An old sci fi tale I began and couldnt continue, now its time to go on I think. First chapter previously published here, then the continuation will be here first if people would like it to continue.
“Con, scanner control. We have station on screen. Range thirty-two. We have their narrow beacon locked on"
“Thank you. Anything else on the scan?"
The captain smiled for the first time in many days. This was not an easy mission, or a safe one. Ever since the Vilani had attacked Terran space six months ago, though, safe was a relative term.
“Comms, send our transponder code. XO we can secure from hyperjump"
The XO gave a small frown, worried in spite of himself. The captain was tired, he knew that. All of them were tired. Still…
“Captain, suggest we maintain battlestations until we have entered ground battery range of the moon."
“The Vilani haven't shown themselves out here yet. Waldmann Station is well concealed. I think we have it covered."
The commander bristled a bit at that. There was just enough reluctance, and a hint of reproval in the standard phrase. Spinks was an experienced officer though…
“Very well. Keep them at battlestations."
“What about the freighters?"
“Maintain jump formation for now. Tell the Riyaku Maru and the Ashanti to begin preparations for docking though."
The XO grabbed an annunciator, aware that the short grey hairs on the nape of his neck were prickling. He hated it when that happened, his sixth sense for danger always had been right. There was nothing here to worry about though. The Captain had told him so. And yet…
The old man is being mighty cavalier still.
“All hands! Maintain Condition one. Shuttle crews report to flight bay."
He could sense the disappointment like a current. Six more hours at battle stations, if they were lucky. Better that than dead though. Still…he would be happier if the freighters were on their disengaged side. Which posed the question…where was the threat axis. The station?
“TSS Ramillies, CA-113 calling Station 53 Orionis One. Confirm."
The headset remained resolutely silent for what seemed an age, and his prickling began again, more insistent. He was about to click on the transmit button again when a cracking noise came through.
“TSS Ramillies acknowledged. This is Station 53 Orionis One. We have your transponder and your beacon confirmed. Your codes are accepted. Welcome to Waldmann station Ramillies."
Spinks smiled then a little, catching his Captain's mood. They had done it after all, picking their way through Vilani patrols to the deepest station the Terran Confederation possessed, way out on the Spinward edge of Vilani space. An outpost buried in a moon orbiting a gas giant around an unremarkable sun, it could just prove the lynchpin for their fight to break out into the Galaxy past their foes.
It didn't matter that their foes were humans too. Human had been fighting human since the first Homo Sapiens picked up a rock. Once the men of Earth overcame their surprise and shock at finding the Galaxy already occupied by humans like themselves, they set about the serious business of making an empire of their own. Regardless of what their rivals may think.
There was more to it than that of course, and he knew the debate still raged on Earth decades later. Mankind was prepared at least theoretically for encountering alien races once they colonised space, and endless speculation had preceded the event. The XO had to laugh at the many variations on little green men the scientists had come up with to prepare their expeditionary forces for an encounter, only to find the one thing nothing could have prepared them for. Humans, essentially indistinguishable from Terrans, though with a language not like any on Earth. One thing was hauntingly familiar though, for their uniforms bore a symbol recognisable to any Terran; a dragon, blacker than space itself.
The meeting had gone well enough, but things deteriorated rapidly and predictably once it became apparent that the Vilani assumed the men of Earth would be their latest subjects.
Spinks knew then that their little expeditionary force was more than a resupply run to a remote station. It was the first serious attempt to survey the region. That made it important; more suitable worlds, more room for Earth's people. The Vilani would just have to make way.
It was also an attempt to look for more evidence to understand some of the mysteries that the existence of fellow humans had roused; who came from where, and when? One intercepted communication from a Vilani outpost had sealed the deal. A reference to Dragon's Gate, and a location past 53 Orionis. Explorers had been dispatched on wilder goose chases, he supposed. But as an experienced officer, Spinks didn't like them. They tended to end up with a dead goose or a dead chaser.
“Con, scanner control. I'm picking up something unusual. It pops up for a second then disappears."
The Captain swivelled around in his chair. He liked order and predictability did Captain Salonen. This was not it.
“Can you isolate it?"
“Trying sir. Some sort of transient energy reading."
“Where is it?"
“As best as I can tell Captain, it appears to be coming from the Lagrange two point ahead of the Moon."
The two senior officers exchanged glances. Something odd at the Lagrange point was not an accident.
“Scanners, can you isolate?"
“Go active. Use Lasers, Meson scanners, all of it. Quarter that spot."
A sense of tension descended on the bridge then, like a blanket of disquiet. The Captain reached for his own headset and keyed the mic.
“Scout crews board your ships, and prepare for immediate launch. Spool up your jump drives ready for when you clear."
The XO glanced across, his expression set in a frown. He had given up scratching his neck now; the feeling had gone beyond anything a scratch could fix.
“The freighters Captain?"
The commander nodded.
“Have them do a thruster burn and assume station in high orbit masked by the Ramillies. Then have them spool up their jump drives if they have enough in their capacitors and…"
“Con! Scanning Control! Multiple targets, looks like they just jumped in, dead ahead! I count ten…twelve targets. Signatures consistent with Vilani warships. They are powering weapons systems…missiles away! Multiple Vampires, estimated run time four minutes and closing!"
“Sound the Attack alert! Warn the freighters, and tell them to jump back to Gilan. Warn them…just warn them. It's a fucking trap!"
The Terran ships appeared to move almost slowly from a distance, as the inexorable rules of celestial mechanics determined their fates. Stuck in a gravity well, with the moon and the gas giant drawing on them with invisible claws, and heading directly towards an enemy fleet on a matching orbit, they had no choice. No amount of evasive thrust would help. And yet, they had to have time, time for their jump drives to recharge and escape.
The Captain gritted his teeth, sawing off the cigar clamped between them. He was a good officer, and an excellent navigator. He knew the reality.
They would not have the time.
“XO, use all batteries to protect the Ashanti."
“Not the Riyaku?"
“No point. They are stuck on the engaged side between us and the enemy. We can't help them."
A momentary flare from the screens told the bridge crew how prophetic those words were. Several missiles locked on to the Riyaku Maru and hit her amidships. Pieces began to fall off as the structure failed.
“Track and engage with point defense systems. Orient the ship to protect the freighter as long as possible."
“Do we power up the main gun?"
“Might as well. If we're going down, might as well take one or two with us."
The bridge began to shudder now, as missile strikes started to hit home against the heavy cruiser's armoured hull. It could take more punishment, but not indefinitely. They would need at least fifteen minutes to spool their jump drive, far far too long.
A sudden bright flash momentarily obscured the viewscreens, as the man structural spars on the trapped freighter succumbed to physics, followed by the engineering section dislodging and detonating in a silent holocaust. The shockwave disabled half their point defense guns, adding to the disaster.
On the disengaged side, the second freighter, Ashanti, tried desperately to charge its jump drive fast enough to avoid the same fate. It's captain maneuvered recklessly, drawing close to the side of the Ramillies, using the cruiser's bulk as an impromptu shield. His crew saw the explosions from missiles striking home on their companion, knowing what they meant for their friends, but they could not help. Their big brother was buying them time to raise the alarm.
On the bridge control was breaking down as systems failed one by one and compartments succumbed to vacuum. Damage control was holding for now, but not much longer. Then an unwelcome piece of news.
“Con, scanner control! Ashanti has been hit"
The Captain sighed as he watched the viewscreen, the second freighter falling out of its orbit no longer under control after a flight of missiles got past the minimal screen the Ramillies could still provide.
“Jump drive now inoperable. Reactor core damaged, becoming unstable. Hull breaches between frames forty seven and fifty, sixty six and seventy three, and one hundred to one hundred and five. Central fire control on backup system."
The two senior officers exchanged a look, the XO bleeding from a head wound received from an exploding control panel. They both knew the score; it was over.
“Are the scout ships ready?"
“All four reporting ready for launch and jump drives nearly ready. Do you want to wait and use them for rescue?"
The Captain looked sadly at his friend.
“No David. You know the score; we need them gone now, and we need them to raise the alarm. Download the mission log and order them to break and head for Terran Command at Glian. One of them has to get through."
Spinks gave the orders, grunting in satisfaction as he saw the four little ships that carried all their hopes break from the underside of the cruiser.
“Yes XO. It's time."
As Spinks initiated the alarm, he saw a bright shimmering flash from the nearest Vilani cruiser. They had begun firing their particle accelerator, as if they were in any danger of losing now. A couple of pods may get away, but not many. For the bridge crew, it would be all over soon.
“You know, I always hated space."
The captain looked at him wistfully, a half smile on his face.
“Yeah. Never got used to it."
'Well…at least they might name a cruiser after us, so in a way, you'll be in space forever."
Their laughter was interrupted by the failure of the main spar under the impact of a massive explosion, and the heavy cruiser disintegrated in a fraction of a second creating a brief glorious sunrise for those nearby to admire.
By then the only admiring eyes left alive belonged to Vilani.
The young equine knelt on a straw mat, eyes closed. He was not asleep, though to an untrained eye it might appear so. He was meditating, as he had been trained to do in the last year as he prepared for his stallionhood. A stallion needed calm, and control, in order to do his duty to his herd. Tremelle believed in duty, it was what gave his life purpose when so many things proved hard to understand.
Like the visions he had whenever he tried to meditate, freeing his mind of cares and thoughts to better receive the wisdom of the Old One, Grandfather. Instead, when he sat like this and sought the peace and tranquillity his friends found, he saw things that troubled him. Balls of fire in the sky, like the sun god that crossed the heavens, but huge and incredibly bright and close. Then smaller spheres of brown, or blue, or green. And metal things that streaked between them like a Lykka bird, fragile and beautiful.
Most disturbing of all though was the times when he looked inside those metal things, curiosity drawing him in whether he wanted to or not. The minds he touched, so alien and yet he could understand them, and feel their thoughts. Once he had even spoken to one of them, when he tested his mind during one of his meditations. The creature was terrified, and he tried to calm it with his mind but seemed to make things worse.
He had stayed away from the silver things ever since. He still remembered the creature though, and what it looked like, and that haunted him even now. It had been an image from the Elder's scrolls come to life. One of their forebears.
Tremelle was more troubled by that than anything else. The prophecies had echoed through the generations, of how the return of one of their forebears would bring the return of Grandfather, and the final war between Him and his Children. Death and destruction awaited, and the equines world would never be the same again. He had spoken to no one of his visions, not even his father, though that was a dangerous thing to do. For his father, the herd stallion, had the gift of Sight too, though he had never described seeing what Tremelle had seen. That his father might have concealed it from him scared him. That his father might not be able to do what he did scared him even more.
For several reasons, Tremelle wanted nothing more than to simply be a normal equine. It was his one wish, even as he watched his brothers grow up to become well regarded stallions of his father's herd and take mares as mates. He wanted to be like them more than anything, and yet his prayers to Grandfather had not been answered. The visions still came, as did the other things.
The feelings for his fellow stallions, like his friend Parem for instance.
As he tried to concentrate, a vision of the beautiful white stallion came into his mind, his body glistening as he washed in the river. Tremelle could almost reach out and touch those flanks, and the plump sheath that drew his gaze always. Without meaning to, he sought out his friend, whispering to him as he bathed.
You are so beautiful Parem…
He was startled as the stallion gave a sudden jerk upright, his eyes wide and mane shaking as he scanned the riverbank for intruders. Tremelle felt his uncertainty, the fear in his mind and he tried to soothe him, sending feelings of calm and safety until the young stallion resumed his bathing. With a sigh, Tremelle opened his eyes and returned to the meditation room.
Well that was another disaster…
“Son, why aren't you meditating?"
Tremelle gave a surprised nicker at the sound of his father's voice. For a big stallion, Danek could move quiet as the night.
The young stallion bowed, as was customary to the herd stallion, even if he was his father.
“Father, I have finished. I…I am ready father, if you are."
The older stallion walked up to his son, regarding the colt with affection. He had grown so much in the last two years, thought Danek.
And yet he is still the same young colt who I would take for runs on the plains, and protect from wolves in the night when he woke up terrified. The years have gone so quickly.
“You are ready for your stallionhood ceremony, son, but are you ready for the rest?"
The colt's fixed expression and slight frown made him sigh quietly, and shake his head a little.
“Yes, and no my son. I can tell you are ready to do your duty, but not like it."
The herd stallion held up one hand, quieting his colt with a gesture. His hand reached for Tremelle's mane, stroking the colt as if trying to calm him with a touch. It seemed to work; the youngster's ears straightened, and his tail flicked high where it had been flat against his haunches.
“I know this isn't what you wanted son. Yes, I know, more than you think."
He held the colt steady as Tremelle began to protest, then stopped as his father's words sank in.
“You are not the first to prefer their own sex, believe me. And though I need you for this, I know the sacrifice you are making. It is a necessary one though. Times are becoming tougher, for all of us. The wolves are raiding more ruthlessly and more often, and we cannot resist them if we remain a series of individual herds. We need this chance, and you will help. I know I can count on you son."
Tremelle tried to let obedience and resignation fill every syllable, but some resentment must have leaked out, for his father gave a frustrated whinny and stepped back, eyes blazing.
“She isn't exactly hard on the eye colt, even if she lacks a cock. Mersylla is a beautiful mare, and will make you a good mate, even if you need to keep some unmated stallions on the side for fun."
Now Tremelle was shocked.
“As I told you, don't think you are the only one ever to enjoy a stallion's company…now you are heading to your stallionhood, I think we should have no more secrets between us yes?"
The youngster stared at his father, sudden understanding creeping into his memories. The many friends, the many nights away from their hut, the dark looks from his mother when Danek came home in the darkness. His father's friend Alatheus, a paint stallion, always smiling, always wrestling the other stallions, always with a plump sheath hinting at arousal…
“So, now you know son…you should tell me the rest."
Tremelle suddenly returned to earth with a thud.
“The visions. I know you have them, I have seen the signs. Your brothers cannot, strong and noble stallions both but they do not have the gift. Even mine is limited, I can see things close and the minds of those who are unskilled. Not you though son; I could never see inside your mind, even right now standing a foot in front of you. You have the gift, stronger than me. And I know you are a Seer, I can tell. There are few of us enough, but we are needed. You will make a good herd stallion one day, even perhaps taking over from Mersylla's father when his time comes. That is also why I need you, Tremelle. You have the strength, and the gift, to become the right hand of the most powerful herd leader in our lands. You can help me unite the herds and face the wolves. You can help me avert disaster.
“Disaster…it may be too late for that father from what I have seen…"
Tremelle suddenly realised what he had said, as his father's widening eyes registered the meaning.
“What have you seen colt."
“Nothing father, nothing at all I…"
The stallion suddenly gripped Tremelle roughly, pulling him up by the mane as the colt struggled but failed to break his grasp. The colt stood shaking, staring into his father's eyes, seeing the uncertainty and alarm.
“What have you seen colt!"
Danek released the colt with a deep sigh, his head falling to look at his hooves. His tail swished slowly, betraying his thoughts.
“As if we didn't have enough problems. Well son, pray to Grandfather that your gift is faulty. Either way, we need to fight back against the wolves. Let's just hope there is something left to hold on to when we win."
With a gentle nudge in the back, the herd stallion pushed his young son towards the door, and the waiting herd gathered for his stallionhood ceremony. He would put on his adult loincloth, and take his ceremonial dagger, and recite the oath of loyalty to his herd and the herd stallion who ruled over them. Then he would try to look happy while his friends congratulated him on his stallionhood and his impending mating to the most beautiful mare on the plains by all reports. Duty called.
As he stepped out of the temple hut, he felt something else calling though, and looked up towards the sky. Night had just fallen, and the stars were out in force, vivid points of light against the velvet black of the sky. The twin moons had risen, casting a silver glow on the herd camp, and he looked towards them seeking out something he couldn't quite understand.
As his vision flew to the sky, he realised what it was. One of the silver birds, scarred and blackened, but still soaring high, looking down; and he realised with shock that it was looking down on him, and his lands, right now.
And inside he saw a human, like the ones he had seen before. But this one was here.