Space Opera Part 24 – Virgo Supercluster

We had made a short jump away from the spot where the battle with five Overlord ships had just ended.

“We’re coming out in five seconds, Captain,” Skip said.

Sondra tapped on her PA. “Standing by to load the Zephyrus and Tristar.”

“Good,” I said, getting out of my captain’s chair as the static charge hit me. “Nolan, do you have a good location for us to hide?”

“Here’s what I suggest, Captain. This quadrant in the Virgo Supercluster. There are sixteen planets all within less than a couple weeks travel using impulse power. I don’t think that’s safe enough, though, so I have another suggestion. I’m sure the Chairman will have to sign off.”

“Let’s hear it, because I’ll have to sign off on it too,” I said.

“We’ve got a large supply of the newest type of proton mines, Captain. We could leave a dozen of them at the end of the wormhole. Since we’ll be on impulse power, we can watch for the Overlord’s arrival. If the enemy ships show up, we can blow the mines. If not, we’ll retrieve them later.”

“Will it destroy the ships?”

“Probably,” Nolan said. “The mines will go through shields without much problem. A lot depends on how close they are, of course. They’ll do damage at the very least. Might make them think twice about following us.”

“How many of these devices do we have?”

“I can answer that,” Sondra said. “We have three-hundred and twenty- two thousand devices.”

“Why so many?”

“You’ll have to ask the Chairman, but I can guess,” Sondra said. “They were developed to protect planets. We put them into orbit, to take out enemy ships. Perfect for Amberis or the planets where we’ve placed our production facilities. We loaded them while we were at the Pacific base.”

“We’ll have to lower our shields to launch them, right?” I asked.

“Yes, but not for very long. They’re self-powered and can be moved around. That said, these are not tactical weapons you’d want to release during a battle, because they’d likely blow up friends along with foes.”

“They’re a good choice for what we’re planning here,” Nolan said.

“I’d have to agree,” Sondra said. “We have the capability to build more of them. Vermillion made sure of that.”

“Okay, I’m going to talk to him, then. Watch the sensors. I don’t want any surprises while we’re loading our ships.”

Nolan, Sondra, and Skip all nodded in agreement. I got on my PA and called Vermillion. He replied right away.

“Yes, Captain?”

“I have a proposal from Nolan, but I need your permission to go with it.”

“Meet you in the conference room in five minutes,” he said. I shut down the call.

“Five minutes,” I told Sondra. “How long does it take to place these?”

“Not long, according to the literature. We’ve never actually used them. They’re a new design.”

“Oh, so the Overlords might not be expecting them?” I asked.

“Almost certainly not,” Sondra replied. “Maybe somebody they captured knew about them. Vermillion would know.”

“Thanks,” I said, glancing down at my PA as it buzzed. The Chairman was calling me into the conference room, so I got up and left the bridge, joining him at the big table there.

“What’s on your mind, Captain?”

I sat, feeling the vibration as the first of the small ships were loaded, half a kilometer away in the main bay.

“I got a suggestion from Nolan and Sondra.”

“Let’s have it,” Vermillion said, getting out of his chair to pace again.

“Nervous?”

“I will be until I can get to the main plant, and now we’ve got issues getting there. Go ahead. Don’t mind me.”

“We want to deploy twelve of the Proton Mines at the end of the wormhole we’re about to create.”

Vermillion chuckled. “Oh, I get it. We watch while we’re speeding away on impulse power and blow any ships that show up.”

“You got it.”

“I approve, but no more than twelve, and we can’t make a habit of this.”

“We have over three-hundred thousand on board,” I said.

“True, but it takes about fifty thousand to adequately protect a planet the size of Earth. I had them developed to protect our factories from attack.”

“And Amberis, I suspect,”

“Yes, and Amberis,” he said. “We can build more, but there’s a fairly long lead time. We’ve got some in production in lab number 267 right now.”

I chuckled. “Another need-to-know item?”

“No, the bridge crew has known about them. Andrea, Sondra, Skip, and others. Never got around to mentioning them to you, but I wasn’t trying to hide them. Wonder how Nolan found out.”

“He probably searched for capabilities of the ship, and I’m glad he’s doing that. This is a good idea. If we blow up pursuing ships a time or two, they’ll be a lot more careful about coming after us.”

“You have my permission, but always ask permission on this, all right?”

“Yes sir,” I said, lifting my forearm to speak into my PA. “Sondra, we have permission to place twelve, but we always have to get permission up front, for future reference.”

“Aye, Captain,” Sondra replied over the PA speaker. “We’re almost finished getting the Tristar on board. The Zephyrus is already loaded.”

“Good, thanks,” I said, ending the call. “Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

“No problem. Let me know if we get into action. Know where we’re going yet?”

“There’s a quadrant in the Virgo Cluster that looks good to Nolan. We’ll place the Proton mines after we jump into the area, and then we’ll have one to two weeks traveling on impulse power.”

“Okay, keep me informed. I’d better call Tac and let him know we won’t be back as soon as expected. I gave him a holographic communicator, so we can get to him easily.”

“Did we get him the reactor parts before we left?”

“Yes, we sent them down on a drone before we jumped away,” Vermillion said. “I had Andrea handle that while you and Sondra were busy.”

“Good, I’m glad. See you soon.” I left the conference room, going back to the bridge. “We ready to go?”

Sondra turned to me. “Yes, Captain, we’re ready. Nolan is finishing the final calculations. This is a fairly long jump.”

“Let’s go,” I said, sitting in the captain’s chair, trying to relax. I needed some serious downtime. I felt the dizziness as we made the jump, looking around the bridge after we were off. “Where’s JJ?”

“She disappeared shortly after we finished the conference,” Sondra said. “Why, want to go find her, lover boy?”

I laughed. “Hey, a little decorum on the bridge, please.”

“As little as possible,” Skip cracked, Nolan shaking his head.

“We’ll be in the wormhole for eighteen hours, Captain. We never read those news reports – want me to put them up?”

“Not now, for me at least,” I said. “Maybe I’ll head to my stateroom for a while.”

“Uh huh,” Sondra said.

“Alone,” I replied as I got up, heading out into the corridor. It was nearly half a kilometer back to my stateroom. I could’ve taken the tin can, but the walk sounded like a good idea. I rounded the corner into the main corridor running bow to stern, when somebody touched my arm. I whirled around. It was JJ, looking a little green around the gills.

“Oh, there you are,” I said.

“Looking for me?” she asked, walking along side me as I slowed down.

“I asked about you. Anything wrong?”

She shook her head no. “Damn sea sickness from the impulse power run, and then that battle. I ended up with my face in the toilet, throwing up.”

“Oh, geez, I’m sorry.”

“No matter,” she said. “I feel a lot better now. How long is this jump?”

“Eighteen hours, although Nolan almost always over-estimates.”

“Going to?”

“Someplace in the Virgo Supercluster,” I said. “He found a place with a number of planets within impulse power range. We’ll place some of the new Proton mines at the end of the wormhole when we come out, just in case somebody shows up.”

“They won’t be on automatic, will they?” she asked. “Can we slow down a little bit?”

“Sure,” I said, slowing my walk. “We’re going to monitor and blow them if more of those Overlord ships follow us.”

“They’ve really restricted our movements, haven’t they?”

I sighed. “Yeah, they have.”

“Where are you going?”

“To my stateroom to get a little rest,” I said.

“Want company?”

“Oh, yeah, we need to keep up the ruse.” I shot her a wicked grin.

“Stop it. Maybe I just like talking to you.”

“I don’t have new info to share,” I said, “and I’m starting to trust Vermillion.”

“You think he’s being honest with us?”

“Yes, basically,” I said, “but he’s very cautious, and he’ll continue to keep info compartmentalized, need to know only. He hadn’t told me about the advanced proton mines.”

“I knew about those.”

“So did Sondra, apparently, but not Nolan, and he’s the person who told me about them.”

“How’d he find out?”

“He was hacking into the systems to see what defenses we had at our disposal.”

JJ chuckled. “Figures he’d be able to see them. How far away is your stateroom?”

“Half a kilometer from the bridge. Could’ve taken the tin can, but I wanted to walk. How’d you run into me?”

“I stopped at the gym facilities and showered,” she said. “I always feel gross after I throw up.”

“And you just happened to run into me, huh?”

She chuckled. “I was on my way back to the bridge. How else could I have gone?”

“All right, I get it. Just as well. We need to get you a stateroom on this ship. There’s a few open. Looked at it earlier, when we were in the last jump.”

“You did that before a big battle, just for little old me?”

“Hey, anything to keep myself from going stir crazy before a battle is a good thing.”

“Is there one close to yours?” she asked.

“There’s one across the hall, and two of them down about half a kilometer, in the port bow quadrant. Walking distance from that big cafeteria and recreation area.”

What quadrant are we in now?”

“The central quadrant,” I said.

“And yet it’s still so far from the bridge.”

“The tin can is steps away.”

“Oh, yeah, you wanted to walk. How much further?”

“We’re half way there,” I said as we walked. “That battle really bothered you, didn’t it?”

“All those people,” she said.

“We tried the non-lethal approach, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Still makes me feel bad to kill so many. Those were people with parents and friends and maybe even children. It’s horrible. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Of course it bothers me, but my responsibility is to my crew. Remember they were out to kill us as much as we were out to kill them. More so, really. They chose to attack Earth and draw us into the second battle.”

“Oh, I know,” she said. “It just seems like we’re in such a hopeless situation.”

“I’ve got to agree with you there. I’m wondering what other capabilities Simone has that she hasn’t revealed yet.”

JJ looked tired. “Are we almost there?”

“Almost, I promise.”

We walked silently for the rest of the way, getting to my door, down a short corridor, on the right side.

“Here’s mine. You want to check out the one across the hall? You could sleep in there and decide if you want to move in after that.”

“Let’s take a quick look, and then I’ll join you in your room for a little while.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To keep the fires burning, and to talk some more.”

I nodded, turning to the left side, using my PA to open the door. It smelled a little musty inside.

“This hasn’t been used for a while?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve been off this ship for a while,” I said, rubbing my finger on the table just inside the door. “No dust, so at least housekeeping is keeping it clean.”

“It’s nice,” JJ said, walking around the spacious suite. “This is for a higher-ranking person than I am.”

“Are you kidding? You’re the Chief Technologist. It’s fine.”

“But I’m a civilian,” she said, checking the bathroom. “Nice tub.”

“It’s a lot like my suite. A little smaller, but not much.”

“Who was it for?” JJ asked as she returned to the front part of the suite.

“First mate or science officer level,” I said.

“Maybe Nolan ought to take it, then.”

“We’re going to be on and off of this ship,” I said. “Nolan’s got a nice stateroom on the Zephyrus. Probably a better place for him for now. Heck, I’m hardly ever in mine. I’m not going to move my personal stuff over here from the Zephyrus yet.”

“I’ve seen enough. Let’s go into your room.”

I nodded, opening the door for her. “Shall I send the token for this room to your PA?”

“Sure, go ahead Captain.”

We entered my room, which had a slight musty smell too. “As you can see, I haven’t spent much time here.”

“Shut the door,” she said as she walked to the sofa, sitting down in the middle. “Then join me.”

I shrugged, telling the PA to shut the door, then walked over and sat next to JJ. She leaned into me, her arms going around me, eyes staring into mine for a moment.

“Does this bother you?” she asked.

“No, why?”

“Your heart is beating hard. I can feel it.”

“Maybe you excite me a little,” I said.

“Good.” She came in for a kiss, which was long and passionate. We parted, both breathing hard.

“Wow,” I said sheepishly.

“That was nice. Just enough to keep the fires burning. Maybe I should be going.”

I chuckled, pulling her roughly to me and kissing her hard, my hands roaming over her back as she returned the kiss. I broke it and stood, looking at her smirk. “There, now it’s enough.”

“Oh, you take a little more than I do, huh?” she asked.

“Perhaps. Hungry, or do you want to get some sleep?”

“I think it’s gonna have to be sleep for now,” she said. “Go ahead and send me that token, and I’ll slip across the hallway, for now.”

I grinned, helping her up. It took a moment to send the token. When it cleared I walked her to her door. “See you soon.” She got on her tiptoes and planted a short kiss on me, then went into her suite. I went back to mine and climbed into bed, trying to push the carnage I’d caused to the back of my brain, so I could sleep. It wasn’t working very well, but I finally drifted off after nearly an hour of tossing and turning. Five hours later my PA woke me. It was Dr. Hazelton.

“Captain, I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said.

“Are you still on the New Jersey?”

I laughed. “We’re all on the New Jersey.”

She flashed an embarrassed smile. “Shoot, that was dumb, sorry.”

“I’m just playing with you,” I said. “What’s up?”

“I’m ready to start with the next segment of Barney’s training, if that’s okay. I’ve heard we’ll be in the wormhole for at least another twelve hours.”

“Sounds about right,” I said, “Go ahead. How’s it going on the Zephyrus?”

“Quiet. Most of the crew left to hang out at the recreation area.”

“Tim and Izzy are still there, though, correct?”

“Yes, they’re still here, along with me, Deacon, Deneuve, and Barney.”

“How’d Barney do with his freedom to roam?”

Dr. Hazelton laughed. “He stuck to Deneuve like glue, but he made some friends. It’s amazing how quickly humans bond to Neanderthals. I know it, but it’s always surprising to watch. The crew loves him. They’re treating him like a mascot, though, and once he’s through this next segment of training he’ll be too mature for that, I think.”

“Deneuve isn’t going stir crazy, I hope.”

“No, he’s doing fine, and he’s very protective.”

“Good, Dr. Hazelton. I’ll probably pop down there sometime before we get out of the jump. Take care. Don’t avoid going out to get some of this good food.”

“I was planning on it, Captain. Thank you.”

The call ended. I contacted the bridge. Sondra answered me.

“Hi, Captain, get some rest?”

“Not quite enough yet,” I said. “How about the others?”

“Nolan and Skip took off to get some sleep. I’ll be taking off in another hour.”

“Okay. I’m not quite done yet. See you in a while but notify me if anything happens.”

“As always, Captain. Talk to you soon.”

I laid back down, trying to drift off again. My mind was too active, flitting from one thing to another. I finally gave up and moved to the living room, grabbing some food and a cup of tea. After about half an hour JJ called me, asking if she could come over. I unlocked my door, and she was there after a moment.

“Sleep any?” she asked, sitting down. She had a clean, well-pressed uniform on.

“Used the clothes replicator, did you?”

“I did,” she said, standing back up. “You like?” She turned for me, the uniform rather tight fitting, cut nicely for a woman.

“You look good. Want a snack?”

“Ate something before I came over,” she said. “Are we still going on the mission?”

“Eventually, I’m sure we will, but we’ll have the same problem making jumps that the New Jersey is having.”

“Think they can scan wide enough to keep tabs?” JJ asked, lines of concern on her face.

“That’s a good question. We’re going all the way to the Virgo Cluster, and when we’re out of the jump we’ll travel for almost two weeks under impulse power. It’ll be interesting to see if the Overlords follow us to this vicinity. We’ll be watching.”

“Uh oh, I need to find some medication to stop the seasickness,” JJ said. “If we’ll be on impulse power again.”

“You might get used to it after a few days.”

“Hope so,” she said. “Our mission might be less dangerous than just hanging out with the New Jersey, you know.”

“Why do you say that?”

She smiled, her face looking more attractive to me than it had before. “Think about it. We were going to survey worlds that are close to natural wormholes, because of the Clan’s restrictions. Perhaps we should go old-school and use those natural wormholes ourselves.”

My mouth dropped open, and I chuckled. “You’re as smart as you are beautiful.”

“Glad you noticed, Captain.”

To be continued…

 

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