In the New York Times bestselling Kris Longknife novels, “fans of the Honor Harrington escapades will welcome the adventures of another strong female in outer space starring in a thrill-a-page military space opera” (Alternative Worlds).
The aliens attacking the planetary system of Alwa are an enemy unlike any Admiral Kris Longknife has ever encountered before. She doesn’t know who they are, only that they worship a being known as the Enlightened One and are unafraid to sacrifice themselves against her fleet.
But Kris faces more than just the fanatical behavior of an alien armada. A saboteur has infiltrated the military’s medical facility and unleashed an epidemic that has spread throughout the fleet without warning.
Seventy-two career military women are down with something not even the aliens could do to them—including Admiral Kris Longknife…
About the Author
Mike Shepherd is the national bestselling author of the Kris Longknife series, including Tenacious, Defender, Furious, and Daring, as well as the Jump Universe series, including To Do or Die and They Also Serve, and the Vicky Peterwald series, including Target and Survivor.
Read an Excerpt
Praise for the Kris Longknife Novels
Ace Books by Mike Shepherd
About the Author
Admiral Kris Longknife bent over the toilet and explosively lost her breakfast.
Damn! I’ve never had battle jitters this bad.
Done, she twisted around to the sink, ran some water, and washed out her mouth.
And had to bolt for the toilet again as her stomach decided it was not done with her yet.
NELLY, IS THERE A FLU BUG GOING AROUND THE FLEET? Kris asked her personal computer.
Nelly, much upgraded since she was given to Kris in preschool, was plugged directly into Kris’s brain while riding at her collarbone, so, even though her mouth was otherwise occupied, Kris could pose the question.
KRIS, THERE IS NO STOMACH FLU REPORTED. THE WATER USAGE IN THE HEADS IS WITHIN ONE PERCENT OF NORMAL SO IT IS VERY UNLIKELY THERE WAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH LAST NIGHT’S SUPPER. YOU, HOWEVER, ARE AT DOUBLE, NO, TRIPLE NORMAL, Nelly pointed out, as the toilet flushed for the third time.
Again, hoping she was done, Kris did the mouth-rinsing thing.
Her stomach stayed quiescent.
Kris stood, adjusted her shipsuit, with its epaulets showing the stripes of a full admiral, and turned to face her next battle.
No wonder she was nervous: This battle was the craziest she’d ever tried. She was risking two-thirds of her fleet to take out the assassins of the mountain, as Vice Admiral Yi of Earth named them, the kamikaze base, as Vice Admiral Miyoshi of Musashi called them.
Whatever you called them, they’d been launching ships, ships that built up to a good fraction of light speed as they shot through jump point after jump point before slamming themselves into the Alwa system and heading straight for the planet.
So far, Kris’s fleet had blasted every alien suicide ship, but Kris was tired of playing defense, holding a line where one failure meant the death of millions of humans and their Alwan allies.
For the first time, Kris’s fleet was taking the offensive.
Kris had pulled two of her task fleets, better than two-thirds of her entire force, away from Alwa. The one task fleet left defending Alwa included the First Battle Squadron. It had followed Kris into hell and paid a steep price to get back, returning so bent and busted that the superintendents of the repair yards had taken one good look and suggested the ships be scrapped.
The frigates’ Smart MetalTM had been drained into holding tanks. Their reactors and lasers were in the rework facilities. Once recertified for space, they’d be issued to merchant ships. The crews were now waiting for the yards to spin out new ships to bear those proud names.
Kris prayed that the ships following her this time would return in better shape.
She hoped, but only time . . . and the coming fight . . . would tell.
For one thing, Admiral Yi’s Third Fleet, half of her attack force, was somewhere out there, heading into the target system from one jump while Kris’s Second Fleet stood by to enter from another.
And Yi, being from Earth, had an attitude toward all colonial bumpkins.
No wonder my stomach has a problem. It’s just one of many today.
Peace made with her now-empty stomach, Kris turned for her flag plot. She had a battle to win.
“You okay?” Major General Jack Montoya asked. As Chief of her Royal Security Detail, Commander, Ground Forces Alwa Defense Sector, and, oh, right, husband, he was very good at reading her moods.
“I’m fine,” Kris lied.
Jack’s smile told her she wasn’t fooling him.
“I got a bad feeling about this,” he said, but he drew close to whisper it in her ear.
Kris made a face, half between a grin and a scowl, and left it to the others in flag plot to decipher. If they wanted to take it as old friends, or newlywed private chatter, that was their problem.
“I hope Yi doesn’t think his newfangled armor is magic,” Kris whispered back.
There was no smile in Jack’s scowl.
“Yi does seem to think he’s got the Shield of Great Worth or something,” Jack said.
No question, the three squadrons of ships from Old Earth had arrived with something special for armor. For several centuries, quantum computers had been slowing light and storing it for a bit. First they’d managed a few seconds, finally a whole minute. Computation at the speed of light needed this ability to store quanta of the stuff to make a 1 so the absence of it could be a 0. From time to time, someone with gold braid on their coat would wonder about using this technology to freeze a laser beam for enough time to tame it, but the problems of corralling something with that much energy had defeated them.
Those problems, and the short duration of the only two major dustups humanity had had in the last hundred years: the Unity War, and the Iteeche War, had made for no major advances in the age-old race between arms and armor.
Some Earth lab, however, must have gotten lucky because even as Earth’s Navy started spinning out the new Smart MetalTM frigates, they were coating them with doped crystals that could handle hits from powerful laser weapons.
Thus, twenty-four Earth-built frigates joined Kris’s command with their hides gleaming like diamonds.
That was the other aspect of Smart MetalTM: Your ship didn’t have to stay the same, day in and day out. If there was no threat, you could set Condition Able and turn your warship into a nice, comfortable place to live. When you needed to do some fighting, you set Condition Zed and shrank your “love boat” down into something small, hard to hit, and deadly.
In the case of Admiral Yi’s ships, it took a bit longer to rearrange the light-stopping crystals, but it was worth it.
Kris had reorganized her fleets around the new ships, their armor, and their 22-inch lasers. She would have preferred assigning one of the Earth squadrons to each of her three fleets. Instead, she’d let Vice Admiral Yi on the George Washington keep two of his new squadrons. The combat-experienced Rear Admiral Bethea led the big cats of BatRon 4 from her flag on the Lion. Untested Commodore Michelsen commanded the Scanda Confederacy’s BatRon 6 from his flag, the Odin.
Kris led the First Fleet. To Commodore Cochrane’s borrowed Earth squadron with their 22-inch lasers and innovative armor, Kris had added BatRon 8’s Sharp Ones commanded by Admiral L’Estock on Battleax.
Admiral Hawkings on Renown had BatRon 2, but his task force was missing BatRon 1. In place of it, Kris had borrowed the inexperienced but big-gunned frigates of Yamato’s BatRon 9 under Commodore Zingi on the Mikasa. That gave Kris twenty-four of the new 22-inch-gunned war wagons and eight of the 20-inch frigates. They had seemed huge just a few months ago.
Yi’s four squadrons were evenly divided between frigates armed with 22-inch and 20-inch lasers. Kris expected no problem from that.
Admiral Kris Longknife glanced around her flag bridge. On any other day it would be her day quarters, but today it was a battle station for her and her key staff.
Her desk had moved itself back against the wall, leaving more room for a conference table. Around it sat Kris’s staff. Beside Jack was Commander Penny Lien-Pasley, her intelligence officer. At her elbow was Iizuka Masao, Musashi Navy Intelligence, and, hopefully, more to Penny. Between the two of them they knew everything there was to know about the alien space raiders.
Unfortunately, that was way too little.
Also around Kris’s command table was Jacques la Duke who had done the workup on the alien psychology. He’d also spent a rough week living among them . . . and lived to tell of it. His wife, Amanda Kutter, Kris’s chief economist, wasn’t needed for this battle, but she was there at his elbow.
“Alwa’s economy will do fine without me, assuming a poor crop next month doesn’t throw the whole mess into famine,” Amanda had told Kris, and stalked aboard the Princess Royal right behind Jacques.
Kris had shrugged; she wasn’t letting Jack out of her sight any more than she had to. She was in no position to lecture another woman.
Also added to Kris’s key staff was Admiral Furzah of Sasquan. A six-foot-tall talking cat, she had all the loving nature of the felines of Earth, which was to say she was as bloodthirsty as they came. Back on her home world, she’d commanded atomic weapons and used them on her country’s enemies.
Kris shivered to think of such ferocity. She was none too sure how much she wanted these cats loose in space, but the admiral had more combat experience than most aboard the Princess Royal, and her knowledge of her people’s battle lore was only matched by Nelly’s computer memory of man’s inhumanity to man.
Kris hoped this team would help her make the best of the coming fight.
Kris’s staff had expanded beyond those present. John Longfeather, an Alwan Rooster, had joined Kris for logistics. He’d been with the humans since he’d walked into town as little more than a chick and demanded to learn what they knew. He’d been headed for Granny Rita’s government until Kris mentioned her need for admin help, and the old commodore smiled. “Have I got a Rooster for you.”
Kris’s new chief of personnel was also an Alwan, though she was an Ostrich, Betty Strongleg. She’d helped organize Ostriches for Defense before the last attack and also came with Granny Rita’s approval.
Kris was an admiral now, commanding three fleets, and her staff was bound to grow. Those two, however, were doing their work back on Cannopus Station, far from this fight.
Kris eyed the screens lining the walls of her flag bridge. They showed the readiness of her fleet and what was happening in the target system.
Four squadrons of frigates swung at anchor in matching pairs a good seventy thousand klicks back from the jump point. The frigates were big and deadly, but it was the armored merchant cruiser Mary Ellen Carter that held pride of place at the moment.
The Carter was right up at the jump point, drifting in space, and projecting probes through the jump that let Kris know what was happening on the other side. The Carter’s crew were all volunteers. They’d be the first to know, and maybe the first to go, when things got interesting.
The feed from the Carter showed things that Admiral Kris Longknife did not like. Maybe her stomach knew what it was doing when it threw up her toenails.
Yi was not following her battle plan.
There were three jump points in that system. One Yi had just brought his fleet through. The second Kris guarded and expected the hostiles to flee through . . . and right into her waiting arms.
And, as luck would always have it, there was a third. That jump was way over on the other side of the system. Still, if Yi gave the alien space raiders half a chance, they might decide for the running fight. They outnumbered Yi’s thirty-two ships by five to one with massive four- to five-hundred-thousand-ton ships, not to mention a monstrous base ship the size of a moon.
There were a couple of dozen small suicide ships as well, but those carried no lasers. A few that had gotten through to the Alwa system had lobbed atomics at Kris’s fleet before they’d been blown to dust.
If the Earth admiral had followed Kris’s plan, he would have spread his four squadrons out in a loose square and swept toward the aliens at a measured pace, letting his longer-ranged lasers burn any alien ships that came to meet him.
Kris expected the aliens to fall back and withdraw into her system, where she would slice and dice them as they came through the jump, then use a few Hellburners to club the base ship into submission or oblivion—their choice.
To date, they’d always chosen oblivion.
That was the plan. But Kris had learned early that no battle plan survived contact with the enemy. Apparently, plans survived even less when implemented by a hubris-loaded idiot.
Sixteen ships now charged out in front of the other sixteen, accelerating at three gees rather than one.
“Five will get you fifty the lead ships are Yi’s,” Jack whispered softly to Kris.
“No bet,” Kris said, eyeing the rough readouts. The probe through the jump point had a very thin bandwidth. She could tell where the reactors were. She could make out the difference between the huge reactors that powered an alien warship and the smaller power plants of the human frigates. Beyond that, not so much.
For the ships in her fleet, Kris’s battle boards showed full status. For the ships in the other system, Kris could only guess which frigates were which. Rear Admiral Bethea had fought with Kris before. Kris trusted her.
Vice Admiral Yi was a totally different can of worms.
Assuming Vice Admiral Yi had his task force out front, he seemed way too eager to match his ships with their 22-inch lasers and special armor against the aliens. Rear Admiral Bethea’s sixteen ships had armor that only last year had been considered top-of-the-line. Her 20-inch lasers had been the same, but now fell forty thousand kilometers short of the longer-ranging 22-inchers.
Kris ground her teeth as a dish of thirty massive alien warships charged Yi. As they came in range, he killed half, but the others soon closed the distance and were slashing at his ships with more lasers than any ship had a right to own. The alien lasers had a shorter reach than the humans’, but they had plenty of them.
Yi’s warships would be glowing like stars as their unique armor caught the lasers, slowed them down, distributed them along the hull, then radiated them back into space.
“I think the fribbing stuff just might work,” Admiral Furzah purred. Nelly’s translator could handle most of what she said. Some things Nelly just didn’t bother converting.
For a moment, Kris held her breath. More alien ships blew away into gas.
Then one, two, three Earth ships exploded in rapid succession.
The alien dish was gone, but so were three Earth ships.
Four more dishes of alien warships were coming up quickly.
“Flip ship, you damn bastard,” Kris snapped through gritted teeth.
Yi couldn’t have heard her, but the logic of her position was unarguable.
The survivors of the two Earth squadrons flipped ship and decelerated until Admiral Bethea came up even with them. Now they formed a square of squadrons.
Now they took the aliens under fire at long range and blew them away while the aliens’ lasers could do them no harm.
Gradually, the Earth squadrons cooled. Maybe Vice Admiral Yi would live long enough for her to give him the first major dressing-down of her short Navy career.
Taking a deep breath, Kris took her seat at the foot of the table, the place that gave her the best view of the screens. On them, the alien dishes began to wilt as they took hits they could not reply to. A few ships put on extra gees, trying to close the distance.
A few of the speedsters, likely armed with atomics, shot out.
They were vaporized.
Someone decided they’d had enough. The dishes began to fall back.
“Well, it seems that the first phase of our battle is over,” Kris said. “Anyone want to guess what the alien Enlightened One will do next?”
Kris’s eyes polled those around the table. The only consensus was a shrug.
In the target system, the situation continued to develop with the momentum of molasses in January. Now, all but a handful of alien warships had interposed themselves between their mother ship and the attacking human frigates.
Four dishes of thirty huge warships engaged each of the four squadrons of six to eight frigates. It was a running gunfight, with the frigates gunning for a change and aliens running.
Lately, the aliens had taken to installing rock armor on their ships. These seemed to have it even thicker. Still, most of their armor was at the bow, and they were running. Their huge rockets and reactors could not be armored.
So the aliens tried variations on the retreat theme. A few ships would charge the frigates. Despite their layers of basalt-rock armor, they’d burn, usually sooner, sometimes later. Some would even get within range of Yi’s battle squadrons. Yi would have to slow his squadrons down, sometimes even flip ship to bring his stern batteries to bear.
The alien ships died, but Yi was slowed, maybe even damaged.
While the humans were thus engaged, the rest of the alien fleet racked up maximum acceleration toward the nearest jump.
Which was what Kris wanted. She was the bear waiting behind that jump with open jaws.
While the main battle raged with its ebb and flow, a couple of dozen warships escorted the lumbering alien base ship toward that jump.
“Nelly,” Kris said, “give me an estimate for when the base ship will reach the jump. Match that with the rate at which their battle line is giving ground to Admiral Yi.”
“The base ship should be in a position to come through the jump in four hours. What’s left of the alien battle line should arrive an hour later. I will start a countdown when the base ship gets closer.”
“Thank you, Nelly.” One of the few nice things about Nelly’s present state of intelligence and human interactivity was that she had given up the need to be accurate to the thirteenth decimal place. Now she settled for approximates like any sane person.
Kris tried to tell Nelly when she did well. There were enough times when she didn’t.
Once more, Kris eyed the screen that showed the jump. There was the Mary Ellen Carter, the biggest blip on the screen. There were plenty of other blips. Four even showed on the gravity sensors.
Four Hellburners were arrayed around the rear of the jump point. That was one of the few nice things about the jump points; if you went in with a certain vector with respect to the center of the galaxy, you came out on that vector.
There was no question, the alien base ship would come out pointed in Kris’s direction.
That meant that the dormant Hellburners and 12-inch antimatter torpedoes would be aft of the target, just where Kris wanted them.
Still, when should she pull the Carter back from the jump?
Command decisions. Kris shrugged. Well, at least I have four hours to gnaw on it.
Kris made a face at the screen.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I hate it, too. Absolute, gut-wrenching terror is headed our way, but right now it’s boring as hell. Would you care for some coffee and a sandwich, Admiral?”
Kris gauged her tummy and found it . . . uninterested.
Now if Jack had offered a quickie, came from the imp side of Kris.
With four hours, it wouldn’t have to be so quick, Kris’s logical side replied.
Kris had revised her fleet’s policy on fraternization. Still, she didn’t think even the revised version was that loose.
“No thanks, Jack, I think I’ll sit here and mull my options. Or maybe read a boring report. Anybody have a truly dull report?”
Her team had the good sense to laugh.
Jacques did speak up when things quieted down. “Dr. Meade has finished her analysis of the alien genome.” That got everyone’s attention. “I won’t try to give you the guts of the full report, but the executive summary is that somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and ten thousand years ago, someone did a major rework on their DNA to optimize them all to be slaves.”
Kris raised an eyebrow. “And we saw what those ‘slaves’ did to their masters.”
Everyone around the table except the cat admiral had seen the planet reduced to rock, and she had seen the pictures.
“So how’d they manage to get back at their masters?” Jack asked, ever a Marine.
“Your guess is as good as the doctor’s,” Jacques said. “Throughout our history, there have been slave uprisings. What you do to most, even nearly all, doesn’t mean you’ve done it to every last one. Moreover, what you did last century might not be working next century. Don’t you love mutations?” the anthropologist said.
“No plan is perfect,” Kris said, with a grimace toward her own screens, where her plan was now, finally, playing out.
Though not entirely to expectations. A batch of the fast movers tried to drop below and come at Vice Admiral Yi’s squadrons from the rear. A division from Scandia, Odin, Thor, Loki, and Frigga, dropped out from Admiral Bethea’s task group to chase them down and destroy them.
The alien commander chose that moment to have a half dozen of the big boys charge the human line. They died, but the humans shot their forward batteries empty. Then all four of the alien dishes charged.
It got frisky for a bit as some aliens went in faster than others. They died but bought time for others to get closer. Admiral Yi flipped his ships, fired the aft batteries, boosted up his deceleration . . . and danced away from the onrushing fleet.
That bought the aliens space and time, but in the end, Yi reorganized his ships and began the slow process of herding the aliens toward the jump.
“That was why I didn’t give you an exact estimate,” Nelly said. “You can say what you want about those bug-eyed monsters of yours, Kris, but they are wily.”
“And there are a whole lot of them,” Penny whispered.
Kris winced; each alien warship had a crew of least a million. The base ship could have as many as 50 billion aboard.
No, we don’t want to grapple and board with one of those monsters.
The room fell silent as that image invaded everyone’s mind. Kris moved to break it before they all froze in place. “Does Doc Meade think she can do anything about this genetic modification?”
Jacques shook his head. “It’s more than a simple medical lab on the tip of the spear can handle. She suggests we transfer some of the aliens who followed you home back to human space.”
That got a well-needed chuckle from the staff. Jack had led a boarding party that had confronted an old alien woman who’d shouted her defiances, then tried to take her own life and have the dozen or so children with her do the same.
Sleepy darts had put a stop to that madness.
The alien woman’s ragings had helped the pacifists among the Alwans come to terms with the realities of what faced them. Meanwhile, the alien kids were having a ball watching cartoons and learning computer games.
I bet the Enlightened One didn’t see that one coming, Kris thought with a grin. He, always a he among these people, called the shots and led a massive and compliant people in a galaxy-wide search for life, any life, and the never-ending work of murdering it.
Not on my watch you won’t, Kris had sworn. Today was just another day on the job.
The key staff gnawed on that for a while, then Amanda brought up the present production plans from the plants and fabrication facilities on Alwa’s moon. This raised the effort to fabricate laser armor and spin out big frigates with 22-inch lasers from the yards.
People talked of many things, but always with one eye on the screens.
“Those aliens are desperate,” Jack muttered. “Desperate people do desperate things.”
Right about then, the aliens did something very desperate.
Nelly was the first to spot a change. “Kris, three of the aliens’ fast movers have taken off for the other jump point at 3.5 gees.”
The screen of the other system now showed a wedge of ships moving away from the battle, headed for the distant third jump.
“I wonder what that’s all about?” Kris said.
“Maybe someone wants to hedge their bet on this fight?” Jack offered.
“Or get a better view of what happens next,” Jacques put in. “The jump may just be in the direction they’re headed. It will give them a better view around their own battle line.”
“And what will that battle line be doing?” Kris muttered.
Yi had let his ships get a bit close to the alien dishes. Maybe they’d slowed down, and he hadn’t noticed. Now twelve ships flipped around and leapt toward his squadrons at 2.5 gees acceleration, the max the huge warships could handle.
Four of them paid immediately for their folly, but the others kept coming, and another four took off, replacing the initial four
“Kris,” Nelly reported, “something is happening around the rest of the alien dishes. I’m getting bits of radar reflection off some things. Not much, and it comes and goes. I’m getting nothing on the electromagnetic spectrum.”
“Mines?” Kris said.
“I can’t say with any certainty,” Nelly said.
“We’ve left mines behind when we were running,” Jack pointed out.
“They never have,” Penny said.
“They’ve never been the ones running before,” her friend Masao added.
The two intelligence officers nodded.
On the screens, the fight got messy as Admiral Yi backpedaled to open the range, then turned and began mopping up the aliens that had caused all the trouble. The alien dishes used the distraction to put on maximum gees for the jump point.
Most of the sixteen ships that surged at Yi’s fleet did the usual when they were hit hard and falling out of the assault. If their own reactors hadn’t torn them apart, they dropped their containment fields and let them eat their ships, annihilating ship and crew in one giant conflagration.
Today was different. Three of the ships were hit, disabled, and left drifting in space.
“Kris, small vessels are departing the disabled ships,” Nelly reported.
“Small, as in lifeboat size?” Kris answered, incredulously.
“Kris, they are larger than the small lifeboat we saw once.”
“Hold it,” Penny said. “These folks have been launching suicide ships at Alwa, and now some of them want to surrender?”
“You think it’s a ruse?” Masao asked at Penny’s elbow.
“Would you put it past them?” Penny answered, another question stacked on top of the others.
“I wouldn’t,” Jacques said, looking grim.
Kris shook her head. “Yi’s got to spot this himself. I will not give away this ambush to do his thinking for him.”
Vice Admiral Yi appeared to be aware only that he was way out of range of the main enemy force. He put on three gees to close the distance. Two of Bethea’s ships, Puma and Loki, accelerated with the rest of the fleet on a course that would take them awfully close to the tumbling alien ships and their growing sphere of putative “lifeboats.”
Nothing happened, and Kris was about to breathe a sigh of relief, when dozens of the “lifeboats” slammed into high-gee accelerations toward the frigates. The humans’ secondary batteries snapped out, vaporizing a dozen of the alien boats.
But more were attacking. Scores of tiny specks now charged the frigates. Their skippers took defensive actions, even using the main batteries to swat at the assailants. More died, but those left were getting close.
In a final surge, a handful of the tiny ships closed on two of Bethea’s ships. Three boats closest to the two frigates exploded.
“Atomics,” Nelly reported.
One ship continued on its way, out of the wave of atomic fury . . . for a moment. Then it seemed to cave in upon itself. Survival pods zipped from the ship. Most got far enough. Many did not.
The reactors lost their containment, and the ship disappeared in a glowing cloud of dust that itself quickly vanished.
The other ship did better; it limped out of the battle line and slowly fell behind. It joined up with a smaller blip on Kris’s screens to comb the space around the other kill. The two set about collecting survival pods.
The rest of Admiral Bethea’s two squadrons opened fire with their 5-inch secondary batteries on anything in the space ahead of them.
“All the shooting ships are Bethea’s,” Nelly said. “The Earth squadrons appear to be taking the time to catch their breath.”
“Damn,” escaped Kris’s lips. In the last battle, she’d done to the aliens just what it looked like they were doing to him.
“Damn,” Jack repeated. “Didn’t Yi read the report on how we won the last battle and how there were three ships studying our tactics? Three ships that got away.”
The anthropologist Jacques shook his head. “Yi doesn’t strike me as a man who sees the need to learn anything new. Certainly not from Rim rats. How did Earth ever give him command of a fleet of new ships that would need to fight a new way?”
“I think it’s safe to assume,” Penny said, “that he’s the best they have.”
“I’d hate to have the worst,” Kris muttered.
Third Fleet was coming up on the area Nelly suspected was mined. Now, even Yi’s ships were shooting at the space ahead of them.
There was a blinding flash. A huge one. Then another, and three more in rapid succession.
“More atomic explosions,” Nelly reported.
“God help them,” Penny said.
One of Yi’s ships was caught between two explosions. A moment later, it converted to an expanding ball of gas.
Another ship was close to an atomic mine. It lost acceleration, tumbling in space.
Now all the human ships had cut their acceleration and were devoting all their weapons, main and secondary, to sweeping the space in front of them.
More explosions went off as someone made the decision to use them before they lost them.
And the alien fleet flipped ship and charged in.
Maybe Yi’s sensors had been damaged by the atomic explosions. Maybe he couldn’t see what was happening. What was clear was that he was drifting in space with no weigh on, no way to jink his ships, and a whole lot of enemy charging down his throat.
Worse, the alien base ship had flipped as well and was now headed for the battle scene.
Yi’s ships were from Earth. They had new, bigger lasers. They had new, fancy armor. What they didn’t have was Hellburners that could rip apart moon-size mother ships.
Just exactly how Yi would handle being caught between a base ship and a lot of angry monstrous warships would be anyone’s guess.
Kris wasn’t ready to see how he’d guess.
“So much for my battle plan,” Kris snapped, and made her decision as she did. “Admirals Hawkings and L’Estock, take your squadrons through the jump. L’Estock, have Earth’s BatRon 12 lead the way. Hawkings, the Wardhaven division of BatRon 2 will go last after they retrieve the deployed Hellburners.”
“Understood,” quickly answered her.
The Hellburners were a uniquely Wardhaven weapon. Renown, Repulse, Royal Sovereign, and Resolute all had headed toward this fight with two aboard. Four had been deployed as mines; four had been held in reserve on the ships as weapons for the final coup de grace for the base ship. Now it would take time for them to retrieve the deployed mines.
Exactly how the “R’s” would close on the alien base ship with all its lasers firing was a question Kris desperately needed an answer for.
Kris’s staff headed out on the double to get themselves into high-gee eggs, something that wasn’t on the schedule for another hour. Jack pulled Kris’s chair back, and whispered, “After you, my love.”
Kris would have loved to give him a kiss, but they were already overdue for those eggs.
“Captain Gathmann,” Kris called as she raced into her quarters, already unzipping her shipsuit, “Take us through the jump right at the end of Commodore Zingi’s BatRon 9.”
“Aye, aye, Admiral.”
Jack was just helping a naked Kris into her egg, him already naked as well, when the Princess Royal suddenly lost all sense of down. The high-gravity station eggs fit the Sailor like a second skin. With the ship maybe making four gees and going every which way to jink out of laser fire, you didn’t want anything between your skin and your second one. Buck naked was the uniform of the day in an egg.
Around Kris, her fleet was slipping their moorings and pulling away from the ships they’d been paired with as they prepared to depart the anchorage. That meant ships went every which way and, if you weren’t holding on to anything, so did you.
Kris’s egg held her tight, and used its Smart MetalTM to secure it to the Smart MetalTM deck. Jack, however, was a good meter away from his egg; his only hold was on Kris’s shoulder.
She grinned like a loving wife, and motored her way over to his egg so he could secure himself in it before the ship accelerated away, and there was a down to fall into.
“Thanks,” Jack said. “You’re a good egg.”
“Bad joke,” Kris said, and headed back to her flag plot as soon as Jack was halfway in his egg.
The attack was already under way. The screens showed the Saladin, the last of BatRon 12, disappearing through the jump just as Kris did her check. L’Estock’s flag, the Battleax, led the eight ships of the Sharp Steel Squadron toward the jump.
The Princess Royal was moving, along with Commodore Zingi’s BatRon 9 from Yamato, to be next into that bit of roiling space that let them jump from one star system to the next.
Then the universe farted.
No sooner was the Grenade through than the jump did a boogaloo.
One moment the jump was there, the next . . . it wasn’t!
Kris knew these things could happen. It had happened during the Unity and Iteeche Wars, sometimes at the worst of times.
She knew it, but it had never happened to her!
Now it had.
It took everything she had not to dash onto the bridge of the P. Royal and demand that they find where the jump had wandered off to. The jumps orbited several suns; some six or even eight. The influence of all of those suns decided how any one jump behaved.
Most of the time, they docilely followed their own way around any one sun. Sometimes, for no apparent reason that we humans had figured out . . . they jumped tens of thousands of kilometers.
“I got it,” was shouted loud enough from the P. Royal’s bridge for Kris to hear.
“Where?” from the captain was not quite as loud.
“Pass it to the squadron flag.”
“They got it, too,” and the squadron suddenly jerked to three gees and took off for the new jump location, twelve hundred kilometers away.
It took some smart ship handling to accelerate at three gees for six hundred klicks, then flip ship and decelerate at the same hard pace to arrive at the jump as close to dead in space as possible.
Kris spent the time hardly breathing. No doubt, captains, navigators, and helms personnel were chewing nails at a dangerous rate.
Coming to a dead stop with no collisions had to be a minor miracle of naval proportions. Then, as if they did this every day, each of the Yamato frigates followed the Mikasa placidly through the jump.
And the Princess Royal brought up the rear, following Toikiwa.
Kris checked her boards. The frigates from Lorna Do were right behind them. The “R’s” from Wardhaven had collected their Hellburners and were already doing a hell-raising three-gee acceleration for the new jump location.
A moment later, Kris got her first good look at the battle in the targeted star. Her boards filled up with data, encrypted and sent via tight beam at the jump nearly five minutes ago from the ships of the Third Fleet and their fight.
Kris’s boards showed ships in the red and getting worse.
During their planning, Admiral Yi had repeatedly warned Kris that she was dividing her forces. He’d charge into the system using one jump while she would lurk on the other side of the one they intended the aliens to flee through.
Kris had countered that the aliens would find themselves split as well, with half on her side of the jump and half fleeing from his forces on the other.
Admiral Furzah had named several battles won when a force found itself engaged while straddling a river. Nelly had matched the feline admiral example for example.
It had almost been funny, but it had ended Yi’s objections to her orders.
Now, Kris was in the system and all the surviving aliens were between her and Admiral Yi.
In theory, the aliens were in a perfect position to divide and conquer. In reality, they were in a world of hurt.
Only a dozen or so ships stood between Kris’s fleet and the huge, unarmored, but way-too-armed alien mother ship.
Kris had never attacked one of those monsters without some dirty, sneaky, or underhanded trick up her sleeve. But then, Grampa Trouble always said the only fair fight was the one you lost.
Now, with the alien base ship open to her attack, Kris was left struggling to come up with a good way to clobber the damn thing.
If she assaulted the base, they’d throw the whole fleet at her. The odds were only four to one, but they’d be desperate to defend the base ship with their women and children. The crews of alien warships were a sixty-forty split, with males dominant. No doubt, the base ship was skewed the other way around, if not more so.
Kris’s flag plot filled up as her staff rejoined her, now in their eggs and ready for the fight. They silently studied the battle readouts from all of her ships as Kris did the same. Finally, full information was coming in on what she’d seen dimly through the jump.
Of Admiral Yi’s sixteen super frigates, the Lincoln, Lenin, Clemenceau, Chairman Mao, and Togo were gone. The Bismarck was trailing, well behind the line. Bethea had lost the Heimdallr and Loki; with the Puma out of the line and trailing as well. The remaining twenty-three showed plenty of damage to their weapons, reactors, and hulls as their displays glowed red on Kris’s screen.
At the moment, Yi was slowing but holding his fleet in good order.
That left the aliens free to turn on Kris.
“For what we are about to receive may we be truly grateful,” Kris muttered.
“Amen,” Penny added.
At the moment, Kris’s fleet was scattered, thanks to the jump’s meandering.
“Admiral L’Estock, kindly re-form your ships into a square while at the charge. Three gees acceleration toward the enemy base ship, if you will,” Kris ordered.
“Aye, aye, Admiral,” came back at her quickly, followed by orders for BatRon 12 to keep up its advance at 3 gees and BatRon 8 and 9 to join using up to 3.5 gees.
Kris felt a kick in the rump as the Princess Royal responded to his orders.
Behind her, Hawkings’s BatRon 2 began jumping into the system, the Lorna Do warrior class first and in line, followed by the Wardhaven “R’s” in a somewhat disorganized flow.
Ahead, the base ship went to a full 1.25-gee acceleration as it fled toward its returning dishes while the thirty-odd ships that had been a close escort charged in open ranks at the onrushing humans. While most were holding at 2.5 gees, a few were edging up close to three.
“Nelly, project the enemy course.”
The main screen revised itself to show red lines pulsing toward her own blue lines. A green arc showed when the human ships would be in range to open fire on the charging alien warships.
The fast-moving aliens would be in trouble. The entire three squadrons of human frigates could slash them to bits.
Then the main alien force would pass quickly through the one-way killing zone, and Kris’s forces would find themselves in range of the massive broadsides the aliens so loved.
Things would get rough then.
“Nelly, I want to try something.”
“I’m all ears.”
Kris shared her idea with Nelly and her key staff. Nelly made the plan appear as squiggles on the main screen. Kris listened as Jack, Penny, and Masao gave their thoughts, then Nelly revised the display.
When Kris was satisfied, she began to issue orders.
“Admiral L’Estock, this is Admiral Longknife. I am taking tactical command of First Fleet,” Kris said tersely. Admiral L’Estock was a good administrator, but he’d never commanded a fight. This battle, Kris’s command could not afford any first-timer mistakes.
Any more of them.
“Aye, aye, Admiral, you have command,” came back just as tersely. Combat was only moments away; there was no time for niceties.
“Three ships are out in front,” Kris said. “BatRon 12, you will take the one to our right. Eight, you have the left one. Nine, take the middle. We will engage them as they come in range with a single shot from each ship’s bow batteries. I want to know how strong their rock armor is. Understood?”
“Aye, aye,” came back from her squadron commanders.
“Hawkings, hold fire on your 20-inch frigates. I’m holding you in reserve for the next echelon.”
“Understood, Admiral, I’m reserve when I come up.” The four “R’s” armed with Hellburners were just catching up with the Lorna Do division, which still trailed the rest of the fleet. Kris was making a virtue of necessity. Only time would tell if it was a true virtue.
The enemy’s thirty-two ships had lost cohesion in their mad charge for the newly arrived humans. Three were out in front. Six more were in a loose line some ten thousand klicks behind them. Fifteen formed what was left of the dish some twenty thousand kilometers behind them while a trailing eight who had either been out of position or were having engine problems were scattered in twos and threes over the next twenty thousand kilometers.
That was it. Thirty-two huge, overgunned warships scattered along a fifty-thousand-klick approach charged hell-bent for Kris’s throat.
So what else is new?
The first three ships were approaching the maximum range, two hundred thousand kilometers, for the new 22-inch lasers on the frigates.
“Begin Evasion Pattern 1. Fire one round per ship,” Kris ordered.
The eight ships in each squadron hit their targeted ship.
The warships lit up as rock melted away and spewed flaming droplets out into space and down their sides.
They kept coming.
“Engage your ship with your full forward battery,” Kris ordered.
Now five big lasers reached out from each frigate to slash into the racing enemy. Pinned by forty big guns, the alien ships bent, folded, and blew as lasers blasted through rock to slash stressed hull-strength members or pierced into reactors and their containment gear.
In the blink of an eye, where three ships had been was a long trail of fire, gas, and wreckage.
But six more were closing fast.
“Flip ships,” Kris ordered, and her gut did a twist as the Princess Royal, still under way at three gees, did a one-eighty in space.
“Slow to one gee. Engage hostiles by divisions with aft batteries.”
Despite the egg’s protection, Kris felt thrown forward as the ship slowed drastically. Still, her boards showed all twenty-four ships emptying their four aft lasers at the six onrushing aliens.
Those six aliens were taking only about a third as much fire as the first three. Worse, two of the targets managed to put the wreckage of the first ships between them and their antagonists.
Three aliens blew up. While one staggered forward, the other two were coming on fast and eager.
But Kris’s ships had shot themselves empty. They needed time to recharge their lasers. Seconds ticked past as the aliens closed.
Kris could have accelerated away from the onrushing aliens. But that would have put herself farther from the huge base ship. If she took too long to reach it, the other ships would be back.
Kris accepted the risk and held to one-gee deceleration while the aliens rushed at her with all the energy their reactors could generate.
Previously, the aliens had demonstrated that their lasers were good out to 120,000 klicks.
Today, they opened fire at 160,000 klicks.
Their lasers were weak. Their power attenuated. Still, the engines on the Mandela and Saber took hits. Their course went wild, and jink patterns failed for a full two seconds.
They took more hits.
Per Kris’s standing orders, both ships went to three gees and pulled away from their tormentors.
“Flip ship,” Kris ordered. “Engage the closest targets with three lasers per ship by divisions.”
The division commanders called “Right,” “Left,” “Middle,” and in a moment, the three ships died.
That left Kris counting the seconds as the largest alien group closed. Her ships were heading at them at only one-gee acceleration, but the others were as close to 2.5 gees as they could manage.
Kris kept one eye on the reloading process for her ships’ lasers and the other eye on the closing aliens. It looked like the aliens would be in maximum range for a full two seconds before Kris would have a forward salvo ready.
“Go to Evasion Pattern 3,” Kris ordered. “Prepare to engage targets by two-ship sections with fire from forward batteries, then flip ship and fire aft batteries. I will then order a three-gee deceleration burn to keep the aliens in our range and us out of theirs for as long as possible.”
“Aye, aye,” came back at her on net from her admirals and commodores. On her battle board, the name of each ship blinked as the captain acknowledged the message.
“Fire,” Kris ordered.
Twenty-two frigates emptied their forward batteries at fifteen big alien warships.
Or that was the plan. Actually, it was more like ten.
Just as they came into range, the alien commander must have ordered evasion maneuvers. Maybe he didn’t, but eight of his ships did it anyway. The evasion wasn’t nearly as good as Nelly would have designed, but it threw off frigates that weren’t expecting any.
On top of that, there was the confusion created by having sixteen two-frigate sections firing at fifteen ships. Worse, two sections were down to only one ship. Several aliens were not targeted.
“Flip ships,” Kris ordered. “Commodores, correct your ship assignments. Fire aft batteries when ready.”
The squadron commanders reallocated targets among their sections and fired. The huge aliens took more hits this time, but the aft batteries were only four guns strong.
The aliens just kept on coming in their ragged formation.
“Up deceleration to three gees,” Kris said. “Execute Evasion Plan 6. Deploy chaff.”
Around Kris, her ships went into a wild dance of up, down, right, left as they jumped up to three gees deceleration, then dropped to one. To complicate fire control solutions more, they popped chaff, shooting tiny balls of iron, ice, and flares out the way they were going just as they changed direction.
They needed the wild jig. The aliens were just coming into their new, extreme range, and had too many lasers firing into the general space around their dancing target. They missed a lot of shots, but they had so many lasers sweeping the area where Kris’s ships were that some had to connect.
The Caesar, Asama, and Broadsword took hits on their rocket engines. This time their captains were ready. As soon as one engine’s power skewed, they countered with corrections to their other rockets as well as boosting their ships to a full 4.5-gee deceleration.
None ran into any more lasers than they would have as they dropped away from the battle line.
Kris was in a tough fight.
“Flip ships,” Kris ordered. She’d have to be a fool to keep her vulnerable rear with its rocket engines and reactors where the hostiles could get at them.
The ships flipped. Now armored bows took the light hits from the attenuated alien lasers. It was bad, but acceptable.
Better yet, the Mandela and the Saber, repairs made, were coming back into line.
Kris measured the seconds as the forward batteries edged toward full.
“Kris, I’ve evaluated the evasions the aliens are using. It’s a simple algorithm. I think I can forecast where they’ll be next.”
“Feed it to the targeting computers, Nelly.”
“Done,” her computer reported.
“Fire forward batteries,” Kris ordered.
Fifteen alien ships burned as twenty-one frigates hit them hard. Two exploded. Fire from others slackened, but the range was closing, and the alien lasers were taking bigger bites.
The Smart MetalTM hull of the Princess Royal, like all the other non-Earth frigates, was a honeycomb of metal and cooling reaction mass under a thin covering of reflective material. It spun around the ship to spread out any hit while the reaction mass around a hit bled into space, carrying away heat as well as causing the laser beam to bloom and lose power.
Damaged frigates took on a halo.
The Earth frigates were a different story. Now they fairly glowed as they took in the laser hits, slowed the light down, spread it out along the entire length of their armor, and reflected it back into space.
Earth’s BatRon 12 had led the way through the jump. It was always closest to the enemy. Now the thirteen aliens concentrated on the seven Earth frigates. They made them glow.
But they did not make them explode.
Kris watched her board. The Earth frigates’ armor wasn’t even into the red yet.
“We’ve got to keep our nose to the foe,” Jack whispered.
“And the Earth squadron out front,” Kris agreed.
The forward batteries were recharging. The aft batteries in Kris’s fleet were coming up on full as they crossed the hundred-thousand-kilometer range.
That also put the trailing 20-inch frigates of Hawkings’s BatRon 2 in range.
“Forward squadrons, prepare to flip ships and fire aft batteries. You will flip back, bow toward the enemy as soon as your aft batteries are empty. BatRon 2, fire your forward batteries at the ships you identify as least damaged, then flip and fire aft lasers. You will also flip back and offer the enemy your bows.”
Ships’ names blinked acknowledgments as Kris finished.
“Flip ship. Fire,” Kris ordered.
The slaughter among the onrushing alien ships was brutal, but they gave as well as they got.
Thirteen big warships took fire from twenty-nine frigates. Actually, a full thirty-two as the damaged frigates flipped and contributed their recharged forward lasers as well.
Eight of the five-hundred-thousand-ton alien ships dissolved, wrecked by their own acceleration or eaten by the plasma in their own reactors. One ship actually bent along its middle, then broke in half. Another ship seemed to burn from the inside, gutting itself before the inrush of vacuum could dowse its own fires.
Most just exploded into gas as reactor containment vessels failed and sun-hot plasma was released to incinerate flesh and steel.
Eight ships died, but the other five just kept coming, firing whatever lasers they could still bring to bear.
Hawkings immediately flipped his eight ships and fired their aft batteries at the five survivors. One blew, but the others kept racing at Kris.
Kris’s ships had to take it. Tests had shown that they couldn’t feed all the power into a single capacitor and get one laser ready ahead of the rest. No, they might give three priority, but only at a ten-percent penalty.
Kris had weighted the options and established the fleet doctrine. Charge the entire forward battery. Charge the entire aft battery. Only under unusual circumstances charge three guns ahead of the rest.
Kris considered the present circumstances and shook her head.
The two fleets rushed at each other. Behind this fight, the monstrous alien base ship fled at 1.14 gees toward the third jump.
No way you’re going to make that, Kris swore.
Beyond that, the survivors of the ships that had fought Yi were also bearing off to connect with their mother ship. Yi’s ships had time to mend and make repairs. They were now back to yellow or green on their boards although Kris counted five that were trailing the rest of the fleet. Seven destroyed, five too damaged to pursue. That left Yi with only twenty ships. The ten surviving 22-inch war wagons were closing with the retreating aliens, nipping at their heels, but from an extreme range of 180,000 klicks.
Admiral Yi’s secondary batteries were also sweeping the space ahead of him for those troublesome mines.
Admiral Bethea had pulled her two BatRons off a bit, as if to get well ahead of the aliens on their flight to the third jump point. With the speed of her frigates, no doubt Bethea could put herself square in their path and make them come to her as she fired and retreated, fired and retreated.
The humans had shown the aliens that chasing us was a bad idea.
Kris turned back to her own battle.
First Fleet might have lost a ship if the five alien ships had concentrated on a single frigate.
Instead, the aliens seemed mesmerized by the glow from the Earth frigates. What fire they had, they concentrated on them. The ships took their hits, absorbed them, and radiated them back into space.
The five Earth ships showed hull damage as their crystal armor heated up. Kris had suggested to Yi that his ships might benefit from a layer of honeycomb cooling under their crystal belt. He’d declined, with his usual attitude that seemed to say nothing good could come from the Rim worlds. He was of Earth.
Kris had chosen not to make it an order. She wasn’t all that sure that the ships could be redesigned. Certainly not in the time before she ordered this operation.
Without orders, the secondaries opened up on the alien ships as the range closed to less than fifty thousand kilometers.
The forward batteries were over half recharged.
At this range, even a half-strength laser would be deadly.
“Prepare to fire forward batteries,” Kris ordered.
Ships blinked back their reply.
“Fire,” Kris almost whispered.
One hundred and ninety-two lasers reached out at reduced strength for the four surviving warships.
They vanished in hellish blazes.
“We got a problem,” came from the commander of BatRon 12.
“Report,” Kris said.
“There’s a lot of crap showing up on my sensors. I think they seeded the space behind them with whatever those mines were that hit Admiral Yi so badly.”
“I think you’re right,” Kris said. “Captains, have your secondary batteries take on anything close to your ships.”
Again, ships blinked their acknowledgments.
Then something exploded close on to the Longbow.
“There’s a whole lot of this crap,” Admiral L’Estock reported. “And some of it’s moving.”
“Nelly,” Kris said.
“I’m taking a feed off the Princess Royal’s scientific sensors,” Kris’s computer reported. Most of the ships had sailed without their science teams, leaving them behind to explore Alwa and its star system. Kris had insisted on having at least a team aboard her flag. She also had Doc Meade to offer her expertise if they had a chance to talk to some real-live aliens.
Now her boffins were passing along information that Kris could hardly believe.
A picture appeared on one of Kris’s unused screens. It showed a tiny spacecraft. A rocket motor, a small crew compartment that appeared to hold a single alien, and a big bulge in front that Kris suspected was explosives, maybe atomics.
Kris was not shocked.
She had been shocked when the aliens started hurtling ships into the Alwa system, intent on crashing the planet and killing people by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Possibly even rendering the planet uninhabitable.
“How can any living person do that?” Kris had asked. Then Nelly answered. Kris got a lesson on Kamikazes and Jihadist suicide bombers and others from Old Earth’s bloody and dark history.
Admiral Furzah had added examples from Sasquan history. “Do not mistake my meaning,” she added. “We consider those who resort to this as fools. They have never won a war, but they have certainly made their mark on our history.”
Now Kris saw space between her and the monstrous alien mother ship littered with these tiny weapons, propelled by hate and guided by a living mind.
“Kris, some of the ships are larger,” Nelly reported. “I think there is room for two, maybe three. It is possible that these carry the outlawed atomic weapons.”
Outlawed by humans. Not so outlawed by these bug-eyed monsters that looked just like us.
“Nelly, warn the fleet. Get the big ones before they get you.”
“Warning sent, Kris.”
A loose cluster of three alien ships were coming in range, hurtling themselves like some bug to a flame. Kris ordered her ships to take them out, and they vanished under a hammering of full frontal fire.
Next, two came in range. Kris flipped ship just long enough to obliterate the pair.
Forward batteries were reloaded when the last three rushed to their deaths.
Kris scowled and ordered an end to the massacre.
“Whether they come at us in full ships, or in tiny, sentiently guided mines, they die,” Jack whispered.
Now that part of her problem was done. She had ten minutes to destroy a base ship before its bloodthirsty brood came howling back, screaming for Kris’s head.
“How the hell do you destroy an alert and fully armed base ship?” Kris asked no one in particular.”
Still, Admiral Furzah attempted a reply. “It is like, what do you call that animal? A porcupine. Sharp spines everywhere.”
“Only these spines are lasers,” Jack added.
“Yes,” Kris said, and considered her next major challenge.
“Squadrons, flip ship and come up on 4.5 gees deceleration slowly. Let me know if battle damage causes you trouble.”
At 3.5 gees deceleration Earth’s BatRon 12 had a hard time keeping their overheated crystal armor from sliding off their hulls. Kris reduced them to 3.35-gee deceleration.
The Asama, Broadsword, and Saber hollered uncle around four gees. Kris detached them to proceed independently. She ordered all the separated ships to aim for well out on the mother ship’s base course.
They decelerated with their vulnerable sterns to the alien base ship through a loose cloud of intelligently guided mines. They fishtailed a bit, opening up their amidships secondary batteries to pop the bits and pieces of murderous crud. Occasionally, a denser cloud would require short, low-powered bursts from the aft main battery.
Still, Longbow suffered a near-miss atomic and had to slow down.
Kris had twelve of the large 22-inch frigates, as well as all eight of BatRon 2’s 20-inch war wagons and the Princess Royal as she matched course and speed with an alien mother ship the size of a small moon, still 180,000 klicks out.
“Nelly, send to the alien. ‘Enlightened One, you and all your black hats will die. Give up your arms, and I will let you live. Admiral Longknife sends.’”
“I have sent it, Kris, using what we know of their language.”
“BatRon 8 and 9, let’s back up my surrender offer with a full broadside. Pick a target on that monster and make it vanish.”
“Kris, we really ought to concentrate on what will do the most damage,” Nelly said.
“Yes, we will,” Kris answered, “but not right now. Let’s scourge him a bit before I go for blowing him to bits.”
“Psychology, huh?” Nelly asked.
“Just plain human orneriness,” Jack put in.
“It’s gotten us where we are today,” Kris pointed out.
“How long do you plan to be ornery before we slice some serious chunks off that ship?” Nelly asked.
Kris sighed. So long as the ship had rocket power, it could keep up its flight. If she cut the huge bell-shaped rockets off its aft end, would that end the run, or just allow them to douse the reactors back there and become a whole lot harder to blow up?
Kris posed the question and got half her human staff in favor of destroying the rockets. The other half, Jack included, proposed delaying that until they could get some antimatter torpedoes into the reactors and turn them loose to rip the ship apart.
Admiral Furzah voted with Jack.
It didn’t matter.
A number of Kris’s captains had taken it on their own to aim for the rocket engines that dominated the aft end of the huge, thick ellipsoid. The moon-size ship’s dash through space took on a distinct shimmy before it settled down at a steady .97-gee acceleration.
A moment later, its acceleration fell off significantly.
“They’ve dumped reactor cores and closed down half their engines,” Nelly reported.
“All ships, prepare to flip ship,” Kris ordered. “Aim your aft batteries at the rear of the base ship. Reactors are our target.”
Ships blinked on Kris’s board.
“Flip ship now. Fire.”
The P. Royal, having been up-gunned only to 20-inch lasers, did not join the shoot.
“We hit three, maybe four reactors,” Nelly reported. “However, they seemed to have dumped alternating reactors so one wild wave of plasma is not washing over and tripping the next one. Oh, now they’re dumping all reactors along the aft end of the base ship. Kris, the alien is just coasting.”
“That may make her an easier target,” Jack said.
“I don’t think so,” Nelly said. “They’ve just put a spin and rotation on the ship, Kris. It will be hell on whoever isn’t tied down aboard it, but it will be hell to target any specific point on its surface or inside.”
“And, no doubt,” Jack drawled, “their Enlightened One is ensconced in the safest place on that rock, waiting for the fleet to come and save his skin.”
“It will be a cold day in hell when that happens,” Kris said, and did a new count on the ships charging back from their fight with Admiral Yi. The aliens were down to sixty-three. No, make that sixty-two as another ship bloomed into a colorful flower of hot gas and bits of wreckage.
Kris eyed the clock; she had eight minutes. Time for thirty salvos from her frigates. Maybe less.
“Nelly, do you know where the reactors were on that wrecked mother ship we examined?”
“Send that data to all ships. Close into one hundred and twenty-five thousand klicks and aim for the reactors that power all those lasers.”
Nelly sent the data, and the frigates began circling the base ship, keeping up their jinking while doing it. Kris had been surprised once today by longer-range lasers.
As they closed to Kris’s ordered range, she gave her next order. “Skippers, I want to slice that big, ugly melon. Aim your batteries for the same spot on the ship. I want it drilled right down to the reactors. Understood?”
The message boards blinked acknowledgment.
“Fire at will,” she ordered.
Ships flipped to present their forward batteries. The lasers showed nothing as they departed the ships, but showed brightly as they sliced into the spinning ship. Several skippers managed to walk their fire across the twisting ship, keeping the heat on one place for an entire broadside.
“How’d you do that?” on net got a quick reply. When the aft batteries were brought to bear, each frigates’ fire was much concentrated.
“Nelly, why didn’t you suggest that?” Kris asked.
“Nobody asked me, Kris, and it didn’t occur to me that you humans would need help tracking such a slow-moving target. Sorry.”
BatRon 12 joined the shoot two minutes into it. It fired its aft lasers on the approach, flipped ship, and cut power, then fired the forward lasers. Another flip, and they were decelerating toward the base ship as they recharged. They repeated that maneuver twice before they were circling it, firing with the rest of Kris’s ships.
Moments later, the rest of the cripples joined up and got into the shoot.
The monster burned under their fire, but it was a huge monster, and there was a lot of it to burn.
Then a reactor cut loose. Its plasma vented through the hull, incinerating everything along the way. That had hardly died down when another of the two hundred or so reactors along the centerline of the base ship also let loose its plasma to burn its way to the surface.
“BatRon 9, fire one antimatter torpedo per ship, if you will.”
“On their way, Admiral,” Commodore Shoalter answered.
Before they crossed the hundred-thousand-klick line, lasers reached out to burn them.
We don’t use the Hellburners yet.
Thirty-two ships blasted away at the rolling hulk. Volley fire was gone. Every second a couple of ships would fire either their forward or aft batteries. Among Shoalter’s squadron from New Eden, the ships organized themselves into pairs, aiming for a single place on the mother ship.
That quickly caught on. Now, with ten or so lasers piercing the hull at or near the same place, the pace of reactors losing containment went from occasional to frequent.
The boffins on the Princess Royal had applied Nelly’s map of potential reactor locations and were now running them through their sensors.
Reactors were quickly located, identified, and targeted.
The base ship was blasted to hell.
Kris ordered a volley of antimatter torpedoes. Several almost made it to the base ship.
It looked desperate for the aliens, and the ships that might give them respite were still four minutes away when desperation gave rise to a new choice.
The alien moonlet began to pop out tiny pups.
“Are those survival pods?” Penny asked.
“Sorry, Penny,” Nelly said. “Those are more of the suicide boats to attack us.”
“Nelly, warn the fleet. Suiciders coming our way. Engage them with secondary when they come in range.”
“There are a lot of them, Kris,” Amanda said, speaking for the first time that day. “Do you think we can get them in time?”
“We’ll see,” Kris said, and kept one eye on the approaching dishes, the other on the blasted and bludgeoned base ship. Maybe it was time to try some more antimatter torpedoes.
“BatRon 2, will you have a go at the bugger with one torpedo each?”
“On their way, Admiral,” and another eight ripped away and headed in.
“All ships, prepare to launch six torpedoes. Hawkings, have your four ‘R’s’ ready to add a Hellburner to each volley. Skippers, warn your gunners to not hit our missiles. Stand by,” Kris said. “Ripple launch antimatter torpedoes . . . now! Launch Hellburners . . . now!”
The missiles took off toward the base ship about the same time that the 5-inch secondary batteries took on the approaching suicide craft. Human missiles screamed away at ten gees acceleration; their suicide boats were barely making three gees, though they had had more time to get up to speed.
Excerpted from "Kris Longknife: Unrelenting"
Copyright © 2015 Mike Shepherd.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Praise for the Kris Longknife Novels
“A whopping good read…Fast-paced, exciting, nicely detailed, with some innovative touches.”—Elizabeth Moon, Nebula Award–winning author of Crown of Renewal
“Shepherd delivers no shortage of military action, in space and on the ground. It’s cinematic, dramatic, and dynamic.”—Tor.com
“A tightly written, action-packed adventure from start to finish...Heart-thumping action will keep the reader engrossed and emotionally involved.”—Fresh Fiction
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Waiting for the sequel.
Too soon to end.
Best of the bunch. Damn but I am wore out, talk about a serial read!
Overall disappointing--This has been a great series, but this book is a let down. Rather than exploring space, new species, having battle strategy and ingenious victories dominate the book, these expected elements are really the side story and make up the smaller percentage of the book. This book was dominated by Kris's pregnancy AND economic battles and negotiations between various factions on the planet. BORING!!!! I scanned and skipped multiple sections because it did not hold my interest as meeting after meeting focused on who go so much of what commodity, whether the land was available to compensate for goods and services etc. etc. The writing itself was as good as previous books in this series, it is just the story itself took a terrible turn. PLEASE get back on track. I am very concerned for the future of this series as we were left with our heroine being demoted, relieved of command, giving birth and ordered back home.... Will we now have to suffer through a book of her negotiating motherhood, planning meals, changing diapers and battling nannies?
Always a good read, though different from his usual way of writing.
This book was unbelievably disappointing. This action packed series has been a pleasure to read, but this book has me worried that going forward, it will just not be up to the caliber that I expect. In this book our main character gets unexpectedly pregnant and has the baby. Though the action is still very much present, the pregnancy is influencing everything. Her behavior with her partner has changed to accommodate her sexual needs. Though I love a good sex scene, there aren't any here. This book and going forward, the feel of the series will change to be about our main character balancing her role in an intergalactic war and now raising a child. I think that after so many action packed books in this series where our main character was using intellect and ingenuity to kick butt, win battles of various kinds while remaining moral and ethical, this is a twist that will change the whole feel of the series...and not for the better, by splitting its focus with battle & more "down to earth" mommy challenges. That's is not what I want to read about in this fiction sci-fi series.