This post is the first part of a short story I am working on. Comments and suggestions are welcome.
Brock Regus work shift started out well.
During his previous time off shift he had finally got to spend time with that sultry voiced siren from orbital control. He had been docking at the Kalamor cargo station regularly for the past score of synodic periods and had built up a beautiful image of her in his mind just by listening to the sound of her voice. Now he had finally got to compare his dream girl with its flesh and blood counterpart. Aside from getting her height, weight, hair color and general proportions completely wrong, she did not disappoint.
While he had been enjoying the pleasure of her company, the station crew had finishing loading cargo and propellant onto his cargo rocket, the Connalf Minimule. He was now back on duty going through the pre-flight checks with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.
The docking this trip had been a very successful.
The commander of the EFAR Palisor was off watch and asleep when the EYES ONLY message addressed to him came in. It seemed like this was the only time this type of messages was ever delivered. If it wasn’t a actual regulation to get important message when you’re asleep, he thought, it was tradition.
Grumbling he accepted the message, applied his decryption key then started to read.
He skipped the standard boilerplate to get to the important parts.
SUMMERY OF ORDERS
- EFAR Palisor will intercept and board S.S. Connalf Minimule after it has cleared Kalamor controlled space and before it arrives at it’s destination at Lair Duc Lep controlled space. (See Attached Item A: Ephemeris)
- After interception you are to board and examine ship, crew, cargo and passengers for any and all illicit or prohibited items. Specifically you are to search for Unregistered Radioactive Materials or Registered Radioactive Materials that are not properly listed in the ship’s manifest. (See Attached Item B: List of Illicit or Prohibited Items and Attached Item C: Manifest of S.S. Connalf Minimule)
- If illicit or prohibited items ARE NOT DISCOVERED you will allow said ship, crew, cargo and passengers to proceed freely to their destination. EFAR Palisor will then proceed with all expeditiousness to Drang base for loading of propellant and other consumables. (See Attached Item D: Excerpt from the Third Convention on Caelumtime Law Volume 4, Section 8, Paragraph 18-45)
- If illicit or prohibited items ARE DISCOVERED you will seize and deliver said ship, crew, cargo and passengers with all expeditiousness to Drang base to be turned over to appropriate Federation Law Enforcement and Intelligence Ministry Agents. (See Attached Item E: Xalamor Act of Interdiction. Article 3, Section 12 Paragraph 8-12, and 31)
Policy of Escalation
- At time of interception you will contact the SS Connalf Minimule stating your intent to board and inspect same citing relevant sections of Caelumtime Law and the Xalamor Act of Interdiction.
- If by communication or by action the SS Connalf Minimule indicates its refusal to be boarded you are authorize to compel compliance using the following order of escalation:
- Reiterate statements of legal penalties for failure to comply.
- Use verbal, text based, or visual threats for failure to comply.
- Use weapons systems for warning shots for failure to comply.
- Use weapons systems to disable said ship for failure to comply.
- Use weapons systems to destroy said ship for failure to comply.
Commander Yojen Krocs muttered a short stream of expletives.
To intercept a spacecraft in flight required precision flying and lots of spare delta-v to successfully complete the maneuver. If the craft being intercepted didn’t want to be boarded, things got complicated real fast.
‘Smuggled radioactives’ he mused rubbing his unshaven chin. That could mean anything from freight companies trying to avoid taxes to something more serious. Like someone trying to heat up the Tepid War with the Xans.
He checked the documents for the Connalf Minimule. Neutral Registry out of Gramethame. That why he had to intercept in midflight and out of anyone’s locally controlled space.
“Politics.” he grunted with disgust.
He cursed again when he checked the ephemeris. If he didn’t break orbit in two hours he would miss his window to intercept the freighter. His idiot Lords and Masters should have given him a little more lead time.
Commander Krocs sounded a call to stations on the intercom. He forwarded the ephemeris to the flight officer to plot their trajectory. He next contacted the 1st shift engineer to begin preflight checks. When all hands reported in at their stations, he announced to the rest of the crew that once again they had been privileged with an opportunity to bring honor to the glorious Ertran Federation Atomic Rocket Forces.
Then he put on his pants.
Brock Regus had cast off from the Kalamor orbital cargo station. Using thrusters he maneuvered away until he had reached a safe departure distance. While waiting on clearance he watched the distant specks of darting cargo wranglers working to lasso containers that had been blown up 80 kilometers above the surface of Kalamor by the powerful geysers that dotted the volcanic plains
“Connalf Minimule, you are cleared for departure.” announced the sexy voice of Kalamor Control.
“Thank you darling.” drawled ship master Brock Regus.
“You can lose the ‘Darling’, darling. We’re on the clock now.”
As he withdrew the control rods from the rocket’s reactor he replied with a smile.
“Connalf Minimule departing Kalamor control space.“
With the neutron absorbing control rods withdrawn the reactor’s temperature climbed quickly as the number of fissioning uranium atoms shot through the roof. With a bang the reaction mass pumps kicked in. They quickly spun up to speed making an ultrasonic whine that rattle through the rocket’s framework. Frigid liquid hydrogen was forced by the pumps into the reactor’s hot fission core. It flashed into plasma then blasted out with an exhaust velocity of 8000 meters per second, thrusting the almost 100000 kilogram, 50 meter long rocket at .5 meters per second.
Brock was busy for the duration of the burn making constant adjustments. With these old atomic freighters balancing the propellant flow, neutron flux and exhaust velocity was more of an art than a science. You had to constantly juggle things around to stay in the sweet spot for an efficient burn at a steady acceleration as your rocket’s mass decreased.
When he could spare a moment he checked the strain gages for his cargo. Using remotely controlled wenches he made adjustments to the straps and nets that held his cargo in place. He needed to keep the freight from shifting around and upsetting his center of mass. Botching the flight angle or getting stuck in a tumble from an off axis thrust was a major pain in the glutes to correct.
The orbital insertion was going well. His flight plan called for him to depart Kalamor, make a cliff diving midcourse burn at perigee and then deliver his cargo of mail, metals and manufactured goods at Lair Duc Lep in about four hours.
After twenty minutes he stopped accelerating and shut off the propellant pumps. Brock reinserted the control rods to safe the reactor and engaged the cooling system. The fishlike radiator fins glowed in infrared as they dumped heat from the hot reactor into the near infinite heat sink of outer space.
Once the rocket’s systems were secured for cruise mode its one man crew took a deep satisfied breath and relaxed. Now all he had to do was count his money as he coasted along. This was the big haul he had been waiting for.
Commander Krocs had his crew finish a final practice exercise for the boarding and searching the alleged smuggler. He had started them practicing the moment the EFAR Palisor stopped accelerating.
He had finally gotten them to settle down. In the final simulation they finally managed to complete their assignment without casualties which gave them a measure of morale boosting confidence. It remained to be seen if that confidence was justified. The previous simulation they had 30% casualties. Commander Krocs was hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
In his mind the best case scenario would be that the boarding party would land unopposed, search the freighter, find nothing and then depart with everyone going home with a good story to tell. The worst case would be that something goes wrong and everyone dies. This uncertainty in outcomes created a noticeable level of tension among the Palisor’s crew.
The young Caelumarines tasked for boarding the rocket felt eager and excited. They were getting a rare opportunity to actually apply the tools of their trade. The Flight and Engineering officers were busy sweating the final approach to the target. The Gunnery officer keep checking and rechecking the status of his weapons. Since the engagement was within spitting distance astronomically speaking, the Missile officer had drawn the short straw and would lead the Caelumarines into action. The Caelumarine’s top non-com was grimly determined to keep the Missile officer from screwing things up too much. The remaining crew, each according to their nature, fidgeted, joked, paced, cursed or prayed at their damage control stations. Commander Krocs felt all of these emotions as well as the burden of responsibility.
It was time to get started.