Chapter 1: Alert

Deep below the surface in a long forgotten room electrons moved, photonic gates opened, and quantum processors played some dice with the universe. The ancient machine hovered at the brink of awareness...

[resuming ... base functions online ... sensors active ... scanning ... scanning ... negative ... sleep mode resuming... ]


Alarm klaxons screamed out an alert and the floor seemed to fall away from under the console chair. Tarra gulped as her stomach tried to escape out the wrong way.

"Didgi, silence that alarm and start repairs on the inertial dampers. That last maneuver leaked through badly," she said.

The alarm abruptly stopped. A deep clanging noise rung out from the decks far below the bridge.

"Don't you want to know what the alarm was for?" Didgi inquired.

"I know what it was for, we've lost atmosphere on decks five and six, FTL is out and one fourth of the aft shields are toast." Tarra growled as she pointed at the ship's status display. "Now stop bugging me with audibles unless one of the weapons systems or propulsion systems is failing." She glanced at the holo-table that showed the surrounding space around the Didgeridoo and made some quick calculations.

"Didgi, come around to heading 270, mark 5 towards this point. Give me full speed just shy of where the inertial dampers are leaking. Target their center shields with the anti-proton lance and fire when ready. Follow that with the plasma cannon at full repeat cycle until their shields are down then traverse aft." A bead of sweat formed on her brow as she gripped the arms of the support chair.

The conventional space drive did not create inherent velocity so it was possible for the ship to stop suddenly and change course immediately. The Didgeridoo spun on its axis and abruptly changed course on the new heading. The pursuing ship moved to intercept and closed the distance. Strong ship-based particle beams shot out from it just missing the Didgeridoo which changed course quickly to avoid the next salvo.

The AP lance stabbed out and the enemy ship's shields flared and died. Plasma bolts ripped across the intervening space from the Didgeridoo and started blasting holes in the ship's armor.

"I read a ship coming out of stealth just ahead. It looks pretty big," Didgi's voice interjected over the screen showing the weapon hits.

Tarra shot a look at the holo-table and her voice caught in her throat. The size indicator was larger than any she had seen. "That's a dreadnought class ship! Something that big can't have stealth shields that good. What the devil?" Tarra's anger caused the skin over her breasts to flash a bright livid yellow. Her chameleon chromatophores quickly changed color back to their normal light brown.

"Multiple missile launches detected, impact in 38 seconds. There are 256 inbound tracks identified. Countermeasures are active. They won't be enough Tarra," Didgi's voice remained calm.

"Understatement of the damn year," Tarra's voice cracked in her frustration and irritation. She watched the inbound missile tracks on the holo-table as many, but not enough, of them winked out as the Didgeridoo's anti-missile point defenses neutralized them.

Just before the tracks converged on the small form of the ship on the holo-table, it went blank. The bridge's status screens blinked once and all indicators went to normal.

Tarra sat back in the command chair, let out a breath and then spun around to glare at James. "Satisfied?" she asked, "Once again you found yet another way to kill me."

James returned the look and then let a small smile crack his lips. "Let's take a break and go through the detailed debrief later. You know I'm not trying to kill you with these simulation exercises. They are designed to help you refine your command decisions as well as understand the capabilities, and limitations, of this ship. You survived a lot longer than I thought you would and did an impressive amount of damage to the three pursuit ships. Two were completely destroyed. Had they not gotten that hit to your FTL drive early, you would likely have escaped."

"A cloaked dreadnought? Really? Why didn't you just create a floating Dragolonian Devil Whale with ion-cannon eyes that shits missiles out its ass? That would be just as plausible." Tarra wasn't quite ready to calm down.

"Don't be silly, a Dragolonian Devil Whale would explosively decompress in space," Didgi answered deadpan.

James' laugh burst out despite his best efforts to hold it in. Tarra let a small smile crack her visage and she joined in with a laugh of her own.

"Damn it Didgi, was that your addition to the sim?" she asked.

"Yes, it is wise to throw in elements that no one would expect. After all, I have capabilities that others don't know about or suspect. Those unknown abilities give us a marked advantage over others that goes well beyond their initial surprise of discovering them," Didgi answered with a slightly smug tone.

"Hmmpf, well once I'm through with my training, how about I draw up some sims for you? I'll bet I can surprise your cybernetic senses."

"Excellent, I look forward to it!" Didgi said.

James pulled Tarra to him and planted a kiss on her lips. She reached out and let her arms encircle his neck as she hugged him and let out a long sigh.

"I'm beat. That last sim was pretty intense. You are right, I do need a break before you take apart everything I did and we figure out what I could have done differently." She pulled away slightly and looked at his face.

James reached over and gently brushed a stray strand of hair from her eyes and said, "Great, let's grab some chow and we can discuss it after that – or even later. One thing we have is time to kill while we are in transit to Vreemd. We won't exit hyperspace for another three days."

"This job better be worth it. This is an awfully long way to go if it proves a bust."

"Should be good. You know they posted a bond with the mercenary guild. It was a lot of credits and it should be a simple delivery. They were willing to pay for a clandestine pickup and delivery - more for security reasons than any real danger. At least that's what the contract said. From the way they talked, I'd guess the cargo is some kind of ancient forerunner art they found and the boffins are worried about word getting out about their find and being inundated with thieves."

Tarra moved off towards the ship's galley, "That's my take on it too. Let's have the spaghetti for dinner - that was awesome the last time you made it."

"Hey, the replicator made it. I just used my unique and painfully researched talents programming it. How you could eat mashed potatoes with it - I have no clue. They just do not go together." James made a face.

"To each his own darling. When you put pickles on your peanut butter sandwich, I thought I was going to be sick. Yuck."

Tarra squealed as James came up behind her and pinched her lightly on her bottom. She broke into a run with James in hot pursuit.

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