2949-03-09 – Tales from the Service: Arowana’s Encounter
As further information has been released about the movements and adventures of the Lost Squadrons in their fifteen months cut off from friendly forces, a number of members of the audience have requested – demanded, really – an interview with Captain Samuel Bosch. While this publication interviewed the man before the war, and would very much appreciate a chance to do so again, I must remind you all that this embed team is aboard the Fifth Fleet battleship Saint-Lô, which is still undergoing repairs in the Maribel system. Bosch is still aboard his now-well-known flagship Arrowhawk, which is currently on the other side of the Gap at Sagittarius Gate. Even if it were on its way back toward Core Worlds yards for a refit – which to my knowledge it is not – there is no reason it should stop here at Maribel. I fear these requests are not likely to be fulfilled.
Though I cannot bring you the words of Bosch himself, this week Naval Intelligence has cleared us to share an account from Walker Gorman, skipper of a picket cutter among the Lost Squadrons. His account, which we will continue next week, seems to partially explain the relationship between the Incarnation and the Grand Journey (mentioned to Mus’ad Balos in Tales from the Service: A Reacher's Request), but to understand how it does that, you will need to wait until next week's entry. To my knowledge, this feed has an exclusive on Mr. Gorman's account - it won't be available elsewhere on the datasphere before then.
The Lost Squadrons, in their wandering through the Sagittarius Frontier, seem to have run into this Grand Journey – or at least, some of its warships.
Lieutenant Walker Gorman barely glanced over at the situation plot as the EVA team’s utility sled dart out from the open hatch below Arowana’s bow. He couldn’t take his eyes off the green world below, where twilight marched across a vast, branching mega-continent. The system deep within the Sagittarius Frontier had no formal name, only an anonymous catalog number, and it contained a world that he could already tell rivalled Maribel in terms of habitability and natural beauty.
Before the war, Walker had been planning to leave the Navy. He loved the spacers’ life, but there hadn’t seemed much hope of advancement in the peacetime officer corps. He’d been a lieutenant for eleven years, passed up for promotion twice, and even the shuffling after the Great Purge hadn’t opened up any windows through which he could rise beyond command of a lowly picket cutter. Unglamorous as civilian service was, it would give him a chance to run his own ship and his own life, and maybe leave room in that life for a family. He’d grown up in just such a spacer family, after all.
All those dreams had been put on hold when his little Arowana and the whole scouting group it was assigned to had been sent across the Gap. They hadn't known then what they were getting into – nobody did. The flag cruiser of their group, swift and elegant Mistralion, had perished within weeks of the cutting of the HyperComm relay chain, lost with all hands under the cannons of a pair of those damnable Tyrant cruisers, and Arowana had done what the rest of its force had done – scattered and fled.
Arowana had linked up with the Arrowhawk scouting group, along with the other survivors of Mystralion’s squadron. There, in the dubious shelter of Sam Bosch’s wings, his little crew had come to terms with the reality that, at least in the short term, the cavalry wasn’t coming. There would be no rescue they couldn’t make themselves.
Making a rescue was of course why his cruiser sat in orbit over a nameless green world. The system had been the location of a privately held colony of about fifteen hundred Confederated humans before the Incarnation’s swift cruisers had swept hopeful Confederated colonists from its side of the Gap. Walker and his ship had come to check if this tiny outpost had survived, and had been entirely unsurprised to find silent radio bands and a scorched crater where the settlement had once been.
The Incarnation, however, had not been completely thorough; the colony’s modest orbital dock had been haphazardly lacerated by energy beams, but it remained stubbornly in orbit, a disemboweled hulk. Two of the crew had volunteered to go over to the wreck to scavenge for usable equipment, and he had allowed it. He hoped picking the bones of a dead colony would permit some of the Lost Squadrons’ ships and personnel to live a little longer.
“Skipper, I’m picking up new drive signatures headed in-system, two of them!”
Walker whirled away from the display to young third-lieutenant Kuijpers on the sensor station. “Incarnation?”
“Computer’s working on it, sir.”
“Go to condition two and take the ship dark.” Deep in a stellar gravity well as it was, even abandoning the spacers and their utility sled and running for the jump limit wouldn’t save Arowana if the incoming ships were Incarnation cruisers. Thankfully, the ship had been in a stable orbit for two hours, its easily detectable gravitic drive disengaged – if the ships were hostile, they might not have seen the miniscule cutter burning its way into the system to the habitable world. Though not designed for stealth, Arowana could do a creditable impression of a chunk of debris if nobody put a visual-light telescope on it, and the ship didn’t need to move under its own power.
In moments, the condition two alert blared through the intercom, and the dozen-odd crew still on the ship scrambled to prepare for action. The ship’s running lights died, and the inner lights dimmed as all nonessential power usage was curtailed.
Vasyl Zini, one of the volunteers clinging to the utility sled, noticed that something was happening right away. “Skipper, the ship just went dark.”
“Unknown ships in-system, Mr. Zini. We’re going to lie low until they’re gone. Continue the salvage operation.” He couldn’t tell the tech that there was nothing anyone on Arowana could do but hope to evade notice; it helped morale if Walker always emphasized what he and his subordinates could do, rather than what was out of their control.
“Ah... Understood, sir. Let us know if-”
Whatever else Zini said, Walker didn’t hear it. “Unknown drive signatures are a partial match for Incarnation cruisers, sir.” Kuijpers half stood up from her station, as if to bolt off the command deck to abandon ship.
“Steady.” Walker waved her back down. “We’ve only seen one kind of Incarnation warship out here. What does a partial match mean?”
The young woman eased back into her seat, hands dancing over the console. “In this case, sir... Their drive signatures are nearly identical. It’s the same hardware, sir, these ships just have more of them and they’re running each one at fairly low power.”
“More drive units?”
“The standard Tyrant-type has twin gravitic drives. These ships have five each, sir.”
Walker took a moment to do the math, then shook his head in amazement. Incarnation cruisers, despite their size, were extremely fast vessels, capable of acceleration which would outpace every Confederated Worlds battleship, carrier, and cruiser currently in service. Only destroyers and the fastest models of cutters had a chance of outrunning the huge Incarnation warships in a footrace, but Arowana was not of this swift variety. Why would anyone need two and a half Tyrants of drive power, especially if they were only running them at very low power settings?
“Stay dark and continue to monitor.” It was the only order he could give; going unnoticed was his ship’s only hope to survive to return to the bulk of Bosch’s scratch force, with or without a few salvaged parts from the orbital dock.