The Road to the Stars – Chapter Eleven

I hate missiles.

I’m no angel, okay? I’ve killed plenty of people in my time, some of them really up close and personal, others at arm’s length, yet more by laser, and a whole bunch by giving the orders.

Missiles suck.

Lasers are instantaneous, near enough. No time for second thoughts.

Up close? Well, there’s always a chance you might be the one who ends up dead.

And ordering it, you have all the time in the world to think about it beforehand and be sure you’re making the right choice.

But missiles? Once you fire them, they’re out of your control. If you have second thoughts, you’re pretty well screwed.

Put it on your calendars now: November 24.

Why?

Because Adam is going to do a blockbuster sale and promotional blitz that day!

He’s going to be all over the web, including at least one (and maybe two) LIVE appearances, PLUS giveaways and contests and all sorts of other fun things.

MOST of this will be on Facebook (see the button below), but he’s also going to be on the Meet The Author Podcast at 7pm EST (4pm PST) on the 24th as well.

Don’t miss out!


This is the FB Group you want to join!

Chapter Eleven

“Vampire! Vampire!”

The alert resonated through the command center and was relayed to Kendra’s implant, jerking her awake. She hadn’t expected to sleep, but at some point she’d rested her head on her arms, and…

“Diana, what’s going on?”

“We have inbound energy signatures, matching the signature for Tycho missiles.”

“Where? How soon to impact?”

“Inbound vector from Galactic North 21, 18, 4, by Galactic East minus 78, 49, 12. Calculating time to target.”

“Sneaky bastards,” Kendra said. “Commander Kleve, scramble the Wolves.”

“Already on it, Admiral,” Mia replied instantly. “The Commodore is on top of things.”

“Chain of command, right. Go get ‘em, Mia!”

“We’ll knock ‘em out of the sky,” said Mia. “Out.”

Kendra was already loping down the corridors, her gait extended by the station-normal ¾ g, on her way to Command.

“Admiral on deck!” Diana announced as she burst in.

“Back to work!” she snapped as heads turned her way and bodies started to rise. “Commodore, sitrep.”

Kyran raised an eyebrow. “Sitrep? Someone’s been studying.” Losing the teasing tone, they said, “Three minutes ago, we picked up launch signatures from forty-eight Tycho missiles from –”

“Diana told me, basically Galactic Northeast.”

“Right. No ships detected, though.”

“Stealthed somehow? Powered down?”

“We’re still working on that. Diana’s sensors are sweeping the area actively, but we’re not getting any returns.”

“I have a hypothesis,” said the AI. “There are no ships in immediate vicinity of the launch, nor are there any within the distance they could have covered and still maintained concealment from my passive sensors. I suspect that these missiles were positioned to intersect our orbit and launch at a preset time. That would also tie into –”

“So no ships,” interrupted Kendra. “That simplifies our response, at least. Mia said you already scrambled the Wolfpack?”

Kyran nodded. “The plus fives are launching now, and the rest will be just a few minutes behind that. Diana’s warming the systems and doing as many preflight checks as she can remotely to shave time off.”

“Nice thinking. Critical question time, how long do we have?”

“The Tycho is capable of continuous 10g acceleration; this seems to be the current flight profile. If they maintain the profile, we have thirteen minutes, fifty-two seconds to intercept,” answered Diana.

Diana, Wolf One.” Mia’s voice filled the center. “Request intercept course.”

“Feeding to your guidance computers,” said Diana.

“What’s the plan?” Kendra asked Kyran.

“The Wolfpack is going to engage the missiles as far out as possible. Tychoes don’t have any evasive capability, so they’re just going to bore in on Diana. Since they launched as a group they’re bunched together, which makes this as easy a firing solution as we’re going to get. Any that get closer than three minutes, Diana will engage with the station missiles.”

Kendra nodded and turned to the tracking display. There wasn’t much else to do except wait.

Kendra, what the bloody hell is going on? Mikki came through on the implant. The alarm woke me, and the girls. They’re looking for you and Cass.

Tell them everything’s going to be okay, and I’ll, no, wait, bring them up to command. There’s a couple offices around that aren’t being used, you can all hang out in there. She had suddenly thought of the location of their quarters; it wasn’t on the outside of the habitat, but only one layer of bulkheads separated it from vacuum. Command, though, was as deep into Diana as it could be built, and anything less than multiple direct hits should leave it intact.

On it. Suits?

Definitely. Don’t let them freak out seeing them, though. They’d had custom-sized suits made for the girls, and they were both comfortable in them and used to wearing them when told. But Kendra knew just how smart they were, and didn’t figure they wouldn’t put two and two together.

No worries, I’ll put mine on first. Be there in five.

The first wave of Wolves were approaching the missiles when Kendra mentally came back to the command center. They had covered the distance at maximum acceleration, and were now reversing their vector just as hard, coming to as near a dead stop as possible. It was tough on the crews, but they wanted a home to return to, so…

Diana, Wolf One. Permission to engage?”

Kyran looked at Kendra, who nodded. “Wolf One, engage at will.”

The phased particle emitters mounted on the Wolves had a shorter absolute range than coherent light weapons, but packed a bigger punch at close range. They took advantage of the heart of the Wolves, the He3 fusion plant, and the reaction that powered it. In simple terms, a He3 atom and a Deuterium atom were slammed together, releasing energy according to Einstein’s E=MC2 equation, as well as a standard helium atom and a proton. When being used for thrust, the helium and the proton were both directed to the rear of the craft and pushed it along as dictated by Newton. When needed, though, the proton could be siphoned off, redirected by a series of electromagnetic fields, and forced into a tight beam. That was then aimed at a target. The reason for the short range was due to the nature of the particles; protons all had a positive charge and tended to repel each other. The confinement field worked to counteract that through the use of the strong nuclear force, binding mesons within each proton to its neighbors. Unfortunately, quantum mechanics would always win out in the end, and once free of the field the repulsive nature of protons gradually asserted itself and the beam would spread out.

In practical terms, that meant the effective range of a phased particle emitter was about fifty kilometers, where a laser in a vacuum had a nearly unlimited range. Within that range, each emitter would deliver up to 555 kW of power to an area no larger than a pizza box.

But within that range, there was nothing that could stand up to the punishment. Tycho missiles were no exception.

Each Wolf in the first flight had a tiered list of targets. At 10 KPS closing velocity, they’d only have time for three, maybe four shots, and there were only six Wolves. There were going to be leakers.

Galileo knocked out the first Tycho, then Newton, Bohr, and Einstein all chimed in. By the time Bell and Faraday had fired, Galileo had moved on. In seconds, the surviving Tychoes were speeding past and the Wolves were coming about. Of 48 missiles, 18 were either destroyed or severely damaged and knocked off course. Now it was a race between the steadily-accelerating missiles and the vengeful Wolves behind them, with five more Wolves approaching from Diana.

“That’s about as good as I hoped,” commented Kyran. “Diana, are we in any danger from the debris?”

“Minimal, Commodore. Their intercept solution depended on maintaining continuous acceleration; they are no longer accelerating. Most of the debris should pass behind us, at least from the first group. As the intercepts get closer, their track will be less and less affected, and the damage risk will increase.”

“Evacuate all outer compartments and seal the bulkheads against pressure loss.”

“Right away, Commodore,” answered Diana.

“Second wave of Wolves preparing to engage,” said Courtney Colona, another one of Knott’s staff.

Much like the first wave, the second wave was decelerating to hang just above the path of the incoming missiles. That kept them out of the potential debris field.

“Three more vampires down. Second wave engaging,” Colona said.

The five Wolves of the second wave opened fire earlier, counting on the increased speed of the missiles to bring them into their effective basket, and so all managed to get off four shots, while the Cousteau and Curie both managed five. Seventeen more Tychoes were removed as threats, leaving only ten, but they were now little more than five minutes from Diana.

“Wolf One, status?”

“Maintaining pursuit. We’re in range and engaging targets of opportunity.” Over the open circuit, they could hear Kyle Kitchen, Mia’s EM, exclaim, “Got another!”

“Diana, do you have locks on the remaining missiles?”

“Yes, Commodore.”

“Mama!” Kendra’s attention was diverted by Lisa’s call.

“You have to be quiet in here, people are working,” she said, kneeling and catching one girl in each arm.

“Yes, Mama.”

“What’s happening, Mama?”

“We’re having a little problem, but we’re fixing it,” she said. “Go with Auntie Mikki and wait over there,” she continued, pointing to a compartment just off the center. “As soon as I’m done, I’ll come see you.”

“How are things going?” said Stone. She could read the tactical display and saw there were only seven targets left.

“Pretty well so far.”

“Thirty seconds to engagement,” announced Colona.

“Get them in the compartment,” said Kendra. Stone gathered her charges and moved them away.

“Wolf One, break off. We’ve got the rest.”

“Not yet, Diana,” answered Mia. “We’ll clear the basket soon, but we’ve almost got them all.”

“Four vampires inbound,” said another controller, Glen Spurgeon.

“Break off now, Wolf. We need you clear to get a good targeting solution,” insisted Kyran.

“Roger that, Commodore. Wolfpack, break-break-break!” The frustration could be heard in Mia’s voice, but the six Wolves all peeled away, putting as much space between themselves and the last Tychoes as possible, though not before Newton took out one more Tycho.

Within the control center, the voice of Diana counted down to launch.

“Five, four, three, two, one, ignition – warning, detonation on surface!”

The massive station rang like it had been hit with a hammer.

Then again.

Then a ripple as if Haephaestus’ own triphammer was pounding on the habitat.

Over the alarms, Kendra shouted, “Diana! Report!”

“Chain failure in missile pods. Hull breach in quadrants two, three, and five. Containment protocols active.”

“Wolf One, we’ve suffered a malfunction in the launchers, we can’t take down the last missiles!”

“On it, Admiral,” said Mia. Over her squadron circuit, she said, “You heard the Admiral. It’s up to us.” The six Wolves oriented on the last three missiles, now only two minutes from impact.

The problem was one of physics. The missiles were moving at nearly a hundred KPS and still accelerating; the Wolves could out-accelerate them by a factor of twenty, but even though they could match the Tychoes speed in less than fifty seconds, and catch them in just over a hundred seconds, that would leave them barely twenty seconds to acquire, fire and destroy them, and then veer away from the station before they became missiles themselves.

“Thirty seconds to impact,” announced Spurgeon.

“Coming into range,” commed Mia. “Newton, Bohr, target center. Einstein, Bell, target right. Faraday, you’re with us on left. Fire when you bear.”

Two by two, twelve columns of collimated protons lanced out at three targets.

Then again.

Two targets. Faraday and Galileo arced gracefully away.

Again.

One. Newton and Bohr skewed and flashed past the station.

“Wolf flight, break off!” Kendra shouted, as if by will alone she could get the Einstein and Bell to sheer away.

“This one’s mine,” said CM Ed Dobryzn of the Einstein. With a surge, the shuttle icon merged with the last vampire.

“Targets clear,” said the impassionate voice of Diana.

“Damage control teams to hull breaches,” ordered Kyran as the ten remaining Wolves took up protective positions around Diana.

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