The Thorn Inside: Excerpt 2

3 09 2013

Extraction point four was a city near the coast in the southern portion of the Quagnom continent. It was called Lutendric. Tep had never been there, but had heard it was a pleasant vacation destination. For them it meant safety. It was almost directly south of the space elevator and not far enough away from it to make Tep comfortable. It took the skip several moments to get to the proper position to begin a descent to the target. They were tense moments despite the fact that Tep’s display showed them to be undetectable.

They had been travelling at a third of a pico-light year per second in geostationary orbit when the gravity drive kicked in. The skip shuddered in response. Tep held fast to his control dias as it engaged, ready for the disorientation of the artificial gravity field kicking in. There had been two options when discussing the mission and he was grateful that deorbit would be accomplished with the gravity drive rather than the heat shield. While using artificial gravity would reduce the effectiveness of their stealth measures, they would still be less detectable than if they had relied on the heat shield and the atmosphere to brake their fall. Besides, Tep hated microgravity.

The one huge drawback to using artificial gravity for the descent was the lenght of time it took to get to the planet’s surface. With a normal heat shield descent, the atmosphere was used to brake their speed, trading heat for deceleration. It was going to take about three and a half eight-cubed minutes to make the descent, just about a day and a half. That was a long time to evade detection by the Dantu. Tep didn’t know how many war skips and orbital bombers had been docked at the station midway up the space elevator. The possibility of even one war skip was enough to make him nervous. The anti-skip satelites sure to be launching with the completion of their successful test strike should neutralize the threat of the orbital bombers, but were not as effective against the more agile war skips. But they had just proven that the Dantu were unable to detect them. Orbit was a big place, the odds of a war skip getting close enough to find them were very small.

Technically it was stil his shift to sleep, but Tep knew he wouldn’t be able to get much of that. He was compelled to watch the pattern. Thankfully Commander Fenryf did not dismiss him back to his bunk. He seemed to understand the heightened level of alertness his small team were riding on. Tep did admire the seasoned commander, though his standards were strict and unforgiving. He was highly principled and uncompromising with his values. That was more than could have been said of his own adoptive father. Oh, Camtep was harsh as well, but it seemed that everything he did was backed by some ulterior motive. He had realized from a young age that Camtep pushing him had helped him carve a niche for himself on Tau Ceti, but he always had a nagging suspicion that it had been done more for his adoptive father’s benefit than his own. Camtep had really wanted Tep to join the clandestine military and it turned out to be the best thing for him.

He enjoyed be a part of something that was inclusive, that didn’t involve the constant beratement of his civilian life growing up. Being the only human in his town made growing up difficult. Many eight-squared years of occupation and then a tenuous cease fire had nurtured a feeling of xenophobia and resentment toward off-world species. Tep didn’t know much of history, but he had learned that humans and Tau Cetians had at one time been very amiable to each other, so much so that a colony of humans had been allowed to settle on Concord in the Sadiran system. Of course, the Dantu had also been given settlers rights in the Sadiran system as well and they eventually took over the old Ascendancy empire. Humans had been lost in the shuffle as far as Tep had learned.

But Tep wanted nothing to do with his human heritage. He considered himself Tau Cetian and had decided long ago that he did not care one bit about Concord or Sadira or anything outside the system. He felt the same way his peers did about off-worlders, they weren’t wanted.

Tep was interupted from his thoughts with a shout from Poller. “Sir! I’ve detected a Dantu war skip closing on our position.”

“Proxy Tep, what does the pattern look like?”

“Pattern is stable, sir.” The odds are low . . . riiiiight, Tep thought to himself. The Dantu obviously had an idea where to start looking; that had the effect of making ‘orbit’ a much smaller place.

“Proxy Poller, what does their vector look like?”

Tep turned from his station to look at his commanding officer. The implication was clear: Fenryf did not trust that the algorithm was working. He turned back to his station feeling like he had been punched in the gut. It wasn’t that his competency was being called into question, he actually was starting to doubt the thing himself. Perhaps the tracking systems on war skips were different than transport skips and orbital bombers. Perhaps the Dantu had been able to use the data from their first failure to tune the war skips up. The latter worry was rather unlikely, the Dantu hadn’t the time.

“Sir, it does not appear to be on a direct intercept vector. It will pass eight-squared femtos to our port.”

Tep realized that he had been holding his breath and let it out slowly. It was just outside the range they had established moments before. He continued looking at the pattern, willing it to hold.

“Proxy Merked, prepare the motive torpedos. Fire when it approaches mid-range.”

“Aye, sir.”

It made sense to Tep for them to attempt to down the war skip. It was surely a secondary objective, but it was an important one to take advantage of if possible. War skips were a threat to the satelites Tau Ceti launched to detroy the orbital bombers. If the satelites failed in their purpose, the orbital bombers would decimate the planet and that would be the end of their resistance. The use of motive torpedos was also a smart move. Kinetic torpedos required a direct hit to be of any use, the motive torpedos exploded. Thus they were far more effective against the smaller, more maneuverable war skips.

“Firing,” Merked called out. They held their collective breath for what seemed like eternity before Merked spoke again. “Target destroyed!”

“Yes!” Tep yelled, drawing the attention of his skip mates. He felt his face warm as he realized the lack of decorum he had just displayed. None of the other soldiers paid any heed to his outburst and soon Merked took his shift to catch some sleep. He was followed six hours later by Poller and then Fenryf. When his turn came up again, he found he couldn’t sleep. He decided to keep his post. Being close to their objective on the ground did not allieviate their danger but increased it. In the hours they had been descending, the anti-skip satelites had been launched and their launch points had begun to take heavy bombardment from ground based Dantu bombers. With all that increased activity in the part of the atmosphere they were descending through, all that stood between their safety and their destruction was the algorithm. Their black matte painted skip would be very visible to the naked eye against the blue sky.

Luckily for them, their destination was not near any of the satelite launch points. Hopefully, the Dantu air power would be too busy carpet bombing known targets to patrol unknown targets. He would have to think about the fates of those being bombed later, Tep had enough on his mind looking over his own shoulder.

Night had fallen by the time they punched in the final coordinates at a skip park in the city of Lutendric. Although he could not feel the deceleration as the skip slowed from just under the speed of sound to city standard speed, the transition had a physical effect on him. He suddenly felt very tired. His limbs were weak and trembled slightly. It was not so much relief that he was alive, the risk of death was expected in his profession, it was more the release of tension caused by hours of constant alertness. He had just enough energy left to cross the road from the skip park to the hostel safehouse that had been set up for them. It was one of many spread across the planet, ready for different contingent landing points. Tep wasted no time falling onto the bed, welcoming the sleep of oblivion that awaited him.

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