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Surprise Attack

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The ship drifted along quietly; a tiny speck of dust compared to the gas giant it orbited. Trevis stood in the navigation room; the ship was on autopilot at the moment, so he wasn’t particularly needed at the helm. And the facilities here helped him plot out orbital corrections.

As with many things in this war, their tasks in this system had become somewhat more complicated than initially planned. One of the weaker royalist factions had maintained a fueling outpost here, mining gas from the planet’s atmosphere below. That faction had recently been dealt a mortal blow - not at the hands of the rebellion, but by some other group of royalists. Of course, that didn’t bother Trevis too much. The more they killed each other, the easier it’d be for the rebellion to pick them off. They’d amassed a bit of a fleet when they stole these ships, but as much as Trevis didn’t want to admit it, the royalists had spent a lot of time training on these ships and were better staffed. Trevis was stuck as the only pilot aboard his own ship, and running what should be a multi-person department with rotating shifts by himself. It was, frankly, exhausting. And that was a problem; it placed them at a disadvantage outright - they’d have to put more numbers into a fight to be sure of winning. The other issue was that a drawn out conflict as they were seeing would often turn into a battle of attrition; and the rebellion hadn’t taken any shipyards or fleet academies. If they wanted more supplies, they’d have to take it. Which is why they were in the system in the first place - the station didn’t have a great number of armaments which could be used against a ship, having been originally a commercial facility before being ‘requisitioned’ by the royalists in their conflict. Intelligence - which was honestly just a rumor-mill at this point, but calling it ‘intelligence’ made him feel better about it - suggested that there was also a stockpile of missiles here, and various components for ship repair.

And his ship badly needed the resupply. They were low on fuel, missiles, and there was a hull breach that was only barely patched. Life support also needed a bit of a recharge; it wasn’t critically low yet, but they were risking running out of breathable air within a month or so. But they did have enough to fly up to the station, threaten it with their weapons and take on whatever supplies they could carry.

Unfortunately they’d been beaten to the punch and had found the station a growing debris cloud. Fortunately they were detecting unexploded munitions and some objects which could have been gas harvesters, and his ship did have a pair of shuttles. Thus although not quite as ideal, they could simply try to extract the resources themselves. It’d take time, but they didn’t have any better options. On the bright side, with the station being destroyed they were very unlikely to be bothered.

There was a slight clank as someone came down the ladder from the deck above; the ship’s Captain. Two of his eight limbs were holding cups; as soon as he was free of the ladder, he extended one to Trevis. “How’s it looking?”

Trevis took the cup; it had a warm stimulant of a beverage in it. He took a sip before responding, feeling a little bit of the exhaustion melt away. He did still need sleep, but that could happen later, maybe. He moved a hand to gesture at a screen. “I think we’ll be in position to drop a shuttle in an hour. We’ll be able to make an orbit with it and come close to six probable torpedoes and two miners.”

“Hmm. And how long for all the major components?”

“Forty Trips. Maybe. A couple of weeks unless we also find another pilot out there.” Trevis dropped the hint that he’d need to stop salvage operations and sleep at some point. Another downside to the lack of manpower.

“That’s the fastest you can do it? I don’t like being this far into a gravity well.”

“I’ve got the computer working out route simulations. Maybe it’ll figure out something better.”

The Captain nodded; the console beeped, startling both of them. The words “New Contact” appeared briefly followed, within an instant, by a much louder, more insistent beep and the words “Missile Launch”

Trevis let out a curse and immediately made for the next compartment forward - the bridge - followed very closely by the captain. Wordlessly, he slid into the seat at the helm. It felt simultaneously comfortable and unnerving - they were going into combat without him wearing a vacuum suit, so any more hull breaches could be a very bad thing.

The captain moved to take his own seat, near the forward bulkhead and the communications console. Technically he was also the comms officer and really the entire communications department. With a button press another alarm sounded, calling the crew to battlestations.

Trevis studied the helm display, and couldn’t help but show a bit of dismay. “Battleship. Thirty missiles inbound, impact twenty minutes.”

“How long to get us to a safe altitude?”

Trevis knew the answer, though he punched in the request to his console to be sure. The issue with FTL drives is that they could be deformed by nearby gravity fields; this meant that jumping into and away from a planet typically required first raising your altitude until you could safely activate the drive without ripping the ship apart. The other issue was that, typically, you’d need to burn a bit at sublight to match your speed to the reference frame of wherever it was you were going. Entering FTL kept your momentum, and you could wind up sailing right into a planet if you didn’t prepare beforehand. Of course, in an emergency this second problem could be ignored and you could try to dump yourself in deep space where it wouldn’t matter. The first one, though… “Two hours.”

The captain cursed; a couple of Trevis’ shipmates entered the room, taking positions at a weapons console.

Trevis tapped at his own console some more, trying to figure out the best way to be evasive; the planet also provided another issue, in that it restricted how far down they could fly without hitting the atmosphere. They also were at somewhat of a bad spot in their orbit, and didn’t have a significant velocity difference to the incoming ship. Then something clicked in his mind. “Captain, I’ve got an idea.”

“Don’t leave us waiting, Trevis.”

“I think I can override the safeties and do a very short stretch of FTL, and if we’re lucky a second one. We can fly right up to them, pop their drive with our last two torpedoes and then move away to make repairs.”

“That could tear the ship apart.”

“So will the missiles.”

“...Good point. Do it.”

Trevis started tapping at his controls… and the ship shook.

One of the weapons crew spoke up, “Long range graser fire.”

The ship shuddered again, more violently. Trevis’ hand slipped, and he muttered, “This would be a lot easier if they weren’t shooting at us.”

The captain hit buttons on his controls. “A distraction, then. Maybe they’re willing to talk.” And a face appeared on his screen, and the two began talking.

Trevis busied himself working, not bothering to pay attention to whatever demands for surrender the royalist was offering. The ship very much did not want to allow him to command a jump to FTL, and was pointing out that such an act was very very dangerous. At least whatever the captain was doing had caused the shooting to stop; perhaps the royalist they were fighting was from the decimated faction and wanted another ship. Maybe they were feeling charitable. It didn’t really matter; they’d all rather die than give the ship up.

Finally the last computer complaint fell away. “Ready!” He called out, looking up to the Captain.

The royalist on the captain’s screen was speaking something inaudible; and the Captain let out an annoyed response to them. “Nope, too late.” Then glancing back, “Trevis, *Now*.”

Trevis brought the sublight engines to full power for a moment; if not for the ship’s artificial gravity field, they’d have been crushed to paste from the acceleration. Then, as they matched the battleship’s speed and direction, he shut down the engines and brought the ship around, pointing it towards the battleship. They rocked again from another well placed graser shot; but the shields shrugged it off. He punched in the FTL sequence; and for an instant, everything felt electrified as the field took hold. The ship groaned loudly in protest, and shuddered violently. Then, the ship felt as though it’d hit a brick wall, throwing anything that wasn’t secured across the deck. Trevis was flung against his seat restraints, and a number of very concerning red lights illuminated on his console. He steadied himself, and looked at the display; the battleship was right next to them, its hull crumpled as if some large object had punched it - larger than the ship Trevis was on, but close to it in size. It took Trevis a moment to realize he’d slightly misjudged how long they should be in FTL by a couple of nanoseconds. It wasn’t a lot - but the field had intersected with the battleship. That was bad. He checked the drive status. Offline. He cursed.

The pair at the weapons console tapped at their controls. “Shields and grasers are down. …Torpedoes are good, launching.” And there was a loud pair of thunks.

“Trevis, second jump, please, any time.” The captain looks back to him.

“The drive’s offline. Diagnostics say it’s misaligned.” He’ll furiously work at his controls. More safety protocols to override.

A beep from weapons. “Enemy torpedoes have reversed course and are tracking us again. Five minutes to impact. …Ours have hit, the enemy ship is disabled.”

“Trevis?” The captain calls out.

“I’m working on it!” A few more button presses, and a green light on the FTL. He moves to press the ‘Go’ button when the ship shudders again, with the sounds of many somethings striking the hull. More red lights, including on the FTL again. More cursing. Debris from their own torpedoes exploding had just showered their hull, ripping loose a number of critical things. More tapping. Trying to bypass what he can. Override and say ‘it’s fine’ on what he can’t. The ship slowly turns; most of the maneuvering thrusters are out, but there’s still a few to try to keep the ship pointed on a vector away from the battleship.

“One minute to impact!” The unexpected call comes out from weapons; had that much time really passed? Trevis kept going.

“Trevis. We need to go now!” The captain yells.

Trevis curses. FTL still shows unsafe to use. He presses the button anyways.

There’s a horrific noise of tearing metal, and a feeling almost as if he’s being electrocuted. Then pain, and silence.
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