The Gates of Delirium, Part 1
Characters: Phoenix Crew
Leaning back in her chair, Captain Hale looked about her office with a frown. “G’fen was supposed to be undercover?”
“Yup.” Darquin sighed before he continued. “He figured his cover was blown or something. Tianmun didn’t have time to give me all the details. Their shuttle was about to take off.”
“I think I’ll let you and Morgan have the privilege of debriefing them. I want a full report before I decide what to do about him.” He studied her expression, tipped off by the tone in her voice. She filled in the blanks for him. “Yes, once and for all. And it’s past time. There have been too many disruptions on this ship.”
Darquin nodded. “If ship morale gets any lower, we’ll have a hull breach.”
Hale snorted, bitterly amused. Before she could add something more substantial, Morgan’s voice came over the comm system. “Captain, you’re needed on the bridge.”
Hale led Darquin out of the ready room, into the main bridge. The crew were at their stations, working with a sense of urgency that disturbed her. With apprehension.
Morgan got out of the command chair. “Long range probe in hyperspace detected an alien ship approaching the system.”
“Is it closing on the jumpgate?”
“Negative, not on the beacon.”
That caught Hale short. If the other ship wasn’t using the jumpgate network, either it was trying to move undetected or it had come from a place far from any known gates. Exchanging glances between Morgan and Darquin told her they were all thinking the same thing. Hale gave Morgan a nod, giving her permission to take the tactical station. “Do we still have it?”
Yoshino checked her Ops board. “Yes, sir. We have a good signal.”
“Still no ID on it,” Morgan said. “That configuration isn’t in the database. I haven’t seen this before either.”
The alien ship’s outline materialized over a nearby holo-projector. It was a long box, a design often seen in old bulk freighters, except for the rods at fore and aft jutting out at sharp angles. “What kind of a ship is that?” Hale asked. “Is it armed?”
“It generates enough power for it,” Morgan said, “from what our probe is reading. It’s about 600 meters long and traveling at a good pace.”
“Battle stations, all units. Send Desell Squadron to protect civilian traffic. And keep Storm Squadron close to us, in case we need the support. Helm and Tactical, stand by. If that ship jumps out here with us, I want to be ready for it. Engineering, we’ll need a quick response time.”
Hale grinned despite herself when Jordan Toussant came over the comm. “We’re on it!”
Morgan was already sending her tactical crew out. Darquin was leading the way to the entry hatches and down into the tac chambers, floating into the heart of lifelike holographic fields of the void outside, to man the ship’s guns.
Morgan did a few stretches, hanging in her tac chamber, waiting. The chamber surrounded her with a view of space. The sleek Vorlon/Minbari fighters of Desell Squadron were speeding from the Phoenix, into the orbital space of Rolui 4.
Darquin reported in as his tac chamber tracked his movements. “Tac systems online, weapons on stand-by. Looks like the alien is still closing.”
“Strong energy reading,” Yoshino said. “She is preparing to jump.”
“Storm One, this is Phoenix,” Hale called. “When the alien ship jumps, I want a fighter screen between us and them. Look for any weapon systems and pass that information on to Tactical.”
“Acknowledged, forming up now.”
A jumppoint erupted, setting the alien ship loose into normal space. Compared to the Phoenix, it looked barbaric, like a length of barbed wire. Spokes jutted from the fore and aft like antennae. It surged on into Rolui’s orbit, tilting toward the Phoenix.
Darquin summoned a sensor reading with a wave. “Boss, I think they’re scanning us.”
“Ie, ie,” Morgan muttered, impatient. She could fight or not; it was just the waiting that bothered her.
Yoshino checked her boards, murmuring half to herself. “I think I’ve got their comm frequency….”
“Hail them.” Captain Hale leaned forward in the command chair.
Yoshino took a quick breath. “Alien vessel, this is the Interstellar Alliance ship Phoenix. Please state your identity and intentions.”
“It’s looking around like crazy, that’s for sure,” Darquin added softly over the tac channel.
“I do not like it either,” Morgan responded, as quietly.
Hearing a sensor chime, Darquin steadied his breath. “They’re running a deep scanner sweep on us. It could be a weapons-lock.”
Yoshino waited, about to repeat the hail– “I’m getting an energy spike!”
The Shok’na-li had opened her mouth to say something, but changed abruptly. “Weapons hot!”
As to confirm their reports, the spokes at the front of the alien ship began to glow.
Hale sat back and braced herself, gripping the arms of the command chair. “Evasive!”
At the navigator’s station, Peter Carlacci’s hands swept over the controls, throwing the Phoenix into an evasive pattern.
While the Phoenix began to swerve, the alien ship fired bolts of red plasma. A few spun off onto separate paths, splitting and turning toward the planet.
From the cockpit of Desell Three, Manaar Rashid yelled, “Incoming!” Ships scattered like leaves in a gust of wind as the plasma bolts burned their way through.
The bolts aimed at the Phoenix struck at once across the spines and mid-section of the ship.
The thunderous impacts reverberated throughout the ship. Overloaded circuits burst into sparks all over the main bridge. Morgan winced as if she herself had taken the blows, but then returned fire. Darquin kicked out at the alien ship, joining the Phoenix’s angry reprisal.
Yoshino jumped back from her station as if stung, then looked quickly around the bridge.
Darquin drew up a quick view of Rolui 4’s low orbital space to check on Desell Squadron. To his horror, the seemingly wandering fire from the enemy was heading straight for Desell’s fighters.
Morgan saw the same thing. Abruptly, she shifted her target from the alien ship to the beams themselves — If they were solid and not pure energy, they could be deflected. Morgan’s attack lanced across the space between the enemy and Desell Squadron. When her fire met theirs, it all shattered into wild, fragmented wisps of boiling white plasma.
Two enemy bolts went on falling toward the planet’s surface.
“Target weapons and fire! Stop it before it takes another shot!” Hale cried. Spinning, calling on every weapon in his reach, Darquin began a renewed assault on the enemy’s weapons array.
A sharp chop of the hand gave Yoshino streams of incoming data from the Phoenix and scanner data on the enemy ship. “She’s powering up again!”
“Dios … come on, damn you …” Carlacci was muttering, wrestling with the damaged maneuvering controls, seemingly trying to move the entire bulk of the ship with bare hands.
Cat Rosha heard the Captain over the tac channel. “Desell, cover Storm. Storm, concentrate fire on that weapons array! Fire at will!”
“Acknowledged.” Cat hit her afterburners and led the other Starfuries in, feeding them targeting data. “Storm Pattern Gamma! Check your screens for new data.”
“They don’t seem to see us,” Brenda Mawarra called from Storm Four. “I’m not picking up a weapons-lock.”
“Let’s take ’em while we can, then!” yelled Eddie Kriechbaum from Storm Three.
“You heard the boss,” Cat shouted. “Give it everything you’ve got!”
Above the planet, fire raged. The alien’s weapon spokes burned under the Phoenix attack. Electrical arcs crawled all over the vessel’s fore section. Then it started turning away.
“Tac, don’t let it jump! All fighters, bring those weapons down!”
“Stop that sothach!” Morgan roared. She was emptying missile tubes as fast as they were filled, knowing they wouldn’t last forever.
“Pour it on, people!” Darquin shouted. “We’re not done yet!”
The alien ship bucked under the next volley, lilting, but still trying to move away. The Starfuries of Storm Squadron stayed on its track. Pivoting, twisting, they sent a torrent of plasma cannon fire at the alien ship. The Zen’Thas fighters of Desell Squadron spiraled away from the planet below to join the pursuit.
Manic pale arcs of energy boiled between the aftside spokes of the alien ship. Then the arcs lashed out. Where Storm Squadron had been, one slashed upward, driving the Starfuries out of the plane of battle. They turned in place and fired back, still pulling away. Another arc struck out at the Zen’Thas fighters. They broke and dodged, sliding like tridents on black ice, before returning fire with slicer beams. Scraps of the hull including the end of a weapons spoke rose floated free. Through the clouds of debris, another white-hot arc swung out at the Phoenix.
Darquin called out, “Bridge and Tac, brace for impact!”
“Madre de –”
Carlacci’s invocation was cut off as one side of the bridge exploded. Panels burst into flame. The blow flung chairs and bridge crew to the deck. Circuits poured out in strands of overheated metal. Fragments of hull plating and components turned the Phoenix’s nerve center into the eye of a lethal hurricane. Yoshino, thrown out and prone to the deck, shielded her face with both arms. Instinctively, as her screens flared, Morgan covered her face, pulling her limbs in.
Darquin teetered in the failing anti-grav field around him. Clawing at the air, he set off one last burst of fire on the enemy before shoved backward into the curved walls of his tactical chamber. Unable to catch herself when the anti-grav in her chamber failed, Morgan landed with a loud curse. While the bridge crew were forcing themselves onto their feet, debris was still falling. Yoshino sat up, shook ash out of her ice-white hair. Looking around, she hit her hand link. “I need a healer up here. And damage control! Now!”
Drifting back to the center of his tac chamber, Darquin called out a command. A handful of holo-image windows replaced the diorama of fire, darkness, and blinding static. “The enemy is jumping out! She’s jumping out!”
“Storm Squadron, pull back!” Cat Rosha yelled to her fighters. “We’ll get caught in the backwash!” The Starfuries peeled off at full burn, speeding away from the edges of a burgeoning jump point.
Groaning, Darquin looked up at the flickering holo-images when he heard their voices. “Boss, my eyes are still up,” he called. “I can stay and call in tac info as I get it.”
“Ie!” She stayed at the bottom of her chamber, afraid of what she’d find overhead.
“Two down on the bridge!” Yoshino called to the tac chambers. “Shok’na-li, the Captain is down!” That stirred her. Without stopping to think, she hauled herself up through the hatch.
Morgan slumped out of the tac chamber hatch, anxious to reach the bridge faster than grace could allow. On seeing the devastation on the bridge, she sighed. The sparks of dying circuitry and the shimmer of self-repairing consoles and wall panels broke through the acrid haze. Bridge crew were limping back to their stations. Others were attending their felled shipmates — including Hale and Carlacci — slipping breather masks over their faces. Morgan took some comfort from that. Not much… but some.
“Medlab respond yet?”
“Yes — it may take them some time to reach us.”
Morgan nodded, looked at Yoshino. “Do we have comm still?”
“It’s about the only thing we do have at the moment.”
“Warn the Alliance. Give the information we have, such as it is. We do not know where it is going next.”
“Aye.” Yoshino swept dust and shards off her console and set to work.
Darquin’s voice came over the bridge comm amid bursts of static. “Enemy retreating. Long-range probes have a hyperspace track on her. It’s going back the way it came. It looks like we hit ’em hard. Erratic power readings, probably from their weapons. Engines aren’t running too hard either. I’m scanning for mines or probes.” A chime from the tac chamber interrupted him. “Fighters reporting in. Desell’s taken a beating, but they’re all with us. Requesting to dock.”
“Granted, since the area is clear again.”
“Storm is at full status.” He let out an amused snort. “I don’t think they were even touched.”
A harsh grinding sound came from the main lift doors. A Medlab team was shoving them open and climbing through. Morgan moved out of the team’s way. “Ie.”
Yoshino turned toward Morgan. “Message sent to the Alliance. I have bundled all our tracking data. I –” She paused, setting her fingertips to her earpiece. “I have a message coming in from Rolui …”
She nodded for Yoshino to continue.
Her face, already pale, was now truly ashen. “The House of the Speakers … the entire compound … has been destroyed. By ‘bolts from the sky,’ the Huka are saying.”
Morgan looked up sharply. It crossed her mind: This might be planned, but how? And by who?
ISA Phoenix–“Gates of Delirium, Part 1” © 2005 Joe Medina, Jamie Lawson, Alida Saxon, Leslie McBride Babylon 5 TM and © 2004 Warner Bros.