Defused by a drifting haze of acid smoke, the glaring red of the bridge’s emergency lights flashed as the battle stations siren wailed. Captain Da’von Rai’lyn picked himself up from the deck where he’d been thrown, swiping at the trickle of blood under his nose. A blast from an unseen enemy had rocked his ship, sending his crew tumbling. He gripped the arms of his command seat he looked around to see who was still standing among his bridge team. Most of them were on the floor or slumped over their posts. Injured or… dead.
Av’aline Elo’wen, First Officer and second in command, stood hunched over the Navigation console. Fingers flying over the keyboard, she worked to regain control of the wounded Viper class space cruiser. Next to the Navigation station, the Chief Navigator St’ellan Gam’el lay on the deck, a pool of ruby red blood seeping from under his body. Rai’lyn shook his head to clear the momentary sense of regret at the man’s death before looking around the rest of the bridge. Communications Tech Fl’ynn Tyr’ese sat at comms, trying to bring the ship’s sensors back online; blood dripped down the side of his face from a cut over one eye.
“Kill that fucking alarm now, Tyr’ese!” Rai’lyn ordered the injured man. Without looking at his captain, Tyr’ese nodded, his finger stabbing at a button in front of him. Silence fell over the bridge, broken only by the moans of wounded crew and the crackle of a few small fires still burning.
Rai’lyn scanned the destroyed bridge of his ship. The primary viewing port was black. It and ship sensors had been out since the first blast had stuck the ship. Eyes sweeping over the rest of the bridge, he saw parts of the ceiling had fallen, leaving wires and cables dangling. Most of the ships work stations had cracked screens, several still smoldering from small fires. Of the eight members’ of his bridge crew, two still stood; three were moaning as they got to their feet, another two were alive but looked to be injured. And one was dead.
He had been in command of the Viper class Spacecruiser Ph’oenix for five years, running two year patrols in the Zag’reus sector at the far edge of the Lel’eiona galaxy. In that time, he and his crews had encountered only a few space pirates. Nothing his ship and her crew couldn’t handle. Until now.
Another blast from their unseen enemy impacted somewhere mid ship. The bridge shuddered and the emergency lights flickered overhead. Those still at operating stations glanced up, holding their collective breath until the lights blazed a steady red.
“Captain!” Third Engineer Os’ric Zor’ion’s panicked voice drew Rai’lyn attention to the Engineering station. His face, bathed in flashing red light, appeared pale. “A section of engineering has been breached. The bulkhead doors have been sealed.”
“Status!” Rai’lyn snapped out. Ship functions ran from the engineering deck. Life Support, weapons, scanners, and the ships engines ran from there. When a section was breached, it’d seal itself off from the others and any crew in that area would be lost.
“FTL EmDrive is in that section, Sir,” The young Engineer’s voice quivered. “It’s still operating but at diminished capacity.” He looked at Rai’lyn, his eyes shining with fear. “We could lose it, Captain!”
The Ph’oenix was powered by a faster than light EmDrive, a large cone shaped device. By bouncing microwaves back and forth inside the cone, it created a propellant-less thruster that moved spacecraft at extraordinary speeds. Losing the FTL EmDrive would leave Ph’oenix dead in space, making both the ship and her crew easy targets for their attackers.
Rai’lyn grimaced, “How long do we have, Zor’ion?” He passed his hands over his stinging eyes.
“If the drive continues to degrade at its current rate,” Zor’ion said without looking up from the console in front of him. “We have twenty minutes before complete failure.” He looked up at Tyr’ese, face pale in the red glow of the bridge.
Rai’lyn cursed. He saw the fear in the young crewman’s face. This was Rai’lyn third mission in this region but for the majority of his crew, it was their first one. This part of space was considered to be a safe mission for rookie crews. Dealing with the occasional rogue black-market trader or lost freighter gave them the opportunity to hone the skills they had learned in training. But this? This… most of his crew didn’t have the experience to deal with an attack like this.
“Divert as much power as you can to the forward defense field without affecting life support and the pulsars-” Elo’wen interrupted his command before he finished.
“Sir,” her voice was horse from the smoke drifting in the air. She cleared her throat before speaking again. “Pulsars are offline. That last hit to Engineering took out weapon controls.”
Rai’lyn spun to peer in shock at his First Officer. “All weapons?”
“Aye, Sir,” she replied. “Weapons are all offline.” Unlike the fleets newer ships, the Ph’oenix lacked an auxiliary control room where secondary controls could be used to run ships functions
“Fuck,” Rai’lyn spat. Not only were they close to being dead in space, but they were defenseless, and blind. He looked at Zor’ion again. “Do it.” Zor’ion nodded once before turning back to his terminal. Turning to the communications terminal he frowned at the blood that had slowed but not completely stopped, dripping down the comms officer’s face.
“Any luck on the scanners, Tyr’ese?” If they could get the primary screen on then maybe they could see who was firing on the Ph’oenix. The man lifted one arm grimacing as he wiped blood from his face.
“Engineering re-routed the power from Life Support to the main view screen feed and scanners, sir.” He paused as he worked the buttons on the console in front of him. “We should have visuals right about now-” Tyr’ese looked at the wall sized view port at the front of the bridge. It remained black for seconds before pinpoints of light faded into view. Stars started filling the screen between the webbed cracks.
“Nothing?” Rai’lyn muttered to himself. The port showed nothing but the blackness of space littered with shining stars. He glanced Tyr’ese “Are the scanners showing anything?”
“No, sir,” the man shook his head “scanners are showing nothing-“
“Captain!” Elo’wen snapped from the navigation station. “Ahead of us!” Rai’lyn’s attention jerked back to viewing port. As he watched it, space seemed to simmer and the outline of a ship unlike any he had seen before became visible. A shaft of pale green light shot from the underside of it, streaking toward the injured Ph’oenix. Space simmered again and the enemy ship faded away.
“Brace for impact!” There was a collective gasp from his people as Rai’lyn yelled out the warning. The words had barely left Rai’lyn’s mouth before the beam smacked into the forward defense shield. Everyone on the bridge covered their eyes and cried out in pain as the view screen filled with a blinding green glow. The ship rocked as the energy from the beam impacted against the shields sending those that had managed to regain their feet back to the floor.
“Shields?” Rai’lyn barked as he pulled himself upright with the arms of his chair. A groan answered him from where Zor’ion was attempting to rise. He used the edge of the Engineering console for support and jabbed at a few buttons. “Zor’ion?” Rai’lyn asked again.
“The shields… are gone,” Zor’ion intoned his voice low and resigned. “and Capitan-“ he broke off and turned to face Rai’lyn. “The EmDrive… that last hit we took…” he paused “we have 10 minutes before a complete shutdown.” His assessment met with a stunned silence.
“Explain,” Rai’lyn demanded. “Diverting power from the EmDrive shouldn’t have made it degrade at a faster rate.”
“It didn’t, Sir,” the Engineer acknowledged, “but that last shot caused the shields to pull more power to counteract it.” He turned to observe the reading on the station’s screen. “It’s like something in that green beam triggered the response.”
Everyone grew silent and the air became heavy with certainty that they were all going to die. Rai’lyn closed his eyes and ran a hand through his short hair. He had to do something… anything… to try and save what the rest of his crew.
“Av’aline,” he turned to his First Officer, the quiet use of her first name telling. “Survivors?” She nodded once as she moved to the Life Support station, running her fingers over the panel there.
“Life Support shows sixteen crewmembers scattered throughout the ship, Sir.” Her voice was study, masking her emotions. She’d been with Da’von Rai’lyn since he had taken command of the Ph’oenix five years ago. At one point she had imagined herself in love with him. Her feelings had changed over time in the confines of the ship and the years they had served together. Now he stood, when not aboard ship, has her best friend.
“Prepare to evacuate,” Rai’lyn gave the order in firm voice. “Alert all remaining crew that they have two minutes to find and secure themselves into Life Pods. We will be launching pods in three minutes.” He watched as Elo’wen programed the onboard computer to deliver the evac order. “Send a burst status update and our current coordinates to the nearest Lel’eiona star base.” Elo’wen didn’t look at him as her fingers danced over the console. When she finished Rai’lyn cleared his throat.
“Clear the bridge and report to a Life Pod.” The crew didn’t move. “Go.”
“And you, Captain?” Elo’wen asked. “We won’t go without you.” There was a stubborn note in her voice. “As a member of the royal family we won’t-“Rai’lyn interrupted her.
“And as captain of the Ph’oenix and member of the royal family,” their eyes locked as he stated in a firm voice. “It’s my duty to see everyone left gets safely off this ship.” He held up a hand as Elo’wen tried to interrupt. “I’ll be right behind you.” Elo’wen’ s lips tightened but she nodded. “Now move!” he added. The crew moved toward the door to the corridor where the Life Pods for this section of the ship were.
Each pod held two crewmembers for up to thirty days with reduced life support. Once launched the pods would chill until the occupants were hardly breathing, then a sleeping agent would be pumped into the pod, putting both occupants into stasis. After launching, the pods would be drawn together by a low magnetic pulse, forming a larger connected unit, then a homing signal on a tight beam would be automatically broadcast to the nearest Lel’eiona base station. A ship would then be sent to recovery the pods.
Rai’lyn followed his bridge crew as they scurried to where the Life Pods were waiting to launch. They spilt into pairs and one at a time, grabbing the bar over each pod opening slid into place. Rai’lyn peered into each pod. “Goddess Be With You,” he uttered the old blessing as he sealed each hatch. Each pod auto launched thirty seconds after closing.
“EmDrive failure in ninety seconds.” The mechanical voice of the ship’s computer intoned. Da’von had switched the computer to automatic before leaving the bridge. As he grabbed the bar over one of the remaining pods and paused, taking a last glance toward the bridge. With a disgruntled sigh he slid into his pod, thumbing the door closure pad just inside the opening. Da’von settled into the pod’s seat and the soft hiss of the sleeping agent filled the space. As his eyes grew heavy he thought of the bodies of his fallen crew left behind on the Ph’oenix. They deserved better than to be entombed on a dead ship floating in space. With a dull bang, his pod shot into the darkness of space, sprinting away from Ph’oenix, now dead and drifting in space. Within seconds of launching, the Ph’oenix’s computer whispered through the pod’s open commlink.
“EmDrive failure in ten seconds.” As the Life Pods completed the stasis procedure, closing ranks and forming a cluster, the Ph’oenix seemed to glow from within. Her battered hulls expanded, before being sucked inward as a massive implosion shattered the ship into a million pieces.
A short distance away, the attacking ship shimmered into view. Its size dwarfed the knot of life pods. The cluster had a few self-defense capabilities but those would be useless against the larger vessel. Before the enemy could fire on the survivors, an ominous red beam washed over the ship from above, turning it bright red. It didn’t explode; it just… crumbled until only a haze of tiny particles filled the area it once occupied. As the destructive beam faded, it was replaced by a white shaft of light that encompassed the cluster of drifting pods. They glowed eerily for a few seconds before fading from sight, leaving no sign that they had ever been there in the cold blackness of space.