Second Chapter WIP for 'Invisible Enemy'

[Updated January 23, 2018]

Continuation from Chapter 1

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

Chapter 2

HFSS Sword of Damocles

    Commander Hera Kenga splashed water on her face. It didn't hurt so bad, she thought. The worst would come later. She wiped away the blood and bile from her lips. She dabbed her face with a towel and composed herself in the mirror. Her eyes were drawn to the lacquered wooden plaque bolted to the wall. ‘All warfare is based upon deception’, it originally read, though someone had altered Sun Tzu’s phrase and added a word. All subspace warfare is based upon deception.

    “Warp disengage in one hour,” Damocles’ quantum artificial intelligence said.

    “Thank you,” Kenga replied, placing an anti-nausea and stimtab and under her tongue. This was her last mission, and she requested it would be a good one. The High Admiralty did not grant her such a request, but instead gave her an impossible mission. A mission she would complete. She left her tiny cabin and walked to the bridge. One benefit of compression drive is that it gave the semblance of gravity. If you entered compressed space while under acceleration that acceleration remained during its navigation. It was a little more difficult for the AI to calculate, which meant they often took a longer route to their destination.

    She passed the Sensor shack on her way to the bridge behind her stateroom. The executive officer Rehan Reed wasn’t there. He was likely after making final checks on the multiple systems that made a subspaceship so effective.

    “Captain on the conn,” the officer reported. The crew on watch did not move from their stations, but they tensed in their crash couches.

    “Status of the N-Hull?” she asked as a matter or routine.

    “Charged and ready.”

    “And the gravitic?”

    “Ready to engage,” the officer replied. He perspired despite the cool air of the ship. He was young. Did they get younger as the war wore on or did Kenga just imagine it so? Too young for this mission. Most of them were too young, but the Hegemonic Federation’s subspace force was full of brash and daring. It was they who put the United Confederation Fleet on their heels. Subspace Fleet knew the truth of interplanetary warfare: that it was an island hopping campaign. Shipping, transport and strategic targets were what won the war. The Hegemony was first to develop and implement the N-boat design. The Confederation had theirs, but they lagged in both technology and tactics. Their real space fleet was much more capable though they had to rely on their nascent detection technology. It was imperfect and the subspace fleet still had the advantage.

A messing crew member made the rounds, collecting and handing magnetic drink bulbs. She accepted her bulb and drank. The tea was near scalding and the discomfort took away some roughness of her daily pain, which had grown worse during their long transit. She pulled out her tab and reviewed the missive had delivered by a messenger from the High Admiralty on Tian 7. She tucked the tab back into her jumpsuit and walked through the ship one last time before they were due to drop through warp.

    The Sword of Damocles was a Hellbringer class subspaceship. A ship class only told military intelligence generalities—volume, tonnage, core output, armament, and crew capacity. The Sword of Damocles had the standard spaceship design—main engines aft, compression core towards the center of gravity. Unlike the double hulled design of standard fleet vessels, the Damocles had a triple hull design—outer hull with stealth grade level hull with ablative inner to the second hull. The inner hull was the where the crew resided in relative comfort against the hard vacuum of space. Between the inner and outer hull was the N-Space hull, the true achievement that made subspaceships work. Similar in concept to the compression field generated by the compression drive punching through N-Space to real space at speeds far beyond light, the N-Space hull encapsulated the matter of the Damocles and put her into N-Space, that interstitial medium were dark matter existed and real matter did not. She kept all the aspects of a real ship while in N-Space—motion, velocity, etc., but was invisible to normal instruments. Unlike the compression core, the N-Space hull was the engine. It was an Achilles, but also its greatest advantage.

    As Kenga walked through the boat, she heard crew members talking, stowing sensors and bringing in all gear extended beyond the outer hull. The range of the N-Space field was short, and anything left outside the smooth outer hull got left behind when the rest of the ship shifted into N-Space. It was no accident that subspace vessels had a sleek aerodynamic look to them. Because she was small, the Damocles had no rail gun, but she didn't need it. She had torpedoes fore and aft, a weapon ring, and payload dispersal. It was not uncommon for subspace vessels to conduct bombing runs, sent in with payloads launched down to a celestial body’s surface. Damocles had a special payload this run.

    She heard the weapons ring before she entered that part of the boat. Weapons rings were efficient targeting mechanisms. Even in the heat of battle, if the ring took damage, ship thrusters could orient the weapon array to the target vector. The ring whirred as the system spun and each weapon pack cycled through its system check. When she stepped off the platform, she saw Lieutenant Gunnar Tan monitoring his crew and the machines that manned the system. He saw Kenga out of the corner of his eye.

    “Final weapons check, sir. Probably won’t need the ring, like most times, but you never know.”

    “We might need it more than you think on this mission,” Kenga said and drank her tea. She held the bulb close, part habit and part comfort. Her side hurt like hell. If it's not war that gets you, it’s something else. Was that how the phrase went? She forgot.

    “Think so, sir?” Tan asked, then turned red from asking such an obvious question of his commanding officer. Tan was older than Kenga and had been around since the early days of the Hegemony’s subspace fleet. He knew the Damocles inside and out though he didn’t quite understand the intricacies of the N-Space hull and warp drive. Weapons were his specialty. Kenga had thought long and hard about getting him reassigned. He was a damn fine weapons officer, but if this mission would succeed, she’d need him more than ever.

    “How are the torpedoes?”

    “No problems. Did preflight checks myself. If any of those in the tubes go awry, I’ll space myself.”

    “Waste of a spacesuit, Lieutenant,” Kenga replied and continued on.

    “Goddamn, I hope we get to send some hot plasma up the ass of those confederate assholes,” Tan said to his crew when he thought she was out of earshot.

    “You have this interesting fixation with asses and assholes, sir,” Chief Dale replied.

Kenga made a quick circuit of the forward part of the ship. She stopped in the galley to have a bite of real food before things went to hell. When she was younger, she had been too nervous to eat before combat and that had been a big mistake. You don’t pass up a real meal after you’ve been in a suit for weeks, alternating between canned systems and suit-goo. She ate a light but filling breakfast, and it both settled her stomach and routine put her mind deeper into her focused state.  She refilled her bulb, relieved herself for what may be the last time outside of her suit, and returned to the bridge. Reed was there.

    “Captain,” Reed said with a nod. Kenga wasn’t fond of Reed. He was Hegemonic Aristocracy and not, in her mind, true subspace material. He did his duty well, but his appointment as XO in place of XO Edmonds was ill-advised. Commander Edmonds had command of the christened HFSS Hidden Knife now. The Hegemony placed people in its fleet, which was less a sign of competence and more than a sign of control and oversight. It was Commander Reed’s job to report on the conduct of Kenga and the Damocles through separate channels from Kenga’s normal patrol report.

    “Commander,” she replied, settling into her captain’s chair, holding the bulb close to her side. The pain hadn’t worked itself out with her tour of the ship or breakfast, but her mind was clear. She felt alert and ready. She smiled. Reed could say whatever he wanted, but this was her last patrol, her last mission. She would retire with full honors. Hera Kenga was too young to retire, but her retirement also wouldn’t last long. She looked at the display of the Rigel B system, marker blinking on known strategic assets.

    “Disengage warp in five minutes,” the AI announced.

    “Battlestations, suit standby,” Kenga told the officer of the deck. Lieutenant Feller tapped the controls, and the alarm blared. Kenga closed her eyes and listened to the ship prepare for battle. It was a small crew, but the axial passage sealed between compartments. Oxygen was mixed with Argon in the atmosphere, reducing the chance of fire being fed. If they put on their suits, the atmosphere would be Argon or vacuum, depending on the state of the ship. They needed to be comfortable and mobile. “Orient the ship to the ecliptic,” Kenga ordered Feller. The crew and ship obeyed, yawing to orient themselves to the Rigel B ecliptic plane. They were above it as measured by the orbital bodies moving in a counterclockwise direction like their ancestral home planet Earth. She got into her own suit, always at the ready on the bridge. With the ease of years of practice, she slid out of her mag boots and jumpsuit to the only uniform that fitted her gender and body—the form-fitting body sleeve engineered for comfort and long term wear. The jumpsuit they wore for transit were for comfort and carried things in multiple pockets. The body sleeve was more than underwear; it was a second skin and mated with the universal spacesuit throughout the ship.

    In the ancient days of space travel, spacesuits were still an incredible undertaking to get into and out of. The suits of today did most of the work. Kenga stepped into the suit, sealed it, clamped the boots in place, tested magnetics, all while the suit itself did its own self-checks and mated with the body sleeve, connecting sensors, ports and even orifices to the suits systems. As complex as the quantum AI, the compression core, or the N-Space Hull were, the feat of real engineering to Kenga was the spacesuit. Inside of sixty seconds, she was suited up and comfortable, her tea bulb in her hand and the helmet stowed nearby. They might be days inside their suits, but the fleet trained this way. Crueler than the old days in the sea, the oceans of space didn’t drown you when you were thrown overboard. No, space did not care and did not try to kill you. It provided nothing and therefore you would die alone with only what you had with you. Spacesuits had a single feature never before designed into a suit. It was a suicide option, a harmless injection that ended your life as you drifted forever among the stars waiting for your air or power to expire. It had long ago been argued against, the scientists saying that carbon dioxide poisoning would fog your mind and put you to sleep. After the first space battle that left hundreds of bodies adrift in space, the fleet installed the option and trained every person in its use. The suit chirped once its checks were complete. Kenga looked around to see that she was still the fastest into her suit. The routine was the same, but the tricks and approaches were unique to each person’s learning, skill, and familiarity. There was someone in engineering who might be as fast as she was.

    The warning for space decompression warbled.

    “No mains,” she directed the Pilot.

    “Yes, sir,” the Pilot responded.

    “Standby,” the warp AI said. Kenga snapped into the crash couch. It was unlikely there would be contact, but routine and habit had a history.

    The Sword of Damocles dropped out of compressed space, the black screens replaced by screens full of stars.

    “Passive sweep,” Reed said, floating in the confines of his chair.He’d forgotten his bulb, and it floated forward, careening off a bulkhead.  Acceleration held by the compression exit bled away, though the ship had velocity. A sailor snatched it out the air and stowed it in a magnetic zarf.

    “No close contacts,” Reed reported from sensors. 

    Kenga shook her head and reviewed the display. “We’re on course. No corrections needed.” The long compression trajectory was worth it. Damocles quantum AI had done its job.

    “Quantum AI stowed for flight,” engineering announced on their reporting circuit. Kenga folded her arms and waited. In real space, things traveled at the light or sub-light speeds. It would take time for them to observe their surroundings. Ten minutes passed.

    “Clear,” the XO reported.

    Kenga didn’t believe that. Rigel B was not without its defenses. She expected at least two corvettes on patrol. Yet, they were not in immediate danger. “Shift to N-Space.”

    Systems whirred and there was soft chatter as the crews again verified the Damocles was ready for shift. The final real space sensor not hull mounted retracted and locked in place and covered with smooth fairings. When Reed got the final report, he relayed it to Kenga.

    “Shift to N-Space,” Kenga ordered, disengaging from the crash couch to float with slight gravity.

    If you watched the Sword of Damocles from afar, you would have seen a sleek colorless shape in space. If you were close enough to discern her shape, you would have admired her narrow, needle-like design, threading through a hole the size of the universe. And when she shifted into N-Space, she vanished--a ghost in the infinite black, a figment of your tired space eyes.

Ken Britz2 Comments