Family Law 3: Secrets in the Stars

BOOK: Family Law 3: Secrets in the Stars
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Secrets in the Stars

 

Third Book in the Family Law Series

by Mackey Chandler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Leo Champion

Cover by Sarah Hoyt

Published by Henchman Press

ISBN 978-1-941620-18-2

Copyright 2015 Mackey Chandler

 

Contents

Chapter 1

 

It had been a glorious trip, but they were happy to be going home. Lee had that euphoric look of a kid on a rollercoaster as it neared the big drop. Not that there was any sensation when a starship made a jump. The transition was instantaneous, or as near as anybody had been able to measure. That was pretty accurately given their clocks. The measurements in test flights both running to jump and returning corrected for relativistic time dilatation said there was no measurable transition time to fourteen places for standard naval clocks. Special test ships with even more accurate instruments had shown it was instantaneous within .00000000000000001 seconds.

Nobody now really expected to find any delay no matter how they refined it. One scientist caused his audience at a conference to gasp in horror when he casually mentioned in his report that they had not found any time deviation
plus or minus
. He'd looked up with a quizzical expression to see what had happened to cause the disturbance. The idea that the time could be off to the plus side had simply never occurred to the rest of them.

Lee didn't think she could ever see the stars blink out and another set appear without a sense of wonder. It was a simple quantum tunneling event, but a miracle nonetheless. The physical principles had been known for a long time and applied to things like passing electrons through a MOS transistor.

Slowly, examples had accumulated of how quantum events could be seen and triggered in larger objects. Finally in actual visible objects. It took quite a bit more engineering and refining of knowledge to make a ship of a bit more than a million tons do the same thing an electron could do, and make sure it did so, if not
every
time, then at least often enough that the number of ships failing to come out where predicted was very, very small. Lee never considered that possibility when they jumped. Her father Gordon had, every single time.

The devil was in the details, and the probability of making the transition was a balance of several factors. Aim was important. You could just line up optically and jump at where the star appeared to be. But some stars had significant velocity. If you aimed at where they actually were instead of where they appeared to be, it improved your odds. Velocity aided transition, but made you come out closer to the star than going slower. Some stars had unconsolidated discs of rubble around them, which could be hazardous if you chanced to be oriented in that plane. If a system had multiple stars or a seriously massive companion like a brown dwarf it altered your entry too. Many other factors affected the odds to varying degrees.

Early testing had established the broad parameters. Human crews had thought they understood the limits early on. But a few crews were lost because ships could make the same jump with what appeared to be identical numbers and have it work fifty times – and then the fifty-first time the ship would vanish.

It had turned out to take longer and be more expensive to perfect than had been expected; at least most of the error-finding was done with drones not manned ships. Of the ships and drones that had failed to transition, not one had ever turned up. They might have rejoined this universe somewhere, but unthinkably distant – possibly even in another galaxy.

The idea that they had ceased to exist, or had been frozen in transit and might reappear in enough time was a spacers' horror story to scare new recruits that the scientists rejected. Brownie, Gordon's navigator, said he understood the theory, but when he had patiently explained it, Lee just didn't get it. He’d smiled kindly and promised he would tell her another time when her brain had matured and could encompass it. That had
really
irritated her. Especially if it turned out to be true.

The big plot screen over the physical viewports showed nine ships. More than when they had started this voyage. Two were Lee's private property, the Heavy Cruiser
Retribution
and the Deep Space Explorer
The Champion William
. Both were war captures and past United States of North America flagged vessels. Gordon had seized both while making war on the USNA for his clan of Red Tree. The Mothers of Red Tree had sold both off to Lee as unsuitable to their use.

For commerce they had retained some merchant vessels. The captured USNA destroyer renamed
Sharp Claws
they also kept, feeling the smaller war ship cheaper to operate and suitable to a clan with merchant ships. They, however, had sent it along with Lee and Gordon on their voyage of exploration in return for training and shares for six clan members and an extra share to the ship for each of them. So far it was had been an excellent investment. To the plus they'd found a water world and a wealth of metal sources on their outward voyage. Nobody with even the smallest share was going home poor. They'd also found a system-bound race of aliens with whom they had been were unable to trade or come to any agreement. So that discovery was a wash.

The ship Lee was sitting in was the
High Hopes
. Another Deep Space Explorer, and the ship she had grown up on. Gordon owned a third of the
High Hopes
as he had for years while partnering with Lee's parents as an explorer. Lee owned two thirds, unfortunately by inheritance. Her parents had been killed after finding a Class A world, before they could return and register claims to it. Lee was thus heir to their claims’ shares on Providence, as well as her personal claims of land on the planet itself. That alone made Gordon and Lee rich beyond any of the kings of Human history.

Lee sat at a second-tier couch, plugged into the command circuit, watching everything but saying little. Gordon was in command of not only the
High Hopes
but the fleet around them. Lee was owner, and under Derfhome law and clan custom she could speak to the use of her property but at just shy of fifteen she was still in a semi-adult status somewhere between a child and an adult as viewed by Earth law. Nobody in their right mind would put her in command of a fleet of starships.

However, when she spoke as owner about the business side of their voyage they paid attention. Lee was bright for her age, forced to grow up isolated from society and pushed to learn as much as possible quickly. Living on a ship with all its hazards and being useful to her parents and Gordon in their explorations had demanded it.

Beside the ships Lee and Gordon owned and the
Sharp Claws
which Gordon's clan Mothers had sent along, they were accompanied by the Fargone Heavy Cruiser
Murphy's Law
and the Fast Courier
Roadrunner
. The
Roadrunner
was far too cramped and lacking in supply volume to make a voyage such as they were on anything but an exercise in torture for the crew. It had been grappled to the
Murphy's Law
most of the voyage out and now would be on the way back home too. They were present because the planetary government of Fargone, their principal supplier, had been worried about having the entire sphere of Human exploration including the Derf and Hinth races and many cultures represented by one merchant enterprise. They had sent a representative with limited authority in case some new species or civilization wanted to speak to more than a trader. The Mothers of Red Tree had sent their third Mother also in case Derf law should need to be addressed.

The other four ships hadn't come out from Derfhome and Fargone with them. They were owned by a newfound group of sentient spacefaring races. They were the first aliens that Humans found with their own starships, and they were returning to the Human sphere of influence with Gordon's ships. All the ships under Gordon's command had been called the Little Fleet when they prepared for their journey at Fargone and Derfhome. If they kept adding ships like this the name would be silly pretty soon.

The Little Fleet had quickly gotten involved with the internal affairs of these new people, the group being in something of a crisis. They had just experienced a long period of mutual exploration and growing commerce. That due to the fact they were more cooperative rather than aggressive. They didn't even arm their ships. That had been spoiled by the discovery of an aggressive race they labeled Biters, who stopped the other's exploration and threatened their commerce by preying on their ships. This new group had been very interested in trade and especially in buying weapons to protect themselves from the Biters.

The Biters were opportunistic and did have armed vessels. The main thing limiting their encroachment was their deeply divided nature. Their home world was partitioned into hundreds of fiercely competing family territories many of which were not large enough to buy and run a starship. They preyed on each other as readily as others and wouldn't cooperate to field either a large fleet or army sufficient to pose a serious risk to the planetary holdings of the other races.

The Biters had immediately challenged Gordon's forces as soon as their first ship saw the Little Fleet. When rudely told to stand to and be boarded Gordon had instructed the
Retribution
to blow away the rear drive portion of the Biter's ship. It was quickly obvious that the visiting fleet was not only armed, but armed far better than the Biters. Only the fast and tiny
Roadrunner
of their ships carried no weapons. The huge difference was that the Biters appeared not to have invented nuclear explosives.

Gordon sent a small force with a native escort on a loop through nearby stars to test the truthfulness of the map they had been given by a dominant local race they had dubbed the Badgers. That force found they had been truthful but also encountered Biters who tried both an ambush on a space station and a direct ship to ship attack against the smaller vessel. On the way back this detached force encountered a Biter ship fleeing the largest ship any of them had ever seen. The Biters had come into contact with an entirely new race coming from the opposite direction as the Humans and their allies. Of course given their nature they had immediately provoked them.

The new race transmitted unintelligible audio that was unlike anything the Human dominion folks or the Badgers had ever heard. They sent no video of themselves and snatched away some of the offending Biter ships. These new people did have nukes and built kilometer long ships that could out accelerate anything seen before. They were nothing to antagonize.

Not long after their mapping party returned to the fleet three of these gigantic ships followed them to the Badger system and matched orbit with the Little Fleet around a Badger frontier world. Two of the large ships snatched a Biter vessel present and took it off. One remained and while it didn't force one of the Little Fleet vessels to leave with it, it had made it clear that's what it wanted by opening a hanger door and giving them an easy nudge toward it with a sort of tug drone.

Captain Fenton of
The Champion William
had bravely volunteered and asked to take his vessel away as the alien desired. Gordon gave permission, impressed by Fenton's nerve, and how not one of his crew raised any objection.

They entered the ship under their own power and were carried away blind in the hold or hangar to be shown one of the alien's worlds. A star sighting assured them they were close enough to their fleet to return on their own, but reentered the alien ship and trusted them to return their vessel.

BOOK: Family Law 3: Secrets in the Stars
13.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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