Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It’s really disappointing. All the science fiction stuff about energy weapons and faster than light travel turned out to be impractical or impossible. Even nanotechnology proved to be only useful rather than miraculous.

“He’s coming round.”

“Batteries four and six, come to bear. Batteries three and five, cover his escape vectors.”

“Aye aye captain.”

The great exploration of space has come to a grinding halt. The Solar System is it for us. A few colony ships have gone out, filled with fanatics or undesirables, but their chance of becoming anything but footnotes of unrealised horror is slim.

In-system, it’s been lively for a couple of decades now. Earth considers itself the ruler of the system and the various established colonies object strongly. Independence wars have been flaring up so often it’s pretty much sequential.

I grab a stanchion as Brutus fires all eight guns in the four turret-mounted batteries and the ship rings like a gong. It’s wasteful but metal is plentiful now we’ve got the asteroid belt to strip mine. Two batteries aimed at where our opponent is going to be, two batteries aimed at where he could be if he dodges. There’s no point firing after he dodges.

“He’s fired everything!”

The Raumhorst is Federal Europe’s most powerful space battleship and deservedly so. His targeting gear is famous and his crew veterans. Brutus is the one thing they fear.

The United Kingdom colonised Pluto back when we still had royalty. Nobody contested our claim and we just got on with subzero mining and other stuff. I wonder if the spies and the analysts who didn’t work out why we were shipping lumber out there have been fired yet.

Geoffrey Pyke had the idea a couple of centuries ago but it was deemed impractical. Around Pluto, however, extreme cold and water are in plentiful supply. Just add fourteen percent wood pulp and you have space armour to defy most projectiles. The Brutus is basically a pair of Vanguard class super-dreadnoughts mounted keel to keel, or where the keels would be. Everything is a lot smoother than their naval equivalents because after the ninety-six thousand tons of ‘double-barrelled battleship’ as my uncle called it is constructed, all the exterior gets a ten-foot layer of pykrete. Frozen water is great for turrets because the friction allows them to turn without having to taper the armour layer – we just have to mount the turrets on risers to allow ten feet of pykrete between them and the deck. The double-up configuration allows eight turrets, four top and four bottom. Two main guns per turret, sixteen inch smoothbores that throw two-thousand pound ‘bullets’.

I hug the stanchion as the Raumhorst’s broadside slams into us. The sound of things falling is all that occurs, the dreaded whine of escaping air non-existent.

“Three hits! Took the two we sent to port in her superstructure and portmost one of the main barrage in her stern. She’s yawing! It’s a kill!”

I still don’t understand why everyone else builds space battleships like sea battleships with the bridge sticking up like a target. But I’m not going to argue. We’ve just become the primary force in the system. Pluto Colony is on its way to independence and being able to honour the orders from Mars we have for pykrete, even if the commercial slabs will be a little weaker than our own.

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