2949-07-27 – Tales from the Service: Sagittarian Stowaways 

This week I must sadly report that contact has been lost, probably finally, with the remaining defenders of Margaux. Before losing access to the last remaining ground-side comms station capable of reaching the Navy’s Hypercast relay at the edge of the system, General Bell’s headquarters appears to have sent Admiral Zahariev a message to the effect that he intends to surrender his remaining forces to the Incarnation. Given that no reinforcements or supplies have arrived on the world for several months, the situation there must be desperate, and I don’t think anyone can blame him for bowing to the inevitable. 

Margaux has been effectively in enemy hands for at least a month; scouting reports suggest that the major urban areas, manufacturing centers, and primary civilian spaceport have been under Incarnation control for some time, and it seems that the shrinking perimeter around the second spaceport built in the Causey Plana has had little impact on the enemy’s ability to use the planet. 

While many tens of thousands of Confederated service personnel did make it off the planet in the form of the vast numbers of wounded ground troops, dismounted strike pilots, and combat-ineffective rear area personnel, the toll in captured and killed in this losing battle has been, quite frankly, appalling. While I have not seen full casualty figures, it stands to reason that all Confederated services combined lost more than a million personnel on Margaux. True, it is likely the Incarnation suffered at least as badly in human terms, but in terms of materiel, the Incarnation likely suffered less, and they now possess the industrial output of Margaux to rebuild their stockpiles somewhat for the next push. 

While the Raid on Berkant has everyone looking in that direction for the enemy’s next move, I personally suspect this was a diversion. Berkant is, from Margaux, no closer to the inner edge of the Frontier. Given the large amount of Incarnation and Ladeonist espionage here at Maribel, it stands to reason they’re coming here, as crazy as that sounds given the heavy defenses of the system. 

[N.T.B. - For once, I think Duncan is dead on with his military analysis. Margaux is only twenty ly from Maribel, and there’s very little worth invading in between. If the Incarnation means to take the entire Frontier, it needs to take the Fifth Fleet’s supply base, which is right here. 

Since the services are currently disputing over where to put the blame for the Margaux disaster, I figure Nate will strike soon, and strike hard. If I were them, I would.] 

With that grim news out of the way, this week’s entry was submitted by Walther Gray, a Navy Tech with the Seventh Fleet’s repair and salvage flotilla. He and a number of his fellows have spent the last few months repairing the surviving warships from the Lost Squadrons until they were capable of crossing the Gap. These vessels, with their drives in desperate need of total overhaul, are being sent to the rear to various Navy yards for refit. 

Though most of the ships are little more than scrap hulks jury-rigged into functioning for a little longer at this point, the Navy means to put several of them back into the fight, including the two light cruisers Arrowhawk and Whitcomb Scourge. Unfortunately, worn-out hardware isn’t the only thing that makes these vessels dangerous to work on for the salvage techs. While shiproaches, Periclean metal mites, and other organisms are common shipboard pests, evidently the Lost Squadrons picked up a few new forms of vermin from landing on one of the planets in the Sagittarius Frontier. 

“Come on, Lieutnant, I just fixed that relay.” Technician Walther Gray mopped his brow with the only scrap of his sleeve that wasn’t stained with lubricant or cleaning solvent. “Your stat-board must be broken.” 

“The board isn’t the problem, Mr. Gray.” Lieutenant Hilmarsson had never liked Walther, and he needed little excuse to roll out the judgmental, disappointed tone that most officers usually reserved for novice spacers straight out of groundside training. “Look at these readings. If I had to guess, the insulation came loose when you closed up the housing.” 

Walther peeked over the edge of Hilmarsson’s slate computer to see that the diagnostic readings were in fact well out of optimum range. True, nothing aboard Whitcomb Scourge was anywhere near operating at optimum, but he’d just finished replacing nearly every part in the overworked power relay with new parts straight from the fabricator. In theory, it should be outperforming every other part of the poor cruiser’s mad tangle of a power system, not fluctuating wildly between dangerously high power throughput and nearly zero. 

Suppressing a sigh, Walther nodded. “I’ll go back in and check it, sir.” 

Hilmarsson’s only response was to sniff and turn away, jabbing his finger at his slate’s screen.  

Walther massaged his brow and turned back to the open bulkhead panel and the maintenance crawlspace beyond. He’d spent an hour hauling parts down into the ship’s cramped interstices, and six more hours rebuilding the relay module. If the Lieutenant was right, the problem should only take a few minutes to fix, and for once he hoped Hilmarsson’s guess was correct. If it wasn’t, Walther knew he’d be kept on duty until the power relay was in working order. 

Hefting his toolbag, Walther clambered into the crawlspace, turned on his head-lamp, and began worming his way back to the relay. He’d made enough trips to the place that by now he needed no assistance from the datasphere to find his way. Unburdened by a bag full of either replacement parts or burnt-out components, he was barely sweating when he arrived once more at the pitted housing of the offending power relay. 

Popping the relay’s cover off once more, Walther turned his headlamp up to its maximum brightness and swept his gaze across each of the components he’d just finished installing. Everything, including the insulation sheathing, remained firmly in place, with nothing obviously loose to explain the wildly oscillating readings on the status board. 

“Lieutenant, I’m back at the relay. Are you still seeing those fluctuations?” 

There was only a single comms click as a reply, but Walther knew to take this as an affirmative. Hilmarsson was probably chewing out another tech; he would only bother to interrupt himself if something had changed. 

“Hmm.” Walther swept his light into the bottom of the housing, looking for loose parts or fasteners that might have come free to give him a clue as to what was wrong. As he did, he thought he saw something moving around one of the snaking power cables, shying away from the light. Since he knew the wildly moving shadows cast by a head-lamp regularly played tricks on the human eye, he dismissed the notion that there was anything alive in the relay; after all, he’d just finished tearing it apart and putting it back together. If any pests had gotten in, he would have seen some sign of them over the last six hours. 

At last, Walther spied what he was looking for – a shiny, hemispherical component made of what looked like black polymer sat in the bottom of the housing, almost hidden behind the protruding bulk of the relay’s high-voltage switcher. Wondering what it had come loose from, Walther reached in to grab the offending part, hoping he would recognize it when he had it in his hand. 

The  object resisted his grip as if stuck to the metal below it, but a bit of a twist popped it free. It was lighter than he’d expected, and its curved surface was ridged rather than smooth. Frowning, he brought it up close to his face, engaging the visual-recognition system built into his analysis glasses to identify what he’d found. 

Before the computer could identify what it was looking at, the flat side of the little hemispherical object sprouted an uncomfortable multitude of articulated legs and scurried off Walther’s hand. Shrieking, he staggered back from the relay and fell to the deck. In the narrow beam of his head-lamp, he saw black objects moving silently across the bulkheads all around the open power relay. Not all of them were as small as the one he’d picked up – some were as large as his fist, and unless the shadows were playing tricks on his eyes, the biggest was nearly forty centimeters across. 

Something scurried over Walther’s leg, and in that moment he decided that the problem was no longer his to fix. Not even bothering to pick up his tool-bag, he scrambled on his hands and knees toward the crawlspace passage back to the lit corridors, imagining the swarm of bugs on his heels the whole way.