Do I really need to repeat this?
Just look at either of the past two days’ posts to understand why the chapter count has reset.
There’s a great little story in the chapter, a prank that Double Dip played on Shooting Star. They were, are, best friends, and this is totally her.
Then everything went sideways.
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Somewhere along Earth orbit
“Did you hear?”
“About the prank that Double Dip pulled on the Old Lady.”
Red Squadron was flying CAP around Endeavour as the starship went about its patrol of the Inner System. While the Direwolves were ostensibly there to provide advance cover for the ship, in reality it was an excuse to get more flight time for the still-green pilots. Even though they were inexperienced, there was still plenty of time to gossip. When the Chief Pilot for all the Direwolves played a joke on your squadron commander it was pretty much guaranteed to be the topic of conversation. And when it brought that nearly godlike persona down a notch? No contest.
“No,” answered Digger. She was flying wing to Ian ‘Captain Obvious’ today, responsible for the forward quadrant along the Endeavour’s course. “What happened?”
“You know how the Old Lady takes the first CAP of the day, every day, right?”
“Right.” There were two divisions in Red Squadron, six fighters in each. Every pair took one four-hour CAP, and The Lieutenant always took the earliest. It was her way of showing that she wasn’t any more privileged than any of her pilots, a gesture they all appreciated.
“As soon as she got back in, like minutes, Jadwinski was calling her up into the bay office.” Ashley Jadwinski was the officer in charge of the small boat bay, assisted by one of the ships AI’s, Pollux. She was an Ensign, though scuttlebutt had her getting a promotion soon.
“So she goes charging out of her fighter and races into the office, because Jadz never calls anyone in unless the world’s on fire. In there, Jadz hands her a padd, and says, ‘Got a priority message from Double Dip.’”
“How do you know this?” asked Digger.
“Oh, Pollux had it relayed to every available screen in the wardroom. I think the only other person who missed out was Frak Me, and he was asleep after his CAP. I don’t know what your excuse was.”
“Ha ha. Funny man. Go on.”
“Well, she tabs it open, reads it, and starts swearing. I mean, she was using words I didn’t know existed!”
“What did it say?”
“I’m getting there! She throws the padd back at Jadz and runs to her quarters. Opens up a channel to Double Dip, and as soon as she’s connected she starts reading the riot act! I mean, I knew that the Old Lady had a temper, but I have never heard her that pissed!”
Still piloting on automatic, Digger said, “What happened next?”
“Double Dip is trying to speak, you could see her mouth moving, but The Lieutenant isn’t letting her get a word in. She keeps going on about how she’s not ready for command of all the Direwolves, and how dare she take a promotion, and what the hell was she supposed to do now?”
“The Old Lady’s leaving us?” There was a hint of horror in Digger’s voice.
“No, I’m not done yet. Finally, Double Dip is able to get through and she practically yells, ‘April Fool’s!’ And that’s when the cursing really started!”
Both pilots started laughing.
“That’s a classic,” agreed Digger between gasps.
“Yeah. If I was Double Dip, I’d be afraid of what the Old Lady will do to her.”
The AI in Digger’s Direwolf, who she called Serina, broke in. “Bogey detected at two light-seconds, bearing West 68, South 5. Designating Sierra One. Approximate length 300 meters.” Her AI had a faint upper-class English accent, which Digger found amusing. The target appeared on Digger’s scope.
“You got this, Ian?”
“I see it. Endeavour, Red Six. We’re tracking a new target, and it’s a big one. Probably origin is Artemis; we are treating as hostile.”
“We’ve got it,” commed back Lt. Leard, the Tactical officer. Encounters like these were her responsibility. “Adjust course to match.”
The Endeavour fed new directions to the fighters, and they peeled off smoothly. Their new course would bring them within ten thousand klicks of the target before they paralleled it, staying slightly aft to stay out of the aiming basket of the broadside weapons.
“What the hell is it? Another Copernicus?” asked Ian.
“Refining readings,” said his AI, named Giles. He could almost hear the AI working through the problem; at least, that was what its personality presented.
“Negative. Doesn’t match Copernicus specs.”
“Could it be a freighter?” said Digger.
“Not with that acceleration,” said her AI. “It’s pulling 8 g’s, which means military drives, but it’s higher than anything else we’ve encountered.”
“We’ve matched their speed,” said Ian. “Adjusting to intercept.”
Serina reported, “I’m detecting an increase of tachyon radiation from Sierra One.”
“Endeavour?” commed Digger.
“Working on it. Hang back. Tachyon radiation isn’t harmful as such, but let’s not take any chances,” replied Raynie.
Their target was moving pretty well, but the acceleration gap was huge. A Direwolf could hit 500 g, which gave them the maneuverability advantage over every other sublight ship in space.
Aboard the Endeavour, Raynie had pulled both Commander Zihal, the Science officer, and Castor the AI into the conversation. Tachyon radiation was uncommon, and she needed perspective.
“I’ve never seen a natural emitter,” said Zihal.
“There is no known natural emitter of tachyon radiation, Commander,” Castor added. “Certain high-energy events will produce it, and it is a byproduct of the creation of a warp field, but –”
“Warp field?” said Zihal. “Castor, do you have the records of Crozier’s debrief? Specifically where she talks about their new warp-capable ships? Could this be one of them?”
“Yes, Commander. I believe your supposition is correct. The specifications described by the former Minister match the readings Captain Obvious and Digger are reporting.”
“And if they’re emitting tachyon radiation, then they’re powering up their drive. Get them back aboard!”
Leard didn’t hesitate.
“Red Six, Red Seven, return to Endeavour. Repeat, break off and return to Endeavour.”
“Red Six, confirming, break off and return.”
Kiri, who had been listening along with her XO, turned to face her officers. “You want to explain, Raynie?”
“Captain, the only source of tachyon emissions is an active warp drive.”
“The ship is emitting, therefore it has a warp drive.”
“And we know it’s more heavily armed than other ships in the AN fleet; we want to keep our fighters away.”
“I understand. Nice work keeping our people safe.”
“Thank you. Captain, I want to bring our weapons online and shields to standby.”
“Sensible. Go ahead.”
A sense of purpose infused the bridge as the officers prepared the ship for battle. It was interrupted by, “Captain!”
“The target just jumped to warp!”
“Battle stations!” shouted Sanzari. “Bring up the shields, now! Engineering, I want warp power and I want it two minutes ago!”
“On it, Commander,” replied Ensign Cisneros from her station. “Thirty seconds to warp is available.”
Stewart was on the comm to Njord, informing them of the situation. “That’s right, Kyran, it went to warp. We’re going to try to track it, but I don’t know if we have a way to do that. Uncharted territory.”
“Damn,” they said. “We’ll work on it at this end. Out.”
In the background, Stewart could hear Whitmore barking orders before the transmission cut off.
“Why is this happening when the Admiral goes off on a mission?” muttered Stewart.
“Warp power ready,” reported Cisneros.
“Engage, warp one,” Sanzari ordered.
“What course, Commander?” Ensign Furber asked.
“Follow their last known heading, and try not to run into anything.”
“Number One. Why stay in warp?”
Sanzari shrugged. “A hunch. We haven’t had to track anything in warp before, but if we’re in warp as well, maybe we’ll have better luck.”
“Worth a try.”
“Captain, it’s working,” reported Leard a few moments later. “I’ve got them on the sensors.”
“Great work, Raynie! What’s their heading?”
“Looks like they’re going out-system, Captain. Warp two. Shall we follow?”
“Yes. Number One, make it so. I’ll inform Njord.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Furber, match their course, give us warp four until we’re ten seconds back, then match their speed.”
Kiri didn’t hear Furber’s reply as she entered her ready room. “Castor, give me a line to Njord.”
Whitmore’s voice came through. “Captain. We saw you went into warp.”
Kiri cut right to the point. “The Artemis warp ship is in service. We entered warp to track it. Currently it’s on course out-system at warp two and we’re adjusting course to follow. I know we’re leaving Njord uncovered, but…”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Kyran said, jumping into the conversation. “And we’re not helpless. We have Nymeria and the Wolves, plus they don’t know what teeth we have yet.”
“We’ll check in if it looks like we’re leaving the system. Endeavour, out.” The comm closed and Kiri returned to the bridge.
“Captain, we’re in pursuit,” reported Sanzari. “Staying ten seconds back.”
“Can they see us?”
“Best guess, no, Captain. We weren’t sure we could pick up anyone while in warp; it’s a fair bet they haven’t thought of it yet either.”
At warp two, both ships were covering thirty-two light seconds per second. For the Endeavour it was barely crawling, but they had no idea how experienced the Artemis crew was with warp drives. As it was, the other ship seemed content to maneuver around in the Outer System, far beyond the major planets, past the Kuiper Belt, but within the Oort Cloud.
The two Direwolves were forgotten.
“Whoa,” said Digger, as the Endeavour suddenly jumped to warp. “Look at that.”
“Oh, yeah, beautiful sight. Just what I always wanted to see, our base taking off across the skies.”
“Shut up, Captain Obvious. We have plenty of fuel and can make it back to Njord.”
“But will Njord be there when we arrive?”
The flight got very, very quiet.