SOLACE OF MANTICORE
Chapter 8: A Full Dance Card
Previously: The Porcelain Two-Step
No one besides the Admiralty called Her Majesty’s Light Attack Craft #216 that. To most it was simply LAC-216, but to her tiny crew of forty-one (forty-three counting Ruth and Naomi), she was called Birmingham. No one knew exactly where the name had come from, but the thirty-four year old sub-light patroller had been built to provide in system defenses right before King Roger had made his decision to resist the growing threat of Havenite aggression. For the last three decades, the RMN had been steadily growing larger and larger, as had her merchant marine as the improved ability to hunt pirates had increased the areas where Mantie businesses dared to go. That cycle had brought in greater taxable revenue which had in turn allowed for more money to be diverted to the military… though many complained that social programs had been slashed and that taxes were too high.
Solace wasn’t at all certain where civilians got off thinking that their freedom and the freedom of their child and children’s children could have a price tag that was too high, but in her experience, most people were all too focused on the here and now and not focused enough on long term planning. The Manticoran Jewish Communities Alliance had decided to stand as a block in firm support of the war economy after the fall of the Jewish Republic of Samson in 1874 PD to the gradual Haven expanse. The subsequent looting of its economy and the brutal purges among its civil and religious leaders had convinced the Kingdom’s Jews that they were not likely to be granted their continued freedoms (social, liturgical, and economic) under the People’s Republic. If there was one thing that Jews were good at besides survival, it was planning for the future.
Part of the Kingdom’s build up had been the gradual phasing out of LACs for defense of the home-system, replacing the twelve kiloton patrol-craft with destroyers which massed roughly seven times as much but could do double duty as both anti-piracy escorts and in system protection. LACs had, until the Midgardian Civil War, looked like they would eventually be little more than customs boats and there had been talk of the Navy selling their entire LAC fleet to Royal Manticoran Astro-Control as search and rescue cutters.
Still, if they weren’t much good for hunting down pirates in Silesia or escorting merchies anywhere without the capacity to enter hyperspace, let alone the ability to use the wormhole, they had two major advantages over even a destroyer like one of the Chanson-class. The first was that, for the price of one Chanson, the Navy could build a dozen Highlander-class LACs like Birmingham, which meant that, if they could find crews for all those LACs, they could have much six times the coverage in a given system for half the price. The second was that, although LACs couldn’t go to Hyper themselves, they were small enough to be loaded into the hull of a freighter and transported through the Wormhole network that way.
Unfortunately, that’s where the advantages stopped. Where a Chanson could carry 160 mark 34 anti-ship missiles and had three missile tubes in each broadside and two fore and aft, with a cycle time of only 14 seconds… the Highlander had 24 missiles in total… all of them mounted on her sides, in single shot cells. Where a Chanson had eight total Laser mounts, the highlander had three, one fore and one on each broadside… and that was considered heavily armed for a LACs, most of which had a single spinal laser to their name… and if the Highlander lacked dedicated point defense laser clusters, the Lords of BuShips had seen fit to optimize their existing lasers for both antiship or point defense roles. But again, that was making the best of a bad situation. To cap it all off, where the Chanson had a maximum military acceleration of roughly 525 gravities… the Highlander could only reach a paltry 409, which was roughly the same delta v that could be expected out of a dreadnought five hundred times a Highlander’s mass.
To make matters still worse, the inside of Birmingham was incredibly cramped. Every cubic centimeter had been dedicated to some piece of military hardware, and a third of the ship’s internal volume was dedicated to her powerplant alone. There were no amenities to speak of, and the crew mess (there wasn’t a separate officer’s mess) was too small to have the entire crew eat in there at once… though it was, technically, big enough for everyone to stand in if the tables and benches were retracted into the floor… which they were designed to do as the mess did triple duty as the exercise room (when the weight machines were slid out of the walls and gymnasium (when everything was retracted). Frankly, Solace was amazed BuShips hadn’t designed something to spring out of the ceiling so as to maximize the total volume usage… Maybe the bridge controls? Naw… someone had to be actually running the ship at meal times. What it couldn’t have been was a medbay because a LAC simply didn’t have one… or even a qualified doctor.
Instead, they had a ship’s medic, who had taken some nursing classes and could set a split… which would have been fine, if the person whose arm was broken in three places wasn’t, in fact, the medic. PO Fortes was white as a sheet and looked like she was about to pass out at any moment, but was managing to hold, barely, onto consciousness. Solace would have loved to give the woman something for the pain, but somehow the LAC’s tiny supply of painkillers had vanished. That somehow was almost certainly Engineer’s Mate third class James Zucker, but it wasn’t as if knowing that would help Fortes and Solace didn’t have a lab to test Zucker for drug usage… not that she had a brig to toss him in if he tested positive.
She’d been in command of the tiny ship for almost ten months now and while she was certain it was a vital experience on the path to becoming the Captain of a real ship… she had to admit that, all in all, it was not a pleasant one. She painfully hated Birmingham, and wanted to throttle half of the wildly incompetent reprobates who crewed her.
She had two Ensigns fresh from their middy cruise who had apparently learned nothing serving aboard HMS Royal Winton (a Dreadnought) and HMS Leutzen (a Marine Transport) respectively, despite technically being qualified at Tactical and Engineering (in theory). She had CPOs as her other department heads (Supply, Communications, Astrogation, and Operations), and technically two of those were POs who’d been bumped up to CPO to fill the slot left when a bigger ship had poached her people. As the single most junior ship commander in Her Majesty’s navy, Solace could pull rank on exactly no one. In fact, most LAC commanders were Senior Grade Lieutenants so even the very few who’d been given their commands after she had still had rank on her.
It was a fact Solace was all too aware of, and was also aware of the fact that her current boss, Rear Admiral Thompson Garvey, felt that she was utterly and completely useless to do anything besides stooge around the outer limits of the Asgard System in what he called “Shark Podding”. Shark Podding was idiotic. The idea was that, by constantly having his eight LACs travelling round and round the hyperlimit, the picket would always have a ship with enough speed built up to catch up with anyone crashing through the system and heading towards either the wormhole or the planet.
That was fine in theory… but in practice? The man was thinking in two dimensions, not three and even if a single LAC could have closed on any threat that came in on the ecliptic… what were they going to do? Annoy it? A LAC could not, on her own, take out so much as a Destroyer unless they were incredibly lucky.
Birmingham had been incredibly lucky… but not that lucky. Solace pulled steadily on PO Fortes’s arm, getting the bones lined up as best she could and having Ensign Padowalski lash the splint into place. Fortes’s arm had been broken in the explosion that had ripped away the forward laser mount completely, but not before Birmingham had killed the fleeing Midgardian Destroyer that had been raiding Asgard’s orbital mining infrastructure for more than two months.
The destroyer had always seemed to come in where Admiral Garvey’s Cruiser Task Group couldn’t catch up to it, then jumped back into hyper before they were ever at risk. They’d killed a dozen ore haulers and taken out three orbital mines in the past fifty days, and Garvey was becoming more and more aware that he was being made to look like an arse (which he was). Even Ruth had taken to making faces at the man’s image whenever he issued one of his rambling and pointless fleetwide broadcasts designed (so Solace guessed) to bring up morale, though if her crew were any indication it barely served to alleviate the boredom.
Five times, Garvey had changed up the timing on the Shark Pod LACs and each time, the Migardians had seemed aware of it. In fact, the only reason Solace had ended up catching the Destroyer (they had no idea what her name had been) at all was because Birmingham had suffered a flux in her impeller ring and had been unable fix it without taking the wedge down and coasting… out of the ring around the ecliptic and all the way out to the asteroid belt. For seven hours, they’d sailed, wedge down, trying to tune the nodes back into harmony… just as Bogie One had dropped out less than 3 light seconds from their current position.
Bringing the wedge up to full strength had been impossibly risky, but Solace had ordered it anyway. Garvey had taken to issuring dire warnings that he’d have the entire LAC squadron sent to do customs work in Basilisk if they didn’t produce results and while Solace was reasonably certain he didn’t have the clout to do it to any of them, least of all herself, she was getting sick and tired of pretending to be impressed by the overbred weanie’s pretense at aristocratic airs and his overly prissy way of talking (why anyone thought turning r’s into w’s was a good idea she’d never know, but Garvey did it all the time… except when he got angry. Then he slipped… not much, just a little. It was very hard not to laugh… but laughing at an Admiral, any Admiral, was a good way to trash your career, and so Solace Smythe had had good reason for not taking the easy way out.
Not that she would have, of course… there were civilians on the ore freighter that the Midgardian can was chasing down, and LAC-216 was the only craft in the area who could conceivably help. Thankfully, the Midgardians were not profligate in their use of missiles, as had been demonstrated every time this destroyer had taken out a civilian ship. And it made sense. Why kill a ship with an expensive missile when you could take an extra twenty minutes and kill it with lasers.
Solace could have ordered her LAC to fire on the Destroyer without bringing up the wedge… might have even risked it if she was half the distance… but to score a direct hit against a ship with its wedge and sidewalls up at 900,000 klicks? With a single laser? Even with the best gunner in the Navy she wouldn’t have taken that bet. And even had she wanted to risk taking the shot, the simple fact of the matter was that a single laser wasn’t going to disable the enemy destroyer. And that meant Missiles… and missiles meant that the Midgardians would get a chance to fire back, and without her wedge, Birmingham was a sitting duck.
So she’d given the order and they’d spun once to bring their port launchers to bear, fired, then pirouetted around to bring their starboard launchers up and fired again, right behind the destroyer. The Destroyer had had just enough time to launch her own salvo in response before the twenty-four shipkillers ripped her apart in a titanic fireball.
That left the Midgardian missiles orphaned, with only their onboard computers to guide them, and they weren’t the most modern of missiles… but they were still nukes and they could still destroy a ship if they overloaded the sidewalls… and the sidewalls of a Highlander were feeble things indeed. Yet, if a LAC’s sidewalls were paper thin, a wedge was a wedge and missiles could not penetrate that, so she’d flipped her ship and gone racing off, interposing her wedge between her ship and its potential killers, praying as fast as she could.
There were six enemy missiles that had been pumped from the Midgardian’s chase tubes before the ship had become no more and they came in two waves. The first three hit Birmingham’s wedge… the second three, fired with even less precision, had all but missed the LAC entirely. Unfortunately for Birmingham… the LAC hadn’t quite missed the missiles. Two of the three had been wide… the third had exploded just in front of the fleeing LAC’s course and there had been no way to avoid the deadly pulsewave that had expanded ever so briefly from it. It hadn’t been a direct hit, but it was still enough to cause most of LAC-216’s forward sensors and her spinal laser canon’s lens to vaporize. The energy transfer had caused several fuses to blow, and one of those had blow up rather than just pop… which was where PO Fortes right arm happened to be at that moment… presto, one shattered wrist.
And of course… that had completely destabilized the impellers, so now she was floating here, alone, waiting for a tug to come pick her up, and her very junior ‘Captain’ was playing first aid to her medic.
“Fun day, huh, Skipper?” asked Fortes as Solace tightened the last of the splint straps down.
“Oh, yes. Isn’t it though,” she’d snarked.
“Hey, a kill’s a kill, right? First time for everything and all.”
“Not my first kill… technically my second, though I’ve got an assist or two as well.” It was technically not true. Her technically illegal orders had destroyed three outright and crippled two more, and her ideas had killed a further two, even if they were only frigates.
“Oh. Sure Skip… but I meant for me. My last stint was on a tender ship. We didn’t have anything but defensive armaments. Never even scored once… except with the Bosun’s mate, but that don’t count, I recon… Heard as you had a thing with some Lordling on yer first boat, that true?”
Solace gave the older woman a look that said, “I will allow you your ramblings because you are in pain, but if you ever suggest that I did anything carnal with Pavel Young again, I will ensure that you have latrine duty on an Army Transport for the rest of your career.”
Fortes did not seem to notice. “Heard their stuff was blue? That true, Skipper?”
Mercifully, the alarm claxon began screaming before Solace could do more than tug the final strap a bit further than she should have. She pressed the stud on her communicator. “Bridge, this is the Captain speaking. What’s going on?”
“Unknown hyperfootprint… twenty six ships I think… just dropped into real space almost on top of the hyperlimit.”
“PO, you’re on your own. Get your people to replace as many of the sensors as they can and see if we’ve got a spare lense for the laser,” Solace ordered as she raced back to her tiny bridge. Once there she very gently told CPO Brently, a man with nearly 40 years experience as a LAC sensor tech, to report. She wasn’t expecting much.
“Ma’am… we’ve got no forward sensors. All we’ve got are gravitics and astrographics.”
“I am aware of that, David, now please go sit in my chair while I work on this… and can someone please run to my cabin and tell Ruth and Naomi they can come out now.”
“I’ll do it, ma’am,” Brently said.
“Not you. I’m going to need your help. Ensign Tompkins, we shan’t be shooting anything for the next while, so you’re free.” She didn’t turn to watch her tactical officer leave, but instead focused on the readout from gravitics. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing, and she’d spent enough time at sensors to know roughly what she was looking at. “David, are these dreadnoughts at the center of the enemy formation?” She threw them up on the big screen, which wasn’t all that big but was still eight times larger than her personal screen.
The formation was odd, more a cup with something inside it than a proper wall, and the thickest part of the cup was facing Garvey’s flotilla. While David studied the big screen, she played back the formation as it had first appeared and hmmed… it had been more a blob than it’s current cup design and she wondered why, picking out each ship to see how it had moved in the last ten minutes. Then she grunted as she understood.
“Look at this,” she said, pulling out all eight of the center ships and leaving just the shell, a mixture of larger ships (though not quite as large as the center ships) and smaller ships. “I think these are cruisers and battleships. They’re forming a sphere when they dropout of hyper… and they look for Admiral Garvey, find that he hasn’t moved and begin to form up as a protective cup around whatever they’re escorting… I think this is an invasion fleet… Could those be Midgardian troop transports?”
“They could ma’am,” Brently said, “But they could also be minelayers or missile colliers. There’s no way to tell… these three… they could be BBs… can’t imagine what else they could be, but if they are BBs why aren’t they heading right towards Garvey… all he’s got is a BC squadron and it looks like they’ve got…” he counted, “Four of them as well. They’ve got seven wallers to our six and they’ve got twice our number of lighter ships.”
It was true. Count Rodney had taken almost all the light cruisers and destroyers with him on his sweeping course up to Midgard to convince the Federation’s current insane High Chancellor that he really wanted to back off and not fuck with Asgard. Garvey had been left with two tin cans and four heavy cruisers… and the destroyers were ancient, barely more than frigates. Of course, the CA’s were some of the newest Prince Consorts and their Crusader flagship, and those were worth nearly two of the Midgardian’s Volstag class, but if Solace was reading the gravitics right, the Midgardian’s had six Volstags as well as two Hermod Destroyers and three Shieldmaiden Light Cruisers. The Midgardian’s had a definite advantage… so why weren’t they moving in system?
“Ma’am… are they chasing down one of the Shark Pod LACs?” Brently asked… and it took Solace a moment to realize that was exactly what they were doing…. Which made no sense at all… One didn’t need twenty-six ships… okay eighteen plus whatever the big ones were… they weren’t as slow as normal freighters, but they weren’t much faster than a LAC, and they were definitely slowing down the Midgardian formation. Why would they… oh… that was just idiotic.
“I think they’re trying to pull Admiral Garvey out from Asgard orbit… but they’ve got to know that the Admiral is going to see their force numbers and know he can’t take that many…”
“Admiral Garvey is breaking orbit, ma’am,” Brently said from where he’d taken over Tactical and was using its screens to pull up gravitic data.
“I stand corrected,” Solace said, banging her head against her console. What played out over the next three days was a farce. It had to be. The two flotillas seemed to be playing tag, with Garvey closing to long range and then flushing his missile tubes… and the Midgardians doing the same. It was as if neither commander wanted to risk their valuable prize… the transports for the Midgardians (Solace was absolutely convinced that what they had to be since there had been no evidence of mines and no sign that the Midgardians had missiles to spare.) and the planet for the Manties.
One by one, ships began to fall out of both formations as they took enough damage to be left behind, but neither side was willing to go back and finish the lamed trailers off… and with the wide orbit they were doing, they might actually come back around to the cripples if those cripples didn’t get operational again ASAP. The two groups were orbiting Asgard’s primary just over once every four hours, almost right on the twenty-two minute hyperlimit.
On the third day, however, one of the two formations finally managed to tip the balance. A lucky hit from one of Garvey’s salvos had knocked out the forward impeller ring on one of the Midgardian Battleships, causing it to drift helplessly as the crew, no doubt, rushed to try and make repairs. By itself, the loss of a single Battleship wouldn’t have made a huge difference, but the long days of attrition had been much less kind to the Midgardian screen than the Mantie one, and Garvey, sensing his moment, began to close the distance.
“Bring up the wedge to its lowest possible setting and give me long range visuals on the BB,” Solace said.
“Where are we going, Skipper?” asked Ensign Danvers, her engineer, and current helmsman, being finally done with what repairs could be made from onboard supplies.
“Right towards that BB, Helm. Right down her throat.”
“Captain, our missiles are gone and our laser won’t do more than annoy her… she’s going to…”
The visuals came up then and Solace saw what she’d been hoping to see. The missile strike which had taken down the BB’s impellers had looked all too familiar to Solace and if a similar shot had taken out her forward sensors… After 18.2 minutes at 80 gravities, she ordered the wedge struck and all systems to go dark.
“We’re a sitting duck out here,” Ensign Elaine Tompkins said, half to herself.
“We are… distance to the BB?”
“150,439 klicks and closing at 90.6 klicks per second, ma’am. Impact in just over 27 minutes.”
“Elaine, use all availible reaction mass to slow us to zero zero right as we make contact,” Solace said, rising from her seat. “If you need me, I’ll be on the hull. Tompkins, you have the bridge.”
“On the hull?” Danvers whispered to Tompkins, but Solace didn’t stay to listen to the conversation. Instead, she went back to her cabin and, opening one of her trunks, pulled out the Marine Issue pulse-laser rifle that Mary had given her for her last Smythe Day. It was a lovely piece of technology, designed to work in vacuum, and capable of punching through even armored suits at incredible distances… but it had never been designed to work at the distances Solace was about to try it at. She pulled off the scope and swung by the machine bay, grabbing 120 meters of optronic cable, a crimper, and two omni-jack male heads. In the airlock, she plugged one end into the diagnostic panel, then told Tompkins to have the ship’s visual feed sent to the panel… then she crawled out onto the hull of her tiny spaceship and deployed the rifle’s bipod, plugging the other end of the much shorter cord into her rifle’s scope port…
“Who needs a scope when you’ve got ship sensors?” she asked no one as she used the built in screen to line up on the rapidly approaching BB, scanning the front of the ship for work crews or existing sensors. Finding them, one by one, she began to service them, the light speed pulses attenuated by distance causing barely enough damage at first to disable suits, but as they got closer and closer, she was able to pick off the last remaining sensor by the time the no doubt very confused crew members managed to get themselves back inside.
Six minutes later, her incredible gamble had payed off… for certain measures of ‘paid off’. LAC-216, aka Birmingham, was parked right on the smashed up hammerhead of an Odin-class Battleship. Now she just had to figure out what to do next.
Solace was still trying to figure out the next step, be that to try and take the BB or to cripple her nodes even more so they couldn’t escape… when the question became moot… or a lot more complex. Thirty-one seconds after they arrived, the Odin’s wedge began to cycle back up and the ship began to move.
Diving back into the LAC, Solace waited impatiently for the airlock to cycle and only then did she contact the bridge. “What’s our course, Astrogation?”
“Course Ma’am? We’re not moving.”
“Oh yes we are,” she snapped as the entire LAC began to vibrate with the buidling pressure. “We’re just not the ones powering it.”
It soon became evident that the Odin was heading out system, as the fight hadn’t been going well for the Midgardians and one by one, the transports had started hypering out, while the flottilla stayed behind to hold off the Manties to keep them from following. “Brace for Hyper translation,” she told her crew… and a moment later, they crossed into the Alpha Band of Hyperspace. “Raise radiation shielding and I want everyone as far inside the ship as possible. Stay in your skinsuits ladies and gentlemen… LACs aren’t built for this and I don’t want any of you getting a lethal dose before we get back to real space.” Of course, the problem with getting back to real space was, once they were there… there wasn’t any way for Birmingham to ge back to Asgard. She simply didn’t have the supplies for a sublight interstellar voyage between the stars.
“Okay folks… we’re going to have to do something utterly insane… And I know it’s insane because I came up with it. Our best bet is that this ship is going someplace nearby to get fixed up. There are only a few systems that close to Asgard that we know of and the fact that this ship has only jumped to the Delta band implies that the distance isn’t too far and that they don’t trust their repairs in a higher band. So here’s what we’re going to do.” She laid it all out for them, and they stared back at her in shocked horror.
“Ma’am… we’re not Marines,” one of her ratings pointed out uselessly.
“That’s true. We’re not. And Midgardians train their entire crew for boarding action, so we’re not going to try to take a battleship by main force. We’re just going to borrow one of her pinnaces to snag a freighter… or something similar, and try to get home. If we get caught, we surrender, but we’re not caught yet so we’re going to do our duty to the queen. Engineering, I want the fusion plant rigged to blow on my orders… and I want the biggest boom you can figure out how to make.”
Her chosen team consisted of herself, her cats, two ratings who had been MPs, one who was a black belt in Coup de Vitesse, two who were Sphinxian natives who’d grown up hunting, and a Gryphon Highlander named Harkness who had a rapsheet four pages long, much of it involving brawling. He was also supposedly a bit of a hacker and a bit of a smuggler and his pre-enlistment jacket showed he’d done time as a juvenile. Or rather, it showed a sealed juvie record which was pretty much the same thing.
They made entry to the Odin, which turned out to be named Wotan, after having traversed half the ship in utter silence, the two cats inside a carrier strapped to Solace’s back. She couldn’t help but feel she’d doomed them all, but she’d only done what duty had demanded of her and was doing likewise even now. Gaining access to the ship wasn’t particularly hard (no one really expects to be boarded when not in battle, especially not in hyperspace) and moving through service ducts and back corridors wasn’t much harder.
Solace had the ‘cats out in front, feeling for anyone coming, and used her strange empathic link with them to signal the rest of her crew as they made their way to the BB’s boatbay, by way of the exercise facilities for junior officers. There they’d done some dirty work to some unfortunate souls and stolen their uniforms, then used those uniforms to infiltrate the boatbay.
Across the bay, she saw one officer stop Harkness, and demand to know who he was and what he was doing here. The altercation was made all the more ridiculous because Horace was pretending he didn’t speak a word of the man’s stilted English. “Eh? Wut?” and it was provoking the officer to a fit of pique… exactly as intended.
With the very loud distraction, Solace’s remaining team entered the bay and spread out and, in a very brief and one-sided fight that followed, took out everyone in the space of thirty-one seconds. The last one standing was the yelling officer, and he went down as Horace Harkness decked him with a right cross that Solace could feel across the room. No one had gotten close to signalling out for help.
A bit of hacking later, and the doors to the bay could be forced open and three of the Wotan’s ship’s boats were ready to go the second the ship hit Saint Vincent, an independant polity fifteen light-years from Asgard that had claimed neutrality in the conflict, stating that getting involved would violate their national doctrine of non-violence and non-interference. Harkness had managed to pull the destination out of the system and confirmed it with the Boat Bay’s senior officer, who was sullen, but easily convinced to talk by Naomi showing him her claws and Solace pointing out what they could do to his privates.
They also managed to confirm that, while Saint Vincent wasn’t actually supporting the war, they were more than willing to allow Midgard to base ships at their space station… which they technically didn’t own but rather leased from Axelrod Transtellar… a name Solace hadn’t heard in a decade and a half.
“Axelrod does business on Mesa,” she muttered, mostly to herself. “Hmmm…”
“Oh. no… nothing major, Horace… nothing major…” she considered… “How well can you get into the system? I mean, can you find scans from their last visit?”
“I can try, Ma’am,” he said with a grin. “Ain’t got nothing but time, as long as our luck holds out.” They’d cleaned up the bay, but it was pretty likely people were going to start noticing that none of the duty personnel from the boatbay ever came back from their shifts and someone was bound to call eventually, either with orders or with a squad of Migardian Marines in full battle kit.
Three Hours Later, and in the middle of the fifth day of their expected six day voyage, Horace had worked his magic and Solace had the Wotan’s sensor data from her previous visit. The system had two major space installations, one serving as military support owned by Axelrod, and one civilian one owned by Jessyk… also a Mesan company that Solace was all too aware of and hated. It also had a thriving asteroid mining program where rocks were hauled in close to the planet and broken up in situ rather than hauling freighters back and forth to the belt… with tractor technology, it wasn’t hard to do… but no one sane did it that way because of the inherent risk of giant space rocks near habitable planets.
“I… have an idea.”
“Oh?” Horace asked. “Is it a sneaky and underhanded one?”
“All the best ones are,” she agreed.
As the Wotan dropped out of hyper, she never noticed three of her cutters falling away from her, their wedges down and systems dark. Every member of Birmingham’s crew had made the trip over and now each of the three ships had their orders. Team One, dubbed Ramrod, was where Solace had put Ensign Tompkins. Team Two, dubbed Cutout, was hers. And Team Three, dubbed Netcaster, was under Ensign Danvers.
All three relied on stolen identities and massive gullibility, but people (in Solace’s experience) seldom saw what they weren’t expecting to see. Ramrod, once free of Wotan’s ambient, and knowing she was invisible if Horace’s technosorcery had worked to keep Wotan’s sensors from even noticing the three cutters, pulled gracefully away and headed towards where the massive gravitic asteroid tug was hanging out. Cutout was headed to the Jessyk station and its freighters. And Netcaster was heading to the fleet rendezvous spot where, even now, there were eight, count’em eight, rapid troop transports in high orbit.
“It would be a shame of something happened to them, eh Elaine?” She’d suggested to the junior officer.
“Right shame… but what can we do, Skipper?”
“Ever wonder what a counter missile does to a ship if can land a solid hit?”
“You’re kidding… that’s just… wrong…”
Sixteen hours later, aboard the bridge of MFNS Wotan, Sensor Officer Magnusson gasped, “Holy shit, Capitan! The transports…” He never got to finish that statement as Birmingham did one last service for her queen and detonated herself, ripping the front third of Wotan, including her bridge, away in an atomic fireball. A moment later, the BB’s own forward fusion plants blew, and the ship was so much wreckage… as were the transports. The CMs Birmingham’s crew had packed into Netcaster’s cargo bay had been targeted painstakingly on each of the eight ships, using stolen schematics to locate their the transports power rooms with pinpoint precision.
Every one of the sixteen CMs was a golden BB, punching right down through the unarmed top of the transports on a direct path to glory. The explosions were so bright that Netcaster’s rear sensors went off line, but by that point she was docking with the Jessyk Combine Freighter Alraune, now firmly in the hands of Solace and Company and headed out system as fast as her new owners and their newly liberated friends could make her go.
They stopped only once, slowly to allow Ramrod to rejoin them. “How’d it go?” she asked Tompkins, having to yell over the sound of partying from the ex-cargo. She certainly wasn’t going to tell them to keep it down.
“Oh… Axelrod’s station should be receiving our present in about fifteen hours. We picked one with really low albedo.”
“It’s not going to hit the planet, right?”
“Nope, we set it up to slingshot around the planet, punch through Axelrod’s base and go rocketing off to parts unknown. Don’t worry, no Eridani incidents on our end, Skipper.”
“Good. Good. They should pick it up soon enough to evacuate, but not soon enough to stop it. Helm, take us back to Asgard… I just hope the Admiral forgives me for leaving my assigned duty zone.”
“He should, skipper. After all, your orders were to stop the raiders… never said how you were supposed to do it.”
“I guess… I wonder if the Admiralty will consider the cost of this freighter as colateral against the cost of Birmingham… otherwise, I might need to call my uncle. ‘Help… I need 320 million dollars… I’ve misplaced my LAC.”
Horace snorted and did an impression of Uncle Vanya that was absolutely nothing like the man, but still made everyone laugh. “Really? Where’d you see it last? Did you check your pockets?”
Next: Solace of Manticore – Part 9
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I also have an original Novel (it’s space opera) in progress here. Please Check it out. Let me know if I should create a Blog for it too. I also have a very silly second chain about a Jumper named Zed, temporarily on hiatus. It isn’t very long.