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."
Two minutes later, they found another conduit. The concubines placed the testing unit in the airlock. Neither conduit would sustain over seventy-five percent of full power. That would deflect two, maybe three direct hits from a ship-mounted weapon. The ship had the standard twelve replacement sets in storage. Ensign Torre sent two men up to Deck 2. He hoped they might be able to seal both decks. Concubines ferried the components out to his men.
When they were finished, Torre made note of the concubines that assisted them. His unnamed concubine belonged to a missing operations sergeant. He sub-vocally made a request to the AI. "Please note the actions all concubines for review later."
"Their contributions must be reported."
Ensign Lucas stopped in the last area before the infrastructure was damaged. "The other side of that hatch is as far as we can let any trooper come." He looked back at his group. "Deck 3 is the most open deck to move materials along the axis of the ship. We are standing in the best place to attack. That is why I asked for Sergeant Davis to be part of this team." He turned to Davis. "This is your area of expertise."
"I'll remember this, Ensign Lucas." Davis moved to replace him in the center. "This is where we will be mounting the twin RLA10s. This compartment here will be decompressed. A kill zone will be established. We just need to slow them down. Any ideas are welcome."
Davis and Lucas fielded several ideas. Two members of his squad readied the mounts for the heavy automatic laser rifles. One of the naval privates came in pushing several pieces of deck plating on a sled. He stopped next to the marines, securing the sled. He walked over to Davis and Lucas.
"Ensign, Sergeant," he paused.
"Yes private," Davis acknowledged him.
"While operating the sled it hit me." He pointed at the marines working around the sled. "Let them be the bulkhead and we are the swarm ship." His palm made a sweeping gesture between them. "Could we let them make it half way to the hatch, change the corridor to zero gravity and a use a repulsor to slam them back into their ship?"
Davis watched Lucas nod and smile. "Maybe we can even shake some things up." Lucas slapped the private's upper arm proudly. "Sparrow, is there anything left of the forward docking tractor beam station?"
"It is not part of the fail safe." The AI replied. "This technology has been lost to the Sa'arm before."
"Who," Lucas called aloud enough to carry across the deck, "knows which of these overhead conduits carries the power for the forward sections?"
After a few seconds of silence, Sparrow spoke. "The concubine Dolores Kish assisted her sponsor in conduit inspection."
"Where is concubine Kish?"
"She is assisting with the power plant."
"Can we request she be sent here?"
"Sir," another concubine waved at him. "I have worked in the engine room, I could swap out."
"Ensign Ellis has agreed to the exchange." Sparrow stated. "Concubine Janet Zuhdi, report to Ensign Ellis at the power plant room."
"Cooper, Sieark, Cohen, suit up and go to the Gig dock.'" The three men looked up. "Bring us four docking tractor/repulsors."
"I thought you wanted to use the big ones for docking?" Sergeant Davis asked.
"I did, but those gigs weigh several tons." Lucas pointed at the overhead conduits. "Our power here is limited. Plus we get a chance to create a new sport, trooper ten pin."
"We still need another layer." Davis countered.
'Maybe, if we install a few extra gravity-plates to stack them up, before we eject them."
Deck 5 demonstrated the effects of the torque from the collision. The augmented personnel discovered their enhanced forms could not maneuver in the wreckage. Sand used in the laser defense systems was stored there. Ensign Melissa Napier knew where every grain sat waiting for use. Her job dictated that she knew. Supply and Support sounded boring. The job was boring. However, every time the Sparrowhawk went into combat, the needed resources were right at hand.
This in front of her was a cluster fuck.
Marine Corporal Emmitt Johnson stood next to the ensign. "Those force knives will make short work of the debris."
"That's what worries me." She looked at the area, puffed air in her cheeks, and heavily exhaled. "I could build a sandbox and hope they stay and play all day."
"Ensign!" shouted a voice. "This debris is hot to the touch." A concubine was shaking her hand. "Be careful, everybody, the metal's hot."
"What made it hot?" Corporal Johnson wondered aloud.
"The metallic debris was heated through induction for a period of six minutes." Sparrow provided the answer to the rhetorical question.
"How much heat could we create?" Ensign Napier started a slow smile.
"The ferromagnetic metal alloys," Sparrow began, "will heat to 2200 degrees Celsius before melting.
"The Chun-Cheng hull repair panels, what is their maximum temperature range?"
"They can last six hours at a maximum of 3000 degrees Celsius."
"Corporal, have you ever been given a hot foot?"
Seventy-eight minutes later, twenty feet of deck was encased with exterior hull replacement panels. Additional high temperature ferromagnetic metal alloy plates were bound into place. Sand from the conduits flowed into the compartment.
"Heat the sand to melting." Ensign Napier turned to Corporal Johnson. "I want those bastards to shower in molten glass."
A vicious smile crossed the corporal's lips. "It will be like a play dough pump of death."
Ensign Lucas and his team folded the top two decks into the external shields. In less than four hours, the teams had the plans working. A subtle deep groan emanated from the collision site. Everyone felt a slight pull to port.
"The Vervactor has increased acceleration." Sparrow chimed in. "The revised ETA to the dust cloud is two hours and seventeen minutes."
"Command Crew meeting in Engineering Ready Room, in ten minutes," Lieutenant Grasso ordered.
After the status reports on boarding preparations, Grasso opened the floor to Ensign Walker.
"Do to structural damage and reduced power, the Sparrowhawk can safely make three G maneuvers to port, four G maneuvers in ascension or declination, but we can only make nine-tenths G maneuvers to starboard. Forward acceleration can be no more than four Gs. We also need to add another half diameter to any hyperspace jump point."
Before the damage, the Sparrowhawk's design would have allowed a theoretical ninety G acceleration. At this moment, she could wallow about like a habitat pod landing at a colony.
"How will we break free?"
Walker signaled for the hologram. "The Vervactor's bow is blunt and slanted downward." The two ships floated above them. "Sparrow and I have calculated that once we hit eighty thousand kph, we can fire a burst of the main engines and maneuvering thrusters to roll us off the ship." The holograms executed the described action. "At this point we will tumble away. We can turn this tumble into a four G acceleration in a sixty degree port and seventy degree declination from our current orientation." The hologram froze. "Fifty minutes after that we can safely enter hyper space. We will hit the needed velocity in thirty minutes."
"On the bright side, the Vervactor's main weapons have been damaged." Images showed the weapons mounts missing, melted, or mangled. "We only have our aft point defense and particle weapons. I see two concurrent options." The holograms reset. "As we tumble away, both aft weapons platforms will have the ability to fire. I would suggest concentrating fire on the maneuvering thrusters, to limit her in pursuit. As we cross the bow, I believe we should shower this side with contact mines."
"Captain," Sparrow interrupted. "The Vervactor has extended shields to meet our hull and is pressurizing the areas between the ships."
"Ship wide, Sparrow," Grasso counted to five. "This is acting Captain Juan Grasso. Prepare to repel borders; I repeat, prepare to repel borders."
David Mandrel spent thirty years in and around the engineering spaces of nuclear aircraft carriers. As the men left the briefing room, he grabbed Grasso's arm. "Juan, you need to be seen. Right now, knowing you have faith in them may make the difference."
"My rating is in-"
"Captain," he cut off Grasso. "Ellis, me, and the crew have engineering under control. Lead this ship, Captain." Mandrel saluted and left.
Juan pondered the message. Exiting, he turned away from Engineering.
The Will said move. Formican A-07-B followed that which was before it. The Will ordered the Hostis ship to be taken. The infecting Hostis would become dietary supplements. The cutter hung at its side. A burn-slicer was ready in its great arms.
'The cutters are deflected.' A-07-B noted the report.
The Will provided the needed instruction. 'Move up a level.'
'A vacuum exists behind the bulkhead, ' the lead formican from the far side of the ship reported.
'Enter. Attempt to discover a pressurized section, ' the Will commanded.
The second level was similarly protected. 'The cutters are deflected.'
The Will provided the needed instruction. 'Move up a level.'
'The cutters have gained us entry. The aromas of dietary supplement J01-FW2 are present, ' the lead formican reported.
A squad of 24 charged. A-07-B lived the charge with those formican. Twelve strides from the door, a sense of weightlessness entered him. The squads broke into trios, bridging the distance from ceiling to floor. Unfortunately, lifeform J01-FW2's nutritional value did not match its inventiveness.
Progress became slow; the capture of the ship was inevitable. All twenty-four of the formican ceased existence. Their sensory input stopped.
'The squad has been eradicated.' Just the facts, 'the movement that caused their eradication occurred faster than observational abilities.'