~ 12. September 2012 ~
Many ideas were laid out on the table during the council meeting. They ranged from designing small maneuverable ships to constantly track Nomad ships to actually contracting out to companies that could track them for the Empire. The latter had the possibility of become a lucrative business model.
But Jakes favorite so far appeared to also be favored by most of the council. Takara colony proposed a new sensor network to replace the, already aging, communications network. This would consist of deploying multiple small communication/sensor satellites throughout empire space. They’d each have a range of around 2 light years but they’d be placed 1 light year apart so that if one were destroyed there wouldn’t be an immediate gap in the network.
The plan was for every ship with an authorization code to have access to this sensor network. That included all licensed transport, public, and military ships. The added bonus would be that not only Nomad ships could be tracked. Everybody would know where everybody else was at all times, and if one satellite was destroyed a ship could quickly be dispatched to replace it. The satellites within range would be able to see the area of the destroyed satellite so there would be no surprises.
Although this venture would initially be more expensive than the others; once the whole system was implemented the cost would level out. Maintaining the system wouldn’t cost near as much as constantly paying outsourced companies or replacing small ships that were destroyed because they got too close.
The sensor network looked like the best idea by far.
The meeting ended about 10 minutes before Jalia’s ship was due to arrive in orbit. Jake still had time before her shuttle was to land but he liked being early.
As he and Gary got up leave they started discussing what they had seen.
“So these Nomads are the reason you wanted me to attend?”
As they walked out into the sunlight Gary lit up a cigarette. “Yea. It’s a new threat to all of us. It’s scary how strong their ships are. I just figured that since you might be going back out there again you should know.”
“Listen. I gotta go, but when will these things be made public?”
Gary took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out a thin stream of smoke; “It’s only a matter of time now. Some of the public knows because of the destruction of the Briana and word travels fast. Plus the Empire government is aware that the public needs to know in order to stay safe.” He paused again and stared up at the blue sky. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen so Jake guessed he was just calculating a guess in his head. “I’d venture maybe a week or less. The council will decide on which course of action to take by then.”
Jake shook Gary’s hand and thanked him, but he had to go.
As Jake got into his car and started off towards the spaceport his mind began to wonder. Why would a species that was so well developed restrict themselves to sub light speeds? Even if they hadn’t developed the technology they were sure to have captured a ship with it by now. Plus there was the question of why they intentionally avoided populated planets. They had the power to defend themselves and run the population off but they didn’t.
These ships were a curiosity indeed. It was automatically assumed that they were a new race, but that was pure speculation. Jake couldn’t help but think of the other possibilities. Between the council hall and the spaceport Jake’s mind wandered all over the known galaxy. Could this race be one that humans had already met? Could they even be humans? Could they be something totally new that just wandered into this area of the galaxy?
By the time he pulled into the spaceport parking lot he had given himself a headache and decided to stop by the cafeteria before walking to the shuttle-landing platform.
~ 5. September 2012 ~
Jake sat patiently in a booth with Gary waiting for a meeting of the Empire Council to start. Gary had called him earlier at his office and asked him to come. He had said that it was related to the incident that Jalia had a few days ago.
Even though the danger was long since over and Jalia was due to arrive on Draconis in a few hours Gary believed in was in Jake’s best interest to sit in on this meeting.
The council meeting room was nearly the size of a gymnasium. In the center was a large round table in which the 12 council members (one for each colony) sat plus the Emperor. Since the current Emperor was too young to assume his duties that chair lay vacant.
No viewers were allowed on the same floor as the council but the room was 3 stories tall and the top two floors consisted of viewing booths (similar to an opera house). These booths sat up to 6 people comfortably and allowed them to hear the proceedings.
Only one wall of the meeting room didn’t support these booths. Instead in contained a large viewing screen that was commonly used to display statistics or maps of the region. Currently it just displayed the Draconis Empire’s flag, which consisted of three spheres surrounded by 11 smaller spheres against a white background.
The empire council was introduced one at a time and seated. Then the lights dimmed so that the only thing visible was the council table and the viewing screen.
The Novoya Mir Councilman spoke first. “We are gathered here today to discuss solutions to a new threat in Empire space.” He stood and slowly walked over to the viewing screen.
The empire flag faded from the screen and was replaced by a slightly fuzzy image of a large ship in space. Jake had never seen this ship design before and it had no colony or planetary markings.
“This image is only 2 hours old. This ship recently destroyed a cargo class vessel right outside of the Novoya Mir system.” The councilman turned back to the table. “I apologize for the graininess of the image but this is as close as the battleship could get due to the firepower and aggressiveness these ships have displayed in the past. I hand the floor over to the Draconis colony representative.” With that he motioned to another member and sat down.
The Draconis councilman stood and walked over to the large ship on the view screen. “Some of you may recognize this ship. One was encountered a few months ago between Mimy Zhanic and Doma by a torpedo class battleship. When they got within range to attempt communication the ship opened fire. The battle only lasted a few seconds because our ship quickly retreated. It was nearly destroyed during that brief encounter. We’ve also recently lost a battleship near Vega. It slowed to sub light speed to pass through the Polaris cloud and hasn’t been heard from since.”
The screen flickered and the fuzzy image was replaced by an outer schematic of the same ship from various angles.
The Draconis representative continued, “The defensive and offensive power that these ships have displayed is well above anything we’ve developed. Other than that we know next to nothing about them. What we do know is that their hull is impervious to our sensors and that for some reason they do not travel above the speed of light. We doubt this is out of reach for them because of the level of technology they’ve displayed so it’s a mystery as to why they travel so slowly. They’ve also avoided populated colonies so far. That is a mystery as well.”
The screen flickered again and a complete map of the colonies popped up. Among the colonies were four flashing red dots. They were spread out among the sector.
“Each one of these flashing dots represents one of these ships that we’ve positively identified. We’ve labeled them ‘Nomads’ for lack of a better name. Each one appears to be heading in a random direction with no apparent purpose.” The Draconis representative slowly walked back to his chair and sat down. “Currently each one of these ships has a battleship trailing it from a distance. This tactic has thinned out our fleet and since these are only the ships we’ve discovered so far it may become extremely uneconomical in the end. So today we’re going to discuss better ways that we can track these ships.”
~ 27. August 2012 ~
Jake stood right outside the terminal as the Jalia’s shuttle landed. A crew quickly ran out to it and began doing a post-flight check. Jake and the few others that had gathered to meet the new arrivals stayed where they were.
A couple of the people around him looked familiar but he doubted that they knew either him or what he did for a living. The advantage of living off the base for the past few years was that a lot of DEDF personnel who knew him had moved on to other things. There was nobody there to blow his cover.
The shuttle door opened and people began to clamber out. Jalia was the third one and Jake placed her by her photograph. He called out her name and she looked his way, but appeared to be scanning the small crowd his was in.
Jake waved and began walking towards her. Once she realized he was gesturing at her she began to do the same. Once they were within arm’s reach Jake extended his hand to shake.
“Yes sir.” Jalia eagerly took his hand.
“Jake Manly. I’m a teacher’s aide at the training center. Where’s your luggage?”
Jalia turned looked back at the shuttle and then back at Jake, “What you see is what you get.” She held up a small black bag that held some of the spare clothes she got at Novoya Mir, “It’s a long story.”
Jake turned motioned with his hand; “It’s a 20 minute drive so I have time.”
Jalia and Jake started off into the terminal. “Well, it was on a cargo ship heading to Novoya Mir and…”
~ 20. August 2012 ~
Jalia gave Abbas a long hug before she boarded her shuttle. He showed her a lot of the ship in the past couple of days and they had learned a lot about each other in the process. Jalia could honestly say that she valued him as a friend.
He had taken her to see the armory (from the catwalk, security wouldn’t allow them inside), the engine room (which was HUGE by Jalia’s standards), and the bridge (which was also large and easily fit the 20 people inside). She had also learned a lot about proper etiquette within the DEDF and what people of different ranks were responsible for.
The second night Abbas had embarrassed himself by making a move on her in the mess hall. She politely turned him down. He seemed like a great guy, but she didn’t see him as being the right person for her. She had quickly changed the subject in an effort to save him from the embarrassment, but he had seemed slightly more distant ever since.
He saw her off from the observation window within the shuttle bay and she waved back. This shuttle wasn’t as empty as the one she came aboard in. There were two pilots and at least 8 other passengers with her. Some were members of the DEDF but there were a few civilians like her (well, not for long).
The trip down was uneventful albeit slightly bumpy. Jalia had started to grow accustomed to planetary landings and the jostling around didn’t scare as much as it used to. She knew that if something went wrong everybody would pretty much know it at the same time and they could all discuss what happened in the afterlife.
That thought made Jalia giggle a little bit. The young man next to her looked turned his head and looked at her like she was nuts. He obviously wasn’t as light-hearted about the rough flight as she was. This made her giggle a little more. She discreetly covered her mouth a little and looked away from him and out the port window.
All she could see from her angle was stars and flames licking the planet’s horizon. Struggling to see past the flames Jalia could see green and blue surface. There wasn’t much cloud cover in this region today and that made her smile even more. Her arrival on Draconis for the first time would be greeted with sunshine and blue skies.
Over the course of 2 minutes the view outside slowly changed from starlit space to blue sky. The flames also shrunk in the process. The pilot announced that they had about 5 minutes until touchdown and that he was going to pass the city on the port side before swinging back and landing at the spaceport.
At first all Jalia could see was farmland and a few sparse houses, but a suburban area soon replaced them. It reminded her of looking down at an urban landscape on Earth. She had seen areas like these on TV and could only imagine how many people actually lived down there.
The closer to the city they got the taller the buildings became. Some must have been apartments and some businesses, but as they got taller they also got closer together.
Soon skyscrapers replaced those tall buildings. This was the center of the city. Jalia had seen it many times of TV, but actually flying over it gave it the justice it deserved. That was where the DEDF Training center was and where she was going to spend the next few months. She knew that once she got down there it would look even bigger.
Jalia reached forward and tapped the copilot’s shoulder. He leaned his head back, “Yea?”
“If the city’s population right now is only around 1,000 why are there so many houses?”
He looked forward again and laughed a little, “the population’s growing all the time. A lot of those houses are empty and waiting for arrivals. Plus a lot of space is designated for DEDF trainees like you. There are a lot more than 1,000 people down there. The population is only those that are registered colony members.”
Jalia nodded her head and leaned back down in her seat.
The shuttle passed the city and circled back around to the spaceport on the other side. Jalia saw a couple runways that were huge. Side by side they’d easily be longer that here home colony.
Another recruit asked before she could, “What’s so big that it needs runways like those!?”
The copilot leaned his head back again, “Torpedo class battleships can actually land there.”
Everybody’s eyes grew wide. Nobody had ever thought that something that big could land, non-the-less take off again.
The copilot continued, “The one on the left has industrial gravity plating installed under the tarmac. It can neutralize gravity’s effect up to 500 feet. That can allow a battleship to safely touchdown and angle up to launch. This is the only spot in the known galaxy that a Torpedo class battleship can safely land and takeoff. Once the ship’s safely on the ground it can support its own weight. You won’t see it very often though. I’ve only seen it once in my entire career.”
He then pointed over towards the other runway, “That one was just built. It’s a normal runway for a few ships that are still being designed. We’re going past those, to a small set of landing pads closer to the terminal.”
The shuttle breezed past the large runways, slowing as it went, and slowly circled the spaceport terminal. As the shuttle slowed past its minimum “flight speed” its vertical thrusters kicked on and the landing gear lowered.
Slowly the pilot lowered the shuttle onto a large white cross on the tarmac between two other shuttles. Landing must have been his specialty because Jalia couldn’t determine exactly when the shuttle actually touched the ground. She giggled again when it occurred to her that landing had been the softest part of the whole trip.
~ 16. August 2012 ~
Once safely on board a Lieutenant Captain Miller welcomed and walked her to her quarters for the 2 day trip. He seemed like a nice man and the crewmembers they passed appeared to be quite open with him. Once at her quarters Miller pointed down the hallway and noted, “There’s an observation point at the end of the hall. It looks out in front of the ship and we’ll be departing soon. It’s the second best view on the ship when entering slipstream.”
Jalia’s eyes lit up, “Then that’s where I’ll be.” She extended her hand to shake and he accepted. “When will we be leaving?”
“As soon as I get to the bridge.”
Jalia thanked him again and he turned to walk towards the nearest elevator. She in turn started walking towards the bow to find a good view. That walk quickly turned into a slow jog.
She didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
The end of the hallway took a 90-degree turn to the starboard and the left side from that point on was nothing but windows. It gave a perfect view of the bow of the ship and everything in front. Jalia could only imagine how cool it would be to stand here and watch the fighters launch out of the forward bay. She was sure she’d see it one day.
She could also see Novoya Mir on the starboard side of the ship as they orbited. The planet was slowly sliding away from view as the Exodus broke orbit. Jalia was surprised that they were even under way. The ship felt so calm that she had no idea that the engines were even running.
The Lieutenant Captain’s voice sounded over the intercom, “All hands. Standby for slipstream.”
Jalia reached down and grabbed a handrail that ran along the corridor under the windows. She really didn’t know what to expect but other crewmembers continued to walk past as if nothing was happening.
Jalia looked forward as the stars in front of the Exodus began to distort. It looked as though they were being pulled into a single point in front of the ship. Suddenly that point in space rushed towards them and there was a dull flash of blue light that filled the corridor through the windows. She had seen this on TV before but she turned her head quickly as though something was about to hit her out of reflex. It was an embarrassing move and she hoped nobody noticed.
Then the ship was in slipstream. It appeared as though the Exodus was falling through a large, ribbed tube of blue lights. That tube was all that remained of the intense gravity rings that made slipstream velocity possible. They appeared blue as they dissipated and the captured starlight began to escape. The patterns were mesmerizing and Jalia found herself transfixed on it.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Jalia jumped at the voice by her ear. Once again her actions succeeded in embarrassing her. A young white man with dark hair and an Arabic accent came around from behind her and leaned on the window next to her. He was wearing a service uniform with a Pilot rank.
“I apologize. I didn’t mean to startle you. Is this your first time at slipstream?”
“Yes. I’m sorry too. I must have gotten lost in the moment.” Jalia turned back to the window. “You’ve probably seen this so much that you barely notice it anymore.”
“Nonsense.” He extended his hand. “My name’s Abbas Adil.”
Jalia took his hand. “Jalia Quinn. I’m on my way to Draconis to enlist.”
Abbas turned to leave. “You won’t be disappointed. I’m going on duty, but I get off at 0100. If you’re still up by then I’d love to give you a tour of the ship.”
Jalia smiled. “I’d love one. I’m down the hall in room 112 so just ring.”
With that he went on his way and Jalia turned back to watching the slipstream. She stood there for a few minutes before going back to her quarters.