“Three contacts on intercept course.” Called Pearce. “Probable missile attack.”
She called out a bearing. Coming in from behind. Probably the best news I could hope for now. I glanced at the engineering screens; the drives weren’t online yet. I touched the intercom.
“I know! Thirty seconds.” The transition from AltSpace was always the most dangerous. The manoeuvring drives were offline and the turbulence meant we were blind for several minutes. I’d destroyed three enemy battleships by being in the right place whilst they were helpless.
I looked up at Pearce. “Impact on our current position in forty seconds…mark.” She informed us. We would be moving, increasing the time to impact and the distance the missiles had to travel.
“Where’s the launch platform?” Somewhere there was a vessel that had fired on us. The fact they’d used missiles suggested it was quite a small ship with limited capacity energy weapons, probably a defence / interceptor or small escort ship rather than something the size of a colonial cruiser. It was unlikely that the missiles had Tnuke or halide isotope warheads but, if they did, a single hit or close proximity explosion would be the end of us. I wasn’t prepared to take the chance.
“Haven’t pinned it down yet.” Pearce was working through numerous wavelength scans to try and find the attacker. Ash’s fingers were dancing over his controls. I knew, without asking, that he would be activating the ship’s weaponry, both the defensive and offensive systems. For the moment there was nothing else to be done. Standard procedure was to seal all internal hatches during transition and Hemingrey, my first officer, had announced the close contacts over the internal comms system as soon as Pearce had identified them, and the rest of the crew should be making preparations for damage control. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the screen of one of the secondary stations that ringed the bridge. Lights were changing from red to green to red as the Bad Girls descended from their quarters on deck five to the armoury on deck eight where their armour and weapons were stored.
“Cavendish, join up with your team. Suit up then check out the passengers on the cargo deck.” Ordered Hemingray. I knew that Cavendish wouldn’t be happy, but I didn’t have time to do anything as Keyes’ voice came over the intercom at the same time as a line of indicators on my board turned green.
“Drives up, drives up.”
“Acknowledged.” Responded Hemingray as I pushed the throttles forward smoothly and slowly to avoid damaging the drives, reaching maximum acceleration of 40m/s/s over ten seconds.
The hatch opened with a hiss of pressurised rams and Dryden ducked under the leading edge, sliding into the helm seat as I slid out of the other side. Freed of pilot duties I could concentrate on responding to the threat.
“All yours.” Said Cavendish. I had my back to the hatch but could guess what was taking place. Before I could check, Pearce announced her success.
“New contact, twenty thousand klicks, same bearing, broadcasting Imperial naval ID. Four hundred tonnes interceptor. She’s changing to a predictive intercept course.”
If they’d attacked at twenty thousand kilometres it was touch and go whether we could outrun the missiles. I glanced at Hemingrey and she confirmed my suspicions with a nod towards Ash. He saw the gesture. “Stand by… weapons systems fully charged and deployed. Targeting radar and lidar active and ready.”
“Fire at will, Mr Ash.”
“Miss Pearce, make sure that ship’s alone.”
I turned towards the hatch. Cavendish had gone and now Echo was standing in her place. “Are we in the shit again?” She asked.
“No more than normal.”
She grinned in reply.
“Sir, I’m picking up a carrier wave from the attacker.” Called Pearce.
“Are they hailing us?”
“No, I think the missiles might be under control. They could take evasive action.”
“Take them down before they get much nearer, please, Mr Ash.”
“Tracking. Firing. One target destroyed.”
“Fifteen seconds to impact.” Cautioned Pearce. The missiles were near enough for us to follow their tracks on the screen.
“Tracking. Bollocks!” muttered Ash. The missiles had started weaving.
“Pearce, contact them, find out what the hell they’re playing at.” Echo stepped into the ring of control stations.
I held out my hand. “One Captain on this ship.” So far this mission had been uneventful and I’d grown lax. But in a situation like this I demanded a clear line of command. I was captain and Hemingray was first officer. I respected Echo’ opinion but the crew had to know who to listen to and obey. Confusion had caused the loss of many ships. We could argue about it later but, right now, I had other things to worry about.
“Two targets destroyed.” Called Ash
Pearce glanced at me, looking for clarity after Echo’s instructions. “Not yet. I don’t want to give anything away.” I glanced at Echo and pointed to one of the secondary control stations. “Sit. Shut up.”
“New contact, bearing zero five by zero five. Range, fifty thousand kilometres” said Pearce. Almost directly ahead.
“Maintain course.” I glanced at the screen. “As quick as you can, Mr Ash.” The last missile was almost upon us, but was using evasive manoeuvring. It delayed impact, but made it difficult to hit. That was Ash’s problem. I was concerned about the new contact.
“Report, Miss Pearce.”
“Picking up stray transmissions from the ship ahead. Naval codes. Looks like a Destiny class colonial cruiser, on a similar track and accelerating at standard by one.”
“Final missile destroyed!” Shouted Ash
Hemingray’s hands slid across her station as she performed some calculations. She glanced up.
“We can evade but we’ll need to turn right now.”
“It’s a modified Curtis trap.” Declared Pearce. “I’m picking up faint returns to starboard.” The Curtis trap was one of the Navy’s piracy interception manoeuvres. With an aggressive gunship pushing us away from the gas giant that was our destination and a powerful ship in front of us, most captains would run sideways and try and evade the enemy, running into a second blockade that would be waiting outside normal scan range. Space was unimaginably huge and groundsiders thought that starships could travel freely but the laws of physics were difficult to oppose and the trap was remarkably effective. Starships jumped into real space in front of a planet’s orbit and allowed it to catch up with them. The Curtis trap pushed targets out of the orbital path. Most turned towards the system’s star and towards more, waiting, gunships. A small number would turn against the spin but, having gone wide enough to avoid the initial trap, making orbit could be difficult, particularly a high mass gas giant.
“Modified?” I asked. My expertise was fleet to fleet battles. Pearce had been a senior lieutenant on a colonial cruiser and had been involved in plenty of Curtis traps.
“Evasive track missiles. In a standard trap the initial attack is meant to scare the shit out of the target, not blow it out of the system. Those three were meant to do some serious damage.”
Modified or not, the Curtis trap wouldn’t work today. The majority of starships were less than five hundred tonnes and lightly armed. We were large and heavily armed and could take on warships the size of the colonial cruiser with the expectation of winning. But not right now.
“All stop.” Confirmed Dryden.
“Rotate one hundred and eighty.”
“Half rotation, aye.” We were going to take the fight to the interceptor. Bow forward, Ash could bring all ten laser turrets to bear and create a screen that would protect us from more missiles.
“Set course for the first contact. We’re going to go head to head and see who blinks first.” Nobody ever turned to face a Curtis trap. The small interceptor would have a relatively inexperienced lieutenant in command and In a few moments he was going to more trouble than he’d experienced since the academy combat simulator. “Warm up the Vulcan cannons.”
“If those are naval ships, just declare the ship as being on Commission business.” Proposed Dryden. “We can avoid a fight.”
I glanced at Echo. She shook her head. “We were attacked without provocation and, more importantly, without a challenge. This wasn’t standard naval protocol and I don’t think declaring as the Commission is necessarily going to help.”
I agreed. “Negative.” I opened the intercom. “All hands, prepare for combat. All stations report in.”