Manxome foe votsb 3, p.32

Manxome Foe votsb-3, page 32

 part  #3 of  Voyage of the Space Bubble Series

 

Manxome Foe votsb-3
 



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  “Okay,” Spectre said calmly. “That did not sound good.”

  “Conn, Engineering.” There was a sound of coughing in the background of the sound-powered comm system.

  “Go, Eng.”

  “We just had a catastrophic failure of the neutrino generator. We’re down. We also have a fire but we’re getting that under control.”

  “We’re not all that far from the Dreen task-force, Eng,” the CO said. “Getting up is rather important.”

  “Understood, Conn,” the Eng replied. “We’ve got our rolls of duct tape out already.”

  “Very funny, Eng,” the CO said. “How long?”

  “When I have the slightest clue I’ll tell you, Conn.”

  “Weaver,” the CO said. “Get your happy ass down there and find out what’s wrong.”

  “Roger,” Weaver said, unhooking his belt and grabbing a stanchion. He shook his head and swallowed, far more affected by microgravity than normal. His head was swimming and he could barely figure out where the hatch out of the conn was. The repeated warps were seriously grapping with him. “On my way.”

  “Grapp,” Weaver muttered as he pulled himself into the engineering spaces. He wasn’t, by any stretch, the only visitor. It seemed like half the mechanics in the ship were in the room, some floating around waiting for orders but most dealing with the mess. Most of them still had the helmets down on their space suits, indicating just how bad the fire had been. Bill could smell the stench of melted plastics and ozone still, despite the recyclers being on at max.

  The problem was immediately apparent. The neutrino generator, an electrically charged Looking Glass boson held in a magnetic field, had blown a gasket. The LGB charging and confinement system was in pieces that were floating all over engineering and one of the nuke techs who manned the room was being given some rough and ready first aid for a piece of shrapnel from the controller.

  “What do you mean we don’t have a spare?” the Eng shouted just as Weaver entered the compartment.

  “I mean there’s no spare, sir,” LPO Macelhenie said, slowly and carefully. He was more or less upside down and had his helmet flipped back and his feet hooked around a pipe. “There was no anticipation that the controller would blow. It’s practically solid state.”

  “It’s not designed for repeated cycling, though,” Weaver said. “Chither. We ran it through a thousand cycles in tests but not this fast and we’ve done way more than a thousand cycles, all told, on it since installation. It should have been pulled and replaced before the cruise. It’s solid state, but it takes a massive electrical load to generate the neutrinos. Probably it just overheated and blew up like a transformer that’s been under too much stress for too long.”

  “So what do we do about it?” the Eng asked, trying to stay upright with a hand clamped to the back of a chair. “I’ve seen the schematics on it but I can’t really make heads or tails of how it works. And without the neutrino generator we are dead in space for the foreseeable future.”

  “I’m aware of that,” Weaver said, frowning. “Tchar?”

  “Human tech.” Tchar shrugged. He was more or less in midair, and also more or less upside down. “I’m thinking. No use of duct tape comes to mind.”

  “There’s the power input system,” Bill said, trying to think through the haze that the repeated warps had made of his brain. “Then the connections to the magnets. We’ve got dozens of magnets that can be used for stabilization. The power inputs to the LGB itself, but they have to be modulated. It was probably the modulator that overheated. We need a high power but small transformer, a modulator, an analog to digital converter—”

  “A computer,” Miriam said from the back of the room. She was tucked into a ball in an upper corner, clearly trying to stay out of the way. For once, she didn’t appear to be minding microgravity.

  “The power supply won’t take it,” Bill pointed out. “We’re talking about nearly a thousand amps.”

  “It will last for a while,” Miriam pointed out. “Replace it when it starts to wear. We’ve got dozens of computers in the science offices. And parts for them.”

  “No, a computer at best uses a ten amp power supply. The breakers and fuses on it will go out in milliseconds. It won’t work, trust me, I’ve blown them up before. Hmm…” Weaver shook his spinning head.

  “We could use a computer with an A to D card to drive the modulation though, but what would we modulate?”

  “A CD player,” Miriam replied. “It uses the same algorithms. We may have to do a manual adjustment but the controls are in the player, too, so that’s easy enough. Make a case from number thirty-two piping; there’s a four-foot section in the machine shop. From there it’s just a matter of enough duct tape.”

  “That’s a great idea, Miriam, but I still think it to be too small.” Weaver shook his head again. The spinning just got worse. “Uhg… hey, Tchar’s lazy Susan works just like the CD players do.”

  “You mean the thing he put together for the gamma ray Morse code thingy?” Miriam asked.

  “Yeah, that thing. Would it work?”

  “I can make it work!” Miriam agreed. “And that would solve our transformer problem too! But we’d need two of them, one for the modulator and one for the transformer. Drat.”

  “Always a two for one value at Triple A Plus Industrial Warehouse Online!” Weaver said, mocking Tchar. “He has two of them.

  “Why are you the only one whose brain is working?” Bill asked. “Mine’s fragged from the warps. In the past you would have been curled up in a ball somewhere.”

  “I don’t know,” Miriam said, shrugging. “I’m not bothered by whatever’s getting you guys. Maybe because I’m a girl. Maybe because I’m weird. But that’s not getting us fixed.”

  “Agreed,” Bill said. “Eng, you up with this?”

  “Not… really,” the ship’s engineer admitted. “My brain’s sort of melting, too. I don’t think I can even recall the design, much less figure out what Miss Moon’s talking about.”

  “Miriam, what do you need?” Bill asked.

  “Red and Sub Dude,” Miriam replied. “And about thirty minutes.”

  “We’re in range of the Dreen fighters,” Bill pointed out.

  “That does not help me think, Commander Weaver,” Miriam said, straightening her legs and bounding off the bulkhead towards the main hatch. “Just leave me to it and don’t tell me if we’re about to get blown up, okay?”

  “The neutrino generator blew out,” Bill said, strapping himself back into the astro chair. “Just blew the grapp all over engineering. Miss Moon’s figured out a fix. She’s on it.”

  “What do I even bring you guys along for?” Spectre said tiredly, then straightened. “I mean, she cleans, she paints and now she’s fixing my busted-up engine. I bet she can even figure out where we are if I need it.”

  “Right now I wish you’d left me on Earth, sir,” Bill admitted.

  “Conn, Tactical.”

  “Go.”

  “A flight of Dreen fighters has just broken away from the task force. They’re on a course to intercept ours. They’ll be in range in twenty minutes.”

  “Seriously wish you’d left me on Earth.”

  “How long on those repairs?” the CO asked.

  “Miss Moon said thirty minutes,” Bill replied.

  “Tell her to hurry up!”

  “Do you really think that will help, sir?” Bill asked.

  “Belay that order,” Spectre growled. “XO, prepare to launch torpedoes. I want a full spread. Maximum thrust for five minutes, then shut down. See if they can get in range of the fighters before the fighters get in range of us.”

  Bill did the math and didn’t reply. The answer was “no way in hell.”

  “There is no way in hell we’re getting out of here alive,” Berg said over the leadership freq.

  “Aware of that, Two-Gun,” Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe replied. “Just keep firing until you’re out. Then use your pistols.”


  “There’s an alternate plan, Staff Sergeant,” Berg said. Covering the door was so automatic he wasn’t having any trouble carrying on the conversation. It was just a matter of firing as conservatively as possible. They’d long before switched to single fire, alternating to full auto only when the Dreen made it into the room.

  Nicholson was down, not dead but his gun was sheared away from a thorn and another had punctured his armor. He said he was hanging in there, but his vitals looked lousy. Priester had clocked out on ammo, twice, so Hinchcliffe pulled him back to “security.” The sergeant was a good shot but God he used ammo like there was no tomorrow. Since its inception, the Marine Corps had stressed accuracy. Among other reasons, they often operated on very thin supply lines. When you were on thin supply, using the bare minimum ammo to kill your enemies and win the battle was a good thing. How Priester had not picked that up in his years in the Corps, Berg couldn’t figure out.

  He, Smith and Staff Sergeant Hinchcliffe were covering the door, killing Dreen dog-demons and thorn-throwers that seemed to be an endless stream. It was simply a question of what ran out first, Dreen or their ammo.

  “What’s your alternate, Two-Gun?” the staff sergeant asked.

  “There’s a way to overload the reactors in these suits,” Berg said. “An SF sergeant did it on the last mission and some of us tinkered with it until we figured out how he did it. It’s not a big nuke, but it’s big enough to take out this compartment and everything around it.”

  “Let’s save that for absolute last ditch,” Hinchcliffe replied after a moment’s thought. “But you’d better tell me the details in case you’re not the last guy in the compartment.”

  25

  “Conn, Tactical. Dreen fighters at one million kilometers.”

  Spectre frowned at the screen and snarled internally. Their lasers were popguns, not even capable of scratching the Dreen fighters. Torps were fired…

  “Roger, Tactical,” the CO said. “Range to torps?”

  “Four thousand kilometers, Conn.”

  The Dreen fighters had engaged at over six hundred million kilometers before. Chither, there had to be something…

  “What’s the orientation of the approaching fighters?” the CO asked, rubbing his chin. “Are they relatively above us or what?”

  “Off the starboard side, Conn, at mark neg one.”

  “COB?”

  “Sir?”

  “I want you to figure out how to rotate this ship so that those fighters are, relatively, above us,” the CO said. “Use anything you can. Get that chaos generator pointed at them.”

  “Roger, sir,” the COB said, pulling himself out of the compartment and forward.

  “Engineering is aft, COB,” the CO pointed out.

  “Torpedo room is forward, sir.”

  “Right, get both of the motors mounted relative up,” the COB said.

  The hardest and longest part had been getting the torps into place. There was a hatch directly to the magazine for loading the torps. Unfortunately, it was not an airlock. He’d ended up getting permission to jettison the ready torps and use those. Now it was just a matter of getting them lined up and controlled.

  “Rotators are in place, COB,” the LPO of the torpedo room said.

  “Conn, COB,” the COB said. “We can rotate. End to end control is still working. No yaw, yet. And it ain’t really fine control.”

  “That’s great, COB,” the CO said. “Gimme a short thrust rotating the port relative up. Just a touch.”

  “Gimme a touch of burst on starboard,” COB said.

  The torpedoman used a manual controller to fire the torp for just a moment.

  “Right, when I tell you I’ll need about the same in the opposite direction,” the CO said. “On my mark. Three… two… one… Mark.”

  “Fire port,” the COB said.

  “Too much, COB.”

  “Bit to starboard…”

  “Christ, I wish this was electronic control,” the CO muttered, then keyed the communicator. “That’s got it pretty close. We’ll need to fine tune that in a bit. Can you get the bow up, relatively?”

  “There’s going to be some rotation,” the COB answered.

  “That’s fine. Just a touch.”

  “I think that’s got it,” Spectre said after ten minutes. “Tactical, range to target?”

  “Seven hundred thousand kilometers,” the TACO replied.

  “Sir, you’re aware that they have more range than we do,” Weaver said quietly.

  “Yes, I am, Commander,” Spectre replied. “Thank you for your input.”

  Weaver knew he’d been slapped down and better than to comment.

  “Here’s the deal,” the CO said after a moment. “Yes, the plasma guns took out the torps. But we’re tougher than torps. We’re going to keep firing that chaos generator as long as it lasts and as long as we last. And if we can even get them to scatter a bit and hold off engagement, it gives Miss Moon more time to work. I was going to wait to engage them until they were in range. Now I’m going to start firing before they are in their basket. They’ll either choose to scatter or not, but they will by God know we may be dead in space but we’re not done fighting!”

  “Conn, Tactical, Dreen fighters approaching six hundred million kilometers. We have energy spike, Conn. Incoming.”

  “Open fire, continuous, on the chaos ball generator,” the CO replied. “COB, get ready to maneuver…”

  “What was that?” Miriam asked as an alarm claxon started going off and the ship shuddered.

  “Nothing to worry about, ma’am,” Red said. He was busy assembling the pieces of the controller, using some of the smallest waldoes on his arm.

  “Ship’s under attack,” Sub Dude replied, setting down a length of pipe. “CO’s firing back. It’s a battle, ma’am, but we’ve been through them before.”

  “Don’t worry, I’m still calm,” Miriam said, picking up the pieces of the jury-rigged neutrino generator and slotting it into the tube. “Red, how are you doing?”

  “Just done, ma’am,” Red said.

  “Get me a number seven pipe clamp,” Miriam said, calmly, as the ship shuddered again. “And hand me the controller…”

  “Damage in engineering compartment, personnel quarters and auxiliary personnel quarters,” the XO said. “No casualties, nobody in those areas. But we lost the gearing, entirely.”

  “Good thing we don’t need it,” Spectre said as the ship shuddered from another plasma hit. “Tactical, they in range, yet?”

  “They’ve scattered, Conn. Three groups designated Bandit One through Three. And, no, still one hundred thousand kilometers out.”

  “Right, let’s get to targeting Bandit One,” the CO said. “COB, prepare to rotate the ship.”

  “Damage to mess deck and the rear torpedo room,” the XO said.

  “They always get hammered,” Spectre replied. “Just tell me my quarters are surviving this time.”

  “So far no hits—” There was an enormous crash overhead and the compartment evacuated air.

  “I was about to say no hits forward,” the XO continued over his suit communicator. “Belay that report.”

  “COB, why haven’t you shot these guys down, yet?” the CO asked.

  “Working on it, sir,” the COB replied.

  “I want some smoked Dreen fighters!”

  “Hits in main engineering spaces,” the XO said. “No damage. Two casualties. Evacuated.”

  Marines normally had very little to do on-board ship. The exception was in the midst of a battle, when every hand was needed.

  “Get that plating up,” Captain Zanella snarled. “We need to get this compartment sealed!”

  The blast of plasma had penetrated two decks and cut through the bulkhead of the mess deck at a slight angle. Since the mess deck was the back-up infirmary, getting it airworthy was high on the list of “good things” to do.

  “Got it in place, sir,” Gunny Mitchell said. “Benner: weld.”


  “Time, time, time,” Captain Zanella muttered on the command freq. “I hope like hell that—”

  The plasma blast initially followed the original but angled slightly differently it missed the repaired bulkhead.

  It did not, however, miss a high pressure steam pipe that erupted in gaseous water. Parts of the steel pipe exploded outwards, filling the compartment with shrapnel.

  “Fuck me,” Captain Zanella said quietly, staggering backwards with a six-inch piece of sharp metal protruding from his shoulder. He could feel his arm going numb and a cloud of reddish gas was dissipating in front of his face. From the feel of the splinter, it wasn’t in deep. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to die. His suit was spewing air and blood.

  “This is going to hurt, sir,” Lance Corporal Butler said, grabbing the splinter.

  “If you pull that out, I’m going to decompress in about a second,” the CO said, laying his hand over his RTO’s.

  “Got that covered, too, sir,” Kermit said, holding up a roll of space tape. “A one and a two…” He pulled the splinter at two.

  “Arrrgh!” the CO snapped. “I thought you were counting to three!”

  “I know, sir,” Kermit said. He took the roll of space tape and laid a section across the hole in the CO’s suit. He pressed down firmly on the hole and it sealed in an instant.

  “That stuff’s amazing,” the CO said. The gush of gases and his blood had been cut off like a faucet. “And I thought I told Top to round up all personal rolls.”

  “I just happened to see this one lying around,” Kermit said. “I was planning on turning it in any day now, sir.”

  “You’re forgiven,” Zanella replied. “But I’m still bleeding.”

  “Good thing you’re in the infirmary, then, sir,” one of the corpsmen said, staggering in with a casualty slung over one shoulder. “Be with you in a second.”

  “It must be aligned precisely,” Tchar said.

 
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