“What’s happening?” Sven’s voice came back.
“Just strap down in an acceleration chair,” Johnson said. He was doing the same, getting into a recumbent position so his whole backside would take the weight of his body at five gees.
Larsen was buckling the belts on his chair. Sonia was getting quickly into the third chair on the bridge.
“Ten seconds,” Larsen growled into the intercom.
“Where’s the ship?” Johnson asked.
“Moving toward the planet and us. They are accelerating at a thousand gees, approximately.”
“How far away?”
“One hundred and forty-four thousand kilometers and changing fast.”
Johnson exhaled an exasperated breath. He wasn’t used to thinking in magnitudes of a thousand gees. “How long until they reach us?”
Larsen touched his computer for a few seconds. “Assuming they match orbits with us, about four minutes.” He paused a moment, then barked over the intercom, “Acceleration now!”
Johnson felt himself slammed into the couch, and even that wasn’t the full five gees, as it took time for the engine to build to that acceleration. He hoped Sven had gotten to an acceleration chair. He looked at Sonia. She looked equally miserable.
“Still coming,” Larsen reported looking at his screen. “They’ve changed vectors to rendezvous with us.”
“Keep accelerating,” Johnson ordered. He was nearly certain that whatever fate befell everyone down on the planet and in the asteroid belt was about to happen to him. Would he be disintegrated or teleported into the slave hold? He didn’t know.
“Larsen,” he breathed.
“When they get close, point the fusion rocket’s flame at them.”
“Change the attitude of the ship so that the fusion flame is directed straight at them.”
“You’re using it as a weapon,” Sonia said.
“Yes! Never give up.”
Larsen smiled a bit, working on the computer.
Johnson hoped he wasn’t starting an interstellar war. But, he thought, he might already be in one.
“They are moving fast; it’s difficult to aim the fusion flame.”
“Do your best,” Johnson cried. “Our lives likely depend on it.” He looked at the monitor that still showed the telescopic image of the alien ship. Except it wasn’t telescopic: the display in the corner read “1x,” meaning there was no magnification. That thing is huge, Johnson thought with panic as it grew bigger and bigger in the display. They were matching orbits with the Longboat as easily and almost as quickly as he would line up two pencils. Amazing what a thousand gees will do, he growled to himself. He saw no evidence of any kind of rockets or reaction drives. He couldn’t fathom how that ship accelerated. He found himself wishing he’d read more scientific journals. Or maybe science fiction.
Larsen yawed the Longboat, turning it away from the alien ship. Johnson hoped the aliens would only think they were running away and not realize the danger.
The flame of the exhaust licked the black, glassy exterior of the pursuing ship. That flame, as hot as a blue star at the tip, should cut through almost any material, Johnson thought.
There was no effect, except a blue glow around the flame. Then the flame stopped. Suddenly, they were in free fall again.
“Larsen?” Johnson called out.
“I don’t understand it,” Larsen cried. “The reactor died. We’re on battery power.”
“It was as if all fusion stopped. Then, the temperature dropped enough that power generation ceased.”