Here’s the first snippet for The Sacred Stars:
June 15, 2407
The Aurorae‘s defense screens flared as multiple beams struck. The impacts rocked the destroyer and threw Alannis Giovanni against her seat restraints. “Increase power to front defense screens!” She snapped. At the same time, she keyed up a new set of targets, “I need target data on the enemy gunboats!”
“Working on it,” her sensors officer said. “Half my target sensors are down, I can’t get a good read on them.”
The enemy gunboats were a design based on Admiral Collae’s Hellbores. Each of those frigates mounted a heavy spinal beam, far larger than any ship but a cruiser could effectively mount as a standard weapon.
They made up for that by being fragile and slow, they simply didn’t have enough power to operate their heavy weapon as well as other high-power systems at full capacity. They were also obvious targets under normal conditions, their reactors, capacitor banks, and the discharge of their weapons made them beacons on sensors.
But they and the other ships in the attacking force had already damaged Aurorae. Half her systems were out and the other half were barely functional. She had no telemetry data for her missiles at all, which hardly mattered since only two of the destroyer’s eight missile tubes remained intact.
Missiles, she thought. “Set missiles to internal guidance and fire on my mark!” Alannis snapped. They only had Mark III’s left, which had external telemetry and a secondary electromagnetic guidance package.
Alannis brought the Aurorae around. Without telemetry, the missiles would travel in a straight line until they acquired their targets. This was the equivalent of blind firing and hoping she’d hit something… but it was better than nothing. “Fire!”
The Aurorae‘s two missile tubes spat their remaining seven missiles, all aimed at the formation of enemy ships. Alannis rolled the Aurorae away just as the enemy opened fire again.
This time, at least two of the beams struck under the leading edge of the defense screens and the bridge lurched and smoke and sparks billowed through the compartment.
“Forward projectors are down!” the engineer shouted. “Missile tubes three and seven are destroyed, and our remaining defense batteries are offline.”
Alannis grimaced as the Aurorae limped away from her pursuers. Their sensors were so blind now they couldn’t even watch their missiles, she wouldn’t know if they were on target or wildly off-target until they detonated.
“Fighter’s coming in!” her sensor officer called.
A moment later, Alannis saw the faint signatures. Her lips drew back in a snarl as she saw their vector, the fighters were almost on top of them and lining up for a close-range attack run. “Roll ship, twenty degrees and engage with final protective fires!”
She saw out of the corner of her eye that several of the missiles she’d launched had detonated, but her gaze was fixed upon the incoming fighters. The surviving defense turrets opened up, but they were firing blind as a deterrent to the enemy fighters’ accuracy more than anything else.
Those fighters fired their missiles at less than a thousand kilometers, just far enough out for the missile acquisition systems to engage and for the warheads to safely activate. Thirteen of the fifteen fission warheads detonated around the Aurorae and the ship vanished in a ball of nuclear fire.
Alannis’s screen went black and red letters flashed: Simulation Terminated.
The tactical display froze with the damaged Aurorae frozen, angled as she fired her missiles.
“So,” Captain Penwaithe asked in a dry voice, “Just what the hell did you think you were doing at fifteen forty-eight?” The tall, black officer was in charge of the Academy’s Final Simulation Exercise, the very last evaluation that every cadet had to complete.
Alannis sat perfectly straight and addressed him in as professional a manner as she could manage. “Sir, with my telemetry damaged, I couldn’t control my remaining missile loadout externally, so I fired them on internal systems only.”
“A desperation ploy,” Captain Penwaithe said, his voice gruff. “Sometimes that pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.” His tone of voice suggested that most often it was the latter. He activated a switch and the tactical display resumed play.
On the display, the seven missiles fired out, a rough cone as they fired across the arc of the Aurorae‘s relative motion. She could see right away that only four of the missiles would go anywhere near their targets. Three of those picked up the enemy gunboats and homed in. Two detonated on target, killing the enemy frigates and the third detonated near enough that the frigate showed heavy damage.
Yes, Alannis thought with satisfaction, I got three of them. As far as she knew, none of the other cadets in her class had managed to damage more than two of the ships, even her friend Ashtar Shan had only killed one and damaged a second.
Yet the missile tracks didn’t end. The four other missiles continued outward, long after the Aurorae succumbed to the fighter’s close range salvo. Three of them winked out as the simulator counted them inconsequential and erased them… but the last one blinked to show it had acquired a target on its internal passive sensors.
Alannis saw where it was headed a moment later and she bit back a curse. The simulated missile homed in on the damaged civilian freighter that the raiders had used as bait… and then detonated.
“Congratulations,” Captain Penwaithe said. “You took out a quarter of the raider fleet along with thirty-three simulated innocent civilians.”
Alannis flinched at that. In reality, those civilians would be dead or worse anyway, with the raiders free to kill or enslave them. But in the simulation, the objective had been to save them.
Not that anyone had, but the Aurorae simulation wasn’t about winning, it was about fighting it out until the end. After over two hours in the simulator, she felt completely wrung out. Her ship suit stank of sweat and her body felt like it was made of rubber. She knew that they kept the heat turned up in the simulator to make it all the rougher, just as they deliberately put traces of chemicals to irritate the eyes, nose, and throat of those in the exercise.
It was also part of why they’d had her up for the past twenty four hours prior to the exam’s start. They wanted this to be as grueling a test as possible.
“Sorry, sir,” Alannis said.
“You need to remember, cadet, that your actions have consequences,” Captain Penwaithe said. “Now, other than your final write-up, you’ve completed the Aurorae simulation.”
“Wait… I passed?” Alannis asked in surprise. She had thought that by killing the freighter, it would be an automatic failure.
“You passed,” Captain Penwaithe said. He hesitated and then gave a slight shrug, as if what he was about to say wasn’t strictly speaking within the realm of an instructor, but that it was good mentorship. “The Aurorae is meant to test your ability to perform under a highly stressful combat environment. You managed it well enough. While we do run scores based off survival time and how well you acquit yourself, the primary measurement is your ability to function and make decisions. Sometimes making any decision in time is better than making the right decision too late.”
“Thank you, sir,” Alannis said.
“As a note… those cadets who participated in putting down the Dreyfus Mutiny typically test well in that regard compared to those who have not,” Captain Penwaithe gave a grim smile. “It’s the element of having been in combat that makes the difference, I think.”
Alannis felt her face go wooden. She’d known Admiral Dreyfus, her brother had considered him a friend… and the reminder of his betrayal still hurt three years later. It seemed that most of the people she had respected had eventually betrayed her in one way or another. Like Reese, she thought, letting people get close never seems to work out.
“Well,” Captain Penwaithe seemed to realize that he’d hit a nerve, “that concludes the oral evaluation. You’re dismissed, Cadet Giovanni.”
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