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Rodford Edmiston

    The Planetary Alliance Task Force Forge had scored an initial victory in the battle for Benten, but it was a hit and run skirmish rather than full confrontation. Damage to both sides had been light. Now the two groups of ships were heading for Benten, one to defend it, the other to conquer.
    Aboard the flagship of the Free Planets task force, Admiral Woodford stared at the strategic display on his monitor, trying to produce a miracle.

    "Sir, the enemy has increased to 3.8 gravities," Jackson, Woodford's Tactical Officer, announced.

    "What acceleration will we need to beat them to Benten?"

    "Three point five," said the Task Force Navigation Officer.

    "Sir," said Jackson, "the Peresviet can only do 3.2."

    "I know that," said Woodford. "Order task force to 3.5 g. Tell Captain Lewis to break off and try to rejoin us later."

                                           *                                         *                                         *

    "Irritating," mused Adair, as he watched the Peresviet accelerate at 90 degrees to the heading of the two fleets. "That option was only given a 23% probability rating, considering their emotional reaction to the idea of abandoning one of their own. Tell me, Fleet Navigator, given the current conditions, can we intercept the main group of enemy vessels before they come in range of the defenses at Benten?"

    "No, sir."

    "I thought not." Adair turned to the Morale Officer. "If we let the Peresviet go it might cause trouble later. If we destroy it now, we boost our morale and lower the enemy's."

    "Agreed," said Metcalfe.

    "Fleet Navigator, plot an intercepting course to the Peresviet, with zero relative velocity at interception. Match any evasive maneuvers it makes. We will catch the Peresviet and destroy it."

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    "They're dead, aren't they?" asked Perry, the Admiral's aide, as he watched the enemy closing on the lone Alliance battleship. "I mean, the Peresviet can't outrun them and can't out fight them, and they probably won't surrender..."

    His Admiral interrupted with a sharp laugh.

    "Surrender? Not hardly." He gave Perry a wry grin. "Captain Deborah Lewis is one of the sneakiest, most roguish and most stubborn officers it has ever been my misfortune to command. If we weren't at war, she would never have been given her own ship, not even an old tub like the Peresviet.

    "On the other hand, she is a bulldog in a fight. She's cunning, tenacious and inventive. She'll do her best to escape this trap, doing as much damage as she can in the process. If she goes down, she'll go down fighting. I have a feeling the enemy is about to get a lesson in human perversity they'll never forget."

                                        *                                             *                                         *

    Captain Lewis slumped motionless in her chair, scowling at the main bridge display. Despite a recent overhaul, the Peresviet just didn't have the speed of a modern capital ship. There was no hope of outrunning the enemy, and no hope of help. Finally, Lewis sat up and tugged her tunic straight.

    "Fuck it," she said, clearly. "Helmsman, put us on an intercept course with the enemy. Maximum acceleration."

    "Aye-aye, Ma'am!" said Bailey, grinning like a maniac.

    "I suppose if we're going to die, we might as well make a defiant gesture," muttered Green, the Chief Sensor Officer, over the intercom from his post in the Peresviet's CIC.

    "You planning on dying, Mr. Green?" Captain Lewis snapped.

    "Uh, no, Captain."

    Despite the seriousness of the situation, Lewis had to grin. Green refused to refer to a woman as "Sir" and would not call a superior "Ma'am." This left him with just "Captain."

    "Tactical, I want a projection of their likely reaction, updated continuously, on channel three."

    "Aye-aye, Captain!" came the reply.

    "If we can build up enough relative velocity, we'll flash through their formation so fast they won't be able to do us much damage."

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    "Bastards," muttered Lewis, watching the holotank as the Peresviet 's latest course change was countered. Interception was only minutes away. "Okay, Tactical, here's the plan. We wait until they open fire, then launch all missiles at the heavy cruiser in the lead. All guns on port side will concentrate on one destroyer until it is vapor, then pick another. All guns on starboard the same over there."

    "Do as much damage as we can, eh, Captain?" said Bailey, still grinning.

    She had picked Bailey because he was the only pilot she had ever met who was crazy enough to try and maneuver a battleship like a destroyer. Sometimes, though, she wished he weren't quite so crazy. Of course, he was also good enough he could maneuver a battleship like a destroyer. Lewis set the intercom to shipwide.

    "Attention all hands. This is your Captain. We are about thirty seconds away from first exchange. I just want you to remember who and what we are. In case you've forgotten, we're the best damn ship in the fleet! That is all."

    That statement wasn't entirely brag. Her ship had been slated for mothballing before the war started. After hostilities were declared the Peresviet was given a quick but thorough refit, and Lewis put in command. That had been less than a two months earlier, but in that short time Captain Lewis had learned to respect the capabilities of the old battleship, and the crew she had been given. The Peresviet 's lower acceleration was due less to her age than to the fact that she was the only true battleship on either side in this fight, the other capital ships being battlecruisers or battlecarriers. They were larger than the Peresviet, but much of that extra capacity was used for fighter hangars, and oversized engines to let them stay with the cruisers and carriers. The rest of their extra volume was accounted for by the increased fuel tankage such acceleration required. Their actual fighting capability was actually somewhat less than that of the Peresviet. Lewis was betting this would give them an edge. That, and the fact her ship was built like an anvil.

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    The Free Planets ships held fire until the range was just 100,000 kilometers. The Peresviet's response to the opening salvo caught the FP personnel off guard; all weapons were fired synchronized-time-on-target, concentrating on three ships in the van. The short range worked in the Alliance ship's favor, reducing the time the enemy ships' automatic defenses had to react to the missile barrage. Overwhelmed, the heavy cruiser Discipline was heavily damaged and put out of action. Additionally, three destroyers were turned to gas and two more disabled before Admiral Adair could recover from his surprise and order all the lesser ships aside. He then advanced solely with his five battleships. The Peresviet continued on course regardless, making no attempt to maneuver away from the approaching vessels.

    What followed was one of the more uneven engagements in the annals of space warfare. The Peresviet concentrated its fire on the flagship, while the five enemy vessels pounded it mercilessly. Less than a minute into the fight, the Planetary Alliance ship had already stopped firing missiles. Her plasma wall was down as much as up; the energy from the incoming beams alone often exceeded its rating, and sometimes its buffer capacity. Only the fact that the Free Planet's ships were conserving their missiles for later use kept the Peresviet from being blown to plasma. She was taking terrible damage. A grazing beam hit from a main battery while her plasma wall was down left a hole in the Peresviet's side large enough to dock a destroyer. Through a combination of good damage control and a great deal of good luck, her combat functions were not yet seriously impaired, but that couldn't last.

    "Get ready, folks," said Lewis, grimly. "Helmsman, you know what to do."

    "It won't be long now," said Adair, without enthusiasm. "They are out of missiles, and are badly damaged. We will have them surrounded in a few more seconds, and all hope of escape will be gone."

    On board the Peresviet, half of the crew was fighting for their lives, while the other half waited tensely for the command from their captain. She waited, waited, until the englobement was complete. Finally.

    "Now," said Lewis, with a tight smile.

    Every launcher on the Peresviet spat forth a missile. Instead of targeting enemy ships, however, their paths went between them. Since they were not perceived as a threat by the automatic defenses on board the Free Planet vessels, the missiles were not intercepted. At the moment of perfect placement, the missiles exploded as one. They were not carrying standard warheads.

    "Sensor flares!" exclaimed the FP Task Force Sensor Analyst, as every external display on every ship in the fight was filled with static. "Estimate twenty-eight seconds until the first systems are back on line!"

    "All ships, alert!" ordered Adair. "They will use this diversion to maneuver away by inertial navigation."

    "Ten seconds to re-acquisition," said the TFSA.

    The static in the tank faded a bit, then suddenly vanished, only to be replaced by something foreign, unrecognizable. It took a precious fraction of a second for Adair to realize that it was the hull of the Peresviet, looming impossibly close and approaching fast.

    "Evasive action!" the Admiral screamed, too late.

    Through inertial guidance and dead reckoning, Bailey arranged for an inelastic collision between the Peresviet and the Reason's Triumph. The jolt overloaded the compensation systems of both ships, throwing those unprepared for the collision to their respective decks. Both bridges were filled with the beeps, chirps, whistles and rings of dozens of alarms, as well as a deep clang from the impact of the hulls. The large hole in the Peresviet's side was hard against the enemy ship.

    "Engineering, give those mooring tractors everything they'll take!" cried Lewis.

    "No reason to shout, Captain," came the calm reply from Chief Engineer Nelson. "They will handle the current overload for about twenty minutes. I suggest you tell your boarding teams to hurry."

    "Captain," Bailey interrupted, "I've set the control system to use our drives to hold us fixed relative to the enemy ship. That should ease the strain on the moorings."

    "Great!" She switched her intercom to the frequency used by her Marines. "Its all yours, Shelby. Get that can opened!"

    "Aye, Captain," replied "Major" Shelby. (He was actually a Captain, but on a ship there is only one of those.)

    He and his troops were in the large cavity in the Peresviet's side. They had brought with them all their anti-armor equipment, and waited impatiently while two of their number tried the easy way of getting in.     On board the Reason's Triumph, Adair was having a quick conference by intercom.

    "They are directly over the hatch to our main cargo bay," reported Ship Security Officer Fleming. "We have cut power to the opening mechanism, so they will have to penetrate the hull armor to get in."

    "Good," said Gallatin, the Triumph's Captain. "Have our security teams and all available personnel issued weapons and station them at the connecting corridors. We must hold them in the cargo bay!"

    "Sir," said First Mate Pulaski, who had looked up information on the Peresviet, "we may not be able to stop them. Ships of that class carry over a hundred Marines in powered armor. All we have are internal security personnel, with hand weapons and light body armor."

    "That is an extremely inefficient application of resources," huffed the Morale Officer.

    "No good, sir," one of the Peresviet's techs working on the hatch called out. "They've cut the power!"

    "Back off, then," ordered Shelby. "All hands, secure against blast! Okay, Dudley, fire!"

    The crudely bundled cluster of anti-armor weapons tripped as a unit, silently filling the chamber with flame and energy. Shelby knew they had succeeded when he was buffeted by a rush of air escaping from the other ship's hold. A quick glance showed him an opening of usable size in the door.

    "All right!" he yelled, pushing off. "Let's go! And watch those edges; they're still hot."

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    Admiral Adair was interrupted by a call from Captain Gallatin. Adair could tell by Gallatin's expression that the news was not good.
  "They're inside," the Captain told him, with no preamble.

    "So quickly?"

    "We think they used explosives instead of cutting torches."

    "Thank you, Captain," Adair said, resisting an urge to tell him what to do. "Keep me posted."

    He had a dilemma. The Peresviet had dropped its plasma wall to avoid the interference it would create with the Triumph's own protective system. He could order Gallatin to lower the Triumph's plasma wall and then have the other ships in the task force open fire on the Peresviet , but the enemy ship would just raise its own plasma wall. The combined firepower of the four Free Planets battleships could doubtless break that down, but it would take time, and if the Peresviet's plasma wall failed suddenly - or were dropped deliberately - the Triumph could be damaged. Adair decided to postpone this action.

    Instead, he began arranging for the transfer of command to his second, Vice-Admiral Jessamine.

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    "Russell, take your team and head to Engineering!" ordered Shelby, after making sure the hold was secured. Resistance so far had been light; plenty of people shooting, but no heavy weapons. "Webster, find their armory, disable anything we can't use, then go on a search and seizure. Lyon, guard this post; make sure they don't do to us what we're doing to them. I'm going forward to take the bridge. Move!"

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    Admiral Woodford had just finished talking to the official in charge of Benten's defenses. Without the Peresviet there was no chance of holding off the Free Planets forces. The Governor had taken the news better than Woodford had thought she would, probably because she hadn't counted on the Navy winning anyway. She was also distracted, busy arranging for the guerilla war which would follow the occupation.

    "Sir, a message from the Peresviet."

    Woodford started, then punched for the appropriate channel. He had thought the Peresviet already lost. Now, Lewis was calling him, and it wouldn't be to ask for help; she wasn't the type for that.

    Captain Lewis' voice and image were marred by jamming, but enough was getting through to show the haggard look and sloppy grin on her square face.

    "Hey, Admiral!" she called, with an exaggerated drawl. "They've got us right where we want them!"

    "Lewis!" cried Woodford. "What's your status?"

    "I can't go into detail," the Captain of the Peresviet told him, "but they can't shoot at us without damaging their flagship."

    A wash of static momentarily obscured voice and image, then cleared.

    "Looks like they don't want us talking..."

    The signal faded again, and this time stayed unreadable. Woodford broke the connection.

    "Fleet Navigator, plot an intercept and match course to the enemy," Woodford announced, looking straight ahead. A slight smile played over his features.

    "Sir, is that wise?" asked the Tactical Officer. "Without the Peresviet they outmass us, and..."

    "No, Gunnar," Woodford interrupted, wearing a duplicate of Lewis' grin. "We outmass them now!"

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    Admiral Adair and Captain Gallatin were brought to the Peresviet's bridge in restraints. Both stared at the combat plot in the main holotank, where they could see the Planetary Alliance force approaching.

    "I would like to request the presence of our Morale Officer," said Adair, stiffly.

    "Right now, I think morale is the least of your worries," replied Lewis, a bit puzzled. "Request denied."

    Adair realized that the woman had no concept of how important the Morale Officer was to the chain of command in the Free Planets military, but decided not to enlighten her. Instead, he motioned toward the display.

    "An interesting tactic," observed Adair. "If is succeeds, you have won an unexpected victory, at the risk of one obsolete battleship."

    "They can't win," said Gallatin, firmly. "Even without the Reason's Triumph, our fleet is superior to theirs, as are our crews. The Peresviet is too badly damaged to make much difference."

    "True," admitted Captain Lewis. "However, your ship isn't."

    "We anticipated such a move." Adair sounded smug, and with good reason. Predicting that the enemy would try to use the Triumph against its own fleet was one of the few things in this engagement which the Manual of Uniform Tactics had predicted correctly. "We scrambled the access codes to our computers."

    "That's why we're running cables from our control system to your weapons, defenses and drives." Lewis gave him a pleasant smile. "Nice of your designers to use our standard connectors."

                                        *                                         *                                         *

    The battle went about as Lewis and Woodford expected. The Free Planets forces, unsettled by the flagship's capture and the change in leadership, played a defensive role, and not very enthusiastically. When the Peresviet and the Reason's Triumph opened fire from inside their formation their performance went downhill rapidly. The couldn't win, and by that time they couldn't retreat.
 "Well, finally," muttered Lewis, as she heard the Free Planets Vice-Admiral asking for terms. "I was beginning to think that your second in command wouldn't surrender, and that we would have to blast each of your ships to junk."

    "We know when to yield to the inevitable," said Adair, tightly.

    "I suppose it's a good thing we don't." Lewis gave them a fierce grin, then turned her attention back to the display.

    "I must commend your superiors for developing an unusual and effective tactic," Adair said, with as much control as he had left. "However, you should realize that, now we have seen it, a countermeasure will be developed."

    "I hate to disillusion you," countered Captain Lewis, giving most of her attention to the holotank, "but I thought up that board and storm maneuver all by myself, after we were already engaged in battle. Besides, who's going to tell them? We have all your ships."

    "There's no reason to lie about it," Adair told her, calmly. "The secret is out. Central Command has monitored all our communications."

    "Get them off my bridge," growled Lewis, irritated that the man wouldn't acknowledge her cleverness. As the guards escorted the two Free Planets officers away, she saw Bailey grinning. "What's tickling you?"

    "Ever notice how non-creative people are inherently incapable of understanding creativity?" He laughed. "You gotta remember, their colony was set up by a bunch of bureaucrats who wanted to create the perfectly ordered society. Their type will never be able to conceive that someone might get a brilliant idea on the spur of the moment."


This document is Copyright 2000 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to repost or reprint it must have the author's consent. He can be contacted at: stickmaker@usa.net