Hyperion/Agamemnon Chapter 2

Hyperion AGA im1.1

So sorry for not posting in a while. Too busy with the ‘Cop Story’ – which means I’ve been too wrapped-up in my stroll through the Memory Warehouse. Writing is amazing in one key regard, especially writing from experience: the experience is, I think, rather similar to a self-administered psychoanalytic session. First there is the memory, often right there ready to jump out onto the page, but more often than not it is hidden away beneath layers of time and all of the inherent distortions such a layering presents. Then there is the ordering. How to squeeze memories into a narrative arc that makes some kind of coherent sense. Some memories are so intense they reside in nightmares, and so they are more than ready to find their way from brain through fingers to the screen. Some of these intense memories bring up equally intense feelings, and these have to be dealt with, too. At any rate, the tale is up to 780 pages now and about two-thirds complete (depending on font and sizing, this equates to about 300 book-length pages). I do want to wrap up this book by early summer, as I am beginning to feel a strong need to visit the sea.

[The World Spins So Slow \\ The Stewart-Gaskin Band]

So, off we go, back to the Prometheus-Covenant-Hyperion arc, so let’s resume Denton Ripley’s tale.

Chapter 2

Ripley watched live feeds from all over Agamemnon; presentlyhe monitored the main reactor control panels from his seat on the bridge, and this was on the main screen visible from every position on the bridge. He also watched the small contingent of Marines exercising on the hangar deck, agronomists in hydroponics tending their crops, and even the recycling plant turning todays excrement into tomorrow’s bioplast and yeast steaks – and with the flip of a switch he could literally zoom in on any shipboard activity, and as this was technically a warship there were no privacy rights to contend with. Still, Ripley saw no point violating spaces where privacy was the expected norm.

But right now he was looking at factory technicians still hard at work calibrating the new X-ray Maser. Agamemnon was the first ship not just in the Navy but the first ship period to be so armed, and this unit had been, technically speaking, the prototype. As the weapon had proven to be so devastating during its initial trial, and yet appeared to be so robust and reliable, it had been boxed up and launched on shuttles directly from the Haifa Spaceport – even as Agamemnon was hastily redesigned to accommodate the weapon. As a result of this redesign, she ship now had five fusion reactors, not the four originally specified; the fifth, smaller reactor alone powered the Maser, though its output could be channeled into the ship’s main drive if the situation warranted. And now, ever since he’d boarded and his command status transferred to the new ship, all he’d done was study the Maser – and it’s daunting power requirements.

Because fighting this ship meant one thing, and one thing only: getting the Maser online and lining up the shot. And there was, quite literally, no defense against this weapon. Its beam blew through Langston Fields like tissue paper, while ships without a Field were cut apart within milliseconds. In theory, the Maser’s beam had unlimited range too, but no one had dared test that theory yet.

But…why? Why had Agamemnon been equipped with this devilish thing?

To impress the Tall Whites, as they were being called now? Kind of a ‘Don’t fuck with us because we have this kind of technology’ statement. But again, why? Especially as the need at Orion was more pressing?

So, Stanton thought the biggest threat was waiting at Alpha Geminorum Ca-4, at this supposed university run by the Tall Whites. 

And he found he reluctantly agreed with that reasoning. The Russians were two generations behind both our Navy and the Chinese PLA-Space Force, and while their ships had both the Alderson Drive and Langston Field they were first-gen affairs that wouldn’t fare well against a modernized fleet, or even the modest contingent of Japanese ships at Mintaka-4. Either the QE2 or the de Gaulle would be able to handily deal with the Russians, hence Moscow’s hastily resurrected alliance with Beijing.

But Stanton’s thinking went further to the most obvious question of all: what had the Japanese found on Mintaka-4? Why were the Russians and Chinese so willing to break the peace?

Something obviously valuable enough to set this conflict in motion. But what?

‘We have all the mineral’s we need now, and all in-system. We have a practically unlimited supply of hydrogen in the Jovian satellite system, and we haven’t even begun to tap the vast supplies around Saturn. Everywhere we’ve been we’ve found minerals and hydrogen in vast quantities, so it can’t be that…’

But why hadn’t Stanton briefed him in? He was an admiral now, after all.

But he was a one-star, a rear admiral, and so not steeped in the rarefied air of a fleet admiral. He didn’t brief the President or members of Congress, and they certainly didn’t brief him. He was still just a cog in the war machine, a weapon to be expended, so whatever else he thought he might be, he was most definitely still very expendable.

He switched feeds and looked at the ship’s new Midshipmen, the Middies, in their acceleration couches, and they were all looking around excitedly, taking in their unfamiliar surroundings as the ship settled into her new routine all around them. He cut the audio here as he had no need to listen; teenagers were teenagers when all was said and done, no matter where home was. Five new Middies, as well as Yukio Matsushima, the lone holdover from Hyperion were with them now. Yukio had deferred her entrance to Annapolis until Thomas Standing Bull entered; they were, she said, soulmates. And who the hell was he to argue with her about that?

Ripley had tasked Agamemnon’s Executive Officer, Commander Louise Brennan, with taking Yukio underwing this trip, to in-effect start Yukio’s trial by fire in the fine art of astronavigation, and perhaps even give the girl some stick time on their way out to Mercury, before Agamemnon made her first official jump. The kid was bright enough, or so Brennan had told him on more than one occasion, and now was the time to put that to the test. The rest of the Middies would spend their days, when not in the classroom, rotating between engineering and damage control on this first outbound leg, but the next two weeks would see them in the classroom working on stellar classification and introductory helioseismology, and perhaps even some interactive asteroseismology, studying the resonant modes and frequencies of the more typical stellar formations they’d encounter on this trip, and how these shock waves interacted with an Alderson Point.

And one of his official duties entailed hosting the Middies for a formal dinner once a week, part of the whole ‘officer and a gentleman’ thing that the Royal Navy had been doing since, well, well before Nelson. That meant at least once a week, during one of the ship’s few two hour-long periods without acceleration, the Middies would get into their dress uniforms and congregate in the Admiral’s in-port cabin – for real food – with no yeasty bioplast steaks in sight.

Sensors soon started picking up Hyperion’s ion trail, so he asked Brennan to power up the 36-inch Schmidt Camera and sight along the vector. And sure enough, there they were: Hyperion and her escorts bound for Venus – but at the hideous rate of acceleration of 3.4Gs – enough force to fracture cervical vertebrae if someone was stupid enough to raise a head off their acceleration couch.

“X-O, what’s their range?”

“Eighty-thousand kilometers and steadily increasing, Admiral.”

“Any unauthorized traffic out there?”

“No, sir, and no Field signatures.”

“What’s the sun look like?”

Brennan changed cameras, first to a Hydrogen-Alpha, then to a Calcium channel filter. “One active sun spot visible, two shockwaves currently in the chromosphere. We’ll have a visible transit of Mercury in 97 minutes.”

His intercom screen flashed and he answered; it was one of the Israeli technicians and she looked angry. “Yes?” Ripley said to the scowling, red-faced woman.

“Captain, I was given to understand we would maintain a constant 1G acceleration! How do you expect us to work under these conditions?”

“First, my rank is not captain, and Ma’am, we’ll be under heavy acceleration until we are well beyond all the traffic in near-earth and lunar orbit. I suggest you take a sleep period now; when you get up we should be under 1G and well on our way to the first tanker rendezvous.”

“Very well,” the tech said – and then the screen went dark.

“Pleasant character, that one,” he said under his breath.

“That was Dr Ina Balin, Admiral. She has a reputation for confrontation, Admiral,” his Gordon said from the couch beside his own.

“Anything else I need to know about her?”

“Bright, well-educated, very opinionated and, from the communication intercepts I’ve noted, her colleagues couldn’t wait for her to get up here.”

“So I suppose they’d like her to stay?” Ripley said.

“That might be an understatement, Admiral.”

“Well, someone woke up on the sunny side of the morning. You seem happy today, Gordon. What’s the occasion?”

“The sunny side of the morning, Admiral?”

“It means you woke up feeling happy.”

“Ah. I was unaware of the reference, sir, but yes, I am happy.”

“Happy? Really?”

“Yes, Admiral. This is the purpose for which I was manufactured, so I am, in effect, fulfilling my purpose. That should make one happy, should it not?”

Ripley smiled. “That’s certainly a big part of the recipe, Gordon. I meant to ask earlier, but do we have any David’s onboard?”

“No, Admiral. There are two Walters in Medical, and five in engineering. We do have a new Jordan unit onboard, Admiral.”

“A Jordan unit? Well, this is the first I’ve heard of him.”

“He is a she, Admiral, and she is the second in a new series. She has been assigned to Medical, and emergency genetic and nano-medicine is her specialty.”

Ripley sighed. “Well, see to it that she comes to our first dinner – with the Middies, along with the Israeli dragon-woman.”

“Very well, Admiral. Tomorrow, as previously scheduled?”

“Unless something comes up, yes.” Ripley’s COMMs panel chimed, indicating an incoming high priority link from Stanton was waiting in his queue. He clicked the COMMs button under his right index finger, and he shrugged away the effort to move even one finger under this acceleration, and the screen went active. Stanton was looking into a holographic 3-D star chart of the region around Orion’s Belt, and even on his small screen Ripley could see that something was amiss.

“Ah, there you are,” Stanton said, the delay between transmission and reception currently less than five seconds. “We’re getting reports of unusual stellar activity near the Mintaka Group, possibly a stellar ignition. We’ve passed along a full sit-rep to Hyperion, but an incoming scout ship just relayed a more detailed data packet and you should pass that along to your astronomers as soon as you can. We have no reports concerning the Japanese response to this development, but the scout ship reports that both the Russian and Chinese assault groups are still in the Mintaka Group, so our assumption is that they still intend some kind of intervention. Stanton out.”

The screen went dark and Ripley sent the packet to Brennan, and he marked it ‘Eyes Only’ for now, at least until she could review the information and note her opinion. Mintaka was, like Castor, or the Alpha Geminorum system, a multiple star formation; the “star” Mintaka was in fact comprised of several stars, though when viewed from Earth in the 18th century the formation had appeared to be a single star. But Mintaka was also located within a region of dense interstellar ‘dust’ – and this dust was actually hydrogen, helium, and the other stellar building blocks. Much of the area around Orion’s Belt was considered a ‘stellar nursery’ – a region where the ingredients necessary for spontaneous stellar formation existed in just the right quantities. So, what Stanton appeared to be concerned about was the possible formation of a new star within the existing Mintaka system – and how that might impact the Sino-Russian fleet gathering to attack the Japanese colony on Mintaka-4.

“Brennan?” Ripley asked. “Did you receive the packet from admiralty?”

“Just coming in now.”

“COMMs, get me a text link with Hyperion Actual.”

“Aye, sir.” It took two minutes for the lasered signal to reach Hyperion, a few minutes to track down Judy, then two minutes to get an acknowledgement, and only then did Ripley send a query via an encrypted channel. 

“Let me know what you make of Stanton’s data as soon as you’ve looked it over,” Denton wrote, then he punched send. Five minutes later he received her acknowledgement so he signed off and then literally closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Then he heard acceleration warnings and opened his eyes. He’d slept for six hours…

“All stations, all stations, ship’s drive will cut-off in thirty seconds and remain off for sixty minutes. Repeat, sixty minutes free movement begins in twenty seconds. Ten seconds. Ship’s drive off.”

Ripley unfastened his harness and drifted free of the acceleration couch, and he found handholds on the overhead and pulled himself along to the central fore-aft corridor – which everyone had taken to calling Main Street – and he pushed off and sailed aft to the little hallway that led to his in-flight cabin. He stripped out of his overalls and into the shower, pushed the ‘Wash’ button and closed his eyes as first a soap then a surfactant blasted his skin for 30 seconds, this followed by a 30 second rinse with recycled water, and finally a minute under high pressure air to dry his skin, then it was out to put on a cotton-lycra skinsuit and grip socks.

Next, he looked at the central time display over his desk: 52 minutes until acceleration resumed.

His yeoman came in with hot tea and his usual scrambled eggs and bacon, all synthetics from the protoplast plant, then as he finished eating he noted he now had 40 minutes so off he went to the weapons bay. Dr Ina Balin, the Israeli dragon lady, was literally inside a chamber within the main body of the Maser, inspecting the magnetic coils that would modulate and focus the X-ray beam, so he turned to one of her assistants.

“Progress report?” Ripley asked.

“Final calibrations underway now, Admiral. She should be ready for a test fire after about ten more hours of calibrations.”

“I thought this unit had already been test-fired? What’s the hold up?”

“Each coil focuses independently, Captain,” Balin said as she crawled out of the chamber, “so the lens associated with each coil had to be recalibrated after transport up from the desert. They were all out of alignment.”

“Crap,” Ripley muttered. “Just how robust will this thing be under actual combat conditions?”

Balin shrugged. “The unit was designed to absorb 10G shockwaves, so more than the human body can take. Once the lenses and mirrors are aligned…”

“I read the manual, Doctor. I need to know how stable the unit will be under actual combat conditions.”

“That’s unknown, Captain.”

Ripley shook his head, not sure why this woman was continuing to insult him. “Well, I hope you don’t mind leaving someone onboard who can handle recalibrating the unit under less than ideal circumstances, Ma’am.”

“Please refer to me by my title, Captain.”

“I will if you will.”


Ripley pointed at the star on his collar. “Admiral, not Captain.”

“Ah, so sorry. Well, I am the only person capable of handling a complete recalibration of the lens chamber. With your staff observing for the next few weeks, they might be capable of assisting me. Under those conditions perhaps most of my staff could return to Haifa?”

“You do understand we are leaving the system?”

“No, we have not been briefed on your mission, Captain.”

“Well, you have three weeks to wrap up your work, period. This weapon will be operational by the time we reach Mercury, or there will be hell to pay. Ma’am.” He spun around and pulled himself up Main Street to the bridge, noting 11 minutes left on the countdown timer as he passed a clock in the officer’s mess. “Gordon!” he shouted as he came onto the bridge and settled into his couch.

“Yes, Admiral?”

“I need a hot chocolate. And make it strong, please.”

“Already loaded, Admiral.”

“Not in the dispenser. I need my mug.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Goddamn woman,” Ripley growled as he looked at a live feed from the weapon’s bay. “She’s deliberately provoking me!”

“She has that reputation, sir,” his Gordon said. “Her personality profile suggests a profound insecurity emanating from childhood anxieties. She should be handled with care, Admiral.”

“Send me her psych file, would you please? And I need the tech specs on that focusing mechanism.”

“Working, Admiral.”

“And while you’re at it, get someone you trust down there to start learning the calibration sequence. I don’t trust that woman.”

“Someone I trust, Admiral?”

“Yes, Gordon. Am I wrong in assuming you have the best interests of this ship and her crew in mind at all times?”

“No, Admiral. That is a correct assessment.”

“Well then, what I’m saying is that I trust you to make the best decision under our current conditions. You’ve been aboard since this ship’s keep was laid, so you should know the crew better than anyone else onboard. Correct?”

“Yes, Admiral, but I did not expect this level of trust,” Gordon said as he handed Ripley his mug of cocoa.

“If I can’t trust you, Gordon, you don’t belong on this ship. Understood?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Now, who do you recommend?”

“Myself, Admiral.”

Ripley hesitated, but he relented and nodded in agreement. “Make it so, Gordon.”

“Aye, sir. And I’ll send someone to assist you when I am away from my post, Admiral.”

“Thank you.”

The acceleration alarm sounded: “All personnel, repeat all personnel, 120 seconds to acceleration. Repeat, all personnel to acceleration stations in 110 seconds.”

Ripley heard scrambling all over the ship as everyone from the lowest rating to the ship’s officers dove for their acceleration couches and secured their harnesses – but Ripley saw that Balin was ignoring the alarm, that her weightless body was still hovering over the Maser’s main mirror chamber.

“Secure the weapon’s bay,” the X-O said over the intercom, then Brennan turned and looked at Ripley, shrugging ambivalently. “What do I do, Admiral?”

“Bring us up to 1G and hold us there for a minute, then resume 2.4. My Gordon will get her.”

Brennan brought the reactors online and the drive flared – and Balin sailed from the open chamber to the aft bulkhead, slamming into the foam padding there – and Ripley cut the audio feed just in time. His Gordon entered the picture and helped the screaming woman to her couch and managed to get her buckled-in, then he returned to the bridge and sat next to Ripley. When Brennan saw that Gordon was secure she brought the drives up to forty percent and watched the reactors stabilize at their new setting, and Ripley watched Balin cursing and shooting the finger at the camera – then he cut the feed and smiled.

“Remarkable woman,” Gordon said, perhaps a little too cautiously.

“Stupid, for someone rumored to be so bright,” Ripley replied.

“Are you sure you want her to join the Middies for dinner?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss that for the world,” Ripley said, smirking at the thought…

(c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction 

[Seven Psalms \\ Paul Simon]

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