Second Snippet Renegades: Out of Time

Here’s the second snippet for Renegades: Out of Time.   Be sure to read the first snippet!

***

Lord Admiral Valens Balventia sighed as his communications officer notified him of another civilian ship wanting to talk with him.

“Lieutenant,” he said, “I’ve told you, give them the standard evacuation orders.  I’m trying to plan a defense, if you interrupt me again…”

“Sir,” the Lieutenant looked nervous at speaking up, but Valens had worked hard to develop a staff that trusted him.  If he had interrupted him mid-sentence, then clearly he felt it was important enough.  That meant that Valens listened as the younger officer spoke.

“She’s not a normal civilian vessel, my Lord,” Lieutenant Sicarious said quickly.  “The Aurore is a privateer… and she’s behind the Chxor battle line.”

Valens’s eyes went wide at that.  That could be very useful indeed.  “Put him on.”

“Lord Admiral, I am Captain Mike Smith of the Aurore, out of Nova Roma.” the Asian ship’s captain wasn’t wearing a ship’s suit.  Given the current battle conditions, that suggested either a blatant disregard for safety or that he misunderstood the situation gravely.  Neither of which boded well for the conversation.  I hate privateers, Valens thought.  Most of them were little better than opportunistic pirates.  Still, if it was their ships and crews dying against the Chxor instead of Nova Roma Sailors and Marines, then Valens was willing to hold his nose.  “We are currently five thousand kilometers behind the main element of the Chxor battle line.  We’re picking up survivors from one of your vessels.”  He looked off-screen, “The Kestrel, is what my salvage… uh, rescue team has heard from survivors.”

Valens Balventia couldn’t help a scowl at the word “salvage,” yet the fact that the privateer had already picked up survivors was a good thing.  He considered the rest, though, “Wait, Captain, did you say you’re only five thousand kilometers behind the Chxor force?”  That sounded absurd.  How could any ship survive that close to the enemy?  For that matter, how had he managed to get so close?

“Correct, Admiral,” Captain Smith said.  “We also have military-grade sensors, so if you have platforms capable of hitting them, we can provide targeting data.  They’re moving away quickly, though, so we’ll probably lose quality targeting data in the next thirty minutes.”

Valens began to smile.  “Captain, send me your targeting data.  How do we have you, laser, I assume?”

The delay was painful, now.  The data wouldn’t be real-time.  If the privateer had an ansible, it would have been best.  But his ship’s crews could run simulations on the Chxor movements, program those target parameters in…

A few minutes ago, he had seen this as a final defense, a last stand.  With data on the enemy’s ships, he could actually win this.

“Yes, Admiral,” Captain Smith said.  “Though we’re having issues pushing transmissions through their screen and jamming.”

“You’ve one hell of a communications officer to manage,” Valens said.  He moved his estimation of the privateer upwards again.  “We’ll set up a relay, I think we have several platforms in place.  My communications officer will coordinate.”  He nodded at Lieutenant Sicarius and looked at his staff, “Order all fighters to launch.  We have a narrow window and I intend to hit these bastards so hard they feel it back on Karis.”

***

 

“Hold him still, I have not yet stabilized the subject!” Run shouted in his shrill “command voice” as he waved his staple gun around.  The wounded Nova Roman Marine fought hard, despite the injuries that still spurted blood.

Mandy glanced at Miranda.  The pair of them had been assigned to help with the wounded, since they both had some medical skills.  “Do you think we should tell him that the Marine thinks he’s been captured?”

They watched as the two medics assigned to Run finally held the Marine down, even as he started to scream obscenities.

“Nah,” Miranda said as she bandaged the injured Nova Roman on their table.  “Wouldn’t do any good.” She gave the young man a friendly smile, “Marines, right?”

He smiled back at her and Mandy just rolled her eyes.  She didn’t much like the Nova Romans.  Really she didn’t like most people, except for Miranda.  She finished gluing the wound shut on her unconscious patient and moved on to the next.  This woman had been badly burned.  Most of her face and upper torso was a mass of blisters and the smell….

Mandy fought down a memory, of a house in flames and the screams of children.  For a second, it seemed so real to her that she froze.  No, she thought, I’m not there and even if I was, I’m stronger now.

She felt Miranda’s hand on her shoulder and she took a deep, reassuring breath.  “Thanks,” Mandy said.  It was all she had to say.

The two of them went to work on the wounded woman.  Mandy just hoped the Nova Romans had good medical care for their people.

***

 

“Status?” Mike asked as he came back on the bridge, pulling his ship’s suit on and placing his helmet on the rack behind his command chair.

“The Nova Roma forces launched their fighters and their ships are moving into attack positions,” Ariadne said cheerfully.  “Their Lieutenant Sicarious has been very helpful in setting up a relay system.  They seem confident of victory.”

Mike’s eyebrows went up at that.  At best he would have assumed they would stage some kind of fighting retreat.  Malta was key to the Nova Roma defense, but the Chxor numbers were daunting, to say the least.

If they think they can win, he thought, good for them, but I’m not putting my ship and crew at any more risk than necessary.  “Any threats?”

Ariadne brought up a Chxor dreadnought with three cruisers in a loose formation ahead of it.  Mike frowned as he saw it.  It was behind them, trailing a line of debris… and as he watched, it opened fire on a bit of wreckage that Simon had identified.  “Looks like it’s cleaning up behind the main force… and we’re on the path,” Ariadne said.  Her voice held anger and Mike wondered if the fire he saw behind the psychic’s eyes was entirely figurative.

The wreckage it fired on was what had probably been a human destroyer.  The dreadnought chewed the wreckage into a fine cloud of debris, no doubt killing any survivors in the process.  He didn’t know if the Chxor somehow realized they had someone behind them relaying messages or if they simply had a procedure in place to cover behind them.  For that matter, it wouldn’t surprise him if the Chxor ship’s commander simply took it into his head to run target practice.  The Chxor Empire showed little care for human lives, so any of those were likely.

“He’s getting pretty close,” Mike said, even as he reviewed the sensor data.  The damaged ship had engaged the remains of a cruiser before the destroyer.  Both times he’d drawn within five thousand kilometers.

Mike stared at his ship display in thought for a long moment.  The Aurore wasn’t a standard civilian freighter.  She was originally designed as a fast transport ship, and her hull had a sleek, predatory look, with angular hull facings to deflect incoming fire.  The engine pods were in tight against the hull, in a fashion designed to give them greater protection, which only further added to the sleek nature.

Yet she wasn’t a warship.  The ship had no heavy armor and its defense screen was only a single band, projected along the length of the ship.  The Aurore‘s primary weapon was a concealed energy torpedo turret.  The weapon was extremely powerful for a small ship… but it had the downside of extremely short range.

The Chxor dreadnought sweeping along the enemy fleet’s rear would be able to tell that they weren’t a standard freighter.  While Mike didn’t have much confidence in the Chxor’s ability to identify the ship as a threat, he had less confidence about whether or not that ship commander would even pause to think about his orders.

In all likelihood, he’d been ordered to screen the ships to the rear and eliminate any human survivors.  With how he was blasting active radar along with his screening cruisers, it wouldn’t be long before he noticed the Aurore in the shadow of the Kestrel‘s wreck.

With a human officer, Mike might have tried to explain that he was engaged in rescue operations.  Even a military ship might have been spared under those conditions.  But the Chxor wouldn’t care.  Mike didn’t know if the Chxor even picked up their own survivors under normal circumstances, much less in combat.

“What’s the status of the Admiral’s counterattack?” Mike asked.  Mike’s first impulse was to simply order the Aurore to jump to shadow space.  Over the past twenty minutes they had already recovered the majority of survivors from the Kestrel.  Yet they also were supplying the Nova Romans with targeting data.

Simon didn’t need to look at his screen, clearly he was a good pick as the communications and sensors officer.  “He’s launched his fighters, I estimate they’ll launch missiles in three minutes.”

Mike could do the math well enough.  The enemy dreadnought would be in range to pick them up in the next four minutes.  At that point, the data they sent to Admiral Balventia would be crucial.  If they jumped to shadow space, they’d abandon the Admiral’s forces at the most critical time.  The missile flight would need data right up until they went in on final attack mode, in order to bypass the enemy’s directional jamming.  Without that, the attack would almost certainly fail.

Mike stared at the display and went back and forth between the two engagements from the dreadnought.  While the capital ship’s fusion projectors had a potential engagement range of sixteen thousand kilometers and the missiles had a substantially larger engagement window, it seemed that the ship drew far closer than that in both engagements.

It was possible it did so from damage.  Certainly it left a debris and gas trail in its wake, a sure sign that it had received damage earlier in the battle, before the Aurore‘s timely arrival.  There could be any numbers of reasons for that.  Damage to the weapons systems, damage to its power systems, or maybe even with the cruisers providing targeting data, it still needed to approach in order to see its targets.

If it repeated that maneuver, the ship would come within range of the Aurore’s weapons.

I wish I’d shelled out for a pair of fighters and some military-grade munitions, Mike thought absently.  A few ship-killer missiles launched from close range could have damaged and maybe driven off the enemy ship.  The Aurore had external racks for interceptor missiles, but it would be reliant upon carried fighters to launch offensive missiles.

Anubus’s prowler carried two fission warheads, but Mike didn’t know that he trusted them to properly detonate.  For one thing, Pixel still hadn’t had a chance to do more than a cursory inspection of them.  For another, they were Wrethe technology… and the Wrethe weren’t known for their craftsmanship.  Killing people, he thought, yes, betraying and murdering one another and their allies, yes… but building quality ships… not so much.

Besides, replacing those two missiles would be a painful expense.  Less painful than dying under the dreadnought’s guns, but Mike knew that Anubus would demand replacement, probably with a newer, more powerful munition.  And if we don’t replace them, there’s the whole betraying and murdering allies thing to consider, Mike reminded himself.

Then again, better to be alive and in debt than dead.

“Anubus,” Mike said, “go ahead and launch your prowler, we have inbound.”

“I am not going to be a suicide attacker against a Chxor dreadnought,” Anubus growled.

“Of course you aren’t,” Mike said.  “I’d like your missiles to back our main battery.”  He soothed the Wrethe without even thinking about it.  At this point, he knew that Anubus viewed the rest of them as expendable… but the Wrethe also knew they gave him access to human worlds, weapons, and opportunities to enrich himself.  “Besides, think about the value of that dreadnought for salvage,” Mike said.  Doesn’t hurt to lay it on, Mike thought.

Anubus didn’t respond, but Mike decided to take that as agreement.

The cruisers had drawn closer, but Mike focused upon the dreadnought.  The cruisers mounted a minimal armament, designed around intercepting fighters or missiles.  He could take the four of them, especially damaged as they were.  The dreadnought was the threat.  Besides, after they identified a target, they seemed to move on in their search pattern along the fleet’s course.

Here he comes, Mike thought as he saw the dreadnought alter course.  The slow, ponderous ship had lined up a vector that would bring it’s starboard batteries to bear on the wreckage of the Kestrel.  That spiked interest in Mike.  Combined with the dreadnought’s slow acceleration and arthritic maneuvers, the fact that the ship didn’t rotate, but altered it’s overall course suggested it was either low on fuel for its maneuvering thrusters… or that those thrusters were damaged enough that it couldn’t rotate.  Certainly the course was out of its way.

Mike began to smile as he typed in some commands on his console.  “Rastar, get your salvage team aboard immediately.”  Mike didn’t look up as he addressed the navigational officer.  “Mister Nelson, prepare to plot me a maneuver.”

***

 

Ship Commander Chxun updated his fleet commander even as he noted they were drawing close to the latest bit of ship wreckage.

He understood that the Fleet Commander wanted to clear the navigational route of debris and enemy threats for the follow-on occupation force.  He did not feel emotion, so he certainly did not think such efforts were beneath him.  Still, he thought it would have been optimal to have a squadron assigned to this duty, rather than his damaged vessel.  Certainly the remnants of the human defense fleet posed little threat to the Fleet Commander’s forty dreadnoughts.

If Fleet Commander Kxrass had peeled off a dreadnought squadron, then Ship Commander Chxun would have been free to begin repairs of his own vessel.  He could admit that those repairs would take some time.  The multiple missile hits to his port side had crippled his vessel and Chxun felt certain that the ship would need months to be brought back to full operational readiness.

“Time to optimal range?” Ship Commander Chxun asked.

“Thirty seconds, Ship Commander,” his targeting officer said.

Chxun noted that on his log. Fleet Commander Kxrass’s orders had been to clear large debris.  He had not mentioned recovery of personnel, so Kxrass hadn’t bothered to recover any humans, though he had noted the positions and vectors of Chxor survivors, should the Fleet Commander decide to expend the resources for recovery.  The three Chxor and two human vessel debris he’d cleared so far had developed a pattern.  He’d found that if he drew into close range, his weapons batteries produced the most efficient result, reducing any large debris into objects small enough to pose no real navigational hazard.

He had not noted any surviving ships on this path, though that matched his expectations.  Logically any surviving human vessels would have retreated from the system.  The holdouts, in the midst of a futile counterattack, were simply a further sign of the illogical insanity of humanity.

They should have abandoned the planet upon the Fleet Commander’s arrival to the system.  The logical tactic would be to withdraw in the face of a force they could not successfully oppose.

The humans couldn’t win this war, but Chxun knew they would lose it far slower if they didn’t insist upon dying for points of honor or for the sake of civilians who provided no contribution to the war effort.

“Ship Commander,” his sensors officer said. “One of the screening cruisers indicates they have detected a possible radar contact to our port side.”

Chxun considered that.  It seemed unlikely that a ship would be so positioned.  It would have had to either come in behind them at a high enough velocity with low emissions as to be undetected by passive sensors, or it would have needed to be present, yet hidden from the cruiser screen’s radar systems and then somehow now detected.

“Tell them to recalibrate their radar systems and scan again,” Ship Commander Chxun said.  He could have rotated his damaged ship to detect the vessel, but that would have used an alarming quantity of his remaining thruster fuel.  He could explain away the loss of the fuel due to damage, but it would still reflect badly upon his evaluation if he dropped below safety minimums.  Besides, it was highly unlikely that the humans had any kind of warship in position to pose a risk to his dreadnought.  Certainly if they had, they would have used it before now.

“Prepare to engage the debris,” Chxun said.

***

 

Mike smiled coldly as the Chxor dreadnought closed into position.  It had all come down to timing.  As the Chxor cruisers moved past the wreck of the Kestrel, he’d brought the Aurore out on her maneuvering thrusters, a series of slow burns timed to move them away from the Kestrel, keeping in its shadow from the nearest cruiser and just outside of radar range from the enemy dreadnought.  That had consumed almost all of their thruster fuel, but that could be replaced… and they’d only needed to move a bare eight thousand kilometers and then hold relative position.

From the other side, Simon had been able to detect the heavy damage on the dreadnought’s right side.  While it might have passive sensors, certainly its active radar was down.

“Pixel,” Mike said, “Bring up the plant.”  He looked over at Eric, the twitchy weapon’s officer leaned low over his weapons console.  “Eric, engage at will.”

This would be the first time they fired the Aurore‘s weapon outside of a simulation.  They’d already extended the concealed turret from behind the false rear “cargo” hatch.  The three fusion torpedo projectors were slow firing and they used up a quarter of what had been the Aurore‘s cargo holds.

Each of the torpedo projectors created a short-lived, magnetically condensed fusion reaction and then accelerated it in the direction of the target.  They couldn’t maintain the magnetic containment past three thousand kilometers so the weapon’s effectiveness dropped off sharply after that as the plasma released across a broad region of space.

The magnetic torpedoes weren’t terribly accurate, either, and the magnetic containment of defense screens caused a number of issues with that, making the accuracy suffer still greater against intact vessels with full-strength defense screens.  To top things off, the torpedoes didn’t travel fast, a result of the necessity to maintain magnetic containment over such distances.  In short, the torpedoes were slow, inaccurate, and short ranged.

At just under a thousand kilometers away, the damaged dreadnought didn’t have its port defense screens functioning.  In fact, jagged rents showed in the dreadnought’s armor, where earlier hits had already savaged the ship.

The fusion torpedoes crossed the distance in only five seconds.

All three hit a tight grouping directly in amidships on the dreadnought.  The superheated plasma inside the magnetic containment then released inside the enemy ship.  Fire began to blossom all along the ship’s hull, and then the dreadnought simply detonated.  At this range, the bridge ports actually darkened as the Chxor dreadnought vanished in a chain of secondary explosions.

“Target destroyed,” Simon said.

“Oooh,” Ariadne said, “pretty.”

***

You can pick up your copy of Renegades: Out of Time on November 12th!  (Oh, and see below for the awesome cover art!)

cargoshipcover_v03_full

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