Authors: Joshua Dalzelle
Call to Arms
Book Two of the Black Fleet Trilogy
Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Dalzelle
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
Cape Canaveral, Florida
Year: 2054 AD
The press pit was packed with jostling, shouting, and generally inconsiderate correspondents from every major news outlet on the planet. On such a momentous occasion, Steven would have thought the Tsuyo Corporation would have sprung for a bigger, more luxurious area for the world’s press. Even with their wealth and considerable influence over most governments, they could use some good publicity, given the astronomical losses they’d taken in the recovery effort.
“So, do you think it’s actually going to happen this time?” a voice asked from beside him. Steven recognized her as the attractive afternoon anchor for one of the myriad subscription news channels, but he couldn’t place which one.
“It’s hard to say.” He shrugged. “One more abort, and I think people are going to start losing interest.”
She gave him an annoyed glare and pressed her earpiece further into her ear. Guess she hadn’t been talking to him.
Steven shrugged again and continued to make his way up as close to the raised platform as he could. As a freelance journalist, providing content to as many websites as he could, he was on a rapidly sinking ship, given the public’s demand for a more interactive experience with their news. When he was at his most cynical, and least sober, he also had to admit that the professional journalist was itself a dying breed, supplanted by beautiful, augmented presenters that simply introduced clips from public relation firms or peoples’ cell phones.
Steven kept pushing and sliding between people until, three rows back from the edge of the barrier, he could go no farther. He patted the pockets of his cargo pants to make sure his camera was in the right thigh pocket and his backup in the left. From the angle he was at in relation to the stage, he could see behind the curtain and to a group of people in expensive suits all toasting with champagne.
To his right, two immense launch vehicles stood on their respective pads, hissing from fuel boil off. He’d seen the dog and pony show twice before. Only when the rockets were blasting off from Cape Canaveral would he believe that the mission had actually started. His musings were interrupted by the hush that fell over the press pool.
A short Japanese man in a stylish blue suit walked confidently to the podium. Diachi Katsu, chief operating officer of the largest aerospace firm on the planet—a multinational conglomeration of the flagging military industrial complex of the United States and the resurging industrial power of Japan. If it flew, shot, blew up, or launched into space, it was almost certain that the Tsuyo Corporation had something to do with it.
“My friends,” Diachi began in flawless English, with just a touch of an accent, that gave proof of his Ivy League education and practically none of his birthplace. “Today is certainly a great day.” He smiled widely, seeming to savor a moment he’d probably envisioned in his head a thousand times.
“This is a day we’ve been building up to for fifteen years. When we discovered a derelict ship from the stars crashed on the surface of Europa fifteen years ago, rather than burden the governments of the world to mount an exploratory mission, Tsuyo answered the call and not only surveyed the site, but built the machines necessary to recover the priceless artifact.”
“The exclusive rights to the technology didn’t have anything to do with it, I’m sure,” another reporter snorted.
Steven had to admit that he had a point. When the alien ship had been discovered, Tsuyo had applied its considerable leverage to get the world’s major powers to agree to allow them to execute the recovery effort. It had taken years to develop the technology needed to launch a robotic armada that was able to dislodge the derelict from the ice of Europa, bring it back, and put it in orbit around Earth’s moon.
From there it was relatively easy for Tsuyo scientists to begin reverse engineering some of the technology they found on board. Curiously, there were no signs of a crew. Nor did the ship’s interior give any specific information as to what the crew may have been like, other than that they seemed to be slightly smaller than the average human.
“The vessel still maintains many of her secrets,” Diachi continued. “Who sent it? Why did it come here? How long was it on that icy moon? While we’re still striving to discover the answers to these questions, no one can deny the incredible progress we’ve made in adapting some of the technology for use by humans. Most significantly, the means with which to prove the feasibility of faster than light travel and actually construct a working prototype.
“It is to that end we’ve gathered here today. On the launch pads to my left are the first twelve members of the eventual forty-eight person crew that will board the
, currently in orbit above us, and take man’s first excursion beyond the boundaries of our own solar system. These brave men and women will take our first starship out to Proxima Centauri and back-a mission of exploration that will take them over four light-years away, but will only take fifteen months thanks to the Tsuyo Faster-Than-Light Drive, or T-Drive.”
The corporation had been on a full media blitz to embed the term into the lexicon, but it was fighting a losing battle with the nearly universally used
“But enough from me.” Diachi assumed a look of humility that he must have practiced in the mirror often. “Let’s hear from the real heroes of this mission before they depart. Colonel, can you hear me?”
The enormous screen behind Diachi went from showing a close-up of the two rockets to a close-up shot of an incredibly handsome man that looked to be in his late thirties.
“Here comes fucking Captain America.” The cynic beside Steven laughed.
“We read you loud and clear, Mr. Katsu,” the man said. “Hello America, and hello world. This is Colonel Robert Blake, U.S. Air Force, talking to you from the crew capsule of the Titan VII launch vehicle. We’re sitting on the pad, waiting for our ride up to the
. The crew and I wanted to tell you how honored we are to be chosen for such an important mission and the next leap in the advancement of our species.
“Over the next two years, we will be thinking of you all as we step into the next frontier of human exploration. This is Colonel Blake and the crew of the
signing off for now. God willing, we’ll talk to you again soon.”
Steven almost rolled his eyes at the contrived speech the colonel had just given as the screen switched back to the view of the launch pad. It seemed a bit premature since it would take twelve rockets six more flights, before the
was fully crewed and provisioned. Add in another three weeks of planned tests and checks, and the Earth’s first starship, primitive as it was, wouldn’t be leaving for another two months.
“Start the countdown!” Diachi said once he’d walked back onto the stage.
Even as well choreographed as the event was, it still took another ten seconds before the clock on the stage began counting down, syncing with the master mission clock in the control room on the other side of the complex. Diachi stood placidly as the first rumbling of powerful engines igniting reached the crowd. The flash of the vehicles lifting off and roaring into the sky was clearly visible before the deafening sound washed over them. Steven didn’t bother filming the two specks as they raced up into the sky. He would just link to the official, high quality video for his story. “I wonder what they’ll find out there,” the cynic said.
“If we’re lucky, nothing.” Steven turned and pushed his way back through the mob, hoping to get to his vehicle and leave before the others crowded the parking area.
Year: 2427 AD
“More targets have just appeared in-system, Captain. Four in total, same configuration as the others.”
“Track them and update the other ships through the Link.” Captain Lee tried to keep the hopelessness out of his voice.
Edward Lee was the CO of the
, a Seventh Fleet heavy missile cruiser. His ship had already disgorged her payload of sixty-five strategic nuclear missiles, destroying only thirty-one targets and disabling another three in the process, and was now flying the perimeter of the engagement using her more powerful radar to track and update targets for the remaining Terran ships involved in what had become the second battle for Xi’an.
had flown into the system with two full Third Fleet battlegroups, both pulled in from other parts of the Asianic Union and both comprised of ships that weren’t up to the task of repelling the invaders. Out of the twelve ships making up the armada, only three remained combat capable. Two were crippled, but had survivors aboard, and the other seven were nothing more than expanding fields of debris. Of the seventy-two alien constructs defending the Xi’an System, nineteen remained, including the reinforcements that had just arrived.
These alien constructs, still called “ships” by the humans fighting them, were infinitesimal compared to the monstrous, single juggernaut that had laid waste to four systems, two completely annihilated. What they lacked in size, they made up for in toughness and tenacity, however.
It had been just over four years since that first, fateful encounter, and now, after a few years of little action, the war was really heating up, and these smaller enemy ships were quickly decimating the human Fleet presence along the Frontier.
“Prepare a com drone,” Lee said. “Load all mission data from the armada, and launch it for Haven immediately. Follow randomization protocol Alpha.”
“Aye, sir,” the OPS Officer said. “Data loading now. Randomization protocol Alpha initialized.”
Even after four years, human scientists still had little idea of what the aliens, nicknamed the Phage by a captivated public with a wild imagination, were capable of. As such, all ships and com drones flying to or from the front were not allowed to take a direct route back to Terran space, especially Haven. “Drone launching now.”
“Do you think we should begin moving for a transition point ourselves?” Lee’s XO leaned in to whisper. Lee just shook his head, not wanting to entertain a conversation about leaving the engagement.
There was little they could accomplish now that their missiles had been expended: the
didn’t carry any other armament. She was a strictly strategic ship that was never intended to do anything but warp into the space just outside a system, launch all her missiles, and slip away before the light of her initial transition could be detected.
The other reason Lee didn’t want to have that particular conversation with his XO was that he feared it would lead to him agreeing to abandon the Third Fleet ships still directly engaged. While he tried not to show it for the sake of his crew, he was terrified beyond all measure. This was his first time meeting the enemy. In fact, it was the first combat experience of his thirty-six year career. Despite trying to remain an island of calm for his crew, his mouth was dry as desert sand and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. Never had he imagined it was even possible to be so scared.
is reporting the loss of two main engines.” Lee’s com officer intruded into his thoughts. “She’s trying to clear the engagement area on the two she has left.”
“She’ll never make it,” Lee said under his breath, as the plots of the individual ships in the battle were updated on his main display. The Phage had shown a tendency to swarm damaged ships, destroying them before they could escape. With the reactionless drive the smaller Phage ships employed, they could run down a stricken Terran ship, destroy it, and get back into the engagement before their human counterparts could even think about redeploying their formation or changing tactics.
“Phage ships are ignoring the
,” the OPS officer reported. “This doesn’t hold with what we know of their tactics from previous engagements.”