Left Behind (Ghosts Of War Book 4) (2 page)

BOOK: Left Behind (Ghosts Of War Book 4)
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V

The RSS “Zel’dovich” completed its course change, basically relying on its maneuver engines for the task. After burning a massive load of fuel in the last hour Captain Babushkin played it safe while Anuchin was trying to focus a direct radio transmission on the two habitats orbiting Charon. Meanwhile the EUSS “Roma” was approaching Pluto head-on at an impressive speed.

«Dmitry, any news?»

«Still getting no answer at all. There is the choice that their antennas are damaged or partially compromised. Our images of that habitats aren’t good enough to show every detail. And we don’t have that much data about the equipment they usually set up, of course.»

«What are you transmitting?»

«Uh, standard stuff. You know, pre recorded friendly messages in ten different languages from the fleet libraries. I don’t want to scare them, they might think that we’re a hostile battleship.»

«You know, we don’t have a clue about who’s on board. Keep trying on different set of frequencies, we have no need to keep it secret. By now our fleet command will acknowledge our previous transmissions, so we will report as soon as possible an update.»

The Russian ship continued its slow turn while its observation systems maintained a full coverage of Pluto and Charon. When Mikhail spotted another ship it wasn’t a real surprise, he knew that the worst was yet to come.

«We have a bogey coming out from Pluto. Dmitry, set up a visual confirmation and send a message to fleet command as soon as you can.»

«Why the fuss? It is…»

Anuchin’s voice dried up while looking at the newcomer. If the EUSS “Roma” dwarfed their ship, this giant of the deep space was simply enormous. There was only a ship that big, Dmitry had no need to check it for references on his database. The Chinese flagship, the infamous “Chang’e”, slowly came out from the shadow of the planet, its red navigation lights set out as an ominous warning.

«We are going to witness the end of the longest chase in human history, son.»

Mikhail was staring at the main screen, his expression distorted by hate.

«That damned bunch of cyborg has finally found its nemesis. This is gonna be awesome.»

« Mikhail, those Europeans don’t have a chance. I mean, look at size of that ship! It must have ten times the weapons of the “Roma”, it will be a massacre. We must go away, as fast as we can.»

«Boy, you’re wrong. Two times wrong. It’s true, the “Chang’e” is a giant. And it’s also true that we may be in danger being so close to the conflict zone. But you don’t remember what happened at the end of the war, do you?»

«What do you mean?»

«The Euros built two ship of that class. The “City of London” and the “Roma”. The first vessel took away the four biggest Chinese frigate ships in a single day, that happened in the second Enceladus battle. The latter, fighting alone, torched two battle stations and what was left of the Chinese fleet near Mars a few weeks after. This time size doesn’t matter. The “Roma” has been designed to destroy the “Chang’e” and this time the bastards will not escape their fate.»

«Maybe you’re right but we will be in danger as soon as the fight starts. We must change our course right now to be safe.»

«No way, son. I will not escape for all the money in the universe. Make yourself comfortable, you will have something to tell your children.»

Meanwhile the EUSS “Roma” accelerated again, slightly adjusting its course to meet its prey. Its dark shape, with no navigation lights lit, resembled a black arrow aimed at the very heart of the enemy. On the opposite side, the “Chang’e” changed course as well, accepting the challenge.    

 

VI

Aboard of the “Zel’dovich”, one of the radio receiver came back to life.

« RSS “Zel’dovich”, this is Commander Scatena from EUSS “Roma”. We have detected your present route, it looks like you’re approaching the conflict zone.»

The voice of the European officer was heavy with tension and anger, almost arrogant.

«Captain Mikhail Babushkin from “Zel’dovich” here, sir. We will be out of the conflict zone, our current course will lead us in the vicinity of Charon.»

«Babushkin, I will tell you just once. Go away at maximum speed. Charon and Pluto are both inside the conflict zone.»

«Sir, I’m a Russian officer. Only the Russian fleet command may issue such an order.»

«Babushkin, let me be explicit. I don’t care about the whole Russian fleet, nor I do care about you or your ship. I’m gonna wipe out any Chinese ship or habitat that I can target and some of my weapons have nuclear warheads. If you want to die, it’s your choice.»

For a minute the two Russian crew mates looked at each other, both puzzled by the situation. 

«Mikhail, I know that you want to stay here but we can’t…»

«Shut up! I don’t care if that bloody Italian is a war hero or anything else. There is a ban about the use of nuclear weapons, do you remember that? And nobody can command to a Russian crew to go away. We’re under orders from our command and we will not leave.»

«And what if that Euros just don’t care about us and fire all around nukes? If we get caught by a IEM pulse we’re dead, not to mention a direct blast. As you tell me before, this is not a battleship.»

Babushkin was back at his desk, activating once again the main engines.

«Let’s see if that Italian has the guts to declare a war. We will go on, no matter the odds.»

***

On the main screen of the “Roma” the acceleration of the Russian ship was put in evidence, two green arrows were added to the icon representing “Zel’dovich”. A subroutine plotted the expected course of the scientific vessel, with projection of speed and time of arrival in the proximity of Charon. The second officer turned his attention to his commander, awaiting instructions.

«Let’em be. Our plan will not change, for now. Should they alter again their course, we’ll see what to do.» 

Scatena’s voice was the only human-made sound on the deck. The crew was quite busy tracking the progress on the enemy ship and the relative positions of the four habitats. In the low-level lights of the monitors their black round helmets resembled robot heads. Almost everything else was in black or white, with the exception of the flashing ‘red alert’ symbol on every console. The commander sat quiet, listening to the low vibrations of his ship. Twenty-one years after its last fight it was still perfect, with enough power and weapons to level down an entire fleet. On his personal screen the image of “Chang’e” was getting bigger, its prow ridden with weapons and sensors.

 

VII

Hope was a forbidden word aboard 81-Qīxī dì. Year after year of captivity, for many of the prisoners decades of slavery under inhuman conditions, it was more than enough to break even the strongest will. Even in such conditions, some of them managed to keep up their spirits. They knew that war was over and they also knew that someday the constant hunger for new resources will drive some ship near Pluto. When they spot the little fleet of assault vehicles move out from the Charon’s orbit, they knew that the long-awaited choice was at hand.

Ten old cyborgs. Most of them with minor malfunctions. One without the right leg. All of them so used to be obeyed that the concept of keep watch was remote in their logic minds. But hope is not logic, nor could be denied. A forbidden word became a spark, able to ignite all the rage and frustration built up for too many years. The human population of 81-Qīxī dì hunt and destroyed every cyborg aboard, tearing them apart with bare hands and work tools. In a matter of a quarter hours the five hundred prisoners got back their liberty.

It was one of the older inmates, a former lieutenant of US Space Fleet, who finally managed to enter in the communication center to transmit an SOS. After him, more and more inmates came in the room, staring without speaking at the main screen. None of them was able to recognize the EUSS “Roma” or the RSS “Zel’dovich” but the silhouette of the Chinese flagship was obvious and all the veterans could see that one of the unknown vessels was a warship. Some of them wept, others abandoned the room to find a more private place to pray.

82-Qīxī dì, the twin structure orbiting Charon, hosted a similar uprising. The difference was about the number of cyborgs, there were just five of them, and in the nature of the attack. Aboard the habitat there was a generation of humans born in captivity, people who had never seen the blue skies of Earth. Their rage was so great that they tossed the remains of their wardens in space. Without radio or laser emitters, they started to signal their presence blinking the navigation lights, once again using the old Morse code as suggested by one of the few elders. With few exosuits available and no vehicles they were trapped.

The automated SOS from 81-Qīxī dì was transmitted on every radio channel available, its signal pushed forward by the hope of one thousand humans.  

 

VIII

«Mikhail, listen. It looks like a regular signal from one of the habitats, it’s barely audible.»

Babushkin harked for a while, both hands on his earplugs.

«Boy, this is Morse code. Don’t they teach it anymore at the academy? Three short, that’s an ‘S’, three long and that’s an ‘O’ and again the ‘S’. Do you understand now?»

«They are still alive, aren’t they?»

«Maybe yes, maybe it’s a trap. Get every Watt available on that transmitter and focus the transmission on that habitat. Start with a simple message in English and use the Morse code, you will find a translator in the transmitter options.»

«Have you already figured how to discriminate a real prisoner from a cyborg?»

«Not yet, I will make up something. We’re already on the move, I will resume optical surveillance. If it’s a trap they have to get ready with some kind of ship, isn’t it? So, as soon as I spot something like that we will break contact and move away as fast as we can.»

Both crew mates got themselves busy, recording everything for further examination by the Russian fleet command. In a matter of minutes Mikhail was able to spot the light pattern change on the second habitat and to recognize the same SOS message.

«All right, this is for the record. Detected a Morse sequence, S-O-S, made with the service lights from one the habitats orbiting Charon. We also have a radio transmission, carrying the same message, from the another. That will give us the hypothesis of a human-based control of both installations. The European ship “Roma” threatened to launch missiles against any Chinese structure orbiting Charon and Pluto, in open violation of a number of treaties. Our ship has no combat capability, so we can’t act directly in defense of non-combatants.»

The commander encoded the message with all the records of radio transmissions and the latest set of images, then sent the package to the Russian fleet command.

«Dmitry, try to get a direct response as fast as you can. I have all the kind of bad feelings about this situation. Soon both ships will launch missiles and drones, then everything will get more and more dangerous for us and for the people aboard that habitats.»

«So you get our asses covered with the last message. Do you think that there will be an official inquiry?»

«Sure like Hell. Every goddamn bureaucrat of the command will file some kind of complaint against us, no matter how perfect our track record will be. With this mission I’m done with active duty but you have a career to build.»

Before Anuchin could answer another message was received and translated from Morse.

«Mikhail, listen. “Human prisoners gained control of both habitats. Stop. We need help. Stop. There are no humans in the habitats orbiting Pluto. Stop.”.»

«Answer them and get some ID, we can check’em out on the POW/MIA database. Tell’em we are Russians and ask if there’s any of our country mates there.»

«Are you thinking about Yari?»

«No. I just hope he didn’t suffer much when his time came.»         

 

IX

Minutes passed by while the slow message exchange between the “Zel’dovich” and the prisoners expanded. Name and previous rank of a number of POW were verified by the Russian crew and transmitted to their fleet command. The basic figures of the human population aboard both habitats and a score of medical issues were delineated, in order to organize a rescue as soon as possible. The main problems were about the short-term sustainability of the basic life conditions aboard 81-Qīxī as they were very short of hydrazine. On the surface of Charon there was an automated power plant with enough output to satisfy the needs of all habitats but without workable ships it was unavailable at all. Anuchin was also very cautious about sharing his knowledge about the incoming battle. The menace of nuclear warheads made by the Europeans was unbearable.

Meanwhile the Russian ship was traveling at its maximum speed, following an elliptical route to avoid the main battle zone.

«All right, we have a twenty-one minute ETA for rendezvous with the first habitat. The main deceleration phase will start in eight minutes and thirty seconds from now.»

«Very good, Mikhail. I’m encoding the last message for central command. What do you think about that hydrazine problem?»

«Well, if that story about the plant on the Charon’s surface is real we could try to ferry some of its output to the habitats. I’m more than a bit worried about the situation that we will find there. Our protocol set up a mandatory quarantine period, those poor bastards will have to wait no less than six months to go away from that Chinese tin can. If we get direct contact with any of them we will get the same treatment.»

«We will get a lot of confinement anyway. When they will see the images of those Chinese ghosts riding that goddamned little ships we will get under lock and key until some Pope will declare us free from their influences.»

Babushkin growled a curse, his aversion for anything tied to religion was well-known in the whole Russian fleet.

«Any change out there?»

«Nope. They are running at full tilt, straight ahead. Missiles will start flying anytime.»

«You know, I’m running a bit of simulation here. If both ships are fully loaded this part of the solar system will be radioactive for centuries.»

«Yeah, I figured that. But I think that both are low on nukes. That bloody Italian told me about some missiles with a nuclear warhead. For what I know, in the last days of the war they were carrying a full cart of nukes. Maybe the Chinese are in the same situation, saving the best shots for a closer range.»

«We will became one Hell of a target.»

«Right. But maybe we can save of the habitats. Or both. Two lives against a thousand or so. There are worst ways to die.» 

«Do you really think that Scatena will attack all the habitats?»

«Dmitry, you heard the man. He’s taking no chances. We can only hope for a miracle.»      

 

BOOK: Left Behind (Ghosts Of War Book 4)
10.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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