Friday, March 22, 2013

The First Imperium (ch 4)

I'm on the homestretch with Crimson Worlds IV.  It's getting some final edits and I'm making a few revisions.  It should be out shortly - probably not by March 31, but in very early April.  As promised, I'm posting another sample chapter...I'll probably do one more sample before the book is released.

First, a couple of items:

1.  I am in the process of improving my woefully inadequate social media presence.  I started a Twitter account for announcements and communication about my books and related topics.  I will tweet a bit more often than I send emails to the mailing list, but I'm still not going to waste anyone's time telling you all what I had for lunch and other silliness.  I'll probably make some comments on works in progress and maybe even comment on books I'm reading myself (though writing take a giant bite out of one's reading time).  If you want to follow me, I am @jayallanwrites

2.  I'm going to be sending some freebies to the email list over the next few months.  This will be short stories, samples of things I'm working on, and even a book or two.  So if you haven't signed up for the list, you may want to do it now at  You will NOT get spammed with foolishness...I doubt I average more than one email a month, and most of those are to announce new releases (or to give away stuff).

And now, without further delay...Chapter 4.

Chapter 4


AS Bunker Hill

Orbiting Wolf 359 VI

“We can move this data around all day, but there’s just no way to cover everything.”  Augustus Garret sat in one of the sleek metal chairs in Admiral Compton’s conference room.  It was in this very compartment that Compton had met with Roderick Vance, General Holm, and Erik Cain to plan the daring – and highly risky - actions that ultimately salvaged the rebellions…and saved Garret himself from Gavin Stark’s prison.  Every time he sat here it reminded him that he hadn’t been present.  He hadn’t been there because he’d let himself fall into Stark’s trap.  That wouldn’t happen again; he swore that much to himself.  Augustus Garret would never let his guard down again.  Not ever.

“No.  No way.”  Terrance Compton sat opposite Garret, staring at a large ‘pad displaying lists of ships and personnel.  “The supply situation is good at least.  Jack Winton’s done a hell of a job on logistics.  Good call on your part luring him back in.”

Garret nodded.  “Yes.” He allowed himself a little smile.  “I’ve never seen anyone with a better head for moving stuff around.  I’d blow my brains out if I had to do it every day, but he’s a virtuoso.”  Garret was a combat officer through and through, and he had to constantly struggle to make himself pay attention to details like logistics.  But his navy would cease to function without the services Winton’s division provided, and he was grateful to have someone he could trust to run it.

Compton grinned for a few seconds, but it quickly faded.  “But we just don’t have the combat assets.”  He exhaled loudly.  “And we won’t for at least three years…and maybe five.”  The Directorate had managed to secretly take control of the mothballed ships of the Strategic Reserve, crewing them with their own personnel.  Garret and his loyal ships had been compelled to hunt them down and destroy them, and they took their own losses doing it.  They were lucky if they could put a third of the strength into space they’d had at the end of the war.

Garret sighed.  “Look, I’m just going to say it.”  He had a sour look on his face, like he tasted something bad.  “We’re not going to be able to garrison the population centers.”  There were just too many Alliance colonies and not enough fleet units available.  “If we put undersized squadrons in every system, we’re just throwing them away if it comes to war.”  He took a deep breath.  “We have two absolutely vital locations, and we need to defend them at all costs.”

“Here and Armstrong.”  Compton interjected, completing Garret’s thought.

“Yes.”  Garret nodded solemnly.  “Here and Armstrong.” 

Wolf 359 was vital.  The shipyards orbiting the fifth planet were by far the biggest available outside the Sol system and, after the events of the past few years, no one in the naval command wanted to put too many eggs in its Earthly basket.  The facilities were a beehive of activity, with four new Yorktown class capital ships under construction.  They wouldn’t be ready for another three years at least, but when they were it would go a long way to bringing the fleet up to strength.  The yards themselves were also under construction, with a massive expansion of the production facility taking place even as the ships themselves were being built there.

Armstrong was even more important.  The planet was home to the Marine and naval headquarters and training facilities, as well as the giant Marine medical center, now being expanded into a joint services facility.  Garret flip-flopped on whether he thought that level of concentration was good or bad, but that was how they’d decided to proceed, and now they had to be damned sure to defend it.

“At least Armstrong’s civilian population will be protected as well.”  Compton was trying to sound positive.  “And of course, Arcadia will be covered by the fleet positioned here.”  One of the leading worlds in the recent rebellions and now the new Colonial Confederation, Arcadia was the third planet in the Wolf 359 system, just an astronomical stone’s throw from the massive shipyards orbiting world number five.

“We do have one thing that’s helpful, though.”  Garret was glancing down at the ‘pad as he spoke.  “Our gains in the war really rationalized our outer systems.  Most of our worlds on the Rim are deep in our own territory relative to the other Powers.”  The map on the large ‘pad was a stylized 2D representation of human-occupied space.  The interconnecting lines representing warp gate connections between the systems looked like a large glowing spiderweb.  Garret stared at the CAC and Caliphate systems in particular.  The red and orange dots representing those Powers’ holdings were fairly close to the Alliance’s primary colonies, but they were on the other side of those inner worlds from the frontier.  “I’ve pulled everything back from the outer sectors to beef up our core forces.”  He pointed toward the frontier area on the display, where all of the dots were a uniform blue.  “Even so, we’ll still be reacting in any new conflict.  If the CAC or the Caliphate hit us, they’re going to take whatever systems they target, and we’re going to be left responding, trying to take them back.”

Compton sighed.  “The Marines are even in worse shape.  Most of these planets have nothing defending them but militia.”  He was tapping his fingers on the table nervously as he spoke.  “Fortunately, neither the CAC nor the Caliphate is ready for a new war.”  He looked at Garret.  Friends and comrades for 40 years, they could read each other’s unspoken thought…we hope they’re not ready.  Any aggression would have been suicide a few years earlier, when the Alliance was in a preeminent position after the war.  But the rebellions and the internal fighting and scheming had shattered the Alliance military and squandered its dominance.  War was still unlikely in the short term, but it was no longer unthinkable.

They both paused for a while, perhaps half a minute, each of them staring at the map and the columns of figures scrolling along the edges of the ‘pad.  “I think we could pull more from the base on Farpoint.”  Compton was reading the deployment notes on the ‘pad, though he already knew them by heart.  “Honestly, we could just about close the base entirely.  Forty years ago it looked like that was going to be a hotly contested sector, but now there’s no enemy within 6 transits.” 

Farpoint was a continuing lesson in the need to employ long-term thinking when naming worlds.  At the time it was founded it was the deepest into space man had yet ventured, but now the name was somewhat of a joke.  The planet served as an ersatz capital and administrative center for the Alliance’s rimworlds, but it was at least four transits from the frontier along any warp path.

“I think you’re right.”  Garret glanced down at the map, sliding his finger to move Farpoint to the center of the display.  “We need to keep the base functioning to support the transport and colony ships heading to the Rim, but we can go to a skeleton crew.”  He paused for an instant, thinking about the forces currently stationed there.  “Let’s leave Stingray, Raptor, and Hornet….”  The three vessels were fast attack ships, and they would serve well for general patrol and policing.  “…and reassign the rest of the 5th Fleet to the Armstrong forces.”  He looked up at Compton.  “What do you think?”

“I’d do it.”  Compton inhaled deeply, holding the breath for a few seconds before exhaling.  His tone was tentative, uncertain.  “There’s no rational reason not to, but something about it still bothers me.  It feels wrong to leave a base that size with such a small squadron.”  He rubbed his fingers along his temples – the small headache he’d had when the strategy session started was getting worse.  “I still say do it, though.  We need those ships to cover Armstrong…at least until the stationary defenses are upgraded.”

The planet Armstrong had been fairly well-protected, but its new status as headquarters for the Colonial Confederation’s military forces demanded an entirely new level of fortification.  A dozen orbital installations were under construction, each bristling with weaponry and defensive systems.  But it would be several years before they were complete, and until then the nerve center of the Alliance military would be protected by mobile fleet units.

“OK, so we’ve got First Fleet at Armstrong.”  Garret was sliding his fingers along the ‘pad, moving ship names into place in a series of columns.  “I will take direct command there.”  He stared down at the screen, doublechecking the list of ships.  “I can split my time between headquarters planetside and the flagship...”  He looked at the list again.  “…which will be Lexington.”

Garret paused, his eyes still focused on the lists of available vessels.  “The forces you have here at Wolf 359 will be the redesignated Second Fleet.”  His fingers slid more ship names into a box marked Second Fleet.  “You’ll continue to command here.”  He glanced up at his companion as he spoke.

Compton nodded.  “I think we can defend both systems against any realistic threat.”  He looked back at Garret, his expression troubled.  “But what about a reaction force?”  He slid his finger across the ‘pad, centering a box with a large Roman numeral III on it.  “Third Fleet is a joke.  There’s not enough there to counter any serious enemy attack.”  He glanced next to the Third Fleet box to a similar area marked with a IV.  “And Fourth Fleet is even worse.  Calling it a fleet is a bad joke.”

“I know.”  Garret leaned back in his chair.  “But there’s nothing to be done about it….except…”  He slid a datachip across the table.  “I worked out a plan, but I want it kept secret.  I don’t even want it on the network.”  He hated having to think that way, especially in his own navy, but after his experiences at the hands of Gavin Stark, he trusted almost no one.  Stark’s organization had infiltrated the navy far more effectively than Garret would have thought possible, and he wasn’t going to forget that.

Compton reached out and picked up the chip.  He too had become more careful since the true extent of Alliance Intelligence scheming was exposed.  But he was worried about Garret.  His friend had become truly paranoid, suspecting everyone except those very few who were closest to him.  Compton understood, but he also knew how much damage it could do.  The navy was a team, and a good team had to function based on trust.  Garret had always had faith in the men and women who served under him, and they had followed him to hell and back.  Now he looked at them all and wondered if they were spies.

“I’ll review it.”  He lowered his voice, though it was just an instinctive reaction to the secrecy.  They were alone, and the room was sealed.  No one could hear them.  “What is it?”

“It’s a plan to subdivide First and Second Fleets into tiered task forces.”  Garret also spoke softly, though it was unclear if it was intentional or if he was subconsciously emulating Compton.  “It will allow us to evaluate any enemy action and detach segments of the fleets to reinforce the reaction forces.  The tiers are based on threat levels.  If an enemy attack is big, we know they’ve tied down a lot of their forces and won’t have them available to move on Armstrong or Wolf 359.  That will let us peel off squadrons from the garrisoning fleets to supplement our reaction forces.”  He shifted again in his chair, but he couldn’t get comfortable.  He was on edge – too little sleep, too much work.  The back of his neck was one big knot.  “The tiers are carefully organized to complement the reaction forces.  That way we have well-organized fleets rather than ad-hoc combos of whatever ships are around.  The AIs of the ships in the tiered forces will all have protocols for both fleets.  They will be able to instantly plug into either command structure.”

Compton smiled.  “That is brilliant, Augustus.”  He scolded himself for not thinking of it.  “It’s as close as we can come to cloning those ships and having them two places at once.”  His head was really pounding now despite the two analgesics he’d taken before the meeting.  How, he wondered, can they regrow lost limbs but still not come up with a decent headache remedy?

Garret arched his back in the chair, still trying to get comfortable.  “It doesn’t really give us more strength, but by doing some planning now we’ll be ready to react more quickly.  If we have to do some shuffling of forces, it will be better organized than some last minute cut and paste job.”

The two of them sat quietly for several minutes, both deep in thought.  Finally, Garret rose slowly, stretching slightly to drive away the stiffness in his arms and legs.  He started to roll his head, but he decided that getting rid of the tension in his neck was a lost cause.  “Well, Terrence, I think I will get a couple hours of sleep if I can manage it.”  He turned as his companion rose, and he extended his hand.  No salutes between these old friends…just a warm handshake.  “I’ve got to leave early tomorrow.  You have things in hand here, and I need to get back to Armstrong.”

“Take care, Augustus.”  Compton’s voice was friendly, but a touch subdued.  “I’ll hold down the fort here.  You just get that mess in Armstrong under control.”  He smiled at his friend and superior.  “After all, I wouldn’t want to make you look bad.”

“No…”  Garret smiled warmly.  “We couldn’t have that now, could we?”  He turned and walked toward the doorway, the hatch opening automatically as he approached.  He glanced back from the entry.  “I’ll see you before I leave, Terrance.”

Compton nodded and watched Garret walk out into the corridor, the hatch sliding shut behind him.  He stood quietly for a couple minutes then walked slowly toward the end of the room.  “Open outer shield.”

“Opening outer shield, Admiral Compton.”  The ship’s master AI had a pleasant sounding voice, highly professional, with just a touch of casual familiarity.  There was a soft sliding sound as the heavy armored doors along the end wall pulled back, revealing a large expanse of clear polymer.  There weren’t a lot of portholes or windows on warships, but this was one of his favorite things about Bunker Hill.  It was a luxury, pure and simple…an aesthetic provided for a fleet admiral flying his flag from a Yorktown class battlewagon.

The view was spectacular, the glory of space laid out before him.  It was so majestic, so peaceful.  He thought sadly to himself – you’d never know to look at this, what a blood-soaked warzone we’ve managed to make it.  An entire universe, endless and magnificent, and we still fight over every scrap.  “Man really is a wretched creature.”  He spoke to himself, so softly it was barely audible.

He looked out over the forward hull of Bunker Hill to the glowing sphere of Wolf 359 V.  The gas giant was as beautiful as any artwork he’d ever seen, a hazy blue globe, with just a hint of a ring floating around it.  The orbital shipyards weren’t visible.  As huge as they were to man’s sensibilities, at this range they were infinitesimally small, far too tiny for the eye to see.

“Well, we’ve done the best we can.”  Compton was still speaking to himself as he gazed into the void.  Finally, he sighed and tuned away from the window and moved slowly toward the door.  “At least all of this is theoretical.  The other Powers are all too beaten up to start a war anytime soon.”  He stopped at the doorway and glanced back one last time.  “We’ll have the time we need before we have to fight again.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crimson Worlds IV - The First Imperium (ch 3)

Here is the third chapter of The First Imperium.  The book will be out the very end of March or the first week of April.  I will announce that here and on the mailing list.  Meanwhile, here's another preview:

Chapter 3


Colony One

Newton - HP 56548 III

Ian Tremaine walked slowly back toward the small cluster of modular shelters, the warm afternoon sun beating down on his sweat-soaked back.  It was another kilometer and a half back to the village, and he could already feel the burning exhaustion in his legs.  “No one ever told me colonizing a new world was such hard work.”  Tremaine was alone and speaking to himself, and he laughed at his own joke.  Someone should, he thought with a smile.

Newton was the most remote planet yet colonized by man.  The system was 28 transits from Sol, a solid year’s journey for all but the fastest ships.  The colonization party wasn’t even from Earth…Newton had been settled by colonists from Columbia.  The expedition was comprised of religious pacifists who chose to tackle a newly-discovered world when it became clear that war and revolution would soon engulf Columbia.

Now the rebellion was over, and Columbia and the other Alliance colonies had won at least partial independence.  That news had been joyously received on Newton, but the celebration had been tempered by the horrific losses suffered, the awful cost of that taste of freedom.  Tremaine could hardly believe what he saw in the dispatches.  By all accounts, Weston was in ruins, and at least a quarter of the planet’s population had perished.  He wept for those lost, and he prayed for their families.  He had many friends on Columbia, and he didn’t know who among them was alive or dead.  We were right to leave, he thought sadly.  The Columbians had certainly had legitimate grievances against Alliance Gov…he agreed with that wholeheartedly.  But was it worth all the suffering and death and destruction?  Was war and killing always the only way?

It all felt very far away on Newton.  His people had come to the edge of explored space seeking a peaceful home.  They were almost 200 lightyears from man’s birthplace on Earth - when he looked through the colony’s telescope at Sol, he was seeing light that began its journey two centuries prior.  Before the Alliance existed.  Before the Unification Wars.  Of course, geometric distances in space were largely irrelevant.  The important calculation was the number of warp gate jumps required to reach a planet, and by that measure as well, Newton was on the extreme frontier.

The settlement was small, just 120 families.  The houses were prefab units manufactured on Columbia, clustered around a few scratch-built common buildings.  There was a wall around the village, with several watch towers and half a dozen sonic pulse cannons.  The planet was far from any potentially hostile worlds, but the local fauna was large and aggressive.  The most threatening animals tended to stay in the jungle areas, but occasionally a serious predator wandered out into the savannah.  It was better to be safe than sorry.

Tremaine walked through the open gate and into the bustling little community.  The colonists had begun calling their town Haven, though officially it was still Colony One.  There was an identical village on the second of the planet’s two continents.  As far as he knew, Colony Two’s residents hadn’t come up with a name for their settlement, informal or otherwise.

“Good morning, Ian!”  Hampton Charles was walking over from the dining hall when he saw Tremaine coming through the gate.  “Back from calibrating the pulse scanners already?”  Charles glanced at the chronometer on his wrist.  “You must have left before sunup.”

“Indeed I did, my friend.”  Tremaine grasped Charles’ arm in a warm greeting.  “It promises to be a scorcher today, and I thought it best done early.”  He looked up at the cloudless sky, running his hand through his sweat-soaked mop of long brown hair.  “It was hot enough already at dawn; I can tell you that much.”

“With any luck we’ll find the best spot for Colony Three soon.”  Charles looked up at the sky.  “We should be hearing from the convoy any day now.”  The second wave of colony ships was scheduled to enter the system within the week.  It had originally been expected two years before, but the rebellion had put everything on hold.  Now they were finally coming, and they were bringing a load of badly needed equipment in addition to 900 new settlers.  Things had gotten a little rough on Newton when the supply ships stopped coming, and Tremaine would be relieved to replace some of the jury-rigged repairs with proper spare parts.  They were self-sufficient on food, but without imported equipment, their mining and resource recovery operations were way behind schedule.  Colonizing a new world was expensive, and they were expected to produce enough to pay their way.  So far they hadn’t come close.

“Yes, soon we shall welcome our new neighbors.”  Tremaine stepped to the side as he spoke, moving into a spot of shade.  “And we shall finally have the supplies we need to get our production levels where they should be.”  He pulled a small cloth from his pocket and wiped his face.  “It will feel good to pay our own way.”

“That it shall.”  Charles shifted to move into the shade as well.  “I think you were right to go so early.  This heat is brutal.”

Tremaine laughed. “You should feel it on the open plain, my friend.”  He motioned toward the dining hall.  “I’m heading to grab some breakfast.  Care to join me?”

Charles smiled.  “I ate already, but I wouldn’t say no to a cool drink.  Let’s be on…”

“They’re here!  They’re here!”  It was Ellen Forsten, and she was running across the center of the village from the communications hut.  She saw Tremaine and ran over and hugged him.  “Ian, we just got the transmission.  The convoy is here.”  Newton was almost ten light hours from the warp gate, so the convoy had actually been in the system for almost half a day.  The cross-system journey would take a little over a week.

Tremaine smiled and returned the hug.  “It is a great day.”  He stepped back and looked at Forsten and then Charles.  “Come friends, let us contact Colony Two.  We must prepare for our new arrivals.”


“I’ve run a complete diagnostic, captain.”  Lieutenant Walsh was Northstar’s chief engineer.  “Everything shows normal.  I’ve monitored reactor operations myself, and the rhythms seem normal.”  She paused for an instant, still a little distracted by her focus on the task at hand.  “I think we’re fully operational again, sir.”

“Thank you, lieutenant.”  The captain’s voice was deep and scratchy, sometimes difficult to hear over the comlink.  He had a tendency to whisper, and he had to remind himself to speak loudly.  “Do you feel comfortable going to 100% power?  I’d like to try to catch up with the convoy if possible.”

Northstar’s power core had scragged itself two days before.  There’d been no sign of trouble, but fusion reactors were finicky mechanisms, and they were designed to shut down immediately at any sign of abnormal operation.  A containment breach on an operating reactor would make a ship cease to exist in a microsecond, so caution was essential.  But it also meant reactors sometimes shut down when nothing was seriously wrong.

“Yes, sir.”  Walsh sounded reasonably confident, though she was still disturbed by her inability to identify the cause of the initial malfunction.  “I’d feel better if we’d had more luck finding the original problem, but everything reads a go now.”  She sighed gently.  “The safeties are on full, sir, so it’ll just scrag again if we missed something.”

Captain Jahn sat silently for an instant, considering his options.  He would have preferred a more definitive answer on what had flatlined the system to begin with.  But if Northstar had any chance to catch the rest of the fleet before they reached Newton, they had to start now.  “Prepare for 100% power.”  With her reactor down the ship had been unable to make vector changes with the convoy, and she’d zipped right past the warp gate when the other ships transited.  Now they had to decelerate and loop back around to position for insertion.  At least the convoy is moving slowly, he thought.  If we strap in and go full bore we can catch up in two days.

Jahns flipped his comlink to the ship-wide circuit.  “Attention, all personnel, prepare for high thrust maneuvers.”  He could almost hear the groaning going on throughout the ship.  The crew had to be secured in their acceleration couches before he could fire up the engines, and that meant an uncomfortable ride for everyone.  “We will be applying maximum thrust in thirty minutes…that’s three-zero minutes.  I want everyone buttoned up in twenty.”  He switched his com back to Walsh.  “OK, Adele.  I want the reactor up and running at 100% in fifteen minutes…and I want you in your couch in twenty-five.”

“Yes, sir.”  Walsh’s voice was a little tense.  Fifteen minutes was a tight schedule to get the reactor fired up and operating.  Captain Jahn was a navy vet, and sometimes he forgot he had a civilian crew now.  The Northstar had a good team, but their experience and training was not up to military standards.  “I’m on it.”  She wiped her forehead on her sleeve and stared at the monitor as she punched in the reactor startup sequence.


“Captain, we have incoming transmissions.”  Lieutenant Cannon turned to face Captain Jahn.  Her face was pale.  “Code Delta-Z, sir.”

Jahn had been listening half-heartedly as he reviewed the final course plot, but his head snapped up abruptly.  Code Delta-Z was used by ships that were under attack and did not expect to survive.  “Transmit directly to my com, lieutenant.”  His mind raced – who could be attacking the convoy all the way out here?  “Scanners on full power.  Launch a spread of probes.”

“Yes, sir.”  Cannon was a good officer, but she wasn’t military, and the tension was obvious in her voice.  “Sending you the transmissions now.”

Jahn listened to the distress calls as they were piped into his comlink.  They formed a timeline, beginning with reports of incoming missiles coming in from well beyond normal launch ranges.  Jahn’s frown grew with each transmission.  It was a nightmare unfolding before him.  A missile barrage, the weapons thrusting at over 200g.  Jahn had never heard of a weapon with that level of acceleration.  Then detonations…massive explosions unlike anything he’d ever seen.  Ships vaporized by the stunningly accurate warheads, one after another until the transmissions ended.  Then only silence.

“Lieutenant, estimate the yield of those warheads.”  Jahn served throughout the Third Frontier War before mustering out, and he’d seen plenty of fusion warheads detonate…but these were like nothing he’d ever witnessed.

“Sir…”  Cannon stared at the captain, her face betraying shock.  “The computer estimates each detonation at 3.5 to 6 gigatons.”

Jahn was silent for a moment, his mind processing all he had just seen and heard.  His hesitation was brief, however, and his combat instincts took over.  “I want full reverse thrust in five minutes.”  He clicked on the shipwide com.  “This is the captain.  All personnel are to immediately secure for maximum thrust.  We will be thrusting in five minutes…I repeat, five minutes.”  He switched to a direct link with Walsh.  “Lieutenant, I want 110% on the reactor, and I want it in four minutes, and I want you in your couch a minute later.”  His voice was sharp and decisive, but the stress was evident as well.

“Captain, that’s not…”

“Now, lieutenant!”  He cut her off before she finished.  “I need that power.  No arguments…just do it.”

“Yes, sir.”  He reply was immediate, but her tone was shaky.

Jahn repositioned himself in his chair, holding his arm straight as the medical AI initiated the injections.  Five and a half minutes later, Northstar’s reactor was running full out, producing energy at 110% of its rated capacity, and every bit of it was being poured through the ship’s straining engines.

The crew was ensconced in their acceleration couches, protected from the worst effects of the 20g deceleration.  It was hard to think clearly under maximum thrust.  Between the drugs and the discomfort, concentration was difficult, but Jahn’s mind was still functioning.  We have to make it out of here, he thought grimly.  We have to report this.

Part of Jahn felt guilty about fleeing this way, but if the Caliphate or the CAC had found a new route into Alliance space he had to report it as soon as possible.  This could be war, he thought.  It was possible that the Fourth Frontier War had just begun.  And those weapons, he thought.  If any of the other Powers had seen such a leap in weapons technology, it was going to be trouble…big trouble.  They had to make it out of here.  They had to.

“Lieutenant Walsh.”  It was hard to even force the words out under the crushing g forces.  “Instruct the computer to go to 120% on the reactor.”  That was dangerous, approaching a 10% chance of catastrophic failure.  But if they didn’t get back through that warp gate before they were attacked, they’d never leave the HP 56548 system.  He anticipated Walsh’s argument, and before she could object he repeated himself.  “No debate, lieutenant.  Just go to 120% now.”  I just hope it’s enough, he thought.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The First Imperium (CW 4) Chapter 2

Here is this week's Crimson Worlds IV sample - Chapter Four of The First Imperium.

Chapter 2

Level 242

Combined Powers Excavation Site

Carson’s World – Epsilon Eridani IV

“I’m telling you, these conduits go all the way down to the planet’s core.  How many more levels do we need to discover before you will accept the true scope of this installation?”  Friedrich Hofstader stared at his companions, the exasperation in his voice clear.  For months, the chief of the CEL’s research contingent had been urging the Committee to authorize deeper digging.  But no matter what he said, they kept dragging their feet, debating endlessly about every expansion of the research effort.

“Dr. Hofstader, I understand your scientific curiosity and the resulting impatience, but it is important to stress that we must maintain a cautious approach.”  Ivan Norgov was the head of the Russian research team and the elected chairman of the International Committee created to manage the scientific efforts on Epsilon Eridani IV.  “It is essential that we follow proper research procedure and thoroughly document our findings at each step.”

Hofstader suppressed a sigh.  He was already the odd man out, and he was trying not to further antagonize his colleagues.  It wasn’t easy, especially since he couldn’t think of Norgov as anything but an officious asshole. “Gentlemen, I understand the research protocols, but have any of you considered the fact that someone built this?”  Hofstader had always favored action, and he had bristled for years when colleagues at the Institute in Neu-Brandenburg endlessly debated protocols and process.  Academics will never change, he thought with considerable irritation.  But Epsilon Eridani IV was an unprecedented research opportunity, and he couldn’t reconcile with anyone stunting progress here with endless bureaucracy.

Norgov gave him an annoyed stare, but it was Adam Crandall, the chief physicist from the Alliance team, who spoke first.  “I presume there is more to your point than the obvious fact that this is not a naturally-occurring structure?”  Crandall was another pompous fool, mired down in intellectual pretensions, but even Hofstader had to admit the Alliance scientist was brilliant.  He was responsible for most of the foundational work on explaining the warp gates and how they functioned. 

“My point is simply this…”  Hofstader couldn’t understand how a group of people this intelligent could be so stupid.  “Until the Alliance found this artifact, we were alone in the universe.”  He spoke with amazement and reverence at the monumental importance of the discovery, which his colleagues seemed to have forgotten.  “The moment this was found we were no longer unique.  The race that constructed this facility was thousands of years ahead of us…and that was half a million years ago.”  He could see he was losing them, but he continued, hoping to somehow get his point across.  “Don’t you see the implications of this in terms of our place in the universe?  And, by extension, the imperative need for us to study and apply this technology?”

Norgov frowned and held his hand in the air.  “Dr. Hofstader, I think we are all familiar with your issues and concerns.”  The Russian scientist wasn’t trying to be condescending and insulting; it just came naturally to him.  “Nevertheless, I think it is a massive and unwarranted leap to assume that simply because a sentient race preceded us in the galaxy and built this facility that we face imminent invasion…or whatever else it is you imply.”

“This entire planet is an anti-matter production facility utilizing seismic energy as a power source.”  Hofstader’s voice was becoming higher pitched.  He was passionate about his research, and frustrated that a culture of bureaucracy was slowing down the exploration of the greatest discovery in history.  “Imagine the implications!”

“The Committee has issued no such finding.”  Crandall again, spouting Academic orthodoxy.  “Your assertions as to the facility’s purpose and power generation are premature.  They are, at best, a hypothesis at present.”

“I’m not talking about Committee findings.”  Hofstader was losing steam – he knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere.  Not with this group.  “I’m talking about plain sense and an evaluation of the data.”

“Dr. Hofstader, no one is disputing your knowledge or the usefulness of your research, but you are making a significant number of unsubstantiated projections, not the least of which is your assertion that this facility is planet-wide in scope.  We have determined it is quite vast, far larger than it initially appeared.”  Norgov was trying to be conciliatory, at least to the extent it was possible for him.  “But we are far from verifying the facility is built on a planetwide scale.”  His eyes narrowed as he looked at Hofstader.  “Not to mention extending all the way to the planetary core s you have theorized.”

“Indeed, Friedrich, Dr. Norgov is correct.”  Crandall spoke softly and smiled.  In his own way, he too was trying to avoid offending Hofstader.  “We must not abandon proper research procedure simply because of the scope and import of the find.”

Hofstader sighed, but he managed to keep it quiet.  Crandall simply didn’t have it in him to think outside the box.  None of them did.  They’d spent their whole lives in academia, and they’d lost all touch with the real world implications of the things they researched.  He wanted to continue arguing, but he realized it was a waste of time. 

Norgov noted Hofstader’s lack of a response, and he smiled.  “We are agreed, then.”

Hofstader just nodded, so grudgingly it was barely perceptible.  He wasn’t going to waste any more time debating…it was pointless.  But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to do anything.


 Bradley Travers ducked under a support beam and continued following Hofstader down the dusty corridor.  Travers was tall, well over two meters, and these old tunnels had clearly been built for shorter beings.  It was pretty anecdotal, but it was a tiny piece of the greatest puzzle of all…who were the builders of this complex, and what were they like?

Beyond rough assumptions based on an analysis of the facility itself, the only clues they had found to date were microscopic bits of fossilized amino acid chains that might or might not be something similar to DNA.  It was going to be years in the lab before anything meaningful could be derived…unless they found more substantive data to jumpstart that timetable.

Travers was the head of the Martian research team, and his xenobiology credentials were impeccable.  But there was more than one layer to Travers – he was also one of Roderick Vance’s operatives at the Martian Security Department.  He was on Carson’s World mostly to do his job as a scientist, but he was also there to keep an eye on things for Vance.  He was pretty sure he’d ID’d all of Gavin Stark’s people, unless Alliance Intelligence had managed to get someone into a really deep cover.  In fact, he was pretty sure he’d pegged most of the spooks.  Every Power had at least one in their team, and most had more.  Even though the Superpowers had agreed to share access to the planet and work together to unravel its mysteries, they still jockeyed for position, trying to get an edge on the others one way or another.

Vance had been particularly concerned about anything Stark was doing, since he’d lost his main asset inside Alliance Intelligence.  The newsflash had simply noted that Hendrick Thoms, director of megacorp GDL, had died in a work-related accident.  His true fate, known only to a very few people, had been considerably more horrifying.  Gavin Stark had no pity for double agents.

Vance had gotten the better of Stark during the recent series of rebellions on the Alliance colonies, largely using intel from Thoms.  Stark had been holding Fleet Admiral Garret hostage for months, having replaced him with a double.  Combined with his secret control over General Samuels, he’d been positioned to achieve total victory…until Vance assisted Erik Cain in rescuing Garret. 

 Gavin Stark was a psychopath and a human reptile, but he was also extremely intelligent.  Vance had always known it would only be a matter of time before Stark figured out what had happened, especially after MSD also outed Samuels, allowing Generals Cain and Holm to take control of the Marine Corps and save it from destruction.  Stark couldn’t get to Vance, at least not easily, but Thoms hadn’t been so lucky.  Vance knew Thoms would eventually get blown…with unpleasant results.  He wasn’t the same as Stark – at least he liked to think he wasn’t.  But he hadn’t hesitated to expend Thoms either.

Travers agreed with Friederich Hofstader about pushing the pace of the research.  It might be thousands of years – if ever – before humanity encountered the enigmatic race that built the great artifact on Carson’s World, but there was simply no way to know.  The only thing they could be sure of was, if that contact happened, humanity would be hopelessly outclassed.  Better to learn all they could before that day came.

The corridor was eerily quiet, untouched for millennia.  The only sound was the soft scratching of their boots on the rough stone surface.  There were just the three of them - Hofstader, his assistant Katrina, and Travers.  They were here unofficially…very unofficially.  In fact, they were violating just about every rule and protocol that applied to the project.

The tunnel had been bored out of the bedrock, and it led down at a constant 5% grade.  This branch hadn’t been opened for exploration, and there were no lighting units installed yet; the preliminary scout teams hadn’t even ventured this far yet.  The glow from the party’s portable electric torches danced off the smooth walls as they passed by.  There was a thin semi-opaque tube running along the ceiling, the corridor’s original lighting track.  It was non-functional, since there was no power generation in the facility, but otherwise it looked almost new.  The same tubing had been found throughout the complex.  They still hadn’t been able to identify the material.  It was pliable and could be bent around curves, but it was extremely tough – even a plasma torch had a hard time cutting through it.  And they had no idea at all how it functioned.

“According to my projected schematic, this passage should lead to one of the acceleration chambers.”  Hofstader’s voice echoed loudly off the tunnel walls.  He glanced back at his two companions and spoke more softly.  “It may be a long way.  Remember, I if am right, this complex is planetary in scale.”  He readjusted the pack on his back and turned to face forward, into the gloom of the passageway ahead.

They continued for hours, walking at least at least 25 kilometers, stopping only once to eat a few ration bars.  They passed a number of sealed hatches, but they bypassed them and pressed on ahead.  It had taken a heavy plasma torch to cut through the sealed doorways they’d discovered elsewhere in the complex, and they didn’t expect these to be any different.

“I’m detecting a slow uptick in background radiation.”  Katrina’s voice was soft, distracted.  She was staring at a small handheld monitor.  “Analyzing now.”  She looked up, a big smile on her face.  “Readings consistent with long-term radioactives from anti-matter production.  We must be close.”  Katrina Hoffen had been Friedrich’s student first, and now she was an accomplished physicist in her own right.  She’d volunteered for this assignment, as had most of the scientists on Earth.  This was the greatest research project in human history, and even the prospect of spending years on an alien world wasn’t enough to discourage most of them.

Friederich Hofstader was the top scientist in the Central European League, and it fell to him to assemble that Power’s team.  Katrina had a strong record, though she was relatively young and inexperienced for a mission of this magnitude.  But Hofstader was a bit of a maverick, and he focused more on securing people he trusted rather than on traditional academic achievements.  For the most part he had little time anyway for the fuss and bother of his peers and their review boards and awards committees.  All that mattered to him was the job at hand.

They quickened their pace, stopping only to rerun the radiation tests twice more.  Finally, the tunnel led through an archway and onto a small catwalk that stretched as far as their light carried.  Katrina activated a handful of small chem lights and tossed them over the railing.  They landed about ten meters below and illuminated a vast tunnel extending off in both directions.  There was a 5 meter wide conduit suspended on a series of brackets.  It disappeared into the darkness at both ends of the illuminated area.

“You were right, Friedrich.”  Travers’ wasn’t surprised; he’d expected Hofstader’s theory to check out.  But it was still amazing to consider the scale of the construct looming in front of them.  “Congratulations.”  Travers wasn’t a physicist, but he recognized a massive particle accelerator when he saw one.

Hofstader was mesmerized, staring at the amazing structure.  It was definitely an accelerator, but it was far larger and more complex than any he’d ever seen.  He couldn’t begin to identify half of the constructs and devices built into it, and it would take weeks of detailed computations to even guess at the energy levels the thing could achieve.  But they were able to confirm one suspicion by measuring the slight arc of the conduit…it appeared to stretch completely around the planet. 

“Apart from the technology involved, this is an engineering achievement of incalculable proportions.”  Katrina spoke slowly, her mind nearly consumed by the act of simply staring at the amazing device.  “This entire planet was an anti-matter production facility.”  She turned to look at Friederich.  “Just as you suspected, Dr. Hofstader.”

They stood silently for a moment, unable to look away from the ancient alien construction.  Finally, Travis turned and stared at his two companions.  “Imagine the power the race that built this commanded.”  He took a deep breath.  “I wonder if they’re still out there somewhere.”

The three of them lost track of how long they stood there transfixed, but they were all thinking the same thing.  Where were the builders of this place?