Catching the Sun, Part 27

Xendin Lodimeur, the marine commander Major Krel Vendigan, and Lodimeur’s XO Captain Jical Sorali made their way down to a corridor leading to the engineering section. “What’s the situation, Sergeant?” Xendin said to a heavily armed marine standing nearby.

“Not good, sir,” she said with a salute. “We killed seven of them, but the other five managed to seal the containment doors. We’ve rerouted engine controls so they can’t use the computer to shut down the engine, but we think they’re trying to shut down the engine manually.”

“Idiots,” growled Vendigan. “Don’t they realize that will kill them too?”

“Erelesk Votalin isn’t known for his mercy,” Xendin said darkly. “They’ve failed in their mission, and if they surrender and we hand them back over to the Empire, they’ll almost certainly be executed. No matter what they do, they’re likely dead. This way, they can at least take some of us with them.”

“What if we offer them amnesty?” asked Hana Lodimeur, who had just arrived in the corridor. “As the Supreme Commander’s personal representative on this mission, I’m authorized to offer amnesty to any enemy soldier who wishes to join us. If we promise to protect them from Votalin’s wrath, they might find that preferable to death.”

“We can try,” said Sorali doubtfully, “but they probably won’t listen. Votalin seems to have done a pretty good job of indoctrinating his troops. It’s likely they hate Fangalin even more than they fear Votalin.”

“Hana, you shouldn’t be down here,” Xendin said with a frown. “It’s too dangerous for civilians.”

“General, you should know by now that I am authorized to be wherever I want to be on this ship,” Hana said in exasperation. “Besides, with five crazed Imperial marines locked in the engine room, this entire ship is one big deathtrap right now. Being here is no more dangerous than being in my quarters.”

“Even so, I would feel much better if you weren’t potentially in the line of fire,” Xendin said, his frown deepening.

“Too bad,” Hana said firmly. “I’m staying here, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Xendin sighed in frustration, and then turned back to Vendigan and Sorali.

“All right,” he said. “Sergeant, make them a formal offer of amnesty.” The sergeant saluted sharply and ran off. “Now, we need to figure out how we’re going to get in there in case they refuse. Ideas?”

“Couldn’t we just blow open the doors and storm in?” asked Vendigan.

“No good,” replied Sorali. “Those doors are designed to protect the ship in case the engine overheats and the Nexus energy inside ruptures the casing. Any explosion strong enough to open those doors would destroy the entire ship.”

“Why can’t we just open the doors?” asked Hana.

“The Imperials have locked us out of the computer system that controls the door,” said Sorali, shaking his head. “It’ll take hours to bypass that lock, and by then, we’ll all be dead.”

“However,” said Draina Telorr, Ranger‘s chief engineer, who had arrived just in time to hear Sorali’s last statement, “the ventilation shafts leading into the engine room are still open. The ventilation lockdown is controlled by a different system than the main containment doors, and the Imperials either didn’t realize that or couldn’t access it.”

“We can definitely make use of that,” said Xendin thoughtfully. “But how?”

“Why don’t we just send a platoon of marines through the shafts?” asked Hana.

“Because the shafts are so narrow they’d have to go one at a time, and they’d almost certainly get decimated by the Imperials as they emerged,” growled Vendigan.

“Could we flood the engine room with tranimine gas and knock them out?” asked Sorali.

“We could try that,” replied Lodimeur, “but they most likely have breathing apparatuses to counteract such a tactic.”

“General,” said Telorr suddenly, “you might not be aware of this, but Ranger is equipped with a dozen XR38 drones. We could use those to eliminate the Imperials.”

“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with XR38s, Commander,” Lodimeur said with a frown.

“Oh, that’s right,” she replied somewhat sheepishly, “you just recently joined Fangalin. The XR38 is an experimental remote control weapon system designed by Fangalin engineers. They’re about a foot long and six inches high, but they’re fully equipped with a hover drive, holographic imaging sensors, and twin plasma fusion rifles. They’ve never been used in a combat situation before, and they’re absurdly expensive, but I would say that desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“Agreed,” said Lodimeur sharply. As soon as he said this, the marine who’d been sent to the engine room came jogging back. “Report, Sergeant.”

“Couldn’t even get them to respond, sir,” she said, shaking her head.

“Very well then,” Lodimeur said firmly. “Flood the engine room with tranimine, and deploy the XR38s.” Telorr saluted sharply and ran off.

***

In the engine room, Master Sergeant Ladiv Umian was working slowly but steadily on dismantling the protective casing surrounding the Fangalin ship’s Nexus drive. His companions kept complaining that he was taking too long, but he didn’t really care. No matter what happened at this point, they were dead. What did it really matter if they took the Fangalin scum with them or not? Besides, they’d locked down the containment doors. Those traitors weren’t getting in here any time soon.

“Hey, do you smell something?” asked one of the marines. Another of them sniffed deeply, and grimaced.

“Tranimine!” he yelled. “Everybody engage your breathers!” Umian and the others quickly pressed a few buttons on the control panels embedded on the left arm of their armor, and masks appeared over their faces, filtering out the tranimine and replacing it with breathable air.

“Those idiots,” one of the soldiers sneered, his voice distorted by the mask. “Didn’t they know we’d have breathers?”

“They must be getting desperate,” Umian said, chuckling darkly. Suddenly, there was a blast of energy, and the soldier standing to his left dropped to the ground, dead. “What is going on!” he roared in fear and anger.

“Drones!” yelled one of the other soldiers. He raised his rifle and started shooting, but missed and was dropped by one of the drones. Umian rolled to his right, snatched up his rifle, and quickly blasted two of the drones. But there were too many, and he was already the last member of his squad still standing. He tried to jump behind a control console for cover, but one of the drones fired on him as he jumped, and everything went black.

To be continued…

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