The Archangel, flagship of the Broderian expeditionary flotilla, a
Dreadnought class heavy cruiser, in position at the center of the formation, began sending coded transmissions to one of the forward frigates, the McAfee. The radio and sensor operators turned their units to maximum and began sweeping the approaching asteroid and debris field. The remainder of the fleet slowed to half and spread out in a skirmish line, the other frigates moving into blocking positions, protecting the cruisers.
“Sir. Long range scans shows a path has been cleared through the field.”
The senior detection officer announced. The captain and the admiral both turned from their conversation and walked over to the sensor station.
“See, sir, right here. Along this axis here, it appears to be cleared.”
The non-com at the scope said as he traced his finger along the route.
The sensor officer nodded and turned to the captain.
“Sir. Permission to launch sensor drones along that course.” The admiral and the captain both looked at the screen and nodded. The captain looked at his superior.
“Well, Ted. Its your call.” He said quietly. The admiral puffed on his cigar thoughtfully before responding. Finally, he spoke.
“John, its your ship, you say the word. I’m just along for the ride.” The captain nodded and grinned before turning to the officer of the deck. He motioned with his finger. The OOD nodded and reached to an overhead console and flipped the safety covers on the launch keys. After he had flipped all the covers and turned all the keys to the yellow stops.
“Ready to launch sir.” The captain looked back at the sensor screen. “Launch Mr. Powell.” The OOD reached down onto the workstation before him and turned the key. Outside, on the hull, tiny sensor drones, whose only purpose was to chart, record and send back all data, shot away from the cruiser.
“Mr. Powell, send the word to all ships. All stop.” The captain said as he watched the sensor scope in front of him. “Aye aye, sir.” Powell said as he tapped the commo officer on the shoulder who immediately began sending the burst transmission.
The tiny drones shot through the asteroids, some attaching themselves to the rocks and sending back data while others went to stationary positions and began sweeping the small corridor. The forward frigates went to all stop and began receiving and decoding the drone data before sending it back to the flagship.
On Broder Prime Operations Control, the same data was received and cataloged by the duty officers. A large bull of a man with short cut hair graying at the temples, walked down the aisle between operators. Although a general officer in the Broderian Forces, he was dressed in his duty uniform, tan pants bloused into high black boots, a wide leather belt with a matching short sleeve tan shirt and an abbreviated set of decorations on his left breast. Above his right pocket, the nametape read BECKETT. The ops center lighting was subdued at all times so that the large screen display, showing the locations and conditions of all the fleet vessels could be easily identified. Beckett stopped and picked up the duty log, initialed the proper place and moved on to check with his team this evening. Per Broderian Forces regulations, a general officer had to be present whenever the fleet was moving into a potential combat situation. A quick reaction force of no less than ten fast attack destroyers and other combat support craft were on standby, again per regulations, a react force was to be approximately two times larger than any expeditionary operation. The general officer on duty could ultimately mobilize as large a force as he deemed necessary to counter any threat before getting senate approval. The officer had to notify the senate within 48hours if a planet wide alert was called. In this case, all general officers were called to the ops center and all ships were put on system wide alert. In effect, the Broder system could be locked down and access denied to any non-Broderian ship. Today though, Beckett’s only concern was to ensure the safety of the expeditionary fleet and of course, one admiral.
“Captain, what do you have?” Beckett asked as he walked up to the young officer. The captain appeared nervous as he looked at the large wall display.
“General, it looks like we found where and how the raiders have been entering our system.”
He fidgeted with his hand held controller before he was able to zoom into the correct section of the map. The map grid enlarged and highlighted until it filled half the screen.
“You can see the sensor drones deployed along the access corridor and fully charted the area.”
He punched a few more buttons until the far end of the field was visible.
“Here, sir. There’s the end of the field. The drones have divided the other system into grids and charted possible sectors of habitation. From the information we are still downloading, there is a large planetary system consisting of seven plants so far.”
He manipulated the controller again, but hit the wrong button causing the image to fade. He nervously punched buttons while the general grinned.
“Captain. Relax.” He said as he took the controller from the officer.
“Biehn is it?” He put his hand on the other officer’s shoulder, fatherly like.
“Captain Beihn, is this your first fleet deployment?”
The other officer nodded nervously before answering. “Yes sir General Beckett.” The younger man was now sweating profusely.
“Captain, relax. Take some deep breaths. Think of this as a training exercise. You’ll do fine.” He said as he patted the younger man on the shoulder before moving off.
The captain took back his controller, took a deep breath and reset the correct sequence to return the display to normal. He walked back to his desk, sat and relaxed as he took a sip of water to calm down. He wasn’t nervous to be here, it was the excitement that came with the fact there might actually be contact.
Back on the Archangel, Admiral Greerson was conferring with Captain Winslow.
“John, what’s the latest on the drones?” Greerson asked. The captain shuffled some reports before replying.
“Ted. You and I go way back. All the way to the academy.” He said before looking up. “I don’t like it. It’s too easy. These reports are from last weeks sensor sweep. They don’t report anything like this.” He handed the reports to the admiral. Greerson casually fingered through them before putting them aside.
“I agree. I’ve seen these reports as well.” He puffed on his cigar before continuing, “We’ve been dumping waste rock and old ship hulls in this field for decades. Its no wonder that the raiders have been using it to hide and most likely refit some of their ships.” He paused to puff some more on his cigar. “There’s so much junk and waste rock its been blocking our scans.” He looked over at the other man. “ What do you have in mind?” he asked as he blew smoke rings at the overhead ventilator.
“I recommend that we move a dropship to standby, and make ready a full complement of Raptors as well as a flight of Talons for support.” He sat back to watch the admiral’s reactions. A wide grin slowly crossed his face.
“I agree. One can’t be too careful. Move a second flight of Talons to standby and pass the word to the Raptor pilots that they should be ready to launch.” The admiral added. Winslow smiled, stood and moved to the wall intercom.
“Mr. Powell, execute Alpha One. Repeat Alpha One.” He said before shutting it off and turning back to Greerson. “One can’t be too careful.” He smiled as he sat back down.
Greerson smiled, “You old son of a bitch. You already had that planned but just wanted to run it by me.” He sat back in his chair, “Damn. I’d almost forgotten how you operate.” He chuckled softly as he sat back further in the high backed chair.
In the launch bay of the cruiser, a heavily armed platoon moved into positions before boarding the dropship. Led by a lieutenant, with senior non-coms in charge of the squads, they boarded the heavily armored dropship and took positions. The large clamshell loading doors sealed shut behind the troopers as they took their seats. The dull black, modular armor they all wore, making no noise as they secured their primary weapons and prepared for launch. Each trooper’s armor was identical, save for the medical personnel, which had a small red cross on the left bicep. Each trooper was outfitted with a tailored set of armor that required him or her to submit to a laser measuring system.
Once they were sized, they were required to perform basic functions and positions so that the computer could record the movements and adjust the armor accordingly. This was the top of the line Broderian modular armor, able to withstand intense cold, heat, laser fire, point blank plasma discharge and allow the trooper to survive in any environment for up to thirty days as long the suit still maintained integrity. The matching helmet, with polarization visor that could go from opaque to crystal clear, had a built in heads up display, communication gear, and drinking tube, locked onto the neck of the suit and allowed for operation underwater, in a vacuum, or in a toxic atmosphere. Integrated into the suit were various sensors that monitored vital signs, adrenaline level, suit integrity, ammunition type, target density, and various other sensors that monitored a myriad of subsystems such as the amount of ammunition left, perspiration level, and signal strength from command.
Each suit also had a built-in sidearm holster on the thigh module.
A positioning system was also built in so that officers could direct their movements in the field and medical personnel could locate them in case of injury or, worse case scenario, graves registration could recover the soldier. The soldier’s personal weapon was a Webley MA8000 PDW; The Webley Personal Defense Weapon fired from a large fifty round magazine, a caseless cartridge for conflict in an atmosphere or a phased plasma needle beam for non-atmospheric operations. The needle beam could be used in an atmosphere but only as a last resort due to the catastrophic damage it could inflict. The heavy weapons team carried rapid fire Webley R1200 rail guns, capable of firing a projectile that could penetrate ship hulls, armored vehicles and fortified positions.
The medical team carried a smaller version of the MA8000 and most of their gear consisted of collapsible ‘coffins’, which an injured soldier was put into and immediately placed in stasis while microscopic nano bots were injected to speed along his recovery. The dropship, a troop carrier, could also support ground operations with its devastating array of weaponry, guided and unguided missiles, phased array plasma disruptors, and smart bombs.
Elsewhere in the huge cruiser, the hanger bay was a flurry of activity. Raptor and Talon pilots ran last minute checks and pre flight procedures as armaments were checked and secured. The Raptor, a small ‘snub nose’ one- man fighter, was extremely fast and nimble in and out of atmosphere. Sporting a sleek look and needle thin nose, it could zip almost undetected through sensor screens and lay waste to any capital ship. The Talon, a two-man interceptor/atmospheric, all weather, fighter/bomber, was the workhorse of the Broderian Aviation Forces. This larger craft had retractable wings that could extend when on a planet to provide lift or stay retracted while in space. Heavily armed with stand off weaponry and fire and forget missiles, the Talon was the best multi-mission combat support craft that was ever produced.
“Admiral on the bridge.” The OOD announced as Winslow and Greerson entered the Combat Information Center.
“Sir, launch bay reports aircraft ready.” The OOD said as he approached Winslow. Greerson grinned and looked back at the large sensor display on the wall of the CIC.
“Very well Mr. Powell. You may launch when ready.” Winslow replied. Powell turned and spoke into his lightweight headset. “Launch, launch, launch.” He said. Below decks, the Raptors shot out of their launch tubes and formed a phalanx around the cruisers, as the Talons broke into two separate groups, one group moving ahead and forming around the two most forward frigates.
“Sir, confirmation on launch. All aircraft in the green.” Powell reported before turning back and monitoring the displays. Winslow looked at Greerson, who had watched everything with a twinkle in his eye and grin on his face. He made a small go ahead gesture to Winslow who grinned back before looking away.
“Mr. Powell, inform the McAfee that they are to move ahead on one quarter speed, yellow alert and full sensor sweep. Inform all pilots that weapons are tight.” Powell nodded as he relayed the instructions.
The McAfee and her sister ship, Paladin moved ahead with their protective screening force of Talons. Slowly the two smaller vessels moved through the field, guided by the input of the drones until Paladin emerged first due to the staggered formation they had undertaken. McAfee took station off the portside of Paladin and launched another spread of sensor drones. Once clear of the field, the Talons moved to a wider dispersal and locked onto the drones input channel. The electronics officer, sitting behind the pilot, used his sensors to sweep the area around the ships and provide some early warning. Talon 81, at the furthest point of the deployment, reported a sensor hit to the starboard quarter. The EO in the rear seat locked down the signal and relayed it back to the frigates. The drones deployed to that area, soon had the source of the signal located and plotted.
“Looks like another ship.” The sensor officer on the McAfee reported. The commanding officer, a very senior captain, leaned over the operators shoulder and viewed the image as well. He turned to his executive officer.
“Mr. Reichel, inform Archangel we have found a vessel and are investigating. Paladin is holding position.”
“Very well sir.” The XO complied. The McAfee moved off at half speed, its sensors sweeping all around as half the Talons reformed around it. Minutes passed slowly as the frigate moved closer to the sensor target. As the McAfee reached to within a few klicks of the other vessel, it became apparent that it was disabled and adrift. A flight of four Talons approached the vessel and quickly scanned it.
“Sir, Talon 85 reports that there are life signs aboard that vessel. Main engines are out, no sign of any external weapons, appears to be disabled and heavily damaged.” XO reported. The captain, nodded, his face grim.
“Inform the admiral we have a contact with life signs. Make ready a security detail and assemble a medical team. Have the ChEng prepare a repair party.” He said as he absorbed the information. “ Hail the vessel, let them know our intentions.” He added before sitting in his command chair to review the preliminary report.
“Sir, verbal communication only, they don’t have visual capability.” XO reported a few minutes later.
“Unknown vessel, unknown vessel, this the Broderian Forces vessel, McAfee. Do you require assistance?”
Static filled the speaker before a voice replied.
“McAfee? We are so glad you are here. This is the Algearian scientific research vessel, Gunthar. We need assistance. We were attacked by...” Static cut off the last words. “Have some wounded and need to stabilize our drift....” Static “...assist...needed...parts...low power...” The signal was lost to garbled words and static.
“Gunthar, Gunthar, say again, say again.” The commo officer tried repeatedly.
“XO, work on cleaning that up. Have the Talons sweep the area. Sensors to long-range. Inform Paladin that there are possible hostiles in the vicinity. Defcon Yellow Three, Mr. Reichel.” He ordered as he watched the large display. “I want a security detail with the medical team. Stand by the repair party.”
“Aye, aye sir.” XO responded as he relayed the instructions through his headset. A dropship was prepped as the security detail, a full platoon, heavily armed, boarded the ship after the medical team, and secured their equipment.
“Sir, sec and med team report ready to go.” The captain nodded.
“Launch. Advise Gunthar that we are sending a rescue team to them.” He added.
“Aye sir.” The XO turned to the Commo officer who had been steadily trying to re-establish contact.
The McAfee moved to within a half klick of the other vessel. The small dropship looped around the vessel until it moved towards one of the external hatches. Holding position, it extended a docking collar and attached itself to the Algearian vessel.
“Sir. Dropship has made contact. They are holding position awaiting your orders.” Reichel reported.
Captain Ryan sat in his command chair, one hand rubbing his chin. The XO turned to him. Ryan sat back in his chair.
“Inform the Algerians that we are preparing to enter their ship. A medical team will assist them with the injured. Patch me through on a secure channel to the security detail.” He said as he pondered the events transpiring.
“Secure line established Captain.”
“Very well.” The information on the security detail flashed on the Captain’s monitor.
Onboard the dropship, the security team was verifying the seal to the other ship before proceeding any further. The platoon leader, Lieutenant Waters, a fresh faced, yet experienced officer, received the message from the McAfee’s captain.
“Waters? Ryan here. How’s it look?” The captain asked. Waters turned and looked at his entry team.
“Sir, we are ready to open the inner door. Entry team is prepped and medical team is standing by.” He reported.
“Very well. Weapons tight. Have your men sweep as much of the vessel with their sensors and suit cameras as possible. Be discrete. Nothing overt. This is a first contact situation.”
“Understood sir. My men will be on their best behavior.” He turned to the entry team and gave them the go ahead signal.
“Opening the inner door now sir. I’ll keep my channel open.” Waters reported as he moved forward and followed the entry team into the Algearian vessel. The two forward soldiers moved silently and peeled off to each side of the open portal, taking up covering positions. The rear two moved across the corridor and did the same. The sensor team began sweeping the interior of the vessel. Two squads and half the medical team moved into the ship and secured the area around the dropship hatch. Waters tapped one of the soldiers and pointed to the hatch.
The soldier nodded and took up a guard position by the hatchway. Waters motioned ahead and the group spread out as much as possible as they moved along the passageway, weapons ready. The second squad, led by a senior sergeant, moved aft to check out the engineering spaces. The medical team, split into two smaller sections with one section in the middle of Water’s group. One of the soldiers in the rear of each section would linger behind at intersecting passageways and place a locater/directional beacon so that they could find their way back. The medics were sweeping the ship with their life sign scanners as they walked. The interior had seen some damage from the as yet unknown attackers. Support beams had collapsed as well as wiring and other internal systems were exposed.
“Sir looks like they had a bit of trouble here. Some minor internal damage. We’re moving to the bridge now.” Waters paused as they stopped at another intersection. “Appears to be fluidics and minimal circuitry.”
Waters nodded to another soldier as he passed. “No sign of crew yet.” He said as he moved up to the front of the group. The group made their way to a sealed bulkhead. The soldiers took up flanking and covering positions as the entry team went to work on the door.
“Sir we are at the bridge. Inform them that we are outside.” Waters reported.
The entry team had opened the access panel next to the door and was connecting a portable override unit to the circuit board. The technician tried a sequence of commands before the access panel sparked and went dark. He pulled his connections from the panel and shook his head at his partner. His partner unslung the pack he had carried and began assembling a compact cutting torch. He switched on the torch and applied the blue flame to the edges of the bulkhead. The plasma-cutting torch melted the seal as he moved slowly along the edges of the door.
The other tech assembled a set of large grab bars and attached them to the bulkhead door. He next assembled a small tripod and anchored it to the deck plates. Once the cutting was done, the tech put the torch away and connected a set of small cables to the grab bars and ran them back to the tripod. He looked at Waters, who gave him the nod. The soldiers moved back to give the entry team room. The first tech turned the switch on the tripod. The cables went taut and slowly the heavy door pivoted out of its frame.
It moved slowly in a groan of metal, until finally it slid free of its frame and hit the deck plates with a resounding boom. Two soldiers rushed forward and swept the area as the medical team moved in. Waters directed the rear guard to secure the hatchway as he entered behind the medics. Inside the bridge area, most of the lighting was out and several control panels were dead or sparking. Some support beams had collapsed making the area much smaller. Waters passed by a dead Algearian, still sitting at his console, an overhead beam lying across him. His men moved forward as they played their lights around the darkened command deck.
“Sir we have gained entry to the bridge. Severe damage. One dead so far.” Waters reported.
“Lieutenant! Over here! We got a live one!” One of the forward troopers called out.
Waters rushed forward as well as one of the medics. Two troopers were covering a cowering man, hunched back under a non-functional console. He was obviously scared. Wearing a soiled once gray jumpsuit, he was holding his hands up to shield himself from the soldier’s suit lights. One of the medics moved forward and began scanning the man. The man began speaking incoherently, babbling, trying to make sense of what was happening.
The medic leaned towards him, helmet visor still opaque. The man frantically scrambled deeper under the console. The medic leaned back before realizing that his visor was the problem. He adjusted the level of tint until the exterior surface was clear. The frightened man quit scrambling and watched in open-eyed awe as a face appeared where before there was only a mirrored reflection. The medic grinned at him and extended his hand. The man took his hand and allowed himself to be pulled out from under the console. A second medic approached, saw what had happened and immediately changed his own visor settings as well.
“Appears humanoid.” He said as he swept his scanner over the man. “Some minor differences, increased heart rate, adrenaline levels. To be expected.” He said over the intersuit commo.
Waters walked up and noticed the medic’s visor. He adjusted his own visor as well before turning to the man.
“Have you tried talking to him?” he asked.
“No sir. Not yet.” The first medic was doing a more thorough scan of the man’s vital signs.
“He’s calming down now. It seems that once he saw our faces, his respiration and heart rate decreased from the high levels they were at. Strange.” The medic started to elaborate but stopped to make notes for his suit recorder.
“Try communicating with him.” Waters ordered.
The first medic turned on his exterior suit intercom.
“Hello. We are friends. What is your name?” he said slowly. The man looked at him. The voice must have sounded somewhat metallic, or possibly robotic. He looked around at the gathered soldiers, who had stopped and were watching the process. Waters followed the man’s gaze and ordered his men to secure the area and spread out to find more survivors. The man looked at Waters as if he had heard him.
“I am Basha of Algearia. You must be the Broderians that the Second Captain was talking to.” He looked at the medics and Waters. “I am the First Science Officer of this vessel.” He looked around at the damage. “Or rather, what’s left of it.” His entire demeanor seemed to change. He stood a little straighter and brushed at his jumpsuit as if to wipe the stains from it.
“Where is the rest of your crew?” Waters asked. Basha turned to him. “You must be an officer as well. Always with the questions.” He smiled broadly. “I knew it by the way you ordered your men about.” He smiled and flashed incredibly white, perfect teeth. “The crew, those of us that survived the attack, is in hiding.” His faced seemed to sadden.
“Some are mourning the loss of their shipmates while others are trying to make peace with the almighty Maker.” He nodded knowingly, his eyes downcast. “I had no where else to go, so I remained here on the bridge.” He said softly.
“Can you take us to where your crew is?” Waters asked. Basha’s face seemed to light up as he lifted his head up and smiled again.
“Of course!” He exclaimed as he pushed past the two medics and strode purposefully out of the damaged bridge. Waters thought about what Basha had said. ‘First Science Officer?’ ‘Second Captain?’ Those ranks seemed a little odd, but if it was functional, it must work for the Algearians.
Waters switched commo channels and instructed six troopers to stay with him and the rest to break off in groups of two and search for survivors. As he followed Basha through the ship, the two medics and his troopers in tow, he noticed that many areas of the ship seemed empty and unused. At one particular intersection, Basha stopped to get his bearings and Waters was able to use his helmet camera to record the thick level of dust the lay over the deck plates down one corridor. As the small group went deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ship, Waters grew increasingly more wary. He directed his troopers to spread apart and check the locator beacons that they had dropped along their journey.
Finally, Basha stopped at a large hatch. He spun around.
“We are here my new friends.” He turned back around and began working the handle to open the hatch. One medic did a quick scan.
“Sir. I get multiple readings from behind that door. Some are strange, but definitely life signs. Lots of them. At least twenty.” The medic put his scanner down as Basha pulled the large hatch open, with a squeal of unoiled metal, and strained to push it back against the bulkhead.
Waters thought about what the medic had said. Given the size of this ship, that number seemed very small. Granted there was damage to the ship, but no loss of external structural integrity. Where was the rest of the crew? He looked into the darkened hatchway that seemed to beckon him.