Measure Of Adulthood First Draft Excerpt

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I was so relieved to have this done Saturday I got the clean-up draft finished last night, and already this morning I have sent it off to my beta readers and got a cover artist I've worked with before started.

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"I have the helm," Asto told Sergeant Trimza.

"I am relieved," she agreed, transferring control to him.

"Condition Gold. Launch Starbirds."

"Condition Gold, Launching Starbirds," First Corporal Vidos, responded. Wandering River had a full platoon of fighters despite being a Strategic Space vessel; the auxiliary bays were the single largest allocation of her volume. Shaped like a fat bullet, the ship was fifteen ifourths in length, roughly four ifourths in diameter. It was a post craft's length that qualified her for this mission; yesterday Asto had had three crews in suits crawling over the outside of his ship, laying down three strips of exotic metal out of a specialty converter the length of the cylindrical two-thirds of her hull, connecting them to the ship's power grid and installing a new program for reading the results.

"Any idea how we got so lucky, ang?" Battalion Sergeant Masgera, the ship's head engineer, had asked sarcastically.

"I know exactly how it happened. My mother asked for me, and the rest of our post ships came along for the ride." he'd replied.

"I'd forgotten you're a Scimtar. What's the idea?"

"She's an Interstitial physicist. Instead of trying to put a whole detection array on one ship, Mom and her team decided to try dividing them up among several ships to increase the size of the baseline for measurements and as well as allowing a broader angle of dispersion. It's also cheaper and allows us to use existing ships rather than custom building ships the size of a big moon. Ours is a prototyping configuration. The hope is detecting demonic infestation across the full eleven dimensions at a range I think is incredible, but I only have a six rating; she's probably the top researcher in the Empire right now, and Dad's a nine, as well. She thinks we'll be able to use any number of sensing elements within about a two year range of each other, but we'll need test data to confirm. I imagine whatever the results, there will be assault missions to confirm within days if not hours."

"So our big break in finding the scaly djhanta?"

"Let's hope so. It's become a lot more urgent - the demons may have found a strategy that that shifts the balance their way."

"So why did she ask for you?"

"Because she knows I know enough, and am a good enough Interstitial pilot, to demand correct spacing and get her the quality of data she needs to make a real determination of the limits of the system."
"She's not coming?"

"She isn't replaceable at the moment, so no. The Merlon put her on Safety Reserve; none of us can see an appeal being successful."

"Must be nice."

He hadn't bothered explaining he'd been in the military fiftytwo years under war conditions because it was safer than being fully exposed to political rivals of his family; those outside the Great Houses never really understood. It had claimed the life of his younger brother despite the protection of being in the military. Instead, "She's not happy about someone else gathering the data for her. Said if I wasn't careful about it, it'd set us back five years. Said she'd remove my adulthood and force my wife to divorce me. Nothing was said about our children."

"She can't really do that? Never know with you Oranges." The Great Houses were a rule unto themselves, but in an Empire of over two thirteenths, there were still less than twenty prime of Seventh Order Guardians - and that counted those still legally children.

"No, but she was making a point. I will be careful."

Asto brought himself back to the present as Corporal Vidos reported, "Status Gold achieved, ang. All Starbirds mass-linked."

"Have our partners confirmed the position data and references?"

"Affirmative."

"Then signal control we're ready to begin the mission."

"They say Vector when ready."

"Aye, counting down from five....four....three...two...one..."

A single large ship with auxiliaries of comparatively negligible mass was about as easy as mass-linked Vectors got; all of the power was coming from Wandering River, and the small surrounding masses tended to help even out the stresses rather than accentuating them. Green band rose slightly and red band was falling off, but nothing that any Vector pilot couldn't have managed. Gray band and gravband were almost steady. As Grace says, easy peasy.

Blink.

The outside cameras showed the interstitial media dimly backlit, a thin, smoky, fog-like substance not unlike dark nebulae inside an instance. There wasn't enough light to see any color in it. The few sources of light didn't really illuminate unless they were close, cosmically speaking. "Confirm position!"

Asto himself was helm; that made him responsible for the most important piece of that confirmation. Bearings were fuzzy due to the interstitial medium, but peak readings on sources of radiation showed the correct angles of divergence. Their position was less than an ithird from plan. "Auxiliary release mass link!" he ordered, cancelling velocity as well as he could, precessing slowly to line up with the most prominent source of radiation. "Shields off! I say again, shields off! Strobe the interstitial probes!"

Engineering fed small amounts of power into the three strips of exotic metal newly installed on the hull, in carefully measured sine waves. The point was signaling ready to their five cohorts; when all six were strobing the program would take over. Unfortunately, it would also be a signal potential enemies could home in on. Shields had to be off; otherwise they'd absorb the energy the ships were trying to sense. That was what gave the mission its pucker factor, and why the auxiliaries were on high alert. Hull charge limited the damage; it didn't stop it from happening entirely.

"Two strobes, ang! Three! Ranges nominal, one year forty-five. Five strobes confirmed! Program engaging!"

Asto took over, "Emissions zero!" The ship's other active sensors needed to be off to sense the echo.

"Countdown to pulse! Three...two...one...pulse."

Even on the scale of a post craft, whose primary weapon put out the energy of several hundred G-type stars, the pulse energy was significant. "Capacitors at twentytwo iprime!" Engineering reported, "Siphons at full draw...forty iprime...capacitors full; banking siphons!"

Asto was watching the returns. Like primitive radar, the returns started almost immediately. The fastest returns were the closest objects, and returns would be ongoing as long as anyone was there to sense them. Unlike radar, the scale wasn't a single planet and the velocity of the pulse was more than sixty to the fifth power times faster than the speed of light. Theory said a galaxy-sized return in eleven dimensions could be painted in under thirty minutes; the longer they could hold position like this, the bigger the volume they'd get data on. His mother told him the theoretical limit to the range was over a fifth but nobody expected them to hold position that long; mission instructions were to return in four days even if they encountered no fractal demons. He hoped the fractal demons wouldn't realize what they were up to. Failing that, he hoped the Empire's adversaries didn't get a good location. Not a very strong hope, that. Were the situations reversed, Asto would have expected to be in energy range of a demonic ship he was hunting within a minute. However, the demonic gremlin caste technicians were known for slip-shod results. Just have to hope their brakiri masters aren't on the spot.

Now we wait.

It was lonely, being the only ship of any size for over a year in any direction. The other five post craft could support them or vice versa - if they got a message off and survived long enough. Starbirds were small enough their non-combat power was negligible, but the main ship would be the first target, and they were sitting in what could be demonic territory with no active sensors and shields off, waiting for the return off their searching pulse. From the returns, Asto was assembling a picture of the limited return they'd gotten off the strobing phase of emission. It was low power, therefore with limited range, but no demonic fractals were showing up within it. That was a good thing for Asto and his shipmates, not so good for the mission, which was to find demonic fractals so they could be destroyed.

The first significant return happened eleven minutes into their wait, a projected distance of seven square years fortytwo. "I need a courier," he told Corporal Vidos. Assuming that the test was valid and it was the closest demonic realm, there was enough distance that the demons might be a while, and passive sensors might notice their approach in time to give warning. Asto realized there was no reason he was aware of the ships sending the pulse had to be the ones receiving it. In other words, once the pulse was sent, there was no reason for the ship sending it to wait for the return - which could be sensed by an entirely different set of ships in stealth mode anywhere within two years or so. Ships which hadn't sent out a universe-spanning energy pulse to call attention to their position. The Empire has all the post-size craft it could want. But we're committed for this test. Better to hope they don't realize what we're up to yet. But demons are lazy, not stupid, and I suspect we'll be doing this many times in the future.

"Courier assigned. Activating reserve." Even a ship with a crew of several squares didn't have an unlimited number of Interstitial qualified pilots, and most of them were already out in the Starbirds, flying cover.

"Return to base with the location of that demonic realm. Advise them I advise an immediate attack in at least division strength, and request an update on whatever action is performed." These days, the mission was always destruction, and that was cheaper than conquest. The demons weren't linking their new domains any longer; there was no longer a reason to pay the higher costs of conquest rather than destruction.


Copyright 2024 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 5, 2024 7:00 AM.

Measure Of Adulthood was the previous entry in this blog.

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