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Chapter 52

      "Captain," the com said, it was Korfas' voice

      Jeremy growled. What did the gods have against him? Couldn't he get one day to himself, with Toom? After four months of dealing with all those humans making a mess of his ship, didn't he deserve one day of peace and quiet? He'd been sure Korfas could handle having the bridge for the day. He'd grown in the half year since he'd come on board, and he was more level headed when dealing with the humans, these days, than Jeremy was.

      With a sigh he turned over, and away from Toom, and grabbed his com. "Yes." It took a lot of effort to keep his annoyance out of his voice.

      "You need to come to the bridge, sir."

      "Are you sure you can't handle this yourself?"

      "Yes, sir, I'm sure."

      "Alright. Let me grab a shower, and I'll be right there."

      "I . . . I think we can handle the scent of your mate being over you."

      That made Jeremy sit up. It wasn't exactly proper etiquette to show up to work smelling of sex. For Korfas to say it would be okay meant he was worried.

      "I'll be right there." Jeremy got out of bed.

      "Where are you going?" asked a sleepy Toom.

      "The bridge."

      "Aww, let Korfas deal with it. Come back to bed."

      "I can't, he's worried about something."

      Tomm let out a jaw cracking yawn. "You want me to come?"

      "No, go back to sleep, one of us should get to fully enjoy his day off."

      He put on a clean pair of pants, grabbed his jacket and was out the door.

      * * * * *

      "Alright," Jeremy said as he entered the bridge, "what's happening."

      "We have . . . something on the scans, about half a light year away."

      "Something?" half a light year was at the edge of their range, but they should get more than just 'something'.

      Korfas nodded to the tech seated at the scan board, and the main screen was filled with the vastness of space, with something in the middle of it. Jeremy frowned, what was that? The only way he could tell there was something there, was the distortion it caused against the stars behind and near it.

      Korfas joined him, and quickly sniffed the air.

      "You said I shouldn't bother with a shower," Jeremy remarked, not taking his eyes off the screen.

      "Sorry. It's not emitting anything we can detect, the scan results are as fuzzy as the image the cameras are giving us."

      "Any idea how big it is?"

      "As best as we can determine, the distortion is close to a hundred meters across, but we have no way of knowing if that's the size of something within it, or even if there is anything inside."

      "As anyone been by here before? Any reports of strange phenomenons?"

      "No, we're inside the unclaimed territories, if anyone has been here before they haven't reported it."

      Jeremy went to the communication board. Tamirik sniffed once, before saying. "Hi, pa."

      "Hey Tamirik. I know, I smell." He looked through the directory.

      "It's okay, I'm used to it. I lived in the same quarters as you for years, but it's strange just smell Toom on you." Her voice was wistful.

      "I miss him too." He found the sensor lab and called it. "Huar."

      "I'm here," the male said, entering the bridge.

      Jeremy looked up, surprised.

      "I called him, right after I called you," Korfas said.

      "Good call," Jeremy commented.

      Huar took the tech's place at the board. "Before you ask. This isn't caused by the sensor. I did a check before coming here. What ever problems we've been having on the ship has not affected them. I'm preparing to cycle a pulse, if there's a generator in there, powering the field, it'll tell us."

      "When ever you're ready," Jeremy said.

      "I've set the result to over impose on the main screen. Pulse is go."

      Jeremy, and everyone else, watched the distortion, waiting to see what would happen, so they were caught by surprise when six points lit up around the distortion, instead of anything happening there.

      "Huar, run the harmonics against the database!" he quickly dialed the gunner Chief. "Girgan, I want all the guns maned."

      "Yes, sir."

      Next he dialed 'all ship' "this is the captain, we will probably come under attack. All civilians are to go to the core. All military personnel, go to your position. This is not an exercise, I repeat, this is not an exercise."

      "Get ready to field calls," he told his daughter. It had been a long time since they'd had to do this.

      With this done he went back to the center of the bridge, looked at the screen, where Huar had brought back the six lit points. Six generators, that meant six ships. Who could they be? They had to be humans, nothing else made sense.

      "Huar, who are they?"

      "I don't know, sir. The harmonics aren't matching up with anything, and there's something strange about them. Like they're distorted. I've never seen anything like that."

      "How can they not be in the database?" Korfas asked, moving next to Huar. "I thought we'd pulsed everyone one over the years."

      Six ships, humans. Why here, why now?

      "We have," Huar answered. "If it was just that they wouldn't in the database, I'd say they are brand new ships, but this distortion, this is new. Even a new ship shouldn't show anything like that. I'm going to cycle another pulse, maybe I can get more precise readings, now that I know what to expect"

      Why? They were after them, that was obvious. Why draw them to this distortion? Humans were devious. They never attacked facing you, if they could find a way to stab you in the back. They would prefer to hide and ambush you . . .

      "Don't!" Jeremy yelled. "Don't pulse." He went back to the communication board. "Girgan, do not power up the weapons. Have them manned, but powered down, until I give the order."

      Everyone on the bridge was looking at him.

      "Captain?" Huar asked, "I need another pulse, to get an idea of what's causing this."

      "They're shielding their generators." That got him strange looks. He indicated the empty space on the screen. "They found a way to make themselves invisible to our sensors, so they had to do the same for the generators."

      "It didn't really work then, we still saw something, even if it didn't make any sense."

      "Yes, but I don't think they know that."

      Huar's eyes lit up. "They haven't been able to test the shielding. They don't have pulse tech, since we haven't make it available to anyone else in the federation."

      "So," Korfas continued, "if we do a second pulse, we'll reveal we saw them, since that would be the only reason to do so. What do we do then?"

      "This is an ambush," Jeremy stated. "The only advantage we have, is the element of surprise, so we need to maximize that."

      The door opened, and Toom entered.

      "I though I told you to stay in bed," Jeremy said.

      "You know I hate sleeping alone," Toom answered, giving him a nuzzle, before heading for the pilot's chair. "I was done with my shower when the 'all ship' went through. We're in trouble, this is where I belong."

      "Alright, then take us toward the anomaly, at a very safe speed. That's why it's there, to attract us, kelsirian curiosity, and all that. So lets go see what it is, assuming it could be dangerous. That will give us time to figure out something. Huar, keep scanning it. Let them think we don't know about the ambush."

      Everyone focused on their boards. Tamirik was fielding calls, mostly from humans, based on her English. Korfas and Huar were talking. Jeremy looked at the screen again. Six ships, completely unknown, there was no way they could take them on, they needed to run. But without knowing what they were facing, he couldn't know what they could do.

      Someone said something that didn't quite register to Jeremy, but was enough to make him look around, and then at Huar and Korfas. "What did you just say?"

      Both of them looked at one another, and then at Jeremy.

      "You were talking, what did you say?"

      Huar hesitated a moment. "I said, that I wondered how they were fooling our sensors"

      "And I said," Korfas continued, "that I wonder if it's only elecronic sensors that are fooled."

      "Right!" Jeremy exclaimed. "Tamirik, get me Thuruk."

      "Thuruk here," his voice came over the com after a moment.

      "Thuruk, I need you to send someone in each of the recreation rooms that has a view of space."

      There was a long silence. "They're on their way. Why am I sending them there?"

      "There are six ships before us, that our sensors can't see. I'm hoping that organic sensors aren't affected."

      "As soon as they are in place I'll let you know what they see."

      Jeremy nodded to himself, as the communication ended.

      "Do you know who they are?" Korfas asked.

      "Humans. It has to be the humans."

      "Why would they ambush us?"

      "Ignoring the vendetta they've had against me for decades, we have over three hundred Leafers."

      "Which they wanted us to take off their hands."

      "Yes, but that doesn't mean they want them to live. Leafers are proof of how they've been subjugating some of their people. They would rather destroy all of them, then letting them settle peacefully. We're in the middle of nowhere. There aren't any trade routes near here. They destroy us, and it will be years before anyone figures out what happened. We'll just be another lost ship. If they're clever about it, they could even arrange it so there aren't any trace of the attack."

      "How could they do that? Weapons leave distinct impact marks."

      "They could weaponize debris, or even small meteorites, then it looks like just another accident."

      Korfas shivered. "Humans really are that devious?"

      Jeremy nodded

      "No wonder they get along so well with the Taournians."

      "Any idea on how we can get out of this?"

      "We can always wait for the Gods to intervene."

      Jeremy looked at Korfas to confirm he wasn't serious. "Lets consider that the backup plan."

      "Until we know more about the ships, we can't plan much."

      "Captain," Thuruk said. "We have visual on six ships, of a design I've never seen before."

      "What are they doing?"

      "They're moving away from each other. The logical move is for them to encircle us."

      Jeremy wasn't happy, but he wasn't surprised either. "Let me know if things change." He looked at the screen. "The one advantage we have, is that they want us alive for the moment."


      "I don't know. Maybe they want to torture them, or 'cure' them. But you can be sure that what ever else they are planing on, destroying us is part of it."

      "Captain," Toom said. "I know Thuruk said he's never seen those ships before, but there's only a specific numbers of ways to can build a ship. Someone from Structure might be able to determine what they can do."

      "Good idea." He nodded to Tamirik, who nodded back after a moment. "Sayane."

      "Here, captain."

      "Contact Thuruk, get your people with his, I need you to figure out what we can do against the ships surrounding us."

      "Yes, sir. What kind of readings do we have?"

      "None. Our scanners aren't getting anything from them. It's going to have to be entirely visual."



      "That isn't going to make the work easy."

      "What can I say, I thought you could use the challenge. Bring in Alix, he might be able to help pinpoint where their generators are."

      "Can't we use a pulse to find out where they are?"

      "Not without having the ships on sensors first," Huar said, before Jeremy could.

      "How far from the distortion are we?"

      "About a quarter of a light year," Toom answered. "We're going as slow as we can, without making them think we're afraid of it."

      "Anything on the distortion?"

      "Still too far to get anything precise, but I'm confident that what ever is in it, is smaller than the distortion."

      Jeremy nodded. "Is there any way we can use a pulse to blind them?"

      Huar thought it over. "I don't see how. The pulse itself is a fraction of a second. I guess that in theory, it would be possible to boost the duration, and the power of the pulse, but I couldn't even make an attempt at it in the time we have."

      Korfas sighed. "This is when I think a chair would be a nice thing to have on the bridge."

      "You can have one on your own ship," Jeremy replied. "I happen to believe we think better on our feet." He looked at Tamirik. "Get me Sayane."

      "Here captain."

      "Quick question. If we were to ram an object, about a hundred meters all around. What kind of damage to the ship should I expect."

      "Depends what kind of object, what is it made out of?"

      Jeremy looked at the distortion. "Let's say it's a shuttle."

      "At full speed? It might pierce the hull. You'd want to make sure all the personnel has been evacuated from the impact area, maybe two section deep, just to be safe."


      "What are you thinking?" Korfas asked.

      "That not matter what, we can't take them on in a direct fight. We need to run. I'm remembering that over all, humans like to play it safe. They have an expression: 'to err on the side of caution'. They see an obstacle, and they do their best to go around it. I'm thinking that they won't expect us to ram whatever is causing the distortion."

      "They can still chase us."

      "That's why we need to cripple them."

      "What if we can't find anything vital to shoot at?"

      "Their engines are still visible. In fact, so long as they are moving toward us, they have to remain visible, and parallel. Toom, how much time to you need to get us to full speed?"

      "Depends on how much power Alix can give me."



      "Forget the enemy ships. I need you to give us as much power as possible, both generators. Bring down anything outside the core to the bare minimum."

      "Yes, sir"

      "Tamirik, have the front of the ship vacated, four section deep."

      "The gunners?"

      Jeremy cursed. "No, they have to remain at their post." Hopefully hitting the distortion wouldn't kill any of them



      "Anyway to give your gunners a visual without powering the guns?"

      "No, sir. The guns point inside when powered down."

      "Alright. Instruct the gunners to aim at the engines. Our goal is to cripple them. We have no way to know how fast they are, so the more damage to their engines the better."

      "I'll instruct them and wait for your signal."


      "Yes, sir."

      "Where are the ships?"

      "One is in front of us, slightly higher. The other five are coming along side."

      "Alix! Time is of the essence here."

      "I know! I'm working as fast as I can. If you're not happy with my performance, feel free to come do the work in my place."

      "I take it, by your tone, that you haven't out done my improvements to the generators, then."

      The expletives that came over the com made Korfas' jaw drop, and many ears on the bridge turned red. Jeremy just chuckled. Five minutes later the light on the bridge dimmed.

      "There, you have everything I can spare. Just don't breath too heavily, you might over load the atmospherics."

      "Thuruk, tell me when most of the enemy's engines are visible to our gunners."

      "Well, except for the ship in front of us, now would be a good time."

      "Girgan! Fire at will!"

      A moment later the main screen indicated the battery of missiles being launched.

      "Captain?" Toom asked.

      "Not yet," Jeremy replied. "Thuruk, I need to know when we've done significant damage to their engines." The ship shook.

      "In case you haven't noticed," Thuruk said. "We're taking fire."

      On the screen, one of the enemy ship became visible.

      "Huar, give me a scan of it!"

      "On it."

      The ship shook again, and something, in the distance, exploded.

      "We've lost two section on the port side," someone said, "nothing vital, no casualty."

      Gods, Jeremy hoped that had been enough time. "Toom, maximum speed. Ram the distortion and get us out of here."

      Jeremy didn't feel anything as the ship sped up. That was good, meant the gravitics were intact. Based on the scan Huar had done, the enemy ships were about the same size as his. While he didn't know how fast they could go, he had the advantage for the moment, they had to turn around, even without damage, that would give him the lead. The question was, could he maintain it.

      "How far are we from our territory?"

      "Twelve light year," came the reply. Then the ship shook.

      "That was the distortion," Toom said.

      "I got a scan of it," Huar added. "It was a bouyee, ten meters across."

      "At the speed we're going, the damage is still going to be significant," Toom added.

      "Any pursuit?"

      "They're out of sensor range."

      "I'm running a pulse sequence. On main." Every second a pulse went out, and updated the positions of the enemy ships. "Two are still shielded, the other four aren't, I'm registering the harmonics." On the next pulse there were only five ships. "Looks like one blew up."

      "I think the Gods meddled," Korfas deadpanned.

      "You can thank them for me."

      Two of the ships were in pursuits.

      "Toom, how's our speed?"

      "We're maxed out, I think."

      "How long until we're in kelsirian territory?"

      "Four hours."

      "Send a distress call ahead." Jeremy said to Tamirik, and then looked at Korfas, "while you're thanking them, see if you can get them to put a patrol ship close by. Because I really don't think they are going to respect the border markers."

      "I'll see what I can do, captain."

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