It took me just a few minutes to craft the message for Vermillion to send through the back channel to Simone. He chuckled after reading it.
“Perfect. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Will we get a reply before we come out of the wormhole?” Sondra asked.
Vermillion turned before he got through the door. “If they respond to the server that I’m sending this from, yes.” He left.
JJ moved closer to me. “You know, this might piss Simone off enough to actually attack Earth, and then we’re in trouble.”
“She’s going to do it anyway, unless we surrender, and we’re not doing that. If she hits Earth with an attack, then I will target Devonia Axxiom. I didn’t intend that message as an idle threat.”
“That’s the Captain Trey Clarke I remember,” Sondra said. JJ shot her a worried glance, but kept her mouth shut.
“Should I plot a course to Devonia Axxiom and have it on our list of alternate locations, Captain?” Nolan asked.
“Yes, do that, and figure out escape routes just in case. We still don’t know anything about that new ship. It might be more than a match for this one.”
“We know they can’t track us, at least,” Tim said. “They would have by now.”
“Or they could see us and thought it would be easier to threaten Earth than to pursue us,” Skip said. “Can the smaller ships take on those Centurion class ships?”
“Several at a time,” Nolan said. “And since we’ll all be cloaked, the Overlords won’t know we’re nearby until their ships are turned into floating debris.”
I sat in the captain’s chair and accessed the ship’s AI, feeding as much data into it as I could, including Nolan’s data on placement of the ships and targeting info. Vermillion came back onto the bridge after half an hour.
“The message has been sent, and I’m monitoring the system for a reply.”
I nodded, looking up from my PA screen for a moment, then getting back to it as the minutes ticked off. Tension on the bridge was rising.
“We’re getting close,” Nolan said. “Better get the crews on the Tristar and Zephyrus.”
“I’m ready,” Tim said, getting up, Izzy and Andrea joining him. They left the bridge.
“You know where Cyrus is?” I asked Nolan.
“He’s already aboard the Tristar, checking systems. The crew of both ships are returning there as we speak.”
My PA beeped. It was Deacon. “What’s up? You back on the Zephyrus?”
“Yeah, Cappy. We’re still a little short of crew. Can I take some from the New Jersey? I made a list.”
“They aren’t key New Jersey crew members, right?”
“No, they’re not, but I’ve worked with all of them before.”
“Okay, send me the list and I’ll approve it.”
“Will do, Cappy. Thanks.”
“Be careful,” I said.
I went back to working with the AI for the next twenty minutes.
“We’ll be coming out of the jump in a moment, Captain,” Nolan said.
“Good.” I leaned back in the chair, my back complaining. JJ noticed my expression as I stretched, and came over, rubbing my shoulders and back.
“You’re pretty tense,” she whispered.
“Comes with the territory,” I said. The static hit us as the ship dropped out of the wormhole. “Here we go.”
Nolan glanced at me. “We’re cloaked. I’m running a scan now and downloading any new info.”
“How long will it take us to get to Earth from here?”
“Hours if we use impulse power. I suggest we jump in.”
“Good, same idea I had.”
“Sir, the Zephyrus and Tristar are both ready to leave the bay,” Sondra said, looking at her PA. “Should I give the okay?”
“Yes,” I said, my heart dropping to my stomach as the words left my lips.
Vermillion chuckled. “Well, that didn’t take long.”
“Simone’s response to our back-channel message.”
“What’d she say?” Skip asked.
“How dare you.”
“She’s going crazy right about now,” Nolan said. “I finished the scan of Earth. No attacks thus far, but there are more ships in orbit. The original ships are still in geosynchronous orbit. The other ships are in lower orbit.”
“Tactical,” Sondra said. “I’m seeing them. Another six.”
“So, they’ve got eighteen Centurion ships total, then?” I asked.
Nolan snickered. “No, the last group aren’t Centurion class battle cruisers. They’re troop transport ships.”
“Simone would dare try an invasion?” Skip asked.
“Why would that surprise any of you?” Nolan asked. “She’s nuts.”
“She’s crazy like a fox,” Vermillion said. “Never underestimate her.”
I thought about the situation for a moment, thinking through all the possibilities. “Did those new ships arrive before or after Simone got our back-channel reply?”
“I’ll have to access some Earth sensors to figure that out,” Nolan said. “Already working it.”
“Well do it fast, and then let’s jump into their midst. Sondra, notify the Zephyrus and Tristar to get ready for jumps. I sent you the coordinates. I’ve also sent you a jump sequence for the attacks. I want them taking out all the Centurion ships within range of their first arrival point. Then they are to jump out and come back to the next location.”
“We won’t get all of them,” Nolan said.
I nodded. “That’s likely. Once some of them are destroyed, we’ll see those ships jumping away quickly.”
“Trace them when they do,” Vermillion said. “Use the New Jersey AI.”
I nodded. “That’s what I programmed in, Mr. Chairman.”
“We’re going to hit them here and then go after their bases?” JJ asked. “Sure we can handle it? What about that big ship?”
“We’ll see what kind of shields that monster has,” I said.
“That’s pretty bold.”
I glanced at JJ. “Of course it is. We’re at war. We’ve been threatened with death, and our home planet is being held hostage. We either fight back with everything we’ve got, or surrender.”
Sondra got my attention. “Captain, I sent the data to Cyrus and Andrea. They want to chat.”
“Put them on screen.”
Sondra spoke into her PA and their faces came up on the center screen.
“We have a question, Captain,” Andrea said.
“Should we hit the Centurion ships or the troop transports first?”
“Centurion ships,” I said.
“Told you,” Cyrus said.
“They’ll still threaten Earth if we leave them alone,” Andrea said.
“We’ve got a heavily armed planet. Those troops would have a hard time if they go there. I expect them to jump away as we begin destroying their Centurion ships.”
“We’re shooting to kill this time, correct?” Cyrus asked. “For the record?”
“Yes, destroy the ships. Avoid the big one. The New Jersey will take that on. If we’re forced to jump away, follow us. Understood?”
“Where should we go?” Andrea asked.
“Go back to Amberis and stay cloaked.”
“Yes sir,” Cyrus said.
“Aye, sir,” Andrea said. “We’re ready to make the jump to Earth orbit.”
“Nolan, are we ready?”
“We are, Captain.”
The center screen shut down, and we felt the dizziness as the ship made the jump, coming out of it in less than ten seconds. Nolan turned on the cameras. The monster ship sat before us, several small fighters patrolling around her.
“Everybody in place?” I asked. Andrea responded affirmative, Cyrus a split second later.
“Battle pilots standing by, Captain,” Skip said.
“Monitor the shields, Nolan.”
“Of course, Captain.”
The massive enemy ship lit up as our plasma blasts hit their shields, consuming the fighters who were nearby in a micro-second. The ship’s shields appeared to be holding, but they were changing color quickly. Blasts came out of all their guns, along with torpedoes, but they weren’t targeted to our ship.
“They can’t see us,” Sondra said.
“Keep on them. Fire torpedoes.”
“How many?” Skip asked.
“Fifty ought to be a good start,” I said.
We saw flashes heading towards the enemy ship, which noticed them right away since they weren’t cloaked, hitting most of them, a few blowing up as they touched their shields, causing their ship to wobble slightly. Then they hit us with their plasma weapons, the blast blinding the cameras for a few seconds.
“Shields?” I asked.
“Holding, using less than twenty percent,” Nolan said. “They pack a lot bigger punch than the Centurion ships, but not enough.”
“Move us, then hit them with more plasma blasts,” I said. “Make them work at getting a bead on us.”
“Making the first jump,” Cyrus said. “Five Centurion ships destroyed, over the far east.”
“Same here, Captain,” Andrea said. “Three Centurion ships destroyed, along with two troop ships who were too close.”
“Good,” I said. “We in position for another salvo, Nolan?”
“Fire!” Our plasma weapons lit them up again, the shields on the rear of the enemy ship turning red, the ship itself starting to glow.
“We broke through!” Nolan shouted.
“They’ll jump away any second,” Skip said, the ship vanishing as the words left his lips.
“Target any Centurion ships in range,” I said.
“Locked in now,” Skip said, talking into his PA, two Centurion ships disintegrating in an instant.
Nolan smiled. “The Tristar and Zephyrus just destroyed their next round of ships, Captain, and the balance of Centurion ships have jumped away, along with the remaining troop transports.”
“You got a trace on them?” I asked.
“The Centurions, yes. Can’t connect with that big ship.”
“They’ve got a more advanced drive system,” Vermillion said. “We need to find out who built that craft.”
“How did our shields hold up?” I asked.
“We were never down more than twenty percent, sir,” Nolan said, “and as they were hitting us, these shields got stronger, not weaker. Very good design.”
“Sir, no enemy ships remain in the area,” Sondra said. “What now?”
“Remain here and watch the traces.”
“Good call,” Vermillion said. “Watch for that big ship. It might be back.”
Nolan looked over at me. “We’ve got a problem, Captain.”
“I’m getting reports of PA stun attacks in all the cities covered by an Overlords ship.”
“Dammit,” I said. “Is there a way we can stop it?”
“Wait,” Vermillion said. “I’ll get the satellites shut down. That will cut off the signal to PA units on the surface.” He spoke into his PA. Then Nolan cracked up.
“You think this is funny?” JJ asked, a look of horror on her face.
“The attack is only killing about two percent of the people targeted.”
“How are you picking that up?” I asked.
“The PA system data shows that only two percent of the connections when through. Reports from the Earth media and message boards are on fire with this too. After that first attack in Manhattan, most people on Earth removed their PA units. Small wonder. Wouldn’t you?”
“Hamilton Zenos suggested that, remember?” JJ asked. “Maybe he has a bigger following than we thought.”
I shook my head. “I’d laugh, but people got killed. Got any idea how many yet?”
“No,” Nolan said. “I’m sure the info will be out shortly.”
“The PA feeds have been shut down,” Vermillion said. “They can’t hit Earth again.”
“They can reset their satellites, can’t they?” Sondra asked.
“It wasn’t done at the satellites,” Vermillion said. “Power was cut off at the ground stations.”
Nolan chuckled. “Good call. They can’t fix that without going to the surface.”
“It’s good for this emergency, but there are other things those ground stations control,” I said. “They’ll have to turn them back on eventually.”
“My software can be adapted to use on the ground stations,” Nolan said. “It’ll stop the PA service without stopping everything else.”
“When we get past this, I’d like you to work on that,” Vermillion said.
“Sir, incoming!” Skip shouted.
“What?” I asked. “Enemy ships?”
“More like a rail gun attack,” Nolan said. “Scanning the projectiles now. They’re still pretty far off.”
“I’ve told the battle pilots to target the projectiles,” Skip said.
Nolan shook his head no. “We need to get out of here, Captain.”
“We can’t blast them?” I asked.
“Yeah, we can blast them, but they’re very large depleted uranium rounds. Several metric tons each. We’d have to use kinetic weapons. There are too many of them to use missiles. We’ve got fifty-thousand coming at us.”
My brow furrowed. “That means we’d have to lower our shields, and then guess what will happen.”
“Exactly,” Nolan said. “Most of them will miss us. They’ve flooded the area with them, since we’re cloaked. None of them are targeted precisely. Simone’s using them like a giant shotgun shell.”
“Our shields won’t stop them?” JJ asked.
“Not with that mass,” Nolan said. “They might only be half the size by the time they hit our hull – but do we really want one ton projectiles hitting us?”
“Jump away,” I said. “Sondra, have the other two ships do the same just in case.”
“Aye, sir,” Sondra said, speaking into her PA as the dizzy feeling hit us.
We stopped at the far end of the solar system again and watched as the projectiles flew past our previous position, some hitting the earth’s atmosphere, glowing white hot.
“Some of those are going to do damage on the surface,” Sondra said.
“Most of them are falling into the Pacific,” Nolan said, looking over from his console. “Luckily they didn’t bother sending a group of them at the positions of the Zephyrus and Tristar. They only targeted the New Jersey.”
“Maybe we should call it a day and go back to Amberis,” Sondra said.
“Wait, let’s look at those traces,” I said, glancing at Nolan.
“Still traveling,” Nolan said.
“Several,” Nolan said. “A couple are headed for Devonia Axxiom. Some to Temporal Eralla One, others to Axirilo. The troop transports all went to the same place.”
“Where?” JJ asked.
“Oollanders,” Nolan said.
“That’s a level five,” Sondra said. “They must be thrilled.”
“The infantry probably came from there,” Vermillion said. “The Central Authority recruits most of their infantry from level five worlds.”
“Price of admission,” Skip quipped.
“Yes,” Nolan said. “Maybe we ought to load our two smaller siblings and get out of here.”
“We don’t want to hit them for the PA system attack?” Skip asked.
“Each of the Centurion ships we destroyed had around a hundred thousand people on them. If we find out the stun attack killed anywhere near that number of people, I could see a counter attack, but I’d be surprised if they killed that many.”
“The estimates are already coming out,” Nolan said, not looking away from his console. “Looks like well under ten thousand people.”
“Okay, let’s get the other ships loaded, then,” I said.
“Maybe we should jump out a little further,” JJ said. “They’ll get a glimpse of us when we open the bay door.”
“That’ll cost us more fuel,” Skip said.
“And they won’t get much of a glimpse, unless their sensors are a lot better than ours,” Sondra said.
“Don’t be so sure about that,” Nolan said. “We’re cloaked. We’ll let some signal out opening the bay door. That’ll cause a very noticeable ripple, and it’s all about the contrast. Even a Centurion ship would see it. They could be here in about thirty seconds.”
I sat thinking about it. “How far would we have to go to protect against them jumping in before we can get finished?”
“Working out that calculation,” Nolan said. “Ah, it’s done. The Fomalhaut system.”
“That’s twenty-five light years,” Skip said. “It’s a significant amount of fuel. You really think they’ll try anything?”
“Yes,” I said. “Send the word to the other ships, and let’s go now.”
“Aye, Captain,” Skip said. We jumped away.
“How much time will it take us to load the two ships?” I asked.
“Ten minutes,” Sondra said.
“And how long is the travel time?” JJ asked.
“Just under twenty minutes, so we have a slight buffer,” Nolan said.
I smiled. “Good, thanks, Nolan.”
The trip took slightly less time than Nolan said, and we loaded the two ships very quickly, jumping towards Amberis within fifteen minutes.
“We’ve got a couple of problems to deal with,” Vermillion said. “Let’s go into the conference room and hash it out.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Nolan, JJ, Sondra, you, and me, for now,” he said. “Nolan, set the scan to running if you haven’t already. Don’t want anybody sneaking up on us.”
“Already done, Mr. Chairman.”
We got up and followed Vermillion into the conference room, finding seats quickly.
“First of all, great work,” Vermillion said. “Expertly planned and executed.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, the others nodding.
“We’re in some trouble,” Nolan said.
“Yes,” Vermillion said.
“Why?” JJ asked. “We more than handled that big ship.”
“That ship was able to take our shields down by twenty percent,” Nolan said. “If they had five ships all firing at us at the same time, they’d have beaten us.”
“Exactly,” Vermillion said.
“Well, yes and no,” I said. “Remember one thing. We just about burned through their shields with the third sustained plasma blast, and we were using only about twelve percent of our available power. Most of our plasma guns sat idle during that exchange. The loss of shields isn’t linear, either. It might take ten of those ships to kill us, and they’d have to survive our plasma bursts to do it.”
Nolan chuckled. “You were in a pretty big hurry to leave the area.”
“Am I wrong?”
Nolan sighed. “No, not really. This is a very tough ship, but it’s not invincible against that new model that Simone has cooked up.”
“Yes, and we only have one of these ships,” Vermillion said. “They destroy this ship, and we’re done. That’s why it’s so crucial to build more.”
“Okay, I’ll give you guys that,” I said. “Maybe we need to find out where they’re building their spacecraft.”
“We’ve only got three ships,” Vermillion said. “That’s gonna be a very difficult search to do.”
“How long would it take to get production on the smaller ships completed?” Nolan asked. “I remember you saying it was about six months for the New Jersey class. How about the Zephyrus?”
“Good idea,” Vermillion said. “We could turn one of those smaller ships out in less than a month. I’ll put a priority on that model.”
“How about the Tristar model?” JJ asked.
“They take more time and have less cargo capacity,” Vermillion said. “We’ll build more of those because of their speed advantage, but right now the Zephyrus class ships make more sense. I don’t want to slow down the New Jersey class production, though, so I’ll have to do some careful planning when I get to the central plant.”
“Don’t we also have the rail-gun attack to worry about?” Sondra asked.
Nolan chuckled. “That was a Hail Mary.”
“But how do we protect against that?” Sondra asked.
“We had the tools to neutralize that attack on board this ship,” I said. “We just didn’t have time to deploy them. Next time we will.”
“Oh, you’re talking about those rail-gun drones,” Sondra said. “We just put them beyond our shields. Sorry, forgot about those. I’ve never had to deal with them.”
“Are they up to the task?” JJ asked. “The Overlord’s projectiles were much larger than normal.”
“I can adapt our drones to handle that,” Nolan said. “There is a limit to how much depleted uranium is available, too. It’s not a good long-term strategy for the Overlords to use.”
“Because of the ban on nuclear fission reactors?” Sondra asked.
“Exactly,” Nolan said. “That material shot at us today was probably hundreds of years old.”
“You guys are forgetting something,” I said.
“Fission is not illegal on level six worlds. Hell, they don’t even know the Central Authority exists yet. Lots of fission on level six worlds, and there’s probably over a thousand in our corner of the Central Authority Zone.”
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas Book 1 is now just 99 cents in the Kindle Store! Free in Kindle Unlimited! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2018