Resolved! Flyby Warp
When would the mysterious space fleet attack, and what kind of attack would it be? Yamato’s captain Susumu Kodai, along with the other escort fleet captains, continued sailing forward with no way to detect the next assault from the SUS.
To the starboard side of the fleet, a star cluster gave off a blaze of blue-white light. The gases bathing the cluster shone coldly, like the souls of countless warriors who lost their lives in space. It was part of the fierce beauty of space, which was hostile to human life. It was an impersonal beauty that could previously be seen on Earth over deserts and polar regions.
His guard still up even after days of calm, Sakurai was stiff and tense as he hovered over the radar on Yamato’s first bridge. Even though the fleet had safely managed to traverse 17,000 light years, the dangerous trip meant no one could afford to be careless until they arrived at Planet Amal.
Yamato and the other battleships were still on alert. The civilian emigration fleet entrusted to Kodai was unarmed, and it was his task to escort seven hundred million civilians safely to Amal.
“Captain,” Omura said anxiously, “you’re tired. Please get some rest. I’ll take over the watch for a little while.”
Kodai’s captain seat shifted backward and started rising toward his quarters. When it reached the console panel therein, it stopped and reclined backward.
“What’s going to happen…? I have to accomplish this, Yuki…”
Despite a vague unease, Kodai’s sense of mission inspired him as the captain of this convoy. Even absent, Yuki brought a sense of safety to his heart. Just as he was about to fall asleep, a shipboard communication came in from the first bridge. He immediately descended to see an image of Queen Irya on the main screen.
“Captain Kodai, this is Irya. How is the voyage to Amal proceeding?”
“We’ve come through a number of difficulties, and we’re continuing forward with all our strength so that our emigration ships can all successfully arrive at Amal.”
“I’m glad. A few ships from the first and second fleets have arrived here, and we’re looking forward to seeing the ships you are leading.”
Kodai replied with an excited shout.
“There are Earthlings there?”
“Yes, only a few, but they’re here.”
Maybe Yuki…! Kodai’s heart beat stronger.
“There was an SUS attack?” Irya asked hesitantly.
Kodai wanted to ask if there was something she needed help with.
“Yes. This may be an impolite question, but if Amal is also part of the SUS…”
“Captain Kodai,” she answered in a voice that sounded sad and defeated, “that’s an important matter for us to discuss after your arrival.”
It seemed the situation went deeper. She didn’t necessarily seem agreeable with the SUS. But then her eyes filled with tenderness and compassion.
“Please come to Amal safely, Captain Kodai…”
When Irya finished her conversation with Kodai, she thought of Gorui. He led the space fleet for Etos, one of the nations that participated in the Great Urup Interstellar Union. At that moment, he was thinking of words she had once spoken as he gazed out into space on his main screen.
“Gorui, is justice such a difficult thing? What is life for? Where in the galaxy can love wander…?”
Gorui agreed with her sense of justice, but then there was the way of the SUS. If the Interstellar Union could understand the true meaning of Queen Irya’s words…could look into the depths of her emerald eyes, rich with intelligence and experience…
Gorui, once a handsome young man, now sported rich grey hair with a beard. He bore the depth and humanity of a philosopher rather than a military man.
“Admiral Gorui,” a young captain called out from somewhere behind him, “we’ve received an order from the Federation of Interstellar Nations.”
“Hmm. Read it.”
“The Earth fleet has broken through the first defense line and seems to be penetrating into that region of space. The Etos fleet is to sortie immediately and join the Fridei and Beldel fleets. As soon as you locate the enemy, exterminate them with all your strength. That’s it.”
Gorui stared forward silently.
“What will we do, Admiral?” the captain asked.
“Hmm. This enemy has a different appearance than the previous ones. They warped out and launched ship-borne fighters to counter the attacking SUS fleet, but they were held back by intense anti-aircraft fire. Use the strongest weapons available to destroy them with a single shot and avoid unnecessary waste. We are at risk of annihilation if we fail.”
Gorui said all of this calmly and pleasantly, drawing a confused expression from the young captain.
“Admiral, such an attitude is…”
“I know. All ships, ready for battle. This enemy is a strong one. We’ll show the SUS leadership a real battle.”
Gorui smiled as if to hide complicated thoughts.
Unaware that Gorui of Planet Etos would be leading the next battle, Yamato’s crew gazed upon the accretion disc of Black Hole BH199 to starboard, trailed by the escort and emigration fleets. Yamato rode ahead of the escort ships, since its intensive search capabilities would have overwhelmed the other vessels and its mission was to be constantly guard against enemies.
With mixed expressions, the crew looked out at Black Hole BH199 as if it were the mouth of the devil swallowing space.
“Are more black holes coming to swallow up Earth?” Omura muttered with a sigh.
However, this black hole was a reef in space that was going to preserve the fate of Yamato and the emigration fleet.
It was Sakurai who first noticed something unusual at the radar panel on the first bridge.
As he stared into the radar, his face became creased with concentration. There was nothing different about the radar. No alarm sounded. But it seemed to him that the image was slightly distorted.
“Captain Kodai, we caught something 100,000 space km off the bow…”
The reaction was as fleeting as an insect flapping its wings, and anyone other than Sakurai probably would have missed it. Sakurai himself wasn’t entirely sure it was real. He turned to look at Maho Orihara, chief navigator of the computer room.
“I know. I’m already analyzing it…and the results are in. The computer says there’s nothing ahead of us at 100,000 space km.”
Was it a mistake? Sakurai thought about it for a moment, then look up and spoke strongly.
“It can’t be! There is absolutely something there!”
He glanced sharply up toward Kodai in the captain’s seat.
“Sakurai, Yamato’s main computer gave its answer. Are you still saying there is something?”
Sakurai looked doubtful for a moment, but raised his head and said it again.
Kodai knew to take Sakurai seriously when he was in his own element.
“Orihara, prepare a probe. Raise the sensitivity to the highest level and launch it forward to 100,000 km.”
“Roger. Launching exploration probes.”
Maho ordered the crew of the third bridge EC1 to launch multiple probes. They shot out of the third bridge’s launch tubes and quickly deployed their antennae when they reached the destination. The information they detected was promptly returned to both EC1 and Yamato’s first bridge.
“Transfer visuals to the image screen.”
At Kodai’s order, the information collected by the probes was synthesized into a visual image and displayed on Yamato’s overview screen. The crew was amazed as it expanded before them.
“What is this?”
Even the cool Maho gasped. The screen displayed an endless chain of honeycomb-like light.
Kodai’s calm voice reminded her of her duty. Her slender fingers slid rapidly over her console. Her pretty face was distorted with surprise.
“It looks like an optical search net with a honeycomb structure,” she said. “In other words, a hazy net of light set up in space…”
Deputy Captain Omura let out a groan.
“Why didn’t it show up on Yamato’s high-gain radar? If not for Sakurai’s intuition, no one would have noticed.”
Maho responded by hitting a key on her console.
“It’s a completely passive system that doesn’t emit radio waves. Its output seems to be suppressed to prevent detection.”
Kodai called out to Sakurai from the captain’s seat.
“Well done. Good work.”
Sakurai’s cheeks flushed with pride.
As his eyes returned to the radar panel, Sakurai’s proud expression warmed the heart of the first bridge crew.
“Sakurai, Orihara, Nakanishi, and Kinoshita – remain here on the first bridge and gather information on the enemy search net. We need to see how far it goes. Team leaders of other sections, come with me to the central operations room.”
Yamato’s main staff gathered in the central operations room. In addition to members of the bridge crew, Miharu Sasaki and Chief Engineer Tasuke Tokugawa were also there. Soon, Sakurai and Orihara arrived after completing their data collection.
A spherical 3D laser hologram displaying their region of space was in the center of the room. Yamato was displayed at its core. With this, everyone could grasp their situation in three dimensions. Within the hologram, the search net was visualized as a band extending in front of Yamato. Sakurai explained what they were seeing.
“The search net expands in a concentric form around the Sairam solar system that we’re heading for. As long as we don’t penetrate the search net, we won’t be detected by the enemy. But that means it’s impossible to reach Amal in the Sairam system.”
“How far does the search net extend,” Omura asked.
“At this rate, it’s impossible to break through it. Yamato and the escort ships notwithstanding, its reach exceeds the long warp capability of the emigration ships.”
That meant it was impossible to reach Amal without alerting the enemy fleet. Once the enemy detected them, a second attack would come. The consequences would be unknowable.
“I have a suggestion,” Orihara said. “Above us and to starboard, just before the search net, is Black Hole BH199, which has a mass of 300 times that of our sun. If we take advantage of the black hole’s gravity and do a swingby, it should be possible to extend the warp capability of the emigration ships.”
Maho’s fingers flew over a console and a graphic that visualized her idea was created inside the hologram. The emigration fleet was pulled forward by the strong gravity of BH199, a pit into a dark abyss. But at the moment it looked like the fleet would be swallowed, it instead picked up acceleration and rushed into a warp. The image shifted to the Sairam system, where the convoy warped out safely in the vicinity of Planet Amal.
“It is computationally possible.”
Despite her confidence, Kobayashi protested.
“Wait a minute, Maho, it looked like they just rushed into the black hole, didn’t it?”
“That’s right,” she responded calmly. “To obtain the acceleration needed for an ultra-long warp, we have to approach the black hole at high speed.”
“That’s crazy,” Kamijo exclaimed. “What happens if we’re just swallowed up?”
“If we calculate it properly…”
Kodai watched the young crew debate the permutations for a while, then addressed Maho.
“Orihara, the emigration fleet consists of 3,000 ships carrying 100,000 people. Are you convinced that every single ship can handle the gravitational waves of BH199 and execute an accurate warp just before they’re swallowed up?”
“Yes, captain,” she answered with a clenched fist. “The emigration ships would follow a course calculated by the main computer. But if they deviate from that course even slightly, they will be swallowed by the strong gravity. The danger could be avoided somewhat by each ship towing the next one with an anchor beam. If they warped in groups of 100 ships, a total of 30 warps would be needed.”
Kodai turned to Technical Chief Kinoshita.
“I’d like to hear your opinion, Kinoshita.”
“It’s theoretically possible,” Kinoshita answered shakily, stumbling over his words. “To do that, we must fully link the navigation computers of each ship to ensure that their speed and relative positions always remain constant.”
Kodai glanced toward Tokugawa.
“Chief Engineer, what’s your opinion?
“It’s impossible to evade the search net with the warp capabilities of the emigration ships. If we can use the power of the black hole, their warp ability will be boosted several times.”
“Any other opinions?”
The crew answered Kodai with silence.
“Then there’s no other way…”
He closed his eyes for a moment.
“We’ll carry out the flyby!”
There was no choice but to bet on this.
“I’m afraid there’s no other way out of this. Everyone, as we take this action I want you be aware that the future of the human race is at stake.”
“Orihara, get all the detailed data you can about BH199.”
The crew broke up with a Yamato-style salute with a fist over their chest. As Kamijo and Kobayashi were about to the leave the central operations room, Kodai pulled them aside.
“Kamijo, Kobayashi, I want the combat group to stand by at class-1 battle readiness.”
The two young men naturally had questions.
“We’re eluding the search net, I don’t think we’ll see combat.”
“If the enemy notices our fleet’s behavior, they’ll attack. We can’t afford not to be prepared for that. Kobayashi, go and prep your Cosmo Pulsar. That’s specialty. I’ll take the helm.”
They both saluted as Kodai left the room.
“Captain Kodai’s quite a man.”
“Wonder if we’ll be like him someday.”
Kobayashi’s words made Kamijo smile.
“Yeah. I heard that he was even more short-tempered and combative than us when he was younger.”
“Really? I thought there was something familiar about him.”
Kobayashi’s eyes shone brightly.
Returning to the third bridge EC1, Maho Orihara showed her versatility. An image of Black Hole BH199 filled EC1’s main screen, showing how its strong gravitational waves would affect the fleet’s movements toward a warp. Yamato’s main computer would have to be stretched to its full capability. The console screens showed calculations being processed one after another, all going blank when the processing was over. Maho slid one finger over the console like a pianist, glaring at BH199 on the main screen.
“Watch me. I’ll prove that humans can triumph over black holes.”
With all the calculations complete, EC1 sent the data to Yamato’s first bridge. Four hours later, after procedures had been worked out with the command structure of the escort fleet, the emigration fleet was notified of the upcoming operation.
Maho rose through the elevator shaft to the first bridge, fully confident. When she arrived, Kodai addressed Communications Chief Nakanishi.
“Nakanishi, I want to address the entire fleet directly. Open the line.”
“The line is open.”
Kodai lifted up his mic at the captain’s seat and drew a quick breath.
“Attention all ships, this is Captain Susumu Kodai of the escort fleet flagship Yamato. From here, the third emigration fleet will make its final warp to Planet Amal in the Sairam system. This will be a super-long warp using the gravity of Black Hole BH199, something no human has ever experienced before. I expect everyone to comply with instructions and act in a professional manner. We will carry out warps in sequence starting with the first group.”
Kodai put the mic down. The greatest test of the voyage was about to begin. Each group consisted of 100 emigration ships connected to each other by anchor beams. An anchor beam was also known as a tractor beam, originally intended for mooring of ships in a spaceport dock.
“First group preparing to warp,” Sakurai said from the radar.
Everyone on the first bridge crew watched the emigration ships on the image screen. The first group increased its speed to maximum, seemingly tied together like beads on a string as they rushed toward BH199. To someone with no knowledge of what was about to happen, it would have looked like suicide. Just a small deviation from their prescribed course, and they would all be swallowed by the black hole’s immense gravity.
Maho had been ordered by Kodai to take a break, but instead she was completely absorbed by the spherical screen at EC1. The first group brushed the edge of the black hole, and at the moment it seemed about to be swallowed into the abyss, it increased speed. The lead ship suddenly disappeared, and the rest followed it into warp one by one. In less than five minutes, all one hundred ships were gone.
“All ships in group one have dropped off the radar,” Sakurai shouted. “Warp succeeded!”
The first bridge was filled with explosive voices of joy. Kodai let out a small sigh and pearly tears fell from Maho’s eyes as she bit her lip tightly. If there had been a single mistake in her calculations, all one hundred ships would have been lost into the black hole. They were tears of relief rather than joy.
Group one was followed by Group two as they accelerated toward the next warp. They also flew right on the verge of disaster, then also vanished into warp. Then groups three and four accelerated past BH199 in their own gravity swingby, using the acceleration to perform super-long warps.
“Captain Kodai,” sighed Deputy Captain Omura, “it seems to be working. Let’s pray it continues.”
But after about half of the fleet had finished warping, the situation they feared came to pass. Group seven’s formation experienced turbulence as they rushed toward BH199.
“Oh, no,” Maho squealed.
Splintered asteroids, some dozens of kilometers across, tumbled toward the 13th ship in the convoy. If a collision occurred, the ship would be severely damaged and unable to warp. In the worst case scenario, it would be dragged into BH199.
At his own discretion, the ship’s captain made a sharp turn to avoid colliding and cut the anchor beam, forced to leave the convoy. The ship was immediately seized by an immense gravity wave and plunged toward the black hole. Then the 17th ship in the convoy cut its own anchor beam to avoid an asteroid and was dragged toward oblivion. The crew must have fallen into a panic. The main engine fired with full power, trying to escape the black hole’s impossible grasp.
The engine of 13th ship belched flame and it just managed to escape BH199’s event horizon. But the vessel accelerated furiously forward, its inertia carrying it away from the fleet at high speed toward the effective radius of the search net.
“It’s going to hit the enemy search net,” Sakurai yelled.
Maho held her breath as she watched, and Kodai clenched his fist tightly. Sakurai’s radar panel filled with noise for an instant.
“The search net just transmitted a strong directional beam toward deep space! The enemy has sensed us!”
“All ships, prepare for combat,” Kodai barked into his mic.
The enemy arrived much faster than he expected.
“Space-time disruption detected,” Sakurai announced. “Someone is warping out into this area!”
“3:25 at 2.8 space km. It’s a large fleet!”
“All ships, immediately deploy in combat class-1,” Kodai ordered. “Cosmo Pulsar Corps, launch!”
The space fleet of Etos, a member nation of the Great Urup Interstellar Union, warped out into the normal space ship by ship, following its flagship the Seagull. Admiral Gorui, commanding the ship, fixed his eyes upon the screen where Earth’s emigration fleet was displayed.
“No matter how long it took, the search net was going to catch them…but half of the Earth fleet has already warped away.”
This fact was surprising to Gorui.
“Their fleet seems to be rushing toward the black hole. What is the meaning of this?”
“Perhaps they’re bypassing the search net by using the gravity to accelerate,” his young captain observed. “They could carry out a super-long warp to reach the Sairam system.”
“What a bold operation. I’ve never met an enemy like this before.”
“A group of battleships that seems to be an escort fleet is heading this way,” the Seagull’s radar officer shouted.
On the screen, the emigration ships continued warping while the battleships and cruisers approached at high speed. Admiral Gorui’s mouth tightened.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve fought a real battle…all hands, prepare for battle immediately! Exterminate this enemy! They will attack desperately!”
In response to Gorui’s words, the captain notified the entire fleet.
“All hands to action stations! Fighter squadrons and torpedo bombers, launch immediately!”
Kobayashi was the first one out of Yamato’s fighter hanger. His Cosmo Pulsar accelerated quickly into the battlefield toward the waiting enemy. Miharu was next. Her voice jumped into the earphones of his headset.
“First blood goes to you, Kobayashi!”
“If you’re up to it, you’ll be the best,” he answered with a thumbs up.
His radar caught sight of an enemy attack unit approaching at high speed. Then it tripled in size into a larger unit.
“Don’t die before I get there,” he said as he rushed toward it.
Kodai’s eyes blazed on Yamato’s first bridge as he stared at the screen.
“Mr. Omura, it looks to me like the enemy is made up of three forces. What do you think?”
“I agree,” Omura answered. “The enemy fleet is divided into three sides, each in its own formation, and they seem to be operating differently.”
The Etos fleet was deployed in front on the screen with the Fridei fleet to port and the Beldel fleet to starboard.
“It looks like the same type of battleship that attacked the second emigration fleet. But the shape of each ship is completely different in all three groups. Each must have been built with a different design philosophy. And they’re different from those that attacked the first emigration fleet.”
“In other words,” Kodai said, “our enemy is a combined fleet consisting of four powers. Engines at maximum battle speed! All guns and artillery, prepare to fire! Nakanishi, inform the escort fleet that the enemy fleet numbers roughly four hundred ships, more than three times our size. First to third groups, take the enemy on the left. Fourth to sixth groups, take the enemy on the right. Seventh group, follow Yamato to take the enemy in the center! Our mission is not victory! It’s to shield the emigration fleet while they continue to warp!”
“Roger! I’ll inform the entire escort fleet…”
Nakanishi encrypted Kodai’s words and sent them out.
“Kamijo, intercept the enemy battleships with all guns! Fire at your discretion until I give you special instructions.”
Kamijo relayed the instructions to the fire control rooms and looked up toward the captain’s seat. Kodai nodded silently.
Goda yelled into his mic, “Main gun batteries, fire in rounds of three!”
Energy burst out of Yamato’s mighty triple-barreled shock cannons with a roar. It signaled the beginning of a decisive fleet battle that would shake the universe.