The Road to the Stars - Chapter Twenty-Five

All of those people.

Wiped from the skies in minutes by a bastard who didn't care enough to learn what he was shooting down.

And yes, I did order Diana to prepare to self-destruct.

Why?

Because I knew that Cass was coming back with Enterprise, at some point, and that ship alone would be able to kick their Artemis asses.

IF.

If Artemis didn't have our tech base.

If they did?

War over, and we lost.


Chapter Twenty Five


“This is –“

“I don’t care who you are. I am Captain Nicholas Shorey, commander of the SUNS Brahe. Your habitat is illegally encroaching on –“ The face on Kendra’s screen looked triumphant. She couldn’t let that pass. Besides, two could play at the interruption game.

“Union space, yeah, we got that from what’s-his-name, Richey? No, Richards. Todd Richards. He was commander of the Armstrong, maybe you knew him? Bumped into him on the way here? He’s probably not saying much these days.”

“You dare?” Shorey was apoplectic.

“I dare. What do I have to lose?”

“Your life, you sorry witch!”

“A witch, eh? Nice. I’ve never been called a witch before. It’s a good day for firsts. Seriously, Shorey, what do you want? You have something to say besides the line about illegalities and treaties and other bullshit? I’ll listen.”

Shorey visibly pulled himself back together. “Do you have authority to listen?”

Kendra heaved a dramatic sigh. “If you hadn’t cut me off, you’d know that. I am Admiral Kendra Cassidy of the Terran Federation, so yes, I have the goddamned authority to listen to you.”

“Ah, good. Yes, that is one of the names I was given.”

“What was the other?”

“Hmm?”

“Name. Other name. What other name were you given?”

“Aiyana Cassidy. Your sister?”

“Wife.”

“Thank you. Wife. She isn’t aboard your illegal station?”

“No, she is not.”

“Then she must have…” He said this in an undertone, as if forgetting he was visible to her. “My regrets on your loss, then.”

He didn’t know either! “It was a nice home. Pity it was under a KEW. Now, if that’s the extent of your message, I have a station to repair.”

“Ms. Cassidy, I am –“

“Admiral, Captain. Or should we get informal and go by first names? No, forget that, I don’t want you calling me Kendra. Admiral will do.”

Drawing a breath, Shorey restarted. “Admiral, I am authorized to offer clemency to you and your crew. You may remove your personnel from the station.”

“In what? In case you didn’t notice, you blew the hell out of our shuttles.”

“Ah, well, that’s no concern of mine,” he said airily. “I see that there are objects detaching from your habitat; escape capsules of some sort, I assume? You may continue, and I give you my word that we will take no offensive action against them.”

“So you’re giving us permission to evacuate the station? How generous.”

“It is, quite. We could simply continue to fire upon you. Sooner or later, we’ll hit something critical, then the problem of your squatting will be solved.”

Kendra made a show of considering the offer as if it were completely genuine. She really just needed enough time to get her ohana off, whether they were family by blood or by choice. “Give me a moment to consult with my officers.”

“I give you thirty seconds.”

Colona muted the feed without being told.

“How long to finish evacuation? Ten minutes? Fifteen?”

“Closer to five,” said Kyran.

“I’ll ask for fifteen, then. See where that gets us. Colona, bring the windbag back.”

“Open, Admiral,” answered Colona with a mostly-repressed giggle.

“We accept. We need fifteen minutes to finish evacuation.”

“Five.”

“You’ve knocked out our internal communications! We’re going to have to communicate with each compartment, each suit! That takes time!”

“Very well. Ten minutes. No tricks, and nothing other than your escape capsules leave the station. Any attempt to use shuttles, or the ship you have under construction, and your time will be abruptly terminated. Do we have an understanding?”

“Ten minutes. I understand.”

“And you do not leave. That is an additional condition.”

“I have no intention of leaving,” said Kendra, entirely truthfully. “Cassidy, out.”

As soon as the connection was cut, Kendra turned to Kyran. “I need two people to stay with me to authorize the shutdown. Everyone else leaves, and they leave before I pull the plug. Move!”

There was sudden bustle as the command center started to empty.

Pipher, shutting down his station, suddenly said, “Admiral, we have a signal on the Q-Net.”

“Oh?” Signals on the Q-Net weren’t uncommon; most of the Harriman properties and affiliates were connected at this point. Not many had business with Diana, but it happened.

“From out-system!”

That could only be…

Diana, Enterprise. ETA two minutes.” Alley’s voice came over the channel. Kendra’s heart leapt.

“Alley, thank Zeus! I need you to come in hot, we have a situation here!”

Coolly switching gears, Alley responded, “We’ve got you covered, Admiral. Sitrep?”

“SUNS Brahe, billy badass battleship, five hundred kilometers off the station, already pounded holes in us. Data dump on the way to Minerva.” To Kyran, she said, “Keep those people moving!” when she noticed the staff had paused in their flight.

“You heard the Admiral, she hasn’t changed her mind!” That got them moving again, all except Pipher and Kyran.

“We’ve got them on our sensors, Admiral. You want them bruised or broken?”

“They’ve already pretty well wiped out the Wolfpack,” said Kendra. “And an Artemis ship which had surrendered to us.”

“Broken it is. Sanzari, full power to the laser.”

Kendra couldn’t hear Sanzari’s response, but Alley was back in an instant. “Thirty seconds to emergence,” she said. “We’re going to appear under your keel, offset by about a thousand kilometers.”

“Diana, transmit coordinates to Enterprise, and open a channel to Shorey.”

“Channel open, Admiral.”

“Captain Shorey.”

“Admiral Cassidy.”

“Ah, good. You remembered. Thank you.”

“What is this about, Admiral? You have seven minutes and twenty-three seconds left, by my count.”

“About that. We won’t be needing the time after all.”

“No? Why not? Did you already get everyone off?”

“No. Not exactly.”

“No tricks, Admiral.”

“No tricks, Captain. It’s just, like I said, we won’t be needing that time.”

“Very well. We’ll be underway momentarily and arrive at your –”

Kendra noticed the appearance of Enterprise’s icon in the holotank and cut him off.

“Actually, if you would just hold on for half a tick…”

*

“Shields to maximum,” ordered Stewart.

“Shields to maximum, aye,” answered Sanzari.

“Dropping out of warp in three, two, one, dropping out,” said Kay.

Reality returned on their screen.

“We’ve got a bogey, twelve o’clock high, range, one thousand thirty-one kilometers,” announced Sanzari. “Signature matches the SUNS Brahe.”

“That’s the one,” said Alley with grim satisfaction. “Tactical, laser ready?”

“Target locked. Ready to fire.”

“Let’s give them one chance.”

*

“Captain, there’s another ship! It’s – my god, it’s huge!” Wood reported rather unprofessionally from tactical.

“They’re hailing us!” added Gawron.

“Another ship? Put them through!” ordered Shorey, forgetting that Kendra was still connected.

“Attention, SUNS Brahe. Stand down. I repeat, stand down. Shut down your engine and disarm your lasers, or we will open fire.”

“Who are you? Whose ship is that?” demanded Shorey.

“My name is Jennifer Martinez, and I am Captain of the TFS Enterprise. For your information, TFS stands for Terran Federation Ship. Terran Federation, as in the habitat you are currently threatening to destroy. Stand. Down.”

While Alley was speaking, Shorey was gesturing to Wood to target the Enterprise. Now, he said, “The Terran Federation is a farce, a fraud, an illegal squatter in Solarian Union territory!”

“Is that your last word, Captain?”

“No. This is. Fire!”

All four of the Brahe’s lasers fired simultaneously, delivering 24 MW to the Enterprise…which were bent and attenuated by her shielding, with only the merest fraction getting through to reflect harmlessly from the CeeSea coating.

“Very pretty, Captain,” said Alley. “Commander Cassidy, would you like to do the honors?” Cass, who had read the summary from Diana, nodded brusquely.

“Who are you people?” whispered Shorey. He’d never imagined the main battery of the Brahe having so little effect.

”That is my wife,” Kendra said coldly. “Cass, take them down.”

“Fire.” Cass’s one word was cold as the far side of the moon.

Copernicus-class ships carried four 6MW lasers, powered by capacitors, which delivered their power on target in 500 millisecond bursts. Each burst, then, was three million joules per laser, or twelve million joules combined.

Enterprise mounted one laser which fired in 100 millisecond bursts, with effectively no recharge time, and was rated at two petajoules per burst. Two petajoules, for that duration, is two hundred terawatts of power.

The first shot hulled the Brahe, through and through, and continued out of the ecliptic.

So did the second.

And the third.

And the fourth.

Inside of six seconds, there wasn’t a compartment left on the Brahe which still held air, not a system which still functioned. This, unfortunately for the few surviving crew, included the magnetic bottles for their fusion reactors.

“Cease fire,” ordered Alley, as the Brahe briefly turned into the brightest star in the local group, then quickly faded.

“I’m glad we came home early,” she said.



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