A Very Blue Moon 18

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 18 Draft (01-30-11)

Two kilometers from the base of the mountain and Lotti reined them in. No angle to see what was doing on top and still no communications with Speedway or the shuttles. They were on the wrong side of the mountain to see any of the ground launched missiles but streaks of light, straight as if ruled came from high overhead, And there were fires up there, large and hot, The light reflected from lower hills and a sky glow above made that plain. Couple that with a general scarcity of burnable materials on this planet and Robert was glad he was watching, however poorly, from a distance.

“You know— until we saw Yuri we were never sure you guys were actually on al-Maqam with us?”

“You didn’t know?” Lotti asked genuinely puzzled.
“How could I?”
“Shudda asked Mr. Phillips.”
“But how could he know? He didn’t have a magical communicator unit.”

“If the landing failed the Raymond would have picked us up. Or if failed worse than that just bugged out. And when they did it would have been with enough noise that everyone on this dust-ball of a planet would know we had been here.”

“Oh.”

A few minutes later a shuttle landed and picked them up. Staying low it skirted the base of the mountain then to one side of the plain as it went towards the main body and a second pickup point.

One of their ground launch had taken out the glass walled visitor security center, others the sensor towers that might have directed an effective defense. The Calp resistance to the shuttle landings came from two manned gun turrets high up on the mountain. Missiles from the second shuttle soon eliminated that threat. While the KE strike continued to work over the mountain top there was no motion on the plain below.

There hadn’t been many guard types there to start with, and those remaining had the sense to keep their heads down. Zavala’s squad gathered for pickup on the backside of the hill they had occupied for the last couple of days.

Things were winding down nicely on the ground, on the Raymond, not so much.

“The Sword is boosting!” Lights flashed on displays and voices spoke louder but no alarms. Unanticipated as this was the Calp warship could not possibly be in a position to threaten them for hours. But how did they know?

“It may seem longer but it’s been less than a half an hour since we unmasked, The first Calp laser signal, the one that started all this hasn’t even reached them yet, won’t for another twelve minutes. Yet something set them off.”

“The Habib just started moving,” Bailey said, “She’s staying out of Kalid’s wake but otherwise same course, headed straight towards us.”

“That seals it then, they know we are here. And of course even thought we just found out about it they’ve been heading this way for some time.”

Cmd Durrnan had come from the shuttle deck to the bridge by this time and settled in to the crash couch fronting the tactical station. He was running multiple projections along three main lines: They fight, they run, they wait to decide.

“How long before we have everyone back on board?”
“Another forty minutes or so.”

“Hmm.” Joe looked at case two and ran several variations on the theme. “With the jump they got we can’t make the limit outside of missile range of at least one of Kalid’s ship, so if he keeps after us, and why wouldn’t he? — We are going to have to fight. Once we start moving ourselves we have twenty minutes or so before he sees it and can be sure of the direction.”

“Kellen, I don’t want to wait any longer than necessary so find something in the database that lets us make an off axis departure; we need Kalid to work for this. I want to run from him and fight the Aldebaran. Plot a course to make that happen but still takes us as close to the limit as we can get before anyone is in firing range. Our orders were to avoid risking the ship if at all possible; I’m afraid it’s not, so let’s not waste the opportunity.”

Everyone was back on the Raymond; Zavala was with Speedway, Madry, and Borselov while White took a few moments to archive their data for the write-up. Even with another fight at hand the bureaucracy marches on. Much slower in the Seventh and on Cardoman than elsewhere but it still had legs. Phillips was asleep in his quarters, as fit as he was age, and no need to do anything else, had finally caught up with him.

The detachment of marines under Copt Brian Fargo, those who were assigned to the Ray as part of here normal compliment but not involved directly in the last mission and landing had all the things a marine detachment would normally do well in hand. There wasn’t room for a double crew in a gun mount or manning a launch tube.

There should have been a party. Not one of them, and especially Ortega their medic, had expected this to go off with zero casualties, yet it had. Skill or blind luck, either was acceptable. A half an hour after coming on board to a shower and then their racks they went without exception; thirty hour awake, even, or especially with boosters, took its toll.

As Yuri and Madry walked away went their separate ways, Madry to engineering and Yuri to his bunk, Borselov said, “Oh, — And al-Mahari was following me. And you should have seen the look on Robert’s face when after Lotti drove in a piton and told him those Ryman pitons would vanish in eight hours I said; ‘And don’t get all puffed up cause their from Ryman, cause if you think that’s good just consider that when I drive in a piton, any piton, it vanishes as soon as someone puts their weight on it.”

“That’ll have to do it, looks pretty good all in all,” Speedway was examining the track to the hyper limit.”

“Is it obvious we should stay with the orbital plane and dust cloud?” Lt Bailey asked Cmdr Durnan.

“Could go either way. This takes a little longer but since they can catch us either way it gives them more problems than otherwise.” They were skimming just above the plane of the ecliptic with the ability to dive into the rock and dust on command.

“If we do it will certainly give our shields and small object lasers a work out. And it is possible our tech is a little better than theirs on that end. But seeing how that’s Kalid and the Sword out they are, a 4 and we’re just a 3, and a captured Calp 3 at that, probably not. It’s our best—and maybe only chance. You go with what you got.”

Satisfied for the moment Speedway ordered relief for the bridge crew. “Get some sleep; we go to battle stations in six hours.”

* * *
“What do you think Gondar?” Rashid Kalid and the Captain of the Sword, Gondar Metemma, had worked together for a decade and knew as much about the way the other thought as was possible for two people to know. In many ways the linkage was tighter than even in marriage. Till death do we part not a vow but an all too real a condition of employment.

This particular fight had the odds heavily in their favor and should be over by the time they reached the battle site. Any glory would go somewhere else for once and they both knew it.

They’d sent orders to the Aldebaran as soon as Kalid broke for al-Maqam. The ship had a glimpse of what was transpiring on the planet before that message reached her. Reacting properly, her Captain had her racing to block off the Raymond’s escape route even before they had determined who she was. The fact she had once been their own Salat would now make her destruction all the more enjoyable.

“I think,” Captain Metemma answered, “that they were very disappointed with the need to leave so soon. Everything on top of the mountain is gone, but a few hundred meters of granite will have preserved something of the labs and work areas. I have studied the layout as you instructed and I think the test machines in their deep pit still survive. The blast doors were closed and the weak radio signals we have intercepted they will have them open soon. I expect with the Cardoman’s no longer a danger they will try and get a good link and upload their data concerning exactly what happened and the extent of the damage.”

“What they can tell us now we can learn just as well later but I suppose it gives them something to do after all that death and destruction. Give your signals officer instructions to keep a close watch for when they come back on line. Just be sure it doesn’t impinge upon what were after now,”

“Yes Sir, Admiral!”

Kalid was glad to be addressed as such, Compliance Officer be Damned!”

* * *
Joe was the first to return to the bridge, try as he might there was no sleep. Rather than keep tossing and turning he went to his day cabin and listened to the inter-departmental chatter of a ship getting ready for combat. There wasn’t much else he could do. He should probably eat something but was afraid it wouldn’t stay down. This wasn’t fear, he was in ‘no way shy’, he told himself, just nerves.

“I think we can change course now,” Joe told Petty Officer Cymbals. “That will place the Aldebaran more directly in our wake. She can gain a little ground but that’s unimportant right now. And after she follows us in we get to see what Kalid intends to do with the Sword. He is going to keep trying to catch up but when we reach the other side will he cross the belt or stay above it, and for how long?”

Cymbals stayed on but most of the rest of those on the bridge were replaced as those relieved earlier returned. Kellen Durnan left to take his place on the battle bridge down by engineering. If the upper half of the ship was forced out of the fight he would take over while also directing damage control.

Madry came forward as did Bailey to run the weapons station, Borselov would be downstairs with Cmdr Durnan and in charge of the engines and other ships power systems. Zavala and the rest of the Seventh Marines not on gun duty, with the exception of Ortega who went to the infirmary, were assigned as extra members to damage control; they were all had lots of time in suits and under zero G. Most had done at least one on tour on a ship before, even Lotti who had said, “Never again!”

Max range on the latest version of the M-VI ShipKiller was 800 seconds of powered flight, at close to 2,500 G’s that was almost eight million kilometers and the Aldebaran was getting close.

“It’s time to get back inside again; the Calps will have to follow. It’s going to give Kalid and the Sword a chance to close for a last shot if we get away from the Aldebaran and no one said this was going to be easy. Let’s make this abrupt!”

That it was, with an almost impossible vector change the Raymond went to where there density was highest and then corrected her path again for the limit. Her deflectors on went to high and her small object disrupters started firing constantly.

With a delay perhaps ten seconds longer than necessary the Aldebaran followed her in.

“She’ll launch eight inside of a minute, just to see how we react. Send eight of our own, let’s try and draw her in closer. She is going to have an advantage unless we turn to face her and we won’t do that.”

“We are going as fast as we can and still keep from being hit by the stuff out here?”
“No way to go any faster Sir!”
“How does the map of orbital junk look?”
“Minute and a half and we got the big one in front to get around,”
“Keep it up folks, no slipping now!”

“I think the Captain of that ship has made a rather serious mistake.” Kalid said. “If he had just kept running he would have only faced missiles from the Aldebaran. Now we should be able to get within range for a launch before she reaches the hyper limit. A most peculiar lapse in judgment. We stay on our side of the belt for now. Gondar, would you see if your engineering officer can coax another meter or two from our ship? Don’t risk the drive, but I view a little downtime for minor repair and an overhaul as a small price for a launch or two.”

Only moments after Captain Matemma started talking to engineering the lights in the flag plot went dead. They were dead on the bridge as well. It was only for a moment, the emergency lights never had a chance to turn on; the ship was protecting herself from something worse. There were a lot of manual resets to throw.

“Admiral, all our comm lasers are down, overloaded by a signal from the test unit on al-Maqam. We will be back up in a few minutes, just as soon as we finish swapping in new optics packages. But I am afraid we do not carry enough to repair all of the damage and we will not launch against the Infidel before this is decided.

“What could have caused that?”
“We have no idea except it must have been the Cardomans.”
“Find me someone with an idea Gondar, without that we are destined to lose.”

Mohamed Jadir, Captain of the Aldebaran was not an imaginative fellow. Nor was he paid to be. Save that for those young enough to be considered up and coming. Like the Habib’s Fakhir, may Allah hold his soul; Jadir was on his last cruise before retirement. But unlike Fakhir, this new challenge wasn’t something he relished, only a duty left to finish.

He could read the display like everyone else on his command deck as the salvo of active missile icons faded to black. Jadir sent word to Kalid on the Sword, “Next time—If it is Allah’s will.”

Rashid Kalid turned to Ishmael Rabat, his Chief of Staff and said, “Win or lose, remove him from command after this is over.”

The ionizing debris shields and small object lasers were as active on the Aldebaran as they were on the Ray, but they were getting closer to the outer edge of the belt and the particle count was tending lower. Objects large enough to force a detour had dropped in numbers along with the clutter on their forward display.

Two hundred seventy light-seconds behind the Cardoman vessel and still closing there were only a few more large objects within their vector cone, and unless the Salat/Raymond changed course none they would need to evade.

“Look for a clean launch window.”

There it was and time for another salvo. “Fire Eight!”

Movements later all eight were clear of the ship and driving forward.

They had mapped this portion of the belt in excruciating detail, knew the Calps would get an open window and were likely to fire. Everyone with a display and a ballistics comp was checking and rechecking their planned response.

“Get Ready!”
“Two, One, Launch!”

From the Raymond’s tubes eight of her own ShipKillers were ejected to speed towards the Aldebaran. Thirty seconds later another eight to intercept the incoming. That left them only one more full load-out and Joe was going to save them for defense if and when needed.

“Finally she fights,” Captain Jadir said, the trajectory marked on his tactical display. “An interesting maneuver but bound to fail. She sends her missiles on an off axis approach using this large asteroid as a cover. They will change course here,” he said, touching his screen, and the point was lit and shown on all of the other screens slaved to his own through the main battle sequencer.

“There will be more than enough time to intercept before they are close to us. This movement will slow the final approach and any attack run. Not something I would have done, but with Admiral Kalid gaining on them they have very little choice anymore.”

“She is starting a course change Sir!”
“Yes. No surprise there.”

Joe took care of the final adjustments himself. Each missile and its half megaton warhead had a precise point of aim on the backside of the two and a third kilometer diameter rock and ice asteroid that his ship was now maneuvering to put directly between herself and the Calp Aldebaran. Normally set for x-rays and detonated at a distance, the warheads could be configured for contact work as they were now.

In ten seconds they would all strike the rock, not even one held back as insurance, and the force of the explosion and shaped charge would split it into countless millions of fragments. Perhaps a quarter of them with a velocity as great as or greater than the Cardoman ShipKillers themselves and all focused on the Calp warship and the area she could flee to in her last remaining seconds.

At this extreme velocity when it came to kinetic energy, all mass was created equal. No foreign object screen ever built or imagined would protect against the coming storm. And no ship was fast enough to get out of the way.

On the Aldebaran Captain Jadir found it curious, as much of this attack was, that all of the Cardoman missiles had ducked behind the asteroid still forty light-seconds in front of him. In another second their speed would make them visible again and his defensive plan was made easier due to the smaller area he would need to cover. Another mistake. Desperation was showing. He took a breath, about to say, “Fire,” when the display in front of him went to solid red and he found out the true meaning of the word desperation.

On the Raymond there was no time to savor the moment, much less to celebrate, because they still had a flight of eight to beat off, something they managed but not without some sensor and hull damage to two of their launch tube doors making the tubes unusable.

“Pull the birds and get them ready as reloads for the aft battery. The Sword is going to get a shot at us before we can get out of here.”

Kalid was as shocked as everyone else on his ship at the rapid turn of events, but he recovered soonest. “There is nothing large between the two of us and that will not happen again. We will have time for one, perhaps two long range launches before she jumps, let us make them count!”

“They should get two tries at us,” Lt Bailey said, “And I am sure they will take them,” she added almost conversationally.

Because the Raymond was in front and the Sword playing catch-up they had a chance to launch first. Their missiles would be firing on a nearing target while the Sword’s would be firing on one increasing the distance while trying to get further away. In this case they could launch eighteen seconds before the Sword and the missiles still reach their max detonation range under power.

“We will launch them all; make it six,” Joe said, “On my mark—Now! Reload but save the last two for defense. To play it safe the Calp’s should use a complete flight of ten against our six. They can afford it. That leaves just two long range chances for us but it’s the best we can do.

Once out of long range shipkillers they still had ninety percent of their short range interceptors, and the laser mounts were untouched. So the odds were — that they would stop this, but at a shorter distance from their ship and not without some battle damage.

Joe’s prediction proved accurate and the Calps diverted their first launch against the Raymond’s six missile spread. Two of the six did require two shots to take down so that left twelve Calp missiles rapidly closing the range. Their own final two traded their lives for a kill and then there were ten.

No reason to hold anything back and they all knew it. As soon as there was even the slightest chance for an intercept the Raymond began launching and the Calp missiles began their deadly dance, controlled by on board programs, too far away from the Sword for any guidance help and distant even for anti-sensor measures. The Calp ship tried though and directed as much EM noise into the area as possible. And that was making the already difficult job that much tougher.

The Raymond was sending her own EM interference and they stopped three of the shipkillers before their warheads triggered. Another three, confused by the noise, missed entirely. The seventh hit them pretty hard, knocking out sensors and blasting a hole in one of their six external fuel tanks which they jettisoned along with the one on the opposite side of the ship in order to keep her in balance.

That decrease in ship’s mass gave them just enough additional speed that number eight was just another graze, a few more sensors and one defensive mount, killing both marines inside and three more in the compartment behind where they were readying reloads.

The ninth almost finished them off. The stream of charged particles hit the upper surface of the number two drive band midway between the upper and lower globes. And as the field quenched without compensation the resulting stresses buckled and opened up cracks in the ships outer layer of armor clean through to the pressure hull.

The ships interior blast doors were all shut tight as if welded, but most of the compartments in the lower half of the upper section of the ship, and all of them that were structurally attached to the number two band, were leaking atmosphere as were three of those in the ship’s lower section. And in those compartments twenty more of the ships crew died as many more were injured but still able to function while a like number were drugged by their own life support gear or waiting for medical assistance.

Another hit like the last and the Raymond was finished, but instead of completing the job the tenth missile, possibly due to laser damage, was a partial misfire. It was bad; her warhead’s beam followed on the heels of number nine and sliced all the way through to the ships central core and the shaft connecting both of the ships segments, cutting power and data runs and separating the damage control teams aft from those forward.

With most damage in the forward sphere she still had her fusion cores and two working bands. Without the damage she could have easily jumped, they were only seconds from the limit. But the way things were this wasn’t like anything they had practiced.

Is she going to hold together Audie?” Joe asked from the intact control deck, communications routing around the breach in the ship central core. Alarms echoed throughout the ship and were background on every voice channel. Damage control teams worked on the ship, leaving the injured till later. Because otherwise their would be no later.

“I don’t know Joe, I just don’t know. I’m thinking we need to shed the four tanks we got left outside and with our mass down I think we might make it.”

“Do it Audie. The Sword has another launch on its way and we sure can’t face one more. Kellen will have to handle the jump from the battle bridge. Too much damage up top to get the timing right. See you on the other side.”

“This is it Yuri,” Audie said, and then to Cmdr Durnam one deck above her, “Ready as she’ll ever be Kellen.” Then she went back to praying the remaining feeds to the forward band and the rerouted data links would hold long enough. Joe Speedway on the command deck, listened, waited, and felt helpless.

“Got it Ma’am.” Durnan answered. The ship was aligned and pointed in the proper direction, He hit the countdown timer then the alarm, and he spoke the words aloud, to any one able to hear.

“Two, One, Transition out!”

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