Into The Dark Zone
a Roughnecks fanfic by Mr. Hook


Chief Engineer Du’Kra couldn’t help but marvel at what had been accomplished in only two short years. It couldn’t have happened without Ambassador Kel’Rae’s generous financial support, of course. Kel’Rae’s new T’Phetti Bureau of Tourism had been such an astonishing success that the Special Projects division had never had any problems obtaining the necessary funds. Still, it had been Du’Kra Industries that had proven itself worthy of Kel’Rae’s challenge.

The task of putting together a space-faring T’Phetti craft with a working Hyperdrive engine was probably the hardest thing Du’Kra had ever attempted. The fruits of his labor lay scattered all over the floor of the canyon, a deep ravine carved in to Night side of the planet Tophet. As far as Du’Kra knew, the canyon was little more than a happy accident of geology, but geology wasn’t exactly his field. His field was Reverse Engineering. Or at least that is what a Human would have called it. The T’Phetti term was “*H’ren’yah” (* the art of taking things apart). There were a lot of ‘taken apart’ things which still littered the canyon floor.

As Du’Kra piloted his refitted SICON skimmer carefully along the canyon walls, he flicked on the craft’s exterior lights to illuminate the hulking masses beneath him. The remnants of a gutted Japanese star-ferry cast ominous shadows along the canyon wall. That one had been his favorite, such an exquisite yet simple design. Taking it apart had taught him everything he knew about internal atmosphere generators. The American scout ship and the Brazilian space-tug had probably been the most useful for spare parts though. The un-manned scout craft had been the only ship with a functioning Hyperdrive still on board and the tug had offered up miles and miles of salvageable wiring. A great deal of hull plating had been borrowed from abandoned freighters found in a Martian scrap yard. The most difficult items to obtain had been the navi-computers, which had been salvaged from a downed SICON com satellite. Aside from the navi-computers, almost every Terran peice of equipment was Pre-Revolution. In other words, the equipment had been manufactured before the Federation had come to be the governing body of the planet Earth. More importantly, most items had been on the market long before SICON had been able to tag them with registration numbers.

The Humans has a saying; “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It was amazing what treasures the Humans were willing to part with for meager sums of money. What amazed Du’Kra even more was that they were willing to sell it all on eBay. And they didn’t even care who you were as long as you paid your bills. On top of that, Kel’Rae had always used third parties to do the actual bidding. The Terran internet auction house had played an instrumental role in maintaining the absolute secrecy of Kel’Rae’s Special Projects division, but Du’Kra had been happy to leave those sorts of details in the ambassador’s capable hands. Meanwhile, Du’Kra was able to learn something knew each time he took something apart, until at last all of his knowledge and expertise cumulated in the ship that now sparkled in the glow of his headlights, the Intrepid.

It wasn’t much to look at from the outside, but after all, it was the innards that Du’Kra was most proud of. Kel’Rae said it looked like an upside-down bird bath, but Du’Kra had never figured out what the ambassador meant by that. The top of the ship was capped with a mushroom shaped command deck which squatted over a cylindrical shuttle bay. A habitat cylinder had been stacked underneath the shuttle bay, after that the core of the ship narrowed a bit to accommodate the spherical grav generators before fanning out to include the Hyperdrive housing itself. Getting the attitude jets to adhere to the outside of the ship had proven problematic, but no problem was too great for Du’Kra Industries to tackle.

The main problem left to solve was food supply. The food processing plant they had extracted from an Australian star-liner only produced a tasteless mush the Humans called “Mashed Potatoes” and an orange-colored drink called “Tang.” Other food stuffs could always be replenished via shuttle excursions, but that scheme presumed that there would be food sources nearby where the shuttles could stock up on supplies. Not a brilliant plan for an exploratory prototype vessel. Maybe Kel’Rae had brought some new toys to tinker with in order to solve the food problem once and for all.

As Du’Kra set his skimmer down to land, his headlights passed over a small convoy of supply vans and tanker trucks. Du’Kra was surprised to see that Kel’Rae had allowed such a large contingent to travel into the canyon all at once. Usually he spread out his supply lines to avoid detection from the SICON com satellites which remained in a fixed orbit around the planet Tophet. It was unclear whether or not the satellites scrutinized in the Dark Zone of Tophet’s Night side very carefully. Du’Kra didn’t think the satellites were there for any other reason than to relay messages to the Day side of the planet. But again, that was something for Ambassador Kel’Rae to concern himself with.

By the time Du’Kra finally reached the command deck of the the Intrepid, Kel’Rae had almost finished reading the current mission status report.

“You’re late,” said Kel’Rae.

“Your early,” said Du’Kra. “I thought we weren’t scheduled to meet for another Terran month.”

“But your report says that all of the initial Rail Gun tests were successful.”

“Yes, but there is still the matter of the food shortage.”

“Ah, yes, I’ll come to that in a moment. But first, tell me about these tests.”

Du’Kra told him about how it had taken trial and error to configure the correct spacing for the rings of the maglev array. They had to boost the energy input significantly to hurl anything outside the planet’s gravity well, but they had already calculated the necessary charge to within an acceptable margin of error. The Rail Gun was a launching mechanism which had been designed for the surface of Terra’s only Moon. It had fallen into disrepair and Kel’Rae had been able to aquire it under the artifice that the magnetic rings would be melted down for ores. Positioning the rings down the miles-deep sides of the canyon has been a difficult process, but Du’Kra had left that project in the hands of his subordinates so he could focus his full attention on the Hyperdrive problem.

“What intrigues me most,” said Kel’Rae, “is that the weather satellites didn’t pick up anything anomalous on the days that correspond with your tests. The sat’s didn’t even pick up an infrared signature from the exhaust vents on the power generator.”

“What about the SICON communications satellites?” Du’Kra queried.

“I’m not nearly as worried about the com sat’s as I once was,” Kel’Rae announced, “The specs I downloaded from the Fed-Net database only told me how the standard SICON com satellite is supposed to operate under optimal conditions. It turns out that T’Phet’s atmosphere is ‘less than optimal.’ SICON forces have had difficulties with their communications equipment ever since they set foot on the surface of T’Phet. The outer layers of our atmosphere have unusually strong positive and negative charge fluctuations, whatever that means. The point is that the gravimetric motion sensors on the com satellites have a very limited range in T’Phetti air-space and pose no real concern.

“The only ground based communications array which can easily penetrate the planet’s atmosphere is the tachyon transmitter at the Fed-Net building on the Day side. The weather satellites overhead are the only things that still pose a significant obstacle to a surveillance-free launch of the Intrepid on the Night side.”

“I thought you said their radar was useless.”

“No, I said their radar was only useful for tracking clouds. The weather satellites still have highly sensitive optical scanning equipment, powerful telescopes which can take very detailed pictures. They won’t be able to detect the launch, but once the Intrepid leaves the planet’s atmosphere, they could easily pick up the exhaust of the attitude jets or the flare of the breaking thrusters...assuming the sat’s happened to be pointed in the right direction...” Kel’Rae trailed off.

“So what do you intend to do?” Du’Kra prompted.

“I’m moving up the launch schedule,” Kel’Rae declared. “I want you and your crew to prep the ship. Be ready to launch within the next twelve Terran hours.”

“And the food problem?”

“That’s what the trucks are for. I brought you enough dried meats and vegetables to last approximately six Terran months. In the worst case scenario, if you fail to find a replenishable food source by then, well, I suppose you could always return home and activate the distress beacon.”

“Understood. And what about the weather satellites?”

“The satellites’ attention will be directed elsewhere”

“And how can this be?”

“A distraction will present itself.”

“A distraction?”

“An incident, a ruse, some...sleight of hand.” Kel’Rae was obviously having difficulty trying to think of Terran words for what he was trying to say. He lapsed into T’Phetti instead.

“*D’ke vi’nae v’da nutal’i ben’neh nos’gil’ru punda’ri” (* A friendly light will uncover what darkness hides.)

“*Val’kenda Punda’ne’whu?” (* Even in the Dark Zone?)

“*N’li’ o’vun punit’ phas’n’ral suut vi’nae. (* Only if you decide to light a torch.)

“*H’na p’nae’zu v’da u’nala phas’n’ral das’lena ” (* But who will carry the torch?)

Kel’Rae smiled, “I believe they call him Paper Boy.”

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