USD: ~15 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi, 4 hours after IND Tears of Fire transponder activation
Location: G8 V Yellow Main Sequence, 92 Pegasi, IND Tears of Fire, Linear drive breaking burn above Ackman Station
Alex had pulled an MRE packet of chili mac to eat while in the CIC. Soon there was a good chance they would have real food, and she would be able to try out something she had watched dozens of times in holovids: Cooking! Thoughts of all kinds of amazing dishes she had seen warred for her attention while she absentmindedly listened to Elis.
“I still can’t believe the Portmaster just granted us clearance like that. Things must be pretty slip-shod around here, more than I thought possible.”
“The station isn’t armed. Maybe they just don’t want trouble. Seems like we are pretty far from civilization and there aren’t any authorities here, so they probably take in anyone who isn’t shooting at them.”
“Maybe, but something does feel off about this.”
Alex paused with a spoon halfway to her mouth, looking at the console for a second, “Nameless has there been any activity?”
[Informative: An exodus of ships has begun streaming out of the station toward the two nearest star lane egress points. Several smaller ships vacated the area disappearing into the asteroid belt clutter around the planet. Three smaller vessels and one larger have taken up station 10,000km above the station.]
Alex frowned, “All that?”
Elis shook her head, “There are going to be a lot of people mad at you. Basically, they are getting the hell out of dodge because they think something is going to go down.”
Rubbing her eye, Alex leaned forward to get a better look at the tactical map before setting her meal aside.
“Nameless, what do we have on those four ships?”
[Informative: Formation above the station predates transponder activation. EM signature analysis and intelligence has pegged them as three small mining rigs and a possible light drone tender. Shortly after transponder activation all four began active pinging of our ship, however the power levels of their sensors were well below warship standard.]
“So, they were checking us out. I don’t blame them; we have a hot ship.”
Elis rolled her eyes, “If you paint flames on the hull, you will lose all professional credibility.”
Alex’s eyes lit up, “That… that’s not a bad idea.”
[Suggestion: A matte white hull paint is a superior--]
“Nevermind! No hull painting today. Let’s just get moored and deal with things as they come.”
Elis, who had been studying her own console screen looked over to Alex, “I have been looking over the station amenities list now that we are broadcasting. They do have a small repair yard, Alex. It might be worth checking into.”
“Yeah, that’s good news. I’m mostly concerned about how we are going to… sell some things. I am hesitant to sell any of our missiles, we don’t have a renewable source of anti-matter. Yet. So, I have had Nameless go over a few low-tech Federation designs for small arms that he would easily be able to mass produce with materials on hand.”
Elis scratched her cheek, “Selling one missile would go a long way compared to selling small arms, at least I think it would. Is there any listing that could give us some insight?”
“I already found it. Looking at what they are selling now, even these ‘low-tech’ firearms should go for a premium. I mean they are pulse rifles and handguns, while just about all the listings on the station are for chemical propellant firearms. I only found one pulse pistol for sale, its listed as an antique.”
Elis nodded, “That does sound promising.”
The two continued to discuss what they had found for another hour, when the CIC lighting suddenly flickered to red.
|THIS IS NOT A DRILL|
Alex almost dumped the remains of her MRE’s packaging in her lap as she stopped slouching.
[Informative: An open broadcast between one of the previously mentioned four possible mining ships is currently ongoing with the station’s port authorities. Displaying transponder codes and playing back audio now.]
A hiss of static turned into an angry woman’s voice on the CIC console’s intercom, “… nanie blasted pretentious prick! You will pay us, or I swear I will shove one of our Lancers up your ass so far no one will find one atom left of your miserable existence!”
A stressed, nasally sounding man replied, “Captain, you’ve violated your contract clauses and now refuse to help us! And your threats are hollow. We both know that you will do no such thing, or it would ruin Iron Horse’s reputation, and it is seemingly all you have left.”
A third voice cut in, a deep baritone that sounded not very pleased at all, “Captain Harris, you are transmitting in the clear. Switch to EC-F37. Now.”
“Captain Thraker, please let me take a flitter over to your ship. My crew have not been paid, and we are running on MREs!”
“Captain Harris, cut this transmission at once, or you are relieved.”
The channel turned to static.
[Informative: High Band broadcasts are no longer being transmitted in the clear. Decryption attempt reveals that it is unlikely to be possible to break the encryption in a useful time frame.]
“Pirates? Shaking down the station on their way out?” Alex mused.
Elis pointed at the ship transponder codes, “Those are warships, I think. A destroyer, and some escorts, maybe. A system defense force, possibly. Although I can’t imagine a backwater like this could afford a destroyer, much less a small squadron. They do seem to be poorly disciplined though, so that fits.”
|IND Iron Horse |IND Rachel’s Namesake |IND Silverstreak |IND Sharknose |
“Nameless, can we get any more data on these?”
[Correlative: Possible partial match for IND Iron Horse with Federation Talon-class light destroyer. However, significant irregularities are present that downgrade confidence to 33%. Other hull signatures have small EM profile and estimated mass in the gunship range and hull profiles are much smaller.]
“Do we have any idea on their capabilities?”
[Informative: Analysis predicts low combat performance from all units. Talon-class light destroyer standard armament consists of a single 4 tube AMLS battery and heavy PDC-K systems. Smaller ships' armaments are unlikely to carry missiles with such small hull profiles.]
“What about our relative top accelerations?”
[Correlative: Confidence levels are high that even with degraded performance, Tears of Fire will have nearly double the top Acceleration of indicated ships. Historical EM data collected reveals the designated ships are only equipped with Single-Phase linear drive system.]
Alex smiled, “Short range weapons and slow. Even if all four of them had four AMLS tubes, it wouldn’t be enough to saturate our PDCs unless they had some new advanced missile tech. Everything we’ve read and seen so far has pointed to their tech being worse, not better. I think we can handle things if there is a problem.”
Elis sighed, “There is definitely going to be a problem I just don’t know what it is going to be.”
USD: ~15 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi, 6 hours after IND Tears of Fire transponder activation
Location: IND Tears of Fire, Linear drive breaking burn above Ackman Station
A sudden alarm blasted Alex awake and out of her nap in the CIC’s captain’s chair. The bold red text repeating itself on her HUD overlay.
|THIS IS NOT A DRILL|
She silenced the alarm and looked at the tactical screen.
[Informative: IND Iron Horse and three escorts have lit off Linear Drives, burning for a fastest time intercept for IND Tears of Fire. Active emitters are pinging our hull.]
“I guess the disguise didn’t really work and they know we aren’t a freighter.”
[Notice: Hostile task group estimated entering maximum missile range in 15:37 at current burn rate. Displaying alternate course corrections.]
Alex studied the plot, and the reason the other ships had waited so long became obvious to her.
If she attempted to burn directly away, it would take the Tears of Fire so long to cut its current velocity that they would be overtaken. The hostile task group had timed things so that if they tried to burn perpendicularly, the Tears wouldn’t have been able to curve its trajectory enough to avoid an engagement.
They had obviously miscalculated the Tear’s maximum acceleration as closer to their own. Alex was suddenly glad she hadn’t ordered a maximum burn that would have given away that advantage. Even if her biggest concern was consideration of not stressing the hull with a max burn, keeping their top acceleration secret was a nice bonus.
“Nameless, maintain current burn level, while making a perpendicular course correction.”
[Notice: Hostile task group will be able to close with Tear of Fire in approximately 30 minutes with the proposed course.]
“Yeah, I want them to think that, too.”
The door to the CIC slid open, and Elis entered with Beeper floating in behind her. “What’s the SitRep?”
Alex updated her and pointed out her course change.
[Notice: Incoming High Band transmission.]
The voice of Captain Thraker came over the comm clearly, “IND Tears of Fire, cut your drive and assume a ballistic course. Prepare to be boarded and inspected. We will open fire if you fail to comply.”
Alex blew a stream of air up at her forehead, dislodging an errant strand of hair, “Rude.”
Elis shook her head and barely bit back a comment on Alex’s own actions as she took her seat at the communications console, “Do you want me to try and talk with them? Maybe we can defuse the situation.”
“I don’t think so. They were shaking down the station for money, and now they are after us. Maybe we will get a reward from the Portmaster for helping him out.”
USD: ~15 days after Tears of Fire arrival to 92 Pegasi, 5 minute after lighting off main drives
Location: IND Iron Horse, Intercept course: IND Tears of Fire
Captain Thraker frowned at the tactical screen from his captain’s chair. The hum of the ship as it propelled itself toward their target interspersed with the quiet and whispered voices of the command crew as they performed their duties.
His XO stood beside him, and having looked at the plot himself, asked the Captain’s thoughts, “Captain, do you think its some Corpo ploy? Maybe the Solarian’s push for Dedia have put them into action? Maybe it’s a marine insertion vessel?”
Thraker studied the screen and stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“If that were the case, Daniel, they would have come in without kicking up a fuss. No. The only thing I have been able to think of is that it is neither the Solarians nor the Corpos, but a third party. Maybe the Imperium wants to see the Western Frontier kick up dust and distract both while they make some power play elsewhere without any interference.”
Commander Daniel digested that for a moment while keeping an eye on the junior bridge operators.
“You think they were going to make an attack run on the station? Destroy or heavily damage it and point both sides at each other?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense to me right now, and if they had wanted to stop and take pictures of such an atrocity, well there is the reason for them suddenly going active and making a rendezvous instead of a fly-by. Someone over there might have gotten a little cocky, while not doing their homework and realizing that we were here. They are certainly regretting it now.”
The tactical screen showed the projected trajectories of their target and the squadron. The Tears of Fire had changed course, but only after they had passed the point of no return. They would be forced to enter CQB range, and Thraker was confident that in a 4-on-1 slugging match, Iron Horse would come out the victor.
What worried him was the ships mysterious EM profile. It smelled like high-tech, and that meant the ship was undoubtedly a warship, maybe even a heavy destroyer. If it came to a fight, there would be no escaping part of the squadron getting savaged in return for the kill.
He had shaken the poor port master for the money tree that he was, as hard as he had dared. Not only had he got them their pay and a bonus, but a more lucrative long-term contract that had better benefits, too. That blasted hothead Captain Harris had almost spoiled his negotiations. The woman cared for her crew and had a sound tactical mind, but her discipline and hot anger were major failings in his opinion. The company was certainly not ready for him to retire.
“Any word from them?”
“No, Captain. Just the course change and silence.”
“Comms, send to squadron, Clear for Action.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
The pieces were in play. From what it looked like they were going to maul some fool’s very poorly made plan, but Captain-Major Thraker couldn’t shake the feeling that they were somehow flying toward the dragon’s lair.