Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: P is for Privateer


    The Starfigher Division was something of an experiement.
    Four of Hatawe Ahn’s corvettes sailed through contested space on the grand arc between the leading and trailing StarGates in the border system of Almani Territories.  Three Marauders, Tempest, Prospero, and Ariel, each fully loaded with a half dozen Cerberus fighters and a six Destriers, formed a triangular plane in space perpendicular to their vector.  The fourth Marauder, Caliban, sailed behind the plane at the apex.  Caliban was different.  It carried only four Destriers for defense.  Instead of mounting six high powered lasers, it only carried two in the bow, flanking the forward cabin.  The lateral hardpoints were carried a pair of twin-barreled point defense railguns.  The reinforced spine, which on carrier was stuffed with capacitors for the lasers, housed a single long-shaft railgun suitable for ship-to-ship combat.
   They were hunting.
   “Time to convoy forty minutes for outer envelope, forty-nine minutes to launch.”
   Captain 6Djoser Morga acknowledged the report.  From the CIC on Caliban, Djoser had could observe, after time-lag, the movements of AdStars logistical fleet.  One hundred and thirty-one colliers and dromedaries moved between StarGates on a reciprocal course to Djoser’s stargosy of privateers.  6Djoser’s orders from Command were deliberately vague - capture what he could, destroy as much of the rest as possible.  Prospero, at the acme point of the forward plane of battle, was carrying a platoon’s worth of Espatier Ahks in oversized network servers, ready to download into their Ammit-class automatons loaded on the Starfighter’s six Cerberus HACVs.
    They were also something of an experiment.
    “Thirty-two minutes to outer envelope.”
    The convoy was either defended or dead in space.  With literally millions of kilometers between the freighters and any safe port of call, scattering was not an option.  The only point of clumping so many thousands of tons of shipping into such a small space on a predictable vector would be to place them under the umbrella of protection their escorts could offer.  Depending on the value of the cargo, the defending spacecraft could be a couple of corvettes weaker than Caliban, up to a division of destroyers or even more.   Djoser was by no means an optimist - at least, not beyond what one needed to go into space in the first place.  He assumed at any moment, Caliban’s CIC would erupt with reports of thermal flairs indicating an opposing flotilla.
    “Twenty-six minutes.”
   Djoser gave orders to download Ahks to all fighters and automatons.  Across space, sphont and machine interfaced, become those temporary. mongrel creatures of war.  The quartet of spacecraft entered their final boosting phase, and observed no change in his prey.
   “Eighteen minutes.”
   It was a trap.  In had to be. Something would happen when the two clumps of metal and meat collided.  The Stellar Administration was as ruthless and brutal as any polity in space.  They would surely have found out about 3Gleise’s negotiations with the  Almani.  They surely wouldn’t think to send an undefended convoy through space where the government-in-exile could reach.  Something was going to happen - Djoser was convinced.  But because he couldn’t know what was in store, he kept his ships steady on.  Besides, he was damned if AdStar was going to frighten him away.
   “Outer envelope.  Nine minutes to launch.”
Djoser composed himself for battle. “Fire the main gun.  On target.”
 Lacking multiple ship killing guns, Djoser couldn’t very well bracket the formation ahead of them.  He was half-convinced that the fools wouldn't change vector to dodge anyway.
   “Four minutes to contact, eight minutes to launch.”
 Djoser had four minutes to wait, and another four after to decide the course of the battle.  It was always like this -always had been, for sophonts in space. Hours or days of waiting, and a handful of seconds for action.  He thought a command to calculate multiple tactical maneuvers and counter attacks against a variety of responses.  All at this point were equally likely.  He consciously ignored them even has his augmented mind furiously collated data.
    “One minute to contact, five minutes to launch.”
  Djoser became still and calm.  All that could be done had been, all that could be planned for was.  He was serene in the last seconds, where his crew could see.
   “Contact!  Targets one through five eliminated.  Four minutes to launch. Targets six through ten eliminated.”
    “M-Com, all Flights, target kinetics, Caliban attack one, vectors and velocity to follow.”  Djoser signaled his INCO to send the relevant data.  Across the formation, lasers turned and fired on Caliban’s railgun slugs.  No matter their monstrous speed, the coherent light easily overtook them and either vaporized the tungsten rods or pushed them out onto terminal vectors.
    “Targets fifteen to twenty eliminated.  Targets twenty-two, twenty-six, and twenty-seven eliminated.  Launch window.”
    “Launch half the Ceberus wing.  Keep the remainder on the kinetics. I want eyes on the eliminated targets soonest.”
    “HC-01 and -02, in range two minutes.”
   There had still been no counter attack, no move to defend or evade.  Djoser felt the dread he had been fighting grow ever more powerful as the possible reasons dwindled to a few, each worst than the las.
 Djoser had to swallow before he could talk. “Report.”
    “Passengers?  HC-01, is there any cargo?”
    “Time until upload is complete?”
    “UPLOAD EST 01:22:31 +/- 02:00.”
    “All units, begin rescue operations.”  Djoser tried and failed to keep the tremor out of his voice.  
    “All units acknowledged,” His INCO responded.  “All lasers now on hyperband recovery.  Cross vectors in thirty seconds.”

    And that was when the convoy’s hidden warships attacked.   

A-toZ Blog Challenge: O is for O'Neill Cylinder

O'Neill Cylinder

    The Ahk designated as FT-0101 was an Espatier.  It’s Ka was the pruned fork of Sergeant 5Djeffries Muh.  It’s Ba was a mechanical monster.
    The interior of the vast O’Neill cylinder that was now part of 3Gleise’s territory was patrolled by Cerberus fighters modified for use as squad transports.  Eight hulking brutes, clipped to the exterior of each war rocket, were launched from the destroyers escorting the space station to secure the inside.  It had taken days to go through the vast habitat, comparment by compartment, capturing and removing the thousands of workers found within.  Most were Gleise citizens, now repatriated.  The remainder, AdStar overseers, were captured and sent for interrogation.
    FT-0101 lead the first squad of the first platoon of DesCon 3’s Expiditionary Force.  It had been online for eight-seven hours now, leading its squad in what was essentially a massive boarding action.  It was the certainly the right Ahk or the job.  FT-0101 had faught on planets, with and without atmosphere, asteroids, moons, and habitats of all sizes.  It had faught on starships ranging from corvettes to to titanic battlers. It was the best of the best.
    It had never seen anything like this before.
    “Roger that, FT-0101.  Get video on all frequencies.”  
    The Espatier Ahk began recording what it saw, in thermal, visible, ultraviolet and x-ray.  The O’Neill was small, as these things go; only eight kilometers long with a radius of a thousand meters.  Despite this, the interior cavity should have been at least five hundred meters wide.  Espatiers on the ground recorded an internal space only two hundred meters wide, divided into compartments every half kilometer.
    “This is downright claustrophobic.”
    FT-0101 focused on an area of the interior skin that hadn’t been completed.  A vast cenote in the artificial ground gaped open, exposing layers upon layers of water bags and aerogel bricks under the surface.  Through the middle of the hole was a what looked like a tall ridge made of carbon that was spun in long ropes of self-supporting latticework.
    “It looks almost like buttressing.”
   FT-0101 continued moving forward.  There was no soil on the decking - just layers of woven carbon fiber plates.  Here and there were other Espatiers examining the odd modifiactions to the habitat.  The central hub, for example, was ribbed by additional buttressing that curved outward toward the compartmenting wall dividing the entire open space of the cylinder a few hundred meters ahead.  The curving buttresses from the column gradually arched over the dividing wall to meet the even larger and wider ridges in the rimward walls.
   “That’s one way of putting it.  Looks familiar, though.  Keep panning around, please.”
   FT-0101 anchored its bulk to the deck and began rotating its main cameras around a hundred and eighty degrees, missing nothing.  There were veins of raised tubing standing out upon the partition like spiderwebs of renforcement.  The curving arches made a graceful symmetry.
   “Wait a moment!  Right there!”
   FT-0101 froze, as only a robotic Ba could.
  “Oh, oh Netjer.  I know what this is!
  “Those dividing walls, they’re rib vaults.”
  “They’re oriented to support the cylinder’s mass along the long axis. Against accelleration.”
  “The outer walls are filled with enough insulation to absorb a full laser barrage.”
  “UNDERSTOOD.” This was the closest FT-0101 ever got to an exclamation. “THIS IS NOT A HABITAT CYLINDER.”
  “Not anymore.  Its a capital ship.”  

Monday, April 18, 2016

A-to-Z Blog Challenge: N is for Nemyss

This is a nemyss.  Now you know.

    “Well, this was unexpected.”
    Commodore-cum-Second StarLord 2Hilna Lin found had been told the Prime Minister was in the stellarium with her former right-hand wo/man, Naval Chief 4Charl Itawa.  Therefore, Hilna expected to see the pair, and to see stars and perhaps a view of Elsinore’s factory system.  
    What she did not expect was to be inside a living wall of hieroglyphic text.
    Every surface save that of the transparent roof of the compartment was covered with column after column of pictograms, interrupted by the occasional image of a deity from Khemet’s pantheon.  Hilna could recognize Geb, the Lord of Planets, prone upon the deck, and Nut, Mother Space, arched over Him.  Where the two touched, fingertips and toes, there were graven images of habitats and starships.  Sobek, the Crocodile, grinned menacingly from under his StarGate crest, warning Hilna never to take the transit between stars for granted.
    But in the most august position, in the center of the stellarium, where Nut and Geb, Heaven and Earth, would meet to spawn the Universe, was Ma’at.
    And at the foot of Ma’at, Prime 3Vonday Ginal floated in prayer.
    At his right, Charl put hir finger to hir lips and motioned Hilna over. The StarLord kicked off the floor and coasted gently toward the pair.  As she approached she could make out better the details of the two from surrounding images.  Vonday, she noticed, wore the traditional leopard pattern nemyss.
    “Welcome back, Hilna.”  Vonday said.  “Looks like you caught me.”
    “You’re a Hema’at?” She said.
    “Not what you expected from a diplomat, is it?  I’m surprised myself sometimes.”
    “It’s terrible, isn’t it?” Charl smiled and reached out a hand to steady Hilna. “It’s bad enough for him to be my boss, but now he can make me feel guilty for not saying the 42 Laws before bed every night.”
    Hilna gave Charl a wry look. “What are you worried about?  Herms are sacred.”
    “Only the natural ones, Lin.”
    “I never agreed with that interpretation.” Vonday said.  “But that’s a debate for after the war. I tend to be long-winded on points canon law.  To business.”  
    “Much as I’m loath to admit it, Morale has improved quite a bit since the...relaxation of certain regulations.”  Hilna pulled her tablet from her pocket and thought the relevant stats onto the screen, where they would be easier to read in the light of the hieroglyphs.
    “Performance has improved by eight percent, and incidence of disciplinary problems has dropped by forty.  There have been five charges of sexual assault...which is down by half from one cycle prior.”
    “Having to rewrite only five out of three thousand is definitely an improvement.” Charl said.
    “Don’t rub it in.”
    “Relax, Lord Hilna,” Vonday smiled, “I understand the difficulty in trying unorthodox solutions.”
    “As you say, Hema’at.” Hilna cocked her head and smiled sardonically. “Did you think about requiring the 42 Laws be spoken by all hands, even once?”
    “You’re thinking of my father.  I’ve been focused on the Virtues of the Husia. ‘I will be free from resentment under the experience of persecution, I will be free from resentment under the experience of wrongdoing’.”
     Hilna’s smile became more genuine. “That’s good advice.”
    “I’ve also been reading the Ritual for the Opening of the Mouth.”
   The three were quiet for a moment, as anyone would be.
    “The coronation ritual?” Hilna asked, after clearing her throat.
    “The only way to incarnate a legitimate fork of the King is to perform the Opening of the Mouth during the download.  And it must be performed by a Hema’at.”
    “Prime had a hunch,” Charl spoke up. “It turns out that the last eight diplomatic envoys sent out from Throne had Hema’atau either in the diplomatic party or as the Ambassador.”
    Hilna frowned. “That seems excessive, sure, but you can’t think that the King actually planned for-”
    “Hilna, all of us are here in this system, with these ships, because the King wanted us to be.” Vonday said.  “The Pharaoh is the serial Ahk of twelve generations of the most intelligent and enhanced sophonts our civilization could produce. I’d be surprised if He left anything unplanned.” 
    There was silence once more.
   “We seemed to have gotten far afield,” Vonday clapped his hands.  “What news of your tour with the Third Division?”
  Hilna assumed an official demeanor.  “I'm pleased to report3Div was successul in capturing an enemy asset during our privateer raid in the Heru system.”
    “Excellent!  What’s the booty?”
    Hilna remained perfectly still. “One O’Neil cylinder, seventy percent complete, with transit booster.  We got it back to Jourdain yesterday.”
   Charl’s face lit up. “Oh, thank you, Lin!  I’ve been dying to see that look of shock on his face for a change!”