For the most part, the trip to Nova Portus was uneventful. The crew was kept busy enough, it was a shake-down cruise after all, but everything worked fine. It was more a matter of the crew getting used to the ‘new’ Rock. All ships more or less travel the same speed in warp, the real noticeable difference was Dragonstone’s performance in normal space. Rory wanted to keep that under wraps for as long as possible so they dropped out of warp in an out-of-the-way system to run tests.
The upgraded reactor made Rock faster than most small warships and at least as maneuverable. The extra power also made his grav cannon 25% more efficient. What he lacked was armor. Improvements in shielding meant that he could absorb one or two direct hits but no more than that, making him very vulnerable to a missile attack so he now had a close-in defensive system of three auto-cannon and enough ammunition to hold off at least a volley of missiles from a cruiser - so, at close range, he was extremely lethal and was fast enough to be able to run when needed.
“You’re not a warship per se,” Forest said, “But you’re more than an armed merchantman. A few hundred years ago when Earth still had ocean-going navies they had what one nation called Q Ships. It was an armed merchantman that appeared to be a normal freighter, until it exposed it’s guns. They used them as commerce raiders or to defend against commerce raiders - That’s what Dragonstone is now. Anyone thinking you’re an easy mark is going to find themselves up against a ship with the close-in capability of a cruiser.”
“With the armor of a corvette,” Rory said, frowning. “And no long range capability. If, for some reason, we can’t run, we’re sitting ducks to anyone who wants to stand off and snipe at us.”
“That’s why we’re going to Nova Portus,” Forest replied. “We’re going to install an experimental railgun.”
Colin started chuckling evilly and rubbing his hands together.
“Well,” Rory said, processing. “How are you going to do that? Railgun ships are literally built around the gun. They’re huge. You would have to completely gut Dragonstone.”
“As I said, it’s an experimental unit. It’s compact. Between it, it’s ammunition and the ammunition for the point defense system, you’ll lose whatever cargo capacity you had, aside from your passenger module, but you won’t be hauling cargo anyway. It does trade off some velocity for it’s compact size but it’s got rather special ammunition.”
“Do tell,” Colin chortled.
“Well, rather than a solid slug of dense material accelerated to a significant fraction of light speed, these accelerate to a lower but still quite impressive velocity and burst as they close on the target, making a cluster of smaller, dense objects.”
“So less likely to punch through capitol ship armor…” Rory began.
“But more than enough to mission kill a destroyer or smaller,” Forest finished. “And cause some serious ablation to capitol ship armor, if not actually penetrate.”
“What’s the down side?” Rory asked.
“Well, there are a few. First, it is experimental. It’s not been field tested. Second, it will use a significant portion of Dragonstone’s reactor output each time you fire.”
“All of it except what’s needed for life-support.”
“So we can run or gun but not both,” Colin said.
“Imprecise but accurate,” Forest corrected. “You will lose the ability to maneuver or accelerate briefly while firing. You will also be unable to fire your grav cannon or your point-defense guns during this period.”
“How brief?” Rory asked.
“Twenty seconds,” Forest replied.
“That’s not brief in combat,” Colin shook his head.
“No it isn’t, but you should not be considering protracted combat. Dragonstone is not a warship,” Forest reminded.
“Right,” Rory said. “We’re the rabbit, not the fox. We see trouble, we run.”
“But,” Colin grinned, “This rabbit has a shotgun and, while we’re running, we can spin The Rock 180 and send a nice little surprise down our wake at our pursuer.”
“Work up the tactics, Tacco,” Rory said, smiling at him fondly.
“The targeting schematics are already in the system,” Forest said, “So you can begin running sims immediately.
Colin spent the rest of the trip jacked into the Rock’s tactical system. His headset creating a three dimensional image of space around the ship as he and Rock war-gamed multiple scenarios to fully test out the new system’s capabilities.
“Don’t get too set with your planning,” Forest warned. “We’ll be upgrading your AI’s capabilities at Nova Porta as well, so plan on refining your tactics after as your capabilities will be much greater.”
While en route, Forest asked Rory to meet him in the med bay. When she arrived, both Forest and Sheila were waiting for her.
“Where’s T Rex?” Rory asked.
“We’ve put him on ice until Forest can turn him over to someone on Nova Porta,” Sheila said.
“I have contacts I trust there,” Forest added.
“So what’s up?” She asked them.
“Given our plans…” Forest began.
“You mean dangling me out like a mouse over a snake pit…” Rory said.
“Given our plans,” Forest continued, “you’re at some degree of risk for abduction. We want to put a locater on you to be safe.”
“If someone snatches me, won’t that be the first thing they scan for?”
“Undoubtedly, but this is something new. It’s entirely passive until pinged and uses your body’s own electrical impulses for power so is virtually undetectable.”
“Alright, how do we do this?”
“It’s injectable. It’s small enough that you shouldn’t notice it. We inject it deep into your gluteus muscle.”
“Uh huh, so you’re gonna give me a shot in the ass,” Rory frowned. “Is she getting one too?” Rory nodded at Sheila.
“I’ve had one for a while,” Sheila said, smiling. “Now be a big girl and hop up onto the table and if you’re good, auntie will give you a lolly when it’s over.”
Rory flipped her off and took off her shipsuit before climbing onto the table.
“Cute panties,” Sheila teased, pulling them down to expose her gluteus. “Cuter bum.”
Forest ignored the byplay and came back with an injector. “Now, please hold still, this may sting a little.”
“He’s lying,” Sheila said. “It stings a lot.”
Forest triggered the injector.
“OWE! Motherfucker!” Rory cursed.
Sheila tried, and failed, to hide a giggle.
“I thought you said it was small? Feels like you just shot a groundcar into my ass. Shit, it burns!”
“It needed to be injected deeply into the muscle to be hidden. That burning is the unit making connections with your body’s nervous system. It will fade in a moment.”
It had already faded to a dull ache by the time Forest finished describing what it was.
“We done?” Rory asked.
“Yes,” Forest replied.
Rory pulled her panties up and rolled off the table, getting back into her shipsuit.
“You enjoyed that entirely too much,” She said to Sheila, zipping the coverall back up and stepping into her shoes.
“I’ll make it up to you later,” Sheila replied with a twinkle.