The Epherium Chronicles: Embrace
By T.D. Wilson
Carina Press, Harlequin Ltd.
The Pluto Incident: Our First Contac...
the one the Gerard had just passed through, had been created to reduce ship burdens on fuel and
reduce any need for cryo-s...
Kristin walked back to the viewport and stared at the now miniscule gate and vast blanket
of space and stars that consumed...
used for landing approaches and acquiring maintenance targets. Restal typed a few commands on
his console, and the HUD vis...
“Okay, team. I know this is not what we planned for, but it’s our job. Hector and Rick
will stay with the ship when we lan...
“Here, Skipper. I’ve started to access the station computer system. Current status shows
no power in the hydroponics or su...
As Restal and Kristin were about to power on their lights, Justin Sevard, one the
Gerard’s lead maintenance technicians, c...
other end of the tunnel was mangled badly, most likely blasted open as a result of the meteor
Behind him, Kristin ...
“Any sign of the remaining crew?” Restal asked.
“It’s strange.” Justin sounded very confused. “Most of the plants and furn...
An intense burst of static came over the Gerard’s comm systems. “What the hell was
Rick called back on the comms. “...
the hatch that led to the docking platform, Restal opened it and proceeded across the ramp
toward the Gerard with Kristin ...
here of course, including Epherium and Greer, but a few new faces had shown up, particularly in
the area of mining explora...
The door to the Command Center opened, and Jenkins stepped into chaos. Several
members of the command center staff were ac...
Jenkins looked around the Command Center at his staff. He could see the shock still
hanging on their faces. “What is the s...
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The Epherium Chronicles: Embrace Prologue Excerpt


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The Epherium Chronicles: Embrace Prologue Excerpt

  1. 1. The Epherium Chronicles: Embrace By T.D. Wilson Carina Press, Harlequin Ltd. Prologue The Pluto Incident: Our First Contact Pluto Acceleration Gate Monday, July 21 Earth Year 2138 The maintenance ship, Gerard, slipped through the last of the powerful acceleration gates still in Earth’s system and began its approach for the Pluto Planetary Station. The Gerard was a standard Miko class maintenance vessel with a long cylinder-like hull, which could be easily expanded for additional cargo cells. Configured as she was with the maximum of three cargo cells, the Gerard spanned nearly one hundred meters in length and could haul nearly six thousand metric tons of cargo. The commanding officer of the Gerard, Specialist First Class Tom Restal, was in the primary maintenance hold finalizing the inventory for their current mission. A stable, but non-exemplary career in the Earth Exploration Forces maintenance wing over the last fifteen years had landed him a successful command with a well-trained crew. The Marines of the EEF put their lives on the line to keep the peace and defend the people against a variety of threats, but if massive malfunctions occurred out in the black, thousands could die and never see it coming. Maintenance missions were his team’s bread and butter, and no ship had a better record than the Gerard. As the ship cleared the acceleration gate, Restal felt the inertial compensators kick in for the velocity change and adjusted his footing to compensate. The systems worked well, but there was still a residual shift that reminded him of the sudden starts and stops of the high speed maglev trams back on Earth. Restal turned from his work and looked out the large viewport closest to him. He stared at the large ringed gate just hanging in space as it shrank from view. The acceleration gates, like
  2. 2. the one the Gerard had just passed through, had been created to reduce ship burdens on fuel and reduce any need for cryo-sleep chambers for long flights. One of the new maintenance trainees, a petite, young, blonde girl named Kristin, entered the hold from the Command Cabin, walked up beside Restal and looked around him to gaze at the gate. “Sir, I was told you were on the crew that installed that gate. I’ve read a lot about them and understand how they function, but I’ve never worked on one. Back at the academy, we only performed some maintenance sims and even then it was pretty routine stuff.” Restal looked over at Kristin and smiled. “You’ll get your chance, Cadet,” he said. “Even though the Pluto gate was only brought officially online a few years ago, it was constructed and test flights were being run on her long before that.” He walked back over to the rack of equipment and handed his inventory list to Kristin. “You’re right, though. I had the opportunity of a lifetime working on a team for six weeks assembling that big monster out there. Most of that time I spent on that project was all EVA with just me, my suit and my tools.” The cadet seemed almost skeptical of her CO. “That long in EVA?” Kristin questioned. “Isn’t that a bit much? Our instructors told us that prolonged…” Restal cut her off. “Cadet, one of the reasons you’re out here is to learn from experience and not books, sims and instructors who can’t navigate a maintenance pod to perform simple welding work.” He chuckled as he looked back on it. “Trust me, after the first few days, disorientation fades and the body adjusts.” Restal looked down at the cadet whose head barely cleared his shoulder. “Now, as for the gates, they’re an engineering marvel. Old exploratory craft used hard burn fuels and even low thrust ion engines to move about the solar system before these beauties were built. Less fuel and shorter travel times accelerated our colonization of the rest of the system nearly tenfold. Of course, it took the Epherium engineers years to develop an inertial compensator capable of handling the acceleration change. Until then, we had to send unmanned transports to move equipment and sleeper ships for personnel. Our bodies can adjust to slow change, but the Gforces created by the changes of the gates were way too powerful.” After stretching his arms over his head, Restal performed a staged yawn, grinned, then continued, “I did the sleeper ship run to Europa once from Venus station. It took me two weeks to get over the side effects of the process. Swore I’d never do it again. A month later the first tests on the compensators started and it was smooth sailing after that.”
  3. 3. Kristin walked back to the viewport and stared at the now miniscule gate and vast blanket of space and stars that consumed it. “Sorry, sir, I just have so many questions.” Restal patted the cadet’s shoulder gently with his hand. “Listen, kid, I was lot like you when I first joined the EEF. Believe it or not, I wanted to be a drop ship pilot. But, that kind of piloting took a level of skill that I couldn’t master, so I left all that fancy flying for the Marines. I was always good at fixing things, so I requested a transfer to the maintenance wing after graduation. It’s a good gig out here and I got no regrets.” Kristin continued to stare out the viewport and her early skepticism seemed to fade as she nodded in understanding. The Command Cabin door opened and Rick Kindel, the Gerard’s navigator called to the pair, “Skipper, we’re beginning our approach. Pluto station is still not responding. It looks like we may have a complete communication tower failure at the site.” “Thanks, Rick,” Restal answered. Turning back to Kristin, he gestured her back toward the Command Cabin. “Being with the maintenance wing is an important part of the EEF. We’ve helped to deploy and maintain all sorts of technology across this system. Who knows, you may want to look at the Venus station for terraforming work or come out here to maintain this site for astronomical survey. My old classmate, Max Turner, works here and I’m sure he can show you around. It’s sites like this that have discovered hundreds of new galaxies and obtained surveys of potentially habitable systems nearby.” “Like the ones the Epherium Corporation sent colony ships to?” she asked. “Exactly,” he replied. “With a shortage of habitable areas in this system, new worlds that are more like Earth could be a real relief.” Restal and Kristin entered the Command Cabin and strapped themselves into their seats as the Gerard made its descent to the station on the surface of Pluto. The Gerard’s pilot, a tall Guatemalan named Hector Linqua, guided the ship with ease along the predetermined glide path for approaching the station. “Thirty kilometers and closing, Skipper,” he stated with a slight rasp in his voice. His cold of the previous week had passed, but drainage had caused him to lose his voice for nearly two days. It came back to a level that he could finally talk and was cleared by EEF medical to fly. “We should have visual in a second,” he added. The Gerard’s primary viewport in the Command Cabin was equipped with a multifunction heads up display or HUD, which included several camera visuals from various angles
  4. 4. used for landing approaches and acquiring maintenance targets. Restal typed a few commands on his console, and the HUD visuals changed to display the Pluto Station, or what was left of it. “Holy Mother!” exclaimed Kindel. He tried to rise out of seat, but his seat restraints held him down. The Pluto Station contained three domed structures for crew, the astronomical observatory and a hydroponics bay. Each of the domes was about four hundred meters in diameter and spanned to a height of nearly thirty. The end of the station closest to the approach of the Gerard included the landing site and docking bay, while the communication arrays were located on the far end. Except they weren’t there. The primary array appeared to be broken off at the base, and its secondary short range backup was in tatters on the ground. A huge hole could be seen in the dome of the hydroponics bay, the closest to the communications arrays, and the crew couldn’t see any active lights coming from the station’s exterior. “Damage could be from a meteor strike,” Kindel stated, still trying to keep his composure. “Let me get the scanners working and see if we can get a better assessment.” He unfastened his restraints, left his seat, and moved to the sensors station of the cabin to start working. Hector adjusted the Gerard’s heading and brought the ship in closer, angling the Gerard into a slight oval pattern over the station, perfect for a complete sensor sweep of the area. The rest of the crew looked stunned. Restal looked around the cabin and stared hard at the cadets. “Alright, everyone. We all know that space can be a dangerous place. Some of us have friends down there, but we are going to do this by the numbers.” He looked back to his navigator. “Rick, got anything?” “Unknown, Skipper,” Kindel replied with a slightly frustrated tone. He typed another sequence on his terminal and the result was the same. “Whatever happened must have caused a radiation leak or something because the scanners can’t analyze any of the damage. Our cameras are working, but visuals are getting worse as we get closer. If it’s a meteor, I don’t see any trace of it outside the domes.” “Okay, contact EEF Command and inform them we have a potential meteor strike on Pluto Station, and we may need medical teams on site. Our unit is capable of performing a ground assessment with our radiation gear. Any support ships should hold at a safe distance until we give the go ahead for their teams to move in.” “Roger, Skipper,” Kindel said as he activated the Gerard’s communication array.
  5. 5. “Okay, team. I know this is not what we planned for, but it’s our job. Hector and Rick will stay with the ship when we land. The rest of us will suit up and search the station for survivors.” Restal looked at Kristin and her classmate, a young man named Jonathan. “I’m sorry kids, but I need you to grow up a little faster than you planned.” He turned back to the sensors station. “Rick, can you get access to their main computer from the docking ring connection?” “I should be able to get access, as long as the hard lines aren’t severed.” “Get on it when we land,” Restal ordered. “Hector, set us down” Hector set the Gerard down on to the Pluto station landing platform. When the docking ramp latched into place, lights activated along its railings, and the crew noticed interior lights flicker to life inside the station’s crew quarters dome. If there was at least power on part of the station, perhaps some of its inhabitants were still alive. Restal led the twelve members of his crew intended for the station search to the maintenance bay and opened the container holding the radiation EVA suits. Above the container was a large monitor that now displayed the Pluto station composite layout. Stepping to his left, Restal grabbed a remote off of the side of the monitor that controlled the display and began briefing his teams on the layout and primary functions of the different areas of the station. Confident his people were up to speed, Restal placed the remote back on the monitor and began to pull suits out of the container and distributed them among the crew. “Okay. Let’s get suited up and prepare to move out. If you detect any life signs or the source of that radiation, call out. The radiation may interfere with comms, so don’t panic. Just work your way back the way you came until you get communication restored. Kindel will monitor our bios and suit integrity from the Gerard. Are there any questions?” The crew shook their heads and began to put on their protective suits. Restal finished putting on his suit and tested his comms with the crew. Everyone responded for a clean comms check, and Restal moved to the Gerard’s docking hatch. “We do this search by teams of two. Kristin, you’re with me.” The crew of the Gerard opened the access hatch from the docking array and followed the tunnel to the dome that housed the station crew. “Okay, everyone, take your time and do a thorough search. Kindel, do you copy?”
  6. 6. “Here, Skipper. I’ve started to access the station computer system. Current status shows no power in the hydroponics or survey domes. Your area still has power, but no atmosphere, though. The gravity generators are intact and functional, but I only see levels of about zero point two in the other domes. If you go in there, make sure your magnetic boots are active. I’ll access the station’s logs and see I can find out what happened.” “Keep on it,” Restal replied. “Team, you heard the man, EVA suits stay on. Whatever happened here cost the station its atmospheric integrity. We need to find sealed rooms and rooms that would hold EVA suits. Survivors may be close by. Move out.” Kristin and Restal moved through the crew dome first floor hallway to the tunnel hatch that led to the astronomical survey dome. There was no sign of any bodies, but with power still functioning in the crew cabins and hallway lighting, the odds were good that the teams would find someone alive. Restal looked through the hatchway viewport. The survey dome was supposed to contain a huge telescope and lots of equipment for survey and communication to satellites outside the solar system, but the entire dome was dark. He tried the controls for the dome’s exterior door, but nothing happened. The panel had power, but Restal was sure the door was powered from inside the dome. Restal opened his tool bag and removed a screwdriver. After loosening the screws on the door’s control plate, he popped the plate off and set it to his left. Kristin shined her utility light into the panel, and Restal quickly found the manual lever for the door. The lever activated a piston that, after several pulls, pushed the door open to allow Restal and Kristin access to the small tunnel to the next dome. “Kristin, watch your step in here. With no gravity and loss of atmosphere, lots of equipment could have been tossed around,” Restal said as he stood from the panel. “Keep an eye out for any damaged systems. If we get power back, we don’t need a spark show.” Kristin nodded and followed Restal into the tunnel. Unlike the crew quarters dome, the survey dome was a completely open structure. In the center of the room, a gigantic telescope was positioned on a large revolving pad. Restal and Kristin moved into the dome and used lights on their EVA suits to maneuver around floating furniture. They activated their magnetic boots and began to setup several portable lights from their maintenance kits around the dome to illuminate the interior. Each light was connected to a power connector in a chain that was looped to a small generator.
  7. 7. As Restal and Kristin were about to power on their lights, Justin Sevard, one the Gerard’s lead maintenance technicians, called over the comms. “Skipper, we’ve completed our sweep. No sign of any survivors in the crew area, and all EVA suits in that dome were accounted for.” “Any bodies?” Restal asked. “None, sir,” Justin replied, almost whispering into his comm unit. “Okay, the rest of the teams, continue to sweep forward into the hydroponics dome. Kristin and I will activate the lights here and search for the station crew,” Restal said. He really had hoped to find someone alive in the crew area. Now he feared the worst and so did his team. “Kindel, anything with the station computer logs?” Kindel replied over the comms, “Logs confirm that four members of the eight person crew were in the survey dome at the time of the incident. Two were supposed to be in the crew area and two in hydroponics. But the logs end there for the areas that lost power. They could have left these areas at any time after that and there wouldn’t be a record here. I’ve found an exterior camera vid stored in the logs that’s eight hours old. It was covering the outside of the station next to the communication arrays. The picture’s blurry, but I’m working to clean it up. Best I can tell so far is a white streak striking the communications array and barreling into the hydroponics dome. That could be our meteor, but I’ll let you know when I get a definite.” “Any response from Command?” Restal asked. “I just got a comm from the medical ship, Tama. She and two EEF Marine drop ships are now in high orbit and await our signal to come in to help with the wounded.” Restal scanned the blackness of the survey dome and hoped that there would be survivors that needed help. He keyed his comm system again. “Roger that. Glad to know our backup got here. Keep me informed of your progress on that camera vid. We’ve got lights going up in the survey dome now. The rest of the teams are moving forward into the hydroponics area.” While Kristin began turning on the portable lights, Restal checked the last two couplings to his generator. Finding them secure, he looked over and watched as his other search teams manually opened the tunnel door to the hydroponics bay. The door on this side had several cracks around its frame. He’d seen that before. Structural damage like that was often the result of explosive decompression close by. As the door on his side opened, Restal could see the door on
  8. 8. other end of the tunnel was mangled badly, most likely blasted open as a result of the meteor impact. Behind him, Kristin activated the third of the eight lights they had positioned. The light was jammed into its stand, and Kristin had to hit it with her hand to loosen it. She set it on the ground. As she looked up toward the ceiling to check the angle, she screamed. Restal turned and moved as quickly as his magnetic boots would allow him toward the cadet. “Kristin, what is it? Are you hurt?” Her scream turned to a sob, and she pointed to the dome’s ceiling. Four bodies of the station’s crew were motionless and pressed against the wall near the top of the dome. Restal could tell by the coloring of their skin and faces that they died when the dome lost its atmosphere. “Keep it together, kid. We expected to see this. You need to calm down and focus. We can’t help them, but we might be able to help the rest of the crew,” he explained, trying to calm her down, but inside he was just as scared as she was. Kristin nodded slowly and stopped sobbing. “Yes, sir.” She moved to continue activating the remaining lamps. Restal grabbed one of the active lamps and angled it to get a better look at the four bodies. Along the walls, he could see more cracks in the dome’s super structure. When this part of the station lost atmosphere, they probably were pinned to the wall and wedged in tight. Whatever happened must have happened fast, and he doubted they suffered. The uniforms were all similar, but he could definitely see a distinctive black and red layered flat top haircut on one of the bodies. He knew immediately it was his friend, Max. Restal sighed deeply, set down the light and moved closer to the telescope pad. “Justin, come in,” Restal solemnly called into his comm unit. “Aye, Skipper, we just entered the hydroponics dome.” “Well, we found four poor souls in the survey dome. One of them is Max.” Restal paused for a few moments and looked over at Kristin. “Kristin’s pretty shook up, but she’s holding together. Any sign of the impact crater?” “There is a huge hole in the center of the dome. We’re moving around all the debris so we can get access to the entry point. Radiation levels have increased but are still tolerable for the suits. I wouldn’t recommend long term exposure though.” Static began to crackle over the comm as Justin spoke. No doubt due to the increased radiation, Restal believed.
  9. 9. “Any sign of the remaining crew?” Restal asked. “It’s strange.” Justin sounded very confused. “Most of the plants and furniture seemed to have been sucked out the hole where the impact occurred, but there’s a lot of dark residue around the entrance from the survey dome. It could be blood, but I would have thought that any blood from the crew in this dome should have been sucked out with the atmosphere. It would have vaporized outside. This would only happen if someone came in after the atmosphere was expelled.” “That could be our other two missing crewmen that were in the crew quarters during the strike. I imagine the other two were killed during the impact. Get me a visual on the impact crater and send a team out the hole to look at the communications array,” Restal instructed and he looked back toward the crew quarters. “How did those two crew members get to the other dome without a suit?” he thought to himself. “Roger that, Skipper. I’ll take Nate’s team with me to the crater and send Vince and Tommy’s groups out to the communication array. Chase and Cadet Tiris are collecting some of the residue for analysis and identification.” Restal watched his own intern continue to activate the remaining lights. “How’s he holding up?” “Tough kid,” Justin replied jokingly. “He’s keeping it together pretty well. Okay, we just reached the impact crater. It’s about four meters wide and looks pretty deep.” Restal could hear rustling over the comms as Justin moved to the edge of the crater. “That’s strange. The walls are almost burned smooth. Pretty weird for a meteor hit. I’m going to disengage my gravity boots and use my suit thrusters to get a look.” Restal felt the hairs on his neck stand on end. Something felt wrong about this whole scenario. “Be careful, Justin, and watch those radiation levels!” he warned. “Roger that,” Justin said with a slight strain as he began his descent into the impact crater. Kindel’s voice came over the comms. “Skipper, I enhanced the video, and it’s strange. I don’t see any identifiable meteor at all in the vid. It almost looks like a light pulse of some kind. Similar to a mining laser perhaps. There is a shadow in the background, could be a ship, but I can’t make it out.”
  10. 10. An intense burst of static came over the Gerard’s comm systems. “What the hell was that?” Rick called back on the comms. “Seemed like a focus comm, but very intense and the systems can’t make it out. It originated in the hydroponics area.” Restal waved Kristin toward him. “Justin, get your teams out of there and return to the ship. That’s an order!” “Roger, Skipper, I am almost at the bottom of the crater now,” Justin said. “Wait…what the…” Justin let out a short scream that was quickly muffled by a gurgle then static. “Justin, report! Nate, what’s happening over there?” Restal screamed into his comms. Nate’s voice flittered over the comms. “Justin’s gone! Guys, get out of here!” He heard an explosion over Nate’s comm channel, and the signal cutoff. Vibrations from the explosion carried through the floor into the survey dome. Restal could feel them in his boots. He grabbed Kristin’s suit and forced her to run to the exit of the dome back toward the ship. “All teams get back to the ship. Can anyone copy?” Silence. Restal moved toward the exit as fast as his suit would allow him, all the while keeping Kristin in front of him. He opened comms to the Gerard. “Rick, life sign indicators from the crew?” “Skipper…they’re dead…they’re all dead,” Kindel choked out, obviously overcome with shock. Restal and Kristin passed through the tunnel into the crew dome. The air in their suits wasn’t calibrated for high exertion, and Restal knew he had to watch his breathing. He tried to force a strict rhythm as they continued their pace. His breathing under control, he keyed his comm unit again. “Hector, get the ship ready to bolt. Kristin and I are inbound. ETA two minutes.” “Roger, Skipper. We’re ready once you get on board. Marine drop ships are inbound to assist.” Restal and Kristin moved faster in the crew quarters where artificial gravity was still functioning, and they disengaged their magnetic boots. They bounded down the hall and rounded the corner toward the docking bay access ramp. Restal continued to look behind him to see if they were being pursued by whatever had attacked his crew but saw nothing. When they reached
  11. 11. the hatch that led to the docking platform, Restal opened it and proceeded across the ramp toward the Gerard with Kristin close behind. Just as Restal reached the hatch to the Gerard, the middle of the docking ramp exploded in a shower of sparks. Kristin was still behind him, and both steadied themselves on the remainder of the ramp, which was still attached to their ship’s docking clamp. Restal pressed a command key on his suit’s armband and the Gerard’s pressure door opened. He moved inside and was thrown forward onto the deck of the maintenance bay airlock by another explosion that consumed the rest of the ramp. Restal, slightly stunned and ears ringing from the explosion, struggled to his feet and looked out the pressure hatch doorway. “Kristin!” he bellowed into his comms, but she was nowhere to be seen. A huge scorch mark on the Gerard’s hull was all that remained of the ramp. Through the smoke and haze, Restal saw something on the ground moving with impressive speed near the base of the docking platform, but he couldn’t make it out. Not waiting any longer, he closed the pressure door and slipped to the floor of the air lock. “Hector, get us out of here!” The Gerard lurched upward off the landing pad and began to climb. Kindel looked out the forward viewport and could see a large object approaching the station. It was the same ship he had seen in the camera vid. “Hector, we have incoming.” The navigation window on the HUD flashed. “Exit vector to Marine drop ships is online. Get us the hell out of here!” Hector worked the ship controls furiously in an attempt to boost thrust and maintain their exit vector away from the station. His face displayed his frustration and he looked back at Kindel. “I’m trying, but whatever that is, it’s gaining.” EEF Outer System Command Europa Station Admiral Frank Jenkins reclined his chair at the head of the briefing room and slowly shook his head. Corporate technology briefings were important, but much of what he had seen over the last few hours was just a re-hash of current work. It was nothing new and certainly not eye-grabbing. He glanced around the table at the various corporate representatives. The usual suspects were
  12. 12. here of course, including Epherium and Greer, but a few new faces had shown up, particularly in the area of mining exploration. Jenkins’ top researcher in materials science was finishing his briefing to the assembled guests when the comm buzzer rang on the panel to his right. “One moment everyone,” he said. “This is Admiral Jenkins. What’s so important to interrupt my meeting?” he asked. Lieutenant Jana Henrickson, his protocol aide, was on the comm. “Admiral, you’re needed in the Command Center ASAP, sir. There appears to be a situation.” Jenkins stood and adjusted his jacket. “Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but life on this station still gives a few unwanted surprises. Follow me. I can show you how the EEF has put a lot of your technology to work out here.” The admiral turned and walked to the briefing room exit. Everyone in the room, not wanting to miss out on a great opportunity, dropped their data pads into their chairs and moved to follow him. Tours on the stations were common during visits, but never by the admiral and certainly not during any type of operation. The station Command Center was on the opposite end of the main hallway from the admiral’s briefing room. As Admiral Jenkins exited the room and entered the hall, Lieutenant Henrickson met him in stride. The Europa Station was an orbital station based on common designs used for the original Mars and Venus Orbital stations, but expanded for the larger operations based in the Jupiter Theater of Operation. The stations were constructed with a very lightweight but strong metallic alloy that was extremely corrosion resistant and required far less maintenance than conventional steel alloys used on Earth. Regardless of the sonic dampening employed, metallic echoes in the hallways of the stations were viewed to be a normal but annoying flaw of the design. Admiral Jenkins took notice of this property of the stations long ago and adjusted his gait to emphasize the effect that his uniform shoes often presented. Most of the station would hear his footsteps and either clear a path or prepare to “kiss the cheek” he surmised. “What’s the situation, Lieutenant?” he asked with a slightly irritated tone. “Unknown, Admiral, but I was told it was of the utmost urgency,” she replied evenly. Jenkins sighed and keyed his code into the Command Center access panel to open the door. “Better not keep them waiting, but if this is another drill without my knowledge, there’ll be hell to pay.”
  13. 13. The door to the Command Center opened, and Jenkins stepped into chaos. Several members of the command center staff were actively huddled around numerous visual screens and engaged in heated verbal debates across the room, while younger staffers were running between the Command Center stations in a frantic attempt to provide some measure of assistance. Jenkins took one step into the room and moved to his left. Lieutenant Henrickson followed the admiral in and with a surprisingly loud voice for her size announced the admiral’s presence. “Admiral on deck!” All commotion stopped in the room, and everyone immediately snapped to attention. “What the hell is going on in my Command Center people? Flores, give me a SITREP,” Jenkins ordered. Commander Thomas Flores, Jenkins’ XO on the Europa Station, stepped forward. “The situation is very confusing, sir.” “I gathered that, Commander,” Jenkins replied. “Get on with it.” “We have a hostile situation outside of Pluto Station, sir. An unknown craft is currently engaged with some of our Marine drop ships.” “This unknown craft, get me a visual now!” Jenkins exclaimed as he moved to the center of the room and the Command Center’s primary view screen. Flores turned to one of the staffers next to him and instructed him to reroute the vid to the screen. “Visual of the engagement has been provided by the medical ship, Tama, which was sent in as support for the Pluto station following the Gerard’s initial assessment. Zooming in on the ship now.” He pointed at the screen. “There it is. We’ve never seen anything like her. She’s fast, maneuverable and utilizes a primary energy weapon of some sort. We’ve alerted more Marine ships to assist—” Lieutenant Henrickson quickly interrupted. “Sir, we need to get our people out of there. This is a potential first contact situation and if this escalates, there may be ramifications.” Jenkins turned to stare almost incredulously at his aide. “Lieutenant, I don’t give a damn about first contact protocol right now. That ship has attacked our people, many have already died. This is a hostile situation and will be handled as such.” A large explosion appeared on the view screen. “Tom, what was that, did we get it?” Commander Flores checked his screen, bowed his head slowly then looked up at the admiral. “Negative, sir. That was the Okinawa. She’s gone.”
  14. 14. Jenkins looked around the Command Center at his staff. He could see the shock still hanging on their faces. “What is the status of the hostile vessel? Can we get a reading?” Flores replied, “Yes, sir. The drop ships hit her with their cannons, but any damage has been negligible. With her speed and armor, we can’t make a dent, sir. The drop ships were designed for near orbit and ground support, not true space ship-to-ship combat.” “Those ships are the best in our arsenal, Tom. Are you telling me we have nothing to counter this ship with?” Flores sighed and nodded to the affirmative. “Yes, sir. That is exactly what I am saying.” A new voice from the back of the Command Center spoke up, “Excuse me, Admiral.” Everyone in the room turned back to see who had called out. Felix Ulera, the Epherium Corporation representative to Admiral Jenkins’ earlier meeting stepped forward from the group. He nodded to the admiral and continued. “I’m sorry to interrupt given the current situation, but I don’t believe that the commander’s statement is entirely accurate.”