Space Opera Part 23 – Triple Team

We were still in the conference room with Vermillion, discussing the battle. Nolan was thinking about nuclear fission and level five worlds, which I had just brought up.

“You’ve got something there,” Nolan said. “Technically it would be illegal to gather that material up from level six worlds. It would also be next to impossible to pull off, given the far more advanced technology of those worlds.”

JJ thought for a moment. “Given the fact that the Overlords have these new ships, it’s possible that they have other technology we don’t know about… such as cloaking technology.”

“If they had that, they’d use it on that new ship,” Vermillion said. “They didn’t know we had it until our attack on the Mars space dock.”

“They knew we were working on it, though,” JJ said.

Vermillion nodded. “True.”

“They might be doing the same thing we are,” I said.

“Meaning what?” Vermillion asked.

“They could set up uranium enrichment plants on a higher-level world, like we’re doing for our fuel supply on Amberis. It would actually be easier than what we’re doing.”

“Use of that tactic is still a Hail Mary,” Nolan said, “for which we have a defense if we choose to deploy it. I think we ought to concentrate on the big ship itself. Who’s building it and where, what are its complete capabilities, where the supply lines are for materials, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, we need the same kind of info that they’re trying desperately to find out about our operation,” Vermillion said.

I sat with my brow furrowed, that horrible feeling that we’re forgetting something pushing its way into my mind. JJ noticed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Something more is going on. We got lured to Earth by Simone. Maybe she thought we’d be defeated by this new ship of hers, but she had to know we’d destroy all of her Centurion ships.”

“I know, that’s bothering me too,” Vermillion said. “She’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. This battle looks like something a one-dimensional thinker would come up with.”

Nolan chuckled. “It was probably developed in a committee. You guys have dealt with the Central Authority before.”

“I’m not convinced the Central Authority is supporting her,” Vermillion said. “I’m afraid the Central Authority let wolves into their midst, and don’t have the ability to control them.”

JJ nodded. “Well, either the Central Authority has turned, or the Overlords are doing things behind their back.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Because the SDAC must, by law, review all new spacecraft designs. I sat on that committee, remember? I would’ve remembered this ship.”

“We need to change course,” I said. “I don’t want us anywhere near Amberis.”

Nolan eyed me. “You think they can track us through a worm hole.”

“Remember when you said it was hard to hide an artificial worm hole from a detailed scan?”

“Yes, theoretically that is correct,” Nolan said.

“She got a starting point near Earth, and another one where we just left from, in the outer solar system.”

Nolan’s brow furrowed, his expression turning to alarm. “He’s right, we need to change course before we get close to Amberis.”

“Sondra, give the order,” I said. “Send us out into the middle of nowhere. Don’t care what the location is at the moment. Let’s go another thirty light years.”

“I’ll be right back, Captain.” She got up and rushed onto the bridge.

“We can’t just travel and stay where the wormhole drops us,” Nolan said. “I suggest we come out of it and move away as fast as our impulse engines will carry us. Cloaked, of course.”

“Yes, and then we deploy the railgun drones,” I said.

“Dammit,” Vermillion said. “They’re forcing us to burn too much fuel.”

“Might be their plan, depending on how much they know,” Nolan said. “They captured a lot of Samson Corporation employees. How many knew about this ship’s new shields and weapons, and the fuel requirements?”

“Several,” Vermillion said, leaning back in his chair. “If we use those drones, we need to keep them inside the shields unless we’re attacked with those projectiles again.”

“Agreed,” I said. “We’d better get out there and talk to the bridge crew about this. We’ve got a lot to do in a small amount of time.”

“Let’s go,” Vermillion said. We all walked onto the bridge.

“We’ve changed course,” Sondra told us as we sat down. I told the bridge crew about our strategy.

“Should we let the Zephyrus and Tristar back out?” Skip asked.

“They might see it,” Sondra said.

Skip shook his head. “They might, but if we get into a fight it’d be better to have them out.”

“Let’s stop, let them out now, and then we’ll all head towards the same spot,” Nolan said. “We’re too far away to get caught while we’re in the middle of getting them out.”

“If they saw us stop and take them back into the bay, they might have a head-start in this direction,” I said.

“Even if they do, they’re still too far back,” Nolan said. “I say we launch them right now. As quickly as we can.”

I thought about it for a moment, deciding it was the best choice, and looked over at Sondra. “Give the orders.”

“Aye, Captain,” she said, getting on her PA.

Vermillion looked concerned.

“You okay with this?” I asked.

He nodded. “Just worried about the fuel, although we have quite a bit of extra on board the New Jersey. We can replenish them from our supply. I just hope we don’t end up in battle after battle before our supply line is up and running.”

We felt the static charge as the ship dropped out of the jump.

“Scan, Nolan,” I said.

“On it, sir,” he said, not turning away from his console.

“What about our fighters?” Skip asked.

“We’re kinda stuck on that,” I said. “If we open the fighter bay, it’s the same as opening the main bay door. If they were cloaked, it might be worth it.”

“Good point,” Skip replied.

“Let’s take off the second they’re out,” I said.

“The Tristar is already out,” Sondra said. “Should they go ahead and jump?”

“No, not until we all go. We don’t want to give anybody a preview.”

The minutes ticked by, all of us nervous, Nolan’s eyes glued to his console, Vermillion pacing the bridge.

“The Zephyrus is out, Captain,” Sondra said.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said. We jumped away.

“Get anything on the scan?” I asked.

Nolan turned at me, smiling. “Nothing on the sensors, but I did get more news.”

“Anything back channel from the Overlords?” Vermillion asked, stopping his pacing to sit.

“Nope,” Nolan said.

I glanced at him. “Might as well put them on screen. We’ve got half an hour to kill.”

“Captain, I dispatched a team to ready the railgun drones,” Sondra said.

“Thanks. We won’t release them until we’re stopped, and they stay inside the shields unless we’re attacked.”

“Won’t they mess with the cloak?” Skip asked.

“No, they’re attached to the outside of the ship,” Nolan said. “And they’re shielded. They won’t give off any signal until we light them up and send them outside the shields.”

“Hey, why do we have to worry about the bay door?” JJ asked. “The cloaking device works with the shields, remember? It’s just a software change. Anything that stays within the shield bubble should be hidden, right?”

Nolan froze, turning to look at her. “Do you have the technical data on the cloaking upgrade?”

“Yes. I’ll start going through it, but I might need help from you.”

“Until we know for sure, we’re going to play it safe,” I said. “Understand? That said, you two work it. Let’s not mess with the news reports right now.”

“I agree,” Vermillion said.

“Maybe we should just talk to the guy who designed the change,” Nolan said. “Might be faster.”

“He was captured,” Vermillion said.

“Aw, crap,” Skip said. “He can equip their ships, then.”

“He’d die first,” Vermillion said.

“I don’t know, sir,” Nolan said. “Torture can be tough to deny.”

“It has to be tailored to their shields,” JJ said. “That much I know. He can’t do that overnight. We’re talking weeks of coding and testing.”

“Let’s not worry about what we have no control over,” I said. “Go through the documentation as quickly as you can.”

Nolan and JJ both nodded and got to work.

Vermillion was still pacing. I got next to him. “You look pretty worried.”

He turned to me and smiled. “I knew we’d run into unexpected circumstances. I tend to fret about them a little too much. Don’t worry, I’m okay.”

“How many of our fighters are onboard?”

He eyed me. “Just over five thousand.”

“The rest are at the plants?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And how soon will their cloaking devices be ready?”

Vermillion glanced around to see who was listening. Everybody was working their tasks, but we were close. He nodded to the door. “Let’s go into the conference room.”

I followed him out, shooting a glance at Sondra. She nodded back to me.

We sat at the close end of the long table. Vermillion leaned back in his chair. “I was wondering when this was going to come up. Shit.” He got up and started pacing again.

“Sure you’re okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I can’t sit still when things are happening too fast. I’m always on my feet when I have to be at my best. You know that.”

“I remember you pacing during conference calls.”

“Okay, cards on the table, but don’t spread it around yet. We have two prototype fighters with cloaking devices and the newer plasma weapons at the main plant. We’re lucky they got as far as they did before we were hit. We lost most of the engineers and scientists who were working that project.”

“Captured?”

“Worse. Most of them were killed at the Pacific facility.”

“Oh. Are they ready to test?”

“Almost,” Vermillion said, pausing his pacing for a moment. “The engineers we have at the plant can finish them, but if we run into troubles during the testing, we may not have the talent available to fix the problem.”

“What do we have onboard this ship?” I asked. “The Mark IV model that was here when I was in command before?”

“They’re Mark V. They’ll appear the same, but they have some significant upgrades.”

“What kind of upgrades?”

“The Mark V power storage modules have more than ten times the capacity of the older model.”

“Why? The Mark IV model had quite a bit more capacity than we needed. I always wondered about that.”

Vermillion chuckled. “We always include future requirements into our designs where we can.”

“What’s the additional capacity for?”

“This is top secret.”

“Understood,” I said, my heart beating faster.

“They have much longer range, and they can jump.”

“What?” I asked. “Fighters that can jump? That’s huge. We should’ve been using them already.”

“Don’t get too excited. There are some problems.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“We haven’t been able to speed up the recharge process. If we run one of these fighters all the way down, it takes eighteen hours to recharge them.”

“Actually, that’s pretty good for a ten-fold increase in capacity. The Mark IV took about eight hours.”

Vermillion smiled. “True, if you look at it that way. We’re working on a way to decrease the recharge time to below eight hours. Ran into a wall, but I’ve still got some people working it.”

“What’s the other problem?”

Vermillion sighed. “This is either good or bad, depending on how you look at it. To fit the larger power storage modules in the current frame, we had to get rid of the second seat.”

“No rear gunner?”

“Nope, not in the Mark V,” Vermillion said. “The pilot can fire both guns, and the onboard AI can take over the rear gun if the pilot chooses, but right now it can’t tell friend or foe.”

“Geez, that’s kind of a problem,” I said. “I can see the good side, though. Our fleet would need half the pilots.”

“It’s not that much of an advantage yet. Only a quarter of our fighters are Mark V. The rest are Mark III and IV. You’re right, though, we do save some on pilots. That’s why we put Mark Vs on this ship.”

“When will we have a new two-seat model?”

“It’s on the drawing board,” Vermillion said, “but it’s not close to the prototype stage.”

“Interesting. Who ordered the new fighters? We don’t come up with new designs without orders, right?”

“That I can’t share with you,” Vermillion said.

I eyed him. “We self-funded this, didn’t we?”

“I said I can’t share that with you,” Vermillion said. “Sorry.”

“All right, no problem sir. Let’s get back out there and see how things are going.”

Vermillion nodded, and we went back to the bridge.

“Well?” I asked.

Nolan looked over at me. “We’ll have to test, Captain. The design documentation described the cloaking capability as still experimental, and they wouldn’t guarantee that the doors could be opened while cloaked without bleeding off some signal.”

“That’s not great,” I said.

Nolan nodded in agreement. “We could test, you know.”

“How are we gonna do that without a set of the big ship’s sensors?”

“Test in the field. Open the fighter bay for a second, and see if the big ship targets us.”

I laughed. “I’m not doing that.”

“It’s not that dangerous. We set ourselves up to jump before the test. We already know that ship can’t break through our shields.”

“Correction,” I said. “We don’t think they can break down our shields. We can’t assume they were using full power in that last battle, just as they can’t assume the same about us.”

Nolan laughed. “They couldn’t even target us well, remember? They figured out roughly where we were after the missiles were fired, but they could only fire wildly in our direction and hope they hit us. With a ship this large, that isn’t so difficult.”

“Okay, that’s a good point. I’ll think about it.”

“We’re coming out of the jump in ten seconds, Skip said. “What direction do you want to go after that?”

“Hang a left,” I quipped. “As long as nothings in the way. Maximum speed on the impulse power. Sondra, tell the Zephyrus and the Tristar to go in different directions, please.”

They both nodded to me, as the static hit all of us, the ship dropping out of the wormhole, the impulse engines starting. I grabbed my chair to steady myself.

“You always feel movement with impulse power,” JJ said. “Makes me queasy sometimes.”

Vermillion chuckled. “You don’t like boats, I’ll bet.”

“Hate them, I always get sea sick.”

“The other two ships are on impulse now, Captain,” Sondra said. “The Zephyrus is moving towards three O’clock, the Tristar towards twelve O’clock.”

“Got it, thanks,” I said. “Nolan, watch those sensors like a hawk. Skip, tell the battle pilots to be ready. Sondra, stand by with the railgun drones just in case.”

We all waited, watching the screens, all the cameras on.

“How far are we from the drop-off point?” I asked.

Skip looked over. “Seven hundred thousand kilometers and accelerating. This thing has a lot of mass. The Tristar and the Zephyrus are nearly twice as far already.”

“How long should we wait?” JJ asked.

“I’d say an hour at least, to be sure,” Nolan said.

I nodded in agreement. “Stay sharp.”

“Here they come, Captain,” Nolan said, eyes glued to his console.

“They?” I asked, my heart beating faster.

“Looks like five. Same engine profile as the big ship.”

“Dammit,” Vermillion said. “Be ready.”

“Launch the drones, but don’t let them past the shields.”

“Aye, sir,” Sondra said, turning to her console.

Suddenly five of the huge ships appeared where the end of our worm hole was.

“Should we fire?” Skip asked.

“Give it a moment,” I said. “Let’s see if they can see through our cloaking device.”

“Don’t let them all get away if we can help it,” Vermillion said. “Hit the first one with full power. Let’s see if we can break through their shields.”

“How far away are we now?” I asked. “I don’t want to be too close if we blow one of those monsters.”

“Three million kilometers,” Skip said.

“The other two ships?”

“Nearly four million kilometers, Captain.”

“Want them to fire?” Sondra asked.

“Yes, tell them to double team one of them, full power.”

“Aye sir,”

“Skip, pick the closest one, full power.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Fire!”

The nearest big ship was hit with a bright flash, the shield turning from yellow to orange to red in a split second, and then we were into the hull, debris flying off her side, secondary explosions starting. We could see another ship just past it being hit too, but it wasn’t yet glowing red.

“We killed that one,” Nolan said, watching in awe as the ship began falling apart, the ends falling off, then the middle imploding.

“The smaller ships can’t kill one of these monsters,” Vermillion said, watching as it turned orange but stayed there, firing in all directions now, not hitting any of our ships.

“Target the next one before it jumps,” I shouted. We watched as its shields flashed bright, turning to orange, just getting to red as it jumped away. The two un-touched ships followed it.

“Hit that last ship,” I said, Skip nodding, the plasma hitting that ship, turning the shields from orange to red, debris flying as all three ships continued firing at it. It began to come apart, attempting to jump away, but only moving slightly before the center imploded.

“Wow,” Skip said, watching the debris float around the area.

“Don’t relax yet,” I shouted. “Stay on the sensors and watch for railgun projectiles.”

“Watch for other ships too,” Vermillion said. “If they’ve got enough of a supply chain to build five, it’s very possible they have more.”

We waited for nearly an hour, watching the sensors, floating free in space.

“They’re not coming for us, Captain,” Nolan said. “We’d have seen it by now.”

“Get Andrea and Cyrus on screen,” I said.

“Aye, Captain,” Sondra said. Their relieved faces showed up after a moment.

“That was something,” Cyrus said.

“We won,” Andrea said.

“Yes, we won, but we’re in some trouble too,” Vermillion said. “So don’t rejoice too much. Good job, though. All of you.”

“I agree on both counts,” I said. “It’ll be hard to get back to Amberis without them figuring out what general direction to look in, and that might be enough for them to nail us.”

“We can fight them and win,” Skip said.

“Can we really?” Nolan asked. “They have an almost unlimited supply of fuel. After this battle, we know they have at least two ships that are untouched and one that is only slightly damaged. We’ve got one full sized ship that can beat them, and two smaller ones that can’t, even by double-teaming them.”

“They’re reviewing their data right now, to see where we were firing from,” Vermillion said. “We need to leave, because as soon as they work out our positions, we’re likely to get the railgun attacks again.”

“Go to seven O’clock from the opening of our wormhole, three million kilometers from here,” I said. “We’ll load you guys up, find a place to hide out, and talk this through.”

To be continued…

 

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