The HYPERION reaches NOVA Station with its mysterious cargo. But their routine mission ends abruptly when the space station is rocked by an assassination and a hostile armada moves in to attack. Can the HYPERION save NOVA Station? Meanwhile, Admiral Michalev finally discloses the truth about the Parlid retrieved from the Elnath System. His revelation will stun the Admiralty and the President. How will the most powerful woman in the Solar Union respond? This is the third Volume of Heliosphere 2265. The series is available in e-book (monthly) and print (bi-monthly) editions. It is written by Andreas Suchanek (Sternenfaust, Maddrax, Professor Zamorra) and produced with the support of Arndt Drechsler (cover) and Anja Dyck (interior illustrations).
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by Andreas Suchanek
Admiral Yuri Michalev added his signature to the final report of the day and pressed the "Send" icon on his pad. With his paperwork done, it was time for a drink, he felt. Stretching his stiff back and shoulders, the admiral stepped across to a sideboard crowned by a tray holding a variety of crystal decanters and flasks. Reaching for a flask filled with a golden yellow liquid, he poured himself a tumbler and returned to his desk. Michalev activated the massage function in his contour chair, before taking a nip of the 80-year-old vintage Wegan whiskey. Its peaty aroma flattered his palate, warming his throat and stomach.
When his reverie was broken by the signal tone of the desk intercom, Michalev was tempted to ignore it. He was tired and having difficulty focusing on his work. If his incompetent adjutant had come to deliver yet more bad news, he would throw the man from the nearest airlock himself. It was a course of action that he had often considered.
Michalev glanced at the display, and then stood abruptly in astonishment. A few drops of whiskey spilled onto his trousers. Ignoring his clumsiness – the smart fabric would repel the liquid – Yuri barked: "Come in!"
The door panels slid into the wall with ahissto reveal the disheveled form of Florian von Ardenne. The scientist had been assigned to Michalev's research project a few days ago and was tasked with driving the project forward.
"Please come in, Doctor", said Yuri, beckoning impatiently to the thickset and rather rotund man. "Please, take a seat."
"Thank you, Sir."
Von Ardenne took a seat across the desk from Michalev, lacing his fingers over his belly. As usual, his snow-white hair was a tousled mess, lending him the appearance of a dazed genius emerging from his lab.
"I hope you've got some good news", said Yuri. Instinctively, he pushed his whiskey tumbler aside. Drinking real alcohol was frowned upon in the fleet. The bars on most ships, he remembered, were stocked exclusively with a selection of foul-tasting vitamin-caffeine drinks. Florian von Ardenne was known to enjoy a tipple and occasionally knocked back a tumbler in the lab. Michalev was willing to turn a blind eye as long as the scientist delivered results. "Care for a drink?" He pointed at the tumbler.
The scientist hesitated and then shook his head. "No thank you, Sir. Although I could certainly do with one. I'm afraid I've got some bad news." He rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. "Building on Doctor Petrova's work, we've carried out a number of scans in the hope of identifying a way to sever the connection."
"And it can't be done", said Michalev tiredly.
"Not at present I'm afraid. I have no doubt that this problem can be solved, but we need more time."
"We don't have more time, Doctor." Yuri all but hurled his tumbler at the wall. Struggling to contain his fury, he threw back his head and downed the generous measure of amber liquid in a single gulp. "Your security clearance grants you access to all of the documents submitted to the Admiralty from this project. Read between the lines, Doctor."
"Do you think there will be a war?"
Michalev bellowed with laughter. "No! Andthatis the problem. There will be no war. Those useless farts in government will debate this to death. They'll hold some speeches and impose some sanctions, but they will never fire the first shot. Not under President Ione Kartess. She knows the score – she'd never do anything to risk her popularity ratings."
"But shouldn't we be grateful for that?"
Michalev liked von Ardenne. The man was arrogant and had an exaggerated opinion of himself, but he didn't kowtow and he wasn't afraid to speak his mind. "I thought as much until now. But now you're here to tell me that it will be months before a viable solution can be rolled out. We don't have months."
Instead of replying, Yuri activated his desk's integrated holo-projector. A swarm of pixels glided upwards from the surface of the desk, coalescing into an image that floated in mid-air. "This is a recording of an engagement involving the interlink cruiser HYPERION and a Parlid vessel in the Elnath System. The images were shot by one of the ship's exterior cameras." Yuri stopped the recording just as a barrage of torpedoes struck the Parlid vessel. "Thatis why we can't wait any longer. What do you think will happen when the public learns the truth?"
"The President will dispatch a fleet ..."
"… of diplomats - and what else could she do? Once the press gets involved, she will have no other choice. But as long as this information remains secret, the President could assemble a task force to attack the Parlids."
"I can't imagine that she would do that."
"No, presumably not." Yuri rose from his chair. "But I think the time has come to give our politicians a wake-up call."
"What about Skolberg? Shouldn't he know about ... Well ... You know what I'm referring to", said von Ardenne.
For once Yuri felt something akin to pity for his rival. Since he and Admiral Elias Skolberg had met, the two had been at loggerheads on the Admiralty Council and in the corridors of power. But this was different. Weeks ago, Yuri had promised Doctor Irina Petrova that this was one weapon he wouldn't use against Skolberg.
And if things worked out as he hoped, that wouldn't be necessary. But if things went awry, he had a contingency plan to fall back on. Either way, the moment of decision was upon him.
He activated the internal comms system and ordered his adjutant to convene an extraordinary session of the Council. "And invite the President to attend", he concluded.
Before Randall could voice his surprise, Yuri killed the line.
The doctor said his farewells and departed with a look of concern. Von Ardenne could sense the gathering storm.
Yuri paused a moment to gaze out of the porthole, then poured himself another tumbler of whiskey.Rien ne va plus ... The die is cast.
"Sir, Concluding interlink flight in thirty seconds", Lieutenant Peter Task reported in his typically lethargic manner from the navigation console.
Relaxing, Jayden leaned back in his contour chair and watched the holotank in the center of the command bridge. Moments later, the drive status icon on his console marked the ship's transition to Pike drive. Still traveling at 0.45 LS, the cruiser sped towards the system's inner planets, decelerating at a steady 3,700 m/s².
"Sir, establishing contact with FTL platforms", reported Lieutenant Kensington from the tracking console. "Our code has been accepted, phase comms established."
Ordinarily it would take hours for a signal from the ship to cover the more than 16 AU that separated the edge of the system from its inner core. To overcome this obstacle, a web of stationary FTL platforms covered the system, supplying both the station and any incoming Space Navy vessels with a data feed via phase comms.
"I'm switching to the camera feed from one of NOVA's surveillance satellites", said Kensington with a barely suppressed grin. Like her fellow crew members, she couldn't wait to catch a glimpse of the space station.
Together with the other officers, Jayden stared hard at the holotank as NOVA Station came in to view. He felt honored to be here – at the space station where the fleet had assembled its forces for the final battle of the First Parlid War. NOVA was the stuff of legends.
Constructed ninety years ago, the station was located in the border area where the territories of the Parlid, Narlian and Human cultures converged. Fearing a renewed outbreak of hostilities, Kartess's predecessors had made a fortress of the station, complete with its own shipyards. But the next war never happened and NOVA Station had become a remote outpost. A colony was established on the only habitable planet in the system, inhabited mainly by families and civilian contractors based at the station. The colonists were now in their third generation.
NOVA floated in space like an anthracite ovoid orbited by three rings. Multiple struts joined each of the rings to the main body of the station. A host of surveillance satellites, torpedo bunkers, FTL platforms and phase disruptors were deployed to repel attackers and monitor traffic. The blue and gray sphere of Alzir I – known to its inhabitants as 'Pearl' – was just 0.2 AU distant from NOVA.
"Sir, there is a signal from NOVA coming in now", Lieutenant Sarah McCall reported routinely, listening intently to her headset as she punched at several icons on her communications console. A young woman with brown wavy hair, McCall had lost much of her shyness over the past weeks, Cross observed. Slowly but surely, she was coming into her own. McCall might still look like a bird pushed far too early from the nest, but that would pass. "It's Commodore Harris."
Jayden nodded, signaling his willingness to speak with the senior officer. The silhouette of NOVA Station's commanding officer materialized inside the holotank.
"Captain Cross", Harris greeted him in a sonorous voice. The commodore's white hair was thinning, but his beard was full and silky. "It's not often that we can welcome a hero."
The commodore's reference to Jayden's heroic action near Tikara II, where he had saved the colony from a marauding swarm of Eriin Alliance vessels, left him momentarily speechless. Somehow he managed to regain his composure and ignore Commander Ishida's wry smile. "Thank you, Sir. We were delighted to learn that our orders would bring us here. NOVA is no ordinary space station."
"Quite right, Captain", Harris replied. "And I understand that you are carrying a very precious cargo. I will notify the Admiralty of your arrival at once. The Narlian vessel ... PI-RA something or other – I can never remember their names – has been delayed slightly."
Jayden cast a glance at the latest status report on the cruiser that they were escorting. The HYPERION had towed the SE-RA-TA-LA-MU to NOVA Station with its tractor beam, where it would be collected by a Narlian vessel. The SE-RA's hold contained the second section of the mysterious artifact that they had first encountered in the Elnath System.
"I would be delighted to receive you for dinner on board the station", said Harris, tearing Jayden away from his thoughts. "Your officers are welcome to visit the station or Pearl for that matter, of course. Most crews can't wait to see its sandy beaches after such a long time on board." He laughed loudly. "I can assure you, the golden shores of Pearl's southern hemisphere live up to their reputation."
"I'd be glad to accept your invitation, Commodore", said Jayden gratefully. "And I'm sure my crew will seize the opportunity to enjoy some fresh air dirtside."
"Good. I'll send someone to fetch you once the HYPERION has docked. Harris, out."
The commodore's image vanished and was replaced by the view of NOVA Station.
"Work out a rotation plan so that everyone on board gets at least a few hours on the ground", said Jayden to Commander Ishida. "We'll leave a skeleton crew on board to mind the ship." As his FO nodded, he added: "And make sure that you take some time off yourself." He winked at Ishida.
"Of course, Sir. I think I'll use the final watch to take a look at Pearl as well. Apparently there are some spectacular lagoons in the coastal regions."
"I'm sure there's something for everyone."
A blinking icon on Jayden's console notified him of an incoming signal from the station. It was a request from the station's 2IC for the HYPERION's tracking officer to be deployed to the station. "Lieutenant Kensington", Jayden called out to her. "Your presence is requested on the station – they are experiencing some difficulty with their tracking protocols and require your assistance."
"Of course, Sir" Kensington glanced up at him. "The station recently installed the new enhanced lenses and updated their computer cores. We had similar problems before the HYPERION was launched."
Jayden often forgot that his interlink cruiser was a pioneer in more respects than one. Now that the HYPERION had its first mission under its belt, the technologies that it had tested in the field would be rolled out across the fleet. Ship-to-ship communication was frequently hampered by the lack of holotanks. Some spacecraft were still equipped with old 3-D displays that required the central computer systems to generate the often mediocre holographic image.
"Sir, I'll ask Alpha 365 to make contact with the station's security branch", said his FO. "We should hand over Lieutenant Walker as quickly as possible."
She was careful to mask her feelings, but the events surrounding their recent engagement in the Kartas System had left her shaken. Since then, Jayden had paid the prisoner a visit in the brig. The man was intransigent and refused to admit that it was he who had hacked Ishida's command account and launched a torpedo. But the ship's first security officer and first engineer had presented Jayden with hard evidence and Walker was to face a military court. Whoever was calling the shots in this game of shadows was untouchable for now.
But when the HYPERION next set a course for Earth, Jayden planned to confront the man he believed to be behind all this: Admiral Yuri Michalev. His hatred of Ishida appeared to have taken on manic dimensions.
"Take care of it, Commander", he said. "The military court can deal with him. The sooner he's off my ship, the better."
Noriko glanced at her console. Their arrival at the dock was still a few hours away. "I'll be in my ready room."
When the bulkhead slid aside, Jayden felt as though he was stepping into another world.The transparent steel tunnel linking his vessel to the station was bathed in a soft light. Several ships were docked at the landing pods, among them the HYPERION.
"This station is quite something", said Jayden.
"You can say that again." Lieutenant Kensington strolled alongside him. "I checked out the technical specifications during our approach. NOVA has grown and evolved by the decade – it's almost like an organism. Because of its vulnerable location, the station's defenses are constantly under review and its armaments are still state-of-the-art today."
Kensington had done her homework. But then, Jayden wouldn't have expected anything less. After going it alone against two Parlid cruisers in Elnath System and winning the fight hands-down, Kensington had his undivided attention. She performed her duties with esprit, always had a smile on her face and had proved herself a both capable and quick-thinking officer.
"Oh!" Kensington's eyes narrowed to slits.
"Lieutenant?" Jayden followed her gaze to a slim, brown-haired man awaiting them at the next bulkhead. His insignia identified him as a commander. "Do you know him?"
"I'm afraid so, Sir." Kensington's lips were pressed tightly together and her face was emotionless.
The stranger noticed Jayden and stepped forward to greet them. "My name is Commander Zev Buckshaw, Captain. Commodore Harris has sent me to escort you to his quarters and take care of your Communications Officer." He gave Tess a curt nod. "Lieutenant."
"Sir", she replied, pursing her lips.
"Have you met before?" Jayden asked.
"Yes, Miss Kensington and I have had thepleasure", the commander replied.
"Let's skip the pleasantries and fleet protocols. Mister Buckshaw and I are not on good terms. We clashed several times on board the SANNING – I'm sure the details are in my personnel file."
Jayden remembered the dossier on his tracking officer. All of her previous commanding officers had lauded her performance. Except for one. The officer's appraisal had been so harsh that it might easily have sunk her career.
"But we're all adults here", added Kensington. "I can assure you, Sir; this will not impact negatively on our work."
"In order, Lieutenant. I'll take your word for it." He shot a glance at her, before motioning to the Buckshaw to lead the way. "Let's not keep the Commodore waiting."
Buckshaw led them through the station's busy corridors, taking them past groups of officers, shipyard technicians and civilians – the latter were obviously undertaking a tour of the station. Arriving at the commodore's quarters, Jayden couldn't help feeling uneasy as he watched Kensington depart with Buckshaw. He would have to speak with her once they were back on board the HYPERION. Until then, he just had to hope that the two didn't kill each other.
"I can't imagine how you managed to get yourself assigned to the HYPERION", said Commander Zev Buckshaw snidely once Captain Cross was out of earshot."Fleet standards have plummeted to greater depths than I thought possible."
Buckshaw didn't bother to lower his voice, and his comments drew looks of curiosity from several passing officers.
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