|Coup de Main - Beta Revision, Prologue|
Again, I like this story. This was to be the prologue for the new version, but I think I've since decided to drop the prologue. All this prologue does is deliver a large amount of shaky artificial history, really - which you can learn from inside the story. Also, I've determined that the Ka'Chin cannot scream - it's cool, but not realistic enough. :)
There are a few nitpicky stylistic things wrong here - and maybe I should fix them, just for practice, eh?
And, like I said before - if you want to see more of this, start harping on me.
Flight Officer Jeremy Ordan was bored. Despite the dangerous nature of this mission - patrolling the Emp-Tet border – this flight had been anything but eventful. The last time he had actually had to do anything besides clean his fingernails was when he checked in with the Tetrarchy and let them know that he knew that he was still in Empire space. That had been 5 standard hours ago.
He glanced around the deserted bridge of the Griffith, a RipTide-class gunship. Of course there was no one here - it was the middle of the sleep shift. He was sitting in the Central Command Dais, at the point of a 45 degree wedge. The viewport curved around in front of him, above all the various control stations. The navigator, Rupert Cael, sat directly in front of him, and communicator, Kavin Rudhi, was off to the right. The engineer, Strak Monidak, was placed to the left and battle central, his position, was in the center, directly in front of the navigator.
The CCD had the ability to control all these functions, if need be, and it even had a neural linkup so that the entire ship could be controlled by a single individual – even in combat. He yawned and leaned back in the chair. He desperately needed something to do besides look at the awesome void of space. The sheer vast emptiness of space had struck him on his first flight, and he had felt what the first astronauts, nearly 1500 years ago, had felt: the immense insignificance of one man, one planet, one ship, when compared to the vast reaches of the universe. He had gotten used to it in time, mostly because he was too busy to be bothered by his surroundings, and now he hardly noticed it.
However, he did notice when something changed, and something had changed. At the exact moment he noticed the small speck in the upper-left hand quadrant of the viewport, a small notification alarm chimed softly on his board. He punched up a scan, and was surprised, then concerned as nothing specific came back on the readings. He switched the viewport over to digital, and using software enhancements, zoomed in on the object. It looked like a small meteor, except there were definite energy emissions radiating off it.
He decided that it was time to notify the captain. He hit the comm. button, and a few moments later the sleep-fogged voice of Captain Rael Stark said “What is it, Jeremy?”
“Well, sir, I’m not exactly sure… It’s a ship. Unknown type or capabilities, and my preliminary passive scan provided nothing besides basic emissions data, so I assume that its got some sort of shielding. It’s in Empire space; and-“ he broke off as a real alarm blared. The ship shuddered as automated systems came online, and Jeremy finished in a shout: “It’s firing on us!!”
The captain was all business at once. “Go to Red Alert, and rouse the crew. I’ll be there in a few seconds. Out.”
It took 5 minutes for the crew to arrive at their positions, and by the time the gunners had brought their systems online, shields were down to 24%.
The Griffith had rotated about so that both starboard and port guns could be brought to bear on the enemy vessel, and the full might of the gunship was soon hammering away.
The dark peace of the void was shattered as lances of energy flashed to and from the warring vessels. Circular puffs of flame and debris blew off of the alien vessel where the Griffith’s gunners had scored hits.
The alien vessel was contributing its share of violence; spitting off bolts of purple energy that seemed to have a life of their own, seeking out the gun emplacements and other vital spots on the Terran vessel. If the shield had not been up, the Griffith would have sustained massive damage by now, and even though it was more than twice the size of the alien vessel, it was losing this conflict. Shields were down to 15 percent, and that was maintained only by the fact that every other non-combat system was running at minimum.
To an outside observer, the battle would have been peaceful, and even lethargic. The two ships twisted slowly in a circular orbit around each other, dancing a slow, silent ballet in the vacuum. The smaller vessel was spewing flame and broken pieces of hull floated around the two ships, and when they hit the Griffith’s shields they sparked and popped. The silence cast the battle in a surreal light. Instead of hearing a boom or crack when a hit was scored, there was a spark, or a puff of flame made round by the absence of gravity.
Captain Stark, like the rest of his crew, was held into his seat by straps. The inertial dampeners had been shut off to shunt power to the shields, and with it went the artificial gravity. “Bring us about, Mr. Cael. Face the alien vessel. Mr. Ordan, I want the shard accelerators brought online, and project the shields to the front when we come about. I want this thing taken out, quickly.”
Altitude jets flamed, then went out as the ship began its graceful spin. Halfway through the turn, they fired in the opposite direction, and, as gracefully as it had begun, it eased to a stop, facing directly at the alien vessel. The shard accelerator slid down from the underside of the gunship, and the focusing array slid from the bow. There was a brief sparkling flash as the magnetic fields of the array came online, and then a bright blue stream of crystalline shards shot out of the muzzle, hit the focusing array, and swept out in a 45 degree arc across the alien vessel. There was a huge amount of debris thrown from the smaller vessel. The nearly solid stream of hyperaccelerated shards of crystal carried enormous amounts of kinetic energy, and the damage to the smaller ship was stunning.
“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of effectiveness before. It’s like it was just soft tissue.” Ordan’s voice was stunned. The smaller vessel, now floating dead in the freefall, was leaking streams of fluid from the gaping hole in the front. Clouds of debris hung in the vacuum, and globs of fluid floated around like jellyfish.
“Sir!” Rupert Cael’s voice carried a note of urgency. “I’ve got incoming! Four vessels, and one of them is huge! I suggest we run from this one, sir!”
“Put it on the screen, Mr. Cael. Mr. Rudhi, open a channel to the Imperial High Command. Tell them-“ There was a tremendous surge of energy directly in front of the Griffith. A bright glow penetrated the screen, and glowing yellow tendrils reached out from the center of the glowing ball.
Wrapping themselves around the gunship, they flowed over the entire surface of the ship, and soon it was glowing a bright yellow, which got brighter and brighter. The yellow faded to a white, and then the light faded away, leaving nothing behind but the rubble of the brief skirmish, floating in the void.
- - -
Farn Beryt was excited. His hold was full of valuable spice, his Independent Traders Guild dues for the year were paid, and after just one more run he would have enough money saved up to go on vacation, a much-needed 4-week trip out to Terra. Yes sir, he thought to himself as he scanned his boards, good things do come to those who work for them. Who knows? Perhaps the price had risen in the last 2 weeks, and his current cargo would be worth enough to forgo the extra trip. Unlikely, but-hey, it could happen!
He sighed to himself happily, punched in the code for Starport 6 into the slidecomp, and started the calculations for the slide. He was 44 standard years old, and in all those years had only seen Terra once, back when Emperor Calaith had gotten himself elected 29 years ago. The mother planet had been placed off-limits to most industry, commerce and residential developers. There was a massive cleanup effort going, as well as teams working to refoliate the reclaimed metropolitan areas, and even restock them with genetically bred animals. He hoped the government was really doing some good for a change, because they were sure spending a lot of taxpayer money there.
Back when space expansion had finally really started to take off, the governments of all the respective nations had gotten together and joined up in a real concerted effort to get mankind into the stars. This, of course, warranted a huge jump in the world’s industry level, and thereby made huge holes in the already weakened ecosystems in the surrounding areas, hence the cleanup efforts.
This expansion went slowly at first, then when a team of Russian and American scientists discovered how to create a wormhole, thereby sliding from one point in the space-time continuum to another in a matter of a few minutes, expansion started off as fast as ships could be built and filled for colonization and exploration. Within 250 years, the political forces at work had conglomerated into a modified form of the ancient democratic republic, which became known as the Terran Empire. Other nations, of various other political systems too radical to meld into the Empire, began their own sub-empires.
The Terran Empire was loosely based on the old American form of government (Democratic Republic), the individual star systems elected a senator and two congressmen who went and formed the Parliamentary panel under the Emperor. The Emperor was emperor mostly in title, but had the ability to make an Imperial Edict, outside of the parliament, but if it was deemed unjust for any reason, this Edict could be vetoed by a majority vote in the Parliament.
Naturally, the colonists fought amongst themselves and with the other colonies and planets, they were human, after all. So this, logically, lead to the next step in the governmental growth: the Imperial Armed Forces. This organization took care of Law Enforcement in the system-wide sub-governments, as well as the heavier work of real military combat.
Within 600 years of expansion, there were 30 stars and 57 planets in the Empire, as well as 14 other sentient races who had been conquered. The huge military might of the mighty Terran Empire stretched across the known galaxy, and it appeared that the humans were unstoppable in their expansion.
However, almost 1200 years after man left Terra, this myth was soon exploded in the form of a sudden and violent first contact with another, new, race of beings, the Ka’chin. While humanity was not the most peaceful of races, the Ka’chin were much, much more violent. What little information that has been gathered on the social structure points to a Clan-based, feudal lifestyle. This has been expanded, of course, as the unique troubles of running a multi-planet government requires a special form of government, and thus the Ka’chin Tetrarchy was formed. Four leaders, each from one of the four most powerful clans, rule from the mother planet.
The Ka’chin stand 1.5 meters tall, and are 2.5 meters long. Vaguely reminiscent of the preying mantis, they have six legs, with the foremost being used almost exclusively for manipulation. Their bodies are long and flat, with a short, thin neck and triangular head. They are also equipped with a tail, tipped with a knifelike fang, which is hollow for poison transmission. The two manipulator arms have small, delicate hands with long, thin fingers. During combat, these fingers curl up tightly, and three pincers swivel down over the hand.
What with the Human’s propensity for hasty miscalculation, and the Ka’chin’s innate warlust, this first contact nearly escalated into a full-blown war before the Imperial Parliament ordered a cease-fire and retreat. Terran diplomats got a border set up, and each government guards their side of this border jealously. Diplomatic relations had never been the best between the Empire and the Tetrarchy, but 8 months ago a Riptide-class gunship had been on border patrol, and sometime in the 10 hour interval between reports, it had disappeared. The Terran search team did find a battle location, with enormous amounts of rubble, but no sign of any Terran equipment was found in the wreckage. The only thing that proved that there had been a Terran vessel there were the remnants of FerroCrystal found floating amongst the wreckage.
FerroCrystal was an engineered crystalline substance with ferromagnetic properties. Used exclusively in the magnetically driven shard accelerators, this material was only manufactured in Imperial space, and only used in shard accelerators, which were also exclusively used by the Empire.
So the two governments blamed each other, and neither would back down on the issue. It is a volatile time we live in, Farn thought to himself, one spark and the entire galaxy will erupt in war.
Little did he know that he was to be that spark.
It made him nervous to be so close to the border, but, he thought, I’m still in Imperial space, so I’ll be safe enough. His board chimed a proximity alert, and he looked down at it. One ship, traveling rather fast on an intercept course with him. With a start he looked up, and saw the ship bearing towards him, its maneuvering jets firing as it came to a halt
Suddenly, his nervousness gave way to cold fear. It washed over him in a wave, and he broke out in a cold sweat. The ship, he realized, was a Ka’chin warship, a Banshee, by the looks of it - and it was in Imperial space.
The Banshee did not carry much in the way of armaments, but instead had 20 light Skreem fighters that were weakly armored but carried a big punch. The Skreem fighter pilots were suicidal, and only returned to the Banshee for fuel or when the battle was over.
The smooth, shiny lines and sharp angles of the Ka’chin ship glistened in the starlight. It sat for a moment, then bright flashes, like flashbulbs, signified the release of the Skreem fighters. Farn had never been a courageous man, and his hand shook violently as he reached for the emergency broadcast switch. The switch clicked reassuringly under his sweaty finger, and the red signal light began blinking. He hoped the Banshee did not have ECM, and he wished he had spent the money on a faster computer. The calc was a whole minute away from being done, and he knew that he did not have a minute to live.
His dreams and ambitions, his vacation, all faded into the background to be replaced by paralyzing fear. On a sudden impulse, he reached over and fumbled with the comm switch. Instantly, the small cabin was filled with the harsh screeches and clicks of the Ka’chin language. He fumbled with his keyboard, trying to load the translator program. He was doing this when the first of the Skreem energy weapons ripped through the hull.
The small freighter hung in the void, dim in the faint light of space. Off to one side floated the Banshee, silent and deadly. The little Skreem fighters, insignificantly small, danced around the larger freighter. One fighter streaked up the length of the freighter, and, firing its thrusters, slowly arced around to head down the other side for a final pass.
- - -
The newscaster’s calm voice poured out of the speakers, relating the current breaking news in a steady flow of crisp tones and businesslike phrasings: “... the Imperial Parliment has declared a state of war against the Ka’chin Tetrarchy earlier today. This was prompted by an unprovoked attack on an independently owned free trader, inside Imperial space. There has been no response as yet from the Tetrarchy leaders as to ...”
- - -
A man dressed in a dark grey uniform grabbed his duffel from a chair and strode purposefully toward the door. His room, already dark, was stark and bare, with a minimum of furnishings. He took a quick glance around to make sure nothing of importance had been left, then, satisfied, he slapped the door release.
He stepped out into the brightly lit corridor and glanced down toward the armored door at the end. Nothing yet- good, he thought. The door snapped shut behind him with swish and a click, and the sound seemed to galvanize him into motion. He walked quickly down between the pale tan walls, and stopped at another door, tapped at it. It snapped open almost instantly, revealing another, younger man, who was also wearing the same style uniform.
“Ready?” The first man asked, quietly, his voice firm.
“Yes.” Was the equally firm reply, and the second man stepped out, holding a duffel identical to the one the first man carried. This man also, glanced down the corridor before turning to follow his companion.
Their walk was swifter now, and the first man glanced at his wrist chronometer. Not much time, he thought, and looked up to read the door numbers, and then stopped at one. It too, slid open almost instantly, but this time the man inside, with his dark grey uniform and identical duffel, stepped out as soon as the door opened, and without any further comment, all three began to jog down the corridor.
Reaching the end, the first removed a card from his breast pocket and swiped it through the slot next to the door. A red light blinked 3 times, then turned green. The door slid heavily open, revealing a C shaped walk around a massive docking bay. The atmospheric shield flickered a pale turquoise against the blackness of space beyond. Of the three docking clamps, only two were full. One, directly in front, was a boxy cargo tug, and to the left was an Imperial Courier ship. Brilliant white, it was a smooth half-oval, with a flat protruding jaw that stuck out underneath the clear strip of the bridge viewport.
The sound of a door snapping open behind them caused the small group of men to glance back up the corridor, almost as a unit, to see what was going on. Three huge insectile shapes stepped through the door, and stopped as they saw the three humans standing at the other end of the hall. The men instantly turned and jumped through the doorway, closing and locking it. At the same instant, the Ka’chin screamed something, and began to run down the corrider with amazing speed for such large creatures.
The three men ran along the walk, around the corner, and turned yet again when they reached their gangway. The first man tapped a code into the pad beside the door in the underside of the ship, and jumped through the door as it spiraled open. A few seconds later, it hummed to life.
The door to the docking bay blew open in a flash of explosives, and Ka’chin warriors poured in through the smoke. Seeing their quarry escaping, they ignored the flashing red alarms and began to fire upon the unarmed ship, but the small arms they carried, suitable for personal body armor, did little but scratch paint off the heavier armor of the vessel. The group was screaming their anger at the ship, but the screams of anger became screams of panic and a mad rush for the door ensued as the ship popped loose from its restraining clamps.
The barrier shield went down, blowing the Ka’chin out into the huge space of the docking bay. Some bounced off the tug, and others smashed first into the courier ship before being flung into space. Emergency decompression alarms went off, and a sealing wall slid into place just behind the doorway to the corridor.
Outside the spaceport, the courier ship puffed its altititude jets to gain speed, then once away from the hull of the port, it began to unfold.
The protruding ‘jaw’ swung out underneath and then behind the ship. The rounded oval of the bow melded into a football-shaped midsection that bisected the length of the ship, and then went to a flat curving section, still keeping the same smooth lines, with a ridge running around the underside. This ridge began to glow faintly at first, then quickly, as the main drive began to pulse with energy. The small ship began to gain speed, and then suddenly the ridge pulsed out a huge blast of energy, driving the ship forward, leaving a long trail of dissipating energy.
Altitude jets began to spin the ship, and three small points near the edge of the bow began to sparkle brightly. Behind the courier, bright flares rounding the edge of the spaceport showed that the Ka’chin were not about to give up the chase.
Bright beams of yellow-white energy shot from the points on the bow, and intersected at a spot not far from the front of the ship. For a moment, the ball of energy, fed by the beams from the ship, stayed a constant distance from the bow. Then, as the ball of energy formed a disk, and grew wider, the ship seemed to slow down, and the disk of energy got nearer the bow of the courier.
The ship, spinning faster now, main drive still pouring out its streak of pale energy, approached the disk of energy. The disk has now become a circle of glowing white light, and as the bow of the courier reaches the hole in the center, it seems to slow nearly to a stop, and stretches into the hole like rubber. Suddenly, the ship jumps forward through the hole, and, as the disk snaps shut behind, a brave, or stupid, Ka’chin pilot shoves his ship forward after it. There is a huge explosion of light, and when the light fades, there is nothing left of either of the two ships.
The Terran diplomats escaped successfully, but no one ever saw anything of the Ka’chin or his ship again.
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