Rendezvous — New Jobs — New Friends
Battle fleet crews assembled in orbit on one of the original colony transport ships. It was being used now as a research center and the battle fleet’s space headquarters. Crews that had already been shuttled to their ships were completing pre-launch preparation work before pilots arrived.
Captain Walker went over the plans with ship pilots while they waited for the shuttles to return. He pointed to a large map on the wall. “We will rendezvous with the alien fleet to make sure they agree with our plan or have alternate suggestions to offer. Our plan for the aliens is they will proceed to splash-down in the ocean here on planet Pacifica.
“Once we are assured the aliens understand and agree with our plan, we will advance on whatever that dark menace is and do everything in our power to stop it.”
“How do we do that?” One of the ship captains asked, looking around the room nervously. “That cloud of doom is almost as big as the sun.”
Walker changed the screen image to a diagram with arrows depicting the ships engaging their adversary. It looked very much like the way a coach would show a play to his team.
“Since we know almost nothing of our enemy’s capabilities, our only hope at this time is that we can evaporate it with our joy beams. The basic strategy is to send two light cruisers and their fighters deep into the cloud to test its defenses and gather data about its composition. The main body of the fleet will burn a hole for the cruisers to enter and cover their retreat after the fighters have completed an even deeper probe to gather information about our foe. At that point we will all retreat slowly back toward planet Pacifica and continue to evaporate it as best we can. Our plan is to wear it down enough for the heavy ground-based weapons to finish the job.
"Whatever that thing is, it will feel the sting of our big land-based weapons if it reaches Planet Pacifica.” Walker grinned when he finished the last sentence; he knew every crew member had heard those words either from himself or Admiral Castro.
“You make retreat sound certain,” a voice shouted from the rear of the room. “We are the most powerful battle fleet in history. Even Use couldn’t deal with us. What makes you think we will retreat?”
Walker looked at the captain who had spoken. “I like your attitude but the United States of Earth is nothing compared to this,” he said, as he started the aliens’ image sequence on a second wall screen.
He didn’t speak again until the last pictures of the planet and its destruction had been seen.
“Now you know what we are facing. We don’t even know for sure that our joy beams will evaporate it. All we have to go on is that the color of our joy beams and engine exhaust-flash is exactly the same color as the light that surrounded the escaping aliens.”
Everyone in the briefing room heard and felt the slight bump of the shuttles docking and then a low whine of machinery securing outer hull air seals. There had been no conversation since the images showing an entire planet destroyed and devoured. Walker looked at the men and women who were traveling to meet and fight an unknown enemy approaching their new home planet. He felt the need to say something more and raised his hand for attention.
“We are launching our battle fleets to meet an enemy who has already destroyed one planet and will soon attempt to destroy ours.” He clenched his raised hand into a fist and shouted,
“Long live Pacifica!” All voices answered as one.
A short while later, after the pilots were aboard their spaceships the battle fleet maneuvered into a lunch formation. When the ships powered up and the joy generators were engaged it took less than forty hours of actual flight time to reach the alien fleet.
Walker opened communications with the aliens as soon as the fleet dropped out of deep-space drive and took up position between the alien fleet and its pursuer.
“Greetings from planet Pacifica,” Walker broadcast. “I am captain Walker, commander of Battle Fleet Pacifica. Please continue to your destination as quickly as possible. We are here to protect you the best we can.” He followed the brief verbal message whith images of their fleet using its joy beam weapons.
Everyone waited for a response as the battle fleet gradually spread into a circle with its center on the line between the aliens and the pursuing cloud of doom. The shape of their attack formation was like an umbrella blown inside out with the handle pointed toward home. The initial probe cruisers, captained by Sequoia and Shawn, were in the center. The size of the circle quickly spread to almost that of the moon.
The alien response was nearly as brief as Walker’s opening remarks.
“Some of us have learned your language from recorded transmissions made during your first encounter with our ships as we slept. Thank you for what you are doing. After much discussion we have concluded that we would most likely do the same as you in this sudden and difficult situation. Your attack formation is identical to the one we chose in our attempt to save Delfinia, our planet. We hope your weapons will do better than ours did. Thank you again, you are very brave and very kind.”
The battle fleet turned toward the dark force approaching from the rear as they assumed their final formation. Walker was glad the Delfinians finally had a proper name and he could think of them as something other than aliens. A second message came through as Commander Walker was wishing he had brought two survey ships rather than the one loaded with technical personnel that would remain with the Delfinians.
“You should know that there are one million of us,” the Delfinian broadcast continued, “and that we are working with all our might to survive this attack. Our technical engineers have mastered linkage with your sensors, you may now switch between your sensors and ours by simply changing channels. Please confirm.”
Walker switched from his own sensors to the relay channel for the Delfinian sensors and his view of the Doom Cloud turned to a perfect three-dimensional image complete with a data panel listing size, gravity, mass, temperature, density, and velocity. A touch of the screen controls zoomed the view in or out. Each ship in the battle fleet was shown with joy-power levels at light green for full strength. There was also a yellow warning level and then red for a ship in danger.
“It works perfectly,” Walker said. “Did I understand you to say there are one million Delfinians on board your ships?”
“You understood correctly. Our physics research laboratory has six thousand people who are working day and night to integrate your joy-force discovery into our body of scientific knowledge. They, along with a similar number of chemists and twenty thousand engineers, have discovered the means to resupply your joy generators with the power from our ships. We will soon transfer the passengers from three of our ships and station the emptied ships for duty at the midway point between your fleet battling the dark force and the destination planet. Your ships appear to be at least ten times faster than ours so you can return to our ships and recharge your generator fields fairly quickly.”
A background conversation could be heard during a brief pause, then the transmitted voice continued. “We Delfinians are very impressed with the speed of your ships. Our propulsion technology employs gravity and so we drift along with whatever gravity forces are available. Our radio transmissions, however, are a different story; being gravitonic, they are unaffected by fourth-dimension mass and velocity complications faced by your radios, our transmissions are instantaneous. This means your instruments will function perfectly on the channel we have provided you even at your higher velocity, except when you are very close. Use standard radio communication when close.”
One could have heard a pin drop on the human side of the transmission link. The Delfinian spokesperson was heard by the entire human crew, each one straining to hear every word.
“Additionally,” the broadcast continued, “our ships are big enough to carry quite a few of your largest land-based weapons and run them at full power indefinitely. If you are able to inflict enough damage and gain sufficient time for us to empty another ship or two we will use those ships to assist during the final defense. We also have the ability to transmit extra power to your landbased weapon installations from ships that remain on the planet. Preparations to implement these plans progress as we speak.”
Shawn let out a hoot over the public battle fleet channel. “The cavalry is coming,” he yelled.
“Now wait just a darn minute,” Sequoia laughed. “My people are still touchy about that subject, even when it is used as a friendly joke.”
“Hello. Hello. This is Battle Fleet command,” Walker interrupted. “Does everyone have the objective in sight?”
“It suddenly looks like a mask or a face to me,” Shawn answered. “That’s what I was thinking, too,” Walker said. “Though I know it is just a chance trick of cloud patterns. Now it’s time to go meet the monster. Blast off on three. All ships stop and match direction and speed with the Doom Cloud at two thousand kilometers. Shawn and Sequoia will take the cruisers in to probe its defenses and deploy fighters that will go even deeper following the cruiser joy beams. Here’s the count; one, two, three, engage deep-space drives.”
Sixty ships from Planet Pacifica streaked toward the dark force. The smaller cruisers carried two fighters and the largest ships carried twelve, the entire fleet carried a total of three hundred and sixty fighters.
Walker’s hope was that the fighters were fast enough to use their large and powerful engines as weapons. If so, the fighters’ exhaust would cause more damage to the approaching cloud than their weapons. He knew his plan would become tiring for the fighter pilots. For this reason, at any given moment, one fifth of the smaller fighters would be in rotation traveling to be refueled or returning fully fueled from the alien ships. This schedule would provide resting time for pilots and crews. Resting time would decrease as the distances became smaller.
Fighter pilots would form a giant spinning saw blade, continuously burning inward with their weapons, turning, and then blasting back outward, evaporating the cloud with the exhaust from their engines as they hurtled to a few moments of safety before cutting back to do it over again. He had no idea if his plan would actually work. Everything was a test against an unknown merciless enemy.
Shawn felt good flying his cruiser on an actual mission. He’d kept up his pilot’s license and training partly for the pure joy of skipping across velocity-compressed spacetime. It reminded him of his younger years as a surfer. He turned to Eddy, who was standing behind him with one hand on the back of his seat;
“I couldn’t believe it when you went to your dorm and came back carrying a fighter pilot’s flight suit,” he said.
“I knew I would use it some day,” Eddy responded.
Shawn and Eddy pondered the immense black cloud in front of them as the cruiser plowed through an unseen warp in spacetime. They watched arcing patterns of rainbow explode hundreds of kilometers outward from the ship. Shawn broke the silence. “You said you made it all the way through flight school. I didn’t hear the end of the story. What happened?”
“I was expelled on graduation day.” Eddy said, glumly. “The school found out I was too young.”
“How old were you?” Shawn asked.
“Twenty-one,” Eddy grinned at Shawn.
Shawn pretended to be slightly puzzled. “When did this happen?”
“One year ago,” Eddy answered stepping forward and checking the new delfinian sensor at maximum magnification.
“How old are you now?” Shawn asked.
“Twenty-one,” Eddy answered pretending to look more closely at the sensor image.
Shawn gently pulled Eddy around to face him. “Eddy! I’m trying to decide whether or not to put you in the extra fighter. What did your parents say when all this happened?”
“My parents died,” Eddy answered, turning back to the image screen. “That’s how the school discovered my age. I didn’t have any parents to attend my graduation.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Eddy. I didn’t mean to pry into something that hurts.”
Eddy looked Shawn squarely in the eyes. “I loved my mom and dad just like every other kid does. When they were killed at home by a tornado, I decided to apply to flight school instead of going to an orphanage. I figured they would be proud of me if they were alive so I forged their names on the applications and lied about my age. That’s how I did it.”
“So tell me the truth. How old are you right now?”
“My birthday is tomorrow; I’ll be nineteen, or so.”
“But, Eddy, that means you were only eighteen, or so, when you graduated from the academy. All the other space cadets were at least twenty-one.”
“I didn’t graduate, they kicked me out. Anyway, that’s why I said ‘twenty-one’ when I answered you.”
Shawn cast a smiling-eye glance at Eddy. “Yeah. Right. I must’ve forgotten. Memory slips when you get old like me. Didn’t you say you were kicked out just before graduation?”
“Yes, sir. I was the best pilot in my class and I earned top grades,” Eddy said solemnly, with a sigh. Except for wishing his parents were still alive he wanted to fly the fighter more than anything he’d ever wanted.
Shawn knew he had made up his mind about Eddy, though he was still curious. “How did you wrangle your way into this particular place, here and now?” He asked.
Eddy grinned, “I was working under the window and heard the whole meeting with the Admiral. I went to the front door to wait for you and offer to help after you all left your meeting. When you didn’t come out, I walked back and saw the side door open. That’s when I removed the chair that was wedged under the doorknob and stuck my head in to see if anyone was there.”
“Are you saying you went to meet us coming out the door so you could volunteer for the flight?”
“Yep. I figured I ought to be here one way or another. I feel the responsibility of being a trained pilot when pilots are needed. Any way you look at it, I would just as soon die trying to stop that doom cloud thing as die when it eventually reaches planet Pacifica.”
“We both see it the same way, Eddy. I’m almost twice your age yet we’re thinking exactly the same. I suppose everyone in this battle is thinking like us, too.” On a sudden impulse Shawn decided to test his trust in Eddy’s story. “Do you think you could take over and fly this ship?”
Eddy smiled broadly, “There’s not much to it going flat out full speed in a straight line. Sure, I can do it.”
Shawn stood up, stepped aside and turned to the rest of the flight crew, “I’m putting young Eddy here in the pilot’s seat for a while, keep your eyes on him for me,” he said.
“I'll go eat and then talk with the rest of the crew, I won’t be long,” Shawn announced for everyone there.
Turning from the pilot’s seat, he walked out of the room feeling satisfied he had good pilots for both of his ship’s fighters. He ate quickly upon reaching the galley and then went to visit working crew stations where technicians were running last-minute tests.
“How does everything look?” Shawn asked at one point.
“Everything is perfect, Captain, we’ve checked and rechecked.”
Shawn walked into the fighter docking bay where crews were also going over everything one last time.
“This place looks as clean as a hospital operating room,” he said, smiling encouragement and approval.
One of the technicians turned to Shawn, “These fighters are as ready as they will ever be - we’re just waiting now.”
Shawn ran his hand along the sleek little ship as he turned to leave.
“Keep up the good work, these things might save all our lives.”
He waved to the crew as he walked away. Then nodded and grinned when he saw one of them wiping the fighter’s hull clean where he had touched it.
When Shawn returned to the flight control room, he stood quietly unnoticed in the doorway and watched. It was true that there wasn’t much for Eddy to do as the ship pierced spacetime in a straight line. Even so, Shawn noted that Eddy’s attention was directed to the most crucial instruments. More importantly, Eddy was obviously relaxed and sure of himself.
Shawn walked into the room and stood behind the pilot’s seat. He leaned over and examined the dark cloud with Eddy. They were close enough to see surface detail. Huge boiling patterns looked like thunder heads moving in fast motion. Sometimes it looked almost like a face, other times it looked like a fist, then suddenly it would simply be boiling thunderheads again.
“It’s a dark cloud of doom,” Shawn said quietly, standing slightly behind and to Eddy’s side.
“It is maximum ugly,” Eddy responded, rising from the seat. “Do I get the fighter? Sir?”
“Eddy, I'll run through the plan first. Then you decide;
"We are a force of sixty warships and three hundred and sixty fighters. Fifty-eight larger ships will form up like a giant magnifying glass. They will focus their joy beams and try to blow a hole in the middle of that thing. Those focused joy beams will stay one thousand kilometers in front of us as our cruiser and Sequoia's cruiser dive into the hole they make. The cruisers will have their forward weapons set to maximum even though the charge will be exhausted fairly quickly at full power. The four fighters will then accelerate and follow the cruiser joy beams deep into the cloud. "When the cruisers reach the deepest point of the main fleet weapons they will flip over and use space drive to blast out of there. That will be your signal to do exactly the same thing. You will be thousands of kilometers deeper than the cruisers by the time you get turned around.
Your sensor information records will be as important as your life. No heroics. You blast straight out of there using full power deep-space drive. Your engine exhaust will blow more joy power into that cloud than your weapons anyway. Are you sure you want to do this?”
Eddy managed to grin and shrug his shoulders while trying to sound like he did this sort of thing all the time, “Responsibility for the sensor data makes it seem more difficult than just risking my life to save the world.” He glanced away for a split second and then said, “I wouldn’t miss a minute of this.” He spoke in almost a whisper, with a barely noticeable waver on his voice.
“Okay,” Shawn said. “Go get your flight suit and your ship ready.”
“Yes, sir!” Eddy responded, momentarily forgetting danger and thinking only of his new ship.
Shawn looked at a strong healthy young man and gave him a hug, “Happy Birthday, Eddy.”
continue to Chapter 11