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A Short Silly Sci-fi Story

posted Jun 28, 2014, 10:33 PM by Kyle Buchanan   [ updated Nov 22, 2015, 1:03 AM ]

It was 1949 when we first got the signals. They were from a civilization in the Alpha Centauri system, broadcasting hostile intentions. The two Terran superpowers, rising out of the ashes of WWII, united to meet the alien threat head-on. So there was no Cold War, not for real; it was just a front. A public spectacle. An excuse to spend the untold trillions of dollars required to wage interstellar war with 20th century technology. Tens of thousands of nuclear bombs were shipped to the far side of the moon, where the huge Orion-drive ships were constructed to take our fighting men and women the 4.3 light-years to the battlefront. We called it the Slow War.

The UEF Hamilton, a fourth-generation heavy troop transport, was launched in 1992. At just over half a million tons including the state-of-the-art D-fusion propulsion charges, it carried 20,000 extremely highly trained soldiers in considerable comfort. It was armed with sixteen CIWS point-defense chainguns, two 14-inch battleship turrets, and a “gravel-truck” relativistic scatterbomb. The hangar bay held 25 VTOL jets with engines specifically designed for the atmosphere of the target moon, two helicopters, 40 humvees, and six main battle tanks. She was, by all accounts, one hell of a ship.

For 27 years, all was calm. The electrostatic shielding grid occasionally charged a tiny dust particle and deflected it past the hull. The personnel on board trained in the gym and the shooting range, watched movies from the library’s big collection of VHS tapes, cultivated hobbies, ate, slept, fucked. α Centauri A and B grew larger in the bridge viewscreen, while news from Earth - more than 4 years out of date - trickled in at a few bits per second through the tightbeam receiver array.

With plenty of delta-v to spare, Captain Macmillan ordered the ship to be put into a high orbit over the larger moon of the fourth planet. Intelligence reports had said the enemy presence on the body was “minimal”, and the flight plan had had them doing a direct entry and hard-burn right down to the surface, but after having to smoke three scout ships on the way in, the captain wanted to assess the situation from higher up in the gravity well.

“Open up a channel to the Woodbridge, full encryption,” Macmillan said to the comms officer.

“Yes, sir,” she replied, and then a few seconds later: “Link established. Audio only.”

Woodbridge, this is the Hamilton. Captain Macmillan speaking.”

“We read you, Hamilton. This is First Officer Fisher. You folks seeing the increased alien activity too?”

“That’s affirmative. Mapping is telling me we’ve got four IR hotspots on the surface; could be enemy bases.”

“We have a possible radar contact in a low polar orbit. It’ll be on the other side now but it might be a killsat or a stealthed ship. Plus there’s that fleet coming down from the fifth planet, but we’ll be ready to handle them by the time they get here.”

“Roger that, Woodbridge. Mind matching orbits and giving us some cover while we finish the ground survey and pick a landing point?”

“Can do, Hamilton. Nav says ETA twelve minutes, and the captain is giving the go-ahead for maneuvering burn. See you soon. Over and out.”

The Woodbridge, a rapid assault cruiser, carried far fewer humans and far more armament than the Hamilton. It was more than a match for anything the Centaurians could field, at least one-on-one. Macmillan felt much better having it in visual range, although as long as it was within line-of-sight it could provide full protection for the comparatively slow and fragile troop transport.

“Alright, people, let’s keep our eyes on our screens. Anything that’s not an Earth ship shows up on radar; I want to know immediately. Diaz!”

“Sir?” replied the weapons officer.

“I want all defensive systems double-checked for readiness. We were in deep space for three decades; I don’t want anything frozen up or firing off-center.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll send maintenance around. External sweeps?” asked Diaz, meaning crew members in spacesuits shining flashlights down gun barrels from the outside.

“Negative on external checks. Let’s sit tight until we know what’s up with the possible orbital contact.”

The captain was silent for a few moments, then turned to address the comms officer. “Lieutenant Wilson, get the coordinates of the Georgetown from tactical, and then send them a message. I want whatever imagery they have of the other side of this moon. They’re still about half a light-hour out so we probably won’t get anything useful, but we never know.”

“Right away, sir.” Wilson began tapping at her keyboard.

On schedule, the Woodbridge pulled into formation with the Hamilton, about 10 kilometers astern. The captain switched the big viewscreen to a computer-generated map showing the moon, the orbits of the two Earth ships, and the projected orbit of the potential enemy vessel. They’d be on the same side of the moon and within firing distance in less than 20 minutes.

“Multiple contacts!” shouted a radar technician. “Four… no, five. Their drives are hot. Range six thousand k and closing!”

“Battlestations!” the captain ordered, then hit the intercom override. “Attention all crew, this is the captain. We are at condition red, I repeat, condition red. Fire teams to your stations. Repair teams stand by. Everyone else strap in. Macmillan out.”

The ship’s pilot began a ponderous turn to face the gigantic Orion pusher plate towards the incoming ships. Designed to withstand repeated nuclear blasts at close range, it was by far the thickest piece of armour they had. The gun turrets extended and swiveled around as the computers calculated and recalculated firing solutions on the accelerating Centaurian vessels.

The Woodbridge was completing similar maneuvers, somewhat more quickly, as well as launching drones and a protective cloud of chaff to counter enemy missiles.

As the alien ships approached, they became larger until Macmillan could identify them on the blurry image from the main telescope. He swore out loud. Five Manicouagan-class battlecruisers were now bearing down on the two Earth ships.

“Get me the Woodbridge, quick.”

“Yes sir. Okay, they’re on the line.”

“Fisher? This is Captain Macmillan.”

“Yeah, we see them too. This might get messy. We’re sending you target designations. Concentrate fire on them in that order, unless one gets too close. We’ll send three drones to cover your ass, but you’d better have some crack shots at those close-in turrets of yours.”

“We have them linked to main fire control. You think - “

“I’d stick some actual gunners in the seats, if I were you. Otherwise half of them are firing at nothing all the time.”

“Roger that. You think if we called the Caledon, she’d get here in time to be any help?”

“Probably not; looks like they’re still in a fight around the third planet. It’ll be hours before they could get here even on full burn.”

“Alright. I’m going to arm the gravel truck. If those are their bases down below, it might scare them off. Over and out.”

Macmillan shut off the radio and gave the order to prep the scatterbomb. The device was a shaped nuclear charge designed to accelerate a few thousand sand grain-sized particles to a good fraction of the speed of light. Against ships with electrostatic deflectors it was useless, but it was meant to be used on a planetary atmosphere, where each impact would release a massive burst of gamma rays, killing anything below it.

“General broadcast, full power on whatever frequencies the Centaurians usually listen at,” ordered the captain. The comms officer gave him the thumbs up, and he continued speaking into his mic. “Attention incoming Centaurian vessels. We have a bomb aimed at this moon. If it detonates, all complex life on the surface will be destroyed.” (a gross overstatement, but he was bluffing anyway, since his troops needed the biosphere intact and he wasn’t prepared to irradiate their future home) “Deactivate your engines immediately, and switch off all weapons and targeting systems. I repeat: kill your engines and stow your guns, or we will be forced to use this bomb. We know you are translating and can understand this.”

The alien ships gave no indication of receiving the message. Suddenly, the scatterbomb, still being pushed away from the hangar by its small positioning thrusters, cracked in half with the quick flash of an unbalanced detonation by the C-4 implosion charges.

“Sir! They got the truck,” reported the weapons officer. “They’re still 3000 kilometers away! When did they get that good at aiming?”

“Alright, I guess we’re fighting. As soon as they are in range, open fire.”

The agonizingly long seconds ticked away, while a few shots - probably from the same long-range guns that got the scatterbomb - plinked harmlessly off the pusher plate. The captain tensed at every tiny vibration, knowing that each one was actually a shell big enough to kill an aircraft carrier detonating on the ship. His ship. Where he was responsible for 20,052 infantry troops and ground personnel, 1,441 interstellar operations crew members, 985 officers, and himself.

The impacts became more frequent, and then the five enemy battlecruisers launched their missiles.

“Sir, we have missiles incoming. Nine from each ship, and they’re all coming towards us.”

“Alright, get everyone ready on the point-defense guns. Free fire - don’t try to conserve ammo. See if those drones from the Woodbridge can take a few out. Paint them with our targeting lasers; try to confuse them. Anything that anyone can think of, I want done! I don’t want a single scratch on my ship, you hear me?”

Missiles capable of high-g turns were a popular weapon against Orion-type ships. They’d skirt the edge of the pusher plate, then vector in and detonate on the exposed hull. CIWS turrets were placed strategically to counter this threat, but it took a great deal of luck to hit a missile going several kilometers a second, no matter how much lead you threw at it.

The enemy battlecruisers had spread out, and so the missiles didn’t arrive simultaneously. This probably saved the Hamilton. Of the first eighteen, two got through and impacted on opposite sides of the ship, blowing two holes in her outer hull. Thankfully, it was on a depleted fuel storage level and no damage was done to any important structures.

The big turrets began firing towards the battlecruisers. A lucky shot disabled the propulsion on one, and it began slowly spinning out of control, heading out into deep space. The Woodbridge sent a swarm of drones towards a second enemy ship, and their little guns tore into the crewed section, venting the atmosphere and taking it out of the fight. Its automated defenses managed to destroy a few retreating drones, and then it self-destructed.

A second flight of missiles launched from the three remaining enemy battlecruisers as nine more of the first wave approached the Hamilton. Two detonated on the pusher plate, pitting it and ensuring that they would have to spend a month in orbit for repairs, if they lived through this. One hit a major shock-absorbing strut just behind the plate. Call it two months for repairs, then. The rest were taken care of by the CIWS and the Woodbridge’s drones.

“UEF Hamilton, this is the Woodbridge,” came an unfamiliar voice on the radio.

“This is Macmillan, go ahead.”

“We’re taking heavy damage - they dented the hell out of our starboard jets, and now we can’t stay turned away from them. Our right flank is exposed and they’re hitting it with everything they’ve got. Won’t be much longer before they break through into a crewed section. It’s target beta, mostly… you mind swinging those big ol’ guns around and helping us out?”

“Will do.”

The heavy turrets took aim towards the approaching battlecruiser that was rapidly and messily dismantling the Woodbridge. The triple barreled guns fired shot after shot, and finally there were two quick explosions, right on the nose of the enemy ship. It stopped firing and drifted.

“Looks like we hit something important,” quipped the weapons officer.

A hail of fire from the Woodbridge took out the fourth enemy ship, nearly ripping it to shreds. “Overkill…” mumbled Captain Macmillan under his breath.

A missile struck one of the battleship turrets on the Hamilton, disabling it. Frantic calls for medical teams and repair crews came in over the intercom. If the second turret was destroyed, and the Woodbridge took much more damage, it would be all over. Centaurians could take them apart at their leisure after that.

“Captain! We have three more contacts! Same size, range five thousand. They’ll be on us in seven minutes!”

Crap. “Everybody listen up! We’re in trouble here. We’re losing our ability to defend ourselves, and the Woodbridge isn’t in any better shape. I’ve sent out a distress call - the Georgetown, Bolton, and Bradford are going to be in system within the next couple of days, and if we’re still alive they can come help us out. It’s not likely we’ll get assistance from any ships that are already here. They’re fighting their own battles. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: it looks pretty bad. We underestimated their ability to build up their fleet during our flight time here.” The captain paused and tried to swallow; his throat was completely dry. This next part was unpleasant. “Now you all know... you all know what those Centaurian bastards do to prisoners. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let that happen to anyone on my ship. I’m giving the order to activate the self destruct. It’s been my absolute honour to serve with all of you. We still have our main comms, so we’ll be sending data back to Earth as long as possible. If any of you have any last words you want sent, now is the time. You have four minutes.”

Self-destruct on an Orion-type ship was a simple matter of setting the propulsion charges to go off while still aboard. There were nearly 900 of the big bombs left; more than enough to turn the whole ship into nothing more than an expanding sphere of hot plasma. Captain Macmillan keyed in the code that deactivated their proximity failsafes, and the second code that began the countdown.

Meanwhile, gun crews on both ships, and missile operators on the Woodbridge, were engaging the fifth battlecruiser. The Woodbridge took another hit, and then the last enemy ship of the first wave was destroyed by a strike that cracked it open along the weak seam between two armour plates. The next three Centaurian ships continued to get closer. The Woodbridge signaled that they had also armed their self destruct.

“Alright you fuckers; we may be going down, but we’re taking as many of you with us as we can,” the captain snarled, then thumbed the intercom button. “All crew! Our mission isn’t over until we’re dead! If you have any clever plans to kill some aliens, use them. I don’t care if you’re sitting in an airlock throwing rocks, just do it.” He swiveled his chair around to face the pilot. “Davis!”


“Whatever propulsion we have left, use it. Make sure we’re as close to these assholes as possible when we blow.”

“Yes, sir!” Davis, wild-eyed and sweating, began fiddling with controls at his station while cursing at all the warning messages on his screen.

“Sir, there’s something happening,” a technician said, staring at his monitor.

“What is it?” Macmillan snapped.

“Well, uh, the gravimeter… I don’t know if it’s broken, or…”

“Put it on the main display.”

Sure enough, the gravimetric plot, showing tiny distortions in spacetime caused by the presence of massive objects, was going absolutely nuts.

“What the hell is that? Analysis!”

“I don’t know, sir. It might be a glitch. But it looks like there’s some sort of disturbance, about twenty thousand kilometers further out from the moon.”

“Get the main telescope pointed towards it.”

“Sir, if we extend the telescope, they’ll shoot it off,” the executive officer said.

“We have three minutes to live anyway. Do it.”

The image from the telescope showed the black of deep space, and then suddenly there was something. At nearly the same time, three lines of blinding white appeared, radiating out from the disturbance point, and intersecting with the second wave of alien battlecruisers. The battlecruisers promptly exploded.

“What in the hell… I need more magnification! If that’s an Earth ship, where the hell did it come from? Why didn’t we know it was coming? How the fuck is it jamming our goddamned gravimeter, of all things?”

Lenses rotated on the big telescope, going from 30x zoom to 300. The display snapped into focus. Sure enough, the thing had the characteristic lines and gunmetal-grey colouration of a standard Terran vessel, but it also had two huge bulky rings around it. For artificial gravity? Macmillan wondered, but smaller internal rings work just as well and are a far less tempting target...

“Sir, the ship is transmitting something,” the comms officer reported.

“Let’s hear it.”

She clicked a button, and then “-epeat, all Centaurian vessels must stand down. Any non-cooperating ships will be destroyed. We have the means, as you have already seen. Stand down immediately or be destroyed.”

Whoever was speaking, she had a Texan drawl so thick it was nearly a parody.

“See if you can call them,” Macmillan said. “I want to thank them for saving our asses, and then find out who the hell they are. And let our crew know I’m shutting off the self destruct.”

“They’re on the line, sir.”

“Unknown United Earth Fleet ship, this is Captain Macmillan of the UEF Hamilton. First off, I’d like to extend our thanks for your assistance. You got here just in time. Second, if you don’t mind me asking, who are you and how did you get here without us knowing?”

“Well hey there, Macmillan. This is Captain Johnson, UEF Mississauga. We launched from Earth about three weeks ago and we’re here to help you clean up these ‘Taurian scum.”

Three weeks? Three weeks?

Macmillan managed to cough, and said “... three weeks? Did I hear you right, Johnson?”

“That’s right, three weeks.” They weren’t close enough for video, so Macmillan just had to imagine her mischievous smile as she said “Oh, didn’t they tell you, darling,” more like daah-lin “, we have warp drives now.” She paused to let him absorb this. “We’ve got orders to take you boys home.”

Macmillan could only sit there, open-mouthed and speechless, as the bridge erupted into cheers around him. Finally, his XO reached over and shook his arm, excitedly. “Hey, captain, you’ve got to tell the ship. We’re gonna see Earth again!”

Slowly, he reached for the button to broadcast a message shipwide.

“Attention all crew. This is the captain. I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is, it looks like we’re not going to get a chance to kill any more Centaurians…”