This is one of those important mission statement chapters, where we see our heroes plan their next moves, reveal a few of their fears, expectations, and connect to each other one last time before setting out on their missions.
The Scouting Mission
Double shifts were wearing on the Revenge crew. One of the few exceptions was Agameg Price, who could often stay awake for days without losing focus. It was a quality of the issyrian race, and every once in a while Jacob Valent found himself envying the highly capable Chief Engineer.
A small hologram of the bridge on the table in his quarters kept him up to date on what was going on while Jake looked through the information Freeground Fleet had sent them. There was little to no navigational data for the area the Triton and Revenge were going to be scouting in. “We’ll be ready to move to our launch site in five minutes, Jake,” Oz said as a hologram of his head and shoulders appeared to his right.
“Good hunting, Oz,” Jake replied. “The Revenge will meet you at the rendezvous in three days.”
“Between you and I, I can’t believe we’re doing this for Freeground. They haven’t changed. I’m glad the Fleet might be a different story, we could get them home in a couple weeks,” Oz said. “But that station will take months.”
“I’m sure those politicians don’t represent the general thoughts of the people trapped aboard the station. I bet most of them just want to find somewhere safe to start over. We stand a better chance of doing that on Haven Shore.”
“How did they respond when your team suggested abandoning the station?”
“That’s not happening, not while they’re in charge,” Jake replied with a sigh. “Not that we have the room.”
“We’ve done the math,” Oz said. “The Triton and all the other ships with hangars and life support that can sustain a lot of passengers could take a hundred and twelve thousand, but we’re talking about displacing entire fighter squadrons, filling small cargo ships that are heavily damaged, and reducing the combat effectiveness of Freeground Fleet in doing so.”
“Not an option,” Jake said. He couldn’t help but think about the reality of the Order of Eden fleet. The data they’d captured on it so far verified that there were thousands of ships, hundreds of them most likely already inside the Iron Head nebula or moving quickly towards it. The Freeground Fleet would be caught eventually – that’s what the odds told him – and then they would have to fight. If every one of their ships were clogged with refugees, reaction speeds and overall effectiveness would be badly affected. On the other hand, Freeground Alpha was a large, damaged station. Slow, obvious, throwing off signals that sensors could pick up from millions of kilometres away if it stayed in one place for too long, it at least had armour and some weapons left. If it could be protected all the way through the nebula before the enemy could create an effective scanning perimeter on the other side, Freeground could become a benefit to the Rega Gain system.
“What’s on your mind, Jake?” Oz asked. “I can see the wheels turning.”
“Freeground Alpha complicates everything we’re doing here. It’s big, obvious, and there is no way we can help it move any faster than it can on its own. Unless it can start making multiple jumps a day, it’s going to get caught.”
“Everyone on the Triton agrees. Tell me you’re pulling a solution together.”
Jake took a moment to think about their problem. A signal from the bridge told him that they were ready to jump into trans-dimensional space. There had to be a way to create a trans-dimensional portal large enough for the station. What they knew of the new systems’ limits told them that a trans-dimensional conduit that size would collapse soon after its creation. Their current plan, to guide Freeground Alpha and the Freeground Fleet into denser sections of the Iron Head Nebula was their best hope, but the odds were against them making it even that far. “I know I’m on the edge of a solution,” Jake said. “I’m just not there yet.”
“Talk it through, let’s get something figured out right now, before we start scouting,” Oz encouraged.
Ayan entered the quarters. “Finn wasn’t happy with his new assignment,” she said. “But he’ll have time to work on the Dimension Drive software while he’s out there scouting. What are we working on here?”
“The solution to the Freeground Alpha problem,” Oz said. “Jake has something, it’s just lodged in his brain, I was just about to pick up a crowbar and give him a hand.”
“What are you thinking?” Ayan asked.
“The problem provides its own answer,” Jake said. “It’s got to be that easy.”
“All the way back to officer training,” Ayan said, sitting down beside him. “So, what’s the problem you’re focusing on?”
“I’m looking at all of them at this point, one of them has to have our solution. We can’t help Freeground Alpha move faster unless we find a safe harbour and supplies so they can make repairs. It’ll be days at best before we find anything that suits us, and that’s if we get lucky,” Jake said.
“We don’t have enough room in our ships to evacuate it either,” Oz said.
“And the wormhole type it can make is very noisy, easy to map,” Ayan added.
“So we use that to our advantage?” Oz asked. “Okay, never mind, that won’t work.”
“Wait,” Jake said. “It will. We can send ships a great distance with our Dimension Drives, and those trans-dimensional routes are undetectable. What would take Freeground Alpha weeks or months to travel would take smaller ships days, a couple weeks at the slowest.”
“So we could get Freeground Fleet out of here, but-“
“Hold on,” Jake said. “What if we take Freeground Alpha to a planet that can sustain life, drop everyone off there, then send it on to a hiding place with the people who won’t leave. We’d be able to ferry the civilians out of the Iron Head Nebula using the D-Drives and they can finish the journey to the Rega Gain system using their wormhole systems.”
“What happens to Freeground Alpha while that’s going on?” Ayan asked.
“I’m sorry, this is cold,” Jake warned. “But it continues on. The people on that station matter, not the thing itself. If it makes it, Haven Shore can deal with it, but I don’t think it’s going to make it through the Nebula, even if we all work our asses off and risk everything.”
“The administration for Freeground Alpha won’t allow their citizens to leave,” Oz said. “I keep hearing that from Freeground Fleet captains.”
“Then we need to put Freeground Alpha in position near a planet that can take their civilian population before we force this solution on them. Politics will get everyone aboard killed. There’s no room for their pride or ignorance.”
“Then we have to find a civilian leader who agrees with you, Jake,” Ayan said. “I’d go, but I need to be here to continue working on the Dimension Drive, developing software that can take advantage of the technology and make it safer to operate.”
“Liara,” Oz said. “I trust her implicitly, and she has the experience. She needs some backup though.”
“Remmy Sands, he knows Freeground and has ranger training. I’m sure there are a couple people he trusts aboard too, so a small group? Four?” Jake asked.
“Yes, and let’s be clear,” Oz said. “We’re putting a group together to stay aboard Freeground Alpha so they can get a better look at the population, find civilian leaders, maybe even find a few who agree that it should be abandoned if another way to the Rega Gain system is found.”
“That’s her mission,” Jake said.
“You realize that Remmy may be as much of a problem as he is an asset, right?”
“How they treat him will tell us a lot about Freeground.”
“Agreed,” Ayan said. “Meanwhile, we’re going to have to scout for a suitable planet fast.”
“The only options I’m aware of already are too far off to be useful. They’re smuggler’s posts and ports run by non-humans, so I can’t help but wonder if that’s the most common kind of settlement in the nebula,” Jake said. “Finding anything else would be better, that kind of situation will cost us.”
“That bad, huh?” Oz asked.
“The only businesses that thrive in those places are the ones you want to hide from civilization,” Jake said. “Worse than bad. We’d be making difficult promises and trading important equipment.”
“Then our scouts had better turn something up in the next week,” Oz said. “With the wide net we’re casting, they should.”
“Here’s hoping. We’ll get Liara and her team together.”
“All right, Jake, Ayan. It’s time for the Triton to show Freeground what Dimension Drive travel looks like. We’re going to start sending our scouts off, then head out. Good hunting, Jake.”
“We’ll be twenty minutes behind you, good hunting, Oz,” Jake replied.
Jake sighed and sat back. “At least we have a plan B now. Something that might work.”
“I know, I was afraid we’d have to push Freeground all the way through the side of the nebula,” Ayan said. “Who gets to tell Liara about her mission?”
“I’ll go get Remmy, you tell Liara what she’ll be doing while we’re away scouting ahead.” Jake knew Ayan wished she was going, it was her kind of diplomatic mission, but she didn’t seem disappointed.
“I think I like her,” Ayan said. “How you got her away from Oz’s bridge staff, I’ll never know.”
“I’m sneaky,” Jake said, standing. His dizziness was almost gone, and the deck felt firm under his feet. “I’ll tell Stephanie to get a shuttle with supplies ready to transport Liara and Remmy to the station. They should appreciate a few crates of dense forma and a container or two of fruit for bribes.”
“Devious,” Ayan said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “Once that’s off, I’ll see you back here for some rest. It’s been a long shift for both of us.”
“Don’t know how much rest we’ll get, but I’ll definitely meet you back here,” he replied, even though he knew they would almost certainly end up sleeping in their own quarters shortly after winding down together for a while.