This is the first section of the eleventh chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
Laurence arrived on the bridge in what he would have described as a full panic moment. Judging from what he could see of the displays one of the Freedom’s fighters had just been destroyed. It looked like while he had been away they had enacted most of his plan of constructing a shield around the chip of debris, but using rubble from the local area. Possibly more effective than what he had proposed, but much slower and riskier and it seemed like the fighters had paid the price. He could now see that three of them had been destroyed, the captain was just giving the order to pull in the fighters and get the battleship to leave the area.
“Ah,” said Laurence gloating at the doorway “Glad to see you see the merit of my suggestions after all”
The captain turned around to see Laurence at the doorway “Sorry” chimed in the computer’s voice “Override from Admiral Powell, I had no choice to release him and grant him control”
“I see” replied the captain “Over me.”
“Admiral’s orders I’m afraid.” confirmed the computer “Acting Commodore.”
“Why the hell would he be daft enough to do that?” asked the captain
“Oh” interjected Laurence “perhaps because I explained to him the fleet doesn’t yet own this ship, it is still my property and I’ll be damned before I let it get blown up for nothing. Especially with me on it.”
Laurence let that sink in with the Captain and watched for his confusion before carrying on “You see, I’m afraid not all is as it appears. You see this ship is a prototype as you well know, still owned by the development company. The fleet refused to pay for it until it had passed an initial shakedown which is what this was supposed to be. You see that certain Fillwick company is actually still owned in the majority by a certain Stephen Fillwick who was its founder and would be going on for about ninety years old by now. I trust you’re sufficiently confused by now?”
“So you’re his son in disguise?” asked the Captain
“Not quite, technology marches on in all fields and did you know that if you spend enough money on artificial organs and regrowth aids you can have an almost entirely new body? I’m not the first, to do this, but it is possible.”
“You’re Stephen?” asked the Captain
“Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche I know the whole emperor in disguise amongst his people, but I got fed up of the high level stuff and wanted to get back to basics. Glad I did seeing what’s happened here. Now moving on I helped design this boat with a thorough understanding of projections of future space warfare something you seem to have either missed out on or ignored. We are a sitting duck here and there is no defence against projectiles travelling a good fraction of C so we’re getting out of here”
“I already ordered that.”
“Indeed, but hours too late. I’m not going to hold your actions against you, after all you were acting with the best knowledge you had at the time. Now get me analysis of those fighter's exhaust plumes, they are due to be turning around to strafe us again by about now and they haven’t so I want to know where they’re going. I want analysis of their acceleration and projections of their remaining propellant and I want to get out of here before we’re hit again. We know the direction the relativistic missiles are coming from so I want an asteroid between us and that vector.
“Now Captain” continued Laurence “I assume you’ve realised what we have happening here, where those missiles are coming from?”
“We have the vector.”
“No, who do you know who has the technology to get projectiles up to a good fraction of the speed of light?”
“We certainly don’t, nothing we can build has the reaction mass.”
“Well we did have a project a few decades ago to build a Bussard scoop drive that would have been able to do it by now, but it was never finished and anyway we’d have detected the exhaust from a thermal drive like that. No there is only one technology we have come across so far that can produce a drive with that much thrust and be none thermal and therefore not detectable.”
“You think the Habitat did this?”
“Or someone else of their race, or at the very least with access to their technology.”
“So we could be looking at invasion.”
“If we are we might as well give up now, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the tech level of the Habitat. No I think this is much simpler. I think like we got hold of a drone for our drive research the bats got hold of one around the similar time and have used it to produce this relativistic weapon.”
“It makes sense” pondered the Captain “the puffs of propulsion we’ve been using for the too late detection would make sense that they’re just the course correction jets of the missile that had already reached its final speed and was homing in.”
“So we have a mother ship cobbled together from a captured drone with a bunch of missiles being released ahead of it.”
“How would it get the missiles so far ahead of the mother ship?”
“Once it’s up to speed wouldn’t be too hard. A quick blast of a nuke could have pushed them ahead Orion drive style. If they have a drone it makes sense they have the drones shielding too. Something to check later, anyway we know we’ve not had it all yet because there’s been no projectile with enough mass to be the mother ship hit.”
“You think that’s headed for us.”
“Yes and given the fact that the previous missiles were all separated by a fairly constant interval and there have been none for quite some time I can only conclude there is only the mother ship left and that it can’t be far away”
“It could have missed us or chose not to hit us”
“True, and that would have been the case if you’d just run away but your hanging around here has made you a credible threat to their core operation. If you’d have just left they might have not used the mother ship and retrieved it for use another day. As it stands you were about to attack their base of operations so their best bet for even short term survival would be to take out the Freedom and find another opportunity to source a new drone.”
“In other words we’re overdue to be destroyed by a weapon we can’t detect until it hits us.”
“Expect the lights to go out any second yes.”
“I see.”, the captain barked out a set of orders to secure the ship and lock down all internal hatches ready for large scale destruction.
“How long before we have the AM drive running?” asked Laurence
“The reaction chamber is warming up now” replied the XO “We’ll be clear”
The XO never finished the sentence, Laurence and most of the bridge crew blacked out with the sudden de-pressurisation.