Titus: Chapter One
This is one of my early versions of what would become Shatternity. It is, in fact, the earliest incarnation I still have: it’s from 1996. Shatternity itself goes back to 1989, roughly, but I have virtually nothing on paper (or in electronic form) until 1996, sadly. I wrote out several hundred pages and then tore them up because I was unhappy with it. Most of the elements–technologies, alien races, etc.–managed to make it into later incarnations.
Commentary follows the story chapter.
“This is Captain Mark Alexander Titus authorizing the abandonment of ISEC-31, designation *Titus.* Once again, abandon ship!“ The orders came between bursts of weapons fire from both vessels involved. The larger ship, the aforementioned Titus, received a rather unceremonious beating from the distended, diamond-shaped craft. The design was unknown. The race within it was unknown. The only thing known for certain was that Titus, one of the most powerful vessels in the Interstellar Space Exploration Commission’s registry, was about to be a total loss.
Crew members raced to escape craft, shuttles, cargo cruisers, freighters, fighters–anything lying around in one of the monstrous bays could be considered fair game. Fire suppression systems worked diligently on the bridge to extinguish the rampant flames. Propulsion: a destroyed system. Life-support: quickly slipping toward nil. The crew, composed mostly of quasi-civilians operating on essentially namesake enlistment, mercilessly trampled Security in their efforts to flee. Humanity had not encountered hostile extraterrestrials before. The crew very obviously had no idea what to do.
As another direct hit rocked the faltering vessel, the bridge crew decided the time had come to escape. They departed to abandon ship. Display panels indicated 5 minutes until the ship self-destructed–but as the protocols laid out, self-destruction could occur prematurely in the event of total computer failure or if analyses predicted that the vessel would not survive to complete the countdown. In either case, the ship would detonate immediately. The last escape vessel had barely slipped out of its bay when Titus erupted in quantum-nuclear fury.
“Pod one-niner! Hull debris coming your way!“ The voice of Lieutenant Robert Thomas Maxwell barked the warning from his own craft, escape pod 10. Having spent the past two years with the ISEC’s exploratory defense program and the prior 2 years working as an unofficial “experiment,” he’d managed to save the Titus on more than one occasion. This time, of course, none of his energies could save the outgunned craft. The opposing vessel had begun attacking suddenly and relentlessly. As Maxwell watched in horror, the diamond-shaped adversary began picking off escaping craft. One by one, they burst apart. Then, instantly realizing his own pod was being similarly targeted, the interior brightened into a white flare. Then the world darkened.
The crew of the Titus along with the alien crew were left on a cold, damp surface with obscuring fog limiting visibility. “This is my domain,” explained a booming, ubiquitous voice. “I am Rok’Nor. Rather, that is as close to a name as either of your races could possibly comprehend from me. To do away with formalities–my nature is extradimensional. That affords me the capacity to annihilate any or all of you at any time or method of my choosing, so please be cooperative. My demands are as follows: the Terrans will duel the Cranions in melee combat. Last creature alive goes free. Begin amusing me now.”
Captain Titus protested. “My crew is not here to amuse you. If you want to hold onto anyone, let it be me–and release the rest of them.“ Naturally, that proposal was the first to come into Titus’ mind–and the most obvious one Rok’Nor had anticipated.
“Splendid, a display of self-sacrifice already. What is it about human life that you value so much?”
“If you let everyone else go, I’ll tell you the answer,” Titus suggested.
“Very well,” came Rok’Nor’s voice. “You will remain. The rest shall not.“ The world topsy-turvied again.
“This is the Terran vessel Titus to the attacking craft–please respond!” Maxwell shouted through a communications terminal. He gripped the captain’s chair as the bridge rocked again. “Keep those shields up!” Maxwell barked.
“They’re coming down about as fast as I can put more power into them!” the tactical officer complained.
Another shudder. “What was that one?” Maxwell demanded.
“Mines containing large clusters of antimatter, sir,” came the explanation from science officer Samuel Collins.
“Helm, three-quarters lightspeed,” Maxwell ordered. The shields flickered again as the hull buckled in several places. The ship moved sluggishly due to its immense mass. As a thruster engaged on one of the mines, nothing could be done as it made a beeline for Titus’ shield generator. Meanwhile, yet another impact took its toll. “We’ve lost flight control!” the helm officer yelled, panicked.
“There’s a mine on a direct course for our shield generator,” the tac officer noted grimly. Just then, the mine struck. The hull buckled and flaked. Fully half of the ship’s shield strength was sapped by the destruction of the generator. “Breach on deck 12 now!”
Yet another mine ignited its latent propulsion system, this time on a course for the bridge deck. Despite being buried under a dozen meters of ablative armor, a mine of such strength posed more than a substantial threat. As the mine struck, all computer displays fritzed. Always a terminal sign. “Abandon ship!” Maxwell ordered.
“Sir, incoming message from engineering… we can’t abandon ship. All bay doors have buckled or been otherwise jammed. We’re stuck!”
Maxwell was really starting to hate the news the tac officer kept giving.
Commentary: The chapter ends rather abruptly, doesn’t it? The concepts being hatched here were half-developed at the time, and I’m not certain where I was going with them, to be honest. You can see some elements that look similar to other parts of Shatternity here, though. Mark Titus and Robert Maxwell feature prominently, although in my current “canon” Robert never served under Mark, and Mark didn’t command his own ship. Rather, he was a diplomat.
ISEC was a revision name for ISEA. In later versions, I went back to ISEA, as I clarified what the organization’s purpose was. Cranion ship design definitely evolved in the interim, too. This incident is clearly meant as the outbreak of the Cranion War, which is one of the focal events in Robert’s life. So, a lot of these things did carry over.
Rok’Nor was kind of a shameless ripoff of Nagilum, an extradimensional alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even at the time I wrote this, I knew what I was emulating, and I still remember. Rok’Nor was meant to be one of many beings called the ‘Nor. Their properties were eventually devolved until I wound up with only two mysterious representatives: Stak and Vral, two individuals who are somehow involved in the creation of the timeships. I decided extradimensional beings would be represented only by the Powers from Magnetic Gecko, and I am still working out what to do with them to tie my multiversal cosmology together.
The writing is surprisingly decent given the time period it came from. Could be better, could be worse. I transcribed this from a notebook a few years ago so I probably cleaned up anything that was really awful.