The Sacred Stars Snippet Two

Here’s the second snippet from The Sacred Stars, coming September 9th, 2016.   You can find the first snippet here.

Chapter I

 

Faraday Colony, Faraday System

United Colonies

June 19, 2407

 

“Woohoo!” Princess Kaylee Giovanni shouted, waving the ball triumphantly over her head, “I win!  You guys can’t get me!”

Alannis grinned as the Crown Princess gave out an undignified squawk as her adopted sister talked her.  A moment later, Alannis’s son Anthony William rushed over to thump down on top of his cousins.  “Get off me!” Kaylee shouted.

“Going to miss this?” Emperor Lucius Giovanni asked of his sister.

Alannis looked over at him and grinned, “Yeah, a bit.”

She looked back at the three children at play and her grin faded as her son looked up.  At only three years old, Anthony William was of equal height to his cousins and had blonde hair and blue eyes much like his father.  He’d grabbed the ball and he ran up to her, “Mommy, I got the ball!” he squealed.

Alannis nodded, “Good work.  Now give it back, play nice.”  She hated how neutral her voice sounded and she saw her son’s shoulders slump.  I’m a terrible mother, she thought, but then again, it wasn’t like I planned on being one.  Reese had been the one with the plan.

As her son ran back to the game, Alannis grabbed for her glass of wine and took a rather larger sip than was really necessary.  “It’ll be good to finally get out there and do my job, you know?”

She didn’t miss how her brother watched her with concerned eyes.  For a moment, she feared he would actually say something about her relationship with her son.  Young Anthony had spent most of his childhood in Lucius’s care.  Alannis had used her duties as a cadet at the Faraday Military Academy as an excuse for why she didn’t spend time with him.  In truth, she didn’t have much free time, but she knew she could have spent more of it than she had with her son.  Yet the moment passed and Alannis let out a slight sigh of relief.  “So,” she said cheerfully, “how much did you have to do with my assignment?”

Lucius snorted, “You think I pulled strings to get you assigned to the Constellation?”  He shook his head, “Tell me, has being my sister made things easier or harder for you at the Academy?”

Alannis winced in reply.  Her instructors had gone out of their way to show no favors to her.  Oftentimes she had felt as if they graded her every assignment with greater stringency.  “Much harder,” she said.

Lucius nodded, “If you’d said anything differently, I would have pulled General Proscia as superintendent.”  He took a sip of his own wine and his gaze went distant, “We’re founding a new nation, which means setting precedents.  If I made certain that General Proscia and his instructors wouldn’t show you any preference, just how likely is it that I pulled strings to get you assigned to our newest, most powerful cruiser?”

Alannis gave a wry grin, “Not very.  Which means I did earn my posting, that’s nice anyway.”

“You earned it,” her brother nodded.  “Which means you get to go gallivanting around human space while I’m stuck here doing statesman stuff.”  He frowned, “Sorry, that came across as more bitter than I’d intended.”

Alannis’s eyebrows went up, “Things exciting in politics?”

“More than I’d like,” Lucius grumbled.  He sighed, “You’ve no doubt heard some of the grandstanding by Senator Penwaithe?”  When Alannis nodded, he continued, “He’s doing his best to drag his feet over new worlds joining, and when they do, he tries to extend their probationary period as long as possible.”

On the one hand, she suspected that Senator Harris Penwaithe did so out of political ambition.  Probationary members of the United Colonies didn’t get a full vote, and newer members had fewer proportionate votes dependent upon the date they had joined the United Colonies.  That gave his voters more power… and it gave him more clout.  On the other hand, the system was designed to prevent dilution of the founding principles of the United Colonies.

Since Captain Garret Penwaithe and Commander Abigail Penwaithe both taught at the Academy, she was a bit more likely to think better of Senator Harris Penwaithe’s intent.  All the same, she’d seen enough politics from inside and outside to know that the Senator from Halcyon wasn’t as pure of heart as he made out.

“Anything I can help with?” Alannis asked with a sunny smile.  After all, she was about to leave on a nice, long, show the flag cruise.  Rumor had it that the Constellation would be far from United Colonies space.

“Actually,” Lucius said, “there is something I want to talk to you about.”  He gave a look over at Staff Sergeant Timorsky.  The Marine gave him a nod in return, a clear sign that the security perimeter, to include a variety of anti-signal jamming equipment, was still intact.

“While I didn’t pull strings for you to be assigned to the Constellation,” Lucius said, “I did decide to capitalize on the situation and adjust the mission since I knew you’d be aboard.”

“Oh,” Alannis said and her smile faded.

“Yes,” Lucius nodded, “the Constellation‘s mission has shifted from a standard patrol to an escort mission.  The first turn-key upgrades for our Shogunate allies are available and we’re sending the Constellation as the escort for the convoy, along with the destroyers Regent and Crossbow.  Since we’ll have some of our civilian engineers aboard the Constellation for a final set of diagnostics, they can also assist with any issues that the Shogunate encounters getting things set up.”

Alannis sighed, “I’ll assume I’m there as Princess Alannis Giovanni rather than newly minted Ensign Alannis Giovanni?”

“No,” Lucius shook his head, “You get to wear both hats.  Congratulations.  Captain Beeson will be our official representative and Mitchel Kondas is our diplomatic envoy.  But the way things work there is they like to take the measure of the dynasty they’re dealing with.  They’re very much traditionalists.”  That was an understatement from what Alannis knew.  The Shogunate contained several colonies founded by Earth’s Japan.  All three of the central, founding colonies harkened back to a more feudal style of governance, each of them paying notional obedience to their Emperor, who had mostly symbolic authority.  They also strongly valued military tradition, which meant her presence as an officer and the Emperor’s sister should carry some weight.

“Okay, do I have any talking points?” Alannis asked with resignation.

“Nothing so pushy,” Lucius grinned.  “Just set a good example, tell some war stories, and generally make friends.  Let Ambassador Kondas handle the rest.”

“Great,” Alannis sighed.  “Anything else I can help you with?”

“That’s plenty for now,” Lucius said.  He nodded over at where Anthony had taken the ball and started running.  “Maybe you should spend some time with your son?  It’ll be a long time before you see him again.”

It was as blunt as he could be without crossing a line and it set Alannis’s back up.  She forced herself to give him a smile.  “He’s having fun, I don’t want to interrupt.”

“You’ve only got so much time before he grows up,” Lucius said, “you don’t want to miss out on this part.”

Alannis closed her eyes.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love her son… it was just that he looked so much like her ex-husband that she felt physically ill when she thought about it.  Bad enough that the bastard had hacked her implant to get her pregnant, he’d also signed on with the pirate Lucretta Mannetti.  After Lucius had captured the renegade Admiral, they’d turned up more information that showed Reese had done some extremely questionable work, often involving human test subjects and alien equipment.

At best, Reese was a criminal who had betrayed her trust.  At worst… well, he had betrayed everything Alannis believed in.  “It’s not easy for me, okay?” Alannis said.  “It’s different for you.  You love Kandergain,” Alannis waved a hand at Kaylee as the girl tackled her son.  Kandergain was some kind of super-psychic and was Kaylee’s mother.  She’d left because she didn’t want to endanger Lucius or her daughter by drawing her enemies down upon them.  “Me… I hate Reese.”

Lucius looked more than a little uncomfortable.  Long before she’d even met Reese he had been Lucius’s friend.  It was through her brother that she and Reese met.  Reese was charming, handsome, intelligent… and he only ever cared about himself, she thought bitterly.

She could see the discomfort on her brothers face and Alannis gave a sigh.  “Alright… when I get back from this assignment, I’ll take some time off, I’ll spend some time with Anthony, okay?  I’d do it now, but I’ve got to report in this afternoon.”  She didn’t mention that she’d asked for an early report time, partially out of excitement to get to her first assignment and partially because it gave her an excuse not to guilt-tripped by her brother.

Besides, she thought, it’s not like I even know how to be a parent.  Her father had led a failed coup against Emperor Romulus II and her mother had committed suicide when she was only a few weeks old.  She and Lucius had been raised by their grandmother.

Alannis could tell that Lucius wasn’t happy with her answer, but he didn’t push her.  There will be time later, she told herself, when Anthony is older, I can explain it all to him.

Somehow, that didn’t make her feel any better.

***

 

Sanctuary Station, Faraday System

United Colonies

June 21, 2407

 

“Sir,” Alannis said, “Ensign Giovanni reporting for duty.”  She gave a crisp salute and then passed over her orders.”

Captain Beeson returned the salute sharply.  Despite the fact that he must have known she’d be reporting, he took the paper copy of her orders and examined them carefully.  “Everything is in order,” he said and passed them back.  “Chief Donnitz will want to in-process you, but I’d like you to tour the ship, first.”  He looked over, “Lieutenant Perkins!”

The tall, gaunt Lieutenant snapped to attention, “Sir?”

“Please give the ensign a tour of the ship,” Captain Beeson said.  He frowned then, “And if you see Lieutenant Commander Bowder, please introduce the XO to our new officer.”

“Yes, sir,” Lieutenant Perkins said.  He jerked his head at Alannis and then headed for the back hatch to the bridge.  Alannis gave a parting salute to the commanding officer and then followed.

“So,” Lieutenant Perkins said, “Find your way to the ship with no problems?”  The Lieutenant seemed familiar for some reason.  He had a twangy accent, most unlike the prim and proper Nova Roman or the core worlds.  He was tall, taller even than her ex-husband, with closely cropped dark brown hair and dark brown eyes to match.

“Yes, sir,” Alannis said.  Sanctuary Station was the Fleet’s new military station in orbit over the gas giant Sanctuary.  Unlike the older Skydock Station in orbit over Faraday, the Department of War had designed  station purely for construction, repair, and docking of military ships.  While some of the docks had been online and functional for over two years, much of the rest of the station still wasn’t operational.

The Constellation’s berth lay at the very first of a long chain of military docks.  Only two other ships shared the space, the Constellation‘s two sister ships, neither of which had been commissioned yet.

Most of the system’s other military traffic was in orbit over Faraday.  In fact, other than the shipments of personnel for the new ships and deliveries of materials and supplies for the shipyard, there wasn’t much of any activity around Sanctuary Station.  I suppose that was some of the idea behind putting it out here, she thought, fewer prying eyes to see military secrets.

She followed Lieutenant Perkins down the corridor.  Everything had a new and shiny feel to it. The markings on the walls were crisp and sharp, the gray paint was clean, and there were no scuff-marks anywhere to be seen.

“So,” Perkins said, “we actually finished our trial cruise and official acceptance two days ago.  Until then we only had two thirds of our personnel complement.  You’re the first of our new officers to arrive, so you’ll get the pick of the Ensign’s quarters.”

He turned down a corridor and then paused.  “This is officer country.  XO and Chief Engineer’s quarters are fore and aft respectively.  Further down the hall you’ve got the shared quarters for lieutenants… and then there at the end there’s the Ensign and Midshipman quarters.”  He hiked a thumb over his shoulder, “Captain’s quarters are back towards the bridge.”

Perkins continued on, “You saw the bridge, we have two engine rooms for our two reactors, forward and aft.  Weapons control is broken down by forward and aft as well.  You know about the new armament?”

Alannis frowned, “I’d heard some, but just rumors.  The manuals aren’t available even in secure systems yet.”

“Well…” Lieutenant Perkins gave a wry grin over his shoulder, “that’s probably because we’re rewriting the manuals just about every day.”  He ducked under a low pipe without looking and then led her down a ladder.  She didn’t know how he managed the tight confines of the ship without injury.  She felt claustrophobic as they took a particularly narrow ladder.  “The reason we’re not taking the drop-lifts, by the way, is they’re offline for calibration,” he said.

“Oh,” Alannis said in reply.  She rather hoped they’d locked down all the access doors to the shafts then, otherwise a crewman would be in for a rather big surprise when they stepped into open air and the gravity system didn’t catch them.

“This is forward weapon control,” Lieutenant Perkins said as they came into the chamber.  It didn’t look like much.  The beam generators were four bulky pieces of equipment with piping and conduits coming off.

“No, no, no, no!” A man shouted.  “You stupid imbecile, this is a piece of equipment that generates and accelerates high energy exotic particles… do you really want to kill us all!?”

Alannis turned and saw a short, balding man in civilian garb waving his hands in the air in front of an enlisted man.  Alannis recognized Rory after a moment, the short, chubby engineer was some kind of expert on alien technology or something.  Her brother had mentioned that he had him working on a variety of projects, apparently this was one.

The Weapons Tech looked like he wanted to do nothing more than escape.  “Uh, sir, I’m just doing maintenance…”

“Just following orders, is it?” Rory demanded.  “Do you think that will excuse you when you destroy not just this entire ship, but the station we’re docked with!?”

Almost on cue, Feliks, Rory’s constant companion, stuck his head out of an open maintenance hatch.  The tall, skinny engineer had a pair of glasses perched on his nose and he had a patient expression, “In all likelihood, what he has done would only destroy the forward end of the vessel.”  His rough Centauri Confederation accent gave his calm, soft-spoken tone more weight.

“Only?  Only!?” Rory demanded.  “I happen to currently be in the forward end of this vessel!  And you didn’t consider the consequences of the reversed polarity on the power junction… did you?”

Feliks cocked his head as he considered that “No.”

He pulled out his datapad even as Rory turned to face Lieutenant Perkins.  “I demand that this man be fired immediately!  He jeopardized the lives of the entire crew and especially the passengers!”

“He means him,” Feliks said helpfully without looking up as he tapped at his datapad.

“I am a nearly irreplaceable engineer with both incredible talent and unrivaled credentials,” Rory said.

“What did Technical Specialist Spurlock do?” Lieutenant Perkins asked in a resigned tone.

“What did he do… what didn’t he do!” Rory waved his hands in the air.  “He could have killed all of us!”

“Rory,” Lieutenant Perkins said in a level voice, “No one on this ship was intentionally trying to kill you.  If you would please explain to me what the issue is, I’ll address it.  If you keep having histrionics, I won’t be able to fix the problem.”

“You can’t just fix this kind of thing,” Rory said.  “He used the wrong torsional wrench on the power conduit bolts, which meant they were too tight.  I’d give it a ninety percent–”

“Hmm, fifty percent at most,” Feliks disagreed, still without looking up.

“…seventy percent chance of those bolts shattering when the main weapon systems fired, which would have caused a power disruption to the the main power junction.  In turn, that would have overridden the particle generator’s regulator and caused it to detonate like a bomb!  He did that on all four of the beam generators!”

“Ah!” Feliks said with satisfaction, “I found an error in your calculations!”

“What?” Rory spun and ripped the datapad out of Feliks’s hands.  “That’s nonsense, there’s no way I made a mistake…”  he trailed off.  “Huh, what do you know.  I guess I was off, by a factor of ten.”

“So it wouldn’t destroy the ship?”  Ensign Perkins asked.

“Oh, no,” Rory waved a hand, “It would have vaporized the entire ship and station.  That’s fascinating, I’m already seeing some implications and possibilities to deliberately build some sort of exotic particle bomb…”

“Yes,” Felix replied, “the issue would be generation and containment due to the rapid decay of the exotic particles…”

Lieutenant Perkins rolled his eyes and then signaled Tech Specialist Spurlock to come over.  “Can you fix the problem?”

“Yes, sir,” the young man said.  He looked both painfully young and very nervous.  “I caught the issue and I just tried to get them to calibrate the torsional wrench to the right level, sir.”

“Right,” Lieutenant Perkins said.  “Get it fixed and then get Petty Officer Pine to look it over.”  He rubbed a hand down his face as the Tech Specialist hurried away.  “Why did we get saddled with that pair…” he muttered, just loud enough that Alannis heard.

She didn’t say anything.  The two engineers had begun a heated argument which involved much hand-waving and finger pointing.  Thank God I’m not stuck in engineering with those two, she thought.  She hoped to be assigned to the tactical department or at least the navigational department.  With her scores, she figured either one would be a good fit.

“Well,” Lieutenant Perkins said after a moment, “We’ll just move on, I’ll bring you past forward engineering next…”

***

Snippet Three

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