The two enemy spaceships danced about their deadly game, spitting their destructive energies and striking out with claws of precision steel as they spun about each other. Suddenly one of the tiny evil children of its parent found a weakness in its prey, and the unfortunate Eastern Alliance ship Bahamut broke apart in a silent expanding cloud of gases. The Pacific American Confederation Cruiser Hammer shuddered as its dead opponent’s last weapons sought to make her victory pyrrhic.
On board the Bridge of the wounded Hammer Captain Joshua Grace pushed the massive panel away from his chair. In the last salvo it had forcefully come loose from the tactical station. Where, even in the low combat gravity of the ship, it had slammed into him hard enough to break his leg. Grace thought to himself that he got off easy, unlike the young Lieutenant, who was sitting tactical when the station blew and had slowed the force of the heavy piece of metal with his own life. Grace panted to catch his breath feeling the edge of adrenalin flow as he looked around the bridge at the shock of his crew. The alarms, making the pain in his leg feel like it stabbed straight to Grace’s head, wailed complaining of the damage he had let his ship fly through.
“Mitchell,” he said through gritted teeth. “status.”
Grace saw his executive officer glance up to him, concern plainly showing on her face. He cursed internally that he had not gotten enough control in his own voice.
“Damage control isn’t responding yet Cap,” Sarah Mitchell said.
Grace thought that Sarah should have her own command after this, if there was an after this. He watched his XO reach down and pull the emergency med kit from it’s holder as she unbuckled and flipped over to him in the low gravity.
“Ship took a pounding,” she said as she stopped beside his chair. “but we are holding position.”
Grace sighed as Sarah paused and looked him over. They shared a raised eyebrow as both appeared to consider their best options. He gripped the arms of his chair as Sarah reached and grabbed the ankle of his twisted leg.
“This is gonna,” she stated as she pulled the leg straight, “hurt.”
Even with his teeth gritted Grace saw a number of the crew glance at them as he grunted loudly, swallowed the cry, and winced. Grace then drew in a deep breath, licked his suddenly dry lips and watched as his XO finished the first aid she could do strapping the leg to his chair so as to immobilize it.
“I can’t leave the bridge Sarah,” Grace said low.
He needed to be here, Grace thought, not in medbay, the crew would need both him and Sarah if they were going to get through this.
“Not gonna make you Cap,” she said as Grace watched her half grin.
“Alright people,” Grace said, sweeping his gaze around the still shaken bridge crew. “Give me a station report.”
Looking over at the communications station he saw Ensign Jon Walker’s eyes wide. Grace could tell that the man was stressing hard.
“Main comm…” Grace listened to the Comm officer’s voice tremble as he worked the words out. “The main array is not responding, sir”
“Keep ears out for anything Ensign. Trance?” Grace asked as he turned forward to his Master helmsman, Lieutenant Amara Trance
“No response from helm,” She said, slapping her board. “Station keeping thrusters are on auto.”
Grace watched her calmly stretch in her chair.
“Till we hear from damage control or Engineering Captain we should probably assume we lost some command lines in that last hit.”
Trance flashed the jaunty smile that seemed to be issued to all hot shot pilots and Grace looked to the Navigation station next to her where Mikey Ferrea was busily typing.
“Mikey?” Grace asked, causing the young lieutenant to jump.
“Sorry sir,” Grace watched the Navigator straighten his seat straps, “Station keeping is keeping us, uhh… stationary.”
“Very good Mister Ferrea,” Grace said trying to hide a smile, “Do you have our location fixed?”
Grace noted that Sarah had floated over to the comm station, she always looked out for the crew’s mental state. She leaned in next to the Ensign and spoke too low for the bridge crew to hear.
“Yes Captain,” Grace heard the Navigator say.
Grace chided himself for drifting and turned back to front.
“Not far from our original contact point with the enemy, Sir.” The Navigator said.
Grace heard the main bridge hace open and wondered who would come unbidden to the bridge. When he turned he was surprised to see a young corpsman standing in the entryway looking, he thought, uncertain.
“Permission to come on the bridge Sir,” the young woman spoke in clipped tone.
When Grace nodded as he noticed the Red stains on the sleeves of her jumpsuit and the dark look in her eyes wondering to himself just what she had seen on the way through his ship..
“Doctor Teige asked me to see if the bridge needed anything.”
“Cap’s the only one needing attention right now,” Sarah spoke up, “begging your pardon sir.”
Grace glared at his XO for a moment as the Corpsmen slid over to him.
“Your name?” Grace asked as he glanced to the E-6 rating on the women’s jumpsuit.
Grace nodded and watched the Corpsman wrap a leg around the edge of his seat and pull herself down to his injury. He winced again glancing at the blood on the sleeve of her medical jumpsuit wondering how many of his people lay in their blood because of his choices today. As she quickly started cutting the pant leg free Grace looked back around his bridge. He noted a light smoke hovering near the ceiling and saw Sarah float back to her station. Grace felt the gravity return with the increase in pain from the insults his body had suffered throughout the day’s battle. Grace gritted his teeth refusing to release the slightest sound as several loose objects slowly dropped to the deck in the increased grav. He felt Corpsman Williams place the injector against his leg, and began to object as she initiated it. The pain he had been holding tight suddenly receded, and Grace felt it replaced by weariness he longed to embrace. A chirp from his com panel brought a surge of awareness as the Captain recognized a call from damage control.
“Captain,” he spoke as he pushed the receive button.
The young voice coming over his speaker was not the one Grace expected, and seemed to warble through the comm unit.
“Sir, Ensign Baker,” Grace waited as the man paused, “Commander Charles told me to report.”
“What do you have for me son?”
“The Commander is on the way to engineering, she is out of comm right now.” Grace listened as the young man’s voice steadied. “Life support is damaged but we have a crew on it. Should know more in about thirty…”
“Anything on the comm system?” Grace interrupted.
“I b-believe the main array is gone sir.”
Grace sighed, thinking the situation couldn’t be more dire and ordered the ensign to continue. Placing a hand to his temple Grace closed his eyes as the list of damage to his ship drove despair into his soul. Grace snapped his eyes open as the Comm officer called out.
“Captain, I have a transmission.”
“Put it on speaker,” Grace said as he saw the bridge crew’s attention focus on the comm station. Suddenly the sound of a solo sax flowed from the speakers. Grace’s spirit sank as he held his shoulders from slumping. He saw the confused look on Jon’s face, and watched, interest rising, as Sarah tilted her head to the side.
“”It’s probably an old repeater satelite,” Sarah said. “They supplied broadcasts to the outer stations.”
“It must be on replay, sir,” the Comm officer said.
Grace frowned as he heard his Helmsman chuckle.
“Just what we need,” The Helmsman said. “a little Jazz.”
Grace rubbed his forehead, feeling in no mood for her gallows humor, as he tried to clear the cobwebs from his thinking. Grace stiffened, a thrill running up his spine, at the thought that rung through him, and turned to his nav officer.
“Mister Ferrea, can you override station keeping and move us so that that sat is between us and Earth?” Grace said, the plan trying to tumble from his head faster than his tongue would allow.
Grace watched, containing his temper only through his command training, as the Navigator blinked his eyes moved back and forth before finally focusing.
“Yes sir, I believe I can.”
“Then do it.”
Grace, the sudden surge of adrenaline coursing through him, spun his seat to face his comm officer nearly dislodging the corpsman still working on his leg.
“Jon set up a data laser with our location and an sos.”
Grace watched a light go on in the ensign’s eyes, and truly smiled for the first time since the battle had begun.
“Yes sir! Right away sir.”
“We can only hope that the receiver for that sat is still listening.” Grace said.
Grace smiled as he watched the bridge come alive. A strong feeling of pride flowed through him as they began working to achieve the plan for a possible rescue. Sitting still Grace sighed, leaned back into his chair, and closed his eye’s feeling the music cradle him as the weariness reached to fill his mind.
Grace’s eyes opened and he heard a new song playing a bluesy beat and looked down at the chronometer on his armrest. Two hours had passed in what felt like the blink of an eye and Grace, a feeling of irritation growing, scanned the bridge. He noticed, with some satisfaction, that food cartons sat at various stations, and the tactical officer’s remains had been removed from the area. The air felt thick almost to a point where he felt like chewing it. Grace saw his XO squatting beside the comm station chair, her hand on the Comm officer’s knee as she softly talked to the young ensign, whose face had returned to being pale, and taught.
“Commander Mitchell,” Grace said.
He gritted his teeth, anger flaring as he heard the harsh tone escape him. Grace watched as the XO looked up to him, she looked as tired as he had felt. Sarah stood patted the young man on the shoulder, and glided over to his command station.
“You let me sleep Sarah,” Grace sounded hurt even to himself but the woman in front of him only smiled wanly.
“You needed the rest Cap.”
“Commander Charles has reported in.”
Grace wondered what the bad news Sarah was parsing as she paused and drew a deep breath.
“She said that engineering is gone, the drives are beyond our repair, and the main life-support still is non-functional. Also search crews believe they have gotten all trapped personnel, but the Doctor says that medical is overflowing.”
Grace closed his eyes, nodded and drew his anger back down.
“The comm systems?”
“We are pumping as much power as we can into the laser, but won’t know if anyone receives it until they are just about on top of us.”
Grace nodded and looked down at the pad in Sarah’s left hand.
“You have the log?” he asked
“Yes sir, I’ve entered my report if you want to read it.”
“I need to append my own,” Grace said, holding out his hand to his friend, “What kind of time is Commander Charles giving us?”
“Hours to a couple days at the outside sir,” she said, placing the ship’s log into Grace’s hand.
Grace nodded, looked about at his people and sighed.
“Well I guess all we can do now is wait.”
He watched as his bridge crew, with jaws set, turned back to their posts, and with a feeling of defeat, Grace at last looked down at the log and began typing what he felt might be his final entry.
Commander Royce Asher waited in the airlock of the PAC fast attack ship Brisbane
as the atmosphere sensors tested the other ships systems. Two engineers and a medtech waited nervously beside him as he whistled tunelessly into the helmet microphone. The readings that flashed on his hud weren’t encouraging with high levels of carbon dioxide and signs of human corruption.
“Keep your suits sealed,” Royce said as he reached for the lock controls, “readings show bad air.”
The lock door slid aside and sounds of a lonely saxophone filled the small chamber. Royce led his small boarding party into the dimly lit corridor, signs of the battle damage suffered by the once mighty warship draped from the walls like cobwebs in a haunted house. Royce pointed two of his suited fingers at the medtech and one of the engineers.
“You two make your way to medical,” He said “if anywhere has extra ls packs it’s there.” He watched as the two men nodded then continued. “Jack and I will try for the bridge, keep me informed.”
Royce motioned his dismissal and the two turned and shuffled off in the low gravity Royce waved for Jack to follow him and headed forward.
The bridge was not the scene that had built up in Royce’s mind before he had looked about the stations still manned by the dead crew. They sat belted into stations as if an alarm would bring their ghosts into action to resume the battle that had brought them here. Royce stepped next to the captain’s chair and looked over Captain Joshua Grace. He had known him from shared training before Grace had made list. Royce lifted the ship’s log from Grace’s stiff grasp and studied the final entry. Recommendations of merits filled the entry as well a short note stating that the Captain could not have been more proud of his ship’s complement. Royce walked to the comm station as he read and moved his hand to the cut off for the receiver. Pausing he thought that there was no reason to not leave the music playing as he would wish that in their place he would have such. Instead he switched the com laser; that they had followed to find them, to off.
Royce keyed his radio to the shared channel.
“Anything in medical?” he asked.
“Sorry sir,” a slow reply came to Royce, “Looks like the Doctor put most of the injured out before the air went.”
“Copy,” Royce motioned for Jack to head out of the hatch, “We got the log and are headed back to the lock, meet you there.”
As the two ships separated Royce watched the unfortunate Cruiser fall away from the Brisbane thinking about the men and women still aboard. He wondered if this war would ever end, and if any of him would be left to see it.