Cutting Room Floor: Torchship Pilot Prologue

The early drafts of Torchship Pilot had a prologue showing how the Fusion and Disconnect were moving toward the brink of war. It’s a good scene but most of those characters aren’t seen again in the story, and the information was included in the early chapters. So I cut it. I don’t regret writing it, it was a useful way to organize my thoughts about what was happening in the setting outside the view of our main characters.

For anyone wondering what you missed, here it is.

***

Bonaventure System, acceleration 0 m/s2

“Thermal signal, sir!” cried the ensign.

The commodore turned to look at the scope. “Another destroyer?” He affected a bored tone. The Fusion tried to penetrate the blockade at least once a day. The Disconnected Worlds had combined to block that regime from their space after a Fusion warship nuked a research conference on topics the Fusion considered too dangerous.

“Probably not, sir. Too strong a signal. Looks like a heavy cruiser or carrier.” Ensign Bowie glanced at his signalman, who offered a confirming nod.

“Looks like the Fusion is upping the stakes then,” said Commodore Galen. “Commo, send the blockade warning.”

“Aye-aye,” said the rating. “Signal sent, sir.” A few minutes later he reported, “They’ve answered. Text only. They claim to be traversing uncontrolled space en route to another system. No signature.”

“Consistent. Thanks, Sparks,” said the commodore.

On the thermal scope the intruder’s blip swelled, then split as two dozen fainter signals moved out.  “Bogey is a carrier, sir,” reported the ensign.

The commodore merely nodded and continued watching the scope as the sensor techs tried to assess the new bogeys.

Sparks called out, “Report from Trajan. They have an angle on the fighters. They’re making at least twenty-five gravs accel.”

The ring of bogeys was slowly expanding. “Trying to by-pass us,” said Commodore Galen. “Ops, put some shadows on them.”

“Aye-aye, sir.” The lieutenant commander in charge of Operations had been updating the plan as data came in. She started issuing orders to the missile frigates. “Porcupine, stand by to execute Lake Hotel, bogeys one through seven. Yeoman, stand by to . . .” When all had acknowledged she sent the go command.

Commodore Galen had moved over to the holo display. The missiles flew out from the widely spaced frigates, timed to all synch up in a ring matching the Fusion intruders. The hologram overlaid the blips with acceleration vectors, projected courses, and a bright red ring in the middle showing where the collision would happen if nothing changed course. He checked the clock. “Two-three-five seconds from order to first launch. Nice work, Ops.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Lt. Commander Halgai. She relaxed as her team monitored the incoming telemetry.

For twenty minutes they watched the velocity vectors grow. Galen checked the thermal scope and radar screen, reminding himself the holo showed the ops techs’ predictions, not reality.

“Maneuvering!” called Ensign Bowie. The thermal scope blips brightened as the fighters pivoted, exposing more of their rocket plumes. In the holo display the red ring shifted planetward then returned to its original position as the missiles adjusted their attitude to match. More maneuvers followed, fighters varying their courses and missiles robotically tracking them.

Bowie wondered, “Why don’t they send some missiles back at us?”

“It’s too complicated,” said Halgai. “The Fusion doesn’t make missiles smart enough to make decisions. So they have these little piloted missiles.”

“How do they get anyone to fly those deathtraps?”

No one was eager to answer the ensign’s question. After a minute the commodore growled, “They get laid a lot.”

Bowie contemplated this. “Sir, you know that ceremonial cavalry unit Ground Force has for the Landing Day parade? We could—”

“No,” said the commodore.

“Five minutes to intercept,” announced Lt. Commander Halgai.

The fighters’ thrashing about had just widened the collision ring. The missiles were still on schedule.

“Sparks, any messages from the carrier?” asked Commodore Galen.

“No, sir. Some encrypted traffic synched with the fighter maneuvers. Nothing to us,” answered the commo tech.

“That’s a change.” Galen turned back to the holo display.

A couple of Ops techs were arguing, quietly but easy to hear in the tense flag bridge. “Their cannon can take out a missile.”

“They’d never get a hit closing at multiple klicks per second.”

“I heard they train for that. Could be done.”

“Even if they do they get hit by debris instead of—” He noticed the officers watching and shut up.

“Fighters have kept course steady for three minutes now,” reported Ops.

“Playing chicken,” said Commodore Galen.

The holo displayed the time to collision in red digits. At “1:50” Bowie announced another maneuver. The fighters had turned tail, accelerating back toward their carrier. The Disconnect missiles cut thrust automatically to let them escape.

With one exception. A fighter had stayed on its previous course. Its assigned missile kept playing chicken.

“Picking up a distress call,” said Sparks. “Fighter claims his control system crashed and he can’t maneuver.”

“Should we abort the missile, sir?” asked Ops. “We have twenty seconds to get the order in.”

“No.”

A few officers looked like they wanted to question that, but the window expired without more than some mutters. Now it was too late for an order to reach the missile across more than ten million klicks before the collision.

The silence after that was broken by Sparks. “Distress call continuing.”

“Still converging,” said Ensign Bowie. “And impact.” The blip flared on the thermal scope.

“So much for a bloodless blockade,” said Halgai.

A tech muttered, “There was plenty of blood at Noisy Water.”

“I’m quite certain that fighter was remote-controlled,” said the commodore. “They were checking if they we were willing to kill to enforce the blockade.”

“Message from the carrier,” said Sparks. “Declaring their intention to jump back through the Lapis gate.”

“Good. We won’t see them again until they decide they’re willing to kill to break it.”

***

If you want to know the rest of the story, check out Torchship Pilot.

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