“The Kelsor is engaging its fusion drives, captain,” a Voulgenathi bridge officer announced. “It’s closing in fast.”
“Are the frigates ready for launch?” asked the captain. Taretes stood just behind him with a pleased facade. His elshi concubines were no real comfort to him now. His thoughts centered around the sample of black omnium. Thrassus had mentioned just hours before that the black omnium was the key to victory over the Federation. As long as Taretes believed in the destructive power the black omnium possessed, the outcome of the battle did not matter. The elsheem emperor would escape with his life so long as he clung to his ambition.
“Frigates are fully-crewed and standing by.”
“Are the breachers on standby as well?”
“Launch the frigates and prepare for close combat.”
“Two smaller vessels are detaching from the Voulgenathi,” Cylenna said. “Kelsor, are you seeing this?”
Affirmative, Spectre,” Kodi said from strike ops.
The two frigates were black like their parent Voulgenathi. One emerged from the dorsal stern and the other from the ventral. The two of them had stacked above and below the battleship’s main engineering section, made possible by their relative flatness. As the two ships had formed part of the Voulgenathi’s hull, it quickly became apparent that four of the Voulgenathi’s fusion engines had belonged to the battleship itself and the other six were divided between the two child frigates. As the distance between the battleship and frigates grew, the ventral frigate performed a roll to align itself along its mothership’s orientation.
“They look like the two ships that attacked the Akkain station,” Sesh noted.
“I say we focus our fire on one frigate at a time,” Atara said.
“Flights,” Kodi instructed, “focus down those frigates.”
“Wilco,” Cylenna responded. “Engaging frigates.” The bombers which had lined up for another run against the invulnerable Voulgenathi shifted their trajectory toward the dorsal frigate per Cylenna’s orders. Unfortunately for the frigates, they lost the hardened lumionic protection of their host mothership the moment they detached. The Virgas’ bombs exploded against the frigate’s shielding, prompting the hardening of its own lumionics. In response, the strikecraft engaged the other frigate until it, too, was made invulnerable. With all three large ships now actively hardening their lumionics, they were all unable to fire projectiles for the duration of their invulnerability.
“Sir!” a Voulgenathi officer shouted. “Our pilots are no match for the Federation strikecraft. We’ve already lost half of our deployed complement and have had to deploy hardened lumionics on all three of our ships. They are tearing us apart!”
“Steel yourself,” the captain said. “You are in the presence of your emperor.” The captain turned toward Taretes for a moment—as if respectfully or fearfully acknowledging his authority—and then rotated back toward the bridge windows. “Launch our squadron of heavy fighters.”
Ten heavy fighters emerged from the Voulgenathi’s hangar bay which took fire from zealous Federation pilots the instant they slowly emerged from the hardened lumionics protecting their mothership. The stoic heavy strikecraft ignored the assault as they made their menacing entrance onto the battlefield. The Kelsor, still just over two minutes away, was rotating itself in order to thrust its fusion engines retrograde.
“New contacts emerging from the Voulgenathi,” said a bridge officer. “Ten heavy fighters.”
“No doubt launched to deal with our strikecraft,” Sesh stated.
“Tell Spectre to hang in there,” Atara said.
“Attention flight,” Cylenna said, “heavy strikecraft represent a critical threat. Fly defensively and avoid their fire.”
As the heavy fighters started choosing targets, one pursued Cylenna’s Goshawk. From a stream of plasma bolts, three struck her fighter’s shields. Each shot contributed to the ignition of her adrenaline surge, and her serious expression turned into a grin that displayed her first moments of euphoric, almost orgasmic pleasure. Acting on instinct, the Elestan took a capsule from a compartment in the cockpit, placed it on her bodysuited arm, and injected some of the remaining chronol she smuggled aboard after most of her stash had been confiscated by Atara. As soon as the drug began to circulate, her perception of time increased by an order of magnitude, prolonging her pleasure and decreasing her reaction time. The Elestan readjusted her heading as quickly as her mind and body would allow her—under the drug’s influence—in order to evade the enemy’s fire. While her craft was at warp, she performed a one-hundred-eighty-degree yaw pivot. Once the enemy craft was within her sights, she unleashed a storm of plasma bolts and missiles. This caught the elsheem pilot completely off guard, allowing her to inflict moderate damage to his craft. Those six seconds lasted an entire minute for Cylenna. The heavy fighter peeled away, but the Elestan pilot adjusted her course to give chase while she continued to fire. When the enemy craft finally activated its hardened lumionics, she let it escape as she looked for another target to pursue and more excitement to be had.
Then, after many minutes (she felt) in her heightened mental state, she heard a cry for help over EM-comms. It was Ice’s voice. Her message, taking what felt like twenty seconds to come through, said, “Spectre, I have two on my six!” In the distance and magnified on her OPEL panel by her strikecraft’s optics, there were two streams of white plasma bolts meeting at a single point in space. Cylenna throttled her Goshawk to maximum and blasted toward them. She had no doubt that she would reach her friend in time and take care of the hostiles.
But halfway to meeting them—nearly a minute for Cylenna—Ice’s shields failed, and her strikecraft was eaten apart by white-hot bolts and missile explosions. Cylenna was close enough to the action now that she could see Ice eject from the stricken craft with her naked eyes. The Elestan watched her helpless friend’s body through the OPEL screen, wrapped in stasis, float through the deep black, and every ounce of confidence and adrenaline-fueled pleasure was sapped from her body, replaced by sorrow and regret. Ice’s body was bombarded by plasma bolts even before her stasis had expired, and when it did, her Accellus’ shielding was instantly overwhelmed. The majority of her body was vaporized. Having just witnessed her friend’s brutal murder in slow motion, Cylenna was overcome with sadness and rage. These emotions, too, were prolonged by the chronol that she had injected during the height of her pleasure. This trauma tripped a circuit in her mind, and she threw away common sense and broke down into a frenzy.
“We’re beginning to lose strikecraft,” a bridge officer announced. “We just lost Ice.”
“Naret,” Atara asked, “how long until we’re in range?”
“Ninety seconds, captain,” Naret responded.
“We could order their retreat,” Sesh suggested.
“Do it,” Atara ordered.
The chronol was wearing off as Cylenna’s berserker rage continued. She ignored the Kelsor’s orders. Remarkably, the heavy strikecraft did not pursue the retreating strikecraft but instead chased the last remaining Goshawk fighter that did not appear to be breaking off the attack: Spectre’s. Cylenna’s natural talent and acquired skill allowed her to overcome both the number of hostiles and her forsaking of reason, but she could not hold out forever. Just as she was coming to her senses, the Kelsor was finishing its retrograde fusion engine burn. The Kelsor sat ten kilometers away from the Voulgenathi. She throttled up her fighter as fast as its warp drive would allow her to escape the swarm of heavy fighters behind, but on her way back, her shields failed. As if by some twist of fate, she was ejected from her doomed craft one kilometer from the Kelsor’s hull. In stasis, her body slammed into the Kelsor’s armor, setting off the ship’s lumionic barrier that deflected her toward deep space while the heavy strikecraft—large targets for anti-strikecraft weapons—worried more about evading the battlecruiser’s fire than killing her. When Cylenna’s stasis ended, she oriented herself toward the Kelsor’s white hull which was illuminated only by artificial light. Rarely was she as grieved as she was now. She used her Accellus’ gravitics to fly the few hundred meters distance to the battlecruiser. She slowed as she approached the hull, planted her feet on the solid SIRAC, and ran clear across the hull.
Meanwhile, the lumionic shielding of the enemy ships had returned to normal with regard to both hardening and potential.
“Focus the closest frigate,” Atara ordered, “and fire at will.” The four ships exchanged weapons fire across the ten kilometers separating them. The Kelsor’s eighty-centimeter turrets emerged, loaded solid rounds into their gravitic launchers and fired them toward the closest satellite frigate. The prepared torpedoes were unleashed from their launchers, traversed the distance using conventional drives, overcame all point defense fire, and detonated against the frigate’s barrier. The explosion was unmatched by most modern anti-ship weaponry. The Kelsor’s fire was returned in kind, but it lacked the punching power that the Kelsor’s torpedoes possessed. After only two torpedo volleys totaling twenty projectiles, the first frigate was crying out to its mothership.
Cylenna was running across the Kelsor’s hull when the ships began opening fire on each other. The Kelsor’s cannons fired their solid projectiles with muzzle velocities in excess of five-thousand meters per second in total silence. Her heightened breath and noises from her helmet interface were the only sounds she heard. The battlecruiser’s shield bubble defending against thermal energy weapons were a lightshow over the pilot’s head. Solid slugs slammed into the barriers that hugged the ship’s hull and protected against kinetic energy and explosive force. A projectile from the Voulgenathi collided with the barrier just five meters from where Cylenna dashed. When the barrier appeared, the ship’s lumionics had modified its geometry around the Elestan pilot, and its activation would have blinded her if not for the protection of the OPEL screen on her helmet. The barrier halted her motion for a moment, causing her to stagger. After yelling a profanity to herself, she continued running toward an exterior airlock as the Kelsor unleashed missiles and torpedoes.
“Launch our boarding pods,” Taretes ordered.
“Right away, my lord,” the captain responded. The forty dropship-sized craft, carrying two-hundred elsheem soldiers each, broke away from the battleship’s hull propelled by plasma thrusters and gravitics. The pods’ flat faces had been flush with, as well as parts of, the battleship’s thick armor.
“Hull breachers are detaching, captain.”
Atara commanded, “Focus fire on the breachers.” Before any of the breachers had taken fire, they had engaged their hardened lumionics. The first frigate exploded as the breachers were entering within the firing range of the Kelsor’s anti-strikecraft weapons. One of the Kelsor’s lumionically-contained plasma beam cannons locked on and fired upon one of the breachers with energy potent enough to drain lumionic shield potential and devour armor, yet that energy was not enough to overwhelm their hardened lumionics. Seeing that their advance could not be stopped, Atara said, “Prepare to repel boarders.”
“Auroras are standing by,” Colonel Teseri said in a lumigraph. “All six-thousand of us. The majority of the crew is armed as well.”
The first breachers approached the Kelsor, rotated one-hundred-eighty degrees, and backed into the Kelsor’s armor. Once locked into position, the breachers began cutting into the cruiser’s exterior SIRAC shell, a process taking over ten minutes. The Kelsor’s defenders used this time to establish defensive positions around and clear out personnel from where these pods had attached themselves. One breacher parked right atop the bridge but found itself cutting into a robust and persistent barrier being sustained by the bridge’s separate defense suite. Alone, it would never succeed. Meanwhile, a failure to contain engine plasma occurred within the battered engineering department of the second frigate, leading to a catastrophic explosion in the ship’s aft section.
“Intruder alert,” the Kelsor’s adjunct announced. “Level one security breach. Ship-wide lockdown engaged.” This was followed by intrusion warning lights and sirens to accompany the alerts already being broadcast across the ship.
Illeiri could feel the impending roar of Alliance omnium and the gentle hum of elsheem bioomnimics from the multi-use room she shared with the cadets in the middle of the ship. She knew there were eight-thousand elsheem soldiers attempting to board and precisely where they all were. She felt the movements of Auroras across the ship from the external omnium reservoirs they wore, and she could sense the omnium within every pair of Accellus boots and bracers. This information never overwhelmed her. This part of her was like a computer used to count stars in the night sky. She just knew. But the cadets with her were totally oblivious.
A lumigraph opened before her and a woman’s voice said, “Krystal? Sorry, Illeiri? Are you in a safe place?” It was Virn.
“I’m hunkered down with the cadets near the medbay.”
“Good. Stay put and keep out of sight.”
“Can you bring me some discs?”
“How many do you need?”
“I’ll see what I can do. We’re about to have a serious fight on our hands.” The lumigraph closed.
Illeiri turned to Lieren and asked, “Can you darken the windows?”
“Of course,” Lieren replied. She interfaced with the room’s controls using her Accellus and corneal lumes. “I’m darkening them from the outside so we can still look out.”
“Good,” Illeiri said. A few minutes later, her mind caught a crate moving via gravitics through the corridors of the ships. It was just one among the many containers full of Federation unimags carrying MS-91 synthevar, but the omnium within this one was shaped differently than those of the unimags. When the crate sat down outside the door, Illieri used her Accellus to move it through the door and placed it in the middle of the room. The elsheem opened the crate and within were the three disc drones she asked for.
One of the cadets asked, “What are these?”
“You’ll see,” Illeiri said as she grabbed the first one and looked it over, smiling.
“Intruder alert. Level two security breach.”
The first breacher had pierced the outer hull. The circle of SIRAC that the pod cut out of the Kelsor’s exterior slammed into the floor of an outer corridor. Without hesitation; the Auroras; armed crew; REMASS-generated, ceiling-mounted autoturrets, and hovering assault drones opened fire on the hole connecting the breacher to the Kelsor. Elsheem soldiers stumbled out of the breacher and were riddled with plasma bolts before they could fire a single shot. Their bodies accumulated on the floor as a pile of corpses. Several grenades tossed out from the breacher caused the Federation defenders to momentarily pull back, but after the grenades detonated, the elsheem had enough time to pour out of the craft and lay down fire of their own. As the seconds passed, more breachers had successfully carved their way through the hull and flooded more soldiers into the battlecruiser.
The breacher’s lumionic hardeners were beginning to reset. As their lumonics returned to normal, they became exposed to the autocannons on the Kelsor’s surface. Designed to deter and destroy hostile strikecraft, these autocannons shredded the now vulnerable breachers, killing any elsheem soldiers still attempting to enter the ship. The empty breachers trying to return to the Voulgenathi to retrieve more troops were cut down just as easily. Around a thousand elsheem boarders died due to the pods’ rapid destruction. Without any additional boarding pods, the elsheem would be unable to mount subsequent waves of boarders.
The battle aboard the Kelsor began in earnest. The battlecruiser’s five-thousand Auroras and the smaller army of assault drones formed the vanguard of the ship’s defense. Rather than try to overwhelm the positions the elsheem established around the periphery of the ship, the highly-trained Auroras made strategic retreats to more defensible areas, evacuating the crew as they withdrew.
“Intruder alert. Level three security breach.”
A level three breach signaled that fighting was spilling into crew quarters. Both the Auroras and elsheem fought room to room between the tighter corridors. Determined not to let the elsheem advance deeper into the ship’s living space, Kyora and Virn led the effort to repel them as they fought beside their Auroras. Virn lied prone upside-down on the ceiling with most of her body concealed behind a corner. Next to her floated a lumigraphic spotlight flooding the corridor with its blinding beam. The Exan unleashed bursts of plasma bolts from her sustainer to keep the encroaching elsheem at bay. Meanwhile, Kyora used her gravitics and shrouding to flank the assaulting elsheem. After positioning herself directly above them, she descended with a plasma blade in one hand and a heavy pistol in the other. Surrounded by elsheem soldiers, she stabbed them one-by-one, dodging their fire behind the punctured bodies of their brethren. Kyora also attacked at range, blowing holes in her enemies’ armor with the high caliber rounds produced and launched with her powerful sidearm. The phantom cut them down and tossed them aside, and once the fighting had quieted, she stood above the pile of their smoking corpses. After killing so many elsheem, she tried to decide if she had been fulfilled. How many did she need to kill to satisfy her anger? Kyora recalled her weapons. Whatever it was that she was trying to find in that corridor littered with elsheem remains, she couldn’t find it, and she was left emptier than she had been just moments before.
The cadets sat on the floor in the middle of the room and away from the walls. All of them wore full sets of SIRAC. Illeiri stood guard near the door with the three naked discs floating beside her. As she resonated with the omnium across the ship, she felt the Auroras who had made advances nearby just minutes earlier were now in retreat. Out of the OPEL windows the cadets saw the medbay enter full lockdown. The main entrance was closed by a shielded blast door and no one would be coming in or out until the surrounding decks and sections were cleared. Elsheem bullets ricocheted off the walls of the wide corridor between them and the medbay. The fighting was less than twenty meters away now.
Without a word, Illeiri slipped out of the room and entered the middle of the corridor and raised her hands in the air. The cadets that saw this alerted the others and they gathered around the OPEL windows.
“Look at that!” one of the cadets said.
“She’s betraying us.”
Illeiri unsheathed her helmet and shouted at them. The cadets heard nothing of what was happening, but many assumed that she was trying to prove to them that she was elsheem, too. What the cadets failed to see, though, were the three discs spinning idle behind a corridor, out of sight of the hostile elsheem. The moment the Avenathi queen had convinced the group of a dozen or more elsheem to drop their weapons, she unleashed the drones, now clothed in white plasma, and made them dance through the hallway. The plasma-coated discs delivered death to every victim they touched—slicing torsos and severing heads. For the cadets, the carnage happened so fast that Illeiri might as well have snapped her fingers.
Illeiri left their corpses strewn across the corridor, powered down her discs, and reentered the multi-use room. When she returned, the cadets that had been cursing her sang her praises the loudest.
“Were they going to kill us?”
“I’ve never seen someone use two discs, let alone three!”
“You butchered those guys!”
“Are we safe here?”
Meanwhile, Doctor Souq prepared himself in the relative safety of his quarters. He managed to fabricate a set of armor and a helmet, but because he was still self-conscious in how he perceived Accellus to look on a man (especially aboard a ship full of women), he tried to fabricate a white lab coat to wear over it. The Accellus’ REMASS system would not comply, so he unsheathed himself of armor, fabricated the coat, took it off, sheathed himself in armor again, and drew his arms through the coat sleeves. The shoulder armor made the coat fit awkwardly around his upper body—his shoulders looked several sizes larger—, but it worked well enough for him. Souq fastened the jacket down the middle and was about to set out for the place the cadets had been gathered when he finally received a textual reply from his daughter telling him that she was safe. His thoughts then shifted to Namara and the jump drone sitting in the omnimology lab.
Souq drew the sleeve back to access the lumionic interface on his arm in order to summon a lumigraph. “Namara? You there?”
“Where are you?”
“In the lab.”
“I’m on my way.”
“Don’t you dare come here! You know it’s not safe. Do you hear me, Quen?!” Souq shut off the lumigraph and exited his quarters.