Stationed at Naeve
Aboard the Normandy, Admiral of the Navy Kol sat in the command chair of the bridge, old and weary from the war with the Vasari and the newly arrived Advent. A subordinate approached Kol.
The subordinate reported, “Sir, we have received a distress call from TNC Swift Foot. They have encountered and were boarded by unknown hostiles, not Vasari or Advent and requested assistance. They have also dropped out of contact, and have not responded to further attempts to reach them.”
“And the Valiant?” Kol asked, referring to the Kodiak heavy cruiser that was assigned to protect the research vessel.
“Reported they were moving to dock and assist, but stopped making regular reports. They are also no longer responding to transmissions.”
“Inform the rest of the twenty-third battle group that they are to move to assist and cover the Swift Foot and the Valiant. Hopefully, this is a localized incident.”
“Aye, sir,” the messenger replied, turning to walk away.
Kol turned back to the squared transparisteel screen in front of his chair. The rest of the bridge crew were seated along the straight walls to each side of him, and two crewmembers were sitting on the other side of the screen, making them the farthest forward in the room.
Kol leaned forward in his chair and rested his head in his hands. The war was stretching long, and the crews of the warships were long weary, grown old. The newly arrived Advent had not helped the situation. The Trader Emergency Coalition could not defend all the planets on the front, and so had organized its ships in an old stratagem. They had a scout vessel or a remote sensor at each of the planets in the outer rim, and had a large force stationed between the planets on the front, only a few hours away by phase drive.
The Vasari had faster drives still, and their ships had a habit of appearing from seemingly impossible directions when the TEC attacked their colonies. They had found two types of structure whose construction eluded them. One was a three-pronged instrument that seemed to slow the phase drive’s warm-up period. The other was a ring shaped device whose function was still a mystery. They believed the former structure was not of Vasari design and had only been adopted by the race, but the TEC could not replicate them.
Kol leaned back again and said, “Bring us around. We are going to the Terminus system.”
The captain of the ship replied, “Aye, sir.”
The captain of a war ship would stand in front of a holographic display that showed a tactical and navigational map of the gravity well, showing the current position of all ships, major asteroids, structures, and showed a graphic representation of phase lanes at the edge of a thick-edged circle, denoting the minimum distance from the planet at which was possible to phase jump away.
The ship moved slowly at first, but picked up speed as they moved toward the gravity well’s edge. Normandy began decelerating a small distance from their jump point, as neither the engines nor the ship’s superstructure could take the stress of sudden deceleration. They came to a stop and a quiet hum began to be heard throughout the ship as the phase drives began their startup sequence.
The ship jolted as it entered phase space, and light blue swirling light enveloped it. Kol ordered, “I want all of the details that we can gather so far packaged into a briefing and sent to the tacboard.”
“Aye, sir,” came the reply from a speaker in the arm of Kol’s chair. Half of an hour later, a folder icon appeared in the lower left of the tacboard, part of the display on the transparisteel in front of Kol and behind the captain. There wasn’t much factual information in the folder, as the only information they had was from the fragmented transmission.
Kol examined the contents of the file, and ordered a combat force be assembled, in preparation for the imminent drop from phase space and subsequent boarding of the three vessels.
* * *
Sergeant Nichols awoke to an insistent beeping coming from the console near the head of his bunk. He smacked the mute button and climbed out of the bunk. Still in his skivvies, he opened the message, which read,
All boarding combat units are to prepare for combat immediately. This is not a drill. Prepare to board a vessel occupied by unknown hostiles.
Nichols sighed, and shook awake the three others in the room. They dressed and double-timed their way to the armory of the ship. The corridors were filled with soldiers heading the same direction, but in an organized fashion, allowing them to jog their way forward.
When the squad arrived at the armory, they entered the restricted area to pick up their gear, donning light titanium armor, with a Kevlar descendent underlay. Beneath the underlay was a second steel plating set, intended to spread the impact of rounds hitting the fabric underlay. They wore gray full-face helmets; the transparisteel faceplate showed a HUD with a wealth of information, from each squad member’s vitals in the lower right corner, to an advanced targeting and aiming system that displayed targeted enemies, as well as where his bullets would hit almost exactly. They had nearly matched the Vasari in body armor, and had comparable SMGs.
Nichols asked, “Everyone ready?”
He received a resounding “Yes, sir!” as the three answered at once.
“Then move out!”
They jogged to the briefing room, where a man in an official uniform met them.
He spoke, “Approximately a week ago, the Swift Foot docked with the Korigul, a Vasari Devastator class capitol ship. A research team began exploring the vessel, and suddenly dropped out of contact. However, we did receive a distress call a few moments before communication with the research team was cut off. The Valiant, the tending Kodiak, docked with the Swift Foot to assist the team. The Valiant also dropped out of contact. This is all the relevant information we have.
“Squads will be sent into each of the ships, to rescue the crews and to neutralize any hostiles aboard. You will be sent into the Korigul to locate and retrieve the research team and any intel they may have. Am I clear?”
“Then good luck.”
The squad moved through the door into the boarding craft in a port firing tube. They took seats in the boarding craft and strapped themselves into their seats. Nichols closed the door, locking them in, and quickly sat down himself. He had just strapped himself in when the craft shuddered with the force of being launched.
It was not long before the craft came to a jarring stop, and Nichols hit the straps’ release button, saying, “Bohateur, you’re on point.”
The squad formed a diamond formation, and moved to the forward door. It cycled open, and they rushed forward and kneeled, two facing left and two facing right.
Nichols sent Bohateur the route using a series of quick commands to his HUD, and then said, “Alright, let’s go.”
Bohateur moved to the left, and Nichols took up the flank. The other two were side by side between Bohateur and Nichols. There was a soft groan from the ship, making the hair on the back of Nichols’s neck stand up. The lights were out, as the ship had seemingly lost power, except for a few flickering points that were too weak to give off any light. The squad had all already switched their visors to low-light mode, so this was no issue, but it did not help the nagging thought that something was around each corner or behind them.
“There something creepy about this ship, Doyle,” Bohateur said with an edge of fear creeping into his voice.
“I know,” the soldier to Nichols’ right answered.
“Cut the chatter!” Nichols said, and the two fell silent.
They moved down to the corner of the hall, but when they turned it, they stopped in their tracks. In front of them was a barricade that had been torn open with inhuman strength. Along the floor and wall, blood was smeared as if several people have been killed violently at this spot, but there were no bodies nearby.
“Goddamn,” Nichols said, stunned to see the scene.