Sunday, November 29, 2015

Vagabond Fleet: Chapter One

Vagabond Fleet

The Long March

Chapter One

With the east and western continental governments on Zenith at war it made sense for both countries to begin evacuations to other colony worlds. Both sides declared a truce in space but neither trusted the other. Everyone who could beg, bribe or steal their way onto an outbound ship clamored and clawed their way off the planet to avoid an almost certain nuclear exchange.

The United Front of Arirang and the Confederation of Segye had been at war for a century and now it was nearing the end game and neither side wanted to give an inch, the other sides' existence had become unbearable for both.

Standing on the bridge of the UFA cruiser Yeong-ung looking out of the ships gathering for the convoy to the colony world of Alphix, Captain Myung had a bad feeling. He had evacuated his own family weeks ago but this sudden surge made him think the end had really come.

“I count thirty ships, but some of them look rather small.” one of the bridge officers reported “A few of them are more like shuttles than anything else, they don't belong with the convoy.”

The Captain pursed his lips for a moment “Have those really small ships dock in the auxiliary bay of the cruiser Linus. Order the Linus to secure them and make the passengers comfortable.”

“Aye sir!”

The Captain knew that the CS frigate Nanjin was carrying out a similar convoy operation on the other side of the planet. He hoped they were successful in saving as many people as possible from a near-certain calamity.

“Captain, we have been ordered to move out.” said the female Coms officer

“Set a course for sector 4, punch in the coordinates for our first jump towards Alphix,” the Captain said “make sure you share those with the rest of the fleet, we all need to make the jump at the same time.”

Captain Myung was a veteran of the long war with the Confederation. He had many commendations and awards and once had a ship shot out from under him, literally. He had been suited up to repair a combat sensor panel when a CS corvette had surprised them, launching four torpedoes from only ten kilometers away. One second he had been pulling himself toward the broken sensor panel hand over hand and the next he was floating in space watching the gunboat tumble away in pieces.

“All ahead one-fifth.” the Captain ordered, starting slow enough for even the slowest of the vessels to keep up.

“Aye sir.”

He looked at the tab he was carrying, it was a list of vessels under his protection. The Chugha was a cruise liner, it was large and hardly stealthy or armored. It was carrying 3,300 people crammed into the 1,225 cabins. At least it was rather modern and could keep up.

The Chang-go was a very large bulk cargo vessel, it had a crew of 64, but it was already carrying vital supplies. It was also fast, rated at up to two-thirds max propulsion outside of the jumps. Another vessel called the Perry was a manufacturing ship paired up with the Yeonlo tanker that could produce heavy hydrogen and even the perspective stones that focused the jump drives.

Most of the rest were old ships, some of them barely space-worthy. He knew for a certainty the the Tacoma was actually the mothballed and revived Na-tong that had originally been built five decades ago. It was listed as having 300 people on board, he shook his head, when that ship served it had a crew half that.

“All ships in formation and holding steady.” the Second mate said. Commander Nelson was tall and liked to wear mirrored sunglasses. He had been a fighter pilot when he was younger and still got to play CAP with the shuttles and the point defense pods of the Yeong-ung.

“Good.” the Captain responded “How long until we reach the jump point?”

“Four more minutes” said the young Watch Officer

“Captain, picking up signals bearing CS identity tags.” said the Sensor officer

“How many?” Captain Myung asked.

“Four with the tags but I am reading another twenty-two vessels as well.”

Captain Myung nodded “The Confederates have their own convoy heading out.”

Since there was a truce in space everyone breathed a little easier, ever since the evacuations began the two space forces had kept the peace off-world. No incidents between them had been reported and there was even precedent for the two convoys to join up for the voyage. Myung decided this was probably not a good idea since hostilities were getting too hot on Zenith and could spill over.

“They have the frigate Nanjin, corvette Sariwon and the destroyer Wonson escorting that convoy, I can't make out the signal from the fourth CSSF ship.” the Sensor officer said.

In addition to the cruisers Linus and Yeong-ung the UFA Space Forces included the gunboat Defender and the fast attack craft Blinder. So it was four against four, should it come to that. Although Myung didn't think the CS frigate would stand a chance against either of the cruisers.

There were other convoys out there and other warships from either side. Although when they entered the solar system of another world they would both have to behave. Alphix A was an industrial world that was quite adept at building their own ships if they needed them. It was a twin planet system, Alphix A & B orbited a point in space between them. Alphix B was an agricultural planet.

“Message from Captain Woo Sang-Ji of the CS fleet.” the Com officer “He says: May the wind and sea favor you and may your voyage be peaceful.”

Myung nodded “Tell Captain Woo this: May your week be boring and uneventful too.”

Commander Nelson smiled and shook his head, it was funny.

Both convoys were headed toward approximately the same jump point at about the same speed, they kept track of each other so as not to cause problems.

“Inform all vessels to begin jump procedure.” the Captain said “Jump in 30 seconds, mark”

“Aye sir.” the Coms officer said “Message is sent and acknowledged.”

The Yeong-ung turned ghostly white and then popped out of normal space, this was followed by the rest of the convoy. The CS convoy did the same thing minutes after. On the far side of the solar system the ships appeared back into normal space from this test jump.

“All ships reporting in.” the young Coms officer with short blond hair said, she also added “All ships reporting no damage or trouble.”

This was good news, they were now free to make longer jumps without the worry about losing vessels. A vessel that fell out of jump space between inhabited systems and couldn't jump again was most likely a goner. The Captain hoped that these ragtag ships would make it all the way to the Alphix system and safety for these civilian passengers.

“Start plotting a new jump.” the Captain told the navigator “You have the con Commander, I'm going to get some coffee.”

“Aye sir!” Commander Nelson said moving toward the center of the bridge “Let me see those sensor readings, has the CS fleet emerged from the jump yet?”

“Half-million kilometers to port.” the Coms officer told him, smiling “Sir.”

He smiled back at her “See you after the shift for dinner, okay?”

She nodded.


Yeong-ung Shuttle Bay

“Watch it!” the short-haired brunette said pushing the metal rail a tall man was carrying away from bumping into her shuttle. “You are going to scratch the sensor-resistance paint like that.”

The man shook his head and muttered “It's a shuttle, not a fighter.”

It should be a fighter craft she thought to herself, but they used defense drones now. All that training and she ends up flying a space minivan. It wasn't nearly as glamorous but it was still her job, she was still a combat officer and got to wear a side-arm to prove it.

“Stace!” a chubby young man said running up to her breathlessly “I was wondering if you would...” he paused to take a breath, she rolled her eyes and tapped her foot “Want to catch a game of Rads when we get to Alphix... with me.”

“Harold, how do you know I like Rads?” Lieutenant Stacey Drew asked, narrowing her eyes “Have you been talking to Riley again? You know I think he's a snake!”

The young man smiled, he looked like a cherubic boy. “Sorry.”

“Stop hanging out with low-life scum.” she told him tapping him on the chest “They're going to corrupt you, your armor isn't that strong. Kind of soft actually.”

He was enjoying that, being touched by her. Too much. This guy adored her and thought she was “so cool”. It felt good to have a fan club but being asked out by this guy was not good for her image. She didn't want shuttle pilot cool, she wanted fighter pilot cool.

“Oh and that research you wanted, I have it done.” he told her handing her a memory chip. She looked around before she accepted it and slipped it into her pocket.

“I'll look at it later but give me a heads up, can we do it?” she asked, he got a strange look on his face and he grinned. “Can we build them with our equipment or not?”

“Oh, yes we can.” he told her “It's all on the chip. It has the specs on the fabrication of every single part on a fighter, we can print those up in engineering.”

“Okay thanks, see you later.” she told him and shooed him away. Harold had his good points, he was like a savant with the help she needed sometimes. He just told her that it was technically possible for the engineering section and their tools to make all the necessary parts to build fighters. She was going to be in a good mood for the rest of the day, at least.

Stacey walked with a swagger toward the barracks deck before stopping. She never said no to his request for a date when they reached Alphix. He almost definitely took that as a yes. She hit herself in the head “stupid!” and now she owed him one.

Both convoys made their second jumps nearly at the same time and arrived the same way, deep between solar systems. There was nothing at all in this region of space, it was well charted over the past couple of centuries.

“I am getting contacts.” Coms officer Jaycee Walters said loudly “Ahead of us 22 million kilometers, their identity tags are all garbled.”

Commander Nelson frowned. He would have to call the Captain for this one. They were still moving forward and would be in visual range soon, so he walked toward the intercom on the pillar at the center of the bridge. A big button there would put him directly through to the Captain wherever he was.

“Wait until we are in visual range.” he said

Soon enough they were in visual range and a long-distance shot appeared on the main viewer between the pilot and navigator stations, the commander was looking down at it when it came up. He knew something was wrong immediately.

“Sound red alert!” he said and the Coms officer complied. Meanwhile Nelson was already hitting the button the pillar “Captain, we need you on the bridge.”

The Sensor officer looked confused “Those bogeys are unknown types and I don't recognize the ship they are attacking.”

Captain Myung entered the bridge and looked down at the monitor. “All hands to battle stations, contact the Nanjin, tell them we are going to need some help.”

“Who are they?” Commander Nelson asked. The Captain paused a moment “They are an alien race that is very hostile.”

The Commander was confused but the Captain put a palm up. “Later.” he said “We have a job to do, prep your fighter pods.”

“Aye sir!”

“Coms, order the convoy to stop. Have the Linus stand guard and tell the Defender and Blinder to form up in a rising trail formation.” the Captain said

They were joined by the Sariwon and Nanjin from the CS convoy. Their five warships pushed forward and soon identified the stricken vessel as the flagship of the Alphix Space Navy, the Broadsword. It seemed to have some serious damage but the hull was mostly intact.

The alien vessels moved very quickly and they could turn like an aircraft in atmosphere, something that ships as big as them could not normally do. Only fighters could move that way in the human sectors of space.

“I have six defense drones ready for action.” Commander Nelson told him “Launching on your mark, sir!”

The four alien vessels left the Broadsword and moved toward the convoys. “Here they come!” someone said

“All ships prepare to open fire!” Captain Myung said “Commander, launch the drones.”

The unmanned fighters launched from their bays on the bottom of the Yeong-ung and turned in formation toward the enemy ships. Soon enough the enemy vessels were within range the Captain gave the order “All ships, open fire!”

They proved hard to hit with plasma lasers, they were just too fast and turned too quickly. Even their torpedoes proved useless. The Captain looked over at his very busy Commander and hoped his drone fighters could get the job done.

“Engaging the enemy now.”

The ship shook.

“We were hit on the starboard side, not showing much damage.” the Watch officer reported

“The Blinder has been hit, one of its engine rooms has been vented.” the young Coms officer reported “The Sariwon has taken some heavy damage to the superstructure.”

The ship shook again, the Captain held himself steady against the pillar at the center of the bridge.

Three drone fighters teamed up on one enemy ships and soon had killed it. Its engines and lights out and it tumbled away. They turned in formation seeking to acquire a new target. There was another enemy ship making a move toward the Nanjin from that ships rear. The drones turned to intercept the alien vessel but didn't get there before the CS vessel took some heavy blows to its engine compartment.

The fighter drones still managed to cripple one more enemy ship. Then one of the enemy ships decided to take out the drones and a few well-placed laser shots did the job.

“I'm down to two defense drones.” Nelson said “They just can't react fast enough! This would be a good time to have some manned fighters.”

The crippled Broadsword had plenty of fighters, theoretically at least. Instead it had been used to carry science and sensor drones, being limited to no more than a half-dozen unmanned fighters despite having two large hangar decks.

They were out of unmanned fighters but the last alien ship was moving slow and was easy pickings for torpedoes from Nanjin and Yeongung. The Captain ordered Blinder and Defender to return to the convoy, to protect it should more alien ships arrive. Meanwhile they approached the Broadsword, trying to raise it and scan it with all sensors.

“I'm not picking up any life signs, sir.” the Scanner officer told them. It was a very large ship, it had a crew complement of a thousand, fourteen hundred if it hadn't lost its manned fighter wings.

“Prepare shuttles, we're sending a team of Marines over.” Myung announced. Commander Nelson nodded and looked at his tabs. “We have four shuttles ready to go, they can each carry a pilot, a co-pilot and eight dragoons.”

“Captain, who or what are these aliens? How long has all of this been known?” Commander Nelson asked.

“It's been a while. Some rumors of missing ships are false, the authorities often found these shot up hulks and reported them as missing. They classified all information but we do not know very much about them at all.” The Captain said “I'll show you the file in a while, after your shift.”

“Shuttles are ready to launch, sir” he said looking at the tab screen his hand.

“Tell them to board the Broadsword, look for any survivors, check the logs and assess the damage to the vessel” Myung ordered “I'm going to my quarters, alert me if something happens.”

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