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“Senator Constantine would later remark that when she heard the news, her first thought was about her daughter Devon, stationed on Ocherva. But one has to wonder if she was also wondering about her homeland, not five short light years away.”

- Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

 

Chapter 3

 

Senator Gail Constantine glanced up to see if anyone was listening. The dark senate chambers were filled with the bored faces of her colleagues and indifferent aids. She had been saying the same thing over and over, so much that even she was bored with herself. A few senators looked up at her pause.

“Look, I know that all of my concern for Outer Rim planetary security is of little or no value to those of you living on the Core worlds. But you must put yourself in my position and try to see it from the eyes of the people who have entrusted me with their well-being.”

She decided to make her case personal and directed her attention to the slight figure of Senator Hoque from Drexel. One of the stalwarts of the senate and a longtime leader of the conservatives, Hoque was set in his ways. She knew he had never been off world except to come to Selene, the heart of the Core, when he was first elected nearly fifty years ago. She also knew that he sat on the senate armed services committee and had consistently voted against expanding the military his entire career. Like many representatives from the Core worlds he cared little for Outer Rim affairs.

“Senator Hoque, have you ever been to my home world?”

Hoque’s pale, deep set eyes narrowed as he was illuminated under the spotlight that hovered over anyone who spoke. “Why no, senator. I have not been to Prahran. I doubt anyone here has beside you.”

Gail smiled politely. “Of course not. But surely you have been to Cadia. Perhaps on holiday to one of their famous resorts with your family?”

Hoque shook his head confidently. Gail’s dark eyes scanned the chamber. She knew that it was unlikely a room full of rich senators had never once been on holiday to Cadia.

“Why that’s a shame, Senator. I took my daughter there when she was ten. It was a terrific experience for her and gave her a chance to see what life was like on another world. It really opened up her horizons. Not to mention all the fun she had on the amusement rides.”

There were a few knowing chuckles from across the chamber. Gail picked up on them and continued. “Oh yes, she even tried to get me on some of those anti-gravity rail rides. You know the ones, they ask you for a waiver in case you suffer a stroke while riding them. Yes, we had quite a time on that trip.”

“What is your point, Senator Constantine?” Hoque pressed.

Her eyes steadily scanned the senate floor as she spoke from her heart. “How can you pass judgment on systems other than your own, if you have not even taken the time or effort to leave the inner Core and see for yourself what life is like for them? Is it because you feel unsafe traveling so far from home? I don’t see how you could feel anything but secure knowing that your safety is guaranteed by a military that you yourself have continually voted to drastically reduce.”

Gail looked for any sign that what she was implying was understood by the other senators. Senator Hoque seemed to shrivel in his seat, feeling the eyes of everyone on him.

“Why haven’t you been to Prahran, Senator? Are you afraid of trade route pirates? Or are you afraid of something else? Do you have any idea what the dangers of Outer Rim travel are?”

She finally had him under the gun, making him answer to his own budgetary cuts. His bony jaw clenched in anger as he tried come up with a response. The chambers were quiet as all eyes were upon the senior senator from Drexel. Gail finally had the old man where she wanted him. Like a skilled political animal, she was about to move in for the kill. Her aide, Sumi-ness, whispered into her ear. Gail’s eyes widened and she grabbed the podium before her for support.

“Mister Speaker, may I direct the attention of the senate to center room? My aide has informed me of breaking news from the Outer Rim.”

The Speaker nodded his approval as he activated the main holographic projector. It was a news dispatch from Tulia, a planet not far from Prahran. The reporter was speaking to an astronomer, high on the mountain top observatories around the planet’s equator. The wavering, transparent hologram flickered between both sides of the senate, several times larger than life.

“You believe that this was a deliberate attack and not some sort of cosmic accident?” the reporter asked.

The astronomer was quite confident, giving a curt nod. “I’m afraid the evidence of an attack is undeniable.”

The reporter looked back to the recorder and spoke directly at it. “To recap, at zero forty-nine local time, scientists here at the deep space relay station Whishphor, on Tulia, received a distress signal from the research vessel, SS Bourke. The signal took six months to reach the station and included this haunting visual from the bridge.”

The narrow bridge of the Bourke was seen in grainy, low resolution. Greenish smears of smaller ships flying past the bridge windows were followed quickly by flashes of brilliant, white light as the image degraded into static.

Stunned gasps came from members of the senate.

The shimmering two-shot of the reporter and the astronomer returned.

“Scientists here believe the ship was attacked by someone or something encountered in the Al-Shatar system. Just exactly what it was that destroyed the Bourke will perhaps never be known.”

The reporter put a hand to her ear piece and paused as she listened to the feed from her producer. Her expression changed from intrigue to shock as she listened.

“An even more disturbing report is just now coming in from Ocherva, a frontier world on the edge of the Outer Rim. Two Stellar Rangers have engaged and destroyed a small alien ship believed to be a part of a larger group of starships. Unfortunately, not before one of the Rangers was killed in orbit by the alien ship. Nothing more is known about the location of the hostile alien starships at this time.”

The wavering holographic image disappeared as the senate chamber came alive with chatter about the events now happening at the edge of the Federation. Gail’s white knuckle grip on the podium remained. Her eyes still stared at the now empty area where the hologram had been. Her gut clenched with fear. Is my daughter on Ocherva safe? Was she the Ranger killed?  Her heart told her no. She slowly released her grip as her eyes focused on Senator Hoque. His face was paler than usual and she thought she saw a bit of anguish before his attention was taken by his aides.

Sumi-ness put a cool hand on Gail’s forearm. Her dark, button black eyes were sympathetic. “I’m sure your daughter is okay, Madam.”

Gail flashed a reassuring smile at her aid as she collected her composure. “Thank you.”

In all the years she had been on Selene, fighting for Outer Rim protection, she had never thought war would actually happen in her lifetime. It’s not that she wanted to be proven right, but deep inside, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of grim satisfaction. She only hoped that her people survived.

* * *

Captain Rik Raider gestured wildly with his arms as he described the propulsion system of the new starship prototype. The wealthy capitalists that made up his audience looked on with modest interest. They knew next to nothing about stardrive propulsion systems. But they were captivated by the young Captain’s unbridled enthusiasm for the subject.

There were six individuals on this tour. Each had made his wealth during the expansion days of the Federation, when the engines of economics fueled the exploration of the nearest star systems. Now they were interested in increasing their profits by funding research into new and faster starships. As always, the military was the testbed for all new transportation designs. This latest design was by Terra Tyne Transport Limited.

Standing silently beside Captain Raider was the Chief Designer for TTT, Guy Trever. An astute looking young man with old fashioned eye spectacles and long, blond hair. The spectacles were the result of an incurable eye condition, but Trever didn’t mind wearing them. He felt that they lent him the added measure of respect that his boyish face failed to provide for him. He was dressed in a plain white tunic with tan pants and leg wrappings. Clearly bored with catering to the Deep Pockets, as he called the financiers, his mind was going over possible workarounds for the troublesome new Tunnel Drive tubes.

“For the first time it will be possible to ply the vast distances between systems with the ease of driving an aircar over rugged terrain. Deep space travel will become more and more commonplace and the high costs associated with space travel will lower significantly.” Raider paused as he collected his breath.

“When will we see this new drive system in action, Captain?” A short, rotund capitalist asked.

J. P. Lannington had made his fortune selling lubricants for the old sub-light starships. The new Tunnel Drive would require less of his lubricants because they used fewer moving parts. He was more pessimistic about the future of the new drives, for good reason.

“Well sir, the first operational tests of the Tunnel Drives are happening now in deep space. Newer starships like the one we are aboard already have the new drives, but it will take years to retrofit the entire fleet.” Raider could see the look of satisfaction on the civilian’s face. He wouldn’t have to worry about his old style fusion drives going out of business for quite some time.

A message alert sounded. “Attention the ship. Attention the ship. Captain Raider to the bridge. Captain Raider to the bridge.”

Raider adjusted his satin blue cape and turned to put a hand on Trever’s shoulder.

“Gentlemen, I’m sorry for the intrusion, but I must take my leave. Mr. Trever will answer any more of your questions and take over the tour. Safe travels.”

Raider bowed out. Trever stepped up to take his place. He loathed this even more than tagging along on these formal tours.

* * *

Raider entered the crowded bridge and had to step over bundles of wiring and teams of civilian technicians to make his way to where his First Officer was standing at the Communications station. Commander Neve Trimble was hunched over the comm panel tweaking the settings to get a clearer signal. There was no Communications Officer assigned to the ship yet. She pulled off a switch box and stuck a resistance meter into the hole. The reading was displayed on the instrument resting on the panel. Unhappy with the reading, she stood up as the captain arrived by her side.

“Captain, there’s a Fleet message for you in here somewhere. We’re having problems getting the main dish aligned.”

Raider nodded. “Take your time commander. You got me out of that dreadful tour and for that I’m grateful.”

She returned to her readings. “Was it that bad, sir?”

“Worse. I hate messing with the Deep Pockets as Trever calls them. I’m always afraid they will pull the plug on something because of some off-hand remark that I might make.”

Raider looked around the cramped bridge. It was like being in an old-time submarine vessel. Pipes and conduits lined the walls and ceiling, all of it painted the same dull gray color. The lighting was dim or simply not yet turned on in many areas. The main viewer displayed lines of code as someone was compiling last minute program changes. They were the only military members present. Raider moved to his command seat and removed a box of parts so he could sit down.

“I think it’s audible now, sir. You’ll have to use these, the speakers are off line,” Commander Trimble said as she handed him a wireless headset.

Raider took them then hunted around on his armrest for the switch to activate them. It was missing. Trimble noticed his confusion and hit a switch on her station forward of his chair. Raider cupped his hands over the headsets to funnel out the ambient bridge noise.

The message had an automated header that identified the sender as Senator Gail Constantine from the planet Selene. When the Senator’s voice came on it was tinny and distant.

“Captain Raider, there has been an unfortunate incident in the Outer Rim, I need to see you as soon as possible. Admiral Daines has orders for you included in this transmission. I’m having a formal dinner party at my estate tomorrow evening. Please be prompt, we have much to discuss. Safe travel.”

Raider took off the headset and moved beside Trimble. “There’s data encrypted in this message can you route it to my quarters?”

“Aye, Sir. The ship’s data and communication lines are up tight.”

“Good. I have to attend a formal dinner party tomorrow evening on Selene. Would you mind attending with me?”

“Business or pleasure?” she said with a playful air in her voice.

Raider stared flatly at her. “Business, Commander. I want you to meet some people who could be influential to your career. Dress blues, I’ll send you the details over datcom.”

“I’ll be ready.”

Raider was about to leave when he stopped. “Commander, put together a brief report on the mission readiness of this ship and send it to me before tomorrow evening. We could be in for an early launching.”

“Aye, Sir. Trouble brewing somewhere?”

“Let’s hope not. We’re not ready for it.”

She watched him weave his way back to the lift and then she returned her attention to the comm panel problem. As she stared at the meter, her mind wondered about the dinner party and who she would be meeting. She knew the Captain well enough to know that he hadn’t asked her to attend with him because he couldn’t find a date. So that meant that he really did want her to meet someone important. An early launching meant that something bad was definitely happening somewhere. The Fleet never launched a new starship without plenty of pomp and circumstance plus press coverage. All of which required advance planning and strict schedules. She started going over in her head what needed to be done to get the ship under way, forcing any speculation about the dinner party to the back of her mind.

___________________

Author’s Comments:

Nothing too exciting in this chapter, compared to the first two. Sometimes you have to slow down and let characters react. But we are introduced to some more main characters, Raider, Trimble and Gail Constantine. The later becomes increasingly important to this novel and the next.

I wrote an entire scene about the crew of the S.S. Bourke a long time before writing this book. It essentially stranded a dozen crew on the planet they were in orbit of. But I yanked it. Their story is actually the back story for Tyrmia. If you have read Tyrmia, you may recall this ship’s name. Tyrmia takes place in the Starveyors Era, some thousand years after Starforgers.

Another relatively minor character introduced here is Sumi-ness, the human looking android that is President Constantine’s aide. Sumi-ness will return and become a focal point in the next novel in the Saga.

Character names, trivia: Rik Raider’s named after a Civil Air Patrol pilot I used to know back when I was a cadet in the Florida Wing. I remember my dad commenting that his name sounded like an action hero. Some thirty years later, I made him a starship captain.

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