I promise I wasn't really smoking any prohibited substances when this came to me. But, I thought, what the heck, if Heinlein could do it, so can I.
I wonder if it's fanfic when the author
Despair reigned on HMS Shan-wei
’s flag deck as the Gbaba fleet closed in. They’d come so close, Admiral Nimue Howsmyn thought bleakly. But not close enough. Humanity’s resurgent technology was good enough to defeat the Gbaba this time around . . . or would have been, if only the Terran Federation of Safehold had been granted another fifty years to expand its industrial base.
What had given them away, she wondered? The scout ships they’d deployed had been the stealthiest vessels ever built; even human sensors, which were demonstrably at least two hundred percent better than the Gbaba’s, found them almost impossible to detect or hold at ranges above twelve light-seconds. Besides, none of them had returned directly to Safehold or any of its half-dozen daughter colonies. All of them had deployed from and returned to the satellite bases at least seventy-five light years from the nearest inhabited system. Surely the Gbaba couldn’t have tracked them back to their base and then tracked one of the courier vessels here without someone
seeing them at it!
But the how didn't really matter. What mattered was the result, and the result was over ninety-three thousand Gbaba warships closing in on what was still the most heavily populated human star system in existence. With Safehold crushed, her colonies could not long withstand the hurricane coming for them.
Howsmyn looked at the display, showing the rest of her fleet. Nine thousand superdreadnoughts had seemed like overkill to some members of Parliament, given the fact that the Gbaba couldn’t possibly know where to find them. Now they were far too frail a shield, but they were all she had, and if her species was about to die after all, they would not perish without a fight!
“Deploy and spot the missiles,” she ordered.
“Deploying the missiles, aye, Ma’am,” Commodore Cayleb Baytz, her chief of staff replied, hiding his own despair under the crispness of professionalism.
“We’ll hit them with the missiles, then close for an energy engagement,” Nimue continued. “From what our scouts have picked up, their shields will never stand the sort of close range pounding we can hand out.”
“That is undoubtedly true, Admiral,” the melodious voice of Shan-wei
’s AI replied. “Unfortunately, while our shields are almost twice as resilient as theirs, they will be bringing approximately four-point-six times the same destructive energy to bear, despite the individual inferiority of their energy weapons.”
“The best we can do is the best we can do, Owl,” Howsmyn replied, and actually managed a smile. “You know, I sometimes wondered how Great Granddad felt fighting the Group of Four. Now I know, and I don’t like it.”
“None of us do,” Captain Merlin Athrawes, Howsmyn’s flag captain said. “Owl and I were there, and neither of us ever really thought we’d be facing this.” He shook his head, sapphire eyes hard, expression grim. “This isn’t what any of us wanted, but it’s what we have. At least we’ll make the bastards work for it, and there’s always Ark II. We buried the twelve colonies so deep and with enough of a tech starting point the Gbaba will never find them in time.” His smile was fleeting but harder than battle steel. “Even the Gbaba may figure out they need to look for them this time, but it would take them fifty years to reach the closest one in direct flight, without any delay to scout at all. They'll never find Kobol and the others before the colonial warriors are ready for them!”
“I hope you’re right,” Howsmyn replied. “On the other hand, that’s what we thought after you and the rest of the First Circle kicked the Church’s ass right here on Safehold. I wish I could be as confident as you seem to be.”
“So do I,” Merlin replied softly. “So do I.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The Gbaba armada continued to close, and Admiral Howsmyn felt a fresh frisson of despair run through her as a second, equally large fleet appeared on the heels of the first. Merlin damned well better be right about Ark II
, she thought grimly, or this really is going to be humanity’s last dance.
“Get me the Emperor,” she told her communications officer quietly.
A minute passed, then two. And then, a face appeared on Howsmyn’s com display. Hektor Nahrmahn Cayleb Maikel Ahrmahk, Emperor Hektor II of the Terran Federation of Safehold, looked back at her, his eyes dark.
“Nimue,” he said.
“It’s looking even worse than we thought, Your Majesty,” she said, her tone more formal than it usually was, even in an official setting, when she spoke to the man she’d known since childhood. “Again, I strongly urge you to evacuate. There’s still time to get you away on one of the stealthed transports, and the Ark II colonies will need you.”
“The colonies have Irys and the children,” Emperor Hektor replied flatly. “And my house and I have a responsibility here. I’m not leaving. Here I stand, Nimue.”
The motto of the House of Ahrmahk came out like unyielding steel.
“Hektor,” Howsmyn said, her eyes flipping back up from the com to the tactical display as the leading Gbaba ships spawned literally hundreds of thousands of fighters, “please
. This isn’t your fault. There’s no need or reason for you to stay. I promise your subjects here will be defended to the very end. Please
“No,” he said softly in that same iron voice.
“But —” she began.
“Status change!” someone announced. “Admiral, we have another hyper emergence behind Bogey One and Bogey Two. Designate Bogey Three. CIC estimates —” The voice broke off for a moment, then resumed in something closer to a whisper. “CIC makes Bogey Three as five hundred point sources, Ma’am . . . but that can’t
“Why not?” Howsmyn snapped.
“Because of the mass curve, Ma’am.” The Tactical rating’s face was white. “According to the hyper footprint, Bogey Three masses almost four hundred
Howsmyn blinked. Five hundred additional Gbaba warships could make no difference at all to the odds she and her hugely outnumbered defenders faced. But four hundred
Safehold masses? Nothing the old Federation or their own scouts had ever detected could have prepared her for that. Warships that individually massed eighty percent
as much as her home world?! How could we have underestimated them so terribly?
she wondered numbly. It’s not
Except for the minor fact that it obviously was possible, she heard her own voice telling her inside her frozen brain.
“Bogey Three is closing to rendezvous with Bogey Two,” Tracking told her. Then there was another pause. “Admiral,” the rating continued very carefully, “Bogey Three is moving at almost seventy
percent of light-speed.”
” Howsmyn spun her command chair around. “They’d have to have an acceleration rate of —”
“Admiral,” the rating looked up to meet her eyes, and his own were almost desperate, “they didn’t
accelerate. As far as we can tell, they went instantaneously
from a closing velocity of less than five thousand KPS to one of almost two hundred and ten thousand KPS!”
Howsmyn bit her tongue before the word “impossible” could escape her, then turned her command chair back to her display with a sense of utter futility. If these new Gbaba behemoths were capable of that sort of performance, her missiles
wouldn’t be able to catch up with them, far less her warships. They were going to —
“Admiral! Bogey Three’s just opened fire on Bogey Two!
Howsmyn half rose from her chair as the tactical display updated itself emotionlessly. Explosions — huge
explosions! — ripped through Bogey Two's solid phalanx of superdreadnought. Warheads, their yields measured in thousands of megatons, blew even the mightiest ships into incandescent gas. And something even stranger was happening . . .
“Those missiles are coming in through hyper-space
!” she heard her own voice say.
“That is correct,” Owl responded. “Not only that, Admiral, but in addition to the high-yield antimatter explosions we are detecting, it would appear that Bogey Three is employing some munition which creates small, localized black holes. Many of those ships are being literally ripped apart by immensely powerful, short duration gravity fields.”
“Communications request!” someone snapped. “Admiral, we have an incoming communications request!”
“Put it on my display!”
An instant later, a woman’s face appeared on Howsmyn’s display. She was strikingly attractive, with hair as dark black as Empress Irys’ own, and ebon eyes . . . and Nimue Howsmyn had never seen her in her life.
“Admiral Nimue Howsmyn,” she said, surprised by the crispness of her own tone.
“Senior Fleet Admiral Ninhursag MacIntyre,” the woman on her display replied, “commanding officer Third Fleet. I apologize for my late arrival, but we hadn’t realized we were pushing the Achuultani in your direction.”
“Achuultani?” Howsmyn repeated blankly.
“I believe you call this universe’s version of them the ‘Gbaba,’” the “senior fleet admiral” replied, as reasonably as if a single thing she was saying actually made sense. “The Fifth Imperium's been hunting them down for quite some time now. Ever since we discovered that their master computer had perfected a transtemporal drive.”
Howsmyn sagged back in her command chair, and the woman named MacIntyre smiled crookedly.
“Sorry. I forget how fast this comes at people.”
“How fast what
comes at people?” Howsmyn asked.
“All of it. For the moment, though, we have an Achuultani — excuse me, a Gbaba
fleet to deal with. And after that, we’ll have to track them back to their central nest place and deal with that
, too. Fortunately, I think we brought along enough firepower.”
” Howsmyn parroted, watching as the Gbaba fleet which had been called Bogey Two disintegrated like a tide-washed sand castle before her eyes. “Shan-wei! What do you call
“These?” MacIntyre smiled again. “These are Dahak IV
-class planetoids, but General Bahnakson and Admiral DeVries will be bringing up the troop transports as soon as we’ve dealt with this little infestation. I think you’ll be impressed by how many troops a Tomanāk
-class transport can land. And I don’t think your ‘Gbaba
’ are going to like it very much when a Mark XLVI Bolo brigade starts rolling, either. Now, if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’ve got a few Achuultani to get out of the way before we rendezvous and start discussing alliances.”