Third Chapter WIP for 'Invisible Enemy'

[Updated January 23, 2018]

Continuation from Chapter 2.

Everything written is subject to change, even the names. Feel free to comment here or on Facebook.

Chapter 3

UCNS Venger

“Conn, sensors, ASDIN detect, bearing three three four point seven, declination five point five,” Basan reported over the intercom.

Kowan checked the fusion display, but she rechecked calculations in her head. ASDIN passive gave no range and tachyon streams did not help though the strength of the signal gave them an approximation. In the vastness of space that counted. Venger was running fast, staying within tolerable human limits to adjust trajectory and meet the opponent before they passed inside the Jovian.

“Range point seven to two point four AU,” Kowan reported. Was it possible she was going as fast as Jolly Rogers said?

“And if she’s on the straight and narrow?” Rogers asked.

“Point nine AU.”

“Just out of range.” That wasn’t true. Torpedo range depended on a probability of detect and a certain amount of re-detect as the contact maneuvered to avoid. But it was a good thumb rule. The closer in they were, the better chance they had.

“We'd push the mains to catch her, but we’d rocket past if she changed course,” Kowan suggested.

“Let’s get a reasonable solution and adjust our intercept track. We need point two AU for the Betties.” Rogers glanced at Kowan and back to the fusion display.

Kowan knew the main engines weren’t a problem. It was the human crew. The average human withstood an average of five times standard gravity before blacking out. They were in their spacesuits now, which sustain them for up to nine G’s. For safety concerns, the main engines would not provide over five G’s of prolonged acceleration. Combat maneuvering was a different matter, and that’s where the suits mattered most. Rogers, and the Venger counted on the enemy being in N-Space, which meant they were not accelerating. They were already at a reasonable speed when entering the system. That meant they had a long acceleration arc before coming into compression space. That raised a lot of questions that Kowan couldn't answer at this moment. The Venger would catch her. It was a matter of getting within torpedo range either while she was in real space or the much closer range if they were in N-Space. The latter was preferable, and Venger hoped to gain close the distance before they dropped out of N-Space. Combat was hours and hours of boredom sprinkled with a few seconds of sheer terror, to paraphrase an ancient Earth aviator.

The faint tachyon stream gave them a passable solution, and, as Rogers guessed, the enemy sub was rocketing at high velocity toward Jovian orbit. They wouldn’t be able to catch her before she was inside its orbit. Her track followed where they suspected - the shipyard. At least for now. It could be a feint, and subs were capable of any change to their orbital track. They would have to bleed a hell of a lot of speed to slow.

Kowan watched her captain stare at the fusion display, then at the torpedoes. She knew he considered what was possible at this range, including a preemptive torpedo launch. She read Jolly’s mind even if she didn’t see his motivations. Amber Kowan had been assigned to Venger for a year now, and had been more than an asset to the man the crew called Jolly Rogers, who’d been captain of the Venger for only two months before Kowan reported aboard, but had heard all about his daring attack on Tau Ceti Supply Depot. The bold stroke landed Venger in refit months later when the compression core failed and they had to be tugged to Rigel B shipyard. She trusted his judgment if not his daring. She rubbed her palms. Hours of boredom. She’d lost count how many times she scoured the ship systems, checking items that the automated systems reported already and running diagnostics.

“Conn, Sensors, loss of tachyon stream, conducting bearing/declination sweep,” Basan reported.

“Possible aspect change,” Lieutenant Jim Powell, the ship’s navigator and battle watch officer, said.

“Do you think so?” Kowan asked, beating Rogers to the punch.

“They dropped out of N-Space,” Powell said after a moment.

Rogers nodded. “Ready tubes three and four.”

“Less than fifty percent acquisition at this range, sir,” Powell reminded him.

Kowan regarded the skipper. What was he thinking? Let them know we’re here? See how they respond? Or surprise them? Put them on the defensive, make them react, and do something Venger can respond to. The lights were on her panel. “Real space torpedoes ready,” she reported. “Solution ready.” The fusion display bloomed with growing uncertainty.

“Shoot tubes three and four,” Rogers ordered and fired. The ship, under heavy acceleration, felt little reaction to the mass change as the two torpedoes launched into space and sped away.

“Sensors, conn, maximum optics. If she’s out there, we might see her. Train everything you’ve got on her,” Rogers said.

“Conn, Sensors, aye,” Basan replied. “Recommend drone launch.”

“Good call, Sensors. Pilot all stop. XO, launch a search drone and see how this can help us.”

Kowan made the checks. Venger was given drones in her last refit. All Venom class corvettes had them, but the Anvils needed a retrofitting. There was a design exception made to Venger’s hull. The outer doors that stowed the drones was incapable of being opened under acceleration. The mains stopped for a moment and the heavy drag of propulsion made her light and airy. It was illusory and after a long burn it felt good to get the weight of Venger off her chest. She launched the drone. “Drone away.”

“All ahead full,” Rogers ordered the Pilot who accelerated again, and the crew was crushed into their suits and crash couches again.

“Waste of fish,” Powell muttered.

“Stow that shit,” Kowan said. Powell was angry that she’d questioned his analysis, but rather than lash out against her, he questioned the captain. She was having none of it. She watched the torpedo telemetry as they reached the sub’s region of space. There was a red dead reckoning trace where Venger was arcing to intercept, a green line. The drone, much slower, but moved ahead of Venger. She brought up the drone’s optics. It swept the area where the sub was supposed to be. Moments ticked by. Then the drone alarmed and veered away. It vanished is a flash of white, then the screen reported ‘CONNECTION LOST’.

“Evasive?” Kowan’s fingers hovered over the controls.

“Belay,” Rogers said. “That was a bit of a surprise and luck on our part. Did we have eyes on the drone?”

“No. We focused on sub search,” Kowan reported. “We’re depending on the drone to report anything.”

Rogers rubbed his chin. “Let’s analyze the data stream from the drone. Spare close-in optics for the debris field as we pass by. Looks like our enemy might have something new for us. Bring optics in for a defensive perimeter.”

“Torpedoes in the search pattern,” Powell reported.

“She knows we’re here now,” Rogers said. “Radio, conn, send a SITREP to Alexandria Shipyard and request message traffic. Inform them we’ve engaged one subspace vessel, class unknown. Provide coordinates.”

Kowan thought it was odd he’s contacting the shipyard while he has two fish engaged in search. The fuel counters on the two torpedoes counted down as they searched for the stealth vessel. Perhaps he believes they won’t gain the sub, she thought.

“Conn, radio, aye. Drafting SITREP now.”

“Report when complete.”

“Pilot hard right rudder!” Rogers barked.

Venger heeled over as the port thrusters pushed hard to turn the ship while the mains continued at full speed. Kowan's vision tunneled and her spacesuit compensated for the high G turn.

“Warning! Close aboard contact,” the automated system reported, and the ship shook, rolled and bucked. Alarms blared.

The G forces abated and Kowan’s vision returned, and she saw that the captain had overridden the pilot controls, placed the rudder amidships, and countered the roll. She breathed hard and worked against the acceleration to review the damage. Some ablative hull loss on after port quarter. “Surface damage, no breach.”

Rogers nodded. “Pilot steer us back on intercept track, veer around the torpedo search space to the other side.”

“Aye, sir,” the pilot said, the ship turning toward a new trajectory.

“Powell? Torpedo status?”

“Still searching. No gain.”

“So it’s my luck against yours,” Rogers said to himself. “Hope mine’s not all used up.”

Kowan turned to Rogers. “Sir, how did you  know to evade? And why didn’t we evade earlier?”

Rogers didn’t take his eyes from the screens. “I thought it was a minefield. If that happens, best to stay within the opening laid by the field. Subs aren’t capable of creating a dense minefield.”

“Conn, sensors, ASDIN gain bearing zero one two, declination five point three,” Basan reported.

“Sensors, conn, confirm,” Rogers said.

“That can’t be right. A sub that drops out of N-Space can’t re-enter for more than a few hours,” Kowan said.

Basan reported, “Conn, Sensors, confirm tachyon stream gain. Steady. Contact has changed course and slowed.”

Kowan ran the display and stacked the data. “She’s shifted course and is heading for the colony now.”

Rogers tapped fingers on his crash couch. “Steady on course. Let’s ease up on the mains. I need coffee and time to think.”

Powell gave the order to the pilot, and the ship resumed its normal point seven G of acceleration. “Stations pause. Galley provide relief and all stations report status.” Rogers got out of his crash couch, looked at the fusion display and then headed to his cabin, lost in thought.

“Has the fight gone out of the old man?” Powell asked after the captain.

Kowan picked up two mugs of coffee and placed on in the captain’s chair and drank. Her body ached from the constant acceleration burn, but her implants were working now to compensate. “No, he’s just working out the problem. I’ve never seen a sub re-enter N-Space so quickly.”

“It’s possible, right?”

“Anything’s possible, but no subspace ship can jump into and out of N-Space at will. Their system needs time to recharge. Something's definitely going on with this sub.”

“Maybe a new modification or hull design?”

Kowan shook her head. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but new ships did not appear without intelligence reporting on it. Ships took months to construct and years for the largest of them. Kowan watched the torpedoes tick down their fuel timers to zero. What had hit her drone? She tapped a button to contact Analysis. “Analysis, XO, do you have the drone data compiled?”

“We’re sweeping the debris field now, but may be some time to determine what may have caused the explosion, other than an… explosive.”

“Astute observation,” Powell muttered.

“Report when you have something,” Kowan said. It was important to re-frame the problem. Analysis could ‘polish the cannonball’ all day and give you a nice product that said nothing of value.

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