The Ares Weapon Sample Chapter
Sixteen hours later on the bridge, most of us sat strapped in and watched the milky sphere of Venus grow rapidly in the monitors. Dunn was nowhere to be seen. I would have asked about him, but I didn’t want to care and, frankly, I had more pressing concerns on my mind.
I had been witness to a couple of gravity assist maneuvers, but never one this challenging. We headed straight for Venus, planning a sharp turn around it. The idea was to add the acceleration of our approach along with the planet’s momentum to speed us up and outrun Athena.
Or something like that. I hated physics. To the best of my understanding, we needed to get close to the planet to pull it off. Insanely close in my humble opinion which Garrick made clear, nobody was interested in hearing.
I occupied myself by digging my fingers into the arm of my chair and tried to keep from hyperventilating.
It wouldn’t do to have the ship’s physician freak out before all the fun started. I consoled myself with the knowledge if things didn’t work out as planned, we would all get a brief opportunity to scream and I could fill the air with my useless I-told-you-so’s as we burned up in the atmosphere. I thought I may as well make my last words creative, so I spent some time composing a particularly acidic vindictive to hurl at Dunn, in the event he ever decided to grace us with his presence. As I finished that thought, he arrived and wordlessly took his seat behind the Captain.
“More important things to attend to, Mister Dunn?” I asked.
He gave me his predatory smile and replied, “Everything I do is important, Doctor.”
Not in the humour to spar with him, I shut up before I voiced my real thoughts.
Even though we flirted with death in this maneuver, everything on the bridge remained calm and routine. There was no violent shaking of the ship as we approached the planet or any indication suggesting the danger in what we attempted. I closed my eyes to distract myself by imagining my hands around Charlie Wong’s throat and what I intended to do to him if I ever encountered that son-of-a-bitch again. I hoped my ghost would be able to haunt him at the very least.
Athena apparently figured out what we were up to several hours before and made the trajectory adjustment Limn predicted. I originally thought forty-five seconds not an awful lot of time for them to shoot at us. When we were first told the plan, I imagined some scruffy jarhead lining us up in his sights, pulling the trigger and missing as we flipped our middle fingers in his direction and zipped away.
The truth was far less dramatic, Athena having released her missiles after making her course correction. It was a last, desperate effort on their part to destroy us while we remained in range. Since they could not know how close we would approach or what kind of engine boost we would use, they took their best guess and laid down a spread of missiles to hedge their bets.
“The last of their payload has been released, Captain,” announced Limn, far too calm for somebody being shot at.
“Engaging course correction,” responded Garrick.
The ship vibrated slightly as the engines fired, altering our velocity by just enough to theoretically avoid the firing solution.
“Exactly how many missiles did they shoot at us?” I asked.
“Two hundred and forty-seven,” said Limn. “They employed a statistical distribution to account for any changes...”
“Thanks. I’m sorry I asked.”
I thought the entire manner of our possible deaths in that missile spread unjustifiably anticlimactic. I had always imagined dying in a dramatic fashion. Though the prospect of being incinerated shortly did qualify, my rational self argued the navigation was expertly plotted and there existed little chance my fears would be realized.
That was the funny thing about fear. It didn’t need to be based on fact or reason. It was primal; the body’s way of warning you not to try something stupid.
But as I came to understand on this day, a war in space was nothing more than an algorithm; an exercise in applied statistics. No romantic concept of two ships spinning around each other in a dogfight. No dramatic weaving or running along side and boarding like the days of sailing vessels on the Terran seas. In space, war became cold calculation and nothing else. You shot at your opponent and never saw them blown to little bits because, by the time it happened, you would be long gone. It was too impersonal for my tastes. I sat back in my seat and closed my eyes to resume my imagined murder of Charlie.
I felt a warm hand grasp mine and opened my eyes to Hodgson leaning across the aisle.
“We’ll be fine,” he whispered. His eyes showed legitimate concern for me, and I wondered how I ever considered him to be Dunn’s willing stooge.
I gave him an insincere smile to make sure he understood I didn’t believe him and resumed rehearsing my especially creative curse for Dunn.
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