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Henry Gallant and 
   the Great Ship

Chapter 1
An Unfortunate Turn of Events

 

As soon as the morning watch settled in, Captain Henry Gallant walked onto the Constellation’s bridge. The Officer-of-the-Deck rose and vacated the command chair without speaking. The voyage had lasted long enough for the crew to become accustomed to his routine. Habitually, during the first minutes of the day, he examined the ship’s vital operational parameters from his bedside monitor before going into CIC for a detailed task force sitrep. Blips from the combat space patrol (CSP) were visible on the main viewer. The speakers broadcast communication traffic from distant Hawkeyes. Once he had satisfied himself that all was as it should be, he appeared on the bridge and assessed the more mundane needs for the day. The OOD handed him a list of completed tasks and those that demanded his approval. During this activity, he was lost in contemplation, and no one dared interrupt his train of thought. 

Only after dictating his orders for the day did he relax and give a word of encouragement to the OOD. Then he disappeared below decks for his daily walkabout, where he gauged the temperament of the crew. The hour exercise through the spacecraft carrier allowed him to maintain his fitness. This ritual was the most efficient use of his time since it also allowed him to observe ongoing maintenance and repair activities. On the one hand, the number of administrative duties clamoring for his attention limited his time; on the other, keeping in sync with his ship’s pulse was vital to making good decisions. It brought a faint smile to his lips when he resolved to shift more of the clerical burden onto his XO. Margret Fletcher had a talent for paperwork and was known for her no-nonsense adherence to the regs. Even though he overloaded her of late, she had responded with her usual zeal.

As he passed through compartment after compartment, he dictated audio notes into his comm pin about items that needed attention. He marched along the corridors and stepped through the open hatches, ever mindful of the crew’s attention. Although immersed in his process, the crew discerned that his military instincts were on full alert. He would notice the slightest failure of attention to detail as the men and women went about their jobs. Occasionally, he heard a laugh or good-natured ribbing. That was well. A crew that could laugh while working would faithfully execute their duties.  

He enjoyed the sameness of each day; it reassured him that his world remained rational.

It had been two days since the Constellation had poked her nose into the Ross star system. Gallant congratulated himself on making the deployment from Earth so rapidly. It had been a long and arduous two-month grind, but Task Force 34 was finally ready to relieve Task Force 31 as guardian of this system. 

He shifted his mind back to the disturbing initial surveillance reports that had perplexed him for the last twenty-four hours. Task Force 31 was not visible, which by itself, wasn’t alarming. A planetary body might block their light, though they weren’t responding to radio signals either. Again, they might be on the other side of the star, and the speed of light wasn’t being accommodating. Another calculation percolated into his consciousness. He had sent Hawkeyes out on a sweep of the system. So far, nothing was amiss, but there was confusing radio chatter from the planets indicating that some horrific event had occurred recently.

Gallant returned to the bridge in time to review the latest recon update. None of the information was reassuring. He noticed an anomaly in the data that prickled the hairs on the back of his neck. Though the statistics were mysteriously thin and precariously riddled with contaminated inconsistencies, they were coaxing him toward a disturbing conclusion. He worried his premonition might be correct and ordered the CIC to conduct an AI simulation analysis. It wasn’t long before Commander Fletcher stepped onto the bridge.

“Good morning, Captain,” she said. Then with a frown, she added, “I have the results.” 

Gallant spun in his command chair and cast a concerned eye on her.

She held a tablet by two fingers out in front of her as if she had found it in a vat of something vile.

“Morning XO,” said Gallant, taking the device. Swiping through the screens, he absorbed the information while his heartbeat rose. He wanted to remain calm to reinforce his reputation as imperturbable. He didn’t want Fletcher or anyone else to suspect that he could lose his composure. But he was bursting to rush into CIC. He wanted to review the raw data to verify that it was accurate, but he knew that the analysts would have been meticulous in developing this report.

 

She interrupted his concentration. “You were right, sir.”

“Ha—h’m,” he said, clearing his throat. He took a deep breath and forced himself to appear relaxed.

Fletcher shook her head and prodded, “Looks like an enormous debris field—possibly with escape pods.”

She pointed to the area spread deep throughout the star system’s heart, halfway between planets Bravo and Charlie. The OOD and the chief of the watch inched closer, craning their necks to get a peek at the tablet.

Gallant recalled the disturbing image of the original data. Understanding flooded over him. He visualized what must have taken place, and it took an enormous effort to suppress his emotions.

She scowled. “No sign of Task Force 31.”

Still, he didn’t respond.

She muttered, “That doesn’t necessarily mean . . .”

Everyone on the bridge gazed expectantly at him.

Like a father who returns home to find his front door smashed open, he ordered, “OOD, open a channel to all ships.”

A moment later, the OOD reported, “Channel open to all ships, Commodore.”

“To all ships, this is Commodore Gallant; set general quarters, assume formation diamond 4.4.”

“Aye aye, sir,” came the response from each ship.

The task force split into four strike forces. Captain Jackson of the Courageous led the first strike force designated 34.1. It was followed one light hour behind by 34.2 and 34.3, led by Captain Hernandez of the Indefatigable and Captain Chu of the Inflexible, respectively.  They kept a light-hour separation from each other. Finally, Gallant led Constellation and Invincible in 34.4, another light hour behind the rest. The cruisers and destroyers were split amongst the strike forces. The dispersed strike forces looked like a baseball diamond with the Constellation at home plate.

It took several hours to complete the maneuver. Satisfied that the ships were sufficiently far apart for the majority to survive a blast from the Great Ship’s super-laser, he ordered, “Task Force change course to 030 Mark 2, all ahead full.”

Gallant waited anxiously on the bridge for the entire twenty-four hours it took for the task force to crawl across the Ross star system. Some telltale blips appeared on the scope interspersed within a belt of asteroids. When they were finally close enough, they saw the remains of many half-dead ships. They began picking up distress signals of countless escape pods. Officers and watch-standers on the bridge stared at the viewscreen, trying to glimpse the wreckage.

Gallant’s eye estimated the number of blips. They could only be the remnants of Task Force 31. It was worse than he imagined—a terrible loss of life.

“OOD, prepare med-techs. Send the search and rescue teams to recover the escape pod survivors.”

The initial action report was sent by the senior surviving officer, Captain Raymond. It was sketchy. It couldn’t be called a ‘battle’ report since not a single ship of the task force had fired a shot.

After a brief visit to Constellation’s sickbay, the officer reported to Gallant’s stateroom.

 Raymond was not quite fifty, but his balding head, sunken eyes, and beaked nose made him appear older. His long black mustache with grey flecks drooped, making him appear to frown. His uniform was in tatters, and he had several bandaged injuries that had been tended to by the ship’s surgeon. His thickset body was powerful, but he stood slumped over, pain etched across his face.

“That’s the scorched wreck of my ship, the Dauntless,” said Captain Raymond, pointing to the viewscreen. The broken battlecruiser, along with the crippled remnants of four cruisers and a dozen destroyers, were all that was left of Commodore Pearson’s Task Force 31.

“Commodore Pearson orders were to hold the system at all costs. Admiral Graves had assured him that the Great Ship would not appear. He was told that it would have to protect the Chameleon home planet in the Cygni star system against the Titans. At least that was President Neumann’s thinking after he found out that the Chameleon had only the one Great Ship left.”

 “The United Planets has been in negotiation with the aliens for over a year,” said Gallant. “Was there no progress?”

There was anguish in Raymond’s voice. “None. And the Chameleon were angry.” He paused, dropping his gaze. “The governor told them to shove off, no deal was possible. After that ultimatum, things turned ugly.”

Gallant frowned. “Take your time and start from the beginning.”

Raymond’s words were clipped. “Task Force 31 had one carrier, four battlecruisers, and two cruiser-destroyer squadrons between planets Charlie and Bravo when the Great Ship appeared. They demanded that the United Planets evacuate the star system. Well, you know Pearson, no way that was happening. He sounded battle stations and ordered his ships to disperse to present a minimal target for the Chameleons.”

When Raymond hesitated, Gallant prompted, “What happened next?”

“The action was a disaster—a complete shock. The Chameleon looked at the dispersion as a threat and warned him to stand-down, withdraw, or surrender. After a few minutes, they fired.”

He cast his eyes down.

“The single blast was so devastating that it destroyed nearly all our ships. The blinding light and searing heat crippled my Dauntless and disintegrated most of the task force. The crippled remainders launched escape pods and waited for a follow-up salvo that, mercifully, never came. We hobbled out of the way. I sent a message to the governor on Charlie.” Raymond swallowed hard and furrowed his brow. “The governor’s response was to call it ‘an unfortunate turn of events.’”

 

“I learned later that the Chameleon had threatened to make peace with the Titans if we didn’t yield the system. They must have since it gave them the freedom of action to leave their home world unprotected and deal with us.” He handed Gallant a flash drive. “This contains a plot of the action and the recordings of the communications between our ships and the governor. I’ve stuck my neck out to get this information on the record. You should collect and check the wreckage along with my observations.”

“I understand. Some powerful men in the admiralty will be worried. I will describe the action in a detailed report to be sent to Earth,” said Gallant. He worried about how to keep Task Force 34 from suffering the same fate as their predecessor.

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