Day 71: Playing the Long Game (Attack of the Hisheel—Cont.)

It was overlap time on the Cambro Wend, which gave Captain Folsom Mandrake a festive feeling in spite of the Hisheel ship racing at top speed to kill them. With the new off-stasis teams shadowing the previous ones, every activity had twice the people, handing off work, data, stories, and good will, all critical to a ninety-two year journey.

Officers, engineers, tacticians, priests and administrators, plus some of the stars of their braintrust awaken off schedule from stasis, filled the dinner hall and chattered. Behind the head table where the officers stood in a row, the star chart showing the Cambro Wend and the chasing Hisheel appeared, making that end of the room appear to go far deeper than it did.

They didn’t know much about the Hisheel enemy, except that it was an ammonia based creature with several tentacles and walrus like horns on it’s head. The images Folsom had seen were terrifying, as were the stories.

At the head table, the officers standing in a row, the Second Mate blew his whistle and the hall quieted to a dull rumble.

“Time to act like mommy shoved you out an airlock without a spacesuit, children,” yelled Chief Mate Parson Trimeme. “C’mon. Bulge out your eyes and give us a silent scream.” He opened his mouth wide and mimicked a mute bellow towards the ceiling, head wagging and hands waving. The voices stopped.

Folsom chuckled. “Thanks, Parson.” He pointed to the Hisheel. “We’re all assiduously trained to comprehend our incomprehensible relationship with time in regard to interstellar travel, but this is probably the first time most of you have actually had to face it. So let this sink in—that space ship may be twenty years away from intercept, but relative to the scale of our travels and our ability to maneuver, it’s as urgent as a torpedo just launched from a submarine. We have to makes our decisions as soon as possible to avoid getting hit. Or caught and dissolved into sludge, as it were.”

“Yeah,” Parson said. “Twenty years is a long time to hide under the covers and chew on your pillows, so lets get this right.” He laughed. “Get your jammies—”

“Parson,” said Folsom. “Batten down the hatch.”

Parson made a show of closing his mouth and nodding his head.

Folsom continued. “When we discovered it three years ago, we examined our options and adjusted our course to be at the optimal position to choose an action based upon the model of ship the Hisheels had. The sensors have now identified it, and it’s their latest and greatest, so our hope of finding a rock to hide behind is no good. Their equipment will track us. That leaves us with finding a trajectory that leads somewhere safe before they can catch up to us, finding a solution when we make direct contact or coming up with something we haven’t thought of. We’ll make a preliminary list of ideas as a group, and then go into breakouts as you’ve been assigned. Parson, go ahead.”

“We’re dealing with a creature that breaches hulls with a weapon that shoots, breaches, and materializes into a conduit, giving them immediate access to the ship. They are fast and ruthless. We are soulless animals to them, and they will show us no mercy.” Parson sounded professional for the first time since Folsom had awaken from stasis. “We’ve put together an optimal process for generating ideas, testing them, and filtering them into a final list of candidate plans. Follow the program. Let’s get started.”

Folsom watched the proceedings for a while, then went on a walk of the ship to inspect her condition and examine the crew. He tinkered in the engine room when Melista, the off-stasis Second Mate, and her overlap, Happroy, brought him the broad stroke options from the assembly.

Of all the potential flight routes, only one brought them within range of civilized space where they might be able to get assistance against the Hisheel, but the intercept point was just far enough away, the probability of success was estimated to be near zero. Options to meet the enemy were naive acts of desperation, such as appealing to diplomacy or trying to trade with them. Folsom scoffed. It would be like trying to bribe a tiger with a fruit salad.

He hoped one of his crew would have a flash of genius to deflect this fearsome enemy. He thanked the Second Mate and returned to the assembly intending to visit each breakout team one at a time to encourage them and listen to their ideas.

When the answer came, it quickly filtered to the officers and gained rapid approval. Not by the genius of it or the assurance that it would work, but by the shear fact that it was the only solution with an estimated probability of success greater than a percent or two over zero. In fact, they gave it an eight percent chance, which by this time seemed pretty damn good.

The idea was to stay on course and ramp up the off-stasis engineering teams to move all the stasis units into the domicile module, making it able to accommodate the entire crew. When the enemy reached them, they would drop the dommod at the last possible moment and ram the Cambro Wend into the enemy ship with maximum explosive resources to at least disable it. It would be a long, long wait in stasis—maybe sixty years—for a rescue ship to come pick them up.

They kept at it for a couple weeks, but didn’t produce anything better.

“You coming to stasis, Parson?” asked Folsom.

“Why? You hoping for a twenty-year cuddle?” Parson laughed and waved his hand. “Nah, I’m gonna supervise the plan for a few months before blacking out.”

“Stasis is a peaceful place,” said Folsom.

“It’s oblivion,” said Parson. “Big difference.”

Folsom nodded. “I’ll take it.”

#

When Folsom awoke from his stasis pod in a storage room of the dommod, he recognized that they achieved that part of the plan. It was the only part he would see go right.

The Hisheels were already bearing down on them, about three days away, so everyone scrambled to move into to the dommod. During preparation for the separation sequence the module broke loose and irreversibly lodged itself into the ship, it’s conduits mangled, preventing entrance to it from all passageways but one. The Cambro Wend was already on a collision course with the Hisheel ship, and the disrupted configuration caused by the badly seated dommod screwed up the stabilizers, making the ship impossible to control. They were forced to bring the Cambro Wend to a complete stop.

Folsom stood on the bridge looking out at the gigantic Hisheel ship. Parson shuffled up next to him. Folsom nodded to him. Parson looked about twenty years older.

“This waiting is torture,” said Folsom.

“Who’s waiting?” said Parson. “Plan B is almost ready.”

The engineers finished modifying the fire sprinklers throughout the inner hull of both the main structure and the dommod, vacating all people from those areas. The aliens came to a stop and shot their weapons. True to the reports, they breached and formed conduits through which they stormed the ship. When the monitor showed the alien troops were in, Parson gave the signal to turn the sprinklers on full blast, spraying them with hydrobromic acid. They made a cacophony of groans, like a submarine hull compressing. None survived. The ship broke off the conduits and flew away.

The bridge exploded with cheers.

“So much damage,” said Parson.

At first Folsom thought he meant the effects of the acid.

“It drives a man to overcome it. I wouldn’t have developed this idea without her.”

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