by Robert A. Howard
Chapter 1, part 2: The Khar-Selim
Fleet Intelligence Personal Log
The Khar-Selim was gutted. There were no survivors. Anyone who survived the initial assault would have died from the explosive decompression of the crew chambers. It wasn’t standard operating procedure for the crew to be suited up. Boarding crews from the Water Thief only located a few bodies on the bridge; undoubtedly the rest drifted from the wreckage or were mangled beyond recognition when the Khar-Selim was destroyed.
Despite the extensive destruction, marines were able to recover the primary data recorder. Recovery of secondary recorders was halted when Echo squadron detected IR signatures on a positive Z/Y vector on an intercept course. Our presence at the wreckage had attracted the attention of the aliens that had destroyed her. The marines returned to the Water Thief, which detached from the Khar-Selim and headed back toward the Mothership. Beta squadron rotated 180 degrees and fired their turrets at the approaching fighters; two of the shots hit, destroying two alien fighters outright and giving the Water Thief and her escorts sufficient time to achieve full combat speed as they returned to the Mothership. Beta squadron was likewise able to achieve full combat speed and assisted Echo squadron in attacking the alien fighters.
The aliens were focused primarily on the Water Thief; initially they were arranged in a loose swarm that Tactical believes is intended to assist them in evading weapons fire from slower targets. Fortunately, the aliens ended up clumping together which made them an easier target. Echo and Beta squadrons used a reverse slide maneuver (deactivating their primary thrusters and swinging around to target the enemies while drifting on inertia) to target the aliens without leaving the Water Thief. It’s not the easiest of maneuvers to perform; fortunately, some of the top pilots from Fleet were assigned to the Mothership, and these pilots had practiced these maneuvers. The disadvantage with reverse slides is that it leaves fighters and corvettes in an unmodified flight which can more easily be targeted; if the aliens hadn’t been focused on destroying the Water Thief and Rogue, we may have lost several fighters.
While the aliens ignored the Dreamscape which was busy mining an asteroid family between the Khar-Selim and the Mothership, the vulnerability of our mining operation was quite evident. Once sufficient resources are available, the Dreamscape and other mining ships will be provided a fighter escort; escort duty would give new pilots a chance to gain non-simulator flight experience before they have to enter into an armed conflict. Larger escort vessels may also be an effective deterrent; I’ll have to make a suggestion to the engineers on the Illumination, they may come up with some effective plans.
The Water Thief reached the Mothership safely; after encountering the Mothership’s mass drivers, the remaining alien fighters retreated outside the effective targeting range of the Mothership. There they were reinforced by another fighter squadron and three corvettes: one missile corvette and a pair of the corvettes armed with mass drivers. The Water Thief docked with the Mothership and a marine disembarked with the primary data recorder, which was brought to the CIC. The Water Thief launched as soon as its’ cargo was secure to perform any needed rescue/recovery duties as needed, and also to try and capture any disabled enemy vessels.
Echo squadron detected additional contacts closing with the Mothership and a sensor echo from something much larger. The Mothership’s sensors were focused on that region of space where a large energy signature was detected. Rather than risk any Arrows on a scout run, especially with incoming enemy fighters, Karan took three probes out of storage and launched them in a spread toward the sensor contact, with one probe sent in close proximity with the contact.
Our calculations were off. We lost the middle probe when it collided with the contact. The remaining two probes started transmitting data and revealed a large vessel, perhaps a third of the size of the Mothership. A series of antenna arrays were burning; it appears the middle probe struck one and exploded, damaging the remaining antenna. The vessel itself was angular, composed of three compartments built on top of a central spine which held engines and smaller structures. At least two of the larger compartments appeared to be to store and possibly build vessels; while no larger vessels were seen, it seems likely that this carrier could build frigate-class vessels.
One fortunate side-effect of our probe colliding with the alien ship was that comm-chatter from the carrier was cut. The fighters and corvettes suffered a significant reduction in effectiveness, leading me to believe they were receiving orders from the carrier. After destroying several more fighters and crippling the engines of one fighter, the remaining corvettes and fighters retreated from the Mothership and fled to the alien carrier. The Rogue successfully captured the crippled fighter and brought it to the Mothership so its pilot could be interrogated. Unfortunately, the alien committed suicide with a fragmentation device rather than be taken alive.
In addition, the Water Thief succeeded in latching onto the hull of one of a damaged missile corvette. Several alien fighters tried strafing the Water Thief and force it to release their brethren, but Echo squadron was able to drive them off. Echo squadron pursued the aliens back to its carrier; the carrier was armed with multiple mass drivers which drove our ships off before we could disrupt the landing of their craft. Once it finished loading corvettes and fighters, the carrier activated hyperspace engines and fled the field.
* * * * *
We’ve finished cleaning up the data feed from the Khar-Selim’s data recorders. I’ve included a voice file of their final transmission:
Captain: “What do you mean you detect a Hyperspace entry? The Mothership isn’t due for…”
Radar operator: “Sir, I have multiple contacts on closing vectors. Unknown profiles… No recognition codes… Ahh, they’re not ours.”
Captain: “Well if they’re not ours, who the hell are they?”
Radar operator: “Sir, they’re coming in fast… Check… Incoming fire! We are under attack! They’re getting through! Breaches across all decks! Hull integrity failing!”
Captain: “Khar-Selim to Mothership! If you are receiving, abort hyperdrive test. Repeat: abort hyperdrive test! [garbled]“
Tactical is currently examining the remaining data to find any other data concerning potential weaknesses in the alien vessel, the energy signature of its hyperdrive, and anything else of relevance. It is disturbing that the aliens jumped out close to the Khar-Selim and launched an immediate attack. It seems likely these aliens knew where the Khar-Selim was located and intended on taking out the ship before it could defend itself; the Khar-Selim possessed minimal armament and relied primarily on radar to detect asteroids and cometary fragments that could have posed a threat and maneuvered out of their path.
The Rogue and Water Thief have gathered debris from the alien fighters and corvettes and delivered them to the Illumination. Our initial research suggests that the alien fighters possess nearly twice the armor of our Arrow interceptors and comparable armor to the current design for the Blade Mk.5. Their mass drivers are inferior to those used in our interceptors, with decreased accuracy and power. Further, the Arrows have proven significantly faster than the aliens even without using afterburners.
An examination of the alien corvettes found that the heavy corvette contained magnetic grapples, viral protocols, and what appears to be an armed boarding team. It is likely the heavy corvettes are troop carriers that disable enemy vessels and then send a boarding team to secure the vessel, similar to the design of the Porter Mk. 1. Our scientists are examining their computers and the viral protocols; it is likely these aliens have encountered other species. Considering their tactics, it is probable they engage in piracy and steal other ships. If we can adapt their viral capture protocols, then it will enhance our own ability to capture any hostile vessels.
Given the general consensus among sector chiefs in Fleet Intelligence that these aliens are “space pirates” of some sort, the alien fighter was designated the “Bandit” class interceptor. The probable role of the alien heavy corvette to capture other ships led Tactical to designate it the “Thief” class, while the missile corvette was designated the “Brigand” class. Unfortunately, their imagination faltered at that point; the large carrier was designated the “Lord” class. Though given the size of the vessel, my associates are still debating if it’s a large carrier or a small Mothership. The size of the vessel is such that we couldn’t manufacture a similar vessel using the Mothership’s facilities; we’d need to use the Scaffolding to build something like it.
Initial plans for the Mothership were actually for something closer to that size; the thoughts of the smaller kiith was that we would not need that large a ship to seek out Hiigara. It was the enthusiasm of the Kharakian people that resulted in a much larger vessel being built; several million people voiced interest in being on the maiden journey of the Mothership. Each cryo tray is three kilometers long and nearly a kilometer across, holding 100,000 people. A vessel the size of the alien carrier would never be able to carry enough colonists to make the trip worthwhile.
The nature of this threat may postpone our leaving Hiigara, for the short term. The Mothership needs added weapon systems to deal with any attacks, and designs should be finalized for the Blade Mk. 5 Interceptor and the Hammer heavy corvette. We may also want to mine several known asteroid families and begin construction on a frigate along the lines of the Sandstrike; while our frigate drive is ineffective and slow, we need a larger class of vessel to help protect the Mothership.
Of greater concern is our lack of the specific metals needed to build added hyperdrive units. Until we find more of these minerals, any frigates we do build would be required to dock with the Mothership before we enter hyperspace. Fortunately, several telescope satellites in high orbit around Kharak have been mapping out the Oort cloud surrounding the Kharakian system and have detected a couple potential sites where we can hopefully find the minerals we need to build added hyperdrives for larger vessels. Considering the energy requirements to enter hyperspace, it’s probable only frigate-sized vessels and larger will have hyperspace capabilities. While a hyperspace-capable corvette for scouting would be tactically sound, it’s likely a corvette hull couldn’t hold the drive unit, sufficient fusion generators, fuel resources, armor, and life support for a pilot.
I’ve just received a report from the Shipyards; Chief Engineer Maren Somtaaw wants to build three additional Mercy corvettes. She feels that the repair facilities of the vessels would be useful in a larger conflict, especially given the vulnerability of our fighters when they are docking with the Mothership. Resources are a bit tight, but our first conflict did reveal some of the limitations to our fighter squadrons. The Mercy can refuel fighters and initiate needed repairs in the midst of combat; their armament, while fairly light, would also protect docked fighters. The role would be better suited for a larger vessel; perhaps a light carrier. Unfortunately, current frigate drive technology isn’t up to the task, and the frigate would be far too slow to be tactically useful.
We’ve also initiated construction of another nine Arrows, designated Wasp squadron, while an additional Arrow was built to restore Echo squadron to nine interceptors. The initial designation was going to be Gamma squadron, but the pilots requested something less… boring. Allowing the pilots to choose their squadron name helps with morale, and will encourage the pilots to be more assertive to live up to their designation. I’ll see to having Beta renamed after we return to Kharak.
Once the Water Thief and Rogue return with the last of the probes, we’ll enter hyperspace and return to the Scaffolding. In all likelihood I’ll be fighting to keep this position as well; considering our first contact with an alien species proved hostile, many of Admiral Telar’s claims will be justified. There are more qualified Admirals in Fleet who would do a far better job as head of Fleet Intelligence than Telar S’jet.
I’m not going to just give up, however. Despite my conflict with some of Fleet Intelligence, I’ve found that this team works well with me, and we’ve already faced our first conflict with minimal losses. Considering the vastness of space, the Mothership might not encounter these aliens again, while they know where Kharak is. Telar’s “experience” would be better suited back at Kharak. Besides, I wouldn’t want to inflict him on Karan. I doubt he’d care about how she’s doing. I should check in on her once we’ve returned to Kharak and have been debriefed.
The last of the probes has been recovered, and all ships are docking. We’ll be entering hyperspace in moments. The hyperdrive is fully charged… it’s time to go home. For now.