Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chapter Eleven

He had outrun their chase ships, dodge them and outfox them as he had jinked and danced through their star system. He'd left them far behind him wondering exactly what he was going to do next and what his destination could be.

As soon as he was sure that they weren't in pursuit, he begin a long, looping turn, and headed for the fleet. He'd found the answer to the question. He'd found a spacefaring race that guarded its system with firepower and even if it wasn't the one for which they searched, it was a hostile one. It was an enemy.

Once he knew he was clear, Clark sank back in the seat, lowered the back so that he was nearly stretched out flat, and then scanned the HUD. Nothing of importance showed anywhere near him.

He reached out and touched a button. The HUD disappeared, replaced by a holographic display warning him that duplication of the copyrighted material was punishable by a stiff fine and more than a year in prison. He wondered how they would find out that he had made an unauthorized copy of the holo and then how they would prosecute him if they did. And a year in prison didn't frighten him.

He dimmed the cockpit lights, engaged the computerized automatic pilot with the course to the fleet plotted, and sat back to watch. The warning faded into a six inch high woman dancing slowly. She was joined by a man and together they disappeared. The story was about to begin.

It was a silly story of a man about to be launched into space and who wouldn't return for more than two years. A story of separation and how the man and the woman lived with that problem. And while he thought it silly, there was nudity in it, and that was one of the criterion he used to judge a holo. As long as he got to see some flesh, the story didn't mean much.

But the story was so silly that he couldn't stay awake. He fell asleep and didn't awaken until the computer chimed. He noticed the holo was replaced by the HUD.

"Target approaching."


"Rock and metal. Sensors indicate it to be natural."

"You woke me to tell me that... avoid it."

"Action initiated. Target to the starboard. Range is two thousand meters."

Clark looked out the window and thought that he could see the asteroid but wasn't sure. It was too dark.

"I assume that there is no one aboard that rock."

"Negative biological indications."

Clark straightened up and raised the back of his seat. He scrubbed his face roughly with both hands and then stretched as much as he could in the confined area of the cockpit. "Distance to fleet?"

"Twenty-seven hours at current speed."

"Let's punch it up," said Clark. "I want to get there as quickly as possible."


Clark scanned the HUD and found it clear. He lowered the rear of his seat again and said, "I don't want to be awakened for natural phenomenon. Evade it and return to course. I want to be at the fleet as quickly as possible."


Clark leaned back and then closed his eyes. There was no sensation of motion, just the quiet sounds of the craft in space. The hum of the computer circuits, the pinging of the sensors as they searched for the enemy or anything that might be in his way, and the groaning of servos as they kept the ship on the proper course.

Normally he couldn't hear the sound or ignored them. At the moment they were comforting, letting him know that the ship was functioning properly. They relaxed him just as the ticking of a clock somethings relaxed small animals.

When he awakened, the HUD showed nothing new. He was still in deep space away from planetary systems and artificial ships. He scanned the other instruments and found nothing of interest there.

"Distance to the fleet?"

"One hour."

"Show me on the HUD."

A series of flashing yellow lights appeared. The distance in miles was shown, as well as the flying time. Clark rubbed his hands together, moved his seatback to the full upright position and said, "I have the controls."


"Activate the IFF so that they know who we are."


Clark settled in to watch as the numbers on the HUD wound down as the distance to the fleet slipped away. He kept his hand on the control stick though there was no reason for it. There was nothing for him to hit. But sitting in the cockpit, controlling the ship, made him feel as if he was doing something important and that helped keep him awake.

"Time to decelerate from light," announced the computer.

"I know," snapped Clark. He pulled back on the throttle but there was no immediate change. The the stars seemed to come into focus and Clark was sure that he felt a shifting in his stomach as slipped through transition from light speed to sublight.

"Give me a view of the fleet."

On the HUD the first of the ships appeared. It was a distant speck barely visible against the backdrop of space. He punched it up and got his first good look at the fleet. The flagship was hidden in the middle of the formation. It was no larger than any of the others. There was nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the fleet. Nothing that would cause an enemy to notice it.

"Begin the landing sequence," said Clark.


His computer was now communicating with the computer in the landing bay of the flagship. All he had to do was obey the instructions on the HUD for landing. It was almost like the computer simulations used to teach the technique.

He wound his way among the ships of the fleet and aimed at the center of the flagship. As he neared it, approaching slowly, a large hatch near the rear became to open. Bright lights around flared and began flashing. The interior, now visible, had a bright yellow line of lights down the center. Against the far bulkhead were red and green lights.

Clark centered his ship using the lights and then leaned back, letting the computer handle the problem of landing. He just didn't feel like doing it himself.

He slipped over the threshold and was inside the flagship. The hatch irised closed and bright lights burst on. The glass of the windows darkened so that the light didn't momentarily blind Clark.

There was a slight bump as his ship contacted the deck, and the computer shut down the various systems, keeping the life support on for the moment. Clark unbuckled his restraints, reached out and patted the instrument panel. "Nice job," he said.

"Thank you," said the computer, the voice suddenly deep and husky.

Clark pushed himself from the seat, cracked the hatch and saw a contingent coming across the hangar deck toward him. "Well, I guess it's time to go to work."

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