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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 19: Lunar Lunacy III

 

Hiding in plain sight –

“Admiral Steele,” Silverman said. “How are your Federation charges?”

“They’re fine, sir,” Mia responded. “As soon as we heard about the EM effects, we established a laser comm line to them immediately. All five of their ships are all right.”

“Good.”

“Has the EM field’s Phase-Wave boundary been identified, sir?”

“Here you go,” Silverman said. His people sent over an extrapolated Phase-Wave graph of the system and it replaced the video on the main screen. It was the Solar System as seen from above the plane of the ecliptic, with the eight planets’ orbits marked.

“There it is, Admiral,” Beth said, pointing to another round smudge. It was well past Mars’ orbit.

“The field’s trailing us,” Mia said. “Needless to say, the enemy’s inside the field, of course. They probably spotted the Federation ships a while back and matched course. It’s only a matter of time before the field’s leading edge overtakes us as it has the Federation ships.”

“Show the stats for the Admiral,” Silverman instructed and the picture changed. A new graph was displayed showing their eight cruisers in relation to Earth, the moon and the EM suppression field. Two scales underneath each showed distance to Earth and their ETA. Mia looked at the changing velocities but also at the time-over-distance figures.

“Admiral,” Beth pointed out. “The field will be intercepting us in... Just under three days.”

“Captain O’Connell is correct,” Admiral,” Silverman said. “Assuming the aliens are in the middle of that field, and speeds are constant - two point seventy-three days, give or take. But they’re speeding up. Or rather slacking off deceleration.”

“They’re traveling too fast, Beth,” Mia said worriedly. “They want to catch us before we make it to Earth. But at those velocities...”

“They must know they’re not gonna be able to decelerate in time before hitting Earth or shooting beyond her...” Beth murmured. “Skipper, it’s a suicide mission.”

“Admiral,” Mia said to Silverman, “These ships are going to wipe away the Federation ships at all costs. They have no intention of escaping. Seems they’ve decided that the priority is to prevent word from getting back to the Federation.”

“That’s what my people here tell me, too. It’s time to change Fifth Fleet’s course, Admiral.”

“Sir,” Beth said, and pulled Mia aside to whisper into her ear. Mia whispered back. No one was disturbing them as they whispered to each other.

“Mia?” Silverman said. He was getting a little impatient.

“Admiral,” Mia said. “If I may ask, what is the status of the Legacy ships?”

“Sir,” one of Silverman’s staff answered, “ten of the fourteen are near lunar orbit now. The last four will be arriving some time later tonight.”

Mia nodded at that. “Sir, with your permission, Beth and I have an idea...”

“Go ahead.”

“I suggest that we set course for Luna Colony, and get the enemy to follow us into an orbit around the moon, to give Lunar Control a crack at them with their colony defenses.”

“How will you guarantee that they follow you, and don't continue on to Earth?”

“I would have all available cruisers establish a picket line across their path in between the moon and the enemy, but leave a path open for us to power through and into a course to the moon, which, of course, would also be open to the enemy. I would have the picket line established as early as possible; let the enemy see it early and let them come to the conclusion we want. I’ll want to get Lunar Patrol launched to keep the enemy bottled up and orbiting as long as possible until they’re slow enough that Lunar Defense can start tracking them manually and shoot them down.”

“Lots of possible holes in that net, Mia.”

“Aye, sir. As I see it, the Fifth Fleet has four main objectives here: protect the mother planet, protect civilians in Luna Colony, protect the Federation envoys, and disable and capture the enemy. In that order.

“Of course, we can run the safe play, sir, and lure away the enemy, or fire on them now, but we might not achieve all four objectives. I believe, sir, that our plan can achieve all four objectives with sufficient precautions in place.”

Silverman looked away to his left. Mia knew he only did that when he was trying to accept an idea he didn't believe in, but in the end he did.

“All right, Mia,” he said. “We’ll do it your way.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Better do it quick before we lose Phase-Wave. The EM suppression field will overtake you soon.”

“Aye.”

“My people will brief all ships per your plan, and put them under your temporary command.”

“I appreciate your trust in us, sir.”

Silverman nodded and switched off.

“Beth, please get Captains Okonkwo and Dupont, and explain to them the plan. I’m going to my office to brief the Federation people.” She stepped off the bridge.

“Aye, sir. Lieutenant, get Admiral Daxx and Lady Tasha on laser comms, and pipe the line to the Admiral’s office.”

-----

In about sixteen hours, all the so-called “legacy” cruisers were in place, and were maintaining station keeping along an imaginary wall fifty thousand square kilometers wide. It was a pretty thin wall since there were only fourteen ships, but this number was increasing as more of the new FTL ships arrived, fresh from their shakedown missions, and the ships rearranged themselves as needed.

As for Luna Colony, their people had been able to compute a course for the Federation ships and Mia’s three cruisers. Lunar Defense had trundled out all of their crewed mobile launch platforms, mostly missile batteries on tracks, and put them along and to the sides of where they expected the ships to pass over. They selected concealed locations well away from populated areas, and their missile crews all stood by at the ready.

The massed launchers were impressive. The moon’s defensive weaponry was the most extensive in the system since they were part of Earth’s defensive shield, and the massed mobile launchers represented forty percent of all of the moon’s launchers. Their confidence in being able to shoot down the enemy was a hundred percent. That is if Mia could get them to fly over the launchers as they expected them to.

-----

The blockade ships would occasionally fire maneuvering thrusters in what looked like efforts to maintain station keeping, but was primarily to provide beacons to make it easier for the enemy to visually home in on them and map out their positions.

The “picket line” was not literally a line, but a term borrowed from twentieth century warfare. In this situation, it was a formation of ships placed forward of a position to provide warning of an enemy advance.

But if the enemy were to analyze the spread of the ships, their pilots would easily spot a “break” in the wall, and the trajectory of the Fifth Fleet would clearly show that they were making for that break.

The three Empire ships decreased their rate of deceleration further, trying to catch up to Mia before they reached the Earth blockade, and continued to gain on the Fifth Fleet. Mia played it cool and didn’t react to this move even when the EM suppression field’s boundary finally overtook them. It was as if Mia didn’t know the enemy was there, hiding in plain sight. But when they were already so close to each other that it couldn’t be denied they could see each other, Mia’s eight ships decreased deceleration as well.

The distance separating the two groups of spacecraft started to increase again. Mia’s three ships maneuvered so they were between the Empire and Federation cruisers.

Like fish following bait, the Empire cruisers decreased deceleration more, which “forced” Mia to decrease likewise. In a short while, both groups were zooming through the “hole” in the defensive wall, definitely above ship-maneuverable. At that speed, the blockade ships couldn’t do anything but let them through, but once they had passed, the blockade ships started trailing them as well.

General Quarters had echoed through the three ships a while ago, and following Mia’s standing order, everyone had changed into their pressure suits. Mia’s cheeks were a constant red from too much blushing, recalling her pictures from before. It was too late to rescind her order now though, so she just sighed and tried to act normally.

She stood beside the Captain’s chair while Beth stood on the other side, neither willing to sit, knowing the symbolism of the command chair.

“Helm, status, please,” Beth said, taking a page out of Mia’s command stylebook. She had seen how the crew responded to Mia, so she’d been trying to sound more like her, saying “please” a little more, trying for consensus when she could, and to exploit every “teachable moment” - a term she learned from Mia.

“Aye, sir,” the lieutenant manning the helm responded. “The five Federation ships are above ten percent of ship-maneuverable while our three ships are remaining in pace with them. The three enemy ships are fifteen thousand kilometers and closing at a rate of seven hundred meters per minute. They will be in firing range in about twenty minutes.”

“Why have we fallen to the rear of the Federation ships?”

The lieutenant gulped thinking he was in deep trouble. “Ummm, I’m sorry, sir. The Federation cruisers didn’t have too precise a control of their velocities. They had up to a two-meters-per-second variation. The Hermes and Constellation pilots and I decided to let them take point and we would match up with them instead of them matching us. It’s safer. I’m sorry I didn’t clear it with you first...”

Beth nodded. “Not at all, Lieutenant. I would have made the same decision, and it’s within your area of responsibility. Good work. And be sure to thank your co-pilots.”

The lieutenant grinned delightedly. “Aye, sir.”

“What’s the ETA to the moon?” Mia asked.

The pilot checked his screen. “We will be reaching the moon in nineteen minutes or so, Admiral.”

“One minute margin. That’s pretty tight. Captain?”

“Lieutenant,” Beth said to the pilot, “any way to increase the margin?”

“I’m afraid not, sir. If we speed up, we’ll rear-end the Federation ships. What if we pull away to the side?”

“If we do, then the Empire ships might not stay on course,” Mia said.

“We can launch our fighters, sir,” the lieutenant said.

“Not at the moment,” Beth said. “Most of them are being retrofitted with rail guns and Haskell’s laser halo.”

“We can fire some missiles along our track...”

“We would like to capture the Defiant, if at all possible, Lieutenant. That move would be reserved as a final resort.”

“I guess we have to live with a minute’s margin, son,” Mia said to the pilot.

“Can we talk to the Federation ships?” Beth asked.

“I’m sorry, sir...” the Lieutenant responded.

“How about Hermes or Constellation?”

The Lieutenant shrugged nervously.

“Dammit...”

“Patience is a virtue, Beth,” Mia said.

“Nuts...”

-----

Seventeen minutes later...

“Good evening, Captain O’Connell,” the First Ambassador said from the bridge’s main door. “Permission to enter?” The Ambassador had taken to wearing his new English-Elyran translator everywhere, but since they were in another EM suppression field, he’d taken to using his older jury-rigged stand-alone one.

O’Connell was about to deny permission, and tell him it was General Quarters, but Mia said, sotto voce, “He was useful last time, Beth. He may be again.”

“Good evening, Ambassador,” Beth said. “Welcome. I hate to be tedious, but we’re at General Quarters...”

“I know the term, Captain. I will stay out of the way.”

Mia went to the Arachnian. “Come with me, Ambassador. Let’s see if we can find seats.”

Beth nodded her thanks and gratefully sat in the Captain’s chair.

“All right, it’s time. Comm. Send a message to the Federation ships via laser. Remind them we are commencing in thirty seconds. Keep on trying until you get acknowledgement.”

“Aye.”

“Helm. Prepare to change course the moment the Federation ships change trajectory.”

“Aye, Captain.”

The entire bridge crew grew silent as they waited.

“One minute to course change,” Helm said.

“Forty-five seconds...”

“Thirty seconds...”

“Ten seconds. Here we go...”

They saw the Federation ships fire retros and start dipping down towards the moon, and Helm started to change their trajectory as well.

“Captain!” the lieutenant manning Coms called, “the lead Empire ship fired!”

“What? Tactical on screen!”

A graphical representation of all eleven ships was thrown up, as well as the missile that was just fired.

“Okay. Projection: time signature times twenty.”

The image was fast-forwarded and they saw all the ships moving downwards. The trajectory change for the Empire ships were, however, so much sharper. A few seconds forward, the missile detonated. A ring representing the blast radius was also displayed, and it didn’t hit anything. And with the velocity of the ships, they quickly left the blast area behind.

“Whew... That was much ado about nothing.”

“Captain, if I may...”

“Please, Ambassador.”

“The spouse of the Detterex Princess Arvan is Lord Norga. Though he has married into royalty, he himself is not of royalty. But at the same time, it is said that he holds much influence over the Princess. And it is almost a certainty he is onboard the Defiant, and that he is with the Princess now.”

“Very interesting, Ambassador. But what’s your point?”

“Norga has had little formal schooling. He knows little of military strategies, much less of spacecraft tactics and weapon technology. Many within the Elyran military think his battle techniques and strategies un-nuanced, rudimentary and unsophisticated, and he has historically used unwarranted disproportionate force at every military engagement he has been part of. It is this style of his that has led to his many victories in the name of his Princess.

“I don’t understand...”

“I think what the Ambassador is saying,” Mia said, “is that the missile that the enemy fired is probably not a plain, regular missile, but is a lot more.”

“You mean...?”

“He thinks the missile is nuclear.”

“Oh, my god...”

Mia bent over and had a quick conversation with the little Arachnian, Mia talking in fluent Elyran and the Ambassador in native Arachnian.

Mia then went to a nearby console and did some computations.

“Captain,” Mia said, “the Ambassador says that, if the missile is a standard Detterex nuclear missile, it would have up to three independent warheads, each one having the equivalent power of about three kilotons of TNT. I would guess they would be set to detonate together.”

Beth thought that over a bit. “Adjust tactical with the new information from the Admiral. Assume three warheads.”

The screen blanked out and then the graphic was repeated, this time the blast ring was so much larger. The three Earth ships were not able to outrun it and the ring overlapped them, though the five Federation ships were able to escape.

“Well...” Beth said ironically, “that’ll put a damper on the rest of our day...”

“Captain,” Mia said, “the Federation ships will clear the blast. Won’t even touch them.”

Beth understood that Mia was trying to tell her something, but was trying to without appearing that she was for the sake of not dictating to her, and for her to save face. Beth appreciated it, but was a little frustrated that even though they were minutes from obliteration, Mia wasn’t telling her what was needed... and then it crystalized in her mind. Maybe she finally understood what Mia was about.

But at the moment...

“Mia said the Federation ships will clear the blast,” Beth thought. “What the hell is she getting at...” Aha!

“Helm! Get us as close to the Federation ships as you can. I don’t mind that we end up kissing their asses. Get us close! Comms! Laser a message to the Constellation and Hermes. Tell them to follow our lead. Keep on trying until they acknowledge.”

“Sir,” Helm said. “I have no sensors. I can’t tell if we’re going to run into...”

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant. Weapons! Get the forward rail guns to fire at the trailing Federation ship. Three-second intervals until I say otherwise.”

“Sir?”

“Use point-zero-five percent power. Make sure that the projectiles will just bounce off their hull plates. Execute!”

“Aye.”

In moments, projectiles started pinging against the hull of Admiral Daxx’s ship, one every three seconds, and each traveling at a puny one third of a meter per second, relative. They would hardly have penetrated the hull of a cargo transport much less a capital ship’s. But what they did was that they gave Seeker’s pilot an indication where the boundary was by looking for the small glowing sparks the projectiles made.

In the past days, Seeker's helm officers, and to a lesser extent, the Hermes and Constellation's helm officers, have flown under manual control - a practically unheard-of thing nowadays. In car driving terms, it was as though most ships almost always ran under cruise control. But recently, Seeker had had to perform the most difficult maneuvers in decades, and had to do it under manual control. Seeker’s pilot was, in fact starting to get a reputation as a hotshot star jockey.

His manual piloting skills were being tested again. Without any navigation aids save bouncing rail gun projectiles, Seeker was now tailgating the large Dixx flagship. It was doubtful that the Federation people knew they were there. Without radar or radio, and when the laser comm feed from Seeker, Constellation and Hermes were cut, the Federation ships were blind as bats. They were probably \wondering what the pinging was. Maybe someone would peek out a window, but Seeker wasn’t counting on that.

Seeker surged and receded in time with the fluctuations of speed of the Dixx cruiser. Beth heard her pilot curse at the aliens’ unstable engines.

“Stay with it, kid,” she said to her pilot. “You’re doing good. Keep it up.”

“Captain,” Comms said. “Intermittent contact with Constellation and Hermes. They’re asking what we’re doing.”

“Captain O’Connell,” Mia said. “May I respond?”

Beth nodded.

Mia turned to the Comm officer’s display as two pixelated images were put on it split-screen style.

“Captain Okonkwo, Captain Dupont.” The two static-filled images nodded. “I apologize. Captain O’Connell is quite busy at the moment. Anyway, I am sure you have figured it out. We believe that missile on our tails is nuclear.”

The two nodded.

“We cannot afford to fire at the missile nor at the enemy. And we cannot split up and risk the enemy running. We are therefore getting as close to the Federation ships as we can. Constellation and Hermes are therefore going to fly parallel to Seeker in a picket line formation. Hopefully, we will be able to stay ahead of the blast wave. Do you understand?”

The two captains acknowledged and, on the navigation screen, they saw Constellation move slightly above and to the right of Seeker while Hermes maintained its position on Seeker’s left side.

Mia nodded to Beth, and Beth turned to the pilot’s console. On it was a tactical graphic of all the ships plus the missile. The three Earth ships were right behind the Dixx ships. It looked like they were chafing at the end of a line.

“Come on, you bug-eyed monsters...” Beth muttered. “Move your asses.”

The Ambassador leaned over to Mia.

“Excuse me, My Lady,” he whispered via his old jury-rigged translator with the giant battery. “Bug-eyes monsters?”

Mia laughed. “Oh, don’t be offended, Excellency. Beth didn’t mean to be insulting. The term is a cultural historical reference from more than three hundred years ago, when Earthers hadn’t seen an extraterrestrial yet. They imagined aliens to look like caricatures of humans, with large craniums and large, bulbous eyes, like the compound eyes of terrestrial insects. Hence the term. Today, the term is a humorous one. Beth used it in, well, in affection, I suppose...”

The Ambassador windmilled his arms again, laughing in that unique Arachnian way. “Now, what made you think I was offended, My Lady?”

“Oh, I don’t know...” Mia laughed.

In the back of her mind, Beth was a little irritated with how Mia and the First Ambassador were being so casual about things, but she thought it through.

“Comms,” Beth said, “time to projected detonation?”

“Umm, three minutes, Captain.”

“Ahhh. That’s why,” she thought. Nothing else to be done but wait. So it was time to diffuse the tension, even if just for a little while. Beth took a calming breath.

“Comms,” Beth said in a deliberate and calm, confident voice, “please call out the time, in thirty second intervals.”

“Aye.”

“Get me Engineering.”

“Engineering here.”

“Chief, we are expecting a nuclear detonation in a short while. How are we with our structural integrity fields?”

“Power cells are spooling up as we speak, Skipper. Field conduction is nearing one hundred percent strength.”

“Good. Thank you. Please alert and post all DC teams to their assigned damage control areas.”

“Aye.”

“Comms - PA, please.”

“Public address ready, sir.”

Beth flicked a switch on her chair. “This is the Captain. In less than three minutes, we are expecting a nuclear detonation. We believe that we have done all that we can to avoid Seeker being caught in that explosion. But even so, I want everyone wearing their helmets and pressure suits with anti-radiation fields activated.”

“T minus two minutes,” Comms interjected.

Beth took a breath and continued. “Dear old Seeker has been through a lot these past months, and I am sure the Admiral will agree with me that she has performed exemplary. And that is largely because of all of you. The Admiral told me once that Seeker’s crew is the best in the fleet. I happen to agree. And if we do not get through this, I just wanted to let you all know that it has been a privilege serving with you.

“But I believe we will get through this, and it all depends on you once again. Everyone stay sharp, stay at your posts and we’ll get through this.” And she clicked off the PA.

“T minus one minute,” Comms said.

“Lieutenant.”

“Sir?” the helm officer said.

“Kid, you’ve done great so far. Congratulations.”

“I appreciate that. Thank you, sir.”

Beth patted him on the shoulder.

“T minus thirty seconds.”

“Here we go.” Beth sat down and buckled herself in. “Lieutenant, start counting it down.”

“T minus twenty seconds... nineteen... eighteen...”

Mia and Beth silently looked at each other. Mia gave her a gentle smile and a wink. It reassured her.

“Fifteen... fourteen... thirteen...”

“Darn,” Mia said, “I think I forgot my coffee mug on my desk.”

Everyone paused at that non sequitur. Why would the Admiral think of her mug at a time like this?

Beth chuckled. A few laughed with her, but most did not dare do so, especially when a superior officer was involved. But it did lighten the mood. Which was no doubt the Admiral’s intention. She smiled. At least she was starting to understand her boss a little bit more.

“Seven... six... five...”

“This is it,” Mia mumbled.

“Three... two... one... zero!”

They saw the missile on screen. Its on-board chemical engine cut off, but nothing else happened.

“What...”

They continued to watch the image. Without forward acceleration, the missile rapidly fell away from them.

“T plus ten seconds... eleven... twelve...”

“This is Engineering.”

“This is the Captain. What is it, Chief?” But Beth knew why she called.

Actually, she had the same question in mind.

“Ummm, shouldn’t there have been a big ka-boom by now?”

“Comms, what’s the count now?”

“Ummm, T plus one minute, Captain. One minute five... ten... fifteen...”

“Dammit,” Mia exclaimed. “Didn’t the Titan people do a test on a nuclear missile? And they found that the missile payload became inert...”

“I remember that as well,” the Ambassador said, “but since the Detterex ship launched a nuclear missile, I thought they had found a way around that...”

“Me, too,” Mia said. “But apparently they’re totally ignorant about it.”

“Well, that’s too bad,” Beth said.

“Excuse me, Captain?” Mia said.

“All of this preparation, and all for nothing.”

“Ha-ha, very funny, Captain,” Mia smiled.

“Chief, tell your people it was a false alarm.”

“Aye, sir. The DC crews will be relieved.”

“Let’s not assume we’re out of the woods, yet, Chief. Keep them at their posts. Helm, pull back from the Dixx ship. Are we on course?”

“Aye, Captain. Fifth Fleet and Federation cruisers are two minutes from lunar orbit. The Enemy ships are behind and below us. They’ve slackened acceleration more to compensate for their course change...T minus one minute thirty now.”

“Relative Speed.”

“We are now roughly ten percent the speed of light. Down by about thirty thousand kilometers per second. By the time we are in lunar orbit, we’ll be at about two and a quarter kilometers per second, or about five thousand miles per hour.”

“Sound collision alarm.”

Lights flashed and klaxons swept the ship, and everyone steeled themselves.

“Screen to forward view.”

On the front screen, they could see the lunar surface coming up, and in moments they were on top of it. They saw the lunar rocks and sand rushing very closely below them, but too fast for them to see any details. It felt like they were just a few meters away from the surface and Beth felt a thrill rush through her insides.

“Screen to aft view!”

The screen switched to a view facing towards the rear, and they saw the enemy on their tails, the lunar surface sliding fast beneath them. The bridge crew was just holding their breath, waiting for them to fire something, but before they did, explosions hit the enemies’ undersides, and large gouts of flame spewed out.

Even with the combination of their forward momentum, the rearward deceleration force and the moon’s gravity, the explosions at its belly wouldn’t have affected their flight, but the explosions did cause the cruiser’s bow to tip upwards and its rear grazed the lunar surface. This made the cruiser flop forward and slam into the moon’s surface like a fish being slapped down on a chopping block. The megatons of kinetic energy that liberated caused an explosion that could be seen all the way to Earth. Only its structural integrity field kept it together.

The other two cruisers behind her suffered similar fates, and big clouds of moon dust were thrown up marking their impact zones. Tanks ruptured and many spots on the ships belatedly erupted in flames as volatile chemicals mixed with escaping oxygen.

The pilot whooped. “That’s it! The lunar launchers got them dead on!”

“Pilot, full deceleration and maintain station-keeping above the enemy. Comms, get some cameras on the cruisers.” In ten minutes or so, they were practically at a standstill.

In a moment, the screen displayed a shot of the crashed cruisers. They looked largely intact, but they could see jets of gas leaking from various points on their hull as well as fires being fed by the leaking gases. The little readout on the side showed that they had crash-landed inside a crater inside of the Mare Orientale – the “Eastern Sea.”

“Comms, have radio and Phase-Wave come back?”

“No, Captain.”

“Okay. That means their EM device is still live. I would have thought their systems would have been completely crushed and their crew smashed into jelly. Have Commander Kajima launch all Shrikes and Turtles as soon as our Marines are onboard the Turtles. Weapons, do not fire on the enemy, but maintain anti-missile defenses. Admiral, any additional orders? Admiral?” Beth looked towards the Captain’s jump chair, and then at the chairs at the rear of the bridge.

“Where’s the Admiral?” Beth asked the Ambassador.

The little Arachnian shrugged his two upper shoulders helplessly - a good imitation of the Earther gesture.

“Dammit,” Beth mumbled.

 

Beached in the Middle of the Sea –

As Mia ran to the flight deck, she finished donning her Class Five armor over her pressure suit, snapped her newly-modified helmet on but kept the faceplate up.

She then snapped on her holster belt over the armor, which had her dress sword and newly-modified sidearm.

Running up to the ramp of the modified Mud Turtle, she waved Marines in.

“Come on!” she called.

As soon as the Turtle was packed, she had the ramp closed, tapped the pilot on the shoulder, and he moved their shuttle into line with the other Turtles going to the airlocks.

-----

Mia’s shuttle was the last to launch, and as soon as it cleared Seeker, they made straight for the crashed cruisers. The enemy had landed inside a relatively young crater inside the Mare Orientale - maybe only a hundred thousand years old - one not too full of sand and dust, not enough that the ships would sink much.

Clearly the enemy ships had all suffered massive damage. But, unbelievably, they were all still in the fight. Large waves of missiles and projectiles came up from the beached cruisers, and the Shrikes and Turtles couldn’t get near. They knew the enemy would eventually run out but, for the moment, it was an impasse.

“This is the Admiral to all Turtles,” Mia called out via their new laser comms, “make for the crater rim two kilometers to the right of the lead cruiser. All Marines to disembark on the far side of the crater rim and make their way to the nearest cruiser on foot. The mission is to capture the ship intact. All squad leaders will take command of their own squads but will coordinate their movements with the Captain onboard Seeker. All Shrike pilots will provide air cover and relay all observations to Seeker’s Comms. That’s all, I guess. All right people, execute!”

-----

The Constellation and the Hermes saw Seeker’s maneuvers. They decelerated as well. When they got closer, Beth briefed them via laser comms, and they prepared to deploy their Eagle fighters and Cobra shuttles to the Tiros ships.

As for the Elyran and Dixx cruisers, they were still traveling very fast. The five ships would circle the moon every hour or so.

On the surface, Mia jogged towards the crashed Detterex ship and watched the lunar dust as it was kicked up by her boots, her high-tech sword giving her surroundings a ruby kind of glow. Though the dust was as dry and fine as talcum powder, she couldn’t help feel that the dust was more like wet sand in the way that it didn’t hang in the “air” for long when it was puffed up by her boots. No air on the moon after all, but knowing why didn’t help her get rid of the odd feeling.

She looked up and saw the looming cruiser. It felt big, the biggest she’d seen, even though she knew Seeker was near that size. It was one thing to see a spacecraft on some screen, and another to actually see it in the flesh. She looked to her left and then to her right, and saw the Marines running with her. They did look formidable. The armor made them look big and powerful, and their confident, purposeful movements made them impressive, if not outright scary.

She knew the basics - run when in exposed ground, and run for the nearest cover. In this way, the Earthers made rapid progress towards the ship as they ran from one basaltic boulder to another, and felt relatively safe. If this were Mars, there’d be a lot less rocks, but the moon had more, so their sprints weren’t long, perhaps a minute at a time. This tactic didn’t really hide their movements much, but it did give them a chance to rest in between runs behind the convenient rock or boulder.

The Detterex manning the missile batteries were at a disadvantage since the traverse of their weapons was very limited, given that many were at ground level and the ground clutter didn’t give them any clear shots, and the ones higher up just didn’t have the correct angles. So they quit firing at the running Earthers after a few tries.

Mia hit the last rock she was making for with a powerful thud. The weak gravity made their movements more powerful than normal, naturally, but she was in armor so she wasn’t concerned about sharp, pointy rocks. She was just fifty meters away from the cruiser’s hull and was starting to feel nervous. Looking to her left, she saw a Marine also fetch up against another rock. The guy unholstered his sidearm, so Mia did, too. She didn’t think she needed to yet, but she had decided to take her cue from the professionals.

She moved from behind the rock and saw big Detterex warriors in armor lumbering towards her. There were so many of them! Mia had to wonder where the Detterex Princess Arvan was getting all of them, and then she realized - they probably weren’t warriors. Probably just regular ship crew.

A large Detterex came at her swinging a large broadsword. Mia ducked and grabbed the hilt of hers. She swung it up, its thin power cable trailing, intending to block the Detterex’s follow-through swing, but the laser just cut through the enemy’s sword blade.

She then fired six rounds from her sidearm, and the slugs just punched through the alien’s chest without trouble and out the back. A spray of blood-red mist and ice came out from the soldier’s back. As she fell, Mia saw her face through the helmet, and saw the alien’s shocked and hopeless expression frozen in death.

True, she had been responsible for shooting down several Detterex and Tiros fighters, and several of their cruisers, but Mia hadn’t seen the face of the enemy in death. Seeing the face of the soldier during the moment of her death rocked Mia to her core.

But she couldn’t stop. Another one was coming at her. Mia fired at the soldier and dodged. The soldier fell headlong into the lunar dust and didn’t move anymore. Mia tried firing at the others but her gun’s nitrogen cartridge was out and she couldn’t spare any time to replace it.

Another Detterex soldier swung at her. Instinctively, Mia swung her sword in the standard parry she used in fencing, but her sword was far from just another epee, so the enemy’s sword was cut in two just like the first one.

Despite this, Mia still executed a riposte as per standard fencing, and ran the soldier through. She kicked away the soldier and saw more coming in.

She made a calculated move and spun around, sword outstretched. All the soldiers around her were caught - one of them in the belly, another on the bicep. These cuts were deep - the first one lost all her air almost immediately while the other one’s arm was almost cut off. The others didn’t have it as bad, but bad enough that their suits started leaking air.

The cuts were too large for their self-sealing functions to cope, but they fought on. One of them was able to bring down her sword on Mia’s shoulder, but since the cutting edge didn’t hit her squarely, it just bounced off the armor.

Mia didn’t have time to be surprised at that. She dropped her gun, reached out with that hand and pulled the soldier forward and to her left, using the Detterex’s momentum to make her fall.

The soldier to her right didn’t have a sword but a long piece of pipe, and she hit Mia on her right shoulder. With her armor, Mia didn’t even feel it but she was pushed back strong enough that she slipped on the loose lunar dust and sand and fell on her back.

The remaining two soldiers came at her supine body with their swords. Using an upward pinwheeling movement of her arm, Mia used the non-cutting flat side of her sword to sweep away the soldiers’ weapons. She didn’t have enough arm strength to smash them away completely but just enough to push them far enough away that their sword strokes missed her.

She switched her grip and swung her arm upward, forward and then down. She caught them on their lower arms and cut their sword hands off.

Inadvertently, she had let go of her sword when the two bodies smashed down on her. The bodies pinned down her left arm so she pushed them off her using her right hand. As she was doing so, the last attacker hit her on her upper right arm with the pipe again. In the back of her mind, she was wondering why this one kept smashing her uselessly with the pipe. Didn’t she realize that she was wearing armor?

She reached out, grabbed the pipe, and pulled it out of her enemy’s hands. The palms of her armor suit were rubberized and textured, giving her an enhanced kind of grip and she was able to do this easily.

Using the pipe to balance herself, Mia got up and swung the pipe down the soldier’s helmet. The soldier rocked backwards but wasn’t hurt. She tried to close in on Mia, but Mia swung at the soldier’s helmet again. Mia swung at the same spot again and again until the enemy’s helmet started to crack.

Mia was relentless, and swung and swung at the helmet. The cracks grew and grew until the glass exploded outward.

Mia stood there, eyes closed and breathing hard.

“Enough,” she whispered, almost crying. “Please, enough now... I can’t anymore...”

After a moment, she lifted her head and looked around. Enemy bodies were piled around her. She saw her sword hilt and pulled out her sword from under the bodies. The power lead had been pulled out and turned the laser emitters off so she plugged the cable back in and switched it back on before climbing over the bodies. Though she didn’t intend to, she got a better vantage point as she stood on top of the bodies.

From there, she could see her people had dispatched most of the enemy. It seemed her people had relied mostly on their sidearms, but a few were caught like her - not having enough time to replace their cartridges, and had to fight it out with their swords or equivalents. Though all she could see standing were her crew, she’d have to check later and see if any of her people didn’t make it.

Mia looked up at the crashed Detterex cruiser and ran her eyes along the lower deck near the ground. She found four airlock doors the enemy all came out of, and knew that they were prepared to repel her people from the other side of these doors. She looked some more and found a part of the hull where two plates had buckled. The hull had split, with a crack large enough to drive a small landcar through.

Mia switched on her new laser comms, but it wasn’t working. She assumed that it was damaged during her short... tussle with the nine Detterex soldiers. So she switched her sword to the highest illumination level and raised it above her head. When she caught the eye of some of the people, she motioned to the breach in the hull with her other arm. Eventually her people started moving to her, and then to the hull breach.

When most of her people were there, she looked for her shuttle’s squad leader. She pulled him towards her until their faceplates touch.

“Sergeant,” Mia said, her voice traveling to the sergeant via the vibration of her helmet.

“Aye, sir.”

“I’m gonna use your laser comms. Switch it on.”

“Aye, sir. Comms switched on.”

“Ladies and gentlemen of the Seeker. This is the Admiral. We shall be boarding the cruiser through this hull breach. Our mission is to locate the EM suppression equipment and disable it, and to hold our ground until reinforcements arrive to help us capture the ship intact. Everyone is to take their instructions from their squad leaders. Squad leaders, get your squads organized and get them in there. Is everyone clear?”

Various “ayes” and “yes sirs” came back.

“All right then, Execute!”

Mia then moved away and gave her squad leader a thumbs-up, and mouthed, “Thank you.” The sergeant nodded and started organizing his squad.

Mia couldn’t help much since she didn’t have any communications so she stepped away and allowed her people to get on with it. Instead, she went in search of her gun and found it near “her” boulder. She shook the dust out as best she could and replaced the cartridge.

As she walked back, she saw each of her six-man squads make their way to the hull breach, and at a signal from their leaders, each group rushed through.

Mia watched as a dozen people came over. One of them touched helmets with her.

“Sir,” the young Marine said, “All of us have non-working comms as well, so, to keep us out from underfoot, my sergeant has assigned us to secure the breach outside. We’d be honored if you’d stand with us.”

Mia knew it was their polite way of protecting her. No senior fleet officer should be in the frontline but she was already there and it was too late for anyone to change things. So this was, she supposed, their compromise. She had pushed the regs as far as she could already, so she agreed to this.

“Thank you, Corporal,” she responded. “The honor is mine.”

The corporal stepped away and saluted. She then gestured and half of them took places around or near the hull breach. She then gestured for Mia and the remaining people to spread around and take positions near large rock formations. Mia gestured at the bodies of the enemy, and the corporal nodded. The seven of them spread out and moved all the bodies that they could find out onto a large, flat area free of boulders. They did it with respect and as little violence as possible - Mia insisted - but they had trouble laying them flat since they had already frozen into their final positions. It was just as well that they didn’t have comms.

Mia tried to be emotionless but didn’t quite succeed. Death was death regardless of what species it was, and she felt remorse. She saw some of her people shaking their heads, and she knew it was them trying to get rid of tears. She had to do it a few times herself.

They weren’t completely sure of the crew size of a Detterex cruiser, but she estimated over three hundred bodies. Mia thought this might actually make up most of their crew.

She was thankful, though, that none of them were her people. Clearly, the Earthers’ sidearms and armor gave them the advantage.

When the ground was free of bodies, they went back to their positions, hunkered down and waited.

From time to time, Mia or someone else would pop up and survey the area, but nothing was happening. The silent tableau stayed like that for about thirty more minutes, with Shrikes, Eagles, Turtles and Cobras circling overhead unable to get closer, until one of the airlock doors popped open.

Incredibly, several Detterex came out of this door but without suits. Of course, they didn’t last long in vacuum, their dying bodies sprawling on the sand. Later on the Earthers would find that these people were actually trying to escape being blown up by a grenade.

A few moments later, the other doors opened and more came out. Some were in armored space suits, but most were just in regular pressure suits. But all of them were armed with something. Some had the broadswords that the Detterex seemed to prefer, but most just had odds and ends in their hands, like pipes, pieces of furniture or things like tools and even cooking implements.

Mia saw her people start aiming and saw little red dots sprouting on the chests of the enemies. Center mass was the easiest shot, especially from a distance. And she saw these Detterex go down one at a time from shots in their torsos.

It was virtually a massacre.

Mia decided to join, loathe though she was to kill more people, but she didn’t shirk her responsibility or her involvement. However, she decided to start firing at the Detterex that were just emerging from one of the airlocks. In a few moments, she had choked off that airlock with dead Detterex and no further aliens could come out. She moved on to another airlock and did the same. Pretty soon, three airlocks were clogged, and no more aliens could come out of them, which was her way of minimizing the casualty count. In the first airlock where the Detterex that weren’t wearing pressure suits came from, no one else came out.

As for those that were already outside, Mia’s people made short work of them, and the tableau became still again. They hunkered down as they waited for reinforcements.

-----

In the end, it became a long, drawn-out battle, more a battle of attrition than anything, one in which the Empire people were destined to lose.

When the Hermes and Constellation landing parties touched down and broke into their assigned cruisers, their assault crews were so much larger than the Seeker’s, so they were expecting to have an easier time. What they didn’t expect was that the Tirosians wouldn’t put up any resistance at all.

When the Hermes and Constellation crews broke up into their assigned ships, the missiles stopped firing, and when the Earthers started going through the airlock doors, all they saw were dead or dying Tirosians with slit throats. The Hermes crews saw some still-alive Tirosians running from cabin to cabin, and they ran after them.

The Marines peeked into the cabins that the running Tirosians had just visited moments ago, and saw Tirosians inside with very deep, dark red, almost black, blood spurting out of freshly-slit necks. Some of the medics rushed in, took off their helmets and gauntlets, and tried to save them, but Tirosian physiology was not familiar, the blood loss was too much and the wounds too large. The rest of the Marines went after the running Tirosians, but the ship’s layout was too unfamiliar, the ever-present moisture everywhere made the deck slippery, and the light levels were too low. They just couldn’t catch up. Eventually, they did catch up with them, but it was too late - they found most of them on the bridge, dying by their own hands.

Both crews did a cabin-by-cabin inspection, looking for booby traps or enemies that were still alive, but no one was left. The few jury-rigged booby traps they found were hastily cobbled together so they were crude and easily disabled. In the end, they had captured both ships intact and without any resistance. But the EM field equipment was not onboard either of them.

As for Seeker’s crews, they had a harder time since they had to battle for every inch. However, it seemed they were the only ones with sidearms functional in the field, and they were able to hold their ground easily.

Furthermore, there were enough of them scattered in the ship yet within line-of-sight that their laser comm network was functional. These two technology advantages, plus their training, gave them more than enough of an edge.

They also made judicious use of their hand grenades and were able to clear large sections at a time. The Detterex tried using grenades and other explosives as well, but the Marines were all wearing armor, and Detterex munitions didn’t seem to be as powerful or precise as the Earthers’, and their throwing skills were... less than perfect.

Eventually Seeker’s boarding crews were able to consolidate their positions and held on until reinforcements arrived.

When Constellation’s Marines arrived, they brought Mia with them. Mia got a cable from one of the Constellation’s Marines, and plugged her suit into one of Constellation’s Marines’ comm aux port.

Mia started giving instructions and a couple of squads of the Constellation’s Marines took positions at the rear of the Seeker’s tech squad. Two of Seeker’s other squads took point and, with directions from Mia, they crept forward to the ship’s engine room.

Once they got to the engine area, they saw about six Detterex entrenched by the main bulkhead door armed with swords. Mia patted the Marine in front of her on the shoulder. He nodded and expertly lobbed a grenade near that door. When it exploded, all six Detterex slumped dead and the Earthers rushed through, one squad at a time.

Mia followed her Marine escorts inside and found herself hustled behind a large load-bearing support column. She peeked around the column and saw about twenty-four Detterex soldiers deployed in good tactical positions around one of the large electromagnetic generators. A handful of them had bulky, jury-rigged projectile-launching devices attached to large tanks of gas, probably nitrogen, and fired things that looked like round bottles full of sulfuric acid, and sometimes really heavy, rough metal balls the size of chicken eggs.

The Earthers took cover and the aliens fired their weapons. The velocities were relatively high but Mia’s people were able to dodge the projectiles. Round metal balls and glass bottles flew across the large room and smashed against the bulkheads. Acrid liquid started to hiss and bubble. The few soldiers who had their faceplates up slammed them down.

“Fire on those things!” Mia ordered, and the ones in front started on them.

Their projectiles just bounced off the devices themselves, so they fired on their tanks. They were rewarded with the sound of hissing gas. All six of the devices were rendered useless very quickly.

“Fire on those bottles!”

They shifted focus and fired on the enemy’s piles of “ammunition,” smashing all the bottles. Pretty soon, the room started filling with acid fumes.

With a loud cry like the Maori’s battle cry in the Haka, the Detterex soldiers rose and rushed the Earthers, but Mia’s people were able to pick them off easily and soon there were no more enemies rushing them.

With Marines around her, Mia approached the control panel of the gigantic generator. Her suit’s radiation detector started warbling. She clicked her tongue switch and saw in her heads-up display that there was a lot of microwave radiation emanating from the generator.

Irritatedly, Mia slapped the alarm cutoff near her armor’s upper chest, and concentrated on deciphering the panel. She wasn’t sure but she made the decision to hit the large red button in the middle. After all, what else could a big red button be for?

She hit it with the heel of her armored hand and was rewarded with the high-pitched whine of the large generator getting lower and lower, and eventually disappearing. She clicked her tongue switch and saw the microwave emissions had disappeared.

She finally clicked on her Phase-Wave comms and switched to the general freak.

“This is the Admiral! Come in, Seeker!”

“Aye, sir! This is the Seeker!”

Mia breathed a sigh of relief.

“Glad to hear you, Seeker. Am pleased to report that the EM Suppression Field has been deactivated, and we have captured the generator intact.”

She smiled when she heard her crew applaud in the background.

“Aye, sir.”

“Admiral!” Beth exclaimed.

Mia chuckled. “I know, I know. I’m on my way out. Keep your bra on, Beth. I’m going back now.”

“Make sure that you do,” Beth growled. “... Sir...”

-----

When Mia and the Seeker crew had managed to deactivate the EM suppression engine, it was like the switch to an old-fashioned radio was flipped back on, and the Phase-Wave bandwidths lit up with millions of calls and messages. And none too soon - the entire system was in turmoil: everyone was becoming desperate by then. Any further absence of communication with the mother world and the largest colony might not have been good for the system.

The field had covered the entire Earth and the moon, and with the mother planet and the largest colony rendered silent, the cohesion that constant available communication gave the Earth System had almost broken down.

It was not unreasonable to say that had the communication blackout not ended when it did, human civilization would have started to break down. Were it not for the advance notice that Earth Government had sent out earlier, commerce and other vital industries might not have remained intact.

But Earth was back on the air again, much to the relief of everyone - it was quite a scary period. Because of this momentary loss of Phase-Wave, there was talk already about reviving wired communications and other comms systems largely abandoned since Phase-Wave. They were also talking about reviving the Seren stations as well, just in case they lost Phase-Wave again. If they proved to be suppression-proof, of course.

 

Escape Artist –

When Lunar Defense had taken over all activities to secure the three ships and their captured Detterex soldiers, Beth’s staff finally had time to sort through the communiqués and other material that had piled up when the Phase-Wave comms went down. When they had more-or-less caught up with everything, they found one specific item that they thought the Captain needed to know about right away.

Once Beth was briefed, she thought Mia needed to know about it, too. At that moment, a call from the Fleet Admiral came through. She knew why the Admiral was calling.

Before she acknowledged the call, she went to Comms.

“Lieutenant, please ask Admiral Steele if I can meet her at her office, and please pipe Fleet Admiral Silverman’s call there as soon as I get there. Give me five minutes.”

“Aye, sir.”

She transferred command and hurried down to Deck Four.

Reaching Mia’s office door, Beth nodded at the two Marine guards.

“Good morning, Captain,” the more senior Marine said as she saluted. “The Admiral is expecting you.” She opened the door and ushered her through.

Beth nodded at that and stepped in.

“Hey, Nick,” she said, nodding to Nick, who was sitting at the guest chair in front of Mia’s desk.

Nick stood and saluted. “Good morning, Captain.”

“Hi, Beth.” Mia said. She waved them both to sit down.

“You know,” Mia said, “I know why you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, sir,” Beth replied.

“I only belatedly realized that the Detterex cruiser was the Defiant. And I was curious why we couldn’t find Princess Arvan anywhere on the Cruiser. I suppose you’re going to tell me that an unidentified spacecraft was detected leaving the system at high speed while we were chasing down the three cruisers.”

Beth nodded. “Exactly so, sir.”

“Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that there is a large, vacant section in the Defiant’s lower decks that had almost enough room to fit a K-class cargo ship?”

“I would not, sir.”

“Ma’am,” Nick said, “umm, I’m sorry. Admiral Silverman is on the line...”

“Not a surprise, Nick,” Mia smiled.

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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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