Trouble with the Natives
by Karlos Allen
Table of Contents
Chapter 4, Chapter 5
appear in this issue.
|Chapter 6, conclusion|
An hour later Singh was wishing he hadn’t been so impatient. When the cruiser had been a damaged ship hanging off to the side, or a spark on the screen, it was easy to contemplate dealing with it. Now though it was different. The screen clearly showed it decelerating in but at a level that should have made jelly of the occupants. It had an eerie blue field surrounding it, a field like the one they’d just seen take on and partially stop the output of two five-hundred kiloton warheads. It looked ominous.
Tsao’s analysis of the field only helped a little. “Really, it’s not much more than our plasma sail optimized for defense instead of propulsion. We could do much the same thing if we had the on-board power they do. I would say that they depend a lot less on that field than on point defense: countermeasures and maneuverability.”
Singh watched the incoming ship. It moved with a confidence that spoke volumes about the abilities and power that the crew had at its disposal. As he watched, it neatly flipped around and took up a position about fifty miles off to one side of the ship. After a couple of minutes it turned and faced them. Then, almost leisurely, a wide port opened in its belly.
“They sure want us to see what they’re doing, don’t they?” said Nate.
“They’re just trying to psych us out. Switch to the schematic view and show me the range markers again.”
The intimidating picture disappeared and was replaced by a top-down view with symbols showing the ships and two curved lines between them.
“Alright, Nate, when they fire their missiles, I want you to wait until they cross the five-mile line. Then I want you to expand the field.”
“Expand the field. Right now we’re holding it pretty close to us against quite a bit of centrifugal force. I want you to relax it a bit so that the debris moves out about five miles in each direction. I’d like to see those missiles dodge that level of chaff.”
Nate grinned, “I see. OK.”
A minute later a row of sparks suddenly appeared streaking toward them.
“How many are there?”
Nate looked at the display and shook his head, “I’m counting at least twenty-five. They are not playing around! ETA to the five-mile line is one minute.”
“Twenty-five of them? They fired five at the base. According to the base’s information, they have a capacity for forty missiles which means they’re keeping ten in reserve.” He grinned, “I think we’ve won!” He watched the points streak past the ten-mile mark, bearing down on the five mile line. “OK, Nate, get ready. Now!”
The whole ship seemed to groan as the field relaxed. The huge mass strained outward, large portions of it peeling away from the outer layers
“Singh! We’re losing coils all over the hull! We’d better not have to do this again.”
“We won’t have to. Look!” One by one the incoming dots disappeared under the orbital version of an avalanche. “Their on-board systems just aren’t up to dodging that much junk, and nobody wastes shields on missiles; it’s cheaper to just make more.”
“Singh, the ship is moving in now.”
“Yep,” he nodded in satisfaction. “He would, he’s going to try to get through the mess himself and then use his last ten missiles on us at point-blank range.”
He called the probe deck, “Aspen? Get ready to launch on my mark It’s show time.”
He turned to Nate, “When I give the signal, I want you to turn off the sail.”
Nate looked at him as though he’d grown an extra head. “Turn off the sail? All of the dust and gravel will just explode away...” A grin crossed his face as he realized what that would do.
“That’s right. Right down our friend’s throat. And Aspen’s toys will be waiting for him when he comes through.”
“You think he’ll make it?”
“Probably, I’m sure that ship is built to take a lot of punishment.”
They watched as the symbol representing the cruiser crossed the ten-mile line, it was slowing now, obviously looking for a hole that it could nose through. Its shield was pulled down tight and dense against the hull, presenting as small a cross-section to the sleet of rocks and dust streaming around it.
“OK, Nate, let it go.”
This time there was nothing. Suddenly the strain gauges on the hull turned green and the lights brightened as the huge load vanished. On the screen the ship disappeared.
“Aspen, launch now! Take your vector from the schematic view.”
On screen, row after row of sparks left their own ship moving out to where the cruiser had disappeared.
“Switch back to visual, Nate. We need to see them.”
On visual, the gray blur was already fading as the dust and rock flung away from the ship. Singh looked along the vector traced by the cloud of torpedoes. Suddenly, a bluish glint appeared as the cruiser, its shield intact but flickering, nosed out of the rocks.
“How close are the nearest torpedoes?”
“About two miles.”
“That’ll have to do. Aspen? Fire everything in one second intervals.”
The screen suddenly dissolved into static which then started pulsing as the reflected EMP waves washed over them.
“Nate, can you compensate for that?”
“Working on it.”
A few seconds later, they could see the cruiser again. The shield was gone now, ragged waves of blue-white lightning ran across the hull, jumping from gap to gap in the white surface. There were a lot more of these than before. It seemed that the shield hadn’t kept out everything. Suddenly a cloud of hot plasma shot out of the ship.
“What was that?”
“I think they just scrammed their reactor.” The last torpedoes suddenly flared and disappeared.
“Aspen, is that all?”
“Yes except for the reserves.”
“Launch them. Fly them over to the cruiser and position them over the largest holes, then set them off. I don’t want so much as an inch of unburned wire left in that ship.”
A few minutes later it was done. The ship hung there, silent, cold, unmoving.
“Incoming from the base, Singh.”
“Hyuman ship: congratulations, all systems have been destroyed aboard the cruiser. We ask permission to send our life boats to rescue any survivors. We also ask permission to fly them and ourselves to your home world as this base is no longer viable. In exchange we will outfit your ship for the voyage home. We will all be able to arrive in about one week.”
Singh leaned back. “Permission granted, Krallgh.” He turned to Nate. “Stop that spin! Please.”
Captain Mense of the TSS Singh rubbed the grit out of his eyes. Search and rescue after a ship collision was always nasty work. Especially now, in the last stages, when it turned into search and recover. Other ships had already called it off, but he couldn’t. You never left a body, or even part of a body to drift in space. Not if you were a station-sider.
“Sir, we’ve got more remains. It looks like a hand. In a space glove?” The last turned into a question. “There wasn’t anybody outside during this was there?”
“No. Bring it in for analysis.”
A few minutes later the medical officer called him to Sickbay. “This isn’t from the accident, sir. The suit design is archaic to say the least and the damage pattern doesn’t fit the accident.”
“What does it fit?”
“Battle damage. I’ve been running standard forensics programs. The person had their back to a laser burst. The only reason the hand survived was that it was outside the beam at the time.”
“Battle damage! There’ve never been any hostilities in the Jovian system! Not since First Contact...”
His voice trailed away. “Doctor, I want you to run a full genetic scan on the hand. Correlate it with station-sider birth records.”
The answer came back in a few minutes.
Captain Mense nodded, “I had hoped so. Get me a sealed nitrogen container and put this in it. Then get it on the first ship back to Earth Orbit.”
The doctor looked at him a little blankly.
As the sound of running feet trailed off he cradled the dessicated hand in his. “Don’t worry Mac. It’s been three hundred years, but we’ll get you home. I promise.”
Copyright © 2007 by Karlos Allen