“Oh, that had to hurt.”
Brock laughed out loud after he succeeded in getting the last hijackers off his rocket. It had mostly been a matter of luck. But luck had always favored him. That final boarder had ended up standing next to one of the cargo straps holding a container in place. Brock had ratcheted up the wench for that strap as tight as it could go. Then, at the opportune moment, he released the clamps. It was beautiful. Snapping like a rubber band the suddenly released tension caused the metal end of the strap to whip up and strike the border in the back knocking him clear of the rocket
The cost of repelling the boarders had left him with three damaged handling arms as well as collateral damage to some cargo containers. Still, not bad for a one man on an unarmed cargo rocket.
He had already prepared for the next round.
“Time to get out of gehenna.” Brock said to himself.
When he first saw the war rocket approaching, Brock had gotten into his spacesuit just in case there was trouble.
It wasn’t the optimal time for a course change but events were coming to a head.
When the Minimule had finished turning Brock had used the one remaining cargo arm to grab a storage container that contained various odds and ends he used for spare parts. He moved the container in front of the rocket’s exhaust bell and then opened it. Releasing the container he then grabbed an unused cargo net. By the time he got the net back to the engine bell the parts had started to float out of the container. With a flick of his mechanical wrist he spread the net over the end of the rocket’s exhaust bell to keep the loose items from floating away.
When he was done Brock once again withdrew the control rods out of the reactor. Its temperature soared and radiation levels spiked. He started the propellant to flow. It was dangerous but Brock let the reactor over heat just a little. He was going to need as much thrust as he could get.
The EFAR Palisor was just 5 kilometers from the mouth of the Connalf Minimule’s thrust chamber. When he fired the rocket the exhaust plasma of ionized hydrogen impacted on Palisor playing merry hob with its sensors and electrical systems. The debris he’d packed in front of the engine bell was accelerated by the exhaust. Travelling at a couple of kilometers a second if only a one solid piece managed to impact on the Palisor, well, let just say it should make life a little more interesting for the Palisor’s crew.
Slowly the Connalf Minimule accelerated as its radiators strained to deal with the excess heat.
This is going to work Brock told himself. He was getting away. The Ertran Federation had thought it could crack down on shipping under the pretext of trying to stop smuggling. If he made it that would show the Federation that it wasn’t worth the effort to try and board ships in mid flight
If he made it.
On board the Palisor alarms sounded as the radar turned to hash and static filled the screens.
“Communications are down!”
“Impacts detected on outer hull! Checking for breaches.”
“Radar is being jammed. Have lost target lock.”
“Radiation levels are climbing.”
“Electrical surges throughout the ship. Systems threatening to overload.”
Commander Yojen Krocs hit his override to issue orders.
“Damage Control, implement EMP defenses and repairs.”
“Flight, +10 degrees pitch up.”
“Engineering, .2 meter per second thrust for 30 seconds when flight finishes pitch maneuver.”
After a moments hesitation he added.
“Gunner, load canister shot with proximity fuses. Manual targeting of radiators, reactor and propellant tanks. Fire a 5 round volley when ready.”
“Canister shot sir?” asked the gunner.
“YES! 5 rounds of Canister. FIRE!”
“SIR! Yes Sir.”
The Gunnery Officer loaded the prescribed ordinance. He could have vaporized the target with a single hypervelocity round or a tactical nuke. But if the old man just wanted to punch holes in the target, he’d oblige.
While the Palisor remained in the Minimule’s rocket exhaust plume, radar guidance was useless. Normal video monitors were little better as the charged particles of the plasma interfered with ship’s electronics. So the Gunnery Office was back to using the good old Mark One Eyeball. He set his face against binocular sights to hunt for his target. Using a series of lens and mirrors connected by fiber optic cable he visually sighted on the fleeing rocket. Stepping up the magnification he zoomed in. The targeting computer superimposed range and deflection information into the sights, but at this distance he really didn’t need it.
He pulled the trigger.
Several thousand ball bearings slammed into Connalf Minimule shrieking like the damned of Abbadon.
In the rocket’s control cabin Brocks ears echoed with the sound of metal being torn. Alarm claxons began blaring. Brock’s senses were overwhelmed with competing demands for his attention. There were too many alarms, too much noise and too much information to deal with. Instinct and emergency training took over as conscious thought was overwhelmed by information overload and mixed with fear.
In a split second he mind went through the following step.
‘Reactor temperature increasing. Radiator coolant levels dropping. Pressure from propellant flow dropping. Propellant levels in tanks 3 and 4 dropping faster than the rate of consumption. Ship is pitching and rolling. Attitude control system trying to automatically correct. Outgassing from pressurized containers. Cut off propellant flow from tanks 3 and 4. Increase flow from tanks 1 and 2. Emergency transfer of propellant from tank 3 to tank 1 and from tank 4 to tank 2. Reactor temperature still increasing. Adjusting neutron absorbers. Radiation flux increasing. No change. Disengage neutron reflectors. Insert control rods. 22 percent of control rods inserted. Limited or no response from remaining 78 percent of control rods. Hydraulics for control rods damaged. Hydraulic fluid levels dropping. Reactor temperature still increasing. Cadmium damper to full. Temperature still rising. Overriding safeties and increasing flow through propellant pumps. Reactor temperature stabilized at 3200 K. Propellant pumps at 153% of capacity. Radiator coolant level is zero. Temperature stable but unable to cool reactor. Melt down in progress.’
Time to scram.
He hit the big red button.
He waited expectantly.
There should have been a great big kaboom as explosive bolts severed the connections between the reactor core and the rest of the ship. At the same instant the core should have been flooded with boric acid to temporarily reduce the number of fissioning atoms while solid rocket motors fired to hurl the core out the stern as the reaction control system pulled the rest of the rocket away from the badly behaving lump of uranium.
Instead all Brock got a couple of more flashing lights indicating the electrical connections for scramming the core had shorted out.
Most of the external camera for the Connalf Minimule had already been disabled so Brock could only determine what was happening by the feedback he was getting from his controls. If he could see his ship from the outside he might have just curled up into a ball and kissed his butt goodbye right then.
The flimsy radiators that the Connalf Minimule used to cool the fission reactor were gone. From the remains of their shattered pipes a silver spray of liquid sodium was spurting out. Hydrogen gas was escaping from countless holes in propellant tanks 3 and 4. High pressure exhaust was leaking from holes in the rocket’s engine bell and the reactor’s pressure chamber causing the rocket to buck and shake. The controls to moderate the chain reaction were damaged and couldn’t reduce the number of neutrons being produced. The more neutrons there were the hotter the core got. And the hotter the core got the more neutrons there were. Without the radiators the only way to cool the core was to continue to pump frigid liquid hydrogen propellant through it and that was leaking out fast. It was a vicious cycle that could only end one way. The reactor would melt down. It was just a matter of when.
‘Great. Stuck between an EFAR’s warship and a melting reactor.’ He thought.
‘How was he going to get out of this one? He needed a plan. Something crazy would be good. Something survivable would be even better.’