Chapter 24: King of the Gods

All the giant gas worlds that formed the hub of a mariner’s life bore the name jovian for this monster.  Not the biggest, the most colorful, nor the most graciously ringed; but in the hearts of Man, mighty Jupiter was forever king of the gods.  Floating gently above, the famous Jupiter Shipyards.  A divided sphere more than a kilometer across formed its core, dark gray and covered with lights.  From its estranged midpoint stretched a massive web of round structural beams and tubing, twenty kilometers across like skeletal wings.  A labyrinth of pressure bunkers and vast hangers, a kilometer wide and twice as long, punctuated the cage-like structure.  The central station comprised living and commercial space in addition to the corporate headquarters of Lockhard Astronautics.  A million and a half crew, staff and visitors could be found within on any given day.

            To avoid early detection the twelve warships and fast tanker of first wing jumped in beyond the Oort cloud.  A lee across, it was impossible to monitor more than tiny sections near the trade lanes.  Keep a league clear of them and you were gold.  Refueling the corsairs handsomely, the tanker retreated.  It would await their arrival at a rogue planet called Widsith, known to be roughly half-way between Sol and Tau Ceti, well off the beaten path.

            The warcraft formed a tight chevron and began to accelerate; three G, five, eight, twelve G.  Under central control of Iceni Queen’s helm, first wing initiated the terrible toad, a variant on the frog hop consisting of a five-second micro-shunt followed by a two-second drop to sublight.  The rupture formed was kept narrow and well off the bow, leaving the space behind unable to catch up and seal it.  The slightest misalignment would end them all but under the guidance of the Queen’s powerful navcomp they hurtled like black comets trailing vivid distortion waves behind them.  Twelve times they repeated the sequence, bringing the ships within a dozen planetary diameters of Jupiter before local control was restored.

            The sky was a vast ant farm under glass.  Legions of ships, every size and shape, raced along intricate pathways through the highest traffic system in colonized space.  Sensor reports indicated some eleven-hundred vessels of five-hundred tonnes of more.  At once, the entire system erupted in chaos, every channel overloaded with panicked and unintelligible noise as the planet’s great red eye gazed upon the orbiting shipyard, baring ominous and silent witness to the slaughter that would follow.

Ships, moving through the planet’s outer atmosphere to refuel, crashed into one-another, resulting in a long chain-reaction of impacts.  Some escaped with moderate damage; others were crippled and sank into the cloudy depths to be crushed under titanic pressures.  Five large naval vessels were careened securely in pens along the station’s vast wings; small patrol craft buzzed about, unsure of what to do.  In the offices of the Lockhard Corporation, people in expensive suits scurried about telling themselves this could not be happening.

            “Good,” Julian snarled over the fleet channel, blood pounding in his ears beneath his helmet, saliva spraying across the inside of his visor.  “Let every god that has come and gone see what we do here!”

            “Hazza!  Hazza!  Hazza!” they cried, the ships now fanning wide.

 

The Iceni Queen, eighteen-hundred and eleven souls aboard.  The Vercingetorix, four-hundred and sixty of the meanest sons a’ bitches ever set to space.  The Black Adder, Copper Head, and King Cobra; last survivors of the Pit Vipers save for Sidewinder leading second wing.  Two-thousand and fifty-nine all told, a third their numbers less than a month ago.  The Happy Ostrogoth, nine-hundred and thirty-three.  The Drunken Banshee, the Freya, and Valkyrie; three well feared crews made up of one-thousand and six fired-up bull dykes and ill-tempered drag queens who were constantly trying to lure Ursula and Kitty to their ranks to Julian’s great annoyance.  Still, the best parties always went down when the Valkyries were in port.  The Brotherhood, whose five smaller ships were with Floyd and second wing, was well represented here by Morgan’s Revenge and her crew of one-thousand, three-hundred and one.  A splendid, if slightly battered war galleon, second only to the Queen herself among the corsair armada.  Silent Knight, last surviving ship of the Neo Vandals, was a converted caravel manned by six-hundred and thirty-five seasoned cutthroats.  Smallest of the twelve was the Queen’s launch corvette, the Gae Bolga, with her two-hundred and twelve crew; Nefertiti Jones commanding.

 

First wing divided into a trio of attack spears upon their return to sublight, Iceni Queen leading the center formation headlong toward the huge object as second and third broke wide to deal with the defense platforms that circled it.  A dozen of these structures orbited the station, each massing in at twenty-five-hundred tonnes and armed with a pair of quad-battery type XII beam lasers.  Little more than fusion reactors with huge turrets mounted above and below, they could easily do fatal damage to large fleet craft in a matter of seconds.

            Black Adder took position directly below the Queen with Copper Head and King Cobra tight on her flanks.  First spear raced for its target at eighteen G, the Queen’s spinal mount sweeping an arc of fire across the four platforms directly ahead of her.  The great ion cannon had to be fired at half power in order to cycle quickly enough, but the yield remained sufficient to destroy them utterly.

The second target was missed outright so the Queen threw a volley of missiles and discharged her forward turrets.  Before succumbing to its wounds a single shot from the platform connected and rocked the pirate cruiser hard, her gravity field shutting-down to compensate for the strain on her shields.

The flanking spears charged, each making a fast powered orbit in opposite directions, drawing the lion’s share of fire to protect the main assault force.  Each reported structural damage and minor system failures but they annihilated their targets with adroitness and vigor.

            It now fell to the Pit Vipers to complete the task, losing a great volley of rocket and missile fire on the station proper, including the last six nukes Farrokh had in his inventory.  They were hoping at least three of these would make it through the station’s defensive fire.  As luck would have it, five of them did.  A brilliant glow, like a supernova in miniature, filled the silent black near Jupiter.  The shockwaves ran down the length of the massive cage-like wings of the station, ripping them to pieces along with five ships of the line being serviced there, and many of the patrol craft that hovered close-by.

            The central sphere broke in twain at its hub, causing the anti-matter reactor within to lose magnetic containment and detonate.  The ensuing explosion dwarfed that of the nuclear warheads and smashed the raiders as they fought to get clear.  Closest to the explosion, the Queen’s bridge lighting flickered on and off as numerous systems shorted-out.  Julian would later recall the experience as not unlike having a metal bucket placed on your head and being struck with a small hand sledge.  Clem was knocked unconscious so the captain took his place at the helm, switching on the limp officer’s boot clamps to keep him from floating around the cabin and causing trouble.

            “We have contacts sunward.”  It sounded like Nefertiti but Julian couldn’t be sure, the sound of his breathing amplified by his helmet’s respirator.  Silence engulfed you in battle, confined to the tiny world of your vacsuit and your ship empty of air, the only sounds beyond the crackling voices of the com lines were your own breath and pounding heart.  Captain McAllister thought he heard his stop for a moment when he checked his monitor: twenty big fleet craft, three carriers and at least one battleship.  No escorts smaller then a destroyer and they were tearing through the Evernight to reach him.

            Julian shouted over the fleet channel, “Heave-fuckin-ho people!”  As if anyone needed to be told.  The raider ships made their way for the outer solar system.  Vercingetorix and second spear, heading closest toward Saturn, reported a second force emerging from the far side of the ringed giant: a light cruiser and four frigates moving in at speed.

“What is this, fleet week?” Julian asked in frustration.

            Third spear reached its jump point first and promptly shunted out of the system, each ship releasing a rear-mounted chaff bomb.  These were standard equipment on every corsair vessel, helping to obscure an escaping ship’s precise alignment and block detection of the short-lived tachyon particles that could betray their direction and speed.

            Mad Jack adjusted his spear’s heading as much as he could and still reach his calculated jump point but contact became unavoidable.  They were overtaken four nauts short of the mark and turned on their pursuers, charging them in hopes of breaking the formation and opening a window of escape.

            Six rapid volleys of long-range missiles flew from the naval craft and made contact with the raiders before they could close to weaps.  Silent Knight was destroyed outright when three, tightly placed, one-megaton warheads detonated on her hull.  The Happy Ostrogoth, smashed head-on by a wave of Javelins, tumbled out of control.  Her flickering inertial grid caused the ship to twist and snap in two.

            Vercingetorix and Freya were also badly damaged but pressed forward, blazing away with every weapon in their arsenals.  By now the cruiser and her escorts had unleashed twelve Fire Hawk drones which fell upon them with the cold aggression of willful weapons.  Freya went dark; her hull riddled with holes as the fighter-drones closed into tight orbit and finished her.  Mad Jack fared little better.  Just before the Queen released her own chaff bomb to shunt away, she witnessed the crippled Vercingetorix make a run at the cruiser, both ships consumed in the explosion that followed their impact.

 

A bloody stain amid pastel bands,

A deep wound to the king of the gods.

A murderous eye, gazing in rage

 

Across vast and icy distances;

Both unblinking and unforgiving.

Lord of all storms, raging for ages,

 

Anger eternally fed by winds

Which race untroubled, unimpeded

By mountain, forest or tugging tide.

 

                                                –Julian The Bastard

 

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