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Shards of the Abyss

Shards of the Abyss

By Ronald Brandenburg

Published by Ronald Brandenburg at Shakespir

Copyright 2016 Ronald Brandenburg

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This short story is a sequel to The Lonely Station set in the Other Worlds universe, I recommend that you read that story first to get a firm grasp on where the protagonist, Jesse Ownsman, grew up and came from before continuing on with this story. If you finish this, or any other story that I’ve written, please leave a review online where you downloaded it from. Thank you and happy reading.

Aridia was a desert world, uninhabited except by a New Order outpost and a few corporate mining sites. A lack of local population meant that the corporations could mine in the cheapest way possible, without care for pollution. That was where Jesse Ownsman was stationed after his brief stint in a New Order Navy boot camp. Still, it wasn’t Uriah and he was fed three meals a day.

In truth, Jesse was happy. He had a purpose in life and a real job, with a steady pay check. Back on Uriah, he was cramped, hungry, and cooped up in his bunk and the hallways of the station waiting for some critical piece of equipment to fail and hoping he had the expertise and spare parts to fix it. Here, he had firm ground under his feet and breathable, if slightly polluted air to breathe.

Boot camp had been rough. It had been discovered early that Jesse couldn’t read all that well. His instructors had actually failed him out of his first attempt and sent him to an adult learning center to improve his education. That alone endeared Jesse to the New Order, his limited education aboard the Uriah had only been sufficient enough for him to do his job. Once his reading and writing was deemed acceptable, he was re-entered into boot camp.

The combat training that Jesse received was grueling, but he had lived within an extreme environment his entire life. The most difficult part was adjusting to a higher gravity on the planet where the training took place. The NOS doctors had given him a physical before and after training and remarked about how a low gravity environment and lack of exercise had left his muscles underdeveloped, but he had made up for that during training.

All that was in the past though, now Junior Trooper Jesse Ownsman was assigned to Aridia to assist in the maintenance of the New Order base located there. He didn’t realize that the assignment wasn’t a good one, but he was glad to have it. The journey from boot camp to Aridia had taken a couple weeks and a few different stops. The transport that he was placed on was old, slow and had to make stops to pick up more personnel and supplies for the station. Jesse used that time to absorb as much information as he could with his new found reading abilities.

The transport landed on one of three pads that were located around the New Order base, the other two were empty. From what Jesse could discern, the air traffic controller chose that one to minimize the amount of dust that drifted over the base from the landing. The rear hatch of the transport opened and a sergeant barked orders out for all personnel to grab their duffel bag and get off the ship. Jesse immediately complied; he had found out early that you don’t want to draw the attention of a sergeant by being the slowest to obey orders. As a result, he was among the first to exit the transport.

One look around informed Jesse that there wasn’t much at the outpost. He had expected a small town to accompany the New Order site, but all he could see were hangers, warehouses, an air traffic control tower, and mountains off in the distance. Everything was covered in a layer of fine orange dust.

“Keep moving Ownsman; get your ass to the mess hall. It’s the big building in the middle.”

“Yes, Sergeant” Jesse also had learned never to call a Sergeant ‘Sir’.

With his duffel bag still slung over his shoulder, Jesse half jogged over to the mess hall and made his way inside.

The mess hall was a simple structure separated into two rooms, a small kitchen and a large room with tables and benches. The room was occupied with the recent arrivals and a grizzled old man standing at the front that Jesse had never seen before. After Jesse had set his bag down and sat down and the last of the stragglers came in, the old man loudly cleared his throat and addressed the assembled troopers.

“Welcome to Aridia, the hottest, driest shithole that the New Order has deemed worthy of claiming. All of you are here because you have probably been deemed second rate or useless. I will do my best to utilize you, if you fail in your duties here, then there is no place in the New Order military for you. Now, I have your placement roster. I will call your name and then your assignment. You may leave for your section once you have your placement.”

Jesse sat as the old man called out names and assignment until he reached his name. Most of the assignments were troopers to defense positions. There were two pilots that had been assigned to the small air wing. One person was sent to the air traffic control tower.

“Jesse Ownsman, maintenance”

Jesse stood up, collected his bag, and left the quickly emptying room. Every building had a prominent sign stating what was located within; maintenance was on the end of the short row of warehouses. He let himself into the warehouse and let his eyes adjust to the semi darkness after the glare of the desert sun. Before he had fully adjusted, a low, soft voice called his name.

“Junior Trooper Jesse Ownsman, welcome to the maintenance department of Aridia. Our largest concern is dust buildup on damn near everything. We keep a squadron of Falcons flying and an odd assortment of trucks in working order. In addition, we have a deep space observatory located on the nearest mountain top that is under our care, but it doesn’t require much. It is ran by Dr. Ian Mojave, he is a nice enough man, few wants except to be left alone, doesn’t come down off his mountain very often. Your bunk is over there, leave your duffel bag there and we will get started.”

Jesse nodded and did as ordered. When he came back, he asked the old man what his name was.

“My name is Maintenance Sergeant Arron Fitch, but people around here call me Mr. Fix-it. From what I’ve read in your file, you’re straight out of boot camp. However, I read that you’ve been stuck aboard a near derelict mining station and managed to keep it running since you could hold a wrench. That is the kind of background I like Jesse, I would rather have an apprentice that knows the basics and can handle replacement scarcity to somebody that has to read a manual every time there is an issue. After a while with me, you’ll be up to date on fixing up our fighters, trucks, and environmental conditioning units. If you commit yourself to learning, then I will write a recommendation for you to go into your personnel file. Who knows where you will end up after that, but you won’t get stuck here.”

“Thank you, Mr. Fix-it. May I ask why you’re here? It seems that this is a dead end.”

“I’m at the end of my career, but I have nowhere else to go. I asked to be sent to a quiet outpost so that they would overlook my age. If I were stationed at a core world or space station, then some overzealous quartermaster would see my age and muster me out of the New Order military. Then what would I do? I’d rather stay here and keep working until I no longer can. Come on, enough about me. Let me show you what you will be responsible for.”

Arron showed Jesse around the base and pointed out issues that he dealt with on a regular basis, like sand being pushed up against buildings and into the environmental conditioning units. Then, they headed for the hangars. Inside was a small squadron of eight falcons.

Falcons were old trainer craft that the base on Aridia had acquired and recommisioned as armed scout ships. The cadre of New Order pilots consisted of two elderly trainers and a slew of green pilots fresh out of basic. Their missions involved flying over the corporate mining facilities or into orbit if another force threatened the peace of Aridia’s few citizens.

“We have a few trucks around here too. The base commander uses them to shuffle supplies around the base, carry soldiers off into the hills on their training missions, or send supplies to the mines if the corporations ask for it. They aren’t fancy, pretty dependable; they won’t give you any trouble. That is about it for the tour, any questions?”

“What about the observatory that you mentioned earlier?”

“Oh yeah, Dr. Mojave’s place; he calls us if anything breaks up there, but since it’s just him and a few AIs, he doesn’t call often. He does come down to get fresh supplies; he even grabs a meal from the mess hall on occasion. He does some kind of research with his long range telescopes, but his observatory also tracks ships that approach the planet and interfaces with the satellites in orbit.”

Arron scratched his chin as he looked around, thinking to himself if he missed anything that he should tell Jesse. Remembering nothing else, he turned back.

“There is one tradition here that I really like. The first night that you’re here you have to go stargazing. You see, without any cities nearby, the entire sky stay almost as bright at night as during the day. Here on the rim, we have a completely different view of the heavens that anywhere else in inhabited space. That is one reason why Dr. Mojave has an observatory out here. We will go get some grub, and then tinker about in the shop. But when it gets dark, we will take a truck out into the desert a bit and do a bit of stargazing.”

Jesse was very excited. He missed looking out of viewports aboard the Uriah and seeing stars twinkling out in all directions of the nether. The world that his boot camp had been on had massive cities dotting the surface that threw up light pollution so that no one could see a single star at night. With that treat in mind, he ate quickly and shadowed Arron while performing his absolute best to fix up a truck that was in the shop with engine troubles.

That was the truck that they used to drive out into the desert. Mr. Fitch made a comment saying they could justify their jaunt into the desert as a test drive of the newly fixed truck. Jesse was overjoyed as he grabbed a couple canteens and jumped into the truck.

His good mood was crushed when they left the compound and ran into a perimeter patrol. The patrol had six troopers in it, including two that he had started boot camp with. The sergeant of the patrol recognized Mr. Fix-it and stopped him for a friendly chat, while the fresh troopers stood off and kept glancing at Jesse. When the wind shifted, Jesse could hear some of the conversation.

“That guy over there failed out of boot camp because he couldn’t read. Why would the New Order let somebody in like that?”

A chittering of mean spirited laughter came next and Jesse felt ashamed. It had never occurred to him that there was anything wrong with his level of education. Onboard the Uriah, everybody was educated to a point where they could perform their duties and no more. It was considered a waste of time for people to stay in a classroom when their labor was needed to mine or fix the station or a myriad of other jobs that had to be completed to keep the station livable.

Arron’s conversation with the sergeant ended and he put the truck back in drive. After a few minutes he noticed that Jesse wasn’t saying anything and looked over to see that the look of joy had been completely replaced by one of barely restrained sorrow.

“What happened to you?”

“The troopers were making fun of me. I went to boot camp the first time with two of them and failed out because I couldn’t read very well.”

“Son, those egg heads are just that. They don’t know any better and take their upbringing for granted. You’re worth ten of them. Don’t worry about your past Jesse; you’ve got a bright future ahead of you. They probably won’t rise much above base patrol, at least not with their attitude.”

Jesse knew that Arron was just trying to make him feel better, but some of it rang true. He had already managed to leave Uriah, where he didn’t have any kind of future. The New Order had already benefitted him by giving him some formal education.

“Don’t worry about them Jesse. Here, this is as good a spot as any.”

Arron stopped the vehicle and they both got out. The view was breath taking. From horizon to horizon, stars filled the sky. With his naked eyes, Jesse saw star clusters, other planets in the system, and outshining everything else was a gas nebula. Jesse couldn’t help but drop his jaw at the view.

“I said its tradition for every newbie to come out here their first night, but I come out as often as I can.”

“I can see why, the view here is better than what I had on Uriah. What is that?” Jesse pointed up at the gas nebula.

“That is what Dr. Mojave refers to as the ‘Shards of the Abyss’. It’s a gas nebula that is very close to this system, galactically of course. It’s a couple light years away, basically in our backyard. That is why I requested to be posted here Jesse, I love looking up at these stars. No sounds but a little wind with this view every night.”

The two of them didn’t talk much after that; they just stared at the stars for hours. Jesse had actually nodded off in the bed of the truck and awoke in the maintenance shop; Arron had driven him back after finding him asleep, but left him in the back of the truck.

As a result of his chosen bunk, Jesse awoke with a stiff neck. Mr. Fix-it was nowhere to be found, so Jesse got up and sauntered over to the mess hall, still rubbing his neck. Once there, he saw the troopers that had made fun of him the night before. Deciding to be proactive, he walked over to where they were sitting.

“Good morning troopers, have a nice patrol last night?”

His query was met with silence as they pretended to ignore him.

“Do you have a problem with me?” he continued.

“Go away grease monkey.”

“Fine, just remember that I’m the guy who fixes your shit.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Nope, just a reminder that karma’s a bitch.”

“Whatever Dumbo, get out of here.”

Jesse got a tray and went through the chow line. When he had finished gathering his breakfast he took a look around and noticed one person who wasn’t in fatigues sitting alone. So he walked over and introduced himself. To his surprise, the man had a warm smile and named himself as Dr. Mojave.

“Mr. Fix-it told me about your observatory up on the mountain. We were looking at the gas nebula last night. It reminded me a bit like home.”

“So you have an interest in the stars? That is good, not many fresh troopers have any time for stargazing.”

“I was born and lived on a mining station until I joined the New Order military recently.”

“Ahh, you are space born; that is a rarity.”

Jesse’s ears perked up, he didn’t consider himself a rarity seeing as how his entire family had been space born. The talk from the previous night had put him down about his upbringing, but now, this Dr. Mojave was telling him that he was special.

“Why don’t you come up to the observatory tonight? I might have something for you to fix. You can take a long look through the telescope while you’re up there.”

“That would be great.”

Dr. Mojave finished his breakfast, nodded to Jesse, and left the mess hall. Jesse was excited again, as if being the butt of the previous night’s scorn had never happened at all. In short order, he finished his breakfast and left too.

A short walk brought him back to the maintenance warehouse, where he found Mr. Fix-it.

“I see you followed your nose to breakfast; good, because we’ve got a long list of broken equipment to get through today.”

“I met Dr. Mojave at breakfast this morning; he invited me out to his observatory tonight to look through his telescope at the nebula.”

Arron nodded and smiled, “Well you better get to work then.”

Jesse nodded and the two of them began to organize their tools needed for the day. After unclogging an air intake on one of the falcons, Arron sent Jesse around with a long handled coal shovel to clear sand build up away from the buildings that made up the base.

“If we stay on top of it and do a little each day, then it is not too much effort. But, if we get a sandstorm or don’t keep the dunes at bay, then it takes a lot more effort to keep the ECU’s clear.”

So Jesse went around to each building, clearing sand away from each air conditioner. It was hard, hot work, but he made good progress. Until he saw the trooper walking by with a group. Once he was spotted the offending trooper starting talking loud enough for Jesse to easily hear.

“They’ve got the retard doing easy work again.”

Jesse had had enough.

“What the hell is your problem?”

“I wasn’t talking to you, moron.”

“You’re talking about me.”

“So, what are you going to do about it? You don’t belong here, or in the New Order military.”

“I am needed just as much as you are, probably more.”

The trooper scoffed, “How the hell you figure that?”

“How many mechanics are on this base? Two. Now how many gun-toters are here? A shit load more than two. Now, I don’t know what grudge you’ve got against me, but it’s fucking stupid, we’re on the same side.”

The trooper reddened and didn’t have a comeback for that one. The other troopers were looking at him and back to Jesse.

“Let’s go, we’ve got better things to do that stand here in the desert sun.”

The group of troopers moved on. Jesse resumed his work, wondering if he was going to have trouble from that trooper. After another hour, the sand had been cleared from every building on the base and Jesse headed back to the maintenance shop. Mr. Fitch noticed him walk in.

“You clear all the sand?”

“Yep, I had a talk with that trooper too. I think we’re good.”

“Well, the base commander has a dim view of troopers fighting each other.”

“I don’t want to fight him, but I don’t want him to continue calling me an idiot either.”

“Well, we’ve got another truck to fix, and then you can go up to Dr. Mojave.”

The two of them worked all afternoon on another truck. Jesse started to notice that clogged air intakes and carburetors were the prime trouble makers on this dry, desert world. In the case of this truck, dust and sand had made their way through the engine and into the pistons. Without asking Arron, Jesse started completely disassembling the engine, taking off the head and pulling the cam shaft and pistons out and putting them in a mineral oil bath. Mr. Fix-it just sat back and watched Jesse, seemingly amused that this fresh out of boot camp trooper just dove into a complete overhaul.

Jesse didn’t notice Arron’s absence for over an hour and was looking around for a grinder before realizing that he hadn’t heard his voice. When he started looking for Fitch, the elder man started laughing.

“This really is your element isn’t it? I know that most mechanics would have figured the problem out and called a supply depot for a whole new replacement engine, but you just started breaking this one down to repair. I like that; you’ll be a great mechanic.”

“Thanks, where I’m from we didn’t have the luxury of ordering new parts. We either fixed it with what was on hand or did without. My old boss taught me everything he knew about maintenance and repair work.”

“Tell you what, we have all the time in the world, why don’t you go on up to the observatory. I think you’ve earned your keep today. But go get a shower first; Dr. Mojave won’t appreciate a stinky mechanic in his observatory.”

Jesse nodded and did as he was told, the excitement building again as it had the previous night. Within an hour he had his tools up, gotten a quick meal and a shower. Arron let him take the truck from the previous night and Jesse drove as fast as he could to the observatory. The trip still took almost an hour. When he pulled up to the observatory, the door to the inside was open. The air was noticeably cooler and thinner up on the mountain. Jesse shut the engine off and let himself in.

The inside of the observatory was much smaller than Jesse thought. Dr. Mojave had most of the lights off as well.

“Dr. Mojave, are you in here?”

“Up here”

Jesse looked up and saw that a catwalk ringed the upper portion of the main observatory. Extending into the middle of the huge room was a hanging walkway that ended at a small platform where the doctor was reclining in a chair, with his eye planted on an eyepiece. Looking around, Jesse saw banks of computers, most with their monitors off.

“If you want to see what I’m looking at, turn on that screen to your left.”

Jesse turned and found the screen that Mojave was referring to. The whole time, the doctor kept his eye glued to the telescope, not looking down at Jesse at all. With a single button, the screen snapped to life and a very colorful display of gas appeared on the screen. Jesse was amazed at the display in front of him.

“I’m jealous that you get to look at the stars every night.”

“There are draw backs, absolutely no social life and I typically look at the same area night after night, but I pan the sky every night just to take it all in.”

“What are you working on now?”

“I am trying to determine if it is economically feasible to harvest gas from the nebula. Also, the military has me looking for hidden Confederate bases. Or any other bases for that matter.”

Jesse turned quiet and watched the screen for over an hour before he noticed something move.

“What is that?”

“What is what?”

“I saw something move on the screen.”

“Let’s see, I can freeze the screen and extract an image from a few minutes ago and compare them.”

Dr. Mojave did that and brought them up on the screen next to Jesse. A computer program quickly analyzed the two photos for differences and highlighted the movement that Jesse noticed. For the first time, the doctor looked down at Jesse.

“You have spotted a ship. Well done, I’ve been staring through the scope all night and never saw it. I’m going to move the telescope and zoom in to get a clearer picture.”

Within a couple minutes the observatory’s dome had shifted and Dr. Mojave refocused on the area in question.

“It’s definitely a ship, a big one to have been seen from this far away. Maybe it’s a space station. I will relay this discovery to Commander Hammac, he might know of a New Order mission in the nebula. If not, you might have made a very important discovery Jesse; I will mention that you saw it first. It’s always a good idea to associate your name with important news.”

“Thank you”

“You should probably go back to your warehouse tonight, but come back tomorrow evening and we will see if we can gather more information on this mysterious ship.”

“Definitely”

Jesse let himself outside and hopped back into the work truck, excited to have made a discovery, no matter how small. The hour drive back to the base flew by as he pondered about what the ship could be. Jesse pulled into the maintenance shop, hopped out, and got ready for bed. The next thing he knew, it was daylight again.

With a groan, Jesse got up from his bunk; Arron was nowhere to be seen. The old man liked to wake up early and get to work before the sun came up and people started calling in maintenance requests. Seeing as how he hadn’t been assigned any tasks yet, Jesse decided that he had time to go get some breakfast.

After he was through eating, Jesse went back to the maintenance shop and still didn’t see Mr. Fix-it, so he decided that he could burn a few hours clearing dust and sand away from the ECUs around the base, at least he would be useful that way. When the sun was at its apex, Jesse had completed the task that he had set himself and made his way back to the shop.

“Where have you been?”

“I’ve been clearing sand away from the buildings. I didn’t see you this morning.”

“All the team leaders were called in for a meeting. It seems that you had a fun night last night. That ship you saw is not a New Order ship, but Dr. Mojave has calculated that it is coming this way and as fast as it can on sub-light engines. You have been reassigned to him until we can find out what the unknown ship wants. The base has been placed on alert, the Falcon squadron is going to start keeping half the wing in the air at a time and the perimeter patrol has been doubled. Messages have been sent out to the corporate miners on this planet to watch out.”

“Wow that is a lot of excitement.”

“We don’t get many visitors out here and the NOMC doesn’t like us to request aid unless it is completely necessary. It’s an expense that they don’t like to pay. Even once we send for aid though, it will take at least two weeks before it arrives. If we are about to be attacked, that makes us an easy target. You’re going to help Dr. Mojave keep an eye on the ship and scan the nebula for other potential ships. You leave as soon as you can gather your stuff.”

Since he had only gotten there two days earlier, his few belongings and clothes had not gotten scattered about, it was only a matter of seconds as he crammed everything back into his duffel bag.

“I hope this is a short term reassignment, I have high hopes of you turning out to be a great mechanic.”

“I will be back after all of this blows over.”

Jesse got back into the truck that he had driven the night before and took off on the hour drive to the observatory. The sun was still high in the sky, but the satellites in orbit had been refocused to keep a watchful eye on the intruder. Once the sun set though, the powerful observatory could be used to track the ship and scan for its compatriots if it had any. Jesse hoped that it wasn’t a Confederate ship coming to destroy them, but Arron’s comments about them being an easy target made Jesse doubt the safety of the New Order base.

The days seem to last forever on Aridia, the sun was still high when Jesse arrived at the observatory. This time, the door was closed when Jesse hopped out, to keep the heat of the desert sun away from the delicate instruments inside the observatory. Again, Jesse let himself inside.

“Mr. Ownsman, is that you?”

“Yes sir, Dr. Mojave. Mr. Fix-it told me to report to you until the crisis is over.”

“Yes, Jesse, we have a lot of work ahead of us. According to my calculations, the ship will be here in about 40 hours, just before dawn.”

“Do you know whose allegiance the ship belongs to?”

“No, it is much too far away to see markings. I’m still amazed that you saw it at all. The computer didn’t see it, but it is looking for meteors closer to Aridia. Anyways, we will use the telescope tonight, but today we will parse through the satellite data. If we find anything, I will contact Commander Hammac with the news. You will sit over there and use that workstation.”

Jesse put his duffel bag on the ground next to the desk that Dr. Mojave indicated and powered on the data slate that was connected to the observatory network. Quickly, the slate started showing real-time data from multiple satellites in orbit. The readings were consistent with each other. From what Jesse could understand, the still unknown ship had a constant power output and speed. Its speed and direction had not changed since the previous night. It was putting out no message on any frequency.

“If that is an enemy ship, why is it so far out?”

“When a ship comes out of hyperspace, it emits a very large pulse that is easy to pick up by sensors. By dropping out in the nebula and flying here on sub-light thrusters, they ensured that that signature was disrupted enough so that we didn’t pick it up. This has all the hallmarks of a sneak attack. They probably hoped to get the drop on us before we could send a message to the New Order Military Command identifying them. The Confederacy isn’t the only one resisting the New Order, but the others don’t want to come out publicly against the New Order. You seeing them against the backdrop of the gas nebula was simply bad luck for them.”

“If they are here to attack us though, we are still in danger. A small wing of old Falcons won’t stop a ship that big.”

“Our prospects don’t look very good, but we will be able to get a message out. That’s better than being surprised by this ship and being wiped out without the New Order having a clue. The commander may even try to negotiate our surrender, though I doubt he will do that.”

Jesse took what the doctor was saying and realized that he probably didn’t have a long career in the New Order military if what the doctor said was true. Meekly, he continued the conversation.

“What will happen?”

“Well, I’m not an officer, but I think they will start with an orbital bombardment. They will not waste ground troops until every building has been destroyed, but after the bombardment they will land a couple transports filled with soldiers to wipe out any survivors. Then, they will move on to the corporate mines on the planet. Nobody left alive on Aridia to say that this faction or another was the aggressor. The ship will jam our communications once they enter the system here, so we can’t send a message out, but thanks to you we will have sent our message long before then.”

“That doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy.”

“Sorry Jesse, the universe is a cruel place.”

Jesse got quiet again and watched the data slate spit out more data from the satellites. Nothing new came from the satellites before sundown. Jesse figured that looking through the telescope would at least be more colorful than looking at a black screen with green lettering all over it. The afternoon passed very slowly as Jesse contemplated his demise. He had always known death was close by. Uriah had been a wreck that was slowly falling apart with the residents nearly powerless to keep holding it together. Several times, a meteor storm had hit the station and depressurized multiple sections at a time. He and Rick had worked around the clock to patch things up as best they could. Sometimes people died; there was nothing that they could have done.

Finally, the sun set and Dr. Mojave turned the telescope on. Jesse repositioned himself so that he could watch the big screen that was linked to the telescope. Instantly, the ship appeared on screen in much better detail than the night before. Clearly, it was a warship, but it wasn’t a battleship or a dreadnought, probably just a cruiser.

“I’m going to run the images through a ship identifier program. Hopefully it can tell us what ship that is and who owns it, but if it was built at a private shipyard and not scanned by a New Order vessel, then it won’t appear in the database.”

The observatory was quiet except for hums as the computer ran through the known database of warships. It took a while since the images fed into the program were from extremely far away and the database of ships was very expansive. After the program had started, Dr. Mojave had widened the field of the telescope to start looking for other ships. He moved slowly so that the computer could compare different shots to analyze the differences.

Jesse brought up an image of the cruiser, which was extremely blurry so he couldn’t make out any ports. Thinking back to his training though, he didn’t remember cruisers being described as carrying any kind of fighters, but they had turrets and rail guns. More than enough to defend against the old squadron of Falcons that were all that defended Aridia.

The night past slowly as Jesse came to the realization that he probably wouldn’t survive the encounter with this mysterious ship. The only excitement came early in the morning when the computer decided that the ship was the ISS Penelope from the Hermitage Corporation; an older cruiser that still boasted a formidable array of weapons that were more than capable of sustaining an orbital bombardment. The Hermitage Corporation was loosely aligned with the Confederacy of Traders, but had not publicly declared their support.

Dr. Mojave sent the data to Commander Hammac to relay back to the New Order Military Command. They would put the Hermitage Corporation under investigation and freeze their assets. At least something good would come from this, Jesse thought. At least no other ships had been found in support of the Penelope.

Once the sun came up, the telescope became useless again. All the satellites were trained at the incoming ship, but no new information was coming in. Less than an hour after the sun’s rising, Jesse couldn’t keep his eyes open and fell asleep at the desk that he had been sitting at all night. Dr. Mojave let him sleep, there was nothing that Jesse could do anyways, except be anxious and pester him with questions. The doctor was used to long nights and wasn’t as exhausted as Jesse was, tired yes, but not exhausted.

Jesse had an oddly good sleep, none of the usual tossing and turning. As a result he had a few dreams; they all featured the ISS Penelope coming to doom them, but how she did so changed with each dream. The first one had an array of light falling down amongst them, destroying every building on base. The last one showed Jesse an orbital bombardment followed by transports landing and disgorging troops that came to slaughter them all. With a start, he awoke in the semi-darkness that Dr. Mojave liked to keep the interior of the observatory at.

“I have an idea.”

“What” the doctor had dozed off in the early afternoon.

“The Penelope is going to come in and bombard the base. Then send troops down to mop us up. If we hide out, away from the base, then attack the transports; we can fly the transports back to the Penelope and take her. That would even strand the Hermitage troops that landed on the planet. I need to talk to Commander Hammac.”

“He won’t listen to you, but I will relay your idea.”

Within moments, the doctor had messaged the commander.

“Well, he has heard your idea. It is up to him to implement it.”

“Do we have any new information on the Penelope?”

“Nothing new, but we do have confirmation that it is her. And the NOMC has received our message, but as expected they cannot render us aid fast enough. The satellites have been cut off by the jamming; we only have the telescope at night now.”

Dr. Mojave fell quiet again, as Jesse could think of no further questions. The two of them stared at the screens on their desks until the sun set again. Dr. Mojave started the sequence to initiate the telescope and they waited for the observatory to come to life.

“The Penelope is already starting to jam us. We lost long range communication just before sun down. We will probably be unable to communicate with the base in a few hours.”

“Do we stay here or go back to the base?”

“Well we are both non-combatants. If we go to the base, we may give away some of the positions that Commander Hammac has laid out. There is a chance that we will be ignored here, at least at first.”

“Do you have a couple rifles here?”

“Yes, in that closet over there.”

Jesse went and found the rifles. His training kicked in and he quickly broke it down and inspected the inner workings to ensure that they were in good working order.

“If and when they come for us, maybe we can take a few out.”

Dr. Mojave didn’t respond, but had a tight frown on his face.

The night passed slowly as both men watched their screens as the Penelope grew slowly clearer as it neared the planet. The corporate ship still moved slowly, as though it didn’t realize they had been spotted. The telescope had a lock on its target and continuously re-focused on the ship, which meant that the ship never looked bigger on the screens.

“It’s going to be here sooner than I thought”, the doctor said as much to himself as to Jesse.

The two of them watched the screen as the hours rolled by.

“I think you can see it directly overhead if you go outside. It won’t look like much more than just another star, but if you watch long enough, you should see it move against the background.”

Anxious to do anything new, Jesse shrugged and walked outside. After ten minutes, he picked it out from among the background of vibrant stars. It didn’t look very big, but it was out there and Jesse knew there was nothing to stop it from wiping them all out.

“Jesse! Get back in here. The Penelope is powering up its capacitors, it’s about to start the bombardment.”

Jesse ran back inside. In truth, the observatory would not be much cover, but it was something. They watched the screens as the Penelope charged its cannons. The two of them watched as the cruiser launched its first salvo, a few minutes later, they both felt the tremors as the Penelope started hammering the New Order base an hour away. Jesse said a short prayer for the troopers that were still at the base, Commander Hammac never said if he was going to use Jesse’s plan. He just hoped that the trooper’s weren’t huddled inside the building on base. Those were obviously the first targets from the Hermitage ship.

The barrage lasted fifteen minutes. The telescope could not be retrained to look at the base, so Jesse had no idea how much damage had been done. A few moments after the firing stopped, smaller ships left the bay on the underside of the ship and headed towards the surface.

“They are sending ground troops.”

Dr. Mojave and Jesse had absolutely no contact with the base since the ship was jamming every frequency. The New Order had deemed it a waste of materials to run a landline out to the observatory. Jesse only had his imagination to guide him, and at the moment, it was freaking him out. He went outside with a pair of binoculars, but he could not make out the base. Either Commander Hammac had ordered the power to be shut off or the bombardment had taken out the power, but everything was dark. The observatory had its own power, but it didn’t have external lighting for fear of polluting the picture quality of the telescope.

Jesse was standing outside when he heard the first faint whine of an air breathing engine. He hit the ground and slithered over to a rocky outcrop and put the binoculars back to his eyes. A troop transport was coming towards him, and the base didn’t have any. Jesse checked the action on his rifle and prepared himself. The transport quickly approached and set down in the clearing next to the truck. He had the sights set on the rear hatch of the transport when it opened and Mr. Fix-it popped his head out.

“You out here, Jesse? Get in; we are getting out of here.”

Relief swept across Jesse’s body, as he put the rifle back on safe and started towards the craft. Dr. Mojave was standing in the door of his observatory.

“Are you coming doctor?”

“No, I will stay here”

“We will come back when we’re done.”

“Hopefully”

Jesse ran the rest of the way to the transport and hopped in. Scanning around the interior, he saw Commander Hammac, Mr. Fix-it, and some troopers.

“Is this everyone?”

“The pilots are in the Falcons, ready on our signal. There are a few people with them right now. We got hit in the bombardment and lost more trying to take the transport. But we’re going to take the fight to them now.”

The transport lifted off, back towards the Penelope. The pilot entered a text message to the ship telling them that they were bringing wounded aboard and the ship had been damaged in the firefight. A crewmember from the Penelope responded saying that they had already moved on and started bombarding the nearest corporate mining operation. The ascent was nerve racking, the Hermitage ship could blow them out of the sky at any moment, but it didn’t. Less than five minutes after picking Jesse up from the observatory, the transport docked inside the Penelope. A medical team was waiting for them and was very surprised to find able bodied New Order troopers pouring out of the craft.

Jesse had been teamed up with Mr. Fix-it and a couple troopers, including the one that had made fun of Jesse. There was no animosity now, as both of them were on their first combat mission since boot camp. Jesse could see fear on the trooper’s face, but he held his nerves together. Their team had been tasked with heading to the engine room and disabling it so that the Penelope couldn’t leave the system. If that was successful, then they were to shut down the cannons that were crippling the mining operations below.

As a cruiser, the Penelope did not have a large crew. The Captain had sent most of his men to the surface to sweep up survivors, but had overestimated the damage caused by his orbital bombardment. He had been relying on stealth the whole time and did not realize that he had been discovered days before. The result was a skeleton crew left to resist the New Order troopers. Commander Hammac made it to the bridge before any alarms went off and captured it with only a single casualty and a couple wounds. Jesse’s team didn’t have any issue taking the engine and gun controls off-line. The Hermitage Corporation personnel were escorted to the brig and locked in, leaving the few troopers, Arron, and Jesse to man the ship.

The whole operation from takeoff to complete control of the Penelope took twenty minutes. Jesse was stationed on the bridge because he had the most experience being in space, even though he had none as a pilot. Looking over the displays, he saw a pictogram of an antennae dish with a big red X over it. Jesse leaned over and touched the picture, which prompted the button to turn green.

“Commander Hammac, please come in. There is another ship that just dropped out of hyperspace right next to you; I think it’s a Confederate Destroyer! Commander Hammac, please come in!”

Dr. Mojave’s words were no sooner out of the speaker when the Confederate ship hailed them.

“Penelope, this is the CS Renegade. Have you completed your mission?”

Jesse looked over his shoulder at Commander Hammac, who was standing with his arms at his side, a blank expression on his face. With a snap, he came to life and rushed over to Jesse and pressed a dial on the panel.

“We have a few more mining operations to demolish, but that should be completed in a few hours.”

“Who is this? You do not sound like Captain Berks.”

“I am Lieutenant Hanks, the Captain is not on the bridge at the moment.”

Hammac took his finger off the button and scrambled to a different frequency.

“I need every Falcon to rendezvous with the Penelope, we have company.”

The front screen came on, with a large man wearing a Confederate uniform.

“You’re not Hermitage Corp, you’re New Order! Surrender or be destroyed.”

“Turn that display off.” The Confederate Captain’s image disappeared and was replaced again by a screen showing the space around the Penelope.

“It looks like we’re going to have to fight our way out of this one. The CS Renegade knows we are enemies and is prepared to destroy this ship and us on it. I need every gun back online now, shields to full, and get us as close to the Renegade as possible, maybe we can use her size against her and only be in view of a few of her guns. The Falcons will harass her as best they can. Move people!”

Within moments, the only people on the bridge were Jesse monitoring the ship systems, the pilot that flew the transport up to the Penelope, and Commander Hammac. Mr. Fix-it was in the engine room and the rest of the troopers were manning the cannons and making ready to fire and reload. A call tone entered the room, and Hammac answered.

“Are you surrendering?”

“We have taken the Penelope crew alive, if you destroy us, then you will be killing them too.”

“They were tasked with destroying a tiny New Order outpost and got themselves captured. Their deaths will be their punishment for their ineptitude. I take it you won’t surrender.”

“You know that I can’t surrender a New Order base to the Confederacy of Traders.”

“I know, I just wanted to hear you say it.”

The conversation was cut off. Moments later, the ship started trembling as the Penelope’s shield took the first salvo from the Renegade. The ship continued to tremble as the Penelope returned fire. The pilot positioned the Penelope underneath the Renegade, but turned on its side. This allowed them to use their full broadside against only the underbelly turrets of the Renegade. For the moment, they had the Confederate ship outgunned. The result of their maneuver and the counter-maneuver from the Renegade had the two ships moving in a tight corkscrew fashion, but the Renegade had better maneuvering thrusters and would soon be able to hit them with their broadside guns. The Renegade also had better shields and armor.

After five minutes of combat, gun batteries started reporting depleted rounds for the rail cannons. Commander Hammac made a quick decision and told them to run to the cannons of the other side of the ship. Then he ordered the pilot to rotate the ship while also orbiting the Renegade as best he could. The good news was that the Falcons had made it up to the battle; the bad news was that their armament could not pierce the Renegades shields or armor. That is when the Renegade finally out maneuvered the Penelope and delivered a devastation salvo. The blast rocked the entire ship, hitting it along its spine as the Penelope was rotating around. Jesse and the pilot were fine, but Commander Hammac had been standing and was thrown forward in the explosion.

“Pilot, get Commander Hammac to the troop transport.”

Jesse hit the ship wide communication and issued an emergency alert telling everyone to get to the troop transport. Once that was done and the Commander had been taken away, Jesse was on the bridge alone. Systems were shutting down all over the ship. The Renegade would simply cut the troop transport down if it tried to leave, Jesse had to think.

He wasn’t a pilot by any stretch of the imagination, but he had seen the pilot flying the Penelope and got the gist of it. The ships path was bringing it back under the Renegade. Jesse rerouted all system power to the engines, bypassing several safety protocols. Then he pulled the joystick up, diverting the Penelope’s course to intersect the Renegade. That would give them something to think about instead of shooting down the transport. Jesse hit the comms button to talk to the Falcons and the transport.

“I’m ramming the Renegade with the Penelope. Get clear of the collision. Falcons, form up around the transport, Commander Hammac is aboard but wounded. Escort him back to Aridia Good Luck.”

Jesse never got a reply, so he didn’t know if they heard him. But he had to focus on the task at hand. Ramming the Renegade would cause confusion and chaos. Overloading the Penelope to explode after ramming would cripple or destroy the Renegade. The path was already set, so Jesse rushed out of the bridge to the engine room. He could still feel the Penelope taking fire from the Renegade, but they had move outside the main firing arc and could only be engaged by the much smaller turret weapons. The Penelope had ceased to fire back since he had rerouted all power to the engines.

Once in the engine room, Jesse opened up all the override panels and forced the switches open, they were already starting to heat up with the entire power supply of the ship coursing through them. Once they had all been opened, Jesse left, and headed towards the brig. The previous crew was in there, thinking they had been abandoned. Jesse opened the doors and told them to head for the escape pods; since he didn’t know where they were located, Jesse just followed along.

With nothing left keeping him onboard the Penelope, he clambered into a pod after a couple of Hermitage personnel and shut the door. After buckling himself into the pod, Jesse hit the launch button, but nothing happened. All power was going into the engines and none to secondary functions such as escape pod launches. Mumbling under his breath, Jesse got out of the harness and pulled the emergency detach handle that was located on the ceiling. It didn’t launch the pod, but his action did unattach it from the firing mechanism and give a little shove. Jesse cranked the handle back and forth, each time getting another small shove into space.

Before his pod made it out from the Penelope, the ship collided with the Renegade. The overload didn’t happen immediately, giving him a little time. Jesse was cranking the handle back and forth as quickly as was humanly possible, he felt like he was picking up a little speed, but the collision with the larger ship threw him to the floor of the pod. Before he could stand back up, the Penelope went into overload. The pod was driven from the belly of the Hermitage ship with such force that Jesse blacked out from the acceleration.

The next thing that Jesse knew, he was being lifted out of the escape pod by Hermitage personnel. The air was hot and dry, the sun bright. He has lying on a board face up and couldn’t move, but he was facing the sky and saw a fireball hanging there.

“You destroyed both of our ships, but you saved us. If we had been locked inside the escape pods when it exploded we would be dead. The detonation shoved the escape pod out of the Penelope and towards Aridia. The pods own systems came online and adjusted the descent and landed us here. It was an extremely rough landing because of the force of the explosion; it took everything that the pod had to slow us down enough. You were bouncing around the whole time, but we couldn’t get out of our harnesses or we would have bounced around too. You have injuries, but I’ve administered a paralytic agent to keep you from moving and possibly injuring yourself further.”

Jesse couldn’t speak, but his eyes relayed what he was feeling.

“We won’t hurt you. I expect your commander will find us any minute. We will surrender. Somehow you have turned a small raid on an outlying world into a disaster. You destroyed two Confederate ships and managed to inform the NOMC of the Hermitage Corporation’s alliance with the Confederacy using nothing but eight ancient fighters, an observatory, and sharp eyes. Well done sir.”

Jesse couldn’t keep his eyes open, the paralytics and sedative were kicking in, but he was relieved to have survived another encounter with the Confederates.

Thank you so much for reading this short story, I really hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it. My plans are to make this the beginning of a series of short stories about Jesse Ownsman and his adventures. I have a Facebook page for all the books and short stories in the Other Worlds universe, so just search for it and “Like” it to keep a tab on my newest stuff.

Thank you,

Ronald Brandenburg

About the Author

Ronald Brandenburg III was born in the United States in Alabama and grew up on the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up on a small farm meant having few neighbors and thus delved into the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Major influences include Harold Coyle, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J. K. Rowling and many others.

Ronald studied mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville where he graduated with honors. Since finishing school, he is a Systems Engineer for a Fortune 500 company. Alongside table top strategy games and computer games, writing is a favorite hobby.

https://www.Shakespir.com/interview/lastrites


Shards of the Abyss

Jesse Ownsman has survived boot camp and made it to his first assignment, the bleak planet of Aridia on the outskirts on inhabited space. No sooner does he arrive though and the planet's observatory discovers an intruder attempting to sneak up on them. With no hope of reinforcements before this stranger descends upon them, the very survival of Jesse and his compatriots rests solely in their shoulders.

  • ISBN: 9781311196293
  • Author: Ronald Brandenburg III
  • Published: 2016-06-04 18:35:07
  • Words: 9345
Shards of the Abyss Shards of the Abyss