“Designing starships with detachable heads can be traced back before the war. Nuclear stardrive ships used the technique to separate living spaces of the starship from those that contained harmful radiation. As starships adopted the safer and more efficient tunnel stardrive engines, they continued to be built with removable head sections. Since the head contained the bridge and valuable data storage areas, it remained a logical design choice.”
– Excerpt from: Starship Design Patterns, by Jarven Lerner
Smoke poured out of the console as the Sokol’s Navigator fell backwards in a smoldering heap. He was burned badly and in terrible pain as a medic came to his aid. The acerbic smoke burned Raider’s eyes and caused everyone on the bridge to cough.
“First Officer, status report please,” Raider said. His voice a calm island in a sea of chaotic noise and confusion.
Sasha climbed back to a standing position and wiped the blood form her forehead. She had been cut by a piece of debris when the ship was rocked by the enemy hit. She studied the panel in front of her, waiting for it to stop spinning enough so she could read it.
“Direct hit to the main stardrive, astern. Engine Room reporting a breach but no fires. Main stardrive off-line, likely destroyed.”
She didn’t mention casualties. Probably because she couldn’t care about that, being a pirate. She looked back to Raider who acknowledged her with a nod.
“Helm, get us moving towards Selene. Follow that damn ship!” Raider said, pointing to the main viewer as the enemy starship slipped past them without firing a shot.
“Sir, we only have thrusters!” Sasha reminded him.
Raider swore something colorful that only he heard. Then he opened a comm channel to the SS Terrington. “Admiral, we are dead in space. Our mains are off-line,” Raider said as soon as he saw Ganner’s face.
“Understood. We’re heading your way with my make-shift fleet,” Ganner replied.
Raider stood up and wiped perspiration from his face. The smoke had stopped but the air was still hot from the fires. He looked around the bridge and swore again. The lights dimmed as emergency generators kicked in.
“Attack them at the neck of their ship. Use kinetic force, their hulls are protected by some sort of magnetic shielding. Energy weapons are useless.”
Ganner nodded. His senior Captain looked like hell, but he had held his own against an obviously superior ship. “Captain, secure your ship. We’ll handle it from here on out.”
Raider didn’t want to give up so easy. He stood taller and pulled his uniform jacket down as if to emphasis his readiness to continue.
“We’re not out of this yet, Admiral. We have thrusters and enough ammunition to fire if we get close enough.”
Ganner looked impressed. “Do what you can Rik, Terrington out.”
Raider glanced over at Sasha, who was staring back at him. Her mouth was fixed in a tight grin, one warrior to another. She may have been a pirate, but she knew a fellow fighter when she saw one. She turned back to her console and tried to find a way to boost their meager speed.
“Captain, I think I have an idea,” she said.
“Let’s hear it.”
Sasha came over to the Captain’s dais and mimicked the ship with her hands. “If we separate the head, come about and use it to push the stern, we could use the head’s drive to boost our speed.”
Raider frowned. “The head would collapse, it’s not strong enough to use as a battering ram.”
“We evacuate the head. Everyone out but the bridge. That gives us a crunch zone,” she said.
Raider looked at her incredulously. “You’re either a bloody genius or the craziest spacer I have ever met.”
“Pirates know no fear.”
Raider looked away and gave the matter some serious thought. His ship was in shambles and he was out of ideas. He looked back at Sasha, her eyes shining. Blood ran down her dark temple. He opened the ship’s intercom.
“Attention the ship, this is the Captain. Evacuate through deck one, forward. I repeat, evacuate through deck one, forward.”
Sasha brushed blood from her face and straightened herself up a bit. Raider gave her an appreciative nod as he started running through the separation checklist.
* * *
Devon and Red were strapped into the shuttle craft on the main launch bay, running through a hurried pre-flight checklist. They were only vaguely aware of what the Captain was going to attempt. The shuttle was full of non-essential personnel that were told to evacuate the ship. The only thing on Devon’s mind was getting into a fighter and getting back into the fray. All she could think about was how many of her friends were now dead because of those aliens. It focused her and drove her with an inner fire that could not be vanquished. Not until she had killed as many of them as they had killed of her friends. Even then, her anger might not be tempered.
“Control this is Easy One, ready for launch,” Red said into his throat mic.
A squawk of the radio answered him followed by the voice of Control. “Copy Easy One, cleared to launch. Curtis Field is awaiting your arrival.”
“Copy, Easy out.”
Red pushed in the throttles and the shuttle started to ease forward. They lifted off and into the black with ease. As they left the gravity well of the ship, Devon could feel the lightness of weightlessness in her gut. They cleared the Sokol’s space and flitted full speed to the big blue orb that was Selene. Devon had not been to the home world of the Federation since before her marriage. She found it an oddly comforting sight. It was not as familiar to her as Prahran, but just as lovely to look at from space.
“Nothing beats coming home,” Red said, motioning to the blue and white orb.
“I know what you mean.”
Their flight path took them well clear of the looming battle in orbit. Devon never once saw the enemy starship or any of the dozen or so freighters encircling it. But she watched them all move slowly into position on their scanner screens. The shuttle zipped past marker satellites and into the upper atmosphere without seeing a single ship in orbit. It was unheard of. The capital planet was normally a buzzing hive of starship activity. But the space lanes were empty and they had no traffic coming into Curtis Field. They touched down near the large hangars that housed the experimental starfighters that Red Allen was normally in charge of testing. The Curtis Field controllers were jubilant to hear his voice again as he requested landing permission. Devon realized at that moment that she was flying with a legend. Only someone with significant pull could just waltz into a restricted spaceport and park wherever he darn well pleased.
The passengers debarked first, as Red and Devon shut down the flight systems. Red pointed out to the vast flight line area where several starfighters were parked.
“See those babies? They call them Trogens. Best damn fighter I’ve ever flown. I’ve had them fueled and armed for us, you game?”
Devon flashed her, ‘Hells yes I’m ready to fly a shiny new toy!’ smile and nodded enthusiastically.
Red laughed upon seeing her normally sour face light up with a brilliant smile. “You have a wonderful smile, Lieutenant. You should wear it more often.”
Devon’s cheeks flushed a bit and her smile morphed into something far darker. “If that thing lets me kill some aliens, you might never get this smile off my face.”
* * *
The President was broadcasting live from the Capital building on every medium in the Federation. Gail had met with him and his people in an early morning strategy meeting. She would not be officially on his staff for another month but he wanted to start including her anyway. She was fine with that. But he refused to consider moving his staff into a secure shelter for the coming attack. The Vice President and the senior leadership of the Senate were staying in the capital and conducting business as usual so as to not alarm the general population.
Even now, as his boyish good looks and winning smile were plastered across every monitor in sight, the President projected an image of confidence and serenity. Gail knew it played into his strengths as a political leader. People considered him one of their own. He hemmed and hawed like a country bumpkin when he needed to and projected a strong, frontiersman demeanor in the face of fear. The common man responded to these qualities and the voting results reflected that. Near majority wins on all the Core Worlds would help him retain his leadership for years to come.
Gail was in her office, packing a few necessities before she relocated to the shelter. There were several armed escorts waiting in her lobby. It was a disconcerting sight to see soldiers in the Senate chambers. Part of her was comforted and part of her was scared to death. It was a bit like seeing your worst fears coming true. For years she had been predicting that the Federation would eventually be attacked by a militant species. No matter how fervently she believed that it could happen, she had always hoped that it never actually would happen.
Sumi-ness came into her office with a polite knock on the wooden door.
“Madam Senator, we have received word that the enemy warship has arrived in Selenian space. We must leave now.”
Gail nodded in agreement as she gathered her personal items and headed for the door. She looked back one last time to see if she was missing anything. On the book shelves that lined the wall behind her desk sat a photograph of her and Admiral Ganner. It was taken on the day that they had first consummated their love for each other. Although an official public affairs released photo, it was special to her for when it was taken. She rushed back to get it. Sumi-ness waited at the door, a curious look on her pale white features.
Gail snatched the framed photo and turned for the door, just as the first explosion rocked the Capital City. The concussion knocked her over behind her desk and blew out the glass windows. Sumi-ness was hit by flying glass and toppled to the floor by the shock wave.
Gail was spared injury from glass shards but rattled to the bone from the explosion. She got up in time to see green planes buzzing overhead out the now open window. A soldier rushed into her office, weapon drawn.
“Senator, are you alright? We must leave now.”
She nodded, clutching onto her photograph. He took her hand and guided her past the glass covered floor and an inert Sumi-ness on the floor. Gail stopped him and bent down to check on her Silicant aide. “Sumi-ness, are you alright?”
Sumi-ness was unresponsive, her rubber face was ripped apart and the metal armature and components underneath were exposed. For the first time she looked exactly like the android that she was, under the simulated flesh of a young human woman. The soldier pulled Gail to her feet, all the while hovering over her as more explosions were heard in the distance.
In the halls of the Senate building, panic ensued as people ran for the exits. Her military escorts rushed her outside and into an armored transport that careened away from the government buildings as more explosions went off. Gail watched over the armored shoulders of her escorts as her beloved Capital building was attacked by enemy fighters. It was all too surreal for her to process. Her worst nightmare was coming true right before her eyes.
The armored transport was capable of low altitude flight and it jumped over traffic jams as it hugged the ground, making a direct path to the main roads out of town. Gail became nauseous as she held on for dear life inside the cold gray cocoon of the transport. The military radio was jammed with traffic as units fought for airtime to report their status. Most of the chatter made no sense to her but she recognized some of the buildings they mentioned as they were reported destroyed.
“Sergeant, what is the status of the President?” Gail asked.
“The government buildings are taking a pounding ma’am. We’ll know more when we get to the shelter.”
Gail closed her mouth and tried to breath slowly, to calm herself as the transport bounced around, at times taking sharp corners in an effort to evade buzzing aircraft. She ran her fingers over the image of Vis Ganner in her photograph and prayed that he was alright.
* * *
Ganner was on the edge of his Captain’s chair. They had the enemy ship surrounded and were moving closer to get a better shot. Waves of green starfighters seemed to stream out of the enemy ship, heading for the planet below. There was little he could do about those. He had to let General Blake handle them.
“Alright, let’s see what we can do,” Ganner said.
On his hand signal, the Weapons Officer started firing the Terrington’s maser canons at the enemy ship’s neck. At least two freighters were equipped with rail guns. Primitive mechanical devices used to fling chunks of rock off the surface of asteroids or other low gravity moons. They were loaded with pieces of metal and rock, anything that would do some damage if flung at a high enough velocity.
Both freighters opened fire within seconds of each other. The flat green colored enemy starship held its position and took the maser canon’s to the forward shielding. The incoming projectiles were shot at by ship-to-ship guns. Not all of the metal and rock objects were destroyed. A few managed to get by the gunfire and penetrate the shielding.
Ganner strained to see what affect they had against the exterior of the starship. Some pieces bounced off harmlessly and at least two breeched the ship’s hull. Explosive decompression ejected crewmen and other debris from the exposed decks.
Cheers broke out on the bridge of the Terrington as Ganner quickly ordered another volley and more shots from the freighters. The enemy ship started to move, positioning itself for a good shot on the Terrington. Ganner barely had time to hold onto something before the shots slammed against his starship.
Damage reports started streaming in as Ganner moved his ship to counter the enemy. He still had power and weapons, at least on the starboard side of his ship. Heavy damage across the port side resulted in many casualties and a hull breech.
“Captain, the Sokol is approaching,” the Scanning Officer shouted.
Ganner stepped off the dais and looked at the screen for himself. “How the hell are they even moving?” It was a rhetorical question. “Patch me through to Raider over here.” He went back to his seat and took the connection from the monitor on his arm rest. “Captain, what’s your status?”
Raider looked rather pleased with himself. He nonchalantly shrugged before saying, “We detached our head and are pushing ourselves back into the fray, Admiral. We’ll be in position for your next volley.”
Ganner’s mouth had fallen open. The Sokol was headless. A gapping hole now existed where the head’s engine had formed a neck. There were black smudges around the body from when the engine had ignited.
“We have enough power for weapons, and life support but not much else,” Raider admitted.
All Ganner could do was shake his graying head. He waved helplessly at the main screen. “How did you come up with that idea?”
Raider pointed to Sasha. “You can thank the lady pirate here.”
Ganner, never the one to miss a pitch opportunity responded right away, “You ever decide to go legit, you can serve in my fleet.”
Sasha rejected the notion with a look of disdain.
Ganner shook his head. “Alright Sokol, we’ve come about. Let’s try this again.”
Author’s Comments: This chapter is mostly about re-positioning my main characters so they can continue the fight. But I just love the interactions. Even though my novels are primarily plot driven, it’s the characters that make the readers come back for more. If you have read the Stellar Ranger short stories with Devon, then you just know that grin all her because you’ve seen it before.