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Shake Down - A Reyna Hevn Story (Chapter 13)

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Birdie_Sparrow

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Shake Down - A Reyna Hevn Story (Chapter 13)

PostMon Aug 20, 2018 6:43 pm

Shake Down

Kimberley Åhage stepped down the shuttle ramp, slung her deployment bag over her shoulder, and headed off to report to her training officer. She noted the slightly disorienting incongruence of clean PHR technology melded with the stark, brutal angles of the Optio – a Centurion cruiser just shy of two hundred years old. The grand vessel had not yet been scrapped for a number of reasons: maintaining a tangible piece of history to the founding of the PHR combined with unwillingness to throw away that which was still useful.

In this latter capacity the Optio served the needs of the Republic well. Over the decades she had worn many hats. Front line vanguard, third line escort, museum ship, deep space exploration and now training vessel. Even under the auspices of training she had two main purposes. The first to be a final test bed for new sensor systems that also trained the trainers for upcoming fleet modifications. The second, and the reason for Kimberley’s feet on the deck, was to certify individuals for prime navigator status.

Her superior Captain Hevn had distinguished herself a few months previous during the Ormoc Station raid. PHR high command issued orders transferring her to a larger vessel. While not pleased this was not a carrier class, Hevn understood she needed to command, and learn from, a variety of vessels. Doing so was the means to the promotions required to command fleets.

A PHR affection was that captains could request retention of a limited number of her previous crew for the new assignment. Captain Hevn had thus requested Kimberley to become her new prime navigator. She had accepted the honor, but final approval for transfer now rested on her to obtain a prime nav certification.

……..


It was five weeks into training. Kimberley’s fingers were rapidly typing on an actual keyboard with a holographic display as she refined the calculations for a Fold. Normally as navigator she would simply enter the Clip working at the speed of thought with an AI back-up to catch any errors so the ship did not Fold into a sun or mis-jump into the unknown.

However, part of the training to receive a Prime designation was doing Fold calculations old school style. One never knew when a ship would need to revert to emergency manual systems, or have a degraded AI requiring local inputs calculated against non-AI derived data. “Or both” she thought recalling the terror of a cored ship, intermittent AI, no Clip and backing down a minefield using only emergency manual sticks.

Sitting in the Prime trainee seat on the bridge she was currently being observed by the instructor. Arrayed around her were other candidates functioning as secondary navigators. Their function was to maintain current lock on their position while updating multiple Fold paths to respond to any eventuality. Since it took time to plot a Fold, even with AI aid, warships always maintained multiple paths as a matter of course.

Her holo screen pinged. The instructor had highlighted a minor error involving a moon’s miscalculated gravity curve. Cursing under her breath she corrected the mistake. While not a fatal error by itself the path would have put the ship well outside of the hypothetical fleet ingress Fold point. This not only deprived the fleet of a ship and its firepower, but also would have made them a lone vessel easily destroyed if an enemy patrol was near.

Kimberley was barely aware of Captain Aquila entering the bridge. As a trainee she had very limited contact with the Optio’s commanding officer. While somewhat aloof the captain ran a tight ship. A former commander of a cruiser squadron he had been severely wounded during an engagement with the Shaltari. Upon recovery he had been rotated to the Optio until medical fully cleared him back to frontline duty.

“Eye’s up”, Captain Aquila stated through the Clip. As one everyone on the bridge ceased what they were doing turning instead to face the captain.

“The sensor techs have detected an anomalous reading during a test of the long-range capabilities of the experimental sensor. Initially they put it down to feedback from an unshielded boost transformer. However, the reading not only continues to be detected but seems to have moved.”

“The best estimate is the anomaly is near the inner gas giant of the nearby Calleva system. Data has been downloaded to navigation.” Looking pointedly at Kimberley he stated, “Prime – plot a Fold into Calleva far enough to diminish our Fold wave in case this is a hostile force. Enter the system so that the Optio is oriented for a straight in approach to the gas giant under silent running.”

“Yes, sir!” she said with enthusiasm. Turning back to her station she quickly saved her assignment while Clipping back into the AI. As acting Prime she also issued orders to the other navigators to plot entry vectors, rough escape Fold paths, etc. With a start that caused a ripple of silver to flush her skin, she glanced at the training officer who actually should have issued the orders. To her relief she received a slight yet approving nod.

……..

Kimberley felt a tinge of satisfaction. While the navigational task was simple there was still the off chance some error would occur. Instead the Optio had Folded in less than a kilometer from the calculated ingress point while their attitude was almost dead on the flight path required to Calleva One.

At this point the pilot (being a cruiser she had separate pilot and navigation stations) assumed control for the run in. Trimming the cruiser to the flight path, boosting with thrusters, then locking the ship down for silent running was efficiently done. The captain had ordered all weapons loaded, warmed up but on standby. Sensors were in passive detection mode – data received would be “coarse” but an active system would negate the silent running.

The hours ticked by as the Optio drew closer to Calleva One. The nearer they approached the more data flowed in to be interpreted. There was indeed something there orbiting the gas giant from the way the fluctuating power signatures ebbed and flowed. Whatever it was most definitely was Shaltari.

Numerous Shaltari signatures had been detected. Some appeared to be in synch with the power signature while others were stationary. The stationary signatures appeared to be pickets, attested to by random long-range sensor pulses as they swept open space. These pulses were plotted with the Optio flight path adjusted to squeeze between the blind spot of these sensor sweeps.

The captain and senior officers had Clipped into the main bridge channel. Other than the speculation of the senior crew all others were silent except for occasional information bursts to keep the captain apprised of ship status. The current consensus was the mystery signature was most likely a base of some sort.

However, why there was a base here left everyone puzzled. The Calleva system was well outside of any current conflict zone so a staging area was dismissed. There were no natural resources of note known in the system thus putting paid to a mining outpost. The current best guess was a military research station that had suffered some catastrophe causing a detectable power bleed. This would also explain the heavy presence of Shaltari ships.

Captain Aquila made the determination that they would gather as much intelligence as possible for PHR command. As such Kimberley and her “subordinates” were kept busy feeding navigation data to various ship departments. Occasionally the trainer questioned their data, but mostly kept silent with assent.

As they threaded the needle between sensor sweeps the captain ordered sensor data to be displayed on visual screens. The ship had successfully approached close enough that optical data could now be detected. Kimberley was impressed – the experimental sensor had an optical capability easily three times the distance of current systems! What a boon to scouts if they could miniaturize it to fit in those miniscule hulls.

The upper right corner of the screen was counting down the time until the station hove into view. Electronically the power surges continued in seemingly random fashion varying in intensity and duration. Someone muttered out loud “It’s a wonder the core has not detonated yet.”

The station then began to come into view. The view was slick, with the brightness and hard edges of over correction added in by the AI. Without the enhancement the optical would have been simply a red fuzz over the green fuzz of the gas giant. Even so the optical had a slight quiver from the Optio’s movement that the AI could not quite overcome.

Rising over the curvature of the planet a long, thin tower began to take shape. Unlike most Shaltari structures this had a lopsided look at odds with the aliens love of symmetry and graceful curves. Fully half the spire had the normal Shaltari flared ridges, spines, and indents. The other side was flat, rounded, with slight ridges running almost the length of the tower. Maybe an a long range sensor suite?

Slowly four other identical towers, shorter but covered in ridged weapon bulbs, appeared. These were symmetrically spaced around the central tower. Canted these towers formed a loosely spaced yet pleasing rhombus to the counterpoint of the slim pole in the middle.

Only then did the immensity of the station become apparent. Coming into view was a Diamond class battleship keeping pace with the station. At over 1500 meters the battleship would normally be imposing except the station was obviously much longer. A battlecruiser and two heavy cruisers, looking to be the size of frigates next to the station, rounded out a protective circle to what looked increasingly like an undamaged structure.

The remainder of the station rounded the gas giant. Flat, lethal looking, and bristling with additional “towers” of weapon bulbs it took a few seconds to finally register. A collective gasp of horror rose up on the bridge to be echoed in one’s mind within the Clip.

It was a ship… a terrifyingly massive ship. Easily double the length of the Diamond! The main spire was not sensors but an unidentified weapon system. Whatever it was looked almost spinal in nature. This implied a level of damage from one shot that may rival the full weight of a weapons free battleship! The remainder of the vessel was studded with an array of secondary weapon systems that should rightfully be main systems on smaller ships. PD arrays were almost too numerous to count.

The preliminary AI estimate – without even taking into account the massive spinal weapon – was that a full fleet had a 50/50 chance of destroying this single vessel in combat.

It was at this moment that a brief rippling glow surrounded the vessel. The detected energy spike conformed to what they had barely detected out in deep space. The glow began to smooth out though it still rippled as if they were waves beginning to calm after a storm.

The chief engineer spoke up in awe, “Those are her shields… she is having trouble balancing them. I bet this is a shake down cruise before deployment! That would explain her escorts and pickets. I hope her first deployment is against the Scourge or UCM as we won’t be prepared for this.”

“Yes, we will be,” as Aquila’s words flowed in a carefully neutral tone through the Clip, “We will continue on silent running until we can safely Fold out. Navigators continue to plot emergency Fold paths in case we are detected. Prime nav plot best course back to the nearest PHR system to transmit this data.”

A chorus of ayes lapped over each other within the Clip. All immersed themselves in their tasks, partly because that’s what was ordered and partly to take their minds off the cold truth of what could still be seen on optical if anyone glanced up. None did.

……..

Kimberley sat on her deployment bag waiting for her shuttle to land. The Optio had been her temporary home for the last eight weeks of grueling training. They had successfully evaded detection by the Shaltari delivering their data to a shocked PHR fleet command. Rumor was a crash program was underway to counter the Shaltari dreadnought codenamed “Plutonium”.

After the initial sighting slip ships had been dispatched to Calleva but the dreadnought was gone. PHR command was waiting with trepidation for the hammer to fall. The current hope was the PHR would be lucky enough to observe another fleet engage the dreadnought while they stood off to gather combat data.

In any event in her files was a certificate identifying her as Prime Navigator qualified. A letter of commendation was attached as well for her part in the intelligence coup of Calleva. Both of these led in turn to offers by other captain’s to join their crew – all of them cruiser classes. However, home to her was where Captain Hevn commanded. With that reflection she stood, slung her deployment bag over her shoulder, and retraced her steps to the shuttle that had just touched down.
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Thunderboy

Hawk Talon

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Re: Shake Down - A Reyna Hevn Story (Chapter 13)

PostWed Nov 14, 2018 8:02 am

Great story, yet again!
Took me a bit of time to finish it.
Damn fine writing!

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