This is the ninth section of the fourth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
The battle would commence any moment now. They were light seconds off the Habitat and they were moments away.
“Transmission coming from the Habitat” shouted one of the officers.
Malka pressed a button on the chair that hit her with a fresh cocktail of drugs, knowing that space combat was always brief and intense they would have at most a few seconds of combat, possibly milliseconds depending on how it went. Malka heard the transmission start. “We acknowledge your threats, I ignore them. We have what we came for we leave. View it as a gift that we dragged you into space and you’ve started to colonise your world. Take it as a lesson that we taught you it’s a dangerous cosmos out there. Try and follow us if you wish or rebuild yourselves here and stagnate. Try and kill us and we’ll hurt you back. Accept your fate, learn and grow. One day we’ll see you out there, or not, someone else could be along after us. We’ve learned all we care to as you’ve learned from us enough to save your species if you chose to use it. Take the deaths of those onboard here as a lesson, no-one will give you anything for free, never trust again be stronger for it. Now we go.”
Malka realised she had heard that during her drug induced speeded up consciousness, the same method that left the world feeling dull and slow, yet this had been rapid and alert. Clearly the Habitat was supposed to be aware of this process. It knew who its audience was. It of course knew she was coming and here it was saying goodbye to her and all the other speeded up commanders watching this. Her head moved to look at the displays the first of the bombs hit the shields of the Habitat, inbetween the sensor blackouts of the explosions she could see the stand there almost resolute, unchanging like a primitive throwing flint arrows at an oncoming tank. Then as if a flint head had found a gap in the armor the shield seemed to flex and buckle. The targetting systems of the ship saw these gaps and locked onto them firing into them. Readings showed the areas heat up and melt but it was too late they were already passing the Habitat now, they were at a good fraction of the speed of light unable to return to Earth and useful only to observe the results of the rest of their missiles they had earlier fired fail.
Malka ordered the ship swing around to once again have them face the Habitat, in this situation it was against procedure to face the enemy as that would leave you more vulnerable to incomming fire without the protection of the pusher plate but it didn’t matter. They were dead, they might as well have it finish quickly or get a good view of their failure. With her increased perception it felt like hours maybe days before the next stage. Just as the main salvo they had earlier launched was due to hit she was looking forward to coming down from this high. But as the expected explosion was about to take place she saw their screens jump, debris around the Habitat jumped as if there was a massive gravitational disruption or maybe a massive engine starting to thrust; the habitat jumped and accelerated past the ship. It’s last act was to fire a laser that targeted the ship. The laser hit the pusher plate, it was thick, designed as its very purpose to withstand the blast of a nuclear warhead but it wasn’t designed to withstand the long blast of an offensive laser. The temperature readings spiked and then stopped as the heat vaporised the sensors. They’d be dead very soon. At least this was better than dying in the cold of space slowly starving to death or freezing as their systems slowly failed. Couldn’t be long now, once it had finished on the plate it would take out their comparatively fragile ship soon enough. Why had it waited until it was past them to attack, it could have got them side on as it flew past. Maybe even its vast energy reserves had a limit. Maybe this was a propulsion laser and it was just being efficient using the exhaust to tie up loose ends, the more she thought the more this made sense. why waste energy destroying an enemy you could take care of with your waste exhaust. It made quite a nice, point as she idily wondered who would be next. Then it stopped. The plate remained barely intact even now the coolant system were barely kicking in it had taken such a short time ans her conciousness had been so fast it must have only been a few seconds. The propulsion laser of the habitat had acellerated them too andslowed them right down, they were in a Hohmann orbit. They weren’t dead. They were at an effective dead stop They weren’t on an escape velocity from Earth and dead, they were saved. The nova rockets would get them home from here. The supposed last act of spite by the Habitat had saved them.