Shepherd Moon, 2nd Edition

by

Bobbi-C

Chapter 9: So, what is an Earther?

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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 9: So, what is an Earther?

 

On the Defiant, activities had reached a fever pitch. They had just reached ship-maneuverable speed, where the Defiant could now maneuver and fire her weapons, and allow Arvan to launch her fighter craft.

She, as well as the other ships in her fleet fired their braking thrusters and turned to face the coming Federation ships. All twenty-two ships were now at a relative standstill. At Arvan's signal, Defiant and her sister ships launched their single-seat fighters. The small, tubular ships streaked out of the sides of their mother craft, chemical fire and burning hydrogen spewing out of their exhausts, and arranged themselves into ragged formation.

Soon, the nine Federation ships slammed near their area of space. Ship-maneuverability status suddenly cleared up their tracking systems, and the Federation people saw the battleships in their path. Some started reversing fields and firing braking thrusters. Others turned and tried to avoid the wall of ships. But the others were too late in reacting. Though the two fleets were a good thousand klicks away from each other, considering starship velocities, such distances were practically zero. They couldn't reduce their momentum and velocity sufficiently, and slammed into the blockade.

Given the distances, collisions were unlikely, unless it was deliberately intended, and the Empire ships did indeed intend this, otherwise, how do they stop the Federation ships from proceeding. One would think that such a plan was a suicidal one, but Tirosians relish suicidal plans, and Arvan, through Norga, was able to control her crew.

Two of the Elyran battleships couldn't turn fast enough and collided with one of Arvan's tanker-carriers. As large holding tanks ruptured, the volatile hydrogen inside spilled out as snowflakes. Some mixed with the hot gases liberated by the collision and exploded, starting a chain reaction and turning the three ships into a glowing fireball.

The other cruisers were far enough away to avoid major damage, but many of the small Detterex fighters were caught like moths in a fire. The others scattered like angry bees escaping from their hive.

The Dixx cruisers were the first to take action, launching their own fighters, energy weapons flashing their deadly streams of light, but it was very clear that they were outnumbered.

The three remaining Elyran ships veered away and passed the line of cruisers, trying to avoid confrontation as yet: Tasha and her commanders were not expecting this.

The two Arachnian ships responded sluggishly to the command of their pilots, and continued on through the line of Empire ships. Detterex fighters slammed into their hulls, creating momentary glowing balls of fire on their surfaces. Sections of the ships automatically started sealing themselves. Fire control teams inside rushed to trouble spots even as the air that fed the blazes whistled out into space.

Arvan and her people took advantage of the opportunity and launched missiles at the Federation ships. The Dixx ships were able to repulse the deadly rockets but Talon and her retreating ships were hit.

Talon and Blazing Star took hits at their stern, the missiles luckily missing much of their engine sections, but the other Elyran ship took one right through the middle - a warhead of one of the large missiles was hit by a lucky shot from one of the Star's gunners, and had exploded before hitting the other cruiser. What was left of the missile's engine section slammed into her hull. The ship appeared to bend slightly as it reeled from the impact. Its pilot sent the ship rolling to avoid colliding with Talon, and drifted away.

-----

Mia looked at the screen with worried eyes. "Good God," she said.

"Can't we do anything?" the navigator asked as the whole bridge crew looked at the long-range projection on the main screen.

Mia looked on, making up her mind. "Probably," she said. In sudden decision, she punched the line for the shuttle bay. "Air Wing Commander," she called, and Seeker's CAG answered.

"Aye, sir."

"Are your fighters ready for launching?"

"Aye, sir. We've been standing by for a while, now."

"Good. Prepare to launch."

There was a slight pause.

"Sir? Shouldn't we wait for ship-maneuverable?"

"No, Commander, we will not. We'll launch as is. In fact, I'll have to bring up our power to reach them in time. We'll have to launch while under power. Helmsman, push it to fifteen percent. Steady as she goes."

"Aye, sir. Bringing her up to fifteen percent. Will soon exceed point six C."

Mia turned back to CAG. "Leave one of the ships for me, Commander. I'll be joining you. Make sure my ship has a radio transmitter." She turned to O'Connell. "Commander, O'Connell, go to red alert. You have the con." Mia was already walking to the lift as horns started hooting around her and flashing red lights replaced the ship's regular lights.

Mia had already changed into her pressure suit, a rebreather pack on her back. She was wriggling into the battle armor that went over the suit when she heard someone call.

"Turn around, and I'll check you," O'Connell said.

Mia turned around and let O’Connell snap the latches on the back.

"That was an order I gave you, Commander," Mia said.

"Want to save it for later and tell me what's this crap about you going out?"

Mia shrugged. "I'm going out. It's that simple."

"The fighters may just explode as soon as they leave Seeker's gravity field, you along with them."

Mia smiled tightly. "I know. That's why I'm going. I will not let my people risk their lives if I wasn’t willing to risk mine as well."

O'Connell crossed her arms over her breasts. "I can't let you do that."

Mia whirled on her. "What would you like me to do?" she said tightly. "Those ships are getting a beating out there. If we don't do something, they'll all die."

O'Connell shrugged. "We can wait for ship-maneuverable. Besides, it's not our fight."

"We don't have time for this." Mia replied. She snapped on her flight helmet and started walking over to the Shrike fighter that was assigned to her. "And you're wrong. It is our fight."

O'Connell walked with her. "Listen. This is crazy. These fighters aren't even tested yet, let alone tested above ship-maneuverable. I can't let you."

Mia was getting into the cockpit. "You don't have any choice in the matter. Mind the ship, Number One. That's an order." She snapped down her visor, ending further conversation.

"You're not qualified!" she yelled. Mia closed the cockpit.

The rest of the pilots were ready, and Air Wing Commander Kajima was making the circular gesture to start spinning the deck.

O'Connell shook her head in frustration. The whole deck started to rotate, depressurization warnings echoing in the bay. O'Connell started walking out of the deck.

Seeker's shuttle bay was of an old design from a time when small underpowered ships needed a boost even before firing their rockets. Large counterweighted flywheels spun the whole flight deck at enormous speeds; centrifugal force flinging her ships out into space at speeds that would have taken regular ships a while to attain on their own, though, with Seeker's refurbished fighters, this wasn't needed anymore.

Mia and Seeker's fighter pilots felt their suits tug at the straps that held them down to their seats. They had the sensation of falling away from the ship as the bay spun them around and around.

When the large flywheels under the deck reached optimum speed, their fighter ships were released from their bays one by one. Two lines of the sleek Shrike fighter planes flashed out of Seeker's bays forming a line of fighters streaming out from either side of the ship, just above her two wings.

Mia was slammed back into her seat when her turn came. Just before clearing the shuttle bay tunnel, her ship’s own internal gravity field automatically kicked on. It had to be that way to avoid her field from nullifying the centrifugal catapult effect, and to avoid being crushed as she left Seeker's protective bubble of gravity. One of the reasons to wait for Ship-maneuverable.

Mia felt the slight difference as her fighter's environmental systems stabilized. She kicked on her engines, and a soft blue glow radiated out of the rear. All of Seeker's Shrike fighters now had miniature versions of her FTL drive which, although the minuscule fields generated could not push them into anything approaching light-speed, made them (or at least were supposed to make them) a hell of a lot faster and maneuverable than other comparable ships.

They weren’t true FTL drives but were more akin to the ship’s gravity plates, but their outside manifestation (the blue glow) and the ability to manipulate the force lines were very FTL drive-like.

She heard Air Wing Commander Kajima in her helmet speaker.

"Wing Leader to Strike Leader, Wing Leader to Strike Leader. All planes accounted for, Captain. What's our heading?"

"Straight ahead, Commander – same heading as Seeker. Until we hit them. And no firing unless fired upon. Acknowledge."

"Acknowledged, aye. A-team with me. B-team, with the Captain. Go into full power, and let's hope for the best."

Seeker's squadron of fighters leapt as if kicked, and pulled away from their mother ship. The soft blue light of their engines turned into a brighter blue and they flashed towards the fray at better than half the speed of light.

Mia clicked a tongue switch. "Strike leader to Seeker. Commander, are you listening?"

"Aye, sir," O'Connell answered.

"Wait for Hermes and Constellation before you do anything else. Have them launch their fighters as soon as you rendezvous, and follow on ahead. You are ordered to hold your fire, Commander. Do not fire unless fired upon. Got that?"

"Aye, sir. Acknowledged. How are the fighters holding up?"

"They seem to be doing okay. No problems yet. Don't worry. We'll keep our eyes on it."

"Aye, sir."

After a while, Kajima's tracking computer started beeping for attention.

"Seems like we're coming up on them. What now, Captain?"

"Move on to the Elyran ships. They're closer. Have your team tackle the bastards that're on the left ship. We'll take the ones on the right."

The Terran squadron split into two and raced to the stricken cruisers. Each ship’s blue light changed its hue, and they started to decelerate. They cut their speed to just below six hundred meters per second as they sped toward the alien fleet.

Talon and Blazing Star fired their weapons at the angry gnats that swarmed around them. The third Elyran ship was virtually ignored by the gnats because it seemed to be, for all intents and purposes, dead.

As the Detterex planes circled the two ships, and as sixteen Empire cutters moved in looking for a chink in the Federation ship’s defensive armor, the Earth planes streaked in and sneaked up on them from behind.

Their unexpected arrival broke up their formation and scattered the small ships. One of them fired on A-team, and one of the Shrike fighters exploded in a gout of yellow fire.

"Shit," one of the pilots exclaimed. "That's Peebo. Goddamn."

"Seeker squadron," Mia shouted. "Fire at will!"

The Terran pilots released their already itchy trigger fingers. The burning Shrike fighter triggered a hail of pulsing fire from the others and annihilated seven of the Empire fighters.

Mia swung her ship to follow the remaining Empire fighters and thumbed a button on her control panel.

"Attention Elyran spacecraft," Mia said over a conventional radio frequency, in fluent Elyran, "attention Elyran spacecraft. This is Captain Steele from the Earth battleship Seeker. We are coming in to help you. Do not fire on our ships. We are friendly craft, repeat - we are friendly ships. Hold your fire."

-----

Before their weapons could be brought to bear on the newcomers, Tasha's communications officer let out a surprised yell.

"Hold your fire," she shouted. "Those are Earth ships! Pilot, they are Earth ships."

Reena whirled and hit a button on her control panel.

"Princess! Did you hear that? They are Earth ships. They've come to help us."

Tasha looked up from her control panel. She, like the other fighter pilots, was trapped in her fighter plane, unable to take off.

"What? Earth... But, where, Pilot. Where did they come from?"

"I do not know, My Lady. Still, the Earthers have drawn away the Empire vermin for the moment. We can launch our fighters now."

"Good. Launch immediately, Pilot."

Tasha and the others braced themselves. Powerful hydraulic rams literally kicked them from behind and hurled them out into space.

Tasha ignited her engines and she could feel the dull thrumming of the rockets. She whipped her ship around, but it took the small craft a few moments to counter its momentum.

A beeping from her panel warned her of an oncoming missile. She craned her head as she looked through the polarizable canopy of her cockpit. There! A missile coming straight for her.

She fired attitude rockets to bring her guns to bear, laboriously pointing the entire ship toward the deadly projectile. She depressed the firing button, and a long finger of green light struck the missile. Her ship was buffeted by flying metal as she looked at a radiation gauge. Good. Non-nuclear.

She switched her screen to long-distance and could see the Earthers pursuing the enemy ships. She longed for one of the enemy ships to drift closer to her, but the battle was moving away. She increased her rocket-power and went after them.

-----

Mia was chasing one of the Empire ships. Their rockets left trailing lights that could easily be picked out. Her ship was fast pulling up near her quarry, and she let a fusillade of pulsing rays pepper the enemy.

The Empire ship violently swerved right and down as its upper left tank ejected its hydrogen in a glowing finger of flame. The pilot's ears bled from the loud explosive crack that resounded through her cockpit. She finally wrested control of her ship and brought it out of its wild tumble, but her eyes widened as she saw Mia's fighter barreling towards her. What was left of her craft exploded in a hail of pulsing red bolts of energy.

Mia passed the still-burning Empire ship by and headed back to the Elyran cruiser. By their silhouettes, these fighters have to be Detterex. Where are the Tirosians? Mia thought.

But the Empire battleships were presently engaged with the other four Federation ships. As the two Arachnian cruisers plowed into them, unable to check their momentum, the Empire ships let loose everything they had.

It was clearly an unequal battle, and the two ships were left battered and lifeless, surrounded by a cloud of radioactive debris, the result of a near-miss.

But the armored survival pod inside one of the ships survived. They had shut off all external sources of power and the Empire ships took her for dead.

The Empire ships turned their attention towards the other Federation ships, the two Dixx cruisers, but the Dixx were prepared for them.

The smaller Tirosian cruisers pulled back and let the Detterex ships head the attack. Three of the lumbering Detterex cruisers were caught in the outer nimbus of an exploding nuclear missile, and were effectively taken out of the fight: With their shields down, everyone inside the ships were cooked alive.

Tirosian single-seat fighters launched from behind the Detterex lines and joined the fray. The Detterex fighters were being cut down one by one by the fierce pilots of the Dixx squadrons. As the Tirosians joined their Detterex allies, the Dixx fighters moved back to regroup.

The Empire squadrons fired their guns simultaneously at a spot on the nearest Dixx cruiser's hull. A ball of glowing gas erupted from the rear of the bridge section, and the flame inched closer and closer to the bridge as the fighters adjusted their sights.

The Dixx fighters turned on the Empire planes and let loose their own barrage. The Empire ships broke up and scattered to avoid laser fire, stopping the concentrated onslaught to the cruiser, and the Dixx took them on one-on-one.

But it was a losing battle. Despite great losses on the part of the Detterex planes, it was still a twenty-to-one ratio against the Federation fighters.

-----

Mia and her pilots were cutting down the enemy fighters harassing the two Elyran cruisers at an ever-increasing rate. “These planes are incredibly slow,” she thought. “Our Shrike fighters could run rings around the Detterex planes without even trying.” The alien ships seemed to be driven by conventional rockets and fused hydrogen drives. Understandable.

“That's probably why they need those fuel carriers,” she thought.

She saw the coming Elyran fighters, and sighed in relief.

"B-team," she said into her helmet mic, "Incoming friendly ships. Repeat, incoming planes. The Elyrans are here. Hold your fire." She switched on her special radio set. "Elyran Commander, Elyran Commander, acknowledge," she said in fluent Elyran.

Her helmet speaker crackled. "T'chahn, Earther. I am Princess Tasha Liaran-Kerr. I acknowledge for my Elyran comrades. I would like to thank you for..."

"Apologies for interrupting, My Lady," Mia said, "but there's an emergency. The other cruisers in your fleet are taking a hard beating. We are going over to help. Can you take over for us here?"

Tasha frowned at the ill manners of this Earther. And it was a woman, from the voice. An Earther woman.

"Rest assured, warrior. My pilots can handle the few dregs that you left us. But let some of my fighters join you..."

"If you wish, My Lady. Out."

"By the prophets," Tasha heard one of the pilots mutter. "Who does she think she is, the impertinent..."

"Gently, pilot," Tasha said. "They are, after all, aliens. Learn to make allowances. Wing Marshal, acknowledge."

"Yes, My Princess. I am listening."

"Have half of our warriors join the Earthers. The other half will be sufficient here. We will help our other cruisers."

"Yes, My Princess." A handful of Elyran fighters whirled to join the Earth planes as they went to go to the aid of the remainder of the Federation ships. The battle was almost won here.

Tasha fired her rockets and turned her ship to follow the Earthers, her two escort ships trailing her.

As they flashed towards the Empire ships, she had a chance to look over the Earth fighters. She saw the sleek streamlined bodies of the Shrike planes, their sharp beaks and angled wings, very reminiscent of the birds from her home world, very different from her own ship's tubular construction. And the curious glow their engines made. Almost like Talon's gravity drive, except they were blue instead of red.

Even as the Elyran ships got up to full power, the Earth fighters pulled away from them. Tasha fired all her boosters even as her navigational computer beeped a warning. Her fighter had reached speeds where the engines could not assure safe maneuvering. She switched off the insistent alarm and braced herself as she was pushed back into her seat and the thrum of her engines increased in pitch.

Her ship recovered some lost ground, but the Earth fighters continued to pull away from them. Damn. She moved to increase her power, but saw her fuel indicator. Better conserve fuel and be sure of getting back to the Talon.

"Wing Marshal," she said.

"Yes, My Princess."

"Bring your ships to half-power. Conserve fuel."

"My princess, the Earthers are pulling away. They are leaving us behind."

"Yes, Marshal. But we have to conserve our hydrogen to be sure of a safe return to Talon."

Her wing marshal sighed. "You are correct, My Princess. Acknowledged."

An urgent message came in over Tasha's helmet speakers. "Princess,"

Talon's communications officer said through the ever-present radio hash of space, "Boarders! We have boarders invading Talon!"

Tasha's thoughts flew to Ren. But she had a job to do. "Tell Reena to handle it as best she can, warrior. We will be returning soon."

She shook her head and resolutely kept her ship on course.

-----

Arvan watched impotently as she listened in on her fighters' communications. She longed to be there, but Norga had forbidden it.

She had been shocked to hear that the bulk of her fighters near the Elyran cruisers were being decimated by the surprise arrival of the Earth fighters. From what she gathered from her pilots' radio signals, it was only a handful of planes, three eights and one, that was killing her warriors. But she didn't pull them out. She, not to mention her warriors, would lose great face. None of them wanted to retreat.

She turned her attention to the other fighters. At last the Tiros fighters had joined her planes. Those damned lizards had finally come out of their holes and were joining her planes in attacking the Dixx cruisers. She switched to a close-range pickup of the torn corpses of the Arachnian cruisers. “A damned undignified way to die,” she thought, “even for them.”

"Princess Arvan," her communications officer called. "I am getting an urgent message from our fighters."

"What is it," Arvan asked.

"The Earth ships have broken away from them and are heading our way. Elyran fighters are presently harassing them. There are only one eight and six of our warriors left. They are outnumbered and they request reinforcements."

"Reinforcements for a measly handful of beaten warriors? They must be joking. Tell them I give them to the Elyran worms."

She turned back to the main screen. "Give me a picture of the Dixx battleships."

A long-range picture of the two besieged Federation cruisers gave Arvan a good idea of the slim chances for the Federation people to survive. “Soon after the Dixx are obliterated, my warriors will go after the Elyrans,” Arvan thought. But not before. These cruisers were closer and more intact. They posed the greater danger. The news about the Earth fighters didn't worry her. Their victory over her fighters was a fluke, an unplanned surprise attack. Now they were prepared.

-----

Kajima dispersed his team a little bit more, and sent them towards the nearer cruiser.

"How's our Elyran escort doing, June," he asked his wingman.

His wingman laughed. "We've left those crates a long way behind. It'll take them some time to catch up, boss."

"Yeah. It doesn't matter, anyway. Wing Leader to Strike Leader. Captain, I suggest you loosen up your formation. Lessen the chances of the enemy getting you with one shot."

"Good suggestion, Commander. B-team. Disperse and attack second group of spacecraft."

Mia's fighters flanked the farther cruiser and skimmed along its surface. As the Empire fighters continued their attack, Mia and her pilots hit them from underneath and the Dixx fighters hit them from the top.

Though the Dixx fought furiously and unceasingly, it took the arrival of the Earthers to turn the tide. The faster and smaller Earth fighters flew in and around the Empire fighters and picked them off at will. The Dixx fighters were hard put to not hit the Earthers.

Arvan watched the battle. “What is happening?” she thought “My warriors are dying. The best of my warriors.” She whirled on her navigator. "Where are the Tiros fighters?" she asked her.

"They are still coming, My Lady. It will take them a few minutes before they arrive."

"Damn."

Shortly, a flash of deep-red and bright-blue lights from the main screen startled them.

"What was that?" she asked. "An explosion?"

"No, My Lady," her communications officer said as she looked over all her indicators. "All decks report all well."

The Pilot-Navigator shouted. "Princess! Look."

Arvan whirled and saw two bulky spaceships coming to rest right near the massed Tiros cruisers. What are they, and where did they come from? They look like Dravidian cruisers but...

A flash of white light momentarily overloaded their screen.

"Look! Another one!" her navigator exclaimed.

-----

Seeker fired her newly-installed inertia converters, and converted her inertial energy into radiant energy. A solid front of white light radiated out of Seeker's fore and aft projectors like an enormous flash of lightning, and she braked to a virtual standstill.

Seeker got clearance from Fleet HQ and fired a nuclear missile at the unsuspecting Tiros battleships, and took out four of them in one shot.

The Tirosian battleships raised their shields, so Constellation's and Hermes' fighters swooped down on the rest of the cruisers, easily breaking through the shields.

The small box-like Eagle fighters from the Constellation and Hermes passed through the shields of the first cruiser and started firing. Large gouts of fire sprang from the cruiser’s surface as the fighters' shots exploded against the metal hull, starting a chain reaction of explosions within the ship.

Before they could bring their remaining guns to bear, the two groups of Earth fighters moved on to the next ship.

The Tiros fighters that were dispatched to assist the beleaguered Detterex planes were suddenly recalled. They wheeled and turned back to their mother ships.

Hermes and Constellation started pulling back to give themselves room to fire their missiles, and Seeker turned around to follow the three drifting Elyran battleships.

Arvan saw the retreating Earth cruiser, and whirled Defiant to follow.

-----

Armored Cobra carriers from the Constellation and Hermes pulled up alongside the breaches in the Elyran ship's hull, and Marines started pouring into the Federation cruiser.

O'Connell watched this on a monitor while she started putting on her battle armor. She then followed Seeker's Marines into the armored Mud Turtle shuttle-slash-carrier. She hefted her pulse rifle and nodded to the pilot.

The carrier moved out of the bay, and joined the other carriers moving out to the Elyran cruiser.

O'Connell leaned over the pilot's screens, tapped Nick on the shoulder and pointed to the Detterex carrier sitting on the Federation flagship's hull.

The CETI specialist nodded and said, "Yeah, that's the spot. But someone's in the way."

The pilot nodded and let loose a barrage of pulsed energy. The carrier exploded and spun away from the hull.

The pilot then took the Mud Turtle in and touched it down near the area where the Empire ship had rested. As the Turtle's landing claws crunched and held onto the cruiser's hull plates, O'Connell snapped down her visor and led the others out of the shuttle and into the jagged tear in the ship's metal surface.

She had a momentary feeling of nausea as she left the carrier's artificial gravity and felt Talon's own wavering and unstable field. She could barely see through the floating particles of frozen gas and debris. She gestured a demolition team closer and pointed to a sealed airlock door.

As soon as her whole team got in through the hull, the others snapped some collapsible Crystalline barriers across the torn metal and started welding them to the hull, effectively sealing the gap.

The demolition team waved and the Marines hunkered down.

From inside the hull, the planted explosives detonated and tore the door from its hinges, but with the Crystalline shields, no further air escaped into space. O'Connell and her people rushed through the broken doorway, weapons at the ready. She switched off her visor's infrared as she squinted through the thick smoke and fumes, and saw a stunned armored alien staggering and lifting her weapon.

O'Connell fired her pulse rifle as a laser beam splashed across her shoulder. The Detterex warrior was thrown back as O'Connell’s explosive slugs ripped her armor.

A dozen Marines ran ahead of the fallen Empire officer and squeezed through the airlock.

“What now?” she thought.

She saw about twenty-four huge armored Detterex warriors hunkered down at the end of the corridor.

"Shit," she cried. "Everyone down. Now!"

A fusillade of beams flew through where their heads were a moment ago. One of O'Connell’s people threw a grenade to the other side and, as a deafening explosion reverberated in the hall, O'Connell and her people rushed the Empire warriors.

Most of the Detterex invaders were dead or stunned. Those still alive were jerked up and held at gunpoint.

O'Connell was picking up one of the torn Empire helmets when one of the prone bodies started firing. A shot hit her full on the silvered front of her suit. Though the surface material of the armor reflected much of the energy of the shot as the magnetic bottle of the cartridge ruptured, the detonation knocked her against a bulkhead. The other Marines fired on the Empire soldier, and her body jerked and thumped to the deck.

"Commander," the Marine lieutenant said as he helped her up, "are you all right?"

"I'm okay, Lieutenant. Just a bit stunned."

The Marines inched on into the ship, weapons ready. They dragged their prisoners with them. The Detterex warriors were larger than their captors, averaging more than a foot higher than O'Connell, but, being stripped of their armor and disarmed, they went along passively. O'Connell, mindful of Mia's lectures, left the prisoners to the female officers.

After a while of walking through the seemingly endless but empty corridors, she stopped at a corridor blocked by torn odds and ends piled high into a barricade, and turned to the Lieutenant.

"Lieutenant, I think we're lost."

"Yeah, I think so, too. I think we better give the ship a call."

O'Connell pressed the side of her helmet. "Hello, Seeker," O'Connell said. "I think we're lost. Get a fix on us, will you?"

"Aye, Commander. Getting a fix on you now." Some of the people on the bridge snickered.

"Is something the matter, Lieutenant?" O'Connell said in deadly monotone.

"Uh, nothing, Commander. You're, uh, just a few meters away from what we think is the bridge section. Keep going the way you've been going and you'll be there in a few minutes."

"That's a relief."

Suddenly they heard shouts at the far end of the metal corridor, and the clang of heavy boots made the Marines point their weapons at the source of the sounds. O'Connell raised a hand and pushed the barrel of the nearest soldier's gun down.

"Wait!" she cried. "Thanks, Lieutenant, but I don't think we need help. The Elyrans seem to have found us. Call you later and tell you how things develop. Out."

As they cautiously peered over the rubble, they saw a cluster of aliens at the other side. Some of them seemed to be arguing with each other, and some of the slightly bigger ones nervously pointed their weapons at them.

O'Connell took the opportunity to survey the aliens: Like the Detterex, they looked like humans, but with long hair tied loosely with thick yarn, almost like fur in their extravagant thickness and fineness. Not unattractive at all.

They looked just like their captured Detterex warriors, close enough that they could be mistaken for Detterex, except that they were smaller. Smaller than humans, even. The Detterex averaged about a third of a meter higher than the average human, but these Elyrans were diminutive, even by Earth standards. The lone male in the group looked to be about 1.3 meters in height, and the others were just about one and a half meters.

But more than just the height, she instinctively knew that these were different. They had a different feel about them that made her sure that these were a different set of people and not just another bunch of Detterex. It was almost like the way you would distinguish a fox from a wolf. The novel feeling brought home to her the alienness of these beings. They weren't humans at all. And she felt a slight tickling within her skull, a very faint but pleasant itch that she felt was being caused by the Elyrans.

The Elyrans seemed to have finished their arguments, and the lone Elyran male moved forward.

"T'chahn, Earther," the Elyran male said distinctly. He then followed it with a stream of fluent Elyran.

By its cadence, they could tell it was something ritualistic. Some sort of greeting, perhaps.

O'Connell wished that the Captain was here. She could talk Elyran like a native, though she knew that her voice would probably sound very heavily accented to the native-born. She gestured for Nick, the CETI specialist, to come closer.

"What's that character saying, Nick?"

Nick grinned though he knew she couldn't see him through his visor. "You can use the translator in your suit, Commander. Still, I think I could help you out.

"He says greetings and extends the congratulations of the Federation ambassadors to the valiant Terran warriors. He calls us ‘Earthers.’ I kinda like that.” Nick chuckled. “Anyway, he said he would also like to talk to the lady in charge. Commander, I think you'd better move forward, and take off your helmet, too."

O'Connell nodded. She switched on her translator set thereby connecting her to Seeker's computer and translating anything spoken within the range of her suit's mic to Standard English. She took off her helmet, praying that the scientists' predictions about alien germs and pathogens were correct, and shook her hair free. The Elyrans were taken aback. O'Connell turned up the gain of the suit's microphone. "Come on then," she said to Nick.

Nick took his own helmet off and they both moved forward. The Elyrans gasped as they saw their faces. Only the small alien male seemed less surprised.

Nick bowed very low and spoke in halting Elyran (he preferred not using a translator). O'Connell’s translator, however, echoed his voice in English.

"Greetings, My Lord," O'Connell’s translator spoke for Nick. "I speak for My Lady, Commander Elizabeth O'Connell of the Earth warship Seeker. Please pardon My Lady. She has yet to master your speech."

"Quite all right, quite all right. Please tell her that I am Prince Ren Tevann-Reshanii of the Great Plains of Elyra, husband to the princess Tasha Liaran-Kerr who leads our expedition. We thank you and bring our greetings to you and your people."

O'Connell smiled. "Nick," she said, "tell our host that they are quite welcome. Ask him if they need anything in the way of supplies or assistance."

Nick relayed the message, and the Elyrans went into a huddle.

"We thank you for your generous offer," O'Connell heard the Elyran say to her through her translator, "but we are as yet not in a position to evaluate damage and losses. Perhaps when all duty stations have reported, we will have a better picture."

"Tell him that we are standing by to help, and that we offer more Marines to help repel other boarders. Ask him if there are other intruders other than the bunch we bumped into."

Nick translated and the Elyran turned to her. "There are some in the forward decks, but they are under control." The Elyran looked at her quizzically. "May I inquire as to how you are able to understand us, yet are unable to speak?"

O'Connell smiled, and Nick explained about their translators.

"All your warriors are furnished with these devices?"

"Yes, My Lord. They are built into all our spacesuits. We are currently upgrading them so that soon, maybe in a day or two, they will also translate our speech to yours."

"Yet, you do not need this device."

"No, My Lord. I am a student of the arts, and my field of study is your language and culture. I am fluent enough that I do not need electronic aids."

Ren's eyebrows went up. "You are a scholar? I am myself also a scholar, though my field is not in the aesthetic arts. Tell me, are you of a royal family?"

Nick coughed self-consciously. "Umm, no, My Lord. I am but one of many soldiers sent to meet with you and your people."

"Then you are mated to your Commander."

"Umm, no My Lord, I am not."

Ren seemed puzzled. "I am at somewhat of a loss to understand: an Earther male, a scholar, and yet not of royal blood. Are all Earthmen as privileged as yourself?"

"In our society, My Lord, all are free to undertake whatever studies they would like, be whatever they would like, whether they be male or female."

The female Elyran soldiers were shocked and a little scandalized.

"You say that there are female scholars in your world?" One of the soldiers said in mild surprise. "What kind of female would do such a thing?"

Nick bowed to the soldier. "In our world, warrior, we take pride in our learned citizens."

"Is it not the exclusive privilege of royalty and clergy to learn and study the arts and sciences?"

"To us, all citizens have a right to aspire to, and become, anything they choose to be."

The Elyran seemed ready to argue the point, but Ren cut her off with a downward gesture of his hand.

"Gently, warrior. These are, after all, not Elyrans. We must make allowances for different customs and practices."

"A good sentiment, My Lord," O'Connell said in halting and heavily accented Elyran. "'Do not grudge to pick out treasures from an earthen pot,'" she quoted.

"What? You can speak!"

"Yes, My Lord. But not very well yet."

"What was that you said?"

"That was an Earther quote, My Lord," Nick said, "from someone in our recent past. The passage goes, 'do not grudge to pick out treasures from an earthen pot. The worst speak something good.'"

Ren nodded slowly. "Perhaps. Very apt, yes." Ren gestured to the forward decks. "May I escort you to our bridge? From there I hope to be able to give you a clearer picture of shipboard status."

O'Connell bowed and followed their host toward the bridge.

-----

Defiant fired her maneuvering rockets, and was fast approaching Seeker and the battered Elyran cruiser. Talon's gunners let loose a brace of explosive missiles, but Arvan's crew was able to intercept them. Defiant barely felt the missiles as they exploded outside of her hull. Seeker kept a constant barrage of pulsed laser fire on the Detterex flagship, the resulting chain of explosions forcing her to veer away.

Lieutenant Commander Tomoguchi surveyed the space surrounding them from Seeker's bridge screen. "That was close. Anything else coming, Lieutenant?"

"Not for the moment, Commander. The others seem to be keeping their distance, and Defiant is retreating at high velocity."

"Good. Get me the Captain."

"Aye, sir. Captain on line."

"Captain, this is Tomoguchi. The Federation ship Talon is secured, and our boarding party has already made contact with the aliens. Any further orders?"

"None, Commander. Good work. Carry on. But be sure to recover all our equipment. Part of the standing orders from the Admiral is not to leave anything behind for the aliens to study. Find out if the Elyrans need further assistance. Lend whatever medical aid or supplies are needed, though I don't think we'll be of much help."

"Aye, sir."

"Where's Commander O'Connell, by the way?"

"I've been left in charge, sir. She went down with one of the boarding parties."

"God damn it! Did she take Nick along, at least?"

"Aye, sir."

"Then, I suppose it's all right. Keep me posted, Lieutenant. The enemy's just about through. We'll be coming in shortly."

"Aye, sir. Seeker out."

-----

Arvan turned to her new pilot-navigator as Norga paced restlessly around the bridge. "Give me a report on our fleet, Pilot."

"My Lady, our forces are scattered on the outermost side of the battle zone. We and some of our other ships are still well within range of the Federation ships."

"How many of our fighters are left?"

"About a fifth are still functional, My Lady. The rest of our fighters are still in the hangars of the cruisers, so we have about a third of our complement intact. We are, however, currently short on warriors to be able to launch all of our remaining fighters."

Arvan shook her head. "Recall our fighters, Pilot. And have our fleet regroup on the far sector. Organize an orderly retreat."

"Retreat!" Norga bellowed, as he stepped down to the main deck. "The pride of the Detterex Space Fleet, retreating?" He all but spit in her face.

Arvan hung her head. "We have no choice, my husband. Either retreat or perish."

Norga swung his arm in a vicious backhanded blow to her face. "No! I will not have us retreat like whipped curs! We must fight!"

The new Pilot-Navigator stood and openly defied him, her loyalty to the princess overcoming any rational thought or any fear. "My Lord, it is the only wise move. Our forces have been decimated, and more than half of our warriors are dead or wounded. We have been surprised by the Earthers, and we need to regroup and rebuild our strength. Even the Tirosians who have not been hurt as badly as we are retreating."

Norga was about to pull out his sword, but he felt Arvan's hand on his sword-arm.

"No, Norga," she whispered. "Please."

Norga sneered but relented. "All right. So be it. Though I think your judgment errs too much on the side of caution, Wife. Would you have it said that you ran from battle to cower in fear from these worthless Earthers?"

"No, but history will say that I saved my people from needless death, so that they may again fight another day."

"And will that day come soon, my love?"

"I will make it soon." She nodded to her Pilot-Navigator. "Do it."

Her new Pilot-Navigator immediately issued commands, and slowly, Defiant rotated on her axis and fired her main engines. She pulled away from Seeker and the Federation flagship, on a rendezvous with her other sister ships. Though many of her warriors openly protested the retreat, it was merely for show as they nevertheless quickly broke off from the Federation and Earther fighters, and headed for their individual mother ships - a pitiful remnant of what they once were.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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