Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Lost Calling - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Fourteen Years Ago
The Yucari, capital-class peace-keeper
Hestatian System, Inner Ghanan Arm

Over two standard years after her graduation, Rebecca Calrose had risen to the rank of Chief Lieutenant. Monitoring the gunning systems of the Yucari, a capital class assault ship in service to the Thoren military. Her terminal sat so far from the piloting deck on the bridge that it was far too easy to forget her dreams of ever flying again. She hadn't controlled so much as a drone in months. Her smile had faded weeks into her last post, a position that would only last a few months. Her hopes starting to fade as well, she resigned her fate and took the gunnery post on the Yucari.
Leaving the Republic Protectorate behind her was the last straw. She made excuses that she was just leaving one peace-keeping ship for another, but she knew better. The Yucari was classified as a capital-class peace-keeper, but anyone who knew anything about military craft, knew all too well that the Yucari was just an assault ship with a fancy paint job.
But the names mean little really. She knew that too. History courses at the Academy had dissolved the notion that the galaxy was at peace and that the Republic was mainly the reason for it. Sure, on a large scale, the galaxy was at peace. There was no spiral-spanning war that pitted the Republic against some ancient evil. Things just didn't work that way. The galaxy had more than three-hundred billion star systems in it, each with numerous planets and other bodies orbiting them. The Republic was made up of the twelve sentient species who had chosen to take to the stars in the last few million years. The tethys, non-starfaring sentients of countless species, inhabited their own worlds. With all of that life stretched across the stars, no one group was so numerous and dominant that a war could even reach beyond a few systems. Governments and military power only seemed able to reach so far before their own influences faded. Wars broke out constantly. There were probably a million wars starting every minute, somewhere in the galaxy. But on the scale of the entire spiral, they were practically hiccups. So, perhaps, there was peace in the galaxy.
That lie got most Republic cadets through the adjustment of having to take jobs on military vessels. Sometimes the lie was easier to accept than others. If you were lucky enough to never see action, you could live your entire life without thinking otherwise. Perhaps enough people living that kind of life is what propagated the lie in the first place. But if things really were that quiet everywhere, Calrose wouldn't have found herself manning the overpowered guns of an assault ship.
It wasn't long into her new job that Calrose realized that the Yucari kept the peace just as sentient species always have. Through violence. Those first few weeks were the hardest. A number of close calls, when tensions were heightened that everyone aboard expected the ship to enter battle, made a stressful introduction to Calrose's new military career. She wasn't averse to the use of violence. She was never one to follow the pacifism at all costs philosophy of some of her Jurraga mentors. But she never thought she would be in this situation. She wanted to pilot big diplomatic ships, not fighters or war-drones.
How did I get to this point, she thought numerous times. How did I go from wanting to see the stars, to just wanting to see a day without my finger poised on the trigger.
Calrose sighed and sank into her chair in front of the weapons terminal. She wore a holovisor, a glorified pilot's helm outfitted with a visual display connected to the ships sensors. Tucked away at the back of the bridge, it gave her a gun's eye view of the Yucari. A capital-class ship was far too large to pilot or fight out of the front viewports, which weren't even windows but just massive screens. It easily hid the fact that the bridge of the Yucari was safely tucked away well within the ship's hull.
"Captain, we are detecting a nearby vessel." A voice rang out across the bridge. Instinctively, Calrose looked around, but the holovisor only showed her the exterior of the ship. Turning her head only slightly shifted the visual sensors attached to the outside of the Yucari.
From memory, Calrose reached in front of her and pressed a switch on the terminal she couldn't see. A small box popped up in her vision, floating in the space around the ship. It showed the full bridge interior, the only way she could actually view what was happening in the very room she was occupying.
She could the hulking form of her captain standing on the bridge, his very presence commanded attention. There weren't too many Krahl at the Academy, and even fewer where Calrose grew up. Captain Garin was big, even by Krahl standards.
"Report," the Krahl's voice boomed even in the large room. The four reptilian eyes that circled his turtle-like head stared down at the tech officer seated at the sensor panels.
The young Bantonian officer turned in her chair to properly address the captain. "A civilian registration, sir. Twenty-six lifeforms detected aboard. No radiation signatures from the hold."
Calrose confirmed this on her own scans. The ship was still out of her visual range, but the more elaborate targeting sensors gave her a bit more information. It was in fact a civilian cruiser, most likely a small transport. Her systems were also reporting no weapon signatures.
"Civilian vessel does not appear to be carrying weapons, or have any energy shielding engaged, sir," Calrose reported in when she was sure she wouldn't interrupt her superiors.
Garin still stood at attention, staring at his own readouts. The two meter tall reddish-brown reptilian crossed his massive arms in very humanoid gesture. He was silent for a moment, even his breath was intimidating. Long claws on three fingered hands softly tapped against the thick material of his sleeves. Krahl skin was armored with osteoderms that would shred weaker material and so most of their clothing and uniforms were made from a heavy synthetic leather that probably weighed as much as Calrose did soaking wet.
"Something is not right here," he finally said. His Kheprilictic was heavily accented by the shape of his mouth. He carefully pronounced each word as best he could through a heavy jaw and rows of carnivorous teeth. "We have had reports of smugglers in this sector."
The captain turned slightly to his left, addressing another officer.
The communications officer didn't turn his chair, his human arms a blur as he continued to push buttons and adjust controls on her terminal.
"There is no response to our hails, but there appears to be no damage to their communications array." He stopped for a moment, looking at his readout. "I'm detecting an encoded signal being sent via ansible."
"Hmm," Garin stood pondering. He must have spent a lot of time around humans, Calrose thought as she watched the Krahl. His gestures were so human-like, she half expected the captain to start scratching his scaled head as he thought. "Why would they need to transmit a communication via sublight comms, while ignoring any local communications. Something really is not right."
The captain spun around to face the rear of the bridge. It took a moment staring at the holofeed for it to register to Calrose that he was looking directly at her.
"Calrose," he commanded, "target that ship."
A look of confusion must have washed over Calrose's face, though it was mostly hidden by the large visor.
"Sir?" she questioned.
"Target that ship, I want all weapons ready when we are in range."
Calrose's hands shook on the controls. What was happening. This was a civilian ship. A simple civilian transport sitting out in the middle of nowhere. They had no weapons. She had checked. Why would we need to target a civilian vessel? The captain must have a plan, she thought. It had to be just a precaution.
"Target...err, the ship is targeted, sir," she stammered. "Weapons armed."
The ship was in range. She could see it now on her visual display. It was a small ship, about a tenth the size of the Yucari. It looked cobbled together out of scrap and hope. The engines were off and the transport just floated there, helpless.
"Fire!" Captain Garin shouted.
"What?!" Calrose responded without thinking. She may be a contracted member of the crew, but she knew better than to question the authority of a superior officer. Even outside of the military, rank mattered on a ship.
"I said fire!" Garin commanded with deep reptilian anger behind his voice.
"But, sir," Calrose's shaking hands dropped from the controls. She turned to face her captain, but then couldn't bring herself to pull the visor from her head. She blindly looked up at him, suddenly unsure how far away the hulking Krahl was. "They...they, they don't even have their shields up."
"Fire, Chief Lieutenant!" his voice boomed back. It was loud enough that it felt like he was only a hand's breadth away from her face, let alone across the room.
She turned back to her terminal. Calrose shook her hands, trying to loosen the nerves. Hesitant fingers wrapped around the controls while sweat pooled on her brow. Her twitching index finger hovered over the trigger, waiting for her brain's command to squeeze and release a torrent of energy upon the unsuspecting craft.
She sighed heavily, her body ready to give in to sobs. Her hands slipped from the controls.
"Sir, I can't. I can't do it!" she yelled. "I can't attack an unarmed ship!"
Calrose pulled the visor from her head. Stepping away from the controls. She risked a look up at the platform behind her. The captain was fuming. Anger flashed in all four eyes as a snarl escaped his lips. A deep ancestral terror struck Calrose in that instant. The distant evolutionary fear of the reptilian that reached back to the dawn of her species.
"I issued you an order!" he growled. "Now get..."
He was silenced by a muffled boom that could be felt through the floor of the bridge. Garin wheeled around to the large displays at the front of the room.
"Captain! We have two unidentified ships approaching from behind," the Bantonian reported. "They are firing!"
The ship shook with the impact of heavy blaster fire. They were being hit hard. The blaster rounds propelled tiny particles out of near lightspeed accelerators. The kinetic force of the blast doing far more damage than the intense heat of a laser. It wore down the energy being directed to the ships shields and soon they would break through and begin doing hull damage.
"Damn it!" Garin bellowed.
"The civilian transport seems to be making its escape, sir," the Bantonian continued. "The attacking ships are making another run at us."
"I knew it! It was a trap!" The captain grumbled. He turned on his heels to face Calrose, who was still stunned, standing beside her chair. "Calrose! Conscience clear enough to fire now?"
"Uh...yes, sir," she muttered, crimson trying to peak through her dark cheeks.
"Then sit in that gods damned chair, and fire those frething guns!"

- - -

The Yucari banked hard, rolling onto its starboard side. As the attacking ships came to bear, Calrose unleashed the guns. A full barrage of energy weapons fired at the oncoming craft. She worked quickly, ensuring targeting systems were on sight and that the weapons computer was tracking the craft in three-dimensional space. Each gun fired as soon as it had a clear shot on the enemy ships.
The attacking vessels were fast though. Small nimble ships that could easily move around the Yucari, throwing off its targeters as the guns tried to rotate from one side of the ship to the other. The enemy blaster fire had taken down the shields and they were suffering heavy hull damage.
"Retreat!" Garin commanded to his pilot. "We have to get out of here while we still have the means to do so."
Calrose continued to fire at the oncoming ships as the engines warmed up and the peak drives pushed the mass of the ship as fast as it could. Getting to an optimal acceleration was proving difficult as a number of systems around the engines were damaged. A number of visual feeds from the hull showed Calrose the extent of the damage. The Yucari limped out of the sector, leaving behind it a long line of debris strewn through space.
The capital-class ship was a wreck. As soon as enough containment cells were repaired, they were able to push the engines to their limits. One whole engine had been destroyed in the attack, along with a large section of the aft decks. Major repairs had to be made even before the ship was allowed through a Gate.
Shortly after their narrow escape, when the captain was sure they had made it clear of further attack, he ordered Calrose's arrest. As they sat awaiting repair near the system's Gate, Calrose sulked in the brig. Her shoulders slumped forward. All was lost.
A week later, Calrose stared up at a military tribunal. Captain Garin sat amongst them. He was there to both defend her and ensure that the blame was rightfully placed on her. As her commanding officer, he was her counsel and her persecuting witness.
At the center of the tribunal was a light skinned human woman with thick dark eyebrows. She could convey so much with those eyebrows, and Calrose welcomed the easy to read human expressions.
"Chief Lieutenant Rebecca Calrose," the woman began, looking down at Calrose with an expression of both military sternness and compassion. It was a look only a judge could give. "You have been found guilty of insubordination during an act of combat. You have been sentenced to court marshal for failure to follow orders from a superior, resulting in the damage of a military vessel and the bodily harm of its crew. You are required to serve half of one standard cycle in a military corrections facility."
            Calrose sighed. Fourteen people had been injured because of her failure to follow orders. She followed her gut, but it had lead her astray. She was just glad no one got killed over it. Everyone makes bad decisions, she thought as they walked her out of the court, you just hope those decisions don't lead to someone's death.

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