The Thorn Inside: Excerpt 1

26 08 2013

Falling in slow motion. That was the feeling he had the first time he had ever felt the weightlessness of space. The lights went out in the small compartment in which he’d been placed. It was the last time he had ever seen his father.  It was the only memory he had of his father.

“Everything will be alright, Jeremy. Just stay right here, it’ll be fine,” his father said as he placed him into the small space and shut the door. He remembered nothing else about his father except for his eyes. Those eyes that had been filled with fear. Years later that was all he could consciously remember. He always hated him for that. It wasn’t the lie he hated, he had come to understand the lie, it was the fear that had been there. Fear was weakness and weakness got you killed. It got you killed like his father had been.

It had all seemed like a game until the familiar hum of the ship stopped.  That was the first time he felt true fear.  The lights and gravity had been off for what seemed like hours.  He was aware of himself falling asleep only to be awakened by the sudden reinstatement of gravity and finding himself in a heap on the deck of the compartment.

He was relieved that the whole thing was over.  It was still dark in the compartment until he groped around long enough to find the switch to activate the hatch. A harsh sliver of light filled the compartment and he found himself shielding his eyes from the glare. His first thought had been to find his father.  It was the strange voices that first clued him into the horror he was about to be thrust into.  He had never seen a Tau Cetian in person before that time. The being towered over him, its menacing looking quills covering its head and upper back. He wanted to turn away, but the face of the bare-chested alien drew him in.  At first glance it could easily have been mistaken for a human face, but though its face was as dark as his own, the small widely spaced eyes above the absence of a nose made it obvious to him that there was a difference between them.

The creature looked down at the name tag “Abasi” that was stitched into his jumpsuit. A look he would come to interpret as recognition flashed across its face and then it spoke in the standard tongue. “By Ichidas’ moons, there’s one still alive.”

It held its hand up to his face and he could see the short sharp quills on the back of it.  “And he is of the family Abasi.” Jeremy flinched when the alien brought his hand down quickly, tearing the name tag from his jumpsuit in one swipe. “That name spares your life, but it will do no more for you. From now on you are my son.”

Tep awoke and let the dream/memory slip back into the corner recesses of his mind. Dreams were always more vivid in the absent gravity of space. That was the one thing that gave Tep any trepidation about this mission. He was not concerned with the fact he was in a warskip in orbit around Tau Ceti. It was the low gravity. Most space flights were routine and with the artificial gravity, not much different than having your feet on the ground. But the nature of this mission required stealth, something impossible to achieve with gravity activated. It would be like a beacon letting every ship in the vicinity know you were there. And in the current state of the war, that was something to be avoided.

It took a few moments for Tep to realize what had woken him. The subtle chirp of the alert signal was sufficiently annoying to the Tau Cetian crew’s auditory senses, but Tep often as not didn’t notice it. He pulled himself out of his bunk and through the small opening into the corridor, smoothing his dreadlocks into a loose interpretation of Tau Cetian quills. He used the handholds along the passageway to propel himself toward the control module. He felt a surge of excitement. The boring part was over, it was time to kill some Dantu.

The control module was already full of both the on-duty soldiers and the ones like him who had been summoned by the alarm. None of the five Tau Cetians seemed to notice his entrance, but Tep knew they were aware of him.

“Proxy Poller, do you have an arrival solution on the Dantu vessel?”

“Yes, sir. Arrival in four… three… two… one”

The viewscreen showed the Dantu troop transport resolve into relativistic space halfway between their position and the lights of the space elevator station in the distance. Commander Fenryf spoke without turning to acknowledge Tep. “Is the algorithm stable, proxy Tep?”

Of course all of their lives depended on it being stable, but Tep decided to let the implication of incompetence pass. He took his station and pulled the waveform file open. If the waveforms matched within 5% of each other, their presence would be undetected. If the variance were more, their prey would know they were there and bring their considerably more powerful weapons to bear on them. Tep was pleased to see the patterns matching each other quite well. “Pattern stable, sir.”

Tep could see the quills on Fenryf’s head and back ripple with what had to be satisfaction. These new systems that allowed them to predict the arrival of a ship out of non-relativistic space and stay hidden while they did so represented a tremendous leap forward in terms of the technological deadlock between Tau Ceti and the Dantu. Formerly, the Dantu ships could come into the system at will, using their superior firepower to dissuade any resistance. Their ability to build up their forces on Tau Ceti without restraint was a major factor in the deteriorating chances Tau Ceti had of removing the Dantu from their system. Even Director Agler had doubts about their path forward. Until these breakthroughs, Tep was inclined to agree with him.

“Proxy Tep, how close can we get without being observed?”

“Well sir, we can only fool one sensor net at a time. We’ll be observable to the station when we enter their sensor range, but theoretically we can stay hidden from the transport at any range.”

Fenryf’s quills stood up a little. “Save the theory for the lab, Tep. Proxy Merked, get those kinetic weapons ready to fire as soon as we’re spotted. Move us in Tep.”

Tep’s left hand squeezed into a fist involuntarily as he punched the instructions into the computer with his right. The navigation would be controlled by his algorithm in order to fool the Dantu’s sensors as long as possible. “Yessir,” he said through gritted teeth. He hated it when the commander called him out in front of his peers.

“Let’s find out how close we can get.”

The interceptor, painted matte black in order to avoid visual contact, moved toward the transport keeping the same cross-section profile. Proxy Poller read off the distances, “5 eight squared femtos…4 eight squared femtos…3 eight squared femtos…2 eight squared femtos…eight squared femtos…”

“Sir, we are visible!” Tep yelled out. He had been watching the waveforms intently for the telltale variance spike.

“Fire!”

Merked flipped the switch and two large kinetic torpedos left the launchers. Tep dove the ship into a lower orbit and took evasive maneuvers as trained. He couldn’t see the torpedoes hit their target, but was confident that they did. It was Dantu protocol to send out a burst of anti-missile jamming when fired upon. In this case, even if they had detected the torpedoes in time, the nature of kinetic torpedoes made jamming them ineffectual. They had no navigational computers.

“Target destroyed,” Merked called out.

“How close did we get, proxy Poller?”

“Sir, we got within 40 femtos,” Poller answered, glancing briefly in Tep’s direction.

“Very good, proxy Tep.” Praise from commander Fenryf was rare and Tep took it when he could. “Let’s get this thing on the deck, slide us in at extraction point four.” Tep was already entering the coordinates. He knew that the Dantu response would be quick, despite the fact that they had been right at the edges of the station’s sensor net. He also expected Dantu retaliation against the populace to be quick as well, and brutal. He didn’t want to think about that just then. There would be enough to think about just getting to the surface.

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