Friday, June 13, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 108

< Chapter 107                                                                                                   Chapter 109 >
Our hero looks into the docking bay and discovers docking clamps have been fastened to the Aashla’s Hope’s landing gear!

"Aashla's Hope, the pirates have locked you in place with docking clamps," I said.

"Oh."  Laura's single-word exhalation carried more feeling, more frustration, and more defeat than the loudest, most profane rant imaginable.

"David, most of us were raised with airships rather than starships," Callan said.  "Please explain what you're talking about."

"Docking clamps are normally a safety device designed to hold a ship in place.  Like the ones holding the pinnace-."  My voice broke, my vision blurred, and once again I saw the awful explosion which had taken the life of a young man I loved like the little brother I never had.  Knowing this was not the time to mourn Milo, I took control of my voice.  "In a large, immobile bay like this one, docking clamps allow engineers to perform engine test burns at high thrust without worrying about balancing thrust vectors."

There was silence for a few seconds before Megan said, "So, the clamps keep the ship from moving no matter how hard you run the engines?"

"Right.  That's what I said."

"No, darling, that's what you meant," Callan said.  "Megan, thank you for the translation."

"Now that we all understand the situation," Laura said, "what are we going to do about it?"

"Once the ship is  Is that the right word?" Rupor asked.

"Yes, Your Highness."

"Good.  Once the ship is online, why not use the ship's laser batteries to fry all the pirates in the docking bay?  Then we can release the clamps and be on our way."

It was a reasonable question from someone unfamiliar with ship-mounted laser batteries, but I could imagine Laura's mouth working as her brain tried to find just the right words to convey her horror at the thought.  I jumped in to answer before she found her voice.

"Rupor, firing the lasers in such a confined space would be deadly to all of us.  The reflected heat, alone, would melt the ship's skin.  And rock blasted from the docking bay walls would only have one place to go -- back on the ship."

"What he said," Laura confirmed.

"Ah," Rupor mused.  "Remind me to study up on these modern weapons after we've dealt with this pirate rabble."

"I wish I had his confidence," someone murmured over the comm.

"Come now, people," Rupor said.  "This is a puzzler, certainly, but we have as fine a collection of people as I have ever had the pleasure to serve with!  There is a solution.  We will find it."

"At the very worst, we can just sit tight until the navy sends a task force," someone said.  "They're bound to have gotten that messenger drone by now."

"No, we can't just wait," Laura's husband spoke up.  "These pirates hit settlements as well as shipping.  They've got mobile laser batteries which can be fired in the docking bay.  Quint has probably already sent for them."

The comm was silent again as everyone digested this latest news.

"Use shaped explosive charges to blow the ship free."  The voice was weak and rasping.

"Martin!" Megan cried.  "You're awake!"

"Indeed, dear heart," Martin gasped.  "I've been awake for a while, but couldn't quite find my voice until just now."

"I'm glad you're speaking again, my friend," I said, "but your suggestion won't work.  Anyone leaving the ship to place explosives on the docking clamps would be an easy target for the pirates."

"I'm disappointed in you, David.  Don't you claim to have watched every adventure vid in existence?" Martin replied.  "Haven't you seen Star Ranger and the Space Pirates?"

"I said I watched the good vids, Martin."

"You're insulting a classic, Wonder Boy!"

"Would you boys quit arguing about vids and enlighten the rest of us?" Callan demanded.

"Star Ranger faced just this situation in that vid.  His solution can be our solution."  Martin paused, perhaps to gather strength or perhaps for dramatic effect.  "We don't blow the docking clamps.  We blow the landing gear it's clamped to!”

Has Martin found the solution to the docking clamp problem?  Find out in Chapter 109, coming Monday!