Things have been pretty hectic here at the Frontier Hub as I’ve been busy editing all the articles for issue 25 of the Frontier Explorer coming out next month. Because of that and other events, none of my regular projects have gotten the time or attention they need to make progress and get something written up.
I’ve been working on the regular projects, however, and next week will probably see the final “Player’s” version of the Extended Frontier Map. I’ve got all the star systems in, just need to tweak the positioning of the labels and add in the nebula. And add in Mechan, I completely forgot that system when doing the map as one of my readers pointed out in the comments on Facebook.
In the mean time, I mentioned that I wanted to get back to doing some writing and so I’m going to post the prologue to one of the books I’m working on. I hope you enjoy it and let me know if you want to see more in future posts. I should be back next week with an update on one of the existing projects.
A Pale Survivor – Prologue
The captain of the Pale Starship Chiara stared at the view from his ship’s telescope. They were finally close enough to the unknown ships to start to make out details. From what he saw, they were nothing like any ship in the Frontier worlds.
There seemed to be a number of different designs but they all seemed to follow similar patterns. The nose of each ship was a large sphere. This was connected to the main body by a narrow neck. The main body of each ship was a bulbous affair. Everything seemed rounded and smoothed over. Very different than the more angular shapes of most Frontier ships, although there was some resemblance to the smoother dralasite designs.
The one thing they did share with Frontier ships was that the engines were mounted externally, away from the hull on struts. The engines seem to be similar in operation, if not design, to the PSS Chiara’s own atomic engines. The sensors reported signatures from the unknown ships’ engines similar to their own.
The question on everyone’s minds was where they came from. The huge flotilla of unidentified ships had been detected about thirty hours previously, headed towards both Pale and New Pale, the two planets in the Truane’s Star system. All attempts to communicate with the ships had failed.
Since all remote communication efforts had failed, it had been decided to send a ship out to attempt to communicate from closer range. The Chiara and her crew, along with her passengers, had volunteered for the mission. Although the captain was having second thoughts now that they were up close and could see the ships directly.
The captain turned to his second officer. “Is the data feed going out?”
“Yes, sir. Everything is going out in real time to both Pale and New Pale.”
They were approaching the lead ship. It would be another hour before they were close but they had been approaching and matching speeds with the unknown vessels for the last ten hours. It was eerie, the unknown ships hadn’t responded at all. There had been no signals, no variation in their flight path, nothing. They had just continued to decelerate toward Pale at the same steady pace.
That was another similarity between the unknown ships and those of the Frontier. They didn’t seem to have any sort of artificial gravity as they had been decelerating at just under one standard gravity since they had been detected.
As the ships drew closer together, Chiara’s captain started to feel uneasy. As they got closer, they were able to distinguish greater and greater detail on the ships. While mostly featureless, there were some features on the surface of the ships that looked disturbingly like weapons, although of what type he could not tell.
“Start hailing them again,” the captain ordered. “We detected them due to radio transmissions between the ships. Start on those frequencies and expand from there.”
“Yes, sir,” came the reply. “Commencing now.”
The captain listened as the calls went out and watched the view from the telescope of the ship. Nothing happened for a long time. He had just looked away from the screen to survey the crew on the bridge when his first officer called out. “Captain, look, there seems to be some motion on the ship.”
Whipping his eyes back to the screen, the captain saw that several protrusions on the surface of the ship that he had noticed earlier were rotating and beginning to point toward the Chiara. The bad feeling got worse.
Hitting the control for the ship’s intercom, he yelled to the crew. “Strap in and prepare for high gee maneuvers.” Not waiting for responses he called out to his pilot. “Bring the ship ninety degrees to port as fast as possible and throttle up the engines as far as they will go.” As the pilot began to respond, the captain strapped himself into his chair.
Looking at the view of the unknown ship, the captain hoped his was wrong about what the response from this ship meant. They were only a few tens of thousands of kilometers away from the lead ship now and it dwarfed the Chiara in size.
Suddenly there was a flash from several points on the alien spacecraft and alarms erupted all over the Chiara’s bridge. Glancing at his display the captain could see damage reports coming in from various parts of the ship. He also noted that they were suddenly in freefall.
“Bridge, Engineering. Both our engines are off line. They have both sustained damage of some sort.”
“Hull breach in crew deck two,” came another report. “The entire starboard section has been vented to space.”
“Life support failure. Primary life support equipment has failed. Backup system engaging.”
“Captain, radar. The alien ship has just launched a small object towards us.”
The captain looked back at the view screen. Amazingly the telescope had remained locked on the alien ship. It took him a few seconds to find the object but he found it. It looked like a small black dot surrounded by a glowing halo. He realized that it was some sort of rocket under thrust directly toward him. “Radar, what is the speed and closing rate of that object?”
“Captain, it is accelerating at about thirty gee and headed straight toward us. Estimated time to impact is three minutes if it doesn’t change its acceleration profile.”
Despite the implications, the captain was proud that the radar operator was responding calmly.
“Communications, open a comm channel back to Pale with our data feed.”
“Comm channel open captain.”
Taking a look around the bridge, the captain began what he was sure was his final transmission. “This is the TSSS Chiara. Having approached to within one hundred thousand kilometers of the lead alien vessel, we once again began attempting to communicate with the ship. We received no response until we closed within forty thousand kilometers at which point the ship opened fire on us with some sort of laser weapon. They completely disabled our engines and opened up a couple breaches in our hull including damaging our primary life support system.”
As the captain talked, the crew all began to watch him. He continued. “Immediately after the laser attack a single object was launched toward the Chiara. Based on its acceleration profile and trajectory, I can only assume that it is some sort of missile or torpedo. Time to impact is now less than two minutes.
“We cannot maneuver and the object is now close enough that it couldn’t stop before hitting us even if it tried. We will continue to transmit data but if the feed suddenly stops, at least you’ll know why. Good luck. Chiara out.”
With that he closed the transmission and turned to stare at the view screen. The object was much closer now and glancing at his display from the radar, it appeared to be about ten meters long and about a meter in diameter. The captain watched it as it closed the distance between them.
There was a flash and then the Chiara bucked under his chair throwing him against his restraints. He could feel heat radiating up from the lower decks and then the air being sucked out of the ship as it broke apart and vented its atmosphere to space. And then the fire welled up from the lower levels to consume the bridge and its occupants. With the air lost to space, the fire quickly died out leaving the interior of the broken Chiara dead and lifeless.
The alien ships continued onward, steadily decelerating toward Pale, not even seeming to notice the drifting hulk of the Chiara as they passed.