THAT WHICH GODS DESTROY - Act I - Erich von Shrakenberg
"Here is no water but only rock." - T.S. Eliot
The EFS Stornoway came out of hyperspace on the edge of the asteroid field.
Commander Von Shrakenberg immediatly ordered the stealth systems brought online,
and a propulsion burn to change their vector immediately afterward.
"Why the fancy approach, skipper?" asked Helmsman Lefarge. "We're just supposed to blow the crap out of a big hunk of rock. It's not like it's trying to hide from us or anything."
"A little training in being sneaky never hurts, Lieutenant," replied the
commander. "Since the yard dogs had to yank half our defensive systems to fit that big
hunking Graviton Cannon in, we can't give anyone an opportunity to get the first shot."
"And as long as we shoot first," the executive officer interjected. "There will be
no second shot."
"At least, that's the plan," finished the skipper. "Give me another small
vector change with the maneuvering thrusters. Random direction." The small rocket
thrusters were easier to hide with the stealth jammers than the main drive. After all, a 1-kt nuclear blast is rather conspicuous, no matter how hard you try to mask it with jamming.
The 70,000 ton fleet destroyer shifted course slightly, angling away from the target asteroid, still over a million kilometers away. An hour later, the commander ordered the maneuvering thrusters fired again, pointing the ship dead-on towards the target. With the bulk of the ship and the massive pusher plate between the target and the drive plume, the main drive was again activated, increasing the closing velocity.
"Passive sensors still show no emissions from the target, commander," supplied the weapons officer, as the ship neared firing range.
"Stick to passive only," ordered Von Shrakenberg. "Any sign of that remote
"Not on passive, at least not yet," answered Lt. Gergenstein. "Of course,
that doesn't necessarily mean anything."
"Yeah, they ripped out half our sensors, too," replied Eric. "I sure hope
this God Gun is worth it. Still have a fix on that rock, Lieutenant?"
"Aye aye, sir."
"Then activate the Graviton Cannon. You may fire when ready."
turned on the intercom. "Engine Room."
"Aye, bridge." came back a female voice.
"Activate the Graviton Cannon."
The captain watched the energy level spike tremendously as the chief engineer desperately increased the strain on the reactors to power the huge weapon system. Already, the ship had acquired a buzzing sounds, reverberated through the deck plates.
Then the message came back from the engine room. "Graviton Cannon at full capacity."
Eric checked the on-board clock. One minute even. He had to remember to congratulate Lt. Commander Shih for that quick response time. His eyes turned to Lt. Gergenstein, watching the nervous young officer as he locked up the asteroid. Von Shrakenberg was impressed by how well he handled it, locking a target on passive sensors was near impossible; must have been that Mage blood, he thought. The weapons officer was already 31 years old and yet only a Lieutenant Junior Grade. He had been stuck in the Tech Infantry for four years but his lack of magickal prowess had held him back. It was only until Herbert got pegged as a TI shuttle pilot that he began to shine. Once he got his citizenship, Gergenstein did the unthinkable; he applied for the Academy. Although many objected, Herbert was a citizen and a veteran, and with such high marks in testing, they couldn't stop him from entering. So another four years gave him a commission, but with his Awakened stigma, he found it hard to get ahead in Earth Fleet. The junior officer was very withdrawn due to his experience, but from what he was seeing today, Eric didn't regret bringing him on board.
"Target locked," the weapons officer replied, "firing... now."
The entire ship lurched as the Graviton Cannon kicked. On screen, the huge wave was invisible, but sensors were picking it up like a solar flare. It only took a few seconds for it to impact the asteroid, then the rock seemed to crush, then explode. A cheer rose from the bridge crew as everyone was all smiles. All except for Eric, remaining calm and collected, like a good captain should be. Besides, Von Shrakenberg knew what this gun could do.
Once the celebration quieted down, the captain stood up. "Good job, people. Lt. Gurgenstein, that was the fastest I've ever seen a passive lock. It must be a record."
Perfectly serious, he bowed his head and replied, "No, sir, the record's a minute forty-five."
Got to do something about his attitude, Eric mentally noted, and moved on. "Give me a full sensor analysis of the debris, collect some samples, and then move on to the secondary target. Commander, you have the bridge."
Johanna was looking too perky for her own good. "Aye, sir, I have the bridge."
Eric was busy writing one of those many reports he was sure the Commanding Admiral would demand. Actually, the commander was sure she'd never even see them, but policy was policy, and they tended to cover his ass more than anything else. At least this way, he could record his procedure, and THEN if anything fucked up, Von Shrakenberg would be in the clear. The captain of the destroyer chuckled at that thought. Yeah, right; just more ammo for the slaughter, those JAG brass could twist anything.
He was in the middle of the situation report when there was a chime at the door. Eric scrunched his eyebrows as he peered at the sliding entryway. Funny, he thought, they should be approaching the teritary target by now. Why would they need me?
The commander walked over to the door, hit the entry button, and stood before his exec. Eric almost stepped back when he saw the worry on her face. "Johanna, what's wrong?"
She managed to look up at him. "I think we made a mistake, sir."
are you talking about?"
Ingolfsson looked around the corridor. "May we talk in private?"
"Sure. Come in." he said, waving her into his cramped chambers. The captain went back to his seat and motioned for her to sit down. When she did, he asked her again, "What's wrong?"
Johanna pulled out a datapad and handed it to her CO. "We got the preliminary sensor results from the first two targets. Take a look."
Eric took the electronic device from her and scrolled down the figures. The two columns showed the statistics for the asteroids' remains. Finally, he saw what she was getting at. "Organic mass on primary target?"
She sniffled. "Yes, sir."
"Commander, that could have been anything. An anaerobic mold growing in the cracks. You know how these big rocks are. This belt used to be a mining area; maybe one of their ships brought some rats... or cockroaches... or anything. It doesn't mean we killed anyone."
The ship picked up that low hum again; the Graviton Cannon was about to fire. "No, sir. Look at the percentage of mass."
Eric did and his eyes bulged when he saw the numbers. "Are you sure these are right?"
"Pretty sure, sir. The active scan of the debris was recorded by the computer twice. We didn't even notice it until the second asteroid results were compared."
"Johanna, if this is true, than that asteroid must have had... what, a thousand people on it?"
Ingolfsson sniffed again. "Yes, sir."
"Why would Fleet Command tell us to blast an occupied asteroid? Why wouldn't they have had signalling equipment? Why no active buoys? It doesn't make any sense for there to have been a colony." The ship kicked as the cannon fired again. The teritary target was now destroyed. "All right. There's no use jumping to conclusions." Eric sighed as his put the datapad down. "Follow SOP and get the sensor readings from the last target. That'll give us plenty of information to compare the results to. Then swing us around back to the primary target blast site. If these readings are right, we should be easily able to find some 'organic mass.' Correct?"
"Good. When we've had that analyzed, then I'll call a conference. Understand?" Johanna nodded. "Then you have your orders."
Ten hours later, Ingolfsson had the answers she needed. The small officer contingent crammed into the tiny compartment they called the briefing room. Everyone stood when the captain entered the room, making it hard for Von Shrakenberg to get to his seat. When he finally did, everyone sat back down. At the other end of the table sat Lt. Morales, the commander of the Tech Infantry platoon they had on board. He had seen these jarheads on guard duty around the ship. Eric didn't think much of the T.I., especially on an experimental ship like this; they just took up space. Although he hadn't met the lieutenant, he looked like the usual sort. Tough, gruff, needed a shave, and throughly worthless on a modern vessel.
Eric pointed to Johanna. "Commander, if you would please?"
Ingolfsson stood up and activated the hologram projector in the center of the table. It showed the Stornoway approaching the debris field a few hours ago. "As per the captain's instructions, I ordered the Stornoway back to the site of the primary target. Another active scan of the debris indicated several large organic remains among the field. Once we had located one, it was brought in on tractor beam, and sealed in a vacuum container. This is what we discovered."
The hologram shifted to the picture of a severed hand. The captain looked intensely at it, several officers involuntarily jumped back... Lt. Morales never moved. "This was one of the largest remains that we could find. The Graviton Cannon was very thorough." Pause. "However, the most interesting fact came when we went to take a DNA sample for analysis." The hologram shifted as someone opened the transparent box to use the genetic sampler. Instantly, the hand began to disintergrate. The box was closed quickly but the process had already started. Within a few seconds, the hand had been turned into cinders.
The entire room was quiet except for their werewolf friend. A deep growl had rolled through his throat that finally escaped his lips. "Wyrm."
"WHAT?!" Eric shot back.
"Yes, sir, the lieutenant is right. An etheral scan of the other organic remains confirmed it. There were vampires on the primary target."
"That's impossible. How can a thousand vampires exist on a single rock? They'd have to have hosts to feed from."
The werewolf put in his two credits. "Sir, they could have been placed there in torpor, after having been staked or incapcitated."
Lt. Lefarge opened his mouth. "Sir, the Enoch border is only one jump away."
"From the Tarkin belt, one could jump anywhere in the Federation." Lt. Commander Shih added.
Johanna was puzzled. "They could have been from the Black Hand..."
"Or exiles," Morales continued, "placed into torpor as punishment. Then sent here to stop them from reawakening by their allies."
It was a mystery, Eric admitted. However, if they were going to solve it, they had to know that their first mission was a success. "We're not going anywhere unless we're sure of this ship's capabilities. Lieutenant, is the Graviton Cannon functioning normally."
Gergenstein nodded. "Yes, sir. All three tests confirm that there are no irregularities."
"What about that nasty kick?"
"Sir," Lt. Commander Shih spoke up, "that system has some of the best safety controls in the galaxy. The quantum singularity has been isolated as much as possible. We can't do anything about the... ahem, kick."
Commander Von Shrakenberg looked over his command staff. They all wanted some orders. Should he continue testing, buying him some time to think, or should he act on it? Maybe Admiral Vorheis had a reason for picking that asteroid. Maybe Naval Intelligence had informed her of a Black Hand secret base; hmph, was military intelligence capable of knowing anything, he wondered? Eric's orders did say to patrol the frontier; Enoch was on the frontier. Maybe this was something new, pure coincidence, and he should ignore it and go running after smugglers.
Either way, his officers' faces were searching for an answer. It was time to give the order.
END OF ACT I
Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.