Authors: Ryk Brown
Table of Contents
The Frontiers Saga Episode #15: That Which Other Men Cannot Do
Copyright © 2015 by Ryk Brown All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
“You’re not wheeling me out in that thing.”
Admiral Galiardi’s expression silenced his young assistant’s objections. The admiral straightened his suit jacket as he prepared to leave the hospital room he had occupied for months now. “A wheelchair says disabled,” the admiral explained as he reached for his cane. “A cane says determination.”
“And what does losing one’s balance and falling, all on global network coverage, say?” his assistant wondered aloud.
A disapproving glance was his assistant’s reward. “You can be replaced, Dacosta.”
“I’m only offering alternative points of view, Admiral.”
“Just get my bag,” the admiral replied. He paused for a moment, considering the young man’s words. “Perhaps you should walk on my left,” he conceded. “Just in case.”
Minutes later, Admiral Galiardi and Mister Dacosta stepped through the main doors of the rehabilitation facility and into the morning sunshine. The admiral paused long enough to look around. Despite all efforts by the people of Geneva to repair the damage, it was still quite apparent they had suffered greatly. He knew from images that had recently begun to flow, after the global networks had been reestablished, just how bad the damage had been, worldwide. By comparison, the people of Geneva had been fortunate.
Unfortunately, the crowd was much smaller than he had hoped. He had not expected crowds of well-wishers, nor throngs of reporters clamoring to get a few comments from him. However, he had expected more than the two or three, somewhat disinterested, junior reporters who were waiting to hear what he might have to say.
“Admiral Galiardi!” one of the reporters called out as he spotted the admiral and his assistant. “How are you feeling, sir?” he asked, as he moved into position, his camera-operator right behind him.
“I’m feeling very well, thank you,” the admiral replied.
“Sir,” the reporter followed quickly, not giving the other two reporters who were moving in behind him a chance to ask their own questions. “How do you feel about the Alliance’s policy of clearing all Jung forces within twenty light years of Sol?”
“I think it’s a dangerous tactic, considering the odds are in the Jung’s favor.”
“Can you elaborate?” the reporter continued.
“It is believed that the Jung outnumber the Alliance by nearly one hundred to one,” Admiral Galiardi explained as he made his way carefully down the steps toward his waiting vehicle. “If the Jung manage to coordinate even half those ships into a concentrated attack, Earth would not stand a chance.”
“But the stated purpose of the Jung-free zone is to buy the Earth time to prepare for such an attack. If the Jung truly do outnumber us, then wouldn’t that time be…”
“You don’t prepare to defend yourself against an attack by superior forces by committing acts of aggression against said forces,” the admiral insisted, interrupting the reporter. “Patrol and intercept inbound forces…yes. You can even destroy them if necessary, but going out and attacking forces just because they are within a certain distance from you?” The admiral stopped at the open car door and turned back toward the reporters. “If you were the Jung, how would you react?”
* * *
President Scott sat quietly behind his desk, watching the netcast of Admiral Galiardi’s release from the rehabilitation facility in Geneva.
“Who is he kidding?” Mister Pagni, one of the president’s advisors, wondered. “He knows as well as anyone that those forces are best dealt with
they are en route for Sol.”
“But the public doesn’t,” Miri commented.
does,” Mister Pagni reminded them.
“He doesn’t care,” President Scott muttered. “He’s just taking a side opposite that of the Alliance.”
“Do you think he’s going to make a play to reestablish the Earth Defense Force?” Miri wondered.
“I don’t think he’ll take it that far,” her father replied. “After all that the Alliance has done for us, there’s no way he’ll get public support to leave it.”
“His claims that your son overstepped his authority when forming the Alliance could have some legitimacy to it,” Mister Pagni admitted. “An argument could be made…”
“In what court?” President Scott wondered. “We’re still operating under martial law, remember? Disputes are being handled by local magistrates using common-sense justice, and there are no appeals, no higher-up courts in the chain in which to seek an overturn. There probably won’t be for years.” The president sighed. “No, he is just trying to get attention.”
“For what reason?” Miri wondered.
“I don’t know,” President Scott admitted. “But I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”
* * *
Nathan peered out the window of the shuttle as it circled the field to turn into the wind before setting down. What had once been a Jung fighter base and a symbol of Jung dominance over the Tannan people, had instead become a symbol of defiance against that very same empire. Tracks weaved in and out of rows of oversized hangars, forming a makeshift assembly line that would have taken months to build from scratch. Instead, the entire facility had been put together and had begun building Cobra gunships in only forty days. And now, only a month after production had begun, the first gunship was about to roll off the assembly line.
The shuttle finished its approach turn and descended to a gentle touchdown alongside several other Tannan shuttles. The steward popped the door and extended the boarding ramp as the shuttle’s engines wound down. Nathan rose from his seat, turning to face the Ghatazhak sergeant sitting behind him who had been assigned as his security escort for this trip. “Would you like to go first?”
“Not necessary, sir,” the young sergeant replied confidently. “I called ahead. The area is secure.”
“I would hope so,” Nathan muttered as he turned to head forward. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the sergeant, it was just that his very presence served to remind him of the loss of his previous bodyguard, and friend, Sergeant Weatherly. Telling the young marine’s mother of his death had been the hardest thing Nathan had ever done. He could have written the standard letter, the same one he had sent to the survivor’s of every crewman he had lost over the last year and a half, but he had chosen not to. Not with Jerome. He didn’t know the others, except by name. He had known Jerome. He had met his mother, his sister, his nephews…all of which made it more important that he had delivered the tragic news in person…and also made it even more difficult.
A year and a half. Had it really been that long?
It seemed like he had only taken command recently, despite the many battles he and his crew had faced. Although these days he felt like the captain, there were still times when he felt like he did not belong in that chair.
Nathan stepped through the hatch, pausing at the top of the ramp to look around the field. It was a busy place, with vehicles moving all about, and people busy at their jobs. He headed down the ramp as a small open-top transport vehicle pulled up with two people inside…a driver, and a familiar blonde-haired woman smiling broadly at him as his feet touched the pavement.
“Captain Scott,” Abby greeted. “I trust you had an uneventful trip?”
“Yes,” Nathan replied with a grin, “all twenty minutes of it.”
Abby rose from the vehicle and hugged Nathan. “It’s good to see you again, Nathan. I thought you were coming in the Mirai?”
“It landed at Lorrett, so I took a local shuttle over.”
“Why Lorrett?” Abby wondered.
“Jessica is visiting Synda,” Nathan explained as he climbed into the backseat of the vehicle.
“Synda lives in Lorrett?” Abby wondered, somewhat surprised. “I thought all Terrans lived in either Aronelle or Visanori?”
“Apparently not,” Nathan said as the Ghatazhak sergeant took his seat next to him. “This place is quite impressive, Abby,” he said as the vehicle pulled away and headed toward the last hangar at the far end of the base. “I see you took to your additional responsibilities with your usual vigor.”
Abby turned and smiled back at Nathan. “You know, I hated working on that asteroid base, just like I hated working on the Aurora. No sunlight. No fresh air. It’s just not natural.”
“I know what you mean.”
“This place, on the other hand, is great. It’s only a thirty minute commute from home, five if I catch the worker shuttle.”
“Are you still living in the camps?”
“Yes,” Abby answered. “We thought about moving to Aronelle, but it’s further away. Besides, now that so many Terrans have moved out of the camps and into the cities, conditions have become much better. And the children really like the camp for some reason.”
“What about your husband?” Nathan asked. “Last I remember he wasn’t too fond of them.”
“He started a small farm on the edge of the camp. He’s always been a bit of a gardener. He plans to open a small produce stand after his first harvest a few months from now.”
The vehicle pulled to a stop at the corner of the building. Nathan and the Ghatazhak sergeant stepped out and followed Abby around the corner of the building. There, in front of him, was the first Cobra gunship. It was sitting on a massive carriage on the same set of tracks that had carried it through each assembly building, as it went from frames being welded together, through nine more assembly stations, until it finally had rolled out of the last hangar as a complete ship.
“I can’t believe you built this in only thirty days,” Nathan exclaimed as he gazed up at the gunship. “You know, it took over two years to build each scout ship back on Earth.”
“I remember,” Abby replied, “but we didn’t have Takaran fabricator technology back then, either.”
“But someone still has to assemble all the parts. And don’t those parts take time to make?”
“Some of them, yes,” Abby agreed. “But we started making parts long before the facility was ready. And the Tannans made huge sacrifices, retasking most of their fabricators to help build up a stockpile of components prior to the start of production. You wouldn’t believe how much the population has been behind this effort. It’s almost as if it’s therapeutic for them.”
“I’m not surprised.” Nathan continued examining the gunship. “It’s a bit different than I expected.”
“The sides were trimmed up to be made straight, so they can attach additional weapons pods, missiles, or even KKVs to the outboard edges.”
“Are those quads directly manned?” Nathan wondered, noticing the windows behind the guns.
“Yes, they are,” Abby replied. “We thought about making them remotely operated from the flight deck, but that entailed considerable changes to the flight deck itself, as well as additional targeting sensors. Direct operation was simpler to implement.”
“And more dangerous for the operator,” Nathan commented. “Not much of a field of fire, though.”
“The entire gun structure extends nearly two meters, giving both guns overlapping fields of fire above and below, as well as forward.”
“And hangs the gunner’s ass out as a target,” Nathan argued. “One good rail gun round and he’s done for.”
“These ships are shielded, Nathan,” Abby reminded him. “And if their shields fail everyone on board is done for. Their hulls aren’t armored like the Aurora’s.”
“Good point.” Nathan looked the gunship over one last time, from stem to stern. “Yup, she’s a good looking ship, Abby.” He turned to look at her again. “So, when is the launch ceremony?”
“Three days. Captain Nash wants time to double-check all the systems before the first launch.”
“That’s going to be a hell of a sight,” Nathan declared as he looked up at the gunship again. “Yup, a good looking ship, indeed.”
* * *
Vladimir stood at the railing of the fourth dock tier, clutching the railing and fighting to keep his mouth shut. Before him, the Aurora floated in the middle of the fully pressurized dry dock, deep inside the Karuzara asteroid base. It hung there, slightly above him, unmoving, held in its position only by a collection of fragile-looking mooring arms, and four boarding tunnels. All about her, long manipulator arms, their bases moving along tracks attached to the rock walls of the cavern, moved technicians and materials about the outside of her hull, placing each where they needed to be with exact precision. There were more than a thousand technicians working on his ship at the moment, a few hundred of which were working on the outside alone. Men were floating about, maneuvering from one position to the next with thruster packs. Others walked on the outside of the hull, their mag-boots keeping them from drifting away. Work platforms flew about, moving men from place to place. It was all a well choreographed dance, but it looked like chaos. He had quickly realized that it was impossible for him to keep track of everything that was being done to his ship. He simply had to trust that those in charge of each project knew what they were doing.
That was the hard part. Vladimir had never been good at letting others do the work. He had always been the type to roll up his sleeves and do it himself. Now, he was utterly helpless, being used as a ‘consultant’ whenever something about his ship was found to be not quite to specs, requiring an explanation from him. It wasn’t that he himself was not qualified. After all, no one knew the Aurora better than he. It was just that the scope of what was being done was too large for
one person to manage.
They had been in dry dock for all of nine days now, and there were already more openings in the Aurora’s hull than ever before. At the morning review, he counted at least fifty places where one could exit the ship directly,
going through an airlock…sometimes even without going through a hatch. And this was a space ship. And now, they were about to open the biggest hole of them all.
He stared up at the underside of the bow of the ship as four spidery arms, stretching out from tracks directly below him, pulled the last four hull panels away from the Aurora’s underside, leaving a massive rectangular gap in her. As the panels were lowered away, Vladimir could see into the opening in the hull, revealing the technicians inside who had just disconnected the outer hull plates. Deeper inside, beyond those technicians, he could see the four, long tunnels, which had been created inside his ship by removing dozens of bulkheads, that would house the four, massive, mark five plasma torpedo cannons that would be installed sometime next week.
He glanced downward as the four manipulator arms placed the hull panels onto flatbed haulers on the deck below. The panels would be hauled away and recycled, their materials feeding one of the dozens of fabricators in the shops surrounding the dry dock. Those fabricators would then make new panels that would accommodate the new plasma torpedo cannons, as well as many other components used in the Aurora’s refit.
“Not an easy thing to watch, carving up your ship like that, is it?” Marcus commented as he stepped up beside Vladimir at the railing.
“No, it is not.”
“Have you had a chance to walk the hull, stem to stern?”
Vladimir looked at the Aurora’s chief of the boat. “Why would I want to do that?” he wondered. “That’s fourteen hundred meters.”
“It’s an opportunity you likely won’t get again,” Marcus said. “You should give it a go. But I’m warning you, zero gravity aside, it’s a steep climb up the main propulsion section. And I’d steer clear of the heat exchangers as well. They’re still pretty warm, even though the ship’s internal heating is being pumped out to the Karuzara’s exchangers.”