Catching the Sun, Part 26

On Ranger‘s forward observation deck, Commander Omilai Alten and the rest of Ranger‘s command staff were watching intently as Ranger and the rest of the Fangalin ships prepared to engage Erelesk Votalin’s fleet. Votalin’s fleet had decimated Redlamin’s so thoroughly that his ships had already lowered their shields and sounded an end to battle stations, even though standard procedure said to maintain battle readiness even after a battle ended, in case the enemy had reserves in hiding. Sloppy tactics on Votalin’s part, but it certainly made Alten’s job easier.

“Open fire on my mark,” Alten said to the weapon control officer, a grim look on his normally cheerful face. It was odd to be commanding the ship from the forward observation deck. This was normally a place where off-duty officers came to relax and drink and enjoy the spectacular views of space afforded by the large, arvinium-reinforced windows. He had chuckled when he first took up his position behind the bar, using a computer designed for ordering drinks to command the entire battleship. But this kind of out-of-the-box thinking was one of the things he loved about Fangalin.

“Fire!” he yelled as the Fangalin ships closed in on the Imperial ships.

***

“Captain, this is strange,” announced one of the sensor operators on the bridge of Berserker.

“What is it, Lieutenant?” asked the captain, a young man named Vorun Mallagai, coming over to look at the operator’s display.

“Some of the other ships in the fleet have broken standard orbit and are coming straight toward us!” the lieutenant said.

“That’s odd,” muttered Mallagai. “Why would they be doing that?”

“What’s going on?” demanded Votalin suddenly, coming up behind the captain and the lieutenant.

“Oh! Uh, Your Majesty,” the captain said, saluting, “a group of ships have broken orbit and are moving right toward us.” Votalin stared at the display for a moment, and then started chuckling.

“Xendin Lodimeur, you audacious bastard,” he said in admiration, then he turned away and roared, “SHIELDS UP! EVASIVE MANEUVERS! CONTACT THE REST OF-” but he was cut off as the ship shook violently under the force of Fangalin guns.

***

“Report!” barked Commander Alten.

“Eight ships destroyed, three ships heavily damaged, and minimal damage to Votalin’s flagship,” announced the tactical officer. “Berserker managed to get its shields up just before we opened fire.”

“Damn it,” Alten scowled. “Would’ve been nice to take out that pervert, but we’ll take what we can get. Come around for another pass, and then we’ll get the hell out of here.”

***

“Damage report!” bellowed Votalin.

“Shields are at 55 percent and holding,” shouted the damage control officer. “Minor damage to the starboard engine. No casualties.”

“What about the rest of the fleet?” asked Votalin.

“Can’t get through!” yelled the communications officer. “The enemy ships are jamming our communications somehow!”

“Keep trying!” roared Votalin. “And let’s take out some of those traitors!”

***

“Adjust course, bearing 7844.9,” Alten ordered. “Open fire on the cruiser at 2946.1 on my mark.”

“Sir, shouldn’t we keep attacking Berserker?” asked Alten’s XO.

“No, Commander,” Alten said, shaking his head. “We don’t have a shot at destroying Berserker now, not with its shields up. We’re better off taking out a different ship and getting out of here intact. Besides, our mission is not to destroy Votalin, only cripple him.” He turned to the weapon control officer. “Open fire!” There was a flash of green energy outside the ship, and the cruiser that had been directly in front of them disintegrated in a massive fireball.

“There, that should do it,” Alten said in satisfaction. “Notify the fleet: prepare to drop into subspace. Set course for Numoris.”

***

“Fire!” bellowed Votalin. There was a flash of green on the viewscreen, but the destroyer that Berserker was firing on sailed past and out of sight.

“Minimal damage, Your Majesty,” said the weapon control officer, shaking his head grimly. “Our shots glanced off their shields.”

“Change course!” Votalin roared, his voice starting to get hoarse from all the shouting. “Find a new target and annihilate them!”

“No good, Your Majesty!” yelled the tactical officer. “The enemy ships are dropping into subspace!” Votalin’s face turned as white as a ghost, and then he whirled and slammed his fist into Mallagai’s head, who collapsed to the ground.

“Captain Mallagai,” he rasped, breathing heavily, “you are hereby relieved of duty and placed under arrest.” He turned away from the captain, who was laying on the ground, clutching his head and weeping, as four marines swooped in to bind him and carry him away. “Master Lakatai,” Votalin said in a quiet, dangerous voice, facing the bridge viewscreen. Lakatai stepped up behind him, bowing submissively. “The ISS has a new mission. Find the marines I stationed on Lodimeur’s ships. Make certain they suffer for their failure to prevent this embarrassment.”

“As you command, Your Majesty,” Lakatai said, bowing again.

***

On the bridge of Ranger, Xendin Lodimeur was sitting in the command chair with a rare smile on his face. So far, this mission had gone off without a hitch. 22 of Votalin’s ships had been destroyed or crippled, more than half of the fleet he’d brought to Endragar. His overall forces were still larger than those of Valador Mifalis, but the gap had been greatly reduced. Even if Votalin was able to overcome his rival eventually, it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.

All command functions had been restored to the bridge, and command access had reverted to himself and Captain Nonmar. He was still looking through reports to see how Ranger‘s status had changed while the bridge was nonfunctioning.

“General,” said the commander of Ranger‘s marine battalion, coming onto the bridge and approaching Lodimeur’s seat with a salute. “I have some bad news to report.”

“What is it, Major?” Lodimeur replied, the smile fading from his face.

“We have secured the Imperial marines that were stationed here and in CIC, but we have so far failed to dislodge the marines in engineering. They are currently working on disabling our engines.”

“They must be desperate,” Lodimeur said with a pensive frown. “If they shut down our Nexus engines in transit, the shock of dropping out of subspace so suddenly would destroy the ship.” He stood up and moved off the bridge, motioning to the Major to follow him. “I want all available marines to converge on engineering. This isn’t over yet.”

To be continued…

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