Chapter 15: "It's out of control! It's not slowing down."

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Pina tested his body with small movements as the shuttle made its return journey. His forearm was almost certainly broken. Even the slightest movement sent a grinding pain along his nerves. And his left eye was still blind.

He gave a final order as they approached the Reaver.

"Get all the men sent to the medical station first. Debriefs later."

The stormtrooper who had assumed command of the men simply nodded at his side. Pina half expected a word of thanks for the trooper that he had put them first, but none came.

Exhausted, he stumbled his way to the bridge.

Bauhaus was waiting.

"Our predictions are that the ship will exit hyperspace in this sector, sir." He pointed to a display of the Reaver and its close vicinity where a plotted inbound trajectory appeared off the Reaver's starboard bow. "But we can't be certain. It seems they have lost control due to severe damage. There is a real chance they could even crash into the planet's surface at a catastrophic speed."

"Very well. If they are on a collision course with the planet then we will shoot them down."

"Sir? That's the Assayer's ship–"

"Commander, we know nothing about them, except they are evidently damaged for some reason. If they hit the planet at speed then there will be devastation for the people on Farsalt."

"Sir," Bauhaus's face was strained. "May I remind you, the people of Farsalt are rebel sympathisers. Admiral Karion was murdered . . ."

"Indeed. By an Imperial governor no less. Not a rebel."


"They are still a planet of the Empire, Commander. Thus they are our subjects to protect. Besides, if the ship crashes then no one aboard will survive. Has the Assayer responded to our message at all?"

Bauhaus shook his head. "No sir."

"Very well. Inform King Garrand of the ship's arrival. Tell him there is an immediate danger of impact but we will do what we can to intercept it." Bauhaus signalled the communication officer, Lieutenant Ord, and the order was relayed. But Pina was already talking again, the course of action coming instinctively to him. "Move the Reaver into a covering position. Charge our turbo laser batteries and brief the crews. Have tractor beam control on standby. We might be able to pull them into a controlled exit if they pass close enough. Deploy a life buoy to retrieve any survivors. And keep signalling them. I want to know what the situation is on board that ship."

Pina felt the sublight engines shudder throughout the deck as the Reaver moved out of Farsalt's low orbit and into the covering position, its flank batteries awaiting the predicted hyperspace exit point.

"If they are on a collision path then we're going to have less than a five second firing window when they pass us, Captain. But the chances of hitting them are slim." Bauhaus explained. "You will have to give the order within the first few seconds of their hyperspace exit, sir."

Pina grimaced. "Then make sure our sensors give me the data I need to make the right decision, commander."

"Yes. Good luck sir."

The proximity alarm indicated the vessel's exit from hyperspace a few heartbeats later.

The bridge crews flurried into activity in their pits below Pina, but the Captain stared fixedly out into the blackness of space. The unknown vessel was too far away for him to see, but at its speed it would pass them in seconds.

"It's out of control," came the first report. "It's not slowing down fast enough."

"Current trajectory will impact the planet's northern continent."

"It will pass us too quickly for tractor beam control to catch it."

"Three seconds to it's within range, Captain."

Pina turned to the bridge crews, intent on their monitors in the pits.

Bauhaus let out a faint sigh.

Pina locked eyes with him.



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Captain Pina is in the highly unenviable situation of having to issue commands with imperfect knowledge. 'The fog of war' surrounds him: no communication from above, betrayal on the surface by Mazier, the loss of his immediate superior - and so much happening that he must resort to his own judgement and morality to make decisions. Making any decision under pressure is hard, yet in military situations it happens all the time. It is very easy for us at home to mock a decision made in these circumstances, especially if it turns out to be wrong, but the fog of war has led to capable people making unfortunate decisions quite often.

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