Another lesson learned, don’t lose momentum. I had a ton of momentum going into Friday, then I squandered it. It’s hard enough to develop the discipline to write, try getting it back after an attack of slacktidous!
Again, not wanting to appear like I’m whining, just trying to convey the difficulty I’m having getting back into that groove I had.
I had a hard truth to face; no matter what grand plans I may have, the plain and simple fact of the matter is unless I continue to write, Project Mjölnir isn’t going to get finished. That was quite the reality check.
This is also the draft I’m going to float by my writers group. Please remember, this is a draft copy. That means that it is a raw, unedited story likely to be replete with misspellings, questionable grammar, odd phrasing and tenuous logic. This copy may or may not appear in the finished product, or it may be substantially changed, altered or edited. In other words, enjoy it while it lasts, it may not come around again.
They are dancing under deep blue skies.
His little girl stands on his feet and grabs his hands. They dance in a meadow, turn after turn, to the sounds of joy and laughter. Gentle breezes waft dandelion seeds to and fro in the warm summer sunshine.
“Spin me, Daddy! Spin me!” she cries and leans back, clutching his hands tighter and tighter. Her bright face is upturned, her sparkling eyes watching the skies.
“Faster, Daddy! Faster!” She shrieks in exaltation as she and her father whirl about.
“Careful, honey,” her worried mother admonishes from their picnic blanket. “You hold on tight to your father, you hear?”
Now, he is worried, too. He begins to slow his spinning.
“Now, chere, you listen to your mama,” he says, “won’t be fun for any one, if you fall.”
“You’ll catch me, Daddy,” she shouts. “You’ll catch …”
Her little fingers, slick with perspiration, slip from his grasp and she tumbles into the grass, looking, for all the world, like a porcelain doll in a pinafore, tossed carelessly into a corner.
He didn’t catch her! She trusted him and he didn’t catch her! He rushes to her, as she begins to wail …
… making it hard to think. Every alarm had never gone off during training.
The console next to him exploded into searing fragments of circuitry and blobs of molten plastic. Lieutenant Montauk was blown into the opposite bulkhead where she fell to the deck with the grace of a discarded ragdoll. The unnatural position of her limbs and what remained of her head, told the commander his next action was futile. Still, he stabbed the “All-Call” button.
“Medic! Officer down on the bridge; I repeat, officer down!”
He felt like he was screaming into the com. The blast had momentarily deafened him. The noise of the life-support fans and the cacophony of alarms had combined into a roar that made concentration difficult. Even his normally taciturn XO had to yell to get his attention.
“Sir, the Orr vessel is attempting to lock on!”
The view screen was hard to see, through the thickening, smoky haze, but the command readouts at his station indicated the saucer shaped ship was ready to fire another volley.
“Evasive maneuver Delta-Delta-Five,” he barked.
“Delta-Delta-Five, aye,” his XO answered.
His corvette, The City of New Orleans, danced away from the pulsed fire of the Orr. Lieutenant Montauk was dead. That was on him. It was also on him to make her death count for something.
“XO, charge the primary and light me two sticks!”
“Primary charged,” his XO replied. “And we’ve got 75’s in both tubes.” The XO grinned at his commanding officer. “Though you might’ve had something like this in mind.”
He grinned back, but there was little humor involved. The siege of the Centaurus System was well into its second day and it was looking grim for the 3rd Battle Fleet of the Terran Sphere. The Rio Estrellas shipyards, where the bulk of the fighting was occurring, didn’t even belong to them. The yards belonged to their allies, the Republic of New Texas. If the Orr hadn’t been so insistent on ramming their agenda down the collective throats of humanity, the Terran Sphere might well have sat this one out.
But, the Quorum had been adamant on this point; when one sovran state presumes to dictate the actions of another, the latter must either capitulate and become a vassal or, stand ready to preserve their sovereignty. The Quorum voted for preservation. All of which meant he had a butcher’s bill to deliver.
“Guns,” he said, “I want the full five second burst from the spinal laser into their sensor array. Slave the tubes to the primary. Port launches when the laser fires. Starboard launches a half a second later.”
“Sir,” his XO said, “if we discharge the primary weapon completely, it’ll take five minutes for it to recharge. We’ll be essentially defenseless. ”
“I’m aware, XO. If you know another way to blind their point defense, I’m all ears.”
The XO shook his head.
“Alright, then; Guns, prepare to fire on my mark”, he said.
“Primary full discharge, aye. Birds in port and starboard, aye,” the gunner reported.
“Nav, on my mark, Crazy Ivan.”
“Crazy Ivan, aye!”
“Nav … wait … wait … Mark!”
The main engines went silent and the nose thrusters thundered to life. The ship flipped end for end, lining up rather exactingly on the Orr vessel.
“Guns … Mark!”
The City of New Orleans’ primary weapon, the spinal laser, lit the dark with 975 gigawatts of star fury. At the same time, the ship shuddered as 75 megaton Lancer anti-ship missiles roared from first the port and then, the starboard launch tubes.
“Hostile fire incoming,” the navigator reported.
This wasn’t going to be pretty. The corvette had to maintain position until the laser completely discharged. This left them, more or less, a sitting duck.
“Guns, give me a countdown clock. Nav, execute Whiskey-Serra-Golf on my mark.”
“Countdown, aye, in three … two …”
“Brace for impact!” The navigator warned.
“Mark!” He cried.
The nimble corvette flipped end for end, again, while rolling to the port side. The main engines thundered to life. But, they had waited too long.
Return fire from the Orr battleship turned the aft sections of the ship into so much metallic confetti. Hull breach and structural integrity alarms wailed, complete with the warbling containment siren. If containment was breached, then it was all over.
Suddenly, the return fire stopped.
“Give me eyes on my sky!” he commanded.
The XO pointed the viewer aft. The Lancer missiles were essentially scaled down versions of the Longhorn weapons systems. These birds were capital ship killers, designed with a reinforced warhead to allow the missile to penetrate two or three decks into the target vessel before detonating.
The first missile had impacted the main sensor array. The resulting explosion had opened a four deck crater in the saucer, like a giant ice cream scoop making a hollow. The navigator of the Orr vessel jerked the ship away from the first missile and put it directly in the path of the second.
The second missile drove in amid-ships. This explosion breached containment. A small sun erupted in the center of the Orr vessel; the expanding plasma pushing the broken ship apart in two halves.
The bridge erupted in cheers. The XO grabbed his hand and shook it, pounding on his back with the other hand. He felt a smile stretching tightly across his face.
“Settle down,” he thundered. “Let’s not get too carried away! It’s a bit early to celebrate!” But, even he didn’t believe it. They had bested an Orr battle saucer! Not many in the fleet could say that!
“Sir,” his navigator barked, jerking him from his revelries. “It’s the Cole!”
The two halves of the Orr ship had drifted far enough apart to reveal, in the distance, the Galactic Cruiser SSC Cole breaking apart under concentrated weapons fire from another Orr battle saucer.
“Kelly Anne,” he whispered, involuntarily. He gave his head a shake and got back to business.
“Engineering, damage report!”
“Too soon to tell commander,” a tinny voice said from the speaker. “The Mains are offline. We have a massive coolant leak and …”
“Belay that,” he said, his eyes glued to the view screen. “Guns?”
“With the Mains down, the primary weapon is offline. Both port and starboard tubes are compromised. It’ll take about …”
He didn’t hear the rest. He was watching the Cole, literally coming to pieces under the relentless, withering fire of the Orr. The Cole would lose containment any minute now. At least her end would be mercifully quick.
“Sir,” navigation reported. “We’re getting a weird field reading.”
Suddenly, the elongated shape of an Inbetweener ship phased into normal space/time, directly in the path of the Orr barrage and shielded the Cole. The stricken vessel continued to be racked with explosions. The faint nimbus of the ship’s atmosphere could be seen, gushing from the wounds and streaming along behind it. Life support was down and the cold, hard night of space dominated the corridors and rooms on the Cole.
The Inbetweener ship enveloped to SSC Cole in white light, too bright to be directly looked at. When the light faded, the Inbetweener vessel and the Cole were gone.
Captain Thomas Wyatt Swift awoke with a start, breathing hard. His undershirt had stuck to him, cold and clammy. The acrid smell of fear and the bitter taste of loss permeated the room. He swung his legs over the side of the bunk and sat on the edge, his head in his hands.
It was the 25th anniversary of Kelly Anne’s death. He took the picture of his sunny faced bride from the night stand. She had been the youngest surgeon to serve on a capital ship. He was so proud of her.
They had been career military, the bright and shining couple of promise. She was the youngest surgeon and he was the youngest officer ever to be given his own command, even if he had to jump services to do it. When the Epsilon Eridani massacre occurred, the Terran Sphere had more vessels than captains. So, a brash, tactically brilliant Marine 2nd lieutenant was detached to the Republic of New Texas and bumped to Commander of the corvette, SSC City of New Orleans. He had been twenty-five, as had his bride. Their daughter had been four.
He traced the edge of the frame with his finger, contemplating the image. In the picture, he was holding her and she was holding Victoria, dandelion seeds wafting all around them. His baby girl so resembled her mother.
After the battle, he sent Victoria to live with Kelly Anne’s parents. His parents were deceased and a ship of the line was no place to raise a toddler. He couldn’t have her underfoot, distracting him, reminding him of her mother. At first, he visited as often as he could, but he didn’t know what to do with her, so the visits became fewer and farther between. Calls turned into vidcards, vidcards into generic gifts on special occasions. Slowly, he extracted himself from his daughter’s life.
He liked to fool himself into thinking he had kept tabs on her. She had been fascinated with other races, especially the Heavy Worlders and Inbetweeners. That fascination paid off, for she graduated summa cum laude in extraterrestrial anthropology and biology and landed a job, fresh out of college, in the private sector, working for one of the MulitCorps. But that had been five years ago. His gifts had long been returned unopened and his attempts to speak with her, rebuffed. He had no idea what she was doing now. His first failure had been as her father.
He put the picture down and stepped over to the shower. Under the sonics and water vapor he took stock of the situation. This was the beginning of the end for him and he knew that. The Knights of the Southern Cross would be withdrawing from New Galveston by the end of the month to go back to wherever they had come from; a direct result of the Unity movement in the Quorum and the cancellation of the Mjöllnir Project, the very thing that had given the Sphere the tactical edge for the past quarter century. It seems he had gone from failing personally to failing professionally.
As consolation, he would be given his final command today, on the anniversary of the Centaurus Cease Fire. The symbolism wasn’t lost on him. The Battle of New Galveston and the Rio Estrellas shipyards were where his career began. It would also be where it ended. After this tour, he would probably be forced to retire. He had been too vocal in his support of the Knights. That didn’t sit well with the members of the Unity Movement.
This command was a balm, to keep him quiet, he was sure; the hybrid battle cruiser SSC Matthew Mason, experimental flagship and proof of concept vessel for the ideas realized by the Mjöllnir Project. There had originally been plans for twenty-two of this class. Now, there would be only the one. Members of the Quorum had recognized his vulnerability. The past ten years of his life had been devoted to the realization of this vessel. It was more his child than Victoria.
Stifling morbid thoughts, Swift toweled himself dry and exited the shower. He might as well get a jump on the day’s event. Ship launches absorbed enormous amounts of time and he had other things to do today.
He could go to the launch in his full dress uniform, but it didn’t seem appropriate. That would appear to be an endorsement of the Quorum’s foolishness. Better to go out like he came in, duty before honor.
He put on his duty uniform, black trousers, crisp white shirt and a black waist coat, with captain’s bars in the shoulders and, the white beret of Captaincy. He hadn’t worn this in a long time. The media had been reporting that his head had grown. Perhaps he should try it on now. It would be terribly embarrassing later, at the podium, if he had to tug and stretch to get this thing on. Not only that, but it would prove the media buzzards right. That was unacceptable. He stepped to the mirror.
Eyes blue as the Gulf and as hard as space stared back at him. But, there were signs of softening. His nose was just as aquiline as ever, but his hair had fled and his square jaw was getting some additional padding. So was his middle.
Swift tugged his waistcoat into place and looked, really looked at his trademark scar. It was the one thing that made him instantly identifiable. Starting at what would have been his hair line, the scar ran vertically through his left eyebrow, down his cheek, to bisect his jaw line. It was a punctuation mark to hang his beret on.
He never dreamed or had nightmares about that; pulling the KSC Fleet Admiral out of the wreckage of his flag ship, The Celestial Hand. Of course, he couldn’t remember much about it at all, not after what had happen to the Cole.
He put the beret on. It still fit.
There was a knock at his door.
“Enter,” he said.
“Nice hat. I got coffee and booze,” Commander Nathaniel Newton said upon entering. “Which do you want?”
“Coffee, please,” Swift replied, pulling the beret off of his head and tucking it into his waistcoat. “Good morning Nat. I guess you’ll have to drink the booze.”
“Nah, I lied. They’re both coffee, “the commander replied good-naturedly, handing his captain an insulated cup. They were of an age. Newton had been Swift’s XO ever since he lost Thomas Hardy to the wreckage of The Celestial Hand. He knew what today meant to his captain and he had come prepared.
“Any idea what pasture they’ll be sending us to?” he asked.
“Actually, I get to choose. I’ve been thinking about investigating the rumors of the Mnoran cache on Epsilon Eridani,” Swift replied.
Newton raised his eyebrows.
“I know it’s been picked over, Nat, however, I believe the new Helios sensor suite can pick up an outline of the cache, if it exists at all,” Swift explained.
“And, of course, The White Ship’s been spotted over that-a-way,” Newton said, with a grimace. His captain got a bit maudlin this time of year.
“The White Ship is a myth, Nat. The Cole was destroyed a long time ago. Kelly Anne’s ship wasn’t just venting when it disappeared, it had haloed.”
Newton winced. The halo effect was produced when enough water vapor had crystallized to reflect star light. As a rule of thumb, it was generally the same amount of water vapor you would normally find in the life support plant of the vessel sporting the halo. That would only occur if the atmosphere in a ship fully vented.
“Sorry, my friend,” he said. “I didn’t mean to open old wounds; I just thought you might be chasing moonbeams.”
“It’s an old scar,” Swift replied. “Older than this one, at any rate,” he said, rubbing his cheek. “Well, XO, drink up, we’ve a busy day ahead of us.”
Swift took a long pull on the now cool coffee, swallowing a mouthful. The flavor of roasted beans was overcome by the burn of alcohol as it singed down his throat.
“I thought you said this was coffee,” he gasped, at his grinning XO.
“Oh, it is,” the cheerful executive office replied, taking a swallow; “Irish coffee.