“Code black.” Another volley of weapon fire rippled through the Tyche. Brongill steadied Ally on the rolling deck and watched as the stacked armaments swayed. “All hands prepare for evasive maneuver zeln.”
“I have to get to my kids.” Ally’s fingertips bit into his forearms.
“This way.” Brongill deftly switched her grip to his hand. He felt the bones grind against each other as he staggered toward the door. Under the relentless attack, the inertial dampeners would soon fail and the armory would become a dangerous place to hide.
Shall I return fire, Commander? Despite Ty’s even tone, the higher pitched notes indicated distress.
“Slud no!” A munitions drone dropped from the ceiling of the armory. Its long spindly arms and cylindrical body blocked the exit before it moved toward the nearest crate of missiles. “Evasive maneuver zeln, Ty.”
“Holy Hannah!” Ally’s sneakers squeaked as she slid to a halt. Shaking off his grasp, she jumped behind him and squeezed his shoulders. “How the heck are we going to get around that large spider?”
The machine swung on its cables like a six legged pendulum until its lanky arms latched onto a crate of long-range projectiles.
They have damaged my hull, Commander. Ty pouted. I believe it is only right that I express my displeasure.
“We have critical mass weapons in the launch tubes.” Brongill winced as Ally clamped down on his shoulders. The tubes were reinforced but if they took a direct hit, the CMWs could explode. He ducked out of her hold, grabbed her wrists and tugged her toward the door. Did Ally know this?
“Not even a direct hit.” She replied as if reading his mind. “The explosives will probably go off but the plutonium trigger will not be rammed home.”
The next attack rumbled through the ship. The force knocked Brongill into the hallway. He slipped on the smooth floor and slammed into the wall. A crash sounded from within the armory. The inertial dampeners had failed. “Damage report.”
I have four free weapons tubes, Commander. Ty’s voice switched to the communications array in the corridor. Life support is out on decks six through nine.
Ally clung to the doorway. Blood wept from the cut where her forehead had collided with the doorjamb. She stumbled into the hall and staggered down the right-hand corridor. “I vote we blow them out of the sky, space, or whatever they’re on.”
In two strides, Brongill caught her about the waist and headed her in the opposite direction. Lurching past the armory door, he spied the munitions drone unpacking the warheads and feeding them to the gaping weapons tubes. “Warning shots only, Ty.”
Understood. The boom of the projectiles’ launch quickly overwhelmed the echo of Ty’s words. Three. Five. Eight. All the drones on his ship must be working for that many batteries to fire. At least one thing worked.
Brongill sprinted to the elevator at the end of the corridor. “Who’s attacking us?”
Panting, Ally reached his side and repeatedly jabbed the up button with her index finger. “Come on. Come on.”
Sensors indicate the weapons fire is coming from Terrill’s Northern polar platform.
“Elevators are offline.” Brongill tapped two keys on his clarn. The elevator doors opened onto an empty shaft. Debris floated in the space. Twisted metal, glittering treveyza and fist-sized spheres, undoubtedly the remains of the elevator and its propulsion engines. “Reduce gravity to point two, Ty, everywhere but the Medical bay.”
Gravity reduction in three, two, one.
“Use the sensors to climb up six levels.” Brongill’s feet lifted slowly from the floor. Cool air brushed the nape of his neck. He turned to Ally, offering his hand. He enjoyed the slip of her soft palm against his before his hands circled her waist. He lifted her and eased her inside the shaft.
Ally blew away the tendrils of hair that hovered near her mouth before gathering her shoulder-length locks and tucking them under the collar of her black uniform. Her hands slapped the top of the door. “Okay. Push.”
With as much thrust as he could manage, Brongill obeyed. As soon as her feet disappeared, he leapt inside while batting aside the refuse. The round sensors embedded on the right wall provided a means to propel him upwards. “Send our identification codes. Broad spectrum transmission. Let them know they are firing upon their own ship.”
Transmission confirmed, Commander. The weapons fire has ceased.
Brongill cleared the second door. Four more levels to go, then they would have to traverse two arcs of damaged ship to reach the next shaft. The Medical Bay would be a long trek.
Despite the fear etched on her face, Ally smiled at him. “I like low gravity. Once you get the hang of it, it’s kinda like swimming. Not that I want to get used to it.”
Nearing the sixth door, he dragged his hands along the wall to slow his momentum and twisted his body. In one fluid movement, he kicked off the back wall of the elevator shaft and jack-knifed through the doorway into the hallway. The top of the
elevator frame scraped his back. He caught himself against the ceiling and shoved to the metal floor.
“Which way?” Hovering, Ally glanced down the three passageways.
Assessing their routes, Brongill noted the destruction. This level, in the center of his saucer-shaped ship, had sustained considerable damage. Buckled bulkheads encroached on the halls. Metal panels lay like crumpled paper on the uneven floors. Cables and light fibers bristled from broken conduits. What must the outer decks look like?
“Brongill?” Ally demanded, chewing on her thumbnail.
“We’ll take the center one. Ty, raise the gravity on this deck to point six.” Taking the lead, he picked a path through the obstacle course. This hallway would take longer to traverse but he refused to risk Ally’s life to save two jas.
Another salvo rocked the ship.
Life support is failing on this deck, Commander.
Brongill’s suit puffed around his body and gloves formed around his hands. The bulk would help maintain body temperature. When the oxygen levels dipped to life threatening levels, the suit would close over his face and scavenge for all available molecules.
The bulkheads creaked and more panels crashed against the opposite wall. Brongill caught Ally, checked to ensure that her suit had reacted correctly, and guided her around the light fibers swinging from the ceiling. One touch and the electrical current would overload her heart. Flames blossomed like a red flowers among black smoke before Ty sealed it shut. “They haven’t stopped targeting us.”
The attacks are now coming from the Southern Polar platform, the lunar platform and one positioned near Delvin’s orbit.
“Delvin’s orbit.” The planet lay closest to the system’s star. The defense array had been planned while Brongill was home but the specifics had been above his classification. He hated to think what weapon it housed. “Broadcast a message on all channels. Brongill of DaHap, commander of the Terrillian ship Tyche requests an immediate cease fire.”
The three platforms answered with another volley. The hallway in front of them collapsed.
Ally slapped the mound of rubble filling the hallway. The thud mingled with the hiss of venting atmosphere and the grind of twisting metal. She glanced at him, frustration and fear etched her features. “How am I going to get to my children now?”
Brongill wanted to assure her she would see her children. The lie lodged in his throat, but the truth managed to pass his lips. “Your children are safe.”
At the moment, it was all he had to offer.
I have sent all available nanites to maintain structural integrity in the medical bay. Ty’s reassurance sounded hollow in the crumbling corridor.
Evasive plan zeln required all crewman and passengers to the medical bay in preparation of abandoning ship. Brongill had hoped to pilot the escape ship to the surface, now he prayed to Isa that Ally’s children would survive. “Medical bay report.”
The com system crackled. Static fought the voice of the Chief Medical Officer, Tula of Ferrite, for dominance. “I’ve accounted for all passengers except you, Ally and John Doe.”
“Understood.” Brongill cupped Ally’s elbow and turned her toward the elevator. “Doe is probably still on the command platform.”
“That’s three decks down.” Ally jerked out of his grasp and inched closer to the mound of debris blocking the shortest trip to her family. “What about my children?”
“I promise you will be reunited with your children.” Brongill skirted offering her a definite time frame. Given the damage to his ship, they would not reach the medical bay when it headed for the planet’s surface. “The hallway three decks down may be passable.”
Ally pressed her lips tightly together and sniffed. Her eyes brightened. “How bad is it?”
Brongill held out his hand. “I have never broken a promise, Alderina.”
“Oh, no, you used Alderina.” A smile faltered on her lips, and she brushed away a tear sliding down her cheek. “Now I know it’s bad.” She slipped her gloved hands in his. “Since the elevator shaft is out of the question, how can we reach John?”
Commander, I believe there is something you should know, Ty interrupted. The command platform is no longer there.
Ally inhaled sharply and squeezed his hand.
Slud. With the command platform destroyed, the entire level was compromised. They would not reach the medical bay. Fortunately, there remained another protected and reinforced place. The question remained, would they ever leave his ship alive? “What about Doe?”
“Here!” Doe’s head and shoulders stuck out of the opening in the exposed conduit. He wiggled and huffed his way out of the tube before clawing onto the debris strewn floor. “I was in the hallway when the projectile punched through the plating.” He swiped at the blood trickling from his lip. “Never seen anything like it. Isa in Her infinite mercy revealed an opening in the ventilation system and I used it to escape the deck. The ones below are just as bad.”
Propulsion … off line. Navigation … minimal. Ty’s report cut in and out. Estimated time to collision with Terrill is five point six jas.
Brongill led Ally and Doe down the corridor. From the groans and creaks, his ship was in its death throes. Time counted down faster than on his chronometer. He tapped his clarn. The panel across from the elevator melted away revealing a repair hub. “Do you trust me Ally?”
Hot air wafted from the hub. Brongill stepped over the entry and floated in zero gravity. Above him, a fire tossed balls of flames at the skeletal remains of the upper decks. Below, only open space where twenty levels had once been. His collar grew over his mouth and nose. Low oxygen. He would explain his actions to Ally later. The best bet the rest of his crew had for survival would be to free the Tychette, the small ship built within the Tyche. Unfortunately, they were decks away from the emergency escape vehicle. “Eject the medical bay.”
The door to Ty’s room opened. Her head resembled a bubble on the floor while her shortened arms radiated off her like spokes on a wheel. The silvery nanites had disconnected her from the ship, leaving her enough buds to regenerate new tentacles while reducing the remains of the ones still connected to raw materials. How much pain had she felt when his ship was blown apart around her?
“What!” Ally’s screech preceded her. She slammed into him propelling them backwards into the hub. “You can’t. My children.”
Activating the magnets in the soles of his boots, Brongill managed to stop two lenarcs across the white room. “This will save them. All of them.”
He heard the scrape of Ally’s boots just before Doe entered. The doors snicked shut.
Ejection procedure in process. Nanites formed a black skin over Ty’s bulbous head. She rose half of a lenarc above the silvery floor. Her six truncated tentacles swayed gracefully in the zero gravity, just as they would have in her native aquatic environment. Stasis procedures off line.
“Tula.” Brongill tightened his embrace and felt the warmth of Ally’s tears through his shirt. “Prepare your passengers for ejection.”
Ally whimpered. Her nails dug into his shoulder blades.
Doe cleared his throat and skimmed along the perimeter of the room. Every once in a while he would run his hand down the wall then dust the opalescent nanites onto his suit.
“Ejection preparations complete.” Tula’s voice crackled through the room. “When can I expect you?”
“I’ll see you on the ground.” Brongill kissed the top of Ally’s head and for a moment lost himself in her sweet floral scent.
“Understood.” Tula severed the connection, silencing Ally’s children’s demands to speak with their mother.
“Wait. No. Nichole. Collin. Marie.” Ally groaned and pressed her fingers to her lips. “Oh God! Why didn’t you let me say goodbye?” She pounded her fists against Brongill’s chest.
“You will see them again.”
Thrusters are back on line. The room pitched to the left before quickly righting itself. Ejection complete. The Tychette is ready for breakaway.
Brongill closed his eyes and pictured the plating and a quarter of the Tyche’s hull being jettisoned, so the saucer-shaped craft could break free. At his command, the craft would receive a short burst of power to guide it to the correct trajectory. “Upon my mark. Three, two, one. Mark.”
Telemetry indicates the platforms are targeting the Tychette.
Ty’s words slammed him back into the present; Brongill opened his eyes and gently set Ally away from him. The craft had no defenses. “Move to intercept. Fire all available batteries.”
My defense systems are destroyed. Ty wiggled her legs and drifted closer to the ceiling. Brace for impact.
Brongill widened his stance while Ally did the same. He hoped the increased attraction between his soles and the floor would prevent them from being hurled the six lenarcs across the room. A mild tremor shook his legs. Was that the extent of the attack? He rubbed his forehead. The sound-proof room nestled in a mesh of shock-absorbing pylons. For anything to be felt, the damage must have been intense and destructive. He glanced around the four walls. Would this become their tomb?
“Your sacrifice is noted, Commander, but what about us?” Doe huddled in a corner of the room, clawing at the nanites on the ground as if to bury himself under them one handful at a time.
“Ty, which shuttles are available?”
I apologize, Commander. Ty drifted closer to the floor. I had to use many of the parts to make repairs for the journey home.
Doe pushed off the floor. Silver glistened in his red hair. “There are no shuttles, are there? That is quite unacceptable.” His shaking hands smoothed the front of his blue Neithian uniform. “You stranded us on the ship! My people need me. I am their leader. Duly elected by the largest majority in Neith’s history. Me. I cannot die here.” He stomped his foot.
Brongill ignored the man’s blubbering. They were down to their last option.
“Shhh!” Ally hissed. “I think they’ve stopped firing.”
Another blast rippled underfoot. The nanites lost their gravitational attraction to the floor and filled the room with a shiny haze. Unease tightened Brongill’s gut. What horrible weapon could affect them all at once? “Status of the Tychette.”
They’ve entered Terrillian atmosphere.
Crouching, Ally turned Ty’s bulbous head until they were eye to mechanical eye. “Are they still being targeted?”
No, but sensors indicate the angsnet has caused an electromagnetic surge. Ty caressed Ally’s cheeks with one thick tentacle. All telemetry linked with the Tychette has been severed.
“Why aren’t the nanites placing us into stasis or building us new life pods?” Doe grabbed handfuls of the silvery machines from the air and rubbed them into his sleeves. “I must survive!”
“The chance of survival is less than a hundredth of one percent, John Doe.” Ty lifted free from Ally’s touch and turned to face the former leader. Her tentacles hung straight down from her body. “The pods are not designed for atmospheric entry.”
“How do you plan to get us off this ship, Commander?” Doe folded his arms and glared at Brongill.
Thoughts of their remaining option filled Brongill head and he smiled. The politician might well choose to die instead of taking his best chance at survival. Brongill’s attention shifted to Ally. He wished he had more time to prepare her.
Commander, the weapons fired from the Delvin platform are dark energy weapons.
Fear iced Brongill’s spine. Those weapons had been in development before he left. But he had relegated their purported destructive power to myth and propaganda.
“Dark energy?” Doe sniffed and inspected his chipped fingernails. “I fail to see how that would affect anything. Dark energy only works in open space. It certainly isn’t sufficient to overcome atomic attraction.”
Ty’s six arms folded in close to her body. Apparently, in our absence, Terrill found a means to use the dark energy to switch the energy of my composition.
“I don’t understand.” Ally’s brow furrowed as she stared at Brongill. “What do you mean switched your composition?”
“The Tyche is coming apart at the seams.” Brongill entered a code into his clarn. The wall separating this command hub from its duplicate dropped like rain onto the floor. Four man-sized green eggs floated in the dim space. “Aren’t the effects confined to the blast site? How many times have you been hit?”
Once. Ty used her tentacles to propel herself into the next room. Her bloated head and short limbs were a quarter the size of eggs. The effects of the weapon seem to be self propagating.
Brongill reached her side in six strides then shoved the closest oval into the light.
Ally caught it, skidded backwards a lenarc before stopping. She looked at him then the egg before locking her jaw.
“Ty, what are your maneuvering capabilities?”
Rudimentary, Commander. Ty wrapped four tentacles around one oval and towed it over to Doe. I apologize for my failings.
“Can you skim Terrill’s atmosphere?” Another order from Brongill’s clarn and the green eggs split in half down their full height. They opened with a sigh and revealed their nanite-filled interior.
Course change in progress. Ty drifted to Brongill’s side and wrapped one limb around his shoulder and another around his waist.
“Prepare for Rouh’s Insertion.” Brongill watched as part of the floor buckled. The battle would soon breach their stronghold.
It has been an honor to serve you, Commander. Ty briefly touched her forehead to his.
Brongill tugged Ty over to the fourth egg. “You’re coming with us.”
I must protect you. Even with the new updates the pods cannot survive a direct hit by even the weakest of weapons.
“We’re too small a target.” Brongill eased Ty’s bulbous head into the black interior. The nanites swirled and ebbed as they adjusted to their cargo. After tucking her legs inside, the ebony filling changed to silver. “I doubt the weapons are authorized to fire into Terrillian atmosphere. This war was supposed to save our race from extinction, not doom it.”
“I suppose this is the best you can do then this one will have to serve.” Doe stepped inside his chosen egg and wiggled into a standing position. The nanites shimmered as they accommodated his form. “This is so undignified for one of my importance.”
“Any news of my kids?” Ally pressed her hand onto the black nanite filling and watched it spring back.
Judging from speed and trajectory, the Tychette has begun final approach for landing.
“So they’re safe then.” Ally sighed and raked her fingers through her hair. “And now I have to get to them. What’s Rouh’s insertion?”
Brongill helped Ally into her pod. “We are inserted directly into Terrill’s atmosphere, then plummet to within an arc of the planet’s surface before we drop slowly to the ground. In a manner, I believe, similar to parachuting on Earth.”
“Have they landed yet?” She tried to pull free but the nanites held her fast.
Before Ty could answer, Doe interrupted. “Isn’t there a small matter of burning up in the atmosphere?” He struggled against the nanites holding him in place. “The suits can’t protect us from temperatures in excess of eight hundred Kelvin.”
“The outer shell is constructed of ceramic tiles. Underneath are layers of nanites that will burn away in the heat. Once clear of the upper atmosphere, they will increase the friction slowing our descent. The parachute will deploy at the appropriate oxygen level and speed, jerking you awake for the final freefall.”
“I can’t believe I’m being packed into a Nerf football and handed off to a planet.” Ally complained. “What kind of nut job came up with this brilliant plan?”
“Me.” Brongill chuckled. Silver nanites flooded into the pods replacing the black ones.
“How many times has this been done?” Doe demanded.
Brongill ordered Doe’s and Ty’s eggs closed. If these were his last moments alive, he preferred to spend them with Ally. “Twice.”
“Twice? Good lord.” She glared at him before fisting his shirt front and pulling him against her. “Twice successfully?”
“Once successfully.” Brongill pressed his lips to hers and lingered over her softness. A kiss, not of hello or goodbye, but of desperate beginnings. Where he had sought to comfort, the contact sowed only raw need. Reluctantly, he pulled back but savored the sweet taste of her lingering on his tongue. Pray Isa, keep her safe. “Commander Rouh did not survive.”
Commander, I have jettisoned the last of my bulkheads. If I sustain another hit, I may not have enough power to blow the door to the command hub. Ty’s warning resonated inside his skull.
Ally set her jaw. “You had better not die on me.”
“You’re not getting away from me that easily.” Brongill strode over to his pod as he entered the last orders on the clarn. He faced Ally just as her door shut.
“What do I do?” The nanites muffled her voice but not her panic.
“Remain calm.” Brongill swallowed the nausea burning at the back of his throat. He had done this before and survived. With his improvements, they should all make it to the surface. “Ty, transfer co-ordinates of the Tychette’s landing place to all pods.”
Co-ordinates for the largest piece of the Tychette entered.
“Largest piece?” The darkness of the sealed egg pressed against him.
The ship broke apart just prior to landing. Do not fear, Commander. I have blocked all communication with Alderina of Rutgers.
“Any survivors?” The nanite packing absorbed his breathing, his words and muffled the sound of his beating heart. Brongill’s senses strained against their deprivation.
Telemetry indicates all passengers arrived safely on the ground. Terrillian atmosphere reached.
“Prepare for deployment.”
Quadrants two and three jettisoned. Rouh’s Insertion in two, one. Pods clearing debris field. Atmospheric penetration. Temperatures remaining within expected parameters. Velocity within tolerance range.
“Set the ship to self-destruct. Authorization Brongill, Terrill, quip, zeln, Brongill.”
I do not believe that is necessary, Commander. The turbulence from contact with the atmosphere is shredding the ship. Exosphere reached. Temperatures are declining. Speed increasing. Tile sloughing expected in six point eight herits. The pods are performing better than expected. This will be my first time to the surface. I do hope it won’t disappoint me.
“Go to sleep, Ty.” Before he blacked out, Brongill’s last thought was of Ally. He prayed she would survive, but knew that all their lives lay in Isa’s hands. Pray Isa, show us your mercy.
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