[PI] The First Steps – FirstChapter – 4,166 Words
The First Steps
Chapter 1: The Missing Frigate
1732 hours, Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Confederacy of Nations space, System Lagrange Point 3
“Oi! We’re coming up on the frigate! Five minutes!”
The pilot’s voice barked over the coms unceremoniously. The gaggle of just over thirty men in the boarding ship’s troop hold jumped in surprise, only to relax again with angry grumbles.
Kostya Baltar climbed to his feet with a Type-3 Scattergun cradled in his arms, the armor plates and servos of his pressurized suit clacking and whirring.
“Come on boys! On your feet!” Kostya flashed an encouraging grin to the pirates around him. “We’ve got a frigate to steal! Squad leaders and HQ section come to me for a final word.”
The men surged to their feet with a collective groan, weapons and armor racking against each other. Three men swaggered out of the rabble towards Kostya, their powered armor servos whining with each step. Their group was a fairly sizable one, but it was a pitiful effort at filling the massive troop compartment of the boarding ship, which could hold up to 200 men.
Kostya eyed his squad leaders with a familiar eye. The first man, Vladimir, was short, stocky, and strong. He carried a big ballistic shield on his back with a heavy laser pistol in a hip holster. He lead 1st Squad from the front. Next was tall and lanky Maxim, who led 2nd Squad. Like Kostya, he carried a scattergun, loaded with flechettes, for use in the confined spaces of a ship’s interior. Last but not least was Ruslan. The rookie squad leader, he carried a standard laser rifle. He’d be leading 3rd Squad, held in reserve at Kostya’s side. Aside from the three squad leaders, there were a couple of medics who’d be waiting to treat any wounded. They were among the very few qualified medical personnel in their crew of pirates.
“Okay,” Kostya took a deep breath as he flashed another grin. “Vladimir. You’re going for the frigate’s CIC.”
Vladimir nodded in response.
“And Maxim. You’re going for engineering. You all know this.” Kostya glanced over at Ruslan and the two medics. “You guys just stay behind me until I tell you to go somewhere.” He went back to addressing everyone. “Remember to keep your squads tight. Fast and furious! Dismissed.”
“Fast and furious!” everybody responded, then headed back to their respective squads.
Each squad lined up single file around a hatch set in the center of the floor. Heavy music blared from a speaker, and the pirates spent a last few minutes psyching themselves up and preparing their weapons for the upcoming fight.
Suddenly, the troop compartment lights flashed to red, and the pilot’s voice blared over the coms once more.
“Thirty seconds till we reach the frigate! They’ve detected us but they don’t have any security. We’ve got ‘em by the balls!”
“Alright boys! Here we go!” said Kostya.
The boarding ship rumbled as maneuvering thrusters fired. Screens around the troop compartment showed an external view of the boarding ship’s docking clamp, approaching a docking port on the exterior hull of the Nemesian light frigate NCNS Apollo.
Kostya heard clanking and rumbling run through the hull as the boarding ship mated with the Nemesian frigate.
“We’re docked. Connection secure. Blowing the breaching charge.”
A shaped charge built into the boarding ship’s hatch detonated, blasting open the frigate’s hatch. It was audible as a sharp bang from the interior.
“Get ready boys!” Kostya called over the coms, “Open the hatch on three! One! Two! Three! GO! GO! GO! Watch the gravity shift!”
The compartment lights flashed to green as the hatch dropped open from the belly of the boarding ship, opening the way to a corridor on the frigate, which was oriented perpendicular to the boarding ship’s floor.
Vladimir was the first one through, as per usual. He dropped through the bottom of the boarding ship, then immediately dropped “sideways” with the shifted artificial gravity onboard the frigate. As each man of the first squad hopped through, they spent a moment to reorient themselves.
“1st Squad, on me!” Vladimir led his men forward. Armored boots stomped on the floor as they advanced.
Maxim’s squad peeled off towards their own target, silent as ever aside from the rattle and whir of their suits. Kostya knew they preferred to stay on their own com channel.
Kostya led 3rd Squad and the two medics through the boarding hatch. He dropped out of the belly, then grunted with the gravity shift, slamming onto his stomach on the floor of the Nemesian frigate.
The distinct coughing of scatterguns sounded in the distance, accompanied by the electric snapping of lasers.
“This is Hustler 1,” Vladimir’s voice came on through the radio, “We’re encountering limited resistance. We’ll be at Objective Alpha ahead of time.”
Kostya took his head away from the com unit in his helmet and smiled to himself. This was going to be an easy catch.
“This is Hustler 2,” Maxim’s voice sounded. “We’ve hit Objective Bravo. The ship’s tracking hardware is now inoperable. Moving to Objective Charlie.”
Kostya keyed his com unit, “Hustler 2 this is Hustler 6. Fast work. Take it slow now. We have this one in the bag; I don’t want any screw ups.”
2000 Hours Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Confederacy of Nations capital, Acropolis
“Hey, how’s it going, Cousin?” President Jean Dance answered the call on his personal computer, smiling and leaning back in his office chair after reading the name of the caller.
“Good evening, President Dance. Unfortunately, I’m not making this call as your cousin Sophia Dance, but as Fleet Admiral Dance, your National Security Minister,” a husky alto replied as a soft face framed by brown jaw-length hair appeared on the display.
Jean leaned forward, setting his elbows on his desk. The furniture creaked as he frowned. “Then why’d you called me on my private com?”
“Uh…you see the current situation has the military network pretty saturated,” Sofia shrugged, “And I needed to get you the news urgently.”
“What’s the news?” Jean asked.
“You know how we had to sideline two of the five light frigates we’re producing under-license from the Alliance due to faulty systems?”
“Yes,” Jean responded, after a moment of thought. It’d been a while since he’d had to deal with anything military. Five so called “frigettes”, named for their smaller size, lack of shields, and lighter weapons and armor when compared to the typical frigate found in the galaxy.
“Well, about three hours ago, we just confirmed that one of them, the Apollo, was hijacked,” Sophia pursed her lips, “She was parked at System Lagrange Point 3, on the opposite side of the Sun as Nemesis, out of the way of orbital traffic, but it looks like that out-of-the-way position opened up the opportunity for someone to fly off with her.”
Jean took a deep breath. “Do you know who did this?”
“Nobody’s claimed responsibility,” said Sophia, “We suspect that it might’ve been a local pirate group.”
“Hmm,” Jean leaned back. His homeworld, Nemesis, was making its first forays into space with the help of the Skycore Alliance. This was the first outer space security crisis that he, or any other leader of the Nemesis Federation of Nations had ever faced.
Sophia waited patiently. Jean was the type to think hard for a few moments, before coming to a decision on certain situations. She could tell he was already thinking of options.
“Well,” Jean clapped his hands together, “Sophia, can you call an emergency meeting of the Security Council? I think this’ll be a good opportunity for us to sharpen our claws.”
Sophia nodded, “Sounds good Mr. President.”
2200 Hours Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Confederacy of Nations capital, Acropolis
“It appears that the Apollo’s tracking systems were disabled at seventeen-forty-nine hours zulu. We can guess that the hijacking party boarded the ship well before that point,” the staffer giving the briefing clicked through different slides before the table of Nemesis’s highest military officials. “They appear to have approached covertly using an unsuspicious ship, such as a transport or boarding ship.”
“Wait,” Jean raised a hand from his position at the head of the table. “How is a boarding ship approaching a military vessel unsuspicious?”
“We use them for routine personnel transfers, Mr. President,” the staffer replied, unfazed at addressing his national leader. “And even if the situation was deemed unusual, there were no security forces present at or near Apollo; just some engineers, technicians, and construction workers. The ship’s crew was being cycled through training on Nemesis’s surface and thus were not present. The ship was overpowered effortlessly.”
Sophia snorted aggressively, “How the hell did they get their timing so right.”
Jean raised his hand again, this time to placate Sophia. “I think that is enough analysis of the hijacking event,” he turned to the men and women around the table, “I want everybody to make sure that the mistakes that led to this situation are not repeated. Ensure that the same thing doesn't not happen to the Artemis,” he said, referring to Apollo’s sister ship that was also sidelined due to faulty systems.
A rumble of acknowledgement came from the group.
“Now. Let’s focus on how we’re going to solve this,” Jean clasped his hands together and set them on the table before him. “We need to get that ship back, and we need to deal with the group that hijacked it. We cannot leave military hardware in the hands of others like this.”
“Mr President,” Vice Admiral Daniil Scott, the Military Secretary, spoke up with a soft drawl. “Since the hijackers were so thorough in their operation, in order to track down the Apollo, we’ll have to do things the old fashioned way by sending out unmanned probe fighters to scan the entire system. According to my Military Intelligence Chief, this would be a good opportunity to field test our new Scout-class probe fighters.”
“Hmm,” Sophia stroked her chin.
Jean sat patiently as his National Security Minister/cousin thought. He trusted her judgement, and was willing to wait for it.
“Valera,” Sophia turned to Vice Admiral Valera Baltar, the Homeworld Secretary who was in charge of the construction, research, development, and production of military assets on Nemesis. “Are the Scouts ready for field deployment?”
Vice Admiral Baltar pursed her lips, “They have completed the development phase, and are cleared for production. But we only have a handful completed from the initial batch. Five, to be precise. Just enough to equip one wing.”
“That’s enough to find the Apollo,” drawled Vice Admiral Scott.
Sophia raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure, Daniil?”
Vice Admiral Scott nodded, “Yes. With the capabilities of the new Scouts, even with routine search mission parameters using five ships, it is possible to find a target the size of a light frigate in our system.”
“That sounds good to me,” said Jean after hearing his advisors discuss the issue. “So it seems to me that the Scout-class probe fighters will be able to shoulder the brunt of the searching, but would it be worthwhile to have our three remaining light frigates join in the search effort?”
“Ah, Mr. President,” Sophia shook her head, “Our space fleet is still budding. The frigettes are capable vessels, but I don’t think we should risk them, especially considering that this local group might have some solid military capabilities.”
“I concur, sir,” said Vice Admiral Scott. “I fully expect these people to be armed and hostile. We should send out only Scouts for now, and then mount more substantial operations once we know more.”
“Okay then,” Jean made eye contact with Vice Admiral Scott. “Daniil. Get your Military Intelligence Chief briefed and launch this mission asap.”
Vice Admiral Scott nodded, “Understood.”
1000 Hours Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Military Intelligence Headquarters, Acropolis
Master Commodore Dmitry Pavlov glared at the huge display set on the wall of the cavernous control center from his perch on the commander’s platform. His foot tapped impatiently, and his arms were crossed in front of his chest with tight annoyance.
“WHAT THE HELL IS TAKING SO LONG?!” He bellowed into the open space.
“Sir,” a young 2nd Commander flinched. “We are almost–“
“Listen up, 2nd Commander,” Dmitry Pavlov thrust his face into the paling young officer. “Tell me when we are ready. Not when we are almost. I know, I know. This is our first major space intelligence operation. This is our first time using the fancy shmancy Scout-class probe fighters. We have to ensure everything will go perfectly. Well guess what, man? This is the military. NOTHING EVER GOES PERFECTLY!”
“Jeezus Christ, Dmitry,” a soft drawl sounded from behind.
Master Commodore Pavlov turned around to see Vice Admiral Daniil Scott stepping onto the platform.
Pavlov cut off his rampage and sharply saluted the Military Secretary. “Good morning, Vice Admiral.”
Scott returned the salute of the several officers on the platform, then broke into an amused grin. He turned to the blanching 2nd Commander. “You’re dismissed, 2nd Commander.” The young officer nodded and wheeled away.
Scott turned back towards Pavlov. “So it appears that your staff is being extremely…thorough…with this operation?”
Pavlov snorted. “It’s been nearly twelve hours. Twelve. Hours. Since the briefing and orders came in, Sir. Normally, in intelligence, having a thorough staff is good. That’s what I picked these guys for. But sometimes, Vice Admiral, I miss the efficient, fast pace of combat HQs.”
Scott grinned, “This is the military, Dmitry. Nothing ever goes perfectly.”
Pavlov stared at Scott, before smiling. “Touché, Sir.”
“So how long till you guys are ready to launch?” Scott asked.
“Probe Fighter Wing One will be mission ready in approximately twenty mikes.”
“That’s not bad.”
They were interrupted by a Fleet Major stepping onto the platform. The man saluted the two superior officers. “Master Commodore. Vice Admiral. We completed our preparations and planning slightly earlier than anticipated. We are go for launch.”
“Thank you, Jacques,” Pavlov gave a curt nod. He stepped to the front of the platform as he slipped a com headset over his head.
“I hope you don’t mind if I spectate, Dmitry,” Scott murmured as he stepped up behind the Military Intelligence Chief.
“Not at all, Sir,” Pavlov clapped his hands together before queuing his com unit. “Alright. Papa Bear to Angel Six.”
Down among the rows of men sitting in front of their own displays, a captain standing behind a row of five probe pilots raised a hand to his com and replied.
“Papa Bear, this is Angel Six. Send traffic.” Their coms traffic was rebroadcast on loud speaker through the entire room, allowing everyone in the control center to hear.
Pavlov keyed his coms again, “You will conduct a Normal Search Pattern as specified in Ops Plan Alpha. Stand by for launch of Scout-class probe fighters from space station Kronos.”
“Roger that, Papa Bear.”
Pavlov nodded to himself, then switched com channels. “Papa Bear to space station Kronos Flight Ops…”
1020 Hours Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit, space station NCNSS Kronos
“…Ops, go or no go for launch?”
Chief Technician Meyers listened in on the com net as he supervised the soldiers making final preparations on the Scout-class probe fighter connected to the electromagnetic ejection system rail.
“Papa Bear, this is Kronos Flight Ops,” the space stations control center replied, “We are go.”
Meyers turned to his crew. “Hey!” The men and women turned to look at him. He hand signaled them to assume launch positions, and the crew scrambled into position.
“EMES rail crews one through five, stand by for launch,” the call came to Meyers from Flight Ops.
Meyers exchanged several hand signals with his crew. Next to him, the massive form of the Scout sitting on the rails heaved a loud, choking cough, and its engines flared to life, humming at their lowest thrust output.
Here we go, Meyers thought to himself, a thrill running through his body. Those hotshots at headquarters better make good use of this guy. Although the Scout was a disposable one-time use probe designed to self-destruct after serving its purpose, Meyers had taken painstaking measures to ensure it was going to perform at optimum capacity, as had the other four rail crews.
Meyers keyed his com. “Flight Ops, this is Rail One. We are green.”
“Rails One through Five, be advised. Angel Wing has control. Scouts are launching at their discretion.”
Meyers was about to reply, but was cut off by a wailing klaxon as all the lights flashed red. There was a high pitched whine as the EMES rail charged, followed by a piercing shriek as the Scout catapulted down the metal rail. Partway down, it passed through an energy shield that marked the boundary between pressurized atmosphere and vacuum, then flew off the rail with a resounding clang!
Meyers watched the three-pointed isotoxel shape of the Scout’s rear as it coasted away from him alongside four others. As he watched the figure recede into the darkness, it rotated with puffs of its maneuvering thrusters, before the main engines mounted on the rear boosted it out of sight. Within an atmosphere, bright flames and shock diamonds would have been visible, but in the vacuum of space, only a transparent shimmering of gases expanding from the nozzles could be seen.
“Good luck out there you rascal,” Meyers smiled.
1730 Hours Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Military Intelligence Headquarters, Acropolis
Master Commodore Dmitry Pavlov took a deep breath, leaning back in the chair that had been brought up for him to the commander’s platform. Seven. Hours. He took another deep breath. He would never say he wasn’t born to serve in the military, but he definitely wasn’t built for the hurry-up-and-wait aspect of military life, which, unfortunately, formed the bulk of an officer’s time in service.
“Angel Two…stand by for upcoming twenty sierra burn at eighty-percent throttle…t-minus thirty sierras,” the voice of the captain in command of Probe Fighter Wing One resonated through the control room. Up ahead, Pavlov watched the massive display that showed beads of light and the long curving lines of projected vectors. One of the beads of light was the Scout bearing the callsign Angel Two. It would be setting off on a new course to scan yet another portion of Nemesis’s solar system very shortly.
Pavlov reached over and grabbed a mug of hot tea from his desk, sipping the soothing liquid. One of his smaller, personal displays flashed reports from other operations being conducted. A Prospector unit was finished with a reconnaissance mission conducted in a neighboring cluster, and the Starmap Department had shot over a report to Military Intelligence. Meanwhile, the Missions Department was requesting a Progress Report on the scouting mission the Military Intelligence Bureau was conducting.
Oh yes. About the aspects of military life that Pavlov wasn’t built for: he wasn’t exactly born to do paperwork either. But he still had to do it. He took a final sip of his tea, and managed to resist a sigh as he set himself to writing the PROGREP. He was going to do this if it took him 10 million years.
Let’s see. Angel One contacts: two small transports…one large transport…five civilian shuttles…no eyes on Apollo. Angel Two conta–
“Pappa Bear, this is Angel Six,” the captain’s voice sounded in Pavlov’s ear. “I think Angel Two may have found the frigate.”
Pavlov froze with his mug halfway to his lips. Well then. He stood up from his chair and gazed over at the control center’s main display. The large overlay of beads and vectors had been replaced with direct telemetry from Angel Two.
The most obvious feature in the imagery was the planet Nemesis itself, dominating the upper right corner of the display. The Class 5 Homeworld was a Super Earth, a proud, strong sphere of temperate climates. A little less conspicuous, however, was a dark figure scarcely visible against black space. A few seconds passed, and a smaller window with an infrared camera feed displayed the structure much more clearly.
“That looks like an outpost,” Pavlov said to nobody in particular. He turned to one of the staff officers sitting behind him “Fleet Major Korsak. What is that?”
“We’re still analyzing the large structure, Sir. But if you look in your personal display, you can see that a light frigate is currently docked with it,” Korsak replied. “Stand by, Sir….uh…yes. My staff just confirmed the docked ship is the Apollo.”
“Well then,” Pavlov allowed himself and unrestrained grin as he turned back to writing the PROGREP to the Missions Department.
Things just got interesting.
1830 Hours Nemesis Zulu
Nemesis Confederacy of Nations capital, Acropolis
President Jean Dance still had sticky hands from the lobster dinner his wife had cooked him when he entered the briefing room. Not only that, but he was still dressed in his bathrobe. What could he say? The Presidential Residence was his home.
“Ah…good evening, Mr. President,” a Master Commodore, dressed impeccably in uniform, greeted him as he sat down.
Jean recognized Dmitry Pavlov, Chief of the Military Intelligence Bureau. He smiled. “Good evening, Master Commodore. I would offer my hand, but they’re currently very sticky.”
“Ah…” Pavlov wrinkled his eyebrows in a questioning look. He was rescued from making a response by the entrance of Fleet Admiral Sophia Dance.
“Alright, people,” the National Security Minister clapped her hands together with energy. “Pavlov. The briefing please?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Pavlov stood, then walked to the head of the table, standing before a large display. A total of eight men and women sat in front of him. The six vice admiral department heads, Fleet Admiral Dance, and President Dance. Pavlov clicked the display remote in his hand, and began his briefing.
“Right to the point, ladies and gentlemen. The Apollo has been found. Probe Fighter Wing One, callsign Angel, was deployed with routine search mission parameters. At seventeen-forty hours, the Scout known as Angel Two sent back these images.” Pavlov paused as the display showed the telemetry he’d seen himself only an hour ago.
The roomful of people stared silently at the images on the display, before Pavlov clicked to the next slide and their focus shifted back to the MI chief.
“If you see here,” Pavlov highlighted a portion of the screen, “We have what can only be described as a small pirate outpost. It has very low IR or radar signature. Coupled with its small size, we believe this is how it has avoided detection until now.
“Docked to the OP, right about here, is the Apollo. We could not risk detection of the Scout, so we only have low-resolution images taken from long range. But we were able to confirm it was the Apollo from analyzing what appears to have been a test firing of her propulsion systems. The thrust signature was analyzed to be a perfect match to the records we have for Apollo.
“It appears that this outpost is isolated, with very little traffic coming to and fro. This is not a big operation, but we do, of course, need to take action. Since there are no other vessels in the vicinity that pose a potential threat, it appears that the best course of action would be to retrieve our light frigate in the least disruptive way possible.”
“Thank you, Pavlov,” Jean nodded thoughtfully at Pavlov’s briefing. “Before we move on to discuss a follow-up operation to retrieve the Apollo, I’d like to bring up something that concerns me.”
Jean felt the weight of everyone’s attention settle onto him. It was a familiar feeling, one that he was used to. “It seems abundantly clear to me, as President of the Nemesis Confederacy of Nations, that our planet’s first steps beyond our planet, beyond our solar system, and into the galactic stage, will be wrought with peril. This was not unknown to us. We knew this when we joined the Skycore Alliance. But what we did not anticipate were the people and groups that would rise up to oppose us locally and seek to take advantage of our progress.
“This episode with the Apollo was a relatively minor incident. Hardly a setback when put into galactic perspective. But this is the first budding of worst things to come. As we venture forth to grow in experience, accomplishments, and strength, we will have to guard against those that seek to tear down our planet, foes both from without and within.”
Jean looked around the table. These were men and women he could rely on. Not all of them were in synch with each other, or even with him, for that matter. But they all strove to advance their homeworld. These were the people he’d be working with.
“So. Ladies and gentlemen,” Jean smiled. “Enough talk of guarding. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”