Characters: Phoenix Command Crew
Myriad shades of tension — rapid and diligent work, the rushed words of status updates and new directives, pleading stares and crossed fingers standing vigil over monitors and holographic images — filled the next hour on aboard. The bridge crew and hangar technicians watched the three vessels. Wide and iridescent blue like uneven, craggy walls of coral, the alien ships dangled peacefully in orbit around the planet beside them. Scanners on board the Phoenix still detected the enemy’s weapons, online and fully charged. Every moment was a tottering on the cliff’s edge of possibilities.
As Terry Hale stepped out of her ready room and into the main bridge, weaving her way past the severed circuits hanging overhead, First Officer Morgan got out of the command chair, declaring, “Captain on the bridge!”
“What’s our status?” Captain Hale slipped past Morgan, into the command chair.
“All systems operational, repairs still in progress. Encryption protocols on all units are now in sync. Auto-repair systems have about 43 percent of the hull repairs done. It’ll take another five minutes before the jump engines get a full charge.”
“Start calculating a jump out of this system, just in case. How about personnel?”
“We still have a few people in Medlab, but we’ll have enough people for battle stations. Mira’s put Evers and Carter in charge of Engineering, and Brannon’s running Medlab Two in case of any emergencies.” She stopped to consult her datapad, sighing. She didn’t have to explain how thin they were all being stretched. “Mira’ll be running Medlab herself. Shuttle Stalker is ready to go for any pickups they have to do. Security patrols and main office report ready. Darquin put one of his assistants in charge there. Storm and Desell squadrons on stand-by.”
“Science and Ops?”
Yoshino turned away from her console as her assistant began pasting a chrome pocket-sized box beside her control board. “Explosives in position. We are making the final checks for the shuttle controls now. They appear to be operational.”
“And Kim has the lab locked down tighter than a drum,” Morgan added quickly. There was enough trouble to be had without borrowing any from the isolation labs.
Katia Santiago stepped out of the lift behind them, wiping sweat off her face with a rapid pass of her hand. “Captain Hale! The bombs are all set to go. Awenata and Karr are in Engineering, ready for power demands as they arise. I’d like to keep an eye on things from here if you don’t mind. It’ll help coordinate things between Operations and Engineering.”
“Good idea, permission granted.” Hale bit her lip. There were no more delays to be had. “Morgan… call for battle stations. And prepare to send a message to the enemy vessels, in Interlac.”
Conversations among the bridge crew stopped for a moment, then went back to work. Morgan moved to the crystalline console standing beside the Captain’s chair on thin metal rods and stone columns. As soon as she touched the relevant crystals, the alert chime went out to the entire crew. “Ready.”
“Send this: ‘Alien vessels, this is the Ranger Battleship Phoenix. You have demonstrated hostile intentions. Stop your time experiments and surrender… or we will open fire. You have ten standard minutes to comply.’ Then target the weapons on the nearest vessel.”
“Targeting weapons, aye.”
Captain Hale spun her chair around to face the Chief Engineer’s station. “Jump engine status?”
“Jump engines at 78 percent,” Katia called out.
“Hold them there. I want more power for weapons and the defense system.”
Morgan’s console let out a gentle bleep and shed a dull green light onto her face. “Message coming in from the Vorlon servants. Text only.”
“On screen.” Terry Hale held her breath as the main display rolled out into existence in front of the whole bridge crew, revealing the words:
TRESPASSER. LEAVE US AND EVERYTHING WILL BE AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN.
“Cyfrgolli,” Morgan swore to herself in her mother tongue.
The Captain jumped in before the drop in morale got any further. “Send this reply: ‘The Third Age has already begun. The First Ones left it for us all. And we will fight to save it. We live for the One…we die for the One.'”
“Message sent. Weapons locked on.”
Terry Hale barely heard herself say the words. “Fire all forward guns.”
Morgan spread her hand across the crystalline controls on her console, then swept her fingers over them in a violent arc. Everyone on the bridge could hear the cannons roar and hiss. The gunbursts flashed over the viewports, brilliant color brought into the void. As the first coral slab burned and rolled like a dying beast, searing white flame billowing over the iridescent shape, Captain Hale’s stomach turned to lead, her voice cold and firm:
Storm and Desell Squadrons shot out into the void directly behind the scarred Phoenix like a spray of pollen, pivoting around to soar around it and toward the enemy vessels. As they closed the distance, the Phoenix behind them was turning away from the crumpled ship, facing the two jagged remaining varicolored walls for the next assault.
Darquin’s comm system piped into his helmet cross-chatter from the squadron leaders as he set his Thunderbolt’s scanners onto the enemy capital ships. Monstrous walls, like coral cut right out of some ocean floor, swelled on his screens.
Roland DeVries, Storm One, called out, and Shan’s commands in Desell One ran together with his voice. “Okay, heat ’em up, people–”
“Desell Three and Four, scan for orbit-to-surface transmissions–”
“–watch for enemy fighters.”
“–Five through Eight, pinpoint the locations of weapons and any transmitters on those ships. Desell Two and Seven, form up on me.”
G’ren announced into Storm Six’s helmet comm, “Fighters launching! From the last two ships!”
“Confirmed,” Shan answered, “Desell One detecting 23 probes. Power readings similar to starfighter-class ship.”
Like a cave-in, stalagmites about the size of the Rangers’ fighters bolted straight for them, their signatures little more than spikes even on their readouts. “Oh, great.” Darquin instantly regretted saying it, under his breath or otherwise, and prayed it was too quiet for the comm to pick it up.
“Storm Six,” DeVries said, “make the call when you’re ready.”
Darquin raised his voice quickly. “Roger that, Storm Leader.”
“Five klicks and closing.”
“We copy, Desell,” DeVries answered. “Storm group, acquire targets. Stay in formation till–Receiving data on secondary target. Good one, T’rar!”
“Desell units, engage secondary!”
“Storm group, break and attack, break and attack!”
Darquin tapped one of his foot pedals to select a fighter on his targeting computer. “Computer, full thrust and track target.” He twisted the T-shaped joystick in his left hand and knocked his fighter sharply onto its left side, careening as it raced straight into the enemy squadron. With his thumb, he nudged the ridged control hat on top of his right joystick, selecting the rapid-fire pulse cannon from his Thunderbolt’s arsenal.
Almost in unison with his comrades, he released a barrage of blinding cobalt plasma bursts into the approaching cloud of rocky spikes. Storm and Desell Squadrons threw waves of plasma fire and emerald beams of light into the charging fighters, searing them, slicing and piercing the first row of the assault. Their fallen ships crumbling around them into white-hot clouds of flaming dust, the alien fighters scattered to avoid the attack. Storm and Desell fighters raced through their scattering opposites, firing braking thrust before turning about to continue the assault.
DeVries blasted into the comm system, “Storm to Phoenix, all ships have engaged the enemy!”
“We copy, Storm,” Morgan answered. “You too, Six.”
Darquin smirked at the code words. “Copy that, Phoenix. Weather Front, disengage! Hit the Blacklights and form on my wing!”
He pulled his control stick back to pitch the nose of the ship upward into a climb. Sailing over the plasma melee, G’ren in his Thunderbolt and one of the organic tripod shapes from Desell Squadron trailed behind him as they ran above one of the burning coral-like motherships. Amidst the pillars of gunbeam fire and bursts thrown upward from the enemy below, the three fighters swung back and forth to dodge the crossfire, flickered, and disappeared into the darkness between.
The disappearing fighters had distracted the enemy, given the Phoenix the time to fire first, better than Captain Hale ever thought possible.
Behind them, all the other ships were engaged. Surrounding by a flaming haze of debris and dust, fighters danced around each other like enraged fireflies. The Phoenixbegan firing on the remaining capital ships, a relentless bombardment of blinding white bursts, carving green and gold beams into the enemy ships and the space between them. The aliens returned with a rapid series of glinting sheets of dark flame that pounded the Phoenix’s mottled cerulean skin.
The bridge crew on the Phoenix clung to their stations as the ship rocked. Terry Hale held the arms of her command chair tightly, waiting for it to stop swerving left and right. “Enemy weapon status!”
Morgan stiffened her arms to brace herself against the rails around her station, ignoring the discomfort. “Their forward weapons, offline! They’re turning their starboard flank to us.”
“Helm, compensate! Keep us face to face with them. Commander, target missile launchers and electropulse guns on the weapons they just fired on us!”
“Regenerative armor losing power!” Katia called out from her station.
“Take it out of life support, the jump drive, whatever it takes! Keep those defenses online!”
“Captain!” Yoshino kept her eyes on her Ops console. “Fighter group has entered the atmosphere!”
“On screen, full mag.” The holo-display rolled in front of the bridge crew like an ocean, rippling from a wide view to a close-up of the planetary disk, revealing three flaming trails among the swirls of white and blue. “Launch first shuttle.”
Yoshino nodded as she pressed the button on her remote control box, sending the bomb shuttle out of the hangar, into the void and the violence. “Shuttle away.”
Tapping symbols on her panel, Morgan opened a broadband comm channel. “All units, Black Star Solution. I repeat, Black Star Solution.”
Darquin and his fellow wingmen heard her voice over their helmet comms, a signal meant for them, as they continued their descent through the clouds. “G’ren, any more surface-only transmissions?”
“Negative, I think we found them all. I’m sending targeting data for all of us on encoded subchannel.”
“Receiving.” Darquin let his eyes wander downward for a second to the materializing vector graphics on his targeting computer, phosphorescent lines rushing to sketch out a column, a rocky stack of alternating spheres and inverted pyramids, on the ground beside a sparse grouping of claw-like trees. “Desell Seven, take out their hangar bays. Storm Five, you and I are going after the weapon placements. In case they can trace our transmissions, radio silence till we engage them. Now let’s give ’em hell.”
The trio of invisible fighters separated, the two Starfury Thunderbolts climbing a moment before rolling into a power dive as the Zen’Thas fighter spun off. Concussion missiles appeared seemingly out of the air and smashed into the nightmarish collection of polygons on the ground. Flaming gusts blossoming all about the structure hammered the sparse landscape of talon trees with a deafening shockwave.
Darquin wrestled his control stick backward, swinging the ship into a long and broad bank to face the enemy structure, instinctively longing for the sharp turns of space maneuvering. Through the canopy, he could see indigo beams of light lashing out at the air all around the burning building like the arms of a wounded sea creature. Either the aliens couldn’t see them, or they were only pretending to lash out blindly, waiting for an opportunity.
His targeting computer bleeped at him, offering the next available gun emplacement for attack. He pursed his lips and fired the next salvo of concussion missiles, regardless of the outcome.
“Storm Six, they have a weapons lock on us!”
As the firecloud from his exploding missiles licked his canopy, he frowned at Desell Seven’s warning. “What? Since when? I’m not getting–Computer, full thrust and evade!”
An energy beam slid into his view, then rushed toward him.
Copyright (C) 1998 Joe R. Medina, Alida Saxon, and Leslie McBride. All rights reserved.