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Sol Asteroid Belt, 2235 CE
“Captain, I’ve got engine traces on my screen. Military ships, based on their velocity.” The rest of the bridge crew sat upright at this announcement.
Captain Darnell Witfield, a fit black man in his late forties, stepped over behind his sensor officer’s station to see her screens. “Where are they, what’s their heading, and can they see us?” Delivering supplies to the asteroid colony wasn’t exactly illegal (yet), but military ships arriving in response to the colony declaring it was not part of the United Government of Earth was not a good sign. Better to play it safe.
“They’re on the system plane, at 90° from our current vector and heading to Freedonia,” Devorah McCandlish, a woman in her late thirties with curly blonde hair, responded. “With our latest company sensors we have a roughly 25% advantage in range over them, so I don’t believe they see us yet, but at their current velocity…” She pressed a few keys and the display changed to show the approaching ships estimated sensor coverage.
“I see it. They’ll get a glimpse of us soon.” The captain returned to his own station and spoke to the helm officer, Jason Brownlee, a black man also in his late thirties. “Mister Brownlee, power down our engines completely.” The captain then opened the intra-ship channel on his comm unit and stated, “Attention all crew, switch to quiet running. Repeat: switch to quiet running,” and then shut off his comm unit. “Comm, send a focused message to Freedonia and warn them they’re about to have UGE visitors. Then keep our ears open.”
Most of the crew was familiar with this drill and quickly responded as the background hum from the ships engines quickly died out. Jo Wagner, the communications officer, a pale woman with long brown hair in her late twenties, was relatively new to the crew of the Rhinesburg and after sending the message to the asteroid colony, she turned and asked the captain, “Why are we hiding from UGE ships? If they catch us here, won’t they just fine the company?”
“The UGE military has a…history…of over responding,” Captain Witfield replied, biting on a thumbnail. “This isn’t likely to end well if the UGE sent a military taskforce in response to Freedonia’s declaration of independence. If Freedonia’s actions have been declared illegal or even treasonous, then any ship caught having just delivered supplies to the colony would be just as guilty and share in the penalty.”
“Which would be…” Jo asked.
“Well, I’m certain their letters of condolences to our next of kin would be very convincing.”
“Ah,” was Jo’s only reply before returning to her console.
“UGE ships are arriving at the colony now,” Devorah interjected.
“I’m getting transmissions on the public frequencies,” Jo added.
“Put them on the main screen and display throughout the ship,” Captain Witfield ordered.
The main viewscreen switched from an exterior view to showing a man in a UGE Navy uniform with a touch of grey in his otherwise black hair. When he spoke, he had a British accent of some sort, Captain Witfield could not pinpoint from where. “I am Captain Evan Claibourne of the UGE Fleet. Per the UGE Charter, no independent governments are allowed. As you are not a registered Orbital Corporation, you are in violation of UGE law and found to be in open revolt. As a representative of the UGE, I have been tasked to end this revolt expediently. Weapon’s Officer: fire.” The transmission then abruptly ended.
“McCandlish, show me what they’re doing,” Captain Witfield snapped at the sensors officer and the main viewer switched to a display of the UGE ships and the colony. The paniced response from someone in the colony could be heard over the public channel.
Captain Witfield was able to identify the three UGE ships as a Hound-class destroyer and two Hammer-class corvettes. The destroyer was just firing its five missile launchers at the colony. The missiles raced to the asteroid and detonated their nuclear warheads. The few surface structures on the asteroid were scoured away and the surface of the asteroid fractured. There was a brief inferno inside the passages and chambers of the colony as the heat from the five nuclear warheads ignited and consumed the air in the colony. All transmissions from the colony ceased. The bridge of the Rhinesburg was just as silent.
As the fury of the blasts died down, the UGE ships turned and headed away from the now lifeless asteroid, returning the way they came.
“McCandlish, will any of the debris hit us?” Captain Witfield asked quietly. When he got no response he repeated himself loudly, “McCandlish! Will any of the debris hit us?”
This snapped the sensors officer out of it and she looked down at her screens. “No, sir. Not for a couple of hours. We are nearly ten light-minutes away.”
“Good,” Captain Witfield replied. “Brownlee, once we are out of the taskforce’s sensor range, plot an elliptical course to Mars and then make best speed. I do NOT want want to run across that taskforce on our way to Mars.” Captain Witfield got up from his chair and headed towards the exit from the bridge. “Brownlee, you’re in charge until I return. I’m going to my cabin to throw up.”
Copyright 2012 by Patrick Walsh
All rights reserved.