Twenty, Ten or Two to go.
Thursday Prompt for 10/04/2019
Prompt word: Two
In the inner solar region of the Expanse; the Erebus, a long, truss framed courier ship, coasted on a trajectory between Mars and Terra's Luna. A blue gray control room, embedded within the front habitat of the ship, had recently dimmed it's yellowish perimeter lights. Following a diurnal cycle. In front of a monitor screen, the room's sole inhabitant glumly read the encrypted text message sent from the Mars Governing body. Two orders that he could not ignore.
First Order, alter course and intercept. Order number Two, consult the Luna Trade Rep passenger on ways to nullify the object arcing towards the habitat and satellite dense region above Luna.
Belted in a pilot's chair to avoid drifting about, Commander Holden's black and white collie ears flickered. Muzzled face and eyes narrowed in frustration at the control panel, an expression not unlike that of a long ago feral ancestor having witnessed a corralled sheep bolting off.
Just Two and a half solar days from Luna and now this. And they were the only craft who's trajectory was within, he couldn't help but snort at the message's terminology, striking distance.
The border collie initiated a course change, had the ship's navigation system compute the intercept trajectory. Within delta V budget...just. Maneuvering thruster lights dancing about. Ship majestically shifting it's nose. On a screen, sliding icons lit up, indicating the ship's aneutronic plasma core ramping up. Even at the far distance on a long thrust frame from the fusion block, Holden felt a gentle push against his overalls clad backside. Z pinch reactor at 95 percent capacity, along with inert propellant injected into the magnetic nozzle, adding far more thrust at the expense of efficiency. The Erebus's exterior heat sinks warming up in response. New course ETA, 12 Martian hours.
He hit the intercom switch to dryly informed the shift crew of the new course and ETA. Orders from Mars, details will be given at a briefing within an hour. He then messaged the duty engineer to float over to the Torpor pods and wake up the Luna Trade Rep. The one with the funny accent. And bring him to the flight deck as soon as the effects of torpor wore off.
"We're courier transport. Not a military vessel." He said out loud to himself as he switched the monitor to a video feed from one of the ship's long range Nav telescopes. Gazing at the ghostly image of a bottle shaped object. Ten and Two hours to go.
And why does an odd looking Trade Rep have anything to do with that thing?
Alex dove through a tunnel way, zig zagging in micro G flight. The young Procyon engaged in his favorite past time, catching with paws, or jaw, purple dyed water globules in micro G. Normally drifting along ventilation air currents, the lateral vector from the ship's thruster on max gave it a different challenge.
Hours earlier, he had sat half asleep through the briefing. Ship changing course, intercepting some old artifact. Old History being trotted out. The Great Cutoff, yada yada. Followed by a boring duty shift changing ventilation filters. And now it's break time!
Abruptly the globules changed vector from the ship's thruster cutting off. He slammed head first against a padded bulkhead. The Duty engineer stuck her felid head into the side corridor.
"Alex! Get your ring-tailed ass to the flight deck. Commander wants your input. Now!"
Alex hesitated for a several moments at the fabric wrapped entryway to the ship's control deck, listening to Holden and the passenger.
"It had been in an L2 Terra/Sun Halo orbit for quite a long time," came Holden's voice. "Martian tracking detected the device firing it's thrusters and it's now on course to Luna."
"How could I forget that bloody thing!" replied the passenger in a strange accent that older generations would recognize as East London. "Vengeance Weapon type 2. Launched during the skirmish you Martians call the Great Cutoff, Terra's last hurrah at suppressing the colonies 'fore all satellites ringing Terra were kesslered into a debris ring. It's mission is to stay inactive for years or decades, wake up, go forth and wreak havoc."
The voice paused, then continued, "At the time, I was a half starved teen in a Mongolian slave labor camp. Just another conscripted tech assigned to build it."
Alex chittered, announcing his presence as he drifted in. Holden and a vulpine were floating before a wall mounted screen showing the device in clear focus. A video frame of a clearly defined spacecraft. Roughly the size of a 5 crew habitat, coated in brass colored foil, soda bottle shaped with a wasp waist. Various flat plate sensor arrays near the front. Square exhaust ports ringing the sides of the base, along with four dark nozzle bells at it's rear. A short, fat barrel jutted out the front.
The passenger was a short, odd looking vulpine in a tailored, two piece overalls outfit in blue with yellow trimming. Elderly, with a fat muzzle going white with age, the rest of his fur dense, yellowish gray, a broad head almost squarish, small ears. Along with huge, furred eyebrows that gave him a cartoonish look. A genuine Terran Tibetan fox.
The pair turned. Commander Holden held out a paw. "Mr. Kaine, this is Alex, our ship's sensory tech."
Alex stuttered. "P..p..pleased to meet you. Mr. Kaine."
Holden said, "Alex, as I said before in the briefing..."
Kaine interrupted Holden. "Alex, are you a hacker?"
"Any TeleRemotes on board?"
Alex replied, "We do all our EVA's in suit."
"In other words, flesh bags. No good," Kaine muttered loudly, broad eyebrows looking like a pair of dancing caterpillars.
"Can't you just shoot it with the gas gun?"
Kaine's prominent eyebrows narrowed and arced in anger. "Look laddy. This thing is loaded with hypergolics for maneuvering, recoil counter-thrusting and power generation. Even the coil gun is cooled by the fuel. Hit that explosive combo and it'll turn into a cloud of debris and likely become a grand Kessler headache for Luna's satellite belt. "
"Look! It's deploying panels," Holden called out. He pointed to the flat screen. The weaponized robotic craft had slowly swung out two thin arms. Both were now unrolling dark, streaked sheets. Solar cell panels.
Kaine muttered, "Oh Christ, it's starting it's test and charging sequence for navigation. We got a few hours to put it on standby 'fore it goes fully armed. And if nothing's done by then, we'd best book out of here."
Alex tilted his masked furred head. "Ah, why?"
Kaine stared at Alex. "It will target us. Coil gun fires a tungsten rod that unfurls into 100 meter long ribs, like yer grandma's umbrella at 5 klicks per second. We called it death by Rods of God."
Kaine paused in his rant, he turned to the screen and swung a vulpine muzzle back towards Alex. "Hang on. Did you say you have a gas gun? Why does a ship like this have one?"
"It's a launcher for microsats and probes. Gentle velocities," Alex replied.
"Can you mod it up to shoot a small can filled with lead at say, sixty meters or so per second."
Alex nodded. "No problem. But didn't you say we shouldn't hit it. "
"Not the body. One of the solar panels. Hit a panel near it's base."
"I don't understand...," Holden began.
Kaine chortled, "Design feature. If one of the panel's are damaged during it's test sequence. The weapon's AI will mark it as a major power fault and power down. Plus disarm itself."
Holden's tight lipped expression relaxed. His tail started wagging. "Best news I've heard all day."
The commander turned to the raccoon.
"Alex," Holden ordered, "set up the gas launcher and payload to Kaine's specs. If this works, we can leave and let the salvagers worry about it."
An hour later, Holden and Kaine floated before the vid screen with it's view of the Type 2 weapon while Alex huddled next to a control panel.
Alex called out, "Range 2 kilometers and holding. Twenty Two seconds to launch canister..."
Kaine muttered to Holden, "Is his aim good? What about offset?"
"He's good, don't worry." Holden replied.
Alex counted down, "Ten Seconds...five, four, three, two, one. Launch!"
An Icon lit up, text blinking, Canister launched.
Thirty and two seconds of tense anticipation.
At thirty-two seconds, Holden expected a solar panel to crumple or at least sag like a falling tree. In the silence of the Expanse, the foil lining at the center of the bottle shaped hull parted like the lips of a singer about to belt out a tune. Frosty white fumes spilt forth. Fumes that became a blueish spherical glow of self ignition that propagated back into the hull. An out of control chemical reaction of hypergolic fuel majestically swelling the vessel's foil lining like a balloon. Under a growing sphere of pale blue; foil, snow like debris, hull framing, cartwheeling tank segments, solar panels and other heavy objects shot forth in grand trajectories from a silent and violent deflagration.
Several seconds later, alarms went off in the Erebus from Whipple shielding and micrometeor impact sensors. Holden shot over to the ship's comm panel, calling for damage reports.
Meanwhile, Alex found himself floating next to Kaine. A sheepish expression on his procyon muzzle.
Kaine eased up to Alex. Fat furred eyebrows slanted in cold fury.
The vulpine curled his lips, "You were only supposed to blow the bloody panels off!!"
Thursday Prompt for October 4, 2019
A weekly writing prompt hosted by Vixyyfox at Furaffinity
Prompt word: two
A meandering sci-fi tale set in universe similar to The Expanse. Last line is a tribute to Michael Caine.