DarkPhoenix141 wrote:I love how this is still going on for several years after the fact.
Job and other writing projects get in the way, and on my best day I'm not a particularly swift writer. I've found it nice to keep coming back to over these two years.
A few minutes and a tiny bit more intoxication later, the briefing room door slid open, and Toh entered. The Federation-issue chairs were modular in design, and could be modified to better suit the different member races, and Toh sat in one that had been broadened to accommodate his massive frame.
“How’d your research go?” Brant asked. Rock scriptures were just about the only literature with references to the Lanius, and she’d tasked him with boning up on what the texts actually said. The hope was that some sort of useful intel might be gleaned.
“Oh, great,” he said flatly. “According to a close reading of the Tablets of Hof, Lanius craft have a fatal flaw in their weakness to ion weaponry. They favor heavy laser weapons and boarding with teams of four.”
“Whoa – really?” Brant asked, excited.
“Frack, no,” Toh said. “What did you expect? All we’ve got is folklore, fifteenth-hand accounts told by people who had no idea what a spaceship was. Even a lot of our faithful think the Lanius are just a metaphor, not literal demons.”
“And you?” 78 asked. Ordinarily 78 was fairly sensitive about the concept of faith, but he was high now and Brant thought she could hear a sneer in his voice.
“Well…” Toh took a long moment before continuing. Brant read it as embarrassment. “See, it’s complicated. In scripture, they devoured the crystal race and all their wealth because the crystals got too warlike, and they’re prophesied to return for the rest of us if we can’t learn peace. And here’s the thing: we know there really was a crystal race from a few sites on our home world, even a tomb with one of them preserved in it. We just thought they were omens from the Shaper for our first few millennia, but once we got advanced enough, we realized it was old aliens with high tech. We expected that when we got up into space, we’d find evidence of a whole galactic civilization destroyed by war. And you know what we found?”
The strange, complete lack of evidence of older spacefaring peoples was common knowledge. “Diddly?” said Brant.
Toh nodded. “Diddly. Not one derelict ship, not one ruin, not one bit of unknown debris to be found in the whole fracking galaxy – not a single physical record of the crystals or any other elder species.”
78 whirred. “Wait – wait – rock home world has preserved corpse of crystal organism?”
Brant shook her booze-addled head. That actually was pretty astonishing. This was the first hard evidence of any elder race she’d ever heard of.
“Oh, yeah. No faith required: they were real, most certainly. We might even be their descendants or their experiments or something, but testing confirms they’re a different species. So where’d they go? That’s what no one can figure. There’s a dozen and a half ways a galactic civilization could collapse, sure, but for all their stuff to vanish? That boggles the mind. If these really are the Lanius we’re facing here, then I believe the stories that they’re eating ships if nothing else. It’s the only explanation that rings true for me where all the elder races went.”
“Hm. Can work with that, perhaps,” 78 said. “Perhaps cover ship in foul-tasting coating? Some sort of old aggressive cheese, perhaps.” Toh stared quietly at 78 and Brant stifled a laugh. “Joking! Joking. Predilections unknown. Coating might only make ship more delicious to Lanius palette. No. Still joking. Nevermind.” 78’s face screen scrambled for a moment, and he slumped forward a bit. “Erm. Too many toxchips.”
The door opened again, and Ahab and Karl walked in.
“You a scotch guy, Karl?” Brant asked.
“The Fleet Admiral’s a fracking machine
?” Karl demanded.
Toh nearly fell out of his chair, his gaze shifting from Karl to Brant. “The Fleet Admiral
is a fracking MACHINE
Brant looked in front of her on the table, where she had a little checklist of the things they had to discuss at this meeting. She crossed off “Tell everyone the Rebel Fleet Admiral is a machine,” and got down to business.
Twenty-four hours later, they arrived in the Magna Sector.
There was only death there.
The Kestrel phased out of jump state, and immediately klaxons blared an alert on the bridge. It was just Brant and Toh there, all other hands at their stations.
“Debris field, captain!” Toh shouted.
?” Brant shouted back. As if in answer to her question, a soft plink
chimed through the ship as some large piece of metal collided with the shields and bounced off. Debris at a hub, though? That was practically unheard-of. They were critical to the entire galactic community, and the countless pacts and treaties protecting them had to be respected for at least one reason: every major power in the galaxy would come after you if you damaged one.
The initial scans started coming in, popping up as holo-images in front of Brant.
“Christ almighty…” Brant whispered.
It was a graveyard. A dozen, two dozen, three dozen ships, drifting lifeless in the space around the hub. Freighters, civilian ships, light warships, all of various design and markings. Even after the Rebels moved in, there had been a lot of diversity in the Magna Sector, including some zoltan heritage sites, a lesser engi hive, a few interspecies colonies. And all that diversity was reflected in the wrecks around them.
Ozzog was right: there had still been a few people left alive in the sector. It looked like they’d made a run for it. And they hadn’t made it.
Brant had seen her share of ship wreckage in her day, of course. But…this was a lot of dead ships at a site that was supposed to be a sanctuary. She felt chills.
“Charge engines to get us the frack out of here,” she said through intercom to 78.
“If I may, captain, I don’t think there’s reason for undue concern,” Ahab keyed in. Another plink
against the shields.
“If I crap my pants at the thought of the fleet that did this, I’d hardly call that undue
concern,” Brant said.
“I surmise we’re looking at the fleet that did this,” Ahab said. “Look at the Torus wreckage…yes, note the scar running up its side, how it starts at a uniform shallowness and then suddenly deepens? It pierced shields enough to knock them out, then ran unhindered up the hull. If I didn’t find gambling degenerate and wasteful, I’d bet my coat that that a standard-model Halberd did that.”
Brant magnified the image of the Torus, and found herself agreeing with the assessment.
“And ah – the Judicator over there has a Halberd!” Ahab declared.
“And it’s peppered randomly with laser bursts, like from that Torus’s attack drones…” Brant trailed off.
Karl keyed in. “I DON’T GET IT. I
Brant cringed and snatched her earpiece out. She saw Toh spasm in his seat. She shook her head and held the piece a few inches from here ear.
“Karl, turn your goddam volume down!” Toh shouted.
There was static over the line as Karl fiddled with his earpiece. “Sorry, still getting used to this thing…uh, I don’t get it. Why fight each other this close to escape?”
“This is a low-traffic hub, only able to accommodate a few ships a day,” Brant explained. “And when you force heavily-armed people to stand in line in high-stress situations…”
“…ah,” Karl said. “Yeah, I think I get it now. How does that change the plan from ‘get the hell out of here,’ though? A debris field’s a pretty dangerous place to hang around, with or without apocalypse demons.”
against the shield, as if in agreement.
“Right you are, and your top priority is still getting that engine ready to jump as soon as it’s able. But we can hold out here for a while, and we’ve got to make the most of it…” Brant entered some commands into her chair console, and began scanning through the wrecks around her to see if any still had life signs. She didn’t expect any: this had most likely been a desperate fight to get out of the sector quickly, and any survivors would have made repairs or crowded into shuttles and done just that. She was so sure of this assumption, in fact, that she almost missed the one little blip that did come up. Plink, plink.
An alert sounded; shields were down.
Brant cursed. “Brace for impact! And can we please try not to hit every fracking piece of
The ship rocked as Toh took it through some drastic maneuvers. The grav compensators kept everyone from becoming stains on the wall as the Kestrel careened about and made sudden changes at thousands of kilometers an hour, but they weren’t perfect.
“You want to take over, captain?” Toh asked. He remained focused completely on his piloting, but Brant could hear the frustration in his voice. A second later, the shields regenerated and Brant breathed in. She double-checked the life signs she’d detected and thought the situation over.
“8, take a look at that freighter. Am I seeing this wrong, or is there a survivor over there?”
The commander didn’t need to think it over. “Most certainly. Signs are synthetic, and atypical. Assessment: wounded engi.”
Brant nodded. She pressed a button on her chair to open a hailing frequency. “Attention, freighter – this is the Aquila-4 of the Galactic Federation. If you require aid, we can assist you in evacuating this space. Please respond.”Plink.
“Oh, Shaper’s balls…” Toh muttered.
Nothing from the ship. Brant drummed her fingers against her chair, then stood and started walking off the bridge.
“No answer. Its shields and life support are still active, but that ship is dead in the water. Might have comm troubles. New plan. 8, keep hailing them and see if they respond. Toh and Karl, keep us out of the way of this debris. Ahab, hit the tractor beam and grab whatever worthwhile scrap you can from this field.”
“Have bad feeling where you’re going with this,” the commander said over the line.
Brant broke into a jog down the corridor. “I’m going over there.”
“Bad feeling: justified!” 78 squealed. “Requesting permission to board with you, or instead of you! Fellow engi might…
“Denied. The transport can only handle two, and I need you on shields.”
Ahab chimed in. “I’m inclined to agree with the commander, captain. The risk seems hard to justify just to save one unknown sailor.”
“If you’ve got a more reliable source on what the Lanius are capable of, I’d love to hear it,” Brant shot back. “All those refugees we talked to had cleared out before these things had become much more than rumors. Our guy over there has survived longer in the sector, and we may not have another chance to learn what we’re actually up against. That justification enough?”
Ahab sighed. “Roger. But I would still rather get out of here as soon as possible.”
“No argument there. Beam me back as soon as possible, whether I’ve got this guy or not.” Brant looked at her wrist unit and checked the readings. It looked like the engines would be ready in five minutes. The transporter would need eight to recharge. She’d consider them lucky if the ship even made it five minutes without taking damage from all this debris, and that could quickly turn ugly if their shields or engines got banged up.
As she stepped into the transporter room, she swiped a few commands into her wrist unit. “Transferring power from beam cannon to transporter,” she called out to the crew. That would shave a few minutes off the recharge time. They’d also be at a disadvantage in a fight, but the scans had been pretty conclusive that no functional ships were in the area.
Beam in, find the engi, beam out. Be out of this sector in five minutes. That was the plan. Plink, plink.
“…well, it’s not getting any safer,” she said to herself, and she stepped onto the teleporter.