A sign of things to come, even if we didn’t know it.
The Roosa was the first ship in the Artemis fleet to turn colors and come over to our side. They’d essentially been on our side for weeks, first serving as the impromptu escape vehicle for Nicole and Mikki, then transporting Envoy Lusardi from Ceres to Njord for negotiations.
It was just bad luck they got caught.
Okay, here’s where Adam gets me to blather on about things he finds important. Today he wants you to know about two things: the next volume of my story (my story, Adam, not yours!), and a contest to win an audiobook.
First the volume. Triumph’s Ashes releases in ebook on August 15, but if you don’t want to wait that long you can order the paperback right now. Just click the cover image right here and it’s all yours!
Second the contest. Adam’s running a Rafflecopter through the end of the month to win a copy of A Quiet Revolution (Volume 4). Just click HERE and you’ll be able to put in your entry!
Enough! Time for the chapter. If you’re tired of waiting for updates, click any image (or the button, or HERE) to order your copy today!
En Route to Habitat Njord
“Charlemagne, tighten up your formation.”
“Sorry, Boss,” Motherlove commed back.
“Don’t apologize, just fix it,” said Flashdance. Alexander was one of eight Wolves participating in this little evolution, though she was in her usual supervisory role.
They were bringing the Missouri and her crew to Njord.
Six Wolves surrounded the battleship, captured in their tractor beams, and were moving at a sedate 100 KPS. They’d barely even cracked 20 g acceleration, which meant this moving job was going to take over two hours out of her day.
She wasn’t complaining, though. Her crews didn’t know it yet, but she’d been informed by the Admiral that she was about to get her dreaded promotion. She’d get a bump to full Commander, jumping a rank completely, and she was going to be the first Commander Attack Group, CAG, in Starfleet.
She didn’t mind the promotion as such, or even the additional responsibilities. What she did resent was, if things went according to plan, her days piloting a Wolf coming to an end. Not that she planned to allow it! She loved getting into the black, and as the first CAG she figured she’d get to write the book.
In any case, she wasn’t going to allow her last evolution as CO to go sideways, and that meant no screw-ups.
She’d been tossed a bone, though. Alexander was going to remain her bird, and Menace her engineer, even though she wouldn’t have a squadron assignment. Menace, too, was being promoted, to the Engineer in Chief, EIC, another new position. She wasn’t sure if it was intended as penance for his inadvertent role in the Martel Incident, but suspected that it was. One of his goals was to train all the ENG’s and EM’s on what could, and could not, be done to squeeze performance out of their Wolves.
Hopalong was going to get the squadron command, and to him would fall the job of selecting a new XO. Most likely it would be Motherlove, Edenjoy, but that was his call, not hers.
“Hannibal, I’m reading a fluctuation in tractor beam strength.”
“Roger, Menace, I’ve got it too,” answered Hannibal’s EM, Sandman. “Locking it down.”
“Disengage until you have it squared away,” Menace ordered.
“Tow squad, we’re moving Hannibal off for mechanical issues. Hold the balance, I’m going to rotate Saladin into the number four slot.”
Menace got acknowledgements from the five Wolves still in position.
“We could do this part with one Wolf,” he muttered. “Now we’re underway and way over escape velocity, we could let the Missouri coast to Njord and let Hecate catch it.”
“We could,” said Shannon. “But we’re going to do this by the book.”
She went back to her ruminations. The Admiral had told her she’d have full command over all the small craft elements, Wolves, Direwolves, and the various support staff on Njord. The small craft officers on Endeavour and Enterprise, Jadwinski and Burg, would command their bays and the squadrons attached when deployed. When docked, though, their squadrons would belong to her.
She was going to need a staff. She could tell already. Who, though? She’d prefer someone with experience in Starfleet small craft, but she didn’t want to pull anyone out of their slot; she didn’t have enough good, qualified fliers yet.
“Alexander, report position.” This time it was Spurgeon’s voice which broke into her train of thought.
“Seventy two thousand klicks, closing at 100 KPS.”
“Got you,” he said. “Be aware, we are tracking a Gemini. It seems to be attempting an intercept course.”
“Roger, Njord, can we get an escort?”
“Already scrambled Red Squadron, Div One.”
Six fighters. Enough to give any tin can captain pause if they knew anything about the Direwolves.
“Thank you, Njord. We’ll keep an eye out.”
Gemini, she thought. Short legs, max accel 5g, one spinal laser, one missile tube, five Tycho missiles.
“Flashdance, I’ve got the Gemini on my scope,” Menace said.
“Two hundred k-klicks, but she’s closing at six g.”
“They must be red-lining their drive,” Menace speculated. “Could it be one of those souped-up missile frigate bastard things?”
“No, that pulls 300 g. Njord, Flashdance. We’re reading six g accel on that Gemini, please confirm.”
“That’s affirmative,” said a different voice. She identified it as Courtney Colona, from CCIC. “There is a second Gemini, seems to be in pursuit of the first. Either that or they’re running late, but they’re managing to pull six point two g accel.”
“Any chance that they’re missiles?”
To Menace’s look, she said, “Hey, I don’t think so, but let’s get someone else to think about it.”
“Negative, Flashdance. We’ve got positive ID on the first, it’s the Roosa, and we think the second is the Worden.”
“Thank you, Njord.” She checked her scope, a repeater of Menace’s.
“Tug squad, listen up! Pay no attention to the frigates approaching from our five o’clock; Red Squadron’s going to keep them off our backs.”
A new voice broke into the comm channels, over regular radio frequencies instead of the Q-Net.
“Attention, any Federation vessel, this is the ANS Roosa, please respond!”
“Not our game,” said Flashdance, resisting the impulse to answer. She did keep the frequency open, though.
“ANS Roosa, this is the habitat Njord. State your intentions.”
Colonel Whitmore replied to the call, but she didn’t identify herself. It may have been awkward, what with everyone in the ANS believing her dead for over a year.
“Njord, this is Captain Selene Gonzalez, we request asylum.”
Asylum? wondered Shannon.
“Roosa, please repeat intentions.”
“Damn your eyes, Njord, we need your protection! We request asylum!”
Shannon’s jaw dropped. She knew the Roosa had been involved in the escape from Luna Chief Stone had somehow pulled off; she also knew about the Envoy from the Miner’s Guild, though that was far more closely held. She could only imagine the hasty discussions going on between the command group.
The Admiral would be in favor of protecting them, but she was soft-hearted and everyone knew it, including herself. She’d listen to Whitmore, and if she argued against it then there probably wasn’t much of a chance. Still, she knew the Admiral and how determined she could be.
“A hundred credits we grant asylum,” she said to Menace.
“No way! You’re on; it’ll be a pleasure to take your money.”
The pleas continued at irregular intervals, with no reply from Whitmore. Red Squadron’s icons appeared on the scope, moving steadily to intercept but leaving plenty of room for maneuvering.
“I have missile launch from the Worden!” yelled Menace.
“Calculating. The target’s the Roosa!”
“Njord, we’ve got the Worden firing on the Roosa!” she called in.
“Copy, Flashdance, we see it.” Whitmore switched over to regular radio, but Shannon had left that channel open as well. It was better than ringside seats.
“Roosa, asylum granted. Maintain course and speed; we will bring you in. Any deviation from designated heading will result in immediate adverse action, do you understand?”
“There goes another hundred,” muttered Menace.
“Understood, Njord, but we have three, no, four missiles closing on us!”
“We’ll handle it.” Whitmore’s voice was calm over the radio.
She’s not the one getting shot at, thought Shannon.
“Red Squadron, change of mission. Intercept missiles and destroy them. Attention ANS Worden, the ship you have fired upon has been granted asylum by the Federation and is under our protection. Break off your attack or face retaliation.”
“Fuck you, Federation, the Roosa is a ship of traitors and they will face Artemis justice!”
“Not very nice people,” commented Menace.
“ANS Worden, say again, break off your attack or face retaliation.”
“They are ours!”
“ANS Worden, this is your last warning. Worden, do you read me? Worden? Fine,” Whitmore continued, then jumped to the Starfleet frequency.
“Red Squadron, missiles first, then persuade the frigate to go elsewhere. Nicely, if possible.”
“Understood, Colonel.” Shooting Star sounded in her element.
“Red Three, Red Four, Red Five, take out the missiles. Four missiles, three pilots, whoever gets the extra without shooting down a wingman gets a beer on me. Red Six, Seven, you’re with me. I’m on point.”
“Hurry, please!” Gonzalez said. “They’re almost in laser range!”
“Roosa, this is Red Leader, we’ve got you covered. Stay on course and we’ll get you in the barn nice and cozy. Red Three, you’re in charge after the missiles are cleared. Coordinate with Roosa until we get back. Six, Seven, on me. Tally-ho!”
“Did she really say ‘tally-ho’?’ said Menace.
“That’s what I heard,” said Flashdance with a shake of her head.
Flashdance followed the entire action on her scope and with the comms, flying with only half her attention. She’d flown after some very late nights, after all. It was part of the ancient code of the pilot: Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Banging, going out and hanging your skin over the edge, going out into the black when every reasonable instinct told you ‘No!’, then getting up the next day and doing it again. Flashdance had proven herself, so had Double Dip, and now, listening to Shooting Star direct her division into as hairy a situation as Starfleet’s pilots had ever faced, she knew there was another entrant into the ranks of the righteous.
“Worden, this is your last warning. Break off now.”
Her voice was cool and calm, as if she were ordering a drink at the O Club rather than confronting a ship that outmassed hers by who knew how many thousands of tons.
“Red Leader, missiles are neutralized,” reported Jimmy, Red Four. “You owe Beaver a beer. Do you need support?”
“Negative, Red Four, provide escort for Roosa. Red Six, Red Seven, cover me. I’m going to give these stupid bastards a knock upside the head.”
The Direwolf swooped in on the frigate and opened fire. At least, that’s what the run should have done, though there wasn’t any damage evident.
“She must have dialed back,” said Menace, who was watching just as avidly. “Getting a fractional power reading from those impacts.”
“You fired on us! This is an act of war!” The voice of the Worden’s captain was shrill.
“Get stuffed. Kill your drive, now, and prepare to be taken in tow.” If Shooting Star’s voice was cool before, now it was colder than a sunny day on Niflheim.
“Never!” The fifth missile carried by the Worden spat from the launch tube.
“We’re all over it, Skipper.”
“Thank you. Worden, you just made a mistake.”
Now Gonzalez returned to the comms. “We’re under fire!”
“Oh, this is just not on,” said Ashlyn, unaware that her mic was open. “Starbuck, can we hit their spinal laser? Knock it out?”
“I’ll hit anything you want me to, sweetheart,” said the AI. “The laser? No problem, just don’t fly in front of it, okay?”
“Across the bow at an angle?”
“Worden, cease fire!”
There wasn’t a reply from the frigate. Ashlyn’s Direwolf came about, paralleled the Worden, then suddenly accelerated across the frigate’s course. This time the impact of Ashlyn’s lasers was evident as molten globules of metal sprayed from the bow.
“Worden, you’re out of missiles, your laser’s nonfunctional, and you can’t run. Surrender, cut your engines, and prepare to be towed. Or not; I can do this all day.”
Someone must have recognized the futility of trying to outfight and outfly a fighter which was not only more heavily armed but could literally fly rings around the Worden. The drive shut down.
“Njord, Red Leader. We’re gonna need a pickup and a tow.”
“Roger, Red Leader, will dispatch elements of Wolf Squadron to retrieve your package.”
That brought Flashdance back to the mission she was supposed to be completing.
“Menace, how many Wolves do we really need for Missouri?”
“Three,” he answered instantly. “Six was the Admiral’s idea.”
“Redundancy,” she said in agreement. “Njord, Flashdance. We can dispatch three, no, four Wolves from our position to do the pickup.”
“That would simplify matters,” said Whitmore. “Do you need any help on this end?”
“I’m leaving Motherlove in command of the tow squad. If Hecate can be ready to use her bay tractors for an assist, I think she’ll be good.”
“Excellent, Flashdance. We’ll make arrangements. Out.”
“Go, Flashdance.” Motherlove’s voice was full of barely suppressed excitement; she must have been monitoring the comms as well.
“I know you know what’s going on.”
“You, Frederick, and Peter are finishing the job on the Missouri. Hannibal will fly escort since their tractor’s gone wonky. Coordinate approach with Spurgeon and Hecate, and don’t bend any birds.”
It was no coincidence that those included the three Wolves carrying the Missouri crew. She wanted to keep the civilians out of any fight.
“You’ve got this, Edenjoy,” she said much less briskly. “It’s an easy run into the barn. Jammer can back you up if you need it.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you.”
“Go finish the job. Saladin, Ataturk, Sun Tzu, you’re with me.”
The four Wolves headed to intercept the now-drifting Worden while the Red Squadron detachment ensured the Artemesians’ compliance.
“Shooting Star, Flashdance. Nice shooting. Here to pick up your trash.”
“Thanks, Flashdance. We’ll give you an escort in case they decide to get squirrely.”
“Appreciate it. Okay, Wolves. Saladin, you’re taking the bow. Ataturk, starboard. Sun Tzu, port. I want a tight lock on this fish. Close to within a klick and lock on with as much power as you can without tearing their hull apart.”
“That’s fifty percent power,” Menace added.
It took moments for the three Wolves to get into position and secure the Worden, Shannon positioning the Alexander above the Worden’s ventral side.
“Got good lock,” Spaceman reported from the Saladin. The other two soon echoed his report.
“Menace, I want you to keep a close watch on that tin can. I don’t want to kill the crew because we rip the guts out of the ship accidentally.”
“Nope, no unintentional ship-shredding on my watch,” said Menace.
“All ships, gently accelerate to fifty g. Five zero. Let’s take it slow.”
Coordinating acceleration between three Wolves, all tied to a single frigate, was the reason that Shannon had decided to observe instead of participate. It took careful balancing between the crews but they’d drilled on plenty of asteroids. The practice paid off again now; soon the convoy was on their way to Njord, and Shannon let her mind drift to plans.
“Diana, Menace. Can you check my readings?” That snapped her back.
“Certainly, Menace. What am I looking for?”
“I’m picking up power fluctuations within the Worden. I don’t think they’re being caused by the tractor beams, but we’ve never moved a ship with its own power source active.”
“Checking. No, your readings are correct, fluctuations are internal to Worden, no external source.”
“Good,” breathed Menace.
“Diana, can you identify the source?”
“Possibly. Analyzing. Fluctuations originate in main engineering, fusion reactor, magnetic containment bottle. Probable cause, damage caused by recent engagement.”
Realization crystalized in Shannon: the constant defiance, the attitude, the futile attacks, the sudden passivity.
“Or they’re planning to make their reactor go critical! Wolves, drop tractors, break off!”
She had already skewed her Wolf and brought the throttle up to full, clawing away from the Worden at two hundred gravities. She could see her crews imitating her actions, speeding away from the ticking bomb.
“They’ve lit off their drive,” Menace said. “Holy crap! I didn’t think they could manage it, but they’re pulling 7 g in that thing!”
“They’re on the edge of compensator failure,” Diana said.
“And they’re also staying on course for Njord.”
“Of course they are,” said Flashdance. “Shooting Star, take them out.”
“Concur,” said Whitmore. “Weapons free.”
“This time we finish it,” Ashlyn said. “Red Six, lead. Then Seven, and I’ll take tail.”
There was no warning; the three Direwolves, strung in a row, approached from astern, led by Captain Obvious, Digger, and finally Shooting Star.
As Captain Obvious began his run the effects of his shots were immediately apparent, starting at the engine and rolling forward. Gouges and scars appeared in the skin of the ship, venting atmosphere and other volatiles, and then he was past.
“Engines are still up,” Menace said. “Fluctuations growing worse.”
“They can’t simply drop the containment field; they need to overload the reactor first, otherwise it won’t an explosion,” Diana said.
Digger made her pass next. More metal glittered as it splattered away, molten droplets quickly freezing into irregular globules. More atmo and volatiles burst from the ship. Electrical discharges leapt as well, the shots penetrating deeper and rupturing power conduits, but still the Worden’s engines were functional.
“Changing the plan,” said Ashlyn.
Instead of walking her way up the ship’s hull to the bow she paralleled the frigate, pulling even with the bow, before pivoting her Direwolf to face the port side. Only then, her own engines cut and allowing the still-accelerating frigate to pull itself through her fire basket, did she engage. Her lasers dug into the side, penetrating the skin, and the slow overtake allowed for greater damage. Deep craters appeared and explosions started rocking the frigate before she’d reached the mid-point.
The engines finally quit.
The frigate stopped accelerating; the two ships seemed to hang in space. Shooting Star kept pumping her fire into a spot amidships, the slight wobbles of the unpowered ship causing the effective diameter of the damage to widen while driving deeper and deeper into the interior. Compartments were explosively vented to space, debris scattering far and wide. Then the lasers burst through the far side.
“I think they’re done,” she commed, pulling back from the frigate.
“I’m still getting power readings,” said Menace. “The bottle’s holding, I don’t think they’re trying to overload it, but it’s not going to last long. Maybe a minute, tops.”
“Worden, if you can read me, abandon ship. Your magnetic bottle is failing.”
Flashdance didn’t think they could hear her, but she had to make the attempt. She’d never imagined a ship could take as much damage and still function at all.
“Looks like someone was listening,” Menace said. “I’ve got what looks like escape pods popping off.”
“Let them get clear, then get our birds on SAR. I want them far away from that flying bomb.”
“Njord, Worden is disabled but still on course for the habitat.”
“We have it,” said Whitmore. “Get everyone clear and we’ll take it out with a missile.”
“We’re out of here, people,” Shannon commed. “Njord is targeting a missile; we don’t want to be around when that baby arrives.”
“SAR, Boss?” asked Cueball, from the Ataturk.
“What’s the separation?”
Menace checked. “The escape pods are almost two hundred klicks back.”
“Go ahead, Ata—”
The Worden vanished in an actinic glare of white light, fading quickly through yellow to orange and red.
“Cancel that missile, Njord,” said Shannon as the spots faded in her vision. “The reactor gave out. Initiating SAR.”