Manxome foe votsb 3, p.24
Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 24part #3 of Voyage of the Space Bubble Series
“Bring your ship alongside and we will remove the wing,” Kond said. “We have technicians who are familiar with the system.”
“XO, bring us alongside.”
“Is the squee intact?”
“The engine on the end of the wing?” Spectre replied. “We don’t know.”
“Having a spare unreality generator would be radical, dude. I sure hope it’s working.”
“I hope so as well,” Spectre said as the Blade pulled up beside the larger ship. He made a cutting motion again, indicating that the sound should be turned off, and looked over at the XO. “Marines are on standby?”
“Yes, sir,” the XO said, turning his face away from the cameras. “In repel boarder positions. One platoon in armor. SM-9s are hot.” With the ship pointed “up” towards the aliens, all Spectre had to do was order “fire” and all four of the missiles would launch across the short distance to the alien ship. It would probably destroy the Blade, as well, so it was a penultimate choice. The absolutely last ditch involved the three keys, held by the CO, the XO and the astrogator, that had been inserted into locks and turned. All Spectre had to do was flip up a cover and hit a button and the drive would go critical, causing an explosion equivalent to a nova.
“Keep all the cameras going.” He motioned for the communicator to be turned back on. “I’ll be honest. We’d like a look at one of your… unreality generators. It is a technology we wish to explore.”
“Why?” Kond asked. “Yours is far superior. You do not require a squee to enter unreality.”
“We didn’t get that last squee,” Spectre said. “How do you go faster than light?” Only the central monitor was on the view from the alien ship. The rest were trained on the exterior of the alien ship. Aliens in suits and a group of what looked like robots had exited and were approaching the Blade, but only heading for the wing behind the sail. Of course, the main hatch to conn was right by it. That was probably a bad move.
“We approach a squee, open it and enter. You seem to create your own squee.”
“At a guess something like a wormhole,” Bill said, nodding. “But those aren’t supposed to be in every system. They’re actually supposed to be fairly rare.”
“Is this the same system the Dreen use?” Spectre asked.
“Yes,” Kond answered. “It is why they’re heading here. They wish to use the unreality node to jump to the next star. Unfortunately, as they have been doing for many squee, this battle group is following our trail. We cannot seem to shake them; they’re worse than bloodhounds.”
“So it can’t get unreality node on three tries but it knows what bloodhounds are,” Spectre said, shaking his head. The aliens and their robots were working fast. They already had the wing detached and moving across the intervening space. Spectre could back away at any point.
“You did not fear we would try to take over your ship?” Kond asked as the wing was lowered onto his ship.
“You’ve been awfully friendly so far,” Spectre said, trying not to grin. “And so have we. Why cause problems?”
“Because your ship is pimped,” Kond replied. “It’s fast as a thief and twice as hard to follow. Your tech is so much better than ours, the only reason I allowed this was necessity. I know you can destroy us at your leisure, that you could probably take us over without really trying. I have made preparations against that, but I figure they’re pissing in the wind. I thank you for not doing so.”
“You might be surprised,” Spectre replied dryly. “What we don’t have, I’ll admit, is that weapon you fired at us. I don’t suppose we could borrow it.”
“No,” Kond said. “It’s tied into the deep structure of the ship. But surely your weapons far surpass it.”
“Actually, they don’t,” Spectre said.
“Sir!” the XO snapped.
“Our drive system that you like so much is an artifact we picked up,” the CO continued. “This is the only ship we have. Your technology is far in advance of our own. Going to try to take us over and steal it?”
“No,” Kond said after a long pause.
“The situation is the reverse of what you thought,” Spectre pointed out. “You might be able to take us and get our drive. It would make you fast as a thief and twice as hard to find. Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Kond replied. “You have played fairly with us. We shall do the same. On my honor as ship master. Our people try to do all things in honor and fairness. It is our way. You may keep your drive.”
“Thank you,” Spectre said.
“Besides, I’m sure you have made preparations if I try to take it,” Kond added.
“Yes, we have,” Spectre said. “But it’s why we’d like to look at the unreality generator and your other technologies. Ours are much lower. This ship is great, but we have no others. And our weapons technology is very inferior. If that’s in any way shaking your honor, be aware that the drive can be used as a weapon. A suicidal one, but you’re not taking this ship or finding out where our homeworld is and any attempt to do so will destroy both of us.”
“We understand each other,” Kond said. “If we reach our fleet, if we can shake the Dreen, perhaps we can talk.”
“Where is this unreality node?” Spectre asked.
“Here,” Kond replied. “Where we lie, all dissed up.”
“Not picking up anything unusual, sir,” Bill said. “There’s a lot of hash from their power systems and ours but as far as I can tell, this is just empty space.”
“So we can’t even detect these things,” the CO said, sighing. “Well, this isn’t getting the Dreen beat. What about dropping some mines in here? They have to come here, right? So what about mining it?”
“They will sweep it before they enter,” Kond replied. “We will leave some, but only to tick them off. I do not expect them to stop them. They have a seriously pimped ship.”
“It’s big,” Spectre said. “Is that the biggest they have?”
“No,” Kond admitted. “There is another, a mind ship. It is much larger, much more pimped. It carries a true Dreen. The task force that follows us is controlled by a squee. There are at least two destroyers and the dreadnought left. There was another dreadnought with a squee commander as well as many lesser ships. They were all destroyed. But the dreadnoughts simply assimilate their organics and continue on. With enough organics, special materials and another squee the dreadnought could even twin.”
“I’m not getting the squee.”
“One such as you or I who is converted,” Kond said patiently.
“A sentient?” Weaver asked, fascinated. “Something that can think for itself?”
“Yes, a sentient,” Kond replied. “A thinking being. They can take such a one and make it a thinker for them. They squee him, enter him, make him half Dreen. The only true sentient Dreen are the hive minds. We think so, anyway. We were defeated so swiftly we could find out little about them. Hive minds travel in mind ships, vast beyond belief. But we know that smaller fleets, such as this one, require a converted sentient to control them and make higher decisions. There is such a one on the dreadnought. It may be the squee or the squee or even the squee. There may be other races as well. Those are the three that we have encountered who are converted.”
“I wish we could sit down for a face to…” Spectre said, then paused, realizing suddenly that diplomacy was not his strong suit.
“I wish I could sound you as well,” Kond replied.
“Your system must be getting better,” the CO replied. “That was a colloquialism that actually works. Okay, since we still have trouble with scientific and military details, we’re going to go survey this oncoming vessel. Given what you’ve said, we may not be able to attack them, but the reverse is also true as long as we stay in warp.”
“You can sense out of unreality?” Kond said. “A most excellent ability.”
“When we get to be friends enough, our government will probably show your scientists our drive,” Spectr
“What is the nature of your weapons?” Kond asked. “If you don’t mind.”
“Chemically propelled rockets with powerful warheads,” Spectre said.
“Those will be of little use,” Kond replied. “Their antimissile defenses are strong. They will easily detect them and shoot them down.”
“Do they have any sort of shield?” Weaver asked.
“Squee shields,” Kond said. “That is effective against squee. It is tight to the hull. Their ships normally mount squee and squee for both defense and offense and fire squee for medium-range attack. They also carry squee for longer-range attacks.”
“We lost almost all of that,” Spectre said tightly. “Squee shields. How do those work?”
“Electricity is generated and forms a squee shield. It stops squee.”
“We’re still not getting that squee,” Weaver interjected. “What is the last thing? What it stops?”
“Matter that the squee have been stripped from by energy. This creates a high energy material that is the fourth state of matter.”
“Plasma,” Weaver said, wincing. “That’s what we got fired at by. Very high velocity plasma, too. Nearly light speed. Ouch. Those are going to be nasty. And they have shields that… Oh, hey, something I understand!”
“You’re ahead of me, then,” Spectre said. “What is a squee shield?”
“We’ve actually got that technology, but much lower power,” Bill said. “The physics of it is the same as that in a plasma ball that you see in novelty stores. The little purple glow around the interior of the ball protects it the same way. It is called a Debye shield after the scientist who first described it mathematically. DARPA and AFRL and even NASA have been researching uses for it for decades. Certain types of armor-piercing weapons use a jet of plasma to penetrate armor. Notably, RPGs. The Brits developed a sort of static electric charge that could be formed over their armor that disrupts the plasma. For that matter, now that I think about it, Boeing was working on something similar for the space plane. When you do a high-speed reentry, the air forms plasma around you. That’s what the space shuttle tiles deflect. We might actually be able to copy their shield technology, if we get the power systems to duplicate it.”
“Good to know,” Spectre said. “Kond, those longer-range attack, those are what we call fighters? Manned ships? Or missiles?”
“They are creatures that have reactionless drive and medium ranges,” Kond said. “They fire squee.”
“Lasers are what we pulsed you with to determine the size of the wing,” Weaver said. “They are light, a medium level electromagnetic spectrum light that is coherent. Does that help?”
“Lasers,” Kond said. “They fire lasers of squee range electromagnetic spectrum. Very high frequency, beyond that of your signal. Also squee. These fire… squee at high velocity. What a ship is made of.”
“Metal slugs,” Weaver said. “A slug driver. Heavy metal? Very dense? How large?”
“Depends on the gun,” Kond said. “Very small to quite large.”
“Well, let’s go do a flyby,” Spectre said. “We’ll see what works and what doesn’t. Probably nothing, but we’ll keep trying until we figure something out. Kond, good luck. We’ll see if we can delay them.”
“Perhaps they will choose to pursue you,” Kond said. “Good luck as well.”
“If they’re continuing on the same course and acceleration, they’re going to be about three AU in, towards our last position, sir,” Weaver said. “Want a bearing?”
“Please,” Spectre said. “XO, stand down for the transit, then back to Condition One.”
“Aye, aye,” the XO replied.
“Pilot, set course. Warp Three. Let’s go see what the Dreen are up to.”
“Having fun, Miss Moon?” the CO asked as they headed towards the rendezvous.
“Quite a bit,” Miriam admitted, looking over her notes.
“Thank you for cracking the communications barrier so fast,” Spectre added. “I was surprised how well it all worked.”
“Oh, that was mostly their systems, sir,” Miriam replied. “I didn’t do much.”
“Unless I’m much mistaken, they were stuck until you figured out how to rewrite our systems to convert sonar to video,” the CO said definitely. “That, right there, was an amazing feat. But I was wondering about the, ahem, nature of the translation.”
“Oh, that,” Miriam said, dimpling. “Well, when we were leaving I dumped a mass of audio to their communications officer so he could use it to improve the language. Unfortunately, most of it was audio tracks from… entertainment programs.”
“Oh, God,” Spectre groaned. “You sent them a hundred hours of MTV, didn’t you?”
“No, sir,” Miriam said, wincing. “There was some MTV in there, but not that much. But… it was all popular entertainment programming. So their translators are now a bit… biased to nonformal speech. We’re working on it. But ‘dude’ seems to be a bit hard to write out. In part because it’s an accurate translation.”
“They call their CO ‘dude’?” Spectre asked, grinning.
“More or less,” Miriam replied. “The Hexosehr seem to be a highly cooperative species with an almost total lack of formality. In many ways they seem somewhat Japanese; they seem to prize agreement over argument at least within a sub-group. Americans are very different; we are a very contentious society. But they lack the severe formality of the Japanese, which is an artifact of constraining humans to the degree that they do. I could get their communications officer to substitute another term, but the choice is difficult. They have no terms relevant to ‘sir’ or ‘madame.’ So calling their captain ‘Dude’ is a fairly good translation. That’s why it’s hard to filter out.”
“The… Hexo… ?” the CO asked.
“It’s really a made up term, sir,” Miriam said, shrugging. “Their name for themselves translates as ‘us.’ So does ‘human’ to them. And it’s entirely in the inaudible range. Even compressed to where we can hear it it sounds like: Hecsssosssrre. Hexosehr not only refers to their six limbs but is pronounceable by the majority of major linguistic groups. I figure even a TV reporter can’t mess it up too badly. I explained the change to their communications officer and he understood. They’re having a hard time with both human and Terran. They don’t do the hard u or soft e well and t comes out as a click. So they pronounce Terran as !Tran!.” The latter sounded like something in Bushman. “They’d probably be better off with Chinese, to tell you the truth.”
“Ooookay,” Spectre said, his eyes wide. “Hexosehr it is. I didn’t realize that you were having so much conversation with their communications officer.”
“I was using subvocal most of the time,” Miriam admitted. “I realized I can get into inaudible range that way. Low inaudible. Their range is huge, higher and lower than ours. I can’t do even mid-range low for them, but I can go high. I was trying to speak their language direct, but it still didn’t work,” she finished with a sigh.
“It’s still an impressive achievement,” Spectre said. “I’m putting a commendation in your file. I’m glad you’re along.”
“I’m glad I finally have a job to do,” Miriam said. “Although I miss the painting.”
“There’s always the trip back to look forward to,” Spectre replied.
“Conn, Tactical. We’re picking up signatures consistent with Sierra One.”
“Slow to Warp One,” Spectre said, looking at the screen. “Anything on visual yet?”
“There,” Weaver said, pointing to the lower right-hand corner. He hit a control and highlighted the item, bringing it to the center of the main screen.
“Pilot, I don’t want to hit them,” the CO said.
“Closest point of approach looks to be about one light-second,” Weaver said. “Right at three hundred thousand kilometers. Resolution will be high at that range. We should be able to resolve down to nearly a centimeter. But we’ll be going by fast. We cross one light-second in .00014 seconds. Keeping the cameras on track with us doing a flyby is going to be the hard part. They’ll automatically follow their aim point, but we may get quite a bit of jitter.”
“Tactical, Conn,” Spectre said. “I want full emissions analysis, hull shots, spectral analysis. I want this ship folded, bent and mutilated.”
“Conn, Tactical. Understood.”
“Come to think of it, though,” Weaver said as the range dropped and the picture began to resolve. “That doesn’t look like what I’d think a Dreen ship would look like.”
The approaching ship was now clearly angular, looking something like a battleship. And it was also, just as clearly, made of metal.
“Conn, Tactical. Target designated Sierra Two. Forward of Sierra One. Its signature was masked. Shifting visual.”
The main camera pulled back and panned. The bow of Sierra One was still in view for size comparison. The new ship was ovoid and covered in what appeared to be long spikes. It also was a nasty green and yellow and did not appear to be made of metal.
“Now that looks like a Dreen ship,” Spectre said. “I’d put it at about a hundred yards long. Could that be our visitor to the colony?”
“Possible, sir,” Bill replied. “Same overall length and those spines look as if they could have been the landing spikes we saw. But why all over?”
“Conn, Tactical. Energy spike on Sierras One and Two…”
“Pilot, evasive maneuvers,” Spectre said as both ships exploded in fire. There were more of the solid silver flashes coming from them and as the camera widened its view, again, small dots could be seen flashing out of the side of Sierra One.
“They just launched fighters,” Spectre said, nodding. “Given that we’re going faster than light, that’s pretty good.”
by John Ringo have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes