The Road to the Stars - Chapter Twenty-Four

It was time to start picking up the pieces.

Or so we thought.

Yes, we still had what we thought to be a crapton of missiles headed our way, but I wasn't going to let anyone die in the black if I could help it.

So I sent the Wolves to do search-and-rescue.

Would it have made any difference?

I still don't know.


Chapter Twenty Four


“Prepare to fire counter-missiles.”

The nineteen missiles from the dead Apollos had steadily closed the distance while the station crew watched the battle and were now within 10,000 kilometers. The other missiles, from the frigates, were lagging behind, so Diana was concentrating on the most immediate threat.

“Missiles ready to launch.” Diana had selected one of the groups of missiles she was steadily pulling along for her initial volley, leaving two groups, plus the mounted missiles, in reserve.

“Launch!”

Twenty missiles leapt away from the station, tracking on nineteen targets which were now coasting on ballistic paths, out of fuel and unable to maneuver.

Three minutes later, nineteen targets vanished in brilliant, but brief, releases of kinetic energy.

“Admiral, fourteen additional missiles inbound,” Coloma said.

“Diana?”

“Tracking. Updating firing solutions. I plan to fire at 10,000 kilometers, Admiral.”

“Do what you think best. After all, it’s your skin.”

“Literally, Admiral.”

“Better, Diana. Getting better. Kyran,” she said, turning to the station commander. “What’s the good word?”

“Wolf Division Three is engaged in SAR operations. DivOne and DivTwo are escorting one of the frigates, the ANS Scott, toward the habitat, as well as the damaged Aristotle. The Scott surrendered to Commander Kleve.”

“Open a channel to them. I think I need to have a chat with their captain.”

“Aye, ma’am. Reeves?”

“Contacting. On screen.”

Near Reeve’s station a screen lit to show an AN officer.

“This is Admiral Cassidy of the Terran Federation.”

“Lieutenant Ty Hendershot, commander of the – I was going to say ANS Scott, but I don’t know if that’s true.” He tried for a wry smile and almost made it. “Ty Hendershot, Admiral. How can I help you?”

“What are your intentions, Lieutenant?”

“I’ve surrendered to your, I think she said they’re Wolves? Apt name. Anyways, they’re very carefully not actively targeting me as they give me an honor guard to your station.”

“Weapons status? And please, don’t lie to me. There’s been enough killing today.”

“Yes, ma’am. Our laser is powered down, the capacitor has been discharged. We have one missile remaining in our magazine; it is currently not active.”

“Dump it,” ordered Kendra.

“Ma’am?”

“You have a way to get missiles aboard?”

“Yes…?”

“Reverse it. I want that missile off your ship before you get within 20,000 kilometers.”

“But we’re only 26,000 kilometers away!”

“Then you’d better hurry. You can comm when it’s been ejected. Cassidy out.” She looked satisfied for a moment, then said to Colona, “Keep a close watch on that evolution, and let me know as soon as you see the missile.”

“Aye, ma’am!”

“Reeves?”

“Just Reeve, ma’am.”

“Reeve, connect me to Galileo.”

“Aye, ma’am. Go ahead.”

“Mia?”

“A bit busy, Kendra. Recovering survivors.”

“Tell whoever’s in charge of your frigate escort to destroy the missile as soon as it’s clear of the frigate. They can comm Diana for elaboration.”

“Aye, Admiral. Destroy missile, aye. Comm for instructions as needed, aye. Wolfpack Actual, out.”

Pipher spoke up. “Admiral, what do you want to do about Yang and Hawking? They just reported they’d offloaded their missiles, but they don’t seem to have any targets any longer.”

“Oh boy. That’s going to be a bitch to retrieve. Tell them –“

“Vampire! Vampire! Tracking three inbound…six…nine…”

“Where are they coming from?” demanded Kendra.

“The Brahe!” answered Colona, interrupting her count.

“Oh, frak me. Range?”

“Forty thousand kilometers and closing. She’s up to 36 KPS and still accelerating, ETA sixteen minutes, eight seconds.”

“Reeve, open a channel to all ships!”

“Go.”

“All Federation forces discontinue evolution and scatter!”

“Kendra, we’re in the middle of a rescue –“ Mia started to protest.

“It’s the Brahe! It just dumped its missile load; we have, how many inbound?”

“Thirty, ma’am,” said Colona.

“Thirty thermonuclear-tipped missiles inbound, and the Brahe is almost on top of you! You can outrun him, but you’ve got to go!”

“Aye, Admiral. Wolfpack, you heard the Admiral. Scatter!”

*

Captain Nicholas Shorey watched his scanners. They’d launched three-quarters of their missile load, which should be more than enough to swamp whatever defenses the habitat had left and blow it into oblivion.

Shorey was a short, unpleasant, ambitious man. Never finding a partner willing to stay with him, he instead committed to the service. After early struggles, he had realized his skills and abilities would never suffice to raise him to the levels he desired. He had spent most of his time in service cultivating connections to powerful families, currying favor, and doing all he could to sow the seeds of future success. As a result, he had been steadily promoted though the SUN and was now commanding one of the crown jewels of the fleet.

His loyalty, though, was to the Four Families. He had received orders, through the SUN, from the jumped-up tart pretending to be Minister of War, but they were nearly irrelevant. He had his orders, and he would fulfill them.

“Captain,” his Tactical officer, Mike Wood, said diffidently.

“Yes, Mr. Wood?”

“Sir, it seems the ANS Scott is being escorted by a number of those small shuttles.”

“Indeed. Mr. Gawron, put me through.”

“Yes, Captain,” answered the communications officer.

“ANS Scott, this is Captain Shorey, on the SUNS Brahe. Status report.”

“And this is Lieutenant Ty Hendershot of the ANS Scott. Do we feel better about ourselves, having named ranks?”

“You insolent…! I asked you for a status report!”

“I don’t report to you, Captain, but I’ll tell you anyways,” replied Hendershot. “We’ve been captured by the Terran Federation and are being brought back to their habitat.”

“You allowed them to capture you?”

“There wasn’t any ‘allow’ about it, Shorey. It was surrender or die,” answered Hendershot. “You may have noticed we’re the only AN ship remaining intact?”

The sarcasm was lost on Shorey.

“Your duty is to obey your orders, not cravenly surrender! I order you, Lieutenant, to counterattack those…those…shuttles!”

“Okay, Shorey, I’ll get right on that. Seriously, maybe you didn’t notice but these things are faster than us by a long way, are just as heavily armed, and, by the way, there are six of them! And if that’s not enough to convince you, maybe this is: you’re not in my chain of command. I don’t take orders from the SUN, so piss off.” The connection cut.

“Mr. Wood, target that traitor and destroy him!”

“Sir, that’s an Artemis Navy ship.”

“It’s commanded by a traitor, convicted by his own words of desertion. That is a capital offense, and I will have you execute my sentence. Destroy that ship!”

“Yes, Captain.” The Brahe changed aspect slightly to bring her spinal lasers squarely in line with the Scott. “Capacitors charged on all weapons.”

“Fire spinal lasers in sequence.”

“Fire spinal lasers in sequence, aye.”

The Brahe mounted four 6MW lasers in her bow. Each laser had not one but three capacitors, each one capable of generating full power for 500 milliseconds. Recharge time was still roughly a minute, but each laser could fire three times before the first capacitor recharged, twenty seconds apart. Standard tactics called for each laser to fire sequentially, at five-second intervals, until the target was destroyed. Each burst from the laser delivered six megawatts of power to a spot perhaps a quarter-meter square; twelve tons of TNT would be the rough equivalent. Not much compared to their nuclear-tipped missiles, perhaps, but devastating to a smaller ship, such as the Scott.

“Cease fire,” ordered Shorey, thirty-five seconds later. The pieces of the ANS Scott were drifting rapidly apart.

“Sir, the shuttles are attempting to flee.”

“We can’t have that, can we?” Shorey smiled nastily. “Cut drive. Come broadside on, target each shuttle in turn with five weapons per volley, repeat volleys until target is destroyed. Roll when all lasers discharged. Anything that is not either Artemis or Solarian Union is a valid target.”

Copernicus-class battleship broadsides mounted twenty 1MW lasers per side, with one capacitor per laser, and so the tactic practiced by the SUN during their exercises was to roll ship between broadsides, to bring the other, fully charged, side to bear on the enemy while the discharged capacitors were restored. A skilled crew and captain could keep an enemy under nearly continuous fire, by simply staggering the fire of the broadside before rolling, or deliver a series of hammering blows until their target was eliminated.

Shorey’s crew was well-trained; the first shuttle was locked into a firing solution inside of twenty seconds.

“Ready to fire, Captain,” Wood reported.

“Fire as you bear.”

Wolf-class shuttles were coated, like the Enterprise, in CeeSea. Due to the molecular structure of the compound, nearly all of the visible spectrum was reflected back at an albedo of 0.89. Lasers, then, had less effect on a Wolf than on other objects, such as asteroids, which typically had albedos below 0.25. The more energy is reflected, the less is absorbed, simple math.

When the incoming energy was five 1MW lasers, reflecting 89 percent back just wasn’t quite good enough. Each one still managed to deliver 110 kW on target, or the destructive power of four hundred pounds of TNT.

No Wolf that was hit survived more than two volleys.

*

“Admiral…”

“I see it.” The names of eight Wolves now showed red in her display, their last position blinking, showing just how far they had gotten before losing the race against the Brahe’s lasers.

Copernicus.

Bohr.

Faraday.

Carver.

Cousteau.

Aristotle.

Bell.

Galileo.

Only the Brahmagupta and Newton still survived, and she thought they might just escape their ravening foe. Their courses had diverged too far, too quickly, from their sisters to be immediately targeted. Their EM’s were obviously red-lining their drives, the CM’s jinking and weaving as unpredictably as possible.

“Admiral! The Yang!”

Kendra looked up. Their first flight of missiles had sufficed for the initial nineteen Tychoes, and the second flight had done equally well for the remaining fourteen. Now, they were down to thirty-eight missiles aboard, and there were thirty Huygens bearing down on them. A Tycho could hit and be shrugged off; the habitat would be damaged, certainly, but a few hundred kilos of KEW was nothing compared to the tonnage of Diana. A thermonuclear weapon, though, would gut her.

The Yang and Hawking had finished dropping their missiles, though, and were now screaming toward the Brahe. Or, no, not quite toward her; they would pass several thousand kilometers beneath her, out of the direct angles for her lasers, so she’d have to divert course to target them.

“Missiles responding to commands!” said Pipher.

“Lock them on the incoming Huygens and fire!” ordered Kyran. There were only twelve, but with the twenty they still had deployed they should be able to stop the flight.

“Diana, launch the last tethered group!”

“Launching. Missiles away. Maintaining positive control, targeting in real-time. Twenty seconds to impact. Fifteen. Ten. Five. Impact. Multiple impacts. All countermissiles expended. Two Huygens remaining. Locking on target. Missile pods deploying. Firing. Firing. Ten seconds. Five. Two. One. Impact. Impact. All incoming missiles destroyed.”

The brief celebration that swept through the command center was abruptly stopped by Colona reporting, “Brahe firing missiles. Three…six…nine…ten. Ten missiles inbound.”

“We have eight externally mounted,” said Kendra, flatly.

“And ten in the bay! Spurgeon, Diana, move those missiles out of the bay and deploy!” answered Kyran.

“Yes, Commodore. Already underway.”

“Launch missiles as you get solutions. Hold back six to take care of any leakers.”

“I will endeavor not to allow any leakers, though the Huygens are more robust and maneuverable than the Tycho missiles.”

“Now’s not the time, Diana.”

“It is simply an observation. Pod missiles away. Preparing to launch bay missiles. Bay missiles away. Time to intercept three minutes.”

Apparently the Brahe had noticed the two Wolves, the dozen missiles they had deployed, and put two and two together. Now the battleship was attempting to bring its lasers to bear on the MOVs. Abruptly, both craft executed skew turns in opposite directions, one – the Yang, by the codes – heading forward relative to the Brahe, and the Hawking heading aft, keeping themselves farther and farther out of the battlewagon’s targeting basket.

“Smart CM’s,” said Kendra, relieved to not see more destruction.

“One minute to intercept,” Diana announced.

“Are the remaining missiles ready?”

“Ready for firing, Admiral. Forty seconds.”

Pipher said, “I’m getting faint suit distress calls from the wreckage. Both ours and Artemesian.”

“They’re going to have to wait,” answered Kyran. “I hope we’re still here to figure out a rescue,” they added to Kendra.

“Me too, Kyran. Me too.”

“Ten seconds. Five. Two. One. Impact. Impact. Impact. All countermissiles expended. Two targets remaining. Launching additional missiles.” Two Huygens icons continued across the holotank, while three smaller icons leapt out from Diana.

“One minute to intercept.”

Brahe is resuming course toward Diana,” said Colona. “Decelerating.”

“They’re going to stand off and see what happens,” said Kendra.

“What’s their zero-zero point?” asked Kyran. She was referring to the distance where the approaching ship would have zero motion relative to the station.

“Five hundred twenty eight kilometers,” answered Diana. “Thirty seconds to intercept.”

Brahmagupta and Newton are returning to the area we’re detecting distress calls,” said Pipher. “I think they’re going to resume the SAR.”

“Fifteen seconds. Ten. Five. Three. Two. One. Impact. Impact. All vampires neutralized.”

For the first time in a half hour, Kendra felt she could breathe again, until the station rocked.

Sirens blared.

“Hull breach, sector two.” said Diana. “Damage to primary environmental. Secondary systems active.”

“I thought we got them all!” yelled Kendra into the din.

“It’s the Brahe! They’re firing their lasers!”

Another slam.

“Hull breach, sector two, sector three. Secondary fuel storage breached. Emergency bulkheads sealing breach.” This shot had blasted clean through sector two and into the area behind it.

“Shut down power plants!” ordered Kyran. “Switch to backup batteries!” Diana had twin primary energy sources, an annie plant and a pair of fusion reactors, any one of which could satisfy the power needs of the entire station. Unfortunately, all three relied on powerful magnetic fields to contain the reaction. The fusion reactors were the lesser problem; they were both surrounded in heavily reinforced Durasteel and CeeSea structures with diversion channels leading to the station’s surface. The idea was that if the field failed, the resulting reaction, which would mimic a thermonuclear bomb, would be contained and channeled to the surface. In theory.

The annie plant was a bigger problem, as it operated on the principle of mutual annihilation of matter and anti-matter. Shutting down was simpler, as stopping the flow of anti-matter to the mixing chamber would stop the reaction, but if the anti-matter didn’t stop coming, then all the shielding in space would simply be fuel for the uncontrolled reaction or, to use layman’s terms, explosion.

A controlled shutdown was the best possible alternative. The backup batteries would supply sufficient power to maintain functions on the station for a few hours if they weren’t damaged. By then, the battle would be over, one way or another.

Another slam.

“Power plants shutting down. Hull breach, sector one. Damage to sector one, sector four. Reserve oxygen supply loss at forty percent.”

“We’ve got to get people off! We’re getting hammered!”

Kyran nodded. So far the Brahe had concentrated on the relative ‘top’ of the station, but they’d move down soon enough and get into the crew quarters.

Slam.

“Hull breach, sector five. Emergency bulkheads closing.”

“Kyran, order the evacuation. Diana, I need you to guide our people to the side away from the fire!”

“Agreed, Admiral.”

Chief, get the girls to the escape pod! Kendra commed.

On our way, she commed back.

Slam.

“Hull breach, sector ten. Fusion one damaged, no breach.”

“They’re skipping around. That’s not good.” If they weren’t being systematic, then the next blast could land in any sector.

Everyone braced for the next hammer, then were puzzled when it didn’t happen.

“Admiral! Incoming signal from the Brahe.”

Kendra looked at Kyran. “Think they’re going to surrender?”

“If we’re lucky, they’ll offer us terms.”

“Which we’re not going to take, are we?”

Kendra shook her head in agreement. “Nope. We’ll drag it out as long as we can, give our people time to evacuate, and hope that he doesn’t use the pods for target practice. Then we blow the station.”

“We didn’t install a self-destruct,” Kyran said thoughtfully. “It wasn’t part of the original plans, and once we started on the new station we didn’t think we needed to.”

“Diana, can you drop the containment field on the anti-matter?”

“Yes, Admiral. I will need concurrence of at least two command personnel as well as your order.”

“We’ll call that plan B.”

“What’s plan A?” asked Kyran.

“See if they’re going to surrender, of course.” A grim smile stretched across her face. “I told them I’d see them in Hell.”

She took a breath. “Colona, put them on.”


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