Authors: G. P. Hudson
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Marine, #Space Opera, #Space Exploration
Book 4 of The Pike Chronicles
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The Pike Chronicles
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in the book are fictional and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form, other than for review purposes, without the permission of the publisher and copyright owner.
Cover art by Justin Adams
“You will be commanding the Vanguard. The second experimental Space Force jump ship,” said Admiral Walsh.
Captain Nygel Pierce stood at attention before the Admiral, processing as much of the startling new information as he could. A ship that acted like its own jump gate? The whole idea was fantastical. “Excuse me, Sir, but what happened to the first jump ship?”
Walsh’s face darkened. “We don’t know, Captain. It will be your job to find out. The first jump ship was a destroyer class ship named the Hermes. It was tasked with finding the lost colonies.”
“The lost colonies? But they are just a myth.”
“They’re not a myth, Captain. As part of its mission, every time the Hermes successfully jumped, it was supposed to deploy a jumpspace beacon, so that future jump ships could follow in its footsteps. When the Hermes found the colonies, the beacons would provide a clear route to them. Unfortunately, the Hermes stopped deploying beacons shortly after its mission began. We want you to find out why.”
Walsh paused as if expecting another question from Pierce. When none came Walsh continued. “The Vanguard is a Dreadnought Class Battleship, much larger and much better armed than the Hermes.”
They aren’t playing around this time
. “Do you think the Hermes was attacked?”
“We’re not discounting the possibility, Captain. If it was, you’ll be much better prepared to deal with the threat.”
Pierce had no doubt. A Dreadnought Class Battleship was a ship of the line, and the largest in the Space Force fleet. It could slug it out with any Juttari warship, and its incredibly thick armor meant it could withstand a massive pounding. “Do you think the Juttari had something to do with this?” Pierce hoped the Juttari were involved. He’d love nothing more than another opportunity to square off against those bastards.
“That is for you to find out, Captain. When you do, you will dispatch a communication drone to Earth with a full report.”
“A communication drone? At that distance? That could take decades, Sir.”
“The communication drones on the Vanguard have been fitted with their own, smaller jump systems. Because of their small size, they can’t jump as far as the Vanguard, but they’ll make it back in a reasonable time frame.”
“Wouldn’t it be faster to have the Vanguard return to Earth?”
“It would be, but you have another objective to complete. We still want to find the colonies, so once you learn what happened to the Hermes, you will continue the search for them.”
“Understood, Sir,” said Pierce, in reality trying to wrap his head around all the surprising information. Now simple communication drones could fold space like a jump gate. What was next? He glanced over at the Diakan, silent, sitting in the corner of the room. And w
hat do the Diakans have to do with all of this?
Walsh noticed. “This is Ambassador Varyos.”
“Greetings, Captain,” said Varyos, in that typical Diakan hiss.
“Greetings, Ambassador,” said Pierce.
“The Hermes had a team of Diakans on board,” said Walsh. “Diakus is very interested in learning of their fate.”
“Understandable, Sir,” said Pierce.
“I’m glad you feel that way, Captain, because you’ll also have a team of Diakans on board the Vanguard. The ship will be under your command, but the Diakans will have mission oversight.”
“Sir?” To give a group of Diakans command oversight wasn’t unheard of, and he had dealt with it before, but he thought he had moved past that sort of scrutiny.
“They can veto your orders, Captain. Don’t worry, they’ll stay out of your way, but if they think an action will threaten the mission, or the Vanguard, they can step in. We can’t afford to lose another jump ship. Is that going to be a problem?”
“No, Sir.” There wasn’t much he could do about it anyway.
“Good. Officially this is a Space Force operation, but in reality it is a joint project with the Diakans.”
It wasn’t the first time he had to play ball with the Diakans, so Pierce took the whole thing in stride. The last thing anyone could call him was naive. He knew full well that the Diakans owned the Sol System. There was no point pretending. He left that nonsense to the politicians and civilians. If it made them feel good to think they were independent, then so be it, but he knew different. And he didn’t care. They needed the Diakans. The alliance made humanity stronger. Why rock the boat?
Walsh accessed his console. “I have forwarded all necessary information to your comm. You are to take command immediately and ensure the Vanguard is ready for its mission on time.”
“Yes, Sir. When will-”
A shrill klaxon interrupted Pierce, followed by an explosion that almost threw him to the floor.
“What the hell?” said Walsh, looking at his console. “That’s impossible.”
“Sir?” said Pierce, bending his knees to brace himself.
“We’re under attack. It’s the Juttari.”
“The Juttari?” said Ambassador Varyos, standing up from his chair.
The words stunned Pierce. The Sol System was heavily defended. There was no way the Juttari could get this close to Earth without being noticed. Unless-.
The door to Walsh’s office slid open and the Admiral’s aide marched into the room.
“What is it, Lieutenant?” snapped Walsh, flustered by the attack.
The young man raised his arm and fired a hand held energy weapon, burning a quarter sized hole in the Admiral’s chest, toppling him off his chair, onto the floor. The man turned and fired on the Diakan Ambassador. A blue energy bolt melted the Diakan’s large right eye and ripped into his brain.
Pierce dove for cover. The man swung his arm around and fired sizzling streaks of energy at him, just as the station shuddered again.
What the hell is going on?
Pierce rolled away and behind Walsh’s desk, simultaneously drawing his sidearm. The aide rounded the desk, weapon firing. Energy bolts tore through the carpet, leaving black burn marks in the floor, barely missing Pierce.
Pierce fired back as he scrambled for more cover. He missed. The Lieutenant was on him, weapon aimed at his head. Another explosion rocked the station, knocking the man off balance as he fired. The energy blast grazed Pierce’s shoulder. It stung like a bitch, but didn’t kill him. Pierce squeezed off several rounds into the man’s face, their impact throwing the Lieutenant to the floor with a thud.
Explosion after explosion rattled the station.
The Admiral. I’ve got to help the Admiral
Pierce crawled toward Walsh’s body. Walsh’s chest rose and fell.
He’s still alive
. Pierce knelt beside the Admiral. Urgent eyes looked back at him.
Pierce tapped his comm, “I need a medic. The Admiral’s been shot.”
“No time,” said Walsh, struggling to speak.
“Sir, you’re badly wounded. You need immediate medical attention.”
“The Vanguard,” Walsh whispered. “Save the Vanguard.”
“The Juttari will destroy it. Destroy the program. They have jump ships.”
The Juttari have jump ships?
The words pressed against his resisting mind. How was any of this possible? Then things started to make sense. The attack on the station. The aide’s betrayal. Even the disappearance of the Hermes. The Juttari had infiltrated the Admiral’s office and had stolen the jump technology. That was how they bypassed the Sol System’s defenses, and got so close to Earth. Space Force used its home fleet to guard the jump gate, and patrol the system’s perimeter. An enemy force would have to get past the fleet before it could hope to get anywhere near Earth. None of that mattered if the enemy had jump ships.
“Save the Vanguard,” Walsh said again, in the midst of a coughing fit. “Complete your mission. That’s an order.”
“Yes, Sir, but where do I-”
The Admiral looked away from Pierce, up to the ceiling. His eyes turned glassy, then vacant. His body slackened. The Admiral was dead.
The floor shook again as the assault on the station continued. They were running out of time. He had to move. Had to get to the Vanguard. He jumped to his feet and ran out of the office.
Racing through the corridor he accessed his comm, “Captain Pierce to Vanguard.”
“This is Commander Hurley, Vanguard XO,” replied a strong male voice.
He knew the name. Who didn’t? The guy was a legend.
Shouldn’t he be retired by now?
“What is your status, Commander?”
“We’re taking a beating, Captain.”
“Initiate evasive maneuvers.”
“Negative, Sir. We’re still docked to the station.”
“The docking clamps are not releasing.”
Shit. The Vanguard’s a sitting duck.
“Multiple batteries are still offline. Remaining weapon systems are returning fire. But the goddamn Juttari have us outnumbered, Sir.”
Pierce approached the dock. “I’m almost there. Fire up the engines.”
“But Sir, we’re still docked to the station.”
“Seal off this section,” yelled Pierce as he boarded the Vanguard. Technicians trying to repair the docking clamps looked up, surprised. “Everyone out. Now!” They dropped their tools and ran with Pierce for the adjoining compartment. The ordnance hitting the ship’s hull reverberated throughout the vessel like a war drum.
How much more of this can she take?
“Commander Hurley,” said Pierce over his comm, as the hatch closed behind him. “Fire thrusters. I want this ship unmoored, even if you have to take half the station with you to do it.”
“Yes, Sir. Firing thrusters.”
The ship thundered to life. Everything trembled and the hull groaned, straining to break free from its dock, but nothing happened. The scream of metal straining against metal became unbearable, as the thrusters fought violently against their restraints. Pierce sprinted down the halls, trying to put as much distance between himself and the dock, unsure of how much of the ship would be damaged when they broke free.
“Keep running,” he yelled at the technicians, who struggled to keep up. The entire corridor shook like they were in the middle of an earthquake. Between the bombardment, and the attempt to break free of the dock, he feared he would be sucked out of a breached hull at any second. In truth, he had no idea what would happen. The maneuver could tear half the ship apart, for all he knew. Hell, it’s b
etter than sitting still for Juttari target practice
A deafening crash sounded behind him. The Vanguard lurched forward with such force that it threw Pierce and the technicians to the floor. He fell awkwardly, and didn’t have time to get his hands up to protect his face. As Pierce’s head hit the unforgiving floor, he thought he would surely black out. Bright flashes of light danced behind his eyelids, and he struggled to stay conscious. Nausea swept over him. He fought off the urge to vomit. The taste of copper filled his mouth and he realized that it was blood streaming from his nose.
Shit, I broke my nose again. Did I get another concussion?
Hurley’s voice snapped him back to reality. “We’re free, Captain.”
We’re free. It worked.
He shook his head to clear his vision and pushed himself up onto his knees. “Evasive maneuvers,” he commanded. He paused for a moment, still feeling unsteady, then forced himself up onto his feet. Glancing back at the technicians, he noted they were conscious and helping each other. With a deep breath, Pierce gave his head another shake, and started walking. The floor shook underneath him and he stumbled. He reached out to brace himself against the wall.
Come on. Snap out of it!
Moving again. Slowly at first, then picking up speed. His mind cleared some more, and he broke into a trot. Then a run. He hadn’t seen the ship’s schematics yet, but he had served on a battleship before, which meant that the bridge would be deep inside the ships bowels, on the lower decks. Battleships were built to withstand a prolonged engagement. The bridge’s location was intended to keep command personnel safe, and the ship fighting, even if much of it lay in ruin. He knew where to find it. Space Force wouldn’t change something that worked.
“Hurley, what are we dealing with?”
Hurley’s confident voice replied over his comm. “We’re facing four Juttari warships, Sir. Three heavy cruisers and a battleship.”
“Yes, Sir. A planet crusher.”
Damn it. How did they build four jump ships so fast? And a battleship?
As he ran through the ship’s corridors, he realized that he had another problem. They were empty.
“Commander, where is the crew?”
“Many haven’t boarded yet, Sir. They were expected over the next couple of days.”
Shit. A skeleton crew. Most of the guns offline. How the hell are we supposed to fight off four Juttari warships?
“How long until the rest of the fleet reaches us?”
“That’ll be a while, Sir. They’re tied up with the rest of the invasion.”
“What are you talking about, Commander? What invasion?”
“Three Juttari battle groups came through the jump gate a few minutes ago.”
Three battle groups? This is a full scale invasion.
“How did they make it through the gate? It’s allied space on the other side,” said Pierce.
“I don’t know, Sir, but they did.”
They must have attacked the system on the other side of the gate first. It would be the only way. But why weren’t we notified?
It dawned on him that they were dealing with the opening round of a galactic war. Another realization then sent an icy chill up his spine. If the Juttari controlled the jump gate, the Diakans wouldn’t be coming. Not until they dislodged the Juttari from the neighboring system. He swallowed hard.
We’re on our own
His thoughts turned to Jessica, his wife back on Earth. They had just moved. She had no friends, or family nearby to help her if things got bad. He had to find a way to get word to her. To let her know what was happening.
When he arrived on the bridge he cringed at how barren it was. They would even understaffed for a destroyer, but on a battleship? It was laughable. He noticed a few Diakans filling in to man some of the posts.
At least they’re making themselves useful
. Surveying the bridge, he could see that officers manned key positions. Helm. Tactical. Navigation. And so on. They were only short in the secondary roles. It wasn’t as bad as he’d first thought. Not ideal, but they could make it work. It did mean a lot more work for the officers present, however.
He made his way to the command post. Hurley stood at his station in the center of the bridge like an old lion, shouting orders in between growls. Short gray stubble covered his head, accenting a wavy vein throbbing at his temple. Another thick vein that almost looked like a muscle ran down the side of his neck, disappearing beneath the collar of a perfectly pressed black uniform. Thick broad shoulders filled out the uniform, betraying the aging Commander’s imposing physical strength.
“Report,” said Pierce, striding to his own station.
“They’re trying to box us in,” said Hurley.
Pierce’s console displayed the formation. Admiral Walsh was right. They were no longer attacking the station, and weren’t interested in Earth. They wanted the Vanguard.
“Point defense status?”
“Ninety percent of the ship is covered. Rail guns are offline on the remaining ten percent. We’re working to get them online.”
“How long until they’re back up?”
“Not good enough.”
“With all due respect, Sir, we don’t have the manpower.”
Pierce shot Hurley an angry look, but the old veteran didn’t flinch. “Make it happen, Commander.”
“Tactical. Load missiles. Target the cruiser off our port bow.”
One of the heavy cruisers had positioned itself in front of the Vanguard while the other two tried to flank it. The battleship closed in on the Vanguard’s stern. They had to break out of this box, or they were done for.
“Missiles loaded, Sir,” said the tactical officer.
“Fire missiles. Target cruiser with all available offensive weapons.”
“Missiles away. Reorienting energy weapons and pulse cannons.”
“Don’t we have coil guns?”
“The coil guns are offline, Sir.”
Pierce looked up at the viewscreen. The energy weapons hit first, burning away at the cruiser’s armor, while the Vanguard cannons tried to punch their way through. The missiles followed close behind, streaking through the void toward their target. The Juttari cruiser deployed countermeasures, belching forth blazing drones in multiple directions, attempting to lure the missiles away from their target. Like most battleships the Vanguard had an imposing array of weaponry, which included the ability to fire a formidable amount of missiles at the enemy. Many of the missiles targeting the Juttari warship were fooled by the drones and gave pursuit, but their sheer number insured that some continued toward the cruiser. Pierce watched as each missile crashed into the cruiser’s point defense shield, hoping they would break through the fiery halo surrounding the enemy ship.
He turned back to his console, calling up a damage report on the enemy cruiser. None of the missiles found their target. Only the energy weapons and pulse cannons hit, causing significant damage. Not enough to destroy her, but it was a start.
How much more can she take? A few more rounds should break her apart.
“Juttari battleship is firing missiles,” said the tactical officer. “As are the cruisers on our port and starboard flanks.”
They’re moving in for the kill
. “Deploy countermeasures. Reload missile tubes and continue firing on the lead cruiser.”
The Juttari battleship spewed forth a daunting array of missiles, while the cruisers launched their own salvos. The Vanguard fired off dozens of its own drones to distract the enemy rockets converging on it. The countermeasures raced off into a myriad of different directions, buying the Vanguard time as it ran the Juttari gauntlet. The incomplete point defense shield proved to be her Achilles heel, however. The point defense shield destroyed most of the Juttari missiles, but the rest found the gap. Several missiles followed each other through the opening and plowed into the Vanguard’s hull in successive waves.
The first two missiles compromised the thick armor, leaving a major vulnerability for the third to exploit. The impact sent shockwaves throughout the massive battleship. Pierce gripped the sides of his console to brace himself as a fourth missile found its mark.
“Reading multiple hull breaches,” shouted Hurley. “Deploying emergency containment fields.”
Pierce watched as the Vanguard fired another round of missiles at the enemy cruiser blocking their way out.
Come on. Get through.
The cruiser deployed more decoys to distract the missiles, but again they couldn’t deceive all of them, and several Vanguard missiles continued toward their target. Pierce cringed as the cruiser’s point defense shield destroyed each and every one.
That’s ok. I’m not done with you yet.
“Retarget energy weapons and pulse cannons,” ordered Pierce. “Focus on the lead cruiser’s railguns. I want a hole in that point defense shield.”
Come on, give me something to shoot at.
“Battleship is firing more missiles,” said the tactician.
“Deploy countermeasures. Keep firing on the lead cruiser.”
“Captain,” came a voice from behind Pierce.
He wheeled around to see a Diakan in a military uniform standing a few feet away. Pierce knew enough about the Diakan military to recognize the rank. In Diakan terms he was the equivalent of a major.
“Captain,” said the Diakan again. “You have to jump away.”
“What? Who are you?”
“Major Ilthos. I am the leader of the Diakans on board this ship.”
“With all due respect, Major, the Juttari are invading the Sol System. We’re not jumping anywhere.”
“Captain, if you remain here you will be destroyed.”
“Then we’ll go down fighting,” snarled Pierce. “If anything we can buy the fleet some time.”
“You cannot allow the Vanguard to be destroyed.”
Several more missiles got through the Vanguard’s defenses and penetrated its hull. The impact sending Pierce hopping sideways several steps before he regained his balance.
“More hull breaches,” yelled Hurley. “Attempting to contain.”
“Captain, the jump technology is too important. It must be saved,” said Ilthos with as much emotion as a hunk of wood.
“Jump technology? Are you joking? Earth must be saved. That’s what is important.” Pierce turned to the tactician. “Fire missiles.”
“Belay that order,” commanded Ilthos. “Prepare to jump.”
The bridge crew looked at Pierce and the Diakan, momentarily unsure of who to obey.
“Diakan oversight on this mission is clear,” said Ilthos. “If the Vanguard is at risk, I am authorized to take action. Captain, you will comply, or you will be relieved of duty.”
Pierce bristled, but Walsh had explained that the Diakans had oversight power. They could veto his order, maybe even take his command. He considered their situation again. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and understaffed. They didn’t have a hope in hell of winning this battle. This was the only human ship with a jump system. As much as he hated to admit it, the Diakan was right.
Forgive me, Jessica.
“Jump status?” said Pierce, still glaring at the Diakan.
“Jump system is online. We are jump ready,” said the navigator.