Projectile by Keith Kitchen

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SUMMARY: As the newly-promoted Captain Sam Baker and his First Officer, the Daemon Darv, take command of the cruiser "Challenger", they must stop the tanker "Christian L'Amour" from destroying Earth.


I

The Nimitz-class destroyer Andersonville came slowly into the Solar System, a thin line of mist trailing from it, a trail of oxygen floating like smoke from the wounded warrior. It was heading for space dock, where it was hoped they could make the ship both space- and battle-worthy again, although the ship's engineer was doubtful as the damage was so severe.

Every missile that had been stored in the ship had been expended and two of the ship's five projectors had been blown away, destroyed in battle. The ship had also sported six laser turrets, four of which were pounded into scrap and the other two were on local control, their computer-guidance leads cut through at various hull ruptures throughout the length of the ship.

Of the crew of one hundred and seventy five, seventy-seven were dead and thirty were wounded and Commander Sam Baker, Captain of the Andersonville, had felt every single death. He was in the command chair on the bridge of the wounded ship, badly wounded himself. Both of his legs were broken, as was his left arm, in two places. He marveled that his right arm wasn't broken, although he didn't dwell on it for long. He knew he shouldn't be alive at all. Miraculously, his aid and science officer, Darv, the Daemon from Walken Five, was barely scratched. Baker knew that Daemons were much tougher physically than humans, but Baker was astounded that the red-skinned alien had managed to not be hurt.

Baker was thankful, because Darv had helped keep the ship running. Baker himself hadn't left the bridge for the four days of the transit back to Earth, keeping the ship enroute almost through sheer will itself. He dozed when he had to sleep, the rest of the time, he fidgeted in his seat to try to keep from going insane because of his inability to get up and help with the repairs of his ship. He knew that he would have been in sick bay had the ship's doctor not been killed. The associate doctor had her hands full and the corpsmen who were helping her didn't have the cojones to try and bully the Captain into a bed when he was obviously committed to seeing his ship into port no matter what.

Baker grimaced at the pain that shot through him when he tried to re-align himself in his command chair but he did his best to ignore it. Behind him, at the science station, Darv frowned as he saw his commanding officer, friend and honor-bound master (though Baker didn't understand that aspect and Darv doubted he ever would) try to push away the pain. Looking at the view screen at the fore of the bridge, he saw three heavy cruisers moving into formation around the wounded destroyer, preparing to escort his damaged command into space dock. He had tried to argue against the escort, but not that much. He was too tired and too sore to fight against anyone except his ship, urging it to make it back to Earth amidst the damage.

He didn't even notice when he slipped into sleep.


II


It had been a routine escort duty. Baker had been in command of the Andersonville for a year and a half and had been in more than one skirmish, but nothing truly spectacular.

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