The Darkest Heart, Part 20

Admiral Chieria Peltoren was sound asleep in her quarters on Heart of the Galaxy when an alarm blared and a voice yelled, “Admiral to the bridge! Admiral to the bridge!” She shot out of bed, practically leaped into her uniform, and strode to the bridge at a brisk walk. She would have ran, but it would have been undignified, and it would have instilled an unnecessary sense of panic in any crew members who saw her.

As soon as she arrived on the bridge, she barked, “Status update!”

“At least two dozen Imperial ships just dropped out of subspace, and are headed our way,” replied Captain Emain Lomor, Peltoren’s former XO who was now the captain of Heart of the Galaxy.

“They took the bait,” Peltoren breathed, grinning. “Time to put this plan into action. Advance to meet them, one-quarter speed.” She pressed a button on the command chair that would broadcast her voice to the entire ship. “All hands to battle stations. Prepare for incoming boarders.” Boarding parties were a quite uncommon occurrence in ship-to-ship battles, but this one was different. The Imperial Fleet wasn’t coming to conquer the planet that her ship was defending, they were coming to steal the ship itself. That certainly meant boarders, and those boarders had a nasty surprise waiting for them. An entire battalion of marines was defending the halls and vital operation centers of Heart of the Galaxy. Any Imperial soldiers who thought they could just waltz onto her ship and steal it for themselves would be deeply disappointed.

***

“Status report!” barked Kryla Zomulin as soon as Decimator dropped out of subspace.

“There are sixteen Hadramoran ships orbiting the planet,” announced the chief sensor officer. “Two battleships, four cruisers, nine destroyers…and one Starfortress,” he finished with a grin. Zomulin felt like grinning herself, but she kept her face still.

“All ships, engage the Starfortress’s escort and disperse them,” she ordered. “Navigation, close in to boarding range.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” Commander Sahrinae replied.

***

Peltoren gazed intently at the vast screen that filled the front of the bridge on Heart of the Galaxy. So far everything was going well. The fifteen ships that were escorting Heart of the Galaxy were engaging the Imperial ships, while Galaxy itself hung back, as if she was unwilling to risk it in combat. She wanted the Imperial commander to underestimate Galaxy, to think that she was trying to protect her ship at all costs. In other words, she wanted Galaxy to look like a tempting target.

Her fleet was outnumbered by the Imperials, but they were still holding their own. Most of the Imperial ships were focusing on the other ships in her fleet, but one Imperial cruiser was making a beeline straight for her.

“Tactical, concentrate fire on the cruiser at 7932.4,” she ordered. She expected that some boarding parties would make it on board, but she still wanted to make it as hard for them as possible. The battle plan called for goading the Imperial Fleet to commit itself, and then Iron Dragonfly would drop in with another dozen ships, trapping them in a vise, but if Heart of the Galaxy and its escort could deal with the Imperial Fleet all by itself, so much the better. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to keep the fact of Iron Dragonfly‘s fully operational status a secret for a little bit longer.

***

“Look at the size of that thing,” Sahrinae breathed, staring at the main screen in something approaching awe, as Heart of the Galaxy drew closer.

“Steady, Commander,” Zomulin ordered wryly.

“The Starfortress is opening fire!” yelled the tactical officer suddenly.

“Evasive pattern Onzina,” Zomulin ordered. “Return fire, but remember, we don’t want to hurt that ship too badly. We want to bring it home with us, not turn it into scrap.”

Commander Venrel gave her a wry look. “You think we can do much more than scratch the paint on that thing?” he asked.

“We’d better be able to do more, or this will be the shortest mission ever,” she replied grimly.

***

“Admiral, we just lost Pride of the North,” said a tactical officer.

“Acknowledged, Lieutenant,” Peltoren replied, keeping her face smooth. Pride of the North was a destroyer, one of the newest ones in the Republican fleet. Hopefully the wreck could be salvaged. Hopefully most of the crew made it off safely. But Chieria Peltoren couldn’t do anything about either of those things at the moment. Win the battle. Make their sacrifice count. That’s what she could do.

“Admiral, two cruisers, a battleship, and three destroyers have broken through our lines and are headed for us,” announced another tactical officer.

“I see them, Lieutenant,” she replied. “Have Lightning Storm and The Coming Judgment pull back and flank them. Then have Ebony Crystal, Sundering Hand, Blue Mountain, and Call of the Dawn move in and hit them from behind.”

“Admiral, that will leave our defensive line dangerously depleted,” replied the chief tactical officer, Commander Belanas Foltouren.

“I understand that, Commander,” Peltoren replied, “but we don’t want them to suspect we have reinforcements coming. It’s a desperate move, but we want them to think we’re desperate. We also want them to underestimate Heart of the Galaxy.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” Commander Foltouren replied.

***

“Damn, that monster packs a punch!” Venrel exclaimed as Decimator shuddered under the force of a blast from Heart of the Galaxy‘s guns.

“Just think about all the punching we’ll do once its ours,” Zomulin replied with a tight grin. “Comm, tell the ships behind us to spread out! Enemy ships are moving in to flank them.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” said the communications officer.

“Five seconds to docking range, Admiral,” announced the sensor officer.

“Good,” Zomulin said. “Remind the marines to book it as soon as we’ve cut through the Starfortress’s hull. We can’t stay docked for very long, because we’ll be a sitting duck.”

“Yes, sir,” came the response. Almost immediately, there was a deep clanging sound that rang through the ship, and all sensation of movement ceased.

“Colonel,” Zomulin said, pressing the button to communicate with the CO of the marines onboard, “it’s all up to you now.”

“I won’t let you down, Admiral,” the colonel replied.

To be continued…

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