USD: ~Eight weeks after awakening
Location: Unknown Yellow Dwarf, L4 Lagrange Point
Alex had just finished bringing the daily rations and having a chat with Elis. She had made a habit of doing that every day. It was good to have someone to glare at her and keep her on her toes with subtle hostile comments on her evolving list of life experiences and mutual human understanding of the horrors of vegetarian MREs.
Alex wasn’t exactly sure if there was much progress in making friends with her, however. It seemed she held a pretty big grudge against her. It probably had to do with the Federation-Nanite war, but Elis had the bad habit of reciting her name, rank, and serial number every time Alex asked a question.
Asking Nameless had been just as much help on finding out more about the subject, as she learned that all their historical records from before the ShipCore’s activation from hibernation had been wiped or not included in their packaging.
She supposed they might turn up some intact Federation records in the debris field somewhere, but there were higher priorities than sifting through old computers for data. Like gathering intact hull plates and ammunition stores.
She was very happy as she watched a dozen repair bots float in a brace of twenty 1066.8mm missiles. All happily armed with anti-matter catalyzed nuclear warheads. She wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but it sounded destructive to her, which was exactly what Alex wanted any missiles she might shoot to be.
“How are the PDC-Ks and did we find any ZnSe for the PDC-L lenses?”
[Notice: No operable salvage with lens material has been acquired or detected. Recommended smelter improvements for lens crafting added to Workshop priority list. PDC-K #1 #6 #11 are inoperable pending full rebuild. Remaining PDC-K turrets are nominal ready status.]
“Which will take a lot more power and material to do. I don’t want to slow down our hull repair now that we have RCS functional. What about the internal feeds to the outer hull components and weapon autoloaders?”
[Informative: All outer hull feeds to thruster ports and autoloader feeds are reporting nominal except for feeds to sections near Engineering.]
Well, that entire section had been completely obliterated and carved off, so that was fair. They were rebuilding the missing feed lines and Alex was just thankful that section had not included any weapons or complex elements other than a few thruster pods. Otherwise, they might have never really replaced them outside of a shipyard, although they were quickly turning the Shrike into a real industrial ship with capabilities that were far beyond the original machine shop.
Part of that was Nameless’s helpful improvements to the fabricator and smelter, the nanite forging processes hidden in the ShipCore allowed complex micro-electronic work to be done without any wafer fab that might have taken up an entire space station, much less something that fit inside the Shrike. It was relatively low volume but being able to reproduce any missing or damaged complex electronics and materials made a huge difference, especially since Nameless could utilize the federation schematics to produce replicas nearly identical to the original specifications. Or improve on them even.
She was about to suggest a retasking of drones to search for the lens material when the ship suddenly shook violently. The normal white lights flipped to red and a klaxon erupted from somewhere down the hall. Her HUD overlay repeating a call from the ship inter-comm.
|THIS IS NOT A DRILL|
She hadn’t bothered with repairing the CIC, she’d mostly worked in Engineering and the Workshop so she grabbed the nearby chair and fastened herself in, the seat attaching to her skinsuit’s spine connector.
[Warning: Incoming hostile units. Calculating class and designations from mass and drive signatures.]
[Notice: Impact to Dorsal Hull Plate #12, Estimated 1kg railgun round deflected at 85 degrees, minimal damage. Incoming light gauss rounds impacting D-field with minimal effect.]
“Linear Drive status?”
[Informative: Linear Drive lightoff not recommended until further integrity testing confirms structural reliability of new support structures.]
So it was a crap shoot if they would tear themselves apart or not.
“Navigational Order: rotate ship to maximize PDC-K coverage on axis of enemy approach. Do we have any idea what they are yet?”
The screen on her desk in the Workshop flipped from construction orders to the navigational data she had enjoyed on Engineering’s main holotable. The data was more compacted, and it was harder to visualize since everything was now 2D, but she watched as the ship began to roll to present as many of their working weapons as possible toward the incoming hostiles. Her stomach sank as she saw just how many of them there were.
At least a hundred red blips were streaking toward them, over half of them flashing yellow which mean they were already opening fire.
After a second she realized it wasn’t as bad as it looked, they were the obvious source of the gauss rounds, which were small caliber handgun sized rounds, the D-Field would have no problem deflecting them just as it had the debris storms for days on end.
[Correlation: 327 Hostile combat drones, 4 Hunter-Killer automated gunships on approach. Recommend returning fire immediately to prevent possible hostile boarding action.]
“Do it! What about the Hunter-Killers?”
Alex could hear the thrum of the PDC-Ks come to life as a muted whizz and thrum through her seat. Her small screen showed the taskings for each weapon as they left off short bursts of fire at each target before finding another one, often before the first one was even destroyed. They were fighting at knife range, under 10,000km, but bullets still had travel time.
The combat bots did their best to dodge, but the gatlings had purposefully built in a minor bit of inaccuracy to their targeting, creating a random distribution cloud of projectiles so even if the bots dodged slightly they were still likely to get hit by something, and a single hit usually meant the small anti-personnel robots were destroyed or rendered inoperable entirely.
The ship suddenly lurched and Alex felt herself yawed in her seat, the restraint and spine connector all that managed to keep her from flying across the room.
[Notice: Impact to Bow Plates #1 and #12, Estimated 1kg railgun round, full penetration, no internal systems damaged.]
“We need to take those Hunter-Killers out, now!”
Two PDC-Ks switched to focusing on the larger Hunter-Killers, but they were actually armored, and they were keeping their distance while taking potshots with their longer ranged railguns. Alex realized the combat drones were just a distraction, the larger gunships were the real threat here, although if the combat bots boarded the ship… she didn’t think their repair bots would stand much chance.
She had just picked up twenty missiles, but the launchers weren’t tested. She wasn’t even sure they were ready to be reloaded or if they could arm the missiles.
“What about our railguns?”
[Informative: Rail #1 inoperative, Rail #2 load feed experienced failure upon activation. Drone #3132 and #3133 tasked with manual loading.]
Alex punched her comms to active on the ship frequency, “Beeper, Booper, get that railgun loaded we need to shoot back at these bastards!”
One of the Hunter-Killer blips suddenly flashed and then disappeared, the PDC-Ks having pounded it out of commission, but the others were hanging back further and the PDC fire became more and more useless with distance. They didn’t have unlimited ammo, and Alex saw that two PDC-Ks had already overheated their ad-hoc repairs and failed, one twisting itself off the hull entirely in a mad frenzy.
The cloud of incoming bots had thinned out considerably, though, and it didn’t look like they were going to be boarded just yet.
“Can we use the RCS to keep the distance?”
[Notice: Attempting ship maneuver.]
Alex confirmed they were starting to accelerate away, but it was pathetically slow at only 0.4m/s2. The incoming hostiles were pulling off four or five Gs of acceleration toward them.
The ship lurched again suddenly, and a sudden horror gripped her as the lighting flickered and died for a second before they returned.
[Notice: Impact to Amidship Plates #15 and #48, 1kg Railgun round, full penetration, backup battery system inoperable. Atmosphere loss minimal, I-field integrity nominal.]
Railguns at this range were more than accurate enough to score a hit, and they punched through the hull like it was nothing. It was only a matter of time before one of the hits found something critical as it drilled a hole straight through the ship and out the other side.
“Why isn’t the railgun loaded yet!”
[Correction: Railgun 1kg Long-Rod Penetrators manual load complete, Projectile Count 12x, returning fire.]
An electric thrum filled the ship before a sudden snapping sound. Another of the Hunter-Killers blinked out of existence in a ship wide explosion as the shell punched through its bow and exited through the aft.
“Two down, two to go. Nameless, rotate the ship so our amidships is pointed at the Hunter-Killers as best you can.”
[Notice: Reduced PDC-K coverage estimated from maneuver.]
“That’s fine, just keep the Hunter-Killers in our railgun firing arc. We want to offer them less cross-section to hit without presenting them a bow to aft penetration.”
[Confirmation: Rotating ship as directed.]
Nameless wasn’t announcing the misses, but with most of the incoming combat bots taken care of she watched as each enemy railgun shot turned a line drawn between them red for a second. Alex didn’t know what their hit rate was, but at the current distance of 67,000km they were on the further end of the railgun’s accuracy range for the Shrike.
A third Hunter-Killer winked out in the same kind of explosion as the second one had experienced.
“Focus everything on the last one.”
[Affirmation: Focus fire order accepted.]
The Shrike shook again, violently. A hull panel came loose and fell almost on top of Alex’s head. She cursed leaning forward to make herself as small as possible in order to avoid a shower of sparks. The Workshop’s lighting flickered but held on.
[Notice: Impact to Amidship Plates #14 and #47, 1kg Railgun round, full penetration, major damage to contents of main cargo, no critical systems damaged.]
Alex clenched at the desk, staring at the combat view on her display. There was literally nothing she could do right now other than watch the high velocity rail rounds be exchanged. She hated it.
Miss. Miss. Miss.
Finally, a round found its mark and the Hunter-Killer exploded.
Alex felt huge relief as the last Hunter-Killer was turned into wreckage. At the very least they weren’t going to be nailed by a railgun. There were still two digits worth of combat drones on the screen, though, and while the huge stream of small arms fire had rapidly diminished, it was still pelting the D-Field like rain.
The smaller drones had been closing rapidly and Alex noted that they were now dangerously close. That was when Alex realized that their relative speeds had just continued to climb their entire flight path.
“Nameless, the combat drones aren’t trying to board, they are going kamikaze! Roll the ship to present optimum PDC-K coverage!”
The number of combat drones thinned rapidly, but so did the distance remaining. During their mad rush they had accelerated to nearly 7km/s relative.
“Can we move out of the way?"
[Informative: Hostile combat drone acceleration exceeds our own.]
Alex watched the numbers tick down, literally every second. It was going to be close. She started comparing how much damage a kamikaze drone would do compared to a railgun shell in her head.
There were only five drones left.
One impacted the D-Field and it disintegrated.
[Warning: D-Field collapse, rebooting system. 30 seconds.]
Alex could hear the pelting of gauss rounds on the hull vibrating through the ship. It really did sound like rain.
The three drones behind the first suddenly disintegrated in a hail of 32mm AP shells.
The last one barely clipped the ship’s starboard side wing, the sudden impact causing the ship to lurch as it rolled to the right. The bot itself turning into a metallic pancake.
“That.. wasn’t so bad.”
[Notice: Impact to Amidship Plate #22, combat drone, 7km/s, detecting numerous plate fractures, no penetration.]
“Translation: Armor plate did its job, we are alive!”
[Interrogative: Will Avatar begin to preface statements according to ShipCore standard?]
For what felt like the millionth time Alex wanted to glare at Nameless but was thwarted by the fact it was a voice inside her head.
“No, I’m not crazy.”