PROLOGUE - Erich von Shrakenberg


            Commander Erich von Shrakenberg grunted in disgust at the number of mistakes on his status report. The EFS Stornoway was almost out of dry dock, the Commanding Admiral of Earth Fleet was due tomorrow, but every piece of wiring was falling apart at the seams. The experimental Graviton Cannon was in perfect running order, thank the Fleet engineers; but the ship that had been custom-built around it  has been an adaption of a tested design. There were bound to be flaws... but not this many!

            There was a knock at the door. The entry chimes didn't work either. "Come in." growled the harsh Prussian accent.

            The door slid open and the bouncy cherub entered, cleverly disguised as a Fleet officer. Under the mop of curly blonde hair remained Lieutenant Commander Johanna Ingolfsson, his executive officer. "Captain, there is a senior officer requesting permission to come aboard."

            Erich rubbed his eyes. "Tell him to wait for the christening tomorrow."

            "Sir, this is a rather important officer."

            The commander was sick of dealing with VIP's. "Does he have clearence?"

            "No, sir... but I'm sure you would make an exception in this case."

            Johanna came under his glaring stare. "Commander," Erich help up the electronic notepad, "if this status report's correct, no one on this ship is going to get any sleep tonight. Now, with this in mind, who do you suggest can change my standing orders?"

            Just then, a familiar face appeared in the doorway. "Still a hard-ass, Erich?"

            Von Shrakenberg nearly leaped out of his seat. It was Captain Terry Carter, his best friend from the Academy. "Terry!! Mein Gott, how long's it been?!"

            "Six months. Little Amy's birthday party."

            "Man, it's good to see you!"

            Johanna cleared her throat. "I think I'll leave this treehouse before you start putting up the tire swing."

            Before Ingolfsson could get out the door, her CO reminded her, "Oh, commander?" Erich held up the foot-noted report. "Get the crews working on these systems. We need them completed by 1100 hours tomorrow."

            "Sure," she replied, taking the notepad as she scooted toward the door. "Let you boys have fun while the women do the work."

            "Don't let him get to you, commander." Terry shot back. Once she closed the door, Carter jokingly asked, "Are you going to take that kind of insubordination?"

            Shrakenberg sat back down in his chair. "Good execs are hard to come by. Besides, my mom would kill me if I brought charges. She's my second cousin."

            "Excuses, excuses." Captain Carter took a seat. "Of course, you're lucky. On the Nagoya, I had one big prick of an exec..."

            "_I_ was that exec."

            "Oh, that's right. Fine officer, good work... excellent chap." Terry brandished another of his patented smiles.

            "So, how'd you get here? Mars isn't exactly the easiest of spots to reach."

            "Oh, I just had the Shenandoah jump out through the digital gate. It was quicker than spacing it to Avalon."

            Erich's eyebrows raised. "You took your ship for a joyride?"

            "What else are you supposed to after three months on the frontier?"

            "I don't know... go home, take shore leave?"

            "That's coming up. Sheila and the kids want to see where their daddy works."

            "Sure, I understand. I get the homework, you get the girl."

            "Hey, she misses you, too." Terry leaned back in the chair and looked around. "I see that you're getting a luxury yacht this time rather than your usual Fleet crates. Who's ass did you kiss to get it?"

            "Only the best. Been working on her for a year."

            Carter looked confused. "A Rota-class destroyer? A year? What's she packing?"

            Erich shrugged. "Sorry, man. Classified."

            Terry took out a packet of official-looking, hologram-sealed documents. "Not to me. The Shenandoah's joining your launching ceremony tomorrow."

            Commander von Shrakenberg looked over the security clearence. Some impressive signatures covered all of it. "Who's ass did you kiss to get it?"

            "Only the best." Carter smiled. "When you clapped up about your billet, I went searching. Called in some favors and... here I am."

            Erich smiled and shook his head. "Can't trust anyone these days."

            "Are you going to show me this floating gun that you call a starship or what?"

            "We call it a Graviton Cannon... and it would rip your Shenandoah to atoms."

            "Oh yeah? Put your money where your mouth is. Show me."

            "Try not to drool on the deckplates." Erich smirked as he led his friend for a little tour.


            The next day a small gathering clumped together in the observation room of Utopia Planetia Yard Seven. Some serious brass were in this room, including his uncle, Admiral Karl von Shrakenberg. The Commanding Admiral, an albino lady who looked fifteen years younger than the lowest Rear Admiral, was wrapping up her commencement speech.

            Uncle Karl leane over to whisper to his nephew. "Das fraulein is a real windbag, ya?"

            Erich looked like he's been slapped. "You mean the CNC?!"

            "Little Krissy? Sure. I'll admit she's good, but no one climbs the ladder that fast, especially without combat experience."

            The younger Shrakenberg got over his initial shock. As the flag officer of the Third Fleet, Uncle Karl dealt with Admiral Vorheis all the time. He was bound to have his own opinions of his direct superior. "Uh... yeah. So what's the catch?"

            "I'm not sure exactly, but she's not Marshal Dunmeyer's puppet. She's someone else's."

            Just then, the Commanding Admiral wrapped up her speech. "... for the future of the Earth Federation. Distinguished officers, may I present the project director and new captain of the Stornoway, Commander Erich von Shrakenberg!"

            There was a smatter of applause and the commander got up and approached the lecturn. Clearing his throat, Erich began, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm a man of few words, but I believe my actions will speak for themselves." He waved his hand towards the ship, framed beautifully by the transparent aluminum window. "Fellow officers, may I present the future of destroyer design... the EFS Stornoway!"

            A louder applause accompanied him as all the brass began to file out for the tour. Terry caught up to Erich, patted him on the back, and told his friend, "Good speech. See in you in the big black."


            It was a long day of answering questions and corralling flag officers. Finally, after the tour had ended, all that remained in his office was him and the beautiful Admiral Vorheis. "Coffee, ma'am?" Erich asked.

            The albino shook her head. "No, thank you. You handled yourself well out there today."

            "Thank you, ma'am. I admired your speech as well." Shrakenberg lied; in actuality, between his uncle's ranting and his own nervousness, Erich might have caught two words.

            She rolled her eyes. "You should have seen me before the Academy. I was fumbling over my sentences so bad... my teachers though I was mute, or should have been."

            The admiral giggled; Erich chuckled along. The commander began to see why she got promoted so quickly; it was difficult not to like her. "So where do you want the Stornoway to go?"

            "Ahem. Your orders are to proceed to the Tarkin Asteroid Field, destroy the target at these coordinates, " Vorheis handed him a sheet of navigation data, "then use your discretion to test the weapon further on several other asteroids. When you're satisfied with the weapon's effectiveness, proceed with a shake-down cruise along the frontier. I'll expect a full report on my desk in three months."

            "Yes, ma'am, of course. But..." Erich paused as he looked at the sheet, "why THIS asteroid?"

            "It's lined with sensors which will will measure your weapon's effectiveness on a target."

            That sounded too rehearsed, Erich thought, so he pressed his luck. "Wouldn't the graviton waves destroy any recording?"

            A pause. "The Tech Infantry Corps of Engineers set up a transmitter to signal its data to a remote receiver." The admiral got up and continued. "Now if you'll forgive me, I have a lot of work to do back on Avalon. You have your orders, commander. I trust I leave  this ships is capable hands."

            Erich saluted. "Yes, ma'am."

            The admiral returned it. "Good luck."

            Once the admiral had left, Erich took his command chair for the first time. Johanna smiled at him and asked, "Orders, sir?"

            "Forward, half thrust."

            As the Stornoway lurched forward, a beeping flashed across a nearby screen. His exec called out "Sir, communication from escorting vessel. Reads 'EFS Shenandoah to EFS Stornoway. Give 'em hell.'"

            The new skipped smiled. "Set course for Tarkin. Jump when ready, Mr. LaFarge."

            Soon the new starship left its companion behind, crossing the dimensional barrier in a shimmer of light.




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.