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Aim for the sky and try not to miss! Space Station Docking, copyright Christopher Currell, used with permission
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conscience01.jpg (32773 bytes) white_25x10.gif (830 bytes) The gavel dropped and all was quiet. A reverential silence fell over the entire gathering as all eyes turned towards the front of the room. Sitting at what was deemed the head of the round table, sat the distinguished figure of Commodore Kits. He lounged back in his chair staring up at the ceiling as if searching for an answer to the questions that were raging through every mind in the room. Slowly, after what seemed like a long while, he lowered his eyes, making a point to stare deliberately into
each set that looked back at him eagerly awaiting the answer that he had been searching for in the ceiling. After locking his gaze with each individual in the room the Commodore raised himself from his chair and addressed his friends and colleagues.

    “For just over a year we have worked to establish and strengthen the alliances that we now enjoy. For just over a year we have worked to build a mighty network of intelligence and recruiting agents throughout the Empire‘s infrastructure. For just over a year we have prepared to go to war against the Hobbicronium Industrial Empire.”

    He paused for a moment to collect himself before returning to his address. This pause allowed the rest of the Elders of the Rebellion to contemplate the greatness of their leader. Standing over six feet tall, Commodore Kits was quite the imposing figure. The man represented everything that the Rebellion stood for. He appeared to be a young man of about thirty five, but his appearance was deceiving in that he had seen more winters than all but two of the Elders. Like those other two Elders, he had been victim to the age reduction experimentation that the Hobbicrons had conducted on many of their subjects over two centuries earlier and, for that reason, he was able to simultaneously represent the youthfulness of the rebellion and the wisdom that was required to challenge an empire that had existed for nearly a millennium. This aged and wise leader drew a deep breath and resumed his speech.

    “It has been just over a year since we were last able to organize such a gathering of the Elders. Since the onset of this great resistance our resources have been heavily taxed and there has been no time to consider what the next step should be. But now, with the aid of some of our more resourceful friends, we have been given a short amount of time to gather here, aboard Flistation. I have called you all here for a grave reason. Although we have achieved great white_25x10.gif (830 bytes)

Space Station Docking, copyright Christopher Currell, used with permission copyright Christopher Currell.  Used with permission of the artist, all rights reserved.

success of late, we have reason to believe that the Hobbicrons have recently learned of the existence of Flistation and McCarthydom. As agents of the resistance, we have been labeled as traitors and are now considered guilty of treason and subject to death without a trial.”

    A startled murmur arose throughout the Elders, but Commodore Kits silently raised his hand and the room resumed the reverential air that it had previously had.

    “I have called this meeting in order to discuss what can be done to stem off any offensive strikes that the Empire might be planning. It is inevitable that they will strike one of our defensive posts in the near future; and their attack will be swift and merciless. Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you; what can be done to stop the Empire from destroying everything that we have fought for this past year?”

    The Elders spoke quietly amongst one another, weighing options and trading ideas. As was often the case with the Elders, however, there were few original ideas that were suggested. Commodore Kits sat patiently, wondering why he had thought that calling such a meeting would be beneficial. All of these men and women had once been leaders in the Hobbicronium Industrial Empire, but they had never gained any knowledge of the intricate workings of the Empire. They knew nothing more than bureaucratic diplomacy and how to get legislation passed in a corrupt government. The Commodore realized this and sat in his chair with a sigh of resignation, listening contemplatively to the mindless babble that was circling about the room.

    He heard one wrinkled old woman suggest a salvage operation, but he knew as well as the rest of them that the Rebellion already had a surplus of salvaged engines. Since this war had begun the Rebel troops had been salvaging the engines of every Empirical ship they had disabled. And with the help of their engineers they were usually able to repair them and reinstall them in one of their own ships. No, salvaging would accomplish nothing when there were no ships to use the engines.

McCarthyDom white_25x10.gif (830 bytes)     A gentleman that sat on the far side of the table mentioned unifying the forces of the two stations, but that would be a useless endeavor. The twin stations, Flistation and McCarthydom, sat at opposite ends of the galactic kingdom. It would take weeks to organize all of the ships of the two stations. Besides, McCarthydom was not known for its military strength. It was positioned on the marginal border that the Empire shared with Cortum, a race of aliens known for their mining
capabilities. From that position the station was able to orchestrate the Rebellion’s business transactions, buying large quantities of raw metal from the aliens and forming it into useable pieces to be sent off to Flistation. At Flistation, the parts were assembled into different spacecrafts that could be used to further the resistance. But McCarthydom housed only enough ships to defend herself. Military force did nothing but inhibit the trust that the men of that station had built with the Cortums during their business transactions. There was no way to ask the inhabitants of that station to give up the few ships they had.

    Another man, one of the other victims of the age reduction experiments, mentioned the Tour de Deuce. Commodore Kits perked up at this, understanding the significance that this expedition had on the continuation of the Rebellion. Organized and led by the two young captains, Jason Toft and Eugenio Cebollero, the Tour de Deuce had set out several months earlier on a covert operation to contact the surrounding planetary systems and recruit allies for the Rebellion. After contacting just a few systems they had succeeded in signing up several thousand new men to join the forces. But, for now, there was little more that they could do. The Elders would simply have to wait for new recruits to arrive.

    Finally, the Commodore turned his attention to a couple of senior Elders that were quietly carrying on a discussion between themselves.

    “Gentlemen? Would you like to share your discussion with the rest of us?”

    One of the men sat up straight at the Commodore’s words and looked around the room nervously before beginning. He cleared his throat quite loudly and started, “I was just discussing the possibility of utilizing Dr. Tulanko’s newest project.”

    At the mention of Carl Tulanko the Commodore bolted upright in his seat. He quickly composed himself and, with a subtle smirk, which he unsuccessfully attempted to hide from the rest of the Elders, he asked, “What exactly is Dr. Tulanko’s newest project?”

    “I’m not entirely sure Commodore. He’s been keeping it quite secret for the past couple of months. He has only allowed his most elite engineers and scientists to aid him in his work. The rest of us have been kept entirely in the dark.”

    The Commodore sat back, resuming the contemplative posture that he was so well known for, and asked the gathering to continue their discussions while he stepped out for a moment.

    A few minutes later Commodore Kits stood outside of an enormous circular doorway. Tilting his head back the Commodore was able to read a small inscription just above the door that read, “Detail is what differentiates us from the primates!” The man chuckled to himself remembering the inane antics of “Dr. Tulanko,” as he was known to all but his closest friends. Whatever this man was working on, whether it was beneficial to the cause or not, was sure to be entertaining. And besides, the Commodore hadn’t seen his old friend in quite some time.

    He pushed the intercom buzzer at the side of the door and waited patiently. After a short pause the intercom began to crackle and a voice could be heard.
“Go away! Who ever you are, be assured that you are not welcome. I am conducting top-secret research and I cannot be disturbed. The fate of the universe may very well depend on it.”

    The Commodore allowed himself to smile a wide smile at the voice of the slightly mad, but more misunderstood, scientist. Pressing the buzzer again, he leaned down and spoke into the intercom, “I believe that, for once in your wretched existence, you are entirely wrong in your assumptions, Old Friend.”

    A much longer pause followed this transmission, before the intercom again crackled and the voice simply responded, “Well I’ll be damned! Man, you suck!”

    Immediately the towering door shook with a resounding thud and split into two half-circles, creaking as they slid apart from one another to reveal a portly man who stood with his legs apart staring up at Commodore Kits through his thick, distorting spectacles. The two men stood, staring at one another for a time, stoically bearing the others scrutiny. It was a test of wits, endurance, but above all, stubbornness.

    Finally, the older man bent himself nearly in half, succumbing to an uncontrollable fit of maniacal laughter. “You always were a hard nut to crack there James! Nothin’ could ever shake your nerves! So what the hell brings you about these parts anyways?”

    The Commodore continued his unbroken stare for a moment longer before relaxing his stance and explaining, “You, my crazy old friend, are what brings me around these parts. You and a rumor of a ‘top secret’ project that you’ve been working on. Now, as the appointed Senior Counselor of the Elders of the Rebellion, I would like a briefing on your work and what it may mean to our forces.”

    The robust man looked up at the Commodore from under a bushy white mane of wild, unmanageable hair. There was a sparkle behind his spectacles that did not escape the Commodore’s notice; a sparkle that seemed almost playful in its own way. “What did you call me earlier? ‘Old Friend’ I believe it was,” the scientist answered his own question, “If I am such a man, such an ‘Old Friend,’ then you, my even Older Friend, should drop the formalities and greet me as an ‘Old Friend’ should be greeted!”

    Before he finished his sentence both of the men stepped forward with outstretched arms and grabbed one another in a warm embrace. After the Commodore had squeezed his friend with such vigor that his short legs nearly came off the ground, the men stepped back and shook hands.

    “How long has it been Doc? Nearly half a year and I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of you. How long have you been stationed at Flistation? I don’t get a chance to come here very often with my constant responsibilities with the troops.”

    Carl smiled up at the Commodore, “My, but you have been out of the loop for quite some time! I’ve been here for nearly four months now and, of course, you have found it impossible to visit this amazing station for any reason other than business. As always, I am forced to act as your common sense and remind you to relax. We are fighting for the same freedoms that you insist on denying yourself. Now what kind of leader could you possibly be if you are incapable of experiencing the same luxuries that you are trying to defend. Now, I insist that you take a load off and relax with me for a spell.”

    “There will be plenty of time for that later,” explained Kits, politely brushing off his friend’s invitation, “I am on urgent business. We believe that the Empire knows of the twin stations and the formation of the Rebellion. Up until now we have been able to keep our true intentions against the Empire a secret, but there will be no more hiding for us. We now face open war and, although we have been working towards this point, we are not prepared for the wrath of the Empire’s entire fleet.”

    “And I suppose you expect me to bail you out with one of my crackpot inventions, huh?’

    “Well, I was hoping that this ‘top secret’ project was more than a whimsical theory you were testing at the expense of Flistation and its limited resources.”

    Tulanko’s face dropped at the suggestion that he would waste the precious resources that were being shipped in from McCarthydom. He had already faced several formal charges of that nature and, although they had proven false, they had created an air of distrust around his laboratory.

    “Of course I don’t believe such ideas,” Commodore Kits explained quickly. Carl continued to look concerned as he turned down the corridor, leading the Captain towards his lab. They walked in silence; Carl seemed lost in thought as the Commodore looked with curiosity into the many windows they passed. At one window he paused to watch a group of men banging out the dents on the tail end of a weathered Deuce. Seeing his companion’s halt, Carl turned around to inspect the scene.

    “You see!” the squat man exclaimed, “That’s the problem I have to deal with every waking moment of my life! You people insist on building these ships with the engines recessed. Now I ask you, WHY? Is it fuel-efficient? Does it increase the ship’s maximum speed capacity? Do you simply find it stylish?! No, no, and no. Then WHY? All it does is make more work for me. Every ship that docks here needs to be repaired. I have to keep at least two crews of men free at all times to come down here and bang out the dings and dents that these ships have in their tail ends. Some of them haven’t even seen battle! They get these dents from stupid little everyday things like stray asteroids and whatnot! Now, does that make much sense to you? No! But you people still build your ships with the recessed engines! It’s almost too much for an old man to take!”

    Carl had been getting more and more agitated as he vented about the recessed engines. The Commodore had never spent too much energy thinking about it, but Carl seemed to consider it a very serious issue. Detail had always been one of his passions; and the one area that could truly infuriate him.

    “Well, when you start building your own ships, Carl, you be sure to build them with the engine mount flush with the end of the ship’s body tube. Then you won’t have to deal with these mindless repairs. Your men can return to aiding you in your ‘crackpot’ inventions. We can even call it a ‘Tulanko Tail’ if you like.”

    Carl grinned mischievously at the Commodore, spouting, “I’ll hold you to that,” before he turned back down the corridor, resuming his frantic march towards his lab. Finally the two men reached another huge circular door, which opened at Carl’s voice command. Commodore Kits entered an enormous room, buzzing with an array of complicated equipment and bustling scientists and engineers. Carl stepped forward with a confident step as he entered the realm in which he was God.

    “This, my dear ‘Old Friend,’ is my laboratory. And this is where I have been conducting my new top secret project.”

    “And when exactly are you going to reveal what that project is?” asked the Commodore, whose curiosity had been growing with every step down the hall.

    “Right this instant,” answered the scientist theatrically, as he stepped up to a large instrument panel. He punched a huge red button with great force and stood back to watch a titanic metallic shield separate and slide open. Commodore Kits stood in speechless awe as the shield opened to reveal an enormous space dock. A dock that housed hundreds of ready-to-fly ships that Carl Tulanko and his crew of engineers had constructed.

    “This, my ‘Old Friend,’ is what I have been working on. I call her the Flis Fleet. Isn’t she magnificent?!” the old man cried. And indeed she was. The gigantic space dock, which had been leased to Dr. Tulanko to aid in his research, now opened to reveal a fleet of ships that could very well match the Empire’s Royal Armada.

    “How...how is this possible?” he asked in stunned amazement, feeling a newfound respect for his friend’s work.

    “As you suggested before, this project has used up a great amount of Flistation’s resources, but I am faithful that it will be well worth it in the end. Especially considering the predicament that you were describing earlier. Here you have the most versatile fleet that the Rebellion has ever had,” Carl paused for dramatic effect as the Commodore noticed with more than a little amusement that each and every ship in the fleet sported a “Tulanko Tail.”

    “Here we have, of course, the Deuces Wild, the ship that our troops favor above all others. But this one differs slightly from the Deuce that is typically flown by our Rebel captains. Although it still has its signature, two cluster canted engines, I have modified it to my own specifications, giving it a 38 Special model engine and adding to its arsenal. It now has much greater offensive capabilities along with enhanced shielding.”

    Kits exhaled in disbelieve. The Deuce was already a formidable ship. With these upgrades it could become the leading power in the galaxy.

    “This next ship,” Carl continued, leaving no room for such contemplation, “Is an amazing addition to our defenses. The Praetor is a leading factor in this new fleet of ships. Although it is slow in takeoff, it is incredibly stable during flight and it contains a small payload section that can be used to transport materials and troops of men.”

    “Also, as far as defensive ships go, the Cougar 440 and the Cougar 660 are going to be invaluable to the continuation of the resistance. These two ships differ primarily in size and power, but both are incredibly fast and are equipped with a parabolic nosecone and high-grade, titanium fins allowing for amazing performance and speed. Also, these ships sport streamer recovery systems that allow for incredibly quick, yet equally safe, landings. This will be useful when transporting men or documents during wartime. The Empire doesn’t have a single ship that could lock onto either of these vessels during landing.”

    Carl smiled at Commodore Kits as he moved onto his next set of ships.

    “These five, my old friend, are going to constitute the primary offensive force in our new fleet. You have before you the Cheetah, the Nomad, the Corona, the Drake, and the Richter Recker. The Cheetah is that long, narrow ship with trapezoid fins over there,” he explained, pointing to the far end of the docking bay, “That ship is an ingenious two stage craft, using its second acceleration stage to outmaneuver other ships. Also, when it runs into trouble the Cheetah can split, its Sustainer stage using a streamer recovery system to make a swift landing, while its Booster stage remains in combat, making use of a new evasive maneuver I like to call the Tumble system. The Tumble system is used to confound the enemy. Once detached from the Sustainer stage, the remaining portion of the ship becomes imbalanced and is sent “tumbling” out of control. Or so the enemy thinks. But, in reality, the ship’s onboard computer readjusts for the imbalance, allowing the crew to continue fighting as if nothing were different.”

    “The Nomad is an incredibly powerful, multi-stage ship, but the beauty of this design is that she only appears to be a two stager when, in fact, she has a hidden third stage. You see, the second and third stage fins form together to create the appearance of a single stage. The Nomad is one of the few ships capable of outmaneuvering the Empire’s Conquistador line of ships. Its extended length allows for smaller fins. This decreases the ship’s surface area, making it virtually invisible to enemy radar.”

    “This next one is the Corona, a long, sleek, highly stable design. And, frankly, I built her with a futuristic starship design that I find quite entertaining. It’s not often that you see a “futuristic” ship these days, seeing as we’re living in what used to be considered the future,” Carl chuckled to himself, but seeing his friend’s utter amazement, he continued, “This ship does, however, have a futuristic ability. The ring around the Corona’s fins is a new technology that allow for cloaking. You may have seen some of the prototypes earlier on, but the one that I’ve installed here is as modern as they come.”
Carl paused for a moment, thinking to himself before he began again. “There are, however, rumors of a new ship that is being designed on one of the Outer Ring Stations. Apparently this new model uses three separate cloaking shields, each of which houses a second device used to magnify the ship’s invisibility. I’m not sure how true these rumors are, but if they hold any truth then we must get our hands on that ship before the Empire does.”

Carl suddenly realized that he had gotten off track and decided to resume his original speech, “Anyways, the Corona was actually designed and built years ago to commemorate the seventh and final gathering of the Nemroc Senate before it was dismantled to make way for the new industrial organization that now governs the Empire. Those bastards will stop at nothing to enforce conformity and industrious productivity throughout the galaxy.”

    At the mention of the Hobbicronium Industrial Empire, the Commodore once again found his voice, adding, “The people of the galaxy were so willing to accept them in the beginning. With a single uprising the Hobbicrons were able to gain power and, within two years, their new government stopped the infighting between systems and restored order to the universe. But that order, that conformity, cost us all dearly. But no one was willing to stand up to them. They were too strong and too organized. It wasn’t until they passed that legislation outlawing all creative endeavors that the Elders were able to justify leaving the Empire. And for that we are all traitors. But now... Now, it seems, you have given us the means to fight back against our enemies.”

    “My Old Friend, you have seen nothing yet,” Carl smiled at the Commodore as he drew his friend’s attention to the far end of the docking bay, “You see that ship over there? That’s the Drake. She’s probably the most elite ship in the Flis Fleet. You may recognize her design from the prototype, which was known as the Proconsul.”

    The Commodore’s jaw dropped. The Proconsul was designed and built only once before, by Drake Demerau, to compete in the Galactic Sports Launch.

white_25x10.gif (830 bytes) Star Ship
There wasn’t a single ship in the competition that could match the Proconsul in any of the judging categories. And for that reason, the Empire had outlawed its production. If a ship of the Proconsul’s capabilities got into the wrong hands, it could be devastating for the Empire.

    It appeared, however, that the design had, in fact, gotten into the wrong hands. Commodore Kits leaned forward eagerly, imagining the possibilities that such a ship could mean to his forces.

    “Of course I’ve made some minor modifications to the older model,” Carl said smugly. The Commodore wondered what could be modified to improve such a groundbreaking design, but he opted not to ask. For all he knew, Carl had simply added a Tulanko Tail to the original design, but he would have to find out when he saw the ship in battle.

    “And finally in our offensive line of ships is the Richter Recker, a massive, flying warehouse of military might. This ship houses more firepower than all of the McCarthydom station and was designed for only one purpose; to seek and destroy empiric warships.”

    The Commodore gazed out on the behemoth of a ship. The Richter Recker was larger than any other ship he had ever seen. He let out a low whistle of respect and awe at the immense stature of the ship. What ship did the Empire have that could match this one?

    “Although it is incredibly slow in take off, there are few ships that are capable of destroying the Richter Recker once it is on route. She is the pride of my arsenal and invaluable to the struggle that we are sure to face in the coming months.”

    “And what are these last three over there?” the Commodore asked, “Those little ones in the corner?”

    “Those, my friend, are intended to infiltrate the enemy’s borders. For all intents and purposes, they are spy ships, capable of unheard of acceleration and mind boggling evasive maneuvering. We have the Flea, the Overdrive, and the Tumbleweed.”

    The Commodore looked over them, not overly impressed with their miniscule stature. To him, size was everything. These tiny ships couldn’t even put a dent in even the smallest ship in the Empire’s fleet.

    “The point of these ships,” Carl interrupted the Commodore’s train of thought as if he could read his mind, “Is to pass by the Empire’s Guardian ships in order to retrieve information. Now, I know that you hold little respect for small things. ‘Might is Right,’ as you always say. But I must assure you that these ships are crucial to our success in this war. My hope is that the Empire looks upon these ships with much the same disdain that you know look upon them. They are hardly worth the time to notice. And with an attitude like that, teamed with their stealth and agility, these three ships will become key players in the strategic game that is about to begin.”

    “The Flea is a small, brightly colored ship. She is so conspicuous that the Empire will never suspect her. She could fly right into empiric military space, and they would simply ask her to turn around without any further questions. But, for the same reason, we cannot use the Flea for any truly covert operations. She will simply be used for open trading and shipping from within the Empire.”

    “The Overdrive, on the other hand, is slightly smaller than the Flea and capable of much higher acceleration. She will be used explicitly for infiltrating some of the more highly secured stations and outposts of the Empire. Like the Flea, she uses a streamer recovery system in case a quick landing is necessary, but the Overdrive also makes use of its unique forward swept fin design, which allows the ship to fire its primary weapons forward and backward. For such a small, maneuverable ship, the Overdrive has the most deadly arsenal.”

    “And finally, we have the Tumbleweed, bar none, the smallest ship in our fleet. This craft will disappear before your eyes on takeoff, and she will maintain a mind-boggling speed for an amazing duration of time. Unlike the Flea and the Overdrive, the Tumbleweed is equipped with the Tumble system (as her name so aptly alludes to), allowing her to utilize her miniscule size to evade enemy fire or even homing missiles. Without a doubt, the Tumbleweed is the most invisible ship that I have ever created. And even when she is seen, I guarantee that she is impossible to catch. We have run a few field tests, and none of our ships have been able to match the Tumbleweed’s agility on the field.”

    The Commodore continued to look on with a hint of skepticism in his eyes, but he had to admit that Carl made a good point concerning the usefulness of these latter ships. The Rebellion was lacking in covert operations. Most of the information they had received since the Elders split from the Hobbicrons had come from the defectors that continued to stream to their cause directly from the Empire’s forces. These three could very well mean a changing in the tide for the Rebels. Perhaps they could gain the upper hand on the eve of this war.

    “What do you need to get these ships into space? What will get them ready for war?”

    “Men,” replied Carl, “They need only men to man their posts and these ships will be ready to fight.”

    “Then men I will get you my ‘Old Friend,’” replied the Commodore as he stepped up to the Central Control intercom. Pressing the transmit button, the Commodore took on his authoritative mannerisms and said briskly, “Contact the Tour de Deuce. Tell Captain Toft and Captain Cebollero that they are to concentrate only on the more sympathetic systems until they receive further orders. And get them Randy Williams.”

    “Who is Randy Williams, sir?” the intercom asked.

    Carl chuckled to himself again and the Commodore shot him a look that could have been taken as either condoning or condemning the man’s laughter. One way or the other, Carl wasn’t sure, so he opted to choke back his chuckling for the time being.

    “I’ll field this Commodore,” Carl offered as he stepped up to the intercom, “Randy Williams, my young and uninformed companion, is the most renowned Minister of Propaganda that the Empire ever had the pleasure of employing. And the Rebellion is lucky that he is now on its side. Toft and Cebollero will do well to enlist him in their operation.”

    “Just get him aboard the Tour de Deuce. And tell those Captains that we need as many men as they can recruit. And we need them as soon as possible. We have a fleet to man.”

    Commodore Kits’ eyes flashed as he spoke those last words.

    “A fleet, sir?” asked the intercom.

    “Yes, cadet, a fleet; the Flis Fleet, to be exact. We are on the brink of a massive war against the Hobbicrons. A war that, it appears, we are now prepared to wage. A war that we now have a chance of winning…”

    Commodore Kits, the man who represented all of the strengths that the Rebellion could hope for, turned as he let his finger fall from the intercom to gaze once more on the magnificent sight that Dr. Tulanko had just revealed to him. His eyes moved across the bay, looking upon the splendor of the Flis Fleet project. This fleet would win this war for him. If it didn’t, then nothing could.

Go on to Part 2: Unforeseen Obstacles

Return to Preface


Image: Space Station Docking, copyright Christopher Currell.  Used with permission of the artist, all rights reserved.

 

 

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