Alchibah System North of the belt
From the depths of space came a torch. Plasma heated to tens of millions of degrees, electrons protons and neutrons, too hot to combine into atoms streaked through the vacuum of space at just under light speed. The source of this artificial solar flare was the passenger liner New Palmtree, backing into the Alchibah system, shedding the velocity that had carried her between the stars.
Paul VanWert was the officer of the watch, in fact the only officer who could stand watch, as every other member of the Palmtree’s crew and her 213 passengers were down in the main hold in cold sleep capsules.
In the 3 years since passing trough the wormhole he had been thawed out to stand a three week watch once each year. Now this solo watch would be the last, in 2 more days, he would wake the Captain and the rest of the crew and the old Palmtree would make its final approach to their new home.
“Do not blame the messenger” Paul whispered, for the messenger of bad new was what they were.
The New Palmtree had been in dock at Ceres free port, when they got the word; The UNWG was mounting an expedition to go after R.J. Hamilton and his flying asteroid. And so the old mans final orders had been executed and from all the scattered rocks came the rebels of the belt, wanted and unwanted 213 men women and children, everyone a season fighter in the belts struggle for freedom.
A struggle that had seen hard times of late. When Hamilton left so suddenly and ahead of schedule the funding for the war against Earth had gone with him. Anti-ship missiles and mines don’t come cheap, and the rebels had to hoard what they had when the money dried up. That amazing hoard of weapons was down below with the frozen colonists.
But these thoughts barely passed through Paul’s mind. Eighteen years, he had been on the Palmtree, but as a cargo officer; and so he’d never got used to the glory of the god’s perfect universe, and certainly not as he saw it now.
Riding high above the plain of Alchibah’s ecliptic, facing back the way they’d come was a sight that defied comprehension. The rarified gas and dust of Alchibah’s asteroid belt flickered and glowed like a neon rainbow 30 degrees wide from one side of the sky to the other waves of color swept through it almost like the Aurora Borealis he had so rarely seen from his native Holland. Paul’s imagination wandered, he could see shapes and images in the
BRRaaaCK! … BRaaaCK! The belt was singing. BRRaaaCK! Paul thought he should have gone to sleep in the captain’s day cabin. And not have to listen to that noisy BRRaaaCK!… Collision Alarm!
“Mien Gott!” he exclaimed as he jumped out of the reclining couch and staggered to the offending radar screen. “Must I wake the Captain?” He asked himself aloud. And hit the silence button.
The story on the red glowing display told too much and not enough; this was no near miss from a meteor, whatever this was had come on them fast and was enormous, dwarfing the ship itself. Even as he watched the threat of collision ended and the mysterious object came to rest in space relative to the Palmtree.
“Of Course!” he said “It must be flying asteroid” Paul fumbled his way to the unfamiliar docking controls and turned on the ships powerful landing lights.
What he saw was not StelCo’s flying asteroid that had departed Saturn years ago. Filling the viewport, looking like some vast brandy keg was the biggest ship he had ever seen. He could make out markings on the oddly shaped hull that were in no Earthly script. Strange misshapen projections cast grotesque shadows against the hull. In the floodlight beams small shapes could be seen approaching…Space monsters!
The navigation radio broke the terrifying silence, “Attention Rebel Ship!” the voice blared from the speakers.
“This is Rogon Battlecrusier…Deathfang…Captain St James Commanding, prepare to be boarded and taken as a prize, under United Nations law.” Hunter said into the microphone “offer no resistance and the navy will be lenient, no-one will be hurt”
“Do you think they will fight sir?” asked Ensign Taylor.
“No, they probably would, had we given them time, but whoever’s awake over there obviously didn’t see us till we were right on top of them. They didn’t even turn on their floods till we were 3000 meters off, that’s pretty lax”
The bridge of Deathfang was deep within the ship; no glass portholes offered a view of space. Instead 3-D holographic displays provided a visual representation far superior than any viewport Hunter had ever seen. Somehow it wasn’t the same.
The young officer stood with Hunter as they watched the tiny figures of UN marines and navy crew enter the liners many airlocks. “Eighty people in space armor should be enough to take the ship even if they resist, and we have a second wave ready just in case.”
Hunter had been tempted to send the second wave if only to let the troops practice boarding ops. Eventually he decided not to because such training would have been unrealistic, and therefore ineffective. It was almost 15 minutes before they were contacted by the boarding party.
“Prize is secure” Came the electronic flavored voice of Lew DeWalt “All crew and passengers in deep freeze…except one officer… we found him under his bunk”
From the private log of Hunter St. James:
….The ship is loaded with weapons, not the kind of thing I would have wanted to see fall into the hands of the Colonials. I can’t bring myself to call them Rebels…I can’t blame these people for wanting to remain free, I have to question my own actions, for all these years I’ve accepted the idea that peace and security justified the suppression of dissidents, now I’m not so sure. I sense that a majority of my people would go over to the Colonial side…If they could.
My new People are young but professional with the exception of Antonovich. I feel sorry for him having to deal with the pressure from the Rogons all this time, but he let his crew down, I will have to make an example of him.
The Rogons masters had ordered me to come up with a plan to stop the rebellion, but they tie my hands. They’re keeping me out in the belt and using the deathsheads for frivolous purposes. I will have to make demands of this Rogon krett, that will be a dangerous gambit, I have too much to loose.
I am still having disturbing dreams; I’ve had such dreams before…dreams that came true. Now this Col Stuart haunts my sleep, a man we all thought dead…more of Redmond’s never ending lies. I know he is trying to reach me, I can almost hear the words, but I wake up too soon. The last dream was the strangest, Stuart was on a boat… a boat with sails, on a blue ocean, and the wind blowing…and Sharon was there.