2 man walked through the Terra fleet headquarters at Luna 1, in the
direction of the docks.
"Who thought that admiral Grekov would go on with this," said the youngest, a man with a big moustache and a commanders rank.
"Indeed Joram, "replied the captain, a balding man of 45, "and have you noticed how subtle he has let me know that this Karank-cruiser is the last chance to save my career."
They entered one of the docks, where they saw the 300-meter long
form of an alien spaceship. After a thorough identity control by the
security staff, they were allowed to board the ship. They took the
turbo lift to the bridge. First lieutenant Sarah Burton, the second
officer and artillery officer, stood up when the two men entered.
"Everybody is onboard, captain," she said, "even the extra crew. The ship is ready to sail."
She smiled with the term ‘sailing’, but it still was the official term, even after 100 years of interstellar travel.
"Okay," said captain Kurt Rastenberg, "Commander Benteen, take her out. And tell the senior staff there’s a meeting in half an hour. Lieutenant, would you follow me please."
The commander followed Sarah with his eyes, because she was still on the sunny side of 30, and very cute. He sighted and went to his duties.
Sarah followed the captain to his ready room at the back of the bridge.
"Sit down, Sarah." He waited until she was seated. "What I wanted to know is if your people are up to date with the Karank systems.
"As up to date as possible in the amount of time we were given, sir."
"But is it good enough. When we enter the Chera system, there isn’t time for mistakes."
"The Chera system," she responded surprised, "but that is . . ."
"I know", the captain interrupted, "the Karank’s main system. Why do you think we’ll use this cruiser. But don’t tell the others, I’d like to break the news myself."
"Okay, sir," she answered, "and if we do some exercises, then it’ll work.
"Make a schedule. We have 2 weeks, with nine days in normal space."
"Aye, sir." She stood and left the ready room.
Half an hour later, all the department heads were waiting in the
conference room. They all stood up when captain Rastenberg and
commander Benteen entered. The captain waved them back into their
seats and took his seat at the head of the table.
"ladies and gentlemen, I shall not longer deny you our destination. It is the Chera system, and our..."
He was interrupted by sudden cries of surprise. He smiled to his first officer. They had felt the same way when the admiral had given them their orders. He waited until they calmed down and went on.
"Our mission will be to conquer Karank ships and bring them to Earth."
"You mean, we’re a raider," sounded the deep voice of major Tom Kaitcha, the commander of the marine detachment onboard.
"That’s one way to put it," the captain said, "now, is the ship ready?"
"We have a small problem with the conn, "the helm officer said, "but that will be repaired."
Rastenberg looked to the chief engineer, after the captain the oldest onboard, who nodded.
"That’s correct sir, but it should be repaired before we go into hyperspace."
"Good, next point. They have given us 3 old ships of the Shark class for exercises. They are already in position. We have one week before our first jump and we’re going to make best use of it. Any questions? ... Good, dismissed.
Team alpha to the bridge, Bravo and charlie to communications and
artillery centre and Delta and Echo to engineering."
The marines stormed the old ship. This was their last exercise opportunity. The other two exercises went fairly good, but it could always better.
"Bravo leader, communications is in our hands."
"Alfa leader, bridge taken, captain captured."
"Delta leader, engineering in our hands, but one engine destroyed."
Kurt Rastenberg looked on his watch. "3 minutes 25 seconds. Good time, major. Come back on board. We’re going in hyperspace in one hour."
One hour later the captain gave a sign and the ship went into hyperspace for their first, two-day jump. The captain and the first officer had decided to take two jumps to go to their destination, so that their point of origin couldn’t be traced. The two jumps and the days in between were used to redo the exercises."
"Unidentified Cruiser, please identify," sounded a voice through the speakers on the bridge.
"Translator is working," the captain noticed, "now we’ll see if the intelligence service has done its duty."
"One moment ... ID correct. Where have you been all that time?"
"We had heavy damage to our hyper antennas and our hyper engines. We couldn’t enter hyperspace and we couldn’t send a message. The antenna is still broken, but we managed to repair the engines."
"Okay, you can proceed, but we can’t escort you."
"No problem, Kom&rad out."
Captain Rastenberg gave the order to resume their course. The first confrontation with the enemy went well. Now they were en route to their operation zone, the freighters near the planets.
"Commander, big freighter at 46/17, distance 2 micro parsec," said an operations officer.
"Go to yellow alert and notify major Kaitcha."
Sirens sounded over the entire ship. The captain woke up with a shock. He had given command to his XO only three hours ago and he had fallen asleep only one-hour ago. He sighted, got up and dressed. He stepped on the bridge at the same time as the young marine officer. Commander Benteen brought them both up to speed.
"Good," said the captain, "we come in range in 30 minutes. We’ll tell them we’re doing a control."
30 minutes later the two ships were docked to each other. The marines stormed aboard and quickly took over all the strategic points of the ship. The Karank were too surprised to resist. The crew was locked up in one of the cargo bays and a small Terran crew came aboard. They would bring the ship to Earth. They also got a marine squadron to keep an eye on the prisoners.
When the captured ship had left, the captain called his first and
second officer and the marine commander.
"The action went well, without casualties on our side. And that load of metal would certainly be missed, and we can use it. But there were some problems, for example it took long to conquer the bridge."
"This ship was much longer then the Sharks we trained on," Major Kaitcha replied, "and because we were docked near engineering, it took a little longer."
"We’ll try to dock closer to the bridge next time. But you can understand that we want to take out all their communications equipment first." The major nodded.
"Good, next point," the captain said while he turned to Sarah Burton, "next time we better leave the guns in their bunkers. It makes our extra control excuse rather unbelievable."
"Any questions? ... Good, dismissed."
Two days later Rastenberg just took over the shift from lieutenant Burton, when they got a freighter on their screens.
They went on an intercept course and the marines prepared themselves.
They were five minutes from intercept when an operations officer came to Rastenberg.
"Captain, according to our sensor readings there are people onboard of that ship."
Both the captain and the first officer looked surprised.
"That ship transports prisoners of war, sir. Probably to a mining colony."
"Warn major Kaitcha and the sickbay."
When the officer was gone, Rastenberg turned to commander Benteen.
"What now, Joram. Our excuse will certainly not work."
"I know, but I can’t think of something right now."
"Captain," a voice sounded on their left. They both looked in that direction and saw the second officer of artillery, ensign Romero, who served as communications officer between the bridge and the artillery control centre. "Captain," he repeated," what if we tell them that there’s somebody with the prisoners who isn’t supposed to be there, like a general who still has to be interviewed."
"What a nonsense," Benteen started, but the captain interrupted him.
"Good thinking, ensign," he said to Romero. Proud shined of the young artillery officer’s face.
"But," Benteen started again.
"We do it like he said," the captain interrupted," lieutenant Hikahi, hail them."
The two ships slowly came closer and in the middle of the freighter an airlock appeared. The Kom&rad imitated the freighter and two minutes later the two ships were docked.
"I still think it’s a trap," the first officer said.
"To late," the captain replied, "we’re already docked. And it’s not because a plan comes from an ensign, it’s no good."
Benteen shut up, still not convinced.
The airlock doors opened and the marines stormed aboard. The honour guard tried to pull their weapons, but they were chopped down with one salvo.
The marines pressed on. After four minutes, a voice sounded through the comm. system.
"Delta leader to command, we have conquered engineering undamaged. No casualties."
Two minutes later. "Alpha leader to command, bridge in our hands. We have two wounded. The enemy captain and first officer are both dead."
Suddenly a comm.-operator came to Rastenberg and Benteen. "Captain, the freighter is transmitting. We’re trying to decode the signals."
Benteen immediately hailed Kaitcha. "Major, they’re transmitting. Prevent further transmissions."
"We try, commander. I’ve send delta as reinforcement, because bravo and charlie stumbled upon a group of soldiers. Both bravo and charlie leader are dead."
"Bravo Two to command, communication centre in our hands. Five dead and eight wounded."
"Delta leader to command. We’ve found the prisoners. They’re with approximately 2000 and their condition is not good."
"Okay, send over a medical team and some food," the captain said," then we undock and get out of here as fast as possible."
During the next hour food and water were transferred to the freighter.
Then they undocked and started the engines. They went on an exit vector straight to Earth.
Now they were discovered the need for a detour was gone.
"4 cruisers with fighter escort are following us, sir."
"Prepare weapons and raise the shields. Red alert."
Over the entire length of the ship, heavy doors opened and gun turrets came out of their protecting bunkers. At the front there were 6 155 mm and at each side 20 double 88 mm anti-matter guns. This was the original armament. Terran technicians had put 3 extra torpedo tubes at the front and 4 155 mm guns and 2 torpedo tubes between the engines.
"Weapons ready," Romero reported.
The few guns they had on the freighter were also ready for action. To protect the freighter, the cruiser was stationed between the freighter and the pursuers
"Send a message," captain Rastenberg suddenly said,"
from: raider 1
to: raiders 2, 3 and 4
I’m discovered and on the run. Good hunting.
"Send this in code 4."
"But captain, code 4 is broken a month ago."
"I know, but they don’t know we know. This way they would have to control every cruiser flying alone. And in the mean time they have to keep their freighters in or give them a heavy escort."
The communications officer smiled when it dawned to him.
"And send a message to the freighter. Tell them that we’ll take care of the cruisers, but that they keep an eye on the fighters. And add that they jump as fast as they can."
"Fighters heading towards us, captain," a radar operator told approximately one hour later.
Although the Kom&rad could stay ahead of the enemy fleet, the conquered freighter could not and they had to protect the ex prisoners of war.
"Shoot at them using all guns, except the aft ones. Those we keep for the cruisers."
The Kom&rad turned a bit and the flank 88s put up a screen of antimatter beams around the ship. Although they hit a few fighters, enough survived. These opened fire. Their first volley was absorbed by the shields.
"shields at 90 %, captain. 6 enemy fighters destroyed, 18 to go."
"Cruisers within torpedo range, sir," lieutenant Romero said.
"Wait a second. What’s the condition of the freighter."
"Shields at 85%, but most fire is aimed at us, sir."
"Good. At my mark, conn: complete stop, and then back at maximum speed. Artillery: this way they come within range. 6 torpedoes on the 2 outer ones, and 2 antimatter volleys on the inner ones."
He waited for a few seconds so the necessary orders could be given. "Ready ... now."
The Kom&rad suddenly stopped and before the Karank could react, the aft torpedo tubes started putting out there deadly contents, immediately followed by the 155 mm guns.
"Outer cruisers have severe damage, sir. They’re still following, but slower and there front guns seemed to be destroyed."
Kurt Rastenberg silently thanked the intelligence service, who found out that Karank ships had very poor defences against torpedoes.
But this manoeuvre had brought the Kom&rad within weapons range of the 2 cruisers, and these opened fire, while the fighters concentrated on the aft.
"Shields at 50%. Ten fighters left."
Suddenly the entire ship rocked. "Damage report," the captain shouted.
"2 shield generators destroyed, one torpedo tube and one engine severely damaged ... 3 dead and 20 wounded.
The ship rocked again.
"1 of the enemy cruisers has stopped. He seems severely damaged."
"One hyper engine destroyed."
Everybody on the bridge thought the same thing. Another shot like that and they were stuck here. Another shudder went through the ship.
"Captain, that enemy cruiser is exploded."
"Freighter just went to hyperspace."
"We’re ready for hyperspace, sir."
"Good, follow the freighter," the captain said.
The stars became lines when the Kom&rad entered hyperspace. On the bridge, everybody sighed with relief.
"commander," the captain started, "would you go and lead the repair teams. Our priorities are in this order: the impulse engine, the shields and then the hyper engine."
"Okay, sir." The first officer went of the bridge.
"conn, how long will this trip take?"
"In our current state, approximately five days, captain," the conn officer said.
‘Great,’ captain Rastenberg though, ‘the distance is halved, but the time remains the same. But we can be glad that we came out in one piece.'
five days later the Kom&rad reversed to real space at the edge of the Solar system, one hour behind the freighter, who was still waiting.
Together they continued their trip and near Saturn 5 Terran cruisers were waiting.
"Here captain Rastenberg of the cruiser Kom&rad. Nice to see you guys again."
"This is vice-admiral Bastico of the second solar squadron. Nice to see you again, Kurt. We’ll escort you home."
Under escort of the Terran cruisers it went direction Earth. The two Karank ships went into the dock and the prisoners got medical treatment, before being reunited with their families.
Captain Rastenberg and commander Benteen were sitting in the waiting room next to admiral Grekov’s office. An aide came in.
"You can come in, gentlemen."
The two men entered, came to attention and saluted the admiral. He pointed to some chairs and both men sat down.
"I know about the metal freighter, but now you arrive with prisoners, Kurt. Anything else?"
"sorry, sir, but we were discovered and we had to flee. We have destroyed 1 cruiser and approximately 15 fighters and we damaged 2 cruisers. And when we were discovered, I send a message in code 4 to the ‘other raiders’. The most probable consequence is that their freighters can’t depart until they checked all their ships."
"Good," the admiral said, "We’ll let intelligence check the damage done. Probably she’ll be big enough to slow their reaction on our invasion of Tara II."
"Invasion of Tara II," Rastenberg and Benteen said simultaneously.
"Indeed. Commander, you get a promotion to captain and you get command of the Kom&rad. Captain, you get a promotion to Commodore and the first Terran Squadron. Any Questions? ... You’re dismissed."
Both men got up, saluted and left the office.