FLIPSPACE Missions 13-15
by John Steiner
Surpassing the speed of light remained elusive in the 2170’s. However, the trick was to hold still to swap out spatial locations. For Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra, Major Lamarr Fitch, Captain Malcolm O’Connell and the rest of the ISS Mockingbird’s crew jumping between solar systems is just the start of their wondrous, sometimes zany and often perilous missions. The future of aerospace defense stretches far above the blue yonder.
Murder of Ravens
During Earth-duty, the ISS Mockingbird takes part in an airshow, until an unprovoked strategic strike by the Jade Continuum puts Earth defenses on high alert. Colonel Rama and Major Fitch must rally their crew and prepare for a counter-strike raid to Mars to unravel the Continuum’s motive and remind them that they’re not out of reach. Mustering their assets also means that Colonel Rama must convince their former flight surgeon, Malcolm O’Connell to rejoin the crew. However, he brings his own bad news.
A reconnaissance mission to the exo-planet HD 40307G has gone wrong. Two crewmembers are left behind, as the Mockingbird evacuates researchers back to Earth. Captain Diaz is forced to put another of his team into cryptobiosis and hold out until the Mockingbird’s return. Trekking 500 kilometers, and evading Jade Continuum forces, Diaz encounters indigenous intelligent aliens called Leons. Lacking SETI training, Diaz must overcome cultural differences with the Leons, and ensure the return of his team member, whatever the cost.
Paired off with the ISS Kulshedra, the Mockingbird is dispatched to a second colony established by the Jade Continuum in violation of international treaties. Securing the skies over the exoplanet named Purple Haze becomes suspiciously easy as the Continuum abandoned their colony in haste. Along with a sole surviving member of the Jade Continuum, the SETI Team finds an unusual form of intelligent life capable of terraforming the bodies of macro-organisms, even those alien to the planet. Tensions rise over what to do with a prisoner of war while the alien threat grows.
MURDER OF RAVENS
Sparse cirrus clouds streaked a light blue sky dotted with lighter-than-air monitoring probes. Below lay the Berlin ExpoCenter Airport. A temporary stadium that seated over a hundred thousand encircled a set of runways with a healthy few hundred meters of green between. Millions more watch via M-Cast cameras at ground level and in the floating monitors.
The ILA Berlin Airshow had overtaken Paris in being the world premier aerospace event thirty years ago. On May 20th, 2177 the show would include a demonstration of the ISV-71 Ravens of the 1st Raven Light-Ops, FTL. It would end with a simulated aerial knife-fight for the foremost and longest serving ISV-71 Raven, the ISS-454 Mockingbird, piloted by Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra and Major Lamarr Fitch, against a flight of four OSF 168s.
Standing at a podium near one of the runways was the 1st Ravens Wing Commander, Brigadier General Benjamin Chaffee. The seventy-two-year-old dark brown general in his black uniform narrated the events transpiring far above. “The ISV-71 Raven is a lot bigger than a fighter, but don’t be fooled. The Raven has a proven track record in air-to-air knife fights, and has made its name in multi-role deep space operations. NATO’s Aerospace Defense Response now fields sixteen ISV-71s organized into four wings, with another twenty-four Ravens to be added over the next three years.”
Taking a pause, General Chaffee turned his gaze skyward right as four Orbital Supremacy Fighters zipped overhead and pitched into a steep climb toward the ISS Mockingbird. The fighters exhibited a blended body-wing design with canards on their nose cones and variable-height stabilizers. In contrast, the ninety-meter long Mockingbird loitered two kilometers up in a straight-wing flight mode. The ISV’s elongated diamond-shaped hull, triangular tail and variable position wings reinforced to viewers below the raven outline for which the ship design was named.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for a treat,” General Chaffee promised. “What you’re seeing is a flight of four OSF 168s on their way to start some trouble with the famed ISS Mockingbird, the Raven that found the lost crew of the Astraeus and carried out multiple SETI first contact missions. You’re about to see something we at ADR like to call, ‘doin’ the Ramachandra’.”
* * * *
“Colonel,” Major Fitch addressed Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra, “we got some gang activity comin’ our way. Instrumentation has an aggressor flight of OSF 168s inbound and climbing.”
“Copy that,” Colonel Ramachandra responded. “Angling wings back and accelerating.”
The Mockingbird’s combat information center had no windows, but its interface software linked to ocular augments in both flight officer’s eyes as well as those of three other crewmembers in the compartment. Altogether, there were seven acceleration couches. Four of those were partway recessed into the side walls that narrowed toward the front. Colonel Ramachandra sat in the Operational Command Station, the most central of the three. Major Fitch was strapped into the station at her right.
“What’s our weather like?” Ramachandra asked, as she focused on the simulation threat display.
“Wind speed two point one kilometers an hour at heading one, six, two degrees,” Fitch replied.
From Ramachandra’s view, it appeared as if she flew a chair without a ship around it. Her augments granted a full spherical view of the skies over Berlin. However, the peripheries of her visual field were reserved for a display of their instrumentation and a mini-map of the surrounding airspace. Modifying her perspective, Colonel Ramachandra selected for the ship’s exterior to be visible in her display.
The hull wore the blue and white insignia colors of NATO. Looking forward, Ramachandra saw the smooth sloping front with a raised portion resembling a crew cabin. It was, in fact, the forward compartment for primary instrumentation: high-powered radars, long-range telescopes, and the array of Laser Imagine, Detecting, and Ranging systems. A second, identically shaped compartment faced backward on the rear of the central hull, overlooking four Pulse Laser Nitrogen Capture Kinetic Engines atop the tail. No vertical stabilizer was needed in the ISV-71. The ship used internal gyroscopic orientation motors.
The Mockingbird’s liquiplastic armor concealed trillions of molecule-sized chemochromatic sensors, billions of microscopic XD cams and millions of spectroscopes hardly visible to the naked eye. Throughout the interior of the ship, sets of next-generation particle decay clocks were placed at key locations to serve as a simple, yet effective, means of detecting the magnitude and origin of gravitational waves and gravity wells. Collectively, they granted Colonel Ramachandra all-seeing power over the sky.
“Ops, give me precise speed and heading of all aggressors,” Ramachandra ordered.
“Target telemetry to your display, copy,” Lieutenant Tyson replied.
In an earlier part of the public demonstration, Ramachandra and her flight operations crew had performed a ripple-fire of Starling air-to-air missiles in sets of three at fixed floating targets, during which General Chaffee below described how the swarm logic of AI guidance created a factorial force multiplier effect, which, simply put, meant that three missiles were three times more likely to hit a target than two and, if need be, four missiles four times more likely than three and so one.
Atmospheric deep space fighters, or the OSF craft currently zeroing in on the Mockingbird, normally loosed their Starlings one at a time. However, this phase of the show called for them to close within a few kilometers to demonstrate a defensive fire technique pioneered by Colonel Ramachandra herself. She checked the wind speed and direction again to ensure a safe repeat of that maneuver.
“All Stations, brace for two-g burn on my mark,” Ramachandra advised. “Mark.”
While pitching upward, Ramachandra powered up the Planck engines. After a few seconds she cut the engines down almost completely, so that the ship was committed to a ballistic trajectory. Then, she rolled the Mockingbird, slicing sideways through the air. The OSF attackers closed in and a lock-on warning sounded through the Air Variation Resonance system in CIC. Ramachandra pointed the nose of the ship at the nearest fighter and pressed an icon on her left side arm control labeled S.P.E.C.T.R.
The Mockingbird’s regular crew compliment numbered thirty-five, however for the air show the only personnel aboard were the five in CIC. Otherwise, two techs in the Spectre Facility Bay one floor below CIC would’ve calibrated and monitored the Spectre: their Synthesized Particle Accelerator and Combination Tactical Railgun. It was the Mockingbird’s most versatile and powerful weapon.
At present, the Spectre was set to fire- forty millimeter projectiles in an angry, buzzing roar of up to more than two hundred fifty rounds a second. The slugs contained charges that detonated well short of their targets in order to give an impressive display to the audience without endangering the OSF pilots. To offset the recoil and redirect airflow around the Mockingbird, Colonel Ramachandra used Xenon Ion Pulse Thrusters normally used only in space.
“Jesus Christ, lady,” Fitch heaved quietly, and white-knuckled his arm controls.
Ramachandra smirked as she pitched, yawed, and rolled toward the other three craft to let loose an all-bark-no-bite rapid discharge of the Spectre. Each time, Ramachandra ensured that the craft was positioned for a sharp leading edge to minimize drag or drift caused by gusting air. According to the war game program, all aircraft had been networked into Ramachandra’s computer-aided whirling, dancing gunfight was aimed with perfect precision so that the conical storm could have shot down the four smaller craft.Seeing that their velocity was dropping fast, Colonel Ramachandra realigned the Mockingbird to its flight path and dialed up engine power before the craft could stall out. As a cadet in an ADR academy, Sumitra Ramachandra had spent many long nights in a simulator testing the strategy prior to her air combat certification, where she performed the first flight test. She had done it again in live combat.