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Voyage of the Neophyte

by Pete Jorgensen
March 21, 2004

Prologue

It was a small but well built spacecraft. The blue hull plating gleamed with a patina of newness, yet had the look and feel of something older and more established. It was a moderately powered ship built to cover long distances with great authority. The hypertrans drive wouldn’t win her a victory in a sprint, but it would keep going when faster ships would pause for a breath of light. The Akacia traveled alone through a sparsely populated realm of Kingdom Space engaged in a search unique in her time.

Captain Tenn leaned forward in the command chair as he pored over the star charts. “We entered Sector C’pray back here.” He pointed at a finite moment on the detailed map up on the main viewscreen. “We have not encountered any intelligent life forms yet, but I feel the time is right to launch the beacon.” He leaned back in the chair and briefly closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The captain was a large man, yet gentle in the ways of command. He had a way of bringing forth consensus with his decisions that both endeared him to his crew and created a fierce loyalty to his command.

The first officer looked expectantly at his captain. “Sir?”

Tenn looked up and surveyed the small but efficient bridge. His gaze met the first officer’s as he quietly said, “Make it so.”

“First to Spacebay, activate the beacon.”

A reply floated through the com system. “Beacon activated and functioning normally, sir.” The entire bridge crew seemed to hold their breath.

“Beacon H.O.P.E. launched, sir.” The brightly colored object became visible on the main viewscreen. It pulsed in a display of many colors as it began transmitting a message in multiple languages and dialects. The Human Operative Parser Engine had begun its work and a collective cheer came forth from the crew of Akacia.

Deep in a forgotten part of the sector, a lone ship struggled along on thrusters only. It appeared to be in a state of construction with many sections only partially assembled. It was larger than it should have been, seeming to reach for a greatness it was unsure of accommodating. A lone figure in an envirosuit struggled with a sleek external pod. “I’ll have to rearrange these panels again,” he said to no one in particular. “I don’t like the way it’s going together.”

His earpiece suddenly activated startling him to awareness of things beyond the immediate problem. “Sir, we are receiving a strange transmission. I think you should hear this.”

“Put it on the link,” he replied.

At first there was only static, but then a clear voice began to resolve above the noise floor. “Calling all able ships. We desire to join together in a new mission of exploration in Sector C’pray. All who desire to meet together in this purpose please rendezvous with our ship, the Akacia, at the following coordinates.” A space-time reference followed and then the transmission repeated.

Inside the envirosuit, Captain Thunder inhaled quickly. His pulse quickened as he replied on the com link. “This could be what we’ve been waiting for. Bring me in Commander.”

“Roger Cap.” A tight traction beam latched on to the suit and quickly dragged it to the airlock. The Captain quickly normalized the port. He was already stripping the suit off as he exited into the ship. He stowed the suit carefully in its storage bay, and then turned to face his first officer.

“Report Commander.” He waited anxiously as she checked a nearby control panel. She was all business when on duty. Her long red hair was curled into a neat bun, proof against the vagaries of fluctuating gravity fields. He never did forget the time when the gravity suddenly failed and her hair engaged the nearest air vent. Thunder smiled at the memory.

She turned to face him. “We have partial main power. There are enough reserves to engage the hypertrans briefly. It would be enough to get us to these coordinates.” She paused to take a breath. “Captain, the energy deficit continues to grow. We need a permanent solution.”

Thunder’s face grew stern. “I know our situation, mister. Let’s get to these coordinates and then issue a distress call. Perhaps a friend we do not yet know can help the good ship Vertical Alignment.”

The bright chrome craft appeared in the vicinity of the beacon. It quickly scanned the area, determining the authenticity of the call. As it finished its scan another ship exited transpace uncomfortably close to the position of the chrome vessel. The captain sighed as he recognized the unusual ship. He keyed the com link and called out, “Ajalon to Vertical Alignment; when are you going to learn how to drive that thing, Thunder?”

A chuckle floated back through space. “Hey there Cappy, you’re just the guy that I need to see right now.”

Captain Randino smiled from his bridge. He liked Thunder but he never seemed to be able to get that ungainly ship working right. “Have you solved the power deficit yet, Captain?”

A short sigh came through the link. “You sound like my commander, Cappy. Not yet, but I think there’s something bigger afoot. Did you hear that call?”

“That’s why we’re here, Ace,” Captain Randino replied.

“Ever heard of the Akacia? I think she’s a new ship in the quadrant.”

“Yeah, T-Man, she’s been around. Never met her Cap, though.”

At that moment the sky blue Akacia exited transpace to appear near the two ships. Thunder replied, “Well, I think we’re about to, Cappy.”

“Roger that.”

The Gatekeeper was a fearsome presence. His long dark hair flowed in aggressive curls that seemed to defy gravity itself. A black eye patch covered part of his face while never lessening the intensity of his gaze. He wore body armor, even on his own bridge. He felt one must always be ready to do battle. His sleek black ship, the Amgor, echoed the sentiment.

“Captain sir, new transmission coming in now.” The message of H.O.P.E. filtered on to the bridge of Amgor as the captain and crew listened intently. As it began to repeat, the Gatekeeper motioned with a chopping hand movement across his neck. The com officer immediately cut the message.

The Gatekeeper stroked his chin absently. “It could be a trick, sir,” his first officer stated cautiously.

“Yes it could be, First. Charge all weapons, shields on full. Helm, take us to those coordinates. Eyes wide open, everyone.”

Amgor came to full power and raced forth to a new destiny.

Captains Tenn, Thunder and Randino sat at a conference table aboard the Akacia. Thunder looked at Randino with a mischievous smile. “You know more than you’re telling us, Cappy.”

Randino did an admirable job of looking uninformed and disinterested. “I just think there may be more out there than Captain Tenn thinks.” He made a quiet mental note to try communication with the Beardless and the P’kaw when he returned to his ship. Captain Morse was notoriously hard to contact as the Beardless was a spacetime vessel. You never knew where or when she might be. Captain Kerlive was just as bad. His vessel, the P’kaw, was off on a distant mission and he didn’t even know if he could locate her. She was a grand old ship, easily the oldest in the sector. They would all benefit from her presence.

Captain Tenn stood. “Gentlemen, let us hold station for now and see who will join us.”

“Agreed,” Thunder said. Randino nodded and smiled. Thunder looked at him with arched eyebrow. He’s up to something.

Akacia’s com link sputtered to life. “Bridge to Tenn. We’ve got company Captain.”

“On my way.” Tenn looked at his two new friends. “Care to join me, gentlemen?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Thunder replied. “You coming, Cappy?”

“Right behind you T-Man.”

Tenn smiled at the easy camaraderie of the two. He fervently hoped that a whole group could come together on such cordial terms.

The three entered the bridge to behold an ominous black ship on the viewscreen. The first officer looked at Tenn expectantly. “She doesn’t answer our hails, sir.”

Captain Randino chuckled. “Let me talk to this guy.”

Tenn looked at Randino for a moment and then called out, “On screen. Make it good Captain.”

“Randino to Gatekeeper. Will you please lower you shields long enough to be sociable?”

A quick laugh shot forth from the com link as a dark visage appeared on the screen. “I thought I recognized that space flea Ajalon out there. What in spacetime is going on here Captain?”

“We’ve got some new friends, Gatekeeper. Meet Captains Tenn and Thunder.”

Gatekeeper smiled disarmingly. “Well that’s different. A pleasure to meet you, Captains. How can I be of service?”

Thunder shook his head and smiled. Cappy always has a trick up his sleeve.

New ships began to congregate in the vicinity. There was the DiS, a compact vessel with Deep Port drive that utilized the extreme high and low ends of the power band with great efficiency. Only slightly larger than a shuttle, the ship could leap into transpace at the drop of a photon.

There was the E’jer, a somewhat blocky but powerful craft that bore the deep scars of recent battle. All who knew Captain Jerlin suspected that he had escaped a terrible catastrophe with barely his life. Whatever had happened to him, it seemed to empower him to support this new enterprise and render assistance where it was needed. His lengthy explanations were sometimes tedious, but all who knew him well recognized that he always made his point and contributed to those around him. The E’jer was a steady asset to the growing flotilla.

And then came the Lazarus. The vessel was larger than any in the fleet so far. Manned by enigmatic Carelians, the ship dwarfed those around it. Captain Groves was typical of his species, choosing to speak in dark parables that never fully revealed their purpose. When asked to declare himself plainly, Groves would only smile mysteriously. Though he seemed to dissemble his purpose, he quickly showed himself a staunch ally who could be depended upon in a fight.

“ShadowStar to Akacia, we’re dead in space. I have my crew working around the clock to get us going. Keep us apprised of your progress. It is our intention to join you as soon as we’re operational. Until then, ShadowStar out.”

Captain Tenn steepled his fingers and pondered this latest development. He took a deep breath and called out, “Contact the fleet.”

The com link sprang to life. “Captains all, it is time that we set forth. Prepare for departure. I know that more will join us on the way, but we must be going.”

A voice answered on the link. “But what do we call ourselves? We must have a purpose to drive us and a label to define us.”

Everyone recognized the rarely heard voice of Captain Groves as he came on the link. “Labels are evil,” he stated succinctly.

“What do you mean Captain?” Several other questions floated over the link but Groves maintained an enigmatic silence.

Tenn waited for the queries to die down. “We can begin to decide these things, but we need to decide them on the journey.”

“Agreed,” responded Thunder on the link. “Let’s get this show on the spaceways Captains!”

Everyone signaled their agreement and set off for regions unknown, following the lead of the good ship Akacia.

To be continued…

© 2006 Peter Jorgensen

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