A myriad of flashes and brilliant explosions lit up the dark side of Anrak.
Looking from afar, I watched as the swarms of fighters and bombers moved as one to shatter the Massive Planetary Rings of the doomed moon. The miniscule looking strike craft seemed of little threat to the rings but as a swarm of wasps they darted here and there amongst the blazing guns. A brighter glow emanating every now and then from the frantic tumult of ships, an even fight if one was to make an observation but looks were deceptive. Three leviathans shadowed the moon, keeping far enough away from the weaponry of the planetary rings, they waited patiently as a pack of predators would, stalking a wounded beast ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
Looking away, I thought back to the weeks of being chased across the galaxy, landing and then jumping away from seven worlds always pursued and each time we landed we were so sure that they wouldn’t find us there that our friends in the Calistan Alliance would keep us hidden but somehow we were always found. The Alliance was made up of thirteen sovereign systems in the Calista galaxy. We had brought an end to countless tyrannies and barbarian empires but our dominance was coming to an end.
We had been chased by a race we knew as Rakers, a name that came about because of how they always made a “RakaRaka” sound to their fellows by clicking their tongues. They were the deadliest enemy we had come up against to date and were suspected to be from another galaxy, though it is curious that, aside from their grey skin and colourless eyes, they shared generally the same resemblance as human beings.
Human or not they had been waiting and growing in our galaxy for twenty years in the outer rim regions where colonies and scouts of the Alliance were sparse.
I looked at the holographics of the galaxy; its calm blue shine was in stark contrast to the hell that was being unleashed. Of the thirteen sovereigns that watched over Calista, all but eight were under the complete dominance of the Rakers.
The ship shuddered as its warp engines were activated. It was suddenly pulled into motion, the scene of the doomed moon blinked out view.
“Captain Alders, we'll be arriving at Ineverus in 6 hours,” said the onboard AI.
“Good, what's the damage to the ship?”
"Engineers have sealed off compromised sections two through eight; 67% of starboard armour and hull armour impaired; overall weaponry is listed as one Ion cannon, twelve anti-strike craft laser turrets and four ion phasers."
The Resolute normally had five ion cannons, two on the hull and three on the deck; thirty laser turrets plastered all over the ship and twenty ion phasers decked out in rows on the sides and four twin barreled plasma turrets. To others the Resolute would look like any old battleship, a rather long blocked shaped vessel smoothed out round the edges but to me, it was a beauty. Powerful and agile if you knew how to use it
“All that in five minutes of battle….”
The fleet I was once a part of consisted of twenty battleships, now all that was left was three, the Aegis, the Vengeance and my own ship the Resolute. All three vessels had been cruelly mauled, a stern reminder that we had escaped where others had not.
“Bring the captains on screen,” I said.
The bridge had a 180 degree view of space around it and was located on the deck of the ship. Captain Yens of the Aegis and Tiuren of the Vengeance appeared in holographics on the deck in front of me. Circular light panels above and below were what illuminated them and gave them shape, here the light panels showed a stern Yens and a furrow browed Tiuren.
Tiuren spoke first, “I don’t like the look of this plan Lucas, putting all our eggs into one basket. Not a clever move from command, those Raker bastards could wipe us all out in one shot.”
“Agreed, but they are adamant that we gather?” asked Yens.
"Yes, and I've been assured that this base is hidden from them so chances are that we'll be well within safety," I replied, though I said this more to reassure myself.
“We will see,” Yens said doubtfully.
“Anyhow, gentlemen, I called you here to bring to your attention the operation being carried out from Ineverus, currently the alliance has gathered what is left of our forces excluding the vessels defending our remaining worlds. A hundred or so assorted capital class ships have gathered, which includes our last remaining Leviathan, the Alexander, and tens of thousands of cruisers and light class stellar vessels. Now they're going to be branching out on raids to enemy worlds and of the 136 worlds we once held we've only got 79 under our firm hold. We haven’t been informed by command of what we'll be doing or where we will be stationed but chances are that we'll be sidelined for repairs. Commodore Locklen with his dreadnought Proteus, will be taking comm–“
“The Locklen who single-handedly liberated region 55? He seems a bit over qualified to lead our rag tag group,” Tiuren said looking at me with mild skepticism.
“Yes, the very same and he'll be taking over command of this fleet when we arrive,” I replied, “so in the 6 hours that we have before arrival I suggest we get some rest.”
"Captain", Yens and Tiuren said as they saluted.
Their holographic figures flickered off, though we were of the same rank I was technically their superior due to my longer service time in the CSF. Mulling over questions I would need to answer when we arrived I went to the bridgehead scanning the world of space before me. I looked on at this one star system as it steadily moved across the bridge screen. Its red aura illuminated the bridge and everyone in it.
“Captain we're thirty minutes away from destination”, said the onboard AI.
“That's cutting it close Arty, why didn’t you wake me earlier?” I asked.
“My scanners indicated that you needed adequate rest to be aptly able to perform your duties as captain, had you not…”
“Never mind,” waving away the almost too certain lecture that AIs were known to spout, “anything happen while I was under?”
“No captain, ship's status has remained the same since departure from Anrak 7.”
“Alright then Arty, I'll be up shortly.”
Rubbing my eyes I realised that this was the first time I'd slept in 2 days. A relief perhaps, but I'll be missing Anrak; it was a home away from home. I slipped into my military issue uniform and wiped the bleariness from my eyes. Placing a medal here and there with a check of my short black hair, I had a good long look and deemed myself presentable.
By the time I was finished and up on deck we were mere seconds away from arriving at Ineverus, located in region 24, a region in the mid rim of Calista.
As the ship slowed down, the Vengeance and Aegis cruised at a steady pace alongside. What greeted the crew of all three ships was a gathering unlike any that they had seen before; a mass of vessels arrayed before them. It ranged from the miniscule one man fighter to the colossal super structure that was the Alexander.
A gravelly voice echoed on the bridge, “State your ship name and pass code, do so within one minute or you will be fired upon.”
“This is Captain Alders of the CSF Resolute formerly of the Anrak Guards, sending pass codes to you now,” he replied.
“Checking… welcome to the fleet Captain, I'm second Lieutenant Rias, seems like command wants to see you and the other captains in person so I'll be escorting you to the Alexander. Just follow the corvette V13 sir.”
Communications cut off and the three weaved through the traffic.
“Well, Alders, have you ever seen something like this before?” asked Marus Haines, my First Lieutenant.
“Nice to see you out of the sick bay and no I've never seen anything like this, well… I haven’t seen anything like this up close”, I replied.
As he said that, the Alexander loomed into the view screen of the bridge and its true size was revealed. At eleven kilometers long it dwarfed most ships that cruised by it and the Resolute's meager two kilometer length was nothing in comparison as it sidled up against the city-size warship. The Leviathan had twin engines on its rear with its bridge a little ahead on the deck. What made up most of the ship was a long deck which slanted diagonally on both sides. The deck held the main armament of the ship, a massive high intensity photon cannon and hundreds of guns and cannons of all calibers. A hangar bay cut through the middle of the ship horizontally with two smaller hangar bays at the very front of the ship and in total they could house a garrison of four thousand strike craft.
"Prepare the shuttle for boarding; I'm going to meet with Admiral Kadrick and get Second and Third Lieutenants Dasel and Parma to fill you in on what's been happening, you'll be in command of my ship while I’m away but don’t get too comfortable," I said with a smile.
As the shuttle ferried me over to the Alexander I looked back at my own ship. Most of its left side was scarred or burned to a crisp. A huge gash could be seen along its length, as if a clawed hand had dug into its side trying to prevent escape. The hangar bay located in the middle of the ship, though deemed serviceable, was still badly in need of repairs. The battleship was the smallest class of capital ship in the Calistan Stellar Fleet and was the model that gave a starting shape to firstly the Dreadnoughts, Titans and finally the Leviathans. Battleships were a dying breed in any modern star fleet but they did shine out on occasion.
The Resolute in particular was an old vessel that had utilized technologies and weaponry from the old days of the CSF, though much of the ship is now upgraded to suit the needs of current warfare.
I was the last to enter the command center, Yens was looking emotionless as usual and Tiuren seemed strangely subdued.
"Captain, welcome aboard," said Admiral Kadrick as his hands fiddled their way through the holographic projection of the Galaxy. His thumb and index finger held a tiny world coloured in red.
"Anrak fell around five hours ago," the Admiral said," the enemy paid dearly for taking the world."
"Sir," I replied.
"You do realise that you disobeyed a direct order to defend it?"
I didn’t say anything and stared blankly ahead. Tiuren broke his timid silence and said, "But sir, he sav…"
"Speak only when you're spoken to Tiuren, I don’t care whether your father's on the council, I'll still have you scrubbing the floors as an ensign if you speak out of turn", he said in a dangerously calm tone, but his eyes were still concentrated on the graphics of the galaxy.
Then I spoke, "we were ordered to die sir… I saw no reason for us to follow such an order."
Kadrick looked sharply at Alders, "and so you believe that you're special? That suddenly the rules do not apply to you? That risking your life is not part of the job?"
"I did what was necessary; to save the lives of my crew and to continue the fight wherever we could but not through some hopeless engagement," I said.
"Those are some brave… and I hope… honest words Alders, and I'll give you the chance to put some substance behind them in the near future. The politicians don’t know what they are saying when it comes to military decisions and Anrak was another triumph of their stupidity over their common sense," he shook his head, "they think that playing this little war of attrition is going to pay off eventually, that we'll win a miraculous victory in a week!" He chuckled mirthlessly.
The Admiral looked hard at the table which lighted the galaxy holograph, neither Yens nor Tiuren wanted to say anything but we all agreed with the old admiral's words and then seemingly out of the shadows Locklen stepped up to the right of Kadrick. Kadrick wasn’t even surprised.
"Captains this is Commodore Locklen. He'll be accompanying you to the shipyards and repair stations of Janus – an asteroid in the red dwarf system of region 10 – it'll take you only a few hours to arrive with our jump gate systems on Ineverus. I will leave you to it now gentlemen, I have a fleet to run," he said as he nodded towards Locklen.
Kadrick moved away and Locklen said with a smile," It's an honour to meet you in person gentlemen now as you have just been told we'll be shortly moving off to Janus to repair or as in my case to take onboard a fresh set of crew members but firstly…"
Travelling through jump gates had a peculiar effect on people; some gained extra sensory perception as if their minds were separated from their bodies or an annoyingly acute sense of hearing and so on; others, laughably, just threw up.
I always felt more at ease whenever we went through a gate and I wasn’t in the least bit phased by the tremendous speeds we were traveling at, none of it seemed to bother me. I left the bridge and went for a stroll to my quarters; there wasn’t much to do during our periods of travel so many of my crew would either run up checks to make sure systems were functioning normally or sleep. For me, walking helped to ease my mind.
"Captain," a group of marines said as I walked by, saluting me.
The hallways that lined the ship were plated in a luminescent white which glowed in recognition of times of day or alerts. When it was time to retire, the hallways would dim down to a luminous grey. When battle stations were called for, it would glow a dim red. I reached the door of my quarters, did the necessary eye and handprint recognition and walked in. I saw lines of holographic words left on my desk. It was an overview of the ships crew. I looked down at the list on active duty, a long list but it was still short of the original 3200 crew with 96 in the medical ward and sick bay and 297 killed in action. The ship had a compliment of close around four hundred rated officers consisting of the captain of the ship and commanders of the marines, lieutenants, midshipman and pilots. Half of the crew was non-combat oriented and consisted of engineers, technicians, doctors, logistics officers and those who occupied miscellaneous jobs. Then there were the marines who amounted to 1200 in strength for repelling boarders, ground deployment or boarding an enemy ship. The Resolute was capable of holding a maximum of 4500 crew and passengers but those were only when a situation called for it.
My quarters were a bland mix of white and dark blue colours, a somewhat Spartan environment. I didn’t really believe in luxury or being 'comfortable' as most captains did but I allowed myself to sample some of the privileges I was accorded. My room had a stunning view of the stars and I usually sat down in front of it with a glass of Anracian wine.
The bridge held station most of the command crew; ten navigations officer who calculated the route of destinations; seven communications officers; the first to third lieutenants and two pilots to steer the large battleship out of harm's way and of course the AI who was the keys to the car. The AI's purpose was to connect with other CSF vessels for proper coordination of a fleet; held all the star charts in the galaxy and the locations of all Calistan Alliance worlds as well as providing advice in battle. The AI is also supposed to inform on the possible unstable mental health of a crew member as doctors could only do so much. I remember when I was just a lieutenant, one of my fellow lieutenants and a close friend of mine went insane and murdered five people by sucking them out through an airlock. I had journeyed with him for some years and I didn’t notice anything strange about the man before this occurred. It was eventually realised that he suffered from Depth syndrome.
It occurs when traveling in deep space for long periods of time and made the affected person paranoid, hostile or downright insane. Strangely enough the AI did not notice my friend's condition and still classified him as 'sane' when they threw him in the loony bin.
As I was musing on this Second Lieutenant Dasel spoke," We've arrived at Janus sir."
I answered with a nod and locked the ships course to follow the Proteus while my fellow captains on either side did the same. Our ships closed in on the orbital station of the asteroid base and witnessed dozens of vessels being repaired and attached onto outstretched strips of the shipyard. In the distance I could see several titans under construction; titans were huge but not up to the standard of a leviathan but at least four times as powerful as a dreadnought; not even the Proteus with its far heavier weaponry than our own battleships could last in a one on one fight with a titan.
An unfamiliar voice sounded on the bridge, "this is OB31 prepare for docking."
– Not even a greeting; things must be hectic over there – I thought as a port and bridge opened up to the undamaged side of the Resolute.
"Captain," the AI said, "incoming transmission from CSF Proteus."
A holographic figure of Locklen appeared with Tiuren and Yens on either side of him. He had a somewhat cheerful demeanour.
"Alders, nice of you to join us," greeted Locklen, "Your ships are to be attached to the Janus shipyards; the commander in charge has an army of engineers and repair bots so your vessels will probably be combat ready in around a week, maybe less. I will go on Janus itself to oversee the reshuffling of my crew so until all that's done sit tight and relax."
"So we're just going to do… nothing?" Tiuren said with not the least hint of liking in his voice.
"Indeed you are Captain Tiuren and if you want to stay a Captain you'll tuck that attitude away," and he left it at that, his figure shimmering to nothing.
"Authority always has a problem with me doesn’t it?" Tiuren said.
Yens, ignoring Tiuren’s insubordinate remark, said, "I'll meet you gentlemen in the Officer's lounge." And at that, both Tiuren and Yens faded away on the light pads.
"This is scout vessel X21 I'm reporting some unusual activity near the blue giant of sector 11."
"X21 please specify."
"Its some anomaly sir, haven't seen anything like it…"
"Stand by we're scanning."
"There are… shapes… objects coming out the center of it."
"X21 I advise that you keep your distance."
"Sir, something massive is coming out of it… can't make out what it is but… ah shit, they're coming straight my way, starting up eng –" Static.
"X21 do you read? X21?"
Onboard the CSF Acies, "they're not responding Commander."
"Keep trying; transmit what the scouter saw to Janus and we'll remain on station to see what knocked X21 out."
"Um sir… our transmitters are unable to reach out on any channel."
The AI spoke before the commander could respond, "Unknown fleet homing in on Aesir's position Commander Seran."
"How did they… never mind, how long do we have?"
"Approximately 6 seconds."
"Get those coordinates punched up for Janus; we'll fight a delaying action until we can –"
Eighty sleek ships entered into the view screen of the cruiser.
"– get away…"
The small craft formed themselves into a dome with the hollowed out base facing the cruiser. They looked like the equivalent of a regular CSF corvette but their structuring was… different. The corvettes speed and relatively small size would be difficult to hit but with them in such large numbers hitting them wouldn’t be a problem it was just surviving them.
"Get those turrets and cannons charged up, we're going to have one hell of a run."
"Enemy formation 20 degrees to starboard."
"Have the ship's head at 160 degrees to port, pilot."
The cruiser shifted its position so that its engines faced the corvettes and its head looked out into empty space.
"At my command I want the forward hull thrusters blasted at maximum and main engines at 25 percent power."
A white light illuminated the opposing forces as a passing comet drifted nearby. The corvettes moved in for the kill. The cruiser remained passive with its engines in a dead glow. But as soon as the corvettes came into range of the Acie’s guns, the cruiser burst into life as it did a full upward loop with its head smashing through the cluster of small ships. The corvettes were surprised by their adversary's boldness and failed to act for a few seconds.
Splashes of irradiated white plasma shattered the dense formation of ships. The cruiser's weapons fought to keep the now reinvigorated corvettes at bay. Small explosions lighted the dark with corvettes and parts of the cruiser being ripped apart. Beams of laser and shots of plasma were exchanged, some completely missing their mark and spiraling off into darkness.
The guns of the cruiser fired every which way it could, as one after another the corvettes succumbed.
“I want that plasma turret taking out those three corvettes on our tail, can't have them knocking out the engines.”
From another corner of the bridge, “Get those sectors closed off!”
The twin barreled turret curtly aimed at one of the three corvettes and fired five salvoes. The white shots sped through space and flashed brightly against the corvettes armour and then seared through their hulls. The turret itself was destroyed as a swarm of corvettes targeted and destroyed it. Debris thudded across the hull as a corvette got blasted in front, but the enemy vessels in the rear had only been damaged and red streams of laser lashed the engines.
"We just need more time," the commander muttered to herself. But just as she was saying this a huge tremor shook the ship.
"What the hell was that!?"
"The engines sir, they're gone."
The corvettes, seeing the cruiser no longer accelerating, strafed the vessel. Small explosions and impact quakes rattled the ship as it was steadily battered down, screams of terror could be heard as sections of the cruiser were ripped wide open flushing people out to certain death.
"We've lost our shields and sectors 4 to 9 are reporting breaches. All our heavy guns are inoperable and only three laser turrets are active."
The corvettes, created a circular perimeter around the stricken cruiser, no longer afraid of any death dealing blasts from the now tattered defenses. Behind the reinforced glass, the crew of the Acies looked on with dread etched on their faces.
“What are they doing?”
As if in answer the corvettes fired what seemed like grappling hooks into the cruiser, dragging themselves closer to the beleaguered ship.
“All hands prepare to repel boarders!” Shouted the First Lieutenant into the comms array.
Seran turned to Lieutenant Pythes, “if it looks like the ship is going to fall into their hands, don’t hesitate to get out and activate the self-destruct.”
“But what about you sir?”
“A captain goes down with her ship.”
This story was submitted by Dylan Charles for the AE Stories Event. Find Details on sending your own Story here.