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Excerpt from 'As a Consequence'

Chapter One: The Egrenta


The destroyer HMS Egrenta, flashed through hyperspace at two to the tenth times light speed, and with just over five minutes to go before they reached their point of emergence into normal space, Captain George Caswell was feeling a little nervous. He had jumped into this area of space many times in his normal patrol sequence, and had never felt nervous before, but on this occasion for some reason, he did. He let his gaze drift over the rest of the bridge crew, and could see that they too could feel the tension building.


Lieutenant Commander Timothy Charles was gazing intently at the blank expanse of the holographic tactical display, as he paced up and down in front of it, waiting expectantly for it to burst into life as they emerged. Lieutenant Valerie Danton was tapping the perfectly manicured red finger nails of both hands, on her desk as she watched for anything unusual to appear at her com station. Lieutenant ‘homer’ Basil Aspel, so called because of his ability to know the way home from wherever he was, was sat at the Navigation Station idly pulling his hair. His job was done. He had got them here. Now it was up to them to let him get them back home again, or on to whatever new, god forsaken, chunk of emptiness that the Captain should desire them to go.


The only calm seemed to radiate from his XO, Commander Mitford Rayne. I have never seen him otherwise, Caswell reflected wryly, the man either has no fear whatsoever, or he has mastered the art of appearing as though he has none. Knowing the line of work they were in, Caswell felt that it was probably the latter. He looked once more at the Nav Station and Basil Aspel, and smiled as he remembered how much Basil hated space.


Basil hated it with a passion. So much so, that he almost became a nervous wreck every time he boarded a ship. Navigation was the only thing that he was any good at, and if not the space fleet, then what else could there be for him? But his world and his civilisation were at war, and anyone who had any sort of ability was called upon to do his, or her, part. He could not stand back and do nothing, so his desire to be useful overcame his fear, and he joined the fleet.


The Captain brought himself back to reality, realising that decision time was upon him. What should he do? Pretend as though all was well out here in space, or be a little cautious just in case. There was no reason why the Enemy should be here in this region. But what if they were and he was unprepared?


Stop daydreaming, he thought, you know what you are going to do, so get on with it.


“Pass control of three probes to the AI at the five second mark, Mr Rayne.”


“Aye sir,” acknowledged the XO.


The timing of the probes needed to be perfect, so that their analysis of the area of real space that they were emerging into could be burst transmitted to the following ship. The life of the probes was severely limited depending upon their distance from any possible enemy, and could possibly only be measured in milliseconds. So they had to analyse and get their findings to the Egrenta at her actual second of emergence, leaving only the briefest of moments for the tactical computers to act. It was elegantly simple for the A.I. bio processors that were controlling the whole thing, but it would have been completely impossible to do it without them.


“Bring fifteen missiles to launch readiness Mr Charles. Pass control to the tactical AI, and link to the probes.”


“Aye Sir, missiles to launch readiness, and AI standing by,”


The destroyer H.M.S Egrenta, emerged from hyperspace less than a second after the probes, her two hundred and fifty thousand tons flashing into existence, still travelling at almost light speed. The probes were only a hundred thousand kilometres behind of them in normal space, and for the briefest of moments they had gone undetected, so they had just enough time to do what they were designed to do and report back. As a consequence the fifteen smart missiles that the Egrenta launched, as she broke back into normal space, had all the targeting information that they needed.


The enemy was a mere five million kilometres away, and the Egrenta was decelerating at fifteen G at a ninety degree angle to them. The missiles, accelerating at seven hundred and fifty G, would only take sixteen seconds or so to cross the distance, having started at zero intercept velocity relative to the enemy. Captain George Caswell was a little further away than he would have liked, but given his decisions so far, there was just no time for him to act differently. He did have time to reflect on the fact that the enemy ship was twice the size of the Egrenta, and at that distance, it would take time for any missiles from it, to reach them. On the other hand, their speed was insufficient for an immediate transition back to hyperspace, so they were committed, whether they wanted to be or not.


His missiles had five hundred megaton proximity warheads, and were programmed to detonate within fifty kilometres of the target. Their smart bio processors started to spread the pattern, each moving away from the others, while still keeping a lock on their destination. Travelling at close to the speed of light, they would not arm until they were within one hundred thousand kilometres, and there was less than half a second to go.


“It seems you were right to be cautious sir,” remarked Commander Rayne.


Caswell said nothing. Their fate would be decided in the next few minutes. He was not quite sure that they could survive this, given the class of enemy ship that the tactical displays were saying it was. He didn’t need Charles to tell him, as the glaring crimson spot of a ship larger than the Egrenta, was clear enough for everyone to see. He had hoped that it would be green, signifying a ship at, or smaller than, their own tonnage, but unfortunately that was not the case.


The tactical AI, identified the enemy ship as a cruiser class, and further established it to be the RES Estentor, which was known to be under the command of a Commodore Rush. It was much more heavily armed than the Egrenta, and its defensive capability was greater. But its size made it a bigger target, and that together with the element of surprise, should have given Caswell a fighting chance.


Unfortunately for them Commodore Rush was no slouch. He had already initiated counter measures, and hundreds of defensive missiles had been deployed. They came away from the Estentor in a cloud of fire, and began to accelerate towards the incoming threat. It seemed certain, that they would intercept within the one hundred thousand kilometre range, at which point the attacking missiles would have started to arm.


Singly they were not large enough to trigger proximity fuses, and would need a direct hit to be effective, but in groups, within fifty Kilometres, they would be enough. Their bio processors began to seek out their targets, and adjust vectors for maximum effect. Within half a second, flashes of nuclear fire began to appear, which from the Egrenta, looked like nothing more than brilliant pinpricks of light.


“They have launched missiles sir,” came from Tactical,“Thirty incoming, at seven fifty G. Point defences are at launch readiness. Launching in, missiles away. All beam weapons are set for automatic fire.”


“Thank you Mr Charles. Bring fifteen missiles to launch readiness.”


“Aye sir, fifteen missiles to launch readiness,” Charles acknowledged.


Captain Caswell was thoughtful for a second and then turned towards his XO,


“I think he’s a bit too big for us to hang around, Mr Rayne. Go to full emergency thrust and transit as soon as we are able to.”


He waited anxiously as the ship’s speed started to increase. It was not possible to make the transition to hyperspace until they were approaching light speed, and all of the displays were showing that they were just not fast enough. The incoming missiles were overhauling them, at a slower rate it was true, but they were still getting closer.


Tactical reported that two of his own missiles had found their mark, exploding within the defensive envelope, and causing severe damage. The Estentor was turning away, and her still operating drive, was pushing her on at an ever increasing speed. He estimated, that it would take her about two minutes to reach transit velocity.


“Disengage Mr Charles, cancel the second wave.”


“Aye sir, standing down missiles and disengaging,” acknowledged Lieutenant Commander Charles.


Most of the incoming missiles were intercepted by the defence missile screen at a safe distance from the ship, and some of the others by the particle beam, and laser, cannon. Explosions began to rock the ship as targets were found and destroyed, but it was not enough and inevitably, one smart bio processor found a way through the torrent of destruction that obscured its view of the target. Then it was within fifty kilometres, and its proximity sensors sent a tiny signal to the warhead, and five hundred megatons of destructive power were unleashed in a blinding fury of light. The sound of the tremendous explosion was not heard in the vacuum of space, until the wave front impacted on the ship, and then it was if it had been struck by the hammer of God.


“Brace for impact,” was echoing through the ship, as the five hundred megaton warhead exploded less than fifty Kilometres away. It was futile of course, because if the crew were not already braced, then there was no time to do it now. The ships direction was changed so suddenly by the shockwave, that the inertia damping system had no chance at all. Unsecured crew were flung into whatever hard part of the ship that was in their line of travel, causing some fatalities, but many, many, more broken bones.




Midshipman Gale Harkness had taken her anti radiation shots, and scrambled into her protective body suit, which gave added protection to vital areas of the body, when the engagement first started. A note had to be put into her record that ‘Gale’ was indeed the correct spelling, after she put in a formal complaint about the number of times it was ‘corrected’ to Gail. Her mother had intended that she be called Gail, but unfortunately her father was not the best of spellers, and had entered the incorrect name when he registered her birth. Even as a young girl, she had liked it. It was different, and she liked different, particularly since it implied that she was strong, dangerous, and moved swiftly.


A midshipman in the Space Fleet of today bore little relationship to the historic use of the word, except that it closely resembled the use in the USA prior to 1912 when it was equivalent to Warrant Officer (


She was just being roasted by the Lieutenant, for showing up the ratings by arriving at her station first. She was tall and stunning, slim with, what some would describe as, a perfect figure, and her beauty still managed to shine through the permanent look, of stern resolve that her face always held. This contrasted vividly with the lieutenant, who was petite, but chubby, and was now looking up at her.


“It’s good to be good, but not good to rub it in, it upsets people,” she was told.


“Yes ma’am, but I heard general quarters, and when that happens, I am supposed to be here, so I was,” she said, indicating the aft sensor station,“In my opinion, if that upsets people, then they need to look to their own actions, and not criticise mine.”


“Don’t get lippy Harkness, you are not an officer yet,” said the Lieutenant, and then disappeared out of the massive hole, that had suddenly appeared, in the side of the ship.


Reflexively, Gale snapped her hand through a loop, that was fixed to the bulkhead for emergencies such as these, as she was lifted from her feet and slammed sideways. In truth, it was not her that had been moved sideways, but the ship, so it was the wall coming towards her, rather than her moving into the wall. She braced the muscles in her arm, as she was flipped up, brought to a sudden stop by the restraint, and dropped to the floor. It almost dislocated her shoulder and hurt like hell, but at least she had avoided serious injury.


It was fortunate that the extent of the damage, had stopped just short of where she was standing, and as soon as she had seen the Lieutenant disappear, she had exhaled sharply to protect her lungs, and was now holding her breath on empty. It is not possible to hold this for long, she could already feel the icy touch of vacuum, and the capillaries in her face, and hands, were starting to rupture. Her body suit was designed, not only for radiation protection, but also as a rudimentary pressure suit, and was serving to hold her body together.


She turned back down the corridor, away from the remains of the aft sensors, and fought against the air, that was howling out of the ship. It was probably this rush of air that was staving off the full effects of exposure, but it would not last for long, and she had to work fast. Using the bulkhead loops, she forced her way past the first of the emergency bulkheads that had not operated for some reason, and opened the small hatch that contained the handle for the manual control. She ripped the handle from its mounting, and engaging its end into the socket, began to crank the door shut. Agonisingly slowly, the door inched its way across the gap. Then it was closed, and the sound of escaping air died. She dropped to a sitting position on the floor, and took in a mighty breath.


She still had to work swiftly, so she hauled herself to her feet, and went to the next bulkhead. Thanking providence that the designers had seen fit to place manual controls on both sides of the doors, she closed it, placing herself in an airlock between the ship, and the vacuum of space. Her eyesight was becoming blurred, from the rupturing capillaries, as she opened the nearest vacuum suit store in the corridor, and took out the helmet with its attached oxygen tank. They were designed for emergencies, and automatically sealed to her body suit as she put it on. Next came the gloves, then she turned back to open the bulkhead towards vacuum.


Taking three helmets, which were all she could carry, she hurried into the damaged area of the ship, estimating, that in the microsecond of the explosion, probably ten percent of the ship had been opened to space. In the next few seconds she found several bodies, two of which were still alive, though how, she had no idea, clamped a helmet over the head of each, and then in turn dragged them back to her improvised airlock.


A quick search found no more survivors, so she returned, cranked the door shut once more, then moved to the next, and opened it to allow the area to fill with air. She took off her own helmet, before helping the two survivors, and then touched the call pad on the nearest com unit. To the voice at the other end, she became totally professional.


“This is midshipman Harkness from aft sensors. About ten percent of the Starboard side of the ship has been opened to space. The automatic bulkheads have failed, but I have manually closed the ones that I can get at. There are three survivors here, needing urgent medical assistance. Harkness out.”


Then the enormity of what had happened hit her, her knees gave way and with a ragged sigh she folded up, and collapsed to the floor.



The XO turned to Captain Caswell, and his face was grim,

“We have no warp capability at all sir. The warp generators seem to have been left somewhere back there, having been in the large chunk of ship that we lost. We can’t maintain light speed, but we can certainly limp along at half of that.”

“Very well Commander. Bring us to half light, or as close as you can get to it, and set course for home.”

Lieutenant Valerie Danton at Communications had come to her feet, and was waiting for the Captain to finish speaking to Commander Rayne,

“Captain,” she said, and repeated the information that Midshipman Harkness had given her.

“I have despatched the medical team, and informed Damage Control.”

“Very good Lieutenant, set up an auto distress call, with an update on our position every ten seconds. Give our speed, heading, and as much detail of the damage as you can.”

“Aye sir,” she said, and returned to her station.

“Now,” said Captain Caswell, “all we have to do is wait to be rescued, otherwise it’s a little one hundred and four year trip before we get back home.”

“Ever the optimist aren’t you sir. But I have to point out that the engines are groaning already, I don’t have much hope of them lasting that long,” said Commander Rayne grimly.

“I have to be, to counter all of these pessimists that I keep meeting,” returned Caswell, and the ghost of a smile touched his lips,

“However, if I were really an optimist, I would have to believe that Damage Control could actually do something about the damage.”

“Damage Control report that they have sealed the affected area off from the rest of the ship, and fifty six bodies have been recovered. There were three survivors,” reported Lieutenant Danton. “They also report that all starboard missile tubes are gone, together with the warp generators, and we have a rather big hole in the side. They commented that no amount of seal foam will fix this one.”

She paused, and inclined her head to receive another message directed into her ear, then continued,

“The medical team report that three have been taken to sick bay. Midshipman Gale Harkness, and two others. Apparently she saved them, in vacuum, in only a helmet and body suit, and cranked a bulkhead shut, which I believe may have saved the rest of us.”

“Thanks Lieutenant. Harkness? No I don’t recall the name. Wait, is that the stern but very pretty looking Midshipman on aft sensors. Her Lieutenant is always complaining that she is too efficient for her own good. Well good for her, it seems to have paid off,” the Captain paused, then added, “Let me know when she can be visited.”

“Aye sir,”

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