Read Kris Longknife 13 - Unrelenting Online

Authors: Mike Shepherd

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Military, #Action & Adventure

Kris Longknife 13 - Unrelenting (3 page)

BOOK: Kris Longknife 13 - Unrelenting
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There were a couple of dozen small suicide ships as well,
but those carried no lasers. A few that had gotten through to the Alwa system had lobbed atomics at Kris’s fleet before they’d been blown to dust.

If the Earth admiral had followed Kris’s plan, he would have spread his four squadrons out in a loose square and swept toward the aliens at a measured pace, letting his longer-ranged lasers burn any alien ships that came to meet him.

Kris expected the aliens to fall back and withdraw into her system, where she would slice and dice them as they came through the jump, then use a few Hellburners to club the base ship into submission or oblivion—their choice.

To date, they’d always chosen oblivion.

That was the plan. But Kris had learned early that no battle plan survived contact with the enemy. Apparently, plans survived even less when implemented by a hubris-loaded idiot.

Sixteen ships now charged out in front of the other sixteen, accelerating at three gees rather than one.

“Five will get you fifty the lead ships are Yi’s,” Jack whispered softly to Kris.

“No bet,” Kris said, eyeing the rough readouts. The probe through the jump point had a very thin bandwidth. She could tell where the reactors were. She could make out the difference between the huge reactors that powered an alien warship and the smaller power plants of the human frigates. Beyond that, not so much.

For the ships in her fleet, Kris’s battle boards showed full status. For the ships in the other system, Kris could only guess which frigates were which. Rear Admiral Bethea had fought with Kris before. Kris trusted her.

Vice Admiral Yi was a totally different can of worms.

Assuming Vice Admiral Yi had his task force out front, he seemed way too eager to match his ships with their 22-inch lasers and special armor against the aliens. Rear Admiral Bethea’s sixteen ships had armor that only last year had been considered top-of-the-line. Her 20-inch lasers had been the same, but now fell forty thousand kilometers short of the longer-ranging 22-inchers.

Kris ground her teeth as a dish of thirty massive alien warships charged Yi. As they came in range, he killed half,
but the others soon closed the distance and were slashing at his ships with more lasers than any ship had a right to own. The alien lasers had a shorter reach than the humans’, but they had plenty of them.

Yi’s warships would be glowing like stars as their unique armor caught the lasers, slowed them down, distributed them along the hull, then radiated them back into space.

“I think the fribbing stuff just might work,” Admiral Furzah purred. Nelly’s translator could handle most of what she said. Some things Nelly just didn’t bother converting.

For a moment, Kris held her breath. More alien ships blew away into gas.

Then one, two, three Earth ships exploded in rapid succession.

The alien dish was gone, but so were three Earth ships.

Four more dishes of alien warships were coming up quickly.

“Flip ship, you damn bastard,” Kris snapped through gritted teeth.

Yi couldn’t have heard her, but the logic of her position was unarguable.

The survivors of the two Earth squadrons flipped ship and decelerated until Admiral Bethea came up even with them. Now they formed a square of squadrons.

Now they took the aliens under fire at long range and blew them away while the aliens’ lasers could do them no harm.

Gradually, the Earth squadrons cooled. Maybe Vice Admiral Yi would live long enough for her to give him the first major dressing-down of her short Navy career.

Taking a deep breath, Kris took her seat at the foot of the table, the place that gave her the best view of the screens. On them, the alien dishes began to wilt as they took hits they could not reply to. A few ships put on extra gees, trying to close the distance.

They died.

A few of the speedsters, likely armed with atomics, shot out.

They were vaporized.

Someone decided they’d had enough. The dishes began to fall back.

“Well, it seems that the first phase of our battle is over,” Kris said. “Anyone want to guess what the alien Enlightened One will do next?”

Kris’s eyes polled those around the table. The only consensus was a shrug.

3

 

In
the target system, the situation continued to develop with the momentum of molasses in January. Now, all but a handful of alien warships had interposed themselves between their mother ship and the attacking human frigates.

Four dishes of thirty huge warships engaged each of the four squadrons of six to eight frigates. It was a running gunfight, with the frigates gunning for a change and aliens running.

Lately, the aliens had taken to installing rock armor on their ships. These seemed to have it even thicker. Still, most of their armor was at the bow, and they were running. Their huge rockets and reactors could not be armored.

So the aliens tried variations on the retreat theme. A few ships would charge the frigates. Despite their layers of basalt-rock armor, they’d burn, usually sooner, sometimes later. Some would even get within range of Yi’s battle squadrons. Yi would have to slow his squadrons down, sometimes even flip ship to bring his stern batteries to bear.

The alien ships died, but Yi was slowed, maybe even damaged.

While the humans were thus engaged, the rest of the alien fleet racked up maximum acceleration toward the nearest jump.

Which was what Kris wanted. She was the bear waiting behind that jump with open jaws.

While the main battle raged with its ebb and flow, a couple of dozen warships escorted the lumbering alien base ship toward that jump.

“Nelly,” Kris said, “give me an estimate for when the base ship will reach the jump. Match that with the rate at which their battle line is giving ground to Admiral Yi.”

“The base ship should be in a position to come through the jump in four hours. What’s left of the alien battle line should arrive an hour later. I will start a countdown when the base ship gets closer.”

“Thank you, Nelly.” One of the few nice things about Nelly’s present state of intelligence and human interactivity was that she had given up the need to be accurate to the thirteenth decimal place. Now she settled for approximates like any sane person.

Kris tried to tell Nelly when she did well. There were
enough
times when she didn’t.

Once more, Kris eyed the screen that showed the jump. There was the
Mary Ellen Carter
, the biggest blip on the screen. There were plenty of other blips. Four even showed on the gravity sensors.

Four Hellburners were arrayed around the rear of the jump point. That was one of the few nice things about the jump points; if you went in with a certain vector with respect to the center of the galaxy, you came out on that vector.

There was no question, the alien base ship would come out pointed in Kris’s direction.

That meant that the dormant Hellburners and 12-inch antimatter torpedoes would be aft of the target, just where Kris wanted them.

Still, when should she pull the
Carter
back from the jump?

Command decisions.
Kris shrugged.
Well, at least I have four hours to gnaw on it.

Kris made a face at the screen.

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I hate it, too. Absolute, gut-wrenching terror is headed our way, but right now it’s boring as hell. Would you care for some coffee and a sandwich, Admiral?”

Kris gauged her tummy and found it . . . uninterested.

Now if Jack had offered a quickie,
came from the imp side of Kris.

With four hours, it wouldn’t have to be so quick,
Kris’s logical side replied.

Kris had revised her fleet’s policy on fraternization. Still, she didn’t think even the revised version was that loose.

“No thanks, Jack, I think I’ll sit here and mull my options.
Or maybe read a boring report. Anybody have a truly dull report?”

Her team had the good sense to laugh.

Jacques did speak up when things quieted down. “Dr. Meade has finished her analysis of the alien genome.” That got everyone’s attention. “I won’t try to give you the guts of the full report, but the executive summary is that somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and ten thousand years ago, someone did a major rework on their DNA to optimize them all to be slaves.”

Kris raised an eyebrow. “And we saw what those ‘slaves’ did to their masters.”

Everyone around the table except the cat admiral had seen the planet reduced to rock, and she had seen the pictures.

“So how’d they manage to get back at their masters?” Jack asked, ever a Marine.

“Your guess is as good as the doctor’s,” Jacques said. “Throughout our history, there have been slave uprisings. What you do to most, even nearly all, doesn’t mean you’ve done it to every last one. Moreover, what you did last century might not be working next century. Don’t you love mutations?” the anthropologist said.

“No plan is perfect,” Kris said, with a grimace toward her own screens, where her plan was now, finally, playing out.

Though not entirely to expectations. A batch of the fast movers tried to drop below and come at Vice Admiral Yi’s squadrons from the rear. A division from Scandia,
Odin
,
Thor
,
Loki
, and
Frigga
, dropped out from Admiral Bethea’s task group to chase them down and destroy them.

The alien commander chose that moment to have a half dozen of the big boys charge the human line. They died, but the humans shot their forward batteries empty. Then all four of the alien dishes charged.

It got frisky for a bit as some aliens went in faster than others. They died but bought time for others to get closer. Admiral Yi flipped his ships, fired the aft batteries, boosted up his deceleration . . . and danced away from the onrushing fleet.

That bought the aliens space and time, but in the end, Yi
reorganized his ships and began the slow process of herding the aliens toward the jump.

“That was why I didn’t give you an exact estimate,” Nelly said. “You can say what you want about those bug-eyed monsters of yours, Kris, but they are wily.”

“And there are a whole lot of them,” Penny whispered.

Kris winced; each alien warship had a crew of least a million. The base ship could have as many as 50 billion aboard.

No, we don’t want to grapple and board with one of those monsters.

The room fell silent as that image invaded everyone’s mind. Kris moved to break it before they all froze in place. “Does Doc Meade think she can do anything about this genetic modification?”

Jacques shook his head. “It’s more than a simple medical lab on the tip of the spear can handle. She suggests we transfer some of the aliens who followed you home back to human space.”

That got a well-needed chuckle from the staff. Jack had led a boarding party that had confronted an old alien woman who’d shouted her defiances, then tried to take her own life and have the dozen or so children with her do the same.

Sleepy darts had put a stop to that madness.

The alien woman’s ragings had helped the pacifists among the Alwans come to terms with the realities of what faced them. Meanwhile, the alien kids were having a ball watching cartoons and learning computer games.

I bet the Enlightened One didn’t see that one coming,
Kris thought with a grin. He, always a he among these people, called the shots and led a massive and compliant people in a galaxy-wide search for life, any life, and the never-ending work of murdering it.

Not on my watch you won’t,
Kris had sworn. Today was just another day on the job.

The key staff gnawed on that for a while, then Amanda brought up the present production plans from the plants and fabrication facilities on Alwa’s moon. This raised the effort to fabricate laser armor and spin out big frigates with 22-inch lasers from the yards.

People talked of many things, but always with one eye on the screens.

“Those aliens are desperate,” Jack muttered. “Desperate people do desperate things.”

Right about then, the aliens did something very desperate.

4

 

Nelly
was the first to spot a change. “Kris, three of the aliens’ fast movers have taken off for the other jump point at 3.5 gees.”

The screen of the other system now showed a wedge of ships moving away from the battle, headed for the distant third jump.

“I wonder what that’s all about?” Kris said.

“Maybe someone wants to hedge their bet on this fight?” Jack offered.

“Or get a better view of what happens next,” Jacques put in. “The jump may just be in the direction they’re headed. It will give them a better view around their own battle line.”

“And what will that battle line be doing?” Kris muttered.

Yi had let his ships get a bit close to the alien dishes. Maybe they’d slowed down, and he hadn’t noticed. Now twelve ships flipped around and leapt toward his squadrons at 2.5 gees acceleration, the max the huge warships could handle.

Four of them paid immediately for their folly, but the others kept coming, and another four took off, replacing the initial four

“Kris,” Nelly reported, “something is happening around the rest of the alien dishes. I’m getting bits of radar reflection off some things. Not much, and it comes and goes. I’m getting nothing on the electromagnetic spectrum.”

“Mines?” Kris said.

“I can’t say with any certainty,” Nelly said.

“We’ve left mines behind when we were running,” Jack pointed out.

“They never have,” Penny said.

“They’ve never been the ones running before,” her friend Masao added.

The two intelligence officers nodded.

On the screens, the fight got messy as Admiral Yi backpedaled to open the range, then turned and began mopping up the aliens that had caused all the trouble. The alien dishes used the distraction to put on maximum gees for the jump point.

BOOK: Kris Longknife 13 - Unrelenting
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