Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 25part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
The ships approached fast on the screen, then flashed to the rear, just a blur to the human eye. The cameras panned for a receding shot as the Blade thundered back into deep space.
“Let’s take a look at what we got,” Spectre said. “Pilot, make for the edge of the system. We’ll do a partial chill while we analyze this.”
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“These are two radically different ships,” Bill said, looking the images over. “Okay, the Hexosehr generate ‘unreality’ using those pods all over their ship. I’d guess that the spikes on the Dreen ship are the same thing, just without the pods at the end, for some reason. The other ship is interesting, though.”
He brought up a wide image of the ship from the side and zoomed in.
“Spectral analysis of the hull shows it to be steel,” Bill said. “I would guess that it’s what’s called high refractance steel, steel that has been specially treated to be about five times the strength of normal steel. We can only do that with micro-layers at this point. If it’s that way all the way through, that’s one tough hull. No way of knowing if it’s layered like Chobham armor, but that would be a good guess. It may have layers other than steel, that’s all we can see on the outside.
“Warp appears to work differently from the Hexosehr or the Dreen,” he continued, pointing to a long array on the side of the ship. “This might be part of their tactical system, but my guess is it’s their warp system. Their wormhole generator or whatever. But that’s just a guess.
“Drive system? Unknown. There’s major meson output, low neutrino. I have no idea what that means. We don’t even understand our own drive. But it’s definitely reactionless. If we postulate thirty percent inefficiency in the drive, given the output their engines are putting, they generate out about ten to the eighteen joules of energy, which is about the energy budget for Earth.”
“Whoooo,” the XO whistled. “Those are some massive engines.”
“They’d have to be to move that monster with any speed,” Bill said. “And they don’t appear to be quarkium; the signature is all wrong. At a guess, fusion. But that’s just a guess. Top acceleration appears to be about three hundred gravities. Which is a very good thing. But getting to this thing… Tactical?”
“The ship is a mass of weapons,” the TACO said, zooming in. “We’ve identified forty-seven mass drivers, twenty things we think are laser emitters and fifty-three more we’re not sure about. They might be plasma guns. The ship seems to be wrapped around a large opening on the front. No idea what it fires but I’d guess if it hit us we’d be nothing but a mass of smoke. When we were in warp, all of their fire was initially behind us. As we approached, though, and passed, watch this…”
He adjusted the controls to show the tactical screens that were tracking fire. As he’d said, the first bursts were well to the rear. Within a second, though, they were blasting all around the wildly jinking ship.
“Analysis and some shots from secondary cameras showed that the plasma fire was hitting us by the time we were passed,” the TACO said grimly. “They were able to figure out how to hit us even though we were superluminal and only in their engagement range for less than a second. That’s… amazing. They were having to anticipate where we were going. It’s a lot harder than hitting a quail, sir. It’s hitting a quail that’s always ahead of where you’re seeing it. A really really fast quail. No wonder missiles don’t work on these guys. Unless it was in warp, I don’t see how one could. The good news is, the fire was ineffective.”
“Yeah,” Spectre said. “But if we’re in warp, we can’t fire back. Are we sure it was a Dreen ship?”
“Look at the fighters, sir,” Bill said, cutting to another view. Just under the, possibly, warp generator, hatches flew open and pods ejected. They were either the same fighters that had followed them or remarkably similar. With the closer shot it was apparent that they were a brownish-yellow in color and had wings with pods on the tips that glowed purple. There was no apparent cockpit. They banked, hard, to the rear and followed the Blade as she receded, but were never able to catch up. Just before she went entirely out of range, they opened fire with plasma from the glowing pods on the end of their wings.
“Emissions were different than those from Sierra One,” Weaver continued. “More neutrinos, fewer mesons. Output, again, equivalent to a large nuclear reactor if they’re only seventy percent efficient. Love to know their power source. Oh, by the way, they’re a bit slower than the dragonflies from Cheerick. I don’t know which is more maneuverable. Their plasma guns, though, are stronger than the dragonfly lasers. It would only take a couple of hits to take down the dragonfly shields. But they don’t have shields according to the Hexosehr. I’d say that a dragonfly could take them one on one. Plasma energy will fall off over distance. The dragonfly should be able to outrun them and stay at range. Close in? That would be tougher. We’re still not sure on the cycle time of either the dragonflies or these fighters. It’s worth noting that there are thirty ports for fighters on this ship. I’d say it qualifies for the term dreadnought. I doubt there’s much it dreads.”
“The interesting thing from my point of view is that we detected no tracking emissions,” the TACO said. “We still don’t have a good algorithm for using the lidars or radar while superluminal, so we weren’t pinging them. But they also weren’t pinging us. Everything appeared to be passive. I have no idea what that means.”
“Radar and lidar are relatively short ranged,” Weaver said, shrugging. “I doubt that they’re used much in space combat. The Hexosehr didn’t ping us, either. I’d say most space combat is more like traditional sub combat; you stay quiet and hope to hit the enemy when he doesn’t know where you are. The difference being that ships emit lots of particles. I’m still trying to figure out how that’s going to work. Assuming we ever come up with a weapon that will permit us to strike back usefully.”
“So we’ve got nothing useful?” the CO asked angrily. “Lasers, missiles? Nothing?”
“Not that I can think of, sir,” Bill admitted. The TACO just shrugged.
“Commander Weaver, what happens if you ram something like that while in warp?” the XO asked. “I’m not suggesting that we do it, mind you…”
“The big question is what the drive is going to do, sir,” Bill admitted. “It has some interesting built-in safety features. My guess is that it will stay in warp while we’re in the same space. Which means we won’t be; we’ll be in another universe. In that case, nothing. If it continues to cycle, it will depend upon where we are when we cycle into this universe. If we cycle in while we’re interpenetrated, I would guess one massive damned explosion, sir. And we’d both be dead. Another possibility is interpenetration without explosion. There’s a way that I could see the drive doing that. Then we’d cycle out and possibly take some of their mass with us while leaving other behind. Frankly, sir, I really don’t have the slightest clue, but those are some of the possibilities.”
“So it wouldn’t destroy them and not us?” Spectre asked.
“Unlikely,” Bill said. “I mean, the drive might do it that way, but I doubt it. Most likely, no effect at all. That seems to be the approach of the builders, sir.”
“Wait, there’s matter all through space,” Spectre said, frowning. “I mean, not a lot. But we’ve covered a lot of ground. Surely we’ve hit stuff before.”
“And there’s been no effect,” Bill said, nodding. “That’s part of my thinking, sir. Admittedly, if we are notionally in the same space as a micrometeorite or an Oort Cloud object, we’re probably cycled out. We spend about four times as much time cycled out as cycled in. But we’ve never picked anything up cycling in. Given the way the ship is built, if the drive was designed to allow interpenetration, by this time we’d have had a micrometeorite punch a hole in something. Its relative velocity would be high enough it would be like a gun being fired in the ship. It would be noticeable. Nothing like that’s happened, so my WAG is that there’d be no effect if we flew through this thing. O
“Yeah, let’s not try that,” Spectre said. “Look, we’ve got a bunch of smart people on this ship. Figure out a way to hurt that thing. Figure it out.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” the XO said.
“Do one more flyby,” the CO said. “I want shots of every angle. I want all the data we can gather. Then we’ll head back to the Hexosehr and see what they say.”
“It is a captured ship.”
Bill was using the wardroom systems to talk with the Hexosehr tactical officer about their findings.
“Not one of ours,” Favarduro continued. “I do not know what species it was captured from. Perhaps the one that supplied the sentient commander, perhaps not.”
“And the smaller ship?”
“Pure Dreen,” Favarduro said dismissively. “One of what we call the Squee Destroyer class. Plasma cannons larger than fighters, fairly fast. About five hundred of your gravities of acceleration. Faster in real space than we are. But easy enough to destroy with a chaos generator. No match for us. For you? Do not try to take it on in real space.”
“Any idea what the major gun on this one is?” Bill asked.
“It is not a class we have fought before,” Favarduro said. “I have no idea. It does not appear to be a chaos generator or a plasma cannon. A mass driver perhaps.”
“What happens if we manage to take this ship out?” Bill asked. “More Dreen?”
“The nonsentients will return to Dreen space and get orders,” Favarduro said. “More may be sent on our trail. But it will be weeks before they return. Our trail will be faded. They may not be able to pick it up. In which case we escape. That assumes there is not another dreadnought out there. And another and another. The Dreen fleet seems endless!”
“How are your repairs going?” Bill asked.
“If your time estimate is accurate, we will be able to escape them, once again.” The tonality of the reply was not pleased.
“You’d rather fight them,” Bill said.
“I would rather destroy their entire race,” Favarduro replied. “Four worlds we occupied. I am from the colony of Squee. I joined the military just before the Dreen encountered us. No negotiation. They simply landed on the colony world of Squee and took it over. We sent ships to battle them. We won the first battle, then their main fleet arrived. Ship after ship after ship appearing through multiple unreality nodes. Thousands, tens of thousands. Our fleet was beaten. No, beaten does not explain it. It was destroyed, vanquished, as if it was not there. They destroyed Dreen ships, in turn, but there were so many of them it was pointless. More came through and more. A few escaped to bring the news. But ships take time to build. We had few warships at the start of the war and were able to make few before the next colony was lost. And always more Dreen and more.
“Then we lost my homeworld. Then they came to Hessserrra. By then it was apparent we could not win. We assembled a fleet of the best of us and our few remaining capital ships. Our best fighters, scientists, technicians, even philosophers. All were put in hibernation, packed into ships in a near panic. The rest of our race remained to fight. Our plan was to destroy each city by nuclear fire rather than have the Dreen consume us. I hate them, Commander Weaver. I hate them in the bitter dregs of my soul. Yes, I would rather stay and fight. But we are the last defense of those entrusted to us. We flee until we must turn. Then we turn, we slow them, and we flee again. Until, like the Klingoddar and the Savaur and the Laldrintha, we are pulled down. Four Chaos Destroyers we were when we left. One remains.”
“Well, we’re not going to let you go down,” Bill promised. “We’ve got an interesting ship. We’ll figure out an interesting solution.”
The Blade stood off while the Caurorgorngoth went into unreality. The pods on the ship began to glow, then flared like lightning, engulfing the entire ship. What happened next was hard to grasp. The ship seemed to fade to a dot but at the same time go away very fast.
“XO, run that again,” Spectre said, blinking.
Even with the replay slowed down, the effect was the same. Either the ship shrunk to a dot and disappeared or it flew away very fast.
“That’s probably what we look like in warp,” Bill said. “But that’s not the direction they said they were going. I suspect it looks that way from any angle.”
“Or he’s not going where he said he was going,” the XO said.
“Only one way to find out,” the CO replied. “Astro?”
“Course laid in, sir.”
“XO, let’s go find that fleet.”
“Fleet Master, we are receiving a transmission.”
The fleet was thirsty. The massive helium fusion reactors of the ships required enormous quantities of fuel and while any gas giant would do, gathering it was time consuming. But they had three extractor ships working on it full time as the few remaining corvettes watched in trepidation for the Dreen.
“The Caurorgorngoth?” Lurca asked hopefully.
“No, Fleet Master,” the communications officer said. “An alien race. They are sending over not only sound but also a translation program that they appear to have gotten from the Caurorgorngoth as well as a message from Ship Master Kond. Shall I pulse their words?”
“Show me the message from Kond, first.”
“Greetings, Fleet Master. If you are receiving this then our new acquaintances have been true to their word. We received damage to our unreality generator in the last battle and with their help have completed repairs and are preparing to enter unreality. These humans are friendly but primitive in their technology. The exception is their ship drive which they claim is an artifact that they found. Having pulsed their other technology, I believe them. Their ship is very fast and very quiet, though, so they have scouted our back-trail. One dreadnought, at least, remains. It will be to the unreality point in forty. With the help of the humans, we will be gone by then. We will meet you at the rendezvous in six hundred kleng. By then, if you’re sounding this, the humans will have arrived.
“This is the first potential ally we have found. It is to be hoped they can assist us but their ship is so unbelievably primitive I fear they will be of little use.”
“Where are they?” Lurca asked. “Why have we not detected them?”
“We have, now,” Fleet Strategy Master Matulain replied. “The Laegr picked up their transmission. But their signature is very low and they are stopped ten scrick away. I think they do not want us to fire upon them.”
“Let me see their transmission,” Lurca said.
“Greetings, Fleet Master Lurca. I am Ship Master Spectre of the Sharp Sword. We are humans, enemy of the Dreen. We have assisted Kond in repairs and now await his arrival as do you. We wish to open communication and friendly relations and to communicate about ways that we might battle our mutual enemy. We also have three survivors from the Klingoddar. We are aware that you have minimal supplies and cannot take on extra passengers. But we are in need of experts in technology and advanced battle to assist us in fighting the Dreen. We are wondering if you could wake up some experts and replace them with the passengers we have. We await your response.”
“It’s taking a while,” Spectre said, looking at the viewscreen. They hadn’t even gotten a “we got it” reply. The screen just showed a speckle of dots clustered by a Jovian. “What do you think they’re doing?”
“Refueling,” Weaver replied. “Pulling hydrogen or helium out of the atmosphere to refill their bunkers. And it’s a lot for him to assimilate all at once. They’ll get back to us.”
“The transmission included one of the Caurorgorngoth’s security codes,” the communications officer said.
“And if they have been taken over by the Dreen, the Dreen could own all their security codes,” Matulain pointed out. “This could be a ruse.”
“The Dreen used no ruses,” Lurca said. “They used naked power. We will take them at their word. We must discuss what we can do to aid th
“I will wake Scientist Rimmild as well as Combat Master Dugilant,” Matulain replied.
“Wake Philosopher Baelak as well,” Lurca ordered. “She is a great thinker of the possibility of other races.” He looked at Matulain and pinged a note of humor. “And a great pacifist, yes?”
“I did not disagree, Fleet Master,” the strategy master replied. “I had long converse with her before she went into sleep. She was already adjusting some of her notions of other races.”
“Having whole worlds wiped out will do that,” Lurca said. “Communications Technician, open a channel to these humans. Let us talk of peace and war.”
The ship the Blade was parked by was, if anything, larger than the Dreen dreadnought. But it wasn’t a warship; it was a converted bulk freighter packed with Hexosehr in hibernation. Three of whom were headed for the Blade as their previous three passengers swarmed across to the freighter.
“So what are we getting?” Spectre asked.
“I’m still trying to parse it out, sir,” Commander Weaver replied. “But I think we’re getting three experts. A scientist that specializes in defense, one of their premier generals or an academic strategist, I’m not sure on that one, and their expert on dealing with alien races. I’d translate it as a Beltway Bandit, but a good one and I used to be one, a general or an admiral, and a diplomat. They’re also bringing communication devices so we can talk.”
“Can they handle our air?” the CO asked.
“No, but they’re bringing respirators.”
“Well, I want you and Miss Moon to meet them at the airlock,” the CO said. “Oh, hell, I guess I need to get down there, too. And get a platoon of Marines as honor guard.”
“Damn, they’re funny looking,” Himes subvocalized.
JOHN RINGO SERIES: