Chapter 5 - Sa'Alment
"Dear Roger," the letter Wilhelm was writing into his data pad read, "We are doing well, and hope you are too. We've managed to sink two Sa'arm scouts so far, using six torpedoes and without being detected once, which leaves us with another 42 shots. We are now heading for a star which has a known Sa'arm infestation. We won't be clearing it out - we don't have the arms for that - but we can at least make them regret the day they chose this system. Please look after your sister as best you can, and give Freida all our love. Your mother misses both of you terribly, but it will be only a little while longer. I doubt if we will be on station too much longer at the rate we're expending our supply of missiles. Please make sure Freida has found herself a nice boy to father her first child."
He looked over at the other table, where a spirited game of acey-deucy was underway. The traditional navy game was played by all hands on board Archerfish without regard to rank or status, and right now Chief Radioman's Mate Chuck Hurst was battling it out against Operations Specialist Ken Wach's concubine Francesca for the honour of ship's champion. And losing quite badly, it should be noted.
The feminine voice of Charlie, the ship's AI, interrupted Wilhelm's thoughts. 'Captain Koenig, you wanted to be informed when we were one hour away from scheduled arrival at Sa'Alment. We are now one hour away.'
'Yes, thank you.' He closed the letter with a flourish of his signature and headed up to the CIC to relieve Sam.
In the CIC, Sam was somewhat bored. At supraluminal speed, there just wasn't anything that routinely happened. Mind you, he had no desire to be at supraluminal speed if anything non-routine happened. It had a distressing tendency to just ruin your whole day.
He acknowledged the arrival of his Captain with the pronouncement, "All systems nominal, Skipper." He vacated the command chair.
"Very good. Charlie, broadcast to all compartments."
"All hands, we are now fifty-five minutes from arrival time at Sa'Alment. Sound General Quarters. All hands to battle stations. Don battle armour, all compartments set Condition One." With that, the urgent BONG-BONG-BONG of the general quarters klaxon echoed through the ship.
Forward of the CIC, Gunner's Mate Sheila Smith and her concubine Charles quickly donned their battle suits and took their stations at the launch and reload workstations. After plugging themselves in and strapping themselves into the acceleration chairs, Sheila activated the weapons, warming them up in case instant firing was needed. Charles confirmed that the tubes were drained of atmosphere and the outer doors were ready to open. On both panels, all six tubes showed red.
In the CIC, Ensign Greene, as green as his name, took over the steering controls and began his checklist.
Finally, every sensor quivering and every external light off, the tiny black ship re-entered normal space.
Yes, they'd found Sa'arm.
"Captain, Navigator. Encroachment, dead ahead! Very large!" Ensign Greene's voice held a note of panic.
"I see it!" roared a startled Koenig, as the second-largest known class of Sa'arm ship filled the CIC's forward bulkhead screen. "Weapons!"
"Confirmed as a Sa'arm hive ship! Volumna Class! Distance point blank!"
"Opening outer tube doors." Charles didn't wait for the order. The doors snapped open, and six telltales glowed green on Sheila's board.
"Ready to fire all tubes!"
"Jesus H. Christ, FIRE! All tubes! Greene, as soon as the fish are away, get us the hell out of here."
"Firing all tubes!"
As the rumble of the missiles leaving the launch tubes reverberated through the ship, Greene searched for someplace to be. Any place. Behind that space rock to the right, up 20?
"That should work for now," the Captain concurred. "Ready to engage the second the last fish leaves its tube."
"All missiles away!" reported Sheila.
"Reload all tubes. Mr. Greene, NOW would not be too soon."
Archerfish banked to starboard, rising 20 degrees from the ecliptic to hide behind the blessed safety of a large asteroid. At that moment, the first of six missiles entered the reaction chamber of one of the Volumna Class hive ship's main engines. The first missile punched its way through the forward end of the chamber, causing a sudden and dramatic fall in acceleration as part of the force being generated in the reaction chamber began pressing forward into various compartments of the ship instead of being channelled aft.
The internal effect, unseen and unseeable by Archerfish's sensors, was as if a giant blowtorch was loosed on board. The flame cut rapidly through to the compartment immediately in front of the combustion chamber: fuel storage. Subsequent missiles slammed through the shattered combustion chamber and into other vital parts of the hive ship, but the first one did the necessary damage. The hive ship exploded in a silent inferno that put a dozen Fourth of July celebrations to shame. If Archerfish did nothing else in her career, she had now justified the expenditure of every resource the Confederacy had spent on her existence.
But the day wasn't over, nor the battle. Archerfish found herself nose-to-tail with a smaller Sa'arm ship, a Venti Class destroyer-sized craft that had allowed the asteroid to get between it and the hive ship it was guarding. Once again Archerfish was facing a down-the-tubes shot.
"All tubes reloaded, Captain. Outer doors open."
"Fire two shots. Sensors, passive sweep. What else is there?"
Ahead, the destroyer shuddered as its engine compartment began to dissolve. Flame shot out from a hull breach in the bridge area as fire consumed the inside.
"Tubes one and two empty, 34 shots remaining. Permission to reload?"
"Not yet, let's see if we're finished with combat manoeuvring for the moment. I don't want an unsecured missile or two bouncing around the Missile Module."
The forward arc of the hive ship showed up then ahead of the meteorite's line of travel, tumbling lifelessly and falling toward a nearby gas giant.
"Ship's status? And what's on the sensor sweep?" Koenig demanded, feeling blind and as if he'd used up all his luck for one day.
"Status nominal. No hull breaches, the stealth coating is intact, all systems check out nominal."
"Sensors report much Sa'arm activity. There's another Venti-class destroyer out there, running parallel to the course of the hive ship we just destroyed. They just cleared the meteorite's shadow."
Oh, yes, we DID destroy a hive ship, he pondered. We'll cheer later. "Do we have target acquisition?"
"Confirmed target acquired, range 347.9. Missile course plotted in."
"At that range, one of our shots could miss," Koenig mused, not realizing he was thinking aloud. "Ready three missiles. Tubes Three, Four and Five."
"Aye, Captain. Outer doors on tubes Three, Four and Five are open."
"Target acquired," Sheila repeated.
"Fire missiles Three, Four and Five on automatic spread."
"Aye, Sir, missiles Three, Four and Five. Firing three."
The boat juddered.
"Number three fired electrically."
The boat juddered again.
"Number four fired electrically."
For the third time, the boat juddered as the missile left the launch tube.
"Number five fired electrically."
"Close all outer tube doors. Reload tubes One through Five."
"Outer doors closed. Repressurizing tubes 1 through 5. Opening inner doors." Through the hull, all hands could hear the new missiles slide home into their silos. "Tubes 1 through 5 reloaded. Depressurising tubes 1 through 5."
"Open all outer doors. I want to be able to fire a shot quickly." Koenig glanced at Quinn, who was monitoring the flight of the trio of missiles toward the Sa'arm destroyer.
"Hit, Captain! Her shields are down. No evidence of hull damage, though."
Then, "Number four hit, dead amidships! Fire on board. Hull breaches. The Venti is venting! Lookit her burn!"
Finally, Missile Five smacked into the doomed destroyer, right in the fuel storage tanks. Like her predecessor, the hapless vessel noiselessly vanished into a steadily-expanding ball of shrapnel.
The ship's bell sounded four bells on the forenoon watch. It had taken less than ten minutes to vapourize two Venti Class destroyers holding about 250 dickheads apiece and a Volumna Class hive ship containing tens of thousands. Wilhelm felt exhausted and wanted to wrap up, but realized the fight could be only just beginning.
Gradually, though, the sensors showed this approach to the system to be clear of any sign of enemy. The rest were in other sectors, coming quickly to check for survivors and threats.
Relieved, Captain Koenig tiptoed Archerfish out of the system and on to the next unsuspecting target of opportunity.
CSS Archerfish flew at supraluminal speed to her next star system, her CIC manned by a minimal crew. The rest squeezed into the cramped comfort of the ship's mess, enjoying a celebratory cake whipped up by the ship's replicator. Wilhelm even opened a bottle of fine brandy, from Earth and not the product of a replicator, and everyone had a pony glass to celebrate the sinking of a hive ship.
Ensign Green hefted his tiny glass. "And tomorrow, let's do that again!"
His Captain laughed. "Only next time, not so close!" Koenig reflected for a moment. "Mr. Greene, Mr. O'Brien and his concubine are in the CIC at the moment. Would you be so kind as to take your concubine and relieve them? They deserve cake and brandy as well."
"Very good, Sir. Debra, let's go." With a polite nod to Captain Koenig, Ensign Greene led his concubine up to the top deck of the Command Module to relieve their friends and roommates.
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