(Author’s Note)… Oh, just read some of it.
So there Arthur stood, on the bridge of the Orion, sopping wet, with sore hands and no sleep for who knows how long, pondering how to stop an alien invasion from another dimension with inadequate forces that had never worked together, all while the universe mourned his death. Everyone gathered on the bridge was looking at him, waiting for him to give some kind of order. And Arthur Blacke was drawing a blank.
“Captain Hulls,” Arthur asked, “are your scanners picking up the invasion fleet yet?”
The Captain glanced at an officer sitting at a console on one side of the bridge and got a quick head shake. “No, Sir,” she replied. “We do not have military grade scanners. But that means they are not in our system yet.”
“Right,” Arthur considered aloud, “Can you tell me how long it will take them to get here from this point in space?” He handed the Captain the small slip of paper David Glassaway had given him.
She consulted with her navigation officer for a moment, and then told Arthur, “They could be entering our system in the next hour or two, depending on their maximum speed.”
“Military grade scanners,” Arthur snapped out suddenly. “Of course we have them. Two sets to be exact, right down in the cargo hold. Captain, set a course towards that point in space, but just take us to the edge of our system. Then join us in the hold, if you please.” Then Arthur led his mixed bag of defenders of the universe off the bridge.
As they walked he said to the General and the Warlord, “Okay, guys, this is it. You are my strategy experts. If you know of a way to stop these guys, I’m all ears.”
The General hedged a bit. “Without knowing the size or makeup of their forces, or where they are exactly, or where and when their follow-up waves will appear…” Okay, he hedged a lot, when you get right down to it.
“Well, if no one has a better plan, I have at least the beginning of one,” Arthur replied just a little testily. “I know how we can get a closer look at these guys.”
Both Xxos saw immediately where he was going with this. “The captured spy ship. Of course,” said the General.
“Reconnaissance is the obvious first step,” said the Warlord. “I am sorry, Arthur, we should have suggested it to you.” He sounded a little embarrassed.
“No, no, you guys know we have scanners on our little allied fleet that would have given us that information,” Arthur quickly pointed out. “But you do not know about some of our other toys that Tarlek Da and Mr. Toad put aboard the Orion.” They arrived at the cargo hold and Arthur gave them a quick rundown on the equipment available, and the bare outline of his plan.
The ideas began to flow.
“I must admit, Arthur,” said the General, “I am impressed. You have a keen military mind. How did you ever come up with this idea?”
“Ironically, it’s something I read in a book about pirates when I was a kid,” Arthur answered. “They used to sneak up on larger vessels in the dark using longboats, if their ship didn’t have the firepower to take it on. Then they would board the ship and overwhelm the crew by surprise and sheer viciousness. Pirates, that takes us right back to where this whole thing started.”
“And if the first part of your plan works, what will we do next?” asked the Warlord.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” admitted Arthur reluctantly. He paused and then continued. “I sort of like to make up the details as I go.”
“It seems to work for you,” said Frodo, looking up at Arthur with a bright smile on his bright red face.
As the Orion’s Captain joined them, Arthur pointed to his Reaver ship. “There is your military grade scanner suite, Captain. You won’t even need to launch her, I bet. Just put one of your crew inside to monitor things. We are going to take the other ship out and find out just how stealthy it is. I want you, after we launch, to join up with the Obama and our allied fleet. Then tell Capt. Browne that I am still alive and that I will contact her soon with orders. But do not send the message, go meet her in person. I don’t want the enemy to pick up on this.”
“Sir, that other voice, the one from the enemy fleet, is that really who it sounds like it is?” the young Captain asked.
“I think so,” said Arthur, “and that reminds me. Just be sure to tell Captain Browne that when she hears from me, if it really is me, the code will be, ‘I like monkeys’.”
Captain Hulls gave him a questioning look, but Arthur just shrugged and smiled. Meanwhile, the three Xxos, Gup and Frodo, along with the Reavers, had been loading the gear Arthur had requested into the small captured scout craft. Big Jonny had been drafted to help, under the watchful eyes of everyone. Arthur called Jon over to him. It was time they had a heart to heart talk.
“Is my Jon still alive?” asked Arthur in a tight voice.
The other Jon looked startled. “Oh, yeah, he is in Mexico with some girl. There was no need to, uh, do anything to him. This bomb thing was thrown together at the last minute, when the Doraimee’s spies found out we were friends here too.”
Arthur sat down on an unneeded crate of needle guns and Jon joined him.
“So, we know each other in both realities?” Arthur asked, genuinely interested. As he spoke, he took the small bomb on its leather belt off of Jon and slung it over his shoulder. He had the switch in his pocket already.
“Oh yeah, we’ve been friends for a long time. Hell, you were a groomsman at my wedding,” said Jon sincerely. “But I haven’t seen you for a few years. Something happened to you during the fall of our Earth.”
“So how did they get you to try and kill me?” Arthur asked.
“I have a wife and son,” said Jon, slumping forward and putting his hands to his face. “You have no idea how cruel the Keelar are. What they are capable of. I truly am sorry, but I did what I had to do for my family.”
Arthur put his hand on his new friend’s arm. “I have to have you put in the brig, but believe me, I don’t hold this against you. When this is all over, I will have two Big Jonnys to call friend.”
“When this is all over,” repeated Jonny with infinite sadness.
“That’s what I said, Jon,” said Arthur fervently. “And it ain’t all over till I kick Fahh’s ass.” And with that, Arthur got up, walked to the little spy ship, and prepared to set his half of a plan in motion. Five minutes later, the tightly loaded vessel was floating out of a large cargo airlock and into the darkness of space.
“Now I guess we’ll see if this ship’s stealth capabilities work against their own scanners,” said Arthur with contrived nonchalance. Gup patted Arthur’s shoulder as Arthur sat in the pilot seat. Frodo clapped his two sets of hands.
“Gollum is going to be so mad he missed this,” said Frodo with glee. “He is the Scout Friend, after all.” And then they were hurtling through space, looking at the huge smear of light on the scanner screen.
“That is a very large fleet,” the General pointed out.
“Or one very very large ship,” said Ooox. They all gave him grim little chuckles, glanced at each other, and burst out in real laughter.
Arthur took them on an arching course, out to the side of the rapidly approaching enemy fleet, and then began curving in towards the enemy, coming onto a parallel heading and slipping slowly nearer. A few minutes later he glanced into the packed cabin behind him and smiled. Gup, the Warlord, and the General were familiarizing themselves with the control consol for the surveillance drones. Rubar and his eight Reavers were checking the needles guns they had uncrated and were stuffing extra drums of the wire ammunition into their orange prison coveralls. The five robots stood silently at attention in the rear of the craft, looking altogether deadly. The lone Qualm floated gauzily against one bulkhead, buoyed by the brave camaraderie of his companions.
On the scanner display, Arthur could now see hundreds of pinpoints of green instead of one large blob. No, not hundreds, he decided, thousands. Holy crap, Arthur whined in the privacy of his own mind. The Warlord came up beside him and studied the screen.
“I am looking for patterns in their formation that might help us determine which ships are command units,” he told Arthur. “Ah, yes, they are not particularly clever or inventive. They must rely mostly on sheer numbers to swamp their enemies.”
“Don’t forget they have some very sophisticated technology,” Arthur reminded him. “Like those transport machines and this stealth vessel, which so far has not raised any alarms from them.” They had passed inside the outer screen of defense ships without being noticed, or at least so he hoped.
“And now that you mention it,” said the Warlord, as if to outdo Arthur, “we have no way to tell if they have more stealth ships with them.” Arthur hadn’t even considered that.
“You know, you’re right,” said Arthur thoughtfully, “Their ships all seem to be just like this one. Very basically built with very standard tech. But there is added-on tech on this ship that is very high level. I bet it’s all stolen from a few races they overran.”
“So,” said the Warlord, instantly grasping Arthur’s point, “they may not have advanced capabilities on all their vessels.”
“Exactly,” Arthur agreed, “And I bet their supreme leader doesn’t trust very many of his commanders. Remember, David Glassaway used primarily Reaver equipment from our reality. Even that bomb Jon had was Reaver tech.”
“Still,” the Warlord pointed out, “overwhelming numbers are nothing to cough at.”
“Sneeze,” said Arthur distractedly.
“Excuse me?” said the Xxo in confusion.
“It’s nothing to sneeze at,” Arthur replied.
“What’s nothing to sneeze at?” persisted the confused Warlord.
“You said cough,” Arthur answered. “Nothing to cough at. But it’s sneeze, not cough.”
“I see,” replied the Warlord seriously, as if he had just learned something very important.