Another dubious idea prompted by Terribleminds.
I’m dreaming of home.
I can see endless green and amber fields, feel the grain between my fingers. I hear the distant ringing of the bell bringing us in for dinner. My mother insists on being as old-fashioned as possible, while not skimping on things like transportation and communication. She just keeps the Cyberlink rig in an old writing desk. I love her dearly, all the moreso for her quirks.
I can tell it’s a dream. Everything looks like I’m wearing a big piece of gauze on my head. The sounds are all a bit muffled and the sights are hazy. But it’s a good dream, so why not enjoy it? I can smell Mom’s pot roast, and there’s Jenny, dear sweet Jenny, smiling her bright smile when she sees me coming in the door. She’s helping Mom around the kitchen, learning the trade so to speak, so when we get married she knows how to cook for me.
I’m sitting down when the klaxon goes off.
It’s specifically designed to put a virtual spike in my ear to get me out of whatever dream I’m having, asleep or awake. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. One moment I’m feeling the wood of Mom’s antique dinner table under my hands, the next I’m in my bunk and red lights are flashing. I roll out and am in my uniform pants after about half a second. My boots come on next. I’m pulling on my jacket as I run into the corridor. The brass of my captain’s pins looks angry in the alert lighting. Enlisted folk are scurrying from place to place, heading for battle stations.
I don’t think there was a drill scheduled for tonight. It’s not like Commander Weston to pull one at this hour of the rotation. Something isn’t right.
I get to the command center in the heart of the ship. It’s a vaguely circular room with a couple raised diases around what we call the pool table, where Commander Weston and his XO are studying a tactical display. The helm’s in the pit on the far side of the room. I step down into the cold steel ditch and relieve the chief petty officer at the helm. The second I bring up the navigational array I see the problem.
The Argo is making her way through an asteroid field. I remember telling Weston we’d have to drop out of neg-space to get through it without damaging the ship. This far out, we all know even a stray rock the size of my fist can damage us catastrophically. That isn’t what surprises me. It’s the heat signature on the far side of the field. In space, the slightest bit of ambient energy can be as much a beacon as a flare held up in a darkened room.
Whatever it is, it’s turning towards us on an intercept course.
Weapons crews are reporting in. Point-defense laser batteries, ready. Missile tubes, ready. Main cannon loading crew, ready. I give Commander Weston a nod. I have a part to play in all of this, as well.
The Argo, moving with as much velocity as she does, isn’t really apt to stop on a dime. I need to fire maneuvering and retro thrusters very quickly if hard light and rockets start flying around.
“Line them up, Mr. Frimantle.”
Weston doesn’t have to tell me twice. I get the Argo on a course to clear the asteroids and turn her to face to oncoming heat bloom. Her main gun is a mass driver the length of the ship, and all of the aiming happens at my helm console. I think of my dream, the farm at home, my dad taking me out to show me how to line up a rifle’s sights.
I’m telling Weston we’re ready to fire when the transmission comes in.
It’s a loud, screeching thing, high-pitched chattering and scratching. Nobody can make heads or tails of it as it is. But Natasha’s on it. We brought a linguist along just in case something like this happened. Everybody back home scoffs at the idea of intelligent life out here. The eggheads know better. They’ve given us all sorts of contingencies for just about everything, from encountering alien artifacts to running low on food.
I’m not taking any chances, though. I flip up the red cover from the firing switch for the main cannon. We’re lined up. The unknown heat signature’s barreling down on us. I look over my shoulder at Natasha. She’s attractive, sure, but her dark hair always reminds me of Jenny. I wonder, for a moment, what she and my parents are doing now, then wrench myself back to the situation in front of me. I’ve been in combat before, but this is new. I know what to expect from Terran ships and their operators, not so much something no human’s ever seen before.
The visual sensors blink to life in the monitors above the pool table. The thing is spherical, unlike the Argo’s construction of rotating rings around the propulsion & weapons pillar. Spires and odd antennae sprout from all angles. It’s engines seem to be situated in grooves that divide the ship into quarters. Occasionally I see a flare of light and I wonder if it’s a weapon or an engine firing. But nothing’s blown up yet. No damage or casualty reports. The tension in the CIC’s thicker than summer haze in the fields at noon.
Natasha looks up from her console. Her big blue eyes are wide. She takes a deep breath.
We’re all holding ours.