Notes: A little longer today, yay! Prepare for...baaaattles iiiiin spaaaaaaaace! Next week will be Cody and Ten making more questionable decisions, which should be lots of fun.
Title: Reformation: Chaper Thirty
The air reverberated with the sound of alarms, yellow and red lights almost blinding as they blinked in time with their auditory accompaniment. Darrel sat fixed in his chair, hands gripping the seat so hard he couldn’t even feel them anymore, heart racing.
“Forward shields down to fifteen percent, sir! Ventral shields down to five. One more strafe across the bottom and we’re going to start venting!”
“The Cleaver is dead in space, sir! Full evac ongoing, but two Starshatterers are closing in on it.”
“Captain Obede says he needs another five minutes before he can safely break formation, sir.”
“All firepower and shields forward, full weapons spread and engage wherever we get a lock. If our shields are low, theirs have to be close to tatters.” General Caractacus’ voice cut through the babble like a scalpel through flesh. “Put as much of our bulk between the Cleaver and her pursuers as possible. Acknowledge Obede, but tell him to shave two minutes off that time, because we’re not going to be able to maintain our position for longer than that.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “And signal our own evacuation. All non-essential personnel are to proceed to the escape pods immediately.”
“We’re not going to survive many more direct hits. We don’t have the power or maneuverability this close to the other ships, but if we don’t stay close to cover their retreats, more lives will be lost. Signal the evacuation now. I want to see progress with our battery, give me a status update!”
More happened, the timbre of the alarms changing, more orders shouted, officers scuttling to obey, and yet for Darrel everything felt like it was coming at him through gauzy layers of cloth. Even his breaths, tight and short as they were, seemed muffled, like he was inhaling into a pair of pillowcases, not lungs. They were the best ship in the fleet, and they were evacuating. What did that mean for everyone else?
Clumsily, Darrel pulled up his seat’s nav screen. He could have looked over Lieutenant Reyes’ shoulder, but he didn’t want to risk distracting her. He scanned the numbers, desperate for a sign that the general was overreacting, that things weren’t as bad as he feared. But…no, it was bad enough. Their original contingent of eighteen was down to twelve, nothing but the smallest ships and their own super-destroyer still bringing the fight. On the other hand, the pirates had gone from twenty-nine ships to fifteen, and even as he watched, another one of their signals flared briefly, then died. They still had their own destroyer, though, and if the Triumph went down, it would be able to pick off the remnants of the fleet, mostly Skyblazers, built for speed but not meant to sustain heavy damage. On the other hand, if they could take out the destroyer first, then the Skyblazers would have an even fight ahead of them, slightly outnumbered but better prepared to move and dodge.
There was no way, though. All scans of the enemy destroyer showed robust shielding still holding at fifty percent, and the ship had no compunction about ordering smaller vessels into the path of the Triumph’s fire to save it from more damage. It was a bulky, clumsy thing, but in a toe-to-toe fight right now, it would win. It was winning, because Miles was concerned with saving his people’s lives, and the enemy captain clearly wasn’t.
“Pirates, my ass,” he heard Reyes mutter, her hands flying over her screen. “No pirates are this disciplined. They should have cut and run like the Hammerfall an hour ago.”
“Update on the Cleaver, sir, all crew accounted for and away.”
“Including Captain Gorion?”
“And our own evacuation?”
“Fifty percent and—enemy ship rolling beneath us, sir, we’re going to take fire!”
“Shift all power to ventral shields, maximum thrusters for a portside roll, now!”
The Triumph began its maneuver, but Darrel was positive they were too late. Their belly was raw and exposed, and even a little ship like that could do enough damage to send them reeling. If they hit the engines, the super-destroyer would be blown in half. He and everyone else on the bridge held their breath as the nav officer said, “Taking fire in three, two—missed us, sir!” He sounded amazed. “Not entirely, some hit the starboard edge, but we’re doing all right. Ship is—”
“Continue the roll.”
“Sir, then we’ll hit the enemy ship!”
“Exactly.” He sounded darkly satisfied. “Brace for impact.”
Darrel braced, but it still wasn’t enough to keep him from feeling the vibration of the blow all the way into his teeth, the ground-shattering feeling of two enormous vessels of war colliding in an otherwise frictionless environment. More alarms sounded, but it hardly mattered at this point—they couldn’t get any more distracting. Vaguely, Darrel felt a fluttering at the edges of his mind that he knew was Grennson, desperate for answers. He should have evacuated already…
“Sir, we’ve lost our portside thrusters, shields down to two percent!”
“Evacuate the essential personnel and pass me helm control. Get yourselves to the escape pods.”
There was a moment of pure, stunned silence on the bridge, and then an outcry from every person there.
“We can’t leave you to—”
“I can stay, I can—”
“This is not up for discussion!” There was the scalpel voice again, and this time it stabbed Darrel straight in the heart. “Give me control of the helm and get to your pods, now. That’s an order, people, move!” And reluctantly, unhappily, people did.
Reyes touched Darrel’s arm, drawing him out of his distracted state. “C’mon, cadet,” she murmured. “We have to go.”
Darrel didn’t respond, watching the new course Miles plotted on the nav screen. He was heading straight for the destroyer, a lurching, tilted charge thanks to the loss of one whole set of thrusters. The destroyer was already backing away, firing full tilt at the same time. It was a race to see if the Triumph would reach it before it exploded.
<Darrel? I’ve saved a pod, come meet me!>
He sent back a general feeling of wait before getting to his feet. There was something he needed to do first. “I’ll be right there,” he said. “You go, Lieutenant. Thank you.”
She frowned. “Cadet, I’ll make it an order if I have to.”
He smiled unsteadily. “I’m already disobeying one order, I’ve got no problem disobeying another one. Go on, I’ll be right there.” He had to keep Miles from doing something stupid, first.
In another thirty seconds, it was just the two of them on the bridge. “I believe I told you to evacuate, Cadet,” Miles said, but the ferocious sense of purpose had gone out of his voice.
“I will, sir, but only if you come with me.”
“Don’t worry about me, I don’t intend to commit glorious suicide today.”
Darrel bit his lip for a moment, then rushed ahead. “Captains never do, but eight out of ten times in similar situations, they do it anyway. My father did. I read all the transcripts of the battle he was in, I analyzed it over and over, and—he could have gotten away. He could have lived. He chose not to, because he thought he was helping more people by staying behind, but he didn’t. I’ve aggregated reports for every major battle of the past fifty years and investigated similar scenarios, and with very few exceptions, when a captain stays behind, they do so for no palpable gain. But they do it, because something about being in charge makes you feel too responsible.” He risked a touch of Miles’ arm. “Don’t do that to your family, please. Cody would never get over it.”
Miles raised one eyebrow. “I feel like you’re blackmailing me, Cadet.”
“Maybe I am, sir.”
“And I think it’s working.” Miles shut his eyes for a moment, then his fingers began to fly across the nav screen. “All right, I’ve autoset our course. If that destroyer gets smart we’ll miss it entirely, but we’ve still got a chance of hitting it.” He got up out of his chair. “I assume Grennson is holding a pod?”
“How did you—”
“Oh please. He wouldn’t leave without you. Lead the way, Darrel.”
The halls were empty of people now, and they couldn’t walk more than five steps without being sent staggering as another explosion rocked the ship. By the time they got to Grennson, Darrel was afraid the Triumph would break apart under their feet.
“Oh good!” Grennson beamed at them, and it was like sunshine in the middle of Darrel’s mind for a moment. “You brought him! Get in, everything is prepped to go.”
The launch sequence seemed to take forever, even though realistically, Darrel knew Miles was working as fast as he could. Finally the airlock closed, and the mechanism gave the pod a gentle push away from the carcass of their ship. The three of them clustered around the single window, watching as the Triumph gradually came into view.
“Poor girl,” Miles murmured. “My poor, poor girl.”
“You did your best by her, sir,” Grennson murmured comfortingly.
“Perhaps. If not, then it’s too late for—” His voice cut off abruptly as the ship suddenly flared with light, a coruscating series of explosions breaking it into pieces at last. “Boys, get dow—” They didn’t have time to strap in before the shockwave reached them, though, and sent the pod hurtling toward Pandora at breakneck speed.