First Chapter WIP for 'Invisible Enemy'

[Updated January 23, 2018]

Everything written is subject to change, even the names. Feel free to comment here or on Facebook.

Chapter 1

UCNS Venger

Captain Gary “Jolly” Rogers closed his eyes and listened to the thrum and pulse of the ship. He couldn't imagine her not being alive. UCNS Venger was a benevolent spirit, kept and keeping alive the crew inside her—a symbiotic relationship. The captain held little romantic notions. Venger wasn’t his first ship, but she was his first command and that alone bore weight. He tried to imagine an ethereal spirit of Venger herself, but failed. He wondered if it was the lack of imagination or not wanting to give this warship a familiar face then marred by battle.

“It's unfair, you know,” JEM said, lighting the board piece and destination. “I’m far more advanced than your biological mind.”

Rogers opened his eyes and moved JEM’s black knight to its location on the three dimensional chessboard. “It is because you aren’t taxed at the moment. When you’re running compression computations, you’re almost human.” It was true. As Venger’s Artificial Intelligence, JEM calculated and piloted the corvette during the transit through compressed space. It was a quantum Mark IV computer though Rogers found little difference from the Mark III Mod 12 version of JEM that had existed before the last refit. While not navigating compression space, JEM idled or powered down. It was too fragile to risk operating in combat, but the captain enjoyed working his mind around strategy. In that arena, JEM was a pleasure.

The A.I. computer screen flickered blue. “It’s not a challenge for me, sir,” JEM replied.

“The point isn’t to challenge you, Jem,” Rogers said, rubbing his lip in concentration and focused on the multidimensional board in front of him. “You might fool me.”

“Would I fool you?” JEM’s screen pulsed. “We could switch to Go.”

“Your ancestors beat us at Go long before we left our home planet,” Rogers replied. “I enjoy Go. Has a sense of action to the word. Go.

“I’m afraid neither game is any adrenaline rush you get from running drills. You enjoy them so.”

The Captain moved his white bishop along the main axis. “The problem with running drills is you lose the excitement. When a real crisis occurs, you’re apt to take the right action for the wrong reason. You hope that the lower adrenaline keeps the mind clear and lets you consider the problem rather than reacting and performing immediate actions.”

“Repetition reduces excitement and adrenal levels, but does it induce boredom?” JEM pretended to study the board and changed the subject. “I’ve been considering the problem, you know. In system compression hop.”

“So you’ve read my thesis? Do you think it’s possible?”

JEM paused for human emphasis. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but practically speaking it’s improbable. Theoretically, it’s sound, in a system with few gravitational bodies—”

“Ah, so you concede the possibility—”

“I concede that as our computing advances, it’s possible we could decompress closer into gravitational wells. You understand the nature of space fabric. The dynamics change within a star system and the mathematics, even at the speed of my computing, cannot be calculated.”

The captain opened his mouth to respond, but then the comm panel buzzed. He reached over for the hard-wire intercom switch from Sensors and snapped it on. “Captain.”

“Decompression echo, sir. Might be the Just In Time leaving or returning to system,” Sensor First Class Mann’s voice was a whisper.

Rogers looked at his watch. “No, Just In Time left system six hours ago. Any delay of transit or CASREPs on the broadcast?”

“No, sir. Thought I’d pose the question.”

“You know better than that, Manny,” Rogers replied. “Tridar?”

“Tridar checked, sir. No mass detected. Nothing on spectrum emissions.”

“What’s the declination from ecliptic?” Rogers glanced at his captain’s cabin display, reading Venger’s own declination and distance as referenced to Rigel B. She was above the ecliptic, streaming in a comet-like arc around the Alexandria shipyard.

“Twenty point oh four seven,” Manny replied. “Not in line with any of the surrounding system hops.” Mann was a damn good sensor tech, and he’d been lucky to get her onto Venger after the last refit. It caused a row with Captain Hollis on the Skeletor, but she was still in the shipyard.

“Deploy the ASDIN,” Rogers said, switching the comm circuit over to Engineering with a snap of the knob.

“Cheng,” Chief Engineer Mitchum replied to the hail.

“Cheng, we’re about to change course.”

“Got the heads up from the conn. We’re wrapping up maintenance on the starboard thrust manifold.”

“How much time?”

“Less than ten minutes.”

“That should be fine. I’ll have course laid in when you give the word. Any problems?”

“Not a one you haven’t heard of, sir.”

Rogers snapped off the intercom. It might be one of them. Seemed likely, and they were depleted of fleet vessels to take action at Eagle Nebula. Rogers rubbed his chin. Venger was up to the task. She was Anvil Class, two generations older than the latest Venom Class corvettes. She'd just been retrofitted with the latest gear, but relegated to in-system patrol now that the fleet had left. Venger was ready for a fight, but he wondered what class he matched up against. A Hellbringer? They can go toe-to-toe with that, he wagered. Ship-on-ship action. By gods, he’d hoped for this. He wondered if the other ship’s captain was ready for them.

“Time to go to the bridge?” JEM asked, seeing the smile on the captain’s face with its cabin camera.

“I’m afraid so. Stow for flight, but stay in standby. I don’t know if we’ll need the warp drive, but I want to risk it.” Rogers grabbed the handle at the top of the playing board, twisted and collapsed the entire thing in one smooth motion.

“Very good, sir,” JEM replied.

The captain slid the board into a locker. “Besides, it’ll give me time to study the board more.” Rogers tapped his temple and left his stateroom, heading to the ship’s bridge, which unlike the seagoing vessel of yore, were neither at forefront nor top of the ship, if a space corvette could be said to have a top or bottom. Smaller vessels had atmospheric capability, but the Venger was too large in mass and engine to be planet-side, so there was no true sense of up or down outside the vessel. Inside was another matter. He walked along the hall, happen to be keeping the ship steady at 0.8-G of gravity, but, that’ll change soon when Venger’s thrusters and engine get put to task. Venger, like most human vessels, had two living axes - a vertical one that supported gravity thrust, and a horizontal one that supported shipyard and zero gravity work. A single orientation, while consistent, betrayed two dimensional earth-based thinking, while over two axes was complex to design. It worked well and become an established standard over the interstellar age.

The gravity change alarm buzzed and Rogers grabbed a handhold as the main engines cut power, the ship rotated and then cut back in as Venger re-vectored. Rogers cabin was near the bridge, anyway. He stepped onto the deck plate of the bridge, hearing the  ‘Captain on the bridge!’ announcement from one of the crew.

Lieutenant Commander Amber Kowan leaned over the fusion display. She handed him a non-spill mug of coffee.

“XO, you’re up?”

Kowan gave her customary crooked smile. “I was checking on starboard thrust manifold maintenance.”

Rogers saw some combat stations crew were already in their crash couches. “News travels fast.”

“Should we signal Skeletor?”

“Last report had her not spaceworthy.” Rogers picked up the direct line to radio. Kowan followed suit.

“Radio, sir,” the comm station responded.

“Is that you Jenkins?” Rogers asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Is Alexandria in line of sight for tight beam?”

“Yes, sir. Just checked array alignment after the turn.”

“Let’s send a tight beam SITREP, no handshake. That echo is out of normal transit lanes, so their peripheral sensors won’t pick it up.”

“Yes, sir,” Jenkins replied.

“Inform XO when it’s gone out,” Rogers hung up and drank his coffee.

“Giving Alexandria a heads up?”

“They have a strong defense system, but as there’s not much else in this system but the shipyard, what else are they after? They’ll relay the message to Skeletor and kick Hollis in the pants to get her mains put back together.” Rogers looked about the bridge and the ship’s status board. “It doesn't look like we have any maintenance or drills scheduled.”

“I cleared the slate,” Kowan said.

“All right, let's set Zebra and get the ship airtight. No battle stations yet, but have the combat systems tested. It'll give the crew something to do before we're in range.”

Kowan nodded as her handset when it buzzed. She put it down. “Message sent.”

The fusion plot was a mess of calculations, probabilities and orbital mechanics. “What do you think, XO?” Rogers asked.

“No signature in real space. Either he’s stealth or using N-Space transit. It’ll be a good chance to test the new ASDIN. Do you really think he’s headed for the shipyard and not the colony?”

“Alexandria isn’t where the dreadnoughts are being built, yet the ASDIN refits are here.” Rogers considered his coffee. “They’ve been making colony strikes with their N-boats, but I’ve considered that, XO. Too coincidental that they’ve just hopped in system right after the fleet’s left.”

“That’s what Venger’s for.” Kowan smiled. Rogers liked Kowan. She had the makings of a real spacefarer. Venger would be in capable with Kowan if Rogers was incapacitated. He studied the fusion display. “OOD, come left to Yaw 120,  Roll 15.”

The Officer of the Deck repeated the order to the Pilot who complied. The ship heeled over with the vector change, the mains staying online for this.

“Coming in behind?” the OOD, young Ensign Raheem, asked.

Rogers motioned to the display, giving a rough course of the sub based on the echo data point. “He’ll be watching what’s in front of him. He’ll see us if he’s in real space, but I don’t think he is. We may just edge into his baffles unless he comes out of N-Space after too long.”

“He won’t change until he’s past the Jovian gravity well,” Kowan nodded and turned to Raheem. “Set condition Zebra.”

Ensign Raheem nodded, and the announcement went throughout the ship’s PA circuit.

“Let's see what ASDIN has to say,” Rogers prompted. Together the CO and XO headed forward/upward through the ship. Rogers could feel a subtle shift in the ship’s routine. The thrum and pulse of the ship quickened, and the crew moved about more than usual. Hatches shut and the ventilation's shifted throughout the ship. He suspected crews were moving to their battle stations before the signal and he saw that a more than a few had donned their space suits, ready for the hard vacuum of space that often accompanied a fight. He moved into the dark room on the ASDIN center. Sensor Tech 2nd Class Julian Basan was already there, scanning the tachyon stream that escaped N-Space in the new Anti-Submarine Detection In N-Space (ASDIN) system. He was engrossed in the feed, his hand on the controls of the system. Kowan’s hand on his shoulder didn’t make him stop his work, but he held up a hand. “Nothing yet, sirs,” he said. “Too far away.”

“What about aspect?” Rogers asked.

“Its the distance that’s the problem. Too much dispersion.” Basan finished his sweep and looked up at the officers. “Deep bearing sweep. Machines are doing routine scans. Send out a pulse?”

Rogers shook his head. “No sense alerting them if there’s a small chance we’ll have the drop on them. We can send tachyon buoys ahead of them. There’s also a sensor field past the Jovian we can use, if it comes down to it.” He looked down at his watch. They might have half a day before they close within the range of torpedoes and more if they use the shorter range N-Space torpedoes (nicknamed Betties). They were bigger, only capable of launching from the forward tubes. Because of their size and range, they only had four of them. They had more N-charges, which were smaller without propulsion, but their effects were devastating up close. Real space torpedo inventory was six, the normal twelve-rack bay taken up by the N-space behemoths and the rest for rail gun ammunition, all of which ran along her main axis along the central keel. The N-charges jettison ports were along her belt rings, as was her plasma cannons, which could fire in any direction, except dead ahead or astern. Venger was filled to the brim with ammunition as she was the first line of defense for Rigel-B. Before leaving port, they’d stowed two N-Space torpedoes in Venger’s larger tubes, with the real space fish in the remaining tubes. There was no way to swap out any of the torpedoes right now. Rogers dismissed the idea. Plenty of shots would be fired before combat was over.

“Got a problem with the N-Space fish, though, sir,” Basan said, bringing the captain out of his mental calculations.

“What’s the problem?”

“The tube fish are leaking tachyons. Not a lot, but if we get in close enough, they may catch a sniff.”

“Are those the fish we got from Skeletor?” he asked Kowan.

“Yes, sir. We planned a close inspection, but we didn’t have time when Skeletor came in to have her mains repaired on short notice.”

“We won’t get to the fish now, and by the time we can do anything about it, it’ll be too late. That's not a disadvantage just yet. Let’s get a team to check the second pair and get them fixed.” He turned to Basan. “Report if the bleed becomes too much.”

Yes, they could go toe-to-toe. Corvettes took on subs in pairs, but Rogers was confident Venger had the tenacity to take on her foe single-handedly.


Chapter 2 continues here.

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