I've been very busy lately with something called the GCE 'A' Levels, so I haven't been able to make any updates on Odyssey.
However, I have been working on another piece which has to do with the original Homeworld - the final mission to be exact. It would be much appreciated if I could get critiques and comments regarding this attempt at recreating Mission 16: Hiigara.
You’ve taken one step too close to me.
A mighty jolt gripped the bridge suddenly, throwing several surprised officers off their feet and forcing the Kharakian commander to grip a nearby console for support.
“What in Kharak’s name was that?” Commander Kaalel demanded as he mentally cursed his ill luck. He had hoped that his bridge watch would be a peaceful one, at least while they were in hyperspace.
“The quantum waveform is destabilizing, safety interrupts not respond…” the officer barely had time to reply before another jolt sent Kaalel sprawling on the deck. The commander swore loudly and struggled to his feet – a difficult task when the ship seemed to be caught in a stormy sea.
“I’m getting critical alerts from the command core,” another officer spoke up with alarm, “It’s Karan, sir!”
“What do you mean?” Kaalel suddenly felt his blood turn to ice.
“I’m… not very certain,” came the reply, “Medical teams are en route…”
“Fleet Command, come in please!” Kaalel was yelling into the command channel, “Karan, please respond!”
The commander and the rest of the bridge crew hoped to hear a reply, to hear her calm and collected voice giving reassurance that everything was functioning properly. The command channel remained silent.
“Call the admiral immediately! And bring us up to maximum alert!” Kaalel ordered, trying his best to stay calm amidst the violent tremors.
“Sir, we’re losing systems control!” an officer exclaimed, “Sensors, communications and main drives are becoming unresponsive!”
A chilling thought entered Kaalel’s mind. Karan, or Fleet Command, was the one responsible for managing the multitude of system functions onboard the Mothership. Most importantly, her brain was the only thing capable of handling the complex calculations required for hyperspace transit. If Karan went offline while they were in hyperspace, he could not imagine the consequences.
“Status report on auxiliary processing cores!” Kaalel yelled.
“Auxiliaries A and B are at one hundred percent capacity, C and D at seventy percent and rising rapidly.” As if to emphasise the officer’s point, the bridge seemed to plunge by several metres, forcing any remaining standing personnel to take their seats and strap in.
“Reallocate any and all processing power from non-critical systems to the hyperdrive,” Kaalel quickly ordered, “How much longer before we reach Hiigara?”
“Three minutes approximately,” replied the NAV officer, “Sir, quantum waveform fluctuations are reaching critical thresholds!”
“Damn, we need more processing power!” Kaalel swore as he began to hear the Mothership’s superstructure groaning and screeching under the immense stress, “Shut down everything except the cryogenic subsystems and power systems!”
“Even life support, sir?” the systems officer stared at him in shock.
“The air’ll last long enough,” Kaalel responded, “Now do it!”
Nodding slightly, the officer tapped furiously away at his console. Almost immediately, alarms began to sound and console screens started blanking out. Admiral Tyram emerged wobbily on the bridge just as the primary lighting shut down, leaving only the eerie cerulean glow of hyperspace to illuminate the place.
“Report!” Tyram demanded as he struggled to maintain his balance.
Commander Kaalel gestured towards an empty seat next to him, “There was a malfunction in the command core. We should be getting reports from the medical teams as soon as we’re out of hyperspace.”
“Medical teams?” Tyram asked as he stumbled over to the seat and strapped himself in securely, “What’s happened to Karan?”
“Frankly speaking, I don’t know either,” Kaalel replied in a worried tone, “As it is I’m not even sure we’ll make it out of hyperspace alive.”
Feeling the Mothership fling itself about wildly in hyperspace, the admiral couldn’t help but agree with his subordinate.
“Life signs are dropping! We’re losing her!”
“No we’re not!” Lieutenant Ferin Manaan snapped at his subordinate, “I need a dosage of adrenaline now!”
The nervous ensign dug around in the medical case and produced a packaged syringe of the substance. Then the Mothership gave a mighty heave, flinging the package from the medic’s fingers and depositing it several metres from the door.
“Focus, FOCUS!” Ferin yelled at the hapless ensign as he left the unconscious Karan with the rest of the team and dashed for the package. The ship gave another deafening groan as it jerked violently to one side, causing him to stumble onto the deck.
“Qwaardammit,” the lieutenant swore as he reached out and grabbed the package, “Just what’s going on around here?”
“Reroute all power to the hyperdrive module!” Captain Elorres ordered as his heavy cruiser, the Avatar, continued to shudder uncontrollably.
“It’s no use captain!” came the reply, “We don’t have enough power on our own to stabilise the Core’s waveform!”
“Mothership command systems appear to be offline,” the communications officer reported, “Fleet broadcast functions are offline as well. I am attempting to establish direct channels with the rest of the fleet…”
“Captain, hull stress reaching critical levels,” another officer spoke up as calmly as he could, “At this rate we may not survive the exit.”
“We’ll have to maximise our chances then,” Elorres responded, closing his eyes in anticipation of the inevitable. “Seal all bulkheads and initiate lockdown. Sajuuk protect us all.”
In the Mothership's hangar, Wing Captain Rea Soban strapped himself in and rechecked all his ship systems. The diagnostics turned up nothing in particular, leaving him to sit back and wait out the space quake.
“Gamma squadron, report in,” Rea spoke into the communications channel.
“Blade Two, systems nominal.”
“Blade Four here, all systems green.”
“This is Blade Five, secondary autocannon appears to be jammed. Tech squad’s working on it now.”
“Blade Three reporting, systems at one hundred percent efficiency.”
“Great. Now we’ll just have to wait till we’re needed,” Rea responded as he tried to ignore the shudders that were reverberating through his Interceptor.
Then there was an uneasy silence that was broken only by the beeping of a private channel from Blade Four.
“We’re finally reaching Hiigara, aren’t we?”
“Yes we are, Toba,” Rea answered casually.
“At last, after six months in space…” Toba’s voice crackled over the channel, wavering slightly with emotion, “Pity that Aaraan and gang won’t have the chance to see it…”
Rea fell silent upon hearing Toba’s words. Toba and him were the only surviving pilots of the original Gamma squadron created at Kharak. Aaraan and Keoma had perished during the assault in the Great Wastelands, their fighters torn apart by Seejur class defenders and giving the rest of the squad ample warning as to the Seejur’s capabilities. Then there was the easy-going and good-humoured Karas who met his end at the Galactic Core, where his interceptor had been ensnared by the Taiidan gravity well, rendering him helpless in the face of the merciless Imperial assault.
And now, he wasn’t even sure if they’d live long enough to set foot on Hiigaran soil. The deaths of their squadron mates and friends from other squadrons had taught them a thing or two about staying alive, but there was something about this coming battle that was different from the rest. His commanding officer had sounded rather confident during his briefing of the various wing captains, but there was an underlying tone of doubt and fear in the voice. It was almost as though they were being sent out to die this time.
Certainly, the destruction of Kharak had been a powerful motivating force for the Fleet, pushing everyone to give their all and confront the Taiidan fearlessly as revenge for their loved ones. But as the Fleet inched closer and closer towards Hiigara, encountering increasing numbers of Imperial patrol fleets, there were some who felt that the journey to Hiigara was sheer folly and madness. As enemy resistance increased, so did the numbers of those who were opposed to reclaiming Hiigara. The one thing that had kept the Fleet from encountering a full-fledged mutiny was Karan. Fleet Command’s fearless attitude towards the Taiidan was inspiring for everyone in the Fleet, and her unwavering voice seemed to possess the power to vanquish any misgivings and fears of the men and women going into battle.
“Rea? Are you okay?” Toba’s voice came in over the channel.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Rea snapped out of his thoughts, “Was just thinking about Fleet Command. Speaking of which, did something happen? It’s not like Karan to be this quiet right before a battle.”
“I don’t know, but it might have something to do with this space quake we’re facing,” Toba complained, “All this shaking’s driving me nuts!”
“Don’t you get shaken around during dogfights anyway?” Rea laughed.
It was then that the shudders suddenly seemed to die away, the groans and screeches of the Mothership’s superstructure fading away into silence. The broadcast channel in Rea’s cockpit came online and the pilot waited in anticipation to hear the calming words of Karan Sjet.
“…Attention to all, this is Admiral Tyram speaking. Stand by for hyperspace exit to Hiigara. Repeat, stand by for hyperspace exit to Hiigara.”
“Hyperdrive powering down, system reboot in progress.”
“I think we’d better keep the main drives and point defences offline,” Kaalel suggested, “We need to save processing power for more crucial systems.”
“Agreed,” Kaalel replied before pausing for a moment to admire the breathtaking view of Hiigara before them. For a people who knew only the sands of Kharak, Hiigara seemed like paradise. The breathtaking sight of lush green continents floating in vast oceans of liquid water stunned the bridge crew into silence.
“Beautiful,” Tyram managed to say.
“We’ve come such a long way…” Kaalel trailed off as he realised that the medical teams were reporting in.
“This is the bridge,” Kaalel spoke into the channel, “Lieutenant, what’s Karan’s condition?”
“Bad,” Ferin replied grimly, “We’re keeping her alive, but only just.”
“What happened to her?”
“Unknown. Her alpha brain functions have peaked and she appears to have gone into synaptic shock,” Ferin explained, “It’s not the Mothership computers as you’ve already rerouted just about everything away from her. It’s… probably something else, but we need more time to figure out what’s wrong.”
“Well then…” Kaalel hesitated as he prepared to ask the lieutenant a question whose answer he feared, “…In your opinion, what are her chances?”
“At this juncture, she’s very much in a critical condition,” Ferin reported, “If her current neural activity remains unchanged, then… it seems unlikely she could make Landfall.”
“I see,” Kaalel said as he looked around at the admiral and the rest of the bridge crew, who were all visibly shaken by the news, “If that’s the case, then please do whatever you can for Karan.”
Closing the channel, Kaalel took a few seconds to gaze long and hard at the blue-green planet before them, the planet for which they had fought with their lives for. He muttered a silent prayer and returned to the matters at hand.
“Do we have sensors yet?” Kaalel asked.
“Sensors are just coming online, give me a few seconds…” the sensors officer responded as the screen on his console flickered on and began displaying the necessary data. Tyram walked over to the side of the console and, after a quick glance, looked up at Kaalel and shook his head.
“The fleet’s probably had enough time to recover from the rough exit,” Tyram stated, “They have a right to know what’s going on, and what we’re up against.”
Nodding in approval, the commander stepped to a console and opened the broadcast channel. Taking a deep breath, Tyram walked right up and prepared to speak.
“Attention fleet, this is Admiral Tyram,” the admiral began, hesitating for a moment before deciding to get straight to the point, “We’ve lost Karan. Fleet Command is gone. Emergency biotech teams are working to keep her alive.”
There was a shocked silence across all the fleet frequencies for several seconds as word got out. Tyram expected the response – Karan, or Fleet Command, had been much revered and respected during their six month long journey through space. Some even looked upon her as a divine being due to her uncanny abilities of being “one with the ship.” If she couldn’t be saved, there would be a time to mourn her passing. But for now, there were other issues at stake.
“The collision asteroid must have served its purpose as a delay tactic,” Tyram continued, “There is a large number of Taiidan ships here. A mothership class vessel is among them.”
“Because of technical issues, the Mothership cannot be moved from its current position. Therefore, we can only fight a defensive battle. It is certain that the Imperials will do everything in their power to destroy the Mothership. We cannot let that come to pass, not after all that we’ve been through, not after what happened to Kharak…”
“Sir, I don’t mean to interrupt or anything,” Kaalel suddenly spoke, “We’re picking up multiple hyperspace signatures right in front of us.”
“Got it,” Tyram acknowledged as he returned to his broadcast, “Priority alert, enemy forces are emerging from hyperspace. All ships, stand by to defend the Mothership.”
“By Sajuuk,” Kaalel started again, “Admiral, we’ve got a Qwaar Jet, two destroyers, two missile destroyers, and at least ten frigates!”
“Launch all strike craft immediately,” Tyram ordered, “Have Mercy groups Alpha through Theta and Matriarch groups Alpha through Delta stand by for emergency repairs to the Mothership. Deploy all remaining groups to support our frontal ships. What’s the status of the heavy cruisers, commander?”
“Retribution and Supernova report that their systems are nominal. Avatar reports that they have bulkhead breaches and stress damage from the hyperspace exit,” Kaalel updated.
“Very well. Have the Retribution and Supernova move forward to intercept the Taiidan fleet. Their priority target is the Qwaar Jet. Revelation, Vengeance and Firelance groups are to support the cruisers, and Perditions should engage from maximum range. Now move!”
With that, Commander Kaalel started barking orders at the communications officers, who now had to work triply hard in Fleet Command’s absence.
“Gamma squadron you are cleared for launch,” the launch control officer announced, “Engage hostile targets and keep them away from our capital ships and the Mothership. Good luck!”
“Thanks,” responded Rea, “I hope we won’t need it.”
The wing captain felt the docking clamp come alive as it moved his interceptor into launch position. As the docking arm extended itself into the launch corridor, Rea caught a glimpse of the multitude of activities taking place in the vast hangar of the Mothership. Fighters, corvettes and resource collectors were moving free of their docking clamps and manoeuvring towards the bay door and out into open space. He even saw a newly-built assault frigate lumbering from the construction bays, its massive fusion drive pushing it towards the battle outside.
Then he felt the interceptor jolt as the docking clamp released its grip. A small indicator light blinked green on his instrument panel and he activated the main drives. A sudden load of leftover G forces pinned up to Rea to his seat as the inertial dampeners powered up and the strike craft went from zero to over eight hundred metres per second in little over a second. Once the interceptor cleared the massive bay door, the wing captain opened a channel to his squadron. “This is Gamma Leader. Form up on me, formation Claw.”
As soon as the rest of his squadron had moved into position, Rea set a course for the Taiidan fleet and went to maximum thrust. It didn’t take long for him to reach the main battle. The Vengeance and Revelation groups had already reached the fleet and were pounding away at the enemy capital ships. Strangely enough, the Taiidan ignored the destroyers and capital ships completely, moving on and returning fire only with their mass driver turrets.
“All right, seems like they don’t have fighter cover,” Rea announced, “Stand by for bridge strafing on my mark.”
The wing captain yanked hard on his flight stick and banked his fighter towards one of the Skaal Fa class missile destroyers, the rest of Gamma squadron following suit. As the bridge section of the ship came closer and closer, alarms suddenly began to wail in his cockpit. Rea stole a glimpse at his display screen and gawked.
“Incoming missiles! Squadron, break formation and go to full evasive!” Rea yelled as he pulled hard on his flight stick and diverted all power to the main drives. He heard the fighter’s engines give a pained whine as they were pushed to their limits, causing the interceptor to plummet away from the Skaal Fa. Then he saw the source of the trouble – the second Skaal Fa had realised what they were up to and had thus decided to blast them into oblivion.
“This is Gamma Leader to any friendly in range – someone take out the active Skaal Fa fast!” yelled Rea as he began putting his interceptor through a series of twists and spins so as to shake off the pursuing missiles.
“This is Firelance Group Three, message received,” a reply quickly crackled over the channel, “We’re en route. In the meantime, stay alive captain.”
“Stay alive?” Rea rolled his eyes as his ship plunged into another wild spin, “They make it sound so easy…”
Then additional alarms began to wail, prompting him to glance at his display screen again. Now the first Skaal Fa they were after had suddenly decided to make life hell for them as well. The wing captain swore and heard the main drives scream in protest as he yanked his flight stick and rose above one of the guided missiles that had come a little too close for comfort. He was relieved to see that the frigate group had arrived on the scene. Four brilliant crimson ion beams shot out of the frigates’ accelerators and cut deeply into the port side of the second Skaal Fa, sending burning chunks of armour and hull plating careening off in all directions. Then another frigate group came in range – a squad of four Vengeance class assault frigates. Rea watched as the frigates’ mass driver turrets swivelled around to face the cornered Skaal Fa. Then plasma torpedoes and mass driver slugs streaked out from all four frigates and slammed straight into the port side missile bays. The armour and hull, already greatly weakened by the initial ion assault, buckled and let the high energy plasma through. Moments later, the entire capital ship blew apart as the missile warheads detonated and ripped the destroyer to pieces from the inside out.
“Thanks for the help,” Rea spoke in a triumphant tone as he swerved his fighter to the side to evade the last of the tracking missiles, which finally exhausted their fuel reserves to become harmless warheads tumbling aimlessly through space, “Gamma squadron, form up on…”
“…Gamma leader this is Blade Five, I can’t shake the missiles,” the pilot interrupted on the channel in a desperate voice, “They’re gaining on me! Can’t evade! Somebody help me!”
Before Rea could respond, he heard the agonised scream of the hapless pilot as the missile hit and burned his fighter to a crisp. He swerved the fighter around and found the culprit – the first Skaal Fa that they had been going after initially.
“Gamma squadron, form up on me,” Rea ordered, trying his best to sound calm and composed, “Full power to engines, stand by to commence strafing operations.”
“Sir, this is Blade Four, we have incoming missiles, I count twelve of them!”
“Evade evade,” the wing captain responded as he pulled his fighter out of formation, “Maintain course towards the Skaal Fa.”
It was then that the approaching missiles suddenly detonated prematurely, creating a series of explosions and shockwaves that caused his fighter to shudder slightly.
“This is Lambda Three Leader, was trying out a new anti-missile program,” the corvette squadron leader informed him, “Don’t worry about the missiles, we’ll cover your backs.”
“Thanks Lambda squadron,” Rea replied as he aimed his fighter at the Skaal Fa and went to maximum burn. It was still a bit of a surprise – he had not expected the multigun corvette to be capable of shooting down incoming missiles.
As the interceptor squadron approached the Skaal Fa, the Taiidan capital ship became even more desperate, firing off every missile it had in a bid to destroy the attackers. However, every missile fired was quickly shot down by the multigun corvettes behind the squadron, rendering the destroyer completely helpless against the fighters.
“Target entering firing range in ten seconds, stand by for strafe,” announced the wing captain as his squadron swooped towards the bridge section of the ship. As the bridge section came closer and closer, he could almost imagine the Taiidan officers running about in sheer panic.
“Target is in range, fire at will!” Rea yelled as he opened up with both of his interceptor’s autocannons. The rest of his squadron did the same, releasing a flurry of high speed bullets that ricocheted around the reinforced hull and viewports of he bridge. Then one of the viewports shattered, causing a good number of the bridge crew to be sucked out into space. Rea took a final aim and released a last salvo – this time sending the bullets straight through the large gaping hole in the viewport section and into the bridge inside. Satisfied with the results, he pulled away from the ruined bridge just before his interceptor collided with it. The strafe had been very successful, for the Skaal Fa was no longer firing its missiles and was merely moving aimlessly in space.
“Gamma squadron to command, Skaal Fa disabled,” Rea reported.
“Command here, good work out there Gamma squad. We’ll be sending in a salvage team if… wait… priority alert! Gamma squadron return to Mothership at best speed. A Taiidan carrier has just jumped in right on top of us and is launching attack corvettes. Return immediately to support the Avatar and the Puppeteer groups against the corvettes.”
“Understood sir, we’re on it,” Rea acknowledged as he swung his fighter around, “Gamma leader here, the Mothership is under attack. Set course for the Mothership, full burn.”
“Status report on the Taiidan heavy cruiser!” Captain Eos Manaan yelled on the bridge of the Bushan Re.
“They appear to have taken moderate hull damage on the forward, starboard and aft sections,” responded the sensors officer, “Both the Retribution and Supernova are attacking the cruiser, but it seems unlikely that they could neutralise the cruiser in time.”
“How much time before we’re in firing range?” Eos asked as he went around to the various consoles, studying the data to get a better idea of the situation.
“Twenty more seconds, but they’ll be within range of the Mothership by then captain.”
“It doesn’t matter, we can only do what we can,” the captain replied as he gestured to the bridge crew to get ready, “All hands stand by to engage hostile cruiser!”
“Ten seconds until firing range,” said the tactical officer, “Mass drivers are locked and ion cannon systems are fully charged.”
The massive Qwaar Jet class heavy cruiser loomed ahead, its dangerous payload of four heavy ion cannons backed up by six heavy guns striking some fear in the captain’s heart. ‘No wonder the Imperials are so feared in this galaxy,’ Eos thought.
The sensors officer suddenly spoke up, “I’m getting a massive energy spike, they’re firing!”
Just as he finished his sentence, the forward ion turrets of the heavy cruiser dazzled a brilliant blue as four lethal beams of ionic energy leapt forward and slammed straight into the Mothership’s hull.
“Target is within range,” said the tactical officer as he prepared the destroyer’s weapon systems.
“Fire!” Eos yelled as the four ion beams continued to burn through the heavily armoured hull of the Mothership. He felt the Bushan Re shudder as its twin mass driver turrets unloaded their payloads of depleted uranium ammunition on the Qwaar Jet. As the mass driver slugs began punching holes in the scarred armour of the cruiser, the bridge lights flickered momentarily as the twin ion cannons fired off their powerful energy beams, slicing deeply into the weakening hull of the cruiser.
“Imperial corvettes have entered firing range!”
“Open fire!” Elorres ordered. Almost immediately, the Avatar responded with a salvo of ion beams that streaked through space and burned through four of the Taiidan corvettes effortlessly. Then the bridge reverberated slightly as the heavy guns took aim and fired, sending a shower of monolithic ammunition towards the oncoming formation. Several bridge officers let loose whoops of triumph when another five more corvettes exploded from the impacts. But their moment of victory didn’t last long.
“Sir, they’ve got a lock on us,” the tactical officer reported grimly, “Looks like they’re targeting the damaged hull sections on the starboard side.”
“Evacuate all personnel from the targeted areas and brace for impact!” the captain managed to bark just as the heavy corvettes returned fire. While the heavy cruiser was many times larger than a heavy corvette, the fact that more than twenty ships were attacking simultaneously meant that the salvo would not go unfelt. The bridge rocked moderately as the weakened hull sections were pummelled by the corvette formation.
“Hull breaches on decks three, six, seven and nine. We’ve lost control of heavy guns four and six,” an officer reported.
“Where the hell is our support?” demanded Elorres as he watched the corvettes charge up for a second salvo.
“Puppeteers are just coming within range,” the sensors officer replied, “They’re deploying drones now. Sir, we’ve also got an incoming flight of Taiidan bombers. I’m counting thirteen contacts, ETA one minute.”
There was another shudder as the heavy corvettes fired off their second salvo, but this time the effect was markedly reduced as a good number of the corvettes were now distracted by the onslaught of the Puppeteers’ drone fire. Then the communications channel suddenly crackled to life.
“Heavy cruiser Avatar, this is Gamma squadron. We’ll handle the bombers. Gamma leader out.”
As the transmission ended, Elorres saw the squad of four interceptors fly by the cruiser, followed closely by a formation of multigun corvettes. The bridge crew began to cheer as they saw the bombers getting picked off one by one by their strike craft support. The captain heaved a sigh of relief and turned back to the sensors officer.
“Now that that’s been taken care of, get me a lock on that carrier,” Elorres smiled, “It’s payback time.”
Another quake shook the bridge, forcing the officers to grip their consoles for support.
“Damage report!” Commander Kaalel yelled over the din around him.
“We’ve got hull breaches on decks four, nine and seventeen, damage control teams are en route,” came the reply.
Another officer suddenly spoke up, “Sir, the Imperial ion frigates have entered firing range!”
“Brace yourselves everyone!” Kaalel barked just as the bridge began to rock violently from the second assault.
“Damage control alone won’t be enough,” Tyram noted, “Commander, order the supporting Mercy and Matriarch groups to begin external repairs immediately.”
“Admiral, enemy reinforcements are emerging from hyperspace above us,” reported the sensors officer, “They have a heavy cruiser and several destroyers along with frigate support, ETA seven minutes.”
“Sajuuk damn these Taiidan,” swore the admiral, “If it’s a fight they want then it’s a fight they’ll get! Divert all bomber squads to intercept that attack force!”
“This is Blade Four, all hostiles neutralised,” Toba reported over the channel.
“Good work everyone,” Rea praised, “If no one’s running low on fuel we can set a course for…”
“Attention Gamma squadron, this is the Avatar,” Captain Elorres’ voice came in over the channel, “Thank you for your assistance. We are now en route to intercept and destroy the carrier responsible for the attack. Could use some fighter cover on the way.”
“No problem captain, we’ll cover you,” answered the wing captain, “Gamma squadron form up on me, formation Delta. Time for a little escort duty.”
“I don’t understand,” Ferin shook his head, “Are you sure the computers aren’t feeding anything into her mind?”
“Negative sir, the bridge has already rerouted ninety-nine percent of all computer functions away from the command core,” the ensign reported after analysing the readouts on his hand-held console, “The only things going through her neural net now are some low level firmware stuff.”
“Can we cut those out?” asked Ferin as he looked at the unconscious Sjet before him.
“Not without killing her, we can’t,” the ensign shook his head, “Her neural activity is too unstable for us to risk a complete disconnection.”
“Let me have a look at those readings,” the lieutenant mentioned as he reached for the console, “‘Low-level firmware stuff?’ What exactly are we looking at here, ensign?”
“The basic coding and programming required to make the mind-machine interface work,” replied his subordinate.
“Does this programming then, by any chance, involve our long range communications systems in some way?”
“Long range communications?” the ensign wore a puzzled look on his face, “What do you mean, sir?”
“Because it looks as if some of the firmware codes have been somehow locked into communications,” Ferin began, “And they’re receiving some sort of…”
The lieutenant froze suddenly, “By Sajuuk, get me the bridge, and hurry!”
“This is the bridge, what do you want?” Kaalel asked in a frustrated tone.
“Commander, we have reason to believe that the Mothership’s computers have been compromised,” Ferin stated plainly.
“Compromised?” Kaalel asked incredulously, “Explain yourself, lieutenant.”
“Check communications,” answered Ferin, “Have we, by any chance, established a direct link with the Taiidan flagship?”
“Get me a diagnostic on our communications systems,” the commander barked at one of the officers, “We’re running a quick check now, please hold on.”
“Commander, diagnostics didn’t find anything,” reported the officer.
“Lieutenant, there’s nothing wrong,” Kaalel snapped, annoyed at the false alarm, “Now you just get back to keeping Karan alive…”
“Commander we have no chance of keeping Karan alive if we don’t get to the bottom of this,” Ferin answered calmly, “It’s a low-level issue, so you’ll probably need a basic hardware diagnostic, just to see which system modules are active.”
“You had better be right on this lieutenant,” the commander spoke as he turned to give his orders, “Low level hardware check please, and hurry!”
“Affirmative, running diagnostics now…” the officer trailed off for a few seconds as the test did its job, “Sir, we have a one-way transmission that’s going beyond the farthest ship from us.”
“Calculate effective transmission distance and superimpose possible targets on our sensor data,” Kaalel ordered as he walked over to the sensors console. He saw the necessary data appear on the screen and then turned white as a sheet.
“Lieutenant, it would appear that you are right,” Kaalel admitted, “We are somehow in communication with the Taiidan flagship itself.”
“Break the connection, it’s probably what’s keeping Karan like this,” Ferin answered urgently, “And hurry, the adrenaline’s not going to sustain her for much longer.”
“Enemy forces neutralised captain. The Mothership is safe for now.”
“Good work everyone,” Eos praised his crew, “Now we’re on stand by until…”
“Attention all ships, this is Admiral Tyram. Enemy reinforcements are emerging from hyperspace below us, ETA five minutes. All ships stand by to engage and destroy hostiles. That is all.”
As the broadcast ended, the captain looked around at his crew, who were already working furiously away at their stations in preparation for the attack.
“No rest for the wicked,” Eos commented, “Helm, set a course and engage at maximum burn.”
“Alert, enemy carrier is launching strike craft,” Rea announced as he saw the red dots appear on his sensors display, “Gamma squadron stand by to intercept.”
“Gamma leader, this is Alpha squadron,” a young husky voice suddenly crackled in, “We’ve been dispatched by command to assist you.”
“Your help’s appreciated, now let’s kick Taiidan ass!” the wing captain roared as he took aim and opened fire.
“Target is within range, ion cannon systems fully charged,” an officer spoke up, “Our escorts are engaging the Taiidan strike craft.”
“Lock on to the main drives, we want to finish them off quickly,” Elorres ordered as they approached the massive Saarkin Cho class carrier.
“Weapons lock confirmed.”
“Fire ion cannons!”
The frontal turrets of the Avatar began to glow and crackle with shimmering red ionic energy. Then four crimson beams of energy sliced through the empty void of space and slashed into the main drives of the carrier. Elorres saw the glow of the fusion drives flicker and fade as the beams burned down towards the main reactor core itself. Then there was a blinding explosion as the ions reached the fusion core and detonated it, vaporising the carrier completely.
“Target neutralised,” an officer reported, “The remaining Imperial strike craft appear to be panicking.”
“Bring ion turrets to bear,” Elorres was glowing with the sweet taste of victory, “Let’s finish them off…”
Then it all came crashing down. “Captain! An Imperial fleet’s just jumped in! They’ll be in range of the Mothership in one minute!”
“Critical errors reported in cryogenic subsections J and L!” yelled an officer just as another flurry of ion beams raked across the hull and caused the bridge to shudder violently.
“All damage control teams to cryogenic subsections!” Kaalel barked desperately. They had been taken entirely by surprise when a second Imperial attack fleet had jumped in directly in front of them. In the end, forces that had been diverted to intercept the two reinforcement fleets had to be recalled to form and emergency defensive perimeter around the Mothership.
“Sir, frontal hull integrity is at thirty-three percent,” another officer reported urgently, “The Mercies and Matriarches can’t repair the damage quickly enough!”
“All ships, focus fire on the Taiidan super capitals!” Tyram yelled, “If the frontal hull fails, it’ll leave the cryogenic subsections completely open to attack!”
“Emergency alert, ion beams have breached a cryo module in subsection J!”
“Lock down that module!” Kaalel shouted frantically, “Damage report!”
“Unknown, approximately ten thousand colonists were in that module sir,” the officer replied sadly.
“Dammit!” Kaalel screamed as he banged his fists down on the console before him. Then he looked up and saw the Taiidan ships preparing for a second attack.
“Registering weapons signatures,” shouted the sensors officer, “They’re going to fire again!”
The carrier Veer Rak shuddered violently as the ion beams seared into its hull instead of the Mothership’s. The resulting system overloads caused consoles to explode and lights to fail on the bridge.
“Keep us in position!” roared Fleet Captain Phuur Nabaal, “Can’t let any shots get through!”
“Sir, hull breaches in decks eleven through fifteen!” yelled a panicked officer, “Engineering is reporting system shorts everywhere!”
“We’ll stay where we are!” Phuur snapped, “Better us than the Mothership! All damage control teams to affected areas!”
“Resolute groups are in position sir!” another officer reported.
“Deploy mines! Finish those Taiidan off!”
Then there was another mighty shudder as the carrier’s electrical systems failed completely, plunging them all into darkness.
“It’s not working!” the ensign exclaimed exasperatedly, “They’ve already cut off the transmission – she’s still jacked in somehow!”
“Then we are left with no choice,” Ferin spoke grimly as he rolled up his sleeves, “Call Neurals, it may be time for an early extraction.”
“Calculations completed commander. It appears that both reinforcement fleets are timed to arrive at our position at the same time.”
“That is not good – we can’t fight a battle on two fronts!” exclaimed Kaalel.
“But we have to, whether we want to or not,” Tyram interjected, “Dispatch all strike craft to intercept both fleets ASAP – we need to weaken them as much as we can before they get here. How much time do we have?”
“Two minutes sir.”
“Gamma squadron go go go!” Rea yelled into the channel as his fighter streaked towards the menacing Taiidan fleet, “Mothership can’t take much more of this!”
As the fighters entered weapons range, the Taiidan assault frigates began to fire their mass drivers at the swarm of little ships. Metal slugs darted forward at high speeds, completely crushing any fighter whose pilot had been too slow to react and evade.
“Eat this!” Rea screamed as he fired off his interceptor’s autocannons, showering the nearest frigate with a rain of depleted uranium slugs. However, the interceptor weapons failed to do any real damage, with most of the bullets either ricocheting off the armoured turrets or causing only insignificant pockmarks on the cannon barrels.
“No way to take out their weapons,” Rea barked, “Let’s all head for the bridge!”
With that, the wing captain sent his interceptor into a nose dive towards the bridge. He placed the bridge within his crosshairs and pulled the trigger, sending a stream of bullets into the frigate’s weak spot. He smiled when he saw the viewports shatter, sending the hapless bridge personnel careening out into space. His interceptor glided away from the frigate – now dead in space.
“Nice one there Rea!” Toba commented as he brought his fighter alongside Rea’s.
“Thanks Toba,” Rea grinned, “You weren’t so bad yourself – you took out a Sajuuk Cor didn’t you?”
“Aw, it was a lucky shot,” Toba replied, “Those poor bastards didn’t see it…”
Then there was static.
“Taiidan fleets have entered firing range,” reported the sensors officer.
“Internal pressure doors sealed, all bulkhead blast doors in place,” Kaalel added worriedly.
“Well then,” Tyram muttered as he watched the Taiidan ships prepare to fire, “Let the decisive battle begin.”
“Blade Four?” Rea asked worriedly, “Toba, do you copy?”
“Blade Four do you read?”
Hesitantly, Rea looked out from his cockpit in the direction of where Toba’s fighter ought to be. Then he saw the mangled wreck of the interceptor, impaled and nearly ripped in two by a lucky hit from a frigate mass driver slug. The cockpit was in tatters, and Toba was nowhere to be seen.
“This is Blade Two. Gamma leader, are you okay?”
“I’m… I’m fine, Blade Two,” Rea managed to squeeze the words out of his mouth, “Gamma squadron, form up on me. Our task is to disable as many capital ships as possible.”
The wing captain muttered a silent prayer for his deceased friend, then swerved his interceptor towards the nearest Taiidan capital ship.
“Firing ion cannons!” the tactical officer reported as the twin beams of scarlet reached out and washed over the Bushan Re’s target: a Taiidan destroyer. As the beams started burning away chunks of hull and ablative coating from the Skaal Tel, the Taiidan ship began manoeuvring to face the Bushan Re.
“Captain, they have a lock on us,” an officer spoke up, “I think they’re going to…”
“Energy spikes!” the sensors officer yelled, “Brace…”
The Skaal Tel returned fire with its own twin ion cannons, the cerulean beams pouring ionic destruction into the hull of the Bushan Re. Even as the ion beams faded away, the Imperials followed up with a full salvo of mass driver fire. The blasts caused the bridge to rock violently, as well as the lighting to fail for a few seconds.
“Port ion cannon offline, hull breaches in decks six and eight,” an officer spoke up as soon as the attack had ceased.
“What about them?” Eos demanded, “Surely we managed to hurt them too!”
“It appears that they’ve lost power to their manoeuvring thrusters,” reported the sensors officer, “We could take advantage of that fact.”
“Of course we will!” the captain barked, “Helm, get us out of their line of fire now!”
“Captain, another ship has locked on to us,” the sensors officer added, “It’s a missile destroyer, and they will enter firing range in eight seconds!”
“Seal all bulkheads!” Eos yelled, “We’re going to at least take down the Skaal Tel before they finish us!”
“We’re out of their line of fire, main drive section targeted,” added the tactical officer.
The Bushan Re’s remaining functional ion cannon came to life, bristling and crackling with energy as it let loose a single beam that drilled into the drive section of the immobilised Skaal Tel. Eos watched the armour evaporate in the beam’s power, then the bridge rocked violently from the shockwave of the exploding reactor core.
“Target neutralised, we have incoming missiles!” an officer yelled to no one in particular.
Eos stared at the approaching and gripped the sides of his seat tightly.
“What in Kharak’s name just happened?” Elorres demanded from the few uninjured officers that remained on the smoking bridge.
“It… it seems that an ion beam pierced all the way through our drive section,” an officer replied, “We only have twenty percent power left, and the primary fusion core is becoming unstable.”
“Any hostiles attacking us at the moment?” Elorres asked as he studied the flickering display on the sensors console.
“The Retribution and her escort are distracting the Sajuuk Cors at the moment, but there is a group of assault frigates on intercept course.”
“Open a broadcast channel,” the captain ordered as he prepared to make a call for help, “This is the heavy cruiser Avatar to any friendly ship in range. We have taken heavy damage and require immediate repair support.”
“Heavy cruiser Avatar, this is Matriarch group Delta Five, we have received your distress call and are en route, ETA one minute.”
“How much time till the frigates reach us?” Eos asked just as the bridge began to shudder again under another attack.
“The frigates have just started firing on us,” an officer reported, “Internal sensors are registering massive hull breaches across all decks – we won’t last much longer captain.”
“So be it,” Elorres responded as he walked over to a weapons console and began tapping furiously away, “Stand by to bring remaining heavy guns online!”
“Cryo module breach in subsection F!” an officer shouted over the massive cacophony of noise in the bridge, “Initiating lock down!”
“Heavy cruiser Avatar reporting critical damage!” yelled another, “Matriarch group Delta five en route!”
“Dispatch Vengeance groups Omega and Rho to cover that cruiser!” Tyram ordered, trying his best to keep calm in what seemed a doomed battle for them.
The sensors officer suddenly spoke up in a terrified voice, “Sir! Another fleet is coming out of hyperspace right on top of us!”
“Sajuuk damn it! Admiral we are being overwhelmed!” Kaalel yelled when he saw the Taiidan ships emerge into normal space.
‘Is this the end?’ Tyram thought when he saw the black destroyer group complete the exit and plunge downwards towards the Mothership’s position.
“Admiral, the fleet is hailing us!” the communications officer managed to call out over the din, “Patching them through!”
Tyram and Kaalel faced the crackling communications console nervously, expecting a cruel message from the Imperials mocking their stupidity and eventual defeat.
“…This is Captain Elson of the destroyer Capella. We’ve fought many Imperial raids and lost many ships in order to get here. The emperor and his flagship are here. Together, we can defeat him. I am placing squadrons Cor and Jafal under your command, Exile fleet.”
“Captain Elson!” Tyram responded, “You have the Gods’ own timing! Tyram to all ships, eliminate all hostiles attacking the Mothership!”
The admiral’s announcement seemed to inject new life into the weary Mothership fleet. As word got out that even the rebels had come to help, the fleet swung into full action once more. While the Imperial attackers manoeuvred to deal with the surprise attack by the rebels, the Kharakian forces retaliated in full force, forcing the Imperials to fight a two-front battle. Scarlet and aqua ion beams slashed into the Imperial fleets, accompanied by a lethal hail of mass driver fire from the combined forces.
The tide was turning slowly but surely.
“Gamma squadron, form on me and stand by to dock with the Imperator,” Rea spoke as he piloted his interceptor towards the carrier, “We’ll be accompanying the strike force to finish Riesstiu off, so be prepared for heavy resistance.”
“Roger that Blade leader,” came the replies.
The attacking Imperial forces, outmatched with the addition of the rebel fleet to the Mothership fleet’s numbers, had now dwindled to a single missile destroyer and several damaged frigates that were being mopped up by a Kharakian frigate task force. Because of Captain Elson’s warning that additional Imperial forces were en route to Hiigara via hyperspace, it had been hastily decided that a strike force would be organised to complement the rebels’ attack on the Taiidan flagship. It was hoped that the loss of their emperor would cause the remaining Taiidan forces to stand down and cease their attacks.
As the docking clamp gripped the hull of his interceptor with a sharp jolt, the channel in his cockpit came to life as the squadron briefing began.
“To all fighter squadrons selected to be part of the strike force – the battle you are about to participate in will be the final battle that decides whether we can continue to exist as a people,” Admiral Tyram spoke calmly, “As you already know, we will be striking directly at the Imperial flagship itself, which will be defended by the Taiidan Elite Guard.”
“Your task, as fighter pilots, will be to provide cover for our capital ships, which will move in to engage and destroy the Taiidan flagship,” Tyram continued, “You can expect heavy resistance, for we believe that the flagship will be outfitted with a complement of strike craft roughly equal in number to our fleet’s. However, you must make sure that our capital ships are able to make it through to destroy the flagship, whatever the costs on your part. Or else it will all be in vain.”
“We have travelled a long way from Kharak, which the Imperials burned, to our homeworld – Hiigara. I know that you are all exhausted from the long battles which you have fought thus far. So let’s just give it one last shot so we can all go home, all of us.”
There was a momentary pause, as though Tyram was at a loss as to what to say. Then the channel crackled on again.
“Brave warriors of Kharak, thank you.”
“Strike craft squadrons have docked and participating capital ships are in position,” Kaalel reported, “But admiral, do you not think it unwise to send the majority of our forces to attack, leaving a minimal guard for the Mothership? If the Imperials attacked us while our strike forces are away…”
“Sending anything less will greatly reduce our chances of success,” Tyram answered gravely, “This is a gamble on our part.”
“You would put our existence on the line…”
“Commander, you must remember that we will be overwhelmed eventually, even with the assistance of the rebel forces,” Tyram interrupted, “Our only chance at winning this war… is to strike at the very one who led them to seek to destroy us.”
“I understand your concerns Commander,” the admiral spoke as he walked up to the officer and patted him on the back, “But we did not come this far just to play a defensive battle and lose. If there is any chance at attaining a victory, no matter how small, we should grab it and use it as best as we can.”
“…If that is the case admiral, then…” Kaalel spoke hesitantly before returning to the task at hand, “Admiral, the fleet is ready.”
“Excellent,” said the admiral as he walked up to inspect the gathered capital ships in formation, “Admiral Tyram to strike force – initiate micro jump!”
Blue quantum wavefronts began opening up in front of the gathered Kharakian and rebel ships. The energy waves swept along the lengths of the capital ships, closing silently as the fleet made its way to the final battle.
“…Micro jump complete, hyperdrives… captain we are coming under fire!”
“They were expecting us,” Elorres noted as the Avatar began to shake under the multitude of mass driver fire, “How are our temporary repairs holding up?”
“Fusion core has stabilised, and we have power to ion cannons and three heavy guns,” the officer replied, “We will not last very long in a direct battle though.”
“How long we last is irrelevant – our job is to destroy the flagship,” the captain reminded, “Helm, full speed ahead!”
“Gamma squadron you are clear for launch, go go go!” the launch officer urged as the docking clamps holding the squadron in place released their grip.
“Gamma squadron form up on me, formation Claw,” Rea ordered as he powered up the main drives and flew his interceptor out of the carrier’s hangar bay – only to find himself beset from all directions almost immediately.
“Blade Three here, enemy fire everywhere!” his squadron mate yelled over the channel.
“Break formation, full evasive,” Rea responded as he yanked his flight stick to swerve away from an incoming stream of bullets, “Engage targets and fire at will! Good luck everyone!”
“Strike force has engaged the Elite Guard,” Kaalel reported, “They are encountering heavy resistance.”
“Order all capital ships to push forward – the primary target is the flagship,” Tyram responded calmly, “The flagship must be destroyed at all costs.”
“Go to hell!” Rea screamed as he pumped a Triikor full of lead, leaving it to spin helplessly in space before its main drive detonated and took the pilot with it. Alarms and klaxons began wailing in his cockpit as another Triikor rushed out from nowhere and let loose a hail of bullets, some of which slammed into the side of his interceptor. The wing captain ignored the damage alarms and yanked wildly at his flight stick, sending the fighter into a seemingly-uncontrollable spin so as to get on the Triikor’s six. Pulling the trigger, Rea watched the bullets tear into the Taiidan interceptor and rip it apart.
All around him, he saw the various frigate and destroyer groups of the strike force engaging the Elite Guard. Both crimson and aqua-coloured ion beams criss-crossed the gulfs of space between the capital ships as the Taiidan tried to stop the strike force from reaching the flagship. Then a brilliant blue ion beam appeared suddenly in front of him, forcing Rea to quickly bank upwards so as not to get his fighter vaporised by the beam. Alarms began to sound as incoming red dots appeared in great numbers on his sensors display.
“Sajuuk damn these Taiidan,” cursed the wing captain as he brought his fighter around to face what he thought would be easy targets – only to see a squadron of Diirvaas approaching him. Another deft pull on the flight stick caused the ship to jerk wildly to the right as he attempted evasive manoeuvres. The next moment, there was a mighty jolt as his interceptor went into an uncontrollable spin. Rea glanced at the display screen and knew what had happened.
‘I’m gone,’ he thought as the multiguns’ second salvo tore his ship to pieces.
“Supernova is coming under heavy fire captain,” the sensors officer reported from his console.
“Helm, change course and have us intercept the cruiser attacking the Supernova,” Eos ordered.
“Captain, as it is we only have one ion cannon and one mass driver turret functional, as well as severe hull damage across all sections,” an officer protested, “To go up against a Qwaar Jet is suicide!”
“This was a suicide mission to begin with officer,” Eos snapped back, “Now get back to work and prepare to fire all weapons!”
“Target is in range, ion cannon fully charged,” informed the tactical officer, “Commencing firing sequence.”
Once again, the Bushan Re’s sole functioning ion cannon struck out again, its beam burning into the side of the Qwaar Jet class heavy cruiser. For a moment, it seemed as though the cruiser would ignore them completely. It was only when the mass driver shots knocked out one of the heavy guns did the cruiser suddenly take notice, manoeuvring to bring its heavy ion turrets to bear against the lone destroyer.
“I think we’ve got their attention sir,” the sensors officer spoke up nervously as he watched the cruiser approach them.
“Helm, full evasive, take us out of the cruiser’s firing arc!” Eos ordered calmly as though the cruiser wasn’t even there.
Then the bridge crew cheered when they saw a flurry of firepower slam into the distracted cruiser’s starboard side – a nearby Revelation group had realised the Bushan Re’s plan and was taking advantage of the cruiser’s attention on the Bushan Re.
“Sir, the cruiser is slowing down its manoeuvres,” reported the sensors officer, “I think they’re confused as to which ships to take down.”
“Excellent – lock on and fire everything we’ve got at their weak spots!” ordered Eos.
The Bushan Re fired a second time, its ion beam burning through the heavily armoured section that contained the cruiser’s main drives. On the other side of the cruiser, the second Revelation group was doing the same thing, focusing their fire on the drive section of the Qwaar Jet. There was a rousing cheer from the bridge crew when the cruiser finally succumbed, becoming a brilliant ball of fire that lit up all the surrounding ships.
As the light from the explosion dissipated, the bridge crew began cheering again when they saw the events happening in the distance – the flagship was finally coming under heavy fire from the determined fleets of the Kharakians and the rebels.
“Admiral, the strike force is commencing attacks on the flagship,” Kaalel suddenly spoke, his words bringing hope to the bridge crew of the Mothership, “They are still under heavy fire, but the flagship is starting to take moderate damage.”
“Sajuuk protect them all,” Tyram muttered in reply, “Just a bit more…”
“Sir! Scanners are picking up a quantum waveform signature from within the flagship!” the sensors officer suddenly reported, “The flagship is preparing to make a hyperspace jump!”
“Get word to the strike force,” Tyram bellowed as the communications officers began frantically sending the orders, “We cannot let the flagship escape!”
“Captain, sensors are picking up a quantum wave effect coming from within the flagship,” reported an officer suddenly.
“Damn, that bastard emperor’s going to run,” Elorres cursed when he heard the news, “All power to weapons – target every weak spot there is on the flagship!”
All around the Avatar, ships seemed to realise what the flagship was trying to do. In response, there was suddenly a dazzling spectacle of ion beams and mass driver slugs raining down on the massive Taiidan flagship from the gathered Kharakian and rebel capital ships. Then the bridge lights dimmed slightly as the Avatar itself fired off its quadruple ion cannons, gouging deep gashes in the heavily armoured hull of the Taiidan mothership.
“Status report on the flagship!” Elorres yelled in frustration when he saw the seeming futility of their efforts.
“Moderate to heavy hull damage across all sections, but critical areas remain undamaged,” came the reply, “The quantum wave effect continues to increase in magnitude – at this rate they could be ready to jump in over three minutes’ time!”
“So it comes down to this…” Elorres noted as he switched on the ship intercom, “This is Captain Elorres to all crewmembers of the Avatar – there’s no way for us to destroy the flagship in time before it jumps unless… a sacrifice is made.”
At that moment, the bridge crew, as did the rest of the ship, fell silent when they realised what the captain was suggesting.
“I understand that I cannot make such decisions on the behalf of everyone,” Elorres continued, “Therefore, I am asking you all to get to the nearest escape pods and eject before I scuttle the ship’s drives.”
“I won’t say anything more for we haven’t much time left. So if you wish to leave, please do so this minute. It’s been an honour for me to serve as your captain. That is all.”
As Elorres closed the intercom, the bridge remained deathly silent for what seemed an eternity. Then one of the officers began to clap, then two, then three. Seconds later, the bridge was filled with applause as the entire bridge crew began clapping in respect for their captain. Elorres bowed slightly and then looked at one of the console displays as soon as the applause had died down. Over a minute had passed since his announcement, but there had been no movements on the crews’ part to get to an escape pod. Elorres sighed slightly and then pressed a few buttons on the central functions console.
“Helm, set a collision course for the flagship,” Elorres ordered, “Engineering, stand by to detonate the fusion core on my mark.”
“Sir, one minute remaining before the flagship jumps,” reminded the sensors officer, who looked at his display screen one last time.
“Acknowledged,” responded the captain as the bridge began to fill with the wails of collision alarms and warnings. He saw the flagship come closer and closer until the battle-scarred hull filled the entire stretch of the bridge’s viewing gallery.
The Avatar plunged headfirst into the hull of flagship, plummeting through the layers of armour like a needle going through cloth. Then the main reactor core exploded, sending shockwaves through the superstructure of the flagship. The surrounding ships seemed to realise what was going on, and quickly began to bank away from the doomed mothership. Slowly but steadily, the Kharakian and rebel super capital ships struggled to put distance between themselves and the dying flagship. Secondary explosions began rippling through the flagship’s hull, blasting pieces and chunks of superheated metal away from the ship in every direction. As the last of the explosions died down, there was a moment when it seemed that the flagship’s end had been frozen in time. Then the flagship disappeared in a flash of blinding light…
“Everyone ready?” Ferin asked, as he put on his surgical mask.
The rest of the neural interface team, all clothed in sterile white robes, nodded in acknowledgement. The lieutenant took a deep breath and turned to face Karan…
…Getting the shock of his life when he realised that Karan’s eyes were wide open and staring straight at him. She took a moment to look all around her, reassuring the stunned biotech teams with her eyes that she was perfectly alright, then closed her eyes as she began to bring the Mothership to optimal functionality once more.
The bridge had been filled with cheers of triumph when the brilliant blast of light was sighted far in the distance. Officers were congratulating and embracing each other in disbelief that somehow, the battle had been won.
“Good work there, Commander,” Tyram said as he shook Kaalel’s hand, “I still can't believe that we managed to win this battle.”
“But the Avatar,” Kaalel answered with a grim look on his face, “And Karan…”
At the mention of Karan’s name, the cheers died down and the bridge became silent again. No one knew how to react – there hadn’t been word from the biotech teams for some time now. And then…
“…Fleet Command back online.”
The computerised and composed voice of Karan echoed through the Mothership and the surviving ships in the fleet, causing the eyes of those who heard it to widen in disbelief.
“…The emperor is gone.”
For a while, there was silence as Fleet Command’s words sank in. Then the channels erupted in a cacophony of wild cheering and well-wishes to Karan. Listening to the sheer volumes of regards and concerns flooding in from nearly every input port, Karan, for the first time in six months, felt free from the cables and wires that kept her bound to the ship.
The window of quantum energy opened some distance from the Mothership, quivering as it moved along and deposited the elegant tradeship in normal space. The window closed, and the ship linked itself to every other ship in the vicinity of Hiigara, opening audio channels across every frequency as it did so.
“We have brought the Council. This war is over.”
As the tradeship broadcasted the words, as other windows began opening to deposit the Council ships into normal space, they knew that the Exiles’ journey had not ended yet. Rather, their journey had only just begun.