Friday, January 25, 2013

Writing: The Charge of the Danoans, Chapter One, Part 1

What follows is the first three chapters of The Charge of the Danoans, the second of my novel submissions to Black Library back in 2010.  I will be serializing the first three chapters in roughly 2,000-3,000 word blocks, posted every couple of days (typically Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The total length of the three chapters of The Charge of the Danoans is approximately 17,000 words.  

Here is the setting:  In the Arcadia Sector, the Tau Empire begins their attack on Imperial space with an invasion of the Imperial planet of Danoan.  Aware that Danoan's strategic position makes an attack on it likely, the Imperium has given it a small garrison of Imperial Guard in addition to the Planetary Defense Forces, but nowhere near enough.  The situation looks grim for the Imperial defenders as the Tau put their plan into motion...


“Good morning, sir!” chirped Ensign Rogell, officer of the watch.

Lieutenant Tomas Pierce grunted at the young ensign.  It was hardly that.  Every morning was exactly the same on this airless asteroid station, so far out that the system’s primary was just one bright star among many.  He sipped his caffeine as the ensign brought him up to speed.

“We’ve got four Furies on a training exercise.  The generarium has been acting up again--slight power fluctuations, but not enough to affect operations. Chief Moseley is looking at it now.  Things have been quiet otherwise.”

Quiet, Pierce thought wryly.  Things had been quiet for the entire six months he’d been stuck here.  Six months here, only another six to go.  If he was lucky.  If not, then the Navy would just leave him to rot on this Emperor-forsaken rock.  Up to this point his career had been perfectly respectable.  He was a capable officer with an outstanding performance record, his only unforgivable flaw being that he had never been involved in combat.  Wherever he had been assigned, the action seemed to be somewhere else.  Without any distinguishing victories to his credit, or even peripheral participation in a battle, he was just one junior officer lost among thousands, with little prospect for further promotion.  His family was of noble birth, but their influence could only go so far.  Thus when a new officer was needed to command the unremarkable and obscure Galin Station, his name came up.  Galin Station was attached to an icy asteroid at the edge of the Danoan system.  As befitting such a minor outpost, the accommodations were spartan at best.  A fusion generarium buried deep under the asteroid’s surface provided the station power, including artificial gravity, as the asteroid’s mass was far too low to provide any meaningful gravity on its own.  The station consisted of a hangar for the squadron of Furies, a defense laser, missile silos, an outdated sensor suite, and living quarters for the crew of eighty-one.  It was too small to merit an astropath--the only link to the rest of the system was the vox-antenna pointed sunward, eight light-hours from the system’s only colony, the planet of Danoan.  Pierce’s only hope was endure the tour and pray for a better assignment, hopefully one on board a ship.

“Very well, ensign.  I have the watch,” Pierce said, nodding.

As the ensign headed off to the mess to grab some breakfast, Pierce took a perfunctory walk around the operations center before settling down into his chair, fighting off a yawn.  The petty officers sat at their consoles, watching screens that were mostly blank.  Only the controller, who was monitoring the training exercise, had something interesting to watch.  The station had an understrength squadron of Fury interceptors at its disposal--only a dozen--and maintenance issues kept only ten of them spaceworthy.  The station wasn’t a high priority for supply missions, so spare parts were hard to come by.  As a result the two grounded Furies were rapidly being cannibalized as vital components on the flyable interceptors broke down.  Even so, the squadron commander kept a relatively high tempo of flight operations, ostensibly to keep his pilots’ skills from deteriorating.  Pierce envied their outlet to stave off cabin fever.

“Eagles, this is Nest,” the controller said over the vox.  “Come to course two-six-five by fourteen, waypoint is bullseye one-eight-five by eleven for seventeen thousand five.”

“Eagle 21, one-eight-five by eleven.  Seventeen thousand five, wilco.” 

To the pilots these training missions were serious business, mock combats designed both to hone their skills and to win their all-important bragging rights.  The enlisted men kept things interesting by betting on them.  Gambling was prohibited by regulations, but here Pierce allowed it.  Anything to alleviate the crushing boredom.

Pierce stood up and walked over to the controller’s console.  He had seen hundreds of these mock dogfights, but maybe this one would be interesting enough to make him stop yawning. 

The two flights of two Furies had split up, separated by thousands of kilometers and out of their respective sensor ranges.  Once they were in position, the controller would turn them loose. Each pair of fighters would then maneuver, keeping their emissions minimal, attempting to detect the other flight without giving away their own positions.  Once they did, the simulated missiles would fly.  Assuming there were no hits, the fighters would come close enough that a proper dogfight would begin.

The controller, callsign “Nest”, had directed the two flights of Furies to their starting positions. Hawk Flight was on station and standing by, while Eagle Flight was almost ready.  The controller had directed them to their locations using separate frequencies, so as to deny each flight prior knowledge of their adversaries’ location.  The flight that detected the other first would gain a tremendous advantage in the fight ahead.  Most dogfights were won with the losers never knowing what hit him.  

“Nest, Eagle 21,” the leader of Eagle Flight called over the vox.  “Eagles are GO for the exercise.”

The controller keyed his vox-mike.  “Eagle Flight, Hawk Flight, this is Nest.  Commence exercise in five.”  And after a pause, “Execute.”

Pierce watched the screen.  Runes represented each fighter, the two groups spaced far apart.  The controller had started them on converging courses, but at their rate of closure, it would be long minutes before anything interesting happened.  With the start of the exercise, neither side changed course or speed, preferring to coast invisibly, pilots scanning the stars for any indication of their opponents.  

The rune representing Hawk 11 winked out.  A second later Hawk 12 disappeared as well.      “That’s odd,” said Pierce.

The controller shrugged.  “Probably their transponders,” he said.  “Hawk 11, Nest,” he voxed. “Confirm squawk one-two-six-five.”

“They’d better not be playing games,” Pierce murmured.  If the pilots shut off their transponders, their signals would disappear from the controller’s screen, but there was no reason for them to do so.  

There was a pause while the controller waited.   He was about to make the call again, but then a voice came over the vox.  “Nest, Eagle 21.   I’m pretty sure I saw a flash of light over there.  Uh...maybe one-six-zero by ten.”

“I saw it too,” confirmed Eagle 22.  “Might have been two flashes, actually.”

Pierce frowned.  That wasn’t good.  He set his caffeine mug down on the console and leaned in to get a better view of the controller’s screen.

“Hawk Flight, this is Nest,” the controller called again.

Nothing but static.  

“Have the Eagles call them,” Pierce ordered.  “Their comms might be better.”

Eagle 21 had the same idea, because before the controller could relay the order, he said, “Hawk Flight, this is Eagle Flight, do you read?”

Pierce waited, then looked over his shoulder.  “Are you picking up anything?” he asked another petty officer.

“Nothing, sir, my scope’s clean.”

“I don’t know, Nest, that flash could have been them,” said Eagle 21.  “Was the position right?”

“Affirm,” replied the controller. 

"I recommend we go active and search for them.  Shall we knock off the exercise?” asked Eagle 21.

Pierce nodded, and the controller relayed it.  “Nest concurs.  Knock it off.”

There was a burst of static over the vox, and the rune representing Eagle 21 vanished.  A chill ran up Pierce’s neck and over his scalp.

“Oh shit!” Eagle 22 cried over the vox, his warning receiver beeping urgently in the background.  “Nest, we’ve got--”  His voice cut off abruptly in more static, concurrent with his rune disappearing from the controller’s screen.

Pierce jerked upright.  The warning receiver had told him all he needed to know.  “Action Stations!” he ordered, and klaxons went off immediately in response.  “Sensors, go active.  Launch control, what do we have on deck?”

“We have one Fury on Alert 30, sir.”

“Throne of Terra,” he whispered, then raised his voice.  “Spin him up.  And get the other fighters ready as fast as you can.  Weaps, I want the defense laser energized, and the missiles readied for launch.”  He waited impatiently while the petty officers went to work.  The klaxons continued to sound, accompanied by an automated voice ordering the crew to their stations.  Pierce let it repeat twice, then said, “Sensors, do you have anything yet?”

“Negative, sir, still powering up.  We should be online in another thirty seconds.”  

Pierce clenched his fists, trying to stay calm.  Each second felt like an hour.  He reached for his caffeine and lifted it up to take a sip, but decided against it.  His hand was shaking enough already.

The door to the Operations Center opened, and Ensign Rogell burst through, clumsily buttoning up his naval frock.  His face was a mask of alarm.

“We’re under attack.” Pierce said briskly.  “We already lost four fighters."

“Throne, are you sure?” Rogell asked, agape.

“You heard me!” Pierce snapped.

“Emperor’s Throne!” he repeated.

Pierce ignored the outburst.  He was too worried.

“Sir,” the sensors technician said, “we’re active now, but as soon as it went up we got hit with heavy jamming.  We can’t see a thing.”  

“Anything on passive?"


“What in the Emperor’s name is out there...?” whispered Rogell, going pale.

The cold feeling in the pit of Pierce’s stomach grew, and his mouth felt dry with the rush of fear that was overtaking him.  He forced himself to remain calm and think, running through what options were left to him.  A sudden thought replaced his fear with anger.  “Comms, send a flash message to Danoan!” he ordered, cursing himself for not thinking of it earlier.

“Yes, sir,” the communications tech replied.  “The jamming is pretty strong, sir, so I don’t know if it’ll get through.”  He didn’t sound very confident.

A series of deep booms resonated through the room, more felt than heard.

“Sir, I just lost all active sensors,” reported the sensors tech.

“Vox communications antenna’s out too, sir,” said the comms petty officer.

“Anti-radiation missiles,” Pierce muttered.  “Did you get the message out?”

“I tried, sir,” said the petty officer, appalled.  “I don’t know if it made it.”  

Either way, Pierce thought, we wouldn’t know for at least sixteen hours, by which time we’ll probably be long dead.

“Defense laser powered up and ready to fire,” said the weapons technician, and the tone of his voice reflected what Pierce already knew.  With the active sensors down, there was practically no way to reliably track a target, let alone shoot it.  There were still the passive sensors, but the accuracy they provided were far from optimal.  

Two excruciating minutes passed, the entire operations crew on a knife’s edge.  The action stations klaxon ceased, leaving the ghost of its wail echoing in their ears.  There was something out there, but until it was detected, or until the station got hit with something else, there was little they could do.  Pierce fought the urge to fidget.  He debated pacing back and forth until something happened.  Returning to his chair and sitting down was out of the question.  Eventually he settled for clasping his hands behind his back, digging his fingernails into his hand to distract himself.  He began to breathe slowly and deeply, conscious to do so as quietly as possible, willing himself to stay calm and focus.

“Contact!” called out Sensors.  “I have a passive contact bearing one-seven-five by three-four-eight.”


“Unknown.  Won’t know that until the contact firms up.”

Pierce walked over, knowing he was right.  Until they could resolve the contact enough to determine its size, they wouldn’t be able to determine its range.  And this far from the sun, there wasn’t much light to work with.

He walked over to the sensor tech’s console, looking at the enhanced false-color image.  There was little to see except the field background stars, and every so often one or more some would wink out as the contact passed in front of them.  Pierce glanced at the scale of the image, and quickly did some math in his head.  “Throne,” he said.  “It’s either really close, or really big.  Feed the tracking data to Weaps.  Weaps, I want the Defense laser firing at this thing, now.”

“But sir,” objected Rogell, “it could still be out of range.  And chances of a hit are...”   

“If it’s not within range of the laser,” replied Pierce, “then the damned thing is so big the laser won’t matter anyway.”

“But what if there are more of them out there?”

“If we can’t see them, we can’t do anything about them.  I’m not going to wait any longer.  We’re going to fight back.”  He looked at the weapons tech, who was watching him expectantly.  “Fire when ready.”

The weapons tech activated the outer doors, which slid back to reveal the huge laser, and hydraulics began to push the laser out of its protective silo, the mount already rotating in azimuth and elevation to bring it to bear on target.

“Missile launch!” announced the sensor tech.  “The contact has launched numerous missiles.”

“Frag!” Ensign Rogell cursed.

“Easy, Rogell,” Pierce said, raising a calming hand.

“Missile count is four,” the sensor tech continued.  “Missiles are inbound--heading toward the station.  Target unknown.”

“Probably detected the laser and are going for that,” Pierce surmised.  “Weaps, what’s your analysis?”

“They’re moving too fast for our own missiles to intercept, sir.  Looks like we just have the defense turrets.”

Pierce nodded.  The answer had been what he expected.  “Engage when able.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Defense laser on target.  Firing.”

Despite the sub-optimal targeting information, the shot was good, and the laser hit.  There was a flash of light as the beam impacted an energy shield, flaring brilliantly then fading away, the shield flickering as electrical discharges dispersed across it.

“Defense Laser will be ready to fire in another fifteen seconds,” said Weaps.

“Those missiles will get here before that!” Rogell warned, watching the sensor display intently.

“Weaps, launch our missiles towards the ship.  Ripple fire all twelve.”

“Aye, sir.”

“All of them?” asked Rogell in alarm.  “Are you sure?”  

“Yes.  It’s use them or lose them, now.”

“Missile impact in five seconds,” reported the sensor tech.  “They’re targeting the Defense laser.”

As the missiles came into range, the station’s two automatic defense turrets began firing, unleashing streams of laser pulses at them.  Their tracking systems were poor, outdated, and simply not up to the task.  A quadruple boom resonated through the station as all four missiles impacted in rapid succession.

“Damage report,” Pierce said automatically, although he already knew what it would be.

“Defense laser’s gone, sir,” Weaps reported.  “Our missiles are ready for launch.  Initiating launch sequence.” 

The four armored hatches to the launch silos opened up, and one by one, the first four missiles fired at one second intervals.  Each silo reloaded, and eight seconds after the first missile left its tube, the second salvo began firing.  They reloaded one more time and fired again, emptying the magazines.  Aside from the close-in defense turrets and six fighters which would not be ready for launch for at least twenty minutes, Galin Station was completely out of weapons.   

"Missile launch!” the sensor tech reported again.  

Updated with additional targeting information from the successful Defense Laser shot, the missiles had a decent shot of acquiring and hitting the target.  “Missile impact in twenty seconds,” said Weaps.

“Inbound missiles are targeting our silos,” said the sensor tech.  “Missile count is eight, looks like two per silo.”

Ensign Rogell looked at his superior and nodded at Pierce’s decision to launch everything they had while they could, but Pierce didn’t derive much satisfaction from it.  He had already begun to resign himself to his fate.  He watched the weapons display.  Runes showed three echelons of missiles converging on the target, still unidentified and sinister.  

“They’re attempting countermeasures,” said Weaps.  The pict-display showed the leading echelon of missiles begin to disappear, taken out by the enemy’s defensive systems.  One, two, and then two more, and the first echelon was gone.  The second echelon closed in.  Two disappeared.  The other two got a little closer, and then they winked out as well.  Then it was the last wave.  One, two, and then the third vanished.  The last missile continued to close, and Pierce watched it grimly, willing it to hit the target.  The missile’s rune appeared to merge with the target, then vanished.

Pierce shifted his eyes from the weapons display to sensors.  “Detonation?”

“Negative,” said the sensors tech. 

"Emperor damn it!” Rogell cursed.

“Looks like they got it at the last second, sir.”

Pierce closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  Opening them again, he turned around and slowly walked back towards his chair, hands clasped behind his back.  He stopped and looked over his shoulder.  “How long until the fighters are ready for launch?”

“Eighteen minutes for the alert fighter, sir.  It’ll be almost an hour for the rest.”  The launch control tech said apologetically.

Pierce sat down, suddenly relaxed.  “Very well.”

“As soon as we open the launch bay doors, they’ll target it,” said Rogell.

“I know.”

“If we launch the first fighter, we’ll lose the rest.”

“I know, Rogell.”  Pierce deliberately kept his voice very calm.  At length he continued.  “What’s the contact doing?”

“Closing in, sir, slow but steady.”


“At its current rate of closure, it’ll be here in sixty-seven minutes.

“Comms, have Lieutenant Horsten and Petty Officer Simms meet me in the wardroom.  Ensign 
Rogell, you have the watch.  Report to me at once if the enemy does anything.”  

Rogell swallowed hard and nodded.  “Aye, sir.  I have the watch.”

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