Chapter 3: Variation on a Theme by Clausewitz
The Munch is moving us through time and space to our rendezvous with the
Johnny B. We check out some anti-nausea drugs for Mueller, gather together
our oxygen equipment (in case we have another hull breach), and get a good
night's sleep. We do have a better idea of what we're facing this time, but
complaisance is our enemy. We pass through the message for the Johnny B.
again; we are on schedule. Blake finishes prepping the Nimble for Mueller.
He consults with Dafnord about the time for his launch, but then our captain
starts to fret about the risks of opening the cargo bay doors at high
speeds. He consults in his turn with Edvard, who agrees that if the space
density were high, there would be a risk in opening the bay at our emergency
Dafnord and Mueller agree that he will deploy at T minus five minutes, unless the flux is high. Then, he would emerge earlier, but at a lower speed. He buttons up and waits.
At T minus fifteen minutes, the three chirps appear and arc away from the Johnny B. The three Jots are using the same, 'new' emergency codes that we are familiar with. The name for Jot Beta-1 is Good, that for Jot Beta-2 is Gunny, and that for Jot Beta-3 is Bell. Edvard reports that the density is dangerously high, so Dafnord has the Munch slow down, before he has Nimble launch at T minus twelve minutes. We speed up again, with Nimble flying right next to us and, we hope, almost invisible.
Five manta ships sweep in towards Johnny B.'s bow, and three towards its stern. Mueller announces, "Jot Beta-1, this is Jot Alpha-1."
"Glad to hear from you, Nimble," says Good's pilot.
"Quick and Flash are still with the Jack B., but I did bring ... some assistance," explains Mueller. "Where do you want us?"
"You and your friend can attack the rear ships; we'll take those forward."
"Who the hell are you?" asks the voice of the Johnny B., in the new code.
Dafnord reports back, "the Munch." Subsequent chatter makes us realize that the captain of the Johnny B. thinks the jots are our squadron. This minimizes confusion (for now); we do not correct him. Battle is joined.
Nimble takes out the manta ship of his choice with his first shot, but the Munch misses its target. So do the mantas. Good also nails his first target, although he does not destroy it. Bell hits, but does not do a lot of damage, while Gunny misses completely. Instead, three of the five mantas hit Gunny, and Bell's opponent returns the hit. Nimble asks "Eddie" to finish off the two aft mantas, and heads for the damaged Gunny. Edvard and the Munch oblige him by again hitting the same manta, but we miss our shot at the last of the three. Naturally, that one has a clear shot at us, and hits us in the starboard engine again. The engine continues to run.
In front of the Johnny B., Good fires on one of the three ships attacking Gunny, hitting it and drawing its fire, and so is struck in return. The other two mantas hit Gunny again; he is now dangerously damaged. Nevertheless, he returns fire, hitting one of the two. The Johnny B. also hits that manta, but it continues to operate.
Edvard at last manages to get a hit on the third rear manta, which fails to hit us with its next shot. The other rear manta behaves differently; it fires at us, and blows itself up. Following Dafnord's instructions, Edvard fires a volley of four shots into the enemy ship. They are good, solid hits, but the manta isn't out yet.
Bell and its chief adversary each attempt to out-maneuver the other, so neither one fires immediately. Nimble has reached the battle scene, and hits the manta that has eluded all previous attacks. Good hits his second ship again, while Gunny finishes off the ship that Nimble had hit, with an impressive display of firepower. Nimble quickly turns to attack the manta dancing with Bell, and hits it. Good and Gunny miss; their two manta miss.
The last aft manta ship fires, and takes out one of our plasma cannon, but Edvard had been holding fire, waiting for the perfect shot. He takes it, and there are no more enemy ships near the Johnny B.'s stern. We have saved his butt, so we head for the remaining dogfight.
Bell misses his dancing opponent, as does Nimble. But Nimble gets off another shot at him, and this one finishes it off. Good nails the manta still attacking Gunny, before it can hit Gunny again. The Johnny B. fires its lasers at the one remaining manta, but misses. Nimble announces that he wants to take this pilot prisoner, and so attempts a disabling shot, but misses. The enemy fires back unsuccessfully. Bell, more pragmatically, fires to kill, and succeeds. The battle is over.
Gunny emits an SOS, indicating that the Jot is losing air. We were already closing on it, so we now scoop in into our cargo bay, close the doors, and start pumping air back into the hold. Our elfin heavy lifters, Kate and Daphne, join Robbie at the ship as soon as there is enough air, and are soon TK-ing the injured pilot, Soo Lin, off to the Grand Aesculapius.
Lt. Nakadai, Good's pilot, asks for permission for the Jot Alpha-1, the Jot Beta-1, and the Jot Beta-2 to dock with the Johnny B. This is promptly granted by Slater, who knows about the Jots, and more tentatively by Captain White, who does not. Clearly, White is still bothered by the surprise augmentation of his crew.
"This is Captain Dafnord of the Munch. We'd like to meet with you, and we can transport you easily to our vessel. Could you clear an eight-meter space in ... Cargo Bay Three?"
"Uhhh. We could more easily clear a space in Cargo Bay Two."
"That will suffice. Could you please bring pilots Mueller and Nakadai with you?"
He gets agreement, and soon we are notified that the space is ready for us. Kate and Daphne ride the jaunt cannon over, and arrange everything for the trip to the Munch. It is apparent that Captain White, despite his resolve to take these unusual events in his stride, is nevertheless bothered by the arrival of a tiny blue humanoid with wings. Even the gamin Kate disturbs him.
We bring them to the Munch's bridge to meet Dafnord. He shows them the combat log, and provides them with copies of it, our previous combat log, and that of the Jack B. We discuss possible motives for the attack by the manta ships. White admits that they are carrying some weapons parts "off the books." Dafnord repeats the information we got from Mueller, and the pilot nods confirmation. On a hunch, Robbie checks the Map of Here, but finds no useful trace. We admit we cannot understand their motive.
After brooding on this for a bit, we are all agreed that the Johnny B. can continue on its way to Philippia, minus Gunny and Lt. Soo Lin. We'll also keep Blake, who will continue to work on repairs to Gunny and the Munch (one plasma cannon, and that pesky starboard engine). We will return to Hellene and Jumping Jacks. To send everyone off in a good mood, we serve chocolate mousse.
©2002,2005 Ann Broomhead and Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.