“The rescue operation is proceeding as planned, ma’am.” Commander Rogers relinquished the center chair. “The news is pretty grim.”
“How many?” Captain Vice asked.
"208 bodies so far. All but seven of the crew complement accounted for. Argent’s medical team is doing as well as can be expected. Finding remains is difficult due to the temperature issues and the fact they still can’t re-establish life support at anything approaching safe operational levels.”
“The auxiliary power systems are in fair shape. The mains are burned to a crisp. We’ll never get her fusion plant back on-line.”
“Only her point defense emplacements starboard side have been fired recently. No main battery fire. All her missiles are accounted for.”
“What could hit a ship so quickly that she couldn’t get a single shot off to defend herself? And how did the attacker take out her mains so quickly?”
“Unknown. I hope we can get some information from our analysis of the damage.”
“Is Sussex stabilized from a navigational standpoint?”
“Aye, ma’am. She can maneuver with an assist, but I wouldn’t put too much strain on her. She could easily break up under pressure.”
“Agreed. Tell the medical team to wrap things up. If we can’t get life support back online, we’ll purge the atmosphere and put the ship in stasis until we can continue our investigation. In the meantime we’ll give the primary team some rack time while we relocate. Andy, give me a tactical view of the two closest planets.”
Captain Jocelyn Vice had never been a fan of improvisation. While her career as a commanding officer was as respectable and distinguished as any Skywatch officer, the Black Prince was one of the most resilient cruisers in the fleet precisely because her captain was unmatched in her ability to sense and avoid unnecessary risk. As intimidating as her ship’s name might be, Captain Vice didn’t push the idiom any further than was necessary to complete her mission. That was the reasoning she used when recording her log entries regarding the Sussex recovery.
“Rho Theta Four has the better accommodations, ma’am, but we’re a day out of position.”
“We’re going to make a run for RT three. What’s the status on your alien weapons system?”
“There isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions yet, ma’am, but our preliminary research looks pretty solid. Whatever it is, it operates on physical principles we simply aren’t equipped to study effectively.”
“Think of it as a scientist who knows about infrared light, but doesn’t have a mechanism to actually see it. That’s the situation we’re in. We know this weapon is doing something unusual, but we don’t have the physical apparatus to measure it. We can infer its effects, but we can’t confirm them scientifically without building the machinery to study the phenomena further.”
“Use whatever you need, Gil. Find those answers for us. Signals, get me the Montpelier.”
After a moment or two of channel switching, the face of Captain Heston Stone appeared on the main viewer. He looked like everyone else involved in the recovery operation. They all needed some time to recuperate.
“Let me guess. That power station is looking mighty inviting.”
“You read my mind, Hes. Black Prince will tow the Sussex. Send Argent’s fighters ahead and we’ll reconvene around the fuel section.”
“Agreed. Montpelier has the point. Stone out.”
Combat space patrol Cavalier Eight had established a perimeter around the position of the light cruiser Sussex on the request of the two heavy cruisers. Rescue and recovery operations were notorious for being easy targets, and with Sarn warships in the vicinity and unidentified vessels taking potshots at other vessels, Captain Vice wasn’t taking any chances with the wreck of the Sussex, especially in a border system like Rho Theta. It was no secret the Sarn were keenly interested in both the technology and raw materials on the inner planets despite the fact Rho Theta was one of the few undisputed Core systems. Vice knew given the chance, the Star Empire would take unusual risks to get what they could, not to mention the mystery attackers.
The issue at the moment was that Cavalier Eight had been on alert for more than four hours, and they needed rest. Normally their base would provide a relief patrol, but Argent was no longer operating near the Kraken Frontier. It would be up to Vice’s squadron to figure out an alternative. The reactor platform over Rho Theta Three was going to have to do. It was the nearest and best option if the survey station at Rho Theta Four wasn’t reachable. Because the fourth planet was fairly distant and moving away from the position of the Sussex, the practical chances of towing a disabled starship that far were pretty low. The range to the third planet was far more inviting. The reactor station also had a fully operational and automated flight bay, so the fighters would have a place to land and cycle their systems.
The Black Prince was a fairly heavy ship by line standards. She displaced just under two million tons and was equipped with specialized capital missile weapons systems that made her a suitable primary escort for a ship like DSS Argent. Montpelier was more of a generalist combatant, with both energy and missile banks arranged for defensive roles in a battle group. Between them, the two cruisers were fairly well balanced from a strategic standpoint. When in formation with their flagship, they were fearsome opponents and capable guardians for capital platforms like Argent. Captain Vice’s ship had the engine power and screens to guide the Sussex using powerful tractor beams. With the smaller ship in tow, the two cruisers followed the Argent fighter squadron and the Tranquility medical corvette towards the orbit of Rho Theta three.