Read The Rings of Haven Online
Authors: Ryk Brown
“Copy Team One, starting the music.”
The commander took one last glance around the berth as he turned and headed up the loading ramp into the cargo shuttle. Moments later, the old shuttle’s engines spun up and it began to taxi out of the berth.
“Sir?” Ensign Yosef called. “Tobin’s shuttle is not headed for the same coordinates as before.”
Cameron was standing behind the helm station, and turned toward Kaylah. “Where’s he headed then?”
“I’m not sure—”
“XO, Hangar Bay,”
Cameron’s comm-set interrupted.
“Go ahead, Hangar Bay,” Cameron answered over her comm.
“Mendez, sir. I’m not sure it means anything, but Tobin was acting a little odd.”
“What do you mean, odd?”
“Sir,” Ensign Yosef interrupted. “I think Tobin’s headed for the spaceport.”
“He seemed anxious, like he was in a hurry,”
“Standby one,” Cameron said over the comms before turning back to Kaylah. “Are you sure?”
“Well, the entry trajectory does suggest the port as his destination. But there isn’t much difference between heading for Haven or heading to the countryside outside of Haven.”
“There is if you’re a pilot, Kaylah,” Cameron insisted. “Maybe he’s going for fuel first?”
Mendez interrupted, having overhead their conversation through Cameron’s open mic.
“I offered him a chance to fuel up before he left. He told me he had plenty.”
“That is odd,” Cameron mumbled, her eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Keep a close track on him, Kaylah.”
“So the emitters are not multi-purpose after all?” Vladimir asked, seeming somewhat confused.
“No, they are not,” Deliza explained. “Each emitter node can only generate a specific type of field, without variance. It’s only variation is the intensity of the field.”
“And by mixing the intensities of different combinations of emitters, different types of fields can be created.”
Vladimir scratched his head. This teenage girl had been lecturing to him for nearly an hour, and he felt no closer to understanding the fighter’s shield system than he did in the beginning.
Deliza rolled her eyes, obviously losing patience with him. “That is how the system can not only change the type of shield being generated but can also alter the configuration of only certain portions of the overall field.”
“You mean between ablative and reflective, of course.”
“Of course. If you wish to accelerate to superluminal velocities, then the entire field must be configured for mass reduction only. To introduce any of the other nodes would destabilize the mass reduction field.”
,” Vladimir exclaimed. “How old are you?”
“Sixteen, why do you ask?”
“Do all sixteen-year olds know so much about field generation and superluminal mechanics?”
“I do not believe so,” she admitted, slightly embarrassed. “It is a hobby of mine.”
“A hobby? The only hobby a sixteen-year old girl should have is chasing sixteen-year old boys.
“I’m afraid I do not leave the farm very often,” she admitted.
“That explains it,” Vladimir mumbled.
“I’m sorry?” she said.
“Nothing. Now, tell me about the pulse cannons you spoke of earlier.”
“Tobin is definitely headed for the spaceport,” Ensign Yosef reported. “He’s decelerating and losing altitude. He’s preparing to land.”
“Damn it,” Cameron swore. “Comm, see if you can raise Tobin on the tight-beam.”
“Aye, sir,” the communications officer responded.
“What the hell is he doing?” Cameron muttered.
“Captain,” the comm officer reported. “I’m unable to establish contact with Tobin’s ship. In fact, I’m no longer picking up any transmissions from Haven, sir.”
“What? How can that be?”
“Either our receivers are down, or that entire moon has stopped transmitting.”
“Keep trying,” Cameron ordered. “And use the wide-band if you have to.”
Tobin’s ship rolled off the taxi-way and turned into his berth. Tobin had paid particular attention to adhere to the same landing patterns as always, so as not to attract undue attention to his ship. As soon as he rolled to a stop and dropped the loading ramp on his starboard side, the black and gray armored troops came rushing out of the service building and boarded his small ship. Only being designed to seat six people at the most, the assault team was forced to stand for the short flight yet to come.
The squad leader stepped up to the cockpit door, leaning his head inside. “Get us airborne,” he ordered.
Tobin nervously applied power, backing his ship out of the berth and back out onto the taxi-way, turning and heading forward once more toward the nearest launch apron. Applying more power than usual, he rolled a bit faster than the maximum taxi-speed. He wanted to get this last trip over as quickly as possible.
Without even coming to a complete stop at the launch pad, Tobin applied maximum thrust to lift his small, heavily laden ship into the air, turning inland.
“Tobin is airborne again,” Yosef reported.
“That was fast,” Cameron commented. “Any luck raising him?” she asked her comm officer.
“Something is not right,” Cameron said to herself. “Kaylah, keep a close eye on Tobin, and let me know—”
“I’m going to lose him before he reaches the landing party, sir.”
“The moon’s rotation, we’re going to lose line of sight in just a few minutes.”
“Damn it! Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Cameron complained.
“I’m sorry, sir. It didn’t occur to me until just now.”
Cameron chastised herself for admonishing Ensign Yosef. She was a science officer after all. She had been serving as the Aurora’s only sensor officer for just a few days, and without the benefit of proper training. “That’s all right, Kaylah,” Cameron said, regaining her composure. “Track them as long as you can.”
“Comm, try to raise the captain, any way you can. Warn him to be ready for anything.”
“I’ll try, sir,” the comm officer promised. “But even if he were on the air, once we lose line of sight, contact will be impossible.”
“We’ll reach the first touchdown point in thirty seconds,” Tobin shouted from the cockpit.
The squad leader turned to face the men. “Snipers! Prepare to deploy!” The four snipers were standing in pairs at the front of each line of men standing in rows down the center of the ship. Each held tightly onto the overhead rail to steady themselves as the ship turned and banked on its landing approach.
Outside, the small ship kicked up dust and debris as it touched down on the barren ground a few hundred meters from the sinkhole which contained Tug’s farm. Both the cargo door on the starboard side and the personnel door on the port side deployed as soon as the ship touched down, and the four snipers bounded down the ramps, each pair deploying in opposite directions. The snipers all ran low, heading quickly for whatever concealment they could find in their dash to take up positions along the rim of either side of the massive sinkhole.
“Can we go now?” Tobin asked the squad leader.
“Give them two minutes, then lift off and proceed to the insertion point,” he ordered.
Tobin took a deep breath, rolling his eyes as he rubbed the sweat from his hands on his pant legs.
“Commander,” Ensign Yosef announced. “The cargo shuttle is on approach.
Cameron had no interest in the cargo shuttle, until an idea hit her. “Comm, see if you can contact the cargo shuttle.”
A moment later, the comm officer reported back. “Cargo shuttle answers comms, sir.”
“Then the problem is only long range. Did you check the comm array?”
“Yes, sir, ran the diagnostics three times. It checks out.”
A painful thought suddenly occurred to Cameron. “Are we being jammed somehow?” The question was directed at the communications officer.
“I don’t know, sir. This console doesn’t have the capability to determine the cause of the loss of signals. But if we were being jammed, wouldn’t I hear static or something?”
“I’m not really sure,” Cameron admitted. Their electronic countermeasures officer had been killed when his console had exploded in his face when they had rammed a Ta’Akar warship days ago. And the ensign now manning communications from an auxiliary console also lacked the proper training for his current position. It was the same way throughout the ship. Key positions were being filled with anyone remotely capable. Right about now, Cameron was sorely in need of both those particular skill sets.
“Did you hear that?” Jessica asked as they strolled across the compound. She stopped dead in her tracks, trying to listen more intently.
“Hear what?” Nathan asked, stopping as well.
“I thought I heard a ship,” she told him.
“I don’t hear anything,” Nathan said.
Jessica listened intently for a moment longer. “I could’ve sworn I heard a ship coming in.”
“Are you sure it is safe?” Vladimir asked, standing at the top of the boarding ladder next to the cockpit.
“Of course,” Deliza promised with excitement. “My father and I have been working on this for years. We have powered up the reactors many times. It is completely safe, I assure you.” Deliza opened a small access panel on the underside of the ship, revealing externally mounted controls for the starboard reactor core. In a few moments, the panel came to life as the small ship began to hum almost imperceptibly. “See, I told you. The starboard reactor is now running at ten percent.”
A steady beeping sound began to emanate from the cockpit next to Vladimir. He leaned down to locate the source of the alert, and found a large red lamp along the right side of the forward console, flashing repeatedly in time with the beeping. “What is this flashing light?” he asked, unable to decipher the symbols that identified the light’s meaning.
“What light?” Deliza climbed up the boarding ladder, squeezing in next to Vladimir to look for herself. “That’s the proximity alert. But it should only go off when an enemy is nearby.”
Vladimir froze as he noticed a distant sound. Within seconds the sound became louder—the engines of an approaching ship. “Go find your father,” he told her, pushing her down the ladder.
“It’s just a malfunction,” she insisted.
The sound of a ship descending to land in the middle of the compound became quite evident. Vladimir recognized the sound of Tobin’s whiny engines, and they were working harder than they should for an empty ship. “Go now!” he barked. “And stay within the tunnels. Do not go outside!” he added as he jumped down the ladder behind her.
- 8 -
Tobin’s ship came in low over the large barn at the opposite end of the sinkhole from the main house, immediately descending into the middle of the compound.
Jessica watched in surprise as Tobin’s ship touched down rather quickly, without rotating first as he had done before. She had a terrible feeling that something wasn’t right—she just couldn’t figure out what that
Tobin’s rapid touchdown kicked up far more dust and debris than before, which told Jessica that he was heavily loaded. The dust wash from his landing thrusters forced the others down behind the Tug’s flatbed cargo hauler. As the engines wound down somewhat and the force of the thrust-wash subsided, they came out from behind the vehicle to greet Tobin. At the angle at which Tobin had set down, they could not see him in the cockpit.
Through the unsettled dust cloud and between the underside Tobin’s ship and the ground, Jessica could see the cargo door on the opposite side come down into its fully deployed position. She noticed movement to her far right and glanced to see Vladimir as he came charging out of the barn at the far end of the compound, his weapon in hand as he made for a good firing position to his right behind a trough of fertilizer. Instantly, alarms went off in her head as she looked back towards Tobin’s ship. Peering under his ship, on the far side, she could just make out the black, armor-clad feet of troops as they quickly disembarked and began charging toward either end of the ship.
Vladimir, having a clearer shot, opened fire as he dropped down behind the fertilizer trough, spraying the enemy troops with bullets that seemed to bounce harmlessly off their armor.
Jessica pushed Nathan and Jalea back behind the vehicle. “GET DOWN!” She swung her weapon up as she back stepped around the vehicle, flipping her safety off in one smooth motion as she opened fire, aiming under the aft end of Tobin’s ship. Although she did not expect it to pierce the oncoming soldier’s armored boots, she hoped it would make them think twice about sticking their heads around the aft end of the ship to fire on their poor defensive position.
From all four sides of the sinkhole, pinpoint energy weapons fire began to rain down on them from the snipers above. Danik’s head exploded as a sniper’s energy-bolt struck him, spraying blood across Jessica as she dove behind the vehicle for cover. Vladimir saw that one of the snipers was directly behind them. He swung his weapon to his left and blasted away at the sniper above and behind Jessica and the others.
Jalea peeked under the vehicle and saw Danik lying motionless on the ground, face down in a pool of blood, most of his head missing. “DANIK!”
“Inside! Move it!” Jessica ordered as she scrambled to her feet. She knew Vladimir was providing the cover fire needed for them to get to safe cover. Nathan and Jalea scrambled for the door on the small transfer shack between the two nearest greenhouses, falling through the door. Jessica scooted backwards, firing on the far ridge line behind Vladimir to keep the opposing sniper from picking him off before he could return to cover. Vladimir realized her target, and log-rolled several times as he continued to fire small bursts at the sniper above Jessica as she too reached the relative safety of the nearest doorway.
Jessica continued firing to provide cover for Vladimir, who managed to crawl inside the transfer shack between the barn and the first greenhouse on his side of the sinkhole.