Marooned on Planet X – Part Nine

Marooned on Planet XIn our last episode, the crew of the GSF Pickett knew that the evil Corpellians were on their way. The crew worked feverously to get the ship ready for a battle, a battle there was no hope of winning.

Captain Jake Evans’s face showed he was not happy. He turned to the crew working on the ship’s blasters.

“What kind of range do we have? Can we defend against landing craft?” he asked.

“We seem to be able to have a kilometer or two. Gunny is working on a plan. He read something about minimizing blooming.”

“I hope he comes up with it quick. You guys keep on it; I’m going to check out the power supply.”

Evans climbed into the ship. He stopped in the bridge. JR was staffing the radio.

“Any news?” Evans asked.

“No sir. It has been quiet. Harv promised he’d call when they were in the area.”

“Keep me posted, JR. We’ll a little on the vulnerable side right now.”

“Will do, sir!”

Evans walked towards engineering. He heard hammering and power tools.

“What’s up, Smitty?”

“I have to rewire the shields. I have a great idea with that, by the way,” Commander Irene Smithson replied.

“I thought you were restarting the reactor?”

“The process is going. I have Burroughs on it now.”

“Is he qualified?”

Smithson laughed, “He is now. All he has to do is watch a couple of dials and call me if something goes wrong.”

“What’s wrong with our shields?” Evans asked.

“They are working fine, Captain. Our shields are design to cover the ship in 360 degrees. As you know, Captain, approximately 180 degrees of the ship are protected by the ground. I’m redirecting and rewiring the shield nodes to give us stronger coverage.”

“Smitty, I need those shields to be ready very soon. Our guns aren’t working.”

“Blooming?” Smithson asked.

“That’s what they tell me.”

“Tell Gunny to try the Everett Arrangement.”

“What is that?”

“He’ll know. It would take too much time to explain.”

“Fine, I’ll let him know,” Evans muttered, knowing Smitty was to preoccupied to discuss things. He climbed to the airlock.

He saw Putchin, Johanssen, and Leonard near the blaster arrays.

“Gunny,” Evans called. “Smitty suggested the Everett Arrangement. She said you would know what that means.”

Johanssen looked shocked. “Of course, I knew I was missing something.” Johanssen turned to the team. “Quick, unbolt these guns, we ne to rearrange them now.”

Evans watched as the team went into overdrive to rearrange the guns. The sun was lower in the sky; soon it would be night. He looked out to the sea.

His reverie was broken by clambering on the ladder to the airlock. JR ran to him, panting.

“JR, what is the sit-rep?” Evans asked.

“The situation is, they are here, sir. The Corpellians are here.”

Evans felt cold creeping in his soul. The Corpellians would attack as things grew dark. It was their style. Somehow, they knew that ships routinely turned off the reactors as battle loomed. They did not take long to find them. It was as if they knew.

He ran to Engineering.

“They here,” he told Smitty.

“Damn!” She muttered. She reached over and plugged a plug. She reached in the opposite direction and pulled off a connection. A board lit up.

“You have full shields, Captain. You should be able to take two direct hits, before we run out of power. Burroughs is going to advise us when the reactor can take the load. Make sure everyone stays under the protection umbrella.”

Smitty turned back to her work and ignored Evans.

Evans ran to the bridge. JR was back at his station. “Where are they exactly, JR?”

“I’m showing a photon trail heading this way from the southeast, bearing towards us. It’s consistent with the Corpellian jump drive.”

“How much time do we have, JR?”

“No more than 45 minutes at the rate he’s travelling, Sir.”

“Hopefully they won’t attack right away. Otherwise our shields will have to hold about fifteen minutes.”

“The energy output makes that as one of their cruisers, Sir.”

“Damn!” Evans swore. “They can certainly score a couple of direct hits in fifteen minutes.”

He climbed to the airlock. He could feel the energy from the shields. The three officers were furiously working on the guns. Evans was amazed how fast the configuration changed.

“The Corpellians will be here in about fifteen minutes,” Evans said.

“I’m not sure we’ll be ready, Captain,” Gunny Johanssen said.

“Do the best you can, Gunny. Smitty says we can take two direct hits before we lose power.”

“What kind of ship, sir?”

“JR thinks it’s a cruiser.”

All three men cursed.

“We’ll hurry, sir,” Putchin said.

Evans noticed that the gun was arranged with six of the small guns arranged around the larger one. They were being attached to one platform controller by one servomechanism. The servo was controller by a makeshift joystick attached to the firing computer. The whole system sat between the ship and the solar power array. The gun unit was placed within the protection of the shield.

“It won’t be long now,” Evans whispered to himself.

After several minutes, his eye caught a glimpse of something metallic in the sky. The Corpellian ship moved fast. The ship must be on the outer fringes of the atmosphere. For it to be seen without magnification, it must have been huge, Evans reasoned.

Each moment, the speck grew larger as it approached.

“Gentlemen, the ship is here,” Evans announced to his crew.

The three men at the gunnery station looked up and saw the approaching behemoth. They turned back to their work. Putchin made his way to the computer and grabbed the joystick. The gun unit began to respond.

“Targeting!” Putchin announced. A few seconds later he announced, “Locked.”

“At least that works,” Gunny muttered. He and Leonard continued to attach things to the unit.

The ship continued its approach. The gun unit tracked the ship automatically.

Evans continued to watch the ship. It was odd seeing a ship from the surface of the planet. The ship was huge and very ungainly. He could see small contrails trail from the sharp points of the vessel. It must be just grazing the outer atmosphere. Must be trying for a sure shot, Evans thought.

The ship seemed to be 15 degrees away from top center when Evans saw the flashes.

“Incoming!” he yelled.

He began to see fires on the long side of the island. The beams from the Corpellian guns were moving towards the Pickett.

Evans thought of Decker and her team, exposed, looking for shelter.

The energy beams approached. Evans could feel the heat.

A beam hit the shield. There was an electrical sizzling sound. The men ducked reflexively. Several more beans struck the shield. The bombardment lasted for a twenty-minute eternity. All the while Johanssen and Leonard were attaching wires to the gun unit.

Evans watched as the beams headed to sea, sending up puffs of steam.

“Engaged!” Johanssen yelled as the bombardment lessened. “Aim just in front of the engines.”

“Captain?” Putchin asked.

“Fire at will, Mr. Putchin!”

Putchin flipped a switch. A shield-baffling beam opened a small corridor through which the guns could fire. He hit another button. Six beams from the smaller guns reflected off the Corpellian ship. There was no effect.

“Hold your ears!” Putchin shouted. He pressed a button.

Three thunderous shocks rattled the ground. A large bang sounded and reverberated below the umbrella of the shield. Evans was nearly knocked to the ground.

Evans watched as the three photon pulses slammed into the enemy cruiser. Gunny was correct in the aiming point; several secondary explosions erupted from the hull. The stricken vessel fired its engines in an attempt to flee.

The action, however, doomed the ship. The quick acceleration so close to the planet’s gravitational pull, coupled with the structural damage from the blast, caused the ship to break apart.

Elated and horrified, the crew of the Pickett watched as the gravitational pull from Planet X dragged the ship into a death spiral. The ship heated as it entered the atmosphere. Soon, explosions were rampant and fragments flew in all directions. As the ship fell into the atmosphere, the sounds of the explosions could be heard.

The fragments of the ship fell as glowing red embers in the darkening sky. Silence fell among the onlookers.

JR climbed to the ships airlock. “Captain, most of that ship landed about a hundred and thirty miles southeast of here. There are no more ships out there at this time.”

Evans approached the ship, turned, and faced everyone. “Crew. We have won our first fight here on Planet X. I assure you, the Corpellians will be here with more ships soon. I am ordering each of you to get some rest. We will wake you when we have some more developments.”

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