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Pax Magellanica - Reichworld
Book One
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-488-X
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 858 Pages
Published: September 2007
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

An Epic Adventure.

The light had travelled one hundred and fifty thousand years to reach his eyes.

Four hundred billion stars poured their energies across the vast, empty gulf and reflected as points of light in his pupils, tiny and brilliant; yet through those eyes the same stars filled the heavens before him in a twin spiral of hard, blazing light and life that threw his shadow dark and long behind him.

Axel van Diemen had been to the outer stars of the Larger Magellanic Cloud before; a lifetime ago, when the dream was new and daunting... when ghosts and memories drove him. But now, generations on, the past was safely distant and the dream much closer and real.

Mankind’s dream…
…to cross the gulf to the Milky Way. To go back. To find the original home of man. And he was to lead the way.

 



Pax Magellanica - Reichworld (Excerpt)


Chapter One

The date was November 22 in the year 2099. A star ship drifted across the face of the Earth. It glowed like burnished copper in the sun’s light.

High in orbit, she was a new star in the sky, her brightness the symbol of man’s triumph over his limitations: her destination, the achievement of his dreams. Here, visible to all, was the dawn of a new age, one where man’s terrestrial shackles were sundered and the stars themselves beckoned.

The ship was a smooth ovoid seventeen hundred metres long and one thousand metres wide, and four of these giant craft had been constructed in the lunar shipyards. As the outer hulls were completed, they had begun to shine with reflected light. When they were sent to Earth’s orbit to embark the colonists, they looked like a necklace of small moons around the world. Two ships had been commissioned by the North American Union, one by the new Northern League of European States, and one by China. The Chinese and one American ship were launched, without fanfare, within weeks of each other. The growing habitats and domes around Barnard’s star and Alpha Centauri demanded more and more skilled pioneers to unlock the wealth of these new systems, and soon, of the four little moons that had become such a feature of the night sky, only two remained.

That number would shortly dwindle to one.

Peter van Diemen was a starship captain who did not look the part. In an age when the company way was the only way in looks, image and attitude, Peter van Diemen stood out. He was big, imposing and he had a natural air of ability and authority. His face reflected all the hard, tough times he had experienced in his forty-eight years. Bullet grey eyes scanned the world from beneath heavy black eyebrows; artificially tanned skin was stretched between the prominent features of his wide face, from his proud Celtic nose to his strong cleft chin. Thinning black hair was close cropped in the military style and the deep lines at the side of his eyes told of a man who had looked to many horizons.

He had been there at the very beginning of star flight, on the ground floor. Serving as second-in-command on the second manned survey ship to Barnard’s Star; then the years of frantic activity on the Alpha Centauri route as man’s dominions expanded into the two new frontiers. Bonds had been forged between officer and crew in those early days, bonds that went beyond pay.

True to character, he was outside the ship giving the final inspection to the closure team. From his positioning a hundred metres off the starboard bow, he could look back along the curved length of the massive, bulbous ship and admire the simple elegance of the design. The big, heavy vacuum suit did not allow much movement, but he could lift his face up behind the faceplate and look between the pulsing tracking beacons and the suit’s gyro controls automatically rotated him to face that direction. The hull glowed in copper hue on this sunward side and his faceplate darkened in compensation. His ship! Van Diemen turned his attention back to the bow of the ship, where two suited engineers were manoeuvring a large sensor sled into position at the top of the bow door. A third figure hovered to one side, overseeing the operation; Chief Engineer Matheus Kronfeld was keeping his eye on every detail. Small puffs of gas erupted from both backpacks as the engineers struggled with their awkward load until all activity ceased and the senior of the two turned to his Chief and gave the thumbs-up sign. This was probably the most critical check to be carried out prior to Jumping. The entire hull was one unbroken sensor and continuity through any hull penetration was essential if the generators were to operate along the lines of the gravity waves that they were targeted at.

Like a big whale swimming through water, thought Peter van Diemen, blindly following a sound wave sung halfway around the world. However, these new waves were gravity and this metal whale could gather them in, compress them into a narrow band of warped reality and leapfrog into a far-removed point of space-time.

The main air lock was twenty meters in diameter and had been closed and sealed when the last of the colonists had been brought aboard; they were the last to be boarded, for as soon as they were installed in deep-sleep and stacked the ship could get under way. A small sally port was built into the centre of the lock so that the crew could attend to the exterior of the ship without breaking the electromagnetic integrity of the hull. It was into this lock that Van was guided; above his head, on a large plaque welded to the outer skin of the main lock was the name THORN and as he passed beneath it, he reached up one hand and brushed the name. It was a gesture that all the crew had made at some time; one of the bonds between sailors was their superstitions whether they sailed the seas or the skies, and Thorn was also the name of the rune of boundless energy and luck. Many of the crew had taken to adorning their personal equipment with the rune and he had instructed his officers to turn a blind eye to the practice; positive superstitions were a lot better than bad ones.

Two crewmembers were waiting for him outside the inner door and they proceeded to remove the heavy suit from him, and his two most senior officers waited to one side until the task was completed. They wore the ubiquitous dark grey duty fatigues, their badges of rank silver flashes on their shoulders. He had picked these two himself and he flicked a glance their way.

Helena Bormann was his second-in-command, a tough, no nonsense woman who knew her job inside out; who had spent her whole career in space. She was close to his age, blond and short with the sort of figure that would not attract a second glance and usually did not. She had an honest face and wide generous smile. He liked her. They had a lot in common, he decided, as his heavy suit was dismantled around him; both had been in marriages that had foundered on the long absences their careers demanded, both had found it necessary to overcome corporate politics that sometimes promoted the mediocre but well-connected ahead of the proven professional. They had known each other a long time, trusted each other and were not blind to each other’s shortcomings. It was she who had first started calling him Van.

He finally escaped the clutches of the heavy suit. The second officer stepped forward with a computer-slate, which he offered to his Captain; David Shawcross was tall, lean to the point of emaciation, saturnine in appearance, answered only to his surname and was the perfect executive officer. He was stoicism personified, unflappable in all things. Van had never seen him lose his temper or even raise his voice, yet he could cut to the quick with a look or a word and was possessed of a memory legendary in its scope and detail.

’Preliminary engineering, Captain,’ said Shawcross, handing over a com-slate. ’Final data in...’ he looked down at his wrist-chrono, ’two hours. Chief reckons to be able to engage the tugs an hour after that.’ He looked up at his captain with a half smile on his face. ’All being well that is.’

’If everyone’s done their job,’ said Van, weighing the com-slate in his hand, ’then one hour it is.’ He looked around the empty space of the air lock. ’Come on, it’s cold here. Let’s go somewhere warm.’ His voice was a deep rumble that fitted his size.

Helena summoned a small electric trolley and once the three were aboard, directed it to the bridge. There were no open areas or walkways in a ship so filled to capacity and under vacuum, but a network of narrow tunnels allowed rapid access via foot or trolley between the major centres. They were built into the skeleton itself and were independently pressurised. It was down one of these tunnels that the trolley disappeared, a continuous strip-light showing the way.

Four hours and we are on our way, thought Van as he watched the steel tunnel unroll. After months of tests and trials, crew selections, corporate busy bodies pushing in for their five minutes of fame, scanner crews crawling about everywhere recording every detail for posterity, politicians getting in for their freebies... four hours and, by the grace of God, we go!

… by the Grace of God! Van half smiled, acknowledging the irony of it all.

The last century had not been good for Earth. Staggering poverty and overcrowding, resource stripping, wars, disease: all had combined to change the face of man’s world. Large organisations were now required to run things; large groups that could make large decisions, that could, if they had to, over-ride minority opposition in the pursuit of the greater good.

The strip light rolled on, as if leading his thoughts. Global government and global business became the two great driving forces; a symbiosis of greed and government, power and politics, needs and necessities. There was nothing that could not be accomplished once the obstacle of the religious factions had been overcome. Masses of people the world over had railed against their political masters at the instigation of clergy, but in a world where the diminishing resources were rigidly controlled by big government and big business, famine and deprivation invariably visited themselves upon those foolish enough to bite the hand that fed them.

But even with the orbital yeast farms, solar energy platforms and broadcast power, the line was barely held. Investments into the quest for heavy metals in the asteroid belt had nearly crippled whole nations, yet so desperate was the need for resources that entire engineering communities proliferated both on Mars and on the Moon, seeking ways to reach the wealth locked up in the outer planets.

Then the hand of God… he shook his head at the timing of it all. Helena Bormann saw the movement and flicked a raised eyebrow his way.

’Just thinking, number one,’ he replied to the unasked question, his eyes fixed on the dark tunnel ahead. ’Fate. Kismet. Hand of God. Without that gravity wave research on Mars, we’d still be trying to get around the solar system in slow-boats.’

’They’ve been measuring grav-waves since the start of the century, why do you see God’s hand in there?’ Helena’s voice carried a warmth and friendliness that belied her looks.

’It came at the right time, Helena, and it was a fluke. When they built the aerial-grid network to tap into Mars’ magnetic field, gravity anomaly areas were a problem. Someone thought of trying to create artificial gravity waves to stabilise them; that led to the basic gravity generator that became the gravity compression generator. Modulate that and you have a Jump generator. A succession of right ideas at the crucial time.’

The bridge was a command complex deep within the bowels of the ship wherein forty crew ministered to the ship’s every whim and it was almost a ship within a ship; an astrogation room housed all navigation telemetry and giant screens covered the port and starboard walls. The bridge itself was an elevated platform above and to the rear of astrogation, and from his high seat there Van could oversee activities below; if he swivelled his seat to the rear, he could direct his attentions to engineering. Below engineering and amid ships were the common rooms and messes for crew and officers while astern were sleeping quarters and the medical bay. This ship-within-a-ship was physically isolated from the interior spaces save for the tunnel system and it and the hydroponics were the only pressurised areas within the entire vessel. Suits were needed to venture into any other area of the ship. Even the great generators ran in vacuum.

The duty mess was an alcove on the starboard side of the bridge, just big enough to hold half a dozen people at a time. Van dropped into the nearest chair.

’Right, how’s our schedule holding?’ he asked of his second in command.

’Well,’ Helena said, looking down at her palmtop, ’still around four hours. Chief says he will couple the tugs up as soon as you confirm the hull data, and not before. The Mars-bound supply ship...’ another glance down ’... Artemis out of Luna 3 has requested permission to observe the Jump; and all deep range tracking ’scopes confirm they are locked onto our first breakout point.’ She shut down her computer and dropped it onto the table then sat down in the chair opposite Van.

He allowed a small smile to appear on his face; the Chief was right about the tugs. If they had to be uncoupled because hull integrity was not complete, someone would be called to account; you couldn’t turn off those big fusion piles like a switch, they took eight hours to recycle. Long enough for an errant officer to repent his haste and contemplate his rapidly shortening career.

A steward appeared at the door and proceeded to serve coffee, a moment later all three were sitting back with a steaming mug each. Van lit a cigar and particle filters kicked in to scrub the air; he knew the other two suffered his habit but he had had it so long now he wasn’t about to give it up for anyone. He had even convinced the botanists to include tobacco amongst their inventory of plant stocks, for in his pantheon of beliefs coffee, good liquor and tobacco were inseparable accomplices in the enjoyment of life. He looked across the rim of his mug at Shawcross and Bormann.

’Any last-minute qualms? Things I should know before I push the button?’

Helena took it upon herself to answer first, not because she was a woman but because she was second in command and after the Captain, her voice came first. ’Van, we’ve all trained our hearts out for this mission. Every one of the crew has been tested to their fullest capacity; everyone has met the physical and psychological profiles required. We can’t do any more. I’m happy with what I have to work with. No. No qualms.’