Yuki ‘Snowgirl’ Somtaaw’s eyes widened in surprise and delight as she pressed the mask of her flight helmet against the canopy, just to make sure that what she was seeing was really there. “This is unbelievable!”, she thought: “we were right to explore this far out! This will make our Kiith a fortune!” 1st. Lt. Yuki was a recon pilot stationed aboard the Kiith Somtaaw carrier Sa’Jiir. Like most others in her line of work, she was a small, light woman which meant she was able to fit in the cramped cockpit of the ‘Seeker’ class reconnaissance fighter (aka ‘recon’) she piloted. Yuki, like many recon pilots, often spent days at a time in the cockpit, engaged in what were nicknamed ‘heartbreak patrols’; scanning for mining opportunities in deep space. Being small had other advantages besides comfort. It meant she needed less food, water, and oxygen than someone with more mass, which increased the functional range of the recon, something that was especially helpful in her current situation. Currently, Yuki was pushed out farther than any Somtaaw had ever gone, and was probably the first Hiigaran to ever witness this area of space. She had launched three days ago from the Sa’Jiir on a mission to investigate a sensor distortion that had been detected in this area. The Sa’Jiir’s comms officer, Lt. Jacob Somtaaw, thought it could be caused by asteroids containing rare heavy elements, which would be a valuable haul for the mining Kiith. From what Yuki was seeing now, he was right.
‘Seeker’ class reconnaissance fighter: a long range kiith Somtaaw strike craft designed for extended duration reconnaissance flights, serving as both a scout and mobile sensors platform.
Yuki flew a slow loop around the dense asteroid cluster, cautiously surveying her surroundings while looking for a path towards the largest asteroid on her scanner. Her target lay buried in the center of the cluster and was the rock responsible for causing the sensor distortion, making it her target for a detailed scan. Caution was key because although the rocks were relatively stationary, there tended to be two types in recon: cautious recon pilots, and dead recon pilots. Not wanting to be the latter, Yuki carefully plotted a course visually through the field while double-checking her navigation systems for confirmation. When her navigation computer gave her the all-clear, she slowly started into the asteroid field, weaving her way among the smaller space rocks that were still several kilometers in diameter. As she carefully piloted her way into the cluster, Yuki’s neck prickled as it suddenly dawned on her how odd this formation was. Temporarily distracted by her excitement, she’d overlooked how unusually these rocks were arranged, out here by themselves in otherwise empty space. Sure, the sizes weren’t atypical (although the asteroid in the center was significantly larger than the rest) but typically they orbited stars or planets, byproducts of cataclysmic events or left over from the formation of what they orbited. That wasn’t the case here, though. Very odd, Yuki thought. Still, nothing on the scanners and nothing on visuals to indicate a threat, so she continued towards the her scan target, the largest rock at the center of the cluster.
Once she was within two kilometers of her target, she oriented the nose of her recon towards the center rock and began a scan. Recons were designed so that the front of the craft was a giant sensors array, designed to collect as much data as possible for transmission back to Fleet Intelligence. After a few seconds a readout of the rock’s composition and density appeared on her HUD, along with an alert that indicated the scan wasn’t able to penetrate more than a few centimeters. Asteroids dense in heavy metals typically prevent electromagnetic signal penetration after only a short distance, so Yuki slowly applied throttle and moved in closer. It was time to switch tactics. By physically creating a seal between the concave nose of her recon (which doubled as the collecting dish) and the asteroid, then pressurizing the small space the coupling created, she could run an acoustic seismography scan. The seismograph would let her acquire data that her ground sensing radar evidently wasn’t able to give her. And she really, really wanted that data, because this could be one massive score!
Maneuvering slowly around the center asteroid, Yuki began mapping its surface, size, and other physical characteristics with her radar and visual telemetry equipment while she looked for a spot to interface her ship to the rock. At approximately 10 kilometers in diameter, it wasn’t the largest space rock she’d ever seen, but, given the readings from her radar earlier, it had to be dense. “Let’s just hope the center isn’t hollow” she murmured to herself “then I bet we’d have a payday for sure!”. The rock was an evenly-hued light brown in color, roughly oval shaped, with a few large and deep crevices that appeared to be about ten to fifty meters wide, and about three times as deep. “C’mon, give me a nice flat spot somewhere easy to get to…there!”. The asteroid’s surface was pitted and craggy, but she had spotted a relatively flat spot that was large enough for her purpose. Adjusting her pitch, she cut power to the main drive and used the recon’s maneuvering thrusters to slowly approach the spot she’d found. Carefully working the thrusters, Yuki payed close attention to her monitors as she approached the spot. When her sensors indicated she was only a few meters away, she toggled a switch which caused clamps to fire from slots in the nose of her recon. The metal spikes on the clamps embedded themselves into the asteroid’s rocky surface in four places, attached to grappel lines running back to the frame of her ship. Then, she activated the winch controls which slowly pulled the recon’s dish-shaped nose against the rock. She checked the seal and thought “not bad – not perfect, but pretty close…yes, it’ll work! Time to find out what this baby’s worth!” Activating the nose pressure system from the touch panel of her recon’s computer system, she ordered the craft to fill the vacuum between her ship and the rock with CO2 so that she could begin the scan. Impatiently watching the pressure readout, she activated the the seismograph as soon as the chamber had enough CO2. With the scan active she began to receive images, already processed and presented in 3D, on her sensors display. “Whoa” she said aloud “what IS this?!”
And that’s when things went to hell.
‘Heartbreak patrols‘: the nickname for to the long and solitary recon patrols, presumably as most recon pilots are young, single women.
Flight Commander Rhu’kin ‘Avenger’ Sobann awoke to the scream of the red alert klaxon and jumped out of his rack, heart racing, still reeling from the vertigo of sleep. “…I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ACTION STATIONS, ACTION STATIONS. ALL PILOTS, PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO THE CIC”. At 183cm, Rhu’kin was taller than most pilots, with skin tanned and rough from training on various worlds and rakish dark hair that was decidedly against regs. He was joined in scrambling into his flight suit by his equally tall, yet slimmer and blonder wingwoman/weapons officer, Anechka “Reaper” Sobaan and the rest of the 10 man flight wing. Rhu’kin, Anechka, and the rest of the pilots were all members of the 2nd Special Tactics & Operations squadron of the Hiigaran Naval Forces, otherwise known as the Fists of Heaven. Within a minute, they were suited in the bright blue-and-yellow flight suits iconic to the Fists of Heaven, and running down the large, boxy hallway that led to the command deck of the Sa’Jiir.
Currently, the ‘Shaman’ class carrier Sa’Jiir was part of an expedition engaged in a tri-fold mission: exploration, training, and mining. The Sa’Jiir was alone, fifty light years apart from the expedition’s flagship and command vessel, the Faal-Corum, on orders to explore and map this area of space.
Reaching the thick alloy-and-ceramic double blast doors that secured the entrance to the CiC, armed and armored security marines hastily stepped aside for the pilots as they rushed onto the bridge. Rhu’kin stole a quick look out the narrow wraparound window that was built into the front and sides of the CiC, but no hostiles were visible. All he was able to see was the exterior of the carrier’s two huge hangar bays. Looking around, he noticed Captain Jane Somtaaw and XO Eli Somtaaw were engrossed in the display at the Comms station to his right, along with its officer, 2nd Lt. Jacob Somtaaw. Captain Jane had her blond hair pulled back in a tight bun, emphasizing her high cheekbones and permanent intent expression. XO Eli, as tall as Rhu’kin and also with dark hair, albeit worn according to regulations, looked even more serious. At the comms was the lightly built and sandy haired Lt. Jacob; looking perplexed and tense, opposite of his usual upbeat demeanor.
Rhu’kin spoke up quickly: “what’d we got?”. He and the rest of the squadron performed a casual salute as the Captain and XO turned towards him and the rest of the Fists of Heaven squadron. The less-than-respectful greeting brought a stern look from Eli, who quickly reprimanded the pilots. “Boys and girls, you may be here to provide us additional security and we do appreciate your service, but we are lending you our fighters and you’re on Captain Jane’s vessel, so you will show all due respect. Is that clear?” “Yes, Sir” Rhu’kin said without ire, and he and the rest of the squad stood to attention and saluted, this time respectfully. Jane waited for Eli to finish speaking. Clasping her hands behind her back, said “at ease, pilots – we received a distress call from Snowgirl three minutes ago, then communications with her went dark.” Captain Jane began pacing as she continued, looking grim “we have her last known coordinates, but sensor readings from that area are all kinds of screwed up – and it gets worse. The last seconds of her transmissions were garbled, almost like they were being jammed, but Lt. Jacob was able to extract the word “enemy” – so we have to assume she was under attack”. “Sonofabitch” thought Rhu’kin, a mental picture of Snowgirl’s short, slender frame and long black hair coming to mind momentarily “I sure hope Yuki is okay”. Aloud he said “are we scrambling?” Captain Jane nodded sharply in affirmation: “immediately – all of the intel we have is already in the flight computers of your acolytes. We’ll be dropping the Sa’Jiir out of hyperspace approximately 10,000 kilometers out, and it’ll be full burn for you guys from there. We don’t have any idea what you’re going to be dealing with, but whatever it is, don’t let it stop you from bringing her back. ETA until launch isfifteen minutes.” Rhu’kin saluted crisply in affirmation, and turned to his crew: “let’s do it!”; and he and the rest of the squadron turned to exit the CiC. As they did so, the XO cleared his throat, causing the pilots to stop in their tracks without turning around, their body language indicating slight chagrin. “Gentlemen, ladies…” said the XO, his voice steel “next time, you will wait to be dismissed before taking your leave, is that understood?” The decade of pilots pivoted, saluting smartly. Rhu’kin said “Understood Sir!”. Nodding, Eli said “dismissed – and good hunting”. With a chorus of “Yes, Sir!”’s, the pilots left the CIC at a run on their way to the flight deck, intent on bringing Snowgirl home safely.
‘Acolyte‘ class heavy fighter: a multipurpose kiith Somtaaw strike craft designed via knowledge obtained by the Bentusi. Acolytes have a secondary missile ordinance in addition to primary mass drivers, have linking capabilities, and utilize a Bentusi drive system.
“With that lack of discipline, I’m not sure how Hiigaran Command puts up with them” Eli said, turning to Jane “but I’m not going tolerate it”. Rhu’kin and his squad had volunteered to accompany the Faal-Corum’s on her expedition to provide additional security for the mission, in exchange for an opportunity to train with the Somtaaw’s new Bentusi-acquired ship designs. The Fists of Heaven pilots were especially eager to train with the unique ‘Acolyte’ class heavy fighter, and the Somtaaw had happily accepted the offer. Although Somtaaw pilots did not lack in skill or courage, the Fists of Heaven were legendary, even among the other special operations groups. Jane was glad to have them aboard, despite their lax discipline, especially given the current situation. “They have an ego, no doubt about it” Jane responded, nodding respectfully to her XO “but I’m not taking it personally, I’ve seen them do the same back home in the Navy on several occasions. With their record, I’ll tolerate a bit of minor insubordination if it gets me my recon back – but good work.” Turning back towards the comms station, she asked “Lieutenant, have anything else for us?” “No ma’am”, responded Jacob, “it’s one big damn distortion out there, no idea what’s going on” he paused “we’re lucky to get as much as we did, honestly. Snowgirl must have known to face our direction when sending the distress signal, otherwise all we’d have is pure static”. Jane sighed to herself, wondering what in Sajuuk’s name would be out there, preying on her recon. Whatever it was, the Fists of Heaven were about to ruin their day, and justifiably so…she only hoped they wouldn’t be too late for Yuki.
End of part one.
I hope you enjoyed the story! I will be posting a new short story on the first Tuesday of every month, accompanied by illustrations by artist Julian Schlottmann. 4k versions of the art in our stories is available to all Patreon patrons. Also, you may like my previous story, Reunion. -Mike
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