Doom of the Bok Globule


Posts: 519

Edited: by Gnome
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Doom of the Bok Globule
Part 1
by DWPenner @GNOME

“Okay Karly, this jump might get rough so let's go through it again. Five seconds after jump initialization, launch the first probe if the automatic system or Julie doesn't, then every five seconds make sure the sensors are being dropped and reading. If the launches stop, make sure the second launcher started automatically, start it manually, or tell me and hit the alert button I rigged. Then every ten minutes launch a probe and repeat until we come out of Jump-Space or are destroyed. Either way, stop.”

“Yes Sir! If this jump takes over 40 minutes 5 seconds? Mr. Gnome?”

“I guess we just keep flying.”

“Anyway, we're here now you're qualified for the job as best as I know. Shall we get underway? This 'cursed' doubled Jump-Point of the Wedding Veil system will either kill us, maroon us, make us rich or make us famous. Possibly a combination. I just hope it's one we like.” Gnome reached for the controls.”

“Sir, shouldn't you wait for the acknowledgement from Karly? You've been travelling solo too long and forgotten your manners. It is customary that when you ask your crew if they are ready, you give them opportunity to answer before committing to a jump, except in dire emergency.” Julie, the ship's conciergeAI system was talking discretely to Gnome

Karly called up from the hold where an instrument monitoring station had been set up in the Aegis Avenger. The back seat would be empty this flight. “Gnome, all instruments are ready and I'm ready too. Give the word and jump!”

Gnome whispered to Julie, “Thanks Jules, I am getting rusty with my social skills.”

To Karly he called down, “Okay, ready to jump in 10 seconds, on one second after 2: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, JUMP!”

There was a familiar feeling in the pit of the stomach like being in micro-gravity the first time and at the same time a thump in the chest like being hit by the near subsonic of a heavy engine firing nearby. Then the light show like all dark space became the inside of an emission nebula and the stars faded to black points of light looking like dimples. There was a larger dimple and the ship was drawn towards it. Not towards it's centre though it was like a love hate relationship. We were being drawn to the the skin around that dimple surrounded point. We just had to miss it at the right place.

Shortly the crazy rainbow colours of the ring around the dimple showed right on cue indicating the JRT-4 was on it's way into the jump-point. We wanted to find a magenta coloured area on the ring and avoid blue or any cool colour at this point in the jump. Red, orange, and yellows would be a very tough ride. There was a colour guide on the HUD based on the trip in to Wedding Veil. It was only approximate due to the complexity of the system. Well, nobody had ever tried jumping the Beta Jump from here. They had always followed the known Mote Jump. I fine tuned the jump missing the Mote Jump which would have been in the Greens and about 100 km away from this Jumping-Point.

Where was that first probe? It was to try hit the Mote Jump-Point from within the Beta threshold. It must be five seconds by now?

“First Probe off. Receiving telemetry. Signal strong down wire tether. Probe appears on trajectory to theoretical location of Mote Jumping-Point. Tether spool running empty. Tether loss. Signal dropping geometrically by power of 4. Loss of signal. That seems it for that probe Sir. We shall continue monitoring its frequency bands however.” Julie had been giving post launch on the probe.

Karly hopefully was monitoring the sensor pods we were dropping off. They were small, and cheap — not quite as cheap as chaff, but even if the signal strength dropped to the power of 4, the sensor pods had a hive network system so they relayed from pod to pod to pod — all the way back to the ship. They would disintegrate after a short while so as not to be a navigation hazard in space or jump-space.

“Sir, Karly is calling.”

“Gnome, the pods are reporting and as hoped for they are stringing themselves along the wake of the probe between the probe and us — travelling much slower though.”

“Karly, if you have time, do a preliminary scan over the incoming data. See if you can tell if the probe jumped or was destroyed.”

“Will do, Sir!”

“Jules, I am going to have to break her of calling me 'Sir' all the time. I know she just mustered out, but I'm not an officer any more.”

“Sir, at least she isn't saluting any more.”

“There is that Jules.”

o o o

Karly couldn't remember a jump that went quite as rough as this one and she had been through plenty with her duty time in the Navy and in UEE Advocacy Service. The cargo hold of the Avenger had been fitted out with much of the inner workings of an RSI Aurora cockpit. That included the pilot's seat. She was assured it would in emergency eject out the cargo door to the aft. She was grateful for the five-point harness and the soundly mounted chair. The HUD system was fully functional as well and the seat allowed her to wear a fully functional armoured EVA suit. Controls had been jury rigged to accommodate the missile-like probes and the chaff-like sensor pods.

“Hey Jules, could I fly this ship from back here?” Karly asked jokingly.

“I don't see why not, Ma'am. The cockpit is fully functional and the ship is fly-by-wire so it is a matter of ensuring the ship would accept the commands through it's firewalls. I can... have just made allowances. However locks against such usage are in place unless orders are given by Gnome allowing their use or dire emergency happen.” Advised the ship's conciergeAI.

“Umm, thanks Jules. You never know when something like that might come in handy.”

Karly thought to herself, “That really makes me a back-seat-pilot.” She went on to make sure the probe was functioning properly and the tether was in order until it ran out or broke while she monitored the dropping of the pods.

“Jules, who designed this equipment? These pods and the probes aren't off-the-rack even if the casings are.”

Julie answered perhaps a bit quickly, “Gnome has a supplier from a research company on Stanton. They let him try out 'special' equipment providing he gives a proper operations evaluation report on it as an advanced field test. He is experienced in such testing areas and it doesn't contravene any official secret's act oaths he might or might not have taken.”

“Interesting.” thought Karly.

o o o

The magenta he had been following faded to white. Gnome knew that meant it might go yellow or might go green. Either was rough and so he looked for an alternate route nearby to head for. Currents in the gravitational stream would make it hard to slide over, but it could be done and best be done. He made sure the recorders were running.

“Karly! Dog your helmet and tighten your webbing, this is going to get a little rough!”

“How Bad?” Karly shouted into the comm even as she double-checked her helmet and five-point seat harness.

“You'll be glad you're not actually in an Aurora and maybe gladder you aren't in a cap'tal ship.”

The ship started shaking violently as Gnome started sliding from the now white area on the edge of the pit to one that was vaguely fuchsia that he noted looked like it might be heading towards magenta.

“...but make sure the probes and pods are launching!” Gnome added, calling down to Karly.

Alarm bells began to sound.

“Gnome! Inertial-dampener compensator sensor failing. Am compensating with gravity field sensor and AI... and back-up AI circuitry, but that will fail with overuse. That is why there is about to be an increase in shak...”

Julie was drowned out by the sound created by the increased shaking.

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Doom of the Bok Globule Commentary

  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Edited: by Gnome
    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 2
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    Then the shaking and vibration stopped.

    “Jules, what happened, I haven't reached a magenta slide yet?” Shouted Gnome — adrenalin still pumping.

    “Sir, please take a few deep breaths and concentrate on your piloting. ...I simply realized that the inertia-dampeners in the Aurora Cockpit actually had some superior vibration suppression capabilities. They were very robustly engineered so I routed the JR's control signals through them taking into account the minor signal delays due to the routing. Now that the buffeting is limited, we won't have as many chances of system failure. Normally, the Avengers are a superior craft for such extreme treatment, I recommend having the part analyzed. ...There, I note your breathing within normal parameters for the situation. Karly calling.”

    “Everything okay up there Mr... er Gnome? That was some shakeup.”

    “Everything is fine Karly. I'll have Jules give you a damage report on your HUD, but the inertia-dampeners gave out and Julie improvised. Is everything okay down there?” Responded Gnome.

    “Yes, and it seems that the first probe didn't jump, it just went out of range. Or it might have gone out of range and jumped. It is still 6 minutes to the second probe launch. We are getting interesting data from the pods. Once they lost the probe they went into a search pattern in formation with us — riding our 'wake', so-to-speak. We've lost a bunch, but those reporting are reporting very interesting data. It is much more complicated than we expected. The level of complication that going from two bodies to three bodies gives in orbital mechanics, but an order of magnitude greater in this 5th dimensional environment.

    I worked better actually while talking. When things got very intense I would completely stop interacting, but as contradictory as it might sound, it helped me focus on the task at hand. We had now slipped onto a stable deep magenta band. It was twisting like a flag in a strong breeze, but both I and the ship could handle it. The Aurora's inertia-dampeners handled the intense vibration and shaking the ship otherwise would have been going through like a trooper.

    Finally the first 10 minutes were up and Jules and Karly announced the launch simultaneously. Jules gave the telemetry replay:

    “First Probe off. Receiving telemetry. Signal strong down wire tether. Probe appears on trajectory to theoretical location of Mote Jumping-Point. Tether spool running smoothly. Signal loss. We shall continue monitoring its frequency bands however."

    Karly reported, “The pods are following the probe path. They've started vanishing too, but the point is rapidly growing out of range even with their network. I have started analyzing the probe's last data telemetry.”

    The shaking was still very intense and we were relying on the old Aurora's components to hold our Avenger together. That would do until the apparent pit of the Jump-Point seemed to turn into a bubble. That was as expected with any jump. Then we'd switch over to a chartreuse path for the rest of the journey being careful to dodge anomalies in the flow. It should be smoother going; the further we got from the area of instability. The Jump-Point was fairly normal on the Beta side just as it was — apparently — on the Mote side. It seemed only on the Wedding Veil side that it was anomalous.

    Gnome did wonder about the missing halves of the two carriers in the Beta system. Beta wasn't its real name. Its designation was “K 9e0 fr8 1dd 88k – Beta”. It was a small, insignificant system with a single, ringed, super-jovian planet. Gnome had found two derelicts adrift within the rings of the planet. There was the front half of a Siberian Class Carrier and the back half of a Bengal Class Carrier. Gnome investigated and found their names were the Magellan and the Drake.

    The Magellan had been lost thirteen years ago on a mission involving jumping from Wedding Veil to Mote. The last thing known was that it entered the Jump-Point. Three years later the Drake was sent to track down what happened to the Magellan. During the war years, a dozen years ago, there weren't the resources to search for the Magellan. When the Drake disappeared, finances wouldn't allow sending a task force after the two carriers and they were written off along with their crews.

    I knew there had to be some connection between the Wedding Veil system and Beta so I searched for a Jump-Point other than the one I had come to the Beta system through. I found this one and being a foolhardy explorer type took the Jump-Point. The jump led to the Wedding Veil system as predicted. I discovered that it overlapped the Jump-Point for Mote in such a way that small ships might make it through to Mote, but large capital ships would be caught between them.

    Knowing about it I figured out how to choose to take the Beta Jump-Point instead of the Mote one. Now I wanted to test my theories and do some experiments on the way back.

    As predicted things smoothed out to be like the typical jump trip. When we popped back into normal space the travel time was a slightly long 35 minutes just as it was heading the other way. I had another purpose to this trip. I wanted to pick up the MIAB Beacon I left in the Beta system with my logs and other information. The Message In A Bottle Beacon was a come-by-chance system that spacers used if they felt they wouldn't survive to return to a base or civilization hoping that someone would come upon it. The MIAB had a fairly powerful transmitter, but space is very large.

    I wanted the MIAB back partly so my death wasn't announced prematurely in certain circles, but also because some information was best kept private until I actually passed — permanently. In these days a man might die a dozen deaths before that last permanent one — as long as enough body was left to put together and there was enough brain to hold enough mind to make it worthwhile.

    o o o

    Thirty five minutes, thirty-two seconds. That was the duration of this anomalous jump. Karly cut the countdown on the final missile-like probe in case they wanted it later. She had already cut the drop of sensor pods.

    “Jules, could you double-check my calculations and run statistical simulations and analysis based on my conclusions. Actually, I know you've been looking over my shoulder and checking my calculations already but have been very polite about it. Do the statistical simulations though please. I want to report my conclusion to Gnome before you do, okay.”

    “I have no problem with that Ma'am. I presume you are buzz him right now?” Responded the ship conciergeAI.

    “Right-e-oh Jules. Be in the cockpit in a shake, announce me please.”

    I was beside Myself with the discovery. It was well worth the danger of the jump. Gnome's face popped up in a corner of the HUD with a questioning look on his face indicating that Jules hadn't ruined my spot of news. I made note of that. Good AI.

    “Gnome, you won't believe the outcome of the preliminary calculations!”

    “Try me Karly. I've had some speculations, which were why I tried this whole adventure — besides picking up my MIAB.”

    “Gnome! There aren't ten Jump-Points around Wedding Veil! There are eleven!”

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  • Gnome

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 3
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    “Could you repeat that Karly? I thought I heard you say there were 11 Jump-Points in the Wedding Veil system?” Excitedly queried Gnome.

    Karly repeated over the comm from the cargo hold, “Affirmative Gnome, We detected not one but two other Jump-Points overlapping the Jump-Point to Beta. That means in addition to the Wedding Veil–Beta and Wedding Veil-Mote Jump-Point entrances, there is a third unknown one overlapping those two.”

    “That comes as a relief Karly. It explains an awful lot.”

    “How do you mean, Gnome? I can understand it being an exciting discovery that will put us in the journals, but a relief?” Karl responded with confusion.

    “Two halves of two wrecked carriers might have been carried into Beta's gas giant or into Beta itself, but there are a large number of auxiliary craft that at least in Drake's case were manned when they shot the point. They had to go somewhere and unlike a floundering broken carrier, at least some should have gotten a message off or escaped the fate of the missing parts of the carriers. I figured that if the carriers broke up in the interspace between Jump-Point and destination, the wreckage would end up at the destination. It might be pulverized, but it would make it through.” Gnome explained.

    He continued, “No wreckage appeared at Mote and we found only half the wreckage at Beta. Nothing somehow freakishly rebounded back to Wedding Veil either as far as we know. That really left only the possibility of a third overlapping Jump-Point!”

    “Do you know what this means Karly!”

    “I'm not sure I follow, Gnome...”

    “Karly, he means that there is hope there were survivors, but they couldn't return through the gate for some reason.” Julie the ship's conciergeAI volunteered.

    “Exactly.” Said a satisfied and somewhat cheerful sounding Gnome.

    o o o

    Karly let Gnome take his time going over her results while she herself tried to see if there were ways she could fine tune them. She pondered if the one probe the had left could be launched on the way back to Wedding Veil — knowing when and where to launch it — in order to refine the locations of all three gates.

    “I know I can refine it further,” she thought, “but only for one or two of the gates with the one probe. I really need at least one more and three total would be grand.”

    “Hello, Gnome.”

    “Yes Karly?”

    “I can refine the location of one gate with the remaining probe we have. You'll have to chose which. If I had more probes I could do much better. However there's no 'Probes are Us' outlet in Beta, is there?”

    Karly was rather surprised at the reply Gnome gave over the comm.

    “Well, actually there just happens to be one — or even better than that.”

    Karly thought that was rather cryptic, but she'd play along. “Okay Gnome, could we pick up three probes? I'd like a spare and with three I think I can nail down the locations of all three gates and from their resonance uncover any other anomaly in the immediate area.”

    Gnome's response was, “Okay, but first I want to track down and collect the MIAB. Of course without a proper working tractor beam it won't be easy. Since I know you have Naval training I'll assume you actually know how to use that suit you are wearing. Are you still competent to work in a vacuum and micro-gravity?”

    “Yes I kept my cert's up and am fully qualified with a dozen or so EVA suits and armours in and out of vacuum and micro-gravity, not to mention other hazardous environments. Why are you asking?” Karly queried.

    Gnome elaborated, “I could try do an EVA from the cockpit to retrieve the MIAB Beacon, but it would be far better to load it into the cargo bay where you could secure it. It would require depressurizing the cargo bay and opening the cargo hatch. I'd put us in a capture orbit so that it would drift into the cargo bay, but you'd be in micro-gravity so it wouldn't go crashing to the deck as soon as it crossed the threshold.”

    “I can handle it Gnome. I could even do a proper EVA if necessary. I have the training and experience.”

    “That simplifies thing Karly. ETA 3 hours. Prepare the cargo bay for vacuum. We won't be going explosive decompression, but I'd rather not have any exploding lunch-boxes or pet gerbils. I am pretty sure there's no livestock on board. But there are things that might be there that could get messy if exposed to hard vacuum.”

    Three hours later I spent 15 minutes helping Gnome by retrieving his MIAB. They were actually fairly valuable even if you didn't count the information contained.

    Then it was off to Gnome's space-probe shop.

    o o o

    “Jules, do you think we can power a missile self loader externally?”

    “I believe that should be no problem Sir. This ship was a military training model after all. Is that how your planning on getting the missile bodies for the probes. That should work, just so long as you don't mind going into the Magellan again.”

    “Julie, the rundown on the composition of the dust in the rings came back before we left Clarke station didn't it?”

    Gnome and his partners had gone to Clarke station, which was in the system where he caught up with the JRT-5. He'd been renting hanger-space there for quite a while and it was where he swapped the PJRT for the JRT-4.

    “Yes Sir. The analysis came back as being moderately safe. You wouldn't want to sprinkle it on your cereal or stir it into your coffee, but it would clean off the suits and out of locks and such easily with air exchange and built in filters.”

    “That will simplify EVAs in the Magellan. Even when we have loaded the 3 missiles I have to install my mods into the missile electronics bays. I think I'd also like Karly to transfer into the cockpit for the jump back. She can monitor it well enough from the back seat.”

    “She might appreciate that, though there is more room to move in back, Sir.”

    o o o

    “Yes Gnome?”

    “Karly, you might want to watch our approach to the missile shop on the view screens and HUD. It is actually fairly spectacular. I can't vouch that we won't run into any bodies however.”

    “Bodies?” thought Karly. Then it dawned on her just where this missile shop was. They were going into the rings and to the derelict carriers. A super-jovian was impressive in its own right, but one with a complex ring system was worth watching. Add to that the carriers and it would be hard to keep Karly from taking a welding torch and cutting a window open in the hull.

    “All right Gnome, Sir, I'm ready for whatever show you have for me.”

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  • Gnome

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 4
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    If you've ever watched an ancient twentieth-century 2D entertainment called a movie about space, they probably showed asteroid fields as vast areas; where you had to weave in an out of sub-planetary bodies from the size of a couch, to the size of a city; which were close enough together that moving between them at speed was the sort of challenge a slalom racer would enjoy. In a sense they got the visual correct, they just got the location wrong. You find that sort of visual here in a planetary ring, and mostly in those of the larger gas giants.

    Beta was a giant among giants and although not all gas giants had rings or substantial ones, Beta's were spectacular. Not only did it have rings of ice frozen from water and ammonia compounds — it also had rings of rock which for the most part was carbonaceous chondrite. The two broken carriers were deep in a ring of carbonaceous chondrite bodies varying from fine dust up to the size of a small city and probably bigger. Rather than fragments of a moon that had been pulled apart and pulverized by tidal forces, the rings were probably left over from the period of planetary formation itself.

    Approaching the carriers was like flying through a blizzard or dust storm or combination of both. I have done that and it is quite messy and just as difficult for keeping the windscreen clean. Either static build-up or slight moisture contact stuck the dust like glue to the ship's canopy. The only thing missing from the scene were the odd tumbleweed and the howl of coyotes. On cue came a howling over the radio due to the electrostatic fields in the dust.

    We'd see the carriers soon after we'd circled a few larger planetoid sized ring particles.

    o o o

    We seemed to miss the bodies encountered last time, on this run into the Magellan. Jules actually plotted the course and Gnome thought the conciergeAI had something to do with avoiding that issue.

    The Avenger, being an ex-Navy ship was better prepared for landing on a carrier than the Origin Jumpworks ship, when it came to balancing electrostatic charges. It had readily compatible grounding straps for such landings. Still there were sheets of dust held in the air by static fields. Gnome and Julie had downloaded schematics for both the Drake and the Magellan so it wasn't hard to locate the missile self loaders. Gnome docked with one that was already clear of debris and mostly clear of dust.

    “Okay Karly, I'll meet you outside.”

    o o o

    After venting the atmosphere into storage tanks — it was pretty remarkable just what percentage of air could be sucked out of the cockpit — he opened the cockpit there was the slightest puff of air. Some air always was lost when you unbuttoned the cockpit in a vacuum, but sometimes it had to be done. Gnome didn't completely turn the gravity off in the JRT before he raised the canopy and left the cockpit. He left the gravity turned on at a low five percent of one g. That made for a fairly simple transfer to micro-gravity, but kept you in your seat until you actually wanted to leave and kept anything lose from floating free.

    Once out of the cockpit he was floating in micro-gravity and he made his way carefully back to the rear of the Avenger; avoiding the control thrusters, even though they would not be firing with much force at all. Even small blasts could blow you into a dangerous situation. He wasn't sure that Karly knew the JR would be in station-keeping even in the hangar.

    “Karly, do you read?”

    “Karly here, Gnome, I read you clearly. Come on.”

    “Karly, a head's up. The ship will be in station-keeping mode even while here in the hangar. Julie will watch for where we are, and likely be able to modify how the thrusters are firing, but be aware.”

    “Thanks for the head's up Gnome. It is an unusual situation. Any sign of the dust golems?”

    Of course it was going to take longer for the cargo compartment of the Avenger to depressurize than the cockpit. More than just the difference in volume, but catching that last bit of atmosphere took longer. This time Gnome kept the external lights going on the ship to see the hangar better.

    “No signs of an dustly spectres Karly.”

    “Julie, do you read us?”

    “Yes Gnome, I read both of you clear. The digital filters are cutting through any static just fine.”

    “Good. Jules, let us know any sign of those dust phenomena. If they show, we can try out my little experimental treatments on them.”

    The rear door of the cargo bay finally started to open — hinged at the bottom it lowered to form a ramp.

    “Welcome to the ghost cave!”

    Karly nearly took a step onto the ramp but instead grabbed a hand rail above it and swung herself into the micro-gravity environment over the cargo bay door. She had skillfully vectored her direction so as to land on deck feet first allowing the special “gecko-boot soles” to cling to the deck surface.

    “What's our next move Gnome?”

    “First let's grab a couple of those red tubes with shoulder straps and sling them off the back of our suits. They are modified chaff dispensers. I rigged them with timed triggers and a molecular adhesive bases — like a mortar — so you can press the base against the deck or bulkhead and pull the trigger after pointing them at a dust vortex. Be sure to move back in case there is static recoil. The mortar should be grounded to the deck or bulkhead electrically and take care of grounding any charge, but there can always be stray residuals.”

    “Those sound useful based on the descriptions you and Jules gave of the static phenomena.”

    “Next we plug the Avenger's auxiliary power coupling into the Magellan’s missile-auto-loader and have it do a diagnostic. If things check out, we can have it load the missile racks of the JRT and deliver us a crate or two of missiles at the same time. I'll replace the circuit boards here if it seems safe and outside the rings if otherwise.”

    The auto-loader worked perfectly and loaded 3 missiles onto the Avenger's missile racks. It also delivered the two cases of Image-Recognition Ship-to-Ship Missiles into the cargo hatch of the JRT.

    Gnome was thinking, “Things seem almost calm enough to try swap out the circuit boards on the missiles in the hangar here.”

    There was a howling on the radio and the hair on the back of Gnome's neck started standing on end.

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  • Gnome

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 5
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    “Karly, were you wanting to see one of those spectres? I think you are going to get your chance really soon.”

    “Affirmative. Karly, Gnome; there is an intense buildup of static charge moving towards the ship. I suggest you either get into the ship or leave the area.”

    “Gnome, I'm all for getting into the ship. Don't we have what we wanted?!” Exclaimed Karly, probably a bit louder than she expected.

    “Karly, I agree, but first I want to fire a few of these mortars in their direction. It will test if they are useful or not, and might make our exit a bit more graceful. Get into the ship while I fire off the mortars. I assume that everything was buttoned down in the cargo hold even before the crates of missiles were loaded?”

    “Sir, my sensors confirm that. With your permission I'll raise the ramp and close up the cargo bay so we can get under way.” Responded Julie.

    “Okay Gnome,” said Karly, “ Set off those tinfoil fireworks while I get into the cockpit. I want to see what they do too.”

    Karly got into the rear seat of the Avenger while Gnome passed the nose of the craft removing a mortar from his shoulder strap while he did so.

    He jammed one end against the deck about 10 metres from the ship — pointing in the direction of the energy build-up and pulled the trigger.

    Nothing happened.

    Nothing was supposed to happen because there was a delay built in so the user could get away from the device before it went off. Gnome took flight in the micro-gravity towards the rear quarter of the JRT. He set his other mortar and triggered it before taking a micro-gravity leap to towards the cockpit.

    Gnome just had time to swing his legs in and look in the direction the mortars were to fire before the first went off with a silent explosion of metallized plastic. The chaff flew perhaps 60 metres before it started arcing and glowing under influence of the static field it encountered. The chaff actually created a current path and the grounded mortar attracted the energy through itself.

    With a large blast of pyrotechnic splendour the field discharged through the mortar grounding itself into the deck. There were indeed stray arcs which took alternate paths into the deck. Standing anywhere near the mortar would have been a bad idea.

    Gnome closed the canopy and Julie re-established atmosphere in the cabin.

    Karly spoke after just opening her faceplate. “That was intense.”

    Gnome replied, “Sure was. Looks like we were in for a storm.”

    “Did the chaff clear things enough for you to convert the missiles?” Karly wondered out loud.

    Gnome answered, “It may have, but I wouldn't chance opening the missiles with so much static electricity in the air. It might harm the circuit boards or might even arc to an arming circuit. Even if just the thruster on the missile ignited it would be bad news.”

    He continued, “I would be much more comfortable doing it in free fall clear of the rings. Besides, I'd be doing it in my suit anyway.”

    Karly responded, “Well then, Tally-ho!”

    “Karly, there is one more thing I want to do before we leave. It is one of the reasons I wanted you on this mission rather than one of my regular crew. Because you don't have the long association with Gnomestead Transfer, you can witness the salvage rights with perhaps slightly less legal prejudice than a long time employee.”

    “So what is it that you want me to witness, Gnome?”

    “Really you are going to be witnessing that the ships are derelict and abandoned. Of course a deck-by-deck search is out of the question, but a sensor scan done by you plus a visual of the bridge that indicates to you that the it is unmanned will suffice.”

    “Gnome, the Magellan doesn't have a bridge anymore?”

    “Doesn't that make determining that the Magellan doesn't have a manned bridge even simpler. You can additionally say that the auxiliary bridge in engineering isn't being manned either — on this half of the ship in any case. With the Drake you can look in through the bridge windows. I think a scan of engineering on the Drake will suffice. Even the high levels of static charge indicates a lack of system control on the ship.”

    Gnome carefully piloted the JRT-4 towards the open end of Magellan’s hangar deck. Before he had finished the manoeuvre they heard the ship's conciergeAI, speak up, “The electrostatic fields are already building back up. I'm indicating on the HUD the buildup of the dust vortexes behind us. Karly, I think you can see it clearly enough on the back seat HUD.”

    The back seat of the Avenger wasn't a full pilot's station but had a large complement of instruments and some rudimentary controls in case of emergency — not unlike that of a video game simulator.

    Gnome increased his “delta-V” to get out of the hangar before the dust vortexes could reach the JRT-4.

    They made it with moments to spare. Without incident they manoeuvred across the gap to the Drake. Gnome played the Avenger's main lights on the bridge windows. The bridge windows were totally opaque.

    “That's strange — when I was on the bridge, I could clearly see out, and without power the window's transparency adjustment should not be operating.”

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  • GruffDaddy

    Posts: 983

    Read the first 3 parts thus far. Very enjoyable. Plan to finish the rest tomorrow evening.
  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 6
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    “Gnome, I'm doing a spectographic analysis of what is coating the inside of the windows. Making allowances for standard military armoured glass, I get the same composition as the dust outside and that was in the hangar. I suggest that a scan using infra-red and a laser reflection scan for sound vibration coming through the bridge windows would do what you want and need.”

    “That should work Karly. I would at a guess say the static charges that blew through there when I left; coated the place with a natural powder coating of dust. Jules, do you think that was possible — judging from my log entries about my experience in the Drake?”

    “Sir, there is an 80% chance you are correct. 15% chance you are partly correct.”

    “I like those odds...” Gnome said.

    “Karly, Jules; I think I'd like to head for cleaner space. How about you?”

    o o o

    Leaving the derelicts behind was uneventful. Gnome knew you always had to be careful flying through a ring system or belt, even if the average particle size could be handled by your navigational shields. So Gnome also knew you took what should be a safe speed and then reduced it by 10 or 15 percent.

    Karly was very quiet and Gnome could hear the sound of her hard at work looking for the best solution for firing the probes based on what he told her of how they worked and what was known about Jump-Points, Interspace, and what they had learned about this one in particular. Gnome could also patch into the computer and see some of what she was up to, but he left her to that privacy.

    “Okay Karly, it's time to button up, we are far enough clear of the rings now that I feel I can do the EVA to modify the probes. It is a simple procedure really. I had a few circuit boards I made as spares in case I had problems installing them. I just replace the missile guidance board with my own after disarming the warhead.”

    “You make it sound so simple Gnome.” Said Karly.

    “Like he has done it dozens of times before.” Added Julie. “I'll make sure you have a smooth ride out there. No need for wing walking!”

    “What's 'wing walking?” Asked Karly before Gnome could.

    “It's an old 20th century Xtreme sport. It was all the rage before colour 2D. Or at least most of the examples I have seen are from then.” Answered Julie.

    o o o

    After depressurizing the cockpit I exited, taking the precaution of actually attaching a tether. The tether was very thin and not encumbering, but any force that would sever it would likely destroy me or even the ship as well. More often than not spacers didn't tether up. But more often than not spacers walked places where there was a greater chance of rescue and there were always spacers lost to the black vastness. Even though I thought Karly competent, if I somehow became lost from the ship, she might also and there would be two more spacers lost to the Vast.

    I started with the single missile on the port side and would then go to the starboard. It made things go faster with a copilot. Even though technically the Avenger was a single pilot ship with a jump-seat, there were instruments she could use to monitor my progress and she could alwaus jump easily into the pilot's seat and take over from there — need be.

    Swapping the missile guidance board on the port missile went smoothly. First I opened the inspection port and physically removed the small block that connected the fuse from the detonator “safing” that. Then I “safed” the missile thruster system as well. Nobody wants an armament they are working on to ignite and take off. The least that happens is you get a scare and see spots for half a day or so. I swapped boards and re-enabled the thruster system. I had Karly do a system check once I was safely by the hull of the JR.

    Things checked out on her board and I went over the hull to the starboard wing and underneath to work on the remaining two missiles. Everything worked smoothly other than one stiff fastener on one of the missile guidance boards. I managed to open that one without much force, replacing it with a spare from my toolkit.

    After having Karly do two more system checks everything tested out. Sometimes it is good for things to be boring.

    I floated back to the cockpit and slid back into the pilot seat. We buttoned down the hatch and repressurized. I opened the faceplate of my helmet.

    “Everything okay Karly?”

    “I believe everything's okay. I have figured things out to the point where we use three probes to seek the entrance to the 11th Jump-Point. The fourth probe can be insurance.”

    “Sir, speaking of insurance — you do have the premium paid up on this bird, right?”

    “I hate to ask, why's that Julie?”

    “Something I missed on the rough run through the Jump-Point. We lost more than the inertia-dampeners. Well, lost is the wrong word. We gained something. We have a slow coolant leak.”

    “Jules, can't you shut down the affected system temporarily?”

    “I could Sir, however I think you would prefer continuing on more than batteries and LENR packs. The coolant leak is in one of the very few 'hot' areas of the engine core. Otherwise you could consider patching it. As is, we require a suitable engine shop. I do not believe that you would find one in working condition on either derelict ship or one that you could get operational.”

    “Options Jules? Karly, anything you can think of? I have one thought, but I'll wait to hear your ideas — commander's prerogative.”

    “I guess the old fashioned Scottish solution won't work?” Karly sighed out loud.

    “Scottish solution?” I pondered a while and put 3 and 3 together... “No, I don't think oatmeal will work in this case. It wouldn't just block the leak but the cooling cores in many areas as well. I imagine you didn't think I'd catch that old reference. I can't recall where I heard of plugging leaks in coolant systems in emergencies by adding some oatmeal.”

    “Then I have nothing.” Karly concluded.

    “I have one solution that doesn't mean leaving the ship here.” Responded the conciergeAI.


    “Well, if we head back quickly, I believe we have enough in reserve to make it back to civilization, but if we wait too long we might become stranded.” concluded Julie.

    I scrunched my forehead in concentration. “How long do we have before BINGO coolant?”

    “I calculate around three hours more than what we would need for a normal burn to the gate, jump, travel to the next gate, jump and then normal burn to Clarke station.” answered Julie.

    Could a conciergeAI sound worried?

    “Jules, I think we had better get underway. You said a normal burn, right? I assume there would be problems with a higher g burn?”

    “Yes Sir, that would increase the coolant pressure.”

    “Oh... I should have thought of that. Three hours is not enough to investigate my plan. I considered going back to the Magellan and seeing of that Evac ship was in working order and if it had a Jump-drive. I could live with the smell of a rotten sandwich.”

    “Good idea Sir and it would have made an excellent choice if we didn't have the option of flying back. We are already on our way back of course.”

    “I think giving it a try is worth it. Even if we don't quite make it, we will end up someplace we can call for help.”

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  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 7
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    Julie interjected, “Sir, I might add, that we can launch the probes from the JRT-4, but not from the EVAC ship. It may be a rough ride as we won't have the data to translate for it's jump system. We just have the rough data and it will take a while to hammer out the rough spots... this is a rather 'interesting' jump compared to the average one.”

    I nodded at Jule's assessment. The ship's conciergeAI nearly always gave sage advice in such matters. “Aren't you just a bit afraid of being left alone here in a ship with no main drive, drifting along with the ghosts of the derelict tigers?”

    “I know you'd transfer my routines to the other ship and leave me in charge of the JRT-4, just as I am also still active on the PJRT-1 and the other ships you fly. I'm not speaking out of reluctance to squeezing into whatever standard issue hardware the EVAC ship has. Darn it Gnome, I'm a program, not a person. I don't really have feelings, just simulations of them.” Responded Julie in a hurt tone.

    “There, there, Jules. I wouldn't leave you and I know that if need be you would stoically brave up to a long quiet time waiting for me to get back with a way to repair the ship or retrieve it. Even so — my rational partner in crime — what are the odds of that model EVAC ship making to a point where we can call for help, versus the odds of us making it.

    “Gnome, Sir, there are many unknowns in the calculations, but at my best approximation, the chances of making it with the EVAC ship are 0.89 and the chances of making it in the JRT-4 are 0.96 to reach a location we can call for help. The chances of making it to base under our own power are for the EVAC ship - 0.80 and for the JRT-4 - 0.79.”

    “Personally I think I'll still stick with the JRT, though the EVAC ship has more comfortable facilities if we have to wait for a day or two for rescue. What is your opinion Karly? How does 96% chance making it to where we can call for help and only 79% chance of making to home base sound to you?”

    Karly found her voice, “That depends, what are the chances it is a slow painful lingering death versus a quick spectacular one?”

    Julie quickly answered, “I would say it was 50:50 really, regardless of which ship and the varieties of deaths are fairly broad. Would you like me to describe them?”

    In unison and fairly loudly for the small cockpit both answered resoundingly, “No!”

    Julie responded, “I thought not.” Though wasn't sure if she was heard.

    o o o

    They decided to stick with the JRT-4 as the chances differed mostly in how they got back to base — this way they actually got the data they came for. Julie informed them that the engine should perform normally until it had nearly run out of coolant, though some auxiliary systems might shut down. For instance it would be inadvisable to raise more than navigational shields and we shouldn't count on the main weapons. That meant avoiding combat at all costs.

    o o o

    The flight to the Jump-point was uneventful. I prepared the probes for launch, making sure the three from the Magellan matched the one we had left from our original load. Then I programmed in the new mission parameters into all four probes. Three would be sent out to map the two known Jump-points and the third unknown one. Once we had telemetry, the fourth probe could be launched to fine tune the information on entering that unknown Jump-point in relative safety.

    Gnome double-checked my work. I didn't mind. I might be good, but I'm no savant and I make mistakes from time-to-time even when I have enough sleep and am not risking my life. “Gnome, there will only be a small window between receipt of the telemetry of the first three probes and launch of the fourth and our exit from Jump-space. I'd like to have an automated back-up on the launches with a 5 second delay and emergency abort, of course.”

    “I agree Karly, and your work programming the probes was perfect as far as I can tell. Perhaps I'll let you see a little of the complete programs when we get back.” said Gnome.

    From the little I know of Gnome and the secrecy with which he held some of his past, and work, this was a large complement. “Thanks Gnome, I'm ready to jump now if you and the ship are?” I felt like I was getting into Gnome's confidence now.

    “Okay Karly, I just have time to finish my tea before we reach the Jump-point.”

    o o o

    Just like when I piloted the ship travelling the other direction — the first 25 minutes of the jump were normal, then the jump bubble began to get slippery. I was very experienced in jumping these rougher-than-normal Jump-points, so I could handle it. I did worry about the coolant leak. Whatever caused it might be a weak-point that would totally rupture — then it wouldn't be a slow leak any more. It was getting loud in the cockpit, but we were helmeted up already and so using the suit's comm system. I thumbed the comm on. “A nicer view from up front here Karly?”

    “I had better sensors in the hold, Gnome, but I like the view out the canopy just fine.” replied Karly.

    I was a bit focused on navigating the jump. It was on the ship's system already, but with this jump, I wanted a personal touch. These last 10 minutes of the jump I knew would be intense. I made this jump before and it would less intense than the first time, but still a bit rough. Would I ever be able to find a smooth path through to Beta?

    I realized Julie never offered the option of the other Jump Point. That was the Point that brought me to Beta the first time. Perhaps it was taking 3 jumps to get to more civilized parts?

    I noted Karly announce, “30 seconds to first probe launch, 40 to second, 50 to third.” Then Julie's “Confirmed”. My hands were full so all I could do was answer, “Understood”.

    o o o

    I launched the first probe right on the button, then ten seconds later, the second. After another ten second period I launched the third probe. It didn't require prefect timing, but in case the shuddering the ship was going through were to shake something loose, and manual launch didn't work then the computer backup might and if that failed... well, I guess we would miss our data.

    We didn't know how long it would take for the probes to enter the jump-points. The tricky part was the telemetry. Communication within a jump was rather odd and required things like paired sub-atomic particles and symbiosis. When two particles are quantum intertwined and are separated, what happens to one is reflected on the other. It was the only real way one could communicate ship-to-ship within a jump and a bit dicey.

    When that data came through, we would be ready to launch probe 4 to fine-tune our data.

    I checked the relay of information from the equipment in the hold. The only problem with these Avengers was the lack of a hatch between cockpit and hold.

    The data started coming in.

    It took a few moments — Jules informed me it was 42 seconds later — to correlate the telemetry by filling in the blanks into our previous calculations.

    “Last probe away Sir.” Julie announced before I could. We expected a 20 second delay before we started getting useful data.

    In the meantime the ride became much rougher.

    “It's a good thing the Aurora inertia-dampener compensator sensor are robust.” said Gnome on a rather harsh jolt to the left followed by an elevator drop-like plummeting feeling.

    “That's for sure.” I responded.

    “I don't think the EVAC ship would have made it past that last one.” added Jules.

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  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 8
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    It was a shaking, but it was part of the reason why I chose the Avenger out of the fleet. The Origin 315p was newer and the Freelancer was more powerful and had dual main thrusters, but the Avenger had been built for the rough duty of a naval training ship, and had up until recently been the choice of law enforcement. That was in part due to the sturdy design.

    I called back to Karly, “You okay back there and ready to launch probe 4? I can launch it if need be from up here, can't I Jules?”

    Both Karly and Jules started to answer at once. I was out of touch socially, asking two people questions without waiting for the answers. But Jules being the subservient artificial intelligence she is, allowed Karly to continue.

    “I'm just peachy back here Gnome. Ready to launch once I get the telemetry data sorted. I expect the first data any time.”

    Even as she said that, telemetry started to flow in from the second and third probe. The first probe was about 5 seconds later.

    “Sir?” Inquired Julie.

    “Go ahead Jules”.

    “I just wanted to confirm that you do have controls to launch the fourth probe if necessary. The control is now glowing magenta.”

    “Magenta Jules?”

    “Well Sir, I wanted it to get your attention and I got tired of bright green happy faces.”

    Just then Karly reported, “Calculations are ready and confirmed by computer. We can launch the fourth probe any time now. On your command.”

    I simply said, “Launch Probe!”

    o o o

    Data from the fourth probe came in and of course abruptly stopped when the probe followed that third Jump-point — just as the other three had when they entered the second Jump-point. I'd have time to do the calculations after we left inter-jump space.

    The view was very spectacular even from the back seat of the JRT-4. I knew the view from the front seat where Gnome was sitting was even better.

    I had a few simulations to run that had nothing to do with the Jump-point or the probes. I was worried about the coolant leak. When dams sprung small leaks they didn't stay small and perhaps coolant leaks on engine cores were different, but I wanted to run the simulations anyway.

    The simulations bore out the statistics Julie had given us, however with the passage through the Jump-point they had dropped slightly; due to the increased jump turbulence.

    “Jules, how old was the inertia-dampener compensator sensor in the Aurora? Could you patch me into the database on the components and the ship they were in... or were.”

    “No problem Karly, you should have access right now.”

    I looked over the data and was a bit concerned over the age, but then double-checked and saw it was 'milspec' which meant that it was military specification and could stand up to 50% more vibration than a standard component or system. Of course, much of this ship should be milspec or better and this ship's inertia-dampener compensator sensor failed during the jump to Beta.

    I decided to look at a plan-B — just in case the dam started to break. I was joking about the Scottish solution of putting oatmeal in the cooling system, but there was some merit perhaps. I ran some more simulations.

    o o o

    I looked at the results of Karly's simulations. “Julie, do you concur? Have the chances of making it through the next jump dropped so far?”

    “Yes Sir. Gnome, I'm sorry, but I misjudged a few parameters. There is a good chance that if coolant continues to leak under pressure the leak will increase. If we can stop the leak or slow it down we probably can continue with a margin of error that is acceptable for at least reaching the far side of this Jump-point.”

    “...and be within 4 1/2 hours' comm distance from Clarke Base.” Continued Karly.

    I hesitated to go on, “...and you really do have a modification on the Scottish solution to help solve our dilemma Karly?”

    “Yes, sir... I mean Gnome. You see it isn't the grains of oatmeal that used to plug holes in ancient cooling systems, it was the starch. It would go into solution under pressure and then at the leak there would be a pressure drop and not only would the starch come out of solution, but the starch would gum up the hole as it became glutenous. Now the oatmeal would be a problem even if we had it, but we do have a source of starch in our ship food system. It would do the job without the lumps clogging the ships' arteries. In fact we could add some egg protein to it for a better job. We just have to do an EVA, open a panel on the hull of the ship that covers the cooling system port, and then inject the colloidal fluid. Of course we have to turn the engine off for that, and it has to rest for 4 hours before we can do the injection procedure.” Explained Karly.

    “Again I concur Sir.” Added Julie.

    “Three to zero. I guess your plan wins Karly. But I guess no breakfast tomorrow.”

    “Probably not.” I answered. “Do you know how to play Cribbage?”

    o o o

    With the Scottish solution in place and Karly having bested me at Cribbage five times out of nine, we could start up the engines again. The Wedding Veil system was incredibly beautiful, but I hated drifting on emergency station-keeping thruster power. Not much power was needed. Just enough to compensate for the torsional forces our movement in the cockpit created. We kept all power consumption to minimum, life support as well. Then it was time for EVA and I injected the fluid through a special port for additives. I shut her up and returned to the cockpit. We closed the canopy and repressurized. Then a slow power-up. We wanted the goo to cook into the right place after all. It would mean I'd get a lower core deposit value when I exchanged the engine for a re-manufactured one. They'd have quite the job cleaning this one out.

    Finally the engine was at power and we could bring systems up at the limited levels Jules and Karly suggested. We kept her to navigational shields and didn't have the main weapons on standby. About the only defence we had were chaff dispensers and our side-arms. Even my ability to fly defensive manoeuvres were hampered by acceleration limits.

    This jump was nothing to write home about. There was little of the turbulence experienced on the other Wedding Veil Jump-point. We came out with no problems.

    The Clarke system was riddled with clusters of planetesimals looking for a place to call home. It meant an odd approach to Clarke Base which orbited one of the larger forming planets. The odd approach kept you just far enough above the ecliptic that you ran into less chance of running into debris from the planetary formation — but close enough to preserve fuel and time of transit.

    There was an unfortunate side effect of all that debris just off the path in.

    “Sir, 3 ships approaching from our 5-low and the haven't hailed us.”

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  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 9
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    “Jules, probability that they re intercepting by chance?” I asked, knowing the answer before I asked it.

    “Gnome, the probability is miniscule, though possible. If they were militia doing an intercept, they'd hail us, likewise other law enforcement or the military. The configuration of the ships appears to be, three Cutlasses. They are favoured by buccaneers, pirates and some who go after them.”

    Karly joined in on the conversation, “We can outrun them for a short while. This Avenger normally could leave them in the dust, but with the crippled cooling system, you are left with limited acceleration, limited shields, next to no weapons, and I think we are out of Darjeeling tea.”

    “Karly, how long can we outrun them?” I asked.

    “I calculate perhaps six hours, maybe eight — depending on how they have their thrusters clocked and how much they want us.” Karly answered.

    Julie advised, “When they see we aren't leaving them in the dust and aren't turning to fight, they will likely surmise that our ship is disabled and unable to flee at any greater acceleration. Likely that will goad them to continuing the pursuit beyond what they might otherwise deem prudent.”

    I concluded, “That shakes it. Without Darjeeling, we are going to have to come up with some sort of plan. Jules did you send off a coded stealth signal to our base?”

    “Affirmative Sir, as standard operating procedure upon entering system. I was about to ask if I should tell them about the three bogies. It will take four hours and 40 minutes for our message to reach them, then another four hours and 40 minutes for a response plus however long it takes for someone at the base to respond. That of course is just a message back to us. A physical response could take a day or two depending on where ships might be around Clarke base.”

    “Gnome, aren't pirates normally more interested in intact cargo than destroying victim's ships?”

    “That's true Karly, unless the pirates are trying to make a name for themselves or creating a reputation so that future encounters are less likely to be bloody. Of course they wouldn't be doing a conventional boarding on this type of ship with a fighter style hinged canopy, so they will more likely be wanting to parlay rather than shoot and risk whatever cargo we have. If they have advanced scanners, they'll detect that we have a hold full of missiles. That is a booty that is worth it's mass in gold to pirates.”

    “What do you think are the chances we can get away if we give them the cargo?”

    “I'd hate to do that, but I would say even odds. If they don't want witnesses, they let us think we are getting away and then at a safe distance from their booty they'll attempt to destroy us. If they want witnesses, then we get away without damage except to our pocketbooks and reputations. I still hate to lose that ordinance. ...that gives me an idea!”

    o o o

    I had to do some careful and somewhat clandestine work with the computer systems. I had to keep Karly from seeing much if any of the details. What I was attempting to do really wasn't supposed to be possible. I was creating a defence for the ship beyond the party streamers of the chaff dispensers.

    Our defensive manoeuvres thus far consisted of a straight run for Clarke base, even though the Cutlasses were gaining with every minute. Any deviation from a straight arrow course simply would allow them to catch us faster. I had Karly work to find out just how much juice we might spare to shields if we needed — though against even one Cutlass at the moment, we were totally outclassed. If the JRT was in proper shape, I'd take them on with just the main gun and no missiles knowing I could outrun them if it got too hot. Now I had neither option so I had to create a third.

    It took nearly 6 hours for the pirates to make their intentions known.

    o o o

    “Attention Avenger, we have no interest in you, only your cargo. Eject it and be on your way in relative peace. We can see you are in a crippled bird and unable to put up the fight even a run-down Aurora could give us.”

    “Juliet Romeo Tango Four to Unknown Cutlass on pursuit vector. We are only a humble transport ship with damage to our engine. Can we make a deal? Half our cargo for safe passage? We will need the income on the other half for repairs.”

    “JRT4, your repairs mean little to us. If you want to go on pursuing your life as a space-jockey you'll stop your acceleration and calmly hand over your cargo.”

    “JRT4 to Unknown Cutlass, I have reconsidered and am making preparations to jettison cargo. Some damage to my ship is causing system problems, but I should have the cargo-bay depressurized in half-an-hour. Ceasing acceleration now. But I plan on accelerating away after dropping the cargo, otherwise it will look like I'm colluding with you fine folk.”

    I cut the comm and finished my preparations confirming with Karly that she was preparing to drop the cargo.

    “Gnome, is this wise? Won't they follow us after they pick up the cargo?” Asked Karly.

    I replied, “I don't think there will be anyone following.”

    Setting comm on private I spoke to Julie, “Set the friendly range to delta vxt2 of 10k and trigger proximity to 25m delta contact. Initiate upon crossing threshold.”

    “Affirmative Sir, do you want a ten second delay after proximity?”

    “Good idea Jules. Perhaps we'll catch more fish that way.”

    I clicked the comm back on. “Karly, are you ready for the cargo ejection?”

    “Yes Gnome, we are ready. Just say 'when' and I'll lower the hatch and engage the eject springs. Then you can use manoeuvring thrusters to push us away from the cargo. ...I wish I knew what you had planned. You've been quiet too long.”

    o o o

    We dumped our cargo and hit maximum thrust... or whatever Julie thought JRT-4 could handle with the handicapped coolant system.

    Cryptically I said, “Missiles launched.”

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  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 10
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    “Juliet Romeo Tango Four, this is Juliet Romeo Tango Three — ETA your relative delta V and position in 75 minutes marking your previous course. Ouroboros out.”

    I checked the manual to see if I could overclock the engine even more than I had and still leave something left for an encounter with pirates. But there was nothing left to squeak out of this venerable 300i. It was a good ship — no racer, but fast enough, and packing a punch with a nice combination of missiles, neutron beamer, and lasers.

    Of course I sent my message via an encoded frequency that was piggybacked so that the pirates wouldn't detect it. By then over 5 hours had passed. It was just good that I had decided to loiter in the area of the Wedding Veil Jump-point on speculation that Gnome would be returning around this time. Jump-point re-entries had a lot of variation in location compared with the precise locations of the entry points so I missed their arrival. I would at least have half a chance to render aid.

    o o o

    That was a long hour's transit to meet with the JRT-4. I was correcting course constantly based on what details I could get on their location. I had them finally pegged down on sensors, but was running silent to surprise any foe who might otherwise catch me.

    My canopy darkened, but not before blue dots seared themselves on my retina. “Juliet, keep your eyes open while my eyes clear. What was that? Was it close? It was brighter than any regular weapons fire I know of aside from a capital ship's main guns or torpedoes.”

    “Ouroboros, Sir, that explosion...”

    The canopy occluded again, but this time I wasn't looking outwards.

    “...those explosions are some distance out. They are near to where the JRT-4 would have been intercepted by the Cutlasses. We are still at maximum intercept trajectory of 12 minutes unless we do a main thruster retro-braking manoeuvre — which would reduce our chance of surprising the pilots substantially.”

    “Do it, Juliet.”

    “Affirmative Sir. There have also been a number of secondary and tertiary explosions that the cockpit canopy glass has blocked. I am unsure of the source of the initial explosions, but theoretically they could have been caused by reactors intentionally set to go critical. There could be other explanations, though spectrographic analysis indicates that there were components of military grade hull material in the explosions.”

    “Sir, there is a ship leaving the area at good acceleration heading on course for Clarke Base.”

    “Plot an intercept trajectory. Stealth is not important.”

    “Sir, comm signal on encrypted band.”

    “Juliet Romeo Tango Four, calling Juliet Romeo Tango Three — is that you Ouroboros! This is Gnome.”

    “Gnome, I thought you were radioactive toast back there, what happened?”

    “Ouroboros, I left some pirates a present. Someone dropped them a shipment of missiles... with proximity fuses armed.”

    “Nasty Gnomeses, lefts precious for pirates. Pirates not appreciate your precious... Did you get that shipment of missiles from that source you went to check on?”

    “Yes, O, two whole cases of image-recognition missiles. Well, that's life. I know where to get more. Right now we have a mission to plan!”

    “Interesting Gnome. Oh, Juliet just interfaced with Julie and we have your log. Juliet also is picking up some wreckage left over. A mostly intact Cutlass other than cockpit damage. I believe there are some survivors in the rear signalling some sort of semaphore for help. They are in suits so I reckon they must have a few hours LS. Long enough for JRT-7 to reach this location and give them a tow to civilization.”

    “I'll give them a call, O. The JRT-7 has a brig right?”

    “I believe it can have, Gnome.”

    “I'll run escort for you into Clarke.”

    I began the escort run taking Gnome into Clarke Base just as the JRT-7 was rendezvousing. We hung around just long enough for the suited up pirates to be taken into the massive Starfarer's airlock.

    “JRT-3 here. Buffalo Gal — You going to be fine with those two miscreants?”

    “Juliet Romeo Tango Sevener to Juliet Romeo Tango three — No problem at all. Ophidian and Gruff Nanny have them in the brig — in the cabin. Piglet stripped them of their weapons first... then had them strip all the way before escorting them into the makeshift brig. We'll tow the Cutlass into Clarke Base having established salvage rights. We can use a Cutlass in our fleet.”

    “JRT-4 here. BG, Do you want us to wait for you or will you follow us on your own?”

    “Gnome! Rumours of your passing were wildly misplaced. Glad to hear we still have a boss. Go on ahead, we'll follow. We're big enough to take care of ourselves from here on in to Clarke. See you at Clarke. Drinks are on me!”

    “JRT-7 It's a date BG! Don't be tardy! You might actually catch us. I have a blown coolant system. Catch you at Clarke. Gnome, out.”

    “Catch you at Clarke BG. Give my love to the girls. Ouroboros out!”

    I formed up with Gnome and we flew into Clarke base without any difficulty.

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  • Gnome

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 11
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    Not all of the employees and partners in Gnomestead Transfer were present in the lounge for the meeting I called. That was a good thing, because we are a working transport company among other things. Too many idle hands mean not enough work to go around.

    I asked that the shades be drawn while making a quick slashing motion across my throat. That meant for Juliet to instigate black-ops protocols to screen the room with movie chatter and movement. That meant that almost anyone trying to eavesdrop wouldn't get a blank space where a shielded room might be, but a vignette of normal operations in the lounge.

    It was just a little something that I worked on and improved after I worked in R&D for the Navy. It was nothing that broke my official secrets act vows, but the Navy still might not care for the fact I would do that sort of work. I also didn't let on to most of the other people I employed and worked with; that I could do such and had such capability built into places like the lounge. I did like to be able to keep many things away from prying eyes.

    I cleared my voice to gain everyone's attention. “The details of my excursion through the Wedding Veil system's Jump-point of course have been circulated among you. We know the value of the information we have learnt about the Jump-point through Wedding Veil 9.1 and 9.2 including the location of the two derelicts. The very fact that two Jump-points have merged heads at Wedding Veil is extremely unusual. In fact it is unheard of. It is actually unheard of that a system has more than five Jump-points.”

    “Fewer of you know that there was a third Jump-point in the mix. I searched for it because I didn't think it was likely that the remaining parts of the two derelict carriers, plus their attendant fighters and auxiliary craft would all vanish. We searched within the Jump-point for an answer where I thought the carriers might have met their demise; and I found Wedding Veil 9.3!”

    There was a hush in the room.

    “If there were any survivors, there must be some reason why they haven't returned through the Jump-point even though we found it was very rough going while charting a path through. Their ships are built to military specification so at least some could have made it back if it was only an issue of a rough ride.”

    “I plan to shoot 9.3 seeking any survivors, or at least news of their resting places.”

    “Gnome, isn't this risky? There's a good chance of it being a one-way trip?” Asked Buffalo Gal.

    “BG, there is risk. But I haven't any heirs, or dependants. It would be as big a risk for anyone else to go, so why shouldn't I step up to bat. I also have skills they might have lacked and I will be going in prepared. I can't even ask for volunteers because some of you will feel that I am assuming you'll volunteer.”

    “I will fly either PJRT-1, JRT-5 or perhaps JRT-4. I am tending towards 4 or 5 because I want to bring a load of supplies with me and have Jump-point hunting tools. It might be difficult to find the return Jump-point.”

    “My successor running the company has been chosen already and that is not an issue. I am just informing you of my decision, not asking advice. However you may have things to discuss while I line up supplies and prepare a ship.”

    o o o

    “No BG! You can't take the Starfarer through — not on this first run to the unknown Jump-point target. I know enough that you could jump through to Beta now, but I don't know the size tolerances for the unknown jump or even that Mote jump. We don't want half a Starfarer in the rings of Beta. I think that when I return, we'll know if JRT-7 can make it through Wedding Veil 9.3. Then I suspect we will be able to use her cargo and fuel capacity. I will even pull in RTP-1 to have a second Starfarer. It is about time people know about those ships.”

    “Okay Gnome, if you take the JRT-5, there could be 3 or 4 open spaces. If the regular crew aren't going I want to go. If not I'll take another ship to boost whatever you are carrying. I've lived long enough now that I can chose to volunteer for a dangerous mission. I think Piglet, Ophidian, and Gruff Nanny all want to go as well, but if not on the Starfarer...?...” Buffalo Gal wondered.

    “Let's see who all decide they just can't stay away from this adventure.”

    o o o

    The few that didn't want to go on the adventure were for the most part those with family and other dependants. I didn't want to take anything larger than a Freelancer through and I really wasn't wanting to head a fleet. I would be making my decisions based on the breadth and depth of skills I wanted with tempered with the number and types of ships I wanted.

    We'd be flying into the Jump-point in a loose “daisy-chain” formation; with a one or two ships flying pathfinder and the others following in their wake. Perhaps the second pathfinder wouldn't be slaved onto the first in case the first dodged wrong, but other ships would be slaved to the second so they'd be following the safe route the first two had found.

    I immediately considered myself for position flying the lead pathfinder, taking that responsibility. Then I considered that the person flying the second pathfinder also had a position where they had to not only manually follow the lead pathfinder, but were responsible for all the ships slaved onto theirs. They would also be watching for errors the first pathfinder might be making and trying to figure out if they were actually errors, mistakes, or important choices in path through Jump-space.

    The pilot of the first pathfinder had to find the safe way through the uncharted jump, which is something I had experience with. The second would be attempting to match that first pathfinder's actions; and fine tuning them so slightly less agile and larger ships might safely follow. I had less experience with manual formation flying than other pilots, but at the same time I had over the years as an officer in command gained experience with working under the pressure of being responsible for the lives of others.

    In the end I decided that we would have two pathfinder ships, the first would be the JRT-4 — once repairs had been made to the cooling system and it had a thorough check-out — followed by me in the PJRT-1. The PJRT was an Origin 315p and rigged for exploration with excellent sensor pallets as optional equipment. It also was very nimble and my personal ship. The JRT-4 of course was that AEGIS Avenger, and had in addition to special sensor platforms the additional mods I had put in for investigating the Wedding Veil Nine Jump-points in the first place.

    Now it was just a matter of whom to crew the JRT-4.

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 12
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    “Karly, how hard will it be for someone else to ride the back seat of the JRT-4 and monitor the equipment?” I asked the young woman.

    She was a bit crestfallen when she answered, “Since we've done the hard work, anyone competent to shoot a new Jump-point should be able to handle it.”

    “It would be best if an experienced pilot were flying though. Especially if they were familiar with the data and your results?” Karly's look became quizzical.

    “Do you know anyone more competent than yourself with the Jump-point data and results?” I continued.

    “Well no Sir. Excepting perhaps yourself, Gnome. I could bring another pilot up to speed on it if need be?”

    “Karly, I am going to be busy flying hound in this rabbit hunt. I want you piloting the JRT-4.” I said.

    “What? I thought you were going to bump me off the roster?” She said a bit incredulously.

    “No,” I said in response, “You're ex-Navy and did pilot school so I assume you trained in Avenger trainers. You should be a competent pilot. It says so much in your CV and from what I gathered, more than just competent. I was informed you aced slalom-obstacle racing for a few years.”

    “I don't like to brag about my leisure accomplishments, Gnome.” She said quietly.

    I matched her quiet voice, “I want you to play rabbit to my hound on that dangerous jump. You have both experience and skills for it. I'll put Buffalo Gal in the back seat with you to back you up. She's excellent with instruments and extreme situations.”

    I went on, “We also need to find you an appropriate call sign. For now you'll be flying hare to my hound. How does 'hare' or 'rabbit' sound? You don't seem like a 'bunny' to me.”

    Karly answered, “Could we go with Lapin? Perhaps I'll get fewer 'bunny' and 'hair' jokes.”

    “Lapin it is then. We'll get you name patches and shirt badge; and stamp it on your flight suit and helmet. By the way as a tradition, now that you have a call sign, I'll tell you my own name. It's George Norman. People called me Gnorman the Gnome for quite a while. If you keep an eye out you may notice a theme with the call signs in the Just Right Turns arm of the fleet. I'm flying the Please Just Right Turns, so I don't fit the pattern. Now, I have to figure out the crew for the JRT-5 and if any other ships are joining us on this first trip through. After we can send a ship with a message back, we'll invite others to join us. They can use the flight-plan data for the jump we will have gained. We will also know if we need equipment or supplies for a rescue.”

    I think I had a good idea of the ships I was going to take. Some that I might have taken were unfortunately that bit bigger than the Freelancer and I didn't want to risk them until I knew what we were up against. I almost was against taking the Freelancer altogether, however we needed it's advanced sensors and it wasn't that much bigger than the 315p or Avenger.

    o o o

    “So here is the roster for the mission: Lapin and Buffalo Gal will be in JRT-4, Avenger and take point. I'll follow up in the PJRT-1, Origin 315p flying manually. Behind me will be the RT-2, Avenger with Libra and Ophidian. They will be followed by the JRT-5, Freelancer with Star Wolf, Cptn Ape, El Tigre, Gruff Nanny and Piglet. Ouroboros will take the rear with the JRT-3, Origin 300i. First person named on each ship of course is pilot and second copilot or spare-board depending on the ship.”

    “That gives us 3 ships with good cargo capabilities to bring medical supplies. They can also be outfitted with emergency evacuation harnesses in case we come back with a bunch of castaways. It also gives us 4 fighter types, two rough and tumble and two nimble and quick to strike at foes. I'll move some extra sensor equipment into the JRT-3 so that all ships will have excellent scanning capabilities whether for faint life-signs, signs of wreckage, or the hunt for the actual location of the Jump-point back.”

    “If all goes well we'll send back the JRT-3 immediately for the ships I have on this written roster. They are to be loaded with whatever I request depending on the situation I find there.”

    There was much commotion seeing the roster, but it made sense based on what skills and ships were selected. The whole crew of the JRT-7, Starlancer had been trained as field medics so they were a good choice to go along in other ships. The JRT-7 wouldn't be going along with the first wave. Starlancer tankers were just too large to be considered on this first pass through the Jump-point. They and Ouroboros also had taken part in trying to rescue the JRT-4 when we were attacked by pirates.

    o o o

    Everything was securely tied down and everyone had a chance to get rested before the first leg to the Wedding Veil system. It might be the last chance we'd be out of flight suits for a little while so it was good to get out in the Sun — even if artificial — at Clarke base and swim a bit in the warm waters of their pools. But this was time for business. The jump to Wedding Veil was a rehearsal for the formation jump we'd make from Wedding Veil into the unknown through Jump-point 9.3. We went through that jump just as if it was the one into the unknown.

    Things went like clockwork and next was the cruise time between the Jump-points. Coming through in formation as a group we entered Wedding Veil fairly close together. Exits into systems were a bit random compared to the discrete location of the Jump-point for leaving.

    “If everyone is ready, Lapin can lead us into our jump. Remember this will be tight flying even if the ships behind me are slaved to my controls. Be prepared at a moment's notice to take the reins.”

    Everyone called in that they were ready and when Lapin acknowledged, I gave her permission to lead on.

    As a group, in daisy-chain formation we entered the Jump-point. Lapin and I made the necessary corrections to vector away from 9.1 which lead to Mote; and 9.2 which lead to Beta. 9.3 was where we wanted to be.

    Even as we slid into the path for the unknown and Jump-point 9.3 the turbulence started.

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  • Gnome

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 13
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    I wasn't too concerned about the turbulence, I was more concerned about the telemetry from the small disposable sensor drones the JRT-4 was pushing out like popcorn. It was a last ditch measure in case the window of the entrance to the Jump-point was too small for the JRT-5 that followed behind the RT-2 which was directly behind me.

    I had a hunch that there would be no problem for the JRT-5 — the Freelancer. Otherwise some parts of the missing carriers would have dropped out of the Jump even in the Wedding Veil system. The Jump-point for Beta was big enough to pass half the remains of the carriers fairly intact and I thought that the other half would have gone through the mystery Jump-point fairly intact as well... other than the whole being torn asunder bit. Also if the Jump was too small for even a Starfarer, then I would have expected that the carrier having been greatly destroyed would have freed up some of the fighters and auxiliary craft and flung them free. If it remained relatively intact, then the auxiliary craft would remain with the other half of the derelict, just as they did with the halves that ended up in the rings of Beta.

    I was certain enough to risk the JRT-5, but not the JRT-7 Starfarer. The measurements taken via the sensor probes would tell us the size. Basically they spread out from the JRT-4 and took on a profile larger than even one of the carriers. We could tell the size in part by which probes didn't make it through all the way and at what time they got stopped. The Freelancer could bail out as long as the RT-2 hadn't gone through the point yet. The plan was for it to bail out to the Beta Jump-point if necessary.

    As the JRT-4 reached the Jump-point and vanished across the threshold I watched for the pattern of disappearance of the probes. The dispersal pattern and disappearance confirmed that you actually could fly a capital ship across the Jump-point threshold. Since multiple Jump-points sharing the same origin was unheard of, SOP — standard operating procedure — was to fly the capital ship down the middle. That would bring the ship to attempting to jump through 2 or 3 Jump-points at once. That wasn't something even a military ship with “shields at ready” could handle.

    I signalled “Green” for go to the RT-2 behind me and they would relay the signal back. I noted the shape of the thresholds for safe future jumps by larger ships. It was a shame we couldn't just radio back to base or to ships waiting to follow from outside the Jump-point threshold.

    The JRT-4 had gone through and now my turn. It was turbulent, but not as bad as my earlier trips had been. When I had crossed the threshold I kept an eye peeled for the JRT-4. We crossed at about the same time so we should be travelling close enough to spot.

    I spotted the JRT-4 Avenger and kept half an eye on her. “Jules, you're keeping an eye on that Avenger aren't you?”

    “Yes sir. I am also watching the RT-2 behind us with sensor capabilities we have to spare after watching JRT-4.” Responded the ship's current avatar.

    I expected the jump to last between 5 and 35 minutes. About 10 minutes into the jump I saw the JRT-4 slewing sideways somewhat.

    “Gnome, she was flying rather closely to the edge of the safe corridor for the jump, wasn't she?” responded Julie to the action of the Avenger.

    “True Julie. I'll be travelling close to another edge of it and the RT-2 will be doing so as well so that we bracket the safe space in the Jump-point corridor. We'll be 120 degrees apart. That will give the Freelancer JRT-5 the safest shot at shooting the jump and clear the way for the JRT-7 Starfarer as well.” I explained to Jules, though I imagine the AI caught on before I finished. We'll have established solid rights of discovery over the Jump-point with the information we are gaining for safe passage. Lapin and I discussed this before we left with Libra of the RT-2 Avenger.”

    “Sir, do you think that Karly knew about the meaning of lapin in English? Or was she just thinking of how lapin meant rabbit in French?” Asked Julie.

    “That's hard to say Jules.”

    o o o

    Things flowed smoothly with only small periods of terror as was usual with unmapped jumps. Even if you weren't discovering a new one — something incredibly rare and difficult to find under normal circumstance — sometimes discoverers of Jump-points weren't forthcoming with information on the points they discovered or shared with their organizations. That meant shooting the jump relatively blind. I knew Lapin had some skill at it and she was confirming that skill with this jump.

    Then her ship appeared to drop sideways about 100 metres and shoot up 50 metres. That was incredible turbulence. Then her ship tumbled out of sight!

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 14
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    Jules only had a chance for one warning for me — “Brace!” before my 5 point harness slammed me tight against the seat and I heard the shield generator go into emergency overdrive. Then the universe spun and the cabin was filled with an all pervasive dusky red glow.

    “Status!” I shouted — unnecessarily considering there was no increase in noise in the ship cabin.

    “Ship is all in the green. The red light is coming from the accretion ring of a red T-Tauri star. Using maximum thrust to bring us out of range of it's polar stellar wind. We entered the system somewhere in line of the polar axis. Jump-point is surmised to be within the polar jet.”

    Jules was supplementing this report with audio-visual presentations and I indicated which ones to continue and which to discontinue.

    “Jules, priority one, survival. Priority two, locate the other ships of our convoy.” I ordered.

    “Affirmative Sir, in process of priority one and two as they do not conflict.” reported Julie.

    “Jules, priority three, locate potential location of Jump-point. Priority four, rendezvous with rest of convoy and preparation for necessary rescue and recovery actions. Priority five, scan for signs of wreckage of UEE Magellan and UEE Drake or their auxiliary craft. Include search for possible signs of 10 to 13-year-old colonies anywhere in system.”

    I was interrupted by Jules. “Sir detecting broken signals from RT-2 and JRT-5. Now detecting transponder from JRT-3.”

    “Jules, reason for broken signals? Report.” I ordered, not yet realizing the reason for the broken signals.”

    “Sir, intense stellar wind activity from T-Tauri star's polar jets are creating intense levels of noise in most parts of the spectrum. Visual light visibility is down to 10,000 km due to dusty environment. Have adjusted ram scoops for dust and high level of molecular hydrogen and helium.”

    “That makes sense Jules, I should have thought of that myself sooner. Continue, I sense by that pause you made that you were deep in calculation or coordinating something?”

    “Yes, sir. I am coordinating with conciergeAI instances on RT-2 and JRT-5. JRT-3 is close enough to drive a signal through to us. No sign of JRT-4.”

    “PJRT, this is JRT-3. Gnome, are you alright there? I'm shaken and stirred, but otherwise okay and Juliet is trying to locate the rest of the convoy. JRT-3, Ouroboros out.”

    “JRT-3, this is PJRT. Ouroboros, we came through okay as well. Jules is in process of connecting with RT-2 and JRT-5. I believe she is looking for a clean frequency we can punch through with; and relying on the fact that the other AI programs are clones of her and so they will come up with the same frequency as her. I have you, RT-2 and JRT-5. Do you have any indication of JRT-4's location and status? PJRT-1, Gnome out.”

    “PJRT, this is JRT-3. Juliet is as surmised doing the same. No sign of JRT-4. JRT-3, Ouroboros out.”

    I heard Juliet in the background on the JRT-3 at the same time Jules broke in. “Gnome, direct communication link with RT-2 and JRT-5 — including JRT-3 in on the channel.”

    Things were coming back to a more normal situation — all things considered.

    “Does anyone have a location on JRT-4? StarWolf, you have the most advanced sensors in the group.”

    “PJRT, this is JRT-5. El Tigre here — Wolf and Ape are dealing with a runaway thruster currently. We hit a solid-er chunk of space coming out into that T-Tauri polar jet. I'll let you know when things are a bit less hectic. But no sign of JRT-4. Rom has surmised that JRT-4 may have come out on the far side of the jet. JRT-5 ET out.”

    “Sir, I concur with Rom. We would have been in contact otherwise by now. There is only a 3% chance she struck debris coming out of the jump. We'd have located wreckage by now, though we are hampered a bit until JRT-5 stabilizes... Romeo on JRT-5 reports that they have the thruster under control, though at 59% efficiency. They are sweeping the frequencies for information from the direction of the jet.”

    “Jules, what is the stability and range of our current communication set-up?”

    “Gnome, I can guarantee around 12 light minutes at 100%. Five light hours drops down to 75% packet loss. We can compensate with even 90% loss through redundancy, though we might be better off with text than voice at 90% loss.”

    “Attention convoy, PJRT here, Gnome speaking. We are going to do a scan around the jet and through the jet for JRT-4. JRT-5 and RT-2 circumnavigate the jet on the spin-ward side. JRT-3, Ouroboros, you are with me on the anti-spin-ward side. JRT-5 you scan the inside of the jet going downstream.

    In a stellar system conservation of angular momentum causes newly formed stars and their accretion disks to rotate in the same direction. Individual stars of course can have disks with much different orientations from each other, but most all things within the system will flow in the same direction. For that reason, a system will have a spin-ward direction and an anti-spin-ward direction for most things even if you don't have a “north” or “south”.

    o o o

    Ouroroboros and I flew around the jet to the anti-spin-ward side — the jet didn't give any indication of rotation, we were comparing the direction with the rest of the system.

    The PJRT and the JRT-3 were better matched to each other which was why for no better reason I had us pair off. Both our ships were Origin 300 series. The JRT-3 was a base model Origin 300i with the search sensor modifications and computer upgrades we had installed. The PJRT-1 was an Origin 315p which was designed for deep-space exploration already and my personal ship.

    We were half-way around the jet at a comfortable speed for maximum sensor utilization, when Jules polarized the canopy!

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    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 15
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    Even polarized, the canopy let in a fair amount of light.

    “Apologies Sir. I couldn't give you any advanced warning. That blast of light was intense enough to have been a problem, however the reflexes of the canopy darkening, polarization fields are quick enough to respond to such a situation. I'm currently tracking down the source of the energy beam. It was a cohesive burst of energy in the visual light spectrum. It was soliton encoded energy wave so it travelled much further that one would expect in the polar jet.” Julie was both apologizing and explaining in nearly the same breath — even though conciergeAI programs don't breath to speak.

    “Jules, please adjust the polarization the canopy so I can see out.” I commanded.

    “Gnome!, Ouroboros here. I saw your ship hit by the light beam. The beam of the light leads into the polar jet and appears to be directed in an arc, like a nautical lighthouse beacon. Juliet suggests it worth checking out.”

    “Sir, I agree.” added Julie. “My suspicion is that Lapin has tuned one of her wing mounted pulse lasers to emit a soliton wave as a beacon. The beam would do no damage to one of our ships, but you can track the beam of it through the dusty environment all the way to it's source.”

    “Ouroboros, take point and lead us to the source of the beam of light. Let's follow that yellow-brick-road to our march hare.” I called to Ourobouros in the JRT-3.

    “Affirmative Gnome. Form up on me!”

    o o o

    In the JRT-5 el Tigre was excitedly reporting to the rest of the crew.

    “I have a grand view of a beacon in the polar jet. It's sweeping in circles and from the instruments here in the turret, it appears that the beam struck another ship on the far side of the jet.” Reported el Tigre. “Can we punch a signal through the jet to the PJRT or JRT-3 and find out if they are the source?”

    Romeo, the JRT-5's conciergeAI replied, “Sorry el Tigre, Sir. The jet just has too much interfering energy in it. We are lucky to be able to operate even here. If a sudden flare-up of the star happened, we would be toasted if I couldn't shoot out of the danger zone at emergency thrust. The star appears acquiescent at the moment and nothing in the accretion disk looks like it will trigger that sort of flare-up in the star. I believe we can head in towards whatever you are targeting with the turret scanners in relative security at this moment. Our shields are more than sufficient if there is no flare-up.”

    “One moment Rom.” El Tigre opened up a comm link to the cockpit. “Starwolf, it's your call of course, but either the RT-2 or us should investigate the source of that energy beam.”

    “ET, I'd like to take a stab at it personally, but we are more useful outside the jet with our sensor packages. I think we'll have to send Libra and Ophidian in.” Responded Starwolf.

    “Rom, punch a carrier through to RT-2. Open channel D” ordered Starwolf of the conciergeAI.

    “Opening a channel boss. Channel open to RT-2” responded Romeo.

    “Hello Starwolf!” replied Ophidian. Does this have to do with the cohesive soliton beam of laser energy coming from within the polar jet?”

    “Affirmative Ophidian. We want you to go investigate the origin of the light beam. We can monitor things better from outside the jet.” Answered Starwolf. “Libra, do you still have the tractor beam mounted on one of your missile racks?”

    Libra answered, “Affirmative Starwolf. We have the tractor on our port hard-point. I think it can work in that sort of radiation onslaught. We can soon find out! Unless there is anything else, we'll be off. Oh, and we'll be careful.”

    “Affirmative Libra, head on in and see if that might be JRT-4. We'll attempt to contact Gnome and Oroboros. Good hunting, I hear it is rabbit season.” Starwolf cleared Libra to take on the mission. He wished he could qualify flying the mission himself. He and the rest of the regular JRT-5 crew had worked with Lapin for a month and considered her more than just another pilot lost in the void.

    o o o

    “Ouroboros, on second thought, I'm going to head into the jet after whatever that light source is — alone. You get back on track and continue to circumnavigate the jet until you find JRT-5 and RT-2. If it is JRT-4 my tractor beam might come in handy. Lapin may need a tow out if she can't fly out on her own.” Gnome told Ouroboros.

    “Affirmative and good luck Gnome. I'll report to the other ships. We'll work out where we go after rendezvous. If you get into trouble, I am sure Jules can figure out how to do that searchlight-beacon trick so you can let us know where you are. I'll talk to you soon. Is there an official ETA you are aiming for? One where we should start to worry?” Ouroboros requested.

    “I don't know for sure Ouro, but if I take longer than 5 hours, beam some searchlights into the jet for me to home in on.” Gnome added, “Tallyho!”

    o o o

    The energy beam wasn't that hard to track to it's source. Ophidian was excellent with the scanners and directions she was sending to Libra's HUD.

    Ophidian reported, “ETA of source is 5 minutes.”

    “Thanks O. Standard retro manoeuvres then?” responded the Avenger pilot.

    “Righty-oh commander! Oh, and It seems like I am detecting a solid object at the source as expected. Too much interference to get any sort of ID. Better polarize the canopy, the beam is sweeping in this direction and may hit us.” said Ophidian.

    “Okay O. Dialing the canopy polarization to opaque.”

    o o o

    Gnome was keeping an eye on the beam, trying to do with the naked eye what the sensors weren't able to. There was a surprising flash from the beam path near where the origin was.

    “Jules, can you take a spectro of the reflected energy?” Gnome requested of Julie.

    “Already in process. It is taking a bit to subtract the interference of the jet.” Jules paused a moment while working on the results.” Okay, composition of the spectrum of the reflected energy, compared with the direct signal of the beam and subtracting interference — It appears to be military spec hull plating consistent with an AEGIS Avenger.” reported Julie.

    “Let's go in and see if it is our rabbit in this hole.”

    Interested in making a comment or reading any?
    Doom of the Bok Globule Commentary

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  • AthrunZ

    Posts: 11

    Enjoying the story very much, I'm on the edge lol
  • Vase

    Posts: 741

    Indeed Well done sir!
  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Thank you very much. @AthrunZ @Vase :-) If you have an questions or remarks, I also have a commentary channel:"
    Doom of the Bok Globule Commentary
    Writing as slowed down greatly as the keyboard of my notebook has broken. It is very difficult to get much typed at present using the virtual keyboard.

  • Gnome

    Posts: 519

    Doom of the Bok Globule
    Part 16
    by DWPenner @GNOME

    Gnorman wondered at the information Jules was presenting in his HUD. “Jules, the origin of the beam wasn't where we got the reflective flash from was it?”

    “Sir, the reflection was approximately 20,000 km range from the source of the beacon laser. If the reflection was off the hull of the JRT-4 the origin of the laser must be from another source thousands of km away from it. That would mean it might not be a beacon.”

    “Jules, I am sure there is a simple explanation for the beam and distance that ship reflection is from it. I can think of one and I am not sure why you haven't? Jules accelerate to maximum safe velocity and head for the source of the laser beam.”

    “Sir, don't you mean the position of the reflection?”

    “No, I don't think anything will be there if we went there. So, maximum safe velocity please.”

    “Aye sir, I should inform you that the closer we get to the location of the beam the greater the chance the beam will sweep over us so I might be polarizing the canopy with little notice.”

    “Thank you for the head's up Jules.”

    o o o

    “Sensor range in 1 minute commander.” Reported Tango, the RT-2's conciergeAI.

    “Thank you Tango.” Responded Libra, the RT-2's commander. “Ophidian, you say that these conciergeAI are now standard on the JRT side of the fleet?”

    “Yes, the whole JRT arm has them and Gnome is rumoured to be installing them on the PJRT arm as well.” Answered Ophidian.

    “...and Gnome created the conciergeAI himself. He was naval R&D wasn't he?” Continued Libra.

    “Yes Libra, but he can't really speak about much he was doing at the time. He claims 'Official Secret's act and is remarkably silent on most of his past outside of his experiences with Gnomestead Transfer.” Responded Ophidian.

    “Please ladies, don't make me blush.” Interjected Tango. “I'm getting useful sensor data now, in case you were interested. It looks like a small one or two man ship and is appropriately the right size for the JRT-4. Further data seems to be confirming that as we get closer.”

    “Tango, can you try to punch a signal through to them?” Requested Libra.

    “Will do, Ma’am.” Responded Tango. “We are getting an intermittent response, but badly messed up by the stellar wind. It has all indications of being the JRT-4. We will be able to confirm in 2 or three minutes considering the randomness of the wind.”

    There was a flurry of activity on the RT-2 as Ophidian and Libra attempted better scans of the ship and fine tuning sensors to make allowance as best as possible considering the radiation outside streaming from the star.

    Tango broke in, “I have enough signal getting through that we are getting a partial transponder signal. It does appear to be the JRT-4. We'll be able to send text messages shortly. Are there any messages that you'd like me to send? — We are completing main retro-burn and will be at standard docking velocity to match the JRT-4.”

    “Tango, text the JRT-4 and let them know who we are and that we are coming. Request their status.” Libra ordered.

    “Yes,” Added Ophidian, “and try listening at alternate frequencies. Something the JRT-4's conciergeAI might be trying to punch through.”

    “Sending messages and scanning for responses in that frequency band as well as others. I am also checking various forms of possible modulation.” Reported Tango.

    o o o

    All was havoc on the JRT-4. Lapin and Buffalo Gal were more often upside down in the cockpit working feverishly on the physical systems of their ship.

    Lapin wondered if the rest of the convoy were suffering the same fate. The rough exit from the jump combined with the high radiation levels they were experiencing. The ship's conciergeAI was offline and they had more pressing tasks that needed to be tended to before they could bring the AI back online.

    “BG, is the life support stable yet? I have the shields going at maximum right now to protect us from the radiation levels outside. I will work on fine tuning the control so we can dial down the shields somewhat. The engine is straining a bit, but I am sure we have enough power to keep life support and shields going and enough to spare for communications. We'll have to shut down the beacon shortly though.” reported Lapin.

    “Life support is now stable. While I was working on it I discovered clues that Julia is not offline, but is unable to access the internal comm system. There does appear to be heavy use of the ship-to-ship comm, though I can't access it yet. Shall I work on the comm system next or getting the AI communicating with us?” Asked Buffalo Gal. “I suggest that fixing the comm system will put us back in contact with Julia.”

    “Do it.” Lapin confirmed. “I don't think we can bring the thrusters up without some EVA work and our suits just aren't up to the challenge of this radiation. I just hope our beacon worked. We aren't going to be able to fly out of this one. I hope the whole stellar system isn't being bathed in this radiation.”

    o o o

    “We're in contact with the JRT-4's AI now, but not in contact with BG or Lapin. Julia is reporting major system failures including comm, engine, life-support, and shields — though shields and life-support are functioning at the moment. The engine is at low efficiency at the moment.” Relayed Ophidian to Libra.

    “We are within visual range now, Ophidian. We should be within naked eye range momentarily.” Libra informed Ophidian.

    Tango confirmed, “Coming into sight of the JRT-4. Julia reports that they have stablized the life-support and shields and are working on other systems.”

    “Okay, their ship-to-ship has come on line.” Continued Tango.

    “RT-2 to JRT-4, do you copy? This is Libra calling. Romeo Tango 2, do you copy?”

    “Libra, this is Buffalo Gal, we copy you. Lapin and I are okay, but the ship's not mobile and EVA is not safe.”

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