AUTHOR'S NOTE: There is no official canon for Etheras. The story here does not preclude validity of other Etheras stories. Stories involving Etheras should be considered universes unto themselves with little or no carryover except for the character of Etheras himself. So please no "If this happened then how can Etheras have done this other thing?" Answer: Two different stories. Thanks!
Minister Terrol winced as he heard the shouts and clashing of metal upon metal echoing up from the halls of the lower decks. The sound seemed so far away as it vibrated through the thick metal walls and bulkheads of the starship. He glanced around to the other passengers of the space-liner. All looked concerned. Some hugged their loved-ones close, whispering gentle consolation, but all looked with bleak stares at the grand ballroom's elevator door... waiting for it to open - and dreading it. From there would emerge their fate, sure as the grave, and they all wondered and dreaded what form it might take. Terrol considered the irony of it all: the richest, most powerful people in all of the Unity worlds... individuals of such power and authority that a minor god would be envious, having swindled the ignorant masses with promises of equality and security and democracy... and here they flew on a tour of the core worlds, in this gorgeously constructed ballroom on a luxury-liner of a starship with its million-crystal chandeliers and gilded railings in their tailored suits and bright satin dresses made by the most famous designers in the galaxy, and yet they were here cowering in terror before a handful of outlaws.
Everything had been going according to plan until an hour ago. The space-cruise-liner Jewel Of The Stars had departed Spaceport Terra four days previous for a ten-day luxury tour of some of the oldest star systems of the Unity worlds. They were gorging on rich foods and complex and subtle drink, with shows and music and dancing. It was the evening of the forth day, and they were in their evening clothes, dancing to ancient classics and feasting on lobster and champagne when the alarm was raised. Terrol was spinning merrily around with his wife Ametha when a bass roar reverberated through the ship, making the floor buck. There was screaming - more of surprise and terror than injury. Terrol immediately knew that they had been hit by something... but what? A meteor? Space junk? Weapon fire? Could it be Pirates? No - It couldn't be pirates, the Jewel of the Stars was flying too far inside the security of the inner systems. So.. what was it, then?
He was making his way through the startled crowd towards the intercom to get a status update when a second boom shattered the apprehensive silence and the lights flickered and died, followed by the ominous red glow of the emergency lighting. It was then that Terrol knew it was pirates. It was rare enough for a space liner to collide with any objects in space, protected with its advanced sensors and LIDAR scanners and navigational AIs, but two hits in close succession? That spoke of intent. And it was just like the pirates... the first hit would have disabled their propulsion so that they wouldn't be able to maneuver away from the pirate's boarding skiffs. The second would target the powerplant to take down the ship's point-defense system. It's high-power short-range lasers would be a threat to boarding vessels. But now without power, those lasers were nothing but expensive hood ornaments.
But where were the Jewel's escorts? Of course Terrol already knew - they were all reduced to debris. This was the way of space combat. In space, it was almost impossible to know anything for sure. Space is not like it is depicted in movies and video games, since these chronically fail to take into account two vital truths: space is very big, and space is very empty. Because of these vital truths, even with warp-jump capabilities, ships need to move at incredible speeds to be practical. And because space is so large and empty, its easy to see one's enemy even millions of miles away. And if you can see them, they can probably see you too. And why wait to get close instead of engaging safely at range? But this presents its own problems; Even with some sort of hypothetical "perfect-precision" lasers and perfect calculations, hitting an enemy ship with an energy weapon is virtually impossible. The reason for this is simple: the target you are trying to hit is not where it appears. At such distances, the information your sensors are receiving is several seconds to possibly even a few minutes out-of-date. Additionally; while we all think of light as being fast, in terms of space combat its not nearly fast enough. Not only are you aiming based upon old data, but by the time the photons of your laser reach the target destination, the target is no longer there. One can extrapolate where the target should be when the photons are due to arrive, but since most targets do not want to be turned into space-dust, ships make tiny micro-adjustments to their orientation as part of standard flight procedure, and at such speeds, a fraction of a degree shift is hundreds of thousands of meters difference. Adding to this that the fabric of space is not quite flat, and at such speeds a laser miss of a thousand miles is a miraculously close shot. It would be like scoring a hit in a game of Battleship on a nearly-infinite grid. You're basically trying to hit an object the size of a bus moving near the speed of light twice the distance to the moon away with a beam the size of a dime - not very likely.
But in the way of life - no matter the obstacles, life will always find a way to kill other life, and Relativity-be-damned, life found a way. The only way for a weapon to destroy a target is for it to hit the target, and the only way to hit a target is to know where it is. Over large distances relativity prevents this, so the solution is to get closer. A suicidal notion, and far too risky - but computers can be programmed to control weapons that can alter their trajectory. As they get closer to the target, the more "up to date" their information is, and the more likely their warheads to eliminate the target. It may seem primitive to fans of traditional space operas, but the only effective weapons in real space combat are smart missiles and drones. That's not to say that directed energy weapons don't have their purpose, however. Even though they are useless as offensive weapons, they can be used defensively. If a ship realizes its under attack, point defenses activate and begin to target the incoming missiles and drones. In turn, the missiles have their own countermeasures, spraying a metallic aerosol from the nose-cone. This is a micro-chaff of highly-reflective aluminium crystals, which breaks up the integrity of the incoming beam. With no air resistance, the metallic cloud leads the missile, creating a "shield". The lasers try to shoot through the cloud. Photons have inertia, and can slowly blast the aerosol out of the way to try and reach the more-vulnerable missile hull. In return the missiles will maneuver and spray more chaff, while the lasers seek new gaps. The battle continues like this until the missile is destroyed, or until it comes within a few miles of its target whereupon the projectile will typically detonate its warhead - ... a nuclear detonation shaped in one direction; often inaccurately referred-to as a "nuclear laser", but it would be more accurate to call it an "atomic claymore". Such a blast is easily enough to destroy a fragile spacecraft even several miles away, provided that it is within the explosive's blast wave cone. Space warfare is really a contest between computers and programmers and engineers rather than pilots and gunners. The combat is simply too-fast, the margin of error too-small, and the distances too-vast for a live operator. The front-line soldiers of the future are engineers and programmers, mathematicians and chess-masters, designing measures and countermeasures, trying to predict the moves and capabilities of their opponents' new weapon-systems, and their counter-moves. For the most-part, a battle has already been decided before the first missile has been loosed.
Unfortunately for him, Minister Terrol reflected, the pirates had them massively outmaneuvered. The pirates had become outrageously successful, and with those successes came vast sums of capital. Everyone has a price, and with these bribes the Pirates would routinely purchase the loyalty of Unity's best engineers... buying insight into the tactics and capabilities of new weapon systems long before they were deployed, often back-engineering the designs, or simply stealing the weapons off of the ships of defeated adversaries. Additionally, despite significantly larger budgets, Unity had to finance enough military starships to garrison the a whole galaxy of space lanes and ports and trade routes, while the pirates invested heavily into their own individual ships. The result was that, on average, the Pirates were much better equipped than the Unity ships. The only exception to this was the massive lumbering mainline battlecruisers of the Unity Interspace Navy. Any one of these had enough firepower to take on an entire Pirate clan, but they proved to be a paper tiger. They were too expensive for widespread use, and their gigantic inertia made them unmaneuverable and slow to accelerate, while the nimble pirate ships could simply speed away unmolested.
But the pirates' greatest advantage wasn't one so tangible. The conscripts of the Unity fleet were the sons of factory workers and taxi drivers and the daughters of nurses and bankers. Even the enlisted spent most of their careers at space stations or planetside. They never formed a bond with their ships; their ships were never their homes. But the pirates lived in space. They understood space. It was even said that some pirate pilots could feel and ride the bumps and ripples of the fabric of spacetime itself. Their ships were their homes, and so they had a feel for every nuance and quirk she had. Similarly, they served with and lived with the same crewmates for years, and formed deep, lasting bonds with eachother... a feeling for eachother's strengths and weaknesses... And all of them wanted to be out there: among the stars.
Out HERE, Terrol corrected himself as the sounds of steel clashed and scraped closer. Swords tended to be used by boarding parties rather than guns because, as all trained shooters know, within 7 meters a knife is deadlier than a gun. And a sword is deadlier-still. Starships, even large luxurious liners like the Jewel Of The Stars are full of winding corridors, and the floor is constantly curving upward; a result of the centrifugal artificial gravitation system, reducing visibility to a scant few meters in any direction throughout most of the ship. This made the pirates' nano-blades the most effective weapons for boarding ships.
That was the way that star pirates operated. They would sometimes strike from the cover of an asteroid or the shadow of a moon... but such tricks were difficult to execute while remaining hidden, and required the cover to be present at a precisely correct time and place and vector - not something that one can often count-on with certainty. The usual tactic was to fly the colors of a particular local government or shipping union and pretend to be a merchant hauler or passenger-liner, and then fire their missiles once their quarry had passed them by. This was the best strategy because it is the most favorable from an offensive standpoint. The front and rear of a ship tend to have the least surface area, and therefore the smallest defensive cross-section to put weapons. Add to this the ship's engines, which are usually mounted in the rear, and you have the angle of least resistance. Another good strategy is to fire head-on. With relevistic missiles from a ship moving at incredible speed, the missile is moving nearly at the speed of light, aimed at a target moving near the speed of light in the opposite direction. The result is that the light from the missile's engines arrives only slightly before the missile itself, and the subsequent time-warping effects would compound with this to minimize the reaction time of the target and her crew.
In either case, the primary objective of a pirate is usually not to destroy but to disable so that they can safely board the ship, steal its contents, and perhaps kidnap a few of the crew for ransom of outright recruitment. Because of this, they use drones or swarm missiles rather than nuclear weapons... at least in terms of their objective. First, they would destroy the escorts, usually with torpedoes armed with nuclear lasers, fired from cover. But because ships fly far-apart in space (for safety reasons, as an exploding ship causes shrapnel, and with no air resistance the pieces never slow down, spelling doom for any ships close-by) its usually several seconds before a ship knows her escort is under attack, and by that point the pirate's attack is already on them as well. Weapons with conventional ordinances or drone energy weapons will target specific areas of the ship's subsystems. First would target engines or engine-control. This will prevent the ship from maneuvering to prevent boarding parties from cutting into the ship's hull and taking control, but before that happens, a second missile or drone will take out primary power too, in order to disable the ship's point defense lasers, which could be used just as easily to defeat boarding skiffs as it defeats drones and missiles. These defensive weapons require a significant amounts of power to send energy beams several miles with high enough resolution to burn through the metal hull of incoming missiles or drones - far more energy than can be supplied from backup batteries alone.
Once the ship is unable to maneuver or defend itself from boarding, small craft called 'skiffs' are dispatched from the pirate vessel to latch-on to the hull of their victim with large pressurized suction doors. Then plasma cutters are applied to the heavy rubber exterior of the ship's hull, and then through the titanium structure beneath. And once that happens? Up the ladders come, and the pirates with their nano-blades follow right after.
It was then that Terrol noticed that the clamor had ceased. His eyes squinted on at the large double doors to the elevator. From the digital readout, the car was coming down to the ballroom deck. And in a moment him and his compatriots would know their fate. He had a sickening feeling that it would be... yes...
The doors opened and out stepped four forms. Terrol's heart sank the moment he saw their outlines. The long coats and tri-pointed hats could only mean one thing: pirates. But his heart sank even further when he recognized one shape in-particular. The distinct grace of its curves, the small size of the form, the large bushy tail, but most-telling of all was the face - bright white fur adorning a slender effeminate muzzle, with large yellow eyes. He swaggered forward in his form-fitting plasti-leather outfit, showy but practical, and leaving little to the imagination, with the heavy coat of the pirates draped over it. This fox was known far-and-wide. It was the notorious "Prettyboy Etheras Lawbane, Beauty of the Stars" - the face of modern space-piracy, and the most-wanted fox in the whole galaxy. He was Captain of the Diamond Sun - the most formidable ship in the pirate fleet. Its no wonder the escorts were felled without even a gasp of warning.
Minister Terrol shrank back as Etheras the white fennec mounted a short flight of steps to the balcony overlooking the ballroom floor. "Ministers and spouses," he said in his high musical voice, "I'm sure you have guessed by now that this is a robbery. Your ship is under my control. Some of my lieutenants are coming around with bags. Please make it easy on yourselves and us and just hand over your valuables without incident. Yes that's right... in the bag so we can leave. You don't want us around any longer than we have to be, right? Right."
"You're not going to ransom us?" asked one scared and surprised voice from the audience.
"Ransom?" Etheras giggled "No.. no.. we're not here for you. There is a precious bit of cargo aboard that was our heart's desire. I doubt most of you were aware that it was even here." the fennec glanced knowingly at the minister of defense, who went pale. "And so, once we have padded our purses a little bit with your evening's adornments and petty cash, we will be returning you to your home."
Terrol was shocked and felt his mood lighten. "They're letting us go?" he asked the air in disbelief. And it seemed to be true! He felt a lurch as the ship's engines came back online and the stars outside began to shift. Before a large portal window Etheras gazed out, paws clasped behind his back as they approached this system's sun - the gravity well which they would use to launch the ship back into hyperspace to return to Terra.
Once the collectors had made a few circuits around the ballroom, making sure they had taken every valuable scrap of loot, Etheras returned to the balcony rail to speak to them all. The crowd seemed less nervous, and far more curious now. Terrol imagined that many of them might even consider this to have been a good deal. Oh the stories they would tell! A story unlike any other, and all it cost is a few pieces of evening jewelry? What a deal! He could just imagine his wife saying, 'And we were robbed by the infamous Etheras Dela Fay!' They would be the center of the party.
"Our work here is done," announced the fennec, "Unfortunately your navigator did not survive our boarding and we can't return with you to Terra without risking imprisonment, so we have programmed your nav-computer to take you the rest of the way. And now, we must leave. Have a safe trip."
And with that, they returned to the elevators. A few moments later, the skiffs detached and shrunk away, fading onto the darkness of space.
"We're going home!" Terrol thought with a sigh of relief as the hyperspace engines began to spool. The chatter in the ballroom rose as the spirits of the passengers lifted. And with a rumble the picture outside the windows changed, and they were back in the Sol system. The ship turned and headed outward at a higher orbit. They passed Mercury and then Venus, and after a few more minutes Terrol could see Earth so far-away. It was approaching fast. A little too fast, maybe. The pirates were well-known for their daring piloting, but the Earth authorities wouldn't approve of this kind of recklessness. Any moment now he expected that they would begin to slow. Now? No... Now? But... no, they were.... they were speeding up!
With a sinking feeling Terrol understood what was happening too-late. It would be several minutes for him to make his way up do to the navigation computer on the bridge and override the flight course manually, but they only had seconds. Terrol watched as the outer rings of the Terran Homeworld Defense Grid passed them by... and then the outer space docks, and the inner ones... and they were moving faster and faster now! And they hit the atmosphere. Far below, he could see the outline of northern Europe. Brussels was the seat of power for Unity, and Terrol knew that in a moment the dome of the Unity Central Government complex would be rushing up to meet them.
The impact of a large mass like the Jewel of the Stars, travelling fast and hitting a city, is similar in effect to an atomic explosion. But the Jewel had been accelerating ever since its jump into ths Sol system. When the Jewel hit, the impact was so powerful, it shattered the plate of Europe. Those places that weren't blasted into dust by the explosion caved-in and flooded as the sea rushed-in. Across the Atlantic, seaboard cities of the United States and Canada were also pummeled by a powerful tsunami wave. Terra had been prepared against this eventuality by the defense satellite network. Normally the IFF systems in the Homeworld Defense Grid would have vaporized a ship moving so quickly, but this one had valid codes for carrying the entire cabinet of the central government, which overrode the network's failsafe defensive subroutine.
The resulting chaos was felt across the galaxy as the mighty Unity fleet splintered. With the central government completely annihilated, there was no clear line of succession. The fleet's captains and admirals backed different successors and began to wage wars among themselves, while rebellions flared up in the periphery to fill the sudden power vacuum. And with whole regions of the galaxy waging war on other regions, nobody was watching a few pirates as they amassed more power and wealth, and gorged themselves on the chaos that followed.
Hope you liked that!
Artwork by: (Brindle on FurAffinity)
Etheras the Fennec and short story (c) www.etheras.com
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