Author Topic: Proxima  (Read 175 times)

Offline Yalin Hawk

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Proxima
« on: 06/02/11 16:02:37 »
This section of the forums is sadly bare. I'm going to add an excerpt from my novel, Proxima, to help liven things up!

For those of you who don't know, I've been working on a Science-Fiction-Fantasy novel for about a year now. Proxima takes place in the distant future, a future where mankind has colonized other planets and spread across the stars. In this future humankind has dropped back into a new dark age, however, the result of a nearly cataclysmic war against man-made Artificial Intelligences. In order to prevent the complete destruction of the human race, the human government deployed a last ditch weapon...wiping all of the computers across human-controlled space instantly. Their enemies were destroyed, but so was the collective knowledge of the human race.

 So we find ourselves in an interesting setting. Humans have starships and advanced weapons and armor...but with virtually no idea how this technology works, only the basic understanding of how to use it. Those who understand the complex ideas behind this technology are known as "Technomages", and they are mercilessly hunted by the Knights Templar, an incredibly powerful military-political force that controls most of known space. The story follows Torin, the newly-crowned Lord of the planet Haven, and his adopted brother Brian, who happens to be a Technomage and the son of the Technomage's prophesized savior. We follow them as they try to wage a war against the Templars, a war to free the Mages and the oppressed people of the galaxy. In order to even fight the Templars, however, who have many more ships and weapons, our heroes must find the fabled Proxima Shipyards, where the most powerful warships of ancient times were built.

 And so, with no more introduction or distraction, I happily present to you all a small excerpt from Proxima.

************************

The Charybdis flashed into existence roughly twenty thousand kilometers away from a massive space installation, a mind-bogglingly huge orbital fortress that lazily made its way around the dead planet below. The rest of the Elysium battlegroup had jumped straight into close orbit of the system’s star, there to recharge their batteries and prepare for their next course of action.

                Of course, they needed to figure out what that was, first.

                “All stations, secure from jump. Sensors, give me a full scan of the installation.”

                Charybdis’s maneuvering engines flashed as the helmsman turned the ship to approach the massive station, and all across her hull communications and sensor masts extended into their deployed positions. Torin, William, and Brian all watched as the sensors compiled a complete holographic image of the station and put it onto the holotable, the image having to zoom out so far as to make the Charybdis no larger than a bug.

                “That is one big space station,” Brian remarked.

                Both Torin and William nodded. The largest space installation Torin had ever seen had been the recharging stations over Rhinefeld…but this fortress made those stations look like toys.

                “Let’s find what we need and get the hell out of here,” Torin said to his brother, “The quicker we find these shipyards the better. We have to keep the pressure on or the Templars will regroup and kick our asses back to Haven.”

                Brian nodded and flicked his wrist-computer open, bringing the holographic projector, and more importantly Merlin, to life.

                “Merlin, what are we looking for?”

                The AI appeared over Brian’s wrist and turned to look at the holographic projection of the station, his hand going to his chin in concentration.

                “Well, Masters, my sensors detect a starship docked with the station. While the station has been heavily damaged through the passage of time and is mostly inoperable, this ship is mostly intact.”

                Merlin wirelessly manipulated the holographic table, zooming and panning the image to focus on a ship moored with the station. William leaned in towards the image before letting out a long whistle.

                “That looks like the Charybdis’s big bad-ass brother.”

                Merlin raised an eyebrow and zoomed in on the ship even more, isolating it from the rest of the station and enhancing its holographic image.

                “Odd. I’m not familiar with this ship type.”

                Torin turned to the AI, truly interested now. Merlin had been around since the AI Wars, how could he not know about a United Earth ship class?

                “What are we talking about, Merlin? A new class of ship, some UEF prototype?”

                Merlin shrugged.

                “Unknown.”

                Brian reached out and ‘grabbed’ the hologram, the ship’s computers recognizing his movements and responding as if Brian actually was spinning the hologram with his hand. If it really was some UEF prototype, it would’ve been built at the Proxima Shipyards. Maybe it would have the starcharts they needed.

                “Alright,” The mage said, “I’m going to lead a team of technicians to that ship. We’ll try and get the data we need out of her computers.”

                Torin turned and crossed his arms, somewhat offended by his brother’s actions.

                “Who died and made you commander?”

                He put up a hand, the gesture telling Torin that he meant no insult.

                “We need to check the station and that ship for the data we need. If we stick together, it’ll take forever. You take a team to link Merlin up with the station’s computers, and I’ll take a team to access the ship.”

                Torin knew his brother had a point, and he conceded to him with a nod. He didn’t like the idea of splitting up, but they were going to have to.

                “Alright. I’m sending Sarah with you, though.”

                Brian nodded, indicating that this was an acceptable compromise. Sarah was the best single warrior in the Haven brotherhood aside from Torin or Marcus, and it would make Torin feel at ease if she was there with his brother. Besides, Brian wouldn’t mind having Sarah along. They had always been close friends, and he wouldn’t complain about spending time with her exploring some derelict ship.

                “Okay. We’ll take the shuttle, Torin you can moor the Charybdis to the station and head in via the airlock.”

                Torin nodded, and Brian headed down off the command deck and out of the bridge. The mage quickly made his way through the corridors to his quarters, where he gathered up the equipment he would need for their journey to the derelict: computer interface cables, his plasma pistol, his second sword, and a powerful handheld scanning device. With his items in hand he left his room, heading towards the armory. When he arrived there he was greeted by Sarah, in her Kearney armor, discomfort obvious on her face.

                “This armor sucks,” She said as she fidgeted with it, trying to adjust the armored suit but to no avail.

                “Well, it’s not made with someone of your…” Brian stopped and gave her a look, motioning with his hands to outline an hourglass shape, “Figure.”

                She smirked at him and otherwise ignored the comment, instead concentrating on gathering up her gear and getting ready for the mission. The armor squeezed her in all the wrong places and was simply too tight in the hips and chest, and she was far too small in the arms and legs to fill out the suit. She would deal with it, like she did before, but she couldn’t wait for a better suit of armor to come along. Brian sat himself down on a bench and stripped out of his clothes down to his underwear before grabbing the formfitting body suit out of his locker that formed the undermost layer of every knight’s armor. He slipped his legs into the suit before pulling it up and on, sliding his arms down the sleeves. It took him about five minutes to get into his armor and have it fully lock down, and when it was finished he grabbed his helmet and his gear and headed for the door out of the armory.

                “Let’s go, Sarah, we’re burning daylight.”

                Sarah followed him out of the door, a confused look on her face.

                “Burning daylight?”

                Brian laughed as his heavy metal boots clanked down the hallway, and he shook his head.

                “It’s an old earth saying, Sarah, for wasting time. Forget that I said it.”

                The two armored knights made their way down the corridor and down to the hangar deck, where a team of five engineers and other crewmen waited for them. All of them had sidearms and carried backpacks of gear, along with atmospheric masks incase the ship’s air systems had stopped recycling air. Their scanners had detected that the ship was pressurized, but after who knew how many years the air could’ve become contaminated and unbreathable.

                “Okay, listen up,” Brian said to the group, his voice firm but not overly commanding. “I’m not sure what we’ll find on that ship, but our primary objective is to access their databanks and download a copy of their starcharts. Also, if we find any data related to the Proxima Shipyards, we are to acquire that as well.”

                The engineers nodded as Sarah took a bag of weapons and other gear up onto the shuttle, and Brian continued his impromptu briefing.

                “There is no resistance expected, as the ship has been derelict for at least two thousand years. But I’ll warn you. It’s an old ship; it’s been here for a very long time. Most of her systems are probably going to be offline, including life support and lighting. You are going to hear things; you are going to think you have seen things. Let’s just remember people, keep the pistols in their holsters. We’re all operating as a single team; if you think you’ve seen something do not just shoot at shadows. Let the rest of us know.”

                They all nodded, and Brian thought for a second to see if there was anything else he wanted to say.

                Nothing came to mind. Good.

                “Let’s get going, then; everyone on the shuttle.”

                He waited on the hangar until the last member of his team was onboard, and then he gave a salute to Nicolai, the deck chief, and headed up the ramp himself. He slapped the command to retract the ramp and close the hatch with his open palm, and the members of his team strapped themselves down into crash-seats. He made his way forward to the cockpit, where Sarah was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat.

                “So, Brian, I’ve never flown a shuttle before.”

                Brian chuckled and shrugged, sitting himself down in the pilot’s seat.

                “I haven’t either. Never a better time to learn, eh?”

                The smile on her face was instantly erased as she realized Brian wasn’t kidding, and she quickly buckled herself into the five-point crash restraint. He pulled a data cable out from his wrist computer and plugged it into the access port for the shuttle’s flight computer, and Merlin appeared from the small holographic pad mounted on the instrument cluster.

                “Ah, very nice, a United Aerospace Industries GTO-1490 Shuttle, this is a very nice craft indeed. What can I help you with, Master Brian?”

                Brian cracked his knuckles and strapped himself into the crash seat, before flicking the shuttle’s main power online.

                “Why don’t you help me with the pre-flight, Merlin?”

                The AI nodded, and the holographic image grew to represent the whole instrument and control panel. With Merlin’s help Brian quickly ran down the checklists, and a few minutes later the shuttle was ready for launch.

                “Charybdis Control, this is shuttle zero-one, we’re ready for launch.”

                “Aye-Aye, Shuttle One. Disengaging artificial gravity and depressurizing.”

                Outside of the shuttle’s thick viewports the hangar lights died, replaced by flashing yellow hazard lights as the artificial gravity was disabled and the atmosphere was vented.

                “Shuttle one, you are clear to launch when ready. Transferring launch bay door controls to you.”

                “Thank you, Charybdis Control, Shuttle One launching.”

                Sarah stopped gripping the arms of her chair and instead chose to dig her fingers into the shuttle’s copilot control yoke, obviously terrified at the thought of having to help fly the shuttle.

                “It’s fine, Sarah, flying this thing is like driving an airspeeder back home. Just relax and let yourself go, you’ll know what to do.”

                She took a deep breath and nodded, and Brian reached forward to push the button to open the hangar doors. The floor parted beneath them and Brian gave the ship a slight nudge out of the hangar bay, maneuvering thrusters pushing them down and away from the Charybdis and into space. Sarah relaxed and put her hands on the controls, and Brian throttled the shuttle up and into a lazy arcing course towards the derelict starship.

                “You know,” Sarah said as they flew towards their destination, “I know this is going to sound crazy…but I actually think I like this.”

                Brian looked at her and raised an eyebrow, wondering exactly what it was she was talking about.

                “What? Flying the shuttle? Being with Torin? Or are you a fan of getting chased halfway across the galaxy by an army of people who wants us all dead?”

                She shrugged, and turned to look out the viewport at the massive space station.

                “This; all of it. Don’t you feel it? We’re living an adventure, Brian. This is the kind of thing they write stories about, sing ballads about. One day we’re all going to look back at this and remember it as some of the best times of our lives.”

                He let out a sharp laugh and shook his head.

                “Oh, yeah, that’s right Sarah. I’ll tell my grandchildren how much fun I had getting shot at by the Templars. That is if we all don’t get killed or enslaved first.”

                Sarah sighed and waved him off, diverting her attention back to the controls and their course towards the cruiser. As they got closer to the ship Brian started to understand what William meant when he said it was the Charybdis’s bigger brother. The ship seemed to be built along the same design philosophy, with a heavily honeycombed hull and a blocky armor profile. Her main guns seemed to be of a larger caliber, and they were mounted in eight triple turrets instead of the Charybdis’s six doubles.

                The shuttle cruised under the massive cruiser and Brian couldn’t help but look up through the top viewports in awe.

                “Now that is impressive…”

                Even going as fast as they were going, which had to have been hundreds of kilometers per hour, it still took them a good twenty seconds to fly from the ship’s bow to its stern. It wasn’t a cruiser, it was a full-fledged battleship.

                “Alright, let’s find someplace to dock.”

                He throttled back and brought the shuttle up and around the ship, slowly flying along its port side. A searchlight built into the shuttle’s starboard airlock lit up and shone its light on the aged armor plate of the derelict, and Brian saw what he was looking for. There was an airlock, the red marker lights that bordered it were barely on, but they were on.

                “Head aft and get our team ready to go. I’m going to initiate the docking procedure.”

                Sarah nodded and left the cockpit, heading into the passenger compartment to get their team of technicians prepared. Brian slowly, and very carefully, manipulated the tiny thumb joysticks on the control yoke to fire their thrusters. Tiny puffs of propellant were redirected from the shuttle’s main engines and they slowly drifted towards the airlock. Brian reached over his head and flipped the switches to engage their airlock and the electromagnetic docking arms. The airlock’s docking collar unlocked from its stored position and started to extend towards the derelict’s airlock as the shuttle’s two docking arms reached out and ‘grabbed’ the side of the cruiser with their magnets.

                “Master, I can handle the rest of the docking procedures. I detect atmosphere inside of the cruiser, however the air is of poor quality. I would recommend sealing your suit and preparing to disembark.”

                Brian nodded and flicked the controls over to computer guidance, and slapped the center release for his crash seat’s five point harness. He got up and headed through the doors into the passenger compartment, where his team was already on their feet and checking over their gear. All of the technicians and crewmen had their oxygen masks on, and Sarah already had her helmet secured. It seemed like everyone was waiting on him. He didn’t waste a second; grabbing his gear bag and securing his armor’s helmet to his neck seals as Merlin initiated the final docking protocols. The shuttle was rocked as the airlock’s collar locked into the derelict.

                “Here we go, people.”

                Brian pushed the airlock’s ‘open’ button with his palm and there was a hissing as the air pressure equalized between the shuttle and the ship. It only took a few seconds at the most before the airlock slid open to let them through. They were rewarded with darkness, as the derelict’s interior lights had long since failed. Brian clicked on his shoulder-mounted spotlights and Sarah followed suit, the other members of his team turning flashlights and hand-lamps on to illuminate their surroundings. Sarah was the first one to step out of the airlock and into the derelict, and the place looked like everyone assumed it would. Cool metal and dust greeted their flashlights, Sarah’s movements kicking up some of the dust that had accumulated on the floor.

                Brian didn’t even want to know where the dust came from. They were most likely walking on, and in, what remained of the crew. Merlin wirelessly linked Brian’s wrist-computer to the shuttle’s computers, and the holographic wizard appeared over his armored bracer.

                “Master, I am scanning the ship to try and obtain a deck plan and layout. Our first objective should be to reactivate the ship’s power systems, that way we can access the computers.”

                Sarah looked back to Brian and slowly shook her head.

                “Why does this seem like a repeating pattern, Go here, turn this on, go use this computer to find this data that might lead us to these shipyards that might exist.”

                “Sarah?”

                “Yes Brian.” She replied.

                “You’re complaining.”

                Sarah’s shoulders dropped some and a long sigh came over their intercom.

                “Sorry.”

                He looked around the darkened corridor for a second before his mind kicked into gear and he realized it was time to get moving. No matter how much he wanted to explore every inch of this ship, they had a job to do.

                “Alright. Sarah, you take McDonnell and Daniels and find the engine room. Start up an auxiliary reactor or something and get us some power.”

                Sarah gave him a mocking salute and McDonnell and Daniels moved over to stand with her. They were the two best engineer’s mates on the Charybdis, which is why Brian put them with her.

                “The rest of you, with me. Keep in comm. contact at all times.”

                The two teams split up and headed to their objectives, but Brian wasn’t at ease with the world. Something was very…odd about this ship, and he didn’t like it. The space station had been damaged over the last two thousand years by micro-meteor impacts, failing reactors and explosive decompression of weakened sections. But this ship…it was relatively intact.

                Why?

                ***

                The Charybdis slowly, and carefully, made her way towards the mooring post that connected to the massive space station. Torin wasn’t too keen on this idea of docking the cruiser to the ancient installation; it looked like the whole thing could crumble at a moment’s notice. He was amazed it was still in orbit, the whole thing should’ve drifted into the planet’s atmosphere by now.

                Footsteps coming up the stairs to the command deck made Torin look away from the projections on the viewscreens, the sensors officer had come up to report his findings on the station.

                “Milord Torin, Master William, I have finished my analysis on the station and its orbit.”

                The sensors officer, a man named Walters, typed his authorization code into the situation table and uploaded his information to the holographic projectors. The planet and the space station appeared, followed by a faded blue line representing the station’s orbit.

                “Sirs, this station shouldn’t be here. All of the calculations I’ve run have come back the same. The planet’s gravity well should’ve pulled the whole thing down by now. It’s running dead; it’s got no power and no crew to do orbital corrections with its thrusters. As it stands, this station is one or two orbits from being caught by the planet’s atmosphere.”

                Torin crossed his arms over his chest as he listened to the man speak, watching the holographic projection play out the man’s findings. That was disturbing…how did the station manage to stay in orbit this long only to start to decay when they arrived? There were only two logical explanations. One was that the station had been maintaining its altitude by itself up until recently, the second was that…

                That the station wasn’t here before and someone moved it.

                “Officer Walters,” Torin said as a sinking feeling made its way into his gut, “Is it possible that this station was in a stable orbit at one time and someone recently…knocked it out of that orbit?”

                Walters thought for a second before stroking the goatee he had been working on.

                “It’s possible, sir.”

                Torin’s eyes moved back to the projection of the station and he couldn’t help but let himself be taken over by his own fears. The damage to the station did look like it was staged…far too precise to be random meteor impacts and the wear and tear of time. In fact, most of the damaged sections didn’t even look like they were hit with space debris. They looked like they had been hit with naval grade weapons.

                “Communications! Recall Brian and his team, on the double. Helm, come about. Pull us away from this space station.”

                There was a chorus of “Aye, Ayes” from the crew deck below and Torin held onto the railing as the ship’s gravity shifted because of their sudden turn and acceleration. The nasty feeling in his stomach only got worse as the communications officer repeatedly tried to hail Brian or Sarah.

                “This is Charybdis to Boarding Party, come in. Charybdis to Boarding Party, come in.”

                William looked to Torin as the young lord silently waited, listening to the communications officer trying to raise Brian’s team. Only static replied.

                “Sirs,” Walters said, breaking the silence. “I believe we’re being jammed. I noticed this odd signal emanating from the station when we arrived; I had thought it was either background radiation from its reactors or an automated system. Now I’m almost positive it’s a white-noise generator to jam communications.”

                William looked puzzled and raised an eyebrow to Torin.

                “The only way anyone could know to jam our specific communications frequencies is if…is if…”

                The color drained away from William’s face as Torin nodded and finished his sentence.

                “Is if someone knew we were coming here. Walters, I’d get back to your station. William bring the ship up to action stations and prepare for immediate contact!”

                Torin himself hit the action station’s alarm and the bridge lights dropped to their combat settings and red flashing marker lights started going off all across the floor and ceiling. Alarms wailed throughout the ship as crewmen darted to their posts and airtight doors came down to seal off individual compartments. They wouldn’t be able to call for the battlegroup to help them, and even if the Elysium ships saw the Templars jump in and attack, they’d be seeing it ten minutes after it happened due to the lag in sensors and communications time. They were on their own. Even with the danger they were in, Torin couldn’t help but worry about Sarah and Brian’s team. If this was a trap, they could be walking into a Templar army on that derelict.

                ***

                Sarah grabbed the seams of the massive main door that led into the ship’s engineering spaces and pulled with all of her might, her armor’s powered servos whining in protest as she strained against the disabled door. It started to move, barely at first, but then suddenly came open. Caught unbalanced Sarah almost fell over, but she caught herself and managed to keep on her feet.

                “That, boys, is how you open a locked door.”

                The two technicians with her chuckled, and Daniels walked past her into the massive engine room. The beam of his flashlight was seemingly lost in the cavernous space, not able to reach the other side of the room. McDonnell let out a low whistle, the sound echoing throughout the place.

                “Now this is an engine room,” The engineer said, his ancient Celtic ties showing in his accent.

                Daniels nodded, “Aye, it is indeed.”

                Sarah shook her head and walked up behind the two engineers, crossing her arms over her chest to show her disapproval.

                “We’ve got a job to do, guys. Let’s get it done.”

                The engineers nodded and the three of them split up, luminescent beams from their flashlights scouring the massive engineering spaces for any sign of a control console or a master systems display. Sarah made her way up a small flight of three steps, her heavy metal boots thudding against the deck as she went, and found a cluster of computer terminals inside of some sort of booth.

                “Hey, guys,” She called out to Daniels and McDonnell, “I think I found something!”

                Her companions came up into the booth behind her, Daniels half falling up the stairs in the dark, and their lights helped illuminate the control station.

                “Perfect,” McDonnell said. “Let’s get some power to these terminals. Jimmy, pop the panel on that console and see if we can’t give it some juice.”

                Daniels nodded and grabbed his flashlight with his teeth and lay down on the deck, his head under the center console in the room. He grabbed some tools out of the bag he brought with him from the Charybdis and removed the main access panel to the console’s inner workings. Sarah crouched next to him and watched intently as the engineer traced the wires with some sort of gadget and found the main power connectors. He unplugged the wires from their clip and plugged them into a battery-device they brought along. Nothing seemed to happen for a few seconds, and then Sarah noticed a small blinking yellow light from inside the console.

                “What’s that?”

                The engineer looked over at the light and then back to Sarah, the flashlight still in his mouth. He started to talk but his words were incomprehensible, which prompted him to remove the flashlight.

                “That’s a status light; means it’s got power.”

                “Ah.”

                Sarah got up from her crouch as McDonnell started to power up the console, the familiar sound of holographic projectors warming up filling the control booth. The backlights built into the keypads and the small status lights came to life, giving them some illumination besides their lamps and flashlights. A sudden burst of light filled the room and then faded as the holographic projectors came online, the computers running through their startup checks. The system finally started up and a massive status projection took up the projector, showing the whole ship. Most of it was glowing red, showing dead and offline systems.

                “So, let’s start up a reactor or something?”

                Daniels looked around for the control panel but couldn’t find the interface to control the console. McDonnell checked again, but the two technicians were dumbfounded. The console had all sorts of status lights and had a few keypads for some functions…but no master interface like a keyboard or touch screen. Sarah watched them try and find the interface system but soon was more interested in the holographic projection of the ship. It was impressive; she had to give it that, looking much more massive than the Charybdis or the Scylla. She reached out towards the hologram and it seemed to respond to her hand, a section of the ship zooming in.

                “What did you do?” Daniels asked.

                “I just touched it.”

                “You touched it?”

                Sarah nodded. The two engineers looked at the hologram before Daniels shrugged and reached out to touch it, the image reacting to his hand almost like it was solid.

                “That’s weird. Brian should take a look at this.”

                “Just start up the reactors,” Sarah said, “Look.”

                She touched the engineering spaces on the holographic display and it zoomed in. She then touched an icon that looked like it represented auxiliary power. She had seen it before on the Charybdis, just never presented this way. The icon, which was a smaller circle inside of a larger one with a lightning bolt on it, started to spin and Sarah noticed a blinking light off in the distance.

                “What’s that, another status light or something?”

                Before either of the technicians could answer her there was a loud bang, followed by a spinning sound. It was slow at first, and then quickly got faster and louder. All across the engineering spaces lights started to come online but most either stayed off or burnt out as soon as they got power. It was obvious that this ship had been derelict for a long while.

                “Sarah to Brian,” She called over her helmet’s communications system, “Sarah to Brian.”

                She waited for a few seconds before calling him again.

                “Sarah to Brian, come in Brian.”

                Nothing, not even static answered her call. That was odd. Maybe there was some sort of interference from the reactor they started?

                “Come on guys,” Sarah said as she headed down the steps and towards the massive door, “Let’s get to the bridge. Brian won’t answer the comm. He’s probably busy with some fancy computer or something, but let’s be sure.”

                Daniels started to protest but McDonnell waved him off, and the engineer sighed and gathered up his tools.

                “Aw, man, I really wanted to check this thing out more.”

                Sarah put a hand on her hip and glared at the technician.

                “You’ll have time to play with the holograms later; right now they could be in trouble. So quit your bitching and let’s get moving.”

                ***

                “Sir, I’ve got subspace ruptures forming off the port bow!”

                Torin had been waiting for that call from Officer Walters for the last five minutes now. He knew the Templars were going to show up, sooner or later.

                “Milord,” William started, “The Templars have us caught in a bad way. We’re pinned between the station, the planet, and their guns. We’ve got no room to maneuver.”

                Torin nodded, but refused to hear the message that William implied. They were not going to abandon their ground team, not while he was in command.

                “Run up the guns, William. If they want a fight, we’ll give them one.”

                The ship’s main guns and other weapons systems prepared for combat and the Templar ships came through the ruptures. Four Templar ships, cruisers all, jumped into point-blank range of the Charybdis and the space station. Torin knew that such pin-point jumps were only possible if you knew exactly where you were going, which confirmed his fears of a trap. The Charybdis could hold its own against any two cruisers, and against three they could hold ground but not win. Against four?

                They couldn’t take on all four.

                ***

                “Huh. Sarah must’ve gotten one of the reactors working. Nice.”

                Brian nodded with a smile as the control pad next to the armored doors to the bridge lit up. They had spent the last couple of minutes trying to figure out how they were getting through a door that was thicker than most armor plating, but with the timely arrival of reactor power the door’s own automatic controls came online. Brian hit the open button and the door slowly slid to the side, revealing the ship’s command center. Unlike the Charybdis, this ship’s bridge was buried deep in the ship’s structure. Brian could understand this, as it placed the commanders and officers in the most protected part of the ship. He took a few steps into the room when one of the crewmen with him stopped in his tracks. Brian looked back to the man and inside of his helmet raised an eyebrow.

                “What’s up McDougal?”

                “Quiet. I think I heard something.”

                The whole place was still dark, Sarah’s actions below decks only providing enough power to run critical systems. Lights, they weren’t so critical.

                “It’s probably nothing, I didn’t hear it.”

                The man nodded and they started to head towards the main situation table in CIC when the man stopped again, and Brian heard something this time too. It was barely there, his suit’s microphones and auditory systems barely picking it up over the noise of their breathing.

                “There it is again,” McDougal said.

                Brian shined his light around the room, seeing nothing. He dismissed whatever he thought he heard, they were all just getting jumpy.

                “It’s nothing.”

                Johnson, the other man with Brian, headed over to the situation table and started typing commands into its cold keypads, but McDougal didn’t move. Instead, his eyes scanned the room and his senses stayed on alert.

                “There! There! Did you see that?”

                Brian snapped his head around to look over to the man, but he didn’t see anything.

                “By the maker, Man, you’re scaring me. There is nothing there…”

                Before he could finish Brian saw something move in one of the shadows, just in the corner of his eye. He pulled his plasma pistol and shined his light in that corner, failing to see anything.

                “I saw it too,” He said.

                McDougal pulled the submachine gun he had been given and held it; white-knuckled.

                “Johnson. Start up that table and let’s get what we need and get the hell out of here.”

                There was no response from Johnson, who had been behind him. Brian turned around to face the situation table, and there was no one there.

                “Johnson!? Johnson!”

                He called out into the shadows, but the missing man didn’t respond.

                “McDougal, get up here and start this table.”

                The other man quickly ran over to the table and started it up, the whirring of holographic projectors adding to the eerie feeling in the room. Brian scanned the place with his shoulder mounted lights, but he couldn’t see anything. McDougal quickly tried to start the systems up, entering a wrong command and cussing under his breath.

                “Shit, shit, shit…”

                He tapped in the final few commands and the system came online, the holographic table coming to life and filling the room with light blue light from its projection. Brian looked around the room for any trace of their missing man, and he found more than he bargained for. All across the far walls blood was smeared, like someone dipped a brush in it and painted all over the walls. Johnsons body was suspended from the ceiling, his feet tied to an intercom speaker with his own entrails. His eyes were cold and lifeless, his face forever locked in an expression of horror and pain.

                “Oh my god.”

                It wasn’t the fact that something managed to do that sort of thing that scared Brian. It was the fact that someone, or something, managed to do it without being seen or heard. McDougal started frantically typing commands into the table’s controls, trying to access the navigational data while trying to power up more reactors to get some lights turned on. He heard something moving, over near McDougal, and quickly aimed his pistol in that direction. The light didn’t reveal anything, at first, but then Brian saw it. A mechanical thing, it crawled on two legs and two arms across the ceiling and was about the size of a man, with the same proportions. Its head had four black eyes, and it’s ‘hands’ had claws that looked like they could filet steel plate.

                “McDougal, look out!”

                The thing held itself to the ceiling with its feet and swung down to impale the crewman with its claws. Brian snapped off a shot with his pistol, the green bolt of high energy plasma smacking into the thing’s side and knocking it off of the ceiling. It hit the ground with a metal-on-metal clank and tried to scurry away, but McDougal opened up on it with his SMG. He dumped fifty rounds into it before it stopped moving, the man’s breathing fast and his heart pounding its way out of his chest.

                “Thanks, Sir, you saved my ass.”

                Brian gave him a pat on the back and moved over to the dead thing’s side, the many holes in its chest still smoking.

                “Some sort of assassin robot. Why would it be here, though?”

                The mage went down to one knee and his helmet recessed from his face, exposing the top half of his head but still covering his nose and mouth with the re-breather mask. He flipped the dead thing over on its back and then realized why it was there.

                Emblazoned on its chest in bone-white paint was the Templar cross.

                “It’s time to go, right now.”

                McDougal quickly slapped a new clip into his SMG and went back to trying to access the navigational data, but Brian got up and grabbed him by the arm.

                “Forget the data, let’s move!”

                His armor detected the rise in stress level and the sudden spike in adrenaline and his helmet re-formed around his face. He had the distinct feeling that he heard something moving and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. There were more of those things in here with them. He manhandled McDougal away from the table and shoved him towards the door, which was probably the only thing that saved the man’s life. Another one of the things leaped from across the room at his head, barely missing its target as Brian moved the unarmored man out of the way.

                “Run for the shuttle; get out of here!”

                He let off a shot with his plasma pistol that missed, the ‘Creeper’ skidding across the floor and behind a computer console for cover. Brian started backpedaling as McDougal ran, and the thing poked its head around the corner from where it hid. Brian fired again at it, missing again, and the thing rolled out of its cover and shot back at them with a small-caliber automatic gun, bullets ricocheting all over the corridor. Brian slapped the door controls as he left the control room, the heavy armored doors slowly closing. He turned and ran down the corridor after McDougal, putting two fingers up to the side of his helmet to activate his communications system.

                “Brian to Sarah, come in Sarah.”

                His sprint slowed down to a jog and then to a walk as Sarah didn’t respond. Had the Creepers already gotten her and her team?

                “Sarah, come in. It’s Brian.”

                He stopped and waited for a second, and yet there was still no response.

                “Come on, Brian, she’s probably dead!”

                The mage raised an armored fist to point at the tech, glaring inside his helmet.

                “They’re not dead. Come on, we’ve got to find them before those things do.”

                McDougal let out a sigh and shook his head before adjusting his grip on the SMG, taking a deep breath to try and calm himself. He collected his thoughts and banished his own fears, knowing very well that Sarah would fight through an army to come back for them. He nodded to Brian, letting him know he was ready. Dead or alive, they had to be sure.

                ***

                “Damage report!”

                The ship lurched under Torin’s feet as he desperately held onto the railing around the situation table, trying to steady himself as his ship rocked around him. He knew they were outmatched, and he knew that if something didn’t change very soon they were going to lose the Charybdis.

                “Sire, we’ve taken heavy damage to our armor. So far, we’re holding together but I can’t guarantee how long that will last. We need to get out of here!”

                “No!” Torin yelled, cutting him off. “I won’t abandon them to the Templars.”

                There was an explosion and Torin was thrown to the deck plating, his head clipping the railing on the way down to the floor. Everything moved in slow motion around him as pain pulsed through his skull, barely aware of the alarms that were going off. There was a shadow that moved towards him, a large blur that hovered over him. Torin’s sight started to steady and he realized that it was William, the shipmaster offering a hand to help him up. Torin grabbed the offered hand and was lifted back up to his feet, and the first thing he noticed was the new sections of flashing red that adorned the holographic projection of the ship’s hull.

                They were losing.

                “Sire, if we don’t retreat right now, we’re going to lose the whole damned ship! We won’t need to worry about saving the ground team!”

                He was instantly a thousand different emotions, all pulling him in different directions. He knew, as a responsible leader of men, that to sacrifice six for the sake of hundreds was an easy choice. But he also knew that as a man, he didn’t want to leave his two closest friends behind. What good was this fight against the Templars if he lost what made him him? He closed his eyes and ran his hands over his face and into his hair, grabbing it with white knuckles and trying to tear it out.

                “Get us out of here,” he said his voice barely audible over the blaring alarms and sounds of battle. William nodded and began issuing the orders, but Torin had to turn his back to the bridge. He couldn’t let any of them see how upset he was.

                ***

                Sarah and her team of engineers had been working their way to the bridge of the derelict to meet up with Brian when the battle outside began. It was impossible to know what was going on inside of the derelict; it wasn’t like they could hear the explosions through the vacuum of space. The utter silence of the ship did let Sarah hear one thing though: gunfire. As they walked down a corridor she heard it, barely audible through the ventilation system. She raised one hand in a closed fist, signaling the others to stop. In total silence she stood, slowing her breathing to help her listen. There it was again, the unmistakable sound of small caliber gunfire.

                “What’s wrong, Ma’m?”

                Daniels and McDonnell both stopped in their tracks short of bumping into the now-motionless Knight.

                “I just heard gunfire. Something is definitely not right. Keep on your guard, boys.”

                The two technicians pulled their sidearms, both of them nervous. It was easy for Sarah to keep her cool; she was a trained and battle-proven warrior. Daniels was an engineer’s mate and McDonnell was a reactor technician, neither of those jobs demanding any sort of combat prowess. They had both passed their small-arms qualifications courses, but that didn’t mean they were ready for an actual fight. Sarah would have to watch out for them if things went downhill.

                “Come on, if things got bad Brian would’ve headed for the shuttle. Let’s try and meet them there.”

                The three of them set off down the corridor at a jog, Sarah’s feet clank