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Authors: Richard Tongue

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Stars in the Sand

BOOK: Stars in the Sand
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STARS IN THE SAND

Battlecruiser Alamo: Book 8

 

Richard Tongue

 

Battlecruiser Alamo #8: Stars in the Sand

Copyright © 2014 by Richard Tongue, All Rights Reserved

 

First Kindle Edition: September 2014

 

Cover By Keith Draws

 

All characters and events portrayed within this ebook are fictitious; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

Join the Battlecruiser Alamo Mailing List:
http://eepurl.com/A9MdX

 

With Thanks To:
Peter Long and Ellen Clarke

 

Went the day well,

We died and never knew,

But, well or ill,

Freedom, we died for you.

 

John Maxwell Edmonds

 

Chapter 1

 

 Lieutenant Orlova, so new to her rank that the insignia still felt
strange
, stood at the rear of Alamo’s bridge, watching and waiting for the ship to emerge from hendecaspace. She was not accustomed to having nothing to do; her role as Operations Officer was essentially administrative, and certainly she could be profitably employed in her office right now working on the backlog, but somehow she thought that the bridge was where she belonged, especially now.

 Partly it was her experience; she was the only one on the bridge who had been here before, who might know what to expect at their destination. While commanding the now-destroyed Battlecruiser Hercules, she had secured a deal for port facilities at Hydra Station, an outpost that still officially serviced the Cabal, but she didn’t know whether the station commander, Lester Price, had agreed out of a true desire to switch sides or simply because she had half a dozen missiles pointing at his station.

 Of course, the Alamo was a bigger, tougher ship, with a stronger armament – normally. Less than two weeks ago, she had been involved in the biggest battle of her life, a battle that resulted in the destruction of most of the Cabal’s task force, but also the loss of the Hercules. She still choked up a little thinking about it; she might have only been in command of it due to an accident of seniority, and for only a few months, but it was her ship none the less. She felt as though her home had been destroyed, and though Captain Marshall had promoted her and given her a new job – and one that saw her leapfrog half a dozen people in the chain of command – she still felt almost as though she was a stranger on Alamo once again.

 She looked around the bridge, her eyes roaming from station to station. Lieutenant-Captain Marshall sitting in the command chair, of course, as if
born to it –
she was perhaps the only person on the bridge who realized just how alone that feeling could be, the insecurities that he would be battling back, trying to push out of his mind to reassure his crew. The only other person who might know was Lieutenant Caine, the Captain’s oldest friend, sitting at Tactical; she caught Orlova’s glance and threw her a surreptitious wink.

 Sub-Lieutenant Steele’s Beta Shift was on duty; she could still remember when Steele was a midshipman, arrogant as hell and thinking she knew it all. Since the death of her lover in action, the arrogance had melted away to cold resolution, and eagerness to have her revenge on the Cabal. The days when they would share bull sessions in the mess were long over; she spent most of her time in her quarters now. Next to her, Sub-Lieutenant Reid, originally of the Hercules but transferred to Alamo before Orlova had taken it off on its accidental joy-ride. Ten years behind the state of the art, and he still seemed far too cautious with the controls for safety, but he had the most battle experience of anyone on the bridge, and presumably the Captain was hoping that would make the difference if it came to a fight.

 The three enlisted crewmen on the bridge were all old friends, as well. Senior Spaceman Spinelli, sitting at the sensor station, staring up at his display as if willing it to show him the secrets of the universe. The long-suffering Spaceman First Class Weitzman at communications, glancing at the Captain as he ran his fingers over his controls, and Prentis at the flight engineering station, perpetually busy putting out fires and manipulating the networks to keep things moving. Alamo had been damaged almost to the brink of destruction in the battle, and despite two weeks, the engineering team had yet to put everything back together again.

 The elevator door slid open, and Lieutenant Quinn, Systems Officer, stepped out onto the bridge, followed by Senior Lieutenant Zebrova, Alamo’s Executive Officer. The two of them glanced at each other as Quinn walked over to Marshall, a datapad held in his hand. The Captain looked up, a frown on his face, and Quinn shook his head.

 “
It isn’t good news, skipper,” Quinn said.

 “
Two weeks to get a full damage report, Lieutenant,” Marshall replied. “I didn’t think that it would be a happy picture.”

 “
Almost every system was damaged to a greater or lesser degree, a lot of them serious. The laser cannon is a wreck, I’m not sure we actually can get it fixed. The combat fabricators are out, and our main systems aren’t much better; we’ve just about got one of them working again to fix the others. Hull breaches all over the place…”

 “
Can you give me your assessment of our combat effectiveness, Mr. Quinn?”

 “
Slim to none, sir. We certainly couldn’t handle any serious opposition, nor could we maneuver effectively. I’ve got one salvo of missiles in the tubes, but reloading them would be a problem. Our electronic warfare suite is out of commission as well, I’m afraid.”

 “
What?” Marshall said. “It wasn’t damaged in the battle.”

 Zebrova looked at Quinn and said, “We’re having to use the network systems to keep the internal communications and power distribution going. Until we can strip down to the internals, it’s going to have to stay that way.”



How long to repair?” Marshall said.

 “
Theoretically, it isn’t possible without a full shipyard,” Quinn replied.

 “
So how long?” Caine said from her station with a smile.

 “
Well, Hydra Station has at least some of the facilities we need, so...ten weeks. Twelve at the outside.”

 A collective sigh of disappointment echoed around the bridge. Marshall replied, “And if we proceed without repairs?”

 “
We’re going to have trouble fixing her up after the dimensional shift this time, Captain,” the engineer said, “I wouldn’t want to re-enter hendecaspace without at least securing the hull.”

 “
Twelve weeks sitting helpless around a planet,” Spinell
i
said.

 “
Not so bad as that, Spaceman,” Caine said. “We dealt the Cabal a big enough blow that it will take months for them to recover, and they don’t know where we’ve gone.”

 “
If it has to be, then it has to be,” Marshall said. “Expedite the repairs as best you can, Lieutenant.”

 “
Coming up on emergence,” Reid said, briefly looking away from his station. “Forty seconds.”

 “
Spinelli…,” Marshall said.

 “
All sensors are ready for a full look at the system as soon as we emerge, Captain,” he said, not looking away from his instruments.”

 “
Good. Deadeye, get those missiles ready to fire if we need them. Just in case.”

 “
Aye,” Caine replied, “but I don’t think we’d do very well if our target is able to shoot back, skipper.”

 “
Ten seconds. Nine. Eight.”

 Orlova tensed up, her eyes fixed on the viewscreen. With a bright flash, Alamo broke out into normal space, and the stars faded back in once again. The tactical display hastily updated, and the planets and moons jumped slightly in their course as the data feeds poured in. Immediately, a panicked expression leapt across Spinelli’s face.

 “
Threat warning, Captain!” he yelled. “Enemy vessel at the station!”

 “
Details, Spinelli,” Marshall said. “Weitzman, see if anyone’s talking.”



I have the Station Commander for you, sir. Tightbeam laser,” the communications
technician replied.

 “
Excellent. Put him on.”

 The familiar voice of Price crackled through the bridge speakers, the signal strength fading in and out – evidently whoever was at the other end of the laser was having trouble compensating for Alamo’s movement now that it had left hendecaspace; Reid had wasted no time in getting the ship moving once they were secure in normal space.

 “
I’m guessing this is Alamo, and
that
I’m speaking to Captain Marshall.”

 “
Right on both counts,” Marshall replied. “What the hell is going on?”

 “
A transport ship, the Ouroboros, arrived in system just after the Dumont left last week. As soon as they saw your ship coming they demanded I allow them to undock. Captain, can you shoot them down?”

 Marshall turned to Caine, who shook her head, “With only one missile salvo, I wouldn’t bet the dome on it.”

 “
Too much battle damage,” Marshall replied to Price. “Can you stop them?”

 “
They outnumber me, Captain, and still think I’m on their side. I’ve got to think of my people here on the station.”

 “
Transport has undocked, sir,” Spinelli said, “and is making its way to the hendecaspace point at...wow, fast
acceleration.
Two and a half gravities.”

 Price cut in, “Ouroboros is a fast courier. She can sustain that speed.”

 Steele looked up from her station and said, “They’ll be at the hendecaspace point in forty-one minutes unless we do something about it.”

 Orlova looked around, and walked over to the watch officer’s station, leaning over Steele’s shoulder as she started to plot an interception course. Steele glanced down at the course she was setting, and looked up at Orlova with a frown on her face.

 “
Alamo can’t make anything like that acceleration, certainly not with our current level of battle damage, Lieutenant.”

 “
Quite right, Steele. Alamo can’t, but our shuttles can.” She glanced across at Marshall, “Sir, our shuttles can intercept that transport with a ten-minute margin of error.”

 “
Ten minutes?” Zebrova said, shaking her head. “You’d have ten minutes to take control of that ship. With whatever personnel you are able to scrounge on no notice. Even a team of Espatiers would struggle to manage that in the time, and we don’t have any left.”

 “
No, ma’am,” Orlova replied. “We’ll have ten minutes to stop it from leaving the system. Once we’ve disabled its hendecaspace drive, we can take as long as we want to take control of it.” Glancing up at the clock, she continued, “To make this work, we have to leave in three and a half minutes.”

 “
Sir, I recommend against this course of action,” Zebrova said, fixing Orlova with a glare. “Let the missiles do their work, and we might be able to work out something better.”

 “
We haven’t managed to fix the tactical systems in ten days, Lieutenant,” Caine said. “What are we going to do in half an hour?” Looking at Marshall, she said, “Sir, I think we should let her try.”

 Marshall glanced at Orlova, nodded, and said, “Get down there, throw a crew together, and get moving.” He paused, then said, “Maggie, if you can’t take control of her in the time, I’ll have to try that missile salvo regardless of who is on board. And we’ll be targeting the very areas you will be trying to take. Are you sure that you want to do this?”

 “
We’ll be sure to keep our heads down, Captain,” she replied, sprinting across the bridge, a datapad in her hand. “See if you can get Frank Nelyubov down there, Steele.”

 “
I’ll see what I can do, ma’am.”

 “
Good luck, Lieutenant,” Marshall said.

 As the doors closed on her and the elevator began its journey down to the hangar deck, she heard the Captain ordering the shuttles to be readied for immediate launch, weapons to be rushed from the armory, courses to be plotted to the transport. She quickly glanced over the limited data Spinelli had garnered on the transport, trying to work out something of its internal layout. Given time, they could have cross-referenced the ship with their captured Cabal database, but time was their most precious commodity.

 “
Now hear this,” Steele’s voice echoed through the elevator. “Stand by to launch shuttle craft. All shuttles stand by for immediate launch.”

The doors opened on the hangar deck, and without any ceremony she raced towards the nearest shuttle, its airlock open and inviting. One of the maintenance technicians tossed her a rifle, and she snatched it out of the air with an outstretched hand as she made for the cockpit, waving away the pilot as she settled into the flight couch.

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