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 Commander Henry Gallant

Chapter 1
Methane Planet 

 

As the warp bubble collapsed, the Warrior popped out on the edge of the Gliese-581star system. The Warrior was Captain Henry Gallant’s first command, the culmination of everything he’d worked for since entering the academy. With a rocket-shaped hull over one hundred meters long, she boasted stealth technology, a sub-light antimatter engine, and an FTL dark-matter drive.

Gallant gawked. “What an awesome sight.”

The busy bridge crew stole their eyes away from their instrument panels long enough to gaze in amazement at the Titan civilization. The many ships traveling between planets were remarkable, but the energy readings of the densely populated planets were off the charts.

From his command chair, Gallant focused on the home of his alien enemy. The star was an M-class red dwarf—smaller, cooler, and less massive than Sol, at about twenty light-years from Earth.

“Sir,” said the astrogator, “we’re three light-days from the sun. Five planets are visible.”

“It’s like the solar system,” marveled Midshipman Stedman, an eager but green officer. His slight build and round, boyish face often seemed to get lost amid the bustle of the more experienced crew.

“If you don’t notice that the sun is ruby instead of amber and that there are only five planets,” chided Chief Howard. The oldest member of the crew, he was a seasoned veteran with a slight potbelly. He wore his immaculate uniform with pride. Every ribbon, insignia, and star on his left breast had a long and glorious story. He was only too glad to retell the stories—with appropriate embellishments—over a whiskey, preferably Jack Daniels.

The astrogator said, “Only two planets are within the liquid methane zone. But some of the asteroids and moons may have been methane-formed.”

 “Wow, the system is full of mining colonies, military bases, and communications satellites. The spaceship traffic is amazing. There must be many thousands of ships,” said Stedman.

The astrogator reported, “Scans on the second and third planets show billions of beings. The second planet has the greatest energy density. I’ll bet that’s their planet of origin.”

“Quite likely,” acknowledged Gallant, his curiosity aroused.

“An imposing presence, Skipper,” said Roberts. Young and garrulous, Roberts had steady nerves and sound professional judgment. He was of average height with brown hair, a lean, smooth face, and a sturdy body. Gallant had come to trust him as a stalwart friend—something one only discovers during a crisis. That moment had come several months earlier when Roberts put his career and his life on the line for Gallant.

“It has one large moon,” added Chief Howard.

Gliese-Beta was a majestic ringed planet wrapped in a dense hydrocarbon nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It was opaque to blue light but transparent to red and infrared. The red dwarf's infrared warmed the planet and made it habitable for methane lifeforms. Gliese-Gamma was similar.

The astrogator continued, “The next two planets are gas giants with several moons. Gliese-Delta is composed of hydrogen and helium with volcanic methane moons, much like our Neptune. Gliese-Epsilon is a low-mass planet with a climate model like a runaway greenhouse effect—analogous to our Venus.”

“That’s interesting,” said Roberts.

Encouraged, the astrogator concluded his report, “The system includes a disk-shaped asteroid field.”

The Warrior used its radars and telescopes to plot the planets’ orbits. The CIC team computed the course of nearby contacts. The Warrior’s emission spectrum was controlled in stealth mode.

“What’s your assessment of their military strength?” asked Gallant.

The CIC team listed the large and small warships, followed by planetary defenses. They added an estimate of the traffic flow. It was a long list.

 OOD said, “Here is the compiled reported, sir.”

“Very well,” acknowledged Gallant as he scanned the tablet.

The sub-light engines drove the ship onward into the heart of the system.

Calculating their flight path, the astrogator reported, “We’ll reach the asteroids in about forty-eight hours, sir.”

Gallant tapped the screen to call up the AI settings for plot control and touched the destination. He ordered a deep-space probe sent toward the largest asteroids.

“It’ll take several hours to start transmitting, sir.”

Gallant said, “Once we get a base established, we can go deeper into their system. I’m interested in seeing how their home planet differs from our solar system. We need to learn about their society and leadership structure.”

Roberts asked, “Skipper, we’ve always called them Titans, but what do they call themselves?”

Gallant said, “I can’t replicate their name in our language. As autistic savants, their communication is different from our speech. We’ll continue to call them Titans.”

The CIC team reported, “Our initial assessment shows that Gliese-Beta has a diverse topology and climate. It’s ecologically rich with many species. Extensive methane oceans and landmasses have abundant soil and temperature conditions. It can support a wide variety of methane-breathing lifeforms.”

Roberts said, “It’s so different from our water-rich Earth.”

“Earth is mostly water,” said Gallant. “The oceans provide us with fish to eat, water vapor to fill our skies with clouds, rain to nurture our crops, and water for us to drink. Our metabolism and food cycle are water-based, and we ourselves are 97 percent water. For us, water is life.”

“How does this methane world sustain the Titans?” asked Roberts

Gallant said, “The temperature variations provide methane in all three phases: gas, liquid, and solid. Methane rivers freeze at high latitudes to form polar sheets. The methane cycle is a complex molecular soup. It is formed from reactions when the ultraviolet radiation from the sun strikes the methane. Their methane life forms are comparable to our oxygen-based life cycle. And just as methane is a poison to us, oxygen is toxic to them.”

Roberts asked, “Are they autistic savants because of the methane-based chemistry?”

“That’s one of the things we’re here to learn. Our first task is to establish a base,” said Gallant. “From that hideout, the Warrior can recharge her stealth battery and remain safe between operations.”

Maintaining stealth mode, the Warrior approached the outer edge of the asteroid belt. She conducted a spiral search to map the interrelated defenses. The crew looked for an asteroid large enough to hide the ship.

Gallant and the XO combed through the CIC data to check for potential locations.

“How about here, sir?” asked one of the analysts, pointing to a cluster near the outer perimeter of the field. The asteroid belt included many asymmetrical rocky bodies. Three smaller clusters skirted the outer edge. Some asteroids were more than one kilometer wide.

“Yes, that might do,” said Gallant. “It’s large enough to block radar detection and shield us from view while we’re recharging. We’ll call this base Alamo."

Gallant ordered a two-man team to construct a relay station on the asteroid. He left one of the Warrior’s remote-controlled drones on the surface along with a supply depot.

Once Alamo was established, he settled the Warrior into orbit behind the rocks to recharge her stealth batteries.

The next day, they reconnoitered the fifth planet and discovered a communication junction box. Moving deeper into Titan territory, they caught a bird’s-eye view of the alien’s home planet. They saw several orbiting shipyards and space stations.

The Warrior collected information about the Titan fleet and civilization. The bridge crew was surprised at the incredible infrastructure the aliens had developed. Operating in such a populated environment was a challenge, but the cloaking technology allowed the Warrior to remain undetected.

What followed were busy days as the Warrior peered into the inner workings of the Titan system. The crew compiled detailed lists of warships and their deposition, as well as their refueling and patrolling pattern. They learned shipping traffic patterns, monitored the industrial capacity, and accumulated population statistics. There were over twenty billion inhabitants. The Titans had built their main military headquarters on the third planet. It had a layered defense with satellites, minefields, and overlapping fortresses. A display showed fluctuating energy emissions for their industry.

After two weeks of collecting information, Roberts approached Gallant’s command chair. He asked, “Captain, can you give us your game plan going forward?”

Gallant recalled Admiral Collingsworth’s orders detailing their hazardous mission. All of which required his stealth ship and crew to be at peak operational and battle readiness.

He said, “Yes. It’s time to fill you in. We’ve collected a lot of info, but scouting isn’t our sole mission. I intend to do more. Much more.”

The bridge crew leaned closer, eager to drink in every tidbit of juicy news.

He said, “We are finally ready to engage in asymmetric warfare. We will penetrate the Titan communication network to learn about their military deployment.”

He paused for dramatic effect as everyone drew in a deep breath. “And we will raid commercial shipping to throw their civilian population into turmoil.”

A buzz of excitement filled the bridge.

“That’s a tall order, Skipper,” said Roberts.

“Yes, it is.” Gallant asked, “Are you up for it?”

“Can do, sir!” said Roberts.

“Can do, sir!” roared the bridge crew.

Commander Julie Ann McCall stepped out of CIC and onto the bridge. She walked straight to Gallant and grabbed his arm.

She said, “I must speak to you immediately.”

McCall was not a line officer. She was a product of genetic engineering who had inherited tendencies of the most diabolical kind, which made her a talented Solar Intelligence Agency (SIA) operative. Her considerable skills in manipulation and deception had fostered her brilliant career.

What she lacked in kindness and empathy, she more than made up for in intellect, guile, and allure.

 

She was astonishingly efficient at analyzing an opponent’s flaws. Some who had felt her cold-blooded sting labeled her a sociopath who would do anything to achieve her goals.

Gallant’s long and checkered relationship with her remained a riddle to him.

Now he gazed into her blazing eyes, and then he looked down at her hand on his arm.

She pulled her hand away but repeated, “I need to speak with you privately.”

The commotion on the bridge died down and the two senior officers became the focus of attention.

Gallant rose from his command chair, and said, “Commander, please come with me.”

All eyes on the bridge followed the pair as they left.

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