Line of Fire: Part I, a military scifi story, is now up on Patreon. This story ballooned during the writing process (I blame it on the characters refusing to give up their time in the spotlight), so I’ve decided to split this one in two. Part I is now up, and Part II should be up in mid-July (possibly sooner).
After surviving a brutal attack against a human colony, Captain Martinez of the Solarian warship Victory must run down an enemy ship carrying valuable strategic data before it reaches its home world.
Space marines! Hostile aliens! Ship-to-ship combat! If you like high-octane space opera with a dash of military tactics, look no further. Line of Fire is set is the same universe as Hunter’s Moon, the penultimate part of which will be posted tomorrow morning.
Just to whet your appetite, you’ll find the first scene of Line of Fire: Part I below.
Fear and desperation twisted Captain Enrique Martinez’s gut as two blinking dots raced across the tactical plotter of the Victory’s Combat Information Center.
The attack on Dziban VI had been brutal. More than ten thousand dead and just as many seriously injured. Negotiations with the Rigelians had proven useless. Now the Scalies had launched an all-out assault against the Solarian Republic and made off with sensitive Navy data that could turn the tide of the war in their favor should they ever make it back to their space. Martinez gritted his teeth in defiance. He refused to let that happen.
The indicator representing the Rigelian ship vectored toward a small, bright cluster of stars known as the Pyre. There, gravitational and electromagnetic forces would interfere with both ship’s navigational systems. FTL would be impossible, and crossing the Pyre could take months at sublight speeds.
Would the Rigelians risk it? Their only hope of escape lay in reaching the stable jump point on the far side of the cluster.
“Sir, she’s increasing speed to point-one-C.” Lieutenant McIntyre swiped through sensor telemetry at her station, worry creasing her brow. A lock of auburn hair slipped from beneath her cap, dangling before her pallid face. Bloodshot eyes stared into the flickering display. “At that rate, she’ll cross the red line in eight minutes. Your orders?”
Sweat beaded on Martinez’s forehead. Five months. Could he put the crew through that sort of hell on the scant hope that they’d catch the enemy before they reached the jump point?
He didn’t have a choice. This was his job. If he didn’t stop them, no one else would. The fate of the Republic depended on him. “Maximum delta-V. Follow her in. As soon as we’re in weapons range, throw everything we’ve got at her.”
The Rigelian cruiser was fast, but the Victory was a state-of-the-art Solarian warship. If they hadn’t taken heavy damage at the battle of the Dziban system’s outermost gas giant, they’d have overtaken the enemy ship long before now. But the Victory was down two engines, her portside inertial compensators were still fluctuating, and the best acceleration she could achieve was thirty Gs. Any more would blow out the internal antigrav field generators and crush the crew into a chunky red paste. Martinez grimaced. He’d served aboard ships where the compensators had cut out in one section during a high-G maneuver. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
The bulkheads rattled as the Victory increased speed. Martinez gripped his chair’s armrests and focused on the plotter. Despite the change in velocity, the distance between the two icons remained constant. “Can you give us any more, Lieutenant? At this rate, we won’t catch her in time.”
“Rerouting power from emergency life-support generators,” McIntyre said, her voice strained. Lights flickered, and the artificial gravity stuttered. Martinez’s stomach did a somersault. He bit down on the urge to throw up. Just need a little more speed.
Long-range torpedoes could catch her before she entered the cluster proper, saving them an exhausting chase through a radiation bath that would likely result in many crew members’ deaths. Though his ultimate duty was to the Solarian Navy, his current responsibility was to keep his people safe. Those objectives were often one and the same, but occasionally one took priority over the other. Lives were at stake. More than just those of his crew. Ten thousand were already dead. Who knew how many more before this goddamn war was over?
“It’s working, sir!” McIntyre turned toward the plotter.
The gap between the two ships began to shrink. Martinez let out a slow breath. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding it in. “Stand-by torpedoes. Prime long-range particle cannons. Shipwide: battle stations.”
His voice echoed over the comm, transmitted to all sections. The lighting dimmed in the CIC, and new tactical data materialized in the plotter. Memories of his last engagement flashed in his head. The Rigelians had shredded the Solarian defense fleet in orbit of the gas giant. If it weren’t for the automated defense batteries, they never would have repelled the attack. Out of a hundred and twenty Solarian ships, the Victory had been the sole survivor. Martinez had lost a quarter of his crew during the battle, and he’d be damned if he’d lose any more.
Anger burned in his cheeks. The bastards wouldn’t get away. Not again.
“We’re in range, sir,” Lieutenant Wei said. “Target lock acquired.”
“Let her have it.” Martinez leaned forward. Tension increased along his spine and neck.
Flashing dots shot away from the Victory and sped across the plotter toward the Rigelian ship. They were still too far out for visual confirmation, so he’d have to deal with the plotter’s digitally rendered data. Given the distances and speeds involved, space warfare was often far less dramatic than VR producers would have general audiences believe, at least from an objective standpoint. For Martinez, the air was thick with anxiety. Those little colored dots meant life or death, for either the crew of the Victory or the Scalies.
The first torpedo reached its target, weaving through a barrage of point defense fire and slamming into a curtain of interlacing force fields. Martinez scanned the report scrolling up the left side of his field of vision.
“Direct hit, sir!” Wei exclaimed. “Her starboard shields are failing.”
“They’re altering course, sir.” McIntyre reviewed navigational data streaming across an array of holographic screens. “Vectoring toward a star system on the edge of the Pyre.”
“Plot an intercept course. We have to get her before she reaches the heliopause.” Martinez chewed his lower lip and tapped his foot against the deck. Flak guns scattered across the enemy ship’s hull opened fire, shooting down the remaining torpedoes. Their antimatter containment pods let go in a chain of brilliant explosions that briefly resembled newborn stars. The Scaly captain was smart. She’d use the sun’s gravity to slingshot them out of the system. The Victory would never catch up in time. Whether he liked it or not, the chase ended here.
“Lieutenant Eskandari, give me everything you’ve got. Redirect emergency power to the engines and inertial compensators. Take all non-essential systems off-line.”
“Aye, sir.” Eskandari used gestural controls to transfer all remaining power to the fusion drive and antigrav generators, exceeding safety limits by a wide margin.
Warnings flashed red on her screens. The deck rattled beneath Martinez’s feet.
“We won’t be able to maintain acceleration for very long. I’ve disabled the overrides, but the engines will burn out if we push them too hard, and it could take days or weeks to repair them.”
“If we don’t stop the Scalies here, we’ll have all the time in the world, Lieutenant.” Martinez sank back in his chair, eyes burning a hole through the tactical plotter. A large yellow orb filled the volumetric display: an F-type star designated Lucifer, according to the Almanac. Their final battleground, Martinez realized. Either they stopped the Rigelians here, or it was game over for the Solarian Republic, and quite possibly the entire human race.
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