Fly By

by akarge

Copyright© 2010 by akarge

Science Fiction Story: Once the Swarm are in the system, how do we keep evacuating people from Earth?

Tags: Ma/Fa   Science Fiction   Violent   Military  

Any resemblance between the content of this story or any of the characters depicted herein and real persons or events is highly unlikely and purely coincidental

Thanks for the editing help from (alphabetically) Brooke, deGaffer, Mulligan, Tomken and the Swarm Writers Group

Fourteen years after the Average Joes Defense Force Special On board 'Happy Hunting Grounds' Valhalla class cube ship One million kilometers from Lunar orbit

"Captain. We've received a message relay from Earth Command. They report that they have two small hive ships still on the loose close in-system, along with several escort types. They are cleaning them up, but cannot spare any more escorts for us. They advise that we not make orbit. Lunar Exit Station Copernicus is fully stocked and we can have all of them that we can get aboard in the available time." Lieutenant Edgar, the communications officer aboard the Happy Hunting Grounds, passed on the recording of the broadcast message that had streamed in on a one-way basis in real time. It had been recorded, as opposed to being listened to, due to the signal lag. Also, at the time, Colonel Jules, the Captain of the Happy Hunting Grounds, had been dealing with the complex hyperspace exit protocols for a Cube ship and its multiple escorts. Task Force Commander Commodore Arthur had already received the message.

"Very well, send an acknowledgement. Tell them I expect that we will do a fly-by extraction."

"Aye aye, Sir."

"Captain Jules to Task Force Command."

"Commodore Arthur here. Go ahead Captain." The Commodore was aboard Happy as well, but he was on the flag bridge. Even though Happy was a Navy Auxiliary ship, it had the room for a Naval task force commander and his staff, and the escorts had become very necessary in the home system during the last several months.

"Sir, I got the relayed message. It appears that we will have to do a fly-by extraction. If so, we will need the sweepers out front. It looks like a Bastille Day fireworks display in the upper atmosphere."

Captain Jules was referring to the large amount of debris from the most recent battles in the area around Earth and Luna. No less than three Swarm medium hive ships and their escorts had recently broken up in the vicinity. Unfortunately, Human losses were high as well. Pieces of ships, bodies and various missiles, ranging in size from grains of sand to fuel-expended two-ton nuclear missiles fired by the Swarm, were hitting the Earth's atmosphere like a chaotic meteor shower. The Moon had several hundred new craters from all the scrap impacting the surface. And, of course, there were large numbers of the same types of items moving on multiple vectors in various locations ranging from the vicinity of Earth all the way to the orbit of Mars.

The first Swarm Hive ship had arrived about two years ago. The accompanying scouts and non-hyper light escorts had been handily dealt with while a small ad-hoc task force centered on the Europa Class Cruisers Zaragosa and Dublin had ignored the escorts and annihilated the Volumna class recon hive ship that had exited in the vicinity of Saturn. No one had wanted word to get out of what awaited the Swarm in this system, so the attack was pressed in a lethal manner. Lethal to the ship and the entire crew of the Nagoya Castle, a newer Castle Class Corvette, which had gone too deep into Saturn's gravity well and had died along with its opponent. Additionally, all but three of the crew had perished aboard the Patrician Class Corvette, Waikiki, which had to be scrapped after the battle. Unfortunately, one hyper capable Sa'arm scout had escaped, so there was at least one group of Swarm out there that had a new entry on their mental maps. "Danger. Here be Humans."

Last year three more hives had come into the system. Two had been destroyed, but one had landed near the shores of Lake Victoria, in Africa. That fight was still going on.

On this trip, as on all recent transits, Happy Hunting Grounds had hypered into the staging area near Jupiter. The Swarm were currently ignoring the gas giants, which let the Navy establish refueling stations and staging areas there. The Swarm would emerge there sooner or later, but for now, they were generally emerging from hyper in the inner system.

Happy had done a 'fast' refuel, which consisted of using transporters to pump reaction mass gasses directly into the incoming fuel chambers, where force fields compressed them into the main storage areas. The method was considered too dangerous to use on a standard basis by the Naval bureaucracy, even though there had never been an accident while doing this and the SOP method of using tanker vessels to ferry the fuel from station to ship, followed by manually pumping from one tank to another had resulted in deaths and even the destruction of one ship. The AIs still did not understand why the bureaucracy did some things the old fashioned way. For their part, the station crews took pleasure in finding ways to declare mechanical breakdowns and downcheck fuel ferries or to find other problems that would allow them to use the safer 'emergency' method.

After fueling, Happy and the reinforced escort had taken a short hyper-speed trip around the Sun to near where the Earth Defense Forces were still finishing their most recent battle. They had been directed to emerge from hyperspace in a designated 'safe zone' over a million kilometers out from the Earth's hyper limit.

No hive ships had come close to being able to land during this skirmish, but a few small landing vessels had put down. Unfortunately for the Swarm, these had landed near Abilene, Texas. The Third Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Bliss had not left enough for anyone else to shoot at. Even they had been forced to hurry as every Texan with a rifle had clogged the roads in the vicinity. The 3rd ACR had been forced to settle for knocking down the three small ships as they tried to lift off with short crews. The civilians claimed over three thousand total kills from the three corvettes, but only one hundred bodies were ever located. Somewhat more truthful hunters talked about 'the one that got away'.

The Navy was taking its time with the remaining hive ships, which were sluggish but powerful. Slowly, the fleet was closing in on the hives, leaving no possible way for them to escape. The key thing was to not let them get far enough away from the planet to where they could engage their hyperdrives. If they did that, someone would have to chase them all the way back to where they came from and blast them as they emerged from hyperspace. It could be done, but it was risky. If the ship managed to get to a swarm colony that did not yet know about Humans and Earth then that was another enemy that would start throwing hives our way. The escape of even one Vacuna scout ship with only thirty units aboard might be worse than losing an entire human battle fleet.

There were several non-hyper combat vessels that had undocked from the hives, but they were no real threat to the system as a whole. If the 'Happy' were to get too close to them, though, it could be seriously damaged.

Commodore Arthur thought for a moment. "I agree, I'll notify the escorts. Have Happy pass the course you need to the Task Force."

"Yes Sir."

"Happy, contact Captain Herbert of the escort screen. Notify him that we will do a fly-by due to the hostiles in the area. I want his mine sweepers right in front of us."

{Aye aye, Commodore}

The three minesweepers were specially fitted Africa class destroyers. Currently the fastest ships in the Confederacy fleet, they could rapidly get into position to intersect any scrap on a closing course. Their primary weapons were a variant of a strange particle disrupter beam that had been used by the Confederacy eons ago as a mining tool. Basically they were disintegrators that turned enemy ships to elemental dust, once you got them close enough. The dust could still be lethal at high closing velocities, but the modified versions of the Africa had extremely powerful pressor screens in multiple layers. The dust tended to get diverted or deflected and some energy was imparted to it as well, resulting in the dust moving in another direction, and the unavoidable collision speeds were lower. As well, the Valhalla class ship had excellent screens of its own.

"Happy, give me a plot of hostiles in the area. I need to figure out the course for the maximum time in range of Luna."

The Captain considered and then highlighted areas of his display. "It looks like we can go straight through. If we take this chord here, we should be able to stay in range of the transporters for almost 750,000 kilometers. We are just over one million klicks out of range now, so what's our minimum time in?"

{Four thousand five hundred seventeen seconds at a maximum acceleration of ten Gs will place us just inside transporter range. We will be traveling at four hundred forty two kilometers per second relative to the lunar base. That will give us one thousand six hundred ninety seven seconds in range if we do not accelerate or change course during the transit.}

"Hmmm, twenty eight minutes and twenty seven seconds to transport two hundred fifty thousand colonists. That might be a bit of errr, a brisk pace. We better let everyone know. Pass the course to the task force commander and all ships. XO? Get the crew ready. Lt. Edgar, record this for the Commander of Lunar Exit Station Copernicus. Commander Robert, this is Captain Jules of the Happy Hunting Grounds. Quick trip this time. We are heading in for a fly-by extraction. We will go ballistic though the extraction area at four hundred forty two kilometers per second. I say again: 4, 4, 2 KPS. Extraction duration will be twenty-eight minutes and seventeen seconds. I say again: 1, 6, 9, 7 seconds. We will enter the extraction area in seventy-five minutes and seventeen seconds from my mark. I say again: 4, 5, 1, 7 seconds from our mark. Happy will contact you again as soon as we are moving. End message. Happy, we will send that message out and I want you to send them a timed second message on the tick. Lt. Edgar, send message one. It looks like we have about a minute for the task force to finish realigning. Captain to Crew. Prepare for acceleration. 10 Gs."

{Captain. The task force is ready. Execute command is coming up.}

"Helm, engage upon the task force's execute command."

"Aye, Aye sir. Two seconds. Executing now at 98 meters." (Author's note: 98 meters per second squared of acceleration is equivalent to ten times Earth's Gravity. 10 Gs. The Navy just gives the number in Meters for brevity and clarity.)

"Colonel Isaac. Make sure we have maximum shield power online for the next three hours. If you have any problems down there I want to know about them instantly."

"No problems Captain. We are running cool and even." The Brooklyn-Yiddish accent always sounded strange coming from the Engineering Officer. Many of the crew grumbled that any decent engineer should at least be able to fake a Scottish accent.

Battlecruiser Odysseus CC056 Bridge

"Lasers are still pecking away at Bogey Two, Captain. If he holds steady for another thirty seconds we will have an extreme range solution with the heavy railguns."

"Very well, fire on solution, Guns. Damage Control. How long till those missiles are back on line."

"Ten minutes and we'll have broadside tubes, Captain. Port tubes lost the magazine feed. Thirty minutes and you can have another two shots per tube and then they're done until we get to drydock."

"Make it eight minutes. They're making a break for it."

"Firing Solution!" There was a whine and clunk noise that everyone knew meant the two heavy railguns had just launched a fifty-kilogram projectile apiece at one hundred kilometers per second. At two hundred gigajoules of kinetic energy apiece, they would each hit with the force of a fifty tonne bomb. IF they hit. The gunnery officer counted down the time until the missiles would hit or miss. "Ten seconds to impact! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!" The screen lit with a bright flash. "Impact. Hive Bogey Two is breaking up. Looks like we clipped him on the shields with one and just off center with the other."

"Good shooting Guns. Nav. I want a course to assist with Bogey One."

"Aye, Aye Sir."

'Happy Hunting Grounds' Bridge

{CIC reports Hive Bogey Two breaking up.} (Author's note: Combat Information Center)

"Excellent! Make sure we get somebody's visual feed on that. I'll replay it for the crew later. Is the debris going to impact our course?"

{Negative. The majority will be into translunar space in a few hours. Only a few of the slower fragments will stay in cislunar space. Approximately five thousand tons of smaller debris is expected to impact the Earth in the near future. Forty thousand tons will impact the Moon over the next few weeks. The rest should be collectable by the sweepers, after the battle.}

"Ok. Lt. Edgar, see if we can get a two-way with Copernicus."

"Aye, Aye, Sir." The linkup took about 20 seconds to get set up. The three seconds of signal lag in each direction was a pain, but it could be worked around. Even more difficult was the frequency shift from the Doppler effect. At four hundred forty two KPS, the frequencies during the fly by would be shifted by 0.15 percent. Not a big number, but it was significant. The shifts changed second by second as the speed went up and as the angle changed. The protocol worked out was to be brief and leave off any excess verbiage. The best way was to treat it like an old two-way radio, with 'Over' and 'Out' being used. The AIs recorded and then re-played the messages but, at the proper speed.

"Jules, understand Fly-by in one-and-one-quarter hour. Over."

"Roger, will go ballistic for ease of AI transport calcs. Colony request, 60 percent Navy, 10 Marines, 10 Fleet Aux., 10 nerds, 10 breeders. Over."

"Roger, 60 Navy, 10 each others. Ovv... , What the HELL? STAND BY!"

Jules looked over at his Executive officer, who was doing his best Spock eyebrow impression.

Aboard Monaco, Patrician class Corvette Five minutes prior

"Coming up on maximum range to Bogey One, sir. We are in extreme powered missile range and we have a solution."

"How close can we get?"

"We're barely moving relative to them. Another one hundred kilometers will be our closest approach. Seventy-five if they maneuver and turn to port."

"Keep closing another fifty kilometers and fire the light rail chaff rounds. One minute's worth of chaff and then launch all four missiles on firing plan Sierra. Then execute disengagement plan three. We'll get out to the perimeter and watch for leakers."

"Aye, aye Sir, twenty seconds to commence rail-guns firing chaff. Missiles will fire one minute later. Disengage plan 3. Coming up, and ... firing." The rail-guns used a lot of juice, and someone, someplace had placed visual cues by having the lights dim when they fired. No one could find the code to remove it and the AI said it was not authorized to do so. The flickering lights were the least popular 'feature' of the old Patrician class.

The special chaff rounds were small canisters of metal-coated Mylar ribbons that were accelerated to thirty thousand meters per second before they burst. It took the missiles thirty seconds to match speed with them and then the missiles went into a coasting pattern, still behind the cloud. The Mylar patterns slowly spread, leaving a visible blob on the Swarm's sensors, which were apparently not very good in the first place. Their defensive lasers opened up, but they could barely get an idea of the ship's and missiles' locations and vectors.

After a bit, the mid-course stage of the missiles kicked in, accelerating them through the thinning cloud of ribbons. Now the missiles could see the targets, not only because they were closer, but also because they could detect the lasers firing at the Mylar cloud. The final phase kicked on; thirty seconds with active homing sensors. They were well inside the envelope and would probably not miss, IF they made it that far. For some reason, even with junky sensors, Swarm ships were very good at missile defense. A flurry of lasers and particle accelerators tracked and destroyed the first missile. It was now a cloud of debris that would move close, but not close enough to strike the target. The second missile took a hit that killed the drive but left the missile intact. It would miss, to continue on as a one-ton stray bullet.

The last two missiles avoided the particle accelerators that could gut a missile with a single hit. They avoided the lasers until the last moments, but by then, it was too late.

"Captain. Impacts on Bogey One. Two I think. Definitely one. Sir, they have lost power. Sphere is intact but is no longer under weigh. They have stopped firing as well.

"Missile teams. Well done. We got him." Cheers could be heard from all over the small ship.

"Uhh, ohh!"

"Weapons, 'Uhh, ohh, ' is not a valid report. Uhh, ohh, what?"

'Happy Hunting Grounds' Bridge

{Captain, CIC reports Hive Bogey One took a missile and has lost power. Current course is into the area of the Copernicus Crater. Impact speed is estimated at thirteen kilometers per second in seven thousand nine hundred seconds. Mass estimate is one quarter of a million tons. Impact effect will be approximately 21 thousand terajoules. Approximately a 21-megaton impact.}

Before the Captain could acknowledge the report from CIC, Commander Robert recontacted him from the Moon. "Jules. We have a Hive colony sphere dropping right onto our heads. We are half a mile down and the AI THINKS that the force fields will hold. However, I want to get as many people out of here as possible. I have nearly eight hundred thousand on hand. I am going to stuff your ship full and send the rest over to Tycho base. Over."

"Understood. We can take uhmm, four hundred K, half a mil, tops. Use full meat market. Two or three families per pop. Hey, you're dug down deep. Good luck and keep your helmets on. Over."

"Roger. Out."

"Edgar, break it down. All hands! Copernicus has a hive ship crashing on their heads. We are taking up to five hundred thousand on board. I say again. Half a million. Use full meat market mode. Stay out of the hallways and stay out of sight until your neighborhood is full. Cram them into the rooms and keep them there until we are clear. We are in range in less than sixty minutes, out of range twenty-eight minutes later and the Swarm ship crashes forty minutes after that. Happy, open every passenger apartment door, now. Close them after we get about sixteen people in each apartment. I need umm, one thousand, five hundred, sixty-two and a half, ok, fifteen sixty-three people, minimum, per neighborhood. We can sort them into better groups later."

The Valhalla Class Cube ships basically looked, well, like a cube. There were thirty two thousand passenger apartments aboard the Happy Hunting Grounds capable of supporting well over two hundred fifty thousand people in some comfort. The apartments were generally laid out as twenty identical decks. Crew and support decks were interspersed. The bridge and other command areas were deep inside. The engines and fuel were on the bottom. Each passenger deck was a grid of sixteen neighborhoods, laid out four by four, each with a central transporter nexus, several common areas and 'shops' as well as a ten by ten grid of apartments. The only way to get from one neighborhood to another was to have the AI transport you. Of course, the crew had some other ways in and out, but they were all hidden and locked away from the passengers by being inside the walls. Each neighborhood was four blocks of apartments separated by the Nexus in the center, and other amenities forming dividers for the smaller sub-neighborhoods.

In 'full meat market' mode, the passengers would essentially be treated like cattle. Copernicus Station would have their transporter chambers working to send the entire chamber at a time. Upon arrival, force fields would have formed four sides and the floor of a box with the new passengers inside. The box would be lifted by the antigravs, leave the nexus and slide down the hallways, stopping at the last room currently unfilled. One forcewall would drop and the people would be allowed into the open door to the apartment. As soon as they were in, the door would close and those fields would drop. More passenger groups would already be on their way to their apartment. Each of the neighborhood nexi would have to handle nearly four transits per minute to get one hundred rooms filled in twenty-eight minutes. Four transports per minute was the fastest that had ever been tried in drills. Theoretically, zero people in the transport chamber took the same time as a fully stuffed force box. The big problem actually was on the moon, getting them into the transport chambers in sequence. Aboard ship, one person, either crew or passenger, in the way in a hallway could slow an entire neighborhood's loading. Except for loading the transport chambers and unloading into the apartments, everything would be in the hands of the two AIs involved.

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