Brennan's Star, Sector W-13
Very Slightly Less Than Five Years Ago
Tornado-class Battlecruiser USS Sirocco
Recommended Listening: Old Gray Brown Coat
As chaos spread through the port,
the bribed, dissident, and deserting Umerian troops turned their ray-guns on their erstwhile comrades. Some cursed, some bellowed, some just grinned. Some pulled on long brown coats and charged into the Umerian redshirts' ranks, whooping wild Rebel yells. They rushed onto the Sirocco
, boarding through multiple docking hatches, and killed all the loyal SpaceSec troops on board. Bernardo strode onto the bridge himself, calmly shooting the watch officer in the head, directing his own crew to take over after they finished off the duty officers.
“Let's get the hell out of here, now. Install the anti-tracking software, pronto!”
The finest of Scumdogian override bludgeons smashed off the safeties on the battlecruiser's heavy machinery. The Sirocco
fired up its reactors- fired up its drives. Shifting into full speed reverse, neither knowing nor caring that the power of the drive fields would tear the drydock apart, Bernardo took the great ship out of orbit and away, alarms spreading behind him among the planetary defenses.
(A distant descendant of this song, with a few trivial revisions to the lyrics, was one of the most popular informal national anthems of the Independent Spinward Republic during the fringe worlders' revolt in 3391-92)
Colonel Bernardo was a commando, not a spaceman. What he knew about a Umerian battlecruiser began with "they have really big guns" and ended with "and this is how you find the bridge and disable the lockouts." This weapon, he didn't know how to aim or shoot, how to protect it and attack with it. Not yet, anyway. So he'd brought along someone he'd hired, a piratical kind of guy, down on his luck... bit who knew how to fight the damn thing.
Rafe Sims smiled grimly. "Reminds me of the last time I stopped by this way."
"You've been to the system before?"
"Back in '91." That must have been during the revolt...
"Me in Alabama
, a couple of creaky old destroyers we'd yanked from the boneyard, some of the boys in odds and ends. They came gunning for us with a pair of 'heavy' cruisers. Pfah! We came whipping 'round the giant and broke one of those Bombardiers
over our knee!"
"...That wouldn't work this time, right?"
"Of course not, planet's on the other side of the star, I checked. But they'll try something. Betsy's a bitch, but she's got guts. She won't take this lying down."
Empress-class Cruiser USS Boudicca
Middle of the Goddamn Night
Rear Admiral Deatherage rolled off the bed and to her feet before the atonal buzz of general quarters finished ramping up. Resenting the moment spent pulling on her uniform trousers, she opened her day cabin door left-handed while flailing her right arm round to catch the other sleeve of her tunic, buttoning it over her undershirt even as she trotted out onto the flag bridge.
Not entirely rationally, she snarled. This had been easier on the old Conductors
- the run over to CIC gave you more time to finish dressing when some random nonsense woke you up in the middle of the night- fuck
"What's wrong with Sirocco
"We can't hail her. There's signature in the drive nacelles-"
The admiral scowled. She knew, she just knew
Signals, order in the pursuit boats to catch wreckage, the station will split up soon." Deatherage judged angles, adjusted for windage from the planetary field, and decided not to risk using the lunar mines as a target practice backstop. "Tell Polar Alpha to fire into Sirocco
. Other platforms, as they bear if the line of fire clears. Wave those troopships off, they're not going to reinforce the drydock in time to matter."
The drydock, orbiting a loosely-bound mining moon, stood near the edge of range from rest for planetary launchers- by the time the subs and orbital platforms got shots off the browncoats would have made it away. Was Hanoi
back? No, nor near it- four hours out by the clock, so much for her best frigate. She glanced over the plot again.
bucked as a sheaf of nuclear-tipped rockets punched into her shields. Then again. Back to the plot- point blank launches from a set of silos planetside, against a low-orbiting target. Another wave punched up out of the atmosphere- this time, GroundSec's air defense lasered the things before they rose to attack range. Not bad, that was almost fast reactions.
"I'm trying to shut down that platform, ma'am- Fortress Command says it's stuck on local control!"
Even four years later, you could never be sure the rebels were down and out properly. She reached to her headset, spun through comm channels- "Arnesh, blow that launch grid. Lasers only. and keep your point defense free- they may have hacked something that can follow up with torpedoes."
"On it, ma'am." Her flag captain sounded ready from Boudicca
's own bridge, so she cut the circuit and turned back to her own staff.
"A few shots got through. Nothing critical-" she nodded, those had been fighterweight missiles, after all. "Landing gear is fused, aand... engine damage. Automation is responding, engineering is working on it locally." Why nothing right away from the chief engineer?
She might leave it to Arnesh afterward, or she might tear a strip off him herself. Not now, now was for fighting, not for yelling. And she'd probably get most of her yelling done with whoever had let the Browncoats take over a planetary missile battery...
and the frigates to chase along Sirocco's
vector- torpedoes as soon as they get a firing solution." She cast about- what else did they have to throw...
A Few Minutes Later
“Huh. That was fast. She’s not slowing down in her old age, that’s for sure.”
“We stung the bastards good with those hacked missile silos, right?”
“Maybe so. I’d know if we had spectroscopy up.”
“No, wait, look. Doyenne’s
chasing us, Boudicca’s
not limbered up yet. My bet? That means we got ourselves a piece of dear old Betsy’s flagship.” The rebel captain chuckled. “Now, Doyenne’s
just about ready for the scrap heap- the Flight II Conductors
don’t have the legs or the brains for the job, anymore. So I don’t think she’ll be getting close enough to us to matter. Those frigates, on the other hand...”
“They’re trying to surround us.” Bernardo could see them on the plot spreading and angling out, forming a pyramid with Sirocco
at the tip, trying to encircle.
“So? What do you aim to do about it?”
The diehard quietly pulled a keychain from his pocket, with a single ancient-style metal key. He looked over at a short, slight young woman working on one of the bridge control boards. “‘Llita, you got the biometrics hotwired?” The girl turned, nodded, and smiled. “Well then.” He strode over to the weapons board, inserted the key, and turned it. Now, “Where’s that other key interlock?”
One of Bernardo’s bohabs shook his head “No luck.”
“Check the gun-captain’s pockets.” At the bohab’s look, Sims gestured with one hand. “That’s him on the floor there. The watch officer.”
“Huh. That’s a stupid place to put a pocket, no wonder I didn’t get it bef-”
“Later. Hand it here.”
The bohab tossed the key over to a friend by the tactical board, who handed it to a browncoat gunnery officer, who clicked the key in the lock and turned it. The controllers mumbled about diagnostics, back and forth, Bernardo didn’t follow the conversation and didn’t much care. Sims looked happy, that was a good sign. He grinned at the weapons board. “Good. Step power to point two percent, run that quadrupole scan again- looks like one of the boys got trigger-happy round about frame sixteen hundred.”
“Hang on, I found it... we can choke off the halo upstream, lemme try- we have beam!”
“Good job. Helm, Pitch minus point two three, yaw plus point oh nine. Guns, walk fire onto the one to ventral and step up. Let’s make sure nothing got knocked out of line when we picked her up from the parking lot.”
Oddly, Bernardo felt relaxed again. Even if he wasn’t doing it, there was shooting now, which meant his side had some control over their fate. It wasn’t all math, it wasn’t all luck or negotiations or hoping the other guy wouldn’t cheat you blind. No, this was war. And whatever he might think of the bastards who’d muscled in on Scumdogia, this was what being a Scumdogian was all about.
“Beam power to ten percent, pushing higher in sequence.”
He looked at the plot, and he could understand some of the basics. The Umerian turret-ship chasing them, trailing them from what had been ‘below’ before the ship angled down for a look, hadn’t even tried firing its own particle beams yet. Sirocco’s
proton cannon could go the distance...
FF-6829 USS Chennai
Combat Information Center
The watch officer broke into a sweat when he saw Sirocco’s
course change. That could only mean they’d gotten the main battery working, and wanted to point it straight at them...
He already had the bridge EW officer on comm. “You see-”
“Spread out our drones, especially jammers.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” He passed on the orders.
“And don’t worry about their component life, we’ll n-”
Every electronic display on the ship blurred, then- thank the stars for milspec- popped back into life. Sirocco’s
axial beams had found them. He touched a finger to metal rank insignia, felt it heating slightly in the magnetic field- and that was just leakage, through the force-screen. They were in for it...
FF-6829 USS Chennai
“Shields down to sixty percent...”
“Yu, I want those drones up now!
“Out and pulsing...”
“Forty percent, radiation tunnel-through in forward compartments...”
“I’m losing surface peripherals, sir!”
“I have no azimuth control on Turrets Beta and Gamma, turret rings are welded shut.”
“Major radiation spikes in forward drive compartments-”
“Are they evacuated?”
“Yes sir, but computers are going down- radiation flux.”
“Shields down to twenty...”
“Hull temperature rising-” the ship bucked slightly. “Busbar overload, frame one hundred, switching in backups.” Again. “Negative function on backups, we’re losing the dorsal forward power grids. I have thermocouples failure in forward armor belt...”
“Helm, roll one point five.” That’d buy some time, present a new surface- aaand... “Weapons, monitor neutron flux in the ventral missile bays- dump the cell if there’s any danger of spallation cookoff. Tell me if we get any flux in the torpedo magazines.” Screen should keep it out of that, but he wasn’t so sure of the defense missile cells. And he did not
want nuclear warheads doing explosive fizzles inside his ship. Not even directional ones pointed outside the hull. That was hard on the bulkheads...
Recommended Listening: Umerian Naval Anthem
Command Bridge, Kicking Ass
Bernardo watched the blue bubble on schematics frigate’s shields go down- sensors were having some trouble, but it looked like the outer armor was starting to melt.
A heavily tattooed bohab, festooned with knives and pistols, laughed. "This bitch'd mark up someone's ground real good!" He pointed at a small image he’d brought up- Brennan’s world, seen peeking over the edge of the battlecruiser’s bowplate as they backed away at top acceleration.
Captain Sims took two quiet steps over and regarded the Scumdogian. Bernardo eyed the diehard rebel suspiciously when he slipped a hand into his pocket, but Sims' hand came out with no sign of a weapon- just his clenched fist. He drawled quietly. "Saw the Techies do that once, at the end of the war. Fired a battleship's main beams into the moon over Shadow- you can still read the message they left, in the new lava plains they burned into it."
"Really? Sweet! I say we do just that- carve our initials in their shit-eating planet?"
Sims' face creased in a faint smile that didn't reach the eyes. "You do? You know, that's funny-" the Independent's hand blurred, striking the bohab just off the solar plexus. Surprise helped the less-than-precise blow knock the man over, and Sims carried on as if nothing had happened "-as that's an awful ugly sight." He kicked the downed man in the belly. Crew whirled around, drawing Scumdogian razorpistols, Independent revolving slug-drivers, and the odd atomic disintegrator.
Sims turned to Bernardo. "What's this boy doing on my bridge, anyhow?"
Bernardo sized up the situation- too damn many of the bridge crew were browncoats, his men could handle it but it'd really fuck up the plan... "He mouthed off, he got his ass kicked. It happens. Jerg, we've got an aid station set up down the corridor, take him there for a checkup. Maybe he'll learn something." Pitching his voice lower, he stared into Sims' eyes. "Next time, don't be so fucking touchy, or you go with him."
The rebel captain gave him a thin smile. "I’m sure it won’t happen again. Anyhow, their shields are down, armor won’t last- do we keep up fire until she’s slagged?”
“Sure, why not? I’m not the one paying for the helium.”
Sims’ eyes narrowed. “Yeah. I don’t like those ships. I really do not.”
Internally, the Scumdogian chuckled. The diehard would-be rebel pirate might think he was squeamish, but give him the right thing to pound on and he’d be screaming and bloodying his knuckles just like any other bohab.
Then the frigate Chennai
disappeared into a ball of fog.
“Did we get him?”
“Nah, still a mass in there somewhere...”
The other ships started to fade out into blurriness too. A Scumdogian guard growled. “So find the shitting tug and finish the job already!”
One of Sims’ technicians, with an accent screaming ‘fringe world yokel,’ called out. “Suh, we have a problem with e-war...”
Bernardo jogged over the few short steps, and read off the display:
“Welcome to Umersoft Disingenuous Advantage! You may be a victim of software counterfeiting. Your authorization codes did not pass genuine SpaceSec validation. Please Resolve Now to resolve this problem.”
“So ah tap continue-” he twitched his control stylus- “an’ it sez...”
“Please enter your 256-character authentication code. And remember, the Ministry of Simulations is here for YOUR protection, citizens!”
The technician began frantically waving his hands, characters popping into existence from the precise twitches and rotations of the wands. “Now, ah have a valid code right here, yew do not
want to know what ah went through to get it. But before ah can get it in...” The display vanished in a blur of polychromatic light, then blipped back into focus.
“Welcome to Umersoft Disingenuous Advantage! You may be a victim of software counterfeiting. Your authorization codes did not pass genuine SpaceSec validation. Please Resolve Now to resolve this problem.”
The Scumdogian stared at this nightmare from the elder days of humanity. “Crap! Can’t you bypass it?”
“...I dunno, maybe? Never seen nuthin’ like this before. Weren’t like this back in the War, this here’s a new wrinkle.”
Bernardo turned to Sims. “So the ship’s blind until he figures out a way past the... loop?”
“Not quite. That looks like a lockout on the high-end part of the software, ECM, ECCM, signals analysis. You want my bet, it’s part of an export restriction, not anti-theft at all. Whatever it is, it’s not locking out passives or the basic active modes, just the sophisticated and high-resolution part. We can see all right, but-”
Those frigates, their
e-war’s working just fine, all we see of them’s those big blurs.”
“You said it.”
Empress-class Cruiser USS Boudicca
Still Middle of the Goddamn Night
Rear Admiral Deatherage was not happy. She wanted that battlecruiser to burn
, before the Independents got their hands on it. The War had been bad enough, but only a very few axial-beam ships had found their way into rebel hands. It burned her to think that another one might be stolen on her watch. It made her very angry, but the only people for her to shout at was the browncoats.
was practically a loss- her hull half-melted, her drives disabled. Her captain reported heavy casualties from radiation and electrical failures. She had two frigates coming up- and those small craft she’d hijacked from their training run, out in the Oort cloud of the next star over. She had high hopes for the cutters, and the timing was going to be just about right.
Still, she wasn’t happy. Wouldn’t be, until she saw Sirocco
blown apart for what it was doing to her defense force and her reputation.
Some Time Later
sure those are hyper downjumps up ahead and to port.”
Sims was right there by the sensor operator, whose nerves still weren’t too good. “Delocalized- you’re trying too hard, son, let her focus on her own... yeah. Thirty to forty-three lightweight contacts, figure two cutter squadrons.”
Bernardo was there too, now. “What’s going on?”
He pointed to the main display, where the shower of green dots appeared to shimmer and flick in and out of existence- their jammers must already be up. “Those...
are two flights of Buccaneers. I’m going to go out on a limb, and guess that they weren’t supposed to be here, but good ol’ Betsy called them in just for us.”
“There’s a lot of them, but not that many. Are they really a threat?”
“Only two kinds of Buckies still in service. The one kind carries Strike troops. We don’t have to worry about those if it doesn’t turn to a brawl in the corridors. But they know that too. They wouldn’t send those.”
“So, the other kind?”
“Strategic torpedo bombers. One big, mean, sneaky anticapital torp each. And us so close to the hyper limit...”
Sims just nodded once and went back to the tactical boards. A few minutes passed. The frigates got a little closer. The cutters got a lot closer. Bernardo looked back up at one of the main holo-displays. The little sprays of green dots coming from the frigates probably meant what he thought they did. More
torpedoes. Chasing them from three directions at once.
He joined Sims at the weapons station. “What are you gonna do?”
“If I turn, I can raster any one spread with the main beams. But I get slowed down, the cruisers catch up, and I have more torpedoes. So I’m defending from one side at a time, and with the sensors we’ve got, we’re focusing on one threat axis at a time.”
“You sure we should be worried about those cutters?”
The diehard sneered. "The Buckies, they've got one slung on each of 'em, that's twenty torps. The turret ships are good for a dozen a spread. Should I be worrying about twelve?" He pointed to one frigate. "Twelve?" The other. "Or forty?" he waved his hand at the swarm of cutters.
"Go ahead, captain, I trust you."
He grinned. “E-war, how much control-”
“Still no drones, sir. Barrage jammers I’ve got, but I’m playing it by ear, and they ain’t stopping...”
“Right. Helm, pitch plus point four, clear our lasers better.”
Bernardo frowned. “They still haven’t shot yet...”
Sims shook his head. “Any second now... huh. Was expecting it right then. Well, won’t be much longer.”
Just after a laser bombardment from the stolen battlecruiser killed one of the lead Buccaneers
, the cutters started dancing away, pushing at right angles to the line of fire. Their torpedoes bored in ahead of them. They screamed out blares of jamming. They wove and sideslipped under magnetogravitic drive, dodging the roiling sheets of infrared that poured from Sirocco’s
Lasers fired back; sensors stuck on rudimentary settings tried to find them and pin them, or trick them into hitting somewhere else.
In Deep Trouble
Recommended Listening: Battle on the Ice
“Incoming...” Sims stalked back to the still-disabled command chair and strapped in. Bernardo did the same, in an unused chair near the browncoat, facing him over a locked-down terminal that did he knew not what.
Some genius bohab had figured out how to get the ship to launch its own nuclear defense missiles- ‘Honeydews,’ the Umerians called them, for some dumb reason. So the ship did launch, dozens of the things. But any of the torpedoes that had made it this far were smart, fast, and sneaky enough that Sirocco’s
computers, still locked in idiot-mode, weren’t finding them.
The Honeydew missiles had their own guidance sensors, which apparently weren’t as brain-dead as the ship’s own computers. They homed in after the torpedoes, but they were smaller, had weaker sensors and shorter range. A lot of them missed. Some of them got close enough, and caught a torpedo in the blast pattern of their own warhead. A lot more thought
they did, blew up, and missed. Three torpedoes died. Five. Another one popped by lasers. More.
“Twenty seconds...” Oh shit,
he’d heard weird stories about Umerian smart-torps, things like flying past the target and shooting it in the back, he still
wasn’t sure how that worked. And almost half the torpedo swarm was still coming. The tactical boards didn’t call out any more times, but it was there in Bernardo’s head. Ten... five... two...
Nothing happened. He thought he felt the ship twitch once, but that might be his imagination.
Wait, what the fuck?
Captain Sims glared at the cutters' light codes. Another of the mob blinked out, coned and burned apart by Sirocco's
lasers now that the missiles were gone.
"...You... you cheeky son of a bitch!
” The browncoat was almost laughing.
"What the hell was that? Why didn't they blow up?"
"Dummy torps. Training warheads."
"The whole thing was a bluff! Which means..." Bernardo looked wordlessly at the other
salvo of torpedoes headed for the battlecruiser. Some of them were wandering away, and a couple of them vanished under laser fire, but...
Sims nodded. "Yup."
“Yeah. Helm, out of that chair, I’m taking over! Get
over here!” The browncoat obeyed, and Sims trotted over, taking the stylized pitch, yaw, and roll controls into his own hands. He waited a moment for something, Bernardo couldn’t tell what, then did... something drastic. The Scumdoggian was in no position to appreciate what had just happened, but he could hear a faint groaning echo along the ship’s spinal framework.
whipped round with a speed truly astounding, given its length, as the rebel captain tried to present the ship’s bowplate to one spread of torpedoes and the thinnest possible target to the other. Gunnery officers tried to blot out the approaching weapons with raster fire from the main batteries, but they were too close, spreading out too far, wise to the countertactic. Another launch of defense missiles took a few- then the explosions started.
The Mark Four torpedoes cut their main drives, pivoted, and fired shaped nuclear charges into the rogue battlecruiser, spearing it with jets of shortwave X-rays and beryllium plasma. Force fields howled and vanished under the flame, softened impacts punched through the cruiser-weight armor belt wrapped round Sirocco’s
long central hull.
Five blasts from the frigate Venice
misjudged their attack runs, not being programmed to attack SpaceSec’s own ships. They flashed against the battlecruiser’s bowplate, scarring and cratering those meter-thick strata of ultra-dense alloy and burning ablatives, echoing along blast channels and sending compression waves rippling down the hull- but they didn’t penetrate.
sixth and seventh were luckier. One smote the ship in a drive nacelle, coring and disabling- the antimatter bunkerage scrammed, and the secondary explosion merely obliterated the engine pod and sheared away fifty meters of the connecting strut. The other judged wisely and stabbed into the core hull just astern of Frame 1000. Two missed; three died.
The crossing spread from Osaka
did better. Five torpedoes missed- side-on, Sirocco’s
hull was not a wide target, the range was long, the closing speed high, and the battlecruiser’s jammers not without their say in the matter. Two died, one bit a piece off a nacelle strut without severing it; three more drove great wounds into the ship’s hull, severing two beamlines of four- and doing such damage to the ship’s power infrastructure that even after backups, the ship might as well be half sawn in two.
One worked a miracle. Like most of Venice’s
hits, the nuclear charge struck the bowplate; unlike them, it struck from astern. The great disc of armor was still made of vast thicknesses of almost incomprehensibly durable material, which did not yield easily. But layered armor schemes are engineered, not simply slabbed on; against a strike from behind the plate was found lacking, and the torpedo burned deep into the structural underlayers designed to hold the armor together even as it melted and evanesced away.
When Sims spun Sirocco
back onto course to compensate for the unbalanced drive thrust, that hurt the ship.
The gap in the structural frame of the bowplate lay on an almost direct line between the elliptical scars of two torpedo blasts. Spun round again, the hysteresis-weakened plates wavered, fractured, and tore
with a rending squeal that ran down the ship’s frames despite all efforts at shock-damping. A half-moon bite of the plate, thousands upon many thousands of tons, simply broke loose, drifting outsystem at high speed. The ship whipsawed under the stress, warping keel-girders further and breaking a few nearly-wrecked power and data trunks.
Damage alarms screamed. Umerian renegades screamed. Bohabs screamed. The ship rocked, bent, and burned- but lived!
Bernardo scrambled for the commlink that had fallen out of his pocket during the moments when the bridge gravity got confused and pointed up. He didn’t bother to consult with Sims, or even really to think, as he shouted the order to his men. “This is Bernardo! All of you! Shut up, take it, and kick its ass! Do what the guys with the red arm-bands tell you, they know how to fix shit.”
Sims remained at the helm. He was busy, hanging onto the controls as if it was all the world, and without it he’d fly off into nothing- he hissed in pain when Bernardo came up beside him and touched him on the shoulder. That was a problem for later.
“We’re hit bad. Can you run things here?”
“No... get the pilot. Now!”
There were no more missiles, a bit of desultory beam fire that scattered off what was left of Sirocco’s
screen. The helmsman took his proper place; Sims took his, directing damage control. One of the two working proton guns had to be deadlined; the other he directed against the cruisers, trying to slow them and deplete their energy. It must have worked- they didn’t chance a long range torpedo shot against him.
When the ship finally crossed the hyper-limit and blurred into higher, lower, wider reality, Bernardo sighed and knew in his bones he’d won. He kept that knowledge through the strange hyperspace-wrestling match against Deatherage’s vengeful cruisers- they’d survived her best before, they could survive this now. He kept it through the long, painstaking process of nursing a damaged ship through the thick, pirate-infested shoals a mere hundred light years from Terminus. At least there they had the sympathy of some of the stranger, alien tribes of the Nation, who had no love for the technocrats and appreciated the Scumdoggians’ rough jest of stealing a great ship from under their very noses.
Very Hard Weeks Later
“Oh! You fucking bohabs! You've done it! You fucking did it! Ha ha ha! Wonderful! I'll honor you and this momentous occasion, Bernardo, by naming this ship the Sexecutioner
! Now! A celebratory orgy and gladiator fight!”
Son of a bitch...
thought Bernardo. Really? Naming it after himself? After all the shit we went through to get it? Motherfucker.