| The Ritacha War: Breakthrough
Journal Entry 031 / 01028
Elenya, Nenim 06, 01028
He was awake instantly at the sound of the buzzer, his hands fumbling
for the button on the console by his bed. "Cafran."
"Captain, we are approaching TD-102, and I think you should come to
"Problem, Number One?"
"It's... interesting sir. It's easier if you come up to the bridge and
see for yourself."
"Be there in a minute." Captain Tori Cafran rolled out of bed and
stood up, slowly stretching every muscle in his body in a careful and
disciplined fashion. The warm body still lying in bed shuffled slowly to
its right, taking up his pillow as well as its own. He pulled the covers
back a little and kissed Fez on her cheek. She was a good engineer as
well as a good listener and lovemate, and he valued her presence on
his ship. It didn't that he found her slim, Ebony Vulpin form
unbelievably appealing. She didn't stir, but he felt a smile spread
across his muzzle anyway.
He used to think that being able to wake up instantly was a necessity
for starship captains. In his years as a starship officer he had yet to
be in a situation where being able to wake up instantly would have saved
lives or effort. As he pulled the grey and dun yellow uniform over his
bulky form, shoving his tail through the in the back and closing
the zipper up the front to his throat, he wished for the ability to just
lie in bed and drift; Fez had once mentioned how much she enjoyed those
moments just before total sleep, when she was drifting and her mind
half-dreaming. He envied her that time; he had always been the sort to
just pass out and wake up. He rarely remembered his dreams, too.
He glanced both ways as he stepped out into the hallway; he had more than
once been run over by an impatient ensign. Down one strip, turn right,
"Captain on the Bridge," Rhonda announced patiently. He smiled tolerantly
at her anachronism. Until taking command of the Ille Pendoro he had been
used to announcing his own presence, or waiting until someone acknowledged
him. His current ship didn't give him that opportunity unless he asked
His first action was to locate T'Parrahn, his second officer. He found
the melFelinzi hunched over one of the large display stations. "Find
something exciting, number one?"
"I think so, sir." He smiled in a peculiar fashion, and Cafran's curiosity
was peaked. He had rarely seen T'Parrahn excited about anything. "What
have we got?"
"Evidence of intelligent life, sir."
Cafran's whiskers rose with surprise. "You're sure?" While Cafran was no
particular expert on intelligent civilizations, he knew the basics. There
were a total of five known planets in which sentient life had arisen and
which still held sentient life. At least, it was assumed as such; few
people had located the homeworld of the Sinox, and the secretive Shriaa
had never allowed anyone to land on any of the three worlds they held.
"Sort of." T'Parrahn, whom Cafran usually thought of as just "Parr,"
let his whiskers droop. "While the forward probes are reporting
large architectural structures and some orbital facilities as well,
the background radiation would fry you or me in a matter of days and
the average temperature along the planet's surface is something near
Cafran's eyes closed slightly. "Nuclear war?"
"Yes, sir. Probably a long time ago. This looks like nuclear winter
extended into a drawn-out ice age."
"No radio, no thermal siting... any signs of life?"
Parr shook his head. "No."
Cafran turned to front of the ship. There was no rational reason for
why the bridge was oriented along the ship's axis of travel; nobody ever
really "felt" the ship moving, and all of the imagery coming over their
screens was transmitted from cameras and sensors. But it "felt right"
to be facing the way the ship was moving. "Navigation, how long until
we reach the fifth planet?"
"Two hours, ten minutes at current velocity, sir."
"Pilot, we're going to make an orbital insertion for a long- duration
"Yes, sir. Expeditionary orbital plan logged in."
"Sir," Parr said, interrupting Cafran's thoughts, "Perhaps you should
log this and call for a staff meeting."
"What time is it?" Cafran asked.
"Staff meeting at twenty-eight hundred, Parr. You, me, Baker, Fezzik,
Miroh, Heely, Glass, Masters."
"Yes, sir. They're not going to appreciate being awakened three hours
"That's why you're the first officer, Parr."
Cafran was pleased, or more appropriately amazed, to see that everyone
whose presence he had requested had arrived on time. Fezzik and Mandy
Glass had an annoying tendency of arriving late to staff meetings. With
Glass, that didn't bother him quite so much because he didn't expect
military professionalism from someone who was not especially part of his
transit crew, a scientist; they were used to discoveries in their own
times on their own terms. But he did expect it from his chief engineer.
This time, though, the news of their discovery had brought everyone
Parr leaned forward in his chair, his hands clasped together in front of
him. "As you all know, at 22:00 this evening the Ille Pendoro entered the
TD-102 star system for a routine exploration and cataloging of resources.
Since we were arriving just before the fourth shift changeover, it was
decided that we do an automated probe scan during the night and that
during first and second shift next morning the science teams would
conduct their usual investigations.
"At 26:10 that all changed with the discovery of major metropolitan
structures on the fifth planet of the system as well as orbital
facilities, at least one of them designed for occupation."
A ripple of excitement went through the members of the team. Cafran
suppressed a small smile to see that even Rhonda's 'droid reacted
appropriately. "Notice I haven't said anything about people. Some of
you already know, and the rest of you will see shortly, that as far as
we can determine these people wiped themselves out in a nuclear spasm."
Of the eight people arranged around the table, four drooped noticeably.
"Do we know how long ago?" Doctor Baker asked.
"No, not really," Parr replied. "We will be able to estimate once we make
orbit and bring one of their satellites inside for micrometeorite damage
assessment, and if any of them used nuclear fuels a half-life analysis
will provide us with an even more accurate of history." He held
up his PADD and examined it for a moment. "At this point there's nothing
to support the theory that there is any sentient, or even non-sentient,
life on the planet's surface."
"Will there be expeditionary parties down to the surface?" Fezzik asked.
Cafran smiled. Almost every member of the sixty crewfen on board his ship
held double duty; otherwise scientists would go crazy during transit and
engineers would do the same during explorations. Executive members of
the crew were generally chosen from scientific backgrounds unlikely to
interfere with their primary mission, and upper-level scientists like
Glass were trained in some aspect of ship's function but were rarely
called upon. Every scout ship needed a technological archaeologist, but
since there were only six events in recorded history that had required
one, the TA was cross-trained from (or to) command, upper engineering,
or personnel management. Fezzik, his chief of engineering, was also his
technological archaeologist, and a chance at hacking away at the seventh
'dead' sentient species ever found certainly held her attention.
He cleared his throat. "If I determine that there is no inherent risk in
doing so, yes, Fez, you can go down to the surface and pick up whatever
your heart desires. It's almost time to head home and as you know the
holds are almost empty."
"Thank you," she breathed, beaming. Cafran had to admit that making
her happy made him feel good, and he worried momentarily about the
professional detachment he was supposed to be projecting.
He looked over at Doctor Baker. "Sorry for waking you up this early, Doc.
Looks like we're not gonna need you."
"Not a problem, Captain," Baker replied. "Even if my services aren't
needed on the surface below, excitement like this always leads to an
accident or unfortunate mishap. It's best that I know now that the crew
is probably going to be mucking about on the planet's surface."
"Markov, how soon can you give us your time estimates?"
"As soon as Parr gets me a satellite to take apart and Miroh gives me
a weather report."
Cafran nodded, bemused by Heely's uses of the term "weather report" to
describe the local particle and energy environment. "Until we know more,
there's not much left to discuss. I thank you all for coming so early
this morning and I'll leave you to your individual teams. I'd like to be
able to authorize you additional sleep time to return the three hours
I took away from you this morning, but I don't think your staffs would
let you have it."
"Probably not," Lieutenant Heely agreed.
It's fragile, Lieutenant Markov Heely thought as she floated closer to the
satellite that the Ille Pendoro had been chasing for the past hour and
a half. It hovered before her sensor-enhanced eyes, her vision filtered
through a range of input sensors that she had long been accustomed
The satellite was of a very traditional design, using a pair of
rectangular antennas and operant under the assumption that he ground
stations had the power to reach a small rectenna in geosynchronus orbit,
and the sensitivity to hear the output of the same. Her internal analysis
of the satellite at this range indicated that it once had a nuclear power
source along with the array of solar collectors that covered the entire
surface of the satellite.
She registered that that was an assumption. Radar 'slices' of the insides
showed a large gap, as if nuclear fuel had runaway and melted the insides.
But there as no radiation coming from the satellite, no evidence of
power fluctuations. "It's cold. Bring in the first half of the sphere."
Behind her, three members of her EVA team floated towards the satellite,
a band of what appeared to be wires nearly 20 meters in diameters in
their hands. "How are we doing on velocities?" she asked Rhonda.
"Almost perfect. I could easily handle the rest without influencing the
satellite unduly. And it's a lot easier then trying to make the Ille
Pendoro do this!"
"Yeah," Heely agreed. The debate had gone on for almost ten minutes
about bringing the satellite into the ship. It could have been done,
but the assessment had finally concluded that an orbital lab would have
been safer and more efficient to set up.
The three people responsible for placing the ring raised thumbs up in
confirmation, then one floated back while two took up opposite sides of
the ring. "Ready for expansion, sir."
"Do it," Heely said. She watched as the two ensigns, volunteers, activated
the small mounting circles along the band, making the multiple strands
of curved wire expand, rotating about a common access until they defined
a ball around the satellite.
Heely directed the other two members of the EVA team to fit the ball
with the multi-layer cloth external shell that would inflate to provide
a shirt-sleeve environment for the satellite investigation team. The two
halves of the ball overlapped along the initial band, and after about a
half-hour of fitting the "cloth," the engineering team announced that it
was ready to fit the access module, a box that had life-support, power,
and emergency airlock access.
Flexible structures in space was an technology. Terra, as far back
as their late 20th century, when they had nothing but chemical rockets
and had ventured only as far as their local moon, experimented with
inflatable structures for medium-scale, temporary orbital or lunar
installations as well as emergency shelters that could be folded up
and stored away. These had used nothing more than the same protective
"cloths" used in their EVA suits.
The evolution of programmed-death biological engineering, followed
by solid, artificial ergasynthesis and finally fully realized
nanotechnology had led to the next-stage evolution of microengineering and
electromagnetic matrixed cloth, the stuff of Stark and the 'muscle' of
hardshell powered armor like Shirow. Each 'cell' of the matrix, smaller
slightly then a standard biological cell, attracted or repulsed its
neighbor by controlling the flow of electrons across its surface. The
instructions for doing so flowed over the surface of the cloth by
mild changes in the overall electrical field, both in frequency and
in amplitude depending on the application. "Flat" cloth was made up
of multiple layers of hexagonal cells and could pull along any active
axis of the cell. Some versions of flatcloth used deforming cells,
and these were the kinds most often used in armor, because although
their range of contraction was smaller, their maximum strength was the
greatest available. Three-dimensional cloths were available, but they
were weaker and were generally used only for artistic or light-duty
Pre-fab two-dimensional cloths such as the one they were using now were
a great boon to orbital research. Although not as useful as something
made of clear polyceramics, there was something to be said for a 1400
cubic meter structure that folded into a two by three meter box, and
that could be constructed around the subject of investigation.
And what was currently a sphere could be broken into two halves, laid
with a rigid, flat sheet of powered cloth and made into surface domes
for uncomfortable environments.
"What's it look like in there, ensign?" she asked the one volunteer she
had left inside the ball.
"Satellite is still hovering dead center, sir," the report came back in
her ears. "Be nice if I had some light to work with."
"Your wish is my command," she said, touching a switch. The silvered
ball expanded slightly, becoming rigid. "How's that?"
"Good, sir. No change from the satellite."
"I'm going to give you an atmosphere, ensign. Starting." She pressed
another button on the command console. The linear gauge registered the
increase in pressure inside until it reached the same pressure that was
maintained inside the typical starship. "Any change?"
"No sir. I'm surprised; I would have thought some components would have
responded poorly to a change in atmosphere."
"It's likely that the satellite was assembled on the ground," Heely
"I'm coming in to join you." She floated towards the power module. On the
outside of the power module was a SDisk that led inside. She touched it,
waited for the blink, then found herself inside the sphere. "Rhonda,
are we connected to the ship?"
"Yes we are," the AI replied. The SDisk inside turned green, indicating
that it was now part of the Ille Pendoro SDisk network.
"Good job, engineering. Could the Satellite Autopsy Team please join us?"
"It's a mess," Lieutenant Heely was saying four hours later. "When
compared to the weather patterns we're reading from the orbital track,
I'd say this thing has been here between nine hundred twenty and nine
hundred seventy years. The one good thing about the satellite is that
it was nuclear powered, and we're guessing at what the original status
of the nuclear fuel rod was, but we might be able to get a more accurate
estimate of the satellite's age."
"Lieutenant," Commander Fezzik said when it was obvious Heely had
concluded her report, "You're working on the basis that the failure of the
nuclear core was caused by accident. Have you considered hostile action?"
"I don't understand?"
Cafran leaned forward. "I see what she's saying," he said. "Markov, we're
not particularly used to thinking in warlike terms. But, what if the
hardware that regulated their generators was destroyed by hostile EMP?
Wouldn't trace radiation from materials in the path of the melting
core give you a solid indication, almost to the minute, of when the
EMP occurred? And if so, wouldn't that tell us at least to the day when
the war happened? First thing they'd want to do is destroy each other's
orbital monitoring facilities, right?"
"I hadn't thought of that," Heely said, scribbling madly on the PADD in
front of her. "I'll get on it immediately."
"In the mean time," Lieutenant Miroh was saying, "I have a surprise.
Fezzik, you're going down to the surface."
"She is?" Cafran asked, surprised.
"Your pardon, Captain," Miroh, the head of the Sensors and the ship's
chief planetologist, continued. "I didn't mean to usurp your authority,
but it is my understanding that Commander Fezzik would like to exercise
her skills as a technological archaeologist on the surface of this world,
and I believe the perfect opportunity for her to do so has come up. We
are detecting a power source on the planet's surface."
The room erupted in cries of "What?" Cafran pounded on the table to
regain control. "Hold it! Miroh, explain."
"About an hour ago I decided to check the surface for the possibility
of military traffic or intelligence. I found evidence not of a military
installation necessarily, but I did find sufficient fast neutrinos to
point to a fusion power source."
"Miroh," Heely said, "There's no evidence that these people had controlled
fusion. The power source in the satellite is very much a slow fission
"That's what the numbers point to. In fact, the output characteristics
is surprisingly close to that of early Pendor fusion plants."
Fezzik examined her PADD closely. "I think it's closer to some Terran
models. Maybe a second-generation Morrow station plant."
"In any event," Miroh continued, "We're looking at an approximately 30
kilowatt installation. The locale is a sub-arctic region within about 20
kilometers of what looks to have been a major metropolitan seaport. It
was apparently a military target. There's not much left."
"Is there any surface construction at the site?" Fezzik's voice was
charged with curiosity.
"Extensive," Miroh said. "The layout of the visible grounds is quite
interesting and apparently somewhat haphazard. We haven't been able to
guess the logic behind the layout, and if we are going to be sending
a team down to investigate, I would like that particular mystery to be
investigated as well."
"You'll get your chance, Miroh," Cafran said. "Okay, we have our jobs.
Doc, sorry, but..."
The Lutra drummed her fingers on the tabletop. "Like I said, I don't
want excitement right now. It's nearly the end of the tour."
Cafran nodded. "Okay. Miroh, you're to finish up an assessment, including
a three-angle neutrino scan, of the site. Fezzik, draw up an engineering
and investigation team. Parry, two pilots for a SDisk shuttle first thing
in the morning. Heely, I want the assessment of that satellite completed
for Fezzik's team." He glanced over at Glass. "Sorry, Mandy. Looks like
you're out of luck. That place is sterile as space."
"'S okay, Captain," she said. "If we can find traces down there I'll
The Journal Entries of Kennet R'yal Shardik, et. al., and Related Tales
are Copyright (c) 1989-2000 Elf Mathieu Sternberg. Distribution limited
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to the author.