The following takes place in the hours after the Messer Fleet descended on the Republic of Lorell on March 23rd, 2612. For more on the previous events, please see the Republic of Lorell archive document. INN reporter Wolf Larsen was able to piece this further record together from various ship’s logs, and fragments of radio traffic all maintained and passed down by successive central galactic governmental entities.
REPUBLIC OF LORELL ARCHIVES: MARCH 24th, 2612
After the battle in the Benelli Asteroid Field, the recently formed militia descended into utter disarray in their attempt to fend off Messer’s Hammer, the unofficial nickname given to the fleet of orbital bombers that emerged from the jump point just hours earlier. Fighter pilots and missile corvettes screamed in every direction, amidst a brilliant show of laser light, ballistic tracers, and vessels exploding into flames.
Lieutenant Commander Jessica Rosa and the crew aboard The Mother Lode spent a short time rescuing disabled fighter pilots among the rocks after the initial battle. Later, they pivoted to the dangerous job of running ammunition and supplies to front-line warships, as the larger battle for control of the space above Lorell’s cities and manufactories raged. During the Battle of Benelli Mother‘s Quantum Drive had been knocked out and she picked up a few new scars in the armor, but she was otherwise undamaged.
Among the chaos, The Mother Lode darted back and forth from supply ships in the rear to the fighting ships on the line. Each trip she ferried munitions and supplies forward, casualties and broken gear back. As the hours wore on her crew was stretched beyond anything they had ever experienced before. Enemy fire, exhaustion, exposure, apathy, sometimes they felt all of them together. Right now they just felt hollow.
It was clear that Messer’s Hammer was going to win the day; what wasn’t clear was how many innocent civilians and warriors would perish. Although unannounced, efforts to evacuate the city-state below had begun in earnest. The militia knew the score, and they calmly pivoted towards covering the civilian’s escape, as best they could.
Word of Quentin Hakkar’s bold plan and heroic sacrifice to delay Messer’s Hammer with a training squadron made up of teenage conscripts, including his son and daughter, spread quickly throughout the fleet. Cries of “Do it for Quentin!” and “For the Hakkars!” crowded the ship net and gave the Lorelli local militia courage and resolve to fight on, in the face of overwhelming odds.
Nevertheless, just twelve hours after they began to pour out of the local jump point, Messer’s Hammer broke through the local militia’s defenses and pummeled their home without relent or remorse. Among the few civilians who remained in the capital region below, most were dead in moments. The local warehouses stored enough explosives to supply the mining operations in three systems for months. Within minutes the orbital bombing ignited an explosion many factors more powerful than the atomic weapons once used on Earth, many centuries before.
Lieutenant Commander Rosa stared through the front viewport on The Mother Lode‘s bridge. Her crisp, white uniform jacket was left draped over the back of her command chair, and she rolled up the sleeves on her now filthy uniform. Grease and blood covered her legs, from time spent separating wounded fighter pilots from their gear. Beautiful as she was, Rosa looked as though she had matured ten years in the last ten hours. Radar officer Jack Lacroix sat slumped in his chair, staring at the display in front of him. The helmsman’s station was empty.
Suddenly, The Mother Lode lurched to port violently, and Rosa fell to the floor. Outside, the Lorelli missile corvette Elena Najjar broke off her resupply without warning. As she burned hard, up and away, The Mother Lode shuddered violently in her afterburner’s jet blast. Warning lights lit up the command panel, and multiple alarms triggered. Lt. Commander Rosa jumped for the helm to put some distance between Mother and the larger, rapidly departing vessel.
Once clear, she brought the ship nearly to rest and darted from the bridge through the rear companionway. Rosa sprinted down the gangway suspended below the trusses that served as the ship’s ribs, and when she got to the cargo bay, she stopped and surveyed the confusion below. Crates and boxes she had never seen, littered the area around the open entrance of a lorry, presently attached to The Mother Lode‘s cargo bay door.
“Marine!” She shouted down to a compact, muscular young man with a rifle slung across his back, scrambling around to secure loose cargo as the ship swayed back and forth in Elena Najjar’s wake.
“Yes, si…Er, Commander!” He turned to Commander Rosa and snapped to attention.
“Where’s my helmsman?” She demanded.
“He was aboard the Elena Najjar,” He replied. “coordinating the cargo transfer on that end.”
“Who are you?” She asked.
“I’m Sgt. Sykes, and this here’s my partner, Sgt. Drexler,” He pointed at a shorter, female marine standing by the entrance of the cargo lorry. “We worked security aboard the Elena Najjar.” He replied.
“I figured that. You ever drive anything before?” She asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I piloted my Daddy’s cargo lorry to pick up supplies for the farm when I was a kid but…” He replied, with a somewhat puzzled expression on his face.
“Good,” She interrupted. “Get up here now; we need a helmsman.” Without giving him a chance to finish, Rosa spun on her heel and sprinted back to the bridge where the ship’s radio was chiming persistently.
“This is Rosa.” She said breathlessly, as she picked up the receiver. “Go ahead.”
“Commander, what’s going on up there? We just lost the primary thrust stabilizers on the port side, stern and aft.” Chief’s voice sounded very irritated and strained to be heard above the background noises in the engine room, and for a moment Rosa stopped feeling like she was in charge and started feeling like a mousy logistics officer again. After all, technically The Mother Load belonged to Chief, now that Quentin Hakkar was gone.
Rosa swallowed her fears and continued. “Chief, we’ve got a fluid situation up here. The Elena Najjar broke off her resupply without warning and took our helmsman with her. We got caught in her thrust wash with Comstab engaged because Sanders was helping the cargo transfer team. Perhaps the stabilizers overloaded when…?”
“I don’t need to remind you that we may not see a resupply ourselves anytime soon.” Chief interrupted. “I’ll see what I can do.” The old man sounded much older than he had when this all began.
“Chief, I…” He hung up on her with a loud click.
Rosa’s face turned red with sudden rage, and her knuckles turned white from pressing the receiver against her ear. Her mind raced as she succumbed to exhaustion from long hours without sleep. “How dare he?” She thought. “He can’t talk to me that way. This might technically be his boat, but we’re a military unit now, and I need to maintain order.” She slammed the receiver down and turned to race to the shop, but then stopped short.
Rosa took a deep breath and relaxed her muscles. She remembered Chief had also been up for many hours and just lost his best friend. She also remembered something from her time at the UEE Officer Academy. Some detail about the occasionally complicated relationship between older, more experienced enlisted crew, and the young officers they serve alongside.
Just then the young marine jogged onto the deck and looked at her expectedly. Rosa turned to look at him with a calm, thoughtful expression on her tired face.
“Stow your rifle and backpack in there.” Rosa pointed at the row of lockers along the wall on the port side of the bridge. “Then take a seat right here.” She turned the helmsman’s chair around and smiled at him.
As he settled into his seat, she patted him on the shoulder and provided a perfunctory lesson in steering the big old boat.
“Right stick is pitch and roll. The left stick is our thrust control. Forward, backward, left and right. See those peddles? That’s your yaw control. Get used to them quickly. If I call for a left turn, you step on the left peddle. If I call for left slew, you push the left stick to the left. Got it?”
The marine nodded in assent, but she could tell he didn’t get it. Not yet anyhow.
“I didn’t hear you marine! Do you get it?” She raised her voice slightly.
“Aye Commander.” he replied.
“Good. Turn left 90 degrees and bring her up to cruise speed. That’s 250 meters per second. There are velocity gauges on your panel and the heads up display.”
He paused for a moment, then awkwardly pulled on the right stick, which rolled The Mother Lode left and pitched it up. Rosa quickly braced herself against her Command seat as the ship lurched, but before she could correct him, he let go of the stick. He paused for another moment, muttered something unintelligible, and then closed his eyes and slightly toed the left rudder peddle.
“Good,” She encouraged him, “Now give it some throttle.”
Feeling confident, he shoved the left stick forward. The Mother Lode groaned under sudden, maximum thrust, and another warning alert lit up on her panel, then dimmed, before blinking out. Rosa fell back into her command chair.
“Easy, ” she said while composing herself. “Pull that back to 25%…That’s right. Smooth. Unless we are in combat or making evasive maneuvers for some reason, always roll the thrust on evenly and slowly. Especially when your crew isn’t strapped in.”
“Radar, let logistics command know we are clear on the Elena Najjar so they can re-task us,” Rosa said.
“Aye,” Lacroix responded. He made eye contact with her and raised one eyebrow. She smiled in response and picked up the ship’s radio.
“Chief, we gained and lost some crew during the incident with the Najjar. Could you please round up any newcomers as well as whoever is left of the original team and bring them all to the bridge?” She asked.
A few minutes later Chief entered the bridge, followed by Ace Hakkar, the second marine, and a medic. Although wearing a naval uniform, the medic had no rank insignia, unit patches, or medals of any kind. “Must be another civilian conscript.” Rosa thought. He was short and fit, with short-cropped, dark hair. He carried a shoulder bag with a red cross sewn onto it.
“With the exception of Jansen, an unconscious fighter pilot in the med bay, this is everyone commander,” Chief reported. Rosa looked at the ragtag crew.
Ace was pale and sedate, but ambulatory. The bandage around his head covered a wound on his forehead that was expected to leave a lifelong scar but hadn’t done any other permanent damage.
“Captain,” The medic began, “This better be important because I have a patient below and…”
“What’s your name and rank Doctor?” She interrupted him. He looked back at her, stunned for a brief moment.
“My name is Akira. Akira Ozu. Most people call me Doc, but I prefer to be called Akira.” He replied. “I was a pediatric surgeon on Lorell. They told me I’m a Second Lieutenant when I volunteered, but this is a meaningless distinction…”
“Welcome aboard The Mother Load Akira.” She interrupted him again. “On this boat, I promise you two things. For as long as you’re with us, we will call you Akira. And when I call you to the bridge, it’s always important. You can refer to me as Commander or Lieutenant Commander Rosa. Understood?”
“Yes, Commander.” Akira looked annoyed but resigned.
“Chief, how’s Mother holding up?” She turned to face the Chief.
“I rebooted the system, and the thrusters came back online. The shutdown was a failsafe during the overload, not a mechanical problem.”
“Good.” She replied.
“Ace, how are you holding up?” She looked at the crestfallen teenage fighter pilot.
“Good, I guess.” He stared at the floor at first, but then looked up at Rosa and made eye contact. “When are we going to find Delilah?” His previously sullen expression made way to a look of sharp rebuke. “Why haven’t we located her yet?”
“Ace, I…” Rosa had begun to explain that they had looked for her while he slept off his injuries, and had also rescued many other pilots while looking for her, but just then Lacroix interrupted.
“Commander, it’s Admiral Freyr on the long range.” Lacroix pointed at his headset. “He said to get you immediately.”
Rosa stepped over to the radar station and picked up the receiver.
“This is Commander Rosa.” Rosa’s face, at first calm and resolved, suddenly turned white as she listened to the voice on the other end. She placed her hand on the top of the radar station to steady herself, then she took a deep breath and replied, “Aye, Aye Admiral. We’re on our way.” Rosa turned back to face the assembled crew.
“Admiral Freyr just informed me that the local jump point has begun to destabilize and it’s expected to collapse. All vessels are about to be ordered to evacuate immediately before we’re trapped.” Rosa paused.
“But what about the civilians?” Akira asked.
“Akira, you’re dismissed. Attend to your other patient. I want you both strapped in for G-max in 3 minutes or less.”
“Aye, Commander.” Akira turned and left the bridge.
“What? No!” Ace interrupted. “My sister is out there in the Benelli,” He shouted. “I know she’s still alive! I saw her when I was hit. She was alive. We can’t leave!” Tears of frustration began to build in Ace’s eyes. The entire crew stared at him, surprised by the sudden outburst.
“Ace, we’ve got our orders.” She took a deep breath and was about to continue when he interrupted her again.
“Commander, she’s my sister. I’ve lost everything else…We’ve lost everything…I just…I…”
Rosa looked at him sympathetically. “Ace, for all we know Delilah was rescued by another ship and is on her way out of the system right now, to meet us somewhere out there in the black.” Rosa stepped closer to Ace and waved her arm towards the forward viewport as she spoke. Ace’s eyes went dark as he looked up at her.
“You don’t know that!” The general evacuation alarm began to sound from the commander’s station.
“I know, Ace. Everyone on this ship has other people in this system. Nobody wants to leave them behind. I promise you…Our first mission will be to find your sister. But to do that, we need to get out of this system alive. There’s nothing left for us down there.” She looked at him patiently.
“Now, you can stay here on the bridge and help us get out of this alive, or you can head back down to the sick bay. It’s your choice.” The expression on her face remained calm, but her eyes adopted a deadly serious glare. Ace looked at her, then Chief, whose expression was blank. He then looked at the companionway for a brief moment, as though he contemplated an escape, before looking back down at his boots.
“I’ll help.” He replied.
“Excellent choice,” Commander Rosa said. “Sgt. Drexler, do your best to get all that new cargo stowed. Then I need you to lock the lorry in place for a jump. Sgt. Sykes, You’re relieved. Help Drexler straighten out the cargo hold and get yourselves strapped in Outside the cargo bay. Stuff is likely to break loose and drift around down there before this is over.”
Chief, without the Quantum Drive, we’re going to need maximum power to the main engine until we get to the jump point. Then we’ll need power to the thrusters. We don’t have time to calculate the jump, so Ace is taking us through the old fashioned way.”
“Aye. I’ll deactivate the safety. Just make sure you leave enough space for the retro burn.” He replied.
Ace slid into the helmsman’s chair and belted in as Chief, and the marines left the bridge. As he pulled the headset on, he thumbed the talk button. “Mother, adjust helm for Ace.” Through his headset he heard a soft, woman’s voice reply ‘Affirmative, configuring the helm for Ace’ and the seat moved forward and up while the controls moved slightly closer to him.
Although invisible, Ace’s simple command also remapped the use of a dozen other control surfaces and updated the sensitivity curves on everything he had control over. A relaxed look came over his face as he became one with the ship. Anticipating Rosa’s next command, he silently turned Mother towards the Lorelli jump point, cracked the throttle open, and began to prepare the ship for G-Max.
Rosa looked over at Ace knowingly, having seen him serve helm at his father’s side many times before. “Lacroix!” She barked, at the radar officer who was clearly dozing off. “Look alive. I need you to ensure the path ahead is clear.”
“Aye, Commander.” He replied.
Rosa slipped into her seat and began her pre-flight check. After a few moments, she thumbed the mic on her headset.
“Chief. We ready to go?” She asked.
“Affirmative. From engineering’s perspective, we’re ready. Not sure about the rest of the crew.” He replied.
Rosa switched to the broadcast channel and announced. “G-Max in two minutes. I repeat we are executing a maximum G burn in two minutes.” One by one Rosa communicated with the rest of the crew to ensure they were safe before giving Ace the all clear. When she did, he was ready.
“You’re cleared for G-Max Ace,” Rosa said as she tightened her restraints.
“Aye, Commander.” He replied without looking at her and his seat reclined slightly. “Mother, bring the main engines up to four G’s over a 60-second curve.” He glanced over at Rosa. “Let’s see if anything important breaks loose before we bring it all the way up to six g’s.”
Ace knew The Mother Lode better than anyone else, besides Chief and Commander Rosa was grateful for this knowledge. “Good thinking,” was all she replied.
The steadily increasing force of acceleration pressed her back into her chair. Mother’s hull groaned as the pressure on her superstructure increased. Everything not strapped down on the bridge slid aft and rattled against the rear bulkhead.
“Three point five G’s” Ace called out to no one in particular. Lacroix moaned audibly. The volume of a pair of vibrations increased sharply as they started harmonizing. Somewhere aft there was a small thud.
“Four G’s,” Ace called out. As if on queue, a thunderous slam came from aft. Ace turned his head slightly so he could see Rosa, who was manipulating a surface on her command panel.
“It was just a cargo module in the aft cargo bay, and it’s come to rest squarely on the bulkhead.” She reported.
“Aye,” Ace replied. “Mother, bring us up to 5 G’s, same acceleration curve. After a fraction of a second had passed, the pressure on the crew continued building. The roar of the ship’s twin engines was now the loudest sound from stem to stern by a wide margin, but multiple vibrations and shaking were also causing a tremendous racket.
“5 G’s” Ace called. Rosa began to notice her vision was blurring.
“Contact!” Lacroix called out. “It’s crossing us, about 5000 kilometers ahead…I can’t tell if we’re on an intercept, but it looks close.”
“Ace…? Rosa called.”
“I see it,” he replied.
Suddenly, the ship to ship radio came to life in a hail of static and garbled cries, and then went silent again. A few seconds later it came alive again. “Crossing vessel, crossing vessel. This is the lorry, Percy Fawcett with four souls aboard, requesting assistance. We’re disabled and unable to change course.”
“Roger that Percy, stand by.” Rosa thumbed her talk button. “What can you see Lacroix?” The ship groaned loudly.
“Looks like it’s tumbling slowly. She’s been at a constant bearing and decreasing range for about thirty seconds. My current calculation is there’s a one in ten chance we’re going to intercept.” Lacroix replied.
“Ace cut acceleration,” Rosa said.
“Aye.” He replied. “Mother, bring us back to zero G’s over two minutes.”
“Percy, Percy, this is Commander Rosa aboard The Mother Lode. How did you get out here?” She thumbed off the mic. “Lacroix, I need updated calculations, ASAP. Switching to video.”
The static and desperate voice responded after just a few seconds. Each member of the bridge team could see the desperate face on their communication screens.
“Our cargo vessel was destroyed by a Messer gunship. My daughter and I escaped to the launch which was damaged during separation. My wife and son were lost in the attack. Please commander…I heard the evacuation order. We need your help.”
“With the acceleration change, the odds of an intercept reduced to one in fifty. They’re going to pass us.” Lacroix reported.
“No, they’re not.” Ace replied. “There are Lorellis aboard that ship, and we’re going to get them aboard.”
Rosa ignored the violation of command and turned to Ace as the ship’s acceleration decreased. “Do you think you can do this Ace? They’re tumbling, and we don’t have time to calculate the intercept. Our velocity is about five thousand meters per second, and they are crossing us at an oblique angle. This rescue could get very messy, very fast.
“I got this,” was his only response. Ace’s brow furrowed slightly as he began to adjust The Mother Lode‘s course. It was evident he was in the zone, silently making various calculations as the distance closed.
“Mother is your ship.” She replied.
Even after hundreds of years of spacefaring adventures, it was still true to say that 99.9 percent of human history was spent chasing fleet-footed mammals across the plains of Africa, to eat lunch. The net result of this evolutionary path is a keen eye for the chase, and no eye in the Lorelli fleet was keener than Ace Hakkar, now that his father had passed.
Ace keyed his talk button. “Chief, is the forward cargo bay clear?”
“Aye, Ace,” He replied. Why have we stopped accelerating?”
“No time to explain. Please open the forward cargo bay doors.” Ace turned The Mother Lode into a sweeping right turn and began bleeding off a little speed.
“Roger that,” Chief replied.
“Jack, I need the forward cargo bay camera on my center screen, can you do that for me?” Ace called out. Commander Rosa’s mouth dropped open perceptibly.
“On the way,” Jack replied.
“What’s their range and bearing?”Ace asked. “Keep updating me please.”
“Two thousand meters, bearing three zero zero.” Jack Lacroix called out.
“What’s the plan, Ace?” Rosa tried to keep her voice calm, but she thought she could see where he was going with this and she was beginning to wonder how much of an effect medication was having on his judgment.
“We’re going to creep up and scoop them right out of space.” He replied confidently, while Rosa’s face turned white.
“You sure that’s going to work?” Although remaining calm, the fear in her voice was evident.
“You have any alternative suggestions?” He replied. She did not reply. “Rosa, I need you to call them back and let them know the plan. They need to suit up and depressurize their ship immediately.”
“One thousand meters, bearing three five zero. Delta-v is presently 150 meters per second.” Lacroix reported.
“They are already depressurized, Ace,” Rosa said. “Strapped in tight and ready for rendezvous.” Ace stared straight ahead and continued to tighten the arc of The Mother Lode’s path.
“Eight hundred meters, bearing three six zero. Delta-V is 75 meters per second longitudinally and 10 meters laterally to starboard.”
Ace straightened out The Mother Lode, slewed to the right, and accelerated slightly.
“Five hundred meters at 50 meters per second,” Lacroix said. Chief burst onto the bridge.
“Can somebody please tell me what the hell is going…” Rosa turned to him with a stern look and brought her finger up to her lips. Then she pointed a thumb at the screen which showed the slowly tumbling lorry ahead of them.
“Three hundred meters,” Lacroix called. The Chief walked forward and put a hand on Ace’s shoulder.
Rosa looked up at Chief. “Will it fit?” Chief looked down at her and made an ‘I have no idea’ face.
“Two hundred meters” Lacroix reported. Ace began to roll Mother to starboard, matching Percy Fawcett‘s slow tumble.
“Delta-V?” Ace asked.
“Ten meters per second,” Lacroix replied.
Rosa picked up the radio and opened the ship to ship channel. “Brace yourselves, Percy.”
Lacroix began to count down the last ten meters. “Ten, nine, eight…” As The Mother Lode began closing the final distance Ace poured on reverse thrust and tilted the nose down at the last second. With a light ‘clunk’ Percy Fawcett cleared the entrance to the forward cargo bay. Ace gave a light burst of forward thrust and with a screech of metal on metal, Percy Fawcett slid into the hold.
Everyone on the bridge was still for a moment, exhaled, and then broke into raucous clapping and laughter.
“Wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes,” Chief said. Ace unbuckled himself and wordlessly headed for the companionway. Just before he got to the door, he stopped, spun on his heels and looked back at his crewmates.
“Not sure if you realize it, but we’ve got a damaged vessel smoldering in our cargo hold.” Everyone did suddenly realize and followed Ace out the door.
After a brief battle with a small fire, the crew of The Mother Lode welcomed the occupants of Percy Fawcett aboard. It turns out the ‘four souls’ aboard were two humans and two kittens, the last remaining possession of the man and his daughter. After showing them all to the quarters he used to share with his father and sister, Ace Hakkar returned to the bridge to finish their passage through the collapsing jump point.
Within an hour The Mother Lode emerged from jump point travel in the Oberon System, alone. During the evacuation, most ships were forced to manually traverse jump point space. It became clear in moments that the Lorelli people were scattered across the galaxy.
Lieutenant Rosa’s last command of the day was for the entire crew to get some rest. They parked The Mother Lode in an asteroid field, switched to silent running, deployed proximity alert drones, and every soul aboard settled down for a long nap.