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Antares Passage — An Excerpt

.. "Put the system primary up on the screen, Mr. Cristobal!"

"Coming up now, Captain."

A few seconds passed before the screen flashed once and a yellow-white disk lay centered in the field of view. The only features on the star's surface were a few sunspots trailing one another across an incandescent plasma sea. Even though large enough to swallow a hundred planets the size of Alta, the spots were minor imperfections when judged against the whole disk of the star.

"We're waiting on confirmation, Mr. Cristobal," Drake said after a dozen seconds passed in silence.

"Uh, sorry, sir. I was just rechecking my data. It's Sol all right. The spectrum matches to ten significant places."

"Very well. Mr. Haydn, pipe this view into Communications Channel Two. Then switch the main screen to the tactical display.

"Aye aye, Captain!"

The screen changed again, this time to a schematic diagram of the space in the vicinity of the Sol-Goddard foldpoint. As the screen came alight, it began to fill with symbols that quickly painted a picture of the foldpoint defenses. There were several low whistles on Discovery's bridge as their extent became apparent. They had started out formidable, and were getting more so with each passing second.

Radar and infrared sensors had quickly detected thousands of objects scattered throughout the volume of space occupied by the foldpoint. Each was the size of a small scout ship and constructed of an open framework of girders, fuel tanks, and an oversize photon drive. The nearest such was less than a thousand kilometers from Discovery, and after a visual examination, the technician manning the threat console tentatively identified it as a high acceleration orbital mine.

Just beyond the foldpoint's periphery floated two hundred orbital fortresses. Telescopic examination of the closest showed it to be bristling with heavy lasers, antimatter projectors, missile launchers, and various ports that were presumably used to sortie manned interceptors. Interspersed among the offensive weaponry were long and short range sensors, heat radiators, communications gear, and a number of less identifiable mechanisms. Judging by the amount of quiescent energy the orbital fortress spilled to space, it was more than a match for any normal fleet of warships.

If the line of orbital fortresses weren't enough, long range sensors detected three formations of warships maintaining station at various distances from the foldpoint. Each fleet was positioned to interdict the most direct route to Earth, and each appeared to be composed primarily of blastships and heavy cruisers.

Drake keyed for the technician manning the countermeasures console in the Combat Control Center. "What's the E-M spectrum like, Mr. Benson?"

The technician's lined features split into a wide grin. "You could come close to frying an egg on our hull, Captain, the radar beams are so thick out there! I have identified 1312 separate sources of E-M radiation in the vicinity so far -- everything from search and fire control radars to ranging lasers and communications beams."

"Let me know if that changes."

"Yes, sir."

"Mr. Cristobal. Where's Teddy Roosevelt?"

"Ten thousand kilometers off our beam, sir. Almost due galactic north. She has gone to one-tenth gee and appears to be maneuvering for rendezvous."

"How long until Alexandria comes through the foldpoint?"

"Another two minutes, twelve seconds, sir."

"All sensors at high gain?"

"Yes, sir. High gain and recording."

"Very well. Stand by to report her arrival."

The countdown chronometer ticked off the remaining minutes and seconds. When the proper time had elapsed, the converted liner flashed into existence some six thousand kilometers in front of Discovery's bow.

"Message from Teddy Roosevelt, Captain," the communicator said immediately after Alexandria's arrival.

"Put him on, Mr. Haydn."

"Channel Three, sir."

Drake turned to where Admiral Ryerson's features were visible on an auxiliary screen. "Yes, sir?"

"You have been cleared to enter the solar system, Captain. Please move your ships to the main traffic corridor as previously instructed."

"Will do, sir."

Ryerson glanced away from the screen pickup, then back again. "We calculate rendezvous in forty minutes."

"See you soon. And Drake ..."

"Yes, sir?"

"Welcome home!"


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Page last edited on June 18, 2011 10:06 PM