Monday, August 17, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 10

< Chapter 9                                                                                                       Chapter 11 >
Wolf system patrol ship Alpha has fired three missiles at Matt and Michelle’s spaceship!

I heard the nervous tension in Michelle’s voice as she announced the missile launches. “So much for just trying to hit the engines,” she added.

“Yeah, well, they probably got carried away in the excitement of the chase,” I said, giving them more credit than the captain deserved. “They still aren’t in range for lasers, so maybe she’s hoping we’ll give up. Then she can just disarm the missiles.”

“Right, babe, but you’ve got your brilliant plan that’s going to take care of those missiles, right?”

“Of course, hon. We haven’t even celebrated our first anniversary yet, so I’m not going to let us get blown to bits.” I turned a bright smile on Michelle, hoping for a disarming effect.

It worked. She returned my smile with a devilish one of her own. “Admit it, you just want to see what I’m going to give you for an anniversary present.”

“You’re getting me something? Aw, that’s so sweet!” I bantered back. “Can you give me a hint? Is it a new sports flier?”

“I’ll never tell—but it’s really more of an activity than an actual thing,” Michelle replied, turning back to her controls.

“Oh, an activity sounds like fun,” I said. “Please tell me it involves getting naked!”

“How about I tell you the missiles have closed half the distance between us and the patrol ship, instead?” Michelle asked. “Is it time to implement your plan?”

“Almost. I want them to get closer so the missiles have a better chance of locking on the decoys when we launch them. Mentioning the decoys, we’re launching the first two on my mark. Hold the third until after my course correction.”

“We’re changing courses? How nice of you to tell me,” Michelle growled.

“Sorry, you distracted me with all that talk about naked activities.”

I said activities, you added the naked part,” Michelle said with a short laugh.

“Yes, we’re changing course. There’s no way we can reach wormhole epsilon before the patrol ship gets well within laser range. They’ll definitely be able to take out our engines then.” I brought up a chart with my new course. “So we’re going to change course for wormhole delta and hope the missiles bite on the decoys.”

“Do we have any idea where wormhole delta goes?” Michelle asked. “Epsilon goes to a fairly big colony out beyond the Federation border.”

“All I had time to check was that delta went to a system with a second wormhole,” I replied. “It wouldn’t do to just head off into an interstellar cul-de-sac.”

“And what about the patrol ship?”

“We’re a lot more maneuverable than it,” I said. “We can make a pretty tight course correction. The patrol ship will have to swing much wider than us. They’ll never get close enough for lasers before we enter wormhole delta.”

“If you say so, pilot dear.” Michelle checked her missile track again. “Is it time to launch the decoys yet? Those things are getting way too close for comfort.”

“Almost,” I said, watching the missiles close on us. “Prepare for decoy launch on my mark… Now!”

Michelle punched two buttons simultaneously and a metallic thump sounded through the ship. “Decoys one and two are away…They’re broadcasting our signal and are breaking off on their own course…One missile bit!”

“What about the second decoy? Did anything follow it?”

“No,” Michelle shook her head. “We’ve still got two missiles on our tail. Can we outrun them?”

“I wish,” I said. “That’s what the third decoy is for.”

I ran my hands over the pilot’s controls and the ship rotated away from our direct course to wormhole epsilon. “Get ready to launch the third drone.”

I watched the ship’s heading swinging around toward the course I’d laid in for the other wormhole. Halfway through the course change, I said, “Launch the decoy.”

A final thump resounded in the ship as the miniature rocket sped away from us. Michelle and I watched the track of the two remaining missiles, waiting for them to show their course—and, of course, only one of the missiles locked on the drone. Without any more decoys prepped for launch, I prepared for evasive maneuvers. At the same time, Michelle leaned over her weapons console and deployed several lasers.

About then, the comm burst to life as the annoying patrol ship captain contacted us. “Nice try, kids, but you’re not going to get away that easily. Come about to an intercept course with us and I’ll send a self-destruct order to the missile.”

“You know, she’s starting to get on my nerves. I should have turned the comm off instead of just muting it on our end,” Michelle said. Her fingers punched buttons and the display showed laser shots lancing out at the approaching missile. The first few shots missed by a wide margin, but Michelle quickly narrowed her aim, firing port and starboard laser batteries in sequence and retargeting after each shot.

“Do you think you can hit the missile?” I asked.

“The missiles are designed so automated targeting systems have trouble getting a lock on them. Even so, if I had another minute, I would definitely get it,” she said. “But we’ve got about half that time before it catches us, so I really don’t know. It all depends on what the captain does at this point.”

“Huh?”

“If she gets worried that my shots are coming too close, she’ll tell the missile to go into an evasion pattern,” Michelle said.

“Won’t that make it harder to hit the missile?”

“You’d think so,” Michelle said, “but it’s not very useful against someone trained in missile defense. If I setup a criss-crossing pattern of rapid shots from the lasers, there’s a good chance the missile will wander into the firing line.”

“That’s…counter-intuitive,” I said.

“You get a lot of that with automated weapons systems. The missile can’t carry an AI because an AI can develop a sense of self-preservation. If it does, the AI will save itself by veering off course entirely.” While talking to me, Michelle kept firing, her eyes glued on the missile track. “The best a missile can carry is a programmed random course generator. The thing is, it still has to stay so close to its original course that even a random course change can’t be very random. If there are multiple missiles or if the gunner is untrained, random evasion procedures can work well. Thanks to your decoys, we’ve only got one missile. And, well, you know how Daddy is—he made sure I was trained.”

Something changed on her display and Michelle suddenly barked a triumphant, “Yes!”

She hit a key and then sat back. “There’s nothing else we can do now, Matt. Just keep your fingers crossed…”

The missile track suddenly flashed and winked out. Michelle pumped a fist in the air. “She shoots, she scores!”

Michelle propped an elbow on her console and leaned her head against her hand. Blue eyes shining, she said, “You’re all clear, babe. Let’s get out of this system.”

“I think you’re celebration is a little premature, hon,” I replied. “They’ve launched another three missiles.”

“You’ll reach the wormhole before the missiles can catch us,” Michelle said, not even bothering to check the tracking system. “The missiles will lose their lock during the wormhole transit. All we have to do is run dark when we come out the other side. When the missiles exit, we just wait until the missiles run out of fuel or lock onto something else.”

A few minutes later, with our ship still well ahead of the cluster of missiles, we entered the wormhole and left Federation space behind us.


What will Matt and Michelle find at the end of wormhole delta? Find out in Chapter 11, coming Wednesday!