The Raid On Zeta Station

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Part 9

TRO 3256

22 October 2326

The tiny remote observatory, which had been Seejora’s and Neeshu’s home for the past five months, continued its endless journey through the interstellar void, undetected and unperturbed.

This void was about to become a lot less empty, however.

Right after lunch, the couple had received a transmission from command, informing them of the impending arrival of a fast strike force from the Tarhinan Space Navy. The strategic thinkers had finished analysing the preliminary data retrieved from various TROs, and had concluded that 3256, which Neeshu would refer to as their ‘home amongst the stars’ was the ideal gathering spot for said strike force.

They had still not been told what the actual objective would be, but they assumed that the strike force commander would be able to tell them more.

Until then, they both had work to do.

They needed to reconfigure the tiny observatory into a miniature traffic control centre. The first thing on their checklist was to activate the built-in sub-light beacon, which would help the nine ships fall back into formation once they completed their FTL-jump into this part of nowhere.

“What are we expecting?” Neeshu asked, while she was waiting for the station’s computer to finish run diagnostics on the beacon.

“From what the message said, there should be a carrier-cruiser, a handful of escort destroyers, two space-assault ships, and two tankers.”

“No battleships? I guess that rules out your idea that they’ll go after a spacedock,” she laughed, while Sejora frowned.

“Still doesn’t mean that you’ll win. What are the odds that the target really is a secret research facility?”

“Right now, better than the odds of you seeing me naked before this fleet comes and goes.”

They continued to banter with each other while activating more and more of the station’s systems. The days of passive reconnaissance were over. By the time anyone would pick up on their increased energy signature, the mission would have long been completed, and they would have already been evacuated from this sector.

Once the beacon had been tested and was up and running, Sejora and Neeshu worked their way through the activation checklist of every active and passive sensor the station had to offer. If they were to help coordinate the task force’s movements and deployment, they would need accurate real-time data for every ship, its location, course, energy output, and so on.

As small as the remote observatory was, it had been packed with everything needed to serve as a full-fledged fleet command post. The designers behind the station had apparently thought of everything, and the equipment found aboard would make the traffic controllers of some planet-based starports green with envy.

“Is everything ready?” Sejora asked, a little while later.

“Beacon is active, passive scanners are active, all other systems on standby.”

“Good. Let’s give the sector a full sweep with a five million kilometre radius,” he said, “we wouldn’t want any of our arriving friends bumping into some rogue asteroid.”

“Copy that, programming active scan,” Neeshu replied briefly, and went to work.

The tiny station’s generators went into overdrive to supply enough power for the extensive scanning job its sensors had been tasked with. The soft hum that accompanied Sejora and Neeshu day in, day out to the point of them not even hearing it anymore, escalated to a loud, droning buzz.

Invisible to the naked eye, wave upon wave of electromagnetic radiation flooded space beyond the confines of the remote observatory. Travelling at the speed of light, it took the signals almost seventeen seconds to pass the programmed detection limit. Anything within that range that reflected even a fraction of the waves would be registered by the station’s computer and displayed to its crew.

The chance of anything at all obstructing this rather tiny part of the galaxy was remote, but it was never actually zero. And since even small objects could represent a considerable threat to manned space flight, it was always better to err on the side of caution.

Once the strike force had manoeuvred into place, their onboard sensors would ensure that they were safe from random impacts. In the moment their FTL-jump would lead them here, however, the ships were particularly vulnerable.

The high-resolution scan took considerable time, the sensors sending out radio waves as narrow and focused as possible.

Three hours later, the computer signalled that the scan had been completed with a loud beep.

“Finally!” Sejora exclaimed.

“Let’s see what we found,” Neeshu said, and made her way towards the terminal.

Once there, she scanned through the readout and found that space surrounding their station was empty, bar four oblong lumps of rock no bigger than a person.

Neeshu catalogued the findings and compiled the information into a message that would automatically be broadcast to any vessel closer than five million kilometre to the station.

Now that this was taken care of, Sejora began to program the station’s LAS, or laser-approach-system, to distribute the ships of the strike force according to a standardised pattern appropriate to their number and size.

The carrier-cruiser, followed by the two space-assault ships and the two tankers would be positioned in the centre, while the escort destroyers would take position ahead and around the ships they were destined to protect.

This would happen automatically as well, as soon as all the expected ships had been detected and identified.

Sejora and Neeshu would ensure communication with the strike force, acting as de facto traffic controllers, and making sure that the various computers would exchange the proper information and act accordingly.

After a very labour-intensive day, compared to most of the time spent in this station, the two Tarhinans were ready to welcome the announced strike force. All that was left to do was wait.


Sejora and Neeshu were abruptly woken up by an obtrusive beeping that emanated from the comm-pod. Having nothing else to do in order to prepare for the strike force’s arrival, they had decided to let the automated system take over and have a nap together.

They knew it was their last chance for that until the mission was over, as from the moment the first ship arrived, they would have to alternate their resting periods. One of them would need to be on duty at all times as long as the operation was in progress.

Neeshu was quicker to shake of the slumber’s after-effects. She extracted herself from the sleeping bag and pushed off towards the comm-pod. On her way there, she glanced at the holo-timer in the main compartment.

The clock read 2200Z, which meant that hey had slept a little over four hours.

Once strapped in in front of the console that controlled the station’s communication arrays, she saw that they had received an encrypted message via hypercom.

Bannerwoman Neeshu ran the message through the decryption software, then read it. She went back to the main compartment to find her husband still rubbing his eyes.

“You look like crap,” she said.

“Means I look better than I feel. What’s the news?”

“They’ll be here in half an hour.”

“Half an hour?” he repeated what she had just said, “means we have some time to kill.”

Sejora moved towards his wife after having said that, and put his arms around her waist, leaning in to kiss her. She gently pushed him away.

“Don’t even think about it,” she laughed, “we need to get cleaned up and dressed. I’m sure the strike force commander will want to confirm our identity through audio and video call.”

“You’re probably right,” Sejora sighed.

They took turns getting ready, and once they were all set, Sejora and Neeshu rested against each other in silence. His arms were around her shoulders, and she held on to his waist, while they waited for the sensors to pick up on the first arriving vessel.

About ten minutes later, the first blip appeared on the sensor screen. Sejora rushed over to it while Neeshu went back into the comm-pod.

“What do we have?” she asked from there.

“Two contacts. Small. First contact, sector Blue-Charlie, distance two-four-niner kilo. Second contact, sector Blue-Charlie, distance two-three-five kilo.”

A few seconds later, he added, “I’m reading IFF.”

This meant that, in less time than it took Bannerman Sejora to say it out loud, the station’s computer had already spoken to the computers aboard the two ships and identified them as friendlies.

Still, procedure had to be followed, so Neeshu activated her sub-light array.

“Incoming vessels, this is Tango-Romeo-Oscar three-two-five-six. Identify yourselves.”

“Tango-Echo-Detla two-five-seven, part of Strike Force Alpha, reporting in.”

“Tango-Echo-Delta one-niner-eight, part of Strike Force Alpha, reporting.”

“Copy. Sync up nav-com and take up your assigned positions.”

“Two-five-seven copies.”

“One-niner-eight copies, wilco.”

Only moments after that, Sejora spoke again.

“New contacts! Sector Blue-Bravo, and sector Blue-Charlie. IFF positive.”

The same game started over. Neeshu contacted the vessels, asking for identification, and instructed them to move into position.

This went on a few more times, until there was only one ship missing. Finally, after two more minutes, another blip appeared on Sejora’s screen.

“Contact! Large! Sector Red-Alpha, distance... that can’t be right!”

“What is it?” Neeshu asked.

“Distance one-three-one-five kilo. He’s way out there.”

“Let me call him up.”

Neeshu focused on her console again and spoke into her headset.

“Incoming vessel, this is Tango-Romeo-Oscar three-two-five-six. Identify yourself.”

A few seconds went by, due to the time it took for the signal to travel to the ship, which was over 1,3 million kilometres away.

“This is TSNS Hunter, Strike Force Alpha leader. We are moving into position and assuming command. Thank you for your assistance, three-two-five-six.”

“Copy that, Hunter. Welcome to the middle of nowhere.”

“Good to be here. We’ll call you up again once we’re in position. Our strike force commander would like a word.”

“Understood. We’ll be waiting.”

Bannerwoman Neeshu left the comm-pod and floated back across the main compartment to reach her husband. He welcomed her with open arms, caught her mid-air, and hauled her in for a tight hug that ended in a gentle kiss.

“So that’s it?” he asked afterwards, “Our mission is over?”

“It sure seems that way. But I have a feeling that we’ll still be needed before we can say our goodbyes to good old 3256.”

“Even if... It won’t be as dull and nerve-wrecking as the last couple of months have been. When we finally get out of here we’ll probably be surprised by how fast time went by.”

“I guess you’re right,” Neeshu said with a smile, “but I’m also curious to find out more about their mission and target,” she added, pointing vaguely towards the viewport.

“I’m sure we’ll find out as soon as we hear back from the Hunter,” Sejora said. He then added, “I’m curious too, if I’m completely honest. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to find whatever the target is, so it must be something big.”

Sejora sighed while absent-mindedly playing with his wife’s hair. He was anxious for this mission to be over, of course, but part of him would miss the time spent together with Neeshu, just the two of them, close together at all times.

Neeshu joined in his sigh. She knew what he was thinking even without him saying anything. She felt very much the same way. As close as they already had been, they had grown even closer together over the past five months.

They had faced some challenges caused by their living conditions; they were human, after all. But they had been able to overcome those difficult moments together.

Now, it felt like they were about to move on to yet another level of their relationship, and they were both curious as to what that would entail.

Their quiet thinking was interrupted by a loud and strong voice emanating from the comm-pod.

“Three-two-five-six, this is TSNS Hunter, Viceman Mohtop, commander of Strike Force Alpha, speaking.”

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