Hi-ho, hi-ho, it be off to work we be going…
So, yeah, the Cop Story (code name: Prism) is progressing nicely, now closing-in on 600 pages in very rough form, and I’m still hoping to finish by early summer. Yet Hyperion boils along on a back burner somewhere in the darker recesses of the Memory Warehouse, but boil she does and as ideas come I try to get them down on paper… But have you ever tried to write down these fleeting ideas as you’re in bed trying to find sleep? If you get up and start writing notes the odds are you won’t stop there, and pretty soon you’re writing away and the sun is coming up. Very uncool.
[EMERSON LAKE & POWELL \\ MARS, THE BRINGER OF WAR]
So, the outline is taking shape. Still using the Niven & Pournelle Drive and Field paradigm to deal with time and space, but darker days are just ahead for the Ripley clan, so grab a cup of tea and put on your Wayfarers – ’cause it could get kinda bright inside all those stars…
Hyperion II: The Agamemnon Chronicles
USNSF Agamemnon 15 October 2107
Denton Ripley watched the docking clamps release over a remote video feed, and he almost flinched as reaction control jets along Hyperion’s port side began firing to the beat of an elaborate dance all their own. As he watched the feed, Ripley noted the huge ship was slowly beginning to pull away from her moorings, two tugs standing by to keep her safe as she pulled away from the space station. Ripley’s arms crossed protectively over his chest as he watched the evolution, knowing his wife had the chair on Hyperion’s con – and that all eyes were on her now.
“Mixed emotions, Denton?” Admiral Stanton asked as he walked into the station’s control center.
“I should be with her,” Ripley said – almost under his breath, his voice just loud enough to be heard over the hum of computers – and the blast of the air conditioners needed to keep them alive.
“I have more combat experience, Admiral. Not to mention Hyperion was mine for two years.”
Stanton smiled. “If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that one…well, I’d be a rich man.”
Ripley nodded. “Goes with the territory, I guess?”
“Very few skippers last six months, Denton. Operational needs dictate the ebb and flow of assignments and postings, and if you decide to stick around you’ll start to see the big picture.”
“You don’t have to retire, Denton. You can always move to administration or operations when you get back.”
“I wasn’t aware that was an option, Admiral.”
“Well, I just made you aware, didn’t I? And I don’t need an answer right this minute. Just give it some thought – while you’re away.”
“The yard boss tells me Agamemnon is ready to go. I want you to take her out to Mercury…”
“And then return?”
Stanton shook his head. “Only if absolutely necessary.”
“Look, I know this is not exactly doing things by the book, but you’re going to head out with a rated crew, but also with the yard crew onboard. They’ll tune the reactor and iron out any bugs they run across while they get your engineers up to speed – but we’ll get them back to base on one of the fleet tankers.”
“Yes, the Council and the administration have assigned your mission highest priority, higher than the Russo-Japanese thing. We want you to make the jump to Alpha Geminorum Ca as soon as humanly possible, and find that installation Thomas referred to.”
“Installation? Admiral, Thomas referred to it as a university.”
“And who knows…maybe it is. But can we take that chance?”
Ripley felt ill, almost betrayed – by what he knew had to come next. “Sir, what are the mission objectives?”
“Retrieve our midshipman and ascertain what threat level these ‘Tall Whites’ pose.”
“If they’re hostile the Agamemnon will engage when and if you determine you have the tactical advantage to deploy that weapon.”
“And if they aren’t a threat?”
“You have two dozen academic sorts onboard; the Science Ministry recommends you convene a council and work out the best way to proceed with further contact. You’ll also have the five remaining middies from your original mission, and they’re to stay with you onboard Agamemnon – unless, that is, you have to abandon ship.”
“So, we’re going in solo?”
Stanton shook his head. “No. You’ll jump with Constellation and Stavridis, but the Connie is to remain in-system at the jump point – period. I want Stavridis to hide out in the asteroid belt, kind of an ace up your sleeve when or if things hit the fan. If it hits the fan out there Constellation will send a longboat through the Alderson point. Within six weeks we hope to have the Enterprise Battle Group assembled and ready to make the jump to provide a secondary attack force should this new race prove hostile.”
“A battle group, Admiral? Can we spare that many ships if we get in a shooting war with the Russian and the Chinese?”
“I don’t know, Ripley. Why don’t you think it through and see what you come up with.” An exasperated Stanton looked him over again – then he too crossed his arms over his chest before he turned and walked out of the control tower – and Denton realized he’d asked a question worthy of a midshipman still wet behind the ears.
Hyperion was now about a hundred meters away from the station and Ripley could now take her all in. With her Langston Field down she looked like a white monolith covered with ports and windows and hundreds of sensor arrays – almost nothing at all like a warship – yet that’s exactly what she was. And she was headed in harm’s way, too – with his wife at the con.
Agamemnon was anything but a rectangle.
As he looked her over the word ‘rakish’ came to mind. Even made fast to her moorings she still looked ready for a run, like a greyhound ready to join the chase. And yet she too was a warship, only a warship with a much different objective. Her mission wasn’t confrontation; she was – in her way – an olive branch. A very fast olive branch. This ship had been built with the implicit knowledge that the most enduring peace is based on understanding and respect – grounded in an explicit ability to lay waste to the enemy – any enemy.
This was an old concept, of course. The policy of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, had arisen during the First Cold War and had remained in place through the Third World War – as Communist China’s attack on Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea had come to be known. In the aftermath of that war, the unipolar world of American hegemony had given way to a new, fragmented multipolar world order, in one very important way dominated by increasing hostility between Russia and China. Once China moved on the coveted “Northern Resource Area” – as the CCP called Siberia – another war had only just been averted by brokered diplomacy. Once all the resources necessary for explosive industrialization were discovered in the asteroid belt, terrestrial conflict had simply moved into space. Not one country maintained a real sea-going navy anymore; the cost was simply no longer justifiable – because space was so outrageously expensive.
But Agamemnon was something new, something radically different. She had an Alderson Drive so had a Langston Field, yet despite being a warship she was lightly armed. In fact, she had only one weapon, a newly developed X-ray MASER, possibly the deadliest weapon ever created. In tests, Maser-X had cut through all known armor plate in nanoseconds, yet the weapon concurrently delivered a kinetic impact equivalent to five megatons of force. The real horror of this weapon was that even the Langston Field could not absorb this kinetic blast wave; instead, all this colossal energy was transmitted inward, directly to the ship within the Field. With the targeted ship crippled, the Field generator would fail and the cutting power of the Maser would take over, slicing through the ship and exposing the habitation modules to space.
So Ripley was more than a little surprised to learn that Agamemnon’s keel had been laid down a full six months before he’d first left earth on Hyperion. So, she’d been re-tasked – from an unknown original purpose that had to be related to MAD doctrine. So, what was that term? Flexible response? Have the necessary ships – and crew – available to meet both current and unanticipated needs, because new technologies always came along, some more unexpectedly than others. So, months before he’d commanded the first Hyperion mission, the Navy had started work on Agamemnon.
“Why?” he wondered. Where was the new threat? The Weyland Company? Or had The Company struck an alliance with China and Russia? Even though that would be against The Company’s long term interests?
But all this meant Stanton had considered him the best person for the task at hand, to take Agamemnon into the unknown, while Judith was now considered more than capable enough to sail Hyperion into battle on Orion’s belt. Or? – was she simply the more expendable captain?
‘And am I flexible enough for this mission?’ he asked himself – as he watched Hyperion’s main drive flare and come online. ‘What do I think is going to happen out there? Meet these ‘Tall Whites’ again and sing Kumbaya around a campfire on the beach? But why was The Company out there in the first place? What did they know about the Tall Whites? And how the hell did they find out?’
A personal Comms came through from Hyperion and Ripley took the call.
Judith’s image came onscreen and he thought she looked calm, almost serene. “Everything good out there, Judy. How’s the ship feel?”
A simple nod. “Crew is still tight, everyone is on edge, more so after the Marines boarded.”
“Two companies. They’re crowded down there. What about Agamemnon? When do you put out for builder’s trials?”
He looked at her and shrugged. “No word yet. Yard crew still onboard, still working on Reactor Two, something wrong with the original design. I think we’ll be out of here in about two months.”
This was the agreed upon coverup Stanton wanted going out over the Command Net, in case unauthorized ears were listening in…and Judith was in on the deception.
“That figures. Hell, this thing out on the Belt will be over by the time you leave. Wait for us and we’ll go with you.”
“I’ll mention it to the Admiral. Let’s hope this is just a tempest in a teapot.”
“Well, whatever it turns out to be, we’re ready for an extended engagement.”
Ripley nodded. Until the full nature of any alliance between Weyland and this revived Russo-Chinese axis was known, the scope of the coming conflict would remain unknown – at least until hostilities commenced. But what was there to worry about? Just because Hyperion was being sent in first – to test the waters, as Admiral Stanton put it – didn’t mean Judy was in imminent peril. “Perhaps they’ll find a diplomatic solution,” Denton said, his voice a little too forced. “When will you make the jump?”
“Looks like 1.5Gs to Mercury, so call it two weeks and change.” There was a flurry of activity in the background and Judy turned to deal with it; a moment later she simply said “Gotta go,” and her image disappeared.
Hyperion was now almost five hundred miles away from the station, so he switched to a telescopically enhanced view – just in time to note the main drives flaring to maximum power. Despite what she’d just said over the open channel, Hyperion was setting sail at almost 3Gs, and her exhausted crew would make it to Mercury in a week…and yet if all went according to plan he’d be just a few hours behind her.
He quietly slipped out of the station’s Command Center and walked slowly out to Agamemnon, but once onboard he dashed to the con-tower and strapped into his acceleration couch. Once his screens were positioned exactly where he wanted them he spoke over the closed command circuit.
“X-O?” he said to Commander Brennan, “let’s take her out, then get everyone to acceleration stations. Reactor Control, are we tight?”
“Brooks here, Admiral. Reactors One and Two online, Three and Four on standby. All personnel ready for acceleration.”
“Rusty? How are your troops?”
“In their couches and ready to roll, Admiral. All hardware secure.”
“Fire Control? What’s the status of that Maser?”
“Yardmaster has about two plus days work to finish up, Admiral.”
“Okay. Tell ‘em we’ll have 24 hours at Venus and possibly a little longer at Mercury. Get ‘em strapped in; we’re going to heavy acceleration in five minutes.”
Brennan turned her couch to face Ripley: “Reactors online and at seventy percent. Ready when you are, Admiral.”
“Alright, Captain, visual signals only, move the tugs to standby stations, and make ready for departure.”
Ripley’s ears popped as pressurization went to internal and equalized throughout the ship.
“Admiral,” Brennan said, “green across the board; all departments report ready for departure.”
“Very well, Captain, take her out.”
Admiral Stanton watched Agamemnon as she slowly pulled away from the station, and he couldn’t help but smile. Her architects had taken a page from the old Soviet playbook when they’d designed her, because Agamemnon was the exact opposite of Hyperion. Agamemnon was designed to impress, to engender a sense of awe – and in that one regard her designers had succeeded brilliantly. She looked more like a super-yacht than a naval vessel, and yet everything about her seemed to exude a sense of urgent purpose. She wasn’t a boxer; she was a long-distance runner – on steroids.
Stanton watched as Stavridis and Constellation moved into echelon formation just before they accelerated away from the station. They made quite a sight just then, the three of them in formation passing in front of Earth with their drives flaring, the Enterprise Battle Group 5 miles behind the formation, still moored while they took on hydrogen and other provisions. The Charles de Gaulle and the QE2 were still just in view, trailing Hyperion, ready to make the jump to Orion.
But everything was hitting all at once.
Was this by design? Or coincidence?
But ever since Pearl Harbor, Naval Intelligence had no further use for or interest in coincidence.
So, why did the Russians attack the Japanese colony on Mintaka 4? Why did the Chinese resume their tattered alliance with Moscow? Obviously the Japanese had discovered something of extraordinary significance, and now that the Russians had made their play the Chinese had rejoined that uneasy alliance. And if the Chinese were willing to let bygones by bygones, then the discovery on Mintaka simply had to be of utterly priceless value.
But The Weyland-Yutani Group was already there. Already in the game.
Yet they’d gone after Covenant, too.
Was there a connection? There had to be, didn’t there?
Yes, Stanton’s gut told him there was. That there had to be. That’s why three commercial freighters still under construction had just been ‘acquired’ and were rapidly being repurposed into troop transports. Mintaka 4 was the prize, but Stanton knew deep down that the key to the prize was going to be found on or in the vicinity of Alpha Geminorum Ca-4. So Denton Ripley had to find the key and somehow get it to his wife.
Then maybe they could retire and raise their daughter.
Funny, he thought, how these things work out. Never the way you expect, and the happy ending only comes after tremendous sacrifice.
He walked off to find Ripley’s daughter. Maybe, he thought, he should get to know her.
(c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | just fiction, plain and simple.
[Yes \\ Life On A Film Set]