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Excerpt from 'Taldi'na'

Chapter One

It had been almost six months since the destruction of the Dez-let, and the Flagship of the Fleet, the ‘Argos’, under the command of Captain Bernice O’Reilly transited out of hyperspace exactly where Navcon said it would.

“Well done, everyone,” said the Captain, hugely satisfied with the bridge crew. It was the first time that a ship of this size had ventured so far from Fleet for many years, and everyone had performed admirably “we can relax a bit now until we pick up the Admiral.”

Rear Admiral Gale Harkness, whose ship Bernice was commanding, had been visiting her mother on ‘Faraway’ when she had been notified that two colonies had gone silent. As Faraway was on the way to those colonies, she had asked that the Argos pick her up here to save time.

Faraway was only a small outpost of humanity, and was situated in the Circinus Galaxy. Someone had wanted to call it, ‘Jesus, this is a long way away’, but for obvious reasons this was turned down. The compromise turned out to be ‘Faraway’.

Gale had responded to a social call from her mother, Professor Alicia Harkness, who was the only one of her parents still alive, and who she hadn’t actually seen for months. Having plenty of leave available, Gale had agreed to come and spend a couple of weeks with her mother with the intention of giving her a little light relief from her current troubles. A terra- forming expert, Alicia Harkness was tweaking the climate of Faraway in the hope of preventing some rather nasty electrical storms, but with not a lot of success so far.

Gale got a kick out of her name being spelt G-a-l-e, rather than the more common Gail, even though it had actually been a mistake on her father’s part when he had registered the birth.

“Move us into high orbit Number One, we don’t want to block out the sun,” ordered Captain O’Reilly.

“High orbit it is Captain,” acknowledged her XO, Commander Patricia Phelps, who had made her dislike of being called ‘Pat’ very obvious almost as soon as she had first boarded the ship, “but I don’t think we are quite that big.”

It had taken Bernice a number of days to get the person she wanted as XO, and even then she would have failed had it not been for the intervention of Gale. Up until Gale had intervened, the Fleet Admiral had steadfastly refused to release Patricia, but after Gale had approached him, he had reluctantly agreed. Lieutenant Commander Patricia Phelps was overjoyed at being relieved of her duties as Flag Lieutenant to the Fleet Admiral, and delightedly accepted the post immediately it was offered.

“Maybe not, Patricia, but they are more used to Frigates. Navcon, let them know we’re here.”

“Will do Captain,” said Lieutenant Natalie Saltis, who’s main job was that of the Admiral’s Flag Lieutenant, but as it was not really a full time job, she doubled up on Navigation and Communications Control, ably assisted by Able Seaman Bill Spence, “But I think you are right, we’re so damn big, they must be able to see us from the ground, without using any instruments.”

The Argos was an old battleship weighing in at almost two million tons, though she had undergone major refits to install modern communications, tactical systems, and a state of the art hyper-drive. Very little money had been spared in the crew's quarters, and alone of all the ships in the fleet she had a conference room, plus extensive recreational and dining facilities, and two cafe’s. Even that did not take up a significant part of the ship. Essentially she was a war ship and a repair ship, so the rest of the space was taken up by armament and two, Frigate-sized, docking bays. She was the only ship of her kind left in the fleet. All of the others had been destroyed in the Shi-az-ee war before they could be withdrawn for upgrade. There were still a few cruisers and destroyers in the fleet, but these were gradually being taken out of service to be replaced by the new Frigate class. Faster and more manoeuvrable they had almost as much firepower and were considerably cheaper and easier to build.

“True, but I doubt many of them have a lot of time to be gazing upwards.” Replied the Captain, and then addressing Tactical asked, “Where are the Frigates, Jake?”

The Tactical section was commanded by Lieutenant Jake Taylor, assisted by Midshipman Beverley Reece, and Ensign Harry Wilkes. Their responsibilities included battle tactics, weapons, and sensors.

“Slightly off course ma’am, but they’ll be coming alongside in a couple of minutes,” he reported.

Not quite as accurately as the Argos, the frigate Humanity under the command of brand new Captain Valerie Danton, had emerged from hyperspace about two thousand kilometres away, and was rapidly changed its vector to head towards them. Its sister Frigate, the Atlas, commanded by Captain Carl Seddon, had been even less successful and was almost a million Kilometres away. Both frigates were engaging their FTL drives and would be positioned on each side of the Argos, as Jake had said, in only a few minutes. Under normal circumstances, long distance travel would have been accomplished with both of them in the docking bays, but they were commanded by relatively new Captains, and any chance to gain a little experience, was eagerly welcomed.

“Both Captains are apologising profusely ma’am, trying to outdo each other in the contrite stakes, I suspect,” reported Natalie.

“Give them my compliments,” said Bernice, “and butter them up a little... Tell them that they were more accurate than our last newbie’s. Oh and give a personal ‘Hi’ from me to Valerie.”

“Aye, aye, Ma’am,” replied Natalie, grinning, and then an incoming message caught her attention and she continued, “I’ve just received acknowledgement of our arrival from the ground ma’am. May I instruct the Humanity to go down and pick up the Admiral?”

“Sure Natalie, go ahead.”

On the forward view screens, they watched the Humanity drop away and then start to move back behind them as she decelerated. Her drive would maintain her rate of descent, but she would be decelerating hard to reduce her speed to supersonic levels before she entered atmosphere. The days of glowing hulls, trails of smoke and meteoric descents were long gone, making leaving orbit an altogether more civilised experience.

“Anything you need while they’re down there, Dent,” asked Bernice.

Ta-he-zu [Captain] Dent-par-zim was not human, but a member of the Shi-az-ee. His role was twofold, in that he was the liaison Officer serving as an advisor to the Captain pertaining to matters that affected his race, and also to familiarise himself with all things human. All Shi-az-ee vessels also carried a human liaison Officer.

A bitter war had been fought between the two races as a result of a Shi-az-ee misunderstanding, but had soon been brought to an end when they discovered the truth.

It had only been a matter of weeks after the war ended before both races found out that they actually quite liked each other, despite the fact that they thought each other’s appearance to be bizarre. Humans had never quite believed that they would have been content to be around a two metre high praying Mantis, but they had turned out to be sharply intelligent with a wicked sense of humour. The Shi-az-ee, in turn, thought the smooth-skinned humans to be disgusting, until they found that most of the Shi-az-ee had more in common with the humans than they did with each other. Language problems were things of the past with the advent of the Universal translator.

“Thank you for asking, Captain,” he replied, “but no. I did overhear Phoebe say she needed some miniaturised flow valves though.”

Mrs Phoebe Baxter, an honorary Captain in the Star Fleet, had been offered her own research laboratory on the ship, provided that she relinquished her civilian status and became Starfleet. She readily agreed and enlisted immediately. All normal recruitment procedures were ignored and she was appointed as a full Commander. After a riotous three months of marriage, in which her husband, Geoffrey, had spent almost all of his waking hours ripping her clothes off, she had finally had enough. Sex with him just did not hold a candle to science, which was her first love, so eventually she had left him, and reclaimed her maiden name. She did live in hopes that one day she would meet a man who she could love unconditionally, but for now science would have to fill that void. So it was that a Commander, totally disillusioned with the opposite sex, joined the ship as Science Officer.

“XO, get hold of her and find out exactly what she wants. Knowing her it’ll probably be too high tech for here, but there’s no harm in trying,” ordered the Captain.

“Aye, aye, Captain, I’ll get to it.”

“Permission to leave Station, when the Admiral returns, Captain,” asked Natalie, “Able Seaman Spence will take over.”

It was only convention really, and Natalie would have been completely within her rights to hand over to Able Seaman Spence without asking. But it would have been insulting to the Captain, would have diminished the Captain’s position with the rest of the bridge staff, and certainly would not have given a good impression to Dent-par-zim. So it was a common courtesy, that none of the crew ever found to be difficult.

“Permission Granted,” acknowledged the Captain.

Thirty minutes later, Natalie received confirmation that the Humanity was ‘on cradle’ and the Admiral would be joining her shortly. She informed the Captain, and then started to clear up her station in anticipation of the arrival.

“The Humanity has lifted off.” Jake informed the Captain, “We have picked up her drive signature. She should be here in a couple of minutes.”

****** It seemed like no time at all before the Humanity requested clearance to enter docking bay one which was on the port side of the ship. Instructions were given to the docking crew and Humanity was cleared to enter. There was no ceremony for the Admiral coming on board, after all it was her ship, and if she was piped every time she moved it would be pointless. So, the tradition of piping an Admiral on board was reserved for visiting dignitaries. Her threat of keel hauling anyone who forgot was never believed of course but it did get the message across, and all that welcomed her as she came on board was a salute from several maintenance engineers who were present in the bay.

A seaman brought her old travel bag from the Humanity, placed it beside her, saluted and then went back inside his ship. Gale was about to pick it up when one of the maintenance engineers came up to her.

“No smart bag ma’am? Not to worry, I’ll take that for you. I presume you’d like it dropped into your quarters.”

“Thanks, it was my dad’s years ago. Bit sentimental, but it suits me,” she acknowledged, “I need to go to the bridge, so you’d be saving me some time.”

“No problem ma’am, I’ll take it up straight away.”

“Oh, and can you swing by the Lab on your way back and let Commander Wright know that they don’t have any miniaturised flow valves. Actually, to be truthful, they didn’t know what they were.”

“Aye, aye, ma’ flow valves…got that.”

Gale made her way up to the Bridge to be greeted with an unceremonious hug from Bernice who she had known since she was a Midshipman, and a quick jump to attention from the rest of the bridge crew.

“At easy folks,” she said, and all returned to their posts.

“That damn place will be the death of my mother,” she said, “Do you realise that these little electrical storms are no more than a couple of kilometres wide and they release more energy than all of the storms on Earth combined? Man you have to see one to believe it. Tea Natalie, please.”

“Yes Ma’am,” said Natalie, “Permission to leave the bridge, Captain?”

Bernice nodded, and Natalie disappeared out of the door.

Gale smiled to herself, as Natalie left. She is a nice girl, she thought, It’s a pity that the thing with Harry never worked out. After the two of them had kissed on the bridge, she had expected it to, and had been quite surprised when they parted after only a few days. Lately though, she had noticed that Harry and Beverley had started making moon eyes at each other, so perhaps it had been the right thing to do after all.

“Is she getting anywhere with controlling them?” asked Bernice, interrupting her thoughts.

“Who?” asked Gale, completely forgetting what she had been talking about.

“You were miles away,” Bernice told her, “Your mother, micro-storms.”

“Oh, right. Sorry about that. I had just had a flashback to Natalie and Harry.”

“She’ll find someone soon enough. Stop worrying,” said Bernice, “now back to the storms.”

“Well she’s not getting anywhere at the moment, and could do with a little help. So I need to speak with Dent-par-zim, about the Shi-az-ee’s terraforming people. Can we use your ready room, its closer? And I would like it if you joined us as well.” ****** Once they were ensconced in Bernice’s ready room, Gale addressed Dent-par-zim without waiting for the tea to arrive,

“Dent,” she said, “my mother is the foremost expert amongst humans in the field of terra-forming and climate control, but here she is out of her depth. These micro-storms, as they’ve been called, have done considerable damage and caused unacceptable loss of life. If we did not know better we would be tempted to say that they were directed, but that’s too weird to seriously contemplate. It’s really strange how they seem to only appear over the newly populated areas though it may be that these attract our attention, and there are others that do not. Anyway, to get to the point, there is no one on Earth or Mastreel that are competent enough to give her any useful help, but she did tell me that she had heard of a Shi-az-ee called Pet-ne-da. I believe she performs the same function for you that my mother does for us. Is there any chance that she would come out here?”

“I think we might have to hold her back,” said Dent. “I have heard that she loves a challenge.”

“No arguments or objections then?” asked Gale.

“Well apart from the length of time it’s taking this tea to get here... no.”

As he finished speaking, the door opened to admit a breathless Natalie with a loaded tray of tea in her hands,

“Sorry for the delay,” she said, “But I had to intervene in a punch-up at the mid sensor station. I’ve put them both on report.”

“That’s always a problem when you have so many men in a crew,” observed Gale.

“The flaw in that argument, Ma’am, is that they were both women.” replied Natalie.

“Since we started recruiting them recently, they also cause the most problems in our crews,” said Dent, eagerly taking the larger than normal cup of tea that Natalie offered. “And as they are larger than us poor unfortunate males, it’s inevitable that it’s a male getting beaten up.”

He took a massive slurp from the huge cup, and continued,

“It’s must be heaven for you, having most of your females smaller than their male colleagues.”

Tea had turned out to be about the only human beverage that the Shi-az-ee could not get enough of. Plants had been offered, but found to be incompatible with some of the peculiarities of the Pee-s’lat climate [the home world of the Shi-az-ee]. So, the humble tea bag had turned out to be a major item of export between the two races. In return, the Shi-az-ee found an eager market for a speciality of theirs which was a non-fattening and totally sugar free chocolate that was to die for. The values of the exports were almost the same, but in the end the teabag had the edge.

“With your permission Admiral,” he added, “I will return to the bridge and get the request sent to Pee-s’lat.”

“Sure, go ahead.” said Gale, “I’m going to take my time with this tea. No one down there can make it worth a damn.”

“You look worried ma’am,” said Bernice, when Dent had left, “anything that you want to bounce off of me?”

“Not really.” Said Gale, and then contradicted herself by saying, “It’s these micro-storms, According to my mother, conditions just do not exist for them to be created, yet there they are causing havoc.”

“Does she suspect that they are not a natural occurrence?”

“She says that if they are, she has no idea how. We don’t have the technology to create them, so she prefers to view them as a natural phenomenon, produced by a condition or conditions unknown.”

“Is there anything we can do to help? Like planetary scans or something.”

“Yes there is, the scans are a good idea. I’ll let her know, but meanwhile if you could set up the equatorial and polar orbits just in case. I think if we set up to scan with everything that we have, and then let them have it in real time, it could be useful.”

“Aye, aye ma’am,” acknowledged Bernice and headed back to the bridge.

Grateful acceptance of the idea came from the ground scientists, and the Argos ponderously came around onto a course that followed the line of the equator at a height of just under fifteen hundred miles. Every piece of surveillance equipment on the ship became active, and the Humanity and the Atlas positioned themselves so that they could relay signals if required. As a triangle of ships, with Faraway at the centre, one of them would always be in line of sight of the receiving station. The colony originally had plans prepared to install geostationary satellites, but hardly having time to establish themselves the satellites were considered an unnecessary Luxury in the short term.

It was a decision that was being hastily reconsidered now that early warning of approaching storms was needed. The storms had wind speeds that approached supersonic in some cases and more than 400 miles an hour in most of the rest. Lightning strikes from these storms exceeded fifteen a second. They were a scientific impossibility, but you only had to look at the trail of destruction wrought by one as it passed to realise that they were real, very real indeed.

It had only taken one that ripped across the colony a matter of weeks after it had been established, leaving nothing as it passed not even the foundations of buildings, to initiate a frantic program of underground bunkers. Almost half of the colony had lost their lives and more than half of the buildings had been destroyed. It was a disaster of epic proportions that almost caused planetary evacuation, but these colonists were a hardy lot and refused to surrender to a single storm, no matter how severe it was.

There are very few planets that are perfect for humans, and when you come across one, even one as unforgiving as this, you cling on to it for dear life. Both of the home worlds were sparing no expense. A large proportion of all scientific effort had been put at Faraway’s disposal, and if the Shi-az-ee also took up the challenge, then that effort would be considerably increased. Perhaps it would be the turning point, who knows?

As soon as a complete equatorial circumnavigation had been achieved, the huge ship came to a halt and began to swivel through ninety degrees as a prelude to initiating the polar orbit. The scientists on the ground confirmed that the equatorial data had been received, and asked that the ship hold position for a few minutes while they made arrangements for the new scan. Ten minutes later they gave the green light and the Argos began to accelerate, with the Humanity and the Atlas realigning to cover the transmissions.

The scan was completed in just over ninety minutes, and Gale came to the Bridge to say her goodbyes just as Bernice was requesting permission to break orbit. With permission granted, and the thanks of the colony received, Bernice gave the orders to get underway.

“Take us out of orbit Patricia, and make course for Pee-s’lat if you please.”

“Aye, aye Captain, Pee-s’lat it is,” acknowledged Commander Phelps.

“Bill, make contact with the Argos and the Humanity and tell them to come to station for the jump,” instructed Bernice. She could have brought the two ships into the docking bays for the transition, but felt that a nicely choreographed emergence for their alien friends would be more impressive.

“Aye Captain, already done,” confirmed Bill Spence, having suspected that this was what his Captain intended.

“As I hear no objections from you Dent, I presume that you have got agreement from Pet-ne-da,” asked Gale.

“Yes I have Admiral, and from our government too, she will have her team ready to embark when we arrive,” replied Dent who, despite Gale’s pleading, flatly refused to call her anything other than Admiral. “It would not be Gen-s’l-nan [‘seemly’ or more correctly ‘soothe to ear’]” was all he would say.

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