Monday, June 13, 2016

Bark: Incursion - Chapter Thirty-Six

2702. – Crab Nebula; CFV-B Pallas

The scout report hadn’t revealed anything new, meaning that we were still on schedule begin the assault on the Swarm World just after midnight. It had been difficult saying goodbye to Nova, particularly since I had only just been able to process and acknowledge the realisation that I loved her. She had practically begged me again to move my command to Erebus, but I had once again declined, as I felt Pallas’s crew didn’t deserve to be abandoned on the eve of battle by their Commanding Officer. Their excellence and loyalty had gotten me the command of the battlegroup in the first place; I felt I owed it to them to be at their side when they faced the dangers of the nebula and whatever awaited us at the Swarm World. Nova had reluctantly understood my decision, but gave me a stern warning as she helped me get my shuttle prepped to transit back to Pallas.

“Don’t do something fucking stupid, like getting yourself killed, Gus. When we get out of that nebula I’m not letting you get out of arm’s reach ever again.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I had replied, giving her an ironic salute.

I tried to regulate my breathing as I sat in the command chair on Pallas’s bridge. I never suffered nerves or doubts when on the wrong end of an ambush, because then it was a purely reactive situation and my trained combat instincts automatically kicked in, but I was always apprehensive before a pre-planned combat engagement. The sense of anticipation was terrible, as my thoughts always raced through dozens or hundreds of different scenarios of how things could go wrong or deviate from the plan. I was almost physically itching to get started, so that I could focus on the battle at hand, rather than fret about all the things that might happen. I took inspiration from Robson, who was sat beside me, my literal right hand man. He appeared as cool as liquid nitrogen, calm and controlled; ready for whatever the battle was going to throw at us.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{ArtEMIS, give me a tactical overlay, please.}-
AI.#CFV-B Pallas -{Certainly, Admiral.}-

ArtEMIS hooked my neural link into the tactical systems and I had to grip the armrests of my chair as the sheer volume of information briefly overwhelmed my senses. My neural implant did most of the heavy processing for me, stripping out the key information and augmenting my vision with a virtual reality holographic projection to show me the positions and readiness states of all the ships in my battlegroup and also Number Six’s rebel force. I could use thought impulses to manipulate my 3D view of the battlespace, select targets and even send direct orders to any ship in the battlegroup in real-time. I rarely interfaced with the ship’s systems like this, as it was mentally very draining. Normally I preferred to use the haptic control boards on the bridge stations, but I decided that the coming battle would require a much deeper level of situational awareness and that a couple of hours of discomfort was worth it for the tactical advantage that it gave. It would also give me a chance to test the capabilities of my now unlocked AI core. Its enhanced processing speed compared to my human brain allowed me to process information and react faster to it that I had been able to ever before, almost as if I had an inbuilt slow motion filter that I could flip over my perception of reality. Nova had warned me not to over-use the ability, as any obvious leap in the speed of my decision-making could potentially raise suspicions among my crew and the wider fleet.

I had taken aboard Nova's caution, but she needn't have worried. I had only just started being able to make use of the extra speed and computational capacity of my embedded AI core, and even with its help, I was still having to fight off a sense of information overload. Sub-Commander Randall somehow maintained a data link like this 24 hours a day, even when he was asleep. No wonder he’s nuts, I thought. Randall himself was down in Main Engineering, communing with his machines, leaving Lieutenant Santoro to man the engineering station on the bridge. Otherwise, the bridge was staffed entirely by department heads, as was dictated by Fleet regulations for pre-planned combat engagements. Even Kimi had reported to the bridge, given that there was little else for him to do while the ship was at Condition One. Technically, Kimi’s battle station was his office, but he was also a fully trained paramedic as well as a psychologist, so he was useful to have on hand in case anyone needed immediate medical attention on the bridge. He sat on my left, with an emergency trauma and triage kit at his side.

“Admiral, all ships report jump coordinates locked in.” Hal reported from Ops, his figures busy on his control board, acknowledging status updates.
“Commence the jump countdown. Five minutes.” I ordered, standing to walk down to the tactical station. I compared my augmented reality display to Weps’s board and was pleased to see that they matched perfectly. If anything, my version was even more detailed. I let my perception of the battlespace drift up and outwards, to give me an overview of the fleet. It was an impressive sight. Each of my ships had at least ten Thrinax destroyers in close attendance. Tartarus and Erebus had no less than fifty escorts each, while Pallas, Asteria and the other Titans had thirty. I felt that they were a little too close for comfort; each one flying in formation less than 200 metres away, but the upside was that the escorts would provide excellent coverage as a beam cannon screen, without compromising the targeting capability of our mass drivers. A hundred thousand kilometres to the starboard of my battlegroup was the remainder of Number Six’s rebel fleet, closely packed together in a spherical, shell-like formation twenty five kilometres in diameter.  The empty space in the centre of the sphere was just large enough to accommodate a behemoth. If the jump went to plan, the Elder at the Swarm World was going to be in for one hell of a surprise.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Pallas Actual to Battlegroup. Good hunting everyone. Prepare to jump on my mark.}-

I waited patiently as the timer ticked down the last few seconds.

RADM. Kncd#11892166 -{Mark.}-
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