Here’s the Prologue for the third in the Birthright series, Enemy of My Enemy:
Jock Navarre wiped a hand across his eyes and glanced again at the holographic display. “Freighter CCV-13889 Juneau, you are cleared to dock,” he droned, seeing the green halo surrounding the fat, ugly, ungainly ship’s profile as it hung in space a hundred kilometers from the station. Behind it, the blue, brown and green arc of Tahn-Skyyiah hung suspended in the firmament, so much more welcoming than the antiseptic white of the Commonwealth Garrison station.
Until you actually go down there and see it, Navarre amended to himself. I’d rather sit up here in orbit for a year than have to live down there with those tight-ass, grumpy bastards.
“Hey bud,” Navarre heard a voice through the shroud of holographic images that surrounded him and he shifted his control chair backwards out of the projection circle to see a tall, slender man with pinched, dark features striding casually through the hatch of the Docking Control Center. His blue Commonwealth Spacefleet uniform was as neat as the ‘fresher in his quarters could make it, but was worn with an air of sloppiness that hung over the man like a cloud. “Shift almost over?”
“You know it is, Sal,” Navarre sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Our schedules haven’t changed in over a month, have they?”
“Since you pissed off Commander Kage, you mean?” Salman Kapoor said with a malevolent chuckle.
“Hey, I was following protocols,” Navarre insisted plaintively. “It’s not my fault some Tahni territorial governor got his shorts in a wad because his transport didn’t have proper clearance.”
“Preaching to the choir, bud,” Sal raised his hands in a placating gesture. “I think half those assholes still won’t accept they lost the war.”
“It’s only been fifteen years,” Navarre grumbled, sliding his chair back into place at the center of the control display. “You’d think it’d have sunk in by now.”
“Technician Kapoor,” a female voice carried over from across the control room, “do you have any actual work to do or are you here to distract Technician Navarre from his?”
“Sorry, Lieutenant Price,” Kapoor said, coming to attention as the officer stepped over from the other side of the control room. Her uniform was everything his wasn’t: tailored perfectly, every fastener carefully aligned right down to the straps on her boots. Her hair was cut shorter than his and her dark eyes looked as if they were capable of burning a hole through Salman Kapoor. “I thought Jock was almost off duty and…”
“Technician Navarre has four minutes and thirty two seconds left before his shift ends,” Price informed him. “You can either wait in the corridor or you can stand quietly and stop being a distraction.” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “The third alternative is that I call your shift supervisor and report you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sal said, stepping back and standing against the bulkhead. “I’ll be quiet, ma’am.”
Price nodded sharply and started to turn back to the other side of the work area when she paused, eyes focused on something in Navarre’s display.
“What are they doing?” she asked, and Navarre turned to see that she was staring at the avatar of a Tahni cargo hauler approaching in a docking orbit.
“That’s the scheduled laser-launch capsule from the planetside distribution center,” he told Lt. Price, fighting not to shrug. She didn’t like enlisted men being casual with officers. “Their lading is…” he snuck a look at the readout before continuing, “…bulk foodstuffs for the base processors. It should be docking in a couple minutes.”
“I can see that, Technician Navarre,” Price snapped impatiently. “What I want to know is, why is that capsule on a heading for the passenger lock instead of the cargo lock?”
Navarre blinked, then pulled up a schematic of the station next to the line that showed the trajectory of the cargo capsule. The Commonwealth Orbital Garrison which had kept a watchful eye on the Tahni homeworld these last fifteen years was a huge, armored, spinning barrel with non-rotating docking facilities at each end. The north polar docking ring was for non-military cargo—food, raw materials for the fabricators and such—while the south polar ring was for passengers and sensitive military cargo.
It was also where the stations weapons were emplaced…
“Oh, shit,” Navarre muttered, hands flying through the haptic holograms as he hunted down the manual override for the capsule’s automatic guidance controls. “I’m taking manual control,” he told Price, surprised his voice was so calm given the roiling in his stomach.
Navarre brought up the maneuvering thrusters and ordered them to shunt the capsule to a slightly lower trajectory, towards the south polar docking facilities. The order went through and was confirmed by the cargo capsule’s on-board control systems. And then nothing happened.
“The capsule is not responding to manual controls, ma’am,” he reported, feeling a surge of panic. “Orders?”
“Issue an alert to the North Polar docks and adjust its orbit with the Gauss cannon,” she rattled off as if she’d had the answer memorized and had practiced it before her shift.
“Aye, ma’am,” he confirmed, then opened a line to the secure docking ring even as he brought up the targeting systems for the Gauss cannon. She could have ordered him to hit the capsule with the lasers, but if the beam weapon didn’t completely vaporize the craft then whatever fragments remained would still impact the docking ring. The solid rounds from the coilguns were the size of small groundcars and would push the capsule into a different trajectory that would hopefully take it clear of the station. “Attention docking security,” he droned as he brought the coilguns to bear, “we have a rogue cargo capsule headed your way. Attempting to redirect with the Gauss cannons. Please prepare for debris collision.”
Before they could respond, before he could give the order to fire, before Price could say another word, the capsule’s thrusters did finally fire…but not the maneuvering thrusters. The main drive, the one that should have had its fuel supply exhausted by the trajectory transfer after the launch laser had taken it into orbit, ignited with an intense flare of hydrogen and oxygen. The capsule covered the few kilometers to the North Polar docking ring in a second.
“Collision alert!” Navarre yelled at the same time as Lt. Price, and he tensed up instinctively, even though he knew he wouldn’t feel the impact from where they sat deep in the armored core of the station.
Then his display whited out completely before disappearing in a spray of grey static, and he did feel something…a rumbling that was not like an impact at all, but more like the entire station wobbling on its axis as if the whole thing had been struck by a giant hammer.
“What the fuck?” Sal had time to exclaim as he stepped away from the shuddering bulkhead.
It was the last thing Salman Kapoor ever said. Before he had time to draw another breath, the Commonwealth Spacefleet Orbital Garrison at Tahn-Skyyiah erupted in a fusion explosion as hot as the heart of a sun and abruptly ceased to exist.
More to come!