|Instrument of Surrender (Part 4)
|Instrument of Surrender
|Instrument of Surrender (Part 4)
|In the series
“Concentrate fire; too many shots are missing the stern,” Commander Wallace barked as she looked out to survey the battle. Hypnotic waves of laser fire flew between the two ships. For a brief moment, she forgot about the death represented by each streak and was lost in its strange beauty.
This was it. Crescent’s chance to stop the Tevarin capital ship from attacking Crion. The Tevs were trapped between them and a swathe of anti-ship mines. Since its powerful phalanx shield could only defend one side at a time, it was deployed between their bow and the minefield, exposing the ship’s stern for attack.
“Signature spike . . . starboard side, main cannon,” cried Starman Daughtry.
The warning returned Commander Wallace to reality. She checked their angle then made a quick calculation, “Forward another 1,000 meters, adjusting yaw plus ten. Full strength to bow shields.”
The massive ship lurched forward and turned just as the Tevs took their shot. The blast sailed narrowly passed their starboard side. The crackle of shield energy showed just how close the barrage had been.
Coburn bellowed from his terminal, “Tev shields have swung again. We’ve got an angle on their starboard side thruster.”
Commander Wallace looked to the hologlobe. Coburn was right.
“Reduce bow shields to 50% and divert to the railgun. I want that starboard side thruster non-existent, clear?”
Coburn looked to Commander Wallace. She’d let him have this one.
Coburn grinned. “Fire!”
Wallace watched the railgun shot sail through space and punch through the thruster. Multiple internal explosions detonated inside the gaping hole until the whole thing finally went up.
The bridge exploded into cheers as Wallace sank against the railing, breathing a sigh of relief. The Tevs would have a tough time navigating out of this asteroid belt without that thruster. Let alone executing their intended attack on Crion.
“They’re launching ships, sir!” called Starman Tillman.
Tevarin fighters and boarding vessels poured into space and then scattered. A few disappeared on the far side of the Tevarin ship to disarm the anti-ship mines. Meanwhile, the majority of the ships set their sights on Crescent.
“Coburn, lock us down. We can’t let any —”
But Coburn cut her off. “Got a report from Hernandez in sector six. They already caught a Tev.”
That must have been our saboteur,she thought. Who knows how many have already infiltrated.
“Seal all bulkheads and get Marines to search every inch of this ship, starting with sectors housing major components or connected to the bridge.”
Suddenly, the phalanx shield materialized between Crescent and the Tevarin ship. Doing further damage to them just got a lot more difficult.
Then the realization struck Commander Wallace. While crippling the Tevarin ship might mean Crion was safe, it also ensured the Tevs would bring to bear everything they had against Crescent.
With what that boarder did to our power and their blown thruster, neither of us are leaving this area anytime soon,she thought. At least not both of us.
* * *
“Paredes! Stand the hell down.”
Drahk remained motionless on the floor as the Marine with the black eye trained his gun barrel at Drahk’s head. He had just seen the Marine knock the other Human unconscious and the anger in his fleshy expression showed that it wouldn’t take much for him to snap again. Although it seemed another younger Marine was trying to talk him down.
An older Marine pushed his way to the front, “Paredes! What the hell you doing?”
The one known as Paredes slowly lowered the weapon. The older Marine looked over the scene.
“On your feet, now!” the older Marine yelled, but Drahk stayed on the floor. Command training taught those whose spoke Human to keep it a secret. It might be the only advantage he had in this entire situation.
“He said get up,” Paredes jammed the butt of his rifle into Drahk’s back. “Get up!”
Paredes hit him harder. Drahk slowly eased himself up, making sure his hands were visible the entire time. Paredes pushed him against the corridor wall.
Meanwhile, the older Marine checked the unconscious Human. “Hope it was worth it, Paredes. Now someone’s gotta carry him back to the brig. Wanna guess who that’s gonna be?”
Paredes opened his mouth, then thought better of it, “Yes, sir.”
“Let’s go. We’ve already wasted enough time.”
Paredes slowly stepped away from Drahk, slung his gun behind his back and lifted the unconscious Human.
“Come on, move,” said the older Marine.
Drahk stepped forward then caught himself. The older Marine eyed him — did this Tev just understand me?
Klaxons erupted up and down the halls.
“Hold up, people.” The group turned towards the older Marine, checking his personal data device. “Change of plans. Anti-boarding protocol is in effect. We need to sweep this sector immediately.”
Drahk was glad his helmet’s visor was so dark. It helped hide his smile. This had to mean the warriors of Rijora were coming.
“Sir,” said Paredes, “the hell we supposed to do with these two? The brig’s no where near our sector.”
The older Marine shot him a look. “Shut up and follow me.”
* * *
A rumbling roused Hickory. He regained consciousness face down on a cold floor, his head throbbing and full of fog. He rolled onto his back and then sat up, blinking rapidly to bring his eyes into focus.
Well, one thing was certain, he wasn’t in the brig. Through metal latticework, the ship’s half-filled cargo bay came into focus. As he scanned his surroundings, the intensity of the light forced him to close his eyes again.
A cage. They put him in a cage.
Hickory’s hands gently probed the side of his head, wincing when he found the spot where he’d been struck. Guess it could be worse. Nothing was broken, and he remembered everything up until the kid cracked him across the head.
Once the wave of pain passed, he spotted a strange form through the latticework on his left.
It was the Tevarin, sitting there serenely. Helmet in its lap. Eyes closed. Meditating or praying or whatever it is they do.
He grabbed the cargo cage door and shook it. It barely gave. Minimal movement meant it was well built with a strong lock. Luckily, his hand could fit between the slats in the latticework. So he reached through and felt the front of the metal case housing the lock. Then breathed a sigh of relief. There was a keyhole.
Hickory pulled his hand inside the cage. Then sat with his back to the door. That’s when he saw the Tevarin eyeing him suspiciously. Hickory didn’t trust the Tev either, but knew he could be helpful. Especially since he spoke Human.
“Seen any guards around?”
The Tev shook his head.
“Keep an eye out for me,” he reached into the right sleeve of his spacesuit. “Any idea why they threw us in here? I missed that part.”
After a few moments of silence, the Tev decided to respond, “They were called into battle. Brig was too far away.”
Hickory pulled the multitool from the hidden pocket in his sleeve. Then thumbed through various tools, “Gotta say. Your accent’s interesting.”
“Not Human enough for you?”
“No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just, I’ve only heard it one other place . . . Olympus. You spend much time there?”
The Tevarin opened his eyes and looked at Hickory for a moment before going back to meditating, “My youth.”
“Lived there myself for a few years while I was, well . . . it’s a good place to go unnoticed.”
Hickory had seen plenty of Tevs on Olympus. He’d seen how horribly most of them were treated, but also how they acted when the tables were turned. He found the rake on his multitool and locked it into place, “I’m Hickory, by the way.”
Hickory carefully slid his hand between the cage’s chainlink. Then angled the multitool back towards the keyhole. Suddenly, the ship shook. The multitool slipped from his hand. A metallic thud from the hull echoed across the cargo bay. He glanced through the cage’s slats to see it tumble well out of reach.
A string of expletives poured from his mouth. Hickory turned to see Drahk drop to the floor, and use his long, lean arms to grab the multitool. “You’re a lifesaver, Drahk.”
He extended his hand only to realize Drahk wasn’t giving it back. Instead, he flipped through the various tools. “Am I?”
Hickory felt a lump in his throat. He watched as Drahk returned to the rake and examined the series of bumps on its end. Then slipped his arm through the latticework.
What was he doing? The Tevarin had obviously never picked one of these locks before.
Then he began to worry. How strong were Tevs? What if he severely bent the tool? It would destroy any chance of either of them escaping. Hickory couldn’t take it anymore. “Careful, you can’t force it. It’s a touch thing, more slow and steady.”
Drahk glared at Hickory while continuing to work the lock.
“What? I’m trying to help. See, it’s just . . . I need to get out of here. I can’t die like this.”
“Death is not to be feared; it is but a truth. The Rijora has guided me from its grasps many times today. Now it’s brought me the tool needed, so I can escape and help destroy this ship.”
Hickory wasn’t sure what expression was on his face, but Drahk read it plain as day. “Maybe you’d understand if you had faith in anything but yourself.”
“Fat lot of good your Rijora’s done for you. Put you on the losing end of two wars.”
Drahk eyed him with a mix of interest and suspicion. It took Hickory a second to realize.
That’s right, how could he know?
“The war . . . it’s over.”
* * *
The bridge swayed slightly. Another blast from the Tevarin cannon had caught Crescent’s starboard side flush.
“How are the shields holding up?” asked Commander Wallace.
“Down to 43% effective.”
“We need that battery bay back online.”
Coburn checked his personal data pad. “Everybody in that sector who can fix it is fixing it. Marines are still completing their searches. Until we’re certain no other Tevs are on board, it’d be risky to open bulkheads so others could help.”
Commander Wallace consulted the terminal before her, comparing their accumulated damage to the Tevs. “Fine, but the second we’re clear get some help there immediately.”
“Switch up your flight path, Ayers!” bellowed Coburn. “You’re falling into a pattern even I can crack.”
Crescent had to duck and dodge fire from the Tevarin ship, while also trying to outmaneuver the phalanx shield so it could deliver damage of its own. Ayers had done an acceptable job of randomly moving the ship so far, but it was clear he was growing weary. According to the data, Crescent was starting to take more hits than it delivered.
Suddenly, alarms screamed. No, it couldn’t be . . .
“Got a breach! Multiple contacts in Sector Six . . .”
Commander Wallace and Coburn locked eyes. So much for restoring the battery bay there. Wallace didn’t need to do any calculations to know their chances of surviving had just dropped dramatically.
She did everything she could do suppress that numbing fear that was growing before speaking, “I want fighters and any turrets to protect that sector from more boarders. If that’s their foothold, I want to cut it off. We’ll never survive if they overrun this ship.”
* * *
Cargo crates rattled around them, a sign the battle was intensifying. Drahk had been silent since the Human told him the war was over. He just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was true. He couldn’t remember a time where they’d gone so long without receiving a transmission from Corath’Thal.
Of course, he would be foolish to just take the Human’s word. He looked to Hickory, who was nervously drumming his fingers against the cage. The human seemed unreliable at best.
“How would you know the war is over?”
“I found the Instrument of Surrender while salvaging a military wreck in system. Ship must’ve gotten fried by an electrical storm before broadcasting the news.”
The Instrument of Surrender was the sacred Rijoran text used to end conflict. Still, having it meant nothing unless signed by their holy leader. So he kept pressing, “Really? Authorized by who?”
A sense of relief swept through Drahk, “What you saw was a fake. Only Corath’Thal can validate the Instrument of Surrender.”
“That’d be tough, I think.” Hickory said as he shifted and stretched out his back, “Corath’Thal’s atomized. Supposedly, he planned some big attack and got tuned up. Apparently he didn’t take it so well, so he led the few survivors to your homeworld and rammed their ships into the ground.”
Hickory glanced at Drahk, who was completely immobile. Inscrutable too.
“So I don’t know, I guess Pakal’Dor was next in line for command? Tevarin military’s more your thing, so you tell me.”
It all made sense now. The truth was staring him in the face but he didn’t want to accept it. If true, Corath’Thal had brought immense dishonor to himself and the Tevarin people.
The Rijora strictly forbids suicide in battle. It decreed — Honorable surrender, over all, when one’s back is against the wall.
As the reality set in, Drahk realized it was more important than ever to escape this cage. Only he could save his fellow fighters from the disgrace of fighting for a dishonorable leader.
“Do you have it? The Instrument of Surrender.”
“On my ship.”
Hickory shook his head then pointed to a data pad build into his suit, “But I know exactly where it is.”
Drahk held up the multitool and Hickory’s eyes went wide.
“I’ll help you off this ship, if you get me that Instrument of Surrender.”
Hickory nodded, “Sure.”
Drahk extended the multitool. Hickory took it and went to work on the locked cage door.
* * *
Wallace watched Crescent’s shield ripple as it absorbed another blast. The shield’s overall efficiency ticked down another percent. She knew this firing back and forth was unsustainable. They were going to lose.
Coburn hurried to her side, which wasn’t a good sign.
“Report from Sector Six. Hernandez lost three, forcing him to fall back to the main hangar. His team’s working with the flight crew to secure the area, but it’s only a matter of time before the Tevs attempt to breach it.”
The terminal before Commander Wallace beeped. She looked down and scanned the results. Earlier, she had noticed something about the phalanx shield. Every time it absorbed a blast a stream of energy from the ship swiftly repaired the damage and returned the shield to full health. So she stitched together a series of scans. Together they traced those energy streams back to specific areas of the ship. Maybe if they attacked those locations, they could take down the shield.
“Commander, did you hear what I said?”
“These points. You see them?” Coburn nodded in response. “That’s where the power to the phalanx shield is coming from.”
Wallace and Coburn looked up to see a Jackal on a strafing run to attack the bridge. Barely above Crescent’s surface, it fired from both barrels while expertly swinging its small phalanx shield from side to side to deflect incoming attacks.
“Focus fire. Take that thing out, now!” cried Coburn.
Shots from the Jackal tore into the ship before the bridge, only for it to enter a sudden and dramatic spin. A shot had clipped its wing. The Jackal desperately tried to stay on course, but instead corkscrewed down, crashing into Crescent just before the bridge.
The blast shook the ship. A cloud of debris plumed up and blocked the bridge’s view of the battle. Coburn got back to his feet, “We need to do something or we won’t last much longer.”
Commander Wallace nodded, “Get Villar these coordinates. Let’s take out that shield.”
“Are we looking at the same shield?” Wallace nodded. “Ayers, turn to heading 273. Redirect shields fore . . .”
Everyone on the bridge paused. A few exchanged baffled glances.
“Confirm . . . 2-7-3, sir?” Ayers said, his voice faltering.
“That’s heading right at it,” Coburn said. Wallace turned to him expectantly. He finally mustered a “Sir.”
“Confirm.” Wallace said loudly while staring down Coburn. “Like you said, we have to do something.”
“Killing ourselves wasn’t what I had in mind.”
“We push through the shield, hit those points, and maybe we can start doing some real damage.”
“Unless they chew us up first.”
“Well, make sure that doesn’t happen.” Wallace looked around. Everyone was still frozen.
“You got orders, people. Act like it,” she yelled. Coburn broke away and went back to his terminal.
“Villar, I’m gonna need all weapons to have that updated targeting solution ready to fire on my command.”
* * *
Drahk managed to stay on his feet. Hickory wasn’t so lucky. Moments earlier, a massive blast had rocked the ship, sending him flying off the wall and onto the floor. Luckily, the Human had found a helmet in the cargo hold to help cushion the blow.
He hustled over and helped Hickory to his feet. Together they continued towards their one hope — the hangar. Even though it would be crawling with personnel, it was their only chance to get off this ship. As they moved, Hickory kept fiddling with the settings on the helmet.
“To the right,” Hickory called.
Drahk rounded the corner and slowed. At the end of the hall was a bulkhead door bearing the scars of a breach. The two slowly approached the gaping hole in the door. Shouts and scattered weapon fire echoed from inside.
“My people have breached the hangar.”
He snuck up to the hole and scanned of the hangar. Human and Tevarin bodies littered the floor, leaving a trail of corpses that told the attle’s tale. A series of makeshift barricades had been built but overrun. The few Human survivors were hunkered down either alone or in small groups, desperately firing at anything that moved. Drahk watch Tevarin warriors run between cover spots, working to outflank the remaining pockets of resistance.
“One, on the far side. Never seen one like it before.”
Hickory peered into the hangar. “Damn. It’s just a utility vehicle.”
“Can you fly it?”
“Of course. That’s not the problem.”
“It’s unarmed. Shields are minimal, at best.”
“You know there’s fighting going on outside.” Hickory nervously looked to Drahk, “How we doing this?”
“As fast as possible. Stay low and follow me.”
Drahk stepped through the breach, then hurried to a makeshift barricade hastily assembled to guard this door. Moments later, Hickory joined him.
The ship sat directly across the hangar, but a wide open area lay between them. There was no way they could cross without being noticed.
Suddenly, a shrill shriek filled the hangar. A Tevarin warrior charged a barricade, drawing fire from the Human behind it. Meanwhile, another Tevarin crept up from the other side. The Human suddenly realized his mistake and swung his weapon around but it was too late. The Tevarin warrior snapped up its own weapon and put a shot through him.
“Move. Now,” Drahk said. He took off for the barricade closest to the ship. Shots rang out in his direction. As the barricade drew close, he slid across the floor until he was behind cover, heart pounding, exhilarated beyond belief.
He rolled over to see Hickory racing towards him, but the Human didn’t even bother with the barricade, instead running straight for the ship. Hickory leapt inside and started the initiation sequence. The ship roared to life, drawing everyone’s attention.
Drahk ran to the back, opened the cargo hold and climbed inside. He turned to see a Tevarin warrior charge up the ramp, weapon raised. When he saw Drahk was a Tevarin, he stopped and stared curiously. Suddenly, the ship lurched forward, causing the warrior to fall off. Drahk hit the button and watched the cargo door close.
“Let’s get out of here,” he called to Hickory.
“Now for the easy part.” With that, Hickory accelerated the ship out of the hangar. They burst through the air shield into a maelstrom of combat. Thick fields of scattered debris from dead ships occupied the space between the massive capital ships.
Fighters, both Human and Tevarin, wove through space, chasing target locks and spraying weapon fire. It was a pure inferno.
Hickory evaded the best he could through the network of crisscrossing weapon fire. As he managed to break clear of the intense fighting, Drahk got his first good look at the battlefield. The Crescent looked like it was trying to ram the Tevarins. Based on the events of late, it seems ramming your ship instead of running was the strategy of choice.
* * *
Minutes later, Hickory still felt like his heart would beat out of his chest. Somehow he had piloted the ship through the chaos of all-out war and survived. Now the serenity of open space was a strange counterpoint to what they had just experienced.
“How much farther?” asked Drahk from the cargo hold.
“Almost there,” Hickory replied while keeping his eyes on the scanner.
Drahk had grown increasingly nervous the more distance they put between them and the asteroid belt. He urged Hickory to fly faster. Though this ship was built for many things, speed was not one of them.
A subtle beep came from Hickory’s suit. They were close. As he increased the range of the ship’s scans, a blip hit the radar.
Moments later, his ship, Dolos, came into view. A part of him had believed he’d never see her again. Hickory stopped the ship then turned to Drahk. “So how’s this going to work?”
“If the Instrument is authentic, it will include a series of codes that my people can use to verify.”
“All right. I’ll take care of it,” Hickory smacked Drahk on the shoulder on his way towards the hatch. “Good luck and thanks for your help.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“Nothing personal, but I don’t let anyone else on my ship.”
“Forgive me if I don’t take you at your word. My people, and yours, will continue to die until they know the truth. I am bound to make sure that message gets out.”
Silence sat between them for a few seconds. Hickory couldn’t remember the last time someone other than he had been aboard his ship.
“We can fight about it if you want.”
“Fine, fine. Let’s go then.”
The two climbed out of the ship and EVAed to Dolos. Hopefully the broadcast wouldn’t be too late.
* * *
Commander Wallace watched as Crescent’s bow passed through the phalanx shield. It was immediately met with a barrage of shots from the Tevarin. Once the initial waved passed, Coburn called, “Weapons! Fire.”
Crescent responded with a volley of its own. The massive shots punched into the Tevarin ship’s hull. Wallace watched the terminal before her.
“Phalanx is down ten — no twenty percent. It worked!” cried Daughtry from the scan station.
“Power back to shields,” ordered Coburn. “Get us an angle on the next spot and fast, Ayers.”
Coburn looked to Commander Wallace. The fire in his eyes said it all: this might just work.
A Tevarin counterattack caused the shields to flare up wildly. Some shots punched through and vented parts of the massive capital ship, but Crescentheld.
“Guns ready in ten!”
“Waiting on you!” Wallace yelled.
Suddenly, the phalanx shield completely disappeared. A cheer went up around the bridge. Wallace studied her screen. Something was wrong here.
“Let’s back out of range of those close-quarter cannon,” ordered Coburn. “Then pound them until there’s nothing left.”
“We’ve got a message coming across the emergency channel,” called Darsha from the comm station. Commander Wallace glanced down at her terminal to read the incoming message.
“We’re in position, sir!”
“Ready the railgun and —”
“Hold your fire!”
“Commander!” Coburn called. “Now’s our chance to end this.”
“They just broadcast their surrender. They dropped the phalanx shield to show they’re serious. Wait . . . they’re also saying the war is over.”
“What? They know and somehow we don’t? It’s a lie. You can’t trust these Tevs.”
“Watch your tone, XO.”
“Check the scans. I bet more Prowlers are sneaking their way to that breach as we speak,” Coburn yelled, becoming more manic by the second. “We have to finish them now while we have the chance. Villar, fire that bloody railgun!”
For once, Villar didn’t snap to Coburn’s order. She looked at Wallace.
“What’s your order, sir?”
Wallace looked around the bridge. They were looking to her, not to Coburn, for the first time.
“Stand down. Open channels.” Wallace turned to Coburn who was still quivering in rage. “Are we going to have a problem, XO?”
Coburn held Wallace’s gaze. It looked like whatever seized him was fading. “No, sir.”
“Good,” Wallace stepped over to the hologlobe. “Now, let’s see what they have to say.”
* * *
Drahk listened to the UEE military broadcast from the utility vehicle while Hickory used it to fix his ship. The message had gotten through just in time. The Tevarin ship was saved. It had suffered heavy damage, but a good portion of its crew was still alive.
Crescent’s crew didn’t know what to do with all the survivors. The Tevarin ship was too crippled to make it out of the asteroid belt. Then they overheard the call go out for the transports to handle the survivors.
“Looks like I’m done,” said Hickory from the pilot’s seat.
“Probably best I’m not around if Crescentcomes in this direction. You may not be their enemy anymore, but I doubt I can say the same.”
“Best of luck to you. Hope there’s better days ahead for you,” Drahk said then tipped his head in deference.
“What are you gonna do now?”
Drahk thought for a few moments.
“I don’t know.”
Hickory smiled and opened the hatch. Then paused and looked back, “I’ve got this thing in Banu Space I’ve got to take care of but, um, there’s a lot of places to land between here and there. I can drop you somewhere if you want.”
Drahk looked up to him and nodded. “Yes.” Hickory smiled back at him. Silently, they exited the utility vehicle and EVAed to his ship. While Hickory prepped Dolos for takeoff, Drahk made his way into the back. He laid on the bed and instantly fell asleep, unsure where he was going or where he’d be when he awoke.
For the first time, he was okay with that.
The End </translate>