The galaxy’s first super-ship is here..
A rogue private military corporation has begun construction on the first privately owned super-ship, and it threatens to massively upset the balance of power throughout the Dawn Cluster. Commander Thatcher and Veronica Rose have teamed up with a new mega-alliance led by Simon Moll. Together, they plan to destroy the super-ship before it ever finishes construction.
But all is not as it seems. As war expands to engulf even more of the star cluster, Thatcher begins to doubt whether uniting humanity to fight the Xanthic is even possible anymore.
A darkness coalesces at the edges of known space. New forces are emerging. New forms are taking shape. It may be time for Thatcher to lower his expectations…from uniting humanity, to simply making sure his crew survives what’s coming.
Release date: February 7, 2021
Publisher: Mirth Publishing
Print pages: 336
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Spacers: The Fall
Aboard the Shtriga
Dashed Hope System, Quisle Region
Earth Year 2291
They’d started calling him Death.
The name had turned up a few times, now—in rumor, in intercepted transmissions, and on some public system net forums.
Captain Mikhail Volkov, the Red Death. It sounded like the sort of nickname a pirate might have earned himself, which for Volkov only increased its appeal, since pirates had given it to him.
He’d hunted the vermin through Quisle Region for weeks, now. At first, the pirates had surrendered upon defeat, in an attempt to save their own wretched lives.
Volkov had gladly accepted their hulls, adding them to his fleet. But he had no use for the crews. He ordered his boarding parties to slaughter every living soul they found aboard.
The pirates no longer tried to surrender. These days, they simply fled.
Volkov paced his CIC, weaving between the stations arrayed throughout it, as he always did in the hours before battle. He walked with one hand in his pocket and the other clutching his comm near his mouth. The comm sent his voice to every crewmember aboard the entire destroyer.
“Remember your families, who Simon Moll forced you to abandon when he drove us out of The Brush. Who will wage war in their name, if not us? Who will fight to return to them, to protect them from tyranny, if not us? If battle makes your heart quail, then think of your wives and daughters, and your aged mothers, suffering beneath Sunder boot heels. First, we take Quisle for our own. Then we use its untapped riches to become mighty again. We will have our revenge on those who drove us from our homes.”
He tapped the screen to terminate the broadcast, then let his hand fall to his side, where the comm would dangle until another thought occurred to him worthy of sharing with his crew. His pacing took him past his Ops officer’s station.
“Any news from our friends near the gas giant’s moon, Alexei?”
Senior Lieutenant Alexei Ivanov shook his head. “They’re still ferrying goods to the moon’s surface using those rickety tenders, sir. They must have spotted us by now. They haven’t fled, so they must intend to engage.”
“Of course they do. They outnumber us six to one, and we don’t even have shields. They will know this, by now.”
Ivanov shifted in his seat. “Sir, are you certain you don’t want to—”
“I am certain I don’t want to withdraw and wait for our other vessels to back us up, Alexei. Yes. But thank you for asking yet again.”
Volkov’s pacing carried him away from the Ops officer, past his XO, and then past the empty command seat.
Perhaps Alexei would stop asking if I explained my thinking. That was likely so. But an effective captain should not have to explain his thinking, ever. His crew should trust him to get the results they needed. Why can’t Alexei and the others simply follow my orders and enjoy the fruits of their execution?
Part of Volkov felt like he’d earned that, after the unbroken string of victories he’d enjoyed against pirates these past weeks.
Then again, he was also CEO of Red Sky, and it was on his watch that Simon Moll had ousted them from their home, sending them scampering throughout the Dawn Cluster, grasping at straws.
The thought made his mouth twist in disgust. He remembered running across Captain Tad Thatcher of Frontier Security, and demanding to know why his ally had acted as he had. He remembered going to the UNC to request their help in getting justice against Moll.
All to no avail. The UNC stalled and equivocated, until Volkov realized they meant to put him off indefinitely. They clearly had no intention of acting against Sunder—not now, maybe not ever. So he’d left Sunrise System in a cold rage.
I’m done playing the victim. Done begging those with power to protect me.
He would rebuild his own power, till he loomed larger than ever before. And then he would take back what was his by force.
The state-of-the-art holoscreen at the CIC’s fore showed the Shtriga steadily closing the gap with her pirate prey. No doubt they were secreting the haul from a recent raid in an underground facility on that moon. And the fact they held firm while Death himself approached suggested it was a large haul indeed.
Their courage likely stemmed from the fact that, for the first time since Volkov had launched his campaign against the Quisle pirates, his destroyer was unaccompanied. Before, the Red Sky forces had prowled the region in battle groups, against which the disparate pirate factions were all but powerless.
The enemy had fled before those battle groups more often than not, which was the problem. Volkov’s conquest wasn’t happening nearly as fast as he would have liked, and now that his crews had refreshed their warfighting skills, it was time to move to the next phase of his plan.
This phase involved splitting his forces into much smaller groups—sometimes, as in Shtriga’s case, a single ship to prowl through system after system, seeking targets. The pirates would be much likelier to engage a lone ship. Which would give Volkov the opportunities he wanted to destroy them.
He almost let a chuckle escape his lips. Alexei wants me to pull back and wait for reinforcements. But that would only give the pirates a window to withdraw and regroup with reinforcements of their own.
Or to extract their bounty and flee. Even if the pirates remained as Volkov went seeking backup, they would flee once he returned with a larger force.
No, he would do it his way. He would destroy the pirates here and now, and then he would have their treasure.
The moon where they were stashing said treasure didn’t even have a name. Unnamed bodies were common in Quisle Region. A few corps maintained a presence here, mining the region’s all but untapped asteroids and moons; harvesting its gas giants’ vapors. But those operations were heavily guarded, and constantly harried by pirates all the same.
For the most part, Quisle Region was a pirate haven.
At least, it used to be. “Nav, set a course that uses the moon’s gravity to send us speeding past the outermost ship. Once you have it, send it to Helm.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
The Shtriga’s transverse velocity relative to the enemy ship would make it difficult for that vessel’s turrets to track her—while Volkov’s new artillery turrets would have an easier time, since his gunners would be firing at a fixed point.
Even so, the artillery turrets had less accuracy than the laser turrets Volkov had swapped out for them during his stop at the Helio base on the outskirts of Steppe Mortalis, on his way out of the cold regions. That was why he’d also traded a drone bay module for a superior tracking computer.
“Tactical, instruct our port-side gunners to prepare to fire on the designated target on my mark.”
“Aye, sir. Gunner crews on standby.”
Volkov waited long minutes for the optimal moment to arrive. Then: “Fire!”
Bright threads connected the destroyer’s port-side turrets with the pirate ship, causing the deck to rumble underneath Volkov’s feet. He should have strapped himself into his command chair, but the thrill of battle coursed through him, keeping him on his feet and pacing with more energy than before.
As expected, no shield rose to stop his barrage, and the high-explosive munitions tore through the target’s hull.
“Cease fire!” Volkov barked as they exited optimal firing range.
His Tactical officer passed on the order, and the artillery turrets fell silent. As for the target, it did not come apart, but neither did it pursue the Shtriga. For now, at least, they’d crippled her.
Her five fellows did give chase, however. They sped after the Red Sky destroyer in no particular formation, which was typical of pirates.
“Helm, give me eighty percent power. We will continue along our present course.”
The enemy loosed a smattering of laserfire and solid-core rounds. Some of the latter connected with the Shtriga, and Volkov stumbled, gripping the back of his Tactical officer’s chair. Feeling somewhat sheepish, he made his way back to his own seat, wary of further impacts.
The great vessel had mostly shrugged off the attack, thanks in large part to another modification Volkov had ordered at the Helio base: extra armor plating, for which he’d sacrificed significant cargo space.
It was worth it. His newly fortified hull had soaked up the impactors without complaint.
“Now,” he said, turning his head toward his Helm officer as he strapped himself in. “Give me enough delta-v to escape the giant’s orbit.”
The Shtriga lurched, tossing Volkov to the left before the inertial compensators could kick in. They broke with the great planet’s upper orbits…and so did their pursuers, who struggled mightily against the gravity.
As the five pirate ships still in the action pursued the destroyer into space, they inevitably formed a straight line. To do otherwise would have been to follow a less-than-optimal course, and their engines weren’t powerful enough to follow less-than-optimal courses. Not while retaining a hope of actually catching Shtriga.
Of course, a straight line pointed at a target represented the worst possible formation for space combat. It meant only the front ship could fire on that target, and if that target fired back, she was unlikely to miss.
“Bring us about, Kuznetsov. And Belevich…let’s give them a taste of our starboard guns, this time.”
His Helm officer gave a curt nod, and both officers replied with a sharp “Aye, sir.”
The great destroyer rotated in place while still following its original trajectory. Before the enemy could react—likely before they realized what was happening—Volkov’s starboard gunner crews opened up on them, sending explosive rounds screaming through the void to perforate the leading ship’s hull.
This time, the target erupted in a red corona tinged with blue.
“Cease fire. Helm, commence deceleration now.”
Kuznetsov’s acknowledgment was paired with a forward lurch that threw Volkov against his restraints. He forced his next words out against the strain, not waiting for the inertial compensators to do their work. “Nav, execute an artificial orbit that maintains our current distance with the next-closest target while bringing us back toward the moon. Belevich, have our gunners give the next ship hell.”
The destroyer’s inertial compensators worked overtime as they changed course yet again, looping back toward the moon. This maneuver exposed them to weapons fire from the four remaining enemy ships, but transverse velocity was again on their side, making them difficult to track and hit.
Unfortunately, this time the artillery turrets did less work, the munitions hurtling past their target for the most part—likely to be swallowed by the gaseous atmosphere that formed the enemy’s celestial backstop.
“Sir? We still have a chance to—”
“I said stop firing.”
“Aye, sir.” Belevich relayed the order to the appropriate gunner teams.
It’s time to play my final card. The last modification Volkov had ordered would make the difference between victory and defeat.
“Kuznetsov. Bring thrusters up to full power, and engage afterburners as well. Do it now.”
The increased thrust, supplemented by Volkov’s new afterburners, was palpable. The ship punched forward, shoving him back against his unpadded seat for several long seconds.
The momentary discomfort proved well worth it. They completed their artificial orbit far sooner than they would have without the extra momentum, coming around behind the pirate formation.
“Hit them with starboard guns again now, Tactical. Nav and Helm, coordinate to use the giant’s orbit to bring us back to the moon at full speed.”
The starboard gunners again failed to destroy their target, but this time, several rounds punched through the pirate ship near her belly, knocking her back toward her fellows.
It hardly mattered. The pirate ships chased the Shtriga back toward the moon, each of them sailing under full power, no doubt fearful Volkov intended to destroy their stash and then escape.
But escaping was the farthest thing from Volkov’s mind, just then. The pirates surely didn’t realize it, but their desperate chase was already sealing their fate. Each ship of their ragtag force had a different maximum acceleration profile, resulting in them stringing themselves out.
The Shtriga returned to the moon well before the first pirate ship, giving them enough time to slingshot around the large, barren rock and meet their first target head-on.
Or rather, port-side on. Volkov had his Helm officer bring them about once more, greeting their adversary with a broadside of artillery fire.
The first two ships threw themselves into the assault, clearly desperate to protect their stash on the moon’s surface below. Volkov’s gunner crews made short work of both.
With that, the remaining two pirate captains finally seemed to grasp how this day would end for them. But it was far too late. Like a great steel predator, the Shtriga pounced, chewing up her prey with yet more artillery fire.
Six ruined hulks floated through space as Volkov ordered his CIC crew to return the destroyer to lunar orbit. “Maintain a geostationary orbit above that trove’s location.”
He unstrapped himself from his command seat and resumed pacing, feeling a little like a predator himself. A caged one.
He slipped his comm from its holster and brought it to his lips, again sending his voice throughout the entire ship.
“Today is a good day,” he told his crew. “You have done well. Now let us discover the spoils that await us below.”
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