Zircon had taken care of the launch. The android’s direct interface with the combat servitor the pair were in easily allowed him to bring it out from the bay and into the space around the Herne. Removed from the influence of the ship’s gravity drive, Jena Foster felt the effects of zero G for the first time. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, though that might have been in part due to the sight displayed in her in-vision display.
She had been briefed about the odd sensor readings the Herne had picked up as it journeyed to the star sector. All of them had, the message relayed from the Admiral through their commslinks. What they hadn’t expected was the sudden turbulence necessitating dropping from warp encapsulation early.
The reason for it became apparent on exiting. What had been reported as three Volsta battlecruisers was clearly not. It dwarfed the Herne in length, a chimera of captured Galactic Federation ships and Volsta vessels. Dropships had been hastily converted into a fleet of support units, backing the mass of hulls with their weapons and shields. The snarling mass of energy at the front of the ship was the more pressing issue.
Light of every colour crackled and tore at reality, flecked with streaks of brilliant white and thick veins of purest black. Whatever the ship was, it was trying to go into warp. The wave of distortion was struggling to expand. Parts of it enveloped further up the length of the ship as other sections snapped back to reveal the pointed tip. The engines on it were at full thrust as it tried to break through into warpspace.
“ISV Herne to all units.” Came the voice of Operations Officer Medenia. “Get into formation while we analyze the situation.”
“Given the situation, I will take us to our formation point.” Zircon’s voice sounded from above her in their servitor’s cockpit. “I will transfer control of weapons systems to you.”
“Got it.” Jena nodded. It was probably the best she wasn’t flying. From the control readouts alone to perform a full stop the idea of flying one in combat was beyond her. Slipping into full control mode, she felt her arms go slack before the weight of the servitor’s limbs registered in her mind.
“They’ve cobbled their warp encapsulator technology together with more modern types.” Shay was saying, pointing out details on a zoomed-in view of the massive structure. “This section of hull is from a Trilobyte-class freighter unit. And look at this section here,” the engineer gestured towards a slender length running towards the engine block on the back. “That’s a Hermes-class Jumpship.”
“They can clearly see us.” Admiral Roland had a look of bafflement on her face. “They’ve not even got us targeted. Saekal, how’re your calculations going?”
“If, and that is a pretty big if, that thing can get into warp, they’re on a direct course for Farringdon Three.” The Lathusian navigation officer replied, his purple-skinned hands dancing across his keyboards as he worked with the figures the sensors gave him.
“All the weapons ports on the hulls have been retrofitted to divert power to their shields and warp encapsulators.” Shay brought up some examples on the viewscreen. “Even if they got to Farringdon Three, they’d only have the dropships.”
Commander Treshka Romanov had been silent, staring at the screen with her pale eyes. When realization hit, all seven foot two of her tensed up. That tensing was what drew Admiral Roland’s attention to her second-in-command.
The bellowed swear from the Commander was what brought the attention of everyone else on the bridge to her.
“Medenia, send Alpha through Delta to attack now!” She roared. “That thing doesn’t need weapons if they ram it into the planet!”
From her cockpit, Jena had a good view as four wings of assorted ship classes descended into battle. Moving to surround the enemy structure, the AI onboard their mech registered the energy readings and assigned false colour to them for ease of viewing. Streams of energy lanced out to batter against the shields reinforced by the modified dropships.
The section of space above her lit up as the Herne fired its weapons all at once. The barrage scattered across the shields. As waves of energy skittered over them, they buckled enough to let fire from the fleet through. What little return fire the modified support units had been giving died off as they directed all power to the shields.
“What’s the falloff on our weapons, Zircon?” The cyborg asked. Before he could respond the servitor’s AI had brought up the rangefinder. Glancing to the guns they were carrying, each had a warning prompt saying the target was out of effective range.
“They do not have the power of the weapons on the Herne.” Zircon noted. “Combat servitors are designed for engaging at closer range and for smaller targets.”
“Thought as much.” Jena sighed. “I just feel a bit useless out here.”
It was rare for an Admiral to leave the bridge in a combat situation, but Zaha Roland had gone off in pursuit of her second-in-command. “I get that you feel useless in here, Commander, but-”
“With all due respect, Admiral,” Commander Romanov spoke as her powerful legs took her in long strides towards her hangar, “but nothing. If that thing establishes warp encapsulation, we’ll need to fight it in warpspace.” The hangar doors opened to reveal her custom-built servitor.
Most heavy-class servitors stopped at around thirty-five feet in height. The Axar was fifty. Instead of the standard Galactic Federation Grey, hers was white with red banding around the joints. The limbs were bulky and reinforced with even more armour plating. The rear of it was the special part. A large, thick disc was mounted in the middle of The Axar’s back. Along with the engines in the middle, the rim of the disc was made up with a tightly packed group of support units, ready to either swivel out or detach.
“Commander-” Zaha was cut off as her subordinate turned and fixed her with a glare.
“Know your place and get back to the bridge, Admiral.” She snarled. The Axar’s chest plate opened to reveal the cockpit that was just about large enough to fit the muscular Trogadek woman.”
Drawing herself up, Admiral Roland nodded and turned on her heels. “Fight well, Commander.” She called, steadying her sword with her hand as she returned to the bridge. The virtual presence she had left there was reporting everything back to her, but Romanov was right. She knew her place.
Closing her eyes, she directed her presence about the bridge even as she closed the distance to return to it. [“Medenia, assign Omega Wing to Romanov’s command.”] The first message went. [“Saekal, make sure we’re not in the path of the enemy vessel.”]
The bridge doors slid open and she spoke her next order aloud. “Shay, we may need a warp gate on very short notice.” Falling back into her seat, Zaha noted the damage done to the Volsta’s construct. It was a start, but it wasn’t enough.
Zircon had started moving to the next formation point a moment after the command had been issued from the Herne. Free to look about with the android piloting, she saw it was only the fighters and servitors coming into position, the larger ships were staying to support the flagship.
[“Ensign Foster.”] The Commander’s voice almost growled at her over comms. [“If we’re needed I won’t have time to coddle you, can you fly that unit competently?”]
[“Commander, I have taken flight duties while Ensign Foster is in command of weapons.”] The android spoke for her. [“We are combat capable.”]
The huge form of The Axar drifted into view and Jena found herself staring at the head of the machine. It was more ornate than any she had seen in person, given almost a feral cat motif, like the mountain beasts she had seen pictures of as a kid. They had gathered at the prow of the ship, the tower behind them and the array of weapon system emplacements beneath them.
[“Listen up.”] Romanov called to all of them. [“If we have to fight, we will be doing it in warpspace. There are risks, but stay close and keep the co-ordinates of the Herne’s warp gate noted and you should be fine.”]
Jena had heard stories about people being trapped in warpspace forever. She tried to push those tales out of her head.
[“Chief Engineer MacAllister has provided details on what to target.”] Data streamed into their in-vision displays, syncing up with the onboard AI ready to superimpose on the vessel.
A coordinated volley struck the enemy ship. In quick succession Alpha and Gamma Wings fired on the shields, then the Herne unleashed its barrage. With the shields waivering, Beta and Delta Wings broke through. Explosions shot through the structure and Jena breathed a sigh of relief.
The maelstrom of energy at the front of the structure tore open. With a sudden lurch the ship plunged into warpspace, leaving its support units behind to be torn apart by the fleet’s fire.
Treshka’s swearing could be heard across all channels. The engines on the back of The Axar sparked to life. [“Omega Wing, with me!”] She cried out, boosting towards the warp gate the Herne was opening.
Jena could feel their servitor’s hands tighten around the grips of the rifles as they plunged into the swirl of colour after the Commander.
“Omega Wing have gone through our warp gate.” Chief Engineer MacAllister reported. “The opening is stable, I’ll keep an eye on it though.” The Herne was not designed to act as a warp gate, though it could open small entrances into warpspace using some of its encapsulators.
“Alpha to Delta Wings are cleaning up the remaining support units.” Medenia said, the operations officer co-ordinating the efforts of the task force.
As Zaha was about to speak, the Herne’s computer received a communication and brought it up on the screen. The stern face of a Volsta Commandant was staring out with spittle flecking his lips.
“This strike will just be the first! Volsta’s Dagger will plunge into the heart of Farringdon Three. You may have taken it from us, but we will not let you have it! The rage and fury of the Volsta Empire will lash out and pierce every world you stole away from us! Pride is everything, the Volsta Empire stand proud!”
As the message flickered away, Zaha Roland cracked her knuckles. “Get a message out to all our forces. Include the data we have on the Dagger and warn them about this new tactic. Send evacuation orders to Central City, get them to disseminate the warning.” Her hands gripped and squeezed each other as she thought of the units going after the suicide vessel. She hoped her long-time friend wouldn’t do anything stupid.
It took Jena a while to get used to moving without directing where she was going. With her mind fully occupied on the servitor, it felt like she was being possessed as Zircon directed their motions as Omega Wing came alongside the ship. A squeeze of her right hand fired shots from the long-barrelled energy rifle in that arm, several bursts slamming into the warp emitter she had targeted. A squeeze of her left hand and the short barrelled rifle howled with activity, puncturing a power relay pipe running along part of the section she had been assigned to.
The fighters were at the back, emptying their energy reserves with volley after volley into the engines of their opponent. This left the servitors to concentrate on the smaller targets dotted along the hull.
She noted that The Axar was pushing ahead, the support units mounted on the back disc firing in staccato at different targets as she boosted along the length of the Volsta’s Dagger. The assault from the four wings of the task force had done some serious damage to the ship, but it was still in warp and still hurtling towards her homeworld. A shrugging motion from her shoulders set the missile launchers mounted there to work, streaking off towards her next set of targets.
[“This is Fighter Omega A7!”] Some excited chatter came over comms. [“The engine block has lost power.”]
[“Move to the front and change firing type configuration to pulse blasters.”] Treshka ordered. [“We need to slow it down.”]
Jena watched the fighters zoom past her. A massive object like the one they were fighting could do a lot of damage to planet even in warp. Weird things could happen in such situations and she’d rather not see the result on the planet she just left.
Suddenly she was spinning and felt her stomach lurch. Warnings were appearing in-vision about G-force stabilizers being unable to compensate as Zircon flew erratically. It took a moment for her to realize just why he was doing it. Chunks of the Dagger were falling away as its structure was compromised. She winced as a nearby servitor collided with a strip of hull and was sent reeling away.
[“This is A4, our pulse blasters are having minimal effects on target velocity!”]
The Axar’s engines flared as it zipped along to the front of the ship. [“I’m going to do something stupid.”] The Commander’s voice came through to the wing. [“If I die, haul my ass back to the Admiral.”]
Treshka Romanov’s teeth sank into her bottom lip as she readied herself. The Axar had turned to face the Dagger, and the body of the servitor had titled up to let all of the support units on her back take aim at the front of the ship. Interlocking her fingers, she rested her hands against her stomach and breathed deeply.
Some species in the universe had natural talents in the way of psychokinesis. The Maltie were gifted at it. Half of her own species had the considerable mental fortitude required for it. The other half, human, could access such powers with training and/or cybernetic enhancements. As a half-breed, she had benefited from both. She felt her eyes roll back and blood trickle from her nose as she tapped into the gift, and then channeled it through the psi-boosters that had been fitted to her mech. As her teeth dug into the soft flesh of her lip, Treshka set her shoulders. A little lift of her shoulder blades, a peculiar parting motion, and she felt the disc mounted to The Axar shift. Revolving on their mounts, the support units span to direct their psiwave emitters at the Volsta’s weapon.
A hoarse cry escaped her lips as the field began to form in front of her, a wave of projected force to try and halt the path of her enemy. Her mouth contorted as she spoke old Trogadek mantras to bolster the spirit even as her mind screamed with the exertion to manifest and manipulate such forces.
As Zircon worked flat out to dodge all the debris flying off Volsta’s Dagger, Jena could see fractures running along the length of the ship as whatever Commander Romanov was doing at the front took effect. A peculiar aura had surrounded the Commander and the Dagger on her combat overlay denoted by an odd symbol, and the fighter wing had backed off to rescue some of the damaged servitors that had been struck by loose objects.
Jena winced as the Dagger started to compact in on itself, the front crumpling as the back drove into the mass ahead of it. As their target slowed to a halt, the android and cyborg noted that The Axar was not stopping.
“Proceeding to recover the Commander.” Zircon’s voice came from above her.
Detaching her weapons to mount on points of their servitor’s legs, Ensign Foster readied the hands to make the grab. “Do you think she’s…?” She trailed off.
“I am accessing her medical status through her servitor.” He replied. “She appears to be unconscious.”
Flexing her fingers moved the digits of the servitor, she readied herself to grab hold of The Axar wherever possible as they made their rapid approach. The Commander wasn’t dead, but someone needed to haul her ass back as requested.
They were back on the Herne having been directed to the specialized hangar reserved for the massive mech. The Admiral had joined them once the airlocks shut, along with a medical team ready to receive the hero of the hour. They were just ready to get the scaffolding up to remove Treshka when the chestplate hissed open and the muscular woman tumbled out. Jena winced. The Commander had managed to roll with the fall and staggered to her feet to salute her Admiral. Then she was sinking into unconsciousness and the waiting arms of the medical team.
Zaha watched them cart her friend away before heading for the two Ensigns.
“Admiral Roland.” Zircon Herne saluted. “Thanks to the actions of Commander Romanov, Volsta’s Dagger has come to a stop in warpspace. It is severely damaged and debris is in the area around it. A clean-up crew is recommended.”
The Admiral nodded and looked to Jena. “You’re looking a little green.”
“Zircon had to do some fancy flying to avoid impact. I’ll be fine once my stomach settles, Admiral.”
“The support crew will move your servitor back to its bay. Get some rest.” Roland turned and headed off after the medical crew. She paused near the door, looking back to the pair. “Not all days in the military are as eventful as this.”
The android and cyborg nodded, watching her leave. After a moment, Zircon turned to her. “I have a recipe for a tea that can soothe upset stomachs in memory. Shall I prepare you a cup?”
Jena clasped his shoulder with her hand. “That sounds good about now. Maybe share the recipe too. I need to get in a lot of practice before I’m as good as you out there.”
Treshka was sitting up in bed and eating when the Admiral came back for another visit. The white linen of the medbay bed had pooled around her waist, and the sleeveless jacket she customarily wore had been taken away to clean the blood from it. A tray in front of her contained a large bowl of stew filled with assorted chunks of meat and chopped vegetables, and a large pitcher of brown liquid with a good foaming head had been placed besides it. The sheets contrasted with her peculiar skin tone, making the green tinge even more noticeable.
“See, I’m fine.” She said with a broad grin, lifting the pitcher in toast to the Admiral as she arrived.
“You were out cold for two hours. What possessed you to fall out of your servitor?” Zaha sighed, taking a seat near the bed. She rested her sword on her lap.
“A good Commander has to do the formalities when returning to the ship.” Treskha joked, spearing several chunks from her stew with a fork to pop in her mouth. She always had the decency to finish her mouthful before speaking. “I’ll be back on duty tomorrow morning.”
The Admiral considered her friend. “Have you considered taking some time off. You are owed a lot of shore leave.” Romanov’s face darkened, and Zaha quickly held up her hands. “I’m not ordering, it’s just a suggestion. I’m sure the husband and the kids would like you to visit them, and piloting that leviathan puts a lot of strain on you.”
“My place is here, Admiral.” Treshka stated after a gulp of good brown beer. “The Herne has three more years of active duty before it is due in for a full service. I’ll use my shore leave then.”
Zaha laughed softly, slumping back in her chair with a weary sigh. “What will I do with you, old friend?”
“Put me to work. The same as always.” Another gulp of beer, a mouthful of stew and a good chunk of bread followed before she spoke again. “Apologies for shouting at you earlier, too.” She added quietly.
“Nothing to apologize for. You were just putting me to work.” Zaha said, giving her second-in-command a smile. “The same as always.”