2948-02-25 – Tales from the Service: Sagittarian Silence Broken

Marty wasn’t alone.

For several exultant seconds, this simple fact, demonstrated on every functional display on the bridge, paralyzed him with both joy and horror. He had been alone ever since Terence Morey had been attacked by a swarm of mysterious strike-craft analogues deep in the Sagittarius Frontier, killing the other ten members of its crew – the chronometric system insisted that it had been a year, though Marty still suspected this was in error.

Directly ahead, just beyond the nameless system’s jump limit, a host of vessels – broadcasting proper, verified Confederated Navy FFI codes – maneuvered to recover whatever formation they had been in prior to their star drive jump. Almost all the vessels were warships that dwarfed a little colonial pathfinder like Morey, but smaller vessels swarmed protectively around the big cruisers and destroyers, preparing for an attack at any moment.

“Good.” Marty glanced at the status board, where vast sections of Morey were shown only as dim grey outlines. Out there, in the evacuated crew cabins, the builder-drone hangar, the mess, and the recreation module, the corpses of his ten crewmates bore silent testimony to the suddenness with which the seeming peace of the Sagittarius Frontier could be broken.

All at once, alarms began wailing all across the bridge. Marty poked at the command station’s small control panel and dismissed several of them, but the ship – designed for a bridge crew of four – seemed to mock its lone operator with a cascade of information no single man could make sense of.

Marty hopped out of the chair at the command console and darted between the other three stations, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with the crippled ship this time. He found that the loudest two seemed to come from the helm station, and specifically from the navcomputer, which Marty – hired on as the assistant builder-drone technician – had never been trained to use.

Fortunately, at least one of the alarms – the collision alarm – was rather self-explanatory. One of the ships in the just-arrived armada evidently had set a collision course with Terence Morey. That, Marty knew, was something the navcomputer would fix on its own, it just preferred very much for a human member of the crew to choose a new course. The other was something called a noncombatant exclusion zone alert – Marty had never seen that one before, and didn’t see any easy way to fix it.

Hopping to the comms board, Marty noticed that the next alarm was for an incoming comms channel. It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that the big fleet cruisers or their attendants had noticed him. The thought of talking to someone after so long threatened to paralyze him once more, but Marty screwed the board’s earpiece into his ear before he could second-guess this decision.

“Repeat, you have thirty seconds to comply.” A gruff voice was barking impatiently. “Spike your drive immediately or be fired upon.”

Fired upon? Marty clawed the earpiece out of his ear in alarm. He hadn’t considered the possibility that the Navy would be hostile. It had been almost eighteen months since Morey had left Maribel on its mission – what could have happened in that time for Navy squadrons to start firing on civilian contractors? Should he turn the ship around and make a run for the in-system and try to escape, or spike his drive as they suggested? They were people after all – people Marty didn’t know, each of them with their fingers poised over an unbelievable array of weapons controls. If he did as they said, anything might happen.

Another channel lit up on the comms board. Hesitantly, Marty picked up the earpiece again and switched to the new channel.

Terence Morey, power down your drive.” This voice, though demanding the same thing, did it in a far calmer way. “We see your damaged condition and are equipped to affect repairs.”

Marty’s heart soared at the kindly tone and promised assistance. Would they really repair Morey? “Powering down engines.” Marty replied before tearing out the earpiece and diving toward the helm console. Only after he was halfway through the command entry did he realize he hadn’t transmitted his reply.

At last, he finished entering the commands to power down the gravitic drive, and Morey entered a ballistic drift. As soon as he had confirmation, Marty hurried back to the comms station. This time, he remembered to select a channel and press the “transmit” button.

“Drive is spiked.” Marty had often talked to himself in the past year, but now that he was talking to someone, he was horrified at how cracked and high-pitched his voice sounded.

The calm-voice returned a moment later. “Morey, we confirm. Slave your helm to our coordinator, and we’ll bring you in to dock with Arrowhawk for repairs.”

Marty frowned. He wasn’t sure how to do that, and would need to consult the manuals in the archive. “Give me a moment to do that. You see, we’re a bit short-staffed over here…”

Terence Morey returned from the Sagittarius Frontier a few days ago, limping into Maribel orbit with five people aboard. Martin Westland, her only surviving original crewman, brought the ship in with the help of four crewmen from the Arrowhawk scouting force, which commandeered the ship after repairing it in order to bring reports and data streams related to this scout squadron’s situation in Sagittarius. In addition to Arrowhawk’s original squadron, Captain Bosch seems to have gathered together a number of civilian vessels found in the region, and managed to keep his ships going by pillaging the supply reserves of a few incomplete orbital habitats.

Evidently, there are enough Tyrants in the region that Bosch was avoiding combat; his ships have only limited missile stocks, and his reports state that he wanted to reserve them for an engagement that would be meaningful to the final war effort.

Of course, Morey departed the lost squadron only six weeks after contact with Sagittarius was finally lost – Bosch’s reports do state that he has no confidence in the long-term survivability of his force. There is some hope the squadron survives today, but I think that this possibility is remote at best.

Despite the likelihood that Bosch is dead or captured at this point, Naval Intelligence has published large sections of the report data to the datasphere. It seems Bosch is trying to do in Sagittarius what Incarnation ships in the Coreward Frontier have been so successfully doing – disrupting supply routes and industry. Incarnation bases seem to have sprung up on several worlds previously surveyed for Confederated colonization, and Bosch had by the date of his dispatch already struck one of these outposts, and had plans to attack more. While probably not having the same impact on their war effort as their attacks have on ours, Bosch is almost certainly diverting forces which otherwise would make the job of defending the Frontier settlements even harder.