Per Aspera, Ad Astra (Chapter 08)


Chapter Eight: PIRATES!

While David was out retrieving her ship, Moira had taken the opportunity to explore the Knight. With Mitch offering brief explanations of what she was looking at, she’d been to the forward general purpose room, a combination theater/lounge/assembly point for evacuees, the galley, washrooms, and sleeping area. That area was currently rigged up like a barracks, but could be reconfigured into individual sleeping compartments along a central corridor as well. It really made an impression just how *fast* manned FTL craft had developed since she’d been asleep.

Moore’s Laws has nothing on this! We came this far in only five years!?

One portion of the ship’s design she’d found interesting was that all habitable compartments ran down the center of the ship, versus the sides. Between the outer hull, its armor, and the inner pressure hull, she’d figured that would be enough, but according to the MI, the decision to have dual corridors with smaller cross passages at several points was based on current warship design philosophy.

The intent was to make large ships better able to survive hits from explosive or even basic kinetic weapons. To do this, most of the interior volume, save for a few critical areas, was fully depressurized during combat operations. It made for a heavier, more complex design, but increased survivability nearly sevenfold. The benefit of reducing heat bloom from energy weapons was another plus, but this was tempered with the fact that areas that got hot tended to stay hot for longer in vacuum.

Guess the whole issue with Pirates is a bit bigger than anyone’s willing to admit…

After selecting a space at the forward end of the sleeping area, she’d gotten Mitch to show her where the compartment segments were stored, and had assembled a cozy space for herself, complete with cot, side table, and hooks for her suit and undersuit. She’d been contemplating grabbing a shower when a klaxon sounded. Then Mitch’s voice sounded from the nearest speaker: “Miss Moira, it is imperative that you secure yourself at the nearest duty station immediately.”

“What’s going on?” she asked, as she hurried to deploy the acceleration couch that folded out from her compartment’s wall.

“On second thought, follow the blinking lights. It is not ideal, but I’ll do better with an organic set of eyes on this as well.”

Wonder what’s going on? Well, if the MI thinks I can be useful, I’d better get going…

Hidden laser projectors along the upper wall edges produced a glowing red arrow on the floor, and as soon as she moved to follow, it took the lead. In moments, Moira found herself at the main lift, and boarded. It shot up only one deck, before opening onto the command deck. The space was like the command spaces on her Icarus… but a bit larger.

The command couch with integrated controls was front and center to a floor-to-ceiling video display, just like on her own ship. But to either side, there were several other monitors, and even a set of analog gauges at what had to be an engineering station on the portside wall. The rest of that station, and the station on the wall opposite had multifunction displays, and probably could show many things. Another thing that was different was the tracks in the floor. It seemed the command chair could move between stations even while under maneuvers.

While she took all this in, a second chair, complete with controls, slid out of a compartment next to the lift, and traveled along the tracks to a spot in front of the starboard MFDs.

“Please strap yourself in. I will set the displays for external cameras, and communications.”

As she did so, Mitch brought her up to speed. “There is an incoming cometary debris field. It will arrive in approximately ten minutes. David and the Icarus will be aboard in five minutes. I will handle debris mitigation, but I would appreciate a second opinion on its pattern.”

Now the display showed the approximate shape and distribution of the incoming objects. “Mitch, that’s far too densely packed for even a broken-up comet nucleus… It’s almost like…”

“Precisely as I feared, Miss Moira. It seems someone doesn’t want you coming home with us.”

Now I’m glad I took those optional SpaWar courses…

There were mechanical whining sounds coming through the hull now, as well as the hissing of thrusters, as Mitch brought David and the Icarus aboard, and closed up the hull. At the same time, the pulse cannons deployed, and began thudding away at the incoming swarm. Moira took the time to get close up camera angles on the oncoming debris as it glinted in the lights Mitch had aimed in that direction.

Wait… Is that?

“Mitch, I see something!”

“Please specify grid sector.” As the MI finished speaking, the camera view Moira was looking at was overlaid with a grid pattern.

“Section… fourteen H!”

The corresponding section zoomed in, and the view became clearer. The glint of something metallic, haloed by puffs of escaping vapor, became visible. “I see it. It appears to be some form of reconnaissance or observation drone.”

“So whomever threw those rocks at us wanted to see if they’d even hit?”


At that moment, David rushed onto the bridge. As he took his seat in the command chair, Moira could hear Mitch faintly bringing him up to speed via his suit’s speakers, while a whiff of sweat passed by her nose. The human had been working hard, but it seemed their day was far from over.

After taking a seat, the human brought up the Knight’s manual controls, pivoted the ship away from where the swarm had come from, and engaged the main engines. They moved off towards the source of the attack on an oblique angle, working to screw up any follow-on targeting by changing their vector. As they did so, there was the tone for an incoming transmission. Raising an eyebrow, David first queried the MI.

“Mitch, any clues on the identity of our callers?”

“Unknown at this time. However, I suspect they are the individuals who launched the initial attack. Shall I begin track-and-trace?”

“Do it.”

With that, the human steeled himself, and answered the hail. “This is the DSRV Richard T. Knight, may I ask who’s calling?”

“What you can do is cut your engines, and heave to! This here’s our territory, an if you plan to take anything from it, you gotta pay!” The belligerent on the other end hadn’t bothered to include video, but David could tell that it had to be one of the more aggressive mamono races.

“The codes of both spacefarers, and the SRS include the obligation to render aid to any vessel in distress regardless of race or nationality, as well as the obligation to actively combat all forms of space piracy,” David began. “Are you admitting to the attempt to disable my ship just now?”

“And we’d have gotten you too if’n ya hadn’t been so damn overequipped! Now yer gonna see the full might of the Red Claw!” With that, the transmission abruptly cut off, and the speakers squealed with wide area jamming before Mitch cut the feed.

“Well, that was rude…” Moira said into the awkward silence.

“Get ready,” David replied tersely, “The Red Claw, or those claiming to part of that group, are notorious for hitting large vessels on the assumption that they always carry something valuable. And they don’t discriminate either. Cargo, military, SRS, if it’s big and looks expensive, they’ll hit it.”

“They don’t seem terribly bright…”

“They’re confirmed responsible for the loss of at least twelve vessels in this area over the past year. No one’s been able to locate their base either.”

“Until now,” Mitch broke in. “Captain, I have located a thermal bloom indicative of active combat at bearing four-two, mark seven. It is highly likely this is the Sphinx. Shall we assist?”

“Let’s. Also, send a signal to the nearest Patrol group using the Ansible. The Red Claw can’t jam it, and the patrollers should be able to home in on the jamming source.”

“Acknowledged. Also, there are two thermal blooms on an intercept with our current trajectory. Analysis suggests they are similar in mass to the Sphinx, and are at full boost.”

Turning options rapidly over in his mind, the Captain made his decision. “I know it’s a lot, but feel like coming on a rescue mission? We came here with another ship, and they may be in trouble,” David explained to Moira.

“How could I refuse? If there’s anything I can help with, just tell me.”

“You can assist us with additional visual and sensor analysis, Miss Moira,” Mitch assured.

“All right,” David said briskly, snapping his helmet shut and issuing orders over the external speakers. “Mitch, depressurize all nonessential compartments, Moira, helmet on, please. Charging the drive coils, and setting coordinates. Prepare for gravity combat.”


“Commander, we can’t take much more of this!” Jill called from her station, as the Sphinx rocked under another impact. “Armor reinforcement’s down to twenty percent!”

The Sphinx had narrowly avoided an ambush by two vessels similar to their own in terms of mass. They had been hiding behind a couple of suspiciously warm comet nuclei, and had burned hard for them as soon as the mercenary vessel had gotten within a few thousand kilometers. For the past few hours, the six-person crew of the Sphinx had fought hard, managing to disable one attacker by burning through her hull and venting her atmosphere. From the scant readings they’d gotten, it seemed the crew had not depressurized before engaging them…

The vessels used a pair of CO2 lasers, and several railguns in the twenty-centimeter class, but seemed to lack many guided missiles. But their hulls were surprisingly tough, and the duration of the battle was beginning to wear on the crew.

“Commander, we just lost the iodine regulator on COIL number three!” June, their only human crewmate called from the weapons section. She was grateful for her vac suit, as she wrestled an emergency valve closed amid swirling clouds of purple iodine gas. “It’ll take me two minutes to swap in a spare!”

“This jamming isn’t letting up!” Mindy called from her station. “But I have a gravity distortion heading right for us. Laser transmission incoming… It’s the Knight!”

“’Bout time!” Serena grunted, while Tara hurled the Sphinx into another series of gyrations. The two dragons worked well together, their skill and accuracy a deadly combination.

“There’s two more raiders on his tail, but if we switch opponents, we can cover for one another!” Mindy called. The kakuen was practically standing on her chair in excitement, as all eyes turned to the viewscreen and sensors.

“Commander, regulator’s replaced, and I’ve flushed the lines. You have all four lasers.” June called.

“Excellent,” the griffon said sternly. “Let us bring this to a close.”

In seconds, the Knight and Sphinx had entered visual range, before flashing past in opposite directions. Mitch had deployed the DSRVs entire arsenal, and released a salvo of missiles on the Sphinx’s remaining attacker. The raider blew apart in a shower of fiery explosions, as multiple missiles punched into its hull, and ignited the atmosphere within. The massive vessel then flipped end-over-end, and pulsed both its drive coils and main engines to kill momentum, before burning hard for her own pursuers.

The two raiders dogging the Knight hadn’t expected their prey to be able to move quite that fast, and had burned hard to catch up, meaning the lead vessel didn’t see the storm of laser and coilgun fire that ripped it apart. The mercenary vessel switched her lasers to fire rearwards, and melted the trailing raider’s drive bell, causing the craft to veer wildly, before its engine section exploded.

Now all that remained was the source of the jamming…

“Mindy, send a laser pulse to the Knight. Inform them of where we think the jamming’s coming from.”

“Aye, Commander. They’ve acknowledged, and are merging our data with theirs.”

As their helmswyvern brought the Sphinx alongside few hundred yards abeam of the Knight, the DSRV deployed her railgun, and fired. The shot was quickly lost in the surrounding darkness, until a faint light bloomed in the far darkness, and the jamming abruptly ceased.

“Incoming transmission, Commander.”

On-screen, the human they’d met a little over a day ago was now accompanied by…

“Captain, I see you’ve accomplished your mission.”

“Likewise, Commander. How long were you in combat? Are there any repairs we can assist you with?”

“If you could supply us with some parts such as gas flow regulators, and some metal stock, we’d appreciate it.”

“Absolutely, and thank you for the data on where that jammer was located.” Now, the human turned to the side, and murmured something the griffon didn’t quite catch, but she saw the skeleton glance between him and the screen, before shrugging, and looking slightly embarrassed.

“Commander Tharsk,” David stated formally. “May I present Pilot Moira Brooks of the XFV Icarus.”

At that, the individual in question dipped her head, and spoke softly. “Thank you for accompanying the Captain here in coming to find me. I’m grateful it was the two of you and your ships, rather than…” She gestured vaguely, but everyone understood what she meant. “So… Thanks.”

“You’re most welcome.” The griffon replied formally. “On behalf of myself and my crew, we’d like to thank you as well. For showing that not only was it possible for living beings to travel faster than the speed of light, but for serving as an inspiration for all of us who make our homes out here among the stars.”


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