Twenty peaceful years have passed since the Lunar Accords were signed, banning all nations or individuals from arming space ships for war - on pain of death for anyone who dares defy the order. But someone has at last broken that law. Ships of unknown origin are attacking freighters and kidnapping their crews, threatening the delicate peace between nations and worlds.
One man saw the danger, all those years ago - Admiral Nicholas Stein, hero and villain of the last war. He argued against the Accord and was ridiculed for it. He retreated to Mars, and has spent the last decades preparing for a conflict he's always known would be inevitable.
Now he and his son Thomas are all that stands between humanity and a ruthless enemy who will stop at nothing to control space - and from there, enslave us all.
You want Space Opera? Kevin delivers. Accord of Honor starts with a space captain's first battle and doesn't let up from there as pirates go after earth itself. – Daniel Potter
The quiet beep of a proximity alert was a welcome distraction from the chess game I was losing. Served me right, really. I was the one who bet Andrew I could beat the ship's computer with the program set on maximum level. I shook my head. I wasn't going to win this one and it frustrated me. I hated losing, but it looked like I'd be the one buying drinks for us when we got back to Mars. I pressed the screen to save the game and call up a computer projection of the space around our ship. We were in deep space, flying back from the asteroid belt and Mars-bound with a hold full of ore.
"What've we got?" I asked. The alert meant that there was something in space near enough to our ship that a collision was a possibility. At the speed were going, it meant the computer needed to alert us to things that might be kilometers away. Even so, it didn't happen often. Space is an empty place. But our ship was moving fast enough that a decent sized rock would make quite an impression so the ship's computer kept a constant lookout for anything big enough to be a problem. Just in case.
Andrew Liddel was in his seat, running his fingers through short, blonde hair as the computer pulling up data on the alert. He and I had been crew together on my last cruise. That was years ago, before I was yanked out of space and sent to Earth for college. Six years stuck on the ground! I hadn't wanted to go, but my father insisted. Thankfully, Andy and I just snapped back into our old rhythms without any trouble.
"It's a ship, Thomas," he replied, reading the data off his screen. "Looks like it was cruising without power and kicked its engines on when we came close. That's why we didn't see it before."
"Some sort of engine trouble?" I asked.
"Nope. Not seeing anything to indicate they're running at less than a hundred percent," he said. "Not sure what they're doing out here. They're accelerating toward us though."
"Some sort of joyride, maybe?" asked Wilson. He was piloting this shift. As ship's captain, I worked my shifts on that duty alone, but everyone else rotated through duties. I didn't know Wilson well yet, not well enough for a first name basis, so I stuck with the name on his shipsuit's nametag. The three of us were the only bridge crew right now, although I was half expecting more crew to show up shortly. Trips through space were pretty boring most of the time. But it was the less boring parts that could get you killed.
"It's an expensive one, if so," I replied. Something about the ship was bothering me. It felt like something out of my father's space-war sims. If this was one of those games, then the ship had been laying in wait for us and now it was headed on an intercept course. I'd read that as hostile intent. But that wasn't possible. No ship had been attacked in space, not since the Lunar Accords were signed into law.
I hit a button on my console to broadcast on speakers around the entire ship.
"I need everyone to strap in. We've got another ship out here, headed our way. Be ready for unusual acceleration or maneuvering in one minute."
I clicked a button that set a timer counting down in the corner of all the cockpit screens. Then I looked up again. "Wilson, as soon as that one minute timer runs down, give me one gravity of acceleration on our current heading. Let's see how he reacts." He nodded in reply.
"Andrew," I said, "I need you to start plotting a course to carry us away from that ship in a long, broad loop – then back toward Mars on a shortest flight path."
He raised an eyebrow. "Heading for home? Why?"
"Bad feeling," I replied. "Just plot it as a precaution."
The minute went by and we punched up our acceleration, the boost pushing us all back into our seats. The ship's ion drives could manage a lot more, but anything over a gravity of acceleration – nine point eight meters per second per second, the speed an object fell toward Earth – was tough on the crew to maintain for long. The other ship spotted the change to our acceleration and altered their heading and speed to match us. They were going to pass within rock-tossing distance if nothing else changed. Everything about this screamed to me that something was wrong. Ships don't cross paths like that in space. Too many chances for something to go wrong. No sane crew took risks like this.
"Got a radio call coming in from the other ship," Andrew said.
"Put it on speakers," I replied. "Maybe they'll tell us what the hell they're doing."
The speakers in the control room buzzed, and then the message crackled out of them. "Transport vessel, you are being seized as our property. We have the ability to eliminate your ship if we choose. You are ordered to stop all acceleration, shut down your drive, and prepare to be boarded. Failure to comply will be fatal. If you comply you will live. We will demonstrate our resolve in thirty seconds. End transmission."
Several seconds went by in complete silence, none of us able to say a word.
"Is this a joke?" Wilson asked.
"It's not funny, if it is," replied Andrew. He looked at me, eyes wide. "Thomas?"
My mind raced while that cold feeling I'd had in my gut solidified into an icicle. This wasn't a game. I hit the ship's intercom.
"Thomas here. We've got a ship nearby threatening us. I don't know if they can make good on the threat or not, but I want everyone in suits ten minutes ago just in case. Stand by for possible decompression, rapid acceleration, and God knows what else. This is not a drill, folks, so step on it." I followed my own orders, grabbed my helmet and snapped it into place onto my shipsuit.
"They can't really hurt us," Wilson said, disbelief etched in his tone. "The Accord forbids weapons in space, and they can't get close enough to ram us if we keep maneuvering."
I wasn't so sure. I watched the last seconds of the thirty they gave us tick away. The Lunar Accord forbade any ship to carry weapons in space, upon pain of mandatory death sentence. But I knew better than most people how fragile a thing the Accord was. My father argued long and hard against anyone signing it for just that reason.
The time was up. I held my breath, watching the scan.
"Multiple inbound objects!" said Andrew, almost shouting. "Coming from that ship!"
I watched the objects on my console. "Missiles," I said. Part of me wanted to scream that this couldn't be happening. But I knew it was, and that all our lives depended on what I did over the next few minutes. My fingers started flying over the keypad, plotting course changes.
"This can't be happening..." Wilson said quietly, echoing my unspoken thoughts. I looked up at him. He was staring at his scan console, not moving. His eyes were wide, his mouth slack. The man was terrified. I could understand the feeling, but I couldn't afford to have my pilot frozen right now.
"Wilson, I need you!" I said. He didn't reply. Damn.
"Captain assuming pilot duties," I said. "Andrew, I need you watching that ship and ready for anything else that comes up. Hang on." I waited a few more seconds until the missiles seemed to be at full speed and almost on top of us. Then I tapped the 'execute' key, and the computer began putting into motion the course changes I had plotted. The ship lurched as small thrusters kicked the back end around, then bucked again as the main drive tripled in power, tossing us back into our seats at three gravities, then four.
The missiles hurtled past us, their speed too great to immediately turn and follow us. But they were turning, and faster than I'd hoped. Our cargo ship was too heavily loaded and sluggish to avoid them again. I dialed up the engines one more time, five gravities of acceleration driving us forward now, buying me a little more time to think. The missiles were still gaining, though.
"Options?" I gasped out around the pressure on my chest. I knew Andrew would be watching his scan as well. The other ship had fired a second volley of missiles, but we were pulling away from them. I wasn't sure how long those missiles would burn, but the second group was far enough away we might outrun them. That first cluster of missiles was the immediate threat.
"Cargo," Andrew said, struggling against the acceleration as much as I was. "Chaff."
I knew what he meant. Our cargo was stored in two rings of wedge shaped compartments, docked to the outer hull. I could unlatch the wedges from my console, blow the cargo away from the ship. It might confuse the missiles to suddenly have nine targets instead of one. Worth a shot, but I'd had to wait until they were almost on top of us. I watched the computer count down the seconds until collision. At five seconds, I keyed in the command to blow the explosive bolts holding the cargo pods to the ship.
The pressure on my chest seemed to double. Stars swam in my vision, blackness curling there on the edges. I blinked, tried to focus. The ship groaned as metal came under stress. Our acceleration meter was showing eight gravities! I'd done that much, briefly, in training. It sucked even more out in the real thing.
I cursed, then huffed hard to try to replace the lost air. I'd forgotten about the mass. Without having to push the huge mass of the cargo, the powerful engines driving the ship were pushing a lot less material a lot faster. But it was working! Behind us, the missiles slammed into one cargo container after another, turning the space behind us into a confused jumble of small pinwheeling objects. We were blasting hard on a course back toward Mars, and the other ship was now well behind us.
My eyes stayed on the scan as I fought to keep air moving in and out of my lungs, each breath painful. My vision narrowed as darkness crept in more. The dark halo around my vision made the screen in front of me seem like the entire world. And out of that field of debris leapt one icon, marking one missile that had missed the cargo shells and continued tracking its original target.
There was nothing I could do. I could barely move my hand, and at the velocity we'd already reached, any heading change I made would create too small an arc to make any difference. I gritted my teeth and watched that missile swoop in like a hawk.
I heard a bang, like a crash of metallic thunder. The ship bucked hard enough that I flew upward against my harness. Stars flashed in front of my eyes. All around me the ship growled with the grinding sound of metal under stress. Alarms sounded in the control room, signaling decompression. My screen showed that we'd lost pressure in the spine, the corridor which ran down the center of the ship. I hoped everyone had made it into suits in time.
That still left six more missiles. They were well behind us but slowly gaining ground. We were pushing forward at eight gravities, but we still needed more. I couldn't even reach my console, and could barely breathe to talk.
"Computer," I gasped. "Captain's voice override."
"Understood," the computer replied. "Awaiting voice commands."
I took as deep a breath as I could draw. Then I ordered course changes to shift our heading back home to Mars. The missile impact had taken us off course a bit. "Acceleration override. Push engines to fifteen gravities, maintain for ten minutes," I stopped and huffed to get more air, "then reduce one gravity per minute down to one gravity."
It was a risk. I'd never been under that much acceleration before. I knew that in theory, you weren't likely to die until you were up over twenty or twenty five gravities. But most people would pass out somewhere between five and ten gravities of acceleration. Once I initiated this command, I wasn't going to be able to turn it off – I'd black out for sure. We were just along for the ride and hoping for the best at that point.
I closed my eyes and prayed for the best. "Execute," I said.
The computer piped back "Command acknowledged. Safety override authority acknowledged." And the elephant on my chest doubled in weight. I couldn't hang on any longer. The blackness around my vision collapsed inward, and I fell into it.