. Need urgent assistance. We are 20 light years out of the System Barrow."
Zezz answered." This is the Scorpion we received your distress call and we are only 12 minutes from your position. What is the nature of your emergency?"
"Hostile alien craft! Sudden attack, we lost…"
Whatever the other captain was saying got cut off. I checked the comm. Equipment to see if I could re acquire the signal."
Sir I am getting massive ECM pulses. Characteristic jamming method of Galactic Council tech. They can't jam our Transdim signals so they ty to kill the systems."
"Check what weapons and shields we have and go to maximum speed Computronic Full Battle Mode!"
"Full Battle Mode engaged!" the Computronic responded.
My seat moved me into a reclined position a 5 point restraining system pulled me into the pseudo leather as if I was bonded with the chair. Simultaneously the dome shaped Omni-sight helmet lowered around me. With it I had an unobstructed field of view all around the ship and my eyes were synaptic-linked to the Zoom controls. In essence I had become the ship!
I heard Captain Zezz contact Fleet while I checked the weapon and shield status. "This is Captain Zezzazzzzz aboard a prototype shuttle. I received a distress call form the USS Seneca. Possible hostile action."
Then he said to me." Do we have anything to defend ourselves?""Aye Sir! 2 Loki III torpedo tubes, two FTL DE turrets and a kilo load translocator Gatling!Bomb magazines are full for a chance and we have triple redundancy Paradim Type IV shields."
"That's why they named it Scorpion. It has a mighty sting so it appears."
We broke out of Quasi space and saw the Seneca immediately. It was a spherical 500 meter ship, typical form for a light armed explorer vessel of the Science corps. She had a gaping hole in the engineering section and one of the ISAH thruster pods was gone.
The ship was hanging above a rugged dark looking asteroid.
None of my sensors detected alien activity or anything else responsible for the damaged explorer ship.
Just then I noticed a faint energy spike coming from behind the asteroid. Enhanced by the ships computronic and visualized as a red pulsing dot along with all relevant data before my eyes. It was artificial energy, very faint, not just a patch reflective material natural and common on asteroids, with remnants of ice or high metal content I knew whatever attacked the Seneca was hiding behind that space rock.
Zezz saw it too." See if you can manage a micro jump. Accelerate to FTL. I want to come out of Quasi space on the other side no more than 1 light minute."
I hastily laid out the requested maneuver. Micro jumps where difficult because even a fraction of a second could take you way too far away, and safety features like mass collision avoiding had to be disabled because not even a Computronic could react that fast, basically it was hoping that I made the right calculations and that everything worked as precise. A matter collision at the very point of transitioning between Quasi Space and Real Space would result in explosive neutralization.
I engaged the Isah Drive for the shortest duration possible and forced the Scorpion in a tight loop around, so our direct line weapons would point towards the enemy. The Computronic complained and the inertia dampers redlined, several gee came through and pressed us hard into the seat cushions."
We where now on the other side of the asteroid and screamed towards it with high speed. The Sensors picked the alien ship up enhanced the data and gave us a visual. Just about 100 meters above the rock surface hung a 150 meter long ship shaped like the letter T. Our computronic was unable to match the configuration to any known friend or enemy vessel. But the markings and the Nrlagh thrusters in the cross section of the T bar made it most likely of Kermac origin.
The alien ship had noticed us as well and began to turn.
"Don't let them fire first! They are bigger than us and probably have enough fire power to pound even our excellent shields!"
"All weapons in range Sir. Translocator loaded and armed!"
"Disable their drive and maneuver clusters!"
The most powerful weapon in Union Arsenals was the Translocator cannon. It translocated anti matter bombs at the moment of explosion via a Trans dimensional tunnel directly in its target. No known shield could stop a translocator bomb. Even the best armored ship was instantly crippled or destroyed when a fusion bomb explosion went off inside its engine room or anywhere inside for that matter.
The Scorpion had two translocator Gatling, basically six translocator cannons built around a rotating base feed by a conveyor with a choice of one and five gram AM loads.
I send the smallest possible load into the alien ships thruster pods and another double salvo into what looked like a gun turret.
Armor plates suddenly became white hot and peeled of the alien ship. |It's engines exploded and the where the gun turret was gasped a ragged looking hole.
The fight ended before it really started, the alien ship was clearly crippled and without maneuver power.
Zezz hailed them." Alien Craft this is Captain Zezzazzzzz of the United Stars Star ship Scorpion. You are in union space and attacked one of our vessels. Cease all hostile activities, identify yourselves."
The alien ship was burning and with a weak flicker its last shield went out and now my sensors where able to penetrate the ship and acquire more information.
"Sir the alien vessel is clearly of Kermac design. All energy signatures and material scans indicate a vessel of Kermac design by 99.98 percent. There are 25 life forms aboard, two of them Kermac. The others do not conform to any known bio signature."
A small craft detached from the ship and energy spiked the same time. The big alien ship exploded, blinding any conventional sensors.
Zezz cursed in an unknown language and then said:" Did you lose that small craft?"
"No sir, but it is accelerating fast!"
I had the small escape craft already targeted and fired a double salvo with the faster tan light energy projectors while accelerating and catching up with the pod. The small escape craft was hit by both pulses and cut in half.
Our Trans light sensors detected multiple targets coming closer and an entire squadron of Ultra Battle ships arrived in Real Space
The wreckage of the Escape craft did not read any life signs.
We were hailed by the lead ship of the arriving squadron and Zezz identified himself.
A Pan saran Captain appeared on our screen." Captain Zezz, this is Captain Tiberius of the USS MICHIGAN. Thanks for your assist we are taking over now. Leave the area at once, your Log entry of this incident has to be classified and filed only with Fleet Intel. I am transmitting authorization codes to verify my orders."
"Understood Captain Tiberius. We are returning to Arsenal II now."
To me he said." Looks like we won't find out what happened here, Ensign. Lay in a course back home!"
Presently as I was ready and about to engage the drive we were hailed again. The com signal was prefixed Blue-Blue-blue and meant this message was encrypted to the highest level and sent by Fleet Command itself.
Zezz removed a little plastic key from a small skin pocket unnoticeable in his left upper arm and inserted it in the Com console." Computronic verify. Captain Zezz Zezzazzzzz service number 3094821-Z-3433."
"Blue-Blue-Blue protocol ID verification I progress. Voice, DNA and brainwave pattern confirmed, Psi-Assessment complete. Input of correct Command Access Data key acknowledged. Awaiting input of Day code."
"Day Code is Black-Ink."
"Blue-blue-Blue protocol complete. Transmission decrypted and open."
The screen showed the logo of the Fleet Admiral and then replaced by Admiral McElligott's face: "Good Afternoon old friend. I am glad that it was you who was out there today and assist the Seneca. I thought you enjoy some well earned off time since your ship is in dock."
"Sir, I had the opportunity to test this prototype vessel and you know my fondness of small craft."
"Indeed Zezz, indeed! Who else is with you?"
"Just a Midshipman who had nothing better to do. So I took him along."
"Identify yourself Midshipman!" Commanded McElligott. My own comm. Screen came on and Elligott looked at me." Cadet Olafson. I had no idea you are out that it should surprise me. Something happens and you're there."
"Sir I ran into Captain Zezzazzzzz and…"
"Never mind. I know you and that is good enough. You are Blue-Blue-Red verified that makes things even easier.. Zezz I want you to take a container from the Seneca and bring it to Tabernacle 12. There you will transfer it to Dr. Sam Neuberger. Do not open the container. Do not scan the container. Anyone seeing the container other than Neuberger and team must be eliminated. If you are to be captured or in any form of distress you are to self destruct. Do not call for help."
Elligott looked very serious and added. "Everything about this is classified Blue-Blue-Red and you are not to talk to anyone about it."Zezz hissed." Understood Sir!"
Elligott attempted a weak smile. "God speed to you."
"Thank you Sir."
"Nice to see you again Mr. Olafson. Stick with Zezz he is one of the best!"