[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. Everything is tagged under Nightwind Wednesdays. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned.]
Earth Command Shipyards, Venus Orbit
May 30th, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
1148 Terran Standard Time
Captain Elizabeth Turner stepped into the huge observation dome for what seemed like the thousandth time over the last eleven days. Beyond the window lay the vast expanse of the two production lines that gave purpose to the top secret Venus Shipyards. She let her eyes wander over the smooth expanse of the nearly completed ship occupying the closer line, ECS Starfire, soon to be hers to command. She feared it would not be soon enough.
Nothing in her training or experience could even begin to prepare her for the task at hand. Thirty-one years old and a nine year veteran of Earth Command, Elizabeth was intelligent, capable and one of the best captains in the history of the Navy. There was no higher honor she could think of than being given command of the Starfire, but the timing could have been far better. Her old ship, ECS Dragon, had been left in the hands of her former Executive Officer, a greedy, shallow commander who, in her opinion, should not have been allowed to graduate from the Academy, let alone been given a ship.
Now the Dragon was a rogue. One ship would not be too much of a problem, but the Wyvern had pulled out and Zephyr was, well, no one knew where Zephyr was. That left Horatio Semmes and the Phoenix as the only reliable Earth Command force in system. Although she had the utmost respect for Semmes, the odds were stacked heavily against him. Even his new alliance with the smugglers did not even things out, as the idea of trusting them seemed foolhardy.
If only Captain Anderson and the Nightwind would return. The situation would improve drastically when that happened. If it happened. She knew it was entirely possible he would not return. No one knew what was out there.
“I figured I’d find you here,” a familiar voice boomed out behind her.
She continued looking out the window. “It’s where I come to think, Robert,” she said. “And there’s an awful lot to think about recently.”
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
Elizabeth ran her hand through her long brown hair and turned to face her oldest friend. “There’s always room for you, Robert,” she said, green eyes flashing.
Captain Robert hunt stepped up to the railing and looked out at the two nearly identical starships. “How long now?”
“Nine days, Robert,” she responded. “Nine more days sitting on the sidelines.”
He turned and looked at her. “Well, at least you’ve only got nine. I’m stuck her for another week after that.”
“You always were second best,” she said, flashing him a broad smile.
Robert chuckled. “Word is I’m actually third best these days. Anderson wouldn’t have the Nightwind if they didn’t think he’s better than us.”
“Eh,” Elizabeth shrugged, “He’s good, but so are we. And so is Semmes for that matter.” She looked back at the shipyard.
“I just don’t know if any of us will be good enough for this.”
“Anderson will be able to handle it.” Robert assured her.
“Are you sure? How well do you know him?”
Hunt thought about her question. “Come to think of it, not too well,” he finally said.
“Isn’t that a little strange?” Elizabeth asked.
Robert rubbed his chin and tried to remember the few times he had spoken to the other captain. The Earth Command officer corps was a fairly tight-knit clique, even with the fairly rapid turnover rate. The small number of ships, combined with the tendency to constantly rotate assignments meant officers and crews had usually served with a large percentage of the rest of the navy. Anderson had served on the Zephyr as executive officer before being fast-tracked into command of the Phoenix. “I served with David for over four months,” Robert told her, “And I can’t think of more than five actual conversations I had with the man. He was always aloof.”
Elizabeth paused, digesting the new information. “Now that you mention it, he was on the Dragon when I was XO, and I don’t think he ever spoke to me unless he had to. Couldn’t even make eye contact. And he’s what? Twenty-six? That just seems so young.”
Robert sighed. “While we were back on Earth getting reassigned I stopped at home and talked to my dad,” he said. “I mentioned that I’m now at the age he was when he retired from the Navy to take up teaching. That got us on to the subject of the age of the people in the Navy.”
“What?” she asked. “You figured out why there’s no one in the Navy older than forty-two?”
“It’s simple,” Robert said. “Serving in the Earth Command Navy is extremely boring.”
Elizabeth stared at him, incredulous. “You have got to be kidding.”
“Nope,” Robert shook his head. “Think about it. For three centuries there has been no war, no rebellion, nothing. Nobody has fired the guns of an Earth Command ship in anger. So after a few years the whole thing turns into mind-numbing routine and you retire and move on to something else.”
“That,” Elizabeth nodded, “Actually makes sense. And it also explains why Command likes to shake things up so much.”
Major Jason Tanaka, the commander of the shipyard facility, walked into the observation room looking sick. “Captain Turner, Captain Hunt,” he said quietly, “I’m sorry to bother you…but there’s something you need to see.”
“What is it, Major?” Robert asked, concerned.
“Commander Semmes just called from Luna base,” he said, “Please come with me.”
Tanaka led them out of the room and through the corridors of the shipyard to the main communications trunk. He dismissed the comm tech as they entered the room and called up a message. “Prepare yourselves,” he said. “This is…”
Without finishing the thought, Tanaka hit the playback button. A view of the dome of Luna base flashed on to the screen. Both captains involuntarily gasped when they saw the complete and utter ruin of what had once been the home of nearly one thousand people.
“What happened?” Robert asked.
“The Phoenix and the Dragon were engaged in battle near the dome when stray fire hit the dome,” Tanaka told him.
“The Phoenix,” Tanaka shook his head. “Apparently they lost a target lock on the Dragon and reacquired on the dome.
There was nothing anyone could do.”
“Poor Horatio,” Elizabeth said, turning from the tragic scene. “How is he taking it?”
“Not well,” Tanaka responded. “He was sending a search party down when I talked to him, but didn’t seem very hopeful.”
“First Earth Command, then Mars, now this,” Captain Hunt clenched his jaw, determined to keep from crying at the sight of the dome. He knew he had to be strong, for Elizabeth, for himself. “If Horatio can’t get those supplies out to Europa and Tethys we might not have any reason to use our new ships.”
“Did he say what he was going to do next, Jason?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, Captain,” he replied. “I just hope he can put this aside and do what he needs to do. It may seem callous, but Semmes is our only chance right now.”
May 30th, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
1205 Terran Standard Time
Commander Gregory stepped into David’s small office. David sat in his old wooden desk chair, reading a star chart.
“Everything ready, Walter?” he asked, not looking up.
“Yes, Sir,” the Executive Officer responded, “Course is set for the Ah’dag system. Awaiting your orders.”
“Good, good,” David said, “We’re probably going to have to prepare a team to head down to the planet on this one.”
“Sir?” Gregory asked.
David turned the monitor so his XO could see it. “The Joshan star charts indicate that we’ll be seeing a fairly low-tech planet. They’ve apparently just developed advanced enough rocketry to allow space flight in the last decade.”
“How do you know that?”
David brought up a small schematic. “See here?” he pointed to a list of developments. “It says a probe detected a rocket launch seven cycles ago. Assuming the cycle is equivalent to our year, that puts it about eight years ago, based on the orbital pattern of the planet.”
“We assumed the cycle is the same as the year?” Walter asked, “Is that wise?”
The Captain shrugged. “It makes as much sense as anything else the data analysis team could come up with. And we need to come up with some sort of touchpoint.”
“I suppose,” the XO agreed despite his skepticism. “So why would we be going down to this planet?”
“They’ve been hit by the pirates four times in the past year, assuming our translation of the Joshan calendar is correct,” David said. “If we go down and talk to them, we might be able to get some valuable information.”
“Is that such a good idea?” Walter asked. “I mean, going down to the planet?”
“Why? You think we shouldn’t?”
Walter shrugged, “I’m just trying to figure out what I would do if someone dropped in on me from outer space and started asking me questions.”
David nodded. “I see your point, Commander,” he allowed, “But they’ve already experienced contact with aliens, albeit in a very negative way. I think the fact that they’ve seen people from space means we’ll be able to get away with visiting.”
“Okay,” Gregory agreed for the sake of argument. “Ensign Lindros reports that the Ah’dag system will be outside of the range of communications with Tau Ceti III, by the way.”
“Well, we haven’t talked to them in five days, anyway,” David responded. “We should leave one of those signal repeaters behind, either way.”
“Yes, Sir,” the other man said. “Jackson tells me that we haven’t been able to test them yet, so we shouldn’t be surprised if we still can’t talk to anyone.”
“Have a seat, Walter,” David signaled to the room’s small couch. “Are you leaving anyone behind?” he asked as the Commander complied.
“Well, my parents and my sisters,” he replied, “But that’s about it.”
“Just family?” David asked, “No one else?”
“Well, there was someone once,” Walter said, “Her name was Emily. But now…” He trailed off. “Well, it’s over now. You?”
David shook his head. “Never took the time. Career military, always busy. You know the story.”
“Yeah,” Gregory nodded. “I kind of figure I’ll be single until I retire at this rate.”
Anderson laughed. “I know the feeling,” he said.
“Hey,” the XO said, abruptly changing the subject, “I just had a strange thought.”
“What do you think the odds are,” he leaned in, “That we’ll run into the Jove out here?”
David laughed. “So astronomically tiny that it’s not even worth thinking about.”
“But it could happen.”
“I suppose, if we wait another hundred years or so, that it could get this far out, assuming it’s still capable of movement.”
Two colony ships were built as part of the Interstellar Colonization Plan, Jove and Winged Messenger. The Messenger was originally launched out toward Tau Ceti, where it performed its mission perfectly. Jove was supposed to travel to Wolf 359 and then Lalande 21185, where astronomers had detected planets as early as the late Twentieth Century. The chances of the existence of habitable worlds was somewhat smaller than at Tau Ceti, but in the end it did not matter.
Less than thirty years into its mission, Jove had simply stopped communicating. Whether it was a simple glitch or the ships was destroyed no one knew. Earth Command wrote it up as a mystery to be solved when technology and time allowed and left it at that.
David fell silent for a moment. “Oh, by the way,” he changed the subject again, “While we’re on the subject of history, the Joshan star charts included a historical supplement. Some of this stuff is fascinating.”
Walter leaned forward. “Oh really,” he asked, “Like what?”
“Well,” David answered, “I was wondering why all the systems seemed to end in ‘dag,'” he said, “When I discovered the supplement.”
“So what does ‘dag’ mean?”
“Apparently, it simply means ‘star.'”
“Indeed.” David chuckled. “Apparently they named their stars in much the same way we did, using old legends, myths and heroes.”
“So who was this star named after?”
“Hr Dul, one of the ancient gods of the race,” David said. “Apparently he was the god of the dead, much like Hades for the Greeks.”
Walter nodded. “And the star we’re going to?”
“That was apparently named for the legendary first Emperor,” David told him. “He was said to be a half-god, stronger and more powerful than the men around him. He united the tribes and nations of Joshanna.”
“Half god?” Gregory asked. “Like Hercules?”
“More like Alexander the Great, I’d say,” the Captain responded. “He was an actual historical figure with great legends and stories built around him. The record indicates that he was probably pure Joshan, but sometimes the story is more important than the truth.”
“That is very true, Captain,” Walter said. “But do you think they still believe those old stories?”
“Does it matter?”
“Well, dealing with a superstitious alien race could be a problem.”
“Jupiter is named after a Roman god, Walter,” David said, “As are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Neptune and Pluto, not to mention their moons. Does that mean the human race is made up of backwards, superstitious people?”
“No,” the Executive Officer said, “But we can’t make assumptions that they gave up their superstitions when they left their planet.”
“We can’t make assumptions they didn’t, either, Walter.”
Gregory paused. “I think this is the part,” he said after a moment, “Where we both admit we have no clue what’s going on, agree that we’re in over our heads and decide to stop speculating on such things.”
“That,” David smiled, “Is the best idea I’ve heard in a while. I believe you said we were prepared to leave?”
“Yes, Sir,” Walter nodded, “We’re ready to really leave Earth behind.”
“Well, we haven’t spoken to them for a while,” David said. “I think they can handle things on their own for a little bit.”