Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One

Prologue

25 September 2404

TC/USNA CVS America

Emergence, Eta Boötean Kuiper Belt

32 light years from Earth

0310 hours, TFT

The sky twisted open in a storm of tortured photons, and the Star Carrier America dropped through into open space.

She was…enormous, by far the largest mobile construct ever built by humankind, a titanic mushroom shape, the kilometer-long stem shadowed behind the immense, hemispherical cap that was both reaction mass and radiation shielding. Her twin counter-rotating hab rings turned slowly in the shadows. Swarms of probes and recon ships emerged from her launch tubes, minnows streaking out into wan sunlight from the bulk of a whale.

Around her, the other vessels of the America Battlegroup emerged from the enforced isolation of metaspace as well, some having bled down to sublight velocities minutes before, others appearing moment by moment as their emitted and reflected light reached America’s sensors. Some members of the battlegroup had scattered as far as five AUs from the star carrier in realspace, and would not again rejoin her communications net for as much as forty more minutes.

The ship’s pitted and sandblasted forward shield caught the wan glow of a particularly brilliant star—the sun of this system nearly seventy-one astronomical units distant. The data now flooding America’s sensors were almost nine and a half hours old.

Within his electronic cocoon on the America’s Combat Information Center, the Battlegroup Commander linked in through the ship’s neural net, watching the data scroll past his in-head display.

STAR: Eta Boötis

COORDINATES: RA: 13h 54m 41.09s Dec: +18° 23’ 52.5” D 11.349p

ALTERNATE NAMES: Mufrid, Muphrid, Muphride, Saak, Boötis 8 (Flamsteed)

TYPE: GO IV

MASS: 1.6 Sol; RADIUS: 2.7 Sol; LUMINOSITY: 9 Sol

SURFACE TEMPERATURE: ~6100oK

AGE: 2.7 billion years

APPARENT MAGNITUDE (SOL): 2.69; Absolute magnitude: 2.38

DISTANCE FROM SOL: 37 ly

BINARY COMPANION: White dwarf, mean orbit: 1.4 AU; period: 494 d

PLANETARY SYSTEM: 14 planets, including 9 Jovian and sub-Jovian bodies, 5 rocky/terrestrial planets, plus 35 dwarf planets and 183 known satellites, plus numerous planetoids and cometary bodies…

Rear Admiral Alexander Koenig was, in particular, interested in the planetary data for just one of the worlds circling that distant gold-hued star: Eta Boötis IV, known formally as Al Haris al Sama, informally as Haris, and more often and disparagingly within the fleet as “Ate a Boot.”

“God,” he said as he watched the planetary data unfold. “What a mess.”

America’s AI did not reply, having learned long ago that human statements of surprise or disgust generally did not require a reply.

Eta Boötis IV was not even remotely Earthlike in atmosphere or environment—greenhouse-hot with a deadly, poisonous atmosphere—a wet Venus, someone had called it. What the Arabs had seen in the place when they put down a research station there was anybody’s guess.

As the America’s computer net built up models of the sensor data, it became clear that the enemy fleet was already there, as expected, orbiting the planet—or, rather, that they’d been there when the electromagnetic radiation and neutrinos emitted by them had begun the journey over nine hours ago. It was a good bet that they were there still, circling in on Gorman’s Marines. America’s delicate sensors could detect the hiss and crack of EMP—the telltale fingerprints of nuclear detonations and particle beam fire—even across the gulf of more than seventy AUs.

“All stations, we have acquired Objective Mike-Red,” the fleet commander said. “Launch ready-one fighters.”

The America had a long reach indeed.

And now she was going to prove it.

Chapter One

25 September 2404

VFA-44 Dragonfires

Eta Boötis System

0311 hours, TFT

Lieutenant Trevor Gray watched the numbers dwindle from ten to zero on his IHD, as the Starhawk’s AI counted them off. He was in microgravity at the moment, deep within the carrier’s hub core, but that would be