July 31st, Year 4 OS - New Coruscant
“This is an affront to the dignity of the Empire!” Admiral Wildemuth bellowed, his face red with rage as he gestured towards the hologram floating above their conference table. “These creatures fired on an Imperial vessel without provocation. It is our duty to respond in kind, immediately, and with overwhelming force!”
Moff Wolfe leaned back in his seat and watched the faces of his senior commanders, only half listening to the rant which had been ongoing in some variation for the better part of an hour. Everyone was tired. The destruction of Prospector 001 had hit the sector like a hammer blow, shattering the illusion of safety that had formed over their years of isolation.
“You aren’t listening to her!” General Vanluven shouted back, meaning Admiral Tomey whose current grimace was the closest thing Fabian had ever seen to outright agitation directed at her superior. “You can’t take the whole fleet to this Udibi system because we can’t jump the Tartans. Your precious fleet is stuck right here with the rest of us until Colossus finishes stabilizing the Charis node.”
“We still have eight Raiders. Every Astrogator can carry two along in a simultaneous transit. That is more than enough firepower to make short work of three ships.”
“Three ships moving at 5237 kps?” Vanluven shot back. “That’s what, 30% faster than our Raiders? I may be a dumb ground pounder but that sounds like a problem.”
“Gentlemen, please,” Fabian said, rubbing his forehead against the palm of his hand.
Admiral Wildemuth either didn’t hear or chose to ignore him. “I have every confidence in Captain Bethune of the 17th Raiders to handle whatever those ships can throw at them. She is one of my best combat commanders. A true member of the old guard. We served together under Grand Moff Tarkin, you know. Now there was a man who wouldn’t sit idly by while blue blooded servants of the Empire were being murdered by degenerate alien scum!”
“Admiral,” Fabian snapped. “That’s enough! Another dig like that one and I will send you personally as my ambassador to these aliens aboard an unarmed garbage scow. The Emperor appointed me Supreme Commander of this sector, not you, and while I don’t expect you to agree with all of my decisions, I will not tolerate such blatant insubordination. Is that clear?”
Admiral Wildemuth grunted and, for the first time in what seemed like eternity, said nothing.
“Now,” said Fabian clasping his hands on the table in front of him. “Does anyone have a suggestion that is actually useful?”
“Reconnaissance,” said Major Tawana Rieken. It was the first time she had spoken up since the start of the meeting. “With all due respect, Admiral,” she didn’t sound respectful at all, “If we go off half-cocked and charge in guns blazing, against a foe that’s demonstrated clearly superior technology, then we’ll deserve to get our asses kicked up between our ears.”
“Okay,” Fabian nodded. “How do we do that? We can’t send a ship. It will get blown to pieces.”
The moment of silence dragged out so long that he almost wanted them to start yelling again before Admiral Tomey got a thoughtful look on her face and said, “Probe droids.”
Since she didn’t seem about to say anything else Fabian gestured impatiently. “Yes?”
“You know that Star Destroyers carry special launch pods so that they can fire probe droids towards distant planets?”
Fabian had no idea but he said, “Yes, of course.”
“What if we did something like that? Maybe if we stripped down the droids. We don’t need all the armor and weapons and planet based capabilities if we’re just firing them into space. We could probably fit the important bits into a concussion missile. Then our raiders could launch them from their external racks.”
“Now that,” said Fabian, rising to his feet, “is an actually useful suggestion.”
Missile Size: 4.00 MSP (10.000 Tons) Warhead: 0 Radiation Damage: 0 Manoeuvre Rating: 10 Speed: 3,000 km/s Fuel: 1,000 Flight Time: 428 hours Range: 4,618.8m km Active Sensor Strength: 0.6 EM Sensitivity Modifier: 6 Resolution: 60 Maximum Range vs 3000 ton object (or larger): 4,190,761 km Cost Per Missile: 1.18 Development Cost: 118 Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 30% 3k km/s 10% 5k km/s 6.0% 10k km/s 3.0%
October 13th - Year 4 OS - Exeter
The general quarters klaxon jolted Commander Ruben Bouchey out of a sound sleep. His body responded faster than his brain and he was out of bed and putting on his boots before he remembered that he was not an ensign on the Star Destroyer Implacable and there was not a Rebel strike group presently bearing down on them. He was the much older captain of Imperial survey ship Prospector 002 and whatever triggered this alarm was probably much worse.
Bouchey was on the observation deck within thirty seconds. “What have we got?” He asked the night watch officer of the deck as he reached the top of the stairs.
“Not sure, sir,” the Chief replied, “But it looks like a space station to me.” He gestured towards the command monitors, one of which was presently displaying a poorly scaled diagram of the five planets orbiting the K-type star Exeter. Another showed a pale blue-brown planet through a telescope with a faint glint of light off metal just above its horizon. “Came up on our thermals a few seconds ago. Should I go active?”
“No.” Bouchey replied, shaking his head for emphasis. “They might not have seen us yet. No sense broadcasting our position.”
Prospector 002 had been in New Coruscant when the memo went out from Exploration Command warning all ships to be on alert for anything out of the ordinary in the systems they were assigned to survey.
Exeter lay just beyond Semichi in an entirely different chain of jump nodes than the Udibi system where Prospector 001 met her fate. If these were the same aliens that meant there was either a back way connecting the two systems or enemy forces might be regularly traveling through Charis. Either way it posed a huge threat to the Empire’s plans for Semichi.
“Turn the ship around and get us out of here as quickly and quietly as you can. We have to get this information back to New Coruscant.”
January 4th, Year 5 OS - Exeter
Commander Ruben Bouchey felt every drop of sweat running down his collar as he stood on the observation deck and watched the probe droids crawling across Exeter on his monitors. It was 0130 ship’s time and he had been standing here for more than twelve hours. He was tired and hungry, his back ached and he wanted a caf more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life, but he wasn’t about to step away even for a moment as the arrival estimate on the droids ticked down into the single digits.
Prospector 002 had survived the hellish 17-day flight from the inner planets of Exeter out to the jump node on the edge of the system. Those two weeks, hounded by the fear of unseen alien fast attack ships, were probably the longest two weeks in the life of every sailor onboard. Certainly of his own.
By some fortune, Astrogator 003 had arrived in Semichi almost the same time as they did and was still near enough to the Charis node to hop right back through. Otherwise it would have taken him weeks to get his message home. Charis had been seeded with Holonet transceivers in preparation for the colonization of Semichi so the message traveled FTL to New Coruscant as soon as Astrogator 003 made the jump.
A few hours later the ship returned with a personal message for him from Admiral Tomey. She ordered him to proceed at best possible speed to the Charis-Semichi node and await the arrival of Captain Cheryl Bethune’s 17th Raiders. He would then escort them back through Semichi to Exeter to recon the system and ascertain the threat to the colony.
Bouchey had not met Captain Bethune before. The COs of the sector’s battle squadrons didn’t tend to rub elbows with the junior commanders of survey ships. His first impression upon meeting her was that she was the kind of officer who gave the Imperial Navy a bad reputation and stirred up sympathy for the Rebels wherever she went, but that was the kind of thing you didn’t even think too loudly unless you wanted to get shot, so he smiled and nodded and tried to be as pleasant as possible over the weeks of their journey together.
Now, Prospector 002 and the 1st Division of the 17th Raiders, Blaster and Firewalker, hung off the Exeter-Semichi jump node where they had been sitting like fat oblivious nerfs for the last fifteen days while the probes fell towards their targets in the inner system.
“It shouldn’t be long now,” Captain Bethune said from his rightmost monitor. “We’re about to learn if you really saw something out here or ran scared from your own shadow.” Her brown eyes pierced him like knives and he tried not to visibly grit his teeth.
“It will be there,” he said, more confidently than he felt. If the alien vessel had moved that was probably the end for him. Captain Bethune would make it her personal project to torpedo his career faster than Prospector 001. Ruben Bouchey the coward, who wasted two months and untold fuel and equipment on a mynock hunt because he was too shaken by the news from Udibi to do his job properly, would never be handed a warship command. He’d be lucky to keep Prospector 002.
The monitor chirped at him. He turned his head and saw that the probe was still several minutes out from Exeter III but its active sensors had just picked up a 16000 ton contact in orbit. Right where he’d said it would be. The computer designated the strange vessel “Arbalest.”
Captain Bethune wasn’t about to apologize for doubting him, of course. They watched in silence as all three probes achieved their assigned orbits. The Arbalest was the only vessel on active sensors and it made no attempt to shoot down the probe. Either they hadn’t seen it or just didn’t care that it had joined them.
“Well,” Bouchey said after another minute of studying the readout. “It looks like my Chief was right. This thing definitely looks like a station or platform of some kind. It’s probably immobile.”
“It’s probably unarmed,” Captain Bethune snapped.
Bouchey ignored her. “Hard to say whether it belongs to the Udibi aliens or not, without knowing more about their technology. It does seem pretty likely that if someone went to the trouble of building a station out here they must have mobile forces, but those aren’t hanging around the planets.”
Bethune snorted. “Commander, your ship has spent nearly two months in this system. If they had mobile forces you would be dead.” She looked away and then back at the camera. “This exercise is worse than useless. I told Admiral Wildemuth as much. What have we learned here? Nothing! We know as much as we did before we jumped in. Frankly, this whole affair is ridiculous. We are officers in the Imperial Navy and the Imperial Navy does not skulk about in fear of unarmed space stations!”
Bouchey was afraid he knew where this was going even before she said it.
“I’m taking my division to investigate and engage the enemy.”
“Ma’am, our orders…”
“I am giving you new orders, Commander.” Her glower could have stripped paint. “Remain here at the jump node since you lack the backbone to accompany me. You can monitor the situation from safety. Should we be taken unawares by alien ships, you can report back to New Coruscant with more useful data on the enemies capabilities than we would get from a hundred probe droids.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Bouchey said. He didn’t need caf anymore, he needed a drink.
Even the swift Raider corvettes couldn’t make the passage to Exeter III in less than a week, so Bouchey had plenty of time to stew in his apprehensions. It was now mid-morning on the seventh day. Both corvettes were running dark to minimize emissions but Captain Bethune had an FTL tactical feed from Blaster piped directly into Prospector 002’s databanks in case it needed to be returned to New Coruscant. He had it mirrored one of his displays.
The Raider division closed to within 45 million kilometers before a blood chilling alert sounded from the tactical display. Blaster’s thermal sensors had detected thirty-six fast moving objects shrieking in towards the corvettes at almost 34000 kps. Behind them came thirty six more.
Both corvettes engaged their active sensors, searching for a target that wasn’t there. Forty five seconds later it was over. Captain Bethune hadn’t fired a single shot. Her division died more than ten million kilometers outside concussion missile range of the alien station.
“Sir,” a petty officer called up from the pit. “We’ve got escape pods.”
“I see them,” Bouchey replied. His tactical feed had died with Blaster but the escape pods broadcast location and status information on the FTL bands. According to the computer there were ninety two Imperial sailors in those pods. An impressive number considering how short a time they’d had to evacuate.
Ninety two Imperial sailors. Most of them probably decent men and women who surely didn’t deserve Captain Bethune.
“Helm,” he said. “Take us back to Semichi. Do it now.”