The cadets were seated on the floor and against the forward walls of the dark briefing room now devoid of its chairs and table. Auroras sat between each of them armed with assault drivers and crouching in low relative gravity, ready to move in an instant. The cadets were encouraged to do the same. At first, some of the cadets over-adjusted their gravitics which caused them to drift into the air at the slightest shifting of their feet, but they caught on with a little trial and error. Their Aurora guardians also encouraged them to fabricate sidearms as added protection. SIRAC crates containing small and medium unimags were placed between the cadets and Auroras and the rest of the room, acting as both a source of ammunition and an extra layer of defense.
“Lieren, where’s Illeiri?” the Elestan cadet who had been skeptical of elsheem whispered privately to Lieren through her helmet.
“She’s in the omnimology lab,” Lieren said, “protecting the ecksivar.”
“I wish she were here with us,” said the Elestan.
“We have two dozen Auroras defending us,” Lieren assured her. “Be brave.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Of course I’m afraid,” Lieren told her, “but my mother used to tell me: Fear reminds you that you’re still human, and she who is never afraid can never be brave.”
“Intruder alert. Level four security breach.” Both Auroras flanking Lieren tilted their bodies forward, planted the stocks of their guns against their shoulder armor, and scanned the dark room with their helmets in anticipation. The port and starboard doors were open, and the cadets saw Auroras running and taking positions in the outside corridors, crouching down beside the doors. “Subspace rift detected.” Lumigraphs marked two locations within the briefing room of two incoming blinkers, and two seconds later, a double explosion rocked the Auroras and cadets alike.
The Auroras didn’t hesitate. Immediately after the violent subspace entry, the Federation soldiers opened fire with their assault drivers, riddling the nearest heavy marauder with plasma bolts while he grabbed the triggers of his twin, triple-barreled, linear motor cannons and spun them up. A few seconds of sustained plasma fire was enough to ravage his body beneath his Novekk powersuit and bring him to his knees before he could let loose a single shot. The other marauder turned to face the wall of Auroras and cadets, but before he could react, his lumionics were exhausted, his helmet was blasted apart, and his suit fell over backwards. The Auroras who had expended their unimags detached them and left them on the floor. They then grabbed charged magazines from the open crates and clicked them into their drivers.
“You cadets awake yet?” yelled one of the Auroras who was inserting a fresh unimag into her weapon. Lieren felt herself shaking. She reached out slowly and grabbed a unimag from the crate. Shivering, she tried to put it into her pistol, but it wasn’t attaching. That’s when she realized she had the wrong size. An Aurora beside her took the unimag out of Lieren’s hand and gave her a small one, and the young cadet, despite her nervous hands, slid the magazine through the handgun’s handle and clicked it into place.
“Intruder alert. Level five sec—subspace rift detected,” the adjunct announced again, cutting itself off locally. How long would this last? Another explosion and a new marauder hit the ground—this time, his twin cannons were ready to fire immediately. The Auroras pushed the cadets down toward the floor, moved themselves behind the containers, and fired their weapons while trying to avoid the incessant bullet barrage. One of the Auroras next to Lieren lost her barrier’s lumionic potential and she brought herself below cover, but the ricochets pelted her unprotected SIRAC and polyalloy until they pierced them. The Aurora cried as blood gushed from her fresh wounds. After many seconds of the onslaught, the marauder was brought down like his brethren, collapsing near their corpses.
The other Aurora next to Lieren crawled over the cadet and yelled, “Medic!” Attending to her downed comrade, the Aurora asked, “You still with us?” while fabricating a stasis device. She attached the device to the downed Aurora’s armor, grabbed Lieren’s hand, and pushed it onto the stasis unit, saying, “Do not let go of this, do you understand?” Lieren was shaking even more, and she didn’t respond. “Do you understand?!” the Aurora asked her with greater urgency.
“Y-yes ma’am!” Lieren stammered. She kept her hand on the device as she lied next to the frozen Aurora, not sure if the soldier had survived or not. A medic entered the room and knelt beside the stricken Aurora right before another pair of rifts formed and two more marauders blasted into the briefing room.
The wide space within the engineering department was perfect for blinkers seeking to intrude upon the Kelsor and raid its synerdrive for the secrets contained within its mediator. The initial wave of attackers consisted of multiple rifts forming simultaneously above the entrenched Auroras occupying main engineering. Every blink produced another shockwave—sharp claps among the rolling thunder of plasma bolts hitting shields and armor. The Kelsor’s universal cabingrav pulled the bulky powersuits downward; their feet slamming against the solid floor.
Virn had constructed a nest above the main level. Surrounded by crates, she lied prone and looked down at the brewing storm below her. Her sustainer’s barrel jutted out beyond the catwalk she inhabited. Lining up the syndicate marauders within her sights, she pulled the trigger of her sustainer, and the weapon launched an unrelenting stream of plasma bolts toward the attackers. The lack of recoil from the reactionless gravitic driver system gave the Exan complete control of the sprays she unleashed toward the incoming marauders.
She and Kyora were determined to make engineering a deathtrap for any syndicate marauder foolish enough to choose it as a blink destination. This was the Elestan phantom’s ball, and to enter it meant you partook in her dance of death. Kyora’s nimble body twirled and leapt from powersuit to powersuit, slicing and shooting with her plasma blade and handgun combination. While Virn’s and others’ sustainers rained down a white fire from above hitting shields and armor with no particular precision, Kyora took advantage of every exposed joint and weak point and guided her blade and aim to strike true with every hit, or just about, bringing down marauders with calculated devastation. The pile of bodies grew by the second, but the enemy were no fools. Soon, the influx of blinkers subsided. The engineering department quieted, but calls came across the ship with blinkers pouring into less defended areas.
“They felt us out!” Kyora told her Auroras across the ship as well as the ship’s senior officers. “They’re popping into the major corridors and flooding into the hangar!”
“Oh no,” Xannissa whispered from her position behind the line of defending Auroras. She messaged her sister through a lumigraph and said, “Cy, are you okay?”
“It’s like a thunderstorm in here,” Cylenna said from the cockpit of a replacement Goshawk that was fabricated aboard the battlecruiser. “So many heavies jumping in at once.”
“You going to be okay? Answer me!”
“Relax,” Cylenna told her loudly, “I’m in my Goshawk. I’ll be saf—.” A rocket exploded against the side of one of the parked Goshawks suspended against the hangar wall not far from Cylenna’s. “Oh shit.” The Elestan pilot looked out of her OPELs toward the wide hangar floor and saw a missile team taking aim at her craft. “Shit, shit, shit!” Cylenna cursed before the lumigraph faded.
“Cy?!” Xannissa cried. “Cylenna!”
Illeiri strode through the open door of the omnimology lab and out into the corridor. She allowed her three discs to do all of her killing, never lifting a finger herself. The elsheem queen crossed her arms and observed the death she dealt with her mind—her white discs separating hands from arms, legs from hips, and heads from shoulders. The efficiency with which she executed filled her with a certain uncharacteristic arrogance. These pitiful soldiers were fodder before her exceptionally keen mind. It was a sense of immortality; of being above the bloodshed that was occurring all around her, and it gave Illeiri pleasure, as if her divine right to rule was manifesting itself in this moment. She had never felt this way before besting Taretes, but she liked it. It excited her. The elshi took several steps forward, arriving in the thick of the fighting in that wide corridor. Her discs flew back and forth, dismembering and beheading as they went, and even the bullets and plasma bolts avoided her, seeking not to destroy that which possessed royal blood. She stood there, fully enveloped in her delusion, until a stray grenade landed nearby. Illeiri could feel the omnium all around her and across the ship, and she could guide all three of her discs with an ability that would make all other discthrowers jealous, but she was oblivious to what lied near her own feet.
The grenade erupted, blasting Illeiri backward and slamming her body against the wall. This disrupted her concentration, sending the discs off in different directions to maim marauder and Aurora alike unlucky enough to be caught in the discs’ paths. She lied there with her lumionics down, a few gunshots away from being another victim of the carnage. A marauder stepped toward her—his linear motor barrels already spinning. He kicked Illeiri’s foot, but she was motionless. The marauder then tried to decide whether to spare the ammo on a woman who appeared to be dead or to go ahead and riddle the corpse with holes just to be sure, but in his brief indecisiveness, Illeiri reestablished control over her discs without moving a muscle and sent all three toward him, all slicing through at once and carving his body into four separate pieces. Slowly and painfully, she moved her head to glimpse the battle continuing to unfold around her. Still guiding the discs, she drew her legs towards her body and, with the assistance of her gravitics, raised herself from the floor. The blow to her pride was worse than that to her body, but her bioomnimics helped her recover quickly. Weary, she fabricated a subsustainer in her left hand, and she carried herself toward a more defended position behind a barricade against the wall to the lab.
Even the bridge had to contend with occasional blinkers emerging within the central circle. Atara taught Naret a trick to copy her console to her Accellus so that she was in full control of the conn no matter where she was, or where she had to take cover. So Naret sat on the floor behind the low wall near the tactical station in the aft-most part of the bridge. Auroras crouched on either side of her—their hips nearly in the lieutenant’s helmeted face—as they peered over the wall toward where a few syndicate corpses already lied. Atara and Sesh knelt down in front of Naret, drivers in hand and protecting themselves from any adventurous marauder that decided to blink onto the bridge. The number of bridge incursions was dwindling, giving credence to Kyora’s assertion that the first wave of attackers had merely probed their fortifications.
“How long until that destroyer’s lumionics reset?” Atara asked her huddled officers.
“Estimating another three minutes!”
“Tactical,” Atara commanded, “be ready with torpedoes.”
“Aye, captain,” said the crouching tactical officer as she nodded.
“Subspace rift detected.” Another shockwave, another marauder. The Auroras fired at him with every driver they had. Even Atara and Sesh fought to defend their bridge, shooting plasma over the wall, trying to burn him down as quickly as possible, but this one came not equipped with linear motor cannons. At each side was a rocket launcher, and he pointed them at the tactical station and fired. The resulting explosion shredded tactical and the low wall, blasting Auroras and bridge officers into the aft bulkhead. The women slammed their SIRAC-covered backs against the wall and fell to the floor. The Auroras outside of the initial blast kept firing, killing the marauder, but those in the blast—Atara, Sesh, Naret, and the tactical officer—weren’t moving.
Velliris felt the shockwave hit her back, and she almost lost her balance. The Auroras with her shoved her down a side corridor and then turned around to engage the marauder that had just appeared. The brig was only a few more meters toward the stern.
An Aurora grabbed her arm, brought her down to the floor near the wall, and shouted, “Fight if you want to stay alive!” FedIntel had trained Velliris in Accellus use, so she was far from being an amateur, but this was the first real combat experience she had ever tasted. The Aurora that had brought her down fabricated a weapon, fell prone, and began unleashing plasma bolts straight from her Accellus reservoir. Velliris did the same: fabricated her weapon, aimed at the marauder, but the dark yellow suit rotated around and blasted the Aurora next to her, splashing the soldier’s blood all over the wall and floor. The doppelganger would be next if she didn’t pump him full of ionized matter. She squeezed the trigger as hard as she could, screaming as her stream of bolts overcame his lumionics and sawed through his chest. Even after he fell over, she kept firing, caught in the rush of fight or flight.
Velliris sat there for a moment, breathing hard into her helmet. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think. There was a corpse next to her, and she knew that she had just barely avoided that fate. Another Aurora ran up behind her, slapped her on the arm, and said, “You can’t do anything for her! Move!” Velliris didn’t register it at first, but as she came to her senses, she shuffled to her feet and kept herself low.
Beyond that side corridor was the main thoroughfare through which she had been moving for her last leg of the trip to the brig. She peered out, and passing overhead were five battle drones flying gently toward the bow. Each of them was armed with twin cannons, and they unleashed shots conservatively, only taking the ones they calculated they could land with minimal collateral damage. The heaviest fighting was taking place much further down, but the Auroras Velliris was with were intent on heading that way. So Velliris followed them, sticking close to the wall, ready to run behind a barricade or a bit of protruding structure. The sound of a bullet buzzing past or a ricochet startled her as they advanced. The battle drones accelerated, passing right over her group and into the smoke billowing into the corridor, likely from a canister dropped by the marauders.
Then, there came a new set of explosions. Velliris and a few of the others were knocked to the floor by the shockwaves from several blinkers appearing at once. Her gun slid away from her. The armored Terran rolled herself over, found her assault driver, and pulled it back to her using her gravitics as the guns of the marauders warmed up, but before they could unleash their hail of bullets, a bright light appeared at their necks, slicing their helmets right off. Velliris lied there, watching the marauders all fall over, and in between them stood a woman in mostly bodysuit, holding a knife in one hand and a pistol in the other.