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Raising Caine: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Friday, July 24, 2015 20:48 EDT



In close orbit; V 1581 Four

    “Results?” demanded Nezdeh, glancing at Sehtrek.

    “UV laser blisters one and two have eliminated Arbitrage’s facing point defense fire batteries. Marginal damage to surrounding structures of the command section.”

    “Was the bridge hit?” Nezdeh’s tone was sharp. As she’d intended.

    “N-no…Srina Perekmeres,” Sehtrek assured her hurriedly.

    Tegrese hovered eagerly over her weapons panels. “If the Aboriginals tumbled their ship, they could bring their navigational laser to bear. Is it advisable for us to—?”

    “We will need the Arbitrage’s nav laser ourselves. Besides, it bears upon too limited an arc to be of any danger to us. It is designed to engage targets at ranges of multiple light seconds, but also within a very narrow forward cone. What of Arbitrage’s communications arrays?”

    “Both primary and auxiliary arrays have been eliminated by blisters three and four. Blisters five and six remain ready in PDF mode.”

    “Excellent. Time to intercept?”

    “Eight minutes, Nezdeh. We will be tumbling for four-gee counterboost in ninety seconds.”

    “Understood. Pass the word. Sehtrek, get me a magnified image of the Aboriginal ship.”

    A highly detailed 2-d visual of the Arbitrage replaced the navigational view. Nezdeh sought, and saw, the damage inflicted by her lasers. As she inspected the enemy’s wounded hull, she peripherally noticed activity at the head of the cargo cradles, where the two tanker-tenders were moored and several conventional cargo modules were secured. “Sehtrek, I cannot tell what the Aboriginals are endeavoring to accomplish near their cargo modules. What do the sensors tell you?”

    “Several things, Srina Perekmeres. The most obvious is that they seem to be attempting to resolve some sort of malfunction involving the first tanker-tender transfer umbilicus and its connection to the fuel intake port.”

    “You are sure this is a malfunction, not the opening gambit of some defensive ploy?”

    “I see no evidence of the latter, Srina.”

    “Very well. It also appears that there is some reconfiguration occurring near one of the wedge-shaped cargo modules just forward of the main tanks.”

    “Yes, Srina Perekmeres. I believe they are attempting to open one of the cargo modules presently, but are encountering difficulties. However, I suspect—”

    “Yes, it is almost certainly a weapons pod of some kind.” Nezdeh leaned back, rubbed her chin, measured the benefits and risks of the alternatives for addressing this new challenge. Destroying the cargo pod before it opened was simplicity itself: two of her UV laser blisters could reduce it to glowing tatters and strips of metal and composites. But any weapons inside the module—indeed any and all assets onboard the Arbitrage—were worth their weight in gold to a small, independent, and desperate group such as hers. Perhaps, if they were careful enough…

    No. I cannot risk it. “Blisters one and two, target the opening cargo pod. Fire until it is destroyed. Keep your aimpoint away from the keel and adjoining pods and structures.”

    Tegrese muttered, “Yes, Nezdeh,” even as she worked to follow her orders.

    On the screen, the weapons module flew apart as if being savaged by an invisible flail. A moment later, two bright flashes obscured the view of the Arbitrage, and, fading, revealed that significant damage had been done to two nearby cargo modules, as well as the already struggling tanker, which had now been half torn out of its docking cradle and was floating at an acute angle relative to the keel.

    “Nezdeh,” began Tegrese carefully, “I—”

    “It was no fault of yours,” Nezdeh interrupted. “The damage was caused by the secondary explosions from the weapons the Aboriginals had stored in that module. It was a risk, but one we had to take. Lurker is too small to be safe from even such rudimentary drones and missiles as Earth produces. If our PDF arrays had failed to intercept any one of those munitions—” Nezdeh left the comment uncompleted: the Red Lurker might enjoy many extraordinary technological advantages over her immense, lumbering foe, but this much was true: size was a value unto itself. More specifically, Arbitrage was large enough to carry munitions so powerful that even a near miss could cripple a small hull such as the Ktoran patrol hunter. Even when fighting hobbled kine, one must still avoid the horns.

    Sehtrek’s tone was perplexed. “Srina Perekmeres, the Aboriginals’ active sensor array is gimballing away from us.”

    Nezdeh stared, thought, smiled when she realized what the Aboriginals were attempting. They are clever, not readily cowed or dismayed. One day, their genelines will refresh ours most productively. “Tegrese, eliminate their primary and auxiliary arrays, immediately.”

    “As you order, Nezdeh.” She complied without a pause, realigning her weapons. “But what are they attempting?”

    “They mean to use their active sensors to send messages. It is a crude broadcast signal, at best, but, pulsed, they could send a simple report in their species’ distress code.” As she watched, two of the long, narrow masts of the Arbitrage’s dispersed array shuddered, then almost jumped away from the shift-carrier as if an invisible scythe had severed them. “Maintain fire until their systems are eliminated.”

    “Yes, Nezdeh. The Aboriginal ship is slightly faster than we anticipated, more responsive to her attitude and plasma thrusters.”

    “That is to be expected. The Arbitrage has only completed half of her refueling requirements. She has less mass to push than when she’s fully loaded.”

    Tegrese glanced up. “What shall we do with the Aboriginals themselves?”

    “That will be determined by their reactions to us. Ulpreln, prepare for terminal intercept.” Nezdeh secured her straps: four gees of counter-thrust was nothing about which to be cavalier.

    “What do you mean, ‘how they react to us’? We are dominant!” Tegrese held tightly to her gunnery console as Ulpreln slowly tumbled Lurker so that her engines now pointed at Arbitrage, the correct position for terminal braking.

    “Tegrese, except for a few of the Aboriginals’ leaders, they all believe our charade: that the Ktor are a nonhumanoid species indigenous to some frigid world, with body chemistries based on ammonia or hydrogen fluoride. Once we have boarded them, and they quickly discern that we know little of Earth, they will just as quickly conjecture that we must either be the Ktor or their servants—which, for all intents and purposes, has the same effect upon our charade: it will be over. At that moment, their fates are bound to ours, for they may not return to their own kind to tell our secret. Ulpreln, attend the mission clock: commence our counterboost as scheduled.”

    Three seconds later, Ulpreln engaged the thrusters once again; the counter-acceleration crushed Nezdeh back into her couch.



    Jorge Velho released his white-knuckle grasp on the arms of his command couch. “They’ve destroyed both arrays?”

    “Yes, sir.” Ayana Tagawa’s reply was eerily calm.

    “Probably because they realized that we meant to try signaling with them. As you feared.”

    She half turned, so that their eyes could meet. “Sir, I meant no disrespect or criticism with that warning. Despite the risks, it was the only reasonable course left to you. Many civilian commanders would not have conceived of it.”

    Velho noticed the slight emphasis she put on the word civilian. Why would she even phrase her comment with that adjective, unless her dossier was somehow incomplete—?

    But there was no time to pursue that thought; the attackers were not wasting time. “The intruder has tumbled and is counter-boosting.” Ayana paused, checking her data. “At four gees.”

    Piet glanced up at the navplot, assessing. “They’re going to shoot past us.”

    “Why do you say that?” asked Jorge, who had piloting credentials but nothing like his helmsman’s experienced, instinctive surety.

    “Because unless they mean to maintain that counterboost right up until they kiss our hull, they won’t have killed all their forward momentum, relative to making an intercept.”

    Ayana stared at the plot. “But that is exactly what they mean to do. Look at their telemetry: at their current rate of relative deceleration, they are going to match our vector and achieve an approach velocity of zero at exactly twenty-one meters from Arbitrage. And they are making for a logical boarding point: the EVA hatches in the lading and remote engineering sections, just forward of the tanker cradles and cargo racks.”

    Piet shook his head. “That’s madness. No one can take four gees of sustained deceleration and then be ready to un-ass their couches and conduct an assault. One or the other maybe, but not both.”

    “And yet,” Ayana pointed out calmly, “there is no other explanation for the intruder’s course of action. They mean to board us.”

    Velho accepted that the impossible was becoming the inevitable, and sought for a way to reverse that trend. “Piet, give me full portside roll from the emergency attitude control system.”

    Ayana looked around with a smile. “Excellent, sir. They will not be able to dock with a rolling ship, not until they have re-matched relative vectors. That will delay them considerably. And using the compressed gas of the emergency ACS will not give them a ready thermal target, as would the plasma thrusters.”

    Jorge smiled, but feared the expression was as crooked as he felt. “That’s the idea. Now, let’s see if it works. In the meantime, get me an updated damage report, and get Kozakowski back on the bridge.”



    “Srina Pere—Perekmeres,” Sehtrek grunted out past the lung compression of the sustained four-gee counterthrust.

    Impressive; not many low-bred, even Intendants, have that much willpower. “No need to speak,” Nezdeh said with considerably less effort. “I see it. A faint roll in the target. Tegrese, thrust signatures?”

    “No new thermal signature,” she replied.

    So. The Aboriginals are not using their heavy plasma thrusters, then. Which logically meant compressed gas thrusters. “Sehtrek, give me a particulate density scan of the space immediately proximal to Arbitrage.”

    “Plumes of p-parti-ticles on the port side—”

    “Track those plumes back to the hull of Arbitrage. Relay those coordinates to Tegrese. As soon as you have them, Tegrese, fire one UV laser blister at each.”

    Sehtrek gasped out, “Relaying.”

    Tegrese nodded. “Firing.”

    “Report,” Nezdeh demanded as, at three points along its port side, the Aboriginal craft spat out showers of violently spinning debris.

    Sehtrek coughed. “Plumes dissipating. No new particulate emissions from compressed gas thrusters.”

    “Roll rate of target?”

    “One tenth of an RPM.”


    “Commencing correction.” Lurker bucked slightly as a new, inward-spiraling vector was added to her course.

    “Time to intercept?”

    “Revised ETA is five minutes.”

    Nezdeh toggled her beltcomm. “Brenlor?”


    “Stand by for boarding. In five minutes, the rehabilitation of our House begins in earnest.”

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