Friday, January 23, 2015
Dranke piloted the darkmatter starcraft himself as he docked with spacecommand satellite docking station. It was now a very familiar procedure. He was surprised to see that there was no welcoming committee when the airlock opened. He had assumed that Lieutenant Nina Decee would have been there to receive them. Or at least a junior attendant. Instead Jen spoke in his head "Captain, the Leader has asked you to meet your old command, General Selin. Kell will debrief you." Kell was walking alongside Dranke and she nodded silently. It was surreal. They were connected by Hnnet tech to each other, albeit indirectly. And the communication was instantaneous and incredibly efficient. He grinned despite himself. Kell spoke to him in low tones, explaining the agenda as they strode through the cramped walkways.
Fenie and Niket walked behind them hand in hand, and the rest of the crew followed. The winding corridors were no longer a maze with Jen providing visual maps to their destination. General Selin was staring at a large map which rotated endlessly in the middle of the room. It was a hologram. Dranke walked straight through the map and shook hands with his commander "It's a pleasure to meet you again Sir." The General smiled "You are now a seasoned veteran young man. I last saw you as a kid playing at space games." His eyes twinkled in delight. Dex and Sette were craning their necks above the others. They were the only ones who had not seen the General before.
The General was introduced to each to them, and he took the time to talk to each of the crew before he asked them about their last encounter with the Jexx. He took it all in. Niket and her crew seemed to be his focus. Dranke was curious as to where this was all leading. He knew the General was spearheading Earth's defense against the Jexx, but he knew little else.
General Selin cleared his throat "We are now ready to create a full fleet of darkmatter starcraft. As the senior captains and crew, you are the vets and the core who will now be promoted to Admirals." Niket and Dranke looked at each other in surprise. This was not something they had expected. The General was still speaking "In order to defend Earth from future attacks, the Hennet will supply the ships which will be fitted in their yards in Hexe. As you now know, their tech is light years ahead of ours, and it will give us a huge advantage over the Jexx. As part of our upgrade, you will have ten ships each, and a science officer who will have to be trained in the Hnnet tech for running repairs, if so needed. Fenie as science officer will be promoted to science director and will report into spacecommand directly. Any questions?" There were many questions and the General answered them patiently. Twenty new captains would be blooded into the fleet, and they all needed to know what was expected of them.
Dranke felt a little sad. Most of his crew would be captains of their own ships. And while he would now be an Admiral, he realized that he would have to now work with a brand-new crew. Fenie and Piteer would get their own ships for sure. Only Dex and Sette would remain from his old crew. He would miss them all.
The General realized what he was going through and after the rest of the people had been dismissed, he took Dranke aside and spoke with him. "It's always like this Admiral. People move on. Your crew were a tightly-knit unit, but your skills are now needed to create a tightly-knit fleet. We have full confidence that you will make that jump successfully. Not to mention the worry that Jexx will attack spacecommand or Earth, and we need to be prepared with enough firepower to repel them. Their advantage is numbers, so we need to be able to ramp up very quickly." Dranke agreed "Of course Sir. I understand the logic perfectly." The General gave him a smile and said a few words of goodbye, not unkindly, and left quickly. It had been some time since someone had treated Dranke as a youngster, and he realized he missed it. Just a little. He turned abruptly and walked back to the anteroom where his crew were getting ready to head to their quarters.
The new ships were due to reach spacecommand in a couple of days and everyone was excited among the crew. There was a new technical detail which would be a core of science officers, who were even more excited, if that was possible. The quarters given to the two 'fleets' were humming with speculation and yells of cadets and vets alike rung though the night. Dranke was getting used to the idea that he would be separated from his crew shortly. He went up to Kell and asked her of her experiences of being detached from her old battalion. It was instructional to say the least. In the meantime Jen was constantly in his head. She was fast becoming a part of him. A constant companion.
Dranke looked forward to the new day which promised so much. He sat at his bed at looked out the viewing porthole. The dark sky beckoned. It called to him. He needed to be among the stars...
Pic courtesy: From Wikimedia commons - link http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Eve_Online_-_Empyrean_Age_screenshot.jpg
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Dranke had no idea they would actually reach Jexx before time; and it seemed that Piteer was taken by surprise as well. He thanked the stars that the shipboard computer gave them enough warning much before the last three jumps were being executed. Dranke needed to slow down the mad rush to the Jexx planet and he asked Fenie to stop jumping while they formulated a plan. They needed to approach the planet with some caution, especially since they suspected that the Jexx had taken Niket and her crew in custody.
Fenie and Piteer decided on a spiral approach from the far side where they would be shielded by the star around which the Jexx planet orbited. Dranke agreed, it would have been his choice as well. Except he asked them to jump to a space much closer to the star than the Jexx would expect. It would give them an element of surprise, especially that now Piteer had tested the ability of the darkmatter starcraft to jump really close to a gravity well. The Jexx would not expect a sudden appearance of the Raven so close to their sun.
It was a tense time as Piteer's navigational skills would be tested to the hilt, and Fenie circumvented a arc which would carry them as close to the Jexx planet as possible without detection. They would be in the shadow of a large moon orbiting another planet, but it would be sufficient for their purposes. It would have to be enough, though the plan was far from foolproof. Dranke signed off on the plan and they began the jump. Sette sent off a ping to spacecommand giving them a quick update, she missed Vaxe's calm assurance and experience. Dex realized what she was going through and nodded solemnly. He felt much like she did. But there was no time to linger and daydream. They were entering a hot zone!
The Jexx star filled the sky, and the filters were engaged automatically, cutting off all radiation. The ship catapulted using the star's immense gravity well and slung out streaking towards the safety of the moon which they had identified. Sweat beaded Piteer's forehead as he worked feverishly to ensure that their time exposed would be minimal. It was a short trip and they needed to lose all the kinetic energy as the engines reversed and matched the movement of the moon. It had been a perfect maneuver! Piteer grinned at Dranke and gave him the thumbs up. Dranke nodded, he had expected no less.
The sky was dark, but Piteer was scanning it for anything out of place. Within moments he sounded the alarm "They were waiting for us Captain, what are your orders? We have just a few minutes to react." Dranke seemed to take it in his stride. "We knew this might happen. Wait. And open channels to communicate. Sette send out a hail." They waited. Tiny pinpricks resolved into heavily armed Jexx craft. They were small and nimble and there were more than twenty which had been patrolling the moon. Dranke groaned inwardly. He asked for the comms and spoke to the Jexx commander directly "We are here to inquire into the missing darkmatter starcraft which is captained by Captain Niket commander. Can you tell us what has happened to it?" The Jexx commander seemed excited "You are not invited to Jexx. We are commencing fire, as we would to an intruder. Goodbye." All the Jexx ships opened fire on the Raven. It was too late to jump.
Fenie gasped as she watched the flashes of weaponry being discharged. But they waited for an inordinately long time. Nothing happened. Fenie stared at Dranke "Captain it's the Hnnet tech. It's actually warping the spacetime around the ship. It makes no sense from any science I've studied. But that's what has happened." Dranke nodded. Jen had already been whispering urgently in his head, updating him quickly with all the capabilities of the Hnnet tech. Apparently they could not be attacked with this warp shield. It was incredible! The Jexx hailed them "We apologize. We would like to board and study the tech which you have brought with you." Dranke replied "Of course, as soon as we see Niket and her crew commander." It was a stalemate, but Dranke knew that the Jexx would gamble everything for the kind of tech they had just seen. The commander said "They are safe. We are not monsters." Dranke was not fooled for a moment "Once they are on my ship, I will allow three of your people safe passage on my ship. But not before." The commander went offline.
In a few moments, a beacon went off - it was the crew of the other darkmatter starcraft! They were still on their ship, which seemed to be disabled. Piteer docked gently with the ship, which bore the marks of attack. Niket strode through "What took you guys so long?" Her smile did not conceal the worry and sleeplessness she had had to endure. The rest of the crew traipsed into the Raven after her. "They were holding us hostage. I think it had something to do with commander Yod, but they are more likely to shoot first and ask questions later." Dranke nodded "We had made a deal with them to board. But I'm wondering if I should uphold my end of the deal." The commander of the Jexx ships was also thinking that the humans might renege and his comms were getting shriller "We are now boarding you captain." Dranke answered calmly "Three of your delegates may visit us. Without any weapons or any other demands." The Jexx broke communications. Within seconds they were under attack again. The Jexx had expected to take them by force.
Since the decision had been made for them, Dranke shrugged and gave orders to return to spacecommand headquarters. The Jexx were helpless to stop the Raven from jumping away. None of their arsenal seemed to work on the enhanced darkmatter starcraft. They had lost Niket's darkmatter starcraft, but the tech it carried was something the Jexx would have had in any case. Niket's ship had not been enhanced by Hnnet tech. When they were jumping away from the Jexx homeworld, Dranke saw Niket and Fenie hugging tightly. He had suspected as much, and he was glad they were able to rescue Niket and her crew. It had been a fruitful trip, but it was time to go home.
Pic courtesy: http://silnae.deviantart.com/art/Area-space-359963719 - http://goo.gl/eUn6dy (Area space by SilNae)
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Dex and Sette spent all their time in the engine room. The new additions to the engine were strange and alien. Clearly the work of the Hnnet. In addition, parts often transformed into some other working part when needed. Simple buttons had the propensity to change into a touchpad. No one quite knew what to make of it. They went to see the captain. Dranke was still mulling over leaving Vaxe behind. He had the sneaking feeling that Kell was behind her whole sudden reveal, but he couldn't pin down where the thought had originated from. Dex cleared his throat "Captain, the engine has components which transform on their own. We are unable to get a fix on how to stop that, or even why it happens." Dranke looked at him in surprise "We must find out. Have you tried everything?" Jen interjected in his head "Ask Dex to look for the programming. Its a learning smart program. The transformation is just the outcome, not the effect." Dranke told Dex and Sette what Jen had told him. They nodded and marched off to the bridge. All the computing was done there.
The ship also jumped faster. Dranke could not explain it. He asked Jen. She told him to check their fuel. There was almost no utilization. Dranke did a double take. Jen giggled in his head "It's using any subatomic particles which get trapped by the engine during jumps and enhancing the energy patterns. Don't try to understand the physics. Your people will know about it soon enough." Dranke was flabbergasted. The Hnnet had tech which humans would have given an arm and a leg for. And now it was on his ship as well.
Piteer came down from the navigational deck and got himself a coffee analogue. "You know captain, there is another thing. We are now able to jump very near gravity wells. So maybe you don't need a navigator anymore." He gave a twisted smile at Dranke. Dranke raised his cup in response "We should all get to be superfluous. Though we still need you Piteer, so stop daydreaming of walking off my ship."
In all the banter they almost missed the message which had been received from spacecommand. Since Sette was sitting at Vaxe's desk, she noticed it first. It was for captain's eyes only. She pushed it to Dranke who looked at her with glazed eyes as the message played "Captain this is a matter of grave urgency. We suspect that Captain Niket and her crew has been taken by the Jexx. We have lost contact with the darkmatter starcraft some days back, and even the auto-ping has not confirmed its existence. We need you to investigate at the soonest and attempt a rescue if so required. As of now, we are not sure if the Jexx are involved, but all indications are that they had a hand to play in this new development. Since the time for you to revert to us will be a few weeks, we are only waiting for a ping. By order of the Leader." It was ominous.Dranke relayed orders quietly to Fenie who came to his side unbidden. She always knew when she would be needed. He looked at her searchingly "I know you and Niket are close, so please let me know if you have any problem.I need the crew to be on the ball." Fenie nodded "I'm okay. I'm keen to find out what happened to her." She rushed off without any further explanation.
The Raven had already changed its course and started jumping towards the Jexx homeworld before she could even look at the starmaps. She stared at the course. It had cut down time to almost half from what she would have estimated. The ship was anticipating their moves and working around any possible permutations she could have looked at. She stared some more before telling the captain what had happened.
At this rate, they would be at Jexx in under a week. She just hoped it would be in time to save her partner. If not, everyone would know in any case.
Pic courtesy: NASA / Wikimedia commons - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4e/Pleiades_large.jpg
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Dranke had not slept well. It clearly showed as he stumbled into the shower room in the Hnnesset living quarters. Every human concern had been addressed. But there were no familiar trappings. He stared at the small cubicle in consternation. How was he supposed to turn on the shower settings? He touched the wall. it slowly transformed into a tub filled with an impossibly blue fluid. The liquid looked like water. He tested it with his finger. He decided to not overthink it and slid inside. The 'water' gushed around him gurgling and singing. It was extremely relaxing. He could lie here all day.
Breakfast was astonishing. Old Earth food had been laid out when he entered his room. He stared at it. This would be worth a fortune! The eggs and bacon disappeared rapidly. He wondered if he needed to keep his breakfast pills anymore. Jen said he should. That made him sit up. He had work to do!
When Dranke found his way back to Hexe, he found that the full crew had assembled around the Raven. They were staring. And soon he was too. Fenie pulled his sleeve without breaking her stare "Look at the booms." He did. They were working like fingers in hands - millions of fingers all built into the booms. They transformed into drivers or drills when needed. They stretched like silly putty when needed. They were all transfixed as they saw the extent of the technology the Hnnet had. In the meantime the darkmatter starcraft was being rapidly transformed itself. Gone were the human exhausts. In their place was a bank of slim tubes. The edges were being fitted with some material with seemed ethereal. Who was doing the refurbishment? Jen told him it was the upgrade module. The whole time it had been gathering performance data on the way to Hexe. It was a simple matter to decide on the course of action after that. It was all automated. No one was overseeing it. The module was self-sufficient. Dranke told Fenie and Piteer about the module and they marveled at it's programming.
The admiration was broken by Ed coming in and greeting them all "Hello humans. I must tell you the council is now ready to see you. You must come back to the Hnnesset immediately." Dranke noticed that his tone seemed a little strained. But then he was no expert on alien voice modulation. He nodded "Do all of us need to come?" "Dex and Sette can stay back since they are new, but the rest of the crew need to be there." They followed without a word back to the now familiar teleporters.
This time there was no time for pleasantries. Ed hurried them to the Hnnesset main dome-like structure. There were twenty-three aliens there. Only one looked like a Hnnet. The rest were clearly from different planets. Ed said "The council will speak through me. From now on, you must speak to them directly. I will not be able to respond for the duration of your meeting." Dranke said "I understand."
They were seated on a podium and Ed stood in front of them arms akimbo. He said "We are the council. It is our pleasure to meet with you captain Dranke and crew." Dranke was a little unsettled "It is our honor." Ed laughed "Yes, what you humans called honor. We meant no disrespect." Dranke smiled politely "Of course." Ed spoke rapidly "Have you decided to nominate one person for the Hnnesset? You understand that over a thousand delegates make up the Hnnesset?" Dranke nodded assent "Yes, I have decided. I cannot ask anyone else, so I will volunteer." Ed smiled "We knew you would make that choice. But we need you to coordinate with your spacecommand.Can you make another choice?" Dranke was taken aback "Respectfully, I cannot ask anyone to take such a position. My job description is very limited." Ed nodded "We expected that too. Based on our studying your crew, Vaxe may be interested. And don't worry, we will not force her." Dranke looked at Vaxe in surprise. She smiled at him and shrugged "I don't have a family. I like it here."
Dranke felt relief wash over him. Ed was still speaking "Vaxe is free to leave any time she wants. Its not binding." Ed said "It's a temporary position. We understand that it is now vital to Earth to be part of the Hnnesset since we are integrating too fast to allow for our bureaucracy to slow us down. The normal process will happen in parallel, but we understand the desperation of your Leader." Dranke did not know what to say "Thank you." The council retreated from Ed. The council members walked off unconcerned as if they were on a picnic. Ed was now himself "Sorry about that. I had to let you speak to the council directly. It's above my pay grade." He grinned "See I know all about human jokes."
After they were deposited back to their quarters, Dranke and Fenie spoke to Vaxe. She was happy to try her hand at something new. Dranke felt relieved. And then felt guilty for feeling relieved. Fenie looked at him "Its not about you captain, it's about what Vaxe wants." He nodded. It was time to head back to Hexe and their ship. As they all said goodbye to Vaxe, she said "I'm really happy here. And don't be stangers! You are my family." Their parting was bittersweet.
As they boarded the darkmatter starcraft, Dranke realized he would have time to revisit leaving Vaxe behind. Nothing was irreversible.
Pic courtesy: http://pixabay.com/en/artmatic-voyager-moon-starry-sky-115085/
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Dranke had been up for two nights straight and when he finally got to bed, he had slept for a whole day. They were due to reach the Hnnesset in a short while. Dex and Sette had discovered that the darkmatter starcraft had a built-in upgrade module. What exactly it did was something which mystified them. It had only been installed very recently after they had returned with commander Yod to spacecommand.
Dex and Sette were back again at the engine room, which had the upgrade module. It resisted any attempts to scan it. Clearly it was tamper-proof. Dranke had finally resorted to checking with the Jen subroutine to figure out what the upgrade module was. Jen had been evasive. "It will all become clear when you reach the Hnnet location." At least they knew it was Hnnet tech. They had to be satisfied with that.
Dranke had a shower, the booth spun the air around him and vacuumed him clean as he stood in the shower booth. He slipped on the ship suit and found his way to the bridge. The crew was milling around, preparing for reaching their destination. The mysterious Hnnet planet was something which they had been waiting to see. There was a palpable excitement around the ship. In a short while, the jumps stopped and the ship began its slow approach to the planet. Except it wasn't a real planet. It was completely artificial. They all stared at the hologram in awe. The spaceport was bigger than Earth. It had protrusions which pointed out into space. Like a planet, it rotated, and it was in a star's gravity well, but it was clear that it was able to jump. It was incredible. The Jen subroutine connected to Dranke "The spaceport is called Hexe. It is completely transformable, like every Hnnet device." She went on to explain more about Hexe and it's rules. Dranke was unable to respond. This was overwhelming. Jen understood and asked Dranke to connect to the voice response. He did and indicated that Vaxe should take over. She quickly connected to the Hexe operator on the spaceport. "Welcome humans. You are scheduled for an upgrade. As Jen explained, the Raven is to link to the Shipyard which we will guide you to. Please switch off all propulsion, tractor beams will take over."
Vaxe replied as if this was something she had seen many time before "Of course. Engines off. Standing by for tractor beams." The ship was drawn towards one of the long appendages which slid out further until it encased the ship. Then they were inside a transparent tube, moving at impossible speeds around bends and rights angles. The ship came to rest on a cushion of something. Air? It was impossible to tell. The sensors showed structures all around. The Hnnet doorway opened directly into the Raven's main bridge. "Please disembark." They did. They were in a vast shipyard. Everwhere they looked, there were appendages which seemed to come out of nowhere and sped towards the ship. Most of them seemed to meld into the skin of the Raven. Dranke pushed it out of his mind. There was nothing to be done but watch. They didn't even notice when Ed and Jen walked up to them, looking human. Ed grinned "Welcome to Hexe. We will travel to the Hnnesset shortly. Do not worry, your ship upgrade has been cleared by your Leader." Dranke nodded. He was beginning to understand that events would take place, and he had to anticipate, plan and if all else failed, just go along with what was happening.
Piteer and Fenie were the most excited of the lot. The sights and sounds were something to experience, and their eyes widened as they saw the kind of tech the Hnnet employed. Within a few minutes, they were at a concourse. All shapes and sizes of creatures seemed to go past without a care. Some of them were aquatic. Others were wispy or tall, plantlike beings. There were a swarm of something which flew past. Some seemed robotic. It was all very strange and alien. They gawked as they walked past. The concourse led to a staging area. While pads levitated in the air.... Dranke looked at these curiously. The Jen subroutine told him they were teleporters. He looked at the real Jen to see if she was aware of the mental connection. She seemed to be unaware. But he couldn't be sure.
Ed told them to stand just below the pads..... the pads which floated right above their heads.They turned translucent the moment the crew stood under them. Kell seemed to know what was to happen next. There was a deep blue light which illuminated them.... seeming almost solid and then they were in the Hnnesset. It was a huge habitat. And it had important looking creatures in gaudy colors all over the place. They were in a plaza in the middle of a garden which had some strange looking organic material. It couldn't be called a garden really. And the plaza 'stones' seemed alive. It was strange and unsettling. The Jen subroutine told Dranke that the Hnnesset was a living organism. It was efficient beyond anything that could have been made. It was a living planet! The whole concept was staggering. And the heads of state from all the member planets lived on the Hnnesset. Ed was telling the crew the same thing. They walked on..... Ed was speaking "As explained to you all, the Hnnesset is ready to receive you. We are keen to have an ambassador from Earth have a seat on the membership, as a test. Captain you must nominate one person from your crew, but we would prefer if you were to accept the ambassadorship for Earth. It is a temporary seat until we can formalize it." He seemed almost apologetic.
Dranke was shaken out of his 'go with the flow' attitude. This was serious. Outwardly he said "Let me think about it." but inwardly, everything seemed so fluid, he felt discombobulated. He turned off the Jen subroutine. He would need some privacy to confer with his crew. Ed, in the meanwhile, continued talking without a pause about the twenty-three Hnnet who made up the council. They were individuals with an impressive list of achievements. Many of them had gone on suicide missions to save a species; and survived against all odds. Dranke tuned out; the tour was something he could review with Jen later, he had more pressing concerns right now. Fenie seemed to understand his mood, and she walked close to Dranke, reassuring him with her presence.
There was so much to talk about! Dranke looked at his crew - Fenie, Kell, Vaxe, Piteer, Dex and Sette. Who should he decide on? He did not know how he was to conceive a decision of this magnitude. He decided to wait until they were alone. Fenie looked at him knowingly and grinned. It would have to be his decision.
Pic courtesy: Wikimedia commons, (ESO) Artist's impression of Gliese 667 Cb with the Gliese 667 A/B binary in the background - http://goo.gl/wWTBLh
Friday, November 21, 2014
Dranke woke with a start. He had had a disturbed sleep to begin with, but once he dozed off, he slept fitfully. He heard the insistent buzzer going off again - it was Kell pinging him "Good morning Kell, isn't it a bit early?" He could hear the smile in her voice "Captain, its time for your enhancement, should I tell you how to get there?" He grumbled and agreed, watching as the schematic hologram was transferred to the middle of the room. He hadn't even had coffee! He slid out of the covers and got a real coffee mug, the steaming brew smelt delicious.
Dranke got dressed and found his way to the enhancement center. The tech in charge was Gens, a young man with an intense look. He asked Dranke to sit in the high backed chair. Without warning, the chair elevated and a machine descended on Dranke. Blackness enveloped him. He had dreams. Dreams of people talking as he was helpless. Dreams of being captured by enemies. He lost consciousness after a while.
He was brought to by some more coffee. He could get used to the real stuff. The voice in his ear said "Hope that was not painful." He said not at all, and realized that there was no one there. He was speaking to Jen, the Hnnet. He grimaced. "Don't worry, you will get used to it. You don't have to speak or sub-vocalize, just think 'to' me, that should be enough." Dranke tried it "Are you Jen?" "In a way. I am a Jen subroutine. I am her, but I am more. She doesn't really have to talk to you, I do it for her." He wondered at the kind of tech that would do that "It's more complicated than I can account for. Lets just keep it as an intelligence for now, that should suffice." He nodded. "You don't have to nod Captain, I can see the thoughts you are sending me." Dranke thought about it "What about privacy?" "Privacy is a construct. If you want me offline, just ask." This was going to get complicated.
The rest of the crew were just beginning to troop into the general mess, back from their visit Earthside. They were corralled together by Nina who led them back to the crew quarters where their gear had been stowed. Fenie and Vaxe spent a long time going over the maintenance logs and removal of the Jexx weaponry. They would not need them again. Niket and her crew were to visit Jexx with an ambassador to maintain diplomatic ties and explain the situation with commander Yod. Fenie was glad it was not the crew of the Raven who were given this task.
Dranke met up with the crew, grins all around. They were to go to the Hnnet homebase this time! For once, it looked like they had been picked for the easier assignment. They had fun discussing what it would be like. Dranke interrupted their chatter. "We need to get going in the next hour or so. Get your gear together and lets get ready to depart. This is not a joyride, despite what you people think." His voice was solemn, but the twinkle in his eye made them laugh. They were in good spirits. Dranke walked towards his own quarters to pick up his gear. Jen spoke in his head "Yes Captain, the commander Yod has been given the rights of a defector citizen. He is still being debriefed." It was unsettling. He had just wondered if Yod was being treated well. Dranke asked the Jen subroutine to switch off. It/she felt silent. He wondered if he would ever be able to trust his own thoughts.
Kell was also getting her gear when Dranke pinged her "How do I ensure privacy from the Jen subroutine?" Kell picked her stuff up and caught up with him. She spoke in low tones "You can turn it off. Asking the subroutine works well, I doubt the Hnnet will spy on us. But to be sure, there is a hardware just behind your ear." She showed him. It was a switch. "That works perfectly. I use it often. But I like to remain connected, Jen is very useful." Dranke nodded. Inwardly he wondered.
The crew had all boarded the Raven and Piteer was already charting their path to the Hnnet system. Kell entered the final coordinates. The darkmatter starcraft decoupled from the satellite spacecommand module and slid into near space, it's engines firing as it drew towards it's first jump. The crew were full of stories from home, and Dranke listened to them patiently. He felt very alone. He turned on the Jen subroutine. She said "Welcome back Captain. We are happy you are coming here to the Hnnesset. Your Leader is very keen that you make a good impression. But you already have." He smiled at that.
It was going to be a long journey. Dex and Sette came up to him and showed him something very interesting about the Raven. The holograms of the schematics spun around lazily as they manipulated the modules. Dranke's eyes widened. He had not expected this. He plunged into the schematics. Jen helped as he worked. Dranke, Dex and Settte did not sleep that 'night.'
Pic courtesy: Pixabay publicdomainpictures http://goo.gl/IAC2VO
Thursday, November 13, 2014
The Raven slid into the docking bay with ease, spacecommand loomed in the background as the satellite docking station paired perfectly. Piteer was getting to be an excellent pilot. Dranke looked over at the airlock as it cycled out the air from the satellite station and Nina stepped through. She looked at him with a poker-face as she beckoned for Dranke and Kell to follow her. Dranke felt a sinking feeling, but he kept his growing panic under control as he followed Kell out meekly.
Nina took them through a number of corridors. Dranke estimated that they were now in the heart of spacecommand. He was right. They came upon a huge stateroom, ornately decorated for style rather than function. It was rare to see this kind of place in space, where form followed function, but he held his tongue. The Leader sat in a easy chair, looking comfortable. He was heavily modified, and all one could really see as human was his face. The rest was encased in a dull blue composite. "Welcome back Captain, you have done well. I wanted to update you on what has been happening, since we need you to know about our plans." Dranke bobbed his head, not sure whether he should bow or salute, he did both. The Leader smiled. "As you probably guessed, the voice in your head would have been Jen, the Hnnet who you met with Ed last time." His eyes twinkled with merriment. Dranke was astonished. This was something he had not expected. The Leader continued "The Hnnet have found that they can communicate with us, very much like how they communicate with each other. I thought it was telepathy, but it's not. We don't know how it works, but it does."
Dranke looked at Kell who grinned "Yes Sir, I have found that it has been very useful to communicate with the Hnnet, and they can communicate across galaxies." Drake did not like this at all - more secrets! Outwardly, he kept a calm and open stance. This was the Leader ; not some army bigwig. He waited patiently. The Leader said "We have all the information we wanted. Please don't blame Kell, she was under strict instructions to keep you in the dark." Dranke nodded "Yes Sir. I was unable to communicate back." The Leader did not look surprised "You need to be paired with the Hnnet to be able to speak to them that way. For me it was automatic, but Kell required a slight enhancement. You will need one too." Dranke nodded.
Kell said "Jen has confirmed to us that the space outpost was actually destroyed. It was a decoy. And it 'proved' to the Jexx that their weapons were useless against the Hnnet. The space outpost was replaced with another one which was under propulsion just before the attack." Dranke took it all in. Things were becoming clearer. He now knew that Kell was someone who would always have her loyalty with the Leader. But who could blame her? What would he have done in her place? His mind was racing ahead. "And the Jexx murder?" Kell nodded "We expected something like that. The Jexx trios are not a family unit. They are guards. The Hnnet suspected that to be the case. Commander Yod is a different phylum from his guards. They are actually different races of Jexx. Our mission was to get Yod to defect, which the Hnnet have been working on for a long time now; and to neutralize the Jexx. We have achieved both. Dranke could not help but feel a grudging admiration for Kell and the Leader. He also realized he was out of his depth.
The Leader dismissed them and Kell and Dranke were led to a large cadet mess where the rest of the crew were having real food after popping food supplements. There was cake and cookies and real coffee which was steaming hot. Dranke settled down with Fenie and Piteer who were already stuffing their faces. It had been too long since they had been to Earth proper, and Vaxe remarked that they were due for some time off. Kell nodded imperceptibly and Dranke announced a three day holiday. They more than deserved it. He wished he could knock off too, but he knew the business with commander Yod was something he could not afford to ignore.
With the rest of the crew departing by space capsule for the Earth proper, only Kell and Dranke remained at spacecommand surrounded by hundreds of cadets in spanking new uniforms. Dranke was amused at how young and fresh they looked. He also realized that before his posting, he must have looked very similar. He was now getting a bit of a beard, and he stroked it affectedly. Kell was speaking "We need you to complete the enhancements captain. Will tomorrow be okay to schedule them?" Dranke nodded "Yes. And I want to know everything that happens with commander Yod." "I will tell you all I can" Kell promised. He did not miss the teasing tone in her voice.
Nina joined them later and ran the captain through the enhancements and the process to be followed. The three of them sat in the mess until they had to retire to their rooms. It had been an eventful trip. They all needed their downtime. There was much to be done, but they had time, and they still had not received further orders... Dranke lay in his bunk thinking of recent events. He did not last very long, and was asleep before he knew it. He dreamt of enhancements and secrets.
Pic courtesy:Serendigity (Space City) from Pixabay http://goo.gl/773QQY
Sunday, November 9, 2014
It was a strange situation on board the Raven. After the initial jumps, they got used to letting the three Jexx on the bridge take control. It was almost like being passengers. Dranke noticed a lot more of coffee analogues on the bridge and he smiled at the way people were taking it easy. Kell, Fenie and Piteer concentrated on the maintenance work, and Vaxe and Sette and Dex kept busy in the engine room. For Dranke, it was a time for reflection and waiting. He was taken aback from his reverie when he suddenly heard the Jexx speaking to him "Captain we are almost at the Hnnet system. Prepare for combat." Dranke pinged the rest of the crew to get strapped in. There was little to do other than to man the weapons.
The crew came together immediately. Almost everyone was either on the bridge or strapped in close on a console. It seemed strange to be entering into battle for real. And then the alarms went. The holograms showed the Jexx ships close into the Hnnet base they had targeted. Since they had the cloaking tech, they were not visible to the electromagnetic spectrum. Dranke had a sinking feeling. Commander Yod said something in Jexx and spoke to the humans "We are now commencing fire at the following coordinates..... counting down." The coordinates flashed in Jexx and English. Dranke, Fenie and Vaxe were on weapons. They all fired. There was a lot of action and voices in the Jexx language. Dranke looked at Kell, who shrugged.
In a few more moments the fleet regrouped. The Hnnet had not fired back. Where earlier there had been a gigantic space base, there was nothing. The Jexx cheered. It was premature.
As Dranke looked in shock at where the Hnnet base had been, he noticed that they had lost control over the darkmatter starcraft. He asked commander Yod "Are you sure you were able to destroy the base?" Commander Yod spoke in his rolling cadence "Of course. But the enemy has frozen our engines." As if to prove the commander wrong, the space base swam into view. Communications were in both English and Jexx "Do not try that again. As you can see, your weapons are useless against us." Dranke stared. This tech was way beyond anything he could imagine. The Jexx were powerless!
The Hnnet acted as if they had no A priori knowledge of the attack. They were obviously playing some kind of deep game. Commander Yod spoke to his attack force and they broke away. He turned to Dranke "We three will come to Earth with you. The rest of my people will return home, but we need to have a council of war. The Hnnet need to be taught a lesson." It did not require knowledge of Jexx body language to know the commander was seething. He handed over command back to Dranke, who gratefully accepted the responsibility and plotted a route back to Earth. Piteer checked the route map briefly, made a few adjustments to reducte the number of jumps, and within seconds, they started to jump. The whole misadventure had been a waste of time. Dranke wondered why the Hnnet would let this charade play out.
Dranke had seen the Jexx fleet turn back. It had been quite a lesson for them. Some part of him sympathized with the Jexx and their powerlessness. He had felt the same way the first time the Hnnet had immobilized the Raven.
Fenie was fascinated with the firing system. It was something new, and it kept her busy. Kell and Piteer joined her as she studied it's schematic and working. Ship life was almost normal. The Jexx had retired to their cabin, which the three of them shared. Except that the alarm which went off stridently. It was the lifeforce detection unit and Fenie scrabbled to check what it was all about. There was a commotion and the commander Yod stood in the doorway of the main cabins. Dranke rushed to see if the Jexx needed help. The companion Jexx were lying in a pool of the liquid they needed to stay alive. The transparent Jexx were very still. Commander Yod said "I need to end their lives, so that I could defect. There was no other way." Dranke was shocked. He did not know how exactly to react to this. Should he treat Yod as a defector or a criminal. Knowing that the alien species may not have the same rules at humans, he looked at Kell. All the crew had now gathered and were watching agog. Dranke said "Crew please man your stations. Only Kell and Fenie to stay." The crowd dispersed.
Kell whispered "We should not interfere in Jexx politics. This is unprecedented. It would have ramifications on Earth." Dranke nodded. "Commander Yod, you are requested to stay in your cabin. We will clear the bodies. You are not to leave your room please, until we reach spacecommand." Yod said in the curious way of the Jexx "Of course Captain. I would expect no less."
Dranke had posted two sentries outside the commander's door. He composed a detailed report to spacecommand "We are on our way to Earth. The following is the factual events that have unfolded after the commander Yod was thwarted from his attack on the Hnnet space base....." The message was a long one. It would reach spacecommand just a few Earth days before they would reach Earth. The mood was somber.
Dranke was conflicted. He spent a lot of time mulling over the murder. What he did not expect was the voice in his head. The voice asked him to release the Jexx commander. Dranke tried to think back a question to the voice. It was silent in response. He tried again. Nothing. The voice told him not to worry, it was as per plan. He continued to try and ask it questions. The voice fell silent. Dranke was even more unsettled. He looked around, but no one had noticed anything. Fenie gave him a smile and Kell nodded when he caught her eye. They had no clue. He felt very alone.
Pic courtesy : Space landscape from Metalyman at deviantart - http://metalyman.deviantart.com (http://goo.gl/KGDUHP)
Friday, November 7, 2014
The Jexx planet was directly ahead and Dranke watched the docking of the Raven, that Piteer achieved with ease and finesse. This time they were docking with the military space installation directly. Instructions from the Jexx had been quite specific and clear. There was no mistaking the rolling Jexx intonation as they asked the humans to dock their darkmatter starcraft.
Dranke looked at Kell and asked her to take the lead as he followed and led the rest of the crew out of the ship. The now familiar Jexx barrier showed three Jexx as expected. It was Commander Yod. He made the greeting signal which the crew all mimicked. They were expected to follow protocol after all. Yod turned in his liquid, almost transparent now as he spoke "We see you have incorporated our weapons modules on your ship. That is very good. We would like to inspect these." Kell replied "Of course, we would be happy to give you a tour." Yod turned again in the liquid "We are preparing for an attack on the Hnnet. Your ship will be the command vehicle. I will be honored to command our fleet from the Raven." "Of course. As you deem fit commander."
Dranke was too stunned to say anything. And so were the rest of the crew. Luckily Kell seemed to be able to roll with the punches, and she did not miss a beat in the conversation. Fortunately, the Jexx could not read human body language. Or they might have realized that the humans all had shocked expressions. Dranke decided to diffuse the situation "It will be our honor commander." He said it in a calming tone, meant only for his crew. The Jexx misunderstood it as a welcome "You are gracious Captain." Dranke unconciously nodded, though it would mean little to the Jexx. They were to prepare for the 'attack' as soon as possible. The Jexx had given them just enough time to prepare the Raven and the weaponry. Dranke used the same teams they had used for setting up the modules. They would need to test fire everything. Fenie and Piteer were handed a testing schedule to begin.
Dranke in the meantime, took some time off. The quietest place was the bridge of the darkmatter starcraft, and Dranke in his single focus sat on one of the navigator's chairs. He contemplated this new development which he did not know what to make of. He pinged Kell, and waited for her, as he thought about making the Raven a military vehicle. Even though they were technically 'military', human wars had not been enacted in space, since there had been moratoriums of wars in space right from the days of the Political Wars which had been played out as billions had died in an effort to survive the ravages of the fallout of the war. Humankind had not seen any wars other than minor armed conflicts; and even that ended with the world government under the Leader. Most spaceships did not even have a defensive weapon.
Kell settled down comfortably, sitting opposite Dranke in another navigator's chair "I had expected something like this, but I did not think that they would commandeer our ship." Dranke nodded "I need you to be my advisor Kell. I am not well-versed in politics and at best I can resolve conflicts. But you are the Leader's voice. Tell me what I should be doing now." Kell looked at him in admiration "Captain you are brutally honest. I appreciate your candor." Dranke waved off the compliment "I need to be able to trust you." Kell nodded without answering directly "We should follow the lead of the Jexx. That is the only way we can get to know more about them, and earn their trust. They are treating us as equals. Which is more than they have done for any other species they have come in contact with." "And what happens if they ask us to fire on the Hnnet?" Kell said seriously "The Hnnet can take care of themselves. They are complicit in this intrigue with the Leader. If there are casualties, they are cognizant of the possibility. Our partnership with the Jexx is very important to them. I really do not know why."
Dranke thought of the implications. He had asked Kell for her advice. And her reasoning seemed to be logically sound. He decided to go with it. "Thanks Kell, this helps a lot. I've been very conflicted about this whole scenario, but I guess the Leader knows what he's doing." Kell smiled "You're doing great Captain. The top brass at spacecommand speak very highly of you. I can see why. You are not alone. There are many people working behind the scenes to make things happen." Dranke listened with half his attention. The other part of him was watching the Jexx trio walk into the ship in their curious human-shaped spacesuits. He stood up and Kell followed his lead. "Welcome commander Yod." Yod and his two companions went straight to the bridge. They attached a translator for the hologram and alien figures scrolled down. Dranke watched patiently. Yod turned to him "It looks to be in order. I am inputting our coordinates for the Hnnet system. Prepare the crew for departure."
Dranke pinged the crew with instructions and they trooped in one at a time, lugging their kit with them as they bunked down for the trip. The hologram showed Jexx ships taking off from the planet surface. There were thousands of them. They looked like little pinpricks as they took off from the planet, their engines leaving telltale heat signatures as they overcame the planet's gravity well and reached cruising speed rapidly in formation. They were ready and waiting for the commander's signal. The Raven closed its airlocks and pushed off from the military space installation. The engines fired briefly as they easily matched the much smaller Jexx craft in their formation. Commander Yod gave the signal, and they jumped.
The tracking hologram showed them where their target was. Fenie and Piteer watched it carefully, mentally comparing it to the hologram they were mapping for their own travels.
Pic courtesy: By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (http://goo.gl/Vx5JxJ)
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
The Raven jumped rapidly in the inky darkness between galactic disks. It was shocking how dark it was between galaxies, but one got used to it after a few times. Kell was new at starcraft travel, and she still wondered at the sudden transition from the light of a galactic center to the utter darkness between galaxies. The rest of the crew ignored what was happening in the viewscreens as they traversed the darkness to intersect yet another galactic disk, which spun around with bright jewels of stars in it's center.
The Leader had given them a lot to think about. Dranke pondered his next move. It was hard to get through to the Jexx without Kell's help and he needed her to be on his side. It would not do to have conflicting interests at work, especially when dealing with an alien species, who had three observers at any point of time to pick up on every nuance. Fenie and Piteer were working on creating a starmap of their travels so far. It had tracer lines spanning six galaxies and four satellite galaxies. The hologram rotated and the color coding made it look incredibly complex. Dex pinged Kell for her rotation on the maintenance crew, and she got her toolkit together as she headed off.
The Jexx planet was still some time away, and they had to make sure the Raven was ready for whatever they encountered. The darkmatter starcraft had some modifications which had been suggested by spacecommand, based on Jexx technology, and the crew was working round the clock to see that they had incorporated the weaponry which was required. It was all modular, but some of the tech required conversion, which was the tricky part. Sette and Dex were tasked with the conversion and Vaxe spent long hours trying to see that there were no issues with the modular linkages before they tested them.
Since all the work was inside the ship, it was relatively easy to carry out the testing. Once they needed to attach anything on the outside, they would have to shut down the engines and stop the jumps until they were done. It needed to go like clockwork and Dranke himself shut down the engines from time to time to recalibrate the settings. There was not going to be any time for them to experiment in space.
Since Niket's darkmatter starcraft needed some on-site maintenance, she was to follow once her ship had been to the spacecommand dock. Dranke wondered if it would have been easier to just carry out the modifications at the dock, rather than on the go. He dismissed the thought. They had already decided on a course of action. Fenie stood near one of the laser sights which had been dismantled at one corner of the deck. "Captain, we are almost ready with the testing of the weapons, at your order, we will need to mount the external modules for further testing." Dranke nodded "Your call Fenie. I'm keen to do the mounting before we reach Jexx; I wouldn't like to have them see us testing the equipment, for what it's worth." He sipped on his coffee analogue contemplatively as Fenie marshaled the crew together for a briefing on her plan of action. Dranke, Fenie, Piteer and Vaxe had already spent time together debating the sighting of the weapons and their efficacy. Now it was time to blueprint it, and obligingly Piteer pulled up the schematic of the ship with the enhancements being shown in red against the blue outline. It looked impressive.
The maintenance crews were disbanded temporarily and re-purposed into three crews who would handle the enhancements. Almost everyone except for Dranke had been pressed into the work crews. Their training and simulation was the next step. Working in space would be hard without precise plans and instructions. It would require clockwork accuracy. A large space which was multipurpose and had served as the dining quarters had been taken over by the work crews and the pandemonium which ensued as everyone tried to do everything at once made Dranke smile.
After three Earth days on the simulations, the crews were working much better, testing was now at an advanced stage and the modules were ready to be fitted on the outer 'skin' of the darkmatter starcraft. Piteer shut down the engines and the ship coasted on its existing momentum. He reversed the engines until they came to a complete halt. The crews kitted up in their spacesuits and lined up near the airlocks as they cycled out the air for the exercise. It was time to go.
Vaxe was the first out with Fenie and Piteer following. The rest of the crew rapidly exited the airlock, strapped themselves to the outer skin using the handholds provided, and soon there were flashes of lasers as the crews started the fitting. It would involve two large laser weapons, one huge projectile weapon and smaller sighting and automatic modules which took some time to configure. Dranke watched the proceedings from the bridge. He was alone inside the Raven, and it felt strange to be the only one inside.The work would take roughly twelve Earth hours. And then it would be time to make the remaining jumps to keep the appointment with the Jexx. The holograms showed Fenie twisting in above the 'surface' of the ship, while staying anchored to it. The laser beam cutter glowed brightly as she moved, focusing the beam tightly on the target. Dex spun over her as he moved a large mounting tied to his back over to the hull. He grabbed the work-line as Sette pulled him over to the handholds. It was good to sit here and watch the action. Dranke was thankful for the solitude as he reviewed the orders he had received from Nina.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
For once, Dranke and Niket and their crews were not the center of attention during a debriefing. Ed led them down the spacecommand satellite corridor until they came to a linked space station. It wasn't of any design they had seen before. Ed walked right at the wall and it moved apart, creating a 'door' when he approached. He waited for the darkmatter starcraft crews to follow him in. They did.
The space station was obviously not of any human design, and Dranke guessed that it was a Hnnet space station. The others were almost running to keep up. At the end of a linked corridor, came a large opening. They trooped in and there were gasps. General Selin, the Leader and various luminaries were seated in a semi-circular configuration. In the well was another Hnnet. Dranke thought she looked just like Fenie. No. She looked exactly like Fenie. Ed walked quickly to the well and stood by her side, indicating that the crews of the ships should take the seats on the other side. He said "Welcome captains Dranke and Niket, as well as your crews. We have spent a lot of time behind the scenes, and I thought it is about time we meet. We are already talking with your Leader, and since you have trained with the Jexx, we want your inputs." The smile with Ed had on his face all the times previously, was gone. He had a somber expression. Dranke shook off the analysis. He was not human, it was all a simulation.
Fenie looked at the Leader in awe. He was clearly someone of import. You could tell. He was almost fully augmented except for his face. The rest was sheathed in various augmentations. He was speaking "I had asked Nina Decee to mislead you folk, and for that I am sorry. But it was necessary to understand exactly what tech the Jexx have and what they are planning. In some ways, this is our first foray into interstellar intrigue." He smiled before continuing "And I have the Hnnet to blame for dragging us right into the middle of it." Ed acknowledged the Leader with a little bob of his head. He introduced the other Hnnet, asking people to call her 'Jen.' "We do not fear the Jexx. They are just not willing to comply with the rules of the Hnnesset. We are afraid they are a danger to themselves as well as others. It was important to understand their motivations and capabilities, but they really have nothing which would concern us."
Dranke listened intently. He realized that the Leader had been playing both sides with consummate ease. He was impressed. Ed continued "The Jexx have been tracking us for some time now, but until you discovered us, we have been unable to visit their facility. Your report has been most helpful to us. We would request you to please continue to play along. Don't worry, you cannot hurt us; and we will ensure that you won't hurt yourselves."
Kell whispered to Dranke "See why I was so evasive? You had to be earnest." Dranke shot her a look and listened as the Leader spoke "The Hnnet have provided us medical and biological tech which is light years ahead of anything we have. But they are right, we need to move to a better societal model before they can consider us for the Hnnesset. The report talks about the Jexx family unit as well as the fact that you were not allowed to go to the surface of the planet. We would like to gather more information about this species, it may be of use to us."
The floor was thrown open to questions and though Dranke and Niket were very keen to ask some questions themselves, they held back considering protocol. General Selin stepped in "I know you people have been at the very edge of diplomacy with alien species. That has to change. Which is why we have Kell and Tesst to stand in as 'observers' on your ships. The distances involved has made it mandatory for us to give the captains a free hand, but considering that the two observers are direct reports to the Leader himself, they stand in as his ambassadors." Nina asked "What is our role now? As spacecommand adjusts to the new reality, the focus will need to change." The General replied "Nothing has to change. Spacecommand continues to be an exploratory body. We will continue to play the role required of us with the Jexx, but frankly, their attempts to attack the Hnnet have never really borne fruit."
The meeting dispersed rapidly, and Nina led the crews back to their ships. She gave them their new orders - they were to try and gain access to the Jexx planet and collect whatever intelligence they could on the Jexx. Other than that, they would have to join the Jexx effort, but should stop short of firing on any alien species. They were all just letting the information sink in.
Fenie and Piteer were already prepping the Raven for its flight, the blue tracer-like lines showing their next jumps. Dranke was too lost in his thoughts to notice as the Raven slid from the spacecommand satellite's moorings and accelerated rapidly for the first jump...
Pic courtesy:Sci-Fi City Digital Sketch Wallpaper HD on Deviantart by lilgamerboy14 (http://goo.gl/9Tcaoz)
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Dranke stretched as he limbered up in his cabin while he reviewed what had transpired over the stay at the Jexx space station. His team had spent over two Earth months training in the Jexx facility, but they had not been allowed to visit the planet surface. Apparently the atmosphere was toxic to humans. He had tried explaining that they had spacesuits to take care of the toxicity, but the Jexx commander Yod and his two attendant Jexx had been adamant. Even Kell had been unable to prevail on them to relent.
In the end, the darkmatter starcraft captain and Fenie had satisfied themselves by asking questions. They had learned a lot from their interaction with their trainers. Since the Jexx always appeared in threes, the first question had been why. They had explained that their family unit was three. They actually appeared to be symbiotes. Fenie had also learned that the Jexx planet was green due to an aurora over the planet, and not due to vegetation as they had imagined earlier. All plants on Jexx were black. They had to be, since Jexx was quite far from its attendant star, and the plants needed to be better solar collectors to be able to harness the faint light of the star. The Jexx themselves were a high tech race, but they have very little biodiversity, unlike Earth. The atmosphere was largely a combination of various gases, but with only trace Oxygen. It was all logged into their report which was getting to be quite detailed.
Niket had hitched a ride on the Raven and Piteer had been promoted as acting captain on his darkmatter starcraft as both ships jumped their way back home to Earth. Niket was seated at the main bridge and she stood at a console sipping a coffee.analogue. Fenie was still full of questions "So what did the Jexx offer the Leader for him to agree to align with them?" Niket said thoughtfully "I think it had to do with trading, and of course military tech. But the details are unclear. It does seem like a rush to shake hands though. Something like this would take old Earth countries years to sign." Fenie persisted "Their tech is not much ahead of ours. So what gives?" "No idea Fen. I'm just a lowly cadet remember?" her eyes twinkled at Fenie's earnest questioning. Fenie glared at her "Sure, play the dumb card. I'm actually asking." Niket grinned "My guess is they are not willing to commit to anything unless they have something concrete on what the Jexx offered them, but there were whispers about their cloaking tech."
Dranke in the meantime got to questioning Kell "Does the Leader actually want us to join forces with the Jexx?" Kell shrugged "Way above my paygrade captain. I'm just following orders just as you are" There was so much to find out. Dranke wanted to know it all before they reached Earth. Kell said "I am just here to observe. I would like to be a useful crewmember. I'm happy to assist in the maintenance crew." Dranke nodded "Of course, we could always use an extra hand. There is a lot of work being done in rotation on the hull, the scrubbers and the engines. Sette and Dex are managing the maintenance crews, but you can always join in." He realized that Kell had deftly deflected his question.
The conversation led to the conflict of the Jexx with the Hnnet. Kell tried to answer it as truthfully as she could "They had a problem since the Hnnet refused them membership to the Hnnesset. The Jexx took that as an insult and I fear our Leader may be thinking along the same lines." "But is that a reason for conflict?" Kell looked at him. She seemed to be struggling with answering the question "I actually agree with you captain. We should not align with the Jexx, especially if it means taking on the Hnnet, but frankly spacecommand has no say in the matter." Dranke had read her correctly. She could be an ally. He grinned "Sorry for the inquisition. We just hadn't been briefed on the whole situation." He changed the subject abruptly and asked about Kell's family.They were due to arrive at spacecommand in just a few Earth hours, and Dranke had to find a way to try and get fully up the curve on what was happening. He kept at it.
Fenie had better luck with Niket. Niket was quite disillusioned with the war games and she made no bones about it "Its not our war, I don't know why one would have us fight a clearly superior species in any case. I always assumed a space cadet posting would involve policing near Earth space." Fenie understood exactly what she was saying. "At least the combat training gave us some idea of the Jexx military capability."
As it was, they had exited the jump sequence and the blue spidery web-like jump route displayed by the hologram had ended at their last jump point which was marked in yellow. They were coasting towards spacecommand just as Dranke decided it was worthless to ask Kell any more questions. She looked amused at his efforts, and that only served to frustrate him more.
Earth swam into view, and the crew looked past at the spacecommand satellite which 'rose' over the horizon. It was time to stretch their legs. They waited impatiently as the airlock cycled out and then sprang open. Docking was quick and Dranke strode through. He started!
Dranke was greeted by Ed who had a broad grin on his face, looking more human than ever. Ed shook hands with him and said 'follow me." Dranke felt a conflicting mix of emotions - a rush of relief, curiosity and surprise all at once. He followed the Hnnet meekly, and Fenie Kell, Niket, Sette, Dex and Vaxe trooped into the spacecommand satellite after him.
Pic courtesy: Pixabay / Artist Roark, no attribution required.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
For once, Dranke held back as Kell led the rest of the crew out of the Raven. The crew walked out into the open hangar space and the main concourse, both of which were oxygenated for Humans. The Jexx had clearly done their homework. Dranke grudgingly acknowledged their attention to detail. The Jexx were separated by a clear glass division from the oxygenated air - their atmosphere was different. Seeing their true form was a shock. They looked like some kind of marine creature, but the fact that they were transparent made it impossible to clearly see their shape - it seemed to ebb and flow and they got glimpses of tentacles, but Dranke could not be sure. They were clearly at home in the liquid they were inhabiting.
Kell had clearly seen this all before as she spoke to them without breaking stride "Commander Yod, as promised, we are here for your training." She did the introductions. Yod spoke with this two attendant Jexx, but this time the rolling intonation was better. They had installed a translator "We are ready to begin training. Niket and his team will meet up with your team in four Earth hours, as they are out on simulations. A quadrant of the military station has been made Human-friendly, so you should be comfortable there. The trainers will use Human-like suits as enter your quadrant, but please do not leave your quadrant; the liquid here is poisonous to Humans.
Kell made a sign with her hands, clasping them together in front of her. The commander Yod and his two attendant Jexx made the same signal with their appendages. It was a sign the meeting was over. Kell grinned at Dranke "Lets go captain, no time to gawk." She showed them the way to their quarters.
Dranke had a million questions. He managed to get some time to grill Kell and she looked more than willing to answer him "How did we meet up with the Jexx?" Kell grinned "They were tracking the Hnnet, and saw that you were tracking them as well. It was only a question of connecting the dots."
"How did we not detect them?" "Their spacecraft has cloaking from all EM and gravitational waves. It can be detected, but not with ease." Fenie chimed in "Why are they at war with the Hnnet?" "Frankly the details are unclear, but they do not want to follow the Hnnet rules. Our Leader agrees, it should be based on vote." Dranke said "It could be fatal choosing sides without knowing enough. The Hennet is so advanced, it will be impossible to get their tech if we go to war with a far superior species." Kell grimaced "That's the argument that spacecommand made with the Leader. But we have not made any headway as yet. I guess he is looking at the shorter term rather than what the Hnnet promises." After a lot of back and forth, they retired for some rest and recuperation; neither was satisfied with the answers provided, but there was nothing which made them feel better. There was always the nagging feeling that there was something they were not being told.
The alarm buzzing got them to sudden wakefulness. Each of them were given an exosuit to wear, with built-in weapons and enhancements. Earth had something similar, but these were made to meld with the wearer. You couldn't feel where your skin ended and the suit began. A Jexx walked into the combat zone, his two attendent Jexx were kitted just like he was - similar suits to them, but clearly far more advanced. Their training began with simple motor function tests and then progressed rapidly to combat simulations. Everything was customized to human bodies. It was eerie. Niket walked in as they were taking a break. She came in and grinned at the sweating cadets "Hey there newbies. Good to see you bunch. We were starting to think it was just us here on this spinning wheel." Dranke shook hands with the darkmatter starcraft captain "Good to see you too. So what do you think of this setup?" Niket gave a furtive glance "All good, its been quite an experience." Her eyes did not smile as she completed her sentence. Warning bells were going off in Dranke's head. He held his tongue.
Fenie hugged Niket in greeting. They were from the same cadet pod. They reminisced animatedly as the rest of the crew went back to the simulators. The simulators showed very familiar Hnnet spacecraft, rippling in space. It was fascinating. Fenie was beginning to enjoy the simulations, purely from a point of academic interest. It surprised her a little, since she was not not the kind of person who would be itching for combat.
After three days at the simulator, the two crews were pitted against each other. It was a familiar game, which they had come to expect. Scenario after scenario was thrown at them - this time it was three fleets of Hnnet spacecraft. Both the crews were in darkmatter starcraft, but they had their own Hnnet fleet to control. Each of the darkmatter starcraft were modified by the Jexx. They had railguns and laserguns which belched the most horrifying death and destruction in the simulation. Vaxe's lasergun left a deep mark on an asteroid as she fired while on the move. It was all very realistic. Kell watched them closely, as she recognized how they were working together again. It reminded her of the motif which she had noticed while on the bridge of the Raven.
The virtual war began.
Pic courtesy: Born Ready Games - http://strikesuitzero.com/ [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Monday, October 27, 2014
The Raven jumped time and again, but for once, no one was really watching their progress. Except for cursory glances by Dranke and some interest by Piteer, for purely academic purposes, for the first time in a long time they were following a starmap without course correction.
Kell, the observer from spacecommand was Dranke's superior as far as rank was concerned; but since he was the captain, he outranked her - at least on the darkmatter starcraft. Kell got herself a coffee and stared from one of the consoles on the bridge as Dranke and Fenie talked softly amongst themselves. They were obviously a closely-knit team. It seemed to her that the crew were always in a ballet of minimalistic moves. They knew how each one moved, thought and they had their roles to play. It was a performance. She wondered how much of it was conscious. It struck her as particularly significant. But she had other things to do. She shrugged off the observation and immersed herself her work.
While Dranke had been quite shaken by the decision handed down to him, he knew when not to question orders, and he quietly came to terms with his new orders. Fenie, Vaxe and Piteer had all met with him privately and voiced their disquiet, and he had to give them direction, while being frustrated with the knowledge that this was a mistake. He decided to bury it and tackle it when the time came.
Kell walked upto the bridge where Dranke and Sette were logged in. Sette was carrying out a simulation of possible Hnnet planets using an algorithm, which was learning all the time. It was now able to predict the possible places they would have to visit. Kell pulled a face "We should be reaching the Jexx world soon. As per my calculations, we should soon exit the jumps and enter normal space." Dranke looked at her searchingly "Yes, of course. The crew is on shifts now, but we will quickly adjust to Jexx time once we approach."
As if to prove Kell right, the darkmatter starcraft exited the jumps and powered up the fusion drive which awoke with a shudder. Space resolved to show the blue-green planet which was Jexx. It reminded one of Earth! Dranke looked on as Sette adjusted the lighting to 'day.' Softly beeping morning alarms were apparent all over the ship, the crew were waking up. Dranke got a coffee analogue and continued to stare at the planet. Thin white tracers left the surface aimed at them and he looked at Sette who hand signaled to him - it was a welcome committee.
Fenie and Piteer got onto the bridge. And Dex and Vaxe took up the rear. The full bridge crew was now staffed and they were looking bright and chirpy. Kell grinned "You're in for a bit of a surprise. The Jexx move only in trios. Since they look very different from us, please do not stare. Dranke almost smiled "We are used to alien species, so we should be good." The Jexx ships were maneuvering for a docking procedure. Dranke was a little surprised. Clearly their tech was not the same as the Hnnet. He said nothing, but nodded as Fenie looked up, confirming docking acceptance. The Jexx entered.
There were three of them there as Kell had predicted. The human-shaped spacesuits were a throwback to the times when there were astronauts. But all resemblance there ended. The Jexx were transparent. Their spacesuits were neutral white, but their bodies had no definition. The Jexx spoke.... one word from the first, followed by one word from the second, followed by one word from the third. "Welcome.....to.....Jexx." This was going to be an ordeal. Dranke said "Thank you, greetings from Earth." The Jexx spoke again, words tumbling out like a waterwheel toy "We.....have......already......been.......greeted......from.......Earth......when......we.......visited......please ......follow.......us.....to.......our.......military.......base." Dranke motioned for Kell to reply and watched as the Jexx listened to her intently. He studied the aliens. They were clearly invertebrates, and it seemed like they were breathing in the liquid in which they were enclosed. They clearly had a different chemistry than he was used to. The liquid was colorless, just like their bodies, and it gave no clue of what it was.
As the Jexx left, Dranke looked at Fenie who shrugged. She was clearly also trying to analyze what was in those spacesuits. They were designed to look like Earth spacesuits, but they did not seem to have the same body structure. So why? It was a mystery. In the meantime, Piteer slid the Raven into formation with the three Jexx spacecraft. They were tiny compared to the Raven, but they were bristling with instruments and weapons, which left no doubt as to what was the primary role of the spacecraft.
An orbital wheel which went around the planet was identified as their destination and the Jexx spacecraft slid into small hangars on its surface, The indicator for a larger hanger was flashing, and Dranke was clearly expected to land there. He looked at Fenie "I think that's the one." The Raven slid into the space and the bay doors closed. They were in.
Pic courtesy : Pixabay.com ( http://goo.gl/QcLj9e )
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Dranke watched as the Raven docked with Spacecommand's satellite docking stations. It had been a long search for the Hnnet, and in a sense they had been successful. He was sure General Selin would not see it that way though. The General had wanted Dranke and his crew to track the alien fleet back to their home planet. The Hnnet had thwarted all attempts to locate their bases, and the best that Dranke had managed is to locate their sentinel robot program. He was not very sanguine about his meeting with the General.
The docking maneuvers completed, he saw a woman coming through the airlock. She had the insignia of spacecommand on her lapel, and the rank of lieutenant displayed on the sleeve markings which were displayed prominently. Quite an honor. Fenie had obviously noticed her rank as well and she saluted "Welcome aboard lieutenant." The captain, Dranke greeted her with a handshake "To what do we owe this honor lieutenant?" He was as curious as the other crew members. Usually some cadet was sent to escort them to a waiting room.
The lieutenant smiled tightly "The General is away on urgent business, but I have been tasked with debriefing you. Of course we have your full report which just came in recently, but the General needs more. Now more than ever, we need to gather intel on the aliens." Dranke looked nonplussed "Pardon my bluntness lieutenant, but what has changed since we left?"
The lieutenant said quietly "I'm not at liberty to discuss this with the whole crew, but there are developments we have to take into account while dealing with the Hnnet." She looked like she was going to say more, changed her mind and turned, beckoning for them to follow. Dranke, Fenie, Vaxe and Piteer followed, leaving a skeleton crew, including the new cadets Sette and Dex.
They were ushered into a waiting room and the lieutenant sat at the head of the table with the crew members seated in a circle. The lieutenant spoke gravely "I am Nina Decee, the head of the alien task force. While you have been away, we have been in touch with other aliens who have approached us. They call themselves the Jexx. They are probably not as advanced as the Hnnet, but they are friendlier and have shared some of their tech with us. I think they are interested in trade. The politicians are not involved in negotiations with the Jexx, and it looks like we may end up having some trade agreements with them." The whole crew was a little taken aback by the sudden revelation and they just stared. After a while, Dranke broke the silence "How does this change things?"
Lieutenant Nina Decee looked grimly at the young cadets who were looking at her expectantly. "The Jexx are at war with the Hnnet. Apparently, they may ask us to help in the war effort." She held out her hand before more questions came. "We have still not decided, but at this stage, the Leader seems to want to keep his options open." Dranke looked worried "With all due respect lieutenant, from what we have seen of the Hnnet, they are so technologically ahead, we must be looking like ancient humans look to us. And we have a good chance of being inducted into what they call the Hnnesset, but they are evaluating us." Nina nodded "And that is what the Leader has a problem with. The time scales the Hnnet indicated are too long for us."
Dranke was crestfallen. He had hoped to see more of the Hnnet, and this news deflated him, but he understood that the decisions taken by the Leader would have been debated and decided by the worldwide Congress. He was merely the captain of a ship. He waited to hear more...
Nina said "Your ship is to immediately visit the Jexx world alongwith Niket's starcraft which is already on it's way to the planet. The task is to go though their weapons and spacecraft pilot training. Of course you have to keep an eye out for whatever intelligence you can gather. I know we all feel that it would be better to be aligned with the Hnnet, but these are not things for us to decide. We have advised the Leader and General Selin has asked for an audience. But as things stand, you have your orders.
Fenie looked at Dranke, willing him to say more, but Dranke just stood up, signalling that the meeting was over. They were also told they would have an observer on board. Her name was Kell, and she was waiting by the door as they exited the waiting room. Dranke shook hands with her and made the introductions. The Raven was to head off to the Jexx planet, and Dranke just wanted to get some sleep; their adventures in the recent past had taken their toll on him. Piteer and Vaxe took control of the bridge, with Kell hovering over the controls, giving them the coordinates they needed for the jumps leading to the Jexx world, as the rest of the crew went to bed.
Pic courtesy: pixabay.com
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Considering they were now communicating with Earth with a three week lag, even with the communication 'packets' being through the same jumps which the darkmatter starcraft was performing with relative ease, they could not wait for spacecommand to come back to them with instructions. Instead, as trained, they acted as an independent command. And it all fell on the shoulders of the captain. Dranke, who though relatively young himself, had trained his whole life for this kind of situation. Multiple simulations had been run to prepare the captain. However, Dranke decided to ignore his training and do the unexpected "Lets ignore the probe which just visited us. That is a distraction. Let's instead look at what is going on in this solar system."
Dranke and the crew of the Raven were looking for an alien fleet which they had tracked across the Milky Way, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Spacecommand had tasked the Raven to search the neighboring galaxies for the mysterious alien called 'Ed.' The search continued in a solar system with an artificial planet.
Fenie and Piteer were on the job before Dranke had even finished talking and they were plotting a path directly towards the place where there would have been the missing twin of the binary star system. Every indication was that there was something there since the artificial planet they had visited had this strange orbit which only another star could account for.
Fenie gestured to Sette and Dex as she explained what she wanted from the engine room. They would have to find a way to bypass the penchant for alien species trapping the darkmatter starcraft. They were at a disadvantage since they did not quite know what was the technology that both the Hnnet and the probe had used. But they needed to have a way to neutralize it's effect. Maybe using a combination of the fusion drive and the jump drive would help to overcome whatever was holding them. She asked for the improvement. Both Sette and Dex left with Vaxe down to the engine room.
Dranke was beginning to double guess himself. The search they had undertaken so far had been frustrating and had yielded nothing of material value. But they did know that there were other alien species in the neighborhood. Humanity was far from alone. So far, humans had not been able to actually travel the distances that the aliens had traversed. It made him feel like a beginner at the game. He gave the do ahead to follow the flight plan. Fenie grinned and pushed the manual drive. And everything went nuts.
The darkmatter starcraft shuddered and stopped and shuddered again before stopping abruptly. Alarms went off in every corner as the engine started to overheat with the stain of trying to break its shackles. Dranke calmly said "Turn off everything but life support. I have a feeling we are on the right track." Fenie gestured with a thumbs up.... her body language showed that she was not sure of what was coming next. Dranke had kind of expected it, but the hologram which came onto the deck surprised him as well. It was Ed. The Hnnet had taken on a fully human shape and it grinned at them "Very good captain. You found our outpost and our robotic sentry. But we have to ask you not to proceed further. All star systems after this are protected under the Hnnet treaty, and as a new space-faring species, you are still not inducted into the Hnnesset. Any further intrusion will end in you being towed back to Earth." Ed kept smiling in the hologram. It was a little unnerving, but Dranke was getting used to it.
Vaxe asked cautiously "What do we do to be inducted into the Hnnesset?" Dranke nodded imperceptibly asking her to take the lead. Ed said "Oh, its decided by me. You need to be mature as a species. I don't think humans are there yet, but you are very enterprising." Vaxe continued "And what would change your mind?" The alien answered "We can't tell you that. But you have still not moved from the concept of commerce. Most advanced species have no use for such a concept."
Dranke said "When can we expect our leaders to meet you? They are very keen to know more about the Hnnet." Ed continued with his grinning "All in due time human. As of now, your species is of interest to us. Nothing more or less. You do have a lot of time to go before you can join the Hnnesset. But you may not kill, murder or maim any species knowingly. Neither may you annex any planet which is inhabited. If you do, we will notice it."
It sounded like a threat. Dranke thought about asking more.... but the hologram vanished. The ship was no longer in the vicinity of the strange solar system. They were transported to a place much closer to the Milky Way. It was time to go home. Spacecommand would not be happy.
Pic Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech via Wikimedia commons. http://goo.gl/172pqg
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The news that the whole exoplanet was artificial shocked Dranke and Piteer as much as it had Fenie. The two crew members of the darkmatter starcraft stood rooted to the spot where they had introduced the probe into the soft soil of the planet. Dranke asked Fenie "Can you scan to see if there is any activity on this planet under the crust?" He got the reply he feared "We can't do anything more than a very basic scan. There is too much material for us to do a detailed scan captain." He gestured to Piteer to walk with him as he walked across the crater floor, looking for clues.
Dranke and his crew were searching for the alien fleet which they had tracked across the Milky Way galactic disk, but finding the Hnnet was proving to be more difficult than they had imagined. Spacecommand had tasked the Raven to search the neighboring galaxies for the mysterious alien called 'Ed.' After searching a number of planets, they had still to find the aliens they were looking for.
Dranke and Piteer did a circular visual scan, but nothing stood out which could provide any clue to the reason this planet existed. It was frustrating, and after a few hours, Dranke called off the search and they headed back to the Raven. On exiting the airlock inside the ship, they pulled off their suits in relief, it was getting warm. Vaxe looked at the screen and said almost to herself "That's funny, it seems that we are circling a star which does not exist. At least that's what the simulation seems to indicate." Fenie looked at the visual representation "What does that mean?" Vaxe explained "It seems that the planet is following an orbit which would make sense in a binary system. Except there is no other star. Not even a black hole, since we did a scan and there is no gravitational lensing."
It was now Fenie's turn to look mystified, as she peered at the numbers wondering if there had been an error. Dranke asked for the simulation to be sent to his console and he looked at the simulation. It seemed to be sound.
Vaxe had a frown on her face as she muttered "What if the missing star and planet are linked?" It sounded ludicrous, but nothing else made sense. The Universe followed the laws of spacetime. How were they supposed to interpret this? Without warning, the Raven lifted off and seemed to be rapidly heading for the missing star. Dranke started out of his seat and yelled "Situation report! What's going on?" The engines showed no activity and yet they seemed to be pulled into the dark spot. Fenie looked apologetic "No idea captain. We just lost control. It might well be the Hnnet."
They waited. There was nothing else to be done. Whatever had them in it's control had rendered them helpless, and they were at its mercy.
In a few moments, they stopped slowly as if they had been flying through treacle and the ship was stationary. Without preamble, an artificial airlock appeared from the side of their darkmatter starcraft. Maybe this was the Hnnet after all! Dranke felt almost relieved as he waited for the familiar round globular alien to appear. Instead there was a bluish green probe which snaked through the opening. It slithered into the ship and seemed to be looking around. It inspected everything. Without warning the probe's tip pointed at Dranke. He moved back slowly. The tip withdrew slowly too. Vaxe tried to approach the probe from the side. It whipped at her threateningly. She stood very still.
After a few minutes the probe withdrew. It seemed to melt into the artificial airlock, which closed rapidly behind it. Vaxe tried to communicate with whatever was outside, but there was no signal. The sensors did not show anything at all. Dranke took a deep breath "Whatever that was, it was definitely not friendly." The others were too shocked to say anything. Piteer announced that they were released from whatever was holding them. There was no answers.
Dranke instructed them to send a detailed report to spacecommand, with specific location markers of the artificial planet and where they had encountered the strange creature or probe. He was as shaken as the others, but he held his nerve. This was a time to calmly reflect on the future course of action. Aloud he said "We need to figure out this before we take the next jump. Whatever that is, bears investigation." Without skipping a beat, Fenie was running him though the options...
Pic courtesy: Space landscape by Metalyman on Deviantart (http://goo.gl/YsS0Mu) Website http://goo.gl/N2Z2WX