Characters: Command Crew and Fighter Pilots
At her Tactical position on the Phoenix’s command bridge, Morgan heard Darquin’s comm channel shatter into fragments of static. She said nothing.
The ship bucked for the fourth time. Bridge crew were picking themselves off the deck as the thunderous assault still reverberated through the hull, weapon fire lancing back and forth across the viewports. Sharp-smelling smoke had begun to fall through the torn ceiling again.
Morgan read out the grim litany from her damage control screen. “Minor hull damage to Decks 14 through 17. Heavy damage to emergency bulkheads in the upper decks. All tactical systems on Deck 14 online.”
Relieved, the captain sighed and continued her efforts to tie her hair away from her face. She let it all drop in a rough knot at the nape of her neck.
“Enemy fighters closing on our shuttle!” Yoshino called out. “They’re on attack vector!” Her right hand hard on the remote controls, she threw the shuttle into a violent swing to one side to begin a series of evasive maneuvers.
Captain Hale frowned, grumbling as she examined the tactical display hovering over a small pedestal off to her right, studying as quickly as she could the wireframe images of racing fighters and slow hulks beside the planet. “Reduce power to the forward neutron cannons and increase the missile fire on Ship Three. Keep those launchers busy.”
She tapped a key on the arm of her chair. “Storm, this is Phoenix. Defend that shuttle till it’s in the atmosphere. Desell Group, stay close. I repeat, Desell, stay close.”
The intercom spat out the crackling responses:
“Storm moving to intercept!”
“We copy, Phoenix. Desell, evasive action and regroup now!”
Captain Hale didn’t wait for the responses to end. “Commander, stand by on the plasma net generators.”
Morgan kept one hand close to the plasma net controls, looking up toward the Chief Engineer’s station on the bridge. Katia gave her a quick nod before turning back to her control board.
The decks overhead rumbled, the bridge crew shaking under the impact like toys in a box as the main lights flickered. Everyone bounced off the deck in the momentary darkness, scrambling back to their feet and leaning against the nearest walls or railing as the quake subsided.
Morgan’s eyes were level with her tactical readout when she saw the icicle ships dash across the screen. “Enemy fighters on top of us!”
“Activate plasma nets! Get the electropulse guns ready for close range.” Hale fell back into her chair as the ship lurched.
“Enemy fighters captured,” Morgan said with a rare grin, “eleven in total.”
“Target them with the electropulse guns and fire at will. Knock them out before they do any more damage.”
Alarms sounded as the ship bucked again, the walls reverberating with weaponsfire. Searing white flashes washed over the viewports before the bridge’s deckplates momentarily pulled away from everyone’s feet. A few people gasped, the wind knocked out of them as they fell against the deck. Hale flattened herself against her command chair and held on.
Morgan hooked one arm on the railing of the tactical station to keep herself in place, watching her readouts. “That’s the second ship! The bastards are shooting through their own people!”
“Cut the plasma nets and continue missile fire.” Hale smacked the comm button on her chair’s arm. “Desell One, disarm the last enemy ship! Take her fangs out!”
“Roger that, Phoenix.” Shan thumbed a button on one of his control grips, sending his Zen’Thas into a braking pivot as the cliff face of one of the alien capital ships grew on his targeting screen. “All units, activate your Blacklights and select targets for long range missile fire. Desell Three and Four, watch for fighters. The rest of you, heat your guns up.”
Flat on his stomach with control grips in front of him, he flicked his thumb across a fire control button on one handle grip, firing his missiles while the chirping targeting systems were still trying to lock on their target. As a racing haze of missiles crashed against the coral wall, bathing the ship in cascading and dying flames, he led the fighters’ charge. Melding with the darkness, tripod-shaped Zen’Thas fighters skimmed over the surface of the alien spacewall, pivoting and raking the organic hull with thin emerald slicer beams as they slid by, then scattered away from the pale flames escaping the hull.
The shockwave sent Shan’s fighter fishtailing, slapping his face down hard before he could pull himself back on course. If the acceleration couch hadn’t been under him, the momentum would’ve bounced his head off the inner hull. His jaw ached as he told the computer to maintain course.
His computer announced that he was now beyond the estimated range for enemy fire as he pulled his fighter around to face the alien spacewall. He took a moment to glimpse the rest of the battle on his sensors. To one side of him in the ring of control panels and screens around the nose canopy, fighter dots flitted back and forth around the digital outlines of capital ships with the occasional dot spiraling out of view. Scanning the Phoenix for damage, he shook his head: damage all over the place, the relentless violence widening each break in the hull, cannons overheating, the organic skin of the ship charred, blistering. They weren’t getting schooled; they were being crushed.
And yet the Phoenix kept firing, refusing to budge. She was the heart of the burning void.
Shan pulled up his next target on the readout. Rotating crosshairs appeared on the canopy window to single out one corner of the variegated coral wall ahead, part of the alien spacewall’s forward guns. Switching to his pulse cannons, he hit the afterburners and shot forward for another pass.
On the Phoenix’s main bridge, Desell One’s voice crawled past the static coming through the dying speakers. “Desell Group, go to one-twenty by six-three by seven. And stand by for Attack Pattern Delta.”
Morgan nodded to herself, recognizing the commands, remembering all the pilot training sessions. Desell was moving in for the kill.
Hale turned her chair around to face the Ops console as Yoshino spoke up. Her eyes were a frightening sight; their white irises shone out from sclera that had turned red from burst blood vessels. But her voice was firm and clear.
“Captain, Storm Squadron is clearing the way for our shuttle.”
“Anything from Darquin’s group on the surface?”
Morgan’s ears perked up.
“They were still engaging the base when we lost one–” Yoshino put her hand to the earpiece of her headset. “Signal from Storm Six.”
Morgan decided she’d better kill him later for making them worry so long.
“–temporarily disengaged for repairs.” Darquin’s voice crawled between the bursts of static through the speakers. “Blacklights down, trying to draw enemy fire away from the others.”
“Your mission status?” Hale shouted.
“63 percent of detected weapon systems destr– whoa!”
“Still receiving.” Yoshino turned her chair around to the rest of the bridge crew. “The signal is weak. Possibly due to jamming or interference from a power source.”
Hale gave Morgan an apprehensive glance, speaking softly. “They’re activating the time machine.” Her eyes scanned the bridge. “If the shuttle can outrun them– Do we have enough time?”
Yoshino called out over the din, “Two minutes and thirty seconds to detonation.”
Morgan shook her head. They’d already seen the machine activate in a smaller window. She shouted into her headset, into Darquin’s comm channel. “Online! It’s online!”
Darquin tapped his foot, flipping through targets on his computer. “Re-code,” he said quickly. At the command, the computer switched to his wingmen’s tactical channel. “Change of plan, kids. Lock on my target and take ‘im out, period. Desell Seven, cut through the walls and clear a path. Then all of us.”
“Is your cloak still damaged?” G’ren said.
Darquin brought his Thunderbolt around for another pass, thick black masses boiling across his canopy. The smoke had completely blocked out the rest of the world. Sunlight flickered, a dim memory overhead. There was no sign of the land, no blurs of pale dead orange. “C’mon, it’s crunch time, now or never. Start your attack run.”
He opened on the misshapen column ahead with his ion cannons, just a few potshots before banking his fighter and blasting his thrusters on full, spinning and weaving through the energy beams jabbing out through the smoke. He swooped over the top of the building, concentrating only on his weaving and the noise.
He didn’t need to watch his monitors to keep up with the battle. He could hear every pop and hiss from the heat of their guns and thrusters, the deafening rumble and crashing of walls crashing down under explosive force. Alien weapons shrieked in the air. A squealing, stammering blast announced Desell Seven’s first salvo into the enemy base. The vague auditory impressions of space combat echoing from clouds of debris now seemed almost comforting.
Hitting his afterburners, Darquin drew his fighter down into a spiraling power dive. Express Elevator to Hell, his flight instructor used to say. A movie buff.
The roof of the building flew out of sight. The scorched ground rose up to meet him, gravity pushing his flesh against his bones. His control sticks began to struggle inside his fists.
As he rolled around to face the seared gash in the tower of melted polygons, plasma bolts and beams lanced through the haze and into the building.
His computer still registered a power source. “Like hell–”
He forced his lungs to accept air and let loose with his own weapons. Fire rolled out of the shattered face of the building, coiling around the open scar. The resulting blast made his Starfury buck like a horse. Darkness and debris showered his canopy, ringing against his fuselage, a nasty chain of rapid-fire clangs like a wild percussion solo. Electrical sparks sprayed up from the controls when something tore into his leg, little more than a bite to him as adrenaline coursed through him. As the power readings from the defensive installations went dead on his targeting computer, he whispered, “Thank you, God ….”
“Stabilizer failure, portside foils non-functional, circuitry rerouting–”
Ignoring his computer’s breathless chant, he pulled on his flight sticks. The ship wasn’t turning. Looking out at the burning tower speeding toward him, he quickly considered the odds of blasting through and coming out of it alive. His lungs froze. Moments, not numbers, were flashing in front of his eyes.
At the scraping of metal on metal and a sharp jolt, he looked up past the edge of his helmet visor. He could see the bottom and the grappling claw of another Starfury Thunderbolt as a roaring thruster unit fired behind them. Leaning and shaking, the two fighter craft skimmed past the outer walls of the melting tower.
“The Narn Calvary, yeah!” Darquin released the coyote outburst of a mariachi’s cry into the comm system. “Phoenix, we’re pulling out! Solution viable! Solution viable!”
Copyright (C) 1998 Joe R. Medina, Alida Saxon, and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.