Written by shadar :: [Friday, 13 April 2018 04:07] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 15 April 2018 10:04]
Our last breakfast meeting on Earth broke up as people began walking or floating away. Everyone was now focused on preparations to leave Earth.
Unfortunately, the crazy plan we were considering — attacking the core of the bugs’ armada — only had a chance to work if we could get past the orbiting ships without detection. And then out to the Asteroid Belt or Jupiter’s moons or wherever it was that they were gathered.
Given that Earth hadn’t successfully sent a manned ship to Mars, and only recently had returned to the Moon with Orion, Jupiter was preposterous. It was 2000 times further from Earth than the Moon.
But then, no ship had ever had engines like theRoci.
In comparison to that, my current problem was minor, but not exactly mundane. I pulled Ariel to the side before she headed out the door. “Alice said you assigned her to my cabin, Ariel. I know you’re still pissed at me, but that was kind of harsh.”
She looked at me innocently. “You need protection and she thinks the world of you, John. Plus she’s truly beautiful and oh so talented in her way. Now what was the problem again?”
I sighed. “She is not who I want to be with.”
“Yeah, well, you try to explain that to her, Captain. She might have muscles of steel, but her personality seems to have gotten stuck at sixteen. Perfect combo for you.”
“Ariel, come on, you know that’s just anger talking.”
She shrugged. “I’ll say this. I’ve never seen anyone brighten up the way she did when you gave her a real job. Or whenever you walk into a room. For the first time in her life, she has value. She is doing something important. And you are respecting her in a way she’s never known. You want to ruin all that?”
“Of course not. But that isn’t what I’m talking about.”
Ariel’s eyes softened, her voice too. “Look, I know this is shit, John. I’m just not sure where we stand now. Betrayal is the one thing I can’t handle. For now, I’m happy rooming with Alana, and we’ve got important research to do. Alice won’t neglect you. Be nice to her. We’ll all understand.”
“I already am neglected,” I said as I turned to walk away. I wasn’t going to beg her.
TheRociwas starting to feel mighty small.
I headed toward my cabin to think. Despite my brave speech during breakfast, I was still struggling with how to run the ship.
Carmen was clearly a strong leader as well as our wings, but she wasn’t ready to be Captain. She wanted to fight the first bug ship she saw. I seemed to be the only one on theRocitaking a long view. Beyond that, there was the question on how to run the ship. Military organizations need a strong and unambiguous leader.
There was no doubt in my mind thatRocineeded to behave like a military ship when the fighting started. But until then, creativity and innovation were more important. But could I switch us from a research type group to a fighting group quickly enough when needed?
My thoughts were interrupted by Bella on the intercom.
“Captain, I think I’ve got the bug ship orbits kind of figured out.”
I punched the All Ship button. “Carmen and Bella, meet me on the Bridge.”
Bella got there ahead of me to punch up the orbital tracks of the bug warships on the big screen.
“There are at least twenty orbiting ships that are running scanners, Captain, and they’re spaced fairly evenly around the planet. I think I’ve got their orbits marked correctly, but there could be others who aren’t emitting — I’m only searching passively. But even without them, there’s really no place to climb to orbit without getting scanned on the way up. Our only hope to get past them is with our stealth tech.”
“And we don’t know how well that was designed to defeat bug scanners,” I said. “Not to mention that we compromised it during our dash out of Groom.”
“But it doesn’t make sense to wait for more bug ships to arrive,” Carmen said. “Things won’t get better, especially if our working theory is correct — that they’re coming here to do at least a partial harvest. I say we go now. If they want to fight, we’ll give them one. In space.”
I shook my head. “Our plan completely depends on getting past them without discovery, Carmen. We need to pull their ships back from Earth by threatening the core of the armada. If they see us leaving they’ll be ready for us wherever we go. Besides, we haven’t launched a single torpedo. We’re a long ways from being combat ready. We’re barely even a crew.”
“I have no particular disagreement with any part of that, John, but we’ll never get any combat practice sitting in the middle of this damn lake.”
“We agree on that. For insurance, I’d like to use an ascent profile they won’t expect and one they can’t easily intercept given they’re in orbit — why don’t we fly straight up along the gravity lines.”
“Then make it so, Number One.”
Carmen rolled her eyes at my Star Trekism, and then keyed the intercom as she took over the tactics, like a good XO should. “Action stations, everyone. We’re going to try to slip by a bunch of bug ships. Fighting isn’t the plan, just stealth. We need to run quiet. Bella, power just the minimum electronics you need to tell if the bugs are targeting us. Everyone else, shut everything down, including fuel cells and life support.”
“Roger, shutting things down,” Bella said.
“Caitlan, you have any gripes I need to know about?” Carmen asked.
“Nothing that should keep us on the ground, Carmen. Just be canny about shutting down fuel cells. Captain needs air and batteries won’t last long.”
“OK, Flight, time to get floaty. Tactical, I want torpedoes ready to launch on my call. Given we haven’t worked out a way to guide you, I’ll try to aim the tube in the direction I need you to go. After that you’ll just have to search visually for a target. But once again, the goal isn’t to fight.”
“Make sure you keep the shuttle shadowed from the closest active scanner, Carmen,” Bella said. “It’s tiny, but they still might see it.”
“Good thing Alice gave it an irregular surface,” Carmen added. “Reduces its signature. But I’ll do my best.”
Minutes later, we rose slowly to the surface of the lake to poke our upper cameras out. The sky was thickly overcast, with a thin fog laying on the water. I couldn’t see the shore, so hopefully nobody could see us. Who knew where the bugs might have spies. Hopefully there’s a special corner of Hell for humans who sell out their species to some carnivorous bugs.
Carmen took us out of the water to hover, letting the ship drain before climbing. “Don’t want to leave a trail of water that could be picked up on radar.”
I stared at the big screen, watching the blip of a bug ship move over us as we hung there in the fog. I saw no change in its scanners as it continued in its orbit.
“Good a time as any, Carmen.”
She accelerated upward, the G’s shoving me deep into my seat. We were instantly in the clouds. She held a steady 3G’s as we climbed through the grayness to emerge into bright sunlight. The sky quickly darkened to purple as stars began to be visible. We were now less than 500 miles behind the bug ship that had just passed over us, with the next one about 2000 miles away and coming fast. We were twenty miles high and accelerating hard.
No ship had ever left Earth this way before given the huge energy demands it put on propulsion, but we weren’t power limited.
“So far, no reaction from any bug ships,” I said as I stared at the blips on the display.
“We’re getting painted pretty hard from the bug ship that’s next in line,” Bella said. “Quicker we get out of here the better. He’ll burn through if he gets close enough.”
“I’m going to put some heavy G’s on now,” Carmen announced.
I groaned as I sank deeper in my chair as Carmen went to 8G’s. If the bugs were going to spot their rabbit escaping, now would be the time.
“No change in his emissions or course,” Bella said. “We’re approaching the upper limit of his scan field. Our stealth is working.”
A cheer went up. Carmen shoved us up to 10G’s as the urge to rabbit overcame her. I struggled mightily to breathe for the next ten minutes before she dropped it back to 5G and then eventually down to 2G. At that point, the flight crew stood down except for Kara, who was happily accelerating our 800 ton ship all on her own. The stern flight station had some rudimentary controls and an auxiliary display that let her keep us on course. Despite being a perfect saucer, I still talked bow and stern, port and starboard. Navy habits die hard.
I tried to get out of my seat, but after all those heavy G’s, and with my weight still doubled, I could barely stand.
“Are 2G’s tolerable, John?” Carmen asked worriedly. “I’d like to hold this all day, if we can. Even go up to three if you can handle it.”
“No sweat,” I grunted. “Just hard to walk around.”
“I’ve gotcha, Captain.” Alice scooped me up to set me in her lap as she hovered in mid-air. “I’m your magic chariot ride.”
I rested my back on her chest, feeling her unnaturally firm breasts flattening only slightly, her nipples very noticeable. She wrapped her arms around me, which was a bit disconcerting since I’d seen her crush sections of battleship armor with those arms. She crossed her long legs to support mine in a bent posture to minimize strain on my heart.
I decided I wasn’t too proud to take advantage of Alice’s help when I needed it.
“Try going to 3G now, Carmen.”
The G’s pressed me harder against Alice’s body, her breasts yielding a bit more. Alana had obviously been preparing Alice for this role, because she leaned back more while reaching down to press her hands and arms across my lower body and groin to ensure my heart didn’t have to work as hard to keep blood in my head. It felt a little emasculating, but that was the last thing I needed to worry about in a ship full of Ubers.
Carmen punched up our course display on the view screen. It came very close to the Moon. “I figure we’ll find bugs on Mars, but I’d like to eyeball the Moon on the way out. I’ll have Ariel pop out to use her eyeballs — I think she has the best eyes — while Bella tries to get the telescope working.”
“Lets gather the troops in the galley first, Carmen. Get everyone on the same page.”
It felt awkward with Alice acting as my flying lawn chair. Her blonde hair covered my face as she floated backwards, her head bumping into a few things along the way, but she got us there. She tilted me up more upright as she hovered just inside the galley doorway.
Everyone was there but Kara, who was keeping us under power. The G’s might be punishing me, but everyone else floated around as if they were weightless, with just some minor muscle tension visible as they generated flight power to counteract the 3G’s. I was terribly envious.
I began. “OK, we made it past the ring of bug ships that are scanning Earth. They never saw us as far as we could tell. Our stealth appears to be excellent relative to their scanner capability, so we’ll keep that central to our plans. Carmen thinks we should check out the Moon as we go by, and I agree. We’ll make a close pass. From there, we go to Mars. We can make it there in five days if we can keep some G’s up.
“Then, once we’re well beyond lunar orbit, perhaps late this afternoon, I want to start testing torpedoes and also get you some vacuum exposure. You’ve all done that in a chamber, but this is for real.”
“Torpedoes don’t have any stealth, Captain,” Ulyana said.
“True. But they’re tiny compared to a ship and I figure as long as we’re not near any bug ships, we’ll be fine. I need you guys to practice launch and recovery. Then get used to flying fast and pulling max G’s and coordinating your attacks. Alice, I’d like you to fly the shuttle out to act as a target. Buzz around a bit, like a bug ship trying to get away. It shouldn’t have to be said, but don’t actually hit the shuttle. Ivanka, that means you. No smashing.”
She just shrugged. She was being surprisingly cooperative. I think the hits that Earth took really got to her. She’d probably had family in Moscow.
Alice spun me around happily. “See, even Dumb Bunnies have a purpose,” she said proudly. “Shuttle pilot.”
I saw some eyes roll, but Alana nodded approvingly at her. I was glad she was in Alice’s corner. I was going to need her help with Alice at some point.
“OK. Until we know more, we should plan on hitting the bug ships from multiple directions at once, and at very high speed. I’ve got nothing but Star Wars images in my head, so lets assume they’ll be shooting at you. Their energy weapons vaporized our fighters here on Earth, even took out some small Naval ships, but I have no idea what they’ll do to you. Might vaporize you, might not do anything. There is a lot we don’t know about Uber powers, and almost nothing about bug weapons. Better if they don’t hit you.”
“The idea,” Alana added, “is to also calibrate yourself this afternoon. To understand your limits. To recognize when hypoxia starts to degrade your thinking and reflexes. To discover whether dehydration impairs you or you suffer other negative effects from prolonged exposure to hard vacuum.”
I looked over into Carmen’s uber-blue eyes. “What do you think about pulling some heavy G’s while everyone flies around? That will add a bit of challenge to them getting back to the ship as well as launching. After all,Rociisn’t going to just sit there and get shot up during a fight.”
“Sounds like a plan, Captain.”
“Lovely,” Rhian said sourly. “Suffering that empty lung breathless feeling while chasing a spaceship that’s going like a bat out of hell in the middle of literally nowhere.”
I ignored her. “Anyone else have any issues in your areas that I need to know?”
Nobody spoke up.
“OK. If you want to join Ariel outside to test your distance vision in vacuum as we make our pass by the Moon, be my guest. We’re looking for bug ships or structures or anything that shouldn’t be there. Bella, you want to too?”
“Right then. I’ll be using the navigational telescope, but I won’t have the field of view you have.”
We dropped to zero G as we approached the Moon, which felt incredible after all the heavy G’s. We were already moving far faster than any probe from Earth had ever gone.
Our recycled Nav telescope, such as it was, was mounted near airlock #1, so I went down there to figure out how to use it.
Alice arrived and promptly removed her clothes to hand them to me. From there, she somersaulted forward into the airlock. God she was beautiful. Despite snuggling with her under my sheets in the dark, I hadn’t really studied her in the nude, but she was inviting me to now.
I stood there awkwardly as everyone else arrived to strip off their clothing as well, including Alana who crossed her arms over her chest afterward, looking a bit uncomfortable standing beside me. She was waiting for the airlock to finish cycling the first group outside. Carmen arrived to pile her clothing beside me, a wink in her eye. I stared at her fantastically defined back as she floated there, talking with Caitlan, who had arrived without her clothing. Caitlan seemed the most comfortable of them all completely in the nude. A Scottish thing?
I pretended to focus on the telescope until they were all cycled out into vacuum, and then punched up an exterior view on the closest screen. Ten superwomen floating, their long hair floating around their heads, their boobs so perfectly round in zero G and vacuum that they didn’t look real, their strong arms linked as they floated in a line.
I tore my eyes from that spectacle to focus the little telescope on the Moon — which was so close it filled the entire sky. After a bit of fiddling with the focus, there they were. Bug warships parked in neat rows inside the first crater I looked into. There was also a complex of low buildings circling the crater, with a connecting array of tubes between buildings and also down to the ships. They were dug in and ready to fight from the high ground. I counted twenty-two warships in that one crater, each of them larger than theRoci.
Part of me wanted to drop some nukes on them. These ships were preparing to kill Earth’s defenses. But our strategy depended on having most of these warships far behind us.
I know I’m biased by too much bad Science Fiction, but I envisioned that we were going to threaten the Brain Bugs that ran the show, and the Queen Bugs who reproduced to keep their species alive. If these things really were insects, as scientists had said, they might be organized like bees or termites or similar. Maybe Heinlein had been a prophet.
The crew stayed out there for over an hour as we raced by the Moon. It shrank rapidly during that time, and soon covered no more than a quarter of my screen on its 1:1 zoom. We were moving damn fast.
The women began locking back in, four at a time, their breath steaming as they filled their empty lungs.
“I am never going to get used to empty lungs,” Alana said, her chest heaving as she gulped air. “That breathless feeling just won’t go away, even if I don’t get hypoxic. Only good news is that between the zero G and the vacuum, my boobs expanded like balloons. My husband would have loved them.”
The talk of significant others back on Earth went over like a lead balloon. Everyone had left people behind. Even if we survived, they might not.
Ulyana lightened the mood. “I’m just glad I couldn’t hear the squeaks and farts as air came out every crack in my bod.”
“I wanted to take a breath so badly,” Kara said. “Like Alana said, I thought I was going to pass out from lack of air, but I didn’t. It was just terribly uncomfortable to have vacuum in my lungs.”
“Felt good for me,” Ivanka said. “Natural, even. I don’t need air.”
Leave it to Ivanka to macho it up.
“How many bug ships did you see?” Carmen asked me as she focused back on business.
“I counted twenty-two in one crater. It took all my willpower not to drop a nuke on them.”
“Yeah, I was thinking the same,” she said. “But did you see the ships in the next crater, and the next and the next all the way to the horizon? There were hundreds of ships, including some larger transports further out.”
“Missed all that with the narrow field of view of the scope,” I admitted. “Ulyana, speaking of nukes, how are you coming with the controls on them?”
“Still working on them, Captain. Even with my ability to image the internals, this ancient 20th century tech is a bitch. They arrived with two independent sets of codes to arm them, and then another set of codes to set the fusing. I’m working on changing the fusing to timer only and setting the arming to a simple simultaneous push of three buttons on the keypad. No codes needed. Push three to arm, set the timer and push the red button. Speaking of which, Caitlan, can you help me figure out how to set a timer on these things. Need another set of eyes. Don’t want to go boom at the wrong moment.”
“I know zero about nukes, but show me what you’ve got,” Caitlan said as she combed her fingers through her long red hair. She was the only one who hadn’t bothered to get dressed again. As cute as Caitlan was, very obviously a natural redhead, I wasn’t going to stand there and gawk at my Chief Engineer. I turned around to head back to the Bridge, enjoying being able to float along the corridors without effort.
It didn’t last long. Bella took her turn in rear propulsion, holding us at a pleasant 1G as we continued to build speed. The gimbal flipped its orientation to put our feet down, making it feel almost like we were back on Earth.
I played around with the NavComp, trying different scenarios for approaching Mars. If there were bug transports there, and we decided to hit them, I didn’t want to drop into a conventional orbit so their warships could shoot us. My first thought was to brake hard before we got there, then send torpedoes ahead with Ulyana, Ivanka and Rhian, and let them do as much damage as they could before catching up with us as we passed by. I’d send Ariel and Alana out to ensure they got back OK. The trick was limiting their exposure after they burst out of their protective torpedoes to less than two hours.
Then, depending what the bugs did and the kind of protection they had, and how many targets there were, we might slow further and let Mars reel us into orbit so we could drop down and hit them again. But it was going to take some work to figure it all out. The trick was keeping the plan fluid.
I gave the crew five hours to recover from their exposure, and then called for torpedo practice. Ivanka, Rhian and Ulyana blasted out their tubes to race though space in great loops, coming after Alice in her shuttle as she tried her best to get away. The torpedoes missed her by meters despite her fantastic speed. It took them six hours to practice a dozen attacks, at which point the primitive life support in the torpedoes was running low. Carmen did her Crazy Ivans withRocias they tried to come back on board, making my life very miserable as I lay strapped into my G-chair. Despite being slightly hypoxic, they eventually figured it out. Only Alice had trouble docking her shuttle. Carmen had to coast for a bit to let her get in position.
Dinner that night was very animated. Everyone had worked well together, even Ivanka, although she and Ulyana still hurled insults at each other. I was beginning to think that was just how Russians and Ukrainians talked to each other.
The important thing was that we starting to behave like a crew.
It was shortly after dinner when the fight broke out — Ivanka and Ulyana, of course. I told them to take it outside. The entire crew watched as they bashed and blasted each other, wrestling, smashing into each other with tremendous force and then chasing each other. It was one hell of an athletic spectacle, with the kinetic energy of their collisions heating their bodies red hot. It ended with Ivanka wrapping her arms and legs around Ulyana and squeezing with everything she had. Ulyana struggled mightily, but it was game over.
They came inside, muscles all pumped up, not to mention all perky and seemingly turned on. “Just some extra combat practice, Captain,” Ivanka said, floating in front of me. I tried not to stare at the oversized nipple that threatened to poke my eye out. “Just keeping our edge and tips of spears sharp.”
“Good story,” I said, shaking my head, not believing it for a moment. “Training is good, but save the anger for the bugs.”
I headed back to the Bridge to work more with the NavComp. Hours later, after I started seeing double. I figured a walkabout would do me good. I started with Sick Bay. There I found Alana with a bunch of wires hooked up to Ariel, who seemed very embarrassed to see me walk in. It suddenly hit me what they were testing, and I quickly excused myself.
Kara was back at rear propulsion now, pushing us along at a comfy 1G, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize she was accelerating 800 tons at 32 feet per second squared. Her bare legs were pushed straight out behind her, her fabulous muscles tensed in muscle-against-muscle isometrics, her toes pointed to the rear. She’d adjusted the huge propulsion yoke to fit around her hips instead of her shoulders. Nobody knew why or how muscle tension generated flight power, but it was easy for most Ubers to master.
Amazingly, she was also running a sewing machine that had been tack-welded to the bulkhead in front of her.
I laughed. “You know, Kara, despite tall buildings full of comic books and hundreds of shows and movies plus libraries full of science fiction novels, I don’t think anyone envisioned a scantily-dressed superwoman pushing a space ship around with her bare legs while running a sewing machine.”
“Captain, I grew up on a commune. This is nothing. We all had a half dozen jobs. It was our own kind of super power.”
Moving on, I found Alice forming sheets of steel for making torpedoes. She was working with some crude plates that she’d already squashed mostly flat, having started with thick battleship armor, and now she was thinning them down to a couple of millimeters by drawing them between her tightly-squeezed thighs. Her legs had gotten visibly stronger since she’d started building the shuttle. She was a real machine now.
Ulyana was sitting on the floor with a bunch of half disassembled nukes all around her, happily tweaking them to remove all the safeguards. She’d gone back to her original bare-breasted splendor.
“What are the odds of one of them going off while you’re doing that?” I asked.
She didn’t look up. “Zero unless someone distracts me.”
I quickly moved on. Ivanka and Rhian were hanging upside down, red and blonde hair intermingling as they talked tactics while watching a small video screen. Ivanka was wearing her black and silver Supergirl costume again. Rhian wore a very tiny bikini that Kara had sewn for her out of one of the ship’s flight suits. “You know, Captain,” Rhian said as she rotated back upright to face me, her large boobs filling my field of view, “I think our high speed attack concept could be flawed. We should approach their shields cautiously the first time.”
I reached up to push her shoulder down. She dropped back to the floor so I could see her face. “What makes you think that?”
“Well, we’ve been watching the video we have of the bugs penetrating their own shields, over and over, and it strikes both of us as interesting that the bugs moved very slowly. We know they can move very fast, and usually do, but they made a point to slow way down when it came time to move through their shields. I’m guessing the shields might have a kinetic or velocity component that stops anything that tries to penetrate them quickly. If we hit them too fast, we might splat. We’re tough, but we’re not indestructible. Well, except maybe Supergirl here.”
Ivanka made a fist to flex her biceps, which grew ridiculously large given her slender arm. “If you want feel Supergirl power, feel this.”
I tried to wrap my hand around that perfect ball of steel, her biceps faintly split down the middle, but my hand was too small. A palpable sensation of raw superhuman strength sent a wild flash of energy through me, which was disturbingly arousing.
“That costume certainly suits you, Ivanka,” was all I dared say.
“So what do you think, Captain,” Rhian asked as she saw the confusion on my face.
“About our idea of going very slowly through the shields.”
I jerked my thoughts back to our earlier discussion. “I want to play this past Carmen. But I will say it will be damned unfortunate if you’re right. All of our high speed torpedo tactics will be useless. You guys will have to stop just before the shields, exit the torpedoes, and then slip through the shield to resume your attack inside by breaching the hull. Not what we’d planned and it’ll give the bugs time to organize a defense. How far do those videos show the shields extending?”
“It’s just one video, and it shows a small scout ship. It looks like the area where the bugs, who were returning to their ship, started going very slowly was about a hundred meters out from the hull. I’ve also read accounts in documents that Jacobs gave us that say roughly the same regarding weapon detonations. The key is that even a small nuke hitting their shields reflected nearly all its energy outward. We’ve seen nothing that can get through except those slowly crawling bugs and very large multi-megaton nukes, which overwhelm it. Those we do not have.”
“Well, I say we let Supergirl hit first, and see what happens. If Ivanka splats, then we’ll try your slow approach.”
“Won’t splat, boss,” Ivanka said, taking a deep breath as she stretched out the top of her costume, distorting the “S” on her chest. She put her hands on her hips to pose. “I wear “S” for reason. I can punch through anything.”
Boss? I thought to myself. This wasn’t the Ivanka I knew.
“And I’ll try the slow way if that fails,” Rhian nodded.
“I will not fail,” Ivanka said proudly.
“This brings up a good point. When you guys are in a bug ship’s engineering spaces, right before you wreck everything, you need to look for their shield generator. Assuming you can sort it out of what I’m sure will be lots of odd technology. Imagine how mighty we’d be if we had one of those on theRoci. They can’t be large given they’ve got them on those little scout ships.”
“I’ll get with Caitlan on that,” Rhian said.
I left them to finish my abbreviated circuit of the ship at Carmen’s piloting station. She was running attack simulations on the NavComp, and like the others, wearing very little. I told her about Rhian’s thoughts about shields, and that didn’t make her happy. She’d been simulating extremely high speed torpedo attacks on the bug ships.
“So we’re supposed to slow to zero relative just as we reach their ships? Not great tactics, John.”
“Better than splatting.”
“Assuming we would. We need to pick an easy target the first time. Someone we can sneak up on. We’ve got a lot of things to sort out before we can even begin to plan the best attack tactics.”
“That’s the first thing I always taught SEALS regarding unconventional warfare — understand your enemy. You need to exploit their weakness, not exploit your own strength.”
“That’s not how we did it in the Air Force. Air superiority was my thing. Massive force. Seems like that would also work with this ship of fools.”
“That’s because you had better equipment than your enemies — until the bugs blew that all to shit. We’re one tiny hand-built spaceship with an amazing crew, but we’re facing an armada of bugs with warships that likely have a history of planetary conquest.”
“Yeah, but we’ve got ten Ubers on board. That makes us mighty.”
“Once we find a way through their shields, then maybe we will be. But if we splat on them, then they win. We need to make sure we know what we’re doing before we take any irreversible steps.”
Carmen nodded as she went back to running more simulations. “We’re going to have to run some tests to figure out how many G’s we can handle during deceleration before the torpedoes tear apart. I want to run them in fast and then stop quickly.”
“Is that a big deal?” I said. “We’d always figured on losing the Torps going through the shields anyway. Either that or from their defensive firepower. Having the pilots dive out just before they impact won’t change things. Might even mess up the bug’s targeting if they’re still dealing with the empty Torps while you sneak through their shields in the au naturale. We don’t know if they can even detect an unprotected human body in space. Flesh isn’t much of a radar target at the frequencies they use.”
“Might work,” Carmen mused. “But I sure liked the idea of hitting the bugs at high speed.”
I yawned. “Look, you guys may not need much sleep, but I do. I’m calling it a day.”
I found my cabin wonderfully empty. I took a shower and got into bed, happy for once not to have to deal with Alice’s come-ons and attention. I was sure I’d wake up with her snuggled under the sheet with me anyway, and by now I’d decided that was a good thing. I always felt wonderfully refreshed after she snuggled up for a few hours. Alana hadn’t figured that out, but I’m convinced that Alice and Ariel both gave off some kind of aura that was good for me.
My only real problem was that Alice thought it was insane to waste the perfectly fine erection I always woke up with by taking a cold shower. Alone.
The next two days were busy. I scheduled three rounds of attack training each day, which kept Alice and her shuttle busy. We were now working on high speed attacks followed by extreme deceleration, with the pilots practicing exiting the torpedoes a few seconds before the Torps tumbled past Alice’s shuttle.
Carmen then switched to doing the training without torpedoes, which made it easier for everyone as long as exposure times were kept under two hours. That style of attack presumed we were very close to the bugs before detection, which was more than I dared hope for.
Alana had discovered that the two hours endurance in vacuum was only an average before hypoxic symptoms appeared. Ivanka swore she never ran out of air, but Ariel could barely last an hour. Alana was also highly sensitive. Rhian and Ulyana claimed they were closer to Ivanka’s endurance, but Carmen thought that was just Tactical team macho bullshit. Nobody wanted to be the weakest member of the team.
Alana was running a lot of medical experiments on the girls. She said she’d fill me in on what she was doing when she was done, but she had everyone go through her experiments, except me, of course. Obviously some kind of Uber thing.
We were more than half way to Mars now. Carmen kept rotating her flight crew through the aft station, holding a comfy 1G, but now the ship was turned around and decelerating. What I didn’t like was that Carmen’s approach plan was anchored solidly in my G tolerance instead of the best tactics. If it was just the girls, they could have come in at meteor speeds and decelerated at 30G’s or more on the approach.
By now, Kara had finished sewing up unique clothing for everyone but me, most of it was skimpy in individual ways. It’s not like superwomen actually need clothing for warmth or protection, and with their perfect bodies, they didn’t need to hide or enhance anything. Caitlan had her short skirts and off-shoulder tops back. Ivanka had her black and silver costume with the “S” between her boobs, sans the cape. Everyone else was in some version of short skirts or shorts, midriffs bare, arms and shoulders usually too, but in a variety of personal styles. Alice seemed determined to have the shortest skirt, and Ulyana had compromised on only baring one breast, which seemed silly to me. Either cover them or not. But she was an eyeful either way.
Alana said the parade of perfect bodies helped keep my blood pressure up, and high blood pressure and G tolerance go together. I’m not sure if she was teasing me or not. She had a very dry sense of humor.
Which reminded me that I should go down to Sick Bay to ask her if there was anything more we could do to improve my G tolerance. Changes in my chair or the G suit or something. I was just starting to head that way when Bella called me.
“Captain, we’ve got a ship ahead of us, going the same way. All I’ve got is a drive signature, but we’re gaining on them fairly quickly.”
Carmen and Bella were studying their sensors when I walked onto the Bridge.
“Warship or transport?”
“Can’t tell yet. All we can see is the flame from their engine. He’s still burning toward Mars, but at low power.”
“Maybe just holding a steady G for comfort like we are?”
“Likely. Given the weak engine, I’d put my money on it being a transport. Surprised though that they haven’t turned around to decel yet.”
“Maybe its a warship returning from Earth at low power,” Bella offered.
“Doubt it,” Carmen said with a shake of her red hair. “From what we saw on the Moon, they seem to have moved most of their warships to Earth.”
“Bring us close, Carmen, but stay right in their wake. Maybe their exhaust plume will help hide us further. Long as it isn’t giving off anything that’ll hurt us.”
“Our guess is they use some kind of fusion drive,” Caitlan said as she joined us, “but its remarkably clean based on what I’m picking up so far.”
“So, what do you think, Captain,” Carmen asked.“Our first target?”
“Looks like an easy one to cut our teeth on. How about we forget using the torpedoes. Ivanka, Rhian and Ulyana should fly out on their own. I want you with them, Caitlan, with the idea of your getting inside and looking around their Engineering spaces. I really want one of those shield generators.”
“I would probably trip over it and not know what it was,” she said. “My best hope is to follow the cabling. It’ll have to be wired into emitters all along the hull. But that search might take more time than we have.”
“How long to intercept based on our current speed?” I asked.
“Three hours,” Bella said, studying her screens. “Make it four given we’ve got to decel to match its velocity before attacking.”
“Ok, then how about this,” Carmen said. “Alice and Alana in the shuttle to provide medical support if needed, but keep it hidden behind us until the attack is underway. Caitlan and Ulyana to hit Engineering. Ivanka their Bridge and Rhian to tear everything in between apart. If we do this right, breach all three areas simultaneously, they might not have a chance to get off a distress call.”
“Works for me,” I said. “But remember, bugs can handle vacuum for a while. They’ll still be able to fight after breaching.”
Carmen called everyone together in the Galley to brief them while I continued to study the screen. This was almost too good to be true. A single transport, cruising home, fat, dumb and happy. But why not? The bugs didn’t think we had ships that could operate out here.
I walked down to stand just outside the doorway to the Galley as Alana was finishing her part of the pitch. “Lastly, to protect the Captain, I want everyone to blast each other with heat vision and rub and shake each other violently before you come on board. Special attention on your hair. I want to shake off any radioactive particles or other contaminants that could hurt him. I want you to scan each other with a rad counter before exiting the airlock. We have no way to decontaminate anyone after you get on board.”
I was the limitation again. First the G’s we could pull, now contamination. There would be more. The ship needed me, but I wondered how long I’d really last when the fighting got intense. Thankfully, Carmen was doing a good job in preparing them for the attack. She didn’t need me for that.
The briefing was over and they’d all started to drift off by the time I stepped into the Galley. “Nice work, Carmen. You’re got us as ready as we can be.”
“Hold the praise until the fight is over, John. There will always be surprises. How many G’s do you feel up to?”
“How about seven or eight? I’ll still have some of my wits about me at that level. Then just match speed with the ship, about ten miles or so astern and maybe a few miles to the side of her. They might have a self-destruct. Don’t want to risk burning any more of our stealth covering away.”
“Or kill you from the shockwave.”
I nodded. “There is that too.”
I suffered in my G-chair as Carmen slowed us, starting five hundred miles behind the bug ship as best as we could judge with our passive sensors. I stared at the view screen as we started slipping far enough to the side to see around the exhaust plume, and was astonished when I finally saw it. The ship was huge, easily a couple of thousand feet in length. Just a long tube with a complex-looking drive module in the rear. We’d not seen a ship like this before, not even on the Moon.
The G’s fell off as we slipped into position to match the big ship’s 0.4G thrust rate. I wondered if that was the bug’s natural gravity.
Rhian, Ivanka, Ulyana and Caitlan went out the airlock, their clothing left in neat piles behind them. Alice and Alana detached the shuttle but stayed hidden behind us. So far, the bugs hadn’t reacted to our presence. I watched as our three warriors flew off, disappearing in seconds.
I wondered if I’d ever see them again.
Nothing happened for long minutes. We had no way to communicate in space. If they didn’t come back, we’d have no idea what went wrong. I saw a flash near the front of the bug ship, and then nothing more. I sat nervously waiting. I was used to being the one out there attacking, not staring at some damn screen waiting for results. This waiting and watching was far worse than facing the enemy.
And then I saw a small outgas explosion at the back of the ship. Then another at the front and finally one in the middle. The girls were inside. Flashes of light illuminated the gas that was streaming out out the holes they’d made, but I couldn’t tell if it was from heat vision or bug weapons. Their drive system sputtered and shut down, but then nothing else happened for a long three minutes. I was starting to worry when the back of the ship suddenly exploded, sending a wave of white heat flashing the length of the ship, progressively tearing it apart until it blew the nose section off, the entire ship disappearing inside a white-hot fireball.
Everyone cheered but me. Our first bug ship had been destroyed, but our people might have been inside when it happened. I had no idea how well an Uber could handle being that close to a fusion engine self-destruct.
Alice floated her shuttle out ahead, dodging the larger bits of debris until she disappeared in the middle of it. More long minutes passed, and then I saw them approaching, four glowing women flying in close formation with Alice’s shuttle.
“Bella, did you pick up any transmission from the bug ship?”
“Nada. But they could have had a communications laser running on a tight beam to Mars. We’d never see that. Also, maybe their self-destruct, if that’s what that explosion was, is detectable from Mars. No way to tell.”
I heard Alice docking the shuttle, and moments later she came bursting onto the Bridge, Alana floating behind her. “Did you see that!! We blew it all to fucking smithereens!”
I looked at Alana. “Where are the others?”
“Cooling down and decontaminating. Everyone looked good at first glance.”
The waiting was agonizing, but then I heard the airlocks cycling again. I took another scan of the area where the ship blew up, but saw nothing but bits and pieces of debris. No other ships. No escape pods.
“Everyone to the Galley for debrief,” I announced on the intercom.
The four attackers were pumped up and talking so fast when I got there that I couldn’t keep up. I could still feel the heat radiating from them. Alana was giving them a quick checkover, but they looked perfect as usual to me. Maybe a little more rosy faced than usual.
“Ok, lets go one at a time. Caitlan?”
“Engineering spaces were huge and filled with all kinds of bizarre equipment, Captain. It looked more biological than machine. Everything was wet and steamy and profoundly yucky. Pipes carried pink fluids from one to the next, like the equipment was alive. Maybe the whole ship just a big, specialized bug. There was a huge bank of what had to be their engines in the back, with lots of cabling that suggested magnetic containment. So fusion power remains the likelihood.
“There were a half dozen bugs swarming around, all dressed in red uniforms, but the place looked as if it had work stations for three times that many. I didn’t have a lot of time to search, but I found three globes, each about a meter wide, that seemed to be connected into the hull with massive cables. But when I tried to pull the globes loose from the floor, everything went hot and white. I think I triggered a self-destruct. Next thing I knew, I was floating in a field of junk, my body glowing white-hot, barely able to see. I think I was out for a moment.”
“Rhian was right about shields. I hit the shield glancing blow, and just bounced off in a flash of kinetic energy. Once I returned and swam through slowly, and tore into Bridge, found three bugs wearing blue uniforms, but like Caitlan’s observation, were three times that many consoles, each with some metal rods that probably serve as seats, external skeleton and all. I hit them fast, tearing them away from their displays and consoles. Punching them didn’t kill them. Just smashed them against walls. Very tough shells. But wrapping my legs around heads and squeezing worked. They crushed easily. So did digging fingers into joints of carapace and pulling apart. Messy. Don’t think they had time to send message from Bridge unless was automatic.”
“Like Caitlan said. The tech in Engineering wasn’t like anything I’d imagined. Definitely biological. When I tore at it, it squirted this pink stuff everywhere along with bolts of electricity.
“One bug shot me with a weapon that kind of froze me for a few seconds, with every muscle in spasm, but then it faded. By itself, not bad, but wouldn’t want to be in a crossfire. We need to watch each other. A few shooters might be able to freeze us in place.”
“Good to know. Rhian?”
She said nothing for a long moment. She was staring down at the table.
“You OK, Rhian?”
She shook her head. She had tears in her big blue eyes when she looked up at me.
“There were people on that ship, Captain. Humans. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them. Maybe tens of thousands. All looked like they’d been taken from India. All hanging from hooks that had been jammed in their mouths. All dead.”
Everyone stared at her.
“There were long lines hanging from the ceiling, fading into the distance. A small army of bugs were butchering them. Cutting them up like it was some giant meat factory. Humans on one end, bloody skeletons at the other.”
Nobody said anything for a long moment.
“For the love of Jesus,” I finally mouthed. “They must have abducted them during the confusion of the attacks. A supply ship returning full of protein for hungry bugs.”
“You sure they were all dead?” Alana asked.
Rhian nodded. “The hooks went in the roof of the mouth and came out an eye socket. It was freezing cold in there. It was definitely a meat packing factory. The entire fucking ship.”
“As if we didn’t already have enough reasons to hate the bugs,” Ariel choked. She was sobbing.
I needed to keep going. Grief could wait. “How about the shields? Any trouble getting through them?”
“As Ivanka proved, we have to go very slowly,” Caitlan said. “I tried to punch the shield, and my fist rebounded just as hard as I hit it. But if you go slow, it feels buzzy and uncomfortable as hell, kind of gooey and viscous almost, but you can swim through it. The buzzing was itchy and burning, and it made my insides feel strange. It takes at least a minute to swim through that hundred yards or so. Is that what everyone else found?”
The others nodded as Rhian added: “When I tried to fly faster once inside it, the countering-force seemed to go to infinity as it slowed me back to crawling speed. There seems to be a maximum speed after which it stiffens up. The problem is that if the bugs can detect us during that minute in their shields, they might be able to mount an attack just when we’re unable to avoid it. Something to watch for.”
After Rhian’s report, no one wanted to stay around and talk further. Everyone went off to deal with their own grief, mixed as it was with the elation of successful combat.
Somehow, a space ship full of human cadavers was even more horrifying than the anti-matter attacks on Earth cities. For in the eyes of the bugs, we truly were nothing more than animals to be harvested. Our knowledge, our various cultures, our history, nine billion individual sentient beings, none of it mattered to the bugs.