Freya's Tears

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Chapter Five - New Pacifica

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica
Timeline: Day Ten

It had been a smooth seven days since Freya’s Tears had left Lafayette, even with Els’s constant attention to the ship and crew. When she’d first taken over as captain, she’d been woefully unprepared for her new duties. Her strength ran to mathematics and navigation, not technical schematics and personnel management. Comprehending the many ship’s systems had been so difficult that she’d let Kolodka and Hrothgar run rampant in their domain without supervision for over a year. Though they couldn’t be blamed for Freya’s Tears breaking down in deep space a few months ago—that had been bad timing and a worn part—their engineering artistry had been the cause of the occasional snafu during that time. Despite her discomfort with all things mechanical, Els had forced herself to go over the engines with them, ordering them to remove the superfluous tweaks they’d put into place over her preceding year of ineptitude.

These days she tended to go a little overboard in the opposite direction. No structural changes to the ship or engines were allowed without her understanding and approval. That included all systems and all the crew—the gunners with their turrets, Naya’s computers and Austin’s pilot station. Els’s stance had caused a few acrimonious arguments over the last six months, but the crew was becoming accustomed to her restrictions. It had also been a long learning process for Els as she worked her way back to the middle balance between apathy and tyranny. Though less inclined to deny a request, she still crawled around the ship daily, checking upgrades and repairs against the maintenance log, confirming cargo and courier data were secure and generally making a nuisance of herself to her crew.

She’d learned a lot, not only about ship systems but about command as well. Her newly ingrained knowledge of ship hardware gave her a confidence that she’d been lacking when she’d initially taken command. Then she’d been more worried about what her peers thought of her ordering them around than concerned for the ultimate well-being and welfare of the ship, the business and their safety. Her growing self-assurance had translated into an aura of authority that the crew couldn’t help but acknowledge.

So it was that she now found herself in the computer room with a data pad, studying the bank of machinery with a critical eye. The computer room curved around behind the oval-shaped bridge, not much more than a wide corridor about three meters long. The macro frame computer took up one entire wall and weighed two tons. While a full comp sys station existed on the bridge, there were two small standing stations here for programming on the fly. It was at one of these stations that Els stood, scrolling through readouts. Though she had no expertise to understand Naya’s programming changes and additions, Els could keep an eye on electronic repairs and run general diagnostics. She was currently comparing Naya’s maintenance record against her own data when she heard Austin’s voice over the ship’s intercom.

“Arrival at New Pacific system in five minutes.”

Els checked her chronometer, pleased to see that her navigational calculations had been almost perfect. She closed the computer maintenance record and exited out of the work station before heading to the bridge.

Despite the easy run, the lack of shipboard malfunctions and plenty of alone time with Kasli, Els felt edgy as she stepped onto the bridge. Naya had been attempting contact with New Pacifica since Freya had left Lafayette. No responses came back, not even an automated ping indicating nearby ships in the normal shipping lanes. The lack of contact gave Els the willies. In Lafayette it could be argued that there was something unknown wrong with their communications systems, but the closer Els came without receiving replies seemed to suggest a more serious situation had developed. The crew had spent the last couple of nights brainstorming all manner of dastardly doings that could cause such a complete communications black out, each more outlandish than the last.

Their speculations rattled in Els’s memory as she entered the bridge. Naya was already at her station, having had bridge duty. Austin cast a glance over his shoulder at Els as she secured the computer room door and resumed work at his station.

“Any response from New Pacifica?” Els asked.

“Nope. Not a peep.” Naya shook her head, scowling at her console. “I’ve checked and rechecked our systems. There’s nothing wrong with our tachcomm. This has to be something on their end.”

“Solar flares maybe?” Austin said.

Els snorted. “Hel of a solar flare to knock out the entire system without astronomical evidence.” She settled at the nav station, pulling up the sub sector astronomical data. “No comets are scheduled to be in system right now and there’s no evidence of solar flare activity located this far out.”
Austin made an adjustment on his console. “Guess we’ll find out what it is in a couple of minutes then.”

The not knowing rattled Els’s nerves. She’d used what little information she’d gleaned from Folsum to calculate a route that put Freya’s Tears far away from their usual point of entry when they translated into normal space. If nothing was wrong the ship would be forced to spend four days getting to the planet. That was a price she was willing to pay to keep them safe from potential harm. The last thing she wanted was to enter orbit around a quarantined planet; such a circumstance would be a death knell for the business and everyone on board.

Naya piped up. “Monitoring comm channels, Captain, but I’m not getting anything. Not even on public bands.” She looked at Els, her pixie face marred by an unusual expression of concern. “I should at least be picking up vid and radio broadcasts.”

“Absolutely nothing?”

Naya shook her head at Els’s question. “Nothing.”

Austin grumbled beneath his breath.

Els raised an eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing. Just…spooky.” His hands flashed across his station, activating the intercom. “Transition in five. Four. Three. Two. One.”

Els shivered. The spacial distortion caused by the jump engines cleared up, revealing the true black of space and a brilliant blue sun through the window. Purson was a system with five planets—two too close to the sun to allow more than mining opportunities, one in the ideal location for planetary life and development and two more in the frozen far reaches of the system. The planet New Pacifica, third from its star, was entirely immersed in water and boasted twenty-nine million inhabitants dwelling in its submerged habitats.

While local planetary technology wasn’t of the highest standard, Freya’s Tears should have been bombarded by transmissions from space traffic, interplanetary signals between space mining platforms and orbital satellites and general noise from the planet itself. There was nothing from Naya’s board. Not a sound played over the tachcomm.

Too distant to see the system with her naked eyes, Els accessed the navigational sensor bank. She heard footsteps on the stairs, glancing over her shoulder to see the rest of her crew congregating just inside the door. Tobias passed Els and stepped down into the lower storage area to get a better look out the main window, tattooed arms across his burly chest. Kolodka took up a stance near Els as both Hrothgar and Kasli remained near the back of the bridge.

It took several seconds for the navigation system to kick into gear and receive data from the sensors, a few more before that information was translated via the computer banks to present itself upon Els’s monitor. She leaned forward to stare at the information, uncertain. “It’s not there.”

“What?”

“What do you mean it’s not there?”

“Shit.”

Els swallowed, stunned. Her eyes flickered up to the window, knowing she couldn’t see anything but wanting visual confirmation of what her instruments were telling her. She felt ill, her mind stuttering as she stared at the data on her console. “This says there are only four planets in the system.”

“Four?” Naya frowned, counting on her fingers as she reviewed her basic astronomy. “There should be five.” She looked at Kasli and Hrothgar. “Right?”

Austin answered. “Right.” He scowled at his station, fingers dancing as he made adjustments. “Firing thrusters. Coming to full stop.”

Els felt the presence of someone at her shoulder and looked up to see Kasli leaning over her, staring at her instruments. Bolstered by her friend’s nearness, Els forced herself back to business. She entered a computer command and the visual data transposed itself across the scene already visible through the window. The position of each planet should have blinked blue, showing white lines to indicate current orbits. Instead, four planets flashed orange, their orbits indicated by both a white line and an orange or red one that deviated from the original. Small red letters indicated each planet’s designation, blinking to account for a possible error.

Of the two inner planets, the one closest to Purson suffered the least variance from its original path, the next one out wobbling much more. The two outer planets showed similar divergences with New Pacifica’s nearest neighbor going wildly out of its standard orbit around its sun. Nothing but a vast lopsided asteroid field smeared across the screen where New Pacifica should have been located.

Tobias’s hands dropped to his side and he took a stumbling step forward. “No fucking way.”

“What could possibly do that?”

“You gotta be kidding me!”

“Oh, this is bad, bad, bad.”

“Are you sure we’re where we’re supposed to be?” Hrothgar asked, stepping closer to Austin’s console.

Els huffed confusion, slumping back into her chair, hands raised with palms up before falling to slap the console. “My calculations were for New Pacifica. That’s where we should be.” She leaned close, accessing her navigation commands. “We’re even within the time of arrival I’d estimated.”

“Could it be a sensor malfunction?” Kasli asked.

Naya pursed her lips, a doubtful expression on her face. “Seems a pretty specific malfunction. Four out of the five planets match the known planetary data, even if they aren’t in their proper orbits. We couldn’t have gotten here safely if the sensor system was down. All other systems are working perfectly, and sensors seem to be picking up all relevant data from what’s around us.”

Kolodka picked up the conversational thread. “And the exterior sensors were all recently calibrated when we were on Azteca. That’s two systems and three jumps ago. They haven’t given us a lick of trouble since.”

Though Els didn’t want to believe that an entire populated planet had been reduced to rubble, there didn’t appear to be any other explanations. She chewed her upper lip, staring at the carnage. Twenty-nine million people, gone. “What the hel could do that?” Her glance flickered to Tobias, the one member of her crew that had the most recent experience in the military. “Tobias, did you ever hear of a weapon like this being developed?”

He turned, staring at her, eyes wide. “Never. I didn’t think it was possible.”

Austin tapped his fingers on the edge of his station. “Maybe they did it to themselves.” Those members of the crew who could tear themselves away from the view gaped at him. He waved a hand at the window. “You know how they are…were. Always bickering between colonies. There had to have been a hundred different forms of government on that planet and little common ground between them. Maybe someone created a weapon to destroy the others and it backfired.”

Hrothgar frowned in thought. “They’d have to have tapped into the planetary core for that kind of power.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I didn’t think they had the technological edge for something like that.”

Kasli stood erect. “Yeah, but you don’t need tech know-how if you can buy it from off-world.”

Kolodka grumbled. “It’s not possible. There is no weapon that could handle that sort of power.”

“Unless this was caused by a natural disaster, there is now.” Els stared at the blinking smudge of the asteroid field. “We need to get closer and investigate. We need fuel and I’d rather not have to use the ram scoop,” she said, naming the ship system that was created to scoop gases from planetary giants. “Refining takes too long and the raw fuel causes too much wear and tear on the engines.” But the sooner we can get out of here, the better. This is beyond creepy.

“I want to do another sensor diagnostic,” Naya said. “Just to be absolutely certain we’re really where we’re supposed to be.”

Els nodded. “How long will it take?”

Naya stood, picking up a data pad. “I’ll want to do an in-depth one. Sensors will be offline for several hours.”

Debating the perils of having any system offline while the ship remained in space, Els considered her dwindling options. Ideally, they could locate a place to land to do the diagnostic, but was there any place safe? And if their sensors were out of alignment, would they be able to land at all? The slightest difference between reality and perception could mean their destruction. She sighed. “Okay. Do it. I’m going to take the shuttle with Austin and Kolodka to get a closer look. Kasli and Tobias, I need you two to remain on board in case you’re needed to defend the ship.”

Hrothgar stepped forward. “Can I go?”

“No.” Els gave her brother a rueful glance. “I need an engineer on board for repairs. Naya can pilot in an emergency if it comes to that, but you’ll be needed in the engine room.” She scanned the bridge, meeting each person’s eyes. “Are we clear?” They each responded in word or acknowledging gesture.

Naya headed toward the computer room. “I’ll get started on the diagnostics.”

Tobias remained in the lower storage area, returning his gaze to the computer enhanced image there, and Hrothgar followed Kolodka up the stairs to the common room.

Austin shut down his station. “I’ll start pre-flight checks on the shuttle.” He stood up and slipped out the door.

Els waved him on, standing. She slipped into Kasli’s embrace.

“You’ll be careful?” Kasli murmured in Els’s ear, mindful of Tobias still in the vicinity.

“Yes, ma’am.” Els attempted a smile, but the magnitude of what they’d discovered here cast a shadow across her emotions. She glimpsed the view from the window over Kasli’s shoulder. Twenty-nine million people. Pulling back, she firmly kissed Kasli, a public display of affection she normally wasn’t comfortable with but one that she couldn’t deny. “I’ll see you in a few hours. Keep the ship safe.”

“Anything for you, mahasanni.”

 

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