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T S Paul
Table of Contents
Author - T.S. Paul
Copyright © T.S. Paul, All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction of any kind is strictly prohibited unless written permission granted by the editor of the anthology and the individual author.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover designed by Heather Hamilton-Senter
Re-Editing by Diane Velasquez, Dorene Johnson, and Kat Lind
Special thanks to my wife Heather who keeps me grounded and to Merlin the Cat, we are his minions.
Fifteen years ago...
“All hands to Battle Stations! This is not a drill!”
“All hands to Battle Stations! Seal all compartments!”
I’d started today’s rotation in the engine room only moments before, and could not suppress a sharp spike of adrenaline at the announcement. Especially as a newly minted ensign who’d only left the Academy a month ago, and who’d not conducted many of the aforementioned drills.
Damn it, this was supposed to be an easy mission!
The Tesla was a support and engineering frigate. Our mission in the Diablo sector was to build a fleet listening and resupply post for Navy intelligence.
The base was a hollowed out asteroid. It blended in perfectly with the others floating around in the nebula. This sector was seldom visited by most fleets, due to the dangers of explosive gasses and big random floating rocks.
Every day was a learning experience. To help senior engineers build a space station was a bonus. My dream job was to be one of those full-fledged chief engineers some day.
My ship’s squadron was a part of the PPL or the Pan-Pacific League. When humanity left Earth, it colonized the galaxy in successive waves. Like with everything else we as humans do, we brought a little of home with us. We brought our history, our culture, our politics, and our hatreds. Colonies formed around ethnic or cultural lines like on Earth.
It wasn’t long before the search for natural resources brought nations into conflict. War and famine. Right versus might, us versus them, or something like that. Like Old Earth’s last big war two hundred years ago, this new war was all-encompassing. Sides were chosen and alliances formed. Two forces came into being: the Pan-Pacific League and Anglican Alliance.
The enemy was not supposed to even be in this part of space.
“Ensign Lee what in five hells are you doing in Engineering!” Chief Engineer Henry was screaming at me.
“Chief, you told me to meet you here this morning.” Chief Henry was red-faced and frantically working his control board.
“Why didn’t you go to CIC with the other ensigns? It’s too dangerous here for you. Get to safety!” The ship shuddered and shook. It sounded like a full-blown attack now.
The Chief looked around and pointed at me. “Get in the fusion controller room! Try not to touch any of the controls.”
The fusion controller room, located between the two engines, is the safest location on the ship. Its armored walls had been engineered three times thicker in anticipation of possible shipboard damage. Protecting the engine controls in battle was paramount to winning the fight. Without the armor, radiation from the engines would degrade the circuits causing irreparable harm.
“Just what I need. My first real battle and I’m stuck in a closet!”
I locked myself in and looked around. The room was small. The system console surrounded by cable runs sat in the center. A profusion of blinking lights blanketed the surface. I sat down at a workstation and tried to get comfortable. It angered me that my supervisor did not appreciate my repair skills enough to let me help. I was missing all the action stuck in here!
The ship was shuddering and jerking a lot now. What sounded like explosions were thumping on the hull of the ship.
One of the main reasons this region of space was so empty, was the composition of the nebula. Extremely high levels of hydrogen mixed with other volatile gasses drifted in enormous clouds. Errant asteroids and other debris floated in random patterns through the clouds. Add a spark, a touch of oxygen and BOOM!
This was not a healthy place for colonists. Much less for a mining operation. But, for a hidden spy ship base and resupply point, it was worth the risk building it here. Engineers would just need to be extra careful during construction.
The ship rumbled, trembled, and jerked sideways suddenly. I was thrown to the floor. I struggled to both stand up and open the hatch to see what had happened.
ABANDON SHIP! ABANDON SHIP! ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP!
“Get to the life pods, get to the life pods! Abandon ship!”
For some reason, the hatch was sealed and would not open. I heard a loud explosion, loud enough to be heard through the thick walls of the control room. It was as if we had been thrown like a child’s toy. I crashed into the wall and remember hitting the floor, then nothing.
I awoke with a screaming headache. My head felt like tiny soldiers were marching double-time with spikes on their boots. I was pretty sure I might have a slight concussion. My link showed I had been unconscious for over 30 hours.
“I guess the battle is over. Everything seems to be quiet out there.”
Talking to yourself is a sure sign of insanity. The last order I heard was to abandon ship. I was still alive so the ship must have survived mostly intact. I checked the door controls and noticed the sensor readings showed vacuum on the other side. That was the reason the door wouldn’t open before.
I checked and double checked my skin suit and sealed my helmet. Engineers are never without a toolkit. I used it to open the door control panel, override the safety protocols, and manually activate the controls. I released the atmosphere in the room and lowered the pressure. When the pressure equalized, the door opened. I stood in the doorway in shock. Engineering was open to space! Debris and bodies floated everywhere. A colossal hole was now where the port engine used to be.
The engine room control consoles showed red lights and alarm codes were flashing everywhere. Red lights cast morbid shadows around the room. For the moment the ship still had battery power. Life support was at a bare minimum, and I still had some gravity. Lacking proper deck shoes, I floated just a little. I needed to get off this ship before gravity failed altogether.
I carefully navigated around the debris and out of Engineering. The rest of the ship was not much better. Every life-pod cradle I came to was empty. All the pods had launched as ordered. I needed answers, and I hoped I might find them on the bridge.
The bridge security door was still open. Thank the gods for that! I wasn’t a bridge officer and didn’t have any authorization to be on this deck. Hell, I was barely an engineer. This was my first assignment out of the Academy.
I entered the bridge and was greeted by faintly wailing alarms and more flashing red lights. As an officer, I was familiar with the bridge equipment, but training was to take place during a scheduled rotation. Like that was going to happen now. It took some time to find the shut-off switch for the all the alarms. I did locate the ship’s status controls. Main power was out. The ship’s helm was unresponsive. It was missing an engine, it should be. All the active systems were operating on battery power. Life support was now completely gone. Gravity would soon be next. The communication system was a total loss, enemy fire destroyed the relays and fried the control panel. It seemed all the crew had followed orders and abandoned ship.
I had been forgotten about.
What I needed was information. Was there a rescue mission coming?
I checked fleet status on the navigation board. I had to hunt-and-peck to find the proper computer controls, but I managed to find the ship’s log. Navy orders required our ships automatically update the log with or without the captain present. I found the answers I had been looking for, and they weren’t in my favor.
The computer records showed an AA battle fleet had dropped out of hyperspace right on top of us. Whether it was an accident or by design, the effect had been devastating to our ships. Our small fleet of engineering and support vessels had put up a terrible fight. Ships like the Tesla played more of a support role than a front line battle force. We were armed, but not enough. The gunships that made up our defense force were older destroyers close to retirement. They didn’t stand a chance against the modern enemy battle fleet.