“Strike Force Commander on bridge!” the sentry shouted, shortly after 06:00 TST.
Everyone present jumped up from whatever they were doing and stood to attention, facing the door.
Viceman Mohtop, a short, balding man in his early forties, entered the bridge of TSNS Hunter and walked over to his chair at the centre of the room. Once there, he looked around, and said, “At ease,” in a firm, commanding tone.
The men and women under his command returned to their tasks, while the Viceman sat down.
“Mensha, what’s our status?” Mohtop asked his Chief of Operations.
“Sir!” Staffwoman Mensha replied, “Strike Force Alpha is ready at your command. All ships have reported in, all systems operational across the board, including our own.”
“Very good. Let the other ships know that we’ll jump on schedule.”
“Sir?” Bannerman Dolan, the ship’s Comm-Off, asked.
“Any news from the target area?”
“Yes, Sir. We have the green light from our operative on site.”
“Excellent. And the beacon is transmitting?”
“We’re receiving the signal without any issues, Sir.”
“Good. I’ve had my doubts regarding this whole magnetic transmission thing, but apparently it’s working. Let’s hope it’s accurate.”
“Unless there’s some major magnetic disturbance along the way, we should be well within the margin of error, Sir.”
Mohtop nodded to the young officer. He got up from his chair and walked over to the bridge’s central holo-display. There, he observed the tiny green dots that represented his strike force.
It was not an impressive force by any means, most of the actual firepower being concentrated in his flagship, but they did not expect any kind of serious resistance, as the enemy was unaware that the location of one of their most remote facilities had been discovered.
Being in command of this strike force was a bittersweet experience for Viceman Mohtop. He should have been further along in his career by now, and he would have been, if it wasn’t for his tendency to make rash and somewhat reckless decisions.
He had been told in no uncertain terms by High-Command that this operation was his last chance to ever be considered for more prestigious assignments, let alone for promotion past his current rank.
Mohtop wandered around the bridge, looking over the shoulders of his subordinates here and there. He absent-mindedly registered the readings from the various displays, while most of his mind was preoccupied with the mission that was just about to enter its final phase.
On the surface, it appeared like a classic search-and-destroy operation, but it came with a twist. His main objective was not to merely destroy the enemy assets. Before doing so, he was supposed to gather and retrieve any intelligence he could lay his hands on, which involved landing troops before blowing everything to bits.
The Viceman settled back down in his chair. A part of him wondered whether he had been chosen to lead this particular operation because it required a gentler touch, which was something he was not known for. He sat up straight, grinned, and said softly to himself, “I’ll show them just what I’m capable of.”
As his mind still circled around what was at stake for him personally and for his career, Mohtop’s gaze focused on the mission timer that was displayed in the upper-right corner of the bridge’s main viewscreen.
It was counting down until the moment the strike force was scheduled to jump into the target area, which would happen in less than an hour.
A part of him just wanted the whole ordeal to be over, but Viceman Mohtop was mostly anxious for the final part of the operation to begin. He was determined to exceed expectations and make sure that Fleet Command would acknowledge his abilities.
While the mission timer relentlessly counted down towards zero, the strike force commander kept himself busy by going over the status reports of every vessel under his command. He scrolled through the list on one of the screens in front of his chair, not looking for anything in particular.
Mohtop stopped when he reached a number of supply shuttles that were marked as ready to depart but had not been launched since the previous day.
“Mensha, why do we have transports cleared for launch that are still in the bays?”
“They carry non-essential supplies, Sir,” his Chief of Operations explained, “they’re scheduled to depart once we have reached the target area and the situation has stabilised.”
The Viceman considered briefly if he should order the shuttles to carry out their tasks before the jump but ultimately decided against it, as there was not enough time left for them to return to the flagship.
The preparations for the mission had taken less time than anticipated, but advancing the jump time would compromise its proper execution. This left Mohtop with nothing else to do but wait for the mission timer to reach zero.
He resisted the urge to get up and walk about the bridge, as he did not want to give the wrong impression to his crew. All of them were serving under him for the first time, and they deserved his best performance as much as he expected theirs.
Instead, he strummed his fingers gently on the screen embedded in his chair’s armrest and looked around, his gaze wandering from one console to the next, making sure that everyone was focusing on what lay in front of them, which they were.
Finally, the moment had come. As they approached ten minutes until jump time, Viceman Mohtop began issuing orders.
“Dolan, give me fleet-wide.”
“Yes, Sir. Channel is open.”
“Attention everyone, this is Viceman Mohtop!” he began to speak via comm, for everyone aboard the strike force’s ships to hear, “You have probably heard that our mission is an easy one, that there won’t be any challenged involved. And while it is true that the target is not likely to be very well defended, this does not mean that we will slacken standards in any way. I expect each and everyone of you to do your job, and to do it well! You may complain how easy it was once you’re back home, but while you are a part of this strike force, you will focus on the task at hand,” he paused and took a deep breath before concluding, “prepare all ships for FTL as programmed. Mohtop out.”
The Viceman sank back in his chair and sighed.
“As far as speeches go, that was not the most glorious,” he mumbled to himself.
“All ships are reporting ready for FTL, Sir!” Staffwoman Mensha announced shortly afterwards.
“Very good,” Mohtop replied. He paused for a moment before addressing his navigator, “Migal, prepare to execute jump.”
“Yes Sir,” the Bannerman replied, “coordinates have been programmed, generators are charging up.”
Deep within the ship’s bowels, the fusion generators increased their energy output in order to charge up the two massive capacitors that supplied the initial boost necessary to activate the FTL-generators that would catapult TSNS Hunter towards their target area.
Everyone on the bridge observed how the capacitors’ status indicators slowly rose until they reached full load.
At that point, the display turned green, and Bannerman Migal annoucned, “Ship ready to jump, Sir!”
Viceman Mohtop’s eyes remained fixed on the mission timer. There was less than a minute to go. He silently mouthed the last few seconds, and just before the clock hit zero, he said out loud, “Execute jump!”
The navigator gave the ship’s computer the command to jump, and within milliseconds, the ludicrous amount of energy that had been stored up in the capacitors were unleashed into the FTL generators.
The jump happened in two phases. First, the shift-generator would power up, creating a sealed bubble of space-time, effectively removing the Hunter from the rest of the universe. Once this bubble had stabilised, the jump-generator would kick in, propelling said bubble, including the ship it contained, towards the target area.
The ship’s orientation and velocity at the time of the jump were irrelevant and would be retained throughout the FTL-journey. Since it was space-time itself that was being moved parallel to the universe, the only limitation to the velocity that could be attained was the amount of energy the ship was capable of generating.
Once the ship, surrounded by its own micro-universe, had reached its destination, the shift-generator would power down, merging the two universes back together.
Sejora and Neeshu had been huddled up together in the narrow crew compartment of the transport shuttle, waiting for the FTL-journey to be over.
Eventually, the low, vibrating hum than covered up the ship’s usual background noise died down, and they felt a small jolt at the base of their skulls, characteristic of the dissolution of the space-time bubble created by the shift-generator.
They remained still for a moment and stared at each other while straining their ears to make out any sign of activity beyond the confines of the small spacecraft.
After a few minutes, they got up and stretched as much as the restricted space allowed.
“We should get going,” Sejora said, “right now, the strike force will be busy reorganising itself before beginning the attack. We might have a chance to get away without being spotted from the start if we launch during the confusion.”
“Makes sense to me,” Neeshu replied. She headed for the cockpit and added, before her head disappeared through the narrow escape tunnel, “I’ll start the countdown on the hangar’s system while you power up our ride.”
Sejora settled down in the pilot’s seat. He closed the main breaker at the bottom of the console, bringing the cockpit to life. One after the other, the displays in front of him lit up and performed self-checks, until the avionics were fully operational. After that, the head-up display turned itself on, indicating that the computer’s boot-up phase was over.
He then called up some basic information about the Comet-class shuttle. The transport’s life support and fuel reserve were at capacity, and no maintenance work was necessary. Satisfied with what he had found out, Sejora then left made sure that the small craft was indeed receiving power from its mothership through an umbilical.
The next step was to fire up the fusion generator. Despite its size, the Comet-class transport featured two compact Evremov-style reactors. The primary reactor was dedicated to the ship’s systems and ion engines, while the secondary one served to power the FTL-generators.
Sejora initiated the cold-start sequence, silently hoping that the extra drain on TSNS Hunter’s power would not be noticed.
The fusion power plants’ spherical containment chambers drained a lot of energy until the reaction was self-sustaining. The reactors started up one after the other, initially receiving their hydrogen-based nuclear fuel through the umbilical, in order to preserve the ship’s limited supply of H2.
After ten more minutes, both reactors had stabilised. Sejora went through the pre-launch checklist, making sure that they were ready to go at a moment’s notice. He then left the cockpit, to see about his wife.
He met her in the hangar’s small control pod. When she noticed his presence, she looked up to him expectantly.
“Are we ready to go?” she asked.
“Pretty much. How are we looking on your end?
“All set. I just need to hit the button, and the countdown will activate.”
“Alright. Let me get back to the shuttle then. You follow me in a minute, and let’s get out of here.”
Sejora sprinted back to the transport ship and climbed aboard, squeezing through the escape hatch. As soon as she saw him disappear within the shuttle, Neeshu activated her program and ran after her husband.
Once aboard, she closed and locked the hatch behind her, making sure that it was properly sealed. Sejora observed his wife as she sat down next to him in the copilot’s seat.
Everything was ready, and all they had to do was wait for Neeshu’s program to open the doors and catapult them out of the hangar.
A few minutes later, the hangar’s lighting changed to red, and orange lights began to flash in strategic locations. After that, the control pod sealed itself, as did the hangar’s only door, locking them in the airtight compartment.
Shortly afterwards, the exterior atmosphere reading on the ship’s HUD began to drop while high-performance pumps sucked the air out of the hangar, turning it into a vacuum.
Sejora and Neeshu stared through the cockpit’s viewports at the massive bay door, which slowly began to lower itself, allowing them to gaze upon the void that lay beyond it.
At this moment, Sejora ejected the umbilical, severing the hardwired connection to the mothership. He had waited until right before the launch in order to maximise the reserve they would be taking with them.
Shortly after the hangar door had opened, the magnetic catapult activated, propelling the ship and its occupants through the open bay door and out of the hangar.
They were pressed back into their seats due to the sudden acceleration, but this only lasted for a few seconds until they had cleared the catapult’s mag-rails.
“Why are you not firing up the engines?” Neeshu asked, eyebrows raised.
“I want to drift away without power as much as possible,” Sejora explained, “as long as we haven’t been picked up by some sensor, I don’t want to do anything that will alert them earlier than necessary.”
“Good thinking. I knew I married you for a reason.”
“Oh, and I thought you married me for my looks alone.”
“Hey!” she exclaimed, and elbowed him in the side.
They both started laughing, but suddenly stopped as a warning popped up on the HUD.
“We’re being picked up by passive scans. Nothing to worry about yet,” Sejora said.
His tone was calm, but his hands gripped the flight controls tighter nonetheless.
Eventually, the alarm sounded again. This time, an active sensor array tried to lock on to the small shuttle.
“This is it,” Sejora said briefly, as he pulled the control stick back until the Comet-class shuttle was oriented roughly towards the galactic North. He then pushed the throttle all the way forward, causing the ship to disappear behind a massive blinding exhaust plume.
The couple was pushed back into their seats once again, but they endured the hardship of prolonged acceleration, hoping that they would get far enough away from the strike force.
As minutes passed and their velocity increased, their features relaxed somewhat, within the limits of what was possible under constant heavy acceleration.
Sejora strained his neck, turning to his wife, and said, “I think we’ve made it!”
After fifteen minutes at max throttle, Sejora pulled the controls back into idle and let the shuttle drift away.
They both inhaled deeply, needing to catch their breath after having endured this ordeal.
Sejora then checked the ship’s sensors, then said, “Looks like no one is coming after us.”
“I guess you were right,” his wife added, “they’re too busy with the mission to divert assets to go after a rogue transport.”
“Let’s hope it stays that way.”
“Yes, let’s hope.”
They looked at each other, then leaned over for a quick kiss.
Now that they had successfully escaped from the Tarhinan flagship, they had nothing else to do but wait for the fighting to be over. Until then, the couple would have plenty of time to come to terms with their actions, and wonder about the consequences that might follow.