Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 27part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
“You forgot to add installing the system,” Spectre said dryly.
“You forget that we have many hands to do that,” Dugilant said. “Already, our finest technicians and scientists are being awakened. We will install it on your hull along with a generator to run it. If you return to your planet, whatever the outcome of this battle, you may keep both. Good luck understanding the technology if we don’t survive.”
“Good point,” Spectre said with a chuckle. “I have to ask, did you mean for that to be dry humor?”
“Yes,” Dugilant said. “I’m glad you got the point.”
“I have been examining the information you have on planets,” Baelak said. “You have been very free with information.”
“We’re trying like hell to be friendly,” the CO said.
“Yes, but did you realize that the location of your home planet was on your open system?”
“No,” Spectre said, swallowing. “It is?”
“You have astronomical data on various stars,” Baelak said. “I was unsure, but I had Rimmild take a look at it. He found it very easy to backtrack the information and its general location in relation to other stars was on another file. By matching the information about the stars in one file with that it was very easy to find. If the Dreen were to find this information…”
“I get the point,” the CO said, shaking his head. “We’ll look into it.”
“However, there is information on some other planets,” Baelak said. “That, too, was helpful. Although it will take us nearly two years to reach it, I think the planet called Runner’s World would suit us.”
“Well, yeah,” the CO said, wincing. “Except for the crabpus. Don’t go near the water.”
“We appreciate the warning,” Baelak said. “I saw the report on your previous mission and regret your many losses. However, we can deal with the fauna. The air is not perfect for us but it is close enough and we can terraform the soil to grow our foods. It is not ideal but it is good enough.”
“I’m sure that everyone will agree you’re welcome to it,” Spectre said. “When do we get this chaos generator?”
“Our technicians are being woken up right now,” Rimmild said. “Give them some time to get things explained to them then they will get to work. If you permit it?”
The CO sat back and thought about that for a second. So far, relations with the Hexosehr had been too good to be true. Admittedly, they were in a cleft fork. But the Dreen had tricked humans once. This could simply be a more elaborate ruse.
The flip side to that was that the Hexosehr could have tried to take the Blade several times. Yes, he’d prepared against it, but they could have. Doing an installation only raised the ante slightly. And the chance to get a weapon that was slightly more than the popguns they currently had—
“Make sure that the mount is somewhere that’s not going to be an issue. Then get on it.”
“We have one more piece of information that you need,” Baelak said. “I have discussed this with Fleet Master Lurca and he is in agreement that you should be told. We were able to gather information, as part of our intelligence gathering process, on Dreen spread before the final Fall. We think we have a fairly accurate estimation of their rate of spread, methods and probable direction.”
“Okay,” Spectre said, leaning back.
“The Dreen spread through two methods,” Rimmild said, picking up the thread. “The first is sub-light. They create pods which in turn deploy a solar sail and move towards distant stars. This, of course, takes decades or centuries but it is most thorough. They appear to have a database of some sort of all targeted stars. The pods are generated on captured worlds, yes, but also sometimes in portions of space which simply have a large abundance of stellar or semi-stellar carbon.”
“I don’t get that one,” Spectre admitted.
“Jovians,” Weaver said, shrugging. “There are some clusters of leftover bits scattered around which appear, from spectral data, to have up to low-volatile organics floating in some concentration in deep space. Big area around Vega, for example. I take it that’s what you’re discussing, Rimmild?”
“Yes, exactly,” the Hexosehr said. “But we believe that this is a legacy method. The Dreen may have begun their initial spread through sub-light but at this point they are primarily spreading through FTL means. And their rate of spread is increasing as they absorb more worlds.”
“You humans have a term,” Combat Master Dugilant said. “ ’The bottom line.’ What my colleagues are having a hard time saying is that based upon Baelak’s location of your home planet and our analysis, the Dreen will arrive there in between twelve and eighteen of your years. The best estimate is fifteen. You humans have that long to prepare. And you have no chance to survive without our technology and the technicians that exist in our refugee fleet.”
“I’ll admit that’s a hell of an incentive to help you guys out,” Spectre said calmly.
“The Philosopher of War Faet said it best: Alliances are based upon mutual need, not love,” Dugilant replied. “We need succor, you need our technology and technicians. Let us both hope for the best outcome to our forthcoming battles.”
“Whatcha doing?” Miriam asked.
Weaver had moved to the more-or-less deserted science department. There were just more flexible computers there. He was currently working on doing modifications to the astronomy mainframe.
“Working on a model for the attacks,” he said. “From our previous run we got a lot of data. Cycle time of their guns, accuracy of their guns, a feel for how their sensors work. I had a program for combat modeling on my laptop but it couldn’t crunch the numbers fast enough for me. So I’m loading it into this system and now I’m inputting the parameters. I don’t like the response.”
“Why?” Miriam asked.
“The only way this is going to work is if we start from outside their sensor envelope, come in very fast, probably at Warp Four, drop out of warp, fire almost simultaneously, and go back into warp again. The range on the weapon means that lightspeed in the control runs is going to matter. Their tracking and engagement time is just unreal. And we’re going to be out of warp for a minimum of a half a second, plus. Firing, during that phase, will bump that to nearly a second, possibly more. It’s more than just the transmission of the orders. There are information gates that are going to have to be sorted through. That’s enough time, based on previous information, that their plasma guns could get in a shot at that range. And one solid hit from those things and we’re toast.”
“Cut down the information lag,” Miriam said.
“How?” Bill asked.
“Set up the decision-making processors closer to each other,” Miriam replied. “Move the central node closer to the line between the drive and the chaos generator. By the way, has anyone asked if the chaos generator is going to interfere with the drive?”
“Urk,” Bill replied, grimacing. “That’s a very good question. And, no, nobody has. It’s going to have to be cycled up to fire while we’re still in warp. I have no idea if there are secondary effects from that.”
“Just an interesting thought,” Miriam said.
“We’re definitely going to have to test this thing.”
“Come,” the CO said, looking up from his paperwork.
Deep space mission or no deep space mission, in the middle of a situation or not, there was always paperwork. Some of it could probably wait for the trip home, but he hated to see it build up. Hell, there was going to be more paperwork from the new installation.
“I’ve got Hexosehr crawling all over the hull but I’ve brought up a, I think, valid point,” the engineering officer said. “This generator isn’t designed to go under water. We install it on the hull and we’ll have to land in Dreamland to have it deinstalled.”
“I’m sure they’re going to want to get their hands on it, anyway,” Spectre said. Dreamland was a p
“All well and good, sir, but we’ve got to land with it. But I’ve been looking at the thing, sir. It’s not all that big, actually. Nor is the fusion generator they’re installing with it. I think it would fit in one of the tubes.”
“So you want to jettison one of the missiles and put it in there?” the CO asked. “Fine by me.”
“I’ll see if we can,” the engineer said. “Thank you, sir.”
“Just get me an operational weapon, Eng. I don’t care if it’s installed in the wardroom.”
“So that’s the new super weapon,” Himes said. “Doesn’t look like much.”
The chaos ball generator was a squat cylinder, less than two meters high, with a bulbous end that made it look vaguely obscene. A group of Hexosehr were fussing around it and the similarly shaped generator it had arrived with.
“What’s it do again?” Smith asked.
“Shoots chaos balls,” Berg said. “I have no clue what that means.”
“So we’ve got something that looks like a gongoran that shoots flaming balls?” Himes said. “And we’re named the ASS. This is just getting worse and worse.”
“And why are we out here?” Smith asked. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to be turning a wrench or anything.”
“Because we’re about to pop a missile out,” Berg said. “At which point, somebody has to secure the warhead. Who secures nuclear warheads, Lance Corporal Smith?”
“Marines,” Smith said glumly. “I’m just getting tired of standing around on the hull all the time.”
“Would you rather be in your bunk?”
“Come to think of it, yes!”
“Here we go.”
The missile was not being fired out but carefully lifted by a team of missile techs. It was only possible because the ship had gone to microgravity and they still had to do it slowly.
Once free of the tube the missile was slowly rotated onto its side and secured to the hull. Then the missile techs removed the warhead itself from the terminal stage. Last, the missile was unceremoniously pushed off the hull and into space.
“Seems like a hell of a waste,” Himes said. “One of those things runs a few million I’m sure.”
“Fifty-three,” Berg said. “But what are we going to do? Strap it to the hull to take home?”
“We’ve got all this other junk,” Himes pointed out. “Why not?”
“The junk isn’t explosive?”
“The warhead is,” Smith said as the missile techs approached. “And we’ve got to get it down to the armory. Does anyone else get a pucker factor from that?”
“The warhead is filled with quarkium,” Berg said. “Which pound for pound is more expensive than diamonds and can also be used to fuel the ship. And we might find a use for it. The missile… don’t think it will be much use. Last but not least, those are our orders.”
“You know, Two-Gun, sometimes you’re just too gung-ho for your own good,” Himes said as he took one handle of the carrier the warhead was secured to.
“Be careful with that thing,” Berg said. “And there is no such thing as too gung-ho.”
“Any word from the Caurorgorngoth,” the CO asked as he entered the conn.
“Negative, sir,” the XO replied. “At least nothing we’ve gotten from the Hexosehr.”
“Unless my eyes deceive me, the Dreen are overdue,” Spectre said, sitting down in his chair and accepting a cup of coffee from the COB.
“Yes, sir,” the XO replied.
“Status on our installation?”
“Doing the final fitting of the system, sir,” the XO said. “I went down to watch. It’s really rather fascinating.”
“That is so cool,” Miriam said.
She was in armor, floating just off the hull and looking down into the missile tube.
The team of four Hexosehr doing the installation of the chaos generator were attaching it to the side of the tube. The ceramic sheath on the interior had been removed and they were welding the weapon to the bare metal sides of the tube. Welding, though, wasn’t the right term. Melding was the term. A circular fitting had first been melded to the exterior of the generator and it was that which was blending, seamlessly, to the steel of the launch tube. The device they were using looked something like an oversized soldering iron. How it was making the two metals blend was, to Miriam, a mystery. And she had more than a casual understanding of metallurgy, having worked in the steel industry for a couple of years.
“How does it work?” she asked.
“I truly do not know,” Baelak replied. “You’d have to ask Rimmild.”
“I will,” Miriam said. “I will. That, right there, is a really important advancement we could use. There are thousands of applications.”
“That I realize,” Baelak replied. “Are you going to remain on the ship when they go to battle?”
“Of course,” Miriam said.
“You realize that…”
“I’ve been in a couple of battles before,” Miriam replied. “I know that they’re no fun. But where else would I go? Your ships are full and don’t have any of my needs. Besides, I’ve learned enough of the ship’s systems that I might be able to help if there is damage.”
“May the others stay as well?” Baelak asked. “Rimmild and Dugilant? They may be of use.”
“I don’t see why not,” Miriam replied. “What about you?”
“If you fail in this battle,” Baelak replied, “if the Caurorgorngoth is lost as well, then the Dreen will finally take us. I would much prefer to be in sleep and never know our fates.”
“You know, just when I think we’re similar as a species, I realize we’re not,” Miriam said. “That is a decidedly unhuman approach. We always want to know what is happening, right up to the point of death. In part, I’d guess, because we are so good at denial. Right up to the point of death we believe it can’t really be happening.”
“The Hexosehr are not that way,” Baelak said. “We see reality very clearly and do not deny it. We may disagree on certain points, but we still see reality. It is only how to deal with it about which we disagree.”
“And what reality do you see of this battle?” Miriam asked, engaging her suit jets to right herself as the Hexosehr finished the installation.
“That it is probably futile,” Baelak said. “This weapon will barely scratch the dreadnought. It may be better against the destroyer, but not much. And if your captain attacks again and again, as will be necessary, sooner or later the Dreen will get a shot through and then you will be destroyed. If we make it, we will bring words of your courage to your planet. But the reality that I see is that I would rather die, unknowing, in deep sleep than watch the final dissolution of my race.”
“Okay, let’s go try this thing out,” Spectre said, rubbing his hands. “Commander Weaver, I hope you have a convenient target? Any handy asteroids?”
“Well, sir, like any Jovian, this one has moons,” Bill said. “There are a couple of small ones. Does that work?”
“Gimme a course,” the CO replied.
“That’s a moon?” Spectre asked, looking at the lump of rock.
“Actually, sir, it technically counts as an asteroid that’s been captured by the gravity well of the Jovian,” Bill replied. “For it to be a moon, it has to have sufficient internal gravity to assume a circular shape.”
“So you did find me an asteroid,” the CO said. “Good job. Tactical, you have the target in sight?”
“Conn, Tactical, we are tracking the target designated Sierra Four.”
“Open tube doors and fire,” Spectre said.
What fired was a ball of white light that receded faster than the eye
“You missed, Tactical,” the CO said.
“We’re adjusting our targeting computers now, sir,” Tactical replied. “Be just a moment.”
“The Dreen target’s a lot bigger, sir,” Bill pointed out. “That thing’s barely the size of their destroyer.”
“We’re going to be shooting from much farther away,” the CO pointed out.
“Maybe, maybe not, sir,” Bill said, wincing.
“I think I’m not going to like this explanation,” the CO said. “But give it to me anyway.”
“Sir, we’re going to be trying to come out of warp at a very fixed point,” Bill said. “But even using a computerized system, a fraction of a second’s variation means we could be well outside the weapon’s range or… well inside. Really really inside. I’ve been looking at how precise our warp system is, from that POV, and it’s not really all that precise. It can get us consistently within a half light-second of our preferred position, but…”
“The range on this thing is a third of a light-second,” the CO said. “We could end up on the other side of the target, firing the wrong way. Or outside the envelope.”
“Yes, sir,” Bill said. “The needs of this mission are approaching the noise in our own ship systems. And that assumes we can get it aimed at all.”
“Conn, Tactical. We think we got the glitch worked out.”
“Try it again, Tactical,” Spectre said. “Turn that thing into dust.”
Again the ball of light, like a streak of lightning. This time, though…