Authors: Evan Currie
Tags: #Science Fiction
ALSO BY EVAN CURRIE
Odyssey One Series
Into the Black
The Heart of Matter
Out of the Black
Odyssey One: Star Rogue Series
King of Thieves
Warrior’s Wings Series
On Silver Wings
The Valhalla Call
By Other Means
De Opresso Liber
Heirs of Empire
SEAL Team 13
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Cleigh Currie
All rights reserved.
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Published by 47North, Seattle
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Cover design by Adam Hall
Imperial Space, World Kraike, Capital Planet Hunter’s Arm
The word was spat with such utter derision that it may well have been the vilest epithet in the Empire and, honestly, might very well become such if the contents of the meeting were ever made public.
happen, of course.
Not if anyone in the conference hall wanted to keep their lives.
“What you’re telling this council is that you authorized an expedition against the Oathers, gave said expedition access to self-replicating weapons of mass destruction . . . and they
control of said weapons?”
The addressed man sighed heavily. “Essentially, yes.”
“Admiral, do reports indicate
your ships lost control of the Drasin?” Another man leaned forward, scowling in displeasure as he spoke. “I’ve seen initial reports on the development and was assured that they were under control.”
“They were until this unknown species entered the scenario,” the admiral said, calling up an image of the primary source of contact they had with the referenced species. “As you can see, their ship is low tech, no registrable power curve, and constructed of steel and other similar alloys.”
“For a low-tech ship with no power curves, they certainly caused a lot of trouble,” another council member grumbled.
“Granted. They apparently use antimatter-based weaponry, highly efficient laser weapons, and kinetic kill missiles. It is an odd mix of crude, sophisticated, and
technology,” the admiral admitted with a grimace.
“Antimatter? Insane indeed. How do they stabilize it?”
“We’re not sure that they do.”
Those who knew what the admiral was talking about exchanged incredulous looks.
“For those of us who aren’t following, would someone mind filling us in?”
“Apologies, Senator,” the admiral said. “Creating antimatter isn’t especially difficult. We could do it ourselves easily enough, but while the power created by such a reaction is substantial, it’s inherently unstable. Any stray atoms of regular matter that might infiltrate your containment structure would result in a rather explosive reaction. Eventually, storing antimatter is guaranteed to result in a critical failure, and there is no shield in existence that can contain it then. Our observations of the ship seem to indicate that it generates antimatter charges on demand, however, and then they literally sling those at their enemies with a modified electromagnetic accelerator. Crude, insane, but effective.”
“They’re clearly not Oathers,” the first senator said finally, after everyone had taken in the admiral’s words. “Nor related to the Empire in any way, otherwise they wouldn’t use such a rudimentary ship design. Are those rotating habitats?”
“They are, and scanners indicate that the majority of the crew are within, using centrifugal force in the place of gravity systems.”
“More than crude, then,” the senator said. “Complete microgravity neophytes. An emerging world.”
“Impossible!” another objected. “No emerging world could possibly have the ability to destroy Drasin squadrons.”
The admiral shrugged. “We don’t have enough information to be sure on that level. However, for the moment I would tend to agree with both of you. They appear to be an emerging species. Likely another seeded world, of course, and yet . . . they should
be at their present capabilities in that case. We’re missing too much information to make a final determination. What we do know is that the Drasin
He looked around, his expression deadly serious. “I cannot express that enough to this council. We all know that the Drasin have a programmed hatred for life as we know it . . . It is core programming embedded in every atom of those beasts, and we’ve never been able to remove it. The best we could manage was to barricade it off when applied to our own ships, but even so it remained. We aimed that hatred, honed it, and loosed it on the Oathers. However, when the unknown ship entered the scenario, something changed . . .”
He hesitated, shaking his head. “Councillors, I’ve looked over the data telemetry from the primary first-generation Drasin that led those battles. At first, there was little reaction. The ship alone was incredibly difficult to detect, even by the Drasin . . . However, when they located the inhabited world, we lost
positive control. It was like the Drasin had a psychotic break, destroying our controls as they went into berserker mode. We’ve never seen anything like it at any point in our interactions with them.”
“So what is it, exactly,” the first senator asked finally, “about this world and its inhabitants that could drive the Drasin to a killing frenzy so wild as to destroy our coded leash?”
“That, Senator,” the admiral said seriously, “is the very question indeed.”
Space Station Unity One, Earth Orbit
► Eric Stanton Weston watched the door close and waited a few seconds to be sure that the departing man was gone before turning to the admiral and speaking.
“I’ve heard about him,” he said, referring to the man who’d just left the office. “His crew took down three of the Block’s big supercarriers, the submersible ones.”
“Four,” Admiral Gracen said calmly. “Captain Passer’s reputation in military circles almost matched yours. He would have been given the
command if you weren’t such a hot-button topic with the press.”
Eric chuckled softly. “I’m not sure how to feel about that.”
“Neither is the admiralty,” Gracen informed him. “Frankly, most of them wish they’d just retired you and put him in the hot seat from the start.”
Eric nodded slowly, unsurprised by the fact but more than a little shocked that she was telling him about it so bluntly.
“What about you?”
“What about me?” Amanda Gracen asked with a delicate shrug of her shoulders. “I’m hardly one to cry over spilled milk, not even if it was spilled all over my home planet.”
Eric grimaced. He supposed that answered that.
“In reality, I doubt he’d have done much better,” she said after a moment. “Possibly he would have done far worse. You know, as I do, the Drasin were moving in our direction anyway. Maybe they’d have stopped with the Priminae; maybe they wouldn’t have. If they hadn’t, and if we weren’t warned about their arrival ahead of time and didn’t have allies to call on . . . Well, I think we got off lightly.”
That wasn’t something Eric would argue with. He was well aware of just what would have happened if the Drasin had landed on Earth without the entire military community standing ready to blow every last one of them back to the dust from which they came. One Drasin could become ten, and ten a hundred, in just hours. Give them
and they’d chew the entire world out from under your feet and leave you orbiting the Sun as a loose formation of giant spiders.
“Captain Passer has his orders, and now you have yours,” Gracen said, handing him an electronic flimsy.
Eric accepted the clear plastic sheet, thumbing the biometric scanner automatically as he shifted the flimsy around so he could read it. The dispatch sheet was largely things he was already aware of, of course. The rumor mill was only one of the many things in human space these days that traveled faster than light, but it was still the fastest of the bunch.
“So, back to Priminae space,” he said finally.
“And beyond,” Gracen confirmed. “First touch base with the Priminae, assure them of our continued support, thank them for their help with the invasion and rebuilding. The new shipyard facilities they’ve offered to help build will be invaluable, of course.”
That was no joke, Eric knew. He still had a hard time believing what he’d heard about the Priminae’s Forge facility. An entire world cached deep inside the corona of a supergiant star? It wasn’t the stuff of science fiction novels, it was the stuff of
Alliance brass weren’t planning on doing anything quite that extreme in the Sol System, but after the loss of Mars and their other space-based facilities, Earth needed the boost badly.
“Once you’ve managed that, take the
out beyond Priminae space,” Gracen said. “While Passer has the
hunting down anomalies closer to home, I want you to backtrack the path the Drasin took when attacking the Priminae colonies and try to locate their origin point. I don’t need to tell you what to do with any Drasin you happen across, I hope?”
Eric shook his head grimly.
There was no need for orders there, though he supposed they’d make it official anyway. Any Drasin ship located was to be destroyed. No quarter, no mercy. Under normal circumstances, he’d refuse any such command, but the Drasin defied “normal.”
They were neither sentient, nor sapient, near as anyone could tell, but even if they were, they were simply too dangerous to leave alive. Since they were more akin to a disease than anything else, Eric considered eliminating Drasin vessels roughly on par with destroying enemy bio-weapon facilities and warheads.
A dirty job, yes. Dangerous, certainly—but without a doubt not one to be approached half-assed.
“What’s the ROE for the ones holding the leash?” he asked, his tone misleadingly bland.
Gracen sat back, steepling her fingers. “That’s been the subject of much debate in high circles since before the invasion.”
Eric snorted. “No kidding.”
She smiled thinly. “For the moment, the code is no quarter. Leave not a single ship capable of fighting if you can help it, but we’re unwilling to issue the same dictate for personnel. Take prisoners if you can, but don’t risk your own ship or crew in the process.”
Eric was mildly surprised that the orders stopped there. He’d done some research into the subject and was well aware that a certain faction of military wisdom said that you didn’t—no, you
—leave an FTL or interstellar-capable enemy alive. There were just too many easy ways to commit genocide once you had that level of technology.
The Drasin were horrific, sure, but honestly, it would have been far easier and even more certain to simply buzz the solar system and nudge a few comets out of the Oort Cloud in Earth’s direction. Pick the right combination of rocks and icebergs, and within a few years the human race would have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
A few might have survived on Mars along with the crews of the
, but the civilization of Sol would have ended with a big bang and a deep freeze.
Leaving an enemy alive who could do something like that was the height of military irresponsibility, but committing genocide yourself, that was as good as putting a gun to the very soul of your culture and pulling the trigger.
Eric didn’t know what he’d decide if he were put in that position. He’d had nightmares about it since the invasion—when his dreams weren’t filled with walking spiders the size of horses eating his ship out from under him.
He could kill the Drasin. He could consign that whole species to the abyss without a single qualm in his soul, but he didn’t know if he could do the same if . . .
Well, he’d just have to burn that bridge when he came to it.
“Understood,” Eric said, standing up. “Permission to return to my ship, ma’am?”
“Granted, Captain,” Gracen said, rising and extending her hand. “And do take care of her. I find myself rather fond of the
“With my soul, Admiral,” Eric said, clasping her hand firmly. “I’ll guard her with my soul.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Gracen said and smiled, some true warmth shining through in that moment.
► Unity One was still largely under construction, but the Confederation had learned a lot in the intervening years since they’d put up their first space station. Now, with the help of the Block, they had artificial gravity pretty close to mastered, even though no one was quite willing to put a singularity reactor this close to Earth orbit just yet.
Eric made his way through the halls, heading for the docking ring. His shuttle would already be waiting to ferry him to the
, the beast of a ship that Gracen had brought back from Priminae space to help quash the last of the Drasin forces. The
was the “Warrior King,” the lead ship of the new Heroic Class of starship shared between Earth and the Priminae worlds.
It was quite possibly the single most powerful vessel to exist between the stars, though Eric had his doubts. There had been too many strange new things out there recently for him to fall for the hype the media outlets were pouring out about the new ships.
Still, the Heroics measured their energy curves in
instead of mere terawatts, and the ships’ transition drives and cannons could appear from anywhere, at any time, and lay absolute waste to anything within six light-minutes.
Frankly, Eric was
of his own ship in a way he’d never been afraid of an inanimate object before. The compressed nature of the power core meant that they were effectively living and working around a black hole of not insignificant size. Certainly, compared with the ones thought to be at the center of galaxies, the one in the
was effectively nothing—but it wasn’t some insignificant microsingularity either. Perhaps the core on the
wasn’t big enough to eat star systems, but it wouldn’t choke on a ship’s crew by any means.
If they lost containment, the core could—and most certainly
—swallow up the
as well as anything else too close to the gravimetric shear line.
Honestly, he was rather wishing they’d just built an entire reactor around antimatter. Sure it would be at
as dangerous, but if that went up, it would all be over in an instant. The time compression as you closed on the event horizon would make dying by black hole a relative nightmare.
Pun painfully intended.
For all that, however, Eric had to admit that the advantages were clear. The Heroic Class of ships had near infinite power advantages over the
and her sister ships, and with the military tech taken from some of the best the Confederation and Block had to offer, well, they were truly monsters of the deep black.
If he had his way, then the Drasin, and whoever held their leash, would shortly be looking under their beds for any sign of the Heroics, as would the following generations for as long as they still existed in the universe.
Eric arrived at the docking ring, and he saluted the Marine guards waiting for him before walking through and across the lock seal into the shuttle.
“Captain, we’re almost ready to depart. Just waiting on final clearance from Unity Control.”
Eric nodded absently, grabbing a flimsy from beside his seat as he settled in. “That’s fine, Lieutenant. I have some paperwork to get behind me anyway. Launch when ready.”
He pursed his lips as he looked down at the flimsy, sighing at the list of mail he’d received just while speaking with the admiral.
Maybe it would have been better if they’d retired me. No more paperwork at least.
AEV (Allied Earth Vessel)
► Commander Stephen “Stephanos” Michaels scratched a phantom itch along the back of his neck, entirely displeased by the lack of hair he felt in the process. With the official disbanding of the Archangel squadron and the subsequent commissioning of the
into official Earth service, he’d lost the tenuous separation from the regular military that had allowed him to maintain a decidedly nonregulation haircut.
Archangel pilots were expected to be a little eccentric. Chief helm officers of the Confederation’s flagship were most certainly
permitted the same indulgence. He was just happy that he wasn’t a Marine; a buzz cut would probably have killed him.
The missing hair wasn’t the source of the itch, however. Rather, he was missing the connection with the ship that his NICS allowed. All the helm officers on the Heroics had to be NICS qualified, at least for the Earth Alliance ships. He didn’t think that the Priminae did the same, but then he hadn’t been on their Heroics yet.
A NICS, or neural interface connection system, qualification allowed for a link between a human and a machine that went beyond most human interface systems. In his Archangel, the interface had allowed for maneuvering precision beyond belief, and on the Heroic Class
it did much the same.
The new system made use of Priminae computer systems, however, which were impossibly powerful.
Too bad they can’t code for crap.
Steph snorted softly as he walked the corridors.