In this action-packed tale of military science fiction, the human members of the Star Wolf space vessel are pitted against the superhuman Morthan crew.
Cpt. Jonathan Korie has been hampered by the loss of most of the human fleet to the Morthans and a nearly disabled ship of his own. Now he must face the Morthan threat driven by the need for survival and the desire for revenge . . .
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The Silk Road Convoy
The Silk Road Convoy was almost three hundred years old.
Its path roughly described a bent and swollen, meandering, broken ellipse along the edge of the rift and then out and across it and back again. A closer examination might reveal that the trail of the convoy was actually a series of lesser arcs tracing through the spiral arm, then turning reluctantly out into the darkness of The Deep Rift, with one scheduled stopover at the forlorn worlds of Marathon, Ghastly, and George, then across The Great Leap and into the lips of the ghostly streamer known as The Purse on the opposite side, then around The Outbeyond, down toward The Silver Horn, and finally turning home again, leaping across at The Narrows and then down through The Valley of Death to The Heart of Darkness, then a sudden dogleg up to a place of desperate joy known as Last Chance, before finally sliding into The Long Ride Home and a golden world called Glory.
The Silk Road Convoy was the oldest of all the caravans on the route. It was not the largest fleet on the route, but it was definitely the richest and most prestigious.
The convoy followed the path of an ancient exploration vessel. Colonies had followed the vessel. Traders had followed the colonies. The trade had evolved over the centuries into a trade route called The Silk Road. Eventually, due to the twists and vagaries of luck and history and fate, it became one of the most profitable routes known in the Alliance. At any given moment there might be as many as thirty different caravans scattered along its great curving length — but only the original Silk Road Convoy was entitled to bear the name of the trade route. This was because the partnership which had grown up with the original Silk Road Convoy also owned or controlled most of the directorships of the Silk Road Authority.
The Silk Road Authority was larger than most governments. It held three seats in the Alliance and controlled almost all of the trade, both legal and otherwise, within the ellipse of its influence. The Authority had major offices on every planet within thirty light-years of the primary route. Every merchant ship in the arm paid a license fee for the privilege of traveling the route and booking passengers and cargo through the offices of the Authority.
Some ships, like the notorious freebooter Eye of Argon, preferred to travel alone. Others paid for the privilege of traveling with a caravan. The caravans were near-permanent institutions.
Imagine a chain of vessels nearly three light-days long, islands of light strung through the darkness. They carried names like The Emerald Colony Traders (licensed to The Silk Road) and The Great Rift Corporation (licensed to The Silk Road) and Zetex Starlines (licensed to The Silk Road). The caravans provided service and safety — and safety had lately become a primary consideration for star travelers.
Because of its name, because of its age and its prestige, the Silk Road Convoy was considered the safest of all.CHAPTER 2
The dark world of Marathon had never known life of its own and never would. Lost in eternal night, it circled a dead and cold star. Ghostly starlight limned its bleak horizons. Life here could never be more than a lonely visitor. The planet was hard and barren and ugly.
It had been discovered by accident, settled by necessity. The only good thing about Marathon was its location, a third of the way into The Deep Rift. Hard in the abyss; the ugly world was a welcome way station in the long desperate leap to the other side. Its single settlement was a bright lonely point of life. Despite itself, despite its abysmal desolation, Marathon had become an important stopover. It was a nexus of the lesser trade routes which bordered the abyss; despite its desolate loneliness, the dark world was becoming a trade center in its own right.
Marathon had two neighbors, Ghastly and George, both of which were said to be considerably less attractive than Marathon. Few had gone to see for themselves. There was some ice mining on George, and nothing on Ghastly but a few crashed probes.
Marathon wasn't quite the frontier, but it was an edge and that was bad enough. Too many things lurked out here.
And too many people had become suddenly afraid.
Despite the patrol vessels, the growing fears of war were making Marathon a place of urgency and need. There was an air of panic here. The sudden flow of refugees from The Outbeyond had created a thriving market for passage on every stopping vessel, regardless of destination, as long as it was deeper away from the frontier. The local offices of The Silk Road Authority had become hard pressed to meet the growing demand for passage.
Adding to the distress of the refugees was the fact that a great number of ships were waiting stubbornly in orbit around Marathon, their captains refusing to continue along the route until they could join The Silk Road Convoy.
If it came.
Rumor had it that war between the Alliance and the Solidarity was imminent. Rumor had it that the Silk Road Authority was so concerned about the inevitability of interstellar conflagration that the great caravan might not pass this way again for a long long time. Rumor had it that this was the caravan's last circuit, that the route was being shut down for fear of Morthan marauders.
Rumor also had it that the Alliance was assembling a great fleet to protect the route ...CHAPTER 3
The center of gravity of a liberty ship is the singularity, the pinpoint black hole that powers the ship and also serves as the focus for its hyperstate nodule. The singularity masses as much as a small moon and can be accurately located by even a low-power gravity wave scanner out to a distance of several light hours.
The singularity is held in place by a singularity bottle, a spherical magnetic cage three stories high; this is the ship's engine room. Three hyperstate fluctuators are focused on the singularity; one from above, one from either side. They are spaced 120 degrees apart. The fluctuators extend out through the hull of the ship and into three massive spines that give the starship its characteristic spiky look. The length of the fluctuators is a function of the size of the ship; it is necessary for precise focusing of the projected hyperstate bubble around the vessel. Hyperstate is also known as irrational space, producing the oft-quoted cliché, "To go faster than light, first you have to be irrational."
For sublight acceleration and deceleration, the liberty ship has three mass-drivers mounted around her hull. A mass-driver is a long thin tube, lined with superconducting magnetic rings. Ions are introduced at one end, accelerated to near-lightspeed, and shot out the opposite end, producing the necessary thrust. The direction of particle acceleration can also be reversed for braking maneuvers. While the operation of the mass-drivers is not as easily detectable as that of the singularity stardrive, the vessel's wake of accelerated ions can be detected by a ship with sophisticated scanning gear.
Aft of the engine room, you will find crew's quarters, storage areas, aft torpedo bay, cargo bays, and the internal shuttle bay. The shuttle bay is equipped to function as a cargo lock; but there are also smaller airlocks at the stern of the vessel. A liberty ship usually carries two shuttles and occasionally a captain's gig. Used as lifeboats, the shuttles can carry ten individuals each; fifty if they are put into short-term hibernation.
Forward of the engine room, are officers' quarters on the top deck, the ship's brain and main mess room on the second deck, and the keel and equipment storage bays on the bottom level. Forward of that is the Operations complex. This is built around a large U-shaped Operations deck; the forward half of which is a sophisticated viewer. At the rear of the Operations deck is the Bridge, a high, railed platform overlooking everything. Directly underneath the Bridge is the Operations bay, where the ship's autonomic functions are maintained.
Forward of the Operations complex are more crew's quarters, sick bay, the weapons shop, forward torpedo bay, forward access and airlock. Running the length of the ship is the keel, a utility corridor which also functions as the ship's primary channel for cables, ducts, and optical fibers.
On the hull of the ship, you will find three large arrays of scanners, detectors, cameras, and other sensory apparatus. There are also twelve arrays of disruptor-beam projectors. The ship is double-hulled, with both hulls required to maintain 99% or better atmospheric integrity. Both hulls are also internally and externally shielded against particle-beam weapons. Class V magnetic shields are standard on most liberty ships, although most captains upgrade to Class VII or better whenever the equipment is available.
The liberty ship has a multiple-redundancy, optical nervous system. Autonomic functions are maintained by an array of Systems Analysis boxes. Higher-brain functions are handled by one or more HARLIE series synthesized-consciousness modules. The HARLIE series has been designed to be more anthropomorphic than other constructed identities, and therefore tends to perceive the starship as its own body; this produces a measurable increase in the unit's survival motivation.
Standard crew on a liberty ship is 120 persons.CHAPTER 4
The LS-1187 was three years old and had not yet earned a name.
She was a destroyer-class starship, a liberty ship, one of many. On her side, she wore the flag of New America: thirteen horizontal stripes, alternating red and white, and a dark blue field showing seven white circles around a single bright star.
The liberty ships came off the line one every eleven days. There were seven assembly lines building ships. This one was like all the rest; small and desperate, fitted with just enough equipment to make her survivable, and sent as rapidly as possible out toward the frontier. It would be up to her port of assignment to install her secondary fittings, internal amenities, auxiliary systems, and weaponry — whatever might be necessary for her local duties.
The LS-1187 had not yet earned her name because she had not yet "bloodied her sword." Until she did, she would remain only a number.
She was a lean ship: a dark arrow, three hundred meters long. Two thirds of the way back along her hull, three sharp fins projected out and forward. These were her fluctuator spines. The end of each one culminated in a bulbous stardrive lens.
Her cruising speed was subluminal, but the realized velocity of her hyperstate envelope was 750 times the speed of light.
Her orders were the simplest possible: a time, a location, and a vector.
Translation: Proceed to The Deep Rift. Arrive at a specified here at a specified now, pointed in a particular direction and traveling at a particular speed. Don't be followed. Do all this and you will be part of the Grand Convoy of a thousand ships: a thousand separate vessels all arriving at their respective places in formation at the same moment.
It was a daring gamble, but if it worked ... the outworlds would have the protection they needed against the raids of the marauders.
If it failed ...
Admiral Wendayne stood on the Bridge of The Moral Victory and frowned. He was a stout man, short and stocky and solid. He was also bald and very sour-looking. He was studying a holographic display of the entire convoy as it came together.
He should have been proud; the idea of the Grand Convoy had been his; but he wasn't proud. He was annoyed. He hadn't been given half the ship strength he felt he needed; and too many of the ships assigned to the convoy were the smaller liberty ships, untried and untested. Too many of them had numbers instead of names. Nothing ever worked out as planned.
An aide stepped up to the admiral then. "The LS-1187 has joined the convoy."
Admiral Wendayne was underwhelmed. "Hmp." Then he realized that the aide was waiting for a response. "All right. Welcome them."
The aide, a young man, turned to a console and murmured a command to IRMA, the ship's computer. A screen on the console lit up with a set of official-looking codes, followed by the crest of the fleet, and finally by the image of the admiral. "Greetings — Captain Lowell and the crew of the LS-1187 — your participation in this operation represents a vital contribution to the security of the Alliance. On behalf of the —"
The message was encoded, translated into a series of pulses, and channeled to the modulators of the flagship's hyperstate envelope. The envelope shimmered. Every ship within scanning range of the flagship's envelope could see the shimmer of her hyperstate bubble, but only those with the appropriate codes would be able to translate the shimmer into a message. All of the Alliance codes were one-time cyphers, to be used only once and then never again.
Aboard the LS-1187, the message was translated and played as it came in. Its header codes identified it as a standard greeting signal, not requiring acknowledgment.
"— Admiralty, let me thank you, and let me welcome you to the Combined Allied Star Force special operations at Marathon. You may now open up your sealed orders. Again, welcome aboard."
Captain Sam Lowell nodded wryly at the image of the admiral. He was an older man, almost kindly-looking. Beside him on the Bridge stood Jonathan Thomas Korie, his executive officer. Korie looked preoccupied; he was listening to something on his headset. Now he frowned. He turned and looked down toward the large, elliptical, holographic display table in the center of the Operations deck. The Bridge — that part of the ship that was actually called the Bridge — was a high-railed platform at the rear of the Ops deck. There were command chairs there and two exit doors, one on either side. The Bridge overlooked the whole chamber; Korie could oversee the duties of all eight officers at the consoles beneath them.
The entire front half of the Ops deck was a giant curving screen that wrapped around half the chamber and most of the ceiling as well. At any given moment, it was like standing under an open sky, a great panoramic window onto the void. At the moment, the forward image was a simulated view of the distant stars, with shadowy grid lines superimposed over them; the starship seemed to be moving up through a three-dimensional framework, with a delimiter every five light-minutes.
Korie glanced over as Captain Lowell said, "All right, I've heard enough." He reached over and tapped the message off. To Korie's questioning look, he explained, "I've heard this speech before. And you'll hear it enough times too when you're a captain. You'll learn the whole damn repertoire."
Captain Lowell took a dark envelope out of his tunic and carefully broke the seal. He removed three sheets of gray paper, unfolded them and scanned them quickly, passing them to Korie as he finished each one.
"Mm," said Korie. "No surprises here."
"Did you expect any?"
Korie shook his head. Captain Lowell unclipped a hand-mike from his belt. His voice was amplified throughout the ship. "This is the captain speaking. We are seven point five light-years from Marathon. We've taken up our assigned position in the convoy and we've been officially welcomed by Admiral Wendayne. From this point on, we'll be operating at full alert."
There were audible groans across the operations room — not very loud, but loud enough for Korie to look annoyed and Captain Lowell to look amused.
The captain continued. "All right, can the chatter. The admiral thinks there's a good chance of engaging the enemy here. Personally, I don't think so, but maybe the admiral knows something I don't. That's why he's an admiral and you're not. So everybody, just stay on your toes. That is all."
As he clipped the mike back to his belt, Captain Lowell looked to his executive officer. "Do you understand why I did that?"
"I think so."
"This ship is going to be yours very soon. I want you to take care of her. She's a proud ship." He nodded toward the Bridge crew. "It's all about trust. You have to be straight with them, Mr. Korie. Never ever lie to your crew."
"I promise you, sir. I never will."
"Keep that promise and you'll be a good captain," Lowell said. "I've never lied to this crew and I have nothing to be ashamed of." Wistfully, he added, "I just wish ..."
"... That she could have earned a name, right?" Korie finished the thought for him.
Captain Lowell nodded. "You know me too well."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Voyage of the Star Wolf"
Copyright © 1990 David Gerrold.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Silk Road Convoy,
Recalled to Life,
A Situation of Some Gravity,
Eye in the Sky,
The Morthan Solidarity,
The Scanning Lens,
Return of the Dragon,
The Hole Thing,
Lord of the Dragons,
In the Vice-admiral's Office,
The Captain's Cabin,
Chief of Security,
A Little History,
The Inner Hull,
A Good Idea at the Time,
The Morthan Diplomatic Corps,
The Shuttle Bay,
The Forward Observatories,
A Morthan Lullaby,
The Operations Deck,
The Last Letter Home,