Excerpt from Preparing the Ground (Preparations for War Book One)

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As the capture buffer built up, I double-checked the mission briefing. The briefing file said that Ross 154 was a young star, less than a billion years old, but it hadn't been subjected to the same scrutiny as Barnard's Star because it wasn't the second closest star to Sol. Roughly nine and a half light-years from Earth, it was slightly bigger and more luminous (M3.5 as opposed to M4), but even dimmer as seen from Earth because of the additional distance. It was thought the habitable zone would be from roughly 9.75 million to 18.9 million kilometers, but I expected Will would search a good bit outside that, as he had at Barnard's. The potential deal killer was that it was a flare star, periodically sending out pulses of energy that could double or more its energy output. One recorded flare had been over a hundred thousand times the star's mean energy output. Any planets there were had likely been sterilized on at least one face more than once. On the plus side, if there was a usable planet in the right place, it would likely be completely empty and the Empire could deal with stellar flares.

It wasn't very long before Major Kyle slowed us down and took the time-jammer offline. "I'm sorry, but I'm fried. My mind is starting to wander off task, and you can't take your attention away for half a second without risking disaster." We were about two light-years out from Barnard's Star, roughly forty percent of the way.

"I can take over, Major," I volunteered.

Cabron had to stick his patronizing nose in. "I don't want to insult you, Joe, but this is kind of unique, and no Earth human has done this before. Major Kyle is at least trained for this level of concentration."
"Corporate said to trust him with any piloting he was willing to do," Major Kyle replied.

"No offense, but Joe is what, twenty-two? No degrees, no training, I'm not even certain why he's here."

Like I keep telling you, Dulles was a dumbass. He didn't even bother reading his crew dossiers.
I'd had enough of this nonsense. "Joe is here," I said, "Because unlike everyone else, Joe has actual Imperial qualifications at everything but Vector piloting. That and Joe can use the standard Imperial interface, which means Joe can respond quicker - I don't need the Earth units translation overlay."
Will knew, and Major Kyle. Jayden was beaming, "Right on!" and Dulles looked at me blankly, jaw wide open.

"You think they'd hire an engineer that didn't know anything? Didn't you read the dossier? Dude, they bought you the best available on Earth. The Dog Lady is my aunt, and she hired me as a cargo handler and made me learn everything I could. I've been studying this since a year before anyone else knew the Empire existed. I've got crew experience. I've only piloted time-jammer in simulation, but I've done everything else for real with those half-mile wide ships of hers." Indra and Earth were a little over 393 meters in radius - but the media called them 'half-mile'. They were the biggest ships making regular trips to Earth, though I'd seen much bigger ships on excursion to the Empire. The class two capital ships were spheres a 'mere' 2580 feet tall when grounded out there on Santa Cruz Island, the most important to the Channel Islands Imperial base. I'd also piloted cutters like Golden Hind and Starbirds a few times.
"And until today, simulation was all the time-jammer training I had," Kyle said, "Goddard told me Joe could probably do this mission all by himself, but the board wanted a full crew. Give it a year or so, and there will probably be others like him or even better, but for now, his family is the best Earth has. So get out of the way and let him work. Or wait until I've had another break."

Will chimed in, "Either way is okay with me. I want to get back to Xandra, but they're paying me good."
"Same with me," Kyle said, "I get paid based on mission duration. You getting profitability bonuses, Mr. Dulles?"

That decided him, but the look in his eye told everyone he'd be trying to get even. "Proceed, Mr. Bernard." I kept my mouth shut, and thought about the bonus for not taking over.

I turned off the Earth unit translation overlay on my panel, to demonstrate to Dulles that I knew what was going on. Imperial units, we were about four and a half years from Ross 154. I re-engaged the time-jammer, ran the field up to ten square (36,000). I monitored the far more numerous rocks we didn't need to dodge for a couple minutes Imperial, until I was comfortable I could react to oncoming debris in time, then doubled the speed to twenty square. Major Kyle hadn't had it past fifty thousand c, but once I had an actual dodge under my belt, about five minutes later, I raised it again to thirty square and left it there. That was in accordance with safety protocols developed back in the Empire. It was only another five minutes before it was time to start slowing down to approach Ross 154 (do the math if you don't believe me - 216,000 Imperial minutes to an Imperial year). It didn't take long, but Major Kyle hadn't been exaggerating. You don't know how hard it is not to allow your attention to wander at all until you can't. What may seem counterintuitive is that as long as you're within your reaction time, it's less draining to go faster so you don't have to do it for as long.

I dropped us out of light speed about two Imperial minutes from Ross 154 (the Empire measures distance in terms of the amount of time it takes for light to travel that distance). Imperial minutes are 102 Earth seconds, so we were about sixty-one million kilometers from the M3.5 star. In the solar system, that would be about the orbit of Mercury, but here we were way outside the potentially habitable zone. Class M stars are small by comparison with the sun, and don't put out nearly as much energy. This one had about a sixth of the mass of Sol and put out roughly four tenths of a percent of Sol's energy per second. As a consequence, it would still be burning ten billion years after Sol was gone.

"I'm picking up a sub-jovian at roughly sixty million kilometers. Mass about twelve times Earth - a little less than Uranus. Way too far out for moons to be habitable.... BINGO! We've got a rock, eighty-two percent of Earth mass, about thirteen million kilometers out. Lifeless, thin nitrogen-argon atmosphere, pressure about ten millibars. If I understand correctly, that's what the Empire calls a Category Red World - suitable orbit, lifeless but terraformable. Looks like it's not quite tidally locked yet. Re-spin it, set a big siphon and converter to generating an atmosphere..."

Jayden picked up the thread, "Add bottom level biologicals, give it a few years, and start going outside to sunbathe. Woo-hoo! We all just got our level one bonus!"

"Don't forget to put up a force screen against the flares," Will reminded him.

Jayden ran with it long enough to agree, "Yeah, wouldn't want people popping like popcorn."

"Why not? Just the thing for a hungry carnivore's midnight snack. Go out and pick off the nicely puffed people..."

"Does this carnivore want to be popped just like his prey?" Jayden could turn wet blanket fast when a joke had been carried too far in his opinion.

"I'm going to tap the time-jammer to bring us in close," I announced. I didn't wait for Dulles to say yes or no, but I kept it down to a few multiples of the speed of light for a couple of seconds, just close enough that by the time I'd brought us to rest with respect to the planet, we'd be a few thousand kilometers off. It was a dark brown on my outside display now, with occasional dark red fault lines where the continental plates came together. "Only five kilometers to mantle," Will said, "That's really thin crust pizza!" Now that we weren't superluminal, I had plenty of spare time to let my attention wander, so I checked the on-board library. According to the database, the Empire did have a process for such worlds, but the terse explanation might as well have been in cuneiform. I'd learned Technical, but that didn't mean I understood a hundred thousand years of science Earth didn't have.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on December 26, 2017 7:13 PM.

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