[Author’s Note: This is a novel I wrote about fifteen years ago. It was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a history paper or short story. I’ll be putting it on here on Wednesdays and probably posting my thoughts about it on Thursdays. The Intro is here and Chapters 1 and 2 are here. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned. In this case on Thursday I will attempt to cover chapters 3-6, as the old chapter 3 and 4 stuff was partially eaten with the sudden bricking of Ludwig the Laptop. But I definitely need to talk about chapter 5, as two of the most embarrassing parts of the book start there. You’ll…you’ll know them when you see them. And chapter 6 requires a lot of ‘splainin’, too. Also, Ludwig just kinda started working again over the weekend. I still can’t explain it.]
Tethys, United Commonwealth
May 18th, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1123, Terran Standard Time
The warship accelerated, slowly gaining speed. Suddenly it jerked under a harder acceleration. The screen at the front of the bridge washed out in a blinding white flash.
Automatically kicking into a self-protect mode, the screen went dark. As it cleared and the display returned to normal, the crew was rewarded with a close up view of the solar system’s farthest planet.
“Navigation, is that Tethys?” David queried the helmsman.
“Computer coordinates check out, Sir. We have reached Tethys,” came the response.
“Sir,” came the call from the communication station, “We are being hailed by Odysseus Basin.” Odysseus Basin was the name given to the Earth Command base on Tethys. It’s two thousand inhabitants were mainly scientists using the base to study Saturn and its rings. The base was built directly into the ice that formed most of the surface of the moon. The simple fact that such a facility existed was one of the greatest testaments to human engineering anyone in the Commonwealth could think of.
“Put them on, audio only.”
A second later the overhead speaker crackled to life. A hesitant voice filled the bridge. “Unidentified ship, this is Earth Command, Tethys station control. Respond or be fired upon.”
“I do believe we’ve spooked someone,” David said with a smile. “Comm, if you would allow me to talk to our friends?”
“Aye,” the Lieutenant at the station responded. “You are on now, Sir.”
“Tethys control,” David spoke loudly enough for the sound pickups above his head to transmit his voice clearly, “This is Captain David Anderson of the Earth Command Ship Nightwind. We are outbound on a top secret mission from Admiral Belden. We’re just stopping for a check of our navigational array before transiting to Tau Ceti III. We would appreciate if you kept this little visit a secret.”
“Uh, Tau Ceti III?” came a slightly confused response from the planet below.
“Aye, that’s where we’re headed. And as I said, I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone about this. I’m sure the Admiral would, as well.”
“Ye, yes, Nightwind,” came a hesitant response. “This will remain secret, as per your request.”
“Thank you,” David said, motioning the comm officer to cut off the connection.
“No offense, Sir,” Commander Gregory said from David’s side, “But are you sure that was the best idea? That was not exactly Top Secret.”
“Who’s he going to tell, Commander?” David turned to his second with a smile. “If a warship that isn’t listed on any rolls appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared as quickly on your shift what would you do?”
“Well…I suppose I’d ask to be transferred off of Odysseus Basin, Sir,” the Commander responded, grinning. “Now that you mention it, our secret probably is safe…”
David turned back to the navigational console. “Helm, if you could take us to the Tau Ceti system, I’m sure they would love to see a ship from home. Even one out of nowhere.”
“Aye, Sir. Setting course for Tau Ceti III.”
* * *
Moments later the ship’s screen cleared from the Conduit Drive’s flash and the crew of the Nightwind became only the second human crew to see Tau Ceti III.
“Unidentified ship,” the bridge speakers crackled to life. “This is Tau Ceti Control, please send appropriate IFF information or be fired upon.”
“Comm, put them on screen,” David said to the young Ensign. In front of him the viewscreen switched from the planet below to a view of a crowded command center. In the middle of the view sat a gray haired man who was obviously surprised to see a ship, especially one with a human crew. “Tau Ceti control, this is Captain David Anderson of the ECS Nightwind. We are on our way to the 82 Eridani system on a top secret mission and need to make a stopover for a final systems check.”
The man on the screen looked even more surprised than before. “Uh, Nightwind, did I hear you correctly?” He checked something to his left. “It looks like your IFF signature checks out. But…”
“How did we show up out of nowhere?” David finished with a smile.
“Well, yes. I was going to ask how that worked.”
“As I said, it’s top secret. I’d rather not talk about it over the comm channel.”
“Very well, Nightwind,” the man responded, “We’re giving you landing clearance. I’d love to hear more about how you got here.”
“We’re on our way. Nightwind out,” the screen in front of David flicked back to a view of the planet Tau Ceti III.
“Commander Jackson,” David turned to the engineering station. “How long will it take to run a complete diagnostic of the Conduit Drive?”
She calculated the time for the procedure. “Seven days, three hours for a complete diagnostic, Sir,” she said.
“Do it,” he ordered. “This could be the last friendly stop we get for a while and I don’t want any surprises.”
David turned to his second in command. “Commander, with me. We’re heading down,” he said.
“Sir, shouldn’t one of us stay aboard, just in case?” Gregory asked.
“That’s a good idea, Commander. But not right now. We’re going to visit a human colony, not make first contact with a hostile species,” the captain turned and walked through the bridge access door.
“Aye, Sir.” the Commander said, turning to follow the captain.
A short walk to the back end of the arrowhead that formed the prow of the ship led the two men back to the shuttle bay through which David had first boarded the Nightwind just over an hour before. The bay could only be accessed through a set of massive blast doors. Without any current extra vehicular activity, the doors stood open, allowing the crew free access to the small ship bays. Four personnel shuttles and six cargo shuttles formed the ship’s link with planetary surfaces, as the battlecruiser itself was incapable of entering atmosphere.
“This is Small Craft Bay 1, captain,” Commander Gregory informed David as they entered the cavernous room. “There are two smaller bays in the aft section, connected to the main cargo holds.”
“And where are the fighter bays, Commander?” David inquired. “Since I haven’t had the opportunity to inspect the main section of the ship, I’m guessing they’re in the back somewhere.”
“Yes, Sir. Panther squadron is located starboard just aft of the spars. Tiger squadron is on the port side.”
“I’m told that one squadron is composed of Griffin-class fighters and the other of Longbow-class bombers. I didn’t even know Earth Command had fighter craft before Admiral Belden briefed me on the Nightwind. How do they perform?”
“To be honest, Sir, I don’t know either,” Gregory shrugged. “Wing Commander Ivan Luchenko brought the wing aboard a little while before you reported for duty. I have only had a chance to speak to him over comm channels to coordinate the rendezvous.”
David pulled out his communicator. “Bridge?” he spoke into the device. “This is the captain.”
“Bridge, Sir, this is Ensign Lindros.”
“Call Wing Commander Ivan Luchenko and tell him to report to Small Craft Bay 1.”
David turned to his Executive Officer. “So what can you tell me about the Wing Commander?”
“Well, Sir, I’m not going to pull any punches,” Walter looked toward the shuttle that was being prepped to take them to the surface. He looked back to his commanding officer, “Luchenko wasn’t given the job because he was the right man for the job. He was…the only man for it.”
“What do you mean?” with a look of confusion and worry spreading across his face, David took his turn to look at the shuttle.
“Well, as you may know, the Earth Command fighter program hasn’t exactly been on the top of the priority list. The Griffin- and Longbow-class ships were designed specifically for the Nightwind program. Ivan Luchenko was the program’s top test pilot and had a lot of say in the actual designs. Earth Command asked him to personally oversee the creation of the Air Wing for the Nightwind.”
David frowned and held up his hand to stop his XO. “So far all you are telling me is that he is an accomplished pilot and designer who is respected enough by Earth Command to be given say in the deployment of his fighters.”
Commander Gregory ran his hand through his hair and began to look agitated. “Well, Sir, it’s just that Wing Commander Luchenko insisted upon leading the wing. Earth Command didn’t want him to but gave up when he threatened to tell the whole Commonwealth about the Nightwind. He was a little bit more colorful about it, though. Rumor has it that ever since then Admiral Belden refers to him as Crazy Ivan.” he paused. “Oh, he also –”
The sound of tools crashing to the floor cut the XO short. Both men turned toward the blast door as a large, red faced man grabbed the technician who had been using the tools by the collar. “What is this all over the floor, sailor?” the man bellowed. “This is starship. You don’t leave tools in middle of walkway!”
David straightened up and cleared his throat. “And you don’t threaten my men,” he said, keeping his voice calm and measured. The man slowly turned to look at David. “Wing Commander Luchenko, I presume,” David continued. “It’s a…pleasure to meet you.”
“And who are you?” the Commander asked, releasing the technician. “Some high and mighty academy boy who thinks he runs ship?”
“As a matter of fact yes, I am an ‘academy type,'” David responded, struggling to keep anger from coloring his voice. “And I do think I run this ship. I have the captain’s commission to back it up, too.”
The tall, muscular pilot took three large strides to stand in front of the captain. With a look that could have easily melted steel, he sized David up. Not willing to be intimidated on his own ship, David returned the glare. Doing his best to avoid getting involved, Commander Gregory nodded to the still frightened technician to get back to work. With a relieved look the man began to pick up his tools.
Several heartbeats later Commander Luchenko broke the uncomfortable silence. “They must be desperate at Earth Command. They’re putting babies in charge of starships,” he passed his verdict loud enough for everyone in the bay to hear. “Now, what was so important that I had to be called away from making sure my ships are flight worthy, Keptin?” the big man said in his heavily accented voice, making no attempt to hide his contempt.
“The Nightwind,” Captain Anderson kept his voice even, refusing to acknowledge the disrespect in his subordinate’s language, “is currently above the colony on Tau Ceti III. We have been invited down for a tour of the settlement. It is my understanding that we need to take shuttles to get from this ship to a planet’s surface. It had occurred to me that asking the commander of the fighter wing to pilot the shuttle would be a good opportunity to get to know him.”
Wing Commander Luchenko’s expression softened considerably. “Travelling to Tau Ceti colony? Now is worth being called from my duties.”
“It’s too bad about that,” David said. “Because I believe assaulting shipmates is against regulations. Rather than getting an opportunity to visit the colony, you will be spending the night in the ship’s brig, Commander Luchenko.”
The larger man’s face once again began to turn red and his fists clenched “Why you-”
His threat was cut short as two shipboard marines grabbed his arms and pinned them to his side. A third marine, wearing lieutenant’s bars, stepped around them. “Take the Commander to the brig, men. And don’t let him give you any trouble.” The two marines turned their unwilling prisoner around and began to lead him out of the bay. The lieutenant turned to face the captain and XO. “Lieutenant Vincent MacDonough, commander of the Marine contingent, Sair,” the wiry, red-haired man nodded to David and Walter in turn, then straightened to salute the two officers.
David returned the salute. “Captain David Anderson. And I think you know Commander Walter Gregory.”
“Excellent timing, Lieutenant. That situation could have gotten ugly.”
“I was briefed on the Wing Commander,” MacDonough responded, his Scottish heritage evident in his voice. “And when Chief Petty Officer Carter called for security I thought it would nae be bad tae bring tha lads.”
Another man walked up and saluted. “Chief Petty Officer Winston Carter, Sir. I’m your shuttle pilot.”
David returned his salute. “You’re apparently more that just my pilot, Chief. According to the lieutenant you helped defuse a potentially dangerous situation.”
“I served with Wing Commander Luchenko a few years back, Sir. I know him well enough to know when I should call for help.”
“Thank you,” David said, turning from Carter to Commander Gregory. “Commander, do you think we’ll need any security on Tau Ceti III?”
“Aye, it’s possible, Sair,” the XO responded, looking slightly confused. “No telling what kind of dangerous animals they could have down there. An’ they might decide ta’ hijack the ship an’ go home, so havin’ the captain in custody would seem like a good idea.”
“Very well,” said David, turning to Lieutenant MacDonough. “Would you care to join us in our visit to the planet, Lieutenant?” he asked, allowing the ghost of a smile to his lips. “Just in case.”
“I should nae let ye doon there all by your lonesomes,” the Marine responded, turning his already easily recognizable burr up.
“Excellent,” David closed the matter, then spun on his heel and began walking to the shuttle.
“Shall we go then, gentlemen?”
The XO fell into step behind the captain and the other two men followed him. MacDonough looked over to Carter and shook his head. “Crazy Ivan, eh?” he asked.
David smiled as the Chief Petty Officer’s laugh reverberated off the bulkheads.
* * *
David took a bite of the succulent flesh of the Gahnor, a native Cetian beast that made up an important part of the colonists’ diet. “This,” he said, gesturing the side of meat with his fork, “Is excellent.”
“Thank you, Captain,” the gray haired governor said, “We’ve been very lucky here. The planet was far more fertile than even the original colonists thought it could be.”
As far back as the Twentieth Century astronomers had suspected Tau Ceti would be capable of supporting a planet such as Tau Ceti III. The star was smaller and cooler than the Sun, but that simply meant the planet would need to be closer, roughly two-thirds the distance from Earth to its star.
The planet sat at exactly the right place. It also turned out to be perfect for colonization, with several large bodies of water and many wide rivers, as well as a large variety of flora and fauna. Much closer to its star, however, and the third planet would be a charred rock like its companions, Tau Ceti I and Tau Ceti II. Any farther and it would have been too cold for liquid water. Although far from insurmountable, as the successful Mars colony proved, such a planet would have been too big an obstacle for the Human race to tackle without a solid supply line.
“Aye,” Lieutenant MacDonough said, pouring out his fifth glass of water. “Tae bad ’tis sae big. An’ hot.”
“I’ll drink to that, Lieutenant,” Walter raised his glass in salute. “How long was that tour? Five hours?”
“Just aboot, Sair.”
Upon landing in a small clearing near the colony, the four officers had been whisked off on a tour of the settlement and its environs. The center of human civilization on Tau Ceti III was the town of New Home. Housing some seventy-five percent of the eleven thousand people on planet, New Home serviced the surrounding farms, as well as housing the workers for the factories on its western edge. Randall Jeffries, the governor of the settlement, had been their guide. He had also set up the private banquet for his visitors.
For the entire tour David had attempted to avoid bringing up the Nightwind or her mission. For his part, Jeffries had seemed content to show off the colony. He knew the questions would soon start, however.
“Again, Governor,” David said after savoring a mouthful of plump, juicy Cetian corn, “I can’t thank you enough for setting this up. I’m sure you’ll believe me if I tell you that a lot of people from home would love to be here now.”
“Well, Captain,” the Governor said, “We’re just as happy to see people from home as you are to see us. And as I was saying, we’d be more than happy to host your crew if – ” he stopped as an aide entered the room. The young man walked hurriedly to the head of the table and whispered into the Governor’s ear. “Please, John, turn it on,” he said to the younger man, concern in his eyes.
Wordlessly, the aide hit a button in the table. A screen on the wall flickered to life with the nightly TBC Report. Images of rioting and bloody street battles played across the screen, seeming to indicate the entire planet Earth had gone mad. For long moments the room was silent except for the news report.
When the segment ended, Governor Jeffries reached over and turned off the screen. “So,” he said after a moment’s pause, “Things are getting very bad back on Earth.”
“So it would seem,” David replied. “The situation is deteriorating incredibly fast.”
“You brought it upon yourselves,” Jeffries glared at David. “Earth Command kept this secret for far too long”
“Don’t look at me, Sir,” David held his hands up defensively, “I learned about the Messenger as the same time everyone else did.”
“And your ‘Nightwind,'” the older man asked, “I suppose its development was top secret as well?”
“Yes,” David nodded, “I didn’t even know about the ship until I was given command.”
“I would think that the release of Earth’s first faster than light ship would be something to celebrate, not hide.”
“Well, Governor…” the Captain paused, looking for a way to defend the secrecy. He really didn’t understand it himself, though. Defending it would be impossible. “That’s the way Earth Command decided to play it. There’s nothing I can do.”
“And that’s why people don’t trust the military,” Jeffries nodded over at the blank screen. “You have your evidence right there.”
Anderson’s eyes narrowed. “Now, Governor –”
“I was in the project from the beginning,” Walter jumped in, “And we decided to keep the ship secret until we knew it worked. As you may know, past experiments with faster than light travel were spectacular failures. The decision was only confirmed after the first attempt to use the technology was, well, frightening.”
“Very well, Commander,” the Governor allowed after a long moment. He turned back to the Captain. “Consider the colony to be at your disposal. I’ll do anything you need to help.”
“Thank you, Governor,” David said, breathing a sigh of relief. “We’re running a diagnostic of the Drive system. We’ll be here for about a week.”
“Very well, Captain. We will be happy to host your crew while you are here, as well.”
“Thank you, Governor,” David said, standing up to offer his hand. “But now I think I should get back to my ship.”
“Yes, Captain,” Jeffries responded, shaking the offered hand. “And I suspect I need to talk to my people. They will need to be prepared for visitors.”
The rest of his officers stood up. “Well, gentlemen, let’s head up,” David said.
Earth Command Shipyard, Venus Orbit
May 21st, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1317 Terran Standard Time
One of the worst-kept secrets in the United Commonwealth was the Shipyard Expansion Project. Conceived in reaction to rosy predictions of success in unlocking the secrets of the Deimos base late in 2340, the plan was to modify the old Venus Shipyards in order to be able to build the new ships waiting just around the corner. The secrets of the alien base remained hidden, but that did not stop Earth Command from pressing forward with the expansion.
In the late Twenty-First Century as the Interstellar Colonization Plan neared completion it was realized that some sort of facility would have to be built in order to house the massive colony ships. So the first stage of the Venus Shipyards was created. Little more than a collection of gantries and a small habitat at the time, the Shipyard was never intended to be a permanent fixture. Within fifty years it was, however. Studies indicated having a central production point for the quickly growing Merchant Marine would help immensely.
It also gave Earth Command an excuse to build its own Navy. The four patrol ships emerged from the slips over a five-year period between 2143 and 2148. Not only did they give Earth Command a reason to keep the shipyard, the vessels were invaluable as the test beds for the first navigational energy shields. Important in the eventual conquest of the solar system, the shields protected ships both from tiny micrometeorites that could pierce the skin of the craft and radiation without the need for bulky systems with limited life spans.
Venus Shipyard was now far different from the structure completed two centuries before.
“This thing is huge,” Captain Elizabeth Turner said, taking in the view from the shuttle bay on the port side of ECS Phoenix.
From her perspective it appeared as though an improbable dumbbell hung in silently in space. Two wheels spun slowly, habitation rings for the workers and small workshops, designed to provide gravity for the workers, scientists and engineers. A long, bulky structure was held suspended between them, motionless. It was in that area between the habitation modules where the shipyard’s four slipways were held.
The dark haired man standing to her right laughed. “And it’s where you’re going,” he told her. “This is the last stop on the Semmes Express.”
“So you’re not joining us, Commander?”
“No. You kids have fun.”
The man to Elizabeth’s left looked over. “What does the Admiral have you doing, Horatio?”
“I need to get aid to Europa and Tethys before anything bad happens.”
The trio fell silent, contemplating the situation before them. News of the destruction of Winged Messenger broke just over a month ago and the United Commonwealth already seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Riots, skirmishes and even outright warfare seemed to touch every part of the globe. Two of the four Earth Command Navy ships were not responding to calls and probably hostile for reasons no on could fully understand. Making matters far worse was the fact that Europa was battling a deadly plague and Tethys was nearly out of supplies after one of their food storage bunkers was accidentally breached, sending everything into space.
“This is a bad time for us to be taking a new assignment,” Elizabeth said.
She found the thought particularly odious as the former CO of the patrol ship ECS Dragon, now one of the two patrol ships that had dropped off the screens. Commander Semmes would probably end up pitting the Phoenix against it at some time, as well as her other companion’s old ship. Captain Robert Hunt was reassigned from ECS Zephyr at the same time. That ship was now on its way back from a high-speed emergency supply run to Europa with enough medication to keep the inhabitants alive long enough for a more permanent solution. It had completed the journey without its captain and would probably have to make the convoy run without him, too.
Hunt’s eyes widened as more of the shipyard became visible. “Do you see what I see?”
“I think I do,” Turner responded.
The second and third of the four slipways were completely open to space and as Phoenix drew even with them it was obvious they housed two large ships.
“I think we’ve figured out the reason we’re here,” Hunt said, voice filled with awe.
Beneath their feet the deck shuddered as the patrol ship’s engines fired one last, quick burst to come to a stop. Completely transfixed by the mysterious ships, Turner hadn’t thought to grab anything to compensate for the lack of acceleration. She felt herself lift off from the deck and begin to float as the last vestiges of gravity fled the space.
A strong hand grabbed her elbow. “There you go again,” Hunt said, smiling at some assumed joke, “Trying to run off on me.”
“Thanks, Robert,” she returned the smile. “I can’t believe I just did that.”
They were the only ones in the room. Floating off into zero gravity in front of Semmes and Hunt was fine, but anywhere else it probably would have been embarrassing. A veteran captain forgetting one of the most basic lessons of spaceflight would have dealt her credibility a serious blow.
Upon exiting the shuttle from Phoenix, Hunt and Turner were escorted to a small conference room overlooking the production lines by a Navy Ensign. The young man left without a word, adding nothing to what little information they already had. Only the slight, rhythmic clicking of the magnetic seals on the bottom of the Ensign’s boots, intended to give the people working in zero gravity some amount of normal mobility, broke the silence. Devoid of anything but a table and four chairs, the room did not help, either.
“So what do you think we’re supposed to do now?” Hunt asked.
“Wait, I guess.”
“We should be doing something, though. Not nothing.”
“Just calm down.”
The pair fell silent and attempted to pass the time in any way possible. Elizabeth took to attempting the removal of an imaginary strand of light brown hair from her face, which she wore habitually pulled back in a tight pony tail so it wouldn’t get in her way in zero gravity. Hunt began pacing in front of the window, boots clicking rhythmically.
Finally the door opened, admitting a short man with distinctly Asian features. He wore the anchor and globe insignia the Earth Command Marine Corps took from the now-defunct United States Marine Corps at its foundation in 2214 on one shoulder and the rank of Major on the other. Obviously used to life without gravity, he floated in, slowly propelling himself over to the table.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Captains,” the Marine said, pulling himself down into a chair and engaging the light straps to stay in place,
“Some unexpected business came up. I’m Major Jason Tanaka. I’m in charge here.”
“It’s not a problem, Major,” Elizabeth said. Hunt simply stood and glowered, his dark skin completely black against the bright backdrop of the harsh spotlights below.
Tanaka took a quick, nervous glance at the larger man before sitting at the table. “Well,” he looked at Turner, “Shall we begin?
“What, exactly, are we beginning?” she responded.
“Do you know anything about the history of the United Commonwealth’s research into interstellar travel?”
Hunt sat down. “I know it’s been a failure,” he said coldly.
The Marine nodded. “That’s true.”
One of the prime reasons for the development of the Interstellar Colonization Plan was the belief that it would fuel research into building ships which could travel faster than the speed of light. At the time of the undertaking there were three general schools of thought about the topic. One group simply believed it was impossible. Within the community that though it was possible there were two basic theories. The first said that it was possible to create a wormhole, more or less taking two points in real space and connecting them with a gateway. This gateway would be physically present in both places at exactly the same time, putting anything sent through the entrance at its destination instantaneously, no matter the distance. The second theory posited that if a ship could somehow distort space and time around itself it could travel at great velocities relative to the non-distorted space around it, thereby going well past light speed.
Proponents of the wormhole theory scored something of a victory during the summer of 2076 when a stable gateway was opened at the quantum level between The University of Illinois and the Calcutta Institute of Research, founded the previous decade as a think tank and laboratory dedicated specifically to quantum theory. The feeling of jubilation wore off quickly for the team, as the drawbacks of the system were immediately obvious. Quantum level connections were one thing, but the idea of a wormhole on a relativistic level seemed centuries away. CIR and U of I researchers worked around the clock to develop a better form of the technology.
Meanwhile, the naysayers were gaining strength. Work on two colony ships, the Jove and Winged Messenger began in 2087, set for completion and launch in 2098. Several devices were included with each ship, allowing communication with Earth, but other than that the huge ships did not represent any great breakthroughs in technology.
In 2149 Dr. Jared Vance attempted to bring about the next great leap, building what was thought to be a working distortion field drive. His first tests almost cost him his life, as the test bed ship, SS Cassandra, blew up before the drive could even start. His second series of tests, nearly two decades later, yielded similar results.
Rather than follow up, however, it seemed that Humanity had given up. No studies, no advancements, no great technological leaps occurred over the next two centuries.
Elizabeth shot Hunt an angry glance. “Why do you ask?” she asked, turning to Tanaka.
“Those ships right there,” he pointed at the production line, “Are capable of faster than light travel.”
Hunt’s eyes widened. He looked at the ships, then at the Marine, then back at the ships. “You’re joking,” he finally concluded, looking back at Tanaka, “Right?”
“How is that possible?” Elizabeth asked.
Tanaka smiled. “Two years ago a team of archaeologists deciphered the alien language inside the Deimos base. Earth Command kept it quiet, as it was two days after the Messenger was destroyed, but the Nightwind Project began immediately.”
“How does it work?”
The Marine offered a sheepish look. “Actually,” he said, losing eye contact with her, “I’m not entirely sure. Our scientists and engineers tell me it works a lot like the wormhole, but on a completely different principle.”
Robert leaned in. “But it works, right?”
“Hey, we got it from an alien civilization that was travelling the stars before we were building cities. I’d say we can trust it.”
“So what’s the principle?” Turner asked.
“I’m not sure. Apparently this stuff is a good millennia beyond our most recent research. We simply duplicated the tech and had to take the rest on faith.”
“Did we get any other technology?”
“Of course,” Tanaka responded as if Turner’s question was at a level somewhere below naive. “They had some fairly impressive weapons technology, which we plan on starting to duplicate after the ships are done.”
Hunt’s face lit up. “What kind of weapons?”
“They had something called a plasma pulse cannon, then there is something that fires a gelled substance which apparently can burn in space or be used in bombardment. And they had antimatter weapons, which is something we couldn’t even definitively prove the existence of until we found the schematics.”
“But they aren’t on the ships now?”
“No,” Tanaka shook his head, “We began working on the ships with any existing technology we could. Many of the systems are modular, so we can upgrade later.”
Turner raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What if we run into more advanced weapons between now and the time that happens?”
“Well, we gave the ships as much firepower as we could. If all else fails, however, they are armed with nuclear missiles.”
“Wait,” Hunt raised his palm to stop the Marine, “Nuclear missiles? Our shields can’t stand up to that kind of wave. Won’t that kill us just as fast?”
“The ships are well shielded from radiation. A thin coating of carbon nanotubes covers the entire hull. Each of the tubes is filled with helium, which deflects radiation very well. The strategy is not a new one, but it is quite effective. Unfortunately we will have to replace the radiation shielding occasionally.”
Hunt decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “So what else do you have?”
“Each ship has a fighter and a bomber squadron. We are also working on a new kind of assault shuttle for the Marines, but they aren’t out of the prototype stage.”
Elizabeth looked out at the ships. “So these are ours?”
“Yes, Captain Turner. You’ve been assigned to Starfire, which will be completed the first week of June. Captain Hunt, you have the other ship. We have not named it yet, but it will be done a week later.”
“So I’ll be the first captain of a faster than light ship?” Turner asked.
“You’ll be second,” Tanaka responded, “Captain Anderson and the Nightwind are already in the Tau Ceti system.”
“How long has he known about this?”
Hunt raised a quizzical eyebrow. “That isn’t much time to figure out how to run a ship.”
“I know,” Tanaka said, “Nightwind and Starfire were originally scheduled to launch together at the beginning of June in a public ceremony. But with the situation on Earth deteriorating rapidly that plan was changed.”
Turner stood up and looked at the ships. “So I’m guessing you called us here to make sure we had more background on the project than Anderson.”
She turned back to the Marine. “You realized this is the worst possible timing for this sort of thing.”
“I suppose,” he shrugged, “But I’m sure things will calm down soon.”
“Then why all the secrecy?”
“It seemed like the best way.”