The continuing saga of Thibodaux James Renwalt and hsi adventures as the richest and most powerful man in the universe and his fight to preserve the Galactic Federation
by Dale Musser
Publisher Dale Musser
Published in Science Fiction & Fantasy
The continuing saga of Thibodaux James Renwalt and hsi adventures as the richest and most powerful man in the universe and his fight to preserve the Galactic Federation
“Admiral, take a look at this,” Captain Mazone called out. “It looks like they started to install controls for a 10X reactor.”
I was standing in a vast manmade cavern inside a large asteroid. Standing is a rather poor choice of words, because the mass of the asteroid wasn’t sufficient to create enough gravity to allow for standing. The slightest bit of motion set me afloat into the vacuum that surrounded us. Without artificial gravity produced by centrifugal force or energy/mass simulators in the floor there simply wasn’t enough gravity in this rock shell to be of any significance.
Ropes were stretched out like a giant spider web throughout the asteroid that enabled us to navigate the interior and anchor when needed, so we weren’t floating about randomly. I moved along, examining the rough-hewn cavern, trying to imagine what it would have looked like had the Brotherhood ever completed fabrication. It appeared they hadn’t gotten very far with construction and outfitting of what would have eventually become an asteroid-ship before abandoning the project.
“Why do you think they abandoned this asteroid?” I asked. My hand bumped into the clear plastic face plate of my space suit as I instinctively tried to scratch my itching nose.
“The rock mass is unstable. I’ve noted at least one major fault system,” Mazone said. “Had they completed this asteroid-ship, there would have been a high risk of fracture and complete structural failure when pressurizing it to create a breathable atmosphere, and it certainly would never have stood up to a hit from one of our slow penetration torpedoes. You can see a potentially explosive fracture zone over here that illustrates the high stresses in the formation.”
Mazone was pointing to a lighter zigzagged line of rock that ran across the floor and up one of the walls. “So they gave up when they found this asteroid wasn’t suitable for their use,” I said.
“Correct. This may have been their first attempt at creating an asteroid-ship from this particular asteroid field. After discovering the flaws seen here, they probably took a closer look at the other asteroids in the area and realized that none of them were suitable for their purposes. They obviously moved on to an asteroid cluster that would provide them with more stable material.”
I looked around at the squad of troopers and dozens of scientists seeking clues that might provide us with useful information. “How long ago do you think it’s been since they abandoned this asteroid?” I asked.
“It’s nearly impossible to tell. In the vacuum of space things don’t deteriorate or age the way they do in an atmosphere. If it were two days, fifteen years or a million years, it would essentially look the same,” Mazone answered.
“Have you investigated other asteroid fields close to this one? I imagine they wouldn’t have gone too far to look for another source.”
“There are several, all of which are located outside of Federation territories.”
“Hmm,” I acknowledged. “Have you found anything left behind that might give us some clues? Are you finding any clues at all, other than the excavated space that appears to be designed for installation of a 10X reactor?”
“No, sir. When the Brotherhood abandoned this rock, they took everything with them. The only manmade objects we’ve found in this cavern are the rock bolt anchors used to tie off lines like the ones we’re using now. They even took their ropes with them when they left.”
“It’s like I told you, Admiral. There’s nothing here of any value to us,” Admiral Slater interjected. He was right behind me, attached by a belt clip to the same line that I was. “That’s why I told Captain Mazone I wanted you to see this for yourself before pulling my men out. We’re planning an assault on Alamar-4 to retake the planet from the Brotherhood and deployment of these men for that operation would be a better use of resources. It’s a waste of time investigating this asteroid further.”
“I agree with you Admiral. I don’t see any reason to spend any more time here. Damn, I really thought the FSO had come up with a game-changer when they reported they had intelligence on the location of an asteroid-ship fabrication site.”
It had been fourteen years since the first asteroid-ships had appeared as part of the Brotherhood fleet. Despite the Federation’s efforts since then, not a single fabrication site had been located. Finding this rock was the closest we’d come to success, and it turned out to be an abandoned and useless site.
“I’ve seen enough. Let’s get back to the MAXETTE. You can tell your men to pull out,” I said. “Let’s focus our attention on liberating Alamar-4.”
The Federation was slowly starting to take an offensive stance in the war against the Brotherhood, where for years the military forces were relegated strictly to defending the planets within the union against Brotherhood attacks and takeovers. The Senate had finally recognized that the only way to stop the Brotherhood was to destroy them completely. To that end, Federation forces began to actively reclaim former Federation worlds conquered by the Brotherhood and to identify and occupy other Brotherhood worlds that fell within Federation jurisdiction. It wasn’t a pleasant war, as wars go. It was growing into a real slugfest, where one side dealt a major blow, only to receive equal or greater destruction in return. Every time the Federation would start to show some degree of victory, the Brotherhood would implement a new method or technology that tipped the scale back to their favor.
Return to the MAXETTE required boarding the patrol ship docked at the asteroid, which was a strange experience. One minute I was weightless and then, as I passed through the gate’s threshold, the gravity from ship’s mass-gravity simulators suddenly took hold, causing me to stumble and nearly fall.
“Careful there, Tibby,” said Slater. “The transition can really overwhelm you if you aren’t completely perpendicular to the floor when you step in. If your center of gravity isn’t directly above your legs when you enter the field, you’ll most certainly get body-slammed against the floor. It takes some practice.”
“So I see,” I said.
“So this is your first time entering a craft from a gravity-free area…?” Slater asked.
“Yes, it is. I never thought about the effect of the change before.”
“You’re lucky that you were closely aligned to vertical when you crossed the threshold. Most people take a dive the first few times before they get the hang of it.”
“In all the time since I left Earth I’ve haven’t space walked until today.”
“Really, Admiral?! That surprises me. But then I keep forgetting you didn’t play a direct role in the Mars project. We spent several months in space without gravity before we reached Mars. I’m surprised this walk didn’t make you sick. Most people suffer some nausea during their first zero-gravity experience.”
“I didn’t have any nausea, but I did feel uncomfortable – like I had a huge gas bubble and needed to burp.”
“Good thing you didn’t try to burp. You’d have filled your helmet with your last meal.”
By now we had cycled through the airlock and were inside the patrol ship. The MAXETTE was close enough to the asteroid that we were docked in one of the hangar bays before I even had a chance to get out of my spacesuit.
“Admiral, how soon would you like to review the plans for retaking Alamar-4?” Slater asked as we left the hangar bay.
“I have some free time now, if you like,” I answered. “I had planned several hours for the asteroid visit; however, since there was nothing useful to see there, I have several hours to spare in today’s schedule. Would you like Admirals Regeny and Wabussie to attend? I don’t know what their schedules are like, but Marranalis can send them invites. Regeny is most likely available. He likes to pretend he’s busy, but he’s generally not. Wabussie, on the other hand, is always busy. I swear, I don’t know if the man ever sleeps.”
“I think it would be a good idea if they both attend,” said Slater. “Wabussie’s attendance is critical and I know how touchy Regeny can be when he feels he’s being left out of the loop.”
I contacted Marranalis via the wrist com and provided him with instructions regarding the meeting.
“Yes, sir,” replied Marranalis.
It never ceased to impress me how the wrist coms could relay messages to the correct person, once the recipient’s name was stated. The computer chip seemed to identify the person and route the message instantaneously, though A’Lappe had explained there was actually a microsecond delay while the computer sorted it out. Still, the communication was seamless and it baffled me.
Once we were in the conference room and had settled in with our cups of foccee, I asked Slater, “So, what intelligence have you gained as to the defenses at Alamar-4?”
“Our recon flights aren’t picking up many enemy ships in the vicinity. They have 31 frigates and eight corvettes in orbit, as well as a few hundred fighters and patrol ships – all vintage craft. They have more fighters and patrol ships on the surface, but we have no idea how many of those are in working order or whether they have the manpower to provide crews for them. We’ve been able to get recon teams and a Cantolla Gate on the surface without incident. Almost immediately after our arrival the recon teams began reporting that the planet is in pretty bad shape. Alamar-4 was one of the first planets captured by the Brotherhood. Over the years they’ve raped and pillaged the planet so relentlessly that it’s nearly unrecognizable. The infrastructure is in shambles and utilities in many places work only sporadically. Surviving citizens that weren’t relocated to serve elsewhere in the Brotherhood’s realm are slaves to the local troops. They’ve barely survived, sir, and they live in the worst imaginable conditions. Many towns and villages are totally abandoned and lay in ruins. Those communities that still function are used as housing districts for the Brotherhood troops and as R&R centers for off duty crews. The towns consist mostly of bars, clubs, brothels and other food and entertainment establishments. The outlying areas are devoted to farming, mining or factories that produce various goods to support the Brotherhood’s war efforts.”
“What about drug production?” I asked. “Usually, the Brotherhood includes agricultural and processing areas for production of God’s Sweat on the planets where they’ve set up bases like this.”
“Our recon teams aren’t reporting any known production of the plants used for God’s Sweat. Apparently, there is something about the planet’s general soil composition that isn’t suitable for growing the plants used to manufacture the drug.”
“That’s good news,” I said. “What about underground facilities? Are there many of those?”
“A few, but nothing like we saw on Windsor, and those that are in place are sparsely manned. Since the Federation has never tried to reclaim Alamar-4 in all the years that they’ve occupied the planet, the Brotherhood has become rather complacent with security.”
“You mentioned that we have agents on the surface with a Cantolla Gate. Is there any possibility that we can set up more gates down there?”
“We can easily get them to the surface; however, positioning them in useful locations is problematic. Movement on the planet is heavily restricted. Anyone not a direct member of the Brotherhood is a slave, and movement of slave resources is highly regulated. It could take us weeks or even months to successfully establish even one more gate, if we continue to rely on our deployed teams to transport the components.”
I thought for a moment before continuing. “Is there any way we can drop in components from orbit with a team using high-altitude jumps from just inside the atmosphere?” I asked.
“You might be able to get one or two people in that way, but it would be risky. It’s highly likely that any ship that enters the atmosphere would be spotted by the Brotherhood’s satellite recon system, so our drop point and subsequent movements would be flagged and tracked.”
“How did you even get a team on the surface to begin with?”
“Since one hemisphere of the planet is basically all ocean, we identified a region where no ships were present and then, using a small two-person transport with heavy shielding, the crew went in hot through the atmosphere toward the target area, essentially creating the same signature as a meteor. Anyone who might have viewed their entry from the surface would have also seen the typical light phenomenon associated with a meteor, hence allowing our entry to remain completely covert. Just before the ship impacted the ocean, the crew quickly corrected their trajectory and skimmed along the surface below the marine sensor level. Once in sensor range of the continent, the transport submerged and traveled just below the surface to an uninhabited coastal region, where the team went ashore.”
“So we have only two people there now?”
“No, we now have twenty. The first two took components for the Cantolla Gate and assembled it in a secure location, so we can now send and retrieve any number of crews. As I said, we can easily transport more gate components to the surface. We just don’t have any means of moving them quickly and safely to other useful locations. As it is, mobilizing our crews just ten kilometers is a two-day task, because our movements have to occur on foot and at night to minimize the risk of detection. If you want more gates on the surface, they’ll probably have to be set up during battle by our invading forces.”
“What about setting up a gate large enough to accommodate our fighter craft, one we can assemble near the gate we already have in place? For example, do we have the capability of erecting a stellar gate on the side of a cliff or mountain? I imagine such a location would require a clear entry path. I know our new fighters are designed for atmospheric flight, but I don’t know if there’s a minimum clearance needed to adjust for atmosphere and gravity with that kind of entry.”
“Yes, a stellar gate may be possible. The location of the present gate is hidden within a mountainous region. I’m not familiar enough with the terrain to know off hand whether there’s a suitable cliff face or mountain in the immediate vicinity that can be reached on foot. I can assign a team to examine our 3D topo images of the region to identify potentially suitable sites. As far as air versus space flight goes, the fighters adjust almost instantaneously, so any additional adjustments for gravity or atmospheric conditions associated with the environment are automatic.”
“If we can get one stellar gate in place, our fighters and transports can pass through quickly and expedite the setup of additional gates at other strategic sectors of the planet. Within a very short time we’d be in position for an attack from space, while ground assault units simultaneously move in to derail enemy ground operations. You know, if your team can establish one stellar gate entry, I think this will work. We should be able to reclaim the planet swiftly and with minimal casualties.”
“Reclaim what planet?” I heard Regeny’s voice boom behind me. I turned to see him entering the room with Admiral Wabussie.
“Alamar-4, sir,” I responded. “Slater and I were just reviewing the general strategy for reclaiming the planet. If we can establish a stellar gate large enough for fighters and transports, we can catch the Brotherhood off guard and recapture the planet quickly and with minimal losses.”
Ah… good,” Regeny huffed. “I was afraid for a moment you were planning to cross Federation boundaries for an attack on a Brotherhood world. I know you think we must do so, Tibby, but the Senate has strictly forbidden any military action outside Federation territories, especially in regard to the Brotherhood conflict.”
“Admiral, I mean no disrespect to the Senate, but there is no way we will ever see an end to this war if we continue to restrict Federation engagement to defensive actions and fight only within our own borders. There is simply no incentive for the enemy to stop their attacks when the Federation is the only party suffering the loss of territory,” I said.
“I have to agree with Tibby on this,” added Slater. “Earth war history is littered with leaders who refused to engage or stop the enemy until a conflict advanced heavily on home ground. In the end, many times more lives were lost than what would have been, had the nations stood up to the aggressors sooner.”
“I know, and I agree with you both, but,” Regeny fussed, “by the stars, men, the Senate will have our heads if we go outside the Federation with this war.”
“If we don’t change our strategy and take the conflict to the enemy on their own turf, we eventually stand to lose everything,” I replied.
“Well, for the moment, this is the way we have to fight this war,” Regeny stated. “Now tell me about your plans for liberating Alamar-4.”
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Dale Musser was born in 1944 in a small rural community in Pennsylvania. From 1967 until 2012 he was employed as a structural and piping designer in the marine and offshore industry, the cogeneration power industry and in hard rock metal mining. His work at three shipyards and assignments with several engineering and naval architectural firms during his career in Virginia, Texas, and Maine took him to such places as London, U.K., Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., Scotland and Mexico. During this time, he was responsible for the design of reactor compartments for nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines for the U.S. Navy and the structural designs of numerous offshore semisubmersible oil rigs, tanker ships, supply boats, and other vessels and equipment used in the offshore industry. After the death of his wife in 1999, Mr. Musser changed careers and went to work in Arizona and Utah in the hard rock mining industry. He retired in fall of 2012 and currently resides in Mesa, Arizona; however, his plans for the near future involve a move to New Mexico.