Antares Victory [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Michael McCollum
eBook Category: Science Fiction
After a century of warfare, humanity finally discovered the Achilles heel of the Ryall, their xenophobic reptilian foe. Spica -- Alpha Virginis -- is the key star system in enemy space. It is the hub through which all Ryall starships must pass, and if humanity can only capture and hold it, they will strangle the Ryall war machine and end their threat to humankind forever.
It all seemed so simple in the computer simulations: Advance by stealth, attack without warning, strike swiftly with overwhelming power. Unfortunately, conquering the Ryall proves the easy part. With the key to victory in hand, Richard and Bethany Drake discover that they must also conquer human nature if they are to bring down the alien foe....
eBook Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2002
Chapter 1 Admiral (First Rank) Richard Arthur Drake lay strapped in his acceleration couch aboard the orbit-to-orbit shuttle and gazed at the glowing apparition that covered half the ebon sky before him. Here in the Napier system, the Antares Nebula was a hundred times larger than it was in the night skies of home.
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The nebula was a lustrous ball of gas and dust as beautiful as it was deadly. Its intricate network of swirls was a gossamer spider web suspended inside the shell of a shimmering cosmic egg. Save for its seemingly solid central core, the nebula's delicate filaments were nearly transparent until they approached its outer shell, where they again took on the hue of a fluorescent glow tube. The apparition was a reminder of the enormous cruel joke that God . . . or Mother Nature, or Saint Murphy, or someone . . . had played on Drake, his wife, humanity, and yes, even the Ryall.
Six years earlier, Antares had been the brightest star decorating the night sky of Drake's home planet, Alta. The baleful red spot had dominated the winter firmament ever since colonists first set foot on the blue-white world that was in many ways a virtual twin to Mother Earth. For four hundred and thirty winters, Antares had been the real-life version of the red stars with which Altan children decorated their fala bushes at Christmastime, an ochre beacon hovering low over the Colgate Mountain Range each evening after sunset. Then, at 17:30 hours on the night of Aquarius 16, 2637, the ruby star had undergone a breathtaking transformation. In a matter of minutes, the dying ember blossomed Phoenix-like to become the brightest star in the galaxy.
To those who observed the newborn electric spark high above the city of Homeport, there was no mystery as to what had happened. The cause of the transformation was obvious.
Antares had been well into its dotage long before human beings discovered star travel. For thousands of years, the red supergiant star had profligately consumed hydrogen, heedless of the day when that fuel must inevitably run out. That day came in 2512 (standard calendar). With nothing left to burn, the fusion reaction that had long powered Antares' inner engine flickered, and died. With no internally generated heat to oppose the pull of gravity, the core of the red giant collapsed. Gigatons of star stuff gave up its energy of position as it slid down the gravity well, causing the surrounding temperature to jump more than a billion degrees in an instant. The release of so much energy in so short a time triggered new fusion, which generated yet more energy. The runaway reaction could not be contained.
Antares exploded into the largest supernova ever observed by human beings.
The universe is a very large place, especially when measured in terms of the veritable crawl that is light speed. The distance between Antares and Alta was such that it took the nova wave front 125 years to cross the gulf of space between them. When the first photons from the explosion finally reached the colony world, they burst forth in a phenomenon that quickly became known as Antares dawnlight. However, as impressive as the giant star's funeral pyre was during those first few weeks, in one important respect, its appearance had been anticlimactic.
Scientists have long known that the cataclysmic flash that marks a supernova is merely a minor side effect of what is really taking place. In addition to outshining all other stars in the galaxy, a supernova produces a titanic storm of particles across the subatomic spectrum. While these and many other effects are of interest only to astronomers, Antares' death had carried with it one consequence that affected the lives of everyone on Alta. In addition to vaporizing everything around it -- including the hapless ships and crews then in transit across the Antares system -- the supernova disrupted star travel throughout the region, cutting Alta off from the rest of human space.
The invisible pathways between the stars are the result of long lines of folded space that emanate from the gigantic black hole that inhabits the central core of the Milky Way Galaxy -- and indeed, all spiral galaxies. These "foldlines" weave intricate webs of folded space as they sweep outward along the spiral arms, intersecting some stars while bypassing others. Where a foldline intersects a star, it is often focused by the star's gravity well to produce a "weak spot" in the vacuum of space. Such weak spots are called "foldpoints," and within their planet-sized volumes, it is possible to produce a hole in space-time. A ship that positions itself within a foldpoint and then generates a precisely formed energy field will effectively drop out of the universe and be flung instantly along the foldline to the next weak point, where it returns to normal space without having traversed the intervening distance.
For half a thousand years, humanity's ships had used foldlines to circumvent Einstein's universal speed limit. Foldlines were the superhighways to the stars, with most stars possessing at least two foldpoints, and sometimes as many as four. Antares, in the days before its fiery death, had been the champion foldpoint producer in human space. It possessed six of the gateways, making it the major interstellar transportation hub in the sector that bore its name.
Valeria, Alta's star, possessed but a single foldpoint, a deficiency that made the Val System an interstellar cul-de-sac. Of necessity, all traffic to and from Valeria passed through the Napier System, from which Alta was first colonized. That, at least, had been the situation before the Antares Supernova. The titanic explosion had disrupted the foldline running through the Val system, causing Alta's single foldpoint to vanish without a trace.
The loss of its sole gateway to the stars had plunged the Altan colony into a century of isolation. Nor had the Altan scientists any expectation that the sudden blossoming of the supernova in their sky twelve decades later would change the situation. In this, they proved less than prescient.
For when Valeria finally pricked the surface of the supernova's expanding bubble of radiation, the geometry of foldspace underwent a dramatic transformation. Having passed beyond the Val system, the supernova shockwave no longer intersected the foldline running between the two stars, allowing Alta's foldpoint to form once again high above the system's yellow dwarf primary.
The fact that Valeria was once more connected to the rest of human space might have gone unnoticed for several years had it not been for an anomalous event a few weeks after Antares flashed violet-white in Alta's sky. While studying the newly revealed supernova, an orbiting telescope picked up a mysterious ship materializing in the vicinity of the system's long-lost foldpoint. As astronomers watched openmouthed with amazement, the unidentified ship turned toward deep space and began thrusting as though the legions of hell were chasing it.
Drake had been a captain in the Altan Space Navy at the time. He had commanded ASNS Discovery, one of the three old interstellar cruisers that were stranded in the system when Antares exploded. Shortly after the appearance of the mysterious ship, the Admiralty ordered Drake to intercept the interloper at maximum boost. The chase was a difficult one conducted at high gravs the entire way. When they finally overhauled the intruder, they found a ghost ship. TSNS Conqueror, one of the terrestrial space navy's mightiest dreadnoughts, proved to be nothing more than an animated hulk manned by a dead crew, with no indication of what or who had killed them.
The discovery left the Altan government with a problem. On the one hand, the arrival of Conqueror announced that the way to the stars was once again open. On the other, its condition was mute testimony to dangerous circumstances somewhere beyond their local sky. If Conqueror could have destroyed the whole of the Altan Space Navy with little or no effort, yet had itself been battered to scrap metal by some unknown enemy, what of those who had destroyed it? Were they Alta's friends or were they its foes?
Having asked the question, the government decided to send Richard Drake to find the answer . . .
"Task Force coming into view, Admiral," the pilot of the shuttle said from beside Drake.
Drake shook off the reverie into which he had fallen. It was a nasty habit of his whenever he contemplated the Antares Nebula, brought on undoubtedly by the fact that his own life had been inextricably linked to the nebula ever since it blazed bright in Alta's night sky.
Alta was far away at the moment, as was his pregnant wife. He missed Bethany already, not that he'd had more than a few months to be with her these past three years. Building the largest invasion fleet in the history of interstellar war had monopolized his attention, giving him the opportunity for only a few brief visits home, and one glorious vacation that had lasted an entire week. Still, Bethany had usually been within comm range, and the two of them had spent many enjoyable hours talking face to face via comm screen into the wee hours. Now more than a hundred light years of vacuum separated them, a distance that could only grow as humankind launched its maximum effort to defeat an implacable alien foe.
Copyright © 2002 by Michael McCollum