Chapter 6, part 3
The Trader Emergency Coalition
8 years ago, phase space, headed towards galactic position 305, 835
"What's our ETA?" The Jackal demanded.
"Thirty minutes, sir!" An officer called out.
"Wake me in twenty. I'll be in my cabin." The Jackal was about to leave the room, then paused and turned back.
"You there, Sergeant, come here."
The officer approached. "Yes, sir?"
The Jackal took a sheet of paper from a nearby desk and scribbled on it furiously. "Take this message. Tell the ships to broadcast it repeatedly over open channels."
The sergeant looked down at the sheet, confused. "Sir?"
"Propaganda, idiot," the Jackal snarled, "to let them know we will not be pushed so easily around. Now send it out!"
The sergeant saluted and marched back to his desk, where he began speaking over the 'tween-ships radio. The Jackal left the command bridge, crossed down the hallway, and fell onto the bunk in his private room. It was always wise to come into battle with a sharp, well-rested mind. The Jackal fell asleep and dreamed......
He looked down at the cheering multitudes and back up to the perfectly blue sky, cloudless yet the day was at a perfectly comfortable temperature. Everything was perfect today. He watched the hysterical crowds of people crying his name, screaming praise at him. Him, the Jackal, the hero of the Trader Emergency Coalition, not some monster locked up in the deepest depths of Trader prison. The savior of the Coalition who had wiped out the encroaching alien menace. He looked over his shoulder where Dumois was being dragged off to a military tribunal on the charge of altering the Jackal's ship design. His ship design. The Jackal looked across at the shining buildings reflecting the sun's heat. Something in his reflection caught his eye, and he frowned. There was something...wrong...with his skin. The Jackal looked down at his hand. The skin was charred and blackened, burned to a crisp.
The Jackal started up as the siren in his room gave three shrill beeps. He wiped the cold sweat from his forehead and looked down at his watch. It had been twenty minutes. Ten minutes to battle. He crossed his room, shoved open the door, and headed down the hallway towards the command bridge. What had that dream meant? It had seemed so real...the Jackal shook his head. Only fools listened to their dreams. And found only what they wanted to find, often enough. The Jackal entered the command bridge and barked for an update. His aid hurried up and saluted.
"Sir, the fleet is less than ten minutes away, and have been broadcasting your message the whole time, as you ordered."
He put a question on the last part, as if asking if he had really ordered the sergeant to deal such an unusual order. The Jackal ignored it.
"Put the ETA up on the big screen. I'll be at my desk."
8 years ago, galactic position 305, 835, planet code named VASAR
"How much longer?" Num'pol rasped out.
"Less than 4 clicks, Elite Subjugator!" A Senior Eliminator called out.
Num'pol studied his gravity well. He had positioned his ships as best as he could. There was nothing left he could do. His scanners had identified three skirvanas leading a host of smaller ships, while he had just his Platinum. It was suicide to remain, yet that was what Num'pol intended to do.
And the skies shall split asunder, while all the Vasari call, yea, here is the time of our dominion! And falling from the skies shall be the bright Darkness, and it shall consume us, thought Num'pol, quoting from the Prophecies of Darkness. He shook his head and called out. "Prepare weapon systems! Rouse the grunts and tell them to rouse the slaves! Our Great Battle is upon us! Fight, or die as cowards!"
The entire ship roared its approval.
The Trader Emergency Coalition
8 years ago, phase space, approaching galactic position 305, 835
"Beat to quarters!" The Jackal roared out. The time-honored tradition of beating drums into battle had been with the Traders since the great pirate wars thousands of years ago. In this day and age, however, the sound of the ancient war drums was blasted over the speakers instead of having real men drum them on board. The drum beats reverberated up the Jackal's spine, and he fairly cackled in delight. It was time. The hunt was over. The kill was imminent.
Then the ships gave a rumble, and they left phase space.
The Jackal saw the enemy's ships and fairly laughed aloud. They had less than half his own number! But he also saw the formations they had been divided into, and called out orders over the 'tween-ships radio. His own ships formed up, came into range, and fired. The Jackal actually did cackle out loud as he saw the enemy ships retreat under the heavy fire. Then something out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. The enemy capital ship, so large it could be nothing else, was bearing directly for his Provians, and the Jackal could see the weapons charging up.
"All fire onto the capital ship!" He called out, directing the fleet's attention by placing a marker on the capital ship in his bird's eye holographic display of the battle. He saw the other two capital ships wheel around, slowly, ever so slowly, and crawl towards them. But it was too late.
"Fire all guns!" The Jackal commanded as a shock wave reverberated over the ship. "Damage report!"
"We were hit, sir, but the shields took most of the blast!" An officer called out. "But some of those missiles, sir, some of them slipped through the shield and impacted us! We have a fire on 6 deck, but it's not large. Permission to assemble a fire team?"
"Permission be damned, I'll lead it myself!" The Jackal roared. Adrenaline raced through his bloodstream. He had to do something, if he just stayed in the command bridge he would go crazy. He grabbed a headset from the rack beside the command bridge's heavy double doors, and pulled aside an officer.
"You're in charge of the bridge now, Major Judman. See that the ship stays in one piece!"
Approaching the doors, the Jackal called out, "Commodore Jackal retires the watch, Major S. Judman has the watch!"
Judman looked worried. "Are you sure, Commodore? Think about this!"
The Jackal roared at him. "I RETIRE THE WATCH! YOU HAVE THE WATCH, MAJOR JUDMAN!"
Judman repeated, "I have the watch!" in a resigned sort of tone, and the Jackal was off. Using his headset to call a few crewmen over to the fire, he opened a utility cache set into the wall and grabbed an instant hose. The little nozzle set over the not-so-large canister was able to deal out 20 gallons of water before needing to recharge. He then hurried over to the fire zone and met up with the other crewmen. They each had one of the small water canisters with them. The Jackal waved his arm as an affirmative, and they all opened fired, as the saying goes, on the fire. The flames were not so large, but the heat was intense. Several minutes went by as the ship took more hits and shook. The Jackal took his hand from the nozzle and wiped his brow as he let the crewmen finish up the last few flickers of flame. He stepped to the side and called up the command bridge on his headset.
"How's the situation?" He barked.
There was a crackle of static and Major Judman responded. "Our shields have taken a heavy pounding sir, and a few missiles slip by it and strike our hull on every wave. Other fires have sprung up, but I've already sent out crews to put them out. The enemy's ship has not been damaged yet, as far as I can see, sir, but that just means we have not penetrated their shields yet, sir."
"What about the other capitals, are they firing?"
"Aye, sir, they've joined us. One on the enemy's ship stern and another across its bow. There's only one way the ship could go if it tried to flee, and the bulk of our forces are over there dealing with the rest of the enemy's ships. He won't escape."
"Very good, Major, well done. I am heading back to the bridge now. Let me know if there are any more major developments!"
Just then the ship gave a tremendous heave and the lights flickered. The Jackal caught himself on the wall as the ship tilted and then righted itself.
"Report!" The Jackal shouted. "What happened!"
"Our shields are down, sir!" Judman shouted back. " He impacted our hull, and the metal can't take the direct hits! We have fires between 4 and 5 deck, and another on the end of 6 deck!"
"I'll take my fire team and put out the one on 6 deck!" The Jackal called back. He turned behind him and motioned for the other men to catch up. They came running, and he sprinted along the hallway towards the fire. He could see a red glow on the walls now.
"No, sir! Do not approach the fire site! The hull is too weakened there, it could collapse on you!"
"Concentrate on reaching the enemy ship's hull!" The Jackal cried out, "I'll take care of the fire!"
"Sir-" The Jackal switched off his headset. He motioned for the crewmen to run faster.
They reached the fire. Flames roared at them from floor to ceiling, and the Jackal got the tell-tale headache of space-air, as it was called, which meant oxygen was being released from the ship and the nothingness of space was replacing it. He flipped a switch on the nozzle and aimed it at the wall where he judged the hole to be. He couldn't see the wall through all of the thick, heavy smoke. This time when he sprayed a white foam spewed out along the wall. The sealant would be useless against enemy fire, but would prevent more oxygen from escaping into space. Almost immediately his headache started to dim, and the Jackal focused his attention on the fire. The other crewmen were already hard on it, spraying their pressurized water, but they could have been firing plastic water guns kids used to play with before the war for all the good it did. But they would have to try, damn it. The Jackal ran up and squirted his own canister. Damn, he had forgotten to switch the nozzle back to water. He fumbled with the nozzle for a moment, and then an arc of water spewed from his own canister, and he directed it at the flames.
Then there was a loud crash, an enormous bang, and the Jackal's world was consumed by flame.