The Nina had transited to the string flawlessly. Captain Sarah Dawn had honestly never felt such a smooth transition in all her years in the service, a credit to the engineers who had been working to improve the dampening fields needed to make the insane speeds traveled on the string even possible.
Now that the ship was on the string and stable, it would take about 70 hours to reach the jump point for Kranos, making their arrival at the edge of the system an estimated week after the initial distress call. Dawn wished she could overcome physics to get there sooner, but it simply was not possible. Not if she wanted her crew to be alive and able to help anyone who might have survived.
Still, knowing they were doing everything humanly possible to reach the system and help those who lived there did not help Dawn relax. Waiting was not her strong suit. She needed to be doing something, anything to make sure that they were able to help as many as possible in as short of time as they could.
Standing, she walked forward to stand just behind and to the left of her navigator and pilot. Looking over his shoulder, she could see Ensign James “Jimmy” Ziess wasn’t happy with how the number six auto-stabilizer was performing. He was simultaneously running a Level Beta diagnostic, manually handling the auto-stabilizer’s processes and guiding the automated repair drones in replacing the stabilizers primary backup which had apparently failed to kick in while monitoring the rest of the ships systems that were helping them ride the string to Kranos. Impressed with how cool and collected the young pilot was handling this new ship for the first time at speed, she made a note to thank Lt. McLee at their briefing in two hours.
“Ensign, once you are satisfied, we are securely stabilized on the string, would you join me in Stellar Cartography?”
“Yes, ma’am. I want to monitor things for fifteen more minutes if that’s ok?”
“That’ll be fine. See you then.” Turning, Dawn nodded to her XO, “You have the bridge David, I’ll be back for second watch.”
“Yes Ma’am.” Commander David Thorne stood and began making a slow counter-clockwise circle of the bridge. Technically he should move directly to the center chair per protocol, but he hated the hot seat, instead preferring to check on his officers and crew personally and not through the ships networked displays.
Engineering was busy helping Ensign Ziess complete the repairs on an auto-stabilizer. Work done so efficiently he hadn’t even felt and issue during their transition 9t the string or since.
Science I was scanning the string for anything not-yet charted as they rode along. This particular sting was well mapped so most of the work was simply to verify that the sensors were calibrated and ready for when The Nina was able to start her actual mission and begin exploring out past the red-line. Getting to use such a well-traveled and know string today was actually a blessing in all that had happened to lead them to delay their mission. These calibrations would go a long way to helping them narrow down anonymous readings in the unknown.
Sciences II-V were performing their own diagnostic checks, each really just passing the time, waiting to feel useful in this hopeless rescue mission.
Stepping back down into the command well, Thorne noted that John was still at his post, quietly watching the crew at work. “I didn’t figure you much for being on the bridge.”
“Oh, I personally loathe it, but I’m new here and I need to observe the crew, so I best know how to lead them spiritually. That and I do have to say that when you are as old as I am, there is a sense of wonder at the technology we are able to enjoy. Sometimes it is nice to just appreciate what we’ve been allowed to accomplish as a people.”
“You speak like you’re the oldest person on the ship, John. But you can’t be more than what thirty-two, thirty-three years old?”
John smiled slightly; in all this time he still sometimes would forget that the man he saw in a console’s reflection was certainly not what everyone else saw. Where his own eyes saw the age of centuries, everyone else simply saw a man in his prime. “Son, I may look about your age, but trust me when I say I’m far older than anyone on this ship. Let’s just say that a good diet, a lack of stress, and a little luck has kept me looking as young as you think I am.”
Thorne put his hands on the back of the command chair, “Fair enough, but I WILL find out how old you are one day, because now I just have to know.”
“Good luck my boy, that is one secret I do enjoy keeping!” Noting Thorne’s hesitance to take the chair and sit-down. “What’s a matter, son? Afraid of the chair?”
“W-What, no, I just like to stand sometimes.”
“You’ve just spent the last fifteen minutes avoiding sitting and twice reached over the chair to answer inquiries that have come in. Either sit down or transfer command functions to the tactical table, you look silly!”
Thorne looked at John. He wanted to tell him to but out, but he did stop for a moment and wonder what he would think if his XO had stood over the center chair like he’s doing now as a young Ensign. Seeing another inquiry come in he reached up to read it, still standing behind the chair.
“He’s not wrong, sir!” The text was from Lt. Post. Thorne jerked his head up to the Communications console and replied by simply walking around and sitting down.
God, I hate this chair! Thorne thought to himself as he wondered just how many more of his bridge officers had noted his behavior.
A hand touched his should, “Come see me at the chapel when you are relieved. Let’s talk about this.” With the John turned and stepped off the bridge into a lift. And that man is going to make me crazy!
Ensign Ziess exited the lift and began walking down the curved corridor towards Stellar Cartography. The Nina was the first ship in the fleet to boast an onboard system for Stellar Cartography, making it unique among the fleet in its ability to adjust its leaping off point from the string to normal space while attached to the string. This, in theory would give the ship the advantage of scanning the string and making the leap off closer to if not within the targeted star system.
It was an amazing theory which had as of yet been tested. When the engineers designed the system and room into this class of ships, they meant for it to help cut down the need for scout probes and analysis time which typically slowed down most explorations into deep space.
But as Ziess stepped through the hatch and onto the bridge which would put him in the center of the holographically created space, he suddenly became very aware of his reputation as a pilot, and very afraid of what his new Captain had in mind.
Looking up from the console, Ca0tain Dawn smiled. “Now don’t go growing a yella’ belly on me Ensign. I’ve read the report where you pulled off much crazier things in your days at the academy!”
“And while those were true, I would like to point out I wasn’t flying a carrier loaded with the mass of a small moon and over a thousand souls which just happens to be the fleets new pride and joy at the time.”
“No, you were flying a ninety-year-old, under powered, over modified training frigate loaded with 300 bottles of brandy from Athos meant for the President’s 35th birthday party. That stunt was stupid and unnecessary, but it got you here and soon I need you to pull off another stupid and quite possibly unnecessary stunt for me again.”
Thinking of all the souls that he knew were burning on Kranos and in the system, Ziess couldn’t really ignore the need. ‘Still,’ he thought to himself, ‘this is stupid!’ Stepping forward he began looking at the analysis on screen, “Well, let’s at least see if there’s even a shot it’ll work before I agree to anything.”
McLee could not believe her eyes as he entered the CAG Briefing Room. She had been in some of the best in her years as a fighter pilot, but this one was by far the most amazing space she had ever walked into.
The room was circular, with a set of eighteen seats situation in the center, currently facing away from the door toward the main console in front of her where here commanding officer Corporal Adam Vocek was looking over noted and quietly talking to Captain Dawn.
As she moved to her seat, she noted that to her right of the podium was ship and pilot status boards which would include loadouts, wingman assignments, and induvial target points for each mission. To her left was a view screen which would be utilized to show the pilots any information they needed to know about each mission as well as to display mission logs to help with debriefings.
Her seat included a holo-console where she could make last minute requests for her ship, make notes about her mission plan and loadouts, and see more detail about each mission’s waypoints and objectives. The display currently only had her fighter’s information which showed it was being fit with two sensor pods and a full compliment of traditional weapons for long-range and close combat. There was also an extra fuel-cell being hooked up. What the heck are we going into?
Right one cue, at 19:00 hours, the lights of the room dimmed except for those on the podium and the display to McLee’s left came online with the squadron’s Orange and Black Scorpion Cross filling the room with it’s anger.
Captain Dawn stepped up to the podium in a surprise move. Often, if a ship’s Captain was even in the room for a pilot briefing, they were merely there as observers, but McLee knew that Dawn was different.
Still though, there was something about her face, a seriousness McLee had never seen before. McLee had flown and been with Dawn through several major incidents and granted the apparent loss of eight-million souls was unprecedented, but surely whoever had mounted the attack had moved on by now or even a better scenario maybe this all was a natural incident of a solar flare, or some shockwave that had rippled through space simply took out the communication systems throughout Kranos. Maybe, McLee thought, we’ll jump into a system scrambling to rebuild satellites and save damaged Star Bases and ships. Maybe there aren’t eight-million souls lost, just cut-off by happenstance.
“Good evening pilots. I’m sure you all watched the Presidents speech this morning as we launched and know by now, we are headed to the Kranos system. While President Hernandez did state that we expect to find little or no survivors there, he did not say why. That fact was omitted to hopefully keep the public calm and negate and panic that would surely ensue if they general population was to see what I’m about to show you now.
“For the record, everything you are about to see is classified so outside of this room or your racks, keep your mouths shut!”
With that she tapped a control and the image to the McLee’s left shifted from the squadron’s emblem to a communication log time-stamped just moments before contact with Kranos was lost.
Three-minutes and twenty-six seconds later as McLee and her squadron looked at the image now frozen on the screen, she knew what The Nina and her crew were flying into was nothing like anything they had ever been trained to face.