Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 23part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
Four lines had been attached to the debris as well as a grounding cable, the ship rotated “up” to the wing and positioned delicately under it. All they had to do was get it across twenty meters of empty space.
“Pulling this thing in will be easy,” Bill said, looking at the four bosun mates on the lines. Those lines, however, had already started to oscillate, imparting a vector to the wing. “But while it seems light, it has lots of mass. If we get it moving too fast, it’s going to crush you between it and the hull when it hits. So you’re going to have to—”
“Sir, if I may?” the COB said. “Team. On my command. Handsomely.” He waited about a second. “Belay. Step back. Retrieve lines. Retrieve… Just pull out the oscillation. No more pressure than that.”
The piece was coming down slightly askew and very slowly. But slow was good in Bill’s opinion. And he noted that the COB had arranged some sort of rubber matting where the wing was going to hit the ship.
The ropes the crew was using were flying everywhere in the microgravity environment, but they didn’t seem to be getting in the way. The four bosun mates were retrieving them hand over hand, stepping away from where the wing would impact.
“Four, handsomely,” the COB said as the wing started to get some drift to the side. “Belay. Retrieve. Retrieve…”
As the wing impacted the rubber mat, it rebounded upwards.
“Belay!” the COB said. “Sharply!”
All four of the bosun mates clamped down on their lines, then pulled in, fast, stopping the wing from getting out of control. In a moment it was hard against the hull and steady.
“Something like that, sir?” the COB asked.
“Just like that, COB,” Bill admitted. “I’ll leave it to you to get secured.”
“Why, thank you, sir.”
The tactical tech leaned forward and frowned at his screen. It was a mass of junk. The problem was that while all sorts of particles could be picked up, the Navy still didn’t know enough about space to filter for everything. It was a bit like being back in the WWII days of unfiltered hydrophones. You had to listen to all the noise of the sea, and there was a lot of it, trying to find the sounds of submarines or surface ships. Waves, shrimp, herring farts, they all added up.
In this case, solar wind, the residue of particles from the space battle, the particles generated by the ship. It all added up.
So filtering it out, until they got good algorithms for the system, was still more art than science. Fortunately, the tech was a pretty good artist. And the latest reading was giving him fits.
“Sir, permission to do a visual survey of one-one-seven mark fifteen?” the tech asked.
“Can you figure out how to get that off, Machinist Mate?” Bill asked, pointing to the pod.
“I don’t know what this is, sir,” Sub Dude answered, slapping the wing.
The alien device had been secured behind the sail, held down with ropes and space tape. It was only one of several pieces cluttering the deck but definitely the largest.
“If it’s steel, I could cut it off with an acetylene torch,” Gants continued, walking around the pod. “I could go get one and try it out if you’d like.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Bill said. “Oxy-acetylene doesn’t work the same in vacuum as it does normally.”
“Well, I don’t see any screws or bolts, sir,” Gants continued. “It looks like it was made of one piece. I’d guess it’s some sort of advanced weld. Sort of making the two pieces meld together. Don’t know how they did it, but I’d like to know.”
“Hopefully, they’ll tell us if we’re nice enough to them,” Bill replied. “COB, we done here?”
“We’re done, sir,” the COB said.
“Let’s get into the ship and—”
“Commander Weaver, what happens if the ship goes into warp with people on the hull?”
“I’ve actually thought about that one, sir,” Bill replied. “The spacetime metric for the warp bubble is a big bunch of tensor math but I think I’ve figured out that the warped spacetime around—”
“Shortest answer in history, Astro!”
“Should be fine, sir, why?”
“What about normal space drive?”
“That’s not so good, sir,” Bill said. “There’s no surrounding shield so to speak. Anything that gets through, we’ll hit. Why, sir?”
“I’m opening up the recovery tube,” the CO said. “Get everyone into it, right now. We’ve got Dreen. XO, microgravity, if we open that up under normal they’ll all fall.”
“Tactical, I’ve got no feel for size, here,” Spectre said, looking at the forward viewscreen. The thing was small, light and fuzzy, only showing because of reflection from the system’s sun. “Or distance. How far away is it? How big is it?”
“Unknown, Conn,” Tactical replied. “Without either a size or a distance, we can’t calculate the other. I’ll give you my gut, though, sir. It’s really big and it’s pretty darned far away.”
“That’s so precise I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy, Tactical!”
“At present it is the best we can do without going active, Conn. Do you want us to go active?”
“Negative,” the CO replied. “Not until we’ve recovered the EVA. EVA, status?”
“Piling in, sir,” Bill replied. “Three more to go.”
“Tell them to jump it,” the CO replied.
“Conn, Tactical, target designate Sierra One appears to be closing our position.”
“You mean it’s getting bigger on the screen,” Spectre said sarcastically. “I’d noticed.”
“Range and size still unknown.”
“We’re in. Getting down and preparing—”
“Can it, get the soft-suit guys on top, we’re going hot. XO, normal space drive, now. Tactical,” he continued as weight settled onto him. He could hear in the distance a series of clangs and bangs that was undoubtedly six or seven Wyvern suits falling down a three story shaft. “Go active. Pilot…”
He looked over at the astrogation chair and frowned.
“Hell with it,” he said. “Get me a view reciprocal to that Dreen ship.” When the view changed he walked over and pointed at a star. “Pilot, normal space. Head for that star. Three hundred gravities.”
“Three hundred, sir?” the XO asked.
“I don’t want them knowing our max accel,” the CO replied. “Commander Weaver?”
“Sir?” Weaver said. “We’re sort of… tangled here. But I got the guys in suits on top.”
“Good, but I need you up here on the double,” the CO said as the ship began to hum from the drive. “I need to know where I’m going. And even more important, where I’m not going. Tactical, range and size?”
“Range, four light-seconds,” Tactical said in a remarkably calm voice. “Size… right on eight hundred meters in length, two hundred in breadth and depth.”
“That’s nearly a klick,” the XO said wonderingly. “A third of a mile long. I don’t even want to think about the tonnage.”
“And two football fields wide,” the CO pointed out. “As wide as a carrier is long. XO, set rear tubes two and four. Target’s signature, silent mode.”
“Aye, aye,” the XO said. “Set tubes two and four, signature Sierra One, silent mode.”
The ardune torps were a combination of antiair missile and torpedo. They could lie silent until passive detectors found a designated target, then go active, kicking on their rockets and heading for the target.
“Sir, are you sure about that?” Weaver said as he entered the conn. He was panting slightly from the run, still wearing his skinsuit and his hair was askew, but Spectre realized he was glad to see him. “It’s unlikely that our systems will be able to successfully engage them.”
“I’m aware of that, Commander,” the CO said. “
“Yes, sir,” Bill said, opening up his console. “Did you mean to head to Rigel, sir?”
“I’m just glad I’m not pointed at Earth,” the CO admitted. “I’m not, right? I don’t want to head back to the good guys and tell the Dreen where they are. Right now, I want to find out if these guys can catch us in normal space. If they can, we’ll go to warp and see if they can catch us there. I want to stay at arms length, though. Heck, I want to know what arm’s length is!”
“Yes, sir,” Bill replied. “Right now we’re heading at a fairly significant angle from both Earth and the aliens. So you’re on target, sir.”
“Can we find the aliens again?” the CO asked.
“Yes, sir,” Bill replied. “I have a position calculated for them.”
“Figure out if that Dreen ship is headed for them as well,” the CO said.
“Sir, are we sure it’s Dreen?” Bill asked.
“Tubes are set,” the XO said. “Launch?”
“Belay,” the CO replied, blanching. “No, we’re not sure it’s Dreen. We can’t even get a good look at them from this range. But who else could it be?”
“The battle made a lot of noise, sir,” Bill pointed out. “Anyone in the area with an FTL ship. Survivors from our friends they don’t know about.”
“That’s a big ship,” the XO argued. “They’d have mentioned it, surely.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Bill said. “ ’Surely’ means you’re not. I’m not saying that they’re not Dreen. I’m saying we don’t know. I respectfully suggest that we figure out if they’re hostile before firing on them. Of course, the only way to know for sure is if they fire on us.”
“No,” the CO said. “What we do is let them get close enough we can get a good look at them. If they even look like Dreen, we’ll drop the torps. Tactical, target status?”
“Bearing remains the same, Conn,” Tactical said. “Range has increased slightly.”
“Pilot, slow to one hundred gravities of acceleration,” the CO ordered.
“One hundred gravities, aye, aye.”
“How close do we let them get?” the XO asked.
“That is a very good question,” the CO admitted. “No more than two light-seconds. Tactical, I need a continuous update on range to target. Pilot, I want a continuous high G random evasion pattern. If they’ve got a ship-killer laser with this range, we won’t see it until it gets here. I want to avoid that.”
“Random evasion, aye.”
“What haven’t I thought of?” the CO asked.
“The Dreen didn’t seem to have any technology that fell into the category of magical, sir,” Bill replied. “They didn’t teleport except through the gates. They didn’t seem to be able to read minds. I can’t think of anything.”
“Space fighters like the Cheerick?” the XO asked.
“Possible,” Bill said. “Even likely depending upon their tech. Space fighters require that you have a technology that accelerates a small system faster than a more massive one. If they have that, then space fighters are a possibility. This is all guess-work.”
“Conn, Tactical. Target’s emission profile is changing. Target bearing seems to be changing. I believe they might have launched something. Separation. Conn, Tactical. Sierra One bearing change. Bearing now one-one-three mark one-seven. New target, designate Sierra Two. Energy profile lower. Bearing constant. Range decreasing.”
“Keep me updated on Sierra Two,” the CO said. “Send Sierra One data to Astrogation. Weaver, where are they going?”
“Working on that, sir,” Bill said. “It will be a minute.”
“Conn, Tactical. Sierra Two closing at over one thousand gravities of acceleration. Sierra Two redesignate, Bandit Group One. Count twelve. May be Bandits or Vampires, still unsure.”
“Space fighters,” the CO said, nodding. “Very high accel.”
“Higher than ours, sir,” the XO pointed out.
“Yep,” the CO replied. “Recalibrate tubes two and four for bandit signatures. Fire on my mark.”
“Conn, Tactical, Bandits at three light-seconds and closing.”
“Communications,” the CO said. “Send them a hail. Standard first contact dits and dashes.” He looked over at the XO. “See what they make of that. Astro, Sierra One?”
“Headed on a bearing to intercept our friends,” Bill said. “About seven hours to that location at three hundred gravities. Depending upon their system, they may have to slow down or they’ll be going really fast when they get there. In which case longer.”
“Gimme a view of Bandit One,” the CO said.
There was barely a shimmer on the viewscreen. The smaller ships were too small at that range to resolve well.
“I wonder how much fuel those things have,” Spectre mused. “Are they missiles or space fighters? Are they designed to be recovered, in other words, or do they destroy themselves in a wealth of glorious energy release? If we outrun their point of no return, will they turn around and rejoin their carrier or blow up?”
“Knowing the Dreen, they’re probably grown, sir,” Weaver said. “They could be a bit of both. If they do the mission and have enough fuel to return, they return. If not, they die in space. They’re just an organic extrusion of the ship. The way the Dreen work, anything is just an organic extrusion, no more important to them than skin cells flaking off are to us. They may even be consumed upon return rather than, say, refueled, rearmed and refurbished. The ship is probably able to grow more as long as it has the necessary components.”
“Space fighters and missiles?”
“If they fire something at us they’re space fighters,” Bill said, shrugging. “If they try to close with us and destroy us they’re missiles. We’re trying to apply human terms to Dreen. It doesn’t always work.”
“Conn, Tactical. Emission pulse from Bandit Group One—”
“They’re space fighters,” the CO said. Before Tactical could finish speaking, beams of actinic blue light flashed through space, all of them missing the rapidly jinking ship. “XO, fire tubes two and four. Wide spread.”
“Fire Tubes Two and Four!” the XO ordered. “Wide spread.”
The torpedoes were jetted out of the back of the ship under air power, then briefly engaged their spin stabilization and primary boost thrusters to launch themselves away from the ship and the incoming fire.
The ship rocked as both of the ardune torps detonated at under a thousand meters.
“Damage control!” the CO called.
“No reports of damage,” the XO replied. “Everything holding.”
“Let’s not launch any more missiles unless we’re way away from these guys,” Spectre said. “The only thing that saved us was that explosions don’t propagate for shit in space. Pilot, engage Warp One. Get us back to three light-seconds separation.”
“Warp One, aye,” the pilot replied.
“Tactical, keep us up on range.”
“Range two point three light-seconds, two point seven, two point nine…”
“Drop out of warp,” the CO said. “We’re going to give this chase another twenty minutes, then head to our friends. I just want to see if we can use up their fuel. Tactical, Sierra One?”
“Continually changing bearing,” Tactical replied. “They’re headed for somewhere other than us. Bandit group closing again.”
“They probably can do this for hours, sir,” Bill pointed out. “And we don’t know how long the repairs are going to take.”
“Agreed,” the CO said. “XO, set tubes one and two. Just drop them out this time, though.”
“So, Weaver, heard any good ones lately?”
“Did you hear the one about
“No. How do Dreen — ?”
“Tubes set,” the XO interjected.
“Pilot, when I say launch, go to Warp One for three seconds.”
“Warp One three seconds on launch, aye, aye.”
“Launch tubes one and three!”
“And they didn’t blow them up,” the CO said as they came out of warp. “Nice to know. Now to see if we can get any of them. Tactical, how long until the bandit group reaches the mines?”
“Seven minutes, Conn.”
“So we wait,” the CO said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “So, how do Dreen get a date, Astro?”
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“Tactical, what’s the status on Bandit Group One?”
“Should be closing the mines, Conn,” Tactical replied. “They are within their engagement range based on previous engagement. My count says ten seconds and an additional three and a half second light delay. Any second, now…”
The space fighters were nearly impossible to pick out on the screen, but the flash wasn’t.
“Whoa,” Spectre said. “Was that one or two? Did we get them or did they detect them? Tactical?”
“Our systems are still whited out from the detonations, Conn, wait one… Conn, Tactical. Two detonations right on the second to intercept time. Bandit Group One now… Six… No, eight bandits.”
“We got four of them,” Spectre said, nodding. “That’s what I wanted to know. We can get them if we’re lucky and smart. Very well. Commander Weaver, set a course for our friends and let’s hope they can get the repairs done in time.”
“Good haul,” Kond said. “But that’s grapping bad news about the Dreen, man. Gonna be tighter than a gnat’s ass.”
Spectre made a killing motion with his hand and looked around the conn.
“Is it just me, or did that get more colloquial while we were gone?”
“Let’s try to explain that to them at a later date, sir,” the XO said.
“Right,” the CO replied, pointing at the screen. “How do you want to do this?”
JOHN RINGO SERIES: