Battlefield Promotions: Scars of War
Leslie paced nervously in her quarters, staring out the view port of her cruiser nervously at the planet below, a mixture of fear and anticipation flowing through her as she held the promotion papers in one damp hand, the other holding the towel wrapped protectively around her, the water from her shower still dripping onto the carpet in soft patters.
"Battlefield promotion ceremonies, the one thing space naval training never covered in depth." She muttered, her hand straying up to the jagged trail of tissue running along the right side of her face, the thick scar rough underneath her fingers before she snatched her hand back reflexively.
Turning to the dresser Mirror the young officer stared at her reflection with a feeling of nervousness and repulsion, desperately wishing the battle wound didn’t mar her otherwise graceful features.
"I survived first contact with an alien species, and prevented the loss of our command cruiser, leading a fleet into battle can’t be any harder." She repeated to herself, silently remembering the cheers that the surviving crew members gave when the last alien vessel erupted in a ball of light and fire, and of the victory party they threw in her honor afterwards, even if none of them would look her in the eye without slipping their gaze sideways to her marred features.
The memories of trust and reliance the crew placed in her abilities calmed the tremors she felt rising within, allowing the newly appointed commander to brush her blonde hair easily, and apply her makeup in smooth careful strokes, her clothing sliding over her well toned body next.
Her favorite silk lace bra and beige panty hose, followed by the standard military issue medium heeled black leather boots, polished to a mirror shine the night before, a poor distraction when nightmares of the conflict tore her screaming from sleep. With practiced grace she pulled on her smooth black skirt that fell precisely one inch above her knee complimented by her regulation blouse and dark maroon flight commander jacket.
"Perfectly formal with a touch of military class." She whispered to the silent room, as if reassuring herself, the hard pin points of light from distant stars staring back coldly though the view port.
Reaching into her left breast pocket she withdrew the last piece of her attire, a small necklace of silver chain and a simple weeping eye carved from glass, the frozen tear poised on the lid as if on the brink of cascading down cross her blouse. While not exactly regulation, she was sure they would overlook a small piece of jewelry at the initiation ceremony
Sliding her standard heavy pistol into the built in shoulder holster of her jacket she quickly left her quarters and proceeded towards the mess hall. Smiles, reassurances, and many drinks would follow the formalities, but no amount of alcohol could ease the hatred she felt in her soul, the cold icy desire to see the alien race scientists later dubbed the Gorzand wiped form the galaxy and driven to extinction.
For their merciless slaughter of the comrades she once called friends, the brutal murder of her lover while she lay helpless in a sickbay bed, the lingering reminder of their skill in melee combat that pulled at the corner of her mouth. But most of all, for their destruction of the colony she once called home.
"Commodore Devraux?" The voice came from behind her as she hurried down the hallway, male, young, and uncertain sounding. "Yes-" she paused, turning around, vaguely surprised to see a ensign glancing nervously at her, holding out a small cardboard box, taped shut with a single name written across it. Michelle Corriane.
"T-these were Lieutenant Corriane’s personal possessions," The ensign said hesitatingly, his gaze drawn to her face where he quickly looked away, pretending not to notice the 4 inch line that creased her cheek, fumbling with the package and extending it towards her at arms length.
"You two were um, close; and so everyone felt you should be the one to deal with her things." His voice trailed off as his eyes shifted downwards to stare at the scarred floor plating, the stains of blood from the battle scant days ago still not fully scrubbed from the tiles.
Leslie nodded blinking back the tears that welled in her vision, for once grateful people couldn’t look her in the eye as readily anymore. "Place it in my quarters, on my desk ensign." She said quietly, her voice breaking near the end of her sentence as she turned quickly to proceed down the hallway and discourage any further conversation.
"One more thing Commodore," the ensign called from behind her urgently, causing her to freeze in mid step, cringing slightly at what she was sure would be yet another comment about how nice it was to see the ship still intact after the conflict. "Vice Admiral Thrush wanted to see you in the briefing room before the ceremony."
"Understood ensign, carry on." She said quietly, altering her course at the junction to take her to the briefing room, vaguely surprised the techs hadn’t gotten around to repairing the strip lighting in the hallway yet, the emergency lighting they’d installed distorting her shadows into grotesque mockeries of humanoid shapes, shapes that reminded her all to clearly of the alien Gorzands.
The command cruisers briefing room was poorly lit, the ceiling lights a bare dim glow that silhouetted the vice admirals frame into a blocky shape she could barely discern from the chair, the gentle rattle of ice cubes in a glass making her pause at the entrance.
"Come in Devraux," Thrushes voice echoed deeply, "This is an off the record inquiry." The faint rustle of clothing reached her ears as the vice admiral reached out a calloused hand to turn on a desk lamp, the pale yellow incandescence flooding across the desk and illuminating the bottle of brandy next to it into a golden orb.
With a nod Leslie stepped into the room and set down in the empty seat across form the vice admiral, smoothing out her skirt and looking curiously across the desk.
"Relax commodore, pour yourself a drink, I’d like to hear what happened recently." He intoned, gesturing to an empty glass and leaning back comfortably.
"You have my after action report sir, there’s not much else to add." Leslie said, quickly pouring herself a glass of the amber liquid and drinking deeply.
"If I wanted a cut and dry report I’d have asked an AI to give it." He said wearily, topping off his own glass and settling into the chair more comfortably. "I want to hear it from your perspective, how it all went down, form the beginning. Four days 14 hours ago."
"As you wish sir." Leslie said, a small part of herself wanting to scream at the man, berate him for making her dredge up those painful memories once more. She took another drink to quell the urge and began her reiteration.
* * * *
"Four vessels inbound sir! Long rang scanners are just picking them up." I announced from my sensor station on the bridge, the commodore nearly choking on his coffee in surprise at my news.
"Bugs?" He questioned? Half rising form his seat to peer at my display screens.
"Negative sir, it’s not an Insectile vessel, ship profiles don’t match anything in our databanks." I responded, an edge of fear entering my voice despite my attempts to keep in control.
"I hate surprises, they have a bad habit of getting people killed." I heard him say softly as he slumped back into his seat. "Battle stations people! Signal the colonies defense force into formation around us, bring the deep scan sensors up to full, I want to know everything about these vessels down to how many rivets are in their hull plates!"
"Aye sir, deep scan sensors powering up to full." I replied, increasing power and running the full range of sweeps as I felt the ship shift under my feet and the lurching sway of my insides that accompanied sudden ship movement as the artificial gravity systems struggled to compensate for the inertial shift and acceleration.
"Helm bring us about to face the unidentified fleet, tactical, have the destroyer force assemble about us in a talon guard formation, all weapons hot."
The bridge resounded with affirmatives as the crew carried out their assigned task, my own thoughts mostly occupied with attuning the sensors for maximum efficiency, their feedback sending a chill though my spine.
"3 cruisers sir and what I think is a torpedo destroyer, in a v formation bearing down on us at high velocity with all weapons powered, estimated contact time 2 minutes."
His reply to my information was abruptly cut off by the communications officers hurried interruption. "Sir! Incoming communication from unknown fleet!"
"Helm, plot us an intercept course with the unidentified fleet, com, put it through main tactical screen." He said after a moments pause, his fingers fidgeting with his uniform and adjusting the collar more firmly about his neck.
The screen flickered into static for a few moments before a large, almost ape like reptilian figure filled the view, his hunched form seeming to cramp the screen with size and near bestial fury.
"Lota tallla dalanchi chu!" It commanded, making a fist and bringing it up as if to smash the screen. I turned to look back at the captain, unsure of whether to report the unknown armada was continuing to close with us at fall speed, or let him proceed with the attempted communication.
"This is the defense fleet of colony Sallos two," the commodore responded, looking as baffled at the aliens’ choice of words as the rest of us. "We seek to establish peaceful contact with your race."
The strange creature paused in mid gesture as the captain spoke, before making a almost hissing bark in reply, my systems urgent beeping puling my gaze back to my duty. "Sir! The alien fleet has launched missile, impact in 20 seconds!" I yelled, pulling my restraint harness more firmly across me.
"All ships return fire! I want this unknown menace sent back to the depths it came in from!" The commodore yelled, giving the signal to the com officer to cut the channel.
The ship vibrated as it’s gauss turrets and missile launchers discharged their ordinance, the power dimming ever so slightly as the point defense lasers came to life, my sensor screens awash with beams of light and projected impact points of the enemy ordinance as our fleets closed the distance.
"Sir, one of the cruisers is breaking off attack and heading for the colony!" I screamed, the computer predicting its flight path and arrival time at less than one and a half minutes.
"Those bastiches! This colony was only founded 3 weeks ago!" He retorted, the sudden impact of enemy missiles and rail cannon rounds rocking the ship on it’s axis, the internal groaning of stressed hull segments drowning out the cries of dismay, my sensors flickering into near useless ness as a lone torpedo impacted with our nose. "Devraux! Damage report!"
"Sir! A EM torpedo disrupted our sensor systems, we’re blind to what’s going on our there!" I reported, the bottom dropping out of my stomach as the ship rolled under another volley, the echoes of gun fires and impacts reverberating through the stressed and fractured bulkheads. "Forward turret batteries also reporting disabled, rear engines structural integrity at 68% and holding, life support down on decks 4-12, hull breaches along the starboard sensor sections."
"Tactical?" I heard him inquire, his expression darkening as the lights flickered overhead. "One enemy cruiser is breaking up sir, a second badly damaged, two of our six destroyers are gone, cut to pieces by beam weapons."
"Helm, plot us an intercept course with the cruiser making for the planet, we’re not losing that colony!" He commanded, a sudden hollow boom momentarily deafening us. "Someone tell me what the hell that was!"
"Boarding vessels sir, in the middle sections, seems they’re trying to override our command and control systems, throw the remainder of our forces into disarray." The gunnery officer reported, giving the commodore a grim stare.
"Devraux, Logan, Roberts, get to the rear section and aid in repelling boarders, everyone else remain at your posts." The captain ordered, giving me a brief nod as I quickly saluted and hurried aft, grasping my sidearm tightly.
As I left the bridge I could faintly make out the sounds of weapons fire as it resounded though the vent shafts and along the corridor, the flickering light and haze of smoke paining a perfect picture of hell.
At the intersection ahead of me lurked a immense reptile creature that seemed to fill the corridor with it’s bulk, a oversized rifle gripped loosely in one hand, the other clawed appendage in the middle of crushing the life from a fellow comrade, it’s immense strength crushing his skull much like a person would an empty coda can.
With a yell of fury I pointed and emptied the clip of my weapon at the creatures side, my comrades adding to the barrage. It seemed almost not to notice our attack, It’s shiny armor reflecting the majority of our beams into the ceiling, the fluorescent lights exploding in showers of glass shrapnel that the creature simply shrugged off as if were nothing more than water.
As it turned to face us, the last of our shots buried themselves in the scored and blackened chest plate, one of them luckily ricocheting back into the energy clip of the hulking behemoths pistol, it’s sudden eruption of energy blinding us, the shock wave of the explosion throwing us to the ground, bits and pieces of the combatant and the marine it had killed sprayed across the walls and floor like a mad painters collage.
"Everyone alright?" I asked, feeling a wave of relief as Logan and Roberts both pulled themselves upright and nodded. A part of me wanted to vomit at the sickening sight, the overpowering smell of charred and shredded organs, but my rising sickness was interrupted by the sound of my name being called form down the corridor.
"Leslie!" It looked to be one of the med tech nurses, a bloodied Vibro bone saw grasped in her hand and she beckoned me closer. "Where’s the rest of them?" I asked her, reloading my side arm and pausing to catch my breath.
"Near med bay, and your girlfriend, Michelle, she’s hurt and in treatment, one of the power conduits exploded near her station in engineering, the docs are doing what they can for her but we need support to drive them back, security’s got 3 of the things pinned down in the side corridor off the operation room." She told me hurriedly, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
"Got it, Logan, Roberts, you stay here and make sure nothing gets though to the bridge, I’m going to go help secure engineering and guard med bay." Without waiting for a reply I quickly followed the med tech down the gore strewn hallway, my quick trot turning into an all out run as I heard the panic stricken screams of the med techs in the rooms ahead of me.
As I neared the double doors leading to the med lab a blood soaked body exploded through the entrance, nearly knocking them off their hinges with the force to splatter sickeningly against the wall.
"Michelle! I screamed, slipping on the blood soaked floor in my eagerness to get into the med lab, slamming head first into the waist of one of the 8 foot mounds of armored muscle.
For all it’s size I almost half expected it to be sluggish and ponderous in it’s movements, like some great slow giant. To my dismay its reflexes were snake quick, and before I knew it I’d been grabbed by the front of my uniform and slammed against the wall with enough force to blast the breath from my body, sending the pistol spinning from my grasp under a counter and make pain explode down my back like liquid fire.
I froze, for what felt like eons as it stared into my eyes, the reptilian slits of it’s own orbs eying me without mercy, behind it laying on a surgery table I could see Michelle, suppressor field in place to hold her firmly to the table while the med techs worked their wonders and kept her badly burned body from dying.
It seemed to follow my gaze to the med table, and I think it grinned as it asked me something in unintellible gibberish. "I-I don’t know what you’re asking me." I stammered, noticing Michelle was struggling to pick up a vibro scalpel form the operating tray next to her, managing, despite the pain she must have been in, to give me a affectionate smile.
"No Michelle, don’t dear!" I pleaded, knowing full well her attempt would likely do little more than get us both killed. The creature only grinned and looked at me, seeming to think I was speaking to it.
With a final effort she flung the glowing medical instrument at the monstrosity, her off balanced throw sending it hissing into the back of the creatures leg, causing it to howl in fury, dropping me to the ground and spinning around with amazing grace, it’s tail whipping over my head with inches to spare.
"Michelle! NO!" I screamed, staring in horror as the alien soldier drove his clawed hand down into her abdomen, withdrawing a fistful of her insides and roaring in fury.
With a scream of agony and loss I leaped for the creatures side arm, grasping it firmly and tearing it from the holster while sobbing a stream of profanities. No sooner had the weapon cleared his holster than the over muscled crocodile glanced back and struck at me with his tail, a bright glint on it’s tip shining in the surgical lights for a fraction of a second before it slashed across my face with a jarring, bone grating force, the feeling like a red hot wire lancing into my flesh.
With a cry of inarticulate grief I thrust the weapon out at arms length and yanked the trigger, The creature was bringing it’s tail back around for another strike at me when the eruption of the gun exploded into it’s back, the recoil sending me staggering back painfully against the wall; the projectile leaving a fist sized wound through the creatures abdomen and wall beyond, sending it’s body toppling to the ground like a marionette with the strings suddenly cut.
"No." I whispered quietly, ignoring the out pouring of blood form my mangled cheek, staggering forward to grasp at my lovers hand, noticing the light had already faded from her eyes.
Another scream for help in the distance dragged my attention away from my own suffering and loss, the thirst for revenge giving me a surge of energy I didn’t know I still had.
Down the hallway, near the engine room a battered and bleeding marine grasped a beaten and still smoking rifle, giving me a look of wide eyed surprise as I marched down the corridor gripping the huge pistol in my right hand, my arms still numb form the recoil. "One left, he’s near the reserve power management system, we need to take him down without damaging the controls and reroute auxiliary systems to weapons or we’re done for." He said, flattening himself against the wall as several bursts of energy ripped forth from the entrance way and careened up the corridor.
"He’s all that’s left?" I asked, a wave of vertigo beginning to over take me.
"He’s the last one, and the bridge, it took a direct hit form some kind of cutting weapon." He let the sentence hang in mid air as another volley of shots trailed up the corridor.
I gave him a faint whisper of agreement and stepped into the room, only vaguely listening to his surprised protest of "You’re gonna get yourself killed doing that!"
The reptile was leaning against a blood splattered bank of computers, bleeding badly from a wound in it’s lower abdomen, face contorted in pain as it raised the rifle one handed and pointed it in my general direction.
With a quick side step I lunged towards him, and a wave of light headedness robbed me of my balance, turning my lunge into a staggering fall, his burst of plasma streaming over my head in a wash of searing heat, my momentum sliding me to a stop almost directly at his feet.
He looked down at me in wide eyed shock as his mind registered the weapon I was holding pointed at his groin. With a bloodied smile I pulled the trigger, my grin growing larger as the ceiling was painted with the lizards insides and his body slumped against the wall.
Overcome by sudden weakness I grasped the computer bank and pulled myself upright, the screen and interface swimming before me in a haze of tears and blood. Focusing what little energy I had left I keyed in the proper commands, sinking down next to the console in a bloodied heap as the vibrations of the ships guns ran though the deck plating once more…
* * * *
Lifting the glass to her lips Leslie tossed back the remainder of the brandy in one swift gulp, giving the Vice Admiral a tired sigh. "The rest I’m sure you already know. The cruiser we blasted from orbit with our final barrage still had managed to reduce the colony to wreckage and was about to do the same to us until I turned our cannons back on. Nearly everyone down there was killed, including my family. As for me," She paused and gently traced the scar on her face. "Most of our med techs were killed in the assault, and they had to use a crude nano suture on me to keep me from bleeding to death. And nano suturing, everyone knows leaves scarring."
The Vice Admiral nodded softly, unsure of how to respond to the unexpected vividness of the newly appointed commodores debriefing. "I’m Sorry for your loss, both here on the ship, and on the planet." He paused and briefly considered pouring them both another drink, but doubted it would make things any easier. "I came out here personally to observe the situation first hand, and get a better idea of how to advise Earth council to proceed. Your personal account of the events holds great importance to me regarding my recommendation."
"Recommendation Sir?" Leslie asked, gripping her glass so hard cracked down the side. "There is no recommendation, only their deaths, or ours; it’s that simple."
Vice Admiral Thrush nodded, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "I agree Commodore, and unless you object I’ll be assigning you to the fore front of this battle, overseeing a retaliation fleet that will find the enemies borders, and begin striking against their colonies and driving them back, away from our sector of space." He halted, as another option occurred to him. "Unless of course you wish to remain here in charge of the defense fleet overseeing the establishment of a new colony. If so I understand-"
"There’s nothing left for me here sir." Leslie interrupted him, setting the cracked glass down on the desk and standing to give him a salute. "Overseeing the retaliation against this new threat to our survival would be an honor. All I have of any worth to me is in a small box with Michelle’s name on it in my quarters sir."
The Vice Admiral stood and returned the salute with solemn expression. "Very well then, you’ll be transferred to the new command and control ship Thanatos within the week, dismissed commodore."
As Leslie turned to leave Thrush cleared his throat and looked at her narrowly, his tone holding a sharp edge to it. "And Devraux, don’t let this get personal, you’re mission is surgical strikes against the enemies outlying colonies, not to wage your own personal war, is that clear?"
"Crystal sir." She responded with an equally cold edge, whispering softly to herself as she left the room to attend her initiation ceremony. "It’s already personal, I’d be deluding myself if I claimed it was anything else but."
Chapter 1: The Blood of Stars
Getting to know the new crew of the Thanatos wouldn’t be all that hard, Leslie repeated silently in her mind, scoffing at her naivetÃ© as she recalled her initial assumption.
A new crew, with a new captain, on a new ship. Three factors that when thrown together made for a very delicate atmosphere on board. Nearly no one knew one another, how their new captain ran things, or how well the person next to them could do their job. "Commodore?" Morgan’s inquiry caused her measured step down the lengthy dreadnoughts corridors to falter slightly as he interrupted her private musings.
"Hmm? What was that Lieutenant Commander?" Leslie responded turning to look at his older features, the strands of brown hair straying down from his forehead just begging to be speckled with gray.
"We’re due to exit node into the Borak solar system in the hour," He said, slowing to match her new pace, his hands clasped behind his back in a relaxed at ease posture that still impressed Leslie as giving him the strutting poise of a pigeon. "You requested to be notified before our arrival."
"Indeed thank you." Leslie waved a hand dismissively at the reminder. "Borak system?" She spoke the word cautiously, as if testing it for familiarity. "Who names these systems anyway Morgan?"
The Lieutenant Commander opened his mouth as if to reply then paused, seeming to reconsider his words. "I believe the scientists that first record their location within the galaxy have naming privileges, subject to approval by military high command if memory serves." He finished, giving her a polite smile and nod.
"I see." She responded, falling silent once more as she recalled Lieutenant Commander Jacob Morgan’s dossier. Aged 47, 5 foot nine inches in height, some twenty plus years of service, three commendations for valor and seven opportunities for promotion. All of which, as she remembered reading with some interest, had been turned down by Morgan without hesitation. "So what can you tell me about Borak?" She inquired, pausing at an intersection as several crew members struggled to navigate a large trolley of boxes and crates down the corridor without entirely obstructing traffic.
"Very little I’m afraid," He said with a soft smile, leaning forward to peer at the labels of the cargo boxes with passing interest. "As you know my skills are more in the fields of military analysis and psychological warfare as it pertains to non human species. Astronomy and interstellar navigation are not my strong suits, perhaps Lieutenant Hansen could tell you more?" He offered helpfully, falling back into step along side her. "As navigator she no doubt has all of the intimate details of the system."
Leslie nodded at the suggestion and made a mental note to ask Morgan why he continually turned down promotions before stepping onto the bridge and Staring out at the bizarre light show that was node space shifting hypnotically in the view ports.
"Officers on deck!" a young Ensign shouted, rising from his seat to salute rigidly at attention. Repressing a slightly amused expression at the Ensigns nervousness and strict deference to protocol Leslie returned the salute and settled into her command chair.
"Sit rep?" Leslie inquired to the acting officer as she smoothed out her skirt and fastened the flight harness around her midsection.
"We’re 18 minutes from node departure into the Borak star system, all ships in formation and all status green." Lieutenant Hansen answered with scarcely a seconds pause, her voice, though soft, still carrying clearly across the room.
"Very well Lieutenant and what can you tell me about Borak?" Leslie questioned her, blinking a few times and diverting her gaze from the pulsating lights of starstream.
Megan Hansen paused briefly, seemingly surprised at the Commodores sudden interest in Borak before beginning in a soft gentle voice that reminded Leslie of a computers synthetic voice pattern. "Borak is a small solar system beyond the edges of our explored region of space, with only 3 planets orbiting a red giant." She paused and quickly reviewed some of the smaller details on her console before continuing. "The closest planet to the red dwarf is believed to be a ball of semi molten rock, with the outer two gas giants, neither of which are believed to have any sizeable moons only large asteroid fields." Megan finished, leaning closer and doing several quick interstellar drift calculations.
"It sounds like a brief stop over before we recalculate our Node sequence for another star fall unless the Gorzands have a space station in the area." Leslie said, leaning back in the chair and silently contemplating their next move.
"Actually Commodore," Hansen hesitatingly corrected her, "This system and the surrounding space was charted by deep space telescope almost a century before hand, since that time by my calculations it’s been bathed in a giant molecular cloud."
Leslie paused, and looked over at the Lieutenant before gently massaging her temples with her index fingers. "In terms that someone without a degree in astronomy can understand if you will Lieutenant?"
"Sorry Commodore," Megan said gently before explaining again in more detail. "A giant molecular cloud is also called a nebulae, a sea of dust and gas, mostly hydrogen, several light years across; essentially a star in the making. As gravity presses the cloud together you have stars lighting up."
"That’s all very interesting Lieutenant, but I fail to see what difference this makes to it being a brief stop over." Leslie sighed, looking around the bridge and silently pleased at the efficiency with which her new crew set about their assigned tasks.
"The problem is Commodore, since a nebula consists of soot and dust, it has gravity. Consequently, it will attract millions and millions of cosmic rocks, and meteors from the asteroid belts surrounding the gas giants. Moon or planet sized chunks of stone and ice could be flying around from all directions, not to mention smaller particles that could well be traveling at rail gun velocities." Her final statement seemed to freeze all activity on the bridge for several seconds, Leslie’s breathing seeming thunderously loud to her own ears.
"But this is the destination the Gorzand vessels that assaulted Sallos fled to!" Leslie protested, the restraining harness pushing against her as she reactively tried to rise to her feet.
Lieutenant Commander Morgan’s voice smoothly interrupted any further response Megan had planned, seeming to carry with it a calming authoritative tone. "For all we know they could have blind jumped to what their charts said was a safe system, or fled here deliberately in the hopes of losing any pursuing vessels in the nebulae." He paused long enough to let the information sink in. "Right now our main concern is survival and navigation within the gas cloud, right Commodore?" he turned to stare pointedly into her eyes, his gaze piercing her.
Leslie shifted uncomfortably, feeling as if she was being scrutinized and judged somehow by Morgan, before nodding and raising her voice to easily address the entire bridge. "Com, notify the rest of the fleet we’re about to exit into a galactic sand storm and prepare for immediate calculations into node space upon arrival." She paused briefly for breath a cold knot at the pit of her stomach forming. "Tactical, how long for the tankers and refinery to fully refuel our vessels?"
The tactical operations person, the young Ensign who had saluted her moments before jumped, seemingly shocked at being addressed so suddenly. "Sir? I-uh mean Miss?" He paused as if unsure how to address a female officer before quickly recovering himself. "Approximately an hour or two for full fleet refuel, an additional hour or more for the refinery to take on more hydrogen from the nebulae."
"It’s Commodore or Devraux." Leslie corrected him quickly, her mind weighing possibilities and risk assessments before drawing a hasty conclusion. "Com, inform the fleet we are to begin immediate refueling while making node jump calculations, refuel our drives with the minimal amount necessary to reach the next node and have the refinery begin refining fuel immediately as soon as there’s room in her tanks."
As she began to issue the second set of commands Megan interrupted her with an urgent exclamation. "Commodore we’re exiting Node space in 1 minute!"
"Sound collision alarm all hands brace for impact." Leslie ordered, gripping the arms of her command chair tightly, the cold ball of fear in the pit of her stomach hatching into s many clawed animal of terror that ripped at her nerves and composure.
* * * *
With a sickening lurch that felt much like tumbling end of over end in zero grav we exited node space, the bridge at once flooded with the bloody dim light of the nebulae.
Swallowing the string of bile I felt crawling up the back of my throat I stared transfixed in awe at what seemed to be a scene from the ocean floor of some far distant planet. The nebulae’s gasses, now that we were surrounded by them, appeared like a thick soup parting reluctantly before the prow of our dreadnought. Visibility an indeterminable distance beyond. As I stared into the crimson abyss I couldn’t help but get the feeling we were falling, plunging head long down a water fall, the swirls of gasses rushing past us.
My attention however, was quickly drawn away from the hellish view by a sound that seemed to be a mixture of rain and fingernails on a chalkboard mixed with static, faint but definitely noticeable. "Com what is that sound?"
"Unknown Commodore," She responded touching a hand to her head piece and giving me a puzzled expression. "It’s nothing in the communication frequency."
"It’s the nebulae Commodore," Megan told me, turning from her console to give me a nervous look. "What were hearing is the dust particles and soot grains impacting upon our hull."
"And in the academy they teach everyone space is silent." I muttered, looking over at the Morgan who seemed transfixed by the view outside our ports. "Damage report!" I demanded sitting up straighter and mentally pushing the gnawing fear from my mind to focus on the situation with clarity.
"Only superficial Commodore, armor plating seems to be holding, but the paint job’s taking one hell of a beating." He responded, giving me a tense look that I knew was mirrored in the faces of the rest of the crew.
"Sensors, figure out the trajectory and speed of this dirty nebulae, Helm, match our course and speed so we’re drifting with and not against the gaseous current." I paused, recalling the technical specifications of the dreadnought from the files I had tediously memorized days earlier. "Tactical, arrange the fleet in a line formation with our vessel between them and the nebulae’s current. With us as a shield it should lessen the chance of any dangerous debris holing our tankers and refinery."
I gave Morgan a tense smile at his nod of approval, feeling even more so that I was being judged by him somehow, my hand reaching up to trace the outline of my scar in a nervous habit I only recently realized I had acquired. Before us the dense gasses swirled and changed direction as the ship swayed and altered course, the eerie sounds of the nebulae lessening as our speed more closely matched the velocity of the denser particles.
"Com, as soon as trajectory is established have the tankers commence with refueling, Navigation, how long before we’ve got our next coordinates for starstream?" My question hung in the air as I stared into the bloody blackness feeling daunted by the sheer immensity of a gas cloud so large it could take over a million years for it to pass entirely through a solar system.
"We’ll have new node coordinates within 8 minutes, it leads to Peragus." Megan told me, her fingers raising soft clicks upon her keyboard. "We should be able to refuel and repair any damage there."
As I turned to ask the time for minimal refueling needed to reach the Peragus system Hitomi quickly spoke from her position as communications. "Commodore I’m picking up an alien transmission, it’s on the same wave length the Gorzand ships communicate in."
"Has intel deciphered the language yet?" I asked Morgan, who only shook his head in reply, uttering a soft "Negative."
"Find the point of origin, if those fraggers are close enough I want to engrave our space corp motto on their hulls with a particle lance!" I yelled, hearing another bridge member quietly remarking "Repensum est Canicula, pay back is a bitch."
The sensor officers response came after several moments of near silence, the hissing of the space dust on the hall making my skin crawl. "It’s a lone destroyer class, approximately 20,000 kilometers away, in a degrading orbital drift around the sun according to graviton sensors; my best estimate is the vessel will degrade in orbit enough to achieve negative life support capability in under 24 hours." His voice carried with it a measure of uncertainty I could easily understand.
"That’s providing they use the same life support as us Lieutenant Dawson." I said thoughtfully, weighing risks and calculations mentally. "Tactical, how long would it take one of our Raptor planetary recon shuttles to reach the alien vessel?"
"Uh-about 40 minutes given our drift in the nebulae is in the same direction as the vessel." He stammered, checking his estimation against the tactical computers projections and nodding. "However maximum velocity might not be able to be obtained in the nebulae’s debris and that close to the sun the gravity well will increase the velocity of any sizeable debris to lethal speeds." He added.
"Sensors, prepare a long range surveillance probe with sub space tracking and transmission capability, see to it it’s reinforced to withstand the nebulae’s debris field." Pausing briefly I glanced once more out the window, the thick red light streaming across us painting everyone’s face the color of extreme embarrassment or perhaps, uncontrollable rage.
Looking over at the security Officer I gave her a determined expression and began to undo my restraining harness. "Vellis, have a Raptor prepared in the flight bay and assemble the necessary volunteers to assist me on crewing the ship." I told her, Ignoring the surprised stares form the bridge crew and uttered protest of "Commodore you can’t be serious!" from Morgan
"A capable leader should never ask anything from their subordinates they are unwilling to do themselves." I responded, giving Morgan a icy glare, silently daring him to voice further objection. "You have the bridge, see to it the fleet is refueled and ready to depart upon my return." I told him after several seconds of silence.
"Yes Commodore." He said crisply, taking my seat in the command chair as I entered the hallway and proceeded quickly to the flight bay prep area to don my flight suit.
Within the flight bay barely controlled chaos greeted my arrival, several crew members running back and forth anxiously stowing several crates of supplies; others quickly struggled into space suits.
With a smile of satisfaction at how quickly my orders were being carried out I hurried over to the deck officer, a large heavily muscled man of dark complexion that was busy barking orders. "I want those crates stored pronto! Excuses costs us time which we don’t have!"
"Sub Lieutenant is everything almost ready?" I asked him, smoothing the last few creases out of my flight suit and making sure my pistol was secured in its holster.
"Yes Commodore, the bird will be ready to fly in less than 5 minutes." He said, giving me a quick salute and drawing to attention.
"As you were." I replied, returning the salute and admiring the sleek frame of the raptor, it’s smooth arrow head shape designed to absorb radar emissions and enter atmosphere point first, the powerful engines and vectored thrust maneuvering thrusting supposedly making it the most maneuverable recon shuttle of it’s class in atmosphere or vacuum. "Get the personnel on board I’ll brief them in flight." I ordered, slipping past him to board the ship and secure myself in the pilots seat, quickly running a brief diagnostic.
Moments later a four people filed into the shuttles interior, quickly taking their places and looking at me expectantly. "This op is simple," I began turning to look each member in the eye carefully, judging their commitment and dedication, their trust in my command. "We’re taking this vessel towards a Gorzand destroyer, and are going to use our docking clamps to attach ourselves to the side of the enemy vessel."
"This isn’t a boarding shuttle, how will we get inside?" One of the men, a middle aged man with a short buzz cut asked me, leaning forward against his restraint harness eagerly.
"We aren’t boarding it, we’re rescuing it." I paused and held up a hand to stave off the barrage of questions and surprised expressions. "We going to use our engines to maneuver the vessel out of the suns gravity well and into a stable distant orbit. Then we"re withdrawing back to the Thanatos and jumping out of this system." I stopped and suppressed a smile at the now puzzled expressions on the crew members before me. "We’re leaving behind a probe that will monitor the area, if the enemy vessel repairs itself and jumps out or rescue vessels jump in it will transmit back the exit or entrance vectors to us. From there we’ll be able to recalculate their point of origin and wipe one of these fraggers outposts off the galactic map."
"You fight dirty Commodore." One of the women said, shaking her head at the plan. "I’m glad you’re on our side."
"They chose our tactics for us when they glassed Sallos colony and killed several thousand civilians Vanluen." I responded, clenching my fist at the memories of the countless dead. "The only tactics I consider off limits are ones that involve the deaths of the men and women under my command." I told her, locking my gaze with hers until she glanced away. "Any other questions?"
In the silence that followed I secured my helmet, finished the preflight calculations and quickly launched us from the hangar bay, the haze of the nebulae surrounding us in a thick grimy film, the skittering scratch of debris running over our hull like the pattering of millions of insects.
"It’s like being inside a giant sand blaster." One of the men behind me commented, the once smooth armored surface of the transparent magno ceramic view port becoming pitted and fogged by countless near microscopic impacts with the nebulae’s cloud.
"Exactly, Smith, except in this sand blaster there’s chunks of rock and ice bigger than a star base hurtling about." I replied. "Check the sensors for any such immense bodies within detection range. Remember everyone, if we get disabled for any reasons do not go EVA, the nebulae’s debris field will shred your suit in less than a minute."
"Comforting thought Commodore." Vanluen said quietly, rechecking the fastens of her restraining harness. "I hope you’re as good a pilot as you are a commander." She added as an afterthought, the rest of the crew falling into an uneasy silence. Me too; I added silently, glad no one could see the worried expression behind my face plate.
The minutes slowly crawled by as we neared the enemy vessel, the sudden beeping of our proximity radar calling my attention. "Missile volley from the destroyer fired blind in our direction and seeking targets." My sensors officer told the group. I only nodded and settled into my seat, gripping the flight controls tightly.
"We’re coming into rescue them and they fire at us, what a bunch a ungrateful scaley s.o.b.‘s." One of the men remarked from behind me, the proximity warning changing to the buzzing of a missile lock.
"Can it! They don’t know we’re here to rescue them, they probably think we’re here to finish them off." I told him, pulling the starship into a sudden about face and applying full counter thrust, the abrupt change in acceleration and inertia blurring my vision and making us all grunt in pain as our bodies were ruthlessly crushed into our flight seats.
"Counter measures?" I gasped, the swirling red mist parting before us violently, the dim shape of a large dark long object whispering beyond the view port to vanish behind us.
"No good!" He responded, jabbing his finger at the controls in frustration. "The damn dirt cloud is tearing them apart the second they’re launched!" He exclaimed angrily, slamming his gloved fist against the console.
Glancing quickly over at the grav sensors read out I altered our course and gave us full burn towards a large, several miles wide irregularly shaped ball of what sensors claimed was ice, hoping desperately our energy weapons beams wouldn’t be overly dissipated by the bloody haze and still have the desired effect. "Jefferson, prepare a full forward volley with our plasma guns!"
With any luck the sudden energy emission of plasma combined with the vaporizing of the frozen liquid of the asteroid would fool the incoming warheads into premature detonation. If they used similar guidance systems to our own. If.
"Commodore proximity warning!" He yelled, his voice nearly cracking as the large spinning ball shined dimply from darkness before us, pitted and deformed by the scathing debris coursing around it.
"How many missiles are behind us?" I asked tensely as the ball of ice rapidly grew in size to fill our view port, it’s details obscured by the clouded condition our windshield had been reduced to.
"Two!" Smith called to me, leaning back in his seat as if to distance himself from the onrushing ball of ice. "The third one detonated in the cloud!" I only nodded in reply, silently counting to myself and praying Gorzand missiles operated on the same principles as our own.
"Fire!" I yelled, waiting for the twin green globes of plasma to streak out in front of us before yanking mercilessly on the controls and changing our course from certain doom.
The landscape flashed beneath us for scant seconds before the icy asteroid was behind us, the sounds of debris pummeling our hull increasing in pitch to a high screech of a hunting bird, muffling the buzzing of the missile warning and my own screams.
"Missile detonation behind us!" Smith yelled triumphantly, looking for a second almost as if he was going to embrace me before recovering his composure. "Gorzand vessel still on scope no further ordnance in bound."
With a sigh of relief I reduced our speed and slowly returned to our previous course, grateful my gamble had paid off. "ETA to enemy vessel?" I Inquired tensely, prepared for my sudden maneuvers in the event their turrets began tracking us.
"Less than a minute." He replied, his breathing still rapid and shallow. "Our fleet is still drifting in this general direction at the same speed and course as before, I don’t think they detected our close call."
"Just as well," I told him rolling our ship about and seeking a secure area to force dock with the oddly shaped alien vessel. "They have enough on their minds without worrying about us." With careful precision I slowed our course and angled into a niche on the crippled ships stern, as close to the hull as I could get. "Engage docking clamps." I ordered, the hiss of the nebulae all but vanishing from the hull.
"How did you learn to fly like that Devraux?" Vanluen asked me, her voice tinted with awe.
"Before I served onboard the command cruiser Carrington I flew ghost recon with-" I paused as the memory of Michelle’s gentle French accented voice telling me "All clear manquÃ© Devraux, let us go home." echoed through my mind "With Lieutenant Corriane," I haltingly continued. "We did scouting ops on Insectile installations. Then an opportunity came for us to serve onboard the command ship Carrington, I went onto the bridge crew as sensors office, and she served in engineering as sensor maintenance and calibration." I paused and blinked away the tears that threatened to form in the corners of my eyes.
"Vanluen, do we have confirmed hard dock?" I suddenly asked, hoping to change the subject before my composure cracked.
"Yes Commodore, hard dock established, I estimate a 72% probability the Gorzand are crapping their uniforms as we speak." She said with a light chuckle that was quickly echoed by myself and the rest of the crew.
"If it’s at 72% now it’ll be well over a hundred in a couple minutes; hang on, this could get a little bumpy." Slowly I increased our engines thrust, feeling the ship vibrate and pull against the docking clamps. "Tell me when I’m at break away threshold Vanluen." I reminded her, gently adjusting the vector thrust to correct our course away from the red giant.
"Devraux, hull temperature increasing, our shielding is insufficient to resist the suns heat at this range." Another of the crew, Hammond, told me urgently, reaching down to adjust his controls. "I give us maybe 10 minutes before radiation passes safe levels."
"Understood" I told him, delicately nudging the destroyer out of it’s decaying orbit, pausing on the acceleration as Vanluen warned me of the threshold. "ETA before we have the vessel in safe orbit?"
"Less than 4 minutes at the current rate Commodore." Vanluen responded almost instantly, giving me a quiet thumbs up, the heat slowly rising from a uncomfortable warmth towards a burning fierceness.
"At last, a lucky break." I told them, tensely continuing the delicate maneuvers, thankful the Gorzand were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to engage their attitude thrusters in an attempt to shake us off.
"Stable orbit achieved." Vanluen told me quietly, her face plate partly covered with steam. "Ready to undock on your command."
"Given Vanluen, given." I responded, fighting the urge to take off my helmet and brush the sweat from my brow where it dripped painfully into my eyes. With a sudden shake I felt the ship lifting, and wasted no time in plotting a hasty return course, my hands not relaxing from the controls until we were once again safely within the docking bay.
"Damn Commodore, you look like you just made a crash landing in a gravel pit." The deck officer told me gesturing to the battered ship with the end of his cigar. "Tell me something though, was the ride as bad as it looks it was?"
"Worse." I answered him, the rest of the shuttle crew answering almost in unison with similar responses. Giving him a slight smile and returning his salute I quickly changed back into my duty uniform and hastily returned to the bridge, the lingering sweat from the flight making my clothes cling damply to me.
On the bridge Lieutenant Commander Morgan quickly saluted me and returned to his seat, filling me in on the fleets status before I could even ask. "The fleet is nearly refueled the minimal amount needed for the node jump. Our next starstream should last only a few hours before arrival at Peragus " He paused and busied himself with his restraining harness for a moment before continuing. "The probe is also prepared and standing by."
"As soon as the fleet is prepared launch the probe and take us into node space at once." I ordered, fidgeting with the hem of my skirt as I reflected on my memories of past recons and the likely hood my plan would indeed be fruitful.
My thoughts were interrupted several minutes later by Hansen’s affirmation of our readiness into node space. "Proceed with starstream." I told the helm, closing my eyes and bracing myself for the stomach bending transgression into node space.
* * * *
Leslie opened her eyes again and surveyed the bridge once more, feeling the tension easing from her muscles and feeling very much in need of a long shower. "I’ll never look at a nebulae in the distant cosmos the same way again." She said to no one in particular.
"Commodore may I have a word with you in private?" Morgan asked her, his gaze once again seeming to pierce through her.
"Yes of course Lieutenant Commander, in my ready room." She replied, leading the way quickly, hoping whatever he had to say wouldn’t take more than a few short minutes. "What is it?" She asked the second the door had closed behind them.
"Permission to speak freely?" He asked, straightening out his uniform and staring absently at a panoramic picture of earth, taken from orbit that hung from the far wall.
"Granted Morgan, but make it fast, I have other matters to attend to." She replied, walking over and taking a seat at her desk, reviewing the over all damage reports of her fleet.
"Your actions today were unusual for a commanding officer, to say nothing of a Commodore." He began, pacing back and froth in the confines of the room like a caged animal. "I don’t know what you feel you have to prove to this crew, but needlessly risking your life isn’t the way to do it." He stopped to look at her, gauging her reaction.
"Prove?" She asked, leaning forward in the chair slightly and fixing him with an equally piercing gaze. "I didn’t undertake the mission to prove anything to anyone. I lead the mission because in my opinion I was the best qualified to pull it off successfully." She shot back. "When I flew ghost recon I had a reputation for leading by example that got me promoted to bridge crew on the Carrington. That’s a quality I’ll be damned I’ll give up now just because I’m wearing Commodore pins on my sleeve!"
Morgan paused, surprised by her sudden response, taking a half conscious step backwards. "All I’m trying to say Commodore is everyone on board and in this fleet has heard of your actions in the defense of Sallos; they know your dedication and capability, you don’t have to impress anyone." He smiled disarmingly, and softened his tone. "For what it’s worth, I’m glad to have you in command, but please, consider the ramifications of your actions, you’re the only commodore out here."
"I am considering the ramifications." She told him, gesturing to the scenic view of earth. "Those are the people who I keep I my mind when I’m considering them." And Michelle, most of all Michelle; she added silently to herself. "If it worries you rest assured I’m not willing to throw my life away in some vainglorious attempt at revenge. What I am willing to do is take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the survival of this fleet and success of the mission."
So it’s not some death wish attempt to rejoin your dead lover? He wondered silently, giving her a quiet nod and choosing his next words with care. "In that case I will stand by any similar decisions you make in the future Devraux."
"Thank you Morgan, is there anything else?" She asked, rising back to her feet, her thoughts turning once more to the probable outcomes of her plan, and inevitable outcome of the mission.
"Not that I can think of Commodore." He replied, giving her another nod and turning towards the door.
"Then you have the bridge until my return." She told him, stepping past him and heading to her quarters, for a long hot shower and then a scant few hours of much needed rest. Rest she hoped would be untroubled by nightmares, or other, more tender memories, she thought bitterly to herself.
Chapter 2: Cerulean Twilight
Leslie awoke slowly in her bed, a gentle turquoise glow from the distant blue dwarf star dimly lighting her quarters from the view port. The soft thrumming vibration of the ships engines almost lulling her back into the depths of sleep, her eyes drifting over the swirling streams of hydrogen gas that trailed across the surface of the planet beneath them.
"Isn’t it beautiful Michelle?" She asked quietly, admiring the feathery wisps of the different gases as they mingled in streaming rosary currents along the upper atmosphere of the gas giant. Her tranquil mood was abruptly ended by a cold dagger of loneliness between her breasts as she remembered her bed was empty save for herself, and only silence would answer any such questions in the future.
Sitting up and angrily slamming the controls to lower the blast shield over the view port, Leslie flicked on the lights and hurried out of bed, quickly going through her usual morning exercises. Later, as she fasted the last few buttons of her uniform she activated the intercom, her voice holding a almost lethal edge to it. "Bridge, has there been any response from the probe we left in the Borak system two days ago?"
After a couple seconds hesitation there came a stern reply she recognized as Morgan’s. "Negative Commodore, nothing yet." As Leslie moved to turn the com off Morgan continued, causing her to pause momentarily. "However the systems sensor sweep analysis was finished last night, and has revealed the presence of an abandoned facility in the upper atmosphere of a near by gas giant. "Lieutenant Roselyn has more information on it, she finished the analysis yesterday evening."
"I see, thank you Morgan." Leslie said, her tone softening somewhat as she became more focused on the tasks ahead. "Tell her to meet me in the mess hall pronto." After pausing for the briefest of moments to adjust her uniform in the mirror Leslie hurried down the corridors, silently pondering the potential importance of this discovery.
Lieutenant Heather Roselyn greeted her with a polite smile and salute as she entered the Mess hall, gesturing to a small table which already had two trays laid across it. "I was already in the mess hall getting breakfast when the bridge hailed me, so I hope you don’t mind Commodore, but I took the liberty of ordering an additional tray for you."
Leslie paused, surprised at the unexpected beauty of the Lieutenant, and puzzled by the gesture, wondering quietly if it was simply camaraderie, convenience, or something more that prompted the unexpected kindness. Deciding not to let it distract her she smiled at Roselyn and nodded, taking a seat across from her; pleasantly surprised to find Heather had ordered her favorite selection, pancakes and bacon, with plenty of syrup and a large cup of coffee. "Thank you Lieutenant, but how did you know what I liked for breakfast?" Leslie inquired, sipping at the steaming coffee carefully.
Heather grinned almost like a cadet that had pulled off a perfect maneuver during a piloting exam, her short fiery red hair seeming to almost glow with an inner flame. "That was easy Commodore; I recalled your order history from the auto chef’s memory bank then ordered the same thing you’ve ordered for breakfast every day since you’ve been on board."
Leslie returned the smile and nodded, unsure whether to be impressed by the lieutenants resourcefulness or disturbed by the slight invasion of her privacy; preferring instead to focus on the information. "The bridge informed me you discovered an abandoned facility in the upper atmosphere of one of the near by gas giants?"
Heather nodded and smiled again, gesturing to a data slate on the table next to her. "I completed the analysis last night, and found what I believe is gas mining complex in a stable orbit of Pellene’s upper atmosphere." She paused and took a breath before continuing. "From what we can tell the facility was being used to extract and refine hydrogen and other gases from the atmosphere. Currently it’s running at minimal power and sensors detected no life signs."
"What’s the racial designation of the facility?" Leslie asked, deliberately ignoring the breath taking view of the planetoid outside the mess halls spacious view ports; instead staring at her plate and busily consuming the food.
"I’m not completely sure, its design doesn’t correlate to any structures in the database, however its exterior hatch construction and antenna arrays are similar to those of Insectile facilities." Heather responded, glancing briefly at her data slate before continuing. "My best guess is this was an older refining facility that was abandoned by the Insectiles months or years ago, probably when their fleet left this system continue their journey."
"Makes sense." Leslie agreed, "This system has no colonizable planets and with their slower than light drives it’s unlikely they’d ever return to this system again so leaving the refinery manned would be pointless."
"That was the only discovery of note in the entire system," Heather continued, "The rest is a few dirty chunks of ice and the ruins of a slaver ship, nothing worth salvaging."
"Excellent job Lieutenant, after your meal focus the sensor scans on the fringes of the solar system, if anything’s jumping into this system I’d like to know about it before it gets here." Heather instructed her, busying herself with her own breakfast, realizing all too well the supplies of fresh foods were only going to last for so long before rehydrated soy constituted the largest part of her diet.
"Certainly Commodore, recalibrating the sensors for long range high definition should be done inside of the hour." She smiled at Leslie, her gentle green eyes sparkling with anticipation as she casually gestured to the view outside. "This system is really pretty though, almost as gorgeous as the gas giants of earth’s solar system wouldn’t you say? It’s partially why I joined Sol force; to see the wonders of the universe, and discover things no one ever dreamed existed."
Leslie gave her a sad smile, briefly glancing out the view port before replying. "There’s a lot more amazing things between the stars than I ever dreamed possible, but some of the most wondrous and valuable things you can only discover at home, among your own worlds."
"Really?" Heather gave her a confused look, sipping on her orange juice and waiting for the Commodore to reply. "Like what?"
"Love." Leslie let the word hang in the air a moment before opening her mouth to continue, her com link interrupting her response with an insistent beeping.
With a sigh of annoyance Leslie thumbed the button hastily "This is the Commodore what is it?" The voice on the other end she immediately recognized as Morgan’s, his speech slightly hurried.
"You requested to be informed the moment we heard anything from the buoy in Borak, and we just got an update." His tone carried with it a measure of satisfaction she hadn’t heard from him before, almost as if this information was confirming something he had already suspected.
"I’ll be on the bridge momentarily, Commodore out." She replied quickly, turning off the com and addressing Lieutenant Roselyn with a warm smile. "You’ll have to excuse me Lieutenant, I’m needed on the bridge, perhaps we can continue this conversation another time?"
"Yes of course Commodore," she replied, rising to her feet and giving her a parting salute, "Lieutenant Dawson relieves me from my post at 1800 hours, I’ll be free any time afterwards."
Returning the salute Leslie nodded her understanding and hurried off towards the bridge her mind weighing tactical possibilities and the readiness of her fleet for a prolonged engagement within the nebulae.
* * * * *
"What’s the story Commander?" I asked Morgan, settling into the captains chair and adjusting the restraining harness about me.
"According to the buoy another Gorzand fleet just entered the system, composed of 3 destroyers and 2 cruisers, most likely a rescue fleet." He answered me, highlighting the buoys tactical information on the main view screen.
"Excellent, what was their point of origin?" I inquired, my mind racing with possibilities.
"Unknown, our star charts of this sector are incomplete, they could’ve have come from any one of these three systems." He gestured to the display screen, three stars lighting up a brighter blue. "The fleet is refueled and ready to jump on your orders Commodore."
I nodded leaning forward slightly and weighing my options. "If we jump back into the nebulae we could engage and destroy the rescue fleet, however the nebulae will likely shred any potential salvage leaving us with nothing." I paused briefly before continuing. "But if we wait for them to leave as I originally planned there’s a good chance we’ll jump to the wrong system and lose the fleet entirely."
"Commodore,’ Morgan began, clearing his throat before continuing. "If we entered star stream now, before the Gorzand fleet finished repairs we could arrive at one of the three star systems ahead of the Gorzand, then either be waiting in ambush, or immediately jump after them if they’re heading for a different system."
"Excellent plan Commander, Tactical, how long to you estimate it will take the enemy fleet to effect repairs upon the damaged destroyer so it’s once again capable of interstellar travel?" I asked, noticing the tactical officer seemed to have anticipated my question, his lips already parting with an answer.
"Unknown Devraux, depending on their repair capability they could have the destroyer up and running inside of a day. At the most I’d anticipate the ship will be repaired and their fleet refueled in two days."
"I see, Coms, continue monitoring for any more transmissions from the buoy, Lieutenant Vellis, in my ready room." Undoing my restraining harness I quickly followed her giving the Commander a brief nod. "You have the bridge Morgan."
"Yes Commodore?" Lieutenant Sherry Vellis asked, her stern expression and immaculate uniform everything I expected from the head of security. "At ease Lieutenant, there’s an abandoned Insectile gas mining facility in orbit around Pellene, onboard there’s likely to be Star Charts of the surrounding sectors and other useful information left by the Insectiles when they moved on from this system."
"You’d like me to take a security detail over and retrieve this information?" She inquired, even at ease she conveyed the tension of a coiled spring and the alertness of a hungry rattler.
"Not exactly," I elaborated, sitting down and smoothing out my skirt underneath me. "I want you to assemble a security detail and a few tech ops to accompany me onto the facility to retrieve the necessary information."
"Certainly Commodore, May I inquire as to why you wish to accompany the expedition?" She asked me, her gaze never waving from my face, almost seeming to look through me at the bulk head behind my chair.
"Two reasons Lieutenant; one I’ve always wanted to see the inside of a Insectile structure first hand, and two, I’ve been sitting on my hands these last couple days and I could do with a change of pace." Along with something to keep my mind off the past, I added silently, clasping my hands together on the desk on front of me.
"I’ll have the detail prepped and loaded onto a boarding shuttle in 20. Anything else?" She asked, her professional attitude reminding me why I chose her as head of security.
"Yes actually, bring along a satchel charge and proximity sensor. When we’re done with it I want to place a small surprise onboard next to the fuel tanks; just in case any Insectiles ever come back this way expecting to find a refueling stop." I gave her an icy smile, looking forward to the small excursion.
"Sergeant Vanluen was right about you Commodore, you do fight dirty." She gave me a sly smile followed by a salute, before exiting the room at a fast trot.
"No Lieutenant, I fight to win." I said quietly to her retreating figure, following her a moment later to don my armored flight suit and join the detail in the hangar bay.