Episode 5: Missions, Part 1
“I made it.”, I let out a sigh of relief.
“You’re late kid.”, said Mara through the short range communications, her ship was standing by a few meters above mine. “What happened out there? And where’s…Lee?”
“Oh, so that’s his name. We had a battle with some pirates. A different group showed up after our initial meeting and engaged aggressively. Lee died when his ship got hunted down by a missile.”
“Damn, we must regroup, we will meet later tonight at the Major’s quarters. For now let’s just head back to the Proxima Eclipse.”
Our arrival was quite timely, the negotiations with the pirates took some time, by now my shift was about to end. On the way to enter the hangar bay I noticed traffic around the carrier was heavy. Many repair vessels and construction units moved around quickly bringing parts and materials. At the hangar Vivian awaited somewhat nervous by our delay.
I landed the Star Shadow and made my way out and down the ladder. On my right hand I had the empty data pack that Lee had given me.
“What took you? The Lieutenant Commander has been asking about your progress.”, asked Vivian.
“We will discuss it later, Mara said to have a short meeting with the Major in a few minutes.”
Mara landed and walked towards us. “There were a number of problems Vivian, our informant is dead. Whatever information… wait, what’s that?”, she pointed at the data pack in my hand.
“Umm, I got this spare data pack from Lee.”
“I’ll take care of it, dismissed.”, Mara took the data pack and placed it with some other supplies she was carrying in a bag. “Hey, I almost forgot. Your ship is getting an upgrade. I got a number of parts from a dealer that will boost its capabilities to match the newer models but, there’s a catch. You have to install the parts yourself and I want you to get the pilot certification.”
“Being a technician isn’t enough?”
“It’s not just for upgrading the ship, we need pilots. Plus, I can make sure you get assigned your beloved Star Shadow. Oh and, by we I mean those of us fighting to save Starlance from whatever threat is looming.”
“Did the Major put you up to this?”
Vivian laughed and said, “Just do it, you know you’re better than most pilots here.”
“I’m flattered, but I guess if it furthers our cause…”
Mara smiled, “Get out of here, I’ll meet you at the Major’s quarters.”
Vivian had finished her shift as well so she accompanied me through the corridors. James and Crystal were free for the night as all the hangar bays were to be shut down for external maintenance, they joined us at one of the port side rail stations.
When we finally arrived the Major greeted us as he stared at some data on a monitor mounted on one of the walls.
“Welcome, take a seat, anywhere.”, he seemed hypnotized by the text and images showing on the monitor.
Mara arrived shortly with some good news. “Hey kid, the mission wasn’t a total failure. Lee had a surprise for us, he put a part of the data on the pack he gave you. It is pretty useful too.”
“Yes, that’s precisely what I have been reading on this monitor here. There is a group of high ranking officers preparing to make a move. What that move is, we are not certain.”, the Major turned, shut down the monitor and sat on his desk chair. “Please, continue Mara.”
“Yes sir, from what I could gather the Starlance Security Force is undertaking a number of changes that may or may not destroy it. As you all know Starlance has become the main military security force of the Alpha Centauri and Proxima Centauri systems with some minor influence near Sirius. The colonies here depend on the protection provided by the security force. Commerce flows thanks to this, though there are a number of gaps in security that seem to be widening. The displeasure of certain industrial groups and commercial interests in the systems has began to undermine the control Starlance has.”
“So, is Starlance falling apart? Or is it regrouping? Either of those is equally terrifying.”, said James.
“The fall of Starlance would promote conflict in this region. Colonies would take sides, it could be catastrophic. On the other hand a regroup would mean that the Starlance High Command is preparing for something.”, I added.
“We are still in the dark in terms of what will truly happen and I am afraid that when the time comes it may be too late to do anything. Nonetheless we must press on to find what could help us prepare…”, the beeping of a door call interrupted the Major. When Mara opened the Captain was outside with Lieutenant Commander Colton.
“Well Major, what do we have here? Teaching the kids how things go in the Proxima Eclipse?”, the Captain seemed rather jovial this time. The last time I had seen her she wore a face of anger and worry.
“Oh you know how they are, I am teaching them the usual old tricks. Like how to slip by to have a drink at the bar, if we had one that is.”, the Major made the reference since the main food hall was destroyed.
“Funny as always Major. Ensign Adrian, I need you and Ensign James to accompany me, I have something to ask of you.”, the Captain was serious again.
Both James and I got up from where we sat and moved out of the room. As we walked towards a nearby briefing room the Captain gave us a heads up on what was her request.
“I have an important mission for you, it will be dangerous but I feel I can trust very few people with it.”
I looked at James puzzled, “Why not recall any other pilots?”, I thought. We arrived at the small briefing room and sat down. The captain was quick to point, “I told you I would be watching you. I know your piloting skill is greater than what you’re willing to show. Whatever your reason for hiding your true skill I have decided you two are the best choice for this.”, a number of schematics and a flight path appeared in the front monitor. “We need to gather information on some pirate activity in this sector.”
“Sector Epsilon?? But that place is full of proximity mines and a number of other dangers, I don’t think anyone would dare go through that place.”, James warned but the Captain knew this.
“I believe there are some who have found a way to bypass the mine field and the other hazards. We need to know why and how. You will take one of our scout class starships and scan the sector. If there is anything out there then we must know what it is. There are reports that ships are passing through here. Sadly none of the reports have been verified.”
“When do we leave?”, I asked thinking that we might have days to prepare, the answer didn’t please me.
“You have an hour to prepare, you leave immediately after that, time is of essence.”
The briefing also explained some of the hazards of the sector. Sector Epsilon was a military test area used by Starlance to experiment with new equipment. A number of extreme measures were also put in place, many of which could not be shut down. One of such measures was the mine field. Any ships with a strong enough electrical signature would be easy targets for these deadly mines. They will target and follow any such vehicle, exploding upon contact. The explosive yield of these mines and their number made passing by this place dangerous. Some of the other hazards include automated defense turrets, experimental high power lasers and multiple phase battle machines. Suffice to say travel through the sector was prohibited by Starlance. There had been no word on whether the security force would eventually clean up the sector.
We had one hour. I informed Mara of the mission and she in turn told Major Caplan. It was deemed suicidal at best. There were very few supplies necessary other than some minor food rations. The Star Shadow had to stay behind this time but as scout ships go I believed I could manage. The small and nimble scout class starship was excellent for information gathering. A powerful array of scanners, communications interceptors and a few spy probes made up the tools of the ship. Its only defenses are its speed and a single low power laser cannon. This kind of vessel required two people to operate as the multitude of tools made it difficult for just the pilot. It was once tested with single pilots but in most simulations they were too busy checking instruments to actually keep track of any threats.
Our ship left the hangar bay as scheduled. The captain had given us the necessary coordinates to arrive at a safe position outside the range of the mine field.
“Coordinates set?”, I looked back, James seemed a bit nervous.
“Yeah, everything is ready.”
“Then let’s head out”, I had little enthusiasm for risking my life this way, not that I had any choice. Orders were orders and the intrigue of the sector seemed to call to me. The jump drive was engaged but just before the jump was finalized a warning sound told of a hazard we did not expect. The scout ship had been sabotaged and the jump drive was about to hurl us in some unknown direction. After a number of tries the coordinates were accepted yet there was no confirmation that we were set for the right course.
In the blink of an eye the scout ship made the jump and we were at Sector Epsilon. The good news was that we made it, the bad news, we were sitting in the middle of the deadliest minefield in the system.
“Shut down everything but the short burst thrusters.”, I told James and he was quick to respond.
“Done, what now?”
“Now, we wait. I can’t take the chance of moving around without the other instruments. I will have to rely on visual reference, and it will not be easy since there is little light here.”
The ship spun around slowly as I looked for the mines and identified their position. There was little else to do, I would need a lot of patience and quick reflexes to be able to get far enough from the mine field. Any wrong move could be disastrous. “This could be it, if I’m not careful”