Image: Geminiian Strike Fighter Model B Courtesy of ACFan and DSS Studios ©2018

Hearts Across Space

Copyright © 2004-2019 The Story Lover. All Rights Reserved.


Errata IV: The Argonaut Project

THIS STORY IS COPYRIGHT © 2004-2019 BY THE STORY LOVER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTION FOR COMMERCIAL GAIN, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, POSTING ON SITES OR NEWSGROUPS, DISTRIBUTION AS PARTS OR IN BOOK FORM (EITHER AS A WHOLE OR PART OF A COMPILATION) WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, OR DISTRIBUTION ON CD, DVD, OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC MEDIA WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S WRITTEN CONSENT. YOU MAY DOWNLOAD ONE (1) COPY OF THIS STORY FOR PERSONAL USE; ANY AND ALL COMMERCIAL USE EXCEPTING EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS REQUIRES THE AUTHOR’S WRITTEN CONSENT. THE AUTHOR MAY BE CONTACTED AT: thestorylover@gmail.com

As the Geminiian Confederation continued to grow and expand its sphere of influence ever outward, it became apparent that if there was ever a major battle or natural disaster in a far-flung region of space that having to send courier ships back and forth to receive orders and supplies from the Confederacy was impractical. Rather than create two separate entities it was decided to create one ship that would take care of both the military and civilian issues. Not only would this solve a multitude of overlapping issues, but it was also hoped that there would be overlapping benefits.

The overall plan was for the ship to head for whatever trouble spot was occurring or about to occur. It was hoped that having such a resource in the vicinity would cut down the response time dramatically in the case of a military attack or a planetary disaster.

The planning commission worked long and hard over how the ship was going to be ruled or governed. It was finally decided to appoint a Director and planning team for the construction and testing. It was decided that the director would stay on and oversee the project through its launch and initial mission or missions. It would be up to the Mil/Civ Governing Council to appoint a permanent Director or Co-Director. The original plan was for a Co-Directorship with a Director from the Military and the Civilian side of the project. Each Director running their own side of the operation and one of them takes overall charge depending on the mission parameters. For a purely Military Mission, the Military Director would assume overall command and control of the project. In case of a Planetary Disaster, the Civilian Co-Director would usually assume command. However, in most cases, they would work together due to the uniqueness of “Project Argonaut”. In no other instance in the history of the Confederacy or the known universe had the civilian and military sectors been welded together in such a fashion.

In order for “Project Argonaut” to function properly, some major changes would have to be made to the Military Space Fleets of all Confederacy Members in order for the construction and repair facilities to function most efficiently. The reasons behind this necessity will become evident as the scope of “Project Argonaut” unfolds.

In its simplest and purest form “Project Argonaut” was to be a mobile planet. Not just a mobile planetoid but a mobile planet with all the intricacies and infrastructure that involves. Until now no one had ever dreamed of “Project Argonaut” ever becoming reality. But it does seem that sometimes dreams do come true or in this case colossal wishes. After several fruitless planning sessions at the Confederacy Level, the project was finally tabled and sent back to each Confederacy Members BuShips for refining and possibly shrinking of the planned ship. No one yet had been unable yet to design a ship large enough to accommodate everything required and still be mobile enough to be useful. Most of the plans submitted were of multiple ships which were supposed to join into one large ship at the target. Again, it was too little and unwieldy, additionally, that plan and those similar in fashion covered only one side of the coin and not the other. It took a semi-joke to actually get the project off of the ground. It seems a junior engineer was watching a news report about a High School Science Fair from last year on the Wallcomm in a Geminiian BuShips Break Room. The report was about a “High School” near Callisto. The report was commenting about the fact the science projects out of this high school were University Thesis Level. In fact, the high school was actually a University Prep School that turned out some of The Confederacies Top Scientists, Engineers and Politicos. When the report was over the engineer turned to his boss and said, “Why don’t we call “Project Argonaut” a Science Fair Project and offer a prize for the best design?”

To the junior engineer’s surprise, his boss replied. “Break is over let’s go we have work to do”

“What, who, where are we going?” Queried the shocked junior engineer as he wasn’t being serious.

“Your idea may have just saved our bacon, we are headed to the Commodore’s Office, so you can explain your idea in detail,” Asked his boss.

“The Argonaut Project” was sent to the high schools as a science project with the usual monetary and trip prizes. What made this contest different though was the additional offer of University Credit for the applicable classes if their design was chosen and they completed the qualifying project.

BuShips was at the most hoping for some additional ideas and at the most a skeletal plan that would give them a new direction to go in their search for a solution.

What they received astounded them for in the midst of the same type of plans they had already rejected as unfeasible was a true gem. It was the most comprehensive and detailed plan that BuShips had ever seen outside of their own design labs. Not only did it meet every one of the required criteria it surpassed them. The plan also contained elements not required in the contest; additionally, it contained a complete staffing requirement of the whole project. The plan also contained a surprisingly concise and correct plan for upgrading some of the engines necessary for the project to be mobile.

The review team asked which school submitted the plan as they were highly skeptical that a High School Science Class could submit such a detailed, concise and complete report. They were also concerned about the security implications as some of the engine data contained in the plan verged on restricted information. The commanding officer of the review team was shocked with the reply he received as to the security issues involved. The lieutenant who was looking up the requested information was heard muttering “what do you mean access denied? I am the security officer, now let me in!” The Lt. Typed in another request and instead of an answer Security Alarms started going off all over the facility. Armed SP’s and Internal Security, as well as Military Intelligence officers, burst in the conference room with growlers drawn and all scowling.

Before anyone could get a question out, the Base Commander Commodore Joel Victors came storming into the room with his own security staff and black-uniformed “PS” types.

“Captain take your men out and secure this room now I will get to the bottom of this matter and I guarantee you heads will roll. I was pulled out of a free lunch with my Boss The Admiral

“But Commodore.”

“Now Captain OUT! I am in command here now get out and secure all corridors leading here!”

“Aye, Aye Sir”

Before the sound of the second “Aye” had died the SP’s and MI forces were gone and the door closed.

“Now which one of you cretins was boneheaded enough to set off security alarms that were heard across the Confederacy?”

“Commodore one of my men was just trying to get access to some information on a report we received from the Science Fairs on ,”Project Argonaut”..”

“Cut the crap Commander just tell me who set off the alarms and make it quick or you will be answering to the Admiral as well!”

“I did Commodore I am the security officer for the team. The report refused to give me access to the information we needed.” Sheepishly replied the Lt.

In a voice colder than a glacier the Commodore asked “Sub Lt. Did you even bother to look at security file attached to that report? Did you even bother to look at the electronic seals attached to that report?”

“Uhh..”

“I thought not. Lt. you are relieved of duty until I decide whether to court-martial you for gross stupidity! Major get him out of my sight” Bellowed the Commodore all the while directing a withering glare at the helpless now Sub Lt.

“Now you all better pay close attention close attention and Commander that includes you! That report has been through more security checks than you can possibly imagine and has been vetted by persons with security clearances so high I can’t even know who they are. But what was so stupid of your ex Lt. was the information in the attached security file he didn’t bother to read. And to make matters worse the electronic seal at the beginning and end of the report were Archonate Seals. That report was also vetted by the Regional Military Intelligence Commander Andreas. Do you have any idea who he is and how powerful and important he is?” The Commodore looked around the room and saw blank looks on most of the faces except on the team commander’s face. He could see the Commander knew his Military Career hung in the balance.

“Commander Andreas is the Bond of the Archon of Callisto, Commodore Castellano” At those words the only sound in the room was the rapid beating of hearts. Before anyone had time to recover the Commodore continued plunging the. knife in. “One of the architects of that plan is his son Sean Castellano soon to be addressed as S’ean Castellano Arcon of Callisto and soon to be a Planetary Archon like his father. This matter is now closed; we are going to build “Project Argonaut” based on that plan. Now get busy and no more screw-ups. I won’t be able to save your jobs next time.”

With that, the Commodore and his staff left the room in a hurry.

So now you know how the largest and maybe the most important construction project in Confederacy history was finally built as the result of a joke.

The following information is excerpted from the memoirs of Grand Marshal Tommy Miller-Castellano.

GFS Argonaut Specifications:

All specifications are approximate due to security restrictions.

Length 4.5 Milums Approximately.

Width – Narrowest point – .5 Milums

Width – Widest point – .95 Milums

Height – Classified

Weight – incalculable due to constant changes.

Ship Classification – Argonaut Class

Ship Complement – Military 20,000 to 50,000

Drop Force Marines and Strike Force Commandos – Numbers classified and not included in Ships Complement.

Ship Complement – Civilian 50,000 to 75,000

Auxiliary Fleet Complement:

Dreadnoughts – 8 to 12

BattleCruisers – 6

Cruisers – 4

Light Cruisers – 6 – Upgraded with FAC Class Engines

Destroyers – Varies as necessary – used as screening ships and couriers; minimum 8

FAC’s -6

Strike Fighters – All Classes – Classified

Stealth Ships – Classified – Need to Know

Miscellaneous Classes – Varies depending on needs and missions

Drop Force Marine Transports – 4 to 6 number may be higher depending on the mission.

End Specifications

The GFS Argonaut was constructed unlike any ship ever constructed and it looked like it. The GFS Argonaut was constructed of planetoids linked together by large hull structures. Several of them were actually covered in hull material as these would be mined from the inside out to provide material for the ship construction and future ship and machinery construction. Although the “Argonaut” had a flight bridge the likes of which had never been seen before it wasn’t the main control center for the GFS Argonaut, that honour resided in a huge facility which occupied a large portion of one of the planetoids. Someone with a warped sense of humour had attached the name “The Control Room” to the facility, and the nickname had stuck. “The Control Room” was divided vertically into two virtually identical sections. One for the Military Control Center and one for the Civilian Control Center. The two centers were basically identical as were almost all of the facilities and machinery throughout the ship. This basic premise was one of the main reasons ‘The Companions’ plan was chosen over all of the other plans. With this premise in place, no matter what mission the ship was on every facility was able to be used at the same time to produce whatever was needed without retooling or large-scale retraining.

[Marshal Castellano’s personal notes: All we did was copy a known fact of Geminiian Aerospace Construction and apply it wholesale to the ship design. We were amazed no one else had even considered it. The Geminiian Aerospace Industry had long ago in conjunction with the Military decided to standardize on basic airframe design and construction. These meant that a civilian factory could quickly and easily shift from manufacturing Civilian Craft to Military Craft in a matter of days instead of months. By using the same tools and fittings the change over was simplified greatly.]

The flight bridge on the GFS Argonaut was the largest and the most complex bridge ever designed in the history of known space flight. The complexity and size were strictly necessary as the bridge would be controlling not only the largest space going ship ever constructed but all the auxiliary fleets that were assigned to assist and protect her. Not that the Argonaut needed much protection. The flight bridge was designed in cooperation with the Geminiian Dreadnought Building Team and the FAC Development Team. Director Castellano spared no effort or resource getting “The Argo” developed and into construction. As soon as ‘The Companion’ Tommy was finished on the FAC Project he had Tommy drag his team with him to “Project Argonaut”. Several of the team members commanding officers objected but a terse message from BuShips and from Commodore Castellano’s Office quickly quelled any resistance from those officers. Tommy quickly assured Patrick that he would be able to adapt, upgrade and install all the ECM and Fire Control Suites from the FAC Project. Patrick also assigned Tommy the task of getting all the engines redesigned with at least the same increase in power as the FAC’s Engines or doubled.

With Control and Propulsion under control Patrick and the rest of the team started work on the rest of the staggering project.

When finished “The Argo” would be able to repair any space ship flying for any of the Confederacy Members as long as they were originally built using Geminiian designed frames. It would have the capacity to do this based on the fact that “The Argo” was a floating ore refinery, metal foundry and space dock in one. This was only a small part of its capacity and capability. Additionally, “The Argo” was able to build the same ships from scratch and improve upon them considerably. In addition to the Military applications, the Civilian side had the same capabilities as well. However, the Civilian side also had an educational system second to none. The planning and design team had seen what their “High School” had produced so they acquired the services of their school board and school staff and assigned them the task of designing the education system for “The Argo”. The education system included technical and vocational schools, medical schools, agricultural schools everything needed for the successful education of a mobile planet’s population or a standard planet’s population. The schools were staffed with the top persons in their specialties from throughout the Confederacy, this gave the Military some of the top specialists in Aerospace Design to use for their benefit. The medical and education system was open to the complete population of “The Argo” no one was excluded. ‘The Companion’s’ would not be deterred from this no matter the cost. It was their opinion that if The Directorship could go to the son of estate workers, who just happened to go to a great school on a Castellano’s coat tails then everyone should have the same chance. It was their most fervent wish that lightning would strike not twice but multiple times. They believed that given the proper education and training that anyone and they did mean anyone would be able to contribute to the construction of “The Argo” [Although this was supposedly the rule throughout the Confederacy there were areas where this wasn’t so. Sadly, to say in the some of the more remote areas of Gemini only the so-called upper crust received those benefits]

The reasons for using planetoids as portions of the ship’s structure were several and simple. First, the planetoids had the size needed to house the population required to adequately staff a ship the size of “The Argo” Secondly, they would provide an ongoing source of material for its construction and future construction needs. The third reason was a purely military one the planetoids huge size and composition would provide natural shielding in the case someone actually was able to fire on “The Argo”. With several of the planetoids also covered in hull plating, “The Argo” was a pretty well-protected ship.

Scattered throughout the large ship were shuttle bays and dry docks of various sizes. “The Argo” was designed to be able to repair every size ship in use today throughout the Confederacy. The ship was able to do this through its internal docks or its external docking platforms. One of the most unique portions of the ships were what looked like six external docking tubes. These “docking tubes” were not only oversized in appearance they were buttressed at their bases beyond anything ever seen. The reason for their size and the strength of their design would be apparent only when “The Argo” was in motion. One of the most insurmountable problems to overcome in designing “Project Argonaut” was its propulsion. Trying to move and control an object of its size was the downfall of the majority of the promising plans. The solution was simple at least to ‘The Companion’s’ since they simply stuck the largest known planetoid in existence at the aft of the ship crammed it full of the largest redesigned engines, they could design using Tommy’s Team’s work. The also sprinkled Dreadnought Engines throughout the length of the ship either attach to the exterior of planetoids or attached by pylons to the connecting sections. However, they realized while this would solve a large portion of the propulsion problem it wouldn’t solve it completely. They would still need a source of emergency power as well as more control due to the ships humongous size. The solution again came from “outside the box” when Sean and Kevin were looking at results of a docking simulation. They were trying to determine how strong an external docking platform needed to be to hold a Dreadnought that was moving forward faster than prescribed. When the Dreadnought coupled with the docking platform, its excess speed caused the ship to nudge forward very slightly in the simulations monitor. The two ‘Companion’s’ looked at each other with huge grins on their faces yelled something like “Eureka” then ran out the door giggling like schoolgirls at the same time yelling for Patrick and Tommy and the rest of the team. Meanwhile, the testing engineers were sitting there in shock wondering what had happened to their bosses. Halfway to the lab where Patrick and Tommy were working on a project, Kevin realized that they had left the engineers without an answer. Quickly he turned back and sticking his head in the door shouted “Add and an additional 25% structural rigidity and you will have it” and was gone before anyone could question him.

The six oversized “docking tubes” were the result of that simulation. They were in fact “docking tubes” but specially designed ones for a dual purpose. They were in fact engine mounts! They were designed for a Dreadnought to attach to and basically Hardwire itself into “The Argo” control net. The six Dreadnoughts would provide the extra propulsion and control necessary for emergency speed missions. Coincidentally, they would also provide additional offensive and defensive power if necessary.

Coupled with the unknown numbers of Strike Fighters housed in bays throughout the ship and the huge energy weapons which were also sprinkled over the length and circumference of the ship “The Argo” was well armed.

On the Civilian side of the coin, “The Argo” was provisioned well as well. Its foundries and machine shops and hydroponic labs were able to manufacture or grow anything a mobile or stationery planet could need no matter what the need. In addition to its own mining equipment, the “Argo’ could request any of the military artillery it needed to remove landslides or drill tunnels to rescue planetary populations. In case of a planetary disaster, the Drop Force Marines would provide policing and emergency food drops wherever necessary on a planet’s surface. Due to the identical designs of all major manufacturing facilities if the civilian facilities could not supply the necessary output the military facilities simply switched over and began producing the civilian article. If the case was reversed, the same would occur on the civilian side. The other major benefit of this duality of the design was the fact that if one side needed more workers, they had a large pool of trained workers to draw on.

One of the major sociological problems addressed early on was that of the military and civilian populations working and living side by side. While this could be a major problem planet side on “The Argo” the planning committee simply declared a no tolerance policy and designed all habitations the same. There were no Military or Civilian Only Facilities anywhere on the ship except those necessary for security reasons. Those facilities were kept off the beaten path so to speak and caused no animosity. All members of the population were treated the same outside of work or school, rank and titles held sway only while on duty or in school or at work. The adjustment period was extremely tough, ‘The Companion’s’ expended many hours of their personal time meeting with as many of those individuals who were having trouble adjusting as they could. The most surprising fact of the whole adjustment period was the militaries attitude towards the whole situation. A few die-hard officers objected to the whole plan, and those who wouldn’t change their opinion after several meetings with the planning team and Physicos were summarily transferred or dismissed from the service. Several of the more enlightened officers realized the merits of the program from the beginning and formed alliances with their civilian counterparts. But the largest boost came from ‘The Companion’s’ themselves outside of their working hours they ate and socialized with every section of the two societies they could. In addition, they brought in their secret weapons they had Ambrosius bring Alexii’s whole class a field trip and learning experience. Coincidentally that also meant the two imps that Alexii called “Brothers”. Alexii’s classmates quickly understood what was expected of them, one of them� would grab the children of a civilian family and the other would grab the children of a military family and then go off and explore or play together. Within two weeks the transformation was complete, it also didn’t hurt that any violations of the no tolerance policy were brought before a joint tribunal of the staunchest supporters of the program.

The only major non security exception was the one-week quarantine for all Military Service Personnel returning from a mission where they lost a member of their team. These personnel were billeted with a special team of military personnel who had gone through the same pain and anguish. Once the returning personnel had unwound, they were released from their quarantine. After that, they were assigned a child or teen civilian guide for the duration of their R&R. Surprisingly, that idea came from the minds of Cobi and Logen. One day while visiting some returning Strike Force Pilots in the one of the many hospitals the boys overheard one of the older pilots talking about the younger pilot they had just lost. Remembering the many lectures and scoldings from both Ambrosius and Alexii they only opened their minds to the mental leakage from the pilots. The emotional flow was so strong and so detailed there was no need to probe deeper. They quickly returned to tell their brother what they had found out. As a result, it was determined that by supplying the servicemen with a younger guide to supposedly care for them it was hoped that the servicemen would then actually care for their younger guides easing some of the pain they were feeling. The plan worked those pilots who had the guides assigned to them were able to return to duty fully recovered in half of the time. Additionally, their visits to the Phyico’s were greatly reduced.

As the saying goes “out of the mouths of babes”. From a High School Science Fair Project to the largest space construction project in history. Never ignore an idea just because it came from a child. Children are our future and should be cherished and nurtured. They should be listened to and never be put down just because they are children!

Chapter Four: The Scourge Begins

THIS STORY IS COPYRIGHT © 2004-2019 BY THE STORY LOVER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTION FOR COMMERCIAL GAIN, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, POSTING ON SITES OR NEWSGROUPS, DISTRIBUTION AS PARTS OR IN BOOK FORM (EITHER AS A WHOLE OR PART OF A COMPILATION) WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, OR DISTRIBUTION ON CD, DVD, OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC MEDIA WITH OR WITHOUT A FEE, IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT THE AUTHOR’S WRITTEN CONSENT. YOU MAY DOWNLOAD ONE (1) COPY OF THIS STORY FOR PERSONAL USE; ANY AND ALL COMMERCIAL USE EXCEPTING EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS REQUIRES THE AUTHOR’S WRITTEN CONSENT. THE AUTHOR MAY BE CONTACTED AT: thestorylover@gmail.com

Far away from Geminiian Space on the farthest edge of Centaurian claimed space, several small planets and moons are now missing. The small CSN Patrol that was stationed in the area is also missing.

The CSN was waiting for the crew of CSN Supply Ship Harvest Moon to return from its re-supply cruise of the far reaches of Centaurian Space. In addition to re-supplying outposts and CSN Bases and some small patrols, the ship also was rotating crews. Some of the crews were being rotated back to Centaurus. The Harvest Moon had a three-week arrival window, before any alarms were raised. The reaches of Centaurian Space were so vast that communications were difficult at best. Radio communications were erratic and extremely slow between Centaurus and her outposts and far-flung Naval and Merchant Fleets.

One of the problems that The Geminiian Confederation was trying to solve was long distance Interstellar Communications. The Confederation had several research teams working on the problem throughout the confederation. Making the task more difficult was the number of different systems that had to be accommodated. The communication issue in mixed force patrols or fleets had been solved temporarily by adding GSF Communication Equipment to the main ships in the patrol or fleet. However, this is a very cumbersome solution. The ships that have the Geminiian communication devices have to pass instructions to the ships with their native communication devices. Luckily this system had never been tested in a major space battle.

The Liaison Office of The Geminiian Confederation was located at Aero Militas on The Geminiian Moon Lysander. This office was responsible for the overall day-to-day workings of The Confederation. This office also tracked all mixed force operations, and would soon be under the direction of Grand Marshal Castellano. The present director would become the Deputy Director. The present Director was Commodore Xlinty of The Fortian Plutarchy.  Commodore Xlinty was staying on as Deputy Director in order to maintain continuity and also assure that there was an unbroken chain of command in case an emergency occurred while Grand Marshal Castellano was on Fleet Duty with the GSF IF or as was the case now attending a Joint Military Conference Meeting. Commodore Xlinty was reviewing The Monthly Department Report before sending it to his new boss when he received an urgent communiqué’. Upon reviewing the communiqué’,  he decided that Grand Marshal Castellano should be apprised of these latest developments. Calling his dispatch clerk into his office, he asked him to append this latest communiqué’ to the beginning of the monthly dispatch and then mark the dispatch Urgent, Top Secret, Eyes Only. Commodore Xlinty then contacted The Fleet Dispatch Officer and requested that a Military Courier Ship be put on notice for immediate departure.

****

In Lynxian space several light years from the home-world was a small group of planets revolving around a young sun. Of the four planets revolving around Skype, only one was considered Class M habitable for oxygen breathing humanoids. These four planets supply the Lynxian Monarchy with a large amount of heavy and precious metals. In fact, these planets are the major source of the ore and other materials which the Lynxians use to form the cerama-metallic composite which forms the armor for their Space Navy’s Ships.

When the small Lynxian patrol arrived in the Skypian System, they were concerned because their scanners showed no activity at all. Even more disconcerting was the total absence of all radio communication. The only noise and activity on any of the scanners was the normal subspace noise and the steady movements of the planets around Skype. The Lynxian Commander quickly placed the ships in her patrol on Red Alert and ordered them into a more defensive alignment.

As the Lynxian Patrol moved slowly closer to Skype their hope of finding the colony intact were diminishing. As they approached the planet, they were unable to see the normally thick cloud cover that obscured the view of the planet from space. They also could not see the olive-green flora that was usually visible from between the cloud cover. The Captain quickly ordered every scanner set to search mode and maximum search pattern. As soon as the captain was satisfied that there were no ships in scanner range, she ordered the patrol to disperse to a formation that gave them the maximum scanning area. All of the ships were ordered to ready all shuttles and search and rescue pinnaces.

As the ships assigned to do a visual scan came close enough for a visual view, there were gasps of shock and dismay throughout those ships. For the view that lay before them was like nothing they had seen before. Instead of a beautiful planet teeming with life and industry, there was now a wasteland.

The most shocking thing, besides the fact that all of plants and wildlife were gone; was the fact that there was no water visible anywhere on the planet. The planet was a graveyard minus the bones.

The three ships plotted their orbits to cover every square inch of the planet, hoping beyond hope to find some signs of life.

Twenty-four hours later when the scanning reports were completed, the ship’s commanders were sitting down to a conference in the Lynxian Commander’s Ship. They were hoping to get a handle on what had happened to Skype. Alas, as they were soon to find out. The answers just brought more questions. After several minutes of discussions and greetings, the Captain announced the beginning of the reports. The senior Geologist/Biologist began speaking at the captain’s nod.

I will make this report brief and succinct. THERE IS NO LIFE of any kind left on Skype! None at all! For further information please see the detailed reports now available on your Data Pads. I will answer questions when I have answers and now, I have none. I will be heading down to the surface with a Survey Team to get those answers” The Lieutenant saluted the Captains and left the conference room.

[Visual Survey of Planet Skype all passes:
No cities remaining at any of the plotted locations.
No Building materials or signs of civilization evident.
Sea and river bottoms scoured of all organic material.
No clouds visible over the entire planetary region.
Polar Ice Caps barren.
End Visual Survey Report]

[Atmospheric and Biological Probe Report:
Five Class X Atmospheric Probes launched and analyzed.
Ten Class IX Biological Probes launched and analyzed.

Atmospheric Content

Oxygen 0%
Nitrogen .001%
Ozone 70%
Carbon Dioxide 20%
Organic Particulates 0%
Trace Gases 9.99%

 

Organic Content

Surface 1 Meter 10 Meters 100 Meters
Bacteria None Present None Present None Present None Present
Microbes None Present None Present None Present None Present
Protozoan None Present None Present None Present None Present
Amoeban None Present None Present None Present None Present
Fauna None Present None Present None Present None Present
Flora None Present None Present None Present None Present

End of Probe Analysis]

While the ship commanders were reviewing the stunning data or lack of it, a Geminiian Shuttle was docking with the Lynxian Command Ship. When the shuttle was docked and the Shuttle Bay sealed and re-pressurized, the shuttle hatch opened, and a Geminiian Lt. Commander and two ratings emerged carrying containers that were there yet not there. The Lt. Commander was carrying an ‘EGG’ and each container had its own ‘EGG’ attached. The ‘EGG’S’ were creating a visual shield which blurred the containers.

Without a by-your-leave, the Lt. Commander ordered the Ensign who was meeting the unscheduled shuttle “Take us to where The Survey Team is preparing to leave.”

The Ensign started to respond negatively. “Now Ensign! That is a direct order, and it is imperative that I see the Teams Commander before she leaves”

The Ensign came to attention and snapped a salute that bordered on insubordination until her cochlear implant gave her orders to cooperate fully. She then turned her salute into a model of Parade Ground Perfection.

Meanwhile, in the conference room, the assembled commanders were trying to make some sense of the mystery with which they had been presented. The Geminiian Commander consulted his Data PADD which had a direct connection to his ship. He sent some tersely worded orders to his XO which resulted in the unscheduled shuttle arrival. “Excuse me Captain; I have some important information which may benefit your Survey Team.”

“Go ahead Commander you have the floor.” was the Lynxian Captain’s reply.

“As you know my ship The GSF RosaParks is one of the latest Light Cruisers in our Interstellar Fleet. Shortly before we shipped out, we received several unscheduled shipments and some additional crew members. I know all of you are familiar with Geminiian Skinsuits, I can tell that most of your crews are fitted with Mark IV’s and that you and your officers are wearing Mark V’s.”

The Geminiian Commander paused and took a quick look around the table and saw that most of those there had disinterested looks upon their faces.

“The reason I am bringing this to your attention is that the Mark IV’s are quite cumbersome when used as exploratory suits in a vacuum or non-breathable atmosphere. I have a solution to that problem, which will also speed up their search. One of the unscheduled shipments we received was of the new and unreleased MK VII’s…….”

At the Geminiian Commanders, last words the entire room came to attention and the ambiance in the room became charged with curiosity. The Lynxian Captain gestured for the Geminiian Commander to continue.

The Geminiian Commander continued as he had never been interrupted. “However, these weren’t the normal individually fitted versions, these were versions specifically designed for Joint Forces use. These suits came pre-made in several sizes and were designed to be refitted with special equipment by specially trained technicians. Once fitted by the technicians the new suits were indistinguishable from standard Mark V’s. The new Mark VII air recycling kit is only twenty-five percent as large as a Mark V and ten percent as large as a Mark IV. The visor and helmet mesh perfectly with the suit and form impermeable seals. In a Mark VII Skinsuit, the wearer is as safe as if they were wearing a Hard-Shell Vacuum Suit but far more comfortable. It is my considered opinion that this is a perfect opportunity to test this new system. I have just ordered the appropriate number of Skinsuits and the technician to shuttle over here immediately… One second, please… “Yes, Commander I understand.” Captain, it seems that we are having a slight problem in your Shuttle Bay Number Two. Your ensign there is not cooperating with my XO.”

“Commander that will be taken care of” as the Lynxian Captain was speaking her XO was contacting Shuttle Bay One and was issuing orders in a no-nonsense tone of voice.

Back in Shuttle Bay Two the ensign quickly directed the Geminiian’s to Shuttle Bay One where the Survey Team was preparing to depart. Once the Geminiian XO explained why they were there. The Lynxian Lieutenant quickly ordered her team to don the new Skinsuits and assist with their fitting. The Geminiian Exec also informed the Lt. that he and one of his ratings would be accompanying the Survey Team to the surface. When the Lynxian Lt. inquired why the Geminiian replied “I am a Mining Engineer with a Ph.D. in Geology and my rating is the Skinsuit Tech. He has degrees in Botany and Biology form both Gemini and Centaurus. Remember the GSF RosaParks is an exploratory ship so we are rather heavy on scientific personnel.”

The Lynxian Lt.’s jaw dropped at the Geminiian’s emphasis on “a Mining Engineer” as one of the pieces of data not included in any of the reports was the large shafts bored to immense depths that were found across the planet’s surface. What made these shafts so outstanding besides their depth was the fact that they were square, not round! There was no known weapon or piece of mining machinery in the Geminiian Confederacy that could bore square shafts of such depths or size. The shafts were not mentioned in any of the reports for the specific reason of not raising undue alarm. Additionally, the Survey Team wants to get an up-close visual look at the shafts. They also planned to send their own probes down into the depths of a few of them.

The Survey Team’s Commander looked at the Geminiian Lt. Commander and started to reply.

The Geminiian Lt. Commander silenced her with a negative look and then pointed to his Skinsuit Helmet and signaled Channel Three with his fingers.

The Survey Team Commander acknowledged him with a nod of her head and then went to don her own Skinsuit.

****

Meanwhile, back at the Joint Confederacy Military and Governmental Conference, Grand Marshal Castellano had recessed the conference to discuss some disturbing reports with only the military heads of the delegations.

The reports that were coming in were very similar to what had happened in the Skypian System. The conference room they were using for the mini-conference was designed after the CIC Room on a Geminiian IF Flagship. This allowed them to track all of the reports on the Advanced Battle Tank Star Holofield.

“Computer Display all Planetary Destruction Reports in red” requested Marshal Castellano. Twenty-Five different spots lit up in pulsing red across the Holofield.

“Computer, display all Missing Ship Reports in orange for all Confederacy Ships Military and Non-Military”, Forty-Seven pulsing orange spots appeared with only a few in the vicinity of the original red ones.

As the computer finished displaying the missing ships there were several gasps of dismay throughout the room as the magnitude of the problem, they were facing became readily apparent.

D’avid looked around the room at the now very grim faces and made several snap decisions. Before announcing he made one more request of the computer.

“Computer display all the Confederacy Planets who are late with their check-ins in green, next display any correlations between red, orange and green locations.” was D’avid’s request.

The room went completely silent as the computer finished displaying the requested information. Although there was plenty of information displayed, the computer was unable to arrive at any correlations. “Unable to correlate with information available” was the computer’s response. While the admirals and marshals were trying to make sense out of the information they were seeing D’avid became very quiet and pensive.

‘D’avid, ask the computer to extrapolate three incursion points, as it seems we may be dealing with multiple threat sources.’ Sent Andreas.

D’avid snapped back to the present and ordered: “Computer extrapolate three incursion points.” Instantly three large cones of violet light flashed across the holofield. Now everyone could see the problem the computer had. The three incursion points were very close astronomically speaking.

Admiral Kroger of The Fortian Plutarchy spoke up “Marshal if I may?”

“Proceed, Admiral the floor is yours” replied the Grand Marshal.

“Computer, illuminate the Home Worlds of The Confederacy and extrapolate cones of the incursion by a magnitude of three.” Requested the Admiral.

The Home Planets were illuminated on the computer by a pulsing, colour changing triangle. The computer then extended the cones of incursion this time the gasps of dismay were loud and demonstrative. For the expanded cones now intersected the Lynxian, Fortian and Centaurian Home Worlds.

“Computer display the Geminiian planet Maxellus in bright blue.” when the computer finished D’avid was heard muttering something to himself.

“Computer ETA to affected homeworlds?” Snapped the Grand Marshal.

“Max time ten years, least time three years” at the computer’s response D’avid took a step back, for instead of the normal neutral gender voice the computer now spoke with his son’s rich baritone. After a brief moment of retrospection, D’avid began snapping orders. He turned first to his Aide “Inform Commodore Xlinty by relay to go to condition “Omega Two” and also launch “The Argonaut Project”. Also, inform Andreas by the same method that he is promoted to Marshal of Confederacy Joint Military Intelligence and I need as much information on these incursions ASAP. Next, send the data crystal to Commodore Xlinty by rush courier to bring him up-to-date.” D’avid then turned back to the Admirals and Marshals in the room “Gentlemen inform your governments that I have invoked condition “Omega Two” they can expect confirmation and expanded orders within seventy-two hours. We will reconvene the main conference tomorrow at 0900 in closed session. We will consider a combined response to this growing and very serious problem. We will not invoke Martial Law until condition “Omega Three” unless requested to by The Confederacy. For reasons which will become readily apparent tomorrow, there will be no recording devices allowed in the conference room. I will explain “The Argonaut Project” and what it means in relation to this problem. Until 0900 tomorrow.” D’avid then strode quickly from the room followed by his aide still punching his Data PADD.

On the way back to his office D’avid espied an alcove containing a shrine of ‘The Keeper’. Motioning to his aide to wait outside D’avid entered and began focusing his thoughts and gaining his center. Once he was completely focused, he reached inside his uniform tunic and withdrew his ‘Tear’ ‘Tear’ (“<\/p>\r\n<p>Tear(s) of Callisto — Extremely Rare Naturally Occurring Tear Drop Shaped Crystal — Similar to ‘EGG’ but of the clearest and Deepest Sapphire Color with a fire unsurpassed by any other stone, natural or artificial. Usually approximately 2 (inches) in length. Like The ‘EGG’ The Tears have the same force field properties only with The Tears the force field extends to protect its wearers. The Tears also act as Psychic Amplifiers of unknown power. The extent of the psychic amplification depends on the individual’s psychic abilities, power and whether they are Bonded or not. Bonded pairs have a far higher boost capability, and are able to extend the force field to include people near them. Tear(s) of Gemini — Similar to the Tears of Callisto but absolutely clear with the same fire and inner light. (Although the Tears of Gemini and The Tears of Callisto may be found in nature, it is an extremely rare occurrence, only a few of each have been found in the History of Gemini. However, the majority of the known Tears in existence have been given by \”The Keeper of The Planet\” what criteria is used is unknown. However, the wearers of either Tears’ have been among the Confederations Brightest and most Admirable. Excerpted from The Unexpurgated History of Gemini by Master’s J’ff and G’un Tear(s) of \”The Keeper\” – Rumoured to exist yet never seen — supposedly clear yet blue at the same time. Since they have never been reliably seen, no further information is available.\””)for D’avid was not as strong a telepath as Andreas or his son S’ean. But with his ‘Tear’ attuned to Andreas’s thought patterns, he could reach Andreas who would then complete the connection and strengthen it. Holding the ‘Tear’ between his palms D’avid reached out across the far reaches of space for the light that was Andreas his rock, his soul mate.

While D’avid was trying to mentally contact his Bondling his aide was so busy typing orders into his Data PADD which he had connected to a comm port next to the alcove; the aide never noticed the soft blue glow which enveloped the alcove with his superior inside.  D’avid finally reached Andreas and felt a feather touch in return, he sent a feeling of concern and urgency back to Andreas and instantly the connection strengthened until he felt he was in the same room with Andreas.

‘Okay, D’avid what is so important that you are straining yourself to reach me?’ Sent Andreas.

Andreas commence “Project Eureka” and send the “Ghost Squadron” at maximum speed to Maxellus and institute a complete blockade and DO NOT inform S’ean! Send all of ‘The Companions’ outfitted as Archonate Security on a war footing Mark VII’s underneath their uniforms’

At the last Andreas sent ‘Why?’

‘This’ and D’avid sent as clear an image of the last holograph as he could. ‘I have invoked “Omega Two” and issued the launch orders for “The Argonaut Project” now get crackin “Commodore”‘

‘Love you too D’av now go eat then get some sleep before you collapse’

All D’avid had the energy left to send was a feeling of love and then he broke the connection. As he exited the Alcove the Grand Marshal informed his aide that he was going to his quarters and he was not to be disturbed.

“Bring my breakfast and yours to the Staff Briefing at 06:00 and don’t forget “The Argonaut” Presentation!” D’avid then turned and strode towards his quarters before his aide could see how exhausted he was.

At 05:30 the next morning D’avids’ door chimed, highly annoyed as he had just finished his sonic shower and was still recovering from his conversation with Andreas, D’avid barked “What?”

“Corporal Smith sir — I have a Strike Force Commando here to see you, sir. I have him under guard as he is wearing no insignia…” At those words, D’avid quickly shrugged his uniform jacket on and flipped the safety off his growler. “How he got this far I don’t know, sir. However, he says to inform you that he is a “Companion'”

Hearing that D’avid replied, “Let him in ALONE corporal.”

“But Sir….”

“You heard me corporal — ALONE.”

“Aye Sir”

As the corporal’s voice faded the hatch to his quarters slid open and stepping through the hatch was a familiar young Geminiian.

“Patrick wh…….?”

“‘Companion’ Patrick reporting as ordered Grand Marshal Castellano sir!” Patrick replied snapping off a salute that would have made a DI proud.

“Patrick, what in the name of ‘The Keeper’ are you doing here and in uniform?” Questioned D’avid of his son’s ‘Companion’.

“I am here to introduce you to the director of “Project Argonaut” and to give your presentation this morning. As to the uniform, this will confirm my right to wear it.” With those words, Patrick handed the Grand Marshal a standard Geminiian Military Orders Data Crystal which the Grand Marshal inserted into his crystal reader on his desk.

[Travel orders issued to Commander Castellano assigned to “Castellano’s Companions” detached to the staff of Grand Marshal Castellano TAD. Commander Castellano has been confirmed as Director of “Project Argonaut” with a brevet commission as Commodore until the project is launched successfully and the Military/Civilian Governing Team has assumed control.

Addendum for Marshal Castellano: ‘S’ean’s Companion’s’ have been militarized and all members’ last names have been changed to Castellano for security reasons. ‘The Companion’s’ are on Detached Duty assigned to planet Maxellus and may not be reassigned except by direct order of Grand Marshal Castellano. Mission to protect and assist Archon S’ean Castellano.

End Addendum] Blue “PS” sigil appears on the screen and then fades into nothingness.

“Okay “Director,” I think you had better begin at the beginning and don’t leave anything out.” replied a now stunned Grand Marshal.

*****

From the Mercanto Gazette: Centaurian Ore Convoy three days overdue. Prices of machined parts are rising due to a possible shortage of raw material. The Fortian passenger liner FSS Royal Diana is twelve hours overdue for arrival. Inquiries are rising regarding the increasing number of missing or overdue ships, but not enough to cause public concern yet.

*****

Back at the Grand Marshal’s quarters, Patrick had just finished explaining to D’avid his seemingly improbable appointment as Director of “Project Argonaut”.

“…. so basically, since the initial design for the GSF Argonaut was mine originally as was the use of the hollowed out planetoids, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and BUSHIPS in “their infinite wisdom” appointed me Director with the rest of ‘The Companions’ as my Steering Committee/Board of Directors. We did have a few military and civilian consultants, but the military consultants quit making input less than a week into the planning. Because thanks to Michael, Andreas and The Castellano Estate computer network including your additions as well as the Space Simulators we ‘Companion’s’ knew more about the makeup and staffing of our fleets than they did. Additionally, S’ean has a better handle on tactics and planning than any of the military consultants. S’ean also had some very unorthodox approaches he learned from Alexander who no one has been able to find……”

“Alexander?” Inquired D’avid.

“Yes, the person who appeared at S’ean’s Bonding, remember the one who said S’ean was his and ‘The Keeper’ confirmed? Stranger even is that Alexii Bonded with Alexander also and their gestalt is unbelievable! Whoever and wherever Alexander is he has a totally different point of view than any Geminiian or other Confederation member any of us have come across. His POV has solved some rather sticky issues for us as we were able to attack them from completely different angles. The strange thing is S’ean finally admitted that some of his earlier ideas were from Alexander, with S’ean’s permutations. Steven and Kevin have had conversations with Michael, Andreas and Brosius as well as some “PS” person and all of them assured us that there is no need to worry. Alexander is completely on the up and up and when the time comes S’ean and Alexii will tell us what we need to know. None of us can believe that a High School Science Project has led to this! One other thing “DAD” all of us including our parents are fine with our new last names. Your wife our new “MOM” is tickled pink with all of her new sons to cuddle and spoil. Now on to some serious business. I know you have made this room secure, but I need you to make this room as secure as possible using your ‘Tear’, while I use this.”

Patrick then pulled out what looked like a standard military jamming ‘EGG’ and by placing his palm over it and concentrating for a moment he soon had the ‘EGG’ pulsing in sync with his heartbeat. Meanwhile, D’avid had done the same with his ‘Tear’. As they both finished the room’s ambiance changed drastically. Where there had been subtle outside noises being heard occasionally; now there were no sounds at all. It was as if the world outside had ceased to exist.

“D’avid, your son S’ean and Alexii sent you this.” Patrick then pulled out a small ‘EGG’ on a necklace chain. “D’avid this ‘EGG’ will allow you to communicate slightly with Alexii and S’ean. You won’t be able to hold extended conversations like you do with Andi, but you will be able to send strong emotions and brief thoughts.”

D’avid’s jaw dropped when Patrick explained what the mini ‘EGG’ was capable of. “How is this possible? This is completely unheard of, in fact, it is almost unbelievable, and if it weren’t you telling me this Patrick, I would say that you were certifiably insane! Do you have any idea how this works?”

“Other than somehow S’ean and Alexii have made this ‘EGG’ attuned to their thought patterns, No. I do know that you are supposed to hold it in your hand and concentrate on reaching either S’ean or Alexii, just as you would try to reach Andreas. You will probably find it easier to reach S’ean but they both assured me you will be able to reach Alexii should you need to. They both cautioned that this should only be used when absolutely necessary as it takes a lot more energy than a similar conversation between Bonds.” Was Patrick’s reply.

“Okay so why are you here to make my presentation for me and how did you know I was going to announce “Project Argonaut” today? Considering I just ordered its launch yesterday afternoon.” Queried a now very curious Grand Marshal.

“D’avid all I know is that a captain from BuShips arrived on Maxellus with two men in plain uniforms handed me my orders and gave me two hours to put the presentation together. When I asked to see their ID’s they showed me “PS” ID’s as well as Military Intelligence ID’s. The BuShips Captain handed me a message crystal from Andi which verified that they were legitimate and that I should go along with the plan. The funny thing is my orders gave me the rank to outrank them if necessary. As soon as I had everything ready we took the shuttle up to the Light Attack Cruiser GFS Australius, I never knew a ship that big could move that fast. After a flight of a few hours, we arrived at some outpost where I was shuttled down. I was then crammed into one of the new courier ships. They are so small and fast there is barely room for the passenger and the pilot. This ship had no markings and the strangest hull covering I have ever seen. It is impossible to describe. When I woke up, we were here and I am reporting as ordered. Now you know as much as I do” Was Patrick’s reply.

“Are you sure that they were BuShips and Planetary Security?” Queried D’avid.

“The captain was definitely BuShips as he could talk the talk and walk the walk. He also knew parts of “The Argonaut” only BuShips could know. As to the other two they were ‘PS’ for sure and probably MI. I think they were Strike Force Commandos also; they had this air about them that said don’t mess with me. Also, someone knew I was coming as I was met by an Ensign who took my carryall to my quarters which are next to yours by the way. Also, if they weren’t genuine, we have a very large security leak. Otherwise, how did my ship get through the very large security screen surrounding this conference? I couldn’t believe the number of security types stationed here, and it seems they are very well integrated because they were all mixed teams. I hope this answers your questions D’avid?”

While Patrick was answering his questions, D’avid was pondering the situation ‘This is really strange, Patrick showing up like this. He is the answer to my prayers, although I have a good understanding of the military side of “The Argonaut Project”. However, my understanding of the civilian side is weak comparatively.’ D’avid responded to Patrick’s question “It answers them as well as you could. Are you ready to proceed? I am scheduled to meet with my aide for breakfast and a briefing in five minutes. Shall we? This is going to be a very interesting day”

“D’avid, let me quickly change into my ‘Companion’ uniform; I think we need to emphasize the civilian side of “The Argonaut Project” as well. Outside of my beret it really doesn’t look much like a uniform; after you introduce me, I will remove my beret. This should help me reach the civilian members of the conference.” was Patrick’s answer to the Grand Marshal.

“Sounds like a plan to me, you are beginning to sound as devious as that son of mine!”

At those words, Patrick broke out into a huge grin.

“It is going to be very interesting to see the expressions on the conferees’ faces when I introduce you as the Director of “Project Argonaut”. Some of the members are old enough to be your grandfather.” Smirked D’avid in response.

“I will be ready for them have no fear. I will handle them the same way S’ean handled his Military Interviews. I will hit them with so much data they won’t notice me.” Grinningly replied Patrick as he headed out of D’avid’s quarters towards his own.

While Patrick was changing D’avid contacted his Aide and informed him that there would be three for breakfast and then broke the connection. He informed Corporal Smith that the Strike Force Commando would be his escort for the day. When the corporal tried to object D’avid informed him that he trusted the commando as he would his own son. As Patrick joined D’avid and started walking towards breakfast D’avid in an aside to the Corporal said “He could have killed you while under guard and never broke a sweat” Patrick and D’avid never saw Corporal Smith turn pale and almost pass out.

Needless to say, breakfast was a very interesting affair. The Grand Marshal’s Aide Lt. Commander Lansing was stunned when the Grand Marshal entered his office with what looked like a civilian teenager in tow. D’avid decided to have some fun and only introduced Patrick as Patrick Castellano his new “Project Argonaut” Liaison. D’avid’s Aide was totally perplexed as he thought he was the liaison and additionally he couldn’t figure out how a civilian teenager was able to get through conference security and even get to the conference since it was only for governmental delegates and top military commanding officers. The conversation over breakfast was kept simple and pleasant, Patrick and D’avid talking about S’ean, Michael, Andi and Patrick’s favourite Frissoc teams. As breakfast proceeded Commander Lansing became even more confused if possible, as Patrick wasn’t D’avid’s son yet acted like one and knew more about the Castellano Estate than an outsider would. As Commander Lansing prepared to ask who exactly Patrick was Patrick and D’avid turned the tables on him. “D’avid can I see the presentation you put together yesterday based on the incursion and missing ship reports you mentioned.”

“Sure thing Patrick, Altec let Patrick use your DeskComm, until his is installed,” D’avid ordered his aide.

“Excuse me, Marshal that requires a very high-security clearance as you have tied the actual reports as well as “Project Argonaut” secure information to that presentation.” replied a stunned aide, wondering why the Marshal was giving this civilian access to such sensitive military data.

“Commander Lansing, I don’t believe a security clearance will be a problem. Please lead me to your DeskComm and I believe I can allay your fears on that issue.” Patrick’s reply was delivered in a crisp no-nonsense professional tone that bordered on an order.

Commander Lansing was stunned at the sudden change in demeanour from this supposed civilian risked a quick glance at the Marshal to see his reaction and D’avid only had a slight smirk on his face. The commander quickly reached his DeskComm powered it up and entered his password to allow the system to access the operating system. As he started to input his password to access the office net and base network, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard Patrick saying, “Let me”. He stepped aside and watched Patrick enter a user id and a password longer than anything he had seen before. The screen flashed access approved and then instead of the base network welcome screen up popped Geminiian Interstellar Fleet Headquarters Buships Division, Login Screen. Commander Altec was stunned when Patrick simply entered a user id and an even longer password. He nearly fell on the floor when the welcoming screen said “Good Morning Commodore Castellano” D’avid finished the fun by saying.

“Altec I would like you to meet my new son Commodore Patrick Castellano Director of the “Argonaut Project”.”

Before he could faint or furnish a reply Patrick responded “Nice to meet you Altec now can we get to work I need to see everything you have developed so I can see how to tailor my presentation as a result. As the two of them went to work D’avid refilled his caffe and thought to himself ‘This is going to be a truly interesting day, the conferees definitely won’t know what hit them’

Precisely at 09:00 D’avid strode to the podium and announced. “Delegates I must apologize for canceling yesterday’s public meeting and holding a closed military one. Furthermore, as a result of yesterday’s closed meeting, I have taken the precautions of closing this meeting to all recording devices and all non-security cleared personnel. I am sorry if that means some of you will have to take your own notes; but I can assure you once I have finished my initial presentation you will agree that all of these precautions are necessary. Once my initial presentation is finished there will be a brief question-and-answer period. After the question-and-answer session is finished I will introduce the Director of Project Argonaut. The Director will fill you in on that project and I can guarantee you will be amazed. The computer will display yesterday’s meeting in its entirety on the main Holofield as well as your individual terminals.”

D’avid paused for a moment and then rhetorically asked: “Are there any questions before I begin?” As expected, there were none.

“The computer will begin displaying a static image and then at the end of the presentation rotate the image ten degrees every thirty seconds until it has rotated through 360 degrees. Yesterday’s meeting was held because of some very disconcerting and disturbing reports that were forwarded to me from Confederacy Joint Military Intelligence Staff. Computer, display the file “Castellano Incursion 01″.”

As D’avid finished speaking the lights dimmed, and a starfield appeared floating in the center of the huge auditorium. The delegates silenced themselves as the presentation began. As the presentation progressed the shock and dismay began to evidence itself in the slowly rising volume of murmurs and gasps. When the presentation was finished and the Holofield had completed its final rotation, the lights returned to normal. D’avid returned to the podium.

“Delegates, we do not know who or why these incursions are happening. Do you concur with my decision to implement “Omega Two”?”

The resounding “AYE” that shook the auditorium was of a very sober nature.

D’avid resumed speaking “All of you and your governments have the basics of “Project Argonaut” and now that I have issued orders for its launch, it is time you learned more. I now present to you Patrick Castellano Director of Project Argonaut.”

D’avid then turned to Patrick who had been standing silently and invisibly behind him with D’avid’s Aide and Security Staff. “Director Castellano if you please?”

With a nod of his head and a quick salute, Patrick strode to the podium and as he removed, his beret began to address the delegates.

“Delegates I am here today……..”

“Marshal this is an outrage! He is just a child he can not be the Director; he isn’t qualified!” Roared one of the delegates.

As D’avid started to move towards the podium and deliver the stinging rebuke that was on his lips he was stopped when Patrick spoke.

“Grand Marshal if I may?”

D’avid looked at Patrick and was amazed at what he saw. Instead of appearing stunned or unsure of himself Patrick appeared to be licking his chops. “Proceed Director Castellano it is your PROJECT, not mine!” Was D’avid’s no-nonsense reply.

“Admiral Zhob’bs let me assure you that there is no one and I do mean NO ONE in the entire Confederacy who knows as much about the “Project Argonaut” as I do. And this includes Grand Marshal Castellano whose idea “Project Argonaut” was originally,” Patrick took a quick breath and continued speaking before Admiral Chobbs could recover from the strength of his announcement.

“Your flagship the FFS Diana is being retired because the hanger doors are 20 cm to narrow to land your new Attack Shuttles and the new Geminiian Strike Fighters. Additionally, your BuShips has discovered that the internal bulkheads in your reactor room are warping as my team has predicted. I am sure you are aware that your port engine fluctuates between twelve and seventeen percent below minimal specifications. I could continue with more, but we are here to learn about “Project Argonaut”. If you would refer to your original briefing material which is now being displayed on your individual terminals. If you will note the three names that are the authors of the report; Sean C., Patrick M. and Kevin S., Sean C. is now Archon S’ean Castellano and my name at that time was Patrick M… The “Argonaut Project” began as a High School extra credit project, which would give us university credit in Aerospace Design, Social Engineering and Astrophysics as well. BuShips was looking for a different viewpoint to solve the problem Commodore now Grand Marshal Castellano had given them. The problem we were presented with was designing a mobile Military Command Ship that also could serve as a Supply and Repair Ship. As a final twist, the ship also had to be a Colony Support Ship and also serve as an R&R point. Essentially what was needed was a mobile planet. The design my team submitted was selected over the designs submitted by all of the Geminiian Aerospace Corporations and all the designs submitted by the Confederacy Aerospace Corporations. BuShips was unable to find a single manufacturer including themselves to manufacture our design. When the design was returned to us to fix the problem and resubmit, I was the one chosen to go to BuShips and point out the sections of the plan which dealt with those issues.

BuShips then compromised and appointed our team as the General Contractors and myself as Director. We were then tasked to build a 1000th scale working model to prove our plans workability. Delegates, we delivered the working model six months ahead of schedule, under budget and with a twenty-five percent increase in performance over our specifications.

As to my educational qualifications I hold advanced degrees in Aerospace Technology, Physics, Social Engineering and Psychology with Associate Degrees in Mining and Metallurgical Design and Engineering.

The other members of my team hold similar and complimentary degrees. Additionally, S’ean Castellano and Kevin Castellano hold advanced degrees in Aerospace Tactics and Command, Military Weaponry and Military History. All three of us have passed the qualification class for both Geminiian IF Strike Force Commando’s and IF Drop Force Marines. Coincidentally we are qualified as Strike Fighter Pilots.”

Patrick paused his dissertation and turned towards D’avid and asked: “Marshal is your Director of Security still the reigning GSF Unarmed Combat Champion?”

Marshal Castellano replied “Yes he is” slightly perplexed.

Patrick then asked “What is his rank in Gemanji (“Gemanji is a combination of Karate, Judo and Savate and is offensively oriented not defensive)?”

Marshal Castellano replied with a knowing grin, “He is a Grand Master Fifth Level Black Belt with Two Solarian Bursts. And before you ask S’ean and Kevin are both Seventh Level Black Belts with Five Gold Solarian Bursts. And your level Director Castellano?”

Patrick bowed towards D’avid for the opening he had given him. “I am the Imperial Grand Master, Eighth Level with Seven Iridium Solarian Bursts,” Patrick answered in a totally calm and collected tone.

As the totality of Patrick’s words sunk in the huge auditorium became instantly silent. The only sound that was heard was the quiet thud as Corporal Smith fainted when he realized that Patrick was perfectly capable of carrying out the Grand Marshal’s off-hand threat. The rest of the audience was stunned at the qualifications of the young man standing in front of them. The Director standing before them had the credentials and bearing that matched or exceeded any of the delegates present.

There was a sharp intake of breath as Admiral Zhob’bs slowly rose to his feet his normally ruddy complexion now glowing crimson with shame. “Director Castellano I stand corrected you are eminently qualified to head this project. I humbly look forward to your presentation and our further enlightenment.”

Patrick responded “Thank you Admiral Zhob’bs. The “Argonaut Project” was conceived …………………..”

[Details of the “Argonaut Project” are contained in Errata Four]

           
In a fairly quiet section of Geminiian Space far from the merchant space lanes, a curious scene was about to unfold.

The Geminiian Space Force Interstellar Fleet had not been completely honest or forthcoming with their allies in the Confederacy. For the new Geminiian Strike Fighter was not the only new ship to join the IF.

One of the liabilities of a ship designed solely as a fighter was its lack of range and the ability to deliver enough of them and swiftly enough to make a difference. One of their other weaknesses was their inability to deliver a knockout punch on ships larger than a Battle Cruiser. Geminiian BuShips had solved these problems in several unique and previously unthought-of of ways. It seems a certain young Archon had passed on several suggestions from Alexander based on the books of an earthling author David Weber. Of course, S’ean neglected to tell them the ideas were extra-terrestrial. Another serious weakness of space fighters was their lack of point defense against larger ships. Geminiian BuShips had also solved this last weakness also, or had at least made it not as significant a problem.

The first solution seemed simple and straightforward on the surface. Geminiian BuShips had designed what they called a Fast Attack Carrier or FAC. The FAC looked like a slightly oversized Light Cruiser from the outside with a few slight modifications. On the inside, though things were drastically different the FAC’s only carried half of the external armament of the Light Cruiser design they were based on. However, what armament they did carry was fifty percent more powerful. With the reduction in armament and the twenty-five percent overall increase in size, the FAC’s could carry one hundred of the new Strike Fighters and a few miscellaneous support ships and their crews. The original design called for one hundred and twenty-five Strike Fighters but that design was scrapped in favour of the larger engines. The new engines were a full fifty percent larger than those carried by a full Battle Cruiser. The smallest Battle Cruiser was one and a half times the size of a FAC. The room not used by the vastly improved and more powerful engines was used by the new massive CIC and ECM RoomsCIC and ECM Rooms (“CIC = Command, Intelligence and Control aka command and Control. The ships&#160;offense&#160;and tactics were controlled from here.&#160;&#160;&#160; ECM = Electronic Counter Measures. All jamming, decoys and other countermeasures were controlled from here. Defensive counter fire was also controlled from here.”). The new FAC’s were twice as fast as a standard Light Cruiser and packed nearly the same punch. However, in addition to its onboard weapons systems, the FAC’s could deploy seventy-five Strike Fighters in less than ten minutes. The enlarged CIC and ECM capabilities along with some specially modified Strike Fighters made the FAC’s a truly advanced and fearful offensive platform. At the same time, the FAC’s dramatically added to fleets defensive capabilities as they could deploy a much larger and faster rear guard than before.

One of the main reasons for the enlarged CIC was to improve the Strike Fighters punch against larger ships such as cruisers and dreadnoughts. The CIC’s in the new FAC’s were able to coordinate the Growler and Pulse Laser or Plaser Fire of several Strike Fighters at the same time. The FAC’s could then concentrate the fire of those ships onto a single point greatly increasing the amount of damage and if followed up by a shot from the FAC or another ship on the same point, the damage could be critical. So now in a wave of say thirty Strike Fighters instead of having thirty separate shots you could have as many as twenty-seven or as few as one.

The reason there were only twenty-seven separate shots instead of thirty was that at least three Strike Fighters in each wave were specially modified as ECM craft. These modified Strike Fighters in conjunction with the new powerful ECM suites of the FAC’s decreased the chance of an attacking Strike Fighter being hit by the target ships point defense by over forty percent.

The ECM modified Strike Fighters carried no offensive weapons other than the standard ship to ship plasers and missiles used to defend or attack other fighters. However, with the extended range of the improved scanners, the ECM Strike Fighters or “E” Strike Fighters with their extreme agility and small size made them extremely difficult to target and hit. They would drive the larger ships crazy, and this was without using the ECM Suites on the FAC’s. Together with the ECM Controllers on board the FAC’s The “E” Strike Fighters could confound and confuse opponents targeting computers to a degree previously thought impossible.  In addition to creating false ship images of varying sizes and locations, they are able to fire multiple salvos of small multi-headed shells which when detonated explode with the brilliance of a small star. Additionally, the shells released large amounts of EMP’s or Electromagnetic Pulses which can blind or confuse most visual and computer tracking and tactical radar/lidar systems.

As if this wasn’t enough each “E” Strike Fighter also carried the same fire control capabilities of a FAC only on a smaller scale. Each “E” Strike Fighter could only control three or four Strike Fighters at a time, but this was still a very valuable weapon. It allowed the Wing Commanders’ to concentrate their fire on a target of opportunity with a precision and magnitude previously unavailable to them.

There was one other feature of the FAC’s that was still top secret and only its developer and the testing crews were aware of it. In fact, the first full-scale test of the system was about to occur. With their vastly oversized engines, the FAC’s had an extremely large “towing” capacity, which was a completely unexpected benefit. As all ships had small tractor beam systems to land out of control and inoperable fighters and shuttles, everyone assumed that the FAC’s systems would be of a similar design and power. And they would have, if not for a serendipitous accident and delay, that had befallen one of the junior engineers on the FAC design team. As ‘The Companion’ Tommy was catching his delayed shuttle flight from Lysander to the unnamed and unmarked satellite that BuShips used for its design lab, he happened to see a boring old space tug towing something across his field of vision using its tractor beams. Tommy almost turned away from the sight but as he started to look away, he caught something unusual out of the corner of his eye. For instead of towing a single ship the tug was towing ten of the single person space scooters in three lines. The space scooters were used to inspect large ships that could not fit into a standard space dry dock. Tommy stared at the sight for a while until suddenly the idea he was formulating clicked. Tommy quickly turned on his PADD inserted the Data Crystal he had to fetch, since a co-worker had forgotten it, which was why he was running late. Tommy quickly performed a set of advanced calculations, using the data on the crystal. When the results were displayed a few moments later Tommy smiled widely, his idea would work.

As Tommy was silently congratulating himself, his shuttle arrived. He quickly shut down everything running on his PADD, removed the data crystal and inserted them both into the secure pouch attached to his waste. Once Tommy was secured in his seat the shuttle quickly launched on its way to its secret destination. Tommy began to recite the calming mantras that Andreas, Sean and Brosius taught all of ‘The Companion’s’. As soon as he felt the feeling of peace and weightlessness he reached inside his tunic and with his right hand and grasped the ‘EGG’ that was hanging from his necklace. Picturing Sean and only Sean, Tommy sent the clearest picture he could of his idea. Tommy had the weakest telepathic skill and range of any of ‘The Companion’s which was why he usually didn’t stray far from the fold. However, with Patrick, Sean and Kevin off working on “Project Argonaut” Tommy was the team’s Propulsion and Tractor Beam, Specialist.

After a few seconds of intense concentration, Tommy felt Sean’s arms wrap around him in a hug and ‘heard’ ‘Go for It’. With that, Tommy awoke from his slight trance and found that he had arrived at his destination.  Tommy smiled inwardly for Sean and Andreas had done it to him again. The only reason Tommy had been able to reach Sean was that Andreas had happened to be visiting Sean. Sean and Andreas were practicing some telepathic skill training when Sean felt Tommy’s very weak signal and quickly formed their unique meld and then reached out to Tommy. When Sean had finished sending his message Andreas reached out and put Tommy to sleep until the shuttle arrival message would wake him. Sean and Andreas both knew how much energy that short conversation cost Tommy. They both knew he would need to sleep but knowing Tommy; he would start working on his new project instead of taking the short nap he needed. Knowing that Tommy still had at least a forty-five-minute trip remaining, Andreas put Tommy asleep for forty minutes or so.

Tommy woke up from his “nap” completely refreshed and although he knew Sean and Andreas couldn’t ‘hear’ him he said ‘Thank You’ anyway. Quickly moving towards the WallComm and punching in his access code he contacted his design team and told them to put everything on hold. He proceeded to tell them to pull up all the specs on propulsion and power generating and tractor and retrieval specs as well. Tommy closed by saying he would be there in seven minutes.

“What Tommy was going to propose would make the FAC’s even more dangerous and consequently more valuable. His proposal was so simple he was amazed no one had thought of it before. With the oversized engines, the FAC’s could now generate excess power for all of their systems. What Tommy proposed to do was install oversized Tractor Beams on both sides of the aft of a ship. Since the fields emanated by the beams completely enclosed the ship they were retrieving, in an impenetrable energy field, the ships would be contained in an energy cocoon, basically. Tommy planned to use two to four of the tractor beams to reach behind each FAC and “Tow” between twenty and thirty Strike Fighters. Since each Strike fighter would essentially be encased in its own cocoon, the pilots would be perfectly safe using their internal life support. What this meant is that as soon as a FAC arrived at its intended location rather than having to arrive far enough out to launch a CAPCAP (“CAP = Combat Air Patrol — a wing of ships whose basic duties were to protect the ship or ships who launched them against Fight Attack.”) and then the Attack Wings they simply canceled the tractor beams and an Attack Wing was already launched using the impetus of the FAC itself in addition to their own power. After the CAP was launched the next attack wing could be launched. The “towed’ fighters could come from each FAC or from converted freighters.

You can imagine the shock and consternation this tactic would cause the enemy who found itself in the way. For instead of facing six or seven ships they were facing sixty or seventy ships before they could even launch their own CAP let alone an Attack Wing if they even had fighters. And considering the FAC’s were still launching Strike Fighters at an alarming pace, many commanders would turn and run rather than face overwhelming defeat.

The new Strike Fighter and FAC Doctrines were about to get their first live test and the results would be a huge surprise to both parties.

The FAC test squadron was about to surprise a small Geminiian Supply Convoy that was scheduled to supply the testing outpost they were using as its temporary headquarters.

The squadron consisted of five FAC’s, three Light Cruisers, One BattleCruiser and three IF Drop Force Marine Transports. The flagship of this unusual squadron was not the BC as expected that honour went to the FAC Tommy Castellano the first FAC in service with the Castellano Modifications. The operations plan was simple in nature but could only be executed by a squadron comprised as such or similar. The plan was as follows:  the ships in the squadron would exit Hyperspace in a loose “V” formation with Two FAC’s and one Light Cruiser at the top of the “V” with the Flagship FAC, BattleCruiser and remaining Light Cruiser at the bottom of the “V”. The Four FAC’s job was to race around with their Light Cruiser and close off the top and sides of the globe they were trying to create. The Light Cruisers jobs were to stay between their FAC’s and provide defensive cover as well as some offensive punch against the “enemy”. Each FAC was towing Twenty Strike Fighters which slowed them to just over the Light Cruiser’s top speed, so they matched the Light Cruiser’s speed. It was the hope of the Squadron Commander that when the “enemy” encountered close to eighty ships bearing down on them plus powerful shots from the Light Cruisers and FAC’s that they would either surrender or be driven into the arms of the BattleCruiser, Light Cruiser and FAC which would have seventy-five of its Strike Fighters launched. Fire Control was being handled by the FAC and three of the Strike Fighters which were in a shutdown state far ahead of the remaining ships. These three Strike Fighters were acting as the eyes and ears for the fleet; they were coasting along on their inertia and were only using passive scanners.

The squadron emerged from hyperspace in the proper order and formation. All the pilots being “towed” reported A-OK. The initial scanning reports and the maydays being broadcast from the convoy, showed the convoy is under attack by four unknown ships slightly smaller than a light cruiser, but very heavily armed. The squadron commander gave the order to proceed with the attack plan under maximum speed rather than the planned flank speed. The ships in the squadron quickly proceeded with their assigned tasks only now with a little more quickness and crispness.

The confrontation was over almost before it had begun. To call it a battle would be a gross misstatement at the very least. The squadron executed its attack plan quickly and precisely and before the unknown ships could completely recover from the overwhelming surprise; they were under massive fire from all sides. When one of the unknown ships tried to run from the harassing attack of twenty Strike Fighters assigned to that target, they found themselves being bracketed by powerful ranging shots from one of the FAC’s and its consort Light Cruiser. The other three ships quickly surrendered when they saw the fourth ship blown out of the sky by the Strike Fighters. That ship had made the fatal mistake of trying to escape vertically directly in the path of five Strike Fighters that captain will not be making that mistake again.

Within an hour the three remaining pirate ships had all been boarded by the Drop Force Marines. They were now headed under the guard of two of the Light Cruisers and the BattleCruiser with a CAP of Five Strike Fighters towards the squadron’s temporary base.

The FAC’s and the remaining Light Cruiser remained to help escort the supply convoy to the base. The three escort destroyers half the size of a Light Cruiser had all suffered damage of varying degrees.

The squadron commander who should have been ecstatic was ticked off. He was upset because everything was over so fast, he never got a chance to try the new ECM Suites or the FAC’s Fire Control Suite. The only thing that got a slight test was the new point defense grid as not a single ship in the squadron was hit. He was very happy with the maneuverability of both the FACs and the Strike Fighters they both performed above expectations. He was very excited at the ease with which five Strike Fighters took out the pirate ship. The wing commander had most of his wing darting and twisting around the pirate ship keeping it occupied and off guard with the constant growler and plaser fire from his fighters with an occasional ship to ship missile fired for practice. While the pirate was being kept busy the five remaining ships were focused on a specific point on the pirate’s ship. Four of the Strike Fighters focused all the growler and plaser fire on a single point on the pirates hull, the fifth Strike Fighter fired its single Ironhead MissileIronhead Missile (“Ironhead Missile = Ship Killer — called Ironhead because of its hardened head”) at the exact same point at which the other Strike Fighters were focusing their fire. Game Over! The massed fire overpowered the pirate’s shields, and the missile impacted before point defense could even see it let alone target it.

As a live test, it was successful beyond anyone’s imagination. As the squadron commander was finishing his report, he requested that all Light Cruisers assigned to squadrons with FAC’s have their engines upgraded. As he pointed out the new FAC’s engines at full power were thirty percent faster than a Light Cruiser instead of the fifteen percent the specs has indicated. Additionally, at Flank Speed, they were fifteen percent faster rather than the ten percent spelled out in the specs as well.  Overall, a new age in space warfare had begun.

Will the new ships and tactics be enough against colossal moon-sized ships of The Scourge? Or will new designs be needed? What is S’ean and Alexii’s place in this? Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Authors Notes:

Well, finally another chapter has made its way to the web. I want to apologize for the long delay between chapters. Hopefully, it won’t take as long for the next chapter. This chapter is a little shorter than normal; however, it does set up many of the future chapters. Thanks again to my editor The Radio Rancher for turning my mixed-up jumble into a readable chapter.

Until Next time,

TSL

Comments always welcomed at The Story Lover

Editors Notes:

Well, it seems we have another chapter, and It is up to the stellar levels of the past adventures we have received from The Story Lover. I feel very privileged to once again lend a hand in the editing process. It is actually quite a nice experience to edit one of Story Lover’s tales. I had my giant box of commas in hand and used them liberally. I have almost run out of them so I will have to buy some more before the next chapter arrives in my mailbox. Grin. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Keep up the good work I’m all ready for a new chapter.
Thanks for writing it.

The Radio Rancher

2019 Story Lover Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Published April 13, 2019