Extended Game (Part Four)
Holding onto the railing around her Tactical station, Morgan cupped a hand around the earpiece of her headset. “Captain, enemy defenses destroyed.”
One end of the bridge reared up like a mad horse when the lights flickered brightly for the last time. The emergency lighting snapped on, automatically casting a foreboding crimson and long shadows over the crew. Wavering shafts of light from dying computer screens, snowblind with faltering connections, cut through the red haze and shone on the bridge crew as they steadied themselves against their consoles and railings.
“One minute and 45 seconds,” Yoshino shouted into the darkness. “The shuttle has entered the atmosphere!”
Terry Hale marched out of the command chair, straight for the viewports looking out at the minuscule fighters, the glowing cloudbursts, at the indifferent cloud-faced planet and the scarred coral-like ramparts ahead.
…and the warning ripple in space, a painful shiver in the starlight, of a timeslip opening before them.
Katia Santiago bolted after her through the sharp-smelling haze rolling in dark knots through the air on the bridge. “Captain, the computer core is crashing. The backups will, and soon. All life support, all the medlabs, and the lifts are on manual now. And the hull, it’s dying–”
“The power systems, can we jump?” Hale said. Her eyes remained fixed on the viewports and the approaching wave outside. One minute — maybe less, she feverishly calculated.
“I think that’s all we can do!” Hale turned back for the command chair. “Take power from all forward guns and transfer it to the defense and auto-repair systems, fast. Prepare to open a jump point on my mark. Helm, 180 degrees hard about! Get us out of here!”
Morgan sent out the call for all the fighters to return as the ship began to pivot. Starlight twinkled through the dust of the battle and swung across the viewports, the scorched nose of the Phoenix turning away from the enemy. The momentum shoved the entire crew to one side, flattening them against the nearest bulkhead or console, the ship’s gravitational systems no longer able to hold inertia in check.
Terry Hale let herself get carried over to the tactical console, latching onto the railings before she could stagger past them. “Tactical view.”
Morgan indicated with a nod the central screen on her console, where incandescent shapes darted around the wireframe rectangles showing the enemy’s positions. Two of the rectangles had rolled onto their sides like dying beasts. She pointed briefly as small bright cubes flashed all about one of the enemy ships, a swarm of triangles circling the cubes. “Their weapon systems. Desell got ’em.”
Captain Hale looked out toward the viewports, catching a glimpse of green energy beams spinning like the spokes of a wheel and finally blinking out of existence.
“Aft fusion cannons and the plasma nets?”
Katia Santiago blurted out a protest, then cut herself off to let the tactical officer answer.
“Recharging,” Morgan said. “Storm and Desell Squadrons on approach, cutting through the remaining enemy fighters.” Her jaw tensed, muscles pulled taut like rope. “I can’t get a clear shot.”
She raised her hand to her headset. “Storm and Desell request permission to rescue pilots–”
“Yoshino,” Hale called, “what’s your status?” She sped back to the comlink on her command chair, shoving herself past walls of momentum.
“One minute on my mark….”
“All squadrons, do it fast. We’re jumping out.”
As the captain closed the channel, Morgan sighed and looked up with a shrug to meet her glance. She was thinking of the enemy fighters flitting across her monitors, holding up the process.
They both turned their heads as distant explosions flashed onto the viewports. Morgan checked her console, smirking. “Storm Five, Six, and Desell Seven are firing on the last enemy ship. They’re drawing fighters away from us…into the edge of our firing range.”
“All ships, evasive action! Rear cannons, five-second burst! All other weapons, offline now!”
On Morgan’s screens, swarms of glowing Zen’Thas and Starfury icons scattered out of sight to avoid the cannon barrage that was bisecting the grid floating at the heart of the sensor map.
Masses of fighters swooped back into the picture, many of them carrying other fighter icons along with them, rushing toward the foreground, toward the Phoenix.
Morgan spoke into her headset. “Storm and Desell, send escape pods and damaged fighters close to Phoenix. I repeat, stay close. We’ll carry you with the plasma nets.”
Katia clung to the flickering Engineering console, trying to ride out the momentum of the ship’s engines. “Systems ready!”
Terry Hale dug herself into her chair. “Activate jump engines! All units, follow us in!”
An orange jumppoint bloomed in the void ahead of them, filling the viewports as Yoshino called out, “Forty seconds …thirty-five ….”
The command crew looked to one another as the orange vortex seethed ahead of the ship. Behind them, the advancing wave of a third and final timeslip field surged out after them.
Katia shouted into the dark, “Plasma net generators now at 37 percent.”
“Give me what you got,” Terry cried out.
Together like a storm front, the Phoenix and her fighters raced through the jumppoint and into hyperspace, full throttle into the turbulent nothingness. For an instant Hale thought they’d made it clear of the expanding timefield.
Then reality staggered, time twisting and throwing them into moments unborn or reshaped in hand no less clumsy for imagined understanding. For an elongated moment, there were only the machines, following the programmed orchestration while their operators’ bodies slumped, all consciousness torn to another time.
The vortex collapsed behind the Phoenix, wrapping them in the wavering red light of hyperspace. Silence punctuated by popping circuitry, brief and agonizing, usurped the cacophony of war. Organic groans followed as the time field released them one by one. The china fragment of reality fell back into place as hands grasped again for controls, everyone throughout the ship gasping like divers too long underwater, only to see a too-bright dazzle before their eyes.
Yoshino drowsily, dutifully, went back to calling out the seconds. “Twenty-five….”
Terry Hale blinked away the image of a lost life lingering like greasy sunspots on her sight, and fought the urge to relax and let out her breath, her heels up against her chair. “Take us out as far as you can,” Terry said. “All hands, stand by for emergency jump into normal space.”
She turned to see Morgan’s reply, but instead found Kim Matsumoto rushing into the tactical station’s place, running hurried hands over the controls. Morgan lay unconscious, gently drawn aside by a few other Rangers on the bridge.
When she realized what the Captain had said, Kim stared up at her. “If we make a blind jump, there’s no telling–”
“With respect, sir,” Katia chimed in quickly, thinking the Captain had gone crazy as she called over her shoulder from her console, “we might not even make it out.”
“I know.” Terry Hale left her chair and went across the flight deck to the helm, putting a hand on the helmsman’s shoulder. Taking the hint, he got out of his chair and moved aside.
“We’re losing the plasma nets!”
Terry held her hands over the crystalline controls for the jump engines and the crackling readouts beside them. “Maintain. Approaching exit area… activating jump engines.”
The jumppoint shone into existence, widening into a blue vortex that opened out onto a clear field of stars. Without a word, Terry Hale reached across the helm console and led the way through the jumppoint. Main engines blasting behind them, the ship lurched forward as the shifting walls of the blue vortex peeled away.
Katia worked feverishly at her console to try to keep the jump systems stable, everything in her screaming against this. The system needed a little time to regenerate, while it still had a chance to do so, and now the Captain was taking them out into Lord only knew what. If there were any other way, Katia would have protested more vehemently, but she knew deep down, the Captain was right. So she did her best to keep the jump engines up and the other systems running while they made the jump out of hyperspace.
“Take the plasma nets and weapons offline. Ops, our status.” Terry leaned back in the helm’s chair, letting out her breath with a loud sigh, weary. Was it far enough?
Terry slapped her palm down onto the comm button of her command chair. “All hands, brace for impact! All hands–”
As if the cosmos itself had burst into flames, space visibly brightened, the neighboring darkness momentarily flat. Then the viewports went black, a vain effort to shield their eyes from the painful glare of power beyond comprehension, energies capable of heating a thousand worlds and hammering the fabric of spacetime into permanent shapes. None of the Rangers were able to see it, but the black boxes and gun cameras of their ships recorded grainy images of the shaft of light and concentric, spiraling vortices of blue and dark orange that reached out from the surface of the alien planet. Every recording ended as it began, with a brilliant burst of light that swallowed the alien ships in orbit, and stopped abruptly as a wave of radiant gas and sheer force rolled throughout the entire system. The Phoenix capsized, shivering and spinning, its fighters dangling nearby, when the wave crashed through their existence. All that remained was ionized gas, the scorched Ranger vessels, their crew, and the void.
Copyright (C) 1998 Joe R. Medina, Alida Saxon, Tamara Friese, Leslie McBride and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.