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    JamesSavik
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

2021 - Fall - Potluck Entry

Their Last Battlefield - 1. Their Last Battlefield

scout-pathfinder.jpg

Their Last Battlefield

 

Uncharted space, Scutum-Centaurus Arm

The bridge of the fleet carrier Intrepid was quiet. Captain Carter only had a minimal bridge watch on hand.

The carrier and accompanying escort group were on station at the rendezvous point waiting for her brood of scout ships to return. She had been on deployment for six months while her attached scouts had scanned thousands of previously uncharted star systems.

When the Rim War ended, the Alliance found itself with more military starships that it had missions for. In a rare fit of good sense, the Senate had approved the creation of a new mission for the fleet: exploring the ninety-seven plus percent of the galaxy that remained. After getting badly burned, the Senate had learned. What you don’t know can hurt you badly.

In the eight years since the explorer fleets had been formed and sent out, over a half million star systems had been explored. Granted, all the scouts did was fly within ten light-minutes of the star, run an hour-long deep scan and jump away to their next objective. A tremendous amount of data had been amassed, and many people and organizations were eager to see it.

Captain Anthony Carter sipped coffee in his ready room off his bridge, did paperwork and contemplating the end of the current deployment. His wartime experience as the Executive Officer of Intrepid’s sister Yorktown had put him in good standing for a command of his own. Intrepid was his now.

The victory over the machines had come with a cornucopia of new technologies. Powerful new AIs, sub-space communications, anti-matter power, and the Sokolsky Algorithm were just a start.

All ships of Task Force Intrepid had new antimatter power plants that made them much sprightlier and capable of longer jumps. The Sokolsky Algorithm made those jumps accurate and trouble free. Subspace communications allowed them to keep in touch thousands of light years deep in uncharted space.

Drone and robotics tech were just as useful in its own way. Automation made their ships capable of carrying smaller crews and provided the endurance for longer deployments.

Some people would never trust some of the tech because of its origin. The only tech recovered originating from Machines was basic science, materials, hardware and methodology.

The last vestiges of the alien AIs that had made war on humanity was securely locked away in an isolated research station. Alliance scientists and AIs attempted to coax more secrets out of the few alien AI cores recovered.

Carter was about to stand and make an appearance on the bridge when the voice of Commander Cartwright, his Operations Officer, came over the intercom, “Flight Ops to Captain.”

He flipped on the desk comm and answered, “This is the captain.”

Cartwright’s voice betrayed some consternation as he reported, “Sir, the La Salle just jumped in. The AI reports that the crew is unconscious and requests assistance. I’ve got the Search and Rescue bird standing by with a medical team and a relief crew.”

Captain Carter ordered, “Go ahead and launch the alert bird. Follow quarantine protocols and let’s download the flight recorder and see what happened. I’ll follow your progress from the bridge. Let me know if you need anything.”

 

Intrepid Flight Deck

Lt. Ollie Greer, call sign Hammer, launched as soon as he was cleared and took a least-time approach to La Salle.

The sleek little scout ship was holding station at a respectful light-second away from the edge of Intrepid ‘s formation.

Greer’s Search and Rescue shuttle was a little crowded with its usual flight crew of two; two corpsmen and a relief crew of three for the scout ship.

His co-pilot, Lt. Wade Haskins said, “Boss, you know we go in quarantine as soon as we return.”

Greer replied, “Can’t be helped. It’s protocol. There’s no telling what’s wrong with them. Who is aboard La Salle?”

Haskins replied, “Barry Jenkins is the pilot, Liz Saito is the navigator/science specialist and Jimmy Ames is the flight engineer. Do you know any of them?”

“Barry is solid and so is Ames. I don’t know Saito, but she must be sharp to qualify for the slot. I don’t have any idea why they are all down. It doesn’t sound like an illness to me.”

Haskins said, “Me either. I’ve interrogated their systems remotely. La Salle isn’t showing any damage. Could their inertial sump have failed?”

“It would be the first I’ve ever heard of that happening. If it had, they would all be pudding. Those scout ships routinely pull hundreds of G’s.”

“Hammer, this is Flight. We’re patching in Doctor Mallory.”

Greer keyed his mike, “Acknowledged, Flight.”

“Doc Mallory to Hammer.”

“Go ahead Doc.”

“I’ve interrogated the La Salle remotely. The crews’ vital signs are stable, and they show no signs of infection or trauma. They haven’t egressed the bird since they jumped away. Follow protocol, and I’ll be standing by on this channel to support the Corpsmen. Mallory out.”

Haskins said, “I just got a text message from the La Salle’s AI asking for instructions.”

Greer said, “Tell him to fly straight and level, and we’re going to dock on his upper emergency hatch. Our ETA is about seven minutes.”

 

Intrepid Bridge

Captain Carter watched nervously from his chair on the bridge as the recovery operation proceeded. So far everything had gone extremely well on this deployment. If something went wrong this close to going home, it would be black mark on a cruise that had been four-oh so far.

Lt. Pace was sitting at the operations console and said, “Captain, La Salle’s computers are loaded with data. Typically, we wait until the scouts are aboard and use a hard link to download that data.”

“Thanks to La Salle’s onboard AI, I’ve downloaded the last twenty-four hours of their flight recorder. That might give us some idea what we’re dealing with.”

Carter considered who would be best to review the flight recorder. He decided that the commander of the survey part of the mission would be best and asked, “Where is Dr. Whittaker?”

Pace checked her board and said, “He’s in Flight Control, worried sick about his crew.”

Carter pressed a button on the arm of his chair and said, “Captain to Ops.”

“Ops here.”

“Let Dr. Whittaker know we’ve downloaded the last twenty-four hours of La Salle’s flight recorder. Let’s meet on the Flag Bridge and see what happened.”

 

Hammer Flight

Ollie Greer’s skilled hands guided the SAR shuttle to a hard dock with the La Salle’s upper emergency hatch.

The sleek scout ship was a little over a hundred meters long. Its carbon composite hull gave it a deep, glossy, black color. Originally designed as a stealth reconnaissance ship designated the Raven class, the scouts were almost invisible in interstellar space unless their running lights were on. La Salle did have her lights on in Alliance fleet recognition mode: white lights on the nose and port wing and red on the starboard wing.

Greer counted down, “Five, four, three, two, one. Hard dock.”

Once the docking head engaged, it turned and formed a solid, airtight latch and connected the electronics of the two ships.

Haskins looked at his display and said, “I’m reading a normal pressure, atmosphere and temperature aboard La Salle and no system anomalies.”

Greer, using his authority as SAR mission commander said, “This is Hammer Lead, everyone verify that your suits are sealed. We’re going to equalize pressure and crack the hatch. The corpsmen will go first. Evaluate the crew, stabilize them as necessary, and evacuate them. Bring them aboard Hammer and put them in rescue tubes. The relief crew will go aboard. Once everyone is where they are supposed to be and, we have La Salle manned, we’ll go back to the Intrepid. Dock on Hanger Two next to the Decontamination Lab. We will all debark there. Hope you brought a good book because we’re probably going to be there for a while.”

Corpsmen Mike Joyner and Rosa Gonzalez entered the airlock with their emergency kits and sealed the hatch. Gonzalez, the senior woman, keyed her mike and said, “We’re in position Hammer. Please enable the lock.”

Rosa Gonzalez saw the lights on the panel turn green. She said, “Here we go Mikie” and pulled the lever to open the airlock.

Mikie floated down the escape trunk into La Salle’s airlock and waited for Rosa to enter the tube. Once inside, Rosa pulled the lever to cycle the airlock.

The airlock opened into a small, neat crew galley. Rosa’s eyes widened as she noticed the galley was decorated for a birthday party.

Joyner asked, “Happy 3rd Birthday Sal?”

Rosa said, “The crews get attached to their ship AI. La Salle was brought online three years ago yesterday.”

A calm voice came over their suit communications system. “Corpsman Gonzalez, Corpsman Joyner, I’m Sal, the ship’s AI. My crew are all at their stations in the cockpit.”

“We’ll be right there Sal”, Gonzalez replied.

The two Corpsmen made their way through the small ship, passing the crew berths and found them all slumped at their stations.

Gonzalez used the corpsman’s override and queried Ames’s suit for the vital signs of the unconscious man sitting at the engineer’s station and said, “Mikie, make sure their suits are all buttoned up and check their vitals.”

“Will do. Vitals look good on Jenkins and Saito.”

Gonzalez said, “Same here for Ames, but look close at them.”

Joyner looked at Saito and said, “I see rapid eye movement. They’re dreaming.”

Gonzalez said, “It looks more like they’re having a nightmare. They’re sweating and squirming. Let’s get them moved to the Hammer.”

Before she got started, Gonzalez asked, “Sal, can you give us any idea what happened?”

The AI replied, “The crew decided to do a close inspection of a star system they found interesting. When the ship did a close fly-by of the fourth planet, they all screamed and passed out. When it happened, and I could not get them to respond, I took control under the dead-stick protocol, flew out to the gravity well, and jumped back to the rally point. Did I do the right thing?”

Gonzalez said, “I think so, but it’s not my call. I expect there will be more questions. As soon as we evacuate your crew, a relief crew will come aboard and land the La Salle on the carrier.”

“Thank you for taking care of my crew corpsmen.”

“That’s our job Sal. Welcome home.”

It took about fifteen minutes to get the crew aboard Hammer and in rescue pods. Once they were secured, Mikie and Rosa sat and watched over their charges.

On a side channel for privacy, Mikie asked, “Did that AI seem nervous to you?”

Rosa replied, “They get attached to their crews. They are in close contact for weeks at a time. Crews forget that they are AIs and treat them like people.”

Mikie shook his head and said, “It seems weird.”

“Not really. All Alliance AI’s come from the root AI Albert, who was very close to the human who developed him. Not only do they like people, but they also get attached to the people they work with. The first AIs oversaw big ships like Intrepid or the Reprisal. The ones on the smaller ships get a lot more personal interaction. You should talk to the Intrepid’’s AI Indy sometime. He’s a first gen and has been around since just before the end of the war.”

“Really?”

“Be prepared to laugh your ass off. He’s got a wicked sense of humor.”

 

Intrepid Flag Bridge

Dr. Whitaker and a couple of men from his division arrived on the Intrepid’s Flag Bridge.

Captain Carter said, “I asked you to come to the Flag Bridge to view the flight recorder data so we can use the Tank. It’s got the best holographic imagers in the task group.”

Whitaker said, “Captain Carter, this is Lt. Sloan and Dr. Morris from my science team. Sloan is our resident expert on Pathfinder class scout ships, and Morris is my deputy. What is the progress of getting the La Salle aboard?”

Carter replied, “I just got an update. Hammer is on his way back with the La Salle’s crew, and La Salle will be underway shortly. They all appear to be in good condition, and we’re about to see what happened. Lt. Griggs, could you start the playback?”

Griggs manipulated controls at the workstation that controlled the tank and asked, “Captain, the La Salle’s AI put an index on this file. Do you want the entire twenty-four hours or just the system survey where they ran into trouble?”

Captain Carter asked, “Dr. Whitaker?”

Whitaker said, “In the interest of brevity, let’s look at the record of the incident. If we need more context, we can go back.”

Lieutenant Griggs said, “I’m starting at four hours forty-five minutes ago.”

The Tank went dark and the cockpit of the La Salle appeared.

“Please tell me we’re not looking at another red dwarf”, La Salle’s pilot, Barry Jenkins, asked plaintively.

Liz Saito, navigator and science officer, appeared at her station in the La Salle’s cockpit and said, “This one just might be interesting: KLJ-32345. It’s an F7 class main sequence dwarf with an unusually strong magnetic field. It has such large sunspots it causes the star’s luminosity to vary significantly. I have our jump plotted.”

Jimmy Ames reported, “Jump drive is standing by. What do you say, Sal?”

The ship’s AI replied jauntly, “The ship is ready to jump in all respects. Hit it, Barry.”

Barry Jenkins announced, “Jumping now.”

Sal announced, “Jump sequence complete. Securing jump drive and extending the sensor array.”

Liz praised the AI. “Thank you Sal.” She read her instruments and said, ”That is one ugly star. Sixty percent of the surface is covered by sunspots. I’m already reading a freakishly strong magnetic field in this system.”

Jenkins said, “I’m reading a lot of debris in this system. Strap in tight. We may have to maneuver.”

“Roger that, Barry”, Ames acknowledged. “I’m holding some acceleration in reserve for you.”

There was a loud ping, and Jenkins said, “Proximity alert. I just got a hard radar return off some comet materials in our flight path. I’m going to see if I can get a picture of it.”

The image resolved on their monitors and Liz gasped.

Ames said, “That’s not debris. It’s wreckage.”

The object in the image was metallic, charred, and covered in ice. According to the scale, it was a jagged piece of metal with numerous sub-assemblies still attached. It was trailing wiring, and there were big gashes where rivets had been ripped away.

Saito said, “Tell me that is not a technological artifact.”

Barry admonished the crew, “It looks like we’ve found something special. It’s even more important to stick to the protocol. How goes the preliminary scan?”

“Still running the preliminary infrared scan. This is a hot star, so the system has a big, wide Goldilocks zone with three planets and at least a pair of gas giants in the outer system. I’m seeing a lot of interplanetary material the computer is classifying as debris.”

Ames asked, “Have we found another space-faring civilization?”

Liz said, “If we have, they’ve been gone a long time. There are no power readings or broadcasts.”

Barry said, “Heads up, there’s more junk following that first piece.”

They watched as a constellation of junk flew past. A big piece some four hundred meters long passed by tumbling end-over-end showing obvious battle damage. All of it was covered in a layer of ice.

Sal said, “I have analyzed the orbit of that debris. It’s in a stable, long-term orbit very much like a comet. The deep scan has only been running a few minutes, but it is obvious that this system is full of similar wreckage.”

Barry asked, “What… are we looking at Liz?”

“I don’t know”, Liz snapped. “I know what it looks like.”

Jimmy said, “I’ll say it. This looks like an ancient battlefield.”

Liz said, “It’s more like a tomb. This system is dead. There are no transmissions, power emissions, or life signs. Whatever happened here, it has been over for a very long time.”

“How can you tell?”, Barry asked.

Liz said, “Sal’s reconstruction of the orbit the wreckage is in makes a revolution once every two hundred and fifty-six years. It is a very stable orbit covered in ice. This… has been here for a very long time.”

Jimmy Ames said, “That’s a lot of technology from another space-faring civilization just drifting.”

“Spoken like a true engineer. It’s looking like this whole system is a tomb”, Barry rejoined.

Liz said, “We follow the protocol. We finish the deep scan and then we’ll decide our next move.”

 

Intrepid Hanger 2

“Flight Control, this is Hammer. I’m on final approach and request a beacon.”

“Hammer, follow beacon Sierra-two. You are cleared for landing in Bay Two. Please follow quarantine procedures.”

“Roger that, Flight. La Salle is three minutes out.”

Greer had a light, experienced hand on the stick. He had developed that touch at the controls of a Tornado aerospace fighter during the war.

He followed the beacon in dead slow on thrusters and put the big search and rescue shuttle down in the indicated square on the flight deck without a thump.

Greer announced, “Hammer has landed, Flight Control. Proceeding with shutdown and will transfer La Salle’s crew to the decontamination lab.”

“Affirmative, Hammer. Welcome back.”

Greer and Haskins followed the shutdown checklist and had the corpsmen debark Hammer with their charges in rescue tubes.

Rescue tubes were an evolutionary development of stretchers and served the same purpose in vacuum. They were long, mostly clear cylinders that protected a sick or injured crewman.

Gonzalez and Joyner moved them from the shuttle one at a time and cycled them through an airlock into the decontamination lab. Once all three were moved, Hammer’s flight crew and the Corpsmen entered the decon lab through the “hot” airlock to have their suits decontaminated and bodies checked for pathogens.

As soon as Hammer’s crew and attached Corpsmen began their trials, the La Salle landed. The three members of the relief crew began their decontamination. A good time was not had by all.

In the hospital side of the decon lab, the La Salle’s crew were removed from the rescue tubes, their ship suits and, placed in hospital beds for close examination and observation.

It was clear that they were not sick with any sort of infection, but something had badly affected their minds. All three crewmembers’ brain waves were off the charts.

After being checked carefully, Gonzalez and Joyner were allowed to assist Dr. Frasier. The staff in the decontamination lab was kept at a minimum for obvious reasons. Dr. Frasier and his assistant Kimble only had four hands, and with three patients, they were full.

The three patients were a mystery. The La Salle’s crew’s general health was excellent to even qualify for the scout program. Their vital signs were good. All the tests that they had run were normal. There was simply no explanation for why they had been unconscious for over four hours now.

It was Mikie Joyner that noticed it first.

Looking at the displays, he saw something he did not understand, and had the good sense to ask, “Dr. Frasier, what is this?”

Frasier looked at the three-dimensional representation of Barry Jenkins brain. There was a small but regular energy emission from the parietal lobe and said, “Do you know about implants?”

Joyner said, “Sure. They are nano-tech and assemble themselves in the parietal lobe of brain to allow crew to directly connect to systems. Most personnel have one. It was my understanding that they shut down when their user is asleep or unconscious.”

“That’s usually true, but I just checked”, Frasier said. “All of their implants are active.”

Gonzalez said, “Talk to us Indy. What are Jenkins, Saito, and Ames connected to and, what are they doing?”

Indy, the Intrepid’s AI answered, “Rosa. I cannot answer your question without a command level authorization.”

Dr. Frasier ordered, “This is a medical issue, Indy. We need to know.”

Indy replied, “Command override logged. The implants of the crewmen of the La Salle contacted me as soon as they were in range. They are downloading a very large data file.”

The medical team looked at each other, and Dr. Frasier asked, “Indy, what sort of data is being downloaded?”

The AI answered, “All sorts. I have created a firewalled partition for the data and suspect that they will regain consciousness shortly after the download completes.”

Frasier asked, “This is important Indy, where did the data come from?”

Indy answered in the emotionless way of Ais, even when the information they are sharing richly deserves some emotion, “It is from the Aliens, Dr. Frasier.”

 

Intrepid Flag Bridge

Captain Carter, Dr. Whittaker, and their staff experts continued the process of reviewing the La Salle’s flight recorder. They were just about to the point where the survey crew was almost done with the deep scan when Indy pinged Captain Carter’s implant.

Carter subvocalized: I’m a little busy, Indy.

The AI would not be dissuaded. Captain Carter I have an update on the crew of the La Salle. They have regained consciousness, but Dr. Frasier wants them under observation.

That’s great news.

Yes, and there is a crew member who is available to assist you.

Who?

La Salle’s AI. With your permission, his avatar can appear in the Tank.

Make it so, Indy, and thanks.

Captain Carter ordered, “Lt. Griggs, could you put the playback on hold?”

Instantly, the playback halted, and Sal’s avatar appeared in the Tank.

Carter was surprised by the avatar Sal had chosen. In discussing the AI’s with his peer officers and specialists, most of them appeared to be middle-aged humans in their thirties or forties, perhaps to produce an impression of gravitas. They behaved with some formality so the humans they interacted with would take them seriously.

Sal, the La Salle’s AI, was completely different. His form was a young male in his twenties. He could easily disappear into a crowd of college kids. Perhaps that made sense, as the crew he spent time with were in that age group.

Captain Carter addressed the officers reviewing the La Salle’s flight recorder, “Gentlemen. This is Sal. He’s the La Salle’s AI and the only member of the crew currently available to help us understand what happened at KLJ-32345.”

Sal asked, “Lt. Griggs, would you mind if I took control of the playback?”

Griggs, obviously bemused, raised an eyebrow and replied, “No Sal, you may proceed.”

Sal said, “I see you are where Liz was almost finished with her deep scan of the system. I am going to fast forward to her findings.”

Dr. Whitaker objected, “Might we miss something important?”

Sal replied, “I will hit the high points, and you can review it in detail later.”

True to his word, Sal advanced the flight recorder to the crew’s decision plot.

Liz Saito reported, “The fourth planet appears to be the center of what happened here. The deep scan reported wreckage of over four thousand ships of cruiser size or larger. Much larger in some cases. There are too many smaller wrecks to count at this range. There is no doubt at all that we have found an ancient battleground. The only question at this point is whether we go in closer to get more images and see what we can discover.”

Barry Jenkins said, “I’m concerned about all that space junk. It is a serious hazard. According to mission rules, it’s crew discretion. We have never seen anything like this before. What do you think Sal?”

“It is an intriguing opportunity for discovery. If we keep our speed down, the collision avoidance sensors will keep us out of serious trouble.”

Jenkins asked, “Jimmy?”

Ames said, “We go, of course.”

Sal said, “The consensus of the crew was to go in for a closer look.”

The display changed to a display of the system, and the officers gasped. There was the yellow star mottled with sunspots, eight terrestrial planets, three gas giants, scores of moons and thousands of red specks denoting wreckage, most of it clustered around the fourth planet in the system.

Sal said, “This is what we saw. We had jumped into the system ten light seconds above the plane of the ecliptic per mission protocol. It was our intention to make a parabolic approach as close as we deemed safe to the fourth planet to get a closer look.”

Sal narrated, “We came up to .1C and approached the planet. As we got further into the system, we could tell there were at least seven distinct types of ships involved in the battle.”

“The planet had been battered molten. As we approached, sensors indicated that it had been bombarded with anti-matter weapons.”

Lt. Griggs exclaimed, “Jesus!”

Sal replied, “That was when I started receiving a transmission. It took some time to translate the signal. When I finally did, it was a warning.”

Attention unknown ship. Do not approach the fourth planet any closer than four light seconds. It is the home world of a genocidal race that nearly conquered this quadrant of the galaxy.

Our Coalition managed to defeat them only at great cost. Due to the powerful magnetic fields in this system and the combination of the anti-matter warheads used to destroy the planet, they are still there as beings of malice and energy. If you value all life, they must never escape. Let their last battlefield remain their prison.

Sal said, “We were able to communicate with the entity I designated Sentinel. I suspect we would have liked the members of their Coalition. We share similar values despite the one hundred and thirty million years difference in time.”

“Sentinel, who I suspect is an AI, sent a cultural archive of the Coalition members. Due to the volume of the data, it had to be stored in the brains of my crew and downloaded to Indy’s data banks when we returned. They are sleeping now and will recover completely.”

“In conclusion, we were sent on a mission of exploration and discovery, and we have discovered something humbling and frightening in its magnitude.”

Copyright © 2021 jamessavik; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

2021 - Fall - Potluck Entry
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Thanks for this. I have just finished reading Operation Hammerhead for the second time and still felt I was in limbo after the battle. I wanted more and now this . Thank you, thank you,  and thank you!😄

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