Friday, November 7, 2014

Attack formation (Mission Impossible - 19)

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 (

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

En route (Mission Impossible - 18)

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.

 Pic courtesy: Jeff Keyzer from San Francisco - Beams in Fog + Car Windshield

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wheels within wheels (Mission Impossible - 17)

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 (

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Questions (Mission Impossible -16)

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

Combat Training (Mission Impossible -15)

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 - [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jexx (Mission Impossible -14)

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. "" 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" 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 : ( )

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Turn (Mission Impossible -13)

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:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Full Circle (Mission Impossible -12)

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Mystery (Mission Impossible - 11)

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 ( Website

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Edge (Mission Impossible -10)

Unaware of what was transpiring with the Mescieans, Dranke saw that his crew had already plotted a path to another star system which was very close to the jump exit. The star system was unremarkable by itself, but something had attracted Fenie and Piteer's interest. It had a very strange exoplanet, which seemed to circle not the central star, but was circling another area a little way off from the star. By itself, the planet was unremarkable. But its very behavior was puzzling in the extreme. The exoplanet seemed to have a mind of it's own.

After looking for the elusive Hnnet in the nearby Sagittarius satellite galaxy,  Dranke, the captain of the Raven had pushed his crew to chase down the technologically superior aliens in the vicinity of the Milky Way galaxy. Starcommand had tasked the Raven and her crew to track down the alien species to their homebase, which was easier said than done. Dranke had chosen the Sagittarius satellite galaxy as the most likely candidate, and after visiting a number of planets, they had refined their search so that they could track down the elusive 'Ed'. During their explorations of a planet which had seemed to be an outlier, they were oblivious of having met an intelligent species called the Mescieans.

The star system sat on the edge of one of the arms of the galactic disk and right next to it was the Omega Centauri galaxy, which beckoned to them invitingly. Dranke almost decided to make the jumps required to leave Sagittarius behind. But he decided to follow the plan "Does the planet show any electromagnetic emissions?" He was getting to be a little testy from his tone. He caught himself. Dex was now in charge of the scans and he replied without looking up from his console "Pretty sure there is nothing. But it could be shielded." Dex always double-guessed himself in case he was wrong. Vaxe grinned "Dex is right. Nothing there sir. What should we do?" Dranke looked resigned "Land I guess. We need to strike this off too."

Fenie was already getting ready for landing, her face a study of concentration as she looked at the atmosphere composition, temperatures and external conditions. Piteer was busy getting suited up as the autopilot had taken over and he was now a veteran of landings, needing very little preparation. One was very similar to another. Dranke checked to see that the blue ringed exoplanet that swam into view was not a gas giant, but the core seemed solid. Time to suit up. He got to it.

They had found a good landing spot on a crater and Dranke and Piteer stepped out the airlock to see the crazy movement of the planet. Since it did not actually circle the central star, and it had a very fast rotation, it had very short 'days.' They noticed a faux 'sunset.' Sette, the new cadet was also suited up and out the airlock and she got to analyzing the crust. She turned to them both "This is weird. It seems that the crust of made of a single compound." Piteer rechecked. She was right. It was all Calcium Carbonate......chalk.

Fenie sent out a robotic probe though the airlock. the contraption was quite useful in geological surveys. Dranke picked a spot and 'shot' the probe into the ground using an air pressure expulsion tube. The probe was a small ball which had a tough shell and held nanobots which would disperse into the soil and carry out analysis deep into the crust. They 'ate' their way through the soft soil and scanned their environs, dispersing widely into the crust. In a short while, they were able to send a visualization. The scans were accumulated and reconstituted in the Raven's bridge in holographic splendor. Fenie was staring at the holograms in consternation as they spun around lazily in the center of the deck. Her voice carried in their suits as she said shakily "Captain, the planet is artificial. I repeat. The planet is artificial. The core is a construction."

Pic courtesy: (NASA Goddard Space Flight center. Artist's impression of Exoplanet HR 8799b).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mesc (Mission Impossible - 9)

Piteer lashed himself tighter to the Raven's airlock handle and waited as his shipmates came up to where he was hanging. Fenie stared beyond him "The shadow looked almost like a large bedsheet." Vaxe disagreed "I thought it looked like a manta ray." They strained to see anything in the gloom, which was accentuated by the methane clouds which made it look almost monochrome blue.

Dranke, the captain and his crew had pushed their darkmatter starcraft, one of the first of it's kind to chase down a mysterious species called the Hnnet. The aliens were highly advanced technologically, and starcommand had tasked the Raven and her crew to track down the alien species. Dranke had chosen the Sagittarius satellite galaxy as the most likely candidate, and they had begun their search.

Vaxe got out of the enclosed amphibian vehicle and got out an optical enhancement which was only visible-spectra dependent. It allowed for color and temperature differential. She scanned more closely. In a few seconds, a black giant teardrop shaped creature broke the surface of the methane sea and seemed to be studying her. Piteer stifled a cry and stared, his eyes wide. Fenie was the only one who moved. She slid her suited hand into the methane sea and looked at the creature. It came around to her and enveloped her hand! Vaxe whispered "Be careful."

Dranke came out of the airlock and closed it behind him carefully. Before he said anything, the shadow creature slid off Fenie's suited hand and 'flowed' over to Dranke. It covered his foot. It tingled. Dranke tried the normal spacecommand protocols for communication. It did not react. In a few minutes, it slid off his foot and disappeared into the methane sea.

Drake looked mystified "What does one make of this?" Fenie shrugged "It looks like a marine creature. Also it doesn't seem to want to communicate. At least not in a way we can discern." Vaxe agreed "Not much we can learn here."

Piteer untied himself and got into the darkmatter starcraft last. He was still looking a little uneasy. "Maybe we should try and get some more information? It seems to have some basic intelligence." Dranke grinned "It's not the Hnnet anyway. That was our task in the first place. Not this alien species. Anyway I will cover this in my report to spacecommand. If they want us to come back here, we can do that."

Decision made, they got the Raven prepared for launch. It was harder to launch from a liquid methane sea, but they had some experience with the protocols now. The crew moved in unison and got the Raven ready, while Fenie was already mapping their way to the next port of call. The star system they had chosen would have to be a flyby. They were going to study emissions from space and look for telltale signs of electromagnetic emissions, the signs of civilization.

On Mesc, the Mescieans were 'chattering' to themselves using vibrations..... they flowed over each other as they communicated.

oo..The aliens were looking for the Hnnet, this must be the species called humans...oo

oo..Their skin was made of metamaterials, we have melded a similar kind of cover into our own skins at the last molting..oo

oo..Strange how they cannot read us by touch..oo

oo..Must not be very advanced..oo 

Pic courtesy: By Darya Rios (Own work) (, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Shadows (Mission Impossible - 8)

Raven had been loaded with the instructions for the route to the next star system which Fenie had built into the route map. The jumps had been automatically recalculated by the computer on-board systems and Dranke had finally signed off on the parameters for the jumps. The mission was progressing on the darkmatter starcraft and Dranke was cautiously optimistic that things were looking up.

The Raven, the newly named darkmatter starcraft, and the Captain and his crew had been exploring the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy in hope of finding clues to the Hnnet, who had been on a mining expedition which had come close to Sol before traversing the galactic disk of the Milky Way. They had played a cat-and-mouse game with the alien fleet in hope of learning about them, but had been confronted by the vastly advanced extraterrestrials who had beaten them at their own game. An alien calling himself 'Ed' had met with them, leaving both the crew of Raven as well as spacecommand with more questions than answers.

Fenie and Piteer were arguing about something, just out of earshot, and Dranke saw multiple starmaps being pulled up and marked with different colored tracer lines which were route maps which were based on the current overlay. There was a lot of gesticulating from Piteer. Dranke sighed "What is it?" They looked up, surprised. They were in their own world. Piteer shrugged "We can't be sure if we want to jump and stop and scan the area or scan the area without jumping." Dranke grinned "Whatever is faster. Run the simulations." Vaxe walked in and without missing a beat said "Sette is already on it. And Dex is running the scans. But it's taking time." Dranke thought about it "In the meantime do you have a candidate? Instead of waiting around, maybe we can stretch our legs on a planet." 

Fenie pulled up another starmap.... It was beginning to look crowded with all the holograms jostling for space and getting overlaid on the bridge. She pointed "We got this planet.... it's not Earthlike, but it has an atmosphere, mostly liquid methane. We can't see any EM, but the planet is bathed in methane clouds. It's worth a look." Dranke stood "There you are. Lets take a look around."

The crew had gotten much better at looking at potential planets where alien life could exist. They had shortlisted them by type, emissions, suspicious megastructures or moons and any clues they could find in the neighborhood. Size and temperatures were also inputs, but secondary. Fenie thought nothing of it as she and Vaxe kitted up. Piteer would stay near The Raven and the captain would stay with the ship this time around. They kitted up.

After visiting over thirty planets, the protocols had got much smoother. They were ready in a few minutes and the ship was at alert as the planet came into view. It was beautiful. The methane gave the planet a bluish green appearance. And they quickly went through the outer clouds. Fenie sampled the atmosphere. "As expected, it has a high methane concentration. All other gases are trace." They waited for the ship to drop. The pinging told them they were close to the planet surface. It was a gooey muck of blue-green, with very little visibility. Dranke checked "Can't find solid ground, we are going to have to land in the methane sea. Use the amphibious craft for planetside exploration." They listened and adjusted their apparatus. They had seen all this before. It has been a long time since they had first set foot on an extraterrestrial planet.

Fenie and Vaxe were in their amphibious outfits and the craft closed over them like a skin. They waited for Piteer to step into the airlock and they closed the hatch for the air to cycle out. Without much ado, they were floating on the methane sea. It was surreal. The 'water' was methane. The sky had thick methane clouds, and in the sea, there were methane-bergs... it was over a hundred and fifty degrees below freezing. They looked around and scanned the horizon. Nothing. 

Piteer looked like a dot on the huge darkmatter starcraft. He was precariously positioned near the hatch, but Fenie knew he was securely stationed there. She waved out and scanned him. Just behind him was a shadow... and then it was gone. It had been fleeting. She told him to look and they started back to where Piteer was lashed to Raven.

When they reached him, he looked nonplussed. "Can't see anything around, and the sensors are not recording any activity. What did you see?" Fenie described it. They waited... In a few minutes, they saw another shadow. It would not resolve. This time Dranke said "I saw that too, but nothing on the sensors. What is it?" They did not see the shadow again....

Pic courtesy: Charles Strebor (Photographer and Artist)
Via and linked post

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Raven's Flight (Mission Impossible - 7)

Dranke stared at his screens showing a simulated approach to the Planet which resolved to be more brown than purple. Maybe it was something in the atmosphere which reflected light in the purple area of the visible spectrum. He checked with Fenie.

"Sir, atmosphere analysis is ongoing. But we did not sample the outer atmosphere since it was not relevant." She looked rushed, and Dranke decided to leave her alone. Piteer moved to the pilot's chair as he switched on the standby systems to account for any surprises. Vaxe had moved into Piteer's seat as she kept a close eye on the outer hull.

Dranke smiled. This team of young space recruits were acting in concert like a well-oiled machine as they orchestrated the delicate landing process. It was the first time a darkmatter starcraft had been made to land on an exoplanet. And watching them, he knew his team was what he had hoped it would be when he had first stepped on the Raven's deck.

His musings were interrupted as they passed though the last of the thin atmosphere and the planet's topography became apparent. The Raven's wings were now extended for the first time as they glided down to the surface.... it was a perfect landing. And they had landed on what looked like a tabletop mountain. Fenie was scanning for anything around. "Is the atmosphere breathable?" Dranke asked. Fenie shook her head "No. We need to be careful. Oxygen is non-existent. Vaxe and Piteer were already in their suits and they looked like a pair of fish in the form-fitting metamaterial outfits. Dranke grinned "Wait for me." He kitted up quickly and the three of them went through the tedious airlock cycling procedure.

It hit them hard. The planet was a desert. There was no vegetation apparent. Just the same rough unbroken terrain. And a pinking hue in the sky. No water bodies were apparent. It matched with their inability to ascertain any electromagnetic emissions from space. Dranke was already relaying information which would help them filter things in advance.

The lip of the table top was just a few hundred meters away and they walked over to check if there was anything of interest down in the 'valley' area. A few minutes and they realized it was just the same. Vaxe had established a link and she uploaded images, spectrographic analysis and hard data to the ship's memory banks.

Dranke did not waste any more time. Any advanced civilization would have been easily discernible. He led the way back. The awkward gait in the slightly higher than Earth gravity made them look like a trio of clowns. Fenie welcomed them back. In short order, Fenie was retracting the landing gear and the ship was tilting upward. The wings were swept forward for the launch and in a few seconds, the propulsion systems pushed the Raven upwards and the ship righted itself as it flew into the higher atmosphere. Dranke said "We need to be able to scan planets better. Piteer and Fenie can work on the parameters I uploaded while planetside. Get Dex and Sette to work on trial runs. And lets do a sweep before we decide to land." They crew nodded soberly. They understood that the Captain did not want to waste any time and effort.

The trip had been wasted, and it was impossible to comb every planet this way. The sensors should be able to give them a better idea if a planet was likely inhabited. They were in a high orbit around the planet and they planned their next jump.

There was so much to do! Dranke looked forward to it......they were just beginning their adventures in exploring the Galaxy. Ed had been right!

Pic Attribution: "Protoplanetary disk". Via Wikipedia -

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Search (Mission Impossible - 6)

Fenie had been up beyond 'nighttime', which was the simulated shiptime. The darkmatter starcraft had seemed to hum in the night, though that was clearly her imagination. The humming would have only occurred just before a jump. Not a constant hum which she seemed to hear all night. She had finally been able to plot a spidery line to the nearest galactic disk... after traversing the dwarf galaxies which had seemed like little pearls. They had crossed incredible distances. Sagittarius dwarf lay ahead, it was a satellite galaxy. They would visit this first, since the Hnnet seemed to come from there. Extrapolating the vector backward was not the best approximation, but they had nothing else to go on. Fenie had almost passed out from exhaustion. She had left a ping for Piteer to clear the flight plan with the captain and had staggered off to bed.

Piteer was just getting dressed in his fatigues, and he rushed though a quick breakfast of pills. Always the pills in space. He hurried off to his console just as ship 'day' broke and the lights brightened. He felt fresh and rested. Dranke was already at the bridge, checking their progress, He looked up "Hey Piteer. Get yourself caught up on our flight plan which Fenie has mapped and lets get to business. I want to scan planets which could be likely targets. Look for unexplained radiation emissions." He went back to his dark coffee analogue and his screen as he spoke. Piteer nodded unnecessarily "On it boss."

Dranke and his team had quite the adventure, finding an alien fleet on a path which seemed to go to Earth. Instead, it seemed that the alien fleet was a mining expedition which just happened to come close to the Sol system, before traversing the galactic disk of the Milky Way. The aliens had confronted Dranke's darkmatter starcraft; and raised more questions than provided answers. But now spacecommand knew there were extraterrestrials out there. They would not rest till they found them. Dranke and his crew were tasked with tracking them down.

Piteer pulled up the starmap and drew lines across the grid pattern overlay "I have over ten thousand solar systems which could be targets. We need to filter them Sir." He looked at Dranke in askance. Dranke sighed. "It's hard to eliminate targets based on Goldilocks zones. The aliens obviously do not share our physiology." He pondered the issue. "Instead of planets, can we look for artificial structures? Anything that could be a power source for example." Piteer nodded "We have only about twenty outliers. Something strange in all of them. Let me plot a course to the nearest one.

In merely a day, they would traverse a distance which all of humanity had not been able to do in all history put together. And ahead lay a nondescript solar system. The only strange thing was it had a trinary star system. And multiple planets. Piteer had chosen well.

Two new crewmembers Dex and Sette were being trained on the starmaps and feeding in variables for the mapping of routes. They were working well together. It was a game for them. It was always that way for new recruits. After spending three years on simulators and game consoles that prepared them for the darkmatter starcraft, they knew how it all worked. But the reality was something they had to come to grips with. That piloting the ship involved real dangers, and jumping into a star would not just end with joshing in the mess, but would be fatal.

Fenie was up and getting a hot beverage. The pills were never enough. She ignored the fact that all liquid had been recycled. Some of it was used to protect them from space radiation and filled the walls of the ship. Other water was cleaned, filtered and reused. They were literally an ecosystem by themselves. She plodded to her console and looked at the approaching trinary system. "Captain, are we planning to land?" Dranke looked up from his console and nodded "Soon now." It looks like there is no electromagnetic emissions from the planets in this system, but my plan is a quick in and out on one of the planets." He marked out the planet he had chosen.

The darkmatter starcraft approached the looming planet. It did not have water and looked like a brownish-purplish ball. Fenie worked on the logistics and landing protocol. They would find out soon enough. The all hands message went out as the first of the logistics drill and the ship came to life as the crew scurried over to their consoles or positions. It was the first time the darkmatter starcraft, now named Raven was landing on a planet...

Pic courtesy: "Kepler11" by NASA / Tim Pyle - New Planetary System image: . Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Home (Mission Impossible - 5)

The blue planet rose in the viewscreens as they all gathered around to watch 'Earthrise.' It was a purely artificial construct, but it was still amazing to watch. They had been in space for almost six months and Dranke and his crew were looking forward to some downtime at home. Spacecommand was floating in a distant Earth orbit, but for once, they would not be docking there. Instead, the ship docked at the maintenance yard which was in a near Earth orbit. The crew filed out as they exited one airlock and entered another. The maintenance docks were huge and they stared at the scale of operations as they trooped towards their waiting capsule.

Dranke and his team had been involved in some notable firsts over their last mission. Having tracked and chased an alien fleet clear across the galactic disk, they had continued on their original mission, only to find that the fleet had doubled back after giving their trackers the slip and ambushed them. What the aliens had wanted was not very clear, but it seemed that they were on a mining expedition originally. After they found that Dranke's darkmatter starcraft was tracking them, they had in turn given chase to the ship and confronted Dranke and his crew. It had been quite a shock.

Vaxe and Fenie talked animatedly as they discussed the encounter with the alien and Dranke walked silently to the capsule, shadowed closely by Piteer, who was talking away. Dranke heard none of it, he was too caught up in his own thoughts. The 'capsule' was a sheathed vehicle, thickly layered and powered by lasers. They stepped inside. It moved off almost immediately. A bank of 200 high-powered lasers were aimed at the bottom of the capsule, which was protected from below by a reflective surface. The capsule moved downwards and soon they were on the ground. A Sargent led Dranke, Vaxe, Fenie and Piteer to where General Selin was waiting for them. The rest of the 20-odd crew were allowed to carry on to their debriefing officers.

General Selin was dressed in his battle fatigues, which was a surprise. Dranke shook hands with the General and introduced Vaxe and Piteer. Fenie had already met the General in cadet school and she saluted smartly. The general returned the salute perfunctorily "I read the report. You needed to get more detail on the aliens. Were they a threat. What did they seem to be like. I need everything."

Dranke supressed a smile "We couldn't read the alien. It transformed from a orb-like shape to a quasi-human shape, which was obviously supposed to put us as ease. They are extremely advanced, far beyond what we can imagine." He went on to tell the details of the meeting, the kind of docking which was done with an extrusion of the ship's walls and the liquid-like alien fleet which seemed to be almost ethereal. "They seemed to know we are just beginning to explore, and they did not give anything away. In my opinion, they don't seem to be aggressive. Just curious." The General nodded absentmindedly "You have a week off officially, but we need to know about these Hnnet. Was the alien you met in contact with someone while talking to you?" Fenie said "Ed. He asked us to call him Ed. Though his alien name was something else. But to answer your question, Vaxe was unable to figure out if they had any communications. Our own systems were jammed completely." The debriefing with the General seemed to last forever. He asked for details every few minutes. Finally their story was accepted. The General's aide had recorded everything and he walked away with his data, which was sure to be replayed time and again.

General Selin was not amused. He dismissed them with a parting shot "It seems like the aliens want to talk to you and your crew. So for better or worse, your crew has been chosen to gather intelligence for us."

Dranke decided to give them the day off, and they all left excitedly to enjoy it. It had been some time since they had been able to relax completely, and all too soon, they would be back marking time as they traversed this galaxy and the maybe all the neighboring ones too. It would make for interesting times!

Before very long, they were called back to the Earthbase to rapidly leave for their next mission. Fenie was the only one grumbling as she hadn't quite been able to attend a concert which she been looking forward to. Vaxe shrugged, "we knew it was going to be short notice. The boffins are jumpy."

It was a familiar feeling to be back on their darkmatter starcraft. The bridge had been cleaned and the full ship had been serviced. They settled down and prepared for the long voyage. Fenie said "lets name the ship." Dranke grinned "Let's have a vote." They jumped. And jumped again. And again... leaving the Sol system in the distance.

Pic Courtesy:By NASA (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mission impossible 4 - 'Ed'

Vaxe had the coms ready. Since the aliens were only able to use text, She would have to manage to convey what they wanted to the alien fleet in a similar mode. Dranke stared at the screen, frozen in time. How should one answer? It was too open a question. Thoughts of cliches like We come in peace ran through his head and were discarded. Maybe it would be better to say Hey, how are you. We are humans. Nothing seemed appropriate.

After a long chase from the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, Dranke and his crew had tracked the alien fleet due to their suspicious trajectory which had seemed to take them straight to Earth. When Dranke had found that the aliens were not headed to Earth, the chase had taken on a new complexion. They were then tracking the aliens to see where they were headed. The aliens had given another darkmatter starcraft the slip and sneaked up on Dranke's starcraft without warning. The last message they had sent was "Who are you?"

Fenie was working on a reply as instructed by Dranke. She said "How about this... we are Humans from a the Sol cluster. We were curious about you." Dranke chewed on that for a few seconds and then nodded. They were too far from Earth for anything approaching real-time communications, but he asked Vaxe to send a tracer com to spacecommand appraising them of the situation. She turned back from her screen "I can't send a message to spacecommand. The aliens have jammed all coms except to themselves."

Dranke stared at the visuals of the alien fleet. They looked beautiful. Ripples seemed to pass over the spaceships as they idled. The material was fascinating. Almost hypnotic in it's beauty. What was he supposed to do? Maybe he should just tell the aliens he had no authority to speak to them. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. He would have to wing it. He was actually speaking to the first extraterrestrial intelligence in the known Universe! He let that sink in. Fenie was looking at him and gesticulating. He looked at where she was pointing "Explain Humans."

Dranke asked Fenie to send a long message explaining what Humans were about. This was in the spacecadet manual. Much easier to have the standard spiel which spacecommand had given them. At the footer he asked them to release their communications from the jammer.

The Alien fleet remain impassive in the viewscreens. The next message said "Prepare for boarding." Pushy chaps was the first thought which entered Dranke's mind. He signaled for the airlock to be circulated as one of the alien ships came close. It ignored the airlock and a liquid extrusion of one of the innocuous rounded edges docked with the darkmatter starcraft. It extended right into the ship! The alarms went off. Fenie looked at Dranke significantly as she turned off the alarms. Dranke, Fenie and Vaxe waited near the edge of the liquid gateway which seemed to ignore all matter. The technology was way ahead of theirs. A round globular structure rolled towards them. English words were imprinted on it. "We are Hnnet. From the Hnnet Galaxy. Humans know Hnnet?" Dranke was just not prepared for this. He stared "No we thought we are alone in the Universe." The typing changed to gibberish imprinted on the globe. Then came the sound of a woman laughing. Then a man laughing. "Sorry, we are learning from your data and ship. Almost upto speed now." The globe changed to a man-like shape, mimicking Dranke. "You can call me Ed." It extended it's facsimile 'hand' and Dranke shook it. It fell cold and resilient to the touch.

Dranke could not shake off the feeling of the whole thing being part of a prank. "Good to meet you Ed. Is that your real name?" Again there was a muffled sound of laughing "No. You could not pronounce my name. We are on a mining expedition. You followed us."

Dranke said "Yes, we did not know there was another spacefaring species." He shrugged, just before remembering that body language was probably lost on the Hnnet. He smiled and the Hnnet smiled back. It kept smiling. "We would like to inform our planet of our encounter." Ed continued to smile "Of course. We would like to board your planet too someday." Fenie grinned at the awkward turn of phrase. Ed continued "You have just discovered space travel. I should let you explore." He turned, still smiling, and collapsed into a globe. Dranke yelled "Wait. We want to  know more about you." Ed said distantly "In due time Human." The liquid extrusion pulled away rapidly, leaving no trace it had been there just a few moments ago. The alien fleet jumped away rapidly. They were alone again.

Dranke asked Vaxe to make a full report as they jumped back home. This was more of an adventure than he had imagined in his wildest dreams. He let it sink in. What a mysterious meeting! Spacecommand was going to go apeshit. He smiled wickedly. It would be amusing to talk to General Selin. He imagined his face when he read the report....

Pic Courtesy: "Fomalhaut planet" by ESA, NASA, and L. Calcada (ESO for STScI) - Hubble Directly Observes Planet Orbiting Fomalhaut. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mission impossible 3 - Contact

Fenie had pressed Vaxe into service to ensure as close to real-time communications with spacecommand as possible, but there was still quite a lag. Even with quasar-assisted communications, they had to wait for responses. Vaxe indicated that she had managed to establish a secure link with a hand signal.

After chasing an alien fleet across the galactic disk; no mean feat, even for a darkmatter spacecraft, they had realized the alien fleet was not aimed at Earth as they had first suspected. Instead the fleet had continued traversing the galactic disk and diverged from the path which led to Sol... and Earth.

General Selin from spacecommand was speaking 'We noticed the alien fleet around two days back and pressed one of the other darkmatter starcraft which is still following the fleet, albeit from a distance which is at least three jumps away. It's going to be hard to be unnoticed."

Dranke felt an anger coming over him, but he had to wait for the General to stop speaking "Sir, we have been tracking this fleet for some time now. Permission to track." He hated the idea of some other captain getting the chance to meet the first aliens encountered by humans.

Fenie looked at him - part in amusement and largely in agreement as she nodded. This was theirs. By any yardstick. He grinned to break the grim tone on the bridge, even though he was seething inside. General Selin replied after a few minutes "Niket's starcraft is already on the job. It is even more important that you continue on your original mission now. Except we need to trace back to where the alien fleet originated. We have to know."

Piteer walked across the bridge to where they were gathered and pulled up a starmap.. showing an estimation of the path taken by the alien fleet. But there were too many variables and red lines snaked across a number of galaxies. There was no way to be sure. They needed to know more. Dranke took it all in "Sir, based on a preliminary study, it looks impossible to be sure. It would be like searching for a needle..." The General cut him off, obviously transmitting simultaneously "We know that. I guess we are grasping at straws. I'm sorry. Your orders are to continue on your original mission." The transmission cut off with the standard signal for end of communication. Dranke looked annoyed "You heard the boffin. We go back from where we came and triangulate our best guesses for point of origin."

Life returned to normal pretty quickly and took on the usual boring space travel motif, Except for the spectacular views as they zoomed out of the galaxy with each successive jump. They went back to the usual shiptime cycle, mimicking the Earth's The card games which had taken a back-seat in the past few days broke out in full force again.

Dranke toyed with the idea of taking a wild guess at where the alien fleet came from. He stared at the maps again and again. Without any preamble the ship's red alert buzzer began ringing loudly. Fenie was running to her post, as was Piteer, followed by the navigation and piloting crew, who had abandoned whatever they were doing. They rapidly began to scan for the reason for the proximity alert.

They were being hailed. The alien fleet! It had doubled back and was now tracking them. Dranke felt a knot in the pit of his stomach as he realized what had happened. The alien fleet had seemed to evaded the other darkmatter starcraft and must have given Niket's crew the slip. He swore. He remembered that there had been a chapter on extraterrestrial intelligence in the cadet manual, but it assumed they would happen on some form of life on a planet.

Fenie looked at the hailing signal - it was gibberish - she could not discern any pattern . Not good. This would take the translators forever to crack. And that was with a lot of luck.

The alien fleet gleamed in front of them. The spacecraft seemed to be almost liquid. The shape blurred and flowed as if made from water. There was nothing to do but wait. They were outnumbered. Should they make a run for it? He was transfixed. Fenie yelled "They are accessing our systems. And the attack has shut down everything. Too late to run if that was in your mind."

Dranke had never felt so helpless. He was a man of action. Waiting was not his strong suit. He needn't have worried. The words on the screen which scrolled down were chilling, and seemed to echo in the ship, even though it was just in text "Who are you?"

Pic courtesy: under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license (Wikimedia commons)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mission Impossible 2 - Cat and Mouse

Jumping in space was a complicated business. It required triangulation of a group of stars, matching against the existing star system, taking into account the time taken for the jump, and avoiding any gravity wells during exit.

This made for a fun discussion between Dranke, his navigator Piteer and his Science officer Fenie. But their predictions did not evoke any merriment. The fleet of alien ships they had spied jumping inward towards the galactic disc had looked menacing. And they had seemed to be heading straight towards Earth. Home to humanity. Fenie did not know what to feel. All her life she had imagined aliens; and now they were heading towards her beloved Earth. It did not feel like an adventure. It felt like the end. She yelled out unnecessarily "Brace for jumps" as the black darkmatter starcraft jumped inward, mimicking the path the alien fleet had taken. It was a grim game of cat and mouse.

Dranke looked at the starmap with foreboding as he watched the jumps making a spidery trail towards Earth. It looked very similar to the alien fleet's path. He asked Fenie for an overlay. Fenie pulled up a larger starmap showing the alien fleet in red and the darkmatter starcraft in blue. Their paths intersected a number of times. Dranke swore and asked for further readings. They had been tracking the alien fleet for over two Earth weeks now, and it was getting to be a continuous war with sleep. He had to see this through!

They had shot off a communication to spacecommand, but for all practical purposes, it would only be received much after they reached Earth. It was a marker, Dranke consoled himself. It would be received by the other darkmatter starcraft in the area surrounding Sol. There were two others. Though Dranke's team was the only one to have left the galaxy.

He had headed off to bed. There was nothing more he could do. As he left he watched Fenie and Piteer were creating tracer lines on the starmap. They were looking at alternate predictions. He would get a few hours rest and plot the remaining jumps home. They were hot on the heels of the alien fleet now.

Dranke woke from his nap drenched in sweat. He had had a nightmare about failing in pilot class. He stretched and shrugged off the dream. He knew exactly what it meant.

Dranke threw on his comfortable soft battle fatigues and padded onto the bridge. Fenie had knocked off earlier. Piteer nodded an acknowledgement "We are just three jumps away from the aliens. We could push for larger jumps and catch up with them, but we lose certainty with longer jumps." Dranke processed the information without stopping "No, just keep plotting. We are almost in the vicinity of Sol now. I want to keep watching the alien fleet. Do not engage."

Piteer took his leave and Fenie took over the controls. They had to now work in rotation. No sense in losing people to fatigue. Fenie suddenly stared at Dranke as his face broke out in a huge smile.

Dranke looked at the starmap to see what she was indicating and before he could react, Fenie yelled out "They are diverging from the galactic disc.... heading past the Sol system." She was now grinning idiotically.

Dranke felt like an idiot himself. He scowled. "Track them and lets get some communications going with spacecommand. I'm sure they will be very interested to know there are other intelligent beings in the Universe." He slumped in his chair, the tiredness taking over as the tension seeped out of his muscles. He was glad it had been a false alarm. Then it sunk in.... humans were not alone in the Universe!

(Pic courtesy : Flickr / NASA /