photoOrion Gambit (Traci Ganner Series, Book #2)

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"Commander, we’ve been able to piece a few more sentences together based on the vocabulary we have been collecting. We can now make out basic order statements and some detailed dialog,” Lt. Commander Lazarus reported.

Captain McKenzie had integrated into Captain Traci Ganner’s command staff as her executive officer. Although she already had a fine exec, he was really far more useful overseeing the vocabulary translation they were attempting by monitoring signals being sent between Valdi star cruisers and strike carriers. So, to free Lazarus up for that far more important mission objective, she had slotted McKenzie into the number one slot.

It was somewhat unsettling for Michael McKenzie to go from a heavy cruiser command to senior commander under Captain Ganner, but he really didn’t mind so much. After all, Adamantine was a battle cruiser. And she was not just any battle cruiser, but one of the new Orion cloaking cruisers. But what made this cruiser so special was what the Orions had done to her cargo and munitions space.

When Captain Ganner had given him the tour of this ship, he had not expected to find the eight large boat bays amidships in addition to the normal shuttle craft bays in the aft section. The hull had been refitted to allow four shuttle bays to face out of each side of the keel, which allowed for eight additional berths. But in addition to the berthing spaces, there were also missile loading platforms and refueling depots for strike fighter operations to take place in those bays.

At first it struck him as odd that berths had been built to support fighters, since Orion did not have any. But the mission profile had made it clear what their purpose was. These berths also included carbon dioxide partitions to allow Valdi to breathe in the same compartment as humans. They were designed for Valdi strike fighters!

Captain Ganner’s mission profile had called for McKenzie to be extracted from the Terran prison world, but he had never expected to be on such a stupid mission. Not only were they instructed to contact the Valdi, but the ship was designed to become a Valdi strike carrier.

McKenzie forced his mind back to the task at hand and reviewed the new vocabulary sequences Lazarus was showing him. By monitoring Valdi communications, utilizing the stealth of their cloaked ship, they had been able to piece together some of the syntax of the Valdi language. Strangely, the Valdi seemed to rely completely on visible light as a transmission medium. They had modulated their communication signal in a very clever way that took the engineering section days to break down, but now that they had it, they were taking in huge chunks of data and running it through very sophisticated linguistic computer systems designed specifically for learning language.

The latest syntax additions brought their total knowledge of the Valdi language to around sixteen percent. It was a scant portion of the overall language, to be sure, but enough to build a basic vocabulary on. And as they improved their vocabulary, they were able to contextually reason out the words they didn’t know. Of course, some words they would not be able to translate without direct interaction, but those words could wait. All they needed for the first stage was enough vocabulary to understand basic military orders. Once they had that, they could move to the next phase of their mission.

“Captain, we have multiple scanner contacts bearing one ninety-two and eighty-eight off the plane,” Lt. Melzar said.

“Sound yellow alert, Lieutenant,” Ganner said. Leaning back in her chair, she switched on the 1MC channel for ship-wide communication.

“This is Captain Ganner. We have picked up multiple Terran and Orion beacons entering the Antares system. In moments, the Valdi reserve fleet we have been monitoring will begin to engage with the incoming relief forces, or they will retreat out-system. In any event, our mission remains unchanged. We must not allow ourselves to be detected. If the Valdi fall back to Sol, we will fall back with them to cover our use of the hyperspace lane and keep them within sensor range. Under no circumstance is any member of this crew to make contact outside of this ship. That is all.”

As she finished the message, she crossed her legs and folded her hands across one knee. She studied the icons showing up on the small plotting station attached to her chair and then focused her attention on the master plot at the front of the bridge. The battle was going to be grisly, with the number of Valdi forces she had already observed. Unfortunately, she was not able to communicate with the incoming Terran forces. They were not to know she was there.

As the Valdi energy signatures came up to full alert, Lazarus turned to Commander McKenzie. “We just intercepted a message loop from Valdi strike carrier alpha-three-three. It looks like their captain is aboard a shuttle and returning from a mission briefing. He will rendezvous with alpha-three-three in ten minutes. The strike carrier is beginning to change course to intercept his shuttle, sir.”

Traci looked at Commander Lazarus with a shark’s grin on her face. “This is it, gentlemen. Let’s pick him up.”

Valdi Captain Zuarit was reviewing the latest tactical imagery of the in-system battle as his shuttle made its way furiously back to his ship. He had been in conference aboard the carrier flagship when the alert had come in. He and his medical officer had immediately ordered their shuttle preflighted and then rushed to the shuttle bay. Once aboard, he had ordered his ship to advance with the other carriers and pick him up en route.

What Captain Zuarit had not planned on was seeing the large, bright opening in space that appeared directly in front of his shuttle as it made the approach. The landing bay of his own ship was not yet visible, so this didn’t make any sense. It made even less sense when a tractor beam grabbed his shuttle and swallowed it whole and forced it into the mysterious shuttle bay in space. His shuttle was rudely parked in the center of the bay, and the bright opening ceased to be visible from the outside as the bay doors closed and the cloaking device hid them from view.

At first, Zuarit tried to contact his ship and get a reading on what they were seeing. But then, the shuttle doors were being forced open from the outside, and the interlock alarms started to wail, indicating loss of cabin pressure. This was bad. Before he could get a sidearm out of the shuttle locker, the doors opened, and a rich mixture of oxygen and nitrogen flooded in. He gasped for breath. His medical officer and pilot also struggled to breathe as armed marines entered the compartment and hit them with a stun device. That was the last thing Captain Zuarit remembered before losing consciousness.


© Brian Jeffreys.