A Taste of Nu Book 1 – Chapter 33

Artistic representation showing the Trojan asteroid Hektor and its tiny moon. Credit: H. Marchis & F. Marchis

Note: AMC stands for Asteroid Mining Company and AMC Scorpion is the first of a new class of mining assay ship with added defensive capabiilties.

Chapter 33 – Scorpion Encounter

Sted and his crew had been working this rich area of the belt for
almost three months without incident. Apparently, the increased
speed incorporated into the AMC Scorpion made following the ship
very difficult for the independent claim jumpers. None of the eighteen
mineral-rich asteroids his crew identified had been discovered by the
independents. They could only follow the initial vector of the Scorpion
into the belt, but it did them no good, because Sted never set out directly
for his next intended target. Midcourse corrections were applied once out
of range of any possible pursuers.

This was very satisfying for Sted and the crew. They really did not
want to employ their new defensive capabilities and let the cat out of the
bag too early. The more minerals the Scorpion could put into AMC’s mining
coffers before the independents were alerted to their new capabilities,
the more profit could be made while the remaining Delta class vessels
were being completed.

In fact, a message received from Cam on their first resupply capsule
indicated that the remaining Delta class ships were already on their way
to the belt. Cam indicated that his spies at the foundries were only picking
up rumors of AMC’s increased mineral ore deliveries, but apparently
nobody had any idea of the cause. It just appeared to be a small increase
in AMC deliveries and a small decrease in the independent deliveries. A
real trend had not yet been established, and the independents were not
yet saying much about their change in fortunes. This would not last long
when all ten Deltas were deployed. The shift in fortunes would be obvious,
and the search for the cause would begin.

Also in the note, Cam requested that Sted prepare his second in
command for taking over as the AMC Scorpion’s captain. Sted was needed
back at the lunar base to work with the design and engineering teams on
the new Epsilon class. The ten additional Delta class vessels would have a
huge impact in the belt over the next few years, but Cam wanted to be prepared
when the independents began responding in kind to the new Delta
class tactics. Cam was sending a replacement officer on the new Delta
class AMC Mantis. The officer would take over as second in command on
the Scorpion. Then the Mantis was to deliver Sted to the naval shipyard,
where he would hop a ride back to the lunar base on the next shuttle.

The Scorpion had four weeks until the AMC Mantis arrived at the
closest mining platform, so Sted planned to visit three more asteroids that
were in their flight path to that platform. That was his mistake.

The successful tactic of not heading directly for the next target asteroid
but correcting course midway was forgotten. The crew had been
lulled into complacency by their continued success. After registering a
claim through the mining platform for the first asteroid, Sted ordered the
ship on a course directly for the second. This small M-type asteroid was
shaped like a two-kilometer long peanut, as if two bodies had merged partially
over the millions of millennia since the formation of the sun. AMC
often found their richest deposits of tungsten in these small but dense
planetesimals that may have resulted from collisions of larger bodies in
the early stages of planet formation.

As the crew was winding up the analysis of the three drilling sites and
preparing to depart for their last target, Julie picked up the signature of an
inbound ship drifting toward them from the direction of their last claim.

“We have visitors approaching stealthily from the sunward direction,”
she announced to everyone on the bridge.

“Well, that’s never a good sign,” Sted replied. “That usually indicates
foul intentions. Bundy, I want you prepared for immediate missile defense.
Bill, spin the laser capacitor back up. I want it at full charge in the
next three minutes. Once that’s done, I need both of you to get into your
vacuum suits while monitoring your consoles.”

With that, Sted switched to the all-ship channel. “All hands prepare
for enemy engagement. This is not a drill.”

As soon as Sted donned his vacuum suit, he strapped himself into the
command chair and turned to Julie. “Give me the latest on your contact.”

“Contact is at fifty kilometers and drifting toward us at one hundred
kilometers per hour. I can’t get a good visual because of the sun, so I cannot
identify the vessel’s class. They are, however, already in missile range
for the type that destroyed the AMC Pride.”

“Okay, Julie. Prepare to come about. I want the prow facing the visitors
as I hail them.”

“Bill, I need the main laser trained on their ship and dialed up to its
highest setting. Be prepared to fire on my order.”

With that, Sted switched to the universal hailing frequency. As soon
as Julie had the Scorpion facing their enemy, he activated the microphone
in his helmet. “This is AMC Scorpion. Please identify yourself
immediately.”

Five seconds after the transmission, Bundy Meacham looked up. “We
have two inbound missiles. I am engaging laser defenses.” He paused for
a moment. “We have two direct hits on the missiles and both have been
destroyed.”

“Fire the main laser,” Sted to Bill Overton. “I want multiple holes in
that ship immediately!”

With that, Bill sent three fifteen-second pulses through the drilling
laser with only two seconds between each pulse. He began analysis of the
laser hits immediately, but the sun made any confirmation difficult. “I
can’t get a reading on the result of the drilling bursts,” Bill said. “I know
we hit them hard, but the sun is masking any readings.”

“Julie, spin up the engines to half power and move us away from the
asteroid to get a better angle for Bill’s analysis. Bill, prepare for another
three pulses if necessary.”

Once again, Sted hailed the enemy ship. “This is the AMC Scorpion.
This is your last chance to identify yourself. Please advise if you have
casualties or need assistance.”

“AMC Scorpion, this is Powell Madigan aboard the Falcon. We have
sustained significant damage and multiple casualties. We surrender and
request immediate assistance. I repeat. We surrender and request immediate
assistance.”

“Standby, Falcon.” Sted turned to Bill. “Can you get any better
readings?”

“We definitely breached the hull, sir,” Bill replied. “I detect a significant
plume of atmosphere streaming out of the ship.”

“Falcon, this is AMC Scorpion. We will be coming around and approaching
from the stern of your ship. Any sign of resistance, and we will
put more holes in your hull than you can count. Please let me know the
number of personnel aboard and the number of casualties. We are only
a mining assay ship and do not have the facilities to afford any relief. We
can, however, contact our closest mining platform for assistance. They
will contact the Space Navy to schedule a rescue mission. That assistance
will be at least a week getting here. Monitor the emergency channel for
updates on the rescue party.”

“AMC Scorpion, this is the Falcon. We have a crew of fifteen. We have
seven dead from decompression when you ripped open our crew quarters.
The remaining eight crew members should be able to survive at least three
weeks on our remaining air, water, and food supplies.”

“Falcon, this is AMC Scorpion. We are now one kilometer to your
stern. We have recorded all of your transmissions and will send these
along with our request for assistance. We will advise the rescue party of
your current state. Scorpion out.”

Sted turned to Julie. “Please contact the mining platform. Send along
the contact recordings along with the coordinates of this asteroid and the
condition of the Falcon. We also want to register our claim immediately.
That asteroid is our biggest find to date. The platform may want to follow
the Navy back here to begin their mining operations.”

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