“Sir, exiting subspace now.”
“Hot dam. . . .” Lt. Kari mutters as a battle unfolds on her sensor plot. Outside the Leviathan-class cruiser, lasers and cannons fire madly as missiles and flak light the darkness of space. On her plot, a wave of Basilisk- and Dragon-class destroyers crash against an equally formidable wall of the enemy’s Demon- and Relsh-class ships. As the bridge watches, the Gaians break off their attack as the Shelkn wall cruses more than half of them.
“Dear God,” a tactician officer whispers as crippled ships run into subspace, leaving the others to face the oncoming wave of Shelkn destroyers. Slowly, the green contact signatures disappear until only one remains.
Captain Helsh watches the viewscreen as a single Dragon-class destroyer breaks through the line of enemy ships. Triguns, beam cannons, and turrets flare madly as she returns fire to those engaged with her.
Helsh acts quickly. “Get me the name of that ship as well as a link.”
“Aye sir!” shouts a young ensign, going about his new task. Already the deck vibrates as the Peacefinder engages a small Cain-class cruiser.
“Sir! It’s the Desertrunner. Comm link open now, sir.”
“Admiral Lish, are you all right?”
“What the hell do you think? We’re just eating ice cream and cake over here. Want to join us?”
Helsh smirks at the admiral’s reply. “Sir, come to point six-eight-one left down; we’ll meet you there.” The noise on the other bridge intensifies as alarms go off; then, “Understood. Desertrunner out.”
Helsh looks down at the navigations officer. The man salutes and says, “Six-eight-one left down, aye sir.” A Rakshema-class cruiser shudders on their viewscreen as missiles slam into its engines. The burning hulk sinks beneath the Peacefinder as it plows through a field of expanding atmosphere and scrap metal, the roar of weapons ringing in everyone’s ears as the sound crosses the debris field.
The Desertrunner reaches the meetpoint just as three bright lights herald the coming of Demon-class destroyers, eager to rip the damaged Dragon apart.
“This is bullshit!” Helsh looks up at Kari’s outburst. She notices his cocked eyebrow and says, “Sir, we are arriving at the meetpoint, but there is no way we can take on three Demons!” Helsh sighs. “Call for fighter and bomb escorts; we can’t leave the Desertrunner.”
Already missiles scream toward the Demons, shattering armor plating and ripping apart vital systems. The tactician looks up and shakes his head. “Not even good enough, sir. Reading a two percent drop in hull integrity for that destroyer.”
Helsh shakes his head and turns to the communications officer. “Tell the Desertrunner to make for the nearest safe zone. All hands full ahead!”
The eight-thousand-ton cruiser speeds forward, spewing missiles, laser, and flak. Three thirty-four-thousand-ton destroyers fire back at the Peacefinder in one violent wave.
The cruiser tries desperately to evade the deadly attack, reaction thrusters lighting its hull, but is too slow. The bridge shakes violently as the ship absorbs part of the attack, shields flaring. The crew drops to the deck as a missile slams into the forward shield quadrant, the explosion ripping through and tearing the hull apart.
Helsh hears a strangled curse above the alarms and explosions as his own voice shouts, “Jump out now!”
Slowly the proximity alarms fade as more and more of the Peacefinder slides into the blessed abyss of subspace.
As the last thud of weapon-fire fades from the deck at their feet, Helsh looks around the bridge. The communications officer lies on his back, blood seeping from a hole in his chest. Looking at his console, Helsh notices the sharp protrusion, slick with blood.
* * *
Slowly, the Peacefinder regains a sense of stability. Kari walks up to Helsh and salutes. “Sir, we are about to transit back into real space.” Helsh nods and looks at his display. “We need to find a repair yard as fast as possible. As soon as we exit, get to work, lieutenant.”
* * *
The ship slides out of subspace, surrounded by a halo of light. The young communications ensign looks up and nods—the distress signal had been sent. Damage reports pile in, and Helsh sighs as deck after deck is declared uninhabitable.
“Sir! Message from Command. We have seven wings of fighters coming to reinforce us!”
Helsh nods thoughtfully as a crew of techs, in suits, move toward a damaged lift.
“Multiple contacts! Oh God, bombers!”
“Shields up! Gun crews at the ready!” The ships thrums with activity as personnel scramble to their stations.
“Sir, shields unresponsive. And weapons at twenty percent too.”
Helsh curses under his breath. “Bring engines to full power. We’re running.” The Peacefinder plows forward, straining to escape the oncoming bombers.
As the cruiser reaches eight hundred meters per second, a massive rumble shakes the ship, and it drops to barely twenty-seven, throwing everyone forward.
“What the hell happened?”
“Fires all over engineering. We can climb to one hundred seventy, but that’s it.” Helsh sighs, “Give is another minute; then we need to run for subspace.” The crew nods and silent prayers go out for those fighters to arrive.
As the bombers close the gap, the tactical officer says, “Sir, we need to leave. They’re carrying Armageddon-class nukes. Any one of those bombs will eliminate us.”
“Then get us the hell out of here!”
* * *
An ensign walks up and salutes. “Captain, the shields are operational and engineering has been pieced together. Weapons are still under fifty percent though.”
Helsh shakes his head. “You guys have worked hard. Tell the tech crews to do what they can for weapons; then all of you get some rest before we exit subspace.”
* * *
The Peacefinder jumps out of subspace, cruising toward the area where their navigations plot places a supply depot. As the move into sensor range, Kari looks up, face white and eyes staring hopelessly.
Helsh frowns. “What is it?”
One of Kari’s assistants starts to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. . . .” Sighing in exasperation, Helsh walks over to the sensor plot and freezes.
Already, ten of the twenty-some-odd cruisers open fire upon the Peacefinder.
“Shit! Shields up! All weapons return fire! Take evasive maneuvers!” he shouts, adding, “We need to last long enough for our drive to power up.”
The shields shine a milky white as blasts of energy slam into them, cannons roaring in retaliation. As a Cain-class strays too close, the foreboding hum of a beam cannon fills the air as a bright yellow light shines on the Peacefinder’s hull. A line of deadly light arcs through space to slice the cruiser in half, reactors exploding from the destructive energy.
A fresh wave of weapons-fire slams into the shield, and Kari shouts, “More cruisers incoming!”
As the enemy force surrounds them, Helsh looks at his crew. “I wish to tell you all that I am proud to have served with you. You have fought bravely to preserve the life of our kind, and I just want to tell you this. Give these bastards hell!”
A shout goes through the ship, and every man and woman suddenly fights with renewed strength. Beams of light flash back and forth as the Peacefinder trades blows with a Rakshema. Two more Cains close in on the damaged Leviathan, and more flak and missiles scream into shields and hulls. Helsh grimaces as another weapon is blown off of his beloved ship, and then . . .
* * *
Admiral Lish stands on the Desertrunner’s bridge as two Leviathans cruise by the massive Dragon.
“Sir, the new shields have been installed. Our orders?”
Lish nods and turns to the lieutenant. “Right, we are supposed to reinforce Seventh Fleet. . . .”
“Sir, subspace rupture!” his sensor officer shouts.
“Looks like a Leviathan, severely damaged. Sir . . . it can’t be . . . it’s the Peacefinder!” Lish freezes with shock. The Peacefinder had been missing for two days after its heroic rescue at the Battle of Felsa.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Send an escort. Tell them they are home.”
Geoff, ninth grade, Del Valle High School
This week, we’ll be posting the finalists for the Rose Million Healey Award in Short Fiction. Come out to our community-wide reading Saturday, May 2, to meet the authors and find out who the winner is.