Thursday, December 27, 2012

War Angel: part eighty-eight

2142- Inside Pluto

Wilma raised the top of the bed so that Jack was almost sitting up. She shook her head at the sight: two black eyes, three broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, bruised kidneys. He was lucky to not have a punctured lung. The rest of his body was covered in bruises as well, and it was, she thought, miraculous that he made it back to the ship and to the medlab. “You’re a lucky man, Jack Keys,” she said as she looked him over.

He smiled weakly. “Oh, tell me about it, doc. Will I be able to make it to the dance?”

She snorted. “You’ll be able to go back to your quarters. If you behave. No fooling around with Sarah for a little while, unless you want to pop a lung and aspirate blood in the middle of it.”

“You know how to kill the romance, Dr. Gray.”

Gray shook her head. “Be happy that there’s some romance left. Until we save the planet, the rest of us are going to be in a long dry spell.”

Jack blanched. “I did not need that in my head. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” She backed away from the table and looked across the room. “I need to get back to that skeleton you brought me.”

He coughed and cleared his throat. “About that. As M’isti was beating the life out of me, he said something that could have been a lie or it could have been a truth he was tantalizing me with as I died. He mentioned something about ‘the tomb of Prince S’agas T’horoth’ and about eradicating a genetic mistake.”

“Well, Earth has spent two hundred years piddling around with genetics. I would guess that the Omegans are no different. Maybe what we have will show us what they have been up to.”

“Fingers crossed, doctor. The sooner we solve the riddle, the better.”

Richard pulled the power coupling away from the wall and examined it thoroughly. He sat down and then began looking for nicks, dents, and cracks, making sure that the Angel’s journey through the interior of the Kan’Tar had not left any damages that could come back to bite them later. “It wouldn’t do,” he said to himself, “to randomly blow ourselves up.”

A response startled him. “I agree completely,” Sarah chimed in. “I’m glad you’re down here checking this stuff out.”

He shrugged. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Sarah sat down next to him. “That seems to be your instinct.”

“Huh?” Richard looked at Sarah, puzzled. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean, you have a nose for doing the right thing. The smart thing.”

“That hasn’t really been my strength in life. I’m mostly good at screwing things up.”

She gave him a light punch in the shoulder. “Which is how you wound up with the nickname Clover. But think about what you have done in the past couple of days: FTL travel worked, you snuck onto an alien ship, you rebuilt the War Angel’s systems from inside that alien ship, you guided us through that ship’s interior, gave us a pathway out, and then helped get us safely away.” She paused to think about it, and then smiled at him. “That’s pretty much a year’s worth of work to most people. At least.”

“Wow. I hadn’t thought about it like that.”

Sarah stood up. “So you’re a Clover. But now it isn’t an ironic nickname. It’s a reality. This ship… none of us… would be alive without you. So when you’re examining these power couplings, keep that in mind. Clover.”

His head tilted back down toward the power coupling in his hand. He brought it closer to his eye, and then reached for a microscope and examined it further. As he did, a slight grin crossed his face for a moment, and then he put it back and moved to the next one.

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” Gina offered, plopping down on her bed. “I just don’t.”

Kate laid down next to her, propping her head up with her arm. “I can’t say that I do, either. It was an honest, pure moment of bravery. I didn’t think he had it in him.”

“Do you think he did it?” Gina paused for a moment, trying to picture it in her head. “Killed himself, I mean?”

“I hope so.” Kate saw Gina roll her eyes. “Not like that, bitch! I just… no matter what a piece of crap he was, I hope he had a choice. I certainly hope he wasn’t taken alive and then blown up when the ship went kaboom.”

“Agreed.” Gina shifted so that she was on her side, facing Kate. “So how do you feel about… what you did?”

“It was the right thing to do at the time.”

“This isn’t that time. It is, however, the end of a genetic line.”

Kate rolled onto her back. “I hate you. Let’s talk about something else. Like your fancy flying. Very impressive. You totally saved our asses.”

“Fine. Change the subject. I will admit to being pretty happy with how much better I am getting at flying this thing. That being said, I would prefer to not do so through the interior of other ships. Ever. Again.”

“I will always be there to carve you a path.”

Gina brightened. “Oh, wow! That sounded like it had some sentiment to it! Admit it! You have a heart!”

Kate rolled and faced away from Gina. “I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you. Because you’re such a bitch!”

“I’m your best friend, bitch,” Gina responded with a giggle. “And you know it.”

“Ugh. Fine.”

The two both rolled onto their backs and stared at the ceiling. The room went silent for a while, only the hum of the ship’s systems in the background. Words flooded into the minds of both women, but neither one chose to speak them. Instead, they turned away from one another and went to sleep.

Jack closed the journal and set it down on his nightstand. It was a Herculean effort to do even that, as rolling on his side was not possible thanks to his myriad broken pieces. As he did, he thought he heard footsteps outside his door. Realizing he was laying around in only his undergarments, he made a move to slide off of the bed and get dressed like a proper ship’s captain.

But before he could speak or move, he heard the code being tapped into the pad next to the door and it opened, revealing Sarah Matto in silhouette, carrying a computer padd.

“About time to get yourself moving, champ,” she said with only a hint of sarcasm. “Why aren’t you out and working yet?”

Jack cleared his throat. “I got caught up in some reading. Smartass.”

She walked across the room and kissed him gently on the lips. “Looks like these are the only part of you not broken.”

“Sad, but true,” he said, shaking his head. “What brings you by?”

Sarah took on an official tone and handed him the padd. “Status of the ship update, Captain.”

Jack took it from her and examined the available data. “No ships heading our way. That’s promising. We hid our tracks well.”

“They were kind enough to dig the hole, so why not use it?”

He continued. “Repairs seem to be going great. Richard is really on it.”

“I let him know how happy we are with his performance.”

“Nice work, Commander.” Jack read further. “So the bad guys are regrouping at the moon. Have to keep an eye on that.”

“They’ll be looking for us. Hard. But for now, they’ll have to figure out who is replacing M’isti. That should buy us some time. Hard to believe this crazy plan of yours worked, Jack.”

“It worked, but it cost us. We lost a crewmember. And we have to assume that they will find a body or two, discover the bug, and produce a cure for it. We won’t be able to use it again.”

Sarah shut her eyes tight, seeing the dead bodies of Omegans at her feet again. “I’m okay with that, Jack.” He handed her the padd. “So what next?”

The War Angel’s captain laid back and stared at the ceiling. “Well, we still have plenty of bad guys. But hopefully, our side did get a little stronger.” She looked at him quizzically. “They took our fleet out of the air. But on the ground, there have to be resistance cell.” He smiled grimly. “There are always resistance cells. If they have eyes on the sky, they know what happened. The RGC is gone. That should boost some morale.”

“I hope you’re right. So maybe we have a chance. Maybe we win. Someday.”

He nodded. “Someday. And when that happens, I will accept my fate knowing I did the right thing.”

She tilted her head at him. “What does that mean?”

Jack closed his eyes. “I committed an act of mutiny. I murdered my superior officer. That can’t go unpunished.”

“And you saved our lives in the process. Oh, and if we win, then you also saved the planet. I think they’ll overlook that, don’t you?”

He turned his head to look at her. “Maybe. Maybe not. But I won’t run from it. On the day we win, I will report to whoever replaces the Admiral and turn myself in. If military protocol is followed properly, I will spend the rest of my life after that in a cell. Exactly where I belong.”

End WAR ANGEL volume one

War Angel: part eighty-seven

From the Journal of Steven Keys- August 28, 2030

It has been a long six years, but today it paid off. Day after day after day of working around the clock, and we have a result. A beautiful result.

Oh, I suppose from an aesthetic point of view, maybe not so much. She still looks like a brick. A flying brick, one capable of navigating off the planet and into space, but a brick nonetheless. We welded her together with so much armored plating that I thought it would be a miracle if she elevated even a foot off the ground, but damned if she didn’t do that and more. The cannons consume so much power that it’s frightening, yet we put four of them on her. When I think about the power core inside her, it makes me shiver. But she works. That was the job.

Yumiko and her crew have been working so hard on the navigational system, and I am incredibly proud of her. I know I’ve been singing her praises every day like a lovesick puppy, but she deserves them. Our planet hasn’t really designed a ship meant to travel around our system and return. We have sent probes to deep space, and probes to Mars, but they were not meant to return. They had a course plotted for them and they went.

This thing should go wherever it is meant to go.

Of course, the job is far from finished. This is just the first one. We have seven more in various stages of development. We have been learning as we go with this first one, and because of that, the others should get better and stronger as time allows. I don’t mind saying that is my favorite aspect to it. This project is about fighting back, yes; we want to meet the Omegans in the skies and drive them away. But beneath that, we are engaged in pure, basic science. Hypothesis, experiment, result. Repeat as needed. Even a literature nerd like me can appreciate that. And my personal knowledge base has continued to grow. In the past twelve years, since all of this started…

Wait. It sounds better this way: if I were to extrapolate what I have been doing over the last twelve years to the life I left behind, it would be something like this – I have basically earned the equivalent of a doctorate in Physics and a doctorate in Electrical Engineering, as well as a Masters in Military Science.

Pretty goddamned impressive when I think about it.

But it has always really been about survival. We stayed down here, out of the way, and the Omegans never came close to finding us. In order to keep it that way, we are going to properly launch her from New Zealand. We’ll fly her on the water top at a minimal speed, make her look like a boat, and when we get here there, we’ll turn up the juice and get her into the atmosphere.

True to form at this point, I will be there to see it.

Biggest news of the day was that I was listed as a member of the initial launch crew. I’ll be part of the engineering contingent, as well as part of any repairs that need to be made. As always, I find the idea exhilarating and completely terrifying. Considering that this is the first ship of this kind, there is plenty that can go wrong, and I suspect that anyone on the repair crew will be extremely busy. If I had my preference, I would wait for one of the later ships, but that is not to be my fate.

My theory is that I am being used as a good luck charm. After we got down here, word spread about who I am and what had happened to me. I was asked to share my story numerous times, and the people here also tagged me with the label of “survivor guy.” So maybe they think my presence onboard will help.

They seem to forget all the ones who died next to me. I don’t think I’ll remind them.

It wasn’t enough that I was listed as part of the crew, though. Somehow, I wound up with the honor of naming our flying, over-powered brick. One of the pilots, a guy we call Fish, was tracing his hand across the helm, and he smiled and said he felt like we were about to become angels of death. I shook my head at him, disagreeing, offering up that we were hopefully about to become angels of redemption. That we could use this ship not just to destroy, but also to release our world from the bondage of war.

Fair point, right?

Well, the Colonel was standing behind us as we were talking, and he interrupted, noting that war was always about both of those things and more. That it involved death, destruction, heroics, cowardice, redemption, greatness, and humanity at its worst. I pondered that for a moment, and nodded in agreement. “Then I suppose we’ll do all of those things with this ship,” I replied. “All-encompassing angels of war.”

“Doctor, that’s brilliant,” he smiled, shaking his head. “I think you just gave the old girl a name.”

“I did?” I asked him, baffled.

“Tonight, before you all leave, we’ll have the ceremony, and christen her. This big beast will go out into space with the perfect name.”

So in a few minutes, I will be heading down to the main cave to commemorate the ship, and then I will put my life into its hands. I will kiss Yumiko goodbye, and head back out into a world I will not recognize. But maybe when we are done, we will create a better one.

Time to go. Good luck to us all. And if there is any type of higher power in this universe, may it bless my new home, this flying brick known as the War Angel.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

War Angel: part eighty-six

The Revenge-class battleships were created with two purposes in mind. The first was to be able to take a beating. The Omegans had spent years pounding on Earth and its defenses, and to the point where ships like the War Angel were introduced, nothing had proved able to withstand the enemy for long. Instead, ships and armor withered and folded, lacking any capability to withstand the alien onslaught.

Purpose number two was, of course, the exact opposite. Humanity had been seeking the chance to truly dish out some punishment in retaliation for the suffering and humiliation they had been suffering. There was the hope of avenging the lost and the dead, and by reverse engineering Omegan technology and making what was hoped would be improvements, the crafts were sent into the fray.

To the surprise of most, it actually worked. On both counts.

Kate triggered all of the War Angel’s cannons, and blasts of energy erupted through the power core of the Kan’Tar. The blazing red bolts of destruction carved through battery containment nodes. They tore holes in reactor feeder lines. Coolant tanks ruptured and spewed liquid through the compartment. As all of this happened, the War Angel hovered in place, lingering to watch the results of her work. It was, Kate thought, a thing of beauty.

“Reactor heat levels rising exponentially…” Richard’s voice was steady. “Getting readings of fires starting beneath us. The batteries are leaking energy everywhere!” He punched up the main viewscreen, and the crew could see tendrils of energy erupting throughout the core area. Blue lightning arced across the compartment, some cascading off of the War Angel’s shields, and when it hit walls, it sliced through.

“Just like we hoped,” Jack whispered. “The hull is vulnerable from this side of it. If you have the right kind of ammo, of course.”

As the crew watched the show, Richard continued monitoring what they were seeing. After a minute passed, they saw a bright orange flash come from the floor. “Whoa!” Richard jerked backward in his chair.

“The reactor?” Sarah asked.

He nodded at Gina, and she put the ship in motion. “Time to go, everybody,” she said quietly. She maneuvered the ship down through the core and toward the energy conduit that led to the engines. “We are in exit pattern. F.A. do you have targeting?”

“Roger that,” Kate replied.

The War Angel sailed ahead, and as they aligned next to the conduit, Kate set three of the cannons to fire directly ahead, carving a path that they hoped would take them through one of the massive engines that propelled the Kan’Tar across space.

Energy flared from behind them as they entered their new path, rocking the ship and jostling it. “Steady as she goes, helm,” Jack said, his voice beginning to wane. “Steady…”

Gina sat rigid in the pilot’s seat, her arms tightly pressed against her console as she focused every bit of concentration on holding the War Angel in the small tunnel that Kate was carving with the cannons. “Steady,” she whispered. The ship continued forward, easing its way through, when suddenly a large explosion came from behind.

A massive CLANG was followed by the sound of grinding metal as the ship bounced off of the left side of the tunnel. Fire and energy swept across the shields, almost smothering it. On the bridge, the crew lost balance, though no one flew out of their seat, something that everyone was immediately grateful for.

“Not my fault,” Gina offered up in an angry tone.

“Acknowledged,” Jack responded. “But we might need to speed up a bit. Kate?”

The ship’s gunner gave a brief grunt. “Urgh. Maybe thirty seconds until we poke through an engine.”

Jack settled back into his chair. “Let’s hope we have ‘em.”

Two more cannon bursts, and suddenly Richard became animated. “I’m reading actual space just dead ahead. We are really close.”

Kate smiled and fired again. The blast tore through the engine housing ahead of them, and suddenly, there it was: open space. Free of the Kan’Tar’s insides, the War Angel was a free ship once more.

“Richard, I need our relative position and a course for Gina. Kate, what’s on tactical?” Jack summoned the last dregs of his energy. “Sarah, get the scoop ready.” He paused. “Talk to me, people!”

Kate’s voice cut through the bustle first. “Trouble! We have four B-class cruisers less than a minute from our position, and they should be reading us right now, too!” She stepped back from tactical. “I’m good, but not that good,” she said. “Sarah?”

“Forty-five seconds to full deployment of the scoop.” She looked at Richard. “If we have a course.”

Not looking up from his screen, Richard barked a reply. “I’m working on it!”

“The cruisers are shifting course and heading our way,” Kate chimed in. “They can fire in about thirty seconds, but at that range we’ll be able to take some hits. They get closer, and…”

Jack coughed. “Pick your targets, just in case you need to buy us time. Gina, full stop.”

All heads on the bridge whipped around to look at Jack. “Jack… Captain… that keeps us dangerously close to the Kan’Tar,” Gina said. “This thing could blow at any time.”

“Level playing field,” Jack told her.

Richard jumped in. “Got it! Gina, sending you course coordinates now. Sarah, prepare to open the scoop.”

“Patience,” Jack interjected. “Sarah, prepare to fire up the scoop on my mark. Kate, where are the bad guys?”

“Looks like they’re trying a flanking maneuver. Fifteen seconds to optimal firing solution for them.”

Jack smiled. “Richard, give me a twelve second countdown.” The engineer popped a countdown clock onto the viewscreen. “Sarah, at zero, get us out of here. Everyone brace yourselves.”

Time seemed to crawl to a snail’s pace for the ten seconds left on the clock. Kate watched as the Omegan cruisers moved into place to surround the War Angel. Gina watched as the navigational computer readied itself to pilot once the scoop was opened. And Richard and Sarah held their breath waiting for zero. When it came, Sarah fired up the tachyon scoop, and the War Angel jumped into FTL mode, leaving the Omegan’s without a target.

Five seconds later, a series of massive explosions tore through the remainder of the Kan’Tar. The release of energy from the ship’s power core and batteries cracked and separated its super-dense hull. As the reactor melted down, further weakening the hull, it took out what batteries and power conduits remained. That left only one thing to happen:

The Omegan flagship ruptured and exploded in a bright ball of blue light. The super-dense hull came apart as the pressure wave ripped through the rail-gun carrier, and as it did, those chunks scattered in a spherical arc. The four ships that had closed in on the War Angel were destroyed by the initial blast; six more ships were dealt mortal wounds by pieces of the Kan’Tar tearing through their own hulls.

Without warning, the alien enemy had just lost twenty percent of its fleet.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

War Angel: part eighty-five

Wilma and Sarah stood on either side of Jack and draped his arms across their shoulders. From there, they began a slow, deliberate walk through the ship and toward the medlab. As they walked, fell silent, his thoughts turning inward and to managing his pain.

He had been hurt before. Injured, even. But this was by far the worst physical condition he had ever been in. Yet, there was comfort in that; his thoughts darted back to his ancestor, and the torture he had endured at the hands of the Omegans all those years ago. Steven Keys had lost pieces of his bodies to these animals, he remembered, and all things considered, he had gotten off relatively lucky in this case.

As they passed through the War Angel’s corridors, their footsteps echoing softly off of the metal floors, every comm. station in the vicinity lit up and activated. “Hello? Hello?” came Kate’s voice, filled with tension and impatience. “Where are you people?”

Wilma and Sarah looked at each other across Jack’s body, and realizing that they needed to answer, they moved in unison with him to a nearby comm. station. Sarah flicked the switch to open the channel and responded. “We’re taking Jack to medlab.”

“Belay that! Get your asses to the bridge! We need to leave, remember? Jack can get a bandage later!”

Sarah’s nostrils flared and she felt her chest expand. She started to scream, but Jack reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. “She doesn’t know,” he whispered. “It’s okay.” Jack coughed a little, then spoke into the comm. “We’re on our way. Desperado out.”

The two women looked at Jack in disbelief. “I cannot recommend you –“ “Of all the stupid, macho posturing –“ He stood quietly while they spoke their piece, not interrupting. Finally, when their anger abated, he held up his hand, cleared his throat, and spoke in a clear, direct voice. “Doctor, if you would, please give me a painkiller and a stimulant. I need to get through the next fifteen minutes, and then I can lay down and let you do your job. Sarah, I understand you’re upset, but I need to be on the bridge to see this through. We aren’t clear of it yet, and I can’t rest until we are.”

“I don’t like it.” Sarah fixed him with a cold glare. “I can get us out.”

“I know. And I may still need you to. But I have to try.” A sharp sting pinched Jack’s shoulder, and he turned to see Dr. Gray withdrawing an injector. “Ow.”

Wilma put the injector back into her bag. “That should buy you some time. Don’t waste it.”

Jack straightened as the medicine coursed through his system. “I won’t.”

The bridge door opened, and Sarah walked in, followed by Jack. Gina, Richard, and Kate stopped and stared as they watched Jack. Torn clothes, blood everywhere, it was not the sight they had expected to see.

Kate spoke first. “Dammit, Jack, I’m sorry. I should have –“

He waived her off. “Nothing to worry about.” He looked at the damaged and messy bridge. “I see you all have been redecorating.”

“We’ve had our moments,” Richard said.

Jack smiled. “What do you say we get out of here? Gina?”

“Ready to continue forward.”


“All guns primed and ready.”

The War Angel’s captain sat gingerly in his chair. “Let’s head for the power plant and the engines.”

Seconds later, the cannons roared to life and once again began carving their way through the interior of the Kan’Tar. As they did, Gina maneuvered the ship steadily forward. The deeper into the ship they went, the more bodies and debris that passed by the ship’s windows. The bridge remained mostly silent, the only noise made by calls for course adjustments and changes in targeting.

It was, Sarah thought, a grim business they were involved in. More killing. More death.

After five long minutes had passed, Richard turned around with a surprised look. “One more round of shots, and we will be right outside the power plant. On the other side of the plant are the actual engines. Wow.”

Jack closed his eyes and absorbed what Richard had just said. This was it. If they could pull this part off… “Sarah, how are the shields looking?”

“Back to 96%.”

“Will they hold up?”

She exhaled loudly. “I have no idea. They were designed to increase efficiency beyond anything else in the fleet. But they weren’t designed to protect the ship from something like this thing blowing up at close range. We’ll get overload, just like we did at Saturn.”

“Which we survived. Just like we’ll survive this.”

Sarah shrugged. “Well, we can’t exactly go back the other way.”

“No,” he replied quietly.

A round of cannon fire and the ship moved forward again, then suddenly, the War Angel was inside the Kan’Tar’s power core. Gina halted their forward progress, and looked over her shoulder. “Richard, plot me a course.”

He looked across his screens and shifted his focus to various areas of the compartment. Various pieces of the Kan’Tar flashed back and forth across his screen, until finally he stopped and settled on one particular section of the massive Omegan ship. He activated the main viewscreen and it displayed a large conduit on the opposite side of the power core. “That,” he said, his voice betraying his nervousness, “looks like our best path. That conduit is feeding energy to the outer engines. We follow it, we should theoretically fly right through them and out.” He shrugged. “Theoretically.”

“All right,” Jack said louder than he needed to, “let’s get this done. It’s all in the timing. No mistakes. You all know what you have to do.”

Gina plotted her course and her speed. Kate set her targets, each cannon programmed for a specific target. Richard readied himself to guide both women through their jobs. In the meantime, Sarah moved to Richard’s side and activated the controls for the tachyon scoop, putting the device into standby mode. Around the bridge, they all nodded at one another once they were prepared for the next step. As it reached Sarah, she spoke up for all of them. “All stations reporting ready, Captain.”

Jack slid forward to the edge of his seat. He clenched his right fist slowly and repeatedly. A long pause held in the air as each member of the War Angel’s crew waited for him to speak. Finally, he did:

“We are go!”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

War Angel: part eighty-four

K’alat wiped blood from his brow and flung it away, splattering the floor next to his chair. “Fire! Fire weapons! In the name of all the dead in Erestia, eradicate that ship!”

The Omegan at the weapons console turned to face his commander. “Unable to lock on target. The debris between us is –“

The Serr’Donn’s commanding officer jumped out of his seat and sprung himself at the weapons officer, grabbing him by the throat and choking him. “Then. Guess. Fool!” K’alat released the warrior, the younger man quickly turning back to his station. “We cannot allow that ship to do any further damage to this vessel.” He stood tall and looked around the bridge at each officer. “Is that understood?”

To a man, they all nodded assent.

“Firing!” the weapons officer announced, his voice rasping for air.

“Hold onto something!” Gina yelled. “Engaging thrusters… mark!” She pushed a button on the helm, and suddenly the War Angel went straight up. The thrusters propelled the ship for little more than half a second, and then reversed direction for half of that, stopping the ship dead in its tracks before it hit one of the upper decks of the Kan’Tar. As it did, blue bolts of energy passed directly below the War Angel, tearing through areas of the Kan’Tar that the Angel had yet to start destroying.

Richard vomited.

Kate, who had braced herself, looked over at Richard and shook her head in disgust. “Not cool, Clover!”

The young engineering wizard looked over at her, wiping away vomit and spittle from his lips. “Not a fan of motion sickness, F.A.” He then straightened himself and began studying the sensor field. “They missed. Did some of our work for us.”

“It was a nice move, Hime. What else do you have in your pocket?” Kate asked, her own mind racing furiously. Gina shrugged and stuck out a thumb, moving it from up to down position and back again. “Right. Which will only get us so far.”

“They’re preparing to fire again,” Richard cut in. “Their sensors are trying to lock on us. I don’t think they can, but a decent guess will…”

Kate snapped her fingers. “That’s it! Clover, what is our shield strength?”

“92% and holding steady.”

“Excellent. Gina, on my mark, this is what I want you to do…”

Sarah watched their exit hole carefully. “I think that last blast missed the Angel. Nothing got back to us, at least. Nothing too heavy, I mean.”

“No ‘splosions, either. Ship’s still safe.”

“For now,” she said softly.

“Right. Move closer to the exit? I kinda want to see the show,” Jack rasped. She nodded, and they began sliding toward the end of the tunnel.

“Almost have them in lock!” the Omegan gunner howled with near-delight. “Firing… now!”

“Now!” Kate yelled. Gina’s fingers swept across the helm and the War Angel instantly moved at maximum thrust, taking a curving course through the open damage of the Kan’Tar’s insides, first moving downward… and then moving in a straight line right at the Serr’Donn.

As the ship moved, the Omegans’ weapons once again missed their target. For eight seconds, the War Angel carved a path back the way it came, crashing through the debris it had stirred up and hitting full stop less than one hundred meters from the Serr’Donn. At that speed, and in these circumstances, Kate knew, the Angel would have been almost invisible to the enemy ship, and it would take a full second for them to register the War Angel’s presence at point blank range.

Plenty of time.

“Missed!” the Omegan gunner howled with agony. “They are gone from my scanner! They are –“ His head snapped up and his eyes went wide as he looked back at K’alat. “May we all hunt well in Erestia.”

The Omegan commander offered no reply, save bowing his head.

“Suck on this, you ugly, purple bastards!” Kate released all four of the War Angel’s cannons on full power, pounding the Serr’Donn with eight total blasts. Blazing red energy bolts tore through the Omegan craft, melting the hull, destroying everything in their path, including the ship’s power core. Within seconds, the Serr’Donn exploded into millions of pieces, unable to withstand the point blank destructive power of the War Angel.

The explosion rocked the Angel, sending shockwaves through the decks, but the shields did their job and protected the crew from the worst of it.

“That was amazing,” Gina said, letting out a low whistle.

“I need to vomit again,” Richard added.

Kate stepped back from the weapons and smiled at the two of them. “Belay the vomiting, Clover. We have a rescue to finish. Gina, take us back to where we left off, please.”

“With pleasure.”

Sarah and Jack stood on what was left of the platform at the end of the tunnel, watching the aftermath of Kate’s maneuver against the Serr’Donn. “Gotta admit… pretty impressive…” Jack said, coughing between words. “Wish I’d thought of it.”

“Not something we can do every time, though, right?”

He shook his head. “Worked here because of the terrain, which confuses sensors.”

“Too bad.”

They saw movement at the far end, and soon enough, the War Angel was making its way back in their direction. The ship moved at a steady pace, taking care as it approached so that there was a buffer between it and Sarah and Jack. As it settled near them, the rear of the ship shifted and pointed towards them, and the loading bay door opened. Standing there waiting was Doctor Gray.

“Anybody need medical attention?” she asked with a wink.

Jack coughed and spat blood on the Omegan deck before stepping into the Angel. “I could use an aspirin or two,” he said with a grim smile. “And maybe a new spleen.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” the doctor replied.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

War Angel: part eighty-three

Richard’s head snapped up from his instruments. “Oh, no.”

Kate looked up from the tactical display, her eyebrow raised. “Now what?” she wondered, immediately running through ideas of what Richard could be worried about now. The list, she decided, was too long. She ran her fingers through her hair and exhaled, then replied. “How bad an ‘oh no’ are we talking about?”

The War Angel’s mechanical savant felt a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead. “Sensors are picking up movement. The ship we shot before moving inside here didn’t back off. It’s making its way toward us. It’ll be at the entrance we… carved… in about a minute.” He noticed that Gina was now staring at him as well. Richard thought for a moment about shutting up, then decided that someone had to speak the obvious. “We’re sitting ducks right here.”

“Can we divert extra power to the rear shields?” Gina asked, her throat dry.

Kate bounced her fist off of her forehead. I’m sure we could do a lot of different tricks with the damn shields if the person who created the stupid things was on the bloody ship!”

Gina began pressing buttons on her console. “I can change our profile, give them a smaller target…”

“Doesn’t matter. At this range, they won’t be able to miss. They will give us everything they’ve got, and there’s a good chance that they’ll just shove us through a bulkhead whereupon we’ll get stuck and then explode.”

“You’re a ray of sunshine, as always,” Gina replied flatly.

Suddenly, Kate snapped her fingers and pointed at Gina. “Belay that. You had the right idea. Re-orient us so that we’re facing the opening. The only real option is to hit them first. With all four cannons. We’ll even shove debris at them, and that should confuse their targeting.”

Richard raised his hand slowly as Gina began shifting the ship on its axis. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if we fire at them, the risk to Sarah and Jack is…”

“The same as it is if we sit here and take a pounding. One threat at a time, Clover.”

Sarah wrapped her arm around Jack’s waist, and he draped his across her shoulder. She was careful to avoid squeezing near his midsection, aware of his broken rubs. “Easy does it, Jack. Lean on me, and I’ll get us back to the ship.” She handed him a gun. “Can you still shoot?” He nodded. “Good boy. Let’s go.”

They stumbled into the damaged corridor and began slowly walking the path back to the War Angel. Every few steps, they would stop and Sarah would adjust her grip, and Jack would swing his arm back across her shoulder. It was not speedy, by any means, and soon enough, they were walking through the path that Kate had created for them. “She’s just ahead, Jack. Almost there.”

“How does she look?”

“Beautiful and deadly. Richard did his work well.”

He coughed out a small glob of blood. “Heh. Knew he had it in him.”

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “I think you were the only one who thought that.”

“S’why I’m captain,” he said, gargling a laugh.

The Serr’Donn approached the inner breach of the Kan’Tar. Alarm claxons rang out as the ship’s computer warned of an immanent collision with a hull that no longer existed. B’thah K’alat swore under his breath, annoyed at the sound, and far more annoyed at the entire situation. What treachery had these Earthers committed that they were able to cause this damage? Where was the great F’ath M’isti? Was he captured? Fighting inside his own ship?

Dead? It was inconceivable.

It was all inconceivable until this moment. This ship had shown bravado unlike any like it in the annals of the war between these two planets. K’alat smiled. “And now its destruction will be at my hand. It is I who will be written of in the annals of our people. My reward in Erestia will be beyond imagination!”

His reverie was interrupted by a nearby officer. “Firing solution achieved!”

K’alat sat back in his chair with a satisfied grin. “Fire at will.”

Kate’s fingers danced across the targeting system. “Firing all cannons!”

Separated by only a short distance, the two war ships simultaneously opened fire on one another. Two of the Serr’Donn’s guns spat bright blue energy across the gulf of ship debris, pounding the War Angel across her bow and directly striking the shields right above the bridge. The impact sent Kate and Richard sprawling across the deck, Richard smashing his forehead on the edge of his station as he went. Gina held on only because her seat back was directly behind her and helped absorb the impact. The ship itself was thrown backward, and only by having the engines fired up did that prevent the War Angel from being propelled into the shattered deck and stuck there.

All four of the War Angel’s cannons erupted in a red blaze of fury. Two were fired at full power, and those struck their target true. The Serr’Donn now had an open wound in her side. At the same time, the other two cannons had fired on low power and hit already damaged sections of the Kan’Tar. This had the effect of stirring up an enormous amount of debris and flinging it into the air near the attacking Omegan ship. For a moment, at least, her targeting system was clogged.

“Down!” Sarah yelled, dragging Jack to the floor with her as the Omegan energy bolts ricocheted off of the War Angel’s shields and dispersed across the nearest space… which included the tunnel containing Jack and Sarah. The energy swirled over them and passed through the entire area before seeping into the hallway at the far end.

Jack gingerly lifted his head from the floor and looked toward their escape hole. “Looked like… the Angel fired at the same time.”

Sarah sat up. “It did. No way of knowing if they beat the bad guys, either.” She mentally calculated how far they had to walk until they could board the ship. “That we can’t board if it’s being fired on anyway,” she reminded herself. “I think we’re in trouble, Jack.”

He slid himself over to the wall and propped himself against it. “Doubly so, yes. Can’t get onto ship. Very bad.” Jack shrugged. “Radiation exposure from both ships’ weapons not so great, either.” He saw a panic begin to rise in her eyes. “One problem at a time, right? We don’t get on the Angel, we die no matter what.”

Kate struggled to her feet and wobbled back to the tactical station. She noticed Richard trying to regain his position as well, noticing the blood pouring down his face, and decided to treat him gently. “How are we doing, Clover?” she asked gently. Kate saw Gina nodding at her out of the corner of her eye, approving of this method.

He balanced himself using both hands and leaned forward to begin checking readouts. “We cut a hole in them. They are… on fire. But intact. The debris must be confusing their targeting.”

“It isn’t doing wonders for our, either,” she said through gritted teeth. “Will just have to do it the old fashioned way.” She hit the firing mechanism for cannon one twice, sending blasts at the wounded enemy. As she did, she stared at Richard, expectantly.

“One hit… second shot missed!”

She blew the hair out of her eyes. “Dammit!”

“I have an idea!” Gina’s voice rang out with excitement. The other two looked at her expectantly. “Yes,” she beamed to herself, “that just might work...”

“By all means, enlighten us,” Kate said, her patience wearing thin.

The War Angel’s pilot smiled in response. “Time to think a little more three dimensionally,” she replied, not looking up as she engaged the thruster controls.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

War Angel: part eighty-two

Jack felt the deck vibrate beneath him as a cacophonous explosion roared throughout the Kan’Tar. He pressed his hands flat against the table, steadying himself as the shockwaves roiled through the guts of the massive ship. Alarm claxons rang out, and the lights dimmed, then went out. After a moment, a bright blue glow began to emit from the ceiling and from the floorboards.

“Well. They must be on their way,” he thought. Lifting his hands from the table, he slowly turned his head and spit a glob of blood onto the nearest wall. It splattered as it hit, dripping down the wall like the claws of a demon. The blue lighting gave it an almost fluorescent look, causing Jack to briefly admire his work. He then began the slow process of standing up again. “Better get ready. Soon,” he thought. “Soon.”

B’thah K’alat wiped away the blood from the gash in his forehead. After he finished, he stormed across the bridge of the Serr’Donn to the sensor station. “What is the status of that ship?” he demanded.

The warrior responded without looking up from his station. “They hit us hard. We have momentarily lost helm control, but it should be repaired in –“ Before he could finish, K’alat grabbed him by the shoulder and threw him out of his chair and onto the deck. The Omegan captain then stomped down on the warrior’s neck with the heel of his boot.

“I… said… what is the status of THAT ship! Not this one, fool!” He relaxed his foot. “Do your job, or you will be replaced!”

Nodding his head, the warrior got up off the floor and returned to his station. He studied his instruments for a moment, and then turned around, lightly trembling. “My Commander, they are… the enemy ship has used its weaponry to destroy the inner hull and has begun making its way inside the Kan’Tar.” He paused, his hands shaking. “It is continuing to do so, firing its weapons in all directions.” He swallowed, his throat going dry. “They have made their way through ten percent of the ship so far.”

K’alat went silent for a moment. “May the dead hunt well in Erestia.” The Omegan closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them wide. “They must be stopped. Helm, get us to this end of their wake and put us into a position to fire all weapons. They have nowhere to run. We will have them.”

Kate continued to study the data Richard was sending her, adjusting the cannons and firing at a steady clip. As they made their way deeper into the Kan’Tar, she shifted her pattern. Her thinking had been two-dimensional at first, the optical illusion presented by the inside of the Omegan ship playing with her head, but as she began relying on the sensor data, she realized that she could use the guns on every axis. She fired forward, backward, to each side, up and down… suddenly she could picture the insides of the beast as no different than being out in space. She had a full sphere of tactical targets surrounding her, and the hunting was very, very good.

All around the War Angel, the Kan’Tar was dying in pieces. The cannons were cutting large chasms through the decks, destroying everything in their path. Equipment, vital systems… none of it was safe and was to be expected. But the crew of the War Angel was taken by surprise when the bodies started hitting them.

Initially, there was just one. Gina saw something on the viewscreen that looked a little larger than most of the debris they’d seen until that point, but it took until it impacted the shields to see that it was an Omegan warrior. He was missing an arm and a leg, and half of his face was burned off, but there was no mistaking it: this was the face of the enemy.

Gina turned pale. “Oh, no,” she whispered. “Please no.”

Kate opened fire again. “We killed how many with the bug and you’re worried about that?” she yelled from the weapons station.

“This is different,” Gina replied, anger rising in her voice. Four more bodies rained down upon the War Angel, bouncing away like limp sacks of meat.

“Debate later,” Sarah interjected. “Clover, how close are we to Jack?”

Richard eyeballed his data screen. “Sending Kate a firing solution that should cut us a hole that will get us as close as fifty meters now, Commander.”

“Received.” Kate punched in the solution and fired. “Path cleared. I’ll gear up and go get him.” She stepped away from the weapons station to find Sarah standing in front of her at the door.

“Belay that, F.A. You have the conn.” Sarah gritted her teeth. “This one is on me.”

Kate sneered. “That’s garbage and you know it. You want to play military ship all this time, and now pull this? You know this is inappropriate, Commander. Your place is on the bridge. Period.”

Sarah stepped through the door. “Not right now it isn’t.” She started walking away, Kate watching her as she went. Over her shoulder, she yelled one last command: “Cover my six, F.A.!”

Kate sighed heavily. “Yeah,” she muttered to herself, “because that’s worked so well for me today.”

The landing bay door opened, and Sarah hopped down to what was left of the floor beneath the War Angel. She admired the old ship’s destructive power for a moment, then set off in the direction of Jack’s transponder. The last cannon blast had cut a new hallway through the Kan’Tar, and she followed it steadily, gun pointed ahead of her in case of unexpected company.

All she saw, though, were dead bodies.

It amazed her, the numb sensation running through her body. It was like an electric current that kept her from feeling anything else. Days ago she would have considered herself to be something of a pacifist; now she was using biological weapons to commit mass murder of the enemy, and those untouched by the bug were fodder for the weaponry of the ship she had helped restore and bring to life. “One is resurrected, another dies,” she thought, trying not to admire the symmetry and failing.

She reached the end of the “corridor” and saw the hallway where she had walked earlier. A quick right turn, and a few doors ahead on the left was the dining hall. She approached cautiously, and then opened the door. Standing with his back against the wall, next to the door, was Jack. He blinked twice, clearing his vision, and then gave her a wan smile. “What,” he groaned, “took you so long?”