2949-01-05 – Tales from the Service: A Veiled Behemoth
The Seventh Fleet formation which arrived at Maribel a few weeks ago has departed as quickly and unexpectedly as it arrived. Strangely, it left in company with a motley assortment of mercenary units and privately chartered haulers. Due to interest in its whereabouts, I should not fail to mention that Grand Azure was one of the vessels that departed with this group. The vessel which gathered more attention than this little frigate, however, is the mercenary cruiser Rolf Holzmann, one of the few full-sized warships in service purpose-built for mercenary service. One of the larger vessels fielded by the infamous Sovereign Securities company, its presence on this side of the Reach is unusual – Sovereign's main theater of operations is the Rimward Frontier.
Many in the system speculate that the operation these vessels are engaged in is some sort of training mission, but since the force contains several of the best-outfitted private military units still operational in the theater, a simple training mission to sharpen green crews on the Seventh Fleet ships seems unlikely.
One of the larger private vessels in this flotilla, the mercenary carrier Mayumi Milka, is the mobile home of three independent strike squadrons. Karleen Schwartz, one of the pilots of Blondie’s Buccaneers aboard the “Milky May” is an avid reader of this feed, and though her account of a strange encounter on patrol is some weeks old, the departure of the Buccaneers and their carrier on a mysterious errand with Seventh Fleet seems an occasion to bring it to your attention.
Karleen Schwartz suggests the anomaly was some form of previously unidentified life-form, but I find this unlikely; every living organism yet discovered adapted to the extreme conditions of hard vacuum, even inside a star system, are quite small. Perhaps the object they encountered was a colonial mass of many smaller organisms (something like an earthly Siphonophore) or perhaps it is an artificial construct – a badly decayed Dutchman perhaps. To my knowledge and hers, neither the Navy nor scientific interests are able to send an expedition to learn more while hostilities in the area continue.
Karleen Schwartz sat back in her cockpit and frowned at the instruments. What they told her didn’t make any sense. Either the weapons of her Acuity interceptor were bleeding static charge into the sensor systems again – a problem the mechanics back on the Milky May had assured her they had fixed – or there was something out there.
Frowning at the displays in front of her, however, did nothing to dispel the seemingly contradictory impression they conveyed. After verifying that the issue was not transient, she switched on her radio. “Buck Lead, I’m getting some odd sensor data here. What about you?”
“Could you be more specific, Three?”
It was just like Igor, Karleen knew, to reply in a way which told her nothing, but demanded additional information from her. That his response should have been expected did not make it any less aggravating.
“I’m reading weak infrared and S-band emissions.” Karleen struggled to keep the annoyance out of her voice – after all, the Buccaneers were theoretically in a combat area. “The instruments can’t pin a source; they say it’s coming from everywhere.”
There was no reply for a few seconds, and Karleen used the time to run another sensor diagnostic. Since she was keeping station only about two hundred meters behind Igor’s Princeps gunship, anything she was seeing on her sensors should show up on his as well.
“Buck Three, I’m seeing something weird too.” Farrux, pilot of the squadron’s other Acuity, filled the silence. “My grav flux reading just went flat, and I’m picking up S-band in all directions too.”
A zeroed grav-flux reading was as strange as omnidirectional electromagnetic radiation – that would be normal in deep space, but the squadron’s patrol path through the uninhabited Moehler system could not reasonably be described as passing through deep space.
Karleen’s hope that the anomaly was a mechanical fault in their nearly-identical strike rigs lasted only until Igor came back on the line. “Three, Five, I’m also experiencing some strange sensor behavior. Two, what about you?”
Regina’s reply from the cockpit of Buck Two was immediate. “Nothing out of the ordinary, Lead.”
“I’m still reading normal.” Gundahar on Buck Four chimed in.
Given that Two, a relatively vulnerable strike bomber carrying ship-killer munitions, sat at the center of the formation, and Five was currently the rearguard, the fault couldn’t be based on location. Karleen, annoyed, whacked the display showing the successful completion of the system diagnostic. She had no idea what was going on, but the aging, temperamental computers of their strike rigs was as likely a culprit as any she could imagine.
“Think it might be some new trick of Nate’s?” Farrux asked.
“More likely some unmapped local particle cloud. Not what we’re here for.” Regina was usually dismissive of Karleen and any pilot more junior than herself – that is, anyone but herself and Igor, as they were the only two founding members of Blondie’s Buccaneers who hadn’t been killed yet.
“I don’t think so.” Igor, at least, seemed to be taking the problem seriously. “I’m going to – woah!”
The computer-illuminated bulk of Igor’s big gunship pulled a hard maneuver, changing course unexpectedly. Karleen didn’t have time to disengage the formation autopilot before she felt the sinister weight of dampened acceleration herself – by the time she regained manual control, her rig was facing back the way it had come.
“Lead, you all right?” Karleen checked her heads-up display. Igor’s Princeps reported no damage or faults.
“Damned thing came out of nowhere. Anyone else see it?”
“I have nothing on sensors.” Karleen double-checked. “We’re still alone out here.”
“Not on sensors, Three. Visual contact.”
This assertion seemed more insane than the zeroed grav flux readings on Five’s board – how could something get so close that it could be seen with the naked eye without showing up on the sensor plot long before? Karleen pulled her control column to wheel her agile craft around, trying to pinpoint the spot Igor had been when he’d been spooked in the featureless interplanetary void. Unlike Regina, Karleen assumed that the squadron leader had in fact seen something out his forward canopy.
“I’ve got nothing.” Gundahar wouldn’t have said anything unless he’d already swept the powerful sensors of Buck Four across the area. Assuming the competence of the squadron’s reconnaissance expert, Karleen ignored her instruments, instead scanning the darkness through her own transparent canopy.
At first, she saw nothing along Igor’s previous line of travel. Proceeding forward slowly, Karleen tumbled her interceptor slightly, to allow her eyes to scan a greater wedge of space.
At first, the oppressive darkness kept its secrets, but slowly, the palely luminescent mass which had appeared so suddenly to Igor came into view. Proceeding at patrol speed, it had probably winked into view before him in an instant, but Karleen’s slower pace allowed her to see the veil-like streamers which sheltered the object peeling away as she drew closer. Though superficially resembling nothing but a cancerous mass, Karleen thought she saw an odd symmetry to the object. Each moment, as it turned slowly before her, she changed her mind between thinking it the most hideous thing she had ever seen, and the most elegant.
“Lead, I’ve got visual on your anomaly.” Karleen hit the switch to activate her gun-camera, then began streaming the footage to the rest of the squadron. “It’s big, I’ll tell you that. No damned clue what it is, though.”
“That makes all of us, Three. Back on out of there, those tendrils are folding fabric. If you get too close to one-”
Karleen still couldn’t pick the object up on most of her sensors, but she realized with alarm that Igor was right. She was too close to the slowly rotating object – if one of its streaming arms drifted too close to her ship, the veil of spatial distortion which followed might tear her rig to pieces. Cautiously, she engaged reverse thrust and backed away, and watched as the object vanished once more.
“There’s something you don’t see every shift.” Gundahar broke in. “Still not much on sensors. Want me to go in-”
“Negative, Four.” Igor’s voice had the hard edge he used whenever there was no room for discussion of his orders. “We’re going on with the patrol. Whatever this thing is, someone can come find it later.”