Exerpt from Preparing The Ground (Preparations For War 1)

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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.


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 2, 2023 7:00 AM.

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