|For Want Of A Cover: This is an unused cover mock-up from a|
different Spinward Fringe Novel. Broadcast 8 does not have a cover yet.
Without any further delay, here's the Prologue!
The Hell Shrike
“Captain McFadden,” addressed First Officer Eily Hogan from the communicator. She was excited about something, usually a bad sign.
“Go ahead,” Captain Moira Mcfadden said, the communicator hidden inside her jawbone picking up her response.
“We’ve been spotted by an Order patrol, corvette class. No fighter cover in range.”
“Run out the guns,” she said as she put the paper book she was reading down beside her on her bed and stood up. “Angle shields directionally, watch for surprises. Looks like we’ll have to finish our repairs in hyperspace.” She took her mid-length heavy jacket from a metal chair, put it on and then clipped on her gun belt. She couldn’t help recalling a descriptive passage from the book she was just reading that described Cathryn, one of the Irish Union founders, strapping a pistol on overtop a dress. The thought of wearing a heavy skirt and a gun belt made her smile. Fat chance anyone will get me in a dress unless it’s my own funeral. She thought.
The pair of pistols was a welcome weight, like the old armoured jacket she wore adorned in the colours of the Irish Union flag – green, black and orange. These were most of her surviving possessions, and she kept them with her always. Underneath she wore the simple uniform of an Irish Union naval captain, a black and grey fitted suit with practical pockets, and three thin red lines that ran from the shoulders, down over her knees to the feet. The flexible armour pads had already saved her life several times, even though the uniform was relatively new to her.
The captain’s quarters were basic, with a double bed, a desk, a wardrobe cupboard, overhead storage and a few small conveniences. The hatchway opened with a clink, the door swung with a screech but she ignored both. The surfacing on the floors and walls had been polished away decades before by the hands of hundreds of crewmembers, leaving the bare metal to shine dark silver. She could see her reflection in her decks and walls.
The two muscled guards on watch at the entrance to the bridge snapped her a salute as she passed. Their fibre-mesh plate armour and general condition was picture perfect, and they had a pride Moira hoped would hold through the coming months. She returned their salute as an ensign pushed the bridge hatch open for her. Feeling a little out of order after seeing the crisp condition of the guards, she rolled and tucked her shoulder-length brown hair into a bun and tied it.
“Update,” she ordered as she sat in the battered captain’s seat.
“The corvette is biding her time,” replied First Officer Hogan. “Firing beam weapons, testing our shields. They’re not getting past our sensor or communications jamming.”
“Any transmissions get through before we were spotted?” Captain McFadden asked, checking the tactical and operational panel attached to her seat.
“We saw them because they transmitted,” came the reply from Michael Durst, her communications officer. “Almost missed the signal, looked like noise, but I traced it back.”
“Good work,” Captain McFadden said. The Hell Shrike was handling herself well. Her shields were regenerating fast enough to keep up with the beam weapons raking her port side. The black and green hull of the Order of Eden corvette looked fresh, intact – a tempting target. She looked at their location on the sector map and shook her head.
“We’ve got boarding teams at the ready,” advised her tactical officer, Tawnee Rickard.
“We’re still too far behind enemy lines,” Captain McFadden replied. We’re also protecting a full hold of captured supplies and hauling four containers under our energy shields, she thought, but didn’t share. There was no need to justify her decisions. “Be a shame to get jumped by a destroyer this close to breaking free of Order space,” she muttered to herself.
The beam fire intensified, focusing on one section of the Hell Shrike’s shields. Three exterior doors began to slide open on the enemy corvette, and Captain McFadden knew what that meant: missile batteries. Her energy shielding would have to spread out; the beam weapons would start getting through and her ship was still undergoing repairs to her outer hull. “Slag this bugger. Fire all guns, load secondary gun magazines with bursters so we can get through her shields. Missile batteries one and three load fusion warheads and hold for my order. Come about one sixty, mark, point five.” She set up the ship’s course on her console and sent it to the helm. “Navigation, start calculating our final course to Rega Gain.”
The seven-station bridge was busy as they carried out her orders. Several missiles broke through the Hell Shrike’s shields, sending white-hot shrapnel and explosive charges down the length of their port side. “Breaches?”
“Nay. We have weakened plating, though,” replied Tactical Officer Rickard.
“Roll the ship to compensate, we don’t want another hit on that section,” Captain McFadden ordered, aware that there wasn’t much undamaged hull left.
The twenty four railgun turrets running along the rounded sides of the ship fired with deadly precision, pounding away at the enemy’s shields. The corvette was starting to accelerate away, firing everything it had as its shield energy diminished. “Ready to fire, Missile Room,” Captain McFadden said.
“Missile Room reports: ready to fire,” replied Rickard.
Captain McFadden waited a moment, watching as the enemy corvette let loose with a battery of missiles and intensified beam fire, breaking through the Hell Shrike’s shields and through her outer hull. Moira didn’t flinch, even though three gunnery positions were immediately marked as destroyed. The enemy missiles struck right behind the missiles, liquefying metres of the Hell Shrike’s hull. It wasn’t time to fire her own missiles yet. “Helm, full thrust, set your course opposite to the corvette’s. We need a little more room.”
The corvette’s shields were almost completely depleted, and railgun rounds were breaking through, raking the enemy’s pristine hull. “Gunnery, switch to explosive rounds on even positions, flak on odd.”
“We’re out of flak rounds,” reported the other tactical officer, Trevor Walsh.
“Explosive rounds, all around. Fire at will,” Captain McFadden replied. “Missile Room, hold.”
“Aye, Missile Room holding,” replied Tactical Officer Rickard.
Captain McFadden modified the shield systems’ energy profile herself, running the remaining shield emitters past their safe limits to keep the Hell Shrike from taking more damage from the enemy’s beam weapons. They had to last just long enough to get out of their effective range, and the corvette was coming about, giving chase as the Hell Shrike retreated, interpreting the damage and retreat as a lack of resolve. Surprise, you Order Of Eden bastards, I’m getting ready to finish you off, she thought with a smile. “All guns, focus on the nose of that ship. I want all our non-nuclear missiles to fire on the same area, now.”
The crew was well practiced, resolute, and steady on their triggers. A hail of railgun rounds and slower missiles rained down on the enemy ship’s narrow nose, battering its hull inward and forcing the air out of her forward compartments. “Major damage to the corvette, Ma’am,” reported Tactical Officer Rickard. “We have her.”
“Now we slag her,” Captain McFadden said. “All gun and missile positions, cease fire.” She pressed her thumb onto her command panel for DNA verification, making her fusion missiles available to fire. “Fire one fusion missile.”
The crew of the Hell Shrike watched as a fusion missile crossed the distance between it and the enemy corvette-class ship in under three seconds and exploded in a bloom of light. Radiological alarms went off momentarily across the ship, and there was minor aft hull damage, but the Hell Shrike was whole enough.
There was nothing but a cooling hunk of metal left of the enemy corvette. “Helm, it’s time for us to finish this trip. Get us to Rega Gain – no point in hiding around here trying to make repairs.”
“Aye, making best FTL speed to Rega Gain system,” replied the helm.
“Treat the injured, have radiation meds passed out,” Captain McFadden said, remembering that they didn’t have enough left to go around. “Start with the higher ranks, oldest first.” She looked to the ensign standing beside the door. The blond-haired boy looked anxious; he wasn’t sure what to do with himself. With the ship three times overstaffed, there was little for him to do. “Ensign…”
“O’Reilly, Ma’am,” he replied.
“Fetch my book from my quarters,” she said.
“Which one, if I may ask?”
“Dawn’s Exodus,” Captain McFadden replied. I’d best read faster if I’m going to finish it before I give it to Shamus, she thought as she watched the ensign scurry off.
Spinward Fringe is a Trademark of Randolph Lalonde
Spinward Fringe Broadcast 8 is © 2013 Randolph Lalonde