Raising the Cerberus – Part 1

By Excalibur

It has been six months now since I was assigned to the TRI victory project. I was originally a member of the Solrain military at the time when new orders came in shipping me out to the classified Azura facility, where I was to be the captain of a new ship of some sort.

I had arrived at the facility after a two-day trip, changing transports left and right to cover up where my real destination was. Eventually, I was on the final transport en route to the facility. Looking out one of the transport’s view ports revealed that we had just passed the gate in Aman Hook and were heading deep into the sector. Three hours later finally heralded our arrival at the station. I could make out the captain of the transport asking for landing permission.

I got up out of my seat, grabbing my duffel bag, glad to finally get off a transport and on to a station after days of sitting idle, and approached the airlock. A shuddering noise could be heard and a final swoosh as the ship was pressurized to the facility’s atmosphere. The airlock door swung open, and to my surprise there was a small man waiting for me. He looked very old; his gray hair was slowly receding from his head, there was only a small patch on the top of his head. He was wearing a very worn old lab uniform with a belt containing quite a few number of devices on it. You could tell by the bags around his eyes and the weary look he gave that he was no doubt a scientist, a hard working one at that.

“Ah, Captain Elidric Gaelan I presume. I’m Dr. Umerider Aredrith, head scientist on the Victory project. Welcome to Azura.”

We shook hands; he had a strong firm grip.

“Thank you Doctor. I’m still a bit mystified by all this strange secrecy around this project and what exactly I’ll be doing here.”

He motioned for me to follow him down the corridor, out of the earshot of the captain of the transport. We walked slowly down the corridor, before the doctor spoke again. He sighed deeply, before continuing.

“I swear, I’ve told this story a hundred times before to all the personnel that have shipped in here. It gets a bit tiresome but I still enjoy showing off my little beauty to everyone I can. Basically, captain what your purpose will be here is testing the first capital ship that has been constructed since the Great Collapse. We have dubbed the new class the Victory. It employs the first jump core since the Collapse, based off the technology we received from the Quantar government from their discovery of the Rhi’Nan, as well some technology that the Amanath shared with us.

The exact specifications will be given to you in your briefing before the testing begins.”

I found that a bit much to take in as we continued down the corridor, I was silent for several moments before I spoke.

“Why did you choose me to test this new ship? I’m sure there are a hundred other captains just as qualified, if not more, who would fit the bill.”

The doctor rubbed his chin before continuing.

“Well, firstly your roots are Solrain and your strict discipline for profit will help you in the coming days as we begin testing, even though it has nothing to do with profit. Additionally, your record is spotless. You’ve been a fine pilot for the Solrain military, no problems with discipline or carrying out orders no matter how unorthodox they may be.” He glanced at me sideways with his a very disturbing smirk on his face. “And believe me, your going to be getting some pretty strange orders with the new vessel.”

“We couldn’t choose an Octavian captain because of their general warlike attitude, which would be counterproductive to the project. Likewise a Quantar would be equally unsuitable with their religious beliefs coming into conflict with some of the orders we might have to issue. Hyperial people are so bitter about the war with the Quantar that all they seem to be capable of is revenge on them, so we couldn’t risk having someone like that leading the testing.”

I didn’t like that look at all, what did he mean? I’ve seen some strange stuff in my time but I had a feeling that I was about to see a whole new dimension to strange around this place. I couldn’t argue with his choice of a Solrain, he was right about the factions.

“Why construct the facility here?” I asked.

“Aman Hook is the most remote location in all of known space. We could carry out the construction and testing here without worrying about any of the five factions getting wind of it. It had been fairly easy to get most of our materials shipped in here for the actual construction of the facility, as well as the new ship without attracting too much attention.”

That made sense of course. I still don’t understand how they’d manage to get the transport pilots to keep their mouths shut about the location but that was a question for another time. I’d gotten my fill of information for now, I needed to fully absorb it.

Eventually, we came to a metal door. My name was engraved on a plaque beside the door.

“Ah, here we are Elidric. You don’t mind if I call you that, do you?”

I chuckled, “Of course not. That’s what my friends call me.”

He smiled. “Well, of anyone on this facility is, I am your friend. I hope you will come to trust me in the coming days. Anyway, these will be your quarters while you are assigned here. I hope they are to your liking. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have several tests to oversee on the new core shortly. Make yourself at home. Oh, and your briefing is at 0600 tomorrow. You’ll find the briefing room straight down this hall, turn right at the first corridor, left at the next and first door on the right down that corridor.”

He quickly made his way further down the corridor and was out of view. I ran my fingers across the smooth, golden plaque on the wall. “Captain Elidric”, I said to myself. Yes, I’m going to like this indeed. I opened the door and entered my quarters. They were nice, certainly. There was a standard food shunting system that delivered my food from the mess hall at the appropriate times, a nice little bathroom (with a real water shower!) and a pretty comfy looking bed.

I quickly unpacked the few spare belongings I had brought with me. I looked at the time and it was quickly approaching 2200 hours. So I had quick shower and headed off to bed for the night. I didn’t want to be tired for the briefing tomorrow. I’m sure it will be twice as informative as my brief conversation with the doctor. I climbed into bed and tried to sleep.

I tried for awhile to sleep, rolling around and switching positions but I just couldn’t sleep. My mind was drifting back to Solrain Core, where Ania Terria was stationed. I missed her deeply. She was only a Lieutenant but she was a great woman and an even better love. I think things were really beginning to work out between us. Sure, we had our fights but we always made up. I was missing the sweet honey smell of her hair, the gentle touch she had, and the feeling of my own body up against hers. My bed was so cold it seemed. It wasn’t long after that till I finally drifted off into the oblivion of sleep. The rest of the night went uneventful.

I woke up to the sound of the computer alarm I had set before I went to bed.

“Good morning Captain, the time is 0500 hours, this is your desired wake up time…”

“Shut up, you damned machine. I know what time it bloody well is. Computer, end alarm!” I swore.

The computer system made a slight beep and clicked off. I quickly awakened, ate the grain derivative breakfast which wasn’t particularly tasty but it was food. I had a quick shower, and opened my closet to put on some clothes. To my surprise, my closet was filled with station uniforms. I pulled one out and looked at it. It was an aqua blue jumpsuit almost. It had my name on the upper right breast of it, with a captain’s insignia right below it. I quickly pulled it on, and headed out to the briefing room.

I arrived at the briefing room about ten minutes early. I pushed the entry key. A voice piped in.

“Enter.”

The door slide open and I stepped in. Doctor Aredrith was sitting at the head of a large, finely finished oak conference table. Three people were seated on his right and two others seated on his left.

“Have a seat, Captain.” Said the Doctor.

I nodded and quickly grabbed the seat on the uneven side of the group, sitting down. Comfy chairs too.

“Now Captain, let me introduce you to your bridge crew. To my left is Commander Talin Kuniel. She will be your second in command and Ensign Torin Goldman, who will be your navigation officer.”

Both nodded at me and smiled.

“To my right is third class Sergeant Bromav Woecan, he will be your weapons officer. Chief Engineer Ade Dalag, he will of course be your chief engineer on your ship and lastly, Lylian Rhoissa she will be your science and sensors officer.”

They too, nodded and smiled briefly.

The doctor continued on, “Now that everyone has been introduced let me get to the heart of the matter.” The doctor picked up a control and clicked a button; a large view screen on the wall behind him flared to life. It displayed an image of a ship; it was sleek like an oval but with a bank of engines at the rear and a number of turrets scattered among the hull as well as some missile banks it looked like. It almost looked like a shiny black egg really.

“This is your ship, ladies and gentleman. We’ve dubbed her the Cerberus. She is the first Victory class ship to roll out of the shipyard here.” Another click. This time a Pioneer class heavy transport was displayed alongside the Cerberus. “This is the ship in comparison to the largest transport available.” Massive, truly massive I thought to myself. “The Cerberus is a cruiser class vessel essentially, she measures 3,124 meters from bow to stern and 824 meters in width. She displaces around 35,000 tons, subject to change of course. She contains a crew of over 300 men and women. Pilots, engineers, scientists and turret gunners.”

More clicks highlighting key points on the ship. “She is armed with four forward firing banks, of Hitmen class cannons. Each bank contains eight Hitmen. On each side are two turrets, one toward the front of the ship and another the rear. They can both rotate on a 360- degree plane, and contain a bank of six Barrak class gattling cannons. On the top and the bottom of the ship, towards the stern of the ship are fighter launch bays. The top bay is the primary launch bay, while the lower one is the secondary launch bay. Each bay has the capacity to hold twenty-four fighters of the Valkyrie class; I will explain this fighter later. Again, on the top and the bottom of the ship towards the very center of the ship are popup countermeasures turret launchers, they have a full 360 degree motion as well and contain over one hundred and eighty countermeasures each, including some experimental smart decoys. It is important to note that while I refer to the fighter mounted weapons, the ones mounted on the Cerberus are considerably larger and are modified in various ways depending upon each weapon.

Finally, at the bow of the ship, underneath the very front is a large bank of missile launchers with a total of sixteen missile launchers in the bank. They can be configured to fire one type of missile or each launcher can be configured to launch a different type of missile, depending on what the mission requires. However, right now the standard configuration is for all launchers to be loaded with an enhanced version of the Lance torpedo which is faster, more maneuverable and contains a much higher payload at the expense of being somewhat larger. It carries a payload of two hundred and forty of them.”

The doctor poured himself a glass of water, and took a sip before continuing. Another click stripped off the exterior of the ship and displayed the internal schematics, with key points highlighted.

“Now the ship contains a bank of six engines of our own design, based partially on Amanathii technology. The specifics are beyond the scope of this briefing but at the moment they provide a maximum top speed of 315. Slow, yes but unfortunately a ship of this design is considerably hard to move but the emphasis is not on speed but on the weapons we can bring to bear.

Maneuvering is handled by a series of high powered, high efficiency thrusters scattered around the hull. The thrusters are actually just below the surface of the hull, only the exhaust ports are visible to the naked eye. This is to help minimize the signature to other ships. They are fed power directly from the main engines and extra power can be shunted to them in the case of an emergency.

The sensor systems are your standard suite of the most advanced available today on a larger scale. They are able to successful detect and identify targets at up to 125 kilometers away, they contain a special algorithm designed to detect some of the ECM systems in use today as well.

A huge reactor that is based off of the Instigator but used on a much larger scale powers the ship. It provides a pretty much-unlimited amount of power for our purposes at least, we have yet to have any power problems with it and we are still fine-tuning it yet. It is possible that we may run into some power situations in the days ahead.

Unfortunately, due to the high power drain of the other systems on the reactor we cannot support a shield system. So the Cerberus is outfitted with a rare and incredibly durable crystal steel outer hull as well as standard duranium inner hull plating and a honey coaxed durasteel internal structure, which makes it a very hard nut to crack, indeed.

The doctor smiles, and clicks again. The screen zoomed in to the center of the ship and displayed a large core of some sort. “This is the most important part of the ship here. It’s an experimental jump core. The first since the collapse, it allows a ship to jump independently from a jumpgate. It overcomes the limitation by throwing more power into the graviton field that focuses around a ship, allowing one to focus it over the entire ship. It requires a massive amount of energy to do so however. This was impossible previous to this because there simply nothing that had enough power to generate such a massive field. With the new reactor, it is theorectically possible to form a large enough field. The simulators have all showed success in this area. Your focus will be primarily on this aspect of the ship.”

The doctor was finished. He looked around at us. “That’s the whole rundown folks. Any comments or questions?”

Rhoissa piped in. “Doctor, why is the Amanathii helping us build a giant warship in their space, giving us technology to do so and even allowing us to test it here?”

The doctor’s expression went grim for a brief second before he responded, “I’m sorry, but that information is classified Lily. Not even I am privy to such information. I don’t know what their motives are here but I’m just glad they are helping us.”

“You mean there is actually people or machines on that planet?” she asked.

Again, the expression. “That information is classified as well.”

Lylian grumbled a bit before quieting down. The doctor gave her a stare that definitely helped out.

“Well, I believe that about concludes the briefing. Your first test will be in six hours. Report to docking bay 2A then.” The doctor got up and moved towards the door, turning around he grinned. “Oh, and the officers lounge is two levels down, take the elevator down just outside the corridor here. They serve drinks there as well.” Still smiling he left.

Silence fell over the crew when he left. Everyone is staring at everyone else in suspicion and curiosity. “Well, people I suggest we head down to the lounge, grab a drink and get to know each other a little shall we?” I said, breaking the ice.

“Is that an order, sir?” asked Woecan.

“No, sergeant but I’ll be damned if I get on that experimental ship without having a drink first.” I replied with a wry grin.

“Amen to that sir!” he said.

With the ice broken, we all headed down to the officer’s lounge. We found ourselves a large table and sat down. The place was pretty seedy, but then they all really. It’s a military installation, what can one expect? I thought to myself. A waitress approached to take our orders.

“I’ll have an Octavian beer please.” I said. “What do you guys want?” They all said they wanted the same but I figured they were feeling pretty uncomfortable I guess. The drinks arrived shortly thereafter. They all sipped their beers, and glanced at each other uncomfortably. It would appear that I would have to break the ice again.

“So, what faction do you all belong to then?” I queried.

“Solrain.” They all chimed in unison.

Well, this is great I thought. It does however, come in to synch with what Dr. Aredrith was talking about by not involving the other four factions because of their ways and beliefs interfering with or jeopardizing the project.

“Well, it appears that we all have something in common then.” I said chuckling.

The rest of the crew chuckled, albeit nervously.

After that, they seemed to start talking with each other and relax noticeably. I sat mostly quiet, until one of the crew asked me a question.

“Captain, where were you stationed before you came here?” asked Dalag.

Again the thoughts flooded back to me about Anna. Damn it, I thought to myself, why now? Why do I keep thinking about her? I quickly pushed it out of my mind and back to the conversation. I suddenly realized that I had been just staring at him for some time.

“Are you alright, Captain?”

“Erm. Sorry, Dalag. I was stationed on Solrain Core as part of a patrol group in the area.”

“Ah, so you were part of the military then.

“Yup, old fashioned all profit and no mercy military man.” I said, rolling my eyes.

They chuckled and went back to conversing among themselves. The hours seemed to pass quickly, while I sat there. Before I realized it, it was 0400. We had to head down to the hangar fast.

“Alright people, it’s just about time for us to get going. We need to head down to the hangar, so let’s get moving and hope we’re early.”

They all nodded, finished off their beers and got up to go. The waitress approached and handed me the bill. Each of them pulled out their credit chits to pay for their drinks.

“It’s alright. I can easily cover a few drinks for what I’m getting paid on this project. I’ll cover it.” I said, waving them off. I inserted my chit into the machine.

“Thank you sir, have a nice day.” The waitress said, as she took the machine back and headed off to serve the next table. It had become surprisingly full since we entered.

Eventually, we made our way down to hangar 2A and stumbled in. I glanced at Doctor Rhoissa on the way in. It looked like she wasn’t handling the drink so well. I chuckled quietly to myself.

“Ah, Captain. Nice of you to join us. Your ten minutes late.” Grumbled the doctor.

“My apologies Doctor, we kinda lost track of time getting to know each other in the Officer’s Lounge.”

“Yes, yes. I know how it can be.” He mused. “Anyway, welcome to hangar 1B. This is where the Cerberus is docked, as you can see.”

No longer in a hurry to just get here, I finally got a chance to look around. The hangar was full of engineers scrambling around and doing their jobs. Components lay in crates, some of them hanging out of them actually. A few unidentified fighters lay in the center of the bay, while two groups of men and woman around them. A quick look out of the huge glass windows showed an overview of the docking arms. A number of pioneers were docked with cargo haulers bringing in cargo from them. The real item of interest was the Cerberus docked to one of the arms. Maintenance bots were swarming over the hull doing their work.

It was simply magnificent to see her with my own eyes. It shined like a black opal against space. Massive as I had expected, it dwarfed the tiny little Pioneers docked beside it. Simply incredible, I thought to myself.

“Captain, there is one other item that I’ll show you before you board the ship.” He motioned for all of us to follow. We walked across the bay to the group of pilots surrounded around the unknown ship.

“Attention!” yelled a man and women in the group.

The men and women all scurried about until they were finally in two group formations.

“Captain, this here is Squadron Leader Caloth Baerin and Squadron Leader Lauth Zehan. They will be heading up the lead of Alpha and Beta squadrons, respectively on board the Cerberus.”

Each of them snapped off a crisp salute. I returned it.

“Is this the fighter that you talked about earlier?” I motioned to the fighter behind them.

“Ah, yes. Sorry about that Captain, I forgot to fill you in on the Valkyrie. That fighter behind you is TRI’s first home grown fighter class. Designed specifically for the Cerberus. As you may notice, it is an upgraded version of the Phoenix class fighter that the Octavian government produces. We, ah, shall we say, “borrowed” the technical specification of the Phoenix from the Octavian government’s record keeping facility.

Unlike the Phoenix, it houses two Dream class engines in it. This gives it a maneuverability unmatched by any other heavy fighter on the market. It houses dual Sport Plus reactors as well to power the extra engine and it’s unique weapon load-out. Its weapon load-out has been modified somewhat with the movement of two heavy gun ports mounted on the pylons near the front of the ship. In addition, it has four mounts of medium size under each wing in a pod configuration. The shield system is that of a Mortar, giving it unprecedented protection for a fighter of this class. The radar system and capacitor are that of a standard Phoenix. The addition of the extra engine was necessary to bring the ships cruising speed up to par to the standard Phoenix; otherwise it would have been ungodly slow. As it stands right now, it has a cruise speed of around 450. A bit faster then the standard Phoenix.

“Thank you gentlemen.” The doctor said to the two squadron leaders as he finished describing the ship to us. “Please get on board the Cerberus immediately.”

“Now, as for you and your crew Captain. I suggest you board the Cerberus at once.”

“Yes, sir” I replied.

The doctor quickly scurried out of the bay to another location, while I gathered the crew and walked up the docking arm to the airlock. A palm pad awaited me at the airlock. Figuring it should recognize me; I placed my hand on the pad. A green laser zipped up and down my hand.

“Identity confirmed. Gaelan, Elidric. Captain. Security clearance Iota. Access granted.” A voice stated.

The door quickly slid open. Hmm, I figured as much, thinking to myself. We made our way to the bridge. The corridors were much like the outside of the ship, black. Very black. Only the soft illumination of the ship lights showed us the way. Passing several other airlocks, the name plates were all gold with black lettering. Eventually, we came to the bridge. Another palmpad. This one, too, went without a problem. Finally on the bridge, we all took a moment to look around. It was black mostly; the stations were all black. The consoles looked pretty advanced compared to what I’d seen in my time. The large view screen was in the center of the room.

We quickly figured out whose station was who’s and got sat down. I didn’t need to do much figuring to know which was mine. I walked to the captain’s chair and sat down slowly. For a brief second, I felt as if I was the king of the known universe riding atop a powerful, unstoppable beast. It was nearly overwhelming. I calmed myself.

The doctor’s voice came in clearly. “Azura to Cerberus. Everything all to your satisfaction?”

I replied quickly. “Oh, yes. Quite impressive Doctor. Impressive indeed.”

“Good. Please do a system’s check, get undocked and we’ll begin today’s test.” He replied.

“Yes, sir!” I replied jubilantly. The whole thing was very overwhelming.

“Dalag, let’s get moving.”

“Yes, sir. External power disconnected…External oxygen feed disconnected…Docking clamps removed. Powering up main reactor now…main reactor is online and at 100%.”

“Excellent. Full power to engines. All ahead one third. Switch to rear view.” I commanded.

The engines flared to life, pink burn pluming out. Slowly the ship made it’s way out of the dock. We finally cleared it a few seconds later.

“All clear of the Azura station, sir.” Dalag announced.

“Good. Let’s see what this baby can do. All ahead full!” I said.

“Aye, aye sir.” He replied.

I could feel the ship shudder for an instant as all the power of the ship was shunted to the engines. We began moving faster and faster until we reached maximum cruise speed. Impressive.

“Not bad I stated. I guess this pig really can move.” I stated.

Again the Doctor’s voice came through the communications system. “Are you finished playing around Captain?”

I had forgotten completely about the doctor. I felt rather embarrassed. “Sorry Doctor, I was just testing the engines.” I quickly responded, with a good excuse.

“Well, I guess we can say the engine test was a success.” He chuckled. “However, today our primary focus will be the jump core. We have stationed a transport at the co-ordinates I am sending you in the sector. Jump there please so we can test the core and see if it needs any tweaking.”

“Yes, sir.” I replied. “Goldman, plot a course to those co-ordinates and feed them into the jump computers. Dalag, all power to the jump core.”

“Yes, sir.” They replied in unison.

“Power to the core is at maximum. We are ready for the jump anytime.” Dalag stated.

“Jump computers are set sir, ready to jump on your command.”

I hesitated for a second. Knowing that this could very well work or that we all might get our molecules spread all over the sector. “Engage jump systems.” I stated calmly.

You could almost feel the field extending around the ship. I suddenly felt queasy but it passed. There was a brilliant flash in the view screen. We had jumped.

“Is everyone all right?” Asked Rhoissa.

We all nodded.

“Status report.”

Goldman piped up. “Uh, sir. We have overshot the designated coordinates by about 60,000 kilometers. I’m picking up a…”

Suddenly, I could see a blue glow drifting into the view screen. A quick glance at my console revealed my suspicion. We were at the Aman Hook jumpgate. “Oh, shit…” I said, cutting off Torin.

We were stationed about 400 meters off of the gate and in plain view. This was very, very bad I thought to myself.

Dalag interrupted my thoughts, “Sir, I’m reading a 20% power loss across the board. I’ve begun powering the core again but it’s going to take a few minutes to get it to the point before we can jump again. I’ve taken the main engines offline, external communication systems are down.”

“We don’t have a few minutes, Dalag! We’re sitting right in middle of plain view.” I exclaimed.

“I’m detecting a ship emerging from the gate. It’s a Condor class transport.” Said with foreboding.

Oh, this is just wonderful. Things couldn’t get any worse, I thought to myself.

“Can we reach Azura from here?”

“Sorry sir, but we just don’t have the power for external communication systems right now. I’m feeding everything we got into getting the core back online.”

“I’m picked up a signal, from the Condor sir. It looks like they’ve scanned us.”

“Let me hear it.”

The voice of the pilot chimed in. “This is the Octavian transport Thunderhammer, to unidentified ship. Identify yourselves at once or will we open fire on your ship.”

What a joke. He was Octavian all right. Only an idiot would threaten an unknown ship and only the heir to the throne of the king of idiots, would threaten an unknown ship 1,000 times its size. If this situation were different, I’d almost laugh at it.

However, I know what I needed to do. I couldn’t reach the doctor for any orders but I can assume that he would not want any information about this ship to escape this sector. I would wrestle with the moral and ethics of it later.

“Woecan, I want that ship blown out of the stars.” I said grimly.

“Sir! That’s just a civilian ship!” He protested.

“I’m well aware of what it is. Now destroy it, Sergeant!” I roared, angry at my orders being questioned.

“Yes, sir.” He replied his voice edged with rage.

Seconds later, four torpedoes screamed out of their launchers toward the ship. The ship began weaving and swerving, trying to avoid the torpedoes but they homed in on their target with cold, persistence. A second later, a bright flash was visible. Then the transport was gone. It was obliterated by the massive amount of payload that hit it.

We all sat for a moment in silence for the pilot.

“Jump drive is online and ready sir”. Announced Dalag.

“Can you adjust the drive to compensate for the over jump and bring us to the original coordinates?” I asked Goldman quickly.

“Then get us the hell out of here before another ship comes through that damn gate!”

“Yes, sir. Initiating jump.”

Again, the wave of nausea. Space changed in the view screen. A flash and we had jumped. The transport was visible in the view screen now. I sighed, visibly relieved that we were once again out of the prying eyes of the public.

The doctor’s voice came through again. “Cerberus, please respond! I repeat, this is Azura facility to Cerberus, come in!” The doctor’s voice was quite upset.

“Give me some power to the communication system, Dalag.” I said.

“Aye, sir.” He replied.

“Cerberus here, Doctor.”

“What the hell happened Captain?” His voice still somewhat panicked.

“The core over jumped us and we ended up right on top of the Aman Hook jumpgate.”

“Oh, dear. Did you have any problems before you could jump again?”

“Yes, sir. A Condor transport detected us and scanned us. I destroyed it before it could escape the system.”

“I see. Well, I’ve sent a signal to the transport to dock with you and tune the core up. Return to Azura and dock when they’ve finished tuning the core.”

“Of course, Doctor.” I replied.

“Dalag, go and give them a hand tuning the core. Let’s not have another incident like the last.” I ordered.

“Yes, sir.” He replied, then got up from his station and left the bridge.

The rest of the crew sat there silently, looking at me out of the corner of their eyes. I could feel their penetrating gazes. I knew exactly what they were thinking about too. It made me very uneasy.

“I had to destroy that ship, if they had escaped the sector then this whole project would have become public knowledge before it was ready, don’t you understand that?” I blurted out. They all nodded grimly, their gaze falling to the deck “Yes, we killed a pilot in cold blood but it had to be done. Let’s just pray he wasn’t carrying any passengers.”

“You know…I vowed as a doctor to never harm anything but to heal when I could. I mean, it’s different when you have to but this? This was…so cold…” Her voice trailed off. She was visibly shaken. I felt a tinge of guilt well up inside me.

At that, they all looked up at me wide eyed, before again turning their view to the deck.

A good half an hour passed before Dalag returned to the bridge. “Their finished tweaking the core.” He said as he went past me to his station.

“Good. Let’s go home.”

The voyage home was uneventful. The jump was a complete success, we appeared about a kilometer or two outside the station, and docked without a hitch. Emerging from the docking arm, the doctor was waiting for us in the hangar.

“Welcome back.” He said.

“Thank you sir.” I replied

His face was somber. “I know none of you may not have liked doing what you had to do out there but it was necessary for the project. I’d like to thank you all personally for this. I cannot begin imagine how hard it was for all of you and how hard it may be in the coming days to live with yourselves but take heart. You did a good job out there today. Your dismissed.”

He motioned me aside when the rest of the crew left. “Captain, that was a good call out there today. You have nothing to feel guilty about, you knew it had to be done just as much as I did. I’ll talk to command and see if we can’t get you a nice medal for it.” He said, with a weak smile.

Is that the price of life these days? One stinking goddamn medal? I thought to myself. The bitterness swelled.

“Excuse me doctor.” I stated.

“Of course, the next test will be at 0700 tomorrow morning.”

I barely heard him as I walked off the deck. I made my way to the Officer’s Lounge and had a hard drink of whiskey. I sat there, glumly and looked around at the other patrons. They were all laughing and joking with their comrades from jokes only they could understand. I could tell them about a joke of an Octavian pilot threatening a ship many times larger then it but I don’t think it would be very funny right now. I finished my drink and headed off to my quarters.

On the way to my quarters, I ran into Rhoissa. She was marching down the corridor in quite a state, it was clear she was very depressed.

She noticed me and quickly came to attention, saluting me. “Good evening Captain.”

I waved it off. “You don’t have to be so formal off the ship, none of that saluting crap around me. Relax.” She managed a smile.

“I know what we did is still bothering you but you shouldn’t feel any guilt about it. It was my sole responsibility.”

“I know…I just can’t…I mean…” tears began to roll down her cheeks. I’d never noticed her before. Her beautiful long, fiery red hair still managed to shine in the dim lights of the corridor. The mesmerizing almond colored eyes, the fine skin.

I reached out my hand, and wiped a tear off her cheek that was rolling down her face. She looked up at me, then quickly threw her arms around me and began sobbing. I wrapped my arms around her. I reached up, and ran my hand through her hair, to get it out of her face. I could smell her fragrant, flowery perfume.

“It’s alright Lylian. Everything will be fine.” I said, soothingly.

It seemed like an eternity that we held each other before she stopped crying. I released her finally.

“Thank you Elidric.” She said, sniffling still.

I admired her for a few more moments before I replied.

“Try to get some rest before tomorrow, it will help a bit.” I responded.

She nodded, then began heading down the corridor but she turned around and smiled at me for a second. I did the same to her. She continued down the corridor, I watched her until she disappeared out of sight.

Maybe this place isn’t so bad after all, I thought.

I found my quarters, managed to get down the standard grain derivative supper that was tasting especially bad tonight and climbed off into bed. I welcomed sleep tonight. It came quickly to me. I slept through the whole night. I woke up this time, before the damnable alarm. I couldn’t remember if I dreamed or not.

I munched down the morning’s meal, pulled on a fresh uniform and took off toward the hangar. I arrived about five minutes early. Or so I thought. It appeared everyone else was five minutes early too. Doctor Aredrith was there, as was my crew and Lauth and Caloth as well. The crew looked rested from yesterday.

“Good morning everyone.” The doctor started. “Today, we will be testing the weapons systems of the Cerberus and the fighter launching and retrieving capabilities. Please board your respective crafts ladies and gentlemen and we can get started.”

The crew and I quickly got on board the Cerberus and powered it up.

“Alright, Goldman take us out. One third ahead.” I ordered.

We silently moved out of dock and into the open.

“Full ahead, let’s put some space between us and the facility.”

“Yes, sir.” Replied Goldman.

The engines fired up and soon we were about two and a half kilometers away.

“That’s good enough. All stop.”

“Aye, sir. Station keeping thrusters engaged.”

The doctor’s voice came in. “Ah, Captain. I believe we are ready to begin. Please deploy some fighters.”

“Yes, sir.” I replied.

“Open primary and secondary launch bays.”

“I’m on it, sir.” Replied Dalag. A few seconds later, “All bays are down and ready.”

“Good. Commander, launch all fighters.”

“Yes, sir!” He exclaimed.

Well, it was good to see them in better spirits today, I thought to myself.

Some time passed before the fighters were deployed.

“Alpha squadron out!” came over the communications system.

“Beta squadron online.” Came another.

“Good work gentlemen. The new shielding system in the launch bays seems to be working fine.” The doctor replied. “We’ve got a few minutes to kill her. Captain’s discretion on what you’d like to do to kill those minutes.” He replied with a laugh.

I chuckled. “Rhoissa, do we have any asteroids nearby?”

“Yes, sir. We have a common asteroid about two kilometers away.” She announced.

“Cerberus to fighter squadrons. There is an asteroid about two kilometers out. It’s really getting on my nerves, do something about it.” I mused.

“Yes, sir!” He replied, chuckling himself.

“Find that asteroid and magnify it. Let’s get a good look at what those babies can do.”

The view screen shifted, found the asteroid and zoomed to maximum on the asteroid. It seemed calm for a few minutes as the fighters took time to get to it. Then the fighters came into zoom. Each squadron was flying in a X formation. Nearly simultaneously, all fighters opened fire on the asteroid. Round after round after round pummeled the asteroid, breaking it into smaller chunks. The fighters weave and dodged around the asteroid engaging it at various ranges and testing different weapon combinations. Some of them were even dogfighting the broken off pieces.

I’m surprised they haven’t run into each other yet, I thought to myself.

All in all, it was a pretty impressive show of force and firepower not to mention fireworks.

“All right boys, you’ve had enough fun with that asteroid.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Azura to Cerberus, now that you’ve finished having your fun. Please bring in your fighters.” The doctor ordered.

“Yes, sir.” I replied, dryly. The whole thing was rather boring from a bridge perspective while the pilots were having all the fun.

I sat with my head on the arm of my chair, tapping the side of my head while I waited for the fighters to be reeled in.

“Excuse me sir, but we have an incident happening in the secondary bay.” Proclaimed Dalag.

“What’s the problem Dalag?” I asked.

“It seems one of the fighters is coming in to fast.”

“Give me a view of that bay.”

The view screen shifted and swirled till the docking bay was visible. That fighter is coming in way too fast, I thought to myself. We watched as the fighter just kept going, not slowing down. I could see the second shield inside the bay come up. Seconds later, the fighter slammed into the deck of the bay, sliding forward into the secondary shield with sparks flying. It hit the shield and exploded. I could barely see what was going on, but seconds later a fireball was visible and I realized it was coming from inside the bay and it was going fast to the outside, I felt a noticeably shake through the ship. The primary shielding of the bay flicked for a second and went off. The entire bay exploded white-hot plasma and flames. The last thing that could be seen was the emergency pressure door slamming shut.

I quickly punched into the bay channels. “What the hell is going on down there?” I roared.

The engineer responded a few seconds later, “Sir, the primary shielding didn’t absorb all of the explosion of the fighter that crashed into it. Some of it blew into the bay.” I could hear a crackling sound in the background. “Several of the other fighters in the bay are aflame, we got plasma fires all over the place. I’m not sure if we can contain it, bu..”

Another explosion rocked the ship.

“Damn it.” I muttered. “Dalag, scramble all fire and damage control teams to that bay, then go see if you can help them out.” Looking over at Lylian. “Rhoissa, go see if you can help out the wounded.” I met her gaze and sent her a look that said “Be careful.”

Both of them scrambled out of the bridge. The atmosphere quickly got tense. It seemed like an eternity passed before I heard anything from the bay.

“What the hell are they doing down there.” I growled.

Just then, Dalag signaled. “Captain, we have the fire under control and contained. We have a lot of casualties down here. Please get us back to the facility as quick as possible.”

“You heard the man, Goldman. Best speed back to Azura.” I ordered.

The ship came about quickly and we were back at Azura and docked in the space of minutes. We narrowly avoided colliding with one of the other docking arms but did get in safely.

I scrambled with the rest of the crew off the ship; Doctor Aredrith was at the entrance of the docking arm as was Dalag and Lylian. There were several doctors and nurses rushing wounded engineers and pilots on stretchers down the corridor to the medical facilities I presume. One of them passed me as I left the docking arm and stepped on to the deck of the hangar, I could smell the stink of burned flesh as he was wheeled past me, he was moaning in agony. The kind of moan that shook your humanity, it looked like he was burned everywhere his hair was gone. I turned away.

The doctor interrupted my thoughts. “Captain, I was monitoring the situation. You handled it well.” He raised his voice a bit so the rest of the crew would hear him. “The primary launch bay is going to be down for a few days. You are free to enjoy what limited entertainment facilities we have here until it’s repaired. I will send you orders when repairs are completed on it.” The doctor patted me on the back and left.

I walked over to where Dalag and Lylian were standing. Their faces were covered in black smoke and dust. They were staring at the line of black body bags that were on the deck. I sighed too, and began looking at them in despair. Is all this testing worth it? How many more people are going to perish in the completion of this ship? I thought to myself.

“How bad is it?” I asked them.

Dalag didn’t even look up. Lylian looked at me. “Bad. We have twenty confirmed dead with countless others having varying degrees of burns on most of their body…” Her voice trailed off and again, her vision went back to the bags.

I stayed silent for a moment, mourning the fallen men and woman. Then I looked at them both. “Why don’t you two go back to your quarters and get cleaned up? Relax for awhile. Get today out of your head.” I asked.

“With all due respect, Captain I will never get “today” out of my head. You had to really see a burning woman screaming at you for help, with every bone in your body wanting to but knowing you can do nothing to help her.” Dalag said, walking away.

Lylian said nothing but she lay her hand on my shoulder and smiled, before leaving for her quarters.

I stood there for awhile longer, and then I too made my way to my quarters. I had a long hot shower to relax, ate down my standard grain supper and relaxed for awhile. After watching some holovid, I decided to head to bed. I pulled off my uniform and climbed into bed. Two tests in a row, two disasters in a row. I sure as hell hope the next is better, I thought just before I dozed off.

… continues in Part 2

 

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