STARSHIP CAPTAIN: RED ALERT
THE DEMON WARS #1
by Derek Paterson
“Captain? Something puzzling coming in over the squawk-box. I think you should take a look.”
The urgency in his first officer’s tone made Captain William Star sit up at once and swing his legs off his bunk. He pulled on his boots, shrugged on his uniform jacket and followed Valentin Tarkov out of his cabin and along the narrow passageway that led to the bridge. He’d buttoned his jacket up to the neck by the time they got there.
Bluebird’s bridge followed the same design as most ships in Earth’s expanding probe fleet. The captain’s command chair sat in the center of the hexagonal compartment, facing the forward viewscope. Directly before the command chair, with the three-dimensional navigation tank between them, were the pilot and navigation stations. These were the two most important positions aboard the ship and were manned at all times, therefore they fell under the captain’s direct scrutiny. To port and starboard were the communications and scanning stations. Tarkov took up position at the port station. Bluebird’s first officer was also her communications officer.
Star’s chair arm projected a display. The TAC message Tarkov had told him about appeared. The heading information confirmed it had been authenticated as originating from Space Navy Headquarters. The same message had been broadcast to all operational vessels of all classes. This was something Star had never seen before during his seven years as a bridge officer.
HIGH MAGNITUDE ALERT
COMMS LOST WITH 4 COLONY WORLDS
PRECEDED BY SCRAMBLED BURSTS
STAND BY FOR ORDERS
KEEP CHANNELS CLEAR
The four named colony worlds, Star noted, were listed in order of distance from Sol. He had to assume that this went further than a simple communications breakdown, that relay stations in several systems would have tried to restore contact with the colonies’ TAC beacons, and failed. There was no mention of trancers—each colony had at least one esper telepath who could communicate with their opposite numbers on Earth. Had they been able to shed any light on the mystery? Star silently cursed HQ’s signal ban. But he supposed that every captain in the fleet would have filled the ether with questions if HQ hadn’t specified KEEP CHANNELS CLEAR.
“What do you think?” Tarkov said.
“I think we’re going to batten down the hatches, just in case.”
Tarkov smiled. “You expect rough weather, Captain?”
“Recall all crew from planetside, Valentin.”
His first officer’s smile vanished. Tarkov turned to his board and tapped buttons. “Attention. Commander Tarkov to all Bluebird crew,” he said into his mike. “This is a recall order. Shore leave is cancelled. Report for duty immediately. I repeat. I am sounding recall. Report back to ship immediately.” Every crew member wore a wrist-com at all times; it was unlikely that anyone didn’t receive the message.
Bluebird had only arrived at Tranquility—third planet of Alpha Centauri A—two days ago, and adopted a low orbit within easy range of the colony’s skyhook. Fifteen of his forty-eight crew had family here: shore leave had been granted for seven days. Star knew there would be a lot of angry people down on the planet right now. He couldn’t help that; personal inconvenience came with the dark blue Space Navy uniform. The fifteen crew would assemble at the colony’s port. Bluebird’s transport shuttle would be waiting for them.
Star tapped the comms panel button that connected him to Bluebird’s Main Propulsion Control—informally, the engine room. His chair arm display changed to show the engine room con. The person at the con station looked up, alerted by the chime. Belle Chadrow stared calmly into the camera lens. She’d been his chief engineer for six months, since he’d been assumed command of Bluebird. Star might have been justified in describing Chadrow’s attitude towards him as “frosty”. This didn’t bother him in the slightest. He’d learned long ago that you couldn’t please everyone, or make them like you. He was here to command a probe ship, not to win popularity contests.
“Captain, what can I do for you?” Chadrow’s tone was neutral as always.
“Chief, we may be leaving Tranquility shortly. We’ve received a mighty queer message from on high. Earth has lost contact with several colonies.”
“Have you recalled crew from planetside?”
“Then that gives me time to warm up the engines. We’ll be ready when you are.”
She cut the link, blanking his screen. Good manners dictated that he should have been the one to decide when their conversation was over. But Chadrow ran a tight engine room, and that was all that mattered to Star. Besides, there wasn’t really anything else he’d wanted to talk about.
Tarkov looked as if he was biting back whatever remark had popped into his head. Star knew there was no love lost between his first officer and his chief engineer either. As long as they kept it professional, he didn’t give a damn. There was no rule that said crew members had to be best friends.
Star tapped buttons and called up a star map in the navigation tank. He requested distances in light years from Alpha Centauri A to the listed colony worlds. He already had a good idea. The navigation computer confirmed: Sirius, 9.5. Epsilon Eridani, 12.6. Procyon, 13.0. Tau Ceti, 13.6. In Warpstream transit time, they ranged from 7 days to 10 days.
“Navigator,” Tarkov said to Fairbanks, “Please plot jumps for these four star systems.”
“Aye aye,” Fairbanks acknowledged. His nimble fingers flew across his board. Plotting a jump required that unique combination of human brains and massive computing power. One didn’t simply point one’s ship in the general direction of another star system and hit a button. The navigator had to precisely insert Bluebird into a volume of space known to be clear of obstruction, and also close enough to the target planet to permit easy maneuvering. A decimal point in the wrong place could result in their ending up in a cluttered asteroid belt, or in the path of a planet rushing around its sun at 30 kilometers per second. Or so far away from the target planet that actually getting there could take extra days in addition to the Warpstream transit.
Fairbanks didn’t comment on the unusual nature of Star’s ordering him to plot four jumps instead of just the one. It was a lot of work, but Star wanted to be as prepared as he could be when the order came in.
Tarkov got up and approached Star’s chair. “Do you want me to ask him?” He’d lowered his voice so only Star could hear.
Star had been expecting the question. He shook his head. “I’ll do it myself. You have the bridge.” He didn’t need to add, “If anything else comes in, let me know.” He rose from his chair and went to see the prisoner.
End of sample
STARSHIP CAPTAIN: RED ALERT
While I am a long-time Trek fan, this is not Trek fanfic.
All characters, settings and events in this series are original.
The Starship Captain stories are based on the webcomics of the same title.
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Copyright © 2015 by the Author. All Rights Reserved.