And the shoe drops.
We knew that Artemis was going to try to hammer us.
We didn't know when.
And we took every second they gave us to improve our position.
It helped that we had better tech than they did.
Frankly, the only thing that saved our asses wasi our tech, with a healthy dose of luck. We really didn't have any military experience at all, nothing in terms of "space fleets" and that sort of thing.
And we also had the advantage of position. We knew where they had to come from so could keep our eyes on them.
Anyway, enough of my blather.
Chapter Twenty Two
“We’ve got ships on the move,” reported Courtney Colona, working with Diana on the sensors.
“What kind of movement?” asked Kyran.
“Evaluation of flight path underway,” answered Diana. “Destination vicinity of L5 habitat estimated in excess of 75 percent probability.”
“Commander Kleve, I am calling an alert. Scramble your plus-fives and get the others moving.”
“Aye, Commodore.” Mia was one of the plus-fives.
“Diana, give me the Admiral.”
The pause was seconds.
“Go ahead, Commodore.”
“Ma’am, we have report of fleet movement departing Luna. Staff is evaluating threat. I’ve scrambled the plus-fives.”
“On my way.”
It was only moments before Kendra arrived in the command center, slightly winded by the run from her quarters.
“What do we have?”
Colona answered. “We have firm returns on two Apollo-class cruisers and three Gemini-class frigates.”
“Do you have a plot yet?”
“Probability of station intercept course now exceeds 95 percent, Admiral.”
“Checked and ready,” said Kyran. “I’m holding off arming until after the Wolves are all away. I’ve notified all personnel to don skinsuits and helmets.”
“Wait. I missed something. You – Colona?”
“You said ‘firm returns’ for five ships. What didn’t you say?”
“These are sneaky bastards. Is there a ghost, another ship but not with them, maybe a possible return?”
“Yes, ma’am. We do have another return.”
“We need to look at that as a potential hostile.”
“It’s the SUNS Brahe, Kendra,” Kyran interrupted.
“And the others are all Artemis Navy?”
“Do we think that Artemis is still trying to keep this looking like their fight, not the Union?”
“We’ve no indication one way or another, Admiral,” answered Pipher. “The Union is in Artemis’ back pocket, as it were, but they might not want to escalate.”
“Damn. I really wish we had better intel! Okay, assume that the Brahe means trouble. What do we know about her? Diana?”
“The Brahe is a Copernicus-class battleship, Admiral. It mounts four spinal lasers, at 6 MW, and broadsides of twenty 1 MW lasers.”
“The Wolves can outpunch it in combination.”
“Yes, Admiral, but they need to close within 50 kilometers to do so. The Brahe could open fire from thousands of kilometers away. Their spinal lasers would likely destroy a Wolf with a single hit.”
“Then we’ll have to take it out with our missiles.”
Kyran said, “If we have enough. The total load of the confirmed ships is forty-five missiles, which we can handle. But the Brahe brings another forty to the party.”
“And the missiles carried by the Copernicus-class battleships are not KEWs, Admiral,” added Diana. “They are armed with thermonuclear weapons in the one megaton range.”
“Which means we cannot let them get through, no matter what,” finished Kyran.
“And we can’t target the Brahe first because it’s Solarian Union, not Artemis,” grumbled Kendra. “I hate when people are smart. Okay, I am officially open to suggestions.”
“Deal with the problems we can solve first.”
“Good start.” Whatever Kendra was going to follow with was lost.
“Last Wolf has launched,” reported Glen Spurgeon, one of Kyran’s assistants, who primarily managed the hangar bay.
“Thank you Glen. Diana, arm all missiles.”
“Commodore?” said Colona.
“Incoming transmission from the Yang.”
“Put them through.”
“Diana, Yang.” The voice was of the CM, Will Bovin.
“Go ahead, Yang.”
“Wolf flight of two, inbound from HLC, we are heavy.”
“Yang, what are you carrying?”
“Diana, six missiles on Yang, six missiles on Hawking.”
“We’re taking it easy, Diana. Thirty minutes.”
Kyran turned off the audio. “I can understand why they’re not jostling the cargo, but I could wish they’d get here sooner. Another dozen missiles would be useful.”
“Agreed,” said Kendra. “Diana, ETA on the fleet?”
“If they hold to projected course, twenty-three minutes. Fifteen minutes to exclusion zone.”
“Patch me back through to the Yang. Yang, this is the Admiral. Hang back. We have incoming hostiles.”
“Understood, Admiral. Yang out.”
Bare seconds later, Colona said again, “Incoming transmission.”
“Didn’t they get all the answers?” said Kendra.
“No, Admiral. This is coming from the Artemis fleet.”
“Interesting. Diana, I want you to fold, spindle, and mutilate that signal. Figure out everything you can. And block out all background visuals and sounds from this end.”
“Yes, Admiral. Ready.”
“Put them through.” On the screen before her appeared a man in the uniform of the Artemis Navy. Military-cut hair, greying, surrounded a face scarred by a lifetime’s work in space. The body was concealed, but he stood straight and looked into the video unflinchingly.
“I am Captain Todd Richards, commander of the ANS Armstrong. Who are you?”
Kendra, as had become her habit on Diana, was wearing her official Terran Federation Admiral’s uniform. She scowled at the question.
“Either your intelligence service sucks vacuum, you are being deliberately insulting, or you just crawled out from under a rock. But okay, let’s play. I am Admiral Kendra Cassidy of the Terran Federation. What do you want, Captain?”
There was a brief flicker of an expression across his face, then it was gone, replaced by bland professionalism. What was it? Surprise? He was talking again.
“Admiral Cassidy. My condolences on your loss. My wife died in a surface breach some years ago.”
He thinks Cass is dead! He doesn’t know she’s on Enterprise. How can I use this?
“I am sorry for your loss, Captain,” she said, her face revealing nothing of the thoughts behind it. “My question still stands.”
“Very well. You have noted the approach of our fleet?”
“Which fleet is that, Captain?”
“Don’t be coy, Admiral! No matter how damaged your systems might be, your shuttles should certainly be picking us up.”
“Whether they are or not, I cannot say, Captain. And there are any number of ships in our general vicinity, some of which could be said to be on approaching us.”
“Fine,” he not-quite-snarled. “Two Apollo-class cruisers and three Gemini-class frigates, on course from Luna.”
He didn’t mention the Brahe. He’s trying to be sneaky. Naughty, naughty! “Oh, those ships. Yes, Captain. We’re aware of your approach. Are you aware of the fifty-thousand kilometer exclusion zone?”
“Your so-called exclusion zone has no legal standing, as you are neither a recognized government nor have the support of any government, least of all the Artemis Colony.”
“Nevertheless, Captain, you are approaching an area which we are prepared to defend.”
“Oddly enough, Admiral, that is why I am contacting you. We do not wish to engage in hostilities with you.”
“You may have wanted to express that thought last week, before your unprovoked attack upon this habitat.”
“This ship has engaged in no attack on you, Admiral.”
“Oh, now we’re just mincing words. The attack launched by the Artemis Colony, then.”
“Irrelevant, even if true. You have one opportunity to surrender to the forces of the Artemesian Navy for your blatant encroachment on the territorial space of both the Artemis Colony and Solarian Union. If you surrender, I give you my word as a naval officer that your people will be repatriated to their home nation on Earth in the most expedient manner possible.”
And I can believe as much of that as I want! More likely we’ll be stuck in Artemis the rest of our short lives.
“And if I decline your kind offer?”
“Then, Admiral, we will have no choice but to remove your illegal habitat from space.”
“You keep saying illegal. By whose laws? What treaty?”
“On Wednesday, our President announced the official annexation of all space, and everything contained within, to a distance of four hundred thousand kilometers from Artemis or any of her permanently inhabited installations. This merely mirrors a similar action taken in the legislature of the Solarian Union. So, you see, your habitat is now within our space, and you are ordered to surrender to our rightful authority.”
“Captain, by very careful measurements, our habitat was placed 402,336 kilometers from Luna, in order to optimally utilize the L5 Lagrange point. We are outside even the expanded borders of Artemis, and the Solarian Union, and therefore we reject your demand as having no proper standing.”
He was shaking his head. “You forget, it includes permanent installations. There are a number of stations and habitats at various selenocentric orbits, out to a distance of roughly five thousand kilometers. So, Admiral, you see, you are within Artemis space.” His smile was cold.
“And if we still refuse, Captain?”
“Then we shall take your station by force, or destroy it if we cannot take it.”
She made a show of considering her choices before finally saying, “Captain Richards.”
“Yes, Admiral Cassidy?”
“I’d like to see you try it. See you in Hell.” She cut the connection and turned to her people. “We don’t have much time. He was very sloppy; he gave bunches away. Thoughts, Kyran?”
“He didn’t mention the battleship. Is it coming here?”
“We have to assume it is. It might not be under his command, though; they might have their own mission.”
Colona said, “I’d guess that they’re going to finish the job if the others can’t.”
Kendra agreed, saying, “I think so too. But that also means we have some time to deal with the others.”
Pipher said, “He confirmed the composition of the fleet.”
“Which we already had, but good to confirm.”
“He told us that they’re not going all-out, that they want to capture us.”
“Right, and that gives us a chance. Diana, patch me through to Yang again.”
“Yang, this is Admiral Cassidy.”
CM Bovin answered, “Yes, Admiral?”
“CM, you got the missiles aboard through the cargo hatches?”
“Yes, Admiral.” Bovin’s voice reflected a deeper question.
“This is going to sound crazy, but could you release them while en route? Open up the doors and dump them out?”
“I’d have to ask Doaa, EM Tovny, but I think we can.”
“Diana, Kyran, can we activate those missiles remotely?”
“Yes, Admiral, the missiles can be activated remotely.”
Kyran was more curious. “What are you thinking?”
“Wouldn’t a dozen missiles ruin the day of the Brahe?”
“That’s quite a gamble,” said Kyran. “There’s no guarantee –”
“Kyran, there’s no guarantee in life, but think about it! The Brahe is all offense, no defense; you think those Huygens missiles are going to be used as counter-missile defense?”
“Right! So if we can knock it out of the fight, then that gives us a better chance with the others, a more even fight.”
“I’m with you.”
“Diana, open to Yang and relay to Hawking. Yang, change of orders. You and Hawking are to make best possible speed to coordinates which we will provide you, drop the missiles, and then return to Earth. I want a read-back.”
“Best possible speed to coordinates, aye. Drop missiles, aye. Return to Earth, aye.”
“Cassidy, out. Diana, I want you to calculate the optimal position for them to unass the missiles, given what we know and also not pushing the Wolves too hard with live missiles. Kyran, as soon as you have confirmation that the missiles are out, you’re going to have to be on top of it with codes and coordinates.”
“Diana, Wolfpack One.”
“Wolfpack One, Cassidy.”
“I hear you, Admiral,” came Mia’s voice. “We’re a little busy right now.”
“Three minutes to zero-zero at exclusion zone on their path.”
“ROE Alpha authorized. Repeat, ROE Alpha authorized. Confirm.” ROE Alpha called for firing for effect on any ship that passed into the exclusion zone, no warnings.
“ROE Alpha, aye.”
“Good shooting. Cassidy, out. Diana, I want to see this. Locations, courses, everything.”
“Activating holographic projection.”
In the middle of the command center, a sudden translucent blackness appeared, with small speckles indicating ships and other objects. Solid and dashed lines led to and from some of the specks.
“Artemis fleet approaching exclusion zone. No change in course or velocity.”
“Kyran, if those ships launch, I want you to use our missiles to knock theirs down. Longest possible range.”
“Yes, Admiral.” They moved off to give the appropriate orders.
“Pipher, do we still have the Brahe locked? And where are Yang and Hawkins?”
“Yes, we still have a lock on the Brahe; it’s holding well back, just crossing 100k kilometers. The Wolves from Earth aren’t in range yet, but their coordinates are here.” He tapped a command, and a yellow dot appeared.
The drama in the hologram played out for a couple minutes, then Spurgeon, who was tracking the Wolves, said, “Wolfpack at zero-zero.”
“I hate waiting.”