Authors: David VanDyke
Table of Contents
Tactics of Conquest
Admiral Henrich Absen felt an instant of relief as the automated voice of
’s computer shattered his nightmare. In the dream he’d been back in the
, staring at the message that outlined the destruction of Los Angeles. Knowing the bombs killed his family was hell, and knowing that his own failure to stop the other sub’s nuclear missile launch had doomed them had been hell’s lowest circle.
Nothing could be as horrible as reliving that all over again.
The noise sent him reaching for the khaki trousers draped over the nearest chair before he even came awake. Once he had them on he grabbed his shoes, socks and shirt, and bolted out his quarters door.
Klaxons wailed as the advisory repeated. In the few steps to the bridge he managed to pull the shirt on, and he threw himself into his flag chair as soon as he crossed the threshold. “Kill the noise and report,” he snapped.
Captain Mirza in the Chair waved at Johnstone at the CyberComm station and turned to Absen. “One of the sensor drones picked up something inbound at high speed. That alerted the big Sekoi array on Enoi, which took a look. It’s a Meme Destroyer.”
“Point seven relative. If it does not decelerate, it will cross the orbit of New Jove in four hours, but we won’t see that time-delayed light until it’s another hour in.”
Absen nodded. “Got it. Can we seed its path with mines?”
“No, sir. We’re out of position. We can fire missiles, but at that speed we’ll be lucky to get any hits unless we manage to maneuver them directly in front of it.”
“Which won’t do a terrible lot.”
“No, sir.” Mirza lowered his head and shot the admiral a raised-eyebrow look. “This is what we’ve been waiting for, sir. I know you don’t want to, but we have to ask
to do it. And, it will give us a real look at his capabilities…things he’s only claimed.”
Absen nodded. “At least he has some living crew aboard. Assuming things go our way – and we have no reason to believe otherwise – it will be a victory for all of us.
and her people will just have to wait their turn.”
Mirza folded his hands tightly, elbows on the Chair’s arms. “I’ve taken the liberty of maneuvering toward the point of interception. That way we’ll be as close as possible, and you never know. We might have a chance to do something.”
“Good idea. Carry on.” Absen leaned down to put his socks and shoes on. “COB, you got a cup for me?”
From his seat near the rear of the circular bridge, Chief Timmons pulled a battered metal mug out of a cubbyhole and filled it from an even more battered stainless-steel coffee dispenser bolted to the floor. He handed it across to the admiral without moving his own cup, which rested one-handed on his ample gut.
Absen tasted it. “Been stripping paint again, COB?”
“Can’t abide that weak sauce the mess serves, sir.”
Absen snorted and sipped again. “Well, at least I’ll be wide awake for the big show. Captain,” he turned back to Mirza, “you mind bringing up the holotank?”
“Yes…I’m waiting to see that myself. Sensors?”
Commander Scoggins snarled at her board as she repeatedly pressed keys, buttons, and touchscreens. Finally she mumbled something foul and reached beneath her brunette bob to plug in her link. A moment later the main holotank manifested itself in the center of the spherical bridge space, floating above the sunken cockpit where Chief Helmsman Okuda sat beneath his medusa.
Okuda of course had no need of the holotank; helmsmen were always fully linked into VR space, their chip-filled brains well trained to interpret the three-dimensional environment of the interplanetary void.
“We’re having a few problems with the boards,” Mirza said apologetically. “The links seem to work better, but even then…”
“Does it have anything to do with the new AI engineering?”
Mirza shook his head. “Shouldn’t be, sir. The AI isn’t connected in any way to ship systems yet, and it won’t be until it checks out completely.”
Absen grunted. “Not so sure about AIs. With these new systems we’re getting, it looks like we’ll need one, but…”
The bridge crew, including Mirza, kept silent, having heard the Old Man’s views on intelligent machinery many times.
Absen stood and walked over to look closely at the holotank. “The Destroyer’s coming in well off the plane of the ecliptic. Looks like he won’t be able to hit much of anything unless he slows down and maneuvers.” By tradition dating back to the first attack on Earth, alien ships were all referred to as “he,” whether friendly or enemy.
“Might be just a reconnaissance in force. Blow through, get a close look. Decel and attack or speed up and run, depending on what they see.”
“And what will they see?” Absen put his hand out, waving it through the hologram. “
, the defense installations we have built over the last ten years since we conquered this system, a dozen Hippo heavy cruisers…”
Absen touched the glowing icon that represented the Ryss superdreadnought. “Out in the asteroid belt. Do you think the Meme have spotted him?”
“No way to tell. He’s not giving off a lot of signature, as he’s just mining and manufacturing
’s upgrades, and making his…sibling.”
“Do we know what he plans to do?”
Mirza shook his head in negation. “He’s behind us, relative to the enemy, so we saw the Destroyer first. We should be hearing from him in…” He turned to Johnstone with a questioning look.
“About forty minutes, sir, at the earliest.”
Absen took the next forty minutes to eat a ready ration and take a quick walk around the ship. With only half a crew, she could fight, but he’d really rather not.
was an inverted teardrop three thousand meters in length and two in diameter, with enormously thick armor and weapons to match, and had been built to go head to head with a Destroyer and win that kind of slugfest, but battle meant casualties. Part of him wanted the fight, but his better judgment preferred a bloodless victory.
I just don’t have the people to lose
, he thought.
Not with only a few million humans here in the system, most of them children. Every one has become that much more valuable.
That bloodless victory would be especially welcome if it could be done so that the Destroyer couldn’t get a message off. In fact, he’d discussed this situation with his military council of humans, Ryss and Sekoi. Desolator claimed, with complete confidence, that he could kill any single Meme ship so suddenly that it would not be able to report how it happened.
Absen hoped the Ryss machine intelligence was right.
When he returned to the bridge, he picked up his cold mug of coffee and handed it to COB Timmons, who dumped the old and filled it with new steaming lifer-juice. That ritual, and a few sips, used up the time until the communication came through.
“On screen, gentlemen,” Johnstone said as he played Desolator’s message. Rich tones filled
Desolator to Conquest.
In accordance with previously discussed courses of action, I am maneuvering to engage the enemy. I calculate a 99.9999% probability that I will eliminate this Destroyer and a 97.9673% probability that I will do so before it can send any transmission about my strike. The chance of failure represents the possibility that they maneuver during my TacDrive approach, or are transmitting a realtime update as they are vaporized. By the time you receive this, I and my crew will be on our way via TacDrive. We will engage at the coordinates in the accompanying data package.
“Here are the coordinates,” Scoggins said, and in the holotank a ruler-straight line connected
’s current position to a new, flashing icon. Another unbending line extended itself from the Destroyer, intersecting the engagement point. “Just about where we expected.”
Mirza cleared his throat. “That’s assuming the Destroyer doesn’t maneuver, as he mentioned. If he does,
will miss his interception.”
Absen waved a confident hand. “But with the new TacDrive system, he has three jumps before he has to fall back on fusion drive, and even then he can chase the bastard down.”
“Just not before the Meme get a message off.”
“A message that will still take years to get anywhere, and then years more before the Meme react.”
Mirza continued acting the devil’s advocate, as he often did with his admiral. “But if that happens, they will respond with overwhelming force.”
Absen smiled without humor. “If that happens, we’ll just have to hope our plans, our strategy and our tactics can overcome
“Desolator: what is your intended tactic?” Chirom asked into the air. He glanced across the triangular central space at the scattering of watchstanders of all three races. Only a skeleton crew was aboard, and some had not reached the bridge yet. Those already here seemed nervous, especially the Apes and Hippos.
Chirom suspected that their fingers hovered near their manual bypasses, the ones that cut Desolator’s control and gave it back to their boards. These switches could not, by themselves, shut down the AI, but having them was a condition of returning full function to the machine mind that had almost killed them all.
Another condition was that the Desolator AI’s residence chamber, visible over Chirom’s left shoulder, would no longer have any means of defending himself – not even doors. In the extreme case, his processors could always be smashed with the sledgehammers clamped to the walls.