Roberts Space Industries

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17531

Comments:

14

Date:

March 25th 2020

Instrument of Surrender (Part Three)
By: Adam Wieser
Writer’s Note: Instrument of Surrender (Part Three) was published originally in Jump Point 4.7. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

Sirens screamed across the bridge.

“Commander, thirty seconds until Tevarin forces have us in weapon range,” called XO Coburn. A mixture of stress and exhaustion strained his voice.

Deep inside Caliban’s asteroid belt, Crescent was caught in a kill zone of its own making. Commander Wallace’s initial plan had been to trap the Tevarin fleet in this exact position, and then unleash a surprise attack to cripple the opposing capital ship, saving the innocent people of Crion from the invader’s wrath.

Unfortunately, the plan had backfired. A debris field now blocked Crescent’s bow while a Tevarin capital ship protected by a thick phalanx shield was bearing down on its stern.

“Starman Odorizzi, we have no choice but to risk flying through the asteroid belt. I want course options.”

“Yes, sir!” Odorizzi responded then turned back, “To where?”

“Doesn’t matter. The more twists and turns the better. Just keep us out of their crosshairs.”

“Aye, sir!”

As Starman Odorizzi went to work, Helmsman Ayers glanced in Coburn’s direction and the two shared a look. Coburn and Ayers’ combined service time was greater than Wallace’s age.

“Helmsman Ayers, prepare for precision flying.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Helmsman Ayers’ hands came to rest upon the flight stick, Commander Wallace noticed his knuckles whiten.

“Sir, the Tevarin are within weapons range,” XO Coburn reported. “We can’t stay here much longer.”

“And we can’t move until we know where we’re going,” Commander Wallace stayed focused on the hologlobe. “Odorizzi, time’s up.”

“Here, sir.”

Options appeared on the hologlobe, ordered from dangerous to suicidal. Most of the routes started between two large asteroids to their right.

“Sir, if we get to the edge of the belt,” suggested Coburn, “we could quantum jump to safety and then regroup and reassess.”

“If we run, the Tevs will push forward and Crion will be in ruins before we can do anything about it. Right now our job is to keep them focused on us. Is that clear?”

Silence hung in the air. Suddenly, Starman Daughtry called from the scan station, “The Tevs are lining up a shot!”

“Tillman, everything you can to shields,” Wallace called to the scan station. “Helmsman, prepare to move!”

“Which route, Commander?”

She cycled through the options on the hologlobe. There was no time for analysis. One of the most important decisions of her life would be have to made on instinct.

“Rear shields are under attack!”

“Ayers, here. Go now,” called Commander Wallace as she hit the button to send the chosen route to the helmsman.

As the ship lurched forward, she hoped she hadn’t killed them all.

I am a whisper . . .

. . . thought Drahk as he spiraled toward the bow of the massive UEE ship. The skate, a personal propulsion device grabbed from his now destroyed Jackal, plus the momentum gained when he was flung from the wreckage, provided enough thrust for him to quickly close in on the Human capital ship. Drahk had to be careful though. It wouldn’t be good to come in too hot.

Illuminated streaks sliced through space, catching his attention. Drahk glanced up to see Luroosh firing upon the Human ship’s stern. The attack was underway. Hopefully that meant the Humans would be too distracted defending themselves from the external threat to notice him sneak aboard their ship.

As he drew closer, Drahk recited the Rijoran passage once again, “It takes a single whisper to break a silence.” It served as a mantra of what was to come and a reminder that even though he was just one Tevarin, he still had strength enough to cripple an entire capital ship by disabling the right systems.

The distance to the ship flashed across Drahk’s visor. If his aim stayed true, Drahk would pass above the bow and have the length of the ship to set down. There would be a number of hatches atop to let him sneak inside.

Drahk never had the honor of crewing a Prowler, but he had heard stories about what it was like to board an enemy ship, mainly from tales of an elite Tevarin unit known as the Naulle. Only those who had mastered all 343 fighting stances could join.

Rumors were they could board ships without being noticed and then disappear before anyone knew they were there. Drahk dreamed of joining the Naulle, but was born far too late. Had he grown up during the height of the Tevarin Authority, he would have played khuley in a stone course on Kaleeth, learning the team tactics Tevarin boarders used so devastatingly against their enemies.

Instead, Drahk grew up around Humans in Olympus, stealing their disgusting food and dodging their dirty looks. The Rijora saved him from that life, and now, as the Human capital ship loomed closer, it was bringing him back to it.

A proximity alert flashed across Drahk’s visor. It was time to slow down. Drahk activated the retro thrusters on his skate and decelerated.

Then, suddenly, the ship moved. Its bow swung toward a tight gap between two nearby asteroids. Portside came to bear before Drahk. The long length of ship he had planned to use as a runway was now gone.

Drahk braced himself. The ship’s course change along with his deceleration meant he had lost ground. Quickly, he maxed out the skate’s thrusters to pick up speed. Drahk would not let his destiny be denied.

While accelerating, he banked to the left, carefully adjusting his path to the ship. If his approach angle was too great, he would overshoot the ship. Yet, if he pitched down too dramatically, a hard landing could injure him. He passed above the ship abeam to port, angled himself down towards the bow, and prayed for the best.

Glancing down, the ship was but a blur beneath his feet. The rapid movement made him woozy and forced him to glance away. Instead, he focused on the edge of the bow, which rushed at him faster than expected.

He curled his long frame into a tight ball and took the brunt of the impact in a roll. The wind was knocked from him, but he managed to activate his mag-boots before he tumbled over the edge.

The quick shift in momentum ripped the skate from his hands. It spiraled away, deflecting off the ship, then disappearing into the asteroids. He had hoped to use it to escape, but it looked like that was no longer part of the plan.

Drahk wasn’t deterred though, and, after ensuring his vitals were normal, he could not stop the swelling of pride that filled his heart. He’d done it. He had met his destiny and survived.

Nope, this wasn’t going to work. There was no way this Marine’s uniform would fit over his spacesuit. Hickory’s arm only made it halfway down the sleeve before the shirt was busting at the seams.

So much for slipping through Crescent’s halls in disguise. He was going to stick out like a sore thumb in his custom suit, but there was no other option. It was the only link he had to his ship floating in the drift.

Hickory dropped the uniform shirt next to the unconscious body of his former guard. The young Marine had taken a hard blow to the head, but he’d be fine. The consequences for letting a prisoner escape would hurt a lot longer.

He slammed the cell door shut and the electromagnetic lock engaged. Hickory gave the kid one last look. Someone would come looking . . . eventually. That is, if Crescent survived this tussle with the Tevarin.

Hickory tried not to think about what was happening outside. No use stressing over what he couldn’t control. There was enough to worry about anyways, like finding a helmet. He’d never get off this ship without one.

He drew a deep breath and visualized, turn-by-turn, the route he’d take to the flight deck. Time spent on Olympus taught Hickory the halls of this ship, but he still wished he had his helmet to help him chart a course. Hickory had spent years customizing the visor’s information overlay to his specific needs. He missed it already and without it, he would have to do this the old fashion way — with only his eyes, ears, and instincts.

If he could get to the flight deck, there was a good chance he could find a helmet in the pilot’s ready room. Once done, he could focus on the next step in his plan, the most important and probably the most difficult part — how to get off this ship and back to his own?

We’ll deal with that when we get to it. He moved to exit the brig, but stopped. Hickory looked back at where the unconscious marine’s rifle had fallen when he had knocked him out. He knew he could never shoot his way off this ship, but it might come in handy. Unfortunately, it would also immediately escalate any situation. Marines didn’t tend to converse with armed prisoners.

No, better to play it safe, he thought and left it behind. Once certain the coast was clear, he began his journey to the flight deck.

About halfway down the hall, he wondered if he’d made the right call.

“Next turn in 1,500 meters. Tight left to heading 2-7-0,” called Starman Odorizzi.

“Helmsman Ayers, tighten up your turns, you’re broadcasting them.” Command Wallace watched as Helmsman Ayers wiped sweat from his brow.

“Yes, sir.”

Wallace gripped the rail to the hologlobe as Crescent plowed through a cluster of asteroids, further damaging the bow’s shield. She checked its status then called out,

“Tillman, push more power to the front shields.”

“That leaves our rear shields near fifteen percent. They won’t hold up if they come under another attack.”

“That’s why I want this next turn to be quick and clean. We need to put as much distance between us and the Tevs as possible.”

Careening down this unpredictable, circuitous path presented more problems; small asteroid clusters pelted off Crescent’s hull and shields. Meanwhile, behind them, the Tevs kept gaining ground, their phalanx shield swiveling to protect the ship from any asteroid chunks left behind in Crescent’s wake.

Coburn approached Wallace. “These clusters will wear us down if we’re not careful.”

“I know.”

Coburn stepped closer and dropped his tone. “I think we need to pull Ayers. He’s not up to this.”

By now she knew this was Coburn’s way of saying he didn’t agree with her plan. Commander Wallace responded, “Ayers has served with distinction in seven major engagements.”

Coburn said nothing, but didn’t look convinced.

At times her XO’s habit of not directly telling her his thoughts could be frustrating, but now that he was, all she felt was uneasiness. Replacing a respected member of the crew in the midst of battle would win her no admirers. Still, it was a reality she had to consider, “Well, let’s be prepared to get Geuze in there if he isn’t.”

Coburn nodded and resumed his station.

“Next turn in fifteen seconds,” Odorizzi warned.

Commander Wallace watched the turn approach and the ship’s speed stay steady. Then, at the last moment, Helmsman Ayers spun Crescent to the left. The ship successfully slid into the passage only for its momentum to drift their starboard side dangerously close to a large asteroid.

Helmsman Ayers quickly rotated the portside thrusters to provide reverse thrust. Commander Wallace gritted her teeth, worried it would be too little, too late to counteract their momentum. Starboard sensors screamed of an impending impact.

Then a sudden, powerful vibration struck the ship. The large asteroid slammed against Crescent’s starboard shield, almost completely depleting it. The asteroid exploded into countless chunks, clogging the passage behind them.

Wallace steadied herself then looked to Coburn. She leaned towards him. “Call up Geuze. I’ll let Ayers know.”

As he stepped away, Commander Wallace stared at the hologlobe, concerned this one failed turn would get the Tevs into effective weapons range. The Tevarin ship spun around the obstruction in pursuit. Its phalanx shield swung from side to side trying to defend itself from the wide debris field.

“XO Coburn, wait.”

Coburn quickly returned to Wallace, who replayed the Tevs turn through the debris field. He leaned closer to the hologlobe.

“Notify our gunners. Target the asteroids.”

A smile crept across Coburn’s face when he saw it: the Tevarin phalanx shield couldn’t deflect multiple simultaneous impacts.

After his successful landing, Drahk had quietly opened one of the exterior maintenance hatches and slipped into the ship. He wriggled through the narrow crawlspace and dropped into a small antechamber. He wasn’t surprised that the Humans had failed to secure such an obvious entry point. This lack of combat preparedness would yet prove to be their downfall.

He carefully moved from doorway to doorway, adjusting course anytime his suit’s scans identified a nearby Human. Yet, it wasn’t the hallways that concerned him, as they had been quieter than expected. It was the doors.

His suit’s scans couldn’t penetrate the ship’s thick metal walls, so every doorway presented a tense moment of anticipation as the mechanism hissed open. But so far, he hadn’t encountered anyone, so he kept moving, aided by his childhood memories of Olympus.

The UEES Olympus had crashed into Ashana and was soon adopted by the people that would come to call it home. This ship, although a similar class as Olympus, was decidedly different. Here everything was sterile, brightly lit and clean. There were no stalls fighting for space near busy junctions. No strange food smells wafting from open doorways. No sand seeping in through the seams and drifting across the halls. Instead, he found himself with a sense of déja vu laced with disorientation.

Drahk snapped out of it as he felt that instinctive itch that came from being in one place for too long. Checking his scans, he confirmed his path forward was clear and moved to the stairs that led to the sectors housing the ship’s components.

Once there, he squatted with his side against the cold wall, then carefully leaned forward and glanced down the stairs. The coast was clear. He swung around the corner, setting a foot on the first tread when a slight vibration made him pause. Voices funneling up from the stair’s lower flight signaled Humans rushing in his direction.

Drahk pulled himself back around the corner and pressed himself against the wall. Moments later, several soldiers hurried by him. None bothered to glance back the way they came. Once their footsteps faded away, Drahk finally exhaled.

He held position for a few seconds to ensure that more weren’t on their way and then snuck down the upper flight onto the landing. He briefly paused to see if the lower flight was clear before cautiously proceeded down the remaining stairs.

Before him lay the soft underbelly of the beast. A maze of narrow halls led to rooms pumping power and other essentials to the rest of the ship. Drahk drew his sidearm and crouched in a nearby doorway. His mind raced trying to recall what these rooms had been on Olympus. There was that supply store, and the Slapjim’s distillery, and across from that was —

Suddenly, Drahk’s visor flashed. More Humans were moving in his direction. He had to hide, and fast. He looked at the door to see it had a small window and raised from his crouch to glance through. Seeing no one, he quietly said a Rijoran verse to himself, opened the door and slipped inside.

As hoped, the room was empty. Drahk bristled happily as the door shut. Before him sat one of the ship’s battery bays — the perfect place to start executing his plan.

Crescent’s gunners ripped into asteroids on both sides of the passageway. Chunks of shattered rock littered their wake, leaving a wide debris field that the Tevs phalanx couldn’t entirely defend them from.

“Latest scan shows their shield strength equalizing under 40% effectiveness,” called Starman Daughtry. A buzz went through the bridge as Wallace intently studied the hologlobe. Her crew was focused and communicating. It was the first time since they’d fallen into their own trap that their confidence was growing.

Yet, Commander Wallace knew this strategy wouldn’t last for long. Their own shields were dwindling fast from the constant barrage of debris. They had to deliver a crippling blow before the Tevs changed tactics, or worse, gave up pursuit and forced Crescent to chase them.

Then she saw their chance. Just ahead was a tight turn through a narrow gap that led into a clearing large enough for Crescent to turn around. It was the perfect place to start attacking.

“Attention everyone.” She paused for a second then continued, “In approximately 15,000 meters, Helmsman Ayers will execute a sharp right turn, steering the ship through a narrow gap. As we enter the clearing, Starman Villar and her weapons team will litter its exit with anti-ship mines. This should draw their phalanx shield’s attention. In the meantime, I want all personnel to prep the ship for close combat.”

A chill settled over the crew. They all knew what close quarters combat with a Tevarin capital ship meant.

“We won’t win this fight by running. The only chance we have to win is to face them now, while their phalanx is weakened. I know it’s not ideal. Hell, I’m barely convinced it’s not suicide, but it’s the best chance we’ve got to hit the Tevs and take out their primary defenses. Which means it’s the best chance the people of Crion have to live another day.”

She looked around the faces of the crew, unsure how they’d take it.

Ayers was the first to nod to her and turn back to his station.

Commander Wallace looked to Villar, who nodded back. Then she continued, “Ayers, coming out of the gap, will swing Crescent clockwise until we’re nearly back where we started and our starboard is perpendicular with the entrance. When the Tev’s ship comes out of that gap, I want us in position to broadside its stern. They can only protect one side of their ship at a time, so let’s force ’em to choose between us or a field of mines.”

Coburn immediately called out, “Anyone not understand their role?” When his question was met with silence he continued, “Then let’s get —”

“Commander! We just lost power from battery bay two,” Tillman yelled from the engineering station.

“What? How?” XO Coburn stormed toward Tillman.

Commander Wallace raced to a terminal and scanned the ship’s currents stats. How could an entire battery bay suffer a major malfunction without any warning?

Ayers called out. “I’m losing speed, Commander. Lost ten, now fifteen percent of our overall thrust.”

“Divert power from shields to the engines now! We need to get to this gap as fast as we can.”

Starman Daughtry threw fuel on the fire, “Seeing a power spike from the Tevarin. They’re preparing to attack.”

“Commander, the Tevs are gaining ground. We’ll need shields to fend them off,” Coburn called from the engineering station.

“How much further until we reach that gap?”

“Just over 5,000 meters, sir,” responded Starman Odorizzi.

“We’ll risk it. Helmsman Ayers, we need to get through this gap clean.”

“I’ll make it, sir.” Ayers shook his dominant hand to loosen a stress cramp.

“Incoming!”

Ayers swung Crescent’s bow toward the narrow gap just as the Tevarin opened fire. The shots screamed past the ship, narrowly avoiding their stern. As Crescent swung into the gap, Wallace called out, “Full power to stern thrusters!”

The ship surged forward, though its momentum still pulled the portside toward the gap’s asteroids. Meanwhile, Ayers fired the starboard retro thrusters. Wallace hoped Ayers’ actions plus the additional thrust would get the ship through clean.

Portside warning sensors wailed as the ship veered closer and closer to the asteroid. Still, there was a chance this could work. The gap’s exit was close. The ship’s bow was through, but Commander Wallace held her breath until the entire ship entered the clearing.

Then she finally exhaled and called out, “Deploy the mines!”

As Villar relayed the order to her crew, Helmsman Ayers swung Crescent into its clockwise turn. Wallace watched the Tevarin ship charge through the gap and enter the clearing. It quickly swung its phalanx shield towards the sea of anti-ship mines.

Ayers completed Crescent’s turn and the ship was now positioned behind the Tevarin fleet, just where Wallace wanted.

“Send out the order. Ready attack!”

Hickory was close. The flight deck wasn’t far away, which meant the ready room had to be somewhere on the other side of this bulkhead door. Time to find a helmet and get off this ship.

The bulkhead slid open, revealing an empty hallway. Hickory moved towards the flight deck. As he angled towards a door on the right, out stepped a Tevarin.

The Tevarin immediately raised a weapon, but Hickory was already in motion. Driven by instinct honed over decades of shady deals with shadier characters, he pushed the barrel of the alien weapon to the ceiling with one hand while twisting the body of the weapon with the other. The rifle came free from the Tevarin’s grasp and clattered across the floor.

Hands quickly seized Hickory by the throat, lifted then slammed him down on the deck, knocking the wind from his lungs. The two rolled around, exchanging body punches and elbows. Hickory could tell that the Tevarin was trained in fighting, but not experienced. Hickory on the other hand, had been in plenty of fights, but never formally taught. He snaked his arm around the back of the Tevarin’s head and found an access panel into the Tevarin’s suit. He opened it and ripped. He must have snagged the power cords because the faceplate went opaque, completely blinding the Tevarin. Hickory used the distraction to wriggle free and dive for the discarded weapon on the floor.

Drahk finally managed to restore power and clear his helmet in time to see the Human raise his own rifle at him.

“Don’t . . . move . . .” Hickory said between labored breaths.

“Do it,” Drahk hissed in near perfect Human. “I am not afraid.”

Hickory hesitated, but it wasn’t because the Tevarin was speaking his language. There was something familiar about the dialect. He was about to ask when —

“Freeze!”

Hickory and Drahk turned. A group of Marines stood at the end of the hall, weapons raised. One young Marine whose eye was almost swollen shut from a nasty shiner stepped closer, looking down the sights of the rifle Hickory decided not to take.

Hickory tossed the Tevarin weapon aside and put his hands up.

“I guess those cells of yours aren’t good for holding anybody for long.” It was all Hickory managed to say before the butt of a rifle cracked him in the side of the head.

TO BE CONTINUED

End Transmission

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