The Phantom in the Deep (Rook's Song)

 

Rook’s Song I
:

 

 

 

The
Phantom

in
the

Deep

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chad Huskins

 

 

 

 

Published by:  D. Fruman Publishing

 

Edited by:  William Fruman

 

Covert art by:  Matthew Riggenbach

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2013  Chad Huskins

 

 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE:  This is a work of fiction.  Any similarities between persons living or dead, events, business establishments, or locales is strictly coincidence.

 

 

The scanning and uploading of this product via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the author is a crime and is punishable by law.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

 

 

Other books by Chad Huskins:

Khan in Rasputin’s Shadow

 

 

The Psycho Series:

Psycho
Save Us

Psycho
Within Us

 

 

Coming Soon:

Waves Crash and Seas Split

Psycho Redeem Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praise for Chad Huskins’s novels:

 

On
Psycho Save Us
:

 

“Huskins knows how to create characters that live and breathe (and sometimes cackle maniacally), and knows how to shape drama to keep a reader on the edge of their seat.  Five stars!” 

- Heath Pfaff, bestselling author of
The Hungering Saga

 

 

“Huskins has a talent for personifying life we don’t always see as human, and for crafting emotions into words that aren’t easily expressed.”

- Alison Fomin, Reviewer

 

 

 

On
Khan in Rasputin’s Shadow
:

 

“This is a top pick for any suspense fan looking for espionage and intrigue.  Five stars!”

- Midwest Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedicated to my friends, too many to name, but for this book in particular I must thank Will Fruman my editor, and Jon Tyndall for introducing me to chess and the many levels of strategy.  And to chess players everywhere who gave me your time to play.  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

 


Napoleon Bonaparte, on strategy

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

 

-  Sun Tzu,
The Art of War

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

We are the ghosts of humanity.  Yet even ghosts must sometimes tread carefully.  The void is dark and silent, but filled with dangers.  We learned that lesson too late.

Here we are, a part of that silence, as adrift as the asteroids and
the light-years-long trail of ice and space dust behind us.  We are soon to be joined by those that destroyed us.

One moment, the craft
is just another star in the void, a pale pinpoint of light indistinguishable from the others that some lazy god strewed haphazardly across the Deep.  The next moment, that pinpoint of light expands amid a burst of light so large, one might think a star exploded.  When the great light recedes, there is the same void as before, only now there is one less star amid the scattered others, and there is one more starship.

The craft
sits alone, hanging impossibly huge and asymmetrical with its surroundings.  Asymmetrical only because the void abhors anything that takes such purposeful shape.  Everything else around the craft, from the fugitive asteroids to the amorphous clouds of cosmic dust, are of varying shapes and sizes, too constant in their change and too random in their cycles of collision to ever have such pristine and shapely permanence.

We must move carefully now, you and I, if we’re to pass unnoticed. 
See there, those pronged objects that jut out of its side?  It is searching.  Prepared to destroy.  Indeed, even now, those long barrels move slowly, sleepily.  But never doubt, they are looking for those such as us.

The
chevron-shaped starship is large enough to contain its ten-thousand-plus crew, with ample room for weaponry, spare parts, living quarters, recreational areas, and the always important meditation zones—the crew often spends much time out in the Deep, and besides the religious imperatives that have always compelled such peoples, meditation is just good for the sanity of the individual.  The Deep can be mesmerizing, she can be dangerous, she can be liberating, but, like all things that hold those properties, I’m sure you know, she can also beckon one’s mind to the very limits of reason.  She is known to sing a song so sonorous, entire crews are lost to her.  Remain in the Deep too long, away from kith and kin, away from sunlight and summer breezes, away from open fields and rolling hills, and one just might find one’s grasp on reality slipping.

But let’s give the ship its other due respect. 
Besides its nature-defying size and shape, the ship also has nature-defying capabilities.  For instance, even though it has apparently just emerged safely from the other end of the Deep, from the quantum slipstream that its crew calls “the Bleed,” it still has to wash off the effects of tachyonic distortion.  Tachyons are those elementary particles in the universe that are always traveling faster than the speed of light, and they are always disrupted whenever the quantum-powered engines are activated and a ship passes through the Bleed.  The starship also has relativistic regulators working overtime—these guarantee (within an acceptable margin for error) that the ship remains “locked” in its current timestream.  Without these regulators, the massive ship might exit the Bleed a few thousand or even a few
million
years after it entered.

We’re approaching the bridge of the ship.  Careful now, careful.

We must first pass through a shielded wall made of complex compound alloys, for there are no windows on this ship—windows on such a ship would only serve an antiquated notion of space exploration, they would be impractical, and also a structural weakness.  On this ship, multiple cameras on the hull’s exterior do plenty to feed the ample screens and holographic displays the commanders of such a vessel requires.

Quietly now.  We are trespassing.

The bridge is mostly silent.  There is a great ring of kiosks and stations where the crew sit, plugged in, their hands hovering over the keyboards and displays.  Flits of the eye and relatively minor motions of a finger conduct vastly complicated operations.  Calculations are checked and rechecked by neighboring crewman and their computers.

Every station has two partners: an Observer and a
Manager.  The Observer’s job is to calculate distortion heave, hull give, acceptable accelerations/decelerations, and those important factors that deal with the stress that such a ship must take on when maneuvering.  The Observer is selected for this task because of his or her four-tiered brain, which allows them the ability to comprehend and calculate figures at a far greater speed than their compatriots.

The Observers are always matched with a
Manager, who usually only have two brains, which allows them to be more focused, and thus more suited for dishing out commands without being bothered by the complexities of calculations.  The communication between Observer and Manager can be silent but quite feverish—voicing commands often wastes too much time, and why speak when natural-user interfaces allow them, with the dash of an eye or a mere thought, to communicate thoughts onto the holo-displays of their neighbor?

Over a hundred teams are working on the current problems, that of shrugging off the effects of such a long jump through the Bleed, as well as addressing the massive asteroid belt they
are now entering.  No different than any other we might find throughout the Milky Way Galaxy.  This one spinning wildly and slowly around a star so distant, it is scarcely more than a golden coin set against the Deep.

The calculations
go on.  They are extremely complex, as you might imagine, so let’s not disturb them.  Moving away from the Observer-Manager stations, we find the nexus of this immense room.  The Conductor is a specimen rather tall and thin for his species, which usually denotes intelligence, confidence, and power amongst his people.  The natural-user interfaces that he is connected to permit him to absorb the incoming intelligence reports from his surrounding Observer-Manager teams, and his seven-tiered brain allows him to process the datafeed almost instantaneously.

Still, for the purposes of simplicity, we will translate their dialogue into a stream of consciousness we might understand.

A message from one of the Managers: “Sir, the asteroid field is a Class Eight in density.”

Conductor: “
Galvanize solenoid guns.”

Manager: “Yes, sir.”

The solenoid guns fire magnetic beams directly ahead of the ship, pushing most objects larger than space dust out of its path.  For the largest asteroids, the starship must still go around, or else pulverize them with its primary weapon, but that would be a waste of resources.  So, for the moment, they sail around the larger problems in silence, and nudge the smaller asteroids out of the way via the solenoid cannons.

Conductor: “Bring us around on a parabola, relative to the
main-sequence star.”

Manager: “Yes, sir.”

Conductor: “Spatial bodies?”

Wordlessly
, the Managers send their Conductor all that he needs in terms of planetary information.  Four planets, three of them major gas giants, and only one of them made of solid rock.  Within the span of a heartbeat, the Conductor has all the information he needs on the planet.  Its perihelion and aphelion.  Its percentages of argon, neon, krypton, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, helium, and nitrogen.  Its orbital period.  Its two satellites, both very small moons, left as mostly ashen ruins after his people annihilated what slim atmospheres the moons had, and bereft of any life.  Its weight, roughly 6 sextillion and 590 quintillion tons, by our reckoning.  At present, their starship is about 200 million miles from it.

Conductor: “Known crafts in the system?”

Manager: “None detected, sir.”

We’re alone
, the Conductor thinks.  With the wave of a hand and the flit of an eye, he pulls up the three-dimensional display in front of him, and like a god overseeing his kingdom, he stands and moves about it, watching as the solenoid guns sweep asteroids out of their way with invisible strokes, clearing the Deep.  Here and there, he reaches out to one of those asteroids, expands their size to get a better look at them, and analyzes their properties.  Everything is displayed for him.  Most of the asteroids will be of interest come time for a major harvest—the Elders will need the cobalt available in each of these rocks to create the durable alloys needed for more ships.  Cobalt will also be useful for tensile cordage, which is extremely useful in the joints of ships such as this.

The Conductor also
makes note of the various sulfides, hydrated clay materials, and organic polymers for future reference.  If they need to refit before returning to a port of call, they can possibly return here, take in a few hundred of these asteroids and put them into the ship’s fabricators.  As it stands, they need only harvest a relative few this time out.

The Conductor’s gaze now moves across the asteroids, out into the surrounding starscape.  With a simple gesture, he expands the view, taking in the specks of light, like twinkling sand scattered across a black sheet of silk.

Silk
, he thinks.  It has been a long time since he felt the touch of silk.  His people are extremely sensitive to touch, hence, the transparent dividers between each workstation; a single brush of another’s skin could be enough sensual misdirection to confuse the mind.  And silk, that most elegant of Earth products…

Sweaty fingers.  A jump in his twin hearts.  An oscillation of confusing thoughts within his seven-tiered brain
network.  A momentary lost of muscular coordination.  His finger twitches, and the display rotates.  Not so rapidly that any of the Observer-Manager teams notice, but enough that the Conductor knows he is losing his focus. 
Silk
.  Just the thought of it…

Too long without meditation
, he affirms.  At least, one tier of his brain network affirms this, and the realization cascades into the other six.  The feeling is like a rush up the spine when falling from a great height, only this thrill is a thrill of logic.  It restores reason and sanity.  Glorious, redemptive sanity.  It is a thing so hard fought for out here in the Deep.

Manager:
“Sir, I’m picking up gravitic distortions close to the underside of our hull.”

Conductor: “Where?”

“Aft, Quadrant Thirteen.”

“Near our exhaust ports?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Could it be interference from the exhaust?”

“We don’t believe so, sir.”  By
we
, he meant the conference between himself and his appointed Observer.  The Observer-Manager teams conferred in the span of nanoseconds, and came to Consensus.

The Conductor gives it a second’s thought. 
“Anything on our scanners?”

“Negative, sir.”

“Anything on visual?”


No, sir,” another Manager reports wordlessly.

Just to make sure himself, the Conductor waves away the vision of the space all around them, and now brings up the composite image made up of over a thousand lenses on the belly of the ship.  The Conductor’s eyes,
themselves composed of many compound lenses, are enhanced further by natural-user interfaces, and scan the perfect image.  Below the ship’s belly, there are hundreds of asteroids being pushed out of its way, but there is nothing so close to its belly as to account for a major gravitic distortion.

The Conductor gives it a nanosecond’s worth of thought.  “Cascade radar, bow to stern, in three-second intervals.
  Establish sensor harmony across radar cross-sectionals.”

“Yes, sir.”  A moment while it
is done, and the Manager replies, “Negative, sir.  There is nothing showing on the…”  He trails off.  But the Conductor sees it all before the Manager can even gather his thoughts on the matter.  There is something there, though faint and far smaller than any asteroid.  The error is clear.  All scanners and radar are set to filter out anything too small to catch the attention of the automated solenoid magnetic guns.  Therefore, it filtered out the thing trailing beneath them.  That is until the Conductor makes an adjustment to the filter.

Another three
-dimensional screen superimposes itself over the first screen, highlighting areas where objects too small for the naked eye are being detected now by radio waves.  This information pours back into the ship, a kind of organism in its own right, and it all trickles through the many nodes (Observer-Manager teams) and ultimately into the nucleus (the Conductor).  “Now,” he relays, “delete all objects from the display that can be detected by both visual and radar means.”  All highlighted areas vanish.  Save one.

Manager: “We’ve an anomaly, sir.”

Conductor: “Bring me a greater rendering of that area.”

Manager: “Yes, sir.”

It takes a few seconds before it’s done, but once it is, the Conductor stands before a black patch of space.  He walks through the holographic image, looking at a single highlighted area.  It is as if something invisible is moving beneath them, a wraith in the dark.  It is like a large shard of glass, roughly eighty-three feet in length, large and perfectly polished and transparent.  It is an impossibility, yet…

Silk
, he thinks, the madness threatening the purity of his minds.  He shakes it off, and listens to his intuition.  And to the datafeed.

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