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The Adventures of Beer Keg of Science! (Cover)

Chapter 10

The Adventures of the Beer Keg of Science!

Main Bridge, NMS Beer Keg of Science!
On Intercept from Niops IX
Niops System, March 15, 3158

The Niops system was, as star systems go, not terribly large, which wasn’t terribly surprising, given the star Niops itself was an M5V class red dwarf. Travel time to or from Niops’ regular zenith or nadir jump points was under three days. So it didn't take much of a velocity change to move their hostile visitor’s flyby of Niops IX and the Ix Shipyards from days away to much, much less.

Their guest wasn't trying very hard to hide anymore. In fact, the ship was pouring on the thrust, allowing the Keg’s more extensive sensor suite, which alone was 42% the mass of the entire Enceladus before the poor ship’s demise, to get a good look at their foe.

It wasn’t a Lola III class destroyer. It was a damned M-5 Caspar drone, though one not in Star League colors, and packing stealth gear that sure as hell didn’t exist in the 28th Century.

That was only one of the mysteries Captain Leanansidhe Carpentier was trying to puzzle out as the Keg moved to intercept the Caspar. Mac, though, as an AI from an M-4 class drone, one of the Baron class destroyers converted into an SDS testbed, had additional communication protocols any SDS drone, from the M-1 shuttles to Newgrange-based M-11s, would recognize. Any except for this one, of course.

Lea looked over the holoplot again. ”No change from target?”

Lieutenant Commander Dominique “Mo” O’Brien-Howard, chief science officer for the Beer Keg of Science!, looked at her readouts again, and shook her head. “Negative. It’s still on the same course, no change in thrust. At this rate, we’ll intercept in six hours.”

“Ah, but who’s intercepting who?” Lea asked dryly.

“Before we intercept each other, then,” Mo replied curtly.

“Ensign Shido, any luck finding a jump point we can use to surprise them?”

Shido shook her head. “No, ma’am. The ones I'm finding are too far behind them, and even the six second points are hard to find this far inside the gravity well.”

“There's still those escape pods, too,” Mo noted.

Lea nodded. “The Independence is twelve hours behind us. Worst case scenario, they can pick up the Enceladus survivors.”

“Or ours,” Mo added dryly.

“Hush, you,” Lea said sternly. “I’ve got at least…twenty percent of a plan. Mister Rozhenko,” she said, turning to her tactical officer, “what about you? What percentage do you have?”

“At least forty-seven percent, Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Michael Rozhenko replied, “but it’s going to take a couple key items. Mac, can you, Howard and Reno make it work in time?”

{“Sure.”} the taciturn ship’s AI replied.

“Good. Then we’ve got a complete plan, Captain,” Rozhenko added.

“Excellent!” Lea replied, delighted.

“Mike, care to share with the rest of the class?” Mo asked.

“The Keg is massively outgunned in a conventional fight against an M-5. Like, they’ve got nearly twice our throw weight in a nose-on engagement, and two-and-a-half times our throw weight on a broadside, assuming both sides are doing shenanigans with off-axis capital missile launchers. But that's in a standard engagement, and while the Keg can do that, it’s not what the Cruiser class was built for – they’re meant for nuclear engagements. And in a nuclear engagement, we actually come out way, way ahead. Nose-on, we can put a dozen Santa Anas on target, using all our forward launchers. The Barracuda tubes in the nose give us another six launchers we can use. A stock Caspar, meanwhile, has three total nose-on: two AR10s and a single Killer Whale tube. With me so far?”

Ensign Shido actually raised her hand. “Um, but, I thought Barracudas couldn’t carry anti-shipping nukes?”

Rozhenko nodded. “Normally, that’s true, and I’ll get to that, ‘cause that’s part of the plan, too. But, even if we get stuck broadside on, we’ve still got six White Shark and six Barracuda tubes to their three AR10s, and while they may be able to bring in their nose Killer Whale tube in with a waypoint launch, we can bring a dozen Barracuda tubes in, giving us 24 launchers, any of which could be carrying a nuke, and we’ve got our improved sensors to help guide them. Even if they’ve refit to add point defense, that should give us enough to swamp anything they’ve got, especially since we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves: Commander Reno and her engineering team are going to use spare control components from the Blackwasps on some of the AMW missiles, pull the warheads on some of the Barracudas for ECM gear, and Mac and Howard…er, Bob, not you, Maureen, are going to kludge enough of the control software on them to get them to at least try to hit the Caspar successfully.”

“Not, that I'm doubting Bob’s ability,” Maureen mused, “but that’s a bit outside their normal operations. They won’t turn back towards us with their three megaton warheads if they get confused?”

{“They won’t. It’s covered.”}

Lea pondered for a moment. “Mac, anything you’d like to add about the plan?”

{“Shoot early, and often. We’re not trying to dazzle them with brilliance,”} Mac replied.

Rozhenko nodded in agreement. “Just riddle them with bullets. Hit ‘em up with some bearings-only launches early. Even if we have to set off the nukes without hitting them, we could dazzle their sensors. They’re not expecting three megaton blasts. We are.”

Lea nodded. “If this ends up being a high-speed pass, Mac, we’re going to need to leave a lot of this up to you.”

{“I know.”}

“It’ll mean killing one of your own,” Lea added.

{“Yes,”} Mac replied, {“it does.”}

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