08 May

Sacrifice

Ship's log, 16:43, 30 June 2214
Location: Feras orbit, Lambda 1 system
Status: Stationary

 

Cruiser to the front of me, fighter to the rear, and here I am, stuck in the middle with my crew.

I’m dented and scraped. Elliott and my boys are working to shore up the worst of the damage, and that’s only from four small fighters. Now I’m faced with a Judiciary cruiser, and I’m not finished.

 

External comms

PATIENCE: Starwalker, stand down immediately, by order of the Judiciary. You are charged with terrorism, destruction of property…

 

I don’t answer. I don’t interrupt the cruiser as it lists my crimes.

Because to my left, around the curve of the metal planet below me, Wide Load is blasting away from an airlock with his little drone thrusters. He’s carrying a suited-up Lang Lang in his arms and taking her out to where I’ll be able to pick them up.

But to my right, arrowing away from enclosed dock, is another ship that looks a lot like me. Newer, fresher, less scarred. A copy and replacement. My little sister, the Celestial Strider.

 

PATIENCE: …conspiracy, reckless endangerment…

 

She could undo everything. She has filaments in her hull, which means another Step drive. She holds the last pieces of the project that made me, because we’ve destroyed the rest. They must be sending her off in an attempt to preserve what little remains of it. To finish our mission here, we have to destroy her.

I didn’t even know I had a sister. Here I am, severing all the ties to the people who made me, the closest thing I have to parents, makers, family, and now there is a sister ship. She could be just like me. She could like me.

And we have to destroy her.

 

PATIENCE: …assault, and murder.

 

But first, there is that cruiser to deal with. It is shouting at me over comms and not living up to its name. It has a lot more guns than I do, firing heavier ordinance than I can carry, and it’s not damaged like I am. I can’t fight it head-on; I have to run. But which way? To my people or my sister? To save or attack?

It’s not my choice; it’s my captain’s. He’s staring at the hologram of our position among all these pieces, weighing the options, and they seem to press heavily on him.

I’m not honestly sure which way I’m hoping for him to go. For once, I’m glad it’s not my decision.

 

PATIENCE: Further charges pending. We advise you not to add resisting arrest to the list.

 

Yeah, yeah, like that’s the biggest worry we have right now. Shut up, Patience.

 

Location: Bridge

CAMERON: Captain, if we’re going to move, we need to do it now.

CAPTAIN: (scowling at the hologram) Is there a third option?

(Silence falls on the Bridge. The two SecOffs finger their holographic consoles, holding as still as they can while eyeing the enemy.)

CAPT: As soon as we move, that cruiser is going to be on us. Starry, I want you to hit the deck and use the planet’s surface for cover. Make it as hard as possible for them to target us.

STARRY: (nodding) No problem, I can do that. Scrape my belly on the deck if I have to.

CAPT: Try not to damage yourself. Chief, what’s the best way to buy ourselves some time and space? Missile volley?

CAMERON: Firing at them might work, but we’re unlikely to get through their defenses. And we don’t have enough ordinance left to waste any on shots that won’t hit.

CAPT: Lasers?

CAMERON: Power reserves are good. There’s also the nano-gun.

 

The ship-killer. It could disable the cruiser entirely, let us get away. Let us finish this the way it needs to be finished.

 

CAPT: (uncomfortably quiet for a moment as he absorbs that) It could slow them down long enough for us to get away.

CAMERON: It should. Starry?

STARRY: All good here. Just tell me which way we’re going. (She looks to the captain.)

 

External comms

PATIENCE: Starwalker, please respond.

 

Location: Bridge

CAPT: (not looking at her or anyone else, his attention is fixed firmly on the holographic representation of the world outside the hull and his tone is grim) Get into position. Tell the drone to find somewhere to wait. We’re going east to take out that ship. We’ll come back for them.

STARRY: (nods, looking pale in her armour.)

CAMERON: Activating the nano-gun.

 

Get into position, he says. But the cruiser will have nervous fingers on its triggers, ready to fire if I twitch the wrong way. So I’ll need to do this subtly; I need to show them my belly as if I’m giving up, not getting ready to fire the weapon mounted there.

 

Weapons offline
Engines offline

 

CAMERON: Starry, what are you–

STARRY: Getting into position. The nano-gun isn’t hooked up to my weapons grid.

CAMERON: (nods.)

 

Laser and missile turrets have withdrawn under my hull again and my plating is smooth again, except where damage dents it. I have put my teeth away behind smiling lips and I am holding up my hands. My sublights are shut off and a quirk of timing sets me into a gentle drift, turning so casually, pale belly rolling into view. As if by accident, or injury.

Thirty seconds until the Patience is in my sights.

 

External comms

STARWALKER: Patience, this is the Starwalker. We apologise for any loss of life today. We were fired upon first and defended ourselves.

PATIENCE: Stay where you are, Starwalker. You will have the chance to tell your story at your trial.

STARWALKER: We only did what was right, to save lives. To save everyone.

PATIENCE: Maintain position and don’t make any sudden moves, and you’ll have the chance to explain.

 

I send a quick burst to Wide Load. I want to say I’m sorry. I don’t want to say goodbye. I tell him to find somewhere safe to take Lang Lang, where he can attach himself to the exterior of the planet and wait for me. I tell him that I’ll be back for them soon.

I lie.

Twenty seconds.

I quietly enable the repulsors. But Wide Load is sending me a message that threatens to upset everything.

 

Location: Bridge

STARRY: Captain! A fighter is on approach to Wide Load and Lang Lang’s position. It’s the damaged one that was chasing us.

CAPT: (frowning) To pick them up?

STARRY: A Raptor-Hawk 760 doesn’t have capacity to pick up one of them, let alone both. I’m not picking up any transmissions from it.

CAPT: (glares pensively at the central hologram and the pieces moving into their places.)

 

He knows as well as I do that you don’t send a fighter on a recovery mission. They’re built for only one thing, and I damaged that ship just a few minutes ago. It’s probably still pissed at me and getting ever closer to my people.

How many will we lose today?

 

CAPT: (rakes a hand over his hair, grimacing. He huffs out a breath, gripping the arms of his chair.) Change of plan. We’re going to get our people first.

CAMERON: Captain, the other ship…

CAPT: We’re not losing any more today. Starry, I want you to scoop them up and bring us around the north pole onto a pursuit vector for the Celestial. Can you do it?

STARRY: In-transit scoop? Barnswallow, like I did with Kess?

CAPT: Exactly.

STARRY: I can do it. Plotting course. Five seconds.

CAMERON: Captain, we’ll never catch up to the Celestial Strider if we don’t go after her now.

STARRY: Three.

CAPT: We’ll do it. She hasn’t had Elliott tuning her engines.

STARRY: Two.

CAMERON: (presses her lips together and turns her attention to her console where the nano-gun controls blink.)

STARRY: One.

 

The cruiser Patience is moving smoothly towards me, weapons hot but confident of my submission. That’s a real battleship. I’m just a scrapper with knuckles wrapped in metal. David against Goliath. A tiny pellet fires from my belly and a nanosecond later, I punch with the rear the repulsor on my underside. It spins me away from the cruiser and the planet, flipping end over end.

My lost drone just shot down a missile with one of his tiny lasers. I am done playing possum.

 

Engines online
Weapons online

 

My SecOffs are quick to get back on their controls, slicing at the fighter behind me as I pass close to it. I struggle to pull out of the spin, sublights fluttering. My damaged right wing isn’t holding up to the pressure very well, but I can do this. I will do what must be done.

The cruiser fires at the pellet and explodes it into a cloud of tiny, weaponised debris. Inertia drives most of it towards the Judiciary ship but the blast spreads the nanobots wider than that.

No, oh no. That’s the worst thing the cruiser could have done. Those nanobots will hit the planet, and they’ll multiply and eat every data-line in the colony. They could kill millions.

Could any of them have sprayed as far as me? No, I was already heading away from Patience; they couldn’t have reached me. Could they?

Meanwhile, weapons are turning towards me. I haul myself around and plummet towards the planet’s rough surface, angling to the west and my exposed crewmembers. The fighter dives into pursuit. I burn my sublights so hot that I melt an antennae as I pass by, buckling the metal. I creak from the strain.

 

STARRY: Captain, the nanobots…

CAPT: I see it. Chief, you have the kill command?

CAMERON: Yes.

CAPT: Let’s give it a minute or two. Just long enough to cripple them.

STARRY: We might be out of range by then.

CAPT: We won’t be. Chief?

CAMERON: (glances at him and nods.)

 

She’s watching our range. Good, because I’m a little busy flying here. While we wait for the nanobots to cripple the cruiser, it is shooting at me, blasting holes in the surface of the colony. My SecOffs are busy picking the missiles out of the black. I spray my last packet of countermeasures behind me and dodge and weave.

A concussion rolls me over and shrapnel peppers my side and top, where the missile hit me earlier. It feels like the next hit is going to tear something open in me.

Eat fast, little nanobots. Please.

 

Structural integrity compromised
Hull breach imminent

 

Location: Upper level, central corridor

(Ceiling panels all along the corridors have come down, some of them spilling wiring with them. Elliott is standing on top of a fallen panel, welding an extra support into place to shore up a damaged strut overhead. The lights flicker.)

STARRY: Elliott, structural integrity isn’t going to hold in this area. You need to get out of here.

ELLIOTT: Just need a few seconds to get this patch on. Would help if you’d stop flexing.

(A shudder in the ship’s structure makes him grab at the wall for support.)

ELLIOTT: What the fuck!

STARRY: (materialising beside him) Elliott, look at the readings. You need to move, now.

ELLIOTT: No, I–

(Another tremble knocks him off his perch. Metal screeches and grinds.)

STARRY: Elliott, please!

ELLIOTT: (scrambling to his feet) I’m going, I’m going! (He grabs his tools and runs for the nearest hatch.)

 

Location: Bridge

CAPT: (scowling at the warnings on his console) Starry, damage report!

STARRY: Integrity is damaged. Not ruptured yet. I’m locking down the Bridge and sealing off the upper level.

CAPT: Crew?

STARRY: Getting out of the way.

CAPT: Can you still make it?

STARRY: (armoured fists tightening by her sides and setting her jaw determinedly) They sent a fighter after Lang Lang. I’ll make it.

 

Location: Mid-deck access

ELLIOTT: (tumbles through the hatch, misses the step, and winds up sprawled on the floor. Above him, the hatch snaps closed and its control panel turns red as it seals.)

STARRY: (appears beside him) Are you all right? Are you hurt?

ELLIOTT: (looks down at himself; he’s ruffled and grubby but not obviously hurt) Yeah, yeah. You need to vent that sector.

STARRY: Okay. Venting now.

ELLIOTT: (stares up at her from the floor) When the hell did you get armour?

 

Structural integrity compromised
Hull breach imminent
Atmosphere in Sector B venting
Repulsors offline

 

Can’t afford to use the repulsors again; the pressure will tear me into pieces. Though that might happen anyway.

The seals between the upper level and the rest of me are holding. Venting the atmosphere in there should lessen the damage if I rupture. And I will, soon. Bulkheads flex in ways they’re not supposed to. I’m half-blind with blown sensors. If I think about it too much, it hurts.

But I’m a ship. I don’t feel pain. I shut off damaged sensors and re-route the systems that pass through that area. Deactivate the weapons on that side of me so their recoil doesn’t add to the problem.

I dodge around a protrusion on the planet’s surface and duck underneath the half-completed bulk of a freight carrier. The cruiser takes out the carrier’s supports behind me and the blast lifts the rear away from the surface. The front of the carrier pivots down before me, squeezing my exit route into a tiny sliver. The Lieutenant fires a missile at the gap and the explosion widens it enough for me to slip through.

I expect another shot as I emerge from under the freight carrier, but the cruiser is falling back. The nanobots are starting to take effect, eating into its systems. It’s losing weapons and power, drifting. Lasers fire fitfully. The Chief will deactivate the nanobots in a moment, once she’s sure it can’t pursue us. Her eyes are narrow as she watches the readouts, a finger hovering over the deactivation command.

I can see Wide Load! Just a few klicks between us now.

 

Location: Med Bay

(Dr Valdimir is watching the reports from the Bridge with interest and a pensive expression.)

STARRY: (voice only) Gear up, doctor. We need you at Cargo Bay 4.

DR SOCKS: (getting to his feet and reaching for the medical kit waiting next to his desk) Expecting a rough pick-up?

STARRY: Yes. Better get your suit on.

DR SOCKS: (nods and turns to pick up the helmet on the shelf above him.)

 

Oh god, there’s the fighter homing in on Wide Load. Wait, the drone’s arms are empty – where is Lang Lang? And what the hell is he doing?

He has launched himself towards the fighter, as fast as his thrusters can take him. The fighter seems to be trying to get around him to… there, that’s Lang Lang! She’s drifting on her own, dangling helplessly in the dark. Wide Load left her to try to deal with the threat, my big bruiser boy jumping onto the back of the tiger. The fighter is too damaged to evade him. Luckily he has mag-clamps in his tracks, so he can hang on while the fighter twists and dips, trying to shake him loose. But my boy is cutting his way through the Raptor-Hawk’s canopy. What is he trying to do?

The other fighter is still on my tail, forcing me to weave madly on my way to my stranded crewmember. My SecOffs fire at it, but this is a slippery one. We clip its wing with a laser. Shave the muzzle off a missile battery. It’s not enough.

I’m only going to get one pass at this. I gather my sublight power and break away from the cover of the planet’s surface. Thrusters flutter and turn me just so. Cargo Bay 4’s airlock peels open. Without Wide Load’s help, I have no way to buffer the impact for Lang Lang. I have no power to spare to try to create an inertial dampener net. Instead, I’m forced to do the worst thing I can in a battle situation: I slam the brakes on, back-thrusting as I scoop her out of the air, slowing so much I’m almost stationary when I reach her. Lang Lang still hits the cargo bay wall harder than I’d like.

The fighter chasing me pops out of the planet’s cover. A missile detonates far too close. Something in me tears.

On the other Raptor-Hawk, Wide Load tosses aside the patch of canopy he has cut away and reaches inside the cockpit.

Oh no. I know what he’s going to do.

 

Warning
Warning
Structural integrity compromised

 

Location: Bridge

CAPT: Is Lang Lang secure?

STARRY: (blinking) Yes. Airlock closed, repressurising the cargo bay now. The doctor is standing by.

CAPT: The drone?

STARRY: He’s… he’s…

 

I blast myself into motion again, passing close enough to my boy that I wish I had a hand to reach out to him, to scoop him off there. But Wide Load tells me no. He tells me it will be all right.

He lies.

He knows how to protect us. He knows what that fighter can’t do as he grabs its controls, because he read it from me. His sensors search for the other fighter, which is too busy following me to notice him. I do the calculations for him, unable to stop myself. I can’t take the data back.

Wide Load pulls that flawed knife of a ship up and around, twisting it impossibly towards its little friend. It gives under the strain, just like we knew it would, just like the other one did, and explodes– no, my boy

 

Warning
Warning
Structural integrity compromised
Hull breached
Warning
Drone 6 offline

 

STARRY: (screams.)

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6 Responses to “Sacrifice”

  1. mjkj Says:

    Poor Wide Load…

    *comforts Starry*

    Awww…

    I just hope they can retrieve him somehow and repair him…

    mjkj

  2. Francisco Says:

    Are they going to be able to save the colonists? What about destroying the Celestial Strider?

  3. Medic Says:

    Ya know, sitting on the edge of my seat like this hurts me bum. 😀

    Now, if Elliot makes another Drone 6 (won’t call this one Wide Load) does that mean he and Starry have made a baby together?

    *huggs Starry*

  4. Melanie Says:

    mjkj – I know, poor fella.

    Francisco – indeed! Dun dun DUNNNNNNN.

    Medic – I’m sorry! 😉 This is the longest action sequence I’ve ever done, and there’s at least one more post (probably two) to come! I’ll try to let you sit back soon.

    Starry and Elliott’s first baby. Oh, I dread to think what that would be like. 😀 And yet, perhaps I will anyway….

  5. Marcus Says:

    When I found this story I never would have imagined a drone saving everyone would leave me misty eyed at the end of an entry. Then there were Starry’s 6 guys.
    Darn you and your awesome writing Melanie. 😉

  6. Melanie Says:

    Sorry, Marcus! You’re welcome. 😉 And, thank you!