Congreve vs. the United States
The sun cleared the
horizon, rising over the brown, green-splotched planet for the
second time in as many hours. The star's orange
light reflected harshly from the hull of the
Union Star Vessel Congreve, a small frigate secure in a
mid-range orbit with a seventy-
three minute period. On the Congreve's bridge
stood the Idorian, leaning over the back of
his command chair, staring intently at the center
screen of the command console. Depicted
on the screen was a three-dimensional image of the
planet below. Connie, the Congreve s
main computer, augmented the blacked out zone of the
dark side with data collected forty-
one and a half minutes ago.
That data included the
position of the United States, now on the planet's dark side.
According to Connie's estimates, that ship, if on her
original trajectory, and the Captain
hoped she had no reason to change, was only a few
The Idorian straightened,
feeling the creak in his back. Weapons and defensive
systems were ready. Automated counter measures
were active. His attack was
programmed into Connie. There was nothing to do
but wait. He wanted very badly to ask
the dozen or so bridge crew for yet another set of
status reports. But, the last three, taken
over the last seven minutes told him nothing he did not
already know. So, he took his seat
and waited, watching the Congreve s path converge with
the projection of the United
Next to the Idorian stood
Colonel Sung Kallealea, arms crossed, scowling. The
Colonel, wearing the dung brown uniform jacket and the
traditional brown, green, and yellow
striped plaid kilt and sash of the First American
Buchanan Hunting Regiment, stared down
at the Idorian and the central command console.
While the Captain made every effort to
appear calm and controlled, the Colonel, completely out
of her realm on the star vessel's
bridge, made no attempt to disguise her tense worry.
And there she was,
precisely on time. "Fire alpha spread, please." Ordered the
Idorian. The all-important first volley set the
tone and course of any battle. It was the
Idorian's intention to make it his own.
Congreve's main laser and a battery of missiles fired
all at once.
At the same moment,
attempting to gain the same tactical advantage, the United
States attacked. Her laser struck before the
Congreve could even detect the weapon s
tracer gas discharge. The Congreve s diffusive
counter measures, an array of lasers that
split the United States' beam, diffracted the
concentrated light. The laser was broken
before it could actually strike the Congreve.
Instead, it super-heated the thin atmosphere
caught in the ship's gravity field, igniting an
explosive discharge, pushing the ship onto
another trajectory. They hung on tightly as the
ship s delta vee was violently altered before
the gravity generators could compensate.
Ironically, it was this
attack, carried out at the speed of light, that saved the Congreve
from the United States' second volley and shut her
down. Connie fired the automated
counter measures, sending lances of concentrated light
at the missiles launched from the
United States. The missiles, fired at the
Congreve's old trajectory, were a clean miss.
Connie's counter measures struck them cleanly,
detonating the half a dozen in huge clouds
of atomic fire. The combined electromagnetic
pulse at such close range, overwhelmed the
Congreve's magnetic field and plunged her into
It all happened too
quickly for the Idorian or his crew to assimilate the implications.
"Gates, did we get them all?" Claviak, the
Idorian Captain, called to the science officer as
his monitors flickered violently, casting frantic
shadows over the darkened bridge. They
could not know that the violent jarring had pushed them
clear of the missiles' flight path.
"Unknown!" Was all
Gates could yell as she desperately tried to operate any of the
ship s sensor systems for some evidence of the United
States or her missiles.
"We should be clearing
the pulse." Without benefit of the computer, the Flight Engineer
counted the seconds, the time it took them to pass the
maximum nuclear blast radius, the
just over six minutes it would take them to pass from
the orbital combat window.
"What about the United
States? Is she still out there?" An Association of Outer
Colonies Vessel United States was a St. Petersburg
Class frigate, the late USV United
States, captured . . . no, hi-jacked, by the Outer
Colonies' Consolidated Militia.
"No way of knowing, sir."
Gates reported back.
The crew waited, no one
dared speak as the seconds became minutes. Completely
blind, the Congreve shot over the curve of the world,
waiting for the United States next
attack. The attack never came. Without
accurate sensors or even computer data, all they
could do was count the time until the two ships, moving
in their respective orbits, were
separated by the bulk of the planet, shielded and
hidden one from the other. "We re clear,
sir." Assuming the United States had not altered
"What is our status?"
"We re getting systems
back on-line." The Senior Systems Engineer reported just as
Connie came back to life. "A few more minutes,
"I have weapons
targeting." The weapons officer reported excitedly as her computer
generated image of the planet popped back on screen.
Something was not right. The main
laser battery's targeting cross hairs floated across
the display. "Do you have it Captain?"
Claviak switched one of
his many displays over to the targeting system, taking control
of it from the weapons officer, or rather trying to
take control. The Captain could supersede
control, so that the cross hairs moved away from the
weapons officer, but that was not the
case now. Claviak could no more target the lasers
than the weapons officer. "No."
"Sir, the missile doors
are not responding."
"What do you mean?"
"There is no diagnostic
The Idorian glanced over
at the Senior Systems Engineer, one arched brow ridge. The
Senior Systems Engineer shrugged. "We took a lot
of heat, they could be fused shut."
Damn that Dwarf to
the Void. The Idorian muttered softly in his native tongue so that
no one on the bridge could hear or understand.
That Dwarf was Captain Cornelius Fytch,
mastermind of the taking of the United States, the most
embarrassing affront to the Union
Fleet in thirty years, and the spark that had ignited a
civil war. Congreve had tracked the
United States from what would become in the history
books, the Battle of Alpha Herculis,
the Union s first victory against the insurgent
Association of Outer Colonies.
"Could you send someone
outside for a closer look?" An EVA was not his preference,
but he had to know if they had forward missiles.
If not, he would have to expend propellant
to align the ship for as clear and straight a
line-of-sight as possible, and he would have to
do it very soon. Time was the enemy. Fytch
had succeeded in the first precept of the
nos'ijabra: Move your enemy from harmony to cacophony.
Next came the kill.
Sensors came back on
line. The Idorian watched Connie s projection of their new orbit,
nudged one point seven degrees southerly, velocity
slowed, but still fast enough for a
steady orbit. It helped. They were further
away from the United States, hopefully her orbit
was unchanged. If the pulse blinded her as well
as the Congreve . . ..
"I can t get targeting
systems back on-line. They re tied right into the opticals, they fried
right along with them." The Senior Systems
Engineer reported in frustration.
"So we have no weapons
systems?" The Colonel asked excitedly. Only now was the
full desperation of their position dawning on her.
"We can fire . . ."
The Senior Systems Engineer began.
"We just cannot hit
anything." The Idorian finished. And we have just less than an
hour before their paths cross again. The options
were limited. With adequate stores of
propellant, they could shift orbit. That may buy
them time to get the targeting scopes
replaced. They could run, blast out of orbit at
full burn, jump into flux and the next star
"Al-Farrah, . . . " The
Captain said to the Navigator. "Please plot a return course to
"From here, sir?"
Lieutenant. We are not leaving just yet."
"Aye, sir." Al-Farrah
"At five degree
intervals, Lieutenant." The Captain elaborated. At five degree
they would always be less than a minute from flux, it
should give them plenty of time.
"So we have seventy-three
minutes before their next attack?" The bridge crew looked
over to the Colonel sympathetically. The ground
pounder still did not understand.
"We have less than
fifty-four minutes to ready our own attack, and that is not enough
time to open fused hatches and replace the optical
targeting scopes." The Captain
explained with a patience he did not feel.
I thought we were in a seventy-three minute orbital period?"
"We are. The United
States is in a lower orbit with a fifty-four minute period. We now
have less than fifty-four minutes before we enter the
6.75 minute window of weapons
"The United States may
move to a superior orbital position, that would give us more
time." The Flight Engineer suggested.
"I am going to assume we
have less time."
"What do you mean 'ready
our attack'? We have no weapons, we have to retreat."
The Colonel insisted.
In a gesture adopted by
decades of working with Earthers, the Idorian shook his head.
"For now, all we have to do is survive the next pass.
To do that, we have a company of
marines and fifty thousand kilograms of duraplast."
Colonel Sung Kallealea,
her oriental features colored a pale green from the ship's
recent jarring, nodded her assent. "Do what you
want Captain, you re going to anyway."
It was another volley in
the bitter disagreement between fleeter and ground pounder,
and now was not the time. The Colonel, with her
commission date prior to the Captain's,
believed she should have command of both regiment and
the frigates transporting them.
The Captain knew better. "Colonel, we have no
weapons capability and less than an hour
before intercept. I have an idea, but I need your
help. Mostly, I need your duraplast."
Colonel Sung Kallealea
floated 'up' the elevator shaft, guiding herself to the bridge with
the hand holds set into the walls. The Idorian
had ordered the gravity generators shut
down for the work that needed to be done. The
Colonel traded her uniform and regimental
kilt for a more practical one piece flight suit that
was now speckled with duraplast. She
absently picked at the tiny, hardened plastic beads and
flicked them away.
"Could you please not do
that, Colonel?" The Captain asked. "I would rather not have
drops of duraplast floating around the
"Humph? Oh, sorry
Captain." Came her sheepish reply.
The Idorian and his
command crew, the ship's senior officers, were still busy on the
bridge, directing repairs and planning operations.
Strapped into their chairs to keep from
drifting off in freefall, the Idorian and his crew
still wore their void black duty uniforms and
had probably not left the bridge since the Colonel's
"Sir, . . ." The
Senior Systems Engineer turned to the Captain. " . . . Forest has a
report from outside."
"How do we look, Mr.
Forest?" The Captain could not remember the pretty blonde
human s first name or rank, only the delicate face and
pointed chin. It had been a long time
since he copulated with a human.
--The hatches are fused
shut, sir. We can cut them off, but . . . -- Forest's voice
tinny and distant over the intercom. Travelling
at thirty-one thousand kilometers per hour,
their new slower speed and lower orbit courtesy of the
United States, Forest and her EVA
partner were motionless relative to the Congreve.
They floated directly off her forward bow.
"But we do not have the
time, understood. What about the hull?"
--The damage appears
"The rad tanks?"
--We're not seeing any
"Thank you, Crewman.
Get back inside right now."
"Colonel, are we ready?"
I am not sure for what, but we are ready."
"There she is." The
United States passed out of the black out zone. "She hasn t
Colonel Sung Kallealea,
hanging mid-deck, hand on the back of the Idorian's command
chair, could feel the steady, heavy pulse of her own
heart beat. Subconsciously aware of
the passage of twenty or so heart beats, she suddenly
blurted "Why haven't they
"They apparently were, or
still are, blinded by the e-m pulse." The Captain opined.
"They did not realize their laser blasted us onto a new
lower orbit. She has to re-align her
"Let's close the gap."
The Idorian said to the Flight Engineer. "A ten second burn on
main thrusters, please."
"What are you doing?"
Asked the Colonel.
"They need time to react.
I will not give them that time. Our acceleration will reduce
the combat window." And, again to the Flight
Engineer. "Fire forward port and rear
starboard maneuvering thrusters, please."
"Aye, sir." The
Flight Engineer confirmed the orders with nowhere near the confidence
or calm demeanor of the Idorian Captain. As the
main thrusters pushed the Congreve
forward in her orbit, the maneuvering thrusters changed
her bearing so that she shot
around, her nose pointed toward United States.
The United States fired
her own maneuvering thrusters, attempting to align her main
laser and missile batteries with the Congreve's new
orbit and rapidly changing bearing. But,
it was too late. Still seconds before the ships
crossed relative to each other, the
Congreve's nose crossed the United States' trajectory.
As it did, "Connie, blow
the shuttle bay doors." Explosive charges around the shuttle
door s frame detonated, letting the near vacuum of the
upper atmosphere suck out the
bay s contents, atmosphere and all, directly into the
United States flight path. The
decompression, along with a nudge of the maneuvering
thrusters, again changed the
Congreve's orbit, further frustrating the United
Billions of tiny, ceramic
shards, crystallized duraplast used by the marines to form
bunkers and embankments, each one traveling more than
thirty-one thousand kilometers
per hour, tore into the United States hull,
peeling away numbers of ceramic armor plates,
perforating antennas and sensor arrays, bursting the
outer radiation tanks, sending
thousands of gallons of radiation absorbing chloride
compound out into the atmosphere. If
the United States wasn't blind before, she was now.
The combat window closed,
both ships shot away from each other, with no sign of
reprise from the rebel frigate. The Colonel's
sigh was audible across the bridge. The
spacers, less given to such displays, felt no less
The Idorian turned his
head to the Colonel. "Thank you, and thank your marines for
Once the gravity field
had been shut down, Colonel Sung Kallealea's marines worked
frantically, spraying their duraplast building
materials into the main shuttle bay. Sealed from
the rest of the ship, the shuttle bay's temperature was
lowered to the outside ambient
temperature. Without gravity and in such cold,
the spray of duraplast, more than one ton of
it, solidified into sharp crystals. "Is it over?"
The Idorian's antennae
twitched. "If it is not over, at least the strings are wound to give
a 'fresh start'." He emphasized the phrase 'fresh
start' as alien and not of common usage,
while naturally rolling over 'strings are wound' as a
common idiom of his species. "Since
your marines prepared the duraplast, the crew will have
had time to replace the targeting
scope. On our next pass, we will realign the ship
so that our dorsal missile battery crosses
what I hope will be the United States' orbit. If
I have guessed correctly, then it will be over."
"Sir, . . ." The
communications officer interrupted. " . . . we have a signal from a
communications buoy. It's the United States,
sir." The rebel frigate launched a
communications buoy spiralling straight up, relative to
the planet, extending her
communications range by thousands of kilometers and
revealing her position. It would not
last long, but long enough. "Congreve, . . ."
The strong, high-pitched voice came over the
bridge s speakers. ". . . do I have the privilege
of addressing Captain Claviak?"
"You do." Replied
the Idorian, one corner of his mouth upturned wryly. "And is this, I
presume, Captain Fytch." Cornelius Fytch resigned
his Fleet commission as a Senior
Lieutenant. Whether this was an official
hi-jacking or act of war, the Idorian felt Fytch
should be accorded the privileges of Captaincy.
There was no reason to let war become
"Marshal Fytch actually.
There's plenty of room for promotion in the Consolidated
Militia. Well played, Captain. My
congratulations on your victory."
"You are surrendering?"
The Idorian knew Fytch and could not believe the diminutive
human would give up so easily.
Fytch gave a little
laugh. "No, far from it. The United States is too valuable a prize
risk, . . . for now. United States out."
The communications buoy detonated and the United
States was soon carried into the black out zone.
Congreve changed orbits,
moving up to a position and inclination that the United States
could not have mined. The Idorian did not want to
be caught in the same trap laid for the
came and went, but still the Idorian would not relax, not until the
Congreve finally rounded the planet yet again and
detected the trail of plasma that pushed
the United States into deep space. Even then,
Claviak would not lower the ship's defenses
until the Congreve finally detected the massive energy
discharge that was the tell-tale sign
of the other ship s jump into flux.
"Now, it has just begun"
Copyright 1998 by Scott Langley
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