Every Undertaker’s Friend
by Trek Journeyman © 2016
Chapter Sixteen Start at Chapter 1.1
Having a third ship to relieve the crowded conditions was a blessing. After all the hardships the circus crew endured, crowded ships were one less stress to deal with. Nate and Joseph decided the surviving families and couples would travel on the Grahat ship. Fully provisioned for the journey, the three ships hit the trail.
The accommodating ship was crewed by Grahat skilled in both space flight and diplomacy. They would be the official first contact representatives to Humanity. The day before departure the Grahat governor had his people prepare a treaty containing provisions for the budding relationship. It covered trade, science exchanges, and their preferences for Nate and Joseph to be sole representatives. This would be for the duration of each one’s life. Nate knew the corporations within the Terran Republic would fight tooth and nail against his appointment, but the governor insisted his people would never relent in this specific provision. All trade will be dealt with through Nate Alluisi and Joseph Sanford, or whoever either of them delegated the responsibility to.
That first evening as they left the outer limits of the Boarax System, Nate shuttled over to pick up Joseph. They both joined the Grahat Captain and Ambassador on his ship. Nate took a moment to meet with the humans on the ship. To his satisfaction, they were getting along well with their hosts. That was relieving, even though Nate didn’t expect any serious issues. Yet, the cultural divide and personality conflicts were a slight concern. Those too turned out to be things he didn’t have to worry over.
The three ate a dinner prepared by the Captain/Ambassador himself. Both men found it rather tasty. Following the meal, they had a fruitful discussion of what was to come at the end of the flight. It was in the shuttle on the way back to Joseph’s ship that both men discussed the captain’s excellent cooking.
“The meat the captain cooked up was an excellent cut,” Joseph commented as he licked his lips. “I haven’t had anything so tender or juicy since I left home as a kid. What do you suppose it was?”
“Some kind of six-legged rhinoceros sort of critter,” Nate answered. “The captain sketched me a picture.”
“I’ve never had anything like it. You’d think the meat was meat, right?”
“Maybe. I’m no chef so I couldn’t tell you.”
“It was real too, not sludge based. Do you think it’s that tender naturally?”
“No, they have a rather odd way of processing it.”
Nate smiled. “It’s swallowed by some sort of fat, whale-sized worm thing.”
Joseph bunched his eyebrows He was silent for a moment.
Nate looked at him, still smiling. “The captain drew me a picture of that one too.”
“Wait,” Joseph said. “You mean a worm eats it?”
Joseph’s lips puckered. “No! You mean it…”
“Pretty gross sounding eh?”
“Uhhhg! I just ate worm poop?” Joseph blanched.
“No. You just ate worm vomit. I never said it completed digestion.” Nate said. They force it to regurgitate after an hour of soaking in its gizzard. Not bad eh?”
Joseph turned pale. He grabbed a barf mask and heaved once, but nothing came out.
“It wasn’t that bad. After all, you thought it was the best meal you’ve had.”
The shuttle clanked against Joseph’s ship. He left without further word.
A day later, the AI picked up sensor echoes at the edge of sensor range. Nate allowed it to send a drone for a closer look. The echoes turned out to be a pair of Grahat ships shadowing Nate’s three ships. Nate immediately had a short conversation with the Grahat captain on the other ship. He had shown the captain the drone footage. The captain recognized the ships as their pirate brethren, informing Nate the ships were not associated with his friendly Grahat. They were Boar ships. That meant the ships would have the obsolete beam tech along with kinetic weapons. No serious threat. Not when there were only two.
Nate continued their flight. He had the AI track the ships.
It was the next day the AI detected three more groups of ships. Again it sent drones to investigate. These ships were also pairs of Boar ships. That made eight. Each pair traveled on matching courses with Nate’s ships. All together they surrounded Nate. He commed both Joseph and the Grahat captain. After listening to Joseph and the Grahat’s input, Nate decided his ships would turn on the pair tailing them. If Nate waited any longer, all four groups would time an attack and likely swamp their defenses. If that was their intention, and Nate assumed it was.
If an attack wasn’t their intention, Nate would end up having an awkward conversation. An awkward explanation for his sudden actions would be a better consequence than the effects of an ambush. His and Joseph’s ships were well armed with modern plasma weapons and missiles. Still, eight ships would be cutting it close. And if there were more out there he didn’t know about, so much the worse. There was only one problem, he suddenly realized. His allied Grahat ship wasn’t contragravity powered. So he only had two ships to rush the boars with. His Grahat ship would be able to execute the high delta required to surprise the potential enemies. It wouldn’t affect the outcome of his attack, but it would leave the Grahat ship at a disadvantage against the other six boar ships.
What to do? What to do?
Split his ships even further.
The four pairs of ships were on his same plane of space. He could send Joseph to attack one of the parallel pairs as he attacked the trailing pair. His allied Grahat ship could go evasive, taking a vector bisecting Nate and Joseph’s vector. That would take them away from the remaining Boar ships. As the boars were gunning their propulsion systems Nate and Joseph could regroup. Then they could attack each pair in turn.
He informed Joseph and the Grahat of his plan. Though Joseph wasn’t a skilled combat pilot, Nate had no doubt he could handle his new ship against two less powerful ships. Joseph had a few veteran spacers from the Republic Navy among his circus crew, one a former weapons officer.
Each ship initiated their assigned course change. Nate pushed his contragravs to redline as he dove toward his quarry. All eight ships reacted slowly, but they eventually altered their courses in an attempt to form up. Of course, without contragravs, it was a futile effort. He commed the ships. One answered.
“Human, surrender now.”
“Not going to happen. So what you gonna do now?”
“I will capture and eat you. You killed my littermates.”
That answered his only question. What was their intention? He cut off the conversation without saying goodbye.
Nate couldn’t recall if Joseph possessed any missiles, but he himself did. He instructed the AI to plot a missile trajectory and launch them as soon as the enemy was in optimal range. Minutes later his ship shook as two missiles disgorged from their tubes. Nate watched the missiles through his ocular implants as they took another minute intercept and annihilate the boar ships. His implant stream also showed the other ships in nearby space. Joseph was moving toward his two ships as the only friendly Grahat ship flew in the safest direction in the area.
An alarm sounded through nates mind as he strained his inertial dampers to near failure. The ship experienced massive g-forces as he redirected his ship toward the third and fourth pair of ships. Both remaining pairs were still accelerating towards each other to combine firepower. They must have seen the ease with which Nate dispatched two of their ships. He also noted how they weren’t attempting to reinforce the ships Joseph would soon engage. They would have time to become four ships before Nate would have them in missile range.
Joseph closed the distance between him and his own targets. After two minutes of 400 g’s acceleration, he entered missile range, and nothing happened. Maybe there were no missiles on Joseph’s ship. Any moment Joseph would be entering beam range. He did. In the distance, off to starboard, Nate saw beams reaching out toward Joseph’s ship. Old tech or not, the beams would eventually cut the ship apart if Joseph didn’t do something fast. He was in cannon range now too. Flashes of light added to the light effect of the beams.
Nate held his breath.
“Come on Top Hat, shoot back.” He still had an open link to Joseph but didn’t realize it until…
“We were slow on powering up the plasma cannons,” Joseph responded. “My fault, Jensen reminded me after the first beams hit us.” Then Joseph’s voice rose in pitch. “Good, give everything you’ve got!”
Nombeko’s replacement ship was equipped with a pair of twin-barrel cannons located dorsal and ventral. Now under the ownership of Joseph, his former weapons officer had each cannon targeted to its own boar ship. Flashes of high-intensity white light reached Nate’s eyes. Joseph was going toe-to-toe with a pair of beam equipped ships. At knife-fighting range, the outcome would be uncertain. The plasma cannons would dish out greater damage, and more quickly. But the boar ships were destroyers, and compared to Joseph’s corvette, could take more punishment.
The white light of the plasma cannon drowned out the colored beams of the boars. The cannon fired so rapidly, Nate could no longer see the flashing effect. It was more like a constant beam of white light. Then, the white light grew to an immense proportion. A fusion reactor had been hit.
“Got one!” yelled Joseph over the link.
Nate relaxed a small amount, he had worried that it had been Joseph blown to stardust.
“Enemy fire has ceased,” said a background voice through the link. “The other ship is dead too. Its entire starboard side looks breached. So much damage it looks like a sausage cut lengthwise. Only half the ship remains.”
The remaining boar ships altered course. They were still attempting to form up, but they had changed vectors to flee from Nate. He decided to let them go. They would be nuts to press the attack. Especially without a substantial number of reinforcements.
“Good work Mr. Sanford,” Nate commed.
“Yeah, Jenkens knew this game pretty well. I might have to put some guns like these on my next freighter.”
“Lets reform. The other four ships are hightailing away. I think we’ve heard the last of the Boars. They’d need another ten ships to take us out, and I bet they don’t have ten more ships handy.” Joseph and Nate reoriented their ships to meet up with the Grahat ship, which was already on its way to meet them. Shortly they were all back together and on course again.
An uneventful week passed before they came to another habitable planet. There was a settlement on the southern continent.
Nate chose to land at the edge of the small town. There was an adjacent field that looked to have scorch marks from other ships landing there. Though cooler than any other planet they had previously bivouacked on, they were happy to be on the ground again. He wasn’t sure if the southern hemisphere was in mid-spring or mid-fall. Either way, it was cool enough to require warmer sleeping gear for those camping outside. As usual, they set up tents and lit campfires.
The journey from Andretti Prime had been a long one, and they still had a little way to go. Nate guessed it would be another week before they encountered chartered colonies. It had been after dark when they landed. By the time things were squared away, Erica stood at the edge of the landing zone, staring into the stars. She didn’t recognize any of the stars, and it seemed as though she didn’t recognize herself. She had changed over the course of this tragic trek her father had taken them on. Life prior to circus life seemed too vague, and her future seemed to be vague as well.
Nate approached. Both her father and Jessica were with him. “We’re going into town. Would you like to join us?” Nate asked. She shook her head yes. Soon all four headed to town on drift cycles.