Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2016, Karl Leffler
Aurora, Part XXXIV: Pursuit
Continued from the previous excerpt
26 Secondmonth 553JR
Hyperspace, in pursuit of pirate cruiser
Blain's skill had found the hyperspace trail of the pirate battlecruiser. It was only a few minutes' Transit time to their first exit point, where they doubtless made hasty repairs and then changed direction to throw off pursuit - but Jenny Blain had their scent and wasn't letting go. Outside the system's heliopause the wake was even clearer and Aurora leapt into hyperspace again; her Engineer's readings indicated the pirate was headed for a star six light-years distant, with only a catalog number and no habitable worlds, a likely place for a pirates' den.
Unfortunately, those readings also indicated someone among the pirates knew their way around a Drive. They were making at least c130, probably more, almost matching Aurora's wounded speed. Aurora would catch them, but might not be able to get ahead of them and wait for them to exit.
No ships had ever met or fought in hyperspace. No experiment along those lines had ever succeeded or even come close. Several test rigs and a few lives had been lost trying. Commerce was conducted and battles were fought not in Marsten's universe but in Einstein's.
The forced inactivity of Transit routine contrasted with the urgency of their pursuit - but there was plenty to do after all. Wounds to be treated, repairs to be made, strategies and tactics to be planned. Aurora's fabbers were running non-stop, first on parts to repair Plant Two and bring herself back up to full power, then on replacement weapons and other systems.
Anna/Agnieszka, choosing to stay with the ship simply for having nowhere else to go, was becoming a respectable Engineer's Mate, to her own surprise - though she noted Aurora was doing most of the work. Though the artwork from Salvation had been offloaded for transshipment from Mark's World, Trllbl had stayed as well, begging the honor of serving as Grbblb had. Having a reputation for attention to detail, she was set to precision work Human fingers had difficulty with. She was already moving more freely, Ralph's care reducing the pain from her mutilations, and often traveled through ducts and confined spaces to make repairs, as Grbblb had done.
Delilah, LTJG Howell, was an inactive reservist in a civilian hospital at the time of the raid, but had pinned on her qualification badges and rank before piloting one of the replacement shuttles up to the ship. She had taken over Aurora's sickbay as though she'd spent a year in it - but she had the same Navy training as Vatelius and he'd put everything in about the same place she would have. Once secure in Transit, Ralph had joined her to treat wounds from the passengers who had stayed aboard after the battle, and to organize the donated medical supplies.
She was an attractive woman, part Asian with their luxurious black hair, of medium height and slim build, fit like most Jeffersonian women but not as muscular as Gunner Cates. Tomcat Ralph gave no thought to seeking intimacy with her. Perhaps in a year or two, if she stayed with the ship. Indications were she had nothing waiting for her on Mark's World, and talking about that would also wait.
Volunteer repair crew could be seen occasionally through viewports, cutting away mangled armor and, rather than jettisoning it, guiding it back inside to feed the fabbers. Other volunteers sorted the tons of donated parts and supplies, hastily launched at Aurora before she broke orbit. Some went into the maws of the fabbers, while others went right where they were intended. With the volunteers and Aurora's own robots, it would be enough to finish repairs, if not polish-and-paint, before the next expected exit, in about 370 hours. The new and remaining passengers were easily berthed in the aft grav-ring, which had been only slightly damaged. The forward ring, with the crew's quarters, was jammed by torn and blasted armor and would be for dozens of hours. Two of the eight sections would have to be mostly replaced, and other systems had priority. The crew could do without the comfort of spin-weight that long.
Danner and Blain joined the workers outside, often. Hlossh and Epstein were with them now. Each wore at least two tethers for every single movement. The boundary of the Marsten Field was only a couple hundred meters away. There had been animal tests along those lines too, historically. Some had survived... but not all had been found.
But at present Danner was back on the bridge. Cates and Prrg, the only real warriors in the crew, were discussing matters with their Captain. “Recent developments trouble me, Solomon,” the reptilian stated.
Cates ran a hand through her dark-brown hair. She had been making EVAs too, to supervise repairs to the weapons - she hadn't found her Naval Gunnery Medal in a cereal-box.
Though somewhat dark of skin, there was probably more hidalga than indio in Cates' long-mixed ancestry, but in any case most of them had been Texans. At least one ancestor had fought not at the Alamo but San Jacinto; half the family had been executed for “treason” by “governor” Webb of New Texas, and most of the other half had been present at his execution.
She had let her hair grow some, in the years since leaving the Marine Corps and joining Aurora, but still kept it trimmed for spacesuit, power-armor, or hand-to-hand combat. Though no longer young, with Republic standards she would not seem old for decades yet. She didn't take great pains to accentuate or maintain her femininity, but didn't have to; like many post-War Jeffersonians she benefited from centuries of mild eugenics, in vitro or in utero genetic corrections, or in the case of the Cates family, some deliberate improvements. Even now there were very few Human females in ground-combat roles; standards were not lowered for them. Over the past three hundred Terran years, dating back to the Escape, a notable percentage of them had been named Cates.
“Yeah, cap'n, what the hells?” she said. “We've been flying all over Known Space for years and now we get tangled with raiders twice in a couple thousand hours?”
“Likewise, there are increasing reports of attacks around the Frontier, particularly in this region,” Prrg added. Gnop, homeworld of the Nikar, wasn't far from here either, as the starship flew. Though estranged from his family there after renouncing his claim to their aristocratic title in favor of Jeffersonian Citizenship, he was still concerned for them.
Danner nodded. “Been thinking about that. Any bets on how many Flike we find among the enemy?” His First Mate and Gunner shook their heads, remembering the Flike and Glaut “tourists” they had encountered at Oskran and the Flike pirates over Dakota. Danner was glad he'd sent those recordings to his “retired” father in Naval Intelligence.
The growing theory in Republic intelligence circles was, the Flike, possibly in cooperation with the Consolidation, were using existing pirates and raiders as cats-paws, testing Republic defenses as a prelude to war. It seemed absurd on its face - Republic forces outnumbered and outclassed Flike and Glaut together, vastly. But the Republic was in a long peace; her last full mobilization had been centuries ago against the Terran Empire. She had been involved only peripherally in the Russo-Polish War, between the Russian Star Empire and Nowy Kraków. Nearly every official Navy or Marine action since then, except a few punitive/rescue missions to Nowy Kraków like the one Cates had taken part in, had been small and local, dealt with by the forces at hand, none serious enough to require a Congressional Declaration or even calling reinforcements. The Navy wasn't even called such, being really a system of naval militias, and was scattered over dozens of parsecs, with only a few small concentrations like the Home Fleets of Monticello, New Texas and New Israel. Most of the victims of this new round of piracy were independent worlds, but their equipment and tactics were usually the same as the Republic's; it made sense, strategically, to use them for practice. Maybe the supposed enemy thought they could get away with it, snap up a few outlying worlds without provoking a full retaliation. Maybe they were right.
Danner shared these thoughts with his XO and Gunner, then continued thinking aloud. “That doesn't explain the deep raid on a Republic Territory, though.” He cocked an eyebrow at his shipmates.
“Plausible deniability,” Prrg observed, “for a test of official Republic defenses as opposed to independents.”
Cates nodded. “This Roger Brown - if it is him - is just another independent pirate. Flike 'advisors' will be dismissed as renegades without official standing. If he or any of them are taken alive anyway.”
“Which is a thing we will try to do,” Danner noted.
“Yeah, but cap'n,” Cates asked, “what happens when we pop out of hyper in the middle of a whole pirate fleet? They had three ships for the raid, and they hurt us. How many more are waiting?”
“Good question. Which is why...?” Danner turned to Prrg.
“Using information provided by our sister Jennifer, we will exit some distance from the pirates' expected destination and observe from safety, hopefully without detection. It may be necessary to call reinforcements before engaging the enemy.”
“Also,” Danner added, “this next planet may just be a way-station. Brown is supposed to be thirty light-years from here, not six.”
Repairs continued. In wet-navy days they would have required a shipyard, but in freefall, with modern fabbers and the now-sentient ship's robots, there was little that could not be repaired truly on the fly. Heritage, the ship damaged over Dakota, could eventually have been repaired the same way, if her fuel hadn't been depleted - the time it would have taken would have seen her stranded light-minutes beyond her destination.
Soon Plant Two was ready at about the same time as the primary Marsten Guns and secondary lasers and, judging the lost time worthwhile, Aurora dropped out of hyper to test engines and weapons, and to send an FTL update to Mark's World - within an hour she had all four torches and her full broadside back. Not waiting for a reply, she leapt to hyperspace again, now with all four primary power plants feeding her Drive. The Drive had been knocked a bit out of tune during the battle, so she was only making 157 times lightspeed instead of the c168 Jenny had achieved before - but the pirate was making no more than c140.
Still, the pirate was some distance ahead of them. Getting in front and waiting for the enemy was a bad idea anyway; they'd likely have comrades at their supposed destination, as Cates had warned. Aurora would have to wait for the enemy to return to realspace, then drop out herself and make passive observations from a distance. On 8 Thirdmonth, she did so.
The star was an M-class red dwarf named RAS1441, from a Republic Astronomical Survey performed over a century ago. It was unlikely the place had been visited a dozen times since. Without habitable worlds it was largely bypassed; there was not even an official emergency station there. Inhabited systems usually had their own moons, asteroids and comets to provide necessary resources closer to hand, so mining the system wasn't economically feasible either. Also, three other stars were nearer to Mark's World and the pirate's original departure could have been pointed toward any of them - tracking a ship through hyper was almost impossible. Danner hoped the pirates wouldn't be thinking of the almost.
Aurora exited half a light-day out, more than far enough for her Transition to go undetected. Blain, expecting the event, had through Aurora's sensors “seen” the enemy ship exit hyper with enough time to have Sarah and Prrg exit, change course, reenter hyper, and move Aurora many degrees away from the pirate's entry, the most likely place they would look for pursuit.
Before the Escape, the Mirabushi Orbital Observatory had been the most powerful optical telescope ever built, receiving direct images of Monticello orbiting Tau Ceti a dozen light-years from Sol. That had been over three hundred Terran years ago. Now, even century-old tramp freighters were expected to have as much capability. A lovingly-maintained-and-updated classic like Aurora had more yet, and she was much closer.
Using the Marsten Detector to actively sweep the system would have given away their own position, so Aurora had to use her passive eyes. The timing was such that the crew could watch, from half a light-day away, the enemy ship Transitioning within five light-seconds of the second planet, something that had actually happened hours before. Detail wasn't fine enough to detect damage, but they could confirm it was the same ex-Caledonian ship, likely sold repeatedly. As Aurora herself had been, to a very different fate.
Using other parts of the spectrum, through heat, radio and radiation signatures, five other ships were detected around, or on, RAS1441-II, a rocky planet not much bigger than Mercury. The ex-Caledonian was still the biggest, but two more also outmassed Aurora. One had the profile of an Imperial Russian cruiser, probably acquired the same way - bought legitimately for scrap, then resold for a slightly better offer before she actually made it to the breakers. Historically there could be a dozen or more steps between a ship being retired and her refurbishment for piracy. Most of the Flike navy was believed to have been acquired that way, though there were signs the Glautak Consolidation were building new ships for them, which they denied of course.
Another ship appeared to be a passenger liner, a fat one spinning the whole ship for weight as most modern ships did, unlike Aurora's rings. That would be a traveling base of operations- yes, some of the pixels on Aurora's screens were doubtless shuttles and aircars hopping between ships. So, Roger Brown - the ships' profiles matched reports - had brought his entire flotilla into the Second Wave.
And, from their emissions, was getting ready to take them out to the Frontier again.
Danner cursed to himself. This was what he'd feared; their whole operation was mobile. Naturally this system would be near the top of the list to be searched, after the attack, and the pirates would know it. Danner's one advantage was they wouldn't expect to have been followed. The battle crew - himself, Prrg, Blain, Cates, and Heusner - were on the bridge or AuxCon. “They're pulling out,” he stated. “We could be chasing them for months, running out of fuel and food. If we call or go back for reinforcements they'd have escaped before help got here.”
“Obviously,” Prrg observed, “we must attack.”
“I do have a plan,” Danner replied.
Continued in the next excerpt....