Interspace Brush War Part 2

A brushfire war between the Umbral Empire and Confederated Syndicate. Part 2


David Beverley

2/19/20245 min read


The wait had turned out to be not nearly as terrible as I had expected. I think Tiff was worried about me as she spent most of the shift and our free time talking to me and keeping me distracted. It didn’t entirely work as I caught on quick, but I appreciated the effort all the same. We shared a couple cups of coffee and talked about our upcoming shore leave. I learned she had been a private charter pilot for a few years before joining during the last major war. She had been swept up in the time's rhetoric about an alien threat on the border. I got a sense that she didn’t regret signing up, but the experiences of the last war weighed on her. I told her I had signed up near the end of the war and was never stationed on a frontline vessel. She didn’t offer an opinion on that in either direction. Eventually the conversation naturally died off, and we offered each other poor excuses to head off to our quarters and parted ways, or tried to. Once we said goodbye, both of us started off in the same direction immediately and we laughed at the absurdity of it. This started another round of conversation while we walked together to the officer’s quarters and we finally parted ways in the last corridor. I slept okay that night.

My scheduled alarms went off much too soon, and I unzipped my sleep pouch with a sigh. I was to be the weapons officer on duty during the transition to real space. I put on my one uniform that I never wore except for special events per protocol, despite thinking it was unnecessary for a picket posting. The odds of a diplomatic discussion between our Captain and a Captain of a Syndicate vessel were beyond unlikely. Especially one that would be close enough to support a real-time video. I followed orders and got dressed before making my way to the galley to grab a quick bite of food and a coffee before arriving on the bridge. It was going to be an endless day and opportunities to step away were likely to be few and far between. As I expected to be on a ‘four pip’ alert status today, I opted for a coffee mug with a no spill lid and magnetics which would prevent it from flying around in case of evasive maneuvers. The artificial gravity on UEN ships was exceptionally reliable, but rapid changes in direction or damage could cause a lapse long enough to jostle free the hot liquid and hurt me or the ship’s control panels. Using this style of mug was common enough to not cause alarm among the general crew, but I knew well enough that putting it on obvious display could send the message to the crew that we were expecting trouble. I decided that having the crew rumor mill keying people up to work a bit harder wouldn’t be a bad idea and held my mug by the base to keep the lid on display.

Shifting my grip on the mug to keep the bridge staff from catching onto my action, I strode onto the bridge. The pair of marines at the door nodded to me as I displayed my clearance when I passed, but they didn’t announce me to the rest of the bridge. That protocol was reserved for Captain level personnel and above; it would simply take too much energy to interrupt everyone for any person lower ranked than that. I walked up to the relief officer, who had taken up the previous shift, and thanked him. He nodded and gave me a fist bump as he left. I had never liked the cocky attitude that a lot of the weapons officers had about their roles. I agreed that firing a bus sized projectile strong enough to punch a hole through an asteroid was very empowering, but I could never shake the idea that I was also going to destroy whatever, or whoever, was on the other end. Within ten minutes, the entire relief duty crew was off the bridge and the primary staff was in position for the exit to real space. As if on cue, the guards entered and made the announcement.

“Attention! Captain on deck!” the rightmost guard bellowed.

We all rose to attention immediately, as we were not actively performing maneuvers or combat actions. Unlike my previous Captain, this man gave a stiff salute and scanned each officer individually before allowing anyone to sit rather than giving the casual ‘at ease’ while still in mid-stride. I had been in the middle of writing a sentence for a report when he entered and the rest of it completely slipped my mind. Pain in the ass.

“As you were...” the Captain said slowly after already taking up way too much time. It felt like he was savoring the authority and lingered on the words to make it last. As soon as we were able, everyone went back to their stations, and I saw over my shoulder, at least two of the other officers had to stretch and grumbled the same as I had. Captain Pace took his seat and pulled up an approximated map of Interspace and real space. Locational precision in this dimension when compared to real space was challenging, even for the best navigators in the galaxy, and the map reflected that fact. While we could measure our relative position in Interspace, the area of appearance in real space was much more difficult to calculate. Appropriately, the map of real space had a ring around the icon representing our ship, indicating the potential locations that we could appear. As The Watchman slowed, the ring would shrink as the mathematics became simpler to process. Eventually, the targeting would be accurate enough that we could calculate our relative position within a star system. Despite this marvel, it was generally accepted to arrive on the edge of the system near the trailing Lagrange point of the outermost planet for scanning, as we were doing. The other option was to aim for the leading Lagrange point of whatever body you were attempting to interact with, be it landing or otherwise. Of course, the higher the quality of your equipment, the closer you could get to the planet in question, although most nations and even local governments had their own minimums to prevent overconfident pilots from causing damage.

Our old ship was not at the top of the line, but it could still hold its own in travel and combat. Within an hour, we would convert to a star system view and prepare for real space re-entry. We had a relatively simple mission for this deployment. All we were required to do was sit on the outskirts and perform a detailed scan of the system to catalog any changes in status since our last visit. This system was part of a buffer region agreed upon by the Umbral Empire and Syndicate as a neutral strip separating the two nations. While it held a colonizable world and a marginal amount of resources, the system was not so valuable that either nation was likely to violate a non-aggression treaty in order to seize it. We simply needed to validate that the other nation had not violated that agreement. The other nation was encouraged to do the same, and everyone aboard found it likely that they would arrive at the same or a similar time as we did. The scans were scheduled and routine, allowing for messages to be passed between the pickets if the political situation changed. Our arrival to the system would be the most dangerous few minutes of the deployment as our sensors and Interspace drive would need to recover. That period of blindness and inability to flee was the largest threat a modern vessel faced, and we were headed right towards it.