Vice Admiral Heather Johnson floated in a tank of viscous, red fluid, entangled by a thousand gently glowing nerve fibers. She did not see tank, however, or the gray, conduit choked room in which it rested. The tank hijacked Heather’s senses, and to her it seemed she floated in space with HIF Task Force Beta, surrounded by warships and a vast, starry expanse.
The communications from all fifty ships flowed through her mind like a waterfall in which she could hear each individual drop as it plummeted past. Heather focused in on Fleet Commander Roger Greene’s baritone voice.
He sounded tense but controlled as he instructed the fleet’s captains. “Charge drives and prepare for Space/Time Folding to Sol System. Task force Alpha is already on its way.”
Responses poured through the channels, “Charging drives.”
“Time to go people!”
“Set mass compression to ninety percent.”
“Fighter squads report in.”
“Sensors read go for Fold.”
When all ships had reported in, Greene said, “Task Force Beta stands ready, Vice Admiral.”
“Very good, Fleet Commander.” She said over the general fleet channel. “Secure for travel. Commencing Space/Time Fold.”
Heather watched as the sharp-angled, silver ships began to ripple around her, their winking lights warping, and their shapes elongating. The fleet’s bristling weapons, and the flowing distortion of Folding space, made it resemble a school of spiked fish slipping beneath a river’s current.
Then the stars around the fleet melted, twisted, and flowed away while they shifted color from white or yellow to deep red. Then they vanished.
For a time, the fifty warships travelled through the silent, dark Space/Time Fold. Subjectively, travelling across the Fold took seventy-three minutes. In real-time the trip took almost one week.
In the silence and darkness, Heather ran through the tactical and strategic training she’d learned in the simulators. Fleet formations, flanking attacks, angles and vectors of approach and retreat, even single ship maneuvers designed to focus maximum firepower on the Task Force’s target.
In battle, the task force’s fifty warships behaved like appendages on Heather’s body. She could control them the way she controlled her fingers, with unconscious precision and instantaneous response to thought.
It had been over a hundred years since humanity clashed with the Dentari, and when they last fought, the Dentari captured Earth and chased the humans from the Sol System.
Heather just hoped the Controller Tank’s technology, her sensory and motor nerve connection to the fleet, would be enough to tip the odds in humanity’s favor.
The HIF Sphinx’s computer array began counting down. Ten minutes until the Fold straightened and Task Force Beta entered the Sol System. Ten minutes until the battle for earth would begin. Heather quickly ran through what she knew of the situation.
Human reconnaissance of the Sol System reported that the main Dentari defenses were located in the asteroid belt. It made sense. They could hide thousands of ships and guns, even stations, among the rocks, and it would be difficult to detect their true numbers from long range. Further, it would be hard to root out all the defenses if the Dentari decided to go to ground within the belt.
The nature of Space/Time Folding meant Task Force Beta had to Unfold outside Pluto’s orbit. Any closer to the sun, and its gravitation would start to interfere with the Unfolding, and ships could be ripped apart by the Space/Time torsion around the gravity well.
Heather reasoned that the Dentari would have plenty of warning before the human fleets penetrated far into the solar system. It didn’t matter. Heather, and her counterpart in Task Force Alpha, already in position across the Sol System, had their objectives: stab deep into the Dentari defenses, pierce through the asteroid belt strongholds, and clear a path to Earth.
The more time the Dentari had to react to the first assault, the more distracted and displaced they would be when the rest of the fleet arrived. The human attack force’s main bulk would Fold into the Sol System and establish a beachhead on Titan, Saturn’s moon, then begin the assault proper.
As the computer’s countdown reached one minute, Heather started to shake with nervous tension. She dialed back her adrenal glands’ output and used a meditation routine to focus her thoughts. She needed all senses clear when Task Force Beta Unfolded.
She ended the meditation, and numbers blasted through her mind as the computers ran redundant checks of the Fold math in the ten seconds before Unfolding.
Stars burst into existence, their light made Heather blink and want to cover her eyes, but the light came from the task force’s visual sensors and got shunted directly into her optic nerves. Covering her eyes would do nothing.
She lowered the intensity through her visual sense controls instead, and the countless bright points faded to a bearable level.
“Battle Stations!” Greene said as soon as communications came online.
Sensors on the task force warships immediately gave Heather the fleet’s status, but for the crew’s sake she said, “Fleet Commander, report.”
“We’ve arrived in Sol System, Vice Admiral.” Greene responded. “All ships present and readied for action.”
“Launch the sensor drones, get me some long range scans.”
Greene relayed the launch order, and ten small, modified fighter craft launched from bays on the HIF Sphinx’s belly.
Less than thirty seconds later, the star field around Heather lit up with the drones’ pulsing scans as they spread out.
In the distance, one million kilometers forward of Task Force Beta, a large diamond shape appeared. The shape glowed in iridescent, enemy red. She kicked in the fleet’s engines and began the assault run.
“Secure for high-g maneuvers. We will close with the enemy in sixty seconds.” Heather said, “All fighters launch!”
She armed the fleet’s weapons and started the warships rotating in a wide, semi-random evasive pattern. “Okay everyone,” She said. “Time to take our world back!”