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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 16: Saturnfall II

 

Loop-the-Loop -

They had figured out that the aliens would be smashing into Ring B a few hundred thousand kilometers away. These new developments necessitated changes in their plan. Per the Commodore’s new orders via laser comm, Mia started giving instructions to move the ship to the closest part of their break in the ring to the enemy’s estimated splash-through point.

“We’ll be moving the ship again, Beth. Hold on.”

“You know, Captain, I think a camera here would have been better. I am not doing much good just standing out here.”

“Well, true, but we didn’t know cameras would work.”

“But now that we do?”

“Did you bring a portable camera with you, Commander?”

“Ummm, no sir...”

“Then you’re stuck there for a while. Sorry.”

O’Connell didn’t speak, although they heard her grumble a little bit. Later on, though, O’Connell would say that what they heard was probably just interference, most probably induced by the static. Nobody believed her, of course.

They moved the ship closer to where the enemy was making for and, with O’Connell’s direction, they were able to stay in the Cassini Divide and avoided disturbing the rings.

“Give me ship-wide, Lieutenant. To the crew of Seeker: what may be our moment of truth is coming. Within this half-hour, the enemy will be passing above our port bow. Yes, we have neither Phase-Wave nor radar, but Commander O’Connell is outside and her relays will be guiding us. When the enemy arrives, we will commence an attack. We will, of course, do our best to defeat the enemy, but in the event we cannot, we will do our best to split them up and allow reinforcements from Titan to get closer.

“Commodore Oshiro, however, will make sure to hide his forces until we make our first move. This is so that the enemy will not change their trajectory, and therefore allow us the opportunity to attack.

“All right. Time to prepare. All hands: general quarters. Everyone is required to be armed and in their pressure suits. All damage control teams in Class Five armor. All pressure doors to be dogged down and sealed. All pulse and energy cannon to be deactivated. All rail gun crews are to use manual range and targeting. All rocket and missile launchers will be set to manual targeting. Hop to it, people.”

Only then did the duty officer sound general quarters, and everyone started moving.

The bridge crew took turns to change into their pressure suits. They didn’t wear the helmets as they would impede their activities. Besides, there were helmets available in most locations on the ship in case of depressurization.

Current military pressure suits were basically airtight suits tightly woven out of a very strong special fiber, and woven specific to the individual’s measurements and dimensions. The thin, flexible, skin-tight three-layered construction allowed the wearer to survive space and vacuum without the balloon effect of older designs and essentially allowed the wearer’s own skin and sweat glands to regulate her temperature, with only a minor assist from a device in the helmet mount that was around the suit’s shoulders, that forced chilled air through the porous innermost layer. It had the effect of making the suit feel totally comfortable and flexible without changing the blue unitard-like look and feel. And like all suits, it was, of course, equipped with a radiation shield.

There were still, of course, many of the less efficient, older-design, universal fit-anyone kind in the lockers, but these were only meant for emergencies, or by those without their own suits.

Someone brought Mia’s. She excused herself for a few minutes to change, and came back wearing it.

Many stopped what they were doing as they watched Mia walk back in wearing her skin-tight pressure suit. Her hair had come undone so she just wiped it back from her forehead. The glowing reddish-white interface patches on the back of her suit’s gloves made glowing tracks. Like other pressure suits, there was another patch on the upper-left part of her suit’s chest and a large one on her back, but her undone hair obscured that a bit. These redundant connectors were how the suits connected with their armor and other exo-suits, but, when not in use, they were little more than cute accents for her sexy outfit.

She was completely unaware of how she looked, but as she buckled her belt and holstered her sidearm, she finally noticed the attention. Mia looked at them and raised her eyebrow.

“You people pay attention to your work,” she said, blushing.

Everyone suddenly got busy.

Mia sighed and handed her folded uniform to a passing ensign. She sat down on the command chair for a moment, put her high-heeled uniform boots back on, and stood. She preferred the boots to walking around in just the suit - the foot part felt a bit like walking in one’s socks. She gestured to Nick and the Ambassador. “You two find seats and get strapped down.”

Nick nodded and sat in one of the observation chairs and buckled up. The Ambassador found it a little difficult but was able to straddle one of the seats and just buckled the seatbelt across his thorax. Nick wanted to ask if Mia would be sitting down and buckling up, too, but thought it better not to. Clearly she had no idea how she looked walking around in her skin-tight pressure suit.

“Get me the landing bay.” Mia said to the comms officer.

“Aye, sir.”

“This is the Captain to the Deck Duty Officer.”

“Landing bay, aye, sir.”

“Get me the Electronic Detection Wing Commander.”

After a few moments, someone came online.

“Aye, sir. Mission Commander Lassiter here.”

“Lieutenant Lassiter, this is the Captain. I have a mission for the Turtles. But I am not sure your pilots will like it.”

“No problem, sir. What is it?”

“This is not an EW, transport or surveillance mission, I’m afraid. More like something for Kajima and his jet-jocks.”

“The Turtles are up to it, sir.”

“Okay, then...”

-----

“Commander O’Connell,” Mia called, “the enemy is just a few minutes away now. I changed my mind. I think it’s time for you to come back in...”

“I’m changing my mind, too. I’m staying here, Captain.”

“Beth...”

“Captain,” O’Connell interrupted, “I’m sure you can use more relays, right?”

“Beth, you know the electrostatic...”

“I’m staying here.”

“Beth, I’m not kidding.”

“Skipper. You need someone here. And it’s too late to get someone else. Please don’t order me down.”

“You know, you’re a very stubborn officer, Commander.”

“I see you’ve talked to my dad,” she smiled.

Mia chuckled. “All right, all right. Get back to work.”

O’Connell laughed. “Aye-aye.”

“Captain,” the lieutenant at the helm said, “the enemy ships are about a minute away now.”

“It’s time,” she mumbled. “Send a laser flash to the Turtles. Tell them to start.”

“Aye. They are away.”

“Beth, turn around, please, and check the aft part of the gap.”

The view on the screen swiveled one hundred-eighty degrees as O’Connell complied. They saw nine Mud Turtles come out of the gap. They moved upwards at a slow fifty KPH, the glow of their FTL drives momentarily illuminating the rings in electric blue.

“Any signs they notice the Turtles, Beth?”

The view moved again. Now they were looking upwards, toward the incoming ships.

“No reaction, Captain. I don’t think they’ve seen them, or us for the moment. But that won’t last.”

“It doesn’t need to.”

“Apologies, Captain,” the First Ambassador interrupted in Elyran. “Is the Defiant one of the ships?”

“Beth?”

“No, sir.”

Mia shook her head at the Arachnian.

“Ahhh. Thank you, Captain. Remember what we talked about.”

“Absolutely, Ambassador.”

On-screen, they saw the cruisers. They were becoming larger as they grew nearer. There were brief flashes on the surface of the two nearest ones - missiles being fired at the Turtles.

“They’ve seen the Turtles, sir.”

Someone reduced the magnification, and they were able to get the Turtles in the picture as well, just in time to see the lead Turtle fire anti-missile defenses.

In Mia’s mind, they needed that. They had baited the enemy to fire first again, thereby giving them the excuse to fire back.

As the Turtles easily avoided the explosion of the first Empire missile, they fired their own. After which, they turned around one hundred-eighty degrees and blasted in the opposite direction.

The enemy’s remaining missiles didn’t follow. Electromagnetic systems didn’t work through the interference so, as expected, there was no radar-controlled tracking. As for the Turtles’ missiles, that wasn’t a problem as they were just flying straight at the lead cruiser’s bow.

After a volley of anti-missiles missed them, the lead cruiser, a Tirosian ship, started to fire enormous retros and ponderously changed direction, moving up and away to avoid the missiles. In a few seconds, it was clear the rockets would miss the cruiser.

But as the missiles missed it, two other missiles came up, from another Turtle that had hung back as planned, flying at ten times the speed of the first ones. The tenth Turtle’s missiles, aimed lower down the cruiser’s ventral structure, struck it amidships.

They weren’t nuclear or even anti-ship - the explosions they caused shouldn’t have made much damage, but they must have hit something critical. Large gouts of flame spat out of the ship’s underside, fed by chemical fuel and leaking oxygen, and the red glow - the visual aftereffects of their idling FTL field - faded away. Something critical was damaged. Game over for that cruiser.

Many of the enemy’s fighters, flying around their ships like pilot fish, wheeled around. As soon as their momentum was countered, they started pursuing the Turtles. The ploy was an obvious tactic but it was typical for the Detterex pilots to fall for it, and no one could order them to stop through the suppression field.

The Turtles, for their part, continued their retreat. They did not fire any new rockets or missiles since they only had a limited number and were conserving them. Their orders were to lure any enemy ships and then double back at high speed. That would “thin out the herd,” hopefully long enough to make a difference. That was the only thing they could do at the moment - without anything but missiles, they wouldn’t have a chance against fighters, even against the Detterex and Tirosian rocket blimps.

But Mia wasn’t really worried about them. Lassiter was a competent man, and she knew his FTL-powered Mud Turtles could outrun anything the Empire ships could send after them if they needed to, so she concentrated on the cruisers.

“All right,” Mia said, “it’s our turn. Weapons - fire tubes four, eight, nine and thirteen.”

Four very slight thumps could be felt as the missiles were fired. Those particular missile tubes were selected and programmed so that their missiles would go through the gap in the rings and then straight on to the enemy ships.

Though they could not be targeted specifically, Mia was pretty sure at least some of them would hit something, and she was right. One of the four missiles hit something while the rest flew away harmlessly or were shot down.

They saw the ship that was hit - a Detterex cruiser. Though the missiles were non-nuclear too, they still packed a lot of punch, each of Seeker’s anti-ship missiles having the explosive energy equivalent to five kilotons of TNT. A big chunk of the port side of the cruiser was blown away, and it went into a slow, uncontrolled spin.

It seemed the enemy had learned from before. The other six ships stopped, or rather increased their deceleration enough to go into a virtual standstill, and avoided hitting the damaged ones but in far enough away from each other not to hit anything else.

“So that’s two down and six to go,” Mia thought. “Time to get out of here,” she said aloud. “Beth,” Mia called, “we’re moving the Seeker away - they’ve probably figured out where we are. But chances are, they don’t know it’s us. I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible. Hold on tight.”

“I’m all set, Skipper.”

Mia nodded. “Helm, Z minus one hundred meters.”

O’Connell had the sensation of sinking into water, like in an ocean in the middle of a lightning storm. That reminded her to raise her lightning arrestor again. In moments, however, she was out of the rings.

“Heading, sir?” Seeker’s pilot asked Mia.

“Ahead a thousand KPH, Lieutenant,” Mia said. “Slow and steady. Just keep us underneath the rings and out of their sight.”

“Aye.”

“Sporadic laser comm signal from Titan, sir,” Comms said. “Yamato, Musashi and Shinano are en route, and will be here in ninety seconds with our Shrike squadron. Governor Kushenko also says, ‘congratulations.’“

“Yamato...?”

“I’ve been told those are the new designations for Titan’s three refitted K-Class cargo ships, sir. They’re calling them the Yamato Squadron.”

“Ahhh. Fancy...”

Their visuals showed them the three K-class cruisers racing towards the spot where Seeker was before. They looked similar to Seeker. After all, K-class DCC ships were made from the same basic design as the J-class DSR Seeker, except that the K-class was thirty percent smaller but with forty percent more cargo capacity. Despite being “blimps,” they were not substantially larger than newer, more modern non-chemical ships. They looked like midget Seekers, except they didn’t sport Seeker’s FTL enhancements. Instead of Seeker’s blue FTL glow, the three spouted yellow-white chemical flame as they flew headlong into the rings on their main rockets.

Unlike the Seeker, these three ships didn’t care about being noticed. They pierced the rings like arrowheads going through a stretched piece of cloth, static lightning accompanying their violent collision with the rings, and close behind the three were twenty of Commander Kajima’s Shrike fighters, flying through the holes the ships conveniently made. Deflector shields would have been useful, but they were not available. But with the old-style design of the ships - designs that came from hundreds of years of non-deflector ship design, where Earth had learned how to make the hulls of their ships durable enough to resist debris and meteor strikes, they could weather this small chore of flying through Saturn’s rings (but the Yamato ships and the fighters would definitely need a paint job afterwards).

“Dammit,” Mia exclaimed while watching the three Titan ships fly past, “we gotta see what’s going on. Bring us back up there, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, sir.”

With the absence of more specific orders, the pilot again made for the same gap as before. He knew now what to do, and didn’t need O’Connell’s directions. In moments, he was able to poke Seeker’s comm mast out of it.

Obviously, O’Connell was ready, and as soon as her gondola cleared the orbiting rocks, dust and snowflakes, she faced her visor towards the direction of the battle.

Comms was ready, too, and zoomed the picture in immediately.

They saw the three K-class ships fire their missiles, but they were all ineffective against the enemy’s anti-missile defenses. After that useless volley, the three separated but kept the enemy in between them.

They opened fire with their rail guns. Everywhere that the rail guns hit, blossoms of fire erupted. But the rail guns were too few and were not too articulated and therefore not too accurate. Mia guessed they were jury-rigged from old orbital cargo launchers (she didn’t even know that there were any orbital launchers left). As a result, the cruisers had to fire at the enemy broadsides, and though they were more maneuverable than the empire ships, they were hampered by the fact that they had to maneuver the entire ship just to fire at the enemy.

The enemy realized this shortcoming the moment the Musashi had to change its position and show its side to them before it started firing its rail guns and missiles. The enemy started to execute maneuvers that made it difficult for the three to get a bead on them while at the same time they showered the Earthers with missiles.

The three Titan ships were hard put not to hit each other while defending themselves, but, so far, no enemy missiles had gotten through their rail gunfire. These, however, kept the Earthers too busy protecting themselves to fire at the enemy. The Shrikes tried to make up for this tactical difficulty and shifted their attack from harassing the enemy fighters to firing on the enemy cruisers. They found it difficult to do this, too, however, since enemy fighters were always there, forcing them to shift targets constantly, and to run interference for their cruisers. And since there was no computer-controlled Phase-Wave assist, Kajima’s jockeys were hard put to stay clear of the Earther cruisers’ line of fire.

After realizing the Earthers’ ploy, the tubular Empire fighters that had chased the Turtles had come back, but they were clearly wary of tangling with Seeker’s fighters again and mostly gave them a wide clearance. That didn’t stop Kajima’s pilots from harassing them, however. The thing was, since the Shrike fighters didn’t have energy weapons to use now, a substantial chunk of the their advantage was lost. It was as close to a level playing field the Detterex have had so far.

-----

As Mia looked, the two ships damaged by the Earthers, though dead in space, still continued forward propelled by their momentum. They hit Saturn’s rings like whales splashing into the ocean, or, perhaps better, like ocean-going ships sinking into the sea. Once through, Seeker became visible to them, and one of them fired a brace of missiles towards Seeker. They weren’t as dead as Mia thought, after all.

But as soon as Seeker’s crew saw this, she fired her own rail guns and exploded them before they got in range. After that, nothing more. These two were definitely out of the fight now.

On the other side of the rings, a small group of sixteen Detterex fighters broke away and started making for their location. Clearly, Seeker had been spotted and Mia had them sink back again and gather more distance, hoping to lure more of the enemy away.

It seemed to work since one of the enemy cruisers started to pursue. A blocky Detterex escort cruiser splashed down on Saturn’s rings like some enormous sperm whale breaching, and as soon as it cleared the rock, dust, ice and snowflakes, and emerged on the other side, it fired its chemical rocket drives and started making for Seeker. Lacking Seeker’s more efficient FTL drive and inertial flywheels, she was stuck with chemical thrust. Still, her rockets were very powerful, and they rapidly accelerated the little cruiser towards Seeker.

Seeker, keeping the rings above their heads, raced away in a straight line, quite slow but just fast enough to stay ahead of the Detterex escort ship and no more, luring them further and further away.

Realizing that they couldn’t close in, the enemy fired several missiles.

“Captain, the enemy has fired. Distance closing rapidly.”

“Get ready to fire anti-missiles...”

“Captain, I don’t think that’s a good idea. They’re awfully close and we’re not sure of the yield...”

“Can we avoid them? Change direction?”

“There are missiles headed for our rear, ventral, port and starboard sections. It would be difficult to maneuver.”

“Options?”

“We can pull away, sir - escape.”

“Not the point of our mission, Lieutenant.”

“Captain,” O’Connell interrupted from the observation platform, “they didn’t target the area above us. Probably afraid of premature detonation if they graze the rings or get hit by static discharge...”

Mia’s eyes grew wide.

“Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Beth, you’re a genius. Helm, what’s our current velocity?”

“One thousand kilometers per hour, sir.”

“On my order, prepare to reduce velocity to three hundred KPH and increase forward angle of attack by twenty degrees. Tell me when you’re set. Beth, are you following?”

“Aye, Skipper.”

“Be ready, Beth. You’re gonna be dodging rocks and other crap. You know that?”

“Do what you have to, Captain. I’m set. You know, this is going to be one for the history books. You should have told Chief Haskell to put seatbelts in this thing.”

Mia laughed. “Helm! Are you ready?”

“Controls are set, Captain. Awaiting your order.”

“Execute!”

Seeker pitched upwards and breached the ring, the angle of the ship’s direction of thrust compared to its direction of movement, or what spacers erroneously called the “angle of attack,” remaining at twenty degrees.

The term was erroneous, of course, since it was a term used in fluid dynamics instead of in the vacuum of space. But spacers continued to use the term - a legacy from the third world war, when most spacer pilots were also aircraft pilots.

The gravity plates that generated the artificial gravity on Earth ships, were like those of all the ships of the time, so they weren’t completely stable if a ship had constantly changing directions of flight. As a result, the crew felt the change in direction in a major way. “Hold on!” Mia called, and the crew braced themselves against the climbing effect of the ship’s movement and the gravity system’s attempt to cope.

Rocks and interstellar snowflakes hit its hull. Since the deflectors were off, it sounded like a thunderstorm inside the ship. Residual heat, and the heat induced by impacts and static charge, were enough to change the snow that touched the hull to gaseous form, so Seeker trailed streams of white smoke made luminous by sunlight and Saturn-light. Lightning arced from the ship to the rings and it was as though Seeker was emerging from a thundercloud trailing streamers of smoke.

Several small items fell to the deck but no one made a move to pick them up, not that anyone could. Mia imagined she was in an old-style aircraft from World War 2 making a steep climb through a very bad thunderstorm. She was standing the whole time and was out of her command chair, so she could only hold on to the back of her chair for dear life.

“Woohoo!” O’Connell exclaimed from her observation gondola. Despite the gravity of the situation, many laughed along with her. It was exhilarating, to say the least, over and above what was happening.

“Ride ‘em, cowboy!” O’Connell whooped as she ducked rocks and used her sidearm to blast those too large to duck. She could feel the mast vibrate with impacts but it held.

Mia heard her and chuckled, recognizing the phrase from old movies. She doubted anyone else on board would have recognized it, except for Nick perhaps. She imagined O’Connell wearing a ten-gallon hat and spinning a lariat over her head as she held on while the Seeker did its loop.

At the apex of Seeker’s loop, they could momentarily see the enemy ships and the three mini-Seekers at a distance, upside down, courtesy of O’Connell’s visor and the ship’s forward scopes. The ship cameras were badly blurred from the snowflakes and sub-zero gas, but it was unmistakable that a Detterex cruiser had broken away and was now flying just above the rings, directly below the others. It was probably going to follow the other one.

As for the three Earth ships, they seemed to be having a bad time. “Hold on, guys,” they heard O’Connell mumble. “We’re coming back for you.”

“Yes, we are” Mia said. “Hold on.”

Seeker finished transcribing its loop, leaving a luminescent trail in the sky, and splashed back into the ring.

“Reduce our forward velocity further to one hundred KPH,” Mia said immediately after the thunderstorm stopped. “Beth, let us know when we’re parallel to them.”

“Aye, sir,” O’Connell said. “Steady... steady... now, Captain!”

“Helm - set a course parallel to the enemy, and close in to fifty kilometers from their hull.”

“Aye.”

To everyone onboard, they felt as if the tilt of the ship went even farther up, but after a few seconds, the pilot reduced the angle of attack, and the gravity systems stabilized. Their pilot made a few more adjustments and they found themselves traveling in the same course and direction as the enemy, the rings above them once again. Seeker’s FTL surged slightly and they caught up to the other ship in half a second flat. Seeker’s inertia converters blipped for a small fraction of a second and let out a barely-noticed flash of light, reducing their speed instantly (their inertial mass was momentarily high enough for their converters to work).

After they reduced their speed, without automatic ranging aids, the pilot had some trouble and had to jockey the ship manually to maintain a fifty-kilometer distance between them.

Mia knew it was a game of seconds now - who got to fire first. “Weapons, fire all forward tubes straight ahead.”

They heard missiles fire and saw them on the blurred camera flying towards the enemy.

“Again,” Mia said after a few seconds, and another brace of missiles was fired. “Again,” she repeated, and yet another brace of missiles was launched.

“Helm, reverse course. Straight back, one thousand KPH.”

Their flywheels spun and Seeker pirouetted exactly one hundred eighty degrees. Her FTL glowed a little stronger and she ran away from the Detterex ship at a thousand kilometers per hour.

“Beth, take a look and tell me what you see.”

O’Connell swiveled around and used a gloved hand to wipe her visor. She also turned on the helmet’s de-fogger. On the screen in the bridge, they could now see a clear picture of the enemy ship underneath the planet’s rings courtesy of O’Connell’s visor, and it became smaller as they sped away.

“Our first volley is nearing the enemy,” O’Connell said, “and... their anti-missile defenses took out all of them.” On the screen, they could see their missiles explode well away from the enemy ship.

Another set of explosions punctuated the sky. “There’s our next set of missiles... none got through again. But...”

The third set was apparently more successful: there were two explosions, and they knew they hit their mark.

“Got ‘em!” O’Connell exclaimed.

Mia sighed. “All right. Helm,” she said, “get us back to our cruisers. Quickly.”

“Ummm, I’ll do my best, sir.”

“No fancy moves, Lieutenant. Just get us there as fast as you can.”

“Aye, sir.”

The pilot furiously started typing on a console to do his calculations and swung the ship around ninety degrees again. After figuring out what to do, he started a timer and then turned back to his control levers. “I hate flying manual,” he muttered. “Here we go.”

He kept an eye on the timer and when it reached “10,” he banked the ship thirty degrees up, right into the rings. When the timer reached “15,” he straightened it out again. Seeker flew level until the timer hit “60.” When it did, he tilted the ship down slightly, just a few degrees, and when it hit “65,” he reduced the angle of attack back to zero. Seeker started climbing up into the rings more shallowly.

“Here we go again,” O’Connell said, and held her lightning rod out.

Lightning bolts started to hit Seeker again because of the static buildup, and the thunderstorm resumed as rocks hit the hull.

-----

Onboard the Detterex battle cruiser, its pilot maintained station keeping at the point in the rings where the Earther fighters came out. She was constantly making adjustments and constantly had to fire the ship’s maneuvering rockets to remain there. The Tirosian flagship had signaled them to investigate, and since they had not had word to the contrary since, her Princess had ordered them to stay put. It was too bad the Defiant wasn’t around - the pilot badly wanted to signal Princess Arvan and perhaps get new orders. But Defiant had left the main group a while back, plus no transmissions could get through the Curtain. She was itching to follow their other cruiser down into the rings, but her Princess was new to command and did not think to give the order.

A few moments ago, they had seen an Earther ship emerge from the rings like a leviathan of legend leaping out of the homeworld’s oceans, and then splashing back in. The pilot had not seen or heard of any ship make such a maneuver. She didn’t know why it had done so. Perhaps it had to do with their other ship.

As for the three little Earther ships, they continued harassing the rest of their small fleet.

These three Earther ships were about the size of their escort cruiser, but otherwise, they looked like smaller versions of that Earther ship that first intercepted them. Perhaps this was the basic design for most of their ships.

The pilot was amazed at the continuing stream of projectiles that the little ships fired. Their supply seemed inexhaustible and the power of the projectiles... As she watched them, she couldn’t help but think of that larger devil ship, and she hoped that the ship they were currently chasing wasn’t it. It couldn’t be, of course. They had lost track of it when it had sped away, and it was undoubtedly on the way to Earth now.

As they hovered over the rings, yellow-white lightning bolts started arcing from its surface some distance away. The Prince, their chief scientist, said that it was probably static energy from a ship moving through the ring debris - the Earther ship that had fired on them. The Princess ordered missiles fired at the spot.

The pilot could have told the Princess that wouldn’t work, but it wasn’t her place to say. As expected, it was totally ineffective - the missiles exploded against the rocks and ice. They had to wait for the enemy ship to emerge, and the Princess ordered them to stop firing.

They continued hovering over the rings and watched on the screen the spouting fountain of electricity coming closer, but becoming less and less violent - an indication that the ship was about to come out of the rings, or so the Prince said. The Princess ordered the pilot to move them towards the enemy. “Finally,” the pilot thought, and got their ship moving.

As they were watching, in approximately the middle of the static electricity field, they saw bolts of lightning emanating from one spot. It was unusual because it was blue. “Let me see that!” the Princess said.

The image focused on that spot. It was like an antenna rising from the mist, and as they watched the antenna continue to rise, blue lightning came out of its bottom. They also saw a kind of spear or spar emerge, in line with the direction of the movement of the ship underneath. Blue bolts started coming off it, too.

“Zoom in on that!” the Princess commanded.

In the picture, they saw the spear. It cut a line in the ring in front of the antenna as it lifted out of the vapor. In moments, they saw a figure rising out of the mist holding out the spear. It was an Earther warrior.

“Why would...” the pilot started to say but, like everyone else, she was caught by the image of the alien on the screen. She was in Earther armor, like what they'd seen them wearing before - the magical kind that repelled lasers and was resistant to explosives. Wisps of vapor streamed from the Earther’s helmet and shoulders. She held her spear, or maybe sword, in front of her, like one of the Ro’an-mounted armored knights of old charging the enemy, but instead of a Ro’an, she was riding an interstellar spaceship.

Blue lightning sprang from her sword and discharged into the space around her. She had a gold cape tied around the neck of her helmet and it waved in the slight “breeze” created by the gas sublimated from the snow and ice that had been heated by the static bolts of electricity. Her helmet’s light created a cone in front of her through the thin mist, much like a searchlight through fog.

The pilot was captivated - it was like she was seeing a storybook figure come to life.

Someone behind her, she wasn’t sure who, mumbled a passage from the Ancient Scrolls, or what the Elyrans called the Holy Book of the Ages. They were all thinking it, she was sure. And even though the voice was indistinct, she recognized what that warrior was quoting - all Detterex and Elyrans would have.

“‘A great warrior race,’“ the warrior mumbled, “‘made in thy image, will come from over the horizon, to herald the coming of war, and do battle against thine enemies. Kingdoms will be cast asunder. Fire and destruction will rain from the heavens...’“

The pilot shivered. “The warrior race of legend,” she thought, recalling the passage from her theology classes. “What if the Earthers were that race?”

She looked at the screen again. In her mind, she finished the quote. “‘Woe to those who stand against the light,’“ she recalled the ancient words, “‘for they will be cast in eternal darkness. And from their ashes they will let emerge a new age, renewing the eternal cycle, and these Warriors will protect thee from those who would harm thee, until the coming of the Great Ones.’”

Like the Elyrans, the Detterex assumed that if this legendary race should come, they would be coming to their aid, and that the new age would be theirs. But she had a different thought now... what if they were coming for them instead?

On the screen, the Earther warrior continued to rise from the rings. In moments, they finally saw the figure fully emerge. She was in a kind of perch mounted to a tower, and once her little box was out of the rings, the ship beneath her rose rapidly, faster than before. Missiles fired from the ship’s bow.

Their Princess ordered them to fire as well. But it was too late - though they were able to fire off one missile, three of the Earthers’ missiles hit their ventral sections. She felt the ship shudder and its artificial gravity waver. And they just had enough time to see their one missile miss before they completely lost power.

-----

“You were right, sir,” the comms officer told Mia. “Their power systems are amidships in the lower decks. All indications are they don’t have power anymore.”

“Indications?”

“No lights.”

“No lights? That’s it?”

“Sorry, sir. Best we can do - no sensors or anything.”

Mia sighed. “All right. Keep an eye on it, Lieutenant. Helm, increase speed to two thousand KPH. Raise angle of attack fifteen degrees. Execute.”

Seeker started climbing again, and as soon as Mia judged they were at the correct angle, she stopped their climb.

“Bring angle of attack to zero, and intercept: X plus fifty meters. Execute.”

Seeker moved sideways, aligning itself to rendezvous with the ships overhead.

“Another fifty meters. Execute.”

Seeker moved sideways again. Looking at the screen, they found that they were making for the portside ships. Though Mia was doing her maneuvering by the seat of her pants, it was still impressive. The pilot decided to throw away his misgivings and just follow his captain’s directions explicitly. Flying manually was actually fun, he thought, provided that someone else was doing the computing.

“Comms,” Mia said, “are we in the right angle and range for laser?”

“Yes, sir, but I’m not sure if they’ll receive...”

“Try anyway. Send the following message via laser comms to our people: Seeker to Yamato, Musashi and... what’s the third one?”

“Shinano, sir.”

“... thanks. Seeker to Yamato, Musashi and Shinano. Be advised that...” Mia snuck a look at the astrogator’s panel. “Seeker will be passing east southeast ecliptic your position. We shall be assisting. Engage the enemy ships individually. Fighters will provide cover. Seeker to Shrike fighter wing. Split up and provide cover for each of the Titan ships. Anyone who receives this message will relay it to the nearest ships. Acknowledge.”

“Targeting them and transmitting now, sir. But I won’t be sure if...”

“Just do your best, Lieutenant. Keep repeating it until they acknowledge. Beth! How are you doing out there?”

“Doing okay, sir,” Beth replied. “That was fun, flying through the rings. Let’s do it again!”

Mia laughed. “I’ll see what I can do. Keep an eye out.” She nodded at comms. “Connect me to the gunnery crews.”

After a moment, she got the high sign.

“Captain to rail gun crews, be advised we are about to engage the enemy’s main body. Your standing orders are to prevent any missiles from approaching. I am declaring a fifteen-kilometer perimeter around the ship. Fire only when missiles break that perimeter. I realize that fifteen kilometers is very close, But we have no range finders online. This way you have a chance of hitting the enemy missiles yet give Seeker enough of a blast margin. Remember your training. Forget range and drift. Aim is more important at the moment. Set your guns at their highest recycle settings, and use a strafing motion when firing.

“Missile crews, conserve armament but fire when able. The target is the ventral section of the ships. Prioritize aim over everything. Given our missiles’ yield, your minimum arming distance is thirty kilometers.”

“Sir, we have received partial replies via laser comms. Yamato and some of the Shrikes have acknowledged your orders.”

On screen, they could see their three Titan cruisers move further apart, and the Shrike fighters divvying up, seven to a ship. And though there were only seven fighters to shadow each Earth cruiser, the reluctance of the Detterex fighters to engage the Shrikes would make them hang back.

The three cruisers had adopted a new offensive tactic. Given their insufficient firepower, each of the cruisers started spinning around their axes, thereby allowing their rail guns to cover more of the sky, shoot down incoming missiles and give them a chance to fire their own - their launchers firing a pair the moment their tubes were facing their target ship. The Shrikes also did their best to keep the enemy’s fighters off their backs long enough to give their missile crews a chance to fire.

As for Seeker, she flew straight for the unprotected southeast section of the imaginary cube that the Earth ships were flying in. Seeker violently flew close, and then violently sheared away, firing half a dozen of its missiles before it did.

Some missiles’ blasts did impact two of the alien ships but they didn’t hit the all-important underside. Seeker’s violent maneuvers did, however, bring it close to a formation of Tiros fighters sitting on the sidelines, as usual. Instead of trying to evade, Seeker plowed through them. Its structural integrity field was maxed and the fighters exploded on her hull, or were blown out of the sky by its gun crews. Seeker was like a giant flyswatter going through a swarm of bloated bees full of hydrogen. As it flew away, very few of the fighters were left, and though there were breaches on Seeker’s hull, none were too bad for Seeker’s DC teams to handle.

Since the Yamato cruisers now had targets to concentrate on, each of them was able to hit their target ships multiple times using their spinning tactic.

None of them were able to hit the enemy’s vulnerable spots, however.

So, even though the Empire ships outnumbered the Earthers, given the Earthers’ superior tactics and maneuverability, they were outmatched.

As Seeker got further and further away, Mia noticed that they were unable to lure any of the enemy cruisers. Mia had the ship execute another one hundred eighty-degree turn, blipped her inertia converters and went back to the fight at a slow one hundred KPH.

As they flew back, something exploded above Seeker’s upper port bow.

They frantically searched the sky around them looking for the enemy.

O’Connell finally found the source. Seeker’s Mud Turtle Squadron had returned. One of the Turtles fired two missiles, in courses set to make them collide and explode far enough from Seeker to cause no damage, but close enough to get her attention.

Later, Lieutenant Lassiter would explain to Mia that, because of the lack of any navigational assists, he felt he and his pilots had only one way to get back - reverse course and backtrack. But he was afraid the Detterex were laying in wait for them, and all they had as armament were missiles.

But using basic flight tactics, he decided to maintain course, increase their velocity and whip back around the planet and bring them to their starting point that way, but from the opposite direction.

Obviously, it worked.

“Welcome back, Lieutenant,” Mia said over laser comms. “Commander O’Connell said you were good.”

“Just doin’ my job, Skipper,” Lassiter said in false modesty.

“All right, get behind us and follow Seeker in. Your squadron’s job is one thing, and one thing only - fire your missiles at the enemy cruisers and keep doing so until you run out. We’ll break ground for you. Use us as cover. Laser’s going to be pretty unreliable since we’ll be maneuvering a lot, so assume we won’t be communicating until this is all over. Got it?”

“Got it, Captain. Turtles acknowledging.”

“Okay. Helm! Bring velocity back up to one thousand KPH. Execute.”

“Here we go again,” the pilot mumbled, and in minutes, they were back in the fray.

Mia decided to use Seeker’s speed and ability to change direction to full use. Similar to Its loop-the-loop maneuver earlier, Mia had its bow face the enemy, and then changed its angle of attack to forty-five degrees. The Seeker therefore circumnavigated the ships over and over and over in a constantly shifting orbit, and used her guns to shoot down any missiles it could. Her Turtles occasionally peeked out from underneath her and sniped with their missiles. Though it was tough on their crews, Seeker and the Turtles continued the new strategy. The enemy was so confused and shocked by Seeker’s FTL-and-flywheel powered maneuvers that they could not coordinate their actions.

With the pressure off, the three K-class cruisers were able to target the enemy. But the enemy changed their formation such that their ships’ vulnerable ventral sides were facing inside of the large imaginary globe that Seeker was inscribing with its incredibly tight and fast maneuvers.

The end result was that the Earth missiles could only hit the enemy’s heavily-armored and defended upper decks. Hence, it was a standoff - one that wouldn’t last, surely, but unless something changed, the standoff might last for hours.

And the Detterex fighters continued to harass the cruisers even though their Tirosian partners had abandoned them and returned to their mother ships. Still, despite reduced numbers, the Detterex continued to fight ferociously and valiantly.

“We have to break this stalemate,” Mia said. “Comms! Get me Kajima and Lassiter.”

“Captain, I don’t...”

“I know, Lieutenant. Do your best.”

Mia busied herself with checking on her damage control teams. The DC teams were having a hard time working in the steep gravity but Mia kept Seeker’s flight constant and steady. So, because it was constant, her people were able to manage, and Seeker’s hull breaches, fires and other damage were slowly being fixed, and, thankfully, no other new damage was being inflicted.

Mia then checked in with O’Connell, and found that her Number One had a bad case of motion sickness and had laid down on the observation platform and strapped herself down using her arrestor rod’s cable. Mia resolved to get a pair of DC specialists up there to rescue her ASAP.

In a little while, Comms was able to connect with Kajima and Lassiter.

“Commander, Lieutenant, I have an assignment for you. I need a couple of Turtles to go through that mess - “ she gestured at the enemy ships, “and fire on them and get them in their hindquarters, and I need some Shrikes to give them cover. Can you do it?”

“Aye, sir,” Kajima said. “Leave it to us.”

“Okay, then,” Mia said. “I’m going to sign off now. Commence your mission when feasible.”

“Aye.”

Mia made a cutting gesture and Comms cut the tenuous laser comm link.

Seeker continued its looping maneuver, and continued to wear the enemy down while they waited for Kajima to make his move.

In about ten minutes, half a dozen Shrikes approached Seeker. Two Turtles then broke away from Seeker and, together with the Shrikes, they made their way to the enemy ships. With the Shrikes surrounding the Turtles, they went in, threading their way through the enemy ships.

Since they mostly saw the undersides, there were very few missile launchers, and the enemy only managed to fire a few missiles their way. The Shrikes also had an easy time dispatching enemy fighters so the Turtles had an easy time as well picking targets.

They fired their entire complement of missiles in one go, and with empty missile racks, the little ships and their escorts hightailed it out of there before the missiles detonated.

As they came out of the imaginary globe, the missiles started detonating. When they did, Seeker cut her “angle of attack” back down to zero and they flew straight away from the enemy.

The three smaller Titan cruisers were a little slower to react as they didn’t know what was happening, but as they saw the explosions and Seeker streaking away, they started moving away from the enemy as well, just in case. They trailed Detterex fighters in their wakes.

The two Tiros cruisers seemed to have been critically hit, and stopped firing any new missiles. The other two cruisers and the escort fired thrusters and started to move away from each other to prevent collisions.

Suddenly, Seeker’s Phase-Wave and EM systems kicked in. Apparently, the EM suppression field had been switched off. The conclusion was that one or both of the Tiros cruisers generated the field, and with the critical damage they had sustained, whatever machinery generated them had been knocked out.

“Captain!” Seeker’s comms officer called, “Phase-Wave and all systems are back! Deflectors are back!”

“All right! Contact all our Shrikes and Turtles. Have them execute the same maneuver as Kajima and Lassiter. Go!”

The Lieutenant turned to his panel and started getting busy.

Mia finally thumbed her comm panel, tuning in to the general Phase-Wave comm frequency.

“Seeker to Yamato, Musashi and Shinano,” she said over the general “freak.” “Be advised, we are returning to re-engage the enemy.”

“Yamato to Seeker,” Mia heard someone respond. “Message acknowledged. We are likewise turning back.”

A more powerful signal overrode them, however.

“This is Commodore Oshiro to Earth fleet. Belay that. Repeat, belay that. We have marked the enemy ships and have launched a missile attack. Stay clear of the enemy. Repeat, stay clear.”

“This is Seeker,” Mia responded. “Commodore, we need the Tiros cruisers intact! Repeat, we need them intact. Request that you fire only on the Detterex ships. Acknowledge.”

“Acknowledged, Captain Steele. We are now reprogramming our missiles accordingly.”

“Thank you, Commodore. Standing by.” Mia gestured at her comms officer.

“Tell our fighters and Turtles to belay my previous instructions. Tell them to return to Seeker.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“I think you can unbuckle now, everyone,” she said. “I don’t think we will be doing any more weird maneuvers. Also,” she said, smiling, “has someone fetched Commander O’Connell? I imagine she’s had enough.”

With sighs of relief, everyone started to unbuckle. Nick helped the First Ambassador down from his perch.

They saw Seeker’s little fleet wheel around and come back, and waited for Titan’s missile wave to make an appearance. Now that their Phase-Wave systems were back online, they had an easy time tracking them. They also started getting calls from Earth and other places. Mia found that she was greatly relieved at being back in contact with Earth.

She asked Nick to update EDF headquarters and CETI, send them all un-transmitted sitreps, as well as a copy of all the recording logs since they lost communication. She then turned to the First Ambassador and asked him to likewise update the Federation ships.

The First Ambassador saluted with his upper right limb, and his voder said, “aye-aye, Captain.”

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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