shit, shit!” Cylenna cursed as she engaged her Goshawk’s ODEC. Her lumigraph to
Xannissa disappeared, and she gunned her strikecraft’s throttle, blasting her
fusion engines and reorienting her gravitics as the marauders fired their
missiles toward her. With her ODEC active, her fighter’s RPDS fried the
internal electronics and systems of the missiles just before they hit, allowing
them to crash harmlessly as duds against the vehicle’s kinetic barrier. She
piloted the Goshawk out of the hangar which was being overrun by syndicate
soldiers, flying through the starboard airscreen faster than she ever had
before. Only travelling a kilometer or two, she slowed the strikecraft and
yawed around to face the hangar bay from where she escaped.
“Specter, this is Big Boss. Return to the Kelsor at once!”
“Permission to blast these fuckers off our
ship,” Cylenna asked. She waited for a response. Several seconds passed before
she heard anything.
“Permission granted,” said strikecraft
control with reluctance, and Cylenna shot back toward the airscreen without
registering the second part: “Don’t make a mess.” Cylenna backed off on the
throttle as she approached, weary of any missiles that the small army of
marauders might train on her. Her craft’s sensors detected several target
locks, and when the missiles came flying out of the starboard airscreen, she
vectored her craft’s gravitics to shift quickly out of the way. The missiles
overshot her and arced back around, but once they were far enough away from the
Kelsor, the battlecruiser’s RPDS
Cylenna piloted her Goshawk back to the
airscreen and moved just through it. Below her—all the way to the other airscreen
on the ship’s port side—was a mass of marauders, and before they realized what
Cylenna had in store, the Elestan pilot was strafing them. Pitching her nose
downward with her gravitics, Cylenna fired her Goshawk’s twin plasma
autocannons which created streams so fast and so hot as to be confused for
sustained beams. Every marauder they touched was vaporized by the direct,
ionized blasts. The fury of these drivers was so great that Cylenna’s sustained
assault risked overheating the cannons. She stopped the flow after fifteen
seconds, letting the glowing SIRAC rest. The craft’s cooling system would take
a while to eliminate the accumulated heat by itself, so Cylenna manually
engaged emergency cooldown, flooding the chambers and mechanisms with liquid coolant
that immediately vaporized, taking the heat with it and cooling the weapons quickly.
The marauders retaliated with more missiles, but her RPDS handled them—though,
a few more shots from her enemies and she would need to withdraw from the
hangar and allow her RPDS time to recharge. When her autocannons stopped
discharging steam, she took aim and fired again, mowing down the helpless
marauders as they tried to leave the hangar and advance through the ship.
Where was the pleasure that she had experienced
before? Countless marauders were perishing to her plasma, but she wasn’t
feeling anything. The thrill of pushing them over the brink of death was gone.
Was it just too easy? The pilot didn’t ponder it. More missiles targeted her
craft, so she canceled her fire and engaged her drives, bursting out of the
REMASS started immediately mending the damage sustained to the bridge. Ethis
rushed over to the bodies of her friends and cried, “Captain!” Spherical
housekeeping drones appeared and began consuming the dust and debris to be
reprocessed back into omnium. She knelt next to the cluster of armored bodies.
That’s when Atara’s helmet moved. The captain’s head was lying in Sesh’s lap,
and she rolled over, trying to get her bearings.
“Is everyone okay?” Atara asked weakly as
she crawled on all fours. Sesh moved her head slowly toward Atara.
“I’m okay,” Sesh assured her. The
commander used her gravitics to move herself off the floor.
“I’m fine,” Naret said through her
coughing. “Just a little winded.” She rolled over and crawled behind the wall
that was being rebuilt, dodging the little drones working to clean up the mess.
“We need a medic!” yelled one of the
Auroras. “The tactical officer is down!” The tactical officer’s torso appeared
to have been penetrated by the leftover force of the blast. When the Aurora
rolled her over, the front of the officer’s chest was cauterized, and her limbs
and head were limp. To give her a fighting chance that she might be saved, the
Aurora attached a stasis unit to the officer and fed it power from her own,
functioning suit through her palm.
“I’ll handle tactical,” Sesh said as the
senior officers watched a medic rush into the room to perform an evaluation of
the tactical officer’s body.
“I don’t want to lose it again,” Souq said
to Namara as he clutched the cylinder containing the ecksivar sample. Both of
them sat in the lounge connected to the lab. “Too many people have died because
of this crystal.”
“They won’t get to it,” Namara assured
him. Both were in armor and helmets as was everyone else. She watched as Souq
clung to the sample even tighter. “Illeiri will protect us.”
“I can’t ask her to die for this,” Souq
told her. “I need to take this godforsaken thing away from here.” The scientist
rose to his feet and opened the door of the lab.
“Where are you going?” Namara asked in a
frantic voice. She followed after him, worried for what he might do.
“We still have the drone!” he said,
standing before the unused piece of equipment.
“Quen!” she said, watching Souq load the
cylinder into the drone’s body. The firefight was happening just outside,
visible through the OPEL windows of the dark lab. “What do you think you’re
His helmet turned to her and he said, “I’m
saving our lives. They can’t take it if we don’t have it.”
“How are we going to get it back?” Namara
asked. They both knew the drone had no communications system, no transponder,
or anything that would make it easily visible to a ship trying to look for it.
They designed it to buy time—a way to sequester the ecksivar sample in deep
space because they could not destroy it. Souq paused, staring at her as they
both stood next to the drone.
“I’m going with it.”
“No you are not!” Namara shouted, clasping
her hands to Souq’s arms and forcing him to face her. “Your daughter needs you!”
“I’m trying to save her!”
“Then I’ll go.”
“You stay here. Whoever goes might not
come back, or if the enemy finds it before we can, we’re their prisoner. Your
life is more valuable than mine.”
“As a Federation science officer, let me
“No, Sayn. No!” Souq’s voice cracked.
“Go wait in the lounge.” She let go of
Souq’s arms, but he went nowhere. “Please.”
“I can’t let you go,” he said emotionally.
“I’m sorry, Quen,” she told him. Her voice
was starting to crack as well. “I hope you forgive me for this.” She fabricated
a stasis unit and stuck it to his armor. Aided by her gravitics, she pushed him
into the lounge, released him from stasis, and locked the door behind her. Souq
ran to the door and tried to open it, but when he couldn’t, he looked through
the OPELs to the lab.
He beat his fists on the wall, shouting,
“Sayn! Goddamnit! Sayn!” Tears rushed from his eyes as he watched the Elestan
science officer take the drone with her to the center of the lab. She looked
back at the struggling Souq, and then she vanished in a brilliant white flash,
leaving behind craters in the floor and ceiling and chunks carved out of the
adjacent benches, as if the sphere that enveloped her during the jump took
everything immediately around her as well. Souq bawled as he slid down the
wall, just having watched his future spouse disappear without a trace.
A moment later, syndicate marauders
blasted their way into the omnimology lab. Swarming in with their bright
lights, they saw the perfect circle carved out of the lab’s interior, and they
also noticed the OPELs at the rear and Souq’s collapsed body. They then tried
to force the door to the lounge, alerting Souq to their presence. The marauders
quickly lost their patience, trying to break through using brute force and
weapons. The grieving scientist brought himself up from the floor and retreated
through the back of the lounge.
“Say again!” Kyora demanded. Plasma bolts
and bullets crisscrossed the wide corridor nearby. The battle drones bore the
brunt of the ongoing skirmish, and Auroras took cover behind barricades within
“They’re about to breach ODEC Five!” said
a frantic Aurora over comms.
Kyora looked over to the immediate group
of Auroras and, pointing, said, “You all, follow me to ODEC Five. We need to
hurry back toward the bow.” Kyora used her gravitics to lift off from the floor
and drift toward the ceiling. She then took off down the corridor, cruising
swiftly above the battle. Virn ascended after her, and so did all of the
Auroras around Velliris. Seeing as her fate had become intertwined with the
vessel, as it would have also been if her mission to pose as Atara had
succeeded, she took off after them, flying above the smokescreen and the bright
flashes from Federation drivers. The biggest hazard was being shot down by
quick-thinking, trigger-happy marauders, but the second most dangerous aspect
was the SIRAC containers still being routed by gravitics above the ship’s
corridors, and in a wide corridor such as this, those containers darted like
locomotives on straight track. Velliris looked down and saw the five battle drones
that passed her earlier holding their ground against the bold syndicate forces,
but the collision detector in her helmet warned her of an incoming crate that
she quickly and clumsily avoided. Some of the Auroras were taking shots from
below, and one of them went down into a cluster of marauders.
The group steered clear of the hangar,
opting to travel through the lift shafts to ascend the upper decks and then cut
over the violent hangar bay. Several minutes later, the group touched down near
the band of marauders leading the siege of ODEC 5. The syndicate attackers
appeared to be completely preoccupied with breaking down the SIRAC door leading
to the chamber containing the ODEC system. To lose one of the six main ODECs would
be somewhat inconsequential as the other ODECs would bear the downed ODEC’s
share of the load, but every one of them that was lost would mean having one
less that could be lost until the
entire Kelsor was left without any
power generation capacity. For the moment, the group watched and waited as
Kyora silently discussed tactics with Virn over their shared Q-comms. Velliris’
Accellus counted over seventy marauders just within her field of view as she stood
with the other Auroras out of the enemy’s sight.
“Alright,” Kyora told them, looking away
from the marauders and back toward the group, “I want you all to sheathe
yourselves in as much SIRAC as you can, and fabricate HR-Twenty-Threes.”
“The rotary sustainer?” one of the Auroras
“Yes. How many of you are wearing
“I am,” said two of the Auroras.
“Only four of us,” Kyora noted out of the
nine. “You five without boosters need to hang back. Virn, you and the other two
are going to turn that corridor into a death chamber. You stand back and let me
shake them up first. Do you understand?”
“Let’s set up lumionic barricades,” Virn
told them. She had picked one up from a crate before leaving engineering, and
she grabbed it from behind her back and set it down on the floor. The
hexagonal, cylindrical device unfolded and produced lumionic field potential
whose area of effect was marked by an orange lumigraphic line touching the
floor and rising up as tall as most of the SIRAC barricades had been.
Unfortunately, she was the only Aurora in their group possessing one, so all
three of the women wielding rotary sustainers had to share it for extra
“I’m going in,” Kyora told them. She
disappeared beneath her shrouding and rose from the floor, directing her
gravitics to guide her toward the mass of marauders holding down their position
with sprays of bullets. The phantom’s goal was to disorient and confuse rather
than to eradicate, but the means by which she chose to accomplish this goal
involved the use of potent weapons. Kyora fabricated an explosive charge and
attached it discreetly to the top of one of the marauder’s helmets nearer to
the door. She reasoned that the charge was far enough away from the door as to
not deal any real damage to it. Moving her arm away from the charge, the explosive
device left her suit’s shrouding and was visible, though it remained unnoticed
by all present. Kyora floated away from them, flying beyond a safe distance.
She then detonated the charge, vaporizing the marauder to whose head it was
attached and killing everyone around him, mortally wounding others farther
away, and propelling body parts and debris toward everyone else.
As soon as the blast went off, Virn and
the two Auroras huddling behind her portable barricade sprayed the marauders
with their shoulder-mounted rotary sustainers, further fueling their confusion.
This prompted pockets of Auroras around these besieging syndicate soldiers to
launch offensives, driving into the weakening pocket of intruders.
“The destroyers are vulnerable again,”
Sesh said, standing at the tactical station overlooking the marauders’ bodies.
“Launching torpedoes.” Regular, non-phasic torpedoes fabricated in the tubes
and fired toward the syndicate destroyer. Defiant against the hostile ship’s
point-defense fire, the torpedoes loosed by the battlecruiser detonated,
one-by-one, against the destroyer’s lumionics. With each of the torpedoes
packing a tiny amount of antimatter—enough to ruin a small city—and the
durability to power through point-defense, the Kelsor’s modest spread of thirty torpedoes reduced the syndicate
destroyer to a cloud of debris. No doubt the Domina kicker ship had witnessed
“That should take care of the blinker
problem,” Atara said with relief.
“Captain,” Illeiri communicated to Atara
“What is it?”
“I’m with Souq,” she said, “and you’re not
going to believe this.”
“Namara took the ecksivar sample and used
the jump drone.” Atara stood there for a moment and processed what Illeiri just
said. The anger inside her welled up for her initial feeling was that Namara
had betrayed them, but then she remembered the reason why the drone was made in
the first place. “Did you get that, captain?”
There was no way that Namara could have guided the drone toward the
enemy, so there was only one question that came to her mind.
“Souq said he was going to sequester the
ecksivar in deep space so that it couldn’t be stolen,” Illeiri explained to
her, “but Namara took it from him and did it instead. She went with the drone
so that we’ll be able to trace her sub-comms and retrieve it later.”
“So she’s out there alone?”
“Brave woman,” Atara said.
“Brave scientists,” Illeiri noted. “Souq
was willing to go, too. Namara forced him to stay because of Lieren.”
“I don’t want to risk contacting her now,”
Atara said. “I don’t want Domina or the Three Brothers to know she’s out there
and find her first.”
After the lumigraph disappeared, Atara
then said, “Fiori, we need to talk.”
The stars seemed brighter than she had
ever seen them. Namara drifted there in deep space, lightyears from the closest
of those shining sidereal orbs. The jump drone rotated slowly a couple of
meters away along with the SIRAC fragments from the omnimology lab. All that
separated her body from the terminal vacuum surrounding her was the thin layer
of polyalloy sealing her skin and the SIRAC of her helmet encompassing her
head. The scientist’s gravitics stabilized her motion, preventing her from
rotating. Her lumionics formed a faint halo around her as they worked to
deflect the cosmic background radiation. It wasn’t until she noticed that faint
glow of lumions that she realized she jumped from the battlecruiser without
attaching a booster to her back—a realization that caused her blood to run cold
and her heartrate to jump. Her thoughts shifted back into perspective: having
one would have just prolonged her suffering were she never to be rescued.
Checking her Accellus’ reservoirs, she saw that her suit could sustain her for
several hours, if not a few days. Namara disabled the lights on her Accellus
and tried to take her mind off of where she was, hoping that maybe she could
fall asleep there, her suit protecting her, but her mind kept circling around
to Souq beating on the lounge walls yelling for her to come back.
With the destroyer obliterated, the
Auroras protecting the cadets filed out of the briefing room leaving the
terrified cadets with the scenes of slaughter burned into their retinas. Drones
arrived to clean up the room, scan the marauders’ bodies, and mark them for
routing through the battlecruiser’s gravitic logistics system. Gravilog also
collected the ammunition crates, many of which were blasted apart on one side,
and moved them out of the briefing room. Eventually, all that remained were the
cadets clutching each other and crying beneath their helmets. Lieren had
watched as the medic tried in vain to save the woman that the cadet had kept in
stasis using energy from her own suit. Another Aurora had been gunned down on
the other side of the room, and a collection of marauder bodies lied in a heap
of cauterized giblets. With Illeiri, the bloodshed had been compartmentalized
to the outside, and the elshi had protected the cadets with such efficiency as
to eliminate any semblance of a bloodbath. This—what she and the other cadets
had just experienced—was a far cry from what they endured during the battle
with the Voulgenathi.
does one cope? Lieren thought to herself as she stared at the syndicate
bodies being hauled away by invisible force like garbage. Within minutes, the
housekeeping drones would return the briefing room to the state that it was in
before the battle occurred. The only remaining evidence would be the memories
that were left behind in all that had lived through it. Lieren didn’t know what
to feel. The marauders blinked in, attacked, and died, over and over and over.
Auroras sat with them, placing their bodies in front of the cadets and taking
the hits for them, sometimes dying to the exchange of fire. Was there any meaning
to the violence? The young cadet had no answer, and that frightened her. She
clung tighter to the Elestan cadet beside her, trying to keep from breaking
down, but she could not. Her emotions rushed forth. Her lungs and tear ducts
rebelled against her, and she was forced to sob.
“Lieren?” It was her father’s voice. She
didn’t want to answer—keep him from hearing her sobs. “Lieren, where are you
baby?” He wasn’t going to leave her alone until he got an answer, and she knew
“I-I’m in the b-briefing room,” she got
“Are you okay?”
“No! No I’m not!” she screamed.
Hearing his daughter like this hurt more
than it would have had he not been dealing with his own emotional turmoil over
Namara. “I’m on my way, sweetie. I love you.”
“The Domina cruisers are dropping out of
hyperwarp,” said a bridge officer. The same cleanup effort was taking place on
the bridge, and the officers were returning to their normal posts, including
Atara, Sesh, and Naret.
“Transmission from the—,” Ethis was
interrupted as she spoke.
“You’ve bested my pawns, captain,” Eclipse
said through the opened lumigraph. “I hope you’re ready to concede.”
“Go to hell!” Atara told her.
“Wow!” Eclipse said. “You sound just like
Kyora. I like you. Please, I’m begging you, don’t force my hand. I just want to
help my unproductive, fringeward protectorate evolve into something the
Federation would be proud of. Give me—us—a chance.”
“A snowball’s chance?” Atara replied.
“Because that’s all I’ll give you. I’d destroy this vessel before I’d ever let
you set foot inside it.”
“Funny,” Eclipse stated, “I said something
similar when my dear sister was fleeing back to your ship. I really do admire
you, captain, and you’re breaking my heart.”
“Enough with the bullshit!” Atara yelled.
“Oh? We’ll see who’s bullshitting who
after I call your bluff.”
Atara paused for a moment as she stared at
Eclipse. “Adjunct,” the captain said while Eclipse’s transmission was still
open, “initialize auto-destruct.”
“Auto-destruct overrides are in effect,”
the adjunct stated. “Please state additional parameters.”
“Engage auto-destruct on hull breach, and
no continuous warnings. No additional parameters.”
“Triumvirate command authority
authentication required.” All eyes were on the captain now.
Atara said, “Verify authorization.”
“Authorization verified. Atara Eisen
Korrell, Captain of the Kelsor-class
battlecruiser, Greater Federation Navy Vessel Kelsor, hull number three-nine-three-zero, Fifth Fleet, Third
Armada. Auto-destruct go-no-go.”
A lumigraph appeared before Sesh and said,
“Initializing auto-destruct. Triumvirate command authority authentication
Sesh replied, “Verify authorization.”
“Authorization verified. Yora Marro Sesh.
Commander of the Kelsor-class battlecruiser,
Greater Federation Navy Vessel Kelsor,
hull number three-nine-three-zero, Fifth Fleet, Third Armada. Auto-destruct
A lumigraph also appeared before Xannissa
in engineering as she oversaw her department’s defense. “Initializing
auto-destruct. Triumvirate command authority authentication required.” Her
breaths grew heavier. Was Atara actually going to do this? If the lumigraph was
getting around to her, Atara and Sesh had already interfaced with the adjunct.
She stood there quietly for a moment, twisting her engagement ring around her
“I’m sorry, Aedan,” she whispered. “Verify
authorization,” she told the adjunct somberly.
“Authorization verified. Xannissa Reiss
Cetalo, Commander of the Kelsor-class
battlecruiser, Greater Federation Navy Vessel Kelsor, hull number three-nine-three zero, Fifth Fleet, Third
Armada. Auto-destruct go-no-go.”
Xannissa paused again, still twisting her
ring. Quietly, she said, “Go.”
The adjunct announced to the entire ship,
“Auto-destruct initialized. Auto-destruct will engage upon hull-breach. There
will be no further warnings.”
clapping echoed throughout the bridge. Atara never did take her eyes off of
Eclipse who now applauded. “Congratulations. It seems we have reached an
impasse. You’re far more cutthroat than I could have ever imagined. Every
calculation I have made thus far was based on the assumption that you actually
cared about your crew. You’d send all of them to their deaths over a few little
Atara said nothing. Most of the bridge,
including Naret, was still staring intently at its captain.
“Perhaps if we could bargain?” Eclipse
asked. “You hand over Kyora and you can be on your way.”
Atara remained silent.
Eclipse said, “All right. You’ve forced my hand. Prepare to die.” And with that, the transmission terminated.