Astraeus Event

FLIPSPACE Missions 7-9

by John Steiner

Flipspace 7

The Mockingbird crew is pulled off their training schedule when a distress call from their sister ship, the Magpie reaches Earth from the Kuiper Belt. In preparation for rescue and possible hostilities, Colonel Rama's command is expanded with Medevac/Recovery Vehicle, two deep space fighters, a mysterious support crew and the Magpie's AI named Monk. Yet, there lurks covert objectives beneath Rama's emergency orders. During the rescue disaster strikes, and the ship suffers severe damage. Survival throws the crew crisis mode and pushes them all to their limits.

Flipspace 8

Recouping from their losses, and breaking in replacements, Colonel Rama is briefed for a mission that potentially violates exo-solar planetary research treaties. Rediscovered among archives of a telescope considered lost in the prior century, the data includes surface changes on the alien world that may suggest intelligent life. Taking off under the cover of a scientific survey mission, the Mockingbird is actually loaded for bear. Conscious of the fact they are alien invaders, the surface team faces an indigenous species with aggressive tendencies beyond belief. The question is why?

Flipspace 9

After years, the once-broken terrorist group, Golden Fist of Pacifica reemerges. Using a new bioweapon, the GFP seize control over a corporate board of directors, and through them possession of the mult-e-nomic platform, Pacific City. This time NATO is required to act and the Mockingbird crew is put on alert status. As a biologics expert and gene hacker, Todd Ash is tasked for clandestine insertion onto Pacific City over objections from Pan-American Combine agents. Branch rivalry with the PAC Marines during training belies the fact that Earth security is at stake.



Chapter 1: Ships of a Feather

In a white flash, the sleek orbital supremacy fighter zipped by a balloon-suspended monitoring station at 40,000 meters altitude. Black skies stretched overhead. Blue sky stretched below it in a horizon-wide circle with the curvature of Earth beneath it all. A couple seconds passed before the ISS Mockingbird, banking hard left, raced by in pursuit of the smaller craft. The fighter shifted course, forcing the larger Intra-System Vessel to roll right for a high-gee turn into the new trajectory.

“Weapons to OCS,” the CIC officer called to Colonel Rama, “Starlings talk-back as armed.”

“Copy,” she acknowledged and selected the launch bay reserved for the missiles.

Colonel Sumitra Ramachandra had direct control over the ninety-meter long craft. The ship’s AI, Maggie, was busy cutting through jamming and encryption. The Self-Ware ensured all instrumentation read true and free of false code or distorted signal returns. Rama almost had a solid lock on the smaller and more agile craft.

“Ops to OCS, we got a fast-mover on our Dorsal, Post, Post, Left,” the operations officer announced. “They’re just outside range of Flashpoint Defense.”

The craft bore down on their dorsal side from above and at a designated attack angle, which referred to the left side of the rear quadrant. Noting the telemetry, Rama realized the new attacker must know of the Mockingbird’s modified Flashpoint firing range, yet it hugged close enough to minimize the microwave weapon’s response time for shooting down missiles.

“Weapons, rotate queued Starling pylon,” Rama ordered.

“Roger that,” came the reply, keying into arm the controls of his acceleration couch, “Starlings to post.”

“Target is locked and solution plotted,” Rama announced for the combat log. “Fox Seven.”

“Signal’s good,” the Comms officer declared. “It’s a hit, OCS.”

“Now for your wingman,” Rama muttered, as she altered course again.

A weapons warning sounded.

“He’s locked onto us,” the Comms officer advised.

The signal in Colonel Rama’s augments indicated a posterior dorsal-side ball turret was bathing the Mockingbird with weaponized laser emissions. A slow diminishing number indicated what percentage of liquiplastic armor turned ablative. Another more rapidly growing value warned of the energy flooding the nano-scaffolding that diverted as much energy as possible to onboard capacitors. Because of Stanley Goddard’s modifications, since made standard for all ISV-71 Raven class ships, the Mockingbird stood up to the harm far better.

“Lidar is locked,” Rama said. “Fox Eight.”

A few more seconds ticked past, before the icon over the fighter signaled a kill. Then, her displays added the advisory that the training exercise was concluded and congratulations were added by the commander for the 279th OSF Aerospace Defense Wing.

Under Rama’s hand, the Mockingbird proved itself against a flight of four faster and more agile fighters than the Tupolev Plutonium Antimatter Cosmonautical fighters from the Astraeus rescue mission.

“Comms to OCS, we’ve got our landing corridor and emergency deployment orders.”

“Copy that, Comms,” Rama responded, as she traded off flight control with Maggie. “What’s the nature of the emergency?”

“File reads as top priority. It’s the ISS Magpie,” Comms answered, sounding grave. “She’s in the Kuiper Belt and needs rescue.”

The Mockingbird turned toward Kadena Base in Okinawa, Japan and found the traffic corridors cleared for their landing. Most of the crew was there for their respective training courses or secondary certifications. The ship’s extended Earth-side support teams were on-station for maintenance and logistics. Those crews immediately hustled into action, after the vaguely raven-shaped craft landed and taxied into a reserved lot. Through the ship’s microscopic XD cameras, Rama noticed two Protocol Authentication Code Technicians also trotting out with a base security escort.

“Major Fitch, Chief Anders, Weapons, and Comms,” Rama called, wondering if the Magpie had been attacked. “Standby for PACT biometric ident update.”

Once the PACT team entered the Combat Information Center, Chief-of-the-Bird Carl Anders, the Weapons, and Comms officers all bore witness to the biometric check for Colonel Rama and Major Fitch. It meant they had to remain in the Mockingbird until takeoff.

“Comms,” Rama addressed, turning around as the PACT team departed, “Put out a coded text to all station officers. There will be a meeting in the Multipurpose Room at eleven hundred hours.”

“Yes Ma’am,” the officer acknowledged.

In the following two hours, Mockingbird’s full crew compliment returned, allowing Rama to order Lieutenant Vogel to take OCS Watch. Then she, Fitch, and Anders all left CIC for the Z-axial corridor up to the first level. They reviewed the deployment orders in detail as well as new equipment included in the rescue configuration. Having poured over specs, Rama felt confident enough to brief others and went back to CIC.

On the way, she encountered Captain O’Connell. “How was the SETI course?”

“Interesting,” he replied, after a diplomatic moment of consideration. “I’m starting to think I know more about exo-biology than human internal medicine.”

“But...” Rama prodded.

“Stanley Goddard’s more suited to teach the mathematical protocol course than the instructor he had. Todd’s... well, you know Todd. He’s not legally permitted to tinker with genetics inside a Pan-American Combine member nation, so he’s struggling to pretend he doesn’t know the inside of those labs like the back of his hand. The kid’s strong on the basics, which is why he’s picking up the new material fast.”

“How about you?” Rama said. “It’s been three weeks since the big news.”

“Being semi-famous already, I’ve mostly gotten used to it,” Malcolm answered. “There are a few ISO students and instructors fawning over our first contact. I got a handle on that, and it’s nice to see the professional animosity subside now that I’m officially trained in the work.”

“Good to hear, Captain,” Rama said, before they parted for their launch stations.

Once in CIC and strapped in, Rama completed preflight and signed off. After taxiing onto a runway and getting clearance from the tower, the ISS Mockingbird’s Planck Engines fired up for takeoff. The vessel transitioned smoothly through subsonic, supersonic, and hypersonic flight modes prior to entering the lowest levels of the thermosphere. There, the Planck engines cut off to be replaced by the far more powerful fusion pulse-detonation engine.

After making escape velocity, the nuclear engine dialed down from its exhausting three gee burn to an hour-long acceleration from one gee to point two before shutdown. The rest of their flight to Lagrangian Station Five, where their Flipspace Device and extra-vehicular frame awaited, would be a ballistic trajectory. Returned to free-fall conditions, Rama ordered all station officers to assemble in the Multi-Purpose Room.

Once there, Rama addressed the officers. “Room come to order. Our sister ship, the ISS Magpie is in trouble. She was dispatched to the Kuiper Belt for reconnaissance. As of three, seventeen hours Zulu today, ForCom picked up a distress call issued by her mission commander, Colonel Laurent along with the emergency evacuation transmission of Monk, their Self-Ware AI.

“The portion of Colonel Laurent’s transmission we got only warned of a massive bath of energy that overwhelmed their liquiplastic armor and power scaffolding. However, intel from Monk suggests they were hit with a directed energy weapon of unknown source or design.

“Because we haven’t much else to go on in advance of entering the same space, we’ll be taking with us extra equipment on our FSD frame. That includes surplus armor materiel, a pair of secondary nuclear pulse engines, additional ordnance, as well as two Atmospheric-Deep Space fighters from the 142nd ADS Strike Squadron and their support crew. The FSD frame was originally designed for this sort of extended mission-specific modular operation, before being re-designated. Our training included these capabilities, so freshen up on your reading materials and video logs if you need it.

“Our compliment is as follows. Bay One is loaded with ninety Starlings. Bay Two carries sixteen Proteus VSF Missiles. Bay Three houses two Helmouth Demons, two UCAVs, and two artillery railgun satellites. Bay Four is holding thirty Shuriken stealth attack vehicles. We’re also being issued a Medevac and Recovery Vehicle for the cargo bay.

“We’ve been given Magpie’s original recon zone, their final trajectory, and the identity of the Kuiper Belt Object they made their hard landing on, 2039 WX2. Understand this; they were unable to separate from their FSD before being forced to 2039 WX2’s surface. Because of that, our mission is to retrieve the crew and, if necessary, destroy the FSD. When in the rescue zone we’ll be at Threatcon Delta, which means full pressure suits and sealed up. Questions?”

“Do we know why Magpie was patrolling that part of the Kuiper Belt?” O’Connell said.

“No,” Rama replied with implications she struggled to avoid revealing.

Captain O’Connell expressed a knowing resignation, but kept any suspicions to himself. Lieutenant Diaz appeared to recognize something, but likewise didn’t add his professional speculation. Other questions were minor, and dealt with changes in managing the ship’s utilities or accommodating the extended crew.

Captain O’Connell seemed to take the most notes, and, via Rama’s ocular augments, she saw it included life-support details. Todd Ash needed to know for Hydroponics Bay operation. After she dismissed the briefing, Rama realized O’Connell carried himself in such a way as to suggest he smelled something covert. Sumitra herself concealed the same belief. She understood nothing would be served to let it be known that the Magpie might’ve been ordered to look for trouble.

The Mockingbird finalized their approach trajectory on reaching XD visual range of LS Five. Colonel Rama linked her augments to the ship’s skin cams and zoomed in on the FSD. Everything she’d been briefed would be added to the ship was accounted for other than the two ADS fighters. A pair of smaller fusion engines had been mounted under where the Mockingbird would dock. They perfectly offset the new center of mass created by the supply modules attached to the ventral side. Once docked, the fighters’ own engines would also be used to provide acceleration to match the Raven class vessel’s alignment as if it flew with nothing added.

Maggie buzzed for maneuvers and switched internal lighting to yellow, warning all stations to strap in. Using Xenon Ion Pulse thrusts, she backed toward the FSD frame that started its own XIP burn to meet the Mockingbird halfway. Once locked in and ready, Rama checked for the ETA of the two escort fighters. However, ForCom apparently had another add-on for this mission.

“Comms to OCS, we’re getting a network entry request from Monk.”

“Request granted,” Rama responded.

“Think it’ll get crowded in there?” Major Fitch chided in reference to the vessel’s quantum computers and backup storage capacities that Maggie inhabited.

“The FSD frame was provided with additional quantum network support,” Rama muttered in recollection. “I guess this is what ForCom had in mind. No one knows more about AI-to-AI combat than Monk. That’s how he got his name, in reference to the Shaolin priests.”

“Thank you, Colonel Ramachandra.” Monk’s masculine voice sounded more like a scholar, but with a hint of silent strength. “It would be a pleasure to assist in whatever capacity the mission requires.”

Though his statement was vague, Rama suspected Monk might’ve overheard her a moment ago. Minutes later, the 142nd Atmospheric-Deep Space Wing fighters arrived and lined up to dock with the FDS frame. Positioned above the Mockingbird’s backswept wings farther out than the FSD modules, they clanked lightly and ratcheted into locked status. Flexible personnel conduits extended and attached to the Mockingbird’s side airlocks and to the fighters. Utility lines also attached, providing the fighters with power and linking them to external stores of xenon, nitrogen, and hydrogen for their XIP thrusters, Planck engines, and nuclear engines respectively.

“Colonel Ramachandra,” Maggie said through the same Air Variation Resonance system. “The Medevac Recovery Vehicle is en route from a ship not registered with LS Five Traffic Control. The thrust-to-weight ratio suggests six persons onboard.”

“Comms, advise Sub-Dep to receive the MERV and clear the vehicle for docking,” Rama responded. “Major Fitch, take OCS, while I handle this.”

“Colonel leaving CIC,” Chief Anders declared, as she passed him.

“Maggie,” Rama called once she was in the Z-axial corridor. “Have Lieutenant Diaz meet me at Sup-Dep. Keep me apprised on both the MERV and the unregistered ISS flight.”

“Yes Colonel,” the Self-Ware replied.


"FLIPSPACE: Astraeus Event" by John Steiner


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