The princess was beautiful but willful. It was entirely in character that she should wake in the pre-dawn glimmer and leave her chamber unobserved, to walk barelegged in the dew. And it was there, in the old meadows surrounding the chateau, that they took her.
They had been incredibly clever as well as resourceful and, perhaps most importantly, they had been lucky. Our security teams had unaccountably failed to detect their dragonship, hidden with perfect care inside the husk of an abandoned church. The Princess Irena, true to her contrary self, had decided to mark her first day in the newly-conquered province of Aquila by a solitary early morning excursion.
As she shimmered, barefoot and diaphanous amidst the meadows-flowers, it was the work of moments for their Special Forces team to swoop-and-grab. Before the alarm could propagate through our slow and clumsy hierarchy, the dragonship was exo-atmospheric and boosting as fast as it could to its rendezvous point. Once it had transferred its precious cargo to the interstellar mothership, its mission would be concluded: game over.
I watched the Captain of our tiny interceptor as he cranked the engines to emergency pursuit mode. He made time for breathless comments – as the embedded journalist, my report would signal how his reputation would come out of this. Assuming that the King, Princess Irena’s father, let him live that is.
We broke orbit (we’d been stationed at the planet’s outer moon) when the dragonship was a hundred thousand miles ahead and still accelerating. I couldn’t fathom the Captain’s strategy, we were by far the nearest vessel but it seemed impossible to catch up. And surely the King would never approve a missile attack on a ship carrying his daughter. The Captain promptly proved me wrong.
‘MCM-1 launched,’ he murmured, the screen showing a high-acceleration burn volleying from our ship.
‘What will they do when they detect our missile?’ I asked the Captain.
‘If they pick it up, they will certainly destroy it,’ he confirmed. ‘Unfortunately there is no doubt at all that they have the means.’
Our missile was showing its extraordinary performance, now fully a third of the way to the enemy. I did not dare ask what it would do, if and when it made contact.
‘The dragonship has excellent mechanisms to spot an intercepting warhead by its drift against the bright stellar background,’ the Captain lectured. ‘If our missile adopted standard interception techniques they would see it for sure, so of course it doesn’t. The missile stays on the line of sight from the dragonship right back to its original launch point. It never, ever moves laterally against the background. There is no optical flow at all, only a looming effect as it gets very close in.’
He smiled to himself.
‘Of course, I expect it will do what it has to before that gets to be a problem.’
I knew it was useless quizzing the Captain further. He continued mumbling to himself, rationalizing what was about to happen, but I could follow the gist.
‘I think I know what it’ll decide. She won’t like it, oh no. But the King has personally authorized it. It’s the only way. Now, if it can just evade detection …’
On the screen the missile blip and the dragonship were converging. We were light-seconds behind the action but it didn’t matter: the missile was totally autonomous. The display flicked to the missile view – the dragonship was a dot visibly resolving into a squat, stubby vehicle moving transversely across the display at high-thrust. Green text appeared on the missile’s status bar: “Acquiring State… Acquired… Retransmit… Done…”
The screen flared and washed out.
‘Stellar-Class Laser,’ grunted the Captain, but he didn’t seem too worried. His frown of concentration nevertheless persisted until there was a chime.
“State received and cached” appeared on the system bar.
‘Well, that’s it,’ said the Captain. ‘Now we go home and face the music.’
‘W-What about the Princess?’ I stammered, ‘She’s still on the dragonship!’
‘Her body is,’ the Captain said grimly, ‘Nothing else. Our missile only had to get close enough. The Princess has an implant which can dump-and-send her mind-state. The process is a last resort and it’s… well, terminal. The missile decided to activate the implant and then retransmitted the Princess’s mind-state back to the ship here. It’s already been relayed on to the King’s clone laboratories. The reborn Princess may, with luck, learn to be more prudent in future.’
I wondered if the Motion Camouflage Missile had had other tricks at its disposal: its own lethal weaponry; perhaps even the ability to negotiate with its adversary. It probably had, and had selected this brutal but effective tactic as the one most suited to the circumstances.
In fact, I mused to myself, the missile was probably smarter than the Captain. But of course it was no longer around to accept either praise, or more likely, the blame.
Previous articles on science-fiction weaponry have examined relativistic impact weapons, particle and laser beams and even subtle forms of biological warfare. One of the most effective weapon technologies is intelligence embodied within a smart missile: think of the knife missiles in Iain M. Banks’ ‘Culture’ novels. Here is a scenario illustrating state-of-the-art guided missile technology.