“What’s our status, Chung?”
SLS Excelsior’s Captain, May Benson, asked the question of her XO, a large man with a freshly shaved head. Like many in the crew, he had spent lots of time the last several weeks roaming around Pegasi Station. He got a haircut from the local barber before they began preparing to leave. Everybody had visited their favorite merchants and restaurants, saying goodbye to the local populace whose services they had used for so long while the ship underwent extensive repairs.
For her own part, the Captain had visited a hair stylist who had set up shop near the larger salon most of the crew used. The proprietor cut her straight brunette hair just right, so that it covered the back of her neck and no more. At 40, Benson no longer worried about fancy hairstyles. Of course, being married to the Navy, she never had to worry about it much anyway. Short and simple, keep it out of the way.
Chung said, “All personnel are onboard. All systems are operable. We are ready to go when you are, Captain.”
And it was good, she thought. By any reasonable standard, they’d still be stuck here for another month. But a few days ago the last of their needed parts and panels arrived via a freighter from Epsilon. They could get back in the game ahead of schedule.
“Pardon me, Captain Benson.”
“An external service drone is approaching.”
“Put it on the holo.”
The bridge’s front holoscreen switched over to the port side where a drone moved steadily closer.
“What’s it doing, StarCen?”
“I am uncertain, Captain.”
“Well, keep an eye on it and, uh . . . find out what it’s supposed to be doing. I thought all repairs were accounted for.”
She cast a questioning look at Chung. He nodded.
StarCen said, “I will do that, Captain”
Benson took a deep breath and ran through a final mental checklist of all the things that needed doing before departure. Most all of them were complete. They had been parked here for way too long.
Initially, the Excelsior indeed needed to stop somewhere to make emergency repairs. Somebody (Cooper? Thrall himself?) had the idea to use her ship as bait for a trap set for the Republic. This was an idea she was not happy with, and she let her officers know about it in so many words.
That, of course, was a mistake because then the whole crew knew. She could not help it, though. The decision frustrated her, and left her feeling very angry. After all this crew had done for the League, to be used as a decoy was humiliating.
But of course, they did their part. The men and women of the Lucky Lady, as the crew affectionately called Excelsior, always did their part. Just like at Nocturnus.
Nocturnus was a planet with minimal light, on the edge of the Goldilocks zone. Even at high noon on most parts of its surface, sunlight was dim. It was supposed to be beautiful, despite the paucity of natural light. Benson could not say, she had never been to its surface. She had been involved in the fighting above the planet’s skies, though.
The Battle of Nocturnus was particularly ugly. A total of 18 Star League ships were involved against 24 Republican vessels. Two freighters and a passenger liner on the League side were damaged in the action, too. The passenger liner was destroyed by enemy fire and fell out of orbit, crashing to the planet’s surface. StarCen managed to teleport the freighters out before they were hurt too badly. She parked them at Pegasi Station, where they became part of the honey trap.
At the end of the day, Excelsior had indeed been very lucky. She ported in after the battle had begun, when the Republicans showed up with overwhelming force against the motley assortment of League ships surrounding Nocturnus. The League had four Sparrow-class ships in orbit, two Eagle-class ships, and the rest were Harriers. The Republic brought in 20 Hawk-class destroyers, and four Eagles.
It should have been a route for the Republic, and no doubt PLAIR calculated that the odds were in their favor. And the Republic would have carried the day and possibly moved Nocturnus to the PLAIR side of the ledger, if Excelsior had not shown up at the last minute.
StarCen diverted their course. They just happened to be within 45 minutes or so when the shooting started. That was their first stroke of luck, Benson thought.
When they popped into the middle of battle, they found themselves behind one of the Republican Hawks. That was stroke of luck number two. They pummeled its stern with their big front guns and quickly took it out.
The Excelsior had a part in blowing up eight more enemy ships, either by herself or assisting other League destroyers. Each one netted it an increased strain on her shields, but Benson pressed forward. No one ever said Claude Benson raised his little girl to be a coward, and Benson did not shy away from fights. Especially not with those Republican bastards.
PLAIR’s ships were outnumbered then, with only five able to move. Seven League ships were still in commission. Excelsior was the last Eagle-class ship in action by that time, and PLAIR decided to focus on taking her out.
StarCen had other ideas, though, and quickly brought the remaining League ships into the fray. But with the combined blasts from multiple ships, Excelsior’s shields failed at last. A Republican Hawk rammed her right before disintegrating from League fire. Just before Excelsior could fall apart, StarCen stopped her fire and pulled the ship out.
Porting in the middle of battle is a risky maneuver, with all the flotsam floating around in space from broken ships. It also can’t be done while shooting. But StarCen pulled it off perfectly.
Unfortunately, they were crippled. And with each jump they made, pieces fell off. The engine room had a hull breach, which meant everyone inside it had been ripped out into space during the battle. It also meant no one could even get to that deck to see about repairs from inside the ship. They would have to find someplace to stop and patch things up. They were not too far from Pegasi . . .
But they survived and Excelsior became something of a celebrity ship in the League Navy. She showed up at Nocturnus to save the day, and managed to escape after turning the tide of battle. Despite the forces arrayed against her, she beat the odds. Viewing the battle footage, Benson could see how events might have turned out differently if one or two things had not gone their way. In many ways, they truly were lucky.
They even managed to stay lucky while serving as bait. From the report Benson heard, Expedient and Polaris managed to kill two Hawk-class pirate ships, at the cost of losing Expedient. But the Navy recovered some important classified assets. Cooper had sent in a commendation for her role in the whole thing, even though all she and her crew had down was to sit, parked in orbit, and watch the fighter drones battle it out. The numbers there had been overwhelmingly in StarCen’s favor, so it was not something to get all fired up about.
But now . . . now it was time to go. Benson had the itch to jump back into battle. Her orders were to join Cooper at Juventas. From there, no doubt, they would sally forth into the next engagement with the enemy. Where? Was it finally time to head back to Seychar and claim Gotha Mu? The League had a score to settle there, and Benson hoped the Lucky Lady would have a part in it.
“Captain Benson, the drone continues approaching. I still cannot discern its purpose. Apparently it is on another subroutine, or perhaps it is operating autonomously.”
“Are there any other repairs needed, StarCen?”
“No ma’am. You are ready and the Excelsior is good to go.”
Benson watched the approaching drone. In seconds it would be within the ship’s three-meter zone.
“Very well. I think we can safely skip any service this drone has to offer. Take us away please.”
Excelsior disappeared. The drone continued going forward, but it puttered into open space.
Captain Benson remained unaware that her lucky streak continued.