Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Something, cont.

"As of 2200 one week ago, a fleet of Gith warships jumped insystem," the admiral declared, gesturing with the pointer he held in his hand. The map circled the corresponding area, around the outermost planet of the system, a gas giant. "Our analysts have calculated their most probable route: a slingshot manuever around Five to build an sunward velocity, a close approach with Three to resupply and modify their vector, and then straight to Four. Here."

"If they make it to the colony on Four, they will have the capability to destroy every human being there from orbit, even without defeating our forces. We will have no choice but to surrender. So we must intercept them."

"Our plan is to send the fleet to Three and engage them at close range; less than a light-second. The engagement will continue until the enemy is destroyed."

"We have no information on enemy force composition: our only warning was the jumpflash. Local orbit telescopes will hunt for more information as you travel, but for the moment, you'll be going out blind. Any more information we gain will be sent by laser."

"Good luck. I'll see you again in two years, if all goes well."

Twenty-four colonial warships left Four's orbit, each laden with two huge solid-fuel tanks. These they jettisoned en route, looping in a lazy, six-month-long arc toward Three. The crewmen were kept quite busy - in drills, training, and hunting, scouring the stars along the enemy's projected trajectory for any sign of the foe. None came; but space was vast, and ships were tiny. The colonials were content to wait - though increasingly nervous, as the time came nearer for battle.

Messages came from the colony. Some were routine - mail, sporting events, politics. Others were not.

The first news of import came some days after the ships left. A titanic burst of light had been observed from behind one of Five's moons. It seemed likely that it was either the result of tremendous incompetence, or designed to hurl some-thing directly at the colony. A few days later, the conclusion came: the latter. Multiple asteroids had been spotted inbound for the main colony, propelled by the blast. More were projected; the telescopes that had been hunting for the enemy fleet were reassigned. The colonial fleet would have to find its foes on its own.

More news came through some months later, most of the way through the colonial fleet's voyage. An amateur astronomer had, through blind luck and extreme determination, found sign of enemy warvessels on the projected course. No more than a speck - but it was a speck where it shouldn't have been, and on multiple observations. The Gith were coming on the projected vector - which meant the colonial warfleet was in the right place. Preparations redoubled.

The battle began with the sighting of a Gith warship by a colonial vessel, at a light-second and a half out. Fleetcom was notified; in complex synchronization, the warfleet turned to present its side to the sighted Githship, burning it apart with forty-eight laser beams. It was a good omen.

Then two colonial warships blew up within seconds of each-other. Passive sensors suggested that they'd been hit by homing warheads. The Gith had not taken their losses passively.

With any element of surprise lost, both sides went to active radar. The vast volume around the two fleets was filled with radar waves bouncing and interfering, requiring the colonial fleet to dedicate most of its onboard computers to sorting the mess. Ships moved in sudden, jerky bursts, trying to evade shots aimed at a three-second old vector. But while the colonials' lasers either missed or hit (and far more likely hit), the Gith missiles compensated on the fly. The colonials had far the worst of the exchange; and, after a long, painful four hours that had seen a quarter of the colonial fleet turned into scrap, the fleet commander ordered a closer approach.

At half a light-second - a distance far larger than the diameter of the Earth - the battle intensified. A colonial vessel took a close hit, losing the front half of its hull. Compartmentalization, as designed, kept it from losing the rest. Another Gith vessel was crippled by laser-fire, dodging not quite far enough.

Inexplicably, another Githship burst apart in a shower of silent flames, without being fired on by a colonial vessel. The fleet admiral turned to his aide, who was already checking the comm logs. "Orbital lasers have started firing," the aide told him a moment later. "They're working off our telemetry."

"They're light-hours away," the fleet admiral said. "Pure luck that they hit even once. This battle isn't over yet."

Though vastly further away, the beam defenses around Four were tremendously more powerful than the colonial war-fleet, allowing them to fire more frequently and in a larger area, somewhat compensating for the distance. Over the next four hours, another five Gith ships were shattered by the colonial lasers, two of them by those around Four. The Gith took their toll on the colonials, damaging or destroying two colonial warships for every one the Gith lost. But their lasers were less powerful, and the colonials grew better and better at detecting and destroying the Gith missiles. Eight and a half hours into the battle, the fleet admiral summarized to his aide: "We've taken terrible losses, but unless we have very bad luck, or a Gith fleet drops out of stealth and attacks in the next two hours, we've won."

Apparently the Gith fleet commander felt similarly. Less than five minutes later, the colonial fleet saw rifts in space open ahead of the enemy fleet. "They're fleeing!" the admiral barked. "Close with the enemy, track them and fire as they enter the rifts!" The colonial fleet closed in, burning fuel recklessly to get the best shots possible. The Admiral's ship, foregoing defensive maneuvering to close more quickly, was hit by a well-aimed Gith laser; annihilating the bridge, it miraculously spared most of the ship. The Gith took the worst of the exchange; half their fleet failed to escape through the rifts. And as the rifts closed behind the last Gith escapees, a colonial ship, without orders, followed, darting through on full thrust less than a minute before the rift closed.

Theirs is a story to remember: but here, as the colonial fleet (beheaded in a stroke at the moment of victory), half in ruins, recoalesces ten hours out of Three, that we end our tale: in triumph.

(You may, or may not, recall this post. It was an illustration of a Gith warvessel; the blue ring is a combination fueling mechanism/laser array.)

(Also, the new image was made using no less than three image-editing programs.)


King Kessler said...

MS Paint, ArtRage, and The Gimp?

Also, nice foreshadowing!
(and yknow story)

MiniGeckoGlyder said...

That's pretty freakin' awesome. I love this sort of space-age story (you should see the one I'm working on).