Raising Caine – Snippet 27
Damn it. Caine tapped his collarcom, tried to recontact the Ambassador. The corridor’s emergency lights flashed on — amber, low, calming — and went out again, just as fast.
Riordan began feeling his way forward in the darkness and hammered at the collarcom — which emitted an affronted chirp; the wireless power supply was off, too. Batteries only, now. He switched over to the legation channel. “Everyone, this is Captain Riordan. Get to the nearest wall so you can feel your way along. Move with all haste to whichever of our two boats are closest. Hold your collarcom over your head with your other hand, so people can see where you are.”
“Captain Riordan.” It was Gaspard. “What is happening?”
“I don’t know, but the Slaasriithi are as surprised as we are. I was on a channel with Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash when –”
“Then why should we move to our ships, before we even know what is happening?”
You shouldn’t be doing this on an open channel, Gaspard; I don’t have the time to save face for you. “If something does go wrong, those ships are our only assured means of escape.” Riordan heard Dora Veriden mutter something about prudent action and no reason to take any chances.
“Very well, Captain; we shall do as you say. Do you have any recommendations regar –?”
A fierce quake sent Riordan to his knees. Shit.
“Mon Dieu!” Gaspard’s voice was more surprised than it was panicked: better than what Caine would have anticipated three months ago. “What is happening?”
Caine scrabbled back to his feet, double-timed forward. “Ambassador, absent other data, I would say we are under attack.”
“Under attack? But I thought it was merely a power failure of some kind –”
Bannor began snarling at panicked team members to stay off the line and keep moving to the closest boat. Caine hoped the legation would be able to make out his words through the cross-talk: it was unlikely that there’d be time to repeat anything. “The power outage was probably sabotage, since the emergency power went out as well. We’ve lost mobility, which makes us an easy target, particularly with the ship’s point defense systems and sensors off line. Whoever is out there shooting at us, almost certainly with a laser, lined us up and hit us as soon as their sensors confirmed that all our active systems had gone dark. Which they seemed to waiting for. The hit we felt was pretty far away from us, though. Probably up near the bow.”
“Concur,” Bannor said sharply. And then his voice was on the secure tactical channel. “Caine, how long until you get back to Puller?”
“I’m not heading toward Puller.” Up ahead, a male member of the legation fell, cursed, fell again, his voice getting more shrill and panicked. Caine moved in that direction.
“Sir, with all due respect, we’re your ride. Civilians go planetside on the shuttle; security forces go on the –”
“Bannor. It’s now twice as far for me to get to Puller. Besides, your top priority is to pull in all the people who are closest to you, lock down, and get away.”
“Can’t. Power outage has frozen our berthing cradles in place.”
“And you’ve got shipboard lasers at murderously close range. Keep your plants at low output: enough power to cut yourself free, but not enough to give the threat force an easy lock on you. And if you can’t release the airlock’s mating rings, blow the outer coaming with the embedded explosive bolts.”
“Okay, sir, but not until we see you and the shuttle safely away.”
“Don’t be insubordinate.”
“I’m not, Captain. I’m obeying orders.”
“Mr. Downing, sir. He thought it was possible that something like this might happen.”
* * *
“Target damage assessment?” demanded Nezdeh.
Tegrese’s reply sounded as though it was coming through clenched teeth. “Modest. I did not hit the presumed command and control section. Given the light debris and heavy out-gassing, I project we hit a large access tube.”
“Our railgun projectiles?”
“Estimating impact in eighty seconds.”
If the Slaasriithi ship hadn’t been paralyzed by sabotage, it was doubtful that those staged composite penetrators would have hit her at all; the range was too great and the large ship’s PDF batteries too numerous and powerful. Apparently, the Slaasriithi did not have separate high power offensive lasers, and smaller, weaker point defense batteries. In keeping with the species’ decidedly non-warlike nature, they folded the two roles into a single system. The result was a significantly weaker offensive laser threat, but a significantly greater defensive intercept capability: more beams, with higher power, greater effective range, and lavish targeting arrays.
But right now, the Slaasriithi shift-carrier’s lasers were as cold as her power plants and her fusion drive, and they would hopefully stay that way long enough for Nezdeh to finish her off.
Something in Sehtrek’s voice told her that she might have less time to deliver that coup de grace than she wished. “Nezdeh, the first enemy ‘cannonball’ has risen above the planetary horizon.”
Right on time. She waved away the distance-hazed close-up of the Slaasriithi ship in the holosphere: it disappeared. “Tactical navplot,” she ordered the computer.
The ship’s outline was replaced by a three dimensional overview of nearby space, where a threat-coded orange ball was rising over the rim of the blue planetary sphere. On the other side of the sphere, a larger orange spindle — the stricken enemy shift-carrier — floated haplessly. As she watched, several orange pinpricks in the vicinity of approaching orange ball flickered into existence, pulsing. “Microsensor phased array?” she asked.
“Correct,” Sehtrek replied. “As small and undetectable as our own. They are almost certainly relying upon broadcast power from the planet’s many orbital solar collectors. I detect seven active sensors. They are striving for target lock.”
“That is their only reason for illuminating them,” Nezdeh muttered, assessing the distribution of the enemy sensors and the respectable rate at which the orange ball was approaching.
Tegrese’s voice was tense, eager. “Shall I target their sensors?”
Nezdeh shook her head sharply. “No.” Tegrese, at this moment you are a fool asking to play a fool’s game. “We haven’t the time to spare. Besides, we are seeing only the first tier of their detection assets. They doubtless have many replacements seeded in various orbital positions, still floating inert. Resume firing upon the Slaasriithi ship as soon as you have corrected your locational lock.”
“Which lock, Nezdeh? The one guiding our laser strikes against the bow, or for the rail gun lock upon the stern?”