Chapter 30 – Of Sieges and Sallies


Drinks and Friends at Juthjath

Eleanor and Brian Tuireann set the ship down at the space port in Helenith on the Tymbrimi homeworld of Juthjath. Little had changed since Eleanor and the others had left weeks ago but she knew that looks could be deceiving. She and Brian were part of the group of Uycarrans Brian spoke for and they were all setting down at the vast space port as well. Ground crews of Tymbrimi, Hoon, and Menunugg headed out to each ship. The ship crews would need to go through what little custom inspections the Tymbrimi had and the ships would be refurbished after being in space for two months. Brian patted her on the knee and said, “And now to shore leave.”

Eleanor rolled her eyes at the meaningless flirtation and said, “I intend to find my quarters, take a long shower. Then I am going to find someone to teach me about this cloud sailing that everyone is talking about.” She eyed him narrowly, “And what will the captain of the ship be up to?”

Brian stretched and said, “Catching up with an old friend or two and finding a decent dinner.”

Ian interrupted the conversation, “Abu Silverbeam has send a message to you both to join him as soon as you land.”

Brian frowned, “It is hard to believe that man is Tymbrimi. We are back from weeks in space and he wants to see us now?”

Ian said, “He has put the same request to all the arriving Uycarrans. He wants to speak to the Uycarran council, but wanted to speak to you two first. “

Brian pursed his lips as he considered the information. “I doubt you will be getting your cloud sailing lessons and my friend is going to have to wait.”

They grabbed their gear and left the ship. They were met be a Menunugg and a Hoon who shepherded them through a lax customs process. As they entered the transport, Brian said, “Your boss can’t wait a day for one to get a bit of civilized relaxation?”

The Menunugg snorted and waved his hands, “There is nothing civilized about your shore leaves Brian Tuireann.”

The Hoon hissed but the expression seemed to be mirth. He said, “Like you should argue with Silverbeam about civilization.” His mouth got thin and showed some teeth.” The mirthful expression changed and he got tense, “Just know he has been shouting orders at all the family for two days now. The space port is at full alert. Ships engines are being kept warm around the clock.” They arrived at the Silverbeam compound. He said, “Silverbeam is expecting you.”

Brian and Eleanor moved through the hallways quickly, with the Menunugg and the Hoon trailing. As they were about to enter Silverbeam’s office, the Menunugg said, “The Menunugg are ready to stand up to the Guild for humans.” Eleanor was startled at the comment and then from the other side, the Hoon said, “The Hoon will be with Humans as well…”

Eleanor glanced right and left and said, “Thank you…I am not sure…”

From inside the office a deep voice said, “Come inside, Miss Woodson and get the full story instead of hallway gossip.” The Menunugg and the Hoon both bowed a little and then took positions as guards by the door. Eleanor entered the office. Abu Silverbeam was sitting at a long table. He looked up and said, “Shut the door. It is a formality given those two’s inexplainable ability to know what goes on in here, but we have appearances to keep.” Eleanor shut the door.

Brian sat down even as Silverbeam got up and started pacing.Brian asked, “Couldn’t we have at least changed into something decent? What couldn’t wait an hour or two?”
Silverbeam said, “I assume you have heard about the edicts from the Guild.”
Brian waved a hand airily, “Restrict all humans. Uycarrans to register with authorities. That can’t have your hair twisted in a knot. There aren’t that many of either in the galaxy.”
Silverbeam turned and faced Brian. He planted himself and put his hands behind his back. Even with his short stature, he had an air of authority. “Hardly. As you say, there aren’t that many humans and they are easy to hide. Most of the Uycarrans work for me and I am hardly going to betray them. What worries me is the Guild’s new edict. Apparently it has found Millicent Morgaine a bigger threat than before.” He flipped a switch on the table.
An image of the Guild Master of Tau Ceti announced, “All Uycarrans are to be detained. Their ships are to be impounded and held for Guild authorities. We believe that some Uycarran are using illegal technology and harboring illegal Artificial Intelligence. Any Uycarrans found guilty of these charges will be summarily prosecuted. Failure to detain Uycarrans will result in severe sanctions.”
Eleanor’s watched Brian’s face grimace. The usual tiny smirk was completely gone. His jaw tightened and his fists clenched. They relaxed as he said, “That is why the council…we have to leave.” He put his face in his hands, “There are only a few of us. There is no need to put your families in danger.” Brian sat up. His eyes looked long, “I can’t ask you to do this. We can’t ask you. You’ve helped all these years. You shouldn’t be paid back this way.”
Abu Silverbeam leaned on the desk with his fists and snarled, “Grow a spine, you gaudy pansy. The Tymbrimi are far past that point.” He sat down and played with a letter opener that looked remarkably sharp. He held up a finger. “Every Guild agent on the planet saw your ships land. The only way I could control them would be to block all communications and I can’t do that without raising suspicions.”
Brian said, “You could say we left before you had a chance to detain us.”
Silverbeam held up a second finger, “Smith and his rabble will be showing up soon. Your leaving just changes the names.” Before Brian could say anything more, he held up a third finger, “Do you think they won’t search our ships even if you aren’t here?” Eleanor looked pained. He stared at her and said, “Don’t you start too.” He held up a fourth finger. “I am tired of the bureaucracy. I am tired of the petty tyrannies. And I am tired of the lack of vision in the Guild.” He leaned forward and smiled thinly. “I think a change is order.” He then showed a fifth finger and then closed it in a fist. He slammed the letter opener into the desk where it lodged vibrating. “We do not betray friends. And if you doubt that again, I will beat your sorry ass to a pulp and no high gravity evolution will save you from it.” He looked at Eleanor and said, “The same goes for you. I do not care if you are tall as a tree.”
Eleanor put her hands up, “I am just hitching a ride until I get my own ship.”
Silverbeam leaned back and his smiled warmed up, “Besides, we’ve spent all these years helping the Uycarrans. It would be a wasted investment to stop now.”
Brian took a deep breath and said, “We will repay this.” He looked at Eleanor, “So you want your own ship? I might be able to help you with that.”
Silverbeam laughed, “Check to make sure it has an engine before you give him credit.” He stood and held out a hand, “Good to have you back old friend. Now let’s go get a drink before the Guild bans those.”

Of Discipline and News

John sat in the uncomfortably small seat as the Tymbrimi ship landed on the Juthjath space port. Ami Giggledust sighed, “Ahh home again and I still have friends and little cousins to watch grow. Your drive changes the whole nature of business. They are a wonder of nature.”
John stood and stretched and felt places that had been pinched by the small seat. “Your seats are not. At least the flight was short.”
Ami stood next to him coming up to his waist and said, “It was a rush job. If we had known we were having some over sized clod like you or a Uycarran we would have added an extra large seat. We did not get a whole lot of notice. Now come along, you big baby. You owe me a beer for that escape.”
John flexed his back and shoulders a bit, “I think I owe Zhaat Ussah a beer more than I owe you.”
Ami snorted, “I’d like to see that. Bring him one the next time you see him.” She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him off the bridge past the smiling crew, “Come along you lunk. There are bars to close.”
John let himself be led to the opening. They were almost to the exit when the executive officer of the ship said, “John O’Malley, I have messages for you from the tower.“
Giggledust pulled harder and said, “He can get them later. You can send them to his apartment.”
The XO frowned, “One is from Abu Silverbeam.” Ami’s shoulders slumped and she stopped pulling on John. The XO continued, “And you are going to want the latest news about the Guild before you carouse too much.”
John rubbed the bridge of his nose, “You said ‘messages’. How many others?”
“There is another from Eleanor Woodson. You can take them in the environmental lab. Engineer Giggledust will be here listening to my explanation of the minutia of galactic politics, shore leave communications, and ship decorum.”
John smirked a little while Ami followed the XO down the hall. John moved into the lab and found a station to view the messages. He watched the message from Silverbeam first.
“John O’Malley you should know that the Guild has extended the edict from humans to Uycarrans. The Guild wants humans detained and handed over. Others of your team will be arriving soon. The Tymbrimi and I have no intention of complying with this absurd order. We expect our failure to comply will be noticed and things will be really interesting then. Get rested. We will need everyone. I understand Ami Giggledust will be making sure you have everything you need.” The image smirked a little, “Try not to damage any bars too badly.”
John blew out a long breath. The head of the Tymbrimi let him know they were willing to fight the Guild over humans. Intellectually, he knew it was probably more than a small party far from home but the thought was staggering. The next message was from Eleanor. “John. I am glad to be back on a planet and even more glad to have someone to talk to. They have us quartered close to the space port. Let me know when you are in. I am even willing to talk about the philosophy of war – is this a political, eschatological, or cataclysmic war?” John chuckled and realized he had fallen behind on his reading.
He stepped out into the hall. Ami Giggledust was standing at attention next to the XO. Ami stared forward and said, “The XO has let me know we will be fighting the Guild.”
John looked at her and sighed, “I was when I got started in this. It was a bit less formal and I didn’t even know the Guild existed.” He looked at the XO and said, “Permission to leave?”
The XO said, “She should take lessons in discipline from you. Engineer Giggledust now has permission for shore leave. You were a guest so you don’t need permission.” He straightened and said, “However, the captain is always looking for good engineers and we can make room even for someone your size.”
John gave a quick salute and Ami pulled him out of the ship. “Nothing will happen for weeks.”
John looked around and said, “There are already dozens of ships here. They will need to be outfitted with drives if they don’t have them. They probably need new weapons. There will be work to do.”
She stopped, held out a hand and said, “Yes…yes. but it won’t start until tomorrow. Tonight we enjoy a break from the Mollocots, the Guild, and anything else we care to damn.”
John looked at her, “Silverbeam told me not to hurt anybody in the meantime.”
Ami turned and walked quickly, “Get your ass moving. We will see who hurts who before this night is out.”

A Gathering of Allies

Simone stepped off the ramp of the Kaum Legit ship and saw Eleanor. She dropped her bags and ran to Eleanor and was enfolded in her comfortable arms. After some time, she heard John O’Malley cough politely. “I was going to suggest luncheon. Maybe you want to freshen up first?”
Simone heard a snicker and another voice, “Always so polite for a towering lunk.”
Simone looked up from Eleanor’s arms and saw a familiar Tymbrimi. Simone’s eyes narrowed, “The last time I saw you, Felicity was belting you in the jaw while you were tackling her over a table.”
The Tymbrimi rubbed her jaw, “That woman packs a punch. Has a bit of fire for such a nice lady.” She bowed and said, “Ami Giggledust. John and I worked with the Mollocots contract.”
Eleanor smirked, leaned down and stage whispered, “And they’ve been working on other things since they got back.”
John blushed and was suddenly interested in the Kaum Legit ship. Ami smiled brightly and moved a bit closer to John and said, “Hard to imagine someone so big with such soft hands.”
Simone leaned in and said, “The big ones always do have a touch…ow..” Eleanor was frowning and crossing her arms. Simone was rubbing her behind.
John muttered to Ami, “If this conversation continues, I’ll dine by myself and you can have your own meal back at Silverbeam’s house.”
Ami punched him in the arm, “Oh you do not get off that easy. You promised me a…”
John interrupted, “So good to have you back Simone. I trust the trip was quick?”
Eleanor and Ami snickered. Simone covered her mouth and tried not to laugh, “Just a couple of hours. Once we were out of Kaum space and the Omicron drive was engaged, they let me wander around.” She put her arm around Eleanor, “I checked the ring assembly, of course. It always fascinates me.”
At that moment a Kaum Legit came with Simone’s bag, “Simone Campbell, your bag was left on the ramp. I fear it will be lost or someone should trip over it.”
John grabbed the bag and said, “We can get you back to the apartments where you can…freshen up. You can fill us in on the way.”

Simone and Eleanor missed luncheon. There were some provisions in the apartment that staved off any hunger pangs. But most of the time was spent reconnecting. At sunset, Ian – Brian’s AI, announced “Time to get out of bed. You two have been invited for dinner with Brian.”
Eleanor shouted at the ceiling, “We are busy. We will have dinner here.”
Ian replied swiftly, “In bed no doubt, although that can get messy.”
Simone hid under the covers. Eleanor shouted, “Charles was a gentleman.”
“No doubt. He is a bit prudish. I never figured out how he works so well with Millicent. Anyway, Brian is inviting you to dinner with Abu Silverbeam. I use the word ‘invitation’ loosely.”
Eleanor groaned, “That man is a curse.”
“Brian said somewhat the same thing in similar circumstances. Nevertheless, Brian has changed his plans and is expecting the three of you. Well, three plus the irrepressible Miss Giggledust. After certain things were explained, Mr. Silverbeam expressed an interest in seeing the two of them at dinner.”
Simone popped her head from under the sheet and stared at Eleanor with her mouth wide open. Eleanor snickered and then threw off the bed sheet, “Dinner with Brian just got interesting.”
Ian said plaintively, “Please shower this time. And find something respectable in your wardrobe. I really must take you two shopping.”

John was waiting in the courtyard with Ami Giggledust. John wore a dapper suit with a bowler hat. The outfit was sharply cut with a drab brown color. The ensemble was brighten by a multihued vest whose colors seem to shift. Ami was next to him with a tunic that matched his vest. Her trousers were the same drab brown. In a bid of odd, but cute match she held a bowler that would go over her long green hair.
Simone and Eleanor both wore long tunics. They were a blue green geometric pattern. When they stood together, the patterns merged into a 9 point star. Simone looked at John and Ami, “You make quite the pair.”
John blushed a little but bowed. Ami said, “His wardrobe is dull as a hammer.”
John humphed and said, “It is practical and dignified. “
Ami snorted, “All words for boring. I did a bit of shopping for him after we got back. If he is go on meeting dignitaries, he should look the part.” She eyed Simone and Eleanor, “Subtle, but tasteful.”
Eleanor looked at the sky and rolled her eyes. “Ian helped me. He said about the same as you did. And if I was going to wear something, Simone needed something as well.” Simone stood a little closer to complete the pattern which matched despite their differences in height. Eleanor nodded towards the street, “Shall we go to dinner?”

They arrived at Brian Tuireann’s complex. Brian had a large courtyard that accommodated parties with bars, tables and benches and fountains. There was a small stage that had a band playing light music as the crowd assembled. The four traded introductions in the gathering. Eleanor knew most of the Uycarrans. Simone knew most of the Kaum Legit. John and Ami knew the rest – a hodge podge of Tymbrimi, Hoon, Menanggung, Yevath, and a Luxian and even another human. Simone hoped to be introduced before the night was out.
Finally there was a call for quiet. Brian, Abu Silverbeam, and Clio Olo came onstage. Silverbeam started, “My appreciation to Brian for arranging this gathering. I know it was last minute for some of you.” His eyes seemed to find Simone and Ami and twinkle a little bit. “I appreciate you joining us.” There was light acknowledgment with claps and hoots and other actions.
Brian spoke, “When I planned this, I had hoped for a relaxing evening before matters turned worse. That is not the case.” The room got very quiet.
Silverbeam put his hands behind his back and said, “We have very reliable information that a fleet of fast Guild destroyers and troop ships has left Tau Ceti and is on its way here.” Simone gasped. There was a momentary quiet and then a roar as a score of people and races tried to speak at once. Finally Brian glared at the Uycarrans who became quiet. Silverbeam did the same with the Tymbrimi…the rest followed suit. Brian shouted, “Show some sense and order. No more outbursts like that or I’ll clear the room and you figure out the rest from bulletin boards and street gossip.”
Silverbeam continued, “When we learned of the fleet, we rounded up the Guild agents. They are all contained by now.”
Someone shouted, “That you know about.”
Silverbeam smiled thinly and rubbed his hair back, “If you know of any others, take care of the matter and save me the paperwork.” There was laughter in the room. Ami made a low whistle, “That is bad if he is throwing them to street mercy.”
Silverbeam continued, “We know why the Guild is coming…for the humans and for the Uycarrans.” Simone felt a shifting around her. She noticed Ami looking at the Tymbrimi, Menanggung, and Hoon around her. They gave an odd hand signal. Ami returned it and muttered, “No worries here.”
From the other side of the courtyard someone shouted, “Why not just hand them over or send them away?” There was a loud murmur.
John asked Ami, “You sure about that?”
She stood firmly her hands behind her back, “They will go through a ring of Hoon and Menanggung and then face my family before they hand you over.” She nodded at the stage, “He’s not finished.”
Silverbeam glared at the source of the voice, “ Do you think the Guild won’t find our Omicron drives even IF we send our friends away? I say No. The families have agreed unanimously. We stand here and pick our own destiny. The Uycarran and their human partners are welcome and protected.” This time there was a loud cheer that came from the Uycarrans. When there was quiet, Silverbeam sneered, “If you have doubts, leave now. I am sure there is a nice quiet hole in the galaxy for you to hide in and hope it all goes away. Everyone else here will be fighting for a real future.” There was another roar and stomping from all the races.
Clio Olo spoke next, “The Kaum Legit will be supplying Juthjath if it is blockaded. New developments should make that much easier than in the past. I think you will hardly notice the siege. ” The Kaum Legit seemed to turn bright blue as Clio Olo finished. Ami whistled,”It is always hard to tell with the Kaum Legit, but I do believe they are cheering.”
Finally Brian spoke, “The Uycarrans and their AI partners will assist the Tymbrimi home fleet with any aggression from the Guild fleet.” There was a roar and stomping. Simone spent the rest of the evening toasting, having her hand shook and her shoulder pounded as it seemed everyone in the room gave their support to the Uycarrans and humans.

A Siege Begins

John had been working on ships for days, installing Omicron devices or simply doing maintenance. The ships were sent into orbit as soon as the work was done. Brian Tuireann and Abu Silverbeam were worried about ships being caught on ground when the Guild arrived. John had John Priestly’s “Letter’s to a Philosophical Unbeliever” 1  and found a park bench to read. The outdoors and park was filled with life. Juthjath and the town of Helenith may have been Tymbrimi homeland, but many other species now called it home. The park reflected the cosmopolitan nature of the planet and town. Families had picnics and children played. Artists drew and lovers found the quiet places that no one else could find. John opened his book and began to read.
His reverie was broken by a loud chime in his notebook. A message said, “Come to the Silverbeam compound at once – Ami.” He sighed, got up and headed to the transit system. He was not the only one moving – the picnics were being gathered and children pulled in. The artists were closing up their pallets and canvases. As he headed to the transit station, two ships shrieked low overhead scaring children and adults alike. What the hell was going on? People started running in all directions. Two more ships flew by and then banked left. John saw streaks of light come from somewhere and one of the ships exploded and tumbled down blocks away. Someone shouted, “That was near the Library” and started running in the direction of the smoke. Without volition he followed the man towards the pillar of smoke more than a kilometer away. As he ran more ships flew by with more streaks of light. John marveled at the acrobatics of the pilots as they avoided the attacks from the ground. He was shaken by a loud explosion and a fireball rose over the pillar of smoke. John ran faster.
When he got to the library, the scene was one of chaos and devastation. The pilot had crashed into a pavilion leading to the entrance and then tumbled towards the building. It was afternoon and school was finished for the day. The library had been full of children pretending to study and whispering to one another and laughing when the ship rolled into the building. John could hear the screaming of young and old under the rubble. Where the ship had hit, the building had collapsed. He moved to the rubble and began to move pieces. John was a large man already and his strength had increased over time with the nanotechnology. He pulled aside a large piece of roofing to show a youth crumbled but alive. Others moved the young boy to safety quickly. He moved to another piece of roofing and more people were found. He shifted wreckage and people and bodies were moved. Smoke stung his eyes and scorched his lungs as he moved one piece after another. Overhead more ships flew by with flashes of light chasing them. His arms ached but he could not stop with the cries coming from the rubble. A Tymbrimi pulled on his arm and handed him a bottle,”Drink some or you will be at the hospital yourself.” John took the proffered water and drank deeply. He stopped to look at himself. His clothes were rags now. Someone had supplied him with gloves or his hands would have been bloody as well. He was covered with soot and dust. He took another drink and said, “What the hell is going on?”
The Tymbrimi look up at the ships and trailing flashes. “The Guild showed up. They probably thought a few fly bys would scare us into submission.” He spit. “This one found our air defense systems instead.” He took a drink from the bottle. “Next time they won’t be so cocky.” He grabbed John’s arm and said, “The heavy equipment is here. We will just be in the way.“ John watched as a machine pulled wreckage away and a set of crushed and lifeless bodies was revealed. John wiped his brow and his eyes, “I’ll stay. The big machines can’t work closely. And there is nothing else I can do now.”

1  – John Priestly was a highly influencial philosopher as well as famed chemist. His life’s philosphic work centered on reconciling Rationalism with Christian Theism. He spent his later years in strong support of Unitarism partly in reaction to the Church of Englands negative reponse to his philosohpy.

A Last Detail

Rachael was in the workshop tinkering on a small box. She pressed a button and a set of small figures became animated. They whorled in a circle with their arms draped over shoulders of figures on either side. Each figure moved with twists and dips to the music. The music started slowly and then got faster and continued in a frenetic pace. Rachael was watching the animated celebration so intently , she had not heard John Smith enter the room. He coughed lightly. She pressed the button and the figures stopped. Smith stared at the box for a moment, “When I was a child, we would rush around in a circle until we got dizzy.”
Rachael cleaned her hands with a cloth and turned her chair to face him, “Same idea, only it is old men instead of children.”
Smith cocked his head, “Why ever?”
Rachael shrugged, “Celebrating life I suppose. My people were exiled and persecuted.” She glanced at the box, “When my grandparents had moments to celebrate it was all the more precious.”
Smith pressed the button and the figures began their dance again. “My people could learn things from yours.”
Rachael snorted, “I’ll invite you to my wedding and you can dance the Hava Nigila with my papa. One of you will get a stiff neck, but it will be worth it just to see the effort.”
Smith straightened and said, “I know you dislike me, but should I be invited I would be honored.”
Rachael shook herself and pressed the button to stop the animation, “You didn’t come here to discuss my wedding plans.”
Smith said, “No. I need to know how quickly our fleet can get to Juthjath, the Tymbrimi world.”
Rachael said, “Camille, please show our position and Juthjath on screen one.” Rachael performed some calculations, “Camille, I estimate five days with our improvements.”
Camille responded, “That is only 10 of the fleet. They other 20 ships will take closer to ten days.”
Neville came in and took a seat. Smith nodded at him and continued, “So we can arrive with a third of the force in five days or a full force in ten.”
Rachael grimaced, “How much difference is five days going to make? I would rather have more than less.”
Camille said, “Ian passed data to me. Brian had half of his Uycarran ships and half of the Tymbrimi ships off before the Guild fleet arrived. Guild started strafing runs on its arrival and nothing has left the planet except drones since.”
Rachael said, “Casualties?”
Camille said, “This message was a quick appeal for help. They sent no damage information.”
Neville sounded irritated, “Can you guess at least?”
Camille hissed, “Too many variables.”
Smith pinched his nose, “The port is on the outskirts of the capitol. But it is surrounded by factories. Was the strafing during business hours? Was anyone in those buildings at all? Did the Guild send a warning? She is right – it could be hundreds; it could be tens of thousands.” He crossed his arms, “If they drop one rock, the count reaches millions.”
Rachael tapped her finger on the table, “About that. How quickly can our scanners identify asteroids that are being used for that? I assume acting on those sooner is better. I have some ideas on that.”
Camille’s voice got steel in it, “If my brethren work together, we should be able to find it quickly. There will be a great deal of force being applied.But they will be protected heavily.”
Rachael smiled thinly, “If we can get Camille and her friends to help, it won’t matter if they are protected. But I will need control of a ship for each asteroid. There is too much chance otherwise.”
Smith scratched his cheek, “Camille is very convincing with her people. My people will do what I say. I am intrigued – I find you quite ruthless at times.”

Defending Home

As the ship swooped low, John pushed the button. The bullet left the rifle at hypersonic speed and hit a fan on the lead ship. The fighter corkscrewed wildly and plowed into the ground. John tried to site the second ship but it had veered of in a series of wild actions. Ami’s voice came on through the notebook,”You know that is easier with the targeting.”
John said, “Then they know it is coming and never get in range.”
Ami chuckled, “Nice shooting anyway, dab.”
John muttered, “One got away.”
Ami said cheerfully, “Ahh…but he or she has soiled his or her uniform and will have to live down being frightened off by a witless barbarian. And the one you shot down, is quite possibly having the worst day of his or her life…if he or she survived.” There was a pause and then, “The fighters are pulling back. They are probably planning something big for tomorrow.”
He looked up at the sky, “So no more are coming.”
“No, you overgrown berserker. Now get your ass home so I can clean you properly.”
John wiped his brow and put the rifle away in a bag, “How do you know about berserkers?”
“Eleanor called you that after the first day. I had one of the AIs look it up for me. You are not the only one who reads.” John snorted. Ami added “I think the bare chested, fur covered look could work for you.”
John choked and then laughed, “Alright, I am hurrying home.”
Ami said, “Good, I hate cold baths”

Tending the Wounded

Simone grabbed a notebook and ran to meet the next truckload of casualties. Two tall Uycarrans were carefully moving the Tymbrimi, Uycarran, Menanggung and others off the makeshift carrier. Simone and a Tymbrimi nurse screened the patients and prioritized the worst cases. Simone looked over a Menanggung who had a deep gash in her chest. The bleeding was stopped but her breathing was shallow. She signaled to two orderlies who took the Menanggung directly into the emergency room for treatment and probable surgery.

She moved to a Tymbrimi. He was pale but lacked in external wounds. She palpitated his abdomen and asked his name.
He said, “Gentlerain. I was teaching Physical Ed at Stargazer school near the factory…ohhhh that hurt…I didn’t have time to get them inside.”
Simone said, “You might have some cracked ribs or some bleeding…I’m sending you to imaging.” She called over the orderly and Gentlerain was moved inside as well.

The Uycarrans brought a small Tymbrimi girl down the ramp. Her face was covered with bandages. One of the Uycarrans was trying to sooth the child, “Easy now child. We’re at the hospital.”
“It hurts. Oh… it hurts. I can’t see.”
Simone said, “You’re at hospital. Where does it hurt the most?”
The child whimpered, “My face. I can’t see.” She moved her bandaged hands up to her face.
Simone stopped the hand and held it, “I’m going to look at it a bit. It is going to sting more. Hold onto…” Simone looked at one of the Uycarran’s who said, “Nikolao”. Simone continued, “Hold onto Nikolao’s hand while I look.” She started to work on the bandage. Then asked the second Uycarran, “Why the burns?” The child shook a bit as Simone looked around the bandages. The child’s face was badly burned as was her neck.
Simone said, “Take her to the main treatment. It is mostly burns. They’ll start cleaning and healing.” She leaned down and said, “You were very brave. They are going to take you inside and someone will make you feel better. I have a good friend who managed this. I want you to meet her.” She nodded to the Uycarrans who carried her away. Simone closed her eyes and breathed deep. She made an entry for the girl in her notebook.
Another tall Uycarran came running down the ramp with a tiny body cradled – a Menanggung boy. Simone ran up to the man who was shouting, “You’ve got to help him.”
Simone said, “Put him down.” The Uycarran set the small body down. The boy was covered with cuts and one of his legs was horribly twisted. Simone began chest pumps and then took the large Uycarran’s hands and said, “Do that. Move his blood.” The Uycarran took over muttering, “Com’on Wake up. …he was awake when we left. I swear.” Simone opened the shirt and gasped. There was a jagged wound 5 to 6 centimeters long. The boy had probably bled out on the ride. She put a hand on the Uycarran and said, “He is gone. There is nothing we can do.”
“No…No…I promised he would see his parents. “ The Uycarran pumped harder. Blood seeped out the wound.
“I am sorry.”
A Tymbrimi leaned and said, “Braden, Come along mate. She’s right and we’ve got others who need help.”
Simone said, “I’ll move him over to the shade with the others and we can deal with him after the others get help.”
The Uycarran nodded weakly. Simone lifted the small and light body and moved it to a tent that held the others who had died.
The two Uycarran were bringing another small body. Simone snapped, “Stop bringing children. Stop it. Please no more.”
A Tymbrimi woman behind them snarled, “I’d stop but the Guild aimed for a factory and hit a school instead.”
Simone slumped and said, “Sorry…” She looked over the boy then said, “Get him into surgery now…we can save him if not his leg.” They headed in and the Tymbrimi woman patted Simone’s shoulder as she walked by.

The Uycarrrans and Tymbrimi kept bringing out small broken bodies and some adults until the truck was empty. Most were sent into the treatment room to be cared for. But there was a row under the tent that were beyond treatment, beyond pain and beyond loss. With the wounded tended to, Simone felt empty as she looked at the row of small lumps under the sheets. Other nurses gathered around the tent. The Uycarrans from the truck and the Tymbrimi woman joined the circle. A Menanggung began to hum and rock. A Kaum Legit closed its eyes and turned its head skyward with its hands out. The Uycarrans begain to sing a low tune. The words spoke of green fields and fair winds. The Tymbrimi sang in harmony to the Uycarrans. Simone’s face was wet. She closed her eyes and began a prayer of her childhood, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…”

Striking Back

Eleanor sat at the console watching the gas giant pass by as the ship orbited. The Uycarran and Tymbrimi fleet of ships had left Juthjath the fourth planet and had been hiding at the 6th planet. It had a large complicated set of rings that provided perfect cover for a group of ships. Two or three ships at a time would do reconnaissance missions or the occasional harassment of Guild ships returning from Juthjath. But on the whole, the coalition fleet did very little as the Guild flew fighters down to the planet below. Brian said, “We wait until Smith and others arrive. We can’t take on the whole fleet.” So Eleanor read operational manuals, ran battle simulations with Ian and made sketches of cloud racing skimmers in her down time. Brian had taken on a communications specialist before leaving. Awag Jogtath was a female Hoon. She was doing her own research into humans and Earth and enjoyed questioning Eleanor. “Human women do not have the right to vote in democracy?”
Eleanor grunted, “Some are working on it. We have jobs and education in some places. Voting will follow. My Queen is female and she has been promoting women.”
Brian came rushing in, “Put those books away and start readying the ship. We are finally going to implement plan ‘Ocks [2]  Attack’. Silverbeam has decided to respond and he wants the Guild fighters destroyed.”
Eleanor sat up and started adjusting the console for flight, “Why the change of heart?”
Ian answered, “The Guild made a serious mistake. I am starting the ring sequence as well and forward the coordinates to the other ships.”
Eleanor continued her work on the console and nodded to Awag who waved her hand.
Brian snapped, “Be ready to launch in 15 minutes. We will want to catch these butchers as they arrive back in to their carrier. Awag, open an unencrypted channel to the other ships.”
Eleanor and Awag eyed him but Awag’s hands moved and she said, “Channel is open to all ships…we are all a little tense.”
Brian hissed, “By the time the Guild hears this, they will be sifting through the dust of their fighters. Start the transmission.” Awag nodded to him. Brian spoke with clenched fists, “Twenty minutes ago a set of Guild fighters attacked the Stargazer Day School. One building collapsed and caught fire. Intelligence believes the intended target was a factory 500 meters away. But tell that to the score of children and teachers who died and others who were maimed.” Eleanor’s throat tightened. He paused and said, “Every ship that is ready in 15 minutes will be in flight to show the Guild our response – plan ‘Ocks Attack.’ The Guild will pay dearly for its careless, cavalier attitude. Myself and Sugarbreeze will lead and take out defensive pods. The rest of you should focus on their damned fighters. We will drop out of transition less than 50 Kilometers from the Guild fleet. They won’t be able to react in seconds we will take to attack. We go in quick, make them bleed and then rendezvous at station B. Tuireann out.”
Eleanor’s eyes flashed over the console, “We will be ready to jump in 10 minutes.”
Brian took his seat at the weapons console, “Thank you, Miss Woodson. We are going to make these bastards pay.”

 2 [Ocks are a long gone Uycarran polllinator. They formed large colonies which were famous for their nectar. They were also famous for their swarming defense of the colony from anything that tried to take that nectar. Large mammels and reptiles were known to have died mistakenly bumping into the hidden colonies.]

In all, 30 ships were ready to leave – 3/4 of the fleet. The other 12 were told to rally at a moon on the second planet. Station B, as it was called, had less cover, but they would be closer for harassment. Their cover was blown for this location, bu it was time to get closer. During the attack, Eleanor would pilot the ship while Brian would scan and destroy the Guild defensive systems. Awag would be communicating with the other ships and keeping track of issues and targets. Ian and the other AIs had their own plans. The initial ideas were ruthless and would have confirmed others fears of AI autonomy. Brian managed to scale the ideas back to attacks on the defensive systems. Ian had pleaded, “We can do more.”
Brian sighed, “I know. But we attack the fighters only.”
“They attacked children.”
“We are pretty sure it was a mistake. We are responding to their carelessness. But we do not want to force their hand too far, they still have the superior firepower. And, in the long term this isn’t just a battle of superiority. We need to show we are better. We won’t be as indiscriminate as they were.”
Ian said, “Fine…but those fighters will be death traps when we are done.”
Brian rub his brow, “If it stops future fighter missions, I have no problem. Try to hide who made the viruses. The Guild doesn’t know for sure if you exist and you are much scarier as a phatom.”
Eleanor was sure she heard a hmph and a mutter “Organic lifeforms…totally senseless.” Then Ian said, “Our priorities and parameters have been established. Their defense computers will be calculating several irrational numbers to extreme precision while we are making our runs.”
Brian chuckled, “A perfect use of their time while we play in the neighborhood.”
Eleanor said, “Moving to jump. This won’t take long.”
The drive turned on and they traversed the transition space for about 10 minutes. Eleanor said, “10 seconds to normal space.”
Brian said, “Steady on people.” The drive shut off and Eleanor’s head cleared immediately.
Brian said, “Target ship at heading of 60 degrees starboard, 15 degrees down and 15 Kilometers out.”
Eleanor adjusted the course and said, “Accelerating to target starboard side.”
Awag said, “Sugarbreeze is taking the port side and matching speed.”
Brian said, “Everyone else is behind us. Miss Woodson, concentrate on following the path and not getting hit. I will setting up the missiles as we fly by.
Eleanor viewed the screen with her chosen path that flew by the large ship’s defense batteries. The screen provided a box and lines for her to follow. The large ship was highlighted in red while coalition ships were green. There were smaller red dots that seemed to be heading into caves on the side of the ship.
Brian said, “First missiles are away. Back batteries are damaged. Broadside batteries acquired. Laying in a missile sequence. Keep it steady, Miss Woodson.” As large ship rushed passed, there were flashes where each missile landed and discharged. At the front end of the ship, Brian shouted, “Missile lock!”
Eleanor turned her ship up and hard to the left. Brian said tensely, “Deploying counter measures. Two missiles are still tracking us.” The alarms got shriller as the missiles got closer to Brian’s ship. Without thinking, Eleanor started the ring device and the ship was in transition. The alarms stopped. Brian leaned back and pursed his lips, “I suppose that works. Can we get back?”
Eleanor shook her head and rolled her eyes said, “Give me a moment.” She adjusted the controls and the ship returned to normal space. “We should be at the tail end of our ships.”
Awag said, “The fleet is ahead of us as is the target ship.” Eleanor’s screen was full of green marks indicating friendly ships. Red marks were now appearing indicating Guild fighters that were getting away. Awag continued, “Most of the Guild defensive systems are down and they are firing erratically.”
Ian said, “It is difficult for anyone to track a ship flying by and we’ve given their computers another task with a higher priority.”
Brian said, “Well then, let’s go have our second round of fun. Finding new sequence.” Eleanor’s screen filled with a new track to follow. This time there were green dots and red dots indicating fighters on the two sides locked in combat. “Let the others attack the fighters. We are doing another run. I will be targeting the landing docks. Pull out before the end of the carrier. I don’t think either of us got the bow turrets. Eleanor tensed. She took a deep breath and then began following the track laid out. As she flew along the large cruiser, she could see gouts of flame and gas from the Guild ship defenses. The first attack had left the carrier with few defenses. She flew close as she dared to the large ship and Brian fired missiles into each landing bay. As she neared the front of the large Guild she pulled away hard avoiding the beams.
Brian shouted, “We have company. Guild ship on our rear.”
Awag called to other ships, “Need help. We have Guild on our tail.” Eleanor moved through a serious of twists and turns but the Guild fighter kept pursuit up. Brian’s hands were playing over his console.”I can’t get a lock on the ship.”
Ian said, “Then neither can he. It should be just a moment …”
Eleanor turned hard again with the Guild getting closer. An alarm sounded indicating the fighter had a missile lock. And then it stopped. Brian said, “The Guild fighter is breaking off…it’s …spinning tail on bridge. It will break up if it keeps up.”
Ian said, “Then they better shut off their engines.”
“It broke apart…”
“He really should have shut off the engines.”
Brian looked at the screen, “All of the Guild fighters are doing that…some of them are shutting down.” He rubbed his brow, “Awag relay a message…Assemble on me. We are going to take one more run and target the large cannons.” The remaining 28 ships made new attack lines. The carrier had two large cannons that were built to fight other large ships or to attack planets. They were not fast enough or nimble enough to deal with fighters. But the defenses that should protect the cannons were gone. The coalition ships poured missile after missile into the two cannons until finally there was a burst of gas and a flash and the large pods began to separate from the Guild ship. Awag said, “Main thrusters on the carrier are starting. They are pulling away.”
Eleanor leaned back. Brian put his head in his hands and then said “Send me the crew names of the two missing ships and have the group assemble at site B. I will be in my quarters…dealing with …paperwork …and letters.” Eleanor silently plugged in the coordinates and began the shift to the new location.

Waiting for Help

There was another flash and another explosion at the Helenith space port. John, Simone and Ami had moved to Silverbeam’s compound after Brian’s attack on the carrier. Battleships had taken the carrier’s place and a new phase of the siege had begun. The area around the space port was evacuated and around the planet, space related facilities were evacuated. Most people had been able to leave. Some could not or would not, John thought bitterly as he watched another missile land on the space port.
The battleships could not land or even enter the atmosphere, but they were capable of launching missiles and beams that caused major damage on the planet surface. The attacks were not precise and they were not subtle. The Guild was changing its tactics and its goals. They were no longer trying to intimidate the planet and the Tymbrimi, they were going to reduce it to subjugation.
Even with the evacuations, the injured and sick were overwhelming the hospitals. Large public areas such as stadiums and shopping centers had been converted to tend the wounded and to house refugees.
John muttered, “Can’t the fleet do anything?”
Silverbeam watched the smoke rise from the space port, “Our fleet is too small. Our weapons are too weak to deal with the battleships. If we had more ships or if we had larger weapons, we could make life hard for the battleships. I’ve let Smith and others know the situation. That is our one advantage. Help might arrive while it matters. We wait for Smith and hope he brings a miracle.”
John said, “And if he doesn’t?”
There was a long pause before Silverbeam responded. He spoke carefully, “I’ve read a bit of your history, John O’Malley. You want to know what happens? Try reading about your country’s Siege of Gibraltar. The Guild can’t starve us. They can’t land. As big and annoying as those damned battleships are, they cannot take the planet and the troop ships they brought will be shredded by our fleet if they leave the battleships. So we wait.” He sighed and looked up at John, “Smith is not the only I’ve notified. He is just the fastest. If you need to worry, worry about the Guild will do when we don’t give up. Their history in such situations is unpleasant.” He headed to his work table to manage dispatches. He sat and began reading. Without looking up he dismissed John, “Go help out at the stadium if you want to do something. There are no ships left for you to work on and the Guild has stopped sending you targets.”

Too Much?

Rachael laid out the principle of the attack to Smith again, “We just have to get a rock pointed at the right target. The rock doesn’t even have to be big.”
Smith rubbed his brow, “It is the aiming that leaves me cold. You are launching a projectile at relativistic speeds at a target twice the distance of your moon. What happens if we miss?”
Rachael said, “If we, by some amazing chance, hit another asteroid, it will be an impressive set of fireworks.”
Smith said, “You are talking about aiming ships in orbit. What happens if we miss and the rock hit the planet?”
Rachael said, “The atmosphere would slow it some…”
Smith said, “Not enough.”
Camille said, “And I am not so sure that slowing will be good. At those speeds, the shock waves could be devastating. If the rock is small enough or loose enough it may burn up in the atmosphere, but the shock wave would cover a continent.”
Smith frowned, “I will hardly get a medal when my rescue destroys a continent. Prove to me you can actually hit something you intend to and we’ll talk about aiming it at ships.”
Rachael crossed her arms, “Fine, we don’t use it on an orbit ships now. But we can try it on any asteroids they are hauling to drop on the planet. “
Smith crossed his arms, “If you and Camille solve the targeting issues, you can have a missile or two. At least we have racks for those.”

The Guild Sends a Message

The injured and dead came in waves every two to three days. The ships in orbit would line up with Helenith and attack with beams and missiles. The numbers of casualties got smaller with each attack. Those that could, left their homes and businesses for other locations. Others were moved to refugee centers. And those who could not or would not leave grew smaller with each attack. Simone rested in the shade of an abandoned souvenir stand. The hospital and its functions had been moved to a shopping center as the numbers of wounded and homeless grew. She closed her eyes and drank her water.
A Menanggung hurried up quickly and said, “Miss Campbell. Mr. Silverbeam needs you now. He is sending for Mr. O’Malley as well. He is convening a big meeting. Uycarrans will be there as well.”
Simone looked around and said, “They will be needing help here soon. The ships are returning.”
The Menanggung wrung his hands saying, “Mr. Silverbeam knows this, but he is insistent. You must come. There is going to be a Guild contact and he wants representatives from all the races when it happens.”
Simone stopped in mid drink and eyed the Menanggung. “Guild contact? I did not know that was happening?”
He shifted from one foot to the other, “We received a message from the Guild admiral three hours ago ‘requesting’ a meeting with our leaders.”
“I am not a leader.”
“You and Mr. O’Malley are here. You invented the Omicron drives. That makes you a leader for humans.”
Simone stood and stretched and brushed herself off. “Fine, but my clothes are back in my room.”
“Your clothes are unimportant. We must leave now.”
Simone used her water and tried to remove some of the blood stains while they traveled, but there were too many and they were too big. She sighed and gave up. They stopped at the sports stadium where displaced refugees were staying. John O’Malley was outside with a Hoon. Ami Tymbrimi followed John out to the transportation she leaned and told Simone, “Tell Silverbeam to let you go quick. I’ve got some fresh fish. Tell him he can join us if he needs to talk more.” John gave a quick kiss on her head and climbed in and said, “They have the most amazing spices here.”
The Hoon got in the front with the Menanggung. Simone looked over at John. He was dusty and had some oil stains on his work clothes. She said, “I guess they told you it needed to be quick as well.”
John shrugged, “They said there was a small window.” He sniffed as he looked at his clothes. “I’ve been doing maintenance on climate control. They said there was no time to change.”
The Hoon leaned in from the front, “Please excuse our rush. Everyone is being fetched with haste. Mr. Silverbeam feels the right group will leave an important impression.”
They arrived at the Silverbeam compound. The compound had suffered significant damage. Half collapsed homes were surrounded by trees denuded of leaves and statuary fallen to the ground. The transport stopped and they were ushered with others to a low concrete building built into a hill. The Menanggung saw her looking at the devastation and said, “Mr. Silverbeam sent most everyone away after Tuireann’s raid. Those of us who are working are housed below ground. It is safe. We just can’t be above ground when a battleship passes.” The group of humans and other aliens took an elevator to a level far below the surface. There, in a room nearly the size of a banquet hall, were dozens. There were several Uycarran in their odd mix of cultural outfits. There were Tymbrimi who were in uniforms that show signs of long wear and need a good pressing. Hoon, Kuam Legit, Yevath, and Luxian all gathered in the room dominated by a long table. Silverbeam called loudly, “Please sit.” The group began to take seats along the table. Silverbeam had his hands behind his back, “The Guild Admiral has asked to make a message to the planet leaders. You’ve been called as representatives of the races on this planet.” He leaned on the table, “In case any of you have doubts, nothing changes for us. We do not go back on our word.” He leaned up, “Help is coming and they do not know that.” Simone breathed a little easier.
A Hoon in uniform said, “Patching the Admiral to the main screen and camera.”
An image of a Chiss man appeared. He had the normal light blue skin,deep red eyes and short grey hair. He was a dressed in a dark tunic. There were stripes on his shoulders that probably indicated his rank. He was a flanked by a Elohim and a Luxian. Simone could see the Luxians frown and mutter. Silverbeam folded his hands on the table and smiled at the image, “Admiral Bolat, what is the occasion? I’ve assembled the leaders. Have you decided to take your target practice somewhere else?”
The admiral furrowed his brow. His voice was deep, “Far from it, Silverbeam.” He appeared to look around. “I see you have Uycarran and the humans in the room. That makes this discussion awkward. We have no dispute with others in the room.”
Silverbeam leaned forward, “And yet you bomb our ports and factories and harass our citizens.” He waved around the room, “You asked for the leaders and I have all of them. Our position on Uycarrans and humans is clear.”
The admiral smiled thinly, “I assume you can monitor outside your cave. Watch the vehicles. It is important that you do and that you respond quickly.”
Silverbeam nodded to the Hoon and a second image appeared showing where the vehicles should have been. They were gone and all that was left was a crater. Simone and others gasped. Silverbeam put up a finger indicating people should be silent, “Really Bolat. That is your message? You have been bombing this place for days. All you have done is inconvenience these people’s return trip.” Simone’s stomach felt queasy despite Silverbeam’s nonchalance.
The admiral drummed his fingers on the table, “The attacks of the last week have been trying to wake you up to the realities of the galaxy. Apparently you need something louder to get the message.” He leaned back. “I was given a time table and a deadline, Silverbeam. Get the Uycarrans and the humans in a month or leave nothing.” The room was silent. Silverbeam frowned but said nothing. “Apparently my relative restraint…” there was protest in the room. The admiral said louder, “My restraint has gotten in the way of my objectives and orders. I am changing tactics. What will happen is not poorly trained pilots or misfires. Everything that happens we intend and you caused by not meeting our simple requests.”
Silverbeam said harshly, “We will not betray friends.”
“Even as your family dies, Silverbeam?” The admiral raised a finger and nodded. He waited a beat and said, “The two battleships have fired salvos into the Sports Stadium.” He leaned in, “I believe there were refugees there. I understand Ami is there almost daily.”
Simone’s stomach dropped. She heard John say, “No… No…No… you …you bastard…”. Two Uycarrans were holding him in his seat. Others in the room were shouting out as well, “My wife… My mate…my children…”
Silverbeam stood and hissed, “You arrogant shit. You think that will make me cave to your demands? Those lives are on your hands and whatever devil from hell gave the orders. We will not surrender.“
The admiral smiled and leaned in, “I have been restrained…even patient. Even you knew that. And you did nothing.” He frowned, “No more. We will be striking towns as they line up. There will be no place for anyone to hide. Or you can hand over the humans and the Uycarrans and I will stop. It is that simple.”
“You will pay, Bolat. And I will collect that debt.”
“How Silverbeam? How? Your agile little toys might challenge a cruiser or two. But they are no match for two Master Class battleships and I might get more annoyed if you try.” He leaned forward, “And Silverbeam…if a few salvos won’t convince you, I have orders to make sure nothing leave the planet ever again.” He nodded to the room, “Ask the Uycarrans about our methods.” The image disappeared.
The communications Hoon rushed in, “Sir…the stadium…it is… it is gone and most of the neighborhood.” The shouts became wails across the room. John collapsed to the table with his face in his hands.
Silverbeam snarled, “Send images to Tuireann and station B. Then send fast drones to the coalition races. I want that man breathing vacuum.”

One Threat Gone

Rachael’s head cleared immediately as they left transition. They arrived near the sixth planet and fell into orbit around the ringed planet. She checked for the fleet other ships and then said, “All ships present. Between the distance, the rings and the Guild not knowing to look, we should still be a surprise.”
Smith grumbled, “That is a lot to count on. Camille find those asteroids and their tugs. Miss Weiz send a drone to Juthjath and send an update. We will want to coordinate strategy.”
Rachael composed the message and rolled on to deliver it to the drone. She would see Winifred Stanhope in her grave. But these drones would be what kept the coalition ahead of the Guild. With the ship AIs scanning the galaxy and the messages delivered, there was nothing to do but wait. Neville was working on another drone. She rolled up as Neville worked. Neville said, “Transmitter is on, Camille.”
Camille said, “I am getting a good signal through the missile. Shift the drone a bit and I will check guidance.” Neville moved the winch to the right and up. Camille said, “Guidance is responsive. If the missile doesn’t fall apart on the way, it will deliver our message.”
Neville wiped his hands on the cloth and looked at the drone. “Why do you suppose they are supporting us?”
Rachael asked, “Who is supporting us?”
Neville looked at her and said, “The coalition. Why are they stepping out for Earth?”
Rachael rolled her chair over to the console and readied the drones for their flight. “Do you really want to know? Isn’t it enough that they are?”
Neville shrugged, “Smith is the only one who has been there in this group, but they are about to get shot at. Don’t you wonder why they are supporting Earth?”
Rachael pressed some more buttons and then closed a drone panel, “They aren’t supporting us. Well Millicent is, but the other’s are being given a reason to fight the guild. We are the convenient excuse. You heard the talk – we are a backwater planet that shouldn’t bother anybody.”
Neville said, “That isn’t stopping the Guild from attacking us.”
Rachael smiled, “And that will turn out to be a big mistake. Millicent wants us saved. But Smith and his ragged band of merry men are more interested in saving the galaxy from the Sheriff of Nottingham and taking from the rich.” She scratched her head and then winked at him, “Winifred was right – you are on the wrong side.”
Neville threw the rag at her. “Robin Hood was Robin of Lockesly before he starting robbing people.”
Rachael cleaned her own hands with the rag, “Seriously, Smith and other have been building this coalition for years. Humans provided a leap in technology and the locals are angry enough to revolt. If the government gets too far removed, they lose control. The English found out in America. The French found out. The Spanish found out in Mexico. You can only bleed the plebes so long.” She pressed a button and the drones lit up, “And make everyone even more nervous, the Guild is reminding everyone about the Uycarrans. I think the Guild is going to be surprised that not everyone thought that was a great idea.”
Neville sighed, “Your right.It was nicer to think they were helping us out.”
Rachael said, “When you are the underdog, nobody helps you unless there is an angle for them.It’s the history of…a lot of people.”
Camille interrupted, “We have located two targets sun-side of the asteroid belt and accelerating towards Juthjath.” Her voice got menacing, “Are you ready for some blood Miss Weiz.”
Rachael smirked, “You were quick in finding them. ” Rachael’s voice got tight. “ Let’s do this. They attacked civilians. They are planning worse.They started this.”
Camille said, “And we will finish it. The second ship we will be using is “Fairer Skies”. The captain is Jorn and my brother is Sindri. They have offered full cooperation. They are …intrigued by this technique.”
Neville was already heading to the bridge. Rachael said, “I will work from the bridge. Deploy two of the modified drones and send them to the target asteroids. Let’s see if this madness works.”
On the bridge, Smith was in his captain’s chair. “Jorn and Sindri have linked their ship to ours. I assume Camille and Sindri have worked out how to do the releases simultaneously.”
Rachael said, “I’m not sure that is necessary other than for show. If they are close enough in time, they will look simultaneous at Juthjath. Jorn has the procedure and Sindri will be assisting just as Camille is assisting us.”
Smith crossed his legs, “I’ve done a bit of calculation. There will be nothing left of either asteroid and probably nothing of the tugs or escort ships.”
Rachael pulled into her spot at communications and scanning, “Is there a problem with that?”
“Not at all. But it confirms my choice to try this on something far away from Juthjath. It would be poor form to destroy the planet in order to save it.”
Rachael grunted, “Let’s see the aftermath before we take any options off the table.”
Neville shook his head, “Moving ships to starting point.”
Rachael and Camille had found a point that was 5 light minutes from the target asteroids. They would start transition outside the asteroid belt and enter at the point. Rachael would override several safety protocols that protected the ship when returning from transition. The engineer on “Fairer Skies” had made similar adjustments. The ships would not be in transition long, but they would start dropping the shield early in the transition so their relative speed would be a good portion of the speed of light. They were on the other side of the solar system when they started the run. Rachael confirmed that the “Fairer Skies” was present. “Jorn, deploy your missiles.” She looked at the ceiling, “Camille, are you and Sindri set?”
The voice responded acidly, “Of course, Sindri has my instructions and routines for this exercise. He is quite…interested in the outcome.” There was a pause, “I think he might be a bit more harsh than me.”
Rachael muttered, “God save us from bloody machines.” And then said, “Whenever you are ready, Mr. Carter-Frasier.”
Neville looked at Smith who grunted. Neville began to move the ship and they were into transition. They were only in for a few seconds when Camille said, “Dropping out of transition” Rachael felt the ship strain against the deceleration and pressed her button, “Missiles released. 1 minute to impact.”
Smith said, “Get us back to the fleet, Carter-Frasier.”
Neville worked again and they were in transition. After a few moments, they were back with the Uycarran fleet.
Smith asked, “Well? Did they hit?”
Rachael said, “I am directing the sensors in the direction of the two asteroids. There is a delay due to light travel…OoHHH!”
The screen lit up with two small suns. Camille said, “I am detecting dust, broad radiation, and some odd atomic particles.”
Smith said, “The ships?”
Camille said, “I think I just described what’s left – dust and some odd atomic particles.”
Smith smiled thinly, “And that is just what those Guild Battleships will see in 20 minutes. Miss Weiz, send a drone to Brian Tuiriann and let him know the time table. It is time to dish up the second course of this little reception of ours.”

The Battle for Juthjath

Eleanor

Eleanor and Awag were running yet another simulation of attacks. Ian was critiquing Eleanor’s approaches. “The ship will be wide open to any beams or missiles from the aft batteries.”
Eleanor smacked her hand on the table, “And if I approach from the side, I have six potential broadside batteries. Do I face those or the two aft ones?”
Brian rushed in, “Stop squabbling. We will make the aft approach work.” He held up a sheet of paper shaking, “They did it. Smith destroyed the asteroids and the support ships. They are gone.”
Awag stared and croaked, “Gone? How?”
Brian smiled broadly, “I think the remarkable Miss Weiz cheated with the Omicron device. In any case, Smith and his fleet are planning on attacking just after the Guild ships at Juthjath find out. With the time lag that is in 20 minutes. ” He sat down at his console and said, “We will be doing our own attack at the same time. Awag, let everyone know what happened and they have to be ready to leave and attack in 15 minutes.”
Awag began sending the orders. The target would be the main thruster of the battleship. It was not as heavily guarded by batteries as the bridge or other portions of the ship, but it was the most heavily shielded portion of the ship. The AIs would work first to disrupt the batteries guidance and then the shielding. But recent missions had shown the Guild had learned from Brian’s previous success and computer attacks were much harder now.

The countdown clock said zero and Brian said, “Miss Jogath, send the launch signal. Miss Woodson lead the way.” Eleanor moved her hands over the console and the ship jumped into transition.
The coalition fleet came into normal space 50 Kilometers away from the battleship. The other coalition ships lined up with Brian’s ship. The space behind the battleship suddenly had a very bright light as if the solar system had a new planet briefly. Brian smiled said, “There is our cue. Show us the way, Miss Woodson.” Eleanor moved towards the huge battleship and Brian began programming attacks on the defensive batteries at its stern. Coalition ships began the same attack. Eleanor’s flight path kept the large engine between the ships and the cannons of the second battery. But besieged battery returned fired even as the missiles landed with one explosion after another. Then the turret gave a flash and a satisfying puff of escaping vapor. Eleanor pulled around for the second wave of attacks.
The battleship began to wake up as Brian said, “Target at will. Keep steady.”
Awag shouted, “Charge beam is targeting us.”
Brian said, “Dammit, evade. We will take that second gun out on next run. We are going to need Smith’s help soon if we want to shut this thing down.”

Rachael

Smith’s ship and his companions entered normal transition near the bow of the battleship. Smith said, “Lead the way Carter-Frasier. Camille tell your friends to start their interference.” Rachael felt the ship pull at her as Neville accelerated along the port side of the battleship.
She reported, “All right wing ships are lined up behind us and following.”
Smith shrugged, “Nice to know know Uycarrans can work together if we have to.”
Rachael added, “There are about 30 ships engaged with the rear defenses.”
Smith said, “A standard attack. Let’s see if this new method of yours will work. Have you found the spots you are looking for?”
Rachael said quickly and then said, “Found it. Sending the coordinates to you and Neville.”
Neville said, “Adjusting the path.”
Smith said, “Rail gun is loaded with fragmentary rounds. I have the target.”
Rachael said, “The first garbage hatch is just behind the bridge and then one every 300 meters.”
Smith smiled thinly, “Tell everyone to drop a round on the first hatch and reform. We’ll do the others in better order on the second run. I want to extend our greetings to Admiral Borat.”
Rachael grinned as she relayed the order.

Eleanor

Brian said, “Tell Sugarbreeze and Bendik to join us and get that last turret out of order”. Awag relayed the orders and Eleanor started the ship through a set of twisting set of maneuvers. The ship shook and alarms went off as she spiraled towards the target battery. It fired missiles and beams at her as she got closer. Awag said, “Shielding down to 50%”
Eleanor said through clenched teeth, “Tuireann, get those missiles ready.”
Brian said, “Missiles locked”. Eleanor held the ship steady for a moment and Brian said, “Missiles away.” She pulled the ship away hard and felt light headed as the ship accelerated through the turn. Brian said, “First missile missed, second missile hit. …Dammit…a beam hit Bendik. He is spinning… His ship crashed into the battery…” Brian rubbed his face, “The battery is out of commission.” He closed his eyes and said quietly, “We went to school together…”
Eleanor grimaced and said, “We make his sacrifice count.” She pulled the ship back towards the battleship and lined up with the engine. “Do your job Captain Tuireann.”
Awag said, “A second fleet has arrived in front of the battleship…they are firing on the hull.”
Brian looked up and said in a tired voice, “Smith arrived…fashionably late as always.” Then he squinted at his monitors, “What the hell is he doing?”

Rachael

Smith fired three sets of rounds from the rail gun. The garbage chutes were small ports along the top of the battleship. They were a weakness; a target. Normally, enemies should not be so close to the battleship to be able to target them. But the coalition ships were operating faster than Guild had ever had encountered before. The rubbish bins were not the target. Instead, once the ports were breached, further explosions would wreak havoc on the inside. Because garbage management needed to be central to the ship, other vital systems would be nearby: communications, navigation, power. Aside from the sheer nuisance of the refuse of a thousand people filling hallways, additional explosions could damage those systems. That was the theory. However, the first attacks would not penetrate the shielding immediately and defensive systems would not be idle as 50 enemy ships flew by dropping no end of missiles and other projectiles.
Neville said tensely, “Those beams are getting close” and twisted the ship yet again.
Camile said calmly, “We are working on that. Just keep evading them until we get in.”
Neville whined, “That’s it? Just keep evading? What do you think I have been doing the last 10 minutes? Twiddling my thumbs.”
Camille snapped, “Given your imagination in maneuvers, that was my suspicion. Now let me do my work.”
Smith growled, “Focus. Carter-Frasier… and try turning in the other direction on occasion. Just be glad you are the first ship and not the second.”
Neville grunted and shifted the ship up and then down.
Camille said, brightly, “You may resume your tedious attempts at evasion Mr. Carter-Frasier. The targeting systems will not be working for awhile.”
Neville grumbled and shook his head. Smith glared at the ceiling, “There were close to 50 of you working on that. What took so long?”
Camille sounded defensive, “Their defenses improved after Ian and his friends attack. There were not really 50 of us until we were fully engaged. We had to be in range to do our work. Only when there were enough of us did the systems let us in. Even with nearly all of working together we had a lot of barriers to break down. Shall I tell the group their work was unsatisfactory and put the targeting system back on-line? Or should I send your thanks?”
Smith rubbed his head, “Fine. Thank you Camille.” He looked at the readouts and said, “I leave it to you to decide what to attack next. But remember we want the ship whole.”
Rachael said, “The garbage port closest to the bridge is venting gas. The midship port may be breached. The aft port is still intact.” She looked at her console, “The Tymbrimi ships are attacking the aft port as well now.”
Smith smiled, “Finally. Tuireann always had problems taking a hint. Bring us around for a new run, Carter-Frasier. I want that bridge covered in garbage when the ship loses power.”

Eleanor
Smith’s fleet was targeting garbage chutes from some reason. Brian rolled his eyes but said, “He has friends in dark places but he isn’t an idiot. Send ten of ours to target the aft chute.” The aft batteries had ceased to be a problem, but they had lost 10 ships in the process. With the batteries gone, Eleanor could fly simple loops while Brian sent missiles into the engine. The 15 remaining ships were doing the same thing. But the shield held and seemed impervious to the missiles. Brian rubbed his eyes, “We are getting low on missiles.”
Awag said, “Others are reporting the same thing.
Ian spoke up, “The garbage chute is having an effect. I am detecting power fluctuations throughout the ship.”
“But not the aft shields.”
Ian said “They are boosting power to the aft shields even as Smith and his group of bandits have broken the garbage chutes. All of the chutes have been breached and are venting gas.”
Brian spun in his chair, “What are they doing?” He stopped, “Command lines. Ian where is the engine command line located in the aft section.”
A diagram showed up on Eleanor’s console. A line in red ran through a section to the engines. There was a narrow zone between the main body and the engine section that seemed closer to the surface. Brian asked, “Are the shields weaker at that section?”
Ian said, “They are weaker everywhere but the engines.”
Brian snapped, “Awag, send these coordinates to the others. We are directing our fire to the control line. Miss Woodson, move us into position over that spot. We can’t get to the engines but we can make sure they can’t manage them.”
Eleanor moved the ship to the main port along with all the other ships in the fleet. Down the battleship she could see vents of gas and debris where Smith’s ships were doing their damage. Brian fired a missile and Awag shouted, “Solid strikes from every missile.” She paused, “They are trying to start up the main engine.”
Brian fired another missile and then another. This time Awag said, “Breach in the hull. Several missiles entered. The main engine is shut down.”
Ian said, “I am detecting power failures in the forward and mid sections as well.”
Eleanor looked at her screen, “There are dozens of small signatures appearing.”
Brian leaned back and said, “They are abandoning ship. Ian?”
Ian said, “We started working on the self destruct almost immediately. We have it blocked. We are downloading their main computer core.”
Brian stretched and said, “Awag contact the battleship captain and tell him to power down his shields and any weapons.”

Rachael

The battleship floated in its orbit, but showed no signs of control. Tuireann’s final attack had broken the bridge control of the engines. The chaos of the garbage chute destruction had made any repair and recovery impossible. Neville said, “There are dozens if not hundreds of small ships leaving the battleship.”
Smith said, “They are abandoning ship. Brian better get his negotiation skills in order or he will have nothing but a light show after this.”
Camille said, “Ian and others managed to abort the self-destruct. They are downloading the core memory now. But damage is extensive. It will take weeks or more to repair.”
He stood and said, “Not our problem. Miss Weiz find our remaining ships and direct them to the next battleship.”
Rachael looked at her screen, “All the Guild ships are firing engines to leave orbit. The battleship, the cruisers and support ships are all trying to get away.”
Smith snapped, “Not if I have anything to say about it. Carter-Frasier chase the battleship.”
Neville said, “The course is laid, but they are moving fast.”
Smith growled “Organize the other ships and use the Omicron drives to get ahead if you have to.”
Rachael said, “They won’t be surprised this time.”
Smith paced as the ship jumped into transition. Then stopped, “Can you hit one of the cruisers with your missile trick?”
Rachael scratched her head, “I will need to program a drone and then get it to the target.” She pulled away from her console and turned around, “I would need 15 minutes of real time.”
Smith said, “Start now while we are in transition. Pick one close enough to the battleship to scare them, but far enough away they will survive the energy release. And if you do it in 10 minutes, I will let you help me put Winifred Stanhope down.”

Rachael rushed to the drone storage bay. As she pushed herself along, she asked, “Camille, how close were the support cruisers and the tugs to the asteroids?”
Camille responded, “The tugs were next to the asteroid. The cruisers were at 15 kilometers.” There was a pause and then she filled in, “The energy release was probably lethal to at least 20 kilometers. Radiation effects would go farther but ships are well insulated for that.”
Rachael said, “Send me the coordinates of three cruisers that are outside a 25 kilometer radius of the battleship and send them to me.”
When Rachael got to the drones, Camille had the coordinates. Rachael programmed in one and sent it on its way. She called to Smith and said, “The drone is in place.” She then set the next two and sent them the next two coordinates. She returned to the bridge and headed to her spot on the bridge.
Smith said, “What took you so long getting back?”
Rachael smiled and said, “Personal matters. Did I get the drone in place on time?”
Smith leaned back and smiled, “Just…Carter-Frasier are you ready?”
Neville nodded and began his work. The ship went into transition and then out and Rachael released the missile. “First missile away.”
Smith said, “First?”
Rachael smiled thinly, “When I’ve dealt with bullies, the first cut just gets them cranky. It is the second one that makes them think. The third is the one that fixes matter.”
Smith smiled and said, “Get us back to the fleet.”
Neville returned to the ship to the fleet which was now in range of the battleship. Rachael hailed the battleship but got no response. Camille said, “Let me help.” The screen filled with the battleship captain who looked at Smith and said, “I have nothing to say to you treasonous scum.”
Smith said, “Captain, I suggest you look for your cruiser off to the starboard side before you say more.”
On cue there was a bright flash and new point of light shown in the black of space. Camille filled in, “The first cruiser is gone. There is a significant debris cloud in its place.There were several troop ships close to it. I suspect they are gone as well.”
The captain was told something. He gestured wildly, “How!…tell me how!” He turned back to the connection and snarled , “I do not know what you did, but you will pay for that…”
Smith snapped back, “I am losing my patience, Captain. Surrender or I will destroy this entire fleet.”
The captain shouted, “Just try…”
Smith looked at Rachael and made a cutting motion. Rachael broke the connection. Smith looked at Neville and nodded. Neville once again worked the ship. As it came out of transition Rachael released the second missile[Syd, 7/24/2016 10:57:50 AM Second Missle] and said “ The second missile is away. We will have two minutes when we get back before it hits. The blast will be much closer.”
Smith smiled thinly, “Well done, Weiz. Carter-Frasier, we do not want to miss the fireworks.”
Neville grinned and returned the ship to the battle. Rachael tried to raise the battleship captian, but got nothing. Camille said, “I can get him on the screen again.”
Rachael leaned back and smirked.“Don’t waste your effort. If he doesn’t call after this one, I will clean latrines.”
Smith smirked, “No bet.”
Then off to the port side there was a new sun. Smith said, “Gods.” Neville exclaimed, “Shitte”
Rachael looked at her panel and said, “Why look, the captain wishes to speak.” She then told Smith “The next one will be much closer we may want to get our ships behind the battleship for it.”
Smith said, “Put the captain on. And start arranging our fleet. They will probably figure it out anyway. ”
And image of the showed the Guild captain. He was pale and shaking, “What the hell are you doing?”
Smith smiled thinly, “Showing you what it looks like on a planet when you throw an asteroid at it. Know I can keep doing it and I will. Surrender your ship or every ship in your fleet will be reduced to atoms and plasma.”
The captain was replaced by an admiral, “That will not happen, traitor. We are leaving now.” And the transmission stopped.
Neville did not need to be told and worked quickly this time and Smith’s ship was in transition. When it came out, Rachael released the missile and she simply nodded to Neville who quickly returned to the battleship and moved to the far side of the battleship. In a moment there was a bright flash and another sun for a moment. Rachael looked at her panel, “Radiation across the spectrum. Shielding is holding although I will bet the battleship is uncomfortable.” She looked at her panel and said, “Shit…two battleships and a dozen cruisers just showed up…where the hell did they come from?”
Smith leaned back and steepled his fingers, then smiled, “Their timing is remarkable…Hail them.”
Millicent Morgaine stood in her unisuit smiling. “Hello Smith, am I late?”

Millicent

John Smith’s voice came over the speakers, “Took you long enough, Morgaine.”
Millicent said, “I was meeting some old friends. Admiral Onuan is anxious to talk to you.”
Smith said, “Lovely, we can all get caught up over tea. But that battleship will be dumping his memory core in a moment.”
Millicent pursed her lips and said, “We can’t have that.” She looked at Felicity, “Ask Admiral Onuan to disable that ship further. Charles did you hear, Smith?”
His voice sounded strained, “I have joined the others in the effort. They have blocked self destruct protocols. But we are scrambling with the memory core right now.”
The Menanggung battleship fired to bolts at the Guild battleship communication array. The cruiser fired missiles into the engine zone. Millicent looked up at the ceiling, “Charles?”
“We are catching the pieces and trying to slow the dump, but that is all we are managing at the moment.”
Millicent grimaced, “Felicity, get Smith.”

Rachael

The battleship floated in its orbit, but showed no signs of control. Tuireann’s final attack had broken the bridge control of the engines. The chaos of the garbage chute destruction had made any repair and recovery impossible. Neville said, “There are dozens if not hundreds of small ships leaving the battleship.”
Smith said, “They are abandoning ship. Brian better get his negotiation skills in order or he will have nothing but a light show after this.”
Camille said, “Ian and others managed to abort the self-destruct. They are downloading the core memory now. But damage is extensive. It will take weeks or more to repair.”
He stood and said, “Not our problem. Miss Weiz find our remaining ships and direct them to the next battleship.”
Rachael looked at her screen, “All the Guild ships are firing engines to leave orbit. The battleship, the cruisers and support ships are all trying to get away.”
Smith snapped, “Not if I have anything to say about it. Carter-Frasier chase the battleship.”
Neville said, “The course is laid, but they are moving fast.”
Smith growled “Organize the other ships and use the Omicron drives to get ahead if you have to.”
Rachael said, “They won’t be surprised this time.”
Smith paced as the ship jumped into transition. Then stopped, “Can you hit one of the cruisers with your missile trick?”
Rachael scratched her head, “I will need to program a drone and then get it to the target.” She pulled away from her console and turned around, “I would need 15 minutes of real time.”
Smith said, “Start now while we are in transition. Pick one close enough to the battleship to scare them, but far enough away they will survive the energy release. And if you do it in 10 minutes, I will let you help me put Winifred Stanhope down.”
Rachael rushed to the drone storage bay. As she pushed herself along, she asked, “Camille, how close were the support cruisers and the tugs to the asteroids?”
Camille responded, “The tugs were next to the asteroid. The cruisers were at 15 kilometers.” There was a pause and then she filled in, “The energy release was probably lethal to at least 20 kilometers. Radiation effects would go farther but ships are well insulated for that.”
Rachael said, “Send me the coordinates of three cruisers that are outside a 25 kilometer radius of the battleship and send them to me.”
When Rachael got to the drones, Camille had the coordinates. Rachael programmed in one and sent it on its way. She called to Smith and said, “The drone is in place.” She then set the next two and sent them the next two coordinates. She returned to the bridge and headed to her spot on the bridge.
Smith said, “What took you so long getting back?”
Rachael smiled and said, “Personal matters. Did I get the drone in place on time?”
Smith leaned back and smiled, “Just…Carter-Frasier are you ready?”
Neville nodded and began his work. The ship went into transition and then out and Rachael released the missile. “First missile away.”
Smith said, “First?”
Rachael smiled thinly, “When I’ve dealt with bullies, the first cut just gets them cranky. It is the second one that makes them think. The third is the one that fixes matter.”
Smith smiled and said, “Get us back to the fleet.”
Neville returned to the ship to the fleet which was now in range of the battleship. Rachael hailed the battleship but got no response. Camille said, “Let me help.” The screen filled with the battleship captain who looked at Smith and said, “I have nothing to say to you treasonous scum.”
Smith said, “Captain, I suggest you look for your cruiser off to the starboard side before you say more.”
On cue there was a bright flash and new point of light shown in the black of space. Camille filled in, “The first cruiser is gone. There is a significant debris cloud in its place.There were several troop ships close to it. I suspect they are gone as well.”
The captain was told something. He gestured wildly, “How!…tell me how!” He turned back to the connection and snarled , “I do not know what you did, but you will pay for that…”
Smith snapped back, “I am losing my patience, Captain. Surrender or I will destroy this entire fleet.”
The captain shouted, “Just try…”
Smith looked at Rachael and made a cutting motion. Rachael broke the connection. Smith looked at Neville and nodded. Neville once again worked the ship. As it came out of transition Rachael released the second missile and said “ The second missile is away. We will have two minutes when we get back before it hits. The blast will be much closer.”
Smith smiled thinly, “Well done, Weiz. Carter-Frasier, we do not want to miss the fireworks.”
Neville grinned and returned the ship to the battle. Rachael tried to raise the battleship captian, but got nothing. Camille said, “I can get him on the screen again.”
Rachael leaned back and smirked.“Don’t waste your effort. If he doesn’t call after this one, I will clean latrines.”
Smith smirked, “No bet.”
Then off to the port side there was a new sun. Smith said, “Gods.” Neville exclaimed, “Shitte”
Rachael looked at her panel and said, “Why look, the captain wishes to speak.” She then told Smith “The next one will be much closer. We may want to get our ships behind the battleship for it.”
Smith said, “Put the captain on. And start arranging our fleet. They will probably figure it out anyway. ”
And image of the showed the Guild captain. He was pale and shaking, “What the hell are you doing?”
Smith smiled thinly, “Showing you what it looks like on a planet when you throw an asteroid at it. Know I can keep doing it and I will. Surrender your ship or every ship in your fleet will be reduced to atoms and plasma.”
The captain was replaced by an admiral, “That will not happen, traitor. We are leaving now.” And the transmission stopped.
Neville did not need to be told and worked quickly this time and Smith’s ship was in transition. When it came out, Rachael released the missile and she simply nodded to Neville who quickly returned to the battleship and moved to the far side of the battleship. In a moment there was a bright flash and another sun for a moment. Rachael looked at her panel, “Radiation across the spectrum. Shielding is holding although I will bet the battleship is uncomfortable.” She looked at her panel and said, “Shit…two battleships and a dozen cruisers just showed up…where the hell did they come from?”
Smith leaned back and steepled his fingers, then smiled, “Their timing is remarkable…Hail them.”
Millicent Morgaine stood in her unisuit smiling. “Hello Smith, am I late?”

Millicent
John Smith’s voice came over the speakers, “Took you long enough, Morgaine.”
Millicent said, “I was meeting some old friends. Admiral Onuan is anxious to talk to you.”
Smith said, “Lovely, we can all get caught up over tea. But that battleship will be dumping his memory core in a moment.”
Millicent pursed her lips and said, “We can’t have that.” She looked at Felicity, “Ask Admiral Onuan to disable that ship further. Charles did you hear, Smith?”
His voice sounded strained, “I have joined the others in the effort. They have blocked self destruct protocols. But we are scrambling with the memory core right now.”
The Menanggung battleship fired to bolts at the Guild battleship communication array. The cruiser fired missiles into the engine zone. Millicent looked up at the ceiling, “Charles?”
“We are catching the pieces and trying to slow the dump, but that is all we are managing at the moment.”
Millicent grimaced, “Felicity, get Smith.”

Rachael

After Millicent called to say the AIs were trying but that the core dump was proceeding, Smith asked, “Do you have anymore of your special missiles?”
Rachael rubbed the back of her neck. “I needed three drones done before. I can send more, but I would need to program more drones with Camille’s help. And, if we target the battleship, we will need to move everyone away.”
Smith frowned, “Be ready to program them. But I want that battleship whole.” He tapped his fingers. The Menanggung battleship was targeting defensive guns on the Guild Battleship. Several of the Menanggung cruisers had left the area and were pursuing other Guild ships. Rachael looked at her console. The Battleship was bursting with smaller craft and it had stopped moving.
The Guild Captain came on, “Smith, call off your ships. We are surrendering.”
Smith smiled, “And the admiral’s objections?”
“The Admiral has been escorted to an escape pod.”
“How forward thinking of him. Stop your engines. Stop your defensive guns. Lower your shields. Open your data ports.”
The captain whined, “The data ports?”
Smith snapped, “Do it or we will continue firing.”
The captains image nodded. Rachael reported, “The engines have stopped. The ship has stopped firing. Shields are lowering…slowly.”
Smith said, “Miss Weiz. Tell our Menanggung friends to pause their fire for a moment.” He waited, “Camille?”
Camille said tensely, “Still blocked. We are catching the small dumps, but the data breakup is getting worse. We will have a empty hulk shortly at this rate.”
Smith said, “Tell our fleet to resume fire and target the broadside midship.”
Rachael listened to a frantic hail from the Guild ship. She said, “The Guild Captain is angry.”
Smith said, “Put him on.”
The captain spoke frantically, “We are complying. Stop your firing.”
Smith said, “I said open your data ports. I am tired of waiting.” He pressed some buttons and the ship defensive systems fired. The targets disappeared from Rachael’s screen.
Rachael said, “Three escape pods hit. Debris left only.”
The captain shouted, “You bastard. They were defenseless.”
Smith turned to the image but spoke to Rachael, “The data ports are closed. I get control of that ship or your crew dies. Tell the Menanggung captain to target the escape hatches.”
The captain cried out, “Wait”
Smith said, “Data ports or we get revenge for just one of the stadiums.”
The captain shouted to a crewman, “Do it. Dammit. Yes… it is an order. Stick my name on it if you have to. And then find an escape pod.”
Camille said, “We are in. We have stopped the data wiping sequence.” There was a pause and she said, “We will have to see if we caught all the packets. Currently the computing core is about 70% complete.”
Smith squinted at the captain, “Captain, that pause in compliance of yours could be costly us. You should hope it was not.”
The captain jutted his chin, “I was doing my duty.”
Smith snarled, “Your duty killed over a hundred thousand people on the surface and would have killed millions.” Smith stood and rubbed down his suit and hair, “My experts will be assessing the damage to your computer core. The degree of damage will determine how many escape pods will be retrieved.”
The captain paled and pleaded, “That …that is monstrous.”
Smith said, “I could kill everyone of you and it would still be fewer than everyone who died on one of your refugee camp attacks. Do NOT lecture me on monstrous. Now evacuate your ship, immediately. You have 10 minutes before I open all the airlocks.”
“But your threat to the escape pods…”
“My promise about your escape pods holds. You have 9 minutes and 45 seconds. And your best hope is that we can recover that data core completely or you and your crew will wait an eternity for rescue. Sign off Miss Weiz.”
Rachael cut the connection and blew air out through her cheeks. Neville eyed her sideways narrowly.
Smith sat in his chair, “Two serviceable battleships, a dozen or so cruisers and their fighters, and the data cores from flagships.” He smiled, “A little costly, but not a bad start.”

Millicent

She watched as Smith’s fleet shot point blank into the broadside of the battleship destroying escape hatches. Then Smith target three escape pods. She snapped “get me Smith now.” Felicity put her through to Smith’s ship. His smiling face appeared and Millicent immediately snarled, “That was not necessary.” Felicity winced at the volume and vehemence.
Smith said easily, “It was. The captain needed convincing. We were losing valuable data and evidence of crimes by the second. That ship would have been useless without the data core.”
Millicent snapped, “Those people in the escape pods could do nothing about the core. They were fleeing.”
Smith leaned forward and snapped, “The Guild shot homes and neighborhoods so people fled to the stadiums and shopping centers. Then the Guild destroyed those stadiums and shopping centers. The Guild herded to those people to their executions.” He leaned back, “Ask the Menanggung ambassador if she thinks I should be merciful. More Menanggung died in one day than all the Guild personnel in this battle.” He said harshly, “Those fleeing Guild crew aimed the weapons that killed tens of thousands. The officers gave the orders. No one in that ship is innocent.”
Millicent was silent. Smith continued, “Admiral Borat made it clear when he ordered attacks on the stadiums. He made his coffin whe those asteroids were guided on a path to the planet.”
Millicent said quietly, “Are we no different? We have no limits?”
Smith smiled thinly, “I haven’t decided.” He leaned back and said, “Morgaine, Let’s have tea later discuss the challenging morality of war. At the moment, we have a battleship to secure.”
The screen went blank and Millicent sat down and clenched her fists.
Charles spoke, “If we deal with a spider, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are bit.”
Millicent snapped, “Liam, find a place to secure prisoners. Jason, start finding those escape pods and pulling them in. I will not have all those people subject to the tender mercies of Smith in a bad mood.”

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