The lumigraph disappeared, the sirens grew louder, and Sesh repeated the announcement from the bridge officer while placing her hand on the captain’s shoulder. “New contacts, Atara.” Velliris stood at the edge of the bridge, watching her much older duplicate contend with this surprise attack.
“What do we have?” Atara asked over the sirens.
“Two jump signatures,” the officer announced. “Emergence in forty—no, thirty seconds.”
“Ethis,” Atara asked, “Where did Eclipse’s transmission originate?”
“From the kicker,” Ethis told her, looking first at Velliris and then, realizing she was looking at the wrong Atara, directed her gaze toward the true captain.
Atara asked, “How far is it?” At this point, the sirens quieted.
Fiori stated, “Heading three-three-one, plus one-five at three-hundred-fifty-thousand kilometers,” after appearing near the captain and the first officer.
“Orders, captain?” Naret asked, looking eagerly at her console.
“Hold on,” Atara said. “Distance to the jump signatures?”
“Fifty kilometers. Emergence in twelve seconds. Three other hyperwarp contacts closing on our position.” The officer paused, and then she said, “Vessels emerging, captain.”
“Two destroyer-sized vessels. Markings identify them as the Three Brothers Syndicate.”
“Incoming transmission,” Ethis stated.
“Put it through.” Another lumigraph appeared, and the bridge officers saw a familiar sight: a helmeted marauder in dark yellow Novekk armor and the three, clean, red stripes diagonal across the torso. The armor was more pristine than that of the marauder that attacked them on the edge of the Saraian Range.
“Captain,” said the marauder in a feminine voice, “we’ve come to collect our toll. Please, for your sake and that of your crew, do not resist.”
“Are you working with Domina now?” Atara asked.
“Our temporary joint venture is none of your business,” the marauder warned before closing the lumigraph.
“Atara,” the captain turned around and saw Kyora and Virn standing at the door, “Deminesse is here, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” Atara told the phantom. “Domina is working with the Three Brothers Syndicate.”
“I’ve already mobilized the Auroras,” Kyora told her. “If I get a chance, I will kill her.” The Elestan phantom glanced at Velliris, and then back at Atara. “I guess you do know how it feels now; to have someone share your face.” Kyora backed away, turned around, and took Virn with her as she departed from the bridge.
Atara turned to her duplicate and said, “Your services are no longer required. Return to the brig.” As Velliris quietly departed the bridge, Atara told her, “Put a helmet on.” The doppelganger complied, fabricating a helmet to hide her face before exiting, accompanied by two Auroras. They passed groups of Auroras, ceiling turrets, and battle drones scattered throughout the ship, standing by for a boarding attempt by blinkers or otherwise. Atara said, “Are the destroyers close enough for beamed plasma?”
“Affirmative,” said the tactical officer.
“Target both ships with the forward plasma beams,” Atara directed.
“Aye captain.” Brief alert pings sounded, and beyond the forward OPEL, two bright, white streams shot instantaneously out from the front of the battlecruiser in two different directions toward deep space. The plasma beams crashed against the lumionic shields of the two destroyers, both of which could not be seen in the darkness with the unaided eye. The officers aboard those vessels watched their screens showing the stored potential energy of their single-layer lumionic defense systems draining away to keep the voracious plasma at bay.
The Kelsor’s tactical officer announced, “Targets have activated invulnerability shielding.”
“Shit,” Atara whispered to herself.
“They are moving toward us.”
“I want intruder alerts, now.”
The adjunct made her own announcement across the ship. “Alert. Prepare to repel boarders. Ship-wide lockdown engaged. This is not a drill. Repeat. Prepare to repel boarders. Ship-wide lockdown engaged. This is not a drill.”
“Get ready for blinkers,” Atara told Xannissa.
“I thought we were facing Domina.”
“The syndicate from Saraia is here too.”
“Damn it. We can’t do much against blinkers.”
“Come up to the bridge.”
“I need to defend the drives.”
“We have Auroras for that.”
“This is my synerdrive, Atara. I’m going to stay here as long as I can.”
“Please, Xann, don’t do this.”
Xannissa sighed. Twisting her engagement ring around her finger, she said, “Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m sending Kyora and Virn to you.” Opening a lumigraph to Kyora, Atara said, “Colonel, can you and Virn shore up engineering?”
“Heading there now,” Kyora said as she walked briskly down one of the main corridors with Virn and several Auroras behind her.
“Is Xann going to be okay?” Sesh asked.
“I really hope so,” Atara told her. Just then, another lumigraph opened, revealing a crimson-haired elshi.
“Captain,” Illeiri said, but noticing the evidence of Atara’s dried tears still on her face, she asked, “are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Atara replied. “What do you need?”
“I’m taking the cadets to the briefing room,” Illeiri stated.
Atara said, “Good. We’ll keep them safe.”
“Afterward, I’m going to return to the omnimology lab and defend the scientists and the ecksivar.”
“Understood, stay safe.” The lumigraph closed, and there Atara was standing beside Sesh and Naret, watching another battle about to unfold aboard her starship.
Illeiri stormed through the doors of the omnimology lab accompanied by several Auroras and three naked discs orbiting behind her back, and to all the scientists, including Souq and Namara, she said, “You all need to return to your quarters.”
“What’s going on?” Souq asked her.
“We’re about to have blinkers,” Illeiri told them. “Same ones that attacked us in Saraia. You won’t be safe here.”
Namara said to her worried assistants, “You all go back to your quarters.” Illeiri looked inquisitively at the Elestan science officer as the junior scientists dodged the armed Auroras and filed out of the lab. Namara stared at Illeiri, stating, “After what it took to get the ecksivar back, I’m not letting it out of my sight.”
“And I’m not leaving Sayn alone,” Souq replied, looking at Namara and grasping for her hand. After their hands connected, he turned to look at Illeiri.
The elshi queen asked them, “There’s nothing I could say that would change your mind, is there?” The two scientists said nothing.
Souq and Namara looked at each other, and Namara said, “We need to armor up.”
When Kyora and Virn entered the vast engineering department, everyone was wearing armor, making it more difficult to distinguish between the Auroras and the crew. The phantom paused to look around, and she noticed a helmetless Xannissa standing among a group of other armored personnel. As Kyora approached, avoiding the crewmembers and Auroras passing every which way, it was clear that the group Xannissa oversaw was composed of engineering officers, and the chief engineer was delegating duties to them before the impending battle. The scene the two Elestans created in the briefing room many days ago was still fresh in Kyora’s mind, so she reluctantly stepped within Xannissa’s field of view. After the arrest of Musani by FedSec, it seemed that Kyora’s viewpoint had been mostly wrong, but she wouldn’t be able to withstand the arrogance of one of these intellectual types shoving vindication in her face. Xannissa wrapped up her delegation and dismissed her group of subordinates who scattered off in a multitude of directions, leaving only Xannissa and Kyora to stare at each other.
“Atara told me you were coming,” Xannissa told them. “I’m thankful for anyone I can get.”
“Xannissa,” Kyora said, “I want to apologize to you.”
“For what?” Xannissa replied.
“For how I behaved toward you in the briefing room. After Atara’s assassination attempt.”
“Oh, that? Honestly I had forgotten.” Kyora’s serious expression didn’t change, hiding the fact that she was stunned. Does this woman not hold a grudge? “Actually,” Xannissa said in a solemn tone, “I forgot to thank you for protecting Atara, and I also thank you for saving us in Semarah. I owe you a debt I’ll never be able to repay, and I apologize for calling you a coward. You’re anything but.”
“I…” Kyora started, “thank you.” Perhaps Atara was right. Perhaps this really was her true purpose—to defend rather than to kill—but this was not the time to dwell on that thought. “You need to find cover and let Virn and I handle this. The Kelsor’s going to need her chief engineer.”
“We need to cut through that invulnerability,” Atara said. “Fiori, we need those phasic torpedoes. Can you give them to us?”
“One last time,” Fiori told Atara and Sesh, standing beside them. “This is a protocol violation, but I will intercede on your behalf. The Kelsor must return to Lanan. Emergency experimental weapon deployment protocol engaged. MARAD lockout override authorization: Fiori root. Decrypting design, please stand by. Decryption complete. Mark One phasic torpedoes are now available. Two hostile targets confirmed. Firing solutions complete. Prepping phasic torpedoes. Torpedoes away.”
Both torpedoes left their tubes heading for either destroyer, accelerating through the interstellar void. As they approached the syndicate starships, the torpedoes’ onboard phasics activated, pushing their material out of phase with all other mass and energy and disappearing from optics, sensors, and scanners. By modifying their propensity for interaction with the universe, the weapons circumvented the impenetrable hardened lumionics of the destroyers; however, only one torpedo made it back from the up-phase transitional boundary.
One of the destroyer’s hulls erupted with a blast so violent as to shed the entire aft of the craft to pieces, immediately severing it from its propulsion source and bringing down its shield. The battlecruiser’s other weapons systems pelted the stricken ship until there was only an unidentifiable husk and a field of debris. The other destroyer continued onward toward the Kelsor. Its torpedo was lost to another phase of existence.
“We got one,” the tactical officer announced. Even with only one down, relief rushed through Atara.
“Can we get just one more?” Atara begged.
“My authorization has been revoked,” Fiori told her with widened eyes. She turned toward captain and said, “I’m sorry, Atara.”