Episode 3: In Memory of…
“You are a weakling! A disgrace to your family! How dare you waste your time in these?”, the man threw some books at the child’s feet. “And you, why are you so protective of him? He has brought us nothing but shame! This is the last day you will see me here, I’m taking the others, you can keep the defective one.”, the man looked at the child, “If you ever join us, make sure you are better prepared than this.”
I heard a sound, somewhat far away. This noise was getting closer, it cleared up. The beep of my alarm awoke me from that terrible nightmare. I have been reliving that memory so much, I’m tired of it. Father was cruel, but I was able to understand some of the disappointment he felt. He had a plan for all of us, we were to walk down the path he had made for us. I refused him this and made my own. Sadly mother was heartbroken and her body slowly gave way to sickness.
With my uniform on and the pulse pistol at its holster I made my way back to hangar bay sixteen. I had one of those military food bars for breakfast, I detested the things but they served their purpose. My shift was to begin in a few minutes. I slept like a rock after everything that happened yesterday and time was of the essence.
Before beginning the shift I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to speak with the Chief, which to my surprise was once again Chief Mara. The impression I originally got was that the chiefs would change often. A review of some of the tasks included maintenance on some fighters that had been on a search and once again the ship I had used. By now a number of pilots were transferred from the other ships in the fleet to bolster our ranks.
The Eclipse fleet was composed of two battle cruisers, two destroyers, the carrier and a science vessel. All were well prepared for any assault, except, somehow, the carrier itself.
“Reporting for duty ma’am”, I entered the control room.
“Ensign Adrian, good to see you again.”, she turned to me and stared into my eyes, a gaze that could puncture steel.
“There’s something I’d like to ask you, where there any reports of hostilities from the squadron that was on patrol yesterday?”
“No, why do you ask? Was there something I missed?”, she looked at one of the consoles, then back to me. “I noticed some small hull damage on the ship I was working on. I thought it was damage from debris, but how could that be if there were no hostilities and its shields were intact?”
“I’d let it go if I were you. If they didn’t report it its possible they were off course and had a little fun in some asteroid field. Besides, like I said, there were no reports of hostiles. Now, you have work to do. After you’re done with that ship I want you to take it out for a test run. I will join you once you’re ready.”
“Umm, yes ma’am.”, I replied, turned and left the control room. That ship and I seemed destined. The answers I got from Mara weren’t what I wanted but at least I got an idea of how to proceed. She could be covering up for the pilots for all I knew.
I began to scan the ship. The lance class starfighter had a very distinctive design, if one of these ships entered any system that was not under the Starlance protectorate everyone that saw it would know it was part of this armada. This gave me the idea that if the pilots had strayed far enough they could have been easily attacked by hostiles, but then they should have reported it. If an attack did not happen then what did? I could barely concentrate on the problems this mystery posed. Dana’s warning also weighted heavily on my mind.
After a few hours changing a number of parts and unloading the missiles on the ship it was now ready for the test run. I reported to Chief Mara and we prepared for launch. I entered the ship once again, put on the helmet and checked communications.
“Adrian here, everything seems good. Chief? Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be, Vivian tell the bridge we’re going for a ride, clear?”
“As you say ma’am”, replied Vivian from the control room. She then proceeded to inform the bridge which she did through an open communications channel that allowed us to hear her. Protocols stated that such a thing was a rookie mistake, but I knew Vivian had done it on purpose. “Bridge, this is hangar bay sixteen, two fighters are going out on a test run. Request permission to continue.”
“Who ordered the test?”, questioned the lieutenant at the bridge communications station.
“The hangar chief. Some of these fighters saw heavy action yesterday and they need to be checked periodically.”, Vivian answered without hesitation.
For a moment there I felt a lot of tension. Nonetheless I began to maneuver my ship into position as the hangar bay doors opened.
We blasted away at high speeds. Mara gave me three sets of coordinates, we would move to each position, all put us far from the fleet were communications would either be cut off or they would take hours to reach the fleet. By now I was getting nervous and could only think of ways to escape.
“Alright kid, were far enough”
“C-chief?”, no amount of control could help with my stuttering.
“Calm down, I have some news for you and special orders. We came out here because this way our communications can’t be intercepted. I’m using a secure data link, listen carefully. You are to go to Major Caplan’s quarters on the other side of the ship. We will meet there and discuss the matter of the pilots.”, she was confident about what she told me. There seemed to be no deceit here, yet. “The Proxima Eclipse is headed to Centauri Starlance Four. It is the closest station we have right now for all the necessary repairs and reconstruction. There are rumors that someone leaked a specific shield resonance frequency. As you know Starlance shielding is set to modulate this frequency at certain intervals, some of us suspect that the shielding was rigged so that the weapon that shot at us could breach it and cause direct hull damage. A strong enough energy cannon can emulate the energy frequency and pass right through.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“You will know soon enough, I can’t say anything else, the rest will be provided to you by Major Caplan.”
The test rounds were filled with a disturbing silence. Upon our return I noticed my shift was almost at its end. I finished with some minor repairs to some ship parts and then left the hangar bay. Mara was waiting on the other side, she looked at me, nodded and proceeded on her way to Major Caplan’s quarters. I decided to follow at my own pace since I already knew where she was headed.
The Proxima Eclipse has miles of corridors. The best way to traverse through the ship is a number of rail transports. Once I got to the port side of the ship I checked a nearby terminal for the Major’s quarters.
I arrived, the door opened. My entry was cautious. I looked around and behind me was Mara her pulse pistol drawn and pointing my way. My reaction was to immediately drop, roll to the side and draw my own weapon. The door closed sealing me in.
“Hold your fire!”, cried the Major from behind his desk. He rose, perhaps he had lost something below it?
“Sorry for that kid, I needed to be sure we had the right guy.”, said Mara. She put down her pistol.
“She is right, we had best be prepared for anything. I was installing a device to protect our conversation from anyone with too much curiosity.”
I stood up again, placing my pistol back at the holster. “That was some greeting sir.”
“These are perilous times my boy we need to have clear who our allies are, and who are our enemies. Tell me, you saw the damage on the ship you used?”
“Yes, what of it?”
“Information on this ship moves slowly, it is privileged as well. Anyone who does not need to know, does not know period. So here is something you probably missed from yesterdays event. All the pilots from squadron sigma are dead.”
“What?! How?”, my eyes opened wide, I couldn’t believe it, but it was logical. The pilots retired to their quarters and most crew quarters were destroyed by the blast. I calmed once again and listened more intently.
“Yes, well, it is a shame, there were many good soldiers there. Including some of our own collaborators.”, the Major sat down at his desk chair. “The damage you found on that ship was no coincidence, those pilots did not go on a simple patrol mission. From what we could gather they had a meeting of sorts.”
Mara moved from beside the door to the desk and sat on the table all the while I stood there analyzing the information. She added, “You remember what I told you about the shield resonance frequency?”
“Yes, and I think I know what may have happened. That fighter was a test target, but they couldn’t destroy it. The beam pierced the shielding and caused a feedback. Its shields were down for some time, any space debris would have caused hull damage.”, everything seemed to fit. Then there was something else.
“Precisely, but a fighter is one thing.”, Major Caplan would reveal the failing point of the attack. “Hitting the shield of a larger vessel was much different. The Proxima’s shield did not collapse like the fighter’s. Instead the blast pierced a part of the ship but it was not enough to destroy it.”
“So they tried again…”, Mara continued, “of course by then it was already too late. All ships were deployed and the remainder of the fleet was already firing heavily on the unknown ship.
“That large vessel was about as strong as one of our battle cruisers but that weapon made all the difference, I would not doubt that they could use that to level entire fleets.”
I began to pace back and forth thinking, then stopped and said, “Is there a way to learn who is responsible?”
“We lost our only leads when the squadron sigma pilots were killed, which we also believe was no coincidence.”
“This is where we need you kid, it’ll take us about a week to reach Centauri Starlance Four. You have to gather what information you can. We have an ally standing by at the station. He said that he needs help in getting a data pack that contains information stolen from some pirates. The information is being delivered by transport ship, he needs cover in case things get dangerous.”, Mara showed confidence that I could do all this. Perhaps my piloting during the battle was enough to impress her. “Look kid, you have skills, I saw how you managed yourself out there. Stop selling yourself short, will you help us?”
“I will, though there are many things that don’t quite fit. Anyone willing to defy the Starlance must be preparing for something big.”
Major Caplan nodded in agreement, “That is what we have been gathering, but there is not a clear picture yet. Regardless keep a look out, search for information but do try to be discreet, I am afraid the captain must remain ignorant of our actions.”
“Who else knows of all this?”
“Only a few trusted soldiers and your friend Vivian.”, Mara replied.
“Alright that is enough for the moment, you are dismissed. We will meet after our operation at Centauri Starlance Four is completed.”, Major Caplan stood and led us to the door. As it opened some soldiers were passing by. He said something about wine tasting and target practice possibly to throw off any suspicions though I found it rather obvious.
I returned to my quarters with more purpose than when I arrived at the ship. At first it was all just to gain some money, now there may be much more at stake.