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Skywatch Reflector Dais Undersea Base - Rho Theta Five Northern Latitudes - CPT Odessa Lynn Commanding

The volcanic activity along the floor of the Damocles Ocean on Rho Theta Five was both scientifically valuable and life sustaining. Without it, liquid water would not exist anywhere on the planet, which would make a facility like Reflector Base impossible to build. As it was, the mighty facility was one of the Alliance’s greatest achievements. It was situated a full three miles below the ocean’s surface, protected from the stormy and poisonous surface conditions by more than nine thousand feet of dense ice.

One of the key characteristics of the Damocles Ocean and other concentrations of liquid water on Rho Theta Five was that up to a third of its volume consisted of “heavy” water, which replaced hydrogen in the standard H2O molecule with deuterium.

The resulting physical properties of the ice and currents were unusual, to say the least. The good news was the base could make use of heavy water for a variety of scientific endeavors. There were several competing theories on how such quantities could exist absent some form of artificial production, but those discussions were largely relegated to the halls of academia. For the Skywatch personnel on the base, the presence or absence of one or more bonus atoms in each molecule of water wasn’t a top priority.

What was a top priority was the unusual communications traffic being picked up by the base’s orbiting relay.

Captain Odessa Lynn was one of the few “alarmist” officers who escaped the aftermath of the years-long schism at headquarters. Because of her unique knowledge and training command, she was classified as indispensible by Joint Supreme Command and therefore untouchable. That didn’t stop the anti-alarmists from targeting her base and its supply lines for all manner of nonsense including interfering in the routine maintenance of the station’s geothermal energy systems. There were specialized automated systems installed in the “catacombs,” as they were called, to plumb the depths of the vertical tunnels that had been drilled into the sea floor. This was a necessary operation that had to be performed rather meticulously. Although the walls of the catacombs were made of maserite and assembled in the same honeycomb-like lattice as a starship’s armor, it was still necessary to perform advanced analysis on them to detect any irregularities before they became weaknesses. Given the temperatures and the unusual pressures involved, a tiny crack could lead to a catastrophic failure in a matter of seconds. This was Reflector Base’s top priority. That didn’t stop various officers and their staffs at headquarters from requesting “more information” after each request for engineering teams to be assigned.

It was one of those requests that Captain Lynn thought was being addressed when the flash message came in.

“I’d stake pretty much anything on the origin being local, ma’am,” the Reflector signals technician said. “There isn’t enough power in this transmission for it to be a Missouri relay or for it to be coming from the Proximans.”

Lynn studied the signal analysis on the main screen on the station’s upper level coordination deck.

“And we didn’t get any of the message itself?” she asked.

“Only the headers, ma’am. We know it was an all-stations brodcast, which means there’s a very good chance it was also some kind of alert status upgrade. But the message itself was corrupted somehow.”

The captain smiled and shook her head. “If I know Buford Tucker, he’s probably chewing someone’s door off its hinges right about now. What about the Proximans?”

“The Cuta reported arrival on station two days ago. She has escorts, and I’m betting at least one of them is a communications platform coordinating with the perimeter base. But the headers in this message looked like Skywatch.”

Captain Lynn reached over and called up the most recent readiness report for the Rho Theta system. The Cuta and her battle group had been slotted into Rho Theta Four’s command as a primary planetary defense formation designated Task Force 67. The Proximan crown had made it clear his kingdom was not equivocal about its opposition to Sarn aggression. While His Majesty was frequently non-committal, especially in light of Proxima’s relative dearth of military might compared to the rest of the Core Alliance, on this occasion there was no question as to the felinoid race’s intentions. True, they were sword-wielders and they revered their quasi-medieval culture of chivalry and honor, but when it came to war, humanity could find no ally more loyal anywhere in known space.

The problem was Proximan captains, especially those leading dreadnought-anchored battle groups, were highly unlikely to brodcast anything short of total disaster. They more often deferred to the closest Alliance capital ship, which in this case was none other than the Constitution, under the command of Admiral Buford Tucker. At the same time, HMAV Cuta controlled the spacehead for D Corps, which had the point on the surface of Rho Theta Four. The entire sector’s communications array was on the RT4 surface, which was the justification for landing the equivalent of six mechanized divisions to establish a base of operations for system-wide defense and amphibious operations into Mycenae Ceti.

The more she thought about it, the more the captain’s attention focused on the RT4 array. Was it possible D Corps was engaged in some kind of unusual transmission activity? SatCom operations were authorized in all commands, and that meant there was at least a possibility the signal Reflector Base had received was encrypted somehow. But if the headers didn’t indicate it was a SatCom relay, then even the signals techs wouldn’t be able to crack it. Only commanding officers and CSOs had the necessary keys.

“Comms, have that message delivered to my quarters.”

“Ma’am?”

“The one with the corrupted data and the intact headers.”

The technician’s confused look only lasted a moment. He suddenly realized the captain’s request wasn’t smalltalk. “Aye.”

Lynn strode into the main traversal loadlane on Reflector’s upper deck. Overhead, approximately six stories above the floor was the enormous domed transparency surface of the station’s “highest” main module. The upper section was closest to the surface and also the smallest of the eight major structures that made up the base. All were built to withstand unimaginable stress and pressure, and all were designed with tolerances comparable to specialized spaceframes for heavy construction equipment.

Balancing weight, mass, stress points and materials science were among the most important skills for what had come to be known as a “hostile environments architect.” Since much of ancient Earth’s training for what were known at the time as “astronauts” took place in the only readily available environment they had on the surface, the relationship between underwater and orbital construction disciplines was not only formed early, but had a massive head start over all the other sciences that followed. The relationship between building a vehicle or habitat sturdy enough to survive under the ocean and building one to survive voyages in space was so well understood by the time of the first interstellar flight, that it was up to human exploration’s leaders to try and find a planet with survivable oceans just so all of man’s advanced knowledge could be put to use.

Rho Theta Four was discovered many centuries after those missions, but even by then the objectives had not been lost. It was not far from Reflector Base, for example, that the groundbreaking experiments demonstrating the unusual pressure effects of Cantlon-type drive fields on captured atmospheric elements were conducted. One of the advancements that resulted from those experiments was incorporated in the life support and emergency evacuation facilities of Reflector Base itself. The captain was one of only a few officers in Skywatch aware of these facts and their origins, just like she was probably one of only a handful of people in her current command who would have thought of encrypted communications traffic being “hidden in plain sight” so to speak.

Lynn was a dark-haired woman of average height. Were it not for her occasionally startling rank insignia, she was not a person likely to attract attention. She was attractive, but not striking. She was in fairly good shape given the fact she rarely got a chance to venture outdoors, and given her occupation required her to be several miles underwater at all hours. Most of the station personnel who didn’t work with her directly rarely noticed her at all unless she spoke to them. She strode past the observation bay for vessel deck five and passed at least three dozen people, none of whom even looked up. It was to be expected. Odessa Lynn had been the unexpected achiever all her life. She navigated the rabbit warren of offices at the end of the access corridor and finally reached her quarters on the upper module’s “weather deck,” named for the fact it was the only set of cabins that could see “up” into the lightless night blue Rho Theta ocean.

Her console was quietly glowing, indicating the waiting message.

“Computer, this is Captain Odessa Lynn, identifier Minotaur Seven Zero One One. Match voice print, identify and grant security access.”

“Acknowledged, Captain Odessa Lynn. Voice print matches. Security access upgrade request granted. How can Reflector Base help you today?”

“Perform cryptographic analysis on waiting message timestamped within the last ten T-minutes.”

There was a pause as the base computer ran the message through several specialized filters designed to look for telltale structures, header information or other packaging that would indicate some kind of piggybacked transmission.

“Analysis complete. Message is part one of a fourteen part message keyed to your identifier. The most recent upgrade to the Missouri Cipher was utilized to encrypt the message contents. Shall I retrieve the remaining 13 parts and decode the message in its entirety?”

Lynn took the seat at her desk. “Affirmative.” She stared intently at the screen. The face of Marine Captain Liam Henkel appeared. Lynn felt her heart skip at least one beat. She was looking at the face of a man that had been officially “missing” for some time. She was also looking at the face of the man she had been engaged to for nearly ten months.

“Dessy, I need you to listen to me very carefully. We slipped into the Bloodwing base in Mount Tynavu and found something. Something big. Embedded in this message is a holographic star map centered on the Rho Theta system. A Sarn fleet action with the objective of destroying RT4‘s communications array and the Missouri Jump Gate is set to commence at any moment. They’ve rigged the Proximan Listening Post at system’s edge with explosives and they are going to hit the Descartes Jump Gate with everything they have. They already launched a strike force into Manassas for a surprise attack. We tried to get the word out but there wasn’t enough time. There’s no telling what they encountered out there.”

Odessa covered her mouth with her hand. Dozens of enemy ship formations appeared on the star map as Henkel’s voice continued. “They’re on to Jason Hunter’s ruse. Whatever he is trying to do on Epsilon Gamma is leading him and everyone else he has working with him into a trap. The Sarn’s little secret on that planet turned out to be not quite as little as we thought. Admiral Tucker’s battle group is going to be blown out of space if you don’t reinforce. If they defeat Task Force Nine they’ll move on Proxima next. You have to hurry, Dessy. The only thing keeping the Sarn out of Rho Theta right now is the final prep on M-Ceti Eight. You have days. Perhaps hours.”

Henkel’s face re-appeared. “Don’t ask me how I know all this. Suffice to say we discovered a mad scientist in the wreckage. When all of this is over we may not make it. We’re two light years behind enemy lines. But you have to survive. Reflector Base has to survive. Defend Rho Theta at all costs. If you fail, it’s the end of the human race.”

By now tears were streaming down Captain Lynn’s face.

“I may not be able to get another message to you. I love you, Dessy. No matter what happens you’ll always be in my heart.”

An instant later, all the deck lights shifted red. Somewhere the captain heard the general quarters alarm, but all she could think of was the pain in Liam’s eyes as his face faded from view.


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