Hello again – it’s been a while!
Sorry about that, but it’s been quite the adventure. You see, we just moved from Maine to Colorado!
I won’t go into the whys and wherefores, but simply give you the past two weeks.
On the 23rd, we bade farewell to our cats and dogs – five of each – as they were bundled into a transport for their drive across the country. We didn’t want to do it so early, but the packers couldn’t start until the animals were out, so away they went! They’d spend most of the next two weeks in a Pet Hotel.
Then the packers arrived on Friday the 25th and started turning our house inside-out and upside-down.
We had a weekend of ‘peace’, then the packers were back on Monday. By Tuesday, we were each down to a laptop, and the house was essentially packed. Wednesday, it was all loaded into trucks; meanwhile, my wife is dealing with last-minute snags and I’m trying to clean up.
Thursday we finished cleaning, loaded my car, put her car on a transport, disconnected the internet and left.
Friday, while she did the closing, I started driving West. (She flew out to Denver that afternoon so she’d be in Colorado in case of any last-second mishaps.) 694 miles later, I was in lovely Youngstown, OH.
Saturday saw me cross Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and enter Iowa in 725 miles; hello Des Moines!
Sunday was the rest of Iowa, Nebraska, and finally Colorado to Denver; only 664 miles. But no longer separated from my wife!
Monday was closing on the house here, which meant up and out of the hotel, drive to the closing, sign sign sign, then drive to the house. Another 218 miles, for a grand total of 2301 miles in just about 75 hours.
And then the movers arrived here on Wednesday. Unpack furiously Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and the first half of Saturday, until the animals arrived and we were finally all under one roof again!
Now we have a functional house, though no Internet yet (this is being written on a hotspot through my phone), and still have bunches of boxes, but at least I can get back to posting a few chapters!
In the meantime, don’t forget that you can get the audiobook version of Volume One – check out the sample! Click HERE or HERE or HERE for the link! But only click HERE if you want to go to my Author page (which you really really should anyways).
That’s enough about me – on to the story!
“Kendra, we’ve got to talk.”
“That sounds ominous,” said the blonde, turning from her screen. Summer was in full force, and she was taking advantage of the brilliant sunshine to sit outside their home. Her tall, redheaded wife stepped between her and the sun.
“Hey! You’re messing with my tan!”
“Kendra, I’m serious. We need to talk. About Enterprise.”
“So sit down and talk. It’s too nice to spend the whole day inside.”
Cass pulled a chair around so she could face Kendra.
“Have you decided?”
“Wow. Right for the jugular.”
“I know, I know. It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about it.”
Cass waited for Kendra to continue.
Heavy sigh. “I don’t think there’s any choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Not if we’re serious about the plan. Enterprisecould make the difference.”
“And it’s not like she won’t be able to fly rings around anything the Union has. Their scows are designed for flying through the black on nice, slow trajectories, planet-hopping, ferrying cargo around. Frankly, the only reason the UE has had a problem is because they ceded the whole space industry to the private sector. Now, that’s good for us, but not for them.”
“The UN did that.”
“UE, UN, whatever, the bureaucrats who can’t see that it’s raining soup and all they have to do is bring a bucket. They’re all worried about dividing the mud equally, and so we end up with a bunch of jumped-up colonists dropping tin cans on airplanes from LEO.”
“You’re going to go ahead with it?”
“Yeah.” Kendra sat up. “You really know how to ruin a perfectly good lazy day.”
“Lazy for you maybe, I’m up to my eyebrows in paperwork!”
“Like I said. Skills. Good thing you love me.”
That melted her. It always did. Cass held out her hand.
“Come on in. Let’s see what I can do to help you.”
“I thought you said you were up to your eyebrows in paperwork?” Kendra stretched and stood.
“I maybe exaggerated a little. Besides, when I have ever been able to resist you?”
“Well, there was that time senior year –” The banter continued into the office but stopped once they settled in.
“You retained a shuttlebay on the Enterprise.” The way Cass spoke, it was a statement, not a question.
“It made sense to keep it,” agreed Kendra. “Once the hull was in place, we needed ways to access the interior with bulky equipment and materials.”
“And how many shuttles will it hold? The new models, that is.”
“What a coincidence! And you just happen to have a half-dozen built.”
“And tested and certified. They’re good to go.”
“How long until Enterprise is ready?”
“It’s going to be a while yet. The primary hull is pressurized, all the fiddly bits are in place and operational. The bridge, AI network, sublight engines, inertial dampers and grav plates, all good to go. Except the AI; we haven’t awakened it yet. So far, we can get by on the auxiliary computer systems. We also haven’t installed any of the weapons systems, but to be fair, nobody was thinking about arming her until last year.”
“That’s farther along than I thought. But I suspect the other shoe is about to drop.”
“Yeah, the secondary hull is still open to vacuum. The skin is mostly in place, but we’re relying on internal airlocks to keep from venting atmo into the black. The drive is going to be boosted next week, and then we are going to have to seal the hull because there’s no way Val’s going to work in a suit.”
“And vacuum won’t harm the drive?”
“The component parts have been bagged and tagged in an inert atmo mix, so they’re not actually going to be exposed to vacuum, but no. They’re all rated to survive death pressure.”
“Well, we still need your transporters installed.”
“There a problem on HLC’s end?”
“No, just getting all of the redundant systems properly in place. We listened when you emphasized the importance of making it as failsafe as possible.”
This was a familiar topic, so Cass moved on. “You already mentioned weapons. What have you and Val cooked up?”
“There’s the phased particle emitters that we’ve installed on the shuttles.”
“You can’t really call them shuttles anymore.”
“Yeah, but they have to have a really amazing name, you know? And I haven’t come up with one yet.”
“Riiiight. Phased particle emitters. You’d scale them up, I assume?”
“Well, that’s an issue, according to Val. Yes, we can scale them up, but we get less bang for our buck instead of more.”
This intrigued Cass. “Oh?”
“Val can explain it better, but basically the amount of energy we spend to keep the particles properly phased increases geometrically.”
“Oh, so twice the destructive power needs four times the energy?”
“I knew you’d get it! Why haven’t you been more involved in this?”
“I plan to be. You’re going to need a science officer, right?”
“I want the job.”
“Do you want my resume? Or are you familiar with my body of work?”
“No, no, it’s not that. I know you’re qualified. It’s just, well, I don’t want anyone thinking that you get the position because of me.”
Cass’s eyes twinkled. “That’s really sweet of you, but I think I can stand on my own two feet. PhD from MIT, remember? Quantum teleportation?”
“Fair points. Okay. I’ll put you forward as science officer once we get to having an actual captain. But you dodged my original question. Why haven’t you been more involved?”
“Because one, it’s your dream project, not mine, and two, I already had a focus for my work. You didn’t, after handing OutLook over to Cris. You know, I always wondered something.”
“Back when we got married. You told Talbott that you were quitting, right?”
“Right, then she talked me into one more courier run.”
“And we both know what a shitshow that was. The point is, you were quitting. What were you planning to do next?”
Kendra sat in thought for several seconds.
“This is going to sound silly.”
“I did everything for ohana.”
Cass reached out and stroked Kendra’s cheek. “You still do.”
Kendra pressed Cass’s hand with hers. “True. I want there to be a world for our girls to grow up in; that’s the only reason I’ve gone along on this insane ride with Mya and Ted. If it was all about politics, they could go pound sand.”
“I know, sweetheart.”
Kendra cleared her throat and brushed at her eyes. “Awful dusty in here. Anyways, where was I?”
“Everything for ohana.”
“And that was the extent of my plan. All I knew is that I was ready to make you and Derek the center of my universe, and everything else would come out of that.” She stopped, started to speak, stopped again. Finally, she said, “And why did this come up now?”
“No particular reason, just a random squirrel thought.”
“I thought I was the only one with squirrels?”
“You may be rubbing off on me.”
“I should hope. We’ve been together eight years now.”
“So how much of an energy penalty are you looking at to scale up your emitters to a useful level?”
Kendra batted her eyelashes at Cass. “Oh, you say the most romantic things! The ones on the shuttles are rated at two thousand megajoules, which we figure is enough for close-in attacks but not for standing off. A hundred kliks or less.”
Cass was nodding. “Attenuation.”
“Why do I bother explaining science shit to you? You are the rocket scientist in the family, after all.”
“It amuses you?”
“More like it amuses you.”
“Maybe.” There was a definite twinkle in her eyes at that.
“Fine. Then you already know that the phase lock decreases with the square of the distance.”
“How many megajoules?”
“We actually thought about going for just over three gigajoules. That would deliver two hundred megajoules at up to five hundred kliks.”
“At a cost of over five hundred times the energy!”
“And that’s where it all falls apart, yeah.”
Cass sat in silent thought. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to say anything just yet, Kendra continued.
“We’re still going to install a number of emitter arrays around the ventral and dorsal sides of both hulls, but they’re going to be for close-in defense. Basically, we don’t want the Union throwing rocks at us.”
“Can’t beat lightspeed for defense,” agreed Cass. “Did you have any other thoughts?”
“Val had one, which is to mount a spinal laser longi – longitude – along the long axis of the lower hull. She figures that she can get a yield of two petajoules at two light-seconds, in tenth-second bursts, without a huge amount of fuss, but it’s going to take a serious rebuild.”
“And that only allows for a single dimension of attack.”
“And it only allows for a single dimension of attack, yeah. But talk about reaching out and touching someone! We could sit in spacedock and be in position to threaten Artemis City! That could end this little war real quick.”
“Or get us labeled as the greatest murderers since Stalin.” Kendra looked like she was about to protest, but Cass continued. “And don’t tell me you wouldn’t use it. If you build a weapon, you have to be prepared to use it. Otherwise, it’s an empty threat.”
“Which is why we’ve thought of another alternative. We talked to Mya about missiles, right?”
“Right, but those are going to be ridiculously short-ranged! A few hundred kliks, at most, before they burn out and go ballistic.”
“Yeah, but what if we give them just a little bit of a brain?”
“Oh, Kendra, have you been watching Termination again?”
“Terminator, and no. I’m talking about just a little kernel of an AI, just enough to be smarter about the flight.”
“You intrigue me strangely. Go on”
“The missiles for the fleet are going to be dumb, right? Select a target for them, set the tracking, and fire it off at max thrust and hope that it gets through whatever defenses the Union can cobble together.”
“I think we can double or triple the range of the missiles, plus make them harder to detect, with just a bit more intelligence.”
Cass made ‘go on’ motions with her hand.
“It’ll take some engineering, but Val assures me that no single part is that challenging. We have to allow for variable thrust on the engine, we have to set it up for multiple active/inactive phases, and we have to give the on-board processor some flexibility.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this.”
“If the processor is programmed for target A, and it’s fifteen hundred kliks away, then it’s up to the program to calculate how to use the fuel in order to reach the target. That’s going to mean low-power launches, and long coasting periods, but the upside is that during flight they’ll be holes in space while the thrusters are shut down.”
“That sounds promising!”
“Two problems. First, they’re not small and we won’t be able to store many. Enterprise is supposed to explore, not fight, dammit. The second problem is launching them, which is also about the design.”
“Didn’t you plan to have planetary probes?”
“Yes, but they’re basically pushed out the shuttlebay. Low tech solution, but this is our first attempt at a proper starship. We’re going to be happy to get her flying!”
“Then we’re back to emitters and maybe a spinal laser?”
“For now. Val already has ideas for the Mark Two.”
Cass paused, then said, “Maybe we’re going about this wrong.”
“Spacedock and Diana.” Dianawas the habitat they had been building at L5. “Maybe I’ve gotten some of your crazy. Are the shuttles still equipped with tractor beams?”
Kendra considered this. Tractor and pressor beams were an offshoot of the gravitonic research that had produced the grav plates. By focusing beams of positive or negative gravitons, a beam could either pull an object closer or push it away without incurring the wrath of Newton’s Third Law. The shuttles, since they had been intended as multifunction vehicles, had been equipped with the most powerful units their power plants could handle, allowing them to function as a sort of tug.
“Yes, there wasn’t any need to remove them.”
“What if we use them to push, or maybe pull, Spacedock out to L5?” Spacedock was in geosynchronous orbit over Houston, making it a relatively easy boost for HLC’s main campus. There were limited living quarters attached for the crew that was building Enterprise, but it was never intended as a long-term installation.
“I’d have to get someone with a bigger brain to figure out the details, but I can’t think why it wouldn’t work. Might be slow going, but that’s not a concern right now.”
“And we’ll have a hell of a time boosting all the way to L5.”
“That’s where the shuttles come in. HLC boosts to LEO, transfers cargo to the shuttles, the shuttles ferry it all out to Diana. And, as a bonus, we can plan on integrating Spacedock into Dianaand give us an inherent ship-building and -repair capacity.”
Kendra looked at Cass incredulously. “You just came up with this.”
“Right now. While we were talking.”
“I always knew I loved you for your brain.”
“Then you’re going to go nuts for this.”
“Mount the missiles on Diana. Use box cells like we’re going to install on the ships, and just fire them off the hull. We can even build integral magazines and launchers in the time we have; Diana’s plans have always had a great deal of flexibility for organic growth. Build more of your not-shuttles, and we can have some on patrol, some ferrying supplies, and still have enough in reserve to keep the Union honest until we’re ready.”
Kendra looked gobsmacked. “That’s astounding!”
“Just one other little detail.”
“I’m sure there are more. One for now.”
“We’re going to need to find a proper commander for this lash-up before we go too much further. I mean, you’re not planning to run everything, are you?”
“I certainly can’t command a starship!”
“Did I finally find something Ms. Super-Agent can’t do?”
“Let’s just say that it requires skills that I don’t possess and don’t have time to acquire.”
“What are we going to do about it, then? We need a commander for your Enterprise.”
“I think I have a candidate.”
Kendra was being piloted from the HLC campus to the soon-to-be-moved and still-expanding Spacedock. She was accompanied by the prime candidate for the captaincy of the Enterprise, Commander Jennifer Martinez, currently on very inactive duty with the Northern Imperium Navy. She had been contacted initially by Sanzari when that notable had been serving undercover in the NIN. OutLook had kept tabs on her career after Sanzari had left, carefully feeling her out for plans after NIN. When Martinez had been relieved of command for the sin of dressing down a junior officer who happened to be connected to the ruling Daley family, OutLook’s agents struck quickly.
Her loyalty to the Imperium was unshaken, but she was willing to consider the possibility of moving on from the Navy at an opportune moment. After that contact, she had spent the next fourteen months on the beach, shuffling from one make-work position to another, before Kendra’s search for experienced naval officers was passed off to Montana. Martinez was persuaded to take some of her accumulated leave to meet with a VIP at HLC, only to be hustled off to a waiting ship, strapped down, and launched into orbit with Kendra and a pilot.
“Hi,” said Kendra brightly from the seat across from her. “Bet you’re wondering what’s going on.”
“You might say that. Yes.”
Martinez was taller than Kendra, whipcord thin with a shock of short black hair resting above a strong face. Deep-set eyes stared intently at Kendra. She had traveled in civilian clothes, but it was obvious to anyone that she’d spent her whole life in uniform and was far more comfortable presenting that face to the world.
“Let’s start with introductions. You’re Commander Jennifer Allison Martinez, friends call you Jen or Alley. You were born in Mukwanago, in the Imperium, in 2082, third of five children and the oldest daughter. You were on the military track in secondary school, chose the navy for your service, and attended the NIN Academy, graduating tenth in a class of two hundred and eight, in 2103. You were sent to sub school in Chicago before being assigned to the NIS Waukeegan, an attack sub, as a navigator. You were promoted from Ensign JG to Ensign while on the Waukeegan, did a tour ashore at command school, and returned to sea in the NIS Aurora. There you received a promotion to Lieutenant and served as division head. You had another stint ashore, completing XO school, before rejoining the Aurorain that role. You served a year under Captain Andrews, during which time you were promoted to Lieutenant Commander, and two years under Captain Holmes. During Captain Holmes” tenure, you were promoted again, this time to Commander. When Holmes was reassigned, you were given command and held it for three years and a bit.”
“Three years, two months, eight days.” Martinez’s voice was cold at the memory.
Kendra nodded. “You ran afoul of the Daley family. How?”
“You seem to know everything about me. You tell me.”
“I’d like to hear it from you,” insisted Kendra.
Martinez grumbled, but answered. “Ensign (JG) Sprague was Engineer of the Watch. During that watch, there was a class three coolant leak, causing injury to two crew members. As the responsible officer, Ensign Sprague should have acknowledged the accident, noted the repairs taken and those still needed, and informed his superior by change of watch. Instead, he concealed the evidence, threatened both sailors and the corpsman to ensure their silence, and falsified his log. Unfortunately for him, he did not remember to wipe the recordings and was caught by the Chief Engineer next day. The Chief apprised me of the situation, and I determined it was serious enough to call a Captain’s Mast.”
“Captain’s Mast. A step below a formal court martial.”
“Big trouble. Go on.”
“Ensign Sprague’s defense was that it had never happened and even if it had it wasn’t his fault and he was being framed by persons unknown, but enemies of one sort or another. When confronted with the video evidence, he refused to change his story or admit fault. I had no choice but to report him to my superiors for dereliction of duty and recommend him for court martial.”
“I take it that didn’t happen.”
“No.” The monosyllable carried volumes, and it was evident to Kendra that she wouldn’t get any more out of Martinez on the subject, so she picked up the story.
“They took away your command and stuck you on the beach, counting mess kits.”
“More or less.”
“And that’s where we found you.”
“We – you’re with HLC?”
“You might say that. Sorry, my turn I guess.” Kendra turned on the smile that had wooed and wowed fans throughout her sensie career. “My name is Kendra Cassidy. My wife used to work for HLC, now she and I own it.”
“That’s it? You give me my life story, and all I get is eighteen words?”
Kendra’s mouth twitched in a not-quite-smile. “You counted the words? Never mind, not important. Okay, more details. Fair enough. I used to be in sensies under my birth name, Foster-Briggs. Well, not really my birth name, I had a host mother, but you know what I mean. I was a courier and sometime assassin for OutLook; don’t ask me about how you go from sensies to working undercover unless you really want the whole ugly story. I knew my wife when we were kids, then we drifted apart, and I ran into her more or less by accident and we got back together. Our wedding was, well, memorable doesn’t begin to describe it. I could probably write a book, though nobody would believe it. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t lived through it. But that’s when she and I inherited HLC and I stopped being an active agent.”
“So this is a family business?”
“Long story, Commander. It is, now, but it wasn’t then.”
“And why am I in some sort of aircraft?”
“Ah, now we come to the reason you’re here. What do you know – no, let’s not start there. This is the Galileo, the first of the Wolf-class Multifunction Orbital Vehicles. Does that sound good?”
Martinez allowed a hint of confusion to show. “I’ve never heard of, what did you call them? Multifunction Orbital Vehicles?”
“Think of it as a cross between an orbital craft, cargo transport, and tug. With teeth. This is the first of the six we’ve built; the others, well, their names aren’t important right now. We’re building more, too. The MOVs are capable of taking off from Earth, or another planet, entering interplanetary space, doing their job, and returning. The teeth are to prevent anyone from stopping them from doing their job. What do you think of the name?”
“Well, yes, but I was thinking more of Wolf.”
“Sounds vaguely ominous.”
“Good! That’s what I was hoping for.”
Martinez fixed her with a hard look. “You’ve avoided answering my question. Why am I here?”
“I want to recruit you.”
“In case you didn’t notice, I’m a Commander in the Imperium Navy. I have a position and responsibilities –”
“Counting mess kits while the worthless son of a tenuously-connected branch of a corrupt family gets away with endangering the lives of his crewmates? Sounds terribly rewarding.”
“I get it. Honor, duty, country. Commander, you’ve given them fifteen years of service, and they stripped away everything that made your time rewarding. If you’re very lucky, you might end up teaching midshipmen. If not, you’re going to be retired, and then where will you be? Don’t you at least want to hear what your options are?”
Martinez said nothing.
“Hey, Mia!” The pilot half-turned. “Have we crossed LEO yet?”
“About five minutes ago.”
“Can you give me full optics back here?”
“Yes.” Turning her attention back to Martinez, Kendra said, “I hope you’re not afraid of heights.”
“How high are we – oh, wow.”
The interior walls of the craft had seemingly gone transparent, exposing the occupants to the panoply of stars.
“Welcome to Earth orbit, Commander. We’re on our way to geosync, with an ETA of, how long, Mia?”
“We’ve cleared the junk belt, so we’re moving better. Eighteen minutes to approach, and then the usual folderol for docking.”
“Twenty-five, -six minutes then. You might want to look over your right shoulder,” added Kendra casually.
Martinez pivoted and sucked in her breath. Behind her, or maybe below her, was the Earth. She could see Texas, most of the New Confederacy, into Sonora, but what drew her was the sunlight on the Gulf. Fragile-looking wisps of clouds drifted over the cobalt-blue water, though Martinez knew they were weather systems that stretched hundreds of kilometers. No trace of the hand of man could be seen in the brightness of day. Minutes passed, with Martinez craning her neck to take in the views, Kendra watching her reactions.
When Martinez finally turned around, she saw Kendra smiling at her.
“We’re in space.”
“Passing a thousand kliks and gaining speed. We’re headed for geosync, at about thirty-six thousand kliks, and if we’re on our flight plan we’re pulling 10 gravities acceleration.”