Chapter 11 Surrender Or Die
THE five ships - a Panther Clipper, with four Osprey X attack craft, floated motionless in front of Winston and Albright's Asp. The Clipper had an unusual feature. Attached to its hull were several small to medium sized trade ships, all bearing evidence of an attack. Two Cobra Mk I's were attached to the underside. Three Adders were attached to the top, with a Harris dwarving them to one side. A shot-up Cobra Mk.3 was attached to the other side. The ships looked like barnacles, attached to a boat hull.

  In the Asp's cabin, the two crewmembers wondered what to do next. They didn't have much time...

"Incoming message, boys," said Jas in a slightly urgent tone.
"Chuck, get the fighters ready. I don't think this lot are going to be our friends. Jas, put them on screen please," said Winston.

  The scanner on the console was replaced by a new view. The view of the bridge of the Clipper, with its captain filling most of the picture. The captain appeared to be in his mid-forties, and looked slightly bad tempered.

"Greetings, Commander. Our message is simple, surrender or die," said the Clipper's captain.

Albright's hands expertly moved across the console, and four tiny fighters emerged from their bay in the underside of the Asp...

Winston laughed mirthlessly at the console, and saw the other commander scowl at him across the void. "No, you surrender or die," said Winston.
"OK, have it your way," said the Clipper's captain, who then abruptly terminated the connection.

  On the bridge of the Clipper, Captain Vega, a slaver wanted throughout the Federation and Alliance, but whose services were highly desired in the Empire, turned to his crew.

"OK, attack carefully, take out his shields. Comms, tell the Ospreys to get ready with the grappling system"
"Aye, Captain," said the weapons officer, a hard-bitten woman who had seen the worst sides of piracy.

  The comms officer called the Ospreys, and the formation began to move. Suddenly, without warning, the bridge lit up with the light of an exploding Osprey X!

"What the...?" shouted Captain Vega.
"The Asp seems to have launched some kind of interceptor craft! It's attacking the Ospreys! It's downed one!" yelled the helmsman, who had just witnessed the sudden attack through the viewscreen.

The comm channel suddenly came alive with the voice of Osprey 3's pilot. The man's voice was on the edge of panic!
"I'm hit! I'm hit! I've lost all my shielding!" yelled the voice.

  The scanner showed five objects rapidly moving - a large, yellow return turning towards the bulky Panther, and four tiny blue returns, two chasing Osprey 3, and one chasing Osprey 1 and 4 each. Suddenly, the sound of the shields screaming filled the bridge, as the Asp's 4MW beam laser began to rapidly deplete them.

"Weps, what are you doing! Disable that Asp now!" yelled the captain.
"I'm trying. He seems to be anticipating all my moves!" shouted the weapons officer in response.
"Drop the energy bomb! Quickly! Ospreys, power down immediately, we're dropping a bomb!" yelled the captain.

  It was too late for Osprey 3. It exploded in a blinding flash. Pieces of the wreckage clanked over the hull of the Panther, whose shields were now totally depleted by the onslaught of the 4MW beam laser. Confusion and panic reigned on the bridge. The two remaining Ospreys drifted helplessly with their propulsion systems shut down, the small fighters closing for the kill... and now the Asp was starting to damage the hull of the Clipper around the drive section!

  But an awesome weapon began to move from out of a pod on the rear of the Panther Clipper. The cylindrical object propelled itself about a hundred meters from the Clipper. The events of the next thirty nanoseconds were about to decide a battle. Inside the casing, the small nuclear device was detonated. Many gigajoules of energy suddenly streamed into a specially designed antenna which enhanced the massive electromagnetic pulse. The pulse travelled outwards from the bomb, as the heat from the reaction finally vapourized the bomb casing and antenna - their jobs now done. The wave of energy, travelling outwards at 300,000 kilometers a second expanded as a huge sphere...a sphere which the Asp and the interceptors, the only craft with sensitive electronic systems powered up, were waiting, unable to avoid the huge nova-like onslaught of energy...

  On the bridge of the Asp, Winston was happily monitoring the impending destruction of the Panther Clipper. Suddenly, there was a loud bang as every circuit breaker in the ship simultaneously tripped! Winston and Albright were plunged into darkness. The viewsystem was off, and the console was completely dark.

"Oh shit, I think we've been energy bombed!" yelled Winston

  Finally, the three-sixty degree viewsystem and the console came alive. Or at least, parts of it. Albright had reached down on the side of the console and had reset every circuit breaker he could find. However, the energy bomb had destroyed several of the viewsystem's cameras. At least the view forward was working.

"Jim, we're dead in the water!" yelled Albright, looking at the console.
"Holy cow, the drive's overrunning!" shouted Winston, pulling the drive's emergency stop.

  Winston quickly looked at the console, or what parts of the console had survived the shockwave. The energy bomb seemed to have destroyed some systems, and left others untouched. The scanner wasn't working, but the drive monitors were. The picture wasn't pretty - most of the ships systems were offline, and the shields had been completely depleted as they deflected as much energy as they could. Worse, they were now running on battery power alone, and the shields wouldn't get recharged! Winston pressed the APU start on the console, to try and bring up the standby generator. Nothing happened...

"Oh my," said Winston.
"I hate it when you say that," said Albright
"Oh my..." said Winston again, noting yet more damaged systems.
"Jim, the last two Ospreys are coming towards us with some kind of device," said Albright urgently, pointing at the ships which were slowly approaching the Asp.
"Oh my... I think the technical term for our state is 'we are buggered'," said Winston. Albright noted a look of concern that Winston seldom displayed.
"What next? We've got no weapons and we can't move!"
"Stay here. I'm going to try and manually start the APU. We can at least get weapons, manoevering thrusters and shields that way. Jas, try and get a damage report" said Winston, pulling himself out of his seat, springing into action.
"I can't," said Jas. "All my line drivers are blown. I can't communicate with any of the ship's systems"

  Oh great, thought Winston bitterly. Can't even get a damage report. He pulled open the flight deck door, and bolted through the living quarters. The gravity system chose that very awkward moment to suddenly go offline, as the standby battery began to deplete to dangerous levels. Winston suddenly found himself clawing at thin air, and hurtling towards the closed door of the equipment section.

"OOohyahh!" yelled Winston, as he collided heavily with the door and bounced off. He ended up bouncing all the way to the opposite end of the corridor that ran through the living quarters.

"Jim, they are getting close!" came Albright's slightly panicked voice through the ship's intercom.
"I'm trying to get there! See if there's any pressure left in the manoevering thrusters, you might be able to keep them away for a few moments and buy us some time!" responded Winston, as he propelled himself back towards the equipment section.

  Winston wrenched the door open, and propelled himself inwards, floating over the metal catwalks he usually walked over. He pushed himself towards the left of the equipment bay, using a handy shield generator as a platform. In the starboard forward corner of the equipment area sat a small, unsung machine whose normal life was to keep the ship's systems running while in dock, when the main drive was shut down. The small machine, about a meter long and half a meter high, was the auxilliary power unit. Winston reached out, and pulled himself towards the device.

"They're almost on top of us!" came Albright's voice, over the intercom!
"I'm at the APU now. I'm going to start it. Manoever the ship if you can!"

  Winston opened a panel on the unit. Inside was a number of valves, switches and gauges. Stuck to the panel's door was a checklist named "APU Emergency Manual Start". Winston began to read it.


  Winston reached down. Fuel valve? Where was that? He spotted a small lever marked "Manual Fuel", and turned it until it was in the On position. Now what?


  Okay, let's get fuel to the beast...Winston flipped a small switch marked "HP Fuel Pump". The reassuring sound of the pump spinning up came from somewhere at the base of the machine. Winston noticed that the fuel pressure gauge had come to life, indicating that premium grade military fuel was now in the system.


"Shit, Jim, they've attached something to the ship! I think they are about to pull us! I can't move the ship! There's no pressure in the thrusters!" came Albright's voice over the intercom.
"I'm working on it...once we have shields we should be able to shuck them off!" said Winston, as he held down the react start button.

  He could now feel a slight vibration from the machine. The small core temp gauge began to move. At least mechanical systems like this couldn't be destroyed by an energy bomb, even if the normal autostart system had been nuked. Winston thought he better read the next step before the temperature gauge got above the prescribed limit.


  Winston watched the gauge as it began to reach 2,000. Whilst continuing to hold the react start button, he reached over and turned on a switch marked "Containment". Reassuringly, a green light came on indicating that the containment field was operational...


The temperature continued to rise. Winston had to hold onto the APU as the ship jerked slightly.

"They're pulling us towards the Clipper!" came Albright's voice.
"I felt it. I've almost got it running," replied Winston.

Finally, the temperature reached 3,000. Winston released the react start button. Fortunately, the jerk the ship had received hadn't pulled his finger off the button. He reached over to the right hand side of the emergency start panel, and began turning a valve maked "HP Turbine Valve". More reassuring sounds began...the comforting whine of the turbine wheel spooling up...


"We're almost there! The turbine's coming up!" shouted Winston through the intercom.
"I think it's too late, we're almost at the Clipper!" came Albright's reply.

  Winston began to sweat. The turbine speed gauge crept seemingly slowly towards the 95% mark. The sound had now picked up to a high pitched whine, as the turbine got faster. Finally, the gauge indicated that it was time to engage the generator. Winston pulled a lever marked "Generator Engage". To his relief, the unit engaged with a clunk, and the ammeter began reading current as the superconducting windings of the generator began to move briskly through a magnetic field. Gravity began returning to the ship, fortunately slowly because Winston was floating a little bit off the metal flooring.

"The APU is running! Reset the breakers for the shielding systems!" yelled Winston.

  On the bridge, Albright reached below the console and found the shielding system's breakers. He pulled the switches. The shield power indicator showed that they were charging. Suddenly, there was several flashes from the Osprey's grappling system as they began interacting with the now live shields! The grapplers were violently thrown off the Asp's hull!

"Jim, the Ospreys have let go!" yelled Albright.
"Excellent! You should also have weapons power and pressure in the manoevering thrusters. See if you can disable the Clipper!"

Albright looked up through the fragmented view left by the partially operational viewsystem. There was more trouble fact it was filling the entire forward view and slowly but surely getting closer!

"Jim, we have a new problem! We're drifting slowly towards the Clipper and we're going to hit it, or to be precise a Cobr..."

Albright's words were cut short, as the gut-wrenching sound of colliding durialium pierced the bridge. The Asp lurched to a halt, the shields once again depleted from the collision. The shields interacted violently with the Clipper's recharging shields, and it was a losing battle. Albright heard a loud click below the console as the breaker tripped from the overload. He reached down and reset the breaker, which tripped instantly, accompanied by a flash of light somewhere outside of the ship. Albright grabbed the control stick, and pulled the laser trigger. Four megawatts of beam laser began discharging into the Cobra that was tethered to the Clipper! The laser soon sliced through the Cobra, but it was too late...the Ospreys had returned with their grappling equipment. One of the Ospreys opened fire, strategically targeting the Asp's manoevering thrusters!

"Jim, we're now buggered, as you put it!" yelled Albright, finally resigned to their fate.
"It's not over yet!" came Winston's voice over the intercom.

  A few seconds later, Winston arrived back on the bridge. Albright noted that he looked worried, but a sly smirk had now begun to move across his face.

"You know what, people of today don't think of antique weapons," he said.
"What do you mean?" asked Albright, as Winston began to fish in the small cabinet at the back of the flight deck. He pulled out two small red objects, with a little cross in a shield at one end.
"This," he said, "is something called a Swiss army knife. Hasn't been manufactured for a millenia. You open it like this - " Winston pulled out a blade, "and then use it to inflict severe pain on an attacker. Shove it down your pants, they won't think to check there", he said, tossing one of the knives across to Albright. "Don't worry, the weapons scan they'll undoubtedly do will probably think it's a belt buckle," said Winston.

Albright looked at the object, and did as Winston said.

"But we'll only need to use them if this fails," said Winston, pulling out a prize possesion from the cabinet.
"What the planet of hell is that?" asked Albright, looking at the black tube that was attached to a large, wooden stock.
"It's called a pump-action shotgun. This one's already seen action at Boston Base, Barnards's Star," said Winston, as he started putting small, green cartridges into the gun.
"You see, armour used to deflect energy weapons is useless against one of these. I'm surprised that more people haven't cottoned onto this fact," continued Winston as he pushed the last cartridges home.

  The ship jerked slightly as it contacted the hull of the Clipper. A strange grating noise began somewhere in the depths of the ship.

"Okay, I think they are trying to cut into the ship. They'll link the ships up...and board us..." said Winston. His voice suprisingly sounded very matter-of-fact.
"Should we get into pressure suits, and vent the air from the ship? That'll inconvenience them," said Albright.
"Nice thought, but I would bet they are expecting that and are already in pressure suits. If we don't suit gives us an advantage. We can manoever better," Winston stated. It sounded like he had done this before. He began ferreting around in the cabinet again, and pulled out a long, wooden object.

"Here, take this. Hide behind the door, and whack them with it when they come in...assuming they survive the shotgun," said Winston, handing the soevenir cricket bat he obtained from Sol some years ago.
"What is it?" asked Albright, looking over the smooth, wooden face.
"A Wilson's Cricket Bat. Sporting equipment I believe, however, it makes a good defensive weapon in a squeeze," replied Winston. "I nearly bought a Louisville Slugger instead, but I thought the cricket bat looked nicer".

  Albright looked at the object in slight bemusement. He gripped the handle and gave it a few experimental swings. It looked like it would do a good job. The grating noise stopped abruptly.

"OK, I think they are aboard. Hide behind the wall there, and as soon as you see one of them, just whack them as hard as you can," said Winston, in preparation.

  Albright slid back between the back wall of the flight deck and the co-pilot's seat. Winston pulled back between the captain's seat and the rear wall. He peeked around the corner of the open flight deck door so he could see when their assailaints were coming to get them. Tense minutes went by. The distant sound of the still-running APU and the recirculation fans was all they could hear.

  The sound of movement finally came. Winston gripped his shotgun, and slid the mechanism. It made a satisfying click. He slid the safety catch off. Albright brought the bat back, ready to strike at whoever or whatever came through the door. Odd scraping noises floated up the flight deck access ladder, followed by the sound of more than one person climbing up. Winston peeked around the corner once more to see a space-suited head appear at the top of the stairwell.

They waited as the footsteps started to get closer...

  Winston quickly slid out from his position, brandishing his weapon. There were four space-suited figures moving up the short flight deck access corridor. The nearest one was only two meters from the door! They were all armed. The lead man started to raise his weapon...

Winston already had his shotgun ready.

He squeezed the trigger...


© 2000 Dylan Smith.

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