Thicker than Water

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Thicker than Water

Postby Starfire on Tue 21 Jul 2009 10:38

Three days and we head for home, thought Alex. He took another sip of his coffee, appreciating the Novaya Rodina blend, and happily contemplating the lack of excitement on this patrol. Interstellar War One, as the historians were now calling this, had taken its toll on Alex’s ship, both in physical and human losses. Two months ago they had left Skywatch Cimarron tasked to guard the Lorelei system, and Alex felt very lucky that the normally eventful system had been surprisingly quiet. Quiet enough that Alex was beginning to wonder what the Khanate was up to.
Except its not really the Khanate, thought Alex. Apparently the Tabbies called themselves the Zheerlikou’valkhannaieee, or something unpronounceable like that. Figures that as tough as the felinoid race was to fight, their language would be worse. Better stick to the Khanate of Orion and leave it at that, he chuckled.
Reflecting back on his mission, Alex dwelled a little on Lorelei itself. As a star system, Lorelei was completely uninteresting. It had no planets capable of terraforming, no rich deposits of minerals, nothing to excite the plutocrats of the Federation. Its only interesting feature was its location on the border between the Terran Federation and the Khanate of Orion.
It had also seen much of both sides’ blood in the two years since the war started. Neither side particularly wanted it, but neither side wanted the other to have it. Currently, it was in Terran hands, and Alex knew that the Terran Federation Navy admirals liked that extra buffer system protecting the Federation’s Heart Worlds.
And I had to lead this ship and crew here, snorted Alex. Not that DD-2 Hannibal was a bad ship, and not that his personnel weren’t capable, but… Looking around his bridge, he saw several recent graduates of the Terran Naval Academy at New Annapolis, most of who occupied critical positions during battles. His engineering officer had one cruise under her belt, and despite her brilliance, Matthews knew that she still wasn’t getting all she could out of Hannibal’s engines. Their ECM officer had been exquisitely trained in the new point defense systems that were being put on every ship in the fleet, but Hannibal hadn’t received those upgrades yet. And worst of all was the ensign they had given him in charge of his weapons. Even after two months, Alex still hated the ensign’s presence on Hannibal’s bridge. Oh, his scores were excellent, and his actions since joining Hannibal were exemplary, but Alex still wondered what idiot at BuPers had put him here.
Still, in some ways, Matthews was more concerned about the Bureau of Ships decisions as opposed to Bureau of Personnel. Hannibal was a great ship, and had fought very well in many battles, including the key Battle of Kharod nearly two years ago. But those two years of unending war, with mission after mission taking priority over every planned refit, had left Hannibal, and Matthews, in a very poor position. Matthews knew that he wouldn’t be as worried about his engineer if she had the latest engines to work with, but Hannibal’s had never been replaced. Point defense was saving ship after ship, but Hannibal had to hope that her maneuverability would keep her alive.
Matthews thoughts were broken with a voice across his bridge.
“Sir, we have a contact just entering the system,” said Hannibal’s executive officer.
At least I’ve still got Stevie, thought Alex. Lt. Steven Lee had been two years behind Alex in the Academy, and both had served together for several years, including the past two on Hannibal.
“Any idea what it is?”
“No sir, still out of complete sensor range, but the drive field is consistent with a Tabby cruiser or destroyer.”
Damn, thought Alex, BuShips could have at least given us a week longer at Cimarron and we’d have those new scanners. Other destroyer captains kept bragging how those doubled sensor range.
“How many?”
“Just the one, sir, plotting makes it course consistent with entry from warp point four.”
Warp point four was the primary entry point from Khanate space, mused Alex. I suppose it was too much to hope for no action this trip.
“Sir, it seems to have picked us up. It’s accelerated and is heading our way.”
“Okay, Stevie. Call General Quarters, bring up the engines to combat power and begin approach plan Delta.”
“Aye, Captain.”
Soon, replies started coming in from the various stations as Hannibal armed herself.
“Sir, I’m getting a better picture on it. It’s a Tabby alright, and it’s matching with our engine profile of a Karhae.”
“Right, pull up what we’ve got on the Karhaes on my console.”
Knowing, he had several minutes before the two would enter combat range, Alex immersed himself with what Terran intelligence could tell him of the Orion ship class Karhae. They were light cruisers, which meant they massed half again what Hannibal did. Fortunately, the Karhaes were also an older class, and a quick glance at their normal weaponry gave Matthews his plan.
“Alright, bring us up to full speed and head off his port side, off about 10 light seconds. Maybe we can get the Tabby to do something stupid and let us in his blind spot. When we’ve gotten there, launch a salvo and head in under them. Those Karhaes can’t match us in close.”
“Sir?” spoke up the new Gunnery ensign.
“Yes, what is it?” snapped Alex.
“I’m getting some bad reports for the port missile launcher. The software seems to be malfunctioning,” said the ensign timidly.
Great, thought Alex. Those launchers were the main armament of the Hannibal. For a ship the Hannibal’s size, their versatility was very useful. The missiles fired from them provided the only long-range weaponry aboard Hannibal, and they also had the capability to fire their missiles in a high acceleration mode that was extremely effective at short range. It was this capability, one the Karhaes weren’t supposed to have, that Alex was banking on.
“How long until it’s ready?” Alex said as he walked over to glare at his new officer.
“I don’t know,” replied the ensign uncomfortably.
“Then find out and get it back up, ensign. This isn’t a simulation!”
“Aye, Captain.”
Lt. Lee had come over to watch.
“Is everything else up?” asked Lee.
“Uh, yes sir. The other launcher is green, the laser is fully powered, and all tracking sensors are nominal.”
“Thank you,” said Lee. “Ship at ready status, Captain.”
Alex glared at Lee, wishing that he hadn’t stepped in. However, he knew Lee was right, that Alex’s presence would only slow the ensign in regaining tracking command on the other missile launcher.
“Good,” grated Alex. Alex returned to his chair, turning to stare at Lee and the ensign who fought to bring in their other launcher.
“Sir,” said Lee. “We’re now at 25 light seconds, about 15 degrees off of his port bow.
“Slow up and let him come to us.”
“Aye, sir. Sensors report that his shields are up and we’re picking up tracking emissions.”
“Okay, swing us around to point directly at him, continuing to slip along his beam, but keep us as small a target as you can.”
“Yes, sir.”
As Alex’s mind cleared, he began wondering at the tactics of the Tabbies. Whatever they were, they weren’t stupid. They knew that their biggest advantage was in their size and long range punch. Why, then, where they allowing Hannibal into position for a perfect run into close range?
“How’s that launcher,” snapped Alex.
“I don’t know yet, sir,” the ensign seemed to wilt under Alex’s gaze.
“Stevie,” said Alex. “Come here.”
“Aye, captain.”
“First, status?”
“22 light seconds and 17 degrees off beam.”
“How many light seconds to the nearest warp point to Terran space?”
“43 light seconds to Warp Point 1.”
Alex looked over at his Gunnery officer.
“Ensign, prep drone one with the combat situation and launch with the coordinates of Warp Point 1.”
“Sir?” replied the ensign, “I’m sorry sir, what was that?”
Alex was about to explode, but Lee interposed himself.”
“Prep drone one and launch it for Warp Point 1.”
“Aye, sir.”
“Stevie,” hissed Alex, “Have we anybody else to take that console?”
“Sir, he’ll do alright,” said Stevie. “You don’t give him enough credit.”
"That boy has to earn his credit just like everybody else, and I haven't seen anything good yet."
"That's because you have not given him a chance. You've been too hard on him."
"Hell, too late now to worry me with that. Watch him closely though. If something looks behind, don't hesitate to switch. I'll take over your post."
"Aye aye, captain."
“Sir,” said Lee. “They’ve reached 20 light seconds. Preparing maneuver.”
“Hold until my mark,” said Matthews. He turned once more to the Gunnery console. “How’s that launcher.”
“We’ve found the problem, sir.”
“Uh, yes sir,” floundered the ensign. “The computer wasn’t reading its tracking sensors correctly and couldn’t keep lock. It should be back soon.”
“How soon.”
“I don’t know, sir,” replied the ensign miserably. “The gun captain didn't say."
"Hold on Stevie. Ensign, you better find out, it's your goddamn job, and perhaps everyone’s life. Now, what is it, Stevie?"
"Still charging, down to effective missile range."
"Has he launched."
"No sir, and it doesn't look like he's about to either."
“Sir, we’ve got it,” yelled the ensign. “Uh, that is, both launchers green,” he amended.
Alex glared, then said: “Launch missiles and follow them in.”
“Missiles away, following in. Tracking plot on target, both missiles locked on, one destroyed by their point defense, the other a solid hit on their shields,” said Stevie.
“Sir,” spoke up the ensign. “I’m picking up some very strange electromagnetic emissions.”
“What kind of emissions?”
“I don’t know sir, they seem to be Erlicher emissions of some sort.”
“Erlicher? Are you sure,” Alex demanded.
“Yes I am, sir.”
Alex wondered what that meant. Erlicher emissions came only from tractor beams, not from any weapon Alex knew of.
"Any idea what it does."
"No sir, could be a weapon, could be an extra defensive device. I just don't know sir." Suddenly, "Sir, he's launched missiles!"
"How many?"
"Two," piped up the ensign. "Only one locked on us."
“Evasive maneuvering.”
“Aye, captain,” came the response from the helmsman.
“Can’t avoid the one, sir,” spoke up Hannibal’s electronics warfare officer.
“Helm, bring her to port, we’ll take the missile on the starboard shield,” yelled Alex, hoping for a glancing blow from the incoming missiles. “Ensign, set launchers on autofire. Range to target?”
“Down to 12 light seconds, sir.”
Alex still wondered why the Tabbies were letting him in close combat range.
"Another missile hit," came back the ensign. Alex noticed that the tremor in the ensign’s voice had surprisingly faded somewhat.
“Range to 8, sir.”
"Ensign, get ready to switch missiles to sprint mode."
“Aye sir, range 7.”
“Ensign, switch to sprint mode, engage with laser.”
"Good, fire launchers and laser."
"Sir!" yelled Stevie, "the Tabby’s doing something odd."
"What, Stevie?"
"I don't....KABOOM!!!!
A sudden explosion ripped the Hannibal, knocking the bridge personnel around.
"What the hell was that, Stevie?"
"I don't know sir, but it knocked our shields down."
"On ONE hit?!"
“Yes, but it hasn't damaged the ship yet."
Small favors, thought Alex.
"Fire everything, then get us the hell away from that damn Tabby."
"Aye, sir," said the ensign smartly. "Sir, his shields are down," he crowed.
"Yeah, but range is down to three and it's doing it again," came back Stevie, who was looking over the ensign’s shoulder.
"What?" yelled Alex.
"The Erlicher emissions jumped off the scale," said Stevie and the ensign together.
"Sir, port side hit," said Stevie.
"Damage report."
"Port battery put out for good, Life Support damaged, crew bank A destroyed," finished Stevie.
“Several good hits, sir,” shouted the ensign. “His shields are down, but I’m getting Erlicher emissions again!”
"Turn port side back again."
"Damage?!" yelled Alex.
“Three more hits, sir. He’s really streaming air,” yelled the ensign.”
So are we, thought Alex.
“Sir, we’re past him, in each other’s blind spot,” said Lee.
"Punch it, Stevie, get us away from him. If you get the opportunity, turn and launch missiles, but leave it at a distance."
"Aye aye, captain," came the responses from both his combat officers.
So that's what this Tabby was up to. Damn! Alex raged, half my ship destroyed on just three hits. I hope we got him good on that last salvo.
"Sir, the Tabby has turned and is chasing.
"Turn hard away, and launch missiles."
"Sir, I’m getting those emissions again," warned Stevie.
"Brace for hit”
Alex paused. “Did he miss?”
"No sir, he hit, but it's too far away for it to do much damage." At least this crazy weapon loses power with range just like a beam weapons.
"Sir," the resurgent ensign said, "we hit as well, with both missiles, and it looks like we finally did some important damage, he's slowed down."
"Good, Stevie, how far away are we from the warp point?"
"Sir, in the combat we moved away again, we’re back up to about 50 light seconds."
Okay, thought Alex. Now what?
“Sir, he's disengaging."
"Sir, he's turned and heading toward the Khanate warp point."
"Okay, he's got a good idea. Full speed towards our transit point and let's get some help."
"Aye aye, sir."
Damn! Damn, damn, damn. What the hell WAS that beam. We might be in trouble with the Tabbies because of this damn weapon. Hell and I didn't get the science scanner programs going.
"Yes, ensign," snapped Alex.
"Computer bringing in scanner reports of that beam, sir. I managed to get the science program running before the attack.
"You did that?" Well, what do you know, mused Alex.
“Alright, let’s go home. Good show, boys. Good show." Especially, thought Alex, Ensign Alex Matthews, Jr.
Nerf Rock, Paper is fine. Signed: Scissors.
Nerf Scissors, Rock is fine. Signed: Paper.
Nerf Paper, Scissors are fine. Signed: Rock.
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Marvin Lamb
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