You know, the biggest problem Artemis had in the entire conflict with us was their timing.
Not that I’m complaining! I’m perfectly happy they never got their shit together enough to actually make our lives more difficult than they did. However, from a purely objective point of view, standing outside the conflict?
If they launched the attack which started in last week’s chapter a year earlier, when we were still in Diana? It probably would have succeeded. Remember, we only barely beat back the Brahe‘s attack, and he launched 40 missiles.
Anyways, no spoilers, right?
Exciting news! The audiobook version is in production now!
Okay, two bits of housekeeping. First, you want to skip the wait? There’s a button for that, or click on any image, and you can buy the book (ebook or paperback). Second, , Adam’s cover is in the final week of the contest, so go vote for it (and there’s another button for that!).
“Njord, Red Seven. Red Squadron flight of two, requesting permission to land.”
Colona looked to Whitmore. “Colonel? Are we expecting Red Squadron?”
“No, they’re fully deployed to Endeavour. Get a confirmation.”
“Red flight, authenticate. Alpha Two Sigma Omega.”
“Authenticate Five Theta Nine Gamma.”
Colona referred to the tables.
“It checks,” she said, then returned to the comm.
“Red flight, permission granted. Digger, what happened?”
“We were hoping you’d tell us, Court. We were returning to Endeavour when she went into warp,” growled the Ensign.
“Oops,” Whitmore said, off-mic.
“Digger, we’ll fill you in once you land. Coordinate with Hecate.”
“Switching to Hecate, and I’ll hold you to it, Court. Out.”
Meanwhile, Whitmore had opened a channel to Endeavour and was talking with the XO.
“Have you done a head count yet?”
“Come again, Njord?” replied Sanzari.
“We’re in the process of recovering two of your Direwolves.”
“I think that’s what they felt when you went into warp,” said Whitmore drily.
“We can return to Njord to get them,” Sanzari offered.
“Negative, Endeavour. Stay on mission. Besides, you might want to give them a little bit of time to cool off.”
“Understood, Njord. Thank you for watching out for them. Out.”
“Got them!” sang out the voice of Hecate. “Put them in with Nymeria.”
“Thank you, Hecate. Take good care of them,” said Whitmore.
“Now, what were you saying, Pipher?” She returned her attention to the analyst.
“I was considering the difficulties that an opponent with warp-capable ships presents, which we are now encountering.”
“Oak and ash!” swore Whitmore. “You never thought anyone would try to replicate your tech? It’s practically the first rule of warfare!”
“Colonel, until Artemis attacked, we weren’t at war with anyone!” Pipher said, then realization struck. “Sorry, Colonel. No offense.”
“None taken. But my point stands. We have to consider that any opponent will try to do whatever you can do. We have to stay a jump ahead.”
“And that is what I am trying to do!” Pipher’s German accent grew more pronounced when he was stressed, and now he was nearly unintelligible.
“What’s your idea, Pipher?” Whitmore asked calmly. It seemed to work, because Pipher’s next words were more comprehensible.
“Endeavour is tracking them by tachyon emissions, yes? So why can we not track them the same way?”
When in doubt, ask the expert, and nobody knew Njord better than the AI tasked with running it.
“Horst is correct. If I calibrate a sensor suite to detect tachyon emissions, we should have the ability to track ships while in warp.”
“Very good! I’ll want a follow-up when you have it working.”
With the Endeavour maintaining their discreet tail, the atmosphere within Njord relaxed for a while, long enough for the personnel to change over. Jeff Shreve took Horst’s place, and Rob O’Toole took Courtney’s, but Whitmore was still on duty when Diana suddenly put the station on red alert.
“Multiple targets detected, launching from Lunar surface and orbit,” reported the AI.
“Shreve! Give me a count. O’Toole, bring countermeasures online.”
“It’s a mess, Fleet,” said Shreve, bent over the monitors. “Trying to resolve.”
“Large number of missiles, Colonel. Their proximity is making distinguishing individual targets difficult. Cross-feeding from CAP sensors.”
“Hecate, Spurgeon, start warming up your birds,” Whitmore ordered.
“Launching the plus-fives,” answered Spurgeon, as Kyran returned to the CCIC.
“A big launch. We’re still refining the data. Far side of Luna, so we can’t tell what the platforms were, but my guess would be that Artemis got hold of some of the Union’s Copernicus-class.”
“How sure are you?”
Whitmore considered this.
“It’s one of the scenarios I worked on when I did the planning. Odds are pretty good that the plan is still in the files. Titania knows the Ministry never threw out anything.”
“I have a count,” interrupted Shreve. “Integrating CAP sensors did it. One hundred sixty targets, tentatively identified as Huygens.”
Huygens were the largest missiles that the Union and Artemis were known to deploy; unlike the Tycho missiles, Huygens were equipped with fusion warheads in the megaton range.
“No antimatter missiles?” After the last encounter they’d changed their protocols for anything with antimatter in the warhead. Rather than dispatching fighters first, Njord would target it with her lasers; if that failed, a nuclear-tipped missile would be launched to intercept and destroy. The fighters would be reserved for last-ditch efforts. So far, there hadn’t been any tests of the new system.
“None that we can detect.”
“Good, for values of good. That’s the full load-out of four Copernicus cruisers,” said Whitmore. “There are only ten, no, nine in the fleet. There used to be two undergoing refit in orbit of Luna, two out-system, four patrolling Guild space, and the last two available. With the loss of the Brahe, I would have pulled from the Guild patrol to build a bigger reserve force at Luna. At a guess, they’ve pulled back the ships normally assigned to Guild patrol. It’s the easiest move, with the greatest return.”
“What’s the time to impact?”
“Calculating. Assuming constant, maximum, acceleration we have a minimum time of fifteen minutes, ten seconds.”
Whitmore was shaking her head. “They can’t maintain their max accel for more than two minutes.”
“And they are not at max accel,” added Shreve. “I’m getting a reading of about 15g.”
“That’s their maximum sustainable accel,” said Whitmore. “Use that.”
“Then impact in forty minutes, three seconds at a speed of 353 KPS,” announced Diana.
“Commodore? SOP is to scramble the fighters for intercept,” said O’Toole.
“You’re right. Give the order,” Kyran said.
Nymeria was already on alert; now Daniela directed her pilots to their birds.
“Zero,” she said to her XO.
“Yes, L-T?” Zero was shorter than most of the other pilots, a dark-haired woman who spoke with a Philippine accent.
“I want you to take Bun-Bun and Div Three; I’ll take Rube and Div Four on point.”
“No problem, L-T. I’ll keep them headed the right direction. Just leave some targets for us, will you?”
“No promises, Zero.”
Combat launches were entirely different from their usual bay departures. Each Direwolf was aligned with a launch tube, built into the outer hull of Njord, and was propelled out using electromagnetic stators that imparted nearly 200 g before they had to fire their engines. It was rough on the pilots, which is why their uniforms were more robust than the skinsuits worn throughout Starfleet. Their helmet was also reinforced to absorb the increased g; the tube launch subjected them to ten g, instead of the usual maximum of six.
“Checklists by the numbers!” called Daniela, sliding into her cockpit and lowering the canopy. One by one her pilots called in their readiness as she ran through her own. She’d been flying with her AI, Boomer, for so long that she could do it silently through her implant while keeping track of the squadron’s progress. The standard she’d established from first butt in the chair to all ships ready to launch was sixty seconds.
Today they managed fifty-three.
“Hecate, Nymeria’s ready to launch.”
“Tubes primed, skies clear, control passed to you. Launch when ready. Good hunting, Nymeria!” The AI was always enthusiastic, but she toned it down a bit when crunch time hit.
“Nymeria, prepare for launch in three, two, one, launch!”
Starting with Double Dip, each Direwolf was flung through the walls of Njord a tenth of a second apart; all two dozen ships were out into the black in less than 2 ½ seconds.
“Div One, Div Four, form up. We’re going to go knock these idiot missiles out of the sky and be back in time for happy hour.
“All fighters clear of the defensive basket,” said O’Toole. “Activating point defense lasers. Thirty-eight minutes to impact.”
“All capacitors charged,” added Diana.
The Njord’s generators could supply enough energy to run the station, power the defensive lasers, and initiate the shield sequence. The electromagnetic portion of the shielding could be initiated and maintained by the reactors. However, the Njord had a two-part shield system, and it was the gravitic element which posed the problem. No reactor yet built could handle the drain of maintaining the shields at full power for more than a few seconds, so dozens of massive capacitors were arrayed throughout the station, each capable of providing up to a minute of coverage. Between them Njord would be protected for fifty-eight minutes before the shields would be exhausted. In a sustained battle, non-essential systems could be powered down to allow for a rolling recharge, but the plan was to never get into a sustained battle.
“Shreve, do we have any movement on the cruisers?” asked Whitmore.
“No, Fleet; they’re stooging around the far side of Luna.”
“Do we have line-of-sight on them?”
Whitmore turned to Kyran, who had been observing from her centrally-located command station, elevated over the rest of the CCIC. “Commodore, before our Direwolves engage the missiles, I’d like to teach those faery-humpers a lesson.”
“What do you have in mind, Davie?”
“They fired on us. Let’s prevent it happening again. One shot each from the main battery ought to do for them.”
Njord mounted six lasers, mounted in three two-laser batteries. Each laser was rated at six petajoules, the explosive equivalent of a 1.4 megaton fusion bomb.
“No, Davie. We can’t escalate. Equal application of force. Admiral’s orders.”
“Can we at least target them? Paint them so they know we could reach out and touch them?”
Lasers were line-of-sight, light-speed weapons. If Njord could see a target, it could, within reason, hit it. Usually the sensor suite provided enough information for accuracy, but in case it didn’t a lower-powered version of the lasers could be used for ranging. In doing so the target learned it was being targeted and could take evasive maneuvers, but that was the entire point of Davie’s request. Being painted with LIDAR was the equivalent of a submariner’s active sonar, and the message it sent was clear: Wake up, idiot, you’re dead.
Kyran grinned. “That, you can do. Hold lock on them. Make them think a bit.”
“Aye, Commodore.” Whitmore returned to the command floor, looking more at home, more alive, than any other time since she’d been brought aboard.
She’s found her purpose again, thought Kyran. Glad she’s on our side.
“Zero, check in.”
“All in the green.”
Daniela could see that; her command Direwolf was more lavishly equipped than the typical models. But it never hurt to confirm what the idiot lights told her.
“We’re four minutes from intercept,” she commed. “Jesus wept, there’s a lot of them,” she said after closing the mic.
The oncoming missiles were clustered so closely together that their signals were blurring into each other. Even with Daniela’s enhanced equipment she was having trouble distinguishing them.
“Lords of Kobol,” muttered Boomer. “Reminds me of the Nova of Magadon minefield, but at least those didn’t move.”
“Tell me later. Suggestions?”
“Oblique approach, not head-on,” Boomer answered immediately. “Intercept time will be extended, but we won’t be flying into any explosions then.”
“That’s what I thought too.” She opened the comm. “Div One, Div Four, we’re going to be approaching on the oblique to avoid blast effects.”
“What does that mean?” said a voice.
“It means at an angle, Grizzly, and you don’t need to ask the whole squadron,” answered Rube, the Div Four commander. “Sorry, L-T.”
“No worries, just execute the course I’ve loaded to you. One minute to intercept.”
The twelve fighters spread farther out, forming a rough cone three klicks across with Daniela at the tip.
“Make sure you only fire on your designated target,” she reminded her two divisions. “We’re going to make one pass, then Div Two and Three, and then it’s our turn again. Stay in formation. Thirty seconds.”
“Capacitors at 98%,” said Boomer. “Got a good lock on target.”
The closing rate between the missiles and the Direwolves was intentionally low, just under four hundred KPS. It left plenty in reserve for maneuvering while still cutting their time in any blast down to fractions of a second.
“Ten seconds. Steady.”
As the counter reached zero, Daniela’s finger mashed the firing button. Simultaneously, she sent a command through her ‘plant to Boomer, confirming the action which he had initiated before her finger twitched. It was part of the complex control system in the Direwolves, and one which she had mastered months earlier.
A pair of invisible beams lanced from her ship and struck the target halfway down its twenty-meter length. Metal skin melted, exposing the delicate innards, which flashed into vapor. The engine sputtered, then died, as the crippled missile started to tumble.
“We have a hit,” said Boomer as they flashed past. “Plotting trajectory. It’ll miss Njord, at least.”
“We’ll clean it up if we have time,” said Daniela, then a bright flash illuminated her cockpit from behind.
“Report! Second flight, hang back!”
“We have a detonation,” Zero said calmly. “Looks like Rubberneck managed to cook one off.”
“Any sympathetic reactions?”
“Negative, but it looks like a couple might run through the explosion; don’t know what that will do.”
“Retarget the leaders, and we’ll nibble on the trailers.”
“Got it, L-T.”
Over the next ten minutes the squadron whittled the mass from 160 down to 76.
“Whitmore for Garcia.”
“Go ahead, Colonel.”
“We have you ten minutes from Njord. At this rate, you’re not going to clear the missiles in time, so break off now. We’ll handle the rest.”
“Aye, Colonel. Return to base or maintain separation?”
“Maintain position for now, we’re going to be a little busy for recovery operations.”
“Sit back and enjoy the show. Too bad I don’t have any popcorn.”
“I’ll remember that, Double Dip. Out.”