It’s either a political rant or another tease from the Rimworld book…
Since I’m tired of politics, you get this… As always, unedited, stream of consciousness writing… Right at 60K words in.
Moments of Terror
The days melded one into the other as the ship trundled across space toward Star Center. After two tries at eating with the other passengers, Fargo and Nicole had adopted similar routines of eating in the crew mess, exercise and using the VR sims every day. They almost never interacted with the other passengers at all, much to Fargo’s relief.
Nicole seemed to be less inclined to interact with anyone as the days went by and her worries ramped up, causing her to be even pricklier. The only time he’d seen her laugh was on the third day, when Evie joined them for lunch and Nicole had asked who the other Hilbornite was.
Evie’s hair had stood up, and she literally hissed before getting herself back under control, “That bitch is one of my great-aunts, she claims I have sullied the entire clan’s reputation by being a starship pilot and I deserve to be cut off from the clan. She called me a vacuous disease ridden whore, only fit for space after I told her I liked my job!”
Nicole almost spit her food out in amazement, then said, “I’m afraid I would have slapped her into the middle of the next galaxy for that! Who the hell does she think she is?”
Evie shrugged, “Apparently she is chief surgeon of Hilborn Center.”
Nicole asked, “So… Important? Yes?”
Evie chuckled ruefully, “She is the highest of the high in medical circles. She is touring the Rimworld planets collecting medical specimens and disease vector data to update the galactic data base.”
Nicole asked with a laugh, “Are you sure she isn’t the vector?”
Evie burst out with a laugh, fur laying down smoothly, “Possibly!”
Nicole mumbled, “Still a bitch though.” Evie smiled and squeezed Nicole’s hand quickly as she got up to resume her piloting duties.
Fargo’s wrist comp pinged, bringing him out of a dead sleep. He started muzzily at it, CAPTAIN FARGO TO THE BRIDGE IMMEDIATELY.
Sitting up, he heard it ping again, and he hit it simultaneously with replying, “On the way.” Pulling his shipsuit on, he shoved his feet into his boots, quickly fastened them and headed for the hatch. Niceties like combed hair and brushed teeth could wait, if the captain wanted to see him now.
Three minutes later, Fargo approached the bridge hatch and watched it dilate as he stepped quickly through, “You wanted to see me, Captain?”
Captain Jace glanced at Fargo and motioned him to the jump seat to his left, “Yes I did Captain. What would be your response if you knew we were about to be attacked by pirates, or brigands, or Traders?”
Scanning around the bridge, Fargo didn’t see anyone but Captain Jace and Evie, and nothing screaming red or any blaring alarms, “Uh, depends on capability. And size. And options… Can we run? Maybe outrun them? Shit, I don’t know. I’m a ground pounder, not a space…”
Captain Jace turned to face him, “So if you had those answers, would you fight?”
Fargo scrubbed his face, “Oh hell yes. Anything is better than dying on our knees.”
Captain Jace turned back, “The captain agrees, we fight.” Suddenly the bridge screens transformed, with feeds showing an older destroyer with one missile door open, and weapons availability popped onto another screen as disembodied voices sounded on the bridge.
“Sensors, remote feed indicates Dumont class destroyer GP Epsilon. Last in service 2804. Struck from rolls in 2815. Last known at breaker’s yard, Arcturus. EMCON at this time.”
A second voice said, “Tracking. Target estimated 1,500,000 miles. No indication of shields at this time.”
Captain Jace replied, “Weaps, authorized, prep exciter. Standby for deployment.”
A third voice said, “Weapons tight, available weapons VM-133 medium range missiles, bays 3 and 4, passive tracking initialized. Counter missile battery spinning up, tubes 1 and 3. Dorsal needle lasers up and up, internal power only, stowed. Request power shift to prep exciter.”
“Comms. Demand message from target, six second delay. Screen?”
Captain Jace replied, “Main screen.”
The main screen lit with a head and shoulders shot of a grizzled captain with a backdrop of the Galactic Patrol appeared.
The captain said, “Unknown ship, this is GalPat Destroyer Guernsey. You are ordered to cut power, coast, drop all shields, and standby for boarding inspection. Failure to follow these directions will force us to fire on you.”
Captain Jace said, “Comms, record for outgoing, character five. Break. Captain this is Nuevo Frisco out of Altair Four. You should be copying out beacon. We are a Galactic Consortium member, why are we being stopped? We will protest this. Break. Send it.”
Fargo’s jaw dropped as he saw what appeared to be an old man in a fragile voice standing in front of a shabby logo deliver the captain’s message over tight beam. Captain Jace turned to him, “Target is about one point one million miles out. My intent is to fire when he reaches half a million miles, which should be in… twenty-four minutes at max closure rate.”
Fargo asked, “But how… What… How do you know what is following us? What is this ship?”
Captain Jace’s feral grin was followed by a distinctly predatory look as he scanned the screens. “We were followed through the last transit point. This area is, so called dead space, with no habitable planets in this region. We dropped a recon drone a hours after we cleared the boundary, and that’s what you see on screen one. It’s an FTL unit, so we’re getting real time updates. It’s tail chasing now, in the destroyer’s baffles. The data base we accessed is the GalPat database, and it’s up to date. Guernsey exists, but she’s in the yards at Earth four. Weapons? Yes, we have a few. We have limited offensive and defensive capability.”
“You still haven’t said what this ship is.”
“Simply put, we don’t exist. We can be anything we want to be, outside of a direct visual scan.”
Fargo’s mind whirled, and he wondered what in hell was going on. “You don’t exist? Then what the hell am I standing on or rather sitting on? You’re not making… sense…”
Captain Jace turned to face Fargo again, “Hyderabad doesn’t ring a bell does it?”
Mystified Fargo shook his head, “No, should it?”
Captain Jace replied, “Well, if you were a student of Earth’s early naval history, it would, or should. There was only one purpose-built Q-ship built by the British in the First World War, almost a thousand years ago. The Hyderabad. She was a 600-ton vessel, launched in 1917, with a very shallow draft to allow torpedoes to pass under the ship. She was armed with hidden guns and torpedo tubes to allow her to sink German U-boats.”
“So… Wait, you’re a…”
A voice sounded, “Incoming comms, main screen in three.”
The same grizzled captain, now almost smirking popped on screen, “Your decision is a good one, Captain. You have nothing to fear as long as your papers are in order.”
“Answer required?” The phantom voice asked.
“Negative,” Captain Jace replied. Turning to Fargo again, he said, “Before you ask, no GalPat doesn’t know we exist. No, they didn’t approve our mission. But we are the good guys.”
Fargo stewed for a few minutes as the range closed, and he wondered, Have I gone crazy? Jace and Evie seemed to be perfectly content to let this… This apparent pirate close to a range of a half million miles, where they planned to kill it. No questions asked, they are just going to kill it. They aren’t even excited. And I’m the only one… I wonder if they’ve even told the crew… Aren’t they supposed to do something like go to battle stations? What about the passengers?
“Um, Captain, shouldn’t you at least alert the crew and passengers?” Fargo asked.
Captain Jace grinned again, “Oh the crew already knows. The passengers? Well, if we fail to kill this bastard, there will either be twenty minutes to get them off in the pods, probably to be shot out of space, or the Epsilon will just blow us away. Either way, it doesn’t much matter. If we kill it, then the passengers don’t even need to know.”
Fargo shook his head, “But…”
Voice one said, “Sensors acquired passive laser targeting. Up on screen two. Passive track input and gen track now on screen. Four minutes to five hundred thousand mile engagement range,” a disembodied voice said.
Captain Jace said, “Weaps, cleared to deploy dorsal lasers in three minutes thirty seconds.”
Another disembodied voice answered, “Weapons, aye!” Fargo opened his mind to try to figure out what Captain Jace or Evie was thinking, but he didn’t feel or sense anything. Opening further, he felt Nicole up moving around and wondering what was going on. Reaching out further, he could sense some low level emotions among the passengers, but he didn’t sense a single crewmember. Anywhere…
A rising groan raised the hairs on the back of Fargo’s neck, as something in the ship came to life. It thrummed for a few seconds as the pitch rose, then seemed to lock into a rumbling growl. Looking around, Fargo expected some kind of reaction from either Jace or Evie, but neither even seemed to notice. How can they be so calm? Something… Needs… Ah shit. There isn’t anything that can be done. How do the spacers deal with this? Not knowing… Or knowing and having to wait to see what’s happening.
Two minutes later a red countdown window popped up on the tracking screen, along with what Fargo recognized as targeting data that seemed to be constantly refining. “Weaps, status?” Snapped Captain Jace.
What Fargo was now thinking of as voice three replied, “Exciters preloaded, super caps ready, power shunt standing by to deliver required power.”
As the countdown reached thirty seconds, screen three switched to external views in split screen and showed upper and lower panels opening and what must be lasers extending outside the hull.
Captain Jace said calmly, “Weaps, it’s all yours fire at will, target open missile tube forward.”
As the countdown hit zero, the voice said, “Lasers firing.” Fargo heard a groaning sound increase in pitch, rising to nearly a scream, as the mechanical voice continued, “9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Cease fire.” There was a ‘ting’ and the loud noises stopped almost immediately, as Fargo sat mystified at what he’d witnessed.
“Did the work? I mean did… I didn’t see any pulses.”
Distracted, Captain Jace said, “Standby.” Staring intently at screen two, as it blossomed into a flash he suddenly roared, “Yes! Got that bastard!” Fargo looked up in time to see the tracker going from red to white.
Jace said conversationally, “Needle beam lasers. They spread over distance, but even with that they were less than nine inches in diameter. Both of them hitting the warhead at megajoule power was enough to heat it and set it off before they could react. Stupid captains drop their shields early, because they have to be down to fire. We knew the shields were down, so we took advantage of it.”
He saw the lasers retracting on the adjacent display, and what he guessed were armored hatches closing over them. Suddenly, all the screens blinked back to normal for an unarmed merchant ship.
Evie commented, “Thirty-eight minutes behind, Captain. Permission to push it up to make the next jump point on time.”
Captain Jace leaned back comfortably, “Do it.”
Fargo looked between them in amazement, “What about the, maybe… Survivors of that ship? Shouldn’t you report this to GalPat?”
Captain Jace spun his chair, “There weren’t any survivors. Epsilon is now dust in the wind, so to speak. And it will be reported, just not right now. We’ll take care of that at Star Center.”
Captain Jace hit a button on his command chair and broadcast over the IC, “Sorry about that noise folks. We had a bit of an issue with one of the power plants. It’s currently off line and being repaired. We will make up the time lost and hit our jump point on time. Thank you.”