Authors: L.D. Roberts
By L.D. Roberts
Text copyright @ 2013 LD Roberts
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are
the products of creative writing and the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, places or things is entirely accidental coincidence and solely in the imagination of the reader.
All rights are reserved. No portion of this book may be used
or reproduced in any way or manner whatsoever without explicit permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in fluffy articles or reviews. (As long as they are glowing, totally flattering, positively favorable, gloriously praising, magnificently fawning and admiringly beneficial to the author and book.)
To the Love of my life Josie, for putting up with me while writing this monster these many months.
Table of Contents
Jack looked up from the gravity coil control board
facing the Port side of the ship's control bridge and over his right shoulder at the main navigation screens arrayed around the pilot’s cockpit. Then out the large view ports wrapped around the bridge as the last of the reentry firestorm cleared. He looked down at the Space Port beacon on the distant horizon. Something was wrong.
e glanced over both shoulders at the other crewmen sitting at their control consoles scattered around the bridge, intent on their screens looking a little bored. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary with them. He started to change his screen to the ship's navigation plot but knew if his brother or father saw him doing it now or checked the records later, he would be in deep shit. Jerking his hand away from the screen Jack frowned as he looked out the ports at the distant beacon yet again. The feeling that something was wrong growing stronger by the second.
turned around and checked to make sure his father (the ship’s Captain), was looking the other way at his video phone on the other side of the Command chair deep in conversation. He was always talking to someone on the Comm. Jack unfastened his belt as he slid out of his chair to his left past the Engineering console and the man giving him a dirty look for getting out of his chair. Crouching, Jack took a couple of steps until he was slightly behind and to the side of the Command Chair. He peeked around the side of the chair and his father's shoulder, (ignoring the conversation his father was having with some big shot, scared shitless during landing and thought haranguing the Captain of the ship about not wanting his wife to get space sick during the most dangerous maneuvers of the whole trip was a good idea), and looked at the navigation plotting screen between the pilot and navigator.
The plot screen showed
that the course vector line was green, stretching from where they were at that instant some 50 miles above the planet, to where they were going all the way to the Space Port landing pit a thousand miles down range. The screen also showed their speed and deceleration rate as they dropped down through the atmosphere. He quickly went over the half a hundred other read outs plastered across the console with more than just a glance before turning to survey the rest of the bridge he could not see from his control console, then slide back into his chair before his father could notice. Jack breathed a sigh of relief at not getting caught. The Nav plot and all the gages said everything was good and there was nothing amiss anywhere else on the bridge, but something in him still just felt abnormal, something about the deceleration rate was wrong.
Five years be
fore, he would not have noticed or cared if he had. He had been placed on the grav-board as a technician simply to keep him out of trouble and under the watchful eye of both his father (Ship's Captain) and his brother (the ship's First Officer and Pilot), during landings and take offs. He was not expected to do anything with it unless told to back then. But that was long ago. Now if he did not make the right adjustments to the anti-mass, inertia/gravity coils when the ship passed through any of many anomalies, changed course or acceleration and his father or brother felt the ship bump or bounce, it was his fault and would pay dearly later. The hundred year old automatic gravcoil controls were simply not fast enough to compensate on their own. He learned to anticipate the hundreds of Gravity Coil and Acceleration problems even before they happened just to avoid a beating later by his brother or worse yet the look from his father of sorrowful pity for his no good stupid moronic youngest son. So now he just felt like there was a problem and even if it did not concern the Grav board, it still was a problem and he would get the blame no matter whose fault it was.
Jack suddenly realized that t
he blue and green planet with the flat lands stretching out from the viewing ports wrapped around the bridge, did not look familiar even though they had landed on that planet at least a dozen times before. There should have been a pair of the largest, tallest, snow ringed, bald topped mountains in the universe sticking up some 40 miles into the stratosphere ahead of them to fly between as they approached the port and they simply were not there. Was he remembering wrong? Frowning and knowing that he was headed for trouble, Jack tapped up the navigation Itinerary on one of his small side screens anyway and read the name of the Planets Starport they were headed for along with all the details for that port and the cargo they were scheduled to offload and load.
Shaking his head in disbelief he
kicked himself mentally for not bothering to pay attention to the planet briefing his father had given that morning at breakfast. But then that was what he got for taking for granted the day's work once he had heard the name of the planet but missed the name and location of the Starport along with most everything else in the briefing.
Right then he knew the ship had a problem
and that problem had something to do with the fact they were going to a different Starport on this planet than they usually went to. He switched the screen back before it was noticed. But what deference could that make? Starports were Starports and getting down through a planet’s atmosphere to land at any Starport should be pretty much the same no matter where they were on the planet. But they weren’t.
That morning at breakfast
, he had been much too interested in the news broadcasts on the mess deck's bulkhead screens and then his PDA (when the screens were turned off for the pre-landing briefing), about the planetary system in the outer fringe of the Republic that had stopped broadcasting some days before, to pay much attention to his father reading the stupid landing schedule he had heard a hundred times before. The news this morning like the night before was mostly speculation as to what happened to the Battleship squadron and its base and the population of millions of people in the outpost system there. Not that star systems had not gone silent for short periods of time when their transmitter had broken down, but a standby transmitter had always taken over before long. This time the star system had just dropped out in the middle of a transmission a few days before and stayed off with supposedly no word from the military Sector Base’s transmitter there that most fringe worlds did not have.
shocking thing was when last night's news had reported a just released recording that had been accidentally or purposely released, that had been received from the military transmitter at the fleet base there. The recording showed the base Commander screaming about an attack and showing a bunch of strange ships that resembled spiders that fired their weapons just before the transmitter went dark and silent.
The special hourly news programs
that morning were now reporting about outpost systems much farther out on the fringe that had not been heard from for weeks, even months, which had gone from back page no one heard about news for a week to front page special breaking news this morning. Another seemingly unrelated but buried story that was suddenly big news, was of an unusually large number of ships from that area of space that had not arrived as scheduled at quite a few Republic worlds and were presumed missing. They had briefly flashed a long list of the missing ships up on the screen and Jack recognized several of the ship names he had friends on to his surprise. Suddenly the many reports of UFO's around that end of the Republic and photos of distant ships just like the ones attacking the outpost base, could no longer be ignored as phantasy any longer.
on the much lengthened special report news interrupting that morning’s entertainment shows, had run rampant. Centered on Pirates, since space beyond that region in that direction was pretty much devoid of life or habitable star systems and planets. Meaning that there was no empire out in that direction that could threaten the Republic. One news show late the night before was speculating that one of the empires around the sides of Republic space, was making an end-run around the heavily fortified systems facing them, trying to catch the Republic by surprise.
that morning, all of the Empires were vehemently denying any involvement what so ever. Even stranger yet, were rumors that these same Empires (including the Communists and United Arabians, who were still skirmishing with the Republic on the boarders over several worlds after 50 years since the war had ended), were talking about holding a massive combined fleet exercise with most of the other Empires and the Republic Navy in that fringe neck of the Republic. Cooperation unheard of for centuries.
The last thing Jack was paying attention to
, was his dads monotone voice reading of the day’s landing and work schedule on a planet they had been to dozens of times before and always dropped into the same old Star Port with the same old basic boring work schedule. Land, unload cargo, make repairs, load cargo, check repairs, launch.
Now this afternoon
, as soon as he had seen the name of the Star port on his screen and after looking out the view port again, Jack realized what had to be wrong and it could very easily destroy the ship. Slapping the Plot onto his main screen (even though it could not show all the readings of the larger plot screen and board), Jack took a closer look at the numbers including the plot line and engine thrust. He ran the numbers in his head and suddenly knew that his grandfather (the ships navigator), had entered the wrong gravity gradient into the navigation computer. The Star Port they usually landed at on this planet was on a mile high plateau in the middle of a bunch of very tall mountains full of a lot of heavy metals with a high mass content. That required the ship to use a considerable amount of thrust to fight the high gravity gradient as well as the altitude as they decelerated from orbit. The Star port they were headed for this afternoon was in the middle of a large low altitude, sea level plain, next to the coast and the planets huge main City, with no heavy metals and a comparatively light gravity gradient deep inside the atmosphere, requiring a lot less thrust over a considerably longer time.
The plot vector
line was lying and the higher than needed thrust of their engines would dump them some 20,000 feet above the planet and hundreds of miles short of the port at a dead stop hover right in the middle of the planet's 300 miles an hour trade wind headed away from the Space Port. By the time they got out of the trade wind and back to and then down to land at the port, they would use up most of the 1,000 tons of additional reaction mass kept for landing emergencies. A very costly mistake and if something else went wrong, they could run out of reaction mass entirely before they reached the space port and its thick reinforced concrete landing pits. They stood a good chance of tumbling the ship on the soft jungle ground, if they could not find an emergency landing pit in time. Tapping his screen Jack brought up the surrounding emergency pits and all of them were beyond the port. After all if you were having engine problems the last place you would land is short.