Manxome foe votsb 3, p.28

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 28

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “Whoa,” the CO said, blinking his eyes. The impact of the chaos ball had been extremely bright and the asteroid was now two chunks drifting away from each other. “I like it. Right, Weaver, find us a bigger target and let’s try this warpy thing.”

  “CO has control,” Spectre said. “Matching target course and velocity?”

  “As closely as I can figure from these instruments, sir,” Weaver replied.

  “Right,” Spectre said, moving the reticle onto the larger asteroid. This one was, in fact, larger than the Dreen warship. “What’s the chance we’re going to come out of warp inside it?”

  “About a million to one, sir,” Bill said. “You want the details?”

  “No, million to one sounds good,” Spectre replied. “Prepare for engagement.” He took a deep breath and pressed the button on the joystick.

  They had started at five light-seconds out, the farthest that they could detect the target with their systems. But at Warp Four, that distance took less than milliseconds to cross. There was a confusing blur, a flash of light and they were looking at space again as the system automatically warped them to a preselected safe point.

  “What just happened?” the CO asked. “Did we hit it?”

  “Looking for it, Conn,” Tactical replied. “Found the target. Negative impact, Conn.”

  “Replay that at slow speed,” Spectre said.

  With the video at one-one hundredth speed, it was apparent that the ship had come out of warp at outside the range of the weapon. The effect of the chaos ball was impossible to determine because they had warped back out before it even reached the target.

  “The good news is, they probably wouldn’t have been able to hit us, sir,” Bill said. “Based on my models, about a one in a thousand chance.”

  “And we didn’t hit them, Commander Weaver,” the CO pointed out. “Any way to tweak this system? Get us a bit more likely to get closer? Get us a bit more accurate? Get rid of some of the noise?”

  “I can work on it, sir,” Bill said. “But we’re getting short on time. It’s more a matter of fine tuning the warp drive and that’s problematic from any number of perspectives.”

  “That assumes that the Dreen ever show up,” Spectre said. “I’m starting to feel like a prom date that’s been stood up. Where are they? But as long as it doesn’t break the system, take some time to tweak. Get Miss Moon in on it if you need her. Get that Hexosehr scientist in on it. Hell, get Tchar if you can drag him out of his room. Maybe he has a Ronco gadget that will help. I’m going to go do paperwork until you get this thing working. And call the Caurorgorngoth and find out where the Dreen are!”

  “I face the reality that is before me,” Kond said, examining the sonar taste of the unreality node. “The longer the Dreen fail to emerge, the more ready the fleet is to leave. This is a good thing. But they could only have delayed to take an action I cannot anticipate. This is a bad thing. Have they translated to another system to use a node we do not suspect? Surely they would not take the time. Surely they fear us less than that. But why have they stopped? Are they damaged? Were they, too, unable to generate unreality? I sit upon the crux of a decision not of my control and it is upsetting to my psyche.”

  “What is upsetting to my psyche is that I realize the humans have a weapon more effective for this than we,” Favarduro interjected. “We are not so insane as to carry quarkium in our ships. Their missiles are more powerful than anything we fire save the chaos ball generator.”

  “But too short ranged to do any good,” Kond said.

  “Except when a ship is coming out of unreality,” Favarduro replied. “We have laid mines, but they are paltry compared to a large quarkium release. And if placed in the node, they would be in contact on emergence.”

  “I need to call the Sharp Sword,” Kond said.

  “So they think our weapons can actually make a difference?” Spectre said. “Set a course for this unreality node. Let’s lay down some mines.”

  “We’re working on tweaking the precision of the warp drive, sir,” the XO reminded him. “I’m not sure it’s up at the moment.”

  “Get it up,” the CO said. “We’ve got a mission that actually works.”

  “The drives of the missiles are not designed to be parked in precise locations in space, sir,” the XO added. “We’re probably going to have to manually adjust them.”

  “Get a party of Marines,” the CO said. “They can handle it.”

  “Okay, I’ll admit that we should have been using these things when we were gathering space bits,” Powell said. “My bad.”

  “I didn’t even know we were carrying Cheerick boards, Top,” Berg replied, looking over the boards.

  The Cheerick antigravity surfboards, like the biological defenses of their planet, were the product of either ancient Cheerick who were light-years ahead of both humans and present day Cheerick in technology or, possibly, an older alien race. Nobody was quite sure. But the result was a marvel, a gold-colored board that looked not unlike a finless surfboard that was capable of reactionless flight and had, apparently, unlimited range. It sensed the desires of the rider, seemingly by telepathy, and went wherever the rider wished, even into space.

  Where they were created was still a mystery; they simply turned up scattered across the planet, one or two a year in any given area. Since they lasted, as far as anyone could determine, forever, the Cheerick had built up quite a supply of them over time. In the country that was the humans’ primary ally on the planet, they were a royal monopoly. The queen of the country, grateful for the aid the humans had given in saving her country, had turned over thirty of the boards to the Blade before it left. Most were being carefully taken apart in Area 51. But nine had been sent with the Blade.

  “They’re jettisoning the remaining SM-9s right now,” First Sergeant Powell continued. “As well as six torps. We’ll take all nine of the systems in tow and pull them over to the unreality node. So as soon as the Dreen come through, they’ll be sitting right on them.”

  “That’s going to be a nice Christmas present,” Gunny Neely said with a chuckle.

  “There’s one little ugly fillip,” the first sergeant said. “We don’t actually know when the Dreen are going to come through. If they come through while we’re doing this evolution, it’s going to get ugly. So work fast. And this is probably pissing in the wind, but just in case you do end up on top of a Dreen ship, you’re going armed.”

  “Understood, First Sergeant,” the gunny replied.

  “First Platoon is going to be in charge of placement,” Top added. “Since there are only nine boards, the guys placing them are going to have to use them. That means the teams and their leaders. Gunny, you’ll manage the action from the deck.”

  “Understood,” Gunny Neely said.

  “Get suited up and head topside. Two-Gun, I think you better get your guns.”

  “These things really work as advertised?” Smith asked, looking at the board askance. They’d carried them up to the top deck and now had to mount them in microgravity.

  “I’ve only ever used them more or less in air,” Berg replied, using his suit jets to lower himself onto the board. It felt rock solid, though. He disengaged the suit jets and thought about moving forward. The board moved out, his boots attached to it by a still poorly understood “sticky” effect that was suspected to be some sort of tractor field.

  “But they work just fine,” he added, swinging around. “Hop on.”

  The Marines, now that the one guy with experience using the boards was satisfied, jetted onto the boards and then started flying around.

  “Watch yourselves,” Berg cautioned. “Don’t run into each other.”

  “This is fun,” Himes caroled, scooting by. “Why didn’t we break these out to pick up debris?”

  “For once, Top forgot to think outside the box,” Berg said. “Now get in formation and settle down. The missiles are coming out.”

  Once again, the missile techs from the sub hoisted the
missiles slowly up into space. But this time, the Marines took over from there. After much discussion, the only thing that anyone could decide was to “lasso” the missiles with ropes and pull them into place.

  Berg attached the standing end of a rope to “his” missile, Tube Two, and then used the board to slowly circle it, paying out the rope so that it didn’t cause the missile to twist along with him. Once he’d circled it he made a slip knot and cinched it down.

  “Everybody ready?” he asked.

  “It’s spinning,” Himes said.

  “I told you to pay out the rope,” Berg replied disgustedly. “Just stop where you are. It’ll unreel, then come back around to your position. Tie it off, then. Smith?”

  “Got it tied,” the lance corporal replied.

  By the time Berg got to the nose of the ship, he could see where the unreality node must be. The rest of the platoon was clustered in the area, emplacing a circle of torpedoes.

  “Where’s the other missile?” Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe asked.

  “Himes had problems getting it tied off,” Berg replied. “He’ll be over.”

  “Slow down now,” Hinchcliffe warned. “These things tend to get away from you. And yours is about ten times bigger than the torps.”

  Berg had been thinking about that exact problem. So he slowly uncinched the rope and thought about slowing. The missile continued on its way, slipping through the rope. At the end of the missile were four control vanes, extended now that it was out of its launch tube. Berg cinched the rope down just before the vanes and wrapped the rope around the back of his armor. The free end had drifted forward as he slowed and as the rope went taut he carefully belayed it through his glove claws, slowing it as fast as he dared.

  “I think it’s going to get away from me,” Berg admitted. He wasn’t concentrating on the board but as he clamped down on the rope, the board adjusted its relative motion to the ship, “stopping” in space. The combination of clamping down on the rope and being “stuck” to the board meant that all the energy of the multiton missile was suddenly transferred to his suit.

  “Whoa, chither!” Berg snapped as his suit bent forward. He could hear joints straining but none of his seals popped, thank God.

  The rope, though, had flex in it. Thus the missile “stopped” but then rebounded, twisting in space towards his board.

  “Whoa, doggie,” Berg said, flying down and around the missile, then getting in position to move it from the rear. “This thing ain’t easy to move around.”

  “Vote, Wagner, get the nose under control,” Hinchcliffe ordered.

  With the help of the other two Marines, Berg managed to get the missile aligned on the unreality node just as Smith and Himes arrived. They, too, had trouble slowing the missile but with the spatial mechanics better understood the group of Marines was able to get them aligned in a few minutes.

  “Right, we’re good here,” Hinchcliffe said. “Let’s get back to the—”

  “MARINE UNITS! SCATTER! INCOMING DREEN!”

  “Conn, Tactical. We’ve got a big neutrino pulse coming from the unreality node!”

  “Tell the Marines to scatter,” Spectre ordered. “We’ll recover them later. Pilot, Warp One. Mark Ninety. Straight up. NOW!”

  “Himes, Smith, follow me!” Berg snapped, picking a star at random and thinking Head for that star, as hard as he could. He realized after a moment that he didn’t know if the board had warp capability. It might have been made by the same species that made the warp drive. But it seemed to be in normal space. Unfortunately. Because when that Dreen ship came through, the local area was going to be very unpleasant.

  “Oh, chither, oh, chither,” Smith was muttering over and over again.

  “Patron of Marines protect us,” was Himes’ mantra.

  Aware that he had no feel for distance, Berg spun his sensor pods, looking for the mines and missiles. When he found them, he couldn’t figure out if they were far enough away or not, but he also realized he didn’t want his sensor pods trained on them.

  He also noticed that the ship was just flat gone.

  “Hold it up,” Berg said, raising a hand. As he did, there was a flash that lit the metal glove as if were the heart of a sun. “I hope like hell this is far enough.”

  “Pretty,” Spectre said, looking at the transmission. The belly camera was out but the ship had gotten just enough of a look to tell that they’d gotten something. “Tactical, Conn. Any clue what we got?”

  “No clue, Conn,” Tactical admitted. “Whatever it was wasn’t there long enough for us to get a good emissions lock before it went up. But it’s also gone.”

  “Send a query to the Caurorgorngoth,” the CO said. “Maybe they can tell.”

  “Two-Gun, make for the Blade…”

  “Staff Sergeant,” Berg said on the leadership channel. “The ship is gone. It went into warp. We’re out here on our own. And we’re sitting ducks. Those Dreen ships can engage at up to three light-seconds. We can’t get away fast enough to avoid them.”

  “Suggestions?” Hinchcliffe asked.

  “Get in close,” Berg said, turning his board. “Get in really close. Maybe if we’re close enough, they won’t be able to engage us. Hell, board the bastards. Go down fighting.”

  “I can’t even figure out where the node is,” the staff sergeant admitted.

  “Still lots of particle emissions from the node,” Berg said. “Follow the trail, Staff Sergeant. Now you know why we’ve got all this gear.”

  The Marines turned their boards, hammering for the unreality node. There didn’t seem to be a hope in hell that they could survive. They had air for twenty-four hours and then it was gone. But, hell, they also had a full load of ammo.

  For that matter, Berg knew how to turn his suit into a micro-nuke. If it came to that, he was planning on going out with a bang.

  “Closing the node,” Hinchcliffe said. “Man, I don’t know what came through but all it is now is—”

  “Big neutrino spike, Staff Sergeant,” Berg said. “I think we’ve got com—”

  It happened too fast for Berg to process. One minute there was empty space and an expanding cloud of gas and the next there was a mothergrapping HUGE ship so close that he actually ran into the hull.

  The ship began to move and his suit was hit, again, by one of the projecting guns.

  Flipping in space, he accelerated up to the gun, grabbed on and then tossed a grenade down the open barrel. For all he knew, the gun wouldn’t even notice but it was a start.

  “Himes, Smith, locations?”

  “Mid-section, port, upper deck,” Himes replied. “I’ve grabbed onto a gun. I think it’s some sort of plasma gun. If it goes off, I think I’m toast.”

  “Right behind you, Two-Gun,” Smith said. “I just tossed a grenade in one of these cannon-looking things.”

  “Look for an airlock, any sort of entry,” Berg said. His sensors were getting washed with readings but a huge meson spike from relative “down” made him flip his board to relative down. A hatch had opened up and pods were jettisoning from the side of the ship.

  A hatch.

  “The ship is launching fighters,” Berg snapped. “Midsection, middle decks. Head for those hatches!”

  “Conn, Tactical, we’ve got another neutrino spike and this one is bigger… Conn, Tactical, Target designated Sierra One. Dreen dreadnought. Emissions spectrum indicates that converted battlewagon from — Another spike. Conn, Tactical, Target, Sierra Two. Dreen destroyer. Target, Sierra Three, Dreen destroyer. Battlewagon is launching bandits, Designate Bandit Group One. Target, Sierra Four, Dreen destroyer, another spike…”

  “Now we know what they were waiting for,” Spectre said calmly. “Reinforcements.”

  22

  “Any word from the Marines?” Spectre asked.

  The Blade had backed off as the Dreen surrounded the node with ships. Fighters were covering farther out. It was going to take some thought to take on the flotilla that had appeared.
>
  “We got some fragmentary stuff right as the battlewagon emerged,” the TACO said. “After that, nothing.”

  “What are we looking at?”

  “Sixteen ships,” the TACO said. “Sierra Nine I’d put in the class of capital ships. But from the fighter numbers, I’d say it was something like a carrier. Sierra One that has the emissions spectrum consonant with a convert is the other capital ship. All the rest look to be Dreen. Two that have higher emissions than the destroyers, they’re going to be larger. Call them cruisers. One battlewagon, one carrier, two cruisers, twelve destroyers, one of them a convert. Current count of about ninety fighters. Fighters appear to be working in teams of three, staying about two light-seconds out from the main fleet. But they’re harder to resolve from this distance. All of them are heading for the Caurorgorngoth’s position.”

  “Okay,” Spectre said, taking a deep breath. “Except for there being more targets, the mission remains the same. We will warp in and fire and warp out. I’d like to reduce the fighters. If they’re at two light-seconds, they could engage us while we’re doing relative adjustments. Do we have enough time during warp in to drop torps?”

  “Unlikely, sir,” the TACO said. “It’s very tight.”

  “Okay, if we can draw the fighters off we’ll scatter torps in silent mode,” Spectre said. “For that matter, we’ll scatter some ahead of the fleet until all but four are used up. But it’s time to get on our game face.”

  “Incoming transmission from the Caurorgorngoth,” the commo officer said as Spectre took his command seat.

  “Let’s see it.”

  “Vorpal Blade, this is Kond,” the ship master said. “If you wish to retire, it is understood. I have sent word of this disaster to Fleet Master Lurca. He agrees that it is unwise to attempt engagement. They are fleeing with what fuel we have.”

  “That’s fine, Kond,” Spectre said. “But I didn’t come here just to watch the show. Besides, there’s that whole mutual need thing. I take it you are not fleeing?”

 
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