“Auto-destruct initialized. Auto-destruct will engage upon hull-breach. There will be no further warnings.”
Kyora, Virn, Velliris, and the band of Auroras that followed them formed up with the other Aurora groups and held the syndicate marauders at bay in defense of ODEC 5. The announcement came to Virn through her helmet—as it did most others—while she was providing cover fire with her shoulder-mounted rotary sustainer. She halted her fire, sat down behind the solid barricade she had been firing from, and looked across the corridor to the entrance of ODEC 5. She knew that if the Kelsor really were to auto-destruct, she and the others were in ground zero, or at least one of the ground zeroes. Each of the six ODECs would cease the normal reactions they sustained to produce energy, and instead they would become reservoirs for antimatter. The ODECs would all reach critical mass at once, and the collective antimatter detonations would leave nothing salvageable behind.
Virn knew what that meant for her, but what would happen to Kyora? She would die in an instant, and Virn would never see her again. The Exan recalled her helmet as she sat there pondering what she should do. Obviously, there was nothing to do, but for Virn, it just wasn’t that simple.
Kyora knelt next to her and deshrouded. Recalling her own helmet, the Elestan asked, “Is everything okay? Is it about that auto-destruct warning?”
“It is,” Virn said, still looking toward the blast doors sealing ODEC 5. She turned to her partner and said, “Remember when I said I’d stop the universe for you? I love you that much, Kyora.”
“The cruisers are launching warp missiles and strikecraft,” Sesh said from the tactical station. “They’re going to saturate our RPDS.”
“Focus fire on the kicker with our own warp missiles,” Atara commanded. “Continuous fire. Don’t let up until they’re dead.”
“Aye,” Sesh said.
The information pooled from the Kelsor’s suite of scanners and sensors revealed a battlefield in which the battlecruiser was surrounded by four Domina cruisers, each occupying a point on a trigonal pyramid. Sesh watched as streams of missiles poured from the cruisers while the Kelsor unleashed her own. As the missiles approached the battlecruiser, her RPDS did its best to eliminate them. Ultimately, the shear number of projectiles overwhelmed the Kelsor’s point-defenses, and the missiles exploded against the starship’s lumionic barriers.
“We’re losing lumionic potential,” Sesh warned.
“They really want to do this?” Atara noted, watching helplessly as her ship was bombarded.
“The kicker is taking hull damage.”
“We won’t be far off if this keeps up.”
And it didn’t stop. As the kicker broke apart, the Kelsor’s barrier failed. Missiles were now hitting the hull, targeting the battlecruiser’s ODECs specifically. Kyora was directing a group of Auroras as blasts rocked the ship, and then, a blinding flash erupted, and it just hung there. Kyora stared into it, as did the other Auroras. Bolts and bullets halted in the air. That was it: the hull breach that the adjunct had warned about.
Virn stood up from the barricade surrounded by frozen time. Two bright, incorporeal wings radiated from her back, and her green skin and black hair yielded to light and dark metallic gold, respectively. Her eyes projected the same white light of her wings, and her polyalloy bodysuit and SIRAC armor melted off her body and dripped to the floor. The power surging through her granted power over time itself. Her appearance now was reminiscent of an angel.
“I am grateful to you, Your Radiance,” Virn thought in another language as she approached Kyora’s paused body.
“I know your heart, Archanima Veris of the Keliafalai,” a woman replied in a voice that would bring anyone else to their knees. “You have always been faithful. I cannot deny your willingness to help those children you have come to cherish.”
Alassura, the conduit, allowed her power to flow through Veris’ soul unimpeded. The archanima peered across the ship with a kind of clairvoyance, looking for signs from the other ODECs that they were going critical, but when she saw what was happening in engineering, or at least what had begun to happen, she said, “It was all a ruse.”
“Yes,” Alassura said, looking through Veris’ eyes. “If you allow those children around you to escape this blast, they will be saved.”
Redirecting Alassura’s power, Veris brought all of the Auroras near ODEC 5 within her temporal reference frame. Kyora and the Auroras with her shielded their eyes from the bright flash and turned around, laying eyes on a golden angel in naked brilliance.
“Do not be afraid,” Veris commanded them. “You must run.” She thought to them in that other language, but they all understood it as if she had vocalized Miri.
“Virn?” Kyora asked. “Is that you?”
“That is the name by which you know me,” Veris thought, looking at the Elestan phantom.
Kyora looked away from the angel and saw the bolts and bullets frozen in the air. “What is happening?!”
“Trust me,” Veris told her. “You must run.” Most of the other Auroras, including Velliris, had heeded her command and escaped the inevitable blast, but Kyora hesitated. She simply could not believe her eyes. “Kyora!”
Kyora retreated deeper into the frozen ship. Once Veris knew that everyone was safely away, she herself retreated, allowing time to slowly tick forward, gradually accelerating until it was once again flowing normally. As it did, the brilliance of her wings and eyes diminished, and when the explosive wave flooded through the ship’s corridors and destroyed ODEC 5, she stood next to Kyora as a phenotypical Exan once again, naked from head to toe.
“Mind telling me what the hell that was?” Kyora said as she grabbed Virn’s arms.
“I’m sorry, Kyora,” Virn said. “Consider it a miracle, and think upon it no more.” Kyora fabricated a short jacket over her armor, took it off and gave it to the Exan who put it on, concealing her upper torso with it. The phantom then took Virn back to their shared quarters, leaving Velliris to fend for herself.
“Atara,” Xannissa thought to the captain through their Q-comms link, “the entire synerdrive system is being disintegrated!”
“That’s the auto-destruct override,” Atara assured her.
“Was this your plan?”
“Of course. Did you think I’d blow us all up?”
“Atara, sometimes I just don’t know.”
“The barrage has stopped,” Sesh said, noting the self-destruction of all incoming missiles.
Eclipse appeared to them again, saying, “I see you’re still here.”
“Indeed we are,” Atara replied, “however, our REMASS is recalling our entire drive system and deleting the designs. We have no more synerdrive to take. One of our brave scientists smuggled the ecksivar into deep space right under your nose, so that’s gone as well, and that blast you just witnessed killed your sister Kyora. I’m afraid our ship has nothing left for you.”
Eclipse was now the one staring at Atara, speechless. Atara had succeeded in making the Kelsor sour in the mouth of Domina’s leader. “Fuck you!” Eclipse spat. “You’ll regret wasting my time!”
“Jump signature detected,” Sesh announced. It was enough of a surprise to stop Eclipse from speaking as her lieutenants informed her of its appearance as well. “Emergence in three minutes.”
Eclipse said, “I’m afraid this is the end for you. We and the Three Brothers Syndicate will be all over you, and we’ll make a living example out of you for the rest of Thalassia Orionis to witness!”
Over the next three minutes, Illeiri guided Souq through the ship until they arrived in the briefing room. There the cadets remained, scarred by the battle.
“Lieren?” Souq called out after recalling his helmet. Still gripped by emotion, he looked at each of the cadets, unable to tell which one was his daughter.
“I’m over here, dad,” Lieren said, recalling her helmet.
Souq walked over to her and knelt down in front of her. Hugging her tightly, he said, “I’m so sorry.”
“Where’s Namara?” Lieren asked, embracing her father.
Souq didn’t say anything. She felt his chest gasping, but she heard nothing. Souq was trying to suppress his feelings, but he had experienced too much grief, and so had Lieren. When he felt his daughter begin to sob, he couldn’t hold back any longer. Illeiri left the two of them to be alone with the other cadets and stepped onto the bridge. As she did so, she heard Sesh call out from the tactical station, “Vessel emerging.”
“Identify,” Atara demanded.
“Its… the Archangels?”
A new lumigraph appeared next to Eclipse’s so that there were now two Elestan faces peering into the Kelsor’s bridge. Admiral Relex was the other, and she saw both Atara and Eclipse through her own lumigraphics.
“Surprise, surprise,” Relex said. “I couldn’t sit back and watch this bitch harass you.” Eclipse’s rage was apparent on her face, and she terminated her transmission herself.
Atara said, “I thought your flagship had hyperwarp.”
“And I thought you’d be more relieved to see me,” Relex noted with displeasure.
“I am,” Atara said. “Very much so.”
“About this carrier,” Relex explained, “we equip it with hyperwarp for patrols, but if we’re out on missions, like this one, we swap out her entire drive with a jump system so we can sneak up on our prey. As you can see, it’s very effective.”
“The Domina cruisers are activating hyperwarp,” Sesh said. “They’re getting away.”
“We can’t stop them,” Atara replied.
“I guess that’s the breaks,” Relex told them. “We haven’t even launched our strikecraft.”
“Thank you for coming out here. We would have perished if not for that. I’ll pay you the other fifty million mecred.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“If you don’t mind, I have two favors to ask. We need to rebuild our drive, and until then, we’re sitting ducks.”
“Did Domina blow up the synerdrive?”
“We did, to keep it out of their hands.”
“I see. What about the second?”
“One of our scientists used a homemade jump drone to carry the ecksivar sample off our ship, so she’s a lightyear away.”
“Do you know exactly where she is?”
“We’re getting on that now,” Atara said, looking toward Ethis.
“You let us know,” Relex said, “and we’ll send one of our corvettes to retrieve her.”
“You owe me another drink. This time with all of your senior officers.”
“Why don’t you come to Lanan sometime?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Fiori,” Atara called, summoning the orange, lumigraphic female, “Can we redownload the synerdrive design?”
“Affirmative,” Fiori said. “I am elated to see that the plan was a success.”
An Archangel corvette passed through one of the massive airscreens on the dorsal surface of the carrier. After Ethis made contact with Namara, she traced the scientist’s position to within half an AU of her actual location. Atara gave the Archangels this data, and the corvette engaged its hyperwarp system and took off. When the ship had arrived within the general volume, they reached out to Namara themselves, narrowing down her location until they arrived at her drifting body.
Namara saw the small ship—large from her point of view—slow as it approached her and the drone. A team of Accellus-clad mercenaries emerged from the ship to aid her, and within a couple of minutes, she and the drone were safely aboard. It wasn’t long after that Souq and Lieren were both embracing her, happy that she had been reunited with them.
Velliris returned to the brig, but when she got there, the guards informed her that under captain’s orders, she was free to go. They also told her that she would be assigned her own quarters much in the same way Illeiri had been.
In the meantime, Xannissa watched the synerdrive be rebuilt from the floor to the ceiling as she thought about how close she had been to never seeing Aedan’s face again. It would be her job now to make sure that this rebuilt drive would actually work since entire drives were not usually fabricated by a starship’s REMASS while underway. Once the synerdrive was deemed operational, Atara hailed Relex to thank her one last time, and the Kelsor took off again for Tribesson space.
“Welcome back to your morning headlines on SBN. I’m Jorj Danner. The time is now eight-oh-five. We are watching the diplomatic fallout brewing between the Federation and its fringeward neighbor Tribesson. Just yesterday, Federation President Solana Hethan announced that she was considering revoking Tribesson’s protectorate status unless it allows the Federation Navy to intervene in the country’s ongoing problem with organized crime. Joining us this morning is the governor of Tribesson’s capitol Mirida, Fea Qon. Madam Qon, good morning.”
“Good morning, Jorj.”
“Also joining us is Federation THORCOM commander Admiral Esen Gher. Good morning, admiral.”
“Good morning to you.”
“Admiral, I would like to begin with you. Federation diplomats are citing an incident that occurred in Thalassia Orionis for the recent spat. Can you tell us about that?”
“I can’t give you all the details, but one of our ships underway on a solo voyage was attacked by a pair of criminal organizations: one known as the Three Brothers Syndicate and the other referred to simply as Domina. What we do know is that the Three Brothers Syndicate is one of several pirate factions operating in Saraia, near the impassable Saraian Range. Domina, on the other hand, bases itself on Mirida.”
“Good point, Admiral Gher. With that I’d like to ask Madam Qon a question. Madam Qon, can you tell us more about Domina?”
“I can. Domina has only been around for the last hundred years. It grew out of a mercenary company known as Unit who participated in illegal cloning to bolster its numbers. One of these cloned individuals rose through the ranks and founded Domina, and now the syndicate runs rampant in Mirida and throughout Thalassia Orionis.”
“Has Tribesson taken any steps to deal with this problem of organized crime?”
“I just spoke with the Tribesson president earlier this morning, and she assures me that Tribesson will open itself to support from the Federation Navy to end this problem.”
“What does that mean for Tribesson?”
“It means you’re going to see a lot more patrols in Tribesson space. You’re going to see Auroras on every street in Mirida. We are going to take back our country and make it a more productive ally of the Federation, free of the syndicates that are currently running it into the ground.”