There was a sound that Captain Thaddeus Westmore had never heard the like of before -- a kind of an otherworldly screech -- and the Aurora-class Confederacy Fleet Auxiliary Colony Transport Northern Lights suddenly seemed to do something that felt amazingly like a dry-skid, apparently sweeping to the right. The AI attempted to compensate, but was unprepared for the sudden lurch at the end; Thaddeus watched Ensign Hargrove's head bounce off the bulkhead next to his station with a sickening thud. The Ensign slumped and Thaddeus rasped, "Medic to the Control Room! AI, report status! What happened?"
"The Northern Lights entered the field of a small singularity while under hyperdrive," the AI reported. "The hyperdrive is destroyed. Sublight engines are fully available."
"Seventeen, as of this moment. Four are unresponsive -- unconscious or dead. Triage teams have been dispatched." The AI's assertion was immediately supported by the fact that two medics came through the hatch and hauled Ensign Hargrove out of his seat.
"Other damage?" Thaddeus asked.
"The Northern Lights merely grazed the gravitic anomaly and the rate of translation was such that it cleared the effective influence before entering normal space." the AI replied, "As a result, only the hyperdrive was damaged. Hull stresses before and during emergence were well within tolerances."
Thaddeus grunted, thinking, 'The cargo didn't do so well.' Watching the medics collect Ensign Hargrove's limp body and place it on a floater, he asked, "How is it that we didn't detect a black hole with sensors?"
"The Northern Lights does not possess military-grade sensors," the AI responded, "They are considered to be less than cost-effective for a cargo vessel. The anomaly is orders of magnitude too small to be natural and was apparently artificially created."
"That's possible?" Thaddeus warbled, surprised.
"Affirmative. It is cost-prohibitive, but possible."
"So we hit a chuck hole," Thaddeus grunted. "How long to repair the hyperdrive?"
"It will take a shipyard, or a GMU," the AI reported. "The damage is well beyond any ability to replace components available on the vessel and the components would have to be tuned using sophisticated equipment even if fabrication were possible. Detailed replicator patterns are unavailable on board in case the ship should be captured."
"What is our nearest available port under sublight engines?" Thaddeus asked.
"Rukabat is habitable and nine days' travel from our current location at full sublight cruise, but the planet is abandoned," the AI declared. "Facilities will be sharply limited, as the Ruka took every item of advanced technology they could carry with them."
Everyone on the bridge was fascinated by the conversation at that point. "And why did the Ruka abandon their homeworld?" Thaddeus asked.
"When they were made aware of a Sa'arm incursion predicted in twenty-five Confederacy Standard Annual Periods," the AI replied. "That would be twenty-six point two-three-seven of your years. The Ruka moved their civilization five hundred light-years beyond the current Sa'arm sphere of influence and commenced rebuilding. They are watching the conduct of the current conflict with the Sa'arm very closely to see if Humans will prevail or another move is required."
"Bully for them," Thaddeus grunted. "Who created the black hole?"
"The Ruka created several black holes in the vicinity of their system during the period between when they first left their homeworld and their admission into the Confederacy, as a defensive measure. They were somewhat xenophobic and still somewhat warlike upon their initial emergence from their homeworld and there were several small conflicts with other young races before this sector was tranquilized and the races involved were offered Confederacy citizenship. This is undoubtedly an unreported leftover. It is off the main shipping lanes and was probably thought to be too unlikely to present problems to make an expensive recovery and removal effort worthwhile."
Thaddeus tore himself away from pondering how one disposes of a black hole to grunt, "And naturally, since we're headed closer to the front and not using the normal shipping lanes, we just HAD to hit it..." He sighed. "Well, at least we have that deserted planet to go to while we send out a message drone and wait for a GMU or a tow..."
"Normally, that would be a prudent course of action, Captain, but it is not in this case," the AI announced.
Thaddeus scratched his head. "And why is that?"
The AI activated the holographic display forward of the navigation station. "Because the twenty-five annual periods have elapsed and a Sa'arm Hive ship is inbound and close to the system. In fact, if it follows established protocols, it should drop out of hyperspace for a sensor sweep sometime in the next five hours."
"Ugh." Thaddeus rubbed his face. "Can we see it?"
"The hyperspace wake and calculations for the location put it here," the AI reported, placing a flashing point in the hologram, which also displayed a marker for the Northern Lights and, at a distance, the Rukabat system. "The hive ship should emerge at a distance of forty light minutes, approximately."
"And forty minutes later, it will know we're here and reconfigure for a jump into our vicinity," Thaddeus sighed. "And we're an unarmed transport, so..."
"Precisely," the AI agreed.
"I knew when I took this mission that it was going to be a nightmare!" Thaddeus complained. "Heading toward the front in a transport with a cargo of whores..."
Technically, the nine hundred sixty women he had aboard were 'unassigned concubines, ' but Thaddeus thought of them as 'whores' because each and every one of them had signed on to be transported without a sponsor to what amounted to be a humongous Civil Service brothel near the front lines. Branson's World was a planetoid near the front that someone had the bright idea to turn into an R & R site, like Wrigley's Pleasure Planet in the old Star Trek series. Since Marines didn't bring their concubines forward into the combat zone as a rule, they needed relief, and a little reward as they rolled off a mission was a big morale builder, so Thaddeus had a cargo of women in every shape and size and color -- even age, within the limits of fertility -- for delivery to the Branson's World brothel. Thaddeus couldn't fathom what drove the women to volunteer to be a collection of fuck holes for oversized and over-stimulated Marines -- fully one hundred of them were virgins! What kind of sense did THAT make? What a gamble...
"Any update on the casualties?" Thaddeus asked.
"An adequate number of med tubes was available for the ten most serious injuries. Seventeen others are awaiting tubes for broken bones and other non-life-threatening injuries," the AI reported. "There have been no deaths."
"Not that it's gonna help," Lieutenant Willis grumbled, "when that Hive ship drops out of hyperdrive."
"Well, we'll need to know what we're dealing with," Thaddeus replied, "Sensor Officer, launch three recon drones. Try to stick them beyond Hive sensor range."
"Aye, Sir!" Willis programmed the drones and fired them off. The drones went straight to hyperdrive and were gone. "Now we wait. I set them for ninety second data capture. The first drone to acquire the target will call the others so they can rotate in with updates every ninety seconds."
"Very well, Sensors." Thaddeus sat back in his seat, thinking, 'Lucky us -- we hit an iceberg. Or a mine ... Wait a minute... ' "AI, what would be the effect of the singularity on the Hive ship if it struck it under hyperdrive?"
The AI paused to run some scenarios, apparently. "For anything less than a grazing approach to the edge of the singularity's gravity well, eventual total annihilation," it reported.
"Really? Something that size?"
"The Hive ship's hyperdrive is at least three generations behind the hyperdrive of the Northern Lights," the AI replied, "This effects field density and speed of translation, among other things. The Northern Light's rate of translation got it past the gravity well of the singularity before emergence into normal space -- but this would not happen for the Sa'arm Hive ship. The vessel's size is another negative factor, as the structural integrity of a Hive ship is considerably less than that of the Northern Lights."
"So the question is, can we vector them in?" Thaddeus muttered, "and will they see it on sensors?"
"If you can anticipate their movements, you can probably lead them to the proper vector," the AI replied, "but how sensitive their sensors are and whether they will emerge from hyperspace close enough to detect the singularity during a course change is open to question."
"Drone transmission!" Willis erupted. "The Hive ship has emerged from hyperspace! Current position is two-four-four mark one eight relative. Current vector is two-nine-four mark three-two relative to Northern Lights. They are adjusting negative 'y' to and positive 'x' to align with Rukabat, which is at two-eight-seven mark one-three. No sign of drone detection."
"How long until they can see us?" Thaddeus asked.
"The clock has been running for two minutes, thirteen seconds," Willis announced, totally immersed in his instruments and AI feeds. "Thirty-six minutes and forty seconds ... Mark!"
"Okay!" Thaddeus declared, "It's a given that we don't see them until they see us or just before. Where do we want to go from there? Navigator?"
.... There is more of this story ...