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Antimatter drive

A spaceship powered by antimatter drive showing the passenger deck (to right), the engine and the two reactors (spheres) in their raised position for planetary landing.

TrappedEdit

Leone realized that Thot was not using a typical evasive action subprogram. They had been at maximum acceleration for over a minute and the effects of that crushing force on Leone provided ample evidence that he was no longer a young man. When attending the academy in his youth he had participated in drills during which he was subjected to sustained 3g acceleration, but that was long ago.

His muscles were weakening as he continued to try to call up data and monitor the on-going attack. Finally, he gave up and activated the virtual reality Thot interface. He let his arms sink into the padding of his chair and took a deep breath...even his chest muscles felt like they might start to cramp.

Now he could see in his mind the three rockets that continued to close rapidly on the location of his spaceship. He noticed a new reflection, marked with a question mark, that was about half way between the rockets and his ship.

Leone "talked" to Thot by means of the brain-machine interface. "What is that radar reflection that just appeared?" He wondered if another spaceship arriving from hyperspace had just jumped into the middle of the battle...if so, they were the all time least lucky space travelers, for now they were right in the path of the rockets!

Thot replied, "There is no radar reflection there, but I am detecting a powerful energy flux at that position. I cannot identify the source."

Leone noticed that they were no longer being hit by the disruptor blasts. He said, "Maybe we should take this opportunity to make a jump!" He sent the command to Thot for activation of an emergency jump sequence, "Use the same parameters as at Plato! Get us out here!"

With fascination he watched the space between the speeding rockets and the anomalous "reflection" shrink to nothing. At that moment the antimatter warheads of the three rockets exploded and the data feed from the ship's sensors went blank for a few seconds. Three closely spaced shock waves arrived and rocked the ship, then all was calm and Leone's view of the battle returned. Leone wondered: had some energy beam detonated the rockets at a safe distance from his ship?

Leone felt the ship begin to buck and wobble. The building hyperspace field collapsed and he realized that disruptor fire was again trained on his ship. Leone decided that if he could not jump to safety he would go down fighting. The first three enemy ships, those that had launched the rocket attack, were now past their closest approach to Leone's spaceship and their high velocity trajectory was now putting them further away from Leone's ship with each passing second. However, a second group of three Spaceships was close enough to start pouring in disruptor fire and a third squadron was closing from another direction. "Thot, I want you to find a strategy that will allow us to start a counterattack."

"It is already done." Thot answered.

Leone knew that Thot was very smart and even smarter than a person in some areas for which it was programmed. When people were too frightened to think straight and find a solution to a problem, Thot was efficiently evaluating the enemy and preparing for a counterattack.

Thot now displayed a proposed battle plan, as Leone had requested. The artificial intelligence said, "Just return navigation control to me and I will initiate this plan."

"Aristark, look at this, a plan of attack!" Leone said.

Aristark was distracted from his work. He glanced briefly at the proposed battle plan that had appeared before him in a new data window. Aristark groaned, and muttered quietly, "Ghastly gravitons, attack? Now?"

Aristark felt annoyance. Before being interrupted, there had been something important flicking into his consciousness. Aristark had been trying to use the limited scanning resources of Leone's spaceship to examine the enemy spaceships. He could not believe that these were Ketar's spaceships attacking them...but who else could possibly have so many ships in the Akara system? Aristark felt it was a serious liability that they did not know who they were fighting against...or why... if you knew your enemy it was possible to anticipate their action...in theory. How could they dare counterattack with no shields and no knowledge of the enemy, Aristark thought, pessimistically. Now the memory he was searching to recover glimmered again in his mind...just before Leone had cried out enthusiastically for a counterattack, Aristark had noticed a strange spike in one of the data windows before him. What had it been? There! In the window for his little project aimed at monitoring power use by the Invocator...that was the spike, the sudden change that had started to attract his attention! Another big surge in power use by the Invocator had come just before the antimatter explosions. Aristark wondered: could the Invocator have destroyed those rockets?

Leone had first imagined that some special Haldus Order technology or power had brought this attack upon them, just as he suspected had happened at Plato, but this battle was unfolding quite differently than the one above Plato. Leone said. "As I see it, this is a different kind of attack than what we faced at Plato. These ships are not hiding, so we can counterattack. Although you are my subordinate, you are free to choose your destiny, so you can flee using one of the lifeboats, if you wish. But if you stay... if you stay you will have to follow my orders until we get to Azur, understood?"

"Affirmative. I think I will stay this time... I doubt I could escape right now. I'd not want to be exposed to one of those antimatter explosions while in a lifeboat. But look, Thot updated the battle information. There are three new spaceships closing on our position."

"Then, let's attack them while we can!" Leone said, solemnly. "While I shoot, take manual control of the ship for any required evasive actions. We have been in automatic mode, but I prefer to depend on you and not on Thot for this. Thot, abandon automatic mode, Aristark will take control of the spaceship from now on. Thot, enter attack mode and energize our beam weapons, I will handle the firing."

Leone's counterattack began, but even he expected it to simply be a display of defiance...he expected to die in a few minutes. Aristark made his maneuvers as if he was a scared animal trying to avoid a predator. Leone was amused by the crazy and unpredictable shifts in acceleration...he could imagine exceptional levels of adrenaline flowing through Aristark. Leone thought that this was the perfect role for a coward like Aristark: he might be a master in the art of avoiding enemy fire.

Leone laughed with glee as he struck the enemy spaceships with blasts from his energy beams. He remembered fondly one of the training exercises at the academy in which he had never been defeated, a scenario not too different from this battle. That was a hard test Leone was remembering, part of the qualifying exams for spaceship Captain certification. In that test, Aristark had been cautious and his shield strength only went down to 80%, but he had not been able to shoot and destroy the simulated enemy targets in the required time. Leone's performance on that test had been different, he had concentrated more on attacking than dodging, therefore, he destroyed 70% of enemy ships... but his shield had diminished to 10%. Similar differences in style for all the tests had added up and allowed Leone to qualify as a Captain...that had set him on his career path in the Transportation Department. Aristark had gone into the Department of Justice. Leone reflected on the fact that his friendship with Aristark was turning out to be important for this mission...Leone knew both Aristark's and his own strengths and how to use them to fight this battle. Finding Kalid seemed to be no easy task, but maybe a coward had a function in this universe too. A person as "valiant" as Leone would die in such unequal battles because he would always focus more on attacking than dodging. At least Aristark knew how to save his own skin.

Nevertheless, the battle could not last long...or could it? Leone was surprised that no more rockets had been fired. He had abandoned all concern for their pathetic shields, but now Leone noticed that they were up to 4% and charging faster than the disruptor fire could lower their strength. Leone realized that he had programmed Thot to announce decreases in shield strength, but he had failed to imagine a situation like this when shields would strengthen during a battle! He instructed Thot to notify them of all changes in the shield, percent by percent. They had regenerated part of the shield's energy, charging it like an old battery, using generated energy from antimatteric reactors. This was not the "textbook" way to replenish shields since there was a risk of positive feedback and a power surge that would damage the antimatter reactors. It would have been far safer to let the techs on Azur regenerate the shields, but Leone was now determined to do anything needed to survive, no matter how risky.

Time was running out. Although the first three attackers has drifted out of range, the second set of three spaceships was now joined in its disruptor fire by the third patrol squadron...now Leone's shield strength started to decline. If they did not destroy at least one ship and disable weaponry on one of the others the equations said that Leone's shields would ultimately give out. Leone felt his adrenaline was at peak: it improved his concentration but the dipping shield strength seemed to trigger a desire to flee...however, he was locked in a spaceship with nowhere to run.

Anyhow, they were all in this together. Leone depended on Aristark and Thot to be able to finally flee. The shield was at 3.5% now, and Leone would have been happy if their probability of survival was that high. Only a miracle would save them, but unfortunately for Leone and Aristark, neither of them believed in such wonders. Then what had been that energy serge that seemed to detonate the antimatter bombs prematurely? Leone imagined that no mystical force could save them because they did not believe in any force but physical. However, in the stress of this battle Leone was thinking about that: it would be very curious to be saved by some mystical trick.

Leone, like most people, could not imagine or think rationally about the possibility of his own death...so, now, startled by the fact that he had survived this long, he started imagining that maybe Sybil had tried to prove a point about the existence of "mental powers" by putting them into danger and now, having proved that point, maybe she was working to keep them alive.

Despite Aristark's random shifts in acceleration, all the disruptor beams momentarily focused on Leone's spaceship and briefly its occupants shook like worms in a can. The spaceship damage report alarm started to sound, very loud. Thot announced that the starboard astrogation equipment room was burning. The spaceship's passenger deck had rooms where the force of the ship's acceleration could be compensated for, at least partially: there was the main control room, the engineering control suite, a kitchen/dinning room, sleeping rooms equipped to accommodate as many as four people. The observation deck at the prow and the lifeboat exit atrium were only partially acceleration compensated. Adjacent to the passenger deck were storage and equipment rooms that experienced the full force of acceleration produced by the engines. Sybil's equipment had been installed in the starboard astrogation room and that was exactly where concentrated disruptor fire had apparently ruptured a power conduit.

"Thot..." Leone instructed, "Turn off the alarm and describe the damage."

The spaceship's artificial intelligence complied with Leone's orders and said, "Alarm disengaged. I am trying to control the fire, but the fire suppression equipment was damaged."

Leone knew that this was not a problem that the automated nanite repair system could handle. "Thot, implement your battle plan: full automatic, but don't expose us to more than 1.5g. We'll deal with the fire."

Leone and Aristark threw off their restraints and went immediately to the starboard astrogation room, letting Thot dodge the enemy and keep up return fire for a while. As soon as they entered the cramped equipment room they felt a wall of heat and choked on fumes from burning plastic. Leone knew that the "equipment" was almost entirely computing equipment that was used for hyperspatial jumps. A huge amount of computational capacity was required and it was redundantly distributed between the left and right sides of the ship. One of the computational "cores" had been removed to make room for Sybil's equipment. Since leaving Plato, Leone had hardly thought about the Haldus Order identification beacon that Sybil had given them. Sybil's technicians had called it the Invocator. Leone wondered if that artifact had ever really functioned correctly to inform Kalid of their presence at Plato. Maybe it had now been destroyed.

Leone thought, in the final analysis, Sybil's equipment had been of no use....it had not brought them to Kalid. Leone thought it was ironic that after all their trouble and planning, this freak fire could destroy the device. Leone was more concerned about the computing cores.

Aristark broke the silence. "We have to move Sybil's equipment, we cannot let it burn."

At that moment, the Invocator emitted a very loud beep, actually, more of a screech. Aristark ran from the room and Leone instinctively moved to protect his ears, but the sound was unbearable. The noise was more than Leone could stand and he decided to first try to unplug the Invocator from the core receptacle it rested in and then try to stop the fire. Somehow, even at that desperate moment, Leone thought it was funny that, in spite of Sybil's talk about "mental powers" and his own speculations about the Invocator possibly using "mental technology", this artifact needed a power plug just like any other machine. Leone went to his knees next to the Invocator and pulled aside the unit's plastic cover frame. Leone was about to unplug the Invocator when Aristark reappeared carrying a quantum extinguisher.

For situations like this, quantum extinguishers were far more effective than the conventional fire extinguishers of the pre-space age. Leone remembered from his academy days that very few people claimed to actually understand how antimatteric power conduits worked, but once ruptured, a quantal flame spread to nearby materials...to predict exactly how required an expert in the Chaos Theory of Plasmas. Nevertheless, Aristark did not have to use the extinguisher on the Invocator. Leone could feel that the Invocator was cool...apparently possessing an advanced system of refrigeration and several ways to protect itself from nearby fire. As suddenly as the noise had started, the Invocator now stopped emitting the annoying sound.

Aristark turned the extinguisher on the adjacent computer cores and soon the feeling of heat against Leone's face diminished and the air in the room began to clear. Leone felt a wave of relief...only one computing core's indicator light showed that it was off line. Leone could see a gray cloud of repair nanites already moving in to work on the over-heated cores. Leone wiped his stinging and tear-soaked eyes and saw an odd flashing on the Invocator...

But Aristark was not done with his fire fighting. He pulled his laser gun out of its holster and used it to carve a new hole in the bulkhead, up above the damaged region where the quantal flame had previously leaked into the equipment room. As soon as the new hole formed, a plasma arc shot out and instantly burned a stripe the length of Aristark's arm, bounced off the wall behind Aristark and returned, charring his shoulder. Aristark cried out in pain, but he picked up the extinguisher and flooded the space behind the wall.

Responding to Aristark's scream, Leone looked up and saw smoke rising from Aristark's burned arm. Leone reached to the medipatch on the wall of the equipment room and released the emergency medical nanites. They quickly homed in on Aristark and formed a silvery cloud over his burned skin.

Leone turned back to the Invocator, which he had never previously gotten a good look at. Now he saw that when he had ripped open the core frame covering the Invocator, he had dislodged a swinging cover on its side. That cover had flopped out to one side of the Invocator and it had an old-fashioned LCD screen on its top, about 10 inches across, approximately. Leone wondered if all Haldus Order technology was based on such old technology. "Just what I'd expect for such retrograde people", Leone thought. It was like a joke; Sybil, in her time of need, had turned to the Antiquist Party...it was a matter of principle.

Both Leone and Aristark were surprised to see a display screen on the mysterious Haldus Order machine. They had previously imagined that the device had been constructed like a black box, with its workings completely hidden from casual inspection. How could they have imagined that in reality it had been designed to be very communicative and informative for its human users...Sybil had just been forced to use it under unusual circumstances...out in the open where non-Haldus Order members could see it. On the screen, they could read a message, in the standard language used by most people throughout the galaxy:
FIRE DANGER AVERTED
ENTERING GHOST MODE

Ship in space

The two antimatter reactors deployed in the plane of the passenger deck in preparation for docking with the spaceship's hyperspatial field generators.

TricksEdit

Leone rubbed his stinging eyes. "Ghost mode?" Leone asked, without expecting any reply. He muttered, "These people are really psychos... will it now disappear from our sight..."

"...confounding our senses." Aristark completed.

"What? I was not going to say that."

"No, but I was. And I did. Do you not see what it implies?"

Leone looked at Aristark...was he taking this seriously? Had he inhaled to much burnt plastic? Leone objected, "Imply? It can mean nothing, much less imply. A cryptic message using an esoteric term that might appeal to a mystic like Sybil....it means nothing, I repeat."

"How can you be so blind? Of course it has a meaning. Look at the next message."

GHOST MODE PHASE 1. QUANTUM INFORMATION CLOAKED IN A RADIUS OF 5 METERS... 10... 15...

The counter advanced until 100, when they could read the next message.

GHOST MODE PHASE 1 COMPLETED. ALL MATTER AND ENERGY INSIDE 500 METERS RADIUS IS HIDDEN TO ALL MEASURE INSTRUMENTS. STARTING PHASE 2..."

"Do you see it now?" Aristark asked Leone, his face seemed triumphant. He had been studying the Invocator's power usage patterns. There had previously been two dramatic surges in power to the Invocator...now... Aristark took one last look at the Invocator. Its external appearance seemed intentionally ancient, one could almost imagine that it had to be as large as a computing core just because it was of primitive and inefficient design. But this big, just to generate a navigation beacon and hold the coordinates of Plato? No, Aristark had reason to believe that it had other functions, too.

"I understand nothing." Leone answered, he was so skeptical that he could not understand it yet.

Aristark ran back to the main control room and reclined in his chair, relieved to be protected from the strong shifts in acceleration that Thot continued to apply as evasive maneuvers. He connected his brain to the Thot interface and called up a view of the data record he had been collecting for the amount of power feeding to the Invocator.

Leone stumbled into his flight chair and asked, "What's going on?"

Aristark replied, "I think I understand what it says on the Invocator's display screen, what it means... Power is surging into the Invocator, just as it did twice before...."

Leone wondered why Aristark had fallen silent, then he noticed that the blasts from the enemy disruptors had stopped again. And even the sudden jerks resulting from Thot's evasive maneuvering had ended.

Aristark nodded. "Yes, it all makes sense. These surges in power use by the Invocator are protecting this ship. First was at Plato when our shields we exhausted and penetrated, just before the jump. Second was just before the antimatter bombs detonated. And now...listen. All is quiet. The enemy ships have lost us again. We are invisible again. 'Ghost mode'. The Invocator has extended a protective barrier around this ship." On a hunch, he called for a view of the battle display. Three of the enemy spaceships were quite close, three others were further out and the first three that had launched the rockets were now quite distant at the edge of the displayed scene. Another question mark was now displayed, and as Aristark watched he could see that it was leading the enemy ships off on a tangent away from the actual position of Leone's ship. "Look, another decoy."

Leone was looking at a wall display and had not re-connected to the Thot interface. "Yes, I see it." The Invocator was drawing power for two purposes, now. To hide their location and to project a false image of their spaceship that functioned as a decoy. Leone said, "So, they cannot see us now. We now can flee, taking advantage off the fact that they do not know where we are right now...their disruptor fire must be falling on that decoy."

"Well, yes, it seems that Sybil told you the truth, the Haldus Order has the means to hide a ship, this is exactly what that strange artifact did...that Invocator. I would not put to much trust in it, however, we should flee right now...they lost track of our position once before, when the rockets were attacking, but then they managed to regain a tracking lock on us. About the counter-attack, I..."

Leone knew what Aristark was going to say. "Yes! We have to stop our attack...we must stop sending out any signals, any energies that could give away our location. With a simple triangulation they could calculate where our energy bolts are coming from...if we keep on attacking then the cloak would be of no purpose. We must silently flee..." Leone gave the order, "Thot, cease fire!"

Aristark said, "Your order is too late. Thot stopped firing about a minute ago."

Leone checked the command circuits. "Hmm...I should have noticed this earlier when we departed from the evasive action subprogram I had specified. You know, it makes sense. Just as the Invocator flew us to Plato, it is now in control of this spaceship. It automatically took control from Thot. And I think it knows better than you...this is not the time to hurry into a jump. We are still so close to those ships that they might detect our hyperspace field generators...they produce a huge and distinctive electromagnetic signature. We best put some distance between us, first."

Aristark noticed that a change had come over Leone: he no longer seemed depressed and apprehensive. He sighed and said, "You seem to be enjoying yourself now that you have been given a second life." He looked at the burned tissue of his arm, now swarming with medical nanites. "In spite of my wish to depart at once, I have to agree with you, this time. They could easily detect our hyperspatial generators and then launch more of their rockets to destroy us. Rather than risk it, we should wait."

"Yes, I feel a great relief and I hope this magical cloak works to save us, but we are still in danger." Leone was reluctant to assume that they were safe. He was angry for having to cede command to the mysterious Invocator...could it be trusted? It appeared that Sybil's equipment had saved them today and it even seemed possible that had Leone failed to act at Plato and initiate the jump, they still might have been saved by the Invocator's cloaking device. After all his stress and worry he was not happy having to accept that fact.

"There is one thing I want to test." Aristark used the Thot interface and took manual control again. He shifted their acceleration to zero and they felt the sudden peace of zero g conditions. It was almost funny to see that the enemy spaceships did not know where they were, now just drifting through space with zero acceleration, not all that far away. He let the Invocator take control again and they resumed maximum acceleration on a vector away from the enemy ships, guided by the mysterious Haldus Order device. Then Aristark thought about the special beacon. After checking for the beacon's signal he said, "I should have thought to check this earlier, but it seems that the 'Invocator' did shut off the beacon signal when it went into "ghost mode".

Leone barely heard Aristark's comment about the beacon. He was intently watching the tactical battle display and he saw that three of the enemy spaceships were now very close to the decoy. What would happen when they figured out that they had been fooled again? They could still use the trick that had worked before, igniting an antimatter explosion...that seemed to be what had allowed them to start tracking Leone's ship the first time it had cloaked. Leone thought: maybe we're not out of the woods yet...

Spaceship docking

A spaceship powered by antimatter drive docks with its hyperspatial field generators.

Friendly FireEdit

The space battle played out as if in slow motion due to the large distances involved. Now, as Ketar watched, the first volley of antimatter bombs exploded....although Ketar was aware that due to distance and the finite speed of light, this battle had taken place more than an hour in the past. The flashing indicator icon for the "pirate ship" remained on the display. Assuming Ketar's worst fear, that the "enemy ship" was actually Leone's small passenger ship, then it was unbelievable that those antimatter weapons had not already destroyed their target. But had the position of the pirate ship suddenly shifted? Ketar was reminded of the odd report from Polastis III where something similar had happened.

Now Ketar had new doubts. Maybe this was a pirate ship with much better defenses than a simple passenger ship.

Ketar kept on watching the battle display, but a bunch of spaceships moving across interplanetary distances was a boring situation to watch in real time. The basic physics of the situation could not be changed: space was big, spaceships were slow... accelerations of 5g were about the practical limit for manned travel...although drones and projectiles could be accelerated even faster for short distances.

The Fleet's outer patrols were stationed far out from Akara A, out where they could make pre-planned jumps of a short distance in order to re-position as needed at any point around the imaginary sphere where in-bound ships might materialize upon entering the Akara system. The main problem with this defensive strategy was that the terminus for any jump through hyperspace could not be exactly controlled. No matter how much planning and training, there was a certain amount of luck involved in how efficiently the patrols could be positioned when responding to an invasion. Patrol ships from Ketar's fleet now routinely practiced to defend Akara in anticipation of the approaching day when Ketar's family would again assert the power of Akara. Of course, the same basic defensive strategy could be used against either a pirate ship or an invading fleet from another star system.

The main limitation at the moment was that most of the fleet was not on station in the Akara system. The spaceships of the Military Fleet doubled as Azur's commercial trading and passenger ships, most of which were off on journeys to other star systems. Still, this encounter with the "pirate ship" seemed to be playing out as expected from countless exercises and simulations. The first patrol usually had an outward-directed flight vector that intercepted the inbound trajectory of an invader. Due to momentum built up in pursuit, it was hard for such interceptors to match velocities with the target. The cardinal rule was: first responders don't slow down! Usually that meant they got only a single shot off from long range.

Still, those antimatter bombs should have obliterated any standard target. But in this case something strange was going on...some kind of decoy had fooled the projectiles. For a moment Ketar imagined it was like watching one of those 3D films of old, where the spaceships even emitted sound in interstellar space! Well, this was real, at least. You just could not hide a spaceship, even if there was no sound waves to be detected, Ketar knew that all hyperspatial ships had a huge graviton drive emission profile that could not be hidden.

Now, six other ships of the Fleet were matching trajectories and velocity with the target by using maximal acceleration. It was just a matter of time until the "pirate ship" surrendered by using radio communication or else they would be completely destroyed by the Fleet's weaponry or, preferably, disabled and boarded by Ketar's troops in order to take possession of the ship and whatever special decoy-generating and signaling equipment was on board.

Ketar thought that some kind of new technology must be in use by the "pirate ship". Another possibility was that this might be a ship of the Futurist Party. Since shortly after the destruction of the space elevators on Sakkara, Ketar had expected his forces to be attacked by Set, but most of Set's activities seemed to have been directed against members of the Haldus Order. Ketar's intelligence service had reported some very strange stories about attacks by what seemed to be ships operated by the Futurist Party using new weapons and tactics, but all those reports were based on second hand information; none of the attacks had been witnessed by Ketar's forces.

The only first hand information was from the incident at Polastis III. There, an unidentified ship had seemingly traveled with acceleration of greater than 10 g and escaped from one of the ships of Ketar's Fleet. Ketar's analysts had concluded that the Futurist Party was the most likely group to make a breakthrough that would allow such a great rate of acceleration for a spaceship. For weeks after the Polastis III incident, Ketar had feared that Set would soon attack with a new fleet of 10g accelerating war ships. Had that happened, such fast ships would have been able to strike and tear to pieces the ships of Ketar's Fleet. But then time had passed and the feared attack had never come.

However, when that Polastis III incident had occurred, Ketar had not been thinking about the Haldus Order as a source of new technology. Now it occurred to Ketar that the apparent 10g acceleration might have been a mis-interpretation of events. Maybe what had happened was that a Haldus Order ship had used a decoy and made it look like the decoy had moved with a 10g acceleration. Yes, this was much more likely...even though Ketar had no idea how such a decoy might be generated, Leone had reported Sybil's claim about the Haldus Order being able to confuse sensors. Ketar's scientists had told him that a 10g spaceship would have to violate the laws of physics. So now Ketar started to shift his thinking away from the improbability of 10g spaceships to serious consideration of Sybil's claims about special abilities unique to the forces of the Haldus Order.

Ketar wondered about the nature of the decoy that had just fooled his patrol's missiles. Ketar played with the controls for the data channel from Fleet Headquarters that was providing him with information on the space battle. Those controls gave him a 360 degree view and zooming control in all three axes. He combined the information received from the ships with that from cameras on the three missiles as they had closed on their target. Ketar was obsessed with surveillance methods, it was one of the reasons why he had been selected by his father, trained for leadership and had ultimately succeeded as head of the Party. The population of Azur thought that they had freely elected Ketar as Governor for Life, although very few knew that election had been carefully arranged and engineered. Still, his job was temporary: if he were a fool he could be removed by recall, killed or otherwise terminated, but Ketar planned to last as supreme ruler until he had achieved his lofty goals. But the point was, he could expertly manipulate data streams such as the one for this space battle...he was not dependent on reports from analysts at Fleet Headquarters.

It was hard to see what the missiles had attacked since they closed on the target so fast. Ketar adjusted the controls again using his advanced skills and made a zoom, focusing on the decoy spaceship... He really wanted to see who his enemy was, but at the very least he would see what the "pirates" had used as their decoy. Now that he had the images slowed and filtered he watched closely, looking for a logo or identification of some kind. He found an L on prow. How curious, he thought, an L. Ketar ran a search routine on the insignia and it was quickly found in the registry of spaceships. Ketar had to admit that his original fears were confirmed, that symbol marked the "prirate ship" as Leone's spaceship. Along side Leone's personal insignia, Ketar found the symbol of the Antiquist Party, so there was little doubt. Either his own patrol ships had attacked the very ship he was preparing to welcome or some clever pirates were using an image of Leone's spaceship as a decoy.

And if it was Leone's ship, this attack was not a proper welcome for Kalid! Kalid and what he thought about Ketar was of central importance to the current game being played by Ketar, his life-long game of working to bring Azur back to glory....

At that moment Ketar noticed another icon on the outer edge of the battle display. That icon represented a message from the "enemy ship" that had been received nearly an hour earlier and had finally been decrypted at Fleet Headquarters. Ketar viewed the message:

From Leone of Sakkara
To Ketar, Governor of Azur

Mission in search of Kalid not accomplished.

Ketar wondered: what did that cryptic message mean? Anyhow, it now seemed certain that this must be Leone's spaceship. The message had been held up at fleet headquarters under the working assumption that it was from pirates trying to pass themselves off as a friendly ship. Fools! Ketar could have instantly decoded and read it...had he only known of the message's existence.

Ketar switched his attention back to the unfolding battle. The display now showed a detailed analytic view of the antimatter projectile attack. Retrospective analysis performed at Fleet Headquarters indicated that Leone's ship had apparently gone into maximal deceleration as soon as it had detected the projectiles, but the projectiles had maintained tracking lock on the decoy target that continued onward as if on a track towards Azur. However, that target was not initially recognized as some kind of decoy, and only after the explosions lit up the area with radiation was the true location of Leone's ship again revealed and a new tracking lock established on it.

Ketar saw that those first three responding spaceships from the Fleet were altering their course, but due to their high velocity that was nearly perpendicular to the course of Leone's ship they were in an unfavorable position for further attacks. However, another three ships of the fleet had now entered into the battle from another direction.

Ketar checked the time stamps. By this point, a commander in the fleet should have had time to understand Leone's radio message and use common sense to realize that this "pirate ship" might be that of Ketar's anticipated guests! But the attack against the "pirates" seemed to continue. Ketar exclaimed, "How incompetent! What happened to the counter-order?" Ketar's thoughts were filled with rage as he imagined all his plans for making use of Kalid had been destroyed by some foolish friendly fire disaster. Now his only hope was that Leone's cryptic message meant Kalid was not on board Leone's doomed spaceship.

Ketar watched as the second set of three spaceships entered into close attack range...they finally seemed to have received the counter-order because they were only attacking with destabilizer force fields. These fields had two primary purposes: to damaged the targeted ship's propulsion system and failing that, shift the force compensators and subject the crew to rapid accelerations and decelerations and hopefully make the crew pass out. Ketar was no engineer and he had no idea how a force field could achieve both effects at the same time, but he knew from experience that it worked and was the most effective non-lethal weapon system of his war ships. The destabilizer force fields had one other use: they could prevent a ship from entering hyperspace and escaping. Ketar checked the distances. Yes, at this point in the battle his patrol ships had gotten close enough to use their destabilizer force fields and prevent Leone's spaceship from escaping through hyperspace.

Ketar decided that now the space battle was moving the right direction. Yes, he was learning from this incident. Somehow the Haldus Order had developed a secret new technology for decoys that allowed the image of a spaceship to be used as a decoy that would distract and confuse other spaceships. Ketar decided that it was imperative that his Fleet now capture Leone's ship and obtain this secret technology that had been installed in Leone's spaceship by Sybil. Yes, soon this powerful technology could be in his hands! Ketar's scientists would then be able to reverse engineer and replicate this technology for use in the Fleet. Ketar was proud of his scientists: they were recruited and hired from the best technical education centers in the Galaxy and had designed new models of spaceships that Ketar believed to be the best in the galaxy. If this secret Haldus Order technology could be obtained, nothing would stop Akara from attaining its former glory or even supremacy over the other worlds of the galaxy!

For the moment, Ketar forgot about trying to pump Kalid for information and he dreamed of what might now become possible simply by capturing Leone's ship... Yes, the Fleet would capture Leone's ship and with this new technology he could invent a strategy...maybe all this mumbo-jumbo about telepathy was a smoke screen. Maybe obtaining the Haldus Order decoy technology would actually give Ketar's Fleet all the technological secrets known to Kalid!

Ketar tried to calm down and return from this pleasant daydream. He turned his attention to the computer-generated display of the on-going space battle. As he watched, the next three patrol ships closed on the position of Leone's ship. The next closest three were not yet in position. Ketar was puzzled: why had these first three not waited slightly longer for the reinforcements?

"Only three ships!" he thought. Were his forces going to underestimated the ship they were dealing with? Did they not remember the lesson of Polastis III? Surely they must now recognize that this "pirate spaceship" could cloak...they needed to box it in and ignore any decoys! Ketar watched in horror as the scenario of Polastis III seemed to be playing out again. Suddenly Leone's ship accelerated at 10g and began to slip away from the patrol ships that could only manage a little over 5g acceleration.

Ketar's rage grew. "No! Don't follow the decoy! No real ship can travel with a 10g acceleration!" Ketar vowed: if Leone's ship could not be captured, someone would have to pay! Maybe he would have to remove his War Secretary from his role if the spaceship commanders in the Fleet were such fools. In a case like this, "removing" meant death. Ketar observed the screen closely looking for a sign that his forces would figure out what to do...that spaceship and its cloaking technology had to be his!


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