Wounded, her engines were offline. The Sparrowhawk's engineering crew could muster only thirty percent of nominal power. At this point, she drifted like a loosed arrow. No power was passed to the main particle beams from any source. Worse, the shield generators were phasing in and out. On the bright side, enemy fire had ceased to strike her. Damage control parties spread throughout the ship. The crew was effectively blind to the battle behind them. Experience stated that the Sa'arm had some difficulty tracking ships running silently. The Sparrowhawk made no noise.
The Sparrowhawk had taken fire for about twenty minutes. Three times her shields had buckled. Three times lasers sliced into her. The power couplings to the forward particle beams had failed twelve minutes ago. Captain Tanaka had sent him and Zoe to expedite repairs. Deck four from bulkhead six to bulkhead twelve no longer existed in any form but scrap. On the way back to engineering, the collision alarms started.
When the energy to shake the ship comes from an unanticipated collision with a Sa'arm Vervactor, bracing for impact does little to prepare anyone for the violence. Lieutenant Juan Grasso bounced off the near bulkhead. He stumbled about while the sounds of grinding metal and the collision alarm vibrated the floor below him. A plume of nitrogen coolant jetted from a pipe fitting, whistling like a teapot.
"Here!" A jell-clamp landed in his hand. "I'm too short." Zoe, the concubine of Machinist Private Gabon, held the tightening spanner ready.
Having a task to complete reoriented his thinking. He slipped the jell-clamp over the pipe. Slipping the L-strap into place, he slid the clamp over the leaking joint. With the cold jet redirected, Juan used the spanner to tighten the clamp. That action broke several chemical packets that expanded and hardened to seal the breach.
"Lieutenant," the AI called calmly. "The Sparrowhawk has been struck amidships between engineering and the bridge. I have lost sensor contact with anything forward of the collision point." Over a third of the ship was dead to the AI. "I register no atmospheric pressure vertically from bulkhead nine to bulkhead eleven."
Step one: assess the damage. "Are there working drones to launch to survey the damage?"
"There are twenty drones that are in contact with me," the ship's AI responded.
"Launch three externally and three internally to survey and assess." Juan looked at Zoe. "Who is the ranking officer you have contact with?"
"You are, Lieutenant."
Juan was the seventh ranking officer. Of the seventeen officers on board, having him in command screamed at the seriousness of the predicament. "We are heading back to engineering. We need to execute damage control and establish a temporary bridge."
Being a warship, the Sparrowhawk's design flowed from her deadly function. Conduits and piping each were marked with colors and symbols that explained what each one carried. The corridors that led through her hull existed more for maintenance than egress. Hatches that separated areas were designed to let augmented marines pass quickly with a ducking high step similar to surface ships. Swarm Troopers would be slowed at each hatch. Decompression protocol forced Sparrow, the ship's AI, to close each responding hatch.
"Sparrow," said Juan remembering protocol, "start reestablishing links to all weapons in damaged areas. Be prepared to initiate degenerative failsafe." Sparrow would also seek to reestablish contact with nanites throughout the ship. Juan's initial assessment led him to believe that power would not be able to be restored without a dockyard. To prevent the Sa'arm from gaining an advantage, the AI would destroy these next generation heavy particle beams in the damaged areas of the ship. Juan also knew he had ordered the AI to destroy the ship if necessary.
"What is the active ship's company?" Juan had to take responsibility.
"Other than you and Zoe, I am in contact with nine subordinate naval officers, forty enlisted naval personnel, twelve enlisted marine personnel, and thirty-nine concubines." Of the almost two hundred and fifty souls on board, only one hundred and two were confirmed alive. Juan pushed his emotions aside. He would have to grieve later.
Zoe led him back to engineering. Juan used the time to compose himself. Two years serving under Captain Tanaka had instilled not only a sense of purpose but also a template to emulate. Occasional groans and shudders from the Sparrowhawk made him whittle away options. The ship ... no, his ship remained in danger.
He entered the engineering control room to find nine ensigns waiting for him. Two of them commanded the aft port and starboard particle beams, their corresponding point defense system officers, one from supply, operations, the AI specialist, and two from the engine room. The senior sergeant represented his marine contingent. "Let's start with what we know." Juan motioned for them to sit.
Sparrow began. "I have reestablished contact with ninety percent of the ship forward of the impact site. There are no living crew members in that area of the ship." This brought a groan of disappointment. "The main particle beam weapons took direct hits from the last enemy laser salvo. Nanites are in the process of rendering them into sections of component materials. The Vervactor which 'T-Boned' the Sparrowhawk is pushing both ships at one-eighth G acceleration away from the engagement. Course corrections are being made by the Sa'arm ship."
"What does that mean?" Sergeant Lydia Davis asked the question everyone wanted asked.
"Our weapons and engines are at least two generations ahead of the Swarm." Juan set the stakes. "I think we are being separated from the fleet, to be dissected."
Ensign Torre looked around at the group. "What options do we have then?"
"From my perspective we have two." Juan paused. "The first is to set the engines and power plant to overload. The second is to cut ourselves free and escape."
"How long do we have?"
"In nine hours," Sparrow offered, "the ships will be obscured in a dust cloud. The dust will interfere with standard sensor sweeps."
"A dust cloud? In a solar system?"
"The cloud is the result of several low speed impacts of our sand barrels with a Swarm scout ship," stated Sparrow. The irony was lost on the AI, but not on anyone else.
"If the Swarm ship is making course corrections," Sergeant Davis spoke up, "the moment we try to break away, we will be boarded."
"Maybe that gives us an advantage." Everyone looked at Zoe. Expressions ranging from dismissal to disbelief crossed the collected faces. "We have nine hours to get ready to welcome the boarders."
"Sparrow, can we have all points shown that would allow swarm access internally?"
A cross section of the Sparrowhawk where she intersected the Vervactor appeared. Of the ship's seven decks, the Swarm vessel intersected with five of them. The failsafe on the piping and conduits sealed themselves at the last bulkhead. Seventeen direct routes would allow the troopers' access to this end of the ship.
"We need ways to block each of these paths." Juan opened the floor. "What can we do?"
"What about the far side?" Ensign Parker questioned. "We need to block both sides."
Sergeant Davis spat out, "Why?"
"They test every avenue."
"Parker," Juan ended the exchange. "Take both disruptor fire teams and work your way back from the other side. Seal bulkheads and decompress the compartments." Juan smiled. "Sparrow, open those decompressed compartments to space. There is a limit to how long even they can hold their breath."
"Yes, Captain." Parker responded.
"Engineering," continued Juan. Ensigns Ellis and Mandrel looked at him. "Bring the power plant up slowly. Prepare the engines for a hot start." He turned to Ensign Walker. "I will need to have the maximum safe G for acceleration to a hyperspace jump point." Juan stood. "Everyone else, we need to think outside the box and communicate. I want a status report in four hours."
Ensign Torre ordered his team down to Deck 1. They prepared their skin-suits for use in decompressed conditions. Three concubines erected a temporary airlock interchange against the last pressure door leading to the areas of the deck exposed to the vacuum of space. Twenty minutes later, he led his team through the hatch.
After fifteen feet, the deck ended. Thirty feet beyond, the hull of the swarm vessel loomed. Damaged, scarred, but strangely intact. Something deep in his gut twisted; a sense of wrongness.
"We need to make the distance from here to that ship impassable." Torre looked around the group. "I need ideas in about five minutes." His team started moving around bouncing thoughts off each other.
"Is that conduit behind you marked 'XT dash G' something?" The voice did not belong to the female private in his command.
Torre looked anyway. He read the markings on the orange-banded tube. "It says 'XT dash G6A.' Can I ask what that means?"
"That is a power conduit for the shield generator."
"And that helps ho-shit." Torre looked in the hatch window at the unnamed concubine. "Yes! Check ship's stores for generators and emitters."
"Will do," her face disappeared from the window.
"We need to find every power conduit marked for the external shields. Look for 'XT dash G.' They will be orange banded."
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /