T.S. Williams

The Eagle Incident – Chapter 2

 

3971

The assault carrier Eagle, on final approach to Sky Keep Fleet base

In Eagle’s CIC, Commander Gordon Jellicoe sat comfortably in his command chair. His ship was cruising in home space and his First Officer, Alison Tigh, was running the show. She was doing an excellent job of coaxing Eagle’s Junior Pilot through the docking procedure. Jellicoe knew he would miss her steady presence on the ship. But the wheel of postings had spun once more. Tigh was due to begin a tour as First Officer on the battleship Adamant in a week’s time.

In the meantime, Junior Pilot Douglas Flint was feeling the benefit of her tutelage. Her voice drifted over CIC’s background noise to his ear, “Of course that option is greyed out. Try enabling auto docking. Then hand off to Traffic Control.” Jellicoe smiled to himself. Tigh’s tone bordered on school teacher at the best of times and rookie pilots brought out the scold in her.

The CIC main display light up. The flight vector from Sky Keep Traffic Control was strangely comforting. One more step towards long leave.

Deep in Sky Keep Fleet base, Grand Admiral Brian Cook sat at his desk, fingers steeped in thought. Major General Frederick Cartwright sat opposite him.

“I don’t like the Intel coming out of Leonidas Colony,” grunted Cartwright.

“Not your problem, Fred. Your third tour ends next week. Back to idyllic retirement and your terrifying wife takes my name off her hit list.” The Grand Admiral said it with a smile, but Cartwright felt a sting anyway.

“Are you sure you can do without me? It’s dangerous times for the Kingdom, Brian.”

“It’s always dangerous times. I promised your wife this was the last time I’d let you volunteer. It’s time for you to do the foxtrot Oscar.” The Grand Admiral held Cartwright’s gaze for a moment.

Cartwright looked away first. Brian rumbled on, “Build a boat, play with your grandkids, spend time with you wife.”

“I live a very long way from water, Brian”.

“Bottom line. We’re strapped for ship crews, Fred, not command staff”.

“Alright, Brian. But promise me you’ll send someone to fly the flag with the Leonids.”

“I’ll keep an eye on them, but the galaxy’s got a lot of problem children.”

“That’s all I’m asking for,” said Cartwright a little dejectedly.

Kilometres away, Magnus sat looking out an observation blister at the surface of Avalon. The Long Drop was a favoured haunt of Patrol Flotilla crews when on Sky Keep. It had one of the best views down to White Spire City and watching the space lifts run up and down the tethers was as good a way to spend his time as any.

Magnus had spent four weeks on Sky Keep now. His last command, the frigate Ranger had departed with her new skipper three weeks ago. Since the completion of the week-long handover, he’d had nothing to do. He was supposed to be taking command of the cruiser Tiberius but she was overdue.

No comms drone had arrived explaining her absence, but she wouldn’t be marked as officially missing for another week. Meanwhile, he was, for the first-ever time in his serjeantcy, not owed long leave. He couldn’t just go planetside and wait out her arrival.

His Flight Lieutenant, Greg Jones, was taking the opportunity to socialise. Luckily, Laurentian cellular implants would prevent any socially transmitted infections.

Every so often a ship would fly past with her hull tuned for reflection. The polished silver gleamed in Laurence’s yellow light and Avalon provided a blue backdrop. It was almost like watching fish in a pond.

Sky Keep’s newest arrival passed into Magnus’ field vision. His mind’s eye queried SK Traffic Control, but again his hopes were dashed. Eagle. An assault carrier. Not a proper fighting ship. She had some defensive armaments, but her real job was to disgorge hordes of Paras and their drones. Her crew just drove the bus. Magnus was glad he didn’t serve on one.

Forget about that glorified livestock transport, he thought to himself. As if in agreement, his mind’s eye informed him that the Battleship Adamant was coming over the horizon.

Magnus found his thoughts interrupted as a familiar voice called out, “Excuse me, Sub-Commander Magnus.”

His eyes flicked up to the new comer. “Ah! Greg. We’re off duty, use my name. I thought you were out looking for female company.”

“I am, Len. But Ellen thinks you’re in dire need of a distraction.”

“I’m not much good at socialising and who is Ellen? Last night it was Michele.”

“Ellen’s a new friend. Stop naval navel gazing. Come to dinner. Ellen’s got a friend.”

“You know the rules, Greg. That’s a punalty.”

“Enforce it at dinner then. You can pretend to be normal for a couple of hours.”

“Oh alright.” Magnus grunted.

 

 

 

In a small science lab, tens of light years away, Doctor Ian Gough was admiring his handy work. After months of gruelling effort, he’d finally succeeded. The lab’s wall display was covered with charts and tables. Right that second Gough only cared about one.

His sponsors back home would be pleased. As Gough stood basking in his own brilliance, he was rudely interrupted by warning chimes in his mind’s eye. The containment vessel in the corner of his lab was throwing out minor error readings again. He strolled over to it, irritated now. His mind’s eye opened the control software for it. Self-diagnostics couldn’t identify a cause.

Here in the Leonidas system, Gough and his little project were far from unwanted scrutiny, but the available equipment was hardly first rate. He wasn’t exactly welcome at home and this new breakthrough wouldn’t change that. But then his sponsor hadn’t promised Gough it would. All he’d been offered was a chance to finish his work and a vague commitment to recognise Gough appropriately for his work. Hardly inspiring.

Gough finally realised what time it was. Five in the morning. This must be the third time this week. But he’d cracked it. Time for a well-deserved rest.

He set the lab’s virtual assistant to prepare his notes for double check his findings. If everything was still correct, after he’d had a well-earned nap, it would be time to report his success via comms drone.

Fatigue set in fast after the high of success. He could barely keep his eyes open as he made his way to the small room set aside for his living quarters. He just about had the energy to strip off and get into bed. The last thing he did before letting sleep take him was set his mind’s eye to hold any more error readings from the containment unit until after he awoke.

As he slept, Gough dreamt. He was bathed in light. His success. His critics confounded. But something troubled him. In a corner of his mind, a dark shadow lurked, growing. Suddenly it struck, wrapping him in darkness. Enveloping him, suffocating him. A little bit of him knew this was a dream. He kept expecting it to end. It didn’t. It was the last thing he ever experienced.

 

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