“Goddamitt,” said Lt. Marishana Mangana. Lucille looked up from the acceleration tank she was crawling into to see what the assistant tac
officer was looking at. The image of a battleship appeared on the main viewer, leaving the gate far to their rear.
“Shit,” added the captain to the cussing going through the bridge. Flashes appeared at the front of the long cylinder as a dozen missiles left their
acceleration tubes and headed for their targets. Matter/antimatter warheads exploded into one of the covering destroyers, while the invisible
beams of lasers ate through the hull of another.
“We aren’t at war with the Tripods,” exclaimed Lt. Ngyen. “What the hell are they doing?”
Taking advantage of surprise, thought Lucille. The poor bastards at the gate picket hesitated for a moment and paid for it with their lives. A
single warhead impacted on the alien battleship, blasting a small hole in the forward hull. Within a second the counter-attacking destroyer was
spiraling away from the gate, a lifeless wreck. Another cylinder rushed from the gate, a second battleship. Followed by a third.
The lone remaining destroyer maneuvered as fast as her crew could handle, moving along the side of the gate sphere as if trying to escape.
Two of the Tripod battleships flared thrusters as they turned to follow, trying to lock their stationary particle beams on the target that was dodging
and weaving away from their laser turrets. A missile left a tube, followed by another. But the destroyer’s crew was on the ball and a dozen
interceptors left its stern mere microseconds after the missiles. Interceptor missiles struck, antimatter warheads erupted, and the space between
hunter and hunted was filled with hellish radiation.
“They really foxed them,” said Ngyen, admiration in his voice.
Yes, thought Lucille. The radiation will interfere with target acquisition as well as helping to diffuse the power of laser and particle beams.
The destroyer rotated swiftly in a maneuver guaranteed to cause casualties if the crew wasn’t in the tanks. A message carrier streaked from a
bow tube at thousands of gees acceleration, heading into a specific facet of the gate and disappearing before anyone could do anything about it.
Then the destroyer pulled another high gee turn, lining her own bow up on one of the pursuers and unleashing a volley of missiles. It was to be
her last volley. Incoming fire tore through the radiation cloud. Some of the enemy missiles lost target lock and sailed past the smaller ship. Others
smashed into her nose, warheads powerful enough to cripple a battle-cruiser like Navarin exploding into the thinly armored hull. The fire of
explosion ran instantly down the length of the ship, engulfing her in a maelstrom of flame while pieces of hull and fragments of internal machinery
spun into the cold of space, as if trying to escape the inferno. When the flame had attenuated enough to see the destroyer was gone as if it hadn’t
existed. Gone too were the three hundred crewmen and women aboard.
Counter missiles from a tripod battleship took out two of the destroyer’s last volley. Laser fire from the target ship took out two more, leaving
one to slam into the bow of the battlewagon. The battleship was most heavily armored at the bow, while the destroyer’s torpedo was not nearly as
powerful as the ones that had been launched by the tripod battleships. But the fury of its explosion still caused damage to the battleship’s forward
missile tubes and its particle beam projectors, as well as closing off its main KE cannon tube. It also took most of the ship’s forward momentum away
in an instant, which couldn’t have been healthy for the crew.
The bridge crew of the Navarin cheered as the fury of the explosion stopped the enemy ship in its tracks. While not a deathblow, or even
enough damage to keep the battleship out of action, it was still a weakening of enemy power.
The cheer died to a hush as another Tripod battleship popped from the gate, followed by another. Then in single file a mass of cruisers and
destroyers. Within minutes the ships had clustered into task forces and all were boosting for destinations throughout the system. Lucille only had
eyes for one of the groups though. On the tactical was displayed an arrow with figures showing two battleships, a heavy cruiser and five destroyers.
Their heading was toward the convoy she was tasked to protect. The convoy she was nowhere near.
“Sharks are on the way,” she muttered to herself. “Already fifteen minutes on the way toward my minnows.”
“Into the tanks, everyone,” she shouted across the bridge. “Maximum accel in one minute.”
Crew scrambled into their tanks, completing the last second safety checks that would ensure that they survived the killing acceleration that was
to come. All over the ship people did the same, disciplined to think of no other task than to seek safety. Because when full boost came in an
emergency situation there would be no time to make sure everyone was safe.
* * *
While they were underway Lucille linked into the ship’s computer, trying to get a view over the entire situation as she made sure that all relevant
data was transmitted to the rest of the fleet in the system. Not that it will do much good, she thought. The fleet would see what had happened at
the gate minutes before her message crawled to them at the speed of light. But the data she had gathered closer to the battle might be of some
Meanwhile, more Tripod ships had come through the gate. Probably called forth by their admiral after he had scoped out the forces opposing
him. But moments after their arrival human ships had also come through. And now, or at least fifteen minutes ago, a battle had started that was
tearing apart the infrastructure built around the gate as well as the ships involved. Not that the human vessels, if they won the fight and were
capable of maneuver afterward, would be able to help her or her convoy. If they could avoid destruction there was hope that help would eventually
arrive. But first it was up to her and the other ships of her escort to avoid destruction.
* * *
Admiral Ginarjanasan stared at the three different views into the system with the three eyestalks protruding from the top of his truck.
Karstasians possessed much better visual acuity than any of the other races, including humans. Their large eyes possessed an enormous number of
structures synonymous with the cones of human eyes, giving them greater discrimination and a wider range of view across their visual spectrum.
The size of each orb, over six inches across, gave each eye the depth perception of binocular vision. But their weakness was shown in the dark, as
Karstasian eyes were poor both in the night vision and in the motion detection that humans and other races took for granted.
The admiral needed no night vision or motion detection skills at this time. The flares of fusion drives shown clearly on the screens. A number of
drives approached the class M world that was the heart of the system. More drives diverged at the outer reaches of the system. And closest of all,
the drives of slow freighters which ran directly away from the gate, accompanied by the fiercer but smaller lights of escorting destroyers. And the
flame of a capital ship rushing to rendezvous with them. Which to attack though? Which to lead my force against? He had half dozen capital ships at
his disposal, plus numerous cruisers and destroyers. Far out numbering the ships the humans had brought into the system. And more of his vessels
were coming into the system at every moment.
Of course the humans were also bringing more ships into the system with each moment. And though the humans lacked the unity of his race,
splintering as they had into hundreds of independent kingdoms, republics and empires, when gathered for a common purpose they presented a
Not bad for a race whose breeders reproduce so slowly, only one or two offspring at a time. Not like his own race, where a breeder produced
thousands of offspring at a time. But the humans cared for their offspring, raising most of them into adulthood. A weak and fragile way to raise
offspring, where even the weakest survived to become a breeder.
Only ten of his own brood had survived to late middle age. That thought brought some sadness as he looked back on the wreck of the battleship
of his brood-mate. A ship now being pounded to obliteration by the ships of the humans. His fool of a brother had allowed his ship to become
crippled by a destroyer, no less, the smallest of the warships engaged in today’s combat. If the humans were not in the process of killing his sibling
the admiral would have been forced to do it at the end of their mission, to show he had no favoritism toward his brother’s failure.
But which target to pick for his own task force, the largest he had launched into the system?
“Orders, admiral?” asked his flag captain, echoing his own thoughts.
The class M planet's the real treasure of the system, with plenty of human targets in the task force that orbited it, he thought. But it was also
too far. Over two days travel at full boost. And leaving his own force in danger of isolation, being picked off by the humans if they won back the
gate. The smaller groups, further out, would be easy pickings. But they were too small and scattered to make them worthy of his efforts. And the
same problem arose of being too far from the gate. Now the convoy running slowly into the system. Just enough warships to make it a target
worthy of a warrior. And prizes to take without running as much risk of isolation.
“Make course toward the convoy,” he said, his three legs lifting him off his stool. “Full thrust in ten minutes.”